Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Eleventh Hour

She sat in the armchair, listening to the news, and watched the rain slide down the window. Somewhere to her left she was vaguely aware of the mess that their bed looked; with counterfeit papers and stacks and stacks of cold cash, laying down was impossible. Somewhere, buried amongst the bills, was the gun, loaded as it always was, as it silently gleamed in the shadows of their filthy lucre. She listened the heavy clunk told her he had moved the gun to the bedside table as he rifled through one of their bags in search of something. Suddenly feeling chilly, C.C. pulled the blanket up closer around her shoulders.

They had spent the past week preparing for tomorrow morning. They had everything that they needed and more in case all hell broke loose and everything went to shit. They had sat together and considered every possible situation and how to best remedy it, but as she sat there in the armchair and listened to the report, she couldn’t help but feel unease and discomfort.

Was this really it? Were they really going to run away? It couldn’t be that simple, could it? The Weiss Ritter had been crippled for some time, she knew, but for it have been brought to its knees so easily… But they had to leave now. They had burnt all of their bridges behind them, and they had little choice than to leave. The authorities would soon arrest Lelouch just as they had arrested Kanon Maldini if they didn’t leave tomorrow, and if he were to be stuck in this city any longer, there was no telling what the loyalists would do to him. There were few of them left – they had been the first to go – but those who had survived would surely come after him for his failure to protect the Weiss König.

But even as she told herself this, she couldn’t help but feel anxious. It was happening all too quickly. Even Lelouch seemed a little perturbed by how sudden their departure felt, but he at least had adapted better than she had – or was better at hiding it. Either way, she felt as if they had gotten free too easily. If it really had only taken one bullet – or four as that was how many times Schneizel had been shot for insurance – why hadn’t they freed themselves sooner? Wasn’t Schneizel a much worthier adversary than to allow himself to pathetically die in some dark room by himself?

She looked up when the quiet murmuring the anchors ceased to see him stop before her. Closing her eyes, she leaned into his hand as he held her cheek, and chose to think only of his touch. He looked down at her gently before kneeling before her. Smoothing her hair, he studied her quietly until she opened her eyes and told him without words of her fear. She leaned forward until her forehead rested on his; he tightly held her hands as he reminded her that he would never let them go a second time. The first had been too painful for them both; the second would never happen. So he had sworn before God and so he would stand beside until the last of his breath had expired and the end of his amaranthine love.

.           .           .

Cornelia stood in front of the mirror, just minutes before the press conference. Already could she hear the excitement of the reporters as they spoke of the recent murder of the infamous and feared Weiss König. No doubt they would attack her first thing for the identity of the yet-unsung hero, the savior of this hell that they found themselves buried neck-deep in.

She scoffed to herself. Hero? What was so heroic about murder? Nature was cruel, and there were only two real causes of death: Schneizel el Britannia had either died from old age, or something bigger and stronger had wiped him out to make room for its territory. The man was barely into his fifty’s; he had died young.

Grateful she may be for his death, but there was little place in her city for justice of the vigilante kind. Whether it had really been some tragic, misguided act of valor or one of furthering some sick agenda would soon be found out in due time. She had, after all, ordered for a full-scale man-hunt for the killer, had she not?

.           .           .

When Euphemia returned from visiting her husband late in the evening, she found a letter waiting for her in their mailbox like the way a bouquet of baby’s breath had been sitting on her husband’s grave. Standing in the dark kitchen, she turned on a solitary lamp before opening the letter to find elegant, looping cursive.

It was brief, but it was more than enough. Carefully reading each and every word, she read of her gratitude as she was thanked for being her first real friend in a long, long time. And when she turned the letter over, she found two plane tickets to the city of Orpheil taped to the back – the very same tickets she had declined twice.

When Euphemia finally understood who had placed that bouquet and why, she retreated into the sanctity of her bedroom to pray for their safe deliverance to their son who she hoped would be able to meet her daughter again and play once more as happily as they had before.

.           .           .

Nina stared at the TV, her eyes wide, as she watched the police clear a path through angry protestors vying for fulfillment of their vendettas and reporters demanding answers for Mr. Maldini. Stunned, she listened to an anchor speak of what many called the beginning of the end, what with the arrest of the Weiss Ritter’s consigliere and the celebrated death of the kingpin. But what of Lelouch Lamperouge? All had been accounted for, save her friend’s killer, but as she stood there, there was no mention of him.

She collapsed onto the ground. How was this fair? How could they just let him slip through like that? They should in the very least begin the hunt for him; what, were they going to get lazy now that they only had two out of the three? But that wasn’t fair! What if he came back and tried to kill her? Off her in order to get rid of evidence or something. She was a valuable witness with important information! Who was to say he wouldn’t come back and kill her? God knew he wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty. He’d done it before; he’d do it again, no problem.

She just knew it; she could feel it in her bones. Lelouch Lamperouge was going to come back for her. That was why he was still out there, roaming around the city with his bloodlust.

To clean up after himself.

.           .           .

Papers in hand, Leopold flew down the stairs and sprinted to the kitchen when Sayoko suddenly swept him off his feet and hugged him. Laughing as he felt himself swing through the air, the boy grinned, amazed that she already knew he had finished his duet without him even opening his mouth.

“You want to hear it?”

When she didn’t reply, he glanced down at Lulu, who had sat down by Sayoko’s feet for a front-row seat of the strange phenomena that was occurring. Why was her master suddenly able to levitate? And what was that that was dangling from his hand? She tried to paw at it, and he waved at her before tapping his nanny on the shoulder. Wasn’t the duet the reason why she was hugging him? He was happy too, but he hadn’t thought it was enough to cry over.

“Sayoko, are you okay?”

But she only smiled and continued to hold him tightly as behind her, the anchor spoke of the apparent ceasefire in the city that the whole world had been watching with bated breath. Okay? Of course she was okay. She was better than okay; she was better than fine. The last she had been this happy had been when the young master had first smiled at her when she had held him all those years ago. Of course she was okay! How could she not be when everything was finally coming to a close?

.           .           .

The church of her heritage – the church that had wed her parents and baptized her – was the oldest in the city. Built in a gothic styling, it stood regally even when shadowed by its much more contemporary siblings with an air of elegance that none dared touch. Even the Estates Tower, in all its Babylonic glory, could only stand demurely in the face of its pointed arches and flying buttresses, and it was to this commanding presence that she returned after years of hiatus and was married before the God she had renounced so long ago.

The bishop – the holy father who had known her since she had been an infant and had loved her like he would have his own daughter – had been surprised to find her on his doorstep but had taken her in warmly as if not even a day had passed since their last meeting. He still looked as he had at her mother’s funeral, save for a few more wrinkles here and there, but his warmth and kindness were still the same, and he treated her fiancé as if he had known him as long as he had known her. Embracing them both, he welcomed them both to his sanctuary, and it was then that he saw the unborn child she carried and her mother’s wedding ring and understood why it was that she had sought him out after so many years of silence.

He agreed to her pleas. There must be a good reason why they were asking to be married in the dead of night in the House of God, so he agreed to witness and validate their matrimony. If anyone were to find out, his position and privilege could very well be revoked – the strict rules of the Church were eternal, that enough was undeniable – but surely God in all His grace could forgive him for his disobedience and theirs? Did He not wish only the greatest for His children? They were all Children of God, were they not? Surely, in His infinite wisdom, he would forgive him for accepting her desperation.

.           .           .

“We’ve been given 48 hours, and it is imperative that we make the most out of those precious few hours. I want our best officers on this case.” Cornelia abruptly stopped pacing to turn to her aide. “Where’s Darlton?”

“En route. He’s due to arrive in 3 minutes.”

Crossing her arms, she glared through the one-way window. Kanon Maldini sat calmly in the barren room as if he was in his own living room. With his legs crossed and his fingers drumming the table, he looked the very definition of boredom; the sight made her narrow her eyes. There was no reason he should be acting so relaxed unless he was hiding some trump card up his sleeve. But what could he possibly be counting on to bail him out? What was he hiding?

Her lip curled back.

“Where the hell is Darlton?”

.           .           .

“Lord, bless these rings which we bless in Your name. Grant that those who wear them may always have a deep faith in each other. May they do Your will and always live together in peace, good will, and love. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

All watched breathlessly as he slid the ring onto her finger, her most of all. Tightly holding her hand, the young man, never once tearing his eyes off her, softly said, “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity, as a symbol of my abiding love, my eternal faith, and my undying devotion, ‘til death do us part.”

Smiling, she looked up as he tightly squeezed her hands. The diamonds winking at her from her fingers below, she presented the silver band she had been holding with trembling hands to its new owner.

.           .           .

“The autopsy for el Britannia came in.”

Cornelia looked up from the files she had been reading.

“We think there’s been forced ingestion of some kind of poison. There was trauma at the nape and bruising around the neck. Seeing from the results of the blood test, there’s a good chance that the culprit is the Hóng Hè. Don’t want to jump the gun or anything but it’s not something that you can get here easily, and the Hóng Hè have some pretty good connections outside of the country.”

“Weren’t there also bullet wounds?” she asked. Flipping through the report, she skimmed through as she waited for an answer from her subordinate. There was a strange pause. Cornelia looked up as the officer nervously shifted his weight.

“Well. Yes, there were. But that’s what’s kind of weird. Forensics says that the bullet fragments are traced to guns traditionally used by the Weiss Ritter.”

“So what? It was a set-up?”

“Maybe. It’s hard to tell at this point, honestly. Still kind of early.”

She tapped the end of her pen against the half-empty glass of water. Poison from the Hóng Hè and gun wounds from the Weiss Ritter… It took no stretch of an imagination to think of some traitor to cut a deal with the enemy. But what would a member of the Weiss Ritter get out of helping kill the one and only person standing between him and total annihilation? Wouldn’t it make more sense to protect the kingpin – the one who controlled it all – no matter what price the enemy could offer? The Weiss Ritter may be limping along, but it still had the majority of its wealth locked up tight in those infamous underground vaults…

Something was off. Just by a smidgeon, but it was enough for the hairs on her nape to stand on end. Whatever it was, she was going to get to the bottom of it; she would personally make sure she found out just what had happened in that office that night.

.           .           .

Outside the church there were swarms of people gathered around the missing persons walls that had been erected over the course of the past harrowing weeks. Moving slowly in the soft glow of their grave candles, they swayed to and fro together as song took hold of those who had been left behind by their friends and families. By some miracle, the city gathered at the feet of the titans they had worshipped for so long, their cold boniness reflecting the light of their solidarity until midnight struck and lanterns floated up towards where even the glass buildings couldn’t yet reach, even beyond the forlorn Estates Tower and lit up the sky, forming a pathway: one for every lost life.

Silver glimmered in the soft light of the lantern bobbing before them. Mesmerized by its twinkling, the bride lost herself in the playful light until she was gently reeled back by her name. Closing her eyes, she waded through the darkness, delighting in the heart-fluttering suspense as he wound an arm around her waist. Her lips finding his, she drew herself closer to him – to her husband – and hesitantly touched his face as he showed her how he craved for her warmth.

And when the lights reached up and formed a pillar of light up to the heavens itself, they watched together, entangled and bound by their glimmering promise as they stood with the rest of their brethren as their loved ones lit the way to a new dawn.

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One thought on “Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Eleventh Hour

  1. Sean says:

    They certainly seem to have come up with a lot of the necessary materials needed to pull this sort of thing off, but I have to admit I’m with C.C. on this one as it seems to be just too easy to just pick up and leave. Granted, I suppose they are banking on those remaining to not be able to pull together the resources to track them down like Kanon or Schniezel could, which does make some sense I suppose. Still quite the gamble. C.C. does seem to pick up on it being all a bit anticlimactic with the way Schneizel went out as you’d think he’d have contingencies in place in case someone actually tried this and must have anticipated the possibility of Lelouch pulling this. On the other hand, he is ultimately just a man no matter how he likes to style himself so going out like a chump is fitting in its own way (We’ll see otherwise of course, but we’re not there yet for me to discuss. It does work as foreshadowing I suppose or at least has the reader have the same anxiety that something must be up.). I had to look up what amaranthine meant so that was a new word learned though not one I’d ever seen before in my life.

    I do like that Cornelia sticks to her guns about this whole issue even while accepting it as a good thing that Schneizel is dead and does allow for the possibility of it being not simply a player making a move for territory yet still not condoning it in the slightest. Even if she found out it was so Lelouch could escape with his family unharmed she wouldn’t be moved. Perhaps infuriated given she blames him for Suzaku’s death from the sound of things.

    It’s sad reading about her visiting her husband when you realize what that means in these circumstances. I also like the gesture of the tickets and the bouquet with what they mean and how this little friendship emerged between them and their children.

    Nina continues to be incredibly stupid in her own way. There’s also a sense of self-importance when I’d imagine Lelouch has barely spared her a thought and couldn’t care less. I’d be curious to know what she’d think to know that. It’s sad, somewhat funny, and a tad annoying.

    Hey, he finished the duet! That’s adorable and heartwarming to see that thread come back up finally. The small point of view from Lulu was hilarious as well and I like how happy Sayako is over the circumstances for all the various reasons that come to mind for her to do so.

    I really liked the section detailing C.C.’s history with that church and the bishop. Small thing really but it helps drive home why it would matter to her to come here above any other place rather than perhaps getting married when they were outside the city. Ceremony itself was fine and sweet.

    Yeah, Cornelia is definitely right to be wary about Kanon’s demeanor as he has all the bearing of someone confident he’s going to be just fine in spite of the situation as it currently appears. That autopsy report seems strange since the beginning mentioned Lelouch shooting him as they mention. Though making it look like the Hong He may have been Lelouch’s plan, though he should have procured a gun used by them in that case. Sloppy. And does Schneizel not have cameras? Or no since that could potentially allow a leak of his dealings?

    Last paragraph was nice I thought and painted a pretty picture. If not for the dangling strings and other chapters, it would almost feel like it could end there before an epilogue or something.

    Thank you 🙂

    Like

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