Disclaimer: I do not own Code Geass or any of its canon characters.
Chapter Updated 2021
Cornelia felt a pleasant smile grace her features as she walked across the courtyard. It was her first time on the grounds of Ashford Academy, and she had instantly taken a liking to the place. There were few people around, students or otherwise, although that was not surprising since the time was approaching 1744 hours. Classes and most activities had since ended for the day.
At a distance, those that were around probably did not recognize her. Both Cornelia and her ever present knight had switched attire for their unannounced visit to the school. Plain, more common military uniforms, albeit with correct nameplates and insignia, meant that they were not quite disguised, but also not immediately identifiable at a glance. Cornelia had most of her hair put up and hidden away inside a hat, while Guilford walked beside her, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses. Also, given the usual military presence on the campus, it drew less attention than two unknown adults in civilian clothes would have. It was effective enough.
The pair took their time strolling across the academy grounds toward the large building that Camelot used for their various activities. Situated about fifty meters away from the nearest school building, with at least as much open ground on all sides, it looked decidedly hard to infiltrate even under the best of circumstances.
Four armed guards stood adjacent to the large main entrance, and two of them came forward to meet the military newcomers they obviously were not expecting. They were unusually thorough for enlisted men, triple checking each set of identification before they waved the princess and her escort into the building. Not that Cornelia was going to complain about the security measures since her sister spent quite a bit of time here.
As they entered, they got the definite feeling that it looked much bigger on the inside. She had not realized that there would be buildings inside the building, but there were three smaller, prefabricated structures along the left wall. A fourth, a bit further back, lacked any visible personnel activity.
There were six knightmare frames present in the hangar space, four of which were Sutherlands, along with the Lancelot and Vincent prototype. The Lancelot itself was partially disassembled, undergoing some type of maintenance or upgrades. Cornelia had trouble telling, as the parts and internals visible from her angle looked quite a bit more advanced and complex than the current models. She was familiar with the Gloucester and its predecessors, but these were something else. The Sutherlands all appeared to be dormant, standing in their docks off to the side. The Vincent, however, was active.
The Vincent was holding the Lancelot's left arm, detached from the torso, about two meters away from the integration socket. They were obviously using the knightmares as tools rather than weapons, since both cockpit blocks were unbuttoned. A movement atop the white machine caught her eye.
Cornelia saw a figure clad in a white pilot's suit nimbly climb up from the Lancelot's controls, and onto its shoulder. She realized after a second, that it was undoubtedly Suzaku Kururugi. His voice confirmed it, as he gave the Vincent's pilot what sounded like a recount of a responsiveness issue in the frame's arm. She had taken it upon herself to learn virtually everything she could about the son of Japan's final prime minister once the news had reached her ears that he had become...involved with Euphemia. Hardly surprising since they had done nothing to keep it a secret.
The Second Princess's initial reaction of disgust, horror, and general animosity had given way a bit when she got him into focus. He was, by all accounts, a model honorary citizen, an excellent soldier, and had a shining record of which she could not find any evidence that it had been polished up by those with some pull. Tack on an ace knightmare pilot rating, and a very public defense of a Britannian army unit against the Blood of the Samurai barely two kilometers from this very spot, and it was hard to find faults in him. Unless, of course, viewed through the lens of race, blood, and social status. The hawks and vipers in the court would view him as second rate trash in the shape of a man. It was a viewpoint she could not entirely disagree with, regardless of his merits.
She stopped thinking about Suzaku entirely as a sweet, familiar voice called out to answer him. Technically, she had known that her sister was the official test pilot for that machine. It was a piece of information that she had seen, heard, and then stored away somewhere in her head. But now, in this moment, it became real for her.
"Alright, alright, time to take a break you two!" A second female voice rang out from ground level. "Dinner's ready. You both must be starving." They answered affirmatively, and began moving the knightmares back to their proper positions.
Cornelia would probably have watched more, had she not felt something bump against her right leg. She looked down, and it looked up.
"Nyaa." A small cat appeared from somewhere, rubbed its head against her boot a couple times, and ran off toward one of the interior structures. What was a cat doing in a place like this? It clearly wasn't afraid of moving knightmare frames or the sounds of heavy machinery.
"Remember, stay calm." Guilford told her quietly, taking her attention away from the chance feline encounter.
"I know, I know. You're right." She replied, her voice at the same level. Cornelia's first idea had been to come over to this place, find Kururugi, jam a pistol in his face and demand to know what his intentions were with Euphemia. Fortunately, Cornelia listened to her knight, and he was quick to give her a long list of why that was a terrible idea.
Firstly, if what she had heard about Euphemia and Suzaku was even half true, such a violent confrontation would only push her sister away. Second, it would torpedo any chance of a friendly reunion with Luna. But most importantly, Camelot was a project very dear to Schneizel, and Suzaku happened to be the source of a great many advancements in the development of the Lancelot. As both prime minister and being higher up the chain of succession, Schneizel was one of the very few people in the world that held an honestly superior position over her. Going down that road would not end well, even if he happened to be in a good mood.
That was in addition to Cornelia's own findings, and a recent cause of frustration, that Suzaku was just too much on the up and up for her to discredit him. As ridiculous as the idea of a pure blooded Britannian princess having a romantic relationship with a native honorary citizen, even her own prejudiced mind couldn't come up with a way to discredit him that did not end up at 'because he's an Eleven.' Euphemia certainly would not accept that kind of reasoning, and it would only further push them apart, with predictably bad results.
"So what's our plan?" Guilford asked quietly. Nobody aside from the guards at the front had seemed to know who they were yet. Whether or not they had communicated that inside remained to be seen. But for the moment, Cornelia was happy to hold on to her scrap of anonymity.
"A double date, I suppose." She finally told him. Guilford looked like he was about to choke on something in surprise for a second.
"I know, a barebones refectory in a military engineering facility isn't exactly a romantic destination." Cornelia began with a fake pout.
"Not for you, at least. I've been with you long enough to know that nothing beats MREs in a trench with missiles flying over our heads." He cut in, forcing Cornelia to fight down a laugh.
Then it hit her for a moment as the laugh died in her throat; there was far too much truth in that snip. Some princess she was, preferring the battlefield to the ballroom. She imagined them in some trench in north Africa, waiting for their dinner to heat up in FRH bags under the light of rockets, tracers, and muzzle flashes. That felt much more comforting to her than what she was about to do.
"Guilford, as much as I miss Euphie, I need to know what's going on in that boy's head. Since I can't afford to be violent about it, then I'll have to pour on some charm to get the information I want. I'm sure I can pull together enough womanly appeal to complete the mission." Cornelia said with a sigh.
This was obviously not her first, or even third choice. In response Guilford looked her up and down. He was about to say something, but Cornelia put a finger over his lips, blushing slightly. She was well versed in her knight's extremely positive opinions about her womanly appeal.
"Be patient, we'll have plenty of time for that later." She took the finger away, and Guilford promptly shut up and fell in line.
Cornelia and Guilford entered the building's little mess hall barely two minutes later. The disguised pair only had to glance around for a moment before they found who they were looking for.
About twenty meters away sat Euphemia and Suzaku Kururugi, eating what passed for dinner here. Surprisingly, the small cat they had seen earlier was also present in the small space between them. Instead of being seen as a pest, the cat looked quite welcome in the spot. Euphemia reached down to feed him a piece of chicken, and turned just enough to spot them.
Say what you will about time and distance, but the li Britannia sisters truly knew each other. Such it was, that even after over a year apart, Cornelia's attempt at disguise was rendered ineffective the moment the girl at the table caught a glance of her.
The elder of the two watched in mild alarm as Euphemia was off the bench and positioned between her and Suzaku in a blink. She moved with the speed and lack of hesitation of one that had foreseen the likely course of actions should Cornelia and Suzaku end up in the same room. She spread her stance, and tried to make herself wide enough to cover him. It wasn't quite enough, she just did not have the mass, but the intent was obvious. Even her cat was glaring at Cornelia, as if ready to add it's miniscule fighting potential to defend its master.
"Suzaku, shut up and stay behind me." Euphemia cautioned him.
Cornelia knew that familiar mix of fear and adrenaline she heard from her sister. It was a universal tell when somebody inexperienced in close combat expected an imminent fight. Fortunately, nobody reached for a weapon, since everybody in the room save for the cat had at least a sidearm. There were a group of five fully armed enlisted soldiers on the other side of the room that looked ready to pounce at the commotion. If a fight broke out, they would decide it with their assault weapons.
"Princess Cornelia..." Major Croomy began, startled by the sudden appearance only a few meters away. "We were not informed that you would be visiting."
"Then my ruse worked, and people did their jobs correctly. You were not supposed to know I would be coming." She told the major as she reached up and let her hair out from under the cap.
"Why are you here, Cornelia?" Euphemia asked. Nobody else in the room would even think of speaking that way to her.
"I wanted to see you, Euphie. It's been over a year now." It felt strange to her. The time that they had spent apart seemed to fly by in the moment. Yet, now as she was seeing her sister in person once more, that time stretched out before her.
"So instead of asking me, you put on a disguise and try to sneak in. It wasn't about them." Euphemia swept a hand across the room. "You didn't want me to know you were coming until you were already here." The usual softness of her voice was nowhere to be found.
"Are you accusing me of something, Euphemia?" She asked her sister.
"I'm not an idiot, Cornelia. You clearly timed this to catch Suzaku in the building, and without the Lancelot." Euphemia's heart raced as she spoke.
There had always been a little seed of fear in the back of her mind about what would happen when the day inevitably came that Cornelia met Suzaku. Given the viewpoint of the former, she expected the worst. She felt a sudden rush of energy, and an immense urge to protect and defend Suzaku. Play the next moments wrong, and she could lose him forever.
"You really think I'm that petty?" Cornelia stood a little less certain.
She did not expect Euphemia of all people to be that cynical. Then again, she had been living out here on the fringe of the empire, not deep within a capital palace. Across history, frontier provinces always developed a reputation for roughness. It seemed that 21st century Britannia was no exception. Area 11 certainly wasn't the poster child for peace and serenity.
It was a bit of a shock for her to make it look like this was just a setup for an attempt at assassinating her boyfriend. Unexpected, but not that far off the mark either. That had in fact been pretty close to her original plan, if maybe two or three steps farther than she truly intended to go.
"I know how overprotective you are. I also know your general disdain for those not born Britannian. Suzaku is mine, and I will not let you harm him." Euphemia locked eyes with her sister, a fiery possessiveness in her voice.
The five soldiers across the room finally got up and began to approach. That action drew everyone's attention. After all, they were fully armed, and had the most firepower if it came down to a contest of who could put the most hot metal in the air. The burning question was, if they stepped into this dispute, who would they side with?
"Princess Euphemia." The lead man, a specialist began. His voice was a distinct change from the rest of those speaking; a southern homeland accent, probably Georgia, or somewhere nearby, and definitely not aristocratic sounding. It was a pretty imposing sight, since he was clearly the tallest man in the room.
"Yes, Specialist McGill?" She spoke to him.
Cornelia glanced over at the soldier. Perfect, of course Euphemia would know him by name. Just another nail in the coffin for this plan. So much for giving charm a try. That idea was dead on arrival.
"Your highness, I've just received new orders from the viceroy herself, and my CO confirms. We're under your direct command for the rest of the day. Now if I do say so, it's a true honor to serve in your presence. The viceroy explained that you may wish to have these troublemakers removed from it. I would be glad to do so, should that be the case." He informed her.
Everyone was staring at him, Cornelia hard enough to burn a hole through his chest plate. It wasn't every day that an enlisted commoner referred to Second Princess Cornelia li Britannia as a 'troublemaker' with a smile on his face. She wouldn't forget this man anytime soon.
"McGill," Euphemia turned to him with a sigh. "You and your squad can stay here and protect Suzaku. I'll see Cornelia out myself."
"Roger that, your highness. Don't you worry, we'll keep him spotless for you." The soldier said with a grin.
He waved his squad forward, and they quickly formed a wall of armored bodies between Cornelia and the warrant officer. It was obvious that there would be no actual fighting at this point, now that the sides were so heavily stacked. Euphemia gave him a quick thank you, and strode forward with intense purpose.
Cornelia could remember the few times anything in her life had gone so far off script on two hands, and this almost pushed it to eleven. She was flabbergasted at the whole sequence of events. So much so, that she offered no resistance when an angry looking Euphemia grabbed her wrist, and practically marched her out of the mess hall, despite a weight difference of nearly ten kilograms, and a few extra centimeters.
At the same time, Guilford looked just as lost for what to do. He just followed on behind them, keeping a polite distance since the only threat to Cornelia now was one he had absolutely no power to help her with.
Euphemia finally let go once they were a few meters outside of the mess hall. Cornelia could practically see the stress on her sister's face, but there was no sign that she was about to back down.
"Did you come here to kill him?" Euphemia demanded. "Tell me the truth, Cornelia."
"No." Cornelia let out a long sigh, as the gravity of the situation hit her.
She wanted what was best for her sister, or at least what she thought was best, but now she could see clearly that the only result of that line of thinking would be a heated confrontation. She did not fly all the way over here, all the time in concern for Euphemia's safety, just to anger and alienate her less than two days after arriving.
"Although, I admit, Euphie, that I thought about it." Cornelia continued honestly after a moment's pause.
"So you were just going to march in here and shoot him dead in front of me?" Euphemia snapped.
It was a surreal moment for Cornelia, experiencing her sister speak those words. The coldness in her voice, the barely perceptible twitch in her hands, it was all new. Cornelia had never had the misfortune of seeing Euphemia pushed to the edge before. There was real rage in her, struggling to manifest itself from behind a normally peaceful demeanor.
"I came here to make sure you're alright." Cornelia replied after considering her thoughts. She was not about to admit, especially in this moment, that her initial reaction was to walk in here and put a gun in Suzaku's face. "As I'm sure you're aware, you've done pretty much nothing to keep your relationship with him discreet. There are plenty in the empire that disapprove, strongly, of a princess and an Ele…"
"Don't you dare call him that." Euphemia cut her off with an almost snarl. "Suzaku is an exemplary soldier and a model honorary citizen. Even you can't dispute that."
"Euphie, I've never seen you so angry before. You really care for him, don't you?"
"I love him, Cornelia. If that means I have to protect him from you, I will."
Cornelia stopped for a second. She had suspected something like this, but not for her to be so passionate, so forceful about it. The military part of her mind recognized what Euphemia was doing as textbook blitzkrieg. Take the initiative, seize the momentum, and don't stop pushing until you've won.
"No suitor in their right mind would even for a moment consider rejecting you. I want to know what makes this E...Honorary Britannian so appealing to you. So why? What makes him so special?" She demanded, trying to remain calm.
This was not how she was expecting it to go. Euphemia was the one with all the fire in her heart, and the young man Cornelia wanted to thrash for defiling her sister had looked quite worried as he stood behind her. Although, Cornelia thought after a moment, he seemed to be more worried for Euphemia, rather than for himself.
"Sister, there are only two kinds of men in Britannia: those that see me with near divine reverence as some kind of perfect, infallible being because of what I am, those are the commoners by the way. The rest only see Cornelia's little sister, and none of them would come within five meters of me unless they were confident they were enough in your good graces that they wouldn't lose their heads for it." Euphemia explained with vigor.
Cornelia stood genuinely surprised for a few seconds. She had never considered it from such a viewpoint. Was it really so...stifling, being her sister?
"And Suzaku? Where does he fall into that stereotype?" Cornelia asked.
"He doesn't. I'm the third princess he's run into, he was a childhood friend of Luna and Nunnally. The idea of royalty as real people isn't something mystical to him. I met him the day after he was reassigned here, we were half asleep in a break room waiting for a pot of coffee to brew. He tried to give me the whole 'your highness' routine, and I told him to shut up until he could just call me Euphie. He listened.
Cornelia, I don't want to be worshipped like some kind of demigoddess, and neither do I want to live in your shadow. Now I've finally found someone that understands; he loves me for me." She gestured at herself as if trying to physically make the distinction.
"To Suzaku, I'm not HRH Third Princess Euphemia li Britannia, I'm just Euphie, and that's exactly the way I want it to stay. It took a lot of effort to make him that comfortable with me, and I'm not going to let you undo all of my hard work, so stay away from him." She finished, her tirade finally running out of ammunition.
"I…" Cornelia began.
Unfortunately, she was again interrupted. This time however, it was by the arrival of Jeremiah Gottwald, with a squad of men that she did not recognize. While Jeremiah was plainly Jeremiah, the other four were dressed top to bottom in uniform black tactical gear, including full helmets complete with opaque visors. No name tags, no rank insignia, nothing that could identify them conclusively, not even any visible skin to take a guess at race. They looked substantially more professional than the squad back in the mess hall, likely some kind of special forces or wetworks team. The part that alarmed Cornelia, was that two of them were openly carrying electroshock pistols. That wasn't a good sign.
"Good afternoon your highness." Jeremiah began, nodding toward Cornelia. "Princess Euphemia, I trust that nothing...irreversibly unfortunate has happened here today?"
Euphemia glanced over at Cornelia, very unhappy, but now certain that Suzaku was not going to become her victim today.
"No, Jeremiah. Nothing of the sort. Just a bit of verbal sparring over a disagreement or two. Did Luna send you?" Her usual gentleness came back as she addressed Jeremiah.
"Indeed. When Princess Cornelia was found to be unreachable through usual channels, Princess Luna suspected that you would show up here unannounced. It appears that she was correct." He explained. "Now, the second task I was given was to bring you to the palace. Our viceroy has invited you to an exclusive dinner in the rooftop gardens. She...insists upon your presence tonight."
"Your second task? What was the first?" Cornelia asked him, glancing at the assault squad. Jeremiah turned toward her. He was a man completely confident in his position, backed up by a team of the most dangerous men on the island.
"Your highness, I was instructed to preserve the health and well being of Suzaku Kururugi." He told her.
"By any means necessary, I assume." Cornelia spoke, glancing at their assortment of weapons. Plenty of guns and knives, but no grenades or explosives, she mentally noted.
"I was given orders to that effect, yes." He acknowledged.
"So, the stun pistols…"
"Any means short of lethal, that is. She doesn't want you dead." Jeremiah amended, leaving open the possibility that anyone with her could be terminated.
Cornelia kept a neutral stare on him. There was something in Jeremiah's voice that subtly added 'not yet' to the end of that sentence. As she reluctantly agreed to put off her intended interrogation of Suzaku, and a minute later, she and Guilford were in a car. As the door closed, she marveled at just how lucky that damned Eleven was to have so many friends in high places.
The Viceroy's Palace in the heart of Britannian Tokyo was a modern marvel of engineering and design. The palace incorporated the spaces of the structure above the city's upper layer, but the actual building was much more than that. The middle and lower levels housed the nexus of Area 11's government offices, with AIS, the local Area Intelligence Service having its headquarters in a restricted section of what was technically the basement. There was even a small military outpost built into the three floors below the actual palace.
Much like fortifications of old, the palace was also designed to be the centerpoint of the city's defenses. Beneath the exterior facade, the building was heavily armored, and ringed with multi role weapons systems hidden inside individual hardened emplacements.
At the top of the building was the true crown of it all: A near flawless recreation of the central sections of the gardens at the Aires Villa in Pendragon. Only interrupted by a single landing pad and elevator access on the south side, the gardens were a brilliant oasis of natural beauty at the heart of a city built of metal, glass, and concrete.
Clovis had insisted on including this feature when the building was first under construction in the year following the invasion. As a boy, he had spent a lot of time at the Aires Villa, and always hated having to leave it behind in his quest for personal power. This little piece of home that he painstakingly imitated here was one of the few features of his palace that was genuinely disturbing to its new owner.
Princess Luna vi Britannia had grown up in very much the same places as her brother, at least until the age of ten. The gardens atop the palace evoked a confusing series of emotions within her. She had two complete sets of memories of two separate lives growing up in the Aires Villa. At the same time, it was in these very gardens, in a universe far far away, that the Black Rebellion that Lelouch vi Britannia had gambled everything on slipped as sand between his gloved fingers.
She caught herself glancing at one spot in particular over and over. Luna realized after a few minutes that it was the exact spot upon which Cornelia's shattered Gloucester lay on that fateful night, where Lelouch had used his unholy power on her, only to find more questions than answers.
Luna closed her eyes for a moment, willing the memories away. There were times, and this was one of them, where she wished that she could banish the memories of her past life as the eleventh prince into some dark corner of her mind and leave them there. After all, she had her Code to heal physical damage and pain, but even that outright magical power offered no protection from the mental suffering and anguish some of those memories still caused her.
This garden in particular was a trigger that dredged up horrors of the past for her to relive. It was here that Lelouch had learned that the circumstances behind Marianne's assassination were far more mysterious than he could have ever expected. It was here that CC had arrived with the news that Nunnally had been abducted. And it was here that, as an unintended result of a selfish Geass command, Suzaku Kururugi finally lost his soul as millions vanished in nuclear fire.
Even so, she had given standing orders to the palace staff to keep the gardens maintained. She hated this place, but at the same time it was a reminder that none of those events had re occurred in this world. If she played her role flawlessly, maybe nothing of the sort would have to happen here again.
Luna walked toward the central clearing of the gardens, where some of the staff were busy setting up for tonight. As the disgustingly ornate table and seating Clovis had procured were brought out, she caught sight of a few smiling faces among them. Even in her very short time here, she had already established a reputation of fairness that Clovis could never have imagined. They tended to be happier when they knew that they were not at risk of mortal peril for making the slightest mistakes.
In her mind, this was what she imagined servants of the nobility should be like: upbeat, reliable, and well paid for their services. There were certainly no slaves in this palace, and that dramatically reduced the chance that any of them would take the risk of using their access to act against her.
Unfortunately, years of dealing with Clovis left a deep and lasting impression on the culture of the palace servants. They were used to a man that liked to swing his power around like a drunkard with a cudgel, consequences be damned, and it left them fearful. She suspected that quite a few of those smiles were false, and that some of the staff were still inwardly terrified to be in her immediate presence. They would come around eventually.
In the midst of her daydreaming, she got a message from Jeremiah, indicating that Cornelia had in fact been caught sneaking into the Camelot facility, and that she was now on the way to her location. Luna sighed with relief. Shared between her and Euphemia was the threat that Cornelia would attempt to take some kind of violent action against Suzaku.
At this point, she could be expected to have almost zero approval for their relationship. Despite Suzaku's record and reputation, Cornelia, unlike the other two princesses in this picture, was a believer in blood lines. The very idea that the Britannian royal family could be tainted with an outright foreign contribution was certainly offensive to her.
The real question was how far was she willing to go against Euphemia's will, and was she also willing to suffer political and military consequences to take action against Suzaku. Like it or not the man was doing very well in the Camelot unit where plenty of others, despite much hype, failed to make the cut. Schneizel had certainly taken notice of that fact, and everyone relevant to the discussion knew it.
When it really came down to it, Luna suspected that Cornelia would back down. She simply loved both Euphemia and her army too much to let either undergo actual suffering for something like that. She would certainly moan and grumble about Suzaku, at least until she saw him do something sufficiently heroic, but Cornelia was one that could be reasoned with. It wouldn't be a problem, just so long as she put in the work to steer her along the right path.
Almost half an hour later, Jeremiah and the pair he was escorting arrived. In the minutes prior, Luna had gathered up the dozen or so servants in the garden and advised them to keep their distance. They had been told that certain "guests" would be appearing shortly, and they may not be so benevolent. With years of experience, those men and women melted away as if they were made of shadows themselves. As they did, they appeared in unusually high morale. Luna had gone out of her way to do something for their wellbeing, which apparently her predecessor had never even considered.
It was thus that when the elevator door opened, and Cornelia li Britannia marched out into the open air, there was only one being in sight. She would get no opportunity to vent her anger or frustration on a bystander or two. The large revolver strapped to her right thigh seemed like it wanted to be fired today.
Cornelia appeared somewhat surprised at the gardens, having never actually been here herself before. Clovis, or more accurately people serving Clovis, had done a phenomenal job of copying the original from Aires. The key difference was that instead of being ringed by a crystal clear stream, the edges of the gardens were marked by a sheer drop of several hundred meters off the side of the building. The princess made no effort to hide it as she glanced around to take in the sight.
Luna would have grinned, but that would be a tell. She silently thanked Clovis for demanding such attention to detail up here, as it had clearly thrown off Cornelia's line of thought. Whatever she had been planning to do or say had been sidetracked by this unnaturally perfect display of natural beauty.
Then, quite suddenly, Cornelia's focus returned. She tuned the gardens out, and her full attention fixated on the figure before her. The sight of Luna vi Britannia, in person, brought forth an entirely different emotional response. Her face quickly revealed just how negative it was. Distinctly unhappy memories surged up within her, brought forward from the past by her lost sister's presence.
"Why did you do it?" Cornelia asked, coldly, before anyone else could speak.
Something about that struck Luna. There was no reunion speech, no questioning if she was in fact the real Luna or an impostor, or even any usable context to the question. Even with a bit of distance remaining between them, Luna felt a chill creep down her back. She knew where this was going. Around them, Jeremiah and Guilford stood quietly, unsure of what to expect. They were mirrors in a sense; two men that had sworn their lives to powerful women, and loyal unto death if need be.
Jeremiah felt himself reflexively moving a hand a few centimeters closer to his sidearm. Somewhere in his mind, he knew that Luna was in no danger of permanent injury from Cornelia, thanks to her secret gift. But that did not mean he would let anyone get away with it, even other royalty. Seeing Luna shot dead on the side of the road had been...traumatic for him. If it came down to it, he was prepared to act, all while knowing that Guilford would drop him before he got more than one or two rounds off. He hoped with everything he had that Cornelia could prevent herself from boiling over.
"Do what, exactly?" Luna asked. "It's been quite a long time, Cornelia, and I haven't been sitting idle for over the past seven, nearly eight years."
"Don't screw with me." Cornelia returned in a flash. "I know how you did it, even the ridiculous part with the Glasgow. The evidence is undeniable. You killed my men, Luna. You ambushed them and you executed them. Now you're going to tell me why." Oh, Luna thought to herself, quickly going over her actions on the day of the invasion. That day at Iwakuni already felt as if it were forever ago.
"I needed information." Luna said as if she were not speaking of human lives. "What were their orders, and why had they so recklessly jumped into the fight with so little support? That was what I wanted to know."
"You could have just asked, Luna. You're a princess of the realm. They were no threat to you. None of those men had to die. Especially not like that."
"And if they had been sent to capture me? I don't like to gamble with my last pound, Cornelia. Kill three Britannian soldiers, or face the very real prospect of torture and execution. The choice was obvious." She replied.
"Capture you? Execute you? Luna, I don't know what was going through your little head at the time, but…"
"I was thinking that my mother was dead, my sister was dead, and my new home was being invaded by a hostile military force." Luna raised her voice and cut off the second princess. "And right there before me were three unsuspecting enemy infantrymen in the open. I needed the information, but in all honesty I would have shot them anyway."
Cornelia fought back an angry snap, and processed that for a few moments. Had she really switched sides so quickly as to see Britannian troops as enemy invaders? It hurt to suppress her natural reaction to hearing her loyal troops be described as exposed targets.
"One of the helmet cameras caught the exchange on video. The third man told you what their orders were." She finally spoke. "Yet you still killed him, and went on to murder a knight, and butcher more of my men with their own weapons."
"I thought it was a trap." Luna told her, half lying. The real truth was that she knew exactly what was happening, and had simply sided with the JSDF, but she had legitimately wondered about this possibility afterwards. Although, she eventually concluded, those tactics were something to be expected from Schneizel, not Cornelia. Although, she did slip that one into her own book of tricks for potential future use.
"Tell me, Cornelia, how many men do you think wouldn't have second thoughts about being given a capture order for a ten year old girl on an active battlefield? If that was your intention, the logical option would be to order them to 'rescue' me instead. Less questions, more devotion to the mission, and a morale boosting sense of purpose, all at once." Luna explained.
Of all the things she could have heard, Cornelia had never even considered such a response. Were they really so different from each other? Did she truly believe from the age of ten that there were enemies lurking in every shadow? That nobody lacked an ulterior motive? She almost shuddered at the thought. This was undoubtedly Luna vi Britannia standing before her, but the little sister she once knew had died long ago. Instead of waiting for a response, she kept going.
"So yes, while I did manage to extract a summary of orders from that man before I shot him, I did not trust the intent behind those orders." Luna continued.
"I ordered them in to find you." Cornelia said after a moment, the fire gone from her voice. "Ahead of the main invasion force and much of the bombardment, I sent thousands of paratroopers, good brave men, to certain death because I was desperate to bring you and Nunnally home." She looked Luna in the eye. "Was I wrong to want that?"
"Yes, you were." The viceroy told her bluntly. The reaction on Cornelia's face could not be easily described. Around them, the two men in attendance stood motionless, and deathly silent.
"Nunnally and I were meant to die, from the moment we were exiled. It's fortunate that my sister met her end courtesy of a cruise missile. It was a quick and painless death. The alternatives would have been much worse. I was in no position to protect her at the time, and neither of us would have survived had I been forced to try. Even if you did manage to bring us back to Pendragon, we would both be dead by now anyway. Don't even try to convince me that two loose ends to Empress Marianne's assassination would have been left to dangle forever."
As she spoke those words, she wondered just how true they would have been. She was still playing the card that her mother had been assassinated by "enemies" or "terrorists". The truth was very different. If the events behind the scenes here were anything like before, then Marianne was not only still alive in a sense, but in a commanding position. She recalled Lelouch's final encounter with her and Charles, before they were erased.
From the shocking news that she had not died, came a fury the likes of which the prince had never felt before. When she admitted everything, and continued to preach that their Ragnarok plan was the solution to everything, that all of the death and suffering was meaningless in the end, it suddenly became that every tear he had ever shed for her was the only thing without meaning. All of the horrible actions taken to avenge her had been for nothing, all of that blood, and all of those lives wasted for a lie. Her former self had a well deserved smile on his face as they were evaporated.
The truth was that had they been returned to Pendragon, the sisters would have been silenced, brainwashed, or outright reprogrammed by Geass. A fate far worse than a clean death, in her book at least. After all, she was an expert in the horrors Geass made not only possible, but ordinary. Cornelia, however, knew none of that as far as she could tell. This woman had been spoon fed the cover story and accepted it without a second thought.
"I would have protected you." Cornelia quickly responded.
Luna's reaction was an almost hysterical laugh that she tried and failed to hold in. She imagined one of the Order's assassins, Rolo came to mind immediately, plucking that nice revolver out of Cornelia's hand and shooting her in the face with her own weapon while everybody within a hundred meters played statue.
Even in a knightmare frame, Cornelia would have no chance. Rolo's apparent teleporting in combat made him one of the most lethal opponents imaginable, and who knew what other nightmarish living weapons VV was cooking up in his secret base. When fighting Geass, you cheat or you die, and Cornelia didn't even know the rules of that game, much less how to break them to her advantage.
It was at that moment that Luna made the decision to stop playing the "terrorists" card, and plant a seed of truth. As it was, none of the people present, especially Cornelia, were in any way ready to learn the story of the Geass Order and the emperor's mysterious brother in its entirety. Not even Jeremiah Gottwald. But she wanted Cornelia to be looking in that direction. There was no avoiding the inevitability that everyone here would learn at least some of the truth behind Marianne's assassination. Better it happen now, on her own terms.
The attempted killing of another princess in Pendragon had put a chill down Luna's spine, considering who was involved. Guinevere su Britannia, Anya Alstreim, and, by Luna's definition, a man that should not even exist. In fact, the knowledge that Julius Kingsley was an actual individual in this universe was quite disturbing to her. The events of that night all but confirmed one assumption of similarity, but threw several others into chaos. If it meant what she thought it did, at some point this was going to get messy. Plant the seeds now, and perhaps they'll bloom in time.
"They would have disposed of you in a day, no more than two. Then, we'll all have died for nothing. Would that have been a preferable outcome?" Luna asked.
"You...know who killed her?" Cornelia asked in shocked silence, barely managing to get a whisper out. Luna nodded.
"I know who killed my mother, crippled my sister, and started this whole mess. " She revealed in a tone that Cornelia thought was far too calm for the subject matter.
"Tell me!" The cold shock inside Cornelia suddenly blossomed into thermobaric rage. Marianne's death was one of the darkest days, the lowest point in her life. She felt a sudden urge to find and exterminate those responsible, like she hadn't felt in years.
"No." With one word, it all faded to nothing just as quickly. Marianne's daughter could have frozen a fireball solid in that moment. "Cornelia, the forces at work here are so far beyond your comprehension that you would be powerless to affect them, much less defeat them. The last thing I'm going to do is give them even a hint that I know what truly occurred that night."
"You're...protecting your mother's assassins? Are you truly that afraid of them?"
"Hardly." Luna slapped that idea away. "I'm protecting you from them. Have you ever heard the old saying that knowledge is power? If I tell you what I know about them and how they operate, you'll gain the power to threaten them. Unless you can crush them all in one blow, threatening them has a very adverse effect on your life expectancy. Then they'll get curious as to why you suddenly discovered all the pieces, and put them together in a hurry."
"If you know all of this, then why haven't you done so, or even why haven't they tried to kill you?" Cornelia asked, frustration showing through.
"Two reasons." Luna put up a finger. "One, I suspect that they don't know that I know what I know. An unknown unknown, if you will. It's very hard to take action against something that you don't know that you don't know.
Two, I suspect they may have already tried, covertly. The missile that killed Nunnally came in without warning, and could very well have been the actual first shot of the Second Pacific War. It would have been reasonable to assume we would be together at the time. Two loose ends, one five hundred kilogram warhead. Fortunately, I happened to be a few hundred meters away at the base's firing range, which I doubt they expected." Luna explained.
"These people...they can really do that?" She sounded chilled. Luna made as if to lecture a wayward apprentice.
"Cornelia, maybe you've been off fighting your sandbox wars for so long that you've forgotten how Britannia really works. The Emperor doesn't have as much power as you think he does. There are many factions beneath the surface of the empire's institutions, often with wildly divergent interests. They exist within the military just as much as everywhere else. The…'faction' in question here most definitely has the means to target anyone they wish, should a motive arise. They are supremely capable when they choose to exercise their power."
"And what motive did they have for killing Empress Marianne?" Cornelia asked.
"The age old tradition of eliminating rivals in a power struggle. From your reactions so far, I'm assuming you were not aware of my mother's...extracurricular activities. They were competing forces within the organization, and one party decided to just flip the board instead of continuing the game." Luna told her.
"That night...Marianne ordered her guard to withdraw. I tried to convince her not to, but she would have none of it. She ordered me to leave her exposed." Cornelia recalled, suddenly finding new meaning to the actions.
"Cornelia, the most I'll tell you is that she met with a leader of the organization that night. You and your guardsmen were not authorized to know of their existence. There were no witnesses, no guards, and the assassin doesn't actually exist on any official records. It was the perfect opportunity to kill her, by design." Luna explained.
"Luna, is this just some theory you've come up with? It sounds insane that something like that could happen in the heart of Pendragon." Cornelia asked in a state of disbelief. Surprisingly, Luna grinned at her.
"You've just proven the effectiveness of their concealment efforts. Instead of demanding further details, you're questioning if they are even real. How about this, Cornelia; I'll give you a clue, a single breadcrumb. If you can determine who the leader of this organization is, discreetly and without raising suspicion, I will give you everything."
"Is what you're asking me to do even possible, or are you sending me to chase shadows? Before you say anything, tell me the truth."
"I swear, that from this one hint and the context you already have, you can reach the correct answer. I doubt you will, it certainly won't be easy, but you're welcome to try regardless of your chances." Luna told her.
"Then tell me."
"In 1965 ATB, during the height of the Emblem of Blood, amid the chaos that saw most of the royal family dead, not all was as it seemed. By assassins of their own employ, one of the supposed victims used the bloodshed of the time to disappear from the world. Their death was false, the funeral fake, and the corpse was that of a lookalike. It was all a performance, carefully crafted to convince the audience that the subject was truly deceased. Their deception was flawless, and effective." Luna began.
"That implies a conspiracy, not just an individual. You can't stage your own funeral without help." Cornelia observed.
"Indeed, there were more involved, although I cannot say for certain what others at the time may have known. Those that knew too much were almost certainly eliminated shortly thereafter. Once the illusion of death was in place, this person staged a coup inside of the organization in question. Think of it as a cross between a religious cult and a secret society. That's not exactly correct, but it's close enough." Luna explained.
"And you're telling me that Empress Marianne was a member of this cult?" Cornelia asked.
"A true believer, in fact."
"Yet I knew not even a whisper of such things as the captain of her guards. How?"
"Remember what I said about knowledge? The best way to keep something hidden is for it to not exist at all. They've effectively made that a reality in the eyes of all outsiders."
"You're really going to give me nothing more than that, are you?" Cornelia asked.
"Of course not. If you want more, you're going to have to earn my trust the old fashioned way. You can start by attempting the task you just agreed to. To be clear, I'm not expecting you to succeed, although I assure you it is possible. If you do somehow manage to pull the correct name from the metaphorical hat, I'll be very impressed."
"Very well." Cornelia said with a sigh. Her lust for more information about Marianne's murder had not waned in the slightest, but even she had to admit that there were no further options to get more out of Luna right now.
She tried, and struggled, to see the situation from Luna's point of view. It was a strange feeling, to be anywhere other than Pendragon, and not be the most powerful force in the room. She had accepted, after a bit of thought, that her sister's self proclaimed succession was probably legitimate, if extremely unorthodox. Luna was still a member of the royal family, even if so estranged, and had done nothing that would qualify as rebellion in her eyes. For now, at least, she had little choice but to come to terms with reality that her sister was the ruler of this Area.
"Now then, we have more present matters to attend to." Luna redirected.
"Such as?" Cornelia wanted to press the matter, but knew it would be pointless.
"How about we start with not letting my cooks' hard work go to waste. I don't want to have to try to convince them that Princess Cornelia's lack of an appetite had nothing to do with the quality of their food. They still seem to think that mortal peril awaits behind any dissatisfaction." Cornelia stared at her, somewhat derailed by the shift from assassins and secret cults to dinner on a whim.
A few short moments later, the four of them had made it to the table, and two of the staff came forward. Luna recognized them as the two that had the most experience interacting with the powerful. One more followed a respectable length behind, carrying a notepad. It was tactics, she knew, as they sent in the veterans with the strongest defenses, while their junior got to see up close how the game was played by experts. She smiled as she watched them work, and thought to herself that the young man in the back would have it much better than two up close. After all, he wouldn't have his life destroyed for some small breach of protocol. Those days were over in her realm. Happy, loyal servants were far less prone to betrayal.
When they once again retreated, the conversation resumed.
"Why exactly were you sent here, Cornelia? I know you left the middle east in a hurry. That was rather bold of you to transport your troops and hardware separately." Luna began.
"Schneizel ordered me back here."
"That explains a few things." Luna mused, wondering immediately what Schneizel's ulterior motives were.
"Even so, I've always wanted to return to this accursed island. The ghosts of the past still haunt me." Cornelia admitted.
"Am I still haunting you, Cornelia, or is it you that will be haunting me?"
"Luna, I was sent here to fix the Area's rebel problem. Those orders came in just a few hours after Clovis died." Cornelia told her.
"Before I made my reappearance, you mean." Luna filled in for her. Cornelia nodded. "So what's your new mission supposed to be? To put a leash on me?"
"I've not received anything new from Schneizel or from Pendragon, and I haven't bothered to ask." Cornelia said.
"As I'm sure you've seen by now, my forces are crushing what's left of the old resistance in the country. They only have a few possible moves left to play, and we're well positioned to counter them. That makes your original mission a bit redundant."
"That depends, Luna. What are your intentions? That army you command is still classified as an indigenous rebel group in Pendragon."
"If you're asking if I plan to break away and declare independence, the answer is no. Let's be realistic. We don't have the resources or numbers to win a war against either superpower without the full backing of the other, and I'm certainly not going to go begging the Chinese for help. We'll be sticking with Britannia. That's the most perfect revenge I'll ever get, by the way." Luna explained.
"What do you mean? How does revenge come out of remaining with the empire? I would have expected a rebellion if revenge was the goal."
"Easily, Cornelia. I'll have my vengeance for the people of Japan by proving Britannia wrong. Instead of raging against a past I cannot change, I'm going to rebuild. I started with an army, but it will be so much more than that. I plan to lift the people of these islands out of the nightmare they've been cast into, and by the time I'm done, Japan will be the envy of the world. I'll have my vengeance the moment that the people of Britannia can see what we've accomplished here, and have no choice but to accept that their notions of racial superiority are categorically false."
"That sounds just as grandiose as it did in your speech the other day. Do you really believe any of that?"
"Not only do I believe it, Cornelia, I am convinced that it can be done." Luna replied, her unblinking violet eyes wishing they could still inject her will directly. "There are no alternatives that I am willing to accept."
"What's the point? We are the strongest empire in history, and we did not rise this high by playing nice. Time and again, Britannians are the ones that overcome the odds and rise to the top. Our only real equals are European, of which we ourselves are descended, and they have grown soft in the last century. The rest are not our peers, and they certainly aren't our betters." Cornelia responded with the conviction of a life bathed in the ideology of Pendragon.
"And you really believe that?" Cornelia's own words were twisted back at her.
"What happened to you, Luna?" The elder princess asked of her sister. "At first, I thought it was a miracle that you were still alive. But now, I'm wondering if that's really the case. I've no doubt that you are Luna vi Britannia, but that seems to mean something other than what I expected it to."
"What did you expect?" Luna asked with a dark grin. "I endured, I adapted, I survived! Don't tell me you've forgotten the basis of Darwinian natural selection our father loves to preach about. The fact that I have overcome the litany of challenges thrown before me necessitates change. Either way, the idealized memory of me that you were expecting to re-discover did truly die on that airbase."
Those words felt to Cornelia as a series of blows straight to the heart. She had so utterly failed at protecting Marianne and her children that even the sole survivor of her line was thoroughly warped by the experience.
"What are you going to do, Luna? You've taken over an Area, and nobody of importance has openly said a word against you. I don't think they've fully absorbed what's happened here yet."
"First, I will utterly destroy the insurrection. Not all of the rebels are bad people that deserve to die, but most are, and I'll see to it that they are eliminated. Japan will be stabilized. Unity cannot be optional if this is going to succeed." She spoke. Cornelia could not help but notice that she once again refused to call the place Area 11. Perhaps that was just one more ingrained relic of her long exile.
"Second, I'm going to enact a series of laws and executive orders to lift the people out of this pseudo slavery they've been subjected to. We'll rebuild the country. No more islands of prosperity surrounded by decaying ghettos. I will make this the most successful imperial territory, even more so than most of the homeland.
Third, once I have irrefutably proven that my way is superior, I will export this ideology to the rest of the empire. One by one, the rest of the Areas will begin to look to Tokyo rather than Pendragon for guidance." Luna continued, a dash of arrogance and confidence seeping through.
"To what ends? Are you after the throne? Is this all just some power grab? Your final revenge for what happened to your family?" Cornelia asked hesitantly, after a few moments. It was a question that needed to be heard, but Cornelia knew how dangerous it could be. Still, she did it anyway. Luna paused, and smiled after a moment.
"Perhaps I was not clear enough earlier. I'm not doing all of this for my mother or Nunnally, for some personal crusade against their killers. That will happen later, and much more quietly." Luna made a sweeping gesture toward a gap in the surrounding garden, from which they could see out over the Kanto Plain toward distant Fuji.
"Cornelia, I truly feel that this is my home. When the empire came and burned it down, they did so out of a twisted ideology of racial superiority. The senseless slaughter, the boundless greed for sakuradite, the systematic destruction of Japanese culture, all of these things came with the invasion because they think everyone else is an inferior breed of human.
That is what I seek to destroy. You and I are not part of some master race, destined to subjugate all others. All who believe this are categorically wrong. The revenge I seek is not against a person, or a government, but an idea, the very foundation of their evil.
So yes, Cornelia, I will rule Britannia. That is the only way to ensure that my victory is made manifest upon the world. I promise you, here and now, that I will be the one hundredth empress regent of the Holy Britannian Empire." Luna proclaimed as she finished the glass of wine in her hand, and reached for another. The alcohol had little effect, and she had to drink quite a bit to feel anything at all, but she found the action disproportionately satisfying.
Cornelia sat in muted silence for almost a full minute. She could see the resemblance to her parents bleeding through. There it all was in full glory: The supreme and utter confidence of Emperor Charles, with Empress Marianne's determination and drive to action, blended together as their daughter. Their radical idealist of a daughter.
There was no doubt in Cornelia's mind, or her heart, that the lost princess believed what she spoke. It was not a script, or some sales pitch, it was a glimpse into her soul. The girl sitting across from her truly wanted to remake the world as she saw fit, and she had spent all this time figuring out how to go about doing it. That knowledge alone made her feel slightly intimidated. Then, one detail stood out sharply.
"One hundredth? What about the ninety ninth? Does that mean you're not plotting against our father?" Cornelia asked, wondering intensely. If she were to become one hundredth, then both Charles and his successor would have to be eliminated somehow.
"While I admit I have plenty of reasons to hate that man, no, I'm not. Why should I bother plotting against him when I don't have to? He will fall long before I would be ready to make a move to overthrow him. Schneizel or Guinevere will see to that all on their own." Luna spoke as if it were already written in the history books. She lifted another glass of dark red liquid.
"I would have suspected that you of all people, would have felt it by now." Luna continued after a pause.
"The coming war." Luna told her with a sudden seriousness. Cornelia felt a distinct chill. Those three words she spoke were so certain as to force themselves upon reality. In particular, the way she emphasized 'war' set it distinctly apart from all the conflicts in the world at the moment.
"A war for the throne? Do you really think it will come to that? Even during the Emblem of Blood, Britannia never fell that far. Is that what you're planning to do?"
"Not at all." She quipped.
"Then what makes you so sure that it's going to happen? Fighting and assassinations, yes, but an actual war in Britannia itself?"
"Britannia is slowly, subtly, fracturing at the seams. Schneizel's growing power base is on the west coast, and Guinevere's is on the east, and the emperor has his own concentrations of loyalists." She explained.
"And now you're building a base of your own." Cornelia began, before she suddenly understood. "That's why you're investing so much into the native population."
"Now you're beginning to see, sister. The Japanese have virtually no connection to the power structures of the empire. They are a foundation without such impurities. The Imperial Japanese Army exists because of me. It won't take much to make their loyalty insurmountable. When the time ultimately comes, I will march into the fire with a nation behind me, not some patchwork of noble backers that all have their own schemes and plots."
"You're not exaggerating, are you?" Cornelia asked, the idea of what she was describing scared her. She was a warrior at heart, but there could be no glory in neighbor killing neighbor as their empire fractured.
"The opposite, in fact. I bet you are thinking in strictly military terms. Armies, navies, force compositions, etc. Take a moment to acknowledge the magnitude of human suffering that is about to occur. What happened to the people of Japan will be a quaint prelude by comparison." Luna explained.
"Why are you so certain that it will play out this way? Do you realize what madness you're describing?" Cornelia asked as her mind began to process the consequences.
"When Britannia cracks, there will be blood in the water as the great leviathan lays wounded. Do not think for a moment that Europe and China will just sit by and watch it happen. That will be their moment. They will strike with all the might they can muster, for the price of failure is death. It will be their only chance to survive in the long term, and I would not bet on them missing it."
Cornelia's face paled slightly at her sister's words. It was so obvious, but also so unthinkable that she had never considered such a thing. She didn't want to, even now. Her sister was not describing war as she knew it, but an apocalypse, a cataclysm of unfathomable proportions.
"Once it starts, it will not be stopped. The world will burn, and millions will die. The strongest will butcher each other until one of them claims the throne. At least until I take it from them." Luna downed another glass. To Cornelia, the red wine began to look distinctly as a glass of blood. Her sister locked eyes with her. She could see the insidious gleam in those violet orbs, and it terrified her to the core. If there had been any lingering doubt as to who she was descended from, it would have died in that moment. She spoke again as the glass returned to the table.
"Then, from the old world's demise, see my empire rise."