Stage 09 - The Battle of Shinjuku
Shinjuku Ghetto, Area 11
November 18, 2015 a.t.b.
Inoue Naomi gazed at ‘Kōzuki Karen’ as she guided the girl to the resistance’s Glasgow. The two Kōzuki had certainly interacted like family, but Naomi could tell that something was not as it appeared. The pair had very little in common as far as physical appearances went, too, although the younger Kōzuki had herself so bundled up to fend off the cold that it was hard to tell.
“Well, here we are,” Naomi said, gesturing to the dull-red knightmare just across the makeshift hangar. “She’s a little on in years, but she gets the job done.”
And naturally, Karen said, “What a piece of junk,” as everyone did when first seeing the Glasgow. “Will this withstand the stress an Ace would put on it?”
Naomi blinked before giving Karen a more scrutinising inspection. “Are you saying you are one?”
“I wouldn’t have forced Naoto-nii to give it to me if I weren’t.” Karen paused a moment. “Well, I probably would have. Still.”
No words came to Naomi. Kōzuki’s little sister was an Ace and they had never fielded her, let alone recruited her, why?
“Who normally pilots her?” Karen asked as she went to inspect the knightmare piece by piece.
“Kento,” Naomi’s mouth answered for her while her brain kept trying to divine who exactly Karen was and where she’d come from. “Sugiyama Kento.”
Karen hummed. “Never heard of him. Who performs maintenance?”
Naomi unexpectedly found herself hoping for approval, and the words were not long in coming.
“Based on what I assume you have available to work with,” Karen said, “you’ve done an impressive job. I almost want to steal you away to be my personal mechanic.”
“I’m not that good,” Naomi found herself saying before realising she had no context whatsoever for the compliment. That said, Karen did appear to be very familiar with knightmares. And if she truly were an Ace…
“Now then–” Karen hopped down to the floor from climbing on the knightmare. She held out her hand. “–do you have the key and code? I don’t know how to bypass the security on a knightmare.”
From her pocket, Naomi withdrew the former and handed it over. “There’s no code.”
“It was nothing,” Naomi said. As she watched Karen board the Glasgow, she worked up the nerve to ask, “Who are you really?”
Just outside the cockpit, Karen paused to look back at Naomi. “Since Naoto-nii appears to want to keep his work and family lives very separate, I believe that’s a question to ask him. Later, though. We have a battle to win.”
And with that, Karen entered the knightmare and burst out of the hangar into Shinjuku proper. Naomi watched her fly between buildings at a speed that really should have resulted in a wrecked Glasgow.
Then Karen’s words finally registered.
Lord James Machlin frowned within his command centre. On his map of the ghetto, his well-trained forces were properly arranged to catch any little rats that attempted to cause problems. The small elongated triangles, each representing a knightmare, surrounded Shinjuku with advance forces slowly tightening the encirclement. Smaller dots representing infantry checked the annoyingly empty buildings for any Elevens to deal with, and rectangles representing tanks sat at a safe distance to provide artillery support in the unlikely event they proved necessary.
And yet one little enemy triangle continually evaded capture and made a mockery of his soldiers as they futilely chased after it. Worse still, it had actually managed to defy the odds to destroy four of his Sutherlands so far – four!
“Who is that devicer?”
“It’s a Glasgow! Why can no one destroy the damned thing?”
James interrupted the pointless chatter. “Countess Stadtfeld is obviously the pilot.” That quieted the room in an instant. It’d been obvious to him. The only other enemies on the field were the Eleven monkeys, whereas Kallen Stadtfeld, regardless of the inscrutable life choices she’d made, was both well known as an Ace and came from good stock.
“It seems,” James continued, “she somehow convinced the terrorists to let her pilot their knightmare. That she hasn’t abandoned them proves the connection between her and the terrorists. Fortune smiles upon us today. All men are to continue to shoot to kill.”
“Sir, is that wise?”
“Capturing her would only let her try to invent an excuse for her actions,” James said. “Her loss will be regrettable, but she is clearly beyond the pale, and her demise will allow us to move against her prince. We do what we must for a better, stronger, more secure Britannia.”
A chorus of, “Yes, My Lord,” came back in answer.
“Sir, another unit lost.”
James clicked his tongue. If only the Stadtfeld girl had been more approachable, he might have been able to turn her. Her loss truly would be a tragedy. Regardless, what must be done must be done. They would likely never get another opportunity such as this. He turned to his chief logistic officer. “How much longer before our remaining supplies arrive?”
Kallen used her slash harkens to yank her knightmare perpendicular to her momentum, pulling her into an alley. So hidden, three tailing Sutherlands passed her by unaware. Finally, she had a chance to steady herself.
That last knightmare, I definitely killed its pilot. There was no getting away from that.
Deep breaths, Kallen. Deep breaths.
In and out, Kallen felt herself calm down. She could do this. She knew she could.
And she would. Kallen used her land spinners to glide up between two buildings, landing gracefully atop the shorter one. From there, she had a better view of the ghetto and the forces hunting her down. From the look of it, she’d so far managed to keep herself from being surrounded and trapped.
Of course, Kallen had also made herself an obvious target. She took three seconds to plot her next assault and then sped away. Fortunately, just after moving, she heard the sound of bullets impacting the taller building beside her. This Glasgow had to last her a long time; tanking hits was not an acceptable option, especially when failure almost certainly meant death.
Without pausing even an instant, Kallen fired a burst of bullets at a knightmare as she drove past. She managed to do enough damage to the arm to force the pilot to eject it but no more.
Two more knightmares appeared. One came at Kallen directly from ahead, and one approached from the left. Rather than dodge right, as was no doubt expected, she used her slash harkens to pull herself to the left. She jumped off of the closest Sutherland, forcing it prone, and continued on across the roof of a short building nearby.
“Q1, come in.”
Kallen immediately grasped the radio Naoto had given her. “About bloody time, K1! I thought you were going to make me try to solo this entire encounter. I’m not that good.”
“You seem to be doing fine so far even with minimal support from R1’s resistance.”
Kallen quietly noted that Naoto’s codename was R1 for the battle. “Do we really have time for this?”
“Actually, yes,” Lelouch said. “You have five minutes to reach the railway nearest to the Settlement. A supply train with gifts from the purists to us will meet you there. Questions?”
“No, I know where to go. I assume you don’t want any lingering attention on the train after I stop it?” And that meant she needed to do more than simply derail it. A small team of knightmares could easily put it back on its tracks.
“Indeed. I’ll leave you to it, then.”
Her orders given, Kallen set out once more. She zigzagged through Shinjuku to avoid looking like she had a proper destination. Halfway to the railway, she slowed down enough to acquire a lasting tail. When she arrived early, she burnt through the extra time she had making herself look like a worse shot with her Glasgow’s assault rifle than she actually was.
Finally, she heard the thunder of an approaching train. Getting her timing just right, she leapt atop the leading engine powering it. From the resulting screeching, she assumed she'd managed to crush enough vital parts to disable it. There was still the second engine to consider, however.
Kallen’s latest opponent followed her to the other side of the train. Lining herself up with the Sutherland between her and it, she opened fire. She hit her true target, the second and last engine of the train, disabling all power.
Once that was done, Kallen left the train to coast to a stop much further down the line and closer to the resistance’s base of operations. Lelouch and Naoto would handle the rest. But until they were ready, she needed to continue distracting the purists to buy more time.
Hidden within a building not too far away, Lelouch observed Naoto's resistance bustle about unloading the ruined supply train of what they could while also rigging the captured Sutherlands to function for them. So far only one stray enemy soldier had come to bother them, and he had been promptly dealt with.
Yes, they were still setting up the board, but the game proceeded smoothly. Lelouch should have time to make a few preemptive moves before his opponent joined them and finally took her seat.
Lelouch picked up his radio, primitive thing that it was. “Q1, we're about ready to engage the purists. I need you to get me access to enemy communications.”
A long sigh came back over the radio. “Subduing a knightmare for capture on my own isn't easy in these conditions.”
“While I would prefer the entire knightmare intact,” Lelouch said, “a functional cockpit and its devicer is all I require. If you can get someone to eject toward our allies, we can handle the rest.”
“Now that I can do,” Kallen replied. “Tell R1 to keep an eye out.”
Lelouch changed the radio to Naoto’s frequency. “R1, Q1 will be sending a cockpit and devicer our way soon. I need access to the IFF Display connected to Britannian communications.”
“Ah. Clever, Le – er, K1.”
“Not really,” Lelouch said. He had nothing better to do until his army was ready than to give Naoto a brief warning. Hopefully, it would keep the man from getting himself killed in the future trying to replicate it. “In a proper battle, your opponent would be more cautious. It’s standard procedure to discontinue outbound communications with ejected cockpits. The purists, however, won’t take us seriously. In all likelihood, they will continue to broadcast friend-foe data to prioritise giving their downed devicers the best opportunity to reach safety.”
“Hmm… Good to know. I’ll contact you when we have the cockpit ready for you. Any special requests for what to do with the devicer once we have their security code and encryption key?”
“Do as you please,” Lelouch said. The purists’ credibility would be as destroyed as their ranks after today. If Naoto decided to spare the devicer, that was fine. If he executed the devicer, that was fine, too.
Once Lelouch had set his radio aside, Jeremiah took the opportunity to speak up. “Are you sure this is wise, Your Highness?”
“Fortune favours the bold, Jeremiah. But if you’re worried about legal repercussions, don’t be. If the emperor hears of this, he will laugh and congratulate me for using the empire’s enemies to destroy my own.” And that was no exaggeration. It was a tactic the emperor himself often put into practice, although usually in a less direct manner than Lelouch was taking.
“I’m more concerned with your safety in this battle than your cooperation with terrorists.” Jeremiah glanced around at the crumbling structure around them. “This building alone is unsafe. Putting yourself in the middle of this with such low mobility is asking to be killed.”
“I would be nowhere else than with the men and women I may lead to death.”
Jeremiah let out a sigh of the long-suffering.
“K1, R1,” came the voice of Kallen. “I just sent a cockpit your way.”
Oh? Impressive. That was fast even for her.
“We’ve already dispatched a squad to retrieve it,” said Naoto. “I’ll contact you if we need another attempt, Q1.”
Lelouch smirked as his strategy continued to proceed as planned. The board is set, and I'll soon make the first move. I look forward to seeing how you respond, Marrybell.
“Another enemy contact! Sanders’s squad was ambushed by five Sutherlands.”
“Allerton was shot through a bloody building and forced to eject.”
“Confirmed enemy count now totals thirty Sutherlands, the Glasgow, and twenty-three infantry.”
James glared at the map displaying his troops’ positions with an intense scowl. His forces still retained a vast numerical superiority, but the terrorists had the significant advantages of both fighting on their home ground and advance warning of his inevitable attack. The terrorists made him pay dearly for every inch of ground he took with a coordination and intelligence he’d never seen in the Elevens.
Is Lady Stadtfeld commanding? That would explain a lot, especially since she was the one to disable our supply train. That cannot have been an accident. But where would she have found the time to even think of strategy, let alone implement one? We’ve kept her busy running around since she first engaged our forces.
“Another ambush! Kelsey’s unit is down to just him.”
James grit his teeth. He needed to figure out how to turn this around, or the terrorists would slowly bleed them to death.
The sound of a disturbance came from just outside the doors to the command centre. Now what? James thought to himself as he turned to meet the approaching problem.
“Wait,” came the faint voice of one of James’s men. “You can’t go in there, Your Highness. We’re in the middle of an operation.”
Dammit! The prince must have escaped and come in force.
Marrybell outright ignored the guards trying to stop her from reaching the command centre. She kept Suzaku close at her side in case someone tried to harass or arrest him. She had no time for such delays.
Finally, Marrybell arrived. She paused a moment to look around. A heavy feeling of worry hung over the atmosphere. The soldiers were professional enough not to show it on their faces, but everyone moved about with a quiet, unmistakable trepidation.
Hmm… I may be a little early. Lelouch hasn’t sent them into outright panic yet.
With her initial observations out of the way, Marrybell walked up to Lord Machlin, who stared at her in honest surprise. No doubt he’d expected Lelouch to appear, not her. “Report,” she demanded without a single other word.
“Your Highness–” Lord Machlin started. A narrowing of Marrybell’s eyes promptly put an end to him attempting to deflect her enquiry. “We are attempting to destroy a terrorist cell, but Lady Stadtfeld–”
“I’m well aware of your childish and one-sided quarrel with my brother. Until today, he’s considered you beneath his notice.” Marrybell glanced at the map and smirked as she noticed another pair of knightmares suddenly read as ‘lost’. “Congratulations. It appears you’ve gotten his attention by involving Lady Stadtfeld.”
“You mean the prince is here directing the battle?” Lord Machlin asked. From their expressions, his supporting officers shared his shock and sense of sudden opportunity.
“He’s probably not here,” Marrybell said to stop anyone from getting the brilliant idea to assassinate her soon-to-be ally, “but he’s certainly the one toying with your men. Now bring me up to speed.”
After mulling it over for a second or two, Lord Machlin complied with the order. “Initially, Lady Stadtfeld was in a Glasgow alone with minor infantry support. She proved impossible to pin down.” That last sentence came out with grudging respect. “However, she disabled one of our supply trains, and the terrorists captured the knightmares held within before we realised what happened. Since then, the terrorists have been ambushing our knightmares throughout the ghetto while we’ve slowly been tightening the encirclement.”
Marrybell waited. Nothing more came. “That’s it? You’ve only encountered guerrilla tactics?” she asked. No matter how well executed the ambushes were, she knew Lelouch was capable of more.
Lord Machlin hesitantly nodded.
An amused snort escaped Marrybell. Lelouch was waiting for her. How sweet. “I retract my earlier words,” she said. “You don’t have my brother’s attention, merely his annoyance. How many terrorist knightmares have you managed to destroy so far?”
When Lord Machlin proved reticent, another officer said, “Two, Your Highness.”
Marrybell took a deep breath. I'm not sure who I should be impressed with, Lelouch for the low casualty count or the purists for the ‘high’ count.
More importantly, if Lelouch's command of the terrorists had ever experienced any friction, it would have all vanished by now. The kind of success he'd delivered to them had a way of inspiring loyalty.
“Very well,” Marrybell said as she silently reminded herself to be nice – relatively speaking, of course. Lelouch and his knight were formidable enough foes on their own without having to fight her own troops at the same time. “None of you are prepared to face my brother and triumph. I'm taking command.”
“Now see here–”
“Even if you’re facing a prince of the realm, your performance is embarrassing Britannia and ruining any chance you or your subordinates have of higher office,” Marrybell interrupted, causing Lord Machlin to flush in anger. “You have one opportunity to save face, and that is through placing all responsibility for this disaster on me. You can hardly be blamed for the capricious whims of yet another royal who wanted to try their hand at military command.”
Marrybell watched patiently as Lord Machlin fumed in silent defeat. He could hardly raise his hand against a princess, even one who had raised her own hand against the emperor, and he really did need a scapegoat. The other officers in the command room were also shifting uneasily, something else he had to take into account for the future if he wished to retain their loyalty.
“My Lord,” another officer nervously began, “we’ve lost another squad to an ambush.”
“Fine,” Lord Machlin growled out. “On your head be it.”
“Thank you for your cooperation.” Marrybell worked hard to suppress the condescension in her voice. “Now have you encountered any civilians in the ghetto?”
Lord Machlin scoffed at, to him, that unimportant detail. “We have not.”
“Good. In that case, pull everyone out of the ghetto.”
“Your Highness! You can’t be ordering a retreat!”
Marrybell restrained herself from rolling her eyes. Honestly, what would the point of all this be if I just had us leave? “We have artillery at the ready that we’re not using. We’ll bombard the ghetto to soften up the terrorists and reduce their cover and ability to ambush us.”
“But if we do that,” another officer spoke up, “the terrorists will simply attempt to break through the encirclement and flee.”
Any other time at any other place, Marrybell might have agreed, but not here and not against this particular opponent. “If they wanted to flee, they would have done so long ago. They’ve remained to fight, and we must force them to give us a proper one. If they attempt to break the encirclement, it will be en masse to reach our artillery. If that happens” – and she doubted Lelouch would stoop to something so pedestrian – “crush them.”
A eager chorus of, “Yes, Your Highness!” came from the vast majority of the command centre.
“Now then, Suzaku, let’s get you suited up. You know what you have to do.”
Marrybell ignored the protestations of Lord Machlin as she watched Suzaku offer her a bow and his own, “Yes, Your Highness.”
From within his stolen cockpit, Lelouch quirked an eyebrow. All functional enemy units began to slowly withdraw from the field. This was a radical departure from the purists’ failing tactics so far, which could only mean one thing.
Welcome to the table, Marrybell. “R1, order everyone not to pursue the enemy.”
“Roger.” A few seconds later, Naoto resumed radio contact. “Have we won?” he asked, although he sounded doubtful.
“No,” Lelouch said. “Our opponents have a new, more competent commander” who is likely not yet aware that I have her IFF data. Let’s not make that obvious. “I’m going to send you the coordinates of every ejected but still enabled cockpit in the ghetto. There are only a few, but they all need to be destroyed as soon as possible. The new enemy commander will be taking us seriously, but she will also assume that such will not be a new state of affairs. Be aware that I’ll be disabling my IFF Display until they resume their attack.”
“I’ll inform the others and have them seek cover,” Naoto said.
With the order given, Lelouch set about transmitting the necessary coordinates before turning off the cockpit he was sitting in. In its place, he picked up the controller for the many explosives littered throughout the ghetto both inside and outside the Britannian encirclement. Japan’s old underground tunnels truly were a blessing.
I don’t want to reveal the extent of my preparations early, Marrybell, so you get to fire the first shot.
And from the distance came the roar of cannon fire.
“Third artillery round fired. Confirmed collapse of four buildings near the suspected terrorist base of operations.”
“Prepare the fourth round,” Marrybell commanded. “Continue focusing fire outward. Force them to come to us.”
And then came the thunderous boom of explosions not of her own design. A flash of light momentarily blinded the entire command centre.
When Marrybell’s ears stopped ringing, she immediately demanded, “What happened?” only to then look at her map. Nearly all of her artillery had been annihilated. Only a few had survived whatever devastation Lelouch had caused.
“The terrorists placed explosive charges in the tunnels beneath our tanks. The explosion and resulting collapse of the streets have disabled or destroyed most of them.”
“Are we atop a tunnel?” Marrybell asked, glaring at Lord Machlin in particular. Here she’d thought he had at least avoided the obvious traps.
“No, Your Highness.”
“Good. Then get me a map of the underground in Shinjuku now. I don’t care how out of date. The terrorists will know it by heart, and Lady Stadtfeld rules a city renowned for the New York Underground.”
Half a minute later, Marrybell had a second map overlaying the surface map of the Shinjuku ghetto. There were far more troublesome areas where Lelouch could lay an effective trap than she wished, but his resources were limited. She could work with this.
“Break the encirclement,” Marrybell commanded.
This drew a round of fervent protests.
What I wouldn’t give for loyal soldiers who would just do as I say. I don’t have time to constantly explain myself.
“The terrorists aren’t running away, and your encirclement is too big to be a force multiplier. If we tightened it enough to act as such, they will just leave. They’ve clearly demonstrated they’re capable of it by destroying our tanks. The only thing keeping them here is the belief that they can win. There aren’t even civilians around to protect. All our encirclement is doing is spreading our own forces thin. We’ll re-engage in larger groups that can’t be picked off.”
That got her men to obey and issue the command.
“Your Highness, we’re receiving a transmission from…the Eleven.”
Marrybell ignored the disrespect. “Put him on.”
On the main monitor of the command room, a video feed of Suzaku appeared in a borrowed Sutherland. “Ready to launch, Your Highness.”
“Good. Lady Stadtfeld is still in the Glasgow but disappeared for a few minutes earlier, so assume she has a full energy filler.”
“Thanks for the warning. Anything special about the Glasgow to watch out for?”
And that hit on a point that worried Marrybell. It was possible Lady Stadtfeld had stayed in the Glasgow to be ‘fair’, but it was equally likely for there to be some darker purpose. Of course, if Lelouch believed he had a wide enough margin of error for victory, perhaps he simply wanted Marrybell to waste time pondering the matter. Lady Stadtfeld was also very recognisable in the single distinct knightmare, which had its own uses.
“Not that I’m aware of,” Marrybell replied.
Suzaku nodded. He then said, “Kururugi Suzaku launching.”
“K1,” Kallen said, “during the bombarding the purists finally realised I’m not worth chasing. Do you have anything for me to do, or should I just go back to causing chaos in the ranks?”
“Act as you see fit,” Lelouch replied. “I’m sure K2 will come up with something spectacular in an attempt to deal with you, so be careful.”
“Alright,” Kallen said, smiling even as she suppressed a chuckle. Lelouch had already taken to referring to Marrybell by a codename.
The fact sensors of Kallen’s Glasgow alerted her to an approaching single Sutherland.
Oi! Marrybell, give me a little credit and use a less obvious trap!
Normally, Kallen would run and bait the Sutherland following her into her side’s own trap, but that could lead her into a counter trap if Marrybell knew the likely directions she would flee. Of course, there could also be an ambush approaching even as she considered the matter. It was rarely wise to stop moving when alone in the middle of a battle.
I suppose I could just run in a direction Marrybell’s forces shouldn’t have any presence and then engage in a short duel.
Finding that idea appealing, Kallen fired her slash harkens. She used them to pull herself up into the air, landing atop a building nearby. As expected, the approaching Sutherland moved to follow her. She took off deeper into the ghetto where the fighting grew less intense, travelling until she made her way to the centre of an area Marrybell’s bombardment had levelled to the ground. No one would be able to sneak up on her there.
When her opponent arrived, Kallen decided to engage in a little taunting to speed things up. She turned on her Glasgow’s external speakers. “You know, the rest of your friends have wizened up and flee from me on sight. It makes it next to impossible for me to do anything useful. So what’s your story?”
“Eto… I’m not sure how you want me to respond to that.”
Kallen blinked. “Kururugi?”
Kallen let out an exasperated sigh. “Sending someone after me I can’t risk killing without rendering all this pointless. Her Highness fights dirty.”
“The same could be said of you and Prince Lelouch,” Kururugi returned.
“That would imply you have even the tiniest chance of killing me.”
Kururugi paused a moment and seemed to consider that. “I don’t suppose we could simply both agree to talk this one out? I don’t approve of this game your prince is playing with my princess.”
“If you know she’s going to lose, you should have said that to her, not me.”
“Marrybell won’t lose!”
Kallen smirked. “Good answer. Wrong, but good.”
A string of mumbling came from Kururugi’s Sutherland before he properly replied. “It’s not that. You’re throwing lives away for nothing. Just think! You’re fighting alongside terrorists of all things. Why were you even in the ghetto when all this started?”
“I was looking for someone,” Kallen replied. “I told you I used to live in Japan. I still have people I care about living here. As for throwing away lives, what do you think the purists were going to do both now and in the future? Better to rein them in now than let them make racial tensions here even worse than they already are.”
Kallen nodded to herself. The further she went, the more likely Kururugi was to do something foolish that she could take advantage of to carefully knock him out of the fight.
“You might even say I’m saving lives. This area grows ever more uncomfortably close to open rebellion. Can you imagine the death toll if that happened? Yes, the only thing wrong Lelouch and I have done here is calling Marrybell to be our opponent. Without her involved, we probably could have exterminated the purists without a single casualty. Assuming you care about the terrorists’ lives, that is. And just think! When we win, your people will even have a little bit of their dignity returned to them with the victory. A second Miracle of Itsukushima where Britannia didn’t kerb stomp you.”
“You’re baiting me,” Kururugi accused.
Kallen chuckled. “You caught me. Still, I stand by most of what I said. But a battlefield isn’t really the place to discuss poli…tics…” She paused. “You got me talking!”
It was Kururugi’s turn to say, “You caught me.”
“I see. Princess Marrybell truly does fight dirty.” Kallen withdrew her Glasgow’s assault rifle. “I can’t let you keep wasting my time. If you’re done, I’ll allow you to leave in peace. Otherwise, I’m going to have to take you out by force.”
Kururugi withdrew his own assault rifle. “Please go easy on me.”
“I only promise not to kill you,” Kallen said. She fired her slash harkens as she did.
Kururugi dodged. Not unexpected. When Kallen came flying toward him with her rifle firing, he sidestepped the attack and rushed forward while she was still airborne. He activated his stun tonfa and struck.
Kallen batted away the tonfa with her rifle, leaving her Glasgow undamaged. She let her slash harkens detach and dropped to the ground early. Once on her feet again, she spun with one foot out in an attempt to trip Kururugi. He jumped.
Now in the air, Kururugi took aim with his rifle. He pulled the trigger.
Kallen fired her right slash harken. It struck Kururugi's gun, sparing her any true damage to her frame. A few bullets still hit, and Kururugi managed to keep ahold of his rifle, but now she had an opening.
Taking advantage of Kururugi's lack of defence, Kallen delivered an uppercut with her left arm. It missed, but it came close enough to scrape paint.
Kururugi leapt backward, landing carefully on the treacherous terrain. “You're every bit as good as I've been warned.”
Kallen smirked as she prepared to go all out. “You're not bad yourself. With your tech advantage, you might even make me break a sweat. Lelouch and I should have expected Princess Marrybell to have an Ace up her sleeve.”
“Thank you for the compliment, Lady Stadtfeld.”
“Kallen,” Kallen insisted.
Kallen leapt forward.
Lelouch both hated and loved how competent his future ally had proven to be. He had much of the ghetto rigged to explode one way or another, yet Marrybell had so far almost entirely managed to avoid his pitfall traps and a repeat of what had happened to her tanks. That was expected, if annoying. Their mere existence gave his forces escape routes and safe passages hers could never follow.
But Marrybell was also doing a wondrous job avoiding the buildings Lelouch had set up to collapse in addition to his more mundane land mines. Surely she was unaware of their exact locations, but she clearly knew enough to avoid more suspect areas when possible and send only a small handful of troops at a time through them otherwise.
“K1,” Naoto said. “Our scouts report sighting a bomb squad heading to the building at A8.”
Lelouch gazed at his map with a frown. That was a trap on the fringe of the battle, but Marrybell attempting to disable any of his traps was unacceptable. Fortunately, like all things, she had a limited supply of experts capable of safely defusing explosives.
Marrybell glared at the lost dots of one of her bomb squads. Lelouch had caught her out again. This time he'd merely detonated a bomb early without any obvious targets. She knew this was the terrorists’ home ground, but they must have the ghetto under extreme surveillance for him to do that.
There's no point in sending out more squads. Lelouch will just do this again. And again. And again. I'm going to have to resort to brute force defusing: shooting bombs and hoping no one dies.
“Command proving more difficult than expected?” Lord Machlin sneered.
Marrybell ignored him, but an idea occurred. There were a few key positions that she needed to pass to get to Lelouch which she knew were trapped, and trapped, and trapped again. But there was another way to neutralise them.
A second later, Suzaku appeared on-screen looking very dishevelled and focused. His words came disjointed and fragmentary. “Kind of busy.”
“Can you lead Lady Stadtfeld somewhere?”
“No,” was Suzaku's immediate reply. “I run, she'll ignore me. Can't pressure. She's–” His eyes widened, and Marrybell heard the sound of him frantically working the controls of his Sutherland.
“I understand,” Marrybell said. That was the difference proper training and experience made, she supposed. Suzaku had the better machine, but that only put him on somewhat more equal footing. “Close the connection.”
Marrybell sighed. She had no option but to fire into melee, so to speak. “Gather our remaining artillery. I need precision strikes at the following locations.”
“R1, I need a sniping team to take out the Britannian tanks. This is high priority. We'll lose much of our defencive power if they manage to clear the streets between us and them.”
Lelouch changed his radio to reach Kallen. “Q1, I need you to clear out an area to protect a few snipers.”
Kallen promptly replied, “Just tell me where.”
Lelouch transmitted the coordinates to her along with the expected line of fire.
“Alright, I'll head there immediately. But you should be aware that Suzaku is in a Sutherland and is an Ace.”
Lelouch silently cursed in his own mind. That was one hell of a surprise on Marrybell's part.
“His job seems to be keeping me busy. I imagine he'll follow me, but I'm nearing the point of simply refusing to fight him. This is taking too long.”
“I'm ecstatic to hear I successfully worked the tunnel vision out of you.”
“We agreed never to speak of that,” Kallen hissed as Lelouch indulged in the brief moment of levity. “I'm setting out now.”
Suzaku blinked as Kallen's attack flew wide. It was not a feint, just really, really bad. Was she tiring?
Wait, where is she going?
“Sorry, Suzaku,” Kallen called back. “I don't have time to play with you anymore.”
Suzaku sat stunned for a second as he watched Kallen drive, hop, and slash harken herself away back into the battle proper at maximum speed.
And then Suzaku's brain rebooted, and he gave chase.
“Another ambush! We lost a straggler from Nash’s platoon.”
Marrybell fought the urge to pinch the bridge of her nose. “Review the camera feed.”
Twenty seconds later, the same officer said, “A terrorist was spotted alone–”
“Except he wasn't,” Marrybell interrupted. She could instruct these fools not to make any solo moves, but it seemed nothing short of death would make them learn. “Have our scouts found any terrorist cameras or other sensors yet?”
“No, Your Highness.”
Then how is Lelouch so accurately tracking my troops! He can't be intercepting our IFF data. The encryption key was only distributed right before the encirclement started, and I already changed it once just in case. Does he have a spy within my ranks? They would have to be in a knight…
“I need movement data from all of our knightmares since the beginning of the battle.”
Upon her request, Marrybell received the data beside her map. She started it at the present time and worked her way back. Each Sutherland had a winding line from its current position to its old one along the path it took. Each Sutherland except for the ones whose cockpit ejected, that was. Those stayed in place until the time of their defeat, and one in particular suddenly appeared not long after Lelouch had abruptly ended her artillery bombardment.
Marrybell dismissed the movement data and turned to her communications officers. “Can we transmit false IFF data to our Sutherlands?”
“The system isn’t designed to do that, Your Highness. It would take some time to program such a feature.”
“Nevermind, then,” Marrybell said. There went that plan to turn Lelouch’s own advantage against him. Unfortunately, while she now knew exactly where he was, he’d set up base too far into enemy territory to reach. Not that she would trust anyone here but Suzaku with his capture, anyway. “From now on, discontinue outbound communications with ejected cockpits” like you’re supposed to so that your enemy can’t use your IFF data against you!
Urgh! What now…
“Snipers are destroying our remaining tanks.”
Lelouch’s IFF Display suddenly showed a disconnected error message. He clicked his tongue.
Marrybell finally noticed. Unfortunate, but I’ve done enough damage already to win.
“R1, I’ve lost Britannia’s IFF feed. Have all of our P units turn their IFF units on. I repeat, only the P units. The encryption key we’ll use is…” Lelouch quietly snickered. “‘The Rose of Britannia.’”
A minute later, Kallen’s voice came over the radio proclaiming her utter loathing for Lelouch.
Lelouch interrupted Kallen’s rant, asking, “How are you handling Kururugi?”
With nothing further than a grunt, Kallen set aside her grudge for the moment. “Well enough. I’m staying ahead of him, at least.” She would probably be having a much harder go of it had Marianne not enjoyed playing tag with her in knightmare simulators so many years ago.
“Good. The snipers have finished their task. I’d like Kururugi not to be a variable in this fight much longer. Do you want their support?”
A Sutherland appeared from around the corner. Kallen immediately fired a slash harken at it. It dodged in the unusually acrobatic manner she was quickly coming to associate with Suzaku. Not wanting to deal with him just yet, she ducked down an alley to seek out weaker prey.
“I think I’ll pass,” Kallen said. “Suzaku moves too irregularly for a sniper not to risk seriously injuring him. I think I have an idea to get rid of him, though. I’ll get back to you soon.”
Noticing that Suzaku was already on her tail again, Kallen decided to put her plan into action. It was daring, bold, glorious, and incredibly stupid, but it should work, and losing a Glasgow to take out a Sutherland was an acceptable trade in this instance.
Kallen climbed atop a short building to get a better view of the ghetto. Not far away, she saw exactly the structure she needed. It was very tall, and there were other tall buildings nearish to it. It also looked sturdy enough to scale. Most importantly, she recognised it as one of the buildings rigged with explosives.
“K1, when I give the command, I need you to blow up the building in” – Kallen glanced down at her map – “G17, okay?”
“Alright. Make sure Kururugi doesn’t die.”
Pushing her Glasgow to its limit, Kallen quickly made her way to the specified building. She scaled it with alternating slash harkens, jumping away from the outside wall in-between each shot to get a better angle.
Kallen was not surprised when Suzaku reached the roof not long after she did. She activated her Glasgow’s external speakers. This had to be done carefully to work.
“Suzaku, why do you think I came up here?”
“I can honestly say I haven’t a clue,” Suzaku replied. “But it does seem rather dramatic: one final duel atop the highest peak of a ruined city.”
“True. But without a sniper rifle, there’s little I can do up here other than twiddle my thumbs. If I were you, I would have stayed on the ground.”
A second passed as Suzaku considered that. “You have a good point. What now, then?”
“A piece of advice. The purists hate you, and right now you’re behind enemy lines. Be very careful making your way back to your princess.” Kallen momentarily toggled between her speakers and radio. “K1, now.”
As Kallen gave the order, Suzaku said, “You sound very confident you’ll defeat me.”
“I don’t have to.”
Thunderous booms rang out in sequence one after another from below.
Kallen took off at full speed toward the edge of the roof.
“Don’t die,” Kallen called out as the building dropped out beneath her. She jumped toward another building. Behind her, Suzaku followed suit.
Kallen smirked. All according to plan. Had Suzaku stayed on the building, he might have been able to ride it down and keep his Sutherland intact. As it was, both of them were too far away to use their slash harkens to catch themselves, and the fall would kill them even in knightmares.
“Later,” Kallen said as she hit the ejection switch on her cockpit.
Thrusters roared. Cockpit and Glasgow separated at high speed. Perhaps a minute later, Kallen landed deep within allied lines no worse for the wear. Radio in hand, she made her way into the outside world, fighting through the parachute that had come to rest atop her cockpit.
Kallen looked back in the direction she’d come from. As far as she could tell, Suzaku had been forced to eject, too. That meant she and Lelouch had a fair amount of time where he would be stuck on foot.
Kallen, on the other hand, turned on her radio. “K1, I need a new knightmare. My old one…eh, probably exploded.”
“What? What happened?”
Jeremiah kept a vigilant eye on every entrance to the room his prince had chosen to command from. No enemies had yet managed to make it this far, and he doubted any would, but that was no reason to be lax.
Then without warning, Prince Lelouch burst into howling laughter.
Jeremiah permitted himself a few seconds to glance at his liege in curiosity. What on Earth just happened?
“Your Highness, I have good news, better news, and bad news.” The way Lord Machlin said that, the bad news sounded like good news to him.
“Bad news first,” Marrybell replied.
“Very well. The Eleven was forced to eject.”
That is indeed bad news, Marrybell thought grimly. Lady Stadtfeld was on the prowl once more.
“The good news,” Lord Machlin continued, “is that Lady Stadtfeld was also forced to eject.”
“Oh?” Well done, Suzaku! “What’s the better news?”
A communications officer spoke up this time. “We’ve managed to hack into the enemy IFF network. We’re bringing up the data now.”
Indeed, a few seconds later, and Marrybell’s map had updated with dozens of knightmare triangles under Lelouch’s control. They hastened about the field, dancing to his whim as they followed plan after plan after plan. Even just watching for a few moments, she could tell the terrorists were subjected to an impressive level of micromanagement.
Still, Britannian encryption technology was supposed to be unbreakable. Human error remained the one problematic component. “What was the encryption key?” Marrybell asked.
“One moment… Ah, it was ‘The Rose of Britannia’.”
Marrybell frowned slightly. She understood the reference to Lady Stadtfeld. It felt unusually sentimental and unsecure for her impression of Lelouch. But then he had made no secret to her of his intentions toward the countess. Perhaps she needed to revise her opinion of him.
“We’ll proceed cautiously,” Marrybell said. If she could not send false IFF data, then neither could Lelouch. She highly doubted he would carry such software around on his person, let alone have cause to develop it or time to install it. Still, something felt wrong. “Begin picking off the outermost groups. Watch for traps. Keep platoons together in strength. Stay out of the areas I marked as dangerous before.”
As Marrybell watched her plan come together, a persistent feeling of wrongness niggled at her thoughts. This was too easy. Before, every time she’d countered one of Lelouch’s moves, he made a new play of his own. When she kicked him out of her IFF network, he surely must have had a secondary plan. Simply using his own network was, well, too simple.
He can’t send me false data. We’re getting enemy sightings that confirm the data we’re intercepting. They’ve even lost a few knightmares already.
Marrybell’s eyes widened in full panic. Lelouch could not send false data, but he could lie just as easily with the truth. “Pull everyone back immediately! This isn’t all of the terrorists!”
“R1, give the command. Open fire with everything we have. Don’t spare the chaos mines.”
And it was done. Seconds passed, and with each one, a half-dozen more purist knightmares were identified as lost. An army destroyed with one final ambush carried out four times over in perfect coordination. Marrybell could continue the fight, but no matter what happened now, she’d lost.
“And with this I call checkmate.” Lelouch pressed the transmission button on his radio but paused a moment. He could order a retreat now. He had his victory. Even if he forced the purists out of the ghetto today, Britannia as a whole would return tomorrow if Naoto’s resistance remained. There was little point in routing them.
And yet Lelouch wanted to break the purists utterly.
“Q1, I want you to lead the cleanup. Destroy the knightmares that managed to survive. Let our allies do whatever they want with the purists.”
Lelouch changed frequencies. “R1, we’re just about done here. I suggest you set everyone not in a knightmare to packing. You’ll need to leave Shinjuku. I would keep any civilians from returning as well.”
“Understood. I… Thank you for today, Le – K1. As much as I wish you hadn’t involved yourselves, you and Q1 were an unexpected, miraculous gift.”
“We had selfish reasons for our actions,” Lelouch said with an unseen shrug. “Nonetheless, you’re welcome. But don’t forget that Q1 is still very angry with you. I won’t be helping you with that battle.”
“Not even a little?” Naoto pled.
“Well,” Lelouch began, “perhaps a small hint. Kallen rather desperately wants a ‘cool’ moniker as a knightmare pilot. If you stoked the rumour mill…”
A thoughtful hum came over the radio. “Understood. Thank you.”
Now that everything was over, Lelouch took a deep breath in before letting it out in a slow, lazy exhale. Real battle had been more exhausting than he’d expected. He needed a moment to rest. He deserved a moment to rest.
From her spot collapsed in a chair, Marrybell indulged in a graceless slouch and let her head loll back. All about her, the purists set about withdrawing from Shinjuku with their tails between their legs. Surprisingly, almost no one blamed her for the loss. No one had explicitly said it, but everyone had thought it.
Lelouch was brilliant.
Looking back, Marrybell could see the mistakes she’d made. Lelouch’s tricks had been obvious once she’d seen them for what they were.
Marrybell cracked open an eye to observe a bruised and badly shaken Suzaku not far from her. A small giggle escaped her at the thought of how he’d lost. Lady Stadtfeld was absolutely mad. It was no wonder Lelouch wanted her in his bed. If Marrybell thought she stood a chance…
A sigh escaped Marrybell.