Stage 26 - The Witch
New York, Britannia
July 8, 2017 a.t.b.
An arm draped over her waist, legs entangled, her back pressed against his chest, the faint sensation of his breath on her neck. Kallen sighed, happy and content in the arms of her husband. If she could awaken this way every day, she would. Really, if she’d known it would be this wonderful, she’d have taken Lelouch into her bed years ago.
“Noble fools,” Kallen mumbled sleepily, “the both of us.” He’d made them wait years while she’d entertained the idea of a marriage of convenience. “Utter nonsense.”
“Are you finally awake?”
Kallen’s eyes snapped open. On the settee along the wall lay C.C. in pyjamas. She held a book open over her head by both arms and appeared to be reading.
“What are you doing here!” Kallen hissed, hoping not to wake Lelouch.
Casually turning a page, C.C. replied, “You invited me.”
“Not into my bedroom!”
“And no wonder. No condoms, no pill, no anything? How irresponsible. Even Marianne would say you’re too young to give her grandchildren to spoil.”
Kallen breathed deeply and silently to calm herself. I see why Anne described C.C. as ‘difficult’. Fine. I won’t let her get under my skin. “I understand you may not be hip with the times, but IUDs have been around for a while.”
It took a few moments, but C.C. did nod in understanding. “I recall some lawsuit making them unpopular.”
“Yeah, until recently. Kind of an overreaction, if you ask me. Especially when they give you the option to mostly not have to deal with your period.”
“I can appreciate that. A perk of immortality is if I get that far along in my cycle, I can just reset it.”
Completely serious, Kallen said, “I think I hate you.”
“You know,” Lelouch began, “this really isn’t the conversation I was hoping for the morning after my wedding night.”
Kallen turned about in place, silently laughing at his reaction, to give Lelouch a lingering kiss. “Morning. Sorry we woke you.”
“It’s fine. But please indulge me. Why is C.C. here?”
“I was invited,” C.C. replied before Kallen could.
Lelouch arched an eyebrow. “Perhaps some privacy for the moment, then?”
“If you insist.” C.C. placed a bookmark and set aside whatever she was reading. She rose and then disappeared into Kallen’s wardrobe. She emerged a couple minutes later wearing proper clothes which, despite some looseness in the chest, fit her well. She left without a word or second glance.
Once they were alone, Lelouch asked, “Did you actually invite her in?”
“No.” It was a fair question, though. They weren’t exactly shy about having the staff wake them when needed. “When I woke, she – wait. She just stole some of my clothes, didn’t she?”
“Borrowed without permission, I believe.”
“That’s the same thing!” Kallen protested.
Lelouch remained unmoved – mildly amused, even. “Relax. There’s no way she’s lived this long without learning personal boundaries, so she must be deliberately pushing ours. Let her find them. She’s in a relatively new environment with no friends and all goodwill stemming exclusively from gratitude. How long do you think it would be before she needed to flex her magic if you were Guinevere?”
That makes far more sense than it should.
“Just don’t give let her get to you in the process.”
A sigh escaped Kallen. “Don’t feed the trolls?”
“I imagine she’s not antagonistic for its own sake, but a similar approach should work.”
“Fine, fine.” If she could suffer aristocratic scum, she could handle an annoying ancient who’d saved her life at least once. More importantly, they were alone now. Kallen ran her hand up Lelouch’s chest. “So what were you expecting from the morning after your wedding night?”
“To be honest, some sleepy snuggling and a long lie in, but I seem to have married an insatiable woman. A miscalculation on my part.”
With raised brows, Kallen shifted her legs.
“But perhaps after. I can bear the burden of your indulgence while this is all still new and exciting until it becomes a normal leisure activity.”
“Uh-huh.” Kallen grinned and rolled on top of Lelouch. “Your sacrifice honours me, Your Highness. Now shut up and kiss me.”
As much as she tried to pretend otherwise, Euphemia dragged her feet on her way down to brunch. Every part of her from her brain to her toes felt exhausted even after her lie in. It’d been a long night.
The smell of pizza drifted out of the library as Euphemia walked past. Curious, she poked her head inside. Therein she discovered an unexpected guest in the manor. Food could wait, she decided. And with any luck, she could steal some leftovers from last night’s feast right now.
“Good morning. You’re C.C., right?”
The woman in question barely bothered to glance up from her book before nodding.
“I’m Euphemia, Lelouch’s sister.” Introductions were probably unnecessary but still polite. After a moment, she added, “And Kallen’s too, I suppose.”
“I know.” C.C. took a bite of pizza, and as she closed her book, an expectant air settled around her. Did she not enjoy good conversation? Or perhaps had she suffered one too many entitled princesses in her life?
Euphemia didn’t know the answer but nonetheless pressed on, determined to make a good impression. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’m told you’ve been looking after us for years. I’d like to express my gratitude for what must have been an exhausting and thankless job. If you weren’t here, I know at least two people I love wouldn’t be.”
“I can’t let my contractor die before she fulfils her end of our deal.”
“Even so,” Euphemia insisted. “You were there long before you gave her magic after all.”
C.C. arched her eyebrows at the word ‘magic’.
Laughing lightly, Euphemia said, “A little in-joke amongst us. We know the proper term is geass.”
“It makes no difference to me.”
Wonderful! Euphemia had been a little concerned she’d given offence. Perhaps, then, she could pursue a few other avenues of conversation both to break the ice and to satisfy her own curiosity. “I have a request I’d like to make of you.”
With but a look, C.C. instructed Euphemia to continue.
“Could I ask you a few questions about history?” In truth, Euphemia hoped a few casual enquiries to get C.C. talking would turn into a much longer session. When else, after all, would she ever have the opportunity to speak with someone who had lived through the ages?
C.C., seemingly caught off guard, blinked. “I may not answer,” she eventually declared.
“I understand. Something simple first, then. What do you think has made the biggest change to society?”
Without missing a beat, C.C. replied, “The transistor’s effect on the world has been radical, swift, and pervasive.”
Euphemia resisted the urge to pout. She’d expected something a little less modern, something she hadn’t lived through herself to some degree. Still, it was a good answer. “Fair enough. I suppose I would say the same. What’s your favourite time period?” A moment later, she added, “Which you’ve lived through.”
That question took longer for an answer to come. “The decades surrounding the Humiliation produced some of my most interesting contractors.”
“Oh? Anyone I would recognise?”
“A few. I fell out with Elizabeth before then, so I left for the colonies where I met George. After his death, I went to the continent and eventually ran into Napoleon. In the twenties, Annwn sought me out and asked me to return to the fold. I refused at first but later changed my mind after Elizabeth died.”
With a Herculean effort, Euphemia snapped her jaw shut. “Do you have a long – er, well…” She tried to find the right words. “How often have you been involved with my family?”
C.C. shrugged. “Off and on over the centuries. I made several promises in exchange for the opportunity to go after the Duke of Orléans. I was younger then. Wrothful.”
It took only a moment for the connection to be made but far longer for Euphemia to find her voice again. “You’re the Witch of Britannia! The original one.” This was so exciting! She had a living legend sitting right across the table from her.
A mildly interested hum met the question. “Kallen didn’t tell you?”
Euphemia shook her head. Still somewhat stunned, she took a few moments to process the revelation. “What did you have against the duke?” Scholars had debated that alongside the witch’s identity since before the nineteenth century.
“That’s none of your business.”
Euphemia winced at the tone. That had, in hindsight, been an insensitive question. She apologised and, as much as she wished otherwise, silently promised to steer clear of the entire subject. Still, there were plenty of other things to talk about. She still had the chance to make a good impression.
The dining hall – the private one – nearly overflowed with family. Not everyone had elected to spend the night, but table space remained in short supply regardless. Merry conversation flowed in a half-dozen little groups from Cornelia and Ruben’s relaxed comments on the news to Nunnally and Laila’s furtive whispers and giggles. This was life as it should be.
Oddly enough, Euphemia had elected to skip brunch. Lelouch chuckled to himself at the thought. Nunnally and Laila must have worn her out completely last night. He sympathised. Truly, he did. Kallen had done the same to him, if in a more enjoyable manner. One way or another, that woman seemed determined to keep him relatively fit.
As each member of the family in turn made their good mornings and well-wishes, Lelouch and Kallen split for each end of the table. As this was her manor, she took her usual position at the head. Lelouch, as her consort as much as she was his, sat in the long vacant chair across from her.
“So how is the world reacting?” Lelouch enquired of the two sitting adjacent to him.
Ruben folded his newspaper to reveal today’s headline, ‘Wedding of the Century,’ while Cornelia continued to poke at her phone. “Some negative comments about the guest list, but going fully traditional” – a rarity these days for logistical reasons – “on such an absurd scale seems to have balanced things out. Beyond that, the romance of being a prince and knight, childhood friends, and actually liking each other sold the affair.”
“More or less what I’ve seen,” Cornelia said. “You needn’t fear to tread in public anymore than when you returned from the war. The women are envious. The men want to be you. All told, it’s as you might expect. The people love you two; the nobility hates you in particular. Extreme responses from the latter are the usual drivel. They mostly claim you’re unworthy of such a fine woman from a good family and should stop infecting her with un-Britannian ideas.”
There were more than a few snickers along the table from those who’d overheard. Nunnally turned to Kallen with a purposeful look in her eye and received a small nod in return a few moments later. She then led a confused looking Laila out of the room, presumably to explain the joke in private where any unpleasant reactions wouldn’t disturb the lingering celebratory atmosphere. Lelouch doubted its necessity, however. Kallen wouldn’t have given Nunnally the go-ahead to reveal that secret without consulting the future.
Nonette chimed in and asked Cornelia, “Do you have that one rant saved? The one comparing Kallen to poor Dame Eleanor? No?” She clicked her tongue. “Well, tsk tsk, nonetheless, Lulu. Enslaving your knight is wrong.”
Across the table, Kallen’s face immediately turned bright red. When Lelouch’s eyes met her own, she turned away to resume her own conversation. He smirked at the reaction but made no further comment. The forfeits from their wagers were so much more satisfying now that they were physically involved with each other.
Cornelia loudly cleared her throat, apparently intensely uninterested in the current subject matter. “Where do you intend to go for your honeymoon?”
“We were thinking of flying to Hawaii and then island hopping around the Pacific for a few months. We’ll eventually make our way to Japan and drop in on everyone there. After that, I think we’ll go wherever the wind takes us.”
Nonette agreed. “You know–”
Cornelia cut her off immediately. “Father will not give you months of leave if you marry.”
“Hmph. I thought we had something special. Of course you would have some ulterior motive. I should have known better. All royals are the same.”
Cornelia rolled her eyes but otherwise didn’t deign to respond.
“Except for dear Lelouch here, of course.”
Lelouch, chuckling, politely replied, “My apologies, but I have my hands full with just Kallen.”
And thus Nonette decried him. “All royals are the same!”
Before they left for their tour of paradise, one green-haired menace needed sorting out. Kallen asked around and almost immediately discovered her location: the library. She and Lelouch went upstairs to meet her now that they were all fully dressed.
Or Kallen hoped they were all fully dressed. If Lelouch was right about C.C., she couldn’t be sure.
To her delight, they did, in fact, find C.C. dressed. Still in her own clothes, she might add, but whatever. More interestingly, they found the menace engaged in conversation with Euphie about the unification of Germany.
While eating pizza.
In the library filled with books, many of which were autographed first editions sometimes dating back to before the Humiliation.
Kallen breathed deeply and put it from her mind. It wasn’t like she hadn’t done the same or worse as a child, and C.C. and Euphie didn’t have any of the important books at their table. Indeed, the latter would surely have already said something if necessary. No big deal.
Lelouch took the lead. “Good morning, Euphemia. We missed you at brunch, although I see you haven’t gone hungry.” Disregarding the woman in question’s guilty blush at being caught red-handed, a half-eaten slice in her hand, he turned to their other guest. “I’m very curious. Did we only ever have to invite you to join us for you to appear?”
“Bet you feel very foolish now,” C.C. said while devouring a dangling strand of cheese. Was she lying? For the life of her, Kallen couldn’t tell, but it wouldn’t surprise her. Once Lelouch sat down, C.C. said, “Give me your hand.”
Although he quirked an eyebrow at the demand, Lelouch compiled. Then as Kallen recalled from yesterday, a bright red glow shone from beneath the fringe of C.C.’s hair. He swayed unsteadily in his seat until the process finished but seconds later. Once it had, he reacted in much the same way as she had as he sorted out the difference between real and implanted memories.
“The emperor can alter memories?” Lelouch turned to Kallen.
“She did me yesterday. He’s not one of hers.”
Lelouch nodded in understanding. “No wonder he emerged victorious through the Emblem of Blood and has such an iron grip on the country. What a game breaking power for the unaware.” He glanced in mock accusation at Kallen who merely smiled and poked his foot with her own.
Across the table, C.C. said, “Oh my. Perhaps this is for the best. The real you is a monster.”
“W-what?” Euphie pulled her hand back as if burnt. “I-I… I…”
Kallen rolled her eyes. “She’s obviously lying. You’ve been the sweetest person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know since I met you. You’re clean.”
Euphie breathed a sigh of relief.
“Personally, I’d think Cornelia the likelier victim,” Kallen said, “since she did the investigation into Marianne’s murder. She might have stumbled onto something magical.”
Lelouch frowned as he considered the matter. “It’s possible, I suppose. It would certainly be frustrating to have had the solution to so many mysteries so near at hand yet so far out of reach for so long.” He shot a look at C.C. who remained unfazed and uninterested. “I trust you’ll find a, shall we say, quiet way to inform Marrybell when you return to Japan?”
Uneasy laughter met the question. “I’ll do my best,” Euphie replied. “I can tell everyone else, too. No need to hold up your departure.”
“You’re the best,” Kallen said. She then turned to C.C.. “Speaking of, what about you?” After quickly checking that it would be fine with Lelouch, she added, “If you’re going to follow us around anyway, you may as well just come with.”
C.C. snorted in some slight amusement. “You’re much more accommodating than Marianne. Very well.”
That did make some things easier. Most of their questions could wait until they were on a sandy beach somewhere warm and sunny with crystal clear blue waves. It wasn’t like they expected C.C. to answer many of them anyway.
Area 7, Britannia
July 11, 2017 a.t.b.
Lelouch laid comfortably on the Misty Sands Beach, relaxed and reading a book. It was not his lying wife next to him. She was off in the ocean learning to surf. Every so often, he heard a comical shriek from her abruptly end in a splash. He looked up each time to assure himself of her safety and unsurprisingly found her already beelining for the riptide back out to sea on every instance.
No, it was C.C. sunbathing beside him. An odd choice, given the woman’s abilities. Her regeneration meant she couldn’t hold a tan, but then she also couldn’t burn. Perhaps she simply enjoyed the heat.
As the sun lowered in the sky, Lelouch set his book aside. He’d need to rein Kallen in soon to head inside for dinner and some light dancing. If he left her to her own devices, she’d probably not return until she collapsed from hunger or mastered the waves. But for the moment, this seemed as good a time as any to speak with the witch.
“I’ve had a thought,” Lelouch began. “The emperor suggested something to me many months ago.”
C.C. hummed curiously.
“He said I should obtain a geass if I wanted to continue investigating my mother’s murder.”
“And I suppose you want one, then.” It wasn’t an accusation, merely a statement of presumed fact.
Lelouch didn’t bother to answer. Geass, magic that could slip out of its possessor’s control, was a gamble. Some powers like Kallen’s could be permanent without issue. Others, he imagined, could become crippling or even torturous.
“At first, I assumed he meant it in the sense that I should fight fire with fire. I gave it no more thought then that at the time. He knew we knew about geass through Marrybell, not that we had one. That was all.
“But then we discovered that Anne, who reports to him, indeed likely works directly under him, suspected Kallen for entirely different reasons. And if she did, so too did he.”
C.C. rolled onto her front, legs idly kicking in the air. “So?”
“So? Anne easily deduced Kallen’s geass. Not the details, of course, but the general ability. It is, frankly, absurdly powerful. Why then would he specifically recommend I obtain a geass? I assume the powers are somewhat random. Kallen turned hers to her advantage in the heat of the moment, but it didn’t exactly fit the situation at hand when you gave it to her. Would mine even be useful? Would it be a burden? I believe he finds me too useful to cripple.
“No, it’s not the magic that matters but the geass itself. He specifically informed me that I should have one. Not everyone I trust with the power, not all those he believes he can control, but me in particular. It then follows that I must have one to have my revenge.”
While this was all guesswork, Lelouch had confidence in every conclusion so far. Now, however, he was about to enter more uncertain territory.
“By that logic, I must have a geass to kill whoever killed my mother. The specific power doesn’t matter, only the geass itself. Kallen I know can be killed without a geass, so that leaves me with only one conclusion with the information I have available: an immortal killed my mother; moreover, geass bearers can kill immortals.”
This time C.C.’s hum had a distinctly impressed tone to it. “A compelling theory. If it’s true, you must know what that means for your quest.”
Indeed he did. An entire army of sorcerers would stand between Lelouch and his mother’s murderer. He had no experience, no historical records, no anything to draw on to fight them. His only assent against them was his seeress who he could only hope had longer foresight than anyone amongst his enemies. Even then, the immortal, immune to her geass, would thus be perfectly positioned to throw a spanner into the works at any time without warning, without affecting their own oracles.
Worse, said immortal already considered him a nuisance. Not one so dangerous as to attract attention attempting to kill, but enough of one to send assassins when they could be spared and moved unnoticed. It was an impossible task.
But Lelouch was the man who made the impossible possible.
Geass was a gamble he was willing to take.
“I propose a deal. In return for your gift of power, I will grant you one wish.”
Even if Lelouch couldn’t see her face, he could hear the smirk in C.C.’s voice. “I just knew you’d grow up to become a fascinating man.”
“Then do we have a deal?”
“No? Why not?”
“Kallen is already bound to grant my wish, and I know you’ll help your beloved wife in whatever way you can. Thus your offer is meaningless.”
As much as he wished to, Lelouch couldn’t fault that logic. Even so, he refused to drop the subject without pressing his case. While he assumed Kallen’s geass would do in a pinch, vengeance was so much more satisfying when taken by one’s own hand. He didn’t know why the emperor had tacitly delegated it to him, but he wouldn’t protest the noninterference.
“I don’t suppose I could bribe you again?”
“We’ve yet to settle the last one,” C.C. countered.
Lelouch conceded the point. “What do you want?”
“Hmm… When we get to Japan, we stay long enough for me to save up enough points for a Cheese-kun.”
“Okay?” Lelouch had no idea what a Cheese-kun was or how one obtained it, but it sounded more than reasonable as bribes went. “Now with that out of the way–”
“If I wouldn’t make a contract for a wish, why do you believe I would for a bribe?” When Lelouch failed to respond, C.C. rose and gathered her things. As she walked off, she said, “Good night, Lelouch. Enjoy your evening with your wife.”
Frustrated, but not willing to try the witch’s patience, Lelouch’s eyes followed her until she left the beach behind. Once she was gone, his gaze turned toward the horizon. He idly watched the sun sink toward the horizon as he pondered her refusal.
Could she not grant him a geass? If so, why not? Did it cost her something? If it did, they wouldn’t know unless she told them, and he doubted she ever would. Were there special circumstances that had to be met? He didn’t particularly wish to replicate those that had led to Kallen’s. Did she herself have a limit to the number of contracts she could make? Any such number felt arbitrary, but he couldn’t rule it out. Kallen’s geass had an arbitrary temporal limit, after all.
Perhaps she simply didn’t want him to have a geass. Was there something wrong with him? Unless she had killed his mother – unlikely – he didn’t see why Kallen but not him. Did she simply not approve of creating sorcerers when it could be avoided? Assuming Kallen had quoted their contract correctly, she did seem to regard geass as a burden for unspecified reasons.
Of course, maybe if he had just asked instead of trying to make a deal, he might have seen better results. Some people, he knew, responded well to requests but had little taste for more formal bargains. C.C. didn’t seem the type, but then he didn’t know her that well yet.
Something heavy and wet settled onto Lelouch’s legs and broke him from his thoughts. It was Kallen. She intertwined her hands with his. “Here we are in a tropical paradise in the middle of summer on our honeymoon, and you read all day in the shade with another woman. Remind me again why I married you.”
“I believe you developed some fiendish plan to become empress at your princely husband’s expense when we were children.”
Kallen’s brows furrowed in thought. “Oh yes.” She grinned as she said, “You gave me the idea, I recall. Thank you for that. It seems to be succeeding beyond all expectations, for you know yet don’t care.”
“Ah, but perhaps that’s merely what I want you to think.”
“No no. This is the face of a man determined to enjoy his final days.” Kallen leaned forward for a light kiss. “The least I can do is oblige in honour of your sacrifice.”
“Will you at least remember me?”
“Fondly, my love. Though I rip my heart out, I must have the throne.”
Lelouch chuckled. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
In answer, Kallen kissed him once more. It was a slow, lingering affair, barely a meeting of lips. The scent of the ocean filled him as he breathed in, a reminder of how she’d spent her day.
“I may have overdone it a little,” Kallen confessed. She spoke softly, the two of them barely an inch apart. “I may laze away the day with you tomorrow. We could watch a film, just wander around the island, or maybe play videogames. We haven’t done that in far too long.”
“We’ve been busy.”
Kallen hummed her agreement as, still wet and dripping, she snuggled in next to Lelouch to watch the sunset. He protested, but she only stuck her tongue out before draping more of herself over him. “So? You getting along with C.C.?”
“I suppose.” Their conversation could have ended better, but C.C. had at least seemed engaged while it’d lasted. “She did decline to induct me into the magical order.”
“I’m not surprised.”
That brought Lelouch up short. He turned to her in question. Did she know something he didn’t?
Somewhat abashed, Kallen said, “I thought it was obvious.” She went on to ask, “What do you think she’s been doing the past eight years? Why do you think she’s here? How many active contracts do you think she has?”
Oh. Because all of C.C.’s contracts that Lelouch knew of were with those in positions of extraordinary power, it seemed he’d made assumptions about her wish – and thus how many contracts she made – that simply weren’t true. He briefly wondered if she counted Anne amongst her contractors. He’d assumed so, but perhaps not.
“The real question,” Kallen continued, “is did she want me or did she want you but got stuck with me?”
Very true. Kallen is the obvious replacement for Mum, but “she did describe me as ‘a fascinating man’.”
Kallen rolled her eyes. “That just proves she’s not blind, deaf, and dull. But now that I think of it, when I first met her, she did say we might meet again in…seven years, I think it was. I think her choice is clear.”
“‘Might’ being the keyword. How was she to know you would still be with me all these years later?”
“Oh, please,” Kallen said. “She’d been lurking around in the shadows. Anyone with eyes could see we were glued together.”
Opportunity knocked, and Lelouch seized it. “Shall we make a wager of it? Betting on ourselves, of course.”
“You’re on. I hope you’re prepared for me to return the favour for last time.”
Oh, what a glorious victory that had been. Kallen, the woman who hadn’t even pinked that night after their betrothal, the woman who, as far as he knew, had deflowered herself just to ensure she enjoyed her first time, had worn an almost permanent blush throughout her day as his personal bed slave. Truly, she had been a vision of beauty.
“Stop smirking!” Kallen slapped a hand to his chest.
“Why should I? You know you enjoyed it as much as I did. Probably more.”
“I did not! It was humiliating!” Kallen protested more quietly than expected.
With a very reminiscent blush on her face.
And a shifting of her legs.
Oh? He knew she’d enjoyed herself despite her denial. That pride of hers cut both ways, but she knew how to say no when she wanted. And that reaction… “Did you just accept a wager you believe you’re going to lose?”
Subdued, almost at a whisper, Kallen once more protested, “Of course not.”
That sparked an idea.
“I propose another wager. We’ll flip a coin. I bet it will land on heads or tails.”
Kallen didn’t immediately reject the offer. Oh, she made a silent bluster about the whole affair, but once the indignant steam had worked its way out of her, she demurely replied, “I’ll take that wager.” She rolled over to her bag and rooted around inside it until she unearthed a two pound coin and offered it up almost in supplication.
Somewhat surprised, Lelouch took the coin and flicked it up into the air. He watched it arch up and then begin its descent.
Kallen flashed into motion. Her hand snapped out. And there caught between Kallen’s thumb and a pair of fingers hung the coin.
“Well, would you look at that. What a surprise. It got wedged on its side between my fingers which just happened to be in the way. Bad luck, love, but I totally would have counted it if it’d landed on, say, your leg.”
Lelouch opened his mouth. His eyes went from the coin between Kallen’s hands – the largest currently in circulation, he noted – to the bag he knew contained other denominations which she’d spent some time rummaging through.
Then he burst out into genuine, full belly laughter. “I’ve been outplayed,” he managed. “Brava.”
Kallen smirked in turn before settling back into place nestled up beside him, her head resting comfortably in the crook of his neck. “You walked right into that one. Do you have something to confess?”
“Only that I look forward to you losing our other wager.”
“I’m sure you do,” she sighed out, relaxed.
They sat there together in silence, watching the day slip away and basking in the other’s presence. Once the sun finally slipped over the horizon, Lelouch realised Kallen had fallen asleep. He picked up his book, still able to read by the twilight, and returned to where he’d left off. Dinner could wait until she finished her nap.
Area 7, Britannia
July 13, 2017 a.t.b.
Having not left their hotel room at all yesterday, Kallen found herself eager to stretch her legs. She’d left Lelouch behind to organise a few details with the Shinozaki concerning their eventual island hopping up the Japanese archipelago. For now, she was in search of something light to bring back to their room for lunch.
A flash of bright green caught Kallen’s attention. Upon further inspection, she discovered C.C. sitting inside a fairly busy pizzeria. As she’d been wanting to have a word with the woman, she slipped inside the restaurant. Pizza sounded as good as anything else right now, so she placed an order to go and sat down across from her quarry.
“I’m curious. Do you eat anything else, Pizza Girl?”
C.C. countered with, “Do you breathe anything but air?”
“I–” How did one respond to that against someone who technically didn’t need to breathe at all? Or eat, now that Kallen thought about it. “Fair enough. Is it good?”
“Much better than I expected. I’d never had coconut flour crust before today.”
Well, this was certainly the right part of the world to try it.
“Just avoid sweet toppings, I think.”
“I’ll tell Lelouch I have a connoisseur’s recommendation, then, when I show up with pizza. Speaking of, after talking with him a couple days ago, I have a few questions for you.” Recalling that Lelouch had asked for a geass, Kallen added, “Just questions.”
C.C. raised her eyebrows in invitation before biting into a new slice of her pizza.
“So when we first met, I realise now that you intimated the possibility of making a contract with either me or someone close to me when we were older. But back then, you were abiding by Marianne’s wish to keep us in the dark. I don’t understand the conflict of interests there.”
With a shrug, C.C. merely said, “Marianne broke our contract.”
By dying, I assume. I hardly think that counts. But then perhaps C.C. felt the same. She did do as asked until it became untenable. Did she not think that counted, or did she just not care? Either way, that says an awful lot about her character. Kallen chose not to comment and moved on. “Who were you hoping to contract with? I won’t be offended if it wasn’t me.”
“So the prince sends in his wife to make his case for him. How disappointing.”
“It’s not like that,” Kallen said. She leaned closer. “He and I have a bet, you see, on which of us you actually wanted.”
C.C. hummed in faux interest. “In that case, you and Lelouch were both acceptable choices.”
Now that couldn’t stand. “Come on. Surely one of us must have been more than merely ‘acceptable’. Who did you really want?”
Perhaps as Kallen should have expected, C.C. made no further remark and merely enjoyed her pizza.
A light sigh escaped Kallen. Why did her witch have to be so difficult? Anne had been so much more forthcoming with information. Perhaps she’d enjoyed the pleasure of a more affable immortal contractor than Kallen and Marianne.
“Fine.” No one wins this time, Kallen supposed. But she’d managed to swindle a free win out of Lelouch, so she called this a victory and left it at that. Then she noticed the receipt for C.C.’s pizza. “Hey. After six centuries of compound interest, how rich are you?”
“Usury? What kind of woman do you take me for?”
“Ah. Right.” Fifteenth century Europe was a very different place than modern Britannia. “Banking was just starting to become respectable back then, wasn’t it?”
“Venial I believe is the word you were looking for.”
That brought a small smile onto Kallen’s face. So she does have a sense of humour. “Let me rephrase my original question. I have no idea how much wealth you’ve accumulated over your life or what arrangements you made with Marianne. If you need anything, within reason, let me know.”
C.C. shifted and pulled a card out of her pocket. “I’ll trade you.” She held it out for Kallen to take. Upon closer inspection, it revealed itself as a credit card in Marianne Lamperouge’s name. Surprisingly, the expiration date was still several years in the future.
Eh, why not? Kallen withdrew her own card from her pocket and made the exchange. “Will Lelouch have to do anything special to plug this” – apparently unknown – “leak in his finances?”
“Just cancel it. I was eating into a buffer. It should revert to his estate.”
Well, that makes things simple. “While I have you, what exactly is your wish?”
C.C. held up a hand and pointed toward the till. “Your pizza is ready.”
It was, and Kallen heard her name called out to pick it up, but she said, “You know, I can’t arrange for your wish to be granted if I don’t know what it is.”
“You’re doing fine. Just don’t die.”
I’m not going to get anywhere with her, am I? Kallen instinctively reached for her usual magic tricks but, frustrated, dismissed the idea when she remembered that magic didn’t work on C.C.. “Whatever,” she said as she stood. “It’s your wish. Don’t come crying to me if it turns out I need forty years to grant it when I’m sixty-five.”
Jeremiah honestly had no idea how to feel about the immortal woman his liege and his, well, he also unsure of what his professional relationship with Lady Stadtfeld was since the wedding or what style she would be adopting. On the one hand, she was a worthy consort for his liege and a countess in her own right. On the other hand, he’d not been informed if she’d been released from her oaths upon her nuptials. ‘Her Highness’ would be the safest choice in manner of address, but he would have to enquire sometime soon.
At any rate, he didn’t know what to think of the immortal woman the royal couple had taken into their company. She’d saved both of their lives at least once, certainly. From what he’d heard, she’d even forged a similar arrangement with Her Majesty years ago. Indeed, Empress Marianne had instructed her to look after the children before her death. It was hard to argue with that.
But she also kept secrets. They didn’t even know what she wanted. That alone made her dangerous.
Jeremiah silently trailed after C.C. through the city streets in the relative dark of night. She’d given no word of her departure, merely slipped out through an employee exit with the bad fortune for one of the Shinozaki to spot her. Though she made no further efforts to hide her movements, she strode with purpose toward whatever destination she had in mind.
Once or twice, C.C. stopped and reconsidered her route with a thoughtful frown before resuming her journey. Eventually, it led her to another resort not too far away from their own. She stepped inside, and Jeremiah slipped in after her just in time to see her vanish into an employee area.
Should he follow? He could get caught and draw attention to himself. The actual staff he could brush off easily enough, but C.C. could be a serious problem. If she intended harm, could he retreat before she took him down? The limits of her magic remained a mystery to him, a factor which he knew would give her a decisive advantage in any struggle.
Ultimately, Jeremiah decided to wait her out. His patience proved fruitful as C.C. reappeared a few minutes later in the lobby dressed in a porter’s uniform. She pulled a food trolley along behind her by one hand toward the lifts, a bulky metal thing capable of concealing who knew what inside of it. If she had a job here, he would eat his hat.
Once C.C. boarded a lift and the door slid shut behind her, he moved forward to catch one himself. He watched the display on hers stop on the twelfth floor and then on the sixteenth. Those were close enough to take the stairs between them if necessary.
Jeremiah stepped onto one of the lifts and pressed the twelve button. It rose slowly, and he tapped his foot impatiently, but with no other passengers riding with him this late at night, he arrived soon enough.
The lift doors opened, and Jeremiah stepped out onto the floor. He explored it quickly but cautiously without finding a hint of his quarry.
Uttering a curse, Jeremiah strode toward the stairwell and shot up four flights to the sixteenth floor. There he almost immediately spotted the trolley C.C. had brought with her parked in front of a room with the door left ajar. As he approached, he heard the sound of a struggle punctuated by a man’s erratic cries of denial.
A lover’s spat? He doubted it, but Jeremiah had no context to make a more educated guess. He quietly pushed the door open a few more inches to observe the fight.
C.C. moved in an odd stance that, as far as Jeremiah could tell, left her full of openings. Despite this, her opponent, a scarred, muscular man likely of European descent, stared at her in open fear. He held her at arm’s length with an improvised club of wood in shaking hands as he mumbled something under his breath.
Then it happened. C.C. dashed forward. The man swung at her with his crude weapon, but she merely let it roll off of her and took the opportunity to deliver a fierce blow to the gut.
The man screamed. Not in pain – no, that came in a slight grunt – but in horror. C.C. jumped back to avoid his wild flailing at her as he collapsed to the floor, but there was little left he could do. She swept forward and disarmed him with a kick. The wood went flying and bounced off the wall to land on the lone bed.
“No, no, no. Please! Stay away!” the man begged, crawling away into the corner.
C.C. paid his mutterings no mind. She grasped the man by the throat and shoved him against the wall. The act reminded Jeremiah of how Her Majesty had dealt with nobility and sometimes even royalty when in a temper. Perhaps this was where she’d learnt the bad habit.
After holding the man in place long enough for him to pass out, C.C. finally let him drop to the floor. She clicked her tongue. “What do I do with you?” She paused to think for a few seconds before calling out, “Jeremiah–”
The man in question started, unintentionally knocking the door all the way open and revealing himself.
“–since you’re here, you can do the heavy lifting. Put him” – she pointed to the man on the floor – “in the trolley.”
Cautiously, Jeremiah asked, “Who is he?”
“A geass spy.”
Jeremiah’s eyes widened, and he rushed into the room to do his part. He would not have sorcerers interrupting his liege’s much earned holiday with his newly wedded wife. As he hefted the man into the trolley, he asked, “What did you do to him?”
In answer, C.C. demonstrated. It only lasted a moment, but Jeremiah saw a vision of Her Majesty condemning him for his failure to protect her. The instant C.C. removed her hand from his shoulder, the image faded, and he leaned heavily on the trolley.
“You – you punched him with nightmares?”
“Oh?” C.C. gave Jeremiah an approving look. “Close enough. Now let’s go.”
“Where should I meet you?”
“Nowhere. He’s here alone. Call a ride for us on the way down.”
And so it was. The pair took the lift back down the lobby and, without once being stopped, recovered C.C.’s clothes and found their way to a back entrance. Shinobu, who’d been read into this magical nonsense, pulled into the alley in a small black car within minutes. They lobbed the man into the back seat and took up vigil on either side of him.
“Where to?” Shinobu asked.
As they set out, Jeremiah secured their prisoner. Once he was satisfied the man was well and truly restrained – not that he thought anyone could escape such close proximity with C.C. now that he’d personally witnessed her in action – he asked, “We’re letting him go?”
“Unfortunately,” C.C. replied. “We’d have a bigger mess on our hands if we didn’t. I expected another assassin, not an enforcer.”
Shinobu glanced in the mirror and, curious, asked, “‘Enforcer’, Miss C.C.?”
“Nevermind. This should be the last we hear of them.” Almost to herself, C.C. muttered, “Unless someone does something incredibly stupid.”
That answer didn’t satisfy Jeremiah, and he could see in the mirror that Shinobu felt much the same. Still, lest he overstep his bounds and create more problems, all he could really do is report to one of Their Highnesses and let them sort out their witch.
“If you don’t mind,” Jeremiah said courteously, “what magic does this man have?”
“He’s a telepath.”
Jeremiah shared a look with Shinobu through the mirror. How much intelligence had this man stolen? What had he been after? Could they afford to let him go? C.C. seemed to think so, but she also had very different priorities.
Nonetheless, they arrived near the airport. Under C.C.’s direction, Jeremiah dragged the man to the shore and tossed him into the ocean. He sputtered and cried out in surprise as he woke but stiffened when he saw C.C. approach.
“Listen carefully,” she said. “Return to your masters and tell them that the vi Britannias and their friends remain off-limits. You know they have their little mad scientist under control, so back off.”
Mad scientist? Jeremiah silently asked Shinobu if she knew anything about that, but she shook her head. Well, His Highness apparently knows about whatever she means. That’s good enough for me.
C.C. continued, “You will leave on the first flight available off this island. I will know if you stay or if your masters send anyone else. Understood?”
The man nodded frantically but otherwise remained completely petrified. Jeremiah could hardly blame him. That was the difference between the briefest brush with the nightmare and being smothered under it.
“Good.” C.C. turned from the man and strode back up the beach. “Let’s go.”
Jeremiah spared the terrified man one last look before following after C.C. toward the car. He would remember the face and inform the guard to be careful. It truly and finally struck home how much he’d need to rework their security measures. He’d tried over the last six or so months, but he knew now how badly he’d failed. He might very well even need to pick his prince’s brain for ideas. Magic made everything so much more complex.
Regardless, from the front of the car, Jeremiah eyed the witch sprawled out in the back without a seat belt. He still didn’t know what she wanted, but for now he would consider her an essential asset to security.