Yeah, so turns out a new job and starting a hobby with Warhammer 40k are both time-consuming activities. Who knew? I won't fill this space with excuses over the late release. I can only say sorry.

This story WILL be finished, that much I can promise to what few readers I might have left. You guys are still awesome by the way. Hope all of you had a good Fourth of July and are getting some sun in.

You know, I've been thinking about it. Military guys making fictional stories and such, I went on a deep dive and found that there are a lot of them out there. It gives me encouragement as I plan to someday make an original story of my own. I love creating things and I'm coming to find that I may have some degree of talent in it.

But enough on all that. Time to get to work on my models and the next chapter. Take it easy

No Rest for the Wicked, Nor the Righteous

"We must therefore be prepared to cope – even better, to thrive – in an environment of chaos, uncertainty, constant change, and friction."


In the center of a well-lit chamber and surrounded by stained glass depicting ancient victories, the Imperial war council continued to debate around a great wooden table covered with maps and wooden unit models. Unbeknownst to the council; however, there was an infiltrator in their midst. One had been the architect of every one of their plans failing.

One of the officers cleared his throat and toppled over a large number of models west of one representing the capitol.

"I have received word that the last of the great ogre tribes loyal to our cause has been destroyed."

Gasps broke out amongst the other officers. "How? How can this be? Clan Mountain Breaker was the greatest of them."

"It would appear they are not the only ones capable of breaking mountains."

Zorzal ignored the shocked reactions and pointed at a portion of the map representing the slums of Akusho. "What I want to know is this."

Another officer raised a nervous eyebrow. "Come again my liege?"

"Akusho, another patrol has gone missing. How many does this make for?"

One of the others, an Oprichina lieutenant, gulped. "Four, my lord…..with another that has not returned in quite a few hours."

"By the gods..."

Before Zorzal could break into an outburst, another officer pointed at a distant marker on the map. "Perhaps we should reach out to Rondel? I believe the infamous Pied Piper was last spotted there."

A few officers, their attentions grabbed, looked up hopefully.

"Her shapeshifting abilities are second to none. We could use her to perhaps get into Alnus, a decapitating strike on the enemy's leadership? Reconnaissance-"

"No, that won't work either." One of the other officers, a newcomer from Elbe shook his head. "They killed her. She tried to get into one of their strongholds, couldn't speak the language, and was killed on the spot."

More gasps.

"And you know this how?"

The Elbean frowned as if confused as to why anyone could question his information. "My scouts saw it happen with their own eyes-"

Suddenly, Zorzal slammed a fist on a large table in front of him, his outburst startling a few nearby soldiers as the force of the impact sent maps scattering.

"Damn it all. Is there nothing going right for us?!"

The prince was right; the situation was worsening for the Empire. Italica was lost, Diabo and Piña were missing, and now Oprichina were disappearing in Akusho. Slums or not, that was right outside the capital walls.

Worse yet, the citizens and politicians were getting angry. The Empire was no stranger to the costs of a great war, but this was something else entirely. It had only been but a few months, and they had already lost thousands, if not more, with zero to show for it. They still had almost no idea who it was they were really fighting, and now with most of the vassal armies gone, they had no hope of reinforcements. This was past becoming an unpopular war, and with manpower so few in number, both Zorzal and his father were beginning to wonder if they could stop the city from falling apart. There had already been several protests and now the politicians wanted to have talks.

It was all moving so fast, like the enemy wasn't giving them any time to adapt or learn. What little they did know was that they faced two enemy armies part of a group known only as the Coalition. Both armies had access to powerful siege engines and flying horrors that could kill day or night. Their soldiers could kill with but a glance and this was an ability both the young and the old possessed.

The first army known as the JayEssDeeEf had plenty of anger to back up their natural prowess. Theirs had been the home the Empire had invaded when the gate opened up. This was an enemy to be reckoned with for sure, but it was who they brought with them that gave the Imperials cause for alarm.

If little was known about the JayEssDeeEf, there was next to nothing on the so-called Yoo Ess Mahreens. Simply put, they were a nightmare. No tactic could confound them, no trickery could deceive them. They fought like men possessed and in the very rare instance one of their own was injured, they fought even harder. Rumor had it they were an elite warrior culture that prided itself on battle. The more they killed the more honors they had and the more honors they had the more they decorated themselves and their gear.

There was even word they had felled the legendary Flame Dragon and had its head-mounted somewhere in Alnus. Regardless, they killed faster and harder than the Japanese did and the Empire was fighting a losing war against them.

Across from Zorzal and sitting atop his command throne, Molt furrowed his brow. "Never in years would I have imagined this to have happened."

"Father, I need more time. Let our envoys return with word from afar. Surely there are those still loyal with power to spare-"

"Who!? None of them have ever returned!" Molt yelled. "We do not have time to spare!"

"Then what do you suggest we surrender?"

"Perhaps it is time to….negotiate."

"Negotiate?! Are you mad?!" Zorzal pointed an accusatory finger at his father. "They will kill us all. There will not be a royal family anymore!"

"They do not know this world as we do. They cannot possibly hope to have control without understanding." The Emperor responded, slightly more confident now. "Imperial citizens will never yield."

"Oh, such as how Italica yielded? How we had to stop people from fleeing the city?" Zorzal rubbed his eyelids in frustration. "They are turning everything and everyone against us!"

The young prince, too stunned for words, began to pace back and forth nervously. "We cannot give up, cannot surrender."

Tired of excuses, tired of the bickering, Molt finally made his decision with a heavy heart and a long sorrow-filled sigh. "You have a day. If you do not think of something by then, then I will make the decision myself."

Zorzal went to protest, but a stern hand raised from his father quickly cut him off. "Do not test me boy. Humility is the true lesson every great leader must learn. Perhaps it is time for us to do the same."

"Absolutely lunacy! I-I cannot listen to any more of this!" Finally, having lost his composure, the young prince roared in anger before dropping to a knee and effortlessly flipping the table, sending it toppling end over end.

"Cowards, all of you!" His anger only slightly abated; the Prince stormed out of the war room, leaving his father and what little was left of the war council to sit there in stunned silence.

All except the Elbean; he had been smiling the entire time.

A long time ago, Tyuule meant something. She had been royalty too, the warrior leader of a powerful tribe with great swaths of territory under her command. That all changed when the Empire attacked. What came after was a long horrible war, one that her people might have won under different circumstances. True, compared to the warriors of the rabbit species, the Empire's rank and file were not equals, but they had the numbers, the tenacity.

When all seemed bleak, Tyuule made a decision, one that would damn her species forever. She made a deal and surrendered herself so that her people could live on. How foolish she was to think the Empire would honor that. Made a slave and humiliated, she watched as her home was razed, her people killed to almost the last, and scattered to the lands beyond.

For years she had almost lost hope as she was forced to be used like some plaything by the same man who had taken everything from her. Eventually, fear and shame turned into anger. It would become a righteous anger that would begin the plans for her revenge. It was this revenge that kept her going, kept her mind from going plank as it filled her with purpose. However, just as she was beginning to enact her plan, something strange happened. Word began to trickle back of a new war one that the Empire was not prepared for. The opening of a gate in Alnus was no secret, but neither was the one-sided war that came after. Each night Tyuule watched with increasing amusement as Zorzal became more prone to outbursts, his petulant rage over being denied for the first time in his life a treat as sweet as wine.

Tyuule loved every moment of it, but how did it concern her? This new enemy had not come to save her. They probably had no idea who she even was. That was what she thought, at least, until the war started to trickle into the very capital. New faces Tyuule had never seen amongst the Palace staff started to appear. Officially they had always worked there, their names too unimportant for Zorzal or his father's ineptitude to ever notice. But Tyuule did, and eventually, one of them approached her. At first, she knew not his name, but he spoke her language, and in time his purpose was very clear.

They would need her services and that of her people in the days ahead. Salvation had come. Now he stood in front of her, outside in the palace ramparts, garbed in the polished sheen of Imperial officer armor.

"The next stage of the war is coming soon, ma'am. When that time comes, will you be ready to depart?"

"If only I could burn this place to the ground before I leave." One of Tyuule's grey rabbit ears perked up in anger. "You can at least grant me this, right? Or is your army too 'by the book' as you say, Goldman? Or was it Thadeus?"

"Just call me Goldman. I won't need this disguise much longer anyways." The officer scoffed. "As for this war, our allies want this clean and by the numbers."

"Just wait until they figure out what happened to those citizens of theirs captured-"

"Do not remind me." Goldman grit his teeth and balled his fists. He had served for years and, during that time, had seen things that would make normal men lose their sanity. But the sheer ineptitude and overwhelming hubris of the Empire was something different. Below the castle and deep in the dungeons below Goldman had seen them, slaves taken from Ginza. Japanese, American, and some from different countries. Malnourished, scared, and nearly broken, it had taken everything to stop Goldman from breaking them out.

Not yet, not until the time was right. Tempos would change and politics would come into play, then who knew what would come next. So the operative did what he could, he visited them every night, fed them with reassuring words that help was there. There would be hell to pay when the time came.

"I saw them and my people behind those bars. We would have been here tearing all of this down months ago were it up to us."

"Now you know how I feel, how all of my people feel."

"Perhaps, maybe someday I'll teach you of what my people have suffered." Goldman tucked his Centurion helmet under his arm and rubbed a hand on his red beard as he changed the subject. "Regardless, I trust you will honor your end of the bargain?"

Tyuule went to one of the low brick walls and rested her slender hands atop it. "If Delilah trusts you, then so do I. You had best honor your end too."

"That a threat?" Goldman raised an eyebrow in response.

"Our lands restored integration with the new power, and a chance to replenish our numbers with the coalition's men. I do not see how this is so difficult for someone as powerful as you."

"No, it isn't, just don't threaten the guy with the gun, that's all." Goldman paused as another officer, an Elbean from the war council, quickly approached them. "The Prince is on the move. We need to go."

Tyuule pointed a finger at the newcomer. "You need to work on your scent, "Pied Piper" your disguise is clever, but it does not fool me."

As if on command, one of the officer's eyes shifted into that of a feline's, its golden iris gleaming in the dark as the officer displayed a fang-filled smile. "Just like it didn't fool you when I turned into the Prince?"

The Pied Piper, also known as Norra. Hers had been a curious case, one that the CIA was keen to keep tabs on. A felinid that could shapeshift into whatever humanoid form she chose, Goldman had only seen her real form once when she had approached his superiors to offer her services. Whether it was magic or something else he wasn't sure, but as of right now she was a secret only the Americans knew about.

One couldn't just share all of his cards after all.

"Enough, both of you." Goldman put his helmet back. "Norra, you're done for the night, go back to your surveillance post."

"All of this sneaking about when I could just put a dagger in the prince's neck." The Elbean, or rather, the thing taking on his form, shifted her eye back to normal before jumping atop the rampart wall and looking back over her shoulder. "Be seeing you."

Then, with inhuman speed, she slid down and began scaling the side of the wall. Meanwhile, Goldman began to walk away, talking back over his shoulder while trying to remain as indiscreet as possible. "One more night, just endure this one more night."

"I will endure it for countless more if it means all of this comes to an end." Tyuule got up and went back to standing next to the door, doing her best to strengthen her resolve.

She would need it.

A short distance away from the palace and across an ocean of rooftops, two heavily robed Green Berets watched events unfold from within the attic of a large multi-story home. Even with the upper districts of the capital, there had been those sympathetic to the Coalition's cause.

This particular household belonged to a high-ranking officer in the Imperial Army who had been bought out. His family resided a few floors below, doing their very best to act normal to not arouse suspicion whenever someone came by to check on them.

One of the two clicked a knob atop the scope of his rifle as he focused in on a figure walking, or rather storming, across the palace ramparts.

"There's Prince charming, and he looks pissed."

"Or scared."

"Probably both, which means you know exactly where he's heading."

One of the soldiers panned his rifle to the left down the ramparts and towards the Prince's quarters. Outside of it, standing patiently by the front door, was one of the HVT*s they had been tasked with guarding. Queen Tyuule, or rather, formerly Queen Tyuule.

Should the prince push things too far, they had the discretion to end his life on the spot. Keeping him and his father alive were niceties, a favor for the Japanese so that they could have their proper court procedures back home. There was no room for the prince or his father in whatever new world the governments back beyond the gate had planned.

One of the soldiers watched as the prince yanked his "trophy" by the collar and into his quarters, slamming the door shut behind them.

"I hate this."

"You got a bleeding heart?"

"I don't enjoy watching rape, no."

"I don't either, but this is observation. Hell, I'd let you shoot the fucker if the order came down."

"I know." One of the soldiers, the spotter, reached down the front of his vest and keyed over the radio net.

"Overwatch has eyes on HVT*. He's doing…." The soldier grimaced. With the thermals he had, He could easily see what was going on in Zorzal's room. "Doing his thing again."

"Roger, update as the situation changes."

"Our guest is coming in tonight, right?"

There was a pause.

"Yeah, yeah, he is."

"Good, Overwatch out."

The spotter keyed off and went back to looking through his spotter's thermal scope before pulling his cloak further. It was going to be a long cold night.


The journey through Akusho's filth-stained cramped streets was a thankfully brief one. In charge of this area or not, the Berets didn't particularly enjoy being out for long periods if they didn't need to be. They weren't the only thing that went bump in the night, despite their best efforts.

Night had fallen over Akusho, and it was time to get "settled in" for the evening. That meant doors barred, guns and sentries posted.

There was once a time Akusho held bustling markets of its own back before the Empire had abandoned it and the crime lords had taken over. One thing hadn't changed, however, and that was the various brothels scattered about the district. Two of these were currently serving as makeshift TOC*s for the Japanese and American special forces in the area. Named Outposts Gomorrah and Sodom, respectively, It was through the prostitutes and ever-visiting crime lords that the coalition personnel were able to gather intel and make deals of their own. All while having a roof over their heads, even if it was rickety.

"Sodom, Gommorah, Baphomet. We're getting close to bingo, RTB for refueling. You boys stay comfortable down there till we get back."

Posted up behind a semi-boarded window, Recker looked up into the clear skies above. Through his NVGs he could just barely make out the two blinking lights of a Predator drone blink off as it slowly started to drift back towards Alnus.

No drone meant no overwatch, and no overwatch meant anyone coming to pay a visit would get the drop on the brothel. That is unless there was no guard force posted, which there always was.

"Gommorah copies. Sleep tight, out."

"Sodom here, fly safe."

Over the net, the voice of one of the Japanese officers at the other brothel rogered up as well. Now came the long night; rotations would be done every few hours to ensure everyone got adequate sleep. Not that the soldiers needed it, they were used to sleep deprivation. Recker sighed and reached for an energy drink lying next to a SAW he had posted up on the window sill. He popped the tab off and took a quick swig, and breathed a sigh of relief.

It was an American brand. The Japanese drinks weren't bad or anything, but they weren't American-sized either, and he was going to need a larger can for tonight.

He reached down his vest and keyed over the net. "Post 1, status report."

"Post 2, clear."

"Post 3, few big ass rats, but uh, zilch."

"Overwatch, doing our best not to put one in the Prince's skull."

"Copy all." Recker changed radio frequencies and contacted his Japanese colleagues on the other side of town. Recker hadn't thought much of the Japanese Special Forces before this war. Sure, they could perform well during joint training ops and all, but so could most competent outfits under the watchful eye of their superiors. The true test was on the battlefield, where adaptability and flexibility were key. So far, they had performed above expectations, and the Berets were fast considering them brothers. "Sodom, Gomorrah. All good on your end?"

"Affirm, rendezvous still going as planned. Want us to ask if they brought any smokes?"

Recker couldn't hear it, but anyone else listening on the net had chuckled.

The captain smirked. "Long as they're not Japanese ones."

"Hai hai, Sodom out."

Recker snorted and went back to enjoying his drink.

"What's your world like?"

Recker didn't turn to face the voice. "I thought I told you to go to sleep.

Behind Recker, Mizari rolled onto her side and looked up at him with tired eyes. "There's a handsome soldier man in my room who, for once in my wretched life, is keeping me safe instead of rummaging between my legs."

She giggled. "How can I?"

Recker shook his head and took another sip as he thought back to his old ranch house back in Minnesota. It had been so long, even longer since the war started, but he could still picture it clear as day. "Home is, home. It doesn't look too different from here actually." He paused. "Well, outside of the capital."

"With lots of grass and sloping hills. Wind that whips through the air, I remember."

"So then, why did you ask?"

"Because I like hearing you talk about someplace better than here."

Recker looked back and over his shoulder. She was a beautiful thing, like a creature right out of the good book itself. Even if she was a woman of the streets. The moonlight exposed her pale skin in all the right spots and illuminated her snow-white wings. As she told it, Mizari's was a rare race, one that seldom ever ventured out of their territories. Her being here was the result of a series of misfortunes and, if she was ever seen by the more spiritually inclined, could cause no small amount of problems. Even now, some of Recker's more religious subordinates considered her a sign. A good one or a bad one though, that remained to be seen.

Finally catching the soldier's eye, or rather his NVGs, she smiled at him and pat her bed. "There's room for one more."

"I'll pass."

The demihuman pouted but ultimately dropped the subject. He had been slowly warming up to her, despite his rough demeanor. "Do you think there's room for someone like me back in your world?"

"I can't answer that."

"Sure you can."

"Perhaps, if you change your ways." Recker went back to looking out the window. "Why do you want an invitation or something?"

"I do, all of the girls do." Mizari slowly sat upright and brought her knees to her well-endowed chest. "This life, it's not living."

"I agree, it's not." Recker nodded. "But I can't just whisk you away. This isn't some fairy tale story with knights and damsels in distress."

"I disagree." Mizari slowly got up and made her way over to Recker's side of the room. Upon reaching him, she placed a slender hand on his shoulder right beyond the strap for his vest, right where he could feel it. "What you've done here for us is the stuff of fairy tales." "Yeah?" Recker took another sip and contemplated lighting a cigarette. "That so?"

"Yes." Mizari took a knee and leaned her head against the soldier's right shoulder. "So, if you don't mind, let a girl at least pretend she's in one. For just a while until you decide to make it real."

Recker blew some air out of his nostrils. The conversation was helping him stay awake.

"Fine, just don't do anything stupid."

Satisfied, the demihuman closed her eyes and hooked an arm around his. For the first time in years, even in the center of Akusho's rotten streets, Mizari experienced hope.

"Thank you, James."

"'re welcome." Recker slowly lit a cigarette and took a few drags, occasionally passing it down to share whenever Mizari reached a hand up. And so they sat like that for a while. An angelic prostitute and a United States Army Green Beret sharing a cigarette. The stuff of fantasy books.

"Post 3, got movement."

Suddenly, a voice in Recker's ear caused him to break out of the moment as he got into a firing position behind the window. The suddenness of it all almost made Mizari yell out in surprise, but she was silent as Recker snapped a non-firing hand at her.

"Girls, basement, now."

"O-of course." Slightly dour, their moment was ruined, but unwilling to test Recker's patience, Mizari quickly got up and adjusted her night robes before running out of the room. Free to do his job, Recker returned his attention to the matter at hand.

"How much?"

"Lots, and uh, well."

"Well, what?"

"Hey, You awake?! Or too busy burying your balls into those whores you're protecting?!"

A loud, familiar voice called out to the brothel from beyond the courtyard, and upon aiming his weapon's scope, Recker saw who it was.

Bessara, one of the crime lords that was supposed to be under their thumb. He and other crime bosses had been half the reason the special forces teams had enjoyed their relative peace. Helping rally citizens to their cause, taking care of rival gangs. Him being here had not been arranged. Flanked on either side by a large mob of his men, the short stout man laughed as his gang began to fill the courtyard.

"Hey, you deaf in there?!"

Recker ignored the mob boss as he thumbed on his weapon's-mounted IR weapon light and traced a small green laser over Besara's head. From within other buildings, multiple other IR beams cut on as they began to draw beads on the largest of the gangsters.

"Sodom, Gomorrah here. Do you have any movement on your end?"

"No, why?"

"Well, Bessara decided to bring some uninvited guests over."

There was a pause before one of the CIA agents monitoring the net came over. Heidegger, Recker recognized his dull tone anywhere. The same one he put on right before the killing started.

"Gomorrah, Roost. If he doesn't back down, liquidate him and his men. No survivors; let this be a chance to send a message. Roost out."

"Roger, will keep you posted." The captain then raised his voice and called back to the growing mob beyond.

"Back to your hole Besara, we're closed for business!"

"Oh, but I think you aren't." The crime lord unsheathed his sword and pointed at the building. "I lost 10 of my best men keeping the Imperials off your back, when the hell do we get our promised cut?!"

"When the war is over."

"Yeah, see how much longer is that going to be?!" Besara waved his sword around. "This deal stinks, we want payment now!"

"You're not getting a damn thing yet, and if you don't clear out, you sure as shit won't be alive to see it."

"2, ready."

"3, ready."

"Copy." Recker keyed off the net. "Last chance Besara, clear out!"

"Aww come on! Can't you at least give us a few of the girls?!" Besara groaned. "Or are you gonna tell my boys they can't even get some play?"

It would be that easy to diffuse the situation, hell, Recker had been there to see deals made with the devil before. Never by his word, though, and he wasn't about to break that trend. They were the ones in control here, not gangsters.


"You know what then? Fuck this deal, and fuck you! We'll just take what we're owed!"

Recker sighed and put down his weapon. He had tried, or at least, he thought he did, but Besara just wouldn't see reason. So there was no more to be said. As the courtyard began to fill with gangsters, the captain picked up the SAW and propped its bipod up on the window sill. "Well fuck me. I guess she was right." He pushed in the weapon's safety and aimed center mass at the growing mob. "I guess I am prince charming."

He then keyed over the radio one last time.


That was when the courtyard lit up with the sounds of automatic weapons fire and the screams of the dying.


Officially, the Marine Corps always prided itself on two things; fighting and maintaining its image. Whether it be on or off the battlefield, it was no secret that the Corps had an almost borderline zealous approach when it came to personal appearance. Proper grooming standards had to be met, uniforms had to look like they weren't being worn by the homeless, and above all, customs and courtesies were to be followed.

Unofficially, most enlisted only cared just enough about these guidelines to keep their higher-ups off their backs. Both metaphorically and physically.

So it was no surprise that every Marine visiting the Formal Estate had fresh combat uniforms on and clean-shaven faces. Aldritch needed his Marines to be the embodiment of controlled chaos, and right now, there was a bigger emphasis on control.

Even if he was having the damndest of times controlling them. To the formal clan both they and the Japanese were heroes, potential suitors, and most importantly of all, honored guests. No sooner had they come in and formalities established, the coalition soldiers found themselves surrounded by maids and lavish amenities as they enjoyed a feast not unlike what was found at ceremonies back home. Inside a massive dining room and at opposite sides of a polished oak dining table, the Marines and Japanese soldiers sat across from members of the Formal clan and Rose Order Knights. Odd foodstuffs and drinks were arranged on pristine silverware. Both Marine and Japanese soldiers alike found themselves enjoying accommodations befitting royalty. It was surreal to be doing something like while at war.

So it was that under Crystal chandeliers, understanding was brought about between all parties present through war stories and knowledge of both worlds shared.

"So, we share names with popular drinks back in your world?" Piña and her knights sat there dumbfounded at the news as one of the Japanese soldiers practiced his Falmartian.

"Yes, very much so. That was why we were surprised at your names, very interesting."

One of Piña's senior knights, one with brown hair in a bob cut chuckled. "Now that is truly something fascinating. I would love to try one someday, wouldn't you ma'am? Fancy a Panache?"

"I suppose." Piña eyed her goblet of wine and returned her attention to the going ons elsewhere.

As this conversation went on, at the head of the table, and under the watchful eyes of maids and Marines both, Count Formal eyed an unloaded M4, Hicks standing right next to him with a hand hovering over his holstered pistol.

"So this is a gun….this is what wounded me." Formal awkwardly held it and examined the ACOG mounted atop it. "And every soldier has this?"

"Yes, guns come in all shapes and sizes, but the way they work remains the same." Aldritch called out from nearby. "Back in our home even citizens can own guns. It is the tool that has defined our history. It allows anyone to defend themselves."

"Even the citizens." Formal slowly lowered the weapon with wide eyes. Back in Japan he had seen a map of just what the Empire was up against, how large America was. "Horrible as it is, the Empire should count its blessings the war didn't start on your soil Captain."

"Wouldn't have made it a foot in Bama' tell you that much." Hicks chimed in snarkily.

As one, some of the Marines yelled heartily. "Roll tide!" Ordinarily, Aldritch would've scolded them, but as one who was Alabama born and raised, he let it slide, uttering a silent one himself.

Satisfied Formal handed the weapon back to Hicks's now oustretched hands. Upon receiving it, the sergeant reached into his cargo pocket, slammed a loaded magazine in, and charged the weapon before slinging it with a smile.

"Donkey Schoen or whatever the hell."

Formal sat back down in his chair and pushed it under the table as Hicks returned to his place. The Count took a sip from a nearby golden goblet of wine before fixing his attention on Aldritch.

"So, 'tankers' is it?" Formal put down his goblet and dabbed at his chin with a napkin. "A peculiar term, but I think I understand the basic idea. You fight as knights atop armored steeds."

"Yes, correct." Aldritch nodded. "Our job is to use our firepower and armor to make holes in the enemy lines. However, we can change our tactics as our superiors require us to.."

"Defense and offense both." Formal folded his arms. "Do you always fight with so few? Just four of these 'tanks'?"

"Not all the time, no. But…." Aldritch paused, noticing a few of the Marines that could understand the language watching intently. They knew what was coming next.

"...Our 'order' is not as vast as it once was, and there is talk that we may be disbanded altogether."

At this news, a few of the maids gasped, their Count joining them in their shared confusion. "But why? If just four of your tanks can accomplish all this, I shudder at the thought of what more could achieve." Formal looked at Joyce. "Surely there is some sort of mistake? Perhaps further negotiations could be made? I would gladly hire them under my charge."

The CIA agent shook his head. "Not my decision, and it does not work that way, Count. War is….different in our world, ever-changing."

"The same could be said here." Piña chimed in. "Such is the way of these things. The Rose Order has had to adapt many a time as well." She raised her goblet towards Aldritch. "From one leader to another, I hope that you and yours do not suffer such a fate, Captain."

A few of Piña's knights mirrored their leader in a warrior's act of respect. After all, a warrior's honor transcended language and cultural barriers. This was something they could understand being cut from the same proverbial cloth.

Next to Piña, Bozes cocked her head to the side before putting her goblet down. "So let me understand this. You Japanese and Americans, you are in the same alliance, yes?"

"Yes." Itami answered confidently. "Ours goes back many years." The officer looked around as if to make sure he was free to continue speaking. There was a great deal of care that had to be exercised in such talks, lest the locals be overwhelmed with knowledge too vast for them to understand just yet.

"It was my home, Japan, that the Empire invaded. America came to our aid immediately and has been fighting by our side ever since."

"There was once a time they were enemies you know. America and Japan."

Formal held his goblet up, and on cue, one of the demihuman maids rushed to her master's side to fill it up. The count smiled and uttered a muffled thanks before continuing. "There was once a great war between both of them. One that saw America as the victor and yet, look now before you."

The Count extended a hand toward his guests. "They sit here across from you as allies. I have seen Japan with my own eyes, your highness, theirs is a beautiful country of many marvels. You would never know a war happened there."

"How strange, typically the victor enjoys the spoils of war. Be it land or otherwise." Bozes inquired further.

"Well." Joyce cleared his throat. Someone less tact would have brought up the occupation, the bases forever established on Japanese soil. But this was meant to be a brief history lesson, not an information dump. "We do indeed benefit from the alliance in separate ways, but otherwise, no. They are no vassal state of ours."

Joyce fixed his gaze on Piña. "The point is, peace and understanding happened between us. It can be the same for the Empire, your highness. This pointless war does not have to continue."

"That is….not a decision for me to make." Piña looked down solemnly. "I have no say in the goings of any campaigns."

"Surely you could talk to him? Does your father not value what you have to say?"

"No, no, he does not. My brothers have more say than I do." The Princess shook her head. "So much to learn, so much to undo. It, it's all so overwhelming."

Joyce raised an eyebrow at that remark but ultimately said nothing.

"It saddens me, what brought us all to this table. But in despair, hope remains. I have learned this." Count Formal raised his goblet high. "Good days are ahead, for all of us."

As the gesture was repeated by a few others, Bozes leaned towards Piña her voice becoming a dull murmur.

"Most of our order are of the age and standing to rear children. Perhaps political marriage is on the table?"

At this Piña almost choked on her drink, an act which elicited more than a few concerned looks. The young ruler quickly patted her chest a few times before glaring at Bozes.

"Are you daft?"

"I am no fool. You see how the Americans and Japanese have been eyeing our own and vice versa. We have to ensure the survival of our order and the Empire." Bozes cupped her hand over Piña's ear and quickly glanced at Tomita, who had been digging into a steak. "These Japanese seem easier to get through to. I can sleep with one of them tonight. Much as it pains me so, I will do what needs to be done."

"You will do no such thing." Piña spat back. "Nobody is sleeping and wedding with anyone."

"Not yet."

"Enough." Piña almost blushed. "We will talk of this later."

"Is everything alright, Princess?" Formal raised an eyebrow with a warm smile. "There are no secrets that need to be kept here, you know."

"Nothing just knightly matters." The Princess brushed it off and took a nervous sip of wine, and tried to change the subject. "What I would like to know is this."

The Princess pointed at Rory and then at the sorcerers. Both parties had been relatively quiet throughout the function, only chiming in when necessary seeming more content to watch things.

"What business does Rory the Mercury and two accomplished mages have with the enemy of the Empire?"

Both mages exchanged confused looks as if they were surprised at such a question. Rory, on the other hand, gave a slight chuckle as she answered matter of factly.

"Simple, really, Emroy wants change and I am here to ensure that happens."

The apostle held up a fork and deftly twirled it between her slender fingers. "And if should one my 'sons' fall, I will be there to ensure their soul goes to the warrior's paradise with Emroy."

Marines and Japanese both glanced nervously at the apostle, Hicks on the other hand, wasn't so phased.

"Lady, the only place my soul belongs is up in heaven with the lord almighty." The sergeant folded his arms as a few of his Marines uttered silent "amens". "Sorry, no place for me here, sadly."

"Oh, do not be so coy." Rory smiled and burrowed her gaze into Hicks's eyes. "Your god is not here with you. I already checked."

For the first time, the normally stubborn Hicks actually looked stunned. The concept of death and the afterlife was taboo back home. But what did it mean here, in a world where magic existed and the stuff of fantasy made itself known more and more each day?

"Change?" Piña repeated the answer. "What do you mean?"

"Are you daft? Have you not seen the way of war waged against you?" Rory rolled her eyes and raised her arms high as if to beckon down her patron deity. "A new age of battle is upon us, one where new legends are waiting to be forged!"

The apostle smiled. "Emroy would see to it that all the new delights of the world beyond would come here. She is quite bored after all."

Piña and a few of her knights gasped. "B-but what of Hardy and the others? Surely they cannot allow this to happen."

"Oh, what was it the Marines and Japanese say?" Rory lowered her arms and furrowed her brow. "We will cross that bridge when we get to it?" She waved a hand dismissively despite the fact literal gods were being discussed as if they were a normal occurrence.

"Well, your god can wait like everyone else." Joyce responded confidently. Gods or not he had a job to do, Rory was a ticking time bomb, and his organization knew it. Keeping eyes on her was of the utmost priority. As for the gods themselves, Rory was right. They would cross that bridge when they got to it.

At this response, the apostle shrugged and leaned back against her chair. "We can wait as long as it takes."

"As for us." Lelei cleared her throat and answered on behalf of her now clearly drunk Mentor. "We seek knowledge in all things. We have much to learn from them, and they from us."

The mage smiled and looked at the Marines and Japanese. "They are also our friends now having helped us save Coda village. I feel a great many adventures are still waiting for us."

Kuwahara had been sitting next to her smiling the entire time. The old soldier reached over and pat her shoulder, memories of his daughter back home flooding back. "And you are our friend too. We are honored to have you travel with us."

"Friends all." Formal clapped his hands. "These are auspicious times indeed."

Noticing Kurata continue to guffaw at one of the cat maids that had continued to give him too much attention, Itami leaned forward to get the Count's attention. "Sir, Count Formal, if I may ask a question?"

"Go right ahead, Lieutenant Itami was it?"

"Yes." Itami looked at the host of demihuman maids surrounding them. "Sir I could not help but notice that a great deal of your clan consists of nonhumans. During my travels outside I noticed how rare they are. Is there a reason for this?"

Kurata, ever the man deep in his ways chimed in also. "Yes, are there more like Persia?"

"Ah, quite so, I'm afraid." Formal nodded solemnly. "Our world, much like yours, is a melting pot of different species and cultures, but there are those who would not have it so."

The count put a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "It was my daughter, ever the visionary who thought we should be above such rabble. I agreed, and so it has been that we have remained a bastion for them. Here within our walls they may serve yes, but for the good of all and at a chance for a better life."

One of the maids, an older woman who went by the name Kaine and served as the head of the workforce, bowed. "Many of those employed here come with the risk of being very far and few of their species. Were it not for us? Well." She slowly looked at one of the other maids standing idly at the far end of the room near a window, one who had been very quiet and had refused to remove a hood from over her head. "I shudder at the thought of a species dying out."

"That is admirable, and I think you do a good service Count." Itami answered respectfully. "It is thinking like that that will save this world."

"I agree, Lieutenant. Together we will both usher in a new age." The Count went to raise his goblet again only to pause and look around the table, noticing four seats were empty.

"Itami and, Elton was it? I noticed some of your men did not join us."

"They are downstairs watching our tank. I tasked them." The corporal responded with a nod, Itami doing the same as he gave his answer. "Mine are doing the same."

"Well that is a shame indeed. But fret not, I will still ensure I have hospitality extended to them as well."

Aldritch went to protest, but a quick glance shot at him by Joyce stayed his hand.

The count clapped his hands. "Mamina, Aurea, do go visit them. See about bringing them food and drink."

One of the maids, a rabbit warrior who had been practically hovering over Benitez's chair, perked her ears. "My lord? Is it safe for Aurea to be outside the estate?"

"Outside? Me?" Hearing all this, the other maid with the hood looked away from staring outside the window, two golden eyes seeming to glow from underneath. Her soft voice trickled out from under the hood as she continued to look back outside and then at the count. "Good sir count I promise not to squander such an opportunity. I will be on my utmost behavior."

Formal nodded and smiled warmly. "I know quite well Aurea, but perhaps Mamina is right. Everyone is still on edge outside. Perhaps now is not quite yet the time to reveal someone such as yourself."

"I assure you Italica is in good hands." Joyce answered. "There is absolutely nothing to be worried about."

"And you can assure her safety?" Formal inquired. "Aurea is not quite like anything you or your men have seen yet."

"These men represent the utmost in discipline Count. Nothing will happen to anyone."

All things now in good order the Count nodded. "Then so be it! You two may take your leave."

"Of course, my lord." Mamina bowed and gestured for the smaller maid to follow. Meanwhile, Elton leaned over next to Benitez and mumbled. "Make sure those two don't do anything stupid."

"The fuck am I gonna do?" Benitez put down his fork and grimaced. "I just started eating."

"Uh gee, I don't fuckin' know. Make sure dumb and dumber don't fuck 'em in our tank or some weird shit?"

"Oh…I thought you wanted me to shoot them if they got squirrely" Benitez solemnly put down his fork and slid his chair back. "Well, I'll uh….be going now."

The younger Marine went to follow the maids pausing to look up at the rabbit maid who dwarfed him easily by a few inches. As they reached the door, she looked down at him and smiled. "You are strong of mind and body. It will be good to have that strength someday."

Not understanding what she said, Benitez worriedly put his boonie cover on.

"Huh? Que?"


Captain Hunt grimaced as he and two junior Marines walked past another burning pile of bodies. This was the third one they had seen and likely not the last either. The thick acrid stench of burning remains hung heavy in the cool night's air, and the gas masks the Marines wore did little to mask the stench. Occasionally a distant burst of gunfire would echo out in the distance, and with it, the accompanying panicked chatter over the radio net as more Marines shored up some gap in the lines.

While other units got to celebrate one-sided victories over technologically inferior enemies, Hunt's unit had a task far less glorious. Worse yet, far less believable.

It had long been surmised and later found that Falmart's environment was a relatively sterile one. In a world bereft of industry and generations of chemical by-product from wars past, Command had little to believe there would even be a need of caution in the way of chemical warfare. Still, preparedness was all, and it didn't take long for scattered reports to come back of things that, frankly, just defied logic. Places that even the locals wouldn't go near and "fauna" that would need a "specialist's touch" to deal with. Thus specialized teams were drafted for just such a mission. Comprised of hand-picked veteran CBRN and infantry units, it was the job of these teams to accompany government-sponsored scientists and vetted locals in mapping out the "odd" places or creatures. While the main coalition effort brought the victory, it would be the job of these teams to bring the understanding of just what sort of world this really was.

For months the missions were relatively calm. Recovering tablets, ancient ritual sites mapped to be given a wide berth out of respect.

The city of Crety would change all of that.

After further traveling through the dead streets of Crety, Hunt and the other Marines finally arrived at a makeshift TOC* nestled within the town's tavern. Outside the old wooden structure, piles of sandbags and makeshift barricades sat guarded by Coalition personnel and armored trucks of varying manufacture. Like Hunt and the other Marines, all personnel here were MOPP-ready. Gas mask minimum, given what little they knew about what was going on. In order to reduce gas mask fatigue troops were rotated every hour. Hunt and the Marines wordlessly acknowledged the guards with nods before pushing their way into the tavern's stuffy interior. Where there were once roaring fireplaces and the clattering of beer mugs in festivity now stood military equipment and tables filled with military personnel.

Air filtration units had been set up at key points throughout the tavern's cramped interior and sat next to relatively air-tight boarded windows covered in plastic. Dim military-grade lighting pockmarked the wooden ceiling above, illuminating maps and tired Marines below. Now back in the sterile environment, Hunt took off his mask and relished the clean air inside. A short reprieve.

"One of the others expired."

"Again?" Hunt answered back solemnly at the Japanese scientist that had been waiting for him. Dr. Fujikawa, she and her research were the reasons the Marines were here in the first place. Or rather, their original mission had called for it before being stopped in Crety. Hunt raised an eyebrow. "Another Female?"

"Hai, just like the ones before." The scientist shook her head and disposed of her surgical gloves into a nearby decon bin. "Tavern owner's daughter."

"Christ, I'm not going be the one to deliver that bad news." Hunt grunted as he took a seat on an old stool next to a nearby table. Fujikawa removed some gloves and tossed them into a decontamination bin. "How bad are things outside?"

"Getting worse, so much so I'm beginning to wonder if this city is even worth saving anymore."

"There's always worth, captain. We owe it to these people, we are not here as conquerors." The doctor paused. "At least, I hope that is the case of both of our governments."

"If you say so doc." Hunt leaned back in his chair and contemplated lighting one of the crumbled cigarettes in his vest. "This has to be some sort of biological attack, some chemical we missed. A capability the Imperials had up their sleeves."

"No, far too advanced for such a primitive enemy to have mastered." The Japanese scientist furrowed her brow. "You and your men are trained in these things, if your instruments aren't picking up anything familiar-"

"Wouldn't be the first time mankind tried something like this."

"In our world yes, but not here. Not with this level of technology." Fujikawa sat down and sighed. "All signs point to the ruins in the woods. The tablets, the origin of the sand in the wind. You heard what the villagers said."

Hunt scoffed. "You really think this has something to do with those ruins?"

"It's no mistake, captain. This is the work of Death's Makeup."

Both the Marine and the scientist glanced at the newcomer who entered the room from outside. She dusted off her robes and rapped the bottom of her staff against the wooden floor confidently. Arpeggio El Lalena, one of the team's few "local advisors". Her's had been a lengthy vetting process, doubly so considering her abilities. Still her payment was meager, and her loyalty, so far, seemed consistent enough. "All the signs point to it. Your, apothecary is no fool."

"Death's Makeup." The captain repeated the strange term. More than a few troops had craned their heads in at the sound of that, and the room went deathly silent.

"Quite so, it would appear the dead walk among us. A concept not unheard of yes, but necromancy is a far different beast." Arpeggio's expression twisted into one of grave concern under her brown bangs. "And I detect no trace elements of it."

"So you would have me believe the living dead are walking around?" The captain furrowed his brow. "Is that what you're saying Miss Lalena? More importantly, where's your mask?"

"Yes, quite so." The mage nodded before pointing at the glowing marble orb of her staff. "Signs of warding. A basic spell for those experienced enough. I need no protective garb."

Despite the lengthy amount of time they had worked with the mage, both the captain and the other coalition troops still couldn't believe what she was capable of. Nor her proficiency in learning languages. Evidently, she was not the only one in her family capable of doing so either.

"Regardless, Captain, I would have thought you'd have suspended your disbelief by now." Fujikawa shook her head. "The answers we're looking for are in those ruins. I'm sure of it."

Hunt glanced at a few Marines manning a radio set and then back at the scientist. "So then you understand what happens if I put that word in, right? This isn't going to be some snatch-and-grab or recon mission like before."

"Just don't hammer something we might need to stop this from happening again." Fujikawa brought her hands together in a sign of the utmost urgency. "This is unprecedented."

"Said that before." Carter snapped his fingers and on cue, one of the Marines passed him a handheld, its long cord effortlessly stretching across the table to him.

"Alnus Main, Hazcom team 1."

"Go ahead team 1. Status of Crety?"

Carter sighed. "Situation is worse than expected. Local casualty count mounting."

"How bad?"

"So far, we're seeing a 50% morbidity rate, 70% mortality rate. Mostly females affected, but males fare no better when exposed."

"Have you found a source?"

"Affirm. Possible origin located outside of the city, currently undermanned and underequipped to assault. Will need additional units to investigate further."

More silence before a male's voice came over the net.

"...Team 1 Main Copies, hold in place I'll send the word up higher, out."

"Roger Team 1 out." The captain put down the handset just as frantic radio chatter erupted from another radio set.

"This is Checkpoint 2! We got another wave from the forest! Bigger than the last one!"

"And so it continues." Hunt snapped at the junior Marines that had accompanied him. "Corporal Shepard, Sergeant Cooper get some bodies. I don't need the city getting any more congested as it is by those things."

The two Marines simply nodded before taking their leave, two other similarly garbed Marines following after out the door. Sensing the impending danger, the team's mage bowed her head and tapped her staff once more. "I will be joining them. Should anything unfamiliar arrive I will report to you in time good Captain."

"Do what you do best then." Hunt waved her off and slumped back in his chair. "Just try not to spook the men with your….theatrics."

At this, the mage chuckled and pulled the hood of her robes over her head. "I promise nothing." With that the mage took her leave, leaving a tired Captain to brood in silence as he mentally prepared himself for another long night.

"Gates, magicians, now fucking zombies. Fuck this goddamn deployment." Hunt muttered before rubbing his forehead. "And can someone get me a goddamn coffee?"

So one thing you might have noticed is that I've kinda given up on the whole language thing trying to make sense. It would have been a narrative nightmare, so just understand that some people speak it pretty well and others just can't. I'm sure there's some sort of grammatical edit I can do to make it obvious when they're talking Falmartian, I'll have to look into it.

Anyways, our discord is growing and always looking for new members. It's more than just a gate discord, it's got a little bit of everything. So if you guys want in let me know and I'll post the link somewhere, probably the subreddit or something.

Take it easy!


HVT*: High Value Target

TOC*: Tactical Operations Center