Stage 06 - First Steps
Tintagel Castle Military Base
September 28, 2015 a.t.b.
How I loathe fair fights.
“Q1,” Lelouch said, “our right flank is being pushed back. Circle around behind them and pull fire from the enemy.”
From over the speakers, Kallen’s teasing voice replied, “Flanking an entire platoon by myself? Give me a challenge, why don’t you?”
Lelouch rolled his eyes and ignored the comment. He certainly had every intention of pushing her until she literally blew up. More than any experience he or she got, these simulations of late were mostly for seeing how far he could stack the odds against Kallen before it became too much to overcome. He needed to know the limits to her frankly stupid overpoweredness.
“N1, N2. Fire uphill two-hundred metres ahead at any large rocks you can see.”
Long since used to following seemingly meaningless orders, the pair immediately did as commanded. The resulting explosions set off a small rockslide that flushed four enemy units out of hiding, springing the trap early. Lelouch diverted a squad off from his nearest platoon to overwhelm the failed ambush.
At least I have a destructible environment to work with. What a nightmare this would be otherwise.
Lelouch tapped his finger against his cheek as he considered the centre of his formation. His current opponent usually preferred to take the offensive, and yet Lelouch was allowed to continually press forward. Slowly, sure, but he was gaining ground nonetheless.
“R1!” Lelouch said, his eyes widening. “Halt your company’s advance. Expect a minefield in front of you of…at most a two-hundred metre radius.”
His troops stopped moving forward within seconds. Lelouch smirked, chuckling to himself. It seemed old dogs could learn new tricks after all.
“P7, take your platoon and check the area ahead. If the mine placement is obvious, carefully advance through it to the other side. Bring anti-armour rounds, and don’t draw attention to yourself until told otherwise or you’re found.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” came the response. A group of twenty-two infantry split off from the rest of the group and slowly advanced forward. As they crept along, Lelouch knew his guess had indeed been correct.
Satisfied with the way things were going on the left and centre, Lelouch turned his attention back to the right. One little unit labelled Q1 was busy tearing its way through the environment and picking off fringe targets one by one. At least twenty knightmares must be chasing after her along with who knew how many infantry.
“Q1, any chance you can break through the lines and join the vanguard with R2?”
“Hmm…” After a few seconds, Kallen’s unit on the map found itself perfectly positioned to fly forward in a straight line, pulled by a pair of slash harkens through the forest. Along the way, she even managed to partially disable one of the enemy knightmares on her path, the rest of which she otherwise outright ignored. “Yep. On my way.”
Lelouch shook his head. “You are a bloody monster.”
“I believe our friends here have taken to calling me the Red Dragoness, soooo yeah.”
“I suppose every Ace needs a moniker. It’s better than–” A thought struck Lelouch. “Wait. Are you trying to get that name? Is that why you’ve been setting the battlefield on fire every time we fight in the forest?” He'd thought it was for crowd control and to confuse heat seeking missiles.
The silence that came in response was all the answer Lelouch needed. Adopting a sympathetic voice to go with his smirk, he teasingly said, “I’m so sorry, Kallen. I’ll buy you something nice after this.”
“Shut up!” After ignoring a slew of Kallen’s muttered cursing, Lelouch heard her say, “I’m just tired of being called the Rose of Britannia.”
“Ahhhh.” Sudden understanding filled Lelouch. “That’s why you changed your entire wardrobe before. Hmm… Was your last attempt something like the ‘Crimson Flower’?”
Kallen muttered, “Crimson Lotus.”
“Uh-huh. Just don’t set the forest on fire again.”
“Just don’t set the forest on fire again.”
“Roger that,” Kallen shot back. “Whatever would I hookshot to without stable trees?”
Speaking of, Kallen spotted another pair of trees off in the distance she could use to sling herself forward. Veering to her right, she pushed her knightmare’s landspinners to full power. She wove between the trees as quickly as her knightmare could manage, occasionally firing a slash harken at a smaller tree to yank her onto a more open path.
And three…two…one… Kallen held down the button to fire her left slash harken; her eyes then mapped out a path for it to travel. Trusting her knightmare’s eye tracking software to do its job, she released the button and quickly repeated the action for her right slash harken. Both darted about the trees in front of her to anchor within the pair she wanted. And go!
A giddy laughter overtook Kallen as she flung herself in a wide arc, missing more than one tree by no more than a foot. At the end of her path, she released her slash harkens from their trees and let her knightmare fly forward. She landed heavily on the ground and rushed onward. According to her map, she was almost at her destination.
Half a minute later, Kallen broke into a clearing. Oh, shite! She immediately fired her slash harkens to her right and pulled herself away from a massive quantity of gunfire. Now that they had fired upon her, she could pick out ten or so knightmares hidden behind the trees across the clearing.
“A little warning next time!” Kallen complained.
Lelouch deigned to respond, saying, “You obviously don’t need it. Besides, I don’t have a complete map, and you should have seen that coming. You're a high priority target.”
Kallen winced at the rebuke, fair as it was. She had not in any sense of the word been subtle in her earlier departure, and her opponents always relayed her last known location and heading directly to the top.
“Have fun scouting.”
“Lelouch!” Not getting an answer, Kallen grumbled a few curses under her breath as she leapt into action.
Spotting a young tree behind an enemy knightmare, Kallen fired a slash harken into it right past her foe. He dodged and fired back at her, completely mistaking her true intention. Bracing herself against a much larger tree, she ripped the smaller one from the ground. It collided with her foe, knocking him prone. She herself grabbed hold of the tree when it came at her; it made for a good enough quarterstaff on a knightmare scale.
Kallen unholstered her knightmare’s own gun for a brief moment to shoot her downed foe enough to ignite its sakuradite core, leaving the frame in pieces. That done, she dashed at her next two opponents, tanking what bullets she had to with her frame and, when able, her tree.
Once she was close enough, Kallen swung her tree staff. It disarmed one of her opponents. A quick follow-up slash harken kept the other off of her long enough for her to kick her current target into a tree and pin it there with her staff. She dodged out of the way of the rather predictable slash harkens that came at her. After she had, it was easy enough to use her only currently available one to disable her prone foe.
Two down, eightish more to go.
Jeremiah jerked when he felt bullets impacting his knightmare, veering off his current course to take cover behind a tree. He cursed himself for becoming distracted watching Lady Stadtfeld practically dancing as she tore through a veritable horde of enemies. Although their time together had been short, Empress Marianne had taught her well, and it showed.
“R1? How many enemies do you have visual of?”
The voice of his prince pulled Jeremiah fully back into his own mind. “Five who have fired and two off in the distance. Q1 might be able to see more from her position.”
“No, that matches her report, too. She’ll clear out the area. Split your company into two and flank both halves of our remaining enemy knightmares.”
“Your will be done.” Switching his microphone from his line to Lelouch, Jeremiah called out to his first direct subordinate. “Major Jackson.” After getting a response, he said, “You’re to take your company east and flank the enemy with R2’s support.”
On his map of the local area, Jeremiah saw half of his troops split off east. He took note of their new radio frequency. “Major Williams, with me.” His remaining troops followed him off to the west. A few minutes later, he arrived at the fringes of their right flank; a minute after that, his entire battalion was with him.
“Our job is to flank and sweep through our enemy. Hit them hard, hit them fast, and don’t stay long. Today, we’re the cavalry.” If Jeremiah had any particular flaw as a military man, he would be the first to admit he was not the most inspiring public speaker – certainly nowhere near the level of his prince. Still, with this much adrenaline in his men’s veins, he hardly needed to be. “Charge!”
Flanked and outnumbered at least two-to-one, Jeremiah soon found his job completed with little to no effort on his part. That was the way Lelouch liked his battles. Jeremiah could appreciate the increased survival rate, but it was more than a little anticlimactic.
Sighing, Jeremiah set his men to sweep the forest for any missed enemy units.
“Wonderful! Simply wonderful!”
Lelouch found himself with the arm of Lord Michele Manfredi, the Knight of Two, around his shoulders and being ushered to a seat at a round table with lunch already laid out atop it. Kallen and Jeremiah were off washing away the sweat they had worked up over the past hour, leaving him alone with the giant, black-haired, violet-eyed man. Even considering that he still had some growing to do, the man towered over him.
“Thank you for the praise,” Lelouch said as he sat down, “although the battle would have been far more difficult had you taken the field yourself.”
“Consider it an equal handicap. I know you favour strategies and tactics not found in simulators. Besides, you weren’t here merely to win.”
“Well, I admit that’s true.” Lelouch found it unsurprising Lord Manfredi had picked up on that. He’d deliberately and flagrantly overextended his lines several times just to see and learn from what would happen. He added, “Nor do I need to fuel Kallen’s ego anymore.”
Lord Manfredi laughed, the sound coming out loud and booming. “She would certainly have kept me preoccupied; that’s for sure. All you’d have needed to do is win the battle and then bring everyone left against me.”
After quietly chuckling into his tea, Lelouch said, “I wouldn’t suggest a duel to her, if I were you. She’s still bitter about losing to Lady Ernst last year.”
“Ah, yes. Dorothea showed us the recording of their match. We were all very impressed. I can only say she’s gotten better since. Would you be willing to let me borrow her to put Luciano in his place?”
Lelouch scoffed. “You’d have to ask her, but I expect she will gladly accept. She hates Bradley as much as I do. I know the Knights of the Round take the strongest knights, but him?”
“Yes, well, your father may command us, but he doesn’t work with us. Good luck taking the matter up with him.”
Lelouch said nothing to that. He would take the matter up with himself when he was emperor, if necessary. The Knight of Ten might not be an outright murderer, but the man might as well be; there was a good reason everyone called him the ‘Vampire of Britannia’. With any luck, someone would kill him sooner rather than later.
“Anyway, if I remember correctly, your sixteenth birthday is coming up in December. Are you planning to join the military?”
“Eventually,” was Lelouch’s tentative answer. “There’s little worthwhile conflict right now, however, which makes it appealing to stay a civilian.”
“Things are heating up in Africa again,” Lord Manfredi offered.
“No offence to her intended, but I wouldn’t want to humiliate Cornelia.”
That got another round of deep, rolling laughter from Lord Manfredi. “She’ll appreciate that, I’m sure. Now you didn’t hear this from me, but I believe Prince Schneizel has been commanded to take Siberia from Russia.”
“Oh?” Lelouch said, for once enjoying playing at being a gossip. “Do tell me more.”
“Well, if it were true, hypothetically speaking, I imagine war would break out as soon as we have an excuse.”
“Hypothetically, of course.”
“Indeed. And if it were true, which it is not, naturally–”
“Naturally,” Lelouch echoed, nodding along.
“–then I imagine Prince Laertes would be placed in charge of the campaign.”
“And,” Lelouch said, “if one such as I were interested in humiliating a theoretical sibling for one’s own gain, this ‘Prince Laertes’ of whom you speak would be an…acceptable casualty of war. I, of course, have never met the man.”
“Of course,” Lord Manfredi echoed, chuckling to himself.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to go begging a favour of the Prime Minister. Would you be willing to keep me informed?”
“I could do that for your highness.”
“Much appreciated.” As Lelouch said the words, the door opened behind him. He twisted his head to find Kallen in shorts and a camisole. She still had a towel with her busy patting at her hair.
“Welcome back,” Lelouch said.
“Hey, Lelouch. Remind me to get a haircut sometime soon, would you?”
Lelouch shrugged. “If I remember.”
“Would the lovely countess care for a seat?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Lelouch noticed that Lord Manfredi had risen and pulled out a chair for Kallen. She rolled her eyes at the same time that Lelouch did.
“Do I look like I'm wearing some gaudy, restrictive dress?”
Kallen rolled her eyes again but smiled. “It's good to see you, Lord Manfredi. It's been too long.”
“I couldn’t agree more, Milady.” After everyone had taken a seat once more, Lord Manfredi then asked, “So how has life been treating you, Countess?”
“Oh, about as well as it can when living with Lelouch.”
Quirking an eyebrow, Lelouch said, “And yet I can’t help but observe that you never leave.”
Kallen grinned. “True.”
“Of course,” Lord Manfredi said, “our offer is still open to you should you change your mind.”
“As much as I wouldn’t mind working with almost all of you, I don’t think I’m Knight of the Round material. Besides, neither Lelouch nor I would be comfortable with me being the new Knight of Six.”
What an understatement. Neither had been amused with the possible implications.
“As you wish,” Lord Manfredi said with a sigh. “I expected no less, but a man can hope. Marianne would have been so proud of both of you.”
“Thank you,” Kallen said with a subdued expression. For his part, Lelouch simply nodded his acceptance of the compliment.
“Are things going well with the rest of your family?”
A rather mixed expression overcame Kallen. She said, “Well, they’re still alive, which is better than the alternative, but…” She sighed. “My place is here, and theirs is in Japan. Gran is doing well. Naoto is too stubborn to let me at least claim him as a half-brother, let alone help him. Cousin Aki is backpacking in the EU. I still haven't been able to track down anyone else, though.”
Let unsaid was the high probability that they were all dead.
“My condolences, then.” After a moment of silence, Lord Manfredi said, “Now let us speak of happier matters. How long have you been operating on full manual?”
“Ah, since shortly before duelling Lady Ernst, actually,” Kallen replied.
“And by ‘shortly’,” Lelouch said, “she means since she was tall enough to reach all of the controls.” He ignored the glare sent his way, amused.
“It’s true that Marianne had me on full manual when she gave me a few lessons at Aries Villa–”
Lelouch mouthed, “‘A few’,” to Lord Manfredi’s amusement.
“–but I didn’t start off as an Ace. The Ganymede, as good as it was at the time, isn’t nearly as skill-intensive as a Sutherland. In the user interface aspect, that is.”
“I’ve never had the privilege of piloting the Ganymede myself,” Lord Manfredi said, “but yes, fifth gen knightmares have become much more…multifaceted than the third. From watching you fight, I suggest you try a Gloucester. They’re a new derivative Sutherland frame focused on close combat.”
Nodding, Kallen said, “I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you.”
Lelouch’s phone vibrated. After checking the ID, Lelouch said, “I’ll leave you two to talk shop. Be right back.”
Off inside a small meeting room nearby, Lelouch answered the call. “Naoto?”
“Ah. Lelouch. I just wanted to tell you Mikoto wants to attend the ceremony.”
Mental note made, Lelouch said, “Good. Are you sure I can't convince you to come? We both know Kallen misses you.”
“No. I…” Lelouch could practically hear Naoto fidgeting uncomfortably on the other end of the phone.
“If it's a matter of money, Kallen and I can afford to both buy you a plane and then laugh over the duplicate gift.”
“Gran will need help getting there,” Naoto said, “but it's not that. I'm needed here. I can't leave.”
Lelouch mentally sighed to himself. Someday he needed to confront Naoto over his more illicit activities before Kallen found out. Lelouch hardly thought that would go over well. Regardless of noble intentions, rebellion without active intent of revolution left much to be desired.
“Very well,” Lelouch said. “I'm sure Kallen has told you this a hundred times before, but if you ever find yourself in trouble, don't hesitate to call on either of us.”
“Yes, I know. Later.”
“Goodbye,” Lelouch said, biting back a proper sigh. He tucked his phone away back in his pocket. There was little he could do about Naoto for now. Instead, he went to rejoin the table.
When not even half a step back inside, Kallen, who had her back to Lelouch, said, “And then, of course, Nunnally kissed the boy.”
“What!” Lelouch roared.
Kallen glanced toward Lelouch with a smirk, her palm lying flat and extended toward Lord Manfredi. “Told you. That’s a hundred quid you owe me.” And the grudging exchange was made.
Knowing he’d been tricked, Lelouch pinched the bridge of his nose while muttering all the horrible things he planned to do to Kallen.
“Poor Lelouch,” Kallen said. “Soon you'll be the only one left in your family who's never been kissed. Even Nunnally will escape your protective clutches before long for that tender, sweet first embrace.”
“And can you claim otherwise?” Lelouch calmly asked, an eyebrow raised.
“I don't have to,” Kallen said, smirking, knowing perfectly well the double standard she was invoking. “I am a lady, a countess, an innocent maid.”
“She's got you there,” Lord Manfredi commented.
Lelouch rolled his eyes. “Then I am the chivalrous prince filled with courtly love waiting for the right woman to capture my heart.” He ignored Kallen's snickering. “If you must know, I know exactly what I both need and want in my singular princess consort.”
“Words I'd never have thought to hear from His Majesty's son,” Lord Manfredi said. His tone and face spoke of suppressed laughter. Kallen was not even pretending.
“Anyway, I see no reason to court the wrong women. I don't need that type of media attention nor the reputation, and especially not the wrath of those women scorned.”
“Smart boy,” Lord Manfredi said, clearly amused.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever given the impression otherwise.” Cutting Kallen off before she could say anything, Lelouch said, “I’m sure you two have already spoken of it, but I wanted to hear your thoughts on the tactics we three employed in our battle.”
September 28, 2015 a.t.b.
Locked away in Lelouch’s office, they were finally alone after a long, long day out and about. Kallen collapsed into a chair. Briefly, she considered nodding off, but she figured she might as well have the chance to sleep on what she and Lelouch still had to talk about tonight. She let her head loll to the side to glance at him in the chair next to hers.
“So I heard we might be going off to war.”
Lelouch’s expression immediately turned more serious. “Very likely. Schneizel has been ordered to take Siberia.”
Although Kallen was not surprised to hear that the emperor wanted to expand Britannian territory yet again, the exact target this time struck her as odd. “Not Russia?”
“No, just Siberia.”
After a moment of thought, Kallen asked, “Why?” There was almost nothing of value in the region. The border to defend was enormous, the territory was not overly hospitable, and the people were few and far between. Once upon a time the natural gas, coal, and oil in the area would have been worth fighting for, but these days sakuradite was what truly mattered.
“I honestly haven’t the foggiest.”
“That…seems strange. Especially for the emperor.”
Lelouch shrugged. “My best guess without more information would be he’s looking for a third front against the Chinese Federation or the EU. At any rate, Laertes will be in charge.”
It took a few seconds for Kallen to remember that particular sibling amongst all of Lelouch’s brothers. “That prick who can’t sleep in his own bed?” There were reasons why Nunnally was eighty-seventh in line for the throne despite being the sixth princess, and Laertes was one of them.
“You realise that describes nearly half of my brothers, right?” After Kallen had chuckled and nodded, Lelouch continued, “But yes. He’s a competent enough field marshal when he has a good supporting staff, but he’s not Cornelia, and he’s definitely not Schneizel.”
Seeing where this was going, Kallen added, “And he’s not you.”
With a nod, Lelouch said, “I’ll be of age to take an official position in the military this December. Only fools invade Russia in the winter, but if it came to it, I’d be able to drag you along with me anywhere as my knight, even if that'd be before your birthday. This is your last chance to back out with clean hands.”
“I came to you, if you'll remember.”
“No qualms about conquering free nations for our own benefit?”
Kallen sighed. “Of course I have qualms. What we’re going to do is objectively evil. I know you have them, too.”
To anyone else, Lelouch probably looked completely unperturbed, but Kallen knew better. She knew him better than his own sister. It only took a second before Lelouch relented and admitted, “It’d be a lie if I said my choices don’t make me feel uneasy. But the only sensible options I can see before us are all terrible.”
“That’s exactly how I feel.” Kallen sighed. “If we lived in a gentler world…” But they did not. “Besides, I should be the one asking you if you're ready.”
“Oh?” Lelouch quirked an eyebrow.
A grin crept its way onto Kallen's face. “Yes. Is our whole plan going to fail because you can't run a mile to get through basic training?”
Lelouch rather predictably scowled as he scoffed. “I can run a mile if I need to.”
Regardless, both knew they would be skipping straight to command courtesy of Lelouch's royalty, so the point was moot. They were politicians and revolutionaries first and foremost, not soldiers, and that was the way it needed to stay. Britannia was militaristic enough already.
“Are you sure you're ready to say goodbye to Nunnally?” Kallen asked much more sincerely.
After sighing, Lelouch said, “It hardly matters whether I am or not. They can explain all they want, but I'll never understand why she and Euphemia didn't want to be homeschooled.”
Kallen hummed in what she considered a playful manner, her index finger tapping against her cheek. “Weeeell, no matter how popular we might come to be with the people, neither of us can claim to lead a rich social life. Between finishing our education early and plotting a revolution, we don’t get out much. Let's face it, Lelouch; we're total swots.”
“Heh. I suppose I can't deny that. It was easy to get caught up in crushing you.”
“Uh, excuse you,” Kallen said. “Who exactly was it who got the perfect on our last exam?”
Ignoring Kallen, Lelouch’s lips pressed together into a frown. “But still. To willing submit themselves to Milly… She hosted a cross-dressing festival last week and forced the entire student body to participate.”
Kallen shook her head with a fond smile. By all standards, Milly was a tyrant, but her people loved her anyway.
“I suppose you do have a point,” Kallen said. “Us being off fighting a war won't make us see them in person much less.”
“So we’re really doing this?” Lelouch asked one probably last time.
Kallen nodded. “For a better Britannia.”
“And a gentler world,” Lelouch said, echoing Kallen's earlier words. A second passed. “I’m going to love ordering you around.”
Kallen hit Lelouch on the arm. She only wished she had a better angle to force more than a chuckle out of him.
November 5, 2015 a.t.b.
A faint buzzing pulled Lelouch out of his thoughts. He glanced down at his phone, finding a message from Jeremiah.
‘Mrs Kōzuki is in room 108.’
‘Be there soon,’ Lelouch sent back.
Leaving the remaining preparations for the ceremony to the staff, Lelouch made his way to the specified room. There he found an elderly woman with thin, greying, brown hair speaking with Jeremiah. While she shared few physical traits with Kallen, there was no doubt she was the mother of Minami Stadtfeld.
Noticing his entrance, Mrs Kōzuki hurried to her feet, saying, “Your Highness.”
“There's no need for that,” Lelouch said, waving her back to her obviously much needed seat. Regardless of how well Kallen had looked after her grandmother after being found, the years spent alone right after the Second Pacific War had taken their toll. “Don’t let Jeremiah fool you. I don't stand on ceremony among friends and family.”
Lelouch ignored the small snort from the man in question and continued, “It's a pleasure to finally meet you. Your granddaughter has told me many stories.”
After her blank stare had faded away, Mrs Kōzuki said, “Nothing too embarrassing, I hope.” Her English was better than Lelouch had expected, but then her son-in-law had been a Britannian with only passable Japanese.
Before Lelouch could dismiss the very idea, Jeremiah said, “There was the matter of the biscuit and the shoe.”
Mrs Kōzuki chuckled at the memory. “Ah, I wish she’d been too young to remember that.” After glancing out the door Lelouch had neglected to close, she asked, “Will Kallen be joining us?”
“No, I'm afraid she won’t be available until after the subsequent ball. Before the ceremony, she's required to spend the preceding night and morning in solitude. Officially, it's to pray for the strength of character to fulfil her duty. Jeremiah can tell you all about it.”
The man in question let out a long sigh. “It is…very tedious. The so-called Holy Britannian Empire has been an exceedingly secular country since the reign of the ninetieth emperor, much as it was before the thirty-fourth emperor ‘found God’, but the ritual of the Solemn Vigil continues uninterrupted. I was permitted a sword, of course, but I don't expect that will be much comfort to Lady Stadtfeld.” Needless to say, Jeremiah had passed the time working on his swordplay.
Seeing the unasked question in Mrs Kōzuki’s eyes, Lelouch said, “Kallen is an apt swordswoman with a rapier. However” – he pointed to the sword hanging from Jeremiah's waist – “tradition requires her to bear a longsword today. I'm confident she will find another way to amuse herself.”
“I see.” A frown took root on Mrs Kōzuki’s face and refused to leave. Eventually, she managed to ask, “Will she be safe?” Her eyes said that she already knew the answer, and Lelouch was not a fan of obvious lies.
“No.” Before anyone else could say anything, Lelouch added, “But I intend to have her at my side until the very end. I will do everything within my power to see that she dies happy and of old age. Will that suffice?”
Lelouch waited patiently while Mrs Kōzuki searched him for, presumably, any sign of deception. Eventually, she acquiesced with a nod, reluctant though it was.
“Thank you. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go finish preparations. Jeremiah, see to it that Mrs Kōzuki is situated somewhere our other guests won't harass her.” Left unsaid was that Mrs Kōzuki would also be unable to overhear the less than kind things the nobility would no doubt have to say about Kallen. She was, after all, even further aligning herself with the commoner prince infecting the royal lineage than she already had.
Lelouch permitted himself a sigh after he departed. It was a very good thing his soon-to-be knight knew how to control her temper. She possessed good hearing, and their audience today would likely quietly voice their unsolicited opinions at the celebration after.
Just before Kallen's knighting ceremony was due to start, Lelouch found himself shocked when he noticed the most unexpected invited guest sitting in the front row between Schneizel and Lord Waldstein.
“Urgh! I'm so bored!” Kallen said as she swung her longsword around. She had no idea what she was doing, but short of breaking things, it was all she had. The bastards who had locked her in here had confiscated her book on entry.
Alright, Kallen. We've learnt a lesson today. We don't handle boredom well, especially not coupled with nervousness.
The sword in Kallen's hands nearly went flying as she spun in a circle. She strengthened her grip and stopped herself in place; the sword's momentum almost toppled her over.
Okay, we've learnt two things. One about boredom, and one about physics.
Kallen sighed as she glanced out the window. The sun was well over the horizon now.
I suppose I should shower and get changed. It can't be much longer now before I'm released from my imprisonment.
A half-hour and a mildly relaxing shower later, Kallen unpacked what would be her uniform whenever the occasion called for it. Jeremiah had his own as a vi Britannia knight and tended to wear it often. His was a white suit with golden trim and a purple cravat that he found easy to move about in while wearing. Lelouch had asked for his opinion as far as fitting went, but the uniform remained largely unchanged from his days serving under Marianne.
In the complete opposite approach, Kallen and Lelouch had worked together to design her uniform for the symbolism: black cloth with silver trim and golden buttons cut in a style reminiscent of the Knights of the Round’s uniform. For those who looked for such subtleties, it all but screamed their disapproval for the emperor's policies.
Kallen held up the last part of her outfit and regarded it with a critical eye. The cape really is a bit much. Still, it’s ceremonial, and this is a ceremony. She dramatically twirled the cape over one arm to rest atop her shoulders then turned to look herself over in the mirror. Rather quietly even in her own mind, she admitted, So wicked.
A knock came at the door.
Finally! “Come in!”
One of Kallen’s evil gaolers entered and bowed. “There’s fifteen minutes before your knighting begins, Lady Stadtfeld. Are you prepared?”
Suppressing the urge to vent her irritation and boredom, Kallen said, “Yes!” perhaps a little too eagerly. “I assume you’re to take me to where I need to go.”
After getting a nod, Kallen said, “Please lead the way.”
Tokyo Settlement, Area 11
November 5, 2015 a.t.b.
Euphemia frowned into the mirror as she got a good look at her brown hair. She hated dyeing it more than Nunnally. Cutting it had been even more unpleasant, although she did admit in private to Nunnally alone how much she enjoyed not having to take care of as much anymore. Still, it let her attend Ashford Academy without bodyguards constantly getting in the way or her peers fussing over her, so she accepted the situation for what it was. To everyone here, she was merely Euphyllia Linette – Euphie to her friends – the daughter of two marine biologists, the full-blooded sister of Nuuna Linette, and a childhood friend of Milly Ashford.
What time is it? Glancing around after she had left the bathroom, Euphemia found a clock hanging from the wall. I still have a few minutes. That's plenty.
So satisfied, Euphemia began her journey from the girls hall to the student council building. Several open doors she passed by revealed groups of girls watching the news, excited. She was, too, of course, but her curiosity and confusion tempered the feeling. This was an unexpected move for Kallen and Lelouch.
Regardless, after a short walk, Euphemia made it to the student council’s meeting room, where Milly had already set up a widescreen television for watching Kallen’s knighting. Rivalz was, as usual, performing Milly’s grunt work and ferrying snacks from the kitchen to their table. Euphemia smiled sympathetically at him and stole a handful of popcorn on his way by.
After saying hello to Nina, who remained ever slaving away on her laptop in dedication to her science projects, Euphemia sat down beside Nunnally. Technically, the latter was not old enough to be on the student council, but everyone accepted her as an honourary member nonetheless.
“Hey, Nuuna. Where’s Milly and Shirley?”
“Milly is in the kitchen, I think, and Shirley is having one of her Lulu moments.”
Euphemia quietly snickered so that only Nunnally could hear. “I’m not sure if I should tell Lelouch to visit more or less often. Poor Shirley.”
A minute later, Milly appeared with Shirley and Rivalz in tow. The latter placed a bowl of crisps on the table and took his seat.
Milly, as usual, took her place at the head of the table, from where she addressed her subjects. “Today is an auspicious day, my friends. Today we honour our dear countess becoming a knight to everyone’s favourite prince. Today we stand witness to history itself!”
“And when they next appear, we celebrate?”
“Yes, exactly!” Milly said, pointing at Nunnally. “Keep this up, Nuuna, and I’ll name you president when I graduate.”
Saluting and looking absolutely ridiculous as she did, Nunnally said, “Yes, Madam President, Sir, Ma’am!”
Milly turned to her next target. “Euphie, as vice president, I place you in charge of planning this festival. Be sure to run your idea by me first, and if you need any blackmail material to ensure our honourary members’ attendance, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Milly!” Shirley protested. “You shouldn’t treat Lulu like that. He’s a prince!”
Quietly, Nunnally commented, “Notice she said nothing about preserving the royal knight, Countess Stadtfeld’s, dignity,” to Euphemia. They both giggled.
“Nevermind that,” Milly said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Knowing that she would get nowhere with Milly, Shirley immediately changed her target. “Euphie!”
“Sorry, Shirley. Prez’s orders.”
Despite the warning look and angry hum Shirley gave her, Euphemia remained unmoved. Lelouch and Kallen already visited too infrequently. If the matter sometimes had to be forced, so be it.
“It’s starting!” Rivalz said.
Euphemia turned her attention to the television. Her eyes immediately zeroed in on an unexpected presence. Father is there? It was almost unheard of for him to attend his children’s marriages, let alone their knighting ceremonies. Still, Marianne had been his favourite wife. Maybe this was not so surprising.
After one or two more minutes of the announcer speaking over nothing of interest, Kallen finally appeared. She crossed the long distance from the entrance at a dignified pace. Her cape billowed behind her as she made her way to her prince. Her steps fell in time to the Britannian National Anthem, measured and graceful.
The sun poured in through the windows to highlight Lelouch upon his throne. A boy not yet a man, his mere presence filled his what space his body could not.
Kallen knelt, and Lelouch rose.
November 5, 2015 a.t.b.
To the experienced eye, there was no hiding the twitch that ran through the soon-to-be Dame Kallen Stadtfeld nor the hitch in her step. Jeremiah could hardly blame her. Although such invitations were always sent out as a matter of formality, the emperor acted upon them with all the energy of a sloth in a hundred metre dash. Her eyes shifted next to the assembled Knights of the Round, Jeremiah himself, and then Lelouch.
Recovered in a moment, Lady Stadtfeld continued to the throne.
“Kallen Stadtfeld.” The voice of Prince Lelouch vi Britannia resonated across the room, commanding both attention and silence. “Do you wish to accept the responsibilities of knighthood and fight as a champion of Britannia?”
On one knee before their common prince, Lady Stadtfeld delivered a solemn and resolute, “Yes, Your Highness.”
“Do you pledge yourself to be sword and shield to this empire, devoted to its greater good?”
The following, “Yes, Your Highness,” possessed a quiet life and energy absent from Lady Stadtfeld's previous reply. Jeremiah knew, of course, how much both she and Prince Lelouch appreciated irony. Everything about today from the obvious to the subtle was a statement from those two to the world. The knighting remained an afterthought.
Lady Stadtfeld drew her sword. She reversed it and offered it to Lelouch hilt first with the blade held directly in front of her heart.
Jeremiah permitted himself a small smile. The almost frail looking young woman that was Lady Stadtfeld had no trouble holding the longsword while Prince Lelouch’s arms twitched under the weight. Nevertheless, the ceremony continued.
“I, Lelouch vi Britannia, dub thee Dame Kallen Stadtfeld. May your courage and devotion become a shining example to the people of the empire.”
Prince Lelouch returned the sword to Lady Stadtfeld held horizontally in his hands by the flat of the blade. She grasped both the hilt and the tip, returning it to its scabbard. He gestured for her to rise and turn to face their audience, and it was done.
Part of Sir Jeremiah felt he should be offended. He knew this knighting was merely for show. Those two wanted Lady Stadtfeld in a knightmare independent of and entirely outside the regular chain of command and nothing more. But their loyalty and trust were well placed in each other, and in essence, that was what truly mattered.
Jeremiah was among the first to clap. Very few members of the audience could be described as being at least indifferent to Prince Lelouch vi Britannia. An even smaller few had any reason to be anything but indifferent in regard to Lady Stadtfeld. But with such icons as Prince Schneizel, more than half of the Knights of the Round, and the emperor himself joining in the applause, no one wanted to be singled out.
Kallen adjusted the rapier hanging from her belt, glad to have shed the weight of her ceremonial longsword. Heavy weaponry would never suit her, and she was not fool enough to challenge giants like Bismark Waldstein to a contest of physical strength with one. Besides, her hand curled around the hilt of her rapier to lovingly caress the artistic yet functional design. She much preferred this gift.
A knock came at the door. Kallen called out, “Enter!” and in walked Lelouch, her now liege lord and the only person in the world to whom she must answer.
“How are you feeling?” Lelouch asked.
“As though I’ve just sold my soul,” Kallen said, earning a roll of Lelouch’s eyes. She snickered, adding, “Are we ready to leave?”
“Not yet. We’re waiting on your grandmother.”
Kallen tripped over her thoughts as that processed. “I must have misheard you. Did you say Gran is here?”
“I invited her.”
“You brought her into the heart of Britannia!”
Lelouch quirked an eyebrow, and Kallen stomped down on her rising temper. He was the paranoid one. She told him that every time he went to micromanage the guard detail protecting his sisters at Ashford Academy. If her grandmother was here, she was safe.
“We'll be escorting her back to Japan as soon as she’s ready to leave, so you’ll have time to spend with her.”
“Thank you,” Kallen said. “But won’t people be expecting me to see to security?”
“No, I’ve made it very clear that Jeremiah is the shield and you’re the sword. No one expects anything more from you than you already do.”
“Marvellous. How long after that before we march off to war?”
Lelouch adopted a slight frown. “I’m not sure. There’s someone in Japan I want to recruit to our cause, but it might take some time.”
A second passed before a smile overtook Lelouch's face, and he chuckled. “Have you ever wondered what my and Euphemia's daughter would be like?”
“Worryingly often,” Kallen teased, drawing a scowl out of Lelouch. There had been a very brief time so long ago when Euphie’s old infatuation with Lelouch had been requited.
“I don't know why I tell you things.”
“If I told you, you might figure out how to stop.”
“Bah!” Lelouch turned and walked out the door, throwing back a, “Let’s go.”
Snickering, Kallen followed after Lelouch as she contemplated who he had been referring to in Japan.
Government Borough, Area 11
November 5, 2015 a.t.b.
“It appears my little brother has gone and fallen for the charms of a beautiful woman,” came the amused voice of Clovis.
“She certainly doesn't look like much. I doubt she'll be able to protect her prince.”
“I'm more worried about the countess than the commoner. She's the last of her line.”
Piercing violet eyes ignored the background chatter. They focused instead on the ceremony broadcast on the television, judging, evaluating. A knighting at Lelouch’s and Lady Stadtfeld’s ages was unusual in the extreme, especially so when the prince already had a knight in Sir Gottwald. And that was not to mention those who’d come to watch in person.
What did those two do to get the emperor to attend? This must be a first. The view presented shifted. So many Knights of the Round, too.
Fact and rumour mixed. Lelouch was Marianne’s son. Lady Stadtfeld had turned down an invitation to the Knights of the Round. Both had lost the parental figures actively in their lives. The Stadtfeld family had been all but extinguished in revenge. The two were betrothed. The emperor had a hand in his favourite wife’s assassination. Lelouch was secretly the crown prince and Odysseus a decoy. The commoners planned a second so-called Glorious Revolution with their prince as a figurehead.
“And your thoughts?” Clovis asked.
Seconds passed in consideration. Too much relied on supposition and possible coincidence to make any definitive conclusions about Lelouch’s and Lady Stadtfeld’s intentions or character. The ceremony bled subtle hints of discontent with the empire, yet the emperor had attended anyway. There were too many mixed messages. They could be a new ally or a deceptive enemy.
But there was one point of which Marrybell was entirely certain. “Lady Stadtfeld will make a good knight for Lelouch.”