Stage 01 - New Friends Across the Pacific
March 30, 2009 a.t.b.
Kallen snuggled into her bed with her plush bunny, one nearly as big as she was – bigger if one counted the ears. It was soft enough to cuddle with and yet firm enough to provide support for spending a lazy afternoon on one’s side.
“No one must ever know,” Kallen murmured. Best birthday ever.
A knock came at the door. Kallen’s eyes shot open, and she promptly kicked her rabbit off of her bed. It landed on the floor with a muted flump, and there it stayed, very definitely not telling of where it’d been just moments prior.
The door opened to reveal Naoto, Kallen’s much older brother. While she had inherited almost all of her father’s looks with her red hair, light-blue eyes, and her distinctly Britannian facial features, Naoto clearly reflected their mother, Minami Stadtfeld. He had her brown hair, her brownish-blue eyes, and most of all, his face showed his Japanese heritage with even the most passing of glances.
Naoto himself spared a brief glance at the as of yet unnamed plush bunny, thankfully not saying a word about it. “Still exhausted?”
“No, of course not. What's up?”
It was a very sceptical Naoto who said, “Mum and Dad need to talk to you.” Rather solemnly, he added, “It's important.”
Kallen sat up, her legs hanging over the side of her bed, and nodded, worried. Where had her carefree brother gone tonight? She followed him out of her room, down the stairs, and eventually into the sitting room of their small manor. There she found both Minami and her father, Reese Stadtfeld, waiting for the two of them with hands held and fingers entwined. Despite their obvious effort, each wore a worried frown.
As Kallen took a seat opposite her parents with Naoto following soon after, she asked, “What's going on?”
“Politics,” Reese said. His tone reflected how unhappy he was with that answer despite being somewhat of a politician himself as an earl of Britannia. “We've been avoiding this for as long as we could, but now that your birthday has gone by…”
Minami picked up the thread of conversation. “Your father and I have talked it over, and we've decided to leave the decision up to you.”
“What about?” Kallen tentatively asked.
While both of their parents appeared very uncomfortable while trying to find the right words, Naoto rather frankly said, “You know how the other kids at school haven't been very nice to you lately?”
Kallen nodded, averting her gaze from her parents’ reaction. They had probably suspected, but she had never said anything.
“Relations between Japan and Britannia have been souring rapidly since Britannia invaded the Indochinese Peninsula. There’s talk of Japan aligning with the EU and the Chinese Federation, although I don’t know how far down the rabbit hole that'll go.”
“What Naoto hasn’t mentioned,” Reese said, “is that Britannian nobles currently residing here in Japan have been quietly told to leave the country. While that doesn’t necessarily mean a war is coming, there’s danger on the horizon. Your mother and I” – Reese placed his arm around Minami’s shoulders – “decided that it would be best for us to wait this out in our own countries. Like a long business trip, I suppose. If Britannia does start a war, I won’t be safe here, and Minami won’t be safe in Britannia with my…charming family nearby.”
In the back of Kallen’s mind, a few very old memories stirred. Although they had passed away very recently, she still held a grudge. “Aren’t your parents the ones who called me a–”
Naoto covered Kallen’s mouth with a hand.
Meanwhile, Minami spoke over Kallen, although her voice was weak and she clung tighter to Reese the longer she continued. “Kallen, Sweetheart, you’ll be much safer if you leave with your father. We’ve worked out an agreement with the rest of the Stadtfelds which would let you stay with him without all the kerfuffle they usually raise. It’ll be very different from here, though. Britannia…has a very different culture, as you know. It’s your choice. You can stay here with me, or you can leave with your father.”
It finally hit Kallen that she was being asked who she wanted to live with – and live with without the other for a long time. She had holidayed in Britannia a few times with her family, but they had never lingered for long. Almost all of her life had been spent in Japan; besides Britannian movies, books, and games, the Land of the Rising Sun was really all she knew. English did happen to be her first language, but she used Japanese just as much most days, sometimes even more.
To say Kallen was stunned at having to make such a monumental decision would be like saying Britannia was a large nation. While true in the strictest meaning of the word, it completely misrepresented the sheer magnitude.
Tugging lightly on the sleeve of his shirt, Kallen asked, “Naoto, where are you going?”
Naoto wore a sad smile as he said, “I’m staying with Mum. I’ve almost finished school here, and unlike you, no one would ever mistake me for a true Britannian.”
Well, that decided it, then. “I wanna stay with…”
Kallen trailed off as a terribly profound thought struck her, or at least she so considered it.
I want to stay with Mum and Naoto, and Gran and Grandpa. But… Kallen looked from her brother to her mother before her gaze finally landed on the one person in the room who really needed her. Who would stay with Dad? He doesn’t like his aunts and uncles and cousins anymore than me. His awful parents are gone, but he’d still be all alone with people who don’t like him.
“I… I want to go with Dad.”
Reese and Minami looked to each other, sharing some silent conversation meant for only them. Perhaps but a second later, Reese rose from his seat to collect Kallen into his arms. She made a bit of a fuss, being too old to be held like that, but she eventually relented. It was only the four of them here, after all.
“Are you sure, Kallen?” Reese asked. “You don't have to decide right away, but you do have to be sure. We'd be burning more than a few bridges once we'd left. It wouldn't be easy to come back.”
Kallen nodded. This might be the harder path for her, but it also felt right. It felt like she was doing the right thing both for herself and for her dad. No one should have to be alone.
That sad little smile everyone around Kallen had been wearing off and on came back onto Reese's face, but she only got to see it for a moment before she found herself locked in a hug, one that quickly grew to encompass Naoto and Minami as well.
A strange feeling overtook Kallen. She affirmed her resolve to be there for her dad to provide the same warm, comforting feeling she had right now. Despite the unavoidable fact that they would be surrounded by a veritable horde of gits who shared the same last name, they would be together.
Beneath that, though, there was a certainty in Kallen of one thing in particular: she had just radically altered her future. To what, who knew?
May 22, 2009 a.t.b.
Regret was the wrong word. Despite more than a few nasty surprises, Kallen did not regret leaving Japan with her dad for Britannia. She even managed to find some humour in the less savoury consequences.
Her parents’ divorce – in law, if not in spirit – had by far been what had floored Kallen the most, and she knew it was all her fault. For her to be here with her father, for her to be the Stadtfeld heiress in the absence of no other ‘proper’ heir, her parents had been forced to both separate and cease contacting each other despite being obviously still in love. Of course, it was terribly easy to flout such restrictions given modern technology, but it was the spirit of the matter that sparked a smoldering guilt in Kallen.
The glorious comeuppance, however, came after. As expected, Reese had further come under pressure to remarry with a Britannian noblewoman in order to beget a proper, pure Britannian heir. He had invited Kallen along ‘to observe’ the ensuing meeting. For hours, she had glowered silently at the rest of the Stadtfeld family, who had ignored her, while her dad had only seemed to grow more and more amused.
And then when Kallen had thought her – she still loathed the mere idea – step-mother had been decided upon, Reese had stood up and announced that he had been in a terrible ‘accident’ and was sterile. After delivering a two-finger salute, the pair had left hand in hand to get ice cream. Just thinking about it inflicted Kallen with another case of the giggles.
Sure, it had taken Reese a month longer than anticipated to consolidate control over the domestic family holdings and to defang the other Stadtfelds, but as far as Kallen was concerned, it had been worth it. She would gladly suffer a few more weeks of lonely suppers just to see the look on her aunts’, uncles’, and cousins’ faces again.
Yes, regret was the wrong word. Regret was what she would have felt if she had left her dad alone. Endure worked much better. Kallen endured the quiet scorn and simmering anger of her Britannian relatives. She endured the casual feelings of superiority most people she met exuded. She endured having to formally learn rules and customs she had somewhat already picked up from her dad.
But most of all, Kallen was enduring a soirée celebrating Britannia's latest victory in the Indochinese Peninsula, one apparently so great that even children were permitted and encouraged to attend the festivities. And that, unfortunately, included young girls such as Kallen who had yet to have their debutante ball. It was very much an invitation one did not refuse, as much as she wished otherwise.
From the conversations Kallen had overheard while moving about and trying to avoid attention, there was already a great deal of debate and gossip over who would be named as viceroy for Area Ten – rather presumptive, that, considering how far Britannia still had left to go before claiming a final victory. More than once, Kallen had been tempted to kick a particularly obnoxious git in the knee, but her dress put a prompt end to such thoughts each time before they could ever be taken seriously.
Perhaps, then, it was only natural that Kallen eventually found a pair of girls approximately her own age who – much more openly – appeared to find all this distasteful. A sense of envy briefly passed through her that these girls were able to be so transparent while she had to hide herself amongst popular opinion to keep anyone from looking too deeply into her background.
Kallen shook off the fleeting feeling of resentment. It was hardly their fault both of her homelands treated her poorly – or would, rather, in the case of Britannia, if her mother's identity were ever uncovered. In fact, if she were to guess, she might go so far as to say that these two might not even care about her mixed heritage if she told them.
Of course, it was entirely possible that Kallen had misread the two girls. Perhaps they simply disliked socialising or formal affairs. There was really only one way to know.
Thus was it that Kallen cautiously approached the two girls to sound them out. The taller and older of the two had long pink hair that, were it not partially tied up in a pair of small buns beside her ears, would reach down past her waist. Her eyes matched the girl beside her, both pairs a striking violet that Kallen had never seen before.
As far as Kallen could tell from having observed them for a few minutes from afar, the younger girl’s vivid and expressive attitude stood in contrast to the elder’s more mellow behaviour. Although her brown hair also fell past her neck, it was barely longer than Kallen's own, which stopped just an inch or two above her shoulders. Kallen hesitated to call the pair sisters, but they were probably related in some manner. Either way, the pair clearly knew each other well.
And now came the awkward part: introductions. In Japan, all Kallen had to do was walk up to someone and start talking. Here, though, there were protocols and understood social conventions that she very much did not understand – not yet, at least. She was reasonably sure that one was supposed to be introduced by someone, especially so for women, but the only person who could do that for her was her dad, and he was off partaking in business. Still, she would try her best.
With a curtsy that her tutors had dubbed ‘acceptable’, Kallen said, “Good evening. I'm Kallen Stadtfeld.”
If she had made any grievous errors so far, neither girl called her on it. They merely looked to each other for a moment before returning the gesture. The pink one – her dress was as pink as her hair – spoke first.
“Good evening, Lady Kallen. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. What brings you to our little corner of the festivities, if I may ask?”
Kallen bit her tongue before she could start nervously rambling. When she was ready, she said, “I'm not much one for…these sorts of parties.” She had been about to say ‘celebrating subjugation’ before she stopped herself. “I don't mean to offend, but you two looked to be equally unenthused at being here. I was hoping I could” – not play, Kallen reminded herself – “pass the time in your company.”
“I wouldn't mind,” the pink girl said. She turned to look at her friend, who nodded.
“Sounds like fun! I don't get many opportunities to make friends my age.”
Kallen smiled and silently took a deep breath. This had gone much better than she had both feared and expected.
“It's the same for me,” Kallen said. Or at least it is now that I’m homeschooled. “It's nice to meet you…”
Both girls showed a flash of surprise in their expressions, although the elder quickly schooled her features while the younger adopted a mischievous smile. The former asked, “You don't know who we are, do you?”
Fearing she had broken some secret rule, Kallen quickly said, “No, sorry. To be honest, I don't know very many people here.”
“Oh, nevermind that,” the younger girl said as she latched onto Kallen's arm. “I'm Nunnally, and that's Euphie.”
“Euphemia, actually,” the other girl said, “but either or as you prefer. I know Nunnally won't wait for permission” – said girl's grin only grew at the accusation – “but would it be too presumptive to refer to you as simply Kallen?”
Reminding herself that this was not Japan and that there were different rules here, Kallen said, “No, of course not.”
“Well then, Kallen,” Nunnally said, leading her by the arm, “let's go find someplace more fun.”
With that short and simple statement, Kallen found herself being led out into Exelica Garden further inside the Imperial Palace after being reassured that, 'It's fine. No, really. No one will bother us.’ When Euphemia concurred with Nunnally, Kallen decided to just listen to the two girls who obviously knew more about being nobility than her.
What followed from there, Kallen could easily classify as the most surreal day of her life. Somehow, and she could barely believe her own memory at times, she ended up playing tag of all things with two other noble girls inside the Imperial Palace's garden – a garden the size of a small city – in a dress unsupervised while at a formal party celebrating a major military victory.
And then when Kallen had slipped on a patch of mud into the lake, unintentionally dragging Nunnally in with her, the three of them went to change into more casual clothes that Euphemia, the dry one, had left to retrieve. Once they had, it apparently became time to go horseback riding, or more accurately, it became time to teach Kallen how to not fall off.
All in all, today had gone from tedious and annoying to what was by far the best day Kallen had had since moving to Britannia. In all honesty, it might have even been one of the most fun days of her life.
Unfortunately, days ended.
As awkward as Kallen had felt first introducing herself, she now faced an entirely new problem: staying in contact. She had two bloody friends in the entire country and was not about to lose them to something as petty as mere distance, which could be very large considering the size of Britannia. In Japan, or at least with the types of children she had hung out with, the one and only answer was to pull out your phone and trade information. She had hers, naturally. She always had it with her except, fortunately, when accidentally falling into lakes while playing tag.
However, it seemed that Lady Luck had decided to smile upon Kallen today. Euphie, as Kallen had been slowly baited into calling the girl, held out her hand and asked, “Could I borrow your phone?”
“Sure!” Kallen reached into the hidden pocket of her now dry dress and handed off her phone shortly after.
Euphie turned the screen on and set to work doing whatever it was she needed to get done, hopefully adding her number to Kallen's phonebook. After a little less than a minute, Kallen noticed her eyes widening for just a moment, but the expression was gone the next second as if it had been no more than a trick of the light.
For an instant, Kallen feared the language settings on her phone had reverted to Japanese, but considering how easily Euphie continued to work, she rather doubted it. Whatever it was that had surprised Euphie was apparently given no further attention.
Once Euphie had next handed off the phone to Nunnally, she said, “I sent an email to myself if you want to talk again later.”
“I’d love to,” Kallen said.
“Wonderful. I can only assume Nunnally is doing the same.”
“Yep. Aaaand done.” Nunnally handed Kallen's phone back.
“I don't suppose you live at all near Pendragon, do you? New York, perhaps?”
Kallen nodded, saying, “Well, my dad is the Earl of New York.” – the district, of course, not the shire.
“We'll have to meet up again sometime soon, then,” Euphie said. “Oh, please don't let our email addresses leak. It's always a pain to change them.”
While Kallen had never had that particular problem, she readily agreed. That did sound like a particularly grating activity. I suppose I could actually bother to set up the security on my phone.
Lastly, Euphie leaned forward to conspiratorially whisper, “You'll want to change Nunnally's information in your contact list. It defaults to something utterly ridiculous.”
“Hey!” Nunnally latched onto Euphie and pulled her back. “Don't you dare, Kallen.”
Not really sure what to expect, Kallen decided to simply humour Nunnally. “I wouldn't think of it.”
And with that, Kallen nearly skipped off to find her dad after exchanging final goodbyes. As much as she missed her mother and brother, tonight had been like something out of a dream.
“Well, someone looks like she had a good time,” Reese said, having found Kallen first. “Make any friends?”
Kallen turned and smiled up at her dad. She barely restrained herself from rambling off everything in public in her eagerness to share. Once they were outside and finding their way to where their chauffeur would pick them up, her restraint broke.
“I met two girls my age, Euphie and Nunnally. We left the party to go play in the garden.”
“I didn't realise the garden was open to guests,” Reese said thoughtfully.
“Neither did I, but no one stopped us. We walked right by a bunch of guards.”
“Well, so long as you enjoyed yourself instead of sulking all night.”
“Dad!” Kallen kept her whine quiet. “A lady doesn't sulk.”
Chuckling, Reese looked down at Kallen with what was clearly a humouring smile. “And this is my little girl who mere months ago enjoyed playing in the mud with the boys.”
Kallen rolled her eyes. She had never played in the mud as an end onto itself, but she had possessed a tendency to get rather dirty when, for example, playing the beautiful game the day after a rainstorm.
“If you must know,” Kallen said, adopting a faux haughty tone, “I did get muddy tonight when we were playing tag.”
“In a dress?”
“Tonight was weird,” Kallen offhandedly commented. She then added, “But in a good way. I kind of pulled Nunnally into the garden’s lake with me. Euphie was able to get us a spare set of clothes to change into while ours were cleaned, though. We went horseback riding after that. Well, Euphie and Nunnally tried to teach me. I did alright near the end.”
“Sounds like fun. As long as you have someone supervising you, we do have a stable at home if you want to practice more. It’s a bit of a walk from the manor, but it’s not too far.”
That sounded like an excellent idea, and Kallen said as such. From the way Euphie and Nunnally rode, it appeared to be a common activity for them, if perhaps as no more than a mode of transportation. Kallen had no intention of being the odd one out when it came to that.
“Euphie and Nunnally said they both live in Pendragon.” Or at least that was the obvious guess, given how Euphie had asked where Kallen lived; neither had ever said exactly where they resided. “Could I visit them or them us sometime?”
“If they’re willing, I don’t see any problem with it. If nothing else, it’d be no more than a day trip by helicopter or aeroplane. Well, assuming you got up early and went to bed late. Of course, you could just spend the night with them or they with us.”
Kallen let out a quiet squeal of excitement. It had been far too long since she’d been able to spend time with actual friends in person. Arriving at their limo for the short ride to the airport, she hopped inside with her dad following soon after. When she finally got home and to her room, it was only when she got under the covers of her bed that she realised how completely knackered she was, promptly falling asleep within seconds.
New York, Britannia
May 23, 2009 a.t.b.
The sun shone all the brighter this morning, as did Kallen’s mood as she got ready for the day after having a rather long lie in. Sure, she would once more have to endure the often tedious lessons on etiquette and everything else a Britannian heiress had to know on top of regular schoolwork after the weekend, but for now, Saturday beckoned.
Kallen picked up her phone from where she had left it charging last night and turned it on. She had a few messages from her few close friends back in Japan as well as one from Naoto, and she answered those first, but the one email she really wanted to see had already come. Her eyes immediately picked out the names ‘Euphemia’ and ‘Nunnally’, the latter of whom was the initial sender, before she started reading.
‘Hey, Kallen!’ said girl read. ‘If you’re free next weekend, you should come visit me and meet my brother, Lelouch. I think you’ll like him, or if not, I’ll at least find his and your antics amusing. He’s such a drama queen and so strong headed. I could see you two getting into rows.’
Rolling her eyes, Kallen stopped to consider exactly what she was being accused of. But really, she supposed she could admit to being a bit wilful at times, too.
‘Oh, but hands off. He’s mine.’
Euphie had responded after that. ‘Nunnally, I’ve told you a thousand times. You can’t marry your brother. Besides, he’s mine.’
‘If I can’t marry him,’ came Nunnally’s reply, ‘then neither can you, so there. He’s mine.’
‘Uh-huh. Sure, he is.’
The argument went on for an embarrassingly long time. If nothing else, Kallen supposed it did tell her that those two were, in fact, closely related. Of course, she had no intention of supporting either one in their silly incestuous conflict. She refused to touch that one with a ten foot pole; they would grow out of it on their own, she was sure.
Finally, the last response was from Euphie. ‘Sorry you had to see that. Anyway, my sister should be around Nunnally’s villa that weekend, as usual, so you can meet her, too. She might not have a whole lot of time for us, though. Apologies in advance if our bickering caused your phone to wake you up.’
No, that had not happened. Kallen usually kept her phone on vibrate only all day, let alone at night. She mentioned that as she made her own reply. She would have to ask her dad first, but she had nothing else planned for next weekend as far as she knew.
Remembering something Euphie had told her last night, Kallen opened up her email again and looked for Nunnally's contact information. What she found was ridiculous, so much so, even, that she mumbled it aloud as she read.
“Her Imperial Highness the Princess Nunnally vi Britannia, Sixth Princess of the Realm, Long May She Reign.”
Despite herself, Kallen snickered. I think I'll leave it as is.
And then Kallen noticed that Euphie was listed as Euphemia li Britannia. That was when she realised exactly why Euphie and Nunnally had been surprised to hear that she had had no idea who they were at first. She bolted out of the room, her door slamming open.
Reese, who Kallen had discovered in the dining hall eating brunch with today's newspaper, turned his attention to Kallen. “Yes?”
“Euphie and Nunnally are princesses!” That fact invoked no surprise in her father. “You knew! Why didn't you tell me?”
“Well, I'd assumed some subset of you three were hiding it for some reason. I thought it wise not to interfere with your budding friendship. I know I liked to keep secrets from my parents at your age.”
“Oh.” Kallen could appreciate that. “Um…thanks?”
“How did this revelation come about, then, if they didn't tell you?”
That reminded Kallen of what she had originally needed to talk to her dad about. “They invited me over to…er…Nunnally's villa.”
“I would assume they mean Aries Palace,” Reese helpfully provided.
“Right… Anyway, they invited me over next weekend.”
Pendragon Countryside, Britannia
May 30, 2009 a.t.b.
Aries 'Villa’, as both Euphie and Nunnally referred to it, looked absolutely gorgeous from above on the flight in, and all two minutes Kallen had seen of it from near ground level promised an equally delectable feast for the eyes. Between the lush foliage of all colours surrounding the palace, the lake and river, the forest untouched by man, the sculptures, fountains, and the actual palace itself, this was exactly what Kallen thought of when she pictured a luxurious country retreat for royalty.
Once the blades had stopped and she was given the all clear, Kallen hopped out of the helicopter her dad apparently casually kept around the manor. Waiting a short walk in front of her was a woman who Kallen held no qualms in labelling as Cornelia, Euphie's much older sister. They had the same eyes, the same face ten or so years apart, and the same lithe frame that Kallen had discovered, after some research, half the imperial family had, the other half possessing the same imposing bulk as the emperor. Her hair was a darker shade of pink, though, more violet in truth. She had on a white top with red pants and a matching red cape, all with a sword dangling from her waist.
Kallen hesitated just a moment before nervously approaching the literal warrior princess. She was Euphie’s sister, after all. It would be a crime against the universe if she were not at least half as kind.
Although, that said, Euphie had a lot of brothers and sisters, most of whom Kallen did not and would not approve of. And then, of course, there was the emperor, her father.
Kallen pushed those thoughts to the side. Unlike with Euphie and Nunnally, Kallen was spared the awkwardness of introducing herself, as Cornelia was the first to speak.
“Welcome to Aries Villa. Lady Kallen Stadtfeld, I presume.”
“Yes, thank you. Princess Cornelia?”
“Indeed. Now as my mother can't be bothered with her children, nor would, of all people, my father, I find myself obligated to deliver the traditional threats myself.”
Kallen unconsciously took a half-step back as Cornelia leaned toward her.
“Do not attempt to take advantage of my sister's kindness. She is not that naive, and I would run you through with my sword. Understood?”
“Y-yes!” Kallen squeaked.
And with that, Cornelia's expression brightened to what a stoic would call exuberance. “Excellent. I'll show you to them, then.”
Stunned by the sudden change in mood, it took Kallen a few moments before she actually moved to follow after Cornelia. Hesitantly, yet perfectly intent on discovering what would happen, she asked, “Not going to threaten me on Nunnally's behalf?” while allowing just a bit of a teasing tone to enter her voice.
“No. For one, Marianne, her mother, is terrifying enough when provoked, and Lelouch is sharper than he has any right to be. Besides” – Kallen got the feeling Cornelia was smirking, and when she looked up, she found that she was right – “no one would befriend Nunnally unless they actually liked her. That girl is a menace.”
Although she said that, Cornelia's own fondness for Nunnally came through loud and clear in her tone.
“Speaking of, Nunnally has been chattering about you at me nonstop when I'm supposed to be overseeing the villa’s security.”
“Nevermind that,” Cornelia said, waving her hand dismissively. “If not you, then it'd be something else. At any rate, I know Lord Stadtfeld had been spending most of his time abroad until recently. I take it you grew up in Japan?”
“Yes…” This was really not the direction Kallen wanted this conversation to go. “We lived in Hinode not far away from Tokyo.”
“I'm surprised you don't have an accent.”
“Well, I mean, we only spoke English at home for the most part. Er, at all. And, um…”
Cornelia's hand came to rest on Kallen's shoulder, causing her to start and bite her tongue.
“Relax. You're in the home of the Commoner Empress, also known as the French Whore. No one here cares who your mother is. Well, no one cares where she's from, rather.”
Freezing in place, rooted to the ground, Kallen stared up at Cornelia in some mixture of horror and hope.
“You're…not lying?” Kallen's voice came out weaker than she wanted it to.
“I don't see what the point would be.”
Of all the people she could expect to accept her, even if she had played with the idea when she first met Nunnally and Euphie, this defied belief. Members of Britannia's imperial family were the last people Kallen had thought would give her so much as the time of day after discovering the other half of her heritage.
A smile slowly worked its way back onto Kallen's face. “How did you find out?”
“Euphie told me that your phone had a very convenient option to toggle the keyboard between English and Japanese. It wasn't hard for us to guess from there once we knew what we were looking at.”
“Oh.” Of all the dumb ways to be exposed, it was the bloody language button that did it. Still, it somehow had all worked out for the best. “I guess I won't be lending out my phone again in the future, then.”
“Wise in any eventuality. We most likely would have found out anyway, however, but I will admit it was well hidden. I'm rather impressed.”
As Cornelia and Kallen walked, the former turned onto a path that lead away from the palace and off into the woods. Kallen paid one last look to the building and the garden they had been walking through and followed after her down the winding path.
“I hesitate to ask,” Cornelia began, “but how are you finding Britannia so far?”
Considering who she was talking to – Cornelia’s last name was literally Britannia – Kallen paused a moment before asking, “Do you want me to be honest?”
Somehow, that resulted in Cornelia chuckling. She hummed her agreement.
“Okay. Well, I have mixed feelings. Everything that I originally liked about this country is still here but more accessible. I don’t have to deal with importing books or sweets, Britannian videogames and such. And I don’t have to deal with waiting for movies to be subtitled or dubbed when I’d rather just watch them as they were. I, uh… I actually can’t stand J-pop. No one comments on my taste in music here. That’s all great.”
Kallen gnawed on her lip as she tried to find the right words. “Well, there’s the obvious. I’m glad I didn’t leave my dad alone, but the rest of his side of the family would rather I not exist, and the feeling is mutual. But after that… Almost no one here knows that I’m half Japanese, but I can still…feel it. I mean, Japan was never perfect. It’s also a bit…um…”
Cornelia helpfully provided, “Xenophobic? Ethnocentric?”
“Yeah, that. I think. I had my fair share of grief when I lived there. And it was getting worse at the end…” Kallen shook her head of whatever gloomy thoughts it had intended to send her way. “I sort of understand why, I guess. But it’s a lot worse here.”
“It didn’t used to be so bad,” Cornelia said. “Perhaps I might make some sense of it for you. How familiar are you with Britannian history?”
“Have you read about King Alwin the First?” After a moment, Cornelia added, “The real one, I mean. Not the mythological hero king, Arthur, of six centuries later.”
“I’m more familiar with Monty Python and the Holy Grail…”
Once Cornelia finished laughing, she said, “Best not speak of them to people here. The UK takes a very different view of its history than Britannia does.”
After Kallen nodded, Cornelia then said, “As you might expect, Britannia has always been a very proud country. It all stems from King Alwin’s reign. He not only forged a nation out of a mess of bickering tribes, he also led them to victory against the seemingly unstoppable Roman legions over and over again against both Caesar and Augustus, among others. He’s such an icon that we, to this very day, date our calendar from his ascension to the throne. A.t.b. – ascension throne Britannia. It’s hard not to feel unduly important when the rest of the world does, too.
“For centuries, we had an unblemished record of decisively repelling invaders. Our own invasions were always met with mixed results, but no one gained a foothold on the isles for more than a week since the Romans. In truth, we were nationalists before nationalism existed.”
Cornelia paused there, looking as if she had just swallowed a lemon. “And then came Washington’s Rebellion. Although we won the decisive Siege of Yorktown, we only did so due to Benjamin Franklin’s betrayal. It’s unclear if we would have won otherwise, a fact that made everyone uneasy. Although it was an internal invasion, as one might say, we nearly lost. The blow to our pride was enormous.”
“And then the Humiliation happened?” Kallen asked.
“The Humiliation of Edinburgh, yes. The world had entered the Age of Revolution, but Britannia remained unchanged until Napoleon won the Battle of Trafalgar. After being the supreme naval power in the world since our victory over the Spanish Armada, our loss shocked us to the core. When Napoleon then marched on the Britannian Isles and won, our people fled en masse to the New World, including the forcibly abdicated Queen Elizabeth the Third. As you might imagine, we were not happy.”
Kallen chuckled at the understatement. Even a cursory glance over a Britannian history textbook covering that era would make that readily apparent. “I can understand that.”
“We all do. Since that day, Britannia’s unofficial motto became ‘never again’. We do not forget. We do not bend. We do not yield.”
“For no man,” Kallen added, a smile forcing its way onto her lips.
“Yes, well, we also don’t believe that the loss of a limb is a flesh wound.” Although Cornelia came off a bit scoldingly, there was amusement in her tone and face. “Regardless, that’s the source of our culture’s seemingly endless disdain of everything not Britannian. It’s a very easy mindset to fall into, and Father’s social Darwinism hasn’t exactly helped.”
Just as Kallen was about to respond to that, she and Cornelia broke into a flower meadow. It gently sloped downward to a fast-moving, rocky stream. More importantly, though, Euphie and Nunnally were sitting in the middle of the clearing. Between them was a very disgruntled looking boy with flowers threaded through his straight but messy, black, ear length hair. Upon spotting Cornelia, his eyes widened in a clear plea to be rescued.
Regardless, Kallen broke off at a slow jog to join her friends. Euphie and Nunnally noticed her presence soon after, rising to join her in an unexpected group hug – not really her thing, but nothing to complain about.
After that, Nunnally pulled Kallen by the arm back to the boy who had somehow already managed to clear his hair. Despite Nunnally's obvious displeasure at that, she let go and turned her efforts to proudly showing off the boy.
“Kallen, I present to you my brother, His Imperial Highness and Chess Grandmaster, the Prince Lelouch vi–”
The boy in question pinched the bridge of his nose as Nunnally spoke, eventually deciding to interrupt. “I’m Lelouch. I hope it's a pleasure to meet a friend of my sister. You're not going to try to put more flowers in my hair, are you?”
After Kallen had smothered her laughter and smile behind a hand, she said, “I shouldn't think so. I'm more likely to push you into a lake.” Lelouch quirked an eyebrow at that but otherwise ignored both it and Nunnally's ensuing giggles. “I'm Kallen.”
Euphie was the next to speak. “And it appears you've already met my sister, Cornelia.”
“Oh! Er, yes.” Kallen felt a slight blush grace her face, only now remembering that she had run off in the middle of a conversation.
Cornelia, who had joined them at this point, said, “Yes, she has. I can see I'm not needed here, so you four have fun. I'll ask someone to bring you lunch if you're not back before noon, but be inside before dinner.”
After the group agreed, Cornelia took her leave of them. Kallen, curious, then asked, “So what exactly were you doing before I arrived?”
Lelouch immediately cut the other two off. “Absolutely nothing worth recalling.”
“Uh-huh.” There was little doubt Kallen would be hearing the details regardless in the near future. For now, though, there were less humiliating varieties of fun to be had.
Pendragon Countryside, Britannia
May 31, 2009 a.t.b.
Word choice made all the difference. Kallen was not lost. She was exploring. Yes, that was definitely correct.
Aries Palace was larger inside than Kallen had given it credit. Sure, she could find someone and ask for directions, but that would be admitting defeat. Besides, Euphie and Nunnally were still getting ready for the day and asleep respectively, and Kallen found the palace interesting enough to continue her aimless wandering.
Eventually, after opening and closing enough doors, Kallen stumbled upon an occupied room. Half the room was dedicated to what looked like a miniature theatre with comfortable seating for four adults or twice as many children. The other half consisted of shelves upon shelves of board games, many of which looked unopened. Lelouch was seated on one side of a very nice looking chessboard, apparently in the middle of a game with himself.
Lelouch noticed the sound of the door opening. “Oh, you're up.”
Taking that as an invitation to enter, Kallen crossed the room to stand beside the board. “Yeah. Nunnally is still asleep, and Euphie is in the shower still, I think.”
“She'll be there for a while, then,” Lelouch said. “I don't know how she manages all that hair.”
“It is a lot of work. I stopped bothering with mine years ago.” After Lelouch idly hummed and nodded, Kallen asked, “So what are you doing?”
“Trying to figure out where I went wrong in my last game with Schneizel.”
The second prince? “Well, if you don't mean a practice game, I'd say it'd either be when you challenged him or accepted the challenge.”
Kallen held up her hands in peace at Lelouch's glare. “I'm just saying he must have, like, ten times more experience than you do. Even I know the game is mostly about memorising board positions and what works best in each situation. At least on the professional level.”
Rather begrudgingly, Lelouch admitted that Kallen had a point. “That doesn't invalidate the skill aspect.”
Kallen shrugged, not really caring one way or another. Chess was not her game. Besides, that was ultimately what everything in life came down to on some level, usually just with infinitely more pieces and choices.
“Anyway, I expect you wouldn't appreciate standing there watching me think and fiddle with pieces, much less me trouncing you at chess.”
“You assume correctly, Your Highness,” Kallen deadpanned. She noticed a smirk tugging at the ends of Lelouch's frown.
“Hmm… Cornelia mentioned at some point that you played videogames. I hear there's no quicker way to lose friendships than Mario Kart.”
Kallen snickered as she said, “Bloody blue shells. I'm in.”
As it turned out, the non-board game half of the room was set up to play, if not all, then just about every videogame ever made. As with the board games behind them, when Lelouch opened a cabinet containing old N64 games, most of the boxes were still sealed. A few were open, though, indicating that the games were not just for show. Mario Kart was among those unsealed.
A half-hour later, as one might have predicted, Kallen and Lelouch were as engrossed in throwing insults and curses at each other as in the actual game itself. Since everyone here apparently already knew her heritage, Kallen had even dipped into some of the more vulgar Japanese she knew along the way.
After one of Lelouch's bananas, of all things, sent her spinning off the map and from first to last, she glowered at him. “Doesn't this break some sort of royal code of conduct or something?”
Lelouch snorted. “All game consoles are not manufactured equal. There. I've fulfilled my daily quota of discrimination.”
“You're horrible. You know that, right?”
“Yes,” Lelouch proudly said. “Now–”
Kallen laughed, and laughed, and laughed as her lightning bolt returned the favour and sent Lelouch from first to nearly last. Sure, she was still too far behind to win, but now so was he.
“Was that really necessary?”
With a very self-satisfied smile, Kallen hit Lelouch with a red shell and then passed him.
“Nah,” Kallen said, chuckling. “I was legitimised a couple months ago.”
That tripped Lelouch up enough that he crashed all on his own into a hazard, which only fuelled Kallen’s amusement.
“No, don’t bother,” Kallen said, brushing Lelouch’s sympathies aside. “It’s more ‘officially recognised’. My mum and dad aren’t the ones with a problem.”
“Don’t tell Euphie or Nunnally if they don’t already know. I don’t need them fretting over nothing.”
“Alright. I expect you to run interference when you’re around if they try anything like yesterday, though.”
A snicker escaped Kallen as her first impression of Lelouch leapt to mind. “You mean with the flo–”
“We don’t speak of such things,” Lelouch hissed. “You might summon her.”
Lelouch sighed as he finished in last place. He put his controller down and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Milly Ashford. My mother and her family are partners of sorts. She’s a year older than us. She’s… There are things in this world that man was not meant to come into contact with. I fear the day she gains any true authority over others.”
“Uh-huh.” This sounded like a girl Kallen just had to meet. But then I might get wrapped up into whatever nonsense Lelouch is dancing around. Maybe it’s just as well that I don’t.
“Urgh. I’m becoming more and more outnumbered by mad females in my own home. Any chance I can convert you?”
“Uh, no,” Kallen said flatly. “Sounds like it’d be easier to convert yourself.”
The way Lelouch buried his head in his legs, muttering, left Kallen roaring with laughter. Maybe this Milly girl was worth meeting after all, no matter the consequences.
“I’ll meet you halfway, though,” Kallen eventually said. “I enjoy most ‘boy things’.”
“Well, that’s something,” Lelouch mumbled.
“Where is your mother, by the way?” It had been nearly a day, and Kallen had yet to see Marianne vi Britannia.
“That celebration you were at last week,” Lelouch said. “That was for her, more or less. She came home for a couple days for it and then went back to the front. She’s also the Knight of Six in addition to being an empress.”
Well, that explained a lot. “Are you and Nunnally why children were allowed to come, then?”
Lelouch nodded before hitting a distracted Kallen with a green shell, which earned him another string of obscenities and insults.
“So your mother pilots the Ganymede?” After getting another nod, Kallen said, “Not that I’m really for conquering the world and all that, but that’s so cool. Giant robots are awesome!”
“I suppose? I suppose!” Granted, Lelouch would have been exposed to the Ganymede for a while now, which would reduce the awe factor, but Kallen still found Lelouch’s response unacceptable. “I’m not a big anime fan, but giant robots are the stuff of dreams.”
Kallen could just feel Lelouch rolling his eyes next to her. “There’s a full simulator on the other side of the villa, cockpit and everything, if you’re that in love with them.”
“Yes! Yes! A million times yes!”
“Fine, fine. Let me just finish destroying you first.”
“Uh, excuse you. Who’s in front of whom right now?”
Two seconds later, a blue shell hit Kallen.
Kallen tried to ignore Lelouch laughing at her. She really did. But she could feel her eye twitching even as the blood rushed to her head. Hanging upside down was never fun, and strapped into the knightmare simulator as she was, she had little choice to the contrary. If only she could find the internal shutdown switch.
“Just restart the bloody simulation already!”
“I saw it, but – but I – I can’t – I can’t believe it,” Lelouch managed to say between wheezes. “How did you – how did you get wedged between two buildings like – like that?”
“Shut up! It’s my first time, and I can't reach all the controls.”
Despite Lelouch’s continued laughter and obvious amusement, the cockpit Kallen was in righted itself. The entire simulation reset, and Kallen could get back to jumping and running around in a giant mecha. Forgetting how her first try had ended, she felt she had a decent handle on the control scheme – enough, at least, to get a feel for how knightmares worked. The Ganymede prototype was far more agile than she’d expected and more than it had any right to be, which only made it that much cooler. Someday she would have to try piloting a real knightmare, just so long as she remembered that wall jumping required a wall that could bear the impact of a seven tonne, armoured, metal mecha.