"Mein Herr? Herr Bismarck? Spee, come quickly! She's awake!"

"I am right here, Zed. You do not need to shout."

The blonde haired battleship winced as she reached up to rub at her eyes, only to find air, phantom pain, and a missing arm to greet her. Panic welled up inside of her, but was quickly replaced by the soft face of Z23 and the bright, snow white hair of Graf Spee. For the briefest of moments Bismarck thought she might be looking at her younger sister again, but clarity of vision dispelled that notion as quickly as it had come. Her throat was parched and dry, but she spoke as strongly as she could. "Zed? Spee? You are a most unlikely duo to find here at my bedside. Have I finally died?"

"No, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say you were reborn either, just as I was. It's been a while, Bismarck of Ironblood. The years appear to have been kinder to me than you."

Bismarck trained her ice blue eyes on the source of the voice at the far end of the room. She gathered rapidly that she was in the medical wing of a Sakura vessel before coming to rest on Akagi's fiery red gaze. Her brow furrowed. "So my shell didn't manage to kill you. Perhaps one day I will apologize," the battleship said in a cold tone before turning back to her fellows and adopting a warmer expression. "If you can, I would appreciate an explanation of how I came to be here in such a state."

"I think Zed should be the one," Graf Spee encouraged the destroyer with a tap of her shark-like tail. "I passively came to be a part of this fleet after suffering a fate I can only assume was similar to your own. I ran away, in the end. Zed was strong. She escaped, fled to safety, and returned with an armada."

"You make it sound like I am the Kommandant," the destroyer blushed shyly, though she did not dare defy a request from Bismarck. "Mein Herr, I don't know anything of what happened to you after your battle with Hood. Eugen refused to say anything. Not even Hipper or the Sirens could get her to speak of what she'd seen. They punished her for it later, but she held her silence. All I know is that after you went missing things spiraled out of control. Graf Zeppelin and Tirpitz vanished, supposedly to the Baltic but no one really knows, leaving us without a kansen to rally around as leader. Many considered the power we were given to be an acceptable trade, but I think the Sirens are even crueler masters than the Reich and Kriegsmarine. I don't know how much you remember of the last battle. We found you in some sort of mirror sea or Siren armory. I don't understand the specifics of what Ark Royal was talking about, but you materialized from it along with a host of Siren battleships and-"

"Ark Royal?" Bismarck murmured curiously, Z23's words confirming her foggy impression that she'd been up against some sort of combined fleet. "You're sure this isn't a Siren simulation, or the afterlife?"

"Believe me, Bismarck. If that were the case, you would know. I didn't think I'd be seeing you again after sending you to the bottom of the ocean. But fate seems to have had other plans. You don't usually survive this long," came the voice of the Royal carrier, who stepped into the room along with Hiryuu, her boots clacking on the metal floor.

"We already beat up on her pretty hard, Ark. Don't you think you should give her a little break? Besides, Shikikan will be mad if you piss her off before he can talk to her."

"You're Hiryuu of the Sakura, yes? What in God's name happened to you?" Bismarck wondered, finding the two carriers looking in at her from the doorway to the outside. The warm, yellow light from within the infirmary was a noted contrast to the inky black, star studded sky of the mid-Atlantic beyond the threshold. "You are not the same young woman I remember."

"Well that's probably because I'm not! I'm the ultimate evolution of the kansen! Or at least I will be… or maybe it's that I was? Hmmm, what do you think, Ark? Did Code G's ramblings ever make sense to you?" the jovial rabbit explained without explaining anything. Her fellow 'ascended' carrier scoffed, arms over her chest and pistol hanging from her hand.

"I think both of us are lucky that we were weak enough to escape Siren notice long enough to become like this. And now is not the time to speak of that Union enigma."

Ark Royal's words heralded the arrival of Commander Thorson, escorted to the Akashi by South Dakota. The caramel skinned battleship was happy to move to a corner of the room and rest without saying a word, leaving the floor to Andrew. The man felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end as he stood between Bismarck, Akagi, and two other very powerful carriers, but the relieved expressions on the faces of Z23 and Graf Spee settled his nerves as he strode towards the bed where the beautiful, battle weary, former lord of the Ironblood rested under crisp, white sheets. To his surprise she possessed enough strength to stand on her own power, though she was immediately forced to rely on her fellows as her right leg proved unable to fully do its job. "Thank you, Zed. He is the one?" she asked of the destroyer. It was not lost upon Thorson how eagerly Z23 replied.

"Ja, Herr Bismarck. His name is Andrew Thorson, and he has taken excellent care of me," the destroyer explained. Bismarck appraised him in a manner that made clear her mind was still in peak condition even if her body had suffered greatly.

"Thorson, is it? Perhaps a prophetic surname, it would seem. You have me at a disadvantage, Union Kommandant. I appear to have regained a measure of an escort fleet just as I've lost my ship, my arm, and a good measure of my strength," she remarked, looking left to where her jacket's sleeve hung empty at her side. Thorson rubbed his chin.

"Your kind aren't exactly known for their humor, as far as I've heard. But with all due respect, leader of the Ironblood, I think I prefer this power dynamic for now." Thorson glanced Akagi's way, as though expecting her to make a snide comment about serving under him or some such nonsense. The kitsune remained silent, however, though she did not once look away from the impromptu negotiations. Bismarck's reply was regretful.

"Former leader would be more accurate. The Sirens do not take lightly to defiance."

The Commander turned his head slowly and met Ark Royal's gaze. He cocked a disbelieving brow her way, to which she shrugged. "You'll forgive me for saying that what we just experienced didn't exactly look like defiance, Bismarck."

"Um, Kommandant?" Zed interrupted timidly. "I would not be so presumptuous to ask you to address her as Lord, however…"

"I think you're asking for too much, 23," Graf Spee whispered as Thorson squatted so as to be more eye to eye with one of his favorite kansen.

"You understand the circumstances of the moment, don't you Zed?" he asked her kindly. She nodded while staring intently at the floor.

"Even so, mein Kommandant."

Bismarck watched closely as the Union sailor with notably Aryan complexion pushed off his knees and stood straight once more, licking his lips briefly as he did so. "Well then… Lady Bismarck," Thorson decided on. He could have sworn he heard a faint hissing from Akagi's direction. "If Z23 is so insistent I'll entertain the notion that I don't yet know the whole story about you, the Ironblood, and your revolt against the Kriegsmarine. You will share that story with me, in the event your claims about defying the Sirens are true."

"I appear to have little choice in the matter," she retorted in a guarded tone. He motioned to her bed.

"Your alternative is to remain a prisoner of war, as is true of all kansen who do not wish to join our fight. For their sakes," he motioned to Z23 and Graf Spee. "I hope you prove amenable. Hiryuu, I hate to impose but you don't have a direct history with our newest guest."

"You want me to keep an eye on things, yeah? Make sure nothing explodes while we wait for her to mull it over?" the lapine carrier guessed immediately. "No worries, boss! I'm on it. Sailing is hardly a chore when no one's shooting at me! Besides, Soryuu-nee's got scouting duties on lock."

Thorson spent a moment looking between Akagi and her protegee. "You Sakura carriers never cease to amuse me."

As thought not to be one upped by her fellow rabbit from across the Pacific, Laffey sleepily shuffled into the medbay at that moment, followed by Ayanami and Javelin. She had no qualms about approaching Thorson and hugging him around the waist while yawning widely. "Zed, it's time for sleep. We're going to be on Ayaya's hull tonight."

The Commander could not recall another time where Zed looked as conflicted as that moment, torn between Bismarck and her friends. The Ironblood battleship gave her a light push with her good hand. "Thanks to you I believe I will survive the night, at least. You should rest now. The war is not over. Union Kommandant, what is our heading, exactly?"

"Britannia," Thorson answered shortly, prompting a somnolent sermon from Laffey to her friends about how whiskey and scotch from Britannia was the finest in the world and that she would drink it all down after dispatching the Siren fleets. Bismarck spoke again as he made to depart.

"I admire her dedication to drink. Were Mainz here I would ask her to prepare us some coffee instead. I will go with you now," she declared, relying on Spee for support. Thorson turned back with an incredulous expression on his face.

"Just like that?" he questioned harshly. She tilted her head towards a scowling Ark Royal.

"If there is one way I refuse to die in this war, after everything I've lost, it's on the Royal gallows. I will cooperate in exchange for my life, for the time being."

Thorson motioned for her to join him and spoke to Ark. "I think it goes without saying that I'd like you to join us. You as well, Hiryuu. If anyone can corroborate intel about the inner workings of Siren technology it would be the two of you."

"You are forgetting someone, my dear Shikikan," Akagi simpered from the back of the room, almost forgotten in the slowly unfolding drama. Her three tails fanned out behind her body, waving slowly as though to draw him in. "Or have you forced memories of your defeat in Java from your mind already? We were both strong enough to pull off that little trick~."

Thorson stood stiffly in the doorway for a moment. He knew she was probing at him, but knew it would be a low blow to antagonize her over nothing. "I'll send for Kaga. Thank you for your advice and get some rest. I expect you at full strength in our next engagement."

She bowed her head low, an uneasy smile on her face. "I will always be there when you need me, Shikikan. I'm a part of you now, after all."

"I think you're a fool to trust her, but I'd like to think I'm not stubborn enough to understand why you aren't throwing her in a cell somewhere," Pennsylvania told Thorson as she, her sister, and the Commander spent an afternoon aboard her ship in the middle of the north Atlantic. The battleship closed her eyes and took a moment to monitor her instruments closely. "You're sure we can't make a stop in Portugal? We're at the right latitude and I hear the horses they raise there are magnificent."

Thorson had been on the cusp of making light of what he assumed was a jab at Tennessee, but Penny's comment about horses took him by surprise. "You've never mentioned enjoying horses before."

"And when exactly should I have? When we first met at Pearl Harbor? Maybe during our time together in the Sanctuary's mirror sea?" Pennsylvania suggested equal parts defensively and humorously. The Commander shrugged his shoulders and gave her a small smile.

"Seems like an appropriate topic for breakfast or pillow talk at least?" he proposed. Penny cocked a brow at him.

"Because isn't that what every man wants? To know that his woman is thinking about stallions during their lovemaking?"

"Penny!" Arizona gasped playfully. The older sister shrugged as Thorson took her hand in his. She was warm compared to the brisk sea breeze that seemed to be urging them onward towards Britannia. After Kaga's display in battle against Bismack, he wondered if there might be some truth to that.

"Since when have you cared about what men want, Penny?" he asked seriously. She turned towards him.

"I think you know the answer to that question already, Andrew. But since I can already see the question behind your eyes, I don't really know why. I just think they're strong and majestic… and very much like us kansen. Men want to tame us, bind us to service. Every so often they get kicked in the teeth."

"You're forgetting the men who loved their horses so dearly they demanded to be buried with them, among other displays of affection," Thorson pointed out, feeling the need to defend both himself and mankind in general. Arizona sighed sweetly as Penny shot him a coy glance.

"I didn't forget, but you don't need your ego stroked anymore than it already has been, Commander. In all seriousness, are you sure it's alright to leave her on the Akashi?"

"I'd rank Akashi as the third most dangerous of the Sakura, just behind Akagi and Soryuu," Thorson told her with complete seriousness. "Zed has volunteered to watch over her as well. As loath as I am to admit it, Akashi doesn't seem to be bound by a normal sense of… morality. And I need to understand why and how Graf Spee ended up the way she did, not to mention this whole tale of the Sirens trying to make Bismarck into a living weapon. I thought kansen already fit that bill. Apparently the Sirens disagree."

"What about Laffey?" Arizona wondered. "Perhaps that's what they intended for Bismarck?"

Thorson sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he considered the little rabbit's Annihilation Mode, as much a crutch for him as Arizona's Eagle Tears ability. "You're not wrong, but explain how Laffey learns to control a power that, if you believe her story, almost enslaved the Ironblood's leader."

"Easy," Pennsylvania declared confidently. "Laffey cares about three things in life, give or take. Booze, her friends, and you, Commander. How do you tempt something like that with power? She and Bismarck couldn't be more different. Bismarck was up against the Royal Navy and, from the sound of it, elements of the Kriegsmarine and the Reich. The Sirens probably dripped sweet lies into her ears about saving her sisters, bringing glory to the Empire, or whatever other nonsense might sway a person who's concerned about more than where her next drink and nap will come from. For the record, I love that little rabbit and reiterate my opinion that you're a fool for not locking Bismarck up in chains."

"She's got no left arm, a gimped leg, and shows no signs of being able to heal either. More importantly, she seems to have retained her mental clarity through all of this," Thorson countered. "Though your objections are noted, Penny. For what it's worth, I intend to use her the same way I used Fusou, as a rallying standard for any Ironblood who aren't complete thralls to the Sirens. And I understand how dangerous that sounds."

"It's an odd feeling, knowing we might have been the last people to ever see Bismarck fire her guns," Arizona said, her mind on matters a step removed from the war. "I would rather she be on our side than against us if possible, Andrew."

"I'll be careful, I promise," he told the two of them before looking to the east. "I'm sorry, Penny, but time is of the essence. Portugal will have to wait."

"I'm already over it. It's not the only place in the world with horses," she laughed shortly as they continued to steam north. "I just hope Zed doesn't have her heart broken again. Hmm, we have a visitor, Commander."

"It's just me," Ark Royal stated, leaping gracefully up onto deck to join them. "I'm sorry for the intrusion, Knight Commander."

"Not a problem, we were just debating the merits of the current arrangement with Bismarck," he informed the privateer-like kansen. Thorson motioned to the space next to him. "Join us, please."

"I'm glad to hear you haven't taken to calling her 'Lady' on the regular, but I'm sure I don't need to remind you of all she did before we slew her. I have news from the homefront. I was finally able to get through to someone with the radio on one of my long range scouts. It was relayed through the Iris Libre Resistance a few times, but I have every reason to believe my message was responded to by Lady Warspite herself," the carrier reported grimly. "Lady Belfast, Her Majesty, Lady Warspite, and Sir Churchill are still alive. That's the good news. The rest is bad."

Thorson scowled and looked to the Pennsylvania class sisters. "Then I'll meet you all aboard the South Dakota, planning room. Might as well summon the whole fleet. Escort ships are optional, and tell Minnie she's to keep watch over Bismarck with my apologies."

"Understood Commander, see you in ten," Penny agreed before summoning her rigging and leaping into action. Ark Royal followed shortly after, leaving him alone with Arizona.

"Shall I escort you back, Andrew?" she asked cutely, taking a seat on the ample space provided by her own rigging. Thorson joined her.

"Who needs a horse when you have this?" he joked lightly as they began their journey across the salted waves to his flagship. Arizona smiled.

"I think it would be cute if she had one."

To Thorson's surprise and then despair, Ark Royal began her report on the current situation in Britannia by addressing Javelin. Laffey, Ayanami, and Z23 did their best to comfort their friend as she absorbed the news, shell shocked, that her sister whom they had snatched from the jaws of death in Java had succumbed to injuries sustained by striking an allied mine on her way home.

"I know that this is probably of little comfort to you Javelin, but I made sure to ask about her cubes. They were laid to rest in the Exeter Cathedral near the Devonport dockyards. She has… much company there."

"J-Jupiter…" was all Javelin could manage as Thorson knelt and wrapped his arms around the four of them.

"Take some time for yourself, Javelin. The capital ships can fill you in on our plans and heading once we're done here. I'm so sorry about Jupiter," he said, the only words he could offer her at that time. Javelin nodded and wiped her tears, not wanting to completely break down in front of the combined fleet. Many of the Sakura destroyers were looking at her with empathy in their eyes, especially Yukikaze.

"If only she had stayed with us," the Royal destroyer murmured tearfully as she and her friends departed the war room with a cloud hanging over their heads. Hiryuu spoke with sympathy.

"I can only imagine the sweet temptation of 'what ifs' when you don't have lifetimes of death and service rattling around in your brain. Poor girl. Did you really need to start that way, Ark?" she wondered, though not strongly. The other carrier shrugged her shoulders.

"You think it gets better after that? The Ironblood have resumed sporadic air raids on the south of Britannia following an unexplained uptick in industrial production. This has complicated the picture on the Eastern and African fronts as well. There may not be any footholds left to reinforce by the time the Allies are ready to land ground troops in Africa. A similarly unexplained shroud of impenetrable fog has fallen over the Channel, disrupting Royal and Ironblood forces alike. And then there's the full casualty list."

"How many kansen?" Thorson demanded seriously as Ark Royal approached the table that sat in the middle of their group. She began pointing to locations that had seen the demise of one or more Royal kansen.

"Lady Warspite has been meticulous in this grim task. Our destroyer ranks were almost miraculously spared in recent months, minus the loss of Jupiter. The Maid Corps, on the other hand, have been decimated. Belfast's sister Edinburgh was killed by U-boat torpedoes in May. Galatea, Hermione, and Manchester all met similar fates. When you combine those casualties with those that came before the Union joined the war, we've lost eight of twenty seven. Almost a third," Ark recited as Tennessee let out a low whistle. No one else had anything of value to add, and so the carrier continued her report.

"In addition to Exeter, Lady Warspite confirmed that Dorsetshire was another casualty of that Asian campaign."

"I won't be offering apologies on that account," Akagi piped up from the corner of the room. Kaga intervened with a scowl on her face.

"We all have ample reason to hate one another here. Let's not pour fuel on that fire so long as we serve the same cause, sister."

"Mama… wise," came Eldgridge's evaluation of the kitsune, prompting her to blush and Akagi to snort with laughter. It was enough to deflect any sort of further vitriol at Akagi, and Thorson brought them back to task.

"What else, Ark?" he wondered.

"Well, it seems Cheshire continues to be a torpedo magnet, though she's alive and recovering. She might take after Her Majesty in that way," Ark mused, evidently finding some measure of dark humor in the ability of certain ships to attract destruction and live. Her thin smile vanished as she began to speak of her fellow carriers. "Eagle was lost in August, the operation to reinforce Malta against the Crimson Axis. Illustrious and Indomitable survived, barely. They're safe somewhere, undergoing repairs. I suppose Lady Warspite believed it wasn't safe to divulge where. Then there's Hermes. She may not have been exceedingly powerful, but the loss of her experience will be felt for a generation. Imagine if your side lost Houshou before Pearl Harbor."

"History would have been very different," Soryuu answered simply.

Ark nodded with a slow lowering of her head. "Let's see. What else was there beyond our kansen forces suffering casualties in excess of thirty percent since the beginning of this war? Ah, of course. Our heading is the shipyard at Devonport, Knight Commander. Lady Warspite, Her Majesty, and Prime Minister Churchill await you there."

"That's quite the welcoming party. Will this fog you mentioned be a problem?" Thorson inquired, marking the city of Plymouth on the map with a red pin. Again Ark Royal could only shrug.

"If there were memories of such a thing in my other lives, it wasn't significant enough to remember. Given how unnatural a permanent layer of fog separating two warring parties is, I would assume that this is a novel development in this particular war."

"Were you told when it began, or under what conditions?" Massachusetts spoke up from where she, Kasumi, South Dakota, and Indianapolis were grouped together. It was an uncharacteristic display from her, and Thorson silently signaled his approval at her participation. Ark Royal placed her hands on the table and looked directly at the Commander, and then Kaga, with warning in her eyes.

"The day we defeated Bismarck in combat, and the two of you spared her life."

"Any red lightning or other Siren hallmarks involved?" Thorson questioned with a hint of sarcasm. "They haven't been particularly subtle in the past."

When Ark Royal shook her head, Thorson and Kaga turned toward one another. The cozy bundle of Eldridge that the woman held in her arms was all that kept the temperature in the room from dropping precipitously. "I am not so bold as to speak for the gods, but I would be very surprised if they are intervening in this particular conflict."

"That would make two of us," Thorson declared before pointing to Plymouth again. "We need to get into Britannia, and we need to do it fast. If anything, this fog might be a boon for us. We could break down all of our hulls, slip through on a single destroyer even."

"That destroyer would be one very juicy target to the right people," Tennessee pointed out. Thorson gestured to the coastlines of Britannia, the Ironblood Empire, and Ironblood occupied Normandy.

"And a fleet of capital ships would be at serious risk if the two sides are slinging land-based air wings at each other on the regular, even with our significant airforce and anti-air capabilities. We would attract too much attention. Not to mention I only expect more interference from wolfpacks the closer we get. We'll consolidate the fleet onto the Javelin once we reach a distance of a hundred nautical miles from Devonport and make the final run at top speed. Once we arrive I expect everyone on their best behavior and ready to depart at a moment's notice. If there haven't been any changes since our last meeting with Admiral Nimitz, the land invasion of North Africa begins in a little over a month. Once that's done and dusted, I don't know. I'm sure some combination of Union Command and the Royal Navy can think of something for us to do."

"Much as I want to chastise you for looking so far ahead, it does seem to be a pretty easy operation. Pound the shore defenses to dust, like at Makassar," Pennsylvania figured, slapping her fist into her palm. "Will that be everything, sir?"

"Unless you have something else for us, Ark?" Thorson opened the floor to her. She shook her head before striding towards the door. The cerulean-eyed carrier looked back at them all with a detached gaze.

"Just be ready, for anything."

"It's been a while since we shared tea together, Kaga-senpai. Have you need of me?" Soryuu wondered as the two of them sat cross-legged on her flight deck. The air was not warm, but the tea helped to ward off the chill as they approached Britannia. True to Thorson's predictions they had seen some submarine activity on the way, but Shiranui's battery of sonar-equipped manjuu and an immense air force rigged with depth charges had been more than sufficient to keep the Ironblood at bay.

"I think it's best if we leave that sort of title behind, Soryuu. I am hardly a suitable teacher these days," the snowy kitsune replied before taking a sip. "Besides, I dare say you've surpassed me in the art of preparing tea."

"I somehow doubt that's what this is about. Or did you simply wish to share a drink and play hanafuda? Is that brat from the Eagle Union giving you trouble?" she wondered suddenly. Kaga chuckled, holding her fingers to her lips.

"She is needy, but rarely complains and never cries. Not that I know the first thing about human infants or children, but she is more of a broken thing than she is immature. One day when Shikikan Thorson trusts me more I shall converse with him about it. What we did to our own was… worthy of disdain," Kaga admitted with difficulty. "However it would appear the Eagle Union's hands are not clean either. If I were to bring it up to him now, however, it would prove distracting at a minimum. More likely he would think I intend to drive a wedge between him and his superiors."

"Is that not something we should be aiming to do anyway?" Soryuu whispered, as though one of the Union boats could be listening. Knowing the tendency of the native kansen like Minneapolis to listen to the 'winds' or 'spirits', the paranoia wasn't unfounded. Kaga laid one of her tails across her lap, withdrew a simple tortoiseshell comb from her kimono, and began to groom herself.

"I have considered it, Soryuu. I don't see a future in which it doesn't lead us to ruin. His kansen from the Union may not spare any affections for their command structure, but they would never ally themselves with us against them. Or is there something specific you are concerned about?" Kaga wondered pointedly. Soryuu's ears twitched but she shook her head.

"I suppose not. I'm just uneasy is all. I don't know what I'm fighting for anymore. I don't know who I'm fighting for. And I'm only now coming to realize I never did. The Sirens… You… did what you thought was best before I could ever figure those things out myself," Soryuu tiptoed around the subject. Kaga's hand stilled over the fluff of her tail. Her face was hard and regretful, but her tone sympathetic to a degree.

"If you cannot bring yourself to place your trust in me once again, follow the North Star of your sister. She is an uncomplicated woman, and if you believe her stories she knows precisely what we are fighting against."

"But why are we fighting the Sirens?" Soryuu pressed. "Because a Union sailor told us to? Because they used us? Are they a greater evil than humanity?"

Kaga lowered her eyes to her teacup as she silently took a sip, feeling the warming draught slip down her throat and into her stomach. "Good and evil are not concepts that Sirens understand, Soryuu. Even a few interactions with Tester were enough to convince me of such, and I took immense pleasure in killing her. I would like to believe, with everything I have, that Amagi did not teach me to delight in the slaughter of the innocent. Our cubes have given us the ability to discern morality, nobility, faith, and many other complicated, inscrutable aspects of the human existence that make those weak, fleshy things something more than animals. That is what separates us from the Sirens. And even if every last human were to die tomorrow I think that is reason enough to fight them now, to rid this world of their indifferent malevolence."

"M-my lady," Soryuu mumbled, having never known Kaga to wax poetic before. The kitsune smiled at her.

"You're not the only one who has been troubled at night lately, Soryuu. But mankind did not summon the Kamikaze to aid us against Bismarck the other day. I… we did. Somewhere, somehow, the gods looked upon us and deemed us worthy of their blessing in battle. If you believe the gods are good, then have faith that they have faith in us. When or if our prayers fall upon deaf ears once again, as they did in the Sanctuary, we will know then that we've gone astray."

Soryuu nodded emphatically, set her tea on the small wooden table between them and bowed low to Kaga, touching her forehead to her elder's flight deck. "I am honored to fight at your side, Kaga-sama."

Kaga did not know why, but Soryuu's actions stirred her cubes in a way she'd never experienced. Soryuu had long been her pupil thanks to the dynamic of the First and Second Carrier Divisions, but her pledge was something unique, a pledge of fealty sworn to a leader the lapine kansen considered strong, noble, and pious. Her desire to not disappoint Amagi was one thing, but she considered the idea of betraying Soryuu's trust even more heinous in that moment. The kitsune looked over her shoulder as the clouds above the Atlantic parted slightly, bathing the steely surface of the ocean with white light and illuminating a towering wall of fog far in the distance that seemed to stretch to the very sky.

"Rise then, my comrade. It appears that hell awaits us."

"Well well, what do you make of that then? The reports were right," Minneapolis stated to her closest friends. Indianapolis, South Dakota, Massachusetts, and Kasumi stared ahead with her at the unnatural barrier that had apparently separated the warring Ironblood and Royal factions. From behind Kasumi's talisman, an eerie glow could be seen. The heavy cruiser opened an arm and took the sickly fox against her side for support. "Your second sight's open again, little one."

"The screams on the wind…" South Dakota murmured. "It's no wonder. None are welcome in this place."

"The air stinks of desperation and hopelessness," Massachusetts agreed. "I hope the Commander has a plan before we head straight into that."

Kasumi shuddered in Minnie's arms, feeling unnatural cold creep down her spine. "It would seem that neither of them truly died on that fateful day, bound together by the blood they shed in these waters. The idea of meeting her now is… truly terrifying. Don't worry Foo, I will protect you as best I can."

"Who, Kasumi?" Minneapolis wondered, trying to make out anything at all through the mist. It was a fruitless effort. The Sakura destroyer pulled back her hair and talisman, her ghostly eye shining like a tiny beacon into the inky night. In the depths of the fog wall, something stared back at her.

"The Lady Hood."