Round One

Stage 21 - The Battle of the Volga


Volga River

Volga Province, Russia

September 12, 2016 a.t.b.


“You’re the captain of this ship?”

Kallen waited a moment for her question to pass through an interpreter. When he replied that he was, she politely explained that the ship was now hers and his crew had two options. They could either be amicably but quickly escorted to the shore or take this chance for a refreshing dip in the river.

Needless to say, the captain chose the former.

A few minutes later, Kallen radioed in her success. Lelouch congratulated her on a job well done, nevermind that a civilian container ship was easy pickings. “And the cargo?”

Kallen gazed out of the bridge onto the fully loaded deck below. “Don’t worry. I’ve secured my portion of your building blocks for you. Rough estimate…twenty by thirty by five of them.”

“Three thousand TEU? Excellent. Proceed as planned, then.”

With nothing better to do on the slow trip upriver to the meeting point, Kallen retired to the captain’s quarters.

“Oh, what’s this?”


“Ahoy there, me matey! I be returnin’ from the high seas with a fine prize and plenty o’ plunder fer ye.”

Lelouch paused his conversation to glance at Kallen dressed in a tricorn hat, boots, breeches, a knee-length peacoat, a sword and pistol at her hip hanging from her belt, and an eyepatch. “Wherever you found that ridiculous costume, put it back.” She frowned at the blatant dismissal. The hat and coat were the only things she’d found on her ship! But a moment later he casually added, “This is the Volga. We’re vikings, not privateers,” before resuming his discussion. More than a few amused smiles, met her own.


Volga River

Volga Province, Russia

September 13, 2016 a.t.b.


It really was too bad they had so little time. Kallen doubted she would ever again have the opportunity to construct anything with what amounted to oversized children’s toys. Rather than an elegant and orderly structure of alternating bricks, they only had the time to haphazardly toss the cargo containers into the water so that they would roughly stack on top of each other.

Still, it got the job done. Kallen could already see the difference in the water level between one side of the improvised dam and the other. Eventually, it would rise high enough to restore the regular flow rate. Once it had, everything would go back to normal downstream before too long. Upriver, however, was a different story. That flooding would last until someone got around to demolishing the dam and, even then, linger long after on the flat Russian plain. But beyond its practical use, this was their fair warning for what was coming.

As she idly watched the water, a mild curiosity struck Kallen. “How expensive do you think our campaign would be if we paid for everything?”

Lelouch gave the question a few moments of thought. “Well, we probably dumped a few hundred million pounds into the river. The five ships we seized likely bring that number up to a billion. The knightmares we stole I’d estimate at five billion. The other miscellaneous hardware – tanks, artillery, ammunition, fuel, and such – probably cost half as much. Wages and personal expenses are negligible in comparison.”

“Eight billion.” Kallen whistled. “Impressive for such a small army. That’s roughly…ten million pounds per soldier per year. Ten times the average.”

“To be fair, we’re an elite unit even as far as elite units go with an absurdly high ratio of hardware to numbers.”

“True. And if we count our collateral damage?”

To the question, Lelouch returned, “Are we counting our economic impact?” Kallen shook her head, so he said, “I’d guess less than a hundred billion so far. I might even go so far as so suggest less than ten billion. I like to believe we’ve done a fair job constraining our activities to military targets.”

“Also true. Saint Petersburg got the brunt of it, and even that wasn’t too bad.” After a moment, Kallen shrugged. “Anyway, it looks like we’re almost done here. I’m going to go find my captain’s hat.”


Russian Army Encampment

Volga Province, Russia

September 14, 2016 a.t.b.


“I’m sorry, did you just say that the prince dammed the Volga?”

The officer confirmed the intelligence. “This morning, our scouts managed to avoid skirmishing with the prince’s and laid eyes on it. The dam is constructed with the cargo from the ships he commandeered.”

What on Earth is the prince playing at? He’s practically begging for attention. Leila shook her head. No matter. This explains the reports of unseasonal flooding upriver and should expedite the evacuations. She paused a moment. The prince had gone out of his way to avoid civilian casualties. If he was going to maraud his way up the Volga toward Moscow and sack cities along the way, perhaps this was his idea of mercy. I could leave the dam up and let the flood waters do their job. It’d force everyone to flee the Volga quicker without requiring me to break out the whip.

After playing with the idea for a few seconds, Leila discarded it as unnecessary. “Contact an appropriate civilian demolition contractor and have it torn down as quickly as possible.” It would likely take a week even as a rush job, maybe longer, but the sooner it got started the better.

“Ma’am, there’s more. Two of the prince’s ships remain anchored nearby. The other three are sailing west.”

That gave Leila pause. A trap, a distraction, or does the dam serve some greater purpose and thus need protection? I really don’t want to split my army and pursue both objectives. “How far until the prince reaches the next dam on the river?”

“Roughly a hundred kilometres.”

“Alright, here’s the plan. We divert a small contingent to secure the canal lock. If they can’t hold it, they’re to render it impassable and retreat. On that note, I want the evacuations up to that point accelerated. Meanwhile, we’ll continue mustering our forces over the next few days. We’ll take the prince’s dam and then pursue whatever army he has left to him.”


Volga River

Volga Province, Russia

September 17, 2016 a.t.b.


The approach to the prince’s dam was uncontested. Deep down, Leila already knew that he’d wasted her time, but she’d moved cautiously nonetheless. Her last skirmish with the prince’s scouts here had been only last night. Knowing him, it was entirely possible that he had some trap waiting for her if she proved careless.

An hour later after both ships had been thoroughly searched, she knew she’d been played. The prince had left behind a tiny amount of equipment for the scouts, who had in turn left it all aboard the ships to make them appear occupied. And of course the scouts had quietly slipped away at some point during the night.

Pushing aside her mounting frustration, Leila said, “Well, we might as well make use of the ships.” She turned to her head of engineering. “Can we just ram them into the dam?”

“I’m not an expert, so I’d advise against it. I have no idea what effect it would have downstream. We’d only be able to clear the topmost level anyway.”

“Fantastic.” What a waste of time. The prince is an extra day ahead of me now. I swear, if he disperses his army before I catch up… Leila sighed heavily. He must want a pitched battle. He must. He needs to beat me, not just make me look like a fool chasing her own tail. “Call in the civilians and let them take care of this mess. Leave the ships anchored where they are and tell whoever owns them to come pick them up. The rest of you, give the order to pack up. We’re going on a fox hunt.”


Izgibreki, Russia

September 18, 2016 a.t.b.


Lelouch idly strolled through a grocer’s looking for his and Kallen’s favourite brands of cocoa. The nights grew colder as the month progressed and autumn drew near. They might well need a hot drink to stay warm. Meanwhile, the rest of the group Lelouch had brought with him stocked up on supplies. They had plenty to last through a good long siege if needed, but he had the opportunity to resupply and saw no reason to pass up on it. It wasn’t like he’d encountered any resistance. This place was a ghost town.

On the way out, Lelouch estimated the cost of the goods they’d taken, doubled the number, and placed an appropriate mix of rubles and euros inside the manager’s desk upstairs. Collateral damage and military seizures were one thing; he refused to resort to petty theft when there was absolutely no need. Today’s venture was to be a genteel sort of plundering if indeed it could be described as plundering at all.

Lelouch, finished with his shopping, found Kallen just beyond the front entrance in full uniform complete with rapier busy issuing orders over the radio. When he enquired after what was happening, she briefly answered, “Scout skirmish outside town.” Since she appeared to have the situation well in hand, he continued on with her following one step behind in his wake. His next task was to ensure the acquisition of coats and blankets had gone well. He doubted they would be necessary before the huntress was dealt with, but better safe than sorry. They’d be needed afterwards anyway.

Soon enough, Kallen set aside her radio.

“Any problems?” Lelouch asked.

“No, just the huntress snapping at our heels. She’s getting bolder.”

That was to be expected. She’d had enough time to gather a large enough force to come after them. There should still be a week or so before she had her own army fully ready to commit to battle, but she had the numbers to shadow her prey’s movements, hinder them, and pick off whatever targets of opportunity she could find.

“At any rate,” Kallen continued, “it’s good to see she’s made herself useful and moved everyone on the Volga out of our way.”

Lelouch nodded, agreeing. “I’ve heard she’s only managed to evacuate the lower half of the civilian population at the upcoming dam. The rest have refused to move as ‘we can’t get to them’.”

Kallen rolled her eyes.

“Yes, quite. Still, that’s no reason not to do what damage we can to her forces there. We have time to pay them a visit before sailing back east. The huntress will think we’ve been repulsed, and it’ll be a good place for many of us to slip off into the background as well.”

“Including me, I suppose.”

“Yes, including you.” Lelouch knew that tone, however. “I’ll be fine without you. I promise. Breisgau will think you’re still with me and be appropriately cautious.”

Kallen sighed. “Jeremiah is going to lambaste me for this.”


Russian Army Encampment

Volga Province, Russia

September 20, 2016 a.t.b.


An uneasy feeling settled into Ayano as she listened to the latest field report at Leila’s side. The prince had tried to take the canal and continue on to, presumably, Moscow. While he’d won the battle – very easily, in fact – he’d failed to secure passage for his bulky ships. Instead of disembarking and finding alternative transportation along the river beyond the dam, he’d turned around and sailed back east. It didn’t seem like his style to abandon a plan over so minor a setback.

“Recent intelligence puts the prince twenty kilometres south of the river” – the officer indicated the location on the map rolled out on the table – “marching south-southwest toward the Volga Highway.”

“Please forgive my unfamiliarity with your country,” Leila began, “but that road runs directly to Moscow, does it not?” After being informed that it does and a smaller map covering all of European Russia had been brought out, she asked, “Are there any major cities or strategic objectives along the way?”

“Not particularly…” No one objected to the answer, although there was the underlying knowledge that the prince had already destroyed most everything of strategic or military value in central Russia.

Leila’s frown deepened, and her brow furrowed. “Troubling,” she mumbled to herself. “Even at his greatest strength, he didn’t have the numbers to take the capital. Hubris? Perhaps, but deception is more likely.” Her fingers tapped along the table as she stared at the map before her. “Do we know where his ships are?”

“We do. We found them anchored presumably where the prince disembarked.” At his command, another officer put up a picture of the scene for everyone to see. Something about it niggled at the back of Ayano’s mind as she stared at it.

“Defended?”

“No, Ma’am.”

Finally, it clicked. Ayano silently tugged on Leila’s sleeve. When she had her sister’s attention, she asked, “Do we have pictures of those ships at other days?”

Despite her obvious curiosity, Leila passed the question on without enquiring why Ayano asked. As it happened, they did have older footage. It only took a minute to put the photos up beside the latest one. When she saw them, Ayano knew she was right.

“The waterline is rising lower each day. The ships are displacing less water, so they’re getting lighter.” It was subtle but undeniable.

Leila’s eyes widened. “So that’s what he’s planning. I see now.” She rubbed the top of Ayano’s hair affectionately despite all protests to stop. “Well spotted.”

Patting down her hair in a huff, Ayano offered, “Papy liked sailing,” by way of explanation.

“I have a plan,” Leila announced to the war room. “We’re going to cut off the prince’s advance. He’s going to fall back. We’re going to follow. We’re going to pin him with his back to the Volga. And he’s going to let us.”


Volga River Fortress

Volga Province, Russia

September 24, 2016 a.t.b.


The retreat had gone exceedingly well. They’d given ground with negligible losses more slowly than Lelouch had expected, and he’d taken the opportunity to harry and bleed the huntress’s forces, always picking short, fleeting battles in favourable positions. No doubt she feared walking into a trap even with her numbers and had decided to approach with more caution than was otherwise due. It was, after all, new for her to come to him rather than the other way around.

Breisgau was right to be wary, of course. She was walking into a trap. Soon, the net would close – today, perhaps, but more likely tomorrow. Some part of Lelouch regretted that the campaign had to end. He’d miss planning his strategies, the tension, not needing to hold territory, the victories, matching wits with the huntress, the camaraderie of a small but efficient and efficacious army. There would be other wars, certainly, but none like this.

There was also the casual intimacy their cover let him share with Kallen, but Lelouch planned to rectify that loss as soon as he’d given her a fair chance to say no.

For now, however, there yet remained one last battle with everything at stake. Lelouch called for a meeting. There was one final thing he wanted to do before he clashed with the huntress. It shouldn’t be necessary, but he intended to leave nothing to chance.


Russian Army Encampment

Volga Province, Russia

September 24, 2016 a.t.b.


Leila pinched the bridge of her nose, unable to look at the combined military officers and ISB agents before her. Slowly with as much patience and understanding as she could muster, she asked, “Can one of you please explain to me how the prince managed to build a citadel from scratch without anyone noticing?”

One of their VTOL scouts had managed to take a few pictures before the prince shot it down, and the fortress was no overnight rush job. The structure itself was built atop a large hill that, with the flooding from the prince’s dam, directly abutted the river. The metal and concrete walls were solid, if simple, and could withstand most munitions. Judging by the loose soil scattered around the base of the hill like a blanket, they probably extended at least one floor underground as well, which meant she had to be wary of foxholes, hidden turrets, and who knew what else. He probably had an escape route, too, given his almost preternatural ability to avoid pursuit and slip out of cordons.

Worst of all, the hill had its base dug out to present a ten foot wall in every direction. Knightmares could climb it if they had a tank to use as a step. Maybe their slash harkens could bury in the dirt to ascend on their own. The ground would need to be firm enough to support the anchors. Either way, however, the prince would rain fire down upon them during both the approach and the climb. There was no point in throwing wave after wave of men to their deaths across an open plain. A siege would do nicely. She could bombard him later if she wanted. Leila just needed to ensure the prince stayed put.

Agent Lukin awkwardly cleared his throat. To Leila’s question, he replied, “Well, all of his permits were in order.” For what it was worth, he offered the offending documents for the group’s inspection.

I don’t know what I was expecting. That’s so in character for him. “Alright. No one gets any blame for not looking into every single civilian construction project in the country.”

The room breathed a collective sigh of relief, much to Leila’s mortification. She really should have found a way to seize power that left her with a less intimidating reputation. There would be no end to Gene’s teasing when she returned to France.

“If the prince wants to hole up in his little palace, that’s fine. We’ll just dig in for a siege and let him starve.” The Volga, unfortunately, gave him unlimited access to fresh water. “Call in the engineering corps. More than our own fortifications, we need to close or secure any tunnels the prince has at his disposal.”

After a brief discussion, a few of the officers left to see to Leila’s preliminary orders. With those wheels in motion, they turned their attention to discussing the fine details of how they would maintain the siege.

A man came running into the command centre, panting in heavy breaths. The entire room turned to him as he gasped out his report. “The prince started a wildfire!”


Volga Province, Russia

September 24, 2016 a.t.b.


“What’s that smoke?”

Kallen followed Mia’s line of sight from their card game to the formerly cloudless sky behind her. Indeed, a thick, massive blanket of smoke kilometres wide rose up over the horizon and seemed to be growing larger with each passing moment.

“Hmph. It’s Lelouch stealing my fun.”

Clearly, Mia had no idea what Kallen was talking about. She’d never been stationed at Pendragon. Bemused as Kallen, disinterested, returned to their game, she asked, “Shouldn’t we go help him?”

“No, we wait for the order. He’s just landscaping.”

“Landscaping?” Mia echoed.

“He’s burning down the plain. There aren’t too many trees, but they’ll be too brittle to use for slash harkens or cover this way. Grass and such helps prevent soil erosion, too.”

Now understanding, Mia said, “Ah.”

“Don’t get too anxious. The huntress is probably going to siege him – for a few days, at least – so we’re in no rush. Lelouch will give everyone a good night’s rest and time for breakfast so we can be fresh for the battle.”


Russian Army Encampment

Volga Province, Russia

September 24, 2016 a.t.b.


Clenching his fists over and over, Ryō did his best to keep his temper under control. He would be doing no one but the prince any favours if he couldn’t keep a cool head.

“Ryō-kun!” That must be Ayano. He glanced up to see her hopping along atop a line of tanks toward him. “Onee-san asked me to tell you to go to bed early. In case of a night attack or something, I guess.”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever.”

As Ryō turned to head back to his tent, Ayano said, “Hey! You’re grouchy. What’s up?

“What do you think!” Ryō snapped, though he tried his best to rein it in. “Britannia practically burnt my last home to the ground. I kind of respected the prince for being better than that, but the last couple weeks show that we obviously just hadn’t pushed him hard enough before.”

Ayano shrugged. “I doubt the prince would ever stoop to massacres, or shelling civilians, or whatever. Doesn’t seem his style.” She shrugged again. “Can’t say it really cuts as deep for me, though. I never had any ties to Japan.”

Not really wanting to argue, Ryō just grunted to end the conversation. To be fair, it wasn’t like the prince hadn’t had a tactical reason for the fire. Even though Malcal had managed to put it out, the Alexander and its light armour would be all but useless now in an assault on his fortress. Still, Ryō disapproved.

“You know, if you’re just upset you don’t get to fight in the big, climactic battle the prince wants, I could try to talk to Onee-san for you.”

No strategist worth their salt would ever change their plans over a little sister’s appeals without a damn good argument behind them. Besides, the encampment needed defending. If the prince found them undefended after the battle started, they’d be in trouble. The Alexander would be more useful here.

“Tell Malcal-san I’m heading to bed as ordered.”

“Alright, alright. Can do, Private.” Ayano saluted in a sloppy imitation of the real thing before hopping off back the way she’d came.


Volga River Fortress

Volga Province, Russia

September 25, 2016 a.t.b.


Lelouch gazed out at the encroaching army the huntress had brought before him. After their scramble last night to get out of the way of the fire, they’d finally returned and busied themselves with setting up camp once more and much closer this time. It seemed that they were settling in for a siege. He chuckled.

I’m almost tempted to let Kallen run around and cause chaos while we keep the huntress tied up here. If only it weren’t the end of September already. Oh well.

“Your Highness.” That was Sergeant Potter, one of Kallen’s friends. If Lelouch recalled correctly, his first name was Mark. “I have a report from our scouts.”

“Go on.”

“At the moment, the Russian’s outnumber us five to one. Most of their forces consist of knightmares with some artillery at the back, a handful of tanks, and a few infantry.”

Curious. Lelouch had expected a larger number. He assumed Breisgau still had more material available to her even if that meant stretching her garrisons thin. Perhaps I’ve taught her the value of caution too well. “Continue.”

“No one has yet spotted the huntress or the Alexander.”

That was not unexpected. Breisgau had the luxury of infrastructure that allowed her to focus on her job and command from the rear, an advantage Lelouch somewhat shared this time despite lacking the numbers for a dedicated support staff. Her absence also denied him the chance to capture her and her general staff, thus destroying the chain of command and forcing her capitulation. The Alexander, too, would be vulnerable here and could be put to better use guarding her. It was all perfectly understandable, though disappointing.

This victory won’t be complete without defeating her toy, nor do we have the time to spare to hunt it down. Lelouch sighed to himself. How unfortunate. Still, this is enough. “Spread the word. It’s time.”


Volga Province, Russia

September 25, 2016 a.t.b.


It was time. Kallen relayed the message to her entire army, though many were already aware and spreading the word themselves. They were ready and moving within minutes, an unstoppable wave on a direct course to crash into the huntress’s rear.

Kallen spared a few moments to ensure those being left behind hadn't forgotten their orders in the excitement, though she needn't have bothered. Britannia had not earned its reputation for having the most professional army in the world without due cause. The long-range artillery, captured equipment they'd not yet had a reason to use, had its steadfast guard.

As she herself departed, Kallen sent off one final message to Shinobu.


Russian Army Encampment

Volga Province, Russia

September 25, 2016 a.t.b.


Leila was only just finishing breakfast when the siren sounded out a warning for an imminent attack on their forces maintaining the siege. After so long on campaign, she dashed out of the officer’s mess completely on reflex toward her command centre.

By the time Leila arrived, the battle was already underway. A massive contingent of Britannian forces had come out of the woodwork, tearing through the rearguard like a hot knife through butter. She stared at the map displaying her troops and enemies’ positions in real time in shock.

That’s more knightmares than I expected. The thought came with a detachedness that matched Leila’s incomprehension. Where had the prince obtained so many? Her army on the ground barely outnumbered him two to one now at best.

“Please tell me we’ve already mobilised everyone,” Leila asked to anyone who would answer her. She’d put her army into a far worse position than she’d expected. When someone replied that they were departing now, she breathed a sigh of relief. Now she just needed to minimise her losses until she forced the prince to capitulate.


Volga River Fortress

Volga Province, Russia

September 25, 2016 a.t.b.


Kallen wheeled and danced through gunfire and explosions, never daring to stop moving for even a moment. There were no clever stratagems here, no brilliant tactics, no grand schemes, just a brawl between two armies on an open plain attempting to whittle the other’s numbers down first. Her army prioritised anything and everything with range or treads, but their only real goal was to push forward and press the Russians back into Lelouch’s fortress.

The force of a near miss from a Panzer Hummel’s missile rocked Kallen’s frame. The explosion tore up clumps of ground and splattered against her, but she pressed onward. She lined up her shot. A burst of fire from one of her guns disabled the last of the huntress’s artillery.

With no vulnerable equipment left to defend, the huntress’s army finally gave ground. Kallen’s own did their job well. They spread out and continued to push their opponent further and further back toward Lelouch’s fortress, his guns, and the unfordable Volga.

Kallen fired across the battlefield and felt some of the mental pressure from her geass let up. She really should have sent more of her friends with Lelouch. If it incapacitated her here, she was as good as dead.

A salvo of guns impacted Kallen’s knightmare. The armour held, but one shot managed to slip into a joint and disable her left arm’s servomotor. She swore under her breath but didn’t eject it. Though locked in place, it could still fire. While it’s ammo lasted, she would keep it.

This brutal slog continued for a hellish ten minutes until finally, at long last, the net was closed. Pinned between Kallen’s army and Lelouch’s fortress with both flanks pressed up against the Volga, the huntress’s army was trapped. They’d encircled the enemy. Or they effectively had, at least; the flanks were tiny. Kallen barely had ten seconds to enjoy the feeling before she received a warning from her geass. Lelouch was going to die. Given the how and the time frame, it wasn’t due to enemy action. That meant they had information to send back in time.

Kallen fell back in the lines to give her some freedom to think. There she quickly ran through the usual game of twenty questions to determine what the future held. The tactical category lead to an ambush. The nature of the ambush lead to encirclement. She then sussed out the details.

Oh, fuck.


“N4,” Lelouch began, “take your squad to support B3 on the left flank.”

The order was acknowledged and seen to immediately. The battle was proceeding well. The huntress was in a bad and worsening position, losing units at least twice as fast as he was. Simple calculus said he would win eventually, but this was such a waste of material. He hoped–

A call came in, one Lelouch had awaited since the very beginning of this battle. “Shinobu, report.”

“Mission accomplished, Your Highness. All communications were severed before a distress signal could be issued, and all civilians have been removed from the site and taken into custody.” And with Breisgau and her staff preoccupied fighting a losing battle with no escape, she would likely remain ignorant of Lelouch’s machinations until it was too late. “We await your command.”

“Do it.” The sooner the better as far as Lelouch was concerned. He wanted to capture as many enemy knightmares as possible.

Shinobu dipped into a shallow bow in acknowledgement of the order. “As you command.” She then terminated the connection.

Excellent. This will all be over in twenty to thirty minutes. All I need to do now is ensure Breisgau and I both have an army when it’s done. With that goal in mind, Lelouch reached out to her over the open channel. Surprisingly, she answered within a few seconds. Was she just about to contact me as well? He hummed to himself as he contemplated the implications, but only briefly. There was a blonde ball of fury in front of him to distract.

“You greedy, arrogant, vain–” Breisgau grimaced. “What do you want?”

Although he resisted thanking Breisgau for the very great compliment, a smirk still curled Lelouch’s lips. “A ceasefire while we converse.”

Breisgau’s eyebrows rose, though if it were from surprise, scepticism, or disapproval was anyone’s guess. The woman had a mask of stone. “Very well. One moment, please.” She cut the connection, presumably to see to the order on her side.

As the huntress did so, Lelouch set about spreading the word down the chain of command. Hostilities were to be suspended unless provoked. In the midst of this process, his prophetess came bearing news.

“There’s an ambush coming. This is only half of Breisgau’s army. You have nine minutes. We get encircled.”

Kallen’s warning echoed in Lelouch’s mind. Half. Ambush. Encircled. He broke out in a cold sweat as his face paled. Kallen is out there! His head whirled to the nearest clock.

Not enough to time crush this army and then turn on the other.

Some quick mental math disabused Lelouch of the notion of fighting this out until the end. The risk to Kallen was too great. Nevermind the plan, nevermind appearances, nevermind the loses, he refused to outright gamble with her life.

Can I politely allow Breisgau’s forces to leave our encirclement? That’d prevent her from encircling us. No, too suspicious. She’d immediately know I know and restart the battle.

Have Kallen’s group retreat? No, same problem but worse. Breisgau would give chase, and then my group wouldn’t be there to support her.

There was a signal on the open channel. The huntress was back.

Lelouch slammed a fist into his command table. He needed more time.

More time? An idea occurred. He’d already obtained a ceasefire. Yes, I need more time. This would be the biggest test of his acting and rhetorical skills of his entire life so far. Lelouch quickly ordered Kallen to have her entire army ready to eject toward the fortress at a moment’s notice. Cockpits could be put back into their frames. Knightmares could be replaced. Devicers could not. Aces could not. Queens could not.

With one steadying breath, Lelouch schooled his expression and reopened the line with the huntress.


Russian Army Encampment

Volga Province, Russia

September 25, 2016 a.t.b.


Leila barely restrained herself from breaking down into giddy laughter. Of all things, the prince had asked for a ceasefire. It was too perfect. He actually thought he’d won. He actually thought he had her in a position to negotiate her surrender. No, all the prince had done with his request was guarantee his own defeat, and it would be glorious when he realised that fact.

I am taking this war way too personally. Leila knew that, but she hardly cared at the moment. She wanted to wipe that smug look off the prince’s face. “Sergeant Orlova, put me back onto the open channel.”

Although the battle had already suspended, it took nearly half a minute for the prince to rejoin the so-called negotiations.

Leila led off the conversation with all the indignity due to her if she hadn’t a second army en route to crush him. “Encircling a larger army with a smaller army? You really couldn’t resist, could you, Your Highness?”

The prince chuckled with that unbearably smug triumphant look about him. “What can I say? Deception is an art, one in which I’m well-versed.”

“I fell for nothing!” Leila protested. “I let you encircle me. I knew your entire army wasn’t in your fortress.”

“Oh? An…interesting…manoeuvre, if true.”

Leila grit her teeth. “I didn’t expect you to have as many knightmares as you do. Especially not after our last battle before your ‘holiday’.”

“Ah, yes. My knight and I went to Kazan to enjoy the waning summer sun.” With Leila levelling a fierce glare at him, Lelouch added, “We did send you a picture.”

Was that actually real? There was no way. “Someday your hubris will be the death of you or someone you love.”

“Yes, I’ll remember that when I’m parading through the streets, my people cheering my magnificence as I pass. The pageantry and splendour will be matched only by the honour and glory I’ve accumulated in battle. Hmm… Perhaps you have a point. I should purchase a slave on the way home to remind me of my mortality as I celebrate your humiliation.”

Leila gaped at the prince. “You’re unbelievable!”

And of course the prince just laughed.

As much as Leila wanted to cut the connection and resume the battle, she restrained her temper for her army’s sake. She surveyed the people in the room with her and found most of the English speakers near the boiling point. She dearly hoped they didn’t do anything rash and act without orders. Perhaps it was time for a change of topic.

“This is folly, you know. Even if you win this battle, this war, every step closer you take to your goal is a step further toward becoming a monster. When you become a terrible enough demon to replace the one you serve, do you really believe you’ll still care?”

The prince snorted. “My dear huntress, you worry needlessly. I am the biggest monster. Why do you think you hunt me?” Before Leila could formulate any response to that, he continued, “Do you honestly believe I ever cared? It’s merely good politics and pleases my queen.”

“You cannot be serious. You cannot actually be serious right now.”

“I do not tolerate slights upon my knight’s good character,” the prince threatened in what had to be an intentional misunderstanding. “Perhaps it’s time to end this. If you don’t wish to fight this out to the bitter end, I’ll be magnanimous in victory and accept your surrender.”

Leila turned to one of her officers and silently asked how much longer she had to keep the prince and his army occupied. He held up a single finger. One minute, no problem. She ground her teeth together and then bit out, “What would be your terms?”

“Nothing onerous. Have your men exit their knightmares and simply walk away.”

“Oh?” Leila doubted the prince had nearly enough devicers to make use of them all or even half. Besides that, however, there was another matter she found curious. “No demands upon my own person?” She’d thought he would take the opportunity to try to press her into his service.

“I have no interest in unwilling servants.”

“Right… Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to reject your generous offer. You see, I’m going to win this battle.”

The prince harrumphed. “I suppose you could call it a win when both our armies destroy each other. A rather Pyrrhic victory, if you ask me. It won’t stop me from rebuilding at your expense.”

“You misunderstand. I’ve wanted a set piece battle with you for months, and you gave it to me on a silver platter. I only needed to play along. Any moment now, you should see the other half of my army arriving.”

The colour slowly drained out of the prince’s face. His eyes widened as the certainty of his defeat worked its way through his system. Leila could pinpoint the exact moment by his expression when he received the report of her encroaching army.

“You’ve been stalling me.”

“Don’t worry. If you don’t wish to fight this out to the bitter end, I’ll be magnanimous in victory and accept your surrender.”

“Damn you,” the prince growled, hate in his eyes. Leila watched on in patient amusement, smiling, as he grew distracted with all the new information bombarding him.

I am enjoying gloating way too much.

“Where’s the Alexander?”

Leila idly buffed her nails and, as she inspected them, casually replied, “Oh, I didn’t feel like allowing you a thousand pot shots on it across the plain as a consolation prize, so I have it guarding me. I figured I’d head east with it after this. It should do exceedingly well in the taiga.”

A click of the tongue met the claim. “How did you know I planned to ambush your army?”

“Your ships were getting lighter. Knowing you, it could have been an elaborate ruse to some darker purpose, I admit, but it seemed more likely you were dispersing material. When you retreated to this fortress you’d conjured out of the ether, I became certain. I will give you that I grossly miscalculated exactly how many knightmares you had.”

“Hmph. I thought I’d accounted for the weight difference. I should have taken the time to be more careful.”

Well, that explains where our maths went wrong.

“If I were to surrender” – the prince looked nauseous just saying the word – “what terms would it be under?”

Leila quirked an eyebrow. “If?”

“Rest assured, I can hole up here for months under siege or make it very costly for you to capture me. Let’s be honest. I am the problem you need to remove. If I get away, I can do this all again. Perhaps I’d head south, join up with my sister in Africa, and then sail north at the head of an army a hundred times the size I’ve led so effectively against you.”

“An empty threat,” Leila said dismissively. “Her Highness is otherwise occupied and would meet fierce opposition trying to sail both into and through the Black Sea. Besides, you’d have already lost, your plan lying in shattered ruins at your feet. The only reason you would have to return would be petty revenge.”

“Nonetheless, your terms?”

Considering that the prince had little official political power, he held authority only over his own army, and Emperor Charles historically cut loose anyone who failed him, including his own children, Leila had nothing beyond the obvious to ask for.

“You and everyone you command will surrender themselves to our custody as prisoners of war. You will return all of the military equipment you’ve stolen. Moreover, you will personally assist me in cleaning up whatever leftover schemes you have lying around Russia, and on whatever honour you have, you will be forthright and cooperative about it.”

“Fair terms in theory, I suppose, but the latter two would be hard for me to fulfil.”

Leila rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to return every nut and bolt, scrap iron and fired bullet. I have better things to do than participate in the world’s worst scavenger hunt.”

“That still leaves us with two problems. You are one of my leftover schemes.”

Without missing a beat, Leila said, “I’m not interested in hearing it.”

The prince smirked. “Very well. On to the second problem, then. Tell me, are you familiar with the term rasputitsa?”

“No, I’ve never heard of…” Leila noticed the signs of recognition in the eyes of her officers varying in intensity from puzzlement to worry to fear. She immediately enquired.

“It’s General Mud, Ma’am. When the spring thaw and the autumn rains make travel off paved roads exceedingly difficult.”

Leila spun back to the prince. She knew the prince never missed an opportunity to use terrain to his advantage. That mess in Saint Petersburg came to mind. He’d even gone out of his way to reshape it on occasion. That bloody fortress of his built from nothing in enemy territory was the ultimate example. A flurry of other construction projects he might have undertaken flew through her mind, and her threat assessment of the dam he’d built skyrocketed.

“What have you done!”

The prince merely held up three fingers. He lowered one, then another, and finally–

A gasp came from across the room. “He destroyed our dam!” It had a reservoir of water, now free to flow, that’d taken years to fill.

Leila paled as the implications hit her. “You – you’ve been stalling me. This whole time!”

“Cleanup would be such drudgery, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to reject your generous offer. You see, I’m going to win this battle.”

Leila had never wanted to punch someone more in her entire life.

“You have four minutes before the flood waters hit and turns this plain into a bog. Your landspinners will become useless in the mire and the mud. Even walking would be treacherous for knightmares in the murky waters. By my count, ninety percent of your two armies will become stranded atop a hill, dead in the water, or washed away. Hundreds will drown. Perhaps thousands.” As though it were a mere afterthought, the prince added, “Oh, and let’s not forget this.” He snapped his fingers.

Five seconds later, Leila received countless warnings on her map and dozens of gasps from the room at large that made their own report. One of the hills a kilometre away from the main battle exploded in a fiery hellscape. Dirt and debris flew everywhere under the onslaught as the prince reduced the knoll to a pocket of overlapping craters, a hideous wave of death and destruction promised to anyone who fell under the bombardment.

“Long-range artillery,” the prince explained needlessly. “Captured them months ago and saved them for a special occasion. Guarded, high enough altitude, and far too far away to reach in time.”

Leila turned for a second opinion but only received a resigned nod in answer.

“We can avoid thousands of needless deaths if you surrender now. I’ll turn the Volga red with blood and destroy your entire army down to the last man if I must.”

“You would fire on your own knights?”

The prince quirked an eyebrow at Leila. “I only fielded knightmares today for a reason.”

Oh. In hindsight, that was obvious.

“Regardless, neither I nor Britannia as a whole requires me to win more here. My terms are the same as before with two added provisos. I’ll provide food, water, and shelter for your men until they can be retrieved or depart peaceably on their own. In exchange, as my victory condition only lasts perhaps half as long as its reservoir, I want you to join them in my custody as an added incentive against treachery.”

“I’ll consider it.”

“Tick-tock.”

Leila ordered the connection to be immediately cut, took a deep breath, and then turned to her general staff. This wasn’t her country. These weren’t her people. This wasn’t her war. She’d leave the decision up to them.


Volga River Fortress

Volga Province, Russia

September 25, 2016 a.t.b.


“A pleasure to finally meet you in person, Lady Breisgau.”

“Forgive me if I don’t feel the same.”

“Regrettable, but I understand. However, now that you’ve surrendered, I can thank you myself for your service to the crown and to me in particular.” Lelouch caught Breisgau freeze momentarily as a flash of anger surfaced in her eyes, but she banished it in a blink. This was entirely too much fun. “I appreciate you evacuating the Volga for me. The water damage shouldn’t be too bad, but I never would have flooded the basin if riverside civilians were present in the severely affected areas.”

“I assure you, no thanks are necessary.”

Still wearing a friendly smile despite the frosty reply, Lelouch said, “I look forward to working with you again in the future. Please do became the threat that Britannia will always need me for.”

Before Breisgau could slap him – or punch him, considering how her hand clenched – Kallen slapped Lelouch upside the head. “Be nice.”

“Hmph. She’s not crying or cursing my name. Well, not aloud, at least.”

Kallen rolled her eyes. She then turned her attention to the last member of their little welcome party. In particular, Lelouch knew, her gaze fell onto the katana at the girl’s waist in anticipation of a match. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.”

“Ayano Kosaka.”

“Nipponjin?”

Kosaka eyed Kallen warily for a moment before replying, “Furansuhito, demo chigaimasen.”

After that little introduction, the pair descended into a rapid exchange of Japanese that Lelouch had no hope of following with his limited knowledge of the language. Judging by the look on her face when the two walked off together to do who knew what – he assumed spar – Breisgau found herself in a similar situation.

“So you brought your…”

“Sister. She insisted. It was either bring her or snap at her. This was the lesser of two evils. I trust you don’t want a reputation for harming little girls.”

Needless to say, Lelouch did not. “Little sisters.”

“Yeah.”

A moment passed in silence.

“Do you realise how frustrating it is having unfinished business with the Alexander?”

“You’re welcome to waste months trying to track it down.”

“No thank you,” Lelouch said bluntly. “I’ll get it next time if it’s still relevant.” He called over one of his nearby men. “Captain Green here will show you to your quarters. And your sister’s, I suppose. I apologise in advance for the lack of amenities.”


Ayano ducked and weaved out of the countess’s quick thrusts. The woman practised some style of fencing, though not one she had ever encountered before. It was fast, it was relentless, and it pissed her off that the countess was taking it easy on her.

With a heavy swing of the thin pipe serving as her blade, Ayano forced the countess’s own longer, thinner pipe out and away. She then rushed in too close to be stabbed and threw a punch. If she could stagger the countess, she could land a solid slash to the torso.

Unfortunately, the countess grasped Ayano by the wrist before her fist could reach the woman. Locked in place, she tried to bring her sword down, but the countess pulled her closer. The strike went wide and cut only air. The woman’s sword hand rose threateningly. Ayano winced away as the countess struck and braced for an impact that never came. Instead, the countess bopped her on the head and released her wrist.

“Not bad, kid. Good endurance. Good instincts. I imagine you’re used to fighting people your own age?” Ayano nodded, and the countess continued, “You need to be careful fighting someone physically stronger than you. One of the downsides of our gender is that’s more likely to be the case than not. You’ll have to adapt soon.”

“Is that why you use a rapier?”

“Sort of. I do prefer light weaponry, but my particular choice of weapon has more to do with who my mentor was. Do you have someone suitable to practice with? Sayama-san, perhaps?”

“Nah. He’s probably not going to move to France. He doesn’t know a blade from a hilt anyway. Maybe I could ask Hyūga-san. He might know a thing or two.”

Caught up in her musings, Ayano almost missed the countess ask, “Hyūga-san?”

“Hmm? Oh, he’s the test pilot for the Alexander. He’s better than Ryō-kun, but Onee-san wasn’t willing to field a minor.” Ayano smirked. “Next time for sure he’ll be around and will totally destroy you.”

“You keep telling yourself that, kid.”

“You won’t stand a chance.”

“Uh-huh. What’s this Hyūga kid’s name, then? I’ll need a suitably demeaning nickname for him.”

“Hyūga Akito. Hyūga as in ‘toward the sun’. Akito just in katakana.”

The countess said nothing at first, but she soon broke into a knowing grin. “You fancy this boy?”

“He’s very fanciable from a distance,” Ayano allowed. “But I hardly know him.”

“That’s a good mindset to have. Still, as a future rival and enemy, needs must. Hmm… I think I’ll refer to him as…Aki-chan.”

Despite herself, Ayano snickered.

“Anyway, are you up for another round? I’m not terribly familiar with two-handed swords, but I can give you a few general pointers on taking down bigger opponents.”

In answer, Ayano fell into a ready stance.


Lelouch knocked on the door of the small room he shared with Kallen. “You decent?”

“Close enough.” Inside, Lelouch found Kallen lounging on both his and her blankets in shorts and a modest bra less exposing than her usual bikinis. “It is way too hot with this many people crammed in here.”

While Lelouch agreed, there was nothing to be done for it.

“How did the recovery effort go?”

“Very well. We have far too many knightmares for our own use now. We’ll hand off the excess to BALTIC and let them do what they will.”

“Has our victory leaked to the public yet?”

“Well, there’s a riot in Moscow.” When Breisgau fell, all of the hope and stability she’d gathered about herself fell with her. As that answered the question well enough, Lelouch asked one of his own. “Learn anything interesting from Miss Kosaka?”

“Yeah, but it’ll keep until we’re in private. Let’s just go to bed. I’m knackered.”

Lelouch quirked an eyebrow at her. “Are you going to give me back my bedding?”

“No.”

“I see… Am I expected to be a gentleman and sleep on the floor?”

“Just come snuggle in next to me, already. We’ve shared more beds than your father has wives to bed.”

Lelouch chuckled at the joke and did as bidden. An excellent end to a victorious day.