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After months as a member of the land-based arm of the Imperial Fusō Naval Air Service, Shizuka Hattori was pleased to learn that she still possessed the skill at ship recognition that had been drilled into her during her abbreviated career as an academy cadet. As she brought the 501st JFW's Zuiun into the pattern to land at the station's seaplane base, she could mentally name off, if not the precise individual ships, at least the class of ever vessel she could see moored in the harbor.
"There it is, the Atlantic Fleet," she announced to her passenger with a proud smile. "The biggest concentration of Fusō ships outside the Pacific. The heavy cruisers Atago and Chikuma; the battleship Nagato; the carriers Amagi, Zuihō, Katsuragi..."
"And more destroyers than you can shake a stick at," observed Gryphon from the rear seat. "Looks like they've got some empty docks, though."
"The rest of the fleet is at sea," Shizuka explained, making the turn for final approach. "They're never all here at one time. The last I knew, there were at least two other carriers, several heavy and light cruisers, and a number of submarines based here. And Yamato, technically, though she spends most of her time in Antwerp these days."
Gryphon said nothing, just grunted agreeably, and let her get on with the business of landing the seaplane. This she did with the sort of smooth competence he had come to expect from her over the months he'd known her, despite her youth; she put the floats down so smoothly that only the rushing noise of the water indicated that they'd touched down at first, then taxied to the pier that a shore crewman was waving them toward.
"Welcome to Folkestone," said the crewman with a salute, one Shizuka had cut the engine and rolled back the cockpit canopy. "Rear Admiral Sugita's waiting for you in his office. Let's get your aircraft tied up and I'll take you there."
Flying Yak Studios
Bacon Comics Group
in association with
The International Police Organization
Avalon Broadcasting System
Brave and the Bold
Our Witches at War
another serial experiment
© 2017 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
"Our Fighting Fleet, Part 1: H&H Ltd., Shipwrights"
As they followed the anonymous crewman through the bustle of the base toward the headquarters building, Shizuka dropped back slightly and murmured to Gryphon, "Still don't have any idea why we're here?"
"Nope," he replied. "You?"
"I've been racking my brain since we left Saint-Ulrich," she admitted, "and I'm drawing a blank."
"Mm," Gryphon agreed, nodding. "Well, I suppose we'll find out." Then, with a wry grin, he added, "It's probably not a court-martial, or we'd be under guard," causing her to roll her eyes and consider hitting him.
Inside the headquarters building, it was less noisy than it had been outside, but just as buzzing with activity; officers and enlisted personnel moved to and fro with a calm, purposeful efficiency. It was all very Fusōnese, very buttoned-up; quite unlike the easygoing flow at Château Saint-Ulrich, and for a brief moment it made Shizuka very homesick for the regular Navy.
The feeling passed quickly, and she was feeling a bit unworthy about it as the crewman showed them into the base commander's office, declaring with a brisk salute, "The visitors from the 501st, sir!"
"Thank you, Seaman, that'll be all," said the white-uniformed man standing by the room's bay window, returing the salute crisply. Tall, broad-shouldered, with close-cropped steel-grey hair, Rear Admiral Junzaburō Sugita was the central-casting Fusō naval officer, the kind of man who belonged on recruiting posters. Both Shizuka and Gryphon knew him only by reputation and anecdote. He had only recently come to his flag rank; before that he had been captain of the battleship Yamato, and before that of the carrier Akagi.
Akagi had been lost to the Neuroi during the Warlock Incident in 1944, and Yamato had nearly shared that fate during the ill-conceived fiasco that was Operation Mars the following year, but neither incident appeared to have damaged Sugita's career; he had retained command of Yamato during the Ardennes campaign, and his reward for that service was promotion to command of the IFN's chief outpost in European waters, here at the gracious invitation of the King of Britannia.
Gryphon said nothing, only waited to be addressed, but Shizuka—ever conscious of the proprieties of the service—gave her best salute and barked, "Hattori Shizuka-gunsō, 501st Joint Fighter Wing, reporting as ordered, sir!"
Sugita returned the salute gravely, then said, "At ease, Sergeant. This isn't a disciplinary action."
"Sir," Shizuka replied, and switched to a parade-rest stance, feet braced shoulder-width apart, arms behind her back. Sugita caught Gryphon's eye and smiled very slightly—these kids today—then seated himself behind his desk and gestured to the chairs facing it.
"Take a seat," he said; Shizuka hesitated, but an order was an order, so she sat—at the very edge of the chair, her back very straight, knees together with her hands resting on them. Gryphon took the other chair with a slightly more normal posture, regarding the admiral curiously.
"I asked the two of you here for different reasons," said Sugita, shuffling a few file folders on his desk blotter. "Hattori, let's start with you."
"Sir?" said Shizuka, looking faintly startled.
"You left the Imperial Naval Academy ten months ago on a temporary assignment to escort Dr. Miyafuji's daughter to medical school in Helvetia," the admiral said, leafing through a file. Gryphon couldn't keep a little smile off his own face at the sight, knowing it for what it was—pure theater; Sugita already knew everything he was saying by heart. The file folder was to give him an excuse not to keep the poor girl under constant eye contact while he talked to her. It was a trick Gryphon had used himself more times than he could count.
"That's... correct," said Shizuka slowly, almost reluctantly, when the admiral's pause became long enough that it was clear he expected her to say something.
"Upon arrival in Europe, the two of you got caught up in the Neuroi's Ardennes offensive, and by the time it was all over, Miyafuji had rejoined the 501st. You elected to remain on the front line with her rather than return to Fusō and resume your academy studies."
"Yes," Shizuka confirmed, then offered, "I felt I could contribute more to the war effort by staying with the 501st."
"Hmph," Sugita said, then closed the folder and played that deferred eye-contact card. "Did it ever occur to you that the Empire invested a great deal of time and money in the officer training you abandoned to stay close to your idol?"
Shizuka's face couldn't decide whether to flush or go pale at that. She stammered for a moment, but before the admiral could press her further, she shook off the reaction and got hold of herself with a visible effort, a hint of steel coming into her eyes.
"Admiral, I've logged more combat-ready hours in the last ten months than any of the officers in what would've been my graduating class will see in their first four years," she said. "In the process, I've learned first-hand what it takes to be a fighting witch from some of the best there have ever been, and helped drive the Neuroi to the Rhine and beyond. With all due respect to the Academy, sir, I'm ten times the witch now that I would be if I'd gone back there instead of staying with the 501st."
Sugita regarded her impassively for just long enough to convince her that she'd said entirely too much, then chuckled and replied, "Well said. As it happens, certain persons back in Kyōto agree with you." Turning the folder he'd been consulting around, he slid it across his desk to her and said, "Which is why I have here your battlefield commission. Congratulations, Lieutenant Hattori."
Dumbfounded, Shizuka just stared at him for a moment; then she picked up the document and read it. Sure enough, it was a certificate signed with the Emperor's seal, declaring her a commissioned officer of the Imperial Naval Air Service with the starting rank of kaigun shōi—naval ensign, or second lieutenant in the peculiarly army-style way the Air Service rendered its ranks in English.
"I—thank you, sir," she said, finally finding her voice, and she bolted out of her seat to attention and saluted again.
"No need," Sugita replied, rising to return it properly. "You earned it. If you'd like to step outside for a few moments, my quartermasters will see to it that you have the proper uniform." With another slight smile, he added, "Count von Katädien and I can manage by ourselves for a little while."
"Of course," said Shizuka, who knew a dismissal when she heard one; tucking the folder with her commission in it very correctly under her arm, she saluted once more, about-faced, and left the office.
Sugita watched her go, then sat down with a chuckle. "She's a good girl, Hattori," he said. "I know her father. You should see Sakamoto's reports on her. She practically demanded that we commission Hattori after Freiburg."
"And rightly so," Gryphon replied.
Sugita sat back a bit in his chair and regarded the mysterious Liberion with the Karlslandic noble title for a few moments, then said, "You haven't asked why I invited you here."
"I assumed you'd get to it," Gryphon replied mildly. "One doesn't like to rush flag officers."
Sugita laughed. "Fair enough," he said. "It's an irregular business, asking you here, but I'm faced with an irregular situation, and based on what I've heard through the rumor mill, I think you might be the person to help me straighten it out. I'm told you're an expert in unconventional weapons. And that you have some kind of ineffable insight into the workings of magic. I've heard it said that you're the reason Sakamoto and Wilcke are still in harness, even though the former's almost twenty-two and the latter nearly killed herself defending the Kaiser earlier this year."
"Well," said Gryphon modestly. "I wouldn't presume to take all the credit. Let's say I'm a reason."
"Mm." Sugita considered him for a moment longer, then said—more to himself than his guest—"Well, why not. We haven't much to lose. Are you familiar with the polar convoy system?"
Gryphon nodded. "Supplies and war matériel for the free part of Orussia, transported by sea from North Liberion to one of their Arctic ports in order to bypass the occupied Continent," he said.
"Exactly. Well, three weeks ago, one of those convoys was hit by a Neuroi air attack in the Barents, north of Baltland. Rotten weather, the escort flotilla's witches couldn't launch. We lost seven ships, including the heavy cruiser Mogami. The bastards cut her in two with their plasma beams; she sank in minutes. The waters there average around five degrees, even this time of year. By the time the destroyer Akebono reached her position, she'd gone down with all hands... but one." He touched another of the file folders on his desk, making ready to slide it across, then paused and said, "It never occurred to me—can you read Fusōnese? I didn't think to have it translated."
«No need, I'm fine with fusō-go,» Gryphon replied in that language. Arching an eyebrow, Sugita slid the folder to him; Gryphon picked it up, opened it, and saw that it contained what, after a few seconds' consideration, he recognized as a military personnel file. Clipped to the top of the first page was a black-and-white photograph of a young, fresh-faced individual with short dark hair.
"That's the personnel file of Mogami's only survivor, Able Seaman Mamoru Satō. Or," the admiral went on, "as we have recently discovered, Megumi Satō."
Gryphon glanced up from the file, intrigued, then looked more closely. Yes, he saw it now—she was a boyish-looking girl, the person in the photo, but now that he knew...
"It's more common than a lot of my superiors back in Kyōto would like to admit," Sugita said. "Apart from witches, women aren't permitted to serve in combat roles in the Imperial Forces, but that doesn't stop a certain type of girl from trying; and sometimes they succeed. Often, when they're finally discovered, they turn out to be some of our best people. Seaman Satō there has an exemplary record—she's a credit to the service."
"Mm," said Gryphon, reserving whatever other comment he might have had on the personnel policies of the Imperial Navy.
"Unsurprisingly, she was severely traumatized by the incident," Sugita went on, not without sympathy. "The medics who treated her aboard Akebono did what they could, but according to their reports, she was essentially catatonic for the rest of the voyage. They didn't know what else to do with her, so they took her the rest of the way to Archangel, and then back here, and she didn't say a word the whole time. It wasn't until we got her into the hospital here on the base that she finally came out of it... and that's when things started getting strange."
"How so?" Gryphon inquired.
Sugita sat looking at him for a few moments, as if weighing something he saw there; then, without further preamble, he leaned forward slightly in his chair and said,
"She now says she's Mogami."
Gryphon tilted his head inquisitively. "Do what now?"
"She insists that she's the ship she served on," Sugita told him. "The one that was sunk from under her in the Barents last month. She isn't physically delusional, she doesn't believe she literally is a 14,000-ton warship," he explained, "but nevertheless, she identifies herself as the heavy cruiser Mogami, name ship of the Mogami class. Built at the Kure Naval Arsenal between 1931 and 1934. She can tell you the names of all her captains from Samejima on down, every chief engineer she ever had, all the ports she's visited... all of that is information on the public record, but still, if it's some kind of stunt, it's an incredibly well-researched one.
"More intriguingly," he went on, "and possibly more importantly... though she never showed any sign of it before in her life, the medics say she's magically active now."
"Hm!" said Gryphon, then referred back to the file. "How old is she?"
"Fourteen," said Sugita, just as Gryphon found the entry in her file that said she was seventeen. "She lied about that, too," said the admiral with a wry smile. "That's another interesting point—she was born the same day Mogami's keel was laid down—October 27, 1931. In the same city, no less."
"Curiouser and curiouser," Gryphon mused, leafing through the file some more; then he looked up and asked, "What magical abilities has she shown?"
"None that we can identify," Sugita said. "She hasn't manifested a familiar or been able to activate a Striker, but the medics say she has a definite magical aura now, where before she had none. They don't know what to make of it. Nobody does. But I..." He trailed off, turning to gaze out the window at the ships in the harbor, then swiveled back and said, "Are you by any chance a naval man, Count von Katädien?"
"Just call me Gryphon," said the visitor. "And I have been. I was a gunnery officer in a light cruiser, very similar to your Sendai class, once... oh, a long time ago," he said, his eyes taking on a faraway look for a moment.
"I see. Then maybe you will understand my reasoning," Sugita said. "You see... some of my colleagues, particularly on the army side of things, would shut her away in an asylum and have done with it. With the kindest of intentions, I hasten to add. They think the poor girl's simply lost her mind. Snapped from the trauma of being the sole survivor of a shipwreck. But I'm a sailor. I've known since I was a boy that our ships aren't just... things. They have spirits, personalities, lives of their own. Two years ago, when the Neuroi took Akagi, I'm not ashamed to say I wept for her.
"And that's why... if this girl truly believes that she's the... I don't know, the incarnate spirit of that sunken cruiser... then I believe her. I believe her... and I want to help her. But I don't know how. I don't know anything about magic, and our own witches here in the fleet are at a loss. That's why I reached out to you." The admiral rose to his feet, then bowed. "I know it's a long shot, and a terrible imposition, but I hope you can do something for her."
Gryphon got up and considered the bowing admiral for a few seconds, his face hard to read; then he returned the bow and said, "I don't know if there's anything I can do either, Admiral, but I can promise you this much: Whatever I can do for her, I will." Then, straightening, he added with a smile, "I had probably better start by meeting her..."
They went to the base hospital, a place of rather quieter, more ordered bustle than the rest of the facility. Sugita's presence opened doors and muted questions, though it couldn't do anything about the puzzled looks some of the Fusō medical personnel gave the gaijin in the flying jacket as the admiral showed him to the special ward.
Sugita conducted Gryphon to the room at the end of the hall, rapped smartly on the door, then opened it after a barely-decorous second or so of waiting. Beyond it lay an unremarkable single-bed hospital room, equipped with the standard sort of hand-cranked, articulated hospital bed that had never been delivered to the Château Saint-Ulrich sickbay. In that bed, the dark-haired, boyish girl from the personnel file was sitting propped up by a couple of pillows, dressed in a green patient's smock. From her body language as she turned to face the door, Gryphon guessed she had been looking wistfully out the window at the anchorage when the admiral knocked.
Recognizing her caller, she came to a seated approximation of attention, her hand rising in a salute. "Admiral on deck!" she said, though she was the only person in the room.
Sugita got a point from Gryphon for returning the salute unironically, despite the mildly amusing circumstances. "As you were," the admiral said, and then, in a kindlier voice, "How are you feeling today?"
"I'm fine, sir," the patient replied. "Fully recovered. I'm only still here because they can't figure out what to do with me," she added with a frank, slightly wry smile.
"Well... we might be making some progress in that regard," said Sugita. "This is Rittmeister von Katädien of the Karlsland Imperial Air Service," he went on, gesturing Gryphon into the room. "It's irregular, but you'll be under his command for the next little while."
She looked puzzled at that; Gryphon could clearly see the obvious question, Why on Earth am I being put under the command of a Karlsland air officer? play out behind her eyes, but before she could think of a way to ask it of a flag officer, Sugita had... well, he had bailed, not to put too fine a point on it, departing the room with a brisk, "Carry on."
Gryphon let him get out of earshot, then shook his head and turned to the girl with a smile. "I thought he'd never leave," he joked. "Anyway! Now that he's gone, I can introduce myself properly. Never mind the Rittmeister business. You can just call me Gryphon."
She gave him a curious look. "You don't sound like a Karlslander," she observed.
"I'm not—I'm from Liberion," he said. "The Kaiser gave me a title after I did him a little favor a while back, and it's easier to just let guys like Admiral Sugita throw it around—makes them more comfortable," he added, grinning.
"But he said you're with their air force."
"Again, sort of on paper. I work with the 501st Joint Fighter Wing over in Gallia."
Her eyes—an unusual shade of dark green, he noticed—went wide. "You're... are you the rocket man? I've heard of you."
"It seems more people have than I was expecting," said Gryphon, a touch ruefully. "I suppose if I wanted to keep a low profile, I should've picked a less showy job. Anyway, yeah, that's me."
"What did Admiral Sugita mean about 'making progress'?" she wondered; then, matter-of-factly, she added, "I suppose he told you I'm crazy."
"No; as a matter of fact, I'm here because he thinks you might not be," Gryphon replied, causing her to raise her eyebrows with surprise. Smiling, he went on, "You might've heard of me as 'the rocket man', but most of what I do for the 501st is really weapons development and... let's call it magical research."
He let her think about that while he pulled a chair over to the window and sat down in it, then said, "Let's get down to brass tacks here. As Megumi Satō, you ran a whole series of risks to serve your country and join the war against the Neuroi, when—I'm speaking strictly in terms of the law here—you had no business being there. As the heavy cruiser Mogami, you've already laid down your life for that war effort once. In either case, you're under no obligation to keep fighting. If you wanted to just go back to Fusō and put the whole business behind you, I doubt anyone would make any serious effort to stop you.
"But if you want to keep going," he went on, "then I'm here to see whether I can figure out a way to give you the tools you need to do it."
Some time later, Shizuka was standing in one of the shoreside hangars, thoughtfully regarding a docked Striker Unit, when a familiar voice addressed her cheerfully from behind:
"You're going to get your nice new uniform all dirty if you hang around in here."
Turning, she saw Gryphon standing in the doorway, grinning at her. "You look good," he went on, raising a trace of a blush in her cheeks.
"Thank you," she said, smoothing the sleeve of her new white officer's jacket self-consciously.
"What have we here?" he went on, walking up alongside her to have a closer look at the Striker she'd been examining. "Hmm, not an N1K... new model?"
Shizuka nodded. "Mitsubishi's latest, the A7M Reppū. This one's an M2, the primary carrier model." Walking around the Striker's landing stage, she pointed out features as she named them: "Three-stage superchargers, automatic combat flaps, third-generation Miyafuji engine—the same type as in Miyafuji's Shinden."
"Twin-mounted Type 99," Gryphon observed, regarding the weapon racked alongside the striker. "Nice."
"The ordnance officer told me they'll be replacing the N1K5s in forward unit service with the -3J land-based interceptor variant soon," Shizuka said. "If you're not set on heading back to Saint-Ulrich right away, I was thinking of trying to arrange a checkflight on this one before we leave. I should renew my carrier rating anyway."
"That's fine by me. In fact, it looks like I'll be staying on here for a while," said Gryphon. "If you don't mind and Mio approves it, I'd like you to stick around as well. Admiral Sugita's handed me an... interesting... project, and I could use a hand with it."
Shizuka looked up from the Striker, her expression one of intrigue. "Oh?"
On the morning of their first full day out of Schönenwind, Yoshika rose early (there being far less out here to tempt her to stay in bed), brushed her teeth and so forth, then went through into the connecting cabin to check on her patient. She didn't really think Lucchini necessarily needed to be under direct medical supervision any longer; apart from needing to stay off her injured leg for a few more days, the Romagnan had recovered from the physical wounds she'd suffered in Freiburg, and she could remain seated just as easily in a regular cabin as she could in one rigged out as a temporary sickbay.
However, the ship's surgeon had volunteered his stateroom-office suite across from the main sickbay expressly for the purpose, going so far as to have a gang of seamen move his desk and files out of the latter room and rig a patient bunk and some supporting equipment in their place. It wasn't really necessary, and she'd have insisted as much if it had been proposed after their arrival, but it had already been done when they arrived. Yoshika hadn't the heart to turn down such a professional courtesy.
She entered the impromptu patient room to find Lucchini already awake, her sickbay bunk cranked up into a sitting position. She had a small white pasteboard box propped open on her lap, and seemed to be reading some sort of scroll. At Yoshika's entrance, she looked up, a puzzled expression on her face.
"What's wrong, Lucchini?" Yoshika asked.
"Nothing's wrong," the Romagnan replied, "I'm just a little... confused."
"About what?" wondered Yoshika, and then, "What's in the box?"
"That's kind of what I'm confused about," said Lucchini. "A man from the Fusō embassy came to the Adlon yesterday morning, while you were out helping Perrine get all the stuff down to the lobby. He gave me this box and told me I should open it after we'd been at sea for a day. He said I'd understand why when I did, but I really don't." She offered Yoshika the scroll. "I mean, I speak a little Fusōnese, but I can't read it at all."
Intrigued, Yoshika sat down on a stool by the side of the bed, took the scroll, and read it. As she did, her face took on a look of dawning amazement.
"Well?" Lucchini prompted. "What does it say?"
"It's... a diploma," said Yoshika, sounding astonished.
Lucchini tilted her head. "Like from a school?"
"No," said Yoshika, shaking hers. "Not that kind. It's a proclamation, an imperial proclamation." Clearing her throat, she straightened up as if in the presence and read, "'By the grace of the heavens Emperor of Fusō, seated on the throne occupied by the same dynasty since time immemorial: We confer the Second Class of the Imperial Order of the Rising Sun and Waxing Moon upon Francesca Lucchini, a citizen of the Duchy of Romagna and an officer of the Sovereign Air Force of that nation, in recognition of her accomplishments in international relations and the promotion of Fusō culture, and in expression of the good will which we entertain towards her.'"
"... What?" said Lucchini, but Yoshika waved her to silence and continued,
"'In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hand and caused the Emperor's Great Seal to be affixed at the Imperial Embassy, Brandenburg, Neukarlsland, this sixteenth day of the sixth month of the twentieth year of Shōwa, corresponding to the 2,606th year from the accession to the throne of Empress Jingū.'" She looked up from the document then, meeting her wingmate's startled eyes, and said, "It's a decoration. Quite a prestigious one, too. The Sun and Moon is Fusō's oldest order of honor."
Blinking in surprise, Lucchini delved in the box, laying aside the black lacquered tube the diploma had been in, and came up with another, smaller box, this one also in black-lacquered wood, and sporting the floral crest of Fusō and some more calligraphic characters in carefully worked gold inlay on the lid. After taking a moment to figure out the little catch on one end of this, she opened the lid to reveal a pair of medals and a neatly folded length of red-and-white ribbon, all bedded in dark blue velvet.
The medals looked basically the same to Lucchini's untutored eye, the lower one in the case being larger and more elaborate, but both designed on the same line: an eight-pointed, gilded silver star with white enamel inlay, its arms worked into stylized shining rays, all radiating from a two-piece central boss. This was a sort of representation of the crest Lucchini had seen on many Fusō aircraft and Striker Units, with a smooth button of some deep-black gemstone limned at its bottom edge with a bright arc of red glass.
"Why are there two of them?" Lucchini wondered.
"The one on the ribbon is the badge," Yoshika explained. "You wear that around your neck, but it's only supposed to be worn with the most formal version of your dress uniform. The other one is the star, which... I'm not sure, I think for foreigners it's supposed to be pinned to the right side of your chest. You can probably wear that for any non-combat occasion. Sakamoto would know, we'll have to ask her to show you how to wear it properly when we get in."
"Hmm." Lucchini touched the gem in the center of the badge with a fingertip, her face unusually pensive. "What did you say it's for?"
Yoshika consulted the diploma again. "It says it's in recognition of your accomplishments in international relations and the promotion of Fusō culture."
Lucchini looked up from her contemplation of the medal, puzzled. "I thought that was what you said. I... I don't think I've really done either of those things, though?"
"Well..." Yoshika began, and she trailed off, looking thoughtful. A moment later, a look of understanding crossed her face, followed by disbelief. "No," she said, and double-checked something on the diploma. "No, it can't have... the man from the embassy who came to visit you. What did he look like? How old was he?"
Lucchini shrugged, clearly at a loss as to where Yoshika might be going with this. "I don't know, maybe 40 or 45?"
"Not Ambassador Nomura, then... was he a tall man with a beard?"
Lucchini shook her head. "No, he was clean-shaven, and not very big at all. I remember thinking his suit was too big for him. He had really thick glasses," she added, hoping that might be a helpful detail.
Yoshika stared at her in disbelief, reaching out to take her wingmate's nearer hand. "Lucchini, that was the Emperor."
"Really?! Wow. He never introduced himself except to say he was from the Fusō Embassy. I didn't recognize him without all his..." She gestured vaguely with her free hand. "Stuff."
"That was probably the idea," Yoshika said. "He must have borrowed the suit from Ambassador Nomura," and then, to Lucchini's complete bemusement, she dissolved into a fit of laughter, putting her head down on the bed and giggling helplessly for nearly a minute before she got hold of herself again.
"... Why is that funny?" Lucchini wondered. "You're acting really weird, Yoshika."
"No, it's just... I think I know what the medal is for, and why he gave it to you in such a way that we'd be well away from Brandenburg, and the Brandenburg press, before you opened it. International relations and the promotion of Fusō culture, right? And it's dated the sixteenth." Lucchini gave her a still-not-getting-it look, and with the kind of smile that suggested she might lose it and start laughing again, Yoshika explained, "The day you punched a boy from Karlsland... at a gathering of people from all over the world... while wishing His Majesty a 10,000-year reign."
Lucchini kept the look of incomprehension on her for a second longer, and then it crumbled as she, too, burst out laughing, taking Yoshika back down with her.
"I didn't realize your Emperor had a sense of humor," she managed through gasps for breath once she'd finished laughing.
"Neither did I!" Yoshika told her, wiping tears from her eyes with a corner of bedsheet.
Lucchini considered that, then settled smugly back against her nest of pillows with her hands behind her head. "Well," she said airily, "that just confirms my initial impression, which is that he's a man of taste and discretion. Tennōheika banzai."
With Shizuka's staying-on in Folkestone blessed by Mio, the semi-official Mogami project team moved into a disused aviation hangar out at one of the far corners of the base, where they could do some preliminary work without interfering with the day-to-day business of the Expeditionary Fleet. The facilities were fairly basic, but the machine tools worked, and there were plenty of parts for scrounging; after moving in a few cots and a hot plate, Gryphon was prepared to deem it sufficient for present needs and get to work.
The rest of Tuesday had mostly been consumed by moving in, checking out the available equipment, and scrounging up some parts and supplies. The next day, they'd settled down to some real work. While bartering with the guys in the aviation shop, they'd scored a pair of partially-torn-down Striker Units—early-model Zeros, from the looks of them—along with enough parts to rebuild them.
Except, to Shizuka's confusion, that was exactly the opposite of what Gryphon had done. What the three of them spent the next couple of days on instead had been, essentially, taking one of the scrap Strikers' Miyafuji engines and using the rest of the parts to construct a... well, a magically fueled boiler and stack, Hattori supposed, around it.
"What use is this, though?" Shizuka carefully walked around the arrangement that now sat on one of the test benches that used to hold Strikers under repair. "I see you moved the prop shaft up to this steam turbine, but... why the boiler? Why not just run the turbine off her own magic?" If we can help her to use it, she didn't add out loud. She didn't understand why the younger girl couldn't find her familiar—how could she be magically active without one?—but she didn't want to insult her, either.
Kneeling next to the modified engine, tightening one last set of bolts, Gryphon shook his head with an indulgent smile. "Because Mogami had a single-funnel boiler array driving her turbines before she went down, so now our Mogami needs one too." Standing and stretching, he gently ran a hand up the unpainted aluminum stack. "Magic's funny that way sometimes. It can be a very literal art. In this case—if Admiral Sugita is right—the Satō girl is tied to the ship's spirit. That means the engines we build for her need to work the same way."
"Well... if you say so." Hattori frowned as she thought that over, then looked to the other side of the shop, where Gryphon had asked Mogami to start welding together a set of aluminum and steel struts, creating a frame for the engine to eventually rest in. "So this is something you've seen before?"
Gryphon scratched at his beard thoughtfully. "Well... not precisely, but I'm borrowing a couple of ideas that worked for a few of my friends, and pairing it up with some equipment I used to use, well, a long time ago..."
Shizuka was about to ask him to elaborate on that, but before she had the chance, a sound from outside caught her attention. At first it was just a sort of odd, distant whistle, but it grew swiftly, steadily louder, blossoming into a mechanical howl. Her first instinct was to identify it as the sound of Gryphon's jetpack, but he was standing right next to her; it took her only a moment longer to parse it as the sound of a jet-powered Striker Unit instead. Darting to the hangar door, she stepped outside and looked up, noting as she did so that people were doing similar things at all the nearby buildings up and down this corner of the base.
A moment later, the source of the sound flashed past overhead, sunshine glinting from smoothly contoured metal. The jet-powered witch pulled a hard right turn, drawing condensate streamers in the air behind her, and spotted Shizuka and Gryphon standing in the hangar doorway. Raising a hand in a jaunty wave, she swooped down, then pulled up at the last moment and settled to the tarmac before them, her engines spooling down to a low, idling whine.
"What ho, kiddies," said Wilma Bishop with a grin. Then, glancing past Gryphon into the hangar, she went on, "Oh good, you've got a Striker stage handy. Lemme just put this beast away and I'll be right with ya."
While she was parking the Meteor in one of the vacant stages that had come with the old Strikers the Mogami team had stripped for parts, a second witch arrived. This one attracted less comment from the regular denizens of the base, since she was an IFN officer flying a standard-issue Shiden-kai, a much less uncommon sight around Folkestone these days.
Those few base personnel who did take a closer look, though, may well have taken a second, because it was less usual to see a Shiden-kai operator with a copilot aboard, and Mio Sakamoto had one. Slung on her back in a caddy adapted from a U.S. Army rucksack, sporting a most aviatorly leather-helmet-and-goggles combo, Wolfgang Amadeus Beagle surveyed the scene with a sort of lordly detachment, his jaunty silk aviator's scarf flapping gaily in the slipstream as the white-coated witch came in to land.
Maneuvering her own Striker into the second of the empty stages, Mio returned Shizuka's and Mogami's salutes with the gravity they deserved, remarking, "As you were," as she shut down her engines. This gravity was damaged somewhat by her copilot, who, released from his flight rig with the tug of a D-ring, jumped down from the stage to gambol at Shizuka's feet as if he hadn't seen her in months.
"You've always known how to make an entrance," Gryphon quipped as he knelt to get a better look at the Lenshound's new equipment.
"Isn't that the cutest flying gear?" Wilma asked, digging her boots out of her own rucksack. "Francie made it for him."
"It is, indeed, the cutest," Gryphon concurred.
"Speaking of new gear, look at you," said Mio to Shizuka with a smile. "I knew the officer look would work for you."
"You've seen me in an officer's uniform before," Shizuka pointed out, but Mio only laughed.
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Yes, but now you don't have to steal one of mine!" She clapped the younger flier on the shoulder, nearly knocking her over, then turned a curious eye to Mogami and asked, "Who's this now?" Taking in her uniform—the brown shirt and short trousers, cap, and heavy black boots of an enlisted sailor—she went on, "I didn't know the Navy was letting girls join the regular surface force now. About time!"
"Uh, they don't, not... not usually," Mogami replied, a trifle uncomfortably. "Until a few weeks ago, they didn't know I was one. I used to be Able Seaman Mamoru Satō, engineman's mate in the heavy cruiser Mogami. Now I'm..." She hesitated. "... Not 100 percent sure what I am. Rittmeister—um... Gryphon... is working on that."
"This sounds like it has the kind of story attached to it that I'm not technically cleared for but totally need to hear," Wilma put in with a grin. "We flew over to take Rocket Boy to dinner someplace for his birthday, and you, Seaman, are definitely invited."
Mogami reddened. "Oh, uh... I'm not sure that..."
Wilma gave a dismissive gesture, then put an arm around her shoulders and started herding her toward the door. "C'mon, if you're worried about fraternizing with officers, I ain't one either! Hattori might have jumped to the lace doilies and caviar set, but Wilma Bishop still works for a living!"
Shizuka sighed, only-mostly-suppressing an eyeroll, and got another clout on the shoulder from Mio in response, then said, "Where are you planning to go? I have a thing I have to take care of, but it should only take a minute, and I can meet you there."
"The Compasses," said Mio. "Do you know it?" At Shizuka's shake of the head, she explained, "It's harborside, not far from the base. If you leave by the main gate you should be able to see it from the guard shack."
Shizuka nodded. "OK. I'll meet you all there."
Gryphon liked the atmosphere of the Compasses as soon as they arrived: it was the kind of local he'd always enjoyed in his experience of wartime Britannia, catering (thanks to its proximity to the naval base) mostly to uniformed personnel, without ending up rough or seedy in the process. (It was also the kind of place where no one minded that one of the newly arrived customers was a dog, which earned it further points in his book.) He was interested to note, when they arrived at the pub, that Mio seemed to know and be known there; the landlord greeted her like a long-lost friend and directed her party to the snug, a private room that still had direct access to a corner of the bar. When Shizuka arrived a few minutes later, the rest were still perusing the menu.
The first part of the meal was occupied mainly with a capsule explanation of Mogami's unusual situation, and the broad outlines of what Gryphon, with Shizuka's help, was hoping to do about it. Neither Mio nor Wilma evinced the slightest skepticism about any of it, which went a long way toward easing the young sailor's awkwardness—unlike the male naval officers she'd dealt with at first, the two veteran witches had both seen far too many strange things in their careers to find her predicament anything other than interesting—and before long something more like her actual personality had emerged: polite and correct, but also open and buoyant, just a little bit boisterous. Both Mio, the long-time sailor, and Wilma, the career NCO, could understand at once how this young woman would have become the heart and soul of her division aboard ship, if not the entire crew.
Even once put at ease by the company, of course, Mogami was not entirely upbeat. She'd lost too many shipmates too recently for it not to be affecting her, and her composure nearly failed entirely toward the end of dinner, when Gryphon proposed a toast to absent friends; but she recovered quickly, showing an inner resilience which raised her standing in the eyes of the two veterans even more.
Afterward, with afternoon falling, they all walked back to the hangar together. Most of them were rather more sober than the average patron leaving the Compasses after a party, but Wilma hadn't really bothered to pace herself too much; though far from slobbering drunk, she was lit up enough to spent most of the walk back doing impromptu balance beam traverses of handrails and otherwise amusing herself. As she did, she broke into a briskly martial flying song Shizuka had once heard her younger sister sing (rather more quietly and tunefully) on a long patrol:
Some talk of Atalanta and some of Artemis
Of Dido, Alexandra, and such great names as these
But of all the world's great heroes there's none that can compare
With a tow row row row row row
To the witches of the air!
Those witches of antiquity ne'er saw a machine-gun
Nor knew the force of cordite to slay their foes as one
But our brave girls do know it and banish all despair
Sing tow row row row row row
For the witches of the air!
Mio caught Shizuka's eye, arching a wry eyebrow, and for a second the younger witch thought her superior might be about to suggest that they try to compete with the Britannian by deploying a Fusō equivalent; but by then they had reached the gatehouse, and no amount of raised eyebrows would have induced a newly-commissioned Shizuka Hattori to start singing "Umi Yukaba" in a public place. That would have taken a direct order, which Mio seemed disinclined to give as she saluted the bemused shore policeman on duty and they entered the naval base.
They arrived back at the hangar to find another man in the uniform of an IFN shore policeman standing next to the Meteor's striker, rifle on his shoulder. At the sight of Mio he straightened up even more than he already was, staring fixedly into the middle distance.
"Well hello there, sailor," said Wilma, sauntering over to him. He gave no indication that he was aware of her presence, even when she waved a curious hand in front of his stonily impassive face. "Hah, just like at Buckingham Palace," she said, and then turned to the others and asked, "Anyone know what this fella's doing here?"
"I assigned him to guard the top-secret prototype Striker Unit someone randomly left lying around in here while we all went to dinner," Shizuka replied, deadpan, and then told the SP in Fusōnese, «Good work, Seaman, you may go.»
"Hai!" the man replied; he performed an elaborate ceremonial relocation of his rifle to free his right hand to salute; once the salute was returned, he equally elaborately returned the Arisaka to his shoulder, left-faced, and marched out of the hangar.
Wilma watched the whole business with a sly little smile, then said, "You know somethin', kid, I think I like you after all. I don't care what Gryph says about you."
"I'm so relieved," Shizuka replied dryly, causing Mio to laugh so sharply it drew a sympathetic bark from Wolfgang.
"You're right, Wolfgang, we had best be getting back to Gallia while we've got daylight," Mio agreed, and started helping him on with his flying gear. "Good thing your boy was born so close to the summer solstice, neh?"
"Hrf," Wolfgang concurred.
"You're in no condition to fly back tonight," Gryphon pointed out to Wilma. "Especially in that," he added, nodding toward the Meteor.
"I know!" Wilma replied, draping herself cape-fashion upon him with a grin. "Which is why I'm bunking with you tonight."
"Um," said Mogami, glancing with a blush toward the curtained-off cots that were all the project team had for separate quarters at the moment.
"Oh, relax," said Wilma, waving a hand. "I'm perfectly capable of keeping it according to the Hays Code." Then, winking, she added, "I just don't usually wanna."
"If you want, I could leave Wolfgang here and try to get Bishop in the bag instead," Mio offered as she climbed aboard her Striker, then shrugged into the beagle's flight carrier.
"She's halfway there already," Shizuka noted.
"It's true!" Wilma agreed brightly, drawing a giggle from Mogami.
"We'll be fine," Gryphon assured her, taking a moment to dope out the strap arrangement and then securing Wolfgang in place. "Safe flight back, you two. Thanks for coming by."
For the record, the evening passed without incident, apart from some occasional unseemly snoring.
Due to the hastily-laid-on nature of the Prinzessin Eugenie's current mission, she was traveling unescorted on her journey back to Gallia. That didn't particularly bother the Prinzessin's crew, since the only ships available in Brandenburg would have been far too slow to be practical, but it did mean the journey was slightly more dangerous than a normal trans-Atlantic passage.
The solution to that problem came from their guests, who were happy to help with flying a rolling patrol, once their only naval aviator aboard gave them a crash course in operating from shipboard. (Which, Yoshika admitted, weren't really her speciality either, since she'd spent most of the war in land-based postings.) Although not a carrier by any stretch, the cruiser—like virtually all large modern warships—was equipped with a small hangar, in her case capable of supporting three conventional aircraft or a half-dozen Striker Units.
Once familiarized with the complexities of operating from a tiny airfield that was moving steadily northeastward at 20 nautical miles per hour, Perrine quickly worked out a scheme for maintaining a daylight combat air patrol. This arrangement had witches flying a patrol route in pairs, just as if they were back in Ribeauvillé, while Heidemarie would be standing by, ready to scramble, at night if her magical radar or the ship's sensing equipment detected any dangers.
When not in the air, the witches tended to chat with their captain and her crew, play cards, and generally make themselves useful when the opportunity arose during the two-week journey from Brandenburg to Brest. Lucchini, still on medical light duty, spent her time testing her recovering leg and making fast friends with Oskar, the ship's cat.
They'd been at sea for a few days when Hannelore spoke to her niece about "getting a little target practice in", and it seemed like almost everyone who wasn't on duty or in the air came to the cruiser's fantail to watch as von Hammer brought the massive rifle her husband had presented her with up on deck.
"That really is huge," Yoshika noted as Hannelore hefted the massive rifle to her shoulder, getting a feel for the weapon after so many years out of practice. "You flew with those?"
"It wasn't terribly fun," Hannelore admitted, closing one eye as she peered down the iron sights. "Particularly with pre-Miyafuji Strikers, these weren't the easiest things to take up with us. They originally designed the N-Gewehr for land-based witches or a two-man team of regular soldiers. That's why it still has the bipod on the front of the stock. In those days..." She shrugged, the movement almost imperceptible under the weight of her weapon. "So much of the time, we were just trying to make do."
Yoshika nodded, humming thoughtfully as the older witch opened the rifle's bolt, then drew a massive cartridge from the bandolier slung across her chest and slammed it home. "Right, then. Ready on that target, gentlemen?"
At the stern rail, a pair of sailors stood with several inflatable balls made of bright orange plastic. The leader of the detail nodded to the Rittmeister, then knelt down with one of the other sailors to lift the target up and to the rail. "Ready, ma'am!"
They heaved the ball over the side, making a splash as it hit the water that was just audible over the sound of the ship cutting through the waves. The ball went under the water for a moment, then bobbed up to the surface, bouncing on the water as the ship powered on.
Hannelore moved to the rail as the target detail stepped out of her way, then sighted down the massive rifle once again, drawing a bead on the target as it began to recede.
"Let's see how we do at... hm. 200 meters?"
Yoshika hadn't realized the ship's captain had come up behind them until she spoke. "200 should be fine. We don't have to worry about anything getting caught in our screws, and I'm not even sure that beast of yours will leave enough of the target to sweep up, Tante Hannelore."
Von Hammer didn't reply in words, but something in the set of her shoulders seemed amused to the Fusōnese witch. Without realizing it, Yoshika held her breath as she saw the elder witch's body still, shoulders braced for the recoil, muzzle tracking just slightly ahead of the target as it bobbed on the waves...and with a sharp CRACK, the rifle kicked back against von Hammer's shoulder, eliciting a soft grunt. The target disappeared with a loud popping sound, just as Eugenie had predicted, with a few shreds of the brightly colored plastic fluttering in the air like confetti before falling back into the water.
"Seems I haven't entirely lost my touch," von Hammer noted with a quiet pride. She opened the bolt, the empty cartridge case clanking to the deck. "I don't remember it kicking quite so hard, back then," she mused with a wry smile, rubbing at her shoulder. "I must be getting old." Then, turning to Yoshika, she asked, "Would you care to take a shot, Doctor? You're a fair markswoman."
"Well... Lynne-chan's the sniper, not me," Yoshika began to demur, but then she noticed that the small crowd of onlookers were all watching expectantly; reddening slightly, she said, "OK, I'll give it a try."
"Splendid. Another target, if you please, gentlemen," said von Hammer, and the sailors enthusiastically busied themselves putting another balloon over the rails. While they were about that, the senior witch handed the rifle over to her younger colleague, then presented her with a round of ammunition.
Although massive for a single-shot rifle, the N-Gewehr wasn't much, if any, heavier than the Type 99 aviation cannon Yoshika normally used in action, so with her magic engaged, it wasn't any great hardship to handle it.
"Did you carry them without slings like this during the war?" the Fusō witch wondered as she shouldered the rifle.
"Not just these—none of us could sling our weapons," von Hammer replied. "Remember, we carried our magic engines on our backs. A rifle sling could have interfered with the rigging."
"Hmm," Yoshika said, nodding. Then, closing the bolt on the round she'd been given, she drew a bead on the bobbing target, her face setting in concentration. Precision marksmanship wasn't usually her thing, not like it was for Lynne or (for example) Erica Hartmann, but she'd learned a fair bit about accurate shooting from their examples, and Lynne's lessons in controlling her breathing and timing her shots came back to her now as she trained the massive rifle back along the cruiser's wake. Take up the slack in the trigger; draw a breath; let half of it out; pause and squeeze...
Once, at the Battle of Saint-Hubert, Yoshika had fired a full-power witch weapon—a Type 99—without magic. The experience had been punishing, though it had paled somewhat in comparison to being blown up, which had happened a few seconds later. Firing the N-Gewehr, even fully powered up, raised echoes of both moments in her mind: the flash, the thunderous noise (it seemed much louder directly behind the rifle than it had from a bit off to the side), the reverberating shock to her whole body. She staggered, her consciousness of the world around her momentarily telescoped into a narrow tunnel immediately in front of her, but she was rather proud of herself for neither falling down nor dropping the rifle.
"Hmm," said von Hammer, observing the fall of shot through a small pair of binoculars. "Not a direct hit, a bit high and to the right; but not bad for a first effort."
Yoshika retained enough of her wits to open the rifle's bolt, following range protocol; then she handed it back to its owner and wobbled unsteadily away, mumbling, "I think I'll go and lie down for a while..."
Von Hammer watched her go, then turned to the silent figure of Neuroi-chan and observed, "I suppose it's something of an acquired taste."
The Neuroi defector regarded her blankly for a moment, then tilted her head slightly to the side and shrugged.
After two more days of welding, tacking, hammering, and framing, the Mogami team had something that Hattori couldn't exactly define, but Gryphon seemed to think it was ready to test for the first time.
They carefully moved the modified Striker stand holding the "rigging", as it had been dubbed, down to the boat dock at the farthest corner of the harbor. Once there, Gryphon said, "So. Moment of truth. Mogami, if you'd go ahead and strap yourself in, please."
The rig still wasn't much to look at—part of it looked a bit like the heavy backpack arrangements that had been used for pre-Miyafuji Strikers, with the gleaming stack rising above Mogami's shoulders, along with a rough approximation of the original cruiser's radio mast and superstructure. A set of straps and belts helped to support the weight as Mogami settled the equipment on her shoulders, and supports jutted out to rest on either side of her hips.
The girl settled the weight until it became comfortable, then turned to nod to where Gryphon and Shizuka stood, watching. "Ready!"
Gryphon smiled, then walked over to carefully inspect how everything lined up against Mogami's back. "How does it feel? Comfortable?"
"A little top-heavy," she replied, "but not too bad. It's odd, honestly. It feels familiar, even though I've never worn it before. It's... right. Like I'm getting stronger."
Gryphon's smile became a knowing grin as he stepped back. "I was hoping you'd say that. Now for the fun part." Drawing himself up, his voice carried such an energy of command that Shizuka felt herself snapping to attention by reflex. "Heavy cruiser Mogami!"
Mogami straightened as well, her shoulders squaring beneath the heavy equipment. "Sir!"
Shizuka didn't know quite what to expect next. Mogami closed her eyes for a long moment, taking slow and even breaths, before she suddenly began to shine with what looked almost exactly like magical energy. Hattori looked at the ground by reflex, but no magic circle appeared beneath the girl or the rigging she'd strapped on. Despite that, a moment later there was a sort of coughing, bursting sound from the rigging's engine; then a line of smoke began to rise from the funnel, and there came distinctive whining sound of set of turbines coming up to speed.
Her jaw hanging somewhere around her knees, Shizuka stared as the girl opened her eyes with a bright smile. "Steam up! Is this how it's supposed to work?"
Gryphon laughed with delight as he walked back to where Mogami stood, taking a look at the boiler and fittings with a careful eye. "Well, so far, so good! Do you think you feel like trying to move?"
"I... I think so. But this stuff is way too heavy for me to swim with it on. How do I keep from just sinking?"
Gryphon put a reassuring hand on Mogami's shoulder. "Just think about sailing. Try walking to the edge of the dock, then push off as if you were leaving a slip."
She seemed to take that on board for a moment, then nodded with determination flashing in her dark eyes. "Right! Heavy cruiser Mogami—heading out!"
She marched to the end of the dock, then paused for a moment as she reached the end of the wooden decking, flexing her hands slightly as if she was going to push off of the air.
The girl took her first step onto the water, and light suddenly blazed just beneath the surface—a Fusō-pattern magic circle, supporting first one, then both feet. The circle rippled, then vanished, leaving her standing without visible support on the gentle waves.
"Not bad," Gryphon murmured to Shizuka as they walked to the end of the dock themselves, the younger witch pulling out a pad of paper as they went. "Hattori, make a note of the magic circle?"
On the water, Mogami seemed to consider her position before crouching slightly, then pushing off with her back foot, almost like an ice skater. Hesitant at first, but with increasing confidence, she made a slow gliding loop that eventually brought her back to the side of the dock, her eyes tearful with joy.
"I am Mogami!" she declared, as if fully accepting the essential fact for the first time. "I am!"
"Certainly looks like it to me," Gryphon agreed with a broad smile, "and I would say that's a very successful test of your new running gear and propulsion. Let's go ahead and bring you back in so we can check things out on your boiler."
"Aww." Mogami pouted slightly as she looked up to the dock. "Can't I at least see how fast I can go?"
"Well..." Gryphon made a show of considering that thoughtfully, but Shizuka knew exactly what his answer would be: "I suppose it would be good to define your performance envelope."
Mogami gave a cheer, then pushed herself away from the dock again, then turned her head to call back a report: "Steering is a little logy. I'm having trouble with my rudder."
"OK!" Gryphon turned back to Shizuka, his voice a bit lower. "Let's make a note of that, too."
Mogami cleared some distance from the dock, then began slowly working back and forth on the water, taking herself a little faster with each pass.
"Now," Gryphon mused, "if she matches the original Mogami-class hull's performance, her top speed with a full load ought to be a bit less than 40 knots. She can most likely do a little more now, since she's not carrying armor or armament. Call it 45 knots estimated at flank."
"How is she doing this without manifesting a familiar?" Hattori duly recorded the estimates and projections, trying to do her best to gauge the speed as the girl crossed the water. "I don't understand that part."
Gryphon smiled. "I'm not sure yet," he admitted. "One possibility is that the girl who was known as Megumi Satō is the heavy cruiser Mogami's familiar. Or the other way around. In practical terms it hardly matters, so that's not a hair we need to split right now. The important thing is, what we're doing now is helping her to use the magic she has more effectively, regardless of its source."
Hattori was about to ask him more about that when a cry of dismay came across the water. Grabbing a pair of spotter's binoculars, Gryphon looked out across the water to see the superstructure of Mogami's rigging start to droop slightly, metal at one of the welds glowing a deep red.
"Oops. Hattori, another note: Stack needs to be a few inches further clear of the rigging for the radio mast and eventual aft turret."
She nodded, making quick notes as Mogami turned for the dock, pushing herself to try to make it back to land. She nearly made it before the stack and modified boiler peeled away from the rigging with a loud screech of tortured metal. The assembly went up with with an explosive burst of steam as the boiler hit the colder water, sending Mogami tumbling. Thankfully, she seemed unharmed by the blast, but without the engine helping her to access her magic, the girl was starting to slide below the waves with a distressed cry.
Gryphon ran to the edge of the dock and tossed a life preserver out to her, the rope playing out as Mogami seized it to help hold her upper body out of the waves. "Hattori—"
"Make a note."
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Flying Yak Studios
and Bacon Comics Group
in association with
The International Police Organization
and Avalon Broadcasting System
Undocumented Features Future Imperfect
Lensmen: The Brave and the Bold
Our Witches at War
"Our Fighting Fleet, Part 1: H&H Ltd., Shipwrights"
written and directed by
Benjamin D. Hutchins
The EPU Usual Suspects
Based on characters from Strike Witches
created by Humikane Shimada
and Kantai Collection
designed by Kensuke Tanaka
Bacon Comics chief
E P U (colour) 2017