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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 40: The Demon's Hand

Two Days Later

Underwater, Sea of Japan

Contrary to what some might believe, it was no easy feat to sneak through the waters that separated Area 11 from the Chinese Federation. The Britannian Navy and Coastguard were actually quite diligent in ensuring that their Empire's largest source of Sakuradite didn't come under threat of a new invasion from their closest (and most dangerous) neighbour. The issue was that the Britannians had basically copied the IJN's old patrol routes (they had served the Japanese effectively enough before the conquest so why change what worked) and that meant that the former Japanese Cabinet were able to…advise their new allies on how to sneak past the existing routes.

For anyone not directly connected to the Federation, the only way to sneak into Japan/Area 11 was either through heavy amounts of bribery (either someone in the Federation to use their routes or a Britannian ship captain to ferry you through) or getting…creative.

Rolo, as well as the other four members of the Hand, was currently making use of a small, prototype stealth submarine to make the journey. It would also double as their primary means of evacuation once they completed their mission.

'Desmond, if there truly is a hell, I hope you're getting the fucking deluxe treatment down there!' the young assassin thought sourly. The only reason he was stuck in these circumstances was because that overly ambitious asshole had ambushed him with his Geass before royally fouling up the mission that ROLO had been assigned. Worse, he'd died in the attempt and that had left Rolo as the only available target for Master V.V.'s…displeasure.

All Geass Directorate Agents, and especially the 'Demons,' were trained to kill themselves before they could be captured by enemy operatives. Every one of them had a false tooth implanted into their mouths before their first official mission which contained a deadly poison that would quickly (though not painlessly, there is always a cost for failure) kill them in under thirty seconds after ingestion. Why Desmond hadn't used his was beyond Rolo's understanding. Despite how much he loathed his self-proclaimed 'rival,' Rolo would never doubt or deny the man's devotion to the Directorate, nor his fanatical desire to prove himself to Lord V.V..

Desmond would not have hesitated to break his tooth and swallowing the poison for even an instant after he realized the mission was compromised and escape was not possible, so what had stopped him?

"How much longer until we arrive?" a bored, placid male voice broke the silence with a slight yawn, making Rolo instinctively look toward its source. Agent #11, Gusion had always been rather…dull looking in Rolo's opinion. Looking just past twenty, he was slightly short in stature with plain brown hair, watery blue eyes, and no real distinguishing features; all-in-all, he was almost abnormally forgettable in appearance. It was a sharp contrast to his Geass, the Ward of Absolute Terror, which induced intense nightmarish hallucinations on those targeted within its range. It was particularly useful for either intimidation/interrogation work or for assassinations that needed to look like natural causes or an accident (either through causing heart failure or scaring a target into running into traffic).

"We'll get there when we get there, Gusion." a tall, lithe, and slender blonde woman informed him simply. Despite being only a year or so older than Rolo, Agent #3, Vassago, had been assigned as the Hand's de facto leader and was one of the Directorate's more valuable assets. Her Ward of Absolute Feminine Captivation could make any man who laid eyes on her while it was active completely and utterly enthralled with her, willing to do anything to appease her slightest whim.

"Can't believe I'm being dragged back into this country again." Agent #25, Glasya-Labolas muttered childishly. The boy was one of the youngest active Demons at just under thirteen years old and looked even younger than he was, but his powerful Geass made up for has lacking physical abilities. His Ward of Absolute Sensation allowed him to stimulate the nervous system of anyone within his range in any way he liked, causing mind-breaking pain or mind-numbing pleasure, often at the exact same time.

"What do you mean 'again'? The Directorate has mostly left Area 11 to Clovis and his little 'Code R' branch, there hasn't been an Agent assigned to a mission there since long before you became a Demon." Agent #15, Eligos, asked curiously. Eligos was the oldest surviving Demon at just under thirty years old and had been an agent for nearly two-thirds of his life. He wore his shaggy black hair long, letting part of it fall down and cover one of his eyes, which was apparently blind. His Geass, the Ward of Absolute Intoxication, allowed him to inflict and manipulate the sensation of intoxication on anyone within his radius. He could make someone who'd been drinking non-stop for days as sober as a judge in the blink of an eye and just as easily make a man who'd never touched alcohol in his life drunk as a lord in the same instant.

Granted, each of their Geass had their own unique weaknesses and costs. Rolo's Geass put his heart into arrest while it was active. Gusion's had an escalating deleterious effect on his ability to feel emotions. Vassago's had apparently killed her sex-drive long ago. Glasya-Labolas' left his body completely numb whenever he activated his. And Eligos' made him suffer through hangover symptoms that worsened the more he used his Geass.

"I was born there, you damned asshat! I AM an Eleven." Glasya-Labolas growled out, turning to glare at the older Agent. "If it wasn't for Lord V.V.'s agents working through the aftermath of the occupation I'd have likely died in the fucking ghettos ages ago."

"…oh." the one-eyed agent replied simply.

That did explain the small boy's Asian features. Rolo had actually thought that the Directorate had purchased him from one of the various traffickers that plied the black markets of the E.U. and Federation. It was how they got most of the operatives that they used for infiltration missions in the Federation.

"Yes. 'Oh.' Dumbass." the foul-mouthed brat snapped back with a snort. "Anyway, what can you tell us about our target, Vassago?"

"Formerly Agent #6 of the Demons, Valefar." Vassago answered factually, reciting the information perfectly from memory. "They have apparently gone rogue and have proven themselves to be a threat to both the continued secrecy of the Geass Directorate and our Lord's interests. We are to eliminate anyone who has associated with them since they went rogue in order to ensure the continued security of the Directorate and its operations. As for Valefar themselves, we are to capture them alive if at all possible, for interrogation and eventual execution, but should that not be possible neutralization has been pre-authorized."

"Valefar? Fuck." Eligos groaned out. "Heard about that bastard, they're supposed to be damned tricky. Are there any Directorate assets in Area 11 that we can make use of?"

"The final remnants of Clovis' 'Code R' has been reintegrated into the Geass Directorate and have been relocated to a facility under Mount Gassan, but we are not to utilize them for this mission unless it is deemed an emergency. Other than that, we have free use of any Directorate or OSI informants in the Area." Vassago replied simply. "The Directorate has already secured and outfitted a safe-house in the Britannian Tokyo Settlement that will act as our temporary base as we investigate Valefar's movements."

"The fuck's likely thrown his lot in with the so-called 'Black Knights.'" Glasya-Labolas offered disdainfully. "Hopefully that means we'll get to slaughter their high command as well on this mission."

"Not likely." Rolo offered simply.

"Why do you say that Naberius?" Eligos asked curiously.

"The mission I was previously assigned before the former #45, Viné…interfered was to hunt down and eliminate the Black Knights' Leader Zero, a Geass User outside of the Directorate's control. I was also to attempt to retrieve the Code Bearer and former Director of the Geass Directorate, C.C., if possible, for Lord V.V.'s plans." he revealed stoically. "Valefar was not working with the Black Knights then or he'd have been included as part of the mission's parameters, and I was informed that C.C. has a distinct disdain for Lord V.V. and his Contractors and would be unlikely to allow one within close proximity to her own Contractors. Hence, it is highly unlikely that Valefar would be working with the Black Knights."

"You…were sent to try and kidnap a Code Bearer?" Gusion asked, blinking slowly in disbelief. This was the most emotion Rolo had ever seen the man express. "I know Lord V.V. has high expectations of us Demons, but to send one of us alone against…"

"Why, pray tell," Vassago cut Gusion's mutterings off with a cold glare of her own, "was I not informed of this before we departed."

"Lord V.V.'s orders were very explicit. I was not to reveal any details of my last mission until after we entered Area 11 territory. Which we technically did less than an hour ago." the purple-eyed boy stated simply.

"Huh? Well, that at least means that we don't have to put ourselves against the biggest terrorist organization in Area 11." Gusion offered dully before yawning. "Given that they've absorbed nearly every other resistance group in the Area, it would have likely taken months just to try and backtrack them back to the head of that particular snake."

"Did you not read the briefing, Gusion?" Eligos asked with a snort. "There's another rebel group in Area 11 that's actively working against this Zero character and his 'Knights', the…Neo Shinsengumi, I think they were calling themselves."

"Pfft!" Glasya-Labolas practically snorted in open amusement. "That is so fucking dumb!"

Getting confused looks, the young Agent quickly explained the poor grammar mash-up that the name used. After he finished, Vassago could only shake her head at the ridiculousness of it. "Why on earth did the person in charge of these fools not notice something that obvious?"

"Best guess? Their big boss just doesn't give a shit about the stupid grammar." Glasya-Labolas replied with an uncaring shrug. "It sounds catchy enough and even invokes the name of a famous group of swordsmen who fought on behalf of Japan. Stupid or not, it's a name a lot of the dumbasses in the ghettos will flock to in a trice."

Vassago nodded, brief moment of curiosity sated and now uncaring. "Very well then. With the Black Knights eliminated from the running, these 'Neo Shinsengumi' seem to be the likeliest group for Valefar to try and attach himself to. We have approximately three hours before we arrive in Area 11, and I have tasks for all off you that I expect be completed before we arrive."

"Huh?" Gusion blinked again, looking up from where he was reclining. "What do you expect us to do on this little tub? Area 11 isn't even in sight yet."

"I expect you to study the maps of the areas that I will be assigning you to investigate." The Leader of the Hand stated icily, glaring at the lounging Agent. "At least, that will be your, Glasya-Labolas and Eligos' assignments. Naberius, I want a full debriefing on exactly what happened on your last mission that managed to get a Directorate Demon KIA'd."

Rolo flinched slightly at the woman's attention. He had a bad feeling that she would not accept, 'Lord V.V. told me to not speak of it' as an acceptable excuse. Vassago was one of the few Agents that were both senior enough and valuable enough to get away with questioning and breaking orders.

'Desmond, this is all your fucking fault!' Rolo thought bitterly as he prepared for his interrogation.

Late Next Day

Living Room, Geass Directorate Hideout, Britannian Tokyo Settlement

"It looks like Valefar knew that you'd be coming after him at least, boss." Eligos commented as he poured himself a cup of coffee before plopping down on a seat. "I managed to loosen a few tongues on my last pass through the ghetto. These New Shiners or whatever they call themselves have been trying to drive up recruitment there recently and they've been headhunting for female recruits in particular."

"Unpleasant but not all that surprising. It is rather common knowledge within the Directorate that I'm the Demon most-often called in for code enforcement missions." Vassago remarked calmly from where she was working on the small Interlink terminal their safe house had come equipped with.

"Yeah, yeah; 'Cruel Demoness' Vassago, Lord V.V.'s harsh enforcer, we've all heard the rumours." Glasya-Labolas snarked as he rolled his eyes, absently flicking through the TV channels. "My day was officially wasted. Shinjuku's been reduced to little more than a shot up ghost town. Only things left are a few vultures roaming about looking for something to scavenge and a couple of low-lever 'Frainer dens filled with brain-roasted morons that'd sell out their own mothers for a hit. Don't think we'll be able to find anything remotely useful there."

"Saitama doesn't look like it will turn up anything useful either. Everyone there seems more interested in keeping their heads down and praying that another attack doesn't happen." Gusion put in dully from where he was making himself a sandwich in the attached kitchenette. "Gotta' admit, this Zero character is kinda scary, managing to beat Princess Cornelia like that. He supposedly nearly dropped an entire building on her. A small skyscraper, so I hear."

"Even the so-called 'Goddess of Victory' is still a mere human; it was only a matter of time before someone dethroned her." the blonde Demon stated offhandedly. "Naberius, what about your search?"

"Nothing of use, I did eliminate three people who were trying to find out who I was." Rolo replied blandly, causing Vassago to stare at him owlishly.

"What part of 'low profile' did you not seem to understand, Naberius?" she asked archly. "I specifically ordered all of you to not draw attention to yourselves. How is murdering three random people inconspicuous? Particularly when they were doing nothing more than asking questions about a foreigner snooping about the ghettos. That is going to draw even more attention onto us!"

"Is it not proper procedure to eliminate anyone who stumbles onto or attempts to interrupt the mission in order to prevent any information leaks?" Rolo asked, now honestly confused. "That was how I was trained to handle things during my assassination missions."

"Oh, for the love of…" Vassago groaned as she face-palmed. "First of all, this is not an assassination mission, this is a code-enforcement mission; we are acting on an entirely different set of priorities. Second of all, am I right to assume that all of your previous assassination missions have been short-term drop-in missions, not long-term infiltration?" When Rolo nodded, she groaned again. "Right, then allow me to point out that leaving a trail of bodies in our wake will have long-term consequences. If this was an in-and-out mission that wouldn't be an issue, but since we're likely stuck on this god-forsaken island for at least a couple of months it very much is."

"I do not understand. What is the issue with removing any obstacles that attempt to interfere in our mission?" the fifteen-year-old assassin still could not understand why he was getting dressed down on this.

"…" Vassago just stared at him for a long moment before reaching up with one hand to pinch the bridge of her nose. "…from here on out, you are forbidden from killing any target outside of a combat situation without my express permission, Naberius. You clearly cannot seem to comprehend why on missions like these, lethal force against non-targets should be a tertiary option rather than our primary one."

"Wha-?!" Rolo was truly uncomprehending at this.

"You can't even understand why this is an issue, can you?" she asked, looking at him with something akin to pity. "You completely lack any form of common sense or restraint and cannot seem to understand the long-term effects of your actions. Something that is vital on a mission like this. Long-term missions require a measure of delicacy, that includes taking options other than murder to deal with interference. Things like deception, avoidance and even non-lethal attacks…all of these are options that need to be considered rather than simply removing every obstacle in your path."

"Those means are neither efficient or certain." Rolo argued. "Dead people can't talk."

"The police nickname for a murder victim's corpse as the 'silent witness' for a reason, Naberius." the Hand Leader responded, as if lecturing a student. "If memory serves, your primary combat training is with firearms and knives. Guns can be matched to striations on the bullet from the rifling in the barrels, and a blade can be matched from the cut made and any invisible imperfections in the blade. A swathe of people turning up dead in a short period of time, killed by the same gun or knife screams either 'serial killer' or 'sloppy cover-up' and will draw even more attention onto the areas we are investigating; attention that could very easily endanger our mission."

"I don't think-!" Rolo started, before Vassago slapped her open hand on the table between them.

"Don't think, OBEY!" she shouted, before calming down and eyeing Rolo with disappointment and resignation. "I am going to be sending a report to Lord V.V. to have your prior trainers and handlers investigated. At the moment you are little more than a blunt instrument, useful for a single purpose but of limited or even negligible use in any other task. I am going to be using this mission to see if you're still salvageable or not, so you had best get out of my sights before I'm forced to make a decision you will regret."

Intimidated, Rolo hastily headed for one of the bedrooms. Whenever Vassago threatened THAT, it usually meant she was being tempted to us her Geass on whoever had pissed her off. He had no desired to be a mindfucked slave, thank you very much.

Same Day

Student Council Room, Ashford Academy

"So, the other soldiers that share your new rank have been doing their best to avoid you and basically excluding you from any form of socializing?" Lelouch asked.

"Pretty much. I don't have a clue why…well other than the usual 'Britannians looking down on an Honorary Britannians' bit, but I'd hoped that would lighten up a bit after I rose through the ranks and proved myself." Suzaku answered, frowning slightly.

The two old friends were filling out paperwork in preparation for the upcoming school festival, as were the rest of the Student Council around them. Naturally, the two were well aware that the rest had been eavesdropping on the entire conversation.

"That sounds so unfair!" Shirley declared with a pout. "They're just being bullies!"

"It does seem a bit cliquish to me." Rivalz agreed with a nod.

"It's likely because you've proven yourself that they're avoiding you. They're afraid of how you'll use all the soft authority you've managed to gather." the raven-haired boy corrected his friends' misconceptions absently.

"My what now?" Suzaku asked with a blink. The rest of the council (sans Milly and Celesta) also looked vaguely puzzled at the term.

"Alright, I can forgive most of you for not understanding the term, but you Suzaku? You were raised around politics and the military and have been a soldier for so long; how can you not understand the difference between soft and hard authority?" Lelouch asked in exasperation.

"Nothing like that was covered in training, and you know that stuff never interested me when I was a kid, Lelouch." Suzaku answered with a bit of a blush.

"That and you have always been utterly knuckle-headed when it comes to interpersonal conflict, particularly in social situations." Lelouch added flatly, causing Suzaku's blush to darken significantly. Honestly, this boy was so damn naïve that he made Lelouch feel like a bitter, cynical old man by comparison.

"Very well then, it seems to be up to me to educate you on basic socio-politics so you can understand why you've been sent to Coventry." the hidden revolutionary let out a sigh. Was this really what his life had been reduced to? Educating the Knightmare Pilot that had proven to be one of the biggest thorns in his side on how to actually socialize with his fellow soldiers…

Living a double life was such a headache sometimes.

"Authority can normally be divided into two different main aspects." he stated, getting up and approaching a whiteboard they'd set up for brainstorming. He quickly wiped the few remaining scribbles off it before dividing it down the middle with a single vertical line, before writing a single word at the top of each side. "These are 'Hard' Authority and 'Soft' Authority."

"Isn't authority just...authority?" Suzaku blinked.

"Hm, no." his friend shook his head with a smirk. "To put it in simple terms. 'Hard' Authority is the official power that one wields. When applied to the military or a corporation, it is the authority granted to a given person by their position on the corporate ladder or rank chart. It is the immutable and solid authority that comes with a position of power, such as the ability to command those of lower rank, issue orders, set schedules, etcetera."

"I thought that that was all there was to authority." the Japanese boy asked innocently.

"Nope, that's just the most obvious part." Milly smirked.

"Milly is indeed correct. Soft authority is far more subtle and quite a bit more nebulous." Lelouch stated as he moved to tap on the opposite side of the whiteboard. "While it is somewhat connected to the 'Hard' Authority that a person wields, it more often than not has more to do with the person themselves. 'Soft' Authority is the power granted to someone by acclaim given by their achievements, background and combat history. It is, to put it simply, the authority granted by their reputation."

"Their...reputation?" Shirley tilted her head in confusion.

"An example might put this into a more understandable light. Say you have two captains, the exact same rank, who earned their commission on the same day." Lelouch elaborated after a moment of thought. "One has been a good, if unremarkable soldier, but has seen little to no actual combat. The other has been decorated several times for gallantry and heroism, has several remarks in his personnel jacket for inspired leadership, and so on. It should be obvious which one that their subordinates and even fellow officers will look to for leadership. That is an example of 'Soft' Authority coming into play. By leveraging that, the second Captain could easily gain influence and a position of power over the first captain."

"Ah, I get it." Rivalz nodded in understanding. He had always been quick good at picking up new ideas and such, a benefit of working so many different part-time jobs.

"But...wait, that's…" Suzaku shook his head. "But if the first captain is placed in charge, then the second captain would be questioning orders!"

"That would depend entirely on the personalities of the captains in question. But in all honestly, Suzaku…as a soldier who would you rather follow? A decorated, experienced warrior or a desk warrior?" Lelouch asked dryly. "Most people would choose the former rather than the latter, I assure you."

"What about two people with similar accolades...like, say...Zero and Kyōshirō Tōdō?" Kallen, who had been quiet until now, asked.

"Ah, now that is a most intriguing question, Kallen." the exiled prince offered the redhead a smile, earning him a blush. "Zero has earned himself a reputation among the Japanese as the 'Man of Miracles' and has even managed to earn the respect of more than a few Britannians because he's managed to do what no one else has and topple the undefeated 'Goddess of Victory,' Viceroy Cornelia, from her throne not once, but twice. By contrast, Kyōshirō Tōdō had a well-established reputation as military leader even before the invasion, where he earned his greatest accolades by defeating a force of Knightmares at Itsukushima while not having any of his own, which is quite a feat. Both men have powerful reputations that balance each other out for the most part, so it falls on which appeals to those under them. Most of those without a military history would likely follow Zero, both due to his more recent achievements and his reputation as a hero of the people. Those that were previously involved with the Japanese military would sooner follow Tōdō due to his military career and long service to Japan. Really, the balance is almost entirely dependent on whether or not Tōdō is currently biding his time to overthrow Zero or not."

"Wait, what?" Suzaku blinked.

"From what rumours I've managed to gather, the Black Knights have apparently absorbed what was left of the Japanese Liberation Front after that big kerfuffle at Port Yokosuka." Lelouch explained mildly. "That means that a not-insubstantial portion of the Black Knights are now made up of former JLF soldiers. If Tōdō were to attempt it, there is a very good chance he could overthrow Zero at some point.

"Tōdō-sensei wouldn't do that if he gave his word of honour!" Suzaku protested.

"Even if he believed Zero was doing something against the better interests of Japan?" Lelouch riposted. "Or, even more likely, what if someone tried to usurp Zero in Tōdō's name? Like one of his 'Four Holy Swords'?"

"Guh…!" Suzaku couldn't very well counter the first part; he was very well of how fiercely patriotic his former kendo instructor could be. If Zero made any move that Tōdō-sensei honestly believed was a threat to the future of Japan, then nothing would stop the man from moving against the masked vigilante. "W-Well, I can't speak for the Holy Swords, but surely they wouldn't go against his explicit wishes."

"Oh Suzaku, you are such a sweet summer child at times." Milly offered with a slightly mocking shake of her head. "Servants and subordinates can sometime take even more pride in their superiors' and masters' positions that they do themselves, and many will act to defend that pride far more quickly and rabidly. The worst will eagerly go against their direct orders out of devotion rather than serving loyally and will still view themselves as loyally serving their master's interests."

"That's fanaticism, not loyalty." Kallen stated with a frown.

"To some people, one is no different than the other." Lelouch offered with a shrug. "Loyalty can be warped and twisted in many ways. There are fanatics who will happily go beyond the pale to serve those that earn their devotion, even it is against their wishes. Some will treat it as slavish devotion, refusing to even question the orders of those they serve and becoming little more than lackeys and yes men. It is a very hard thing to find that right blend of faith and independence, the ability to trust but question, that makes an excellent subordinate."

Suzaku flinched at Lelouch's description of absolute loyalty. It didn't sound much different to him following orders at the moment…

'No, enough! Don't think, just obey!' he banished the rising doubts with a flex of his willpower.

"Anyway, lecture over." Lelouch said, wiping the whiteboard clean with one of the whipper sponges. "The point of the matter is that you've achieved quite a bit more than your average Warrant Officer, Second Class, and the others are likely concerned that you'll use your phenomenal service record to usurp power and influence from them, Honorary Britannian or not."

"I wouldn't do that!" the brunette protested indignantly. "That would be an abuse of authority!"

"Suzaku, first; no, that would simply be playing office politics, a completely normal thing in nearly any kind of career. Second, what you would actually do is irrelevant; fear and paranoia are rarely in touch with reality except in the most distant ways." the tall boy snorted. "I would advise that you ask someone superior to you in the unit you're in for ideas, considering your work in Camelot is top secret."

"I will." Suzaku promised, thinking of Cécile Croomy. She had a way of breaking down complicated concepts down into something he could understand. He really owed her for that.

"OK, impromptu pseudo-politics lesson over, back to work people. This festival won't prepare itself; you know." Milly said firmly.

"If you would keep to a decision for longer than two days, we'd have had it done yesterday, Prez!" Rivalz complained.

"And where's the fun in that?" she pouted.

"All of it!" most of the Council answered. Celesta just continued filling out forms with a knowing smirk on her face.

The Next Day

Living Room, Geass Directorate Hideout, Britannian Tokyo Settlement

"We have a lead." Vassago stated without hesitation as she entered the room, making the other Demons within look up from whatever they were doing in shock.

"Already!? We've been at it for what? Two days?" Eligos spat out in disbelief, absently tossing the magazine he'd been reading when she'd barged in off to the side.

"Is it actionable?" Glasya-Labolas asked from the kitchenette, where he'd been getting something to drink out of the refrigerator.

"Even if it is, it might be best to be cautious. Finding a lead so fast reeks of a trap." Gusion put his two cents in from where he was draped over the sofa, trying to nap as usual.

"…" Rolo had nothing to say, as he'd been ordered to stay inside all day due to his 'inability to follow orders' or something.

"In order; Yes, already. Yes, it is actionable. Yes, it is almost certainly a trap of some kind. And for God's sake, stop sulking Naberius, it is beneath one of Lord V.V.'s Demons to be sulking about like a scolded child." Vassago said briskly. Approaching a wall where they'd set up a several maps of Area 11's sub-areas (basically Japan's previous prefectures) and quickly taking a sharpie to circle one area in the southernmost coast area of the Tōhoku region, in Fukushima Prefecture. "Here. I managed to 'convince' someone to tell me about a rumour they'd heard about a person dressed in a white cloak and gunmetal mask being sighted in the Iwaki City Ghetto. I was able to get in touch with a few low-level contacts in the nearest Britannian Settlement and they confirmed the rumours, someone matching that description was sighted there three days ago, which pretty much matches perfectly with the information I got from my informant."

"And this informant managed to get from Iwaki to the Greater Tokyo area in less than three days?" Glasya-Labolas asked with a scoff. "And I'm willing to bet that he was an Eleven, am I right?"

"Correct. Again, this is quite obviously a trap. Valefar isn't even bothering to try and disguise it as anything else." Vassago agreed with a nod. Numbers had a very limited ability to move by design. Their access to public transport was extremely limited and tightly monitored and most could not own their own vehicles. Even those few exceptions had to deal with heavy travel restrictions. It was all aimed at keeping them in the same general location in order to better monitor and control them. So, an Eleven being able to travel from Fukushima to a ghetto in the mid-depths of the Greater Tokyo Area so quickly and pop up exactly where Vassago was investigating was so suspiciously lucky that it wasn't even funny.

"So, what's our plan of action, Boss Lady?" Eligos asked

"Part One, never call me 'Boss Lady' again." the svelte blonde deadpanned. "Part Two, we're going to transfer to a secondary safe house in the Iwaki Britannian Settlement. Part Three, we're going to turn that place upside down in order to find Valefar. Yes, it is obviously a trap, but it is also one we cannot avoid springing if we want to complete our mission."

"You can't expect them to be stupid enough to just hang around?" Gusion asked dubiously.

"Valefar is a dangerous individual. From everything I managed to gather from those who worked with them in the past, they are tenacious, intelligent, meticulous, and utterly unafraid to get their hands dirty, but they all agree that they are also obsessed with 'entertainment.' Valefar cannot help but stay nearby and watch as their targets struggle against their machinations." Vassago stated, a sneer crossing her face for a second. "They will stick around, if for no other reason than to laugh as we try to overcome whatever trap they set for us."

"Sound like a real dick…" Glasya-Labolas muttered.

"Language." Vassago said absently.

"I'm an Agent responsible for murder, espionage and larceny on a grand scale! I'm literally above the law! You cannot seriously tell me to not swear!?" the pre-teen exclaimed in disbelief.

"I just did." the Hand Leader retorted. "Now get to packing. We leave for the Iwaki Britannian Settlement in two hours."

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Next Chapter: A Clash of Demons

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