Procrastination and my shitty work schedule suck. Maybe one of these days I'll actually be able to keep to my word and update like some of these younger writers do. I really need to finish this story by the end of the year, I know I can do it, but I really need to figure out some sort of tempo.

This is why I always appreciate my readers even if some of you guys get a little overboard with the praise. You all are a patient, forgiving bunch. A little blood-thirsty for some action at times, but I appreciate that enthusiasm all the same. The feedback and reviews are just as appreciated now as they were when I first started.

I hope everyone had a safe Fourth of July. I know I did, my liver not so much, but who needs those right? Guns, alcohol and BBQ with the boys. What's more American than that huh? And after the crazy year we've had, I'd say we all could use some fun celebration.

But anyways, blah blah blah same old shit. BACK TO IT!


Wild Hunt

"The Safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of Marines. Lord, how they could fight!"

Major General Frank E. Lowe, USA; Korea, Jan 26, 1952

CAMP ALNUS 1200 HOURS SPECIAL REGION TIME

Logistics, no matter where or when a war was fought, everything always hinged on logistics. It didn't matter how good your equipment was nor how well trained your troops were. If you couldn't get to the fight and sustain, the war was already lost.

Portals to fantasy land or not Lieutenant Colonel Kain was not a losing man. So long as Kain and the Marines of the Third MEU were in theater, the battles would be won. Let the politicians and historians decide the outcome.

"Some things never fuckin' change." Kain furrowed his brow and leaned back in his office chair. In front of him and strewn about his desk were mounds of paperwork and multiple laptops. Requisitions, campaign updates, messages from Washington DC and beyond. All of this needed his final say and the older officer could feel his wrinkles grow wrinkles just thinking about it all.

He considered lighting up a cigar, turning his chair around, and watching all the activity outside his window. Puffing away in silent pride as he watched the Marines, his Marines, begin to forge their reputation in a brand new world.

"Quantico is gonna have a field day making an exhibit about this one."

The lieutenant colonel sighed and put one of the many manila folders down. "But what will you say, hmm?"

The officer got up from his desk and folded his arms behind his back as he turned to look outside his elevated window. The first Harriers had started coming through the gate. Kain could easily discern their triangular shapes jutting out from under tarps atop flatbed trucks. The vehicle convoys snaked through the base's winding paths and towards the distant airfield.

Jump jets that were designed to operate anywhere the Marines needed quick air support. Ordinarily, Kain would've wanted the newer F35s or Super Hornets, but such aircraft had no purpose in a world where the enemy couldn't even heckle helicopters.

The Japanese didn't seem to agree with this notion though and they insisted on bringing some of their older but faster F4 Phantoms. Cold war relics, they could still knock some heads around all the same.

"If I may be optimistic, perhaps it would be said that the campaign was a resounding success."

Kain looked over his shoulder at the sound of General Hazama's voice. The older Japanese officer smiled as he entered the office and closed the door behind him. The man easily had 10 or 15 years over Kain in the age department and it showed. Hazama had one of those faces that belonged to someone of his rank. Old, wise, and above all, confident.

"Optimism is all we have in such confusing times. Wouldn't you agree, colonel Kain?"

"Yes sir, but it never hurts to be prepared."

"Agreed and it's a good thing we mustered as quick as we did." Hazama nodded and joined Kain in looking outside. In front of the officers sat miles of military efficiency and beyond that, a hostile alien world. All theirs to bring some semblance of order to.

Noticing the Harriers Hazama whistled. "I'll be damned, so we have fighter support in theater already? I sometimes forget how fast you Americans move."

"They don't call us 'America's 911 Force' for nothing sir." Kain pointed at some armored dozers that were driving off towards the ever-expanding airfield. "Honestly, you can thank the Seabees. They get us housed, we just move in."

"So it would seem, so it would seem." Hazama nodded approvingly. "I have to admit. Even with your support, it feels odd to be the ones doing the invading this time." Hazama chuckled. "But, I suppose for someone like yourself this is just another campaign."

"No sir, we're just as confused here as you are." Kain responded matter of factly. "All the tours in the sandbox only get you so far when you start receiving reports of dragons and magic."

"So then, what do you do?" Hazama raised an eyebrow quizzically.

"Think outside of the box, adapt and overcome." Kain's eyes followed a Cobra as it hovered low over another outgoing Japanese recon team. A show of force and a message that those on the ground were in good hands. "That's what we preach anyways."

"So I've seen, my men are catching on quick to your example." Hazama smirked. "Hell, they're even exceeding the expectations of the politicians back home."

"I've seen your men perform sir they do good work." Kain nodded in agreement. "I'm surprised anyone had doubts in the first place."

Hazama waved a hand dismissively. "Bah, just how things are in Japan. The Self Defense Force is looked at in a different light, typical bureaucratic nonsense. Regardless it would appear things are going well thus far, let's keep this tempo."

"Agreed, I've already received reports that the recon teams are making good progress." Kain folded his arms. "Once we establish a foothold in the areas beyond Alnus it's only a matter of time before we can get an idea of why we're here in the first place."

"The Empire, we know they're the ones responsible for Ginza." Hazama's voice trailed off mentioning the district's name. The wounds still hadn't quite healed and Kain could feel it in his sharpening tone.

"My superiors and the people of Japan want answers, Kain. Once we find out where the Empire's power structure is located and who leads them-"

"-We take a page from the old books and we hit them where it hurts. Maybe try something new, with your permission of course." Kain finished the general's sentence. "You can count on my men to spearhead wherever you need us."

"Good, it's hard enough trying to keep the vultures back home at bay." Hazama shook his head. "If they find out or otherwise suspect the Self Defense Force is taking offensive actions-"

"-Offensive actions? Hardly, consider it-" Kain put a finger under his chin. "-Supporting offensive actions. Isn't that what the Mutual Defense Treaty is for sir?"

"Of course and right you are Colonel!" Hazama laughed. "It's that sort of thinking that will win us this war." The general outstretched a hand. "Colonel Kain I have a feeling this is going to be the start of a good working relationship. I've heard good things about your leadership, I can see they've been true."

"Thank you sir." Kain shook the general's hand firmly. "Glad to be aboard to support an ally."

"No Kain, a friend." Hazama let go of the colonel's hand and made his way to the office exit. "I expect your Marines to live up to their reputation! Otherwise, well, my boys will be happy to take the reigns!"

"My men will do that and more sir.."

The colonel waited for Hazama to leave and the door to close behind him before returning to his chair. He slumped back into its comfortable leather armrests and sighed as he returned to his work.

"I need a damn vacation."


Meanwhile

SPECIAL REGION, "THE FRONTIER"

Itami's nap was not a restful one. Between the constant radio checks and never-ending events, Itami just couldn't get any peace. At one point the convoy had even gotten completely lost. Thankfully, a Marine checkpoint near some crossroads put the recon team back on the right path. The interaction with the checkpoint's enthusiastic officer of germanic descent was, interesting, to say the least.

Now Itami felt his rest once again being disturbed. The distorted conversation slowly waking him up from what was supposed to be a brief reprieve.

"Kurata, why are we stopping?"

"Ano..."

There was a brief pause as the vehicle began to slow to a halt.

"What? Spit it out man-Oh, yeah wake sir up."

"Nani?!" Itami flailed in his seat just as he felt a gloved hand squeeze his shoulder. The officer's tired eyes strained themselves as he tried to make sense of where he was and what was going on.

Kurata quickly killed the vehicle's engine and pointed out the front window. "Figured you might want to see this sir."

Now fully adjusted Itami's eyes followed Kurata's hand and then promptly stopped as a foreign sight took form. Just down the road and off to the side hidden behind the dense brush sat a village. An honest to god medieval village.

"No way, already?" Itami reached for his binoculars on the dashboard and peered through them. The brush made it difficult to pick up the finer details, but Itami could just barely make out the simple wooden structures beyond and the log barricades that protected them.

"Yeah, that's a settlement alright." Itami did his best to hide the melancholy in his voice and for good reason.

If the team wanted a better look they'd need to get closer. That meant leaving the safety of the vehicles and traveling on foot through this foreign land. Not the most pleasant idea, but this was recon after all.

Itami lowered his binoculars and reached for the center console-mounted radio. He released the side-mounted handheld and brought it to his mouth, taking care not to tangle the cord on anything.

"Alnus Main this is RCT3 Actual. We have eyes on what appears to be a small village, over."

There was a brief moment of silence followed by the sound of background chatter as a Japanese female operator's calm voice responded in kind. "We read you Recon Team Three, you are cleared to advance and make contact, over."

Not the response Itami was hoping for. "Sigh, roger that. We're dismounting now, RCT3 Actual out."

"Good luck, Alnus Main out."

Itami flipped a dial on the radio and switched channels. "All vehicles, this is Lead. We have reached what appears to be a settlement just up ahead. Main wants us to go check it out."

Itami used his free hand and brought his binoculars back up just as the other soldiers piled out of the vehicle. "No signs of activity yet, but be on your guard."

Itami glanced over his shoulder at the LAV that had now shifted into position on the side of the road. "Vehicle Two keep your gunner on that .50, if we need to bolt we'll need covering fire."

Kuwahara clicked his tongue from behind one of the rear troop doors. "Katsumoto? That kid can't hit the broadside of a barn, but whatever you say, sir."

"Ryokai!"

All of the other vehicle commanders sounded off in unison as the rest of the soldiers of recon team three began piling out of their respective vehicles.

Meanwhile, Itami closed his eyes and thought of home once more. What was at stake and who he still had to reconcile with if he ever did get home. Several things had been on his mind ever since the beginning, things he normally never cared about. Or rather, things he thought he had stopped caring about. All of these things were compounded by the constant unease this strange new world brought.

"Yosh, okay Youji, you got this." The officer took a deep breath, opened his door, snagged his rifle out from a storage bin, and closed the door behind him.

Now free of the vehicle's familiar safety and far away from Alnus Itami felt more isolated than ever. A sentiment he was certain his subordinates shared.

The whistling of wind between trees, the crunching of leaves under boots, murmurs between troops, and the faint distant sound of foreign wildlife continuing its chatter. It all felt like another calm before the storm. Like Ginza all over again. The ambiance was nerve-wracking, to say the least.

Even the stoic Kuribiyashi gripped her rifle tighter as the younger soldier slowly advanced towards the brush, Kurokawa not far behind. The sight of the tall medic trying to keep a low profile would've been funny was it not for the tension in the air.

Itami raised his rifle and aimed through its rudimentary iron sights. Secretly, the officer wished he had one of those fancy optics the Americans had right about now.

"Tomita, you see anything?"

"No, not exactly like I'm packing magnification on this red dot." Tomita grumbled in response to his superior's question.

"Same here sir. We're gonna have to get closer." Kuwahara chimed in quietly. "Hell, if we can't see them maybe they can't see us."

"That or the place is abandoned." Kurata quipped. "Maybe they all split?"

"Not with that smoke, someone's cooking." Kurata pointed at the rising pillars of black smoke coming up over the trees. "Smell that?"

Itami sniffed at the air. Sure enough, the familiar aroma of meat roasting over a wood fire began to waft into his nose. Itami hoped it was that of livestock and not something, or someone, else.

"Right well whatever the case may be." Itami looked to his sides then to his rear. A quick headcount confirmed everyone was in position. The officer brought his nonfiring hand and gestured towards the village. Like clockwork, the rest of his team moved in.

Thus RCT3 explored there.


Far and away from the wandering Japanese recon teams and having less of a wild time, the four tan tanks of Charlie Company Headquarters platoon sat on the reverse slope of a hill. Each tank was carefully positioned to ensure maximum coverage of the plains beyond.

If anything went wrong they'd be quick to respond to whatever the world had to throw at their Japanese allies.

Of course, as important as the mission was, it was still overwatch. The same old boring mission tankers were all too familiar with back on Earth.

Still, it was a beautiful day. A nice breeze coupled with the ambient temperature made life easier for the tankers. The tanks had all long turned their engines off to conserve fuel relying instead on turret power. Ordinarily, this would have put increased strain on the batteries, but the Marines had lucked out. Their tanks had been retrofitted with newer EAPUs*.

Military planners still weren't sure just how difficult maintaining logistics beyond the gate would be so the Marines were outfitted accordingly. Mounted to the back right rear of the vehicles, the new external systems drastically increased battery life. No more having to break noise restrictions with idling engines or the older and much louder EAPU's.

The quiet serenity still didn't make things any less boring though, especially not for some of the veteran tankers inside Here We Go Again. The Marines had already gone through several playlists on the tank's designated jukebox and now they had hit the truly lowest of the low.

"But it's just a sweet, sweet fantasy, baby!"

"Hey bro, you got any smokes?"

"When I close my eyes, you come and take me!"

"Yeah, whaddya' want? Menthols? Reds? Some of this weird Japanese shit?"

"You got Japanese smokes? When the fuck did you get those?"

"Traded em' for a Rip It at the PX*. Some SDF* guy got all excited and said he'd never had one."

"On and on and on, it's so deep in my daydreams!"

"Why do we have to keep listening to this pussy shit? Throw on something else!"

"Benitez shut the fuck up, Mariah Carey is high class as fuck. You'll never get bitches on your dick if you don't know how to listen to the smooth classics."

"Wilkes, the only 'smooth' you know is raw dogging." Inside and recessed into his gunner's station, Kincaid shook his head. Smoke trailed from a freshly lit cigarette that dangled from his mouth as he absent-mindedly flipped another page in his manga. The ongoing banter inside the tank was throwing off his concentration and ruining his reading time. "That's without the lube too."

The entire crew broke into laughter. Nobody was safe from a good "roasting" no matter how long they had been in.

Kincaid waited for the laughter to subside before returning to his manga. "So, how's the family boss man? You get any updates on uh, you know? The pregnancy?"

"Nah not yet, Maria's supposed to be getting a scan this week." From atop his cupola, Elton put down his binoculars and sighed as he returned to his cigarette. He took a few tentative puffs and shook his head. "Meanwhile, I'm out here doing this crap."

"Nigga relax~." A nearby Wilkes reached over and patted his tank commander's shoulder. "We'll be done with this mission in no time, you watch. You know the CO's good to his word. If anything happens he'll let you know."

"Yeah, I know." Elton blew some air out from between pursed lips. "It is what it is." The tank commander flicked his now-finished cigarette butt over the side of the tank. Off to join the growing pile of litter that would taint this otherwise natural world.

"Bout you Jasp?"

"Ah, same old same old. Dad's doing a stint over in Ghana." Kincaid flipped another page. "Mom's still in Europe and sis is still in College aaand my EAS is ruined."

"Oof."

"Papa Kincaid doing assassin shit in Africa. Color me shocked." Wilkes chuckled. "Man your family is whack as all fuck."

"He's Diplomatic Security, not an assassin." Kincaid scoffed. "And it's not my fault, not like I had any say in the divorce."

"Yeah, okay. I've seen him all geared up in the photos. Don't play it off like he doesn't see action over there." Wilkes waved a hand dismissively. "But I mean, shit. At least your family still communicates. My pops still acting trifling."

"'Trifling?'" Kincaid repeated the slang.

Wilkes grinned at an unimpressed Elton. "Fucking hood rats ya mean?"

"Oh yeah! How could I ever forget?!" Kincaid did a fake dry heave and returned to his book.

"Like whacko father like whacko son man." Benitez chimed in from inside his driver's station. Separated from the rest of the crew and reclined back in his chair, the driver was free to enjoy his comic and take in the spectacular view outside his dirty periscopes.

"Damn straight boy."

"Alright alright. Shut the hell up for a moment." Elton had been puffing away at a freshly lit cigarette and scanning the endless green horizon with his binoculars when something caught his eye. "Yo Jasp, take a look like, at the three o'clock You see anything?"

"Wait one." Kincaid rolled his eyes, tucked his manga away behind a console, and looked over at the BIOC* mounted to the side of his gunner's sights. Affectionally named the "Fishbowl" due to its bowl-like shape, the BIOC was a relatively new implementation on Marine Corps M1a1s. The BIOC drastically reduced gunner fatigue by providing a larger FOV* window to look through. A glance by Kincaid revealed a few thermal signatures beginning to halt down the road of a small unimpressive-looking settlement. Intrigued, Kincaid tucked his manga away and shifted around his seat to get a better look.

"Yeah, something's going on. Maybe some action."

"The shooting kind?" Wilkes asked inquisitively as he unsafed his skate ring mounted 240.

"No, not yet. I think I see one of the teams." Kincaid flipped the optics into 50x magnification and zoomed in on the thermal signatures. With the increased image clarity Kincaid could easily discern the male and female Japanese troops that were now cautiously approaching the village. "Yeah they're dismounting and approaching some sort of village, send it up-"

Kincaid paused as he looked at the officer leading the group. Itami, once again, the two soldiers found themselves bumping into each other. Even if the officer didn't know Kincaid was watching him.

*Thwack*

Kincaid's pause prompted Elton to kick him in the back of the plate carrier. "Hey, what's up? Are you good?"

"Ah, nothing thought I saw something else." Kincaid fished around his vest for another cigarette and lit it. "Send it up."

"Alrighty." Elton squatted down into the turret and flipped a few dials on his comms station before keying his comm helmet forward. "One this is Four."

It didn't take long for Aldritch to answer back.

"Send it for One."

"We have eyes on one of the recon teams. They just reached a village due north of us, looks like they're dismounting to go make contact." Elton looked through his sight and at the strange symbols being displayed up top with a grimace. "Bearing….wait for one."

Elton balled a fist and smacked his sight a few times. "Never mind no bearing available."

A few tanks down from Elton's, Aldritch brought his binoculars up and looked at the general direction Here We Go Again was oriented. "Copy, I have eyes on them now. Four and Three that's in your sectors of fire. You see anything wrong send it up before you go pulling triggers."

"Three copies."

"Four copies."

"Roger, One out."

Elton switched his comms back to internal and was just about to raise himself back out when Kincaid suddenly jerked the turret left. "Yo yo! I got movement in the village!"

"Agh, fuck me." Elton dropped back down into his station and looked through his sight once more. Sure enough, he could see Kincaid's reticle hovering over new thermal signatures emerging from the structures beyond. "Yeah, I see em'. Give me a range on that."

"1500 meters." Kincaid lased the center of the structures and at the humanoid figures emerging from within. The tank's main gun quickly clunked into position as the fire control system put it on target.

"Ey, what's going on?" An inquisitive Benitez put his manga away and hovered a gloved hand over the startup button for the tank. "What do you see?"

"Stuff, don't worry about it." Elton keyed his comm helmet forward. "Hey, Three this is Four. You seein' what I'm seein'-"

"-Yeah yeah, 1500 meters, bunch of common folk coming out to say hi."

"Probably has MPHE indexed too." Kincaid scoffed as he slowly bounced his reticle between Itami and the village, the turret's hydraulics whining with each slight traverse. "Counting at least 50 boss. Some of em' got pitchforks and shit too."

"Yo, you see any like. Elves or shit?" Benitez looked back at the grate separating him from the rest of the turret. "C'mon ese something."

"Maaan just get ready to drive if we say so~." Wilkes checked the feed tray for his 240 and slammed it back down with a gloved fist. "Ain't no goddamn fairies or elves here man. Just dirt people and monsters."

"All of y'all shut the fuck up and get your heads in the game." Elton brought the sights for his .50 over the growing mass of silhouettes approaching the Japanese.

Wilkes laughed as he dropped down into the turret and hovered a knee over the ammo door switch. "Man I'm always Zen, just lemme know what shell you need."

"We're not fucking going hot main gun." Kincaid and Elton responded in unison as they pointed at their psychotic loader.

"Yo can someone pass me down an empty bottle, I gotta piss-"

"-Shut up driver."

"Wilkes?" Benitez called back up to his loader.

"Yeah, I gotcha hang on boo."

Kincaid ignored the banter and kept a watchful eye on his new Japanese friend. Itami and the villagers had now made eye contact, this was where the real culture clash began. With outreaching hands and under the watchful eye of distant big guns.


"Movement, lots of movement!"

Upon hearing Shino's frantic whisper, Itami and the rest of RCT3 froze like statues. Each soldier crouched low and aimed their weapons at the village.

Itami swept the barrel of his rifle left and right. "Armed, unarmed? What do we got-" Then, Itami saw them.

They approached cautiously with nervous eyes as they tried to take stock of the strange soldiers and their iron wagons. Villagers: farmers, women, and children. All human and scared out of their minds.

A few of them brandished farming tools and muttered to each other in the region's native language.

Itami raised a right fist and quickly made a few downward waving motions. "Weapons down weapons down! They're civilians!"

All of the Japanese soldiers slowly lowered their weapons never breaking eye contact with the villagers. Meanwhile, Itami let his rifle hang by its sling and kept one hand in front of him as he reached into one of his hip-mounted pouches with another.

Each of his movements was observed with great scrutiny. A few makeshift weapons were lowered in kind as the villagers watched the strange man produce a book and begin reading it.

"Come on, where's the meet and greet phrases?" Itami muttered to himself as he flipped through several pages in the book.

Itami's eyes frantically scanned a few passages until he found what he was looking for, his tongue beginning to twist as he tried to mimic the foreign words.

"I, Itami Youji. Soldier, friend!" Itami pointed to the rest of his team. "Soldiers! Help you! Gate!"

One of the villagers leading the group lowered his pitchfork and took a few steps forward. An elderly male with a long, graying beard. His button-up shirt, portly shape, and general clean appearance marked him as someone of higher prestige. The village elder perhaps?

Itami kept his book up as the man responded in kind. The language was surprisingly simple to understand. "Friends? Empire or Vassals?"

"No, Japan. Not here." Itami shook his head. "War, attacked. Here to defend and help."

"Japan?" The elderly man looked at his fellow villagers and then back at Itami. "Village leader, Coda. Name Goldorf."

Coda, so that was the name of the village, and the leader's name was Goldorf. Well, it was a start and it seemed like everyone had lowered their weapons. Negotiations had truly begun in earnest. Itami pointed at one of the trucks behind him.

"Food, water. Help, come?"

"Food? Water?!" One of the other villagers, a female in dirty robes and a shawl approached Goldorf's side. The two conversed for a few moments and the other villagers leaned in as they listened intently.

The villagers all exchanged nods before Goldor nodded approvingly. "Friends, food, and water? Come, talk."

"Wow, sir." Kuribiyashi almost went slack-jawed. "That was pretty damn good, whatever it was you said. Maybe you're not such a bad officer after all."

"Yeah, yeah I guess so huh?" Itami responded sarcastically. Despite this, he couldn't help but be surprised at how easy it went. He was actually doing his job and pretty damn well too if he had anything to say about it.

"Yeah, not bad." Tomita kept one hand on the pistol grip of his weapon. "Not shooting civilians is pretty basic level stuff, but it's a start." The soldier smirked and got up to dust off his knee pads. "I'm guessing we're getting the MREs* out?"

Itami got up and gestured for the rest of his team to do the same. "They're going to let us in, we give them food and water. Maybe we can get some sort of idea where we're at."

"A sound tactical move." Kuwahara nodded approvingly. "Whenever you're in doubt, aim for the stomach! Food is the universal language."

The sound advice masked by a shoddy joke elicited a few groans from the younger members of the team.

"Well, let's get moving." Itami did a few hand signals and his team promptly got to work. A small box was produced from one of the trucks and the villagers began gesturing to the Japanese to follow them.

Mission one, great success.


Aldritch turned another page in the issued language book, his exhausted eyes glossing over every word. In truth, he had learned far more difficult languages, but the sleep deprivation wasn't doing him any favors.

"Hello. My name is Captain Aldritch. I am here to help you." The captain repeated the phrase several times before looking over at his distracted loader. "Clancy, what did I just say?"

"Oh, sir?!" The young freckle-faced loader quickly returned some less than classy literature to his sponson box. "Uh, you're Aldritch with the United States Marines."

Aldritch raised an eyebrow. "And?"

"Erm, you're….um." The loader looked over at the half-opened book near his machinegun and did his best to think on the fly. "...Gonna, help?"

"Nice guess Clancy, really nice." Aldritch rolled his eyes. "At least you're half studying." The tank commander kicked the back of his gunner's seat. "Reeves, what about you?"

"Oh, that's easy sir." The gunner cleared his throat. "Tanner Reeves, United States Marines. Here to help. We have food and water!"

Clancy frowned as he lit a cigarette. "Gee Reeves really blew it out of the ballpark."

"Well it's pretty easy, it's a lot like Latin, to be honest. Given the obvious Roman influences I've observed on the armor of our enemy, it's sufficient to say-"

"-Okay okay, we get it, Reeves." Aldritch rolled his eyes as he remembered his gunner's astute nature. "Look, I get it. We're tankers, blow up the enemy, kill some monsters, but I'm not going to have my crew be a bunch of uncultured gun toters. That's not how the one tank rolls."

The rest of the crew grunted in agreement.

"Right Dillard?" Aldritch looked over the front of the turret towards where the driver would be. Not surprisingly, there was no response.

"Dillard?!"

"Ah ah!" A large Marine shuffled down within the driver's station and tried not to make it too obvious he had been sleeping. Unbeknownst to the rest of this crew, he had quickly grabbed his language book out from under him and squinted at the crushed pages. "I'm food, Dillard!"

Clancy choked on his cigar and sent erratic puffs of smoke out of his nostrils as he tried not to laugh.

"Well, that's great, maybe if you were talking to a bear or something. Good job Dillard." Aldritch shook his head and keyed his comm helmet forward.

"Four, Three. This is one, status report."

"One this is Four. Everything looks good, they're getting nice and cozy."

"Three here can confirm. It's a beautiful thing, sir."

"Hey, sir?"

Aldritch ignored his loader and let out a sigh of relief, one less needless engagement. "Copy, continue to monitor."

"Sir?"

Aldritch put a finger up as he waited for the other TCs.

"Three out."

"Roger, Foooouuurrrr out~!"

"Sir?"

"What Clancy?!" Aldritch turned to face his loader and stopped as he saw what his loader was pointing at. West of his tank and partially obscured by sloping hills and treetops, thick black pillars of smoke billowed into a darkening sky. The black and reds indicated one thing, fire, and a lot of it.

It was a surprise anyone had missed it in the first place. Whatever was going on stood out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the tranquil scenery.

"That ain't good." Clancy looked back at his tank commander with just a bit of worry in his eyes. "We don't have anything out that way, do we?"

"Not that I'm aware of." Aldritch's eyes remained glued to the spectacle as he quickly reached down into his station and flipped a dial. "Alnus Main, Alnus Main this is Horseman 1 actual. Be advised we have eyes on a lot of smoke due west of our position, over."

"Horseman, this is Alnus Main. Say again?" The female operator sounded just as confused as Aldritch was.

Aldritch reached for his nearby binoculars and looked off into the distance. By now most of the other tank commanders had heard the radio chatter and many had started doing the same.

"I have eyes on a lot of smoke, possibly multiple fires. Do we have anything out that way?"

Silence on the net for a few moments followed by the sounds of someone else picking up a headset. A male this time.

"Horseman, be advised, none of our forward operating forces are out that far. Do you have eyes on any hostiles?"

"Wait one." Aldritch went to kick Reeve's seat, but the gunner was already one step ahead, quickly traversing the turret left. "Alright, gunner stop." Aldritch dropped down into his station and peered through his sight.

"Gunner put it in 50."

"Copy." Reeves quickly shifted the zoom for his tank commander and pulled his head back to look through the Bioc.

Aldritch scrutinized the distant thermal signatures. Animals had started to flee now, their instincts willing them away from the inferno. Aldritch couldn't recognize any of the creatures, they certainly weren't native to Earth.

"Negative, but something has the wildlife spooked. Do you want us to investigate?"

"Negative, we'll detail one of the recon teams to check it out. Continue to monitor the situation and report up as the situation develops, Alnus Main out."

"Roger, Horseman out."

"Reeves keep an eye on whatever the hell is going on over there." Aldritch switched back to platoon comms and raised himself back out of the turret. "All vics, this is One. You copy all that?"

"Two Copies."

"Three Copies."

"Four Copies."

Each tank commander confirmed that they had indeed heard the previous radio chatter. The tank commanders weren't exactly spooked, but Aldritch could tell they knew just as well as he did that something wasn't right.

"Roger, maintain your sectors of fire. If one of the recon teams starts heading that way let me know."

"Are we planning on following them?" Hicks answered back over the radio.

"That's exactly what we're going to do. Something stinks and I don't like it. Haven't seen something like that since-"

"-Iraq? I was thinking the same thing sir." Hicks answered back confidently. "Smells like area denial."

"Or someone is taking advantage of the chaos to stir things up." Aldritch glared. "You heard the briefings on possible bandits."

"Eh, maybe, someone set something on fire by accident? You know, dumbass with a campfire or something?" Ever the rationalist and a man of few words Rapida Dos's tank commander, Sergeant Peralez, took this time to voice his theory over comms. "They're not exactly the smartest bunch."

"Doubt it." Aldritch brought his binoculars up and looked back at the distant inferno. The captain swore he could see something pulsate in the dull glow. Like someone, or something, was rekindling the flames.

"These guys might be dumb, but no way they're that dumb."


CODA VILLAGE

At some point during his time in the SDF, Itami just accepted the fact that his lot in life was to just sit around bases and train occasionally. Nobody cared who he was outside of his job, not that it mattered to him. The job paid the bills and supported his hobbies. The SDF was there to serve the public as a faceless government organization; no more and no less.

Nothing could prepare Itami or his team for the raw emotions they were experiencing in Coda Village, however.

Curious villagers emerged from wooden huts and swarmed around the Japanese soldiers. They treated the strange soldiers with awe and reverence, ever eager to learn more about these newcomers. Every new piece of technology was like magic to them and the supplies they brought, gifts from the gods themselves.

Ginza and the subsequent months had left Itami feeling confused more than anything. He had been on autopilot, following one order to the next. Yet, here, he felt something he hadn't felt in a long time.

Accomplishment, a real sense of duty. Perhaps this was what it was like to be thanked for one's service. Each of the members of RCT3 found themselves tending to the villagers in their own way. Be it Kurokawa looking over the medical needs of the women and children or Kuribiyashi trying to impress the locals with her gear.

Itami took his helmet off and set it down next to a crate as he continued to converse with the village leader. Now it was time to get some answers.

"War started. Empire fought, destroyed." Goldorf shook his and sighed. "We couldn't leave had to stay. Thought we were doomed."

Itami mulled over the name for a moment. So that was their enemy, the Empire. The name of the, thus far, unknown hostile force that had attacked Ginza. Many troops had heard the name being thrown around in hushed conversations, nobody thought that was the enemy's name.

Itami shook his head. "Ah, no. Here to help and look for answers. Empire attacked our home, killed our people." The officer cocked his head to the side in curiosity. "Who is Empire?"

Goldorf went wide-eyed as if the question asked was any stranger than the foreign men and women in his village. "Empire? Empire, law of these lands. Emperor Molt Sol Augustus, Prince Zorzal? You not from here for sure, Empire rules over Falmart."

Itami fished into his flak vest and produced a small pen and paper, quickly writing down everything he was hearing. Now they had names, a leadership structure. This was vital intel for the war effort.

"Where Empire? Capitol? City?"

Goldorf shook his head dejected. "Sadera, but never have been. Do not know where. North possibly? Italica nobles might know."

"Italica?" Itami responded with increasing curiosity.

"Main trading hub for Falmart. Wealthy and secure. Ruled by House Formal. West from here follow the river to the crossroads of course." Goldorf laughed. "Yes, definitely not from here."

Itami felt like the luckiest man alive. Not only was he quite literally living out one of his fantasy RPGs, but he had also stumbled across a gold mine of intel.

"Now I ask questions, fair yes?" Goldorf gave a grin not unlike what Itami's grandfather would do when he was a child.

"Ah, yes. Sorry, what would you like to know?"

Goldorf's multitude of questions would never be answered, not yet. No sooner did Itami think to respond; one of the privates, Higashi, came running from the trucks.

"S-sir!" The younger soldier huffed and puffed as he tried to find his words. By now the rest of the village including the other Japanese soldiers were trying to make sense of what was going on.

A nearby Kuwahara pointed an accusatory finger at the wayward private. "Higashi there better be a damn good reason for you to have left the trucks unattended!"

Higashi skid to a halt. "Katsumoto is still on the gun Sergeant Major, but it's urgent!"

"What's urgent? What's going on private?" A now thoroughly concerned Itami redonned his kevlar and got up from next to the village elder.

"C-command called, there's some sort of fire out west! They want us to investigate!"

"A fire? The hell you talking about?" Kuwahara's expression twisted into one of confusion. "Like a forest fire or something?"

"No, some Marines in the area spotted it they think somethings up. Possible enemy action!"

"Marines? Here?!" Kuribiyashi looked around, barely able to contain her excitement. "There must be action then!"

"Or injured civilians." Kurokawa chimed in, less than amused. "Perhaps think with your heart instead of your fists Shino?"

"Whatever the case may be, we have little time to lose." Itami looked over at Goldorf. "Have to go, something is wrong. Need to see it large forest fire."

Goldorf's expression changed to one of shock. "Fire nearby? Village! Elves live there, do hurry! Do hurry!"

"Elves?!" Itami stammered as he repeated what he had just heard. "Elves nearby?!"

"Yes! Important village, wise leader, very powerful! He can help you."

"That's as good a reason as any!" Itami gave a thumbs up and gestured for his team to move. "Recon Team Three, let's roll out we have civilians to save!"

At their officer's order, all of the men and women sprinted back to their trucks. In seconds the vehicles were started and the team left just as quickly as it had arrived. Leaving the confused villagers to mull over the experience with their newfound friends. All the while blissfully unaware of the tan objects sliding along the distant hills and after the trucks.

Or just how much noise was about to shake things up.


Many of you asked for a certain character to return, so I went ahead and acknowledged his existence this chapter. I'm sure it's not completely obvious who I'm talking about.

Anyways, believe it or not, there's actually 2k words already into the next chapter. I had to cut quite a large chunk out of this chapter. I really wanted to give you guys some sort of action, but it just wasn't jiving with the overall flow of this chapter.

Believe me when I say, next chapter is gonna hit the ground running so be careful what you wish for.

As for the language barrier, honestly, I'm gonna have to handwave a lot of it. Canonically these guys were spitting bars by episode three of the anime and just around that same point in the manga. I had actually tried to write out what I thought were more believable translation book scenes. Ya'll would've fucking hated it, I assure you.

Anyways, progress on the next chapter is already well underway. So hopefully, this next update doesn't take as long.


TERMS/ACRONYMS USED:

PX: Post Exchange, basically a market on a military installation containing goodies. Shit ain't free FYI.

SDF: Shorthand for Japanese Self Defense Force. Self-explanatory, but never hurts to clarify.

BIOC: Biocular. I'll keep this simple and in the context of the scene. There's a big fishbowl-looking thing near the gunner's sight. Basically, you can use both eyes to look through this thing instead of using one eye through the singular gunner sight.

FOV: Field of View.

EAPU: External Auxillary Power Unit. Think of it as an external power generator of sorts. This is me taking some creative liberty with the story as the actual new IRL EAPUs have to be installed within new hulls. Stranger things have happened before though and it wouldn't be the first time the Corps tried some new tech on our tanks. Hell, we were even testing TROPHY for a while.

MRE: Oh cmon' you guys know this one. Meal Ready to Eat.