I do not own Code Geass.

Faisal Inn and Restaurant, Kingdom of Zilkhstan, March 21st, 2020

C-Two rose up from her seat. She patted herself down, checked her body for splinters, and left Nunnally's room at a casual pace. There was no hurry.

She came to the balcony overlooking the dining area and foyer, where every face in the room was fixed on the series of TV's attached to the ceilings. Black Knight and Britannian stood side by side, though not, C-Two observed, intermingled. Rather, they were two great mobs with clear delineations, joined together in awestruck wonder. Nunnally was down there, too, held lovingly in Sayoko's arms, her hand held tightly by Kallen.

C-Two leaned onto the railing, rested her chin in the cup of her hand, and watched.

On the nearest TV screen, the one Nunnally and Kallen were watching, Suzaku in his Zero costume was trussed up on the wall. The mask was fixed firmly in place. His body was covered in lacerations, from a whip if C-Two was any judge, and blood ran from them.

"We have tried to do things the fair way, the noble way," the disembodied voice of Queen Shamna said. "We tried to join the community of nations. We argued strenuously in the UFN for the return of our territories and resources stolen from us in war. Surely the world would vote in favor of restoring our original borders, and return to us our dignity. In this new era, we thought we might have the chance to right the wrongs of the past.

"But we are a small country, a poor country. We do not have the population numbers of the great nations that fought the Britannians. And so, our enemies laughed as they voted us down. And that is when we knew. We knew that this world was one of lies. The lie of equality. The lie of fairness. The lie of justice. We will abide by it no longer."

"What are they doing?" Nunnally demanded, stark terror in her voice. "Oh, God, what are they doing?"

"Where's this broadcast coming from?" Kallen asked. "If we hurry, we can shut it down and rescue S-Zero!"

"It's no good, Kallen," C-Two said. Kallen and Nunnally shot looks at her. "Everything that's about to happen, they did days ago. This was always their Plan B."

"What do you mean?" Ohgi called up to her. "What's happening?"

C-Two looked him right in the eye. "A reckoning."

"Are you Zero?" the disembodied voice asked the tortured man.

"...yes." The metallic filter on the mask somehow made him sound even weaker.

"Are you the first Zero? The Zero who first raised the flag of rebellion?"

"...please...don't...do this."

"Oh...oh Su-" Nunnally clamped a hand onto her mouth and said no more.

"...you...don't...know...what...what…"

"What we're doing?" the voice finished. "Oh, but we know precisely what we're doing...Sir Kururugi."

There was a collective gasp.

"Sir Kururugi? As in Suzaku Kururugi? The Knight of Zero?" C-Two heard a woman say.

"But he's dead, isn't he? Major Kozuki killed him!" a male Black Knight said.

"But you saw how Zero moved when he killed the Demon Emperor! The Zero I remember wouldn't have killed him like that!" someone else claimed.

"But then, what did Her Majesty know?" a Britannian asked.

Yes, C-Two thought. That is the question, isn't it?

"...please...I'm begging…you...don't…"

"He sounds like he's about to cry," C-Two murmured.

"The time for begging has passed. You should have given us justice. Now we will take it."

A man in a turban wearing a veil over his face strode onto camera, one hand on a scimitar he wore at the hip, and tugged off Zero's mask.

The bloody, battered, but still recognizable face of Suzaku Kururugi appeared before the entire world.

Everyone in the room recoiled. Shouts of denial rose up.

"N-No way! It can't be him!"

"That bastard killed my brother! How is he still alive?"

"NO! NO! Out of all the people dead, that scumbag is still standing! I won't accept it, I won't!"

"DESTROY EVERY BROADCAST TOWER IN THIS COUNTRY!" Cornelia bellowed. "AND FIND OUT WHERE THEY'RE KEEPING HIM! NOW!"

What's the point in that now, Cornelia? C-Two wondered. The genie's out of the bottle. Besides, I doubt they're just broadcasting over TV. This is going to be all over the net.

"I wonder, Empress Nunnally," Shamn'as voice cut through the tumult, "how long were you conspiring with your brother's Knight? Or rather, how long were you conspiring with your brother? Did the two of you really fight a battle for the fate of the world? How many people died as a result of your lies?"

"Answer her, bitch!" a young woman in a Black Knight uniform shouted from the crowd. "My husband died at Mount Fuji! He died because of you!"

The Britannians began to wrap around Nunnally, their hands falling to their sidearms. Kallen was bodily thrust from Nunnally's side, despite her own protests, while Cornelia formed a defensive cordon around her sister.

"WAIT! WAIT! PLEASE!" Nunnally cried out. "EVERYONE, PLEASE-"

Almost unnoticed on the screen, the man who unmasked Suzaku unsheathed his sword.

"Alright, Sir Kururugi," Shamna said, her voice cutting back through the crowd. "Time...to die."

The executioner raised his sword, aimed for Suzaku's neck, swung...and missed. Suzaku began to flail around in his restraints, all traces of exhausted defeat gone.

"GET OFF ME!" he shouted. "GET OFF ME! I HAVE TO LIVE! I HAVE TO LIVE!"

"Sir Kururugi," Shamna said silkily. "I'm surprised at you. Are you a coward at the end? Accept you fate like a man."

"SHUT UP!" Suzaku screamed. "SHUT UP! I HAVE TO LIVE! I HAVE TO LIVE!"

"This must not have been her first attempt," C-Two remarked. She twirled a lock of hair around her finger. "She's way too calm, and those restraints are holding way too well."

Did Shamna's geass have a range? Was it an area of effect geass, not unlike Mao's? Or did it affect the world entire?

"This is pitiful," Shamna said, but C-Two could almost see her smirk. "End this, my Knight."

The executioner nodded. He stepped in front of Suzaku, at an angle where the camera could still see the flailing murderer, and thrust his sword into Suzaku's sternum. He pinned Suzaku to the wall behind him.

Suzaku flailed on the blade.

"I HAVE TO LIVE! I HAVE TO LIVE! HAVE TO LIVE! I HAVE TO Live! I HAVE To live! I HAVE to live. I have to live...i have to...li…"

Suzaku sagged forward into his restraints. He did not move again.

The video cut out.

The air in the restaurant was dead silent. C-Two could hear the scraping of plastic and leather as guns were pulled from holsters.

Nunnally and her entourage were carefully backed out the front door as the Black Knights crowded around, their faces darkened with hatred. On the ground floor, a stricken Kallen, tears falling down her cheeks, was doing her best to restrain them.

C-Two sighed. She brushed off her hands. "That's it," she said aloud.

"That's the end of Zero Requiem."

EU Command Center, Wurzburg, Federal Republic of Germany, February 2018

"General, enemy units have begun the advance on the bridges," Leila reported. "Defensive units are being pushed back at a steady pace."

"Good," Smilas said, nodding. "We'll give the withdrawal order as soon as the Imperials reach the halfway point. Have they tried crossing the river by amphibious means?"

"Not as yet," Leila answered. "But reconnaissance does indicate they have amphibious APC's waiting behind the frontlines."

"I suppose it was too much to hope," Smilas acknowledged ruefully. "Still, every delay, even by seconds, works in our favor."

Leila looked out the window.

The sky was black with flak and smoke. Mini-suns were going nova all across the blue sky, and tracer fire carved a lattice of deadly beauty.

"Enemy air forces are stalled," Fitzpatrick reported. "We've thrown everything we can into the mix, and it looks like its forcing them to a stalemate."

"Unsurprising," Smilas noted. "It takes years of training to become experts at flight. I doubt they've had more than a month. Once the initial shock wears off, I have no doubt our pilots will prove their own superiority."

Leila hoped that was right, but she remembered that these Knightmares had torn through their defenses in just a few days. She gazed at the digital mockup of the bridge.

Just drown them in the river, and we can-

"General!" a comms officer shouted. "The Rudolf-von-Hapsburg-Brucke Bridge has been destroyed!"

Smilas whipped around. "It what?"

"It's been destroyed!" the comms officer repeated.

"Dammit! I haven't given the order yet! What fool-"

"General, the Theodor-Heuss-Brucke Bridge was just destroyed!" another comms officer shouted.

"HOW-"

"The Nibelungen Bridge has been destroyed!"

"The Sudbrucke Bridge is being reported as destroyed!"

"The Bendorfer Brucke Bridge was just destroyed!"

"What the Hell is going on?" Smilas demanded. "Who gave the order? WHO?"

Leila clenched her fist. She gazed down at the digital map.

Damn.

…...

Saarbrucken, Federal Republic of Germany

"Base One to Lancelot. Acknowledge."

"Lancelot to Base One, receiving."

"Your orders are to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine, on the opposite bank of Mainz. Bridge has been destroyed. Hold position until the engineers have replaced it."

"Copy, Base One. Moving to comply."

"Base One out."

"You know," Schnee piped up, "it might have been easier to take this place if they hadn't stopped us outside of Paris."

"It's not often that I acknowledge this," Ledo added, "but Schnee has a point."

"Hey!"

"Command has made a grave mistake."

"Well, boys," Suzaku said, "what's that old Kipling line? 'Ours but to do or die'? Something like that?"

"You read poetry, Lancelot?" Schnee asked, surprised.

"No, but I had a friend who did. He never shut up about that poem."

"He still like it?" Ledo asked.

"He's dead. He doesn't much like anything." Suzaku rubbed his cheek. "Squadron, move out!"

They hurtled through the air on direct course for the designated location. They dodged and weaved through rocket and AA fire, a habit that was becoming old habit for the young man. What wasn't was the amount of men he was losing. 'LOST' symbols kept flaring up all across his screen. He couldn't see the supernovas taking place around and behind him, but each signal left him a little bit colder. Would he even have a command left after this fight? Or would it just be him? His mouth was set in a grim slash.

"Rifles at the ready," he ordered. "Targets sighted. Engage!"

Green energy fire descended on the town of Mainz, a red brick German city right out of the 19th Century. The town bordered the city of Frankfurt to the north, and had been fortified about as well as to be expected in the short time they'd had. It wasn't enough.

Smoke and flame rose to meet Suzaku's flight as they approached their coordinates. He could see the ruins of the bridge, the steel girders and archways, even some of the pavement, rising out of the Rhine. Troop carriers burned on the water, some half submerged, others just floating with the current, smacking into those that were still trying to move.

Suzaku brushed his hand across his nose, toggled the sights on his weapon, and split an enemy tank in two. "Hit every building in the immediate vicinity," he ordered. "Burn out every one."

"What about civilians, boss?" Schnee asked.

"If there are any still here, it means the enemy is using them as a shield," Suzaku answered. "Otherwise, they really are too dumb to live. We'll let St. Darwin take his toll."

Schnee laughed. "Copy that."

Suzaku fired into what looked like a police station. The blast turned the roof into an orange-red mushroom that billowed black smoke. He shifted to a convenience store, then what looked like a clinic. Soldiers-People?- ran screaming into the streets, bathed in fire. Suzaku was merciful; he set his antipersonnel rounds loose on them. They didn't suffer too much.

The energy fire died away, leaving behind a raging inferno that should burn out by the time the bridge boys had crossed the river.

"Alright, boys," Suzaku said, "they'll be coming, and they'll be mad. Grab whatever cover you can, set up your fire lanes, and check the skies. We're grounders on this op. We don't hold here, we don't get across." And all of this was for nothing. "Don't be heroes. Don't do something stupid. Let's all go home."

"Yes, sir!"

He checked his computer, called up his active roster. In the distance, he could just make out the rumbling of enemy tanks.

He had nine men left.

Hockenheim, South of Route 61

"Clear!" Ryo shouted. He hit the trigger on the missile launcher. The rocket lit off with a whoosh, hammering into the front hull of an amphibious attack craft. Smoke and flame billowed from it, but it kept coming until it hit the beach. Soldiers piled out of the rear, guns flashing as they fired on Ryo's position. "Enemies ashore!" Ryo shouted. "Take 'em out!"

The heavy machine drowned out anything else he might have said. Shibata strafed the front rank of Brits, sending them spinning and toppling to the ground. Ryo ground his teeth against the ungodly noise, the bones in his body positively shaking with each round fired. It must have been worse for Ayano; she hunched low right next to Shibata, feeding the ammo belt into the gun. Her face was scrunched up even worse than his.

Ryo loaded up another rocket, braced it against the sandbag, and shouted, "Clear!" He fired the second rocket into the same place as the first. The weakened armor buckled beneath the rocket. Fire spewed from the hole like a fire hydrant. Operators ran out of the rear ablaze, diving into the river to put the flames out.

Ryo reached down for another rocket, only to come up empty. "Shit!" He slapped Ayano's shoulder. When she looked at him, he showed her the empty case and indicated he was going for more. She gave him a sharp nod, then returned her attention to the Brits swarming up the beach.

Ryo swung down into the belly of the trench, head ducked low as he sprinted through the narrow hallway of earthen mud. A man toppled into him from above, his face blown away, the blue uniform indicating he was a friend. He leaped over another man lying screaming on the floor, both his legs blown off and fountains of blood soiling the black mud beneath him. Part of the trench exploded in front of him, but Ryo just dashed through the debris.

Ammo station….Ammo station…Where…There!

Panting, he ducked into the ammo bunker, barely covered by a metal sheet to ward off some of the shrapnel falling on their heads. "Rockets!" he shouted, looking for the quartermaster. "I need..."

He found the quartermaster turned on his side, his throat open, glassy eyes staring at a picture in his hands. Ryo chanced a look at it, at the man and presumably his wife, and their three daughters, before he shut it out of his mind.

"Rockets...Rockets..." he mumbled, pushing his way through the debris. He spotted a long tube and adjoining case. "There!"

He snapped it open, checked to make sure the ordinance was compatible with what he was carrying, then rushed back out. Shots whizzed and pinged overhead. A wave of mud splashed onto his head, showering his helmet in a mixture of rock, water, and...was that a finger? Never mind, it was time to run, run, run, keep on running, don't stop till you get to your station.

When he made it back to his position, he saw that Ayano was manning the gun. Her face was blackened by gunpowder. Shibata lay next to her, the front of his uniform drenched red, his lower jaw and throat gone. Not a mess, not even really much gore, just gone.

"Jesus..." Ryo shook his head. He clapped Ayano on the shoulder, motioned to the gun, then to his rockets. She nodded, switched positions with him, and took up the rocket launcher.

Ryo sighted all along the line and opened fire. He almost didn't even need to aim at this point; so many Brits had made it to the beach by that point that all he had to do was shoot into the mob.

Jesus Christ, what I wouldn't give for a Knightmare!

Ayano tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up, gulped. That wasn't what I had in mind!

The enemy Knightmares had begun to cross.

Oeffelt

"Who the Hell thought this was a good idea?" Jeremiah demanded.

Imperial Knightmare doctrine held that in the event of a contested river crossing, armored forces were to use their Slash Harkens where able to pull themselves across. Alternatively, they could use dedicated Knightmare carriers; but, just about all of them were airborne, and the battle for air superiority was a stalemate. Given that the bridge was out, and the opposing bank was made of loose soil with little in the way of solid anchor points, the only other option was to try jumping the river. Problem was, this was the Rhine; it was too damn wide. That meant their best bet-

"This is so damn stupid!" Jeremiah shouted-

-was hitching a ride on their amphibious carriers.

Jeremiah held on for dear life to the assault craft. He and his men had tried to fly across, but the enemy AA fire knocked down ten of his Frames and destroyed his his starboard FLOAT wing. He'd had no choice but to grab onto the nearest AAPC to avoid sinking. The vehicle had been emptied out of infantry, presumably to make it light enough to more easily handle the crossing. Had no one told command that Knightmares weighed a good deal more than infantry?

"You couldn't have screwed this up more if you tried!" Jeremiah declared.

Knightmares were not boats. They could not float. Certainly, the cockpit was pressurized, but it wasn't meant to stay underwater. Trying to roll across the bottom was pointless; it was all mud. He'd just dig himself an underwater grave.

The assault craft was moving too slowly. Bullets ricocheted off the armored hull. Rockets hammered into the side, but so far they hadn't found purchase. That could change at a moment's notice, Jeremiah knew. Already, assault craft all around him were either floating hulks or floundering beneath the blackened waves, taking their Knightmares with them. A Sutherland just off to his right was struck right in the cockpit. The explosion blew the top off, taking the pilot with it. The Knightmare's mechanical grip loosened, and it slipped beneath the waves.

Jeremiah clicked his tongue. The whole advantage of a Knightmare frame lay in its speed and maneuverability. Take those away, and it was a glorified Humvee with less than half the armor. The scary part was that none of the Britannian Frames had yet made it to the beach; the concentrated fire from the enemy defenders was tearing them apart.

A great plume of water rose before his Vincent. He felt the boom of the cannon shot rattle through him, translated through the water. A warning indicator beeped frantically.

"Damn it!"

The Vincent's right leg had been compromised by the sudden shock. Around him, great plumes of water rose up, showering his comrades in water, blood, and body parts. Most missed, but Jeremiah saw Knightmares sink anyway, or get torn apart by the resulting seismic wave.

He clenched his teeth. Whether by design or happenstance, the Euros were effectively hitting them with depth charges.

A bellow of laughter resounded over Jeremiah's speakers.

"HAHAHAHA!" du Villon shouted. "Yes! YES! ON TO BATTLE!"

Jeremiah rolled his eyes. "At least someone's having fun."

Central Parque du Paris, Paris, Occupied France

"Get all of it, Rivalz," Milly said. "Every last bit."

The two of them never did make it to the Rhine. Milly was hearing reports that some kind of titanic clash was taking place, but she found she didn't care.

Nothing mattered more than what they'd found.

"Yeah," Rivalz said, "yeah, I'm getting all of it. Bastards. Murdering bastards."

Both their faces were pale with horror.

After leaving the slaughterhouse at the cafe, the failed to rejoin the column heading for Germany. They had taken a side street instead, skirting around the advancing troop columns, and seeing all the things the Imperial Army didn't want them to see.

Bodies hung in the streets; off street lights; off overpasses; from windows; from telephone polls. Those that weren't hanging were lined up in nice rows where they'd clearly been shot. Some looked like they'd been bayoneted.

They were all Elevens.

No. No, Milly thought. They're all Japanese.

The park made all previous horrors pale in comparison. From the trees all along the path hung bodies, bloated and stinking. Men. Women. Children. All Japanese. All dead.

"We won't let them get away with this," Rivalz said.

He swept the camera everywhere, recording every single atrocity for posterity.

"They'll all burn for this," Milly agreed.

She hadn't bothered with the microphone. There was no point. Genocide needed no color commentary. The evil done here would speak for itself.

EU Command Center, Frankfurt, Federal Republic of Germany

"General! An enemy airborne unit has landed in Mainz! They're advancing into the city!"

"Damn!" Smilas shouted. "What the Hell is he thinking?"

Leila raised an eyebrow. "Sir?"

Smilas shook his head. "Never mind! Redeploy Thirty Corps to defend the town!"

"Sir! Thirty Corps is pinned down in Gernsheim! We have no available units!"

"Damn!" Smilas repeated. "If they hold the bridgehead at Mainz, they can build a new bridge and make it across!" He slammed his fist into the computer console. "Who the Hell blew those bridges!"

A report was handed to Leila as Smilas raged. Her eyes widened as she read it.

"General," she said, "send me. Send the W-0 Unit"

Smilas gaped at her. "What?"

She handed the report to him. "A squad's worth of Alexanders have been brought online. All they need is pilots."

"Absolutely not!" Smilas said. "I'm not sending you out there!"

"We don't have a choice!" Leila barked back. "There are no available units! My men and I are the only ones who can act!"

"But Leila-"

Leila clapped her hand onto his wrist. "Gene," she whispered, "please."

Something welled up within her. Something powerful. Something that burned in her left eye.

She felt Gene, and he felt her, and she knew that he could feel all the things she was feeling now. And she felt him in return; his fear; his anger; his sense of betrayal. She was sorry for that, but she had to act. She made him understand that.

The feelings faded, and the power with it.

Gene shuddered. "Collect your men," he said quietly. "Head to Mainz. We'll send the guard units here to delay the enemy until you get into position."

"Thank you, sir."

Gene placed a hand on her shoulder. "Be careful, Leila. Come back alive."

Leila nodded.

"I promise."

Oeffelt

Jeremiah was grinding his teeth to a nub. Brondello was down, as was half of his command. They'd made it to the beach, somehow, but they were forced behind the cover of the burning wrecks of their own attack craft beneath the withering fire. The barrage only seemed to be gaining intensity. Hills of corpses were piling up, the top bodies rolling down to the bottom where weeping young men crouched, praying desperately to a god the Empire had long since forsaken.

du Villon was crouched next to him, his earlier bravado gone, replaced by a commander giving out terse orders in a desperate attempt to get his men out of the killing fields.

Jeremiah aimed a shot down field. An impact crater opened where he fired.

"GO!" he shouted. "GO! GET OFF THE BEACH!"

Only a few men heeded his order, and they were torn to pieces as they ran. The last man toppled over without making it even halfway up the beach.

"GODDAMMIT!" Jeremiah shouted. "GOD! DAMMIT!"

"We have to get off the beach!" du Villon yelled.

"NO SHIT!" Jeremiah shouted right back. "Any other great suggestions, My Lord?"

The Grandmaster's Knightmare peeked over their cover, came back down. The factsphere scanned left and right. Finally, he said, "It's no good. We can't get any purchase. Order your men to fall back."

"Copy!" Jeremiah turned his frequency back to his men. "Disengage! All units disengage! Fall back to the barges! Repeat, disengage and fall back to the barges! We're getting the Hell out of here!"

Infantry and Knightmares began the process of retreat. Overlapping fields of fire sent a half dozen Sutherlands toppling to the ground, ejection pods soaring across the river. Troops boarded the barges, toppling over into the surf when they were struck.

Jeremiah tapped du Villon's shoulder. "Let's go!"

The two men rolled into the river, grabbing the sides of the nearest barge. They carefully scaled the thing towards its stern. Bullets ricocheted off the sides, but neither artillery fire nor rockets struck the craft. Jeremiah guessed they were out of ammo.

That thought went up in flames when the center of the APC exploded.

….

Mainz

"Where the Hell did these guys come from?" Schnee demanded.

"No idea!" Suzaku responded. "Keep firing!"

Suzaku was feeling a sense of whiplash. Ten mintues ago, they had fought their way to the city's outskirts, working their way to the first of the suburban areas. All of a sudden, a veritable moving wall of armor had interposed itself into their path, advancing from four different directions. The sky above them was filled with rockets, AA fire, Air-to-Surface missiles, and everything inbetween.

It was as if the entire European arsenal was being hurled at their one location.

Suzaku fired his VARIS into the cockpit of a Panzer-Hummel. He didn't even watch it explode, choosing instead to blast his Slash Harken into the turret of a tank. Heavy caliber antipersonnel rounds littered the ground around him as he moved, ripping the advancing infantry to pieces.

"I know this is nuts," Suzaku said, "but we have to hold. You guys here me? We have to hold. We pull back here, our breakthrough is screwed. This war will never end. Hold the line!"

"Yes, sir!"

Despite his words, the line was beginning to shrink back as the Euros encroached on their territory. They weren't using anything approaching strategy or tactics; they were swarming them, throwing everything they had into just pushing them back.

It was working.

Suzaku checked his fuel gauge, clicked his tongue. Son of a bitch! I'm down to just thirty-five percent!

This wasn't good. If he was down to thirty-five, what about the rest of his boys? He checked his IFF.

Seven. I've got seven men left. Seven out of twenty-four are all that's left.

He licked his lips.

"Hey boss!" Schnee yelped. "Where the Hell's our reinforcements?"

"Captain, we can't hold out much longer!" Ledo added. "They're just throwing themselves at us! I've never seen anything like it!"

I have. "They're desperate," Suzaku said. "They know that if we can take and hold this area long enough, we can break through right here and win this damn war. Come on! We almost have this!"

He dodged and weaved through the punishing barrage, but there was only so much his troops could do. The streets were too narrow, the buildings too low to afford proper cover. Soldiers would ride their Slash Harkens up like an elevator, only to be cut right out of the air.

If Suzaku were on his own, he could-

"I'm not!" he remonstrated himself. "I'm not alone! No shoulda coulda woulda's, dammit!"

He wanted to get airborne again, but he wasn't sure they would survive the flak.

Six.

He fired his VARIS, taking the head off of a Panzer.

Eleven percent. I have enough left for maybe four more shots before this gun is useless.

Mountains of destroyed machines were mounting, forming a semicircle around Suzaku's command. It was growing higher and higher with each passing second. Increasingly, the enemy was having to crawl over the robotic corpses of the fallen just to get at them. Ironically, the metallic cadavers were being transformed into a makeshift fort.

"Hold! Hold!" Suzaku ordered. "We've got to hold!"

Five.

…..

Oeffelt

Jeremiah was sinking. It was a strange, almost weightless experience. The APC had gone down, split open like a can crushed by a concrete roller. The river was dark, black as night. Body parts, human and machine, bounced off his factsphere as they rushed by in the current. He caught a glimpse of a human face, frozen forever in shock, swirling away without its body.

Inanimate objects bounced off of him, too; rings, watches, necklaces, dog tags. Photographs, so many photographs, twisting and melting away along with the lives they depicted, ended too soon by an artillery shell or a bullet or a rocket, or something more grotesque.

A corpse became snagged on a factsphere, its dead eyes staring into Jeremiah's. It was a woman, that much he could tell. There were no bullet wounds that he could see. The only injury, so far as he could tell, was the femur sticking out of the woman's head. It was too dark to tell which uniform she was wearing; did it really matter? He grabbed the corpse and pulled it off. When he let go, it disappeared into the darkness.

The Vincent settled on the riverbed. He didn't bother trying to roll the landspinners, nor did he attempt to call for help. There was no point. No one would come. Everyone was too busy dying upstairs to have anything to do with the man in the basement.

Jeremiah relaxed into the seat, breathing a heavy sigh. He was exhausted. Days of near constant fighting had taken their toll. He rubbed his bloodshot eyes, and relaxed into his seat.

He checked the clock. 16:45, it read. He checked his filler capacity. Nine percent. How much fuel did they have left in the reserves? This invasion had to be massively expensive. They had taken the Sakuradite fields south of Chartres, plus all of the depots on the way; but everyone knew it was the Russian fields in Siberia and Volgograd that were the richest veins in Europe. With Japan firmly in His Highness' hands, the war effort was doomed.

But how much longer will it take? Jeremiah wondered. Britannia will not go down without a fight, even with a civil war. The South American Areas are in insurrection, but enough of its resources are still under Imperial dominion.

Any war to overthrow Charles was going to take years of hard fighting. Millions more were going to die, entire nations razed to the ground.

How many countries will be able to handle the pile of bodies that will be the result? How many sins must be laid at the feet of my Prince?

Peace would come, but in what form? Perhaps the Empire could force the war to a draw. What nation would be willing to expend all its blood and treasure in a far off land to put one young man on the Throne?

His Knightmare was struck by a passing mechanical hand, snapping him out of his musings. His energy filler read seven percent. He shook his head.

There's no time for this.

The Princess was waiting for him. She was waiting for her brother. The longer he delayed down here, the later her reunion.

He hit the ejection switch. His pod shot up through the water, erupting from the surface. The minicam gave him the state of affairs.

The river was almost entirely clear of attack craft, those not already destroyed. The banks of the river were black and red from all the cadavers laying limply on the sands. Both banks were continuing their fire on one another, but it was clear Britannia wasn't going to force a river crossing.

He landed with a bang behind friendly lines. His pod opened, and he climbed out confidently. A soldier rushed up to him, his face swathed in bloody bandages.

"What's the situation?" Jeremiah asked.

"Command ordered a halt to the attack," the soldier replied. Jeremiah realized with a start it was Brondello. "Replacement Sutherlands are being brought up for ejected officers."

Jeremiah nodded. "Very good." He jumped down from ejection seat, and clapped a hand on Brondello's shoulder. "Glad to see your still breathing."

"Likewise, My Lord."

Mainz

"Holy shit, look at him go!" Ryo breathed with mounting horror.

The white Knightmare was tearing their troops apart. Dozens of Panzer-Hummels, tanks, APCs, and everything in between were burning wrecks. Corpses lined the roads in every direction. Their comrades were pushing in, and still the white machine was shredding them with ease.

The vanguard had managed to push past the fortress of robot corpses, gradually pushing back the enemy forces; but they were losing six Frames for every one they were taking out, if they took one out at all.

"Can you imagine if they had more of those things?" Ayano said. "They wouldn't need a computer virus to wipe out our defenses!"

The W-0 unit had arrived late to the party, and only at a third of their strength. Maeda and Masashiro were there, as were a couple of replacements, but Yukiya was on cyber warfare duty, and Shibata was dead. On top of that, none of these new Alexanders were spec'd to them indiviudally. Ryo and Ayano had been spending the better part of their field trip reconfiguring the settings on their new Knightmares, and they still weren't done.

For that reason, Leila had ordered them to remain in the rear until they had their units configured properly.

Ryo whistled when a Panzer-Hummel was flung into the side of a building, its chassis slashed diagonally.

It's so damn fast!

"That...That's..." Leila mumbled. "That's the White Killer."

"The what?" Ayano asked.

"The Knightmare out of Spain we were assigned to investigate," Leila explained. "That's it right there. That's what we were supposed to find. It's here."

"That-" Ryo coughed, licked his lips. "That's not good."

"No, that's just great!" Ayano complained. "Of all the places it had to be, it's gotta be right here! What profound bullshit!"

"We've gotta take it out," Leila said. "We have to."

"I don't wanna get anywhere near that thing!" Ayano said. "Do you see that shit! Screw that!"

"We have to!" Leila repeated. "They died for this! The Spanish resistance died for this! They died because we were trying to find this-this-this thing! We have to make it mean something!"

"Uh, Major," Ryo hedged, "I don't think you're really thinking this through."

"We're advancing along these attack vectors," Leila said, her tone hard.

Attack arrows were painted onto his digital map.

"We move down these three streets in a pincer formation," Leila said. "Surround that thing on all sides, and blow it to Hell."

"Leila!" Ayano cried. "I'm not set up! I'm not done configuring this piece of shit!"

"There is no time!" Leila shouted. "We have no time! Move your ass, GODDAMMIT!"

"M-Major," Ryo spluttered.

"F-Fine!" Ayano shouted. "Fine! Fine! Screw you, I'm going!"

Ryo watched her zoom off.

"Is that where you're supposed to be, Ryo?" Leila demanded.

"N..." Ryo coughed. "No ma'am, I'm going."

As he rolled away, he heard Leila murmur. "It has to be low on fuel. It has to be. We have to destroy that thing. We have to."

"WHERE THE HELL DID THEY COME FROM!" Schnee shouted.

You said a mouthful! Suzaku thought.

They had come skating in off the walls of the buildings, guns blasting away. They weren't Panzer-Hummels. Frankly, he didn't know what the Hell they were. They were moving too fast, they were too agile, they were clearly more advanced, and they were coming straight for him.

He dodged past the first one and swung for the second, targeting the midsection, but it pivoted on its back foot, spinning around the cut and bringing down a blade from its wrist. Suzaku blocked the slash with his energy shield, then bent parallel to the ground to evade a slash from behind. He brought his sword back up, aiming for the factsphere, but another flipped high and above the enemy Knightmare, using the head of its comrade for purchase, the motion jerking the friendly back even as it went on the attack.

Suzaku moved his head left and right, evading the thrusts from the wrist blade, then spun around to block a burst of machine gunfire aimed at his FLOAT System.

"Boss, they're targeting you!" Schnee shouted.

"No shit, Sherlock!" Suzaku bit at him. "Well done, Holmes, you've solved the case!" He jumped over a leg sweep. "What the Hell did I do to piss them off!"

"It's that nice white paint job," Ledo offered. He came in from behind, firing his VARIS at point blank range. His target ducked, the energy fire splitting a building in half, even as it came up at him. "It's too pearly. You look nice and pretty."

"Well, if they wanted a date, they could have just asked!" Suzaku retorted as he fired a slash harken, aiming for the head of one a few meters back. "I'm always up for meeting new people!"

"Don't let the Major here you say that!" Schnee said. He flicked his blade forward, parrying and thrusting past an assault by one of the weird machines. "She's been trying to get in your pants for months!"

"Watch it, Schnee," Ledo said, dodging a burst of gunfire aimed at his legs. "That's the boss' girl you're talking about there. You drop lines like that, he'll kick your ass all over again."

"Could we maybe change the topic from my love life to something else?" Suzaku groused. He and Schnee jumped forward together, their combined pincer aimed at what felt like one of the better pilots. The machine dropped back, exactly as intended.

Ledo came up from behind, aiming for a thrust at the Yggsdrasil Drive, only to be brutally wheel-kicked away. The gambit broken, the three fell back, only for four of the enemies to target Suzaku all at once, two with guns, one with blade. Suzaku swept aside the barrage with his shield, repelled the dagger with his sword, thrust forward with his VARIS. A gunshot hit the side of his rifle, sending it flying from his hands, throwing him off balance. A thrust to his belly was knocked aside by Schnee, while a shot to his skull was deflected by Ledo.

Suzaku regained his footing. They're targeting me. They're targeting me.

He looked at his IFF map.

Six.

"Ledo, Schnee!" he barked. "Fall back! Reorganize our unit and fall back across the bridge!"

"What about you?" Schnee asked.

"They're coming for me," Suzaku said. "I'll keep them distracted while you boys fall back! I'll catch up later!"

"Not a chance!" Schnee retorted. "I'm not leaving you here to die!"

"Dammit, Schnee, that's an order!"

"We appear to be experiencing technical difficulties," Ledo interjected. "I couldn't hear your last transmission, boss."

"Same here."

"Looks like we'll just have to stay, Schnee."

"Too right you are, Ledo!"

"You're a pair of goddamn idiots!" Suzaku shouted.

"OH SHIT!" Maeda screamed.

A sword had been thrust through his Yggsdrasil Drive. A split second later, the Knightmare exploded. Maeda did not eject.

"Maeda! You bastards!" Masashiro roared. "I'll kill-" The top half of his Knightmare was vaporized by a green energy shot. It crumpled to the ground a smoking wreck.

"Son of a bitch!" Ryo shouted. He accelerated forward, aiming for the White Knightmare, but was forced to jump out of the way when the other two enemies came in guns blazing.

Leila clicked her tongue. She moved in concentric circles with Ayano, the two of them providing a fusillade of lead that was in increasing danger of running out. Most of the enemy forces were either destroyed or had fallen back across the bridge. However, their own forces had halted, unwilling to become involved in the massive duel raging before it.

Leila didn't blame them. Machine body parts were scattered all over the place. Blood ran in rivulets down the sides of cockpits where the pilots hadn't been incinerated. This machine, this monster, was slaughtering them left and right.

But it's not invincible.

Several times there had been openings; chances for them to do some real damage, maybe even destroy it. The problem was its compatriots.

The two Frames in tow looked very similar to the White Killer, but there were obvious differences, most notably in the pilots' skill. Both were very good, but they weren't as good as their leader. They didn't need to be; their machine's weaknesses, and their own talent, was balanced and complimented by one another's, and the White Killer made up for either's deficiencies. This was a perfect three man team. It was fortunate that none of the other members of their unit had had the same skill or cohesion. Otherwise, Leila might have ordered a withdrawal.

When the two machines rescued the White Killer yet again, she made her decision.

"W-0, listen up!" she belted out. "Ryo, Ayano, focus on the leftmost Frame. Akito, do the same with the one on the right! I'm going after our target! Eliminate your opposition as quickly as possible!"

"Copy!" the three shouted.

They sped forward on their attack vectors, launching themselves at their targets. As she leapt through the air, Leila's eye burned.

Join with me now, she called out to them.

Their minds responded in kind.

For better or worse, this was the beginning of the end.

When battle falls upon a man, when death is but a hairs breadth away, his mettle and training are fully tested. An unconstructed novice will be thinking the forms over in his head, thereby distracting himself from the fatal blow. Conversely, the master will be nailed down, the fundamentals driven into his muscle memory, every move executed, his terrain properly accounted for, the barest details of a strategy already sketched into his mind.

Such was the case for Suzaku as began the fight of his life.

His opponent was good. Damn good. Too good. Whomever it was, even in their less advanced Frame, they were putting up a Hell of a showing.

Suzaku dodged, flipped, weaved, punched, stabbed, thrust, swung, evaded. The enemy spun, kicked, parried, redirected, dodged, ducked. His sword met the tip of the dagger, his fist collided with a blocking elbow, his shield caught a glancing blow, his foot passed over his enemy's head. The enemy tried a crosswise slash, but he knocked it aside. The enemy somersaulted, looking to kick his head, but Suzaku blocked it with both hands, throwing the enemy Frame back off.

He jabbed with his sword multiple times, aiming for the machine's joints, but it evaded left and right, the edge of the sword knicking at the armor but going no more than surface deep.

Suzaku wasn't thinking, he wasn't feeling. Doing either would get him killed. He felt calm, at peace, on that edge of life and death, where one wrong move would mean his downfall.

He neither saw, nor felt, the grin that was threatening to split his face wide open.

…..

Leila backflipped and pirouetted past an overhead chopped that sliced right through a light pole. She grabbed the bisected rod and used it as a staff, swinging it around in her off hand. The White Killer didn't bother dodging, choosing instead to slice it apart. A slash harken was fired from its shoulder, forcing Leila to backflip to avoid it. She kicked it into the stone work of the building behind her; the shock of the hit sent the wall tumbling to the ground.

The Killer was thrown forward for an instant. Leila leaped to take advantage, only to have to go into a spinning dodge to evade the sword hurtling for her neck. She drew on the power of her bond, allowing Akito's skills to meld with her own, enchancing her abilities beyond which she was capable.

Their legs connected in a kick, followed up by three round trade of punches, the first two diverted or deflected, the third connecting their fists together in a shower of steel and sparks.

The impact flung them both back, forced her to backflip feet-to-hands, into a spin flip back onto her feet. The Killer was right on her, swinging its sword with both hands down to left, then up to right, then vertical, then horizontal. Leila hit the switch for her wrist mounted gun, but the sword cut it like butter. A follow-up kick sent her hurtling through the air.

She used it to her advantage, transitioning her Alexander back into a spider contortion, scampering around in a semicircle. She grabbed an electrical wire off the ground and swung it like a whip. The Killer brought its sword down, but rather than cut them to pieces, it used the flat of the blade to wrap the wire around it, then jerked Leila towards it. She flew through the air, but again took advantage, utilizing the momentum to score a savage punch to the machine's skull that it didn't dodge. It rebounded back, then leaped away before she could follow up.

Her first hit of the match.

Ryo felt as one with Ayano. They had been friends for years, but this connection went deeper than that. It was as if her every breath was his breath, every blink his blink. Every feeling: anger, fear, resentment, jealousy flowed between the two. They were united in a strange sense of camaraderie, where every move was seen as it was thought; every intention expressed as action. When she dodged, he stepped in. When he fired, she slashed.

What was this strange connection, this unification of their conscious selves, even as they maintained their own individuality? How could this joining of the minds and hearts be used for something so wrong as murder?

Ryo opened fire on the enemy Frame, aiming for its factsphere, but it dodged nimbly away from the barrage. Ayano intercepted it from behind, wrist dagger thrusting, only for the enemy to perform a backflip kick that smashed her into the ground. Before the Frame could take advantage, Ryo rushed forward, opening up another fusillade of gunfire. The Frame floated up and over them, blade whirling as it attempted to strike, but Ayano, having regained her footing, grabbed its ankle and brought it crashing back to earth.

The Knightmare rolled with the impact, spinning across the ground as the two fired at it, hoping to score a direct hit. They failed, and the enemy was back on its feet, swords wielding a complex pattern before it as it charged. It sped in between them, kicking Ayano in the torso, then brought both blades to bear on Ryo. Ryo used both wrist daggers to repel the onlsaught, the blades deflecting in a series of metallic clangs.

Slash Harkens fired from the thing's hips. Ryo jumped over them, bringing his daggers down in a pincer strike for the head. He caught nothing but air as it jumped to the side, just in time for Ayano's kick to sail through the empty space it had just been. Ryo turned to avoid her, grabbed her hand, and swung her around through the air, launching her at the enemy; it blocked the dagger thrust, and Ryo skittered over Ayano's back, slashing repeatedly for the neck and head. The Frame came down on its back, planted its foot squarly in Ayano's belly, then tossed them both up. The Slash Harkens fired again, this time catching both Ryo and Ayano. It swung them into a building, then in an overhead swing aiming for the ground.

Both of them flipped in midair, landed on their feet, then spun out in a circle, twining the wire around the Knightmare's legs, then jerked hard. The enemy went down on its back, both swords swinging down to cut the wires binding it. Ryo and Ayano jumped on top of it, blades thrusting in a flurry of blows. They scored gouges all across the chassis, even a few near the factsphere, but nothing fatal. The enemy grabbed them both by the heads and smashed their skulls together. It used their heads to leverage itself up, spinning into a somersault that slammed them both into the ground.

Above Kaiserslautern

Nonette stared, awestruck. "What a Hell of a fight," she said.

Nonette was watching the whole fight from her cockpit through the camera feed of the Lancelot, which was feeding real time data to one of the satellites in orbit. From the viewpoint of the three Knightmares, Nonette was afforded a first person perspective of the desperate battle taking place.

How is he this good? she wondered. How has someone capable of the Rounds slipped by us like this?

Sword smacked away dagger, a kick smashed into a chassis, machine gun fire was blocked, a dagger thrust was evaded.

Nonette swallowed. "We have to do something!" she declared. "We have to help!" She turned her frequency back to Schneizel. "Your Highness, they need help! Let us go to assist!"

"You want to help that Eleven, Nonette?" Schneizel asked. "I'm surprised."

"Are you seeing this fight, Schneizel?" Nonette demanded. "That skill, that raw talent! We can't just let it go to waste! Permission to reinforce?"

"Denied. We've halted our advance all along the line. We won't be sending any more good troops after bad."

"Damn it, Schneizel, I'm a Rounds Knight!" Nonette retorted. "I could plow through these people on my own!"

"I'm not risking you in battle, Dame Enneagram," he rejected. "If the enemy learns that a Rounds Knight is fighting in that sector-"

"They'll turn tail and run!" she cut off. She ran an angry hand through her hair. "How can you not be moved by this? I haven't seen anyone move that way since Marianne!"

"That boy is in no way her equal," a cold voice said in frigid tones.

Nonette shivered. "Of course, Your Majesty! I...meant no offense. Only-"

"You will refrain from speaking anymore, Dame Enneagram," the Emperor commanded. "Lest you say something truly foolish."

The Emperor had arrived the day before in pomp and glory. If he was displeased with Paris' burning, he hadn't shown it. He sat aboard his throne on the Avalon, observing the battle in detail.

Nonette licked her lips. "Your Majesty, if I may?"

"No, you may not."

"But the whole of the war could be decided right here!"

She nearly jumped out of her seat at the bark of laughter, high and loud and cold, so cold it froze her blood in her body.

"Dame Enneagram," the Emperor said, his voice filled with mirth, "this campaign was decided long before now. This war is already won."

Mainz

Sweat rolled down into Ryo's eyes. It burned like fire, but he didn't dare to take his hand off the yoke. The enemy Frame was too fast, too dangerous, for even a moment's distraction.

"What the Hell did they put in this thing?" he demanded.

He went to dodge a blow to the head, but his reaction time was too slow; the heel smashed squarely into his factsphere, sending him smashing through a wall.

"Shit!" he yelped, then cried out as he barely dodged a thrust from the Frame's sword.

Ayano came in from above, but the Frame grabbed her out of midair and smashed her headfirst into the ground. With a shout, Ryo jumped back up, leaped at the machine. It stopped him with a brutal punch to the face, but the distraction allowed Ayano to regain her feet. They circled around the machine, bullets bouncing off of its energy shielding.

Ryo's breathing was heavy, labored. My reaction time is slowing down! The sense of union with the others was fading away the longer the fight went on, the exhaustion dragging down their shared ability to fight. In its place was a steadily growing bone weariness. Yet through his heightened senses, he could discern that Akito had the upper hand over his opponent, that his opponent's movements were slowing down just as much, that all of their bodies were starting to break down.

All except one: that White Killer the Major was dueling with. Something strange was happening with that machine; it reeked of malevolence.

Ryo rubbed the sweat from his brow. This can't keep going! We're falling apart!

He and Ayano attacked front and back, using their guns to force the enemy to turtle up, then they both were on it. Their daggers were a blinding flurry of attacks that the enemy was doing its best to defend against, spinning around like a top, its arms a blur. They scored hits on the arms, the wrists, a few on the torsos, but infuriatingly nothing fatal.

The machine suddenly lifted off the ground, the flight system on its back glowing.

Ryo and Ayano jumped back, both firing their guns instictively, Ayano at the legs, Ryo at the head. Ayano's target connected; her bullets sheared away the Frame's left leg. Ryo's found their mark as well, shattering the factsphere, but also tearing off the left wing.

Jolted by the twin strikes, the Knightmare crashed back into the asphalt.

"YES!" Ryo and Ayano shouted simulatneously. "WE GOT I- OH SHIT!"

They both leaped back just as the White Killer jumped in front of them.

…..

"I'M OUT!" Ledo shouted, his ejection pod soaring across the bridge, his Knightmare exploding in a red nova.

"Schnee, you too!" Suzaku ordered. The two enemy Knightmares were firing on him, running around in circles to try to find an opening, their every bullet focused on him. Good thing, too. Otherwise, Schnee'd be dead. "Get the Hell out of here! Hit your eject!"

"NO!" Schnee rejected, trying desperately to stand back up. "NO, BOSS, I CAN STILL-"

The two Knightmares ran out of bullets. Without missing a beat, Suzaku chopped off both hands of Schnee's Vincent, then kicked it square in the chassis. "NOW, GODDAMMIT!"

The four Knightmares were suddenly on him, ignoring Schnee entirely. Suzaku was a blur of movement, dodging, blocking, slashing, chopping. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Schnee eject.

"GET OUT OF THERE, LANCELOT!" Schnee begged.

Suzaku turned his full attention on his opponents. Two came at him from above, two from below. He jerked his other sword from its scabbard, flipping the hilts around in his hands to block their every dagger thrust simultaneously. It bowed him low to the ground, almost planting his factsphere in the asphalt.

It was just them now. Suzaku, and these four jokers. There was nothing left to hold him back.

A feral grin split his face in two.

Above Kaiserslautern

"Your Highness, we have to help him!" Nonette cried out.

"Request denied," Schneizel said again.

Nonette made an enraged sound. She hit the frequency for the Second Armored Division. "General Hancock, get your men to Mainz!" she ordered. "Reinforce our forces at-"

"Disregard that, General," Schneizel interrupted. "Disregard any and all orders issued by the Knight of Nine, she does not speak with the Emperor's authority."

"Schneizel!"

"Lock her out of the other frequencies as well," the Prime Minister said to someone offscreen. "She isn't to communicate with anyone else without permission."

"Why are you doing this?" Nonette demanded. "Have you no shame? Have you no honor?"

"Have you?" Schneizel demanded. "A few months ago, you were ready and willing to put the boy in his place. Now you're his defender?"

"Our dogma is survival of the fittest!" Nonette retorted. "I have seen nothing as gallant as what that man is doing right now! He's a hero! We can't just abandon him!"

"I haven't abandoned him," Schneizel replied. "To the contrary, I am monitoring the situation closely. The combat data that he's providing is vital to the future development of our Knightmare technology. Great and wonderful machines are being sired this day."

"Is that all he is to you? A useful tool for data?"

Schneizel's eyes hardened. "Watch your tone, My Lady. Remember to whom you speak."

Nonette shrank back. "Your Highness, I meant no-"

"Enough of this," the Emperor rumbled. "I grow tired of your prattle."

Both of them bowed their heads, shrinking in on themselves like chastened schoolchildren.

Nonette worried at her lips. Everything Schneizel said was true. A few months ago, this boy was just one more Eleven; one that had risen far above what was proper. A Number courting nobility, much less a member of the Royal Family? Inconceivable!

But I'm starting to understand now, she thought, what it was the Princess saw in him.

The fight was neck and neck, Kururugi trading blow for blow; dodging, blocking, striking back at key opportunities.

How much longer can he last?

She heard the Emperor hum. "Schneizel!"

"Yes, Your Majesty?"

"Send the boy reinforcements," the Emperor commanded. "Just enough for him to extricate himself. Exemplary service must be rewarded."

"It will be done."

"Don't tell him they're coming. I want to see how he fares in a last stand."

Nonette breathed a sigh of relief. She smiled. Looks like you'll live to fight another day, kid.

Oeffelt

Jeremiah took a swig of water, then doused himself down over his head and shoulders. Brondello was nearby somewhere, taking a leak in the lull. They were more than a mile back from the frontline, where the battle was still raging. No more attempts at a river crossing had been made, and both sides appeared to be digging in for what looked to be a long siege.

"We'll probably try to get around them through the North Sea," Jeremiah mused. "God knows they won't want to drive through another trench wall. Especially not with the situation in the East."

The offensive in Eastern Europe had bogged down. Britannian forces had been halted at Budapest, and the Balkans were a chaotic maelstrom of bloodletting. There was no word yet on whether or not the Russians were on the move, though Jeremiah didn't doubt they were. No way Ivan was going to miss this chance to reassert their power over the West.

"The Nordic countries will have to be taken first." He rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. "They screwed themselves with that neutrality claptrap. No one will come to their defense when we arrive."

In the Empire's ideal scenario, the next stage of the war would take place over the next two years. With control over the industrial heartland of Western Europe, the Empire would be able to plunder their enemy's resources and use it against them. Within two to three years, all that would be left was Russia, which could not hope to stand against the might of a world spanning Empire.

Fortunately, Britannia didn't have two years. Jeremiah had no doubt the army was running on fumes. Whatever Sakuradite they had left in their strategic reserves wouldn't last the year. Paris would be the death knell of Charles' Throne.

I hope Ruben has been gaining sufficient allies, he thought. We're going to need everyone we can get.

They needed to consider how to get into contact with the rebels in South America. Surely they could coordinate their uprising better?

"Lord Jeremiah!"

Jeremiah looked up, winced. It was Ashra, his perpetual smirk in place.

"Long time no see!" the young man said. "I'm glad to see you made it through alright!"

Jeremiah stood up. He took the extended hand and said, "You as well, My Lord Ashra. How goes Lord Shaing?"

Ashra waved his hand. "Oh, same old, same old," he dismissed. "We had a lot of fun in Bordeaux. Place lit up like a Christmas tree. You should've seen it."

Jeremiah shrugged. "I had a front row seat to the light show out of Paris," he said, feeling disgusted at the boast.

Ashra whistled. "Nice! We just missed that! Heard it was a real barn burner." He laughed at his own turn of phrase. "Gotta admit though, man," he continued, placing his hand on his hip, "the boss wasn't too happy to see you palling around with the other Grandmasters without him. He felt real left out."

There was a dangerous glint in his eye that Jeremiah didn't like. "They invited themselves to an interviw that Pruitt woman wanted to conduct," he explained carefully. "I got the sense of a surprise party."

Ashra nodded. "Yah, yah, cool beans, I understand. He thought it was something like that." Ashra laughed. "Man. 'The Tiger of Virzon.' Hell of a name, dude. You must be so proud! The toast of the town!"

Jeremiah shrugged. "It's just a media frenzy. It'll pass in time."

"Man, I sure hope not!" Ashra feigned horror. "I'd kill for that kind of reputation." He laughed. "Hell, I have! But, just to let you know..." He leaned forward, dead serious. "His Lordship held a little party of his own with your cousin."

Jeremiah stiffened. His gun hand flexed. "How was it?" he asked.

"Nothing real serious," Ashra answered. "But nothing to take lightly either." He leaned forward. His voice was low. "For God's sake man, make up with Shin! I don't want anything to happen to Joanna!"

Jeremiah wasn't sure whether the concern was real or not. Either way, it didn't matter. When he got the opportunity, this boy was dead, and so was his master.

"Lord Jeremiah!"

Jeremiah turned to see Brondello jogging up to him. "My Lord!" he said when he came to a stop. "Command wants us to deploy to Mainz. We're to help a unit extricate from the city, across the bridge."

Jeremiah cocked a brow. "Mainz?" he repeated. "That's at least two hours away. Is there no one closer?"

"No, My Lord, no one with armor who also isn't otherwise committed."

Jeremiah sighed. "Very well. Tell the men to mount up." He turned to Ashra. "If that will be all, Sir Ashra?"

Ashra grinned. "Ah, Hell no man! You aren't leaving me behind! I'm always up for some fun!"

Jeremiah stifled the urge to roll his eyes. "Very well, but your under my command. Understood?"

Ashra gave him a mock bow. "Understood, Your Lordship!"

Maybe I can kill him on the way?

A man could dream.

….

Mainz

Leila tasted copper inside her cheek. It made sense; she'd been biting it for the better part of ten minutes. Pain was building up in her right eye, where her Geass Fragment remained active. She'd never held the connection for longer than five minutes. Whether her endurance was giving out, or she was simply nearing the natural limit of her power, she didn't know. What she did know was that they were losing this fight.

Who is this guy? she wondered. Did we stumble onto a Knight of the Rounds?

The White Killer was taking everything they could throw at it and hurling it right back. Every move they made was perfectly accounted for, every attack blocked, every dodge intercepted, every shot evaded. They were all out of ammunition now, and their blades clashed furiously with the enemy Frame.

It spun, back and forth, left and right, the swords battering away every slash, cut and thrust they made. Aside from denting on its helm where Leila had struck earlier, not one blow had landed. He was getting faster, too; his attacks were becoming more sure, his positioning more secure. With every minute that passed, he seemed to learn a little bit more about them.

Conversely, they were becoming weaker. Leila's arms were heavy, her back was aching, her mental processes shot from the strain of the fighting, and that was just her. Ryo and Ayano's reaction time had both slowed down substantially, hampered in no small part due to the configurations in the settings they were unable to complete. Ayano barely turned aside a thrust to the chassis, while Ryo took a foot right to the chin, rescued from a killing blow only barely blocked by Akito.

Akito seemed to be the only one managing to hang on.

"DIE!" he kept screaming. "DIE! DIE!" She could hear the made glee in his tone, almost see the manic grin stretched across his face. "DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE!"

"Would you quit saying that, you asshole!" Ryo shouted at him.

Ryo went in for a thrust, but the Frame turned it aside, sending the blade towards Ayano. Leila grabbed her just in time, snatching her wrist away, then turning it into a swing against the enemy that Ayano immediately abandoned when one of the swords came up to cut her in two.

"DIE! DIE! DIE!"

Akito went in the front, slashing down and up, but the Frame countered both, repelling the attacks. Ryo and Ayano, utilizing the distraction, came in from the sides, aiming for head and legs; but, impossibly, the Knightmare jumped, spinning like a top in the space between the two blade. Its legs split, and it kicked both of Leila's friends, Ryo into the air, Ayano into the ground.

Akito jumped it from behind- "DIEDIEDIE!"- but it grabbed Akito by the shoulders and smashed him headfirst into the ground.

Leila cried out; the pain in her eye was extreme. She clutched her head. Painful tears streaming down her cheeks, she screamed, "WHY WON'T YOU JUST DIE!"

She opened herself up, past the pain, and tapped into the murderous waves emanating from Akito. It shot through her, settled on her shoulders. She could feel it settling on the others as well. They each spun about in place, then, in perfect unison, rose up and attacked.

Two from above- "DIE!" they all screamed- two from below- "DIE!"- blocked on all four, two somersault above- "DIE!" they screamed- two thrust below- "DIE!"- left right, arms swinging, blades hitting the sword edge- "DIE!"

Then the sword thrust right through Ayano's Yggsdrasil Drive.

"OH SHI-"

The drive erupted, red hot flame spewing out, and the cockpit pod ejected, just in time for the Frame to cut Ryo's Knightmare completely in half. His pod ejected instantly, the Frame let it go.

Leila came back to herself. Her vision was red. Her body was through.

Through a red-tinted world, Leila watched with horror as the White Killer slowly, lazily, turned its evil blue eyes on them.

Across the River

"YOU CAN DO IT LANCELOT!" Schnee shouted.

He stood atop one of the barricades, his fist upraised.

"GO LANCELOT!" he shouted.

A few heads were nodding around him. Ledo joined him. "THAT'S RIGHT!" he shouted. "GO LANCELOT!"

All of a sudden, the soldiers behind them joined in.

"YOU CAN DO IT, LANCELOT!"

"PUT THEM IN THE GROUND LANCELOT!"

"WIPE 'EM OUT, LANCELOT!"

"LANCELOT!"

"LANCELOT!"

"LANCELOT!"

"LANCELOT!"

"LANCELOT!"

"LANCELOT!"

…..

Mainz

"AYANO!" Ryo screamed. He had crawled his way out of his cockpit and was sprinting towards Ayano's. "AYANO! HANG ON AYANO!"

He made it to her pod, sliding to a stop in the gravel and rubble. Smoke still rose from it; the surface was hot to the touch. He banged on it anyway.

"AYANO!"

He laid a hand to the emergency lever, cried out in a shriek of pain. His hand was red and scabbing, the metal blinding in its heat.

He held onto it painfully. "AYANO!"

He looked around for something, anything he could use to grab the lever. He found nothing. He looked back up at the hatch, nodded. He slipped out his pistol, ejected the magazine, cycled out all of the bullets, then stuck the magazine between his teeth.

He grabbed onto the hatch, teeth gnashing the magazine as he wept from the pain, and pulled. It was stuck, so he grabbed it with his other hand, too, and pulled with everything he had. It shrieked as it came down.

The hatch popped off, smashing into the roof of a house. Ryo climbed up, the flattened magazine falling from his mouth, unable to feel anything in his hands.

"R-Ryo?" Ayano called up.

There was a cut over her eye, and her cheek was already swelling, but otherwise she seemed fine.

"Jesus Christ, Ayano!"

Ryo pulled her head to his chest, tears running down his cheeks. Ayano clutched him back, her shoulders shuddering as she sobbed.

…..

Leila panted heavily, her chest rising and falling rapidly. She could feel Akito's exhaustion through what was left of their shared link. The insane urge, the maniacal desire to kill, was gone. All that was left was a very tired young man.

"Leila," he said, shocking her. He never called her Leila out in the field. "Leila, get out of here. I'll hold him off, while you-"

"Never," she interrupted. "Even if taking this thing out wasn't a top priority, I would never leave you behind."

"We can't beat this thing," Akito retorted. "We shouldn't have even tried. Whatever this is, it's too much for us."

"So, what, we just give up?" she demanded. "After all of this? Everything? How many people died just so we could make it to this moment? It has to be stopped here! It can go no further!"

"You're not thinking straight. We need to-"

Her comm suite pinged. Her eyes widened.

It was the White Killer. Leila looked up at her monstrous foe. The Frame was the image of nonchalance, one sword resting on its shoulder, while the other was thrust into the ground. The head was lolled to the side, as if asking if they were done quarreling.

Leila opened the frequency. "Yes?"

"You two want to call it quits?" She was shocked by how young her opponent sounded. He can't be much older than us. "I took out all your comrades. Those guys in the back can't help you. How about we end things here? I go back to my corner, you go back to yours. We call an end to this day."

Leila shook her head. "Not on your life," she said. "We haven't been beaten yet."

"I don't know," the Knight said. "You look pretty beat to me. In fact, it seems to me you can barely stand."

"We can fight just fine, thank you."

The Knightmare took a hand off the sword on the ground, scratched the metal chin. Leila didn't even attempt to take advantage of the opening. They needed this reprieve.

"Is this a pride thing?" the Knight asked. "What's that expression? 'Pride goes before the fall?' Something like that." The Knightmare shrugged. "Look, you put up a pretty good fight. There's no shame in admitting defeat."

"Would you say the same if you were on Britannian soil?" Leila asked.

"Don't know. I've never been to Britannia."

Leila's jaw dropped. "You're-You're a Number!"

The Knight(?) bowed. "Guilty as charged," he said mockingly. "Well, I'm actually an Honorary Britannian. Took the test and everything."

"You're an Eleven, aren't you?" Akito piped up.

"Yep," the Japanese replied.

"What's an Eleven doing as a Knight?" Akito asked.

"Afraid that's a state secret."

"How could you?" Leila demanded. "You're Japanese! How could you fight for the people that beat and oppressed your people?"

"Why don't you ask your friend?" the Japanese retorted. "He's an Eleven, right? Didn't you Euros stick all the Elevens in concentration camps?"

Leila recoiled. "That's..."

"You really don't have a leg to stand on," the Japanese continued.

"The Euros don't murder us for fun," Akito retorted. "In Area Eleven, hanging Elevens was practically a sport."

"Certainly, there's problems," the Japanese allowed. "I'll be the first to say it. So would a number of Britannians I know. But if we prove ourselves to them, in time they'll see us as one of them."

"That's hopelessly naive!" Leila cried out. "You can't seriously think that!"

"Britannia believes in survival of the fittest," the Japanese replied. "Whoever's strong will rise to the top. Besides, there's no winning a war with the Empire. Japan found that out the hard way."

"We're going to turn you back," Leila declared. "You will not have Europe!"

The Knightmare shrugged. "We'll see about that." He pointed his sword at them. "Are you two going to give up?"

"Never!" Leila and Akito said together.

The Knightmare pulled his other sword from the ground.

"Well," he said cheerfully, "I tried."

….

Suzaku didn't have to do much. He knew that. This fight was won.

The problem was that he only had four percent of his Sakuradite filler left. A long drawn out fight would end him. It was time to finish this.

He shot forward in an instant, aiming for what he believed was the leader, the girl he'd been speaking to. His sword was aimed for her heart. Her strange Knightmare ducked back, and the other rolled in.

Suzaku flipped over the thrusting dagger, still aiming for the girl. She had landed feet first off a building, and was going to jump off of it.

Time seemed to slow down for Suzaku. Everything around him was moving at glacial speed. He landed on his tip toes, took another leap, and spun through the air. He caught her midjump, and kicked her face in so hard, he could feel the crunch of the factsphere as it shattered.

He whirled around just as the other Knightmare was gunning for him. He used the momentum from the spin to swing the sword around, grunted when the blade glanced off the ground, then slashed into the cockpit.

The blade must have been damaged by the glancing blow; instead of cleaving right through the armor, it crushed it. It didn't matter. The Knightmare went down regardless.

Suzaku raised his good sword, intending to finish the job.

"NO!"

The girl was their in an instant, but she wasn't attacking him. That would have been a death sentence. Instead she was prostrate over him, trying to cover him with her body. His Knightmare was unmoving.

"Please!" she cried out. He could hear her sobbing. "Please, no!"

Suzaku shrugged. "Sure."

He hit the boost on his FLOAT System and rocketed back across the river. He landed just in time for the Knightmare to run out of juice, and had just enough power left in the camera to see the throngs of Britannians surrounding him.

Oh crud! Suzaku thought in a panic. I think they heard me say I'm Japanese!

When Jeremiah and Ashra arrived, the fighting had already concluded. The guns had fallen silent all down the line, both sides digging in for the long war that was to come. No doubt, Imperial war planners were discussing stratagems to get through the North Sea. The next phase of this war would be coming shortly.

"Hey!" Ashra called out. "What's going on over there?"

Jeremiah focused. A massive crowd of soldiers surrounded a kneeling white Knightmare, yelling and hollering, their voices blended together in a noisy blob of incoherent sound.

Is that the Lancelot? Jeremiah wondered.

Suzaku was atop a crowd of cheering soldiers, a happy grin plastered across his face, his fist raised high in the air.

"Who the Hell is that Eleven?" Ashra asked.

Jeremiah relaxed back into his seat. Not bad, kid. Not bad. "If you'd shut up and listen for a second," he said aloud, "you'll hear his name." He smiled.

"LANCELOT!"

"LANCELOT!"

"LANCELOT!"

"LANCELOT!"