Kidou Kishi Warviour
(Mobile Knight Warviour)
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters in Strike Witches, nor the initial setting.
Chapter 6: Reunion in the Snow Part 1
Philippine Sea. April 8, 1946; 1256 hours
The sun shined above two metallic objects in the middle of the Philippine Sea. One was one hundred eighteen meters long and the other was three hundred meters long. Both were Stavrosian submarines; the shorter one being the I.S.S. Buffalo and from the Buffalo, Imperial Stavrosian Navy personnel were leaving to board the longer submarine.
Two Stavrosian officers stood on the Buffalo and looked at the men and women leaving for the longer submarine. One of them was Otto Schneider and the other was a man as old as him with white hair and brown eyes.
"I apologize for having bothered you with this, Captain Alcalde," said Schneider to the older Stavrosian officer beside him.
"Not much I could have done," replied the officer named Alcalde. "We were both ordered by Rear Admiral Huang to have the Hunchback survivors brought here. What will you do now?"
"Continue pursuing that Liberian carrier and the Mobile Knights it's carrying."
"That's crazy! Even if you've just gotten new Mobile Knights, you're only one sub. You lost your anti-aircraft defenses."
"I know but we're the only ones who can match the LN Mobile Knights' pilots."
"I see. Fair winds, Schneider."
"Fair winds, Alcalde."
U.S.S. Mayflower. April 13, 1946; 1506 hours
In the Mayflower's hangar bay, Shinta Himemiya, Chieko Oka, and Kei Miyazaki were moving a cart filled with metallic crates that were colored green. Each crate had "7.62x51mm" and Fusoan writing below it. Both were colored white.
"I didn't think we'd get more ammo," said Kei.
"What else do you thi-" asked Chieko before she was cut off.
"Keep going!" shouted James Hodges. "We need these supplies stored as soon as possible. Those Stavrosians will attack us like they did a week ago."
"Yes, Sergeant," replied Chieko, Kei, and Shinta in unison.
At the flight deck of the Mayflower. Mio Sakamoto and another Fuso Imperial Navy officer, a male, stood as they watched the carrier use its crane to receive supplies from the Fusoan submarine I-402. The male officer had black hair underneath his cap.
"I'm surprised you're a Lieutenant now, Hijikata," said Sakamoto.
"Arigatou, Sakamoto Shosa," replied the officer named Hijikata. "I was surprised we were able to develop our own Mobile Knights."
"Not really. I can't tell you the specifics but all Miyazaki did was assemble them. The Mobile Knights were built in a secret location."
"I see. My apologies for bringing it up."
"It's alright. I'm glad you're the one involved in getting us our supplies."
"What will you do now?"
"Keep going until we reach Faraway Land and drop off those refugees, then to Liberion."
"I see. Until we meet again near Faraway Land."
"Hijikata, I need you to do something for me."
"What is it?"
"So we got everything from the I-402?" asked Nicholas Kirkman as Mio Sakamoto was inside his office carrying a sheet of paper.
"That's right," answered Sakamoto. "Here's the list."
Sakamoto then gave the paper to Kirkman. The latter brought out reading glasses and began to read the paper, which was in both Fusoan and Britannic. The main body of the paper was a list of the supplies the I-402 provided for the Mayflower and as Kirkman finished reading the list, he put down his reading glasses and resumed looking at Sakamoto.
"I noticed we still received the targets we can attach on planes," said Kirkman.
"That's right," replied Sakamoto. "Is that a problem?"
"How will we use them? We lost the planes from the Cowpens, remember?"
"Not all of them."
"You mean Lieutenant Tanaka? What are you suggesting?"
Later that evening, as the moon shined despite being incomplete, a shirtless Shinta Himemiya stood alone on the flight deck of the Mayflower. His feet were touching each other and his right hand was in a fist touching the left palm with the fingers close together. He then separated the hands and turned his left one into a fist while moving the arms downward, ultimately pushing his elbows sharply past his back.
Shinta bent his knees slightly and began to move his arms in various directions while switching between open hands and closed fists. After he had formed a triangle with his feet, Shinta continued to move his arms and switch between an open hand and a closed fist while straightening his shoulders and upper legs.
Unbeknownst to Shinta, someone had followed him but stayed inside the island of the Mayflower. That person was Yoshika Miyafuji. She slowly turned her head backward while pressing her back to the metallic wall but was able to watch Shinta as he practiced his Wing Chun.
After thirty minutes, Shinta stopped practicing. However, as he approached the island, Yoshika vanished behind the metallic wall but Shinta was able to glance at one of her white-colored shoes. He paused and closed his eyes as if he didn't know but after two seconds, he opened his eyes and looked firmly into the island's entrance.
"I know it's you, Yoshika-san," warned Shinta.
Rather than answer, Yoshika came out of the island with a slight giggle. This was how she admitted her guilt and pressed her back against the other side of the metallic wall she pressed earlier.
"I guess I wasn't fast enough," lamented Yoshika.
"Why are you out here?" asked Shinta.
"I noticed you going to the island but I didn't want to ask Sakamoto-san so I followed you."
"What were you practicing?"
"Wing Chun Kuen. It's a Chinese martial art. I believe it's called 'Eishunken' in Fusoan."
"Was that how you subdued that man who bumped into me a week ago?"
"No. I used a different martial art – Xíngyìquán. 'Keiiken' in Fusoan."
"You seem to like martial arts, don't you?"
"For some reason, that's the one thing I remember prior to Dad taking me in. I don't know how but I seemingly know Keiiken."
"What else do you remember about China?"
"Not much. However, as I proved, I can turn Chinese words into Fusoan."
"So why did you take up another martial art?"
"I felt like I wanted to. Dad encouraged me as a way to reconnect to my heritage."
Both Yoshika and Shinta stopped talking as they felt that neither had anything else to discuss. However, the both of them looked at the evening sky and felt that there was something to talk about.
"… Shinta-san, why did you want to join the military?" asked Yoshika, startling Shinta.
"What ask that question?" replied Shinta.
"You didn't properly answer that question while when we first met and you don't seem the type to join the military. Chieko-san and Kei-san seem to have argued with you about it before Shinkyo was attacked."
"You know, Dad asked me that same question. I guess I feel as if I can figure out my real past if I do fight the Stavrosians and the Neuroi."
"But you're not a-"
"Witch? I know. I am willing to fight in any way I can. Then I found out about the Mobile Knights Dad was developing."
Yoshika said nothing else. Shinta, however, realized she did have something to say but felt that he shouldn't force Yoshika to discuss it.
"You know, I didn't like fighting in a war," continued Yoshika to end the silence. "Even now, I don't see myself fighting other than to save lives."
"I don't mean to hurt with you this, in which I apologize if I do, but you didn't seem to be one who would have fitted into the 501st."
"I didn't think so too, even when I first met Sakamoto-san. I only went to Europe with her because it concerned my father. When I first met Minna Chusa, I refused a pistol she gave me because I felt that I shouldn't have such a weapon."
"And why did you fight on?"
"Because of this," answered Yoshika as she pointed at the sky with Shinta looking at it again. "We all live under one sky. I see that as one reason to keep on fighting. Before he left, Dad told me I had the power to protect everyone."
You haven't changed, Ichiro-san, thought Shinta as he listened to Yoshika describing her father. "What will you do when we reach Faraway Land?"
"I… honestly don't know yet," hesitantly answered Yoshika.
"I see," ultimately replied Shinta as he began to move to the island. "I'm going to get changed now. I suggest you-"
However, Shinta saw something move in the darkness of the inside of the island. What Shinta could see was that it was a person with a ponytail and he knew one person who had a ponytail.
"What's the matter?" asked Yoshika.
"Nothing," replied Yoshika. "Oyasumi, Yoshika-san."
April 14, 1946; 0934 hours
The following day, Shinta, Chieko, and Kei were on the flight deck of the Mayflower while in their respective Mobile Knights, the Warviour, the Wardier, and the Wardar. This time, they wore the pilot uniforms worn by Fuso Imperial Navy fighter pilots. The uniform as a whole was brown, consisting of a leather helmet lined with rabbit fur, a gabardine pilot suit underneath a life vest made of kapok, and gauntlets with long loose wrists made of dearskin leather. By contrast, the boots they wear were colored black. However, the cockpits of each Mobile Knight were open as Shinta, Chieko, and Kei had to look at Mio Sakamoto, who was also on the flight deck.
"Now that we have been resupplied, we can begin training in earnest," stated Sakamoto. "Among the supplies we received were the pilot suits you are now wearing. In addition, we have also received practice rounds, which have been loaded into your machine guns, and targets as every day, we will have this exercise. Before I continue, I will entertain questions. Each of you has five minutes to ask or I'll continue. Those five minutes begin now."
Shinta, Chieko, and Kei had difficulty in asking their questions. However, it was the latter two who were more hesitant. They had suspected that their lessons be increased due to the equipment received from the I-402 the previous day. As it surprised no one, Shinta raised his hand with Sakamoto managing to see him.
"What is it, Himemiya?" asked Sakamoto.
"What will be the exercise?" asked Shinta.
"Good question," replied Sakamoto before using the transceiver. "You're clear to approach the flight deck."
"Ryōkai," replied a male voice on the other end of the transceiver.
From the elevator that connected the flight deck to the hangar bay was the only plane the Mayflower had – an F6F Hellcat. Between the wings and the rear end were two targets on each side that were taped on. The pilot was none other than Gregory Tanaka.
"Now, the objective of this exercise is to hit Tanaka Dai-i," continued Sakamoto. "The Lieutenant will fly in the air with the targets on his plane. You're to remain here on the carrier and hit the target with your machine guns. If it were up to me, it would involve pursuing the Lieutenant in the air but we only have one Wing Pack so we'll have to test how you can aim before firing. Any more questions?"
Unlike earlier, Chieko raised her right hand with Sakamoto seeing her.
"Oka," said Sakamoto.
"How high will Tanaka Dai-i be flying?" asked Chieko.
"I'll leave that to him. Any more questions?"
"I do," instantly said Kei as he raised his right hand.
"Yes, Miyazaki?" asked Sakamoto.
"Am I allowed to get Kaguya's help for aiming?"
"Your AI?" asked Sakamoto as she was stunned by Kei's question. "Just to change directions. That will be all. Anything else?"
Shinta, Chieko, nor Kei had any more questions. It was because they got the clarifications they hoped to ask, disappointingly in Kei's case. Sakamoto then realized that the former three have their clarifications.
"Are we good to begin now?" asked Sakamoto.
"Hai, Shosa," replied Shinta, Chieko, and Kei in unison.
"Good," said Sakamoto before she turned to Shinta. "Each one of you has only five minutes to fire at Tanaka. After that, I'll announce who comes next."
"In addition, short bursts only as you only need to have one round hit either target. This is also a good time to practice ammunition conservation."
"Tanaka," said Sakamoto as she resumed using the transceiver. "You're clear to launch."
"Ryōkai," replied Tanaka on the other end of the transceiver.
Tanaka then started up the Hellcat. Sakamoto, Shinta, Chieko, and Kei waited until Tanaka launched. As the Hellcat got off the Mayflower, Sakamoto turned to Shinta.
"Himemiya, you first," ordered Sakamoto.
"Ryōkai," replied Shinta before closing the Warviour's cockpit.
As it was simply aiming and firing practice, Shinta only walked using the Warviour's Step Pedals. As he saw Tanaka already high enough to make sure he didn't succeed easily, Shinta stopped and began to aim.
On the monitor of Warviour's cockpit, what was seen through the Heads-Up Display (HUD) was shown there as well. This was needed for Shinta to aim properly as permitted by Sakamoto. A white-colored crosshair appeared on the monitor's screen to assist in aiming. However, the reticle had yet to point at Tanaka's Hellcat and Shinta knew that firing wouldn't help in hitting the target attached on the Hellcat.
The crosshair then attached itself onto the Hellcat in the screen. Shinta then pressed the topmost button in the left arm control as it corresponded to the anti-personnel machine gun. However, as the machine gun fired the practice rounds it was loaded with, Tanaka evaded the shot.
Damn it! thought Shinta.
As the Hellcat continued to fly around the Mayflower, Shinta kept on firing. However, he kept missing. Shinta was only able to fire short bursts for ammunition reduction as Sakamoto instructed.
I doubt I have much time left, cautiously thought Shinta. I need to think of something.
The Warviour turned again to match the direction Tanaka was flying to. Rather than continue to fire, Shinta simply observed where and how Tanaka flew.
As Sakamoto Shosa instructed, only hitting the target matters. Maybe I can try something to figure out how to actually hit one of the targets on Tanaka Dai-i's plane.
Shinta then aimed again at Tanaka's Hellcat. This time, he hurriedly fired at the Hellcat but only stopped after five seconds. Only one shot was close enough that Tanaka changed his speed to evade it.
That's it! If I can just force Tanaka Dai-i to increase his speed by doing a few long bursts, I can hit one of the targets while he decreases his speed afterward.
Shinta continued to increase his bursts against Tanaka, forcing the latter to increase the speed of his Hellcat. Sakamoto observed with a combination of disappointment and wonder.
What are you up to, Himemiya? wondered Sakamoto.
In the midst of this, Yoshika Miyafuji had appeared from the carrier's island and saw Warviour repeatedly firing at Tanaka's Hellcat. She had brought with her a cart with containers with contradicting sizes with the largest one containing water.
That Mobile Knight must be the one Shinta-san uses, thought Yoshika.
"Miyafuji, what are you doing here?" asked Sakamoto as she noticed Yoshika appearing.
"Ah, Sakamoto-san. I came here to provide all of you with water. The men in the statesroom's kitchen for officers asked me to do so."
"What's going on?" asked Yoshika as she saw Tanaka's Hellcat evading the shots from Warviour's anti-personnel machine gun.
"I'm currently training Himemiya, Oka, and Miyazaki," answered Sakamoto as she joined Yoshika in observing Tanaka. "It seems like Himemiya's being reckless or he has some sort of a plan."
Less than one minute left! worriedly thought Shinta as he kept on firing at Tanaka to no avail. I best hurry.
Shinta then stopped firing. Tanaka, in the Hellcat's cockpit, sighed as if Shinta gave up.
However, in the Warviour's cockpit, Shinta used the Movement Switch and shifted from the legs to the wheels. In an instant, Shinta turned in order to catch Tanaka at whichever direction he would be at. This surprised Chieko, Kei, Sakamoto, and Yoshika.
"Now!" shouted Shinta in Warviour's cockpit as he resumed firing rapidly.
However, Shinta stopped firing and spinning, which surprised everyone else on the flight deck. Despite increasing his speed, a shot then hit the right target of Tanaka's Hellcat.
"Damn it!" shouted Tanaka in his Hellcat's cockpit.
That's good, thought Shinta with relief in Warviour's cockpit. It hit.
"Himemiya, you there?" asked Sakamoto over Warviour's communicator.
"Hai, Sakamoto Shosa," replied Shinta.
"I told you short bursts only!"
"I felt that it was something that could help hit one of the targets on Tanaka Dai-'s plane. My humblest apologies."
"Never mind that. You were able to hit that target. Just join Miyazaki and watch because Oka's next. Miyafuji's here as well with water so if you want, you can go down here and go to her."
Shinta reverted the Movement Switch back to its original position. As a result, Shinta walked back to where Warviour once stood but this time, he positioned the Mobile Knight beside Wardar. Sakamoto then moved to Wardier and faced Chieko.
"Oka, your turn," ordered Sakamoto.
"Ryōkai," replied Chieko before closing Wardier's cockpit. How on Earth did you do that, Shinta-kun?
"Going out to practice again?" asked Kei as he sees Shinta leaving their bunk; the former at the top bunk and the latter at the bottom.
"I am," replied a standing Shinta.
Shinta turned to his right and continued walking. However, after ten steps, he nearly bumped into Sakamoto as she carried a shinai. Realizing what he had almost done, Shinta stepped back and saluted.
"You needed something, Sakamoto Shosa?" asked Shinta with a salute.
"I can see you'll be practicing your martial arts in the flight deck. I'll be there so just find me there."
Sakamoto then left the berthing area. Kei then approached Shinta.
"What did she want with you?" asked Kei.
"I have no idea," answered Shinta. "I'm more curious as to why she's carrying a shinai?"
"You'll have to find the answer to that yourself."
"Fair point. You've kept that hidden, right?"
"Of course. I've managed to do so for a week."
"I suggest you keep it hidden until I get back."
"Will do. Good luck."
Shinta came back to the flight deck. As he left the island, he saw Sakamoto looking at the sky while placing her right palm gripped the tsuka of her shinai and her left palm above the right palm.
"You made it," said Sakamoto without looking at Shinta.
"You have a shinai with you," said Shinta as he saw the sword Sakamoto wielded. "Permission to ask what is this about?"
"I somewhat knew you were there. Was it because of my talk with Yoshika-san?"
"It is. I'll warn you now – make sure your relationship with Miyafuji isn't too close. The choice for her to re-join the military hasn't come to her yet but I expect that you don't interfere with that."
"Is that why you have the shinai with you?"
"Very perceptive," said Sakamoto before turning to Shinta, separating her legs, and raising the shinai toward Shinta. "Fight me and if you can defeat me I'll leave it to you on how to handle your relationship with Miyafuji."
"Very well," replied Shinta as he got into a stance where his left leg pointed downward, his right leg bending itself with the foot facing away from Sakamoto, his right arm pointed downward and its palm facing the flight deck, and his left arm straightened forward with its palm facing Sakamoto.
If I move, Sakamoto Shosa moves as well, thought Shinta.
For someone who claims to not remember his past in China, Himemiya must have had training based on his stance, thought Sakamoto. He'll move if I move.
Shinta then made the first step with Sakamoto following. The former began to move again but at an increased speed which made the latter smile.
That was foolish of you, confidently thought Sakamoto as she began to raise her arms carrying the shinai and lower it in order to hit Shinta.
However, as Sakamoto increased the speed for lowering her arms, Shinta forcibly diverted her arms to her right with his left arm while its fingers were collected together. A second later, Shinta moved his right palm toward Sakamoto with his left palm joining and by the next second, both arms hit Sakamoto, forcing her backward yet she remained standing.
I… Impossible! thought Sakamoto. He diverted my shinai away that fast. However, he was able to push me back like this with both of his palms.
Sakamoto, despite what had happened, resumed her stance. Shinta did in kind as he assumed Sakamoto would be able to be defeated by such an attack yet also knew what would happen if he did.
"That was impressive," said Sakamoto. "However, I feel as if you held back because we're on a carrier. That is true but it's not over yet. Shall we switch our positions?"
"Fair enough," replied Shinta.
The two Fusoans turned away from their original positions. Sakamoto moved to her right while Shinta moved to his left. Now, they were in front of the island.
Sakamoto moved and attacked first with Shinta evading by moving to his left. Sakamoto attacked again by swinging her arms to her right to hit Shinta but again, he caught her shinai with his left arm again. Shinta then moved his right arm and used its forearm while turned to the only direction it can be turned to, forcing Sakamoto backward. This time, Sakamoto almost fell into the flight deck.
"You used more power there," noted Sakamoto as she resumed facing Shinta. "I felt it. However, I choose not to yield yet."
"Fine by me," replied Shinta.
"Now don't hold back!"
Shinta and Sakamoto resumed their respective stances. The former moved one step again with the latter following. A second later, Shinta, moved backward and Sakamoto raised her arms holding her shinai upward then moving toward Shinta while raising the arms downward only for Shinta to catch again but this time with both of his arms.
Shinta then separated his arms, forcing Sakamoto to separate hers as well but with her right hand still holding the shinai. The former then swung both of his arms toward Sakamoto; each arm's hands now closed into fists. The fists then hit Sakamoto; this time, her shinai fell off her left hand.
"… I yield," ultimately said Sakamoto.
Shinta then placed his feet together as he stood firmly. He then moved his arms toward each other with his left hand an open palm and his right hand a closed fist. As the two hands were united, Shinta bowed his head. Sakamoto, seeing what Shinta was doing, did so in kind but with her arms firmly bound to her body as she slightly bended it alongside her head.
"Thank you for this match, Sakamoto Shosa," replied Shinta.
"I can see why you used Warviour's wheels and used a lot of ammunition earlier in order to hit Tanaka Dai-i's plane. However, when it comes to you and Miyafuji, I hope you don't take advantage of her."
"That's good," said Sakamoto before she looked at the sky. "You know, it wouldn't be a problem to develop such feelings but you should know that in a war such as this, as it was in the past, Witches can't afford to compromise their ability to fight just because they have someone special to think about."
"But this war's different," refuted Shinta. "The Neuroi don't seem to fight as they did in the past because of the Stavrosian Empire."
"You're right about that," replied Sakamoto as she faced Shinta again. "In fact, that's the reason why I challenged you. I wanted to see if you're willing to destroy both the Neuroi and the Stavrosian Empire. However, I do have questions I wish to ask you."
"Are they questions I can answer?"
"Alright, what was that power you demonstrated back in South Seas Island?"
"I honestly don't know."
"I can tell you're lying about you're past but… I can also tell that it's because you're past isn't something you want to easily talk about."
"Somewhere along those lines."
"Very well. At the moment, I won't pry about it but don't try to stop me on what I do find."
"I can wish you luck with that."
"Another question: what do you think about Miyafuji?"
"I mean no disrespect, seeing that she was your subordinate, but to me, I see Yoshika-san as someone who shouldn't have wielded a weapon in the first place."
"No one really is. Speaking as a former Witch, I fought to keep Fuso safe."
"And I don't see a problem with that."
"But you told Miyafuji last night you hope to know about your past by fighting. As I said earlier, I can tell you're lying. You claim to not know your past but your martial arts skills, interest in history, your desire to simply fight the Stavrosians and the Neuroi, and the power you possess contradict that."
"And what will you gain from finding out about my past?"
"Nothing really. I'm just hoping you won't make things worse."
"In any case, there's also something I need to tell you."
"What might that be?"
"It's about how I ran into Miyafuji-hakase and how the prototype Mobile Knights were developed."
"Why are you telling me this?" warily asked Shinta.
"Because it may relate to the powers you demonstrated back in South Seas Island."
Empire of Fuso. January 11, 1946; 1446 hours
In a train across the countryside of the Fusoan island of Honshu, Mio Sakamoto, wearing trousers of the same color as her tunic, underneath a winter coat, read a letter while on her seat in the train.
"Mio-kun, it's been a while as we both know. I can only contact you through this letter for the time being but as to why I'm even contacting you, it's related to this war that just started. I need you to come to Maizuru and meet me at the Kodokan Dojo. I figured it would be a good place to see you again after all this time. Just go there and all will be revealed."
At the bottom right of the letter, the initials "M.I." were at the lower-right of the letter. Sakamoto looked on with wariness as to who wrote the letter as she was familiar with the handwriting of the letter.
Who's this "MI" and why does his writing look familiar? wondered Sakamoto. If I'm to get my answers, I best do as the letter instructed.
Kodokan Dojo, Maizuru, Empire of Fuso. 1537 hours
Sakamoto had made it to the Kodokan Dojo while carrying a bokken and a suitcase. For her, it was as if she came home as this was where she trained when she first fought as a Witch. She knew that "MI" would invite her to such a place in order to calm her down before they were to meet but instead, Sakamoto felt uneasy.
"I'm here now," said Sakamoto to herself. "Where is this 'MI' anyway?"
However, Sakamoto then heard the clashing of bokken from the halls of Kodokan. It was now apparent that Sakamoto can relax while waiting for "MI" as she remembered the days she trained in Kodokan. Suddenly, a yellow ray of light engulfed Sakamoto.
"W… What's this!?" exclaimed Sakamoto before she and her belongings vanished along with the yellow light.
Sakamoto, along with her bokken and her suitcase, rose into a metallic room. Sakamoto was lifted upward while within the yellow light but then, a metallic circle closed beneath her and her belongings. The yellow light then vanished, causing Sakamoto to land on her buttocks into the circle along with her bokken and her suitcase.
"Good, you're here."
Sakamoto looked to see as to who addressed her. She saw a masked figure that she can tell was a man yet he had long white hair tied into a ponytail. He wore a white buttoned shirt underneath a gray trenchcoat, khaki pants held by a brown leather belt, black gloves with his hands underneath them, and black-colored leather shoes.
"So you're 'MI'?" asked Sakamoto.
"That's right," answered the man called "MI". "However, those are just my initials."
"MI" stopped talking as he began to remove his mask. The white hair was attached to the mask and as the mask went off, so did the hair. The man standing before Sakamoto had brown hair, eyes of the same color underneath a pair of eyeglasses, and a beard across his face. Sakamoto was shocked as the man she saw was none other than Ichiro Miyafuji, whom she had met almost a decade ago.
"It's been a while, Mio-kun."
"M… Miyafuji-hakase, you're alive!" exclaimed Sakamoto.
"I am," replied Ichiro. "Come with me. We need to have you accommodated."
Sakamoto then stood up as Ichiro left her after he picked up his mask. Although she wished to ask him all the questions she can think of, those questions had to wait as she grabbed her bokken and her suitcase and followed the man she knew.
After getting her belongings, Mio then left the metallic circle and as she followed Ichiro, she realized that she was on a plane. However, she felt that the plane wasn't moving yet they were in the air. Ichiro then stopped with Sakamoto following. Before the two Fusoans were crescent-shaped sofas on each side of the plane. Behind each one were five circular windows.
"Please take a seat," said Ichiro.
"Sure," replied Sakamoto who chose the left sofa.
Ichiro then sat on the right sofa. Suddenly, a sharply dressed girl almost as old as Sakamoto appeared. She had light intermediate skin, long black hair that went past her shoulders, brown eyes, and a flat chest.
"Doctor, shall we leave for Manchuria now?" asked the girl.
"Shì," replied Ichiro.
"Xièxiè," replied the girl before returning to the direction Sakamoto knew as to where the cockpit was located at.
"Attention, this is your captain speaking," said a male voice across the plane's PA system. "We will be leaving for Manchuria in one minute. Please fasten your seatbelts and if you have brought luggage with you, we suggest that you place them underneath your seat."
Below Sakamoto's seat, a small door opened. Having no further questions, she simply placed her suitcase and her bokken in the compartment provided to her and after placing her belongings in the compartment, its door closed. Sakamoto knew that putting on her seatbelt was next as Ichiro pointed her to look to her left in which she saw a sign that showed that the seatbelt was to be fastened. By contrast to Ichiro, who found his seatbelt, Sakamoto looked around until she found hers and managed to insert it onto herself despite the seatbelt design appearing alien to her.
The plane began to slowly move but after five minutes, the speed increased. Sakamoto moved her arms backward and used her hands to hold onto the backbeat behind her to avoid slipping away. Only after two minutes had the speed decreased.
"My apologies," said Ichiro to Sakamoto after the speed decreased. "The plane is like that when it floats and when it has to normally fly."
"What kind of plane is this?" asked Sakamoto. "We were floating in the air earlier."
"It's a prototype. It's called the Fusion Wanderer and I developed it. In any case, shall we have lunch?"
"Fair enough," conceded Sakamoto.
As the sign to fasten the seatbelt disappeared, a sharply dressed man appeared with a trolley appeared with two metal lids with a pair of chopsticks each. The man then opened the trays, showing two containers where their respective lids have the word "Yakisoba" on the containers. As the man gave each container of yakisoba and a small patch of what appeared to be a condiment to both Sakamoto and Ichiro, the latter fully opened the lid of the container he received, opened the patch he was also given, and spread its contents across the noodles inside the container.
"This container doesn't appear to be made of metal," noted Sakamoto as she looked at her container of yakisoba. "Also, it seems to have been prepared before this plane arrived."
"Exactly," replied Ichiro while using his chopsticks to mix his yakisoba with the condiments he poured into it. "If you need to know what to do next, just pour what's inside here into your yakisoba and mix them before eating it."
Ichiro showed the patch he just emptied to Sakamoto. The latter began to do what the former did and opened her patch of the same condiments into her yakisoba and began to mix. Ichiro then finished and started to eat. Sakamoto finished with her mixing and began to eat but only ate half of her yakisoba.
"Doctor, I heard you mentioned this plane is going to Manchuria," said Sakamoto to Ichiro, who then stopped eating to listen to the former. "Why are we going there?"
"Please come here. I have photos to show you."
Ichiro began to bring out a few photographs. Sakamoto came closer as the former instructed who then showed her the photographs. Sakamoto was stunned by what she saw in the photographs. One photograph was that of a green-colored machine with arms and legs like those of a human being's and another was that of the same machine alongside a Neuroi.
"W… What are those?" asked Sakamoto.
"Mobile Knights," answered Ichiro. "I believe not much is being told to the public, for understandable reasons, but Mobile Knights have been used to protect the Neuroi working with from Witches. As a result, we could lose this war. Therefore, I plan on stealing a Mobile Knight."
"We're going to need help. Hence why we're going to Manchuria."
"At this point, I will entertain any questions you have for me."
"Alright," replied Sakamoto as she began to think of the myriad of questions to ask as she was talking to the man she assumed dead for almost a decade and that his daughter is unaware that he is alive.
I guess this is what seven years of hiding does to people you know, thought Ichiro.
"Here's my first one," said Sakamoto as she had a question in mind. "How were you able to acquire those photographs?"
"Regretfully, that's a story for another time," answered Ichiro. "Same with this plane if you were planning on asking that."
You haven't changed, Miyafuji-hakase, thought Sakamoto before asking her next question. "Why Manchuria?"
"I have contacts in their government that help with this mission," answered Ichiro. "As you know, ever since the Neuroi's conquest of China in the First Neuroi War, most of China was rendered uninhabitable. However, there are two portions of China that the Neuroi mysteriously didn't conquer. One became the Republic of Nánguó in the south and the other a state established by remnants of the Qing government."
"China's last dynasty?"
"The same one. Because the Neuroi didn't conquer them and that they're separated from Nánguó by kilometers. As a result, those still loyal to the Qing Emperor recreated the kingdom they ruled prior to 1912. This was done with Orussian help."
"So by talking to the Manchurian government, we'll get Orussia's help in this plan."
"That's right. However, you should remember that due to the location, Orussia is the real power in Manchuria. The government, nor the Emperor, can't do anything without permission from the Orussian government."
"Never knew you were the type to take advantage of governments like this."
"I had to be sharp in doing my work. It's why we have been able to stave off the Neuroi – until the Stavrosians appeared, that is."
"And why did you drag me into this?"
"Because I know that I can trust you, seeing that you were able to take care of my daughter."
"I find it hard to believe you still call that girl your daughter after leaving her for eleven years."
"I'd rather not relate this to Yoshika. For now, she can't know that I'm alive because it will endanger her. That is also a story for another time."
"… Fine. Again, why me?"
"Because I can tell you still wish to fight despite losing your powers."
Sakamoto was unable to refute what Ichiro had said. During the liberation of Venezia in the previous year, Sakamoto began to lose her powers and this had almost driven her to her death had it not been for the actions of Ichiro's daughter Yoshika Miyafuji.
"Very well," spoke Sakamoto. "I'll help but I do wish to know plenty about the Stavrosians and their relationship with the Neuroi if assuming you know anything at all."
"I'm afraid I cannot reward you with that information in exchanged," replied Ichiro. "However, I do know someone who might but that can wait after this mission."
"Fair enough. I'll resume my meal now."
Kingdom of Manchuria. 1615 hours
"We have now reached the Kingdom of Manchuria," announced a male voice through the Fusion Wanderer's PA system. "We will reach Hā'ěrbīn in five minutes, please prepare to fasten your seatbelts. It is now 1600 hours and fifteen minutes in Chinese time and 1700 hours and fifteen minutes in Fusoan Mainland time."
The sign to fasten seatbelts appeared again. The girl Ichiro talked to earlier appeared again to talk to the latter again. Sakamoto looked with suspicion that a girl almost her age can talk to Ichiro as if he was her employer.
"Shall we land directly into Taiping Airport or remaining above?" asked the girl.
"We'll remain above," answered Ichiro.
"Acknowledged," ultimately replied the girl before she returned to the cockpit with Sakamoto facing Ichiro.
"Who is that girl?" asked Sakamoto.
"Yáng Língyīn," answered Ichiro as he gave Sakamoto a piece of paper. "Here's how to read her name in Fusoan."
Yan Rin'in, thought Sakamoto before putting down the paper and facing Ichiro. "And where did you meet her?"
"In London. I saved her from a bad situation and since then, she works for me."
Sakamoto had nothing else to say and fastened her seatbelt. Ichiro, however, put on his mask before fastening his seatbelt.
Hā'ěrbīn Taiping Airport, Hā'ěrbīn, Kingdom of Manchuria. 1620 hours
The Fusion Wanderer then stopped above Hā'ěrbīn Taiping Airport, which served Hā'ěrbīn, the capital of the Kingdom of Manchuria. Sakamoto and Ichiro slightly moved despite being belted as the plane stopped.
"Attention, this is your captain speaking," said again the male voice over the Fusion Wanderer's PA system. "We've just arrived at Hā'ěrbīn Taiping Airport. Local time is 1600 hours and twenty minutes. The sign to fasten seatbelts will be switched off in a second. Prepare to collect your belongings upon leaving this plane."
Ichiro got out of his seat first and put on a winter coat. Sakamoto, who followed by grabbing her suitcase and bokken, followed Ichiro back to where she came in. Reaching the room where people or objects are brought from below, Ichiro stepped on the metallic circle below him.
"What is that, anyway?" asked Sakamoto.
"A Lifter Beam," answered Ichiro. "It can be used to lift anyone or anything if it's light enough into this plane. It can also be used to bring people or objects down."
"And you don't need this plane to land?"
I can hardly believe you left your daughter to develop such an invention, thought Sakamoto. As long as I play along, I'll get my answers once this mess is over.
The metallic circle above Ichiro emitted the same yellow light – the Lifter Beam – that brought Sakamoto inside the Fusion Wanderer. Afterward, the metallic circle below began to open.
"You'll have to wait until I'm on the ground," said Ichiro to Sakamoto as the circle was almost opened. "It'll take a while though."
"Wakatta," replied Sakamoto.
Ichiro then descended from the Fusion Wanderer. After three minutes did the circle close. Sakamoto then stepped into the Lifter Beam with her belongings and as she did, it engulfed her and as the circle below her opened, Sakamoto descended below and into Manchuria.
As she landed, Sakamoto saw Ichiro and another man beside her. The man simply wore a trenchcoat with a buttoned shirt and trousers underneath it with glasses covering his eyes. While the runaway remained black, the area surrounding it and the airport, in general, was filled with snow.
"An honor to meet you, Major Sakamoto," said the bespectacled man. "You can simply call me Feng."
"He's an agent for the Royal Office for Public Security," whispered Ichiro to Sakamoto's left ear. "They're Manchuria's secret police so please do not do anything to anger them."
Sakamoto gave a slight nod. Feng looked on with confusion but Ichiro faced him, intending on explaining what he whispered to the former Witch.
"Please forgive us for that," said Ichiro to Feng. "It's her first time here in Ma- I mean, the Empire."
"In any case, we have a car waiting outside the airport," continued Feng. "The both of you will be staying at the-"
"I hate to impose any further but I do wish that Major Sakamoto stay with me in my safehouse," interjected Ichiro.
"We're taking a huge risk considering your operation, Doctor. We ne-"
"Be careful Feng. I assume you know why your government, even the Orussian government for that matter, is even listening to me in the first place, right?"
Feng froze upon hearing Ichiro's retort. He knew that Ichiro, presumably dead since 1939, held great influence and that in return, they were to shelter him as he might make good on his threat."
"Very well," conceded Feng. "We'll go to your safehouse first."
"Again, I thank you," replied Ichiro before he, Sakamoto, and Feng began to leave the airport.
Ichiro and Sakamoto then arrived at what appeared to be a one-floor farmhouse in the outskirts of Hā'ěrbīn. Despite that, the farmhouse appeared clean as Sakamoto observed while Ichiro removed his mask.
"How long have you been living here in Manchuria?" asked Sakamoto.
"Since the Second Neuroi War ended," answered Ichiro. "I managed to acquire information that can threaten both the government here and the Orussian government."
"That explains the threat you gave to that Public Security agent. What information do you even have that could threaten them anyway?"
"You're better off not knowing."
"Heard of those terrorist attacks in Nánguó?" asked Ichiro with a wary nod by Sakamoto. "The Manchurian government are secretly aiding them by providing a training camp here."
"Orussia's looking for a client state to do business with. Manchuria isn't enough so they felt that they could use the terrorists in Nánguó to install a government friendly to their interests. Rather than shelter the terrorists themselves, they used Manchuria."
"But how could the terrorists go to Manchuria and back to Nánguó?"
"That I wish to know. Karlsland as well. They've joined in providing aid to the Manchurian government hoping to find proof of their cooperation with those terrorists."
"Because Karlsland aided the Nánguó government?"
"That's right though that was temporary because Karlsland needed money to rebuild in South Liberion. I do use that information to blackmail both the Manchurian and the Orussian governments into helping me."
"I'm surprised you did that."
"Now then, as to where you'll stay, you'll take the sole bedroom in this house."
"Are you sure?" asked a concerned Sakamoto upon finding the bedroom Ichiro mentioned. "You should have just let me stay at a hotel."
"That way, you'll be constantly spied on by Public Security," warned Ichiro. "It's alright. I sleep here anyway."
Ichiro pointed to a sofa with a pillow and a blanket. Sakamoto was surprised that the man she met almost a decade ago lives in such a condition. She then went to the bedroom and began to place her bokken at the right corner and her suitcase on the bed and opened it.
As Sakamoto returned to Ichiro, she found him at his desk. The former came closer to the latter as he was looking at a photograph.
"Ah, Mio-kun, you've unpacked?" asked Ichiro as he noticed Sakamoto. "You needed anything else?"
"Not at the moment," answered Sakamoto who then glanced at the photograph Ichiro was holding. "Your family, I presume?"
"That's right. You want to take a look?"
Sakamoto gave no further response. As she got close, Ichiro showed her the photograph and as Sakamoto grabbed it, she saw that it was Ichiro in the photograph prior to growing a beard, his wife Sayaka beside him, and her mother Yoshiko beside her. Sayaka carried an infant with Sakamoto realizing who the infant was and gave the photograph back to Ichiro.
"I do have a question," announced Sakamoto to Ichiro.
"What might that be?" asked Ichiro in response.
"Why did you fake your death?"
"All I can answer for now is that it was a Stavrosian agent that infiltrated that lab in Britannia. Everyone else but me died and I hoping to take that agent out, I blew up that lab. Truth be told, I didn't think that agent would die so I played dead until the agent left and when that ended, I had to chop off my right hand and have it burned to make it convincing that I died."
"To make sure I wasn't being pursued any longer. I worked so in the midst of it all, I was able to chop off my right hand."
Ichiro stopped explaining his story and removed his right glove. To Sakamoto's surprise, Ichiro's right hand was now made of metal.
"How did you even get that prosthetic?" asked Sakamoto. "Looks very advanced."
"That, unfortunately, is also another story for another time," answered Ichiro. "Likewise with how I escaped."
"And you didn't know your daughter would be told about your supposed demise on her tenth birthday?"
"… That was a risk I had to take."
A knock was then heard at the door. Both Ichiro and Sakamoto turned their attention to it.
"We'll have to continue for another time," said Ichiro as he stood up, resumed putting on his mask and glove for his right metallic hand, and proceeded to the door to answer the knock.
Sakamoto gave no response. As Ichiro opened the door, he saw that it was Feng outside.
"Feng, you're back," said Ichiro. "I assume that our meeting will commence?"
"Yes," answered Feng. "It will be at the House of Wonders. 1900 hours and thirty minutes so I suggest we leave now."
"Got it," replied Ichiro.
House of Wonders. 1859 hours
Ichiro and Sakamoto were brought to a place called the House of Wonders. A man in a white buttoned shirt, a red bowtie, a black vest above the shirt, as well as black-colored trousers and shoes welcomed Ichiro and talked as if they were friends. Sakamoto was perplexed that the two knew each other. The two Fusoans and Feng continued inside.
Inside, Sakamoto found that despite the name, the House of Wonders was a deceptive name. Inside, women were with men old enough to be their fathers. Some were as old as the younger Witches she fought with. This vexed her as this was what she could be doing had it not been discovered that women can only be Witches, especially as she saw that some of the women were Fusoan like she was.
"We must keep going on," coldly warned Feng.
".. Right," replied Sakamoto.
Beneath the House of Wonders was a basement. In that basement was a room but it only contained a table and chairs. Mio Sakamoto was seated but Ichiro Miyafuji had brought a rolled-up sheet with a metallic ring. He connected the ring to a nail that was connected to the wall but only halfway through, allowing the sheet to be placed there. Ichiro then opened the sheet.
Feng came inside with a man in a military uniform. The man appeared to be in his early sixties with brown eyes, black hair styled into a queue underneath his peaked cap, and that his face was cleanly shaven despite his age.
"Allow me to introduce General Rong Longqi," said Feng as he and the officer stopped. "The Chief of Staff of the Royal Security Forces."
Both Sakamoto and Ichiro saluted.
"At ease," replied Rong. "I've only just arrived. Everyone else in this meeting has yet to do so. We may all sit down now."
As Sakamoto and Ichiro resumed sitting down, Rong helped himself to a chair. Feng remained seated but another engine was heard. He left to answer to the individual coming in. After a minute, Feng returned with another officer. To Sakamoto's surprise, the man was an Orussian military officer. The man was in his forties. He was cleanly shaven and had no hair underneath his peaked cap.
"General Pavlov," introduced Feng to Sakamoto, Ichiro, and Rong. "The military attaché to the Embassy of the Orussian Empire to the Qing Empire."
"Please, please," responded Pavlov. "I apologize if I've kept you waiting. Shall we get started?"
Ichiro brought out a device that resembled a television. He aimed it at the screen he installed and it projected a picture, which was that of a Mobile Knight.
"Everyone, this is a Mobile Knight," explained Ichiro. "This weapon was developed by the Stavrosian Empire to assist the Neuroi that they mysteriously aligned with and it has been known to have killed Witches."
"Yes, and?" skeptically asked Pavlov. "Please do not waste our time, Miyafuji."
"I'll get straight to the point," continued Ichiro. "We need to capture a Mobile Knight in order to build our own."
"And how do you propose we do that?" asked Rong.
"First, we need to conduct a diversionary attack. After hitting Pearl Harbor in Liberion, Oran in Numidia, and Sevastopol in Orussian Ukraine, the Stavrosians with Neuroi assistance conquered the area around Chelyabinsk."
Ichiro showed the next picture which was a map of Orussia. A red line was drawn around a certain area with Chelyabinsk crossed out.
"Next, I'll need a team comprising of Witches and non-Witches. Half of the team will work with the Orussian military during the diversionary attack in which the Stavrosians will respond. Mobile Knights will be a part of this so the attack as a whole is the bait in which that half of the team will spring the trap against the Mobile Knights. I'm hoping to capture at least two Mobile Knights."
"You said half of the team," said Rong. "Why split the team into two?"
"Because the other half will be needed to steal a truck capable of carrying Mobile Knights," answered Ichiro who then showed a picture that barely showed a truck and a Mobile Knight. "It's not much, I apologize, but I was able to acquire this, which is why I'm proposing this operation. By getting that truck, we can use it to bring the Mobile Knights we capture safely back into Orussian lines."
"And you not only need the Ma- I mean, the Qing's help but also the Orussian military?" asked Pavlov.
"That's correct," answered Ichiro before he turned to Rong. "General Rong?"
"Are you certain this plan will succeed?" asked Rong.
"I am. To increase our chances, I was able to acquire the assistance of Major Sakamoto here. This plan requires a few Witches and the Major will take charge. I'll even take part in stealing the truck"
"You?" asked Sakamoto.
"I've seen my fair share of wars," answered Ichiro.
"You know what, I like this plan!" happily announced Pavlov. "Tell me what you need?"
"An armored unit and air support."
"I'll pass on this request straight away to the Ambassador."
"Please remember that I'm to be called 'Khyber'. If any of you divulge as to the fact that I'm alive, I will reveal all of your secrets."
"Now, now, please settle down," said Rong. "We'll keep our mouths shut, same as always."
"I'll talk it over with the Emperor on who'll join you for this endeavor."
"Thank you again."
Both Rong and Pavlov began to leave. Ichiro and Mio stood up as well but remained in the room. Feng too remained in the room.
"I'll come over to your safehouse tomorrow to give you all the files on every Witch enlisted in the Royal Security Forces," announced Feng to Ichiro.
"Thank you again, Feng," replied Ichiro.
January 12, 1946. 1036 hours
The following day, Both Mio Sakamoto and Ichiro Miyafuji began to look through files that surrounded them. The two Fusoans read while on the floor with their legs crossed as Feng, who delivered the files, was seated on the sofa Ichiro slept in and was reading a book instead.
"Hakase, I found someone we can use," announced Sakamoto.
"Who?" asked Ichiro as he moved to Sakamoto.
"Lu Ulhicun," answered Sakamoto as she opened the file, whose folder had the insignia of the Royal Manchurian Air Force.
The file had a picture of a girl with long black hair in a braid. The file paper mentioned that her age was eighteen and that her rank was Lieutenant.
"I heard of her," added Sakamoto. "She distinguished her greatly during the Southeast Asian Theatre during the Second Neuroi War."
"She could help us greatly," replied Ichiro. "I'll resume looking through the files."
Ichiro separated from Sakamoto to continue looking through the files. The latter also continued but the former, as he found a file, he began to voraciously read it. Sakamoto then noticed and moved to Ichiro.
"Did you find someone?" asked Sakamoto.
"Her name's Sakda Muke," answered Ichiro as he and Sakamoto looked at the file of a Witch also in the Royal Manchurian Air Force with short brown hair. "A year younger than Lu-san but also a Lieutenant."
"Are you done?" asked Feng as he stopped reading and turned to Sakamoto and Ichiro.
"We are," answered Ichiro. "Think you can pass this request to acquire Lu xiao jiě and Sakda xiao jiě's help to General Rong?"
"Consider it done."
Royal Security Forces Headquarters. January 13, 1946; 1450 hours
Both Mio Sakamoto and Ichiro Miyafuji were seated inside the headquarters of the Royal Manchurian Security Forces, specifically the office of General Rong Longqi. The office, like the entire building as a whole, was modern like all of Hā'ěrbīn was as a result of the polity's relationship with Orussia.
Rong then came inside the office. First, he took off his peaked cap then his coat. Afterward, he took his seat and faced the two Fusoans.
"I hear from Feng that you two have found the Witches you need for that operation," stated Rong.
"We have," replied Ichiro.
"And who are they?"
"Lu Ulhicun and Sakda Muke," answered Sakamoto.
"Figured you would choose them. I also picked out the rest of the team you need for this operation. Feng is already collecting them."
A knock was then heard. Rong, Sakamoto, and Ichiro turned their attention to it.
"Forgive my intrusion, General, but the men and women you requested are here," said a male voice at the other end of the door. "Shall I let them in?"
"Yes," replied Rong. "However, you must come inside as well."
"… Yes, sir," hesitantly replied the voice before the door opened.
A man in his twenties yet appeared almost a decade younger with a boyish face to show for it, black hair in a queue, and a tall and lean build.
"Now, I need you to face the guests beside you and introduce yourself," ordered Rong. "Of course, it has to be your name, age, service branch, unit, and rank."
"Yes, sir," replied the man before facing Sakamoto and Ichiro. "Sumuru, Nikan. Twenty-nine years old. Serving in Army Headquarters as adjutant to Colonel Ganbold. Senior Lieutenant."
"Glad to have met you," replied Sakamoto. "Lieutenant Commando Sakamoto, Fuso Imperial Navy Air Service."
"… The Sakamoto Mio?" asked an astonished Nikan. "From the 501st Joint Fighter Wing?"
"That's right," answered Ichiro. "As for me, call me Khyber."
"General, why would a Fusoan officer be here?" asked Nikan to Rong.
"You'll know in due time," answered Rong. "I hear that the others who've been summoned here are coming. Let them in first."
Steps were heard. Everyone in the room knew that they were the men and women Rong called with Nikan rushing to the door. As he opened it, three men and two women came inside and as they stopped, saluted Rong. Sakamoto and Ichiro recognized the women as Lu Ulhicun and Sakda Muke. Nikan, however, looked at Ulhicun as if he saw a ghost but that ended and he resumed looking at Rong.
The three men who came with Ulhicun and Muke, differed in their respective appearances despite all having black hair and that they weren't in queues; one was rawboned and angular, the other was lean like Nikan but shorter, and the other had a medium height and build.
"You called for us, General?" asked Ulhicun.
"Yes," answered Rong. "Please face our guests and like Lieutenant Sumuru here, please introduce yourselves. Name, age, service branch, unit, and rank."
"Lu, Ulhicun. Eighteen years old. Royal Manchurian Air Force, 2nd Squadron. Lieutenant."
"Sakda, Muke. Seventeen years old. Royal Manchurian Air Force, 3rd Squadron. Lieutenant."
"Tohoro, Alin. Twenty-two years old. Royal Manchurian Air Force. Airman 1st Class working with the 3rd Squadron."
"Pang, Baicun. Twenty-seven years old. Royal Manchurian Army, 2nd Armored Company of the Royal Dàqìng Battalion. Corporal."
"Gantulga. Thirty years old. Royal Manchurian Army, 1st Infantry Company of the Royal Dàqìng Battalion. Sergeant."
"That will be enough," ordered Rong. "As I told Lieutenant Sumuru here, all of you have been gathered for a mission. You'll hear the details from our guests here."
For almost an hour, Ichiro and Sakamoto explained the plan that was discussed two nights ago to Nikan, Ulhicun, Muke, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga.
"And it's only our country's government and the Orussian government that know of this operation?" asked Nikan after listening to what Ichiro and Sakamoto had said.
"That's right," answered Sakamoto. "It isn't us alone doing this. We'll need the Orussian military's help for this."
"But will they agree to it?" asked Gantulga.
"Leave that to the politicians," answered Rong. "For now, we wait and prepare."
"But if we need to keep this a secret from the public, how will we do so?" asked Alin.
"I'll talk to Feng again about a secret base of operations," answered Ichiro. "It will also function as a training camp as Feng will talk to the people there."
"And when should this operation commence?" asked Ulhicun.
"At best, a week," answered Sakamoto.
Qíqíhā'ěr Province. January 14, 1946; 1440 hours
The following day, three military vehicles moved across Qíqíhā'ěr Province, which was sparsely populated despite bearing the city of the same name. One was a GAZ-67 4x4 utility truck driven by a Royal Manchurian Army soldier with Feng, Ichiro Miyafuji, Mio Sakamoto, Sumuru Nikan, and Lu Ulhicun as the passengers.
"Lieutenant Commander Sakamoto, might I ask you a question?" asked Ulhicun.
"What is it?" asked Sakamoto in return.
"Despite having retired, you're participating in this mission. Why?"
"I asked her to," answered Ichiro. "I promised her information about the Stavrosian Empire. Once we succeed in this mission, I'll tell everyone as well."
"We appreciate it," replied Nikan.
Behind the GAZ-67 was a CCKW 6x6 cargo truck. Driving it was Tohoro Alin with Pang Baicun beside him. Behind Alin and Pang were Sakda Muke and Gantulga. Behind the CCKW was a GAZ-MM truck carrying bags and crates.
All three vehicles followed a winter service vehicle. The reason was that Manchuria, which neared Siberia in Orussia, was where winters were harsh and unforgiving for travel, especially land-based travel. A winter service vehicle was needed for where the convoy was going.
The convoy then arrived at a remote village that appeared devoid of life. As the GAZ-67 and the trucks behind it stopped, the passengers began to collect their respective belongings from the GAZ-MM.
"Where are we?" asked Sakamoto to Feng.
"When the Empire was restored, the people of this village left," answered Feng. "I figured this would make a suitable base while waiting for the operation to be approved by the Orussian government."
"Where will we be staying?" asked Nikan.
"Follow me now. I'll take you there."
The two Fusoans and the Manchurian soldiers followed the Public Security agent. Despite what Feng had said, men did inhabit the houses in the villages but no one, save for Sakamoto, noticed. The latter then stopped at a couple of houses that faced each other.
"These two houses are where you'll be staying for the rest of the week," explained Feng. "However, we'll have to be separated by gender; one house for the men and one house for the women. I'll let you choose."
"Are you sure this village is abandoned?" asked Sakamoto. "I feel we're being watched."
"That will be answered in due time," answered Feng. "You may now unpack your bags. Tomorrow, you're to train for the operation until it's approved. I'll be leaving now. See you all tomorrow."
Feng left Sakamoto, Ichiro, Nikan, Ulhicun, Muke, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga. An engine was heard, which indicated to the latter that the former had left.
At one of the two houses, Ichiro and Sakamoto showed the same map of Orussia to the Manchurian soldiers with them that they showed three days prior. Nikan, Ulhicun, Muke, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga, upon being told further that the operation involved splitting the team into two, found it difficult to process.
"Will two teams really be enough for such an operation?" asked Nikan. "I get that Lieutenants Lu and Muke will lure the Mobile Knights into the trap but what about stealing that truck? Can the rest of us do it alone?"
"That's where the Orussian military comes in," answered Sakamoto. "While they keep the Stavrosians and the Neuroi occupied, half of the team will do the infiltration."
"And how will we disable the Mobile Knights for us to steal them?" asked Muke.
"Leave that to me," answered Ichiro. "I have a tool that can help with that but I need to have it delivered to Orussia, if the operation's been approved that is?"
"But how can we utilize Stavrosian technology if it's too advanced?" asked Alin.
"With this," answered Ichiro as he showed a device that was a small as a match. "If the Mobile Knight has something like an ignition switch, we plant the device into it and we can use it to our heart's desire."
"But supposed there is an ignition switch, why not steal the keys?" asked Ulhicun.
"We don't know how they work, if it comes down to that," continued Ichiro. "There's also the possibility that the Stavrosians make sure that anyone but them can use the keys needed."
"Any more questions?" asked Sakamoto.
"I have one," replied Gantulga. "Will we enter by land, air, or sea?"
"Time is of the essence with this operation so by air," answered Ichiro. "I'll also arrange for that."
No one else had anything else to say.
"Very well," ultimately continued Sakamoto. "Lieutenants Ulhicun and Muke, as well as myself, will lure the Mobile Knights into Khyber's trap. The rest of you will go inside Stavrosian-held Orussia and find that truck. Senior Lieutenant Sumuru will command the team to steal the truck."
"Yes, ma'am," replied the Manchurian soldiers in unison.
"Good," said Ichiro. "Someone will have to find dinner and someone will have to prepare the cooking equipment. Any volunteers?"
That evening, everyone separated to their respective houses by gender. Ichiro, Nikan, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga occupied the house where the briefing was held earlier that afternoon. While Alin, Pang, and Gantulga were sleeping already, Ichiro and Nikan remained awake.
"Why aren't you sleeping yet?" asked Nikan.
"I'm waiting for you," answered Ichiro.
"I'd rather be the last one to sleep and the first to wake up."
"It's because of that mask, isn't it?" asked Nikan with a tone of instant deduction.
"More or less," answered Ichiro.
"You wear it all the time. Why?"
"Can you promise to keep this a secret?"
"Alright. Do you know a man named Ichiro Miyafuji?"
"The man who improved on the Striker Unit design just as when the Second Neuroi War started. He was presumed dead in an accident."
Rather than continue talking, Ichiro removed his mask, showing his real identity. Nikan said nothing but his face showed his shock that the masked man he was talking to was the man he claimed to have died in an accident.
"After this operation, I'll tell you more," added Ichiro.
"… Yes, Dr. Miyafuji," replied Nikan.
January 15, 1946. 0806 hours
The following morning, Sumuru Nikan, Tohoro Alin, Pang Baicun, and Gantulga, now wearing Ssh-40 helmets alongside their winter uniforms, were gathered before Feng. Gantulga and Alin wielded PPSh-41 submachine guns while Pang and Nikan wielded 3-Line Model 1944 Carbines. Both weapons were colored orange.
"This exercise is to test if you fight normally against human opponents," announced Feng. "We don't know how the Stavrosians really fight as all we've encountered are their Mobile Knights and the Neuroi fighting alongside them. Remember, you're to go deep into Stavrosian lines. This exercise will help you remember how to fight against human opponents. I can tell no one ever expected this but this mission requires that we must make that sacrifice. Some houses have an X painted on their door. Those are where targets will be found are you're to burst inside and shoot. You have twenty to thirty minutes to finish this exercise."
"Is he qualified to instruct us like this?" quietly asked Alin to Nikan.
"Even Public Security men had been conscripted into the military like we were," replied Nikan.
"We will begin in three… " warned Feng.
Nikan, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga now faced the village.
The four male soldiers charged toward the village. After ten minutes, Feng followed them.
As Nikan, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga neared the village, two men spot the former four. They appeared to be wearing armor and helmets that was made of cardboard boxes and they carried PPSh-41s. Like the ones wielded by Gantulga and Alin, they were colored orange.
"Who are they and why are they-" asked Pang before being cut off.
"Just fire at them!" shouted Nikan.
Alin interpreted what Nikan said as an order and fired his PPSh-41 at the two men in cardboard boxes. The submachine gun fired orange-colored rounds and they hit the cardboard armor with the men wearing the cardboard getting out of the way of the Manchurian soldiers as they continued into the village.
From one house, another man in cardboard prepared to fire his 3-Line Model 1944 Carbine, which was also colored orange but Nikan stooped to fire his, hitting the man in cardboard. As they continued, Nikan's team found a house with a red-colored X painted on it. Remembering what Feng instructed, Nikan signaled Alin and Gantulga to go inside.
Alin began to press the doorknob and open the door slowly. Then they heard someone disengage the safety of his weapon. After a nod, Alin slowly opened the door with Gantulga immediately kicking it but softly. A man also in cardboard and equipped with an orange-colored PPSh-41 prepared to fire but Gantulga pulled his trigger first.
Nikan signaled everyone else to continue across the village with Alin, Gantulga, and Pang following. Feng, who managed to catch up, smiled as he saw the progress Nikan was making with the half of them he was to lead for the mission should it be approved by the Orussian government.
Nikan, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga were at the other end of the village. Feng then approached them and as Nikan glanced, he indicated to Alin, Pang, and Gantulga to stand in attention. Feng was joined by Sakamoto, Ulhicun, and Muke.
"You did well in less than ten minutes," said Feng.
"Thank you, sir," replied Nikan.
"Now then, it's time for Lieutenants Lu and Sakda to practice," added Feng before he glanced at Sakamoto. "Major Sakamoto, I leave their training to you."
"Airman Tohoro, I need you to prepare the Lieutenants' Striker Units," ordered Feng to Alin.
"Sorry I'm late!" shouted the masked Ichiro Miyafuji as he appeared. "I was analyzing further ways on how to enter. Did I miss anything?"
"Not really," answered Sakamoto. "Lu and Sakda are next to be trained."
"Ha- I mean, Khyber, can we talk alone?" asked Sakamoto as she approached Ichiro and Alin as they were maintaining two Striker Units.
There were two Striker Units being maintained by Ichiro and Alin. The former worked on a new Striker from Karlsland – a Ta 152 Adler while the latter worked on a Striker from Orussia – an i-225; the latter being a variant of the MiG-3 fighter and interceptor that has been used by Orussia's best Witches.
"Sure," replied Ichiro as he faced Sakamoto. "Airman Tohoro, I'll be with the Major for a while."
"Go on, I'll take over for that Yīng," replied Alin. "I was almost done with this Tiān'é anyway."
"Xièxiè," replied Ichiro before he joined Sakamoto.
The two Fusoans walked across the village again. They stopped at the house where Ichiro slept with Nikan, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga and went inside.
"This is about those men Feng used for training earlier, isn't it?" asked Ichiro.
"It is," answered Sakamoto. "Feng said that this village was abandoned but that wasn't the case. When I approached one of them, he didn't respond to my questions."
"They can't. Otherwise, Feng will threaten them and their families."
"Mio-kun, before I answer that, can you please keep that answer a secret to yourself?"
"It's been nothing but secrets ever since you sent me that letter to go to Maizuru… Fine."
"… Those men in the village, they're the terrorists fighting the National Rebirth government in Nánguó."
"… You can't be serious?"
"Unfortunately, I am. Nánguó and Manchuria both claim to be a continuation of the China that the Neuroi conquered three decades ago. As a result, they deny each other's existence. Worse, you have Nánguó claiming Manchuria to be a rebellious state with Manchuria claiming the same thing to Nánguó. The terrorists make for a good proxy for the Manchurian government to use against the National Rebirth government and Orussia, the real power around here, hopes to make a government that answers to their interests. As a result, both Orussia and Manchuria help these terrorists."
"But what about the bombings that struck Europe?"
"As far as those terrorists are concerned, Europe is complicit in letting the National Rebirth government do as they pleased. They're remnants of the Free Nánguó Army whose rebellion was crushed three years ago. As I told you, Karlsland backed the National Rebirth government to acquire funds for rebuilding in South Liberion and only ceased relations with them when the Second Neuroi War ended. They only started relations with Manchuria hoping to find proof that they're backing these terrorists."
"That explains the Karlsland-built Striker you were maintaining."
"In any case, I believe it's time for you to oversee Lu-kun and Sakda-kun's training."
The Adler and the i-225 were in their respective Launch Units. Lu Ulhicun was on the Launch Unit for the Adler while Sakda Muke was on the Launch Unit of the i-225. This time, Sumuru Nikan, Tohoro Alin, Pang Baicun, and Gantulga were the spectators.
"This exercise is simple – whoever shoots the other wins," instructed Sakamoto to Ulhicun and Muke as she uses an intercom. "Doesn't matter how or what tricks are used. However, do not leave the village. I need to see how you're doing."
"Roger that," replied both Ulhicun and Muke in unison with intercoms on their respective right ears.
Afterward, the two Manchurian Witches jumped into their respective Striker Units. Ulhicun's familiar, a red-crowned crane, manifested itself through its wings on Ulhicun's head and its tail feathers appearing at the end of her body's rear as she boarded the Adler. For Muke, her familiar was a Steppe polecat whose ears and tail manifested as she boarded the i-225.
Ulhicun and Muke then received their respective weapons – a MG42 general-purpose machine gun and a Type 99-2 Model 2 Kai autocannon. Like the weapons used in the practice for Nikan, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga, the weapons were colored orange. After they received their weapons, the Launch Units opened, allowing Ulhicun and Muke to launch.
As they were high enough, Muke flew further than Ulhicun did. This convinced the latter that they can begin in earnest. However, Ulhicun then saw Muke slowing down.
She's slowing down, thought Ulhicun. Not my fault if I shoot her.
As Ulhicun aimed her MG42 at Muke, the latter looked back at the former. She unexpectedly grinned despite Ulhicun about to pull her trigger.
Got you where I wanted you, thought Muke.
A second later, Ulhicun fired her MG42. However, a gust of wind appeared from Muke, allowing her to escape and disorient Ulhicun.
She allowed Lu to get close to her then she used her Inherent Ability, thought Sakamoto. Awfully smart, I must say.
"What's the matter?" loudly asked Muke to Ulhicun. "Can't catch up?"
"Don't underestimate me!" shouted Ulhicun as she charged and aimed her MG42.
Ulhicun fired again but Muke again evaded the shots. The latter then fired her Type 99-2 but as the paint rounds almost reached the former, she felt that they were approaching and immediately evaded them.
Lu managed to evade Muke's shot, thought Sakamoto. This should be interesting.
Both Witches continued firing upon each other but neither could one manage to hit the other. The longer it took, the shots falling into the ground increased turning the snow that had yet to melt into orange due to the paint rounds. Some of the spectators, including Feng, had been hit once.
An hour had past. Both Ulhicun and Muke were too exhausted to continue. Neither had the strength to fully carry their respective weapons. In the ground, everyone watching was now hit with orange paint, including Ichiro and Sakamoto.
"Just aim your guns at each other!" shouted Sakamoto from the ground to Ulhicun and Muke while using her intercom. "Don't move any longer! Whoever shoots first wins!"
"How about… it?" exhaustedly asked Ulhicun.
"Fine… by me," replied Muke.
Both Witches regained their strength to aim their respective weapons at each other. Both closed their eyes and pulled their respective triggers.
Ulhicun opened her eyes. She saw that Muke was shot with a paintball at her forehead. She removed her left hand from the bipod of her MG42 and used it to check if there was paint on her body.
"You won!" shouted Muke. "There's no paint on you!"
"I guess I did," replied Ulhicun. "We best head down now."
The Adler and the i-225 were returned to their respective Launch Units, along with the MG42 and the Type 99-2. Ulhicun and Muke stood before Sakamoto; the latter crossing her arms and her face barely hiding her anger as orange-colored paint was her forehead.
"You two did well but you wasted an hour," sternly said Sakamoto. "I will now welcome any excuses."
"We got competitive, that's what happened," replied Muke.
"We humbly apologize for that," added Ulhicun.
"Fair enough. I guess I'm to blame as well because I didn't expect that you two had such Inherent Abilities. After we wash up you two are to clean up the vehicles hit by the paint."
"Roger that," replied Ulhicun and Muke in unison while saluting.
January 17, 1946; 0713 hours
It had been two days since training had started for Nikan, Alin, Pang, Gantulga, Lu, and Muke. Sakamoto watched as the six Manchurian soldiers ran laps from the outskirts of the village while Ichiro kept to himself in relation to the operation.
Suddenly, an engine was heard. Sakamoto noticed and turned her head to see that it was Feng coming from a GAZ-67.
"Keep on running!" shouted Sakamoto in order to make sure the Manchurian soldiers didn't slack off on their running before she went to Feng.
"You haven't been here in two days," said Sakamoto after she and Feng stopped to look at each other. "I assume there has been updates about the operation?
"I have good news, great news, and bad news," answered Feng.
"Good news first."
"The operation's been approved."
"Why did it take that long?"
"The Orussian government had trouble finding units to help. Only the respective units of their Imperial Army's 9th Guards Mechanized Corps and their Imperial Air Force's 1st Guards Assault Aviation Corps volunteered."
"That's good to hear. You mentioned great news?"
"The Orussians offered four more men and two Tank Witches to aid you."
"But you mentioned bad news."
"I can't tell you that unless you've gathered everyone."
"And we will."
"But what's the bad news?" asked Sumuru Nikan after he, Lu Ulhicun, Sakda Muke, Tohoro Alin, Pang Baicun, and Gantulga, along with Ichiro Miyafuji were told of the Orussian government's approval of the operation and that they'll receive a few more members into the team by Mio Sakamoto and Feng.
Feng whispered to Sakamoto. The latter widened her eyes as what Feng whispered to her surprised her. Nikan and his team saw felt dread in what Sakamoto will say to them as she began to look at them.
"… The operation will begin in three days and we're to pack up our belongings before we leave tomorrow," announced Sakamoto. "Once we arrive, it'll be midnight. From then until the actual day of the operation will be another briefing for the Orussian forces assisting us and how to use the trap needed to catch the Mobile Knights."
"But two days wasn't enough to train us!" argued Muke.
"Not my call to make," replied Feng.
"Why do we have to leave tomorrow?" asked Nikan.
"A plane will take all of you to Koltsovo Airport in Yekaterinburg. That will be the forward base for this operation. Any more questions?"
"Who are these Orussian soldiers and Witches joining us for this operation?" asked Ulhicun.
"You'll meet them when you reach Yekaterinburg."
"Last hours of training begin soon," interjected Sakamoto. "After 1700 hundred hours, we pack up, have our last dinner, wash up, and sleep early before tomorrow."
"One last thing: have all of you thought of a name for this unit?" asked Feng.
Sakamoto gave a slight impression of embarrassment from her face. Everyone else on the team was confused that Feng would come up with such a question.
"I have one!" excitedly answered Muke. "Iron Thieves."
"Why that?" asked Pang.
"We're stealing something made of metal from those Stavrosians, are we not?"
"I think it's apt," replied Gantulga.
"Anyone else have better ideas?" asked Ulhicun to everyone beside her with no one else answering.
"… 'Iron Thieves' it is," concluded Feng.
Outside the village, Sakamoto, Nikan, Ulhicun, Muke, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga sat on logs surrounding a stone circle where a fire was lit. All had plates with meat on their respective left hands and on their respective right hands, they had forks.
"Although two days wasn't enough to train us, I say that's a good thing!" happily announced Pang.
"And why's that?" asked Sakamoto.
"No more lamb."
"What, you have a problem with the lamb I cook for all of you!?" exclaimed Gantulga.
"It's not that," said Nikan. "We haven't had anything else ever since we came here."
"But it's all this village has," added Ulhicun. "Think about the villagers here. They gave us food and water while we were here."
"But the men here have to get shot by paintballs," interjected Muke. "Doesn't that seem strange despite what that Public Security agent said?
"They're refugees from Nánguó," said Pang. "If it means getting food and water, as well as a home, I'd agree to such a deal."
"I guess that's fair," said Muke in agreement.
"Come on, let's finish our food before Khyber comes with our water," warned Ulhicun.
Sakamoto and the six Manchurian soldiers continued eating the lamb in their plates. As they finished, they put the plates together and all forks at the topmost plate. The six plates were then placed beside Gantulga on the log.
"Here's the water, everyone!" shouted Ichiro as he came with a tray with glasses full of water.
Sakamoto and everyone else stood up to get the water. Afterward, they returned to the logs and drank it. Ichiro left without saying anything.
"You know, I've wondered who is that Khyber anyway?" suspiciously asked Muke. "I mean, he can talk with that Public Security agent and it seems that this operation was his idea and other than our government, the Orussian government agreed to it. He's got quite the connection to both governments."
"Now that you mention it, that is strange that a mysterious man in a mask can have such influence," added Alin. "He doesn't even join us and is just at the house where the men sleep at."
"Who is he anyway?" asked Pang.
"I don't really think finding out his real identity is of importance at a time like this," objected Nikan. "Let's just do our roles and hope that if we can have the Mobile Knights reverse-engineered, we can win this war."
"I agree with Sumuru," added Sakamoto. "While he's not a friend, he isn't a foe either."
"Fine by me," said Gantulga. "How about we change the subject? What are everyone's plans once this war ends?"
Everyone else was surprised Gantulga came up with such a question. It was natural as it seemed that the Second Neuroi War, and now, this war, wouldn't end. However, Muke broke the silence by coughing as if she has an answer.
"I plan on going back to school," answered Muke. "I plan on being a lawyer."
"I want to set up a farm," answered Pang. "Then get married."
"As for me, migrate to the Mongol Empire," answered Gantulga.
"Setting up a mechanic business," answered Alin.
"What about you, Ulhicun?" asked Muke to Ulhicun.
"… Me?" asked Ulhicun.
"… I guess, marry the man I was supposed to marry before I joined the military."
"Who is he?"
"I… can't tell you… "
"Why not?" excitedly asked Pang.
"It's… " incompletely said Ulhicun as she glanced at Nikan before facing Pang again. "… Complicated."
"I see," said Sakamoto before facing Nikan. "What about you, Sumuru?"
"Same as Lieutenant Lu," answered Nikan. "There's a woman I wish to marry when this war ends. I too can't tell who she is."
"That's disappointing," lamented Muke before facing Sakamoto. "What about you, Major Sakamoto?"
"… Me?" asked Sakamoto.
"That's right. You wish to remain in the military despite your powers leaving you?"
"… H… How do you that?"
"Word travels fast here in Manchuria," answered Ulhicun. "I know Witches can still learn from former Witches but is that what you really want to keep doing?"
"I guess. I doubt we've seen the last of the Neuroi. Even if this war ends."
"But don't you have someone to come home to?" excitedly asked Muke.
Everyone was stunned with Muke's question. No one dared to ask Mio Sakamoto, a veteran of the Fuso Sea Incident such a question.
"… I don't think there's anyone I wish to spend the rest of my life with."
"Surely there is?" added Pang. "How about we help you find one when this war ends?"
"… No need for that!" replied Sakamoto as it was clear the question embarrassed her and that it forced her to finish her glass of water and stand up. "I'll wash up first."
Sakamoto put her glass near the used plates and forks and continued into the village.
That evening, Sakamoto alone came to the house where the men stayed at and knocked at its door.
"Who is it?" asked Ichiro from the other side of the door.
"It's me," answered Sakamoto. "Mind if I come in?"
"Sure but hold on," replied Ichiro with a second of silence following. "Everyone, please stand attention."
Sakamoto then opened the door. With the exception of Ichiro, Nikan, Alin, Pang, and Gantulga stood up and saluted.
"At ease," replied Sakamoto before facing Ichiro. "Khyber, mind if we talk outside?"
"Sure," replied Ichiro.
The two Fusoans left the house but as they closed the door, they turned right and stood behind the wall.
"I assume you've been preparing more tools to assist us?" asked Sakamoto.
"I have," answered Ichiro. "The Fusion Wanderer will deliver them to Yekaterinburg tomorrow. It will also make a pass here to pick up Lu-kun and Sakda-kun's respective Strikers."
"Just wanted to confirm that."
"Sorry about that announcement. If you wa-"
"No need. Too much training wouldn't make a difference for such a mission. I just hope it all goes well."
"Same here. Anything else you wanted to discuss?"
"Nothing else. Oyasuminasai."
Koltsovo Airport, Yekaterinburg, Empire of Orussia. January 19, 1946; 0034 hours
An Li-2 utility transport plane had arrived at Koltsovo Airport just as January 18 made way for January 19. As the Li-2 landed, three Orussian soldiers waited by a GAZ-67 with a CCKW behind it. When the Li-2's left side door opened, both Mio Sakamoto and Ichiro Miyafuji with their respective belongings were the first to come out and approached the Orussian soldiers.
"So you're the Iron Thieves?" asked the Orussian soldier with the peaked cap whose rank was higher than the men with him wearing Ssh-40 helmets and are wielding PPSh-41s.
"Da," replied Ichiro.
"Captain Shevchenko," said the Orussian officer as he introduced himself. "My regiment has been ordered to accommodate your unit for the operation."
"An honor," replied Sakamoto.
"Yes but we've wasted enough time talking. My commanders aren't pleases that they had to delay the operation for another day to wait for your arrival. We must get you to your accommodations."
"Very well," said Sakamoto.
Sumuru Nikan, Lu Ulhicun, Sakda Muke, Tohoro Alin, Pang Baicun, and Gantulga left the Li-2 with their respective belongings. As they saw where Ichiro and Sakamoto were going, they followed. As they remembered it in Manchuria, Nikan, Lu, and Muke boarded the GAZ-67 with Sakamoto, Ichiro, and Shevchenko. Alin, Pang, and Gantulga boarded the CCKW. After that, the two vehicles left the airport.
The GAZ-67 and the CCKW then arrived at what appeared to be a hotel based on a building that wouldn't have been out of place in the Gallian capital of Paris. The entrance was guarded by two Orussian soldiers wielding 3-Line Rifle Model M1891s who allowed the Fusoans and the Manchurians to come inside as Shevchenko was behind them.
"I welcome you to the Maison Hotel," said Shevchenko. "I'm embarrassed to say we've copied Gallia. We were hoping to acquire tourists when the Second Neuroi War ended."
"It's alright to think of that," said Ichiro.
"In any case, I'll direct you to your respective rooms. One for the men and one for the women with more rooms being prepared for the rest of the team. We're paying for everything, including breakfast so help yourselves because the meeting with the commanders you're working with isn't until 1000 hours."
"Here we go again," lamented Muke.
Later that morning, the Fusoans and the Manchurians got up and after their respective baths, they found the breakfast that was offered. Because all they had was meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the Manchurians helped themselves as they remembered that it was the Orussian government as a whole paying for their accommodations and that, while it was a rarity, they knew the food before them and how to eat it. However, an Orussian soldier interrupted the Fusoans and Machurians' breakfast.
"Major Sakamoto, G-n Khyber, I apologize for interrupting your breakfast but your transport is ready," said the soldier.
"I see," said Ichiro. "Very well, we'll be leaving now."
"In fact, why don't you have some of our breakfast," added Sakamoto.
"I'm not supposed to-"
"If you're superiors complain, we'll tell them we told you. Will that be alright?"
As Sakamoto and Ichiro began to leave the Maison Hotel, the Orussian soldier joined the Manchurians.
In what appeared to be a tent with crates, chairs, tables, and charts inside, Sakamoto and Ichiro entered. Two men in uniform, one of whom was in his mid-forties and the other in his late fifties, saw them after they were looking at a map.
"So you must be Major Sakamoto and Khyber?" asked one officer.
"We are," answered Sakamoto.
"Lieutenant General of Aviation Ryazanov," said the officer as he introduced himself. "Imperial Orussian Air Force, 1st Guards Assault Aviation Corps."
"Major General Petrov," said the older officer as he introduced himself afterward. "Imperial Orussian Army, 9th Guards Mechanized Corps."
"Where are we at?" asked Khyber.
"That's why you're here," added Petrov. "To answer that."
"We've been told of the real purpose behind this operation," said Ryazanov. "However, what General Petrov and I wish to know is why do our forces have to bear the high casualties?"
"We need to force the Stavrosians to use their Mobile Knights against your forces," answered Ichiro. "Only then can the Witches with us lure them into the trap we'll use."
"And when is this trap going to arrive?" asked Petrov.
"In two hours."
"And you think capturing these Mobile Knights, reverse-engineering them, and mass-producing them will win us this war?" skeptically asked Ryazanov.
"Yes," answered Sakamoto.
"And how will your team get inside Stavrosian-held territory?" asked Petrov. "Other than two Mobile Knights, you wish to capture a… truck?"
"One that can carry Mobile Knights," answered Ichiro. "You'll get an answer to your initial question in two hours."
"Why wait this long?" asked Ryazanov.
"The Striker Units for Lieutenants Lu and Sakda are to be delivered here from Manchuria. I prepared for this."
Koltsovo Airport. 1248 hours
A GAZ-67 appeared in Koltsovo Airport as it did earlier in the day. Those who got off were Mio Sakamoto, Ichiro Miyafuji, Major General of Aviation Ryazanov, and Major General Petrov.
"You said the equipment you mentioned is here but where are they?" asked Ryazanov.
"Hold on," replied Ichiro before giving what appeared to be a hand signal.
At that instant, the Fusion Wanderer appeared and it was already on the ground. The length and wingspan shocked both Ryazanov and Petrov.
"W… What is this plane?" asked Ryazanov.
"The Fusion Wanderer," answered Ichiro. "My personal plane for doing my business."
"And the trap to use, along with the Striker Units, are in there?" asked Petrov.
"That's right," answered Ichiro before giving another hand signal.
The rear ramp of the Fusion Wanderer opened. The Ta 152 and i-225 Striker Units respectively used by Lu Ulhicun and Sakda Muke were brought out first on trolleys. Then, a crate on a trolley was also brought out.
"What's in the box?" asked Petrov.
The sharply-dressed man from the Fusion Wanderer brought a crowbar to open the crate. As he did, a net was found inside.
"A net?" asked Ryazanov.
"It's called an EMP Net; short for Electromagnetic Pulse Net," answered Ichiro. "As I said, we need at least two Mobile Knights. We have two EMP Nets so one EMP Net for each Mobile Knight."
"How does this net work?" asked Petrov.
"It's a long story but if the net touches anything that operates with electricity like the GAZ behind us, the object in question is disabled. Unfortunately, it might be permanent but I have something that can help with that."
The sharply-dressed man brought two objects with him that resembled bricks yet they were colored silver. Ichiro put the lid of the crate containing the EMP Nets back to where it was before they were opened and the two objects brought to him were on the crate.
"These," answered Ichiro as he showed the devices shaped like bricks. "They'll provide temporary power for the Mobile Knights after they've been affected by the EMP Net."
"And should these nets work, how can we get someone inside to pilot them?" asked Ryazanov.
"We only need one that we can pilot after they've been affected by the EMP Net. This is exactly why we need that truck. We can force open the Mobile Knight's cockpit but that's also why need the Stavrosians distracted."
"So how to get the Mobile Knights to touch these nets?" asked Petrov.
"I'll need four of your tanks for that; two for each net."
"You're joking. The nets will be exposed."
"No need to worry about that. The nets can be hidden underneath the snow and only brought out when the Mobile Knight is about to get close to it. That'll be where Lieutenants Lu and Sakda come in."
"I have one question," interjected Sakamoto.
"Who'll handle the piloting of the Mobile Knight?"
"That'll have to be you."
"You only need to pilot one, depending on which tank you're on. The device will also assist in helping you pilot it. If it all goes well, we're to flee back here and we've gotten the Mobile Knights and the truck."
"I'm still concerned about how much manpower and equipment we'll lose but if it means winning this war… I'm in," said Ryazanov.
"… As I was ordered to, I'll lend you some of my men, including two of my Tank Witches for this operation," added Petrov.
"I humbly thank you for your help," replied Ichiro with a bow.
Maison Hotel. 1356 hours
Mio Sakamoto and Ichiro Miyuafuji, along with six Orussian soldiers; two of whom are Witches, arrived at the Maison Hotel. Sumuru Nikan and Sakda Muke, who were in the hotel's reception, saw the two Fusoans and stood attention.
"At ease," ordered Sakamoto as she, Ichiro, and the Orussians stopped. "My apologies for being gone for hours. Before I say anything else, please get everyone else."
"Roger that," replied Nikan and Muke in unison.
Nikan and Muke were now joined by Lu Ulhicun, Tohoro Alin, Pang Baicun, and Gantulga.
"As we discussed before we left Manchuria, these men and women from the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps will be assisting us," announced Sakamoto before turning to the Orussians behind her. "Please introduce yourselves one by one."
"Koshkina, Ksenia Mikhailovna," said a girl with long blonde hair and green eyes while Sakamoto stepped away. "Eighteen years old. Lieutenant.
"Movchan, Nadiya Mykoljivna," said another girl with short black hair and gray eyes as she introduced herself after Ksenia left. "Sixteen years old. Junior Sergeant."
"Klimov, Roman Leonidovich," said a male soldier with blond hair and green eyes after Nadiya introduced herself and left. "Twenty-one years old. Yefreytor."
After Klimov, the last three male soldiers to introduce themselves held the same rank of Ryadovoy. Their names were Yakov Olegovich Bazin, Nikolai Iosifovich Yaroslavsky, and Vitaly Borisovich Barkov.
"Now that you've introduced yourselves, the man before you furthest to the left will be your commanding officer in the field, Senior Lieutenant Sumuru Nikan," said Sakamoto followed by the Orussians saluting to Nikan. "We'll gather at a function room for our last briefing."
"So half of the team needs to lure two Mobile Knights into a trap and the other half to steal a truck needed to carry the Mobile Knights?" asked Ksenia after she and the other Orussian soldiers with her had listened to Sakamoto, Ichiro, and Nikan's briefing.
"That's right," replied Sakamoto. "Some of you will have to accompany Sumuru's team into Stavrosian-held Orussia to find the truck and some of you need to assist me when dealing with the Mobile Knights after the trap has been sprung."
"Why's that?" asked Klimov.
"We don't explicitly know how these Mobile Knights operate," answered Ichiro. "Much less how the Stavrosians look like. I fear the Stavrosians could be humans like us."
"You're basing that from that announcement made after Sevastopol was attacked?" asked Nadiya. "With all due respect, how could humans throw meteors at our cities and work with the Neuroi?"
Silence now filled the function room. Everyone opted not to give a retort to Nadiya's question as they realized that it served as a counterpoint to Ichiro's possibility.
"… I honestly don't know," replied Ichiro. "Everything that just happened was nothing we could have imagined. I understand all of you are frightened about what we'll discover but that I believe is what will help us win this war. In addition to the Mobile Knights, we can learn as much as we need to about these new enemies and how the Neuroi are working with them."
"I was as shocked all of you are when I received this mission," added Nikan. "However, I believe that we must do what we can because if we don't, we will lose and unlike past wars where we humans have amongst each other, our defeat should mean the end of all of mankind."
The Orussians gave no retort to what Nikan had said. Suddenly, Bazin raised his right hand.
"G-n Khyber, did you exert this much effort into talking to our government as well as the Manchurian government just to make sure we would win through this operation?" asked Bazin.
"Yes," answered Ichiro.
The Orussians gathered into a circle and whispered amongst themselves. The Fusoans and Manchurians looked on with curiosity. After the former finished, they resumed facing Nikan and the Fusoans.
"We're in," said Ksenia. "However, for the team to steal that truck, might I make a suggestion?"
"What is it?" asked Sakamoto.
"One Tank Witch to accompany you into Stavrosian territory. There could be Neuroi."
"That will be between you and Movchan to decide on that."
"I wish to assist Lieutenants Muke and Sakda in luring the Mobile Knights to the trap."
"Junior Sergeant Movchan, will you be alright in assisting my team?" asked Nikan to Nadiya.
"Da," replied Nadiya.
"Klimov, Bazin, Yaroslavsky, Barkov, what about you?" asked Sakamoto.
"I'll accompany Senior Lieutenant Sumuru," answered Klimov.
"I'll go with Yefreytor Klimov," added Barkov.
"I'm with you, Major," answered Yaroslavsky.
"Same here," added Bazin."
"One last thing," interjected Ichiro.
"Yes, what is it?" asked Sakamoto.
"Might I please accompany Senior Lieutenant Nikan's team? I need to figure out a way to operate the truck once we get it. Don't worry about using guns, I know my way around them."
Both Sakamoto and Nikan whispered amongst themselves about Ichiro's proposal. After almost twenty seconds, the former faced the latter.
"We got no choice in this," said Sakamoto. "Very well, you'll accompany Sumuru's team."
In one room of the Maison Hotel's third floor, Lu Ulhicun approached the room alone. At that point, everyone was to wash up before sleeping as the operation was to begin early in the following day and Ulhicun had quickly washed her face.
Ulhicun carried a folded note and after finding a table, she left the note there. She immediately rushed out of the room, closed its door, and continued into the room in front of her.
The people who were talking, Sumuru Nikan and Gantulga, arrived at the room Ulhicun went into earlier and were none the wiser about someone being inside their room. Nikan opened the door and saw the note but rushed to it before Gantulga saw it. Going to his bed, Nikan sat down and began to unfold the letter with Gantulga unaware of what was happening.
"Nikan, please meet me at the girl's room at 2100 hours and thirty minutes."
There was no signature but for Nikan, he knew the handwriting. He began to crumble the letter and hide it underneath his pillow.
That evening, everyone slept inside the rooms assigned to them. Because of the Orussians, three more rooms were assigned to the men despite already having two rooms while the women got an additional room.
Lu Ulhicun began to leave the room she shared with Sakda Muke and Mio Sakamoto. However, as she was less than a meter to the doorknob, she heard someone getting up from her bed.
"And where are you going at this hour?" asked Sakamoto as Ulhicun saw when she reared her head.
"To the girls' bathroom in the ground floor," answered Ulhicun. "I just want some air so promise I won't take long."
"Very well. I'll remain awake to make sure you do come back."
As there was no need to say anything else, Ulhicun opened the door and left. Sakamoto crossed her arms to wait for Ulhicun to return.
Almost thirty minutes had passed. Irritation began to fill Sakamoto's head.
I know we're not men but Lu's talking too long in there, thought Sakamoto. I need to see if she's alright.
After putting on her uniform, Sakamoto began to leave the room. She proceeded to the first floor and as she found the girl's bathroom she proceeded to it.
As she got close, she began to hear heavy breathing. Sakamoto proceeded slowly and pressed her left ear toward the door.
What on Earth are you doing in there, Lu? wondered Sakamoto.
Sakamoto began to hear movement. Then, the sound of a moving object came afterward, which Sakamoto assumed was proof enough of what Ulhicun came to a bathroom on the first floor as opposed to using the bathroom in their room.
I've heard enough and I know why.
Sakamoto left the bathroom.
Sumuru Nikan then returned to the room he shared with Ichiro Miyafuji and Gantulga. There, he felt that he stepped on something that shouldn't have been in his room and as he looked down, he saw that it was another folded letter.
Because it was too dark to read it, Nikan took the letter and returned outside. As he unfolded the letter, he was shocked to read what was inside.
"I know what you and Lu did in the first floor. Please see me at the fifth floor"
Nikan alone made it to the fifth floor of the Maison Hotel. He saw Mio Sakamoto waiting for him.
"Nice work finding me here," said Sakamoto before facing Nikan.
"Major, I apologize for what happened," said Nikan.
"It was Lu, wasn't it?"
"Don't worry, I won't levy punishment. Provided you tell me about your relationship with Lu. I noticed that the both of you glanced at each other anxiously while we talked to General Rong."
"… Ulhicun and I… were to be married. I met her before we were to be engaged so it wasn't a problem. Then, the Second Neuroi War happened and I became a technician to be close to her as Ulhicun was a Witch. After one night, I opted to transfer to the Royal Army and worked for a commission."
"Figures that would happen. It's not that uncommon."
"… Please understand that isn't an excuse for my actions."
"Thinking about it, you passionately defended the operation after what Movchan asked."
"That's right. I mean no disrespect but I feel as if we could be fighting the Neuroi forever. I'm… scared. Even if Ulhicun loses her powers with age and I marry her, I dread if the Neuroi come again in a decade, the decade after that, and so on, people like Ulhicun and I will suffer like we are."
"Because you can't consummate your relationship while Ulhicun's a Witch?"
Sakamoto turned away from Nikan and gave a slight chuckle. She then moved to the window as to where the fire exit was located and looked at the sky. Nikan joined her.
"You're well aware why Witches can't have any relationship with men in the military, right?"
"And I don't have to remind you why women like Lu have to be in the military."
Nikan gave no retort. Sakamoto then resumed looking at him.
"… When I was a Witch, I never thought about finding a man to spend the rest of my life with. I can see why you and Lu answered Sakda's question about what you'll be doing when this war ends the way you answered it. I can understand that it's frustrating for Witches to bear with such an order. There's this Witch I know who's very strict with this rule. I only heard of this and I'm not if it's true but it could because she had someone to worry about and that person died and it's what drove her to enforce that order. At some point, she aimed a gun at me while wearing a red dress, asking me not to pilot a Striker Unit."
"And why did she aim a gun at you?"
"I honestly don't know myself. In any case, shall we keep this amongst ourselves?"
Nikan gave no answer. Sakamoto saw the silence as an answer and began to leave.
"Just concentrate on the mission tomorrow."
"Yes, ma'am," replied Nikan with a salute.
Chusa – "Lieutenant Colonel" or "Commander" (former in Imperial Japanese Army; latter for Imperial Japanese Navy). Explanation for usage found below in A/N.
Shinai – Bamboo Sword
Tsuka – Hilt
Bokken – Wooden Sword
Hiragana – Simple Syllabary
Xiǎo jiě (Chinese) – Miss
Adler (German) - Eagle
Yīng (Chinese) - Eagle
Tiān'é (Chinese) - Swan
Yefreytor (Russian) – equivalent to Corporal in Russian ground and air forces. Derived from "Gefreiter" which is also Corporal in German ground and air forces.
Ryadovoy (Russian) – equivalent to Private in Russian ground and air forces
G-n (Russian; short for "Gospodin") – Mister
I must apologize for taking long with this chapter. I believe it has been two months since I wrote the last one. That's because I wrote plenty in this chapter that it had to split into two parts. To put it into perspective, I used Microsoft Word for this and sometime this week, I saw that I was at 80+ pages so I stopped and the file for this chapter is now at 70 pages.
As to why I had Yoshika use "Minna Chusa" when she was talking with Shinta about his past. There are two reasons. One is to again, indicate that Shinta and Yoshika are to talking to each other in the Fusoan language. Second, "Chusa" had been translated to either "Lieutenant Colonel" or "Wing Commander" depending on the canon material you're reading; the former being a rank in the real-life United States Army as the modern-day United States Air Force was still a part of the US Army and the latter being a rank in the real-life British Royal Air Force. The aforementioned ranks would be the equivalent of "Obersleutnant" from the Nazi German Luftwaffe and Minna, a Witch from Karlsland, would have that rank as Karlsland is basically Imperial Germany using aspects of Nazi Germany, especially the Wehrmacht of the latter.
As was brought up in Chapter 4: War Without Restraint, Ichiro Miyafuji is alive. Of course he's bearded and older. Other than that, he wears a mask with fake hair attached to it and calls himself "Khyber" and as was mentioned, it's a mountain pass in the Sardozai Kingdom, which will be name I'm giving for the franchise's equivalent of Afghanistan. As to why Ichiro called himself Khyber, it's because the real-life Khyber Pass is known to be where locals manufacture their own weapons which was apt for a weapons developer like Ichiro.
Ichiro's mask with the hair is a reference to Blue Comet SPT Layzner where four Gradosian pilots calling themselves the "Death Demon Squad" where masks with hair attached on it.
The Kingdom of Manchuria is an invention of mine with its location and borders using a portion of China marked out in blue that bordered Orussia. In real life, that area contains a portion of modern-day Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang provinces, both of which were a part of the State of Manchukuo set up by Imperial Japan. Like real-life Manchukuo, the overall ruler is a puppet but rather than answer to Fuso, it's Orussia he answers to.
Having read and finished the prequel manga Strike Witches Zero: 1937 Fuso Sea Incident, I found that the portion of China marked in blue was used in canon – that was where the Ural Base was located. I didn't know this when I conceived the Kingdom of Manchuria but I do have an idea on how to alleviate the mistake I committed with what I conceived for this fanfic. Ichiro asking Sakamoto to go to the Kodakan Dojo in Maizuru is also a reference to 1937: Fuso Sea Incident as Sakamoto once trained there.
The names "Hā'ěrbīn" and "Qíqíhā'ěr" are real locations but these days, they're respectively called "Harbin" and "Qiqihar" with the former two names are the Hànyu Pīnyīn romanizations of the cities. I've done this before per Chapter 2: The New Weapon Part 1 but it should be noted that Hànyu Pīnyīn wasn't invented yet until the 1950s. It's only used to match how a location, name, or a martial art are pronounced in Chinese.
General Pavlov is actually based on a real-life Soviet officer – Dmitri Grigorievich Pavlov. Infamously, he was in command of the Soviet forces that lost in what became to be known as the Battle of Białystok–Minsk. After the defeat, Pavlov and his chief of staff Vladmir Yefimovich Klimovskih were arrested and tried for their defeat, which was seen as treason and criminal imcompetence. They were executed as soon as the sentence was given.
As to why the Manchurian soldier Gantulga has no surname, that's because he's a Mongol. In real-life China, Mongols who still live there have no surnames. It's only in independent Mongolia where Mongols living there do have surnames.
The Ta 152 is a real-life fighter. In real-life, it was an upgraded Fw 190 Würger ("Shrike" in German) as both were designed by Kurt Tank and developed by Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau AG but by the time the first ones were built for the Luftwaffe to use, Nazi Germany was already losing the war.
For Lu Ulhicun and Sakda Muke's respective familiars, I had trouble conceiving what animals the familiars should be as they should be native to that part of Asia. While I gave Muke a Steppe polecat, I did have in mind a red-crowned crane for Ulhicun but in canon, Takami Karibuchi already has a red-crowned crane for a familiar so I rolled with it and made Ulhicun's familiar the same. As for their respective Inherent Abilities, I gave Muke something similar to Erica Hartmann's Sturm ("Storm" in German) and Waltrud Krupinski's Magic Boost. For Ulhicun's Inherent Ability, I had something similar to Eila Ilmatar Juutilainen's Foresight and Laura Toth's Sense Acceleration.
As I said in The New Weapon: Part 1, I invented the idea of the portion of China in red per the map from Strike Witches: The Movie being a portion that the Neuroi didn't conquer and it being the Republic of Nánguó for this fanfic. It and the Kingdom of Manchuria arguing over which country is the legitimate continuation of the Republic of China, the latter backing rebels from the former, and Orussia hoping to benefit from this are also inventions of mine for this fanfic. I decided to make things darker than they are in canon. More will be explored on this in future chapters.
As to where the operation to attack Chelyabinsk was to be launched in order to lure Stavrosian Mobile Knights into a trap in order for them to be captured, I had trouble coming up with a city near Chelyabinsk as the forward base for the operation. I eventually settled on Yekatrinburg.
Speaking of Chelyabinsk, I figured that if the Stavrosians were to launch their invasion of Earth, their primary landing point would be at the area around Chelyabinsk. In canon, the 503rd Joint Fighter Wing, commonly called the "Typhoon Witches", are stationed at Chelyabinsk to not only defend it, but also the cities of Ufa and Magnitogorsk. That's because Chelyabinsk is known to contain valuable deposits of oil, coal, and other resources, as well as being an industrial hub. Ufa contains oil refineries and Magnitogorsk contains deposits of iron ore and a valuable steel industry. Therefore, the area around Chelyabinsk was most suited for the primary landing point for the Stavrosian Empire as Chelyabinsk, Ufa, and Magnitogorsk had plenty to offer for invaders.
For Major General Petrov, he isn't based on a real-life Soviet officer. However, Lieutenant General of Aviation Ryazanov is based on the real-life Vasili Georgievich Ryazanov, the real-life commander of the 1st Guards Assault Aviation Corps since September of 1942. In 1947, two years after World War II ended, Ryazanov was made commander of the 14th Air Army and by the time of his death on July 8, 1951, he commanded the 69th Air Army.
Yes, I took a shot in having a Witch did it with a male soldier. No exactly something most World Witches fans wish to happen but it's also a part of what I intend on exploring in this fanfic – having to keep on fighting the Neuroi, especially by issuing and enforcing an order forbidding such a relationship between Witches and men in the military. If anyone is really wondering if it will harm Ulhicun's chances of fighting in the next part of this chapter, you'll have to read it to find out.