"It's alright, sis, cheer up! No one minded, see?"

'Only because they're too polite to complain about it, of course!'

Between her sibling's reassurances and her Abyssal half's jeering, Rei could only continue to blush and huddle up in embarrassment as she tried to get over herself. A part of her knew that what Ikazuchi's saying was true and her friends really didn't mind the inconvenience, but still, making everyone wait several hours because she overslept during a nap she shouldn't have taken in the first place was something she couldn't forgive herself for right now. The fact they'd come up to check on her and then let her keep sleeping only made it more shameful. Tsubaki even had time to check in on the human locals herself!

In fact, everyone had got some use out of that unexpected break time; Evelyn and Sasha had continued their volleyball game from before with Verniy and Akatsuki, the latter winning by a single point; Hachi had sat aside with Nieve for a bit of bonding, or re-bonding, the former telling stories of the submarine team to an enthusiastic listener; and Kamikaze and Aki had done much the same, though they instead went on a stroll through the tropical woods. Nagato had been the Admiral's escort, no doubt glad for a reprieve from the younger girls for once. The productivity she afforded everyone else with her 'little' nap didn't make her feel any better though.

Nonetheless, what's past is past, and as the sun began to set over the horizon, Fleet Girls and Abyssals alike had gathered once more upon the beach with the lone human, ready to depart.

"No second thoughts, dears?"

"None whatsoever." Evelyn shook her head, as did Sasha, and the commander nodded with a smile.

"I thought not. It's time we went our separate ways then. It's been a pleasure to meet you two, and I'm sure everyone here can agree with that."

"Likewise. You're pretty nice, for a lolicon." The pale little girl smirked while the 'lolicon' simply chuckled.

"Thanks! I hope we'll meet again someday, when the war has settled. Until then, if you ever get lonely, maybe you can approach the townsfolk again? I think you'll find them warmer than you expect if you keep at it."

The two young Abyssals shared a glance. "We'll keep that in mind."

As the admiral and her bodyguard began returning to the aircraft, the others followed suit, giving the two staying behind a quick spoken farewell or a wave goodbye. The Akatsuki sisters were the last to go.

"Hey." Evelyn called out just as the four turned to leave, "It's, uh… It's been fun, hanging out, so… don't go dying out there, okay? All of you. We'll be waiting for you here." The girl said with a little awkwardness, but her little smile was mirrored on everyone's faces.

"Thank you. You two stay safe as well! I'm sure we'll meet again!" Rei promised with a nod, her tail grinning confidently, before she and the rest of the fleet filed back into the personnel carrier. While the two young Abyssals watched on, waving, the aircraft's engines thrummed to life, and the vehicle slowly rose into the air, engaging its cloaking system before flying off to its next destination. It wasn't until they completely lost sight of the craft that the two let their hands fall back at their sides.

"Well, there they go." The little submarine princess said offhandedly, to which her companion responded with a simple "Yeah…". With the only new friends they've made in a long time gone for who knows how long, possibly even forever, even though they've barely been together for two days, both could feel a sense of emptiness inside, one that Evelyn had known for a long time, even if it had dulled over the months and years until now.

The quiet flapping of wings signaled the return of a certain familiar before it landed once more on Sasha's head.

"Oh there you are, I was starting to wonder why it's been so peaceful lately." Evelyn threw her usual look of disdain at the bird-plane thing, "Where were you anyway? Hiding from the big scary Fleet Girls?" She taunted, receiving an angry squawk in return. "Whatever, honestly we've had the best day in a while with you gone, you should stay away more often."

"That's being a bit too mean…" Sasha argued, raising a hand to pet the familiar. Oddly, he actually allowed her to without putting up a fuss. Evelyn noticed this with a raised eyebrow.

"Is it just me or has Ganymedes been behaving better today? Did you say something to him?"

"Not really…" The quieter girl shook her head, and the cogs began to spin in her friend's. Was it just a coincidence or did something happen? It couldn't be Rei's pep talk or whatever she did last night, could it? Sasha did seem a bit more confident today, could that have affected the familiar's behavior? Well, it'd take a few days to see if it stuck, either way, both for Sasha and Ganymedes.

As the loneliness settled in, the two young Abyssals looked out towards where they last saw the carrier, up at the golden, darkening sky.

"…Hey, wanna visit the town like Tsubaki suggested? We could mooch some dinner off of 'em."

"I don't think that'd leave the best impression…"

"I'm just kidding. Though, if anyone were to offer two orphaned children who saved their lives a warm meal, well…"

The two girls shared a look and giggled.

"I wouldn't mind that."

"Me neither. No time to waste then! Put on your puppy dog eyes and let's go!"

Looking out the window, it wasn't long before the island disappeared from sight, leaving only the endless sky and sea, and so Rei turned back towards the interior; seeing herself surrounded by familiar faces once more inside the aircraft, her mind flashed back to that fateful day, when they were flying towards the battlefield, expecting nothing more than a routine sortie. How quickly things can change in war, indeed…

There will be time to think back on the past later though, it was time to look towards the future.

"So, Commander? What's the plan we've been hearing about?" The tailed Abyssal asked, addressing her superior more formally as they got down to business. Her question drew everyone else's attention as well, and the Admiral nodded, taking on a more professional countenance.

"Right. I've already explained the gist of it to most of the fleet, but as you, Harukaze and Nimu are the key players here, I've waited until we're together again before explaining in full.

"To put it simply, we want you to infiltrate the Abyssal's coalition fleet."

That got looks of confusion from the Abyssalized Harukaze and Nimu, while Inazuma tried to recall where she'd heard about it before. "The coalition fleet…? Ah, I guess the attack on the Philippines all but confirmed there is one, huh."

"Exactly." The High Admiral nodded, "With the gradual disappearances of Princesses from their usual haunts around the world in the past two years, we've suspected for a while that they've learned to band together themselves. The coalition of Princesses ambushing us at Mangagoy was sure evidence that they've not only united their fleets, but have organized themselves to a degree that they could track our movements.

"In the meantime, since we've had these suspicions, we've also deduced a possible location for their headquarters." Tsubaki continued, surprising even Rei as she hadn't heard about it before, "We've placed it somewhere in the Eastern waters of Australia. The way the Abyssals chased humans away from there feels a lot more purposeful than wanton destruction. Still, they have the home field advantage, and lacking concrete evidence, no one has dared to send a fleet to investigate the area. Now that we know there is a coalition fleet and we have friendly Abyssals like you on our side though, that's going to change.

"We'll be dropping you off in Sydney, don't want to be spotted dropping you girls off on the open ocean. Once you're there, your mission will be to seek out other Abyssals and try to get recruited into the coalition fleet. If you succeed, we want you to gather as much intel as you can, like the precise location of their base, the size of their fleet, how they're tracking us, what plans they have, etcetera. If possible, I'm hoping you can find out how much they know about their own origins too, if any of them realize they used to be Fleet Girls themselves, without blowing your cover of course. If it turns out we were wrong about the base's location and you can't find any information within the week, give us a call and we'll come pick you up. Understood?"

There was a moment of silence while the 3 digested the information given to them. "In short, we are to be double agents?" Aki summarized, to which Tsubaki nodded.

The short and concise version remedied Nieve's mild confusion, and the submarine beamed excitedly. "You mean we get to be spies? That sounds so cool! Do we get shades and a suit and silenced pistols?"

"Not that kind of spy, Nieve." Rei remarked, silently wondering why she remembered that kind of stuff, "We'll be more like actors, pretending we don't know anything about our past lives or have any connections to Fleet Girls, and it's very important we keep our act up. Think you can handle it?" She asked as well. Though she didn't want to belittle her friend, she had her doubts about the airhead's ability to keep their cover up, her meaner self only too happy to point out all the ways Nieve could slip up. Still, a part of her felt like it was best if the three of them stuck together, and she didn't want to rebuke the girl when she replied "But of course!" so confidently.

Their plan agreed upon, the Admiral nodded. "It's decided then. For now though, since we have some time before we get there and it may be a long while before we can see each other again, what would you three say to checking in with the rest of the fleet?"

That caught the 3 Abyssals' attention. "Um, how would we do that? I thought we're going straight to Australia." Rei asked, confused, to which her sister chuckled.

"Video chat is a thing, y'know! We had it installed on the plane just for this." Ikazuchi explained, "We're not the only ones dying to see you guys again!"

"Video chat…?" Aki asked in confusion, while Nieve's eyes practically lit up with excitement.

The Admiral simply winked. "Why don't you see for yourself?" She said, and with the press of a button from Nagato at the pilot's seat, a projector and screen lowered from the ceiling.

As the others gathered up next to their Abyssalized friends, Rei could only sweatdrop with a smile, bracing herself for when the screen turns on. She might not have to worry about getting dogpiled here, but if her sisters were any indication, this is about to get really sappy…

Standing atop the helicopter pad of a news station, the girls looked out over the moonlit view of Sydney in its quiet solitude.

"Geez, it doesn't feel right for a big city like this to be so quiet…" Akatsuki complained, huddling close to her siblings.

"Yeah, feels like a scene right out of a post-apocalypse movie." Ikazuchi agreed, subtly turning to look at her blood sister. Inazuma had stayed quiet, just as Verniy had, though the melancholy was more apparent in the former's eyes. "I guess if it makes it any better, we know most of the people who lived here aren't actually dead."

Hachi resisted the urge to emphasize 'most', instead gauging Nieve's reaction, which mostly consisted of awe and excitement at the sight of a city of this scale. The half-German wished for a moment she could be just as naïve and only see the abandoned city as a cool new place to explore, rather than a monument to the sort of damage the Abyssals could do left unchecked, even ones that supposedly 'held back'. Still, knowing what she now knew about Abyssals, she found it harder to truly hate them. That didn't mean she would stop doing everything in her power to stop them though.

The submarine wasn't the only one ruminating on the sight before them, of course. Kamikaze, Nagato and Tsubaki looked outwards at the abandoned Sydney with grim countenances as well, and even Aki, who couldn't understand the full weight of what had transpired here before, still felt the lifelessness of what should be a bustling hub of civilization.

"This is where we part ways, for now." The Admiral spoke after a moment's respite, "A part of me hopes our suspicions were wrong and you can just spend the week in peace before we take you all home, but I doubt it'll work out like that…"

Rei nodded as well, turning back towards her commander, "Likewise, but you don't have to worry about us too much. We're your capable daughters, remember? We'll complete our mission and come home victorious, we promise." She assured with a smile, lightening up the mood a bit.

"I know you will." Tsubaki smiled and nodded in turn, "And I know if anyone can find a way to end this war peacefully, it'll be you." She said as she knelt down and opened her arms. The tailed Abyssal didn't hesitate to accept the embrace, her tail positioning to make sure it didn't get wrapped up in it again. Nieve gleefully joined in, practically throwing herself at the two, making the human grunt in mild pain from the impact but otherwise taking it in stride; Aki approached after a moment's hesitation as well, taking care to be much gentler.

The hug didn't last long, and everyone had places to be. The commander let go first, stepping back. She had thought herself used to sending her daughters into danger, but the recent loss had shaken the certainty that she had held. Even if that loss had been recovered, she couldn't shake the fear of never seeing the three girls again, sending them into the tiger's lair like this. Nonetheless, she had to believe in them, and she did her best to show that faith. "Good luck, you all. I'll be waiting for the good news." She waved goodbye before heading back for the carrier, followed by Nagato who gave the three a firm nod, silently reaffirming what the commander said.

"Make sure you call us as soon as you can, you hear me?"

"That might be a while, depending on the situation, but I'll try my best. Wouldn't want to keep a lady waiting." Rei gave a cheeky smirk and ruffled Akatsuki's hair, making the little lady pout with a blush, though she's missed her sister too much to complain about being treated like a child again.

The tailed girl was interrupted by a light hug from the side. "I wish we didn't have to say goodbye again so soon, but I guess we all have our own jobs to do. Still, your safety comes before all else, got it? Harukaze's and Nimu's too, of course. Promise me you won't try to do another heroic sacrifice."

"You know I can't promise that, Ikazuchi." Rei answered somberly as she wrapped her own arms around her sibling, "But I can promise, as long as it doesn't involve leaving either of them to die, I'll do everything in my power to escape with our lives, even if it means abandoning our mission."

"That's the best I can get out of you, huh." The melancholic smile that seemed to run in the family graced the brunette's face for a moment before it soon filled with more cheer. "I know you won't let it come down to that though. Good luck, sis! I'll miss you! And you too!" She grinned as she petted the grumbling tail that nonetheless didn't shy away, "Don't tease Rei too much now, okay?"

"I'm sure she'll behave, Ikazuchi." Rei giggled, letting go of one sister and looking towards another. The silver-haired girl clearly wanted to say goodbye as well, but wasn't sure how to go about it without sounding redundant at this point, so she opted for the Nagato method and gave Rei a parting nod. The tailed girl knew her ship sisters well, of course, and simply nodded back, though just as Verniy began to turn away, Rei remembered something important. "Ah, Verniy? My journal, did you…"

To her relief, Verniy shook her head. "It is still where you left it, waiting for you."

"That's good to know." Rei said, glad the half-Russian hadn't gone through with her promise afterall.

"There's still empty pages, no? Don't let them stay that way."

"I'll make sure I'm there to fill them one day. Every last page."

With that satisfactory farewell, the two girls shared a light smile before the three departed back for the plane, Ikazuchi teasingly pointing out how nice a segue that was while Akatsuki tried to pry what the two of them had agreed on about the journal out of the silent Russian.

Rei wasn't the only one who was sharing goodbyes with friends and family neither.

"Remember, none of this happened, okay? You don't know any Fleet Girls, you don't know you were one, you just woke up in the middle of the ocean, met up with Rei and Aki, wandered around for an indeterminate amount of time and ended up here by coincidence, got it?"

"I… think? Why are we here again?"

"Yeah you'll do just fine." Both submarines shared a chuckle. Hachi couldn't decide whether the fact she wasn't sure if Nieve was pretending was reassuring or worrying. Nonetheless, she's sure the other two will keep the loveable airhead out of trouble, and all sarcasm aside, she did have faith in her fellow submarine. "Just don't forget to stay safe. We still have an Oktoberfest to go to next year, remember?"

"Oktoberfest?" Nieve gave the blonde a blank look before bursting into giggles again. "Just kidding~ How could I forget that? Don't worry, we'll come home one day, all three of us, and then we can all go together! You, me, Imuya, Dechi, uh… that twintails girl with the blue hair and the funny eyes, and the rest of the fleet too!"

While Hachi shook her head with a palm and an exasperated grin on her face, the air was more somber between two destroyers.

"Once again, we must part ways…" Kamikaze lamented, "I have full faith in your abilities and that of Inazuma and Nimu, yet I cannot help but fear…"

She was ashamed of herself of thinking this way, to consider the possibility that her comrades would fail in the worst way possible, but having lost her sister once, her mind simply could not shake the paranoia. She wanted to smile like Harukaze… Aki wanted, she didn't want their parting to be marred by her doubts and sorrow, but…

The destroyer blinked, snapped out of her inner turmoil as cold but gentle hands clasped her own.

"This shall not be our last farewell. I promise thee." The Princess assured, warmth radiating from her icy blue eyes and subtle smile. Listening to her sibling's voice, however changed it was, Kamikaze found her once stubborn doubts easily drifting away. Without any effort needed, her lips curled upwards on their own.

"Thank you, Aki. That is a promise I know you'll keep, and as will I."

Finally, with all their farewells spoken, it was the three's turn to wave goodbye as their friends boarded the carrier once more, its door closing them from view. All too soon, the cloaked plane was already well out of sight.

'There they go. When d'you think we'll see 'em again?'

'Not soon enough.' Rei answered her other self. In reality, the next time she and her sisters speak face to face may be much earlier than the end of their mission, just not in-person, thanks to the power of video calls. If all goes well, she will be reporting back on her findings, afterall. Nonetheless, that didn't make the girl any less homesick.

She had appreciated the physical impossibility of being tackle-hugged by half the fleet all at once through a screen, but there was something to be said about actually feeling her friends all around her, to be back in the Guardian Office and its familiar surroundings. Hell, she'll even take having to be near Tatsuta as an Abyssal if it meant she could go back.

For what it's worth though, the video call was as good a compromise as she'd get, and she was really grateful Tsubaki had arranged it. To have everyone trying to squeeze into the camera's view just to see them, so many people asking after them, worrying for them, relieved to see that they were okay… She knew the fleet was just as worried about Harukaze and Nimu as they were her, but feeling the care they had for her was the biggest boost in mental health she's had in a while. To her pleasant surprise, a lot of people were far more impressed by her mutations than frightened, especially Tenryuu, who thought her tail looked like a dragon's head, or at least a sea serpent. Meanwhile, if Tatsuta had been the least bit perturbed by the reveal that she's been butchering amnesiac Fleet Girls she sure didn't show it, but at least she was genuinely friendly and didn't make any veiled threats of dismemberment. Not counting her stated desire to spar with the Abyssalized Inazuma, one that Tenryuu actually agreed with, the chuuni swordswoman wanting to see how strong she's gotten. To be honest, Rei wouldn't mind taking them on neither. In a purely friendly match, of course.

Plenty of questions had been tossed their way. What was it like sharing bodies with a second mind ("Oftentimes unpleasant but not without its boons"), does it feel cold being an Abyssal ("Not at all"), does she crave human flesh now (Plasma just grinned), and plenty more. It made her feel rather self-conscious, and not just because she's not used to being the center of attention like that. She remembered living as her previous selves perfectly, yet despite the drastic changes to her body, everything felt as natural as if she was born that way all along. If it wasn't for Plasma, she could even easily forget she was a mutant Abyssal.

Her two fellow Abyssal convertees got plenty of attention as well, perhaps even more, as they were the two who had lost their memories. Iku had taken the lead to hog the stream with her fellow submarines for a moment just to check in on Nieve and Hachi, and despite a moment of heartbreak when they confirmed Nieve couldn't remember a one of them, the Abyssal sub's jovial optimism quickly lifted the mood again, the submarine sisterhood promising to share plenty of their stories together once she gets home. The destroyers got a bit of fun out of Aki's archaic speech patterns, trying to make her say sentences with as many 'ye olde' words as possible. Luckily, though the Princess was confused by why her speech was so interesting, she didn't mind. There were a few remarks about the fittingness of her self-chosen name as well, with the Haru in Harukaze meaning spring, and Aki meaning autumn.

Speaking of names, Rei was asked why she decided on that name as well, though she kept her secrecy, only exchanging a meaningful look between herself and Ikazuchi.

All that was in the past though. Now the three of them stood alone upon the rooftop, looking out once more upon the derelict capital.

"Hmm. How shall we proceed from here, Rei? Shall we commenceth our search now or wait for the morrow?" Aki asked, a question the tailed girl considered. It's not like Abyssals are only active in the day, there's bound to be night patrols as well, if the Abyssal base really is in the region. While visibility might be an issue, an occasional shot into the air would be like a beacon in the dark, it's just a matter of having an excuse for doing so to not be conspicuous.

'Pfft, just say we were bored, newly woken up and completely clueless. Idiocy's always a valid explanation.'

'I can't tell if that's a joke or not, but I'm seriously considering doing that.' Rei thought, but just as she was about to answer the Princess, their discussion was temporarily thrown out the window by Nieve cheering as she jumped off the rooftop. "Nieve?!" She yelped, reflexively reaching out to grab the submarine, though it was too late. She knew her friend would be fine of course, it took more than terminal velocity to wound an Abyssal, and the building wasn't even that high, but her human sensibilities still flinched at the sudden jump. Sure enough, peeking down over the edge, the two could see Nieve stumble forward as she hit the ground, even falling over, but was otherwise healthy and hale, soon waving back up and beckoning them to follow her.

'Man, it'd be funny if she actually broke a leg from that.'

'It really wouldn't.' Rei sighed at both her other self's grim humor and Nieve's recklessness, but an exasperated smile still crept onto her face. "Maybe we'll start our search in the day afterall, she's gonna be pouty all day if we don't give her the night to explore."

"Fair enough. I must admit to a curiosity of my own, as if I've never been to a city of such scale before, even as Harukaze." Aki nodded. Without further delay, the two Abyssals leapt down after their friend.

And that was how, an hour later, they found themselves face to face with a most familiar face. Two, in fact.

'Wow, what a coincidence! And even ol' Pinkie's here! The doggos will be pleased.'

'This really is a huge coincidence. Of all the times and places… It almost feels like our fates are tied together somehow.'

'Aww, how romantic! Maybe at the end of all this we'll abscond from the war together and skip off into the sunset. You wanna be the husband or the bride?'

'Oh shut up.' Rei mentally rolled her eyes. Really though, she wasn't expecting to find anyone out here in Sydney, much less Hornet herself of all people, they came out here specifically to avoid being seen landing. Well, this does save them a LOT of effort, and it all but confirms that their suspicions were correct.

The Princess in question, meanwhile, was staring in mute surprise at the tailed girl, her gaze shifting temporarily to the floating Abyssal next to her. One could almost hear the gears turning in her head, though what answer she was trying to find, only Hornet herself knew. The floating Princess, resembling a ghostly version of Harusame (which in a way she most likely was), gave the three of them a curious look, her brow slightly furrowed, and it was an expression mirrored in Aki while she examined the ghostly Harusame in turn. It was like they vaguely recognized each other, but also couldn't quite be certain.

Of each group of three there was an odd one out though. On the other side of Hornet was an unknown Princess who looked more irate with their chance meeting than surprised or confused, surrounded by floating black crates; on Rei's side of things, there was Nieve, who only saw the other three as interesting strangers, examining them like a curious child.

The moment of silence stretched on until Rei cleared her throat. "Hello. I wasn't expecting to run into anyone here, but this is good, we've been looking for people for a while now. Are you all lost as well?" She asked, beginning her act.

That seemed to bring the others back to reality, as Hornet came back from whatever ponderings she was occupied with. "Huh? Oh, uh, no, we're not lost. I'm guessing you girls are though. How did you get here?" She asked, a sense of unease still in her voice.

"We wandered here by accident. The three of us woke up awhile ago under the sea, and we've been traveling since, though we have no idea who we are or where we should be going. I haven't been counting the days, maybe a week, two? What about you three?"

"That's a complicated story…" Hornet scratched the back of her head, starting to relax, "We were just about to head home though. You can come back with us, and maybe we can tell you about who you are and all that other stuff."

"Really? That sounds great!" The tailed girl smiled. 'Hook, line and sinker.' 'She always was the trusting sort.' "My name's Rei." "Aki." "And I'm Nieve! Nice to meet 'cha!" The other two chimed in before Rei continued, "What about you all?"

"I'm Hornet!" "Luna." "Mint." The last of the trio grumbled tiredly as the now combined parties began heading for the coast once more. Hornet glanced at Rei's tail which seemed to be grinning at her unnervingly before continuing. "So, it's just been the three of you all those days?"

"Yeah. You're the first people we've met since we woke up with amnesia. By the way, what happened here? Why's the city abandoned?"

"Like I said, complicated story, but we might as well get started while we're walking. Let's start with a little something called Abyssals…"

Author's Note:

I heavily underestimated my last semester, to sum up why this chapter took over 4 months. Motivation to work on the fic was low with everything else that's been going on with my life, and after the semester ended I took a break then got swept up having to immediately look for a job. I technically finished the chapter in its current state last week, but was unsatisfied with its length and wanted to add something, yet also couldn't really think of what, so I might as well cut it off here and continue next chapter rather than letting it sit here unupdated for even longer.

I've successfully found a job now and I start tomorrow, so my free time for writing is gonna be… well, poor. I don't know how it's gonna turn out, and I can make no promises on when the next chapter's coming out, but I can promise that I will do my best to see this story to a proper end. Thank you to all of you who're still sticking with me through this, and until next time.