"You don't mind the coffee? Thank you," Thorson said as Ark Royal passed him a steaming mug and the two of them looked out over the Atlantic from her bridge. With the fleet taking on a more standard formation on their way north, he had seen fit to return to a larger ship as his flagship. Ark Royal had been the only non-Sakura available. The arrangement had been considered fair by the rest of the fleet.

"It serves its purpose, and I've found it to be a pleasant morning ritual with you, Knight Commander," she said, holding her mug between her fingers and blowing softly. "I know you are used to… evening rituals with the others."

"I'm pretty sure Kaga and her comrades brought tea along and wouldn't mind sharing," he offered, not bothering to step into that particular quagmire. She shook her head.

"I never found green tea or matcha to be to my liking. This is the Royal in me talking, you understand? I may have survived the mirror sea, but my stores of tea did not and Javelin didn't bother hanging onto hers. It's no matter, Knight Commander. It's simply another reason to make it safely to port in Britannia," Ark said. Thorson nodded, looking out over the steel gray ocean.

"A better reason than most, I'd say! So far so good on that front. Have to say I miss the views of the tropics though," he said, taking visual stock of his fleet. Between Uruguay and the equator his ships had worked to integrate Eldridge's sonar equipment, as well as adapt to anti-submarine warfare protocols dictated primarily by Javelin and Ark Royal. Both had extensive experience against Ironblood wolfpacks, and Ark Royal had the added benefit of timelines' worth of successful and failed strategies. They were limited by the weaponry and technology available to the fleet, primarily made of Union and Sakura vessels, but Thorson was pleased with their progress. "Hmm, I suppose it is hurricane season, isn't it?"

Ark Royal rested a palm on the hilt of her saber as she looked north along with him, noticing the gray, swirling mass of crowds just making itself known over the horizon. "It is, but the radar didn't show… I don't like this, Knight Commander."

Thorson had his binoculars up and focused as best he could on the distant weather pattern. A chill ran down his spine as a soft, red glow made itself known before fading back to gray. "How many natural weather formations cause crimson lightning?"

"None, unless you consider Akagi to be a force of nature," she said coldly, placing her coffee down and resting the warm hand on his shoulder. "Link with me?"

"You don't think we can just sail around them?" he asked with a hint of a smile. She returned it.

"Not on your life or mine." In an instant, Ark and Thorson transmitted orders to battlestations to the entire fleet, and the Royal carrier caught faint glimpses of old memories of his, memories in which she was smiling and tending to the youngest of the Sakura destroyers. "Another time, Knight Commander."

"Sorry. It's been a while since I've linked outside of a mirror sea," he murmured, taking up the radio as the hulls of his capital ships shimmered into being to form a protective barrier around his carrier fleet. Hordes of aircraft poured from the five flight decks to scout forward, mostly Sakura in make. A few of them glowed bright blue and red, products of the First Carrier Division's direct spirit energies. "Shiranui, anything on sonar?"

"Nothing, Shikikan," the ghost reported, floating down a long, narrow room that she had converted to a sonar base station and nesting residence for all of the manjuu that had accompanied the fleet from the Pacific. She liked the little birds, and enjoyed the intelligent glint in their eyes that seemed to convey meaning far beyond their chirps and juuuu's.

"That's good then," Thorson said with relief over the line. She corrected him immediately, loading her torpedo tubes as she did so.

"It is not good, idiot Shikikan."

"Enlighten me then," Thorson demanded as the storm before them seemed to grow and approach at unnatural speed, certainly for a hurricane.

"It is as though nature itself has fallen silent. When I say there is nothing on sonar, there is nothing. The ambient sounds of the ocean are missing. They flee whatever this is," Shiranui proposed, floating out onto her deck to get a better look. Next to her in the formation, Kasumi's hull was practically glowing.

"The spirits are tormented," she told them all with trembling voice, the eye behind her bangs and eyepatch forced open by the sheer crush of activity that she and Foo could sense. "Something terrible happened here, Shikikan."

"Kasumi? Kasumi!" Thorson called as the line went silent. "Minneapolis, get over there!"

"Already on my way, sir," the heavy cruiser reported, kicking up spray as she sped across the surface towards Kasumi's hull. In a few minutes she'd located the fragile girl on the floor of her bridge, kneeling down and propping her up against her chest. "Don't scare us like that, especially so close to battle."

"I'm sorry. Thank you, Minnie-san," Kasumi replied weakly before standing with her aid. The two looked out at the swirling clouds and lightning. They could barely hear thunder rumbling over the waves. "There was too much pain and sorrow. It cried out for help."

"No offense, sweetie, but that doesn't look like a cry for help," Minneapolis rendered her judgment before radioing back. "She's fine, Commander. Just a case of signal overload from the sound of it."

"Understood, return to your post when you believe it wise," Thorson ordered, still unsure who or what they were up against. His brooding was interrupted by Kaga.

"My first wave of scouts was just obliterated. This enemy is Siren, no question," she told them all. "Soryuu, fall back and establish an aerial perimeter."

"Are you going to let her give orders?" Ark Royal wondered privately, one of her thin brows cocked his way. Thorson shrugged.

"This isn't the mirror sea. I can't see and do everything at once like I could back then. She is the captain of her ship and Soryuu serves directly under her. If I need them elsewhere I'll make it known," he explained. Ark Royal nodded.

"I will spare you the suspense then," she said as Akagi screamed and angrily elaborated that there was some sort of field shredding her aircraft, not an actual air defense system. "This entity bears all the telltale signs of a modified mirror sea, a pocket armory if you will. It is… manifesting in this dimension."

Thorson rubbed his chin roughly, feeling the pressure against his jaw as his coffee sat forgotten. "And what exactly happens during a manifestation process?"

"Maybe I can help there!" Hiryuu cut in jovially, the lanky rabbit setting her planes to fly around the danger radius and check out the other side of the storm while her sister took the space between the fleet and the anomaly. "Far as I know, these things just sit around, stocked and ready until someone or something calls for them. But you need to be able to anchor the armory to whatever dimension you want to use it in. Only a Siren can do that as far as I know."

"Which begs the question of where she is, and why she's here. They're usually cocky and up front with their motivations," Thorson murmured, recalling Tester in particular. "And I've never known a Siren to knock Kasumi out like that before. What the hell is going on here?"

"Whatever it is, you're running out of time to avoid it, sir," Pennsylvania warned him, scanning the horizon which was almost entirely composed of the dark vortex, its motion occasionally brightened by arcs of red energy. "Shall I give it a volley? Data from our aircraft indicates I should be just within range."

"Authorized. All main guns, fire," Thorson commanded, watching as a couple dozen heavy shells rocketed north. Like Kaga and Akagi's aircraft, they met with some unseen barrier and were vaporized. Unlike the planes, however, they elicited a terrible cacophony of noise, as though they had rung one of the bells of the underworld. Thorson threw his headset off as the radio squealed and crackled angrily, shaking his head as the blood drained from Ark Royal's face. "Ark? Talk to me. The hell was that?!"

"It sounded like… from this world. That, it can't be though. I watched her die," the carrier murmured to herself, her fingers pressed to her temple as if to drive away a migraine. "It just can't be."

A blinding flash emanated from the edge of the anomaly, followed by a shockwave that they watched travel over the water until it buffeted their hulls and disappeared an instant later. In its place, at the origin, was a fleet of black ships only visible on account of glowing red markings along the edges and outlines of their hulls. The unknown vessels were sailing towards them under cover of the storm. Thorson had never seen anything like them before from any known navy or intelligence, though it was clear as day that they were battleship class to the letter, without escorts. Nestled at the center, however, was something else. "I think we just located our anchor," he murmured before radioing his fleet. "All ships begin random evasive maneuvers. Looks like we're in for a slug fest. Can anyone get me an ID on that flagship? It doesn't appear to be Siren in origin."

"I can, mein Kommandant," came the soft, sad voice of Graf Spee from the Akashi. She'd been given the radio by the ship's owner, who was far too interested in the girl's grafted tail, which was glowing a bright and incandescent blue.

"But Spee, how can she be-?" Zed cut in, distraught. "She was- The Royal Navy killed her!"

"The same way they killed me?" Graf Spee replied calmly, lowering her scarf and holding out a hand as she walked onto deck. A cold, driving rain had begun to fall around them, and it was not a stretch to consider them the tears of a leader forced into an unimaginable choice against impossible odds. "The Kriegsmarine only built two hulls of that size, and Tirpitz was never selected for Siren augmentation… thanks to her sister's direct order. Kommandant, we stand against the dead leader of Ironblood, Bismarck."

If the appropriate reaction to facing down Bismarck was caution and fear, Akagi did not seem to have received the memo. The kitsune began chuckling, eventually cackling with glee. "Oh how the mighty have fallen since I last saw you in person, Bismarck-san. Nothing more than a Siren's thrall? I shall be happy to deliver your head to my dear Shikikan."

Thorson did not have the opportunity to remind her that she had also been enthralled by the Siren's song, albeit less directly than whatever zombie ship was staring them down from across the battlefield, when the enemy flagship fired its forward guns. The trajectory was not difficult to discern, a direct rebuttal to Akagi's challenge.

"Sister!" Akagi called, focusing her power in an attempt to create the same typhoon of spirit flame that had defended them during Thorson's assault on the Sanctuary. Kaga was able to produce one as well, but the two did not fuse into one superstorm, instead swirling as twinned, waterspout-like formations that were insufficient to counter the superheavy shells launched at them.

"Fall in line before you get yourself or someone else killed, idiot fox!" Tennessee demanded, throwing up a barrage of short-range shrapnel that managed to knock out one of the shells. So powerful was the attack that just the shockwave from the event caused the shields on Thorson's fleet to shimmer.

Two more shells were blocked by South Dakota, who dropped to her deck in exhaustion. "I may be the strongest shield, but I don't know how many more times I can do that."

Akagi was not capable of delivering any sort of reply, defiant or otherwise, as the final of four shells struck home and exploded violently on her flight deck. Thorson swore as several fires broke out on the Akagi and Akashi hopped into action. "Chief bulin, to the stupid fox now! If she sinks, Shikikan will not let us take samples of the glowing tail! Emergency!"

"Oh, I don't mind," Graf Spee mentioned, looking over her shoulder at her tail. "But you should still save your comrade first, I believe. I am not going anywhere."

"Just get it done!" Thorson demanded, forced to refocus on the battle with one less carrier as a lead rain of anti-aircraft fire took up where the forcefield left off. A handful of rockets and bombs struck the shields of the Siren battleships, but they were outnumbered by the number of flaming aircraft carcasses that crashed into the ocean around them. "Thank god there are no pilots," he murmured as he decided on a plan of attack.

"Yukikaze!" Arizona shouted, forced to throw up a barrier as a shell came terrifyingly close to striking her escort. Around the fleet the same dynamic was playing out everywhere, as the enemy battleships delivered strikes with unnaturally precise aim.

"Knight Commander, we will lose a knife fight," Ark Royal warned him, sweat on her brow as she conjured a wave of torpedo bombers. "They will not need escorts at this rate, not with that level of AA fire. That is to say nothing of Bismarck's secondary guns."

"Damnit," he swore, slamming a fist into the table as even Hiryuu seemed to have trouble scoring consistent hits. With air superiority nullified and his battleships seemingly outclassed, Thorson was at a loss. "Ark, work with Javelin and get a smokescreen up, we need time."

"As you command," she replied with a sharp salute, diverting her aircraft as Javelin's smoke launchers began laying down a concealing field between them and the enemy. Shells still came through, occasionally causing one of his battleship's shields to flash bright blue, but they were less precise than before.

"Andrew Thorson, we can defeat this enemy," Kaga radioed insistently. "I ask that you trust in our strength."

"Do you expect any of us to follow your orders now?" Shiranui demanded tensely, speaking for the majority of the Sakura within Thorson's fleet. Kaga shook her head where she stood at the forward edge of her flight deck.

"No, but I expect you to fight for the glory of the Empire and to honor the gods. Right now, our torpedoes can deliver that victory," she responded sternly. "Shikikan, please."

Thorson looked at Ark Royal, who gave him a curt nod as they continued sailing towards the towering barrier of smoke between the two fleets. "I would never trust the brown-haired one, but her sister… give her a chance at redemption if she thinks she can win. Otherwise we are all in for a world of hurt."

Thorson took hold of the radio and transmitted a simple order. "Get it done, Kaga."

"Idiot Shikikan is desperate, maybe?" Shiranui murmured to herself, floating past one of her torpedo mounts, already loaded with Type 93 'long lance' torpedoes. "I suppose in the end it was not Kaga who killed me, except perhaps by inaction."

Kasumi was gentler in her evaluation of the situation. "If your prayers are earnest, I believe the gods will answer, Kaga-san."

On deck, the four-tailed woman lowered herself to her knees in supplication. It was hardly the first time that she had prayed since her defeat at Thorson's hand, but it was the first time she hoped for more than a soft breeze through rushes of bamboo, or the sound of chimes in reply. The sleeves of her kimono fluttered rapidly as Massachusetts blocked a shell for her.

"I come before you, a servant both humble and humbled, a shepherd who once led her flock astray. Grant me the strength and wisdom to deliver us all honor and glory, to sweep aside these false trappings of power and begin the restoration of the Sakura Empire. I beseech you to see me through this trial, that I may return to the land of my birth, the earth that bears my name, triumphant."

The moment of silence that followed was unnerving to Kaga's allies, and even Soryuu was seconds from radioing in to request orders from her commander and mentor, when a single, light pink petal fluttered briefly before her eyes. Around her hull the winds of battle shifted suddenly, whipping up the smokescreen between the fleets and providing her aircraft a soft, steady headwind to aid in their launch. On the left flank of the formation, Shiranui's mouth curled into a disbelieving smile. "So, you do still carry their favor? Then I shall serve."

"Aww, well I guess if the Kamikaze says so then we gotta help too, nanoda!" Yukikaze decided for herself, Yuudachi, and Shigure. Kaga hummed curtly as a stream of Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers launched from her, Soryuu's and Hiryuu's flight decks, all armed with Type 91 torpedoes.

"The right flank is yours. Do not disappoint me," the kitsune demanded simply. Shigure blew her a raspberry as she turned her boilers to full, sprinting away from the main fleet.

"Hey now, you dorks. Do as she says or I'm not making it out of this intact," Pennsylvania added. Yuudachi barked in approval.

"We're not her dorks. We're your dorks. C'mon girls, follow the winds! It's time to show Penny-san and her friends what we can really do!"

On the left side of Thorson's formation, Ayanami broke away from her three friends to form a line of attack with Kasumi and Shiranui. "The demon will help as well, for Shikikan's sake," she promised, feeling her way into position as the winds of Kaga's battle prayer guided her hull to where it needed to be.

"Good," Kaga replied calmly, surveying the battlefield as the enemy storm grew closer. "Now if only we had more cover."

"I'm doing as much as I can!" Javelin protested, devoting all of her energy to producing and launching barrages of smoke as Zed tried to help out.

"Don't worry, we can take it from here!" Shigure insisted, spurred on by whatever powers Kaga had summoned to their aid. Thorson thought her words to be the typical 'dork squad' hubris, until smoke, clouds, and rain began to swirl around the right side of his formation. "Behold the dance of wind and rain!"

"We are the Scourge of Sasebo, the Nightmare of Solomon, and the Unsinkable Lucky Ship!" Yuudachi proclaimed with ample flair, standing proudly on her bow with hands on hips as the first torpedoes slipped into the water and hurtled at the enemy. "You will never escape the wrath of the twilight squall! Haha! Take that, idiot Sirens!"

"I suppose if I could do that I would be having a good time too," Ark Royal told Thorson as they watched a miniature storm front gather up smoke and rain before blanketing the enemy formation. Kaga radioed in as the destroyers on the left flank slipped out of sight behind the haze of Kasumi's namesake, only visible thanks to the soft, bright glow of Shiranui's spirits.

"Shikikan Thorson, now would be the time for the little rabbit to force their shields to front."

"You heard her, Laffey. Annihilation mode, dead center," he ordered. The sleepy destroyer was happy to oblige as her bow transformed to reveal her secret, Siren-derived weapon.

"Sirens have been very bad, yes yes. They want to stop Laffey from drinking whiskey and scotch from Brittania. This cannot stand, no no."

Suddenly the battlefield was dominated by searing red light as Laffey unleashed her most powerful attack. It sliced through all the elements obscuring the battlefield, tunneling a massive hole through the smoke until smashing into the shields of the enemy as the aircraft of the Sakura flew just overhead. The attack was the perfect cover to release torpedoes at the proper speed and trajectory.

"Is this what they call the pride of Ironblood?" Kaga wondered, watching as the enemy ships continued to advance, barely managing to dissipate Laffey's attack. "Such hubris shall be punished."

True to her word, the first volley of torpedoes from the dork squad impacted the left side of the enemy formation just on the tail of Laffey's strike, biting into the less protected sides of the Siren hulls. They were then hit from the right, long lance torpedoes reaching them easily from beyond Kasumi's haze. The Type 91 torpedoes from Kaga and the Second Carrier division struck home next, detonating both head on, and to either side of many enemy bows. Kaga had orchestrated the strike perfectly, with a second wave from Yukikaze and her friends following soon after the conclusion of the first attack. Seeing multiple hulls burning, listing to the side, or sinking into the abyss after being split in half, Kaga collected her hull into cubes and headed straight for the enemy. "Continue the assault, everyone. Winds guide you. I must have a word with Bismarck."

"You heard her. Pour it on!" Commander Thorson ordered with no small sense of relief in his voice. Pacific sailors tended to treat Sakura torpedo technology with due fear and respect, but it was another thing to see it in action and put it to use for his own benefit. "I'm going to have to remember this for our next battle. Our torpedoes aren't capable of that kind of precision at those distances."

"Then it's a good thing you brought her and her comrades along, Knight Commander," Ark Royal agreed sternly, sending out a wave of dive bombers to aid the battleships in pounding the maimed Siren fleet. "Are you sure about letting her go like that?"

"It's how we took out Akagi during our assault on their base, and Kaga is probably more familiar with the inner workings of mirror seas than anyone else. She made sushi out of that fleet; she's earned that sort of trust at least this once," he figured. To his surprise, Ark Royal snorted. "Did I say something out of place?"

"No, not exactly," she composed herself rapidly, holding out an arm and twisting her hand to direct another wave of bombers. The superstructure of the Bismarck was rocked by explosions, the act seeming to bring a sense of satisfaction to the Royal carrier. "Sushi is the term for raw fish served over rice with wasabi. Sashimi is probably more the word you're looking for. That is strips of raw fish, eaten without accoutrement."

"I didn't know you were so familiar with Sakura cuisine," Thorson replied, binoculars to his eyes as he watched Kaga's tiny form leap from the ocean, fire off a burst of blue flame, and disappear into the depths of the Bismarck via the opening. His stomach tightened as he thought he saw the hull close back in around itself, almost as if it were healing. Ark Royal and Hiryuu threw several more bombs at the Ironblood dreadnaught, the transformed carriers operating with exceptional precision and lethality.

"Let's just say that collectively, I appear to have gotten around quite a bit before my demise in various wars. Bismarck featured in very few of them. We will see what sort of fate this war has in store for her."

"Disgusting," Kaga spat, throwing several plane-like talismans from her hand like shurikens. They rapidly ignited with the power of her kitsune blood to burn away the oily, black, writhing biomass of Siren influence that seemed to suffuse every corner of the ship. Her four tails burned brightly at their tips, searing the tentacles if they reached for her. "To think this is the fate that Akagi would have exacted on Fusou and her sister. To think I allowed this… Amagi nee-san, is this corruption what you warned me of?"

A fierce rumbling and shaking from above spurred her on into the bowels of the ghost ship, attacks from her allies as Bismarck's fleet was slowly chipped away and she became the primary target. "At least give me a few minutes, Andrew Thorson. This won't take long either way."

Though she did not know Ironblood ship layouts well, there seemed to be only one path for Kaga to follow, deeper and away from the bow. The unpleasant smell of burning flesh followed her as she went, her footsteps finally beginning to echo as she stepped out of the writhing, deep purple corridors and into a long, dead end hallway. She stopped cautiously as the door opened itself for her. "How the mighty have fallen indeed."

Before her was a grotesque display of Siren ingenuity and Ironblood tenacity, the former leader of the Kriegsmarine struggling against the heart of the mass that had slaved her to her hull, defying death in lieu of thralldom. Her eyes were keen and intelligent as she and Kaga looked at one another, only to turn feral and angry the next moment as more bombs rained down from above. Fire primed and ready in one hand, Kaga slowly stepped forward, turning her nose up as it became clear Bismarck was actively fighting to prevent her body from being overtaken. "Kill me," she ordered the Sakura as their eyes met again.

"I very well may end up killing you inadvertently," Kaga allowed, breathing deeply to steady herself. The heart-like mass above Bismarck pulsed and beat every so often like an off-tempo heart, causing pain and discolored veins beneath her skin. "But you have a snow-haired sister too, do you not? She would be upset with me if I killed you. More importantly there is a man… who could very much use you alive."

The Ironblood strained against her prison, speaking between heavy grunts. "I won't- go back."

"No, you won't," Kaga whispered, daring to close her eyes for only a moment. "Gods of my homeland protect and watch over me. Grant me the strength to burn away this corruption and leave what is pure."

Bismarck's pained screams filled the empty metal room as Kaga's fires burned brightly and leapt forward from her hands and tails, focusing on the unnatural Siren tissue. The kitsune watched silently and unrelenting until the heart shriveled, died, and crumbled to dust. For a moment she was alone with Bismarck, and then they were falling.

"She did it! The stupid foxy did it!" Yuudachi yelped happily, steaming ahead towards where Bismarck's hull had vanished, causing a chain detonation and sinking of the handful of Siren vessels left on the surface.

"Clean up your mouth, pup, or it's all vegetables and potatoes for you tonight," Pennsylvania warned, breathing a sigh of relief. "Looks like she got the job done."

"I knew she could do it. The spirits are at ease once again," Kasumi said pleasantly as she and the other destroyers returned to formation. Shiranui confirmed that sonar readings had returned to a normal, ambient level, but had nothing further to say on the battle performance of Kaga and Akagi. The latter had been moved to the Akashi as soon as was feasible, having suffered greatly on account of taking a direct hit from Bismarck. It was there that Kaga decided to head as well after her triumph, though her reasoning barely involved her sister at all.

"Just in case we don't get a chance to speak again, thank you for shooting at Akagi," Kaga said privately as she carried the limp form of the Ironblood leader over the waves. The woman's left arm had not survived the encounter, having been the sight of the Siren tech's insidious attachment, but she seemed stable otherwise. "She needed to get taken down a peg, and I don't know that I have the will to do so. I suppose it was a bit unfair then, me taking this all out on you. But you had to be stopped, for good this time."

Kaga stopped short of suggesting Bismarck join their crusade, partially out of humility and partially because the sound of spray behind her had been interrupted by a call from Thorson on radio. She replied shortly. "Yes, it was her. Yes, I have her."

"Mein Kommandant, Zed, hello again," Graf Spee welcomed Thorson and Z23 to the Akashi. Despite the long route back traveled by Kaga, Thorson had still needed to oversee post-battle operations which included the salvage of Bismarck's hull and any other potentially useful or dangerous pieces of Siren technology. Those efforts had proven next to fruitless, mainly because Kaga had already snatched the grand prize.

"How is she? I still can't believe…" Zed said in a rush as they headed to the infirmary, passing bulins and manjuu on their way as the fleet restocked and returned to cruising formation, minus Akagi's hull. Graf looked over her shoulder at them, her sharklike tail having returned to its inert state.

"She is not dead, though I know not what else I can say," the pocket battleship reported grimly. Thorson nodded and gave Zed's shoulder a fortifying squeeze.

"After all the stories about her race to the Atlantic and the fight against Ark and the others, I can only imagine what happened since then. We'll do what we can, if she's willing," he added, not wanting to overpromise. Graf Spee had joined him with few questions asked, but he did not think Bismarck would be such a simple endeavor. "She's one ship for whom I have absolutely no records."

"Nor does it appear that you'll be recording any of your own anytime soon," Kaga told them as they stepped inside the infirmary. "She remains unconscious."

"And your sister?" Thorson asked pointedly, noticing that Kaga had returned from her foray with one more tail than she'd departed with, making for five total. The kitsune looked over her shoulder, finding Akagi looking back at them, silently. The commander gestured subtly towards the door. "Give me a minute, please."

"Don't spare the leather, nyaa," Akashi advised smugly as she cleared out and took the others with her. Thorson shook his head at her retreating back before walking over to Akagi's bed. It was hard to complain about her strong personality when Akashi did her job well.

"They don't like me very much, do they?" the brown-furred fox asked rhetorically. Thorson said nothing. "You are here to chastise me?"

"If your head's stopped ringing," he replied curtly, pushing a breath through pursed lips as he wondered where to begin. "It seems losing your power didn't do anything to dampen your pride. Did those heavy shells do the trick?"

"Shikikan, I only wanted…" Akagi began, though she seemed incapable of mustering her usual hubris. Thorson waited, pleasantly surprised when she did not finish her sentence. His shoulders rose and fell as he clicked his tongue against his teeth and looked over at Bismarck. Akagi gave her opinion. "She looks like you."

"This war is too complicated to only want one thing, Akagi. I took you along only because I had no choice. Battleships already have a hard enough job going in against submarines and carriers. They will not suffer unduly on your behalf again, none of my fleet will. Were it not for South Dakota and Tennessee we might not be speaking at this moment. I have never removed a shard willingly given to a kansen, but I'm not opposed to trying. I don't think I need to say anything more. I don't need your power."

"I suppose this is a time for bluntness, Shikikan. I will think on what you said as I recover," Akagi promised. The commander could hardly believe he'd received such a reply, but as with weather, shell trajectories, and other uncontrollable factors on the battlefield he took the windfall without question.

"I would appreciate that. I look forward to your return to the formation," he said in parting, returning to the several kansen waiting politely just outside. He spoke to Zed and Spee first.

"I can speak to the rest of the fleet if you need help, but keep an eye on her for now? I don't like the idea of keeping those two in the same room but I don't think there's another option. We need to move."

"It would be an honor, Kommandant," Zed saluted. Graf Spee didn't seem comfortable speaking around Kaga, but she lowered her scarf, smiled at him, nodded, and walked off. He was about to remind Akashi, but the minty kitty was too fast.

"She already said I have permission and Thorson Shikikan will want to know what her tail is made of, nyaa."

He blinked before gesturing towards the infirmary. "Well carry on then. Kaga?"

"You have need of me?"

"As you pointed out, Bismarck is out cold and we find ourselves without Brooklyn, so you and I will be taking records on today's action. Find me when you've taken necessary measures to maintain your hull," he ordered. She bowed to him.

"As you say, Shikikan. I should go in that case. As you saw, Sakura destroyers can be a handful and I must speak with them all."

"Kaga," Thorson called as she straightened her back and tails in departure. "Well done."

The kitsune could not help but feel a hint of annoyance at the positive reaction of her body to his praise. "I will speak to you later, Shikikan."

"Mama won. Happy," Eldridge said, having somehow found her way into Kaga's arms by the time the carrier called upon Thorson on the Ark Royal. Out of an abundance of caution they had charted a new course, east several dozen nautical miles before continuing north again. Dinner had delayed the meeting as well, complete with Penny and Arizona overseeing their dorks as the destroyers were made to apologize to Kaga for their 'foul mouths'.

"Be that as it may, mama needs to speak to Shikikan privately. So be a big girl and return to your hull for now," Kaga instructed the young Eagle Union destroyer, still visibly uncomfortable referring to herself as 'mama'. Thorson did not remark on the matter as the kitsune set the girl down and she tottered out onto deck, looked up, and vanished in a flash of blue light and crackling energy. A similar phenomenon could be seen almost simultaneously on the bow of the Eldridge, lighting up the dusk for a brief moment.

"This fleet gets more interesting by the day," Thorson remarked, motioning for Kaga to follow him to the same room Ark Royal had set aside for navigation and fleet strategy. He'd offered the Royal a chance to join them, but she had demurred, stating that, upon reflection, she had seen the mighty Bismarck in such a state once before. The two of them did find the Chief Bulin waiting for them with mugs of coffee and a maintenance report. Thorson accepted both with gratitude and patted the familiar on the head before releasing her to rejoin Akashi, whom he supposed was their 'master', given she had created them. "Shall we?"

"You were wise to station that headless girl to watch over Bismarck," Kaga told him as they were seated, palming the warm ceramic of the well-worn mug. "I don't know how my sister will react to all of this. But that is a trial for another time, I assume?"

"Yes," Thorson agreed, readying a typewriter and setting out a header including the operation date and time as well as his own summary, 'Combat Action Against Siren Armory'. "But later I'd like to hear how the rest of the Sakura responded to today's victory."

Kaga's ice blue eyes searched his for duplicity, but found none evident. "I am no one's favorite, Andrew Thorson. But the Sakura, especially those who flocked to your banner, value victory and piety. Today I was able to demonstrate both. I think that is all that needs to be said on the matter. As for Bismarck, she was reanimated, and not in the manner you returned Amagi nee-san to life."

Thorson nodded grimly, his fingers punching keys on the typewriter as quickly as he dared without making mistakes. "Tell me everything you recall, in detail, beginning with the cherry blossoms. I don't think I need to point out the fact that we are hundreds, if not thousands of miles from the nearest blossoming tree."

Kaga finally allowed herself to smile that day. "I cannot explain to you the divine, Andrew Thorson. I supplicated myself before the gods, begged their forgiveness and aid in a time of war. And they answered."

"No indication they've detected our presence as of now. Your orders, pack leader?" U-73 reported as she, her sister, and U-81 tailed far behind Thorson's fleet. "Pack leader?"

U-81 shook her head rapidly as visions of death and ocean depths filled her head, centered around one of the enemy's carriers. There was another emotion, vengeance, that came inescapably to the fore, a warning almost. "Our orders from the Sisters were clear, monitor and engage only if they moved to disrupt the conquest of North Africa."

"But… wasn't that Bismarck out there? I could have sworn it! I saw her through my own periscope!" U-101 protested as the three cruised comfortably at what they assumed a safe depth.

"You think I don't know that? What would you have us do against the fleet that snatched Zed, Spee, and now dealt Bismarck her second death?!" U-81 protested as they passed over a deep undersea canyon. She didn't want to look down. "We trail them to the edge of the Sisters' territory and then we make our report. If one of them presents a target, we will take the shot but not before. I'm willing to bet that they didn't know about Bismarck. We will be handsomely rewarded for delivering this information, alive."

The raven-haired sisters U-73 and U-101 glanced at one another from either side of their pack leader. They had few complaints regarding their transfer to the African theater, but the lack of transparency and communication between the nexuses of Ironblood power throughout the European theater was concerning. The war was going well, but the secret of Bismarck's life after 'death' left a sinking feeling in their guts. "As you say, pack leader."