Round One

Stage 19.5 - Respite


Norivny, Russia

August 13, 2016 a.t.b.


As soon as the prince cut the connection, Leila slumped down onto the nearest empty chair she could find. The exhaustion hit her all at once, and her knees still shook even now that she was off her feet.

How does he do this every day? And commanding from the front in a knightmare, too.

But despite everything, Leila had won. It wasn’t a decisive victory, not even close, but even a mild loss against the prince would be a far cry from the usual results. That left a warm glow of pride and achievement in her. Everyone in her command centre seemed to mirror that feeling. Congratulations flew around. Smiles lit up the room. A few were even crying.

Leila took heart in the sight. They'd held the field, and morale was lifted. Maybe, she dared to think, I can turn this war around. If she could knock the prince out of the fight, maybe she could even salvage the campaign in the east. Maybe.

One thing in particular troubled her, however. His retreat should have been a trap. It should have been, but it wasn’t. The countess actually managing to match the Alexander for a short while had kept Leila terrified on the edge of her seat, but that didn’t meet the prince’s usual standards. It could be coincidence. Something else could have come up. It doesn’t necessarily mean he learnt about the Alexander immediately before the battle.

Who are you trying to persuade?

Leila sighed. She had a problem and a question that needed answering.

Do I have a simple security leak, or do I have a spy in my camp? I’ll have to bring this up at our after action review. There can’t be too many suspects to investigate.

After a few moments considering who fell on the list, Leila pushed the matter from her mind and excused herself to meet up with Anna and the rest of the Alexander team. Given their inexperience in military engagements, she wanted a full report from them while everything was still fresh in their minds.

Outside the hangar Anna had commandeered for her team, Leila spotted Akito Hyūga about to turn a corner out of sight. Six months her junior but easily six centimetres taller, the boy had short, messy black hair with a long, thin braid at the back and, according to Ayano, could give her a run for her money in a frowning contest. Although apparently when he did it, it made him look ‘mysterious and handsome’ instead of mopey.

Leila called out for Hyūga to wait up and hastened to join him. “I’d like to gather the whole team to discuss the battle if you’re not needed elsewhere.”

“If you wish,” Hyūga said leisurely. “I have little to contribute. I’ve already critiqued Private Sayama’s performance.”

“Perhaps, but I’d like to hear what you have to say first hand. Now come. Let’s not dawdle.”

With some visible reluctance on his end, Hyūga followed Leila back into the hangar. Inside, she found the whole team. Hilda and Chloe were off with Anna poking and prodding the Alexander in what looked like an attempt to catalogue all of the repairs they’d need to make before the next battle.

The research team hovered over a computer closer to the door. Sophie Randle, a brunette in her early thirties, headed that department as Anna’s official number two on the project. With her was Joe Wise, a heavy-set man with an insatiable addiction to lollipops, and Ferilli Baltrow, the project’s sakuradite expert.

Off in the lounge area, Ayano sat on her legs with her feet tucked to one side atop an armchair chatting away with their medic, Kate Novak, and their newest addition, Ryō Sayama. Sayama was one of those awkward cases. While Japanese, he’d been outside the country with his parents during its conquest and had managed to obtain Russian citizenship afterwards. Britannia’s loss was their gain. An Ace from Saint Petersburg who thankfully spoke French, they’d purloined him to pilot the Alexander. Hyūga was better, whether that be from natural talent or the extra months of experience, but he had the advantage of not being a minor. Leila found him brash and otherwise rough around the edges, but he was nice to Ayano, so she gave him a pass.

As Leila called for everyone to come join her, Hyūga found himself a cosy wall out of the way to lean up against. She’d expected no less; Chloe had told her he wasn’t very social. But that was fine. Neither she nor anyone else had any complaints about how he did his job, so she paid the boy’s reclusive tendencies no further mind.

“Everyone, first off, I want to congratulate you all on the phenomenal piece of technology you’ve developed.” Leila waited a moment for the crowd to settle down. “Between when I last visited in spring and today, you turned a knightmare that gave me nightmares into one that will give them to our enemies instead. No offence, Anna. You know it’s true.”

Through the laughter and Anna’s pouting, Leila recalled breathing a sigh of relief at the end of the battle. She’d been so sure some critical part would break, malfunction, or randomly fail for no good reason during the Alexander’s first field test, but it’d pulled through. The team had pulled through.

She hoped that turned into a trend.

“Now let’s get down to business. How long will it take before the Alexander is fully operational again?

“Only a day this time,” Hilda said. “We spent our down time here making replacement parts, armour in particular. All the raw materials for it are manufactured in this town. But they won’t last long. It takes us about a week to fully armour and outfit the Alexander from scratch, not counting other repairs.”

Leila acknowledged the time frame with a nod. That was acceptable. She’d be ready for the prince’s attempt at revenge, at least. She then turned to the human component. “Kate, how long until Private Sayama is fully healed?”

“Oi! It’s just some bruising!” the man in question protested.

Nonetheless, Kate replied, “A week or two, technically, but I’d be willing to sign off on active duty after a good night’s rest.”

“Excellent. Now I’d like to hear everyone’s reports. What went right? What went wrong? Let’s start with our devicer in the field.”

“The drifting was terrible,” Sayama stated bluntly. “There were a few times I thought I wasn’t going to stop skidding before someone blew me up. The side-to-side acceleration wasn’t what the simulator made me expect either.”

While Anna made a few notes, Ayano said, “The only person you had trouble catching turned out to be the countess herself, you know.”

“It’s still a problem to be addressed,” Anna idly said as she wrote.

“I heard a shrill tearing sound during one of the transformations,” Sayama added.

Hilda was quick to respond. “We found that already. Some of the armour got damaged and caught in a joint. We’re very lucky it tore under the torque and fell out instead of jamming.”

Leila’s breath hitched as she imagined the opposite outcome. Lucky, indeed. That could have been a disaster.

“Having a light rifle would take a lot of frustration out of the job,” Sayama said. “Could probably just salvage one from a Sutherland out east. Gap closing was incredibly easy, though. I’ll give you that.”

Hyūga chose to comment on that. “I’ve already mentioned it to you, but you need practice interweaving the Alexander’s Insect Mode into your style. A lot of damage you took could have been mitigated or avoided entirely by making use of its low profile to approach. The prince’s choice to steal material for his campaign will make it especially effective. While Insect Mode has a lower top speed, it has higher accelerations that the Panzer Hummel won’t be able to keep up with at close range.”

“Is there anyway we can get a leaping attack macro?” Sayama asked. “You know, from Insect Mode jump onto an enemy with the knives deploying during it. It’s doable without, but it’s a hassle and easy to fuck up. Seems like the kind of thing to automate.”

Anna shrugged. “Shouldn’t take more than an hour on the software end. Might take some time to install a proper button for it for ease of use. Priorities and all.”

From there, the discussion turned into a play by play analysis of the battle itself and the Alexander’s part in it.


Central Province, Russia

August 14, 2016 a.t.b.


Little noises, shuffling feet, hushed conversation, and the clattering of tools filled the waking world. Kallen hated it all. She’d been awake for five seconds, and she already had the mother of all headaches.

“Good afternoon, Lady Stadtfeld.”

Kallen turned her head to find a doctor at her bedside. There were five other beds in the makeshift ward, four currently occupied. She was somewhat surprised Lelouch hadn’t put her in a private room with ridiculous security even without a sorcerer on the prowl, but a ruffling of fabric on the opposite side of her bed alerted her to Shinobu's presence.

“How long have I been out?”

“Only a day,” the doctor replied. As she went about performing a series of tests starting with an eye exam, she asked, “How do you feel?”

“Splitting headache. Tired. Bruised.”

“Any nausea. Dizziness?”

Kallen shook her head.

“Well, that's good. You’re doing much better than when His Highness first brought you to me. It looks like you have a concussion, but only a mild one. Our equipment is limited here, but we can perform a few more tests when you're feeling up to it to be sure. If I’m right, you should be fit for active duty in two weeks.”

Two weeks! Kallen groaned. Still, she could admit she didn’t want to fight that white knightmare again without being in peak condition. She’d just lose and get herself captured at best, killed at worst. So I’m stuck on medical leave. Fantastic. I suppose I have enough administrative work to keep me busy. Should probably take over some of Lelouch’s, too.

Speaking of, “Is His Highness here?”

“He left early this morning to continue the campaign,” Shinobu replied.

“Good.” Part of Kallen had worried he’d be glued to her bedside, something they couldn’t afford. Now she’d only have to worry about his safety instead. “Please let him know I’m awake.” This would be a good test to see if her geass had any trouble with distance. She assumed not, but she had no proof one way or the other yet. She turned her attention back to her doctor. “Am I cleared to get back to work?”

“Certainly not. As I said, you shouldn’t return to active duty for at least two weeks.”

“The non-physical stuff, I mean.”

“No. You need rest, both physical and mental.”

Kallen stared blankly at the doctor.

“I won’t confine you to your bed unless you force me to, but please limit how long you participate in activities that require thinking or significant concentration. That includes reading, texting, and most certainly directing an army.”

“But – but I can’t – do you realise how much I do for this campaign?”

The doctor gave Kallen a patient smile. “Then I suggest you rest. Your only responsibility now is to get better quicker by not pushing yourself. I’m sure His Highness will manage without you. This is precisely what the chain of command is for.”

Kallen placed both hands on her temples and tried to massage both the frustration and her mounting headache away. As Lelouch’s knight, she was an extension of his authority; she got slotted into wherever she was needed. There wasn’t anyone immediately below her to subsume her duties, just him. And she doubted he would delegate with this sort of personal project.

Resigned to her fate, Kallen said, “We’ll figure something out.”

“Correction,” the doctor said with a knowing, almost teasing, tone. “His Highness will figure something out. You rest.”

“Fine,” Kallen grumbled.

It was a boring hour of idle and pointless chatter later when Shinobu relinquished Kallen’s phone and Lelouch finally got in contact with her. Any hope of succour promptly died a miserable death when he immediately commanded her to follow her doctor’s orders.

“Don’t sulk,” Lelouch said. “When you get back, I’ll be happy to dump everything on you.”

Kallen bit her tongue.

“Besides, your magic alone is more than enough contribution. I’ve organised a secure way to communicate with you during battle. So long as I can avoid that white knightmare surprising me with its presence, I’ll be fine.”

“What about everyone else?” The last thing Kallen wanted to do was sit idle and knowingly wait for her friends’ spark of life to be smothered.

“I’ll do what I can with what you tell me, but that’s all I can promise.”

That’s the best I can expect without grinding the campaign to a halt, I suppose. Even so, Kallen sighed. “Fine. Alright. Since I’m not fighting, feel free to consult me if you need anything. I can easily and reliably do all the work on my end here.”

Missing the necessary context to understand Kallen's full meaning, Shinobu said, “My apologies, My Lady, but I will enforce bed rest if you overwork yourself.”

Lelouch apparently heard that. “Please pass on my appreciation to Shinobu for her good work.” Kallen could practically hear his smirk as she gritted her teeth at this conspiracy. “But I’ll be sure to call upon you in the off chance I require your services.”

“As long as your remember,” Kallen relented. “Do you need any information from me on our last battle?”

“No. I’ll send the data and footage we were able to obtain on the white knightmare to Shinobu. She’ll give it to you when your doctor allows it.”

Kallen huffed at being coddled.

“I’ve seen you jogging on a broken leg without crutches. You have no defence.”

“I was walking!” Kallen protested. “And it was one bloody time to go to the bloody toilet!”

“Uh-huh. Regardless, why don’t you take this time to mingle between naps.”

From the darker corners of her mind came the term ‘replacement friends’, but Kallen swatted the feelings that came with it away. This entire campaign was a political exercise from its conception intended to win the love of the people. Of course she felt insincere at times, but she still cared. Nothing and no one could make her question that. Her geass wouldn’t trigger if she didn’t, after all.

To his suggestion, Lelouch added, “I’m also very curious how well the Shinozaki have been integrating into the group. Whenever I ask, they say they’re being treated well, but it’s me asking. When you can, take the opportunity to surreptitiously observe their interactions while you’re on holiday. There are several of them there watching over you.”

“Sure, no problem.”

That was one of the side benefits of their campaign. It forced their regiment to cooperate with, learn from, and often take orders from the Shinozaki. It was their hope that such familiarity coupled with their phenomenal success and the Shinozaki’s admirable loyalty and skill would breed acceptance. It wouldn’t necessarily change any opinions about numbers in general or even just the Japanese, but it would be a start.

Then when this war was over, these men and women, these celebrated war heroes, would spread their stories. With any luck, they’d also make positive mention of the Shinozaki as well. It was a small thing of little significance alone, but small things added up. When it finally came time to reform Britannia from the top-down, the bottom needed a plethora of readily available reasons to be receptive to each change.

“So,” Kallen began, “are you going to tell me what plans you’ve made for the huntress, or are you going to keep me in the dark for my health?”

“I’ll spare you the details. I intend to keep bleeding Russia, of course, although more cautiously until your return. But I’ve also decided to cripple what air power they can muster this side of the Urals. I imagine she’ll catch on quickly if I start targeting airbases frequently. She and that knightmare of hers might not make it to the battles personally, but I imagine she’ll have them prepared for me and take command remotely.”

“Ah,” Kallen said as understanding dawned on her. “The old feed her confidence and ultimately punish her for overconfidence trick, right?”

Lelouch hummed in agreement. “She’s setting herself up as a worthy opponent, which serves our purposes just fine. The bigger she becomes, the more glory there is in toppling her. Especially if we deliver the death blow in as decisive a victory as our debut battle.”

“Ooh, sounds fun. I better get a chance to take part in this one.” After being assured that she would, Kallen asked, “So? What’s the plan?”

I’ve been saving an idea I got from and old soldier while we were in Area Two for a rainy day.


Ashford Academy

Tokyo Settlement, Area 11

August 19, 2016 a.t.b.


“I believe you, but that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned.” Euphemia noticed Marrybell had run out of lemonade and politely retrieved the bottle from their picnic’s cool box to refill her glass. “There’s just so much political upheaval here recently, much of it violent. Whoever Father sent to clean up Code R is very good. If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t even recognise that’s what’s going on. I worry, is all. About both Naoto and Clovis.”

Marrybell scowled, an expression Euphemia was becoming entirely too familiar with in recent months. “Naoto will be fine.”

And no claims are made about Clovis’s wellbeing. Euphemia sighed. Marrybell had confessed to seeing some of the Code R experiments but had point blank refused to speak a word more on the subject. Despite accounting for her family’s tendency to shield her from even the mildest aspects of the darker side of the world, Euphemia assumed the worst. Marrybell tended to be more open with her, after all. Even so, whatever he’d done, Clovis was still family.

When Euphemia went to press the issue, Marrybell held up a hand for silence. A quick nod of the head made her aware of Nunnally swiftly approaching their lonely but shady weeping willow alongside Ashford’s stream. Before their sister arrived, she sent Marrybell a look that said they would continue this later.

“Afternoon,” Nunnally said. She had a distracted air about her and looked to be in a huff. Euphemia and Marrybell shared a glance out of the corner of their eyes. “Do you mind if I join you?”

Despite the inopportune timing, Euphemia said, “Not at all. If you don’t mind my asking, what has you so ruffled?”

“Lelouch.” After half a moment of thought, Nunnally added, “Well, my classmates, really, and everyone on campus. But it’s his fault!”

That was enough for Euphemia to understand the crux of Nunnally’s troubles. She sympathised. Honestly, she did. But she still laughed in the privacy of her own mind.

“Do you know how many times I’ve heard how handsome and brilliant he is, how he’s the greatest thing since sex?”

Marrybell snickered.

“Do you realise how awkward it is when my friends ask why I’m not mooning over him too?”

“Well,” Euphemia began, unable to resist, “you don’t have a reason to. If I recall, you wanted the wedding to be in spring.”

Predictably, Nunnally glared at Euphemia. “And you wanted it in autumn.”

“As soon as I was old enough to marry, yes. Ah, those were the days…”

Before Euphemia could have too much fun flustering Nunnally, Marrybell stepped in and asked, “Did something in particular set you off or is today just the straw that broke the camel’s back?”

Nunnally broke off her glare with an exasperated sigh. “The latter, I suppose. I just… He didn’t come to school here with us, but he always made time for us. I could accept that. Now he’s just” – her voice lowered to a whisper – “gone.”

“I know how you feel.” Euphemia opened an arm in invitation to cuddle, an offer which was promptly accepted. “It’s been years, yet I still miss having Cornelia near.”

“I do too,” Nunnally whispered. Less softly, she asked, “Why are they doing this? Why are they fighting? I know Lelouch and Cornelia never really cared either way, but Kallen…”

Euphemia let a silent sigh slip through her lips. She knew perfectly well why all three of them made war. Cornelia did it for her – for them all, really. Father allowed them to live as they wished these past six years largely because Cornelia made herself useful enough for four. Looking down at Nunnally curled up into her side, Euphemia knew her beloved little sister wasn’t ready to hear that the peaceful life they both loved so much was purchased with iron and blood. She still flinched away from that fact at times herself.

Lelouch and Kallen’s motivations were harder to paint in a good light. They did it for power. They had plans for Britannia, whatever they were, that required putting Lelouch on the throne. If that meant leaving a trail of bodies and destruction in their wake, they considered it a price worth paying. With no gentler explanation ready at hand, Euphemia looked to Marrybell to wordlessly plead for help.

“The promise of a better future.”

Startled, all three sisters looked up. Hidden behind the leaves above near the top of the branches of the willow, an Ashford student hung between three branches. Her legs draped over one with another below and a third behind to support her rear and back respectively. She yawned before climbing down with panache. When she fell to the ground, she brushed the leaves and bark from her clothes.

Not sure what the raven-haired girl had overheard, Euphemia, although hesitant and bemused, ventured to say, “Good afternoon. Do you always sleep in trees?”

“Bad habit,” the girl said as she stretched. “I’ve been away from Pendragon for too long. Used to do it a lot when I was a child and needed a safe place to rest. People don’t look up much.”

Not animals. People. Euphemia doubted this girl’s story would do much for her faith in humanity.

“I should probably introduce myself. Elizabeth Ward. But if, as it seems, we’re discussing things that involve our lives outside Ashford, please call me Anne.”

Nunnally was the first to react. “Anne?” She played with the name on her lips. “Wait, are you the same Anne–

Anne placed a finger on her own lips, and Nunnally promptly quieted.

Curious. Euphemia poked Nunnally in the side, but she kept mum.

“You two know each other?” Marrybell asked.

“It’s been some time since we last met.” As she sat down, Anne asked, “Mind if I join the conversation?”

Well, our secret is already out. If she didn’t already know. Euphemia shrugged, and as Nunnally shook her head and Marrybell proved indifferent, consent was granted.

“I’ve been swamped with work this week. Can you fill me in on what Kallen and His Highness have been up to recently?”

Marrybell, being the most experienced of the three on matters of war, took the lead. Euphemia and Nunnally added their own comments on occasion, but she hit all of the major points in more detail than the others could have even begun to comprehend. She finished by saying, “It’s hard to be sure through the propaganda on both sides. Without contacting him directly to ask, it appears he suffered a minor loss against Leila Breisgau at Norivny but hasn’t slowed down since.”

“Hmm?” Anne perked up at the name in surprise. “Bradow’s kid?”

“Yes, actually.” Marrybell narrowed her eyes ever so slightly before relaxing her expression. Euphemia made a mental note to ask about that reaction later. “Did you know him?”

Anne nodded solemnly. “He was a good man. Bit of a demagogue at times, but no one is perfect. It’s a shame he left us, but he didn’t have the patience – or perhaps the stomach – to pursue his goals internally. I’m glad to hear his daughter is doing well despite the circumstances. I hope your brother declines to kill her.”

A deeply uneasy feeling passed through Euphemia at that remark, and judging by her fidgeting and squirming, Nunnally felt the same. Marrybell, however, simply observed, “You sound very confident in him.”

Indignant on Lelouch’s behalf, Anne said, “Of course I am. Aren’t you?”

“Oh, I am. I know precisely how good he is. I’m just curious where your certainty stems from.”

“Experience.”

Marrybell quirked an eyebrow but said, “Fair enough.” There was clearly more to Anne than met the eye. “What, then, does your experience tell you he’s going to do next?”

“I have no idea!” Anne said excitedly. “That’s what I love about it! Oh, sure, I can tell you he’s going to turn Leila’s own competency against her for some grand spectacle. She’s really setting herself up for that with how she’s provoking him in the media. But the fun is in the mystery of just how he’ll go about it. His mother must be so proud!”

Yes, I suppose she would be. Euphemia had never understood Marianne’s love of war, and battle, and all things violent, really. She was so kind and gentle, protective and supportive at home that Euphemia didn’t know how to reconcile the two different faces of the woman who, in all honesty, had been more of a mother to her than her own. Maybe I’ll understand when Lelouch and Kallen return and I have the chance to talk to them. Maybe.

Unfortunately, the conversation had devolved into talking shop with Marrybell and Anne swapping theories on Lelouch’s next move and crafting strategies for what they would do if they were in the same situation. Marrybell favoured a more subversive war of attrition while Anne advocated a bolder plan to break open Russia’s lines in the east and then take the capital.


At least an hour later and long after Nunnally had left for one of her club’s summer meetings, Marrybell watched Anne depart with a wary eye. She might be paranoid and jumping at shadows, but so much of her understanding of the world had eroded since Code R. It opened possibilities she would have scoffed at mere months ago but now had to factor into her thoughts.

“Is something wrong?”

Euphemia’s question broke Marrybell out of her thoughts. She paid Anne one last suspicious glance before shaking her head. “No. Nothing you need to worry about.” She hadn’t mentioned anything about the supernatural when speaking with Euphemia, so if Anne were spying on her to decide if she needed to be eliminated, she should be safe. For now, at least. Unless they’d already done something to her and she just didn’t – no, couldn’t remember. Maybe Anne had only been checking to see if it stuck.

“I’ve seen that look on Lelouch’s face a hundred times when we were children when he thought I wasn’t looking. Whatever is bothering you is not nothing.”

Marrybell snapped out of her thoughts. Dwelling on what-ifs she could do nothing about served no purpose. The world would look the same to her either way at the end of the day. But as she’d said, it was nothing for Euphemia to worry about, so she deflected the question with a partial answer.

“Anne was very knowledgeable about the art of war. Possibly more so than me.” She spoke more like a woman twice her age, too. Maybe older. Not openly, but there were hints.

Euphemia cocked her head to the side. “I’ll take your word for that. So?”

“There’s only one way you get that good.” Marrybell paused a moment and sank into her thoughts again before shaking herself out of them. There would be time to contemplate Anne further when she was alone. “There’s a point to be made about natural talent, of course, but she said it herself: experience. The question is, where did she get it? And when?”


Central Province, Russia

August 25, 2016 a.t.b.


The past week and a half had been boring, tedious, tiresome, dull, trying, and taxing. It might not have been so bad if not for Shinobu and her doctor marching Kallen back to bed every time she showed even the slightest bit of discomfort. At least they hadn’t objected to her rewatching some of her favourite childhood anime. Entirely unintentionally, she had her entire ward hooked on Spice and Wolf, which she counted as a victory for cultural exchange. There was something familiar about the main characters in that show, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what.

You know, Kallen idly contemplated as she wandered the halls with Shinobu following one step behind her, I should really track down all of the surviving big names in Japan and start my own animation studio. That’s a massive untapped labour market, and Stadtfeld Industries could always use a new subsidiary. We don’t do anything in show business right now.

Hmm… We could easily use it as a first party propaganda machine as well. It was an impure motive, but Kallen couldn’t deny its utility. Something to think about later, I suppose.

Feeling a bit peckish, Kallen headed for the dining room and ordered a pizza for herself with the intention of sharing with whoever chose to sit with her. It was less than a minute after she’d taken her first bite when a woman sat down and grabbed a slice for herself without a word or invitation. She looked roughly Kallen’s own age with black hair tied up into a bun with a pair of locks left to dangle and frame her face. It took a second or two to recognise her.

“Oh, hey, you’re the six-hundred-sixteen-year-old polyglot. Cecile Carrel, right?”

The woman nodded. Between bites, she added, “Six hundred seventeen now,” with a nonchalant shrug.

Smothering a laugh, Kallen said, “That’d put your birthday somewhere just before the fifteenth century, then? How was the Hundred Years’ War?”

“Frustrating. I blame William the Bastard’s failed invasion for the entire mess.” Carrel took a bite of her pizza. “Would have been worth it if I’d been the one who got to burn Joan.”

Kallen blinked at the apathetic delivery before bursting into laughter at the idea of someone still nursing a grudge six centuries later against a woman long dead. “Alright, I’ll bite. Tell me a story of your adventures.”

“No.”

“Oh, come on. What do I have to bribe you with to convince you?”

“Not interes–” Carrel froze as something came to mind. A glint of emotion lit up her eyes. “A giant pizza.”

That request brought an old memory to mind. At Aries Villa before Marianne had been murdered, she occasionally made pizzas sized for knightmares when the weather was warm. Then when she finished, everyone at the villa from the empress herself to the lowliest scullery maid would share in the fruits of her labour. Kallen had only been around for one of them, but she remembered the spectacle fondly.

“I think I could make that happen.” Kallen certainly had the money, resources, and skill for it, and she suspected Lelouch, Milly, and Euphie would really appreciate the effort. Cornelia, too, if she could pull the woman away from Africa for a few days. “In fact, I know a lot of people who would be very interested in helping you eat it.”

Carrel scrutinised Kallen with a sharp gaze. As she had every intention of following through regardless of whether Carrel believed her or not, she simply allowed herself to indulge in her nostalgia. No convincing should be necessary.

“Very well.” At last, Carrel had pronounced her judgement. “I’ll tell you the story of the original Witch of Britannia and the Witch of Orléans.”

And so Kallen was treated to the story of a bitter rivalry between two peasant women fighting over Britannian-held territory in France who, at that period in history, had absolutely no business leading armies into battle. One, whose name and origins history had forgotten, held a deep, seething resentment against the Duke of Orléans. The other claimed to have been anointed by God to drive Britannia from French soil.

Carrel weaved an epic apparently of her own composition. She described the drama of the French court and the desperation that led them to listening to an illiterate peasant girl. She recounted the rapidly changing nature of war and the battles between the two so-called witches which gloriously highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of medieval warfare. She spoke of the alleged divine revelations used to outmanoeuvre Britannia, prolong the war, and ultimately put the French on the path to victory.

The longer the story went on, the more certain Kallen grew that Joan of Arc had possessed a geass much like her own. She could dismiss most of the events as the result of an undocumented but unusually robust spy network for the time and a lot of intelligence and natural talent in an otherwise uneducated woman, but as ridiculous as it sounded even in her own mind, the simpler explanation was magic couched as divine guidance. When she honestly allowed for the possibility, it became obvious.

And then she was burnt as the Devil in her mid twenties by her own king. That’s gratitude for you. As Carrel brought her story to an abrupt end with Joan’s death nearly three hours after she’d started, Kallen applauded the performance. “I’m very impressed. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting even half as cohesive a narrative as you gave me.”

Carrel shrugged indifferently. “Everyone needs a hobby. I’ve had several.”

“True enough. The ending was rather sudden, though. Am I to assume the Witch of Britannia orchestrated Joan’s death?”

Joan believed no one lay outside her sight, but all seers have their blind spots. Death was the price she paid for her overconfidence.

The implication hung in the air almost unnoticed as Kallen took an entirely different meaning from Carrel’s haunting words. What happened if she ran into someone else who could alter the timeline? Now that she really thought about it, she doubted she was unique. Could someone take advantage of her method of divination to destroy her or Lelouch? Could someone do so entirely by accident?

Kallen swallowed the uneasy feeling growing inside her. She really needed to explore the beloved family pet option for her geass. This holiday would have been the perfect opportunity, in fact, and she’d squandered it. In the wake of this revelation, she consoled herself with the thought that if another seer was going to step up and challenge her and Lelouch, then they surely would have already. Or so she hoped.

For now, Kallen pushed the matter from her mind to think about later.

“So, polyglot, historian, bard. I know His Highness asked you back in Hokkaido, but what are you doing here?”

“Abiding by my contracts.”

In other words, I don’t want to talk about it. Given Carrel’s age, Kallen assumed she had trouble at home to escape from and left it at that. Before she could say anything else, however, Carrel rose.

“I hope you learnt something from this.”

“Ah. Uh, yes.” Caught off guard, Kallen simply said, “I did.”

“You owe me a pizza.” With that parting comment, Carrel departed and left Kallen to her thoughts.