Stage 10 - Moving Forward
Nakano Ghetto, Area 11
November 19, 2015 a.t.b.
“So which one of you is going to explain what happened yesterday?”
Naoto and Kaname glanced at each other. The latter wore an expression that said this was entirely Naoto's problem to deal with.
Minami Yoshitaka, head of intelligence, adjusted his damaged glasses and added another question onto Inoue's. “Who exactly was this Q1, and where did she go? I've been told she's your sister, Kōzuki-san, but I'm not aware that you had one.”
“And if you were always such an accomplished tactician, why am I our head strategist?” asked Sugiyama Kento. “Yesterday's battle was terrifying. Halfway through, the Brits put someone hyper-competent in charge.”
Naoto latched onto that last comment to forestall the incoming headache. “That is why,” he said. “You could tell they weren't just suddenly taking us seriously but had an entirely new commander.”
Sugiyama considered this for a moment before shrugging. “Minami-san, do you know who they put in charge?”
“Not yet. Kōzuki-san?”
Naoto sighed. “Marrybell mel Britannia.”
“The banished princess?” Inoue said.
At the same time, Sugiyama said, “The little girl!”
Minami more calmly commented, “She is getting older. We're going to have trouble sooner rather than later if Britannia continues to let her command.”
“Maybe,” Naoto said. This would be news to Kaname. “As I understand it, she lost some sort of bet with her brother yesterday.”
While the other three present were clearly confused at how Naoto could know that, Kaname asked, “You mean Prince Lelouch, right? Not Clovis?”
Naoto nodded, and Sugiyama asked, “Wait. There's hundreds of princes. Which one is Lelouch?”
“Marianne the Flash's son,” Minami said.
Inoue and Sugiyama paled. Even so many years after her death, people still recognised Marianne's name well enough to be properly terrified at the mere mention of it.
As there was no easy way to say it and no way to avoid it for long, Naoto simply added, “He’s also my sister’s liege lord.”
Inoue spoke first, if hesitantly. “Karen-san is a knight of honour? To the Flash’s son?”
“Her proper name is Kallen Stadtfeld,” Naoto offered. “Kōzuki is our mother’s maiden name.”
Sugiyama pinched the bridge of his nose. “I think you owe us a big explanation.”
“Some other time if you promise to keep it to yourselves. It’s a long story and bears no relevance in deciding what we need to do right now. For the moment, I’ll only mention that Kallen and I are on good terms…probably…and we can trust her to be indifferent to our activities.”
“What about her prince?” Minami asked. From the inflection of his voice, he only sought confirmation.
“The same,” Naoto admitted.
Sugiyama asked, “Are you sure?”
While Naoto struggled for the right words, Minami simply stated, “The prince was commanding.”
Silence reigned, and Naoto sighed.
“Yes. And yes,” Naoto continued, “his bet involved our battle. I really don’t want to argue over whether he and Kallen used us or not, so can we please agree we used each other and not mention any of this to anyone else? We did come out much further ahead than we were before and with a major victory.”
Agreement came quickly from those assembled.
“What are we going to tell everyone else, though?” Inoue asked. “Kar… Kallen-dono is very popular. Questions are being asked, yet she just vanished. Someone figured out that Q1 is a chess reference, too, and everyone has started calling her the ‘Black Queen’.”
You're welcome, Kallen, Naoto commented to himself. He hoped she enjoyed becoming an urban legend.
“Do we really need to say anything?” Kaname asked.
“This won’t go away without an explanation,” Inoue insisted.
“Everyone knows Kallen-chan is Naoto's little sister, emphasis on little. If anything, they'll assume she's part of the JLF if she's an active resistance member at all.”
“Please can we get back on topic?” Naoto interrupted. “We have more important things to do than discuss my family's odd history.”
Again, agreement came quickly, this time with a little embarrassment, and then their meeting truly started.
“From early reports,” Minami began, “the people of Nakano are mostly accepting of our presence here. Word has already spread of our victory in Shinjuku without civilian casualties. While some are wary of the attention we might bring, most are too busy celebrating to care.”
That was good. The people might change their minds once the fervour died down, but until then, Naoto’s resistance had a safe place to rest and recover. “What of… I can’t remember the local resistance’s name.”
Minami sighed, then said, “They call themselves the Fist of the North Star.”
Naoto, Kaname, and Sugiyama immediately facepalmed.
“Am I missing something?” Inoue asked.
Sugiyama turned to Inoue and said, “Nothing important, Naomi.” Then addressing the group, he added, “So how are the NEETs reacting?”
“More or less as the civilians are. Some have already expressed their desire to join us.”
Kaname nodded. “I’ve had a few locals approach me for recruitment already. Assuming they’re willing to do the work expected of them, I don’t foresee any problems. Naoto?”
“I agree. We’ll have to speak in more detail with whatever power structure currently exists here, but for now, let’s establish a new headquarters. Objections?”
There were none.
“Alright. Let’s get to work.”
Tokyo Settlement, Area 11
November 20, 2015 a.t.b.
“And here is the study,” Milly said. “Lelouch and Kallen use it to take care of business. You know how nobility and royalty gets.”
“Somewhat,” Naoto admitted. He let out a small sigh. “So I’m ‘business’ now?”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. But Kallen is expecting you, so you’d best prepare yourself. She’s not been in the best mood lately.”
“I don’t think I’m going to be any more ready than I am now. Thank you for showing me up, Milly.”
Milly offered Naoto a small smile. “Good luck.”
Once Milly left, Naoto knocked on the study door.
“Enter!” came Kallen’s muffled voice.
Naoto did so. Inside, he found Kallen seated at one of two desks. Both possessed stacks upon stacks of paper, but the one currently in use was fully covered in smaller piles. In her hand, Kallen held a stapled packet flipped open to the middle. After a few seconds, she quietly set it off to the side still open.
“Shut the door and sit down.”
Ignoring how weird it felt to have his much younger sister ordering him about, Naoto did as commanded without a word of protest. Sometime in the last five years, Kallen had managed to master their mother’s stare. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat as though he were once more a kid caught stealing cookies from the kitchen in the middle of the night.
“What were you working on?” Naoto decided to ask. The mood was too heavy.
After a second longer of staring, Kallen deigned to answer. “Cornelia is my regent and usually delegates the upkeep of my estate, my domain, and my businesses, but I’ll be an adult at the end of March. I’ve been slowly adopting more of the workload for myself over the past year. I won’t always be available to do it myself, but it’s experience in domestics, politics, and economics I need, and I don’t wish to be an absentee ruler. There are enough parasites in Britannia already.”
“Dad would be proud.”
Kallen ignored the compliment. Instead, she asked, “Naoto, do you know why I’m angry?”
“Because I’m a resistance fighter.”
“No.” The word came without fanfare or emotion.
Surprised, Naoto tried again. “Because I didn’t tell you I’m a resistance fighter?”
Naoto had thought not. Ignorance was bliss in this case. Just knowing what he did for his people put Kallen in the very same awkward position she now found herself. “It’s not that I didn’t ask you to join or help out, right?”
Kallen’s frown intensified. “Partially the latter, but no.”
“I know you’ve offered to help me before,” Naoto said, “but I wouldn’t have ever let you get involved with a resistance. Recent events notwithstanding.”
“You misunderstand. Try again.”
“I think I need help to understand, then.”
Kallen intertwined her fingers and tapped her thumbs together. Eventually, she said, “It's not easy to put into few words. In short, I feel unvalued and…disappointed.” She held up a hand to forestall Naoto’s objections. “Disappointed might not have been the right word. Let me ask you a few questions. What are you attempting to accomplish with your…resistance?”
A frown briefly passed over Naoto's face as he contemplated what alternative word Kallen had been tempted to use.
“Primarily we keep, well, kept order within Shinjuku.”
“Limited self-rule. A noble goal,” Kallen said. “No one cares what numbers do to each other so long as it doesn't cause external problems.” She paused to glower at Naoto. “So what did you do to make Britannia care about you?”
“What do you think? Not everyone who comes to Shinjuku is Japanese. Most of those who aren’t have ill intent. Can you guess how many rapes alone I, personally, have prevented? How many I haven’t? Have you ever seen a group of Britannians beat a man to death for looking at them the wrong way? Do you expect us to just let such crimes happen and say, ‘Oh, what cheeky buggers,’ when it's over?”
“Of course not. But what you chose to do only brought Britannia back in greater and greater force, culminating in a battle you were woefully underprepared for.”
“Then what’s your suggestion!” Naoto said more hotly than he’d have liked.
“That you at least try to solve the problem.”
“And how am I supposed to do that?” About as sarcastically as possible, Naoto asked, “Do you expect me to reclaim the archipelago for Japan?”
Naoto had no words. All that escaped him was a bewildered, “What?”
“You raised a military force, Naoto. You're a rebel. If you’re going to rebel, do it properly.”
“You…want me to lead a rebellion?”
“I do not,” was Kallen's immediate response, which only made Naoto even more confused. “For a population as small as Shinjuku’s, which you’ve shown is all you feel responsible for through the long-term scope of your ‘resistance’, you had other options. I was one of them. I’ve never made it a secret I have sentimental attachments to Japan; it’s practically – no, it is public knowledge that I spent my early years here. I could have outright bought Shinjuku, and no one would have noticed or cared. Even at ten, I could have made something happen for you. I even offered on a smaller scale than I realised you needed.”
Oh… That explained the unvalued feeling.
Kallen pinched the bridge of her nose, mumbling, “Not that any of that matters now.” She shook her head. “If you're going to rebel anyway despite all that, then at least make a proper go of it.”
Say what now? The countess advocating non-violent solutions had just endorsed launching a full-scale rebellion? I think it's time to admit I don't understand my sister anymore. It was a long shot, but Naoto guessed, “You don't just want to be able to come home, do you?”
“I have a home,” Kallen said with enough passion that Naoto had no doubt of her sincerity. “One you have repeatedly refused to be part of.”
Kallen then added, “And that's fine. You're an adult. I have a guardian.”
That almost hurt even more. Not wanting to think about his sister’s ever diverging life without him, Naoto changed the subject. “Why would you even suggest I…‘rebel properly’? What if I took you seriously and did?”
“I was serious.”
Kallen let out an exasperated sigh. “You destroyed the borough you were trying to protect, so what now?” she demanded.
“Shinjuku is just a place. It’s people are still alive and well.”
“And all of them, you included, have a chance to start over. So again, what now? You’re going to meet the same results if you don’t do something different, and I doubt Lelouch and I will be there to save you next time.”
“And thus 'rebel properly’.” Naoto understood now, or at least he thought he did.
“I'd rather you not,” Kallen said, “but I would understand if you did. I've thrown myself into making the world a better place. I won't begrudge you the chance to do the same even if we choose different paths.”
Naoto paused a moment as he considered Kallen's words. It almost sounded like – “Are you offering me something?”
“I'm not offering you a damn thing,” Kallen retorted. “You turned me down every single time up till now. If you want something, you can bloody well ask for it yourself.”
Kallen scoffed. “Go think about what it is you want. Not just ‘free Japan’ or such, but identify what your real issues are. After that, spend five actual minutes considering what it would mean to reach your goals and listing what resources you have. Then think about how you can solve your problems.”
“That sounds like good advice.”
“I'm paraphrasing one of Lelouch's books on how to manipulate people.”
Naoto quirked his eyebrows.
Kallen shrugged as if to say, ‘I’m a politician. So what?’ She then explained, “He makes me read survey papers on cognitive science. It’s educational.”
Naoto delivered an impassive, “I’m conflicted.”
“Not my problem. Now get out. Come back tomorrow less half-arsed than the last five years. I’ll be in a more amicable mood then.”
Lelouch entered not long after Naoto left. Kallen briefly looked up from her work to greet him. He apparently had other plans than letting her work in peace, however, as he took the papers in her hand and set them aside.
“How did your talk with Naoto go?” Lelouch asked.
Sighing, Kallen offered Lelouch a small smile. “I told him off for being a half-arsed prat.”
“Yes, I never was very impressed with the limited scope of his ambition. I meant to speak with him about it, but there was never time, and his continual successes made it low priority.”
“I don't need excuses from you,” Kallen said. “The battle was your apology, remember?”
“How convenient for me.”
“Quite. How was Clovis?”
“Surprisingly more amenable to our interpretation of events. I suspect Marrybell had a few words with him since yesterday, although the latest rumour might have had more of an effect.”
Kallen knew she would regret asking, yet she still did. “And what rumour is that?”
“The love-filled prince rode to the defence of his princess who was beset on all sides by villainous curs. Alas that he had no choice but to ally himself with traitors to the empire to save her.”
“What the hell is that rubbish!”
Lelouch chuckled. “Everyone loves a lady and her knight.”
“That is so backwards,” Kallen groaned.
“But endearing nonetheless. I have no complaints if the populous wishes to romanticise us.”
Returning to their original topic, Lelouch asked, “Do you know what Naoto's future plans are?”
“No. I told him to think about what he wanted and then come back tomorrow.”
“Did you remember to offer him money, women, and power if he joins us?”
Kallen rolled her eyes at the jest. “I only implied we’re up to something agreeable. If his curiosity gets the better of him, great. If not, I hear he has shinobi looking after him, so he’ll live long enough for me to save him.”
“I could persuade him, if you wish.”
As much as Kallen wanted Naoto around, she said, “I’d rather you not. He has all the information he needs to either come to a decision or ask for more – come to us, you know.” She sighed. “I’m just so tired of being rejected. Let him make the first move this time. It’s not like we need him, anyway. Is that petty?”
“Perhaps, but justifiable nonetheless.”
“Thanks. Are you going to let me work now?”
“I’d intended to,” Lelouch began, “but that was when I thought you’d settled things with Naoto. A knight protects his princess in all things including matters of the heart.”
Kallen snorted, amused. “Fine. I know what would make me feel better.”
“You know,” Milly said, “I'm going to start charging Lelouch and Kallen for my services if they keep making me bring their guests to them.”
Marrybell chuckled. It was easy to see why Euphie enjoyed Milly's company. There were few who were willing to be so brazen yet friendly with royalty.
Maybe I should enrol in Ashford, too. It could be fun.
Indeed, as Milly led Marrybell through the academy's campus, she noted how beautiful and spacious the grounds were. The school truly did look like a lovely place to live.
“And here is the student council building, the seat of my power.”
The structure before Marrybell was impressively magnificent in appearance, although she had no idea why a student organisation needed so much space. She had seen noble manors of smaller size and less grandeur.
“From it, I rule all within my sight.”
Marrybell glanced behind her to see the government borough in the distance. “I'll be sure to let Clovis know he's usurped your reign and tell him off for it.”
A wide smile formed on Milly's face. “I like you,” she declared. “You're going to fit in perfectly. Now come. Let's see if we can find our beloved prince and countess.”
The pair set out on their not-so-epic quest. Not long after, they heard voices from the balcony and so headed that way.
And there were Lelouch and Kallen. The latter reclined atop a pile of pillows with heavy blankets wrapped around her. The parts of her left exposed basked in the sun. Lelouch sat nearby beside a bowl of ice water containing grapes with a small mound of peels adjacent. Kallen opened her mouth, and Lelouch fed her another grape.
“Oh ho! What have we here?”
Kallen grinned at Milly. “Lelouch lost a bet.” She turned her gaze to Marrybell. “Thanks for that, Your Highness.”
Marrybell restrained herself from laughing, but she did share a smile. She suspected they were only doing this now and in front of her to show that they were decent, open people and not power-hungry monsters, but the thought made her no less amused.
“Marrybell, please. If we're to be allies as–” A snicker escaped her. “–your manservant wishes, we should also be friends.”
“There are worse things than feeding grapes to a beautiful woman,” Lelouch deadpanned in response to the jab, eliciting a blush from Kallen. She only grew redder as he added, “And such is but a small sacrifice in the face of potentially regaining my unfortunately uncommitted handmaiden.”
“More grapes!” Kallen demanded, interrupting.
“Yes, yes,” Lelouch said. “As you command, my queen.”
“Should I come back another time?” Marrybell asked. “The current mood seems incongruous with discussing affairs of state.”
“No, now is fine,” Lelouch said. “We have no one to impress but ourselves.”
Milly said, “I'll take that as my cue to leave,” and departed.
Once it was just the three of them, Lelouch asked, “I take it you accept your loss?”
Marrybell let out a small sigh. “I do.”
“For what it’s worth, you did very well,” Lelouch said. “Had you led an army of your own into the field instead of the purists, I wouldn’t have been so confident in my victory at the outset. A substantial part of my strategy centred around exploiting the difference between your perception of them and reality.”
Kallen added, “Suzaku was a major surprise as well. Knight that boy before he gets away from you.”
Marrybell quirked an eyebrow. While she was seriously considering doing so, she doubted anyone else would take him. “And who would steal him? You two?”
“I was thinking Euphie, actually.”
“Why Euphemia?” Lelouch asked.
Kallen curled a finger, beckoning Lelouch closer. She whispered something into his ear.
As Marrybell observed a giggling Kallen demand more grapes, she felt she’d missed something rather important. Regardless, they had other matters to discuss. She cleared her throat to get Lelouch’s and Kallen’s attention back.
“What happened with the terrorists?”
While Kallen adopted a mixed expression bordering on a scowl, Lelouch replied, “They’re good people on the opposite side of a fruitless war. You don’t have to worry about them lashing out at civilians. If they engage in any future offensives, such will be strictly military in nature. That said, they do take offence to Britannians taking liberties with citizens under their protection and respond appropriately.”
“You just let them go!” Marrybell asked, astonished.
“I make a habit of not backstabbing those who aid me,” Lelouch explained with a shrug. “If it truly concerns you, consider how much easier it will be to fight a pitched battle against thirty-seven Sutherlands than an endless number of ghosts.”
That makes a certain sort of sense, Marrybell admitted to herself. “How did you convince the terrorists to let you command them?”
“Kallen is very persuasive.”
Marrybell turned her gaze and inquiry to the girl in question.
Kallen heaved a heavy sigh. “My brother is their leader.”
A moment passed in total silence.
“Yeah, that was a surprise for me, too,” Kallen said. “I’m hoping he’ll disband the military aspect of his resistance or, better yet, join us, but he has an irksome stubbornness to him, so who knows.”
“I see,” Marrybell said flatly as she pinched the bridge of her nose. What had she gotten herself involved in? “I admit I’m surprised. I researched you, of course, and your father didn’t seem the type to have affairs or shirk responsibility for a child.”
“He wasn’t,” Kallen said. “I know I don’t look it, but I, too, am half Japanese.”
Marrybell’s eyebrows shot up as she looked to Lelouch. He intends to make a half-blood the Empress Consort of Britannia? A short, breathy laugh escaped her in disbelief. Lelouch had ambition; no one could deny that.
“It should go without saying that Kallen’s heritage is not to be shared with anyone at this time.”
“I understand,” Marrybell said, and she did. That information needed to be very carefully released for maximum positive effect. “What are your plans for Britannia?”
“Simply put,” Lelouch began, “we intend to put an end to the constant struggles for power and discrimination rampant within our country, whether that be between or toward numbers, commoners, foreigners, nobles, or anything else.”
“And the Areas?”
“We have no intention of relinquishing them, but at the very least, they will have their proper names returned.”
Marrybell silently asked for Kallen’s opinion, who shrugged. “Borders change all the time. The culture and the people are what’s important.”
“Very well then,” Marrybell said. These were people she could work with. She navigated the difficulty of her dress to take a knee and then placed a fist over her heart. “I swear to aid you in your quest for the throne. You have my loyalty and that of those I command. I only ask that you hold true to your beliefs no matter how hard they are tested.”
Kōzuki Resistance HQ
Nakano Ghetto, Area 11
November 20, 2015 a.t.b.
Nakano was alive with music and song in ways no one had seen in the ghettos in years. The sweet wine of victory filled the people's glasses as ever greater hyperbole spread over shared confectioneries baked perhaps for the first time in years. Japan had experienced a victory like no other since the Miracle of Itsukushima.
Such irony that a Britannian prince and a half-blood who chose her Britannian heritage over her Japanese ancestry gave that victory to them.
“Kōzuki-san,” came the voice of Inoue. Naoto twisted in place to watch her approach. “We finally have power. My team finished rewiring our electrical grid to our own generator.”
“Good. In that case, you should go join the celebration.”
“The same could be said of you.”
Naoto shrugged and turned back to look out upon the ghetto. He idly swung his legs over the drop below him and leaned back against the broken fence separating the rest of the roof from the edge he sat on.
“I’m can’t. I have homework due tomorrow,” Naoto said.
“Homework?” a bemused Inoue echoed.
“Or that’s what it feels like.”
“I feel like I’m in university again writing an essay about some great historical figure except this time I have to make everything up.” Naoto paused as a thought occurred. “Ah, I studied political history as an undergrad.”
“I suppose that makes sense for a blueblood.”
Naoto shook his head, knowing it would be months before that little gag died down. “I was going to be a lawyer. I never wanted to be a politician, and from the moment I first saw her, I knew Kallen would be the one to inherit, well, everything. Could you imagine me as an earl?”
“Very easily,” Inoue said. Naoto turned to quirk his eyebrows at her, and she continued, “The way you stepped up in Shinjuku to lead us after the war was nothing short of inspiring. True nobility, no?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Naoto mumbled.
A few seconds passed in silence before Inoue said, “Whatever is bothering you, if it helps, know that I’ve never once regretted choosing to follow you, Kōzuki-san. We've done so much good for our people.”
“Shinjuku is also all but uninhabitable thanks to us.”
“I don’t believe anyone cares all that much. I know I, at least, never considered that ruin home. My home was taken from me along with everything else. But you know that.”
Naoto nodded. He did know that. It was a common story and a common sentiment even among honourary Britannians living in proper cities.
“What's really bothering you, Kōzuki-san?”
Naoto allowed himself a moment to gather his thoughts. This was too big of a problem to be explained in haste.
“I fear we may have done something that cannot be undone.”
“We can find a way to sacrifice our Sutherlands convincingly if Britannia takes too heavy a hand hunting for us,” Inoue said. “It’s more or less what we intended to do before Kallen-dono appeared.”
Naoto shook his head. “It’s not that. Hope is a wonderful, terrible thing. Just look at them.” He said as he held his hand out toward the ghetto below. “Word will spread. We’ve done the impossible. We’ve proven that not only can Britannia be beaten, it can be done with practically nothing. What do you think the response will be?”
Inoue was silent.
“We have no plans for escalation. If… If we were true revolutionaries, perhaps we could prevent the oncoming disaster. Even turn it to our advantage. But we’re not. Even if we wish to be, we’re not ready; we don’t have the skills or experience. And despite that, this is an irreplaceable opportunity that must be seized yet cannot be. Worse, at best we will merely repeat history if we maintain the status quo.
“I wish I had my sister’s genius. Or better yet, her prince’s. I wish we had an Ace. I wish we had someone with the charisma to move hearts and minds. I wish we had someone to fulfil the dream we foolishly gave our people.”
Naoto took a slow, deep breath. “But there’s only us. This is the moment were we either bow out or step up and accept that everything that happens hereafter is our fault. That we need to fix it, not merely play our parts, because we can only change our own actions. It’s not enough to explain that the circumstances in Shinjuku were unusual and the outcome unreplicable. People will try anyway. We'd need to give them a reason not to try.
“There’s a word for that… Atonement? Heroic responsibility? My sister might refer to it as some variation of noblesse oblige.”
Naoto sighed. “I'm sorry, Inoue-san. I have a lot to think about. Thank you for listening, but you should go enjoy the celebration.”
Despite her clear desire to stay, Inoue said, “Very well, Kōzuki-san. But please know that whatever you decide, I will support you.”
That brought out Naoto's first real smile of the day.
Tokyo Settlement, Area 11
November 21, 2015 a.t.b.
The next day, Naoto once again found himself in Ashford’s student council building. This time, however, Kallen had taken them to the curiously named billiard room to talk – curious in that there was a ping pong table present instead. According to Kallen, Milly hated billiards yet still referred to the room by the name without a hint of shame.
“I’m not very good at this game,” Naoto said in warning.
As she served, Kallen admitted, “This is one of the few sports Lelouch can beat me at, so you’re not alone.”
Naoto chuckled and scored the first point.
“In all the chaos over the last few days, I forgot to ask how Ohgi is.”
“Quieter. More withdrawn. But still loves kids.”
“Does he still teach?”
“When he finds the ti–” Naoto flinched as the ball bounced off his forehead before he could dodge.
“–time,” Naoto finished. Then came the hard truth. “Unfortunately, there’s not much use for an education in the ghettos. Bright kids find hobbies and might develop, say, the skills of an electrician, but most settle for much less.”
“Not to be a condescending nob – I really am curious – but why not apply for full citizenship?”
“The reason varies from person to person,” Naoto said. “For some, it would be surrendering the last shred of not their pride but dignity. Others can’t tolerate the discrimination constantly shoved in their face. Many hate Britannia and Britannians too much to even consider it. Of course, there are also those who fight: for their country, for their neighbours, for their revenge. Reasons abound.”
Kallen hummed in thought. “Nothing unexpected, but it’s good to hear it at least second hand nonetheless. Thank you.”
“Have you decided what you’re going to do yet?”
Naoto completely mistimed his swing as the question hit him. After hunting down the ping pong ball, he replied, “Partially.”
“That sounds like I’m not going to like your answer.”
“You probably won’t,” Naoto admitted.
“Tell me anyway.”
Naoto hesitated a moment, considering if it were wise to actually answer, before deciding he might as well. Kallen knew too much for him to have any hope of keeping his connection to the Japanese resistance hidden from Britannia anymore if she wanted to expose him. He served the ball.
“I considered what you said about asking you for help.”
“Oh?” There was, unfortunately, a little hope creeping into Kallen’s voice that Naoto knew he would soon squash.
“It wouldn’t have worked. Suppose you helped Shinjuku and life became as pleasant there as one could possibly imagine. Do you really believe I would be content to live there in relative luxury?”
“No,” Kallen said. “You would have come to me in Britannia otherwise.”
“Exactly my own thoughts. I would have moved on to the next city to lend my aid to others. And then the next. And the next. And the next. You would need to fix the whole country before I felt allowed to rest.”
“Hence why I accused you of being half-arsed.”
Naoto allowed himself a fond smile. “You had me dead to rights.”
“And your intentions now?” Kallen asked. “Obscurity? Rebellion? Something else?”
“May I ask if you have a plan to help Japan in the near future?” Naoto already knew the answer, but he was always open to being pleasantly surprised.
“No, nothing more significant than I already do through Stadtfeld Industries.”
“Then I think it’s rebellion for me.” Now that Naoto had said it aloud and to a nominal enemy, the idea felt so much more real, the responsibility so much heavier. He missed the ball; Kallen scored. The next point they played in silence.
“More than anything,” Kallen eventually began, “sakuradite is an important resource. Everyone wants it; this island is one of the few places that has it. Regaining Japan’s independence is one thing, but retaining it is another entirely. This will not be a solely domestic affair for you.”
“And what happens to you after Japan is free?”
Naoto shrugged after he hit the ball across to Kallen. “It feels weird to say I’d go back to law school. I don’t know. Maybe I’d finally take you up on one of your offers.”
The ping pong ball flew past Kallen without her even trying to hit it.
The girl in question took a slow breath. “How half-arsed.”
“What?” Naoto’s eyes trailed after Kallen in puzzlement as she retrieved the ball.
“The Japanese aren’t the only people suffering in the world.” Kallen served the ball, and Naoto almost missed it entirely as he realised what she meant. “Maybe I’m greedy. Maybe I have too much of a royal bias in my upbringing wanting to save everyone instead of a particular group.”
“But I have my own path to follow. Are you set on yours?”
Naoto considered the matter for a moment, but Kallen’s admission changed nothing. His people needed help now before there was nothing left of them. Theirs was a dying culture. Holidays went unobserved. Many children never learnt to read kanji. Myths and legends were lain aside for more practical concerns. The list was endless.
“I am,” Naoto said.
“There’s a chance, however small, that Lelouch and I will be sent to crush you.”
With a smile, Naoto said, “I’ll be sure to win fast enough that I won’t have to face such terrifying adversaries.”
“Then you have to promise me two things.”
“First, don’t die. Don’t even think about it. None of that noble sacrifice nonsense. No taking a bullet for someone less – or even more – important. If you die, I swear I will make it my life’s mission to ensure this island remains Area Eleven.”
While that sounded like a hollow threat, Naoto chose not to call Kallen out on it. For all their faults, Britannians never made oaths lightly.
“Second, don’t embarrass me. If you’re going to do this, do it right. Think things through properly. Seek results, not victories. Fight for justice. Show the world your resolve.”
“I can do that,” Naoto promised and hoped.
“And never forget that Britannia is your enemy, not Britannians.”
Affronted that Kallen would even suggest such a thing, Naoto said, “You know I would never involve civilians.”
“That’s not at all what I meant,” Kallen said. She hit the ball one last time, knocking it out of bounds and losing the game in the process. “But never mind. It doesn’t matter anymore. Since you can’t be swayed, I have to call the guards to arrest you now.”
Kallen’s aloof expression softened. “I jest,” she said. “Relax.”
Naoto let out the breath he’d been holding. Chuckling nervously, he said, “Your poker face is entirely too good.”
Kallen smirked without a word.
“Speaking of arrests,” Naoto said, “are you okay after the battle in Shinjuku?”
“Oh, yes, I’m fine. I told you before, and you should have already known, but I literally only answer to Lelouch. If he wants to throw me to the courts – which he does not – he can. Otherwise, all responsibility for my actions falls onto him. He’s also fine, of course.”
Kallen hummed her agreement. She then said, “Hey, why don’t you find Milly and ask for your coat. I’ll treat you to an early dinner wherever you want.”
“Alright. I’m not going to say no to free food.”
Despite trying to relax with a good book in the sitting room, Lelouch’s thoughts kept wandering. Naoto presented an interesting opportunity. He doubted the man would join him and Kallen, but there were other paths to cooperation than an outright alliance.
A careful word here and there, some misplaced funds, the odd secret lost – a Japanese rebellion would not be hard to ignite within Area Elven, although a successful one proved a more intriguing puzzle. Some days Lelouch entertained the idea of throwing everything away, running off with Kallen, and engaging in a straightforward rebellion à la the French Revolution. It would be in keeping with his own foreign heritage, amusingly enough.
But that would be a terribly bloody affair both during and after execution by anyone’s standards. In the long run, it would be better to take over through more legitimate means.
Regardless, there were uses for a strong military force outside Britannian influence. Assuming Naoto managed to retain control, he could be reasoned with to act in the interests of everyone who suffered under Britannia providing certain concessions were made, most of which Lelouch would otherwise provide for free anyway.
Lelouch chuckled, amused at the thought. Trading what you would give freely for influence. A good bargain. His thoughts were interrupted when Kallen walked into the room and collapsed onto the sofa opposite him. “You look tired,” he observed.
“Spent all day running around town with Naoto,” Kallen said. “I’m completely knackered.”
“And how goes the rebellion?”
Kallen sighed. “They still have their leader. No surprise there.”
“And he plans to take his goal seriously?”
“I made him promise to. Hopefully, he’ll do well. We can quietly open some doors that would otherwise be closed to him and shut a few that would let him succeed too quickly for our own plans.”
“Manipulating your own brother.” Lelouch wiped an imaginary tear from his eye. “I’m so proud.”
“Oh, be quiet,” Kallen said. “I know you were thinking of it, too.”
“True enough.” When Kallen stopped moving for long enough, Lelouch asked, “You’re not going to make me carry you to your bed, are you?”
“Maybe,” Kallen murmured.
Fortunately, Nunnally chose to burst into the room at that moment and created a lot of noise in the process.
“Lelouch, why did I just hear that you joined the mafia to save your wife from traitors!”
Kallen groaned, and Lelouch just laughed.
Government Borough, Area 11
November 21, 2015 a.t.b.
Within his office, Clovis kneaded his forehead as he went through all the damage Lelouch and Marrybell had done fighting with each other. He’d lost over a hundred Sutherlands, to say the least, and that alone would put a serious strain on Area Eleven’s budget for years to come. It was already a nightmare running this area; the last thing he needed was a lack of funds.
Clovis sighed as he considered that this was the sort of trouble all little brothers and sisters got into only on an appropriately larger scale. How could he expect anything less?
Even so, Clovis really wanted to yell at those two again. If they had not had such a good excuse – and he knew it was an excuse to cover up something else – for their actions, he would.
What was Lord Machlin thinking? Attacking a knight of honour under any circumstances but pure self-defence is tantamount to assaulting a royal. There were a million reasons Kallen could have been in that ghetto, none of which she or Lelouch had to give or explain. And then he had to make it worse and actually try to detain Lelouch.
And then of course Marrybell had to step in to mitigate the damage with Lelouch on a rampage.
And that was the other thing currently causing Clovis’s headaches: the dissolution of the purist faction. They certainly refused to go quietly, but Marrybell had made a good case for the act regardless of the recent disaster they had masterminded. Area Eleven was too volatile to have Britannian extremists in a position of power no matter how legitimately obtained such power was.
Clovis looked up from his work to find an excited yet visibly disturbed General Bartley Asprius approaching. The heavyset man continued to wear a monocle for reasons Clovis could never guess at. Such unwieldy things they were, especially for a military man.
“What is it, General?”
“We’ve discovered something incredible! You won’t believe it until you see it for yourself.”
“Unless it’s a pirate’s treasure trove or a mountain made of diamonds, I really don’t care right now.”
“Your Highness, please, you must come see for yourself. I promise you will not regret the use of your time.”
Tossing his work aside, Clovis rose at a lazy pace. “Very well. You may lead the way.”
A few minutes later, Clovis found himself looking through a one-way mirror at a bound woman with wonderful, long green hair and absolutely voluptuous curves that her prison garb did its best to hide. Even her bored and decidedly unamused expression highlighted the simple elegance of her features.
Unimpressed, Clovis said, “Nine out of ten, General. I’ve met my share of tens, and anything less than an eleven is entirely within the realm of reality.”
“Just wait, Your Highness.” General Bartley pushed the button for the speaker. To the guard with the woman inside the interrogation room, he said, “Do it again.”
The guard nodded. Without a word, he drew his pistol and shot the woman in the forehead.
Clovis’s eyes widened in shock. “What is the meaning of this? You brought me here just to show me the wasting of a beautiful woman?”
“Just wait, Your Highness,” General Bartley repeated. “We found her trying to flee Shinjuku. At first we thought she was a civilian, but she had a pistol in her possession, and our troops reacted accordingly.”
Gazing at the now dead woman, Clovis did note a slight hint of French to her features. Perhaps the EU had attempted to cause trouble? While important to know, a simple report was all that had been needed.
“We captured her and brought her in for interrogation,” General Bartley continued. “We gave her basic medical treatment for ballistic trauma, of course, and thought nothing more of her wounds. Not until today when we noticed they had completely healed.”
This time Clovis’s eyes widened in disbelief as he spun toward General Barley. “What do you mean completely healed!”
Clovis followed General Bartley’s index finger to the woman – the glowering and very much alive woman.
“But – but she…”
“Is immortal,” General Bartley stated far too simply for such an impossibility.