"Oh yes, one other thing. Your secret undercover partner Mario Andretti Friedman wrecked the goddamn Ferrari."

- Inspector Todd

"Somebody turn on the lights!"

- Louis Tully


The bright silver edge of the katana slid through the darkness and mercifully pierced Yui's heart in a single precise thrust. Her misery instantly lifted after a soft yelp. The tears in her eyes started to dry as numbing coldness spread through her chest.

This wasn't the ending of a fatal duel. This wasn't a callous finishing blow delivered to a hated rival. Yamashiro was simply complying with the final requests of her closest friend. She had said "Please, finish me" in that frightened, remorseful voice, and Yamashiro had honored her wishes without a second of hesitation.

There was no other way out of this for the team's Fudai pilot. Both arms broken in the crash. Left leg shattered. Cranial fracture above her scalp. She never had a chance to equip her filtration helmet before she went down, and her lungs had been breathing raw heavy metal contamination for at least ten minutes before Yamashiro found her. It was doubtful she would ever make it to medical attention in time (how many hospitals were even left in Kyoto?), but that wasn't the rapidly ticking clock the two girls were worried about. It was either this peaceful ending, or a fate more ghastly than either of them could imagine.

A loud growling and slurping sound rumbled over the exposed cockpit.

Kazusa swiftly retracted the sword from her squadmate's punctured flight suit. She didn't clean the blade when it was done. It now carried her friend's blood, her friend's life, and it would be disrespectful to wash away something so sacred.

"Iz… mi…" Yui weakly whispered through blood-soaked lips. Yamashiro turned her head and leaned her helmet's mic receiver closer to Yui's mouth so she could hear.

"Find her… Izumi… I've been worried… about her… she's had the roughest time… out of all of us… ever since…"

"Don't remind me," Kazusa finished her sentence with a compassionate, but somewhat irritated grumble.

Caring Takamura. Loyal to her subordinates to the bitter end. She could have spent her last precious seconds asking Yamashiro to pass a message to her father, or get in contact with her cousin in the veteran Royal Guard forces still struggling to defend the falling capital. Instead, she only thought of her own squadron, a gaggle of young recruits sent into the fires of Alien Hell for their first mission.

Kazusa realized how important this request was for Yui. She was an academy classmate Yui had known for barely more than a year, but Izumi was one of Yui's best friends (and now her only remaining best friend) since kindergarten. Izumi was the last trace of Yui's life from before the invasion. Trapped in a smoldering crater in the ruins of Kyoto Station and surrounded by ravenous giants, nothing represented "Hope" to Yui more than Izumi's survival… if she wasn't already dead.

Kazusa slowly nodded as she looked into Yui's fading eyes.

"I won't let anything happen to her. We're the only two left. That klutz has to make sure the White Fang team is still a team when this is over."

Yui's shivering mouth curled into a smile, causing more blood to seep out of the corners. Her body lifelessly slumped over the cockpit seat as the massive red arm of a Tank-class started to reach inside the hatch.

Yamashiro grit her teeth behind her expressionless lips and squeezed her eyes shut to hold back a single tear. That would have to wait until later. Instead, she bowed her head, brushed her fingers down Yui's bloody eyelids, and whispered:

"Rest well, Young Princess. Your retainers will live on to tell your story."

Her latex-clad thumb pressed against the first knuckle on her right hand. A chorus of shrill beeps suddenly whined behind her. The proximity charges she'd placed all around the hatch were now active. She lifted her carbine rifle from a spot next to Yui's seat and quickly turned.

A white and silver comet leapt out of the yellow Fudai Zuikaku just as its entire front fuselage exploded in a deafening fireball, taking out all of the clustered Tank-classes with it. Yamashiro escaped the blast radius by a second and landed on the floor of the train station in a crouched position. Her hair would have swept out behind her in a long glamorous black mane as she landed if it weren't tightly packed into a bun inside her helmet.

Yui was a prodigy destined to accomplish great things in the name of the Royal Guard. In a sane world, she would have become a proud warrior and a loyal mentor to her peers. But here she was now, in an insane nightmare void, reduced to bug meat by overwhelming enemies that didn't even possess clear intelligence.

At least she got to go out in a royal barbecue. The bright orange flames radiating above Kazusa allowed to see her own regretful expression in a reflection on the glass covering her face.

Their rivalry was over, but the notion that neither girl had firmly proven her superiority over the other never escaped Yamashiro's conscience. It was nothing but terrible luck, random forces of physics, and the sheer unfairness of the universe that had determined how their TSFs crashed, leaving Yui mangled and hopeless while sparing Kazusa. As far as she was concerned, she was in Yui's debt, and she would no longer argue over who deserved the higher honor.

The other girls on the squad (the vast majority of whom were now brutally dead) called Yamashiro's combat methods "over the top" and "too animé." She called it "demonstrating the power and formidability of our noble rank." The detractors were free to laugh all they wanted from their graves.

They were supposed to be Japan's future, an elite unit of Shogunate daughters who diligently protected the culture and traditions of their ancient families. They had all trained together to be TSF pilots, but most of them hadn't put much effort in how to fight earnestly if the heavily armored luxuries of their TSFs were ever taken away. Most of them.

Their red Regent squad captain was gone. As of 35 seconds ago, their yellow Fudai cadet leader had made her own departure. The only members of the White Fang unit who weren't confirmed KIA were white Tozama vassals: Fang 3, Second Lieutenant Kazusa Yamashiro, and Fang 11, Second Lieutenant Izumi Noto.

Yamashiro allowed herself a low, apprehensive sigh to calm her nerves. She slotted her katana on the back of her Fortified Suit, held her carbine steadily at her hip, and began her task of locating a stranded ally on foot in the middle of a festering BETA wasteland.

She found Izumi at her usual hangout joint in the station: The shopping center. What wasn't so usual was seeing the station drowned in pitch black with all the electricity knocked out, with display maps knocked over and store shutters turn apart, while pools of mutilated human body parts littered the tiled galleria.

Izumi was collapsed on her rear and frantically looking in every direction through her transparent helmet. Her carbine was lying three feet out of her reach toward on her right, while her necklace memento was lying closer to her left. Six Soldier-classes crawled around her like deformed mall groupies, trapping her as they were driven wild by their cravings for her soft warm guts.

Yamashiro sprinted out of the darkness with her sword drawn over her head. She chopped two of the pale bulbous monsters in half with vertical slashes, blew the heads off three of them with close-range burst rounds from her rifle, and finished off the remaining one with a wide horizontal slash. The process of eliminating all six Soldier-classes and adding countless years to Izumi's life took all of ten seconds.

The seated girl was in shock, partially due almost meeting a nightmarish demise, and partially due to Yamashiro's inspiring swordplay. She stumbled to her metal-encased feet and ran toward her savior, leaving her locket behind on the dark, grimy floor without ever looking back.

"Thank you! Thank you! I'm so happy you're here for me, Yamashiro-san!" Izumi closely nuzzled her chin armor against Kazusa's shoulder harness like a lost kitten who'd been found. More specifically, a kitten with a fishbowl stuck on her head. The more serious girl was happy that her squadmate was happy (and remembered to properly ventilate herself before getting on the ground), but she found the embrace to be a bit much.

"Hey pigtails," Kazusa replied much more calmly through the glass covering her face. A reserved smile curled across her mouth.

"I really thought… I thought I'd never… after you and Yui crashed, I was… I thought that Fort-class had me for sure!" Izumi was so anxious she could barely keep her words in order.

"I heard some of it on the radio. You were crying for help the entire time you were evading and you wouldn't let him hit you 'till your fuel ran out. Your crazy piloting finally paid off. If you crashed any closer to this Hellhole, the BETA probably would have gotten to you before I did. See? You're not a screw-up at everything." Kazusa joked softly to calm her down.

"You and Yui are the only ones who could handle all this without screaming your heads off. I hope I can learn to be as cool as you," Izumi innocently grinned. The inside of her helmet fogged lightly as she sighed in relief. "Where is Yui, anyway?"

"She didn't dodge the stinger as well as you," Yamashiro's answer came out sounding a little cold, but that was because she was trying to suppress how she was still feeling. The stress alleviators her pilot suit injected into her bloodstream weren't being much help in that department.

Izumi's cheer instantly melted into dejected sorrow as her head sank forward. Small tears splashed against the inside lenses of her spectacles and trickled onto her air-sealed visor.

Shimako. Aki. All those helpless and terrified Fang girls massacred in the Laser-class barrage. And now Yui. Fifteen months in Guard Academy together had been reduced to nothing in a single night, within a few grueling horror-filled hours. She and Kazusa were really all that was left.

A sudden, rapid thumping sound echoed near the mall stairs behind the two girls. Izumi instantly lifted her head and gasped in a tiny squeak. Kazusa narrowed her eyes behind her visor and wrapped her arm around her squadmate's shoulders, this time pulling Izumi against her with cautious force.

"Warrior-classes," Kazusa whispered commandingly as her steely blue eyes locked on Izumi's panicking brown eyes. Their helmets lightly bleeped and chattered together as their shared HUD updated with environmental warnings. "Smells like about thirty of them. Probably wondering why their Soldier pals haven't come home with more minerals yet."

Izumi didn't need to be reminded: She was the minerals. Gulp.

Her internal HUD showed her Kazusa's psych- and medical-readings were as mild and stable as ever, which stopped Izumi from having a worse reaction. Kazusa's HUD showed her Izumi's heartrate was gradually increasing.

Yamashiro let go of Izumi's shoulder and focused her attention toward the stairs. The formfitting plastic creaked in the sleeves of her Fortified Suit as she stretched her arms at her sides. She firmly grasped her katana in one hand and her automatic carbine in the other.

"Easy peasy," the determined pilot snorted inside of her visor to clear a few free-hanging black bangs away from her eyes. She glanced toward Izumi again. "Just stick by me, and… try to keep your heat signature down."

Izumi's thighs weakly shuffled inside her suit as she bit her lip. A faint rosy blush crept across the bridge of her nose. Her body language was saying either she was developing some serious hots for her amazing heroine in gleaming armor, or she had peed herself. Kazusa didn't have anything meaningful to say about either of those prospects at the given moment.

"I'm not sure I can do that… Kazu…"

Kazusa had never been called that name before, but she immediately knew she hated it. She was, however, beginning to realize she didn't mind the company of the timid, breathy voice saying it.

A mob of lumbering shadows emerged from the station stairs. Kazusa instructed Izumi to retrieve her rifle with a series of silent head motions. The shadows quickly lurched closer, and Kazusa charged forward to ensure Yui's final wishes were carried out.


Author's note: Yeah… It kind of makes everything a little more ridiculous than how I wanted it to come off. I think I like the more vulnerable maskless version better. That one Metroid Prime reference I got to slip in there was kinda cool though.

Author's other note: It's like, what if I rewrote Slaughter & Shieldmaidens chapter 4, but now they're all wearing those butterfly-shaped atmospheric packs on their butts from the first scene in Zwei?