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GATE: The Janus Campaign


Chapter 17: Tokyo Drift

Risa greeted the morning with a fair amount of satisfaction. She had escaped the cold, dark confines of her apartment and the empty refrigerator inside and Yoji had promised that the heat, light, and water would be back on by this evening. She had scored a very satisfying meal. And didn’t everything seem better on a full stomach? And this morning’s prospects looked bright as well. Breakfast was an excellent notion and with Yoji’s stipend payments in hand, it was a good idea to go shopping. Luckily, Itami had suggested it would be a good idea to take their off-world visitors to see the stores and markets in Tokyo. Risa had some suggestions on exactly where to go, of course.

The other satisfactory result of last night was the wealth of stories and gossip she had heard. It was perfect fodder for inspiration. Before heading off to breakfast, she opened a new document on her laptop and typed: ‘Shiroi Saten wo kiru Kishin-tachi’, or translated: ‘Knights in White Satin’.

At this same early hour. Princess Pina and her knight companions were sitting down to a meeting with Lady Octavia and a few other notable Saderan Ladies, Lady Agrippina among them. Under the mentoring of Lady Octavia, Agrippina’s anger had been honed to a sharp edge, the woman being given a focus and clarity she had previously lacked after having been abandoned by her so recent spouse.

The casual observer might mistake the single red rose set on the table to be decorative in nature, perhaps symbolic of Pina’s knightly order but it was a sign: This meeting was to be held in strictest confidence, sub rosa, meaning ‘beneath the rose’. To ensure that they were secure from eavesdroppers, at least human ones, Octavia had Felicia and one of her battle sisters standing guard, ears alert for the slightest sound of intrusion or disturbance.

“You need not worry, your Highness,” Octavia assured her. “Their clan are the most loyal retainers of my House.”

“Of course, my Lady,” Pina replied calmly. “And I appreciate you and your Ladies meeting with me so early. I do not know how long I will be staying here in Japan but before I return to the Empire I require the benefit of your wise counsel. It is no exaggeration to say the Empire faces the greatest danger in its history. I came here to find an avenue for securing peace before we are completely destroyed.” Pina paused. “At the same time, I cannot sanction a peace which results in our annihilation by surrender and quiescence. I ask you to guide me.”

Octavia nodded. “Very well, your Highness. Then I will be succinct as I say that your presence is a fortunate circumstance as with all respect, no other member of the Imperial Line enjoys your advantages of clear perspective and apolitical standing.” She continued: “Your father will have a hard time ending this war having presided over its inception. The war faction in the Senate is strong and for the Emperor to seek peace without some tangible victory, some material gain for the Empire, he would lose face before the Senate.”

”It will be necessary to sway at least some of the Senators of the War faction first,” Pina concluded. “Many sons of Senators and prominent nobles may be held here. Their release might persuade their kinsmen to adopt a more favorable attitude.”

“Perhaps,” Octavia replied. “Though many of them may well be too stung in their pride to appreciate their good fortune. Still, we can hope,” she agreed. “On the other hand, I must believe that your brother, Prince Zorzal, will strongly oppose any peace talks. It is known that the Prince has cultivated friends among the merchant guilds and many of the Senate’s war faction. As the presumptive heir to the throne, he has been hard at work establishing his own power base and the core of his influence is built upon the continued aggressive expansion of the Empire and the acquisition of ‘easy’ riches.”

“I will need to keep a low profile around him then.” Pina agreed.

“And then there is Prince Diablo.” Many noted Panache’s jaw set hard at the mention of the younger Prince’s name. Lady Octavia seemed not to notice as she continued.

“While Prince Diablo is certainly capable of reasoning the war is unwinnable, he is perhaps too clever for his own good. He is born to conspiracy. He publicly supported the expedition while privately making certain Prince Zorzal was denied a role in it. If he tries to manipulate the powers of this world we may find they do not play the game the same way.”

Pina sighed. She could not deny Octavia’s appraisal of the situation. Her father had taught one of her brothers to seize power and the other to manipulate it. One lacked the subtlety of their father while the other lacked the directness needed to command authority. He had divided them well and neither of them could gain the Imperial throne without his support and blessing. As for Pina, he had mostly left her to her own devices as she was not seen as a serious candidate to ascend to the throne.

Perhaps it was for the best that her lessons had been learned away from the attention of their father whom she loved but could not at this point confide in. But as daunting as her task seemed, what worried Pina the most was just exactly what price Japan and her allies would demand to secure peace. She trusted Itami and Taylor. She believed that General Hazama and Minister Shirayuri and Ambassador Russell were all honorable people but there were men like Hazama’s aide who had a predatory look in his eyes. What would they take in exchange for peace?

As if sensing Pina’s thoughts, Octavia turned to the other side of the equation. “As to the intentions and goals of the Japanese and Americans and their allies, It is certainly difficult to read the intentions of people whose ways are so different from our own. I will note this is why it was important for me to find an heir from among them. He will better understand many dangers we cannot conceive. It is my sincerest hope that in bringing him into My House, he will be vested in protecting it.” She smiled, “however, it is still possible to consider their aims in the broader sense ourselves:

“If their design was simple conquest, which we cannot deny is well within their ability, then they would have no need to conduct any negotiations at all. In the scenario of a direct invasion, delay favors us and not them. It is safe to conclude that conquest is not their intended aim. I must carefully add that they still can do so at any time they choose if negotiations fail to produce acceptable results for them.”

Pina looked to Bozes, Panache, and Hamilton. Each of them carefully nodding in consideration of this. The logic was unassailable.

“They could still desire concessions of territory,” Hamilton noted.

“Indeed. Though from what I have seen, their agriculture must be vastly superior to ours for them to be able to support cities like this one. They clearly have no need of our croplands. Now, of course, they might desire more room to spread out and expand. But from what you describe happened at Italica, it at least sounds as if they do not currently desire our territory… beyond securing control of the Gate.”

“The Gate is the key after all,” Pina agreed. “With it in their hands, they control the board. I see no outcome where they do not insist on holding sacred Alnus and the ground immediately surrounding it. Even if they make no other claims, this will be bitter medicine for many but it is inevitable.”

“True,” Octavia agreed. “And I see no way to make the medicine go down any easier.”

Pina pondered this. It would be preferable if this unpalatable matter could be allowed to quietly pass without comment as a fait accompli. But this was an unrealistic hope and everyone knew it. It might be best to state matters openly, better than the opposition bringing it up at the wrong moment. She put this matter aside to ponder later as Hamilton suggested another disturbing possibility.

“A city so large must take a great deal of labor to build. What if they intend to use the Empire as a source of slave labor?”

Pina’s heart froze at the thought. Slavery had always been a part of the Empire. It was not something she particularly gave thought. She may have found slave dealers a generally loathsome lot and her older brother’s association with them and the rumors of how he treated his slaves were disturbing but while a few eccentric nobles had denounced the practice in their lands, it was still the normal way of things. After all, the Empire frequently went to war to ensure a steady source of slaves. Funny how a shift in one’s place in the scheme of things altered one’s perspectives. Though the notion seemed incongruent to the behavior of Itami and Taylor and the Allied troops at Italica, her mind still began to imagine the sight of thousands of Imperial citizens in chains.

These thoughts were dismissed by Lady Octavia. “No. That won’t happen. In fact, the cultures here view slavery as vile and uncivilized. The mere presence of slavery in the Empire will be offensive to them. More serious is that some of their citizens were sent back to the Empire as slaves in the first hours of our incursion into their territory. They will be absolutely furious where it comes to their own people being enslaved.”

“We will have to discreetly inquire as to their whereabouts,” Pina replied. “We need to prove at least a good faith effort to return their people.”

“That would wise, your Highness,” Octavia agreed.

‘Yes. Unfortunately, we still don’t know what they might want, what we can bargain with,” Hamilton commented. “They asked for a reparations payment of more gold than has been mined in the entire history of the Empire and when we told them that, they seemed unconcerned. Almost as if they already have something else in mind.”.

“Perhaps today’s tour of the city will give us some clues,” Pina replied.

A very short time later, with Chief Richardson driving, a bus with heavy tinted windows cleared the main gate. Richardson glanced back at his passengers with a grin as he keyed his radio. “Tourist Wagon to sentinels: We are on the move. On your cue.”

A slightly accented voice answered him: “Acknowledged Tourist Wagon. Commencing ‘Hospitality’, let’s get you on the highway.”

“Roger that.”

As the bus lumbered onto the main road, two sets of vehicles began following it, each in a rolling relay.

Hamilton cringed as their bus hit a pothole.

“There is at least one thing that the Empire can claim, your Highness. Imperial roads are certainly much better maintained,” Hamilton noted drily.

“Asphalt,” Taylor told them. “It’s cheaper than concrete, quick to set but not nearly as durable.” He smiled ruefully. “Even our concrete probably isn’t as good as yours, since I’m betting you probably still use the old Roman recipe. Our concrete will last about fifty years. There are still sections of Roman roads still usable after two thousand. Still, we do have a few tricks up our sleeves.”

“No doubt,” Panache replied mildly.

With this event being put on with far less preparation time that anyone would have liked, the operation was, of necessity, rather free-form in nature. Ideally, the Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with Public Security, would have carefully planned out an itinerary. Security forces would have been deployed in advance but in this case, there had been literally no time to plan and whether the Foreign Ministry and the American State Department liked it or not, Lieutenants Itami and Taylor had by far the best rapport and understanding of their off-world guests. It was necessary to rely on these men to follow a set of hastily composed guidelines and to use discretion and provide a heads up to Public Security. Of course, this did mean that there were fewer parties who knew the planned movements of their guests. This was well as there were dangerous leaks of information which had still not been fully tracked.

The party followed a route passing the site of the new Tokyo World Trade Center South Tower, where their visitors could witness modern construction methods at work. Even for Lelei, Rory, and Tuka, who had witnessed at least a sample of modern building techniques in the building of Camp Alnus it was impressive. For Princess Pina and her party, it was nothing short of astonishing.

“Even the greatest towers in Sadera are nothing next to this,” Pina breathed, next to her, Bozes nodded in shock.

Were their group smaller, perhaps, Itami might have considered splitting up but under the circumstances, it was best for everyone to stay in one location. Their first stop was the Junkudo Ikebukuro bookstore. It was here that Risa helped Pina and Bozes discover walls filled with Manga. It was as Risa began to discuss the Yaoi titles that were her bread and butter that Pina noted an interesting phenomenon as Tomita, who had originally agreed to assist them in a search for ‘art’, seemed to look embarrassed and get very quiet as if trying to quietly fade from sight.

Hmmm… I wonder if Itami or Taylor will react the same way? Perhaps I could ask Sergeant Kuribayashi? Or maybe I should simply experiment for myself? Looking around, she spotted her target. “Ah! Itami!”

In the meantime, with assistance from Shino, Lelei quickly found the science section. Books on astronomy, physics, and chemistry were eagerly seized by the young mage. Rory was fascinated by books on the various mythologies of this world, while Tuka found books on zoology, as well as collections of poetry and songs and even cooking. At the same time, Taylor, Panache, and Hamilton were on the floor where books printed in English were. Taylor looking for books on government and history, especially histories covering Rome and on England in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. All told, the group purchased some seventy books of various types and not including Pina making a virtual clean sweep of the yaoi manga. Fortunately, the Japanese government was picking up the tab for everything but some personal purchases by Itami, Taylor, Shino, and Tomita. The cashier had an understandably pleased expression as she rang up the group’s purchases.

After a tour of the Tsukiji market, a break for lunch was in order. Of course, this was also an opportunity to demonstrate the full scope of Japan’s Capital with a visit to Skytree tower, dining with a full panoramic view of the city below stretching to the horizon.

Even Rory was struck by the view before she grinned. “Hardy would never dare to come here, so near the heavens!”

Pina nodded. “This is… They truly are giants,” she breathed. “They can raise us up or crush us underfoot.” Briefly, she imagined such a tower rising above Sadera. The wealth and prosperity she saw here she wanted for her people but her people could not simply take it. They would have to earn this.

“The Musashi?” Taylor asked, looking around the restaurant and the very expensive looking fittings. “How did you manage to get a group this size into the Musashi with no reservation?”

Itami looked a little embarrassed. “I know someone who has that kind of pull.”

“Well, I’m impressed. Glad you’re learning to use your powers for good.”

Of course, Shino took it upon herself to organize the seating with a little input from Bozes. This left Itami sitting between Rory and Tuka with Lelei directly facing him and Risa and Shino in a good position to watch his discomfort while Pina sat with Bozes on her left and Hamilton across from her and Panache next to Hamilton. Shino smirked as Taylor pulled out Lady Panache’s seat before taking his own beside her, an act matched by Tomita as he ‘coincidentally’ found himself next to Bozes.

If the ramen shop Itami had taken them to the previous day had been a sampling of common but hearty food, the Musashi was an experience in high-end Japanese-French Fusion cuisine, an epicurean experience unmatched even in Emperor Molt’s palace.

Light conversation accompanied the food and the stunning view. Afterward came fashion shopping. Unlike the hurried shopping to prepare Tuka for her testimony before the Diet, this was a broader cultural sampling with Risa and Kuribayashi as primary guides for their guests and Itami, Tomita, and Taylor a captive audience. At one point, even Kuribayashi finding herself slightly embarrassed if very smugly pleased as Panache quietly took her aside to ask for help with intimate fashion, the results of their consultation were not readily revealed although some purchases had apparently been made, Panache still being rather puzzled by what she saw but trusting Shino’s judgement in the matter.

Next, the group headed for Akihabara. Among the purchases, Lelei and Hamilton each found heavy duty laptops with solar charging cells. Lelei, fascinated with having a world of knowledge literally at her fingertips and Hamilton seeing the potential for organizing and storing data in a small and secure place. It was during this time that Itami was informed that decoy bus had been ambushed near Tokyo Tower.

Pina’s face paled at this news, her companions closing around her protectively, Tuka looking to Itami for reassurance while Lelei considered and Rory prepared for a possible fight. Shino instinctively scanning for threats.

“What happened?” Taylor asked.

“Some injuries on our side, Several hostiles killed, five in custody,” Itami answered. “Also our trip to Hakone has been canceled due to unacceptable security risks on site,” Itami replied.

“Well…” Taylor considered, “I guess it’s time to call it a day.”

As they drove back to Yokosuka, Pina asked the question that everyone wanted to be answered:

“Why? We come under a flag of peace to make peace! Who would want to attack us?”

“I don’t know,” Itami admitted.

Taylor considered carefully. “As I see it, there are two groups of people out there who would want something to happen: Most obvious are people who lost loved ones in the attack on Ginza and just want to lash out against somebody for their pain. These people are a very sympathetic cause to get people who ought to know better to talk about things they maybe shouldn’t but usually don’t have the reach that this sort of thing requires. Someone had access to both information and assets to act on it in a timely fashion.”

Pina nodded. She could understand the anger and grief that might drive someone to wish them harm and she could hold no ill will toward them… But this other party…

“Why though? If not revenge, then what?”

“To embarrass the current Japanese and/or American government in a major public fashion. After Tuka, Lelei, and Rory’s testimony before the Diet, they’ve become celebrities in the popular press. And if the current American and Japanese governments failed to protect them? Imagine if your father invited a ruler from another land to be his guest in Sadera and something happened to that person.”

“It would publicly humiliate my father.”

“And weaken him politically?”

Pina nodded. “Yes.”

“There you have it. I don’t know what the interrogators and investigators will find but my guess is that all of you were made targets of opportunity in someone else’s power play.”

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Pina replied.

“Neither do we, Princess!” Bozes replied, Panache and Hamilton nodding in agreement. “Whoever has made a target and pawn of you have made an enemy this day! The Order has a long memory and we will not forget either a friend or an enemy!”

Panache growled. “Let them pray to whatever gods they hold that we never find them! Our steel will be drawn upon their flesh!”

Rory nodded with a cold smile. “A blood oath is given then.”

Itami and Taylor both felt relief these words were not directed at either of them. Soon they returned to Yokosuka. Chief Richardson and his group were waiting for them. The chief waving away the corpsman checking him over.

“Welcome back LT! Have a nice trip, sir?”

Taylor looked at the group of mostly female Marines standing around next to their rather dented bus. “A lot more peaceful than yours, Chief.” He pointed at the sizeable dent on the vehicle’s starboard side. “What happened?” Taylor asked for everyone in his group to hear.

“Cement truck rammed us, forced us into a concrete barrier. Then they tried storming the bus! Shit! Being tased sucks, LT! Don’t misunderstand me, sir. Great to have kevlar armor, but it doesn’t cover everything and they tased me right under the armpit! And then all hell breaks loose as this big guy, must have been six eight and built like a brick house, he tried reaching for our resident priestess of death.” He nodded at Corporal Nakamura, who smirked with satisfaction, “and she kicked him in the throat! Broke the hyoid, and then the guy behind him got a nine-millimeter lobotomy. They probably thought that securing the bus was going to be the easy part!”

Rory gave a considering look to Nakamura. “Oh?”

“Nakamura! Front and center!” Richardson called out.

Corporal Nakamura, called ‘Buns’ by her squad mates, stepped forward still wearing Rory’s spare outfit. She saluted Lieutenant Taylor and then turned to Rory. To the casual observer, Rory and Nakamura were virtually indistinguishable.

“Sorry for the blood stains on your outfit, your eminence. I’ll make sure to clean it before I return it.”

Rory smiled. “No need to concern yourself. Emroy is pleased with your work this day.” It truly was a shame she could not claim her own apostles yet. Both this girl and Kuribayashi would have been excellent candidates, Rory thought. “You may keep it as a token of Emroy’s favor.”

Nakamura bowed and thew a wicked grin at Chief Richardson, who had been teasing her lightly before they left.

Great, she’s now literally the Herald of Death. Just what this base needs… another Marine with a swelled head. Richardson thought sourly. “Anyway, LT, Public Security took the survivors into custody.” He chanced a glance over at Panache before looking back to his lieutenant. “By the way, I checked when we got in. The kid’s here. His flight arrived around mid-morning.”

“Outstanding! Well, Senior Chief I’m sure mother has someone showing him around. And a fairly good idea who at that. So better get somebody to track him down.” He looked over at Nakamura as he caught the wicked gleam in the Chief’s eye. “Preferably someone who isn’t a dead ringer for the Angel of Death.”

“Right sir” Richardson agreed. “Locke!” He called to the tall blonde woman who had been Tuka’s decoy. Unlike most of Richardson’s group, Locke wasn’t a Marine. The yeoman had been chosen simply because there was no one else closer to Tuka’s complexion and build. Still, she had comported herself well and the Chief would have no problem filling out the paperwork to make sure that his kids all received proper credit and recognition for their performance.

“Yes, Senior Chief?”

“Go find Miss Lucilla and see if she knows where our newest guest is. Get him over to the common room. We’ll be there shortly, so get the lead out!”

“Yes, Senior Chief!” Locke double-timed it into the main building,

Taylor turned to Princess Pina. “I’m told they are just taking care of a last-minute surprise. Everything should be ready now though...”


This is certainly fun, I'll be watching this one.


This one was tough and my laptop is literally falling apart BUT finally, have the next chapter.

And here. it is...

The Janus Campaign

Chapter 18: From There to Here And Back Again

"Tiberius!" Panache exclaimed in surprise and pure elation as she saw her brother walk into the room, escorted by Lady Lucilla.

"Panache!" The young teen's face lit in joy and astonishment before also recognizing the Imperial Princess. Tiberius knelt before them. "Forgive me, your Highness."

"There is nothing to forgive," Pina replied mildly. "It speaks well of the bond between the two of you. Stand and join us! I am sure you have many tales to tell us of your experiences in this new world."

"Ah... Yes, your Highness!" His face flushed crimson as he warred within himself, trying to present himself with control and dignity as he stood before his Princess. It had been safe to admire her and her beauty from a respectable distance but personally face to face with her and in front of his sister and several of the Empire's most renown Ladies, Tiberius had a sinking feeling he was only managing to look like a fool.

It was Lady Lucilla who came to his rescue. "Forgive me, your Highness and noble Ladies, I believe that My Lord is still much fatigued from his journey." She touched his elbow "Come you should take some refreshment!" Lucilla told Tiberius, guiding him over to a long table set with drink and hor d' oeuvres. "If her Highness and Ladies would follow me?"

Pina barely suppressed a smirk at this as the young man was led away. Panache was less successful and thanked the gods that her brother's attention was now fully centered on the raven-haired young lady holding his arm.

Well, father! It would seem Tiberius is managing quite well without your help! He's been found by a smart girl who looks like she knows a prize when she sees it!


"I trust your tour went well, Your Highness?" Colonel Mihara asked solicitously as she and Lady Octavia greeted Pina and the others.

"Yes, it was very interesting," Pina answered. "It also underscores that I need to return home at the earliest practicable time so as to start work on bringing a conclusion to this war."

"Of course, your Highness," Mihara replied and paused. "I would like to discuss a request from my Government if it is convenient?"

Pina nodded. "Of course, after supper, I will be holding council with my aides and leading ladies. Join us and we can discuss it then. If that is acceptable?"

"Perfectly, Your Highness." Mihara agreed. This would also provide Mihara the opportunity to inform Her Highness of other, somewhat disturbing news.

Indeed, hours later, Pina Co Lada was quite disturbed and yelling loudly indeed.

"WHAT?" Pina slammed her palms down on the table as she rose in anger.

Colonel Mihara calmly regarded Pina's look of absolute fury and waited a moment as it washed past before repeating the news. "Whether by design as part of a campaign of scorched earth or the fallout of the destruction of the Imperial and Allied armies at Alnus, a number of settlements between Alnus and Sadera have been completely destroyed. Our people have had encounters with apparent Imperial units in several villages and have also encountered refugees from destroyed villages and settlements. We, of course, will do our best to provide relief for any refugees that find their way to Alnus." She carefully refrained from mentioning that while manageable for now, Janus Command was concerned about increasing strain on their logistical tether. In response, patrols had been stepped up but it was only a first step. Mihara studied Her Highness as Pina frowned and considered the situation. The threat of roving bands of brigands, even some formerly Imperial troops turned to looting and plundering was bad enough as she had learned at Italica but the thought that this might be part of a deliberate policy by her father chilled her.

Damn it, Father! These people aren't like any army the Empire has ever faced! They don't need our food or our wells. They can probably strike Sadera any time they choose! We only make enemies of our own people! Odd that only a few months ago, she would have seen her father's strategy as eminently sensible. And how narrow her own vision had been! Strange how one of the first things she saw upon having her eyes opened was how completely blind she had been. Silently, she prayed that this had not been her father's will but she could not dismiss the thought either. Though she loved her father dearly, she knew he could be extremely ruthless if he had to be.

Some of the Saderan Noble Ladies in attendance responded to the news with clearly horrified looks. They had lands in that region and these were certainly under possible threat. Lady Octavia herself remained impassive despite the fact that both her husband's lands and the estate of her late father lay in this area. There was nothing to be done for it, they would be spared or not, though she would ask her son if he could at least check on them and make sure their people were safe.

Pina frowned. It did not matter so much who was responsible. Only that she had a duty to act. She turned to her Knight Commanders. "Lady Panache! When we return to Italica, The Company of the White Rose will remain there with our foot. I will want mounted patrols of the main roads and of the local villages and estates. Under my own authority as Princess of the Imperial Line, all local garrisons will be at your disposal to protect these villages and lands. Anyone caught looting will be put to the sword. I will also leave you half of the company of the Red Rose. The remainder along with the company of the Yellow Rose will accompany me back to Sadera."

"Yes, your Highness!" Panache answered. "But what if we encounter Imperial troops under orders from His Imperial Majesty?" Panache echoing Pina's own concerns.

Pina smiled wryly. "In theory, in that event, you would have no choice but to stand down. However, even if my father gave an order to burn any such villages and estates, father would never actually sign such an order. He's not about to make unneeded enemies in the Senate or among the merchant guilds by pinning his name to possibly destroying their lands or goods and profits. Therefore, in the absence of a signed order from The Emperor himself, you will have my signed orders to request compliance from all Imperial forces and to prevent brigands, pirates, or marauders of any sort from doing harm to Imperial lives and property."

"Yes Princess," Panache replied as a swelling of pride for her Princess and the Order filled her heart.

Pina then turned to the Representative of the Allied forces among them: "Colonel Mihara? In accordance with the Italica agreement, I humbly request aid and support in protecting and securing the well being of the city of Italica and its surrounding area..."

Over the next few hours, plans were offered, considered, and revised as they discussed the particulars of the repatriation of Saderan civilians, the protection of Italica and the surrounding region under the Italica agreement and other assorted matters.

Despite an unofficial request from the Japanese Foreign Ministry, Princess Pina decided that she could not join Tuka, Lelei, and Rory Mercury in a flower-laying ceremony at the memorial for those killed during the invasion of Tokyo. There was a small but quantifiable risk that if her father or others learned of this in the current political climate in Sadera, she could be declared a traitor and possibly even face execution. If the negotiations bore fruit, then she would certainly wish to return and honor those fallen. Hopefully, it would show the people of this world a more positive face for the Empire.
We need all the goodwill we can get, Pina thought sourly.


The following morning, Itami and Taylor were summoned to Colonel Mihara's office.

"You gentlemen have new orders," she told them. "Lieutenant Itami, Third Recon will join Her Imperial Highness and escort Ambassador Russell and Mister Sugawara to Italica. From there, the Princess and her retainers will discreetly escort our diplomats the rest of the way to Sadera where Princess Pina has graciously offered her personal palace and estate to house our diplomatic mission." Japanese Public Security personnel, as well as Department of State Security agents and a Marine security team, would be sent in unobtrusively as soon as practicable. This detail had been a point of debate between Japanese and American officials. The Japanese had wanted to be less conspicuous with the presence of their security detail in the Imperial Capital. The American government decided, however, that a proper security detachment was non-negotiable. While no one wished to be so blatant as to endanger Princess Pina's survival in either the literal or political sense, hard experience dictated that appropriate security measures would be taken.

"Vice Minister Shirayuri will arrive sometime after that point." Mihara then turned to Taylor."Lieutenant Taylor, Her Imperial Highness has given permission for a scientific mission to set up in Italica. As you have established a good rapport with Princess Pina and her senior commanders, particularly Lady Panache, who will be Her Highness's representative in Italica, you will accompany the rest of Third Recon to Italica and then act as our liaison once the science team arrives." She smiled lightly. "And, as many of the Saderan non-combatants will be returning to the Empire, I will be assigning Senior Chief Richardson and a few experienced hands to assist you. Also, as Princess Pina's knights will be expanding their patrols in the area, Her Highness has agreed that a platoon of Marines should be stationed in Italica to assist in the local defenses."

"Yes, ma'am."



"Are you certain you won't come back with us?" Panache asked her brother finally as Princess Pina's Party and the first group of Saderan Repatriates made ready to leave for the Gate.

Tiberius shook his head as he gave his sister a small smile. "I don't think that's a good idea. Father wouldn't understand. Not yet anyway." He turned to look at Lucilla, who squeezed his hand. "Besides, this is where I need to be right now." He handed a letter to Panache. "Could you make sure mother gets this?"

"I will take care of it personally," Panache promised.

"Thank you. Tell mother I love her?"

"Of course."

"Be safe," Tiberius told her.

"I'll do my best."

In the meantime, as her daughter looked after Tiberius, Lady Octavia discussed last minute details with her son.

"I've marked the locations of the major estates on this map, If you could at least inquire about them, it would be very helpful for those contemplating a return to the Empire. As Lady Agrippina's estate lies to the South and East of Alnus, it is likely undamaged and therefore Lady Agrippina will be returning to the Empire today. I entrust her safe passage into your care."

The fair-skinned noblewoman brushed a lock of honey blonde hair from her face and bowed her head deferentially. "My Lord."

Taylor returned the gesture. "My Lady." There was a twinkle of anticipation in Agrippina's eyes and Taylor was happy that he was not the object of the woman's thoughts as she prepared to return to her lands. Lady Octavia had taken a proud woman broken less by capture and more by betrayal and reforged her with cold purpose and now the hour of her retribution drew near.

"Also," Octavia gestured to one of her house retainers. A warrior bunny with a light cream coat and wheat blonde hair stepped forward. Taylor recognized her as Aurelia. "I have discussed this with your commanders. As my heir, Aurelia will accompany you henceforth. I am certain you will find her useful." She addressed the warrior Bunny with a smile. "Obey him as you would me. We leave our heir in your care."

Aurelia bowed, "As you will, My Lady." A touch of pride and satisfaction showing in her voice. She turned to Taylor. "As you will, My Lord," she said with pride as Octavia put a hand up to cover her smirk.

Taylor shook his head and glanced over at Chief Richardson. "Are we ready to roll Chief?"

"That we are sir!"

Taylor looked at Itami and Princess Pina. "Your Highness, Shall we go home?"
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I've been woefully absent here lately. Time to fix this!

Just Another Day

Following Princess Pina’s instructions, Vermouth and Milet, Knights of the Rose Order, remained at Alnus Hill while their companions, Zivana and Merisa had returned to Italica to keep Vifita, apprised of the current situation. As Pina had instructed them to learn all they could, Vermouth and Milet each carefully observed the goings on around them. With their access sensibly enough restricted, the two stayed around the base corral and the facilities of the 407th Combat Support Hospital for the most part, although the pair had visited the growing refugee community nearby. It was becoming less a gathering of refugees and more an actual town. The invaders encouraged the refugees to take up their old crafts if possible and had managed to convince a few of the local farms to do business with Alnus. Not by threat, but by the offer of a new market where their crops and livestock fetched good prices, paid either in Imperial coin or in paper scrip as the farmers chose. Much of the Imperial coin was confiscated from the pay chests of the legions shattered in the battles at Alnus but interestingly, most of the new businesses in Alnus Town and even a few of the farmers seemed to prefer the scrip issued by the Pacific Allies.

A constabulary made up of locals had been established and even included non-humans in its ranks. Many of these were auxiliaries pressed into service of either the Imperial Army or one of its vassal states. These individuals felt neither love nor loyalty to the Empire and the chance to start anew without the Imperial yoke had been quite appealing to them. And here they lived in relative harmony with men and women, supposedly subjects of the Empire but whose true loyalties had been to their own communities which were no more, and their families, who were here, enjoying a life of comforts unknown in Sadera and security backed up by the “Men in Green.”

To encourage trade, the outworlders had opened a store they called a ‘PX’ or exchange and staffed it with locals who were paid quite handsomely. The array of goods varied from clothing of design and fabrics unheard of in the Empire to metal cooking wares and luxuries like those oh so wonderful bars called ‘chocolate’, although these tended to be too sweet for more than a small taste for Vermouth’s liking.

The day after Princess Pina departed for Tokyo, Colonel Potter invited Vermouth and Milet to a meeting of senior personnel and selected staff. In this case, Henry Blake, Major Houlihan, Captains Pierce, McIntyre, Newsome, and Hunnicutt as well as Father Mulcahy, Radar O’Reilly, Koire, and Parna as well as a bespectacled staff sergeant wearing the insignia of the Veterinary Corps and a Marine wearing the silver bars of a first lieutenant.

“Before we begin, allow me to introduce Lieutenant Jones and Staff Sergeant Panetti. Now, I need people for a couple of details I need to send out. The first one is to go to Alnus Town. As you know, the engineers have built a flour mill for the local residents. We’re trying to encourage greater self-sufficiency and a working economy, plus as long as proper sanitation is met, then the local bread might better than what we get back home since all the nutrients aren’t processed into oblivion. A few of the natives are setting up bakeries and food stalls and such but they won’t be allowed to sell to our people until they pass a basic health and sanitation inspection. Radar?”

“Yes, Colonel?”

“Have you any thought to what we discussed yesterday?”

“Yes, sir. I went over to supply and got a bunch of Charlie flags. We can post them on establishments that pass inspection.” Charlie being signal shorthand for ‘Yes’ or ‘affirmative’, it would be a sign that did not require translating into English, Japanese, Popularii or any of the other multitude of applicable languages.

“Good thinking Radar. By the way, those sergeant stripes look good on you son. They’ve been long overdue.”

Radar glanced down at his new stripes. He wasn’t quite used to them yet. “Thank you, sir.”

For her part, Parna was practically preening over Radar’s promotion. Somehow, his success felt like hers.

In the meantime, Colonel Potter continued with the matters at hand. “Sergeant Panetti will conduct the food safety inspections in Alnus and in conjunction, I need one team to conduct some basic health screenings and make sure that everyone is up to speed on hygiene practices. Remind them if they feel sick, to come to see us. We don’t want them just going on business as usual.”

Hawkeye looked over at Sergeant Panetti. So you’re the guy who handles food inspections? You know, we’ve got one of your ‘Ten Most Wanted’ working in the mess hall right this minute. I don’t suppose you have the power to arrest the cook, do you?”

“For assault with a deadly entree,” Trapper John added.

Colonel Potter merely rolled his eyes and continued. “The other bunch is going to go out to some of the local villages and extend the hand of a good neighbor. Do a little trust-building As a precaution, Lieutenant Jones and a few of his Marines will accompany them. Lieutenant?” Potter invited.

“My men and I have reconnoitered some of these villages. The residents are friendly enough but the countryside is a bit lawless with bandits. A lot of them are survivors and deserters from the armies that we fought.”

“Who did you have in mind for the two teams, Colonel?” Henry Blake asked.

“We’ll need one doctor and one nurse on each detail along with two corpsmen. I’ll want Koire to go with the detail going into Alnus Town and Parna, you’ll go with the other detail. As for Doctors, I, have a staff meeting with General Hazama I need to attend. That means I’ll need to leave you in charge here, Henry.”

“Yes, sir.” Henry sounded just a little disappointed. Not only did he need a few hours away but he hated trying to deal with both Frank Burns’ flakiness and Winchester’s imperiousness.

Potter gave him an apologetic look. “Sorry Henry, When I get back, you can have a couple of days in Tokyo.”

“Thank you, sir!” Henry perked up. A couple of days back in the real world, actually be able to call home and talk to his wife, then find a Japanese Steakhouse, a cold beer and a hot sake and a soft bed might as well be a trip to paradise.

“You might want to stay clear of Sumida, Henry,” Hawkeye suggested. “I don’t think the police have forgiven Trapper and me for aggressive passing in a no passing zone last month.”

“I suppose you two were drunk and speeding too?” Henry groaned.

“Absolutely not! We were completely sober! We simply flagged down a traffic cop so we could get directions to the Asahi Beer Hall.”

“It was only after they got out that Hawkeye started going a little too fast.” Trapper put in.

“Can you blame me? She was gorgeous and her partner wasn’t half bad either.”

“That would be why I got a complaint from the Captain of the Bokotou Police Station.” Colonel Potter glared at the two of them. “In the meantime, the doctors we send out will need to be both capable and approachable, doctors who will put the right face on us to the local public. So, Captain Newsome will go into Alnus and BJ will go make the rounds on the villages of Sybaris and Affpuddle.”

“Affpuddle?” Hawkeye smirked, looking at Hunnicutt. “Better bring your galoshes.”

Potter gave Pierce a look. “Anyway, Margaret?”

Houlihan nodded. “Nurse Cutler will go to Alnus, I’ll accompany Captain Hunnicutt myself.”

“Good,” Potter nodded.

“Colonel?” Father Mulcahy asked.

“Yes, Padre?”

“I’d like to go visit the local villages myself if you’ll allow it.”

Potter considered it for a moment. With long hours conversing with Saderan patients helping the padre adapt his abilities in Latin to speaking the native Popularii, Mulcahy could be a considerably useful asset. “Alright, but if those marines tell you to hit the deck, you do it, Padre. That goes for all of you.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, Colonel!” Mulcahy answered.

“Yes, sir,” Hunnicutt replied seriously.

“Good, now as for the rest, O’Donnell and Conway will go to Alnus and Radar, you and Klinger will join Captain Hunnicutt’s team.”

“Yes, Colonel.” Radar looked up reassuringly at Parna as this was her first trip off base since they had found her.

Then Potter addressed the two young knights in their midst. “As I said, you two ladies are welcome to join the party. See how we do things.”

Vermouth paused but a moment. “Milet, you will go to Alnus Town. I will accompany Major Houlihan and Captain Hunnicutt.”

“Alright then ladies, get saddled up then, they’ll be leaving in an hour.”


Village of Sybaris

Before leaving Alnus, Captain Hunnicutt’s group was joined by a team from the Army Corps of Engineers, led by Lieutenant Strickland. His task was to make a basic survey of the villages. Ostensibly, his team was to see what services the Allied forces could offer to their neighbors but also,` the higher-ups were considering detailing squads to protect villages that chose to trade with them. It was believed that a small force would be adequate to handle most situations and in any case, support would only be a radio call away.

Of course, it was imperative that the locals had to actively agree to this. Every other major nation on Earth was carefully watching the Pacific Forces, looking for any openings or mistakes to exploit in the court of international opinion. Further, public opinion in Japan, The United States, and in other member nations, while currently supportive, could turn without warning. The testimony of Rory Mercury, Tuka Luna Marceau, and Lelei la Lelena before the Diet was helping in terms of maintaining general public support for the expedition but the battle of public relations was a constant struggle unless you lost.

From Vermouth’s perspective, it was certainly the oddest ‘invasion’ she had ever heard of. Diligently, she began recording her observations in a notebook thoughtfully provided by Sergeant O’Reilly. It was odd that even the paper these people used had a different character to it. As she wrote her name, Radar glanced over in curiosity.

Vermouþ Du Idryis, Dauȝter of Count Idryis.

“Pardon my saying, ma’am but I don’t think I’ve ever seen writing like that.”

Vermouth looked up equally curious. To her understanding, the young Sergeant was equivalent to a scribe, a position of learning. In a way, he reminded her of a calmer version of Hamilton.

Captain Hunnicutt shook his head. “Now, now Radar. It’s never polite to read a ladies private thoughts.” He gently admonished.

“Oh! Nothing like that, I assure you both.” Vermouth dismissed mildly. “What seems so unusual to you?”

“Well, you’ve got a ‘b’ with a little tail on it and what’s with the ‘3’ here?” Radar pointed to the fourth word.

BJ chuckled. “Well, Radar, those are actually letters of the alphabet we don’t use anymore. If I remember my language arts courses, that ‘b’ with the tail is called ‘thorn’ it’s just a ‘th’ sound. The other one is called a ‘yogh’. It’s a rough ‘gh’. We don’t use that sound much except when we’re speaking ‘Klingon’.”

Radar frowned. “Oh! No. How am I going to get my paperwork done now? I’m gonna have to get a new keyboard.”

For her part, Vermouth made a mental note to find out about this ‘Klingon’.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Jones finished conversing with the village mayor and guided the bemused old man over to the small convoy of iron carriages. Although the presence of both an Imperial Knight and a Warrior Bunny did initially create just the slightest confusion for the locals, introductions proceeded fairly smoothly and with permissions given, Strickland’s survey team got to work mapping out the village and its environs.

After some initial hesitation, a few of the locals finally came forward for medical attention. With Radar and Klinger and even Father Mulcahy fetching supplies from their Hummer and Parna assisting in translation, Captain Hunnicutt and Major Houlihan began to tend a few of the residents. It was not the same as the long shifts they had endured in surgery after the fierce battles but there was something about treating the normal injuries and maladies of an ordinary life.

Their last patient of the day was a young woman who was expecting her first child. Her husband being fraught with worry.

“I begged her to entreat the blessings of Miritta before we were married but Cara refused. She was afraid my feelings for her would change. I swear it’s not true!”

“Miritta?” Father Mulcahy asked in a tone that was a mix of concern and curiosity.

“Miritta is the Goddess of Fertility. She is supposed to protect expectant mothers,” Parna explained, translating into English. “But this protection comes at a price. Her followers are expected to either serve as prostitutes in brothels run by her priestesses or a couple may make a tithing instead.” Parna scowled. “Of course, Miritta’s priestesses favor human followers.

“Good Heavens!” Father Mulcahy exclaimed.

“Don’t sound so surprised, Father,” Hunnicutt told him. “It seems Miritta’s interest is in spreading certain seed as widely as possible as it were.”

“It’s barbaric!” Margaret objected.

“Margaret, your judgments are showing,” BJ said mildly. While privately he agreed with the Major, It was not their place to value judge the local cultures or belief systems.

“My apologies, Doctor.” Intellectually, Margaret knew BJ was right. They would not be able to establish trust and a working relationship with these people by condemning their beliefs And they could not help people like Cara and her husband without their trust and cooperation. Still, it rankled the Major to no end.

Captain Hunnicutt looked at the couple with a gentle smile. “I’ve never confused myself for a god but I think we can help. Cara? If you’ll allow it, Major Houlihan and I are going to give you a brief examination and then we’ll see if we can find out anything about how the baby is doing.” BJ paused as Parna translated this.

“I won’t have to give myself to Miritta’s will?” The young woman asked in surprised relief.

Once Parna finished translating, BJ shook his head. "We have a different union. Father?” He gestured to Mulcahy. “Would you take this young man outside while we take a look at this young lady?”

“Of course, BJ.” Mulcahy gently led Cara’s husband out of the room.

“Don’t worry, my son. Cara is in very capable hands. Now… Why don’t you tell me about Miritta and the other gods? I’ve met the Apostle of Emroy. A very intimidating presence, I must say. But I would like to know more. If you wouldn’t mind?”

With the young man and Mulcahy outside, BJ and Houlihan set to work. A while later, BJ stepped outside and gestured to Cara’s husband.

“Come on in. Cara’s been listening to something you might want to hear,” Hunnicutt announced with a broad smile.

The young man stepped inside to see his wife propped up comfortably as Hunnicutt placed the chest piece of his stethoscope to Cara’s belly and nodded in satisfaction as he then slipped the earpieces into the young man’s ears.

“Hear that? That’s the heartbeat of a strong, healthy baby. I’ll drop by every once in a while to make sure everything progresses smoothly but it looks to me like, in about three months, you’ll be having a healthy baby. Come on Margaret, let’s give these two some time alone.”

Some days made the rest all worthwhile.


Chapter 19: Crossroads

Compared to the party which had accompanied her to Tokyo, the procession which now joined the Imperial Princess back through the Gate was a veritable triumph. In a way, there was as much truth as irony in that statement, for in coming to Tokyo, Pina Co Lada had secured more of a victory than the combined armies of the Empire and its allies had been able to manage.

In all, some five hundred Imperial citizens had elected to be repatriated in this first group. Some of these intended to remain at the Alnus settlement but most would continue on to Italica and then to their respective homes across the Empire. Joining them would be the first contingent of the Janus Academic Mission: A collection of scientists and scholars ranging from geologists to sociologists, linguists to zoologists, and astronomers to historians. Trucks filled with equipment and supplies and with military assigned drivers joined the column of horses and wagons that proceeded through the gate.

“And most of this mess is now my responsibility.” William Taylor sighed, scowling as Itami laughed.

“How do you figure?”

“Simple: After escorting the Lady Agrippina home and hoping she doesn’t find her spouse dwelling within, I take up residence as liaison in Italica. I get to make sure the science jockeys heading there are taken care of and kept happy, while at the same time making sure they don’t over-step their bounds and create an incident of some sort. At the same time, as Pina’s knights will be conducting patrols out of Italica, I have to make sure that Lady Panache and our people are on the same page so there isn’t another incident like what happened to us.”

“You’re the best person for the job,” Itami replied nonchalantly.

“I highly doubt it.”

“Better you than me anyway,” Itami countered. “Too much responsibility.”

“I hate you,” Taylor replied.

At least he wasn’t entirely alone in his new posting, he reflected. With the first reduction in the population of detainees in her care, Colonel Mihara had reassigned Senior Chief Richardson and a number of other personnel to Italica with Taylor. This included Corporal Nakamura, who had been only half-jokingly dubbed the ‘Disciple of Death’ by her squadmates. What particularly disturbed Taylor about this is that Nakamura had reported to him hefting her own naginata, at which time she confirmed her status as a practitioner of naginatajutsu.

Of course, this didn’t account for Aurelia. The Warrior Bunny was fast becoming a more constant companion than Taylor’s own shadow. Fortunately, she was quick to grasp the boundaries required by operational security even if her understanding of personal boundaries was a bit different from Taylor’s…


“She’s what?” Colonel Mihara asked in surprise as she and Lady Octavia watched the convoy get underway.

Octavia smiled wryly. “I said that Aurelia is my husband’s oldest daughter, born to Videlia, my husband’s favorite concubine.”

“I imagine that would be awkward,” Mihara told her.

“Only in that as non-humans, Videlia, and Aurelia not allowed the rights of marriage as recognized under Imperial Law. Under those same laws, Aurelia cannot claim any rights of inheritance from Germanicus. The irony is not lost on me that I can adopt a foreigner and since he is human, he can inherit my father’s titles but because of her heritage, Aurelia is denied the same rights.”

“And I’m suspecting that you had something very specific in mind when you assigned Aurelia to be Taylor’s minder,” Mihara replied.

“Of course!” Octavia admitted. “While I understand your culture has a different view on such things, The title of ‘concubine’ is not a dirty word in our society. Were something to develop between them, I would be quite happy.”

“It was my impression that you were hoping something would spark between Mister Taylor and Lady Panache?”

“I still am! I’ve noticed how they’ve been looking at each other when they didn’t think anyone was watching. And their marriage would cement him in the upper reaches of our society. Panache’s mother is a good and sensible woman, so I expect she too would quickly see the advantages of such a union. Even if the light in her daughter’s eyes wasn’t more than enough,” Octavia answered.

“But in our culture, the two situations would not be viewed as mutually excluding. My husband has been with Videlia almost as long as he has been with me. We all understand each other quite well and there have been days when even the great soldier has found himself outnumbered and outmaneuvered. It is for them to choose. If my son finds himself with both of those very strong-willed young women at his side, I will be happy for him. If he chooses either of them, I will still be happy for him, and if he ends up with neither of them, I will simply hope that he finds the happiness he seeks. These things will resolve themselves as they should. Even an arch-plotter such as myself can only nudge the course of such things.”

“I think if any such situation arises, it would be best kept on the other side of the Gate. The details of such best not discussed.” Mihara replied drily.

“I suppose you are correct,” Octavia agreed. “Though I must admit, that for such an advanced culture, your people could probably stand to loosen up a little.” She smirked at the Colonel.

“I suppose that includes me as well, My lady?” Mihara asked mildly.

“Perhaps just a little. If I get back to the Empire, there’s a wonderful little place I would like to take you, where the masseuses are all Vulpins,” she said only half teasing. “They really know how to work the stress out.”


Somewhere in the void between worlds, as the convoy transitted the Gate, William Taylor Octavus shivered.

“Is something wrong, my lord?” Aurelia asked, immediately noticing his discomfort.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “To be honest, I’m not sure I want to know. Don’t worry about it,” he told her.

“Yes, my lord,” Aurelia answered, venturing a small smile. When Lady Octavia had informed her that she would be accompanying the heir back to their homelands, Octavia had explained everything that was expected of her but also that this was an opportunity, that she hoped Aurelia would know the feelings that Octavia and Aurelia’s mother shared for her father.

Just be open to your possibilities, Octavia had told her.

Soon transit was completed. While Her Imperial Highness was understandably anxious to hurry on to Italica, she needed to gather up Milet and Vermouth, her knights in residence, and debrief them before becoming acquainted with the horses Panache had selected for the return trip. In the meantime, Lieutenant Yanagida was waiting for them with instructions to escort the diplomatic party to General Hazama’s office.

For his part, Taylor reported in to Colonel Emerson before going down to the settlement camp to check on Aenaire and her son. With only three elves in Alnus settlement, he worried about them. Tuka seemed content as long as she was near Itami but Aenaire was a single mother cut off from her culture. Her considerable skills of less importance at Alnus. Taylor had some ideas on that as he and Aurelia walked down the neat line of cottages to one where a plum tree and a pair of blackthorns were now growing, carefully tended out front, still quite small but adding a definite touch of warmth and character to the environment. Taylor firmly but politely knocked.

After a moment or two, the door opened to the pleasant face of Aenaire. At three hundred, the High Elf combined classical beauty with a quiet serenity.

“Ah! Hello, Taylor!” She greeted. “Your journey went well, I trust?”

“It was eventful,” he replied mildly, glancing over at Aurelia. “Oh! This is Aurelia, my newly assigned minder.”

The Warrior Bunny bowed in deference to the Elf. “It is a pleasure to meet one of the High Race, though I am surprised to meet one so far from the Great Northern Forests.”

“While the vast majority of our people live there, there are villages scattered across the continent at least. I have, in fact, heard tales of seafaring elves. So it is possible that our people reach beyond Falmart.” She shook her head. “But forgive me. We need not stand in the doorway all day! Please, come in.” Aenaire smiled, inviting them inside.”Please, sit!” She retrieved two cups and filled them with cider before filling another for herself.

“I’m glad someone is keeping an eye on this one,” the elf indicated Taylor to Aurelia. “It seems he has a talent for falling into trouble.”

“My Lady has noted the same thing,” Aurelia remarked.


Taylor rolled his eyes. “I’m sitting right here, you know.” He reminded them.

“A good thing too,” Aenaire teased. “You’re where we can both keep an eye on you.”

“Itami’s the one getting into trouble!” Taylor objected. “I just happen to be there when he does.” It was time to change the subject. “Anyway, I came by to see how you and Galador were doing.”

Aenaire gave a wistful smile. “I cannot complain. We are alive and together thanks to you. Our needs are met. I make a little money by making preserves and other things. There is still small game to be had and I’ve finished building a simple bow.” She paused. “Mainly, I worry about Galador. It isn’t that the other children are unkind. But he is the only elf. It’s hard for him to fit in.”

“I may be able to help with that,” Taylor considered after a moment of consideration. “I’m being sent to the City of Italica. My people want to learn more about this world so they’re sending scholars of all kinds and The Imperial Princess has agreed to let them set up their studies in Italica. I have a fair relationship with the knight she’s leaving in charge there so I’m supposed to be the ‘go-between’ between her and these scholars, making sure everyone gets along. I’d like you and Galador to come with me. I’m certain there will be people who will want to talk to you at length about your culture, your language, the history of your people and your stories. And I know that there are races other than humans living in Italica. Galador wouldn’t have to feel like he was the only one different there.”

Aenaire considered the offer. “I’m not sure. Where would we live? And we can’t rely on charity forever. What would I do when not conversing with these learned men of yours?”

Taylor thought for a moment. “You’ll both be welcome in my home. And you said it yourself. I need as much help looking after myself as I can get. I mean it.”

“Are you sure?” She glanced between Taylor and Aurelia. The Warrior Bunny’s eyes seem to twinkle mischievously.

“I insist. Please come?”

Aenaire thought carefully and nodded. “Alright.”

“Good! It’s settled then!”

Aenaire nodded. It wasn’t like anyone would ever hold them to the details of this little agreement.

In the meantime, Aurelia suppressed a smirk. She wasn’t entirely certain but if she was correct in her understanding... Oh! My Lord! If you only knew what you’ve gotten yourself into!”


Not far from Aenaire’s quarters, Rory Mercury was receiving a visitor of her own. The worn features of the shepherd were by now a familiar sight to the soldiers and refugees around Alnus and few seemed to take any particular notice of his comings and goings as he talked about looking for his flock. It was of no real surprise that the old man would come to pay respect to the Apostle of Emroy as she was seen by many as the patron of the Alnus settlement.

“Shall we take a walk, your eminence?”

Rory nodded pleasantly at the invitation.

“So little one? I heard that you went on a little adventure?”

Rory nodded, reminding herself once more that though mostly ignored among the deities of Falmart, that Corus was far from merely an aspect of the forge god Duncan and was in fact much older than Duncan or indeed, older than any of the twelve exalted ones. “It is an amazing world beyond the Gate.”

The old one nodded. “I would imagine! I have seen that their weapons are far beyond those of this world. Probably beyond what Hardy imagines but what else did you see?”

“A city that stretches as far as human eyes can see, towers rising into the sky and filled with millions of people!” Rory considered everything she had seen carefully, especially the people who looked at her and the others with curiosity and those who had wanted to use them for their own ends. “Millions of people. They have great wealth and abundance. Still, all human… the noble and the petty, generous and greedy. Humans with ambitions… As a people, they are the same as any other but their knowledge gives them the potential to do both great and terrible things.”

“Just as do we,” Corus reminded her. “Which is more dangerous, knowledge or ignorance?”

Rory smiled. “Knowledge can either harm or help. Ignorance can destroy but it can never create.”

“Very good!” The old shepherd replied.

“And that knowledge is coming as I see that Hardy has let the children jam the door open,” Corus noted. “I’ll have to have a talk with her soon.”

Rory shivered slightly. Hardy made even her nervous but if Corus said that he was planning to go into Hardy’s realm, then the underworld would be no safe haven for its mistress if the older god decided to ‘admonish’ her.

Corus noted Rory’s expression and waved it off. “Even with all of her flaws… Even though I have had to fix a few of her mistakes... I would not wish to see her hurt. But change is coming. Ignoring it won’t help.”

Rory frowned as she considered the sights she had seen in the other world.

“Of course, we’ve done our collective best to keep the races of this world from advancing too much. Whether that means too much for their own good or what we’re comfortable with is the question,” Corus noted. “Children need to grow. Sometimes, they even need to feel pain, as much as we would wish otherwise.”

Rory turned to look upon the old god. “What are you thinking?”

“That by keeping them from growing, we’re inhibiting our own advancement. The gods play with their toys and break them when they get bored. That’s not enough for me.” He stopped and smiled.

“In the meantime, your final ascension will be only a few years. You must be excited.”

“There are things I will miss,” Rory admitted.

“Oh? Tell me.”

“I will lose the ability to feel! I want to live, not just exist.”

At this, the old shepherd laughed in genuine amusement. Rory flashed him a look and he held up his hand in apology.

“I’m sorry child but you believe that nonsense?” He asked in disbelief.

“Nonsense?” Rory objected.

“Total nonsense! Do I strike you as a being who doesn’t feel? Is a lack of feeling why Hardy pines to have you in her chambers?”

Rory threw him a disgusted look at that but Corus merely continued.

“This lack of emotion must be why Emroy is such a calm, mellow figure. Oh! Rory! A sword is still a sword, no matter what metal it is forged from or how it is reforged. All born of mortal flesh! We are who we are!” He gently placed a hand on her shoulder.

“If a new age is to come, there will be a need for someone to help guide it. “

“I am still the Apostle of Emroy. I must follow his will.” Rory reminded.

“As long as he gets his blood and souls and trust me! As long as mortals are mortals, he will! Emroy does not care how you carry out your duties. Trust me on this.” Corus smiled.

“Well! I feel I have taken enough of your time, your eminence! I must be about my flock! May the gods find you in their favor!” With that, the shepherd left Rory with things to consider, including one particular and personally relevant observation.

Youji... I think this game just became much more interesting!


Chapter 20: Making Friends and Influencing People

The journey to Italica was peaceful enough, even with the long column of trucks carrying everything from solar power generators to a mobile Doppler radar, weather balloons, a 50” telescope, even a mobile kitchen. As the presence of the Science team constituted an expansion of the terms of the original Italica agreement, it was proposed that in exchange for allowing the Science Mission to stay in Italica, the engineers would rig electric lights to cover the city walls as well as infrared and night-vision cameras to improve the city’s defense. Two radio transmitters were set up in case either anyone required evacuation or Italica required reinforcement from Alnus And as many of the scientists enjoyed their creature comforts, portable hot water heaters were brought in and were also made available to Countess Myui and those residing in Formar Manor. This was despite the objections of one of the team’s sociologists, who objected to the ‘technological contamination’ of the local culture. The rigging of electric light and erecting the radio transmitters were considered non-negotiable by both the Pacific Forces and by Princess Pina, acting on Countess Myui’s behalf while Doctor Stevens objections to other conveniences were ended by the astronomy team who were themselves quite partial to warm baths instead of cold showers and who refused to go without hot coffee or tea during their late night observations.

While the scientists and engineers sorted themselves out, Princess Pina’s party stopped to rest before continuing on to the Jade Palace. Pina and her ranking knights, accompanied by Third Recon and the Diplomatic party remained in Italica a day and a half before moving on. Lady Panache promised to return to Italica at the earliest practicable moment but not only was her presence at the Jade Palace required as a matter of protocol, Panache needed to arrange for the resupply of the Order’s forces now stationed in Italica. She also had a matter of familial importance to attend to before returning. Millet would take temporary command of the garrison until then.

With the need to have someone trusted by the local populace around to make sure the new neighbors did not get out of hand, the mission to escort Lady Agrippina home to her estate and lands east near the Blue Sea was put on hold. Taylor offering his apologies to the young noblewoman.

“No need, Lord Octavus, I quite understand. Besides, it might be to my advantage to remain here for a time and gather the local news first. If that son of a jackal is enjoying the comforts of my home, I should take the proper time to prepare my homecoming. I don’t suppose you would allow me to continue my lessons with Corporal Nakamura?”

Taylor chuckled, “I’m sure we can arrange something.” Internally, he supposed he should feel some level of sympathy, empathy, or pity for the dumb bastard who had made the mistake of crossing this woman but oddly, found none.

“Thank you. I never would have thought such arts would be so… satisfying.”

This time, Taylor shivered inside.


Lordom Valley, Cave of Refuge, Circle of the Elders

Nayu Haa Nin, warrior of the Dushi clan, knelt before the elders next to her fellow warrior Yao Haa Dushi. While Yao was a direct scion of the Dushi line, her presence here was solely due to her extensive skills and the great trust the elders had in her. Nayu’s own presence here puzzled her. While not without considerable skill of her own, Nayu was forty years Yao’s junior and not quite up to Yao’s standing as a warrior, although it could be said that her very survival in these current times of trouble was, in itself, an indicator of her skill… Or at least her luck. Nayu envied Yao’s composure under the steady gaze of the Elders.

The truth was that the Elders themselves envied Yao’s apparent composure for they themselves very much feared the future and now found themselves with only a single, desperate gambit to save what remained of their tribe. None of them could explain why the great beast had awoken so early from its slumber. Relying on the detailed accounts of the past several hundred years, they should have had at least a couple of decades before needing to scout out new lands and migrating away from the ancient places while the creature fed and prepared itself to renew its slumber. Such was the normal cycle of things. Eventually, the beast would return to its sleep and when the tribe returned, they would rejoice as new life arose from the ashes.

But this time, all knowledge had failed them. Hundreds had died and their thriving village had been laid to waste as the Great Beast attacked with a hellish fury, a fury which could only be called ‘Hate’.

Yet, even amid the horror of those first days, it was noted that the beast was injured. The first and most immediately beneficial injury was that the creature’s left eye had been destroyed, the shaft of an arrow still struck fast in it. This gave at least a chance to evade the monster, hiding in its blind zone. The other injury was one that confounded them all: The Beast was missing its left forearm. It was perplexing as no weapon of mortal wielding could have done such harm. Some wondered if it had fought some other terrible beast and suffered the wound in some titanic encounter.

In the coming days, the truth was revealed to them, although a truth so fantastic any people less desperate would have been inclined to dismiss it as pure fancy. From a few of the tribe’s returning traders came rumors of mysterious warriors with strange weapons that had been responsible for wounding the Flame Dragon and driving it away after it dared to attack people in their protection. A handful of other travelers confirmed these rumors and added that these ‘Men in Green’ had also utterly destroyed a horde of bandits at the city of Italica, slaughtering hundreds of bandits in mere minutes with no loss to their own. Such power could be the key to their salvation! If they could only find these ‘Men in Green’ and persuade them to use their power on the tribe’s behalf.

Beyond the unbelievable power they held, little was known about the ‘Men in Green’. They were apparently a human tribe, but not of the Empire. The Elders surmised that they came from the Gate of All Beginnings of which their ancient texts spoke. This, along with the information in the rumors suggested that the Green Men would be found in the lands North of Schwartz Woods. It was precious little to go on.

At least there was the fact they were human. Humans were a race the Dark Elves understood quite well. Like them and less like their distant cousins, the High Elves, Humans were beings of passion, in fact nearly wildly so at times. In those passions, the Elders hoped to find some means of persuading the Green Men to aid them.

Initially, the Elders planned to send only Yao Haa Dushi on this mission but as they considered the situation more carefully, plans were amended. First of all, came the very somber realization that perhaps help would not come to the Dushi Tribe. In that unfortunate event, the Dushi needed to take some action to preserve something of their lineage and identity.

For this reason, even though it would, in fact, be impossible to evacuate the entire surviving population or even any large number of them, the Elders selected three couples, all healthy and between the ages of two and four hundred to leave the Valley of Lordom and start anew, elsewhere. The Elders did not provide any instructions beyond this to those selected, feeling they would have to decide for themselves the best way to go about their task.

As to the task of securing help from the Green Men, the simple fact was that ‘North’ was a lot of ground to cover. A second set of ears and eyes could be of tremendous value in the search and a second set of hands as well.

“Yao Haa Dushi! Nayu Haa Nin! To you, we entrust the future of our tribe! Yao! Not only do you possess unequaled skill, cunning, and spirit ability among our surviving warriors, but you, who have suffered great tragedy, have remained faithful in all ways to our beliefs and way of life. To aid you in your task, we entrust to you the greatest treasure of our tribe.”

A second Elder then addressed Nayu. “Nayu Haa Nin, you have amply demonstrated the traits cleverness, guile, and adaptability. Your spirit remains strong even in this time of troubles and your skills as a warrior are well honed.”

The First Elder resumed. “The weight of our very continued survival as a tribe now rests upon your shoulders. Yao, Nayu, you both understand why as women, you were chosen as our emissaries, do you not?”

“Certainly,” Yao replied, embracing her mission.

“Yes,” Nayu answered. She too understood quite plainly the Elders’ reasoning. Most human societies were politically and militarily male-dominated. This was simple knowledge. Common experience had also taught that many humans found Elves, particularly Elven females, highly exotic and desirable. If using this fact helped secure the aid of the Green Men and brought the Great Beast closer to its end, then Yao and Nayu would do so.

“Then go!” The third Elder commanded them. “Bring back the Green Men to help us!”

It was Yao who answered. “Yes! We will complete our task and return. If my body is the price for the head of the Dragon, I will pay it gladly.” As she rose and turned to leave, Nayu rose and followed her out of the Circle of Elders. They had to provision and pack for the journey.

Beyond the logistics of their mission, Nayu kept her thoughts to herself. We base our survival on the random tales of mysterious warriors from beyond. The Elders grasp at other men’s straws! Still, it is all we have. She did not discuss her thoughts with Yao, not wanting her words to be taken as defeatist, nor as a challenge to the Elders. She very much had doubts about the wisdom of the Elders in this whole matter but this was the only real hope for most of their people and she would not undermine their mission through careless actions or words. Still, before leaving the caverns that were now the sole sanctuary for the surviving eight hundred Dark Elves of Schartz Woods, Nayu paid a final visit to her mother. The five-hundred-year-old woman smiled proudly at her daughter.

“I am heartened that the Elders have chosen you for this task,” Indras told her daughter. “I have a few small items that might be useful to you, acquired in my days of traveling,” she said as she went and retrieved a simple, wooden chest. Ironic that it had survived the devastation of their village because Indras kept it hidden, buried under a slab of stone in the ground beneath her bed. The Elders had thought with some satisfaction that she was symbolically burying that part of her past. But from her vantage, she was merely protecting it and keeping it close as she always had. For this reason, this second most valued of her treasures survived. She brushed the lid of the carefully crafted chest with a fond smile and warm memories before opening it. First, she removed a small, tightly bound book and then several rolled sheets of parchment.

“My journal and maps! I think you’ll find these useful.”

Nayu took these with care. As she began to offer her thanks, her mother raised a finger to pause her. “Also, take these as well.” First, she opened a silver orb and smiled as it seemed to still be in working order. “This has guided me over the most important miles of my life.” She placed it in Nayu’s hand. Nayu looked at it reverently before placing it gently in a carry pouch.

Next, Indras removed two leather sheaths. The straps were a bit worn but still serviceable. The blades they carried were still deadly sharp. “An enemy is most vulnerable when he believes you are helpless,” she reminded her daughter.

“Yes mother,” Nayu answered, rolling up her detached sleeves and carefully strapping the sheaths in place and rolled the sleeves back down.

Then after carefully inspecting its condition, Indras reverently handed her a well-tended balestrino with a polished wood grip. “Thankfully, your father understood this lesson as well. I know you know how to use this.”

“Of course!” Nayu agreed, taking careful hold of the weapon. “I promise to return it safely.”

“More important that it return you safe,” Her mother replied. Finally, she took out a delicately crafted silver chain, it held a silver ring carefully engraved in both Elven and human letters. Indras fastened it around her daughter’s neck. “His spirit will go with you.”

Nayu bowed her head in thanks. “I swear we will succeed. We will bring help.”

Indras embraced her daughter with all the love and pride a parent could have for her child. “If there is help to be had for us, I know you will find it!”


Back in Italica, Bartholomew, Head Butler of Countess Myui’s household watched the procession of outworlders with growing concern. His concern was hardly out of any loyalty to the Empire but he was a man with expensive needs and therefore heavy debts. His patron took care of both of those things, provided Bartholomew continued to provide useful information. The extent and nature of the outworlder presence in Italica coupled with the Imperial Princess’s consorting with them and their agents certainly constituted valuable information. Bartholomew’s main worry was getting his reports out as the outsiders began to establish a presence in the city.

Fortunately, his usual courier arrived on his usual schedule,.There was a quick exchange of letters: One from his ‘Brother’ in Sadera and a ‘reply’ promptly returned. Hopefully ‘Brother’ would be pleased with the information he was sending. Bartholomew was feeling a desire to take a trip to Sadera soon himself. He realized his patron would never let him off the hook, not now. But if Kaine or the other maids ever discovered his activities, things might get very unhealthy for him. Kaine and most of Myui’s maid staff were fanatically devoted to the Countess and if he were exposed, a sudden change in scenery would be a very good idea. Perhaps, he thought, his patron might have other work, not quite so risky.

On the other hand, retiring altogether might be a better idea and if he were planning on retiring, he would need plenty of funds saved up. And that meant providing his patron with something worth the gold.

For that reason, he realized that the influx of outworlders into the city was an opportunity as well as a potential problem. From the looks of them, many of these newcomers were not soldiers but academics. Bartholomew had met many of their kind in Rondel and academics tended to lack a soldier’s discipline and often liked nothing better than to talk about their work and other things. Hopefully, an opportunity would present itself.


It was dawn, the morning after Princess Pina’s party reached Italica that two riders departed the East Gate bound for Sadera. Their instructions were clear. While Flavius carried the provisions for the trip, his sister was entrusted with the finances for their mission. This only made sense in Flavius’ view as his sister was by far the more dangerous fighter of the pair.

As per their instructions, they needed to be discreet as possible They were to negotiate, bargain, bribe and if necessary steal and even kill.

As many found in these days, there was much to do and little time.


A Time For All Seasons

Camp Augustus

Tiberius El Kalgi noticed as the camp began to take on a slightly more festive decor, particularly the trees brought in and adorned with lights and other ornamentation. He voiced his curiosity to the Lady Lucilla as he helped her with preparations for the coming Saturnalia celebration.

"I didn't think that the people here celebrated the Old Gods?" Tiberius remarked.

Lucilla laughed with humor. "I don't think they do. But then neither do many of us," she replied. "No, it's a celebration called Christmas," Lucilla smiled. She paused as she considered best how to explain. "Next year the timing won't be so close to our Saturnalia but they have a lot in common, or so I've read and been told." She considered. "You've noticed that they use a version of the Old Reform Calendar?"

Tiberius nodded. "Yes, three hundred and sixty-five days in twelve months. And they use the seven day week, not the eight-day week we use."

"That's correct, my lord," Lucilla nodded. "Whereas our calendar is of three hundred and eighty-eight days with twelve equal months of four eight-day weeks and the seasons each marked by the intercalendaral days of Autumnal and Vernal Equinox and Winter and Summer Solstice," she explained. "That they use the old calendar is further proof, if any is needed that this world is not a new world but it is the world of human origins." Not that Lucilla or her mother required any further evidence. The Japanese Language might seem as alien as Elven but the fact that recognizable forms of both the High and common tongues existed here was well beyond any coincidence. The joke that they had traveled to invade a world which had once given breath to their ancestors.

"In this case, the two calendars simply happen to fall conveniently close to having the same Winter Solstice," Lucilla noted.

"So this 'Christmas' is a celebration of the solstice?"

"Not entirely. You see, here, the temples of the Old Gods fell out of favor, just as with our people. But not because of the Twelve. Here, a religion called Christianity took hold in the Empire of the Old Lore. It isn't the only religion in this world but it is in one form or other, one of the most important ones. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Son of their God. I don't claim to understand it but the point to remember is that the date of this birth was agreed upon as being on December 25, to coincide with Saturnalia, which was still a popular festival. Clever to offer a token to those who didn't follow the new religion by 'borrowing' everyone's favorite holiday. Just like our people, people just can't say 'no' to a good excuse for a party!" Lucilla grinned. While Saturnalia was considered a relic of the Old Gods, the Gods of Falmart had left the cherished celebration intact, under 'new management' as it were.

"And even if their beliefs aren't the same as ours," Lucilla noted. "Peace and goodwill to all are things worth celebrating in any culture."

Tiberius nodded in agreement. Then he noticed a certain gleam in the Lady's eye.

"Now, my lord! As those of us here at Camp Augustus will be celebrating both Saturnalia and Christmas, I need your help with hanging the mistletoe!"


City of Italica

Aenaire sat contentedly as she finished the stitching on the new shirt that she was going to give her son in the morning. While thankful for the clothes that Taylor and Itami's people had provided them with, there was something to be said for preserving at least some pieces of their Elven heritage. And besides, it was identical to the shirt she was making for Taylor. William, her mind corrected. It was still true that her son was all she needed but for the first time in decades, Aenaire wanted. She wanted to share her life with another again. What her mind had justified out of convenience, her heart now truly desired. And if their time together might be measured by the brief span of a human lifetime, then she still wanted it so. And she now hoped her son would know a kind and good father, even if only for a few decades.

Cautiously, she had sounded out Aurelia on this. The Warrior Bunny laughed. "I know the Lady Octavia has certain plans and hopes for My Lord. That said, I think she would approve that the strength of the People and the spirit of the Lady Panache be united with the serenity of one such as yourself. As we have noted, My Lord is much in need of being looked after."

With that assurance, Aenaire watched fondly as William sat telling another tale to Galador. Her son had listened with rapt interest to tales about the Vulcans, who were like Elves but lived far away among the stars, and their kin, the Romulans, who like the Dark Elves had chosen a different path from their brethren, and to tales of the great Elven warrior Legolas and his human brother who fought together to defeat great evil in the lands of Middle-Earth and the wise queen Galadriel at whose description her son giggled and caused Aenaire to blush. And now her son listened eagerly as another story began.

"Now listen closely, this is a tale of an elf who lives on Earth to this very day and this is his special night!"

"Special night?"
Galador asked.

"Ah yes! They call him by many names but in this story, he is known as Saint Nicholas. As it was said that he was the jolliest soul in the world, he was entrusted with a special mission to help spread joy to children throughout the world. Now… Most of the time, he works in secret, helping those he can and gathering magical energy which he uses on his big night where he travels all over the world, giving gifts to good children and releasing all the magic of generosity and kindness he has gathered throughout the year so it can warm the hearts of men and encourage them to hold and spread that same magic themselves," Taylor told him.

"Now, this story is almost two hundred years old. So your mom was hardly much older than you when it was written."

Galador nodded, listening attentively.

"Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…"


House Vallis (The City of Avaricum, along the Appia Way)

Sulla Du Vallis was having one of those days again, he thought as he poured himself another cup of wine. He should try to be festive. It was the season of Saturnalia and someone had delivered ten casks of ale to his house. By now, his men were all either passed out from drinking or nowhere to be found.

He wasn't quite sure how it had come to this. When the current war started, he had a contract to supply provisions to the army. He also had his hand in slaves, mostly laborers but with a new campaign looming, Sulla sensed an opportunity to break into a higher class market. He had sold off most of his current stock of slaves at below market value to have gold in hand. When the army began sending slaves back from the new conquests, they would pass through Avaricum before reaching the markets in Sadera and that meant he would have a chance at first pick. Being the first able to supply such rare commodities would finally give Sulla his opportunity at becoming a high-end merchant. He figured it would be simple to turn a hefty profit. So as 5th Legion marched through with the first taken slaves, Sulla paid for twenty: Ten men and ten women. This had turned out to be a huge mistake. Instead of an economic boom, the private market had collapsed overnight as he had learned through his connections that the expedition had turned into a complete disaster! Not only would a new stream of slaves not be entering the market but the expected mass of soldiers returning home with pockets full of gold had been decimated instead. The Empire's appetite for luxury goods had not been completely quelled but it had been greatly diminished. What the Empire needed now, he was told, were strong laborers.

To that, the men were soon requisitioned by the Empire. Sulla was paid a fair if disappointing sum for them as their physical development was considered unimpressive. This left ten barbarian women who spoke in a strange tongue and for which he had no buyer and no connections to help him find one. They quickly became a massive headache. Learning that several of them spoke High Tongue should have been a blessing but instead it only helped them communicate with the other slaves. It was a miserable trap. He did not know how to break them as he wished because they were too valuable as potential assets and he could not damage them lest they become unappealing to prospective buyers. Had he the experience of an actual high-end dealer, he would have learned techniques to punish them without leaving observable marks but he was used to field slaves and using more direct methods when one of them got out of line. But they were the only stock he had and he could not risk accidentally killing one of them even if it might cow the others. Further, whereas he was having to constantly keep an eye on his own employees, when they were sober, he thought, his slaves had begun bonding and while he knew he might have a slave killed if they dared to strike him the looks a couple of the others gave when he raised a hand at any of them scared him as they seemed to sense his failings in handling such valuable and temperamental merchandise. He was well aware that these two could kill him and even if it cost their lives it would not make him less dead. So for now, he could only hope that the Empire's fortunes would reverse themselves into a climate where their value as luxury goods would be attained. So he fed them and clothed them and he needed to drink more. At least he had no wife complaining about the state of his business.

It was at this time during the last day of Saturnalia, that a heavy knock sounded on Sulla's door. Seeing most of his associates were already passed out from drink and the rest, doing gods only knew what, Sulla pushed himself up from the table and answered the door.

"Better not be some drunken fool!" He muttered as he stalked to the door. "I've enough of them that work for me." He opened the door to find two quite well-dressed individuals, one man and one woman, both about eighteen years or so. The young man spoke first.

"Good evening. We are looking for a Sulla Du Vallis? We understand he deals in certain goods of which we have need."

Sulla nodded. "Yes! That would be me! Please come in, lord…?"

"I am Flavius Co Cacola. This is my sister Dyet. We understand you deal in slaves?"

"Yes! The market has been a bit soft lately but I do have some."

"Excellent! House Cacola has need of many workers. More than a few of our tenant farmers signed up for the recent… campaign…" Flavius said the last word as if it had a sour taste. "I think you can see where our problem lay. Few have returned and with no one to work the fields…"

"Ah… yes, my lord. Unfortunately, all my male slaves were requisitioned by order of the Senate."

Dyet smiled predatorily. "A woman can work a field as well as a man. The important thing is that the work gets done. I would like to inspect what you have. If the quality is satisfactory, we will offer a fair price. Brother? While I inspect these slaves, why don't you and Master Vallis start discussing the details? Unless they're all worthless, we'll need a wagon and provisions for the journey."

"Certainly sister," Flavius agreed. Sulla shook his head.

"My lady, I can't advise you to go into the slave quarters unescorted. I'm afraid some of them are a bit… high spirited and unfortunately as you can see around you, my 'help' is useless."

"Fortunately," Dyet said, pulling out a long dagger. "We don't need them pretty and if one of them thinks to touch a daughter of a noble line, they'll regret it," she growled. "Now, where are these 'high-spirited' girls? I need to see if they're worth our time and money."

Sulla frowned. "I have no use for damaged slaves, my lady."

"Yes, yes," Dyet dismissed. "You'll be compensated, you have my word. Now, show me."

Vallis inwardly flinched. "Right this way." He gestured and opened a locked door, revealing a room some twenty by twenty-five feet, containing seventeen slaves. Twelve were humans, one Warrior Bunny, two catgirls, an avian and a Draconian.

"These might do, brother. I'll examine them. You handle the details," Dyet announced.

"Certainly, sister." Flavius replied and guided Sulla back to the table."Master Vallis? A drink if you would? My father considers it bad form to do business with a man you would not drink with."

Sulla nodded, although still concerned that the stupid girls might yet ruin this deal, it seemed the gods had granted him favor this Saturnalia.

As the girls looked at her with a mix of surprise and fear, Dyet smiled and put a finger to her lips. "Nihongo ga hanashimasu ka?" She had been told it meant 'Do you speak Japanese', and at this, nine of the human girls eyes went wide and several of them also pointed to a tenth, a blonde girl of fair complexion and started to explain something in rapid-fire Japanese that Dyet assumed meant that she was also one of those taken in Ginza.

"Do any of you speak English?" She then asked. Six of the nine nodded as did the tenth girl. Dyet smiled. "Tell your friends to play along if you want to leave here." She then spoke similarly to the others in Popularii. After a few minutes, she called out to her brother. "I'm done here. These will do for a start."

"Good! I think we can reach an equitable bargain." Over the next two hours, details were discussed and drinks were had… at least by a now happy and somewhat hazy Sulla. Flavius and his sister politely appearing to drink but both of them needing to avoid the ill effects of drunkenness and neither of them caring for the poor quality of Sulla's wine.

Finally, with the contracts signed and Sulla on the verge of passing out, Dyet ushered the girls into a wagon.

As Sulla watched the wagon get underway, he contemplated the gold now in his pockets and his intoxicated employees. Perhaps it was time for a change of scenery?

"Not a bad day's work!" Flavius commented a few minutes later as they headed east. They needed to reach Mursa before turning south to follow along the coast of the Blue Sea before reaching their destination.

"Not at all, brother. Her Highness will be pleased with our start but you worried me there for a bit," she admitted.

"I worried you?" Flavius asked. "I was sure you were going to start a riot!"

"I had everything under control. I was more worried that you were going to low-ball us out of a deal!"

"We already had to pay for ten casks of ale."

"True, hopefully, that sort won't ever learn to question free ale on Saturnalia," Dyet replied as she rode alongside the wagon which Flavius now drove, his own horse trailing.

In the back of the wagon, the girls discussed their sudden change in fortunes. Dyet informed them that they would have to travel south along the Blue Sea where they would all be taken care of at a private estate until Dyet and her brother were able to track down as many more of the Ginza captives as possible without risking anyone realizing that someone was searching for those individuals in particular.

One of the girls frowned as she tried to recall the date. Somehow it seemed important. Had she known, it was now 1:07 AM on the morning of December 25th, Tokyo time.

And they had just been given a Christmas miracle.

Watching from the distance, an old shepherd looked up to the heavens and smiled.


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…"


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.”


“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…”


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.”


“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, Diablos, 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. Diablos 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.”
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Chapter 24: The Ties That Bind


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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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!” 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 a 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.”

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

Lelei replied. “It is so.”

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 a 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!”


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...”


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.”


“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?”


“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.”



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.


“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.
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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.


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 highschool 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.


“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.”


“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.


Dora on the eve of disaster

Dora's tail after her accident:

The Fox Fur Stole that Klinger donated...


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.


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...


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...


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.