0-3

They Came as Romans


20XX AD, Summer

Tokyo, Chuo Ward, Ginza

11:50 AM


What would become known as...

The Battle of Ginza


The name that people called him sometimes, it created a certain expectation: "JK". At six-foot three, 170 pounds, people assumed him to be a funny man despite his imposing form (at least in Japan). In private company, he was liable to be amiable, and so it wasn't that far off from the truth. He wasn't rapturously funny or witty, his upbringings didn't exactly feed well into an abundance of humor, however he wasn't dry or stale. He was just a normal, measured man, which, all things considered, was impressive when compared to how he had gotten that nickname.

His real name had been Kristian Ridgeway Emerson, his first name a distortion of a very popular faith which he had taken in vain as the first words he said in boot camp:

"Jesus Christ!" As was the response to being scared by the Drill Sergeant.

"How dare you take the name of JC in vain!" The DI responded back.

A colorful exchange later and suddenly the name JC was his own, and eventually, given the odd use of K in his name, it had turned into JK. "Kay" for short. Words were often in short supply in tense situations.

He had seen more than his share in the last year.

He had seen more than his share now, eyes open, staring up at a Japanese sky, the skyscrapers of Tokyo raising toward those heavens as Hell broke loose.

Someone screaming his name had certainly woken him from his innocent dozing on a bench in downtown Ginza, right up against a convenience store whose occupants had stepped out of the doorway to look down the street.

"Kay! Kay!"

A rush of people, a stampede, had come to the man in question first as he stumbled forward, trying to keep his standing as a worried people pushed through him, screaming, a distant sound like a coming freight train approaching down those metropolitan streets of Asia's largest city.

38 million people lived there, and, despite it all, one man that Emerson did recognize found him as the crowd threatened to steal his wits and breath, his head unconsciously swinging toward the voice that called his name!

"Dammit Kay!" Hands reached out from that stampede to his shoulders, the rush blocking out the source of the chaos they were running from. Dragged by his heels almost into the entryway of that convenience store, the world returned to him along with his senses, rough palmed hands coming to Emerson's face and shaking it.

The man was dazed, obviously, shaken awake by something beyond his comprehension.

Cameron Bonifaz Masterson would do something to rectify it. "You with me man?"

They were friends, regardless of how roughly Emerson shoved Masterson's hands away from his face, the man nodding roughly in affirmative as his vision cleared and saw Masterson how he was:

He was, generally, vaguely bigger than Emerson, his shoulders square and broad, body built from years on an American frontier. He hailed from Texas. Not necessarily a town or city, but just Texas itself. His upbringings made it as such. His skin was rough, his blonde hair usually, actually, dirty.

Now they were bloody.

It was that blood that brought Emerson back to full coherence and the two men plant themselves against the wall.

It was Emerson's turn to get handsy with Masterson, the man hitting the glass wall against the wall of people running away, the blood that came from down the back of his shoulder staining the clean surface before Emerson forced the man down to a crouch, if only so he could get a good look at what the hell had caused the man's already disgustingly ironic lewd anime shirt to be ruined.

Masterson had, even as Emerson tore the back of his shirt to get a look at his right shoulder, peered around the corner, keeping an eye for a threat he was dreading to tell.

That question came fast as Emerson saw the man's bare skin, the hole just right of his shoulder and saw the broken, and yet embedded wooden rod of-

"Who the fuck shot you with an arrow?!"

Masterson returned his bloodied hands to his head once, dried, rubbing his head once before yelling back in response: "Cosplayers gone wild how the fuck am I supposed to know?!" Masterson knew exactly what he saw before he turned a ran. Before an arrow bounced off someone else and lodged itself in his back.

Masterson knew exactly what he saw, and seeing was believing as the roar of horror was replaced the beat of war drums. The blare of horns, and all that pomp and power of an unseen army was in the air as the roar of monsters came from overhead. Literal monsters of a winged variety and made the air beneath its wings bellow and people collapse.

Reality was fickle, flesh and metal brought to bear and given shape to animals seen only in fantasy.

They came as Romans.

"Holy shit." The words came out Emerson less a breath, more as a knee jerk response.

Better or worse, that was how we responded, losing focus on a bleeding Masterson, and instead looking up at the sky and the silhouettes of red wyverns come to terrorize those below. No trick of the light, mastery of some practical effect, or pure hallucination would be able to explain why Emerson, a rational man, a man of reasonable intelligence, saw those dragons above as real. He wasn't the only ones as those in the street just ran and ran away from the Heart of Ginza, and, as Emerson finally looked down, the heart of an Army.

In their worst nightmares, it was the Chinese military roaring down Japanese streets, creating a warzone of modern warfare that would end the world. The United States military and Japan's own Self Defense Force, the Jietai, had prepared for decades for it to happen, brought upon by just one incident that could've been as arbitrary as a fishing boat capsizing in the wrong territory. New ROE, contingencies, tactics, equipment and considerations drawn up in the light of experience brought on by the Second Korean War just four years ago.

Warfare had come to Asia in the end of both South and North Korea, and as Japan held its breath for the inevitability for some sort of confrontation with China, something else had emerged right in its very heart.

"Cosplayers gone wild!" Masterson breathed out hard again, standing back up and stacking up against that convenience store entry way, ushering in his best Japanese for those in the store to stay inside. "You seeing what I'm seeing Kay?!"

Ogres, beasts, legion, dragons. Romans and monsters. Phalanxes and forward marches.

The dead in the street.

Emerson knew what the dead looked like. He saw it firsthand. He had been well acquainted with the prospect of his own death, but right now it all seemed so foreign as he rationalized it in his head again and again:

Dead civilians lined the streets of Ginza: those too slow to run away or caught by arrows. The reason? The Roman Empire had emerged, somehow, someway, in the middle of Japan's heart, on that summer's day.

There was nothing more to consider. To think about it would be to go mad. To do was the only thing that any of those two men could do as they looked beyond those hundreds and hundreds of Romans, intermingled with their archaic machines of war and fantastical beings that stood on two legs, and saw something.

Stone, like the pantheons of Rome, pillars that were impressive even when contrasted with the glass and steel of a modern city.

A Gate. From its mouth emerged more from a blackness that it seemed to swallow, shadows upon shadows concealing the fact that more and more soldiers were coming from it, more Legionnaires then any of them could take on.

Maybe, right there, right now, with nothing but their clothes, Emerson and Masterson stood no chance. Those that ran? Infinitely less so. Not like this.

The cruelty of it was revealed when one of those great Wyverns saw that rushing crowd of people like a stream, the ass end of that large street wide group just only now passing that convenience store, and saw it fit to do something that Emerson would only pray, hoped, that he would never seen done.

Air support was the same, no matter where applied.

If napalm stuck to kids, as the song went back during the era of the Vietnam War, then fire itself did that and more.

It came in like a fighter craft from the World Wars, in a dive, a strafe, right down the center of the road. Only vaguely did Emerson see a rider on it, directing its attack.

The very first time Kristian Emerson, Bronx-born and raised, had seen Hell, it had been on the streets of Ginza as that Wyvern opened its mouth and blew a red-hot nightmare from it.

Men, women, children, were swallowed whole by a flame that he, nestled in the entry way of that store, escaped. All that meant was that he had to bare witness to what happened when fire touched flesh, and fried people where they stood.

They became statues, monument, melting into concrete as charred flesh cocooned them all.

He turned around, seeing the wide eyes of both Masterson and those who had taken shelter inside of the store. He pointed once as the wyvern saw them all.

"Run!"

Masterson had no time for the door to open, so he kicked it in a glassy crash, basically diving into the store as the whipping waves of air of a beast flying toward them reared its ugly head. Those inside had screamed in their native tongue, getting behind the counter of the store in the back as the manager desperately pried open the back-access way to the alley. It was a crowd too much, and before long, another great metal crash was heard as the two men tried to keep those caught in there with them out the back.

It came like an explosion: the great head of that creature bashing into the store, sending almost all of them to the floor.

The surrealness of having a dragon charge at them was cruelly wiped away as the great body of that giant lizard smashed against the building, its head diving in the same way as Masterson and Emerson. Crammed inside, its head thrashed around shelves and cases, sending items flying like shrapnel.

Infernal growling and the most morbidly hot breath the two soldiers had ever smelled had been revealed as the dragon opened its mouth in the confined space, its head shaking around as its neck had caught itself by the frame of what used to be the storefront. There was ample room for it to move its head around, the glowing yellow eyes and the very real scales inches from the collapsed men on the floor, glass and debris digging into their back.

There was now nothing to do but fight. Not with civilians still in the store trying to clamber their way out the back door.

On the ground the men had ended up besides each other as the dragon tried to move its mouth to envelop them in the small space, the great noise it made thrashing about outside with its wings deafening.

The two pair of legs had gone to the dragon's chin, futilely trying to push it away, but the only force those pair of legs had had pushed the men away, giving them enough momentum to get on their feet and stand eye to eye with the dragon. Or, at least, its right eye.

Eye to eye with the beast, any pretense that this hadn't been real was sent out the window as they found their weapons in their hands: broken bottles and anything blunt that had fallen to the floor. Maybe if this had been a tank, something tangible to modern warfare, they would've known what to do.

The rider had been yelling in a foreign language, trying to get into the shop off its beast's back, but the dragon had been too chaotic, dealing with two men it had very much had the right to eat for breakfast, staring them down.

Its yellow cornea looked at them, and for the first time in his life Emerson knew what it was like to be on the food chain.

The fist that came didn't come for it however. Emerson balled his fist, only to tap Masterson's shoulder fast. "Out! Now!"

The two of them threw themselves over the counter as they heard its rider dismount, to squeeze through and give chase. Those who had been caught inside had finally made their way out, leaving Emerson and Masterson to clamber out, throwing shelves and supplies in their wake. The screams began as they returned to open air, this time the sound of dragons and flames, of war existing for the first time in Tokyo ever since-

History repeated, and in a very odd fashion that day as the two men turned around only to see a Roman stand before them, speaking his language. In his hand: a weapon. Not a knife, not a gun, but a sword. A gladius.

Several feet in front of them the three men paused, oddities to one another as the very image of something that came from history put itself in front of the two Americans, lost in Ginza. As lost as the Roman before them.

"Come on fucker, let's throw down!" Masterson had been more than ready to fight, the Roman standing his ground as he looked. Two versus one, devil in the details. His face was taken in by both of them, he was an older man: one of experience. His armor had been plated and shaped like a chest, abs and all molded and formed on it. It hadn't been clean, there had been dents on it, his helmet bronze and plated and classically covered his face in all but a t-form, letting his eyes and mouth bear their whites at them.

"You fucking two-bit Guido prick. Come on partner!" Masterson had yelled back, his throat hoarse, his accent out. He wanted to kill this man because he was subject to be killed, then and there. It was only fair. Emerson knew that feeling better than most, even before he had become a soldier.

He knew that feeling of wanting to kill someone badly.

Joining the Army wasn't an attempt for him to fulfill that, but rather, to reconcile and heal.

The world was cruel however.

Cruel enough for Emerson to go for his neck, feeling the ball-chain necklace and rip it off him, two tags of metal in between his fingers as he balled his fist.

The Roman struck first, swinging out his sword diagonally toward the man making the most noise: Masterson. The Texan threw himself back almost in that small alley, almost into the shop on the opposite end, avoiding the strike, however before Emerson could respond the sword went toward him.

He dove; dove for the Roman's stomach, felt his face plant against steel armor and unkindly the force of his body hitting the ground as Masterson scrambled up and out dashing toward the two men before the Roman, still holding his sword, could thrust it inward toward Emerson.

Masterson's boot had come to the blade first, punting it away, only for him to crush the man's wrist. The scream of pain was muted to Emerson as he dragged himself up on the Roman, clawing at his face, his helmet discarded, rolling off and tossed asides as Emerson did the only thing that was necessary. Civilians around them ran away, ignoring the trio as, for the first time in Emerson's life, he took a life.

When the dog tags came down on his face via fist, they didn't slice, and nothing was clean about it. Puncture was the better word as with strength befit a soldier, the fragility of a man was revealed in the way an eyeball bursts when forced through by metal. From then on it was layer by layer, breaking each in their own way. The structure of the face, of skin, then bone, then what remained inside of it. Emerson saw only red, felt only red, as Masterson held his friend by the shoulders to drag him off.

A Roman laid dead, head caved in, in that back alley in Tokyo, leaving nothing behind but his blood splatter on the two men that held him down and bashed his skull in.

Leaning down, Emerson could do nothing but pick up the only weapon he had: a sword, holding up to the light and seeing the inscriptions of a language he had never seen before. The sheen reflected his face, his eyes, and he had seen them cold.

To kill was a baptism, the holy water that of a coppery red. He was forever changed now.

This was how wars started: in the hearts of men.


There was a phrase for men like them. A motto, drilled into their very heart by their training. On some measure, maybe it had been some motivational bullshit that any group needed to pump their chest about; to feel special. It was a choice phrase however, coined on the beaches of a continent far away, in the middle of a battle. Here, more than any other time, that phrase should've been used. Irony had its way however as Emerson and Masterson found themselves on the tail of empty streets in the middle of Asia's busiest city, kicking in store fronts, doors, telling people in their best Japanese to-

"Fucking run! Go!"

Rangers lead the way. That was the phrase. So they, without argument, without second thought, would stay behind and make sure anyone who was in Ginza got out of it as they existed in the haze of the chaos.

They weren't heroes or distinct men of action. Just people who knew that if anyone made sense to die there today, it'd been them as they directed people out, down the streets, doing what Americans did best: be loud.

In the heart of Tokyo, there was always people, and they would never get enough people out, but they would try. It wasn't as if they intended to leave anyway.

The pops of gunfire in the distance, pistol cartridges no doubt from Tokyo police had combined with, plainly seen in the sky: fireworks. The sky hadn't been dark enough, but that's what they were, concussive pops going off in mid-air, aimed at the other fantastical displays up there. The roar of dragons ruled between the pops, and any news chopper or police chopper in the sky had been warded off, leaving the enemy with complete superiority in the air.

Japan's first responders hadn't been its military. It had been those with nothing more than popguns or roman candles, and that in itself was admirable.

All the two had had been the sword picked off of a man they killed: Ivory handles and a sharpened blade. It was certainly an eye-opening thing that had no right to exist as the two men had ran away from the staging point of the enemy, just below that stone gate. Slowly, ever so slowly, lines of battle had been drawn, and the wall, phalanxes were formed. The rumble of men marching in line like Hitler's Wehrmacht of old had returned to the world in the form of Legion.

They cut down any opposition in their way, swallowing those left behind whole: That opposition being women, and children, and tourists.

This is what they trained for: to save them, but they could not do that now without wasting their lives and it boiled their blood. It boiled their blood hot like lava and it only was magnified by the fact that someone was missing from them. One of their own. Never leave a man behind. It was a sacred oath and they were going against it now.

Five blocks down and that wall of legionnaires was seen. "Come on you fuckers! Come on!" Between the adrenaline, the blood loss, and the rage, Masterson pumped his chest as he stood in the middle of the street as men and women ran on either side of him, trying all his best to coax the enemy at him so he may strike them down with weapons he didn't have.

"Sergeant!" Emerson had been more coherent, warning his subordinate. It didn't take being a solider to know that what they were in the middle of wasn't a tactical ideal. Yet they were both more than just soldiers. More than just regular GIs. Emerson specially. West Point molded him, his youth grew him. He never picked a fight he couldn't win, and what they were facing right now it had been suicide.

Bodies of those in Tokyo had littered the streets: scorched, bled out, violent demises not fit for this world anymore. Maybe it would've been a truck, hijacked by some Islamic extremist that would've put the dead on these streets. Maybe it would've been a North Korean holdout, come to Tokyo with hidden AK, or, perhaps, a bomb from some right-wing Japanese extremist. But none of those things had been there that day.

There be dragons, and another cast its shadow above them all. Words fell out of both of their mouths to those around, diving for the underpass, but they didn't know if enough heard those words as the dragon dove itself and its mouth caught alight. The two men didn't see the fire as they threw themselves on concrete with what felt like a dozen other people, hands and arms covering their heads, but they felt the fire at their backsides as people screamed.

Combat footage from Syria and Libya spoke this story: of Russian Hinds or Loyalist MiGs throwing barrel bombs or rocket fire down on insurgents this close. What couldn't be felt however was how that fire, that hostility, removed the targets from the world so completely. The smell of burning flesh was a smell like no other, and as Emerson buried his head in the dark, all he knew was what it was like when men and women burned alive.

He opened his eyes, turned around, and saw another street paved black with ash and bodies.

Tokyo would be on fire. Not physically, asides from what fires did rage from storefronts caught in the range of these attacks. Tokyo was on fire with the rage of an Empire, come to attack it, to take it, in the name of something that had been so simple, the modern world would not understand.

Stumbling up he had taken his hands to Masterson's back as they stepped on people too afraid to raise their heads and affirm that they were alive and this had been a nightmare, he dragged him in a run, under the cover of that bridge. It was the only place they could go.

They tried their phones earlier, standing over the body of the Legionnaire, but Tokyo's cell towers had been overwhelmed and they were left alone in that world with nothing but a city under attack and civilians that needed to be drawn somewhere.

"Where are we even going?!" Masterson had ran, barking half way through it as his lungs were ragged from yelling. "We need to go back Kay! Tracy is back there!"

Tracy O'Neill. Squadmate. Father. Husband. Corporal.

Why they were in Ginza that day had seemed so, so distant from the darkness that shrouded all of them as the city streets filled with smoke from burnt tar or bone. They were there on Tracy's behalf. His family had come to Tokyo to visit him and they had reached out to Emerson and Masterson to help organize it. For that, they were rewarded with this. This.

"I know! I KNOW!" Emerson paused, stopping, for wherever they went in that urban sprawl it all felt like they were on treadmills, going nowhere. "We link up with some police. We ask for gear. We go back in for SAR."

"We need the rest of our people here, Kay." Masterson had been bleeding still, but it was no matter, not to him. Tracy was a part of his squad, the drive to go in there and get him out it tore at him like a claw. "We need to raise USFJ! Get the fucking crayon eaters out here! Abrams in Tokyo, F-35s above! ANYTHING!" Frantic, his voice cracking, leaning into his superior officer.

It was a punch that came to Masterson's face lovingly, only for his head to be held. "Listen to yourself!" Emerson ground into him, the implications of what he was asking too great for history. "US troops deployed in Tokyo!? One step at a time. We do what we can!"

"God dammit."

"Masterson?!"

"I get it I get it!"

Masterson wore his heart on his sleeve, figuratively and literally based on the blood. He decried the circumstances not only for himself though. He did it for Emerson too. Training had betrayed Emerson, his mouth ran dry and his lungs torn. One of his men was back there, in that goat rodeo, he was his responsibility and it meant everything. For him, he had to keep calm, keep measured, and hold what man he did have with him straight.

The attack didn't let up, the screech of the beast going for an attack far too close to comfort near. Without even looking, only running opposite of the sound, they ran in the shadow of the raised railway underpass of the metro.

It got ahead of them, the dragon, swooping beneath, stopping them in their tracks as if they were fleas. They would be stomped out like that, but the gun fire came first, the pop pop pop of a .38 special revolver that glanced at the rider of that dragon. Sparks flew as his armor took rounds, wounding him, jerking him up and off as the dragon responded to the stimuli of the reins. The dragon flew off and away, leaving nothing but a rider.

Blood dripped from beneath his armored plates as he twisted around, looking for those who did the deed. Emerson and Masterson did so as well, finding nothing but a scared Tokyo metro cop, frantically swinging the cylinder of his revolver open.

The most vulnerable had been the better targets.

That's why the two Americans had seen a Roman charge a Japanese man who had never needed to fire a gun in his life in anger until today.

"Hey!" Another scream from Emerson, at the Roman, said man twisting his head around to him. Better him than anyone else. Masterson disagreed, taking Emerson's shoulder, but he shoved it off, walking forward.

He still had the sword from the last rider, drawn and ready. Although he had never used one in his life that hadn't been in ceremonial fashion, as long as that Roman concentrated on him…

Squaring up against Emerson, the knight never saw another Japanese man tackle him from behind, wrap his arms around his neck, and, in one motion as he brought the Roman to the ground, separate his head from his spine in a yank.

The Roman's body vibrated, not knowing it was dead as the gloss eye'd look in his eye was frozen, his form dropped to the floor unceremoniously.

That's when the killer rose. Older than them, black scruffy hair like any Japanese man in his thirties, a long face by some regard, lanky. Yet he was toned in a subtle way, hidden not by his cargo shorts and bright orange tee that Emerson couldn't place. He was a handsome man, he admitted to himself. Emerson wasn't into anime as much as some in his unit, and to think of someone who had worn such a proud proclamation of the media had just killed a man with his bare hands…

They were the same.

The two locked eyes. Same height, even. Same gait, same sharp eyes that knew better than to just stand there in the middle of that warzone. It was the hint of a ball chain necklace on the Japanese man's neck that hinted toward his true nature.

"Coins out, Cam."

The Americans had been first as Emerson led: Made in their name, for their name, two slices of metal. Emerson had forgotten that his own had been wrapped around his fist, never let go in the white-knuckle combat of the day, still bloody, a hint of skin and flesh wedged where it had cut. The Japanese drew his out, letting it lay on his chest:

What they couldn't read in the distance between him the man said in his higher voice, in Japanese. "My name is Itami Youji."


She was female 75th Ranger #138.

One of the first of the United State's special operations capable women, operating the same as the men that had, in years past, defined the occupation of war. Perhaps the type of American that had been born and raised since the end of the Cold War had changed. Maybe, as a whole, those who had grown up with the fall of the World Trade Center and the rise of an Islamic State had been edgier, had more bite as a whole, then those great generations that came behind them.

Maybe it didn't matter, and it simply had become time for the gender barrier to go down and for women, if they were able, 100%, to wage the Forever War. The War on Terror was without a gender barrier after all, and what that meant was that Lisa Bannon had been Platoon Sergeant of Lieutenant Kristian Emerson's Ranger Chalk.

It also currently meant she had been running on the tarmac of Yokota Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo to the UH-60 Blackhawks with nearly twenty other men behind her: every single piece of their gear put on as they ran. That was the urgency, so much so some had only gone out with their plate carriers tossed on top of their skinnies and sweat pants. Whatever was going to happen was going to be a long day ahead, but all they worried about was getting out there in the first place.

It was an urgency brought upon two facts: An attack had come upon Tokyo that had made the JSDF spin up in the distance, and, more importantly to them, three of their own had been out there. The only reason why they had been running like this, on their own volition, was that the brass had been petrified, going through the motions of either this being a terrorist attack or if the Chinese had finally begun the war that everyone thought was coming.

The problem was that it hadn't been.

The news stations out of Tokyo had been cut off, communications sporadic, internet service cut down in all of the prefecture. The only news that came had come from black smoke that rose out of downtown Tokyo, and like the Native American signals of old it was a signal. Reports on the ground that had come in, fantastical in nature, but it all spoke to one understandable idea: there was a hostile army on ground.

The JSDF personnel at Yokota AFB had thought in horror that a terrorist attack had finally come to Japan. Though that had been wrong. It was a hunch felt only by the Americans there who knew better. This was too big to be an act of terror. This was an act of war, and whoever had been fighting it in the middle of Tokyo needed help that no one, American or Japanese, would give.

No one except a group of Rangers.

Bannon's helmet had been on a carabiner on her hip, what little hair she did have fluttering as she and that mass of men and women came running toward two choppers, spinning up, unease in their eyes.

"We're putting our ass out on the line for this, Sergeant." One of the pilot's spoke, her New York-drawl aggressive, but not unwarranted. These orders came from no one.

The first time anyone would hear Bannon speak, they would either check their ears or be grounded. For her voice was that of death itself: like nails on a chalkboard, or a man dragged on concrete, flesh grinding. Her voice was raspy and full of air, as if she had been a smoker all of her life. It grated against her words and left her unkind to listen to.

"You have your orders."

She needed to be out there. She needed to be, regardless of orders. That was what she owed the team she was a part of. That's what she owed to Emerson and Masterson if she was worth a damn as a platoon sergeant. It's what she owed Masterson alone if she was worth anything to herself.

"News to me." The pilot responded as she and the crew loaded in, the men and women that came with Bannon splitting off and entering, half with one chopper, half with another.

Bannon had only rolled her head, helmet on, looking toward that distant smoke and the grey clouds that came. It beckoned to her, for it was battle. She glanced her sunken eyes at the pilot, and that, by itself, was a threat as she sat over the side of the Black Hawk's compartment, throwing, last Ranger in, one hand up and twirling her index finger in a circle.

It was time. The Black Hawks had begun their rise up, only to meet the distant pitter patter of rain droplets that had appeared out of nowhere. It was if the smoke arising from Tokyo beckoned a storm.

There was a man in that chopper, another Ranger, far older than he should've been for his age. Some said he had been the oldest operations capable Ranger in the whole 75th. Some said he had been there in Abbottabad when Bin Laden was shot and killed. He was never at liberty to confirm anything but he had been a Ranger for nearly two decades in a profession where people died young.

He was a link to the past. Before the age of warfighters manifested in the only way they could, born beneath a War on Terror.

"Ramirez?" A middle-aged man looked up from his seat, hands around his M1014 shotgun slackening. He was a cop in San Diego, and all that it meant. Even before he had been a Ranger he served the so called public good and come out worse for wear. He knew war. He knew war worse than all. "You have Weapons."

Weapons Squad that is, the heavy hitters, the autogunner and indirect fire people with handheld mortars and AP. He could handle.

Everything about this man read the tale of a war that the world had forgotten how to fight, and took out on him personally. His gear, his gun, the haunted look in his eyes as he was being carried to another battlefield. He was there when Kabul fell, and the American forces covered an evacuation that echoed the Fall of Saigon but far bloodier, far much more a failure. He was there when North Korea made its final play: when the nuclear inspectors came and were murdered. The sky had fallen on Seoul that day, but in response, Hell had come to Pyongyang.

He knew the feeling of what it meant to be there. So too he would be at the Battle of Ginza he felt in his bones.

He nodded at Bannon, affirming. She would lead the rest.

Not one man or woman wavered out as, in the distance, the JSDF sirens went off, wailing into the crying sky. The choppers finally lifted off the deck, taking flight, their destination clear, and yet broad. "We insert at the American Embassy, ascertain the situation, and then we move as needed. We copy Hitman?!"

Hitman. That was the name of their unit. Officially they were a part of Delta Company, 4th Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. But they were alone now, here: All they had was what they were called over the radio.

"Hooah!"


Older than him, but not much. That was the first impression Emerson had of Itami Youji. He recognized the accent, he was a local of Tokyo in the same way Emerson's English outed him as a local of New York City. Black, spiky hair sat atop a tall face, the man built, his veins shown, regret in his eyes as he tried to push the sight of a dead man out of his eyes.

His dog tags came out as well, and, without saying, who he had been was revealed. He was part of the Japanese Self-Defense Force. The Jietai. There was a serious look written on his face, his teeth barred, panting breaths past it. Snapping a man's neck in two had been so unlike the casualness he had been dressed up in. No one ever killed on purpose in cargo shorts, Emerson thought shrewdly.

"You okay?" Emerson asked in English. Itami nodded, bending down, only picking up the sword that the rider had as the blood from gunshots pooled. He was still in shock, the screams in his head dulled out, the feeling of a head detaching from the spinal cord echoing within him.

"I'll be fine." He said, resolutely, shaking his head as if ridding himself of any doubts in his mind. He needed to kill that man. "Are you okay?" He seemed more concerned with Masterson, the man dripping in his own blood down one arm.

He grinned, forcing a smile as that side of his body twitched. As much as he tried to feign an arm that had gone asleep, the wince of pain still hit him as he spoke back. "Ain't nothing. Looks worse than it is partner."

There was a term that had been something of a catchphrase in Emerson's family. They were born in the hard knock Brooklyn, in the Marcy Projects. He had a mother and a father; a brother too. Sharing a small apartment in a neighborhood taken by the gentrification of an America at a post-modern crossroads. "In the wrong place, at the wrong time." Had been the default bellyache for his family, shared between them as rent went up, food went down, and the hardships of life came and went.

It was a phrase he wanted to utter now and all that it meant with Romans rolling down Tokyo streets, killing all.

The running of the saved police officer had distracted them all, the man finally getting his .38 shells in. His radio was buzzing, but traffic was too hot to discern much of anything. "Th-thanks!" He managed to breath out, Itami putting a hand on the younger man's shoulder. He was shellshocked, if nothing else, death staring him in the face.

"What's going on here? Where are the civilians going?" Itami asked, and in that, Emerson had thought something of the man. If he had been JSDF, then perhaps he could've been a…

The police officer doubled over on his knees and Emerson had the echo of a thought: to ask for his gun. He didn't though, it wasn't right as he breathed out.

"We have no idea. The radio is just crazy right now and we lost all communications with the precinct."

Survivors had slowly started accruing around the men, quiet, not knowing what to do. As if they had been personally responsible for the constriction in his throat Emerson felt their need of him surround him. Men, women, children. The Japanese come to him and Itami because they stood tall and seemed like they knew what they were doing.

Emerson didn't, but he knew there had to be a place, an evacuation point, that was within range. It would've been suicide to trust people in a mob to simply scatter like this.

In his eyes Itami had a ghost of a vision, an idea, that was on the tip of his lips. He looked to the north-west, and then back to the direction of Ginza. These enemies had been that of before the Middle Ages, of Rome itself.

There was only one place in all of Tokyo that had known what that was like. He would've been embarrassed to admit how he thought of it, but there was no ceremony to stand on: not with a dead man at their feet and the innocent burned alive around them.

Once, long ago, Tokyo had burned, and despite it all a castle had survived.

"Kokyo." Was all that had been on Itami's lips. Translated into English, it made sense to any who knew of its history.

"What?! You can't expect-"

Itami saw right through the lack of plan. At least he had one. "The Palace is the only place to be guarded enough to save these people." The Imperial Palace, the throne of an Emperor. Itami explained it hard and fast. "It is the only place built to withstand this kind of warfare."

A warfare outdated for nearly five centuries, but alas, it was alive and well now.

"It's a staging point. From there, we can organize." Emerson affirmed readily. It was an idea, and Masterson had no protest. He just wanted to fight. They all just wanted to fight.

They had their duty though.

"Can you call it in?" Itami had asked calmly, pointing at the police officer's radio before turning over to Emerson and Masterson, the two nodding. That was when the yelling started, at the top of their lungs, telling people that there was only one way out of here, and it had been at the seat of power of all of Japan.

People would remember them then: the Texan, the black man, and the older Japanese otaku yelling their lungs out on top of cars telling people where to go.

Their yells, their voices, screamed at them for their lives. Such volume could not have gone unnoticed for long as a lone rider appeared from around the corner, a block down, people keeping a wide berth from him.

A horseman. A pike at his side and his steed ready to roar.

Emerson knew what to do immediately, dropping down from the roof of the car he had perched on, sword in hand. "Cam, go."

"What?" The Texan asked as if the man was crazy.

"Go with the cop, take these people to the Palace. I'll see you there."

He was mad, Masterson decided, to him at least. He had already left one man behind today, but damned it all if he left his CO. "But-"

"That's an order, sergeant."

Itami raised his eyebrows in a side glance at the African-American man. It had been the first time he'd seen one in person, and, because of it, he stood out in this crowd of survivors, pushing past him to safety. "You're an officer?" He asked.

Emerson nodded. "Second Lieutenant… you?"

"First Lieutenant." He blinked at Emerson, answering. But then a smirk came from the side of his mouth. "You have the command?"

Emerson breathed out a raspy breath in aggravation. "Look around you, you think anyone's in command?"

Itami shook his head back. "I just wanted to go to the convention today."

Really? "That what you're thinking of now?" Emerson held his sword closer to himself.

"Maybe."

Masterson wasn't usually how he was now: skittish, weighed down. He was a carefree man, a good man, by any pretense of the word. Grown up in a Texas, risen by his family's charity, but he by the people who never received it, he knew empathy beyond words. The smile and his bombastic personality, swept away by war, by the fact one of his men and his family was missing in action.

"Cam." Emerson turned around one last time as the horse rider stared them down down the street. "Go."

"Kay." He said in concern to his officer. They were friends, and Emerson had proven himself more than just some plucky West Point graduate to Masterson. If he hadn't proven himself before, he had proven himself now. This was what Rangers did.

The police officer with them had put a hand on Masterson's bloodied shoulder, urging him to go, but he shook it off. Before the man could open his mouth Emerson had his response.

"I'll be back. Besides," Emerson turned back around to face down the rider, "Bannon would give me hell if something happened to you."

That brought him down from the rage he had. Realization that he himself was a person, not an arbitrator of justice. "God dammit. Fine!" To think himself an executor, it was a trap that had been drilled into his head, fallen too easily through.

Storming off, doing his job, the crowds drew to him and the police officer as he led the way to safety, leaving behind two soldiers from two different armies.

"Soldiers, huh?"

"Same as you."

Itami shook his head again. "Never thought myself as one."

"Yet here we are?" Emerson said with as much seriousness as he could gather. The horse and its rider stayed at the other end of the block, staring them down as the horse grinded its hoofs against unfamiliar ground. "Why you out here today anyway man?"

"There was a convention today, in Ginza." He said slowly, in English. Emerson didn't see the need, responding in a Japanese that not many expected out of a man like him.

Itami widened his eyes in surprise when Emerson spoke his language. "Not going to be one now, I think."

"I wanted to pick some things up there…" Was that remorse on his tongue? Emerson couldn't believe it. But people needed their priorities in war, in combat. If he needed a reason Emerson let him have it.

"I think we have our priorities." Itami didn't seem convinced, but small-talk was over, the rider circling his horse, building momentum as the street was cleared. He was a scout no doubt, here to capitalize on being alone with people who dared stand in his way. The reds and silvers of his armor shone beneath metropolitan lighting. "Call me Kay, by the way. Like the letter."

"Hai." Itami said, the two men wisely spreading apart, putting the lane between them as the rider seemed ready.

When the horse began its charge in a gallop, the two men sucked in the breaths in their lungs as Emerson raised his sword into the air, only to haul it behind his back and, in one lunge as the horse was halfway to them: threw it at it.

In the shadow of his helmet the Roman seemed surprised, veering his horse off as the sword flew at him, stealing him of his momentum as Itami charged, seeing the slightly ajar door of the car closest to the horse and its rider. "Hey! Come at me!" He dared them, and they seemed to understand.

So they began again the brisk charge, running straight at Itami as he hugged the edge of the sedan, sliding his fingers between the gap of the ajar door, waiting, just waiting for the final few yards to do what he intended to do: staring death in the face as he bore his teeth and prayed to God as, with all his might, he made his play.

The car door flew open, the horse crashing right into it in an explosion of glass. The horse crippled over it, down onto the ground in a fleshy crash, throwing its rider off of it in a tangled mess, fit with metal, his pike breaking as he fell onto it.

His arm had been bent behind him, his horse scampering away leaving him at the mercy, groaning in pain, of two men above him with weapons of his world.

A black man, and a man from the East. So much unlike him.

He spat a swear in his tongue toward them, damning their gods.

All he got was the boot in the face as the two ran off and away, toward an Imperial Palace.


For any reason, any reason at all, Emerson was needed there, it had been to say what Itami had been shouting at the huddled masses congregating around the Imperial Palace in English if it was needed.

They would've been run down on the run to the Imperial Palace, but the fire department had found them first, a truck waved down by them and escorting them to the Palace on its back. They had left shortly after, its siren blaring.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Itami asked the firefighters, a grim look in their eyes.

"Someone's gotta fight back!" They answered all in the same way. The great water cannons meant for fires that threatened Tokyo lives had a purpose then and there. "If we can't spray the hell out of them, we can at least run them over!" The desperation in their voices had tore at Emerson's very being. He should've been out there with them. There was someone he was responsible for, out there.

Pure chaos manifested in every aspect of Tokyo: even the sky above as grey storm clouds formed, having creeped upon this day of days. The sky was on fire, fireworks and flares shot up by anyone who was willing to put up a fight against the dragons. Anti-air culminating in star bursts and emergency tools, and it was the best Tokyo could do.

Versus ballistas and battalions, there was no way anyone fighting back without a gun could've done anything. Even if they had a car to run down the hordes, you could only run over so many bodies.

The grey overcast boded nothing but disaster as Tokyo smoked, ground zero: Ginza.

Itami had his plan, and he begged a police kiosk in the middle of the chaos. Not even on their worst days had anything been like this. In the distance: the sound of metal screeching. Those dragons and their riders had been tearing down the cellular and radio towers on top of the buildings. Why they had been doing that couldn't be known other than just to cause more destruction, but it meant hell for communications.

Around the block, police cars had formed a barrier where they could. Not enough police officers on site to form a proper barricade and perimeter, but it was something.

Emerson recounted that, at one point, the Japanese police had only accounted for five rounds fired in the line of duty in a year.

What was happening today, as the report of meager police revolvers in the distance went off, this year would be an outlier. It would be an outlier in every sense.

"Do you understand what you're asking?!" The police officer in the guard booth had yelled back at Itami. "We already had to drag one of you idiots out!"

Said idiot had been on the steps of that booth, an onsite paramedic shrewdly making sure his wound had been dealt with.

Masterson had been biting down on the remains of his shirt as the medic dug their hands into his wound, taking out arrow heads as a staple gun was shot into him instead, closing the wound ungracefully, but sufficiently.

Itami's fist banged against the glass window of the booth, talking through it. "We have to hunker down here! If we try to coordinate a mass evacuation on our streets?! People will be trampled! It'll be a massacre with those-" He pointed out at the shapes of dragons. "Out there!"

Emerson had taken the moment to kneel by Masterson as the medic finished up with him, running off to deal with other injuries that had come about to gather just outside the Imperial Palace. Word had gotten around and the crowds and crowds of civilians had started showing up, straining everyone there.

"You good Ranger?"

Masterson let a strained laugh come out of his throat. "Fuck if it matters."

Emerson could only shake his head in jest, trying to level with one of his team leads, offering a hand to drag him up, which he had taken. His own blood had been dried on his palms, Masterson stripped down to his tank top. He had been a career Ranger now, and his body told the story of warfighters. The image of an American man fed with steak and nurtured with whole milk. Yet even that could be taken down by a simple arrow, hitting it in his shoulder, his shirt turned into a wrap over it.

Itami and the police man's argument rose and rose even as the crowd clamored for action, the sound of battle coming ever and ever closer. It was an argument that would've gone too long had it not been the ring of a telephone directly to that booth.

It was the booth that dictated the doors to the great walls of the Imperial Palace to open, to let the huddled masses in.

"What do you-?!" The police officer that answered the phone had stopped is mouth almost immediately, biting his tongue as the unknowable voice on the other end told him to open the gates. "Your Majesty!"

The three soldiers snapped their heads to the booth and the phone. It couldn't have been?

The police officer had widened eyes as he looked to his compatriots, signaling for the doors to be opened and preparing for the crowd that would come rushing in. Hundreds of people, huddled together, lost and confused. Itami had jumped up, grabbing the roof of the police booth and finding himself on top of it as he yelled out and the great ancient doors of the Imperial Palace were opened. He saw out at the sea of people and thanked his stars that this was what he decided to do.

A hand had reached up below him. It was Emerson. Grabbing it he had hoisted the American up, their idea understood.

The two had yelled out in their voices, one in English, the other in Japanese, beckoning people forward into safety as they became beacons above chaos that seemed to be ever so encroaching like a tide. Directions, commands, it came naturally to the two as the people of Tokyo looked to them and listened sent on their way away from the war that was brewing blocks down. A war beat back only by police with handguns that petered out. At the very end of the waves of civilians had been the police themselves: running.

The gardens and the Imperial Palace had been in itself cordoned off by its very nature: almost an island in Tokyo's urban sea. The only way over a variety of chokepoints over water. The genius of Itami's decision made sense. Primeval warfare fought by primeval means. The police had come running by entire brigades: the riot police that had been deployed in such a hurry that even they hadn't been able to form barricades to stop what had been inevitable:

Through the deployed tear gas, the haze of Tokyo of fire and smoke, rose the flags of purple and gold: of a dragon and swords. Legions themselves come marching, their boots one unified beat as they appeared within distance of the palace.

A wall of shields, made of man, behind them: catapults and ballistae.

Itami looked down: a young girl had tripped, at risk of being trampled a few feet away as the riot police and other first responders rushed to the defensive lines formed around the Palace. His feet flew as he jumped off the booth, toward her.

A child, no more than six perhaps. Her blue dress dirtied and ruined from the day. She was alone, hands around her ears as the sounds of war beat ever closer. Itami had basically skid to right in front of her, taking her sides and picking her up. "Hey, hey, come on. I'll get ya safe."

The girl could hardly say anything as the weight of an unknowable pain was within her eyes, words unable to be formed in her mouth. What had she seen that day? Itami had wondered.

Too much.

He had rushed back to the police booth, the medics present transitioning from civilians to the first responders who had tried, at all, to mount a defense further into Ginza. What they had gotten had been arrows and blunt force injuries, stabs and burns. An officer, still standing, had seen Itami with the girl, the two locked eyes as they met half way before kneeling and laying down casualties; walking wounded who refused to lay down their arms.

"Your daughter?" The police officer asked, Itami shook his head, dragging his dog tags out again.

"Get her safe. Please." The police officer nodded, taking her off and away and into the palace. How many children like her had been out there? Itami had damned himself for thinking that thought as he looked back to the police booth and the man standing on it.

Emerson looked out at the legions, within firing range by his account, but he hadn't a weapon worth a damn to do anything. The last stragglers of civilians passing by. Any of those left behind were swallowed by these legions.

If it wasn't the time then, it was the time now, the police cruisers and trucks that had been able to get on site thrown open, shotguns and submachine guns starting to go out and passed around to those who were able to still operate.

Where was the JSDF? Emerson had looked at those grey skies. Strange, it had been such a clear day earlier.

Things change though. Today would forever be a testament to that as he caught Masterson hungrily looking at a police cruiser's trunk.

"Lieutenant!" Itami heard his rank called from Emerson, he looking up as the man jumped down. "We can do no good here. We're moving out."

Itami looked at him as if mad. "What?!" He pointed at the plainly seen legions, waiting, biding their time, brewing fear as officers inside of the castle had forced civilians away and not to look.

"We'll find a hole, a flank, push behind them." Masterson answered, guessing Emerson's game plan. "Just give us guns and-"

"What are you? Marines? Army? Air Force? If you're just regular infantry, I can't possibly let you-" Emerson told him what they were. A seriousness on his face that was compounded by the color of his skin to Itami. He was serious. Far more serious than he had ever seen a man that day. What they were, they were qualified. "Why though?"

A SAT truck, Japan's SWAT team, had rolled up from behind. Not a full crew, but their weapons could be spread around as officers dragged wounded back and set up a firing line across the waters and bridges.

"One of my men is back there, at that comicbook convention or whatever today." More than that. Emerson and Masteron knew oh so much more than that. His sneakers twisted on the ground as if raring to go. He didn't want to ask permission of Itami, but something inside of him, his dumb West Point-educated mannerisms made him want to clear it with another officer. He knew it was insane, but today was insanity. "We have to go back."

Masterson had already been motioning toward the SAT truck as Itami grinded his teeth, looking at the rest of the police officers take position. No one there had been ranking, and they needed a military presence when the JSDF did get there. He couldn't leave, and he couldn't be responsible for these two Americans.

"Where have you been?" He asked once, leading the two to the SAT truck as one of their officers rose an eyebrow at them.

Emerson had blinked as he remembered where he had fought war before and how different it was from today: "Yemen, Iraq, Syria."

"Baghdad, Pyongyang, and Juarez partner." Masterson answered himself. "Don't you doubt that."

Stories of American Special Forces abroad filled his head. America's invisible hand, crushing those for reasons beyond his understanding. "I don't."

The trio had arrived to the back of the truck, the armory chief in his casual clothes, obviously not expecting to be called out today, had yelled at them as if they were expecting weapons as several other officers shuffled through weapons and gear. "Who the hell are-?!"

Itami rose his hand.

"They're good. They're American." The Japanese police man had looked to Itami, and then back to Emerson and Masterson, their eyebrows raised. "They're military."

Masterson had twitched. "Special forces, you son of a bitch."

Rangers lead the way.

Light infantry, airborne special operations force. The American forces that came in to extract the NAVY Seals that killed Bin Laden had been of the same blood as those who had taken Point Du Hoc over Omaha and Utah Beach during the D-Day Landings, nearly a hundred years ago. Emerson and Masterson shared that blood. From Normandy, to Basra, to Nigeria, that experience, that weight, was with the two men now.

The officer seemed shocked, and Itami had still been recovering from the reveal. "75th Rangers. SOF." Emerson stepped forward, clarifying, between the Police Chief and Itami. "Just give us your kits and we'll be out of your hair. We'll radio forward positions and give the Cobras something to think about. Please." Emerson looked up, if the Cobras got up, he thought.

"We're responsible for whatever you do with these." The Chief bit back. "We can't let you go."

"One of my men is out there. What would you do for yours?" Pleading. It was in Emerson's voice as all at once, Itami placed his hand on the Chief's shoulder. Of all the battles that needed to be fought that day, this one was not worth it.

With one flick of the hand two kits were taken from the tactical racks. Black plate carriers with the Japanese word for POLICE had been across it. It barely hid the fact that they had nothing more than t-shirts and shorts on. Masterson himself had been rucking it with socks and sandals. But it was okay, the world over Special Operators like them had shown up on the scene like this, it didn't feel right, but it was how history made them out to be.

The guns came out, and it was time to get busy.

Police as they were, they were given police guns. MP5s, 9mm submachine guns.

"How much ammo?" One of the police had asked.

"As much as you can." Emerson begged with his eyes. They were going out there to save a man, but to do that, they would have to fell an army. Even nine-millimeter could break what these Romans were wearing.

He heard Masterson trying to get one of the police officer's attentions, pointing into the back of the paddy wagon. "Hey, that one. Just give me that one."

What emerged from locker had been nothing less than imported American steel. Surplus, surely, given to Japan at some point during the Cold War and then promptly sent downward into the more civilian occupation of police work, but it had been an American weapon.

The name of Ithaca, which this weapon bore, was familiar to Emerson as a New York native.

It was a shotgun, a belt full of red shells handed over. "This buckshot or rubber?"

"Buckshot." The police officer handing it off to him replied.

He was impressed. "Must be a special occasion."

Emerson had been otherwise busy rocking in the mag of his MP5 in, sending the bolt back to chamber the round before slamming the bolt forward.

Just a basic bitch MP5, something Masterson had been more than willing to point out. "Pistol caliber against fucking suits of armor? Is that gonna cut it?"

"It'll have to." Two headsets had been tossed their way, two police officer hurriedly wiring them down to radios mounted on their kits. "What channel we on right now?"

"It'll send it back to station once we get comms back up hopefully." Emerson affirmed, getting used to the sights on this gun. He was used more to his AR. What he would do for any of his gear right now, well, it'd be ironic. He would kill a man for it. He'd fought worse off. He'd fought in his damn skinnies when the mortars came in his little patrol base in Iraq. He'd fought worse when the war began anew, fed by a Russia that didn't exist anymore. The world had changed. He had changed, and Ginza, whoever came to it to conquer, would know it true.

"Ain't First Division supposed to be out here?" Masterson asked Emerson hurriedly, but Itami shook his head.

"They're still partly in Korea, the rest are still up North, cleaning the Zone." A clue. Itami came from the 1st Division: the JSDF regiment in charge of Tokyo's defense. Going to North Korea had been pertinent to that when the DMZ came down and Korean Reunification came under a hail of artillery. The war that the JSDF first went into wasn't one on their own soil or sea, but rather in a peninsula across the water. What it meant was more than just Pacific peace, it meant that Japan had gone to war for the first time since the war that defined a new modern era, one that now clashed with Romans themselves.

What had happened those past few months in Fukushima? Also unthinkable, drawing the best of the JSDF off and away to save their country.

The Beast called for them. It called for Kay Emerson and Cam Masterson in the sound of screaming and the impact of ancient munitions against the modern world. It called for them in the roar of beasts; called for them as men of action thirsted for. Out there, the helpless needed help, the saviors needed saving. Soldiers needed to fight.

What it felt like to want to fight an entire war was put upon their shoulders as if slipped on by the Japanese police, and it made them boil.

"Cam, we ready?!"

"Hooah!"

One of their own was out there with his family, and if anything happened to them, they would never forgive themselves.

"You shouldn't go out there." Spoken in English, Itami Youji regarded them, away from the defenses as they funneled into the Palace. The attention Itami gave to those masses he signaled into the Palace was put on them now, squarely on Emerson. It was a look of worry from an older man.

Emerson gave him a look back, and it pleaded with him to understand. To understand the man who was born in a city who had fallen victim to a day, long ago, that defined modern history. He was a New Yorker, born and raised, and what that meant was in his soul he inherited the agony of a people who knew loss. Once, what felt like a century ago, two towers stood over New York.

Emerson had finally understood now what that day felt like as an adult.

What remained now was the America that emerged from its ashes.

"We have to." Emerson explained. "We have to."

"I can't promise you support." Itami warned.

Emerson didn't care. He knew exactly what he was getting himself into. "Take care of these people, and I'll take care of my own. I'll see you on the other side, Lieutenant Itami."

Before Itami could respond the two Americans took off, together, going the opposite flow of retreating first responders and stragglers. When they realized they were going to fight, they opened up like the Red Sea before Moses, clearing their way to war.

Itami had watched them cross a bridge and cut off and away into an alleyway, too fast for those massive legions to account for them. With that, he figured he'd be better off inside, even as that same Chief offered him a gun. He shook his head as he ran inside, hoping to find someone with comms to division headquarters.

There hadn't been a quiet moment that day, even coming to the safety of the palace as it was opened up, the worried and the angry, the confused and the panicked, all rising up to a crescendo that seemed to only go higher until those that saw him first started a hush that spready like a virus.

One by one, onlookers turned upward.

In the palace, on the balcony to meet an Empire, an Emperor had appeared over the panicked and worried crowds. He had been the first Emperor of Japan born after the Second World War. He did not know what it was like for American B-29s to lay waste to Tokyo; he did not know what a Japan under attack looked like. Not until today of course, not until he saw his capital city raise in smoke and fire around him as modern warfare manifested at his doorstep. His bodyguards had been frantic, just short of throwing him under his arms. He was an older man now, in the ten years since he had inherited the Chrysanthemum Throne, but today, more than ever, and for Japan as whole, he had been aged a century.

He stood at the railing of his palace courtyard, over the crowds as they noticed he was there.

"Your Majesty, please, we need to get you somewhere safe." One of his guards pressed him.

Emperor Naruhito would not be pressed, one hand of his staying on the railing, looking out into Tokyo beyond the walls of an Imperial Palace that had been built for this type of warfare. History repeated in abstractions and absurdities, and here, as a modern man representing the Japanese people, he would stand before, in the distance, the Gate and remind Japan, let the people who dare come to his country know, that he was a descendent of God.

Silence took the palace, Itami Youji looking to his Emperor same as those hundreds of other people. He had thought little of what it meant to be Japanese in his life. He was more concerned with being himself in the end, however he had ended up in the JSDF regardless. He joined to serve himself, to live the life he wanted to live, but he was not blind. He was a thirty-year-old man outside of the audience-age of what he partook in, but what that meant was that he lived a life and knew what value was. He had a duty. He had honor.

In the distance all his blessings were with the two Americans who he had found that day and hoped, just hoped, that they would shepherd more to him.

Itami Youji became an icon of the Battle of Ginza, taking to atop a police booth and directing the innocent into the Imperial Palace, into safety. But he would share that distinction, of being a hero, with two Americans. His fate was tied forever then now with them and all that it meant.

In the Emperor's eye, there was a war coming. A war that Japan had to fight. For the righteousness of his people, just justice, for freedom against a tyranny that it had not felt since- since…

Itami knew what he had to do then and there. No excuses, no running away. People needed him, and it was a promise made to himself since he was a young man, since he saw what cruelties of life gave people, to save all he could.

Two American Black Hawks buzzed over the Imperial Palace and the cherry blossoms of the Imperial Garden followed them into the grey sky.


"This is Super 2-1 to Embassy Guard. Anyone on this net?"

There be dragons. They had floated and flown around Tokyo as if it had been a feeding ground, and for many, it had been, pieces of people being collected from the streets and left atop buildings. That's what had taken the Bannon's Black Hawks so long, skirting the ground and staying out of range of beasts that had, when they were first seen, made them doubt the reality they were in. Whatever the enemy though, the war had been real:

Dead in the streets, weapons of war brought to bear and the troops of a nation out of time.

"Super 2-1 to any units on this net, please respond."

The US Embassy had been a brisk ten-minute drive away from Ginza, well within this enemy's line of battle, and, as far as any of their responsibilities went, it lied with them before they went into Ginza to face whatever would come.

In the distance, the USS Fallujah had been roaring to life. The escort carrier had been in port of Tokyo Bay, delivering its MEU onto mainland Japan for training exercises. What it would do, the Rangers thought, they couldn't even begin to imagine: Air support, directly over Tokyo.

And just barely heard over the roar of a city at war, had been the turbofans of American jets, spinning up.

The American military had always been quick on the draw, and here, there was a set of plans in place for an attack on Tokyo, a contingency. It wasn't an untruth that the Rangers deployed were in charge of Embassy evacuations, but the reason why Bannon came out here had been personal, nonetheless.

She tightened her throat mic as she spoke into it, transmitting to the team. "Game plan is my team with me to clear the diplomatic residences, Ramirez, hit the Embassy itself and ascertain the situation. We need to see if the Marines on deck have it on lock."

Bannon had been to war before: Afghanistan. Sipping tea with the Taliban, a SCAR-L in her hand, a hijab loosely over her head. Afghanistan nowadays had been a different beast. America preferred its dictators to extremists, and for that, history turned out that way. The last choice that had to be made was the one that consolidated the Taliban. The one where America did its interest for the sake of an Afghanistan without buried Americans.

Deals with the Devil, and America as a whole was party to it. Bannon had far and away removed herself from it. She had to. Not after what she had seen become of Afghanistan in her time there. To be complicit in those type of wrongs would be to give the Taliban the reasoning behind their eternal war. Righteous as they were, Bannon could do nothing there but let history decide where she was to be.

It put her, deployments and deployments after Afghanistan, a few blocks down from the US Embassy.

"We can't go no further Ranger!" Bannon's pilot yelled back as the claustrophobic mass of Tokyo's buildings surrounded them. "Sky's too hot!"

Roars of beasts echoed between glass and steel, and the pilot's point was made as she nodded, tying her mask over her face. "Put us down close then."

"Aight! One minute!"

"One minute!"

"One minute!"

The signal that insertion was one minute out rang out through the two choppers from the Rangers. Some had been late on the draw though, looking down, seeing horses and Romans in the street. The dead littered, the hallmarks of an ancient battlefield highlighted the roads of Tokyo as streams of red drained into sewer grates. They couldn't believe what they were seeing.

Neither could those invaders on the ground, looking up and seeing beasts of steel, thumping the wind itself in such a way that seemed unreal.

Still, maybe the Rangers could've understood better. If a hundred years ago, they could've told Patton or MacArthur that American troops could be deployed on the wings of angels it seemed, anywhere in the world within 24 hours, they too would've been flabbergasted.

"Watch for civilians!" Ramirez had yelled over the net knowingly. "We find any of them, make sure they get behind us before we're engaged!"

The rooftops of downtown Tokyo became eye-level with the Rangers as the shadow of buildings took over the choppers, their reflections painted by modern marvels that the Romans, in their idle moments, saw and were beholden to.

What kind of people had been able to build such towers of glass and steel?

Where had they gone in their conquest?

The Black Hawks had two gunners on their armaments, but even with targets below, they wouldn't open fire. Any who dared might've fired the first shots in a war beyond their understanding.

The crew chiefs in the Black Hawks had thrown their legs over the side as he felt the lurch of the Black Hawk, a telltale sign that it was stopping, several dozen feet over the roads. "Your stop!" The crew chief in Bannon's chopper notified her, and she nodded, throwing a thumbs up.

"Loke!" Bannon called for their team point woman: the young Pakistani-American answering as she had adjusted the sling to her Mk18 one last time. The ropes from the two Black Hawks were sent down, spiraling to the empty street below. Goggles on, helmet tight, this was a fast rope she never thought would happen in her life.

The window panes and the loose debris of urban Tokyo ebbed and flowed as the choppers sat above the seat, waiting for those inside of them to disembark.

"On your go Ranger!" The crew chief had patted Loke's back as he held his head out the window, looking for any signs of the hostiles that came today.

Sucking in a breath, the young woman grabbed the thick rope out of the chopper with her gloved hands, sliding down to a concrete jungle.

What the public and security cameras of Tokyo caught that day would've filled an archive of its own, but what had been seen that day a few blocks down from the US Embassy in Tokyo had been the first insertion of US military troops in a war that would define Japan for the rest of time. They landed like ghosts, just as Americans had the world over for the last two decades, in a song and dance that could not have conceivably been played in Tokyo. Seeing was believing though, and a Ranger chalk had touched down in Tokyo as Empire raged.

No sooner than they had arrived, the choppers had flown off to be on station for embassy extractions, and the Rangers themselves disappeared down the road into the chaos of Ginza.


"You okay LT?" They had sprinted back the way they came, the crowds of civilians thinning out to the nothingness they left behind. Masterson asked Emerson in care, the silence that somehow came upon them giving them for the first time in the last hour time to think.

No. Kristian Emerson was not okay. It's why Masterson had asked in the first place.

Emerson was a serious man, most of the time. He was young, but life hadn't dealt him a good hand. No one who ended up in the Rangers, perhaps, had a good hand. The altruism of patriotism via service hadn't survived, that long. He was just like any other West Point grad in a way, Masterson had pegged, but there was a reservedness that betrayed any incompetence that most fresh officers had. The weight on his back, running back into Tokyo, hadn't just been ammo.

"If we don't get to Tracy soon, we're gonna lose him in this mess."

They stacked up by an alleyway, peering down the block at the vague blur of men. Ogres, beasts, half-men and half-monsters forming battle lines as even more distantly they could see them penetrate the buildings, taking themselves in there and throwing whatever hadn't been theirs out. Desks, chairs, people. The flutter of office papers floated in the air.

"Jesus Christ." For the first time today it seemed Emerson had totally been shocked, the sound of bodies hitting pavement making even him wince. In the urban corridors, screams echoed along with the breaking of bone, the march of steel boots.

He patted down his kit one time. Six mags in reserve, one in the gun. No pistol hidden somewhere, but tear gas and flashbangs hooked readily available. 9mm. Parabellum. In Latin it was an ironic name: If you wanted peace, prepare for war.

Ducking out of the alleyway, looking at the formations, to think of this of nothing less than war would've been lethal.

"We cut through the buildings and alleyways, and get into Ginza. These-" Emerson patted his gun, "Are fighting guns, not attacking. Not our place to."

Screams and silence, the sound of the city had turned to that. Periods of utter stillness that Tokyo had long forgotten, only replaced at intervals by crashes of chaos and then screaming. People were being put to death.

Masterson felt for so much as a man, his labored breathing residing, only after his first banged against the wall. "Hitman should be deployed to the American Embassy."

"I know." Emerson said silently, see a few heads a few blocks down move toward them from that Roman legion. "Cut around and across." He talked half with his hands as Masterson took point, praying to God that no one else remained back here.

"Push forward, establish a forward rally point. It'll be better if they come to us. Preferably with a flat top roof." Masterson added.

To their back, the sound of gunfire rattled off. The two men had jerked toward it. They knew that pattern of report well. Autogunners. The JSDF had been in play.

The pitter patter that was almost like rain. Machinegun fire in Tokyo. To think it came to that. Emerson shook his head in pity as he patted Masterson's shoulder, he taking point as they started the long route around.


It was a straight run for Hitman to the Embassy: the main enemy force had been, evidently, behind them, preparing for an attack on the Imperial Palace. The dragons above had spread out, thinning out their coverage inadvertently. They had seen the enemy in silhouettes and from above, at a distance, but now, approaching the street of the American Embassy and the gated wall it took up of one block, it was being sieged by a legion of Romans. They approached from behind as, finally, a block themselves away, they stopped, aimed, and wondered what they should do.

Bannon's voice was like a bark: yelling out at Romans trying to scale the gated walls and bashing down at them. The most successful of them: giant bipedal pigs, swinging grotesque axes at the metal poles. Why had none of the Marine guard been shooting?

Because to open fire, Bannon figured, would to be declare something far bigger than any of them. These weren't terrorists or a rogue faction of extremists. This was an obvious military, backed by an unknown government. Roman or not. Real or not, the danger was there.

Bannon yelled out at them and the back rows turned around to see, only for them to coax the attention of the, seemingly, hundred or so strong Legion.

Corporal Brian Harris was a larger man, a former college football player. He could've gone pro had it not been his inexplicable decision to join the US Army Rangers. All of his mass was heard when it hit the concrete road, the man going prone as he prepped his M240 machine gun.

Up and down the line the Rangers had similarly gone to prone or taken a kneel, guns aimed down range, prepared to do the inevitable.

They didn't speak their tongue, know who they were, but it was understood the second the rear sections of the Legions raised their shields at them and started their slow, calculated march toward them.

That was that.

The first official engagement between the United States Military and an enemy from another world had happened no less before the American Embassy in Tokyo.

The Rangers were, admittedly, totally out of order. Some had hoodies on, t-shirts, the bare minimums for their battle dress for those that did have their combat uniforms on. Others had jeans, sweatpants, sneakers instead of combat boots. Their gear had been painted in the camouflage meant for an Asian ground war. Green, beiges and greys all conflating together to break shapes. Something that the enemy could not understand as much as the Rangers didn't understand them.

There was a common language between them however.

One of military and combat.

One that they understood the second that phalanx turned toward them, and like a single, cohesive unit, began to march toward the Rangers.

Everything was understood then, and Bannon could've rendered her orders. "Take 'em down!"

Mk16Mod2. Mk18Mod0. M110A1. M1014. 5.56 by 45 millimeter. 7.62 full metal jacket. Terminology, words, items and objects that made way for that difference between worlds to be understood by a type of warfare waged.

Gunfire erupted in one unkind, metallic sweep. Even with some of the rifles sporting suppressors the clatter of gunfire piercing steel and wood joined the chaos of spent cartridges falling to the ground only after the hard thumps of bodies. Death that instantaneous had never been experienced before by men of the nature they were shooting at, and for that, it was a mercy, and a horror at the same time as the men at the front crumpled like paper beneath a fire. Holes in hearts, in minds, in armor itself appeared out of thin air to the Romans, and soon enough they couldn't breathe, for their lungs had been punched through and they were sucking their own blood, balance taken beneath them as for the first time that day, militaries had clashed.

The Rangers there. They knew what it was like to take a life. From hundreds of yards away, from inches, doorway to doorway, in their face or from across the horizon. These Rangers had waged war on Terror itself, and lost. The victories they found were in the failures of diplomacy: in killing people. As the last body hit the ground, the reality of the situation, of what they were doing, set in:

They just opened fire against a Roman legion and cut them down.

When realities clashed, the truth that came out was stranger than fiction. It came out with bodies hitting concrete in metal clattering, and people sucking on their own blood as they gasped for the very last breaths they would ever had.

"Push!" Bannon formed a fist, pushing out toward the fallen phalanx as the line of Rangers pushed forward, riflemen and Rangers on point putting themselves ahead as they found themselves before the bodies first.

No magic. No deception. Just the simple matter of fact they had stepped before Romans, and the Romans lost.

"Loke!" The darker woman was called for. She was a smaller build, shorter than most of her platoon, but it gave her cause to be a Pointperson: those who stepped through breach doors first and were the tip of the spear. The Pakistani-American woman heard Bannon slip on saying her name, pronouncing it more like Lock, but it was understandable now as she turned, rifle still trained out and down at the Romans. "Take point!"

"Affirmative!" She responded back, stepping over the bodies, that wriggling mass of men and armor that cried in agony as they died.

There was no danger, but there was morbidity in how uniform they fell: shields and spears tossed asides as bodies writhed. A hand would reach up occasionally, toward the Rangers as they came past, but no help came. They were busy, and, like that, they would die on a foreign land as the Rangers came to the embassy gates.

As they passed those that even twisted toward them had been snapped at, gunfire in the singular ringing out as those that wriggled on the ground that even regarded the Rangers were cut down without second thought.

Every Ranger there had seen combat, survived it, known it. An even inkling of indiscretion ranging from battlefield hesitations was lethal if acted upon. So that's why they looked down through their sights at men dead in less than a minute, and still, with any hint of wanting to go to any weapon, or to move their hands up at them, were cut down with a single gunshot.

Finally arriving at the gates they all had turned back around from where they came, the mass of bodies still as blood ran through Tokyo streets by their action.

The gate shut tight.

Maybe it was better that way.

The dents and scoring from men trying to break through had been grisly, metal bent and almost through.

A man had emerged from the embassy building, running at them: Clad in the desert fatigues of the Marine Corps with a shotgun in his hand. An Embassy Guard.

"Friendlies!" One of the Rangers called out as the Embassy Guard had gotten to the gate.

"You the Embassy staff's ride out of here?!" He yelled at them, his helmet on haphazardly as the carbon scoring from a shotgun in use had made clear what he had been doing. Warning shots perhaps?

"Affirmative." Bannon responded, going to the same grate as the Marine. "What's the situation on the ground?"

The Marine had met them at the Gate, punching through the guard booth's window and finding the lock to open it up, when it had barely been big enough that's when the Rangers started shuffling through as the dead writhed beneath them.

Bannon had convened with the Marine. It had been a day for him, and the look on his face saw a knowingness that this wouldn't be the end of it, gesturing back at the white building. "Embassy staff are in the safe room and we sent a squad out to the residences. We have comms with the Swedish, Canadian, and Cuban guards but the net is way too crowded!"

The Ranger in command nodded at the Marine hurriedly, hand on his shoulder, turning him around. "Get any embassy staff that can move out of here, we're bringing down evac."

The Marine responded gutturally, taking back into the building, the gun barrels of M4s poking out of windows that refused to fire until given the go ahead. This was too much to comprehend, she understood. A Roman legion attacking Tokyo? She shook her head, pushing that thought off perhaps for all time. "My team on me! Ramirez! Hit the embassy! Get our people out! Nutt! Recall the helos!"

Ramirez had already been on it as he pushed through opening the doors with his element and coaxing people out.

Corporal Donald Nutt had taken a knee in cover, going for his radio, slinging his grenade launcher behind his back. "On it!'

Bannon followed the Marine in, only to be beaten back by a hurried procession of people running out to meet her as if she had been their personal savior. She had no time for them as she looked down and away, forcing through them.

She was led upstairs, finding a conference room with a direct view outside, Marine riflemen aiming their guns out as a radio set sat on the table in the middle. It was a Marine Captain that received her as the two locked eyes.

"You have engagement authority, ma'am?" He asked, his head cricked as the receiver was wedged between his neck and ear.

She nodded once with as much confidence as she could garner. "Our tasking is to evacuate personnel. They were in the way, Captain."

"I see."

The Black Hawk choppers had returned to in front of the Embassy, touching down as civilians piled into them, the Marines overlooking them.

"What the hell is happening, Captain?"

The Marine shook his head as he slammed the receiver back into its retaining piece. Nothing was getting through that hadn't been further than a few blocks.

"Fuck if I know. We had reports less than half an hour ago about a terrorist attack so we began lock down procedures, however the crowds came running and a god damn Roman legion showed up. We hunkered in place, however we can't raise anyone on the horn."

Bannon nodded. "We saw those dragons hitting infrastructure on the way in, and god knows that we have a million people trying to use their own devices right now."

The Marine motioned out to the bodies they left outside. "But knocking out our radios? They're using fucking swords and spears. How do they have ECM capabilities?"

Bannon shrugged as the Black Hawks loaded as much as they could, the remainder led back inside for safety as the choppers took off and her men made a perimeter.

"What embassies do you have comms with?"

"Canadians, Swedes, Cubans. I've been trying to raise the Brits and the Israelis."

Bannon had remembered the pre-planning maps for the evacuations. "How about the Kurds?"

The Marine shook his head. "They haven't cleared out the Saudis shit, their Embassy hasn't been converted yet… What're your orders after extract?"

Bannon sucked in her teeth, trying to make her ragged, rough voice clear as possible. "Usually I'm supposed to link up with the main counterattack force, but, well-" She was short of saying that it hadn't been the Chinese who showed up. "There is none."

"Yeah, as far as doctrine goes you're pretty early."

"Rangers lead the way."

"Don't give me that hooah shit meateater." The Captain listened in with his headphones, looking to his RTO. "JSDF isn't even here yet."

Bannon knew. "A good amount of this region's combat effectives are still in Korea, a larger portion of the JSDF still occupied with the Containment Zone."

No orders, but Bannon had something she so much wanted to do. Yet to throw herself, and her men, into the unknown? That Marine Captain might've just shot her right there. So they stayed, the tantalizing security they kept as the choppers circled around again to pick up the last batch of civilians thick with tension as the sounds of urban warfare were waged streets down, at the Imperial Palace. Police were trying their best to maintain the perimeter.

It was as the final civilians were being lifted out, a miracle: the radio had started buzzing as the Captain rose the radio's volume to broadcast.

"This is COM US JAPAN. Assuming headquarters callsign as Ticonderoga. This is Ticonderoga Actual to all active US military elements within the State of Japan, we are now at DEFCON 2, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President have made the call. I repeat. We are now at DEFCON 2. Proceed with OPPLAN 6001. Japan is under attack. A state of war now exists within the territory of Japan." An old treaty, one over half a century old, would be enforced today, for the first time in history. A treaty of mutual cooperation and security between the United States and Japan. "This is Ticonderoga Actual to all currently engaged US military assets. Contact your nearest HQ for further instruction. God speed."

Bannon went to answer, the Captain offering her his comms, however a familiar voice came through first: one of the men they had come to Tokyo to save.

"This is Hitman 1-6 Actual. You have Rangers on the ground."


General Chigurh Andrade had been the Commander of United States Forces in Japan. The most senior representative of the US Military in the Japanese sphere. With it, came the experience of a man who had survived the Forever War. He was there when it began, and there when it ended. He was the first man in the cockpit, that day, in a September a long time ago as the orders were given and all civilian and commercial flights were told to ground.

He was there over Afghanistan, bombing Tora Bora, trying to coax the leader of Al-Qaeda out of his hole.

He was there, over Iraq, as Saddam Hussein held his final stand against the world.

When Saudi Arabia was buried alive by modernity and extremity, and when Iran tore itself apart, he too flew overhead and became witness to history of this new world.

When, finally, the DMZ blew open, and North Korea dared the world one final time, he too was there to see the last embers of the Cold War stamped out beneath firepower so cruel, the dead screamed at the victorious.

The world fell apart, and he had been on the job for it.

So too, he would be there, at Yokota AFB, one hour from Ginza as he spoke to the world that war had come to Japan again.

The situation room of Yokota AFB had been on fire, figuratively, as the Marines of the 7th MEU had all piled out onto the tarmac await the ready for their deployment orders.

"Rangers on the ground? Already?" That piece of information was relayed as a Lieutenant Emerson identified himself over comms.

Colonel Adrian Pierce was surprised. In a certain light, people often remarked he looked like a younger Harrison Ford. He carried around the disposition of the older Harrison Ford however. He licked the front of his teeth as he glanced at General Andrade, the Marine Commander of the 7th Marine Expeditionary Unit ready for action.

They were all looking at a digital map of the AO: Tokyo itself. They both feared the day that this would be the view, however things were not right.

"New detail added to the plan in case of Chinese invasion sir," One of the aides explained for Andrade as he nodded. "Ranger group inserts into the city at any sign of national danger and secures embassy and personnel, after that they play it by ear and reform into main counter-element if so necessary."

"Why?" Pierce asked, wondering why he hadn't been briefed.

"Benghazi."

A foreign policy scar, still relevant. "Ah. Do we have comms with them?"

Andrade nodded, the sheen of his grey hair shining in the fluorescent lights of the situation room. Much of the command staff of the USFJ had ben there, but none of the JSDF representatives. It was understandable, given the circumstances: the JSDF had been spread thin across manpower and organization between Korea and Fukushima, however it meant only one thing that day.

One of the representatives from the Naval Seabees had piped up. "Comms are still spotty, up and down. Lieutenants and base commanders from JSDF bases hours out are finally radioing in, but anything in Tokyo? It just went back up right now."

"And the reports are all, one hundred percent accurate?"

To verbalize it would be to go down in history as the US official to fully recognize that the Roman Empire, seemingly, had come to Tokyo in conquest. But that's what it was.

Andrade was an Air Force man, he knew more than anyone there that air superiority had been, at minimum, a necessary in modern warfare. Though this hadn't been modern warfare being waged: the in between, the clash of cultures. He knew what side he was on.

"Everything that isn't military. Ground it."

One of the officers seemed shocked. "Do we have that authority?"

"Put it through the towers." Andrade confirmed, ignoring almost before turning to one of the dissenting officers. "Article V."

Each Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes. Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall be immediately reported to the Security Council of the United Nations in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

Free engagement as warranted, and the US had, somehow, on the Japanese home field been called up to bat first.

"Pierce, what do we have?" One of Andrade's own officers spoke to the Marine Colonel.

The man ran his hands down from his face, squinting at the map before clacking his teeth. He had a tic, one that was fairly unique to him. Almost at once the front row of his teeth dropped down on onto his lips, bobbing, before being set back. Once, long ago, he had been a man on the frontline. That meant he had taken a shovel to the face when the North Koreans came for him. The story of how he had gotten his Medal of Honor was a story he had paid for, both in his own blood and the blood of his men, so a moment of apprehension was on him again. He was going to war.

"My MEU's GCE is here. Platoon of tanks, four sections of LAVs. Full battalion is ready, infantry wise."

"How's your air support?"

"On the Fallujah, and we haven't been able to hail them. Lieutenant Colonel Noelle should be ready though."

Andrade grimaced as he looked at the map. Sure, there were a thousand roads going into Tokyo, but clear enough to support an armored column? They'd be lucky if they could get outside of the base on such short notice. It's why he asked for a clear sky.

Andrade sucked in his breath, like so many people of power before him in history, making the decision that would undoubtedly be of history. "Ladies and gentlemen. I'm making the call. Colonel Pierce, have your armored link up with JSDF elements when they're ready and make contact, but I'm providing my Black Hawks for insertion effective immediately. We need to just get boots on the ground as soon as we can. Can't have just a handful of Rangers holding back this. We're gonna cascade this response, get what we can going when it can. I'll scramble fighter patrols now to establish air superiority in Tokyo's ADEZ, but I can't risk anti-air intervention over Tokyo. If it comes to down to actually shooting dragons, we'll do it old fashioned. Proceed with the OPPLAN. My callsign will be Ticonderoga Actual."

"Yes sir!" Resounding, it echoed.

"Dismissed." Andrade nodded, a war path made, and went on.

Only two officers in that room would be gearing up at all, going into the fray. It would be Pierce himself and his XO: a brutish Major of a man. Echoes of Richard Nixon shaped itself on his face, but that was good. Pierce was glad that Isaiah Sevson was his XO.

Walking down those halls again, distinctly into battle, there was a dissonance to the cleanliness of the halls of Yokota, knowing what they were going into.

"We were always frontline people anyway." That's what Sevson told Pierce as they geared up. While here at Yokota for training they had their own corners of the officer's dorms, it now empty, only adding contrast to how dirty the aura of where Sevson and Pierce set themselves were.

"Times have changed." Pierce responded back, sliding on his plate carrier, making sure his fighting gear was on. To think someone of his rank actually getting into direct contact. It felt right and wrong at the same time, but again, nothing about the US Military was simple nowadays.


Shooting people.

More reactionary than purposeful; the way a dog reacts to a snap of their master's hands, or a way a person reacts when their knee is tapped by a doctor. With guns in their hands, the conditioning and training behind it, the natural outcome to what two men with guns would do when presented with Romans standing over the dead had been no question.

Emerson and Masterson had pushed past the glass doors, just a block away from the Ginza Crossing; the perfect visage of Tokyo to the tourist. Still there had been that imposing monument, that stone Gate and its armies below. It was not far from the convention center where the Japanese fandom convention was being held. Emerson couldn't remember the name of it, but Masterson had reminded him as he stumbled for the word, prior to breaching into that building:

"We can't get to- to- what the fuck was it called?"

"Comiket."

"Yeah, whatever. We need to establish forward positions and have reinforcements rally to us."

"Every second we wait-"

"I know! I know! But it's suicide to keep going!"

The main mass of the Roman force had been behind them, slinking behind enemy lines like good special operators. Still what the Romans had left behind had been nothing more than massacre: charred bodies and corpses lined the streets, no regard to age or gender. Was it a tragedy that after so many bodies, he couldn't afford to be phased by the sight of them? Emerson thought darkly before he remembered it was his duty to add Romans to that pile, for that pile.

The heavy glass doors opened as Masterson, one arm still propping his shotgun into his shoulder, opened fire at two Romans in the lobby of that office building, a dead man at their feet, his blood pooling around his black suit.

Emerson saw the pieces of the Roman hit by the shotgun blast get thrown to the floor in the metal slurry of flesh and blood, sparks from buckshot interacting with the metal of his armor plates. Frozen: The look on the remaining Roman's face as Emerson saw it through the sights of his MP5. His chin was chipped off in between the muzzleflash, his neck taking the brunt of the short burst Emerson let off as his trigger finger depressed, his body moving into the lobby as Masterson pumped another shell in, pushing past the two men. A Roman had been behind the desk of the lobby, peering his head up to see what had been going on, however another shotgun blast had removed it, painting the white and artdeco wall behind him red.

Metal and flesh collapsed to the ground as Emerson turned around immediately, barring the door closed with a sword from one of the fallen Romans.

"Clear."

"Clear."

The two men spoke to each other in ritual, Masterson thumbing in two shells as he peeked around the lobby, the rumble of dragons still flying above vibrating the world in subtle motions.

That was when the screaming started. The crack of concrete against soft flesh. When the two men had looked outside all they had seen was the broken body of someone that had not been there seconds before, a laminated keycard around what was left of her neck: she fell face first onto the ground, what had been emptied of her being washed away by streets run red and wet with the rain above and its blood below.

Masterson was already running to the stairwell before Emerson even considered yelling their orders: Stop this.

Reloading his gun as he walked upstairs, the two had stopped at every floor, peering in at the side facing the street. Nothing. It was only at the top floors did they hear the sounds of struggle and mania, of people being forced over the side for a cruel death.

Masterson, he had again held his shotgun with one hand as he stacked against the door, his left hand holding a cylindrical tube, the thumb hooked around a pin.

Masterson had always been one of those operators, as far as Emerson had known him in the two months he had been deployed. He was one of those rare sorts, born from that new kind of world. A sergeant by recognition, as opposed to promotion. Out in the field, the urban wars of today, he had done his job. He sucked in his breath, locked his jaw, his left arm hitting the door knob as his leg kicked in that door and tossed in the flash grenade with a violence typical of people in their profession

The great concussive blast and the flash of white that came and went through the door was followed by male screaming, groans. That was their cue as Masterson nearly threw himself through the door as the two men did a dance known as breaching and clearing.

Assuming that each floor had been designed the same, the two men's minds went on autopilot as, without a word, they came through and each hugged either left or right. Cubicles had filled out the center of the room, most of them collapsed by the ransacking by the Romans. There had been several Legionnaires there, hugging the windows as office workers were forced down on their knees before them, they too wriggling in audio and visual pain: an open window foreboding.

More than that though: a pig.

Like in those Grecian or Roman tales of old, Emerson hadn't believed his eyes from the distance: seeing these creatures from a Disney movie gone wrong.

But here, before them, its anthropomorphic arms clutching its eyes in pain as it squealed, had been a monster of a living creature: the top half of its body a wild boar, the bottom bipedal, hanging from its wrist being great cleavers chained to it.

Masterson had been a man for words; of speech and grand standing. He had an encyclopedia of moto phrases and cool things to say at every moment's notice. He had nothing to say however as he aimed his shotgun squarely at the beast, and instead lived out a term:

If God created man, then Sam Colt made them equal.

The equalizing force of a shotgun to that seven-foot beast was absolute as he held down the trigger, and racked the pump, slam firing dozens and dozens of buckshot pellets into it. Adrenaline alone had numbed the pain of his injury, rubbing red beneath its wrapping.

Emerson had known Masterson had his sector as he banged right, overlooking, directly, the hostages and the Romans. It was lucky that the hostages had been sitting down, which gave Emerson clearance to just hold down his own trigger and sweep across the Romans as they all contorted under gunfire:

There had been one exception though: a Roman had held, as he was disoriented, a woman, next to be thrown out the window, the two caught in some messy tangle as they stumbled where they were. The margin of error: none.

The sling on Emerson's MP5 went taut as he gripped it, sucking in a breath, seeing the Roman fight with himself and the hostage as she tried to tear herself away in blindness.

Elsewhere the squeals of the pig reached a crescendo as, finally, the hostage yanked one direction, outstretching the Roman's arm as Emerson pushed forward and squeezed off the shot, killing the man as he landed on top of a hostage.

Emerson had reached out as he approached her, still dazed and confused, only pushing her down to the ground again as he pushed through the rest of the room till he reached the other side, turning back around. Masterson had done the same as the pig fell.

The MP5's mag clattered on the ground as in one motion Emerson had racked the bolt back, and then forward with a slap after placing in a new one, sending a round chambered as men lay dying at their feet. God knew that this hadn't been the first time they were ever like this: breaching office buildings against men who wanted them dead, but they themselves already lost.

No words needed to be exchanged by the two men as Masterson went into his pocket to reload, going to inner offices of that floor as Emerson went to the hostages, looking inward into the room as they scanned the cubicles again, seeing only men and beast dying or dead in their armor, their breaths giving out as the two men reconvened.

"Clear."

"Clear." They men rattled off, looking back the way they came before both going to the windows and the hostages.

"Hey! Hey!" Emerson spoke in English as he kicked the body of the Roman off of an office man, the entire group only now recovering from their exposure to Masterson's flash bang. Switching over to Japanese had been easy enough. "Go! All of you! Go in there!" He pointed at one of the offices as the hostages bombarded him with questions. They had gone anyway, Masterson assuring them they would be alright, locking the door behind them.

To say Emerson had been a new Ranger would've been only in comparison to his peers. He was new, yes, but he had been to war. What Ranger hadn't been at that point? Sent back into Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan all over. Sent to Africa and the Gulf, fighting wars that never existed on missions that never happened. Sent to Iran as the world imploded over Middle Eastern peace, one last time. In the early days of that final invasion, Emerson was tasked with forward observer.

With those wall-sized windows, he and Masterson were granted a forward view of the largest massing of an army in the middle of Tokyo since, perhaps, the end of the Shogunate.

The lieutenant thumbed his radio. "Hitman 1-6 to any on this net, how copy."

He heard Japanese in response, and he repeated the message in the language.

"Please identify yourself Hitman 1-6. Over." Emerson heard the beat of chopper blades behind the message, staring down at the impossibility he saw.

"Hitman 1-6, forward observers, US Army Rangers. We are currently overlooking Ginza Crossing." The center of Ginza, where, in its place instead of the mass of crowds and commerce, had been nothing more than a giant pantheon. A Gate. Leading, not to one side or another, but into blackness: from that blackness marched men and beasts of Rome, hell-bent on war. There was an organization to it, an intent and strategy of warfare: on how men marched in lines with support weaponry and siege tactics, spreading out from their own rally point out into Tokyo. If someone, a drone operator or any air support could've seen what the two men saw, they would've seen a target beyond debate. To drop any explosive support would've meant to destroy that entire block, ruin it beyond comprehension. "Mass enemy concentrations are centered on the Ginza Crossing. I repeat, the enemy's staging point is Ginza Crossing, how copy?"

A few pauses before the concentrated pilot that had answered them responded. "Copy all, Hitman 1-6. Relaying info up the chain-"

Another voice intruded. "Hitman 1-6, Hitman 1-6, this is Sicario Actual, say again your position."

Emerson and Masterson looked to each other. Sicario had been the callsign for the closest Marine company: The 7th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based off the USS Fallujah. Commanded by a man that even the Rangers knew, it was his voice on the radio asking for Emerson. Colonel Adrian Pierce would come to them, hell or highwater.

Emerson reiterated the address of his building into the radio, a few beats passing.

"Who deployed you, son?"

Emerson needed to laugh at himself as they saw their bloody reflections in the windows. "Wrong place, wrong time, Colonel. Linked up with Japanese police elements and acquired equipment. Over."

"Right time, Ranger. Marines are coming to you now via Blackhawk."

"Roger. Be advised, we are conducting SAR for one of our elements."

It was bold to say that Emerson had assigned himself his own orders, right directly to Command, but a few beats passed before they responded. "Copy. Standby for relief."

"I know that building. Office space." Hitman's sniper had rattled off, she bent at an angle so that she could use a knocked over mailbox as a stand for her DMR. Ever since the Rangers had left the embassy, they had been tearing through Ginza streets, circling the area as more and more civilians found them and were sent away behind them. It wasn't clean, but the type of spiral they did kept them on the move, on the sweep. They had pushed off the Embassy the second Emerson had revealed himself over comms. It was no guarantee that he would've been able to hear a message put out, so pragmatic as they were they just pushed for a rally on their own accord.

The team's autogunner had pushed himself off his stomach from the road, removing himself from laying amongst the bodies of Roman and Japanese dead. The sound of gunfire going off from the Imperial Palace had been deafening in those urban streets, heard even blocks down where Hitman was.

"Feel like we should have at least a JSDF attache with us." Ramirez had muttered. Bannon was going to answer him; said that the JSDF responsibility was to protect civilians, not press counter-offensives. The US OPPLAN cleanly noted that counter-offensive operations would be conducted by US military units able to carry out. She didn't say as their sniper shot off another booming shot, the head of a rider blown off, blocks down, his horse continuing on with his body like a ragdoll.

"Orders, ma'am?"

Bannon stared out down the street, almost like a mirage there were distant Roman legions still amassing, still getting ready for war; war against them and them alone.

Bannon had picked herself up from her kneel as she patted Hitman's sniper's shoulder. "Lead the way, we'll link up with Kay and Cam."

The sniper nodded, reloading her Mk 20 rifle before pointing down the street.

Before they had all left however, the sound of it had been unmistakable as a shadow was cast over Hitman.

There be dragons.

Hitman's autogunner had grabbed the closest man with hearing protection as he levied his 240 on his shoulder. "Stay the fuck still." The impromptu living turret gimbal had grabbed his 240's bipod to brace as the great wyvern of fantasy blasted over them, buzzing them like a jet. Bannon yelled out, getting her Rangers to either side of the street, in shelter as if taking a strafe.

The rider of the wyvern saw another bunch of targets, simply, the nearly twenty men and women grouped so deliciously together.

The difference between them and so many helpless Japanese civilians beforehand had been this:

They shot back.

As the wyvern banked around again, lining up with the street Hitman was on, every single Ranger had aimed back. Rain fell, and tracers went up. Death came to the Wyverns for the first time that day; death by a thousand cuts. Accuracy came by volume of fire as bullets imbedded themselves into it, a pain it had never felt before as it twisted its form, exposing its rider to the gunfire as he was cut through.

His body had fallen first, smashing the several story difference as his dragon fell on top of him in a messy, glass shattering, tooth vibrating impact. The crater that was left had been down the street, filling in with rain as the Rangers sucked in air through their teeth and beat back the thought that they had just shot down a beast.

Mags dropped, barrels steamed, they knew war had changed.


The deck crew of the USS Fallujah had cleared the deck as all the pre-flight checks were complete. It was a helluva call to make, but it was a call that needed to be made. Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Noelle had been one of the very first pilots of the F-35 platform in the Marine Corps Aviation, attached to the newly minted 7th MEU. His aptitude with the platform came from a place that had widened his veins and hardened his heart. He had been one of the first new aces of that world: taken by the blood of at least five enemy fighters when the Korean War came to resume.

Five, and then five more; and then five more after that.

Hips and Hinds, MiGs and Sukhois. Of all that he had shot down in his career, he never though the next bandits on his list would be of flesh and blood: Dragons.

He felt that familiar pit in his stomach as he pulled the throttle on his engine, the aircraft's nozzle pointing down and propelling him off the flat deck of the Fallujah as the rest of the crew had been running to their battlestations. There was no more hesitation. This was war.

War that had made Japanese civilians come to the edges of the dock and stay there, as if under the umbrella of the Fallujah's protection, sailors going forth and wondering what the hell was happening as the communications black out resounded until at last, it came through:

The OPPLAN for the defense of Tokyo had been called.

"Vegas Lead. You're clear."

The Escort Carrier's traffic controller had given him the greenlight, and even though he was no more than a few dozen yards away, even as he elevated, he heard the static interference. He was the only one going up at the moment to ascertain the situation.

The Fallujah itself had been slowly steaming away from port to the cries of Japanese civilians. They wouldn't understand however, if CIWS were to go off, the chances of catching the Tokyo skyline in its fire had been dangerously plausible.

Leveling off at a safe altitude Noelle had gradually shifted his VTOL aircraft into standard flight, pushing himself forward until he had been away at full, hooking his oxygen mask on.

His callsign had been Vegas 1, his tac name: Blueway.

He wouldn't be the first to respond to the battle today, but he had been the first to come with a fighter jet.

The entire damned ship had seen what had been floating above Tokyo: some had mistaken them for birds, planes, but the second the roars had started, the puffs of smoke and fire emanating from their necks shown, seeing was believing.

It was decided, without an official call, that only one pilot would scramble: the leader of the 7th MEU's fighter group. Today had been that day of days were the regulation of modern warfighting contended with exceptions, even now.

He couldn't quite believe his eyes as he had blasted over Tokyo, seeing, from his altitude, the beasts of the skies also crane their heads at him in disbelief.

At least a dozen or more, in his quick visual scan he picked up: all of them hugging the Tokyo skyline. He was in no place to open fire; it wasn't as if he had been cleared to engage, but any ordnance that he had would've done too much collateral, between cannon rounds or his Sidewinders.

"This is Vegas Lead to any on this net, how copy?"

Throwing himself up to a suitable altitude above Tokyo he had hoped to clear whatever interference they had contended with, and indeed, it had helped.

Nothing but static and garbled Japanese, banking left over the city he had only visually caught the first sight of the JSDF: attack helicopters over the outskirts of the city… If he could drag dragons out that way then perhaps… Animals were still animals, born to hunt prey. He could play the part for a bit.

He would be busy today. If they wanted to play cat and mouse, he would play, drawing contrails for the dragons to follow out toward the choppers.


There was a thought to Itami, as the armored trucks and the Hueys of his JSDF come forth to the Imperial Palace, that he was a lucky man.

They had arrived minutes after the two Americans had left, dropping off the first infantry, relieving the police from their firing positions as fully automatic weapons tore up the legions that pressed themselves across the canals surrounding the Imperial castle, crosses holding the bodies of Japanese civilians that had been caught. The anger that drew, it was answered in automatic gunfire.

A flight of Japanese Cobras had been off in the distance, turning toward Tokyo as Itami got sporadic chatter over the net, they were engaging dragons in concert with a lone American jet. As long as he hadn't been called, and he had been called to serve a lot recently, he would remain there in the palace, organizing people, trying to find their families and friends.

He wasn't so lucky after all.

"Who's in charge here?" Itami recognized the voice, caught half-way in between a group of children, huddling them together to keep track of them in a corner of the packed Imperial garden, police officers watching over them.

"Lieutenant General Hazama!" He had squared his shoulders, salute given as he signaled for the squared faced, older, tanned man. A great moustache had been greyed on his face as he turned over to look at him, two of his staff with him, all of them armored up surprisingly.

"Report." He had walked over as the children hid behind him, scared that day, even from this man.

"First Lieutenant Itami, sir."

So too did Hazama recognize the taller man. "You were one of the first volunteers?"

Weakly, Itami had affirmed with a nod. The stuff he had seen… "Yes, sir."

"You have a talent for taking command, don't you?"

If it wasn't for the grim situation, he would've played it off. But no, not today, he couldn't joke as he felt a few young children grab his arm, not wanting to let go. They were silent, scared, not knowing what was happening as the bursts of gunfire sounded so near. Hazama had seen this, tucking in his lips before nodding once. "I was gonna ask you to take a squad for the counter-offensive… but you seem pre-occupied with… this."

Itami nodded. "Yes sir."

"You've saved many lives today, Itami. As you were."

The two men had saluted as Hazama went off, surveying the situation as beneath his breath ushered orders for the counter-attack. Rangers had identified the core staging point for the Romans apparently.

If Itami could've seen past those walls, he would've seen men cut down like wheat with how they lined up and fell, the once impenetrable shield wall they put up cut down with a line of machine gun fire. A meatgrinder by any other name. These Roman Legions never knew surrender, so when they ran, they did it in fear.


The great rushing up the stairwell had alarmed the two Rangers at first as they twisted over, anticipating the door to be thrown open and reveal Legionnaires that had somehow gotten past them all. A voice came in first however.

"Friendlies!"

A familiar voice, one that had been followed by the way a door was kicked open: Form where they came from, familiar friends, loaded for bear.

It was Hitman, whole save for one. Nineteen out of twenty.

They shuffled into the room in one smooth, break-neck fast maneuver, as if breaching, but there was nothing to fear as all they found was two men. Their two men. So differently dressed for that matter, but that entire day everyone had to have made due.

"Lieutenant." At the rear section had been Bannon, breaking through as several of the Hitmen went out the way they came, securing the stairs as the rest went to the windows without words, mounting weapons. She approached, Emerson with a hand out casually, she taking and shaking roughly as, as soon as that was over, she breathlessly looked over at Masterson. "Cam…"

"Lisa." He responded to her, words dripping with weight, the two locking eyes as her mouth straightened into a thin line.

Emerson had ignored. He knew what they had.

There were bigger fish to fry, and he had command back. "Cam, take Weapons up to the roof. Hold and secure. Bannon, sweep this building and then hold ground floor. We'll wait for the QRF to link up."

"What's our prerogative, sir?" Bannon asked, glad, at least, the two of them were okay.

Two, Emerson thought as he had peered down the street at the massing army, seeing more and more people and beasts blip out of the black. "We hold a forward position, then SAR when relieved."

Masterson had paused for a moment before carrying out the order, waiting for Emerson to elaborate, to tell more. Bannon had outright asked. "Where was he?"

Masterson answered. "Convention center. I couldn't get to him." The shame on his tongue had been palpable, like poison.

Emerson didn't want him to stew in it. "Go. That's an order." An officer to his soldiers. Now was the time for him to be that person: Lieutenant Kristian Emerson.

Bannon held her breath as Emerson stared out one last time to the window, only to thumb the radio again as he wiped a desk down to work with. She rolled her knuckles against the remaining man's side, just above where the arrow had hit, her eyes looking up to his, begging with an unsaid question. He had only taken it in at that moment, grimacing. "I'll be fine, Sergeant." Masterson referred to her with the formality of war.

"Sergeant." She said back. "Everyone not on Weapons! On me! We're sweeping this building up down and then securing the perimeter!"

As quickly as Hitman came, they had cleared the floor, leaving Emerson looking down the way as he had unhooked the radio from his vest, returning to the table with a tourist map of Tokyo. Command was his.

"This is Hitman 1-6 Actual. We are establishing a forward position, all forces, rally on us."


Pierce and Sevson had ridden in on choppers with their men, just as they should've, just like Kilgore did. There was no bombast to it however, not with comms still as spotty as they were. One might've thought that urban comms in such a city might've been refined after Pyongyang and Tehran, but nothing was ever logically done in the war machine it felt.

One thing he could rely on were the Marines with wings. Save for the armor, all of his Marines had been airborne at that very moment, ferried by Andrade's Black Hawks as they formed up with the first responding Japanese Cobra choppers. One of his Marines held against the rest though. His contrails had painted the grey sky, leading dragons to them like bait.

Another dragon had fallen, mince-meat, drawn out to the less populated outskirts of Tokyo with the procession of helicopters waiting for orders or clearance to go in. JSDF airborne had been ready, but an argument had been going on over the Japanese net. One that Pierce couldn't quite decipher save for this:

"Are we cleared to open fire into the city?" There was a pregnant pause as the Japanese attack helicopters waited for their answer. If he had Cobras to support, that would've been great.

Again though, nothing was ever easy or simple or right.

"Standby." Japanese GHQ had answered.

Pierce had sat in the middle of one of the Black Hawks, sandwiched between his Marines. All of them had been veterans, victors and losers of battles both modern and historical if felt. They had been to the Sandbox, to Korea, to Mexico even, but now in Tokyo their battles were now ancient.

They would be fine.

"Sicario Actual to Hitman. How copy Hitman?" He had motioned for his RTO, sending off a message.

"Hitman 1-6. Go ahead Sicario."

"Pop smoke. We're inbound, hot."

With one hand gesture to the pilot, a squadron of Black Hawks took the lead and flew into Tokyo, ferrying with them American Marines into the heart of a city on fire.


Masterson had been quick on the draw as soon as he heard the orders over comms, thumbing to the grenadier of Hitman. He had nodded simply as Masterson made the hand signal: colored smoke. Metal canisters were drawn and cracked on the roof as red clouds erupted up, a beacon for the incoming Black Hawks. Dragons overhead had been thinning thanks to the baiting of the solitary F-35. It was only natural now would be the time to move in.

Hitman's marksmen and sniper had added their punches to the acoustic warfare, competing with the jet above, mounted on the sides of the building, looking down the angles and shooting at horses and riders, all those who dared wander anywhere near that block as in the hazy distance, another Roman army assembled around the gate in the distance. As if a giant concert, the mass of people had awaited there for orders.

Another radio message, in Japanese. "All forward elements, be advised, we have retreating enemy forces coming your way, advise taking positions."

Masterson had been first over the edge, only to realize he had a shotgun, motioning for his marksmen to take position instead. Still, as they passed one had caught his shoulder. Ryan Valentine. Corporal. A young man, newlywed, a child on the way. His eyes had always been squinting as if looking for the details required of him in his profession. "You're shaking."

Masterson's arms and legs had been jittering, adrenaline making a piece of work of him. Still there was something more to it. He wanted to move, to go, though he had his orders right now.

He only shook off the hand as he took a knee again, breathing hard, making the air in and out of him cycle as if trying to take back something he had lost.

Emerson below had been already shouting orders in anticipation. The JSDF had finally been pushing a counter attack, vectored out from the Palace.

"Bannon! Set up firing positions on this side, in the lobby, and across the street!" He ordered.

"On it!" Bannon a floor below Emerson had affirmed over radio, pointing at her element. "Three per floor, looking out this way, Harris on me!" The three Rangers had flown down the stairwell as the rest busted out windows, taking firing positions as they vectored their bores down the street. When Bannon and her men had gotten to the lobby the plan was clear. The front of the building on the ground floor had been all glass, and then nothing as Bannon got her breaching hammer from her back only to slam it into the left side, a cascade of broken shards coming to ground as Harris had set up on the receptionist desk, his boots dipping in the blood of Masterson's prior kill.

Behind her men had already been tasked, five Rangers pushing past and into the street, stepping over the body of woman thrown out of the building, her body still draining itself out. Across the street had been a simple hotel, similarly broken into, however there was no time to clear it, the five-man squad simply sweeping the lobby and setting up ground level, covering the opposite firing angle.

Meanwhile Emerson had been radioing reported positions, looking over the map of Tokyo he had on the table.

With their forward positions they had been on the pulse of the entire battle, seeing Romans try to run back from the Palace back to the Gate, only to get cut off by them as they opened fire from a building, they thought clear. This was where the Rangers of the 75th operated best, after all. Emerson had sent the last intel he could before heading downstairs himself, joining Bannon as she set herself up on her own firing position on an overturned table:

"Standby," Emerson said, hopping over, heading back onto the street and feeling the rain hit him again, his own body heat seemingly having dried him off in his absence.

With his eyes he only looked down the hazy street and saw what had been reported: The survivors of the Palace attack, being led by horsemen.

The riders, those Roman riders, their horses had been frenzied: the enemy to their back, and now to their front. It wasn't the roar of screams from the Romans Emerson realized in combat, it had been the Japanese chasing them. They had spotted him and they stopped their run, contemplating what to do with their horses anxiously trotting with so much happening.

Suddenly, Black Hawks above, blowing down upon them all as ropes were thrown from them onto the office building, one helicopter at a time.

The Rangers didn't waver their aim as Marines behind them had rallied.

Pierce had been one of them as he shouldered his M4A2, talking into his radio. "Hitman 1-6, we're on site. Dispense with SAR as needed. Out."

"Stop, god dammit. Stop." The hushed prayer beneath Emerson's breath as he stood in the doorway to the office building, sweat off of his brow as his Rangers had held their own tongues. There was only thing that made sense for them to do, routed like this with them in between their escape. Heroism would have them charge pass them, to try and open up a path to the gate as the choppers above beat an energy none of them had ever seen before.

The Roman riders, taking frantic glances at each other, seeing only a handful of men defending the path, had known what they had to do. It was the only thing they could do in their position; the right thing.

With one screech, the horses kicking up in one war cry, it was followed by the shouts and chants of the riders in full gallop toward the gate. The rest of the routed survivors behind them.

What else was there to be done as Emerson looked across the street at his riflemen, giving them to nod as Bannon dragged him back in behind Harris.

"Engage!"

What was a threat to them nowadays? Mexican narcos? Hadjis? Norks? Sixteen-year olds with AKs and women with grenades? Were they more dangerous than literal Roman legionnaires without an idea of what type of ranged warfare the Rangers, this world, had offered in return? They spoke the language of warfare and there was only but one thing to do:

Kill.

The horses closed the distance fast enough, seeing the Rangers reel back into their firing positions as if they were retreating, so the riders pushed them further, faster, as the mass following of survivors followed.

Chasing them had been the JSDF, wanting to see the very moment that-

The horses and riders entered the cone of fire, and then all hell broke loose.

The sound of a 240 Bravo going full rip had made Emerson regret not asking for hearing protection, the man cringing as he stepped back to the stairwell and went up to the second floor, with guns aimed at chest level he had never seen horses get ripped into ribbons before, never seen them kick off and throw their riders onto the ground as bones were snapped with the impact of them onto concrete. Each crash had been loud, like a car, an undertone of an unending stream of gunfire unceasing as those that tried to get up only had their heads lacerated. The bodies of man and horses piled as they collapsed on the street, pausing the foot soldiers following, but not stopping them outright as they still tried to rush by. The entire office building shook from the small concussive pops of gunfire aimed at the street below, chipping black concrete with blood and bone and impact as bodies kept falling, and kept falling, and kept falling.

This wasn't what warfare looked like.

This was a massacre.

Harris's battle buddy had held his belt of ammo as it fed, his barrel running hot read as he kept it compressed, the cross X of fire offered from the Rangers on the other side absolute as the vibrations of the Cobras doing another pass resounded.

Legionnaires, faces exposed, screamed and screamed as those metal beasts came down onto them like the wyverns they sent upon Tokyo, but no sound could be heard as the sounds of gunfire resounded. The best description Emerson had of that murderous street was as if it was looking at the very skin being torn off a beast with nothing but strength and hands. The way a bandage gets ripped off, but beneath only seeing raw flesh, ground up, turned up, bleeding and full as he had forgotten when he rose his MP5 and fired down into the crowd.

Tens, dozens, perhaps a hundred. Gunned down and down as they tried to reach that Gate on the otherside of the Rangers. But they would find nothing if they could pass: only Romans wizening up, seeing their comrades get cut down and going back into the Gate.

Fish in a barrel: funneled down one way. This was insanity and when the last body fell, it was a mercy. The next people to come into the cone of fire had been allies, finally.

"Watch it riot police and JSDF coming up the rear! Watch your fire!"

The sound of guns being reloaded had been their response. As the Japanese responders had come into contact with the Rangers they had been surprised. American special forces had been deployed ahead of them, and it was as much as a surprise of anything.

The radio had been hot with chatter. "We're consolidating forces down the street, corralling them into firing positions. They seem lost!"

"Like rats in a maze! Engage as necessary!"

Behind Emerson had been a tap on his shoulder, he turning and seeing a Marine Colonel. Even in battle a salute was rendered fast, Emerson still looking at the bodies piling up.

"Lieutenant."

"Colonel." The two men regarded each other, looking two different ways.

"My men will establish a forward operating post here and secure that…" He looked out the window with Emerson, seeing that Gate, the armies that once had been below it now gone, back into its belly. "Staging area."

Emerson had nodded simply as he let the Colonel underway, he barking his orders as Marines filled the building and, for the first time today, JSDF, Marines, and Rangers had converged on each other. The JSDF had their own plans though, pushing forward.

The Japanese battle-net had been fired up, cruel, but even then Emerson could pay no heed for it as he thumbed down his radio. "Hitman rally on me. We're pushing to the Gate and then transitioning to SAR. Masterson!"

"Go ahead." The Sergeant responding over comms.

"You're on point!"

The man on the roof had been quick on the trigger, taking his element and scurrying down stairs as the entire Ranger platoon had rallied back with Emerson in the lobby, black armored riot officers passing by as the Marines waved them over to the staging area of it all. Emerson had only followed, stopped by something that had paused them all who store into its maw. He kept trying to look at it, to fully make sense of something that shouldn't be real. All of his Rangers did as well, pausing, heads craned back as its shadow was present in the greying light.

It was the size of a building, the Gate; mocked up in the image of Roman pantheons and monuments of history. A giant archway, but through it had not been the other side as anyone had understood it: Instead there the black. Darker than anything anyone could see. Not a color, but an absence of image. The abyss had been made corporeal, and it stood over them like a mouth waiting to eat them all as it stood before the wreckage of elephants and ballistas and bodies. There was no use avoiding it, there had been so much dead, so much organic material on the concrete there was no use avoiding it. Emerson felt the blood seep through his sneakers.

The enemy came from wherever this Gate led. More could come. Which was why so many Marines had set up firing positions looking into it as every armed individual rushed its perimeter in the middle of the intersection, using the crosswalks as a perimeter guide.

It wasn't their concern though. Masterson had been twisting his head left and right as they got to that same intersection, riot cops around turning over bodies and making sure they had been dead. Finding his bearings, replaying what seemed like days earlier, but instead had been hours, trying to find a route to the convention center that would be best. It gave Emerson time to talk to Pierce again, he personally taking hold of the situation, rain bouncing off of his helmet.

"Sitrep?" Emerson asked.

"Armored is on the way and we're getting more boots ASAP. JGSDF is securing civilian positions. Looks like we're on point for everything." The Marine colonel glanced at the rest of the Rangers, pointing down another street as they began to move. "Who are you looking for?"

"One of my own." Was all Emerson gave him as he dashed off before he was left behind, the pace that Masterson had been setting was desperate. Every second counted, and even here, in a warzone, he didn't care for it as the results of the Japanese cobras engaging had been revealed. Every street cascading out from the Gate had been filled with dead: both Japanese, and then Roman on top of them. They were hikers now, crawling and tripping over the dead as they tried to push that very horror out of their mind. Every single street, every single avenue, not a spot of concrete had been clear. Blood or bodies. At least a hundred, each and every turn.

Dragons and wyverns collapsed on the street with other beasts after being filled with lead all around, the drone of more F-35s above patrolling the airspace with the Cobras.

This was what the end of the world looked like. It was different if it had been Baghdad or Kabul; countries of the third world where the wars that came to them had been subject to modern methods. This was the exact opposite in every measure. So many innocent dead, and yet the Rangers still hoped as they took flight.

The group of Rangers turned the street, only to meet a handful of five Romans huddling beneath a ramen stand's covering. "Stop!" Masterson raised his shotgun, not even sure why he yelled. The Romans had gone from fear to action in just that moment, and five versus 19 hadn't been fair, their bodies contorting before slamming down on the ground.

Again and again this repeated as the Rangers were led to where Masterson had run from originally. To where he had left a man behind. Around them the battle continued on, but for Hitman it was so focused, they had hardly noticed, blazing a path for the sake of a life.


"Hitman. Say status?" Over the radio Ticonderoga, HQ, had called as they ran.

"Cam." Emerson directed in between breathy pants. The man had answered over his radio.

"Proceeding toward Comiket at this map grid. If you have any spare airborne QRF, please, sir-"

"On it." Command had stated promptly. If helicopters could get there first then that would've been better, but nothing had been perfect that day.

Loke had been a track runner before she joined, the only one able to keep pace with Masterson as he pushed his body that much harder, even as he bled. "Hey, Sergeant, was his family-"

"Yes!"

The pointwoman had widened her eyes as she let her rifle fall loose on her form, breaking out into a run. Those several blocks between them had seemed now so far.

Even with a chopper, Hitman had gotten to the convention center in Ginza at the same time, catching the Marines rappelling in as Masterson side stepped them all, only to throw himself through those glass doors with the rest of Hitman behind him. Their lungs screamed for air, but they had beat it down.

He shouldn't have gone in first.

Insanity of gore. War made cruel and primal and yet… simple, at the same time. The definition of genocide was burned into their minds as Rangers and Marines pushed past glass doors and saw the absolute worst-case scenario. The humidity of the entire center had been amplified as sprinklers above went off, drenching those from above and at their feet as they stepped in and, in the rush of breaching, stopped cold.

"Ah fuck. Jesus fuck." Bannon swore beneath her breath, registering what she was seeing. She was stronger than most as they came into that sight: Of absurdity and horror made reality.

Iron, cruel iron that only one man there had been prepared, at all, to see this: the one former police officer. Ramirez had made it the furthest in that group before he stopped. How lucky his career had been that he had never had to come to the scene of a public genocide; a mass shooting.

He was trained for it though, and he had already been to war. Nothing could prepare him for what it looked like when every square inch of the floor had been coated by the vague definition of dead bodies in pieces and whole. Multicolored ensembles of people stained red, their faces morphing into one another; as was how many had been actually dead as sprinkles of water painted them all down as soaked the carpet beneath their bodies.

There must've been hundreds, the absurdity of seeing normal men and women and children torn apart, alongside pastel colors of cosplayers and costumed con goers. Displays and booths knocked over and destroyed, extending out into the now impossibly large convention center, the grey light of that rain that came from outside muddying the very sight.

A Marine had puked behind the Rangers as they took it all in. They had to. They couldn't afford to not know what had happened before them as gunfire and fighting behind them raised into a crescendo ending with a deafening silence.

They came as Romans. Completely and utterly.

That smell, Emerson couldn't get it out of his head as he clamped his jaw and took in one putrid breath of death. Please, please God, he begged. He begged that of all the people to survive this, one of his men did. More than that, he begged that if he did die…

"Hitman, say status." Sicario, over the net. "Hitman, say status."

They didn't respond for seconds, lifetimes, as the RTO stuttered and finally responded. There was a quiver in Nutt's voice. "Hitman 1. Report mass casualty event in the Ginza Convention Center. Catastrophic. Over."

The sound of armor clattering down the halls had been heard, Emerson taking the mag out of his gun only to replace it with another full one. This was still a combat situation.

"Tracy!" Masterson had yelled out, not giving a damn in the world about alerting anyone. "Trace! Sarah! Maria! Are you there?!"

His family was also here. His family.

The second their names had left Masterson's mouth the rest of Hitman had been cognitive of why Masterson had run the way he did. The reason why Emerson had tasked them all on this instead of waiting for more orders.

"Cam!" One of the Hitman yelled out to their sergeant; they didn't know. "They came today?! Here?!"

"It was supposed to be a surprise. God dammit."

Bannon's eyes sunk in as the Marines around them waited for their go, not wanting to step and wade into the sea of bodies before them, wet and still watered above. "Sir?" She called for Emerson.

Emerson felt the ringing in the back of his head, unknowable, unhearable, pressing in on him. "Clear this hall! Let's go! You Marines stay behind us and try to look for survivors."

In truth, it wasn't supposed to be different seeing the bodies of the Japanese lain across on the floor then had been to see dead Iraqi villagers on dirt roads. But it was. This wasn't supposed to happen. This wasn't the world's normal.

Reluctantly, but vindictively, the Marines moved forward behind the Rangers as they moved over the bodies. Romans, pop figures of anime and culture, normal men and women and, dear god, children.

They tried so hard to not look down and try to look for who they were looking for; survivors yes, but this was personal.

The great halls of the convention center had sprinkled with water from its fire system. "Tracy, he pulled the fire alarm when the first slashings happened." Masterson recounted, breathlessly as the day seemed to catch up with him. "He was going to look for his family in the crowd, and, I just- I just-"

Bannon's voice, it was professional, cruel, but it was needed as they all fanned out in a line, weapons up. "Head straight, Sergeant."

He smacked himself with his hand as she said it, wading through the bodies and collapsed booths, the natural light overhead from the expansive glass roof letting in only the grey of clouds.

Hitman spread out still, going on their own as they cleared out the many halls of just the single floor of the convention center, separating out.

It would take more than just two elements of Americans to clear this place, top and bottom. To remain in there would be to just bask in death. Yet they did, they tried, the occasional pop of gunfire from inside the convention center and the collapse of more bodies made it known that they were not alone. Still, asides from that, the white noise of the sprinklers gave way to a silence, and then a sound.


What did it sound like when a man was begging for his family? The Rangers there might've known it, but not in English. Not until that day as the sound emanated from the convention center's upper floors. Masterson had heard it first, he sprinting, falling out of his hand as Emerson watched him go, watched him run into one hall that had multiple stories to it, like a mall almost. He signaled with his hand to follow, as he called for Hitman over radio their location.

Masterson had flown up the first set of stairs he found, his hearing guiding his run as they came to a bathroom hallway, no doors, just the amplified echoing sobs of a man.

Masterson steeled himself, clenching his jaw as he readied his shotgun, feeling a hand touch his shoulder as if ready to stack and breach. He didn't want to wait, going into the inlet of the male's bathroom and seeing through the ghost ring of his shotgun-

How many dead had he seen today? In those last few minutes? How many had he caused personally?

It was a bigger bathroom meant for venues of that size, massive, but in its back corner had been a single, young man, dusty brown hair, a strong face, coated in red as he sat in a puddle of blood before six bodies. One of them had been one of those pig beasts, and all of them, all of them had been torn apart. With one look at his hands, it might've revealed how it happened, on how one Legionnaire's face was ripped apart and why a jaw had been torn off the pig's, but those hands instead held a little girl.

His little girl.

The man was Tracy O'Neill, and he had been sobbing, his tears lost to the blood on his face as his wife's body lain by his knees.

He rolled his head around and Masterson saw what had been done to him.

Tracy's mouth moved but no sound came out, no intelligible word as he tasted the blood on his face again, taking one of his hands and dipping two fingers into his mouth as if realizing what he was tasting.

"Trace, man, please, stop-" Masterson soon found himself without words as he looked upon one of his men lose so much.

This was how his wife, his beautiful wife, and his darling daughter; his beautiful eleven-year-old daughter met the end of their life:

In a dirty bathroom, scared as beasts and Romans cut them down. They didn't die cleanly. They didn't die well. They died in the worst way possible: with their beloved watching and unable to do anything.

What Tracy did to them in return, it, it-

Cradling the body of his daughter, her head half way cut off, threatened to drop off her neck. He had held it together as blood still ran fresh and her eyes were blank with the expression of pure agony, her long hair clumped with flesh.

Masterson couldn't say it, with all his heart. He couldn't. He couldn't tell him to stop what he was doing as he held the blood and flesh of his baby girl and tried, with all his soul, to put her back together from the slashes and crushing. The cruelty of the Roman Empire come again and given to him.

Tracy did nothing but bury his face in the crook of his daughter's neck, and when he finally did look up at Masterson, his face was painted red fresh as his hands had the skin and flesh of those he had ripped apart limb from limb, beat into a pulp on the bathroom floor.

"Cam-" Emerson had finally entered the bathroom, but said nothing as he was about to ask for status, and only found the worst thing he had ever seen in his life before him, on his knees. "Jesus Christ."

God wasn't there. God was responsible for this it seemed as Tracy looked to his squad lead, then his CO, and then, as the rest of the squad shuffled in, shuffled in, he looked to each of them in the eye as all of the world honed down to just them in that bathroom.

The horrors of war, brought to them, personally. Veterans of wars abroad, of police actions and conflicts and security disputes and liberations. They were dogs of war, and their nose was stuck into violence like never before.

Hitman entirely came into that bathroom one at a time, each not knowing what was happening, and then understanding completely what had been done. They had to bear witness to this.

What happened in that bathroom had happened before, and would happen again; but the now of it: it was repeated a thousand times and a thousand times more in Tokyo. The Japanese had sustained a horror unseen in that world since the times of Christ, and the damage had been biblical in ways that hadn't been felt in the Western world since a September morning, so long ago.

Insanity. Pure and utter insanity. A curse was placed on Hitman that very moment as a man had gone insane.

He raised himself up, like a spectre, holding his daughter in his arms as blood dripped from every bit of him and her, and looked straight ahead, through everyone, and moved forward. Past them, none willing to stop him as they parted like the Red Sea. On his lips the incantations of revenge and retribution cast on every who had heard, and who had seen, what had been done to him and his family.

Wars started in the hearts of men. Of women. Of fathers and mothers. Daughters and sons. What Tracy O'Neill's heart had spoken like a prayer, a desire that he wanted for the rest of his life placed upon Hitman:

"Kill them."

Tracy spoke to a future. To one he would not be a part of and he damned it all on how he couldn't be there when the inevitability came. He spoke to those that he would live on in, and carry out the will of him and all those who lost someone that day.

His voice did not stutter, his gaze did not waver as he looked back, leaving that damned place, leaving Hitman stunned. His last bout of sanity was his most sane, and then the Abyss swallowed him whole.

"Kill them all."


Manifest Destiny

"This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate."

President Thomas Jefferson

December 29, 1813

on the Native American