Disclaimer: I do not own Code Geass or any of its canon characters.
This is the end of part 1. The story continues with Into Darkest Night.
AN: Huge thanks to AxilS for having the time and attention to detail to find a lot of mistakes and give me the longest, most constructive PM review I've ever seen.
Chapter Updated 2021
Cornelia li Britannia suppressed a shudder as she stepped off the elevator, and into the viceroy's palace. This building, and its many lavish rooms, still reminded her of Clovis's death. While Luna had moved into the palace after assuming the role of viceroy, almost entirely for the practical logistics of running the colonial government since it was located atop the main government complex, she had little interest in the palace itself. Many of the rooms and chambers within the structure were untouched, exactly as Clovis had left them.
She had not been too close to Clovis, but it was his status as the ruler of this particular set of islands that kept him always in the back of her mind. Cornelia had a long history with this place, and had often dreamed that he would call with the miraculous news that her sisters had been found alive; or suffer in nightmares that he would call to inform her that their broken bodies had been found. Cruel reality had given her half and half, at the price of his life.
Memories aside, it still surprised her just how opulent her deceased brother had made his home. There had to be hundreds of millions of pounds worth of art, precious metals, and gems adorning the interior. Even by Pendragon standards, it was over the top in some places. Being a soldier used to life on the frontiers of the empire, where being able to sleep in a G1 command vehicle counted as a luxury, she could never imagine trying to live in a place like this by choice.
Fortunately, Luna vi Britannia had no such lust for excessive displays of wealth. The section of the palace she now lived in and routinely used had been stripped down to a far more modest level. In truth, Cornelia knew her sister would run the government out of her home in the second story of the clubhouse at Ashford Academy if she could.
While Luna had a private elevator that led directly to her section of the palace, another feature her brother left behind, nobody seemed to have access to it. Cornelia knew, since she tried to use the thing, and found out the hard way that it had been biometrically locked. Unable to defeat the security, she used another elevator to ascend to the palace above.
There was no official demarcation that signaled what part of the palace the new viceroy used, but the implied difference was sharp and jarring. On every approach, the fabulous wealth encrusted in the very walls themselves faded away to a much simpler appearance. Gone were the gold, gems, and the elegant tapestries, taken away, but not with the brutish appearance of having been looted. It looked as if they had been carefully removed, to be taken intact for some other purpose.
As she walked along the corridors, she wondered if Luna left it like this for a reason. Any visitor would have to pass through the palace the way Clovis had it detailed, before entering her new realm. Luna's section was still undoubtedly a palace, but judging it just from the appearance would not have left one thinking royalty of any flavor lived there. Maybe she was just overthinking it.
Reaching the final hall, she saw that the elevator she tried and failed to access had a stop just a few meters to her left. She turned right. The door that led to what had once been Clovis la Britannia's office stood alone. At first, Cornelia was surprised to see no guards standing beside it, but then she remembered her sister's often painfully practical thinking. Of the original palace guardsmen that remained, they had better things to do than be ornamental protection for a door. Clovis, and many others, would not have hesitated to have them spend all day guarding the room.
This was not the office that Luna routinely used for her own purposes, that was a few halls over, but she had wanted to meet Cornelia here. It was a better space for the purpose, more roomy, and had natural light that filtered in through the heavy ballistic windows.
Cornelia opened the door. It creaked slightly as it did so. She took a look around as she stepped inside. It was uniquely strange to Cornelia, feeling a connection to her dead brother through this room that she had never before seen with her own eyes. This was where he worked, when he worked. She knew that too often he had winged it from a side room at some party or another.
"I wanted him to live, you know." Luna spoke from her spot by the window.
She was leaning against the wall, staring out over the city. If it weren't for the upper layer of the city's structure, she would have been able to see the spot where that fateful ambush took place. Cornelia turned to face her, having not even noticed her presence before, given her focus on the memories her surroundings evoked.
"It was very brave, what you did down there." Cornelia said.
Luna shook her head. She hadn't told Cornelia about that, but didn't particularly care from what source she had learned of her very direct involvement in that fight. It was pretty obvious once one knew that she had used the alias Clare Lautrec, since that was the lone shooter officially listed as the so-called 'One Woman Army' that fought a last stand action to the death in defense of Clovis. Or so it was thought by the public.
To Luna, listing that name among the dead was more than convenience, it was the truth. Clare Lautrec was, deep down, the girl Luna wished she could be. It was that of a happy student, if still extraordinary in her own ways, and she loved the escape it provided from the cruel reality of this world. But she knew in the final moments before she died on that street, that Clare and Clovis would share the same fate; that she could never truly pretend to be that girl again in this life. She may be technically immortal, but she had been harshly reminded that parts of her could still die.
"It was desperation. I was so certain that I had Kusakabe beat; that neither he, nor anyone else still had the power to make such an attack in the middle of Tokyo. I was wrong, and I let my overconfidence blind me." She replied. "I tried to save him, for what little good it did."
"You more than tried." Cornelia told her.
"It wasn't enough!" Luna replied, almost snapped.
"It's not your fault that our brother is dead." Cornelia went on.
The images she had belatedly seen, of Luna finally being shot down by the same men that killed Clovis only moments later, haunted her. Part of her was skeptical about just how fast her sister had recovered, but Britannian medical science was unparalleled in the modern world. She had seen with her own eyes the recovery of soldiers whose bodies were in worse shape from all manner of battlefield injuries. She hadn't exactly stripped her sister down and inspected the wounds, so she had no idea what her condition had actually been in the days after the ambush. But she looked quite recovered now.
"I had plans, years in the making, plans that I needed him for, plans that drained away with the blood from his ravaged body. Once again, the future I wanted was stolen from me." Luna replied. "I want Kusakabe. Before he was just an obstacle to be stepped on in my ascension. Now it's personal."
Cornelia took a moment to digest those words. It made sense to her, of course, given all that had happened, but it still hurt a bit to hear. She herself hadn't been too close to Clovis, but he was still family.
"Who is he really?" Cornelia asked. She had of course heard of the man, as had anyone that had seen a threat assessment for Area 11 in the past four years, but she knew little about him.
"Josui Kusakabe. Formerly an officer of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Forces before the war. He made Lieutenant Colonel just prior to the imperial invasion, and he continued on for a short time with the Japan Liberation Front, back when the organization was still nebulous in its early days. His military record was fairly dull and average; he wasn't a troublemaker or a standout leader, just a painfully average career officer.
It was about a year after the invasion that he left, went permanently AWOL to be precise. He turned up some time thereafter in command of the Blood of the Samurai faction. From what I know of them at the time, they were just a moderate, if large Japanese resistance force before he showed up. They had an unusual level of resources, but there's nothing to suggest they were originally the fanatics he shaped them into." She recalled.
"Do you know where he's hiding?" Cornelia asked. Luna scoffed.
"My intelligence services are working on that. We know he fled south after his core forces in and around Tokyo were shattered. He lost almost everything in that final attack." Luna told her. Cornelia briefly wondered about 'my intelligence services'. Did she mean AIS, the Area Intelligence Service, Area 11 branch, or some other military intelligence unit her army ran?
"That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about." Luna continued. "The status quo here is untenable in the long run. I can't have two entirely separate force structures that too often view each other as adversaries. Not while we have credible internal threats, even if so diminished, as well as a rather unfriendly superpower occupying one of my home islands."
"Your home islands?" Cornelia asked, generally surprised at how direct she was being.
"Of course. As far as I'm concerned, I am now the ruler of Japan. All of Japan. I need to rebuild the country, and restore the nation. Reclaiming lost territory, namely Kyushu, is a part of that. But first, I have to close the deep divides here at home. I can hardly try to expand while the foundation remains a crumbling ruin." She explained.
"What am I really here for, Luna?" Cornelia asked bluntly. "In this room no less. I'm a soldier, and I hate political scheming."
"Which is why you've spent the last few years running around deserts in North Africa instead of Pendragon's palaces." Cornelia said nothing, knowing it was completely true. She really did prefer rolling through a far away frontier desert to gossiping about the useless flavor of the week in a ballroom.
"Cornelia, I could really use your help." Luna told her, confronting one of her oldest, deepest problems. The elder sister was genuinely surprised to hear that. Up until this moment, Cornelia had gauged their relationship as tense, and with the lack of guidance from Pendragon, potentially adversarial. She did not know if she would get orders to seize control of Area 11, as was anticipated when she was pulled from the middle east. Now she wondered; If that happened, what would she do?
"As I'm sure you've noticed, the division here runs deep. The invasion and its aftermath caused a level of pain and suffering that few can comprehend at the scales involved. Now here I am, trying to close those wounds. The future I'm trying to build simply can't happen so long as there's an 'Us' and 'Them'.
The majority of the Japanese people trust me because their military trusts me. Specifically, it's because of General Katase. He, along with the recently promoted Lt. General Tohdoh, are men famous for the JSDF's only victorious engagements of the war. When they say I can be trusted, people listen." Luna explained.
"You want me to do the same thing, don't you?" Cornelia guessed aloud. The viceroy nodded.
"All Britannians know of you and your military accomplishments. You have a very positive reputation among the common people. They like seeing a royal willing to lead from the front. Aden in particular was quite the boost for you. It's not every day you see a princess choose to hit the beach with the first wave in a contested landing, knightmare frame or no. Whether you wanted it or not, you've become quite popular. Boldness and bravery at work."
Cornelia contemplated what had just been dumped in her lap. Luna was, more or less asking for a public endorsement of what she was doing. If she said yes, there would be no more grey area; the Second Princess would be firmly choosing a side. If she refused, Cornelia honestly did not know how Luna would respond. It was obvious that she wanted this, and refusal may be met with anticipated acceptance, or it could torpedo their fragile relationship.
She had not been able to get her mind completely away from the cataclysmic war Luna believed was coming. The closer she looked, the more it became obvious that the empire was beginning to fragment along the lines laid out. Emperor Charles, Schneizel, Guinevere, and now Luna. She was being asked to take a side in that conflict. Everything else Luna had just said was secondary at best. She could see the meaning between the lines.
For the first time, Cornelia suddenly found her loyalties conflicted. Duty said that the empire came first, and thus the emperor, but her heart placed Euphemia on the top spot, and she definitely supported Luna.
"Tell me the truth, eye to eye." Cornelia told her. "You said that you're not plotting to overthrow the emperor because you do not need to; that Schneizel or Guinevere will move against him first. What if they don't succeed? What will you do?"
Luna was a bit surprised by the question, but that faded in moments. She knew how Cornelia's mind worked, and that what she was really after was a guarantee that she could say yes without getting behind a possible coup. Clever, in a sense.
"Charles won't live forever." Luna told her bluntly. "Be it by assassins' blades or plain old age, he will be gone eventually. If they fail to depose him, then I have all the time in the world. The war will still happen, but it will be shorter, and almost certainly end with the empire more united, if temporarily weaker from the conflict.
In that event, I'll do exactly what I outlined to you, and build my power base until that day comes. With Schneizel and Guinevere both gone, there will be no real challengers remaining to contest the throne. I will still have everything I want, at a greater expense of time instead of lives." Luna smiled at her. "Now, that's just what I'll do. If Charles shoots first, all bets are off."
Cornelia listened and, to her own surprise, really understood just how fine of a metaphorical needle her sister was trying to thread. Equally surprising was that her words had been convincing.
"Understandable." She said. "I don't expect that you would just lay down and take it under those circumstances."
"I'm not going to make you choose, Cornelia. But if you're forced to make that choice, I believe you will ultimately side with me anyway." She said.
"After everything you've gone through, would you really put a knife in my back? On the orders of men you can't trust, half a world away no less?" Luna asked.
Cornelia let out a long sigh. Her sister was right, and they both knew it. There may be situations where she would refuse to do something or follow some specific order, but to outright betray Marianne's daughter was unthinkable. She uncrossed her arms and went to stand near Luna, leaning against the wall at the opposite end of the window. They both looked out the heavy window onto the world below. Their eyes met as they did, and seemingly warmer violet orbs stared back at her.
"Alright, Luna, where do we begin?"