The Beginning of Section 1

Section 1-1


The wind beats hard, and the sound of chopper blades, vibrating through the sky is something entirely new in that world. Every single thing they do is an introduction to a world that does not know who they are, but will soon see. Rangers is right: they lead the way, so it is Rangers that fly out upon the wings of Little Bird helicopters, like a swarm of ravens, and look down upon the very heart of the Imperial Army.

The Japanese are quickly educated of a term that supposedly defines these Rangers: They lead the way.

They fly out from Alnus on the first choppers assembled in the safe zone, meters from the Gate, and they are whisked over a killing field that reminds them that over a hundred years ago, this type of casualty count was normal, but in the end it changed the world whole. Bodies and hands reach out up to the Little Birds as they fly over, pieces of people ripped apart by Japanese guns and American ammo. For almost a week, every day, every night, the Empire sent waves and waves of men and monsters at Alnus Hill to an enemy they could hardly perceive save for the fire they evoked.

No attack came back, only an unbreakable wall that killed all that threw themselves against it.

It is when no attack comes that the Special Task Force command, the Japanese reluctant, allow the 75th Ranger detachment to do their jobs.

Three Months since the Ginza Incident

D-Day + 5

Just outside of the Alnus Hill Defense Zone

It's a small squadron of choppers, all of the same Little Bird model, but some are running escort duty: instead of Rangers, IR missiles and miniguns for hard targets and battle wyverns. Just in case.

"I'm not too excited to dogfight dragons." The callsign for the Little Bird flight is Gunsel, a detachment from USSOC used to flying hot and heavy with Rangers, and for that Emerson is thankful as he shares the pilot's anxiety, loading his people up.

If it came down to dragons, hopefully the F-35s are on station. Emerson can only hope as he steps onto the ski of the Little Bird before the Gate, seeing Hazam and Pierce look at him with every command implication that one can impart upon troops. It weighs his shoulders, but not as much as the dead they fly over.

Soon enough the dead cede way to plains and craggy rocks; it's all flatlands, but given the nature of battlefields during this warfare era their destination isn't too far away. Smoke signals are what hint them off on what it might be. It's only confirmed by every Ranger's eyes as they see tents.

"1-1 Bravo to 1-1 Actual." It's an odd change up of radio diction and protocol, though it's simple enough for them to play ball with. Masterson calls Emerson over the radio comms, sound is muted through every Ranger's hearing protection save for each other's voices. Masterson waves Emerson down from another chopper in formation a few dozen yards away, pointing down at a place far enough away from the tent city that they have come across. "Somewhere over yonder. Any closer and the choppers might kick off half that shit. Over."

Sound advice. Emerson gives a nod that no one can see as he looks over his shoulder to one of the pilots of the Little Bird he is currently on. "Put us down "over yonder"." He parrots Masterson, odd as it is in his command voice, but the pilots get it. "Babs, Valentine. Stay on the birds and provide overwatch."

Barbara Annel and Ryan Valentine have their sniper and DMR respectively. They both affirm readily as the Little Birds circle the area once, giving the Rangers a good enough view from the top down that bright, blue day on the headquarters tents arisen by the Imperials in order to take back Alnus Hill. Royal reds and golds, and just even a cursory glance every Ranger there knows its been abandoned and left to nature.

Bannon's team hits the ground first, as she usually does, securing an immediate perimeter in a grassy clearing as the rest of Hitman sans Annel and Valentine remain, their choppers taking back off with the rest, albeit in a closer orbit as the kick of Gunsel's drafts dissipate. Emerson's helmet is well suited to taking the pebbles that bounce off of it, even as he faces the wind of it: Beneath his helmet of course he wears a black balaclava that has been converted to simply a neck gaiter, now pulled over his mouth. Above that though is something else: It is the incidence of his youth that reminds him that even suited up riot cops can get their teeth broken. His helmet now has coverings that go along his cheeks and ears, almost down to his mouth: chops, they're called, and some of Hitman also wears them, however they remind many of the armor worn by the helmet of knights.

It is also because Masterson's childhood he recommends their current LZ. He walks over to Emerson, standing up, in hand as the rest of Hitman stands and stays put with their perimeter holding. "When I was a kid, some racist hicks used to kick up shit at pow-wows by flying choppers real low and slow over. Blew the shit out of the tee-pees."

He ran away from home as a kid, and where did he end up? A Native American reservation.

It shows in different places for him, as much as a strong, stereotypical image of a white man that he is. It shows in dreamcatchers hanging over his bunk; it shows by trinkets and talisman he might hang off his belt; it's in a surprising awareness that doesn't seem fit for his fiery attitude when it comes to matter of oppression.

"Good call then." Emerson pats his shoulder as he glances at all his men and assures himself they're all there. Memories of different missions in sandier locals come back to him, and the old vocabulary and mannerisms take them all over. They look for hadjis or chinks, but neither exist in this world in the sense they mean. "1-1 Alpha. Let's go. 1-1 Bravo take your team and stagger behind. Bannon I'm on you."

Bannon stands, left hand reaching across her torso to press upon her radio. "Copy all. Let's go." Her left hand goes up, flat, chopping toward the tents a football field away and then making a fist. It's a flat, short distance. The considered thought that maybe an archer or some sort of bowman is hiding and waiting for the perfect shot rings true in all of their ears as they disperse and proceed toward the tents in a flat line wide, though that offending thought is pressed out:

It's Annel in her New England hoarseness over chopper sound and radio. "Thermals got nothing." She has a thermal scope, able to cut through most anything in that camp, nothing to say about the caliber of rifle she is packing. "Seems like a pretty logical set up: command tent is in the center, and several larger ones seem organized. Might be per vassal state."

Their education of the Saderan Empire, of the organization of ancient states, have gone up tenfold. It is odd that each of them have learned the histories of Sumeria now, poised to invade another world, than when they did invade Sumeria. It's a thought in Emerson's mind, stoic as he is as he feels grass beneath boots and remembers his time, deploying from Italy into the Gulf and Africa.

"Copy all." Their tread up to the tents is at a brisk pace, and Emerson doesn't break it as he answers back over his own radio, rifle still somewhat held up and ready. "Break off and look out and around."

"Copy 1-Actual. Out." The two choppers carrying Valentine and Annel split off to look outward, leaving the rest of the Little Birds in holding formation. It's ample safety, but this is their first tasking. To start slacking on number one is a failure of their own part. Approaching the outer perimeter of the tent formation, Loke, pointwoman as she is, goes onto her stomach and peers at the fluttering opening given to her by the slits between ground and fabric, rifle held astutely, just in case.

"Nothing." She reports what she sees against the tents facing them, popping back up.

Emerson flicks the safety off on his own AR. "Two per tent. Clear this entire camp. Don't make too much of a mess. Bannon, Masterson, with me, we'll take center."

His two squad leads link up with him as the rest take their battle buddies and start going into tents, the size of shacks and houses, and just doing a visual pass through. Each time they enter one they enter an image of Rome. The set ups and scenes of fantasy and history collided into a real, corporeal life. They stand in tents meant for legionnaires and their commanders, accommodations not unlike any other military FOB Hitman has gone to, but yet different in composition.

Fur pelts, scaled armor, swords and stones lit by torches long burnt out by the absence of those to upkeep.

Loke, she opens up a flap with the barrel of her rifle, strobe light on her rifle flared as, briefly, she sweeps it from the outside before stepping in with Sergeant Ramirez on her tail.



That word echoes through dozens and dozens of times as Rangers fold through tents, finding nothing but an enemy camp in a new world.

Before Loke turns away to continue to keep going down the line, she catches something just before she steps on it.

Talia Loke is good at footwork. A former athlete: a track runner no less, so she's always been aware of where she's going. She was aware as an athlete as she was aware as a Ranger, but even then what she sees surprises her: It's a wooden horse. Darkened wood, the size of a doll. Where there would be legs are instead wheels. It's a toy. A child's toy, and she pauses, freezes, looks down from behind her antifrag goggles.

Peters is perhaps the only one with his face showing, dark and pebbled over as if the surface of the moon. It is his face that is shown for a monster of a German Shepard to see the its master. Peters is a rifleman, always, an operator as well, but he is Hitman's animal handler. It is his voice that hits the dog's ears more than most. Khan, Hitman's dog, is surprisingly complacent, sniffing at the ground as he goes along the paths made of the camp. Khan looks up to the pebbled face, and stares, communicating nothing.

Harris is a big man, befit his role as autogunner. Maybe in an earlier year someone like him might've been needed to carry around the steel and aluminum machine guns that carry the weight of the highest modern military kill counts, but it is the future. It is the future in the way his SAW is barely any heavier than Emerson's AR, and blue cased bullets, more casing than round, feed from the gun into a backpack which acts as his ammo reservoir. The whole deal is light enough that he takes point through a weapon's tent with Nutt.

Nutt, the former teacher, current demolitions man, makes note that of all the explosives used on the Romans, a lot of the damage was due to their armor. Racks of armor and swords hold against wooden racks, waiting for a war that was made obsolete by people like him: The amount of metal shrapnel that comes out of a hit against an average Roman soldier is five times the amount than on a North Korean.

Nutt says this aloud as he announces the tent is clear, an armorer's bench and sharpening stone down the middle. He can't help but feel the whetstone with his uncovered right hand, his rifle and attached grenade launcher resting against his chest by a sling.

"Imperial." Harris rolls out in his Appalachian frankness.

"Hm?" Nutt looks up, as if he had touched something wrong.

"Imperial. Not Roman."

Right. Nutt shakes his head and helmet, gun up again as they move on, he thumbing a glow tab out of his pockets onto the table to denote the tent was cleared out.

They are not Romans. They are Imperials. More specifically they are-

"Saderan doesn't sit right. Ain't a name that sounds imposing. Now Rome. Or Nazi Germany. Or Khanate. Now those are cool imperial names." Masterson says aloud as he and Emerson and Bannon clear out the command tent. "Sad-air-en." He says again on his tongue.

Emerson isn't exactly focused on his pronunciation as he's looking down on a battle map of Alnus Hill and the surrounding area. Little circular markers, made of wax it seemed, colored any shade of blue to red, are surrounding Alnus Hill. It's simple, it's blunt: a siege formation meant to surround the enemy. Cut off resources and choke them out.

It doesn't work. Not for them.

"Must be the final attack they did last night." Bannon correctly guesses. She slides her rifle onto safe as the radio net for Hitmen is abuzz of final clears. "Reconvene center tent." She takes over for Emerson. There are many chairs turned over and set up around the table, still well lit, stinking of the Imperials. Emerson smells rose water on the air and remembers: Lords are expected to go into battle here. One chair is turned back up, and Masterson sits in it, elbow leaning on the table.

"By God. Even the gooks outside of Pyongyang, the big wigs with them big medal platters, even they tried to stop us from coming to their literal command tent." Masterson says disappointed.

Masterson's been to war.

All of them have been.

Different types of war granted.

For Bannon, she has had the pleasure of existing in the dying days of security forces and the War on Terror. She has memories of walking the ancient lands of Afghanistan in a hijab, SCAR-L in hand as her squad bounces back and forth between villages, brokering deals and peace that never get followed up on.

For Masterson, he's got a taste of the new: He's been across the border of Texas as a Ranger, settling security for that border against cartels that have learned from Americans. He's been there in Korea, at the very front of the last Cold War battles, and the precedent for outclassing the enemy was made there again, and not on the streets of Ginza.

For Emerson, he's special forces. All of them are, but he understands the experience now. He knows desert nights and hidden compounds, cold blood and HVTs, Saudis and Israelis; he's a polite, unassuming young man rare in a profession where special forces write books and movies.

Emerson shakes his head softly as Masterson all so comfortably rolls off racial slurs for Asians. He knows the man isn't racist actually. He more than anyone would've put his foot down on it. However, there is a special type of tolerance and expectancy that comes with being who they are. He can't tell Masterson that he can't say gook because it isn't nice in a profession where they both kill people.

"Probably killed them," Emerson thumbs over his shoulder, referring to the thousands dead they flew over to get here. "Would you like to go check?"

Masterson flares his hands, head shaken and lisp straight. "Let the Japs handle that."

"Right." Emerson doesn't quite concur but it'll happen anyway. Glancing over to the open flap of the tent he sees Hitman start to convene as the distant sound of the Little Birds come in the foreground. Holding down his radio he calls it. "Hitman 1-Actual to Riptide. Site is clear. No hostiles. You're free to come in."

"Copy all, Hitman." The business casual voice of their handler rattles in over comms and Emerson flicks his hands to Masterson and Bannon as they buck up and nod. They fall in line behind them as he leaves the tent, he throwing up two hand signals as well that manifest in a circling finger and then down to the ground. Hitman affirms as they take a knee and a Little Bird takes flight closer to the camp, touching down as Emerson and his team leads approach that perimeter. It's the same chopper with Valentine on it, and the marksman has his back uncomfortably toward the other passenger on his platform:

The man wasn't quite a SEAL, but he had the heritage of one, apparently. The Little Bird carrying the marksmen had carried him in, and as he dropped off, he looked like one of the Rangers. Multicam had marked him instead of the gray and muted green of the Rangers, but the gear was the same. The AR had hung on his sling as the Rangers held a perimeter, Emerson greeting their handler as the Little Bird dusted off again to its holding pattern.

"You thinking what I'm thinking, lieutenant?" Andrew Blackburn had opened up as Emerson led him back to the camp, and as Emerson had been the walk leader, Blackburn had taken it unceremoniously as Emerson fell in behind with Masterson and Bannon following. Masterson trailed the furthest.

Emerson nodded, even if Blackburn wasn't looking, he making a line right toward the command tent. "All they did was just run off or die. No time to pack up." The Ranger officer answered pretty sure. "Good for us."

Blackburn turned around, placing his helmet on a karabiner on his hip. His jet black hair, frizzled by the helmet pads stuck up funnily but no one would make comment. "Don't think they'd be much concerned after what happened."

Emerson finally slid his rifle's selector onto safety, slinging it over his back. "Nope."

None of the Rangers had taken a shot yet in the days they've been there, doing nothing but looking out toward the killing fields. Grass had turned to meat, progression revealed days after nights, rolling fields turning into corpses and craters. The reflections on the armor had provided enough glint to actually become an annoyance to the gunners and snipers looking out, but eventually the dirt raining down from artillery buried the bodies down.

The vultures that picked off in the day time also helped stymy that.

Day after day, night after night, attack after attack that came, but never reached.

By the time Hazama and Pierce gave orders to the Rangers that they were to be forward deployed most jumped at the opportunity. Sitting in one place wasn't what they were trained to do. Perhaps there were more reasons why Masterson and his cadre had been more excited to get out. Perhaps they were the same reason he seemed disappointed now almost.

Hitman regarded Blackburn as he came up, and, a little laxly, they all provided a perimeter as the leads and him went back into the tent.

With an actual CIA spook in Emerson saw a little more cleanly what was there: Maps. Maps and journals, bound papers and scrolls.

"If Bin Laden just left his shit around like this we might've saved twenty years." Blackburn seemed self-satisfied, arms at his hips with a grin on his face.

Loke leaned against a hitching post for the many horses that were now distinctly missing, day old horse shit near where she was standing, ignored as she turned over a toy horse in her hand. She's a spunky girl. She knows this. She's almost too cute to be a Ranger, as many in Hitman commented on nights out in Tokyo. It was a common rule in the SOF cadre that you never fucked in your own unit, so none of Hitman ever acted on Loke's more than willingness to be a young woman amongst attractive, well-toned people. Still a consequence of this was when Rangers fucked, they fucked hard.

She's had those scares. The one that threatened to put a good reason why she would leave the military in the prime age of being an operator.

Still, she never thought of it terribly. If anything, the idea of kids was good to her and she thought of having some one day. It meant that she wasn't one of those broken operators with nightmares to the nine and morals so broken that it would've made the SEAL Teams look like Green Peace.

Perhaps that is why she felt something, an undefinable horror, seeing Tracey carry his nearly headless daughter out of that bathroom.

Corporal Black, the Bostonian Marksman with more Boston in his voice than a Kennedy, he catches her looking at the wooden toy. He's got very good eyes. Hence his position.

"Watcha' gawt there?"

He stands here, DMR cradled in his chest, and thinks to himself that Loke doesn't hear him. Though she does, a few seconds of nodding she puts the toy into her dump pouch. "Maria liked horses." She says, and it hurts again, between her and Black: They felt like they failed Tracey. All of Hitman felt like they failed by not being there for him. They were the people charged by their oaths to stop things like that from happening.

A map is put front and center on the table in the command tent as the three Rangers and one spook look down on it.

"What is that? Three, four-day drive realistically? Over half a day for a chopper?" Masterson seems ready to do such a thing looking at it all:

Alnus Hill is toward the bottom right of this particular map. There are inscriptions of the Imperial language around it. The four of them can almost transcribe it cleanly: Origin, Birth, Holy Hill. That's where the Special Task Force is now, and about a dozen hand lengths from there is drawn castles atop more hills.

Emerson puts his gloved finger on it gently. "Sadera Hill. Their Capital."

In between all of that, settlements, villages, cities. Markings are made for farms and roads. Foreign names none of them recognize but can sound out: Luru, Ramop, Italica, Trenlan. Closest one is Italica. Emerson's eyes draw to that as he sees the many roads leading to it. It's straight in the direction that would take them to the Capital. The largest land barrier is a mountain range noted here, separating Alnus from the Capital.

Borders and sigils mark rights and keeps, the marked-up land meant for people to stake their claim. In that tent no more than eight flags are flying, but all pale to the gold dragon that watches them all.

"That's not too far, but it's out of safe range for any of our choppers." Bannon notes. She's doing the math in her head. Her fingers automatically land near Italica without realizing. FOB would be nice here, perhaps.

Emerson nods. "That's for officers with more bars than me."

Blackburn agrees. He's got bags in his assault pack. Plastic bags that crinkle in his hand. It's obvious what they're doing here and now. Two reasons why they're out here, and, seeing as there are no Imperials to drive off, intelligence work is another.

Before they begin however wordlessly two Rangers enter: One is Corporal Marcos. Out of Southern California. A gifted engineer and maybe a little too good with his gun. His own maintenance of his rifle is a little more akin to finger fucking than the rest of Hitman is willing to tell him about, but he's an alright guy despite this. He's the one with the comm unit attached to his pack. He's Hitman's RTO. "Got a call from HQ asking for you Ell-Tee." Emerson nods as Blackburn glances at the lieutenant, they can wait for a second as Doc also comes in.

In his hands is iron in the shape of subjugation: chains. They clank in their metallics as he raises them up for all to see. In fire light, the bronze coloring gives way to another thing: it's not rust, even if they mistake it for that as first. Suddenly they realize that the chains are connected to cuffs, and the cuffs are broken and bloodied.

Doc doesn't want to say anything. What he holds speaks enough as Blackburn's cocksure confidence softens and Emerson licks his lips, trying to find words.

Masterson, as always, finds his. "Sick sons of bitches."

"What is it, Doc?" Bannon finally asks if there's anything more.

The doctor shakes his head. "Found at least a dozen like this attached to a post outside one of the lord's personal tents. Tracks too. Lead out north. Someone broke something trying to get out of these things and it might be in our interest to go find 'em."

Who are these people? Everyone's dancing around saying it outright, which is why distractions are there as Bannon shakes her head. "We've got to report to command." She says in her hoarse voice, looking away from Doc as she nods to herself. "At least they're free."

Doc takes in a breath, pooling the chain in his arms before depositing them in his own dump pouch. He wants to say more, but he knows they're busy. It's not his command as well.

"Go ring up HQ. See what they're saying." Blackburn turns over to Emerson, looking away from Doc as he waits, looking at the scrolls first for their ease of packaging. Masterson does the same, rolling up maps carefully.

Emerson nods at Marcos to dismiss him as he turns away, thumbing his comms and pressing his headphones a little as if bringing the sound closer. "Hitman 1-Actual to STF HQ. How copy over?"

"Copy you clear. 1-Actual. This is Sicario." The American HQ element at least, and over the radio is one of Colonel Pierce's command staff.

"Go ahead Sicario."

"Uhhh 1-Actual. Relaying communique from JSDF Command. General Hazama has explicit orders to leave any material and intelligence on the ground." The command staffer seemed confused himself, and a little anxious to even say it. "Is that understood? JSDF will be deploying to pick up any relevant items ASAP. Over."

Emerson scrunched his face, looking over to the spook before responding. "1-Actual, copy all but be advised we have codename Riptide on station as well. Does this apply to all assets?"

He could practically feel everyone's eyes on his back as he spoke aloud.

"Affirmative 1-Actual. New orders are to secure the area until Japanese forces relieve. Do you copy?"

Emerson turned over again and Masterson had tilted his head confused behind his clear shooting glasses, his hands up, gesturing what's going on? Blackburn was expectant as Bannon was with Doc, staring at the chains out of his dump pouch, transfixed.

"Hitman 1-Actual copies all. Interrogative: Anything else?"

"Negative 1-Actual. Sicario, out."

Before Blackburn can even ask the question, Emerson is speaking. "JSDF wants us to leave all material where they are. They'll be securing. We're just to hold ground and wait to be relieved… You too Andrew."

It's not every day that Emerson sees the CIA be denied, and there are clashing feelings inside of him as Blackburn rolls his eyes that precede the: "Oh what the fuck."

It's a matter of taking charge. Being the first to get a hold of information, to have the ball in their court. It's the same here as it was in the Middle East, Emerson can't help but think. In the '91 Gulf War he remembers learning how Kuwait was reclaimed: instead of coalition forces it had been local Arabs that went in, despite the coalition being the one who had cleared the way all up. It was better optics for Arabs to reclaim an Arab city.

Here it would be better for the JSDF to claim a big victory in claiming these intelligence documents.

Of course, they would be shared, but it's a matter of optics, and the days and moments matter.

"I don't trust them to not censor shit, c'mon, help me out." Out from Blackburn's pocket a digital camera was taken out. "I won't take shit, but I'm not leaving it either."

Orders were orders from their handler, so for the next few minutes Hitman had played secretary as documents were laid out, photos taken.

It's not anything they haven't done before as Rangers, but mostly it's pictures of bodies; HVTs taken out and bodies dropped. The clicks of the camera are the closest thing to trigger time they'll get today, they figure.

This feels wrong, because it's a subversion of what the JSDF wants them to do, but the JSDF isn't there watching them and by the time they hear the distant buzz of JSDF Hueys, they've gotten pictures of everything they could.

"You figure the first people out here would be like, actual professionals and shit. Archeologists, anthropologists, historical professionals and all that." Nutt rattles off as Hitman congeals into one cohesive unit at the command tent, about ready to step off as the Japanese Hueys do their circling, JSDF soldiers peering out and down at them. "This is a time capsule, this world." He gestures up and out to everything.

"I'm sure all those historians would've loved to come out on walks in Afghanistan when we were there." Bannon is a cynical and sarcastic woman, and Hitman loves her for it. Someone has to be in opposition to Masterson's bombast. "We should move before they touch down."

"Affirm." Emerson nods as Blackburn slinks back behind him. His job is done, he lets his operators take rein as Emerson throws his hand up, making a spiral as the Little Birds that brought them their understand, landing in short order nearby.

As smoothly as they came, they leave, stepping onto their Little Birds and their skids as once again, they take off.

"Here comes the JSDF for the assist." Masterson has far more contempt in his voice than anything as he radios. "Think they be given' out participation trophies and shit Kay?"

"We're the only ones with said participation trophy pinned, Sergeant Masterson." Emerson drawls out as the Little Birds exchange places with the Hueys, they touching down as green camo'd JSDF troops disembark as if they were in a hot combat zone, guns up, fireteams moving to the camp.

"Fucking cleared out already." One of the Hitmen grumble.

They're good at their jobs, they know how easy it is just to pick up documents and go, and yet the Japanese have to do it, because this is Japanese land. This Emerson knows, and he cannot fault them. As for what the rest of Hitman feels, they do not have his exacting temper.

Alnus Hill

It's not the worst refuse of remains he has waded through in the last year of his life. This much Youji Itami understands as he walks out with so many other JSDF troops into the killing fields in the lead up to Alnus Hill.

It was tactical suicide beyond insanity to attack Alnus Hill with these sightlines; no cover for miles around, and a stark run up that is deceptively tiring. To run up Alnus Hill and then throw yourself upon the enemy, it's the reason why the warfare the Empire practices is obsolete.

However, they didn't know that the first time the cannons rang out, the artillery started firing, and the land erupted in explosions. The second, third, fourth, fifth, and so on and so forth times are entirely on them however and their hubris.

Cresting over a smallest rise of the ground, looking over, it's dozens of men, crumpled together, trying to put together in their head what gunfire is and trying to discover what constitutes as hard cover. They die anyway. He sees the shrapnel and blown apart limbs from an artillery round, along with the offending crater. He ignores the smell of it, for it permeates everything. It's fresh slaughter, and as the vultures above circle, they are awaiting to partake in it.

He has never seen so many vultures in his life, and it's at least, morbidly, pleasing to see. In Fukushima all the wildlife had dropped dead to the earth, including the birds. At least here there was something left to feast on the dead.

He raised his Type-89 to his cheek, peering through the IR optic. But it was no use. The land was filled with bodies, and the bodies were all still warm. Flipping the IR magnifier off he had shut it off.

Why Hazama had wanted ground teams to walk out among the dead, he didn't know, but at least he was walking after so many days hunkered down in the dirt on Alnus Hill.

The way his flakvest sat on his body wasn't as rough as the weight on his feet.

Two shrill gunshots ring out from his right. It's a several hundred yard spread between troops, flowering out from Alnus as if there was anything to find. It's two shots that are clean and in a fast procession that doesn't, particularly, make him tense.

His right hand had gone up to his radio however, pressing down. "Hey, what was that?"

A few seconds pass and his eyes focus out into the distance. To his direct right is a Sergeant Akira Tomita and Sergeant Shino Kuribayashi. Polar opposites. Tomita's a tall and broad JSDF regular, a handler of animals, a sky diving instructor as well for the JSDF. Kuribayashi a short and angry woman who would take any opportunity to shoot something. That is what Itami fears at that moment: That she has killed a dying man.

It's a close guess.

Tomita's lower voice answers. "We had a horse over here, in pain, we euthanized it sir."

"Got it." Itami nods to himself.

Above, the vultures displace as a formation of American scout choppers cut across the sky back toward Alnus. He has a fair guess of who dangles their legs off their sides, but he doesn't think too hard about how he has become friends with American special forces. Instead, he looks down as the breeze they kick up kicks the dust around him.

It is in trying to avoid dust getting in his eyes does he see a flutter of fabric beneath the metal body of a dead man in front of him.

The choppers pass off back to their makeshift landing pads behind him, and Itami squares his vision on the purple and gold cloth he sees poking beneath a soldier who has died, face down.

With the edge of his boot, he lifts the man over, facing the sky.

In his arms is not a sword, but the flag of his Empire.

"I didn't take you for a smoker Itami." Akira Yanagida notices the second Itami comes in and smells the tobacco and smoke on him. There's nothing to report. It's all but dead.

"Not until recently." Itami answers promptly. He's tired, and he lets the officer know that.


Lieutenant Akira Yanagida is one of General Hazama's own. He went to Korea with him, but he never fought. There are those in the JSDF who are now actual combat veterans, and they stick out like sore thumbs. They are younger men, and not the older crop of generational JSDF personnel; younger men who had wanted, the second the North Korean guns started firing across the DMZ, to go with Hazama and fight for Pacific peace.

They are no longer young.

Yanagida existed in a gray space, both literally, and in Itami's mind, reporting to him after the initial patrol out. He was an intelligence man, listening to radio, putting out reports, listening to Hazama give orders and making sure the nuances of them were put into place. Itami's exposure to him had been low, on purpose, but it wasn't anything specifically to Yanagida's credit. He avoided all officers just out of habit anyway.

The nature of his duties saved him in Korea, keeping him close to base, and it made him able to call up Itami as he looked up from his desk and had a folder ready for Itami. "These are freshly copied from the Imperial command element they had out here. Just came in."

Taking the folder within his gloves Itami looks it over. Scans of maps, military gridline and AO guides super imposed. It's the immediate AO all the way out from Alnus Hill out to (he is surprised to see it) the Imperial Capital.

"That was quick." He can't help but comment as he flips through the pages given to him, laminated, ready for usage.

Yanagida nods. He's the standing desk sorta person, hunched over with notes chicken scratched with orders and plans, glasses shimmering in light. "Yep. Our forces acquired the maps after a short raid on their command tents just a few miles away. It certainly makes your RCT job easier, doesn't it?"

It's his gut intuition, of responsibility on his shoulders, that makes him say this in response: "Are we moving the timeline up on deploying the RCTs?"

Yanagida is impressed behind his thin glasses, neatly cut hair reminding Itami of a salary man he probably should've become instead of a soldier. "Correct. We want the RCTs to set off as soon as the vehicles are prepped in the motor pool and the supplies are delivered to you."

Their responsibilities were outlined, and created, the second it was decided that the 7th MEU and a detachment of 75th Rangers would be coming over with the Special Task Force. The Rangers, and to a lesser extent, the 7th MEU's Force Recon, were forward operating groups. The Japanese needed their own.

The Recon Teams of the JSDF were to go out and collect intelligence amongst any local populace, along with denoting any landmarks, establishing territory and communication.

"The Americans are gonna be coming with you in an advisory position however." Yanagida says, loathe to admit it. "You know how they are."

He doesn't. He only knows how Emerson is, and he is quite delightful as company, though he knows what Yanagida is trying to say: the friction in the air between the American Command and the JSDF is palpable in the air. On one hand: the JSDF doesn't want the Americans there at all, and on the other, the American Command thinks the JSDF liable to be incompetent. No one will say anything out loud, but it's clear here, even in the command tent: one side for the Marines, the other for the JSDF.

"Hmph. Right. Who?"

"The American Rangers. You're getting three of them. I believe you know a Lieutenant Kristian Emerson already?"

Itami's face brightens up. "I do."

"Lucky then. I'm sure he won't give you too much trouble." What was left unsaid was that the Americans elsewhere had been. "But yeah, Lieutenant Itami, look at you, you're a bonafide trailblazer nowadays."

All Itami can do is fake a smile as he nods at his orders and Yanagida, and move off into the FOB camp that has formed around Alnus Hill, back out into the light. Pictures and videos of American FOBs in Iraq come to mind. Where there had been fresh grass below his feet is replaced by dirt, the greenery stamped out by the constant pressure of boots and treads as Marines and JSDF operate within the tight defensive circle, more akin to an installation in the middle of the jungle during the Vietnam War.

There are no Vietcong however, no great real threat. It is just standard procedure.

The Gate hangs over all of them, the black of its void sucking in light itself. As long as no one looks out into the killing fields or at the Gate, they can pretend this is just a regular military deployment. So many heads are down as Itami walks outside again into the light, he wonders why people aren't tripping over each other. Everyone has something to do, and he is no exempt.

"Cat girls." That particular word draws his attention as a JSDF troop from another RCT says something to a compatriot he walks next to. "I hear from the prisoners back at 1A that there are literal, actual, big titted cat girls in this world. Can you believe that shit?"

He's an otaku. Self-proclaimed. No if ands or buts about it.

Loves lolis.

Loves magical girls.

Loves anything put onto paper and called anime, manga, and sometimes manhwa. He doesn't forget who he is in the middle of wading through radioactive muck. It's perhaps the reason he gets along with Risa still; she being a mangaka.

His hobbies bind him to just about anything, and that's that. There's the nature of his existence out in the open: material pleasures on the day by day, media which fills his mind and he enjoys. Emerson is almost his opposite as he's learned: always working, always going forward. Not even for himself, but for his service itself. He wonders what type of world the Americans grew up in that produces men like Emerson, but whatever that world is he wouldn't have made it. Whereas Emerson is all exacting, almost overwhelming guidelines, he follows instead the flow of the situation as opposed to the plans dictated for it. Should be an interesting combination when they're out beyond the wire.

"Heeeyyy! Ell-Tee!" It's young Kurata at his back as he turns around in the middle of the camp, he opens his mouth to greet his fellow otaku, but as they spoke instead the drone of an American flatbed truck was heard: on its back, the shape of it was unmistakable hidden by a tarp.

"The American F-35s." Itami knows as he says.

"You keep awfully close tabs on them, aren't you?" Kurata teases. He's always been a tease about everything they've done together thus far. He's an otaku, much like him. Younger though, so it fits him. Bright, wide smile and the genuine enthusiasm to match. He's here on vacation it seems.

Itami slaps his back once, putting on a matching smile of his own. "No wi-fi service yet." And thus, no issues coming through at the moment.

"Oh it's why I brought over my physical copies. Could lend some out to you if you're interested, Ell-Tee?"

"Hm. Sure. Pack them up first though, we've got new orders."


Itami explains on the way to his tent for RCT3 amid the RCT pool. The other officers who lead the RCTs are starting to get the same slips, and many bellyache as Itami pass. "Really? Babysitting Americans? They don't pay me enough for this shit."

He shakes his head fairly. "It's not really babysitting. Not the people we're coming out with anyway."

"You know them?"

Itami nods just before they enter RCT3's tent. "Lieutenant Emerson and two of his people. I know Emerson well enough."

Kurata recognizes the name as his eyes open up a little. "Oh. He was the other man with you at Ginza?"

"Aye. Him and Cam, yes."

"On a first name basis with them?"

Itami nods. "He's a very reserved man. Very friendly though." Perhaps his first new friend in about a year, Cam shortly after, but Cam was just about friends with everyone he came in contact with.

Willing is a word that Itami uses to describe Emerson in his head. The man didn't need to reach out, to get familiar with him on days prior to the surge into the Gate, but he did.

He looks up to the sky one day as they're in between an awards ceremony, another medal pinned upon their chest for gallant bravery in the face of terror. Cherry blossoms fly and the sky is blue and clear, save for the combat patrols of JSDF jets above.

"It's best to know who you're being deployed with." He says, unprompted. "When you're a long way from home, they're your home."

He is twenty-six years old and he speaks like an old man.

He has his trauma. No one who grows up in America in the 21st century is free of it, but his trauma explains the way he is careful, and understated.

"What'd you mean? Isn't the Special Region just a part of Japan? I'll be right at home!" Itami tries to cheer him on.

Emerson does crack something of a smirk as he continues looking up at the sky. "If it were so easy to just declare these places abroad home, Youji, we'd have been doing it since Germany."

He enters RCT3's tent and the people he is responsible for are there. It's all temporary accommodations: all cots and tarps and bags, but they are settling in comfy enough. The JSDF was comfortable enough into the first day that tea was being made in the cars as artillery fire pounded off in the distance on a constant loop. The hiss of steam coming off a self-heating MRE sometimes matched with the chatter of a machine gun, and, not long after as they sit in the made defensive trenches for the immediate territory take, Itami can't help but think that this was what it was like to be a little behind the lines during the First World War.

A photographer, a cook, a husband, a sister, a soon to be step-father, a doctor, on and on they go on. Eleven people in total he is in charge of. Recon Team 3. He has a certain rapport with them now, having been organized before they came in, however there is a certain relation he has with the medic of RCT3.

Sergeant First Class Kurokawa. Her hair is black in the light in such a way that one could assume that it is a shade of dark blue. He knows her well enough from a few months back. She was among the first volunteers up in Fukushima, and her face shows it. She's a young woman with a caring look about her, but that does not contend from the dark circles beneath her eyes which run hollow like empty cans. She doesn't want to be here. Not because of any moral imposition, but rather, Itami understands, that there is work the JSDF has to do elsewhere.

The two lock eyes as Itami enters the tent, and Pops, Sergeant Major Kuwahara, is the first to come to attention. His rigidness from his lounging on his cot, standing straight, curs the rest of RCT3 into position.

"At ease." Itami still isn't quite used to the formality of words he has garnered as a steadily rising lieutenant, but they are what is needed as RCT3 does ease and remain looking at him. Some are quickly glancing at a small stove that has been set off, Furuta, the career cook brought into JSDF service, is fidgeting trying to continue to cook the pot that's on it with his boot. "What's that you all got there?"

Most of RCT3 has a spoon and thermos nearby. "Just trying to make some soup, Lieutenant." Kuribayashi is the first to answer, thumb up in the air. "We figure if we're gonna be touching off soon we'll need to have something to eat on the move."

"That's Kuribayashi's reasoning," Tomita, largest man of the group, befit of an airborne paratrooper that he is, shrugs. A serious man, cool-headed and collected, but still regular enough to admit- "I just want soup."

Most of RCT3 agrees. "Furuta's a cook, so we are going to abuse that 100%." Furuta, he looks like as if he hadn't had any say, a sharp look about him as he crouches back down to what meager cooking implements he has at the moment.

"Pepper and beef." The cook says. "Hearty enough."

Ushered in Itami can only move over to the pot and see the broth with bits of red and greens swirling in the hearty brown. It smells delicious, and it doesn't hurt that it fills the tent with its smell instead of the military musk. "That's good, you know, because we're about to deploy now."

"Huh?!" Kuribayashi is nearly over Itami as he says, excited. Most of RCT3 has made a school circle around Itami as he holds up his written orders. "What is this? First strike?"

He shakes his head at the more than eager soldier. "No. We're heading out to do a survey of the immediate area, checking on local towns and learning what we can."

"We're invading though!" Kuribayashi is indignant, "wasn't that the whole point of this?"'

With her arms spread wide toward the building base, she isn't wrong.

"Orders are orders." Itami stands, taking a look at each and every one of his people. "We'll be doing this mission with American "advisors", so, those of you who aren't versed in English, see that you have your handbook ready... I know one of them is at least chatty."

"You don't look too excited, Lieutenant." Pops reads Itami's face accurately. Itami can only shrug.

"Ah, just not really too excited about all this. Is all." He tightens his lips for a moment into a line, thinking about the terrible thing of being in command.

Kuribayashi has already backed off as the more tactically oriented people ask him questions: How long? How fast? What they're expected to do? He had answers, to the point and true, however they were all delivered with the tone of an office worker as opposed to a soldier at the forefront of an enemy so horrible that it left walls of civilians dead.

She found herself by Kurokawa, the only other woman in the group.

"What's up with this guy?" She pouted.

Kurokawa with a tired voice answered as she looked down at her own Type-89 rifle by her bedside. In all her time as a medic in the JSDF, she hasn't had to pick up a gun since basic training. Here she has been told to have one by her side at all time.

Brushing a dark bang behind her ears, she looks at Itami again and sees someone that isn't quite what people assume. "He's a man not used to taking responsibility, but, as far as I've known him, he knows how to handle it."

The first time they met it's in hazmat suits, wading through suburbs near a school. He volunteered to lead the team into it, hoping to save, regardless of what he might see. It is with all the mercy of God that they discover that the children were already evacuated to higher ground as the JSDF troops wade in and double check no one has been left behind.

In his body language Kurokawa sees genuine concern, even from a man, she's discovered, has been out there for days without sleep handling the rescue effort.

"How about as a soldier?" That's all that matters to Kuribayashi.

Kurokawa, all she can do is put on a half-lidded look with a smirk about her. "I don't know."

The Ranger tent is better, if only because they've done this collectively a thousand times over from different lands in the world back over. The efficiency of the Ranger tent is all about space maximizing and the essentials: like a charger that's been rigged with almost a dozen USB cords with just as many phones and tablets attached. All of them are hardly changed out of their gear. Those with plate carriers that aren't overly annoying to detach are just sitting amongst themselves on folded over cots and beds, taking in Emerson standing there at the front, reading off orders.

"Sounds like LRRP shit." Masterson tips his Stetson, loving brought over as he lounges on a couch that Hitman has, somehow, smuggled over. Bannon sits above him on one of the couch's arms, her resting bitch face making up for Masterson's disposition.

Hitman agrees, generally.

"Nothing exciting?" Valentine asks, his DMR in hand. The less interested Rangers have already started packing their rucks, triples and pairs already teamed out and up.

"Want excitement Val?" Emerson tips his head up, going over details that never really matter when they're out past the wire.

"…No. Just, it's gonna hit us at some point, right?"

Action comes after long bouts of nothing and boredom on deployments.

Minutes earlier and Emerson is in the joint American-JSDF HQ tent. Hazama and Pierce are staring each other down like divorced parents and Emerson is a child at dispute. He's handed his orders with hardly a special directive.

The lieutenant can only shrug, adjusting the sling to his rifle, unbothered. "With how the JSDF and Pierce are at each other's necks, I don't think they'd have us out there just yet, putting bodies in the ground."

"Ah fuck 'em. Give me a horse and I'll go John Wayne." Masterson drawls out, rifle up, Stetson over his head as if he's making it in fashion.

"Hooah." Another Ranger agrees. It's Valentine, looking up from putting his M110A2 back together. He's got a bone to pick, same as all of Hitman on Tracey's behalf. Though it's more personal for him, in regards to the dead children.

He's got a kid on the way.

It very much could've been his wife in Ginza that day, and he has a certain amount of bloodlust for it that even Masterson cannot claim.

Emerson ignores, even as he drifts off the exact wording off the paper and into the air. They are words he's seen before. They are words that each Ranger in there have heard before: To engage you must be engaged. Hearts and minds. Respect the local populace. Learn their customs. Help where you can. Don't try to kill anyone. If you shoot, shoot to kill. And if you kill, you explain.

There was a magic to the Gate and the Special Region, no doubt: dragons and monsters and magic. Though this was no further away from home, America, than Afghanistan or Korea.

The air is the same type of breathable, and the culture is as distant from what the Rangers know.

These were the same motions that they went through in their past, and here they were summoned to do it again.

Choice differences do keep some intrigues. "The JSDF will take the lead, we're just there to act in advisory positions." That word drops off of Emerson's lips.

Black looks up as he stops writing in his notepad. He's always been a sketcher and notary, artist that he is. He knows he's living in the middle history, so recording what he is feeling now is at the top of his mind no doubt. "Advisor in the classical sense?"

Advisor in the modern sense means something more active than giving tips to locals.

"Who knows Black." Emerson shrugs. "Just gotta do it right, hooah?"


Bannon knows best, just to remind everyone what's in play. Her voice isn't the nicest thing to listen to, but because of that all she has to do is talk once and people remember: "If you still are shit at Jap, pair up with someone who's better. Pack ammo, pack food, pack for a god damn packing trip. Got it Hitman?"

Affirmatives, up and down, everyone there is a service veteran. This is just an overglorified camping trip for all of them with the threat of maybe an Imperial phalanx.

"Hey Cam?" It's Nutt, asking out from deeper in the tent.

"What bud?"

"Think I should bother with the M32?" Overkill is in the nature of Nutt's position in Hitman, grenades and explosives and shaped charges. The man is, meekly, a teacher however. Not one to be associated with bits and pieces of people.

"I prefer landing my shots than letting the weapon do the work, private. Doubt we'll be put in positions where we'll have to square off against entire companies." He mouths off.

Each of Hitman has their niche, their particular weapon preference. Even Emerson does with canted ironsights and point shooting. There's something kinetic about his gunfighting style that betrays a lot about his clear and concise attitude.

One by one, those guns are attended to, magazines loaded up into rucksacks and extra ammo packed alongside food and water and the rest needed for a long-range recon patrol.

"Think they need us out there actually, or they just want me to look pretty, Kay?" Masterson doesn't spend much time packing. Everything he needs for spending much time out there is already on him, even the lucky rabbit's foot on his belt. Bannon however knows, or at least cares better as both his and her ruck are managed over. They exchange a slurred drawl of a conversation, between Masterson's Texan and Bannon's ground up western, but they both come off of it as they usually do: comfortable with each other.

Emerson, his ruck is always ready for anything, so he is spared the time to just chat with his two team leaders. "Both, at best." He answers simply. "Difference between a JSDF grunt putting them in the ground and us is barely anything at all."

"But it ain't like we don't trust them to go out there. This is what it is though, ain't it? First presence patrols?" Masterson for as long as Emerson has known him was a talker, however sometimes conversations dragged on just for the sake of. This one wasn't it. These were questions he had to field because the man knew how to cut through bullshit like a knife through butter.

Emerson looks at Masterson with a hint of understanding. Cut through the bullshit and the answer of why they're in this land is plain as day: vengeance under the visage of justice. Cruelty by way of opportunity.

"We go where we're needed, 'hun." Bannon has zipped up her assault pack after placing another placard of STANAG mags in it for the just in case.

Masterson tips his head up at the woman as he transitions from spread out to a sit, hat thrown off and onto her haphazardly. "Well, 'course darlin'. But the foreplay gets annoying when it's two months long."

"I'm sure." She sneers back.

The way these two flirt is always evident to Emerson as he looks on like the disgusted third wheel that he is, but he can't be too disappointed as Black is over his shoulder with Nutt. "Your USB stick." He offers something that looks like it.

It's not. Looks like one though.

Emerson takes a hearty drag from it, a cloud of smoke billowing out in the smell of vanilla and mint.

"Shit will kill you, sir." Black had chuckled to himself, all while Nutt packed his own smokes into his plate carrier.

His face clouded in vapor, Emerson shook his head in some self-acknowledgement. "I'm sure this'll be the death of me."

Bannon was a hunter back in the day. Or, at least, she tried to be one.

"Up to me," she starts, exchanging out her AR for something a little more archaic. "All us Rangers would be using .308. God knows when we finally start getting into it with the Russians or Chinese they'll actually have the armor for what we use now."

"Might be a bit overkill." Masterson says, shotgun slung over his back.

"Well I've never been about half-measures when it comes to shooting people." She growls, rocking in a block of a mag into her M21, borrowed from Hitman's DMRs.

She's straight edge from the life she's lived. Not from the military, surprisingly, but from a messy divorce and stolen money. Her normal is one that fits into a military culture. Her hair is grown out now into an unexceptional pony-tail, and indeed, most of Hitman is out of regs for the part of looking approachable to any locals they would find.

Historically, it is Emerson that looks the most like a Roman now as he leads the two of them to the motor pool. On the way, Marines and JSDF troops alike look them, up and down. The gear they wear, the way they walk and look, it puts them apart.

"Let's go Rangers, let's go!"

Clap clap.

"Let's go Rangers, let's go!"

Idle Marines cheer on, and Masterson smiles and waves back as Emerson carries a Carl Gustav over his shoulder and his two staff sergeants carry two long guns each. They look like they're ready to mess someone up, and the smear of their uniforms denote them as special forces.

Approachable isn't the word that comes to mind about them as, after an unceremonious last school circle to affirm their operation procedures with the RCTs they're being attached to, Hitman's three leaders come into their own and start their own walk over to RCT3's staging area.

"45 wanted military parades; you know." Emerson leans over to talk to his two staff sergeants. "Right there in DC."

"Well, we're a three-man parade right here, aren't we?" Masterson smiles and waves again, even if one of his hands has his M1014. "Hell, according to JSOC, we're a Ranger unit altogether."

Three or four man teams rally up around them with their RCTs. Some of Hitman are professional, some are casual, some flaunt their obvious superiority and some are unbothered. Rangers are flexible SOF, but even then, Emerson can't help but think, this is only getting more and more unusual.

"We're barely a weapons platoon." Emerson grumbles.

Bannon is less reactive of everything happening around her as she has a DMR in one hand and a Mk48 machine gun in another. "Some days I wish I was in Delta."

"You're a Delta in my book, darlin'."

Masterson's comment gets a laugh out of Emerson as they round the corner and find, before, in a line and at the ready, an RCT.

RCT3 to be exact.

They stand like the men in green that they are. The camo reminds the Rangers, briefly, of the Ratnik the Russians use. The Russians aren't there however, only the Japanese. Some are surprised to see them totally up-gunned like they are, like action movie heroes lugging around machine guns and rocket launchers.

Shino Kuribayashi is absolutely beaming. She nearly gets out of line, but the palm of Tomita stops her from moving out as Itami turns over to greet his American friends.



Itami's not exactly that oblivious to realize what the Rangers lug with them, along with bulging rucks. "Camping equipment, hopefully?" He asks Emerson as Masterson and Bannon take to his wings. Masterson tips his head, Itami returning it.

"No such luck. We riding somewhere specific?"

Itami nods back to the green Humvee, soft-topped by a tarp. "If you could wait for a second, introductions?"

Emerson glances out at the line of JSDF soldiers that he knows as RCT3, and then back to Itami. "Your people?"

He nods, turning to them, taking his helmet off for a moment. "RCT3!" They all snap to attention like the good grunts they are.

"Oh don't I feel special." Bannon can't murmur or whisper with her gravelly voice, she can only turn her head away.

"These three are our "advisors."" He says in Japanese, and the Rangers understand. The three leaders of Hitman have always been the best at it. "Do treat them well. We're not here to freak them out too much, yeah?"

Emerson shakes his head softly. The idea of weird is inherent with deployment.

There's a word in the Japanese language that describes what's happened to them, and it lingers on his mind as Itami is silent and waits for them, clearly. An abrupt noise comes out of Emerson's mouth, setting the Carl Gustav down.

"…Uh, hey. My name is Kristian Emerson. 2nd Lieutenant. I… Well, I've known Lieutenant Itami for a bit now. We'll try not to intrude too much."

Masterson is up next, palming both Emerson and Itami's back as he is ecstatic. "Howdy! Sergeant Cam Masterson at your service. Seems like I'm the only person 'round these parts that's enjoying being here."

Bannon drags him off the two, shaking her own head, but a fond smirk on her face as she takes a look up and down the line of RCT3.

Mostly younger types, thankfully, save for the older man. Bannon is the most used to handling elements like this, and she knows that it is in her best interest to not be that much of a presence. "Sergeant Bannon."

She catches the eye of Shino Kuribayashi though, locking. The tension there is like a wave, crashing down, people's backs turned to it. She had heard of her from Emerson: the go-getter grunt.

"Are you… Rangers? Special forces?" Shino asks quietly.

Bannon nods. "Last time I checked, yes."

American special forces. Anytime that term is brought up on a news feed, it's always for something: Why American special forces are in some country, the expansion of the American roster of them, or reports on declassified raids. The tendrils of the American military are tipped by people like the three of them here:

And yet they aren't some boogeymen, quad-NVG, clad in black operators. They look like normal people. American bones and meat and milk have made them, of course, larger than most of RCT3, but they don't like any different than any fit American they've known individually.

"Mount up." Itami breaks that conversation before it starts. "We'll have plenty of time to get to know each other soon."

RCTs have already started moving up and out, shouts in Japanese and American from those passing yells out for individual members of RCT3.

Yet again, it's another movement of invasion. Each RCT with its guns and capability probably enough to win wars in this world. Instead, they blare American pop-music from the early 2000s.

"Who set them up with a mixtape?" Bannon asks with a furrow to her brow, tossing in the weapons in the back of the Humvee in its stores.

Masterson stays silent as from one RCT, Ramirez hangs out the back, requesting to talk with Emerson one last time before they're underway.

"You're lucky, Lieutenant." Ramirez says, the oldest Ranger there nods to himself, SCAR between his legs. "Three doesn't seem full of bloodthirsty killers." It is a point he is speaking English, fast, in front of RCT6, the one that he has been assigned.

"I'm trusting all of your judgement." Emerson looks up at him, and Ramirez says nothing as he waves for the driver to move on.

Dust moves and picks up, and eventually, it is whisked away by the Little Birds above following the RCTs out: escort until they're beyond the range of the Howitzers.

"He say anything?" Itami's voice is at Emerson's back. The Ranger doesn't quite know what to say to Itami, so he says this:

"Nothing too interesting."

The fabric cover of the Humvee is thrown off before they set off, and when they do, watching the Little Birds peel off back to a shrinking Alnus Hill, RCT3 is left in the wild, a path cut through killing fields that existed no more than 24 hours ago.

It's quiet, scanning rolling hills and distant scenery of a fairytale land as they drive off into the Special Region.

Emerson has taken with Itami in the lead car, staring out the broad screen on roads made by local peoples.

Masterson is snoozing, and Bannon, in her own prerogative, has her M21 ready as she hangs her leg out the back of the Humvee.

It's ten minutes out into their adventure that Emerson has to ask Itami:

"Have we been Isekai'd?" He says out of the blue, into the blue.

That word, Isekai, it came to him at the motor pool, and he has to ask now as in every direction around them a new world surrounds them.

Itami looks back at him from shotgun, eyebrow raised.


"Isekai. You know, I think it's a genre of manga or anime or something." Emerson recounts. "Where the hero gets displaced to another world, and because he's from a different place, he is special."

He drifts back to his childhood, to a book by Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. A gunsmith was sent back in time to King Arthur's England, and because it, the story ended with him exacting such terrible machines of war upon England he found his own demise buried in machinegun-tattered bodies.

Itami, he looks to his genre-savvy driver, Kurata, the younger man having heard him the first time, a smile on his face. "I mean, I guess we have been Isekai'd."

How silly it feels, that word, Emerson thinks. By that definition it's not the first time he's been Isekai'd. He's been Isekai'd to Mogadishu, to Fort Bennings, to Yemen and the savannahs of Africa. He's been Isekai'd to a Middle East and a Japan, and what has he done there? Conduct modern warfare in a way he was charged to.

"I don't know, Kay. When I think of Isekai, I think of fantasy and magic. Teenagers having to save the world, harems, things like that." Itami responds.

It's a technicality that they are Isekai'd now. It's a technicality that they're here in the Special Region. It's a technicality that he is now serving as an advisor.

They've been Isekai'd, and Emerson doesn't quite know how those stories are supposed to end.