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"Kallen." - Speech

'Lelouch.' – Thoughts/mental communication

"{Die.}" - Geass Command

"Halt!" - Loudspeaker

"Roger." - Radio/Walkie-talkie

Chapter 42: Decisions and Determination

The Next Day

Meeting Room, Viceroy's Private Wing, Area 11 Administration Building, Britannian Tokyo Settlement

"Brother Schneizel!" Euphie called out in delight, stepping forward and hugging her second-eldest brother.

"Little Euphie, you've certainly grown since I last had the chance to see you in person." Schneizel el Britannia smiled slightly in return as he softly reciprocated his younger half-sibling's hug. Euphie had always been one of his favourite siblings; innocent, quiet, respectful, a bit naïve but not unintelligent for that; she was quite the breath of fresh air when compared to the majority of Emperor Charles' children.

"Have you been overworking yourself again?" the pinkette asked knowingly, pulling back slightly and letting her eyes rake over him appraisingly before levelling a very disapproving look up at her far taller sibling.

"I'm afraid matters of war and state allow for little rest these days." the Prime Minister of Britannia laughed lightly. "I would assume that you had learned that yourself by now, Sub-Viceroy Euphemia li Britannia."

"Well, I can certainly say that there was quite a lot to do in the beginning." Euphie admitted, finally releasing Schneizel before leading him towards a table with a tea set already waiting for them. "Brother Clovis unfortunately left an utter and complete mess for my sister and I to deal with. It's as if he was deliberately ignoring everything but the most necessary paperwork so he could spend all of his time working on his various vanity projects. Do not mention 'Clovisland' around Sister or she might pop a blood vessel at the sheer amount of time and resources he poured into that particular waste project. And that name…"

"Yes, Clovis might have had an artist's eye but I'm afraid his naming sense was never the best." Schneizel let out a weary chuckle as he sat down. Honestly, he knew Clovis had had a bit of an ego, but to name a theme park after himself was taking it a bit too far.

"Hah, I still can't understand just why Brother Clovis was even named the Viceroy in the first place. It's not like he had any interest in politics, and from the look of how things were when we first arrived he didn't put all that much effort into those duties he was assigned." Euphie continued, letting out a tired sigh.

That…honestly didn't surprise Schneizel in the least. He would have gladly trusted Clovis to plan a party or paint a portrait for him (the younger man had had an exquisite eye for detail in both artistic and social pursuits, a skill with planning entertainment that could make even the most drab state occasion into a delightful distraction, and a talent with a brush that far surpassed any of the court painters alive today), but that was about the extent of what responsibilities he would have trusted the young fop with. Clovis at his core had been an artist, a social butterfly, and a hedonist, not a leader, a politician, or a bureaucrat by any stretch of imagination. And Clovis himself had never even attempted to pretend otherwise. His selection as the Viceroy of the newly conquered Area 11 had come as a surprise to everyone involved, particularly since several of their other, more politically ambitious, siblings had already been snapping at each other in an attempt to earn the opportunity.

It was just one more moment in an ever-growing series of events where he could not understand the workings the Emperor's mind; as if Father was working toward some goal that made no logical sense to anyone else.

Euphie shook her head again. "Anyway, I should apologize that my sister, the Viceroy herself, is not here to greet you personally, but there is a major operation today and Sister Cornelia trusts no one but herself to take the lead. If it succeeds, we will be able to fully decapitate the largest Britannian criminal cartel still active in Area 11. Thanks to recently acquired information, we have finally been able to identify and track down the infamous 'Black King' of the Area 11 underworld and my sister will not allow for even the slightest chance of him escaping. From what I've able to find out, his list of affronts are quite beyond the pale."

Schneizel hitched a curious eyebrow; that had to be quite the list too, for his extremely capable tactician of a sister to choose to personally involve herself with what was essentially little more than a police action. "Elaborate, if you please."

"Human smuggling, child smuggling, trafficking and dealing in several dozen illegal substance, weapons smuggling, and illegal arms dealership; including Knightmare Frames. Numerous counts of bribery, blackmail, and other corruption charges in nearly every aspect of Area 11's law enforcement and governance, sabotage of both government and private projects, and several confirmed hired assassinations. As for personal crimes, we now have evidence that implicates him in at least two dozen murders and countless acts of assault and rape." Euphie counted off, looking both angry and vaguely sickened as she recounted the list of crimes. "And that is only what we have solid evidence for; if even half of the more disturbing stories we've had this man accused of are true…I honestly cannot comprehend how one human being can treat others with such a heartless disdain."

"Oh, Euphie…" even the normally cold-blooded Schneizel would admit that seeing sweet Euphemia so disheartened like this was enough to make his heart twinge a bit. "Did Clovis at least make some effort to find and deal with this criminal?"

"Yes. To be perfectly blunt, that was one of the few duties that he actually seemed to take seriously after he was named Viceroy." Euphie stated with an unhappy nod. "He had a dedicated task force set up for just this particular investigation, which was funded directly from the Viceroy's Office rather than the standard police budget, and even some minor access to military intelligence. Unfortunately, it ended up being for naught; five years and countless Pounds spent, and all they were able to provide were a list of crimes that could be linked to his organization and a few that were supposedly linked to the man himself, but not a single clue as to who he was actually was."

"Corruption within the task force?" Schneizel instantly deduced the most likely reason for such a failure. It wouldn't be the first time a criminal organization suborned key officers in a task force dedicated to their investigation just to lead it astray. It was one of the biggest reasons that such special task forces were normally kept so discrete but…Clovis was never that good at subtlety.

"That is what Cornelia and I believe, but we have yet to find any proof on precisely who and how. Needless to say, we've kept the Black King Affirmative Action Task Force completely isolated from the upcoming raid." the Sub-Viceroy agreed with a sigh of irritation. "Sister is hoping that today's operation will not only remove the head of the serpent, but will provide us with enough information so that we can well and truly gut his entire organization. At the very least, cutting the heart and mind out of Area 11's largest Mafia Cartel will hopefully force the remainder of Area 11's criminal elements even deeper underground, particularly since Zero's recent crusades have already been cutting a swathe through them."

"Ah yes, the infamous Zero." Schneizel bridged his gloved fingers in front of his face. "The man who somehow managed to give the previously undefeated Cornelia not one, not two, but three consecutive defeats since he has revealed himself, not to mention the murder of one of our siblings, the rescue of another, the execution of a large band of terrorists, and of course his recent acts of vigilantism targeting criminal elements be they Britannian, Honorary Britannian, or Number. I understand that you actually met the man in person during the Lake Kawaguchi Incident. What exactly was your impression of him?"

Euphemia hesitated for a moment before answering. "He was…charismatic is the only word I can think of. His soldiers seemed to trust his judgement implicitly, moving to obey without question or hesitation. I've only seen soldiers act with that kind of faith twice before: Sister's personal forces, and once when she was hosting a training exercise with the recently deceased Lord Wallace and his own troops."

"Indeed? Well, his speech at the closure of the Lake Kawaguchi Incident certainly showed that the man has talent as a demagogue." the Second Pince nodded. The speech had been direct and pointed, laying out both the stance and purported raison d'être of the newly christened Black Knights. Despite that, he could tell that it was designed to control and enforce an initial ideal onto the organization. It quite clearly painted them as the 'good guys' in the light of recent events in order to gain public appeal (everyone loves a hero after all), and his recent war against Area 11's criminal underworld, with a particular focus on the more corruptive elements and those that deliberately targeted the Numbers and Honorary Britannians, while also carefully including several targets that threatened or harmed normal Britannians as well, had only reinforced that ideal.

Schneizel was fairly certain that that was only one part of the reasons behind Zero's little sojourn into vigilantism. The other most obvious benefit would be allowing his newly recruited forces some live combat experience against an enemy far less dangerous than Cornelia. He was sure there were at least a few other reasons as well, but he wasn't quite certain of them just yet. Accumulating assets via confiscating them from the criminal forces they were de-fanging might be another…

Even his organization's name itself was a deliberate throw of the gauntlet toward Britannia and Charles vi Britannia. Claiming themselves to be knights had certainly gotten quite a bit of dander raised up against them from the nobility back in the Homeland. Poor Odysseus had been forced to run himself ragged to keep any of them from doing something…stupider than usual. Which was saying something.

However, what had caught Schneizel's attention the most was the attempt to absolve the rest of the JLF of the actions of the extremists within their midst that had committed the hijacking of Lake Kawaguchi. It had certainly seemed to be a sincere attempt at first glance, but it was not accompanied by the forceful resolve that seemed to have reinforced all the rest of Zero's rather dramatic presentation, which had undercut its effectiveness quite a bit. A very subtle little manipulation that likely slipped by most, painting Zero as sympathetic to the JLF while still undercutting their support base; likely in preparation for an eventual attempt to subsume them.

Yes, 'charismatic' was one way of describing Zero from what he'd seen. 'Capable' and 'Cunning' were also quite applicable. Honestly, it was a shame the man had already proven himself an enemy, he would make an excellent asset if he could be suborned.

"By the way, Brother Schneizel, where is Kanon?" Euphie asked. It was very rare to see her brother's most trusted aide far from his side, but he hadn't arrived with him to their little meeting.

"Kanon is seeing to my temporary quarters." Schneizel responded blandly. "I told him that he could leave that to the staff here, but you know how obsessive that man can be when it comes to the little details. Everything needs to be in its proper place and set up in the proper way for Kanon to be satisfied."

Euphie giggled a bit at that. Kanon Maldini was by far the most meticulous and detail-oriented man she had ever met, and was near obsessive when it came to the safety and comfort of his lord. "Yes, that certainly sounds like Kanon."

However, Euphie's expression suddenly became far more serious. "However, there is one serious issue that I need to speak with you about, Brother, and one that I hope I can trust your discretion with. It relates to not only my sister and I, but Empress Marianne."

The sudden non sequitur and his little sister's sudden and abrupt change in demeanour certainly caught Schneizel's attention. "Oho?" he quickly ran through recent events in his minds and could find only one possible link. "I don't suppose this has anything to do with the rather sudden and public assassinations of Melisande and Roderick Ashford?"

Nodding grimly, Euphemia quickly began to lay out what they'd discovered, initially unearthed during an unrelated investigation initiated by Sir Jeremiah Gottwald, about the systematic murder and/or murder-by-proxy of nearly every man and woman that had directly served, supported, or were allied with Marianne the Flash, including the recent assassinations of the two Ashfords. She also debriefed him on Suzaku Kururugi's testimony regarding the Britannian Spec-Ops team that had attempted to assassinate both Nunnally and Lelouch during the early days of the invasion as well as informing him of the recent assassination attempt that was made against Millicent Ashford at the Ashford Academy. Finally, she laid out their suppositions that the li Britannia sisters, the two remaining members of the Ashford Family, and Margrave Jeremiah Gottwald himself, the last surviving member of the Aries Palace Guard that had served under Empress Marianne, were now likely the only remaining targets alive for whatever conspiracy was behind this.

By the end of the debriefing, Schneizel's eyes were cold and hard, and his face was set into a stone-like frown. "Euphie, this is nothing short of appalling. Why haven't you or Cornelia brought this to the Emperor's attention?"

The younger Imperial Scion grimaced slightly before answering. "Partly because Sister and I both believe that doing so could very easily tip off those behind this horrid affair; regardless of just who is actually orchestrating this madness, they have to have someone of extremely high ranking on their side. Someone who can at least match Sister's position as Chief General of the Imperial Army in terms of influence and access if they were capable of manipulating troop assignments to such an extent without raising any suspicions or leaving a trail or clue that someone would have eventually discovered and reported. That means that it has to be someone who works within Father's own court. The other part is largely…well Sister is doubtful that…that Father would even care all that much, given how quickly he abandoned the Ashford Family to be torn asunder and all-but exiled after Lady Marianne's murder."

Schneizel's frown curled down just a bit further at that reminder. "I can certainly follow her reasoning on that, at least." he admitted quietly. The murder of Marianne vi Britannia had been a shocking affair to all involved, not simply because someone had managed to breach the supposedly impervious defences that were supposed to protect the Pendragon Imperial Palace in order to assassinate her, but the fact that the Emperor had showed seemingly no concern or care for the death of his most favoured consort had also been a shock to many. The subsequent exile of Lelouch and Nunnally, as well as his all-but abandonment of the Ashford Family to the various vultures of the Imperial Court until Reuben had been forced to take his family and flee to the Britannian Tokyo Enclave (as it had been at the time), had driven home to the Imperial Family how much control their sire had over them, and how disappointing him would be taken.

While he might have respected Marianne for her ability and skill, her death hadn't affected Schneizel in the least. He had long since come to understand and accept that he was at least somewhat sociopathic; he simply did not process emotions and loss on the same level as other people, though he had become good enough at aping it for the sake of appearances. No, what disturbed and disgusted Schneizel about the entire incident, from Marianne vi Britannia's death onwards, was the utter and complete waste of talents, assets, and personnel that had been the result.

One of the most formidable women in the Empire, a warrior and general of great intellect and talent, gunned down when she should have been at her safest and most secure. A useful tool for inspiring hope in commoners to try and rise and improve themselves and thus the Empire, gone.

The exile of his younger brother Lelouch, one of the few people that Schneizel had ever been able to acknowledge as a possible intellectual peer. Oh, the sheer amount of potential that little Lelouch had represented, being snuffed out with such a casual dismissal and a single instant of violence during the Second Pacific War, had been like a bullet wound to Schneizel's hopes and plans for the future. Little Nunnally had been a ball of potential too, one too young to have displayed any of it when she passed.

The Palace Guard responsible for the protection of Aries Palace, a collection of some of the most loyal, talented, and capable soldiers in the Empire, all scattered to the winds, their careers ruined, and, now he knew, slowly picked off one at a time. The thousands of Pounds and years of efforts training all of them, the collection of talent and dedication that could have been utilized for new and greater purposes, all killed off out of some twisted sense of spite. Marianne's own Royal Guard was an even greater loss, having been some of the best and brightest soldiers in the Empire.

Finally, the Ashford Family. The Empire's literal golden goose that had pioneered the very idea of Knightmare R&D, whose Head was directly responsible for developing both the Second Generation and Third Generation Knightmare Frames, culminating with the creation of the Ganymede, which had served as the basis for the eventual development of the Glasgow, Sutherland, and Gloucester Knightmare Frames that had made the Britannian military the most dominant military force in the world today. What could Reuben Ashford and his contemporary, Albert Einstein, have produced had they retained their influence and power?

Instead, the Emperor had all but broken the golden goose's neck with his own two hands before throwing it to the jackals, letting the few scraps that managed to survive blow away in the winds into what would soon become an active war-zone; disgraced and with their Patent of Nobility removed from them. It had taken seven long years for them just to reach a point of stability where they could dare to openly re-enter the field of Knightmare R&D.

What developments could have been made in those seven years? What progress was lost? And all for what?

The deaths of Melisande and Roderick Ashford had initially been all but irrelevant to Schneizel, but now their assassination, done so boldly and openly, was a sure sign that whatever puppet master that was orchestrating this mad quest of spite and hatred was still very much active and not likely to stop until all of the Marianne's old supporters and subordinates were dead. The sheer level of emotional obsession that such a thing spoke of was both utterly alien and sincerely disturbing to the 'Cold-Blooded Strategist.'

But the results spoke for themselves. Whatever mastermind was behind this madness had already deprived the Empire of countless assets in the form of talent, soldiery, research, and possible military benefits, over the last seven years. And now they were intent on targeting two of the siblings that he held the least amount of disdain for, along with ending the Ashford Family right when it was starting to re-enter Knightmare R&D by unveiling a brand-new 7th Generation Knightmare Frame, the Galeschin.

No. The buck was stopping here and now. Schneizel would not allow anything else to be stolen from Britannia…from him…by some obsessive lunatic hiding in the shadows.

"What can I do to help?" he offered simply and directly.

"Sister has already put in a request for Earl Asplund to design and construct 7th Generation Knightmares for herself, her Knights of Honour, the Glaston Knights, and myself." Euphie replied, a relieved smile forming across her face at what was, for Schneizel at least, an unconditional offer of support. "He's currently in the middle of refitting and updating the hardware for the Bedivere to make it as close to a true 7th Generation Knightmare as possible, as well as installing an updated version of the Halo Luminous System onto the Command G-1 that you had sent for Camelot's use, but funding is proving to be an issue. Sister and I are willing, you could even say we are eager, to contribute towards the construction if you are willing to refill Camelot's budget."

"Ah, you are concerned that whoever is behind this might have been able to gain access to Knightmare Frames themselves? Normally I'd find that unlikely, but given that they have already proven capable of somehow managing to procure a full Spec-Ops team out of seemingly nowhere, not to mention the more recent attack by the Wings of Talleyrand proving that the Crown's control of Knightmare Frame production and development isn't as ironclad as we once believed; I honestly cannot bring myself to dismiss the idea either." the Second Prince easily deduced the line of thinking with a slow, understanding nod. "I will be happy to do so, Euphie. I intended to have a meeting within Earl Asplund myself within the next few days, I will arrange the bank transfer directly afterwards. But what of Margrave Gottwald and your own recently appointed Knight of Honour?"

"Lord Jeremiah has already been selected as the pilot of the Galeschin per Reuben Ashford's own request." the youngest li Britannia answered with a smile. "And I intend to commission the Ashford Foundation to design and construct a Knightmare Frame specifically for Dame Villetta. While she is a capable enough Knightmare pilot, I'm afraid she is not quite on the same level of my sister and her knights, so I am concerned that one of Earl Asplund's notoriously…fickle machines might be a bit beyond her ability."

"Ah, a fair point." Schneizel conceded with a nod, well acquainted with his most eccentric scientist's lack of care towards the people who would be piloting his creations, instead being inalterably focused on the machines themselves. "I take it that you have already requested Reuben Ashford start the design process?"

"Tee-hee. You caught me, Brother Schneizel." Euphie grinned, sticking her tongue out slightly. "I made the request shortly before the assassination of Melisande and Roderick Ashford. All I will need is for my own Knightmare's design and construction to be officially started and I will have the perfect excuse to have once commissioned for Dame Villetta."

"I'll ensure that Lloyd understands that yours is to be as well-protected as possible Euphie." Schneizel promised. "I just hope that you will never have to use it for anything other than training. If you are ever forced to take the field in a Knightmare Frame, then I can't help but think that matters will have become most dire indeed."

Later

Corridors of Ashford Academy

Lelouch had a slight frown on his face as he walked toward the Student Council Room, mind busy contemplating the latest news that Villetta and Jeremiah had managed to deliver to him.

Schneizel was here, in Japan.

Of all the people he'd encountered through his short but eventful life, there had only ever been two that Lelouch had acknowledged as having an intellectual ability that rivalled or might even surpass his own.

First, loathe as he was to admit it, was the Emperor himself. Charles vi Britannia had managed to secure his throne by conquering a multitude of his older, more well-entrenched siblings during the Emblem of Blood, before moulding the Britannian Empire into a force that had managed to conquer over a third of the world, nearly tripling its domain in his lifetime.

Second, was his elder brother Schneizel, the 'Cold-Blooded Strategist' and 'White Prince of Britannia.' The current seated Prime Minister that had done more to stabilize the Britannian economy and government since taking that office than any five of his predecessors combined. Whose tactical intellect was said to only be rivalled by his younger half-sister Cornelia and whose political acumen was said to dwarf any of their other siblings.

These two were the only men (that he was currently aware of, at least) that he felt could match if not surpass him when it came to strategy and tactics.

And one of them was currently in Japan having tea with Euphie.

Lelouch had previously thought that everything was moving forward as smoothly as could be expected, but now the one person who had ever managed to outplay him in chess, the one person he considered as a possible intellectual superior, was in Japan, and he had absolutely no clue as to why; neither Jeremiah nor Villetta had been allowed to sit in on his brother's meeting with Euphie nor could they access anything that could explain why Schneizel was here when he was supposed to be preoccupied leading the European Front.

To say that this sudden paradigm shift had left him feeling a tad paranoid and unsettled would be a gross understatement.

'Of all the times for Schneizel to have shown himself, why did it have to be now!?' the Exiled Prince grit in his teeth in consternation. 'While I'm fairly certain that the security protocols that I've set up will be able to insulate the Black Knights' current base from any serious infiltration by the Neo Shinsengumi, I wasn't expecting to have worry about Schneizel breathing down my neck while I'm trying to deal with everything else! Wonderful, an imminent invasion by the Chinese Federation, spearheaded by the 'Japanese Government-in-Exile'; a band of nationalistic fanatics trying to carve out their own portion of Japan, and now there is the Cold-Blooded Strategist himself to deal with on the Britannian side in addition to the Goddess of Victory! This is just perfect!'

Of course, Schneizel himself wasn't the entirety of the issue. Cornelia was already a dangerous enough opponent, adding Schneizel to the mix merely made things that much more difficult on the Britannian front. No, the real issue with his brother's sudden arrival was the ship that had brought him to Japan in the first place. The BBAF-1001 Avalon, the first Avalon-class Aerial Aircraft Carrier/Battleship in existence; solid proof that the Holy Empire of Britannia had managed to perfect a system that allowed a massive two-hundred meter long warship to fly. The fact that they'd managed to complete a flight system on that scale also highlighted the very real threat that they might soon be able to miniaturize that same technology to the point it could be equipped onto Knightmare Frames. He definitely couldn't imagine someone like Lloyd Asplund to allows something as fascinating as a flight system to be so close at hand and not try to incorporate it into his current magnum opus.

'Whereas Kyoto House has only just begun reverse-engineering the flight system used by the Somerset Frames. Britannia will gain a near-insurmountable edge on nearly any battlefield if they manage to start mass producing Avalon-class warships before anyone else can even get off the ground.' the exiled prince thought grimly. 'It will be even worse if they manage to start even a Limited Production of flight-capable Knightmares. This is going to make everything far more complicated. I will need to contact Rakshata and get her to give as much help as she is able to offer to the Six House's little think tank…'

He who controls the skies, controls the battlefield. That had been a truism before the advent of the Knightmare Frame, whose tactical applications had far eclipsed even the most advanced fighter jets, and would prove itself true once again when flight-capable Knightmare Frames, not to mention flying battleships, became an applicable option on any major scale.

"Lulu…?" a sudden familiar voice snapped him out of his thoughts. He looked to his side, where Shirley was standing, shifting about nervously.

"Oh, I'm sorry Shirley; I was caught up in my own thoughts." he offered her an apologetic smile. "Was there something that you needed?"

"Um, Lulu…c-can I have a word with you…in private." the orangette asked quietly. "A-About…that thing I asked you to look into…with my Dad?"

"Ah, of course." Lelouch nodded. He really should have been expecting Shirley to approach him about this subject after she'd handed over those Code-R documents that she had discovered in her father's possession. Truthfully, he should have taken her aside himself to speak about what they'd found out before now but things had been…busy…lately. "I'm fairly certain that the Student Council Room is free right now, we can have a private word there, alright?"

Shirley nodded, looking relieved. "You were already heading that way…has Milly done something to upend the budget again?" the girl pouted as they started walking together.

"Haha, no thankfully not this time." the black-haired boy shook his head lightly. "I just have to finish up a bit more paperwork if we want to have the Ganymede cleared for use at the School Festival. I swear that the Settlement Safety and Licensing Board is coming up with new regulations every year just to try and make us stop bringing out that old girl for the School Festival."

"I'm sure that it wouldn't be that much of a problem if Madame President would just stop coming up with new ways of using it…" Shirley grumbled a bit. "The Ganymede's Power Generator isn't exactly cheap to run, you know!"

Very true. With modern technological advances, the large generator needed to power the Ganymede was utterly unnecessary for any form of modern Knightmare Frame and the thing sucked up power like a sponge. The sheer energy cost of using the Ganymede for a few short instances to accomplish whatever fanciful plan or display that Milly had concocted for that year during the three days of the School Festival would be more than enough to pay the salary of all the teachers and other staff working at Ashford Academy for a full month, with enough left over for a sizeable bonus for everyone.

"True, but it is one of the School Festival's biggest attractions and a key way to impress the visiting nobles and draw in new students. Not to mention it is still a point of pride for the Ashfords themselves." Lelouch responded amicably. "The Ganymede was the first true Knightmare Frame worthy of the name, and the Ashford Family were the ones who developed it. That is an undeniable fact and one that they refuse to let the world forget. Besides, as expensive as it is, the amount of attendance that it brings in makes it well worth the costs."

Shirley continued to grumble a bit, her mind temporarily drawn away from the upcoming conversation by the typical school shenanigans that surrounded the Student Council, just as Lelouch had hoped.

All too soon, the pair arrived as the Student Council Room and, as Lelouch had said, they currently had the room to themselves. C.C. was off dealing with the preparatory arrangements to seal off the Core Area of Theta Base from the rest of it. Milly's newfound liberation from her 'egg and sperm donors' had unfortunately also brought an increase in her Heiress training and duties from Reuben so she would be busy for the rest of the day. Nina was being…'tied up'…by C.C. for the day. Rivalz had taken his bike to the garage for some TLC after another student had damaged it with his car. Suzaku was on officially mandated 'rest and relaxation' time as ordered by Euphemia. Nunnally had had another minor fever the previous night, so was confined to bed for the day under Sayoko's hawk-like gaze. Finally, Kallen was 'off sick' and in the middle of running the Guren through a series of tests for the first series of upgrades that Rakshata had in mind for the machine.

Closing and locking the door behind them, Lelouch led Shirley over to the table, sat her down, and went to quickly prepare a cup of tea for the both of them. Once that was done, he gently set the cup and saucer in front of her and sat back into his own seat, taking an absent sip of his own tea, a very nice blend of Earl Gray. Milly always did have good taste in teas.

"So, what exactly do you want to know Shirley?" he asked after they'd both had a moment to sip on some of the warm, comforting liquid.

"What…what have the people you contacted done to try and find my Dad?" the orangette asked at once, being careful not to mention just who Lelouch had contacted. "He hasn't been back home in a while and…"

'So just as I expected.' the Black Prince thought with a slight nod.

Taking a slight breath, he began to speak. "Given the information you provided, along with a few other sources that I'm afraid my contacts don't have the clearance to know about, the Black Knights were able to find the facility where Code-R, the official title for your father's research team, was located. Zero himself led some of his personal agents on a raid of the location. Unfortunately, by the time that they arrived, all but the most low-level members of the research staff and some of the administration staff had been evacuated, with your father being among those that had already evacuated. Joseph Fenette seems to be much more important to this…atrocity than either of us could have realized."

"Oh no…." Shirley whimpered out, shaking her head and eyes burning. "Why? Why would he do such things to people? Daddy…he was…he'd never…?"

The father she had known for all of her life had always been a kind and gentle man, who had treated her like a precious treasure. He worked hard as a scientist to ensure that his family could have the best of everything they could ever want, but was a bit of a goofball when at home, always ready to joke or play some silly game with her and her mother. To discover that his 'job' had included such cruel and inhumane actions…that he had quite literally used other human beings a lab rats from some sick form of research…she just couldn't understand it. More than that, her father was apparently some form of higher-up in this nightmarish group, someone important enough to be evacuated with all the other top scientists to a new facility before the rest of the staff, and was even now likely being kept on some form of secure lockdown.

It was all too much; her world was being devastated as the image of the father she had loved all her life was being burned away before her eyes.

Shirley didn't even realize that she had started crying until Lelouch gently began to wipe some of the tears away with a concerned look on his face. That had the last of her reserve crumbling like dry sand; Shirley threw herself into her crush's embrace, sobbing without control or restraint.

Lelouch merely stood and cradled his friend as she let out all of her anguish. Even now, guilt was gnawing at him as the consequences of his own actions were being foisted into his face. He'd manipulated Shirley into handing over those papers regarding Code-R for his own reasons, and now he was forced to watch the results. While she had yet to be harmed physically, his dear, gentle friend was now in mental and emotional tatters. To have all the trust and faith she had in her beloved father be torn to shreds, combined with the feeling of powerlessness that she was now dealing with at being completely incapable of doing anything to stop her father's actions, had created a truly soul-wracking experience for the young woman.

While Lelouch had long learned to be able to distance himself from his own emotions, as all good commanders often needed to on the battlefield, he was neither a sociopath nor heartless. He had always known that his greatest weakness had been letting people get too close to his heart; it rendered him utterly unable to distance himself from that connection when he needed to be coldly logical about anything. Kallen was a fine example of this; she had started becoming more and more precious to him, and thus he had requested Rakshata make her upgrades to the Guren a priority rather than working on the Frames that needed strengthening far more direly.

It was why he'd worked so hard to keep the world at arm's length for so many years. The irony that it was the start of his revolution that had forced him to allow his weakness to show itself was not lost on him during those quiet times he allowed himself self-reflection.

With Shirley, it had been that kindness, that warmth and softness in her heart, and the brightness that seemed to always radiate off her like a comforting warmth, that had first caused him to become attracted to her; even with the somewhat naïve innocence she carried regarding the darker aspects of Britannian society. More than that, the way she had always treasured and adored Nunnally from the moment they had first met, and vice-versa, had only polished that initial attraction into a far more sincere affection. Now, seeing her hurt so badly, partly because of his own actions no less, was both humbling and galling.

"S-Sorry Lulu…" Shirley managed to mumble out as her sobs started dying down. She looked up at him, her eyes red from her crying. "I got your uniform all wet…"

"Don't worry yourself over it." he responded with a firm shake of his head. "I just the destroyed the last fragment of the pedestal you kept your father on. The least I could do was offer what comfort I could while you cried, considering this was at least partially my fault to begin with."

"No." the orangette said firmly, shaking her head. "I asked you to take the papers to your contacts in the Black Knights, I asked you to tell me what happened since I handed the papers over. Everything I heard is the fault of exactly one person and that is my father. He…He's done some truly terrible things and I'm not even sure if what I know now is even a quarter of what he's actually done. I just…I don't know what to do, Lulu. He's my father, and I want to get him away from that…that horrible group…but will he even want to be saved?"

Given that the files he'd discovered had painted Joseph Fenette as having been a high-level researcher in Clovis's private think tank long before the foppish prince's assassination, Lelouch would highly doubt that. Power, prestige, and practically unlimited resources and budget were a terrible temptation to many a researcher. Unless they were rather firmly anchored by their own morals, like Rakshata Chawa, or were already mentally off-kilter, like Lloyd Asplund, then it would be far too easy for them to lose sight of their sense of ethics.

Lelouch did not doubt that Joseph Fenette had once been a good man; Shirley herself was living evidence of that. Like Cheryl Silver, he had doubtlessly been scouted into Code-R due to his scientific expertise. Unlike the lower-ranking woman, his sense of morals simply hadn't been strong enough to survive his exposure to the poisonous promises that Code-R had offered to him. Perhaps it had been a slow and gradual decline as he justified his own actions more and more for the results that the resources would provide him, or perhaps it was the generous pay that had managed to overrule his own moral judgment, or perhaps he simply feared the very real threat of having him and his family 'erased' should he not cooperate. Regardless of the reason, Joseph Fenette's hands were now well and truly stained with the blood of many innocents, and possibly the blood of his own dear C.C. as well.

He hoped that the later wasn't the case, that would put him between a rock and hard place when things finally came to a head and he got his hands on the man.

"I honestly can't say." Lelouch said, carefully stroking the back of Shirley's head with one hand, making the girl hugging him realize that she was basically all-but straddling him. She flushed crimson but didn't move, leaning into the hand on her head instead, almost tentatively. "I don't know what exactly your father has done or the reason he's done it. However, my contact has stated that Zero himself has agreed to uphold the terms of the agreement we struck with his agents when mine offered up the information. Your father will be rescued and returned to you unharmed. Apparently, Zero is not one to break his bargains once he has made them. However, if your father does try and contact you, you must let me know so that I can inform the Black Knights. We have to be careful with this Shirley, these people need to be stopped."

"You're right, I can do that." Shirley nodded. "And…sorry for, um, pouncing on you like this, Lulu."

"Hm. I doubt there is any hot-blooded young man alive that would object too harshly to having a pretty girl sitting in his lap, Shirley." Lelouch chuckled back teasingly, squeezing her close to him with the arm that was still wrapped around her waist. This instantly prompted her blush to redouble as her sizeable breasts were pressed into his chest.

"L-Lulu…!" Shirley whined out.

In between the hugs and the teasing, Lelouch was at least able to cheer her up a bit by the time she had to head over to the girl's dorms. That was a victory in his books.

Later

Lelouch's Room, Student Council Clubhouse, Ashford Academy

"Hmmm, I suppose that you handled her the best that you could given the circumstances." C.C. offered thoughtfully. She was naked and lying seductively on Lelouch's bed. Lelouch himself had just gotten back from kissing Nunnally goodnight and staying with her until she fell asleep. He'd then told his first lover about the rather emotional conversation he had with Shirley earlier that day. "On the bright side, at least she's not fainting any time you get too close to her anymore."

"That is a definite bonus, yes." Lelouch agreed dryly as he absently reviewed the reports that the Immortal had left on his desk before she'd decided to disrobe and tease him a bit.

"Yes, you'll soon be ready to seduce her and make her into your woman." the lime-haired ageless woman offered with a smirk, making Lelouch pause briefly from reviewing his reports just to turn and give her a side eye.

"You, Sayoko, Milly, Kallen, and Kaguya. Aren't five women enough for any single man?" he asked in exasperation.

"Oh please, Lelouch, don't even try and pretend with me." C.C. offered with a scoff. "Just the idea of anyone else laying their hands of Shirley's pure, innocent body makes you severely irked. You want her. And, if she'd actually studied the Mistress part of the Worthy Reward Law, she'd have already jumped you long ago."

"Wait, what?" Lelouch blinked once, turning to fully face his paramour for a moment. "How can she not know about the Mistress sections if she's already aware of the Worthy Reward Law itself?"

"Her mother is a rather extreme prude and considers the position of a mere mistress as beneath her precious daughter." the Immortal woman answered with an absent roll of her eyes; that particular brand of woman was far more common than she would have preferred. "I may not have enjoyed as much 'skinship' with dear adorable Shirley as I have with the other girls on the Council, but I've gotten enough that I've managed to learn quite a bit about our little mermaid; particularly in regards to how strong and deep her feelings are regarding you, my dear. It was actually a bit humbling to see how much that girl truly does care for you and Nunnally. She'd happily accept being a mistress without a moment's hesitation if it meant she got to be yours."

"That damnable restriction." the Exiled Prince frowned in annoyance. The Worthy Reward Law might be useful for his 'position' but, like most Britannian Laws, it was riddled with inequalities and prejudices. The rather archaic restrictions on just what a woman had to hold in order to be considered as a 'wife' under it was one of them. The most blatant was that the family of the woman in question needed to possesses either a certain level of wealth or a Noble title, excluding the life-title of Knight. Both Milly and Kallen both qualified as 'wife candidates' under those restrictions, with Milly being the Heiress of the Ashford Foundation, which could easily pass the minimum 'wealth index' that the law purported, and Kallen being the sole heiress to an Earldom. Kaguya would also qualify; a small addendum to the law allowing for 'recognized foreign nobility' of a certain rank to qualify as well, and Kaguya was a direct heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, which was still listed as a recognized royal lineage despite Area 11's conquest.

Sayoko, C.C. and Shirley, however, did not qualify. Honorary Britannians were directly disqualified by law, C.C. had no royal or noble heritage and was thus a non-Britannian 'commoner' and thus also fully disqualified and, while Shirley's family was reasonably well off, they lacked the sheer financial capital needed to qualify her for 'wife' status.

"Heh, well it is certainly sweet that you'd rather have us all as your wives if you could, boya." C.C. smiled ever so slightly. She knew that those restrictions were one of many things that Lelouch would happily change if he ever took the throne as Emperor (though he'd rather claw out his own eyes that take that seat).

"The financial restrictions were merely put in place to allow 'lesser' noble families to be able to better sell of their daughters to higher ranked nobles, and to encourage Social Darwinism among the rising Middle Class." Lelouch spat in distaste. Considering just how deeply Lelouch had always idolized his own mother, it wasn't that much of a surprise that he found the entire idea of treating women as chattel or broodmares deeply disgusting. It was but one of the reasons that he'd had to use all of his willpower to keep from breaking into maniacal cackling and instead merely allowed a small, satisfied smile to spread over his lips as he had watched the news report showing footage of Eduardo Royale, now revealed as the infamous 'Black King' of the underworld, cowering and being bodily dragged out of his overly opulent mansion by Sir Dalton.

The fact that his sister's elder Knight had looked downright murderous, and seemed to be actively looking for an excuse to snap the louse's neck, told Lelouch all he needed to know about what they had found inside that manor.

Royale had been a monster, pure and simple, and had treated everyone he considered 'beneath' him, be they Number, Honorary Britannian, or even his fellow Britannians, as nothing more than commodities that could be taken, sold, and used as he pleased.

Dear Cornelia had overseen the entire operation from within her own custom Gloucester. The fact that the machine had followed Royale's every movement with the intent to end him the second he stepped a toe out of line further confirmed that his darling half-sister had reviewed all the information that Reuben had provided her with. While she would sooner face down a Knightmare with nothing more than an antique cavalry sabre than admit it, Cornelia had always had something of a soft spot for children, and the things that that writhing maggot of a man had done to so many innocent children had been enough to make even the jaded C.C. ill.

"Well, I suppose that she can wait for a bit longer." C.C. offered with a slight shrug before becoming serious once more. "However, what cannot wait are the three big problems."

"You are, of course, referring to Rakshata, Tōdō-sensei and Kallen." Lelouch easily deduced what she was imply. His lover had been quietly, but firmly, prodding him towards taking very specific actions with all three for a while now.

"They are the three people you yourself have admitted are the most likely to discover your true identity as Zero, and it will be far easier on all involved if you control just how the truth is revealed rather than allowing them to stumble across the information and make their own assumptions." the naked Immortal reminded him pointedly. "Once the main HQ of the Black Knights is fully moved into Theta Base, it is going to be far more difficult to keep your identity concealed. Rakshata and Tōdō especially will be able to start making educated guesses once they realize just where it is located."

"Yes, that is one the more significant downsides of that decision." Lelouch admitted reluctantly. "And Kallen?"

"She thinks that Zero could repaint the skies if he wished to, so she is just as likely to think that Theta Base is just another one of your miracles." C.C. replied with a snort. "To be fair, you have preformed quite a few unbelievable feats since Shinjuku, so it's likely just her accepting that you can do anything so she won't be so surprised the next time you do the impossible."

The hidden rebel leader let out an amused huff at that. "Well, that is something at least. Out of all three, Rakshata is likely to have the least volatile reaction to me revealing my identity. She might dislike Britannia, but she doesn't have any personal malice towards them. She'd be far more likely to react negatively if she started to believe that I was a plant for the Chinese Federation for some reason. Plus, Rakshata prides herself on her logical reasoning and ability to maintain a cool detachment. Kallen and Tōdō-sensei on the other hand…they will have far trickier and more emotional reactions to my revelations."

"Tōdō will likely be both easier and more difficult because of your shared history at the Kururugi Shrine and his knowledge of your identity as a Britannian Prince, but Kallen has not only a history with Britannia but she's also in love with both Zero and Lelouch." the Immortal summarized the key issues with a brief nod. "She's also very touchy when it comes to the idea of betrayal. You will have to handle your reveal very carefully with her."

"Which is why I'll have to reveal myself to her first and foremost." Lelouch nodded firmly, decision made.

"Before the famous general and the genius scientist?" C.C. asked with an amused smirk.

"Jeremiah may be 'Lelouch vi Britannia's' Knight of Honour, but Kallen is 'Zero's' Knight of Honour." he explained simply. "It is perfectly acceptable to have up to three Knights of Honour sworn to any single member of the Royal Family, but I have not been treating Kallen's position with the respect that it deserves. Even with the false pretences from the start."

"Ah, of course. The Code of Conduct for Imperial Children and their Most Honoured Knights." C.C. replied, directly quoting the name of the relevant article of Imperial Law. "I am honestly surprised that you seem to care about such a thing."

"Knights of Honour are the closest aides, warriors, and champions in the service of any Prince or Princess. They will guard their liege from any threat be it physical or social with their lives and keep their secrets from even the Emperor himself; in exchange, an Imperial Scion is expected to protect them politically and to be completely honest with them in all things." Lelouch responded, frowning a bit. "Jeremiah and Kallen are to be my sword and shield on any battlefield I walk into. Kallen already does so whenever I enter the field as Zero, and Jeremiah will gladly do the same when I decide it is time for him to stop acting as a mole on the Britannian side of things. It reflects poorly on my own honour that I am repaying such loyal service with base duplicity."

The Immortal Code Bearer simply shook her head in mildly amused awe. She had once had the opportunity to meet Duke Ricardo von Britannia, the founding Emperor of what would one day become the Holy Empire of Britannia once it was fully born anew from the ashes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain after the Humiliation of Edinburgh, and Lelouch honestly reminded her a great deal of the man his distant ancestor would grow into. Ricardo had been the oddest mixture of unforgiving pragmatism, as evidenced by his turning Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution into a political manifesto to rally the Britannian people around him when they were lost and frightened after being driven from the British Isles, and sternly honourable, as shown by the various laws, traditions, and customs that he'd penned regarding Noble Duty and matters such as the treatment of Knights of Honour.

She was honestly quite sure that the former Duke of Britannia would be immeasurably fond of his several times great grandson, far more than he was of any of the 'backbiting brats' (his words, not hers) that he'd personally spawned.

"You'll at least be informing each of them separately, I hope?" she prodded a bit further.

"My dear, it would be incredibly stupid to reveal this to all three of them at once. Their reactions individually will be volatile enough without letting them fuel each other." the Exiled Prince stated with a shake of his head. "That old saying about the intelligence of a crowd being inversely related to how big it gets isn't without its merit, after all. A person can be smart and reasonable, but people are dumb and reactive. No, it will definitely be best if I speak to each of them individually. In the case of Tōdō-sensei, it would also be wise to have the reveal occur while at least Lord Kirihara and possibly even the rest of Kyoto House are in attendance to drive home that they have already given me their support and that this is in no way some inane, idiotic plot to use Japan to make myself into the next Emperor."

"Technically, when you marry Kaguya you will be, though." C.C. pointed out with a smirk. "Or at least Emperor-Consort if you want to be overly technical."

"…as you are well aware, I was referring to the Throne of Blood rather than the Chrysanthemum Throne, witch." Lelouch shot back flatly, using the nickname for Britannia's Golden Lion Throne that had become popular among those of a 'less patriotic' bent since Charles zi Britannia had taken the throne as the newest Emperor after the Emblem of Blood.

"Yes, yes. No need to be so touchy, dear." C.C. smiled coyly as she slipped off the bed and strutted sensually towards Lelouch before straddling his seat, pressing her breasts firmly into his chest. "Now, I think that is enough official business for one night. You have other responsibilities that you need to attend to, lover."

"Well then…it wouldn't do for me to neglect any of my duties…." Lelouch murmured huskily, his hands slowly tracing along his lover's legs to her pert derrière.

There were no more words exchanged in Lelouch's room that night…well non beyond the soft murmurs and cries of two lovers locked in the heat of passion.

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Next Chapter: The Knight, the General and the Scientist

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