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GATE: The Janus Campaign

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Kiyone4ever, May 14, 2019.

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  1. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Unhidden Shame

    Klinger put his ear against the office door trying to listen in on the staff meeting in Colonel Potter's office. While Radar would probably pass on any interesting tidbits himself after the meeting was over, there was nothing like hearing the details for one's self. He glanced over at Parna, who was sitting contentedly at Radar's desk seemingly unconcerned. Keeping his voice low, he jerked his head at the door.

    "Ain't you the slightest bit curious?"

    Parna smiled slightly and wiggled the tip of her right ear.

    Klinger shook his head. "We gotta get you on 'I've Got A Secret'."

    ***​

    Inside the Colonel's office, Colonel Potter looked over his audience. Henry Blake sitting on the edge of his seat, Major Winchester who had his arms folded in an aristocratic look of impatience, Major Houlihan, her bearing textbook proper, Major Burns who had the look of an eager scavenger, waiting to pounce on the smallest morsel or flee in a panic if confronted. Father Mulcahy, dependable as always, Hawkeye Pierce, a great surgeon and a terrible Army man, Trapper John McIntyre, also a fine surgeon and like Pierce, also an 'operator', and finally BJ Hunnicutt. doctor and devoted family man.

    "Listen up folks!" Potter began. "We've got a new directive from up high. We are hereby instructed forthwith to detach two doctors and two nurses and appropriate support personnel to the City of Italica. Now, ostensibly, this is to support the International Science Mission and since Countess Myui is being very supportive and helpful with our efforts to establish peaceful relations with the locals, that we should extend the benefit of our medical resources and knowledge to Italica."

    "And what about less 'ostensibly' and more between the lines?" Pierce got straight to the point.

    "Once the 865th arrives and finishes setting up, the word is that the brass are planning to relocate the 407th forward in case talks break down and we're forced to take the offensive. Italica has two of the Empire's main roads intersecting. That makes it prime real estate. Henry," Potter turned to Blake. "I'm sending you to Italica with Captain Newsome. Margaret, you are to select two nurses to accompany them."

    "Bayliss and Able, sir," Houlihan replied without hesitation.

    "Good. Henry, you can have whoever you need among the enlisted personnel sans Radar, Parna, and Koirre. I need them too much here."

    "Yes Colonel," Blake replied as he began to consider who he would need.

    This left one issue that McIntyre immediately spotted. "Wait a minute Colonel, why send Henry?"

    "I've got no real choice, McIntyre. "Henry has all the needed credentials. He's senior enough, I think his personality is a good fit and most importantly, he's not Frank!"

    Hawkeye and BJ both looked at Burns as it all hit them. "Wait!" Hawkeye protested, "with Henry gone, that makes Frank…" Pierce did not even want to finish that sentence.

    "I'm afraid so," Potter replied. "Major Burns will be acting XO."

    Burns' face suddenly lit in greedy delight as he rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Hot Dog!"

    "Frank? Are you kidding? Colonel?" Trapper asked.

    "Yeah," Hawkeye agreed. "How about Winchester? He may not be the most personable but he's rational if nothing else!"

    "Burns has seniority! That's how the game is played, Pierce." Potter was not happy either but the rules were the rules. "What you're really worried about is Burns finding a way into my chair."

    "Don't take this the wrong way, Colonel," Pierce said stabbing Burns with a glance, "but I hope you're planning to have a security detail. "When in Rome, I wouldn't be too surprised if Frank tried a little 'Et Tu Brute'!"

    Potter looked at Burns. "Are you kidding? I'd make mincemeat outta him."

    "Point taken."

    Potter nodded. "In the meantime, Henry, you'll need to scout out locations for us to set up the whole outfit if we're ordered to move. Work out whatever trades, deals, and arrangements you have to but if the word comes down, I want us to be able to set up PDQ!"

    "Will do sir. Anything else, Colonel?"

    "Just be yourself, Henry. I trust you'll make a good impression on the locals."

    "Of course, sir."

    This brings us to the next matter," Potter continued. "This will leave us a little short-handed, but we will simply have to adapt. As you know, even with First Division's medical unit fully deployed in theater, we still have primary responsibility for conducting all the health exams for folks coming into Alnus and folks coming in from or heading through the Gate. Especially since the JSDF people are transitioning new gear. The number of refugees and new settlers coming into Alnus has been steadily increasing in the past few weeks and there is at present, no indication that will change any time soon. While we've begun patrolling the local villages and settlements, things are still a bit hairy going further out. A lot of people are being dislocated and are looking for someplace to go. A lot of them are coming here. We're the folks who have to check on every last one of them. Adding onto that is that while Henry is heading for Italica, Countess Myui has graciously assigned some of her staff, along with some volunteers in various crafts to come to Alnus and help out in building a fully functional and more self-sufficient community. All those folks are going to need to be checked out as well and a fair number of them are Hetero-sapiens."

    "Hetero-sapiens?" BJ questioned. "Forgive me Colonel but you'll scare Frank with the big words."

    "Hetero-sapiens is the new official general term for all intelligent races or species outside of humans. We are to avoid such terms as sub-human or demi-human," Potter instructed and then folded his hands behind his back as he paced a bit. "Which reminds me. There will be a general announcement to all personnel about certain descriptive terminology and I might as well start here. This comes from Washington:'In the current climate in the area referred to as Janus and in light of the realization that intelligent species other than humans do exist, certain terminology heretofore considered innocuous must now be evaluated for the potential for misunderstanding and possible alienation and friction between US service personnel and other-than-human beings. To that end, personnel are strongly advised to avoid such common references as 'Dog-Face' or 'Bird-Brained'. Terms such as 'Catty' or 'Pig-Headed' are also strongly discouraged, as is the term 'Bull-Headed'. Personnel are also advised not to refer to individuals as being 'Mousy' or 'Rat-Faced'."

    "If I apologize ahead of time to any Mustelids, can I still call Frank, 'Ferret-Face'?" Hawkeye asked.

    "We'll see," Potter replied.

    "I don't see what the big deal is," Burns said. "Nobody gives any particular concern over my feelings" Burns shook his head. "Everybody in this country are all savages and godless heathens anyway.." He muttered.

    "What was that, Major?" Potter scowled.

    Burns swallowed. "Nothing sir."

    "It had better be. That kind of talk doesn't scour with me and it doesn't scour with the Army either. Remember that or next time you'll find your butt in a sling. Am I clear?"

    "Yes, sir."

    "Besides Major, we're all God's children, no matter in which of his forms we are created," Father Mulcahy admonished Burns mildly."Even you, Major."

    "Still, Hetero-sapiens is a bit cumbersome for everyday conversation. Where do the lawyers stand on 'Anthro' as a term?" Pierce asked.

    "Degenerate!" Burns replied. "That stuff is disgusting and perverted!"

    "So is every word that comes out of your mouth, But that doesn't invalidate my question." Pierce shot back. "Besides, how do you know about it, Frank? Look, 'Anthro' simply means 'human' or 'human-like' I don't see a problem."

    "I'm inclined to pass on that Hawkeye," Potter considered. "If 'Dog-Face' is out, I don't want to step on a landmine with terms that seem to have slippery context'."

    "Fair enough, Colonel," Hawkeye replied. "I wouldn't want to ignite a furious flurry from the furries."

    "I'm sure somebody will come up with something more appropriate and I'm open to suggestions," Colonel Potter replied.

    Surprisingly, it was Major Winchester who answered. "I believe the term 'sentients' or possibly 'sophont' would do."

    BJ turned and grinned. "And here I thought I was the only Gene Roddenberry fan in here."

    Winchester put up a hand in protest. "Not I, rather I did spend more than a few days with a lovely young girl who was fond of such pulp entertainment. Her name was Christine. She did have a beautiful mind."

    "Alright then, sentients," Potter nodded and moved on."One thing that will help a little with our short-handedness is that all combat units, when not employed off base, will rotate their medics to performing three shifts a week with us."

    "That could be helpful," Major Winchester allowed. "Especially if they are up to the abilities of Sergeant Kurokawa. But for most of them, I think it would be wise to give them a refresher course first."

    "Do my ears deceive me? Is Charles actually complimenting someone?" Hawkeye smirked.

    "An enlisted person at that, Hawk!" BJ confirmed.

    "Come now, even you two cretins can understand the importance of recognizing tasks well done. I merely find that Miss Kurokawa is exceptionally precise and capable in her work. In the instances we have encountered her, her reports were concise and to the point and her knowledge of practical medicine has shown to be exceptional," Winchester responded. "As for the vast bulk, I have not discerned whether it was in the means of their basic instruction or that they have allowed themselves to slip in this distant land but there is definite room for improvement."

    "Are you volunteering then, Major?" Potter asked.

    "I'll handle it, sir!" Burns declared. "Major Winchester is right. I've encountered more than one medic who has been most uncooperative, they even have a tendency to question my medical judgment! Shoddy work and shoddy discipline!"

    "Thank you but no Major," Winchester shook his head. "While it is my usual policy to allow a man as many opportunities as he desires to make a fool of himself, there are times when professional responsibility dissuades me from such personal indulgences. I will handle this responsibility myself."

    "Alright then," Potter agreed. "Now, the next item is the performance of our resident Specialists, enrolled under MAVNI, Major Houlihan?"

    Margaret nodded. "They've both performed to my full satisfaction, sir. They've been quick to take instruction, attentive in their duties, proactive in dealing with potential problems. I couldn't be more pleased, sir."

    "Careful Major, your motherly pride is showing," Hawkeye teased gently. Houlihan merely smirked.

    "Hawkeye?" Potter asked.

    "It so happens I find myself in complete agreement with the Major. I wish I could find myself in a few other places with the Major but that's another story," Pierce replied. "Parna and Koirre have done outstandingly. If it were up to me, I'd give them both medals for conspicuous and meritorious service… with carrot clusters!" Hawkeye added.

    "So, both of you would recommend recruiting other such individuals under the MAVNI program for both this unit and for the 865th when they establish here?"

    "Definitely," Houlihan nodded.

    "Absolutely, Colonel," Hawkeye agreed. "But we keep Parna and Koirre. I don't want to work with just any bunny, you know."

    "Agreed," Potter nodded. "It will, therefore, be my recommendation that all units at company level and above should strive to recruit such individuals while deployed in the Janus Command Area."

    "Now onto the next issue at hand, a memo has just come down. Starting next week, a special communications bay will be open for any personnel to schedule Skype calls to their loved ones if they don't already have the equipment themselves. We'll also have two stations set up with us."

    "Great!" BJ grinned. "I'd practically kill to talk to Peg and see Erin. What about you, Trap?"

    "I'll arm wrestle you for the first call Beej."

    Hawkeye smirked. "And here I thought the Army had no heart."

    "There's a catch," Potter warned. "The Army isn't doing this solely out of the goodness of its heart. To reduce demand on our logistical tether, deliveries of physical mail are getting cut back. The Army wants to encourage folks to use electronic communication means as much as possible."

    "Kinda hard to send a package of snickerdoodles in a text," BJ noted.

    "Care packages and letters will still get through, but personnel are encouraged to switch any magazine or other periodical deliveries to online format."

    Hawkeye groaned. "I need my 'Nudists Weekly.' As a magazine, it's insightful, culturally enriching! Online it might as well just be porn."

    Winchester frowned in disapproval. "The Boston Globe should not be treated like some 'Blog'. There is a reason it is called a newspaper."

    "Boys, those are your problems, not the Army's, capiche? I know it's tough but back in Desert Storm, we didn't even have internet! After the Battle of 73 Easting, some idiot reported I was killed in action! I could have only been so lucky to be able to call home and reassure my wife that I hadn't gotten myself blown into a million pieces!"

    "Sorry Colonel." Hawkeye apologized.

    "Water under the bridge, Hawkeye. But the point is we have to set a good example for everybody else. If we think we've got it rough, how about the guys out on patrols? Just because some of the Saderans seem to be reasonable and just because we've had the upper hand in every fight so far doesn't mean those people don't face the real prospect of danger out there."

    "Kinda puts things back into perspective," Pierce replied looking over at Winchester.

    "Agreed," Winchester nodded.

    "Good," Potter answered. "Now onto the next topic…"

    ***​

    After the meeting ended, BJ and Nurse Kellye had shift working refugee examinations with Parna providing translations where needed. Having someone who spoke the local language fluently was naturally a definite asset, helping put to ease the tensions of many hopefuls who had come to live in Alnus Town. The day proceeding normally until early afternoon when a Bunny mother and her daughter checked in. The two had taken refuge in Italica after the fall of the Tribes, the mother and child had been lucky to find a trader who was willing to smuggle them safely away from the frontier and into Italica where they were given refuge by Count Formar.

    The mother, whose name was, or most closely translated as Calliope, knew just how fortunate she and her daughter Ariel had been as many other bunnies in similar circumstances instead found themselves sold out to Imperial agents for hefty bounties. While grateful for the hospitality and kindness shown to them by Count Formar and later his daughter, Countess Myui, Calliope felt that Alnus was a chance to start fresh, for, despite the kindness of House Formar, he had been given no choice but to take Calliope in as a house servant of Clan Formar in order to protect them and himself from the wrath of Prince Zorzal and his patrons. This meant that Ariel too would have to be trained and live as a servant as she grew older. In Alnus, Calliope's daughter might have a new life of possibilities.

    For Calliope, the appearance of one of the People at Alnus was a welcome and promising development. Unfortunately, for Parna it was something else. It was the specter of her past come to haunt her. Parna knew it was almost inevitable that she would encounter members of her own race at some point. But she had hoped she would have been better prepared for it. She had been prepared for the stares, expected and girded herself for insults and condemnation but the one thing she was unprepared for was a simple, innocent, question of a curious child.

    "What happened to your ear?" Ariel asked in the language of the People. She had seen other Bunnies: Delilah, Grine, Mamina… but never one with an injury like that. What had happened to this Bunny? It was inevitable, insatiable curiosity and it was devastating.

    Calliope froze as the question escaped her daughter's lips. Calliope knew how fortunate she had been to escape relatively easily. She certainly was not prepared to condemn another of her kind for the crime of surviving. Perhaps not even Tyuule herself. Despite Delilah's loud declarations of vengeance on the fallen Queen, Calliope wondered just how much the People should really trust the word of their sworn enemy. But discussing the particulars of the fall of the Tribes had not been a lesson for which she thought Ariel was yet ready.

    And then Parna's world, carefully rebuilt, shattered, a broken mirror reflecting the moment Parna had thrown everything away for a bed and a plate of stew. She looked at the child and lowered her head, her hands frozen, her voice silent, her eyes staring into nothingness.

    Captain Hunnicutt had been one of those briefed by Sidney Freedman and recognized quickly that Parna was in trouble and turned to Nurse Kellye.

    "Kellye! Go find Koirre and Radar fast! We need them here now! Also, make sure somebody tells Colonel Potter. I think we need to get Sid Freedman over here as fast as possible!" As Kellye nodded and raced off, BJ placed a firm but gentle arm on Parna's shoulder. "It's going to be alright. Radar is on his way."

    ***​
    Sometime later, Parna was sedated, resting in her cot in Radar's office. Radar gently tucking her in with his stuffed bear 'Tiger', promising to return quickly as he went into Colonel Potter's office.

    "She's asleep, sirs." Radar said quietly.

    "Good," Potter noted. Koirre translated this for Calliope who stood with her daughter worried both about what had happened to Parna and whether the 'Green Men' would now send them away. Speaking in Popularii, Calliope turned to Koirre and began apologizing once more.

    "Please believe me! Ariel didn't mean any harm! She's too young to remember the War and I haven't told her anything yet about the things our People had to do to survive. I'm so sorry!" Koirre translated this.

    Potter shook his head. "No one is blaming either you or your daughter ma'am. There was no way for her to know or for you to foresee any of this. Koirre? Would you kindly escort Miss Calliope and Ariel to the Mess? They've had a long day and could probably stand some food if you can find any in there and then get with Klinger and set them up in guest quarters."

    Koirre translated this and then gently escorted them out and to the Mess, leaving Colonel Potter with Radar, BJ, Hawkeye, Major Houlihan, and Sidney Freedman.

    "So what now?" Hawkeye asked.

    "She's come so far," Houlihan shook her head sadly.

    "We just need to be patient. Get her back out there. She needs to know what she has here isn't going to up and vanish. Eventually, at some point, she'll have to confront these feelings. She'll need to face more people of her own kind and if we give her the tools and support, she'll find the strength to face those demons." Sidney stood up. "I'll be back tomorrow and talk to her after she's had some rest."

    "Sounds like a good idea," Potter agreed.

    "What about me? Uh, sir. What can I do?" Radar asked.

    Sidney smiled. "You're a little on the short side but in her eyes, you really are her knight in shining armor. She needs your strength and she needs to know you feel about her the same today as yesterday."

    Radar nodded.

    In the meantime, BJ leaned forward in his seat as if in thought. "Sidney? Colonel? I think I know one way we can help."

    "Oh? What do you have in mind BJ?" Potter asked.

    "Something I was rereading in one of my medical journals. Has anyone here heard of a prelaminated forearm free flap?"

    Sidney tilted his end. "What is that? I've never heard of it?"

    Hawkeye smirked just a little as he thought about it. "It's a procedure where cartilage is harvested from around the ribs and molded into the shape of an ear. Then it's inserted under the skin of the arm where it matures. It's not just cosmetic. The new ear will have blood vessels and it will have feeling. The ear is harvested and attached. After a few surgeries, hardly anyone would ever know."

    Potter frowned in consideration. "I don't know Hawkeye, not to be a downer but it's complicated work and her ear would be more complicated than a human ear. The length alone would probably require reconstructing by segments and then there's the problem that human ears don't have fur."

    "Well, we've got to start somewhere," BJ noted.

    "I hear you," Potter nodded.

    Then Radar looked up from his own thoughts. The fine points of this conversation were over his head but there was a question that just would not leave him. "What I don't understand is why she didn't grow a new ear."

    Hawkeye shook his head. "The body can do amazing things Radar but it just doesn't work that way. She's not a lizard. She can't just regrow her tail."

    "I know that but rabbits can regrow their ears when damaged. I know Parna's not a rabbit but she's not human. I mean she's a person but…"

    Hawkeye paused. "How do know that rabbits can do that?"

    BJ looked at Pierce. "I think you just asked Henry Ford if he knows anything about cars."

    "Blastema regeneration?" Potter wondered. "That's positively brilliant Radar! I think we should look into this! BJ? You look further into the prelaminated forearm free flap idea. It's not a perfect solution but it's a place to start and if Radar's idea doesn't pan out then we still have a place to start. Hawkeye? You and I are going to be spending a lot of time getting acquainted with rabbits. Let's see if we can make this work."

    "I'll get Winchester in on it too. He may be a pompous pain but he's talented and if you put a challenge in front of him, I bet he'll bite."

    "Good idea."

    Sidney held up a finger in warning. "I don't want to dampen anyone's enthusiasm but remember, until she faces those demons inside her, this is just papering over the cracks. She's got some healing to do inside first."

    "We know Sidney, but she deserves whatever help we can give her."

    "I know," Freedman replied. "And it's an amazing thing to watch. I hope it works. If it does, I have a feeling she just may be the first of a great many to come…"
     
    waffelmeister and rifern like this.
  2. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 21: Perspectives of War

    "With all due respect, Mister President, the Japanese People must have recompense!" Ambassador Shima declared. "Restitution and reparations for the damage and for the lives of our citizens lost in the Saderan Empire's attack!"

    "The American Government is not opposed to Japan seeking compensation in this matter. And we are very aware of the expense of keeping troops on deployment," President Merwin noted."But I have also seen reports that your government was preparing to demand thirty thousand tons of gold in reparations." The President noted the ambassador shift slightly uncomfortable. "Of course, I know better than to trust everything I read at face value. So I'm quite certain that has to have been a mistake. I've done the math. That's about one point two trillion dollars worth of gold! In fact, that's more gold than was mined in the entire history of the world until the twentieth century. Three times the value of reparations Germany was forced to pay under Versailles in 1919! While I am not one to put a monetary value on a human life, there are, of course, simple practical considerations involved here." The President leaned back in his chair.

    "Let's assume, Mister Ambassador, that this 'Gate' is a permanent thing. Unless we assume that, then we might be better of withdrawing our people back to our side. But let's assume it is," he continued. "The research team just went in, including the geologists and mineralogists. We have no idea what they'll find: Oil, coal, gold, diamonds, copper… Who knows? Maybe enough oil that the OPEC states start getting nervous. Or maybe just enough that voters in Texas start worrying. Naturally, that's academic since it's not our land." Merwin leaned forward, holding out his hands as if weighing something only he could see. "Our nations have a choice, Mister Shima. We can try to take everything we can in one big grab and run like thieves in the night as it all goes to hell behind us." He held up his left hand, palm up and stared at it. He then raised the right hand in the same manner and smiled.

    "Or… We can play the long game. There's an entire world out there. Whatever we do with that world will be our legacy. So do we want to be remembered like Cortez Or do we show we've grown up? Prosperous countries don't attack each other. They trade and get rich." Merwin smiled. The vague stick of posterity and the much more ponderable carrot of prosperity.

    Shima found it hard not to be carried up in the President's visions. "May I take it that the American Government has some specific proposals? The Japanese Government cannot make policy on the basis of poetry."

    The President's smile widened as he nodded to the Secretary of Commerce, who withdrew a thick, bound document from his case and handed it to the ambassador.

    "This analysis was produced by a study group of experts from the State Department, Treasury, Defense, Education, Agriculture, Interior, Energy, and Labor Departments. To be honest, our projections would be much clearer if we actually had hard numbers to plug in but we think you'll find the basic modeling sound."

    The Secretary of Agriculture nodded. "The first thing is we need to make some improvements in their farming. A simple switch to a Four-Field System would provide them with a major boost."

    "They launch a war of aggression and you wish to reward them?" Ambassador Shima asked in disbelief.

    "They've already paid a pretty high butcher's bill," The President noted. "Besides, I don't think it would be out of line for the Empire to pay part of that increase back to Japan as reparations."

    "At least once we've made sure their basic sanitation and storage are to an acceptable standard," Agriculture added.

    "Agreed," Merwin nodded. "We have a lot to learn but the potential is too great to ignore." If we do this right, He added in his own thoughts. He was certain that whatever resources might be found in Falmart, And who the heck came up with 'Falmart' as a name for a continent anyway? He wondered idly. But whatever resources were found in that world, a world of headaches would accompany the discoveries.

    "For what it is worth, I agree, Mister President However, Prime Minister Shinzo's position, while strengthened by the embarrassment of Kohara and the Constitutional Democratic Party, is still delicate. There are many who feel Japan should take a harder position with these Saderans. We are already threatened by China, which in its quest for the acquisition of resources, continues to encroach closer to Japanese territory. The North Koreans routinely threaten our safety simply so they will not be ignored. Our own ability to act in our own best interests is limited in a way that no other national government is and now an unknown nation has invaded our own Capital. Regardless of the enemy losses, Prime Minister Shinzo cannot afford to appear soft on the Empire. While we appreciate the efforts and exertions of our allies, it still remains that it was Japan's soil that was violated and Japan's citizens that were murdered and abducted. There are many who will not easily let that pass. There are others who will use that understandable national outrage to further, shall we say, an aggressive agenda."

    It did not help matters that China and Russia both wanted to take this into the United Nations, publicly arguing for 'greater transparency' of the coalition effort and its 'impact on the native peoples' but viewed for a more cynical lens, was merely an effort to get their feet in the door in this new world and play games of their own. So far, the peculiar nature of the situation had helped block these attempts But it was another complication in an already difficult mess.

    "We completely understand the delicateness of the Prime Minister's position," Merwin replied. "For now, everyone needs to see how the talks progress and what more we can learn of the Empire and its resources. The summit in Tokyo is in three months," Merwin brought up the meeting of Japan's coalition partners previously scheduled. "This will give us some time to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge and flesh out some of these proposals in greater detail."

    "Of course, Mr. President," Shima replied. Internally, he knew this meant Shinzo's ability to maneuver vis a vis the Nationalists would be limited. The Prime Minister was not going to be happy.

    ***

    Imperial Palace, Sadera

    It was not supposed to be like this, Emperor Molt Sol Augustus thought to himself as his advisers discussed the current state of the war. More 'The War', Molt thought grimly. It was a conflict that threatened to reduce the history of the Empire to the insignificance of petty squabbles. Even the Great Arctic War was a minor inconvenience by comparison. At least in that war, Emperor Gaius Sol Maximus was fighting an enemy that, while skilled in battle, still had a vulnerability the Great Maximus had managed to discern and exploit. Of course, Maximus had been pushed to the brink before realizing the pattern and reasoning behind the powerful offensive launched by the Northern Tribes, beseeching the Senate and offering up his own fortune to raise a new army after three armies had been smashed in rapid succession by the enemy, Maximus ordered all the bridges north of the Capital torched and the granaries emptied as his new army adopted what was still called a 'Fabian Strategy', staying between the enemy and the Capital, refusing battle until Maximus lured the enemy into pursuing him through a narrow pass in the Attican Mountains. His army quickly turning on the tired, weary, and frustrated enemy, Maximus smashed them in a rout before leading an even larger army North to finish the war for good. The example of the Arctic War had been a shining tribute to the strength of will of the Empire. Seldom mentioned in the recorded history was that Maximus had bribed one of the Northern War King's vassals to block the pass behind the main army. Even less mentioned and indeed, actively suppressed by Maximus's successors in the following two centuries were the great Emperor's own writings on the war, which would have brought ill comfort to Molt Co Augustus had he ever read them:

    The War was forced upon us by an enemy who could only accept two outcomes. The first being victory and the second, total destruction. Victory was, for us a matter of survival, nothing more and nothing less. But now, even in our victory, the Gods curse us. For in being forced to utterly destroy the Northern Tribes, we will, ourselves, be forced onto a path where EVERY war will be an imperative. We will be forced to ever expand until we will ourselves force our own destruction. Had Hothnar only been willing to parlay, this path might have been avoided. I would have given much to avoid the war for which I am praised.

    I do not regret winning the war. Losing would have meant the annihilation of the Empire and death or enslavement of its people. I regret having been forced to fight the war.

    And I will regret the wars to come that our growing pride will bring upon us.


    These writings would one day be discovered by a scribe in the City of Rondel, far too late to be of counsel to Emperor Molt. For now, the words he heard were those of Senator Godasen and his other senior advisers who were as lacking for answers as Molt himself was in dealing with their current enemy.

    Currently, Marius Du Callon was speaking. "I must again ask his Majesty to rescind his order calling for the destruction of crops, wells, and bridges between Alnus and the Capital. There is no evidence it is having any effect on the thinking of the enemy. Further, the damage to the morale of our own people is not insignificant."

    "The people have always proven willing to bear whatever the cost required for victory," Molt reminded.

    "Yes but I believe it is an unnecessary cost that inflicts nothing upon the enemy and slowly bleeds us instead. Apparently," And at this, Marius glanced over at Godasen, "this enemy appears to have a completely different guide to making war. We cannot rely on old methods."

    On this, Molt had to concede. Unlike those fierce warriors of two centuries prior, this enemy seemed in no hurry. He turned his gaze to Godasen, inviting him to respond.

    The senator, mage, and general seemed now only a shadow of his former self, his crushing defeat at the hands of the other-world barbarians leaving him bereft of his former confidence. "I advise a cautious approach, your Majesty. Their magics are not to be underestimated." He considered, "it is possible that the magic they use draws its power from beyond the Gate. That could explain why they have not pushed their advance."

    "Perhaps," Molt replied. "But it still does not tell me how we defeat them. Have you learned anything about their system of magic?"

    "Very little, Your Majesty. We know that shield spells had some protective effect but not enough to turn the tide of battle."

    "Have you made any inroads in recruiting more mages to support my legions?" The emperor asked.

    Godasen stood before his Emperor like a schoolboy attempting to explain to his teacher what happened to his book report. "I've been making every effort! Your Majesty! But I am afraid that the most talented mages are from the schools of Rondel. Most of them view the Empire's concerns as being less important than their own research projects."

    "Do they?" Molt growled somewhat frustrated. He wished nothing more than to remind those learned fools that they were not beyond his reach and that to him, their silly little papers were nothing compared with the needs of the Empire. Unfortunately, he reminded himself, they were beyond his reach, at least for now. One enemy at a time. He needed these people, perhaps more than they needed the Empire.

    "Keep trying. If the coin of loyalty is not the coin that buys their aid, then find their price. When we are victorious, I am certain it is a price we can squeeze out of our enemies, or our allies if we must. If we lose, they'll not be in a position to demand payment."

    "Yes, Your Majesty," Godasen replied a bit nervously.

    "Mages! Magic!" Senator Podawan scoffed. "What do wizards know of the courage of men? We dare not wait overly long to strike back at the invaders," the bellicose Senator advised. "Lest the people take 'caution' for timidity and cowardice."

    "Unless you propose to attack them single-handedly, we still require an army for that," Marius scorned. "So far we have managed to destroy three armies in this war." He glanced at Godasen. "Unfortunately, none of them have belonged to the enemy."

    Molt frowned at the implied rebuke of his own decision to assemble and throw the armies of the vassal states against Alnus. While a ruthless choice, it was necessary to maintain the balance of power between the Empire and its vassals. Still, he did not comment. Instead, he merely continued with the discussion at hand. "How is our new army progressing?"

    "Recruitment, especially in the Northern and Western territories, has been quite successful. It is fair to say that the prospect of an invader army in the borders of the Empire has both angered and frightened a great many people," Podawan reported.

    "Yes, large numbers of men who have never seen battle and very few experienced soldiers to train them and lead them!" Marius retorted. "We're having to find and call back soldiers who have been retired from active service simply because we don't have enough younger men with experience!" Marius replied. The thought of sending an army of old men and young farm hands into battle against the army that had devastated the Empire's pre-war cadres disgusted him. Unfortunately, he, like his Emperor, lacked an alternative answer to this particular puzzle. However, this was at least one matter on which the logic could be used to at least block Podawan's brand of foolishness.

    "I believe this demonstrates that our enemies have at least made one mistake. They are giving us time, the time we need to rebuild an effective army. The more time they allow us, the better our relative position will be." Marius did not truly believe this. Their adversaries had smashed the finest troops in the Empire, some of them at least had been led by the best Commanders in the Imperial Army. This new army could train for years and they would be no equal either to the armies that had been destroyed or the army that opposed them. But if playing at that angle convinced the Emperor to hold back and not give in to Podawan's foolishness, then it would give them time to find some other solution without wasting another hundred-thousand men. If the enemy was content to sit on Alnus Hill, Marius cared nothing for its 'sacredness'. He would let them sit there for eternity rather than prod them into a more aggressive stance.

    "Yes," Molt agreed. "They should have moved before now. Let them come to us. We will study and prepare until then." He too hoped the delay would give him time to find a solution to his current troubles. He sighed internally as his mind returned to his earlier lamentation. This campaign was supposed to have been a single grand triumph which would have raised his power to new heights and allowed him to relinquish the throne to Zorzal while leaving him in a position to direct his son from behind it.

    Now, instead, he had a mess which highlighted just how spectacularly he had erred in preparing his sons to succeed him. He had spent the early part of his reign cementing his hold on power. This had necessitated removing his oldest son. The handsome, well-spoken Marcus had grown up under the close tutelage of his mother while Molt was busy solidifying his power base. Marcus had seen service on the frontier. It was a distinctly unglamourous posting but had earned him favor with the army.

    In the end, Marcus had proven to be the most potentially dangerous threat in the Empire: A viable replacement for Molt. So Molt waited like a spider, ready to ambush the son who had become his rival. The opportunity came during the War with the Warrior Bunnies. Marcus, 'The Soldiers' Prince' stood before the Senate and had sternly rebuked his younger brother, Zorzal's conduct of the Campaign. Marcus denouncing the waste in Imperial lives through Zorzal's blunt force approach to war. Marcus had proposed that he should take an army into the Veldt, where he would march on Tyuule's Capital and lay siege. But then the boy had overplayed his hand. He reminded the Senate that their original mandate to the army had been merely to secure the border against raids from the Warrior Bunnies. He intended to offer Tyuule terms before moving on her Capital: That her people would be allowed to withdraw away from the boundaries of the Empire and settle in the lands to the Northeast. That the Empire would even then guarantee the Bunny Nation if Tyuule accepted his terms.

    Thus having both humiliated his brother Zorzal and angering Zorzal's allies in the Guilds and the Senate, Marcus had made himself vulnerable and Molt had him executed for plotting sedition and treason. It was a flimsy set of charges but it was enough. It also sent a clear signal to Zorzal about power and control.

    It had also been a huge blunder for Molt, he now realized. He had paid more attention to his younger sons. Zorzal could command power but lacked the subtlety to handle it. Diablo was smart enough but lacked the fire to command power on his own. With Molt's blessing and support, either of them could claim the throne. Without it, neither could ever challenge him. Unfortunately, what he now needed was someone who had both the confidence and vision to act intelligently and decisively without Molt having to guide their moves. What he needed was the son whom he had feared.

    Perhaps Marcus could have found a way out of this mess.

    Molt dismissed these thoughts. What might have been was of no use to him now. He looked to Marius. "Your concerns are noted, Marius. I will suspend the orders to destroy bridges and other assets. But should the enemy begin to move, I want preparations in place to destroy everything of possible use to them. I will not let them have a single grain of wheat, nor will I grant them any convenience in my lands."
     
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  3. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 22: Where The Road Takes You.

    Leaving Lordom Valley, Nayu unrolled her mother’s map and took out the jeweled orb that held the compass her father had given her mother so many years ago, she aligned the map facing the summit of Mt. Akesh, its distinctive features easily recognizable to every Dark Elf in the tribe. Checking that the compass was also aligned properly, she pointed out their current location to Yao.


    “If we head due north, it’s the most direct route to Alnus Hill. If the rumors we were told are correct, then these ‘Men in Green’ most likely came from there. Of course, the direct route takes us over Mount Akesh and will take a fair amount of time and effort. There are also, not surprisingly, no settlements where we can resupply if needed or hope to learn more about the Green Men. Added to that is the problem that without more information, we have no way of knowing whether they are still at Alnus.”


    Nayu then pointed to the west. “On the other hand, if we head west, we will reach this Domitia Way. It leads to the Appia Way which runs directly through to Italica, where some of the rumors say the Green Men fought. There are also numerous settlements along the way where we can resupply and possibly obtain more current information.”


    Yao paused. Nayu’s reasoning was sound and her mother had been one of the tribe’s best Rangers and Scouts before retiring relatively young to take a human husband and start a family. Nayu’s mother had undoubtedly trained her daughter well. Still, Yao’s instincts pulled her to take the shortest route possible so they could secure help as quickly as possible. In the end, it was her responsibility. And her decision.


    “We’ll go west. Depending on what we learn, I’ll decide whether we head for Italica or head towards Alnus.”


    Nayu nodded. “Alright then, after you.” Nayu gestured as the two began the long walk to points unknown.


    ***​
    Sadera- Palace of Zorzal El Caesar


    Some Five hundred miles to the Northeast, rumors were also the fuel for the plans of another. This was Bouro. To Prince Zorzal, Bouro was a useful tool, a specialist in torture, interrogation, and spying, the halfbreed prized for having the skill and willingness to do those tasks that so-called moral Saderans could or would not. To Bouro, it was Zorzal who was the tool.


    Bouro was the acknowledged leader of the Haryo, a people whose very existence was not even recognized by the Empire. The Haryo were not a race in the way Humans, Elves, Warrior Bunnies, Cat People, Sirens, or Medusae were. The Haryo were the mixed blood castoffs of society. Those children of mixed parentage who were accepted by none and who had come to see themselves as the creation of a new ‘better’ race, a new race born to the lands of Falmart and whose destiny was to supplant the lesser races who had kept them marginalized. But Prince Zorzal was no more aware of the Haryo than anyone else in the Empire and so in his ignorance, Zorzal had become the perfect tool for Bouro. Like the best tools, Bouro intended to take good care of Zorzal for at least as long as he needed Zorzal at any rate.


    And Bouro did need Zorzal. For the Haryo could not hope to conquer the Empire from without. No armed rebellion could topple Sadera. But perhaps it could be conquered from within, compromised, consumed, subverted. As the Haryo were not recognized, how could they be considered a threat? The key to triumph was in Zorzal and his appetites, appetites that had, in part, been shaped by loyal Bouro. Bouro had seen how the reigning Emperor had come to view his heir, Prince Marcus with a wary eye, fearing the young man’s confidence and strength of mind. Both Emperor Molt and Bouro saw Marcus as a danger. His character forged by his mother’s careful guidance, the young man had developed a firm sense of his own self. Molt and Bouro both needed someone more malleable. Soon Molt had obliged Bouro and removed Prince Marcus permanently.


    Now Zorzal stood as the leading candidate to succeed to the Imperial throne, provided he did not incur his father’s wrath. Bouro carefully guided the Prince into a pattern of self-indulgence, creating a facade for Zorzal that soon became his truth. Only in such a state would Zorzal be properly prepped to fulfill his role in the rise of the Haryo. With a lust for women and the more exotic the better, Zorzal could be counted upon to sire an heir of Haryo blood, an heir who would always know his blood, an heir that would deliver the Empire into the hands of its true masters.


    Unfortunately, Bouro had a serious problem. He could inspire Zorzal’s appetites. He could supply his ‘patron’ with information. What Bouro could not do was manipulate Zorzal on a political level. He needed another tool to cajole Zorzal into place. He found one in Tyuule, The once Queen of the Warrior Bunnies was humiliated, defiled, and disgraced and Bouro had encouraged Zorzal in this, sensing the blind hatred rising in Tyuule, filling her with a single desire: To destroy the Empire and use Zorzal as the means to do so. Bouro would supply her with information and offer to act as her minion, another victim of the Empire seeking revenge. A very eager minion. Bouro grinned to himself. Tyuule was an attractive female and he would enjoy indulging as he convinced her that his loyalty was to her and her dream of watching the Empire burn… along with the liberties she allowed him, thinking it ensured his fealty. It would be a shame when he would inevitably find proof of Tyuule’s plotting against Zorzal and sadly present it to him. But Tyuule was disposable. Soon after, Zorzal would be drowning his anger and disappointment at Tyuule’s treachery in wine and women, both of which Bouro would provide and if anyone around Zorzal bothered to note that these women were all of mixed blood, no one would speak of it for only the most discreet and silent would be left at this point.


    With the start of the Empire’s latest war, there seemed to be an opportunity to advance their cause. If word was to be believed, the Empire had suffered staggering losses in its new campaign, leaving many in the Imperial Senate with increasing concern and doubt. The stone pillars of the Empire were developing feet of clay. Bouro knew that eventually, the newcomers would wear themselves out and the Empire would prevail as it always had. Bouro had naturally instead suggested to Tyuule that this war might break the Empire as she desired and so they had to ensure it continued. Bouro anticipated that this war would provide the excuse to ‘purge’ Imperial society of a great many ‘enemies of the state’ who would naturally be replaced by more loyal sorts.


    The only problem was that the war had ground to a halt. Tyuule wondering why the armies who had reportedly shattered the best legions of the Empire had not advanced more aggressively. Buoro had no answer for this and unless something was done, a state of peace might take hold. This would be unacceptable for the Haryo, who needed the war as a catalyst.


    For now, Bouro and his spies kept their ears open and watched for opportunities.

    ***​

    City of Italica

    If there was one city in the Empire most Haryo loathed, it would have been Italica. While hardly perfect in its treatment of non-humans or mixed humans, the more tolerant and inclusive attitudes fostered by the ruling Formar clan over recent generations was anathema to the Haryo. The so-called inclusiveness was a danger to them, threatening to steal their very identity away. If Bouro had known of recent developments in the city, he would have despised it all the more, because where perhaps Italica ought to have been destroyed, it had been saved by the intervention of two forces Bouro could not have anticipated the strength of and now, despite the suffering Italica had endured, it had not fallen but was thriving! Even with the damage to the city’s walls still under repair, Italica was bustling with growth. Like Alnus, Italica had become a magnet for people fleeing now destroyed homes in the wake of the destruction wrought not only by Imperial forces but from the still numerous bands of bandits and marauders roaming the countryside as well as the spread of panic caused by the reappearance of the Flame Dragon. Italica was not only a closer destination for most but was also more attractive to some people who were still not ready to put their full trust in the outworlders who had set up on Alnus. While the reconstruction of the city walls continued under closely supervised prisoner labor, the rest of Italica boomed with new construction. Plans were being made to build new walls on the far bank of the Tagus River which flowed on the other side of the two hills which comprised the North wall and from which the city and much of the surrounding farmland received its water. A bridge already crossed the Tagus, the new walls would not only encompass new housing for the massive influx of residents, but barracks for an expanded city guard and even docks for fishing craft, and trading boats. Lieutenant Taylor had some ideas for boat designs that the locals could build and use and possibly even equip a local River Patrol.


    Upon entering Italica, new residents were questioned as to their trade and skills, skilled craftsmen getting priorities in constructing new dwellings but even unskilled laborers were welcome, providing additional workers to construct the new walls on the far banks. These laborers still receiving pay and better food than the conscripted prisoner labor. Others were being recruited into the new City Guard. Lady Panache had assigned instructors from the ranks of the Rose Order’s Foot to train these people. In addition, Corporal Nakamura had begun to train volunteers, many among the city’s women, in the art of Naginatajutsu. Many women had been eager to train under the ‘Reaper’s Herald.” This was in addition to the self-defense lessons she was giving Lady Agrippina.


    “So? How did the meeting with Countess Myui go, LT?” Chief Richardson was asking.


    “It went well, Colonel Blake and Nurse Able gave her a physical… very carefully supervised by Kaine and Mamina. Kaine was quite grateful to learn that Myui is no longer in danger from smallpox. She also seemed to appreciate Colonel Blake’s manner. Kaine told me that in some ways, he reminded her of Myui’s father.”


    “That reminds me, did we ever find out what happened to Count Formar?” The Chief asked.


    “From what I was able to piece together, it doesn’t look promising. He hasn’t been identified among the prisoners and so far, not among the more seriously wounded cases. I’ve pieced together that he was assigned to one of the Legions on the East flank of the invasion. Most of them were ordered west after being blocked at the Sumida. They each left a guard force to cover the flank of the invasion along the river. Say, no more than a century or so. The rest of those legions slammed into legions in retreat when Hazama’s First Division counterattacked. From what I’ve heard, it was a tangled mess and the troops coming in from the east had no idea what was happening until their escape was cut off. Those units suffered over ninety-percent casualties. I don’t think we’ll ever identify all the bodies.”


    “Poor kid.”


    “Yeah. Her sisters aren’t helping either.”


    “Sisters?”


    “Yeah,” Taylor replied. “She’s got two older sisters but Myui is the legitimate heir. So sister number one and sister number two have been having a nasty little war over which one of them should be Myui’s guardian. Fortunately, Princess Pina has put a stop to that for now by declaring Myui under her protection.”


    “So neither of Cinderella’s stepsisters has the brass to go nose to nose with Her Imperial Highness, I take it.”


    “You got it, chief. Myui’s got a lot on her shoulders right now. Lucky she’s got Pina backing her up and Kaine watching over her.”


    Senior Chief Richardson nodded. “True, and then she’s got you riding herd on all those scientists.”



    “Well, she’s given them pretty fair leeway. All I do is make sure that when they want to see her, they actually have something to say. Otherwise, Kaine is liable to toss them out the nearest convenient window,” Taylor shook his head. “Although Doctor Coulter looks to have some solid proposals to help increase the local crop yields. I’ll set up a meeting with Kaine tomorrow. By the way, I know Kaine took care of arranging quarters for Colonel Blake’s people. Any trouble setting up quarters for Lieutenant Mayer’s platoon?”


    “Nope, Sergeant Killian had them setting up prefabs this morning.”


    “Good, Lady Panache says she wants her people to get a demonstration of just exactly what the Corps is bringing to the table. I think she’s also going to want a few marines to accompany some of her patrols. I’ll talk to Mayer in the morning.”


    “Oh! That’s right, she just got back today. So you and her Ladyship discuss anything else?” Richardson smirked.


    Taylor raised an eyebrow. In fact, they had discussed a few things, such as how happy her mother had been to get a letter from the son she thought she had lost. Apparently the news that his son was still alive had even penetrated the stoic facade of Panache’s father, Baron Kalgi who promptly ordered a feast in celebration and the second best bottle of wine in his cellars brought up, apparently insisting that the best bottle, a bottle of seventy-year-old Alguna Red would be opened when his son came home. It had been a pleasant surprise to Panache, who still was not quite ready to forgive her father entirely but had improved their relationship somewhat.


    “Some family matters. Not much else.”


    The Senior Chief rolled his eyes. “Look, sir, everybody knows you two have some serious chemistry.”


    “Chief, chemistry or no, I’m dancing so close to the line as it is. As much as I might want to, I don’t know if it’s a good idea for us to get involved."

    "About that, Lieutenant?" Richardson hesitated. Some might consider it out of line but it was his duty to make sure young officers didn't make bad decisions and Lieutenant Taylor was 'good people' in the Chief's book. "Can we talk sir...?"

    ***​


    That evening, Taylor returned to his quarters. It promised to be a quiet night. Aenaire had arranged for Galador to get a look through the big telescope the astronomy team had set up in exchange for Aenaire and Aurelia identifying and describing the local stars and constellations so at least for a few hours, he’d be home by himself. Somehow it felt not wrong, per se, but just off with no one else there. So he sat back, picking up one of his old novels, not really getting into it. He set the book down, looking up to see Panache standing in the doorway.


    If there was a single word for the sight, that word would be breathtaking. She was Diana dressed as Venus and she smiled in satisfaction, the hunter having cornered her prey.


    “Aenaire and Aurelia told me they were going to be busy this evening,” Panache said simply.


    “I think there’s more to it than just that,” Taylor replied mildly as his initial surprise mingled with realization and rueful amusement at how Aenaire and Aurelia had set him up for this. The three of them had probably discussed this night days ago.


    “Yes,” she said, “and I want you to know why.” Panache strode over to the bed and sat down, taking a deep breath.


    Taylor took a seat beside her, looking at her gently, casting his eyes to hers and waited.


    “I was once very close to Prince Diablo,” She began. “Perhaps, if things had gone differently, if the Gate had not opened, we would have wed. Certainly, I admired him in many ways. He has a sharp mind and is in his own way, attractive. Of course, as the Second Prince of the Empire, he wields not inconsiderable influence in the Empire. My family would have very much approved of such a union.


    “Certainly, I thought he felt the same for me. He promised me anything in the Empire. All I would need would be to ask.” Her face set hard at the memories. “And then the Gate opened and the Emperor proclaimed a great campaign to spread Imperial civilization and justice to the barbarian realms that lay beyond.” Panache looked squarely at Taylor. “I won’t say that my heart didn’t pound with pride because it did. We believed it was our right to conquer.”


    He nodded. “I don’t think any nation ever went to war thinking they were in the wrong.”


    “No, I’m sure that’s true,” Panache shook her head. “But war is not a game. My father forgot that when he decided my brother should go and ‘prove himself as a man’. Whatever glory Tiberius might accrue, our father could cling to it but I wanted my brother safe. Her Highness Princess Pina assured me that Tiberius would have a place in the Order but once our father secured Tiberius a commission, he was beyond her reach. So that was the one thing I asked of Diablo. If he had given me that one thing, it would have taken only the slightest effort to have Tiberius reassigned to the Capital Guards, where he would have been safe.” She lowered her head, cold hate in her eyes and a tone of betrayal in her voice.


    “I would have given Diablo everything. My heart, my body, my soul. I would have never denied him anything in exchange for that single favor.” She shook her head. “But he said that he could not. That to do so would suggest that he lacked faith in the army and the coming expedition. That it might tarnish my brother’s name. He promised that everything would be alright. I just needed to ‘have faith’ and a little patience.”


    “And then Tiberius marched through the Gate and then we learned in quiet whispers among generals and senators that the army had been defeated and utterly destroyed. On that day I had no hope, only revenge.”


    “And then you came. I wanted to hate you so much. Why shouldn’t I? You were the enemy. And I wanted blood for the blood of my brother. But at Italica, you showed me nothing but compassion and kindness. And then in Tokyo, you granted me my only wish, asking nothing in return.” Panache looked up at Taylor again.


    ”And now, for the Prince who offered me everything but denied me the one thing that I cared about, I feel nothing. For the man who was obligated to grant me nothing and yet granted me what a prince would not, he already holds my heart.” She smiled. “Everything I am is yours.” She took his hand and held it in hers.


    Taylor inhaled. Panache was beautiful, gorgeous. He had seen her dressed this way before but that was different. Then, it was clear she was acting out of a sense of duty, carrying out the mission she believed her culture required of her. This time she glowed, lit with a hope and a desire.


    And yet, he paused, caught between two worlds with very different rules.


    Panache frowned. Her eyes lowering in disappointment, letting go of his hand. “This does not please you.”


    “No!” Taylor objected. “It’s not that. God knows. You’re beautiful, strong, smart…” And I think I love you But is love even an option?


    “As I said, My Lord. I will gladly give you anything. If you ask me to go, I will go and never vex your chambers again.” It hurt Panache to say this but if in truth it was what Taylor wanted, then she could not force him to accept her feelings but she would accept his. And yet, she saw his face was not stone, his eyes reflecting pain that mirrored her own.


    “But if you ask that I should stay, I would do so gladly. I would know you in every way it is possible and ask you to know me in return. I would cherish you more than my life near so as precious as my most sacred oaths. You have but to ask and I would gladly be your wife, accepting as sisters they whom you have already taken into your heart.”


    Don’t be a dumbass, LT! Taylor heard Chief Richardson’s voice in his head. People are gonna judge you no matter what. I know it, and so do you, sir. Do you think you’re going to commit treason? Hell! You know history. You’ve got some language skills You might be able to teach them how to make gunpowder but you know you won’t because that’s not how you think. Beyond that, all you’ve got to offer these people is a sense of responsibility and the knowledge to point out some of the places where our branch of the family tree screwed up over the past two thousand years.


    LT. morals are a great thing to have but don’t crucify yourself on yours. So you got a lucky draw. So what? You’ve played every hand fair. You’re gonna throw the game because you got too good a deal? People fall in love, even in a war. And now you gotta own up and make a decision: And you’re the one who has to make it, sir, because you’re gonna be the one living with it. So? What’s it gonna be? Stand or fold?


    “Please… Stay.” He smiled, taking her hand in his. “Why don’t we get to know each other? I mean before we try to know each other…”
     
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  4. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 23: Eyes and Ears


    Panache had a definite spring in her step, Bozes noted the next morning as her friend arrived in advance of their meeting with Lieutenants Taylor and Mayer. Before then, there was time for a quick briefing among the senior knights present. While Vermouth was back in Sadera, left in command of the Company of the Yellow Rose, Millet was present as Panache’s deputy. Suissesse Co Mein commanded the detachment of the Red Rose left to Panache by Princess Pina. The knight Decimus El Sideros was a veteran soldier with over thirty years of service with the Imperial Army and as a trusted comrade of Sir Grey, commanded the Foot of the Order. These soldiers, many of them like himself and Grey, long-serving veterans, marched under the banner of a Black Rose and proudly called themselves ‘Pina’s Thorns’. The last member of the Order present was Nikolasha Le Mon, another ranking member of the White Rose. Before moving on to the official business, Bozes went straight to the issue that was of particular interest to most of those present, save Decimus who, catching the looks that the other ladies were giving Lady Panache, quickly decided to take an interest in the toe of his right boot.

    “So? You seem to have had a good night,” Bozes smirked looking at Panache.

    “You could say that,” Panache replied with a satisfied look.

    “So?” Bozes leaned in, smile wide.

    Panache merely smirked. “Ask me later. Perhaps after we get back from Alnus? Then we can talk about what or who keeps you warm at night, hmmm?”

    Bozes began to blush furiously. “I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

    “Of course not,” Panache agreed dismissively.

    Still. Bozes was pleased for her friend. Later, she and the other girls would try to get the full details in a more discreet setting. For now, there were rather more important things to discuss. She turned to Decimus.

    “How goes the training of the new guard? Will you require anything in the way of materiel?”

    The veteran soldier shook his head. “We have weapons to arm three complete cohorts. Armor is a bit more problematic since the weapons of our ‘allies’,” Decimus said with care, “left much of what the bandits brought with them rather useless. We’re salvaging what we can. A fair amount of chain mail, enough on helms,” he considered. “I think we might salvage enough for six hundred men.”

    “I see,” Panache considered. “So full equipment is available for six centuries. What about the manpower?”

    “We have recruits enough,” Decimus reported. “Local casualties during the battle were severe but between the survivors and volunteers immigrating into the city, we can fully outfit six centuries and train substantial reserves, though again, armor may prove a problem as aside from the armorers and blacksmiths here, virtually every skilled hand is working to re-equip the Imperial Army.” He left their shared opinion unspoken that rearming with any intention of having another go at the offworlders was the height of waste and foolishness.

    Panache frowned as she considered the difficulties in equipping Italica’s new defense force. She had an idea, though an unhappy one that she would need to discuss with Lieutenant Taylor and then perhaps his superiors. “I think we can build a force of three full cohorts, leave the question of armor to me.”

    “As you will, My Lady,” Decimus nodded.

    “What about bowmen?” Bozes asked Suissesse. Suissesse Co Mein was well known as the best archer in the Order. Building a new cadre of archers to man the city walls had been a task placed into her skilled hands.

    “Not many survived the battle,” she admitted. “We’ve recruited a few from among the refugees. Obtaining the number of bows we need is not a problem and we’ve recovered a good supply of arrows but to get the number of archers I’d like, we will need to train a great many with no experience.” Suissesse frowned. “I don’t expect much to come of that. We all know learning the bow is very demanding. Our best option is to offer more pay to recruit more experienced archers.”

    “And crossbows?” Bozes asked.

    Suissesse frowned. It was well known that she found the crossbow a vulgar weapon but she was professional enough to recognize its virtues. “I’ll take as many as I can get. We need the numbers even if the individual quality may be lacking.”

    Bozes nodded. "I can’t promise but I will speak to Her Highness. Perhaps she can arrange for a shipment of them. We will do our best to find the weapons you need.”

    “Thank you. I could ask no more.”

    “Of course,” Bozes smiled.

    “We have also been blessed by the ‘Reaper’s Herald’,” Panache noted. “She has begun training many of the city’s women in the use of polearms. This Naginatajutsu is certainly an impressive combat art.” It was helpful that polearms, traditionally were among the simplest weapons to make. After the Siege of Italica, many of the city’s wives, daughters, and mothers had sworn never again to be left helpless, many wishing dearly to avenge their grief upon the next army that should threaten Italica. After Corporal Nakamura had given a demonstration in Naginatajutsu, several hundred women had volunteered to train under her. For reasons of only having one instructor and limited weapons as of yet, only one hundred were selected. These women had begun training two weeks prior and had already adopted a black banner with crossed red lances.

    “So, we should be able to equip a city militia of some two thousand,” Bozes summarized. On its own, this number, combined with two hundred knights of the White Rose, another hundred knights of the Red Rose, and the entirety of the Black Rose added up to nearly a full legion’s worth of troops, a formidable defensive force on its own. While this paled beside the power of the Pacific Allied forces, it was important to the morale and self-respect of both the Rose Order and the local residents to not simply leave the protection of Italica to others. Still, the presence of the hundred or so green-garbed soldiers of the Pacific Allies and the power they could call upon in an emergency was reassuring to have at their backs.

    But while Italica was certainly well defended, that did not mean the rest of County Formar or the neighboring villages or roads was as secure. Panache had written decrees from Her Imperial Highness authorizing her to assume command of any Imperial garrisons in the area. Almost without exception, these garrisons were quite small. These men were from the Seventh Cohort of the 90th Legion, and were; in fact, based out of Italica. Two hundred of them had actually been in Italica during the siege, losing roughly half this number over the course of three days. They had also succeeded in antagonizing the City Militia in the months preceding and in giving the locals a rather negative opinion of Imperial troops. The surviving hundred had not measurably counted in Panache’s plans for the defense of Italica and she well understood that had these men or at least their officers had been held in higher regard by the Imperial Army to begin with, they would not have been left ion garrison duty out here. Five days ago, the 4th Century had arrived at Italica to take its turn in reserve, clearly expecting the 3rd Century to be waiting to replace them and completely unaware that the 2nd Century had never left Italica to take up the stations that 3rd Century had left. The commander of the 4th Century had actually tried to assume full command at Italica only to find himself reading official orders signed and sealed by the Third Imperial Princess herself. Panache had not sent the survivors of the 2nd and 3rd centuries to replace the new arrivals, feeling it better to start mounting patrols with her own people. Frankly, she needed to call in the other two centuries and get them up to speed on developments before they did something unfortunate.

    Panache recalled how she and Bozes had tried to capture Itami’s Third Recon as they encountered them on the road to Italica. It was only due to the fact that Itami and Taylor had gone out of their way to prevent a fight that thirteen knights of the Rose Order had not died that day. And even then, had she and Bozes insisted on making a fight and drawing blood with their swords, Itami’s people would have quickly avenged their officers. She had no doubts that their good fortune had been a happy fluke.

    Presently, the group reached the meeting room. As a matter of protocol, two of Countess Myui’s maids stood outside the door. Inside, a large map of County Formar spread out on the table in the room’s center and Lieutenants Taylor and Mayer already there. Taylor’s eyes brightened just a bit upon seeing Panache before banishing the expression and emotions behind a hasty mask of professionalism.

    “Lord Octavus, Lieutenant Mayer,” Bozes addressed them. “Thank you for being here. As you know, there are certain matters concerning our plans for the defense of Italica and protection of the surrounding area that we wish to discuss with you.”

    “Anything we can do to help,” Taylor replied. He still was not used to the title. It was just one of a few things he was going to have to try explaining to his mom and now sooner rather than later. He figured that ‘mom' and ‘mother’ were either going to get along like a house on fire or a Worlds War would break out. He wasn’t sure which thought was more frightening.

    Unknowing of his thoughts, Panache smiled mildly and nodded. “Thank you, My Lord. Currently, we have two issues which we would like to discuss.” She first turned to Mayer, who met her eyes calmly. His unflappable nature was one of the reasons Captain Douglas had chosen his platoon for this assignment.

    “The first matter is that I would like to request that some of your marines accompany our patrols. Not only would it be useful to prevent bad things from happening were anyone to blunder into someone else’s people out there, but your weapons and especially your ‘radio’?” She tilted her head as if to ask if she had said the word correctly. Mayer nodded. “Yes! Your radios would be very useful.”

    Mayer considered. “I think we can arrange that. What size patrols are you planning on?”

    “Say, ten mounted knights,” Panache suggested.

    Mayer considered. “I can spare three Humvees. A fireteam with each. That’s four marines. One vehicle to each patrol.”

    Panache nodded. “We’ll need some time for our people to become acquainted first but I think that will work very well.” She then turned to Taylor.

    “We do have a problem which we are hoping that you and General Hazama can assist us with.”

    “Oh?”

    “Yes. We have weapons and volunteers enough to equip a militia of 1500 men but there is a decided lack of armor available. We believe we can salvage enough for six hundred men but that leaves us nearly a thousand suits of armor short. I was hoping that General Hazama might allow us to salvage armor left over from the armies that were lost at Alnus. While we carefully understand, that your people have full claim to such salvage and that we have no formal agreement beyond the agreement to protect Italica but the materiel is obviously worthless for your own men and very useful to us in improving the defense of the city. I give you my word that those chosen to salvage will not take even a single head for a spear, just enough armor for our men and we agree for your people to verify thus. Also, we might like to reacquire some of the horses your forces took at Alnus.”

    Taylor considered this. “Even General Hazama might have to ask permission to release any materiels. That said, I think he and ComPacFor will be favorably inclined to the idea.”

    “Excellent!” Bozes replied. “Will you be accompanying us to Alnus then?”

    “Yes, I ordered some equipment from the other side that should have arrived by now. I’ll need to get checked out on it while we’re there.”

    “I’m sure that your company will be much appreciated,” Bozes said throwing an amused look at Panache.

    “I am the one who is honored to accompany such noble and lovely ladies,” Taylor replied without missing a beat, taking Lady Panache’s hand and placing a gentle kiss on it. It somehow just seemed right. Bozes’ smirk grew as Panache blushed.

    “Well then,” Panache smiled. “Shall we leave tomorrow morning?”

    “Of course. I’ll see you then.”


    ***​


    Along the Domitia Way


    “It’s hard to tell the real stories from the drunks and complete liars.” Nayu quipped as she and Yao calmly walked out of a small tavern that quite likely would need some repairs come the next day.

    “That drunken fool tried to claim he was one of the Green Men,” Yao scoffed in disgust. He had then tried to grope Yao. who had snapped his wrist, yanked his arm behind his back and kicked him hard in the rear sending him careening into several other drunken bar patrons, setting off a full-scale brawl as Yao and Nayu calmly walked out.

    Nayu smirked as she held a small bag of coins in her palm. Yao looked at her.

    “What? I figure he owed us this for wasting our time.” She then turned slightly more serious. “Besides, men tend to be less close-mouthed around people who will at least buy them a drink. We need the information.” The smile returned. “So really, I’m just covering our expenses.”

    “Whatever.” Nayu was right. Yao could not care less about a drunken fool being parted with his money. If they found those who could help their clan, Yao would bestow upon them the richest treasure her people had. She would willingly give herself in whatever capacity demanded if it would save their people.

    Nayu shrugged. Yao’s single-mindedness was part of why the Elders had sent her on this mission. But while Yao might be inclined to ignore everything that did not directly affect their mission, Nayu was different. She yearned to explore the greater world and experience as much as she could. Admittedly, the tavern scene was getting a bit redundant but her mother had taught her to savor and enjoy life. It was after all how her mother had managed to have a happy marriage even knowing that she and her husband would only be together for a few decades rather than centuries. The heart goes where it is called. Her mother had told her.

    But they did need to focus on the mission now and while Yao might not have had any luck, Nayu had managed a little better. “Well, while that fat pig was busy boasting, I heard a young man in the Tavern muttering under his breath that they didn’t call themselves ‘Green Men’ and that ‘that idiot was too fat to even fit in one of their iron chariots.” I think he actually was there.” Nayu concluded.

    Yao spun on her. “What? And you didn’t tell me? You didn’t find out anything else?”

    “No, because that was right before the fight started. Do you want us to go back in there and try to find him?” Nayu asked as the sound of more glass being broken was heard.

    “No. I suppose not,” Yao admitted as they resumed walking away. “Wait. I didn’t hear anything. Where were you standing when you heard this?”

    “I was about six lengths away by the far wall.”

    “Then how did you take that fool’s coin purse?”

    “Oh! That? I snagged it when he first approached you. Then I figured I should stand out of the way.”

    “Probably right. Well then, what do we know?” Yao asked.

    “We know that the ‘Green Men’ are being seen in more villages but not staying for long. They definitely were at Alnus though.” Nayu replied and then turned to her partner.

    “So? To Alnus?”

    “To Alnus.”


    ***​



    Sadera: Sapphire Palace


    Claudia El Nerus, Second Imperial Princess leaned back in her seat and regarded her guest carefully. Livia Sol Augusta was Claudia’s half-sister, the First Imperial Princess, mother of Marcus Sol Galba, whom she had named in honor of an uncle he would never meet, and now Queen Regent of the Kingdom of Hesperia. Livia had been two years old when Molt Sol Augustus married her recently widowed mother Vespasia. Though adopted by Molt, Livia’s mother never let her forget her birth father had been Hadrian Co Augustus, the older brother of the then Prince Molt. In time, Livia’s mother bore two more children. One was Marcus and the other was Claudia herself.

    And then had come the children of Molt’s concubines: Zorzal, Diablo, and Pina. And now, Marcus was dead. Livia widowed as her husband had loyally gone to fight in Molt’s war. Only his death and the loss of the two thousand men of The Hesperian Royal Guard, coupled with the distances involved allowed Livia to plead to the Emperor that Hesperia could not spare an army to join the march on Alnus, leaving the comparatively small Kingdom with a now rather respectable army of 30,000 men

    Claudia herself had been betrothed briefly before her intended spouse had also ridden off to war, never to return. She smiled as Livia bounced her baby son in her lap. Livia’s devotion to her son was already becoming legendary. Claudia considered it quite understandable as Livia’s father, brother, and husband had all been legally killed. To add insult to injury had been the exile of their mother after Marcus’s execution.

    “Little sister is up to something,” Claudia noted.

    “Oh?” Livia asked. “What makes you say that?”

    “Little sister has always been too eager to try to play like the boys to understand the kind of games that really run the Empire. Some time ago, she visited dear father, demanding to know what he planned to do about the invaders on Alnus Hill. The old bastard decided to have her take that troop of hers and scout around the place.”

    “And here I thought dear little Pina was his favorite. How callous. But since she doesn’t seem to have died, I take it she fared better than poor King Duran,” Livia remarked.

    “Well, suddenly, she has returned to Sadera with 300 of her knights. Apparently, she tells father that some force attacked Italica, in County Formar and she had to leave the balance of her knights behind to defend it.”

    “I suppose that’s possible.”

    “Yes, and it would fit in well with Pina’s image of Noble Chivalry but not everything quite fits. You see, Pina is keeping the remaining 300 close to home at the Jade Palace while Pina herself has been throwing parties.”

    “That’s unusual for her,” Livia admitted.

    “Yes. Of course, I pointed this out to father. He’s no fool. He would have noticed soon himself if he had not already.”

    “That could be unfortunate for Pina.”

    “Not necessarily,” Claudia smirked. “I suggested to dear father that he consider sending the Crown Prince to check up on her. He’ll mull that around a bit I think. But a visit from the Hyena of Sadera ought to put a reminder into Pina not to be so careless. And alas, if she cannot outwit Zorzal, then there is nothing else to be done for her no matter how much our brother adored her.”

    “But if she does, then what do we do about whatever it is she is scheming at?”

    “For now, nothing. I will learn what baby sister is playing at in due time. Diablo is the one I need to be careful of. He may not appreciate pawns but he at least recognizes the value of them. Once I learn what Pina is up to, we can decide what to do.”
     
    waffelmeister and rifern like this.
  5. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 24: The Ties That Bind

    Italica

    Panache studied the palomino mare with the sharp eye of a true horse connoisseur and smiled. "This horse is a good gentle mannered horse. She's well suited to a beginning rider." Panache gently patted the horse and smiled at Taylor. "Have you chosen a name for her?"

    Taylor nodded. "I had quite a few ideas but I think I'll call her 'Lexington" The name has an auspicious history in our navy."

    "Ah! Well, she's no match for my 'Imperator' but she'll be a sturdy and steadfast mount."

    "Of course we'll be driving to Alnus, so…"

    "Part of the way my dear Taylor," Panache corrected. "It was Lady Octavia's desire for her heir to learn some of the more traditional skills that will be required of the next Count of Ravenna. I would like to assure her that I am taking every opportunity to provide the proper instruction."

    Taylor sighed as Aenaire smirked and Aurelia nodded in firm agreement. Aurelia's presence was mandated by custom while Aenaire wished to check on how Tuka was doing. With Galador looking on from the truck, sitting next to Yeoman Locke who, since her experience in Tokyo, still greatly resembled an elf with her helmet covering most of her ears, Taylor knew he was mousetrapped. I can't argue that the lessons aren't important. I'm supposed to be a good example. "Of course, my lady."

    "And his skills with a sword?" Bozes asked slyly.

    "We'll discuss that later." Panache replied not missing a beat. "For now, let us begin the ride to Alnus. We'll pause at high sun and then you may rest, My Lord," she told Taylor. Aurelia, Aenaire, and Galador would ride with Yeoman Locke clear through to Alnus

    Itami, you are one lucky bastard. THESE girls are organized! Taylor thought for only the briefest moment. Then reconsidered. Nah! I'm lucky.

    ***

    Camp Augustus

    Colonel Mihara was, in Lady Octavia's view, a civilized woman. Civilized by Octavia's opinion meant something very different from the typical Imperial noble. To most of them, 'civilized' was an exclusively Imperial trait. Octavia was aware that Emperor Molt, on the other hand, felt that 'civilized' meant tamed. Colonel Mihara was neither of these things. Instead, Mihara was calm, thoughtful, precise and mannered. She was also the farthest cry from the overbred cretin who had immediately preceded her. The less Octavia considered Lieutenant Fallon, the better she had long decided with the exception that it was good to know that the people on this side of the GATE had their fair share of opportunists, morons, and people whose brains only existed to keep their skulls from collapsing.

    Presently, Felicia brought in tea and sandwiches. The sandwich was one of those Earth inventions that delighted Octavia in its absolute simplicity and brilliance. She, like most of her family, was partial to 'roast beef' while Mihara favored something called 'corned' beef.

    "I understand that your husband will be getting out of the hospital soon," Mihara noted.

    "Yes. That does mean I'm more than a bit concerned about him being sent to Camp Charon."

    "The doctors won't likely agree to that. Camp Charon has adequate medical facilities for ordinary needs but sending recovering cases such as your husband's there would probably not be a good idea." The Colonel took a sip of tea and considered. "Such a case would normally be a case for parole or perhaps Princess Pina might arrange for his release."

    "I don't think so," Octavia shook her head. "She needs to get the maximum use of those releases to curry some favor with their kin in high places. The Legate is quite powerful in the military itself but politically, he is vulnerable. Not only with there be those who would attempt to pin the blame for the 'Great Expedition' failing on him, but his appointment to lead the expedition was also more of a political compromise. Both Prince Zorzal and Senator Godasen wanted this command. It was given to my husband to deny it to either of them." Octavia sighed. "And also to 'prove' to the army that the Emperor still trusted its ranking commanders even after His Imperial Highness removed Prince is not coincidental that my youngest was named in his honor. But with the Imperial Prince gone and many who will wish to cast blame upon his shoulders, he has few political allies."

    "I thought your House was rather influential?"

    "My House, House Octavus is very old and respected. Unfortunately, House Germanicus is not politically significant. You must understand that all the lands and fortune of my husband's name, he earned himself. His family is of the Optimates but not Patrician. One day, Antonius and Marcus will inherit quite substantial estates and wealth but little political power. That will be in the hands of their brother."

    Seeing the opportunity to ask the question which had heretofore had gone unasked, Colonel Mihara leaned forward. "And just how and when it was that you decided that you were going to adopt a serving officer of the United States Navy? Completely on your own accord as I am quite sure I understood from Senior Chief Richardson that Taylor was quite surprised when you told him he was now your son. Why give that to a stranger instead of one of your own sons?"

    Octavia smiled. "Not so strange but the truth is that House Octavus was never going to go to Antonius or Marcus. You see, I mentioned that my husband is not of Patrician blood. This mattered little to a rebellious young woman looking to avoid being married off to some dimwitted son of a Great House but it was everything to her father. When I married Germanicus, my father inserted a clause in his will that his titles and lands could not be inherited by a son of Germanicus. He left it so that I would serve as keeper of those lands and titles so if even after he died, I 'came to my senses' and produced an heir not of Germanicus' blood, that son could inherit House Octavus."

    "A charming man, your father."

    "And one who regretted not having a son my entire life. Imagine my feelings when the necessity of preserving my family's future met the joy of being able to satisfy my father's will in such a way that if he were to rise from his grave and see what I've done, he'd slit a vein all over again! I can't pass his lands or titles to the sons I bore, sons born of the Empire but Imperial law is so full of assumptions that I can adopt an heir as long as he is human and he can inherit everything! Even if he is a 'barbarian from another world', who is as far from my father's mindset as possible. Once I was assured my children would be safe here, I decided to protect their future when we return home by trusting a man I do see like my own son. Every courtesy and kindness reaffirmed his character and my choice to not only protect my children, and give those things I could not to them at least they could go to a worthy person. Octavia grinned. "It also allows me the chance to give a fond salute to all those self-centered, egotistical half-wits my father wanted me to marry and who are now running around Sadera trying to figure out how to 'win the great war against the barbarian hordes'!"

    "I see." Mihara raised an eyebrow. "And tying him to Lady Panache?"

    "THAT was the happy gift of providence! I will rejoice in the implications but I cannot take credit for it. Those two are self-tying. They didn't need my help."

    ***​

    Alnus Hill

    The trip to Alnus provided plenty of opportunities for Taylor to become accustomed to his new mount and the proper care required. He also understood that it was also important for the bond between horse and rider. On reaching Alnus, Taylor first reported in with Colonel Lowe, Aurelia following right behind him while Aenaire went in search of Tuka accompanied by Yeoman Locke. After joining a short meeting in General Hazama's office in which Panache carefully outlined her request to salvage abandoned Imperial armor, Taylor headed for the camp post office, picking up several packages, three of them he had ordered some weeks earlier but most actually just before the group left Italica. Two-day express shipping was indeed a marvel of the modern world. Stowing everything in the Humvee, they soon caught up with the rest of their party, including Aenaire who had no success finding Tuka, at a recently opened inn in Alnus Town. Bozes, Panache, and Nikolasha were seated with Merisa, who had been acting as an observer in Alnus.

    "Plotting some nefarious scheme to overthrow the Earth?" Taylor teased lightly.

    "Oh no, My Lord," Panache returned. "Her Highness's plans for conquering your vastly more powerful civilization are already well underway. In the meantime, there is a little project Her Highness wanted us to take care of. Several of us are learning Japanese. Incidentally, Her Highness has asked us to translate some of her recent art purchases. Not only for her own benefit but Her Highness believes there may be a market for such art in the Empire." All this was true, Panache reflected. What she could not say was that this was merely a cover for passing messages and shipping any other interesting bits of information along. This idea conceived when Pina had noticed how uncomfortable the professional soldiers of the JSDF had become around such material. She hoped and would have been relieved to know that the average American soldier shared his Japanese counterparts' discomfiture around Pina's 'Art'. The fact that the technically more advanced people of the other world tended to be so culturally constrained on such points was a source of amusement and an opportunity.

    It would have astounded the personnel assigned to the Starbase just what Pina and her people thought might be useful in their quest to better understand them. Many periodicals left haphazardly in lounge areas and the like were to be collected and scoured. The English ones were easiest to translate but also helped identify areas where the High Tongue differed from its American, British, and Australian cousins. Of course, virtually the entirety of this information could have been had openly for the asking but Pina believed there was something to be said about others not being aware of just how much one might know. Certainly, such efforts conducted while the Imperial mages were still working on stabilizing the Gate for the Expedition might have saved the Empire a great deal of misery if any attempt to learn about their intended victim had been made beyond abducting and interrogating a few helpless citizens from out of the shadows as Pina now suspected had occurred. To Pina, anything which gave her a clearer picture of the other world could be useful.

    "Ah!" Taylor and Panache knew that there were things that their respective positions required them to keep from each other. It was in their love and respect for each other that they each refrained from prying. Of course, if either of them or their associates did let something important slip, the other had an obligation to report it to their superiors. But they would in no way encourage each other to compromise their oaths. "Well, then we won't interrupt. Just let me know when you're done and I can enjoy your company for dinner."

    "It would be our pleasure, My Lord." Panache smiled and nodded, then turned to Dora, the Vulpine waitress who had come to take their table order for drinks. Fortunately, there was nothing that would be particularly time-consuming that needed to be addressed before Panache and her friends could set aside their professional duties for the day. As for tomorrow, General Hazama had said that he expected he would likely be given permission to release the requested quantities of armor as part of the Pacific Allies' obligation to assist in the defense of Italica. What had surprised Panache and perhaps more than it should have she reflected, was when General Hazama informed her that nearly six thousand sets of armor were already in storage on the base."

    In the meantime, Taylor was mildly surprised to see Mari Kurokawa walk in the door. Apparently, she was as surprised to see him there as well. "Ah! Lieutenant! It's good to see you. I was just getting dinner." She glanced over at Aenaire as she took a seat at the next table.

    "Is something wrong, Mari?" Taylor was off duty and he considered Kurokawa a friend. Something in her eyes concerned him.

    The medic looked over at Aenaire and nodded. "It's Tuka. Every day, in the late afternoon, she starts looking for her father, just wandering the streets of Alnus as if she expected to find him waiting somewhere for her to take him home."

    Aenaire shook her head. "I think that without my son," she said gently stroking his hair. "I would be in even worse shape. Even now, I find it hard to accept that my brother and almost everyone I ever knew is gone. Maybe I was too hasty in leaving Alnus."

    "No," Taylor replied. "You can't second guess yourself. Tuka seemed to be handling things well enough. Her attachment to Itami seemed to give her the anchor she needed. Have you talked to Itami about this?"

    "He's been off base a lot lately."

    "Talk to him but my opinion is that this can't go on. I think Tuka needs to talk to a professional. What she's going through is a real problem and she needs real help. I think that will work best if the people around her get behind her on this."

    Mari nodded, relieved that someone understood her concerns. She hoped Itami would understand too. "Thank you, sir."

    "Of course. So? How is everyone in Third Recon doing?" Taylor changed the subject.

    "Mostly the same as always," Mari admitted. "Shino is still looking for a man who isn't intimidated by her."

    "The ones who aren't intimidated by her are usually the ones dumb enough to fight her. No future in that," Taylor replied.

    "She also got a letter from her sister. She's a journalist who's been picked to join the first pool of reporters that are going to be allowed into Janus."

    "Well then, we can hope to have at least one friend among the Fourth Estate. What about Kurata?"

    "Still the same. He's been bugging Itami for a pass to go see Persia."

    "'What's new pussycat', indeed." If he's not careful, it'll be 'Cat Scratch Fever'. And," He smirked, catching Panache's eye and looking over at Bozes. "What about Tomita?"

    Mari caught the gleam in Taylor's eye. "He's back in the barracks with the next two days off."

    "Interesting," Panache noted."Maybe we'll run into him some time. Wouldn't that be nice?" She said, looking to Bozes who turned bright red.

    "Ah! Yes!" Bozes hastily replied.

    And Panache takes this round, Taylor thought with satisfaction. But thinking about Tuka made him think about something else that had been on his mind lately. He looked to Galador. "Ladies… There were some packages that I picked up when we got in. I was going to let them wait but I think now is a good a time as any." He stood up. "Excuse me a moment. I just need to retrieve them. I'll be right back."

    Everyone waited curiously while he retrieved a number of items from the truck. One long and oddly shaped case he set in front of Aenaire. "Originally I had ordered this for you because I knew you could use it. I know you fashioned one for yourself but…" He opened the case. A new bow resting in it.

    "Covert Hunter recurve bow. I hope it will do until we can get a proper elven bow made for you."

    Aenaire studied it carefully. While the crude bow she had fashioned to hunt game around Alnus with was adequate for the job, she had to admit she missed the balance and craftsmanship of her old bow, now gone. This one was not the same as the bows her father and his father before him had carried but it still seemed well made and the woods were of good quality, although not of types she was readily familiar with.

    "Thank you," She smiled and threw a wicked glance at Panache. "I believe Lady Suissesse and I will have an appointment on the archery range when we get back home."

    "It should be interesting," Bozes mused.

    "Then as we got ready to come here, it seemed unfair that I should not also have something for the other ladies in my life," He looked to Panache and then set a small bottle of perfume on the table. "I couldn't help thinking about us and well… The marvel of the internet when I typed in our names, it came up with this: Panache perfume by Taylor of London. I certainly hope that it lives up to the quality of its name."

    Panache smiled and then chuckled at the universe's little joke. Next Taylor turned to Aurelia. "As my assigned keeper, I think this suits you." He opened up a wooden case and Aurelia saw the blade carried inside.

    "It's called a 'kukri' and it's carried by the Gurkhas, some of the fiercest and most respected warriors in my world."

    "It's like the blade my mother had," Aurelia said in wonderment. At a nod, she took the weapon from its case. "The balance is excellent, My Lord. The angle is a little sharper than my mother's blade and the forging seems exceptional. I will be honored to carry this in your name."

    Taylor smiled. "The honor is mine." He then set three identical boxes out, one each in front of Aenaire, Aurelia, and Panache. "I got one of these for each of you."

    Each lady inspected the silver chain and pendant she received. Though each chain was identical, the pendants differed. Aurelia's was a rabbit cradled in a half moon. Aenaire's held a unicorn, and Panache's carried a silver dragon.

    "Just a token. Soon maybe I can give you the rings I want to. A year ago I didn't see anyone in my life. Now I want all of you to be with me." He paused. "But I have one last present and I've been thinking hard about this." He set the last box in front of Galador. "Open it."

    The boy did, his eyes lit in surprise, recognizing Taylor's watch. He then noticed that Taylor was wearing a different watch now.

    "Now it's yours. And what it means is that if you want, if no one here objects I mean but if you and your mom want, I would like to be your dad. Is that alright with you?"

    With Panache and Aurelia nodding their assent and his mother's face lit with a smile, Galador nodded and hugged him fiercely.

    Taylor expected there would be questions, paperwork, and headaches involved but he didn't care. A child should have a dad.

    ***

    Hours later, at the communications center, Taylor picked up a phone and dialed. If his math was right, it was late morning in the States. The phone rang three times. He knew that old familiar ring. His mom still used a corded phone and had sworn never to buy a cordless phone, or cell phone either for that matter. "Sometimes I don't WANT people being able to reach me," she had said more than once. Fortunately, this wasn't one of those times and she picked up after the third ring.

    "Hi, mom. It's daylight there, isn't it?"

    "Yes. It's a little after eleven. I was just making myself some coffee."

    He nodded in relief at the reply. "Good. I wouldn't have wanted to wake you. So? Coffee like always? Six tablespoons of coffee and two cups of water?"

    "Muddy water and turpentine!" She laughed at the old joke. A maintenance man at her apartment complex had taken a sip of her usual brew. The twenty-something simply couldn't take a cup that strong.

    "That's good. Um… Mom?"

    "What's wrong?"

    "Nothing… But some things have happened. Um… If I take care of the rent and get you a ticket… I really would like you to fly out to Tokyo."

    "Tokyo? Well, you do remember I don't speak Japanese, don't you?"

    "Yeah, And you don't speak the Queen's English either but that won't be a problem. I just… Like I said. Things have happened and I want to see you. It's a lot to explain but I think it will make more sense in person than trying to tell you on the phone."

    "How long?"

    "I don't rightly know. I'm hoping it will be a long stay. So pack anything you think you might need or want. Maybe take a camera. And a couple of notebooks."

    "Okay. You can tell me everything when I get there. When do you want me to fly out?"

    "Give it two weeks?"

    "Alright. Sounds good! So? Hotel?"

    "I'm going to see if I can get a few rules bent. If I can, it should be a bit more enjoyable than a hotel. You haven't threatened to shoot any dumbass crooked politicians lately, have you? I have to tell you there may be some people taking you seriously if you have."

    "No more than usual." Taylor could practically see the smirk on his mother's face."Just let me pack my slingshot!"

    "I have a feeling you'll fit right in here, mom."

    "I've always wanted to fit in somewhere!"

    "Well, I'll get things set up and I'll call you later. You have a good day, okay?"

    "You too. Be careful out there."

    "I will. I love you, mom."

    "I love you too, son."

    "Bye." He hung up. That was always the hard part. But as he did so, a warm hand rested on his shoulder. It was Panache. Aenaire and Aurelia were standing behind her. Taylor smiled gently looking at the women he had come to love.

    "Thanks." He said simply.

    "You are welcome. Now I think we should all get some rest. It has been a busy day And I expect tomorrow will be as well."
     
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  6. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 25: A Cry For Help.

    Sadera, Palace of Zorzal El Caesar


    The Prince was in one of his moods again, Tyuule thought grimly. Though named heir to the Imperial throne, Zorzal had been systematically excluded from the governance of the Empire. According to Bouro, even Princess Pina had been given some assignment in regards to the current war. Even if it was mere ‘busy work’, it was more than Emperor Molt had been willing to entrust to his heir. Objectively, of course, Tyuule could understand this. She would not trust the Prince to supervise a chariot race at the Maximus by himself, let alone anything of importance.


    In practice, however, this was highly inconvenient to her plans. She was well aware that Bouro was merely using her. He was oily enough but he lacked the means to manipulate Zorzal. So for the moment, he needed Tyuule, who had learned just how to stroke Zorzal’s massive ego while providing him with the sense of power and conquest that he craved. And for now, Tyuule needed Bouro and his network of agents. So she pretended to believe that Bouro did not have a completely different goal than she did. He could claim to her all he wanted that as an outcast of Imperial society, he wanted to see it all destroyed but that was a lie. There was a difference between the two of them. Tyuule had been a true ruler. She had loved her people, fought for them, with them. She had delivered herself into the hands of their enemies in an attempt to save her people. She had suffered for her sins. She had been broken to rock bottom and knew the bitter taste of defeat. Not just defeat but total, soul-crushing defeat. The knowledge that sometimes all, was in fact lost.


    Bouro, on the other hand, was even as an outcast, still an Imperial at heart. He truly believed the propaganda that the Empire had never been defeated and would always be victorious in the end. Of course, he needed to believe it, for his own plans meant nothing if there was no Empire for him to rule.


    The two of them had secretly discussed this more than once in the past months that the armies of the Empire had been brutally smashed by whatever enemy they had provoked from across the Gate. Of course, the Empire admitted no such defeats in public but it was still spoken in quiet whispers among the powerful. Further, the Imperial Throne had released no list of glories. There were no triumphs for victorious generals. Instead, the public was merely told that the Empire needed more men to prosecute the war and drive the last remnants of the barbarians from the sacred soil of Alnus and humble the barbarians. No mention had been made to the public of the hundred thousand men who were supposed to be conquering these barbarians already or the next hundred thousand who had been slain attempting to prevent these barbarians from establishing a foothold in the most sacred heart of Imperial territory. Nor was it mentioned how Molt had sent the armies of the Empire’s ‘allies’ to slaughter. Based on this, the average Imperial citizen could be excused for believing the war was progressing satisfactorily. Bouro and Tyuule had discussed the rumors and reports from his operatives and they agreed that all evidence indicated that the Empire had bitten off much more than it could chew. The difference was that Tyuule could see in his eyes that Bouro really did not believe it. She understood what he did not: Once an army was broken in the field, it could not simply be replaced like a torn tunic. Warriors took time to train and they needed equipping. This equipment needed to be crafted and it all costed money. Unless the enemy was much more badly damaged than she thought, there was no real fighting force capable of stopping this enemy.


    No, Bouro simply could not accept this, despite the evidence before him. Bouro wanted to undermine the current rulers of the Empire but not the Empire itself. He intended to take advantage of the current situation but in the end, he needed the Empire to prevail. Tyuule wanted to see the whole hated thing burn. For now, the two were allies, using each other for their own ends. She was sure that Bouro would betray her when it suited him just as she planned to toss his broken corpse atop the Empire’s blazing pyre.


    But plans for the future were a luxury to be entertained outside of the wrath of Zorzal. And shunted aside by his father and left to his own devices, the Prince stalked his personal palace like a spoiled, petulant child looking for ways to ease his boredom. His current tantrum seemed to be something in the kitchens. At least that wasn’t too likely to bring her much extra grief. She would listen solicitously as he complained, decry the incompetence of whomever he was upset with and suggest that they needed to be taught a lesson. If he declined, she would praise his magnanimity and if he punished the ‘offenders’, then he would derive enjoyment from it, be pleased that she agreed with him and divert his wrath away from her. And not incidentally… From the other slaves as well.


    If she had a people any longer, they were her fellow slaves. They accepted her as the leader among them, followed her instructions, and she protected them as best she could. Sometimes with her own body. This was especially true of Noriko. As she had told Zorzal, so carefully on more than one occasion that Noriko was far too delicate a flower for his normal methods. He was used to instant obedience and any failure to promptly comply with his demands was usually met with violence and for a period of almost a week, Zorzal had set about teaching this to his newest ‘toy’. Tyuule had taken a risk of incurring Zorzal’s wrath by interfering but his wrath was nothing he had not already inflicted upon her. Of course, she did not intend to risk angering him enough so as to endanger her own life. Death would be so inconvenient to her plans after all. But she promised the Prince that she would teach the girl how to please him better and in return, Noriko had been moved to Tyuule’s room where Tyuule had taught her carefully to obey and endure. She treated the girl’s wounds, threatening guards and the healers with Zorzal’s displeasure if Noriko was not well tended. And soon, she had the girl’s trust. Her Delicate Flower talked to her about the world beyond the Gate and its marvels and Tyuule quickly understood that the Empire could not hope to match that kind of power.


    Recently, Tyuule had told her that her people had an army in Falmart. “Do not speak or think of this in the Prince’s presence but know they are coming. One day they will come here and you will tell them how I have cared for you.” She smiled. “That is all I ask.”

    But right now, as she watched Noriko sleeping, curled up on her cot, Tyuule only wondered one thing: Where were the Japanese?

    ***


    Alnus


    “Alnus!” Yao breathed, looking down from the hill which the new residents called ‘SugarLoaf’.


    “Finally!” Nayu agreed. Walking down to the town’s main gate, the two were soon able to relate their situation to the members of the Civic Guard who were manning the gate alongside PA troops. Facilitation of communication with all new arrivals was a primary concern here and while Yao was not exceptionally fluent in Popularii, Nayu spoke it well. Yao would learn soon enough, Nayu knew. Most elves had a knack for languages. Excellent hearing and memory were only part of the reason why this was so but the important thing was that the two Vietnamese soldiers who had drawn gate duty this morning were able to quickly relay the situation up the chain of command to General Hazama, who agreed to meet with the Dark Elf representatives later that afternoon. First, however, the two would need to go through the standard medical examinations before entry, then they would wait.

    ***


    General Hazama frowned slightly when he received the report from the gate. Ever since Recon Three’s encounter with the Flame Dragon, Hazama and his subordinate commanders had been drawing up plans to handle another encounter with the beast. And now, it seemed someone had come to ask for their direct aid and intervention against the creature. But before directly entertaining any such possible requests, the general would meet with Colonel Lowe where they would discuss both the current operational plans for dealing with the creature and the current political climate and potential repercussions of any plans


    Hazama looked up at Lieutenant Yanagida. “We’ll need a guide to accompany our guests until we are ready to receive them. Lieutenant Taylor is back from Italica. He has the most experience in dealing with the local races. Get him over to the town gate Let him get a sense of our two visitors.”


    “Yes, sir.” Yanagida was inherently uncomfortable at this. He and Taylor held an innate distrust of each other. Well, there was at least one thing to be done. Itami might be an irritant but he was loyal to the JSDF. And it was not as if Itami did not have some of the same qualifications as Taylor and surely another second set of eyes and ears would be of value. So he went to find Itami, searching to find him unsurprisingly lounging at his desk.


    “Itami! We have visitors waiting down at the Alnus Town gate. They’ll require guides until the General sends for them. First, go find Lelei and then find Taylor and you two will talk and observe with our guests.”


    “Can’t Taylor handle it?”


    “Just get out there,” Yanagida replied. “This may be important.”


    Itami sighed. He quickly found Taylor out on the firing range with Aurelia and Aenaire. Aenaire was getting accustomed to the new recurve bow Taylor had given her while Aurelia watched with displeasure as Taylor took aim down range with the rifle he had just received, his shoulder already bruised from previous firings Aurelia being somewhat relieved when the range master ordered ‘cease fire!’ as Itami and Lelei approached.


    “Taylor! What are you doing out here with that thing?” Itami gestured to the massive weapon Taylor had just set to safety.



    “I’m not going to get caught helpless again, Itami.”



    “Yeah, I guess not.” Itami shrugged. “Anyway, Yanagida says we’ve got some special visitors at the town gate. We’re supposed to go down and talk to them and guide them around until the General sends for them.”



    “Right. Well, just let us secure our gear. And we’ll all take a walk.” After a few minutes, Taylor gestured to Itami to lead the way.



    “So where’s the other third of your better half?” Itami asked in amusement.


    “Lady Panache is busy overseeing the recovery of a thousand sets of armor from storage and after that, she’s repatriating a few horses. Hopefully, she’ll be able to join us for dinner this evening.” Taylor quirked an eye at Itami. “And what about your entourage?”


    “What do you mean?”


    “Come off it! Tuka adores you. Rory looks at you like a lioness sizing up an antelope, and Lelei… “ He smiled at the young mage with a twinkle in his eye.


    “What about Lelei?” Itami asked, paying more attention to her


    “She’ll let you know when she’s ready,” Taylor smirked as Lelei blushed slightly with a small smile.


    “I’m not the one trapped in the middle of a harem anime,” Itami protested.


    “That’s what you think.” A few minutes later, they were at the gatehouse, where they were met with the two Dark Elves. Aenaire greeted them in her native tongue.


    “Hello. I am Aenaire, this is Lelei La Lelena. We will translate. You are from Schwarz Woods, aren’t you?”


    Yao bowed sharply. “I am Yao Haa Dushi.” She gestured to her companion. “This is Nayu Haa Nin. We have come seeking the aid of the Green Men because of ...”


    “The Flame Dragon,” Aenaire said with certainty.


    “Yes,” Yao replied. “We have heard the Green Men wounded and drove the beast off. Without their help, the remaining eight hundred elves of Schwarz Woods will not survive for long.”


    “It is true. My son and I were rescued from our village after the dragon attacked. Only three of us survived. These men,” She gestured to Itami and Taylor. “Rescued us and then helped the nearby Coda village evacuate. The dragon attacked the evacuation. I saw it fly off minus an arm.”


    “So,” Nayu quirked her head, appraising Taylor and Itami. “The stories are true after all.”


    “Yes,” Lelei replied. “It is so.”


    “Please!” Yao entreated. “We MUST have their help!” She took out a large bag from under her cloak. “We will offer everything we have to those that can destroy this beast!” She opened the bag to reveal a perfectly shaped champagne colored pearl measuring some thirteen inches in diameter. Aenaire inhaled.


    “The Dragon Seed,” Aenaire breathed. Lelei’s eyes went wide. It was a treasure so valuable that one could literally buy their own kingdom with it.


    “Yes,” Yao answered. “We will give this. We will give our bodies. We will give anything we have But we must have the aid of the Green Men.”


    Aenaire nodded and translated. Taylor looked at Itami. “We’d help in a heartbeat if it was our call to make. But that will be up to General Hazama. I expect right now he’s reviewing what we already know about that thing and the latest plans to deal with it. I won’t make promises but I think he’ll decide to help. That creature puts a lot of innocent lives at risk.” He smiled.


    “So! Until the General calls for us, you join us for lunch. You can tell us more about your people and your village while we eat.”


    Nayu and Yao nodded to each other. At least they had made contact. They had been promised a chance to make their case. Until then, they had to wait. Of course, Nayu actually relished the opportunity to see these people in a social setting.


    They encountered Rory and Myuute on the way to the Silver Gryphon Inn and Tavern, just in time to see Delilah bodily toss out a drunken patron who had gotten just a little too frisky for his own good.


    “Is everything alright Delilah?” Rory asked, glancing at the drunk who was shaking his head as if trying to understand what had just happened.


    “Just fine. As long as he goes home and sleeps off the ale.”


    “Sounds reasonable,” Rory replied. She then looked at Itami and the two Dark Elves. “So… Are you trying to get rid of me, Youji? How cruel of you to play with a young girl’s heart and discard it so callously!”


    Itami flinched, uncomfortably aware of Rory’s knack for drawing attention. “Rory… It’s nothing like that! Um… Why don’t you join us? And you can see everything is fine.”


    Rory raised an eye at him as Myuute smiled. “I’ll see you later Rory.”


    They went into the tavern and took one of the long tables. Rory as usual completely disregarded all notions of Itami’s personal space as she sat practically in his lap, suspiciously eyeing Yao and Nayu. “I don’t blame you for being interested,” she told them. “But this one is mine.”


    Taylor noticed as Itami and Rory did not, the stink eye that Lelei was giving the apostle at this.


    Nayu glanced at the utterly confused Yao. “I’ll let you answer her, Yao.” She scooted a bit towards Taylor and looked to Aenaire. “Are you bonded?” She asked indicating Taylor.


    “Yes, I suppose you could say that. Aurelia, who sits on his other side," She gestured to the tall Bunny Warrior. "Is also to be with him as is the Lady Panache.”


    “That’s unusual.”


    “Yes, but he needs the extra guidance,” Aenaire replied in amusement.


    Taylor had the distinct impression he had just been zinged. He shook it off.


    “So Itami? I saw Kurokawa yesterday.”


    “Oh?” Itami’s tone was wary, having a good guess what Taylor wanted to talk about.


    “Yes, she’s worried about Tuka.”


    “I know. She came to see me this morning.” Itami gave an uncomfortable look at Taylor. “I don’t think we should intervene. Do we really want to take what she has left from her? Even if it’s an illusion? At least she has that much.” Just as he said that an uncomfortable thought rose in his mind. She’s fine now because she has us. But what happens later? But before he could voice these doubts, Taylor shook his head


    “I don’t see it that way, Itami.” He said quietly. “According to what Kurokawa says, she’s living in a fantasy world. That’s not happiness. It’s an addictive misery,” Taylor said, speaking from pain of his own.


    As Itami considered this, Taylor continued. “If we can’t be here forever, I don’t see how that means we don’t do what we can.” He paused, looking at his hands. “I think we should do what we can to help others, not worry about what we can’t do.”


    “Then she’ll need a real counselor,” Itami sighed. “I’ll take care of it.”


    Then Rory smirked at Itami. “Now! Drink! We’ll see to Tuka but you can’t help her drowning in worry!”



    Itami smiled weakly and took a drink. “For someone called Rory the Reaper, you have a kind heart.”



    Rory smiled serenely. “Death is merely a part of life. To have a good death, one must have respect for life.”



    “Respect for life, hmm?”



    “That’s right! And that includes not wasting it in needless woe! Especially when you could be spending those moments making me happy!” She leaned in closer, finished her ale and set it on the table.


    Itami smiled just a little at this. “By the way Taylor, what was that you had out on the range earlier?” He noticed that both Aenaire and Aurelia gave disapproving glances at Taylor at the mention of this.


    “Barrett M107. It fires a .50 caliber round.”


    Itami shook his head. “We had Browning M2s. Even they couldn’t stop that thing.”


    “I know. But I couldn’t swing anything bigger. And it’ll stop most things around here. At least that oversized lizard would have felt it.”


    “Felt it and gotten mad. I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Itami replied.


    “Maybe not,” Taylor conceded. “But I had to do something. There are days when I feel like a well-protected tourist out here.”


    Itami shook his head and leaned back lazily. “Everyone has their own strengths. Getting what the brass wants done with the least amount of exertion? That’s my skill. You have a knack for dealing with people. Your problem is you want to fix everything. Some things are just too big.”


    “Maybe,” Taylor admitted.


    A few minutes later, Yeoman Locke walked in. “Lieutenant? You sirs and your guests are requested in General Hazama’s office.”


    “Right,” Taylor acknowledged. “Let’s go, everybody! Olympus awaits!”
     
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  7. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 26: A Desperate Plight


    Panache was not happy. The news that her intended fiance had been ordered to prepare and proceed into poorly mapped and possibly hostile territory with the goal of actively seeking out the single most dangerous creature in Falmart had not set well. What was worse was the fact that her responsibilities denied her the personal luxury of going off with him. Aenaire was likewise very unhappy.


    “Why?’ She asked.


    “Because Itami and I are the two men most experienced in local contact situations and we’re already both involved. Look,” Taylor said gently. “Our orders are to make contact with Yao and Nayu’s people, scout out the area. Get as much information as we can and leave the dragon slaying to a properly equipped task force.” He touched Aenaire’s cheek gently. “Nothing is going to keep me from coming back.”


    “William,” Panache shook her head. “You have no one to whom you need to prove your courage.”


    “I’m going to come back. I promise. Besides, my mom is coming to Japan soon and if I die doing something stupid when I should be introducing her new grandson and the mothers of grandbabies yet to come, she’ll dig me up and kill me.”


    “If she doesn’t, I will,” Panache promised.


    “See? I have plenty of reason not to get myself killed. And… Aenaire? While Itami and I are gone. You and Galador need to look out for Tuka. Alright?”


    Aenaire nodded. “We will take care of Tuka.” She looked at Aurelia. “Take good care of our Lord?”


    The Bunny Warrior nodded. “With all my strength and will.”


    Nayu watched them, wondering if this was anything like how her mother and father had been. Briefly, she envied them but she reminded herself that her people still waited for them. She and Yao would ride in separate vehicles, the great ‘iron carriages’ the stories had mentioned. Yao would accompany Itami while she would go with Taylor. Taylor had not explained his choice in the matter, though Nayu fancied that Taylor perhaps found her more appealing a companion than Yao, who for all of her virtues, was not so easily sociable as Nayu.


    Taylor looked back at the team assigned to this scouting mission. Their instructions had been to keep the group as small as possible as they would be going well into the territory of one of the Empire’s neighbor states, a nation still technically in conflict with the Pacific Allies but under the circumstances, that could not be helped until an official of appropriate rank could be contacted to discuss that nation’s exit from the war. General Hazama had some inkling just where such a person might be found and intended to have a talk with him soon but that was information two junior officers did not need to know for now. The mission would be conducted by two vehicles and nine individuals: Lieutenants Taylor and Itami, Nayu and Yao, Lelei La Lelena acting as mission translator, and the Apostle, Rory Mercury who had merely told everyone it served her purpose and theirs for her to go, although Taylor still didn’t quite get the point about the ‘blood pact’ Rory had made with Itami, claiming that his soul would belong to her if Youji died now. Yeoman Locke would drive the second vehicle, an M1152 ECV, and joining her, Nayu, Aurelia and Lieutenant Taylor would be Mari Kurokawa. Thus limiting the party to minimal size and still capable of continuing their mission should either vehicle become disabled.

    ***​

    With Nayu navigating, the journey which had taken the two Elves weeks of walking took roughly nine hours to travel from Alnus to Schwarz Woods.


    “We’re here,” Yao announced. As Lelei translated, Itami nodded and thumbed the radio circuit.


    “Yao says we’re here.”


    “Nayu confirms,” Taylor answered.


    “Didn’t know you spoke Elvish?”


    “A little. Nayu actually seems to do better at English though.”


    “Roger that.”


    The two vehicles pulled up next to a large outcropping. There was no brush around. The only green was moss. Everyone got out slowly, cautiously.


    Yao looked down into the valley below. “I’ll let everyone know we’re here.” She began hopping her way down while Nayu and the others looked around.


    “Everything looks so dead here,” Kurokawa said quietly.


    Nayu nodded. “There’s no soil for anything to take root here. But then, that means there’s nothing to burn.” Nayu noticed movement on the rocks above them.


    “Ban!” She exclaimed with happiness.


    The older elf lowered his bow just a tiny bit as other elves kept their weapons leveled. “Nayu! Who are these people?”


    “They’re with the ‘Green Men’! Yao and I have brought help!”


    Any further comment was cut off as a huge shadow passed overhead, a guttural roar cut through the air.


    “Meet and greet later!” Taylor shouted. “Find some rocks and take cover!” He turned to Aurelia. “I need your help!” He said and hurried for the ECV.


    “Yes, my Lord.” She followed behind him as, in the meantime, the Elves on the rocks above loosed a flight of arrows at the beast, while Itami raced for his vehicle, grabbing his rifle. Kurokawa and Locke following behind Taylor and Aurelia. As Kurokawa grabbed her medical kit, Locke snatched up both her M16 and Kurokawa’s Type 64 rifle. Taylor grabbed his M4 Carbine and then pointed to the big M107.


    “Grab that. Let me grab some shells.”


    Aurelia merely nodded and took the heavy weapon as if it were nothing. As Taylor took a box of .50 caliber rounds for the Barrett, he called to Itami. “Move it or lose it, man!”


    “Yeah. Just a second!” Itami grabbed one of the Panzerfaust IIIs he had stowed onboard ever since the first encounter with the Flame Dragon.


    While this was happening, Rory had opted to take the offensive against this particular opponent but quickly found her usually overwhelming advantages in speed and strength were easily shrugged off by this huge adversary who sent her flying, snatched up in mid-lunge and dashed into the ground. Only the Apostle’s legendary resilience kept her from being reduced to paste, let alone remaining in the fight.


    Lelei was also finding the beast a surprisingly difficult target. Perhaps the dragon was able to sense a surge of magical energy but for whatever reason, it maneuvered quickly in the air above them. In the meantime, the Dark Elves fired arrows as fast as they could, although some of them noticed as first Kurokawa and Locke and then Aurelia, Taylor, and Itami took cover and chose to emulate this strategy. This saved at least two elves as the monster descended on one of their brethren, standing in the open as they took cover.


    Taylor took the rifle from Aurelia, the carbine laying on the ground at his feet. It would be useless in this engagement. The .50 cal was their only chance to make an impact on this fight. Loading it with an incendiary AP round, he took aim. Waiting for a moment when the dragon’s good eye was fully fixated elsewhere, waiting for the creature to expose the one spot he had a chance to hurt it. Unfortunately, while dodging Lelei’s attempts to engage and shrugging off Rory’s attacks, the dragon noticed something familiar. The two large green beasts… It had seen such creatures before… The day it lost an arm. Bellowing loudly, it came crashing down on one, which satisfyingly collapsed under the dragon’s massive feet. The other it slapped hard with its tail, the truck’s frame buckled against a rock.


    That’s not good. Taylor thought. Suddenly, to his right, he heard the distinctive ‘whoosh’ as Itami fired off the Panzerfaust. The shot went wide and Itami swore as the dragon glared at him. There! Right where the rocket had taken off the dragon’s left arm was exposed and not covered in scales. A shot there would definitely be felt. Taylor braced himself as best he could, took a breath. Steady… He squeezed the trigger.


    The dragon felt a burning pain where its arm had once been. The spot where it was torn off lit with searing agony. This was strange as it had not seen the fire of the thing that had taken its arm, nor the chatter that came with the numerous small stings, The injury was hardly serious, but it hurt This was enough. It had killed one of the small creatures and the two larger green beasts. Satisfied with the results and now distracted by its pain and still confronted by the tiny little creature that was furiously attacking it, the dragon flew off.


    Everywhere, people looked around. “We’re not dead,” Itami breathed.


    Helped to his feet by Aurelia and rubbing his shoulder, Taylor nodded, relieved to see Locke and Kurokawa rising from cover and Rory and Lelei walking up.


    “Torr is dead,” the elf Nayu called Ban said with regret. “But most of us are alive. Thank you.”


    “He dwells with Wareharun now,” Rory consoled, referring to the Tree Goddess who was Spirit of the Forest. For it was said that even though this tribe pledged their worship to Hardy, Wareharun claimed all elves as her children.


    Taylor picked up the Barrett. Aurelia held out her hand, her eyes broking no argument.


    “You’ve had enough trouble with that thing for one day, My Lord.”



    “I don’t suppose we can talk about this?” Taylor said as he handed the rifle to her.


    With a small smile and eyes lit with satisfaction, Aurelia took the gun. “We can discuss this as much as My Lord wishes but this stays with me.” She looked over at Kurokawa. “Would you kindly look to My Lord?”


    “Alright. Where?” Mari asked.


    “Shoulder,” Taylor admitted. “That thing has a kick.”


    “Especially if you hold it wrong,” Itami quipped.


    “Bite me, Itami. I was aiming at a target two hundred feet up,” Taylor defended weakly. “I hit it. I‘d consider that the point.”


    Aurelia folded her arms as Kurokawa examined the shoulder. “And there are a few of us who would like you to keep yourself in one piece.”


    Taylor nodded. “You and this shoulder make convincing arguments.”


    Kurokawa frowned. “It’ll be bruised for a while but that seems to the worst of it as long as you do nothing to exacerbate it. Use ice packs and aspirin.” Kurokawa said, using her patented ‘stern mother’ look.


    “Understood,” Taylor replied mildly. He then looked over at where their vehicles now lay broken. “I hope there wasn’t anything important in your truck, Itami. Because it’s gone now.”


    “Only the other panzerfaust rockets we were carrying,” Itami groaned. Not that the one he had gotten out had done any good.


    “Our truck looks mostly intact. That means the rations and extra medical supplies should be good. Hopefully, the radio still works.”


    “Come!” Ban urged. “The rain will be here soon. I think you could use a warm fire after your journey,” he told them.


    “We’ll be ready to go shortly,” Taylor agreed. “I need to check the radios and make sure they still work. If not, we’ve got a serious problem. Itami? If there’s nothing left to salvage from your truck, then start everyone gathering up the supplies from the ECV.”


    “Right,” Itami agreed and took charge of unloading while Taylor did a radio check. Fortunately, while the radio in the truck was dead, the portable unit still worked. This meant their mission was essentially unchanged: Make contact, scout, and report.


    After loading as much in the way of supplies as practical, everyone followed Ban down to the valley where a visibly relieved Yao was waiting for them.


    “Is everyone alright?”


    “Torr was killed,” Ban told her and the waiting elders. “But the ‘Green Men’ did repel the dragon.”


    “Then if the gods will, perhaps Torr will be the last of our people to be so parted from us,” Elder Bram replied. He then turned to the seven outsiders who had come to their aid. The Elders all recognized the vestments and blade of Emroy’s apostle.


    “Your holiness,” Bram greeted, bowing with respect.”Thank you for coming to this desolate valley.”


    “I have my reasons,” she answered simply.


    Taylor smirked at that and addressed the Elders as Lelei translated. “It is no surprise that an Apostle’s reasons are her own. Known only to herself. As for the rest of us, our mission is to make contact with you, offer what help we can and provide our superiors with information so they can decide the safest and most effective means of killing that creature.”


    “Any of our warriors would give their lives if they could be of use in destroying the Beast,” Elder Drah stated only to get a stern eye from Matriarch Kyas. The two had been philosophical opponents for centuries, with Drah believing that the 800-year-old clan mother was too radical while Kyas considered the 650-year-old junior Elder a bit too cavalier.


    “Yes,” Elder Kemm agreed, “We have heard that you had a great weapon called the ‘Iron Cock’ It is said this is the weapon that destroyed the Dragon’s arm.


    “Cock?” Itami looked confused. “Oh! The missile!” He sighed. “We had more with us but they were destroyed.”


    “That’s probably for the best Itami,” Taylor replied. “We’re here to do recon for the folks bringing the heavy stuff, not make our own Quixotic attack that would probably get everyone killed.”


    “For the future of our tribe,” a warrior named Met said, “We would gladly give our lives.”


    “Giving your lives isn’t the point,” Yeoman Locke answered. “Giving your lives and not killing that thing is the point. My training tells me that a dead warrior is just that: A warrior whose use and potential as a warrior or anything else is now at an end. I’m trained to give my life if necessary to ensure the success of my mission or that in doing so, more of my shipmates survive. But I also trust that my officers,” she looked at Taylor and Itami. “Will try to find a solution where I don’t have to.”


    “Well spoken my dear,” Kyas agreed. The Matriarch studying her carefully. “You remind me of Hodor. Where is your tribe, dear?”


    “Sacramento,” Locke smiled and removed her helmet, the human ears now visible. Kyas laughed.


    “Caught me in a foolish presumption!”


    “Yeoman Locke has had experience being mistaken for an elf, ma’am.” Taylor smiled.


    “I’ll bet she has! Well! These old fools,” she gestured to the rest of the Elders. “Know that I simply HATE to be wrong about anything! So… Is your Clan name Locke or Yeoman?”


    “Yeoman is just my job and Locke is my family name. My given name is Sara.”


    “Well, Sara! You remind me of my second granddaughter.”


    “Oh? How many grandchildren do you have?”


    Kyas smirked, looking at Nayu. The blood status of her first granddaughter being a sore point with some of the older members of the tribe. Kyas not only had not stopped her daughter from mating a human but had given her considerable encouragement. “One.”


    Elder Bram suppressed the tinge of exasperation at the Matriarch’s behavior. He noted that Drah was managing to suppress his own annoyance if barely. This was good since Kyas would delight in any trace of having ruffled the proud Drah. It was problematic enough on those rare occasions when the Matriarch bothered to attend council but in front of outsiders and in the face of the greatest threat the tribe had ever faced, it was absolutely imperative that the Elders present themselves with calm and serenity.


    “So, the question remains. How may we aid the Men in Green?”


    “And what do you want in exchange for helping us?” Elder Drah asked not entirely able to keep suspicion out of his voice.”


    “We’re here to help, not extort your people, Elder. That said, I think what we want? Knowledge and just maybe some friends.”


    “A little knowledge can be a dangerous commodity,” Kyas warned, interested in Taylor’s answer.


    “Knowledge is a tool and like all tools can be used for well or ill. Ignorance, on the other hand, is at least as dangerous if not more so and can only cause harm. So we prefer to seek the knowledge and take the possible consequences rather than choose ignorance.”


    “Wise words,” The Matriarch proclaimed.


    “Perhaps. But even a fool can sound wise,” Drah commented.


    “You’re living proof of that,” Kyas replied with amusement.


    “Kyas… Please,” Elder Bram entreated.


    “Very well,” Kyas turned to the outsiders. “There will be time to discuss our situation later. For now, we should at least offer proper hospitality to our guests.”


    Bram and Kemm nodded in agreement.


    “Then let us welcome you properly after your long journey,” Kyas told their guests. “I may no longer have idle centuries to wait but I think we can spare you until morning. For tonight, eat with us and rest.” The Matriarch turned to Nayu. “Nayu, do go bring your mother. This is an auspicious day and I should like to share this meal with you both as well as our guests.”

    ***​

    Even with limited supplies, the survivors of Schwarz Village were for the most part glad to have a reason to celebrate and turned out in force in the massive cavern that served as the temporary village’s communal area. The language barrier proving not to be a serious detriment thanks largely to Rory and to Lelei’s linguistic knack but also thanks to Nayu and her mother who both had more than a passing knowledge of Imperial English as well as Yao and Kyas who also both spoke it to a degree. Yao taking lessons from Nayu over the weeks as the pair had walked to Alnus and Kyas learning from Indras and her husband before his passing.


    Of course, smiles needed no translating what-so-ever. Nor did the still uncomfortable glances from Elder Drah.


    “Drah is a very proud Elf,” Kyas noted. “He was once one of our best warriors but has always believed in our own self-reliance and avoiding getting involved with the problems of other races. The idea that we are now in the position of having to ask outsiders for help is a great wound to his pride and also, he fears what will become of our people and our culture and ways now.”


    “We’re not here to destroy your people or your culture,” Itami protested with Taylor, Kurokawa, and Locke agreeing.


    Kyas chuckled. “You are kind-hearted but a little naive. Contact with you will inevitably be a catalyst for change. This valley is devastated. Even once the Beast of the Mountain is slain, it will be many years before Schwarz Woods recovers enough to sustain a village. The Empire is rather larger and more aggressive than it was the last time we had to leave Schwarz Woods. Wherever we go will be with someone else’s consent and we will be hard-pressed to simply start from nothing. We will still need the assistance of others to get by, at least at first. Change will come. I tend to think it won’t be so bad. But change can be frightening. and Drah fears losing everything we are to what we must become.”


    “Not everyone is so afraid of change,” Rory replied with a smirk, looking at Kyas and then to her progeny.


    The Matriarch laughed. “My father taught me that ‘if one does not wish to be swept away in the stream, one must understand its currents. Sometimes I wonder if he actually meant that literally as he did enjoy sitting on a rock, fishing but I’ve always encouraged Indras and Nayu to go and learn as much as they could about the world. Nayu is herself part of that change and with the arrival of people such as yourselves, I can only wonder what things she will see during the centuries of her life!”


    Around them, it seemed that most of the members of the tribe were amicably disposed. A few even especially so as the young Komu practically fawned on Yeoman Locke, much to the amusement of some of his elders. Mari Kurokawa attracted more than a little attention of her own, especially from an Elf called Fen. In the meantime, Yao and Nayu were joined by two of their sister Rangers, Seymy and Yan. Both chatting away at length about their comrades’ journey.


    These more forward souls drawing a few disapproving looks from a few of their kin but this hardly dissuaded them.


    As the evening drew on, Taylor found himself having to look beyond his scouting mission. He looked at Matriarch Kyas and Elder Bram. “Where will you go once the dragon is dead?”


    “We aren’t certain,” Bram admitted.


    “Then I have a suggestion...”
     
    waffelmeister and rifern like this.
  8. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

    Joined:
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    Chapter 27: No Need For Dragons!


    The next morning came all too soon as, after a quick breakfast of MREs, the scouting party again met with the Elders and several of the tribe’s remaining warriors.


    “We trust you rested well?” Elder Bram inquired.


    “Yes, thank you,” Taylor answered as Lelei translated.


    “Now, what do you intend to do?” Elder Drah asked without further preamble.


    “As we’ve said, our mission is to gather information. For instance, we were told that you have someone who knows where this thing lairs?”


    “ “Yes,” Kurow replied. “I will be glad to show you.”


    “How far?” Itami asked.


    "About three days walk to Mount Tybe, I was looking for sulfur to fume our fruit," Kurow answered.


    “Sulfur?” Taylor questioned as this seemed like a bad idea in so many ways.


    “It’s a way to preserve fruit,” Lelei told him.


    “Unfortunately, if it isn’t done right, too much gets into the fruit and creates sulfuric acid,” Mari Kurokawa noted. “Thankfully we use much safer means today in our world but in the late nineteenth century, it was quite common.”


    “Right. I better make a note of that. So, uh… yay for chemical preservatives, I guess?” He looked back to Kurow. “Anyway, you went to the volcano…”


    “And I entered a cave on the side of the mountain. It exited out onto a ledge. That is where I saw it resting. As soon as I realized, I left as fast as I could.”


    “Good thinking,” Itami noted.


    “Our ten best warriors will accompany you there,” Elder Bram noted.


    Yao nodded. “Some you met yesterday but today allow me to introduce our finest warriors,” She gestured to the group assembled and named them from left to right: “These are Met, Kurow, and Ban.” These were clearly the most experienced warriors. Following them were “Fen and Nokk,”


    “A deep pleasure,” Fen said, taking Kurokawa’s hand, placing a kiss on it, causing Mari to blush noticeably.


    “Komu is our youngest.”


    “Hey!” the youngster greeted eagerly


    “How old?” Itami asked.


    “One hundred and fifty-four.”


    “Seriously?”


    “I may be young but I can hold my own!” Komu hated being reminded of how junior he was to everyone else. He’d worked hard and he certainly didn’t want to be teased in front of Locke. If the Great Goddess Herself descended to stand among them, Komu knew she would look like Locke.


    “And here we have my sister Yan, Seymy, and you know Nayu and myself.”


    "A pleasure to meet you all,” Itami greeted them.


    “Alright,” Taylor nodded. “I’ll radio base and advise them of our plans,”


    “One thing,” Itami noted. “With the rest of the Panzerfausts gone, we’re kinda scant on weapons if we run into that thing.”


    “We still have the M107 and the TOW launcher on the ECV survived. It’s bulky but we can break it down and take it with us. I’ve got an M320 grenade launcher I can attach to my carbine and 40mm rounds including Pike missiles. You take the M320. I’ll have the M107…”


    “You will teach me to use that, my lord. I will carry it,” Aurelia stated flatly.


    As much as he hated it and wanted to object to this ‘mutiny’, Taylor considered that she might have a point. She could carry and handle it with ease.” Alright.”


    Locke would carry the main radio unit and Komu would carry the spare battery. Yao would carry Itami’s rifle. In the meantime, the TOW launcher was broken down for carrying. Finally, with Kurow in the lead, the group set off for Mount Tybe.


    The first day’s march was quiet and Kurow was able to find a spot near a small stream with plenty of ground cover. They set up the TOW launcher pointed in the general direction of Mount Tybe, the most likely threat vector.


    After dinner, Itami quietly pulled Taylor aside.


    “You seem pretty anxious for us to find that thing. Gotten tired of living? Rory could take care of that much simpler you know.”


    “You think I’ve got some sort of death wish?” Taylor chuckled without humor. “No. I’m terrified of that thing! But what am I supposed to do? Tell Hazama ‘No thanks’ when he sends us out here? So I put on a face and pretend I don’t want to get the hell out of here. This is a job that needs doing and I can’t ask anyone to go anywhere I wouldn’t, so I pretend I’m a brave soldier when I’m neither.” Taylor pointed a finger at Itami. “You put on a face too. You pretend you’re a slacker, a salary thief… But you’ve put in the work. You’re the guy who ought to be running this mission, not me.”


    “Yeah,” Itami waved him off. “But I don’t want to.”


    “Why? You put in the training and work… And that’s it, isn’t it?”


    “What?”


    “In your own way, you’re as scared as I am. You don’t want to be responsible…. Worse than that, you don’t want anyone depending on you. But you know they will anyway so you train and then you pray you won’t get noticed or that they’ll see the fool.”


    Itami looked to where Lelei was talking at length to Yao. “It’s a curse to have someone depending on you. You fail, then you have to bear their tragedy. It’s not fair. Not to them, nor to yourself. It’s better if they don’t.”


    “Besides,” He smiled. “I love my hobby. All this soldier stuff pays for it but really gets in the way sometimes.”


    “I love anime too you know. Just I have better taste!”


    “Says you! Mei Company is awesome!”


    “Meh… You’ve got no appreciation of the classics.”


    “Whatever,” Itami dismissed. “So, when we get to Mount Tybe, what did you have in mind?”


    “I had in mind asking the lazy ground pounder what to do... If he’s up to it.”


    “I’ll think of something,” Itami promised.


    “Good. You know, after this, I’ll never be able to watch a Godzilla movie the same way again. It gives me an appreciation for those poor guys in the little wind-up tanks.”


    “You sound like Kuwahara,” Itami shook his head.


    “What can I say, he knows his stuff. Anyway, I’ll take the first watch tonight. Get some rest, I’ll wake you in four hours,” Taylor told him.


    “Right then,” Itami nodded and went to find a spot to lay down, leaving Taylor to look up into a night sky brighter than his world had known for two hundred years.


    Overhead, the bright crescent of Janus’s main moon, Eunomia shone down and Taylor could just make out the second moon, Irene just a little above the horizon. The third moon, Dicé, a tiny orb a mere three hundred and eighty miles across, would not be over the horizon for another hour or so. As he watched the sky, Aurelia came over.


    “You should be resting,” Taylor told her.


    “Where My Lord and Love is, That is where I should be,” Aurelia said simply and joined him in looking up at the sky. “The three sisters will be in full soon.” she smiled. According to her mother, the night of the sisters was seen as especially blessed in the old faith and that Aurelia and her sisters, Corona and Argenta had been born on such a night. Her father claimed not to believe the ancient Bunny traditions, saying that ‘Twelve petty meddling gods were quite enough’ but she had caught him paying respects at her mother’s altar a time or two. ‘It couldn’t hurt’, he had said simply. Tonight, she felt there was more than some truth to it.


    “Lady Panache is right,” she said. “You have no need to prove your courage. You told Lord Itami that you were neither brave nor a soldier. What braver thing can one do than that which he is afraid of?”


    “Listening in?”


    “My Lord, with these ears, you are fortunate you don’t murmur in your sleep.” She smirked.


    Taylor had to laugh at that. “Point taken.”


    As everyone else slept, the two sat together watching the ancient sky.


    The journey resumed the following morning and over the next two days, the group made its way to within a mile of Mount Tybe. During this time, Aurelia and Yao received instruction in the handling of firearms when the party was camped. This was a contingency in case things went completely sideways and hopefully would not be needed For her part, Nayu asked everything thing she could about the world the ‘Green Men’ came from. Most of the warriors were similarly curious but for Nayu, it was like a part of her blood calling her.


    Now, setting up camp only such a short distance, Taylor and Itami discussed their plans with the group.


    “We’ll stay here in concealment for now. We need to try and get a feel for when the dragon is home. When we see it, we use the radio to report what direction it’s flying, when it comes back and if it returns from the same direction it departed in..”


    Itami nodded. “Once we’re confident enough to believe it won’t just circle back, Kurow and I will investigate the cave he entered when he found the dragon sleeping. While we’re there, I will place a homing beacon.” He showed everyone a small electronic device.


    “What does it do?” Nayu asked.


    “It’s like a call for a very large bird,” Taylor smirked.


    “I’ve never heard of a bird powerful enough to kill a dragon, let alone this dragon,” Ban said.


    “Princess Pina called them the ‘Iron Pegasi’,” Lelei told them, as interested as the elves to see the dragon destroyed.


    “Get in, get out as quick as you can,” Taylor reiterated. We’ll have the TOW on standby and of course, Rory to run interference if necessary.”


    “So?” Itami asked Taylor. “Any idea what General Hazama has in mind?”


    “Need to know and apparently we don’t need to know.”


    “Great. We’re the guys out here and we don’t need to know,” Itami sighed.


    “I’m sure they’ll tell us when it’s all over.”

    ***​

    Alnus


    In the days since Taylor and Itami had left, Aenaire stayed with Tuka. It was good to see Tuka again. It was a happy reminder of simpler days. But at the same time, Aenaire could not help but think of Tuka’s father. While none would have dreamt of speaking of it to Tuka, Hodor had a wandering eye, much as Galador’s father Faen had. The two men were known for going on months-long journeys to ‘trade’ and explore the countryside’ and this continued for years until shortly after Galador turned twenty and Aenaire’s husband simply had not come back. Hodor, at least, never abandoned Tuka. For whatever faults he may have had, Aenaire granted that he was devoted to Tuka.


    At any rate, it would do no good to discuss Hodor’s rumored indiscretions with Tuka but it did make Aenaire wonder if he had fathered any other children. Or had Faen? And did Faen yet still live? Surely if he still breathed, she would deny him.


    At present, she put those thoughts aside. She smiled at Tuka as she listened to Tuka describe the wonders that she had seen in Tokyo.


    “Such things! Perhaps Taylor will take us to see this ‘Skytree Tower for ourselves! He and Itami will be back in a few days after all.” She leaned forward. ‘So? When are you going to tell Itami how you feel?”


    Tuka blushed. “I’m not sure if he really feels the same way.”


    “Or is it that you’re just a little intimidated by the Apostle? She certainly has her eyes set on him. So does young Lelei for that matter.”


    Tuka’s eyes went wide as she considered this new threat. Aenaire laughed.


    “First you must decide whether your positions are necessarily at odds or whether you have a common purpose.”


    “Like you and Taylor?”


    “Precisely. “


    “Maybe… But what would father think?”


    Aenaire paused, thinking about how to reply. “Don’t you think he would tell you to follow your heart? I’m certain your father would understand that.”


    Tuka brightened. “You’re right! I love Itami! Father will understand!”


    ***​

    Near Mount Tybe

    Itami sneezed.


    “Someone must be talking about you,” Kurokawa noted as another day of observation wore on.


    “Hmmm?” Rory inquired with a tilt of her head. Lelei also looked up with interest. Even Yao had a curious expression.


    “It’s an old superstition,” Mari noted. “That when you sneeze, it means someone has been talking about you. I can’t imagine who that might be though,” Kurokawa indulged in the opportunity to tease Itami.


    “I think we know,” Taylor smirked.


    Itami squirmed uncomfortably. “So? Um… Today seems to be going just like yesterday and the day before it. I think Kurow and I can scout the cave in the morning if everything stays constant.”


    “Right. You just remember not to hang around one second more than absolutely necessary.”


    “Yeah, yeah. You know, I think I’m older than you are.”


    “Older but not necessarily wiser,” Taylor smirked.


    “Ha.”


    “Anyway, Starbase seems to be especially interested in any behavioral changes observed today.”


    “They've already initiated .whatever it is they are planning,” Itami concluded.


    “Safe Bet. They probably want to make sure they can surprise that thing. They only get one first shot after all.”


    “Yeah. They mess that up, we’re in real trouble,” Itami replied.


    “Well, let’s hope not. I kinda have plans.”


    “So do I,” Itami answered. “And they start with not being killed by a dragon.”


    At this time, a haughty laugh cut through the air behind them. “Then I suggest you run now mortal.”


    “Giselle!” Rory exclaimed.


    “Surprised to see me, sister? You’re supposed to become My Queen’s wife. Yet, you so casually touch the skin of those dirty humans and also let them touch you. Don’t you think that’s unbecoming?


    “I will never marry Hardy!” Rory answered with all conviction.


    “And yet, for some reason, you wait here so close to My Queen’s domain. You really are a tease.”


    “Um…” Itami began. “Who are you?” Taylor groaned. Just as with Rory, Lady Octavia had mentioned the name, Giselle. The blue-skinned Draconian confirmed this promptly.


    “I am Giselle! Apostle of Hardy And my Queen has directed me to bring Sister Rory.” She advanced menacingly with her weapon at the ready.


    “Go back home, Giselle. As you can see, we’re busy. Of course,” Rory said pointing her own weapon. “If you really want to fight me, I will oblige you and grant you the defeat you deserve.”


    Giselle laughed. “Normally, I would agree with you. That’s why I brought my new pets.” She raised her scythe and two large dragons landed behind her.”


    “Newborn dragons!” Yao exclaimed in alarm, realizing where they must have come from.


    “I had to wake the Ancient Flame Dragon to make it bear eggs so I could tame them,” Giselle said more impressed with her own exertions and ingenuity than concerned over any wider consequence of her actions. “With them by my side, we’re stronger than you sis.”


    “YOU woke the Flame Dragon?” Yao demanded even as the other warriors of her tribe looked on.


    Lelei nodded. “It would seem so.” An undercurrent of anger suppressed beneath those words as she thought about the lives taken by the creature.”


    “Why did you do this to our tribe?” Yao exclaimed. “We, who have been always sincere in our thanks and prayers to Hardy! Why?”


    “The Apostles don’t hold any particular compassion for mortals,” Rory answered. “Including me,”


    “Exactly,” Giselle agreed. “Elves and humans have no business butting into our affairs.”


    Taylor threw a quick look at Itami. “Everyone, stand down,” he said carefully, slowly stepping back. “An Apostle against an Apostle is a fair fight. Not our place to get in the way.”


    “That’s right, mortal. Leave and spare your lives this day,” Giselle smirked


    “Aurelia? Big gun on blue. Lelei check red. Itami… get your Toes moving. Everyone else, back up slowly. We wouldn’t want to upset the little ones. That would be bad.” He looked to Rory, pulling out a cinq. “We’re betting on you. But I’d open it up if I were you”


    “Very wise,” Rory smirked reading their intent, then looked at Giselle. “Shall we begin?" Rory opened with a rather impressive leap over and behind Giselle. “A bit more room is better.”


    “Towato! Mowto! Get her! Don’t go easy on her,” Giselle ordered, directing her pets forward at Rory.


    As expected, Giselle now completely dismissed the presence of the mortals behind them as being irrelevant. With Aurelia hefting the big Barrett M107 as if it were nothing, Taylor carefully guided her aim. “Careful, aim for where the back of the head meets the neck. Take your time. They don’t even care we’re here.” Aurelia didn’t even nod. She simply concentrated on her target. She squeezed the trigger and Towato simply dropped like a puppet with its strings cut.


    Before it could even register in Giselle’s mind that something was seriously wrong, Lelei slammed a blast of energy into the red dragon with as much power as the mage could muster, stunning Mowto, which roared in rage. A moment later, there was a roar as something sped away from Itami, a white blur on trails of fire streaking towards the drake. Had it been a clean hit, the young dragon certainly would have been killed outright. As it was, the missile impacted against the left wing rather than square in the body or head, staggering it and causing it to bellow in pain, the wing badly shredded. Seeing Mowto so badly hurt, Giselle’s eyes went wide


    “You! How dare you defy a god!”. She lunged at Itami, intent on cutting him in half and reaving his soul, only to have her blow parried by Rory while Lelei continued to blast at the wounded dragon, with Locke and Kurokawa joining in with rifle fire.


    Ban was the first of the Dark Elves to react to the unfolding scene. “Arrows!” The ten Elven warriors launched a ragged volley at Mowto as Aurelia shifted targets to the now badly injured Mowto, hitting it repeatedly before another blast from Lelei finished it for good.


    In the meantime, Rory quickly drove the stunned Giselle into submission. Hardy’s Apostle looked at Taylor with disbelief. “You said Apostle versus Apostle was a fair fight!”


    “I did. I didn’t say I thought Apostle versus Apostle and two dragons was a fair fight.”


    “Run home now Giselle,” Rory told her. “I’m done playing games today.” She pointed her Halberd at the Draconian Apostle. “Tell Hardy I’m NOT interested.”


    Giselle grimaced, knowing she was out of options. “You win today but I WILL be back!” She ran off.


    “Shit!” Taylor swore.”


    “What?” Itami asked. “We did it!”


    “Yeah. We killed TWO baby dragons right next to our observation post within a mile of a Giant MOTHER dragon’s nest.”


    “Crap!” Itami realized. “Assuming it comes back the same time as yesterday and the day before, we’ve got three hours to do something before it comes home.”


    “Locke! Get on the radio. We need to let the higher-ups know what just happened. The rest of us need to start breaking down our little camp.” Taylor looked over at Kurow. “We need to hurry up and move before the big one comes back. We’ll move to that one spot you showed us near that lake. The view isn’t quite as good but it’s sheltered and since we might be waiting a few extra days, we can fish.”


    “Wasn’t one of the other reasons we decided against that spot was because the dragon liked to circle around there in the morning?” Itami noted.


    “Yep. But it’s our next best choice. Besides, if it is back to circling the lake in the morning, it could be a sign that it is settling back into a normal posture.”


    “Agreed.” Then Itami remembered an old trick for concealing the scent of their sweat. “Somebody get a large bag. Fill it with as much ash from our campfires as possible. When we get to where we’re going, everyone needs to rub ash on their skin to cover our sweat”


    With a certain urgency to their movements, the group hurried the five miles to the new observation site and set back up with plenty of time to spare before the Ancient Flame Dragon returned. As a matter of precaution, their new location was out of direct sight from the old one. This brought scant comfort as for hours they heard the huge dragon shriek angrily as it flew, searching for something to kill. Everyone simply kept their heads down and waited. Covered head to toe in ash, no one wanted to be alone or to move an inch more than necessary until well into next morning after the beast was seeing flying off, presumably to feed. And until then any conversation was in very hushed tones.


    Once ‘Mother’ had flown off, some wary movement resumed as everyone returned to keeping a lookout. In this atmosphere, some normal conversation resumed.


    “It’s been eight days since we left Alnus,” Taylor noted idly to Aurelia. “My mom is due to fly in from the States. Assuming no one has to try explaining why I’m not there, it’s going to be fun.”


    “I look forward to meeting your mother, My Lord,” Aurelia noted. “And I know that Aenaire and Lady Panache are looking forward to it as well. Lady Octavia has also long anticipated that day.”


    “Well, with all of you looking forward to that, who am I to let a two-hundred and eighty-foot tall dragon get in the way?”


    “My lord is most wise.”


    Finally, after two more days of waiting, Itami and Kurow were ready to scout the cave and place the beacon. While inside the cave, Itami reported the remains of Giselle’s dragon eggs, as well as a veritable armory of weapons and armor, none of which had apparently done its owners any avail. They were then instructed to wait for the next morning when an M577 Command vehicle would reach their position. Upon arrival, the pair were surprised to meet a team of United States Air Force RPA pilots with a Marine escort. Captain Willis filled them in.


    Taylor glanced back at Rory amused. “MQ-9 Reaper hmm?” The Reaper was currently the largest UCAV or Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle in the US inventory, capable of carrying almost two tons of ordnance.


    “That’s right Lieutenant. We’ve actually had our bird in the air for sixteen hours now, waiting for word if our target was reacting to us. A couple of JASDF F4s have been rotating top cover for us just in case.”


    “But I thought your Predator drones required GPS navigation? No satellites around here,” Itami observed.


    “That would make it easier but we also have a line of sight system we can use. We can control it by laptop. Completely mobile. But that’s another reason why you folks had to wait so long. They wanted to make sure we actually got here, now that we know this thing will attack ground vehicles like what happened with yours.”


    “Do you have the loadout to kill that thing, Captain?” Taylor asked.


    “Four AGM114P Hellfire IIs and a pair of Five-hundred pound GBU-12 laser-guided bombs for good measure? We’ll get it.”


    “Just make that first shot count. Well, since we’re in the presence of the Apostle known as Rory The Reaper, Rory? Care to bless these gentlemen in their work? I’ll take any edge we can get here.”


    Rory smirked.


    The dragon returned in the late afternoon, settling down for a rest before presumably, it would head off for more hunting in the coming predawn. A couple of hours later, Itami and the others first heard the distinctive hum of a propeller-driven aircraft, a sound no one born on Janus had ever heard before.


    Or not necessarily no one… For over a day now and, indeed, for several hours prior to the scouting team’s encounter with Giselle, the UCAV had been airborne and gradually nearing the dragon’s nest, but in gradual circles, acclimating the Flame Dragon to the presence of this large but apparently non-threatening presence in its vicinity.


    Now the lie to this conclusion would be shown as Captain Willis maneuvered his ship into position. His weapons operator, Lieutenant Jansen studied his screen carefully.


    Standing several feet away, the scouting party watched as two Five-hundred pound laser-guided bombs detonated. An agonized roar cut the air, announcing the dragon had been hurt but not necessarily fatally so. Half expecting this, the weapons operator waited as the creature started to rise, making an angry, pained challenge to whatever had dared attack it. As Captain Willis brought his craft in, Lieutenant Jansen waited until enough of the smoke cleared, then four Hellfire missiles rippled out into the nest, striking home.

    Again the Reaper circled until the smoke cleared.


    “Visual on target. That’s a confirmed kill.”







    A/N: I estimate the hatchlings at roughly Thirty feet. A corresponding Animal would be a T-Rex which is believed to have weighed about 7 tons. Multiply that by 10 cubed or 1.000 for a Mama that is nearly 300 feet tall gives us a 7,000-ton armor plated animal. I'm not saying the two 500 pound bombs might not kill t outright but I'm expecting more of an agonizing wake up call with it sleeping in a curled and semi-protected posture. Once the wounded dragon tries to get up, it exposes the vitals more easily for the armor penetrating Hellfires to finish the job.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
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  9. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 28: Oh! My Goddess!


    After the airstrike, every member of the scouting party made the trip down to the cave to personally see for themselves that the beast was, in fact, dead. This was with the exception of Rory, whom despite having just bested Hardy’s Apostle, was still uncomfortable with ‘entering into Hardy’s domain’. For the others, there was something to be said for seeing this monster lying dead instead of merely hearing it. Lieutenant Jansen and some of the Marines came as well, although somebody still had to stay with the vehicle. Emerging from the passage that Kurow and Itami had used the previous day into what had been the dragon’s lair, the group stood in awe at seeing such a massive beast dead before them. The massive head was fairly intact. The dragon had collapsed forward, which meant that aside from the pools of blood, the wounds inflicted by the Hellfires were unseen. The back was thoroughly blasted and it now could be seen where one of the massive wings had been completely severed.


    “It truly is dead,” Seymy was the first to speak, albeit in a soft voice as if afraid that anything louder might waken the monster that had haunted and hunted them these past months.


    One of the Marines, Sergeant Gianetti, nodded and answered her. “It ain’t coming back.”


    “This isn’t how I imagined this would be,” Yan said. “No desperate battle, no screams of triumph, nothing but something that just… happened.


    “That’s the idea,” Jansen told her. “If we do our job right, the odds are stacked in our favor. We’re not here for a fair fight. We’re not even here for a ‘fight’ if we can help it. We’re here to get the job done.”


    Gianetti agreed, looking over at Seymy and the other Elves, “One of the greatest warriors our country ever produced once said that ‘No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country’. That’s how we roll. We don’t give fair fights to people who are trying to harm or kill us or our friends or anything else we’re tryin’ to protect.”


    “Well, let’s take a closer look,” Taylor said after a moment. He gestured to Kurokawa. “I need a spare syringe and the cap.” She nodded and took one out of her medical kit. Taylor took it and then went to the beast’s mouth. “Aurelia? Can you pull one of these teeth out?”


    Aurelia smiled, ”Of course, My Lord.” Selecting the largest fang, she braced herself and pulled it loose. She was a touch perplexed that instead of taking the fang, which was a massive twenty inches in length, he took the syringe and drew up a sample of the dragon’s blood and capped it.


    “Itami? I expect your government will want at least one sample.”


    “Good idea,” Itami agreed. “Actually, Kurokawa? We’ll need every syringe you have.” He looked at Taylor. “We’ll split them evenly, though I figure the scientists will swear we didn’t get enough.”


    “Screw ‘em then. These are the best samples they’re going to get.” Taylor then turned to Aurelia. “Quite the souvenir.”


    Aurelia smiled. Her Lord was a good man but still had much to learn about the ways of this world. “Yes, and once presented to Baron Kalgi, I expect any hesitation he might have about you marrying his daughter will quickly fade, My Lord.”


    “Good point.” Taylor smiled and took hold of an equally large fang and wrenched it loose and set it next to the first. “This one will be for your father.”


    Aurelia eyed it with delight. “It will be a wonderful gift!”


    “Thank you,” he said simply with shining eyes. “Best to make the most of this opportunity,” he said, selecting a smaller tooth, this one was a mere eight inches. “This one I think will be good to make into a dagger handle.”


    “It will look good on My Lord,” Aurelia agreed.


    Following this example, each of the Dark Elves selected a tooth and pried it out as did Lieutenant Jansen and some of the Marines. This hardly seemed to make any noticeable difference as the huge mouth still retained scores of massive teeth even after all had claimed their prizes. Taylor pried a few mid-sized ones for General Hazama and Colonel Lowe. A final one for his mom as meanwhile, after Lelei took one, Itami took two, one to give to Tuka sometime in the future and one for Rory. Locke also claimed one, although Kurokawa declined to participate. Though she did accept when Fen gave her a jewel-encrusted dagger he had retrieved from the cave floor, its previous owner long since ceasing to have any need for it.


    Sergeant Gianetti; however, opted to take one of the huge claws. “This thing must be over a foot long!”


    “You know some animal rights group will go nuts on us if they hear about this,” Corporal Frost commented,


    “What are they gonna do? Sue us?” Corporal Schley remarked.


    “Probably,” Frost answered.


    “Then we invoke the ‘escape clause’, gentlemen,” Taylor replied.


    “Escape clause, sir?” Frost asked.

    “Yeah. We have the right to make sure these people could escape from this thing’s claws.”


    Jansen and the Marines chuckled at that.


    In the meantime, some had begun to examine what else remained in the nest.


    “Look at all of this stuff!” Komu exclaimed. “There must be a fortune in weapons and stuff here!”


    “As the salvaging party, you and your tribe are entitled to it,” Itami suggested.


    “Does anyone mind if I keep this?” Frost picked up a dullish looking sword with a red stone in the hilt.


    “Of course you may, Man in Green,” Ban smiled.


    Lelei looked at it with a frown. “Not that one,” She said selecting a different sword that still brightly reflected even the smallest bit of light. “Here. This one is safe. Some of these weapons were magically enhanced,” Lelei noted, examining another sword.


    At Lelei’s words, Frost quickly discarded the blade in his hand and then checked to make sure all of his hand was still there, which it was to his relief.


    “They must have thought that armed with magic weapons, they could kill the dragon as it slept,” Lelei observed, glancing around some more.


    “It just made sure they were trapped when it woke up,” Taylor noted soberly.


    Aurelia looked to Ban. “My House would like to claim the right to harvest scales from this creature. Say, ten percent of the total? We also claim the body of the blue hatchling.”


    Ban considered this not unreasonable.”That is more than fair. Of course, I cannot speak for the Elders but I believe they will agree.”


    Taylor quirked his head at Aurelia, curious.


    “Trust me, My Lord.”


    Nodding his assent, he pulled out his cell phone and turned on the video camera to provide a visual record of what was in the cave. As he recorded all the swords, blasted shields, and shredded armor, he realized just how many had died trying to come in here to kill this creature. Literally, hundreds of swords were scattered about.


    “Let’s get out of here.”


    ***​


    After reporting to base, The scouting group was instructed to wait for a helicopter while Willis, Jansen, and the Marines began the ride back to Alnus on their own. The big CH-53 arriving about three hours later, taking the party on board, the helicopter first set down next to the bodies of the two hatchlings, signaling in two more choppers. The second one landing about twenty minutes later, the loadmaster and his team studying how best to secure one of the massive animals in a sling harness while a third CH-53 arrived for the other one, as back at Alnus, two Hino Refrigerated Trucks were waiting to take the remains for examination.


    In the meantime, the first helicopter took off once more, heading for Lordom Valley. Upon arrival, the news that the dragon was at last truly dead was mixed with the news that the very deity they had sworn devotion to had been directly responsible for their plight in the first place.


    “No…” Elder Drah shook his head, stunned. “Why?”


    “Does it really matter?” Elder Bram asked. “The question is ‘Do we continue to give our loyalty and devotion to a Deity who finds us completely expendable?’. If just a week ago, Hardy or her Apostle had commanded us to rise up and kill the outworlders with no mercy, then I would have been the first to draw their blood. Quite probably the first to die in her name also. But we are a people whom our Goddess sees as unworthy even to be used as pawns!” The anger in his voice was manifest. “And for that, we have suffered. We have lost sons and daughters and sons and daughters OF sons and daughters! Cherished friends and companions. And if there had been even a hope that we were not forgotten in our Goddess’s heart, I could say to you to endure.” Bram looked fiercely at the rest of the council. “But now… Do as you will! I and mine will no longer follow the Goddess of Lies and empty promises, the Goddess of Treachery, the Goddess of Apathy and of Contempt!” Bram’s anger lashing out like a fire, searing all it touched.


    Elder Drah looked thunderstruck. He had always looked to the old ways for stability and comfort but that was impossible now. It would be impossible even to remain in their ancient lands, so devastated by the Flame Dragon. Impossible to rely only on themselves and a now shattered faith. “What do we do now?” It was half a whisper and half a plea for guidance from a man who felt truly lost.


    Matriarch Kyas smirked. “Perhaps we should look to someone who was actually there?” She said, looking at Rory who blinked.


    “I; Kyas, daughter of Embir and Matriarch of the Tribe of the Burning Heart, renounce the name of Kyas Haa Nin. From this day forth, I am Kyas Ro Nin. Praise be to our Goddess Rory!”


    Her daughter Indras called out from among the rest of the assembled members of the tribe. “I am Indras Ro Nin! Praise be to Rory!”


    And standing only feet from Taylor, Nayu stepped forward. “I am Nayu, no longer Nayu Haa Nin. I am Nayu Ro Nin! Praise be to Rory!” Beside her, Yao, who had been burning in anger and shaken by betrayal, screamed louder than anyone.


    “The name of Yao Haa Dushi be cursed! “I am Yao Ro Dushi! Praise be to Rory!”


    One by one, the Elves of the Burning Heart renounced Hardy. Each pledging their worship of Rory Mercury. This momentarily left the Demi-goddess just the slightest bit uneasy She had followers and admirers and there were plenty who feared her but she had never sought worshippers. Now she was the Patron goddess, demi-goddess anyway, she thought, of nearly nine hundred Dark Elves. She really needed someone to pray to. Or maybe she needed a drink? Or Maybe just accept her due. After all, while the loss of one tribe would not adversely affect Hardy’s reach and power by much, the acquisition of that tribe was another milestone on the path to Rory’s ascendency, something which in part thanks to Corus, she no longer feared. Indeed, while not ‘worshippers’ in the traditional sense, the fans that she had acquired while in the other world had already begun to awaken her to a greater sense of her own potential


    And after all, with great power came great opportunity.


    She looked over at Itami with a wolfish smile. Being a worshipped Goddess surely entitled her to some indulgences...


    Still, whatever else they had learned, the Elves of the Burning Heart rejoiced in the death of the Flame Dragon, an event which demanded celebration. But the celebration would have to wait as they prepared to evacuate from the devastated land that had been their home. Elder Bram and Matriarch Kyas being the first to pack their belongings and accompanied by Yao, Nayu, Komu, and Fen. They and a few others, including Nayu’s mother, joined the scouting party for the flight back to Alnus for discussions with General Hazama while the remaining Elders began to organize the rest of the Tribe to be evacuated.


    For their part, Itami and Taylor considered their part in this matter resolved. Lelei would still be needed to assist in translating between the Elders and Hazama and Colonel Emerson but they were done strolling into volcanos and facing down fire breathing monsters. Taylor, for one, wanted a hot shower and a good meal and a bed.


    He didn’t quite get that far.


    “My lord,” Lady Panache greeted him with a mix of bemusement and concern as both he and Aurelia were heading for the showers, both of them were still covered in ash and Aurelia was worrying that it was starting to harden in her fur. “Is that truly my beloved or is it a golem of stone I see before me?” She teased. “I am relieved to see you both well.”


    Aurelia gave a slight bow and smiled. For his part, Taylor grinned. “Isn’t it every boy’s fantasy to go off and slay a terrible dragon in the name of his beautiful knight?”


    Panache chuckled. “And hast thou slain the beast?”


    “The beast is dead, milady,” Aurelia confirmed. “Our Lord has claimed suitable trophy of the victory.” Taylor retrieved one of the large fangs taken from the dragon’s skull and handed it to Panache.


    “Aurelia suggested this might help dispel any reservations your father might have about his beautiful daughter marrying a barbarian.”


    Panache inspected the massive fang with wonder and satisfaction. “I agree, not even Baron Kalgi could deny. There would be no other suitor in all the Empire that could bestow such a prize as this!”


    “That’s good to hear,” Taylor replied. “Now, if My Ladies will excuse me? I need to make myself more presentable so I may join you for dinner.”


    “Excuse me,” Taylor and Aurelia recognized the now familiar voice of Nayu behind them. As they turned, the Dark Elf dropped to one knee, a pleased smile on her face, and bowing her head.


    “My Lord, Our tribe owes you and Lord Itami a Life Debt for your work to save our people. From this day forward, I pledge myself to you. For as many days as you will live, I am yours.”


    Taylor could only think one thought. Oh crap...



    ***​




    After their meeting with General Hazama and his deputies, Elder Bram threw a quizzical look at Kyas.


    “Are you sure about this?”


    “Oh, definitely. We’re too few in number to survive without a greater connection to the outside world and some true allies. To whom shall we turn? I suppose we could all simply migrate to the Great Northern Forests. But their leaders make Drah look radical in his thinking! They would absorb us and then? Then they would wait and shut their eyes to everything beyond the trees. I think we’ve learned this is a foolish path,” Kyas considered. “We know that allying with the Empire or one of its client states would see us consumed as they have other races. Our warriors expended for the glory of the Empire.”


    “How do we know these new humans will be any different?” Bram questioned.


    “We don’t. What we do know is that they are incredibly powerful and they know little of our world. We will offer to guide them. Show them we can be good friends. And Nayu and Yao will hopefully be able to learn from them and help forge strong ties that will be needed for our survival.”


    “Why did you choose Yao and Nayu?"


    Kyas smiled gently. “Sometimes, things need a bit of a push,” she paused and sighed. “Yao has had a difficult path. She has had such sorrow that even some of our own people have come to see her life as cursed. Even Yao herself believes this I think. Certainly, no man among our tribe dares to ask for her hand even though she is possibly the best warrior and a very beautiful young lady. Yet, this Itami seems to have a knack for turning misfortune into triumph. Even just a few decades with such a man might help Yao see herself in a new light.”


    “And Nayu?”


    “Nayu is of my blood and like her mother and like myself before them, she yearns to go places none of us have seen before. I think there may be some truth to the rumors my grandmother was a Sea Elf. Also, I think that Nayu’s human blood may be calling to her. And then there was the way she was looking at Taylor. The last time I saw a look like that was when her mother brought home Nayu’s father. She knows what she wants, I’ve merely given her cause to pursue him.”


    “And if they bear children from these unions? We need to be increasing our numbers, it won’t help our tribe if those children are brought up ignorant of our ways.”


    Kyas laughed. “Like Nayu, they will still be Elves. It takes a minimum of one-hundred and forty years for one of our kind to reach responsible age and that is pushing it a bit. As beloved as their human parent might be, they will be long departed before then, leaving them with Elven mothers who will raise them. Perhaps it will be with some new ways learned but still in the spirit of our people. .And their mothers will have help to fall back upon. Indras would not only be delighted to help Nayu rear a child but I think she still desires to be a mother again herself! And even if these old hips aren’t quite suited for birthing a child, I intend to be around a few centuries more. I will be there to care for, guide, and teach the children that arise from this.” Kyas had a mischievous look.


    “Besides, shall we not invite the heroes of this day to become part of us? In that, we shall also increase our number and scope. Let us see what we can teach the children of this new world in addition to what we can learn. As my daughter would remind you, some non-elves have found our ways to be very attractive after all...”


    Author’s Note


    About name changes:


    The entire tribe has abandoned the middle name Haa, which was in honor of Hardy, for Ro, in honor of Rory Mercury. But with Nayu’s family, it goes further. The former family name was Haa Nin. Haanin is a name on Earth which means ‘Gift of God’. Apparently, Kyas, Indras, and Nayu have rejected the ‘gift’ of their goddess Hardy to become the family of Ro Nin. But it seems one Ronin has moved to claim her master.
     
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  10. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Dear Dad…


    So far it was one of the quieter days at the 407th Combat Support Hospital. Today, after making his usual rounds found Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce, known to all as ‘Hawkeye’, wearing his trademark red bathrobe and sitting in a lawn chair overlooking the camp’s newest engineering endeavor. Well… At least the weather was nice and the martini pitcher was a fresh batch. Seated in the lawn chair next to him was BJ Hunnicutt.



    “You know, this is my first pit digging,” BJ commented.


    “Well, you need to get out more often. Especially for an auspicious event like this! Behold! Rome has the Colosseum. China has the Great Wall. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. But nobody knows its pits like the US Army.”



    “Is that Salkowitz on the left?” Hunnicutt asked.



    “I see you’ve noticed his exquisite mastery of the shovel. He’s a magician at trenches and pits.”



    “Salkowitz!” BJ called out to the private on shovel number three. “Nice form.”


    The Private smirked and nodded, resuming his digging.


    Taking another sip on his Martini, Hawkeye then turned his attention back to the letter he was writing.


    Dear Dad.


    It’s relatively quiet today. That makes it a good time to catch up on writing home. I can’t tell you everything that’s going on. Some of it is hush-hush and some you wouldn’t believe if I told you anyway.


    Take yesterday for example:


    As I’ve said, a whole town is springing up right next door. All kinds of folk from all kinds of creeds and species come here looking for a better life. As I’ve told you, we’re pretty much the first people any new arrivals get to meet. Now that most of the large scale fighting has died down, our biggest threat is disease. With a whole new breeding ground for illnesses we’ve never seen before all around us, we have to be very careful not to let the next bubonic plague get past us. So far we’ve been lucky.


    We’re also extremely diligent about OUR germs. We’re well aware of the potential for unleashing a biological genocide on the very people we’re trying to help. We screen everybody for everything, no exceptions. So far it’s worked. But germs aren’t the only contaminants we have to worry about. Those are just the ones we’re best prepared to expect and deal with. Others less so.


    Coming from our side, the wonders of our technical, consumer society. can occasionally create unexpected problems, as one of the local tavern hostesses discovered. Hair and bath products are a big hit with the locals. Unfortunately, not all hairs are created equal…


    “All right, Radar, show in our next contestant,” Hawkeye had instructed. Luckily most of the cases lately were simple trauma cases. Somebody fell off a ladder. Somebody else with a splinter. Nothing difficult so far that day.


    Radar nodded and led in a Vulpine girl who appeared to be in her early twenties by human standards. She came in with lowered ears and clutching her tail.


    “Sir, this is Dora. She’s a hostess at the Way Inn and Tavern in town.”


    “And what troubles a foxy young thing like you today?” Hawkeye asked.


    “My tail!” Dora exclaimed. “It’s ruined! And it burns!”


    “All right. Radar, show Dora to exam one and we’ll get a nurse and take a look.”


    It seems that she had seen some of her friends using some shampoo from the PX. They really seemed to like the stuff. So she tried it on her tail, hoping to give it that extra bit of bounce and shine. Turns out that the natural oils in her tail didn’t react well to the shampoo. There wasn’t a whole lot we could do. We flushed her tail with water and applied petroleum jelly. Just to be sure, since we were dealing with a completely different species, we admitted her overnight for observation. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything we could do for the fur. We had to tell her she was just going to have to regrow it.


    That’s one side of the problem. Our world has a plethora of wonders and conveniences and there is no way to predict which ones will present unforeseen problems. But it’s not as if it only goes one way as some of our people have learned the hard way…


    “Excuse me? Doctor?” The Airborne Platoon leader asked, approaching the slender white-coated man exiting the dispensary.


    “That’s MAJOR! Lieutenant. Major Frank Burns and I believe saluting is still customary in this man’s army.”


    The Lieutenant hastily saluted. “Sorry, sir! But you are a doctor, aren’t you sir?”


    “You couldn’t tell it by asking his patients,” Captain Hunnicutt commented in passing.


    “Oh! Nerts to you Hunnicutt!” Burns turned to the Lieutenant. “I’m an excellent doctor.”


    “Your secret is safe with us,” BJ remarked.


    “Quiet you!” Burns glared at Hunnicutt and then turned his attention back to the Lieutenant. “Now what seems to be the problem?”


    “If you would please follow me, sir? It’s easier to show you than try to explain.”


    “Mind if I tag along Frank? This could be interesting. And they might need a real doctor.”


    “Har! Har! I’ll show you.” They followed the lieutenant to an area where about a dozen 101st airborne troopers and about thirty locals were gathered around a slender dragonlike creature with pale gold scales. The dragon seemed to be squirming in discomfort but watching them with very alert eyes, lifting its head as the three officers approached.


    “Gah! Dragon! Somebody shoot it! Shoot it!” Major Burns’ instinctual panic kicked in.


    “Calm down Frank!” BJ demanded, looking closer and noting the chest emblem with a corporal’s insignia on it. “Corporal Owens? Is that still you?” Corporal Owens had been a lanky kid from Michigan. A few weeks after the seizure of Alnus, he’d been part of a local patrol making the rounds in one of the nearby villages. It had seemed harmless enough when an older looking woman in a grey cloak approached him and traded him an ornately crafted ring in exchange for a steel belt buckle and a couple of ration bars. It was harmless enough until he awoke the next morning with some of his squad makes shouting in panic and shooting at him after he had transformed into a twenty-five foot long slender winged dragon sometime during the night. Somehow he had managed to get everyone to stop shooting at him and convince them he WAS Anson Owens. Unfortunately, the ring had fused itself into the knuckle of his left hand and was impossible to remove. Batteries of tests and psych evaluations had followed. It had not been a very pleasant time, although at least Captain Hunnicutt had gotten him to laugh at the thought of going to his high school reunion and seeing the guys who used to pick on him again.



    The dragon’s head seemed to sigh. “Captain Hunnicutt! Thank god! Yeah, it’s still me.”



    “Any luck tracking down your cursed artifact vendor?”



    “Nadda, Doc. And now I’m itching like crazy! I haven’t been able to sleep for three days!”



    “You want to handle this, Hunnicutt? Fine with me. As for you, Lieutenant,” Burns said looking at the crowd of civilians. “Just what are all these people doing here?”



    “Oh! Those, sir, are the faithful followers of the ‘Blessed Dragon.’ You see that one there, Major?” The lieutenant pointed to a blue-skinned woman with long flowing white hair and dragon wings.



    “Yes?”



    “That’s Desiree, Self-proclaimed High-priestess of the Sacred Dragon.”



    Said Priestess approached Major Burns. “How dare you threaten the Blessed Dragon! Were it not for His Glory commanding our restraint and patience, I would already have killed you for such an offense!” To make her point, she drew a silver dagger and held it up before sheathing it and handing it to the Lieutenant. "Our Glory tells us we must not commit violence on the Green Men. In His Name, you will be spared.” She then turned her back on Burns and turned her attention back to tending Corporal Owens.


    “Sorry about that, Major,” Owens’ lieutenant apologized. “She’s a might protective of him.”


    Burns’ eyes narrowed. “You just keep her away from me! Colonel Potter is going to hear about this!” The Major stalked off.


    Hunnicutt shook his head. “I wouldn’t worry about him.” He studied the Corporal’s skin for a minute. “Owens, I think I know what your problem is.”


    “What’s wrong with me, Doc?”


    “You’re molting.”


    “Molting?”


    “Yep! We’ll have to measure you again but I think you might have just had a growth spurt. All that milky skin you’ve got? All that has to come off. Then the itching should stop.”


    So the unexpected surprises go both ways.


    Anyway, thinking of Frank Burns reminds me of a man more appreciated in his absence… Or perhaps in Frank Burns’ presence, Henry Blake. Henry has been sent to a place called Italica. It’s a nice place and most of the locals are fairly friendly after we kept a small army of thugs from ransacking the place. The International Science Mission is there with the consent of Countess Formar, who is all of eleven years old but has a lot of devoted folks looking out for her.


    At any rate, Henry is there helping to provide the kind of medical care the locals can’t provide for themselves and also smoothing things out ahead of time if the Army decides to send the whole outfit out that way. Henry’s made a pretty good impression on everyone, particularly Miss Kaine. She’s the head of Countess Formar’s staff. Think Margaret Thatcher but with warmth. Henry and Kaine appear to have become good friends. Nothing exciting, he’s a devoted family man. That’s part of what’s great about Henry, but the other day, Kaine found out that Henry’s wife just gave birth to their fourth child. (It’s a boy, by the way,) and arranged a little celebration. It’s the sort of thing that shows how people from literally different worlds can come together as friends. Maybe if more of us living in the one world could just choose to do the same.

    Inevitably, not all relationships stay in the ‘friends’ category, no matter what the official line may be.


    Henry Blake looked at Kurata with a resigned expression. “Sergeant,” he said looking from Persia to Katrine and back to Kurata. “Mind telling me how you got all those scratch marks? I doubt you were in a gardening shed, so those can’t be from a dozen rakes which just happened to fall on you.”


    The young sergeant shrugged helplessly.


    “He’ll be alright, won’t he?” Persia asked with concern. Katrine leaning forward with equal interest.


    “I’ll prescribe an antibiotic cream. You girls can help the sergeant apply it on all those scratches,” Blake told them. “They’ll heal but if I were you, I’d be careful around lawn equipment from now on, sergeant and also, I’d be really careful never to make any rakes angry at you if you know what I mean.”


    So all’s fair in love and war, provided you can tell the difference I guess.

    Speaking of relationships stretching across the worlds brings me to Specialist Parna. We’re actually making some progress on her situation. I won’t get too far into the details here but it looks really promising that we can fully regrow her severed ear.


    With her mother, Calliope watching, Colonel Potter lifted up the little Bunny Girl so she could look into the eyepiece of the comparison microscope. “Alright, Ariel. See that? On each side is a skin sample from Miss Parna’s ear. On the right side, we put in some cells from your ear. See how much bigger and livelier that piece is? That’s because your cells have made that sample want to grow and fix itself!”


    “She’ll get her ear back?” Ariel asked.


    “I’m sure of it. There is a little bit of stuff we want to check on to make sure it works like we want it before we tell Miss Parna so we need you to keep this a secret just a little longer. Just between us, okay?”


    “I promise!”


    “Good girl.”


    Thanks mainly to a little girl named Ariel and a pet rabbit named Fluffy, we have a real chance to restore some of the pride of an entire race. Looks like we might be doing some good in spite of ourselves. A lot of people around here need help. Doesn’t matter whether they’re human or Elves or Vulpines, or Bunnies, or any of at least half a dozen other species, they’re all people just trying to survive. The hardest cases are the children. There’s more than a few who have lost their parents. One guy who’s determined to make a difference on that score is Trapper John. There have been three kids, in particular, two boys and their little sister. They were actually part of the first group of refugees here. Their parents were killed in a dragon attack. Trapper has been leaping through hoops trying to get permission to adopt these kids. At first, he was a little worried about what his wife would think but according to Trapper, it seems she and their daughters are almost as excited as he is. But seeing as how last week, the last piece of red tape finally resolved itself, we all decided to throw a little fundraiser to help pay for the expenses so Trapper's family can come to Tokyo and take home its new members.


    “And now to introduce a man who deserves no introduction,” Hawkeye said standing in front of the crowd of celebrants, “I give you John Francis Xavier McIntyre! Come on up Trap!” Trapper stepped up with a martini in hand. “Come on there Trapper! Say a few words to all the folks out there!”


    Near the door, behind most of the crowd, BJ noticed Major Winchester leaning against the doorframe with an odd expression, observing but not partaking.


    “Join the party, Charles! You just might smile and I even promise not to tell!”


    “Thank you but no, Hunnicutt. I shan't be staying for long. I see no reason to assault my palette with gin swill when I have a perfectly good bottle of Cognac in my quarters. But do enjoy yourself Hunnicutt and give my best regards to McIntyre. I will admit it looks like this gathering will be most successful.”


    “Alright then, suit yourself!” BJ remarked, turning his attention back to the festivities.


    Winchester smiled now that eyes were elsewhere. From his billfold, he withdrew a treasury note he had been given by his father the day he was accepted into Harvard. It had been a proud gift from a father to his son but now the time was right to gift it to another. He folded the bill with its portrait of Grover Cleveland and deposited it into the collection bottle beside him, and left.


    We deny it but most people want to do right by others, even if they won’t admit it sometimes.


    On the subject of people doing right by others brings me back to Dora, our hostess with the tail problem. It turns out that Radar wasn’t satisfied with the limits of medical science. So he decided to try looking for another solution to the problem.


    Having finished the latest batch of papers in his ‘in’ box, Radar dialed his daily call to Klinger to discuss anything that might be needed in Italica. Once the official part was done, the two took time to catch up on everything else.


    “You should have seen it! The poor girl was sobbing and crying. She was completely humiliated!”


    “And they can’t do nothin’ for it?” Klinger asked.


    “Nothing. She’s gonna have to regrow it. It was like when my Aunt Gertrude got a perm burn! She had to wear a wig for months before it grew out again.” Radar paused. “That’s it!”


    “What’s it?”


    “If we can’t make the tail grow back faster, then maybe we can find some way to cover it up, so she doesn’t feel so embarrassed. But… no… I don’t know what I’m gonna find for that.”


    At the other end, Klinger grinned. “Remember how I told you how my Great Uncle got out of Korea, and how my ma sent part of his collection if I ever got that desperate?”


    “You’re not getting that desperate, are you?”


    “Not yet anyway, though it’s tempting sometimes. But anyway, my Great Uncle had a beautiful fox fur stole in there! You could take that and make it into like a slipcover for her tail.”




    “Klinger! You’re a genius!”


    “I’m not just another pretty face you know. So all I ask is tell me how it works and if she likes it, see if she’ll pose for a couple of pics with it.”


    “Will do Klinger! Thanks again!”


    So, after a few hours sewing and then with Parna taking over the stitching to save Radar from serious blood loss, the two of them presented Dora with her new tail. To say she was ecstatic would have been an understatement.


    “For me? Thank you! It’s beautiful! It’s even more beautiful than my sister’s tail!” Dora happily embraced both Parna and Radar, hugging them both happily. “This is wonderful!” She let them slip it over her damaged tail and button it secure. She then wiggled it around. “It fits perfectly! Oh! Thank you! I love you both forever!” She exclaimed, hugging them both again.


    Just goes to show that while medicine has its limits, the depths of compassion and ingenuity can be limitless.


    Hawkeye looked up from his writing to see that the digging had stopped.


    “It’s ready?”


    “It’s ready,” BJ confirmed and pointed to where Desiree was directing several of the followers of ‘The Sacred Dragon’ as they unloaded a wagon filled with several barrels. BJ and Hawkeye strolled over, noticing that whatever was in the barrels had a slightly fruity odor to it.


    “Is this it?” Hawkeye asked.


    “Yes!” Desiree said proudly. “It’s an old family recipe! My mother and grandmother mixed it for me when I was little. I remember how awful those molts were! I should have realized the source of Our Glory’s distress!”


    “I’ll go get Corporal Owens,” BJ offered as the faithful began filling the pit with the viscous mixture.


    By the time BJ returned with Owens, the pit was completely full.


    “What is it?” Anson asked as he stared at the pit. Desiree beamed.


    “It is an old family remedy! Your Glory should soak in this while I scrub the old skin away. The mixture will soothe the itching and loosen the old skin while adding moisture to the new skin. It is very relaxing!”


    “Well, go on, corporal! It looks to be just what the doctor ordered.” Hunnicutt prompted to Owens, who nodded his massive head and slipped into his bath.


    “Ooh… Wow! This is great! It’s working already!”


    “That is as it should be, Glorious One!” Desiree said as she climbed up on his head and began to scrub, smiling in satisfaction as she scrubbed away the old skin and revealing a brightly golden glistening coat beneath.


    Of course, all of this drew attention and a small crowd, inevitably drawing the attention of Major Burns.


    “Just what is going on here?” Burns demanded.


    Desiree glared at him from atop Corporal Owens. “Silence! This is a sacred ceremony! If you wish to observe then you will show respect.”


    Intimidated, Burns turned to Pierce and Hunnicutt. “Really? How could you two allow this? Imagine what Father Mulcahy would say!”


    “You can ask him yourself, Frank,” Pierce said. “Here he comes now,” Hawkeye pointed to the unit priest, who was watching with interest as he walked up.


    “Father!” Burns protested. “I’m certain you must be as appalled by this as I am!”


    “Actually, Major, this is reminiscent of the Washing of Feet, albeit on a grander scale.”


    Burns leaned forward as he noticed one particular detail. “Is she… topless?”


    “And bottomless,” Pierce noted with a smirk.


    “I could really start to envy that guy,” BJ smirked.


    “Ordinary cloth is too coarse to touch the Glorious One until after the new layer of skin hardens.” She turned her attention back to the task at hand. “Just relax, Glorious one. Your faithful will provide!”


    Like I was saying, today has been pretty quiet. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring but hopefully, it brings us all a day closer to coming home. Hope to hear from you soon.


    Love, Hawkeye.


    A/N:

    Dora on the eve of disaster
    [​IMG]



    Dora's tail after her accident:
    [​IMG]






    The Fox Fur Stole that Klinger donated...
    [​IMG]
     
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  11. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

    Joined:
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    Chapter 29: Mama Mia! (Here We Go Again!) Part 1


    It was morning and the alarm by Taylor’s bedside sounded only briefly before being ruthlessly silenced. Taylor had little doubt as to the finality of the alarm clock’s fate as his eyes focused on Aurelia and the savagely satisfied glare she was giving at the wreckage of her enemy.


    “Aurelia?” Taylor spoke as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.


    “Yes, My Lord?” She could not quite get the touch of satisfaction out of her voice.


    There just wasn’t any fighting it and besides, it had been a cheap alarm anyway. “Nicely done.”


    “Thank you, My Lord.” The smirk was evident in her voice.


    Still, it was time to disassemble the tangle of bodies as everyone started to rouse. At the center of it all, Taylor couldn’t move until enough of the rest of the pile got up. Aurelia was naturally already up. She walked over to the remains of the alarm clock and after giving one last satisfied look, scooped it up and unceremoniously dropped it in the trash. Aenaire now slowly got up, gently waking her son.


    “Galador, time to get up now. We have a busy day ahead!”


    Her son nodded and came alive as if someone had flipped a switch, much in the same fashion that children greet any anticipated day.


    Then Panache stood up. She needed to check the polish on her armor. She had debated between the blue and gold formal dress of the Rose Order or the highly polished ceremonial armor which she had, at last, managed to bring with her. In the end, the armor won out. And Panache was glad for it. The formal dress would be packed anyway, just in case, but so would some more comfortable clothing.


    And Nayu…


    Honestly, Taylor didn’t remember getting many, if any, words out after Nayu had made her declaration of devotion before Panache had firmly instructed that Aurelia should see to herself and Taylor getting a good shower while she and Nayu went to see Aenaire. Pretty much by the time Taylor caught up with everyone, he was told that Nayu’s presence was acceptable for now. Aurelia nodding in agreement and then the four ladies all acting as if it was no longer a matter.


    Nayu stood, straightening herself up and headed to the room next door where she was certain that her mother and grandmother had been listening in. She was glad that everyone was feeling more relaxed around each other now, especially Galador, as it was with her son in mind that Aenaire had consented to Nayu joining the House. If anything happened to Aenaire, she would now hopefully rest assured that Nayu would raise Galador in a stable home.


    At any rate, knocking on the adjoining door, Nayu found her mother Indras and Grandmother Kyas trying and failing to look innocent.


    “We’ll be more than happy to look after the little one tonight, dear,” Indras purred.


    “I’m sure that won’t be necessary but thank you all the same,” Nayu replied drily. “And try to be on your best behavior, mother, grandmother, please?” We’re supposed to meet Taylor’s mothers. I want to make a good impression.”


    “Oh, dear!” Kyas smiled. “We’re always on our best behavior!”


    “That’s what worries me,” Nayu sighed. “Come on. Let’s get ready…”



    Of course, for Itami and the rest of Third Recon, it was back to business as usual. Princess Pina had sent word that she was ready to receive the Japanese Emissary, Koji Sugawara and the American Special Ambassador, William Russell at the Jade Palace and it was time to escort them discreetly to Sadera, where Pina hoped to persuade certain Pro-war Senators to reevaluate their continued support for the war and convince them to open a formal dialogue to negotiate peace with Japan. Third Recon would handle the escort detail as well as the delivery of certain materials to Her Imperial Highness. As they approached Sadera, they would rendezvous with Hamilton and a detail of Pina’s knights, who would escort the diplomats the rest of the way to the Jade Palace.


    Seeing the soldiers a bit uncomfortable around him, Ambassador Russell gestured to the case of Manga carefully translated by volunteers at Alnus. “That’s rather unusual reading material, wouldn’t you say, Lieutenant?”


    Itami had no interest in the Princess’s fascination with Yaoi. It was an unfortunate effect of her contact with Risa, Itami judged. What she judged as art was well outside his tastes. Well, he was a delivery boy. He didn’t have to read the stuff. But still, a senior diplomat, a foreign diplomat at that had addressed him with a question.


    “Those kind of stories are not my thing, sir. I’m afraid it’s something my ex-wife introduced her Imperial Highness to. She calls it art.”


    Russell casually picked up one of the books and thumbed through it with a smile as he noticed some of the edits inside. Putting it back down, he looked at Itami with a fatherly smile. “Your eyes look like they’re about to fall out of your head, lieutenant. While I agree it isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I’ve seen much worse things in my day. And art is subjective they say. One man’s trash is another’s masterpiece. And who are we to judge but for ourselves?” He shot Itami an appraising look.


    “So, you’re the ‘Hero of Ginza’. And the locals are calling you the ‘Savior of Italica’. So, tell me Mister Itami. Is it that you like going where angels fear to tread or that you just can’t keep out of trouble?”


    “Definitely the latter, sir,” Kurokawa remarked as Itami mentally squirmed.


    “I’ll say,” Kuribayashi agreed.


    “Good,” Russell declared. “I’ve got no use for a man who deliberately goes looking for trouble.”


    “What about you and Mister Sugawara?” Kurokawa asked. “Aren’t you basically walking into the ‘Lion’s Den’ as it were? While we trust Her Imperial Highness from personal experience, I think it’s fair to say that not everyone will be so welcoming.”


    “Very true, but we’re not looking for trouble. Every step has been meticulously planned out. There’s a detachment of your Special Security forces and a few of our Marines are already in place, waiting for us and there are other security measures in place in the meantime.” They didn’t need to know that Agent Poole, from the Department of State Security, was carrying an emergency beacon in addition to a concealed Heckler & Koch HK45. Also, now having returned from Mount Tybe, Captain Willis and Lieutenant Jansen had their drone, now christened ‘Lil’ Rory’ and carrying a rather risque portrait of the Apostle herself, trailing them, making casual circles at 30,000 feet. They would look for any signs of trouble and if necessary, a payload of Mark 82 mod 7 bombs would create carnage on a hostile column. It was fervently hoped such precautions would prove unnecessary but caution was the watchword for now. In addition, a special unit from the 101st Airborne was also following them with orders to extract the two diplomats if needed.


    “So, what about the rest of you?” Russell asked. “What impression do you people have of this strange world we find ourselves in?”


    “Professionally or personally?” Kuribayashi asked, throwing a wicked look at Kurata.


    “Either way, sergeant. In Diplomacy, both can be very relevant to understanding the folks you’re dealing with.”


    “In that case, Kurata is our resident expert at making good relations with the locals. A couple of them in particular.”


    Kurata blushed a little and then yelped as Master Sergeant Nishina congratulated him with a slap on the back.


    “Are you sure you don’t want me to look at your back?” Kurokawa asked with motherly concern.


    “It’s nothing! Just a little too much sun in Italica.”


    “Right,” Shino doubted.


    “Anyway, Kurokawa has her own boyfriend now,” Kurata replied. “That Drow, Fen that came back with her from Schwarz Woods.”


    “He’s not a Drow, Kurata and I explained to him that I’m simply much too busy to get involved with anyone right now. We’re friends,” she said simply. And it was true, although Fen hoped that given just a little time, she might change her mind.


    “Well, I’m not your father and I’m not your General, so your secrets are safe with me,” Russell told them as they settled in, just a bit more relaxed for the rest of the journey.


    Meanwhile, back at Alnus, after the mandatory medical checks, Taylor’s party was cleared to cross the Gate to Tokyo. Once more, Yeoman Locke would be accompanying them. Taylor did not expect to need her much but some leave in Tokyo was certainly well deserved for her. Of course, they needed to report to Camp Augustus first. Colonel Mihara had dispatched a van and driver. Taylor mentally thanking her, knowing what a sight their little group would make walking the streets of Tokyo down to the subway. It was enough to handle the shock and astonishment of the five elves in their party without the distraction of others watching them.


    By now, while still awestruck by the massive steel and stone buildings all around them, Galador was becoming an experienced hand at riding in horseless carriages. Knowing the rules, he got in and proceeded to help Kyas with her seatbelt.


    “Cars go very fast,” he warned her seriously. “You always have to wear seatbelts.”


    The Dark Elf Matriarch smiled fondly on him, “Oh! I promise! I will!” The boy was smart and thoughtful, Kyas thought. It would be an honor to claim him and his mother as part of her family. The boy nodded and then turned to buckle his own as Aenaire watched her son with a touch of pride. Taylor then came and checked that everyone was buckled in. With Aurelia helping Indras and Nayu, everyone was secured and Taylor sat next to Panache for the drive to Camp Augustus.


    “The towers rise as high as the trees of Foundation,” Kyas remarked.


    “Yes,” Aenaire agreed but frowned slightly. “Though the air smells a bit.”


    Taylor frowned, realizing things did smell a little different now but he refrained from comment. He didn’t want to sound like he was either sermonizing or selling anything. Besides, he was hardly anyone’s wise man.


    They reached their destination soon and once waved in by the gate guards, they were ushered into the main hall.


    “Welcome home, my son,” Lady Octavia greeted as they entered the hall. Lady Octavia and Taylor embraced as family even as Panache saw and embraced her brother, Tiberius. Panache noted how Taylor’s sister, stood close, almost possessively of Tiberius.


    “So I may write our mother and tell her that you have found a worthy bride?” Panache asked as Lucilla practically grinned even as Tiberius blushed.


    “Not for a little while yet,” Tiberius explained. “Lucilla still wants to join the Rose Order and train as a knight.first.” His eyes glanced longingly over at Lucilla. “I’ll wait.”


    “A wise young man!” The booming voice of Legate Germanicus laughed as he entered the hall, supporting himself on a custom ordered walking stick. While he was in much better shape than he had been, even the miracles of this world had limits and took time.


    “Father!” Aurelia exclaimed in delight. The old warrior beamed at seeing his daughter.


    “You look well, Aurelia! I have been told of your new task.” He glanced over at Taylor. “It goes well?”


    “Yes, father! My Lord is a good man who honors me well!”


    “Excellent! Have you had the opportunity to see your mother since your return to the Empire?”


    “I’m afraid not, father. “My Lord and I were called to help slay an ancient Flame Dragon.” She smiled, retrieving the tooth Taylor had given her. “Proof of our victory, father!” She handed it to her father, who marveled at it.


    ”I await the telling of the tale at dinner tonight.” He smiled at Taylor. His wife had apparently done well in choosing an heir.


    Octavia looked thoughtful. “And the Lady Agrippina, my son?”


    “She is at Italica, training in martial arts with Corporal Nakamura. She has decided to acquire information before going to reclaim her home.”


    “You will still accompany her there, I trust?”


    “Of course and I have not forgotten the need to see to the family’s lands. Aurelia is anxious to see her mother and sisters.”


    “Naturally, I think Videlia is going to love you, my son!” Octavia smirked at her husband. “I have found that she has impeccable taste!” She turned to greet the rest of her guests. “Lady Panache! It is a pleasure to see you again!”


    Panache smiled and bowed her head. “And you, My Lady. I regret to inform you that even with additional aid,” she said, gesturing to Nayu and her kin. “Even with the combined efforts of Aurelia, Lady Aenaire,” Panache indicated the High Elf, “and myself. We cannot seem to keep My Lord out of trouble.”


    “Oh? I shouldn’t wonder. A Flame Dragon! Naturally.” Octavia looked to the fair elf whose son stood fixed to her side. “You must be Aenaire then! It is a pleasure to meet you! And your son!” She smiled at Galador. “It is my honor to welcome you,” Octavia told them and then looked to Nayu. “And Uial! Welcome!”


    Kyas bowed her head “We of the Burning Heart are honored to be here. We are indebted to your son for the survival of our tribe.”


    “There will be time for the tale but I know that my son has a very important matter to attend first. Be on your way, my son! In the meantime, We offer our hospitality to your guests and await your return with anticipation.”


    “Shall I accompany you, My Lord?” Aurelia offered.


    Taylor paused. He had originally thought to pick his mom up alone but perhaps it would be a good idea if his mom got to meet one or two of them instead of trying to introduce everyone at once. “If you want.”


    “I will also join you then, My Lord,” Panache declared.


    Taylor nodded, then looked to Aenaire and Nayu. “Why doesn’t everyone else stay here and relax? We won’t be long.” Besides, Aurelia and Panache had at least a small taste of being in a modern city. He really didn’t want to try taking a number of elves to the airport. The trick was to ease everyone into things.


    Aenaire smiled, “That sounds like a very good idea.”


    Nayu seemed a little less agreeable to the notion. She wanted to see everything and also she desired to stay with Taylor wherever he went but Indras nodded in agreement with Aenaire. “Nayu, you were there. While we await your beloved’s return, we can tell Lady Octavia how we became indebted to her house.”


    “O... Of course,” Nayu acquiesced. Her mother was probably right but she still didn’t like it.


    “We’ll be back,” Taylor smiled as he, Panache, and Aurelia headed to check out a minivan.


    On the one hand, I’m walking with a Bunny Girl and a literal Knight in Shining Armor… Not exactly discreet. On the other hand, it’s Tokyo. We’ll be fine. Mindful of Murphy, he mentally added, I hope.


    The drive from Yokosuka to Narita International Airport took an hour and forty minutes, during which time Taylor was certain that he was being followed, presumably by agents of Japan’s Public Security Agency among others. As he parked the car, he gave a reminder to his Ladies.


    “Remember: None of us are allowed weapons here. Leave it all in the car.” Glancing over at Panache, he was glad they were heading for the ‘Arrival’ gates and not departures. Any attempt to detain her and conduct a ‘personal search’ could get very problematic. Once assured that Panache and Aurelia had both put away their weapons, he led them down the long concourse to the United Airlines terminal. They seemed to be getting looks of curiosity more than anything else. Young children seemed fascinated by Aurelia’s long ears and fluffy tail, while older children and teens seemed fascinated by Panache. Those who hadn’t dismissed it as some sort of cosplay at least, although, of the ones who had, a fair number seemed curious about the degree of detail and seamlessness in the two girls’ costumes.


    That just meant he had to face his mom.


    After waiting about twenty minutes, Taylor spotted his mom: Short with brown eyes and long dark brown hair that hinted at the rumors of Cherokee or Apache in her blood, Her days of being meek ended with her marriage. She well remembered how her husband had told her that he wanted a divorce but since they could not agree, that she was to contest it. He also wanted her to use the same lawyer he had. Instead, she got a better lawyer and countersued. And after being granted the divorce in the countersuit and moving, she became almost like a new person, freer and happier than her son ever remembered.


    And very willing to let her opinions be known. She watched anime with her son so to confound her somewhat older daughter, who thought her too stodgy for such things. She took to cleaning and painting apartments for extra cash and she shared stories about her childhood she hadn’t told before.


    Ruth Taylor was a rebellion waiting for a cause.


    And William Taylor was relieved to see her as much as he dreaded trying to explain how the threads of his life had gotten so tangled.


    “Mom!”He called to her and her eyes lit and she beamed as he hugged her tight.


    “So what’s this important news you couldn’t tell me on the phone?” She looked at Aurelia and Panache curiously. “You didn’t get drunk, did you? I’m not going through with you the same shit I went through with your brother.”

    Luckily, this was in a mildly teasing tone rather than the steel blistering voice she had used on her older son when she informed him that she would not be a servant in her own home.“No mom, I promise. And well, like I said, it’s complicated but I’d like you to meet Lady Panache Fure Kalgi and Aurelia Co Germanicus. And like I said, we’ve got a lot to talk about. So let’s get your bags. What all did you bring?”


    His mother pointed to a fair-sized suitcase and a large trunk. “You made this sound as if you wanted me here a while so I packed my clothes and my knick-knacks and the albums….A couple of DVDs and don’t tell anyone but my machete is in the bottom.”


    “Why?”


    “Just in case.”


    “And the albums?”


    “Son, when you tell me to come halfway around the world so you can tell me something you can’t explain on the phone and say you hope I can stay a while, then it must be about a relationship.”


    “How did you even get this to the airport and on the plane?”


    “I didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Now let’s find a dolly and You aren’t driving one of those little mini cars, are you?”


    “No, I checked out something bigger.”


    “Good.” Soon they found a dolly and loaded the trunk into the minivan. Panache and Aurelia actually loading it in.


    As she got in, Taylor’s mom noticed the sword and other weaponry inside.


    “What’s all this?”


    “That belongs to them,” William indicated Aurelia and Panache, who then reclaimed their weaponry and buckled in. Making sure his mom was set, Taylor started the van and started the drive back to Yokosuka.


    Panache broke the ice.


    “We have wanted to meet you very much, My Lady,” Panache said with a tone of careful respect. William had told her that his mother was not a big fan of nobility but respect was a trait that would go far with her.


    “My lord speaks of you with great love and respect,” Aurelia added.


    Ruth looked at them and then her son and raised an eyebrow and shook her head with a smile. “I ain’t never been a lady. As for ‘My lord’, Son, you know I’m only holding to one Lord and last time I checked, you don’t walk on water.”


    Panache didn’t miss a beat. “I call you My Lady only in respect. You have raised a wonderful son and the mother of such a man deserves great respect.”


    “As for, my lord,” Aurelia said, “William explained the difference between my Lord, who has earned noble respect far more than most born to it, and The Lord Christ. While that is not our way, please believe we mean no disrespect to you or your God.”


    Panache nodded agreement. “Also, as for being termed a ‘lord’ in our culture, You see, Aurelia and I are not the only ones who feel that way. The Lady Octavia believed she needed a good, honorable heir to help protect her family. So she, how shall I say it? ‘Borrowed’ your son and declared him her heir.”


    “Wait. What? Didn’t she have any kids of her own?” Ruth was puzzled. Her son sighed and answered.


    “She has two sons, Antonius and Marcus, but they’re only seven and five years old and her daughter, Lucilla, is fourteen. Also, it seems that her father didn’t think that her husband was ‘noble’ enough so he signed in his will that her heir couldn’t be one of her husband’s children or on her death, his estates will pass to the family of his cousin. So yeah… I kind of picked up an extra mother.”


    “She and I are going to have to have a talk I see,” she chuckled. “We never discussed a lease agreement.”


    Taylor relaxed inside just a little. His mother was making jokes. This was a good sign.


    Panache smirked a little. “Shall the rest of us negotiate a ‘lease’, my Lady?”


    “Call me Ruth," she replied. “And what do you mean ‘we’?”


    Uh oh… Taylor thought. Here it comes.


    Panache didn’t hesitate. “In accordance with the different laws, customs, and traditions of our peoples, I, Aurelia, Lady Aenaire of the High Elves, and Nayu of the Uial, all seek your son’s hand in marriage. We would all ask your blessing.”


    All of you?”


    “Yes, you see, while under the laws of my people, Aurelia, Aenaire, and Nayu cannot legally become his wife, the term ‘concubine’ is not a shameful thing and as long as a husband… Or wife, for that matter… can support them and their children properly, then one may claim any number of ‘companions’ provided the existing spouse consents. And your son has now become very wealthy.”


    “How much is very?” Ruth asked trying to get a handle on all this.


    Her son sighed. He knew that an obsession with wealth was hardly a thing with his mother but making sure her son did not get too big for his britches was.


    “I checked the location of the Octavus lands on a map. Uh… it’s roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.”


    His mother’s eyes went wide. “O...kay!” She then looked at Aurelia. “So the five of you seriously intend to live in the same house and all that? Are …. How well does that work? I mean I’m not against anybody’s race but… “


    Aurelia smiled. “Quite well, actually My father is Lady Octavia’s husband. There really aren’t many males of our kind so many of us actually prefer human men.”


    Ruth quirked her head, studying the Bunny Girl and Panache, both had been polite and neither had tried to put on airs. Panache actually reminded her a bit of herself in some ways and Aurelia was actually quite pretty. “Son…”


    “Yes, mom?”


    “I always used to have a fondness for fresh rabbit back when I was growing up. I never figured you’d develop a taste for the whole rabbit!” She laughed. “So… Son, you mean to tell me, you’re planning to live in a foreign country with more than one wife, some of whom aren’t even human and have kids, right?”


    “Yes, mom.”


    “And they aren’t Christian and you’ll be running a small state?”


    “That’s about the size of it.”


    “William, your Uncle Bill would have three kinds of fits and probably have a heart attack!” She got a sly look. “Can I tell him???”




     
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  12. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 30: Mama Mia! (Here We Go Again!) 2

    As the drive back to Yokosuka continued, Panache relaxed somewhat. Lady Ruth had a wicked sense of humor and an open mind and she had the feeling that had they met as children together, they would have been sword sisters.

    "So," Ruth asked. "How did the two of you meet my son?"

    Panache flushed a little at the memory of her first encounter with William Taylor but Aurelia only smiled. "I am a retainer assigned to Lady Octavia by my father, Legate Germanicus. I was assigned to protect my younger sister and brothers. So we were all in Tokyo when Lady Octavia arranged our surrender. My Lord was assigned to help see to our welfare as non-military 'detainees', I believe the term was. When My Lady chose your son as her heir, she commanded that I would receive the honor of protecting her heir. It has not been easy."

    "Oh?"

    Aurelia nodded and retrieved the tooth William had gotten for his mother. "This is a gift for you that your son took from the remains of an ancient Flame Dragon."

    Ruth stared at the tooth. "And how big was this thing?" She asked her son.

    "Um… Just under three-hundred-feet tall."

    "At least you kept him from being eaten. So good job!"

    "Thank you, My Lady."

    "Ruth," she corrected.

    "Thank you, Ruth."

    "No. Thank you!" She looked again at Panache. "And how did you meet my son?"

    "She had a very compelling pick-up line, mom," Taylor said mildly.

    "Oh?"

    "She pointed her sword at me and said: 'Surrender!' I couldn't exactly turn her down at that point."

    "No, I guess not." Ruth grinned approvingly at Panache. "So? You're planning on getting married."

    "Yes," Panache answered. "As soon as the Peace is signed, something we all hope will happen soon."

    "That's fine. So what kind of ceremony were you going to have?"

    "We really hadn't had the chance to talk about it but for our people, a priest or priestess normally presides. I would actually like a fastening." Panache noticed the curious look Ruth gave her. "Silk ribbons representing the threads of life and fate are fastened between the bride and groom."

    "Well," Taylor considered. "I might ask Rory to preside if you like?"

    "The Apostle?" Panache's eyes widened. "If she would agree, it would be a high honor."

    "You mean that one who told off that bitch in the Diet hearings?" Taylor's mom asked.

    "That's her mom, she's literally the hatchet woman for their God of Darkness. Apparently, she sees it as her duty to send bad people to meet her boss."

    "I like her!" Ruth replied. "Just I want you to remember something."

    "Yes, mom?"

    "I better not hear anyone vowing to 'Obey'. 'Love' 'Honor' and 'Cherish'? Fine. But if I hear someone promising to 'Love, honor, and obey' then I'm gonna start kicking asses, including both of yours."

    "No worries mom, I know better."

    "Good," Ruth answered.

    "Anyway mom, Panache has agreed to teach me the art of horseback riding and how to hold a sword without hurting myself."

    "Is that so? Could she teach me?" Ruth had plenty of experience tending horses growing up in Kentucky. She often wondered what it would be like to be someplace she could just gallop for the sheer joy of it. As for the sword part, well, it had the allure of being dangerous and something people would never expect out of her. Which made it exactly the sort of thing she wanted to do.

    The drive continued with amicable discussion all the way back to Yokosuka. It was late in the afternoon by the time they were waved through the gate at Camp Augustus. Outside the main building, Felicia was waiting for them. The cinnamon haired Warrior Bunny bowed.

    "Welcome back, my lord. The gate guard informed us you had arrived."

    "Thank you, Felicia," He gestured to his mother. "Felicia, this is my mother. Mom, this is Felicia. She's one of Lady Octavia's personal retainers. Is a room ready for my mother? She's had a very long journey."

    "Yes, my lord." She turned to Taylor's mother. "I will have your things brought to your room, My Lady but Lady Octavia has requested if you would see her now?"

    "Well, alright. I guess."

    Felicia nodded and turned to Panache and Aurelia. "Then, if My Lord and Ladies will come with me? Lady Octavia is waiting."

    Lady Octavia studied the woman who entered the hall with interest. The Lady Ruth was small in size but very striking, she seemed to prefer a simple but clean look. She did not carry the attitude of someone who felt the need to impress others but at the same time, she would not allow herself to be intimidated. While she might claim to be of common stock, she was most uncommon. Octavia allowed herself a small smile. "Welcome, Lady Ruth," Octavia greeted."I am Octavia." She gestured to an open seat at the table next to her. "Won't you join us? I've been looking forward to meeting you. We have many things to discuss!"

    Ruth sized up the other woman: Tall and lean but with arms and hands that spoke of someone used to doing work. She was used to being in charge but didn't strike Ruth as conceited. It was a pleasant subversion of her classically held opinions of 'nobility' as a bunch of pompous, arrogant, and lazy cretins who enjoyed power without either earning or respecting it. But then, Ruth had found that Panache was the daughter of a baron and still Ruth found her an admirably strong person of character and ability. Their shared interest in horses was one of a number of things they could relate on.

    Thank you," she said, taking the offered chair. "Of course Ruth is fine. I'm no 'Lady'."

    Octavia smirked. "Neither am I but they call me that anyway." She looked up at Felicia. "Please have some food brought in for Lady Ruth and some coffee. Strong and black?" She asked her guest of honor.

    "Please."

    "Yes, My Lady," Felicia curtsied as Octavia motioned for Ruth to take the seat next to her.

    Lady Octavia gave her husband a mild look and glanced to the door. "Husband," she spoke. "Why don't you and William take a walk before dinner? I will have Aurelia get you when dinner is ready."

    The Legate nodded and clapped a hand on William's shoulder. "Now, 'son', you can tell me about how you fought the Flame Dragon... while the womenfolk plot world domination."

    "Plot it, sir? I think they've already achieved it."

    "All the more reason to accede to their wishes. Trust me, Octavia and your mother, if I am to judge her correctly, will let us know when we are needed, and not a moment sooner."

    "I suppose that's true." The two men walked out to the courtyard. Germanicus favoring his right leg just slightly.

    "Your world is full of wonders, son. Your healers did amazing work healing my wounds."

    "I guess centuries of finding better ways to take bodies apart has given us some incentive to do better at putting them back together."

    "I suppose that's true. We never stood a chance, did we?" He asked frowning at the ground.

    "No. In other places, you might have had more initial success but even in the undeveloped countries, sooner or later, one of the big powers would have stepped in. Even in the worst armpit hole of a country that no one likes, eventually someone would have stepped in and crushed your army because we couldn't allow anything like The Empire to even think it had a chance of going any further."

    "A lot of things are going to change in my world. I'm not sure it will have a place for an old soldier like me." He faced Taylor squarely. "At least my wife has an eye for the future. I trust you will look out for our family."

    "To the best of my ability," Taylor promised. "But I wouldn't hang up my sword just yet if I were you, sir. The Empire will still need an army, one that its people have the skills to support and maintain. And that army will need good, professional officers." He paused, recalling a detail intelligence learned after the First Battle at Alnus. "It was Legate Titian who commanded the Empire's forces at First Alnus. We know you put him in command of your reserves at the Gate."

    "Yes. He was a good soldier."

    "And in some regards, your protege?"

    "He served with me from the days when I was a centurion and he was a fresh optio and my second in command. It is fair to say, we learned side by side, the arts of war."

    "We estimate he had 35,000 men and lacking support. He still fought with ingenuity and courage. If the main army under Senator Godasen had been under Titian's command, we might not have done so well getting in."

    Germanicus pictured Titian in his mind's eye, working his men. Dealing with Godasen. "My friend… a good man lost to foolishness."

    "Your army will need to be an army of professionals now more than ever. I think now, it will be inevitable that when they learn of the losses the Empire has taken, others will try to take advantage of the situation. I'd say it's certain the Empire will be at war again, probably soon. And when that time comes, the Empire will need you."

    "Perhaps. But forgetting that you are my wife's heir, why would the 'enemy' wish for the Empire to have a viable army?"

    "Well, not to fight us, of course, but the Empire controls a huge area of land and millions of people. When countries die, they leave a lot of misery and chaos in the wreckage. What our governments will want after this war is over will be trade and stability. One Empire is a lot easier to deal with than ten thousand warlords struggling for power and control."

    "Point taken." Germanicus smiled. "So you and Aurelia actually killed a Flame Dragon?" He asked, changing the subject.

    "Well, there were a couple of Apostles involved but one was one our side so I guess it all evens out."

    Meanwhile, in the main hall, Lady Octavia ordered libum served as she introduced Ruth to those gathered. She smiled as Ruth studied her plate with curiosity. "Libum is our version of cheesecake. It's quite good with warm honey although I must admit I have developed a fondness for your American cheesecake. I believe William said that you like strawberry cheesecake? I've developed a liking for it myself."'

    "Now and again. I indulge a little," Ruth admitted. As she looked around, she was a bit surprised she actually found herself interested in and even enjoying the company around her. She supposed it was because Octavia and her other guests lacked the pretentiousness she always imagined in 'nobility'. She sampled a bite of the libum. "This is pretty good. I'll bet William has never tried it though."

    Octavia quirked a smile. "Oh? What makes you say that?"

    "He's never been one to try new things. Give him a choice between something familiar and trying something new, he'll always pick the one he's familiar with."

    "Actually," Octavia smirked. "I must admit I mousetrapped him into trying it. You've raised him to be very polite, after all, so I had Lucilla serve him libum she made herself. He couldn't stand to disappoint her."

    "How did he take it?" Ruth asked.

    "Like all small boys when they are confronted with something they really don't want to do," Octavia told her with humor in her tones.

    "Sounds about right," Ruth admitted, smiling at the two little boys happily playing under the watchful eye of their sister.

    "He just wasn't going to disappoint his sister."

    "I wish I could say that was my experience raising him and his brother and sister. Of course, being the youngest child, he simply just didn't fit in their social circles."

    "Did you ever consider having any more children?"

    Ruth scowled. "My husband decided that three was enough so he got his tubes cut." She made a motion of scissors. Frowning a moment at some of the confused looks she was getting, she paused. Gesturing downward, she considered how to explain. "It's called a vasectomy. Basically, he can still um… run up the flagpole but his little soldiers are going into battle unarmed." She sighed, rephrasing. "He couldn't produce any more heirs." She raised a finger in bitter memory. "And then he called and told MY mother, 'Your daughter can't have kids anymore'."

    Several faces flushed in anger that a husband would be that cold. Nayu cast a worried glance to her mother and grandmother, one which did not go unnoticed.

    "He's heard that story and he had the same look on his face as most everyone here. I raised him better than to pull shit like that." Ruth told them.

    "Have you considered remarrying?" Octavia asked.

    "I'm not the kind to go looking at my age. Besides, I'm free. Aside from my children, leaving me was the best thing that man ever did," she said matter-of-factly.

    "Maybe you just need a husband who has already been 'broken in'?"

    "How broken?" Ruth replied in the same mischievous tone as her host.

    After a few minutes of discussion, Nayu turned and asked a question that Panache, Aurelia, and Aenaire were also all curious about. "Did William have many girlfriends?"

    "No, only two… one and a half really. The first one was more of a one-way thing. The girl definitely had a fixation. The other one, he really liked but she… made a different choice."

    "I can't believe there weren't more girls than that!" Octavia replied. "I've seen some of my own ladies in waiting looking at him."

    "Oh! There were a few when he was in high school that were looking his way. He just never noticed. I think he thought the pretty girls wouldn't want anything to do with him so he just never looked." She turned to Panache. "I guess it just goes to show you that sometimes hitting him over the head just might have been the best strategy!"

    Octavia laughed and then waved in apology. "I'm sorry, but that sounds so much like Germanicus when he was young. So very serious! And yet shy around women. It helped that Videlia was as interested as I was. She made an excellent accomplice!"

    "I'd like to meet her!" Ruth told her.

    "We would like that as well," Octavia replied sincerely. "But tell me, although we are most grateful for the results but how is it that a woman like yourself ended up marrying such a child?"

    "Well," Ruth considered. "I come from a place called Kentucky. It's a very pretty place but while some people own large horse plantations, my family weren't so rich. My father fought for everything we had and he made a home for my mother and the three of us kids and his younger brother. One of his older half-sisters kicked us out of our home one wintry night when I was two. But we still had a little piece of land left. So as my mother tried to watch her children and pack what she could at the same time, my father took an ax and he and his brother went out to the piece of land they had left and chopped down trees and built a cabin for his family. No matter how hard life tried to knock us down, he kept working hard and if we weren't prosperous, we weren't destitute either.

    "But, it turns out I was a pretty good student. Passing my classes with 'flying colors'" She laughed. "I didn't know what that was supposed to even mean until William explained it to me that it meant success worth celebrating, 'with all flags flying and all," she explained.

    "Anyway, I was a good enough student that I had a chance to join the Navy and get out of Kentucky. Because I wanted something different for my life. So I enlisted and became a corpswoman. I worked in hospitals, taking care of the things that Doctors and nurses weren't supposed to have to worry about. And that's where I met a fairly handsome man whose family owned a horse breeding farm near Louisville. His family was very rich and he decided I was going to marry him. And then… Then he decided to have one of his Army buddies follow me around, guarding his prize. That's when I understood that I was supposed to be his 'trophy wife'. I would do what he said, look pretty and tolerate whatever he might get into. I decided I wasn't having any of that! He wasn't going to control me. So I found this pretty looking kid from New York and when he got the nerve to ask me out, I let him! He wasn't wealthy or particularly ambitious. As a matter of fact, before he met me, all he wanted to do was finish his enlistment and get back to running the streets. But he was pretty and I thought I could make something of him. I guess I kinda overreached on that," she shrugged. "I have no regrets."

    "I feel you truly are like my sister, Ruth," Octavia told her and then noted the time.

    "Now! Felicia, Go and collect My Lord and My Heir. Dinner should be ready by now."

    "Yes, My Lady." Felicia acknowledged and went to get Germanicus and Taylor.

    As Felicia left the hall, Octavia looked at Ruth with a speculative expression which Ruth returned with a curious look of her own.

    A couple of minutes later, Felicia returned with her Lords in tow.

    "Ah! Our Lord and Our Son have returned!" Octavia announced. "This is very good as Lady Ruth has an announcement." Octavia was failing to hide the smile on her face.

    Ruth stood up with a warm smile and stepped around the table with open arms and embraced Germanicus in a hug. "Welcome home dear!"

    Sadera

    By coincidence, at this same time, a different sort of family meeting was taking place in the Akusho District of Sadera. The heads of the three remaining Crime families in Akusho were meeting to celebrate the very recent demise of the Bessara family the previous night and to finalize a few matters regarding the disposition of the Bessara Family assets and continued relations with their new partners in the Pacific Allies. Speaking on behalf of the PA was a Captain in the British SAS. Two Gurkha sergeants were providing the visible protection for a man who hardly looked like he needed any protection, save his own abilities and the three surviving family heads understood all too well that other hands were watching, at the ready if anyone was stupid or foolish enough to threaten their new business partners.

    "Alright, Captain Harrington," The head of the Gonzori Family began. "We delivered on our word and you quite clearly delivered on yours. The Bessara Family has been dissolved. And with that, we're ready to come to a full understanding with your people."

    "Good. We're hoping that our dealings can be mutually beneficial."

    "They already have been," 'Growler', Head of the Medusa Family grinned a toothy grin befitting his Feline heritage. "Bessara was dangerous to everybody. If I could have found it in the remains, I' da cut his heart out and fed it to the cubs! We may have had to put up with him but no one's exactly missing him either." The heads of the other families nodded in agreement.

    "There is the issue of distributing Bessara's territory and operations." The head of the Paramount Family noted. "Your people took him out. None of us have any quarrel with you taking his territory." He pulled out a map but was stopped by a gesture from Captain Harrington, who pulled out his out map and list. The other Crime Lords were dismayed to see it included assets that even they had been unaware of.

    "Aside from making food, clothing, and medicine available, we aren't interested in running Bessara's smuggling operations. If we need something we can't bring in ourselves, we'll contract out to one of you. The only weapons we'll be bringing in will be for our own use. So you can rest assured we won't be selling weapons to your competitors or anyone else. We do have to maintain our edge after all." The other men nodded in understanding. "We'll make our medical services available to anyone in the district including your people. Wealth should be enjoyed in health, wouldn't you agree?" Harrington remarked, then pointed to one particular location on the map of Akusho. "We claim the Bacchanalian and the Venus as ours. The rest of Bessara's gambling houses and brothels are yours." He then pointed to an abandoned warehouse. "This building is ours. After we finish fixing it up, we'll start bringing in Scotch Whiskey, which I know you've had the opportunity to sample, also beer. Guinness, not that shitty Yank beer." He smirked.

    "Also, if you are attacked, you can call on our assistance, should you require it." Other than that, you already know our terms: We pay well for good information. If we need to do anything unusual, we'll let you know in as timely a fashion as possible. We won't move on your territories. Respect ours and everyone prospers. Agreed?"

    "Agreed," Gonzoria answered with the others nodding.

    "In that case," Harrington said, gesturing to an orderly who promptly carried over a bottle of Glenfiddich and presented it to Harrington who showed the others the unbroken seal and then opened it. "Here's to 'good business'."

    A short time later, Harrington's lieutenant looked at him curiously. "Yes, Jerry?"

    "We're actually going to be running a couple of brothels?"

    "Oh, I know how it all looks, Jerry, but even if the Imperial Army doesn't venture into this part of town, some of their men most assuredly do and nothing loosens a man's tongue faster than alcohol and a lovely lady."

    "I understand sir but I can only imagine would happen if the Daily Fail got hold of this story, sir."

    "With luck, I shall be a general and quite retired before that happens. Sergeant Harkness!" Harrington beckoned to a burly, scarred man dressed in local attire.

    "Yes, Captain?"

    "Good work on that little assignment. Are you sure you got them all?"

    "I've bugged every gambling hall in Akusho, Captain. And every house of ill-repute as well." Unfortunately, the latter task had not been as easy or as enjoyable as one might think since Harkness had to pretend to be drunk and get ejected before anything could develop beyond the requirements of the mission. The gambling houses, on the other hand… Well, there was a reason he'd been chosen for this assignment. "Of course, if the Captain thinks I may have missed a spot or two then I will gladly exert every effort to correct this deficiency."

    "No, Sergeant, I'm only surprised you didn't rob the poor fools blind!"

    "That would hardly be sporting, sir."

    "Yes, well now we can tell Major Nyutabaru and Lieutenant Cruz that they can bring in the rest of their people."

    "Yes, sir."

    "And Horace?"

    "Sir?" Harkness asked.

    "You can keep that twenty percent cut of your winnings."

    "Sir! I'm deeply hurt you'd say such a thing, sir!"

    "Are you saying that you'd never take a fool's money?"

    "No, sir. But this was in the line of duty! It'd be downright unpatriotic to take more than fifteen!"
     
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  13. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

    Joined:
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    To round out the current list of updates are some pieces submitted by readers that are currently listed as apocryphal...

    First Up is "Attack Pilots" by SmileyBlackSun.

    Assumptions...

    First, that VMA-214 gets pulled to support taskforce (I’m not sure if they get a MEU rotation or not, but i could see all the organic MEU forces get brought along).

    Second is that, due to the choke point in the supply line, their would be a buildup of material and units stuck in Tokyo.

    Third, that their is a black sheep somewhere in Japan.
    Also: All of my Omake will be based on activities I’ve either gotten briefed on, seen happen, or read a report about...

    ///OMAKE///

    Attack Pilots

    With a fluid situation beyond the gate, the Harrier pilots assigned to the aviation combat element of the 31st MEU found themselves stuck in a limbo. With their AV-8Bs literally parked in the street, the best the detachment from Marine Attack Squadron 214 could do was assign a guard rotation and find somewhere to bivouac.

    Fortunately, the detachment commander hand managed to score rooms at the New Sanno Hotel.

    Unfortunately he didn’t tell his fellow pilots not to drink.

    “Frank, gotta be either Frank or Bruce” Major Hill muttered as he stared at the farm animal chewing on his room’s furniture.

    Marine attack squadrons pride themselves on many things, their precision of weapons delivery, low flying terrain masking, and willingness to engage targets in hostile skies are what the public relations office push the most.

    Unfortunately they also are proud of a few other things, and specifically in VMA-214, they pride themselves for their hell raising.

    The young black sheep didn’t know the significance of any of this, nor how its appearance was relevant to the aviators abducting it. Is simply was placed here in the middle of the night and allowed to chew and baa as it pleases until it woke the occupant up. It knew that this table cloth tasted divine, and that was enough.

    Major Hill however, knew that this wouldn’t be the end of it. The black diagonal bar that had been struck across this door with a paintbrush told him that much.

    Because if the Black Sheep were anything, it was a bunch of bastards...
     
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  14. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

    Joined:
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    Next is "Good Morning Sadera" by Praetor 98.



    Good Morning Sadera

    Because if someone who doesn't exist can be president, a comedian can still be alive!

    2019, two years after the gate first appeared, the Pacific Allies commitments had mushroomed to more than one and a half million men when it became clear that the gate would not be closing any time soon. What was once a collection of tents and prefabricated huts had transformed into the center of a military and civilian nervous system that stretched over half a continent, encompassing all the former vassals of the Empire and a great amount of the Italica Province and the Western Deserts, having in all, two US Field Armies, one Japanese Area Army, one Korean and one Filipino armored corps, and an Indonesian motorized corps, with division and regiment sized contingents from New Zealand, Australia, and Thailand. A whole city had practically sprouted up around the pentagonal fort that served as command and control for the whole force, and the base received a legion of vehicles through the gate, but today, there was going to be a particularly important vehicle coming through. A man that half the US Army had begged to come, and their collected letters had been presented to the object of their affections, it had been this which convinced him to make the trip out.

    A black Hyundai sedan came rolling through with no fanfare, save for the three officers waiting in front of the HQ building "Pentagon Janus" as it was dubbed. The sedan pulled up to the parking drive in front of the building, and a chauffeur stepped out to open the door for a rather old looking man, probably late 60s. "Mr. Williams?" one of the officers asked, a young African-American Lieutenant.

    "Yep?" the old man said.

    The young Lieutenant chuckled a bit and then snapped to salute, "Welcome to Alnus sir."

    "Geez, you could poke an eye out." Came the reply.

    "We've been expecting you since morning Mr. Williams." The ranking officer, a colonel from the eagles on his shoulder boards said.

    "Well what can I say, I had to sample the local customs, I mean I was in a country where kids watch cartoon women getting nailed by octopuses." This riff on the Japanese anime industry made the Lieutenant chuckle even more, and even the Colonel gave a good natured smile.

    "We are all ready, it's 0550 Janus time, and the broadcasting room has been prepped for ten minutes now." The Colonel said, and with a wave of his arm, gestured for the man to accompany him into the building. The man smiled and they walked side by side with the two lower ranking officers falling in behind. On they walked through corridor after corridor of bustling staff officers and orderlies going about their early morning duties. Finally, after nearly ten minutes, they arrived at the broadcasting room, a twenty foot square room, with a lavish DJ spread and microphones, with a somewhat retro feel to the whole thing as if it belonged to an army 50 years ago.

    "This is it." The man thought as he heard the last of Bobby Greyson's "Fact or Fiction", and saw the third hand ticking toward 12:00. "It's been a while since I've done this. I just hope this is done quick."

    Presently, Greyson, the MC said, with excitement vibrating in every syllable, "Well that's about it for Fact or Fiction, and boy do I have a surprise for you! All the way from the city by the bay, please welcome the silky smooth sound of Mr. Robin Williams." a whistle came on, the transition jingle, and the final seconds ticked away to zero. And then it was time, he switched the speakers to transmit and...

    "GOOOOOOOOOOOOD MORNING SADERAAAAAA!" Williams bellowed, now fully into his new role. "Hey this is not a test, this is rock and roll! Time to rock it from the Delta to the DMZ! Is that me or does that sound like an Elvis Presley movie? Viva Falmart! Oooooh vivaaaa Falmart! Falmart me! Falmart me! Why don't they get the key and start me! Hey, is it a little too early for being that loud? Hey, too late! It's oh six hundred, what's the 0 stand for? Oh my God its early! Speaking of early, how 'bout that Cro-Magnon Bobby Greyson?! Thank you Bobby for 'silky smooth sound' make me sound like Peggy Lee."

    Out at the 101st's Firebase Bastogne, one of the privates had turned on the radio early and when he heard the wave of sound coming from the speakers, he could scarcely believe it, he thought the godly generals didn't truly give a hoot for the grunts, guess he was wrong. "Yo that better be who I think it is." He heard his sergeant say, who presently came ambling over to listen in on the squad radio.

    Back at HQ, Williams was still going strong, and one of his best gags was coming up. "...and speaking of rock and roll, Freddy and the Dreamers!" At a speed comparable to molasses "Whoops, wroeororor the wrong speed. We've got it on the wrong speed. For those of you recovering from a hangover, that's gonna sound just right. Let's put her right back down. Let's try it a little faster, see if that picks it up a little bit." The song sped up, but so did Robin Williams. "Lets put it on 1700 1800 oriver! Marty gifggofofofopfof. Those pilots are going, "Ireallylikethemusic. Ireallylikethemusic. Ireallylikethemusic. Oh, it's still a bad song. Hey, wait a minute. Let's try something. Let's play this backwards and see if it gets any better." Now the song started in reverse.

    "Woh nez nevet Freddy is a devil. Who nez nevet Freddy is a devil." now he gasps, "Picture a man going on a journey beyond sight and sound. He's left 'Frisco. He's entered the demilitarized zone. AAAAAAH! Delelaaaah! Dunanuna! DUN!" He tossed out the disc now." All right. Hey, what is this "demilitarized zone"? What do they mean, "police action"? Sounds like a couple of cops in Brooklyn going, "You know, she looks pretty to me." Hey, whatever it is, I like it because it gets you on your toes better than a strong cup of cappuccino." He might have ended it earlier, but he was having too much fun now.

    "What is a demilitarized zone? Sounds like something out of The Wizard of Oz, Oh, no, don't go in there. Oh-we-oh Piña Co Lada. Oh, look, you've landed in Italica. You're among the little people now. We represent the Rosy Knights The Rosy Knights. Oh, no! Follow the Appia Highway. Follow the Appia Highway. 'Oh, I'll get you, my pretty!' Oh, my God. It's the wicked witch of the east. It's Sadera Sadie! 'Now, little GI, you and your little 'tune-ooh' too! AAAA HAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!'" Now he just had to go all the way. "'Oh, Robin. Robin. What are you doing, Robin?' Oh, Sadie, you slut. You've been down on everything but the Titanic. Stop it right now." Greyson was in hysterics, and the Lieutenant was barely holding in his own guffaws. Now Robin was going to really get the ball rolling.

    "Hey, uh, hi. Can you help me? What's your name?" now Robin's tone shifted to a deep African-American sounding voice "'My name's Roosevelt E. Roosevelt.' Roosevelt, what town are you stationed in?. 'I'm stationed in Poontang.'" The fellas in the third battalion, 1st Regiment, who knew English well from having served along side Americans for two years, Itami and Kuribayashi were laughing heartily. "Well, thank you, Roosevelt. What's the weather like out there? 'It's hot. Damn hot! Real hot! Hottest things is my shorts. I could cook things in it. A little crotch pot cooking.'" Kurokawa couldn't help a giggle coming out.

    "Well, can you tell me what it feels like? 'Fool, it's hot! I told you again! Were you born on the sun? It's damn hot! I say - It's so damn hot, I saw these old guys, their fancy robes burst into flames. It's that hot! Do you know what I'm talking about.' What do you think it's going to be like tonight? 'It's gonna be hot and wet! That's nice if you're with a lady, but it ain't no good if you're in the country!'" Now Kurokawa blushed and Kuribayashi was practically doubled up. "Thank you, Roosevelt. Here's a song coming your way right now. "Nowhere To Run To" by Martha and the Vandellas. Yes! Hey, you know what I mean!" He looked at the lieutenant and whatever trepidations he might have had earlier, he was well and truly in the groove now.



    Raymond looked at his battalion, he had been promoted twice for excellent service in the field, and he saw some of them starting to bop to the oldie, evidently some things really were classic. He just couldn't believe that Williams had actually done it, but his mind was distracted by the voice on the radio. "This is AF-JN, rocking you from the delta to the DMZ! AF-JN, worse than AF-JD which means you get paid to drown your sorrows, we're moving on right now!"



    Apparently going back on his old Cronauer personality, Williams asked, "Here's a little riddle for you, what's the difference between the Army and the Cub Scouts? EEEH! Cub Scouts don't have heavy artillery!" He kept on riffing people for another thirty seconds then he decided to do some "interviews", "Hey I'm Robin Williams, and I'm on again at 1700, why? Because I have to, it's the Army. We're talking out in the field today, hi what's your name? 'MY NAME'S BOB FLIPPER!' Bob what do you do? 'I'M IN ARTILLERY!' Well thank you Bob, listen can we play any thing for you? 'ANYTHING JUST PLAY IT LOUD, OKAY?!'"

    As the Beach Boy rock continued, the riverine boats started to blare it as loud as they could, and those near the ocean lamented that they had no surf boards. "Hey I'm gonna tell you something, I just came from Japan, with women that look like Zorba. Whoo thank you, 'Those girls are just so pretty.' Gomer, are you here in Janus? 'Well yes I am! Surpriiiiiise surprise surprise!'" A mechanic listening to the radio gestured to it with his wrench to emphasize the joke to his fellow grease monkeys. "Merwin, why did you name your daughter Amanda Bird? 'Cause Amanda Dog would be too cruel. OW! Easy girl, easy. You know if you pick 'em up by their ears, it doesn't hurt 'em as much.'" Now Dirrel took over. "'Oh you're going straight to hell for that one! Watch out over there!' Interesting coincidence, Diablo El Caesar, Ronald McDonald, same person? You be the judge, our lines are open!"



    There was not a single soldier or civy who wasn't busting a gut at the king of comedy's little skit. "Something real special right now, we've got our traffic report up on the Appian Highway, how's it going up there? 'Uh Robin, it's not going exactly well, there's an elephant jack-knifed up there, it's not a real pretty picture, there's tusks everywhere, I dunno what to say, we're probably gonna have to drop a little napalm in there and try and cook him down, have a little barbecue.'" One man laughed so hard he almost knocked over the ficus he was leaning on.

    It was time to start wrapping things up, he had been going on for fifty minutes now, and the hour was almost up, "We've got a special man in the audience today, Right now, it's Mr Leo. He's a fashion consultant for the Army. 'Oh, thank you, Adrian. I'm just very happy to be here. I want to tell you something. You know, this whole camouflage thing for me doesn't work very well.' Why is that? 'Well, because you go in the jungle, I can't see you. You know, it's like wearing stripes and plaid. For me, I want to do something different. You know, you go in the jungle, make a statement. If you're going to fight, clash." Kuwahara looked at Itami meaningfully.

    "Maybe he's got a point there." the young lad said to his commander

    "Don't even think about it." The older man replied.

    Williams was having fun, the first real fun he'd had in quite a while, but it was time to wind down for real. "Thank you for that lovely tune. That funky music will drive us till the dawn. Let's go. Let's boogaloo till we puke. Well, that's about it for the Adrian Cron Hour. I'm gonna take myself out of the driver's seat, but I'm gonna turn you over right now to Mr Excitement, a man with limp, damaged hair, but nevertheless a fireball. Rickyyyyyy Holtzman!" And just like that, Robin Williams was off the air.
     
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  15. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    And a little short by SpaceKoKonut

    Lessons in Bureaucracy

    Gabel Ze Huntel stared at the small mountain of paper on the table in front of him.

    “Is something the matter sir?” The soldier-clerk, Sanches, the tag in her uniform provided, asked in what Gabel identified as professional courtesy

    “Oh no! Not at all! It’s just-“ Gabel dismissed sheepshily

    “Too much paperwork?” Sanches said, raising an eyebrow as she provided the merchant a pencil

    “...Well, yes”

    Sanches gave a mirthless chuckle “Oh, you haven't seen the last guy who brought blasting powder through. He stayed here for five hours. That reminds me...” She reached under his table

    As Gabel began writing, the woman across from him put a half-full clear bottle of what was clearly alcohol on the table. “What is... this for?” The merchant tentatively asked

    Sanches took a swig of the sweet smelling liquid “Trust me, doing these-” she pointed to the papers “-in triplicate will grate on any person’s nerves”

    The merchant gave a shrug “I share the feeling”

    Then I have to go get it approved by my company’s CO, who has to get it approved by his CO on the battalion level. Then, and only then, is it approved. In your case. Otherwise it goes up to Regimental and/or Brigade level for approval, like with that poor blasting powder guy”

    Gabel stared at the blonde woman in utter disbelief, he knew Saderan bureaucracy could be bad at the worst of times and if these Otherworlders organized anything like the empire, some of these papers went straight to a Primus or a Praefectus! Just how did they get anything done?!

    “Just how do you get-?”

    The woman smiled “We just do. If we don’t, it would be a problem of accountability”

    Gabel decided that his mind could do without thinking on the minutia of Otherworlder paperwork, for the well-being of his sanity.



    That evening the merchant found himself drinking copious amounts of wine on one of the local taverns.
     
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  16. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    The Janus Files 1.

    Over the course of the writing of The Janus Campaign, some bits have arisen, mainly produced by my readers, describing incidents which may or may not have happened during the course of the events in this story.. Many of these were provided by @taalismn

    We present a collection of these here. Enjoy!

    Death By Marriage…

    At The Manor of Baron Kalgi

    "Daughter, why am I only hearing through Count Palesti that you are engaged? This isn't some peasant, is he? You aren't pledged to some non-human?"

    "He's human and he's the adoptive heir of the Octavus line."

    "Good! Good! What else can you tell me?"

    "Well, he's very proper and chivalrous..." Panache began.

    "Yes, yes... " Baron Kalgi waved dismissively.

    "He's very intelligent."

    Great. I'll bet he's one of those philosophes. Just what I need to ensure strong grandsons. "Don't tell me. He's an artist."

    "Not at all, he's an officer."

    "Well! That's more like it! Anything else?"

    "He can't ride a horse, he couldn't fight with a sword if his life depended on it and He's with the army on Alnus Hill."

    "You're trying to kill me aren't you daughter?"

    "What was your first clue?"

    Drowning in Science!

    General Hazama's Office

    "We're going to have to test ALL the local physical laws, General."

    "Is this important?"

    "Could be. Small changes could be significant enough to erode our current position of strength in the long term if we're unaware of them."

    "Very well, how many eggheads will be needed to conduct your tests?"

    "Well, we're going to need specialists from a number of fields..."

    "From what fields?"

    "Well, -all- of them to be on the safe side..."

    "Holy ####ing eggplants! I can't re-assign troops to cover the numbers I think you're thinking of! What do you need to do?! Build a CERN-style particle accelerator on this side of the Gate?! Transplant Palomar-"

    "Well, we WOULD like to get a few satellites into orbit...maybe multi-stage sounding rockets on repurposed SCUD mobile launchers- to start with..."

    General Hazama groaned, seeing ANOTHER paperwork front opening up, this one with the scientific community...

    What A Girl Needs…

    Ginza District, Tokyo

    Shino walked up to Itami with Lady Panache in tow. "Squad leader? Panache asked me to help her with some personal things."

    Itami speculatively looked past Kuribayashi at Panache. "Oh?"

    Shino: "Yes, female items." The close combat specialist emphasized.

    Itami's brain sounded an alarm. Ew... Itami puts a hand up. "I don't wanna hear the details. You take care of it! Whatever she needs, I don't need to know about it."

    Shino rolled her eyes and then smirked. "Yes, squad leader."

    Itami frowned as a thought occurred to him. "Wait! Do any of the others need anything?"

    Shino shrugged. "Not that anyone has said."

    "Well make sure but be discreet!" Itami told her.

    "Yes, squad leader!" Kuribayashi replied. She quickly checked with the other ladies, getting no particular interest from Pina, Hamilton, or Lelei, an arched eyebrow from Rory, and blushing from Tuka and Bozes.

    Five minutes later, Shino lead Panache into Wacoal Ginza...

    Love In The Age of Gates

    Call Center: Alnus

    Even in the midst of mankind's first inter-dimensional conflict, love still finds a way. Of course, explaining that love to the folks back home is always a task calculated to test the nerves and will. This is even more true in the age of interspecies romance:

    Call to Nagoya, Japan

    "Hey mom. I'm calling to let you know that I'm coming home and that I met someone! Yes I'm bring her over. She's really nice and I'm sure you two will get along. Oh and while I have you, how do you feel about cats? Allergic huh... Does she have a cat? No... not really. In a manner of speaking..."

    Call to Portland, Oregon

    "Hey, mom! Coming home for leave and bringing a special someone! Yes, I did! Dad and Little Sis are going to be home? Great! Tell me, though, has sis ever gotten over her fear of snakes?"

    Call to Chicago, Illinois

    "Dad, I know you really believe what Father Dempsey sez about Hell and Satan and all that, but I'm hoping you don't take it too literally. Why am I bringing this up? Well, I met somebody over on the other side of the Gate and I'm thinking of bringing her to meet you all...and, well, in her case first impressions can be MIGHTY misleading-"

    Inspection Day

    On a recent visit to inspect the troops deployed across the Gate, one American General saw the unintended consequences of crossing the local gods as he inspected the men of one particular battalion:

    Inspecting General: "Why are all the men in 'A' company wearing sunglasses?"

    Battalion CO: "They went into a town and there was an accident. A truck crashed into the temple of the Sun god and wrecked the place. So we got an annoyed Sun god who keeps shining the blinding light of the sun in their eyes."

    "Alright, but why are the men in 'B' Company all wearing earpieces?"

    "They interrupted a music festival at the temple of Lunaryur. Ever since that, they all keep hearing music that isn't there and it's off-key."

    The general nodded. "I see. But Colonel? I don't even see 'C 'company. Where are they?"

    "Um... Their CO found out one of his men was sneaking out to visit a brothel. So the Captain ordered his men to close it down. That pissed off the goddess of fertility. They've been useless ever since."

    "What did she do?"

    "Well, that was ten days ago. You know how they say if it lasts for more than four hours, seek medical attention...?"

    Random Encounters

    Meteorological Station, Alnus

    "Judging from the speed and heading one of our weather balloon radio transmitters took after its line broke...we have to conclude something like a wild dragon ate it," an operator reported to the watch commander.

    However, the tech beside him was not so certain. "Air elemental. They might have them here."

    "Dragon, unless you produce evidence of air elementals."

    The watch commander rubbed his eyes. "...Okay, who thought carrying copies of the D&D monster manual was a GOOD idea?!" He asked and reached for his coffee. Taking a sip, he sighed."So what's the recommendation for dealing with this thing?"

    "Ah, let's see...Cast Magic Missile," the first tech answered.

    "Great! Any of us have that? No? Then GRENADES! PLENTY OF THEM!"

    "Well, we can always try to choke it to death with an MRE." someone muttered.

    Dragon Envy

    As the days of patrols across the local countryside go by for the troops at Alnus, inevitably, while a few may find excitement, most find a pattern of boredom.

    "So that Itami guy's got a Disciple, an elf archer, a human mage, dark elf ranger, and maybe even a human princess...yeah, I heard that one from the security detail on the capitol mission, and awards from a dozen kingdoms...That -Navy- guy's got a human noble woman, a rabbit warrior, an elf home maker, a dark elf ranger, and connections to some high houses in the empire...Just what have I got? Fleas and ticks and snakes. Even Anson's got more action than me, and they STILL haven't figured out how to turn him back from being a dragon!"

    "They're not even sure he's a dragon, sir...least not one of the local dragon-types," Corporal Jackson replied.

    "He's got a FOLLOWING. It's a pattern. People are picking up TEAMS around here."

    "You've still got us, Sarge," Private Rawlings put in.

    "...remember what I said about fleas and ticks?"

    Scientific Method

    Imperial Palace, Sadera

    "HULK SMASH!"

    "...okay...who assigned Doctor Banner to the science team? 'Direct orders of Director Fury'?! Agent Coulson, why are you -grinning-?"

    Planning For WHAT?

    -Plan Z(rev. 437)—Primary Containment, Attack of Undead/Animated Dead(w/ contagious component)

    -Case SnowWhite—Attack on Metropolitan Areas by Subterranean-Dwelling Humanoid Sophonts(see attached Biology Profile#78 'Dwarves')

    -Plan Minos—Containment of, Hostile Approach of, Herd of Bisonoid Humanoid Sophonts(see attached Biology Profile#88 'Minotaurs')

    -Contingency Hamlin-Municipal Response, Mass Area Non-Physical Mental Attack on Children(aka 'Pied Piper Protocols')

    -Case Ragnarok—Open Conflict with Non-Terrestrial God-Entities

    Field Reports:

    (Selected excerpts from the Pacific Alliance JANUS field groups, Special Region)

    -Report #234—

    Aerial drone survey of NW grid 12-23 following trade path observed three human females making their way on foot 18.2 km west-northwest of POINT WESTPEG, Alliance responsible sector of Special Region. Appearance and behavior suggested distress, observed subjects attempting to move as quickly as possible, but showing no indication of escort in known bandit territory. Nearest patrol (FOX-SEVEN) informed, and airlifted to point 0.8 kms uproad of subjects and proceeded on foot to intercept and investigate.

    Contact made, despite initial attempts by subjects to hide upon seeing approaching patrol, and through use of accompanying local translator, subjects identified themselves as escaped slaves taken in recent regional upheaval. Subjects also indicated they had escaped from a bandit encampment some distance away.

    Drone survey directed in general direction and discovered indicated encampment matching subjects' description 5.5 km east-northeast of contact point. Thermal imaging estimated 20-30 occupants, at least a half-dozen mounts. Several outriders also observed by wide-pan survey, presumably looking for escaped slaves, or alerted by noise of aerial patrol.

    Informed both JANUSCOM and ITALICA regional liaison. Bandit site deemed too far from ITALICA for appropriate response by augmented local forces, decision made to airlift remainder FOX platoon from POINT WHITEHEAD and reserve HOUND platoon from POINT EARL and attempt aerial encirclement of bandit site. Aerial recon by both drone and scout helicopter confirm body of armed men, no signs of official affiliation Saderan military, and several captives matching initial contacts' description. Target subjects showed signs of attempt to disperse upon observation of recon elements, and aerial suppression fire was initiated to contain attempted breakout. FOX platoon landed, with HOUND in overwatch reserve. Encampment captured with no friendly casualties, 18 confirmed bandit KIA, 6 wounded, total of 14 taken prisoner. Liberated 8 additional slaves. Both prisoners and ex-hostages evaced to Alnus, surviving mounts held in place by campsite survey guards until riders can be transported to take custody, or overland transport arranged for them .

    -Report #236—

    Engineering Report( 'C' Platoon) —Conducted road condition survey N-NE grid 41-17 with regards to feasibility of supporting armored columns. Sighted what were initially thought to be mounted bandits W-NW of position, but now suspect were elements of Saderan Imperial military, judging from observed personal gear on mounts and riders. Estimate 15-20 riders. Ordered personnel to assume aggressive defensive posture, but mounted party did not advance or venture closer than edge of visibility, and broke off contact after several minutes observation.

    On return leg to Alnus, Stabsunteroffizier Wagner reported having a ration bar stolen by what he described as a 'faerie'. As no vomiting faeries or faerie corpses were subsequently observed along the roadside by following vehicles, it is presumed the experience was not immediately fatal to the local life.

    -Report #245—

    Company 'D', 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne— While engaged in searching for fugitives, got involved in straightening out local contretemps about land use and ownership in the absence of the regional village head and several missing local landowners. In spite of local squabble, managed to capture two known bandits taking refuge in the village.

    (Attached note: Can we KEEP Corporal Owens? I'm glad he was cleared for restricted field duty, pending any new progress on clearing up his 'condition', but I haven't seen any sign of the 'draconic atavism' or 'transmorphic stress syndrome' some of the base shrinks were worried about. In fact, he's been the model of discipline in the squad. And damn, but he's got a better sense of smell than a bloodhound; he found that one hiding bandit sight unseen just like that! And having a talking dragon up close and personal shuts up most of the local troublemakers with just a stare—though I did have to discipline Corporal Murray for threatening one particularly vocal party with indicating that Corporal Anson would 'smoke him like a winter ham').

    -Report #313—

    Squad Charlie, 3rd Para, while investigating cave formations of Ridge 17(map grid 48-61) as possible bandit hideouts, discovered bear. Squad Charlie chased by bear. Requesting permission to keep bear.

    -Report #409—

    Company 'C', 2nd Brigade, USMC. Patrol on Road 18 fifteen kilometers south of Alnus encountered a small caravan of four dozen locals, horse- and carriage-borne. Conversation facilitated by translator indicates the caravan was of pilgrims on way to pay respects to 'the Sacred Hill of Alnus', that they were from the southern provinces of Sadera, and they were unaware of the recent events in the area. Assured them that the presence of the Alliance would not interfere with their safe passage through the area as long as they followed common sense rules, and that they could likely find good lodging at Alnus-Town, especially if they were willing to talk with humintel about their travels. Encounter convened peacefully and patrol resumed.

    -Report #519—

    Engineering Report( 'A' Platoon) —Assisted local farmers in rebuilding wooden bridge over creek, N-NW grid 54-14. Had opportunity to talk with local headsman. He indicated a number of local mines in the area that had been abandoned, but not played out, if we were interested. However, he warned that the mines were 'haunted', by what, he did not specify, but urged us to be very cautious. I'm taking that as a hint he would like to see the mines reopened, but doesn't have the resources to deal with whatever moved in on his own. On return to base we checked out the sites from a distance and confirmed the presence of the mines and their apparent abandoned state, but did not approach closer without further instructions or permission to 'dungeon crawl'(as Oberstabsgefreiter Gunther put it).

    Communications Breakdown

    While being transformed into a powerful dragon with the ability of flight and having attracted a retinue of devoted followers may have had its advantages for Corporal Owens, there were some drawbacks as well...

    "Okay. Let's try this again."

    TapKRAKzizt

    *"…help me mother…I am slain…."*

    Owens looked in dismay at the cellphone impaled on his finger-claw.

    "That's the fifth one already. I think we better call it a wash."

    Corporal Dorn shrugged as he reached over and pulled the dead personal communications device off Owens' large forepaw and tossed it in the garbage bin atop several other late functional electronics.

    "Yep, they just don't make touchscreens with dragon claws in mind. Neither sensitive nor tough enough."

    "I don't suppose we could ask for something tougher…?"

    "Not much, if any, call for that sort of spec in either the military or the commercial market. It would require a custom job and maybe some original R and D. I'm pretty sure your GI medical insurance doesn't cover it either."

    "My GI medical insurance got voided on a LOT of things."

    "I feel for you, man."

    "That's not how the medical establishment defines me."

    "You're breaking new ground for a lot of definitions. They just haven't caught up to you yet."

    "It just irks me that I have opposable thumbs that clearly mark me as a tool user, but everything's either too small or too fragile to use."

    "You're pretty good writing with a Sharpie."

    "Yeah, but it means I have to send personal letters poster-rate. And I can't keep imposing on you guys to take my letters."

    " Designate some of your followers as scribes. I'm sure they'd be glad to lend you a hand."

    "I tried. The last update I sent home, they sent as a vellum scroll, and made it look like a religious proclamation. 'See ye the words of our Great Holy One-". My sister accused me of either going on an ego trip or becoming an evangelist."

    "Then I'd keep looking at the idea of some of those adaptive technology workshops for special needs people. I rather think you qualify at this point, though you're not really handicapped overall."

    "I suppose I should be grateful for that."

    "Well, hey, there's nobody else I know of who has a blood pressure reading equivalent to aircraft hydraulics, who the AMA still certifies as in perfect health."

    "Ah yes, and at least the Army's still covering my meals."

    "The discovery that you can and will eat bones, stalks, and CANS does help balance the quantity with the ease of clean-up. And I think some of the KP staff see feeding you as something of a professional challenge."

    Lessons From A Far Off World

    A few years later, Fort Campbell, Kentucky:

    "Alright! Maggots! Get your asses in line! You boys may think the little 'accident' that befell Sergeant Dawson yesterday was funny. You may think he was riding you hard. You certainly think you're pretty clever. Well, the Colonel has decided in his infinite wisdom to assign you a new platoon sergeant. I guarantee you won't be pulling your crap with him. He's pulled successive tours in Sadera and he's seen more sh!t than the lot of you ever will."

    Anonymous soldier: "Bring 'im on sweetheart!"

    Sergeant Major: "I was hoping you'd say that." Calls on body mic. "Sergeant, time to meet your new platoon."

    A thirty-foot long dragon wearing the stripes and double rockers of a First Sergeant, landed in front of the platoon.

    Sergeant Major: "Well maggots! Say hello to First Sergeant Owens. Try to stay on his good side..."



    A/N: This brings current all material released to this time! Next time will be all new material

    Comments are appreciated
     
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  17. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 31: Cocktail Warfare
    Camp Augustus

    After nearly causing the respected Legate to have a heart attack, Ruth sat back down next to Octavia, the two women quite satisfied with their mischief. Germanicus, ruefully laughing at how the pair had caught him so completely unprepared. He could only be thankful that Videlia was back home. The last thing he needed was to have three of them working together. He took his seat on his wife's other side, while Taylor took the empty chair between his mother and Panache.

    "So, mom? What do you think?"

    "I think… I'm going to like it here." She shrugged. "That apartment is a bit boring, after all. Not enough for me to get into. Your brother and I haven't spoken since he stormed out. I haven't seen Claire in years and to hear her say that she didn't consider your brother as her daddy hurt. As much as I think Bryan needs to get himself together, I know how much he loves that girl." Ruth sighed. "And your sister has her hands full with Jonathan and now with Rachel and Casey and now Rebecca too! But she and I just don't seem to be able to meet half-way. I'd love for them to visit but I'm not going to be able to live up there. So that doesn't leave many choices.

    "On the other hand, she smiled over at Galador. I've got a new grandson to get to know, two boys I'm just dying to be an Aunt to, And four well-mannered young ladies who want to give me more grandchildren And I've traded up in the sister department. I need something new in my life. So, if it's alright, I'd be happy to stay."

    "Ruth," Octavia told her. "We would be delighted to have you with us!"

    "What about when they go back through the Gate mom?"

    "Son, you've got horses, clean air, fields of grass. Those are things I miss. Not to say I wouldn't mind a couple of solar panels. I like my TV and my DVD player and my coffee maker. But I haven't driven a car since you were fifteen. Washers and Dryers are nice but I've done it by hand. Nothing new to me. And I can be useful again. That's something I need."

    Taylor nodded. He knew his mom was right. "Of course, there is one tiny matter…" He hesitated.

    "Oh? What's that?"

    "They're English." He said the word as if it were poisonous.

    "English?" His mother narrowed her eyes. After testy relations with her in-laws, it had been her standing joke about not trusting the English. That her experiences had been with a not truly representative sample of English was beside the point. Several others also queried the word.

    "Well, only distantly," Taylor admitted."We already knew that Saderan High Tongue is a form of English. So the upper classes speak a recognizable form of English. It's a good thing too, because Mother's," he indicated Lady Octavia, "library has some answers."

    "Oh?" Octavia quirked her head.

    "You have Chaucer's 'Book of the Duchess'. But you also have a book written by one John Chaucer:'Imperium' The answers are right there. It's just that One side didn't have the answers, didn't even know we didn't have the answers and on the other side, all the answers but forgot the questions or at least why they even mattered."

    Taylor shook his head. "Imperial Year 103, 1396 on our calendar, John Beaumont, Fourth Baron, Beaumont led a force of three thousand men, including nearly one thousand knights plus longbowmen and auxiliaries, including the fifth child of Geoffrey Chaucer, named after the author's friend and patron, John of Gaunt, set out for Nicopolis in Bulgaria but never arrived. As it turns out, the crusade ended in a disaster. The English never arrived but the French couldn't exactly say anything since their knights were the ones that broke the Crusader ranks for a glory charge which caused the battle to fall apart. So despite reports that an English force had gone out, the English denied it ever happened.

    "But apparently, it did, and according to 'Imperium' even if it wasn't the battle Beaumont meant to fight, three years later, in Imperial Year 110, The Saderan Empire was split between Cadus Sol Gaius, who had an army supported by the Orc Confederation and Aemilianus Co Senna, backed by the Senate over succession to the Imperial throne. Beaumont had carved out a small territory and threw in with the Senate in exchange for Beaumont's son being adopted by Senna. And with Beaumont came Middle English, Longbows, and one of the symbols of Beaumont's purported patron, the Duke of Lancaster, The Lancastrian Rose."

    "What about the original Saderans?" Aurelia asked.

    "I'm still working on that. The Legio IX Hispana seems to be a possibility though. It disappears from history sometime in the second century."

    "I'm sure you'll figure it out," Ruth chuckled "Well, I suppose that's not too bad. Everybody's got to be from somewhere."

    "True," Octavia smirked. But I find the future much more interesting, don't you?" She asked Ruth mildly.

    "That's for sure."

    "Well then! Welcome to the family!"



    Akusho District, Sadera

    Mizari looked around the Venus with satisfaction. Ever since the death of Bessara, the place had been closed while the new owners carefully cleaned and repaired every inch of the establishment, Having come with the building in the bargain, Mizari and the other thirty girls had been forbidden from working until the healer said it was alright for them to do so. But still, they and another twenty girls whom Mizari had been instructed to hire had been more than well paid during this time. They were taught new rules for the conduct of their clients and also told that they would only service clients who showed a special token at the door. Three girls had actually not gotten permission from the healer to return to work but instead of being thrown out, they were under the healer's care and assigned to serve drinks instead. It was all very strange.

    Although asking questions had never been encouraged by the previous owners, curiosity finally got the better of Mizari, who asked just why her new employers were making so many changes. Lieutenant Theisman explained:

    "What we want is to attract clients who are willing to trade a little inconvenience for safety and discretion. And will pay well to get it." What was left unsaid was that the sort of men who could and would pay more for these services were men of a higher grade and station than a fresh-faced miles or an ordinary street hustler. These men would be men with information and secrets to hide.

    Officially, of course, seeking out brothels was forbidden among the allied troops. Of course, Theisman mused, our governments certainly never envisioned us going out and actually operating a brothel but here we are. But while the brass might publicly proclaim a 'Zero Tolerance' policy, reality knew better: That, at some point, some men would succumb to temptation and it was best if they were encouraged to go somewhere carefully monitored. So, unofficially it had been allowed to spread through the grapevine that personnel frequenting certain sanctioned establishments would not face censure. Theisman did not expect this to be a concern at the Venus or the Bacchanalian since the only allied personnel in Sadera were the very operatives now running those establishments. Still, it was best to have the rules in place, just in case.

    Mizari was simply told that any allied personnel who showed up as clients would have to follow the same rules as everyone else. Everyone would be required to surrender any weapons on entry and Mizari and the other girls were not to take abuse from anyone. While theirs was hardly an ideal profession, the situation for the girls at the Venus was at least better than it had been. Going from a succubus to a courtesan, it was a good deal, Mizari decided.



    Estate of Baron Varus Du Cinna

    Varus Du Cinna had been a powerful man once. Physically imposing, he had been a skilled warrior with a lust for life and a fondness for wine and women and had parlayed a successful career as a soldier and a number of successful campaigns into becoming a powerful voice in the Senate, backing the expansionist lobby. But now, time and loss had changed the proud veteran. In the years since his last active campaign, his appetites had only grown unchecked. Still, despite the excesses, he had used to care about his appearance. That was before the loss of both his sons and his grandson in the Empire's latest disastrous campaign. One son had commanded the Seventh Legion and had been proud to bring his own son named Varus in his father's honor, with him. No word had ever been heard from them since they crossed the GATE. His other son had commanded the Forty-Second Legion and died attempting to retake 'Sacred Alnus' from the Barbarians. His body had been recovered but Trajus had hardly been recognizable. His body mutilated by the Barbarians' weapons.

    His wife had contentedly passed on years earlier but now Varus, the venerable old warrior, sat in his empty house, eating too much and drinking too much and cursing the Emperor for appointing that incompetent bungler Germanicus to command the Expedition, cursing that fool Godasen for wasting his other son and coming back alive without having retaken Alnus, cursing Germanicus loudly, loud enough that the man should still hear him in whatever justly deserved hell he was now in, cursing the Senate for their cowardice, cursing the gods for each and every sin they had committed against him. Right now, he was cursing his serving girl simply because he wanted to.

    The servant in question simply bowed her head submissively and refilled his cup. His perpetual glower softened just a little as she gave a small smile and flicked her tail flirtatiously. Not that she wanted this old man to touch her but it did calm his disposition some. In any event, a little more wine and his lordship would probably be passed out for the next few hours, especially with the dwale added in for good measure.

    This made Baron Cinna's estate a very useful meeting place for Bouro and other important members of the Haryo. In her lord's absence, Vendetta was able to ensure the security and privacy that Bouro's plans required. Unlike Tyuule, Bouro's 'ally' of convenience, Vendetta was no slave. Nor had she been a queen for that matter. What she had been was a mistake, an indiscretion and one that like so many others had been quietly discarded before she could become an embarrassment to the powerful man who had sired her. That had been twenty years ago and she had endured the rough streets and alleys of Akusho while her mother suffered as a discarded plaything, a gentle and refined courtesan and mistress, now reduced to bedding the most base and vile men in the Empire to survive and to keep her daughter fed.

    Vendetta was the name she gave herself when she was recruited into one of the local street gangs. If it was unpleasant, it was one way to stay alive in an unpleasant world. She had quickly learned how to handle herself in a fight and no one made the mistake of underestimating her twice. Except for the owner of the dive where her mother worked. It was an open secret how Nerus cheated his girls, at least those who couldn't fight back. He owned the flops where many of them lived and lent money when they were short on the rent or other necessities, ensuring they were caught in a cycle of dependence as they worked ever harder and he continued to cheat them.

    Eventually, her mother owed too much. Nerus suggested that if her daughter started working for him, he would 'erase' the slate. But Andromeda had refused. Instead, offering herself to him. It was after a particularly brutal night that Vendetta learned what was happening. She snuck into his room the next night and pressed her dagger to his throat, and warned him never to touch her mother again. A week later, Andromeda was nearly beaten to death by Nerus in retaliation as his initial fear had been overcome by anger and a need to punish them both for that fear. That night, as her mother stayed with one of the few trusted healers in Akusho, Vendetta returned to Nerus' chambers. The next morning, his mutilated body was found face up in his bed. It was at this point that Bouro stepped in. The gang which Vendetta belonged to was one of his recruiting groups and According to Bouro, Vendetta and her mother would be useful to him outside of Akusho.

    Bouro explained that he was a half breed like Vendetta and that they represented a 'New Race born upon The New World' That she and her mother could be useful in ensuring the survival of their kind. Not really trusting Bouro but having no real choice, Vendetta agreed to become his agent and soon, she and her mother were moved to a safer place where Andromeda was told to instruct her daughter in the ways of courtly manners and grace. And when Vendetta had learned her lessons to Bouro's satisfaction, he arranged for her to be hired into the Cinna household where she was to ingratiate herself and report on the goings on of the household.

    Vendetta played her part to perfection, never letting anyone ever suspect where her loyalties lay. She had actually been working on attracting the attentions of the Baron's grandson. He was a perceptive young man who was rather attractive and well built as a human. It was an unfortunate shame that he had been lost in the disaster of The Expedition, especially worse since the loss of his father and his uncle meant that her current position relied on the survival of one foul old man.

    Strangely, Bouro had said that amid this calamity might come an opportunity. And as he and her other 'guests' arrived it seemed that her time was coming.

    And when that time came, she planned to settle some accounts long overdue.



    Imperial Park, Sadera

    Youji Itami was very much relieved to be back to doing something a little closer to his normal skill set than chasing dragons. With the Diplomatic Mission ensconced in the Jade Palace and with the first overtures made to Lord Cicero, it was time to put on a little demonstration to underscore to Cicero and a select group of Senators, whom Pina had named as possible swing votes in the matter of the Senate's willingness to pursue peace, just how out-matched they were. It did not matter how many bodies they conscripted, in the measure of that army's killing power, the Allied Forces were exponentially more powerful in ways the Saderans could never match. Of course, while Itami's squad was there to spell out the military situation to the Senators, the actual diplomacy would be in the hands of Ambassadors Sugawara and Russell and of course, Princess Pina serving as hostess.

    Surprisingly, Pina was aided in her efforts by the elder sisters of Countess Myui. With Pina having taken de facto guardianship of Myui, her sisters had both been chastised and somewhat embarrassed by the whole matter. What they had also begun to notice is that in spite of the failed assault on Italica and the damages done and losses sustained there, Italica was prospering in a way no other location in the Empire was faring. With the two older sisters suitably chastened by their husbands after their behavior had nearly sparked a house war between them, they were now both anxious to repair their standing in the eyes of the Third Princess and to partake in the prosperity that Italica was now experiencing. With these goals in mind, both sisters were quite eager to offer Her Imperial Highness any assistance they could, making a not inconsiderable contribution to the fete, providing both staff and helping make the arrangements for the social part of today's festivities.

    Among those attending was Sherry Tyueli, daughter of House Tyueli. Her father was a close cousin of the noted Senator, Marquis Casel. But what mattered to Sherry at this moment was the strutting of her cousin Amarula as she showed off the pearls gifted her by the Count of Campari on behalf of his son, a young man of seventeen, one of a very few who managed to distinguish himself amid the disaster of the expedition, rescuing his injured commander who had been wounded while leading his troops back to the Gate amid the chaos of the day..Having survived such a defeat and actually distinguishing himself, the young man had become quite smitten by the graceful young Amarula and with his father's consent, announced his desire to court her in marriage.

    So it was that Sherry, all of thirteen and only just shy of her fourteenth birthday, could not quite suppress the envy she felt, being herself ready to find a husband in a country where eligible young men were currently in scant supply. But Sherry saw greater possibilities. She had been introduced to Ambassador Sugawara briefly at a much smaller gathering at Marquis Casel's estate two weeks earlier. The introduction had been perfunctory but Sherry paid close attention to the alien and enigmatic diplomat. He was certainly more refined than the young men she knew. Now Sherry intended to catch the eye of Sugawara. It was only right that if Amarula could find a suitor, then so could she.

    "...Be a good girl and you will receive a wonderful gift. I promise!"

    Those words from Sugawara were like electricity to Sherry, causing her to blush and feel so much like the child she repeatedly assured herself she was not. It had been such an impetuous act but Sugawara had seen fit to give her his pledge! It was as simple as that.

    As Sherry left with her parents, Ambassador Russell strode over to where Sugawara was standing with a mildly amused Princess Pina.

    "I'm sure in a few days, that girl will be receiving a set of Japanese pearls that will leave her cousin quite envious!" Pina noted.

    "I'd love to have a connection with Marquis Casel."

    "I would be very careful to make sure I forged the right sort of connection, Mister Sugawara. A young girl often has expectations and a girl with expectations spurned can be a very dangerous enemy," Russell noted.

    "You know a woman's heart well, Mister Russell," Pina chuckled.

    "Only more in hindsight than foresight. I find diplomacy infinitely simpler," Russell said in rueful amusement.

    "Well, that girl definitely has a crush on you Mister Sugawara." Pina smiled.

    "Surely, you jest!" Sugawara replied, genuinely surprised at the notion. Of course, the briefing packets had mentioned that Saderan daughters often married at a younger age than was the accepted norm in modern societies but intellectual knowledge was not the same as emotional knowledge. And in a man, so career driven as himself, Sugawara had developed an emotional blindspot in regards to his own social awareness.

    "She's quite serious, Mister Sugawara. Powerful and mysterious are the currents of a young girl's heart," Ambassador Russell noted.

    In the meantime, Itami began the demonstration of the Howa Type 64 rifles carried by most JSDF personnel in the Janus Theater. In addition to Cicero and Lord Ducie, six other Senators were in attendance, along with Gaius Fure Scipius, one of Pina's Thorns and the archery instructor for the Rose Order, as were a fire team from Lieutenant Mayer's Marine detachment led by Sergeant Hill and manned by other veterans of the fighting at 'Alamo East'. The marines had suggested some modifications to Itami's plans. First, rather than the empty armor suits recovered after the initial assault on Alnus, The marines arranged for the armor to be strapped onto several pig carcasses. That the bullets would penetrate the armor was not in doubt but adding blood and allowing the Senators to inspect the wounds would further underline their message. Before Itami's men took to the range, Scipius would demonstrate the comparative range and efficiency of the standard Imperial Warbow as a control. A series of targets set at fifty-yard intervals was provided for him and, indeed, in a performance that impressed Sergeant Hill, Scipius was able to hit a target over four hundred yards away and even effectively penetrate targets at three hundred yards and maintaining a rate of six shots a minute over several minutes in a performance definitely worthy of the second best archer in the entire Rose Order.

    It was a master's performance and the Senators all understood that as they were allowed to inspect his targets.

    Then, the range was cleared and Third Recon's rifles opened up.

    Seeing the torn and bleeding carcasses, Cicero and his fellows were aghast, shocked at the level of carnage they witnessed. Cicero's first instinct was to try and convince Itami to sell rifles to Sadera or better yet tell them how to build their own but it quickly became clear that their opponents had no intention of tossing away any advantages they held over the Empire.

    Next, One carcass dressed in the armor of a Saderan General was set up behind and to the right of the Senators. After inspecting the damage inflicted by the Japanese rifles, the Senators were invited to watch as Hill radioed Corporal Rice to 'Begin stalking'.

    "Roger that."

    Sergeant Hill and his men provided each of their guests with a pair of field glasses, showing them how to focus in on one of the distant targets.

    "In this exercise, Corporal Rice is out there somewhere. The objective is to spot him before he shoots our target, General Porkus Maximus, standing back over on your right."

    Over the next several, tense minutes, the Senators searched until suddenly a shot rang out, striking the target square in the chest, piercing the armor and savaging the tissue behind.

    "Good shot Corporal. Stand up."

    Standing up roughly eight-hundred yards away, Corporal Rice then took aim and sent six more shots into the target in rapid succession, underscoring that the initial hit had, in fact, been taken by someone unseen, firing from a range far beyond any archer in Falmart.

    This was followed by a demonstration of small, portable mortars. The demonstrations had the desired effect as Cicero, Lord Ducie, and the other Senators present understood that a continuation of the War would only bring the Empire to ruin.

    Further conversation was interrupted by the approach of uninvited riders. Itami and Hill quickly assembling their people to secure the site and evacuate Cicero and his fellows while Sugawara returned to the Garden Party.

    "We have company," Sugawara said as he approached Pina and Ambassador Russell. The two ambassadors blending in with the local nobles and Mister Russell looking for all the world like the patriarch of some great Imperial family.

    "Brother!" Pina called as she recognized Prince Zorzal at the head of the riders entering the park.

    "You seem disappointed to see me," Zorzal noted as one of his men sniffed the air with a frown.

    "Not at all!" Pina answered her brother. "It's just that you never seemed to enjoy gatherings like this. Had I planned a tournament, then surely I would have invited you right off! That is if I could not convince you to participate. But your skills are somewhat wasted amid mere social gossip."

    "I suppose you're right," Zorzal chuckled. Apparently, he was the victim of either a prank… And gods knew that Diablo was perfectly capable of pulling something like this simply to enjoy making him run about like a fool. Or he was merely the victim of an old man's paranoia. Well-intentioned but still a bit of a waste on his time.

    "Forgive me, your Highness, but what is that smell?" One of Zorzal's men, Vedastus, if Pina recalled correctly, sniffed with disapproval.

    "It must be the food," Pina suggested. "Since you came all this way, it would be rude not to offer you food and refreshment." She gestured to where a large powerfully built man with a thick beard was turning a sizeable rack of meat. "Ah! Mister Dessioux! Brother, meet Mister Dessioux, he and Mister Furuta have been in charge of catering this affair for us."

    Even as Vedastus continued to sniff with growing consternation, Zorzal having already decided that this errand had been a waste, turned to inspect the various meats. One, in particular, seemed to catch his eye. "It's yellow," He noted.

    "Ah! That would be Furuta's Karashi Mustard," Dessioux noted. "I prefer a friendlier blend myself. That Karashi has some serious kick to it but I'll admit you gotta be a real man to handle it."

    Zorzal, of course literally bit at the implied challenge. Even as his eyes watered and he fought down the fire, he pointedly glared at his fellows to join him, daring them to flinch in front of him as he declared the Karashi rubbed Ma-Nuga meat to be worthy of his tastes.

    Vedastus frowned as he stared at the meat.

    "What's the matter, boy?" Dessioux frowned. "There are only two kinds of folk that turn their nose at good barbeque: Food Snobs or Vegetarians. Which one are you?"

    Under Prince Zorzal's glare, Vedastus bit into the Ma-Nuga meat, riding down the burning in his throat. He finally slowly, reluctantly nodded his agreement with his Prince's appraisal of the meat. Still…

    "This is still not what I was smelling before, sire. A foul smell of sulfur…"

    "Ah Then!" Mister Russell spoke up, approaching Pina. "That would be the smell of Firesticks from the land of Zhongguo." He nodded to where a couple of young men were lighting fireworks. The men in question were actually a couple of Marines in local garb. They had been setting off fireworks for the past hour or so to cover the sounds from Itami's makeshift firing range. "I'm told they're supposed to drive off evil spirits."

    "Better light a few more. There's still a rather nasty one right in front of us," the voice of the Second Imperial Princess spoke up from behind Pina, its owner giving a disdainful look at Zorzal. Then her expressions changed as she addressed Pina as Princess Livia walked up, cradling her son contentedly.

    "Ah! Pina!" Claudia exclaimed. "So sorry to drop in unannounced!" She said conversationally then turned to Zorzal. "Though I am surprised to see you here. What? Did the zoo throw you out? It is a zoo after all, not a hunting preserve."

    Zorzal snorted superiorly as Pina watched the interplay between her siblings with visible dismay. "Such an attitude, dear sister. Remember, I will be sitting on the Imperial throne one day. You need to learn to speak with greater care. Especially in front of my nephew. It would do him no favors if he learns to emulate your behavior."

    Livia looked up from her son, her voice pitched low and deadly cold. "You may become Emperor one day, Zorzal. But, my son is a king. It is you who should choose his words with greater care in my son's presence."

    After an infuriating moment, Zorzal laughed. "I see life away from Sadera has not done anything for your temper, sister." He turned to Pina. "It seems our siblings all conspire to make sport of us. I, however, have no more time for games. I will trouble your cooks for a bit more of that excellent Ma-Nuga meat before I go. I admit it is a breath of fresh air to a palate which has been disappointed as of late. I may have to steal the cook!"

    "Of course brother!" Pina nodded in relief and as soon as his mounts had been fully laden with 'take out' as Pina remembered the term Taylor used, Zorzal and his entourage finally left.

    Watching them go, Claudia gave them a smirk and a little wave as they departed. Livia merely sighed as she held her son, who was still content to sleep in her arms. But now she looked up and nodded to Claudia, who nodded back and turned to Pina.

    "Now that pale imitation of a quarter-wit is gone, shall we discuss what you are really up to, little sister…?"
     
    Last edited: May 24, 2019
    waffelmeister and rifern like this.
  18. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra Not too sore, are you?

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    Typo. An ordinance is a law. The military expends ordnance.
     
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  19. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Fixed. Thank You.
     
  20. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    The Janus Campaign

    The Janus Files 2: It's a mad, mad, mad, mad Empire!

    As with the first excerpts of the Janus Files, over the course of the writing of The Janus Campaign, some bits have arisen, mainly produced by my readers, describing incidents which may or may not have happened during the course of the events in this story.. Many of these were provided by taalismn

    We present more of these here. Enjoy!

    It's Tradition, By George!

    SAS Commander: "We pull this off, chaps, they'll have to strike off a new St. George award just to honor genuine dragon-slaying."

    "Sir, given that it's been talked about that the Gate may have opened in medieval times, how do we know St. George didn't REALLY kill a bloody dragon?"

    SAS Commander: "Then we're following in a fine British tradition!"

    ***​
    All In The Planning

    Itami: "Taylor! It's ALL your fault!"

    Taylor: "WHAT is my fault, Itami?"

    Itami: "Ever since Aurelia described your house system to the girls, I can't get away with ANYTHING! Lelei has been drawing up schedules, Rory has taken on the role of House enforcer, Tuka is using those big innocent eyes on me and Yao! Around her, I can't even trust my own words! So it's all your fault! They're even calling Risa to get more stuff to blackmail me with! Risa's talking about moving back in with me! Damn it!"

    Taylor: "I'm sorry. I'd love to help..."

    Aurelia: "I'm sorry, my Lord but we need to be going. You need to be ready for Her Highness's party!"

    Taylor: "Of course. You've all been looking forward to that. I'll start getting ready. Dress Whites?"

    Aurelia: "Yes, my lord! Remember that your mothers will be there."

    Itami: "Mothers, plural?"

    Aurelia: "Oh yes! My mother, Nayu's mother, Lady Kalgi and her husband, Lady Octavia and Father, and Mrs. Taylor. Oh! And Lord Itami, I told Her Holiness and Miss Tuka that Her Highness has requested your presence also."

    Rory's voice called from nearby: "Youji..."

    Itami: "Dammit Taylor! Today was Comiket!"

    ***​

    Civil Defense

    In the wake of the Ginza Incident, quite a few cities began taking looks at their own layouts and drawing up plans of what to do if a Gate showed up in THEIR neighborhoods.

    Naturally, some of the property owners around New York City complained about the local police/National Guard approaching them about checking on renting(at discount) or commandeering, normally-high rent properties and looking into how best to turn them into local strong points…especially those properties overlooking Central Park.

    "You want to know how best to knock out the windows for WHAT?!"

    "Well, we figured we would put in a couple of heavy fifty-calibers, maybe a twenty-millimeter cannon …"

    "!"

    "Up to maybe a forty-millimeter if we can get it up your elevators. Or maybe we could get a Javelin team set up…there's enough room and ventilation in those apartments to handle the backblast, right?"

    "!"

    In other cities, it was a lack of civic preparedness which raised protests from citizens...

    "Boston and New York are holding anti-Gate drills; what if they come through in HARTFORD?!"

    ***​


    PS... I Love You?!

    "If we can just distract her for a moment," Itami suggested as Giselle came looking to settle the score.

    "Right," Taylor nodded then shouted at Giselle. "Did you know you're beautiful when you're angry?"

    Giselle stopped. "I... I'm beautiful? How beautiful am I?"

    After a moment of surprise Itami fell over laughing. "Way to go! He wants to take you home to his mother! True love man!"

    Giselle happily wrapped Taylor in a crushing embrace. "May Hardy grant me your soul forever!"

    CRAP!

    Itami continued to laugh.

    Taylor shot him a look. "If I agree to marry you, will you kill him as my wedding present?"

    ***​

    Vintage Spirits

    Elder: "On occasions like this we bring out the good booze."

    Itami: "Which would be-?"

    Elder: "Bottled seven hundred years ago."

    Taylor: "Hey, look at the time! Sorry, love to stay, but we have places to go and people to see! Come along now!"

    Itami: "You're sure in a hurry..."

    Taylor: "...you really wanna stick around and tempt drunken shenanigans off centuries-old booze?"

    Itami: "RIGHT! We are moving OUT!"

    Matriarch Kyas: "Seven Hundred Years ago? Oh! I remember that batch! No... I don't think I'll have any of that. I've got some Twelve-Hundred-year-old stuff. Smooth."

    ***​

    Gross Anatomy

    "All we've gotten to look at are little ones...oh, and that transformed corporal...and some of the sorta-dragon sophont-folk...THIS is like going from studying pigeons to walking through RODAN. Can you save us some lung tissue? We'd love to see what this thing uses for an oxygen transfer mechanism. Internal organs! If you spot anything that looks like intact organs, tag it and bag it and get it chilled! I'd PAY if we can get some intact parts of the heart! Damnit, I need a FREEZER CAR up here for our samples!"

    (distant voice from the depths of the crater) "I think I found SPLEEN!"

    ***​

    Marriage in Triplicate!

    Seeing a trend in it amongst personnel in the Janus/Special Region, governments have come out with several application forms; one for the single bride/groom, and the other for the other multiple partners.

    "Form 244125-: Application for Recognized Group Familial Marriage-(Anchor)

    Name:

    National Affiliation:

    Rank:

    Gender:

    Reasons for Special Consideration, Janus/Special Region Conditions(Check relevant boxes):

    A: Declared by a community of 500 or more citizens and/or recognized Apostle of local god-entity to be appointed Champion/Avatar(attach signatures)

    B: Declared by local god-entity to be Avatar/Demigod/God-Entity's Consort(provide witness statements)

    C: Adopted by local aristocracy to peerage(Baron or higher)(provide signed official adoption)

    D. Transformed/transfigured into post-human/creature of magic/demigod(attach medical files)

    E. ...

    "Form 33232324-: Application to Enter Into Recognized Group Familial Marriage-

    Name:

    National Affiliation:

    Rank:

    Gender:

    Species/Race:

    Anchor of Desired Group Familial Marriage:

    Reasons for Desiring Entry into Group Marriage(Check relevant boxes):

    A: Destined Love(attach affidavit of Oracle/priest/soothsayer)

    B. Life Debt(Attach incident report detailing nature of life debt)

    C: Arranged Marriage(Attach sworn statement of parents/guardians)

    D. Psychological/physical Dependence on Group Marriage Anchor(attach physician's/psychiatrist's records)

    E. Political/Dynastic Treaty(attach relevant treaty documents)

    F.

    "*Is your insanity permanent or temporary? Is it contagious?

    *Are you currently taking substances that could adversely affect your judgment?

    *Have you ever come under the influence of magic which could adversely affect your judgment?

    *Have you gotten/discovered a tattoo or tattoos with the name(s) of any/all of the members of the group marriage on any part of your body? Are you regretting it?"

    PROPOSAL ON THE ADDITIONAL LAW FOR INTERDIMENSIONAL MARRIAGE ACT.

    The additional law as below;

    1) must check financial, asset and bank statement of the anchor, whether he or she can afford the multiple spouses and possible children. Also, the spouse's statement as well whether they willing to share their income to support the anchor.

    2) Any additional new spouses(when taken, the 2nd and beyond), the family/martial/religion court must receive BOTH written and vocal agreement of first spouse(voice recording does not count). She or He has the power to say no and disagree with the choice of the spouse. When the anchor has more than 2(TWO) spouses, their "vote" will qualify as well.

    3) Both 1st and 2nd MUST be fulfilled to make the marriage official.

    4) Family records. Must make sure who your child is from which spouse. Neglected on this duty will lead to family abandonment and family problems. On the long terms, the threats of incest also raise a concern among conservative element if "anime siblings relation" is any indication.


    ***​

    War Powers

    Zorzal: "I want a war."

    Senate: "You ain't getting a war."

    Zorzal: "What do you mean? You heard me! I'm the Emperor! I want a war and I want it now!"

    Senate: "No war. Not now, maybe later, but not now and not because you said so."

    Zorzal: "Excuse me, but I can break you! I can order the army to kill your entire family!"

    General: "Actually, no. Unless somebody presents compelling evidence that the Senate is engaged in treasonous acts, we can't move against them, or kill their families."

    Zorzal: "Since when?! Defying me IS treason!"

    General: "Not since the Reform Acts."

    Zorzal: "WHAT REFORM ACTS!?"

    Senate: "The ones that prevent Emperors from casually slaying Senators and ordering the Imperial Army on spear-fodder wars. THOSE Reform Acts."

    Zorzal: "Well, I overturn them!"

    General: "Can't, not without a majority of consent from the Senate."

    Zorzal: "...Diablo put you up to this, didn't he?"

    ***​

    Comfort Food

    "Face it; they're not cute, or friendly, even when they're young. They're not particularly charismatic or photogenic. They don't act like baby seals. They smell bad. But they cook up real nice and tender and go well with a good beer."

    "...you bastards...you shot me down, and now you serve me my own mount! AND MADE ME ENJOY IT!"

    "Hey, why waste perfectly good meat? And it's not like the thing was a horse. If it were, we'd bury it with honors."

    ***​

    Legal Complications

    Animal Rights activists file a lawsuit against the Government for killing endangered dragons. The Government lawyers respond:

    "The Dragon was clearly violent attacking anyone without any provocation."

    PETA-Member "But-"

    "FURTHERMORE! Not only was the Dragon sterile but it was also created by a goddess for basically shits & giggles meaning its survival will have absolutely no negative impact on the local ecosystem at all. It might even be better off."

    "It attacked two communes of green-living elves. This is the equivalent of a rabid barbecue-fanatic attacking with a chainsaw a stand of young redwoods."

    PETA-Lawyer: "You put me in the precarious position of alienating Green Party supporters if I try to defend the dragon. You are the more evil lawyer, I concede."

    PETA Hardliner: "But the elves WEREN'T vegans!"

    PETA-Lawyer: "Moonbeam, our moral position is eroding faster than a glacier under a greenhouse effect. The opposition will point out that the elves live hundreds of years in SPITE of hunting and eating meat. You really want that coming out?"

    ***​

    He Can Fly! But Maybe Shouldn't Have...

    Yep, no reports of 'Jet Aircraft Forced to Return to Airfield After Sucking Peter Pan into Engine" yet.

    THORK!SHRAKgungungagungagungadrubblegungagunga

    "What was that? Bird strike?!"

    "Sounded too big to be a bird! It looked like a guy in green tights! Cut power to the port engine! I'm calling for an emergency landing!"

    No big loss. The dude was hopped up on Pixie Dust!

    ***​

    Dragon Meet Trolls

    Corporal Owens stirred awake, blinking to see one of his squadmates staring at him.

    "...how you feeling. Owens?"

    "Huh, what do you mean?"

    "Well, after last night."

    "What about last night. I went out with you guys, you drank beer, I didn't, I went to sleep."

    "Well, somebody slipped you some beer-"

    "They did?"

    "And you didn't...nobody expected THAT reaction..."

    "Reaction?...what reaction?"

    "I think Command's going to want to talk to you soon."

    "Huh About what?"

    "Those three villages."

    "WHAT three villages?!"

    "Well. they might still count as three villages...if they've managed to put the fires out yet."

    "FIRES?!"

    "Oh, you wouldn't have remembered that after what happened last night."

    "WHAT DID I DO LAST NIGHT?!"

    (new soldier comes in) "Hey, how's our merry arsonist feeling this morning?"

    "He doesn't remember a thing."

    "...ARSON...?!"

    "Oh, that's good. Keep it up, and your lawyer might be able to work it into an insanity defense."

    "LAWYER?!"

    "Hey, want me to call you one before the MPs come in here?"

    (Meanwhile, the other guys are outside watching the surveillance cam they've got trained on Owens' face and laughing themselves silly).

    ***​

    The Age of Enlightenment

    Oh, and the wonders of technology:

    Hut 17, Camp Charon, Iwo Jima:

    FlipKLICK

    FlipKLICK

    FlipKLICK

    FlipKLICK

    FlipKLICK

    "DEDIUS! QUIT FLIPPING THE LIGHTS! WE GET IT ALREADY! YOU DON'T HAVE TO KEEP PLAYING WITH IT! TURN THEM OFF AND LET US GET SOME SLEEP!"

    "But...It's so...Incredible!"

    ***​

    Benefitting From Experience

    Sometime in the future:

    Meeting the Unexpected (A Documentary Film)

    (Opening shot of a military staff officer at the front of a room, slowly walking to the left of frame)

    Officer: "Okay, you are all here because of what has become a not-so-unique-anymore set of circumstances. Now, some of you, through no fault of your own, stumbled into something we never encountered before…"

    (As the officer walks along, a line of personnel, backs to the POV, come into view from the left hand side; they are wearing uniforms, or parts of uniforms, because it becomes apparent that not all of them fit a normal HUMAN uniform anymore. One has an unusually broad back, canine ears, fur spilling over the collar, and a tail twitches into view. The next in line is shorter and wider, and sprouting a pair of horns under a precariously-balanced cap, then there's an ENORMOUS backside and arms that look thick as tree trunks, and then somebody's uniformed back, only with nothing between its collar and the cap floating above it-)

    Officer: (continuing)"-Some of you were deliberately attacked by means we are still learning to cope with, or cursed by powers we are still coming to grips with-"

    (-next in line is what looks like a uniform sprouting bushels of tentacles where the head and arms should be. Then a gap as the officer is clearly looking DOWN at something. Then there's what looks like the back of a giant chicken. The next in line is taller, but this is because the torso is mounted atop a set of horse hindquarters, the full tail wicking nervously-)

    Officer: (going on down the line)"-and some of you, in spite of our warnings, just plain fucked up-"

    (-the next in line resembles a giant beetle or cockroach, another distinctly feline lines, yet another resembles a floating collection of rags, the last resembles a pile of rocks)

    Officer: (stopping, then starting on back down the line)"-Needless to say, your lives have undergone a RADICAL change. You are fortunate, however, that the military is not without precedent in cases like yours, so we actually do have contingency policies for dealing with your new conditions, accommodating you in the service, and better preparing you for civilian life if and when you decide to opt out. So at this point I'll turn this over to one of the experts in this, who helped write the book and policy on dealing with problems like yours."

    (Gold scale slides into view)

    Owens(of course): " Thank you, Sergeant Simmons. Now, for the rest of you, let me start out by saying that, despite what you may think, your lives are NOT effectively over. In fact, they're just kickstarting-"

    >>>

    "Now, leading our seminar on Family Values in the Age of the Gates, allow me to introduce our guest speaker on the New Family, Senator William Octavius Taylor-"

    >>>

    "And now, before ComiKet festivities begin, some opening words from our Honorary Grand Marshal for Life, and Gracious Host of our present convention venue, Lord-Patriarch-Major Youji Itami-"

    ***​

    How I Met Your Mother

    "Dad? How did you and mom meet?"

    "Well, she had a really good left hook, and then she kicked me in the ribs-"

    "I didn't kick you in the ribs, dear, I punched you in the gut."

    ***​

    Magnetic Personality

    While able to avoid it at the airport while picking up Taylor's mother, Panache had no choice but to pass the metal detector after being invited to meet with the US Ambassador to Japan. With a DSS Agent standing nearby, a security technician asked Panache to place any items which might set off his scanners on the table. As she began to comply, another tech recorded the items for the record:

    *clink*

    'Longsword"

    *clank*

    "Dagger"

    THUD

    "Morningstar"

    "It's a mace of office!" Panache objected

    "Right."

    *Clang*

    "Dagger"

    *Ching*

    "Dirk"

    "Ting"

    "Backup dagger"

    *Tingtangslatterchang*

    "Chainmail undershirt."

    Finally, with the Ambassador waiting, the senior agent simply rolled his eyes in defeat"Let's just stop before we get to the thigh dagger, the bosom throat-slicer, the scratch needle, and the razor wire garrote garters..."
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
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  21. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra Not too sore, are you?

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    Those two would actually lump together, given that the military commandeering civilian property would be worth ten years in prison and almost certainly a dishonorable discharge under US laws.

    Speaking from personal experience, those sound more like someone dropped a slinky intermixed with a heavy clunk.
     
  22. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Especially were it the National Guard. Of course, local authorities can have other means to apply pressure to get what they want: "Hmmm... I wonder how many safety code violations we'll find if we send inspectors..."

    And even under eminent domain, some owners may disagree at what constitutes 'Fair Market Value'



    As I am not versed with the sound a chain mail undershirt might make, how would you type that sound?

    As for slinkies, the last one in my house was given to me by a not so bright uncle when I was but a wee babe. Stupid thing got stuck in the bars of my crib, I tugged on it and it came loose with the coiled fury of a metal viper and hit me in the face so to my knowledge, the sound a slinky makes is 'WAAAAAAAAH!'
     
  23. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra Not too sore, are you?

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    Hmm, probably something along the lines of *sproing-clunk*

    Generally, it’s based on tax appraisals. And since those are well-documented public records, if local authorities suddenly lower the appraisal right before initiating eminent domain, it’s easy to prove. But for some reason, despite government agencies not having any money that is actually theirs, you often get bureaucrats trying to save money like it was coming out of their own pockets.
     
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  24. Threadmarks: Chapter 32: Tokyo PD Blues
    Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    This chapter has undergone significant changes since first release:

    Chapter 32: Tokyo PD Blues

    Camp Augustus



    It had been a good few days, Taylor reflected. In spite of his mother bringing out the photo albums. He had to admit that his baby pictures, at least, were beyond adorable. Of course, half an album's worth of new pictures was taken. Ruth reluctantly fighting the impulse to keep her eyes closed as she normally did. She made a note to get the photos copied and get the albums themselves duplicated on disc, both so she could keep a copy secured in a fireproof box if needed and send copies to her older children. It was their heritage as well. Also, she said that expected her daughter would inevitably share the pictures with her father. Ruth could only imagine the reaction on his face at them. As someone once said: 'Living well is the best revenge!'.


    But that was incidental as she Antonius and Marcus called her 'Aunt Ruth' and as she hugged her new grandson. Even if Galador was technically older than she was, it was as if it had always been intended to be. As she would be staying in Yokosuka as Lady Octavia's guest, Taylor would arrange for her apartment to be packed and shipped and her lease resolved.


    With his impending return to Janus in mind, Taylor went to Colonel Mihara with a request.


    “Since we’ll be leaving the day after tomorrow, I’d like permission to take my fiancees into Tokyo tomorrow for the day. It may be the last opportunity we get for some time.”


    “Are you sure that’s a good idea? You may have pulled off bringing Panache and Aurelia to the airport in Haneda but audacity won’t work every time. There are a lot of angry people in this country.”


    “I know that, ma’am. Everybody has a reason. Hell! It’s been over seventy years and there are some Americans who still hate Japan and some Japanese who hate America. I won’t say they should start going to love-ins. Some wounds are just too deep. But for the rest of us… We can’t stay there. We admit what happened and hopefully we move on. And now Germany and Japan are two of our best allies.” Taylor shrugged. “That didn’t happen without effort. Somebody has to take the first steps.”


    “Alright, Lieutenant. Let me make some calls. Let’s see if we can minimize some of the risks in those first steps.”



    Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department


    Commissioner Takao Arizuka hung up his phone suppressing a sigh. It wasn't that Colonel Mihara's request was anything excessive. In point of fact, it was rather a small request: That the Tokyo Police Department spare a few trustworthy officers for a guide and escort detail. While such a matter would normally be handled by the Public Security Intelligence Agency, Colonel Mihara was concerned that in the wake of events involving visitors from the other side of the Gate, there was a leak somewhere in the system and that she felt more secure requesting help from the uniformed police instead.


    Of course, Arizuka could not even begin to entertain Mihara's request without considering politics. As much as he preferred to be a simple cop, politics were unavoidable at his level and that damned Gate had dropped a ton of it onto his desk.


    For if the JSDF were the 'Heroes of Ginza' and the idols of the public's imagination, it had been his officers dying in the streets and his people who had blocked the bridges and kept the invaders from crossing the Sumida. Unrecognized for their service but having served well.

    And then there had been the Emoto case…


    In a city on edge over the Ginza invasion, the assault on Bokutou station, the attempted theft of the 'B Number One' Disc and the attempted disruption of Tokyo by foreign agents had left his department under scrutiny by Councilor Takashi Hino's committee. Well, if politicians were going to go trying to make political gains at the expense of his department, then it only made sense to have a few politicians on his side. And doing a little favor for the Americans was a small price to pay. Besides, it would put a twist into that arrogant Councilor's tail. That, in itself, would be worthwhile. It would be worth a few extra man-hours. The only question remained who he would assign this little task. And for that, he really only had one choice. He buzzed his secretary. "Get me Captain Kachou at Bokutou station."



    Bokutou Station


    "I don't quite understand, sir. Why us?" Officer Miyuki Kobayakawa asked after the Captain had outlined details of the assignment."


    "Commissioner Arizuka said that help from the Metropolitan Police was requested because there might be a security leak over at the office of Public Security Intelligence. And the Commissioner told me that when it came to handling unusual situations, he naturally thought of us." Kachou replied wryly. “He also said that he trusts that you will behave with full professionalism and courtesy. As do I,” Kachou noted.


    "So now we get to go play babysitter," Officer Natsumi Tsujimoto remarked. While she might have some reservations about this assignment, it would depend on how they behaved. Either way, she would do her job But if these people wanted to prove they could be trusted, the burden was on them and they were already in the hole on that one for obvious reasons. On the other hand, knowing that and still wanting to come took some brass, Natsumi figured, so that counted for something in her book.


    "Hopefully, that's all that comes of it," their Captain replied. "But I'm sure you remember the young ladies who testified in front of the Diet the other month?" There wasn't much chance of anyone forgetting that anytime soon, he was quite certain.


    "I thought Representative Kohara was going to have a stroke!" Tsujimoto recalled with some amusement.


    "Yes," Kachou replied drily. "Well, afterward, they and a few other visitors were the targets of an attack by unknown agents. They hit a decoy bus and got the worst of it but it stands there is still the possibility of trouble. Don't take anything for granted."



    "Yessir," Kobayakawa replied. "Do you think there could be a connection with the men who tried to steal the Bee Number One mod?" It didn't seem likely, given that the Incident in question had taken place only a scant couple of weeks after the appearance of the Gate but perhaps the chaos surrounding the Gate made for a convenient opportunity.


    "It's possible, I suppose." Detective Emoto's program for an economic terror attack would have brought Japan to its knees had the disc escaped them. Emoto's plan for attacking Bokutou station and his hacking of regional traffic control systems had been bad enough. "Disrupting Tokyo or threatening the economic destabilization of Japan might be tempting options for a country that wanted access to the Gate. But we'll save that speculation for some other time. For now, let's just concentrate on the task at hand." He looked over his people and then turned to Inspector Kinoshita, who at a nod, then began to outline the assignments.


    "This will be a plainclothes operation. Kobayakawa and Tsujimoto, you two will be the guides. Futaba and Nikaidou, you two will stick close by…


    Camp Augustus


    The following morning, Taylor discussed his plan to spend the day in Tokyo.


    “Do you want to come, mom?” He asked.


    Ruth shook her head. “No thanks. You know how I feel about being in a big city. I think I’ll stay here with my grandson.” She looked over at Galador. “Unless he wants to go too. In that case, I guess I’ll tag along. What do you think? Should we spend the day shopping or should we see what we can get into around here? I guess that would be you keeping me out of trouble.”

    Her grandson giggled a bit at that and gave her a big hug.


    Nayu’s mother, on the other hand, was quite eager to see Tokyo. “It’s an adventure,” Indras told her daughter. “Your father would have been thrilled to see a city like this.”


    "I've taken the opportunity to arrange for you to have guides and an escort, Lieutenant,” Colonel Mihara said. “They should be here shortly."


    Indeed, it was only a few minutes later that a Toyota HiAce was waved through the main gate ahead of a Suzuki Wagon R and a pair of motorcycles. Shortly after that, a tall, lean woman dressed in the uniform of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Force approached Colonel Mihara.


    "Inspector Kaoruko Kinoshita, here with guides and escorts from Bokutou Station, compliments of Commissioner Arizuka."


    "Thank you, Inspector, and please extend my thanks to Commissioner Arizuka when you see him," Mihara replied.


    "Of course."


    "I realize this request is a little unusual and we appreciate your being here," Mihara said, looking around at the assembled officers. "As you all may be aware, any visitors from across the Gate are potentially at risk for any number of reasons." She turned to Taylor. "Lieutenant Taylor, here, is one of our specialists in contact situations." She smirked. "In fact, he just might be too good at it. Allow me to introduce Lady Panache Fure Kalgi, Aurelia Co Germanicus, Aenaire La Monnier, and Nayu Ro Nin. These ladies are Lieutenant Taylor's fiancees."


    “Um… It’s complicated,” Taylor sighed, feeling all eyes on him.


    “Hardly, My Lord,” Panache smiled. "We proposed. You merely accepted our terms."


    "And joining them will be Miss Indras Ro Nin, Miss Nayu's mother,” Mihara added. “They're looking forward to experiencing Tokyo for themselves.”


    The officers assembled stared at them dumbstruck as they regarded the human woman, the Bunny girl, and the three elves. Officer Yoriko Nikaidou began to smirk as there were few things she liked more than whispers of gossip and romances. At the same time, she did feel just a touch of envy as well.


    Tsujimoto considered it for a moment and then looked slyly at her partner and then over at officer Nakajima. The two had been pursuing love's bloom at a snail's pace for ages it seemed. "Well, good to see somebody knows not to let a good thing get away from him." This caused both Kobayakawa and Nakajima to blush and Nakajima to squirm just a little, while most of the other officers smirked. Inspector Kinoshita merely held the tiniest of smiles.


    "Yes, well, in any case," Kinoshita said, looking at the group. "While plenty of foreign tourists come to Tokyo, this group will still stand out. I'm going to modify our original plan. Futaba, you and Nikaidou will join Tsujimoto and Kobayakawa in direct escort rather than trailing. Officers Nakajima and Neganebashi will tail on motorbike. I'll alert officers Kaneko and Hayashi of the modification in the plan." She turned to address Taylor and the others directly.


    "For your own safety, please follow any instructions these officers give you. I cannot stress this enough."


    "Of course, Inspector Kinoshita," Taylor replied.


    "It will be as you say," Panache agreed. Aurelia very reluctantly nodding her compliance.


    "Good," In that case, have a pleasant trip in Tokyo and I will be here when you return.."


    "So, where first?" Kobayakawa asked as they loaded into the HiAce.


    "We should probably find a place where we can get some clothes more appropriate to our surroundings," Panache suggested. While nothing could be done to hide Bunny or Elven ears, it was also quite clear that what was considered 'normal' attire in Japan was vastly different from fashion in Falmart. They were already likely to attract an uncomfortable amount of attention. Some of it would be benign curiosity and some would be suspicion, though no one expected anything openly hostile. Anything that reduced the conspicuousness of the group was probably a good idea.


    "That makes sense," Miyuki agreed. "I know a good place." She thumbed her radio. "Futaba, we'll head for Bingo, Shinagawa first."


    "Roger that. We'll be right behind you."


    After the women were fitted in more casual outfits, they moved on to book shopping. This was mainly at Taylor's suggestion as he wanted to bring back books on agriculture, engineering, and mechanics, as well as any other inventions that he thought could be of use, especially to the Lands of his House. Of course, there were some limits. As Chief Richardson had said, he was neither crazy or a traitor, so no weapons technology. Certainly no gunpowder. Also, no steam power. The ancients understood the basic principles of steam and Taylor was in no great rush to see smokestacks billowing black smoke across Falmart. Only things that local craftsmen could build themselves. At Sergeant Kobayakawa's suggestion, they headed for Kinokuniya Books in South Shinjuku. It had a very large English language section. Of course, other books on everything from animal husbandry to fashion quickly piled up as well. Naturally, it wasn't all that odd that the accompanying officers indulged in sharing their own reading tastes and Panache was intrigued by Kobayakawa's interest in street racing and custom engines but then again, they and Sergeant Tsujimoto all shared a passion for speed. That at least gave them a common interest to discuss.


    There was just a little problem as Aenaire looked through the bridal fashions. Heads popped up as a loud cry pierced the air and Taylor turned the corner to see Aenaire standing puzzled while officer Futaba gently patted Nikaidou on the shoulder as the diminutive policewoman sobbed while clutching a copy of 'Brides' magazine.


    "Um…. Is something wrong?"


    "Christmas cake!" Yoriko bawled. "I'm nothing but leftover Christmas cake!"


    Aenaire blinked and looked to Futaba. "William." She gestured to Taylor. "Has explained 'Christmas' to me. But I don't understand why she would call herself 'Christmas Cake'?"


    Futaba explained softly as she consoled her partner. "Christmas Cake… A Christmas cake that isn't sold and eaten by the end of Christmas is too old and should be thrown out."


    Aenaire looked stunned. "You mean she thinks that she's..."


    "An old maid!"Nikaidou cried.


    No wonder why the girl was so upset! "Oh! You are such a young girl to worry about that. You know… I did marry young."


    Yoriko looked up at her. "What happened?"


    "I was only in my two-hundred and thirties. I was naive and met a very handsome man. He was charming! Made me feel like I was living in a dream! So we married and I bore him a son… But he didn't want the responsibility of being a father so he simply went on a trip one day and decided not to come back. Don't misunderstand me. I have a handsome and loving son. But he's only in his seventies and he deserves a good father. William is mature enough to be that and I am mature enough to know THAT is the man I want to marry."


    "You don't understand!" Yoriko replied. "I don't want to end up alone."


    "For a young lady like you? I'm sure that won't happen." Indras spoke up.


    "Are you sure?"


    "Trust me!"


    Nikaidou paused for a moment and allowed a fleeting fantasy to enter her mind, filling her with a sense of possibility. Perhaps it was the confidence that Indras seemed to exude but whatever it was, Yoriko seemed noticeably more at ease.


    Without further incident, the rest of the book shopping wrapped up. Actually carting the large numbers of books into the van proved no problem as Aurelia and Tsujimoto had a friendly competition of strength which Aurelia did not quite concede but admitted that 'For a human', Natsumi was impressively strong and it might be interesting to see her wrestle an ogre, adding she would be inclined to wager on Tsujimoto in such a contest.


    Stopping for lunch, even the trailing officers were invited. Having traded in some gold the previous day, Taylor volunteered to take up the tab, which was completely fine for Tsujimoto as they pulled up to the Hayashiya Steak House. It seemed more than fair, Taylor considered.


    With the opportunity at hand, Panache was curious to ask the officers about themselves, their work and experiences.


    "Well," Kobayakawa began. "I'm originally from Okayama. My mother was a nurse and my father was a Shinto priest and a widower. They dated for years and then, mother says his daughter, Achika became very ill. After that, my father seemed to draw back into himself and told my mother that he couldn't take a chance of fathering another child who would face the type of sickness that my sister suffered from. He would not risk my mother's safety or that of a child. He left, not knowing my mother was pregnant. I've never met him."


    “What about you?” Tsujimoto asked.


    "My father," Panache replied. "Is a Baron. He's stubborn and giving something up for someone else's sake?… Well, I nearly disowned him after he pulled strings to get my little brother into the army." Panache faced Kobayakawa and Tsujimoto squarely. "I've trained to be a knight for years. I pray my sword is always in the service of right but right or wrong, I am trained. My brother never had a desire to go to war, although he would do anything to please our father. I'm only fortunate that I didn't lose him. I only hope something good comes from the terrible mistake my people made."


    Tsujimoto frowned. It was true that Panache seemed like a decent person but the day that the Gate opened was one that would always be burned into all of their memories. And wasn't she the enemy? As polite as she was, she had just admitted to belonging to the people who had brutally attacked their homeland and killed hundreds of helpless people and now Natsumi and her colleagues were supposed to play 'tour guide'.


    "Mistake?" Tsujimoto asked. "Invading our homes and killing defenseless people was a mistake?"

    Panache stared down at the table, shame faced. Of those present, while Aurelia too was a citizen of the Empire, she did not represent the Empire the way Panache did. And Tsujimoto was right to be angry.


    "Yes. A horrible mistake made because our people thought we could do as we wished. And because of our arrogance, hundreds of your people and hundreds of thousands of mine died. Not long ago, I was prepared to hate the people of your world for that. For the blood of the brother I thought I had lost and yes. I wanted blood for blood! And then," she looked to Taylor. "Someone showed me compassion I did not think I truly deserved. Wasn't I the enemy? But yes, Sergeant a mistake. Because if the men who ordered my brother and a hundred thousand other young men to march into your country are criminals in your eyes, that is fair. But the men who believed when our leaders told them to march are not criminals. At least not for that.


    "My Princess wants peace. She risks being marked as a traitor by the Senate because she has seen that fighting you will destroy us. I believe in her goals. You may think I am trying to excuse my people. Perhaps I am. But what we did, it was the way things were. We accepted it without question. I'm not saying my people haven't earned their punishment. But please don’t hate all of us for the decisions of a few."


    Tsujimoto frowned. "It's not that simple. We were there! We saw our fellow officers dead in the streets, dying to try and protect scared people who never threatened anybody!"


    Panache had to know. She had to see it through their eyes. "I wasn't there. I need to know what it was like."


    "You really want to know?" Kobayakawa asked.


    "I need to know. Sergeant. Please? I need to know."


    Tsujimoto saw the sincerity in Panache's request. "Alright..."


    Flashback: Tokyo, August 11, 2017, Day of the Invasion of Ginza


    It had been a typical morning for Tsujimoto. Natsumi was still missing Lieutenant Tokairin, who had gone off on a trip to the Himalayas to gain further training in mountain rescue climbing but at least soon both she and Miyuki would be back at good old Bokutou Station. Having completed the Ranger course, Natsumi was back at Metropolitan Police Headquarters, testing out new equipment. Some of it was half as inventive as the things Miyuki created even. The first confused reports started coming into Headquarters shortly after mid-morning. Reports from confused and terrified street officers about ‘monsters’ and ‘invaders wielding swords’ and frantic cell phone calls from civilians. Calls for ambulances and sighting reports from patrolling helicopters. Initially labeled a ‘riot’, it was soon clear that the situation was far worse. Especially as two police helicopters were lost.


    In Bokutou, Captain Kachou and other station commanders soon received instructions to divert all civilian traffic away from the bridges across the Sumida and to block those bridges from the Invaders, especially the southernmost bridges as these were the ones most immediately in the invaders’ path. Initially, Higher authority was willing to concede the bridges between Chuo City and Harumi as HQ was effectively cut off and it was deemed that the invaders would storm the bridges before anyone could arrive. To Captain Kachou and the other station Captains east of the Sumida, this was not an acceptable answer. Of course, if Kachou had his two best officers back, he would have no doubt that they would reach the bridges in time but they would not be back for a couple more weeks. But they had to succeed anyway. Ceding Harumi was not acceptable. So Kachou sent Nakajima and his other motorcycle officers ahead to start commandeering tractor-trailer trucks and used those to barricade the Kachidoki and other bridges. It would only be later that Kachou and the other station Captains would be reminded that the Kachidoki, at least, was still functional as a drawbridge. But for now, his officers succeeded in blocking the bridges. It was horrible and heartbreaking to see and hear civilians trapped on the wrong side screaming in terror. The officers delayed as long as they could before completely blocking the bridges but as the invaders got closer, there was no alternative. Fortunately, the situation at the southern end of the Sumida was aided by the disinclination of the Commander of the Sixth Legion to push beyond the banks of the river and settling for securing the flank of the invasion.


    Inside Tokyo itself, it was much worse. Hastily assembled riot police gathered and advanced with riot shields and teargas. While teargas was a new wrinkle, the close, body to body advance of the riot police was the bread and butter of the Saderan Imperial Army. Worse, auxiliaries utilized wind magic to break up the teargas clouds. In any case, the teargas only tended to irritate and anger Imperial troops.


    As defense units were called in, a desperate siege revolved around Police Headquarters. Commissioner Arizuka personally assembled SWAT teams and snipers and organized them in the defense of Headquarters. During this time word was received that hostiles were closing on the Eitai Bridge with no opposition.


    “I know of exactly TWO officers who might be able to get there in time and secure us that bridge,” Inspector Kinoshita commented on hearing the news. “I don’t care what it takes! Get me officers Tsujimoto and Kobayakawa NOW!”


    Scant minutes later, Kobayakawa and Tsujimoto were in the main parking garage, donning armor vests.


    “Get to Eitai Bridge and block it any way you can!” Kinoshita told them. “Once you secure the bridge, keep your heads down and try to stay safe. Got it?”


    “Yes, ma’am,”
    Kobayakawa answered, then turned to Natsumi. “Ready to go, partner?”


    “You bet! Miyuki!”


    “Good! Let’s strap in!”



    Kinoshita watched as the entrance to the street beyond was opened just long enough for Miyuki’s car to storm out, scattering the nearest centuria in surprise, although at least two troopers failed to get out of the way in time.


    “Stand by on Nitro!” Miyuki said as they tore through the street. Nearing the bridge, they found a single unmarked police car, tires punctured with arrows. Its surviving occupant, a plainclothes junior detective, his partner killed by an arrow. The troops trying to get passed him were caught off guard as Miyuki told Natsumi to take the wheel while Kobayakawa opened up a murderous reign of fire on the Saderans who fled as the patrol car blew past.


    Pulling to a stop next to the unmarked car, Tsujimoto got out to check on the plainclothesman.


    “Sergeants Tsujimoto and Kobayakawa. Are you alright?”


    “I’m alright,”
    He nodded, catching his breath. “Detective Togusa. Nice to meet you.” He jerked a thumb over in the direction of a fuel truck abandoned nearby. “My partner and I were going to use that tanker truck to block the bridge. He got caught trying to make a run for it.”


    “Come on! Get in!”
    The detective dove into the back seat as Miyuki swung the patrol car around, pulling up behind the tanker on the east side. Togusa and Kobayakawa firing on a freshly gathering group of invaders as Tsujimoto slipped into the cab.


    “Gonna have to hotwire it. It’ll just take a minute”


    “Make it quick! Looks like they’re serious, this time,”
    Miyuki answered.


    “Got it!”Natsumi exclaimed as the diesel engine growled to life. “Get clear, while I block the bridge.” Tsujimoto turned the wheel about and cut the road, before jumping out on the safe side and running to where her partner and Togusa were waiting.


    “That will only slow them down unless we can ignite the truck,” Togusa observed. “Either of you ever make a molotov cocktail?” He asked, spying the gas can in the back.


    “Now you’re talking our language detective!” Kobayakawa answered. “I can puncture the tank. Of course, we don’t want to be too close when it lights.”


    “Leave that to me, Miyuki,”
    Natsumi assured. Once Togusa finished crafting the incendiary device, Natsumi waited while Miyuki took careful aim and punctured the tanker, causing gasoline to pour out. Breaking Togusa’s radio open to provide a spark, Natsumi lit the wick, making sure it got a good start before giving their makeshift bomb a powerful toss, igniting the truck. With the way blocked by fire, the trio waited as around them, the world went insane.


    ***
    "We waited on that bridge for three hours before relief came," Tsujimoto recalled.


    "In the meantime, we lost scores of officers and hundreds of innocent civilians in the streets," Kobayakawa added. "And they never had a chance to understand why."


    Panache looked at them, her eyes lowered. "Because of greed and arrogant pride. Officers… I have worked for years to protect the helpless, not attack them. Please… I ask you to accept my sincerest regrets and apologies and those of my Liege Lady, Princess Pina, and the Rose Order."


    "Nations make war," Kobayakawa said. "People make peace.


    Tsujimoto nodded and glanced around the table and made a circle gesture with her fork to include everyone sitting there. “We forgive you,” she said. “And on your word, I think those of us at this table would be inclined to give your Princess and the rest of your Order the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t think everyone is going to be that forgiving and the next person from your side I meet? Beyond what I’ve said? I’m not exactly going to trust them on sight.”


    “That’s more than fair, Officer Tsujimoto,” Panache replied. “To be honest, I would sooner trust you and your companions than some Imperials I’ve known."


    "One thing is it's harder to make war on a friend than a stranger!" Nikaidou agreed.


    "Thank you," Panache replied with true heartfelt thanks.


    "So…" Futaba asked after taking a sip of tea. "Where else did we plan to go after this?"


    "Well, Panache admitted. "We were interested in…"


    "'Fashion' is the term?" Nayu suggested.


    "Yes! And perhaps then of a more personal sort?" Panache agreed.


    "I know just the place!" Nikaidou declared. "It's called the Silky Doll! Nene Romanova over at Central control told me about it. She knows the owner, Miss Sylvia, or at least she says she does. It's supposed to be a real classy place!" To Indras’ amusement and satisfaction, Yoriko cast a sly look towards the head of the table. “I’ve actually been meaning to do some shopping there myself!” She declared.


    Tsujimoto grinned. "Hey, Nakajima…"


    "Sorry!" Nakajima hurriedly replied. "Better get back to shadowing. Right?" He asked his nodding comrade.


    "Nonsense!" Hayase replied. "A close escort is best in these situations. You know that Inspector Kinoshita always expects us to use good judgment over a plan that doesn't fit the situation."


    "She's right," Tsujimoto agreed. "Don't you think so, Miyuki?"


    "Oh, definitely!" Miyuki agreed, having not quite forgiven the boys of Bokutou for their handling of the 'Flasher Mugger' case the previous month.


    "What do you think, Lieutenant?" Nakajima asked Taylor.


    "Every moment spent with a lovely lady is a privilege. Today I am very privileged."


    Nakajima sighed. The afternoon was going to be a long one.


    In the meantime, Panache pulled her groom-to-be aside and whispered a request into his ear. He nodded and placed a call to take care of it.


    By the time the group returned to Camp Augustus, a very substantial amount of commerce had been concluded. With the escort mission completed, the officers from Bokutou were now off duty.

    "If any of you would care to stay for dinner, you would be welcomed guests,"


    "I'm afraid I'll have to decline," Inspector Kinoshita answered. Although lunch had been excellent and the conversation, pleasant, she was still Inspector Kinoshita. She could not allow herself the luxury of 'unwinding' around officers she was responsible for.


    "Of course, Inspector. Perhaps we will have the pleasure of your company another day," Lady Octavia told her.


    "Perhaps."


    Most of the others did stay, however. Panache enjoyed sharing tales of battling goblins and developing a sense of kindredness with the women of Bokutou as they shared stories about their most interesting or exciting police cases. Honor and respect are qualities that know no one single flag.


    The next day, it was time for Taylor's party to return to Janus. There were a great number of things to be done. As they passed through the checkpoint to enter the Gate, a florists van delivered six-hundred roses, two-hundred Red, two-hundred Yellow, and two-hundred White roses, placed in memory of the fallen of Ginza.​
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2019
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  25. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Chapter 33: A Breeze and then Maelstrom

    Fort Defiance, Alnus Hill



    The continuing growth and expansion in Alnus Town were accompanied by the recruitment of locals of many races into the units serving in the Janus Theater. Additionally, others were hired as ‘contractors’. Orcs were now working in the supply depots. Translators from numerous races were serving with many units in theater. Experts in the local plant and wildlife had been sought out. Most significantly, the Pacific Allies had negotiated their first formal Alliance with a native population.


    Surprisingly, this treaty was not with the Kingdom of the Elbe, whose King, Duran had finally come forward to Allied Command to discuss his kingdom’s withdrawal from the war, contingent on his return and restoration to his throne. Nor was it with the Uial tribe formerly of Schwarz Woods, although they had been moved to Alnus, pending a further discussion on their relocation.


    Instead, it had been with a colony of Faeries living in the forest outside Alnus. The colony, numbering a few thousand strong, had been living in the local woods for ages. Initially, they had considered the presence of Titian’s army as an opportunity as they raided Titian’s camp in the middle of the night for food, fabric, or anything else useful that they might find. This turned into deep concern when Titian’s troops began harvesting part of the forest for lumber to help shore up the defenses at Alnus. The loss of cover and foraging ground was a very serious threat, in their view. So concerned were they, that the colony actually contemplated launching a full armed assault on Titian’s troops, knowing that the attempt would most likely lead to the colony’s destruction but having no real alternative.


    It was with surprise and a mixture of relief and concern that the Faeries of the Alnus Colony witnessed the complete destruction of Titian’s army by an army from beyond the Gate. If confronting Titian’s 35,000 man army was considered a desperate and virtually suicidal gambit, then being forced to face the army that had so handily destroyed those same Imperial Legions AND those of Senator Godasen was simply unthinkable. Cautiously, scouts and foragers were dispatched to collect the goods of the newcomers in an attempt to judge both the danger and the possible opportunities presented by the new arrivals.


    An accidental encounter brought Fae foragers and scouts, Nighean Gaoithe and Dannsaiche Adhair face to face with Marines of Fox Company of the Second Battalion, 5th Marines After talks and a formal apology of cinnamon rolls to Nighean and Dannsaiche for the flypaper, the duo and several of their companions had been formally mustered into Fox Company, with the association doing nothing to smooth the rough edges off either group and certainly not off Nighean. or Dannsaiche. Needless to say, they and the Marines made a good fit.


    The nine Fae assigned to Fox Company initially carried their traditional weapons, mainly swords or arrows dipped either in toxin from crimson leapers which tended to cause sharp pain and paralysis when driven into a wound, or, rarely, sap from a plant called Ibora’s Heart, which had a highly sedative effect. More recently, a lightweight laser pointer and miniature goggles had been added to their equipment along with a tiny wireless headset. The Fae had already proven themselves as recon scouts. Of course, they also needed a high caloric intake. Whereas their human counterparts might need up to three thousand calories a day, Fae functioned best on four hundred calories. They could survive on much lower amounts but at minimal amounts, Fae could end up sleeping for twenty hours a day. For this reason, one Marine, designated as ‘canteen’, carried extra rations to help maintain their Fae teammates, who normally deployed in groups of three while on patrol. Needless to say, ‘canteen’ was usually a Fae’s favorite Marine in the field. In particular, Nighean, Dannsaiche, and their partner, Strìnan Sgàthan were particularly fond of Corporal Gataki as the Long Beach native quickly learned their specific individual tastes and idiosyncrasies.


    “George,” the eight-inch tall Nighean said with a grin. “You’re a right good and blessed Èireannach! Ye know right what we’re needing, love.”


    “You know I’m Greek, right?” He laughed.


    “Ye’ll always be Èireannach to us,” Strinan told him.


    “In fact, ye give us half a chance, ye’ll be Èireannach for life!” Dannsaiche said giving her hips a suggestive wiggle.


    “How would that even work?" Private Buckman asked.


    “We’d have ta get creative!” Nighean replied. “But that’s fine. We like a challenge!”


    “Well, before we all get carried away,” Sergeant Duncan cut in. “Let’s try and watch the shenanigans, I just talked to the L-T. In three days, there’s gonna be a shitload of reporters and UN Observers coming in to poke their noses into anything they can. Therefore… First Platoon has been volunteered to head to Italica to reinforce a platoon from Echo Company in assisting in the defense of the city and running patrols in the area.”


    “Why us Sarge?” Buckman asked.


    “Because the powers that be are of the opinion that letting this bunch of screwballs anywhere near the media is not exactly in anyone’s best interest.”


    “Well, at least it gets us away from Major Powers,” Gataki commented. The battalion XO was high on everyone’s list of least favorite people.


    “Major Pain in the arse!” Dannsaiche corrected.


    “He’s naught but a misbegot motherless bastard,” Nighean replied.


    And they say we’re not teaching them good social manners, Master Sergeant Duncan shook his head. He had heard the scuttlebutt about Italica and he had the feeling that their stay would be as interesting as a Chinese Curse.


    Akusho District, Sadera


    “Man! I was hoping for a paradise full of beast girls. This place is a dump!” Sergeant Kurata exclaimed as Third Recon and their guides, led by Lieutenant Thomas Theisman, drove through the narrow streets of ‘Trouble Town’. A weary and wary populace watched them, standing amid the dirty squalor of Akusho’s slums.


    Theisman threw a look at Kurata. “If they had known a bigshot was coming for a visit, Sergeant, I’m sure they’d have snapped to and made sure their homes reflected the shining and exotic splendor you were expecting.”


    Kurata shrank at Theisman’s rebuke. He hadn’t really meant anything but still…


    “Anyway, now that you’re with Persia and Katrine, I thought you were off the market,” Shino put in.


    “Well,” Kurata replied in a hushed voice. “It’s just… Well, aren’t you curious? I mean Even here, these girls are like nothing on Earth! Um… You won’t say anything about this, will you? Persia and Katrine are kind of possessive. Besides, what about our squad leader?” He asked, glancing over to where Yao had practically welded herself to Itami’s side ever since their return from Mount Tybe. “Or Lieutenant Taylor? They’ve got at least four apiece! That’s not fair!”


    “Their cases are different,” Shino replied. “As for not telling Persia and Katrine about your wandering eye? We’ll see. I just might,” Shino replied as the small convoy proceeded to a large warehouse which sat next to the main Allied safehouse.


    “We’re particularly glad to have you here, Sergeant Kurokawa. Medical help is the most important thing we have to offer down here,” Theisman explained. “Major Nyutabaru will fill you in further inside.”



    It was shortly thereafter that Kurokawa had changed into civvies and began to see patients, Miss Mizari, first among them. It seemed Kurokawa was able to form an easy rapport with Mizari and the other girls working the Venus and the Bacchante. Kurokawa’s manner and lack of judgementalism and condescension helped in this regard, although she did find it interesting as Mizari expressed disappointment that Allied soldiers did not seem interested in her services and curiosity in just what would attract them.


    Kurokawa could understand Mizari’s position. In comparison to most of her customers, Allied soldiers were wealthy and much more sophisticated. On the other hand, what Mizari could not know was that Captain Harrington had recommended using Mizari and the other girls at the Venus as a test case to see if they could be counted upon to follow a set of guidelines that would minimize the risks of disease transmission. If so, then Harrington recommended sending girls from the Venus and the Bacchante to Alnus to set up a licensed and carefully administered legal brothel. As much as it was the popular public solution to declare a ‘no tolerance’ policy in regards to soldiers seeking out such pleasures, hard pragmatism suggested this was simply not realistic, especially in a particularly exotic land where such things were seen as the cultural norm. It was an imperfect solution in an imperfect universe and as Kurokawa knew, it was the only way for Mizari and her girls to make a living in a hard world and this was a better alternative than other choices to be had.


    With Kurokawa on detached duty, the rest of Third Recon were invited guests at Princess Pina’s Palace before their expected trip back to Alnus in the morning. As the Third Recon troopers gratefully accepted Pina’s hospitality they looked forward to a peaceful night’s rest. They would be sorely disappointed, for late that evening, Mizari came to see Kurokawa, bringing with her every single one of her girls from the Venus if Kurokawa was not seriously mistaken, all of whom seemed nervous and or agitated about something if Kurokawa was any judge. In particular, Mizari brought with her a nervous young Siren named Tuwal, who explained that the village she grew up in was near an active volcano and whenever the volcano stirred, it was accompanied by a shaking of the earth. But that she and others in her village would get a certain ‘feeling’ before the ground began to shake and that she had been having the same feeling since the early morning and could not stop shaking.


    Nyutabaru, whom Kurokawa had called when Mizari arrived, noted that many of the other girls of different species were likewise exhibiting cues of agitation and it concerned him greatly as he looked at Harrington and Theisman.


    “When I was in Kobe, I noticed one day that the birds and other animals were behaving in a very nervous and agitated fashion. I didn’t know what it meant… Until Kobe was hit by a magnitude 8.2 Earthquake later that day.”


    “Are you saying that you think an earthquake is in the offering, Major?” Harrington asked.


    “Yes, Captain “ He turned to the radio operator. “Send an emergency Flash message to Alnus and all commands that a major earthquake may be imminent!”


    “Yes, sir!” The operator answered as Nyutabaru continued, addressing everyone in the room. “Spread the word for everyone to extinguish any fires and get outside into a clearing if possible. If you can’t get outside, then find an interior room and take cover under a sturdy table or such. Better alert the Akusho bosses.” He turned to Harrington and Theisman. “Once the operator gets a message confirmation from Alnus, we’ll secure the generator and take cover.”


    Sadera, Palace of Zorzal El Caesar



    It had been another uneasy day for Noriko, Tyuuke, and the other slaves in Zorzal’s palace. Apparently, his royal heinousness was getting particularly put out with the kitchen staff. Normally that would be a problem that would only fall on their heads as Tyuule had learned how to direct the Prince’s bad moods away from the house slaves. Unfortunately, his annoyances this day were simply too many. While he agreed that the kitchen staff should be punished and perhaps he should replace some of them, he was also angered that his older siblings. The First and Second Imperial Princesses had seen to make sport of him publicly, in front of his younger sister, Pina.


    Unfortunately, while Zorzal despised his older sisters, Tyuule, as a mere slave, dared not speak ill of Imperial blood. Further, while raping her had been sufficient pleasure for him on previous occasions, today he was getting more impatient to see what results Tyuule had achieved in training Noriko for his pleasure. Tyuule was hard pressed to suppress her disgust and anger at the thought of Zorzal touching her beautiful flower. But for her careful plans to destroy Zorzal and the world that could allow such a monster to exist, she was quite capable of killing him as she was made to stand quietly and watch as he took Noriko, knowing that if Noriko’s reactions failed to please him, they both would be brutally punished. But Tyuule’s Beautiful Flower endured. Tyuule’s pride in Noriko’s strength warring with her disgust at watching such an unworthy creature have her.


    Finally, the ordeal ended and Tyuule was allowed to take Noriko back to the slave quarters where she began to clean Noriko and tend her injuries.


    “You were very brave,” Tyuule said. “I’m very proud of you.”


    “If I had failed, he would have hurt you. I couldn’t let him hurt you because of me anymore,” Noriko told her quietly.


    Tyuule finished washing her and simply held her. Her Flower had grown stronger than Tyuule had hoped and she had suffered to protect Tyuule. Tyuule found herself cursing and praising the gods all at the same time for this as they lay down and Tyuule protectively held Noriko to her…


    Only to be woken by rumbling somewhere in the distance but getting closer. She shook Noriko awake as the whole palace began to shake madly. Noriko’s eyes went wide as she seemed to recognize this danger.


    “Earthquake! Quick! Everyone! Get under the tables!” Noriko cried as the shaking continued and objects began crashing to the floor. After what seemed like an eternity, the shaking stopped. Slowly, everyone got to their feet.


    “Is everyone alright?” Tyuule demanded as they each nodded. But Noriko stared up at a crack in the outer wall and the ceiling.


    “We have to get out of here! There will be aftershocks!”


    “Aftershocks?” Another slave asked confused.


    “More shakes. Quakes don’t happen singularly,” Noriko said and looked at Tyuule. “This building is damaged! We don’t want to be in here when the aftershocks start!”


    “Are you sure?” Tyuule demanded. She knew what they had to do and that, in itself would have its own dangers.


    “Yes! We have earthquakes in Japan very often! There will be another shaking!”


    “We have to tell Zorzal. If we try to leave without his permission, he will have us all punished and possibly killed.” Tyuule looked at the other slaves.


    “You and I will go to Zorzal," she said, turning back to Noriko. "Where is the safest place for everyone else to wait?”


    “Move the tables next to the doorway and grab pillows. If the shaking starts again, put a pillow over your head and get under the table. Stay away from that bookcase and the outer wall. Put out the lanterns and candles.”


    “Do as she says,” Tyuule told the rest and then nodded to Noriko. “Alright. Let’s go..”



    Akusho District, Sadera



    “Is everyone alright?” Sergeant Major Kuwahara asked as he finally got his breath, the terrified Naga finally releasing some of the pressure on his ribcage and settled for gently sobbing on his chest as the immediate terror passed. He softly smiled at her, noting that the girl appeared to be about the same age as his own daughter, as he gently rubbed her back. Although she was not crushing him in panic anymore, the Naga, named Uma, held on to him all the more anxiously with her arms on his shoulders.


    Getting nods from the other allied soldiers, Kuwahara continued to comfort Uma with a gentle voice, calming her. Likewise, Kurokawa held Mizari, who for all her worldliness, was reduced to a frightened child desperately seeking the reassurance of a mother who seemed so impossibly calm and brave.


    As Tom Theisman did a mental headcount, he found a pretty four armed girl named Satha, wrapped around his ankles with two arms while covering her head with the other two For Satha, the ‘Green Man’ was the only comfort in a world that threatened to crumble around her.


    Kurata, for his part, was experiencing a ‘perfect storm’ of geek nirvana as at least three frightened beauties clung to him. Though he already had Persia and Katrine, the thrill of having yet another Catgirl and a pair of Vulpines all over him was overwhelming as they held on for dear life.


    “Save us, Master!” One of the Foxgirls cried as they looked upon him with huge eyes that looked as if they beheld a mythic hero. They would gladly give themselves and everything they had to be saved from the end of everything.


    “It’s alright. I’m here. You’re safe.” Best of all was that Kuribayashi wasn’t here to spoil his grand moment.


    “Thank you, Master!” The second Foxgirl said, snuggling closer as meantime, Major Nyutabaru gently held Tuwal, thinking how her warning had probably saved a great many lives. It was an ability that the Japan Meteorological Agency could seriously use. But Nyutabaru also recognized how bad this experience was for Tuwal. It would take a harder man than he to suggest subjecting her to such trauma again by taking her to Japan where scientists would study her gifts, likely heedless of the cost to Tuwal. For now, what mattered was that she was safe.


    All around them, the women of the Venus and the Bacchante and indeed all the residents of Akusho saw that only the ‘Green Men’ were not in terror. Except for perhaps one young man, who pushed down his fear to find the only person that mattered to him. If the world was to end, he would find Tuwal and hold her as it ended.


    His name was Prairie but it was her name he shouted as he stumbled his way through the streets to the Venus, where he knew she worked. He knew of the Green Men, subjected himself to their rules so Tuwal would not lose her job if he saw her. He was not sure he understood them but they treated Tuwal well and didn’t cheat her and allowed them time to be together. He had been saving money for them to leave Akusho. He was skilled as a farm hand and because of the war and the levies of men that would never return to the fields, that was a skill in demand. But she was doing even better and at least around the Green Men, they were safe. Perhaps he would consider a job at Alnus. Assuming there was a tomorrow to come, of course.


    “Tuwal!”


    “Prairie!” She cried, hearing him call her name. Major Nyutabaru helped her up and guided her into her lover’s arms. It was what she needed more than anything.


    “Tuwal! Are you alright?”


    “Yes,” she nodded choppily. “I told them about feeling the shakes. They listened and had us come outside. We’re all safe! At least for now.”


    “Hardy will kill and claim us all!” A dazed and panicked man screamed. “PLEASE GRANT US MERCY GREAT HARDY!”


    “SHUT UP!” Prairie shouted angrily, not wanting to hear it. “STOP PRAYING AND GET UP!” He stepped back from Tuwal. “There are fires that need to be put out and people trapped in their homes! Hardy isn’t going to save Akusho! WE WILL! NOW GET MOVING!”


    “You heard the young lad!” Captain Harrington shouted. "I want a headcount of our people first and then we go door to door! Block by block! Let’s be about it people!”
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2019
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  26. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    The Janus Campaign


    Chapter 34: Point of No Return


    Fort Defiance, Alnus Hill



    With a much relaxed Yeoman Locke at the wheel after her extended leave, Taylor’s party returned to Alnus. While for the most part, they had enjoyed the visit, Aenaire, Nayu, Indras, and especially Aurelia had heard more than a number of ‘guarded’ comments thrown their way. Most of them were in Japanese and their exact meaning harder to parse but the inflections of loathing were hard to mistake. And there were a few spoken in English that were quite clear. Still, there had been some genuine curiosity as well and one waiter at the restaurant had been quietly reprimanded by his manager for refusing to serve the party. Another waiter had been brought over. His service had been impeccable, to the point that an extra round of dessert was ordered So in the end, the good outweighed the bad.


    But it was time to return to their duties. Before heading back to Italica, they would meet up with a platoon of Marines from Fox Company. Also, Elder Bram would be joining them. He and Kyas, acting in her role as Matriarch of the Dushi Tribe intended to seek an audience with Countess Myui to request permission to settle the wooded mesa that comprised the north wall of Italica’s current defenses, offering their warriors and craftsmen to the defense and expansion of Italica in exchange. For this reason, travel would be conducted using CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters in the interest of time. Fortunately, Merisa had taken both Imperator and Lexington back to Italica days ago.


    Of course, there was still a little time for just a little bit of teasing. “I’m glad you were able to help Officer Nikaidou, mother,” Nayu told Indras as her mother looked at her smugly. “But did you have to get her wanting to chase our fiance?” She asked looking over at Aenaire.


    “I did no such thing and you know it,” Indras smirked.


    “You helped drive a Pouncer Cat into hunting mode when there were only three Wood Fawns in sight and she wasn’t fixating on the other two.”


    I’m not hearing this, Taylor told himself. I’m not hearing this…


    “Can I help it if she has similar taste to the rest of you?”


    “Picked up another one, skipper?” Locke asked.


    “I did not ‘pick up another one’.”


    “You would break that precious girl’s heart, my lord?” Aurelia teased as Panache grinned.


    “I’m not going to win, am I?”


    “No, my lord. But at least you are wise enough to realize it…”


    “She might be an interesting addition to the family,” Panache mused. “We’ll have to see if she follows through. That sort of determination would be quite useful.”


    “There are limits to this sort of thing, you know.”


    “Certainly, my lord,” Aurelia agreed. “But if we were to entertain allowing another to join us, they would have to be motivated at least.”


    “Motivated...Hoo boy…” Taylor sighed. The flight back to Italica was uneventful, although poor Aurelia spent the flight folding and covering her ears. Taylor made a note to see if somebody could fabricate earplugs for bunny ears. At least Elves could use earplugs meant for human ears. Glancing over at the Marines, Taylor noticed three faeries huddled together in the lap of a Corporal named Pataki. The corporal grabbed a spare helmet to put over their heads while they huddled. Chief Richardson and Panache’s deputy, Milet were waiting when they landed, as was Suissesse Co Mein.


    “Enjoy your vacation, sir?”


    “As a matter of fact, yes,” Taylor replied.


    “By the way, congratulations on killing Smaug. I hear the geniuses are swarming all over the carcass. The choppers were doing runs to dump snow on the thing just to keep it cold long enough to preserve the organs. They’ve got crews with chainsaws trying to cut it up into manageable sections and they’re trying to figure out how to move the head once they get it severed.”


    “Good luck! What about the little ones?”


    “The Blue One is actually on ice right now. I told the lab jockeys they could play with everything except the scales if they arranged to keep it cold.”


    “Nice work! Any luck finding that craftsman I asked about?”


    “Lyudo has a man for you. The guy says if the scales and the gold are both real, then he can do it.”


    “Good. I want to see him in my office tomorrow.”


    “Do what?” Panache asked.


    “Oh, just a little experiment.” Taylor lied. He wasn’t a natural liar but he didn’t want to ruin the surprise. Of course, Aurelia probably knew but what she didn’t know is that Taylor had slipped the chief a note to inquire about Warrior Bunny patterns as well.


    Panache decided to humor him. She was certain that she would find out soon enough.


    In the meantime, Taylor turned to Suissesse and Milet. “Ladies, please allow me to introduce Lieutenant Barnes. His platoon will be joining Lieutenant Meyer’s people in assisting your patrols.” He turned to the young Marine officer. Lieutenant Barnes, these Ladies, Capital ‘L’, by the way, are Suissesse Co Mein and Millet Co Maltus. Lady Suissesse is Deputy Commander of the Company of the Red Rose and Lady Millet is Deputy Commander of the Company of the White Rose.


    Barnes saluted them with the sort of crisp, precise salute one might expect of a young Annapolis graduate on the fast track. Promoted to First Lieutenant after only eighteen months, Barnes was already being earmarked as an officer with potential. His mastery of languages was only one of a number of reasons he had been assigned a platoon in Janus Theater of Operations.


    “Lady Suissesse, Lady Millet,” He greeted them with precise dignity.


    Taylor then turned to Nayu with a smile and presented her to Suissesse and Millet. “My Ladies, also allow me to introduce Nayu Ro Nin, a warrior of the Uial tribe of the Burning Heart clan, her mother, Indras Ro Nin, her mother, Matriarch Kyas Ro Nin, Elder Bram Ro Drath, and warriors Yan Ro Dushi, Seymy Ro Kuth, and Met Ro Vel. Elder Bram and Matriarch Kyas are here to petition Countess Myui for the right to settle the forest on the north line. If approved, the Dushi Tribe has promised to add their warriors to the defenses of Italica.”


    Suissesse looked at the Uial consideringly. The prospect of having trained Uial archers at hand was certainly enticing. She hoped discussions would go well. The addition of another platoon of Marines was certainly welcome news for both Suissesse and Millet, although they both suspected a further increase in tension with the troopers of the Seventh Cohort. The Imperial regulars assigned to the 7th Cohort had already garnered a reputation for minor disciplinary problems and its officers only grudgingly accepted the orders of Panache and her deputies, even with the written commands of the Imperial Princess. The need to keep the Seventh on a short leash had garnered a fair degree of resentment in its ranks.


    Of course, the fact that the Marines already in Italica had given the men of the Seventh Cohort the perplexing designation of ‘F-Troop’ had not helped matters. Millet expected the term was not meant favorably, since the Marines always addressed the members of the Order with full courtesy, both singularly and as a whole. The Seventh Cohort might not get the joke but they knew they were the butt of one.


    Still, the men of the Seventh performed useful services. Guarding the criminal population laboring in Italica was one of their roles even if they did not like or understand the policy of ‘humane’ treatment, they learned to live with it, especially once a couple of guards found abusing prisoners were threatened with joining their ranks. They also took sentry duty. This in itself was more for show as Panache and her knights soon came to understand that the tools of the offworlders were far more vigilant and perceptive eyes than normal human ones but it was for the morale of the city that a visible watch be kept. Also, Suissesse, Millet and Decimus, commander of the Black Rose, were becoming familiar enough with the officers and men of the Seventh to start sending some of them out on patrols again. While some men in the unit were disciplinary problems, there were others who had simply allowed a negative inertia to take hold. These men could and would be gradually sorted from the true shirkers and malcontents and retrained. Even a few of the junior officers were starting to come around and take a more proactive attitude, enough that Panache and her deputies had been able to completely reorganize one full centuria to their satisfaction. Although unofficial, since only the Senate or the Emperor could formally establish new units in the Imperial Army, these men were designated as First Century, First Cohort, 101st Legion at Lieutenant Taylor’s suggestion. Since the Imperial Eagle had never fallen from use, these men did not object to being issued a new standard, featuring a golden eagle landing, and the Marines did not extend their disdain for ‘F-Troop’ to these new ‘Screaming Eagles’. It was hoped that more soldiers of the Seventh would follow but for now, Panache only counted little over one quarter of the Seventh Cohort to be reliable enough to use outside of Italica. Overall, the situation in Italica seemed to be shaping up nicely.


    Of course, it was a common saying in the Empire that man can prepare for everything but the gods. The afternoon talks between Countess Myui and the Uial representatives had proceeded well since it was clear that the Uial had no aspirations to power in Countess Formar’s lands, merely a productive co-existence and symbiotic autonomy. Myui greatly benefitted from her father’s policies of racial tolerance that made Italica better suited to such an arrangement that any other indigenous community in Falmart, possibly any community, period. In the end, the countess, now showing signs of a savvy ahead of her years, agreed to the proposals of the Uial Elders with the added stipulation that she wanted at least one of the tribe Elders to sit on her council of advisers. By late afternoon, Myui afixed her seal to an agreement, with Elder Bram, Matriarch Kyas, Panache representing Princess Pina, Lieutenant Taylor representing the Pacific Allies, the ever faithful Kaine, and at Myui’s own request, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake in attendance.


    There was one person who ought to have been there, Henry noted, but was strangely absent. The Formar House Butler Bartholomew had been more and more notable for his absences which he blamed on exhaustion and a weak constitution but which Blake, as a trained doctor, did not quite believe. Rather, it appeared to Blake that Bartholomew seemed to be nervous about something. Henry supposed it was his discomfort with all the outworlders but that didn’t make sense because he could swear he had seen Bartholomew at one of the local watering holes, buying drinks and chatting with Doctor Stevens and other members of the Science team. No, Henry wasn’t certain what was going on but it made him uncomfortable.


    What he did not know is that it was actually Henry Blake himself that Bartholomew was avoiding. Bartholomew didn’t know how Blake had magicked himself into the Countess’s trust but whereas even with Kaine in the picture, Bartholomew had managed to whittle away at Myui’s confidence, finding ways to make her doubt her ability to succeed her father. But ever since Blake had gotten here, that outworlder had helped Myui get past many of her doubts and when Bartholomew tried to sew the seed of new fears, it was to Blake whom Myui went seeking reassurance. The more that she turned to Blake, the less she confided in the Butler.


    Bartholomew was eager to be well away from Italica. He wanted to be away from Kaine and her fanatical maid staff, away from Pina’s pet bitches who walked around full of their own importance, away from the offworld soldiers and their alien ways, and away from these damned academics spouting their incomprehensible blatherings! Why couldn’t they leave a simple universe be? He had thought they would be a wonderful source of information with how academics liked to talk but they took even the tiniest of matters and talked it into the most minute detail. Unfortunately theories about parallel evolution and wind patterns were hardly useful to his employers.


    That evening, he was in his second favorite place, a tavern on the north side of the city. It was filled with smoke from pipes. Thornweed was the most popular pleasure but Batholomew prefered to drink. Even his most preferred spot in Italica had lost some of its charm now that the women were charging more in the thriving business climate.


    Yes, a vacation would be nice.


    He was still drinking when the warning sirens began to scream...

    ***​


    It was impressive how fast Panache could don her armor, a detached portion of Taylor’s mind thought as Chief Richardson and one of Panache’s knights, a very pretty but serious young blonde woman named ‘Ambrosia’ if he recalled, arrived at their chamber door at almost the same time.


    “What’s going on, Chief?”


    “Radio room picked up an alert from Bletchley Park, sir. They’re putting out an earthquake warning. Alnus has repeated the warning.” Bletchley referred to the allied station in Akusho and was coined by Captain Harrington as a reference to the Top Secret British code breaking unit in the Second World War. As cooperative and friendly as the Rose Order knights might have been, disclosing that the Pacific Allies had a covert base inside Sadera itself was definitely not a good idea.


    “Earthquake?” Aurelia asked, paying careful attention as she strapped on the kukri Taylor had given her.


    “Violent ground shakes. Depending on how bad, possibly very destructive in a city.” He had everyone’s attention now. “I’m assuming they think it’s going to be big. Has anyone warned Colonel Blake?”


    “Yes, sir.”


    “Good.” He raised his voice. “Everybody needs to get outside immediately! Chief! Get the word out. Get the Hummers rolling. We have to get the people outside. Put out their fires and get outside. If they can’t then go UP and get under a table, cover their heads.”


    Panache listened and turned to Ambrosia. “Waken Countess Myui and get her to safety!”


    “Yes, ma’am!” The younger knight hurried on her way.


    “I need to see to my mother and grandmother,” Nayu put in.


    “Um… Your mom…” Chief Richardson began


    “I’m right here dear!” Indras called from out in the hall. “I’ll go get your grandmother! You get Elder Bram and the others!”


    Taylor looked at a slightly embarrassed Chief Richardson. “I don’t want to know. Just get people moving!”


    “Right skipper!”


    Elsewhere, Colonel Blake wasted no time in checking on Kaine. They arrived at Myui’s room at the same time as Ambrosia. Satisfied that the Countess was safe, Henry turned to Kaine. “We need to get all of your people outside.”


    The short warning undoubtedly saved many lives in Italica that night. The east wall suffered the most damage as the ground shook. Terrified citizens praying to be spared One particular religious sect called the Inferni were also praying but praying that their neighbors be spared. Katrine and Persia had been among many feeling odd in the past day or so, not understanding why until the shaking began and now, once outside the mansion, huddled together, crying for Kurata to be with them on what they thought might be the last night of the world. Myui was wrapped in the arms of Henry Blake as Kaine and Mamina held on to him In the meantime, Taylor held Aenaire as she held her son. Nayu, Aurelia and Panache also clustered around. As the ground shook, for those few minutes, there were no Imperials or offworlders or Warrior Bunnies or Medusae, only people clinging to each other for their lives.


    Finally, the initial quake ended.


    As the shock passed, people began to get to their feet and take action.


    Henry Blake smiled at Myui gently and stood up. “Now I gotta go to work, honey. Kaine and Mamina will take care of you.” He turned to Kaine. “There may be more shakes. Stay out here until we can be reasonably sure there won’t and that the building is safe. Klinger!”


    “Yes! Oh clustered one!”


    “Get a head count on our people and have Newsome, Able and Bayliss meet me over at the Dispensary. We’re gonna have a busy night. Then call up the unit and see if they can spare any help. After that, check with the science team. Anybody with medical training of any kind, I need ‘em!”


    “Yes, your Colonelness! I’m off!”


    Panache and Taylor then began assigning teams of two marines and two knights each to take whatever vehicles were available to start checking on the neighboring villages. Everyone left began a house to house check for trapped or injured people. The Inferni immediately volunteered to serve on rescue teams, to gather food and provide it to the victims and the work parties. After this night, the name of the Inferni would never be spoken in disdain within the walls of Italica.



    407th Combat Support Hospital, Alnus



    “No, we’re alright, Klinger. Koire started getting the shakes real bad about an hour or so ago. So we knew something was up. Just didn’t know what until the warning came in. So we’re still here. The engineers and field medics are heading into the town first but it looks like we got lucky.”


    “It’s gonna be rougher out here, Radar. Even though we got warning, we can already tell the southeast section of town took a beating. Figure cause it already took a beating. Look, Radar, Colonel Blake says we can use all the supplies and all the help we can get. He’s trying to organize a three ringed circus of our guys, a couple of Marine corpsman, some of the scientists with medical training and any local healers we can find.”


    “We’ll send you everything we can, Klinger.”


    “Thanks, Radar. By the way, spend the quake snuggled up to anyone special?”


    Radar blushed just a bit. He and Parna had actually ridden out the quake together mutually terrified. It wasn’t as if Iowa was known for earthquakes afterall. “Better than going through that alone! That’s for sure. How about you?”


    “Me? No love for Toledo tonight. Anyway, I’d better get going. Colonel Blake says to be ready if we need some of these people choppered back to you guys.”


    “Roger that, Klinger. And hey… Take care of yourself.”




    Imperial Palace, Sadera


    Princess Pina stifled the fear inside her. When the ground began to shake, she was as scared as anyone, but the example of Itami and the others from beyond the Gate shamed her a little. For her, the shaking had been the vexation of gods whom she did not trust. For them, it was simply another event which they dealt with in a calm, rational manner. And that is what she needed to do. She first needed to rally her own people and then see to her father’s safety. Initially, Itami, Sugawara, and Russell had been reluctant to accompany her to the palace, but Russell’s Marine escort included a ‘corpsman’ who could treat His Majesty if he were injured. Also, her father might have questions if she went by herself and told him that more shakes might come.


    Although Pina understood their point about armed hostiles entering the Emperor’s presence in time of war, she considered it a moot point as if these people truly wished to harm her father, they could easily do so, invited or not. Further, as she looked out over Sadera and saw fires burning in the city, the Empire simply had no more time to indulge in this pointless war. Hopefully, her father would see this.


    Indeed, as she witnessed Imperial soldiers and even the vaunted Imperial Guards praying, cowering, and crying, Pina realized that the Emperor was in far greater danger from the chaos around them than the offworlders. The only thing currently standing between His Majesty and any who might wish to depose him was the fact that they too were likely in an equal state of shock.


    Once more, however, the Order continued to swell her heart with pride. Hamilton, Bozes, and Vifita all quickly shaking off their own shock and fear and while Hamilton accompanied her liege, Bozes and Vifita, meanwhile, were quick to rally their companies to respond to Her Highness’s orders as needed. Of course, while the Imperial Army was rebuilding, the Rose Order was also growing. The Order now had a designated training company: The Company of the Blue Rose was filled with patriotic young noblewomen who, being barred from the Imperial Army. sought other ways to defend their nation. Whereas it had taken years to recruit and train the six hundred mounted knights of the Red, Yellow, and White Rose, over four hundred young noblewomen had signed up to join them in the past six months. Of course, with shrewd reasoning, Pina had eased the entry qualifications. No longer would prospective knights be required to furnish their own horses. Since the Pacific Allies did not use horses, at least to the extent the Empire did, the significant number of horses captured by the Allies after the battles at Alnus represented more of a drain on their resources rather than an asset. So, Pina had arranged to repatriate some of those animals, allowing women from less wealthy families to join. She had her eye to promoting Suissesse to command the next company when it graduated but right now, she was too valuable in Italica.


    But that was a matter for another time. Right now, she had to get to her father and she had to help get control of the chaos around them. Bidding Itami and the others to wait in the antechamber outside the throne room, Pina went to her father’s room to find him dressing.


    “Father! Where are your guards?”


    He smiled, feeling the need to suppress his fear in front of her but also pleasantly surprised to see her having gotten to him this quickly. “They were too frightened to be of use as guards. I ordered them to find my manservant and also the Captain of the Guard. Perhaps when they come back, they can comport themselves like members of My Guard.”


    Pina put a hand on the hilt of her sword. “Until then, allow me to be your guard, Your Majesty.”


    Molt nodded his assent. “Very well, then.” He finished dressing. “Shall we go?”


    “Of course, Your Majesty.” Pina led her father to his throne room and watched with satisfaction as he took his throne. She then addressed the handful of soldiers she had managed to gather to this point who had either kept or regained their composure.


    “Send riders to every camp! Every Minister and General is to report immediately!” Not giving them another thought as she turned to the palace maids, whom Hamilton had thankfully gotten under control.


    “Clean this hall at once!”


    The maids hurried to obey Her Imperial Command and Emperor Molt studied his daughter with an appraising eye. He was pleased by her ability to handle herself and respond in a crisis. He was also mildly disappointed. Not in Pina, but in his sons. Well, that was a mistake too late to fix, he supposed.


    “You’ve grown,” He mused, the pride returning even as he spotted the eight people waiting discreetly to one side. He knew who they were, of course, at least in a general sense. Pina might be able to fool Zorzal but these were obviously the representatives of Japan… Well, except for the Dark Elf, of course. He was not sure how their kind fit into all this but it was a non sequitur. It was interesting that Pina trusted them enough to bring them into his presence in such a time as this. Well, it was better to get it all out into the open. He truly did not like secrets between himself and Pina.


    “Introduce me to these people, Pina,” he commanded.


    Pina sighed. Of course it had to happen eventually but she found herself still hesitant to speak it. “Yes, Your Majesty. Allow me to introduce Mister Sugawara, from Japan,” she indicated a youngish man in his thirties. His careful expression and stance marked him as a bureaucrat. It was not an unfavorable thing to say. But this Sugawara was apparently a young man who had made government his calling. Then Molt turned his eyes to the older, taller man standing calmly a couple of feet away and perhaps a pace behind. Sugawara’s mentor perhaps?


    “And this is Special Ambassador Russell, from the United States of America,” Pina answered the silent question. So, another country? Another miscalculation. They had failed to consider whether Japan had client states to bring into the fight as he himself had summoned.


    “With them are Lieutenant Itami and Sergeants Kuibayashi and Tomita of the JSDF and Lieutenant Garrovick and Sergeant Kaminski of the United States Marines. Also, Yao Ro Dushi, of the Burning Heart tribe.”


    “And why are they here?”


    “I asked them to come, father. They have much more experience with the ground shakes than we do. Also, Sergeant Kaminski is a healer, in case you were hurt, Your Majesty.”


    “I see,” His voice had gone cold and stern. Molt may have had great affection for his youngest child but this was a serious matter. He stood up and addressed the representatives bluntly.


    “Emissaries, I would like to welcome you but unfortunately, as you can see, we are in a bit of a crisis. So we’ll have to hold your welcome party at some other time.”


    “Of course, Your Majesty,” Sugawara replied. “We understand. As long as you will allow opportunity for negotiations, that is more than enough.”


    The cool but cordial reception was as much as Pina could hope for. Unfortunately, the arrival of her brother, Zorzal strutting in with his retinue of thugs and a small detachment of soldiers quickly caused things to spiral out of control as he brusquely shoved passed the Allied delegation with the disregard one would give a stray dog.


    “Father!” Zorzal called. “Father! I am glad you are fine. Now. Let’s get out of here!” His words sounded like commands.


    “Brother! Wait!” Pina wondered just exactly what her brother thought he was doing. While there was danger, They had to get control of this situation, not just flee from it! And why was Zorzal acting as if he had some special knowledge? “I just summoned…”


    Zorzal cut her off. “This is NO time to dawdle Noriko says that another earthquake could come at any time!”


    With the exception of Yao, who would have no cause to recognize it as such, the rest of the Allied party suddenly felt a hard chill at the mention of what was definitely a Japanese name. For her part, Pina wanted to know how Zorzal knew anything about the earthquake. She felt an icy pit in her stomach as she asked. “Who is this Noriko?”


    Her worst fears were realized as at a gruff gesture, a young girl in chains and the ragged clothes of a slave was dragged forward.


    “This girl,” Zorzal said matter-of-factly. “This is Noriko. She is one of the survivors of those we captured from the other side of the Gate.” He strode over to her like the Lord of Creation, kicking her and jerking her upright by her arm. “Tell His Majesty what you told me earlier! Hurry!” He demanded, grabbing her chin.


    “Please... No more..” The girl cried weakly. She had told everything! But initially, Zorzal had believed she was trying to make a fool of him.


    In another reality, Itami might have rushed Zorzal, so anxious he was to smash the arrogant prince for the blatant cruelty to this girl, this fellow Japanese. But here, his actions were more deliberate as he almost casually unholstered his sidearm and discharged it into the air above them. The loud report of the gun having the desired effect as all heads present turned to Itami.


    “I think you should let her go,” Itami said and aimed his gun at the lackey who grabbed the girl’s chain as Zorzal turned to regard Itami with confusion and contempt.


    “And who are you?”


    “”Itami Youji, Japanese Self-Defense Forces. And I think you’re holding one of our people.”


    “I agree,” Sugawara said. “We were aware that Japanese citizens had been abducted. But to find them here is very disturbing,” he said coldly, looking not at Zorzal, but at Pina and the Emperor.


    “Please!” Pina implored. “Forgive us for my sake!” Damn Zorzal! Flavius and Dyet had been making considerable progress on locating off-worlders taken captive by Imperial forces. At present, well over forty off world citizens were now recovering safely at a private villa to the south. Pina had intended to gather as many as she could find and then present them safe and sound at a gala once formal talks were announced. But Zorzal had ruined that. She only hoped that she could at least somewhat salvage this.


    Sugawara was about to reply when Zorzal’s cruel laugh cut him off.


    “I don’t know how you got in here but it doesn’t matter. You barbarians think you can command the Son of the Emperor? I think you need to learn your place!” He snapped his fingers and his thugs stepped forward menacingly.


    Yao knew that she would give her life here if needed to protect Lord Itami. She tensed as Itami looked over at Lieutenant Garrovick.


    “My play. Please see to the safety of Mister Russell and Mister Sugawara. “


    “As long as no one tries to interfere, lieutenant,” Garrovick replied.


    Itami nodded. “Tomita! Kuribayashi! Fire at will.”


    Shino grinned. She would have preferred to gut some of these foul pigs with the cold steel of her bayonet but after the Battle of Italica, Lieutenant Taylor had torn a strip off her hide for recklessly endangering herself. She might be a close quarters combat specialist, but the JSDF had kindly provided her with a gun and bullets for a reason and part of that reason was keeping Shino Kuribayashi from accidentally becoming a human skewer. So, she flicked the safety off her rifle and she and Tomita quite effectively made short work of Zorzal’s henchmen.


    Seeing his men fall, the shocked and angry Prince ordered the nearby soldiers to form rank and slaughter the barbarians. These men were cut to ribbons between Kuribayashi and Tomita’s Type 64 rifles and Lieutenant Garrovick’s .45 Colt M1911. Zorzal, seeing the carnage, dropped for cover in fear. Unlike his late half-brother, Zorzal had never faced a battle where the odds were not vastly stacked in his favor. The prospect of his own, personal death was a terrifying one. At the same time, Pina watched in horror, both for the soldiers dying before her eyes and for her plans for peace which seemed to be dying on these same floors. Only the Emperor, himself remained impassive.


    Finally, the gunfire stopped. At least a score of men lay dead or dying on the floor of the Emperor’s throne room. Only by obeying Kuribayashi’s very clear instructions to drop their weapons did a few survive.


    Of course, with the immediate threat to his own safety apparently abated, Zorzal called them for cowards even as Itami ordered Shino to see to the girl, Noriko, while Tomita kept his rifle ready. Sergeant Kaminski joined Shino and began a brief cursory checked for injuries. Itami stepped toward Zorzal, holding a level gaze on him.


    “Now, Prince… You said she was ONE of the survivors. That means you know where there are others. Tell me where they are.”


    “I don’t answer questions from barbarians,” Zorzal snorted in contempt.


    “I see,” Itami said quietly and turned to Kuribayashi. “Explain it to him.”


    “Hai!” Shino grinned. She was going to enjoy this, she thought as she walked up to Zorzal, who stood at least a foot taller. To Zorzal, this apparent mismatch was more annoyance than threat. The barbarian bitch had put down her cowards weapon and was daring to challenge him physically? He would beat her for her insolence and once his father had summoned more troops to kill the others, Zorzal would enjoy breaking the little bitch.


    He swung at her but his technique was that of a bully, not a fighter and Kuribayashi was a trained hand to hand specialist, not a victim. She easily stepped inside his swing and punched him hard in the jaw, enough to draw blood and stagger Zorzal who fell to the floor, whereupon Shino leapt on him, keeping him pinned as she proceeded to savagely beat him in such a display of violence that many of the survivors swore that Shino was no woman born of flesh but a demon in human form. She beat him until he plead for mercy as Pina averted her eyes, unable to watch. Pina thought Zorzal crude and arrogant but he was still her blood. It hurt to see it come to this even as part of her mind reminded her that he had been given ample opportunity to avert this outcome. It was his choice. Strange that Zorzal would never recall the pain on his sister’s face but would instead remember the silent, dispassionate look of the Emperor, who made not one sound of protest, uttered not one command to stop the savage beating, did nothing at all but watched.


    Finally, it stopped. Kuribayashi stepped back as Itami stepped over and aimed his gun at Zorzal’s head. “Now. Answer my questions.” He ordered the terrified man.


    Only to have a tall figure clad in the rags of a slave interpose herself. Yao tensed at Itami’s side knowing how dangerous a Warrior Bunny could be.


    “Don’t kill him,” Tyuule said. It was insane. The man she hated most, but Zorzal had to survive or her plans for vengeance would come to naught. That is until a fragile, delicate voice spoke in the silence of the throne room.


    “Tyuule…” Noriko said, reaching a hand toward her. Itami looked over to Noriko and then to Tyuule.


    “You took what didn’t belong to you. Now I will take something of yours.” Itami looked up at Tyuule. “Tomita, Kuribayashi, escort her and Noriko outside.”


    Tyuule looked stunned at Noriko’s outstretched hand. She didn’t understand what was happening as a firm hand guided her away from Zorzal. As she walked away, she heard Itami repeat himself.


    “I won’t ask again. Where are the other survivors?”


    “The men were sold into slavery. I don’t know what happened to them after that.”


    “We have ideas about that then,” Itami said grimly.


    Sugawara nodded. “We suspected that some of our people were here. Princess Pina, we do not hold you, personally to blame in this but we expect as full an accounting as you can soonest,” He turned to Molt. “It looks like that party will have to wait, Your Majesty.”


    “Japan has strong soldiers, Mister Sugawara but also a glaring weakness,” Molt told him.


    “Oh?”


    “Your arms are strong but your hearts are soft. That’s a dangerous combination and a weakness that less civilized but hardier people will eventually turn against you. You would do well to remember that.”


    For the first time, Ambassador Russell spoke. “I think you’ll find that we’re strong enough to be both. In return, I submit that an Empire without people isn’t much of an Empire, Your Majesty. You might consider that.”


    “Perhaps.”


    As Pina watched Itami and the others leave, two lives had reached irrevocable turning points. For Tyuule, the whisper of her Delicate Flower had delivered her from bondage and a personal madness that had begun to take hold in her heart.


    For Prince Zorzal, the ties of blood had died in the silence of his father’s voice as barbarians beat and humiliated him and in his heart, Zorzal knew his enemy, the bonds of affection had died to be replaced with a consuming hate.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2019
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  27. Kiyone4ever

    Kiyone4ever Getting sticky.

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    Have an update!


    Chapter 35: Aftermath


    Fort Defiance, Alnus


    It had been hours since the earthquake and Tyuule was still trying to make sense of all that had happened. The one time Queen of the Warrior Bunnies and until today, slave of the Imperial Prince was astounded by the vehicles used by Noriko’s people. Especially the helicopter that carried her and sweet Noriko to Alnus. Well, astounded might not be the right word as Tyuule’s mind was simply overwhelmed. The noise from the engines was horrible as she folded her ears and pressed her head into Noriko’s lap. She spent the entire flight like that trying to close out the chaos of alien sounds around here. The only sensation that Tyuule allowed herself to feel was the calming touch of Noriko holding her, while inside she pulled away to a world of her thoughts. Of course, it was right that Noriko be freed and Tyuule admitted that if Noriko had left her there, Tyuule would have surely felt a betrayal worse that Zorzal’s lies and nearly as bad as her own people’s hatred. Tyuule was terrified of the madness that still called to her. It was a demon that wanted to consume her in hate and she had been so near to being its slave even more than Zorzal’s. But somehow, her sweet, beloved Noriko had saved her. At least for now.


    For there was still part of her that wanted to scream at Noriko and the other worlders for pulling her away and denying her chance to destroy the Empire and yes… her own people for despising her. Was it not for them she had allowed herself to become the plaything of a sadistic monster? And for her own kind to call her ‘betrayer’ and swear vengeance upon her? How dare they! They had chosen her to lead the great war and she had tried. She had failed but she had never betrayed her people.


    But sitting next to her beautiful flower, Tyuule wanted none of the hate, none of revenge tainting the warm feeling of her deliverance. Zorzal had lied to her so of course, he lied to her people. And the events in the throne room had shown quite clearly that Zorzal was determined to seek the most self-destructive path possible. Bouros would still try to manipulate that to his own ends but, inevitably, Zorzal would destroy everything he touched. So it was not even necessary for Tyuule to be there to guide him. The only question was whether he would destroy himself alone or take the Empire with him. Tyuule realized she didn’t care if the Empire lived or died. Whether Zorzal was the Empire or an aberration, the Empire would either follow him down in flames or it would deny him as surely as her own people denied her. Either would be fitting and was no longer her problem.


    Eventually, they arrived at Alnus. It was a few hours but Tyuule honestly couldn’t say whether it was hours, minutes, or eternity. She turned to Noriko as the helicopter settled over its landing pad and the noise of the engines ceased and gave her a small smile. It was a frightening new world but Tyuule would not be afraid of tomorrow for her Flower would be there to guide her.
    ***


    Imperial Palace, Sadera



    Emperor Molt sat deep in thought. Zorzal’s surviving henchmen had helped him from the throne room. Next to Molt, his youngest child, Pina stood projecting an admirable calm as she continued to deal with messengers and pass instructions. Through her, the Empire was beginning to react to the disaster that had struck. More specifically, the disaster that the public was aware of. For in Molt’s own throne room, another had unfolded before him.


    Molt could now see that his plan to drag out talks with the Japanese and their allies was as dead as the Imperial soldiers cut down by the foreigners’ weapons before his eyes. He could see it in their eyes and hear it in their words that so directly antagonized, they had no incentive to allow matters to quietly drag on.


    Pina had understood this.


    Once again, Molt faced the folly of his own choices. Zorzal was not capable of running the Empire without guidance and one thing the night’s events had taught him was an awareness of his own mortality. If Molt were to die, leaving the Empire in Zorzal’s hands, it would be a disaster and one that Molt had very deliberately shaped. But Pina was different. Naive, too trusting perhaps, but strong AND adaptable. Even now, with the dismay she certainly had to feel, she remained here, doing her duty to bring order amid the chaos. Except, Molt admitted with a touch of shame, it was not Pina’s duty. It was his. As more of the guard reported in and the various generals and ministers began to report in, Molt turned to his daughter and favored her with a smile.


    “You have done well this night, Pina but it is time for you to see to your own. Do not worry. General Maxius is setting up his command tent outside as we speak. I will move there once that is complete, I promise. But your brother has left us with a problem. I will work on this matter and trust you to work on repairing the harm he has caused. They trust you and after this night, I would trust no other to handle this. I must place a heavy burden upon you but you have shown me that you are fully capable of bearing it.” He lowered his head and sighed, speaking very quietly.


    “We have lost, Pina. I cannot avoid this truth. But this is not something our people or indeed, many in positions of power are ready to hear yet. At least not in such a direct manner. Be careful and be clever, my daughter. You must fix the errors I have made.”


    Pina acknowledged her father’s dismissal and withdrew. Champagne, a very promising knight of the Red Rose, waited with a fresh horse for Her Highness. Together, the two rode back to the Jade Palace, where Pina was relieved that Misters Sugawara and Russell had not simply left.


    She approached them with some trepidation.”Ambassadors, again, please believe me! I had no knowledge that my own brother was holding one of your people!”


    “As we said,” Sugawara told her, “We do not hold you, personally responsible. We do, however, have every intention of getting our people back, through whatever means are necessary.”


    Pina nodded. “If… If you could supply me with a list of just who I might be looking for? Anything might help?” Pina respected and liked Itami and even considered him ‘friend’ but she had just watched his people kill twenty Saderans in order to retrieve one Japanese citizen. While it was true that it would never have come to that had Zorzal not forced the outcome, it still underscored that the Japanese would be utterly ruthless in their efforts to recover their people and if it was necessary for them to kill twenty Saderans for each of their people, then they would do so without hesitation. If they had to kill a hundred, they would do so, and if they had to level Sadera, they would do so.


    Sugawara nodded. “That is not an unreasonable request. We will see that it is as complete a listing as we can.”


    Pina nodded, then after careful consideration decided to reveal what her people had managed to accomplish to date on that matter. While it was not how she intended to reveal her efforts, she felt that a failure to fully disclose her efforts would, at some point, cause a dangerous misunderstanding. “In the interest of full disclosure, two of my knights have successfully located forty-seven people from your world, mostly women. They are recovering at a private villa. I had hoped to disclose this once official talks began. My knights, Flavius and Dyet are still searching for others.”


    “I see,” Sugawara considered. Pina’s strategy made some sense but now, Japan and her allies would have to respond. “We will want to arrange for their repatriation as soon as possible.”


    “Of course,” Pina replied. “If I may? What will your people do now?”


    “We have a number of options, your Highness.” Ambassador Russell remarked, joining the conversation. “Our governments will want to send a clear message to your people. We, of course, are not at liberty to disclose exactly what form our response will take.”


    “Of course,” Pina replied solemnly.


    “However,” Russell continued. “We have no desire to either harm innocent lives if it can be avoided and we have no desire to abandon the dialogue we have begun.”


    “You have my personal gratitude,” Pina told them.


    “And you have ours, Your Highness,” Sugawara told her. “Hopefully, there will be no other surprises on our path to peace.”
    ***​
    Italica

    It was a rescue operation unlike anything in recorded history. Even as a number of Knights of the Rose Order and Marines of 2nd platoon, Echo Company partnered up to investigate and report on the condition of the local villages, 1st platoon of Fox Company deployed to the hardest hit section of Italica. Their Fae operated on tether lines, flying into crevices too small for others to manage, searching for signs of victims trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings. Bunny Warriors listened with incredible hearing for signs of life while Canids and Catgirls utilized enhanced senses of smell. Dwarven builders helped survey damaged buildings and guided in shoring them up. As noted before, Inferni did everything from serve meals to laboring to clear debris. More of Panache’s knights worked alongside Uial to clear landing zones for helicopters while several members of the Science Mission ministered next to local mystic healers and an Inferni Priestess. Elves used spirit magic to allow some patients to sleep while they awaited treatment. All of them working under the direction of Colonel Blake.


    “Everything you can name, we need Colonel!” Taylor reported to Colonel Emerson back at Alnus. “Blankets, tents, bandages… You name it sir! Right now, we could use every flashlight you can find, sir. The one thing we have in abundance are volunteers but we need to be able to see to do anything useful, sir.”


    “We will send you everything we can,” Emerson promised. What he could not disclose was that General Hazama was now having to deal with another situation. Namely that involving the confrontation between Lieutenant Itami and Prince Zorzal. Still, as Hazama’s ranking deputy, Emerson would take charge of directing the relief efforts from Alnus.


    “Thank you, sir. That’s about all for now, sir. I’m sure you can appreciate that I need to get out there now.”


    “Very good, lieutenant,” Emerson agreed. Battles were won in the field, after all, and what was a disaster but another kind of battle to be fought?


    Waiting for him outside his office was an inferni woman who identified herself as Mary and that she was the Church Mother for their sect in Italica.


    “One of my parishioners has been missing since the shaking. I am confidently sure where she is but I can’t get the search teams to look for her.”


    “Why not?” Panache asked.


    “Because she was in a building we used to use for supplies. It was damaged during the fighting on the last big push on the South Gate. Most of the buildings in that area were abandoned after the battle, which is why none of the search crews want to go there.” Mary sighed. “I can understand their reasoning. It’s a large area to look for only two people when there are entire neighborhoods that need help. But I know they are there and I know if God is merciful, you will help them.”


    “You said one of your parishioners was missing but you believe two people are trapped,” Taylor noted. “Who is the other person?”


    “She is Kas, a Thraken girl and a priestess of a sect of the goddess Miritta declared heretical by the central temple in Sadera,” Mary explained. “It has always been our way to aid the persecuted, as we ourselves have often been. We were giving them the building to convert it into a temple. Since the area was pretty much abandoned, we all believed that would give their worshippers privacy. Abigail was going to help them set up.”


    “I’m impressed that you would be so willing to help the followers of a competing religion, ma’am,” Yeoman Locke observed.


    “For us, there are no competing religions. Other gods obviously exist in this world, although they are obviously lesser than the Lord Creator of the Universe. We know not what their role in God’s plan might be but we will not dismiss them. In this way, we hope to guide others to hear the word of Our Lord.”


    Taylor looked at Panache. With the search parties organized and higher-ups informed, there was precious little to be gained by sitting in his office. “Locke… We’ll need rope, flashlights, shovels, walkie talkies. water, and first aid kits.” He turned to Mary. “Let’s go.” Together, Taylor, Locke, Panache, Aurelia, and Nayu followed Mary to the site of the former storage building, having gathered whatever hands weren’t already busy. Aenaire joined them as Galador plead that his hands could at least help. Taylor relented, provided Galador did exactly as he was told. Taylor did not want to risk his son’s safety but his son was right, this was no time to refuse any hand they could find. Among those they encountered was Doctor Stevens who, unfortunately, did not hold a medical doctorate as some of his colleagues did but despite his previous reluctance to interfere with the existing society, was anxious to help in any way he could.


    “Doctor, right now there are some things that you might be the best person to handle.”


    “Whatever I can!”


    Taylor pointed over to where a large party was working through a collapsed tenement building.


    “You’ve got a camera. Film that. Everyone on Earth needs to see what’s going on here. Not the tragedy,” he clarified. “But those people coming together. I’d dare say this is the single most diverse group of people in history coming together to help their neighbors. That story needs to be told.”


    “Do you think anyone back home will even care?”


    “Maybe some will.”


    “Why not here?” Stevens asked.


    “Because I’m not the story.” He gestured back to the crowd, men and women dug with whatever tools they had or with their hands until they were exhausted and only then relenting and allowing fresh hands to take their place. “It’s theirs and you’re the guy who is going to tell it.”


    Stevens nodded.


    “Go make some history, Doctor.” Taylor clapped the Sociologist on the shoulder. Then, he walked over to where the Church Mother indicated the entrance to the building had been.


    “Aurelia, keep your ears open for any unusual sounds. Sounds of life or of something shifting.”


    “Yes, My Lord.”


    “Let’s get some light?” He asked Aenaire only to be surprised when Mary began to cast a strong light spell.


    “Will this do?” She asked.


    “Huh… I would have thought your church might have a problem with magic. ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’,” Taylor quoted.


    Mary shook her head. “Poisoner,” she corrected. “And all power comes from God. So we consider it His will that we use the gifts he grants us in carrying out his work and mercy.” Mary smiled. “It is the abuse of His granted gifts and attempting to subvert His will that our scripture forbids.”


    Wonder what the ‘Backwoods Baptists’ will make of that, Taylor thought. Mom is going to get a kick out of this! At any rate, the warm and bright glow of a large ball of light, almost as bright as one of the defensive searchlights on the outer walls. Reminded of this, Taylor sent a man back to get the spare lights out for the rescue parties.


    “Now let’s start digging.” After much effort, they managed to break through to a pocket in the ruins. Eventually, they found the two young women, one Inferni, and a four-armed Thraken huddled together under the stone steps that led into the cellar. The Iferni, Abigail, was semi-conscious and continuing to murmur prayers as Taylor brushed a lock of white-blonde hair from her face. Her compatriot smiled weakly at Taylor and looked at him with violet eyes, almost electric in color.


    “They knew you would come. It is good their faith was rewarded. Her God has rewarded her faith. My rewards will come soon.” The Thraken lost consciousness, in Aurelia’s arms, drained it seemed.


    “Not if I have anything to say about it. Not today,” Taylor said gently, unaware he had misunderstood.

    ***​




    Palace of Prince Zorzal El Caesar, Sadera.



    Zorzal sat on his bed, staring out his window at the Capital. Part of him almost seemed to gather cruel satisfaction as he noted the fires burning. He hated them. He hated all those worthless little nothings. He hated them for all the adoration they gave his father, Father… Zorzal snorted in contempt at the word. What father allows his enemy to assail his son and heir like this? Zorzal knew Molt was many things: calculating, occasionally cold but never before had Zorzal thought the Emperor was a coward. Yes, only a coward would stay silent while barbarians beat his son.


    Zorzal continued to brood as the healer finished ministering to the sullen prince, curtly dismissing the man when he was finished. Virtually no one, even those among his closest associates, dared approach him until Bouro, his tool and spy, entered with head lowered in a suitably and appropriately submissive posture.


    “Your Highness, I have just heard was has happened. Not only is the assault on your person a shocking crime but compounded with Tyuule’s betrayal!”


    Zorzal actually looked curious at that. Tyuule had stood to protect him. It was the barbarians who took her. “Betrayal?”


    “I suppose it should have been expected of a mere slave but I do not think betrayal is too strong a word. After all, have you not been a generous master? And should not a slave love her master? If Tyuule had truly been loyal, then why did she not fight to stay with her master, who has loved her with such great kindness?”


    The Prince had not considered that. Bouro was correct. He had been very generous to Tyuule and the Rabbit Bitch had betrayed him! It made him all the angrier.


    “Why are you here… beyond to lap at my feet, Bouro?”


    Bouro suppressed a flash of anger at his patron. One day your usefulness will be at an end, oh prince. On that day I will cut your beating heart out in front of you and throw it to the dogs. But there was much work to be done first and Zorzal was a necessary tool. Truly, losing Tyuule had been an irritation to Bouro’s plans but Tyuule had always been expendable anyway. The loss merely forced him to accelerate other plans.


    “I thought that perhaps His Highness would benefit from… company.”


    “You’re hardly my type, Bouro.”


    “Yes, Your Highness… But there is a lady born of noble Imperial Blood who has been very interested in meeting you and serving His Highness were it his desire.”


    “Oh?” Zorzal had to admit that he was intrigued.


    Bouro grinned. Raising his voice, he gestured to the door. “I present Lady Cassiopeia.”


    Zorzal looked to see a tastefully dressed young woman enter his chambers. Odd that she was clearly Vulpine.


    “Cassiopeia…” Zorzal rolled the name thoughtfully. “I was told you are of noble blood. Curious.”


    “My father is a Senator, your highness. However, it appears I am an inconvenience. A shame to the family. “But is the shame mine or his, My Prince?” She dared. “That I should suffer for his weaknesses?”


    Expertly, she twisted the knife in Zorzal’s wounds as she struck a chord in him. “It’s like a betrayal, isn’t it, Cassiopeia?”


    “Yes, Your Highness. Blood betrayals cut the deepest. I would give my undying devotion if he would simply acknowledge me as his.”


    “Perhaps such devotion is more than such a man deserves, Cassiopeia,” Zorzal replied. Then he smiled as he saw something in her eyes. Something beyond mere agreement to understanding. He turned to Bouro. “Leave us. We will speak later.”


    Bouro acknowledged the dismissal and left, satisfied.


    “Cassiopeia…” He smiled at her.


    “That is the name my mother gave me. It is yours to command me with if you wish, My Prince.”


    “Is there another name you would go by?” He asked.


    “For those who do not deserve my given name, I call myself ‘Vendetta’.” She dared a hateful smirk.


    Zorzal smiled again, despite the pain. “Vendetta… It is a name that promises deeds, my dear.”


    “Indeed, My Prince.”


    “Tell me what is to be done with those who would betray Your Prince?”


    “The price of betrayal is death, My Prince.”


    Zorzal grinned and though his body hurt in terrible ways, he pulled Vendetta to himself. “Serve me well,” he commanded. “Serve me and me alone and I will give you vengeance upon those that have wronged you and forced you to hide. Serve only me and I may grant you the World itself.”
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2019
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