Author's Note: This story is now on an 'Irregular' update schedule, meaning it will be updated when I have time or am bored. It's not dead, at least not yet.

Also, today I'm launching my second Original Novel through Kindle Direct Publishing: VALKYRIE #1: Candidates. So if you want to support me, and encourage me to write both this story and others I suggest you check it out along with my previous novel 'A Fox's Tale'. The details are in my profile.

I'm hoping to eventually make a living writing and thus give myself more time to write stories like this as a hobby. I intend to continue to release more fanfiction when I launch future works as a sort of 'promo' for my original stories. Like it or not, it does mean you get more fanfiction in the future.

Sword and Shield

Volume 2: A Family Visit

Chapter 4: First Impressions

Impression - 1. n. The indentation or depression made by the pressure of one object on or into another. 2. n. The overall effect of something, e.g., on a person. 3. n. A vague recalling of an event, a belief. 4. n. An impersonation, an imitation of the mannerisms of another individual. 5. n. An outward appearance. 6. n. (advertising) An online advertising performance metric representing an instance where an advertisement is shown once.

4 April 2000, 09:53 hrs.

Khyber Pass, Afghanistan

1,000 meters over the Afghan Desert

Kaname watched as Sousuke popped open one of his rifle cases on the floor and removed the PSL rifle as the An-2 Cub shuddered around him. He then clipped it into the web gear he wore and loaded a ten round magazine with practiced ease.

While he did this, Farzen finished reassembling the AKS-74U Krinkov that he'd brought along and loaded it. Kaname saw Shinji watch the two of them work, looking fascinated. At the same time, Kyoko was pressed against one of the viewports snapping pictures through the windows.

Sousuke pulled out a pakol cap and pulled it down over his mess of hair before popping open a second gun case and removing the AK-74M from inside. He checked the action once before loading it and handing it over to Kaname. Then he knelt and clipped the weapon into her own web gear before pulling out a second pakol and pulling it down over her head.

She grinned at him for a brief moment before the plane's cabin shimmied once and Sousuke stood up, grabbing hold of a couple bits of the metal superstructure visible above him. "Shinji, Kyoko, Kaname... Listen up!" He said roughly. "We've just crossed the border, from this point on I expect you to follow my lead. General Majhid can speak English, and some of the few formally trained fighters and mercenaries we encounter may speak it as well, but for the vast majority here you will not be able to understand their speech. The local language various depending on the region, though most speak either Pashto or Dari. I speak both, so I can translate relatively easily."

Kaname nodded to herself and swallowed. There'd been times with Amalgam when she'd been stashed in places where she couldn't understand anyone else in the room. At least here she could speak with Sousuke, Kyoko, and Shinji.

"Second, Afghanistan is a war torn country. Go nowhere without the permission of Farzen or me, as there are possible risks to life and limb all across this land: mines, brigands, and terrorists lurk out there. Even in 'secured' areas the threat of artillery, air attack, and so forth still exist. I will protect you as best I can, but this is a dangerous environment. I ask that you all wear the body armor I provided you when outside secured areas." Kaname smiled as she saw Kyoko nod nervously and Shinji swallow a lump that had risen in his throat.

"Once we land, I will take Kaname and teach her to use the rifle she has while Farzen secures our transport to Farzabad, any questions?" Sousuke finished.

No one asked a question. Instead they glanced nervously at each other for a few moments before the shudder of the plane drew their attention again. Farzen clambered back from the pilot's compartment. "We'll be down in about ten minutes or so."

"If this thing doesn't fall apart before we get there." Kyoko said before turning green from another jolt of turbulence.

Farzen chuckled. "Perhaps we should have brought some of the barf bags from the plane, Kashim?"

"They will use them up on the 'Krokodile' to be sure." Sousuke observed before glancing out the window. He grabbed his pack and swung it over his shoulder. "We are almost down."

Moments later the entire plane rocked as it's tires hit the ground and Sousuke nearly toppled from the rough landing. Growling he braced himself as the plane rumbled down the rough field and slowed to a stop. As it started to taxi, he let go of the brace and glanced at the others. "We're down, but the next flight may be worse..."

"Nani?" Kyoko stammered looking wide eyed at him. "How could it be worse?"

"This is a United Nations registered plane, so it wouldn't draw any attention from the soviets. Our next flight won't be on such a craft," Sousuke said as he crouched to glance out the window at the dusty land outside. The poppy field beside the grass airstrip waved in the prop wash as they passed.

The An-2 Cub came to a stop and the lot of them quickly clambered out the hatch onto the dirt strip. A few locals sat watching them along with a rather battered looking ZIL truck.

Sousuke nervously stepped out of the plane and glanced over at Farzan. The young courier made his wave over to the locals and started talking them in rapid fire Farsi. Satisfied that Farzen had the situation under control he glanced over at Kyoko and Shinji.

Kyoko had lifted up her camera to the south-west and was snapping a few shots of the countryside while Shinji was glancing around nervously. A moment later he croaked, "Sousuke, is that poppy?"

"Yes," He said simply before shrugging. "I do like poppy seeds in my bread..."

"Oh... I hadn't thought of that," Shinji said. "I thought it was just used for drugs."

Sousuke shrugged, he knew that most of it would certainly end up being sold to druglords and warlords, but in this case he couldn't blame the farmers. After decades of warfare it was hard to get anything to grow in the Afghan soil, as a result tough plants like Poppy was becoming the preferred cash crop of the land.

Sousuke was nothing if not pragmatic, and so he understood their situation.

"Kashim, I need to take a ride into town to get the message to Majhid for our ride." Farzen suddenly called and Sousuke nodded. "Can you keep these three out of trouble for now?"

"I think so." Sousuke said before Farzen clambered aboard the old ZIL truck. "Do be careful."

"I'm alive, am I not?" Farzen said in turn and grinned.

While they waited for their ride, Sousuke led Kaname to the opposite end of the airstrip. He dumped his gear before pacing out a hundred meters. Every ten meters or so he dropped an item or set up a piece of debris. At ten meters, he dropped an empty water bottle, at fifty meters he stood an old airplane tire on its side, at seventy there was a cargo pallet that he stood up, and at a hundred meters he stood a rusty airplane hatch up.

Kaname realized what he was doing as he strolled on back, glancing over at the junk he'd laid out. It was a target range of sorts, and she knew then that Sousuke would be showing her how to use the rifles he'd brought.

Sousuke pulled a set of ear plugs from his pocket and handed them over to her. "Put these on, I do not wish for you to lose your hearing."

She nodded and put the ear plugs in as Sousuke did the same. A moment later he lifted up his PSL rifle and clicked off the safety. Kaname watched him crouch and stare down the sight of the rifle. Slowly his finger tightened around the trigger before the gun bucked with a loud bang.

A ping echoed from down the range and Sousuke scowled as he lowered the rifle and began to adjust the scope. "Short and left," He muttered under his breath.

"Sousuke?" Kaname asked as she crouched beside him.

"I'm sorry Kaname, I'm zeroing the scope for my rifle. It's a bit of a slow process," Sousuke said.

Kaname bit her lip nodded. "If it is so slow, maybe you should show me how to use this so I can practice on my own for a while." She suggested as she gestured to the AK-74M hanging from her web gear.

"That's an idea, Kaname," Sousuke said as he set the rifle on the ground and straightened up. Gingerly he stepped up behind her. "Okay Kaname, do you remember what I told you in the hotel?"

"Hai," Kaname said as she lifted the rifle into the ready position. Slowly she pulled the rifle tight to her shoulder and stared down the sights, noticing how they lined up roughly like the simple set of sights had for her tazer.

"Safety," Sousuke muttered once and Kaname quickly reached back to the fire selector switch. There was a single click as the selector switch hit auto. Then she pushed down again, setting it to semi-automatic fire.

"Good," Sousuke said. "How's your sight picture?"

Kaname stared down the sight at her chosen target, the airplane tire. "It's fine Sousuke..." She took a deep breath and slowly let it out before squeezing the trigger.

She blinked at the sudden noise and missed where the shot went. Kaname was surprised by how light the recoil had been compared the Glock 26 and glanced over at Sousuke.

"Short, about a meter," Sousuke said quietly before adjusting her stance. "You should crouch. You're a more stable platform then."

Kaname knelt much as Sousuke had and leaned into the rifle. She took aim again, adjusted it slightly and squeezed the trigger. The bang of the rifle was followed by the distinct ping of a bullet flattening itself against the metal of the old aircraft tire and a buzzing sound from the bullet ricochet. Beside her Sousuke stared for a long moment before nodding.

"You learn quickly, just like always." Sousuke observed.

Kaname nodded and kept the target centered in her sights. A second later three more shots rang out in quick succession, pinging off the metal one after another. Then the distinct sound of the air escaping the punctured tire followed.

As Kaname practiced, Sousuke set about zeroing his rifle. When he had emptied a pair of clips full of 7.62x54R ammunition, Sousuke was satisfied with the aim of his rifle. In the same time Kaname managed to empty four clips full of 5.45x39 ammunition. She had grown more and more confident with each shot and even managed to deal a rather decent grouping of shots on fully automatic fire, after Sousuke had shown her how to control a rifle on that setting and use bursts of between three to six rounds instead of emptying the clip like she'd seen on film so many times.

Kaname was loath to admit it, but firing the gun was rather fun in a primal fashion, much like smacking a watermelon with a baseball bat. Still, Kaname knew that it was a weapon, after seeing the grizzly effects of a bullet on a person she was cautious with the gun.

Comparing her accuracy to Sousuke's was a waste of time considering just how proficient he was, and Kaname could see that Sousuke wasn't happy with 'zeroing' the scope until almost every round hit within the an area around the same as a five hundred yen coin.

After Sousuke finished with the rifle he sat cross-legged beside her with a zip-lock bag full of 5.45x39 rifle ammunition and started to reload the magazines she'd emptied. She sat there as the wind blew the poppy blossoms in the fields around them. So far, she really didn't know what to make of the country so far, but it was a bit different then she expected. For one thing, it seemed well... she couldn't say the country was beautiful, but it wasn't the ugly wound she was expecting from the news reports.

Slowly Kaname leaned against Sousuke and sighed. "What exactly are we waiting for?"

"Farzen went to contact our next ride, he'll be back soon and then the helicopters will arrive in an hour or two. Going by helicopter will at least keep us out of the hands of brigands and highwaymen." He said before shrugging. "Kaname... I—"

A scream came from the other end of the runway and Sousuke scramble to his feet, lifting his rifle toward the source. Kaname felt her throat tighten as she staggered upright and glanced around nervously. "That sounded like Kyoko."

Sousuke nodded as he glanced toward the An-12 Cub and saw Tokiwa jump up and down before climbing onto the top of one of the crates that the An-12's crew had offloaded. There she stood staring down and shivering.

"Come on... It doesn't look like she's hurt but..." Sousuke said before starting toward the girl in a run. A few moments later the two of them came up to her, panting from the sprint down the runway and Kaname looked rather winded.

"Get it away!" Kyoko squealed as Sousuke slid to a stop and saw Shinji snapping pictures at something the color of oatmeal. Immediately he lowered his weapon and let out a chuckle.

Kaname wasn't sure what it was, but it was roughly the size of a large tarantula without a bit of hair. She was reminded of one of those 'facehuggers' from alien.

"EWW!" Kyoko said as it jumped up toward her on the crate and she gave a shiver. "Make it go away!"

"Camel spider," Sousuke muttered to Kaname before grabbing the disgusting thing by what Kaname thought looked almost like a scorpion's stinger and hurling it away from them. Kyoko sighed in relief as Shinji lowered his camera.

"Eww... Eww..." She said before giving another shudder.

"Disgusting thing," Kaname said in agreement.

"What was it?" Shinji asked.

"A camel spider, in truth they're actually more closely related to scorpions," Sousuke stated.

"EWW! I hate spiders!" Kyoko said before giving another shudder.

Kaname giggled as Sousuke shook his head. "Just don't panic, the last thing any of us want is you running off and getting hurt," Sousuke said. "There are much more dangerous things around then those things, the last thing any of us wants is for you to run into a minefield."

Kyoko gaped at him, her eyes wide behind her glasses at his words. A moment later she shuddered again. "Minefield..."

"The soviets make extensive use of mines here, both missile deployed scatter mines that land on the surface and hand placed examples. Fortunately... or unfortunately most mines of that sort are designed to wound, not kill. The most common victims around here are children, unfortunately. The Russians sometimes use brightly colored mines that attract their attention," Sousuke said. "That is another reason we should be safer taking a flight then attempting to go by road, most of them are regularly mined... by both sides."

Kaname shuddered while Shinji and Kyoko turned pale at the talk of mines. Shinji seemed to glance around after a moment as if looking for them.

"It is time to eat I think," Sousuke said quietly before pulling his pack off and dropping it before him. A moment later he pulled four MREs from the pack and handed them to each of them. "The instructions are in English, and I think you did well enough in class to understand them." He then pulled out a canteen and set it down.

"Sp-Spaghetti..." Kyoko made out after a moment before tearing open the package. A tiny bag of toiletries along with a number of wrapped packages spilled out.

"You actually got MREs?" Shinji stammered. "That's so cool!"

"I traded with Weber for the good ones over the years." Sousuke said with a grin. "There are some terrible ones in existence, but these are among the better ones. Even the worst are far better than Soviet rations."

"The Russians wouldn't care that much about the comfort of their soldiers... Did you know the BMP has its fuel tank in the door for the infantry to get in and out of? What if it is hit?" Shinji observed.

"Kalinin often complained of such things, as he said... Russian weapons are designed by a committee," Sousuke said quietly. "The BMP-1 has many weaknesses, as do most Soviet tanks. The ammunition is stored in the turret of most of their tanks for example, so any penetrating hit on the turret will likely set off the whole ammunition load."

"So... you said there are mines here?" Kyoko asked quietly.

"Yes, thousands... perhaps millions of them, it is almost a nightly event for the soviets to drop cluster munitions in the rebel held areas filled with mines. Most of those are quite visible... they just sit on top of the ground. Unfortunately they are also strange shapes and brightly colored, many unfortunate children have died trying to play with them." Sousuke shook his head. "Then there are other mines, the soviets have a tendency to mine the area around their positions almost daily to defend against attack. Most of those are some form of trip mine. The Russians rarely use anti-tank mines here though, as there simply are not enough tanks in rebel hands to make it worthwhile. Of course the rebels use a number of homemade explosives to defend their lines as well. I would not be surprised if half the country has mines covering it."

"That's... so sad, especially the kids that have been hurt," Tokiwa said quietly.

Sousuke nodded as he finished fixing his meal. His friends seemed a bit surprised that the MREs weren't bad tasting and Kaname had arched an eyebrow at the chocolate bar that'd been contained in the pack. Sousuke had pocketed the desert instead of eating it. As they finished Sousuke twitched as he caught a sound on the wind.

In the distance there was the regular thump of a rotor blade cutting through the sky. Sousuke stopped and looked skyward, his eyes searching for the source of the noise before the sound began to build.

Sousuke clutched his rifle and glanced over at his friends, his face taunt. He pointed to the UN An-12 Cub. "Go! Stick close to the plane!"

No sooner had he said that when a helicopter screamed overhead, a mere dozen meters up. Sousuke grimaced as the rotor wash picked up the dusty earth and tore at his clothes as the chopped passed. He spun and lifted the rifle to his shoulder while his friends bolted for the cover of the An-12 Cub.

A chopper painted in the dusty brown and burnt sand colors circled the airfield at top speed and Sousuke tracked it with his rifle nervously. He couldn't make out any markings before it passed overhead again.

It was ugly, with the familiar bulbous double canopy and wide wings jutting from it's fuselage, it couldn't be anything else.

It was a Mi-24 Hind.

His heart was hammering in his chest, if it was hostile he could imagine it's Yak-B gatling gun riddling him in an instant and his gaze flicked over to Kaname, hunkered down beside the Cub. Then as it passed overhead again, it pulled up it's nose and flared over the airfield, shedding speed. Sousuke watched as it's landing gear dropped down and the chopper lined up to land.

The early Hinds, Sousuke knew, had a number of problems. Among them was the fact that they didn't quite have enough engine power to easily hover, takeoff, or land vertically. As a result the chopper usually rolled down runways on takeoff, building lift in part through its large wings.

"SOUSUKE!" A voice shouted and he spun to find Farzen clambering off the back of a battered Toyota pickup truck. His friend smiled faintly at him before he pointed to the landing chopper. "THAT'S OUR RIDE!"

"Understood," Sousuke said with a nod before lowering his rifle. Slowly Kaname stepped out from beneath the wing of the An-12 Cub and watched as the Hind touched down just fifty meters away. It rolled for barely a meter or two before settling to a stop. On the left side of the chopper a hatch popped open and a man clad in the familiar guard of the Afghan resistance waved them over, an An.94 Abkaban clipped to his vest.

Sousuke lowered his rifle and nodded. "Come on, it's our ride."

Kaname held the pakul cap that topped her head down as she followed Sousuke and Zalad to the chopper. Inside was a simple bench that ran parallel to the hatch which looke like it barely had room for four or five people. Kaname sat down near the front of the chopper as Shinji and Kyoko clambered to their seats. Farzen headed for the cockpit and started talking to the pilot as Sousuke shut the hatch behind him.

No sooner had everyone sat down then the chopper was in motion again, flying north. Through the small window before her, Kaname watched the poppy fields passing by beneath her. Sousuke sat beside her, his rifle between his legs pointing toward the ceiling. He glanced over at her. "Kaname... we're almost there, it's just about an hour and a half by helicopter."

She nodded and chewed her lip for a moment. "It's not quite how I imagined it."

"It never is, how are you holding up?"

"Tired, I'll be plenty ready for bed when we arrive." Kaname said quietly.

"I hope the Soviets don't keep you awake, they often do harassment bombing during the night." He said before frowning slightly. "Are you frightened?"

"No, but I think our friends are," Kaname said quietly. "Shinji can't make up his mind whether to be awestruck or terrified."

"I hope they make a good first impression," Sousuke said quietly.

4 April 2000, 14:53 hrs.

Fayzabad, Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan

The Home of General Majhid

Ahmad Shah Massoud was known by many names. The Lion of Panjshir, Badakhshan's Tiger, and General Majhid were his most well known ones. He leaned back against the cushions of the seat and closed his eyes. The living room was crowded as he listened to the service radio that they'd liberated. All around him were a number of the lieutenants and advisors that he'd gained over the years, defectors, mercenaries, patriots, and mujahedeen.

Sediqa sat beside him, her gaze fixed to the radio. Around them were two of Ahmad Shah Massoud's two brothers, Zia and Wali. In the corner was Ahmad, Massoud's eleven year old son, sitting with his sisters. All around them were guards standing ready.

"Krokodil 1-1 to base, Kashim and Farzen secured, we have three additional passengers. No hostile contact, returning to base."

Massoud nodded and glanced over at Sediqa while Zia leaned forward and tapped the transmit button. "Krokodil 1-1, do you have an ID on the passengers?"

"One moment... they are three Japanese teens: Kyoko Tokiwa, Shinji Kazama, and Kaname Chidori." The pilot seemed to stumble over the names but it was just the last one that he recognized.

"They are both alive and coming then..." Sediqa said quietly.

Massoud nodded. "Kashim is coming home."