Chapter V: Mystic Eyes

“I don't know what kind of Mystic Eyes you have, but I don't think they're enough to stop a fireball at point blank range.” It took a moment for the words and their source to register in his mind, but once they did, Shiki felt his body start to slump.

Ceecee, seeing this, kept her outstretched palm pointed toward the young man as she turned her amber eyes now to the scene that was the center of attention. Still, Akiha held Lelouch by the throat, but she had noticed the reversal and her aqua eyes registered, even across the distance, some uncertainty.

The air seemed to glow in between them--perhaps it actually did glow, actually, but if the power that had bound Lelouch and the bug girl before was something Akiha was trying to bring to beat again, it wasn't working. The distance between them stretched out too far, or perhaps it was too hard to see in the darkness.

Whatever it was, the vermilion-haired girl broke eye contact after several seconds of tense silence, her body coiled uneasily. Kallen's grip upon her gun had grown firm again, her sights trained rather precisely upon Akiha's throat, knowing it was the weakest place if she had any kind of armor. None of them had realized that she was a pokegirl before she'd killed the feral and attacked Lelouch that way.

Capitalizing on her uncertainty, though, the Sorceress pressed on. “Maybe we did set you up, but no one was seriously hurt tonight, Lady Tohno. It would be... regrettable if we were to have casualties now, would it not?”

Akiha swallowed hard at this, looking between Ceecee and Kallen with a look that very much reminded Shiki of a frightened, cornered animal. He very much desired to run to her and embrace her, but... obviously he could do no such thing.

Seeing the Sorceress's tactic, though, Suzaku had unfrozen and stepped closer. “Look, just let Lelouch go. We have no quarrel with you, my lady.”

“...then why?” The pressure that she had been exerting in the whole clearing before--that frightening, beastly presence--slowly seemed to be weakening, and her voice was clearer, more like Akiha's was supposed to be.

“Let him go and we can explain it. I swear, we won't hold this against you,” the tamer countered, slowly advancing.

Akiha swallowed, looking away from him and back to Shiki, who was standing there with a supremely unhappy expression upon his face, mostly caused by the knowledge that he was completely unable to do anything. It seemed to be this, more than the arguments of the others, that caused her to hesitate most....

“Did you not deceive us as well, Lady Tohno? You presented yourself as a human--you had some reason, right? We have reasons for our own deception,” Ceecee added, her golden eyes gazing intently.

For a moment, it seemed like the situation would go from bad to worse in spite of all that was said, though. Her arm tensed again, as though her fingers were going to dig into Lelouch's throat again, and Kallen's finger tightened upon the trigger of her pistol....

But that fatal action never came. Instead, almost weakly, Akiha pushed Lelouch away, her hand releasing his neck to shove his chest, and in that same moment the bonds of vermilion hair that had bound him were released. The girl herself staggered back, as though hit with some great weight, and her voice managed, barely in a murmur and so likely not meant for anyone but herself, “Ah... You're right... I can't just... invert like this.... Nii-san...”

Though her head turned to look at him, she could do no more than that, and her body collapsed beneath her. In the moment she had released the other tamer, though, Shiki had pushed past Ceecee with the same concerned speed that Kallen had dropped her gun and rushed to Lelouch's side with.

Being closer, though, Shiki managed to reach the unsteady Akiha in time to catch her in his arms as she finally lost her balance. Though he had to wonder what she meant--invert?--it didn't matter right now. What mattered was that she was safe and in his arms as he pulled her tightly against his chest, only now realizing that he had started breathing as fast as she was.

Kallen, on the other hand, only reached her master's side by the time he'd hit the ground. His face contorted in pain as he coughed roughly, but the bleeding from his neck was only slight; none of the veins there had been breached, and she breathed a sigh of relief, though worry didn't at all leave her face as she knelt over him. Still, his coughing slowly subsided enough that he could sit up, and despite that the pain was far from gone, he managed to look amused as he lifted the violet contacts and put them back into his eyes, hiding the redness there.

For her part, Akiha was breathing hard and now that her anger was gone she seemed more... frightened, looking up into Shiki's eyes. “I'm sorry, Nii-san... I keep causing all this trouble for you...” she whispered, weakly.

“No! It's not causing me trouble... I was just... I failed you again. I couldn't do anything to help you....”

“That's not right,” she managed, coughing a little herself as she let her headrest weakly upon his shoulder. She seemed terribly fragile against him, with all the lithe strength having seeped from her body. “You brought me back... If you hadn't been there, I would've... inverted and killed even more....” Shuddering at the words, she closed her eyes and buried her head against him as much as she could.

“...inverted? I don't know what you mean, Akiha... But you weren't wrong.... You protected Hisui, and you stopped that spell he was going to--” Starting to say this, Shiki suddenly became aware of his surroundings again, and tensed. That was right--the spell....

“Yes, your sister has a rather remarkable will, Shiki.” Lelouch spoke, despite the slight cough that forced its way. His voice was darker than it had been before, but he seemed strangely amused for having just nearly been killed. “I certainly didn't expect anyone to figure that out so easily, never mind resist my Mystic Eyes like that.”

As he spoke this way, despite the assurances that there would be no quarrel between them, everyone in the clearing tensed again. Suzaku and Ceecee both moved to stand behind Lelouch, and Kallen glanced uncertainly at her fallen pistol, but ended up ultimately unwilling to abandon her master's side long enough to retrieve it.

“That's not all, Lelouch. Shiki there has Mystic Eyes too--I don't know what kind, but I know mystic eye killer when I see it.” She narrowed her eyes, and he knew she was probably looking at his glasses.

“Oh? What an interesting family they are, then...” Lelouch laughed again, but this time the sound devolved into a wracking cough that made his body shudder. Beside him, Kallen's face winced in sympathy as she squeezed his hand, and after several seconds his body finally stilled.

“...well, we can worry about that later,” Suzaku decided, entirely aware of the tension that still permeated the air between the two sides as he watched Akiha stir in Shiki's arms enough to lift her head. “I think we do owe you an explanation.”

Uncertainly, Shiki nodded, more aware of the fact that his sister was still managing to glare at the two than of the more general tension. All of this was so... sudden. Things were changing so fast it made his head spin painfully.

“Well, I guess the best place to start is... About a year ago, a man named Nietz appeared in the mountains near here. He declared himself daiymo of the area and claims it belongs to him, but for all intents and purposes, the man is nothing but a bandit,” Suzaku began, his face dark as he spoke.

“A bandit, but very much a charismatic one,” Lelouch picked up, forcing his voice despite the difficulty. “He has managed to gather a substantial following on this island, from people who feel that the Edo government thinks of them as useless provincials and just among the destitute and desperate. ...being a bandit does pay well.” There was an ironic smile, but he resisted the urge to add a laugh to it again.

“Yeah, get to the point. What does this have to do with us?” Akiha managed, straightening a little, though she was still leaning very much on Shiki.

“Not every story is simple, you know,” Ceecee retorted, shaking her head. “The government has done its best to keep the situation under wraps to prevent a panic, but that has problems of its own. You love your sister, don't you...? I don't really care in what way, but I saw your expression before. You would do anything to save her, wouldn't you?”

Confused, Shiki nodded slowly even so. Yes, that much was true.... But Akiha got the meaning much more quickly, and a bitterly ironic smile touched her lips. “So they captured someone's sister, huh... Whose was it?”

“You really are quick, aren't you? Yes, they took my sister--both my sisters,” Lelouch answered, matching her bitterness with his own quite easily. “They were on their way to a wedding. Euphy's wedding... to Suzaku.”

It went without saying that that was the name of one of the sisters in question, and both sides fell silent at this. The tension was gone, but the moment, but in its place was a bitterly depressing pall, and no one seemed to know what to say.





After that, the two groups separated in somewhat of an uneasy truce. Shiki had to admit that the others hadn't technically done anything wrong except for trying whatever spell that had been--one of them had called it Mystic Eyes, but the effect of those glowing eyes was unlike anything he'd seen before, even his own... unusual eyes--but even so, at the moment he couldn't feel anything but resentment. Maybe he would've put others in danger for the sake of saving Akiha, but somehow... that didn't make it any easier to forgive them.

And, even knowing it was entirely unfair, it was hard to imagine even forgiving Kallen for threatening Akiha that way... But regardless, the two of them sat in the shelter of the coach's presence, given some measure of privacy and protection by it. Shiki had reluctantly left briefly to carry Hisui over, and the maid, at least, seemed in stable condition. Her wound had closed and her chest rose and fell evenly where she rested; they had improvised a bed for her with some sheets Akiha had brought.

With that done, though, neither of them seemed certain what to say. Shiki quietly moved to rest with his back to the coach, and after a moment, hesitantly, the vermilion-haired girl moved closer to him, allowing herself to sag against him again. She seemed as though she were walking on eggshells, with the uneasy way she only slowly allowed her head to lie against her brother’s chest and her eyes to close.

In this way, they laid there for several minutes, neither stirring or speaking, but then Akiha sighed softly and looked up. “Nii-san, you can... ask me about it, you know.”

“I guess I can. But does it really matter? You’re safe now.”

“...yes, it does matter, Nii-san. It’s not like something like that... couldn’t happen again, you know.” She sighed and closed her eyes a moment. When Shiki was silent, Akiha shook her head with a sad but affectionate smile. “You really are too forgiving, Nii-san.... But you need to know. I thought it was okay to keep it to myself, but tonight proved me wrong about that. I killed something tonight....”

“But you saved Hisui. There’s nothing to regret about that, Akiha.”

“You say that, but... we both know what happened afterward. And you don’t know... what it felt like to drain her life away, Nii-san. You don’t even know what I am.” Her smile saddened further, and she shook her head, body trembling a little bit. “ don’t know what it’s like to enjoy being a killer, Nii-san.”

Shiki... couldn’t bring himself to reply to that. It wasn’t that he had nothing to say, but rather that the things he wanted to say jumbled together in his head, becoming confused and convoluted as he held her tighter. Maybe she was right, but... despite that, something about what she said felt strikingly wrong.

Seeing him unable to reply, though, Akiha drew in a deep breath and started to speak again. “Father liked to say it this way: ‘there is a demon lurking in the Tohno bloodline.’ It wasn’t some kind of metaphor, Nii-san--since the days of the war, our family had interbred with only infernal pokegirls. That sort of purity created powerful blood gifts early on. It was only later that we discovered the price of that.... Normally, I guess thresholds aren’t all that spectacular. As long as you don’t get unlucky, they don’t change much, right?”

The way she was talking made that part inside of him react rather strongly, but it was hard to really... describe the reaction. There was no urge to kill, not revulsion; it was more of an anxiety, an uncertain shifting that made his mind spin in turmoil. “I guess that’s right... I’ve... never really had contact with one before.”

“...well, I’ve seen it before. Honestly, I think the definition I just gave you is wrong. No one’s ever really... the same person afterward. But that isn’t the point here--or maybe it is. Because some thresholds and blood gifts bring more than just physical changes--you know that much, right?”

“...ah, yeah, I guess so. I mean, I’ve seen bloodgifted guys at my school plenty of times, and they usually seemed to be something that fit their personality,” he admitted, nodding as he thought back.

“Or maybe their personalities are influenced by their gifts instead,” Akiha suggested, her voice unhappy at the words. “I don’t honestly know which it is. But I know that... thresholders’ personalities do change to fit what they’re becoming, and... what I’m becoming is a demon, Nii-san.”

“No, that can’t be right. You’re nothing like a demon, Akiha,” he said, too quickly, even as a memory of that bestial aura around her returned and his body shuddered. With his arms already around her, he couldn’t do much but cling tighter to her, unwilling to let himself think such things despite the... obviousness of the reality.

“You really aren’t a good liar.... But thank you.” She smiled a little, shaking her head and looking away; when she spoke again, she sounded slightly choked. “...I could invert like that again at any time, Nii-san, if something makes me angry enough. Maybe it would be you or Hisui or Kohaku I attacked next time....” Swallowing hard, she shut her eyes tightly, but couldn’t stop the tears that started to slip from those beautiful aqua eyes. Now she returned the strength of his embrace, pressing into his arms tightly as her head buried itself against his shoulder. Again, neither said anything, but this time neither wanted to talk anymore.




After that point, the night passed slowly. In the distance, it was easy to hear the low conversations of the other group, perhaps parallel to their own. It was certainly a more consistent sound, with four of them, and at some point they had brought the three captured bandits, now bound, to the fire, and the rough sound of their voices joined in. There were some louder words from Lelouch--likely commands using whatever spell he had tried to use on Shiki and Akiha--but even so, it remained little more than background noise.

Things remained in much this state until, after some time, Lelouch approached them. He seemed to have recovered entirely, and his expression was back to the more ambivalent politeness that he'd before. Even so, both of the siblings tensed, causing the tamer to laugh slightly. “Don't worry, I'm not here to try anything. But we have a few things that we need to discuss.”

“...yeah, I guess you're right.” Whereas Akiha had taken the lead before, it was obvious that she was still uneasy now so he made himself do so. “What do you two intend to do now?”

“We will complete the job you hired us for, do not worry. Despite what you might think, we never intended to do otherwise.”

“...why? Are we of any use to you now?” Akiha's eyes narrowed suspiciously as she spoke up.

Lelouch rolled his eyes lightly, the more cynical persona emerging again. “My lady, please. Surely you realized you were an ideal target for bandits no matter what--you would've been attacked no matter who you brought along. Really, you were lucky I hacked into the system at the agency to be sure we were the ones assigned to guard you.”

Both Shiki and Akiha fell silent at this. It was hard to deny, in retrospect, that even if they had been set up as bait, the battle had gone mostly well.... Shiki frown, though, looking over at Hisui. “...maybe so, but you still let Hisui get hurt drawing them into your trap.”

Before Lelouch could reply, he was preempted by Suzaku, who had walked over. “...that's probably right, but she's okay. We'd rather not have taken the risk, but... you're wealthy. They wouldn't try to kill you for what you carry, so the risk wasn't that great. And you wouldn't have been any safer with someone who wasn't ready.”

This didn't seem to satisfy either of them, and Suzaku himself didn't sound too happy, giving it, but no one objected outright, either. Finally, Akiha sighed. “Well, I suppose as long as we get through the rest of the trip safely.... What are you going to do with your captives over there?” Judging from his uneasy expression, that had been a question Shiki was too afraid to ask, given the bloodbath before.

“We'll hand them over to the proper authorities.” The brown-haired boy sounded much happier to be announcing this, and Lelouch nodded as well.

“Right. We got what we needed to know from them, so we'll turn them in and strike while the iron is hot. Tomorrow will be a bit faster, with your permission.” The last bit had a definite bit of irony in it, but almost as an afterthought, he narrowed his eyes and added something more. “I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone about what happened, or what our plans are. In return, naturally, we will keep your own secret.”

Those words revealed the source of much of the tension in the air--that was to say it eased back now, to much more tolerable levels. “Deal,” Shiki replied without hesitation, and Akiha nodded as well.

“Excellent. Let us set up tents then--if we are to reach the city tomorrow, it would be better if we were not exhausted.” Everyone could agree on that, and so the set about doing so. Thankfully, the bodies had already been removed from sight--thrown together in a mass grave, to judge from the fresh covering of earth where Gwen's hyper beams had blasted a large furrow. The two groups mingled a little more now, but not all the tension was gone, and when the time came for everyone to retire to their tents, no one seemed to mind.




After the events of the night before, there hadn't been much point in pretending to sleep apart. What neither had expected was that Hisui had woken up at some point in the night... or more likely, woken up only partially, given that it was difficult to imagine a fully conscious Hisui having snuggled up against Shiki's back. Needless to say, waking up that morning was an... interesting experience--yet, he couldn't say it was even remotely unpleasant, in all honesty.

But, with the two females concerned with their morning routines, Shiki had a moment to slip away. Something from the night before lingered in his mind, and he wanted to address it without worrying Akiha. She had enough on her mind from what she'd told him.

Thus, he sought out Lelouch, who was thankfully alone where he was working with the Rapitaurs, grooming the large equine 'girls with a brush. Kallen wasn't anywhere nearby, and Ceecee lounged idly on the driver's bench of the coach, far enough away that she wouldn't be likely to hear.

“Ah... Could I ask you something?”

“I think you just did, but go ahead.” Lelouch seemed to be back in his nonchalant, friendly persona.

“Well, last night, you said something about Mystic Eyes, right? Could you tell me more about what that really... means?”

A brow lifted, and the brush fell aside for the moment as the tamer diverted his full attention to the other male. “I didn't think there were any families in this part of the world capable of producing someone with Mystic Eyes, but if you don't even know what they are, Ceecee was probably wrong.”

“No, I think... she was probably right. My eyes aren't normal,” Shiki admitted, taking a deep breath.

“Oh? So what happens when you take those glasses off, then?” The curiosity in the Lelouch's eyes seemed genuine, but it was hard not to feel a little baited by his casual attitude, and Shiki sighed.

“...I see lines on things.” This wasn't the first time he'd told someone about this, so some part of him expected the same usual confused or dismissive reaction he usually got.

“Lines? What kind of lines?” Instead, though, the result he received was the baiting vanishing, replaced by an intensely interested expression.

“Lines that... I can cut things along.”

“Show me.”

Shiki hesitated at this for a moment, before nodding. Together the two of them moved away from the idly grazing Rapitaur, with the younger boy in the lead until they had reached the forest's edge. Sucking in a deep breath, he withdrew the knife from his pocket with one hand and flipped it open, whilst the other lifted to slowly remove his glasses.

As he did, a light headache assailed him immediately, but in turn, the jagged lines ran through everything in his field of vision, including the mid-sized tree in front of him. It seemed like a perfect demonstration, since it was on a slope that angled down away from them, ensuring that it would fall the other direction.

And so, with his knife's blade, Shiki cut the black line upon the tree's trunk. For a moment, nothing happened, but then a groan split the air as the tree listed for a split second, then fell with a resounding crash, sliced cleanly through by that simple action....

However, Lelouch's attention was quickly diverted from the tree to the camp's reaction to the crash it had made, and he sighed lightly, amused as he prepared to deal with the interest. “...why do I get the feeling you don't know the meaning of the word 'discrete'?”

Still, they managed to clear up the concern rather quickly, though it had brought Akiha’s head out of the tent in concern. Seeing the cause, a look of rather adorable annoyance flashed over her face, mostly directed toward the proximity of Lelouch to her brother. Though it also promised strong words for scaring her later, she disappeared completely within the fabric construct again for the moment, leaving Shiki and Lelouch to their own devices again.

With the others’ attention gone, though, Lelouch turned back to look at the fallen tree. “Like I thought, that tree wasn’t rotten at all, was it? But you still cut it like nothing....”

“No, it was... just a normal tree,” Shiki replied, glasses back on now to avert his headache, and Lelouch regarded him with a lifted brow.

“I guess eyes like that aren't a myth after all, then...”

Shiki blinked, feeling his unease growing as the baiting feeling returned. “...a myth? Then... you know something about this.”

“Correct. I really had thought they were only a legend, but it would seem that the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception are quite real. You, Shiki Tohno, can see the death of things.” Something about the way Lelouch smiled darkly as he said this made the other boy’s stomach turn a little, but he set himself against succumbing to the uneasy feeling.

“...the death of things? What do you mean?”

Instead of answering, Lelouch frowned, thinking of something else; “You weren’t born with the ability to see those lines, were you, Shiki?”

“...ah, no. I had an accident eight years ago.”

“A near death experience, right?” Surprised, Shiki could only nod as the other continued, “Yes, that would make sense.... When you came so close to dying, something activated the circuit in your eyes allowing you to see ‘death.’ Normally, a person is born with Mystic Eyes, and using them more and more causes them to become stronger. When I was younger, my Mystic Eyes of Domination only activated when I wished it, but now I have to wear these to stop them from working all the time.” Deftly, he removed one of the contacts in his eyes, revealing the red color, then put it back just as quickly.

“I see... So your contacts are like my glasses, then?” Somehow, the knowledge that he wasn’t the only one with the need to constantly wear something like that reassured him, and his stomach calmed a little.

“Yes, something like that. They’re both made of mystic eye killer--that's just what it sounds like, a special lens that blocks out the effects of eyes like ours.... How did you get those, anyway, if you don’t even know about Mystic Eyes?”

“I met a woman eight years ago, while I was in the hospital. I don’t... even know if she was human or not, looking back, but when I told her about my eyes, she brought me these. I’ve always been grateful.” The memories of the seven days he’d spent with her, the woman he remembered only as Sensei, were something Shiki treasured, and thinking of that quelled his stomach further.

“I see.... It’s still strange, but I guess that adds up. There are a few people in the world who still know about Mystic Eyes.”

“So... Is this some kind of bloodgift? Like you probably guessed, my family isn’t quite as pure as it looks on paper.” It wouldn’t cause any harm, he thought, to admit this, since Akiha’s threshold was already something they were aware of.

“Hmm? No, it’s not a bloodgift at all. Actually, pokegirl blood tends to suppress the ability of Mystic Eyes, so your sister must’ve just been unlucky. Ceecee’s family used to have a strain of them too, but because they had become less pure over the years; by the time she was born, it had decayed so much that she could only barely use the Mystic Eyes of Enchantment--and she lost even that after she thresholded. Like I said, I didn’t think there were any families left that could still use them in this country. The last bloodline of psychics died out about ten years ago.”

“...huh? Psychics? I thought you said this wasn’t a bloodgift,” Shiki replied, confusion in his voice. In truth, though, after what Akiha had told him about the Tohno house, the terminology was the least of his concerns. But, in contrast with Lelouch’s accusation before, he knew very well that such a contradiction wasn’t something he should tell anyone--even Akiha--about until he figured it out. Shiki did know how to be discreet, really.

“Ah, right. Yes, that’s correct, Shiki. It isn’t a bloodgift of the psychic type--it’s more like what the type was named for, actually. Mystic Eyes are part of the natural magic of our world. Our world: the one that existed before pokegirls. In that world, people with the ability to use magic naturally, without casting a spell, like you and me, were called psychics, so it’s a term my family still uses. But the last native Japanese line of psychics were the Nanaya clan; my father was in contact with them, but they were extinguished about ten years ago in some kind of feud.” Lelouch shrugged, apparently not at all winded from the long explanation.

Perhaps he was used to such things, Shiki thought with a touch of annoyance. Smug bastard. But that name... It sounded familiar, and yet he was certain this was the first time he’d heard it used. The thought was pushed aside, though. “Ah, I see.... And wait, you said before that I can see ‘death.’ What do you mean by that? These lines are just the places things can be cut.”

No, that’s incorrect. Those lines are definitely--no, wait. Aside from lines, there are points as well, aren’t there?”

For a moment Shiki blinked, but then his thoughts went back to when he had been preparing to cut the tree, and he nodded slowly. “Yeah, it was like a spiderweb of lines connecting points on the tree. But I don't see those normally.”

Lelouch nodded. “I suppose that makes sense. You can’t see the ‘death’ of nonliving things, but you can see the ‘time of death,’ or the way something will break when it does. For living things you see the actual 'death' as well, because you know what it means for a living thing to die. It’s really the same thing, though--everything that comes into being has to have an end point too. Normally these end points are reached naturally, but when you cut those lines, or stab a point, then you reverse the order of causality. By cutting the line, you invoke its ‘time of death’ or its 'death,' and so it dies. Truly a destructive ability....”

Shiki himself shuddered a little as he listened to that description, swallowing hard, but he nodded. “...I see.” It hadn’t been the easiest explanation to follow, but it made all too much sense, really. “...I’d probably have gone insane by now if I didn’t have these glasses, then....”

Lelouch nodded, but said no more, and neither of them seemed inclined to talk further, so they set off back to camp. The morning preparations were completed fairly quickly after that; everyone was anxious to be going, and before long they set out. The ride was less smooth, and once during it Shiki almost fainted from an attack of dizziness, but on the whole it was still bearable considering the great speed that they made.

Though Akiha wasn’t exactly happy with the risks added by that speed, especially after her brother had that attack of anemia, since he did recover, she wanted to be out of the presence of the two tamers enough that she didn’t object. And so, perhaps an hour after night had fallen, the lights of one of the great seaside resort cities lit up the sky before them entirely, and they slowed, entering that city much more slowly, in a fittingly stately fashion. For all its unwanted adventure, the trip had ultimately ended well, and ahead of schedule.

The siblings and Hisui disembarked at a villa on the beach that Kohaku had reserved for them, too tired at this point from the somewhat uneven ride to really appreciate any of the sights or smells of the city nightlife around them. No, tiredly, they ordered the servants who were to serve them during their stay to carry in their bags and quickly retired. Though they had to go to separate rooms to keep up appearances, it wasn’t so hard for Akiha to slip away to her brother’s once they had had a light dinner and sent the servants to bed, and all three of them--Hisui in a separate but still rather luxurious room--gladly went to bed early that night.


--Interlude: Miracle Maker--


With autumn's coming, night in the mountains had a cold, crisp feel to it. The air seemed to nip at one's skin, and the wind had started to bite whenever it flared up. At the moment, not only had the wind flared up, but the darkest part of the night rested upon the forested slopes and passes. Little motion and littler light broke the stillness.

Given that, the campfires on the ledge were entirely more noticeable, even without the binoculars that Lelouch watched them through. Yes, this was definitely the right place: he could see two figures off to the side from the main group, under guard. The first was taller even sitting and easy to identify by her bright pink, long hair and sweet yet resolute face. In three months, that resolve hadn't much been dampened, and he felt a rush of pride for knowing that his generally naïve sister had done so well.

Some part of him had been afraid Euphemia would break under the stress and fear that her captivity had surely generated, especially with the fluctuating nature of the negotiations between their father and the bandits. It seemed that she held her own rather impressively, however, even dressed in a rather demeaning, slutty dress that could only be for the appreciation of their captors. The bandits wouldn't dare rape the two when they expected ransoms still, but they had been quite willing to humiliate them.

Given that the sight of that on Euphy angered him, though, the rage that coiled itself in his gut when he saw the way the other girl was dressed wasn't much of a surprise, but that did little to mitigate its effect. While Euphemia, his half sister, was around the same age as the boy, the other girl was his full sister and three or four years his junior.

That, however, had done nothing to spare her that same humiliation. Her long, flowing hair, a sandy color, fell against an entirely revealing red dress, which was slitted up either side and which was only closed in the front by a metal band around the waist. Similar bands encircling her thighs, he could see, and her wrists. In a cruel mockery of the fact that she couldn't walk, the cuffs around her ankles were tied to heavy weights.

Looking at this, for a moment his sight went redder than the dress with rage, but he forced it down. This was almost over; he just had to wait a little longer.... The ledge had been the perfect place to encamp, being effectively a wide shelf of rock with a small ridge around the edge that made it something of a bowl; there was no more defensible position for miles, so it had been easy to realize, once they had known the group was to meet in this area, that they would choose that spot.

So, the plans were ready. All that remained was... Suddenly, the earpiece he wore flooded with static a moment, then Suzaku's voice came through; “Lelouch, we're in position.”

From his vantage point within the blind he'd set up, the black-haired tamer let out a slow, deep breath, and then smirked. “Alright. Then all the tasks at hand have been cleared.” He didn't even have to ask if everyone was ready. “Commence the operation.”

Four affirmatives answered this declaration, and then the channel fell silent. The silence lasted nearly five minutes, until, just as the tense feeling that something had gone wrong started to take hold of his heart, he heard the sound of gunfire and muzzle flashes lit up the slope above him.

Responding to the attack which had quickly dropped the first round of sentries, a wave of land-based pokegirls started to rush from the camp toward where Kallen had fired from. A few took to the air, but these made easy targets and the Gun Bunny easily took out each by targeting the wings....

Of course, doing that allowed the others to pinpoint her position. It wasn't hard to move enough to avoid the returning fire from several ranged types who were back at the camp, but soon she would be overtaken by the wave of land-based girls that converged on her position. Lelouch smirked, watching all this through his binoculars. “Gwen, now.”

With that, the entire side of the mountain lit up from a golden blaze, seemingly two miniature suns.... Then, the Zeromer's hyper beams were launched directly into the mass of attacking pokegirls, killing or stunning several outright and knocking back the rest as the golden energy ripped deep furrows in the mountainside soil.

This drew the fire of those ranged 'girls guarding the camp though, and he could see Gwen's jets fire in the distance as she took evasive action. Occasionally one of the projectiles came near, but these were deflected by a green barrier; this was not another technology, but rather Ceecee's magic, and Lelouch imagined he could see the faint outline of the Sorceress riding on the Zeromer's back.

But, with the shield up, she definitely couldn't take another shot, and the position the thirty or so armed humans and their pokegirls occupied was nearly impregnable. “...well then, time to make a miracle.”

Murmuring this to himself, Lelouch lifted a stylized chess king from the floor of the blind beside him and regarded it for just a moment. The hat of the king was a button, and after this brief interlude, is finger found that button. Almost immediately, the very world seemed to shake in response as the sky was again lit up.

This time, though, it wasn't gold that set the sky alight, but red; an inferno blossomed outward from where the shelf of rock met the mountainside proper, like some deadly rose in the darkness. The sonic report from the massive explosion, of course, had been what made the ground tremble.

And indeed, with a mere press of that button, he had made a miracle. Even from his position, the sound that reached him in the wake the explosion was a collective, terrified scream and the scrape of stone against stone as the shelf detached from the mountain and started to fall away.

What happened after that, he only knew because he'd planned it out, since it was all too fast to follow. As Kallen and Ceecee laid down covering fire--the later quite literally, in the form of fireballs--Gwen swooped in low, no longer needing to fear any return fire. Her arms extended and the fingertips of each hand shot out on tow cables, enchanted specially for the purpose. In this way, she grabbed hold of the two captives and pulled them back.

And then, before the weight of three people could overpower her thrusters, another blast of hyper beam struck the mountainside, scarring the rock but doing little real damage. No, instead the recoil from firing at such an unyielding target gave her enough momentum to fly free, away from the cliff to make a landing in the forested valley below, where she could let the weight drag her down slowly with no fear of what awaited.

By the time he'd found his way to where the black Zeromer had landed, the sun had started to rise. It seemed fitting, in what had once been called the Land of the Rising Sun, that the rosy fingers of drawn stretched out over the sky as he found his way to the clearing. Suzaku, far more athletic, was already there embracing his wife to be, but Lelouch could barely notice that. No, he had eyes only for the sight of his little sister smiling.

As he reached her, panting, and fell to his knees to embrace her, he heard a soft, sweet sound from the girl. “...big brother?”

Perhaps their love was of an entirely different sort from that of the two that he'd met in getting here, but still he could understand entirely in this moment the fierceness of the affection that had been between them. Catching his breath a little, he nodded, feeling a genuine smile upon his face for the first time in months. “...yeah, it's me, Nunally... Welcome back.”

-Interlude (and sidestory) Fin~--