The blaze skating across the rooftops was mesmerizing. The entire city was aflame, the source of the flames flying overhead at a leisurely pace, merely raining death and destruction with no cause or remorse. The Neuroi only killed for the sake of killing. But that is what made them so much alike.
It was December of 1945, and one could feel it in the Orussian winter nighttime air. Brigadier General Dimitri Hatake stood atop the tallest building in the burning city and his second in command, Colonel Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke stood slightly behind him to the right. He could hear from her breathing pattern that she was waiting for his orders.
"Colonel." Dimitri spoke, a commanding bass tone.
"Sir!" Minna straightened, simulating attention.
"Dispatch Captain Barkhorn and Lieutenant Hartmann to flank from the west. I want this thing pushed toward the water. No need for anymore collateral damage." Dimitri's eyes never left the looming giant. Its beams continued to light paths of fatal carnage across the conflagration. "Once it is out over the water, have Lieutenants Juutilainen and Litvyak come down from the cloud cover and hit it with everything they've got. I want you to get on the horn and check the status from Captain Yeager's detachment and see if they've taken care of the threat to our south."
"Yes sir!" Colonel Minna saluted crisply and turned to set her orders in motion.
General Dimitri merely smiled and watched as two small specks with condensation trails following came into his field of vision. Those were the team's aces, Barkhorn and Hartmann.
As they came into range, each one opened fire with their large caliber automatic weapons. They rained glowing metal upon the malign Neuroi. It responded with hundreds of lasers focused on the girls. Their powerful magical shields deflected the attacks and they continued their assault.
"General!" A voice penetrated the surrounding noise from the radio piece in his ear. With its distinct pitch and Fusoan accent, he recognized Major Mio Sakamoto's voice.
"Go ahead Major. I read you." Dimitri still watched the Neuroi, not breaking concentration.
"The evacuation plan is going exactly as you planned. We're currently routing all civilians to the countryside." The major explained, panting slightly from the endeavor of searching for survivors in the growing inferno. "I'm afraid that no matter what we do, this city is lost. I can already estimate the loss of lives over three million, sir!"
"Then we must save as many as we possibly can. You and sergeant Miyafuji keep up the evacuation. Leave no one behind, Major. We are counting on you." Dimitri's eyes fell down to the city below. Had it not all been on fire, the view from where he was standing 40 stories up would have been exquisite. He could see with his exceptional vision where the Major and Sergeant Miyafuji were still evacuating panicking residents.
Dimitri had originally ordered them to remain aboard the carrier, the Mirage, to the northeast on the Baltic Sea, due to both of them having lost their magical abilities last year in the Venezia campaign. But they had vehemently protested and eventually convinced him that they could at least tend to wounded and evacuate people in harm's way. These girls were slowly growing on him.
Only his superiors were aware of the reasons why he was given command of the all-female division that was so vital to their continued survival, but he was more than qualified to lead them in their mission to combat the Neuroi. Dimitri looked back up to see that his subordinates were proving themselves more than capable as well. The massive ship-shaped enemy was now flying over the bay of Murmansk, attempting to shake off it's much more mobile and agile assailants.
"General Hatake! Report from Comas!" This time Colonel Minna spoke over the command frequency.
"Go ahead, Colonel." Dimitri acknowledged seconds before he witnessed several rockets exit the heavy cloud cover and slam into the Neuroi. Minna began speaking again as he watched Eila and Sanya lose altitude and join the fight over the bay.
"Captain Yeager and Sergeant Bishop each have a kill confirmed and are reporting the area is clear. Lieutenant's Closterman and Lucchini report that the town has been evacuated but heavy loss of life among the Orussian defensive forces that responded to the attack before they arrived." Minna explained.
"…What's the toll ma'am?" A very soft voice with unmistakable Orussian nuances came over the radio. Dimitri recognized Sanya's voice.
"Lieutenant, this is a secure channel for battlefield command…" Minna hesitated before sticking to protocol.
"It's alright, Colonel. She's concerned for her countrymen." Dimitri shook his head slightly and closed his eyes. He adjusted the rank embroidered cap he wore and some of his shoulder length silver hair fell over his eyes. "What was the toll, Colonel Minna?"
"Among the military forces, over 11,000… civilians… two million and counting…" Minna stated reluctantly, fearing how Sanya would react.
"Lieutenant, please return your focus to the battle. You still have an enemy to eliminate." Dimitri returned to his normal cold and calculating self. But before he heard Sanya's radio change frequencies, he added softly in Orussian, their native language. "We will sort through all of this once everything has been dealt with, Sanya."
Dimitri heard Sanya acknowledge with a quiet affirmation also in Orussian.
"General?" Minna inquired.
"I'm still here, Colonel." Dimitri pulled his silver bangs out of his eyes and found Sanya and the others fighting with an almost renewed vigor. Red hot bullets and rockets crisscrossed the sky and created a beautiful display of military might and magical power.
"Captain Yeager is awaiting orders. Do you wish for her squad to return to the Mirage or join the fight here?" Minna sounded concerned for her squad mates.
"It is your decision. Make the choice you believe will be most efficient and beneficial. The damage has been contained and evacuations have been carried out. Major Sakamoto and Sergeant Miyafuji are moving toward you to board the transit flight back to base. Make your decision by the time they reach you." Dimitri turned his back on the battle over the bay. The entire city was done for. His emerald green eyes scanned the torrid flames. "Switching to active combat channel, Colonel. There's only so much more we can do, and that is shoot this son of a bitch down."
Dimitri did not wait for an affirmation and switched frequencies. He could hear all four of his active combat members giving each other information and directions to pierce the Neuroi's hull to locate the core.
"Hartmann, follow me to get up underneath. We'll pepper it real good and see if we can't locate the core." Captain Barkhorn came through the radio calm and composed. Dimitri watched the two Karlslandian witches streak underneath the whale shaped underside.
"Roger that, Trude." Lieutenant Hartmann responded and more automatic gunfire was heard.
"This is General Hatake to all units." Dimitri broadcast to his strike team. "You have four minutes to bring that thing down. No half assing this, ladies."
"Yes sir!" All four of them chirped over the radio in unison. Their movements began to look much more coordinated and they were all firing in their predetermined patterns, honed by years of combatting the Neuroi.
"Good. Now let's show these bastards what the 501st, the Strike Witches, can do!" Dimitri smiled and closed his eyes.
Ten years earlier…
"Please… please don't do it…" The man had tears in his eyes. His eyes were closed, seemingly praying. The gun pointed between his eyes at point blank range pressed against his skin. "Just let us go…"
The young teenager holding the military issue pistol in his hands showed no signs of acknowledgment. His crimson red eyes did not show any sign of remorse. He wore a gold oak leaf on his uniform lapel, signifying his rank of major.
"You're harboring one of them, sir. You realize this is an executable offense." The officer looked behind the whimpering man, could see his wife and daughter in a corner protected by his body. He continued to plead.
"Please have mercy, sir… Please… This is my family…" The man cried. His daughter, who looked to be about six years old, tried to help her father, but her mother grabbed her and held her close. The daughter was the young officer's real target. The man realized that he could not escape his fate. "At least let them go. Shoot me, but please… let my wife and daughter go."
The major knew what he was ordered to do, and as the 'perfect soldier' he was known to be by his superiors, he would carry out his objective. After a few more seconds, he pulled the trigger and watched his pistol discharge a 9mm bullet into the man's forehead. Blood and brain matter splattered over the wife and daughter. The wife was seized by shock and couldn't believe what had just happened.
Before the man's body had even slumped to the floor, the young major fired two rounds apiece at the wife and daughter. In the instant before they made contact with their targets, a glowing magical shield materialized. The young girl managed to erect a shield at such a young age. It didn't last very long, but lasted long enough to allow the girl to pull her mother out of the path of the bullets.
"There it is." The silver haired major's crimson eyes locked onto the young girl. With one hand, he reached through the barrier and grabbed the child by her forehead. His eyes glowed for a few seconds and then the girl's shield dropped. With his other hand, he never allowed the mother a chance to scream. He put the gun against her temple and pulled the trigger. "Now sleep."
The girl he had come to this village for fell unconscious, his hand still holding her body upright. His eyes changed from their deep crimson to emerald green. He moved the girl to his side, where she was taken outside by another soldier.
"Well done, Major." A familiar voice crept up beside him. The man wore two stars, a Major General by rank. His jacket was black leather and he wore a peaked cap with two stars adorning it. "You continue to prove yourself. We are all extremely proud."
"Yes, sir." The major nodded once and holstered his pistol. Without remorse or repose, he stepped over the bodies and proceeded outside to the porch. Several of his subordinate soldiers stood, waiting for orders. Snow was falling and the sun was beginning to set on the other side of the thick cloud cover.
"What are our orders Major?" A man with the rank of captain came to his side.
"We are continuing the clean-up operation as planned. The General wishes for us to look for more of our targets in the neighboring provinces." The major donned his black gloves and looked toward the waiting armored vehicles.
"Yes, Major Hatake." The captain saluted, as did the rest of the assembled squad.