Stage 07 - Welcome to Area Eleven
Government Borough, Area 11
November 9, 2015 a.t.b.
The areas experienced terrorism and rebellion; this was a universal fact. Even Area One had its share of insurrectionists, few though they were. But nowhere did they flourish and thrive quite like Area Eleven. They were in the ghettos. They were in the mountains. They were in the countryside. They were in the cities. A few, no doubt, were even in the local army. It was all so very frustrating.
And then there was the corruption that enabled it all: the bribes, the concessions, the petty infighting, the unusually blatant discrimination. Area Eleven was a powder keg waiting to ignite that the current administration had no ability to handle. Clovis possessed a deft hand at domestic politics; he had to just to keep this area from collapsing under the weight of its own mismanagement. But Area Eleven needed more than a velvet glove to finally stabilise it.
Marrybell grew more thankful with each passing day that Clovis actually listened to her advice on occasion. If not, everything would be so much worse. The NAC needed a tighter leash, but their movements could provide valuable military insight. The emerging power of the purist faction in the government threatened to undo years of de-escalating tensions between Britannians and Japanese. The Chinese Federation lay waiting for Britannia to stumble in order to install Atsushi Sawasaki as the figurehead of a ‘freed’ Japan.
And now Marrybell’s dear double agent had informed her of the Japanese Liberation Front’s probable intention to storm the military base in Chiba and seize all of the knightmares held there. But that was fine. What was one more ball to juggle? First she had to decide whether or not to act on the information.
On the one hand, the JLF was too influential already and experience had left her with too little trust in Area Eleven’s military’s ability to defend itself. Losing a whole garrison’s worth of Sutherlands could prove disastrous for years to come.
But on the other hand, if the Chiba base couldn’t defend itself from the remnants of the Japanese army on its own, their incompetence could prove a useful example. The more General Bartley Asprius and his men failed, the more Marrybell’s own influence would grow. There was also the safety of her spy to consider. If she acted on all the information he sent her, it would put him in danger. Everyone knew they were still friends.
Sighing, Marrybell decided it was time for a break. She grabbed her phone and called for her driver to come pick her up. She needed to trounce someone, an easy to win to lift her spirits. Luckily, there was always a line consisting of those wanting to try their hand against her.
Tokyo Settlement, Area 11
November 9, 2015 a.t.b.
Marrybell almost felt bad winning this game. The man across from her was a bundle of frayed and worsening nerves. She suspected there was a bit more to his story than just wanting to challenge the undefeated chess queen.
Maybe I should let him win. Marrybell considered that for only a moment before shaking her head. She didn't need the income, but she had a reputation to protect. The White Queen never lost. Still, she made a mental note to look into the man's circumstances later.
And that was the game. The man crumpled as his loss became final. After he left, one of the proprietors of the casino entered and approached.
“Always a pleasure doing business, Marrybell,” Carrie said with a smile as she ran a hand through her long green hair. “A hundred-thousand quid this time minus handling fees. Shall I deposit it directly to your account as usual?”
“Yes, thank you,” Marrybell replied. She was more than a little irked that her easy win had only made her feel uneasy in a different way, but sometimes such things happened. She had no cause to blame her hostess. “Where’s your brother?”
“Cash is negotiating with some redhead for an expedited game with you. Her man wants to skip to the front of the line.”
“Who is it?” Marrybell’s curiosity was raised. Usually such requests were outright ignored.
Carrie smirked. “Goes by the handle ‘Black Prince’.”
Frowning, Marrybell asked, “Any relation to the Black King?”
“Hell no! Do you honestly think we’d let anyone associated with that cad in here?”
Then who… Marrybell’s eyes widened. Interesting. “I’m up for another game. What are the stakes?”
“‘One favour within reason’ is what the girl said.” Carrie then added, “Naturally, he’s paying for the room.”
“Send him up.”
With a nod, Carrie departed back into the depths of her casino. Ten minutes later, she returned with both Cash and exactly the two guests Marrybell had expected. She rose from her seat as her brother approached.
“Lelouch, it’s been years. It’s good to see you.”
“Likewise, Marrybell. Euphemia and Nunnally are in the area. Have you been to visit them?”
Marrybell shook her head. “Euphemia has come to see me a few times, but I’ve not had the pleasure of your sister’s company since she was learning how to talk.” She turned to regard ‘the redhead’. “And this must be Countess Stadtfeld.”
The girl in question glanced at Lelouch for a moment, strangely amused, before offering a short bow. “Yes. A pleasure to meet you, Your Highness. I certainly see the family resemblance.”
Lelouch’s gave a smothered laugh. “A private joke,” he said.
Marrybell quirked an eyebrow but made no other comment. “We weren’t expecting you two until Friday.”
“I believe it would be more accurate to say Clovis doesn't expect us until Friday. We would appreciate it if it stayed that way. We’d like to settle in and visit friends and family before the balls and art exhibits begin.”
“Your secret is safe with me.”
Carrie and Cash promptly agreed.
“Well then, shall we get started?” Lelouch asked.
Marrybell nodded. She and her opponent sat down with Lady Stadtfeld watching from one side of the table and Carrie and Cash on the other. They set up the board – neither side needed to ask which colour – and the game began.
Marrybell opened with her pawn to E4 – popular, common, and not revealing. She raised an eyebrow to Lelouch’s response. “The French Defence?”
“You’ll have to forgive Lelouch,” Lady Stadtfeld said as he chuckled. “He finds that it irritates most Britannians.”
That or it serves as a quick judge of character. Marrybell pushed her queen’s pawn forward, and the game continued. She pressed the attack, but Lelouch made every step forward come at an almost unbearable cost. Better than any easy victory, this was what she needed right now: a true challenge.
Lelouch placed a hand on a rook, considering. He switched to a bishop instead, trading it for Marrybell’s knight. “I’m curious,” he said. “Why do you remain in Japan?”
“Where else would I go?” Marrybell said as she noted the use of ‘Japan’ over ‘Area Eleven’.
Shrugging, Lelouch said, “Pendragon, perhaps. As I said, I’m merely curious. Japan certainly isn’t the most peaceful area, so relaxation is out, but there also hasn’t been much to do here politically since Clovis became the Viceroy, so it’s also not an ideal place to rebuild your power base.”
“It’s home,” Marrybell simply said. She had her own agenda, of course. Every royal did. Hers was just more difficult than most and would take time. She removed Lelouch’s bishop from the board, idly noting Lady Stadtfeld’s smile at her answer.
Lelouch took Marrybell’s knight to finish their trade. “I can understand that,” he said. “Still, you have options.”
“Not many,” Marrybell said. She moved her queen to pin Lelouch’s king behind his queen. Rather than trading, he chose to place a knight in front of his queen.
“I don’t believe that.”
Rather flatly, Marrybell replied, “You’d be surprised how few opportunities trying to kill the emperor in front of a hundred witnesses leaves you.”
Lelouch gave up position to take Marrybell’s pawn. “You may have raised your hand against the emperor,” he said, “but you survived disinheritance, exile, and war. Despite the high treason, only a fool would not admire your strength. Besides, you were a rash child at the time.”
Marrybell reined in her temper, but a frown still emerged. “I imagine you came here for reasons other than to insult me.”
“It’s the truth, not an insult,” Lelouch said simply. “Nor an unusual trait in children. Ask Kallen what the most foolish thing I’ve ever done is.”
As requested, Marrybell turned to Lady Stadtfeld. Regardless of whether this was rehearsed or not, this would prove enlightening as to their intentions. She imagined they were trying to gain her aid with something, but for what had yet to be fully determined.
“Are you sure, Lelouch?” Lady Stadtfeld asked hesitantly. She fiddled with the cuff of her shirt. “I’ve never told anyone…”
The surprise on Lelouch’s face was genuine as far as Marrybell could tell. “Really?” He took a pawn with his knight then nodded.
“Yeah. But alright. Shortly after Marianne was assassinated, the investigation into her death was closed without a proper conclusion. Lelouch had the brilliant idea to start a confrontation with emperor, but I managed to intervene before he could.” Lady Stadtfeld paused a moment. “That would have been about three weeks before you were sent to Japan, actually.”
Marrybell’s grip strengthened enough on her pawn that she feared breaking it in half.
“If not for Kallen,” Lelouch said, “I have little doubt I’d have been the one sent to Japan. Probably with Nunnally. Instead, the emperor used the only target more vulnerable than a foolish little boy without a mother.”
Lelouch moved his queen forward unexpectedly to threaten check the following turn. He had been sheltering her and relying on her mobility to fend off attacks, but now she was on the offensive.
“We are more similar than you know.”
“You know nothing of the hell I’ve endured.”
Lelouch nodded his head in acquiescence of the point. Even so, he said, “You have options, Marrybell. I am one of them.” He moved his queen forward again to capture her own, leaving her in check but not without retaliation. “Stalemate in five.”
Marrybell’s head snapped up from the board. Her unyielding gaze accused him in ways words never could.
“I win allies,” Lelouch said. “I neither want nor need to win against them. In time, I hope that is what we will be.” He turned to Carrie and Cash, both stunned at seeing their White Queen forced into a stalemate. “You have a wonderful establishment. When time allows, I expect I will return here for another game in the future.” He last turned to his knight. “Kallen, I believe we are expected elsewhere.”
Lady Stadtfeld smirked. “And no doubt late by Milly’s standards. We’d best hurry before she decides to find her old rope.”
“Indeed. Until next time, Marrybell.”
“Again, nice to meet you,” Lady Stadtfeld added.
And then they were off without a word further like some natural disaster that had merely passed through and disrupted her life. Marrybell had vastly underestimated Lelouch vi Britannia. She could admit that to herself. In equal measure, she had mistaken his intentions in meeting her.
Marrybell shook her head. No, not his intentions. Those had been clear enough. Rather it was the scope and manner in which he’d chosen to pursue them that had caught her off guard. But now that she knew…
Riding the lift down to the ground floor of the casino, Kallen found it impossible not to smile. A stalemate! Of course he went for the forced stalemate! What else could I have expected?
The lift bell rang, the doors opened, and the pair stepped out onto the casino floor. They made their way toward the main entrance where their chauffeur would be meeting them.
“You seem particularly amused,” Lelouch commented.
Kallen’s grin only widened. “I knew going into this that you wouldn’t do something as mundane as appealing to her sense of logic or playing on her emotions, but you’ve outdone yourself.”
“I rather agree. Playing to be stalemated is easy. Playing to stalemate without your opponent noticing is hard. And Marrybell was no easy opponent. I admit, however, the element of surprise did permit me a few less conventional tactics.”
The pair briefly stopped at the reception desk to recover their coats.
“Are you sure you want to let…” What were their names? “Cash and Carrie do what they will with that information about you?”
“It’s harmless enough,” Lelouch said with a shrug. “It might even help us in the long run if it found its way to the press.”
“Alright.” A moment passed. “Want to bet on how long until Marrybell challenges you for dominance?”
“The usual stakes?”
“Before Friday, then.”
“I’ll take that wager. I expect she’ll confront you at our welcome ball, but anytime after is my win, too.”
They stepped outside and boarded their ride to Ashford Academy where they’d be staying until hazarding the perils of the Viceroy’s Palace and Clovis’s social gatherings. As they rode, Kallen gazed out the window at the Tokyo Settlement. So much had changed in the last five years. The city still sprawled off to the horizon with an almost utter lack of foliage, but the architecture had changed. Nothing was where it was supposed to be. The only recognisable building was the Tokyo Tower, and even that had lost its upper half to the war.
“If you want to spend the next few days exploring, you should,” Lelouch offered. “I don’t know when we’ll next return.”
“I’ll consider it,” Kallen said quietly. Being here was harder than she’d thought. It grew worse every time she came. Half of her hoped that Marrybell took a while to persuade while the other half was just as eager to leave the next day. “I do need to visit Naoto, though. It’s been five years since I’ve gotten a proper hug out of that stubborn prat.”
“Just be careful if you go into the ghetto.”
“I know. Believe me, I know.”
The remaining ride to Ashford Academy was a quiet affair with neither Lelouch nor Kallen having anything in particular to talk about. Of course, that peace could not last. The moment they stepped onto campus, they were accosted by both Milly and Nunnally, who dragged them off to the student council building. There the usual gang all greeted them.
Shirley Fenette still had a bad case of infatuation with Lelouch. Nina Einstein shied away at the outskirts. Rivalz Cardemonde treated Lelouch and Kallen as one of their own. And lastly there was Euphemia looking as strange as ever with brown hair falling only down to her shoulders. Nunnally, too, looked odd with blonde hair, but not as much. Strangest of all, Milly had yet to engage in any shenanigans; she must be waiting for another day.
As the informal party far from courtly affairs carried on into the night, a small voice in the back of Kallen’s mind wished this could be her life – could have been her life had she chosen differently. No responsibility. No grand plans. Just friends and fun. But that was the catch, was it not? Kōzuki Karen would not have appreciated this. Kallen Stadtfeld had no time for it.
“This is nice, isn’t it?”
Kallen hummed her approval as she watched Shirley and Rivalz wrestle over a bottle of champagne they were ‘too young to drink’ – an odd quirk of Area Eleven inherited from Japan.
“Someday we’ll have this again,” Lelouch said.
Kallen returned the promise. “Someday.”
Tokyo Settlement, Area 11
November 12, 2015 a.t.b.
Kallen kicked a loose rock on the streets of what used to be Ikebukuro, muttering, “Stupid Naoto.” Just because she planned to be in Japan for ‘a while’, he apparently thought it would be okay to delay their reunion for a few more days.
I should storm Shinjuku and drag him out for a night on the town. I don’t care what he’s up to.
Of course, that would require finding out where Naoto lived, first. Kallen could go to the Government Borough and find out, but that risked letting everyone know she and Lelouch had arrived early. Besides, she would rather not sit through another unnecessary lecture on how unsafe the ghetto was for her when she found him.
Letting out a frustrated sigh, Kallen decided to wander through the city on foot. Lelouch was off getting a feel for the area’s politics with Jeremiah, and class was in session at Ashford, so she had nothing better to do.
The former Ikebukuro – Kallen had no idea what it was called now – prospered just as it had so long ago, only now Britannian faces far outnumbered Japanese ones and the language spoken and written had inverted. In many ways, very little had truly changed, only the people. She could still find stores peddling trinkets, and at least half of the restaurants she passed served some form of Japanese cuisine.
Seeing an advert for takoyaki, Kallen detoured into a nearby cafe and placed an order. She’d not had any in seven, maybe eight years now. This was a mistake that had to be corrected.
Once more walking the streets, Kallen eagerly popped an entire ball in her mouth.
“Mmm!” she hummed in delight. Tastes like childhood!
As Kallen neared the outskirts of the settlement and the border of the surrounding ghetto, the crowds grew less dense and the sound of feet and idle chatter died down to almost nothing. At the edge, Kallen leaned against the railing that overlooked the long fall from the settlement proper to the ruined city below. Electric lights were sparse in the ghetto, more than one building looked ready to collapse, and the only life commonly seen was the local flora slowly reclaiming the roads for nature.
What a waste and an eyesore. You’d think Clovis at least would want to repair the city for no other reason than that it’s bloody depressing to look at. This isn’t the ‘glory of the Britannian Empire’. This is just our own failings on display for the whole world to see.
Kallen sighed as she nursed another takoyaki ball. There was nothing she could do to fix this, not right now. This was an institutional failure at the most fundamental level across the entire Britannian culture from the emperor all the way down to the commoners. When Lelouch was emperor, then the healing could truly begin.
A stifled cry from behind further into the settlement pierced the silence. It sounded close. Indeed, when Kallen went to track down the source, she found a Japanese man being set upon by three Britannians.
Right then. Kallen set aside her takoyaki for the moment and entered the alley. “Oi! What are you lot doing?”
The three aggressors turned to look at Kallen.
“This is no place for a bird.”
Kallen pointedly ignored the command and stared them down.
“It’s just an Eleven,” said who Kallen suspected was the leader. “You’d best scarper while we’re being gentlemanly.”
“Three shady men in a dark alley pummelling someone. You all are obviously criminals. Doesn’t matter who the current victim is.”
The men approached. Kallen sized them up as they did. Even expecting a frail lady with no sense of self-preservation, they were sloppy and off-guard. This was almost not worth her time.
“Looks like the lady is volunteering to spend the day with us, doesn’t it, boys?”
“Oh come on!” Kallen said. “Could you three be any more cliché?”
The three paused, obviously confused at Kallen’s lack of distress.
“Do you know who I live with? Lelouch vi Britannia. He’s one of the best orators in the world. You guys are pathetic.”
Behind the three idiots, Kallen noticed the Japanese man limping away. Good, she thought. He’d only be a liability. Some part of her did hope he had the decency to find help for her, though. Not that she needed it.
“I mean come on. Is this really the best you have? Show some pride in your intimidations.”
One of the men reached out to grab Kallen. She responded by grabbing him instead and throwing him to the ground. A follow up stomp on his skull during the surprise that followed put him down for the fight.
“Yeah, no,” Kallen said flatly.
And of course, the boss said, “Get her,” as he drew a knife.
Kallen hopped back a step and unsheathed her concealed parrying dagger. Once she had that out, she removed her coat and waited for the men to advance.
The sound of pounding footsteps echoed down the alley. Kallen shifted a little to the left to look behind her opponents and saw a brown haired Japanese boy a little younger than her running toward them.
The underling who turned to look never even got a chance to defend himself. The boy jumped off a wall to deliver a kick from above straight down onto the man’s head. The boy followed it up with a spin kick into the boss’s side that sent the last man to the ground.
The boy rushed forward, one foot stomping on the man’s chest and knocking the breath out of his lungs. Lastly, the boy trapped him in a choke hold until he passed out.
And that was it.
“Hey!” Kallen said. The boy looked up. “Those were my opponents.”
“Oh.” The boy stood awkwardly as he glanced down at the two men he’d defeated and the third Kallen had previously dealt with. “Uh… Sorry?”
“No worries,” a now smiling Kallen said. “I’m just joking. Thank you for the help. I much prefer decisive, unfair battles in real life. Not that they had a chance to begin with.”
“Well, I’m glad I was in the area to help.”
“One moment,” Kallen said. She sheathed her dagger, put her coat back on, and withdrew her phone. She called the police to take the three men into custody, and that concluded all of the momentary distractions. “Would you care for some takoyaki?” she asked the boy. “I bought more than I think I can eat.”
The boy looked surprised at the offer. “I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“Nonsense. I have nothing else to do and enough income to feed Tokyo indefinitely.”
The agreement was still hesitant, but agreement it was. The pair left the alley to recover Kallen’s takoyaki and found a bench nearby to wait for the police to show.
“So what brings my white knight to my rescue all the way out here?” Kallen asked.
“Well, I just had a small meal with a friend at a cafe and wanted to see the ghetto before I took the train home.”
The boy flushed bright red. “No! Of course not!”
“Oh? Why not?” Kallen pointed her half-eaten takoyaki on a stick at the boy’s face. “That look clearly says you want her to be.”
“I… No, I don’t… She’s…out of my league.”
Kallen frowned. “Britannian?”
“Don’t let that stop you,” Kallen said firmly. “There are more half-bloods than you might expect.” And someday that would mean nothing.
“It’s not that. She’s not like that.”
“Ah,” Kallen said, dragging out the word in understanding. “Nobility?”
“Something like that,” the boy said.
“I suppose that does complicate things. Still, it could work. Some Britannian nobles choose to live abroad.”
“I’m really not her type,” the boy said firmly enough that Kallen decided to drop the subject. It was none of her business, anyway.
And that reminded her of something. “Sorry. I’ve been rude. I never caught your name. I’m Kallen Stadtfeld.”
“Suzaku Kururugi,” the boy said, clearly not recognising her.
Where have I heard – “The former prime minister’s son?”
“Yes, actually,” Kururugi said, surprised.
Kallen decided to answer the unasked question. “I lived in Japan for a time before returning to the homeland.”
“Ah. That explains the takoyaki.”
“No, takoyaki is just delicious.” That drew a smile out of Kururugi. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but Princess Marrybell stayed with your family before the war, yes?”
A carefully guarded but almost painfully obvious Kururugi said, “Why do you ask?”
Oh dear. Out of his league indeed. Kallen chose not to comment on Kururugi’s luck in love. Best not introduce him to Euphyllia Linette. “I’m actually here with her brother, Lelouch.”
That name Kururugi recognised. “You know him?”
“Well, I am his knight.”
Kururugi's eyes widened, and Kallen laughed.
“You’re having me on, aren’t you?”
Kallen was about to answer when her phone vibrated. “Excuse me,” she said. If Lelouch had sent her a message, it could be time-sensitive.
‘Where are you?’
‘Near the ghetto in Ikebukuro,’ Kallen sent back. ‘Doing something important. Is this urgent?’
A few seconds passed before Kallen received a reply. ‘I’ll tell you later. Watch for tails.’
Kallen frowned at the warning as she tucked her phone away. She hadn’t noticed anyone following her, but then she also hadn’t been paying much attention, either. Even so, she was reasonably sure no one was watching her right now.
“Is everything alright?” Kururugi asked.
“Never,” Kallen said in jest. “But I’ve not been included in the call to arms.”
“I see…” The truly sad thing was Kururugi probably understood the sentiment more than he let on.
“So there’s something I’m very curious about,” Kallen began. She knew most of Marrybell’s background, but she only had her own opinions and Lelouch’s suppositions for the more important details. “Why exactly did Her Highness return to Britannia? As I understand it, everyone thought she was dead.”
“What? She was ten years old. Of course she returned to her family.” Kururugi clearly tried his best to look confused, but it was no use.
“You expect me to believe she decided to put herself back under the power of a man she blamed” – read ‘blames’ and rightly so – “for the death of her mother and little sister and who uprooted her from the Zevons’ care long after to exile her to Japan because he was ‘family’?”
Kururugi shifted uneasily on the bench. “When you put it like that, it does sound rather…foolish.”
“And I know Her Highness is no fool.”
“Fine. It’s true she didn’t want to go back at first,” Kururugi admitted, “but I convinced her to. What kind of life could she live as an Eleven who everyone would hate or as a commoner on the streets?”
“Hmm…” Kallen sensed there was more to it than that, but the admission that Kururugi had convinced Marrybell was big enough on its own. She would ruminate on this later with Lelouch and attempt to divine the truth.
“You don’t believe me?”
“No, I do,” Kallen said. “Just thinking about what she would have done if she’d had Britannian friends in the area” like Lelouch would have had Milly.
“Something stubborn and foolish, I’m sure,” Kururugi said with a laugh.
Kallen smothered a laugh of her own. “Yours, too, huh? Royalty, eh?”
Kururugi's eyes widened. “Wait. You weren’t joking about–”
The piercing sound of a police siren steadily grew to fill the air.
“It seems the time for our friendly chat is over.” Kallen stood and straightened out her slightly rumpled coat. “It was good meeting you, Kururugi. I’m sure we’ll meet again in the future.”
Britannian Army Garrison Tokyo
Government Borough, Area 11
November 12, 2015 a.t.b.
While His Highness was busy quietly determining the lie of the land safe within the Government Borough, Jeremiah had been given leave and implicit encouragement to reconnect with old friends stationed in the Tokyo Settlement.
And so Jeremiah approached a poker game already in progress. Standing behind an open seat, he asked, “Deal me in?”
Faces looked up from their hands. Several recognised him, but only two knew him.
“Jerry?” Kewell said in surprise.
“It is him,” Villetta said. “What are you doing here?”
“My prince requested I arrive early to acquire secure housing closer to his friends, the Ashfords. Now that I have, I thought I’d come say hello.”
“Well, sit down, then,” Kewell said. “Ten pounds to play.”
Jeremiah threw a tenner into a pile with a half-dozen others and received a stack of chips in return. He sat down and happily joined the game as though he were back at the Royal Military Academy so many years ago.
And, of course, Jeremiah lost as he always had.
“Bad luck, my friend,” Kewell said with a pat on Jeremiah’s back once it was all over.
“Like you’re one to talk,” Jeremiah sent back.
They both turned to look at Villetta, who was happily counting her winnings. She looked up at them. “What?”
“Nothing,” Kewell said.
Jeremiah added, “I swear she cheats.”
“I see you’ve changed no more than Kewell has,” Villetta said with some amusement. She pocketed her money. “How is life as a royal knight?”
“Good for the greater part,” Jeremiah said. “Prince Lelouch is demanding but fair and highly competent in anything he personally involves himself. It was an honour to serve Empress Marianne but a privilege to be allowed to work alongside her son. How is life in” – he hesitated a moment, almost saying ‘Japan’ – “Area Eleven.”
“Awful,” Kewell said simply.
Jeremiah turned to Villetta for further elaboration.
“Everyday there’s a new report of terrorist activity somewhere in the area. For every rebel you capture, two more slip away. For every terrorist you kill, four more take their place. The Eleven civilians never help, not even the ‘honourary Britannians’, and don’t get me started on the ones in the army.”
“The old tubes running throughout the country make it bloody impossible to catch anyone,” Kewell added. “You think you’ve got a terrorist cell backed into a corner, but then you realise they left an hour ago through some hole in the ground. You reduce the entrance to rubble only to find out it’s been opened back up a week later.”
Villetta chimed in, adding, “And there are thousands of entrances, so we can’t simply guard them. The terrorists make us look more and more incompetent everyday. They don’t do any real damage, but they’re an unignorable irritant. The JLF at least has the decency to form a coherent mass for us to fight once in a while.”
“Sounds rough,” Jeremiah said. He felt for them. Truly, he did. Had his prince been exiled to Japan and never returned, he most likely would be here too suffering the same pain.
“You’ll have to buy us a drink sometime with all that easy money. That or lose more to us.”
Jeremiah laughed. “I wouldn’t exactly call my job ‘easy money’, but I suppose the former is a wish I can grant.”
“How long will you be in Area Eleven?” Villetta asked.
“Anywhere from a couple weeks to the end of winter, I expect,” Jeremiah said.
Kewell chuckled. “Does your prince realise there are better places to flee the cold? Warm and sunny places with plenty of beautiful women. Area Seven comes to mind.”
“As much as I wish this were a holiday, we’re here on business, not for beaches and bikinis.”
“What son of the emperor isn’t looking for bikinis?”
Jeremiah and Kewell shared a hearty round of laughter while Villetta rolled her eyes and mumbled something about men.
“Ah…” Jeremiah breathed as he calmed. “Anything or anyone I should be wary of regarding His Highness’s safety while in Area Eleven? Other than terrorists and Prince Clovis’s parties, of course.”
“The purists,” Villetta said.
“Oh? They would raise their hand against a prince of Britannia?”
“Against a French prince?” Villetta said. “Most definitely.” To Jeremiah’s disappointed look, she raised her hands in peace. “I’m sure Prince Lelouch is a wonderful person given all that his mother did for the empire. The purists are a relatively new group right now, though, and as such consist mostly of radicals. They have some good points and will probably mellow with time to attract greater membership, but for now they are what they are.”
“I see.” And the purists were primarily housed in the Government Borough within the Tokyo Settlement where Prince Lelouch was currently alone and unprotected, if in disguise. Troubling. “Anything else?”
“The ghettos at night are terrifying,” Kewell said. “During daylight, too, but even otherwise peaceful and productive Elevens sometimes get pissed or drugged enough at night to lash out. And in groups.”
“You have that serious of a drug problem here?”
Villetta sighed. “Jeremiah, we have every variety of problem here. Let’s be honest. We’re trying to rule a half-conquered people whose standard of living dropped drastically. If they’d just fought to the end instead of surrendering early when their prime minister offed himself, things probably wouldn’t be nearly as bad, but they did, and now we have to deal with it.”
It’s worse here than His Highness suspected. “Thanks for the information, both of you. I should be getting back to work for now, however. Call me when you’re free for drinks sometime.”
“We will,” Kewell promised.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Villetta added.
“I won’t,” Jeremiah said, and then he was off to collect his prince.
The situation here is worse than I thought, Lelouch said to himself as he browsed through financial records and military reports. I don’t know whether I should call Clovis incompetent or a genius. Even I would have trouble holding this government together for long, let alone five years. How did this happen?
Lelouch’s head shot up when he heard a muffled grunt from nearby and what sounded like a body hitting the floor. Silently, he withdrew his pistol and held it beneath the table he’d been reading at. He tilted his head back down and waited, watching.
A figure appeared.
“Oh, Jeremiah, it’s you.” Lelouch put away his gun. “What was that noise I heard?”
“I had to convince someone it’s impolite to spy on an imperial prince.”
Lelouch snorted. “I imagine your argument was more physical than mine would have been.”
Jeremiah smiled and bowed slightly as if to say, “Quite right.”
“Who was it?”
“From the uniform, a member of the purist faction, I believe. I spoke with a couple friends of mine, and they warned me the group could be a threat to your continued good health.”
Lelouch placed his chin between thumb and forefinger as he thought. I expected them to try something, but I still doubt they’ll move against me directly.
A thought occurred. Lelouch pulled out his phone and sent a text to Kallen. ‘Where are you?’
‘Near the ghetto in Ikebukuro,’ Kallen soon sent back. ‘Doing something important. Is this urgent?’
‘Doing something important’? I wonder if she found out about Naoto’s resistance group and is yelling at him. Lelouch thought about that for a moment before discarding the idea. She’d been too affable to have discovered that little secret. At any rate, she should be fine on her own. It’s not like she would ever trust a Britannian calling themself a purist.
‘I’ll tell you later.’ Lelouch added a brief warning before putting his phone away. ‘Watch for tails.’
“So what did you discover about Area Eleven?” Lelouch asked.
“To be frank, it’s a mess.”
“Yes, my thoughts, too. But there’s not much we can gain from going to the monumental effort of fixing it before the strain shows. Marrybell might appreciate it, but even she’s not worth such an investment of time.”
“With respect, Your Highness,” Jeremiah began, “Japan’s sakuradite supply is crucial to Britannian war efforts. If it falls…”
“It won’t fall anytime soon.” As strange as it sounded even to Lelouch, Clovis had proven himself a capable enough administrator to hold Area Eleven together for at least another year or two, perhaps even longer. “Nor do I have any interest in repairing what’s not yet broken. The emperor will send someone to fix the situation when it becomes necessary.”
“Are you expecting to be that person?”
“I have mixed feelings on that prospect,” Lelouch said simply, and he left it at that. If he was chosen, he felt confident in his ability to pacify Area Eleven. He even felt confident he could do it in a way that Kallen would be reasonably at ease with, although that would take longer. No doubt it would also demonstrate his own ability to govern in difficult circumstances. Yet there was so much that could go wrong and entirely too much work to do that would distract him from more important affairs.
Lelouch gathered the documents he’d removed from the local government’s archives for reshelving later. He had enough to work with for now, so it was time to head back to Ashford Academy and his family.
Tokyo Settlement, Area 11
November 12, 2015 a.t.b.
“You met Suzaku Kururugi?” Lelouch said, for once caught completely by surprise.
Kallen nodded. “He was having a not-date with Marrybell, apparently.”
“If she’s maintaining her friendships with numbers, all the more reason to recruit her,” Lelouch said half to himself. Finding such tolerance amongst the imperial family was rare, but more importantly, the danger of her turning was too great to risk. He did not want her as an enemy.
“Anyway, I talked with Kururugi for a few minutes. I got him to tell me that he was the one who convinced Marrybell to return to Britannia. Supposedly for her own sake, but I felt like he wasn’t telling me everything.”
“Now that’s interesting,” Lelouch said. “Assuming he had even the slightest knowledge of recent Britannian history at the end of the war, he would have asked Marrybell to return for the sake of his people. Britannia does not like dead royalty. Area Seven is proof enough of that. If the populace, let alone Clovis, thought they were responsible for her death, the oppression would be that much worse.”
Kallen hesitated a moment before asking, “Is it really that simple?”
Lelouch shrugged. “Possibly. Maybe Kururugi really did just care for her welfare and presented an argument she couldn’t refuse. Maybe it’s neither. Maybe they have some grand plan for the future like us. Who knows?”
A knock came on the door to the student council’s meeting room.
“Come in!” Lelouch called out. It was Euphemia. “I thought you went back to the girls hall.”
“I did. Nunnally is asleep.” Lelouch and Kallen both waited patiently to hear why Euphemia had returned. Eventually, she asked, “What are you two planning?”
Lelouch glanced at Kallen out of the corner of his eye to see her signal that she would let him take the lead on this one.
“What do you mean?”
Euphemia pointed at Lelouch. “You knighted her.” She shifted her finger to point to Kallen. “You let him knight you. Neither of you would have done that without a reason.”
“And what do you think that reason is?” Lelouch asked.
“It can't be for protection. Cornelia has custody of her, and there's no one else who–” Euphemia paused as she realised what she'd just said. “Wait. You would have needed Cornelia's permission for this. Does she know what you’re up to?”
“Approximately,” Lelouch said. Neither he nor Kallen had told Cornelia exactly what they planned to do, but she knew they wanted the throne, could probably guess why, and had no interest in it herself.
“And she approved?”
“More chose not to interfere,” Kallen said when Lelouch hesitated to answer. Cornelia disapproved of them starting their quest for the throne so young but knew there was little she could do to stop them once they'd both turned sixteen. It never needed to be said that she would support them when the time came.
“I see.” Euphemia heaved a deep sigh. “Is it too much to ask for you two to just…stay?”
A larger part of Lelouch than he would like to admit regretted saying, “Yes.”
“I'm sorry, Euphie,” Kallen added.
“Will you at least tell me what your goal is? I promise I won't tell anyone.”
After debating for a few seconds within his mind, Lelouch decided to trust Euphemia with the information. She would be safer not knowing, only guessing, but not by much. “What other ambition does a prince have than to be king?”
Euphemia's eyes widened before settling into gentle acceptance. “I suppose I should have known.” She turned to Kallen. “Please keep him safe.”
“I always planned to,” Kallen said.
Euphemia stepped forward to give Kallen a hug. She then turned on Lelouch. “And you. Don't you dare throw Kallen into something she can't handle. Understand?”
Euphemia offered a hug to Lelouch, too, which he accepted.
“Both of you have to promise to come back.”
Kallen said, “Of course.”
Lelouch said, “Our deaths wouldn't fit into our plans.”
“Lelouch.” He could feel Kallen rolling her eyes as she nudged him with her elbow and Euphemia giggled.
“I'll leave you two to plot in peace for now. Goodnight.”
Lelouch added, “Pleasant dreams.”
Once Euphemia was gone, Kallen spoke up. “Do you know what day it is?”
Lelouch glanced at the clock. It was a few minutes after midnight. “Friday, then.”
It took a few seconds of searching his memory, but in the end, Lelouch understood what had Kallen smirking. “It seems I underestimated Marrybell's patience.”
“Or her willingness to let us ‘settle in and visit friends and family’. Or perhaps something else. Regardless, I'll be collecting your forfeit when we're less busy.”
“Hmph. Very well. I'll see you in the morning.” As Lelouch left the meeting room to find his bedroom within the student council building, he added, “And don't forget that swords are not accessories for a dress.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Kallen carelessly tossed back.
Government Borough, Area 11
November 13, 2015 a.t.b.
Lelouch held out his arm for Kallen as was proper. She took it, and together they made their way inside to their welcome party. He had on a simple dress shirt and dinner jacket he was sure Clovis would scoff at ever donning himself while Kallen wore an elegant red dress that reminded Lelouch why he never tried too hard to avoid formal affairs. Euphemia must have helped with her hair, as it was tied up in an intricate style he doubted she could manage unassisted. It let a few stray locks curl down to her shoulders and left the nape of her neck exposed.
Kallen's chuckle when she caught him staring out of the corner of his eye brought Lelouch's focus back to the present. They entered Clovis’s palace, divested themselves of their coats, and were then shown to the ballroom. The court marshal announced their arrival with Clovis appearing soon after wearing an outfit with more frills than Kallen’s dress.
Of course, Kallen’s dress had no frills, but the point remained. Clovis always did have the strangest fashion sense.
“Lelouch, you’re late to your own party.”
“I prefer the term ‘last to arrive’.”
“Baron Gordiengo expressly informed me of plans to arrive an hour from now,” Clovis countered.
“Then ‘fashionably late’, if you must.”
Clovis ran a sceptical eye from Lelouch’s head to his feet and back up again. “I believe we will stick with ‘late’.”
Lelouch gave a slight bow and a wave of his free hand in acknowledgement of his defeat; he held no interest in debating clothes with his brother. Clovis then turned to address his date.
“Kallen, it’s lovely to see you again.” Clovis took her hand to kiss it in greeting. “As a flower blossoms in spring, you grow more beautiful everyday.”
“And you more shameless in your flattery.”
Clovis drew back in mock offence. “I have never once delivered an insincere compliment to a lady.”
“Oh?” An amused hum emanated from Kallen. “Then perhaps we should ask my escort his opinion.”
Lelouch rolled his eyes. “In this instance, Milady, my brother cannot prove himself a liar, for there is no vision more beautiful nor a sight more striking than a single rose blooming alone among mere tulips and pansies.”
“Lelouch!” Clovis said. “We’ll make a poet of you yet!”
“Not bad,” Kallen admitted.
“Well then,” Clovis said, “I do believe it’s time to begin introductions.”
And so Lelouch and Kallen spent the next couple hours socialising among the elite of Area Eleven with Clovis introducing them to an endless sequence of politicians, nobles, and businessmen. A few people they already knew, but most were both new faces and newly titled with domains in the recently conquered Japan.
And then there was Lord James Machlin who led the purist faction, an otherwise unremarkable man. They had barely gotten past hello, and Lelouch could already sense Kallen’s patience straining to hold her temper in check.
“My organisation has personally managed to eradicate four terrorist cells since our formation, and we’re closing in on a fifth in the Shinjuku Ghetto. We believe our success comes from the lack of the Elevens’ involvement in our affairs. I have no doubt the filth in the rest of the army reports on its movements to the terrorists. And then there’s Princess Marrybell’s pet.”
Above the background chatter of the hall, Lelouch noticed the latest song come to an end. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he said, “Excuse me, Lord Machlin, but I believe I’ve promised Kallen a dance tonight. Kallen?” He held his hand out in offer.
Kallen showed Lelouch a grateful smile as she took his hand. “I was getting worried. Perhaps you should ask your brother for advice on women.”
“A fine idea,” Clovis commented.
“Oh? I know what advice most of my brothers would give me.” Leaning closer, Lelouch whispered, “Kallen, my dear, if you want my attention at night, you need only ask.”
Clovis erupted into laughter as Lelouch led a lightly flushed Kallen away to the dance floor. He put his free hand on her back. She placed hers on his shoulder. The music started, and they waltzed.
“You’ve been spending too much time with Milly,” Kallen accused.
“I’m on the same landmass,” Lelouch said flatly. “Of course I have.”
Kallen chuckled. “Thank you for pulling us away. I wanted to punch that arse.”
The sentiment was mutual. “You might get your chance before we leave Japan.”
“I’ll be looking forward to it.”
As they moved in step with the music, Kallen hummed in contentment with her eyes closed, trusting Lelouch not to let them crash.
“What is it?” Lelouch asked, curious.
“We should go dancing more often. It’s the one thing I enjoy about these parties.”
“Any excuse to get you in a dress.”
“Shush,” Kallen said, smiling. “You’re ruining the moment early.”
“Early?” Lelouch asked, quirking an eyebrow to no effect with Kallen not looking.
“Marrybell is headed this way.”
Glancing over Kallen’s shoulder at the crowd, Lelouch did indeed find his half-sister approaching the edge of the dance floor. Her gaze met his, and he knew she wanted a dance. “Ah.”
A minute later, the song ended. With the promise to continue later, they made their way over to Marrybell, who asked, “May I have the next dance?”
Kallen released Lelouch’s arm, saying, “He’s all yours. Have fun.”
The next song started, and the dance began.
“I admit,” Lelouch said, “I expected you to approach me sooner.”
“I happened to overhear your wager with the countess and thought I would take my revenge for my loss.”
Lelouch assumed that by ‘overhear’ Marrybell meant ‘view security footage of’. Not that he was crass enough to ask. He remained silent in his defeat. A frown marred his features as he wondered if Kallen had expected Marrybell to do exactly as she had.
“Feeling cheated?” Marrybell asked.
“Hardly. I imagine Kallen anticipated your actions. She has a helpful habit of picking up on things I miss, sometimes to my detriment.”
“It is indeed. But perhaps we should speak more than mere pleasantries.”
“Then let us be frank. I want to be emperor.”
“And what if I said I want to be empress?”
“I apologise,” Lelouch said, “but I have someone else in mind for that role.”
A laugh escaped Marrybell. “Not even acknowledging me as a rival?”
“You would be a fierce opponent leading a rebellion from outside Britannia.”
“Don’t tempt me.”
Lelouch passed on commenting how unlikely he felt it would be for her to follow through. Marrybell’s best bet would be to mold Japan’s disenfranchised citizens into revolutionaries. No other place would so readily provide an army. But after what happened to her mother and sister, even if she mostly blamed their father, he doubted she could stomach working with terrorists long enough to turn them into a fighting force she could be proud to lead.
Instead, Lelouch said, “Our aspirations for Britannia are not incompatible nor exist for dissimilar reasons. Unless you choose to bow out early, we will eventually fight for dominance. We both know this. I want to resolve this now so that we may work together and maximise our chances of success in our larger goals.”
“And when our resources are so disparate,” Marrybell replied. “I do not command the same level of influence amongst some of our key siblings as you. Nor do I have the devotion of such a masterful Ace devicer. Why would I commit to such an unfair gamble so early?”
“Life is not fair, Marrybell.” Although Lelouch said that, he had the distinct impression that something she’d just said had been not a lie but misleading. “And my opportunities will multiply faster than yours. Personally, I believe I am being very gentlemanly in approaching you now rather than later.”
Marrybell hummed in interest. “And how do you suggest we resolve our power struggle?”
“I’m sure a suitable opportunity will present itself soon enough.”
Frowning, Marrybell said, “Usually when one says something like that it means they intend to engineer a seemingly innocent yet extraordinarily biased wager.”
“You accuse me unfairly!” Lelouch said, and they both knew the words for the obvious lie they were. For them, deception was as important and as testable a skill as any other, as was the ability to see traps for what they were in whatever form they took. To Marrybell’s slightly amused stare, he added, “In truth, I suspect the purists will attempt to inconvenience me before I take leave of Japan. I expect an appropriate moment for us to resolve our differences will emerge from the conflict.”
“Hmm. Well, we’ll have to wait and see, then.”
Once they finished their dance together, Marrybell said, “You should consider rescuing your empress. The man she’s speaking with is a purist noble.”
“She probably knows,” Lelouch replied. And after she just escaped another. “Nonetheless, I do believe I would appreciate another dance more than whatever information the man might let slip.”