Author's Note: I'm baaaaack!

Look at my profile for my writing schedule. BEFORE you ask me in a review or a PM!

Disclaimer: Code Geass isn't mine.

Beta'd by BigCC

"Kallen." - Speech

'Lelouch.' – Thoughts/mental communication

"{Die.}" - Geass Command

"Halt!" - Loudspeaker

"Roger." - Radio/Walkie-talkie

Chapter 38: Meetings, Mecha and Manservants

Three Days Later

Food Court, Concession Area, Britannian Tokyo Settlement

The events of the past few days had been rather bemusing for Lelouch Lamperouge. Normally, the young revolutionary prided himself on his ability to predict how people would act and react, but Euphie using a rather outdated Britannian tradition to appoint Milly as her Handmaiden had come out of left field. That particular tradition had fallen out of regular use back when Earl Ashford had been a boy.

And that was only the first unexpected windfall to drop itself into Lelouch's lap. Just the previous day, Cheryl Silver had contacted him to inform him of a rather surprising discovery she'd made while going over the recently finished transcriptions of her former co-workers in the Code-R facility on the various experiments and research projects they'd worked on. The resulting lists had been exhaustive and horrifying at times, as no details were spared, per their Geass-enforced orders, but the discovery she'd made among the various horrors and drudge work was a surprisingly welcome one.

Apparently one of the random researchers they'd managed to snag from Code-R had been on the development team that had built the Geass Suppressor from the blueprints which had been provided to Clovis so that he would be able to keep C.C. docile and helpless; a thought that still made Lelouch's guts burn with fury whenever he thought about it. Apparently, the technology and line of research had fascinated the man, to the point that he'd spent the vast majority of his spare time while on base working on finding ways to streamline and alter the design. The results of that research was a new form of device that could negate the effects of Geass on a subject, a Geass Canceller as he'd christened it.

Lelouch, of course, could see the tremendous benefits this kind of technology could offer. If he could obtain and set up such devices in key areas of Theta Base and Ashford Academy, then he'd be able to protect his home territory from another Geass Assassin just wandering in and risking himself or, more importantly, Nunnally and his ladies. Granted, he'd have to be cautious about where he placed them, lest he risk affecting those he'd used his own Geass to secure. Still, the benefits of such a device were such that he'd immediately ordered the entirety of the Code-R staff he'd acquired (those few that C.C. had decided had little enough blood on their hands to not deserve a death sentence and had thus been handed to Lelouch for 'repurposing') focus on that project in its entirety, with Cheryl as project supervisor.

He'd also given her specific orders to not have any of those scientists near the Canceller while it was being tested. He did not want to risk any of the amoral scientists that had been serving Code-R being able to slip their leashes.

Still, the past few days had turned out quite profitable, something that was keeping the former prince in a jaunty mood as he walked through the Tokyo Settlement. For the first time in quite a while, he was blessed with a bit of idle time and had no clue what to do with it. Zero wasn't required for any business until tomorrow, the paperwork involving his own businesses and the Student Council was (amazingly enough) completed for the moment, and the prep-work for displaying the Ashigaru MKIII to Kyoto had been finished.

Reuben had been a particularly big help in that final field. The man seemed to have recaptured a bit of his youthful vigour after getting involved with developing what he'd personally called an, 'intriguing new direction in Knightmare development.'

So, imagine his surprise when he'd stumbled across Kallen being 'menaced' by the same bunch of Britannian 'punks' that he'd delivered a well-deserved thrashing to not that long ago. He eyed the out-of-the-way corner they'd found themselves in, honestly half-expecting someone to jump out and yell 'You've been punk'd!' or something.

"Gentlemen, I believe we've been over this before." he announced absently as he came up behind the morons, making several of them jump as the group at large turned and glared at him.

"Boss, it's him!" one yelped unnecessarily.

"Calm the fuck down." the ringleader snapped out. "We're ready for this pretty boy now! Arm the fuck up, boys!"

The thugs quickly moved to obey, pulling out and slipping something onto their hands, their knuckles specifically. They looked like some updated form of brass knuckles, only made of plastic rather than brass. The small sparks of electricity that jumped from the knuckle parts told Lelouch everything he needed to know. Stun-Knuckles, a modern thug's weapon that basically acted as a more easily concealed version of a stun gun. They were a popular CQC weapon among the thugs and bully-boys in the Tokyo Settlement.

They were fairly inexpensive weapons, meaning that acquiring so many wasn't surprising for even a bunch of low-class thugs like these. What was surprising was that they had, or rather, that they could at all. The Geass Order of {Never bully people again} he'd implanted in their heads after their last encounter should have prevented them from doing something like this for the purpose of accosting someone.

"We were just asking the birdie about where we could find you so we could get some payback for what you did last time, so thanks for saving us the trouble of hunting you down." The ringleader sneered at him as his flunkies fanned out. "No one gets away with treating us like that!"

Ah, well, that explained that. They had acquired the knuckles and been questioning Kallen in order to attain revenge, rather than bully her. Any 'intimidation' was a side-effect of their presence rather than an actual overt act, something that his Geass didn't cover. The same would be true for attacking him now. Pursuing vengeance was quite different from bullying after all, with the motivations being entirely different.

It was a bit astounding really. A group of people with all the collective brainpower of a particularly small mushroom had unintentionally found a loophole in a superpower that bound even the greatest minds absolutely.

"I'll give you a seven out of ten for effort on this one, but a four out of ten for execution." the Exiled Prince offered absently before offering Kallen a confident smile. "Kallen, we really must stop meeting like this, people are going to start talking."

"You're going to tease me at a time like this?" she groaned out, one eyebrow starting to twitch.

"It is because it is a time like this that I must tease you." Lelouch responded, grinning in unabashed amusement, the irked expressions on the thugs faces at being utterly ignored only adding fuel to the fire. "Why, I intend to ask you out to lunch after this little issue is dealt with, so kindly wait just a moment. "

"Wha-?" the redhead blushed red to her roots. She was wearing a fairly casual outfit, a blue skirt, cream t-shirt and blue jacket, with a pair of cream flats to round off the combo, but she didn't think she was suitably dressed for a date, let alone one with the boy she may or may not have masturbated about a couple (of dozen) times.

"Grr…! Fucking murder the fuckin' playboy already!" the ringleader roared out, completely outraged that he and his (perennially single) men were being ignored so that their target could flirt with a pretty girl.

"Dear, dear, dear…some people just never seem to learn." Lelouch sighed out as he absently side-stepped a device-enhanced punch before grabbing the arm and redirecting it into one of his friend's faces.

"Gaaah!"

"Norman!"

"I didn't mean to!"

"Just get the bastard!"

Kallen watched in bemusement as Lelouch once more toyed with and beat the five idiots like a drum set, seemingly taking great joy in setting them onto each other. In short order, the raven-haired boy was idly brushing himself off, while the youths were lying in supine heaps on the ground, twitching. He then gathered up the Shock-Knuckles and deactivated them before slipping them inside his pocket.

"H-Hey...those are ours...!" one whined.

"To the winner, the spoils of victory." the raven-haired princeling informed him. As he walked over and grabbed Kallen's unresisting hand. "Both your cheap weapons...and the lady fair."

With that, Lelouch led Kallen, who was blushing again at Lelouch's words (and the fact that he was holding her hand!), out of the corner and towards a certain pub which he owned.

Minutes Later

The Cock and Bull Public House

"Master Lamperouge, a pleasure as always to see you, and with such a lovely companion this time." the greeter at the door offered with a smile as he and Kallen entered the pub. "How can we be of service today?"

"A private room if you please, Steven." Lelouch replied causally. "One of the Imperial Rooms if you have any available at the moment."

"Of course, of course." Steven nodded happily before calling a server over. "Natalie, please show Mister Lamperouge and his guest to the Red Imperial Room and bring them the deluxe menus."

"Right away, Mr. Pierce." a pretty blonde girl, dressed in a fairly conservative waitress uniform, agreed. "Follow me, please."

The room the girl led them to was indeed done almost entirely in red, a soft subdued shade, with dimmed lighting and a small, intimate table for two people. The only thing missing from making it the perfect location for a romantic meal was the lack of a candelabra in the middle of the table, Kallen mused.

Then she promptly flushed scarlet and buried that thought beneath a tidal wave of denial.

Taking their seats, the two teens were presented with menus that were not only extremely well presented but had a picture of each dish beside its name and description. The entire thing looked so very expensive and Kallen was willing to bet that a meal here cost more than some office workers made in a week.

"Two Enchantée mineral waters, please." Lelouch requested. "We'll order our food when those arrive."

"Of course, sir!" Natalie nodded eagerly and bustled off, closing the door behind her.

"She seems eager to please." Kallen noted, a hint of irritation in her tone after she noted the not-so-subtle way the waitress had been eyeing Lelouch.

"I own the business." Lelouch shrugged modestly. "Its only natural that she would put her best foot forward to try and impress the person who signs her pay-checks."

"Wait, what?" the redhead turned to goggle at Lelouch for a moment. "You OWN this place!? But you're only seventeen. Even Nobles can't own and operate a business until they're eighteen!

"Well, technically it's owned by a Baron who bought his Patent of Nobility from the last scion of an all-but-disenfranchised family who was in desperate need of funds to absolve himself of his father's gambling debts." Lelouch answered with a smirk. "However, it's well-known that the Baron is in ill health. It is expected that he'll pass within the next year or so; leaving his title and business assets to his last living family, myself. In the meantime all of his businesses know I act as his representative and will likely take ownership as soon as I am legally of age, so they know which side their bread will be buttered on."

"That's just…wow." Kallen blinked, trying to process everything she'd just heard and inferred.

"You'll be happy to know that the private rooms here are all swept for bugs before and after every use, and the walls are thoroughly soundproofed." he continued casually. "We can talk free about any subject that we desire without any risk or concern about being overheard."

Other uses for such a private room quickly danced through Kallen's mind as those words set in. She forcefully suppressed a blush, cursing her hormones the entire time

Natalie chose that moment to return, a large pitcher of mineral water and two glasses in hand. She quickly and expertly filled both their glass before placing the still half-full pitcher on the table for their future use before pulling out a pen and notepad. "And what would you care for today?" she offered professionally

"I'll have the beefsteak, Florentine-style if you please, with all the trimmings." Lelouch offered with a nod.

"Er…I'll go with the bacon and cheese steak-burger, with fries and a salad please." Kallen decided a moment later after considering the menu.

"Understood." Natalie agreed, quickly recording both orders. "Would you care to order dessert now or would you prefer to wait until after you've enjoyed the main course?"

"After, I believe." Lelouch decided, looking toward Kallen, who merely nodded her agreement.

"Very well then. Your food should be ready shortly." the waitress said as she slipped her pen and order pad backing into her uniform's pocket. "If you two require anything else, there's a buzzer on the table over there."

With that, she left, leaving the two teens alone once again.

"So why were you wandering around the concession area all on your own? That doesn't seem like you, Kallen." Lelouch asked as he took a sip of his mineral water.

"I…I needed to clear my head." the redhead answered vaguely. "What about you? You're usually too busy to just take random strolls."

"True." Lelouch agreed with a chuckle. "But today I found myself at a loose end. Nunnally is have her regular physical at the hospital and the doctors prefer it if I'm not there to loom menacingly over them."

Kallen barely managed to swallow a snort at the image of Lelouch glowering darkly at a group of sweating, nervous doctors as they stood nervously around the innocently and adorably clueless form of Nunnally. It honestly sounded like something the overprotective young man she knew would do.

"I've already finished the paltry amount of homework we were assigned, as well as being fully caught up with all the Student Council and various other forms of paperwork that are required of me. With no nobles wanting to lose their money gambling today, I decided to just let myself wander about for a bit." the raven-haired teen finished absently, before offering Kallen a smile. "All-in-all, an impromptu date with a lovely girl is better than how I expected my day to go."

With a rather fetching blush across her face, Kallen quickly took another sip of water to distract herself for a moment, before looking back at Lelouch thoughtfully. "Lelouch, you're pretty smart right?"

"I like to think so, yes." Lelouch answered, curious as to where she was going with this.

"You…you know about my mother, right? My actual mother, not that bitch my dad remarried." she continued.

"I…I know a few things. From what I've heard she vanished a few weeks ago. There's some rather…unsettling rumours floating around about what happened to her." Lelouch offered carefully.

"I can imagine." the redhead responded bitterly, eyes hard with a controlled and well-leashed rage. Lelouch was quietly grateful that that rage wasn't directed at him. "She's in a safe place, though, being treated for Refrain addiction. An…acquaintance…of mine recommended hypnotherapy to help her get over her addiction but…do you think it'll work?"

"Hm." Lelouch took another sip of his mineral water before answering. "I know a bit about the subject, one of Nunnally's doctors suggested it as a way that might help her recover from the traumatic shock that cost her her eyesight. I naturally did some rather thorough research on the subject before even considering it. First, the stories you hear about hypnotherapists implanting subconscious commands into their patients to alter their beliefs or way of thinking are just that, stories. Hypnotism cannot be used to force someone to do something they would not do without it. Instead, hypnotherapy implants 'suggestions' to either aid in reinforcing positive actions, or assist in resisting negative ones, but in the end it is still completely reliant on the subject's own beliefs, characters, and morals. Does your mother truly wish to be rid of her addiction?"

"Of course!" Kallen almost snarled back, before she visibly forced her temper back under control. "I know she does. She stayed in my father's house just to watch over me, that damned drug was just a way to help her cope with it. Now that we've started to repair what we lost and she's out of that hellhole, she doesn't need it anymore. But no matter how much progress she makes, she keeps stumbling and backsliding so I'm worried."

"That's not surprising. From everything I've heard about it, Refrain is one of, if not the, most addictive man-made drug in existence, and the withdrawal symptoms are supposed to be utterly nightmarish." the Exiled Prince offered gently. "The physical cravings will be an issue until the drug is fully purged from her system, but once that is taken care of, I fully expect any competent hypnotherapist could assist in ridding her of the last remnants of her addiction in short order."

Kallen breathed out a sigh of relief at that. She knew that she shouldn't take this as fact, but given that the subject involved treating his sister (something she knew he took very seriously) and his own rumoured intellect it was still a better assurance than she could ask for from anyone short of Zero himself.

"Thanks, Lelouch." she said aloud, offering him a small smile. "I just needed to hear someone other than me say that, I think."

"It's surprising how much that can help sometimes." Lelouch offered with a smile of his own.

"Uhm…" Kallen fumbled for a moment, trying to think of something else to talk about. "How's Milly coping after what happened with her parents last week?" she asked weakly. She'd been absent for most of the last week since the incident occurred and hadn't had a chance to check on the girl herself.

"She's honest not all that sad about it." the young man sitting across from her offered with a blasé shrug. "Melisande made your stepmother look like a living saint of maternal kindness and wifely fidelity by comparison. As for Roderick, he was little more than emasculated caricature of a man after being under her heel for so long, and he was utterly dependent on Melisande for instruction on just about everything. Honestly, the kindest way to describe their relationship with Milly would be 'strangers with pretensions and a genetic connection.'"

The redhead couldn't help but wince at the harsh descriptions, particularly with Melisande. She knew she wouldn't shed any tears if her stepmother were to meet an untimely end.

Her own father was a far more complicated subject that she didn't wish to dwell on.

She was saved from having to try and broach another subject by their food arriving, and Kallen's mouth instantly began to water at the scent of the well-cooked meat. She normally refused to eat in the Concession Area, aside from the occasional hot-dog, out of solidarity with her fellow Japanese who couldn't even openly approach the area, even the Honorary Britannians, but she decided that, given the circumstances she'd have to make an exception.

It would be terribly rude to refuse to eat when on a date, right?

As she dug in to the food, a part of her wondered when she had accepted this as being an actual date instead of a friendly meal out with a schoolmate.

Lelouch looked as if he was enjoying his steak as well. It certainly looked nice, and he told her in between bites that, as the name suggested, it originated in Florence, Italy. It was something he rarely indulged in, but he made to sure to enjoy it whenever he did.

"Wow...that was gorgeous..." Kallen sighed contentedly as she finished her burger. "Well worth the price, I'd say."

"I make it a point to only hire cooks that actually enjoy their work. You always get better results when your employees truly enjoy their job." Lelouch explained as he dabbed gently at his mouth with a napkin. "Now, why don't we take a look at that dessert menu?"

"I couldn't eat another bite." Kallen protested weakly.

"Milly always did say that girls have a second stomach just for sweets." her 'date' replied cheekily.

The redhead rolled her eyes at that. Yeah, that sounded like just the thing Milly Ashford would say. Reluctantly, she opened the menu to the dessert pages and gave them a quick look through. They honestly did look really good…

She decided to go with something small, just three scoops of chocolate ice cream. Lelouch chose the same.

"So…" she finally worked up the courage to ask a specific question after their ice cream arrived. "Why did you just decide to spontaneously ask me on a date?"

"Several reasons to be honest." Lelouch replied as he ate a spoonful of his ice cream. "Um, delightful. There's three big ones. First, we both appeared free today so it seemed like a good way to spend the day. That's the least important reason. Second, I know you the least out of the Student Council, so even if this turned into nothing more than a hearty meal between new friends, it still seemed like a fine idea. Thirdly, and most importantly…I suppose you could say that I've finally decided to be man enough to admit what I want.

Kallen felt it was lucky that she'd just swallowed her own spoonful of ice cream, otherwise she might have choked in surprise. "Wh-what?"

"I'm attracted to you, Kallen, and have been for quite some time." the raven-haired boy stated without a hint of deception or falsehood in his voice or body language. "Milly and Celesta have, I suppose, worn me down about hiding it from you."

"I...Celesta told me...that you...l-like me." she managed to get out, as all her blood seemed to pool in her face.

"Not an entirely unexpected action on her part given her nature, but I do wish she would have waited." Lelouch sighed, shaking his head with a fond, if exasperated, smile on his face. "I suppose that she also told you about the Worthy Reward Law as well?"

"Y-Yeah." Kallen nodded. "Something about me being the second wife after Milly. Why me as the second wife though?"

She clapped a hand over her traitorous mouth after it let out the discontented question that had been fermenting inside of her for weeks.

"To put it simply, it's a matter of training and prerequisites." Lelouch informed her simply, causing Kallen to blink in surprised confusion. "Milly has been raised as the Heiress of an Earl's family. She knows the ins and outs of Britannia law and politics, she has the etiquette and deportment training, and the knowledge, influence and experience to take the position of a First Wife. You were an ordinary Japanese citizen until the invasion, and have done all you can to reject as much of your Britannian heritage as possible, and that likely includes the necessary training to eventually take over as Lady Stadtfelt. If this were a military assignment, she would tick all of the boxes, while you sadly do not."

"So it doesn't have anything to do with you liking her more than me?" her mouth once again betrayed her.

"I've known Milly for the vast majority of my life, Kallen." Lelouch answered as he finished his ice cream before steepling his hands in front of him. "She can be an utter she-devil at times; mischievous, troublesome, and more than a bit bratty when the mood takes her. But at the same time, she is one of the most honestly caring people I've ever met and will move heaven and earth for those she cares for. I'll admit that I've held her in high regards for nearly as long as I've known her, but my feelings turned romantic nearly…four year ago."

Kallen swallowed a bit at that. She hadn't realized that Milly and Lelouch had known each other for so long. She'd heard that they had been childhood friends, but she hadn't honestly considered how long they'd had to get to know and appreciate each other.

"My feelings for Milly, for Sayoko, for Celesta...for you, Kallen, can't be measured, because you cannot assign a metric or scale to emotions." the ravenette said firmly, although there was a soft look in his eyes that was making Kallen's heart skip a beat. "I feel the same way for all four of you, but each is individual and unique. I honestly couldn't say who I care for more, because I simply don't."

OK, now her heart thought it was a wonderful time to lodge itself in her throat. She wasn't an interrogator or a spy to any great degree, but Kallen had learned from experience and necessity to tell when she was being led around; Lelouch wasn't. He honestly liked her just as much as his knock-out of a childhood friend, the selflessly devoted and submissive maid, and the woman who looked utterly fine in calling herself his mistress.

"I...do you think I'll just let you seduce me into becoming your wife?" she asked, trying to put on strong front, and not exactly succeeding, judging by the smirk on Lelouch's face.

"Considering I know that Celesta is taking great delight in 'training' you to be more responsive..." he supplied softly and sibilantly, making her blush become positively iridescent. "Then yes, I do. But...I'm not going to."

"You...aren't?" Kallen blinked, taken off guard.

"No." the look on Lelouch's face was positively evil at this point. "I'll just continue, as normal, while sleeping with my three girlfriends, while Celesta continues taunting, tantalizing and training you. I will not so much as kiss you until and unless you come and ask for it. Which will happen."

For whatever reason, his words were making her body heat up. Dammit, what was up with her?!

"Don't count on it!" she shot back. "I don't know why Celesta can do those thing to me, but she and you are a different kettle of fish!"

"Try asking her sometime. The answer might be interesting to hear." the maddening interesting boy opposite her smirked again.

"You are the most infuriating person I've ever met; do you know that?" Kallen sighed and eyed him.

Lelouch smirked back at her. "You are hardly the first person to tell me that, and I honestly doubt you'll be the last." he stated simply as he buzzed Natalie to bring them their bill.

The Next Day

Hanger, Hidden Six Houses of Kyoto Base, Greater Tokyo Area

"I must say; I'm quite curious about what Zero-sama has to show us." Kaguya offered idly as she and the other House Heads got out of their transports. They'd been invited here by Zero so that he could demonstrate a 'new machine.'

"Kaguya-hime, do remember that everyone in this group is aware of Lelouch's actual identity, these is no need to dissemble at this point." Kirihara gently chided her.

"Ah, yes. Apologies, it's force of habit at this point." she replied with a shrug. "I had to act a bit like a vapid ditz most of the time after the invasion to keep Yoshida, Osakabe and Munakata off their guard, at least until I was able to remove the spies and plants they'd managed to sow within Sumeragi Heavy Industries during the chaos following my grandfather's death. Once I managed to re-establish my family's control over my company, I could drop my mask a bit more. Even with the ones I'd needed to wear it around are gone, it still comes out on its own from time to time."

"If one wears a mask for too long, the line between the mask and the person beneath will begin to blur." a familiar voice offered. A moment later Lelouch emerged from the shadows within the building, with C.C. following closely behind. Both were dressed in their 'uniforms' with their helms currently being held under an arm.

"Good to see you looking well, my boy." Kirihara greeted the young exile warmly.

"Aside from having to stay on my feet to stay out of my irked elder sister's security rampage, I'm doing swimmingly." Lelouch admitted. "She's currently building up her forces to remove the Black King within the next few days, so I've been trying to avoid the Ashfords in case she suddenly drops in to check in or ask further questions. Ah, I see you've already appointed new House Heads."

"Indeed." the false traitor nodded and turned toward the two newest members of the Six Houses. "Lelouch vi Britannia, be known to Saito Osakabe and Hideyoshi Munakata; the chosen replacements for the Osakabe and Munakata Clans. They have both been briefed on everything and are fully on board with us and you."

Saito Osakabe looked similar to his, now deceased, elder relative, though his face was less dour and weathered, partially due to his younger age. Hideyoshi Munakata on the other hand only seemed to vaguely resembled his former kinsman, with a far thinner frame for starters.

"My uncle's pride and refusal to accept change has cost Kyoto House dearly. I hope to redeem my family's honour in that regard." Saito offered with a humble bow.

"Same." Hideyoshi grunted. "I'm just a branch member of the clan, but we're all that's left. My old fool of an uncle was more interested in playing politics than trying to rebuild the main branch, so here I am. I will do my best for Kyoto House and you so long as me and mine get our fair shake in return."

"A fair stipulation." Lelouch agreed with a nod, before offering both men a respectable bow. "Then it'll be a pleasure working with you both going forward gentlemen. Now I suppose it's time we get down to business. Have you prepared the items that I requested?"

Kirihara merely clapped his hands together by way of answer, causing the large transport truck that had accompanied them into the hanger to open up and three modified Burai frames to roll out, each armed with a Knightmare Assault Rifle. In place of their Factsphere Sensor Systems were a set of cameras. The actual systems by which regular Sutherlands were transitioned into Sutherland Drones hadn't been all that difficult to deduce, and Lelouch had passed that information along to Kyoto House weeks ago. These Burai Drones were functionally no different from Sutherland Drones, save that they had lower performance specs due to their design.

"These three were the first off the line, but soon enough we'll have all the Burai and Burai-Kai converted into drones. This way we'll still get some use out of them." Kaguya offered as she slipped over to stand next to Lelouch. "The production lines for the Jinrai are nearly complete as well, so within the next few months we should be able to start fielding Sixth Generation Machines as our staple units."

"And I have already begun preparing a factory that will be capable of producing Sutherlands and Gloucesters." Lelouch offered, looking at her with a small smile. "It should be fully operational within the next fortnight or so."

"Hah, still as efficient as ever I see." Kirihara offered with a chuckle. "Now, shall we take a look at this mysterious machine that you've gotten us all curious about?"

"Of course." Lelouch demurred, before pulling a radio from his pocket and pressing the call out button. "Sayoko, it's time."

"Hai, Goshujin-sama." the woman's voice replied.

"Lord Kirihara, I would recommend setting the drones to attack any unknown hostile on sight." Lelouch suggested as he pocketed his radio again. "Otherwise, this match will be over in an instant."

"Oh, this should be quite the show." C.C. hummed, chucking throatily.

Raising a curious eyebrow, Kirihara nonetheless turned and nodded to the nearby operator. The man quickly began to tap a few commands on the tablet he carried. While the Burai Drones weren't remote operated, they could have a series of preprogrammed combat protocols installed into their programming, all hidden under a security protocol that Lelouch had personally designed and written. It wasn't infallible but it was still a step up from the Sutherland Drones that had to be directly commanded to change protocols, and leagues ahead of the Liverpool and York Frames.

The sharp sound of an engine made the six House Heads look toward the opposite side of the hanger, where Lelouch and his subordinate/paramour had emerged from. This allowed all of them to witness a small vehicle speed out of the darkness, heading straight toward the three drones.

About the size of a small car, it was painted a dull black that didn't reflect light. It looked almost like someone had shrunk the main body of a Glasgow and set it at the centre of an 'H' frame equipped with wheels. A head, slightly flatter than a normal Glasgow's and with an orange visor covering the top half rather than the four 'eyes' of a normal Knightmare, rested on top of the upper part of the chest of the cavity.

"What on earth…?" Kaguya whispered aloud as she got a good look at the machine as it sped forward.

"Allow me to demonstrate, Lady Kaguya." the Regicide offered smoothly, looking down at the little Empress with a smile, before raising one hand and clicking his fingers.

At the unspoken command, the car suddenly leapt in the air, boosted into the air by some form of jump system. While in mid-air the machine suddenly…transformed. The four lengths of the H-frame quickly folded together to form a set of legs, the attached wheels connecting to act as Landspinners. Arms deployed from the torso's back, quickly locking into position, while the head raised up, falling into its rightful position as an armoured covering, resembling a jingasa (war hat) used by levy troops during the Feudal Period, deployed and helped secure it in place.

Now instead of a small car, it was a small Knightmare Frame that landed on the ground, speeding toward the Burai Drones. As they watched on, Lelouch turned to the House Heads, finding them all watching in wide-eyed astonishment.

"Kyoto House, allow me to introduce you to the prototype First Generation Engagement Suit/Demi-Knightmare Frame Transformable Rapid Response Unit. The ESRRU-01 Ashigaru." he announced simply.

The now-named Ashigaru had just entered attack range for the Drones, all three immediately opening fire with their rifles. The smaller frame quickly weaved in and around the barrage as a blade seemed to emerge from each of its arms and a familiar shrieking sound filled the air.

"Those are Kaiten Yaibatō!" Akira Yoshida exclaimed in surprise.

"Indeed. The Engagement Suit was designed with a pair of them as a standard with the holders built directly into their arms." Lelouch informed them.

In a dizzying display of speed and agility the Engagement Suit leapt forward, slicing through the rifle of one Burai Drone before spinning in mid-air, using the larger frame as a base itself forward and launch itself toward another one, severing both the Drone's arms at the elbow. Even as it landed, the smaller Frame instantly raised one of its arms toward the last frame before firing off a small Slash Harken from its wrist into its camera, shutting the larger machine down in a hail of sparks.

"The inbuilt hand-protectors also double as a set of Slash Harkens." Lelouch finished with a nod. "Efficient and useful, don't you agree?"

In less than two minutes, all three Burai Drones had been reduced to little more than heaps of metal across the hanger floor; while the Ashigaru moved steadily toward its watching audience, revering back into its vehicle mode in a smooth transformation. Coming to a stop a short distance from the group, the entire back of the unit seemed to emerge, revealing Sayoko Shinozaki, dressed in her usual Aegis attire, but wearing an orange visor rather than her typical Hannya mask.

"Impeccable work as always Sayoko, an excellent performance." Lelouch complimented his maid/bodyguard/mistress as she finished powering down the machine before dismounting and removing her visor.

"You are too kind, Goshujin-sama." the kunoichi replied demurely as she quickly walked over to take her traditional position at his side.

"Lelouch, my boy…that is quite the impressive machine." Kirihara offered as he and the rest of the House Heads walked over to get a closer at the Ashigaru.

"It is the result of seven years of planning and developing, Lord Kirihara." Lelouch stated as his mind briefly flashed back to those grim days, when he'd watched the first generation of Glasgows carving a path through Japan during the invasion. "Knightmares, I have always thought, are incredibly powerful tools, but at times they are a bit too powerful. In an open field engagement, they have no equals, but in an urban setting? They are simply too large and destructive to make full use of the terrain. Slash Harkens help circumvent this somewhat, but even then, the machines are simply too large and heavy. The Engagement Suit was the result of my attempts to take the concept of the Knightmare Frame and make it work with a smaller package."

"The armour certainly looks sturdy enough. Tungsten, I presume?" Kaguya observed, her eyes slowly drinking in the creation of the man who'd stolen her attention.

"Indeed, it's slightly thinner than the amour you'd find on a Glasgow, but its still strong enough to resist most forms of small-arms fire and even several normal grenades." the Exiled Prince confirmed. "Sadly, I cannot take full credit for the work. Rakshata was invaluable for finalizing the designs for miniaturized versions of the Yggdrasil Drive and Energy Fillers, and Reuben Ashford was the one who helped innovate the Transformation System. However, I am proud to say the concept, design and about 80% of the engineering is my own work. It is an accomplishment I am suitably proud of."

"And how do you see them actually being used?" Saito asked cautiously. "You said the armour's even thinner than a Glasgow or Burai, that means one good hit from a Knightmare Rifle will shred them. They'd be little more than paper tigers in the field."

"As frontline combatants, and particularly against full-fledged Knightmare Frames, I agree, but that was never the purpose for the Engagement Suits." Lelouch answered with a shake of his head. "The Ashigaru, specifically, was designed to act as a guerilla unit, utilizing hit-and-run tactics to harry and disrupt non-Knightmare portions of an enemy's forces or ambush Knightmare Frames before withdrawing. In peacetime, I can also envision them being used as a rapid-response police unit, to help quickly respond to emergencies ahead of the main contingent."

"A potent show of force that can be deployed quickly without causing immense collateral damage…it indeed has possibilities." Kirihara agreed, grinning sharply.

"I am also in the early stages of developing a sea-going variant to better take the fight to the Portman and Portman II." the raven-haired revolutionary added. "Something roughly the size of a speed boat but capable of amphibious and boarding actions that a Portman couldn't even dream of. Not to mention CQC capabilities far beyond those pathetic grabber claws the Portman uses."

"Hah, then we'd only be missing an aerial version." Hideyoshi offered with a laugh.

"That might not be so impossible a dream." Lelouch offered grimly. "I have received actionable evidence that the Britannians have already managed to develop a functional flight system specifically designed to be used with Knightmare Frames, though I haven't yet been able to find many details on the system itself."

"Flying Knightmares….may the gods preserve us…" Kirihara breathed out in horrified shock before his eyes hardened. "We must put all available efforts into acquiring this technology; otherwise, we'll be completely outmanoeuvred once again."

"Already in the works, Lord Kirihara." the ex-Royal offered reassuringly. "I have already been able to acquire an experimental Sixth Generation Frame known as the Somerset. They have a 'failed' flight system built in that, while functional, proved to be too much of an energy drain. I am more than happy to hand it over to the scientists of Kyoto House to examine in detail. The machine's own Transformation System actually helped in the final design stages of the Ashigaru. We are in luck that Britannia seems to have only a single working prototype of their current system at the moment, and it is attached to an incomplete prototype unit as well, so we hopefully won't be too far behind."

"Excellent!" Akira agreed with a firm nod. "With any luck, our own scientists should be able to make a good jump-start using this 'Somerset' and its systems as a base. Who know, perhaps a new angle without prior biases might be able to overcome the machine's issue."

"I'll also supply copies of the Somerset's development history that were acquired from the same place as the machine itself." Lelouch agreed. "Hopefully, they'll help point your scientists in the right direction and stop them from wasting time going over already covered ground in their research."

"Good, good." Kirihara nodded, looking slightly relieved before looking to Lelouch again. "You'll still need to start working on plans to counter enemies in the skies without fliers of our own. I can't imagine that being an easy task."

"Neither can I. Particularly if my worst-case scenario occurs and Earl Asplund manages to get a Flight Unit working with the Lancelot." agreed Lelouch with a grimace. "That would be a true nightmare come to live. That machine's speed and agility on land is bad enough, but give it the ability to take to the skies and…"

He didn't need to say anymore. Even Kallen and the Guren might falter against such a threat without suitable backup, which would in turn draw vital manpower away from any other 7th Gen Frames with Flight Packs that were also on the battlefield.

"We'll trust you with the battlefield strategy and tactics, Lelouch." the old industrialist offered with a nod. "But we should get away from such grim subjects for now. Back to the matter at hand, I believe it would be to our advantage to begin manufacturing these Engagement Suits as quickly as possible."

"I concur. I can only assume that, once initial set-up costs are dealt with, these would probably be quite a bit cheaper to manufacture than even the Burai and Burai-Kai." Saito mused aloud. "I must ask though, is there an escape mechanism for the pilot?"

"Of sorts, yes." Lelouch agreed. "If the pilot believes themselves to be in a position where they need to get out immediately, they can activate the 'emergency escape mode', which is basically purging the head, limbs and lower torso before concealed jets along the outer edge of the torso are ignited, sending the entire upper torso back like an escape pod. Furthermore, the pilot's control saddle can be ejected as well, and will automatically do so the instant the front armour is breached."

"Good." Kirihara agreed with a firm nod. "I knew you wouldn't present us with an imitation Gun-Ru."

"I am also currently working on the final stages of a special weapon designed specifically for the Ashigaru." Lelouch added. "I call it the Corundum Laser Cannon. It is designed to use a focusing matrix akin to the makeup of a ruby or sapphire to fire a beam of light that should, theoretically at least, should be able to easily cut through the tungsten armour of a standard Knightmare Frame. Speaking of which…this is for you, Kaguya."

Lelouch pulled something out of his pocket and pressed it into Kaguya's hands. Blinking, she looked down before her eyes widened in shock. Sitting in her hands was a ruby about the size of her fist, and it was the most perfectly cut jewel that she had ever seen. A lifetime of being around the finest things in life, even as an Honorary Britannian, and possessing a great deal of knowledge on the financial worth of such material things, Kaguya instantly calculated the amount of Britannian pounds and old Japanese Yen that such a perfectly cut ruby of such a size would be valued at.

"Th-this is...!" she gasped.

"The jewel that I based the focussing matrix of my Corundum Laser Cannon on." Lelouch replied softly with a smirk. "I have all the data I need, so it can now fulfil its second purpose. Consider it a token of my esteem and interest, Lady Kaguya."

A blush crossed the girl's face as she clutched the jewel to her chest, a happy smile on her face. Although most would think of it as a casual gift on the spur of the moment, Kaguya could see for herself what this was...it was a courtship gift!

"Lady-killer." C.C whispered in Lelouch's ear as Kaguya was absorbed by her present.

"Hush, witch." he shot back.

Smiling at his most persistent admirer acting her own age for once, Lelouch then moved on and settled himself in to discuss the designs for the assembly-line needed to put together Engagement Suits.

Later

V.V.'s Office, Geass Order Base, Gobi Desert, Chinese Federation

"Rollo." the voice of the Grandmaster of the Geass Order seemed far more sinister than a prepubescent should be able to produce as the diminutive Immortal stared down at him. "I am quite disappointed in you. To allow a cretin like Desmond to get the better of you so easily."

Rollo Haliburton, otherwise known as Agent #24, Naberius, didn't dare even attempt to speak in his own defence.

"Because of your inability to suitably deal with a lower-ranked agent, Desmond not only attempted to pursue the mission you were tasked with, but failed miserably at it." V.V. said with a scowl. "Now it is extremely likely that Lelouch vi Britannia is not only aware of the Order's existence, but has knowledge of several of our base locations. I am laying this breach in security entirely at your feet for failing to deal with Desmond yourself."

After letting the paling boy stew and squirm in fear for a moment, V.V. let up. "However, as much as I would like to punish you, and punish you most harshly, for your failure, we are currently in a situation where we require every capable hand and, despite your recent slip-up, your talents are still of great use. So I am willing to offer you a chance at redemption. Agent #6, Valefar, has betrayed the Order."

"Wh-what?!" This had Rollo look up in alarm.

"He has decided to bite the hand that feeds him, and he shall pay an appropriate price." the Immortal elven-year old stated coldly. "I am dispatching a Hand of Agents to deal with him."

Rollo gulped at that. A Hand was exactly that, five Agents working together for a single objective. Given the abilities each Geass Agent had, they were rarely needed. They were usually only deployed for one reason: code enforcement.

"Wh-who will I be working with, Master V.V.?" he asked.

"The team leader shall be Agent #3, Vassago, with yourself, #11, Gusion, #15, Eligos, and #25, Glasya-Labolas." the Immortal stated. "You are to enter Area 11, apprehend Rogue Agent Valefar, eliminate everyone who might have aided them or might have learned of the Geass Order, Number or Britannian, and then bring them back here so that an example can be made of them for their attempt at treason against the Order."

The assassin knew of the Agents that his master was speaking of. Vassago was a girl capable of using her Ward of Absolute Feminine Captivation to enthral any male. Gusion had the Ward of Absolute Terror, able to cause anyone within his radius of effect to experience nightmare-like hallucinations, while Eligos had the Ward of Absolute Intoxication, able to turn anyone inside his radius of effect as drunk as lords within seconds. Glasya-Labolas was a recent recruit, but with a powerful Geass; he had the Ward of Absolute Sensation, able to control the pain/pleasure receptors on anyone within his radius. However...

"Lord V.V., none of these agents, Vassago excluded, are your usual choices for code enforcement missions." Rollo spoke up hesitantly.

"It is likely that the ones who are my usual go-to picks for this mission may be compromised by their relationships with Valefar." the Immortal stated sourly. He fixed Rollo with a stern look. "Succeed in this mission and your last mission will be considered wiped clean from your records. Fail...and you had better wish you die in the attempt."

Rollo concealed his gulp at that. "Yes...Lord V.V., I shall...keep that in mind."

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Next Chapter: Enter the Cold-Blooded Strategist

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