Disclaimer: I do not own Code Geass or any of its canon characters.
1125 Hours, 07 October, 2017 ATB
IJAS Hiryu, 3500m above Tokyo Bay, Area 11
Luna vi Britannia had some time to digest what Jeremiah had told her on his follow up call during the short flight up to the massive airship. Half of her wanted to go kill somebody, and the other half wanted to go cry her heart out on CC's shoulder until the wells ran dry, then go kill somebody. Neither was an option at the moment, much to her displeasure.
Jeremiah had taken command of military operations at Tokyo University Hospital, which had been thoroughly secured by a joint task force in a surprisingly well executed display of cooperation between Britannian and IJA forces. Information about the morning's events spread like disease in a packed subway car. It was common knowledge that both Britannian and Japanese personnel were attacked by an unidentified third party, and nothing could bring people together faster than a common threat. Jeremiah was taking zero chances that the as of yet unknown enemy would get a chance to strike at the princess's companions again. From that position, he was getting regular updates from the hospital staff, and relaying those that mattered.
Milly had been extremely lucky that a medical team had been standing by barely a hundred meters from her position as a part of the day's test exercise. Their immediate response was the only reason that she hadn't bled out on the tarmac. Her left arm was gone, mostly due to the kinetic penetrator that struck her somewhere around the elbow. What little remained had been amputated to allow for a prosthetic socket installation. According to Jeremiah, Rakshata had gone back to her roots, and was already hard at work on a new arm for her boss. Knowing Rakshata's technology and penchant for perfectionism, it would probably be quite an upgrade from the flesh and bone she had lost.
Suzaku had just gotten out of surgery when Jeremiah called. He had been hit five times by a pistol caliber weapon, but three of the projectiles were over penetrations that had already lost most of their velocity, and so did little real damage. He was expected to make a full recovery. He was in no immediate danger, much to the relief of Euphemia. She had shown up at the hospital only a few minutes after he went into surgery, covered in blood that was mostly his. Jeremiah explained that after some kind of brief altercation with a nurse, fortunately not of the fatal variety, she was standing watch at his bedside with her own pistol.
Shirley was by far the worst off of the three. Still in critical condition, she had gotten in front of Suzaku during the shooting, and had almost certainly saved his life by shielding him. She had taken seven rounds from the same machine pistol while wearing no more protection than a T shirt and gym shorts. The damage was devastating, and she would probably be in surgery for hours more as they tried to keep her alive. The doctors Jeremiah was talking to were unsure of when, or even if, she would recover. Britannian medical technology could work miracles, but even miracles have their limits.
Luna was pulled back to the moment as the aircraft slowed, before touching down on the airship with a jolt. She wasted no time for pleasantries as she got out of the Type-34 transport onto the Hiryu's flight deck and went straight for the nearest entrance to the ship's rapid transport system. Fortunately, there was nobody blocking the way as she, along with two geared up men from Reaper 1, boarded the first available car and punched in a station half a kilometer aft of their current position.
The short ride was spent in a harsh silence broken only by the faint whine of electric motors. The pair accompanying her had both been on the mission to hit the previous viceroy's Code-R labs, and that was intentional. They both knew that despite her appearance, their master had a propensity for explosive violence when those she cared about were attacked. They had seen with their own eyes her merciless lethality when the woman Reaper 2-2 had died saving was discovered in the facility. The ease with which she applied steel to flesh had been hard to watch, even for men that had killed hundreds over a decade or more in special operations. They both had extensive experience in combat and covert assassination, but never that sort of execution. The two prisoners being held in the brig probably would be wishing they had died in the attack soon enough.
Despite not holding an actual rank in the IJA's military structure, everyone aboard knew who and what she was. The men at the guard station just outside the entrance to the brig asked no questions as she approached, opening the door so fast that the trio barely had to slow as they went inside. The same thing happened on approach to the maximum security wing. Nobody said a word as they advanced.
The most secure section of Hiryu's brig was a square room with 36 individual cells, all facing the center of the room. An inner wall of one way glass divided the cells into four sections, preventing the prisoners from seeing or communicating with each other, while allowing the surveillance suite in the center of the room a direct view of each cell through its transparent door. Every cell was equipped with individual temperature controls and CS gas dispensers, which could be remotely activated if necessary. Escape was virtually impossible.
Josui Kusakabe looked ready to put that to the test as Luna walked past his cell. He was a shell of his former self, despite not being denied essentials during his stay. The primal terror in his eyes as she glanced over toward him told of a man ready to find out if fingernails could dig a hole in a metal floor. He had never quite recovered from her thorough and brutal violation of his mind and soul, and while he wasn't quite as broken as some of the people CC had lashed out against in the past, the former Blood of the Samurai leader had little fire left in him. It brought Luna some minor satisfaction that she could almost taste the terror he felt at the mere sight of her.
Luna continued on until she reached cell 17. The occupant of that particular cell was most unusual among the prisoners here; the man behind the glass was in here for his own protection. The sniper that had been taken alive at the Ashford testing complex was a Britannian soldier, one Corporal Elias Matherson. What had been surprising was that he not only surrendered without a fight, he had thus far been outright cooperative. From what she had heard in her short briefing call earlier was that he seemed to be confused and/or amnesiac about the events that led to him firing the shot that killed Colonel Senba and severely wounded Milly Ashford. She had a very bad feeling about this.
With the two Reaper operators taking positions outside, the door to cell 17 opened. Matherson had been horizontal on the cot, and only then noticed that he had visitors. He sat up, but whatever he had prepared to say died in his throat when he recognized who was advancing toward him. Whoever he was expecting to come to his cell, it was not the viceroy herself.
Not quite knowing what to do, Matherson stood and saluted, hoping it would be good enough. He had never actually met any royalty, or even any nobles of mention, in a face to face situation. Sure, he had seen plenty of Princess Cornelia, but that was in a strictly military setting, and never one on one. He looked like a dazed fish out of water.
"Corporal Elias Matherson." Luna addressed him.
"Yes, your highness." He answered, trying not to fumble his words. This day did not even feel real, much less the gaping hole in his memory.
"Why did you do it?" She asked him with an intimidatingly calm voice. Very briefly, Luna wondered why she had even bothered to ask something so simple. She doubted that he would recant his claims of having no memory of actually committing the attack, but it was worth a shot. The alternative was terrifying. In truth, she was feeling quite scared of confirming the suspicion that had taken up residence in the back of her mind ever since she had gotten a brief on this man.
"Your highness, I…" He stammered.
Luna, knowing that he had no answer to give, good or otherwise, and unwilling to wait for another non-response from him, reached forward and grabbed the man. With direct contact, she decided to skip the traditional interrogation process. She vaguely registered CPL Matherson beginning to scream as she dragged him away from conscious reality.
The now familiar experience of falling through a wormhole replaced the brig around them, at least that was how her mind chose to interpret something so unnatural and alien to human ordinary experience. When it ended, she and Matherson were still in the cell, but everything had changed. Instead of the light gray metal they had been surrounded with, the walls, floor, and ceiling were an inky black that slowly began to smooth out.
Matherson himself stood right where he had been, thoroughly dazed and confused about what was happening to him. His eyes were wider than she had thought possible, a look of primal fear in them. He was barely responsive within this dream world, but she did not need his consciousness to be cooperative. This was an interrogation of the unconscious.
Despite the lack of any overt violence, this was arguably more violating to the victim than anything in human history. Unlike the gentle melding of souls she frequently practiced with CC, Matherson was getting the equivalent of a no knock raid on his memories. Luna didn't care to what degree she traumatized this man so long as she got the truth out of him.
The world around them shifted again, and she observed in fluid detail as a team of Japanese soldiers put him in this cell. Matherson didn't speak as he watched another copy of himself be led into the room by the soldiers. The few words exchanged by troops were irrelevant to Luna, and she dug deeper.
Cell 17 faded away entirely, first going back to the interior of the aircraft that had been used to transport him to the Hiryu, and then even further back to what was obviously the location where he had taken the shot. Unlike the clear depiction of the cell, the area beyond his immediate surroundings were more uncertain. She was looking at the man's memory of this place, not a recording or simulation. Crystal clear was the enormous weapon he had used. She knew what it was, having heard it from Jeremiah, but it took first hand experience to appreciate just how comically big the gun was for one man to operate.
She watched him load a magazine into the massive rifle, push a round into the chamber, and take aim behind the scope. Luna struggled to resist the urge to intervene with what the 'memory Matherson' was doing. She couldn't even if she wanted to. No matter what she tried to do, nothing would change the vision of the past she was witnessing. Even so, she kept watching him. Matherson fired a single shot, twin jets of hot gas redirected by the weapon's giant muzzle break blasting the ground around him. She stared intently as his entire demeanor changed only moments later. He had been focused, with almost mechanical precision as he readied the rifle and took the shot, but in an instant it was all gone. No hesitation before, then wide eyed panic after. She dug deeper into his mind.
The scene faded away like a handful of sand on a windy day. Luna was expecting to find another memory, but instead she found the pair of them standing in a world of inky blackness. Everywhere she looked, there was nothing but a fog of total darkness where Matherson's memories should be. He was telling the truth about not remembering after all.
"What...what the hell are you doing to me?" He finally managed to speak. Luna didn't give him an answer, but instead just went even deeper through the darkness. Matherson fell to his knees whimpering beside her as the power bored through his mind. Luna kept going until the world around them began to show form once more.
From the void emerged the familiar shapes of a Britannian military base here in Tokyo. Luna recognized the location; the bulk of Cornelia's 5th were stationed there. Matherson had a bag in his hand, having just left the PX. His phone rang, and he shuffled to fish it out of a pocket and answer the call.
"Eternal Blue." A silky smooth voice came over the line. Immediately, the dream-like memory space changed from a cloudy, but fairly real image of the base, to a scene of jagged red shifted nightmares.
"Orders sir?" Matherson asked, his voice a hauntingly familiar monotone.
The voice on the other end of the line gave him what he asked for. Luna listened to the memory of the voice lay out in detail what Matherson was to do, where he would acquire his weapon, and when he needed to fire it. The voice's orders were precise and carefully crafted. This operation had clearly been planned in advance by somebody extremely capable. But that was not the part that made Luna feel sick. As the voice finished and the call ended, the memory rapidly faded to progressively darker shades of red until it had returned to the dark void.
Now feeling the urgency of near panic, she abandoned all semblance of being gentle with Matherson. She knew that voice, and the implications it brought terrified her to the core. Desperate to confirm her suspicion, Luna plowed on through the man's mind. What felt like hours passed, with Matherson long since having collapsed into a fetal ball as her violent intrusion overwhelmed him. She kept going until she found one specific memory, over a year in the past.
The scene around them morphed into a pub, albeit quite fuzzier than his more recent memories. She wondered for a moment if that was a product of the memory just being older, or how drunk Matherson had been at the time. Probably the latter, since CC's memories of times more distant were much clearer, and like herself, had difficulty becoming intoxicated. Regardless, she kept on watching.
As Matherson, now quite intoxicated from a few beers and several shots of something she hadn't seen the label of, stumbled toward the men's room, he was intercepted by a figure that at a glance seemed to blend right in. The unknown man got close to Matherson, offering a spread of twenty pound notes to follow him. Unsurprisingly, the poor private did as he was asked to. Then Luna got a clearer look at him, and her blood tried to freeze in her veins.
Standing before the soldier was the most familiar face she could ever imagine. It was so, because she used to wear it in a previous life. The man in the memory bore such similarity to Lelouch vi Britannia that he could have been a clone of her prior self. His face and voice were virtually identical, and his mannerisms were almost a perfect copy. Did she have a secret brother that the original, pre-merger Luna had no memories of? Possibilities poured through her thoughts, until she remembered a few overlooked details that hadn't even registered before. A pattern that she had completely missed.
Guinevere su Britannia had taken in a man named Julius Kingsley. Luna wasn't sure what significance the fact that he had inherited the title of duke had, but Julius Kingsley had been the name Lelouch had been given as Emperor Charles' puppet after the failure of the Black Rebellion. She had no memory of that year and change that Lelouch had been enslaved by Geass, just like the void she had found in the memories before this morning. What's more, Kingsley had been the one that shot Anya Alstreim dead for trying to assassinate Guinevere. The pieces finally came together.
Now it was Luna's turn to collapse in shock. She fell to her knees, trying to avoid finding out what actually would happen if she vomited in this mind-linked dream world. How could she have been so fucking blind? Every assumption she had made was catastrophically wrong. This was far from the same enemy that Lelouch had faced and so thoroughly dismembered in the months before taking the throne for himself.
It only got worse as she looked up once again. Kingsley's left eye was aglow with the terrifying red sigil of Geass, and she heard him give a set of orders that transformed Elias Matherson from an ordinary soldier in the imperial army into the perfect sleeper agent. Matherson hadn't killed Colonel Senba and amputated Milly's arm by anything even resembling his own free will. The man was a slave; an expendable asset ordered into action for reasons yet unknown to Luna. The other fifteen men were probably no different. They were just unwilling pawns, the lot of them.
For the first time in years, she felt genuinely afraid. It was like Mao all over again. No, it was even worse than that. There was nobody more qualified to recognize and understand what she had just seen than herself. Julius Kingsley had the power of Absolute Obedience, the same Geass that Lelouch vi Britannia used to subjugate the world in months.
Shock and mild disbelief gave way to white hot rage as it sank in that this man, a true doppelganger if one ever existed, had been the one to attack her family. The sixteen shooters that had actually done the work were probably all innocent men compelled to do his bidding by powers beyond their comprehension. And surely, if he had sixteen of them ready to go on such short notice, there were bound to be more. Many, many more.
Of course, that left the question of what her mother's role in all of this was. Was she just another Geass slave, enthralled by Kingsley, or was she pulling the strings herself from within Guinevere's body? Luna immediately thought back to the final encounter Lelouch had with his parents. Marianne had been one hundred percent on board with the idea of the Ragnarok Connection. It had shocked Lelouch to the core to find out that the murder he had spent so much time, blood, and tears trying to avenge was in fact so completely justified that he finished the job himself on the spot. That version of her had been erased from existence, but what about the one that was now undoubtedly possessing the body of Guinevere su Britannia? How similar were they?
At some point, Luna must have unconsciously ended the connection with Matherson, because the next thing she remembered, she was being held by one of her escorts, while the other had a rifle to Matherson's head. The veteran shooter looked ready to ventilate the man's skull for the first available reason.
"Don't." Luna tried to order, but it came out as a raspy croak. Still understandable enough to get through. The reaper's finger came away from the trigger, but the Britannian was still clearly a threat in his eyes. "Not his fault." She continued.
"What happened?" The man holding her asked, clearly concerned about what he perceived as some kind of attack by the prisoner. He wasn't taking any chances, even though Matherson looked truly out of it at the moment.
"It's complicated. We'll have a briefing about it later." Luna told them both, her voice sounding hollow. "He didn't do anything to me. Let's go."
Both men clearly had questions, but stowed them away for now. They knew they would get some answers when she was ready to give them. As it was, they secured the prisoner in his cell, and helped their princess out. She had other places to be, and Matherson wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Luna made her way to the brig's medical bay in a daze. The other man that had lived through the attack on the palace was being kept there, undergoing treatment for gunshot wounds. She had intended to interrogate him as well, but there was almost no point after what she had just seen. Still, she needed to be sure. No matter how certain she now was, a sample size of one was exactly that.
1720 Hours, 07 October, 2017 ATB
Viceroy's Palace, Tokyo Settlement, Area 11
Cornelia li Britannia entered the room that had once been her brother's office not knowing what to expect. Luna had asked her to come here on very short notice, and said nothing more about it in her brief message. The morning had been an exercise in managing total chaos. Some kind of terrorist attack had taken place with uncanny coordination, which was already unusual enough given the competency of the known enemies in Area 11, or rather the lack thereof. With the Blood of the Samurai all but defeated, and nobody else having yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, there was no obvious go to answer for who was behind it. Nobody responded well to being hit by an unknown enemy.
As it usually was when they met here, Luna was already waiting in her favorite spot. Leaning against an exterior window, she looked out over the city as she bathed in the glow of a perfect sunset. It was a mesmerizing sight; a million shades of gold and orange contrasting against the clear blue sky.
"I'm surprised you actually came." Luna spoke softly.
"Luna, what is…" Cornelia began, taking a few steps into the room, but she was rendered speechless as her sister spun and leveled a pistol at her with not even a hint of hesitation. In that moment, her heart seemed to skip a beat, and time slowed down to a crawl.
"They were your men, Cornelia. All sixteen of them." Luna said, her finger running up and down the side of the trigger guard. There was a hardness in her eyes that sent a chill down the elder princess's spine.
"What are you talking about?" Cornelia's voice was hollow. Despite her words, she had a sinking feeling that she knew where this was going.
"Two of them lived, you know." Luna told her, extended pistol arm unwavering. "One surrendered, the other was wounded enough to be captured alive not that far from this room. The other bodies have all been recovered and identified. Sixteen active duty soldiers of your 5th conducted the coordinated attacks this morning. One of General Tohdoh's best officers was assassinated; one of my best soldiers and over a dozen guardsmen died defending this damn palace." Luna paused for a moment, pent up tears beginning to drip down her face. Her grip on the pistol tightened.
"Three of my best friends are clinging to life right now, all of them shot by your men." She wasn't yelling, which made the accusation all the more powerful. "Euphemia is a wreck; standing watch over Suzaku's bed as if assassins may spring from any shadow to finish him off. He's only still alive because Shirley Fenette, one of the best friends you could ever imagine, jumped in front of a damn machine gun for him. I don't know if she'll ever recover from that."
"No!" Cornelia lost her composure. She gave no such orders and she knew it, yet Luna was so convinced that the attackers were her troops. Was her accusation even accurate? Did her men really do such a thing? The thought of that many traitors in her midst made her feel sick. "I didn't do it! I swear Luna!" She pleaded, frantically trying to come up with something to back her words up. She had no evidence to present. It was her word against Luna, and when two people were equally convinced that they were right and the other was wrong, it rarely ended well.
"I had a very interesting conversation with one Corporal Matherson a few hours ago. He's the sniper that murdered Colonel Senba and blew Countess Millicent Ashford's arm off this morning. He showed me the truth. All of the shooters were your men. They tried to kill my family." Her words cut Cornelia to the soul.
She remembered Milly from visits to the Aries Villa eight years ago, and more recently in her newly restored capacity. She knew now that Luna had gone to the Ashfords after the invasion, and regarded Milly as a sister. They had the kind of close relationship that was stolen from herself and Euphemia by the invasion. Just trying to imagine that one of her soldiers had done such a thing to Milly felt like a sledgehammer in the gut.
Cornelia's combat hardened eyes snapped their gaze onto her sister's right hand. Her index finger had slipped inside the trigger guard, and now rested on the switch that threatened to kill her. Luna's ice cold glare told more than words could have. The one responsible for her agony, the one who gave the orders, was standing just a few meters from her front sight post. That the assassins had not finished the job mattered not from her sister's frame of reference; the attempt was made.
She automatically fell back on training and instinct, drawing the revolver from her hip before her mind even processed what was happening. Rays of dying daylight danced across the intricate hawk feather engravings along the shroud as it came up level, not that she noticed anything other than the position of her sights. She was tired, shocked, and the last few minutes had gone by in one dazed blur. Now the will to live overrode her hesitation. Luna thought she had tried to kill her friends. Luna was going to shoot her. That was why she wanted to meet alone: There was nobody else to stop her. No cameras, and no witnesses either.
Regardless of her emotional state, Cornelia was still a veteran warrior with a finely honed edge. Luna exhaled as her finger took the slack out of her trigger. Four meters away, the hammer behind the opposing gun came back, combat senses taking over. Cornelia's consciousness hadn't even caught up to the fact that she had pulled her own weapon on a sister she had spent the better part of a decade mourning when her finger pulled the double action trigger over the edge as she stared transfixed with tunnel vision into the barrel of Luna's gun aimed directly at her. The hammer fell, and with an instantaneous finality, the gravity of the moment smashed into her as the gun roared. There was only one shot.
The window behind Luna spiderwebbed as the bullet came to a sudden halt in the ballistic glass. She fell backwards against the glass, blood pouring from front and back through a pair of new holes in her torso. Her grip on the automatic went slack as she slid down the glass to the floor. Luna vi Britannia died once again, a faint smile on her face as her ruptured heart ceased functioning.
"Oh my, aren't you feeling dramatic today." A voice greeted Luna as she regained consciousness. She sat up, finding herself surrounded by the familiar sights of C's World. "Now what did I tell you about pulling a stunt like that again?"
"Of course you would be watching." Luna said to the Collective Unconscious. Its avatar had changed again, this time taking an appearance that would have been more fitting of an ancient Greek goddess, albeit with the exact same face and voice as last time. The smug grin on 'her' face was a new addition.
"I do have a special interest in you, after all." She said.
"First, that was a bullet, not a blade. Second, we both know my body will regenerate in minutes. But that's irrelevant. You could have warned me." Luna said.
"About? Certainly not the circumstances that just led you back here. That was all your doing." The goddess's tone of fake ignorance would have been amusing under different circumstances.
"Julius Kingsley." Luna accused.
"Ah. You didn't ask, and I never promised you a free intelligence briefing."
"Why did you do it? You sent me to a world with what is basically an evil clone of Lelouch vi Britannia."
"I never lied to you, Luna." She hedged.
"Not directly, but you have other motives, don't you."
"Of course I do. Did you honestly expect otherwise?"
"No." Luna admitted after a few moments. "I'm sure I would too in your position."
"If you really must know, I sent you here, to this world specifically, because this is one of those at risk of having its connection to me severed."
"By the Sword of Akasha?" Luna asked.
"Yes. You already know the details of how that works. However, not every world develops along the same paths. There are many more that are in no such danger. It would have been wasteful of me to have sent the soul of Lelouch vi Britannia to one of those. " She explained.
"Because I've already defeated it once." Luna stated, not phrasing it as a question.
"Indeed. Given that this world is so similar to that which you call the 'First World', I wouldn't even have to ask you for a repeat performance. The conditions are so alike that you already know what must be done. You're a fire and forget solution to that problem." She explained.
Luna felt herself beginning to fade, her body in the real world restoring itself back to health. Her time here was coming to an end, whether she wanted to stay and argue or not. There were plenty of things she wanted to say and ask, but it was not to be.
"Next time, tell me about problems like Kingsley. Call it orientation if you wish." She said.
"Next time? Do you really think that's ever going to happen?" The collective asked with a wondering look. Luna chuckled.
"Not to me, but I didn't say it would be the same me, now did I?" She told the Collective's avatar. The last thing she saw as her vision faded was the avatar's eyes showing distinct surprise.
Luna slowly came back to life in her real body after fading away once again, a feeling that was becoming more familiar. What was not familiar to her was being held by a hysterically sobbing Cornelia. She couldn't recall ever seeing her cry before, much less undergo a breakdown of this magnitude. It completely killed the last remnant of suspicion that Cornelia had anything to do with the attacks, unless she was under the compulsion of Geass as well. Not that she had seriously suspected Cornelia of willingly betraying her to this degree, but it felt reassuring to be certain.
She thought it was a bit of a stretch to try to bait her sister into shooting her, but it worked far better than she expected it to. Regardless of rank or status, combat veteran soldiers could always be relied upon to fall back on training and muscle memory when under pressure. Staring down the barrel of a gun while watching her slowly squeezing the trigger was apparently enough to make her sister react. Still, Luna hadn't expected the first shot to be so ruthlessly lethal.
Reopening her eyes, Luna couldn't see much beyond Cornelia's chest and a large pool of blood on the floor. She was too busy crying her soul out to notice that Luna had rebooted. Her death was obviously not what Cornelia wanted, since she had spent at least the last few minutes cradling her corpse, and was completely drenched in blood as a result. If she had been in on the enemy's plan, there would be a list of time critical actions she would need to perform immediately upon Luna's death that would stretch down to the ground floor. No, this was without question a genuine reaction.
Regaining feeling in her right arm, Luna realized that she was still holding the pistol. That was surprising, since the first thing Cornelia should have done after shooting her was secure it. It was obvious that she was too distraught to follow even that simple step. Luna wondered what that truly said about her sister, that she could be so easily manipulated into doing something that she would never willingly do with intent. Food for later contemplation, she stowed the thought away.
Moving for the first time since regaining consciousness, Luna jammed the barrel of her pistol into Cornelia's ribs. She tensed and froze in place. Luna couldn't see her face, but the shock on it must have been a once in a lifetime event. She squeezed the trigger, this time without the dramatic slowness that was meant to be seen. A loud metallic click broke the silence as the striker tried to ignite a cartridge that wasn't there. The gun had always been empty, but Cornelia couldn't have known that before squeezing her own trigger.
"Bang." Luna said. It came out as a hoarse whisper, her throat dry from all the blood loss. Code may have repaired her body enough to revive her, but it wasn't something that made sure she was comfortable. Cornelia jumped, startled like never before in her life. She fell backwards off of Luna, staring at her with eyes so wide they looked to be in danger of falling out. Her breathing was rapid and shallow, her hands were shaking, and the tears kept flowing even though the sobs had ceased.
Going back to the dramatic, Luna reached over and picked Cornelia's gun out of a puddle of her own blood. She looked it over, admiring the revolver that was as beautiful as it was deadly. Powerful, reliable, and elegant. She popped the cylinder open and found the round that killed her. She chuckled as she examined the brass. It was just like Cornelia to carry a .357 magnum on her hip. She closed the gun back up and handed it to Cornelia. Or rather, she tried to, but her sister just stared at her, frozen with incomprehensible shock written all over her face.
After a few moments of holding the gun by the barrel, Luna stood up. She leaned against the window, in the same spot she had been before, and spun the cylinder before tracing a finger across the fine engravings along the triangular barrel shroud. She wiped the side of it clean, finding it would be a terrible job to clean all of the blood out of the fine feather engravings.
Luna tried to keep a frown off of her face as she realized that this was probably more traumatic for her sister than if she had just used Code to directly probe her mind. She had been hesitant to do that, given what it did to Matherson. She hadn't even been trying to hurt him, and the man was reduced to a broken husk as she sifted through his memory. She had learned the hard way that it was nothing like the gentle, intoxicatingly pleasurable melding of souls that she and CC frequently enjoyed. No wonder her witch had driven people insane just by lashing out at them with the power. It was far more destructive than Luna expected, having never conducted her own human experimentation with it. That wasn't something she wanted to inflict upon Cornelia, unless she unexpectedly proved to be responsible for the attack.
"How?" Cornelia muttered nearly ten minutes later. Luna had turned away from her, looking out over her capital city as the light of day was replaced by the light of night. Tokyo was every bit as beautiful after the world rotated out of Sol's burning gaze. A sea of millions of lights spread out around the central structure where the palace was located, terminating only at the actual sea where the city met Tokyo Bay.
"I shot you!" Cornelia blurted out. "You weren't breathing, had no pulse…there's a bloody hole in your chest!"
"Not anymore. I don't stay dead for long." Luna said, turning back to Cornelia. Both women looked like a sight out of a horror movie, the sickening quantity of blood having painted their clothes shades of crimson as it dried. It bothered Luna not at all, if her smirk was a tell. She had seen and lived through far worse.
"That's...impossible…" Cornelia's voice trailed off even as she said the words. Her sister was right; living proof was standing right in front of her. Luna noticed her eyes go to the revolver loosely held in Luna's hand. She absently popped the cylinder in and out a few times. She knew what Cornelia must be thinking.
"There's nothing wrong with your gun." She set the cylinder on another cartridge and cocked the hammer. Luna placed the barrel against the palm of her left hand and squeezed the trigger. With a thunderclap that made Cornelia visibly flinch, the revolver discharged exactly as it should. Luna grimaced at the feeling of blasting a hole in her hand. It hurt, but not that much. As she had found to be common with her Code, it always seemed to dial down severe pain to a level that was merely uncomfortable. Non critical bullet wounds were honestly not that bad considering the rapid regeneration and pain mitigation. Luna held out her bleeding hand.
Cornelia watched with wide, unblinking eyes as the hole in Luna's palm began to knit itself back together. Within twenty seconds the bleeding had stopped, and by a minute the hole had closed. Her hand looked as if nothing had ever happened, yet the blood spatter and second spiderweb impact on the window stood as proof that it really did happen.
Luna took a couple steps forward and gently placed the bloody revolver back in Cornelia's hand. She stared at it for a few moments, before shakily opening it up and checking the remaining ammunition herself. Sure enough, the remaining cartridges in the cylinder were all the same .357 FMJ rounds she had loaded it with hours earlier.
"Still don't believe it?" Luna asked. She took off her blazer, then began unbuttoning the blood soaked shirt beneath. She handed both to Cornelia, hanging them off of her index finger by the entry and exit holes the bullet had punched through them. Just beneath her collar bone, the unhidden sigil of her Code still shone with a distinctive crimson glow. Cornelia took it, but was far more interested in the sigil on her sister's chest than the wreckage of her suit top.
Uneasily, Cornelia reached out to touch it. Her fingers ran across it, finding that it did not feel like anything she had ever felt before. She had no words to describe the sensation of the glowing mark. She traced her way over to the spot where her bullet had to have struck, if the blood was any indication, and found no bullet wound. Suddenly, she spun Luna around only to find the same thing on her back: A lot of blood and no exit wound.
Instead of asking any of the questions she was expecting from Cornelia, the elder princess flung herself at Luna, the waterworks coming back on at full power. She was glad that Cornelia couldn't see the genuine surprise on her face. If there was one thing Luna had thoroughly underestimated, it was just how much her sister truly loved her. With all the filters blown off, Cornelia really had no idea what to do or say except hug her and cry. Luna began to seriously regret doing this to her. It felt so...wrong seeing the mighty Cornelia li Britannia reduced to this.
"I'm sorry Nelly." Luna said in the midst of her crushing embrace. Cornelia went rigid. "I shouldn't have done that to you."
"Your gun was always empty, wasn't it?" Cornelia asked after a few more moments. She didn't let go. Her eyes and throat hurt as the tears kept flowing. Luna hadn't called her that in over eight years. In that moment, Cornelia knew that Luna had been wrong when they had spoken at length in the gardens; despite all of the hardships, and how much she had changed, the sister she remembered was still in there.
"Of course it was empty." Luna wriggled out of her arms, reached down, and plucked the pistol off of the bloody floor. Cornelia watched as the magazine dropped out, and no cartridge emerged when the slide came back. Both were devoid of ammunition. She felt a shuddering rush of horror through her; realization delivering a gut punch. Luna would never hurt her, if even for no other reason than she adored Euphemia. How could she have so easily believed otherwise; Easily enough to shoot her without so much as the slightest hesitation. Was she really so afraid of a bullet that shooting first against all other evidence was the option she had picked?
"Then why?" Cornelia half yelled, half cried at her. "All of those things you said… Were any of your accusations true?" She was utterly disgusted with herself that she had actually shot her sister. Even though by some true miracle she had just demonstrated an ability to just... disagree with death.
"I never accused you of anything, Cornelia." Luna said firmly. Cornelia's fiery retort died in her throat as the words played back in her mind. No, she had only accused those under her command, which to Cornelia felt like one and the same as accusing her personally. Luna, not being a career military officer, probably didn't think that way, she realized.
"I just wanted you to shoot me." Luna continued directly.
"You didn't answer my question."
"Because it was the easiest way to show you that magic is real; that there are powers you have no hope of facing on your own. You wouldn't have believed any of it without some proof. Well, there you go: I'm immortal." Luna decided to leave out the part that she simply felt like she deserved to eat a bullet or two for how badly she had screwed up for this morning's events to even happen in the first place. However, she wouldn't be able to explain that part without going into her past life. Not today.
"And my men?" She asked, figuring she was going to hear all about whatever magic caused immortality one way or another. No, she wasn't going to let Luna divert her from this topic.
"Cornelia, that treasure hunt I sent you on. Did you ever find a name?"
"They're related, I promise." Luna said. "I would ask you to trust me, but just...please." Sighing, Cornelia dragged that whole mess back up to the front of her memory.
"Not quite." She admitted. "It was hard to narrow down the list to under twenty names. I've got eleven left."
"At this point there's no reason left to be so secretive, since they struck first." Luna said.
"Luna vi Britannia, who is it, and what do they have to do with my soldiers?" Cornelia had transitioned from her previous pitiful state to more familiar anger. That was good, she was getting back to her usual self.
"Viktor zi Britannia."
That surprised Cornelia. Of the names remaining on her list, he was the one she expected the least. The only reason he was even still on the list was his very close connection to Emperor Charles, and the murky circumstances of his supposed death. The emperor's brother, their long lost uncle that was supposedly dead for decades.
"How does he fit into this?" She asked, not particularly caring about the man's history when there were answers she wanted far more immediately.
"He is the leader of the organization known to the few aware of its existence as the Geass Order." Luna told her. She bit her lip to make her sigil glow. "They exist because of this."
Luna ran a finger over the sigil, pondering just how much to tell Cornelia at this point for a few moments.
"It is an ancient, supernatural power known as Code. Little is known about it beyond that it grants the bearer immortality so long as they possess it, and that it can bestow an ability known as Geass upon those willing to accept a type of contract with the Code bearer. Viktor is one such immortal, along with myself and one other. He is the one that provides Geass to members of the Order.
Geass is, for lack of a more scientific description, an ability that satisfies the strongest wish or desire of the person that wields it. It always manifests as some form of mental power, be it an effect on the person themselves, or those around them. There are several Geass effects that I know of." She explained.
"And my men?" Cornelia reiterated with failing patience.
"All sixteen of them were indeed soldiers from your 5th. All of them have also been afflicted by a Geass. In this case, it is a Geass that empowers the wielder to give one irresistible order to anyone that makes eye contact with them."
"What, like Medusa turning men to stone?" Cornelia asked with a disbelieving tone in her voice. Luna chuckled.
"Not quite, but that effect could be simulated. Geass affects the mind of those subject to it. If that specific Geass was used with a command to simply 'stop moving', then the target would then be unable to move for the rest of their lives. That, however, would be a waste of the single command." Luna said.
"That's insane." Cornelia muttered, loud enough to be heard.
"Is it? Use it to order a man to 'die', and he will use whatever means available to kill himself. Order somebody to 'obey me', and they would in effect be your lifelong slave unless you also specified some type exit condition. Even though that is circumventing the spirit of the single use limit and 'wishing for more wishes', as it were. There are few limits to what it can do. It is effectively a means to hack the human mind." She continued.
The last sunlight had disappeared, allowing the city lights to cast dancing, jagged shadows across the room. Cornelia had finally managed to calm herself down, although she was already certain that she would have nightmares about this day for the rest of her life. She looked back at Luna, and the spot on her bloody chest where the bullet should have gone through her. Where it did go through her. The wound was gone, not even a scar, and was only discernible by dried blood around it.
"The man that enslaved your troops to be his assassins is Duke Kingsley." Luna told her.
"Julius Kingsley? The one that saved Princess Guinevere from the Knight of Six?" Cornelia asked. This, she had clearly not been expecting if the look on her face was a tell.
She did not know the man, but she knew of him. As disconnected as she was from Pendragon's elite social circles and political intrigue, she still knew some of what went on in the heart of the empire. Of course, Guinevere's attempted assassination was impossible to cover up, as was its perpetrator. Everyone even remotely in Guinevere's orbit had been singing his praises for killing the now disgraced Anya Alstreim.
"Kingsley and Guinevere are high ranking members of the Geass Order. His Geass power has been referred to as Absolute Obedience, for obvious reasons. I know that Guinevere also possesses a Geass, courtesy of our uncle, although not what its effects are." Luna told her. It was mostly the truth, as she knew it. Not a word was going to be said about Marianne vi Britannia tonight.
It pained Luna to lie about that, especially after the evening's earlier events. She by now genuinely felt bad about causing Cornelia so much undeserved anguish, but bringing up her mother's apparent hostile takeover of Guinevere's body would cause far too many issues at this point.
"So they weren't traitors at all, just pawns in someone else's scheme." Cornelia muttered, struggling not to be overwhelmed by everything that had happened to her in the last hour.
"Yes, Cornelia. I cannot speak for all of them, but the two survivors were put under Kingsley's control over a year ago in Pendragon. He then called them and used a trigger word to activate the power, after which they executed his precise orders to the letter. The one man that surrendered, Corporal Matherson, did so because he completed all of the objectives assigned to him, which released him from the control of the Geass. He has no memory of what he did while following those orders. It was as if he suddenly awoke on a hill behind a smoking gun after a days long blackout." Luna explained as she walked toward the back of the room.
"So why not just order him to kill himself when the job was done?" Cornelia asked the obvious question. "You said it can do that."
"It can, and Kingsley certainly knows that. Therefore, he must have wanted some of them to survive, or at the very least have their bodies identified." Luna said.
"To what end though? Surely he could have found better assassins than brainwashed enlisted troops?"
"Do you have any elite infantry that could have done a better job?"
Cornelia hesitated at the question. Sure, her infantry were good, some of the best in the empire, but her focus was on knightmare frames and armor. She did not have squads of super lethal operators at her command on a regular basis.
"Not in the 5th." She said after a few moments. "I'm sure those were not my very best troops, but I don't have any special forces or rangers."
"Then it's obvious." Luna stated with confidence as she reached behind the desk and pulled a black T shirt from a drawer. She wriggled into it and turned back to Cornelia.
"Send competent men, but not those that would be missed, or whose absence would be noticed quickly. I suspect that's why they were chosen by Kingsley. They were all probably good, perhaps slightly above average, but not standout troops in any regard. Perfect for just blending in."
"But for what purpose? Were they just to be assassins?" Cornelia asked.
"I don't think so. The attacks were extremely well coordinated, but the execution was sloppy. Two of them had only one shooter each. They were just distractions; their targets merely bonus objectives. No, I think he had two real priorities: the ten men that hit the palace, and making it look like you did it."
Cornelia was about to ask another question, but realization hit her as loud as the thunder of her hand cannon. Surprise rapidly condensed into fury as she finally understood.
"They didn't know, did they?" She asked. "They don't know you have it; that Code power. That's why they attacked the palace: to assassinate you and start a war between my forces and yours." Luna's grin returned in force. That was a very good guess, but she would leave the full truth of it for later. Still, Cornelia had the general idea.
"They don't know that I bear a Code, and they definitely wished to see our armies locked in open combat across Japan. Guinevere waits for the day she can plant her bottom on the throne like a child awaits Christmas morning in mid December. If this plot had succeeded, an upstart contender would be eliminated, and the empire's most successful general would be at worst tied down for years fighting far from North America. It would leave only Schneizel and Charles as her opponents, as well as denying either of them my potential assistance or easy access to Japan's sakuradite reserves."
"Insidious bitch…" Cornelia muttered. Oh how desperately Luna wanted to inform her just how much of an understatement that was. She was certain that the real Guinevere su Britannia was at best a prisoner in her own body, if not completely destroyed by Marianne, who was now wearing her face and using her loyal followers as expendable assets. However, Luna would say nothing. She had no proof, and had already lost far too much to bad assumptions from another world to make the same mistake again before the day was up.
"In four hours I'm going to have a meeting of those closest to me, right here in this room. You will all know, in great detail, the enemy we now face."
Luna reached forward and hugged her sister, the new shirt be damned. Making a sudden decision, a faint red glow seeped through her shirt, and she opened a link with Cornelia. While Luna had yet to figure out a way to rummage through another's unwilling mind without harming them, inviting someone into her own was something she was uniquely skilled at. She belatedly remembered that she probably should have asked first.
"What the hell is happening?" Cornelia asked in alarm. Luna internally winced. She remembered how crazy 'going through the wormhole' felt her first time too.
"It's ok, Nelly. Nothing bad, I assure you. I told you Code can do more than just cheat death, remember?" Taking a few deep breaths, Cornelia nodded. "The very short version is that I opened a link between our souls. I want to show you some of my memories. I know this is too much, too fast, but just let me give you this."
"You can do that?" She asked in wide eyed wonder. It was beyond the realm of any known technology: an ever grander display of outright magic. At least her...stunt...with the bullets had been grounded in something Cornelia was familiar with. This was just...
"I greatly miscalculated earlier. Before I asked you to come here, I did something similar to this with the two prisoners we took, and I wasn't gentle. I used this power to invade their minds and tear the truth from them. Neither handled it very well. I thought manipulating you into shooting me was the easiest way to find out if you were involved without taking the same risk." Luna hadn't let go of her, but brought her head up to lock eyes. "Please."
She didn't object. They stood together as the world around them melted away.
The scene reformed as the morning of the invasion, the fated cruise missile that struck the Iwakuni base's command center, the fortification of Itsukushima, the raid on Hiroshima, Cornelia saw it all as if she had been there with her. The Britannian general could see now why Tohdoh and his lieutenants trusted her so as the visions played out. As much as it pained her that imperial forces had been on the wrong end of them, Luna's actions in the days and weeks after the invasion were amazing, genius even, considering what she was left to work with. Then came the Disaster of Narita.
Cornelia became the first and only Britannian officer to fully comprehend that battle from the other side. She marveled at the patience and unbreakable will of the defenders, and how they adapted Luna's tactics. It was a battle that would be remembered forever; a final stand against inevitable destruction turned to victory through true miracles of arms.
Time flowed forward after Narita, into Luna's life as a commoner student living right in the shadow of this very palace undetected for years. Snippets of that happier time danced before her. A student council meeting, one of Milly's crazy festivals, shock upon noble faces across a chess board, and the look on Rivalz Cardemonde's face the first time she transferred a quarter million pounds to him.
It was obvious that her sister wanted her to know her friends that had been shot that morning as more than just names on a casualty report. Regardless of her reasons it was working damn well. She felt her heart skip a beat as Euphemia appeared in the memoryscape. It was their first meeting at Ashford Academy. The next memory was of Suzaku Kururugi on one of the school's rooftops. Cornelia found she could actually feel her sister's love for him; a brother like she had never known before.
With suddenness Suzaku faded away, and she now was in Clovis's limo. For the minute it lasted, Cornelia couldn't take her eyes off of her late brother. She knew what would begin momentarily, and while she had heard a condensed version of it before, Luna had never explained in exquisite detail what had happened that day. The elder sister watched her younger fight with a fury that would make her veterans proud. She unconsciously hugged Luna tighter as her memory self took one, then another bullet. More gunfire, more bodies fell, and then came the fatal shots; the moment that Clare Lautrec was retired.
The scene shifted once more, and Luna was now leading four columns of heavily armed infantrymen marching in perfect unison. The moment that Luna vi Britannia returned to the world.
Once more, the memories skipped forward, and she saw this very day's events from her sister's perspective. Parts of the interrogations, her hasty plan that had been enacted in this room, and above all else, overwhelming, blood chilling fear at the discovery of Kingsley's Geass. Fear that Cornelia herself was either in on it, or another one of his puppets with a part yet to be played. It was only then that she understood Luna's unspoken motive for doing this with her: to find out if she had been exposed to Geass as well.
For the first time since the sequence started, Cornelia looked back to her sister. Luna hadn't moved. Her head was still resting against her neck, eyes closed. She had no need to see it all again.
In a moment of inspiration, Cornelia tried to call up her own memories. She had no idea how this worked, if there even was any real logic to the magic that was Code. But watching her memories of what happened to Corporal Matherson led her to the realization that she now had a means to prove that she was not under Kingsley's spell. The world around them changed.
Luna opened her eyes. Although she did not know how to force her way into somebody's mind without causing a lot of damage, it was a different circumstance entirely if the other party was a willing participant. Clumsily, the memoryscape around them shifted from Luna's to Cornelia's.
She opened her mouth to say something, but froze as she realized that she had no advice to give since she had never done this before. The only person she had ever had a connection like this to was CC, who shared the same curse. Luna had never used this aspect of her Code on a normal person with peaceful intent before.
Neither spoke as Cornelia fumbled her way through her memories. The entire experience was far less smooth than it would have been had Luna just invaded her mind and taken what she wanted to know, but it was more than enough, both in practical terms and the gesture itself. She could detect no sign of any Geass influence upon her in the last few days.
"Thank you, Nelly." Luna whispered. "And for what it's worth, I truly am sorry about…"
"Don't you dare." Cornelia cut her off. It would have come out as a growl if she was not trying to hold back more tears. She hugged Luna tighter. "I shot you! I thought I killed you! And it's my own damn fault for falling for your stupid acting. I spent years thinking you were dead, but never quite losing hope that you might have survived. I'm never going to forgive myself for what I did tonight, so the last thing I want to hear is you apologizing for it."
Luna shut up and hugged back, happy with the unexpected outcome of this … misadventure. In her view, she had only managed to break even. Through her roundabout means of trying to avoid hurting Cornelia by digging through her mind, she had hurt her in other ways. In the end, a more benevolent use of her curse had patched the situation up to a reasonable degree.
"Then I suppose I'm not sorry after all. " Luna muttered. She broke away and went over to Clovis's old desk. Reaching underneath it, she hit a hidden button, and a section of the wall behind the desk recessed a few centimeters and slid aside.
To Cornelia's amazement as she peered into the room, her brother had installed a rather large secret private bathroom in his office. In addition to all of the expected amenities, there was an enormous floor to ceiling mirror, a luxurious hot tub, and a massage table with a whole rack of accessories.
On that table sat two complete changes of clothes, one for each of them. She took one look in the mirror, and decided that despite her distaste for business suits, the one on the table was infinitely better than the bloody horror show she saw in her own reflection. As her sister turned on the shower, complete with nine shower heads, she had the reassurance that at least she would soon be much cleaner than she felt.