It has been 5 years since the group known as Keyakizaka swore an oath to safeguard their assigned district; an alliance formed with Nogizaka as a sub group to ensure their series remained well taken care of. However, as the unit became a force to be reckoned with their arrogance soon became their despair and with the allegiance of Hirate, Aoi and Shida; other groups received their existence as an uncontrollable threat.
After an announcement had been presented that another group would be formed to complete the border in their district unrest began to unfold. Keyakizaka soon realized that this new addition known as Yoshimotozaka had been a project in development to rein them in as Nogizaka and AKB felt they had lost any authority. Keyakizaka soon understood that Sakamichi series, along with the other districts feared them .
Nogizaka acted swiftly to mediate and maintain what little control they had over the subgroup while all plans ran forward with the development of the new cadets. Unbeknownst to them however, half of the soldiers in Keya had already determined AKB's true meaning behind this plan. Each soldier of Keya would be condemned to death. Committing treason and abandoning their oaths, 8 members advanced forward to crush Nogi thus initiating the rebellion against all 46/48 groups.
It was soon after the coup that the soldiers of Kanji Keya would become divided; the half that did not partake in the destruction against Nogi would come under attack by those they once called allies. This incursion within the group would create an uprising among members and soon the bonds that once bound them were tainted.
The loyalist's to the Keya name; led by Akane, consisting of the members Oda, Miyu, Risa, Yone, Habu, Nanako and Rika would be dubbed traitors. Moriya's strong desire to protect Sugai against their executioners became her strength. A desire to fight back against those who ordered their demise and pull the attention away from their remaining members drove them forward. She and those who followed her would not tell their comrades of AKB's true plot. They would become the nations enemy all the while hoping the others would be spared.
Sugai would pull away from Akane; taking the half of Keya that disagreed with Moriya's belief's and recruiting Hiragana as their last line of defence should they fall. Yuuka remained ignorant to Akane's true intentions. Members would include Ozeki, Koike, Fuyuka, Shiori, Neru, Uemura and Ishimori.
Kobayashi alongside Zuumin would become a joint force, falling into the shadows, believing themselves to be of more use by remaining neautral
Hirate would disappear without a trace, Shida and Aoi by her side as guards on her journey away from combat. It was unknown at the time of the coup where her true allegiance fell. But deep down, each unit prayed she would be on their side.
Sugai would send word to AKB, SKE, HKT and NMB to request a summit to meet with the various Captain's to discuss the future of Keya's AWOL members. Much to Sugai's dismay, it had been decided that Moriya would be stopped, forced to disband and face judgment for their crimes. However, as Sugai begged for her companion's lives, the AWOL unit would only granted 24 hours to surrender be destroyed by the 48 groups. AKB also warned should Keya bring chaos beyond their own district, this would cancel their agreement and the groups would be given free access to take Moriya out, as well as the remainder of Keya.
Chapter 2: Hang on for us
The voice that called to her sounded like a distant echo; drowned out by the many thoughts rushing through her disoriented mind. Though taking into account the streams of crimson that slowly trickled from her ears could have also been a contributing factor in drowning out the one who attempted to address her.
A rough jerk to her shoulder by a firm grip was just enough to break her of her stupor. Weary eyes snapped up to lock with a younger one's stern gaze.
"Fuuchan-" The name was all she could muster as tears began to flow.
"Not here, not now." The shorter of the two braced the Captain's shoulders between her palms and hoisted her up to stand straight; never breaking their eye contact.
"Don't you dare break down here. They need you...I need you. There will be a time to cry over Nen later but for now we need our leader."
It took Sugai almost every ounce of her being to compose herself, but Saito was right. The remainder of her soldiers after sustaining such heavy injuries would look to her for direction. They would need a plan to regroup after such a defeat by their ex comrades.
After taking a deep breath, wiping her eyes and straightening her stance, Yuuka locked a hardened gaze with the girl who stood before her.
"I want a head count and an update on the wounded." This was her first priority.
"You're bleeding Cap-" A hand raised to silence Saito from continuing on with her observation.
Knowing not to argue; Saito nodded swiftly, spun on her heel and hurried off into the remnants of the blitz that had occurred not long before.
Sugai lifted a sweaty fist from her side, palm shaking as she slowly opened her hand to gaze into it. To her it seemed as if they were caught in the middle of a nightmare. How could such an abrupt divide between them occur? And the look on Nen's face as she had turned her back on them...On her...
Yuuka stifled a sob. How could she...They were supposed to stay together forever. Yet there had been not a hint of remorse as she struck her down causing Yuuka to unwillingly submit. The damage had been done, the blood streaming from her ears had proved that much. Yet as much as she fought her inner thoughts, the variations tearing her apart, she could not come to a conclusion for the act of betrayal.
"Captain, head count is complete. It seems our numbers have dropped drastically."
"How many are left?"
"Including myself and you?" She paused, her expression clouded with distress, "Eight."
"Who?" Sugai remained stoic in front of her comrade. Yet deep down, Saito knew her Captain was on the edge of shattering.
"Ozeki, Koike, Shiori, Neru, Uemura and Ishimori."
"Do we know exactly who rallied behind Moriya?"
The shorter of the two shook her head, her chest heaving a sigh as her shoulders sunk.
"No, but some of the girls who are still conscious have claimed that Hirate, Aoi and Shida ran AWOL shortly after the initial attack...It makes me wonder just how long this coup had been planned-"
Sugai nodded in response, no look of surprise entering her expression. No doubt Techi and the other two had their own agenda to follow at this stage. Yet Yuuka had already began to wish she had not lost them as comrades in this conflict. After all, whoever received the aid of those three of their side would become an unstoppable force.
"Koike and Neru's status?"
"Koike is already tending to the wounded. Neru took a bullet to her shoulder but it just managed to graze the surface. She is getting patched up as we speak."
Sugai studied Saito a moment as she realized the sudden tension engulfing the girl as she spoke of Neru. That feeling was all to familiar she thought to herself.
"I will go to Neru. Please help Koike with aid for now until our next move is decided. You've done well so far."
Saito gave a deep nod to acknowledge her orders before heading off toward their unit's medic.
Upon the girls departure, Yuuka shifted her full attention to the scene that surrounded her; taking a moment to absorb the weight of their situation. She knew that this had just become an obstacle more dire than just a conflict within their district alone.
"Akane-" she breathed "Please tell me this coup will not expand beyond our borders..." Praying was all she could do.
The captain straightened her shoulders and without any other doubt stalked the narrow streets, her direction aimed toward where her comrades had began to regroup. Generally she would have ordered them all inside to take refuge, but it appeared safe to say that the threat had already long retreated.
She could feel wandering eyes begin to settle upon her as she counted each remaining head of her unit; briefly stopping at each member to examine just how much damage they had taken. Other than a few scrapes and bruises, shock appeared to be the number one distress amongst them.
Once satisfied that they would all live, Yuuka made her way over to a propped up Neru.
The dark haired girl sat slouched, bracing herself up against the bricks of a buildings outer wall. Dirt mixed with sweat veiled her once pale complexion; a spatter a blood smearing across her left cheek indicating the near location of the bullets impact. Her expression remained sharp and unperplexed.
At the sound of approaching footsteps, Neru locked eyes with Yuuka and promptly hoisted herself from the concrete; standing as straight at attention as she could administer.
Sugai raised her hand, reaching out to place an open palm delicately on her comrades good shoulder to steady her stance.
"Easy Neru, no need for formalities here," concern crept over her stoic guise as she quickly noted the treated wound that hindered her best tactician, "rest for a moment."
The younger nodded, a slight grimace contorting her face as she sunk back down to the cement to sit. Yuuka followed; taking a knee before her to make eye contact as they continued.
"Captain Sugai; glad to see you are alright. How are the others...Fuuchan?" her voice trailed off as Saito's name was mentioned. It almost seemed like there had been some reluctance to ask on the status of her partner.
"The girls will all be alright. Koike is tending to them as we speak. Saito is just fine; she is currently helping keep an eye on the injured. Out of everyone, it would appear that you received the worst of it..."
A soft smile replaced the discomfort that had plagued her face not moments ago. Closing her eye's she tilted her head back to rest against the wall. "I'm so glad..."
"Listen, Neru-" Sugai chewed her bottom lip for a moment as if to prolong what it was they had to discuss. Yet Neru already appeared to be ahead of the discussion, knowing exactly where the conversation was headed before her captain said a word.
"You want me to send word to rally the groups?"
"I need a summit with the Captain's of AKB, SKE, HKT and NMB."
"What of Nogi?" Neru was quite surprised they had not made it as a first priority on the list of their next plan of action.
"Have you not heard?"
It was then that Yuuka realized Neru had only just returned to them that night, being absent right up until the coup against Keya. This meant she would have missed the prior elimination of Nogi. What a time to return...It made her speculate just how far word of Keya's overthrow had traveled.
"Heard what? Captain, all I remember is returning to active duty last night after my two day stint training the new sub Hiragana cadets. It was so sudden but I had just reached Fuuchan's side to patrol when we were ambushed by Nanako and Yone-san..."
Cautiously her fingertips snaked their way up to the dressings that bound her left shoulder.
"Nanako raised a rifle at Fuuchan." She chewed her bottom lip as she reflected on the scenario. "I was so shocked that I shoved her out of range but it was almost as if my movement being so sudden had startled Nanako enough to actually pull the trigger. If she had actually wanted to kill us she had the perfect opportunity...But the fact I walked away with only a graze to the shoulder tells me that using guns for anything other than an intimidation tactic had not been part of the plan. Their next move however was to engage us in close combat. We clearly lost and I must have lost consciousness because I can't recall anything after that..."
Sugai shifted her weight back and forth on the ball of her heels as she repositioned herself; listening intently to Neru's side of the story.
"So it was obviously planned, but hadn't gone accordingly" she clarified, reciting the events in her mind.
"Neru, while you were gone a lot happened..."
"I was only gone for two days Captain." She emphasized the word two.
Sugai nodded; understanding her comrades disbelief.
"Nogi is gone Neru." Anguish threatened to shake her composure. "We were wrong...I was wrong."
Neru shifted her weight as her brow furrowed, "Captain...What have you done?"
"Arrogance got the best of Keya...It was my obligation to protect us, uphold our oaths; but having so much power over our district lead some of us to believe we could extend our reach beyond the Sakamichi series. That we could overtake all other 46 and 48 groups and become the unit all districts could rely on. This was something Sgt Akane believed we could accomplish...Yet the way to achieve this is where our division began."
Neru did not turn her gaze as she continued to absorb all Sugai had to report.
"Our existence as Keya was soon viewed as a threat as Moriya began to extend missions beyond our borders into 48's territory without my authority. Because of this, Nogi was assigned the duty of becoming our head to rein us in. I tried my best, coming down hard on Akane to keep them off our back's and relieve some of the tension so we could be trusted once more, but she continued to press her own agenda. Keya's name soon became tainted as an uncontrollable unit."
Slowly, Sugai rose to her feet, her knees popping and crackling as she stretched her stiff limbs from kneeling hunched for so long.
"It was around this time that word reached us that an extra addition would be added to Sakamichi. A riot task unit dubbed Yoshimotozaka to close the gap in our districts border. Akane and I believed this to be a lie. I had my doubts that Yoshi had been a group formed just to complete our border and that their formation was actually to be a stronger force against us than Nogi. Yet even still, I believed this to possibly be a good thing to keep Keya within our designated territory...Nen however viewed Yoshi's formation as a call to arms.
Sugai refused to speak it out loud but the both of them could silently agree that she believed she had lost control of half her unit. This had also been a contributing factor in her and Akane's fallout.
"Without my instruction, Nen rallied the girls who shared her views and attacked Nogi the night prior to last. We were unaware of the coup until we ourselves were ambushed...Nogi was torn apart, the majority of their soldiers slaughtered and as for Yoshi I'm afraid the cadets were completely wiped out before they could become any more of a threat..."
It was only after Sugai finished her revelation that Neru began to stir. A wary expression had now clouded her features.
Using her good arm the girl pressed her weight against the wall to hoist herself to stand. Yuuka watched, hands twitching to reach out if her companion needed any aid to steady herself.
"Right," she breathed, "so what's our next move Captain?"
Yuuka would be lying if she said she was not surprised by Neru's sudden fortitude, but nonetheless, she was grateful that she could draw strength from her comrades solid disposition.
"I need you to reach out to the other groups before they decide to take matters into their own hands."
"Do you honestly believe that AKB will idly sit by and watch as some awol members of Keya run rampant as they please?" she shook her head to her own question, "Yuuka, Moriya has started a war she won't be able to finish if she crosses into their districts...People are dead because of her..."
Neru locked eyes with Sugai, the latter fighting back tears as she knew exactly how this would all conclude.
"They will kill her Captain...And if they do not decide to kill the rest of our platoon they will surely arrest the ones of us that remain."
"I will bear the burden if and when that time comes. For now however, I need to come to an agreement with the other Captain's. I need to find Nen and bring them all back. Neru, I'm trusting you to get this meeting settled. Send word to me once a time is set."
With that, Neru nodded, dipped her head politely and headed off towards their base headquarters.
Once Sugai found herself alone, tucked away in an empty alleyway, she allowed herself to shatter. Her body shaking with every sob as she released all of her pent up fears and frustration.
"Nen...what have you done" she wept, "please come back to us...to me."
It was after a time that the sun had began to set. Grey clouds streaked the skies, teasing the possibility of a rain storm as they steadily drifted in a golden pink hue. Aside from the distant sounds of running vehicle engines and the occasional footsteps of unaware civilians, nothing else stirred.
Yuuka had spent the last of the evening hiding away alone, releasing all of her pent up grief. Yet she knew she could not hide away forever from her duties as Captain. Admitting this truth, she harshly wiped her eyes, took a deep breath, straightened her posture and advanced out into the open once more from the depths of the alleyway.
As she strode the surrounding walkways she took note how no other soul but herself remained out in the streets. Koike and Saito were no doubt able to get everyone safely back to Keya's base HQ. That would be her next destination and as she walked; silently she held onto the hope that Neru had been able to get communication through to all 48s groups and come to an agreement on a civil conclave between them.
The scene before Yuuka as she entered the barracks of their unit caused her heart to jerk. Near the centre of the room rested five bodies of her remaining soldiers; all laying close together on spring cot's. Some wore minimal dressings of bandages while others upon closer inspection seemed to have been lucky enough to escape with only scrapes and bruises.
Satisfied that they would all live; Sugai made her way toward the back of the dimly lit room where a mute form sat slouched, back against the wall and head in her hands.
It appeared that the medic had been in a too much of a daze to notice the approach of her commanding officer. Only when Sugai placed a gentle touch to the girls shoulder did she jerk her head up; being brought back to her senses.
"Captain" she went to stand at attention after realizing who it was that stood before her, but Yuuka's hand firmly ensured that she remained seated.
"Rest, you've done enough today Koike. If it weren't for you and Saito I'm not sure if we would have been able to pull through this." It was true that casualties had been avoided and all injuries sustained had been minimal, yet even still, the captain was grateful for having a reliable medic on hand to maintain a calm order where she could not.
Koike, though fully aware of her surroundings still held a look of apprehension, as if still trying to process what her captain was trying to say.
Once more she tried to stand and again was met with resistance.
It was after the second attempt that understanding overtook her expression. Koike finally allowed herself to collapse onto her side and close her eyes, exhaustion taking hold and pulling her into the depths of a deep slumber.
As her soldiers slept, Sugai paced the room in a close manner, her gaze scanning the resting bodies. Surely it was still too soon for the Sergeant to launch another ambush. Would she risk it? Would it be so easy for her to once again try and completely wipe them out after failing the first time?
The variations were enough to drive her mad and only ceased when the sound of a sliding door reverberated within the four walls.
Yuuka tensed; her pacing coming to a sudden halt; attention now focused on the entering intruder.
"Neru" relief crashed over her like a wave, washing away the uncertainty that plagued her.
"Captain." The younger of the two approached Yuuka as they both met one another halfway.
"Please tell me this report carries some sort of good news with it."
Neru breathed a sigh, her heavy eyes closing for a moment as she gathered her thoughts.
"I was able to get through to Yui Yokoyama of AKB."
"The General Captain?" her brow furrowed. So Neru had made it to the top after all.
Neru simply nodded, "she herself said she will reach out to SKE, HKT and NMB who will all meet with you for the summit tomorrow at dawn."
"That was quick...Will the captain's all show on such short notice?"
"The situation is dire and Yokoyama sounded quite serious about the matter. Word of our coup has already reached the borders of Akihabara and apparently every platoon within the districts is on high alert waiting on a call to arms. When I explained to her the that it was an act of internal treason she almost seemed reluctant to even believe me. However; because you have been in such good standing Yokoyama has decided to call a ceasefire until after a decision is made at the summit."
"In other words...I could be walking out of there in handcuffs..." For the first time in nearly 24 hours, as if betraying her own identity, Sugai smirked; hand reaching to her chin to scratch as she allowed her thoughts to wander.
It was through this response that Neru became aware that the girl must have had more of an understanding of the ceasefire than she herself did; even after being such a highly ranked tactician within the unit.
Under normal circumstances the 48s groups would have already proclaimed this a declaration of war. There would have never been any consideration to have a conclave right after the annihilation of two platoons, one highly decorated and the other full of inexperienced cadets.
"You want to know why they have accepted my request?"
Neru nodded slightly, "don't you; Captain?"
"My assumption at this point would be that the General Captain has no idea on the whereabouts of Hirate Yurina. Sure it would be possible to wipe Keya off the grid, but with Techi fighting for us it would be a high risk of casualties against the 48s groups. Yui knows this and most likely won't risk her company until she is one hundred percent certain she knows where Techi's allegiance lies.
"Even we are uncertain of the answer to that yet-"
"Correct; which is what makes our next move that much more crucial. After the gathering we will have a better grasp on our next plan of action. Until then we need to regroup and prepare ourselves for the worst. If Techi, Aoi and Shida decide to ally with Moriya it could very well be game over...For all of us."
Chapter 3: The lengths we will go
"Agh, damn it!"
A pained snarl echoed within the the dimly lit room; enveloped in frustration and regret.
Scattered about what once appeared to be a run down abandoned bar, seven of the eight loyalists to Keya sat in a senseless state. The buildings main and only entrance tucked away down an old side street; hidden, and most likely forgotten; in the city of Tokyo.
The lounge had not been used as a public establishment for some time, having been swallowed up by members of the underground. It was now more or less used as a location for trading on the black market. The owner however; having known Sgt Moriya for many years had granted the awol unit access as a safe haven until other options became available.
It was in the far back corner of the room; laying down on a makeshift bed from the remnants of what used to be booth bench; where Risa struggled against the ache of a gunshot wound.
Leaning over her shaken form was Yone; a pair of forceps gripped tightly in one hand while the other wrestled the girls shoulder to hold her steady as she worked.
"Would you hold still already?" she snapped, agitation clear on her grim expression.
Risa jerked her hips back in response; shying away from the burning pain the metal was causing as they fished around in her torso.
"Apologies but you weren't the-ugh, hey!" Anguish flashed in her eye's as Yone pressed the steel in further as a warning to settle down.
"Save it Risa..."
Anger clouded the wounded girls face; teeth gritting so tight they threatened to shatter.
Yone payed no mind to the soldiers reactions and continued on with the task of saving her life.
"You're the one who decided to play hero; even though it completely went against our orders-" she paused her sentence to twist the grips once more causing Risa to lurch. "Got it."
Yone bit her lip as she pulled the small piece of lead from the weeping fissure; brow creasing as she briefly held it up closer to the light to study before dropping it onto an aluminum tray.
Risa twisted her head away as Yone admired her work; not finding anything interesting about a used bullet.
"We may have our own agenda but how the hell can you justify killing our friends" she hissed through gritted teeth, perspiration stinging her heavy eyes. "The plan was to intimidate and subdue them, not execute them..."
Yone smirked knowingly at the damaged girl who layed helplessly before her, "who shot you Risa?"
It was a stupid question.
"Rika wasn't supposed to pull the damn trigger Yone!" she paused and turned her head away once more, "She could have killed her...I couldn't-"
"Couldn't allow your 'girlfriend' to die?" she mocked.
"Shut up!" she snarled, fist balling against her chest ready to take a swing.
"So you save Ozeki's life; almost losing your own in the process; just to turn your back on her anyway?" she scoffed, "because that all makes sense..."
Yet Yone knew it was true. Just what the hell were they doing? Someone could have actually been killed and she was certain that she would have never been able to forgive herself had they all been the cause of it...
"Don't get it wrong. Of course I care about her...but I also believe in the Sergeants objective...If we don't do this-" she stopped for a moment, wincing as the laceration sent a throbbing shock through her flesh; waiting for it to subside.
Yone continued tending to the girl as she spoke; ensuring she was stitched up properly before beginning to wrap dressings around her lower abdomen.
"If we don't do this; if we don't flex then the 48s groups will surely restrain us...Moriya's question has always been to what extent are they willing to go..."
"You care about her but are willing to threaten her based on a hunch that Yogi was created to kill us...The irony of everything you just said humours me."
After pulling the bandages tight Yone stood; slowly gathering the used first aid supplies to throw the used scrapes away.
"You know Risa-" she paused, back turned to the girl, "I'm fully aware and have come to terms with the fact that this whole plan may fail; that it's wholly based on a hunch that AKB was conspiring against us...but by deciding to believe in Akane and follow her through to the end I have accepted the fact that I have to be prepared to pull the trigger on whoever tries to stand in the way of our objective...Have you?"
With those final words, Yone continued forward and disappeared behind the counter and through the swinging doors of the kitchen; leaving Risa to her own personal thoughts.
With a frustrated groan, the soldier slung her arm over her face to shield her vision. When was Moriya going to tell the others? No one in Keya should have been at risk that night...
"So word has already reached Yui Yokoyama of our treason?"
Moriya stood slouched against the wall in the small office; it's location tucked in the farthest back corner of the hideaway.
"From what they are saying on the street. I'm assuming Sugai made it her first priority to reach out to them for aid after our little farce the other night."
Miyu stood before the Sergeant, a rifle slung over her left shoulder. There was no look of mischief in her eye's as she gave thee report.
"Just like our Captain to act swiftly in dire times" Moriya spoke as she stared at the wall in front of her; studying the remaining employee schedules that hung there. "I'll bet she's already requested a conclave; no doubt to bargain for our lives..." her voice trailed off for a moment as she reflected on her Captain. "Just what are the chances all those leaders would be currently stationed in Tokyo the night she reached for them?" The question was rhetorical.
"Just like you to know her better than anyone, right 'Nen?"
Akane was aware that the new voice joining in on their conversation was meant to mock her. There was not a second of deliberation toward her next action as she sent her fist flying swiftly into Nanako's smirking face.
The crunch beneath her knuckles and the thud of a body hitting the cold floor announced she had made a direct impact.
Reaching out; Moriya took a firm grip of the girls shirt collar and harshly pulled her in close enough to lock into a death stare.
"One, it's Sergeant to you and two" she tightened her grip further, ignoring the blood that gushed from the soldiers nose and dripped from her chin onto her closed fist, "don't you ever call me that name again or I'll blast you a third eye socket; understand?"
All members of Keya knew that the only one who called Moriya Nen and got away with it had always been Yuuka. Yet with the current state of things it had suddenly become even more of a delicate subject.
Nanako met Akane's gaze head on; her boldness unwavering as a challenging smirk tugged at her features. Deep down she was well aware of the Sergeants unspoken weakness; the one reason that would drive this strong willed person to go so far and risk everything they had ever built. Yet even still, she couldn't help but wonder if the pressure would eventually become enough to break her resolve. She would be lying if she didn't say she had her doubt's...
"My apologies Sergeant," her words had a bite to them, "It won't happen again."
Sternly; Moriya released her grip on the crumpled soldier and returned her attention to an unfazed Miyu.
"I suppose we should wait out and see how this summit unfolds...As much as this now puts a wedge in our agenda I can't shake the feeling that Yokoyama won't force her hand unless we move forces into AKB's district."
Miyu shifted her weight steadily; allowing the rifle to drop off her shoulder and rest it's stock end on the floor.
"You know I will follow you into hell Sergeant; these are the bonds of Keya...But what statement are we trying to make? What is our end goal to achieve?" she looked on as uncertainty crept over her face. "You want me to take lives, fine, you want me to risk my life, also fine...But just give me the full honest reason to all of this because I sure as hell am having a hard time believing it's just to intimidate AKB."
Akane silently studied her companion with knowing eyes. The girl was right in asking her what the entire point of all this was. What reason was good enough to betray their comrades?
"I don't want Keya to have to fear being shackled..." her gaze averted to the floor as sadness soon masked her expression; fully aware the Miyu knew that still wasn't the whole case.
"But if I'm being honest-" she paused, holding her breath for a moment as she debated on where to even begin, "I at least owe you all the full truth behind this decision..."
Nanako folded her arms across her chest, now standing as she had been watching the scene play before her, "I'll gather the others."
With that notion, the girl made haste as she left the two alone in the office. Neither said a word to one another as Nanako promptly swept the building to inform their remaining comrades of a gathering. The only one remaining absent and alone was a sleeping Risa.
It did not take long before the girls began to filter into the small office; silently surrounding their leader in a half circle. Akane could only study their drained countenance; all appearing blankly inscrutable.
Among the members that stood before her was Oda who claimed a spot next to Miyu; her shoulder gently bumping against the smaller girls to acknowledge her.
On any other day; Miyu would have linked her arm through Oda's and held tight but tonight she fought against the urge.
Yone held a position against the frame of the doorway while Rika, Nanako and Habu filed past her; filling up the remaining space left in the tiny room.
All stood at ease.
Moriya gradually shifted her weight from one heel to the other; distress clear in her expression. Internally, she fought a debate against herself as doubts began to infiltrate her conscience. They didn't last long and just as quickly as they came; she bullied them into the back of her mind.
"I know you've all been through a lot these last few hours...You're tired, confused, scared" she halted the shifting of her boots to look from one soldier to the next. "I know the decision you've all made has not been an easy one either; you're all still probably asking the same question...Why are we doing this to our friends?"
The atmosphere surrounding them remained stagnant as she continued.
"By now we are all well aware of AKB's plan to develop a sub platoon, Yoshimotozaka. A unit created to tighten the remaining gap within in our district. A group to 'aid' us and Nogi in protecting Sakamichi Series-"
"We already knew of the plan" Oda stepped forward from her dormant position beside Miyu. "That's why we took them and Nogi out...A group of untrained cadets being groomed by elite soldiers? AKB couldn't possibly have thought we were that ignorant to believe Yoshi were meant to aid us. They wanted to control us."
"They didn't just want to rein us in Oda-" a shaky voice uttered followed by weak huffs of labored breathing.
All eye's veered towards the entrance as Risa appeared; her body relying heavily on the door frame for support; sweat beading down her temple and neck as she fought against the ache.
Yone moved to steady her fragile body, warning that she shouldn't be up and moving about so soon. Risa however shook her off; insisting on being a part of such an important discussion.
"Yoshi was created as a force to eradicate Keya" she stated. "They wanted every last one of us dead."
Risa's words were enough to cause everyone to speak out among themselves; loud enough to nearly drown one another out. Their once calm dispositions rattled by the sudden revelation.
"Nogi was in on this plan as well; thus forcing your hand to stop them before they became too strong."
Moriya dipped her head at Risa, a silent thank you for speaking what she felt she could not.
"AkB came to fear the likes of Keya and having Hirate as a soldier in our vanguard became the nail in the coffin. However; I was also aware that Techi's true allegiance had the possibility of swaying, which explains why my first plan of action was to take out Yoshi while they were still defenseless cadets..."
"But why turn our backs on Sugai and the others?" Rika inquired, "surely we are stronger in numbers."
"To protect the one's we care about most..." Habu admitted; her eye's locking with Akane's to show support knowing that their Sergeant was no doubt internally destroying herself. After all, knowing you were the one who gave the orders to commit a mass murder against a unit of unarmed people was enough to tear away at your humanity.
"Sugai is naive; gentle and forgiving almost to a fault..." Moriya took a seat in front of them.
"She wouldn't have fought back against them. She would have made every effort to bargain, even if it meant staring straight down the barrel of their guns." The mental image was enough to cause her face to contort in disgust, hands raising to rub her eyes in attempt to erase the girls sweet face from her mind.
"I made the choice to have all eyes on me and become the bigger threat...and in doing so I've now carelessly drug all of you into this mess."
"To draw attention from Sugai-" Yone's gaze began to fluctuate; landing on Habu "Koike..." then to the weakened girl that still stood slouched next to her "and Ozeki..." she paused. "How many of you were actually aware of the truth this whole time?" she demanded.
"Including myself?" Akane asked, " four of us."
"It's not as if you forced us to join you Sergeant; we knew that this task was not going to be an easy one...We followed you because we too believed AKB was up to something beyond just closing the margin and we believed that your intuition was correct." Rika nodded in agreement to Oda's statement.
"It was a burden I couldn't allow her to bear, so I...We will advance against AKB until they decide to avert their full attention off of the Captain and the others. If AKB proceeds with their strategy to take out Sugai and the others we will wipe Yui Yokohama's company and the other districts off the map."
Yone snickered, "a suicide mission to indirectly beg for the lives of the one's you love?" she shook her head, "without Hirate, Shida and Aoi we could very well be dead within the next few days."
"So then why did you come Yone? This whole time the way you have been talking sounds like you never wanted any part of this to begin with." Nanako shot a scowl at the Medic.
For a time Yone stood there quietly while the others studied her. It didn't take long for the girl to respond, "because I'm afraid...but I too believe in our Sergeant."
"Yone..." Moriya stood, reaching out her hand to rest on the girls shoulder as a gesture of reassurance, "I know none of this has been easy thus far nor made much sense up until now...But I have to at least try."
"And what of Kobayashi and Zuumin?"
"Both are gone as well" she sighed, her hand falling from where it had rested on Yone's arm, "but my gut tells me they have their own motives to fulfill...I just hope it is in our favor."
Rika unfolded her crossed arms and stepped forward to address her Sergeant. "I won't lie; at first I was skeptical of this. The reasoning to start a coup just to flex our strength seemed pointless; but now that I've been educated with the truth you have my full cooperation. I will follow you to protect our comrades."
Moriya nodded in thanks to Rika's fealty and watched as the others agreed to follow her through until the end. They would protect Keya from the 48s groups so long as they posed a threat to their very existence. Moriya would ensure that no one would harm Yuuka by playing the enemy against the other districts.
"Then it's settled. We will act on our own accord as Sakamichi's awol vanguard. We will protect Keya. We will become known as he platoon that betrayed our Captain; once loyal soldiers that fell from grace. AKB will abandon their plans to annihilate Sugai or we will take out their company. Today we have become the 48s groups number one enemy. Rest well my soldiers; for tomorrow we advance."
Chapter 4: An ally of our enemy
The western skies had darkened in the distance as the moon had virtually set while streaks of silver shading into grey lined the thinning clouds above. The sun after several days of absence would once again illuminate the city.
A loud yawn escaped from the exhausted Captain as she stirred; cot creaking as she twisted onto her back to gaze up at the ceiling of the barracks.
She winced; the growing brightness cascading through the slits of the blinds caused her to raise a hand to shield her eye's from the suns waxed rays.
Once adjusted to the light she stretched out on her thin mattress; arms reaching above her head causing a ripple of pops to exude from her rigid back.
In those moments her mind could only attribute to two things. One being Moriya Akane and two being that the pain she felt in her body meant the events from the night before had been very real.
It was sudden yet not unexpected as all of the scenes came flooding back into her mind causing her once again to witness an emotionless Moriya standing before her.
It hadn't made a difference how much she pleaded the girl to stop her incursion; her cries had only fallen on deaf ears which had only made the memories that much more harrowing.
Sugai feared the day; if there ever came one; that she would be forced once again to challenge Akane except this time one would not be able to walk away.
"So you've finally decided to join the realm of the living."
Yuuka sat bolt upright; shooting an unsettled look toward the end of her cot; the excess weight causing a dip in her mattress having gone unnoticed until then.
"Easy Captain, you're safe." Neru could sense the alarm beaming off the poor girls aura and instantly felt a bite of guilt for startling her.
Using her elbows Yuuka propped herself into a sitting position; "what time is it? I'm assuming we have to leave shortly-"
Sugai studied her comrade for a time; the tactician perched at the end of the occupied bunk; a bayonet twirling between the fingers of her left hand.
"It's still early, we have time Captain; It's just that you were tossing and speaking in your sleep...I didn't want to leave you on your own in such state..."
Neru had always been a reliable presence within their squadron; always looking out for others and disregarding her own self more often than not. In these last five years she had become an irreplaceable existence.
"We?" Sugai questioned.
"You couldn't possibly have thought I would allow you to attend the summit alone did you? No. It was stated over the radio conversation that each leader will be required to bring a second."
As expected Sugai opened her mouth to protest but Neru continued.
"It's too dangerous for you to go this alone. I'm not so sure it's a good idea to trust any of the districts as it stands; not until a decision is made at least."
It took a moment for her to contemplate. Putting any of her soldiers at risk given the current circumstances left a bad taste in her mouth and filled her being with discomfort. Yet Neru was right.
"I will agree with you that I won't go alone...But I am taking Ozeki with me instead."
Neru's mouth gapped, "but-"
It was Sugai's turn to silence her friend.
"I need you here incase this whole ordeal turns upside down. I need you to take charge while I'm away. Besides; with your injury how do you expect to use a rifle" she pointed to the girls arm cradled in a sling against her chest.
Neru smirked knowingly and closed her eyes; submitting to her commanding officers orders. This had not been a debate she could win.
The remainder of the morning was spent discussing their next move if the summit were to not go as planned. Specific instructions being given to Neru alongside Saito incase Sugai never made it back.
Shiori, Uemura and Koike took near an hour combing the barracks armoury; counting ammunition and readying their own guns. Neither of the three wanted to experience another repeat of being vulnerable if Akane decided to launch another attack.
"Are you prepared to take out Habu, Koike?" Shiori questioned as she extended the stock on her rifle; slinging it over her shoulder once she was satisfied with it's setup.
Koike didn't make eye contact with the girl as she situated her helmet in her lap, eye's fixated on it's centre as she adjusted the chin straps accordingly.
Once satisfied; she rested the metal cap down onto the long wooden bench that lay stationed between them.
"My job is to patch people up; not injure them." The statement held a bite to it and Shiori knew that Koike would most likely allow Habu to put a bullet in her head if it came down to such a scenario.
"Can we please not discuss this right now, Sato, you know that's a delicate topic at the moment." Uemura gave the soldier a pointed look until all three went silent once more and continued on with their tasks.
"Neru, Saito, I'm leaving Keya in your care. If Ozeki and myself are not back this evening by twenty hundred hours you will know that the vote did not side in our favour. Be prepared for the worst."
The two girls bowed their heads to their Captain as they were given their final orders.
With that, Sugai turned to Ozeki who awaited her; sitting on the back seat of a motorcycle; rifle strung across her back and helmet situated slightly crooked on her head, it's brim low to her eyes.
It was decided they would travel this way as opposed to a larger vehicle which could hinder a sudden retreat if need be.
Most would argue being so vulnerable out in the open was a foolish decision but Sugai was quite skilled and confident when it came to maneuvering any engine on two wheels.
Yuuka swung her leg over the opposite side of the bike; taking her seat in the front before turning the key. It's engine thundering to life in a steady rumble as she twisted at the throttle in her palm.
After fixing her goggles to shield her eyes and giving one last smile to her soldiers; Yuuka released the clutch; twisted back on the accelerator and rode off down the winding streets headed towards Akihabara.
As Neru watched her Captain drive away she felt the sudden warmth of fingers gently entwine their way between her own.
The gesture was enough to pull her attention away from the vanishing figures on the horizon and focus it on the girl standing next to her.
Saito smiled softly; forcing all negative thoughts from her mind. Deep down she had hoped the action was enough for Neru to do the same.
While the two soldiers cruised down the lanes Ozeki took note of how the streets appeared quite barren for the time of day it was. It made her wonder if perhaps a curfew had been implemented ever since word had gotten out after the coup.
"Should only be another ten minutes or so before we reach the borders of Akihbara Ozeki; keep a look out" Sugai spoke with a loud voice; duelling against the roaring of the engine beneath them.
It had seemed like less than a minute had passed when all of the sudden an obstruction in their path became visibly clearer the closer they advanced.
"A body?" Ozeki's voice barely audible as she tried to gain a better focus.
Yuuka released the throttle; down shifting gears once she was for certain that her guard had been correct. The interference was in fact a downed person laying in the middle of the road.
Remaining cautious; Sugai stopped the bike a couple yards away; keeping a wide margin until she was near positive this was not a ruse.
Ozeki dismounted the motorcycle first; rifle being pulled from behind her back and taking a raised position; nestling the stock tightly into her shoulder.
Sugai followed; unclasping the strap to her combat helmet and tilting it forward slightly to shade her eyes.
Tentatively Yuuka drew her pistol and approached the stagnant body that lay in a heap on the concrete; much to Ozeki's disapproval.
"Captain; something about this doesn't feel right..." Ozeki's head continued shifting directions as she kept a vigilant watch for any suspicious signs of movement.
"I'm aware...But what else can I do? I can't just pass by if it's an actual civilian."
Ozeki knew this was one of Sugai's weakness'
"Regardless; they are not within our borders which means it is not our responsibility. Let's stick to the task and get out of here." The desperation in the smaller girls voice was becoming more obvious by the second and Sugai knew she was right. Being a leader meant making the hard decisions to keep your people safe.
Biting her bottom lip the Captain halted her steps and glared downward; hands balling into frustrated fists at her sides.
"Damn it-" she hissed, "forgive me..."
It took Sugai betraying her humanity to change course and start back toward her comrade; eyes remaining forces on the ground.
Everything that followed after abandoning the entity made her question just how fit she was to actually command and safeguard a platoon.
By the time Yuuka lifted her gaze to focus on Ozeki it was too late to warn her of the oncoming soldier that appeared behind her.
With a plaintiff cry she reached out toward her; gun raising to take it's aim. Before she could fire she felt the weight of a firm arm wrap tightly around her neck while a hand gripped her wrist; wrenching swiftly to send the gun sailing to the concrete.
As she made a move to encounter her captor she was stopped dead as her constrained arm was jerked behind her; the backs of her legs struck sending her to submit to her knees.
Ozeki hadn't time to blink let alone defend as the drawn rifle was striped from her grasp from behind.
Once disarmed; the girl felt her forearm be locked into an iron hold and within the following second she was laying on her back against the cement; a boot firmly pressed to her throat.
It took a moment for her head to stop spinning and her vision to focus after having it collide against the solid ground; surprised it hadn't been split wide open from the impact.
Once her sight regained itself however; the view in front of her truly made her question if she was actually awake or if the impact had ferried her into an unconscious state.
"R-Risa" she choked; her heart suddenly thrashing against her sternum as she fought to stand.
She was here! she was alive...Perhaps everything that had happened had just been a bad dream after all.
Though no matter how much she hoped; the growing weight of the boot against her windpipe only grew with every struggling movement.
All it took after that moment was the abrupt click of a hammer being drawn back and the cold tip of a barrel pressing against her temple to let her know that this was all very real.
"Don't move Ozeki-" There was no emotion in Risa's eyes as she held the girl to the ground; leaning her weight down to pin her as she crouched above her chest.
Was this really happening?
As Sugai witnessed Risa level a piece to Ozeki's head it was enough to send her over the edge.
With all her strength the Captain threw her skull back to collide with the face of her captor; causing the grip to release and sending the person reeling backward.
Yuuka took the brief opportunity of freedom to hoist herself up and spin around just in time to catch an oncoming fist in her palm.
The look of fury that had cloaked her features not a second before was replaced by anguish as she stared straight into Akane's eyes.
"W-why?" was all she could gather as she coerced back tears.
Moriya could only stare back blankly; burying all the pain in her chest as her heart shattered while she took in all of Yuuka's despair.
"Turn back Sugai..."
Yuuka shoved her fist away with enough force to cause the Sergeant to step back to catch herself.
"You know I can't do that Nen..." her voice low.
The name caused the Sergeants expression to waver. It was brief before she caught herself; but long enough for her Captain to notice.
"Risa will kill Ozeki if you do not submit and go home...Why do you always have to be so damn stubborn?"
Ozeki did not break eye contact with Risa as the girl glared down at her; searching for any sign of remorse. There was none.
The restrained soldier had been focusing in on the conversation between the two leaders when she felt a blotch of heat slowly start to splay onto her chest.
It was enough to pull her concentration away from the two others and twist her head adequately past the boot against her neck.
Crimson? she checked again as the weight of her detainer lessened.
"Blood" she clarified; her eyes averting to the girl above.
"Risa you're hurt." Ozeki once again struggled against the weight; every part of her being screaming to help her.
The amount of force that Risa countered with doubled as she bullied her back down; this time trembling on the edge of crushing her windpipe.
"That's none of your concern anymore, now sit still."
Ozeki reflected on the incident from the prior night and it was only then she remembered that Risa had shoved her out of the way as Rika pulled the trigger.
How does one go from almost dying for you to trying to kill you within a matter of two days?
Sugai from the corner of her eye listened in on the duos conversation but did not take her focus off of Moriya.
"You came to stop me but brought a wounded soldier as your second, Nen?" she questioned. "You need to let us go; Risa will die if that is left untreated."
"She's been treated Captain; those are just popped stitches from over exertion. You know Risa isn't one to sit on the sidelines; regardless of her condition...Besides; you need to keep your focus on your opponent."
Treated? So Yone had indeed taken Akane's side.
"This is your last warning Sugai."
The Captain fought back all of her emotions before shaking her head.
"Just please tell me why..." she begged; fists coming up to her face to block; readying her stance to engage in hand to hand combat.
Moriya opened her mouth to respond when the sudden bang of discharging gun sounded; a stray bullet piercing the ground beside her.
At first her eyes darted to Risa to see if it was an act of betrayal but then took note of a roaring engine approaching from the East at a steady pace.
Cursing to herself she swiftly spun on her heel sending a high kick straight into the side of Yuuka's head.
The impact had been enough to knock the Captain onto her side; disoriented and vision reeling.
"Be careful who it is you trust Sugai."
Ozeki already being on the edge of unconsciousness from suffocation gave Akane enough time to grab the weakened Risa and haul her off and out of sight.
By the time the unit had reached the conflict area the two were already long gone; driving away in an unmarked jeep.
The group promptly surrounded Sugai and Ozeki; rifles drawn and on the look out for any other lurking threat.
"Well, you almost made it without an altercation so I'll give you a point for that."
Yuuka had still been fighting to regain herself after taking the blow to the head when an outstretched hand offered to help her stand. Thank god for her helmet.
Sugai took the extended hand gratefully; pulling herself to her feet as the aid hoisted in union.
"I guess the rumours were true after all; Sgt Moriya Akane took half your platoon and went rogue. Yokohama is going to love hearing that."
It took her a moment to study the soldiers face and identify who it was that had come to their aid.
"First Lieutenant Jurina."
Sugai would admit she had never actually met the soldier before but she had seen photographs. The infamous sniper Ace of SKE with a extremely high compiled record of difficult yet successful shots.
She must have just been passing through the area...
At being acknowledged by her first name the girl could only flash a soft smile in response.
"We were just passing through. Our General Captain Saito Makiko went ahead of us to get to the summit early...Just like her to completely ignore the idea of bringing a second along. I have to say though; I'm quite surprised you are traveling between districts with only one soldier, a rifle and a hand gun" her eyes shifted to the motorbike last, "not to mention on a unarmored vehicle no less..." her voice trailed off, "did you want to die?"
The question almost seemed serious as Jurina stared blankly at the Captain; yet Sugai couldn't help but find her slightly comical in the way she addressed her observations. So this was the infamous Ace...
Yuuka's face flushed a slight red. Now that she had time to reflect; it had been a stupid decision to travel so unarmed.
"I did not want it to seem like Keya was going to parade through Akihabara with a unit of heavily armed militants; it may have sent the wrong message and projected us as a threat..." That was her speculation at least.
Jurina nodded slightly; understanding but at the same time not swaying her opinion. "You're already viewed as a threat so what would it have mattered?"
Sugai couldn't tell if the Ace was being facetious or not but decided to brush it off.
"Anyhow; since we're here we might as well escort you both to headquarters."
Yuuka nodded; agreeing that it would probably be the best option.
Jurina watched as the Captain made her way over to her fallen comrade; silently wondering to herself how in the hell Keya had become such a fearsome group with Captain Sugai Yuuka at the helm. She didn't seem too bright nor intimidating...or so that was what Jurina noted from her first impression.
Mind you; she paused her speculation on Keya's leader turning her attention on her own unit. Makki half the time spent her free hours either sleeping or going on tangents about uninteresting topics...
Who in the hell decided on the squadrons leaders?!
"Are you alright?" she asked Ozeki once it was just the two of them out of earshot while the Ace and her three other guards regrouped nearby; waiting on the two Keya members to join them.
"She was hurt Yuuka..." It was the first time that Sugai could recall Ozeki ever calling her by her first name. It just advised her of the amount of emotional turmoil her friend was in.
"I know..." she tried her best to comfort the girl. "I also know that Akane won't allow her to die. Risa is a fighter; she won't give in so easily."
Picking up the rifle that had been hurled to the pavement; Yuuka handed it back to Ozeki to hold.
"For now though we need to focus on our task and the others back at HQ. There will be time to grieve after we arrive home safely; for now I need your full attention."
Ozeki knew her Captain was right.
The shorter of the two straightened her helmet; slinging the gun back over her shoulder before trailing Yuuka back to their motorcycle.
The Captain waited for the soldier to mount up behind her before switching gears and pulling forward enough to address Jurina. "We will follow you the rest of the way" Sugai stated; her voice nearly drowned out due to the rumbling of the bike engine.
The Ace simply responded with a nod and moved her comrades back to their jeep a few yards away.
Once all were inside; the 4x4 began to drive toward the eastern horizon; roving deeper into the city until they were all far within Akihabara territory.
It was within the next twenty minutes that the small assembly arrived at AKB's main operating base.
During their escort Yuuka had taken into account the many outposts dotting the city while military convoys powered up and down the roads.
Sugai had to admit she did not recall Yokoyama running such a large fleet.
As they passed the checkpoint into the base both the Jeep and bike parked side by side near the main entrance; engines shutting off simultaneously.
It wasn't long before they were joined by a marine adorning the rank insignia of a Captain. Both recognized her as AKB's A units commanding officer.
"Okabe" Jurina's hand raised to her brow in salute and Sugai followed Jurina's action; watching as the girl returned the greet.
"Captain Sugai of Keyakizaka and non other than SKE's senior Ace Jurina. Welcome to Akihabara. If you'll both follow me the others are waiting in the conference room to begin."
Both girls nodded in union and followed Okabe Rin into the building.
Ozeki tailed Sugai; forfeiting her rifle at the entrance to security while Jurina instructed her unit of three to remain outside.
Only two soldiers from each district were permitted to attend the meeting.
The four girls silently made their way through the maze of halls; aiming towards the heart of the command building.
As they carried on Sugai began to feel a pang of uneasiness in her chest. In all the time she had led her platoon she could only recall one instance that she had set foot in Akihabara's main base and it had only been a gathering to introduce the new unit Keyakizaka; unit number 0046.
After a time; they finally reached two large wooden doors situated at the end of a very long corridor; the emblem of AKB fastened to the center of them.
"Once inside please take your seats. Jurina; Saito is already waiting for you."
With that notion; Okabe pushed the door to the right open and gestured for them to enter.
After taking a deep breath and raising her head high; Yuuka followed by Ozeki entered the silent conference room; hopes being held that a resolution could be made between all districts.
This was a mission she could not afford to fail.
Chapter 5: From these shadows
"Damn it Risa-"
Moriya cursed out her frustration; one hand remaining on the wheel while the other stretched across the centre console, bracing the passenger upright.
"Stay awake; you hear me?" she began to take notice of how the girls head began to slouch downward to meet her chest; eyes contending to stay open.
Akane; after much deliberation had made the difficult decision to keep driving; knowing that if she were to pull to the side to aid her comrade they could possibly lose precious time.
Moriya was well aware she hadn't the experience nor knowledge on how to stop the bleeding...Oh the terrible bleeding...
She had to get her to Yonetani.
The Sergeant deviated from the main route to tour down an unlit back road. It was here she would abandon their transportation so as not to draw attention to their base of refuge.
Throwing off her belt; Moriya leapt from the front seat and rounded the vehicle to it's passenger side; nearly tearing the door from it's hinges as she wrenched it open.
It was only then after laying full orbs on Risa that she became fully aware of how dire the situation actually was.
"So obviously you're not walking anywhere-" her hands raised to her face; burying her expression of dismay as she visually examined their surroundings for any sort of assistance to get her back to the lounge.
Of course there were no other options but one.
Gently with both arms; Akane reached for Risa; pulling the girl out from her seat and cradling her fragile form close to her chest before hurrying the two of them down the unmarked backroads.
"I got you-" her voice shuddered as her breathing hitched from the labour of the weight.
It was an arduous task; becoming harder to focus the more she observed the amount of blood flowing from the gaping lesion; her forearms and torso being stained a deep crimson.
"You won't die..." she huffed, her pace quickening to a steady jog, "I definitely won't let you die."
Risa had remained silent aside from her shallow breathing and the odd whimper of objection with the jostle of each step.
Akane could not ignore that her frame had become more limp the further they traveled.
It took Moriya hauling her friend another three blocks before she could distinguish the densely lit entrance of the bar.
Relief and hope crashed over her like a wave.
Forgoing the knock; the Sergeant announced her arrival by slamming the heel of her boot against the door; sending spatters of debris through the air as she kicked it wide open; breaking the lock.
Akane couldn't say she was surprised to be greeted by five muzzles all pinned on her. Stern but nervous eyes burning into her very soul.
They were terrified.
"Take her-" she gasped; arms trembling as they threatened to give out.
Once realizing who it was; the unit dropped their aim and rushed forward to see what all the alarm was about.
"God damn it I told you this would happen!"
Yone was quick to reach Moriya's side and inspect the girl in her arms; immediately pressing fingers to her neck to check her pulse.
"Habu, take her over to the bench, I'll grab my kit."
As Habu relieved Akane of the excess weight; the Sergeant collapsed to her knees from exhaustion.
"Are you alright?" Nanako inquired, fingers pointing to the crimson stained across her shirt.
Moriya shook her head, "no, I'm fine. Risa over did it and by the looks of it reopened her fissure..."
"I told you she needed to stay here and rest. What the hell did you think was going to happen-" she paused her lecture; rushing to Risa's side as Habu placed her down.
The medic was quick to sever open the soldiers shirt to expose her torso; fingers gently prodding near the aperture to study the damage.
"She was lucky enough the first time considering it's location but at least this is not another bullet. I can manage this but she's already lost a lot of blood..."
Yone fought to keep a cool head as she set to work.
Habu joined Nanako at Moriya's side; carefully reaching down to help the girl stand as she regained her breath.
Akane's gaze remained fixed on her blood covered hands; her mind feeling as if it were about to implode.
"You saw her...Didn't you?" Habu asked, already knowing the answer to her question.
"She was willing to engage against me-"
"What did you expect Sergeant?" Nanako interjected; her expression sullen, "Sugai may be innocent and caring more often than not; even clumsy...But you cannot forget that she was ranked Keya's Captain for a reason."
How could she have expected this to be a simple task. What made her believe that Yuuka could be so easily swayed to keep within Sakamichi...
It wasn't a hard question to answer.
Moriya had just been so used to being on the receiving end of Sugai's kindness that she had never imagined what it could be like on the opposing side of her expertise.
God she missed her...
"Have Oda and Suzumon returned yet?" she asked; eyes shifting between the two.
"After the summit tonight-" Habu was cut short.
"Why don't you get some rest Sergeant. We'll keep watch and inform you if we hear anything. They will radio us in once they receive their intel." Nanako was more forward with her words; noticing that Habu was becoming too soft in how she spoke to their leader.
It took a moment for Akane to register what the two were saying; her mind focused on Yuuka; only to be drawn back once she recognized the word rest.
Nanako was right. She needed to sleep.
The Sergeant nodded her head toward where Yone sat; steadily weaving a suture through the ruptured flesh; pulling the gap closed to stop the hemorrhaging.
"Let me know if her condition worsen's..."
Yone ignored Moriya's request and continued on with her work; wanting so badly to keep repeating how she had told her so.
With that; Akane retired to the far back room of the office to settle down on a cushioned bench; fatigue taking it's grasp and pulling her into a deep slumber.
Habu and Nanako remained stationed by the front entrance; both seated on old wooden chairs; the legs riddled with scars and stray nails.
"I can't help but wonder if we've made the wrong decision-" Nanako trailed off; watching as Habu pulled a creased up stack of cards from her chest pocket; a small size photograph sliding out and drifting to the floor.
Nanako reached downward to pick up the small picture but was stopped abruptly as a boot slammed down ontop of it; nearly crushing her fingers in the process.
"Geez; what's your problem?" she snapped.
Habu said nothing as she removed her foot; reaching down to pick up the photograph and bring it up to her face to study.
Nanako; instead of arguing decided to observe her comrade as she stared at the picture quietly.
The girl knew that look all too well...She had seen it before on Akane's face...Miyu, Oda, even on Risa...The indisputable expression of heartbreak.
"Koike?" she asked.
The question was evaded as Habu slipped the photograph back into her chest pocket and continued.
"It's too early to conclude anything at the moment" she stated; shuffling the deck of cards she had previously taken out; flipping a handful right side up on the table in front of them.
"You still have Pokemon cards?" the soldier raised a brow; recognizing a few of the characters drawn on the faces of the small square pieces of paper.
In the far end of the four walls; the two girls could hear Yone call out for Rika's assistance.
The vanguard soldier who had been resting upright a few tables down was quick to rouse and hurry to the medic's side; not being given the opportunity to ask her what she needed as Yone hurriedly rolled up her sleeve past her elbow.
"I need your blood-" she reached out; taking Rika's dog tags in her hand to read the debossed lettering.
"Type 0, as I thought."
Yone became silent; quickly swabbing the surface of a vein with alcohol before pressing an IV catheter into Rika's arm; watching as the red flow entered the drip tubes; trailing through to enter the end that pierced Risa's flesh.
Once satisfied that she would live; Yone slumped back into her chair; hands running up her face and pushing her hair back to expose her forehead.
"Now we wait..."
"What is it you are looking for Pon?" the soft voice expelling from a small hooded figure.
The taller of the two; clad in a long black jacket; face cloaked by a hood that was capped with a helmet; did not avert her attention to address the girl.
"The MC are still sweeping the remnants of Nogi's massacre site. Word on the street has it that some members actually survived..." her gaze continued to groom the commotion taking place below them.
Kobayashi stood next to Zuumin; remaining stealth on the fifth level of a parking garage; cloaked by it's shadows.
"What's your point? The plan was to vacate the district and avoid this entire mess-"
"Are you a coward?" Koba asked; lips tugging into a smirk.
Zuumin's expression turned to stone as anger flashed in her orbs, "we both agreed to not take sides in all of this. How the hell can we do that if we keep hanging around here-" her words were cut short as Kobayashi raised a hand in her face.
Zuumin pulled her back away from the column she had been leaning against and peered over the edge; vision following to where the rogue nodded toward.
"Saito Asuka?" she inquired.
Pon simply nodded causing her partner to stifle a scoff.
"You can't be serious" she studied the soldier below; hair a mess; uniform blood stained; her right arm pulled tight in a sling and brow wrapped in dressings.
"What the hell are you going to do with that shrimp?"
Koba made it a point to glance back and forth between the two, "I don't know 'shrimp,' you tell me."
"Nothing...Absolutely nothing because the only relevance she has to us is that you have a sickening admiration for her."
The rogue rolled her eyes; not having the time to entertain Zuumin's disapproval. Obviously there had to be a reason for her to risk their lives to scope out in a heavily guarded area.
"Ashurin was only one of three survivors. This means that she will have intel on everything during and prior to their downfall."
"Again; I thought we were to not get involved?" she stated once more.
Koba snickered; her arms folding over her chest, "you do know we committed a crime right? We abandoned our post and our troop..."
Zuumin shifted uneasily.
"Last I checked you and myself are not cowards. I know for a fact we are more useful to both Moriya and Sugai by staying away from their mess and focusing on finding Hirate, Shida and Aoi."
"What is your proposal?"
"We exhaust all efforts on finding our awol comrades. With Moriya being on her warpath and Sugai trying to maintain what little authority she has left; it should take the focus off of us; however-" her voice trailed off as she chewed her bottom lip, "If we fail...I'm not sure if the Captain nor Sergeant will walk away from this."
Zuumin averted her eyes from the girl and stepped back further into the shadows.
"It sounds like a stupid plan-" she paused; jamming her hands into her pockets in frustration. "Why can't we just start looking for Techi now instead of risking our necks on our own?"
"Because we have no idea on her whereabouts. We need to get to Ashurin. She may just have all the information we're searching for. I'm assuming she will be heading into Akihabara to give Yokoyama a full report once the MP are done questioning her. We'll need to be vigilant if we are going to catch up to her to gain her trust."
Pon couldn't lie to herself either; but the success rate of locating the three missing soldiers while each district remained on high alert was less than fifty.
Still; they had to try.
"They're on the move...Lets go."
Zuumin didn't bother to ask anymore questions and instead proceeded to follow the rogue towards the nearest stairway.
The two soldiers moved as discreetly as smoke; sifting through the shade of the garage until they reached a back entrance; all the while maintaining the whereabouts of Saito Asuka.
Zuumin was surprised to find the Nogi member had left with only one guard at her heel as the MC disbanded; vacating the taped off scene.
"How do you plan on getting her away from that flank?"
Koba pursed her lips as she considered their surroundings.
"We'll have to pursue them for now until they reach a more secluded area. When the time is right; I'll expire the enforcer."
There was a long interval of silence as Pon and Zuumin tailed the two Marine's from a distance; having to admit they were both astonished that Asuka had not been lead toward the near hospital for proper treatment.
Their progress had eventually lead them into Akihabara territory; both being able to evade the outpost that lacked the presence of more than three guards.
It had been easy for them to slip by undetected; crossing over to the north as securities attention was drawn to checking Asuka and her flanks ID.
"Something about all of this is not following protocol-"
Koba had become suspicious of where the two were headed but she was almost certain it was not to a local hospital nor to AKB's central command base.
They continued the journey until eventually their trek had lead them to the far northwest outskirts of the district; population appearing near scarce as Zuumin could not recall seeing any other souls since passing the outpost some time ago.
A few more minutes passed before the two marines came to an abrupt halt. Far enough away that the rogue Keya members could not make out on the exchange of words taking place; but they knew it could not have been anything good.
The weakened Ashurin must have been just as observant as her two stalkers because her hand raised swiftly; just in time to block the oncoming swipe of a bayonet.
"I knew it-"
Pon was quick to take hold of Zuumin and pull her further back behind a parked vehicle to take cover and observe the altercation. Neither opponent giving the other time to draw a firing weapon.
"Shouldn't we intervene? If she loses we won't be able to question a corpse."
Koba knew her smaller comrade was right but hadn't decided yet on the best way to engage in the conflict. After all, who was an ally and who was an enemy to the solo Nogi member.
"Damn it Pon; we have to move!"
Just as quickly as the smaller soldier rose to join the fray; she was yanked by her jacket collar only to stumble to the ground in a heap.
"What the- Hey!" she was not granted the time to bicker as Koba dashed forward; hastily closing the margin between the fray and herself.
Ashurin had been pinned to the dirt; both hands bound tightly around the wrists of her aggressor as they pressed down on her; blade inching closer to her throat as the struggle caused her muscles to scream in protest.
Without drawing her gun; Pon closed the remaining gap by leaping forward; arm constricting around the soldiers throat; her free palm reaching to make firm contact with their jaw.
The sickening snap that reverberated shortly after only established just how far the rogue was willing to be pushed.
As the corpse fell limp in her arms; Koba released her lock and allowed the body to slump down beside them; a tangled mess of limbs.
Closing her eyes for a moment she inhaled deeply; silently willing the shaking of her hands to cease as the adrenaline coursed through her.
It was enough for her to choke down a dry heave.
The alarm in Zuumin's voice was enough to draw the soldiers focus back to the situation; but what greeted her was not a grateful soul.
Jerking her head back she was able to evade the length of a steel blade from impaling her face.; instead receiving the sharp tip as it raked into the side of her cheek.
The sting of the metal was enough to cause her to yelp; reeling backwards as her hand raised to clap over the laceration.
Blood spilled between her fingers; oozing over the back of her hand to trickle down her forearm,
Zuumin had drawn her rifle; taking aim to fire when a bang echoed between the concrete walls of the surrounding buildings.
Orbs wide; Pon cursed out loud; witnessing the bullet exit the front of Ashurin's throat and send hot crimson spattering across the pavement before her.
As quickly as the life melted from the girl's body; so did the rogue's hopes.
"Didn't think we would ever run into you two cowards again."
The voice was all too familiar and not one Kobayashi had hoped to greet anytime soon."
"Of course you would be here" she snarled; hand still pressing harshly against the gash on her face.
"Though I have to say; with your stalking habits I'm surprised it took you so long-" her words were cut off as she felt the brute force of a solid object slam into the back of her head; helmet saving her from a split skull but enough force to cause her vision to waver.
"You never were good at keeping your mouth shut were you."
Zuumin was bullied to her knees beside Pon; Miyu stepping out from behind her to join Oda. The latter ignoring her comrade as she held her gaze with her obsession.
"What are the chances of finding Yuichanzu together and sneaking around in the borders of Akihabara of all places."
Kobayashi simply paid no mind to Suzumon's taunting words as she continued to stare into Oda's eyes; neither saying a word but seemingly understanding one another.
"Don't speak as if you belong on a pedestal, you're both traitors to Sakamichi!" Zuumin snarled.
Miyu scoffed; stifling a laugh as she adjusted the weight of the gun in her hands.
"What of you two then?" she asked, "unable to pick a side so you both made the decision to run away with your tails between your legs-" the anger in her expression only grew the more she dwelled on the thought.
They all knew her rage was a result of personal matters regarding Oda's feelings for Koba; but none decided to use that truth as fuel in the argument.
"I don't now if I should kill you both right now or give Yokoyama the pleasure of doing it herself."
Oda turned her sights to her comrade; hand raising to shove the barrel of the gun down as she attempted to take aim.
The warning in her tone was enough to cause Suzumon's expression to curl in disgust.
"Are you going to turn your back on the Sergeant as well? Just whose side are you on?"
Yet as painful as it was to accept, Miyu knew the answer to her own question; and it hurt like hell.
Oda's gaze lingered on Suzumon's another moment; making a point to express how serious she actually was.
Once satisfied that the soldier would yield she nodded her head towards the downed girls.
"Get out of here."
Zuumin got to her feet; remaining cautious as she helped Kobayashi stand; the two clearly unwilling to engage in combat with both the skilled spy and tactician.
Suzumon's mouth gapped; wanting to argue against her companions decision.
It was as if she had completely forgotten Moriya's ideals on why they had betrayed them and made it personal when it came between Oda and Koba. Yet deep down; she knew this was not a debate she could win.
The two rogue's were swift in changing course; heading back the way they had came.
"And Pon-" Oda called; causing the girl to look over her shoulder and once again lock orbs.
"The next time we meet in combat; if there is one; I won't hesitate to allow Suzumon to pull the trigger."
The girl shot her stalker a small smirk; winking before continuing on her way; disappearing once more into the shadows of the city.
After witnessing Yuichanzu fade from sight; Oda turned to address Miyu only to meet an open palm against her cheek. The contact loud enough to resound the area and hard enough to leave a contusion.
Tears welled in the shorter girls eyes; threatening to fall.
"Even after abandoning us she still means that much to you?"
Oda understood her reaction had everything to do with personal reasons and little to do with the divide within Keya.
Suzumon gave Oda no time to respond as she rubbed her tears away and placed her emotions under check.
"We have a job to do; the Sergeant will be waiting for our report."
With that; the girl spun on her heel and strode off toward the objective location.
Oda said nothing; taking one last look with a heavy heart at where Pon had vanished before following her comrade deeper into enemy territory.
Chapter 6: A desperate appeal
"Captain Sugai, Lieutenant Jurina, glad you two could join us. I hope your travel here wasn't too difficult."
As Sugai bowed and moved to take her seat she couldn't help but note how the Generals tone held a bite to it. As if to tease that she was aware of something.
Jurina took her place at Saito Makiko's shoulder; arms hanging at ease by her sides.
Ozeki followed Jurina's lead in stationing herself to the side of Yuuka; standing slightly behind her seat as to not interfere
The conference room was fairly large in size granting enough space to accommodate up to twenty or more people. It's walls painted a deep navy while in it's centre sat a large rectangular wooden table.
As it stood; it appeared that the Captain's of Sugai's requested districts had been able to attend after such short notice.
Counting four seated figures; one being Yui Yokoyama and the others being Yamamoto Sayaka from NMB, Matsuoka Natsumi from HKT and of course Saito Makiko from SKE.
Yuuka would not admit that the only two in the room she could recognize were Sayanee and of course Jurina.
However, as she studied the faces that remained standing she couldn't help but fixate on the girl hovering behind Natsu's back; hair falling at shoulder length and tall but lean frame in comparison to her Captain.
Yui must have taken note of Sugai's fascination of HKT's second and spoke out.
"Miyawaki Sakura; Co Captain of HKT's KIV vanguard unit. Seeing as how Aoitan could not attend; Sakura has taken the responsibility as her leaders guard this afternoon."
Yuuka dipped her head politely in Sakura's direction following her introduction.
The soldier however did not move from her position to return the greet. Remaining still enough to be mistaken as a mannequin.
"Now then, lets get straight to the task at hand shall we? Lucky for you Captain Sugai that everyone had already been stationed here in Aihabara for other obligations" Yu's hands folded in front of her; resting on a stack of papers..
"Sergeant Moriya Akane has committed treason against Keyakizaka unit number 0046 of Sakamichi Series. Not only this offence; but she has also lead; from my reports; seven other members astray. All eight of them decimating both your ally platoons Nogizaka and Yoshi." She paused; finger tips beginning to drum against the stack of documents.
Sugai fought to maintain her composure as Yui spoke out her companions crimes; still unable to grasp that the girl she cared so much for had it in her to discard her humanity to kill so many of their own...
Yokoyama watched the Captain; able to read her like an open book.
"Young love," she smiled, taunting almost.
Sugai broke from her daze; shaking her head in protest to the Generals blunt accusation.
"Not at all" her orbs widening slightly with feigned shock.
The Commander would have challenged the soldier on her blatant denial on any other occasion; but due to the severity of their prime objective she decided it best to let it slide.
"Before your arrival the other officers and myself had an early discourse in regards to your Sergeant and have already come to a resolution."
"Am I currently on trial?" Sugai interjected.
"Well that depends-" Yui straightened her posture as she stopped the consistent motion of her finger tips. "How can we trust that you are not still cohorts with Moriya Akane?"
Yuuka's expression altered to discomfort at the inquiry; her lips parting to respond but snapped shut when another voice spoke out.
"She is not. I can attest to that."
It was Jurina who heckled; stepping forward to make her presence evident; causing Makki to aim her a warning scowl while Sakura's hands quivered uneasily at her sides as if restraining herself from charging.
Yui raised a brow at the Aces declaration and motioned for her to continue.
"My unit was roving outside the wire on our way to rendezvous with Captain Saito when we spotted an altercation in the distance. At that moment I grabbed my sniper to scope out the situation; unsure if it was something to pass by or not" she glanced at Sugai from the corner of her eyes before continuing, "It was Moriya and one of her enforcers Watanabe Risa. They were ready to extinguish both Captain Sugai and-" she paused; extending her hand to gesture at Yuuka's second.
"Private First Class, Ozeki Rika."
Jurina nodded, "Yeah, Ozeki"
Yokoyama awaited the continuation of the scenario but found that the Aces train of thought must have derailed rather suddenly.
"And?" she pressed.
Makki slapped her hand to her forehead; rubbing the bridge of her nose between her fingers.
This was SKE's finest.
"Oh; and so I gave a warning shot to disengage the altercation. By time we arrived; Sergeant Moriya had already managed a successful retreat."
Three of the four Captain's began to converse amongst one another. These new details may have swayed the course of their decision; much to Yui's regret.
After the direct dialogue settled; Yui heaved a sigh as she leaned back into her chair; an internal struggle apparent on her face.
"Captain, after five years of service I still consider the likes of Keya quite green and your experience as a leader still not to par with the likes of these three" she gestured to the seated officers.
"I want to explain to you now and have you understand; going forward from here; that each of us holds a different perception on what is right for the lives we protect in our districts. That means that as the situation stands there is no right or wrong answer. There is no good or bad. Just leaders making decisions that they believe is the right one to ensure a safe future."
Sugai nodded in agreement; feeling the vision of the others fixed on her; as if waiting for some sort of remark.
She had none.
Yui started to believe that the girl was more naive than she had previously anticipated. Perhaps taking out the Sergeant would be easier than she thought...
"From what I can gather from all that I've heard; you had been able to make the more difficult decisions; realizing that allowing another unit to close the gap in Sakamichi was the best option for your district. It appears Akane disagreeing with this is what lead to your divide...She was power hungry with an inflated ego and now because of that we have had two platoons wiped out."
Yuuka absorbed all the General had to say; accepting the full weight of her responsibilities and realizing the loss of her control had lead to the deaths of so many allies.
"Even still-" she slowly got to her feet; the backs of legs pressing the chair away from beneath her causing all attention to become attentive.
Outrage flashed in Sakura's eyes as she made a sudden move to come forward; a knife being yanked out from the back of her belt ready to engage.
Natsu was swift to take hold of the girls forearm and pull her back.
"At ease." HKT's leader ordered; her voice soft to alleviate the soldiers tension.
"I thought we had everyone disarmed?" Yui planned on having a word with security at a later time.
Sugai unfroze from her unnerved state; ensuring that Natsu had Sakura under constraint once more before stepping away from the table.
"General Captain-" she formally addressed.
Ozeki had to repress every ounce of her existence to not intervene in her Captain's following actions.
Without hesitation and shoving her pride aside; Yuuka lowered herself to her knees; torso bending forward until her forehead rested ontop of her folded hands on the ground; bowing into a begging position. Casting away her title.
"I know after all that has been revealed today that I have no right to speak out-" she paused; eyes shutting tight.
"But I must request a ceasefire from all of your units."
A bout of laughter emitted from the table as the militants watched the shameless soldier.
Yuuka ignored the humiliation and continued.
"I know these crimes will not go unpunished...But please allow me time to rein Sergeant Moriya in. She will be stripped of her rank as an officer and if you are willing, allowed to be subject to a fair trial through the MC."
"As opposed to?" Sayanee questioned.
Once again Yui noted how easy Sugai was making this for her to not even have to raise a finger.
"What of Hirate Yurina?" she asked.
"Currently my unit has no known location of her whereabouts. After the coup Hirate, Shida and Aoi went awol." She was careful to not mention Yuichanzu.
Perhaps it could still become a troublesome situation...After all; this whole ploy had begun solely because of those three enforcers.
Nonetheless; with the Sergeant taken out; her unit would crumble. Sugai would be rendered defenceless with the small amount of numbers she was left with. Sakamichi would fall to AKB once and for all.
Yui glanced at the Captain's; all appearing bewildered at what they were witnessing. Keya's leader truly had no shame.
"All in favour of allowing Captain Sugai the opportunity to bring in Moriya Akane to stand trial for her crimes raise your hand."
The movements were slow as indecisiveness still loomed within the four walls; yet in the end; the request gained a full majority vote.
"Very well, Captain, you have twenty-four hours to retrieve Moriya and bring her to Akihabara to stand trial. If you should fail when your time runs out; our agreement shall be waved and we will come for every last one of you."
The final threat lingered in her mind as she nodded; agreeing to the terms before raising her head from her hands and rising to her feet.
The meeting was adjourned and Yui made it her first priority to send a radio call to her units, declaring a ceasefire and ordering them to turn back from their hunt for the rogue group.
The other Captains followed Yokoyama's lead; reaching out contact to their vanguard platoons to stand down until further orders were given.
"Remember Captain," Yui warned one last time, "twenty-four hours start the moment you exit those doors."
Yuuka said nothing; gently placing a hand on Ozeki's shoulder; an apologetic look on her face as she motioned to take their exit.
She had to resolve this, no matter what.
"Twenty-four hours? We need to inform the Sergeant."
Suzumon and Oda had somehow managed to infiltrate the command bases inner duct system to gain intel; managing to evade detection from the lack of surrounding security.
The two spies were able to evacuate the premises by retracing their initial steps.
How they had managed such a feat in broad daylight almost became a cause for concern; neither girl believing Yui would be this lax in terms of safeguards.
Just where the hell were all her militants?
"Here is good, pass me the radio."
Oda held her hand out as Miyu pulled the walkie from the pack slung over her shoulder filled with equipment and provisions. Both of them crouching by the nearest woodland for use as camouflage.
Not having fully crossed the border of Akihabara; Suzumon stood guard; watching for any movements that threatened to interrupt them.
Even though Yokoyama had ordered a truce; they both did not count on her to keep her word.
"Damn it; why are these things constantly flooded with traffic-"
Oda slowly twisted the dial between her finger tips until she reached the station they had agreed on; white noise softly spattering from the device.
"Forsaken 08, Forsaken 08, this is Dani gen 1, over."
The spy waited; silently willing for a response, the heat of the sun causing sweat to bead from her temples.
Receiving no reply after waiting a few moments she continued.
"Forsaken 08, Forsaken 08, this is Dani gen 1, how do you copy?"
It was sudden; but the white noise finally dispersed to give way to a response.
"Dani gen 1, this is Chanmizu 171; what's your position, over."
Oda flashed Suzumon a smirk; relief flooding over her. Habu was awaiting intel on the other end.
"We are inside the wire, mission was a success, heading back to-"
It was as if time had begun to decelerate as the soldier felt the small radio erupt from her eager grasp.
Oda witnessed as the small device shattered to pieces, splintering across the dirt as small sparks spattered from its remnants.; it's waves going silent.
Rapidly; the crouched spy reached for her comrade; taking hold of her shirt sleeve and yanking her behind the cover of a tree. A storm of bullets raining down on where Suzumon had stood not a moment before.
"I knew she was a lying son of a-"
An explosion detonated not but ten feet from their position; spraying a hail of earth and shrapnel in all directions as the two clapped their hands over their ears and crouched lower.
This was not part of the plan.
As the barrage of shots ceased; Oda waited for the smoke and dust to clear before cautiously peering out from behind their shield; hoping to get a visual on their assailants.
"Guerrillas" she stated, the tension masking her face shifting to disdain.
"Suppose they decided to ignore the truce."
Suzumon worked at loading her rifle; preparing herself to engage if the assault continued any further.
Oda nodded, "wouldn't you if you feared for your life?"
Miyu sat for a moment; back pressed in tight against the rough channels of the tree trunk; as if mulling over the question. What an ironic situation.
"There is no good or bad side-" she recited Yui Yokoyama's speech out loud and felt it was possibly the one thing they could all agree on.
The comrades nodded to one another; silently agreeing that they would have no choice but to take out the descending rebels.
"I'm with you-" Suzumon breathed; orbs focused on their oncoming targets as she raised her gun; pulling it into her shoulder tightly before taking aim.
"Until the end" Oda finished; flashing her one last smile before allowing her expression to turn to stone.
Swiftly; the pair broke from their cover; guns lifting to find their targets as they stood in open surroundings.
"I count twelve-"
Finger quivering above the trigger; Oda went to take her first shot when all of the sudden a loud clap shattered the air followed by the loud thud of a body colliding with the dirt.
Startled; Oda's eyes swirled; searching for the location from where the shot had came from.
Relief enveloped the pinned soldiers as the sudden take down of the one rebel had been enough for the guerrillas to sound a retreat and abort their assault. Bodies scattering about like a swarm of hornets as they strived to find shelter.
"Now's our chance. We have to report to Moriya."
Making haste; both girls whirled to the south to loop back through their original route; ensuring to remain attentive of any other rebels that dared defy the General Captain's orders.
Jurina pulled her vision from the scope of her sniper that had been cradled into her shoulder, it's tripod propped steadily atop a concrete defence barrier.
"It's unfair to not play by the rules..." she stated; watching as the horde of guerrillas scattered about; breaking formation and abandoning their assault. Still searching for where the shot had originated from.
"Quite so" Yui witnessed the two scouts rush off toward the edge of her district and smirked to herself.
"Everything may just turn out in my favour after all-"
Jurina raised a brow at the Commander; unsure of what she had meant by such a comment.
"Well; let's hope Sugai is able to find her...I had personally met the Sergeant before and if I'm being honest she is not such a bad person...Just a girl with separate ideals."
With that; Jurina dismissed herself from the General Captain and trailed indoors to meet with Makki and ready for their travel home.
Once the Ace had vanished from her side; Yui turned toward a nearby worn artillery truck.
"I really despise when others eavesdrop-"
The sound of gravel beneath boots shifted as a form stepped out from behind the shade of the vehicle. A girl who had been present in the conference room not an hour before.
Clad in her combat uniform; the soldier stepped up to join Yui as the Commander redirected her attention back to where Oda and Suzumon had withdrawn to.
The militant dipped her head; already aware of her next order.
The clock had reached nineteen-hundred hours when Sugai arrived safely at Keya's home base; the sun setting gradually on the horizon.
After pulling up close to the barracks; the rumble of the engine ceased leaving no other sounds aside from the sing of crickets and distant engines as they patrolled outside Sakamichi borders.
Ozeki dismounted; raising the combat helmet from her head and shaking her black locks; relishing in the cool air that brushed her scalp.
The guard noted how Yuuka had not stirred from her seat; the bike still propped upright between her stance as a perplexed look masked her features.
The silence that engulfed the two became short lived as a door creaked open; casting the inside light across the dirt to reveal two silhouettes in the doorway.
"You made it."
Saito and Neru both approached their comrades at a brisk pace; unable to contain their eagerness to hear the full account of their assignment.
"We can only speculate that it went well. Yui Yokoyama's message was broadcast on all 48/46 groups stations. A ceasefire is so far a step in the right direction."
Though trying to radiate the positive outlook; Saito was unable to alleviate Sugai's distress.
The Captain dismounted the motorcycle; moving to relocate inside the barracks.
As she made way to pass; she placed a gentle palm on Fuuchans shoulder before continuing on her way.
The three militants watched her vacate before Neru turned her study to Ozeki for answers.
The scout could only motion for them to follow Yuuka; certain she would brief them on everything that had happened.
As their Captain entered the small building; the four soldiers who had been preoccupied in a game of cards and debate over the proceedings at the conclave ceased their actions. All leaping to their feet to stand at attention.
Sugai nodded at her unit in greeting as Ozeki, Neru and Saito stepped past her to join the rest of their group.
"We have twenty-four hours to track down Moriya and request her surrender."
Yuuka decided it best to not edge around the subject; knowing they were on short borrowed time.
From the circle a laugh echoed out; one filled with doubt.
"Twenty-four hours?" Shiori folded her arms over her chest.
"The Sergeant has already committed a mass murder, do you truly believe she is just going to withdraw arms and surrender?"
Uemura and Nijika nodded in union; agreeing with their comrade that the chances of Moriya abandoning her efforts to turn herself in were near zero.
"We have to try..."
"You do remember that she tried to kill us right?" Uemura inquired.
"If they go to execute Akane then surely the others will not be spared either." Koike interjected.
"Still can't get over Mizuho I see?"
The medic shot a scowl at Shiori; daring her to continue down her menacing path.
Generally Sugai had always maintained a gentle disposition; yet the sudden shift in her tone was enough to draw astonished eyes on her.
"We will exhaust all efforts within the time frame given. If Moriya agrees to submit; she will be given a fair trial before the MC."
"And if we are unable to find her?" Nijika questioned.
"AKB will take her...they will kill her...and then they will come for us."
Chapter 7: Her penitence
As the sun gave was to the blackness of the evening Moriya found herself stir; unaware of how long she had slept.
Unease gathered in the pit of her stomach as she scrambled to stand; her hand stretching out to grab the small watch residing on the vacant computer stand.
The only light granted flashing from the device; a dim green reading zero-one twenty-three.
"Damn it" she cursed; slapping it's strap around her wrist before wiping the loose strands of bangs tousled in her vision.
The Sergeant had not intended to rest for so long; feeling a pang of frustration that no one had come to wake her.
Akane exited the office to relocate into the open lounge area; surprised to find the lot of her comrades surrounding Yonetani; peering over her shoulder down at a dormant Risa.
Moriya felt her heart jerk against her chest as a deluge of variations racked the inners of her skull.
Frozen; she willed her boots to move and join the circle; fearing the worst had occurred during her absence.
The soldiers noting their leaders arrival parted slightly; allowing the girl access to observe what drew their attention.
Much to her relief; the enforcers chest was still rising and falling; though shallow; she was certain the worst had passed.
It was brief and barely noticeable; but a small smile could be seen tugging at the corners of Akane's lips.
The delight was short lived however as she took note of Yone injecting a dosage of liquid into the drip tube that still remained connected to Risa's inner forearm.
"What is that?" she asked; her tone filling with unrest.
"A class of Cephalosporins" Yone declared; her attention not averting from her task.
"A bacterial antibiotic-" she pondered a moment before realization kicked in; her eyes narrowing "that's not a standard drug issued in your aid kit...where the hell did you get this Yone?" she demanded; reaching out to pick up the small glass vial to study it's label.
"I made a quick trip to the hospital."
Moriya slammed the bottle down; hard enough to almost cause it to shatter.
The aggressive reaction was not enough to cause the medic's calm demeanour to waver but it was enough to cause an vulgar utterance of exasperation.
"Would you mind not trying to smash that open; do you have any idea how difficult it was for me to get my hands on it-"
"Do you have any idea what you've done?" The Sergeant challenged; voice raising as fury took it's grasp.
"I'm a medic of course I do; she was on the brink of succumbing from infection-"
"You've risked giving away our position-"
Yone having had enough of Moriya's bickering stood from her seat to stare into her leaders flaring orbs.
"And your friend was playing tag with the Reaper" she snapped.
The statement had been enough to rein in Akane's temper; bringing her back to the reality of their situation.
"You're right Sergeant; it was a risk; a stupid one" she emphasized. "Yet a necessary one for her sake. I was careful to remain undetected to the best of my abilities because no one else here dared defy your orders."
Moriya groaned; hands raising to her face to push back her hair as she observed Risa; a look of discomfort on her sleeping features.
As much as she did not want to acknowledge it; Yone was right. Risa was a companion they could not risk losing.
The agreement was short lived however as a knock rapped against the front entrance of the bar. Proving veracity to Akane's concerns.
The Sergeant motioned for her comrades to take arms and cover; readying to defend their refuge if their position had infact been given away to their opponents.
Reluctantly; Moriya made her way to the door; a pistol fastened in her hand.
If this was to be an ambush; their only way out was through that exit.
Rolling her tongue against her cheek; Akane steadily opened the entry a crack ; gun lifting to take aim between the intruder's wide eyes.
Surprise and torment mixed on her features; both fighting for dominance unsure of what emotion should prevail.
That familiar sense of warmth threatened to knock down her convictions once more; a crestfallen demeanour subsiding as longing clouded her judgement.
It took a moment to analyze and take in just how weary her Sergeant had become.
Without her thick tactical equipment to shield her body; every flaw now became apparent.
Moriya's once proud stance was slightly hunched at the shoulders; her knees appearing unstable.
Under her once unblemished eyes dark circles had developed; no doubt do to the constant stress of her own agenda.
Yet even so; Yuuka was still able to look beyond Akane's war torn body and see the beauty she always was.
The sudden demand caused Sugai to flinch as if she had been struck by a blow.
All she could do was shake her head as she fought back the flow of tears that threatened to fall.
Frustrated; Moriya raised the pistol once more to position between the Captain's eyes.
"You need to go...you have to let us go...why do you have to fight me on this god damn it!"
Akane was beginning to brawl an inner war against her emotions.
Yuuka was aware of this and dared to take her chance to break through the barrier her partner had worked so hard to build.
Gently; the militant reached up to take the muzzle into her grasp; slowly drawing it downward away from her face so she could lock orbs with companion.
"The hammer has to be pulled back..." she breathed; voice slightly quivering.
Moriya shook her head; dropping her gaze to the floor before taking hold of Yuuka's sleeve and reluctantly pulling her into the lounge before slamming and locking the door.
The Sergeant disregarded the bewildered stares of her platoon as she plowed between the four walls and into the lone room of the office.
Without much deliberation; she yanked Sugai in hard enough to cause her to stumble before ensuring the entrance was shut and they were alone.
"Yuuka-" her voice trembled; struggling to lift her eyes from the tiles lining the ground.
It did not take Sugai long to close the space between them; her arms extending outward to enclose around the feeble looking girl; pulling her tight into her chest.
It was in this instant; in the arms of her trusted Captain that the Sergeant allowed herself to shatter.
After a time her sobs turned into soft whimpers; the shaking of her form slowing until she regained control of her sentiment.
It was a rare instance that Akane ever expressed any indication of grief. Even after leading her unit into a merciless bloodbath her exterior had remained as rigid as stone.
It was all that she held on the inside; suppressing her emotions that had always troubled Yuuka.
"I'm sorry-" Moriya breathed. "I never wanted to hurt you...From the vey beginning of all this I believed I had been sparing you the burden of the truth-"
The Captain chewed her bottom lip; her chin resting on top of the girls head pressing into soft dark locks.
It was there in those precious moments that suddenly came a comfort she had desperately missed.
Akane buried her face closer to the girls neck; willing their bodies to meld together somehow in a futile attempt to feel whole again.
"What truth Nen..." she asked; slowly pulling from her position to lock orbs with the girl.
Oh how she wished the weight of reality could stray a little longer.
"AKB; the General Captain had made a ploy; not to aid our boarders...Yoshi had been produced to wipe out Keyakizaka..."
Sugai's brow furrowed; almost reluctant to believe what she was being told.
"I had discovered the truth early on...Nogi was in on it as well which explains why we set our sights on taking out both units before they gained the upper hand." Moriya paused to examine the Captain's face; hoping there may be if even a little trust left for the words she spoke.
"The eight of us here all agreed to shoulder the burden hoping our efforts would draw Yui's attention from the rest of you but-" her words trailed off a moment as the realization hit her with the weight of an unstoppable force.
"I'm afraid I may have gone about this whole ordeal the wrong way...Because of my misjudgement I've now created a division where there should have been none at all...We had failed from the start...Risa has been fighting for her life, Yone under the stress of trying to save her...Tearing Habu away from Koike and then there's you-" she allowed her eyes to fasten with those of her concerned Captain to find that even after admitting to her errors; all that met her was adoration.
"You should have told me...You could have trusted me; trusted us."
"I've made a terrible mistake..."
Sugai now found herself at the crossroads of a difficult decision. One where she was now to make a choice that would certainly define the very future of Sakamichi.
"At the summit I pleaded for you to receive a fair trial for your crimes if you came quietly and surrendered your title..."
Moriya simply shook her head; biting at her inner cheek knowingly, "so she would have you believe..."
"What would you have me do?" Yuuka's voice flooded with desperation, unsure of what options she had given the circumstances.
If she took Akane's side they risked losing all their lives.
If she surrendered her perhaps there was still a chance...
The Sergeant sat quietly a few minutes; already aware the answer and also holding onto the hope that perhaps there would be some sort of solution for the Captain and her unit if she renounced her rank and submitted to her transgressions.
"In a perfect life-"
Carefully; Moriya reached out to delicately touch the girls cheek; slowly leaning in to brush her lips with the militant infront of her.
Sugai did not protest and instead; hesitant at first; returned the desire just as gently. Allowing Akane to determine just how far she was willing to go.
As they broke apart; Yuuka felt a tear trickle down her cheek as she pressed her forehead to the Sergeants.
In a perfect life; they were not soldiers with the responsibility of others depending on them to lead.
Though the juncture they had shared had been profound; Moriya could not dodge a question that had been burning at her thoughts since Yuuka had first arrived.
"How did you find us?"
The Captain rolled her eyes, "same old Nen...I had sent Neru out on an operation to scout the surrounding perimeters. By the sound of her reports though it almost seemed to be an impossible assignment..."
Akane shifted her weight as she almost gained a sense on where the tale would conclude.
"But Yone-" she spoke under her breath.
Yuuka nodded, "on her patrol past the hospital; Neru had come across a visual on Yone and tracked her back here. We were quite surprised to say the least that you all were still residing in Tokyo."
"I'm surprised we still are as well...but Risa hasn't been in any condition to be relocated yet...Also; we feared straying too far incase we lost intel on Yui's forces-"
The two militants went silent for a time; relishing in one anothers company they had yearned for.
The duration they shared together however did not last; much to their displeasure.
Interrupted by a drumming on the establishments main door as voices began to converse; muffled by the locked entry they had been concealed behind.
The two girls stood; knowing they could not shun their duties any longer.
After sharing one last look; they filed out of the small room to join the others; greeted by apprehension along with two very fatigued looking scouts.
"Suzumon, Oda; what happened to the report?" she demanded, wondering why they were so late on returning.
Oda; nearly keeling over as she gasped to regain her breath; wiped at the perspiration stinging her eyes, "we did. We got through to Habu but then we were ambushed-" she felt her gut begin to tie in knots as she fought down bile.
Suzumon was leaning forward; resting her hands on her knees allowing the girl to brief their leader.
Moriya shot a look of disbelief in Habu's direction.
"What the hell Mizuho?" her voice beginning to rise.
Habu felt herself withdraw sightly; realizing she had made a grave blunder.
"After the words mission accomplished I had assumed you both were already well on your way back. I thought nothing of it and then with attempting to deter Yone from leaving our refuge to make the trip to the hospital-" she trailed off; admitting to herself that there were no excuses adequate enough to pardon her fault.
Akane shook her head deciding that there would be time for discipline later. For now though she would focus on the condition of her returned scouts.
As Oda had gained enough oxygen to once again stand up right she immediately took notice of Sugai stationed at Moriya's shoulder.
The soldier grit her teeth; snarling in frustration.
"Do not tell me we risked our lives for nothing-"
Suzumon shifted her vision between her leader and Yuuka before laughing to herself; shaking her head and deciding it best to walk away before she lost control.
"So this betrayal was all for nothing-" Oda challenged; her temper becoming more evident. "I'm starting to debate if you truly can make the hard decisions after all Sergeant" she mocked.
Akane could feel the tension rising between the two as Oda began to question her authority.
Perhaps she needed to remind the scout exactly why it was her in charge.
The stressful aura snapped like a brittle twig as the front door; without warning; burst from it's hinges spattering a shower of splinters through the air.
The sudden barrage of militants that flooded the lounge at an alarming rate rendered the rebels defenceless.
Sugai recognized the voice that entered the establishment; watching as it's owner stalked past the soldiers who held all of them at gun point.
"Well done Captain; you found her quicker than we anticipated."
Yui studied Moriya up and down; her stride as she circled the two leaders taunting a reaction.
"What's the meaning of this General? I was given twenty-four hours-"
Yui smirked, "oh Sugai; still so naive as per usual. It's truly a remarkable feat you were ever awarded the responsibility of Captain."
"Did you follow me?" she questioned.
"Of course not. You had others to report to first but with luck on my side I ended up spotting two rats inside my wire. They were easy to tail back here...though it took a little longer than I had expected."
Miyu and Oda snarled as the General ridiculed them; the latter opening her mouth to retort but cut off by the stock end of a rifle to the side of her face. The impact hard enough to break skin and cause her to spit out a bitter mouth full of blood.
Suzumon twitched to defend her comrade but steadied herself as a red dot settled itself just above her chest cavity.
"Don't try anything stupid; girl."
Yokoyama snapped her fingers; giving the order to subdue their victims.
All rebels aside from Yuuka were bullied to the knees. Yone yanked from Risa's side who was still in a deep unconscious state; unaware of her surroundings.
"Watanabe Risa-" Yui could recognize the enforcer; observing her poor condition.
Turning her attention from the weakened soldier she nodded to Okabe who currently had Moriya detained; ordering her to use the shackles hooked to her belt.
"Moriya Akane; you are under arrest for your treacherous misdeeds against the 46 groups. Your punishment for the blatant murder of disarmed troops within Sakamichi is death by firing squad."
Sugai lurched forward to halt the proceeding; this had not been part of their agreement.
"What is this General? You are sentencing her before a trial like we had discussed!"
The Captain already knew the answer to her own question and shot Akane an apologetic look of distress.
Of course her Sergeant had known all along. How could she have been so blind...this is exactly what Yui had wanted.
As the steel cuffs were bound around Moriya's wrists Yuuka let out a plaintiff cry and began to bargain.
"Take me instead; damn it; arrest me General; I am the one responsible for all of this, she was under my jurisdiction!" she desperately plead. "As the Captain of Keyakizaka it was my job to control these soldiers; so if you are to detain anyone let it be me."
Sugai glowered as forceful hands bullied against her shoulders to subdue her; her eyes refusing to break from the commander; challenging her dominance.
The more Yuuka implored for an exchange the more Yui began to believe it could lead to a better outcome in AKB's favour.
The militant snapped forward; awaiting orders.
"Restrain Captain Sugai; as for the others-" she motioned to the Sergeants detained followers, "arrest them all as well...I want the barracks of Keyakizaka stripped and the unit residing there detained and brought to Akihabara. Seeing as how Yuuka here claimed responsibility for this mess it means every member under her command is guilty" she smirked, "I have big plans for these traitors."
Sugai felt her heart begin to pound against her sternum as anguish began to envelope her.
With one last act of defiance; the Captain dodged her oncoming shackles; stretching out to take hold of Moriya's arm and pulling until their bodies crashed together.
Stiff arms snaked around Akane's drained figure and held tight; fearing if she let go this may have very well been their last moment together.
"Are you willing yourself to die Captain?" Akane asked; burying her face in close to the girls neck.
"I won't allow Sakamichi to witness weakness within their leaders. We will hang on to hope; find them...find Techi" she whispered; non audible to anyone else in the room.
"We will be together again Nen; I promise you."
Moriya fought against all the rage that built. "I am with you; always..."
No matter how much she yearned to say that four letter word and how much her Captain wished to receive it; they both knew a word like that had no place in a world where bloodshed was as common as the setting sun.
The two were soon ripped apart; muzzles fixed on their temples daring them to try a stunt like that again.
Okabe made a gesture towards the unresponsive Risa who remained motionless aside from her shallow breathing.
"What of Watanabe?"
Yui glanced at the injured militant having had experience with others who had succumbed in similar states.
"Leave her. She won't make it and I don't have the patience to wait for a full recovery. Shame though; I could have used such a decorated enforcer."
Yone went to protest; having spent so much effort in stabilizing her comrade and not willing to allow her to die.
Nanako along with Rika and Habu also chimed in; begging for the merciless commander to not abandon their friend.
The medic's pleas fell on deaf ears however; causing Yui to lose her patience with all the noise.
"Enough of this. Take them away."
As the rebels were shackled and lead outside; they were instructed to load into the back of an old artillery truck; sitting on benches that faced one another. It was inside that their ankles were chained to the boards of it's bed.
Akane; instead of following them was lead to a separate vehicle that would be heading in a different direction entirely.
Once the convoy was on the move; Yokoyama sent an order for AKB's unit K to infiltrate Keya's headquarters and place the remaining militants under arrest.
They were to be brought back to Akihabara to rendezvous with the others.
In the wake of the distance they traveled apprehension seeped from Moriya's very core; oozing like a stubborn wound that refused to heal. Throughout her life fear had never been a burden; that was of course until she had truly been forced away from her dearest comrade. A choice she had no part of.
However; this decision had been made by her Captain; a bargain that she may live another day in hopes she could find their missing friends.
All she had ever wanted was for Keya to become a strong and reliable unit that Sakamichi could depend on. Yet suddenly; without the possibility of ever seeing Yuuka again none of that seemed to matter as much as it once had.
In the early hours of that morning; cloaked by the shadows of the lingering darkness; a lone figure had witnessed the ambush that would unravel down the forgotten alleyway.
Laying stealth on top of an old building; Neru obeyed her Captain's previous orders to not intervene if their plan had not gone accordingly.
Watching helplessly as the rebels; now prisoners were forced to load the truck one by one. Aware that the place she called home; her remaining comrades and Fuuchan would be next.
After the scout was sure the location had been vacated and that she was now completely alone; the soldier climbed down from her perch; remaining aware of her surroundings as she made her way into the lounge; certain she had only counted nine captives.
Much to her dismay; she had been correct that one had indeed been left behind the die.
"Risa..." her orbs filled with grief as she hurried to the enforcers side. Dropping to her knees to observe her condition.
"That merciless-" she cut her sentence short; knowing now was not the appropriate time to lose control of her composure. Instead pushing herself to recall the sole task Sugai had entrusted her with.
Neru retreated from the building for a short span of time; making haste as she disappeared down the abandoned streets.
It had taken her the better part of an hour to return to the establishment; though this time; in her wake trailed two other able bodies. One with a smaller stature; the other taller.
As they slinked into the lounge undetected; Neru motioned toward the unresponsive enforcer.
"Watanabe Risa-" the taller spoke; approaching the bench where she lay.
The scout nodded, "Yokoyama I presume left her to expire...I need you both to help me in getting her back to the settlement."
The two cadets nodded in union before moving to hoist the girl up together; one at her legs; the other under her shoulders to share the weight.
Neru took the small vile from the table; reading it's label of Cephalosporins and pocketing it before turning to exit with the girls.
"Kyoko, Kumi" she addressed; causing the two to focus on her.
"Our failure is not an option at this point."
Dipping their heads in understanding; they followed Neru out the front door and vanished once more into the last remaining darkness of the early morning.
Chapter 8: A dormant aspiration
Silence; aside from the low rumbling of the engines engulfed their temporary prison. Not a soul having the mind to speak a word ever since they had been forced from their safe haven. All uncertain of what remained; if anything; of their futures.
Oda; fastened next to Miyu had her head hung downward to her chest; having abandoned her attempts to wipe the remnants of dry blood that splayed down from the corners of her lips to her chin. The display on her features suggesting she was in no mood to interact with anyone.
"Is it all really over?..." Habu questioned; her gaze fixed to the steel that bound her wrists.
Nanako peered over at the tower of a girl from the edge of her eyes; stray locks hanging loosely against her brow.
"What does it look like?" she jeered; swaying on the edge of irritability.
"There is still hope-" Sugai indicated softly.
The notion had been enough to cause a chuckle to resonate within the small confinement. A reaction from Nanako that was not at all surprising given the state of events.
"I suppose you better hang onto that hope tightly then Captain because we are all for certain in for one hell of a ride" she derided Yuuka's word as a futile attempt to ease their distress.
"Beside's-" she continued, "look on the bright side Habu; very shortly you and Koike will be together; wearing matching promise bracelets until death do you part" she rested her head back against the canvas lined frame, "which by my speculations won't be very long at all-"
The rapid clanking of chains pulling taut against their steel anchor threatened a hollow act of aggression.
Suzumon had been able to avoid the constrained lunge from Oda toward Nanako; partly do to tilting back in time and partly because of the scouts shackles.
"So help me god; one more word out of you and you one hundred percent will not make it past today" she snarled.
The two soldiers remained locked in a gaze with one another. Nanako's frustration almost daring to keep Oda teetering on the edge; desperate to grasp at anything to help release her pent up fury.
After ensuring the girl was finished with her instigating commentary; Oda shifted back on the bench; liberating the strain against her binds.
Rika nodded in Habu's direction; noting how the girl had not entertained Nanako's utterance; yet instead appeared to be focused on her own still hands; both curling into fists against the thighs of her pants; knuckles becoming pale.
"They won't harm her" she spoke confidently, "If Yui has any sense at all in that skull of hers she knows for a fact not to waste a superior medic."
The statement had been meant to reassure Habu; which it had for a moment until it instead became a grim reminder of how they had been forced from Risa's side.
It was a subject no one wished to address. Not even Yone who in her mind contemplated a host of dire possibilities that caused her temples to burn with a feverish intensity.
Dawn came at last; so slowly and dimly that it seemed merely an extension of the lingering night. Grey washed clouds streaked the sky; shrouding the many streets dotted with houses and buildings in Tokyo. The air; while more prominent than it had been in weeks felt more humid even still.
Kicking the sheets downward to reveal her face; Fuyuka shivered and it had not a thing to do with her surroundings being the least bit frigid.
A pale complexion with damp strands of hair clinging to the sides of her cheeks and brow; she appeared worn. Whether she had managed to sleep or not after rallying through a bout of nightmares was anyone's guess.
It was then she felt the consistent warmth of breathing against the back of her neck.
Fuyuka rolled over onto her opposite side; surprised to meet orbs with Shiori; the militant studying her earnestly.
The enforcer slowly moved to prop herself upright to gain a visual on her surroundings before peering back down at her comrade.
Reaching out; Shiori pushed some of the damp stray hair off to the sides of the girls brow.
"Your sleep was lacking wasn't it?"
"What gave it away?" she hadn't meant to sound facetious but she could not shake the unease that had been weighing on her conscience since Neru had departed with Sugai.
The scout had refused to leak intel on her given assignment; stating it was to remain classified. All she had offered her was a promise that she would be vigilant and that they would be together again soon.
"Your inability to remain still for one; and two; your face is abnormally clouded..."
Fuyuka stiffened slightly at the girls choice of words.
Shiori's eyes lowered briefly, "I didn't get much rest either. I kept having these bad dreams..."
The enforcer carefully snaked her arm over her comrades shoulder in an attempt to comfort her; sensing the nightmares had been enough to fill her with apprehension.
"Can you tell me what they were about?"
"About-" she bit at her bottom lip, "about death..."
Saito stared at the girl; a bewildered look overtaking her features.
"Death and defeat...They're gone; everyone."
The enforcer dared not tell her they had shared similar thoughts; fearing it may have caused more concern and unrest.
"Well; a dream is a dream after all. Considering what we've all endured these last couple of days I can't say such an instance would be taken as abnormal."
Saito decided it would be best to leave the conversation at that and proceeded to kick her legs over the edge of the cot and stand. Fixing her hair back with an elastic before pivoting to face Shiori who hadn't yet budged.
"Why don't you gather the others and spend some time outside?" she inquired. "Since the assault I can't recall you girls having stepped a foot outside the barracks. Some sun would do you all some good."
Fuyuka thought it odd that a unit of highly skilled combatants had allowed fear to cripple them and cause them to seclude themselves from the outter world.
After taking a time to mull over the suggestion; Shiori had to agree with her senior officer. "I suppose we'll wave duties for now until we receive word from the Captain. Keep us posted will you?"
Saito watched as her comrade rose from her mattress and stalked off to gather the others. In truth; she hadn't noted until then just how long Neru and Yuuka had been absent; then reminded herself they stated a twenty-four hour window.
Though it hadn't been such a a large margin as of yet; she herself already felt as if it had been an eternity.
"What do you mean?"
Ozeki had been occupied with reorganizing the equipment that had been stored away in their arsenal. Currently tasked with a maintenance check on the guns safely stocked away.
"It was Saito's suggestion. All duties are canceled for today. I'm assuming ever since the truce she feels more lax than she has been recently-"
Shiori watched as the soldier delicately placed down the rifle she had been holding; resting it back against the rack it had been positioned against before it's removal.
"Unbelievable-" she breathed; pushing a stray lock behind her ear.
The enforcer found herself relocated to the small scale command operations room within he inners of Keya's headquarters.
For a time she sat there alone; orbs every so often observing the hands of the wall mounted clock tick. Finding herself steadily becoming more perturbed the longer her Captain's absence extended.
The sun had risen to just past noon; casting little shade and relief from it's rays and near debilitating heat when a distant vibration of rumbling engines became increasingly prominent. Reverberating against the inner walls; Saito could tell that the were not just going to continue on by as the noise only drew nearer.
Just as the girl had stood to head outside to observe; the door to the room was pulled wide open; hard enough to jam it's handle against the wall.
"Fuuchan; incoming convoy; one heavy truck with three technicals; one in front, two at it's flank. Ozeki said she spotted all three with mounted fifty cals.
Saito stared at Ishimori a moment; not requiring much time to digest her declaration of an incoming platoon. All this had done was illuminate what she had already known.
"Nijika; I need you to go to the others...Tell them to stand down."
"But Ozeki has already headed for the arsenal-"
"You need to go and stop her...Then tell the others to meet with me out front. No weapons" she emphasized.
Mouth agape to retort; the soldier could not understand why her senior officer would render them defenceless with an incoming what appeared to be hostile unit.
Nonetheless; making haste; Ishimori spun on her boot to relay the order to the others.
Drumming her finger tips against her outer thighs she laboured to oppress the anxiety that threatened to boil over.
"I guess our speculations were correct after all Neru..."
After heaving a heavy sigh and gathering her composure; the enforcer removed her pistol from it's holster before hesitantly dropping it down onto the nearby desk.
It was then she straightened her posture and lead herself out from the centre of the building to greet the stationed vehicles awaiting her out front.
Saito could not say she was surprised to come face to face with soldiers exhibiting AKB uniforms. Already aware of why they were parading in their district so heavily armed yet finding it unnecessary. Still; she decided to entertain the situation a little longer.
"Captain Komiharu" she tested; knowing who the shorter girl was as she vacated the larger truck; arms bearing a rifle tipped downward at the dirt.
The militant just cocked a slight smirk from the edge of her lips. Already aware that the enforcer knew she had been rendered defenceless.
It reminded her of the look a cornered prey admits before it's demise.
"Komiyama to you" she stated.
Saito mockingly dipped her head.
"What the hell business does AKB have in Sakamichi?" Ozeki spat as she stormed out from around the corner of the building; a gun positioned to her chest mimicking the opposing Captain's stance.
"Twenty-four hours is exactly as it states. Get out of our district."
Koike, Shiori, Uemura and Nijika swiftly tailed Ozeki; slowing their pace and hands cautiously raising after noting the size of the threat.
Saito shot Nijika a look of irritation; her head tilting in Ozeki's direction as if to ask how she had managed to fail such a simple task.
Ishimori could only mouth an apology; having been unable to defuse her comrades irrational actions.
"First class Ozeki I presume?"
The Captain maintained an offhand position; not sensing much threat from the limited numbers that gathered before her.
"I'm giving you a direct order to drop your weapon."
Ozeki pulled the rifle in closer to her chest, "I only take orders from Captain Sugai" she challenged.
A snicker escaped the officer as she sized up the scout; finding humour in her defiance.
"Tell me then private; what is the difference between being tough-" she adjusted the weight of the gun in her arms, "and being stupid?"
Saito received this notion as a final warning and turned her attention toward her vexed comrade.
"Ozeki, put it down" she instructed yet her words seemed to only fall on deaf ears.
Noting the girls blatant disregard for all authority; Komiyama motioned for her unit to step forward; all barrels being raised to take aim.
"Looks like you only understand stupid...Take her out-"
Before the sound of shots could ring out; Saito lunged to her right with all the force she could muster; using her arms and body to drive Ozeki to the dirt and rip the weapon from her unforgiving grasp.
"Hold your fire!" she shouted; using her weight to pin the smaller girl but also shielding her incase they decided on no mercy.
"Easy; it's going to be alright..." she lied; willing some way to defuse the situation.
Komiyama; amused by the stubborn bonds of the unit before her had grown tired of the amount of time it was taking for a surrender.
"After locating the whereabouts of Moriya Akane; Sugai Yuuka submitted herself to arrest; claiming full responsibility for the assault on Nogizaka and Yoshi. You will all be coming with us to join them."
Saito hung her head to her chest as what she had thought to be the truth was clarified.
That was just like her Captain...
"Though it's quite a shame-" Komiyama pressed, "There was one of your platoon members; the enforcer; too damaged and unresponsive for the commander to even care to bother with her; what was her name again-"
"Risa-" the name; barely audible escaped Ozeki's lips; her eyes slowly widening wth anguish as their captors revelation sought to torment her.
"Ah yes, Watanabe Risa...By my own observations I can't say that she'll last much longer in her current state."
The callous declaration had been enough to cause what remained of Ozeki's sense to fracture.
Tears flooded her eyes; laying there beneath her comrades weight as her shoulders shook; her demeanour now a bomb ready to explode. The burden of her grief became a crushing; monstrous force that left her unsteady.
Submitting to pressure of her comrade; she wrapped her arms around her own head and sobbed convulsively. Now aware that she was helpless in going to her partners side to save her.
Frustrated, hurt and terrified; she slammed the backs of her fists to the ground and released a piercing scream of agony into the air.
Silently; her comrades could only stand idly by as their friend broke into a thousand pieces.
For such a decorated soldier; even Komiyama found the scene quite pitiful to witness.
Convinced that the remainder of Keya would now come without a fight; she motioned for six of her soldiers to move forward and apprehend the girls.
Saito rose from her position and allowed her wrists to be clasped in restraints behind her back before being escorted into the bed of the larger truck. The shackles that bound her being fastened to a chain anchor in the wooden floor boards.
Koike, Shiori, Uemura, Nijika and lastly Ozeki proceeded; single file behind her; being situated in the same state as their senior officer.
As the convoys engine roared to life once more no one could muster any words of comfort to speak. All silently deciding to accept what may become of their fate as the vehicle drew them further away from home.
As the hours turned to days and days stretching into the span of a week the air had grown warmer still.
It was by the afternoon of the seventh day that the northern outskirts of Osaka shimmered and sweltered with an unexpected heat; even for it being summer.
The city appeared calm under the empty blue sky; yet the scout who stood alone atop of an old abandoned factory warehouse could sense the sour resentment that clenched the outlining districts inhabitants with merciless intensity.
Though remaining cautious in their travels Neru had decided to take refuge in this location until Risa had finished recuperating. Being mindful to keep a wide margin between themselves and Namba district where NMB resided on high alert ever since Yokoyama had canceled the truce a week prior.
After a time; Neru returned to the inside walls of the building; climbing down multiple flights before entering a room that had once been used for leisure for the employees.
Now aside from a couple of broken chairs, an old desk and multiple blankets strewn across the floor to act as a place to sleep; it was for the most part empty.
It was late afternoon when Risa jolted upright from her makeshift bed on the floor; breathing hard; hand moving to her torso as she became aware of the strange weight compressing her ribs.
The room felt oppressive with it's stifling humidity as she noted the beads of sweat gathering on her arms and shoulders.
Just where the hell was she? her heart began to pound against her sternum as a terrible premonition gripped her. It felt almost as if a shadow was beginning to envelope the world and it's darkest edge was stretching to suffocate her.
Slowly; carefully she began to ease herself up from the blankets.
"Just like you to be off and running again once awake."
The sudden chime had been enough to cause the enforcer to flinch back; head whirling in alarm to lock orbs with a familiar face.
"Neru-" she breathed; her expression shifting from relief to wariness; recalling that they had both been on opposing sides the last time she had been awake.
"Where am I...Where is Moriya? Did you take me as collateral?"
Once standing....well partially standing; the enforcer reached out to retrieve her clothing from a near by chair where they rested; folded and clean.
Neru watched; not straying from her position against the wall near the entrance way.
"I suggest you try and take it easy. You've been out for a week now and do you have any idea how hard it was for us to get you here and keep you alive? Especially on what minimal resources we had."
Risa had already finished dressing herself by the time Neru had completed her lecture; but by that point; she hoped for actual answers.
Deciding it best to calm herself before proceeding; the enforcer lazily slumped herself down into the chair her clothing had previously occupied.
Neru, convinced the girl would now be willing to listen spent the better part of an hour filling her in on every detail that had happened on the evening of Keya's arrest and Moriya's exile.
It took the soldier even more time after the briefing to absorb all that she had missed.
"I suppose getting shot ended up being the best possible scenario for me after all..." she trailed off as her mind immediately wandered to Ozeki; wanting to inquire by already knowing the answer. However; a part of her worried that the girl had retaliated if she had been informed of her demise. If she had lashed out; had she been spared?
Risa decided that now was not the proper time to get herself all worked up over matters she currently held no control over. For now they would have to stick to Sugai's strict order of locating Hirate.
"You mentioned an us earlier?"
The enforcer had completely forgotten Neru's mention of an us earlier during her initial declaration of having rescued her.
"I did didn't I..."
Neru pondered on the question of whether or not she should entrust the militant with the full extent of her task but also realized she hadn't much choice in the matter any longer.
"Keyakizaka's very own riot force unit Hiragana." she declared, "a unit myself, Captain Sugai and Sergeant Moriya formed a couple of seasons ago. They are still only cadets in terms of what their skill levels are in terms of what a riot force would be adequate for...But I would admit they are on par with exceeding even our own units capability."
"Aside from our vanguard" Risa clarified. Not willing to believe this troop would be even a close match against some of their more decorated members.
The scout could only manage a small smile; having to agree. Neru truly believed there had yet to be another militant that could exceed some of their soldiers, let alone Hirate in terms of skill. Yet after having spent so much of her time nurturing the Hiragana members; she liked to hope that all of her effort had not been in vain.
"I assume AKB had no intel on them...That doesn't sound like the Captain to keep such a thing confidential"
"Always in the back of her mind she was aware that unexpected events could bring our divide. Sugai wanted to be prepared for our sake if there ever came a time...The original proposal though still held onto the promise we would never have to call on them..."
Risa nodded before stretching her arms outward then upward toward the ceiling; her stiff muscles protesting from having been dormant so long.
"So-" she paused; leaning forward to stand herself up from the wooden chair, "where are they?" the girl was certain the warehouse was unoccupied aside from the two of them.
The edges of Neru's lips curled to a smirk as she made her way to one of the many windows lining the walls; cautiously peering out toward the distant skyline of the city.
"Hiding, scattered in plain sight" she admitted.
"Isn't that just asking to be noticed by someone?"
"Of course. Again though; as far as what AKB knows; Hiragana never existed. By having them patrol locally as single patrons during the day we are able to gain intel if NMB receives instructions to move. It's easier this way than having myself go alone and risk getting sighted by sneaking about. They come back at night time anyway, slowly, one at a time so as not to draw attention. Besides; I've been on standby for the last couple of days awaiting a report from a source residing in Sakae's district."
Risa moved herself to match Neru's position beside the old dingy glass opening.
"Sakae..." she recited, "SKE-" her expression becoming etched with interest.
Neru dipped her head to clarify.
"Who exactly?" she inquired.
"A certain Ace with a very high body count and an opposing opinion of what Yokoyama has done."
Risa decided to press no further; having a mind to know exactly who the scout was referring to. The soldier just prayed that they could actually manage to place their trust in someone who's allegiance had always been toward AKB.
A canopy of dark clouds veiled the horizon beyond the Seto inland sea. Steadily rolling North West across the island of Shikoku; making it's way above the waters shorelines and drifting toward a solitary cargo ship. It's tempest of thunder and lightning being witnessed by a lone dormant figure that welcomed the oncoming squall.
"They've failed-" a silhouette announced; moving to join the single being who leaned leisurely against the railing of the ships port side.
"So they have."
"Moriya has been exiled to Fukuoka under the surveillance of HKT. The others have all been incarcerated in Akihabara-"
Not a shred of wonder entered the girls orbs as she continued monitoring the incoming system. It were as if she had already known the conclusion long before it's disclosure.
Releasing an audible breath; the soldier straightened her posture; rotating to face the girl of equal stature.
"I suppose it's time."
"Should I rally the others?"
Nodding in response she gestured toward the entrance of the upper deck, "tell Okada to head inland, we've waited long enough...Our first stop is Fukuoka."
Without saying another word; the militant turned her stance and began trekking toward the bridge.
The enforcer paused her motion, "Techi?"
"Ensure you're all prepared for the worst."
With that notion; the girl continued on her way to relay the message.
Once again Hirate set her sights on the approaching outbreak of rain and lightning; a glower masking her features.
"Oh Yui, look what you've done-" she smirked, "we're coming for our people...and we're bringing the gates of hell with us."
Chapter 9: A remorseless zeal
"That system couldn't have blown through at a more convenient time."
In the wake of the subsiding storm; two lone soldiers had managed to use it's heavy rainfall fused with the evenings shadows to their advantage. Taking the opportunity as a way to camouflage their journey around Osaka's borders and safely enter into Hyogo without an incident.
Though consistent and thorough; their search through the north had been unsuccessful in finding who they had been looking for. Thus came the mutual decision to try their luck in the Southern regions.
It had become a cause for concern however as Kobayashi and Zuumin were well aware of the vast majority of units dotting the coast lines; having already evaded the scrutiny of both SKE and NMB.
"We'll stop once we reach Hiroshima; we need to refuel and we need to get our hands on another radio seeing as how someone-"
"It wasn't my fault ok? We're lucky we even managed to get out of there...Ever since Yui put a target on our heads it's like every district can spot us over a mile away. We're not even in uniform!"
Zuumin recalled having dropped their last means of communication a couple days prior while taking a rest. A handful of stray SKE members had detected them and decided to engage; hailing their truck with bullets and leaving them without a source for intel.
"Irregardless-" Koba continued, "we need a radio and a new vehicle. Driving around in something that's been riddled with holes only draws more attention. I'd guess another four hours...maybe less."
Zuumin considered even stretching for another four hours would be straining what little remained of their luck. Yet in all the time she had spent with Pon; she had come to trust her instincts.
As the time passed near painfully slow; the soldiers had continued their tour southwest; remaining mindful to use only less populated roads as they neared their chosen destination.
Though the storm had subsided it had not drawn the shade of the clouds with it's absence; creating some relief from the suns relentless scorching heat. The two girls wondered just how much longer the endless warmth of the summer was going to last.
"About time-" Koba smirked; reading the various welcome signs as they ventured further into Hiroshima; heading in as near as they dared to skirt the capital of the prefecture before pulling off the road to park on a vacant side street.
"You don't think we're too close to the city?" Zuumin inquired; opening her door to step out of the truck and stretch her rigid limbs.
Kobayashi followed her comrades motions before rounding the truck to observe the damage she had disregarded up until now. Carefully probing the fissures in the metal unsure of how they had even managed to escape alive.
"I suppose we really did test fate-" she admitted; eyes squinting as she pulled away from her inspection, "I think we will be fine here. Going off of what I know the only platoon that could be anywhere near here is STU and they are stationed with the navy at sea. I highly doubt they would bother docking when their efforts could be put to patrolling the shorelines."
The militant made her way to the back of the truck where she reached over and into it's bed to retrieve her rifle and pack.
Zuumin raised a brow, "what happened to being discreet?"
"Did you enjoy the last incident without covering fire? It's just a precaution...besides; we're not coming back here, remember?"
The rogue had almost forgotten why they had even stopped in the first place. Nearly becoming distracted with the idea that they were simply on a vacation from the amount of time they had been driving and the number of places they had stopped across the country to scout for any information regarding their missing friends
After hoisting a near empty rucksack over her shoulders and reloading her rifle; Zuumin hurried after Kobayashi who had already gone on ahead.
The roads they hiked down at times transitioned between gravel and pavement; lined with canopies of tree branches offering minimal cover once the sun had finally made it's blinding appearance after the lingering clouds departed.
"Just how much farther do you think?
The shorter of the two had never truly been one to complain during a march; always able to complete the weekly exercise of trudging ten to twenty miles; yet now that the threat of losing her life had become all too real; Zuumin found each step caused her to become more restless.
Koba had been involved in studying a small map that she had carried in her bag as her comrade began to question their whereabouts.
"Just a little further; there is a port about four kilometres from here. Low population density; no one will bother with us" she stated as she folded the small piece of card stock and returned it to her bag.
"Wait Pon-" Zuumin stretched her arm forward to grab hold of her companions shoulder; lightly tugging back to halt their trek.
Irritated by the constant bombardment of interruptions Koba rolled her eyes before yanking her shoulder from the girls clasp, "what?" she urged.
Without a word Zuumin pointed a steady finger down the stretch of road toward it's right edge; witnessing a form casually weaving along the brush line; barely visible even to a trained sight.
On any other given day; if the circumstances of their travels hadn't been do to the districts teetering on the edge of an oncoming war; Kobayashi may have overlooked and not given the figure a second glance. Yet she couldn't help but note the way the silhouette moved exhibited that they were indeed making a cautious effort to be mindful of their surroundings.
Twisting her arm backward to reach into a side pocket of her rucksack; the girl retrieved a pair of binoculars; bringing them up to her eyes in an attempt to get a better visual.
For a time Kobayashi surveyed; clarifying that the being was in fact a girl; appearing almost young enough to be in her mid teens.
To the side the soldier could feel Zuumin's aura sway as she eagerly tugged at her sleeve; requesting to have the opportunity to see for herself.
"Are you honestly a Keya militant?" she questioned; slowly passing the field glasses over to the rogue. Sometimes she thought the girl too childish to be groomed in combat. Yet during difficult situations she was often reminded of just how skilled she truly was.
"Pon...did you not see that?" she questioned; lowering the binoculars from her vision.
Kobayashi once again retrieved the glasses to inspect their target; a little taken aback when she witnessed what Zuumin had prior, "AKB uniform..."
The soldier was unsure of how she had not noticed; reproaching herself for having become so careless. Yet once again; Zuumin's observation had only reassured her of how useful her companion was.
"Why is there only one though?"
"And so far from Akihabara?" Zuumin caught herself scoping the neighbouring perimeter for any other sign of movement but could find no other indication.
"Do we take her out?" she inquired.
Koba chewed at her bottom lip before settling on a conclusion.
"Let's tail her...If she is indeed alone I assume she has a means of transportation; intel and a radio."
The combatant left no time for a debate as she headed off in the direction of their focus; leaving enough distance so as not to be detected.
The stalking had only stretched another kilometre and a half before their aim must have become aware of her followers.
Abandoning her position along the tree line; the lone girl sprung to her right and like a wild deer made a quick bolt into the cover of the forest; her dash accelerating the deeper she fled.
Koba without warning took off after her; Zuumin tailing close in her wake before branching off to the left; planning to corral from an angle while Pon drove her further.
The three soldiers weaved around large trunks; leaping over fallen debris and boulders; the gap dividing them slowly closing as stamina began to fade.
Kobayashi had felt herself teetering on the edge of giving in and just shooting but before she could surrender to that desire Zuumin had managed to gain the upper hand by getting in front of their aim; causing her to skid to a stop before changing direction.
Pon took the second opportunity to secure what remained of the margin and swing her ankle outward to topple the runner; causing her to stumble hard to the dirt.
Before the girl could regain her footing to defend herself she could already feel the muzzles of two guns drawn on her; cautiously monitoring her every move.
Zuumin approached the militant who was now propped on her knees; hands up and palms facing outward; chest rising and falling so rapidly they anticipated death from suffocation.
Continuing forward; the rogue used the tip of her barrel to lift the edge of her captives helmet to reveal a pair of wide terrified orbs. Sweat beading down her temples and forehead as her ears glowed a bright red.
"Guess AKB is desperate for members; starting you all so young now-"
The girl turned her head away causing the helmet to drop back over her eyes.
"I'm not that young-" she confessed.
"Irregardless-" Koba interjected; stepping forward, "what the hell is a member of AKB doing all alone in Hiroshima? Doesn't Yui use the other districts to deal with affairs so far south of your borders?"
"That depends on who's asking...Neither of you have uniforms...Guerrillas I presume?"
The sudden click of Zuumin cocking her rifle and locking it's bolt caused a chill to tremble up the girls spine as she ducked her head further down; willing herself to disappear.
Kobayashi casually pushed her companions gun out of their captives face; lowering herself to take a knee infront of the obviously terrified soldier.
"We just want to know what business you have down here."
The girl hesitantly locked orbs with the rogue before her; studying her features; taking note of the stubborn deep scab carved into her cheek that appeared as if it had refused to fully heal.
After a moment she averted her attention to Zuumin and then back to Pon.
"I know you two-" she stated; so suddenly it were as if she had been struck by an unseen force.
"Kobayashi and Zuumin-" she affirmed; an appearance of bewilderment engulfing her disquiet. "You two have been missing-" her sentence cut off as once again she greeted the slender opening of a barrel.
"We'd like to keep it that way-"
"No, it's not like that" she argued, "I work for Captain Sugai. I'm part of Keya's unit Hiragana."
A ripple of laughter echoed the surrounding brush; leisurely escaping the two rogues.
"It's amazing how skilled you cadets are at making up stories when the reaper wants to play..."
"It's true!" she urged; desperation becoming evident in her expression.
"Damn it Pon; she's not going to talk; she knows who we are...lets just get rid of her; take her radio and continue on; we're wasting time."
Kobayashi heaved a sigh; never having agreed with the idea of having to take out younger threats. Yet she knew they did not have the the time to spare in being sentimental.
After rising to her feet; Koba motioned for Zuumin to play the part of executioner; fighting herself to ignore the despairing pleas that filtered from their victim.
"Nothing has changed has it...You both always causing such a scene."
The sudden vocals of a new arrival caused Zuumin to release the tension on her trigger and avert her regard to the approaching silhouettes. A look of disbelief overtaking her somber features.
"Techi-" Pon choked; her heart hammering against her chest the way it would have if she had witnessed a ghost; near unable to believe that this chance meeting could be real.
Vacating her position among the unit of combatants; Hirate closed the gap between her comrades and stopped in front of the submitting girl; carefully reaching down to assist her to her feet before easing her helmet off to reveal her face.
"Memi-" she addressed softly; locking orbs with the short militant.
The Hiragana scout could barely believe her luck; mouth hanging agape. No words could be expressed and the girl could only respond by throwing her arms around the aces neck; holding on for dear life. Begging a silent promise that she would never leave her side again.
"I searched for you-" the scout breathed; pressing her face into the soldiers neck. Relishing in the moment she thought had still been so far off that it had only seemed like an unattainable dream.
Techi closed her eyes for a time; aware of the fact her absence had caused larger complications for everyone than she had anticipated. Yet she also knew gaining more allies had been imperative if they had any hope at all in putting an end to this war.
Carefully; she released her arms from the embrace to gaze into Memi's eyes, "we're going home; we are going to take back our soldiers and our district...Shida is headed for Fukuoka as we speak to retrieve Moriya-"
"They took her there almost two weeks ago now-" the scout informed, "Neru had me impersonate a AKB member and sent me to go gain intel on where exactly they had exiled her to...if she had been incarcerated, killed or if she is just being forced to keep within the district under HKT's surveillance."
Techi nodded before pivoting to face Kobayashi and Zuumin, "I presume you both were out searching for me then?"
Pon dipped her head slightly, "under our own accord..."
"The night of the coup-" Hirate started, "I was aware of Moriya's intentions from the beginning...I also did not agree with how she handled the situation; after all; honesty I suppose could have saved us all a ton of time and spared the senseless loss of lives-" she peered at Memi; brow slightly quivering as pain briefly overlook her expression, "yet who am I to preach..." she continued, "I knew even if Moriya had not taken up arms that night Yokoyama still would have proceeded on with her plan to take us out. Therefore; while the Sergeant drew all attention on herself; I took our best vanguard members and headed to meet with the navy unit STU as I was aware they had not been tainted by Yui's ideals."
"The conclusion?" Zuumin questioned.
"They will offer us land support; their unit lead by Okada Nana."
It had been the first time since the ordeal had began that Koba felt a sense of relief wash over her exhausted soul. Rejoicing in the fact that Zuumin and herself were no longer alone and that their task of finding Hirate had concluded.
"We can't allow Shida to go to HKT on her own-" Memi stated; unease crawling it's way back into her conscience.
"She'll be alright-"
"Techi please, she can't-" desperation enveloped her tone, "they have Sashihara Rino and Miyazaki Sakura stationed there ever since the summit...I know Shida is strong; but to take on both elite's and an army if her cover is blown-" the odds did not appear fair in anyones prudent opinion.
"You're asking me to follow in Moriya's footsteps..."
Memi averted her gaze to the dirt; "If there is any other way-"
After weighing the variations in her mind; the ace would come to agree with the cadet; deciding perhaps they would need to take down HKT after all if they were going to wage war against AKB forces.
Delicately she placed the helmet back on it's owners head before striding back to the semi circle of combatants that had been positioned idly by. Aoi present amount the group; closest to where Hirate had originally been standing before interrupting the almost execution.
"Very well; we'll make a quick stop to pick up our irrational Sergeant...Then we head for Akihabara."
With that notion; the unit of soldiers parted from the cover of the forest; heading back to the road to meet with a stationary convoy of heavy trucks and technicals. All fully armed and clearly unconcerned with giving themselves away as Hirate and Aoi still wore Keya's combat uniform.
It was a short span of interval that the solitaire vanguard admitted herself by time she cut the engine of her motorcycle. Audaciously daring to get as close to her objective as possible by transport without her arrival being detected.
Shortly after having docked the ship in it's berth along the coastline of Hiroshima; Techi had given Shida instructions to head southwest to locate the whereabouts of the Sergeant and bring her back to rendezvous in two days time.
Given her prior success ratio from similar undertakings in aid missions; the militant had not given much consideration in weighing the possible level of threat variants that awaited her inside the wire.
Cloaked in a dark longline jacket; adorning the green emblems of her unit; the girl released the strap of her helmet and moved forward toward an obvious vacant sector along the borderline of Fukuoka.
"Seems like the vast majority of these districts leave these stations unoccupied-"
From a distance Shida cautiously surveyed the boundary outpost; almost savouring the fact that no manner of conveyances were positioned around her chosen point of entry.
If the Captain or Hirate had been present; she was well aware that her brazen selection of advancement would have been scorned. Both declaring that her way of handling tedious scenarios mirrored that of their Sergeants.
Nonetheless; it was also because of this; the way they handled the circumstances of each affair that made them both so vital to the unit and also so deadly to their adversaries.
Concluding that she had dwelled long enough; Shida began her motion onward; approaching the empty bunker to utilize it's entry into HKT territory.
As the militant ducked under the barbed wire gate's and rounded the edge of the building she had to admit that the sudden visual that greeted her came as no surprise.
"I knew this was way to easy."
An unsurprised obstinate expression overtook her features as she stared down two unwavering soldiers; rifles drawn and clearly fastened onto the intruder.
Shida heaved a breath; immediately able to identify their lack of experience. Though their positions indicated they were resolute; the slight quiver in their aim and terror oozing from their aura gave away volumes.
Perhaps on any other day; or somewhere in an alternate time where they were not on opposing sides; the girl would have been able to not bury her empathy. However; given the circumstances and the weight of her required success Shida could not grant either of them her mercy.
Before she could become the casualty; the soldier bolted forward below the barrels before they both ripped a barrage of fire through the air in her direction.
Shida was able to handle the occurrence with equanimity; drawing herself in close enough to grip the underside of the nearest gun ; yanking it to the side; liberating it from it's desperate owners tight grasp. The assault was countered with the fine sharpness of a bayonet clasped firmly in her free hand; jabbing outward to plunge it's length deep into the jugular of her assailant; sending a splay of hot crimson across her face and to the dirt. The other opponent granted no time to react as their hold around their weapon was met with the heinous force of a boot; the impact strong enough to cause the grisly sound of bones crushing beneath the strike.
By the time the victim could muster a shriek of agony; Shida was already positioned behind her; firmly placing her neck and head in a restraining lock and failing to consider the clawing nails that desperately dug into her arms; begging for clemency.
The jerk and ripple that followed expressed the soldiers lack of compassion and rendered the body to fall in a limp heap against the solid ground.
Shida could only remain apathetic as she continued on her way; refusing to allow sentiment to cripple her discernment. It was far too late in her years of service to wash all of the blood from her hands.
Maintaining a surveillance as she briskly hurried further into the district; the girl kept to her course; aware that she would be nearing her destination very shortly.
The enforcer had to admit however that she was quite surprised when Techi's and hers agreement to not radio one another until she had pin pointed Moriya's exact location had been breeched.
The soldier slowed her pace as static and white noise began to crackle over the speaker; lifting the small device closer to her ear to listen in as the voice strained to break through the station.
"Mona 167, Mona 167; this is Otter gen 1; whats your position? Over."
Assuming the call was to address an urgent matter; Shida ducked down into an alleyway that was so conveniently positioned to her right. Crouching low and pressing her back tightly against the outter bricks of the building; she brought the mic to her lips and replied.
"Otter gen 1; I am inside the wire; no sign of our target yet. On route to HQ; Over."
Perhaps she had just required a status update? Or so the girl presumed as the conversation had concluded so abruptly.
Shrugging off the twinge of curiosity she began to put the device away when once again the vocals of her companion echoed through.
"Sending in back up; I'm requesting you stand down until our arrival. Do not engage; I repeat; do not engage."
For an instant the enforcer stared down at the radio in incredulity. Had she honestly been directed to abort for now?
"Mona 167 do you copy?" the voice pushed for a response.
"No back up required; I can handle this situation solo-" she challenged; trying her hand at swaying Hirate's sudden revision of plans.
"Wait for back up."
The directive had been firm and unyielding causing a pang of frustration to rise within the combatant and a sense of discord within their union.
As vanguard comrades there had always been a deep trust within one another yet Shida could not part with the idea that Techi had come to doubt her expertise and determination.
Laying those matters aside; the soldier was also conscious of the fact that time was of the essence and it would be witless to waste the precious hours they had on pausing efforts for aid.
She was Shida Manaka after all.
Determining her next course of action; the girl revealed her intentions without regret and decided to not look back.
"I'm sorry...but I cannot wait. Stick to the plan. I will see you all again and I will bring Moriya home."
Filling herself with her own conviction; the soldier elevated to her boots before aimlessly pitching the communication device at the ground; observing as it fractured into pieces; scattering across the cement.
"Believe in me damn it-" she cussed; nose scrunching in chagrin.
Once Shida had collected herself she continued on toward her endeavour to recover their Sergeant.
Nevertheless; the further her trek carried her; the more the weight of an instinct she had long forgotten began to steadily repress her tenacity.
Fear had a hideous face.
Chapter 10: The sum total of our choices
Within the slow agonizing course it had taken for two weeks to pass; the incarcerated soldiers of Keya had come to realize the many cruel intentions Yokoyama had devised for them.
A life secluded behind cold rusted bars; separated from one another by stone and iron as they awaited their promised individual trials. Any form of communication toward one another had been thwarted; an ignorant directive to remain silent unless called upon by an officer of AKB.
Even still; the captives had found a loophole in their protocol that resided in the early morning hours during the routine guard exchange. A twenty minute interval until the next militant arrived to take over for the progressing stint.
Quite often it was Oda and Nanako who could be heard protesting their confinement the loudest; testing the boundaries of their sentry's patience. More often than not; both were subjected to the receiving end of a brass cudgel; bludgeoned until they relented back into stillness.
This ordeal became a repetitive occurrence until on the fourteenth day of their imprisonment; both girls remained hushed to the extent that the others began to question if they were even still alive.
If not for the rasped audible breathing exiting their cells it was certain an uprising would have begun initiated by none other than Suzumon who was conveniently locked up in the cell next to Oda.
Frequently the scout would lazily sit on the frigid solid floor; leaning her shoulder against the iron posts as she would stretch her hand through the gaps; twisting her arm to reach into her companion's chamber aspiring for some sort of contact. Each time being met with resistance; feeling the girl shy away from her yearning outstretched finger tips.
Even still; she continued her offers of comfort; fully aware that as much as her touch had been so obviously rejected; it had also been furtively searched for.
As the hours ticked by the much anticipated moments of the early morning arrived; the time where their keeper would exit the quarters and leave the block unattended for the next twenty or so minutes.
Once the resounding thud of the entryways large steel door closed it were as if the hollow souls of the accused came to life once more. Desperate conversations reverberating within the stone walls; overlapping one another to release all they had been forced to withhold throughout the day.
Though most had revolved around plotting on a way out; the dire aspiration for the arrival of their missing comrades or predictions of what remained of the uncertain futures; one discussion in particular became more profound than all the rest.
Situated in the farthest chambers of the block; Koike and Habu rested; both their backs positioned against the same wall that divided them.
By now it had become part of Habu's routine attempt to reconcile; an endeavour that often fell on the indifferent ears of the recipient.
"How much longer will we go on like this?"
The query as presumed once again remained unanswered; just as Habu had predicted; much to her regret. The lack of words voiced over the course of two weeks since their arrival had begun to take it's toll; causing the girl to nearly consider ceasing all attempts from then on. Yet she couldn't. A world without Koike had become an inconceivable matter in itself.
Surely Sugai, Fuuchan and Ozeki could relate?
"Perhaps you will not acknowledge me any time soon but I-" the tower of an enforcer paused a moment as she gathered her thoughts; fearful that she may express the wrong words resulting in only pushing her farther away. It was now or never.
"Koike I lo-"
The period with which the unit was generally graced with had been greatly reduced by nearly fifteen minutes as the next guard entered the block; their appearance causing all communication to abruptly desist.
Much to the captives dismay; Yui Yokoyama filtered in behind the armed sentry tailed by Okabe and Kamiharu; both flanking either side of her shoulders.
The three did not halt until they reached their position in the centre of the aisle; particularly ensuring they stood between Captain Sugai and Fuyuka who were sealed across from one another.
The commander would survey the defused Captain as she herself would fight to mask the pleased smirk that fought to tug at the edges of her lips.
Sugai identified the smug expression as if the one wearing it had accomplished something grand; wanting to flaunt their prize but holding out for the finale.
"Don't you idiots know what time it is?"
The sudden comment made it clear to everyone that Oda had lost all caution in her existence to even dare address the General Captain as a moron...Yet no one acted the least bit shocked.
Yui simply turned her regard from the wary Yuuka who could only glower from the corners of her eyes focusing as the girl relocated herself to the mouthpiece of a soldier.
"Why is it always between you and Nagasawa?" she asked coolly.
Oda could only encounter Yui with a scowl; despising the very sight of her.
"It's in our nature...Honesty, revealing the disgusting truth of others that they try so hard to hide from themselves-" she chuckled; chewing against her inner cheek as she bullied down the urge to lunge from Yokoyama through the bars.
It was a minor twitch; one Yui was vigilant to dismiss and bury but not fast enough for it to get past Oda's keen observation. The scout had indeed struck a cord and the witnesses would consider Oda foolish if she thought her provoking would go unscathed. They just remained unaware as to what extent.
"Oh my dear precious scout-" Yui goaded, "for one who preaches so much about being honest with one's self...Should't you be following your own words of wisdom?"
Oda raised a brow; unsure of the commanders approach in penalizing her. Was this her imposing retort?
"I'm sure your remaining comrades would love to finally witness the true version of Oda Nana. That tough exterior you shield yourself with...Pushing away anyone who dares try to get in close enough. How can one hurt you if your heart is locked away where no one can enter?" she snickered, "sound about right?"
The scout snarled; rising to brace her grip around the iron barricade; knuckles draining of colour.
"It was easy to chase Kobayashi right?" Yui allowed the despicable appearance of enjoyment to envelope her features, "chase the one person who wants nothing more than to get away from you. What better way to bury the feelings you harbour for-"
"Shut up!" Oda lashed outward; slamming her shoulder against the posts as she stretched for her instigator; missing her by inches.
The commander took a step back from her aggressor; the scene unfolding before her reminding her of a wild animal attempting to free itself from an unforgiving trap.
It was then that Yui fixed her gaze on Suzumon who like Oda stood against the iron of the chamber. Though unlike her enraged companion; she met the sheer joy of torment with a calm demeanour; already aware of her captors next move.
If Sugai could have erased the following ten minutes of her existence she would have.
It began the instant Miyu's door was opened; a bitter symphony composed of desperate pleas; the smack of metal against flesh and bone and the unfamiliar vicious audible howls of Oda trying to break free.
By the time Yokoyama had called off Okabe to finish; Oda had exhausted herself and Suzumon lay motionless on the cold ground before her; a hair's breadth from her despairing reach.
"You see everyone?" Yui crouched before the enraged scout; once proud head hung to her chest as tears continued to flow; unable to suppress herself any longer. "It's all about honesty, right Oda?" The question was rhetorical.
Rising to her boots she made it clear that her original intention of making an appearance had nothing to do with the scout and everything to do with what would become of their existence.
"Now that that's over with-" she continued, "I've come to make an offer to a lucky select few of you; one I am sure you will be unable to refuse-"
Sugai challenged the commander by taking a step closer to her cell entrance.
Yui took note of the girls peaked interest by her body language and began to pace the long aisle of the block. "Well come to think of it...It's not precisely an offer...Getting to the point; I will be using some of you in my company."
Yuuka's grip around the bars tightened, "company? as soldiers?"
The Captain shook her head immediately in response, "we will never fight for AKB Yokoyama-" her tone lowering in deterrent. A rare instance that gave warning to how sever the Captain of Keyakizaka could become.
"We? Did I not just state only a few?" she folded her arms across her chest before shaking her head, "you need to listen more carefully Yuuka."
The mere fact she had been stripped of her title held a weight of humiliation she had never known; but it did not wave her beliefs that she still held responsibility toward the soldiers she had nurtured for the last five years.
Yui continued, "seeing as how Sakamichi is now rendered defenceless it appears that the public of your district have decided to take up arms and disregard the curfew that had been implemented on them. Not only this but rogue allies from other units who have abandoned their own 48s groups platoons have come to aid your crumbling borders"
Habu who had been still; silently observing the events unfold since Yokoyama's arrival decided if she were going to interject now would be the time.
"You want us to help you attack our own people?"
The block erupted into loud vocals of protest causing the commander to raise her tone, "you all act as though you have a choice-" she chortled; her comment causing the ruckus to dissipate.
"It's not going to happen...We have vows to uphold" Yuuka stated; attempting to maintain what little authority she thought she had left.
"So claim's Keya's Captain..." she came to a halt in front of Habu's chamber before shifting her orbs from Koike to Suzumons still unresponsive form. "The one who has no one to truly lose anymore, after all...Akane is long gone. What of the others though-" she smirked at Habu who glared down at her; the height difference between the two still not enough to intimidate the General Captain.
"You see-" she continued, once again pacing the aisle, "It's simple really...It all comes down to leverage and fortunately for myself I already know what or should I say who makes each of your lives worth living....Perhaps a friend-" she peered at Rika; then to Shiori and next Nijika, "Or dare I say a lover?" she gazed back between a broken Oda and Miyu who Okabe was currently returning to her cell.
"It's either a yes or your 'leverage' gets to greet the reaper...your choice."
Sugai had to admit she never could have imagined her unit being so coerced into submission. Being forced to choose between what they cared about most or the people they swore to protect.
Yui could sense the helplessness that emitted from Sugai as all she could do was witness her soldiers crumble. All trust lost as she became conscious of the fact that when it came to protecting what bonds they shared all vows toward their duty would sway. This truth is one of the reasons that had made the commander so fearful of their actuality but also able to manipulate their force once constrained.
Certain their would be no resistance; Yui motioned for Okabe and Kamiharu to take their leave.
"I suggest you all enjoy what little time you have left with one another as comrades. I will be back tomorrow to inform you of who will be joining my ranks."
"We're still another three hours out from Fukouka-"
Hirate shook her head viciously as if to rid her conscience of her irritation.
"Idiot...I should have known better."
Gently; Memi placed an open palm on her aggravated companions shoulder; a dejected attempt at offering solace.
"Don't do this to yourself...You made the decision you thought was best. Obviously avoiding any sort of detection would be our preferred option; Shida was our best choice."
From the front passenger side of their transport; Techi crooked her neck toward the the back seat to address Memi.
"It was my mistake in believing we could retrieve Akane without igniting another conflict...I had hoped to avoid drawing arms against HKT-"
"Signs of sentiment? Since when did you start gaining a soft side?" Zuumin interjected; the remark enough to cause the passengers to go stagnant aside from the deep rev of the motor.
Techi strayed her vision forward before directing her frustrations out the open window, "The truth?"
The soldiers had to admit that this was the first time they had truly permitted themselves to observe the Aces exterior. Consistently having the expectations that Hirate could do no wrong; the perfect enforcer everyone could rely on; habitually placing their lives in her hands to save them whenever situations went awry. Yet upon their closer scrutiny; taking in the exhaustion evident on her countenance; the scars that riddled her exposed flesh and her slouched bearing, they were all reminded that their greatest weapon who carried the heaviest burden was indeed one of their youngest soldiers...A human somehow still pressing forward with the heavy expectations that she was their key to end this war.
"I'm tired of fighting-" she finally allowed herself to admit.
Initially it came as a shock to Kobayashi and Zuumin but Aoi from the drivers side and Memi behind her exposed no indication of astonishment.
Pon gapped her mouth to offer a sense of solace but shut it almost immediately. There were truly no words of comfort she could offer someone who had always been a step ahead.
Gently Memi reached forward to lay a delicate touch on the Aces shoulder; willing their orbs to lock with one another. "After this war is over...Never again."
If anyone else had attempted to convey such a promise Hirate may have claimed the declaration was simply an exaggeration on words to get them through this. However; after absorbing Memi's words and accepting her encouraging touch the Ace actually felt she could believe that there would come a time in the near future where she would have the option to decline a call to arms.
Frustration, anger, pain, loss. These were the constant reflections that circulated her mind; day in and day out. Unable to escape her prison of exile; Moriya decided for herself if she could not taste freedom again, return home or ever lay eyes on Sugai; she would rather face execution.
"Two week no exercise, should we take the dog for a walk?"
A girl with a shorter stature than the confined Akane derided from outside the iron bars. The inquiry directed at another form who stood as silent and rigid as a statue near the entryway. The soldiers rifle leisurely hung in her arms yet her aspect seeped an overwrought impression.
Akane had only once witnessed two other soldiers with a similar demeanour, Hirate and Shida when they had returned from an over seas aid deployment with 48s sister groups. The edge had only lasted a week after their homecoming yet even still; the shadows of sin had remained so deeply engraved in their eyes.
The same hollow aura immersed the steady militant. Deadly human weapons instructed to kill without a shred of remorse...Had Moriya truly been a part of causing her two comrades to lose so much of themselves?
"Eh; Sakura?" the soldier pressed again.
"We're not here to play games Aoitan-" the voice held a void timbre; expressing that she had no desire in sharing the same vicinity as their prisoner.
The Captain pouted like a a child at her partner before once again turning her regard back to Moriya. "I suppose you'll be fine another couple of days. Once the General Captain sends word it'll be lights out for you anyway. I can't say why she is having us keep you alive as it is..."
Akane stared back unwavering upon receiving the information that her fate had already been long since decided.
"Come, the Colonel is returning shortly-"
Sakura did not wait for a response before turning on her boot and exiting the chamber.
Aoitan for an instant monitored the Sergeant before scoffing and following after her comrade; the door slamming heavily behind her.
Akane allowed her legs to give way; steadily sliding her back down the cold wall until she was seated on the floor; knees drawn in tight to her chest before she rested her forehead against them.
"Yuuka-" she breathed.
Much to the dismay of the residents residing within Fukuoka and surrounding districts; an emergency broadcast of an inbound bout of rain squalls approaching emitted through the radio waves causing HKT to prepare their borders for the impact. With being located so close to the coastlines; flooding had been a yearly occurrence that called for frequent preparation.
The abrupt halt in their cooperation with Yui had caused unpredicted friction; yet the Colonel of HKT had assured the General Captain they would uphold their agreement once the storms had passed and relief efforts were under control.
Within the short span of time Akane had been left alone since Sakura's departure; it were as if her actuality had been abandoned. The emergency warning had caused the militants to attend to other duties rendering her captivity unguarded and leaving her with a sense of uneasiness.
The Sergeant had spent the next half-hour bumping her forehead against her crouched knees; to engulfed in her own thoughts and wrestling to shut out the muffled orders being barked from outside the concrete barrier to notice that someone had entered the block.
"You've really managed a number this time Sergeant."
Moriya continued on with her repetitive motion; paying no mind to the remark; assuming Aoitan had simply stationed another sentry to ridicule her.
The figure heaved an audible breath before moving toward the chamber entrance and inserting a key into it's lock; twisting until she heard a click and then proceeded to hastily slide the iron door open.
"Akane, get up."
The girl felt a pang of irritation simmer in her gut as her cell was forced open and she was ordered to stand.
Lifting her head; she made to snap in protest but ended up clamping her teeth down against her tongue; orbs becoming broad with incredulity.
The divide between them became nonexistent within a matter of a second as Moriya rushed toward her comrade. Firmly taking either side of her face between her palms to study the girl right in front of her.
Shida could only smirk; stifling a bout of laughter at her Sergeants reaction. The soldier could not recall a time she had seen Akane so pleased.
Reaching up; she clasped the girls hands in her own and brought them downward; deescalating the exhilaration of the reunion.
"I'll explain everything later, for now though we have a slight chance...There is an incoming storm; a warning for a devastating amount of rain and HKT has all their efforts directed toward that. We need to get outside the wire while we have the opportunity. Techi is waiting for us."
Shida simply nodded before tugging at her Sergeants sleeve.
"Head down; lets move."
This would not be Akane's first attempt at a stealth scenario; but doing so unarmed had become a new experience. Not to mention bracing for the impact of a storm without the current option of being able to take cover if they were forced to stop their abscond.
The enforcer lead their way through the base grounds at an alarmingly brisk rate. Managing to evade several close calls by detecting numerous options to use as shields; remaining a step ahead of exposure.
"We're almost off the base; the wire is only another sixty meters, we can make that easily-"
Shida had taken note of the oncoming clouds that had begun to shroud out the sun; unsure of when the squall was meant to make it's full collision but assuming the sluggish moving shelf would be bringing rain with it shortly.
"Once we're out we'll have more options for refuge, it should be cake."
Akane managed to allow a small smile to tug at her lips after Shida's declaration. The girl relished in the fact she could see her friend again; Hirate was safe and Yuuka...There was a possibility for her to once again hold her.
The beam had abruptly altered to alarm as the familiar bang of a hammer releasing a bullet whizzed through the air and made it's shredding impact into Shida's right bicep; causing the escort to twist her torso and press Moriya downward to cover her.
Instinctively; Akane moved to clasp her hands around the weeping fissure to still the hemorrhaging but the enforcer was not agreeing with the aid attempt and simply responded by jerking her arm away; focusing her energy on the one who had fired in their direction.
"Next time it'll be your head." The warning echoed a sadistic pleasure.
Shida cautiously lifted her gaze just enough from behind their position of sanctuary from the hood of a jeep to identify her assailant.
"Miyawaki Sakura-" she snickered, "now this is what I like to call playing with fire."
Chapter 11: So close yet so far
As she rested in the shadows of the evening; Risa had been unable to rid her mind of the constant flow of ongoing ruminations. Unconscious of the fact Neru had already lit a bundle of candles; the cluster casting a pale glow that shuddered in the darkness; flattering the soft tone of her complexion. With there being no electricity; this had become their only source of illumination within the dingy warehouse.
From outside the murky glass of the windows off in the distance the bright lights of the city radiated their sulphurous gleam; blotting out a complete visual of the many sequins that decorated the black velvet sky.
Impatiently she continued a repetitive motion; drumming her finger tips against the top of her thigh. Counting to herself; a mental note she took every time the audible sound of the building door opened and closed
Risa had only been awake for a week now but within that short quantity of time she had begun to grow familiar with the unit of girls Neru had managed to flee from Tokyo with. Able to retain each of their names and coming to understand their strengths and weaknesses as she assisted Neru in furthering their training during the late evenings, the enforcer would come to admit that she had begun to bond with them.
Often Neru would take note of how her comrades normally collected demeanour would stagger around the same scheduled time as the girls would return one by one. The scout coming to realize that her companion had begun to question if they would continue to make it back or if any complications had overtaken them.
The soldier ceased the tap of her finger tips; drawn from her musing as Neru approached her from across the room. It was a feat not many could accomplish and somehow Risa had to confess she was uncertain how she felt about the scout always being able to scrutinize her.
"It's Kumi isn't it?" she already knew the answer.
"Just like a Captain-" Neru dropped herself down into a nearby rickety chair, her attention focusing on the troubled girl before her.
For an instant neither spoke; the air around them coursing with the muffled voices of the unwinding unit and the persistent drip of water as it circulated through the rusted aged pipes above.
Risa made a sudden move to stand but her motion was interrupted as Neru slid to the edge of her seat; clasping at the girls forearm.
"Let's not be rash-"
The enforcer pulled her arm free; following through with her movement of becoming upright, somewhat surprised by her own reaction toward her comrades obvious concern.
The scout remained placid; disconcerted by the obvious withdrawal; fully aware that consternation could alter even the most sensible minds.
"What will you do Risa?" she questioned, orbs flickering a hint of interest, "parade around Osaka looking for her? You're supposed to be dead, remember?"
The enforcer craved nothing more than to rebuttal; having reached her limit of pent up frustration days ago from being forced to stay put within the four walls of the building. Neru could see this and understood that the girl was beginning to grasp at any excuse to become a part of the outside world again.
"First you send Memi out on her own and now you want to desert another member?"
"You're not thinking clearly-"
"It's you who isn't thinking clearly!" she snapped. Yet Neru was right and it was a truth she did not want to accept.
Exhaling harshly; Risa pushed her fingers through the smooth locks of her scalp; ridding tossed strands from her vision as she began to pace the floor. It's old boards creaking and moaning with every step.
"I'm fully aware that our situation is less than ideal but I have my orders. I made a promise to Sugai-" she paused as Risa came to a stop; evidently attempting to rationalize her behaviour in her own mind as her exterior began to settle. "I can't risk losing you as well if we become the only defence between AKB and Sakamichi."
The enforcer did not avert her orbs from the floor; less than content with surrendering to Neru's verity.
From across the span of the office, stretching into the main hall the thunk of a heavy door reverberated accompanied by rowdy chatter and hastened footsteps tramping toward their location.
The soldiers set their regard toward the approaching individual; reassurance sweeping over Risa as she could finally release the tension of her disquiet.
"Nineteen" she concluded.
Neru could only respond to her friends remark with a halfhearted smile; burying her own concealed worries in the process.
"Nagahama-" Kumi addressed, dipping her head as she greeted the two girls in union, "Risa."
Neru upon closer observation would come to notice the conspicuous fray the Hiragana Captain was forced to contend with. The attempt of concealing her fatigue inept as perspire glistened over her features and neck, her complexion suffused with a deep red as she fought to calm her racing heart and ease her laboured breathing.
"You're late, what happened?" Risa inquired; stepping closer into the dim light.
Taking a last gulp of air; the girl straightened her stance to summarize what intel she had acquired during her routine patrol. Before she could begin however; Neru raised her palm to cease the briefing before it had even begun.
Rising to her boots, the scout stepped toward the worn out militant and breathed in her scent, eyes narrowing as her nostrils became overwhelmed with the detection of bitter charcoal blended with a hint of sulphur.
"Gun powder-" she stated, orbs shifting to lock upwards on her comrades face. "Did you draw arms?" she asked; tension contorting her mien.
"Of course not" she stressed, "later on this evening I extended my route closer to NMB's district-"
"Closer?" brow creasing in fury, "Kumi, you went inside the wire didn't you. Even after I directly ordered you to keep your distance from going near them-"
"They don't know who I am-"
"We don't know that!"
The Captain clamped her mouth shut; recoiling as she decided it best not to continue on with her desperate grasps at reasoning, instead deciding to complete her full report; one being the reason that had held up her return and caused her to race back to inform the two of her findings.
"I'm sorry, I know it was a risk...But while I was there I overheard a discussion in regards to their cooperation with AKB, Sayaka is sending her platoon to Akihabara. By the sounds of it; Yui is rallying her allies. They ship out tomorrow."
These details came as no surprise to the scout as she had been anticipating a hostile assembly between the districts to take place at some point.
"Why would Yokoyama call NMB to their headquarters?" Risa inquired, "Keya is in pieces, she can't possibly be that afraid of our awol members turning up?"
"It's not just fear" Neru stated directly, "she is preparing for war."
"Also-" Kumi continued, "I overheard some of the militants discussing a weather alert heading inland toward Fukuoka-"
"Isn't that HKT territory?" Risa looked to Neru.
The scout simply nodded, "that is where Moriya is..."
"And Memi was headed in that direction a week ago. We haven't heard anything from her yet..." Kumi added.
"With an incoming flood risk, HKT will be directing all their efforts on preparing their borders for impact. Their communication signals could be wiped out temporarily."
"So what do we do?" Risa had now positioned herself next to the Hiragana Captain, both combatants looking to Neru for direction in their next course of action.
"We wait for our informant" she declared unambiguously.
The enforcer wanted nothing more than to dismiss her comrades direction; her intuition subjected to a twinge of unrest. Just how much longer could their efforts stay dormant while their unit and home crumbled under Yui Yokoyama's decree.
"You should retire for the evening, good work-" Neru commended the Captain; watching as she bowed slightly before turning to take her leave, "and Kumi-"
The girl halted her stride; twisting her neck to acknowledge the accost.
"Don't ever disobey my orders again."
Heeding the warning, Kumi offered a sharp nod in understanding before continuing on her way to join her reposed squad.
Once Risa was certain the two of them were alone she returned to her seat; quietly surveying the scouts unperturbed aura.
"It's unlike you to scold..."
"I suppose the nature of our circumstances have left me no choice...These girls are my responsibility and I can't shake the feeling that i've made a terrible mistake in sending Memi out on her own..."
It was near intangible but Risa could have sworn she detected a slight quiver in the girls speech.
"I've been afraid ever since I entrusted our recourse to the discretion of another districts combatant...But these were the orders Sugai entrusted me with. I have no choice but to have faith."
What had started out as a task leaning in their favour had rapidly escalated into a matter of survival; where every move and decision could not be made without careful consideration as their lives now depended on the limited amount of rounds possessed and the reliability of their cover.
Shida could not recall exactly how long the exchange fire had been going on for, but by her gauge of the absent sun; the burning throb of her shoulder and the ringing in her ears, she concluded it must have been ongoing for a couple of hours.
As the soldier held the rifle tightly in her grasp she calculated how many bullets she had left to spare before pulling back on the charging handle; listening for the bolt to clack forward as it seated a round within it's chamber.
"I'm almost out-" she expired; adrenaline wearing thin as the evidence of fatigue was becoming apparent.
Moriya hadn't allowed her companions weariness to go unnoticed; but without another weapon to aid them she was useless in being of any help.
The enforcer harshly wiped at the sweat beading from her brow, eyes reddening from the irritation of smoke and dust left by the volley of shots.
Once again she pulled the gun in taut to the edge of her upper chest; vision focused down along the length of barrel toward her concealed quarry; patiently waiting for any indication of obvious movement.
Sakura from her cover must have gained a minimal glimpse of her as another discharge exploded through the air; ripping into the dirt a mere foot from where Shida's head was situated.
Cussing under her breath; the girl repositioned herself and with a tender squeeze on the trigger; the rifle roared out a hammering burst of fire. The scent of burnt charcoal encompassing the expanse around them as the recoil kicked back into her shoulder; the pressure forcing hot crimson to exude from the wound with each vibration.
Across the distance; the carefully trained slugs struck cavities into the wooden boards used as barricade for her target; sending splinters flying in all directions and missing her opponent.
Snarling to herself Shida rolled onto her back from her lowered pose before propping herself upright; using the vehicles tire as a place to rest her back against.
"I can't get a clear shot-"
The stress was evident on her countenance as she eyed Akane; head resting back against the rubber tread of the wheel; chest rising and falling abnormally as she focused on calming her nerves.
Taking the moment as an opportunity; the Sergeant swiftly tore at the elbow of her sleeve; shredding the material off of her shirt before delicately reaching out to bind it tightly around the girls arm to still the bleeding. Once satisfied that she had managed all she could to be of use; Akane positioned herself upright beside Shida to take a breath.
"Why don't you you rest a minute, I'll take over."
Even though she had offered her assistance; Moriya was already aware that she would be met with resistance.
Over the length of time they had been pinned down; the radiance of the moon had been blotted out by the darkened clouds while needles of rain had begun to soak them; turning the dirt to a thickening muck as it absorbed the moisture. The situation becoming more dire the longer they remained fixed; each second beginning to truly count.
As Akane had expected; the enforcer shrugged off the offer to take over the dual and instead relocated back to her lowered pose against the dampening ground to continue; becoming wary of the fact her ears remained hindered by the frequent ringing caused by the loud gunfire. With the impediment of her hearing and the veil of thickening rain; Shida began to distress that given her current state; if she were to lose track of Sakura's position the soldier would easily be able to sneak up on them.
Moriya who had remained in a better state than her companion brought herself down to the enforcers low level; offering a second pair of eyes to watch for any sign of movement.
"Left-" she urged; rotating her head downward as another outburst of full metal slugs flashed through the darkened air, punching deep holes into the aluminum of their cover; the stray numbers pelting into the earth.
"How is it no one from HKT has noticed this yet?" The Sergeant inquired; curious as the how a whole unit had not come to realize a drawn out gunfight within the borders of their home base.
Shida exchanged another fit of rounds before giving a simple explanation; "they're too focused on relief efforts and I'm sure by now they are well aware of our altercation and that Sakura is handling it...She more than likely instructed them to stand down-" It reminded Shida of how she had also refused aid from her fellow comrades.
The enforcer cringed and pressed her cheek down to the sludge as her shots were returned. Akane's keen senses finally becoming of use as she took note of the barely audible repetitive click of an empty chamber.
It had been as if Shida were already a step ahead of the observation. Before Moriya could even relay her discovery the girl had already broke from their cover and was making a mad dash toward the barricade; combat knife drawn and head dropped; she met an equally fatigued Sakura halfway; both slashing outward at one another; blades sending a bout of sparks flying as they locked blows.
The Sergeant found herself left in a difficult position as she was forced to watch from behind their cover; the visual of the two combatants becoming more shrouded as the weight of the squall growing more fierce continued to wreak havoc.
The scuffle became unrelenting as both forms maintained a firm grip on their bayonets; preserving awareness of where each strike would transpire from.
This had no longer become a circumstance where one might die but a for certain scenario that either one or both were going to be killed. Akane was mindful of this and knew that despite Shida's overwhelming physical strength and skill, Sakura was a formidable opponent who's forte was posing a debilitating complication.
Able to evade another strike, the enforcer made to dodge out of reach yet to her alarm misstepped; boots skidding on the saturated clay causing her to stumble to regain herself.
Sakura took advantage of the falter and closed the margin between them; hand stretching to rap against the girls clasp sending the edged weapon sailing to the earth.
Dread flared in the corner of her eyes as she witnessed her only defence be slung a few meters from her position; too far out of reach to risk diving for it's retrieval.
Moriya felt herself already shouting a deafening warning as she already witnessed the next scene play out before it even happened.
The enforcer left with no other alternatives made the split decision to block the incoming lunge; opening her palm to slam upward against the tip; catching the length of the razor edge between flesh and bone; howling in agony as she made one last desperate attempt to disarm the girl by jerking her hand outward; liberating the hilt from Sakura's tight hold.
With a last ditch effort; Shida whirled on her heel; sending a strenuous kick into the side of her assailants skull; forcing her to eat the soaked ground below.
Before either of them could collect themselves an outbreak of gunshots rang out above the symphony of down pouring rain; drawing both militants attention toward where the sound had reverberated from.
"You had one job Sakura." The tone of voice emitting aggravation as the silhouettes approached.
"Do you know what risks we are now taking by having to come finish your work for you? The barricades are still not at full magnitude...If they give way whatever is in their path will be devastated."
Sakura did not entertain the scorn as she carefully watched her superior officers come into view.
Shida had been too focused on removing the protruding blade from the centre of her hand to care for the opposing reinforcement. The girl had ultimately accepted that all hope of escaping had been depleted. Silently praying that Akane had been smart enough to read the situation and flee while she could.
"Colonel Sashihara Rino-" She snuffled; wiping at the droplets of water that trickled from the drenched strands of hair obscuring her vision down to her nose and jaw.
"Shida Manaka, one of the two Aces of Keyakizaka, your reputation wasn't a myth after all it seems-"
Beside the Colonel stood Natsumi; a doleful expression overwhelming her features as she almost held a regretful look toward the defeated soldier. A merciful appearance.
To Sashihara's left, flanking her shoulder stood who Akane recognized as her instigator Aoi Motomura; her aspect seeping the opposite of Natsu in that she almost looked as if she were enjoying witnessing such a strong foe so helpless.
The enforcer boldly stared down the muzzle of a drawn pistol; expecting nothing less from the officer than to make quick work of any threat within her domain.
The Sergeant who had remained stealth through the entirety of the ordeal made the critical decision to make a last ditch effort in saving her comrade. If this was to be the end; they were not going to expire cowering on their knees.
"I suppose I won't get to see your face again after all..." she uttered; suppressing the grief that threatened to hinder her resolve.
Swiftly; Akane grabbed the rifle Shida had discarded in favour of a blade. Counting only two remaining bullets; she concluded they would be used to take out Sakura and Sashihara.
Abandoning all sense; Moriya dodged out from behind her shield to take aim; finger carefully readying to squeeze at the trigger as she shouted out into the air; a strive to draw awareness on herself.
None of the combatants had been prepared for the cannonade that would sweep down as heavily as the descending rain; flashes of luminosity igniting in the dark shadows of the perimeter.
The Colonel was quick to desert her stance; retreating for cover as the barrage of slugs continued to push them back; creating a distance between the soldiers of Keya and HKT.
From the veil of the night; a unit of militants stomped their way inwards; generating an attack that would permit them to retrieve their comrades without the greater risk of casualties.
Shida upon realizing who had joined the fray merely smirked; curbing a laugh as her partner approached. "Better late than never..." she expressed hoarsely.
Hirate clasped her companion by her forearm; hoisting her upward before slinging the girls arm over her shoulder and bracing her lethargic body against her side.
"Lean on me-" she uttered; leading the two of them toward the unit formation on standby. Akane already following Aoi as she brought the Sergeant to Kobayashi and Zuumin further behind a sturdier blockade.
Techi had just managed to deliver Shida behind the configuration of her small platoon when the erupting wale of sirens began to echo throughout the district; an alert and call to arms.
The battle she had so desperately wanted to avoid had just begun; a clash of desperation for survival and a race against the rapidly rising flood waters. All mindful that if the engagement were to extend for a long interval; their passage back to Honshu would be obstructed; forcing them to delay their charge toward Akihabara.
Hirate took her position behind her platoons barricade; a wall of stacked sandbags and substandard bound planks of wood HKT had constructed for their own defences if an ambush were to have ever occurred; never having anticipated that it would have been utilized by the enemy forces.
Subsequently after a headcount and finalizing their strategy; the Ace drew in her rifle close; nose scrunching in disgust as the Colonel called out to her.
"I'll see you in hell Yurina!"
Techi smirked, a maniacal aura overtaking her senses as she allowed her humanity to shatter; accepting the overwhelming presence of rage as it coursed through her. "Once you're there; remember to tell them who sent you!" she roared in retort.
Sending a final wish to the heavens above; the girl finalized the bolt of her weapon and without regret began to unload her cartridge in the direction of the concealed threat; lighting up the darkened sky as the first crucial battle toward Sakamichi's freedom began.
It was a less than preferred affair to take place at such early hours of the impending dawn. Neru having endured many nights of repetitive insomnia had just barely managed to rest her head when the heavy thud of the buildings main entryway burst open; the resound awakening the dormant unit; causing them to rise into a frenzy of vigilance.
The scout herself had become overwhelmed with a sense of alarm and made to turn over and retrieve the pistol laying beside her makeshift bed; wincing and sucking back air as her wrist collapsed under the weight of a boot; thwarting her defence.
Before Neru could strike she became blinded by the unanticipated glare of a flashlight as it flickered on.
"It's me, Neru, it's Jurina-" the Ace carefully eased the weight of her foot from the girls arm as she noted the glint of realization within her orbs.
The scout gapped her mouth to speak after the affirmation was concluded with a nod but soon found that the two of them were not alone; Hiragana encircling their member and the intruder; muzzles fixed ready to expire the one who dared infiltrate their haven.
Risa had situated herself outside of the clique; intrigued to observe how their riot force would handle the circumstance.
"Looks like Sugai wasn't lying when she said you had reinforcements..." the prudence was apparent by the slight angst carried by her tone.
Neru coming to realize how hazardous the scenario had become was quick to collect herself and rise, "stand down" she instructed firmly; gaze shifting between the guarded members; willing them to obey.
It was a hesitant delayed response as one by one the girls released the locks they had sustained; all remaining cautious of the trespasser that reeked of blood and burnt ash; garbed in an SKE uniform.
Satisfied that her informant would live to see the break of daylight; Neru directed her full awareness to the Ace who stood before her.
"I've been waiting for your report; why did you not radio us?" she urged.
Jurina shook her head; though the threat of being riddled with bullets no longer existed; she still retained a manner of apprehension.
"Call it coincidental but ever since the storms began to tear apart the southern districts communication has almost become near impossible. I've tried to reach out to you but have been unsuccessful each attempt. Meeting in person seemed like our safest bet."
Risa stepped forward to include herself in the discussion, "those storms began two days ago...What the hell has taken you so long?" she demanded.
Jurina countered with an utterance of impatience, "look I don't have time to explain all the details of my whereabouts; my task was to retrieve as much intel as possible and relay it back to you; however...We've run out of time."
Neru felt her brow furrow as the truth of their reality began to crush her with an abominable force. "What's happened?..."
The two members of Keya could already decipher that the imminent details they were about to receive would conserve nothing more than anguish.
"Yokoyama has rallied her forces from across her allied districts; she means to launch a full on assault against Sakamichi."
"When are they expected to strike?" Risa probed.
"It's not just that Watanabe...There are a number of your comrades positioned in the front lines dressed in AKB uniform...Sugai is one of them amongst the vanguard."
The enforcer lurched forward; Neru quickly taking hold of the girls shoulders to halt her aggressive advance for answers.
"You're lying!" she snapped; drawing away from Neru's detainment.
"She must have used leverage; there is no way our soldiers...Let alone our Captain would attack Sakamichi-" Neru speculated.
Jurina nodded; maintaining a watchful eye on Risa as she angrily paced the floor.
"Regardless; if we are going to defend; we have to leave now."
"There is no time Neru" she urged, alarm enveloping her demeanour, "we need to move now to counter or your borders will fall. Believe in yourself damn it!"
The scout had never imagined there would come a time she would be forced to stand at the head of a resistance; not an ambush like before; but a true outbreak of war against her own comrades.
Looking about the room she met the faces of what militants remained of Keyakizaka and forced herself to swallow an urge to disintegrate.
It came with a staggering might of exertion and the sharp pain of regret; but she broke through her own barriers and with a deep breath took her leap into the role of a leader Sugai had entrusted her with.
"Risa, Kumi-" she addressed, "help everyone ready the armaments. We leave for Roppongi in one hour."
Chapter 12: The depths to which a soul may sink
Was this all? The only answer affordable in recovering their exiled companion? More senseless bloodshed against an enemy that refused to yield even as their excessive numbers continued to wane.
No matter the hours that passed; nor the fatigue that had begun to plague her; Techi's question remained constant. A repetitive notion that shrouded her mind as bodies had buckled in waves; falling as surely as the abiding rain; merging blood to water that seeped into the thickening clay below.
Though the odds from the moment of their arrival had been so obviously stacked against them; somehow; the rescue unit constructed of a mere nine members had managed to hold their position against a barrage of assaults.
By their second day it had become obvious which side had proved to be more daunting. With HKT's quantity having drastically been reduced; Moriya had nearly considered making the decision to order a retreat while they had the chance to pass back to the northern side of the islands.
With the squall having given no indication of a departure and the evidence of the rising flood waters; the Sergeant felt they had long pressed their luck of accomplishing both a safe getaway and eradicating what little combatants remained of HKT.
Shida however; do to her fierce loathing and hunger for revenge had torn away any possibilities of a swift retreat. Having broken from formation to pursue Sakura who had also abandoned her post to make a run off of the base and toward the near borders of the district. An obvious tactic to lure the irrational enforcer from the safety of her cover.
No matter the amount of times Hirate replayed the proceeding scenario in her mind; the hopes of an outcome in their favour started to become near painfully unattainable; leading the Ace into a situation no one could have ever predicted to witness her in.
A bridge; a raging overflow of hazardous rapids below and Shida crippled to her knees at the end of Sakura's chamber while Hirate implored clemency from a distance. The sequence a distressing display of how the Keya enforcer had failed in her attempt for revenge.
"Don't; Sakura stop!"
The clack of the hammer as it slid back caused Techi's complexion to drain; a shiver trailing up her spine as she froze.
An unwavering hollow glare void of remorse directed from Sakura toward an unarmed Shida relayed dominance.
These were the sentiments Hirate had long forgotten. Yet after all the years she had buried them; it had only taken Sakura an instant to bring them all crashing down on her. A reminder that she was very much still human with empathy for the ones she cared for.
The HKT Ace merely shifted her vacant gaze between the two; one propped at her boots; the other maintaining herself at a secure range to bargain.
It was not amusing. There was no joy taken from becoming the executioner. Like the enemy before her; she to had her obligations toward her district; the people she swore to protect. It was just the nature of war.
"Hirate-" she called above the harmonic thrumming of the pouring rain. "We're all not so different; you, myself, Shida...Jurina" she breathed; beads of water trickling streams from her saturated disheveled hair. "Pawns used to accomplish the tasks others could not-"
"We are not the same; not even close-" Techi snarled; voice low, "We all remember your betrayal to Haruka!"
The brusque remark had caused a twinge of discomfort to simmer within Sakura's chest as she was forced to revisit the memories of a time she had fought so hard to forget.
"Haruka was weak-" she countered; lip curling in indignation. "Tell me; seeing as how we are on the topic of comrades; what is her life to you, Yurina?" she motioned toward the soldier before her.
Sakura pressed the tip of her rifle harshly against the subdued militants temple; a longing to cause Keya's Ace to writhe in desperation after the girls attempt to inwardly disable her.
Shida; cautiously considering her position altered her jaded orbs in Techi's direction. Locking their gaze as she allowed herself to sink back on her heels, "don't you dare-" she hissed; knowing what risks the girl was willing to take if it meant giving her unit members just one more day.
Sakura shook her head in disappointment as she observed her opponent decisively lower her weapon; allowing it's weight to ease from her finger tips as it dropped to the soil below, "I suppose we really are different..."
The enforcer clamped her jaw together tightly; detesting her companions course of action. "Not for me; you idiot-"
Taking the obvious opportunity of her inattentive perpetrator; Shida wrenched her head from the sight of the trained barrel; taking the split moment of freedom she had to draw her sheathed knife and rammed it upward to plunge it's razored length deep into the militants shoulder.
"Shida!" Hirate shouted; racing to retrieve her abandoned gun; long aware that the draw would be futile.
They both knew that the blade had missed the vitals.
They both knew the measure of time they needed to succeed did not exist.
And as the girls exchanged a grave look at one another; they both came to realize that no matter where life may have taken them; goodbyes would have never come easy.
The Keya Ace watched as Sakura forced herself against the agony of her laceration; striking outward with her boot to send the debilitated enforcer backwards into the wooden banister with a thud.
No recovery, no mercy, no time.
As Hirate moved to squeeze her trigger; the p-taff of two slugs ripped through the air; an audible indication informing her that she had lost in the race for Shida's life.
The visuals of her partner trapping the bullets in the cavity of her sternum and the remorseless display of Sakura forcing her companions crumbling body over the railing to be devoured by the frenzied rapids below would become a view that would permanently engrain itself in her conscious.
Before Techi could fully comprehend what had just transpired; Sakura had already made her break for retreat; heading farther away from HKT's base; willing her existence to be swallowed by the surging veil of rain and darkened shadows of the impending evening.
It were as if the audio of the world had come to a full stop; the distant crack of gunfire and explosions ceasing; the moaning wind and spattering downpours all becoming smothered by the agonized solitary screams of failure.
As anyone could have unforeseen; on the dawn of their third day of engagement; the remarkable hues of coral and gold glossed from the severance of the drifting clouds; the intimation the gale had finally made it's departure.
Hirate could not recall how long she had been kneeling in the same position for but it had to have been long enough for the conflict in the distance to conclude. Aside from the streaming gurgle of water rippling beneath the overpass and the outlying chorus of birds navigating the skies above; nothing else stirred.
Had they won? Was HKT dismantled? Did it even matter anymore?
"Does it matter?" she uttered to herself; orbs locked to the centre of her dirt blotched palms.
Slapping her hand to her forehead she snickered, what a stupid question. Of course it mattered; she still had responsibilities. It was just one life right? Loss was to be expected right?
"Shida-" she choked against the knot that balled in her throat and fought down the urge to retch.
"I found her; Sergeant this way!"
The declaration emitted from an approaching girl of small stature. A relatively new recruit to Okada's platoon of STU, Sakaki Miyu whom her comrades had dubbed Cuca.
Akane had been first to approach her lowered companion but slowed her pace when she noted how their arrival had not been enough to draw the girls attention from it's fixation on the muck that her knees were immersed in.
Memi had continued past Moriya as Koba; Zuumin and Aoi joined the Sergeant in observing; all reaching the same question at the same instant but none daring to ask out loud; uncertain if they wanted to hear the answer.
The Hiragana soldier did not hesitate in dropping down to join her partner on the ground below; aware that for Techi to appear so destroyed; something terrible had transpired in this place that night.
Memi took in the glossed over bloodshot eyes; her pale complexion and the dull expression that clouded her countenance before reaching outward to take hold of the Ace and pull her in tight toward her chest.
They knew. All already aware that Shida Manaka had not made it and Hirate now trembled on the edge of losing her sanity.
For a time Akane stood silently watching the two girls; bullying down the hitch convulsing in her chest. The Sergeant knew that now was not the time to give in. Yielding to their grief was not an option.
As the loss rendered Hirate near unresponsive and her saviour now gone; Moriya accepted the brunt of her responsibility to lead them home.
Though they had eradicated HKT; the truth was Sakura and Sashihara were still out there and they would also now have to wait for the risen waters to recede.
It all seemed so surreal; like a bad dream they would all soon wake from. However; as an anguished wail tore from Hirate's lungs; reverberating the air around them; Akane was reminded that even her nightmares were more humane than their reality.
"Sergeant; we got one!"
As the announcement reached her ears; Moriya took one last perturbed glance at the two girls before turning on her heel and walking back toward where the fray had taken place.
It was there; gathered in a half circle that Cuca stood; her two flanks from STU, Chiho and Yumiko, within close proximity. All three pinning a figure to the ground with their weapons as Akane steadily approached.
"Natsu-" the Sergeant recited; recognizing the only survivor that remained. Somehow she felt a pang of guilt for their only source of intel to come from the one who had appeared to harbour the most regret. Yet this was not a situation to become forbearing.
After taking a deep breath; Akane nodded toward the three combatants to release their aim and allow their subject some space.
"I'm sure you know how this goes-" she stared downward to lock orbs with their captive.
"What is there left to te-" the blunt force of Moriya's open palm had struck with such a force to cause blood to gush from the soldiers busted nose; trickling into the small part of her lips staining her teeth a scarlet red. Nat's attempt at recovery thwarted by a firm grasp at the hair of her scalp; a sharp snap yanking her face inches from the Sergeants.
"I don't have the patience to deal with your games right now; Natsu; my fiend is dead. Sakura and Sashihara are gone, they've abandoned you. Where the hell did they go?!" her grip twisting and tightening further to express just how serious she was.
Natsu ran her tongue across the edge of her bottom lip to clear some of the blood from her mouth; spitting the remnants off to the side before speaking.
"Akihabara...They've gone to rendezvous with Yokoyama but surely you all knew that by now?" she gritted her teeth, sucking in air against the burn of her scalp, "word has it Keya soldiers have joined her company; dressed in AKB uniform...They've only recently launched a barrage against Sakamichi's borders."
"Yes, your soldiers damn it-" she hissed as her skull was jerked further, "apparently your Captain; Sugai Yuuka is even heading a unit in the attacks-"
"Lies!" Moriya moved to unleash all of the tension she had restrained the last few days when her motion was interrupted by the unanticipated crack of a stray bolt. The lead meeting it's target; lodging itself deep into the HKT militants forehead and draining the life from her collapsing motionless frame.
Releasing the grip she had sustained; Akane whirled to face the interloper; rage searing behind her eyes as she took in the girl she barely recognized; a countenance void of emotion.
"Techi!" she snapped; aggravated that the Ace had taken away their only current source of information. "You may be our Ace but out here you are not in charge; this state does not give you leeway to turn into a zealot; do I make myself clear?" her stance conveying a reproach of dominance.
The girl said nothing as she lowered her rifle and lifelessly turned to leave; Memi directing an apologetic look toward Akane before following Hirate as she trudged off.
Shaking her head in disapproval; Moriya nodded toward Cuca; the three combatants having remained mute during the bitter exchange that had occurred not moments before.
"I need you three to work alongside Aoi, Zuumin and Kobayashi to gather armament and load two technical trucks. I have a notion the transports you all used to get here were caught in the surge. I also need a radio; once the signals are available we will want to tap into any way of getting word from what is happening in Sakamichi...If Natsu was telling the truth; we are going to have one hell of a fight on our hands-"
Cuba dipped her head; having full comprehension of her instructions, "we will also send word to Captain Okada as well once the frequencies are available. The remnants of your platoon will not fight this alone."
Moriya forced a halfhearted smile; acknowledging the fealty between STU and Keya but unable to express rejoice.
Had Yuuka truly forsaken Sakamichi?...Yui must have coerced her somehow...
Akane knew the truth would have to wait until further word or until the waters receded enough to allow their passage back to Honshu.
The concrete, it's once hardened surface fractured in portions throughout the Roppongi hills, the once cordial residence of Sakamichi's Keyakizaka. The remnants of fallen corpses unclaimed by either side dotted the streets; a greasy crimson staining the ground to scorch under the heated rays of the sun.
In what had felt like an interval of perpetuity; the frequent blasts of detonating bombs and rattle of gunfire had ceased; just as surely as the sentiments of those shattered and levelled by the ravages of the ongoing war.
"Yui has ordered our withdrawal-" Sugai breathed; chest still heaving as she forced her adrenaline to ease itself.
Nanako shifted her view beneath the brim of her lowered helmet; altering between Yuuka and Rika who had joined beside her shoulder.
"Does Oda know?" she inquired; brow creasing as she wiped at her beading sweat.
Sugai nodded, "I sent out an order for her to meet us, she should be here with the others shortly."
As the Captain had expected, Oda, tailed by Shiori and Nijika had made their appearance after rounding the rubbled corner of a building. Relief enveloping her expression as she detected they were all in once piece.
Licking at her dry cracked lips; Oda raised her weary head to acknowledge her Captain as they all assembled.
"Does this mean we finally get to sleep in a proper bed and have a damn shower?" she grumbled; bitter that Yui had forced them to remain in Sakamichi for what had to have been the extension of a week.
The comment however had gone unnoticed as Yuuka's orbs became frantic; searching for a member that was not currently present amongst them.
"Oda, where is Habu?" a shake in her voice becoming evident.
"She's coming, she was with us a moment ago-"
Before Sugai could unleash a lecture on her comrade of how important it was that their units remained together; the tower of a girl came trudging around the same corner Oda had appeared from not minutes before. A small smile tugging at the edge of her mouth as she spotted that her companions were all together and very much all in one piece.
Yuuka exhaled a sigh of relief; her countenance shifting to match the approaching girl.
"Traitor's; all of you!"
The sudden shouted accusation echoed between the concrete structures; causing the unit to lower their stances ready to cover as they franticly searched for it's location of origin.
Habu had come to an immediate stop to also pinpoint the threatening vocals but finding it a daunting task do to the amount of scattered rubble and many sources to curtain their whereabouts.
"On top; to the left-" Rika hissed; pointing her finger upwards to the roof of a building situated near the end of the block.
Oda having trailed Rika's direction raised her gun to unload a clip of metal slugs on their aggressor.
"Hold on-" the unexpected weight of Sugai's hand pressing down on the barrel of the spies gun caused the unit to stir in unrest.
"What the hell are you doing?" Oda snapped.
"They haven't shot at us yet-" she declared, "I know our task but we are still part of this district, shouldn't we spare who we can if we are able-"
The Captain released her hold on the cylinder as Oda yanked it from her clasp; eyes fierce with displeasure.
"Have you lost your mind-" she pulled the weapon in tight to her shoulder once more, "we are wearing AKB uniforms; we've killed waves of our own people...Those who reside here want us dead...I almost wish we were."
"Oda look; quick!" Shiori urged; lowering a pair of field glasses from her sight; alarm overtaking her features.
The spy hastened her aim; staring down the length of her rifle as she locked onto the target mounted high above the streets; the others following her lead all curious as to what had caused Shiori to become so anxious.
As Oda locked onto the guerrilla she became perplexed; noting how the figure appeared to be fumbling with their aim toward the direction of where Habu stood slightly curved over as she still hadn't detected the threats location.
Oda slightly lowered her aim to look at Habu's position; quickly becoming aware of the carelessly stacked barrels of oil that had been strategically placed against the side of the nearby building.
"Habu-" she breathed.
Sugai; having taken in every step of Oda's observation had also become aware of their assailants strategy and could only manage a swift warning.
What followed in the wake of the ear-splitting explosion could only be described as a scene ensuing from the depths of their darkest fears. The ringing in their ears shortly being replaced by the desperate wailing cries of torture.
Rushing through the drifting smoke and riddled debris; the unit made their way to their distressed comrade; her body writhing on the cement as hot crimson seeped from the multiple wounds strewn across her torso.
"Radio HQ; let them know to prep for surgery" Yuuka instructed; somehow maintaining a collected disposition as she dropped beside the girl; frantically trying to steady the bleeding with whatever source she could find.
"How the hell is she even still alive?" Nanako inquired; bewildered that anyone could have survived a detonation at such a close proximity.
"It doesn't matter damn it; just radio; now!" she snapped.
Since being assigned as a medical officer at the command base in Akihabara; Koike had not seen any of her comrades aside from Yone in the expanse of a week. Constantly bombarded with frequent patients being brought in; having sustained injuries during their combat roles on the battlefield. Some she had managed to save; others she just could not; the lack of assistance becoming a factor in lowering her success rate.
The girl had just returned to the medical bay from having allowed herself the personal time to bathe. As there were barely any experienced surgeons residing on the base; Koike had not much time to rest. Now however had become the perfect opportunity as she had received word that the majority of troops would be withdrawing to regroup.
Slowly; Koike felt her legs give out as she relaxed the tension of her stiff muscles; sinking into the comfort of a cushioned desk chair; ignoring the stacks of clipboards filled with paperwork scattered across the table in front of her; deciding to review it all at a later date.
Closing her eyes; the girl tilted her head back hoping to get at least a couple hours of well needed rest. An aspiration short lived when the audible distraction of commotion approached the entryway of her work quarters.
The medic could only rub the exhaustion from her eyes as she stood to meet the incoming group of frantic vocals. All chatting so loud and rapidly that she could not make out a single word spoken.
Koike had only made it halfway across the expanse of the room when the far doors to her workspace swung wide with a bang; held open by Rika and Nijika whom the girl felt a hint of joy in seeing; having missed the familiar faces of her friends.
"Take her elsewhere-"
That vile assertion uttering from an AKB officer Koike had become all too familiar with caused her skin to crawl. Kamiharu; one who took pleasure in dictating the lives that would be worth the medic's attention.
Koike often wondered why the girl barely got sent out off of the base to engage; but lately she had started to speculate that Yui may have considered her mind slightly unsound.
As Kamiharu's back appeared in the centre of the doorframe; Koike could tell she was once again attempting to throw her authority around in a place she had no business.
"There is nowhere else; all the other surgeon's are tied up do to the inflow of returning soldiers-"
The medic recognized the opposing voice as Sugai; her tone fluctuating between anger and dread.
"I guess that's unfortunate for her then-"
"Kamiharu-" Koike snapped; the sudden address causing the uproar to alleviate.
"Koike; tell this muppet to beat it-" Oda had been on the edge of unleashing a vocabulary of profanity and vain deterrents when the approaching girl had finally gained a visual on who's life the officer had been so eagerly attempting to discard.
Rushing past the AKB militant; Koike situated herself beside the patient who laid near unconscious on a stretcher supported by Shiori and Nanako; the sight causing her to seize with an impotent heartache.
"Habu-" she expelled; shaking hands reaching outward to hover over the scattered lesions and flesh maimed by numerous burns.
As the incapacitated soldier groaned through her clenched teeth the medic took note of the fragile stare she received through narrowed lids.
"How the hell are you even still awake..." she questioned under her breath. "Shiori, Nanako; take her in. Has she been given any morphine?"
The girl turned to lead the group into the room when her access became blatantly refused; Kamiharu using her frame to block the entryway.
"Move-" she warned; eyes becoming desperate.
"I've already said no; soldier."
The medic had generally maintained a calm demeanour; always the civil member with a rational conscience. That manner however became null the instant the officer attempted to wedge herself between the procedure of saving Habu's life.
"I'll make it simple for you-"
Kamiharu raised a brow at Koike's incoming act of intimidation.
"You move or I will ensure every last one of your members that come through my door will go untreated and left for dead. Can you truly spare the loss of a decent surgeon?"
The officer snickered; "have you forgotten about the insurance the General Captain has over your heads?" she pressed.
"Maybe you're having a difficult time understanding so let me be blunt. If Habu dies; nothing else in this living world will matter to me."
It became an obvious aspect of defeat as the group observed the oppressor become awkwardly restless; the smirk on her face vanishing as she realized and accepted that this soldiers warning was not a hollow proclamation.
Without further objection; Kamiharu reluctantly stepped aside and allowed the unit to swiftly pass through; Koike leading them toward the back where her comrade could be transferred onto a proper table.
"Morphine?" she inquired once more; stopping in front of the near sink to wash and dry her hands.
"Our unit never received morphine in our standard kits-"
"Bastards" she hissed; the cruel roughshod intentions toward the Keya militants so obvious it was infuriating.
"Captain; I need you to grab the isotonic solution, I need an IV stat-" she instructed; jabbing a syringe of opiates into the trembling girls thigh; her concentration hampered by the frail grip of a palm wrapping itself around her wrist. The hold drawing her attention toward Habu's pleading features.
Biting her bottom lip to restrain the overflow of tears that willed to fall; Koike returned a gesture of comfort; delicately taking the soldiers hand in her own, "I won't let you die."
The medic would swear this; no matter what; she would ensure the life of her most important person would be saved.
Chapter 13: Adherence at the frontline
Through the webbed cracks of dusty glass; concealed within the shadows of a vacant two storey shop; she could see them.
A gathering of familiar faces all clad in enemy uniform was taking place near the edge of the block. The visual striking a burning desire within her to abandon her post and rush to greet them. Tell them all that she had been through over the weeks that had passed since their separation. Tell them that help had arrived. Yet duty...her orders had been absolute. Instructed by the very girl that stood surrounded by her comrades in the streets below.
Within time however; the burning that had driven her instincts began to scorch her judgement.
If it had not been for the abrupt contact of Risa's hand following the explosion that swallowed Habu; Neru would have surely given away their position that they had held for so long.
The haunting agonized screams of her unfortunate companion and the haste instructions of Sugai shouting over the chaos would become a composition she would not soon forget.
"Kumi; I thought you stated that the perimeter was clear, what the hell was that?"
Jurina; dark circles encompassing the underside of her eyes; barged into the small room that had been occupied by Neru and Risa; the Hiragana Captain tailing close on her heels. Both approaching the window to get a glimpse of the scenario below.
"It's been clear for two days now. I've had two spotters armed with snipers on the rooftop. Not to mention the girls I've sent out on foot patrol."
The SKE Ace was quick to make her disinterest in excuses apparent as she struck outward to grab hold of Kumi's shirt collar and yank her downward to her eye level.
"Are you certain we have spotters? Because to me it sure as hell does not. When did you last receive a status report?"
The Captain shifted her orbs downward at the inquiry; now aware she had made a grave mistake as a unit leader.
"I thought so."
Harshly; Jurina emphasized her release with a shove and made her way out of the small chamber; her direction aimed toward the flight of stairs that would bring her to the roof above.
"Neru, Risa I-"
The scout lifted her palm upwards to hush the girl before she could spew a bombardment of apologies.
"Honestly-" she muttered, "I blame myself for believing you were ready-"
The weight of regret in her leaders tone had just been enough to fracture her confidence in ever being able to control an assignment again.
It was only after Neru and Risa had left that Kumi permitted her clenched fist to make full contact with the nearest wall; twisting her form until her back pressed against it's cracked surface and sliding down until she rested crouched on her heels.
Prompt in her next actions; Neru moved to stalk Jurina to the upper level of their dwelling; snapping the tips of her fingers to gain the attention of the occupied cadets Kato and Mirei as she went. The two girls requiring no words to understand what was being requested of them.
Risa; after short deliberation decided it best to remain below as she anticipated the possibility of an altercation that may have begun to unfold between the Scout and Ace on the roof. Simply nodding her head toward Kato and Mirei in acknowledgement as the pair slung their loaded rifles over their backs and began their decent up the rigid staircase.
Trudging from the shadows of the building; Jurina carelessly stomped her way across the expanse of the buildings crown; closing the short gap between herself and two scrunched down frames that were evidently distracted by the mayhem ensuing below.
The scene in itself became enough to infuriate the Ace further; a flood of disciplinary actions near clouding her senses.
Neru was swift; lunging forward to take hold of Jurina's sleeve and pulling harshly to break her away from the imminent warpath she was so clearly journeying toward.
Before the girl could open her mouth to dispute against the Scouts bold attempt at intervening; she became aware of their circumstance once again. Tension melting as she observed Neru press a finger to her own lips. Orbs shifting between Jurina and the pair of stunned Cadets who had been oblivious of their approach not moments before.
The Scout silently motioned for the spotters; Miho and Suzuka to relocate inside as Kato and Mirei appeared to take over their positions; ducking low beside the short brick edges for shelter.
With one last glare of defiance; Neru spun on her heel to follow the retreating cadets. Fully aware that Jurina would be behind her momentarily to unleash a lecture of disapproval.
"Miho, Suzuka; get some rest. You'll be back on rotation after the next twelve hours."
Perhaps under other circumstances the two may have attempted to reject the given instructions; offering their efforts wherever else they may have been required. Yet the inferno of tension that submerged their wake drove their decision to submit to Neru's request. Briskly edging off into a lone room tucked away at the end of an upper level corridor; it's entrance clicking shut once they vanished behind it's threshold.
At first; Neru did not turn to acknowledge the overwhelming presence that had come to a firm halt over her shoulder. Instead deciding it best to allow the girl to unload the weight of her frustrations.
Being the decorated Scout she was; Neru's strengths had always stemmed from her rational demeanor and ability of swift anticipation and observation.
There was no way this one incident alone had been the cause of nearly tipping such an experienced Ace over the edge.
For a time the two stood without exchanging a word. The only audible sounds being the low moan of the floor boards creaking beneath Jurina as she shifted her weight from right to left and the popping of her knuckles as she anxiously rapped them against her own outer thighs.
"You're not here to scold me Jurina..." she implied softly.
Oppressing her inner displeasure; the Ace exhaled harshly before rounding the girl in front of her and treading toward the quarters she had claimed as her own.
"When are you going to let it all out?" she pressed, pushing her way into affairs she had no business in.
The utterance; like the weight of a ball and chain caused the girl to halt her excursion; a thin smirk twisting the edges of her lips.
"Are you really going to test these waters here and now?" she inquired.
The snicker plastered on her countenance was replaced with a vicious scowl; her head twisting slightly to gaze at Neru from the corners of her eyes. "Never."
"You loved her, didn't you? It wasn't your fault...Re-"
Neru hadn't time to blink before she found herself pressed tightly up against a near wall; a firm palm wrapped tightly around her windpipe; fingers squeezing as they threatened to take her very life at any given moment.
Hot breath brushed against her left ear as the Ace pressed down on her, "So what if I did? It was all before your time, before Keyakizaka had even become a mere idea. What makes you even dare to try and understand my past? Stick to Sakamichi; you have enough of your own problems as it is."
Abandoning her endeavour to strengthen her understanding; Neru shifted her gaze downward, submitting to the Aces advisory.
Certain they had come to an understanding; Jurina released the concrete hold she had maintained; saying nothing before continuing her journey into the secluded room she had previously aimed for. It's door slamming shut behind the vanishing silhouette.
Gulping in the mixture she nearly thought she would never have access to again; the Scout eyed the vacant path the infuriated girl had left behind.
Perhaps her keen observations were both a blessing and a curse.
After straightening her stance and taking a deep breath to gather herself; Neru retired to the main chamber of the residence; paying no mind to Risa who sat quietly in an old worn desk chair. The enforcers attention unwavering as it remained fixed outside of the fogging glass to the darkening streets below.
"Do you think she survived?"
The query remained unsettled; it's pertinence interrupted by the barely audible shuffle of nearing footsteps.
Following an apologetic glance she directed toward her comrade; the Scout edged closer toward the center of the room to greet the guests that would in a short span of time join them.
As expected; there came no formality of a knock; the entryway being casually swung open to allow three figures access.
"Welcome back." Risa smirked; standing to join Neru at her shoulder.
Two of the three lowered their heads to bow; acknowledging Risa's words. Their mien riddled with fatigue and caution.
"Kyoko, Ayaka...Jurina." Neru addressed; detecting her own unease toward the Ace given the recent altercation that had occurred not long before. There hadn't exactly been a long enough interval for either to cool off.
Jurina had easily caught onto the girls state of vigilance and decided it best to bury the tension that seeped from her stubborn aura.
"We were able to locate them." Kyoko stated; disclosing that the assignment had been a success. "After finding a route underground around the infrastructure it became a matter of mapping our whereabouts. Turn's out there are quite a few tunnels that navigate into Akihabara that have a wide margin along the subway lines. It's near impossible to be noticed unless AKB soldiers flooded the pathways and even then, the options to take are vast."
The Scout nodded her head as the intel was stated; patiently waiting for the pair to exhaust their findings.
Risa however became restless; an obvious question raking at her subconscious. One that Neru desired to hear the answer to as well.
"Who are they holding and why?" Jurina asked.
"Ah yes, that would be Fuyuka, Suzumon, Uemura and Ozeki." Ayaka responded; her attention shifting between her three superior officers.
"Ozeki; she's alright-" the relief that enveloped Risa's features made it appear as if the hell they had gone through to get to this point had all been well worth it.
"So if I were to guess correctly, Yokoyama is using those specific girls to control the others" Jurina stated.
"That's right" Kyoko nodded in agreeance.
"Good thing we haven't announced ourselves then. No doubt in my mind that you two would be right in there with those traitors" the Ace scoffed. "Ozeki and...Who would your precious person be Neru?" she tested; almost as if this was her venture at revenge for their earlier conversation. "Fuyuka?"
"Well-" the Scout started, "these are the bonds of Keya I suppose...Unwavering. Unlike the many others that would abandon those that meant most to them...We like to call them sell outs."
Oh she dared.
The statement had caused Jurina's expression to contort in disgust; lips parting to counter with an onslaught of forewarnings.
Risa stretched her reach to clasp at her companions shoulder, "that's enough-"
The Scout jerked herself free from the contact; ignoring the shock that took over the Enforcers countenance; Orbs piercing straight into the Aces; fixed and malicious.
"You mock our conviction yet you risk your life to help a unit of traitors?..." she snickered "Is your aiding us your revenge, Jurina? Your attempt at atonement for your treason against her?"
For those that observed the exchange; each would have guessed Neru's accusations would have prodded the soldier into a fit of unstoppable rage. However; the answer to the Scout's direct question became obvious through Jurina's lack of response.
Instead of lashing out; the Ace freed herself of the pent up frustration she had harboured since long. Her rigid stance becoming less tense as she heaved a deep audible sigh.
This soldier of Keyakizaka; though annoying with her constant consideration and ability to examine and understand others; was certainly an asset to whichever side she supported.
Jurina could only nod toward her in respect; having no desire to take the dispute further.
"Now then-" Neru proceeded; her regard dispersing toward all four once again, "It's already known that we cant keep holding out here. Eventually they will find us. This fact brings me to the decision we must retrieve the incarcerated unit before we can launch a full scale assault."
Risa moved to fold her arms across her chest as she shifted her weight uneasily.
Neru observed the Enforcer knowingly.
"Don't even bother asking. I've already made up my mind" Risa assuredly stated.
"Yes...But it's still my responsibility to ask. Are you feeling one hundred percent?"
A brief chuckle escaped the soldiers lips, "of course, I'm not that fragile" she pressed.
"You were shot Risa, you almost died."
"I've rested long enough Neru."
The Scout couldn't help but smirk at her comrades determination. In her mind; this task would be a race to Ozeki. That motivation would be more than enough.
"Very well; you'll be partnering up with Kato. As much as I wish it were myself going; I know I'll be more useful here with the cadets."
Risa nodded; having become quite familiar with the Hiragana member over the span of weeks they had spent together.
It had been an unexpected yet predictable interruption as Neru's briefing came to an abrupt halt. Suppressed by a sudden volley of two exchanged rounds.
Jurina said nothing as she hurriedly exited the room; retrieving her rifle as she went; pace quickening as more shots rang out from above.
Making haste; the Ace barged her way onto the roof top; her form dropping low as two slugs ripped through the air past her.
Witnessing the pair of spotters returning fire; Jurina knew it was only a matter of time before too much attention would be drawn.
Settling herself between the two; she motioned for Mirei to hand over her gun; knowing from their position a scope would be their best tactic.
Adjusting her position; the girl carefully peered over the crown of her shield; pulling the stock end of the weapon tightly into her shoulder; eye gazing through the length of the magnifying lens.
It took her several precious seconds to locate the threat. A heap huddled down behind a mound of crumbled debris. The two soldiers obviously interchanging visuals between themselves.
"So here is a lesson for you cadets-" the Ace started; pulling back on the charging bolt and slapping it forward to load the chamber. "Clearly a three dimensional environment can have it's advantages and disadvantages. An advantage being enhanced concealment and the disadvantage being limited fields of view and more difficult shots do to the various buildings and the possibility of civilians."
Pausing to readjust the clarity of her scope; Jurina became perplexed once their target became identified; her consternation only increasing as she realized their aim had also evidently recognized who it was perched stealth on the rooftop.
"Damn it-" she hissed; orbs narrowing as she continued to monitor the AKB soldier.
"What is it?" Kato inquired; taking note of the Aces troubled demeanor.
"That problem down there is an AKB Captain; Okabe Rin" she stated. "By the looks of it though; that girl doesn't have a radio...And clearly she now knows who she's up against, knows she can't win, not against me anyways...And needs to inform Yui."
"So are you going to take her out?" Mirei questioned.
"She's going to run for it..."
Sure enough; while surveying the menace; as Jurina had predicted; the Captain released her gaze and bolted from her cover; rounding the edge of a building to disappear from view.
Dropping the larger rifle in favour of a handgun; the Ace deserted her post to pursue the fleeing Captain by foot.
"Stay put!" she urged the alarmed Risa and Neru as she raced down the multiple sets of stairs; leaping two by two as she went until she broke from the structures exit into the streets.
Even if she had been exposed; the two Keya soldiers had not.
Dry dust kicked up from behind her heels as she sprinted; remaining cautious of her whereabouts as she managed to stalk her target further away from her refuge.
Okabe was without a doubt fast and the longer their chase extended; Jurina's hopes of catching her before she gained too much of a lead began to dim.
Unleashing the remainder of her vigor; the stretch of her charge reached full capacity.
But Okabe had too much of a lead.
Dred and nausea began to triumph. Heart slamming against the sternum of her chest; warning she could not go on much longer.
This was her only chance.
Elevating the firearm in both of her clammy hands; she trained it's focus on the eluding girl while skidding to an immediate stop. Out of time and desperate; she squeezed back on the trigger to unload the magazine.
Distress and loathing. The Ace had missed in her wager to drop the informant as she had managed an unanticipated dodge around another bend.
Cursing a strewn of profanities; the girl hissed through clenched teeth; leaning forward to rest her palms against her trembling thighs to catch her breath.
They would need to fall back before Okabe reached headquarters to relay their whereabouts to Yokoyama. Yet even still; finding another safe location within Roppongi would be a daunting task. AKB would be aware that an awol soldier of SKE stood against them and all Jurina could focus on was how Makki would handle the revelation of her treason.
Using the back of her hand; she wiped at the beads of sweat that trickled from her throbbing temples; furiously brushing back the saturated dishevelled strands of hair that swayed over her eyes.
Discarding her repose; the soldier straightened herself upright to make her way back toward the covert unit. Carefully sliding the empty pistol into it's leather sheath that wrapped around her upper thigh.
Following a handful of strides; Jurina was brought to a startling standstill as the reverberation of numerous cracks weaved their way through the many winding streets of Roppongi.
From whoever the fire had transpired from; they were near.
Curiosity; a faulty custom in her conscious began to draw the Aces awareness in the direction the gunfire had stemmed from. Leading her advertently to round a couple of corners before she came upon a surprising segment.
Near the edge of the boulevard; a quarter of it's length; a lone figure crouched over a buckled tangle of limbs. The downed identity revealed to be a mortally damaged Okabe who had been struck by the individual that hovered above.
Solace; like a wave crashing against the shore; took hold of Jurina; shaking her diaphragm and squeezing her gut.
"Memi-" she exhaled; warily making her way toward the cadet who had completed the task she could not.
The young victor had become aware of the Aces approach but maintained her focus on the soldier below causing a shift in Jurina's concern the closer she got.
Once the margin between them had been closed; the SKE soldier noted how Okabe; though in bad shape; was very much alive. A feat that would more than likely not last much longer do to the lack of treatment and steady course of blood that flowed from the jagged apertures in her chest .
Discomfort and terror had replaced the Captains once proud features. An honorable soldier comprehending that the conclusion of her role in this fight had been decided by the sharp aim of an unskilled combatant.
Though this war had divided them based on different ideals; Jurina could not forget that they at one time had been comrades.
"I'm sorry-" the Ace spoke in a hushed manner; a pang of sorrow immersing her sentiments as she watched the soul fade from the dying girls orbs.
Once Memi was certain they could do no more; she stood to greet her superior officer in an upright position; dipping her head briefly to express respect.
"If I'm being honest; I don't believe there are words to even describe how relieved I am to see you" the Ace admitted.
Memi could only respond with a sympathetic smile; one that didn't last long as Jurina started a barrage of multiple questions; the first being the most anticipated.
"So how did you find us? Were you able to locate the others?"
The cadet motioned for the two of them to trek onward away from the corps that rested so near and head toward the hideaway that was located a few blocks over.
"My task was a success, the others are stationed on the outskirts of Roppongi awaiting my report" she continued; the rifle cradled in her arms leisurely being slung over her shoulder. "As for how I found you, it was coincidental thanks to the racket of exchanged fire. I had made my way inside the wire no more than twelves hours ago. I was sent in to relay a damage account and identify any safe posts near Keya's HQ. They want to take back their home...Not the smartest plan in my opinion; but it would seem both Moriya and Techi aren't even fazed by the prospect of a full on invasion at this stage."
Jurina shook her head in disagreement. "Those two can't be disclosed yet Memi. Not until we've ensured that the others being held hostage have been released successfully. We want to avoid having to scuffle against Sugai and the others at all costs.
"So what do you propose?"
After pondering in silence and weighing each variation for a matter of minutes; the Ace stopped her trek to turn and face the shorter girl.
"Tell them to stay put. I will bring the others to you. Have you found a secure dwelling?"
Memi nodded, "Yes, an abandoned school to be exact. It's safe to say classes have been suspended ever since the coup and Yokoyama implemented a curfew. Many of the younger generations have long since evacuated.
"Inform Moriya that we are coming. Tell her not to move until we arrive. I need to fill them in with what we know."
The cadet bobbed her head in understanding, making haste to separate herself from the Ace and deliver the news to their awaiting Sergeant; form vanishing on the horizon as she navigated back the way she had come.
After observing Memi's safe withdrawal from the perimeter; Jurina continued on her own way back toward where Neru and Risa awaited her return. A strong hunch that with the rallying of all their allies finally able to come together, winning this war began to feel like it may not have been an impossible feat after all.
Chapter 14: The reapers bargain
Since the start of the war that had plagued the many prefectures and districts; many lives had been lost. Yet in the recollection of all the departed souls; Moriya could only think of one who truly deserved such an end.
For some reason however; that individual was still walking among the living, spending day and night trying to find a way to exterminate the missing soldiers of Keyakizaka. All the while doing so by invading their district; murdering their people and taking hostages.
Do to this this verity; even though they were finally within the wire of Roppongi; Akane felt like a stranger in a place she had once called home.
The Sergeant for the last several hours had spent her time pacing the hallways of the deserted institution. Having managed to finally make their way back to Tokyo after being stranded by the flood waters for an extended amount of days; it had now become another game of patience for Memi's return.
In the meantime; Hirate had been under wary observation. Akane's concern that the girls broken spirit ever since they had lost Shida would push her to operate alone.
It was a risk she was unwilling to take.
From the centre of the darkened structure; situated with their backs pressed against the concrete walls of the gymnasium; three individuals leisurely watched as one of their own bounced an orange basketball back and forth across the court. The girl occasionally making an effort to try their luck at shooting for the hoop; a point obtained with each attempt.
"I've got to admit; it's still taking me some time to get used to those short locks" Zuumin confessed; her orbs sustaining their bond on Hirate as she continued entertaining herself. Her lack of interest in conversing with the others painfully obvious.
Though most would have taken joy in any activity other than running for your life or killing people; Techi's manner had not changed from apathetic in days.
"I think she looks cool." Kobayashi admitted; Aoi who stood beside her nodding in agreement.
"I suppose..." Zuumin chewed at her bottom lip to ponder, "did it not seem a little drastic of her to cut it so short though?"
"Ease up; her friend just died. Would it be fair to judge you? What if Yuipon were killed in front of you?"
Harada's statement caused the girl to reconsider her harsh judgments. Perhaps she was being too selfish. They were all on the same side after all and Hirate had always done her best for them.
As the soldiers concluded with the topic of their comrades lopped off hair; they took note of how the frequent ping of the ball as it clapped against the boards of the floor ceased.
Curiously; Hirate again became a recipient of their focus. Kobayashi watching as the ball slipped from the tips of her fingers and rolled away until one of the four walls obstructed it's journey.
So much so that the three could have almost swore they heard the sound of one anothers heartbeats echoing throughout the large hall.
Zuumin peered at the stationary soldier who stood near center court; her dishevelled forelock concealing her orbs from view.
It was almost like a depiction of a scene she had watched countless times before in horror movies. One's where the character is normal until they turn into a member of the flesh-eating living dead...That or a psychopath.
Whichever the case; it was causing the hairs on the back of her neck to prickle up on end.
"Techi?" Koba inquired softly; carefully stepping forward away from her position against the wall.
Perhaps the girl had heard them conversing because as Yuipon got closer; it was obvious to see the steady flow of tears that streaked her face; hidden behind the veil of her tousled hair.
Koba would be lying if she had voiced that the sight was not heart wrenching to witness. After all; there was no set time limit to grief and she doubted many could reach the end of their existence having managed to avoid it.
Offering console to the girl would have to wait.
The arrival of their Sergeant entering the large expanse of the gym had ensured that; the footfall of her steady stride slowing as she neared.
Though tragic and profound; the soldiers trance disintegrated back into the depths of her core. A place she kept locked away where no one could enter. Not a soul except for one.
The cadet of smaller stature had tailed close behind Moriya; her helmet resting at her side; held in a relaxed clutch.
"Ah, you're back."
The trio moved to greet the new arrivals halfway; eager to hear of any news.
"I had a run in with one of Yokoyama's Captains."
The statement caused Techi a slight twinge in discomfort; her eyes clouding with unease as she sought from a distance to take notice of any injuries the girl may have sustained.
The cadet had taken note of her companions disquiet; only managing a nod in her direction as she tried to maintain her focus on the crucial part of her findings.
Perhaps they would be able to take a breath together later.
"After I shot her-"
"You shot someone?" Techi inquired; voice slightly shaking in unnerve.
"Hirate-" Moriya warned.
The Keya Ace openly defied her commanding officer.
"Did you kill them?" she pressed.
Brow furrowing in puzzlement; the cadet responded with a hesitant, "yes..." unable to shake the feeling that she had done something unforgivable.
Rage overtook desolation as Techi shifted her attention on their Sergeant. Memi witnessing the exchange with a sense of bewilderment.
"This is all your fault" the Ace hissed at Moriya; causing her to stiffen her bearing.
"My fault?" she challenged, "just who the hell do you think you're talking to. I suggest you stand down soldier."
"This whole ordeal-" Hirate growled through her clenched jaw, "if you had never gone off on your own...Your stupid plan from the beginning."
Kobayashi stepped toward Akane; anticipating the ascent of a potential scuffle. Zuumin and Aoi following the girls lead in case their aid was required.
"I made the decisions I thought would be best for Sakamichi...Everything I've done was for-"
"Spare me!" the Ace snapped.
The Sergeant had never been one to back down in an altercation. But even she could sense the situation was becoming unpredictably hostile.
"For Sakamichi?" she snickered, "For Nogi and Yoshi? They're dead." the timbre in her voice increased, "For Shida? Dead as well."
"Techi-" Memi breathed; unable to comprehend the side of her partner that was so audaciously on display.
"Keyakizaka?...Our Captain...Your precious Yuuka, all held by AKB-"
The girl restlessly chewed at her inner cheek near hard enough to taste the bitter salt of broken flesh.
"I've let all this slide Moriya," she dropped the formalities. "Yet now you've involved Memi to a point where she's frequently beyond the damn red line! There's blood on her hands and I blame you!" she yelled.
"Techi; stop-" the cadet begged; lunging forward to take the girls biceps in her delicate grasp; silently wishing for this to stop. "I'm a soldier; this is my job; this isn't even news...No one wanted this. Akane did not want this!" she urged.
Yet as she stared into her beloveds eyes; she realized that all the warmth she could have received had been overshadowed by anguish. And for the first time since they had met; she felt afraid.
"Memi; step this way-" the Sergeant began; her countenance becoming wary.
The cadet altered her vision back and forth between the two. An internal battle toward her duty as a soldier for the unit; and hearts desire to stand by her companion.
Hirate made the decision for the girl; gently easing her release from her arms; motioning for her to step to the side where Yuipon and the others observed.
"You act so confident but your body language divulges otherwise. Your knees are trembling" the Ace taunted.
Akane felt her temple twitch with agitation. Was this really happening now of all times?
"Shall I save us the trouble of a mess? Because you already know the outcome Moriya" she studied her, "You can't beat me and Sakamichi is dependant on me right? This is what you've all been preaching correct?"
Zuumin could not fathom what she was witnessing, "we don't have the time to be fighting amongst ourselves...What the hell has gotten into you Techi-"
The Sergeant scowled at her younger antagonist, "This is war. People expire, you should know this better than any of us. Shida is dead!" she choked; a knot balling in her throat that swore to gag her. "She is not coming back...It's about time you've accepted this soldier...And I've had just about enough of your high and righteous mentality; Hirate. Keyakizaka is not a platoon of subordinates" she snapped, "not to you; not to AKB; not to any of the 48s!"
"Shida is what?"
Having been so engulfed with their own quarrel before them; the distracted team hadn't noticed the unanticipated arrival of affiliates to Keya that had joined them. A unit of larger scale trickling into the sizable hall.
The Sergeant eased the rigidity of her composure as solace took hold.
The reunion which should have been anything but painful was overwhelmed by disbelief. Risa moving forward to repeat what she could not comprehend.
"What do you mean Shida is dead?" bypassing any attempt at a warm welcome.
Moriya; forcing herself to uphold her obligation to lead could only face the enforcer she had not seen in weeks; having thought she to had been lost to this cruel actuality. The last memory she held of her being left behind before her exile.
"There were complications in Fukuoka...During the rescue efforts" she paused briefly during reflection, "I owe her my life."
Neru edged between the sergeant and Enforcer who shared a scrutiny of one another. Reaching her palm outward to rest on Risa's slouched shoulder.
"You need to swallow this and digest it later. We have additional matters to discuss."
Easing her glare; the Enforcer shrugged off Neru's grip before retiring to the group of Hiragana cadets that stood close to the gymnasiums double doors. Kyoko silently making her way over to stand beside her; arms crossing over her chest.
"Well Sergeant, looks like fortune found you" The Scout continued.
"Memi had a run in with Hirate and our two rogues on her travels. In doing so I suppose she was able to relay my whereabouts. It's safe to say that HKT has been wiped out aside from Sakura and Sashihara Rino..."
"Along with our two rogues as well it looks like-" the Scout grumbled; head bobbing to acknowledge Kobayashi and Imaizumi's presence.
Mounted on the wall to the far left of the hall; the perpetual tick of a clocks hands transmitted the ongoing hours steadily while the three commanding officers Moriya, Neru and Jurina discussed their details with one another. Akane and Memi having been unaware that a handful of their comrades were being forced to engage against their own people.
"So you've been hiding in Roppongi to offer Yuuka and the others assistance?" The Sergeant inquired; hands jamming into her pockets as she rolled her shoulders forward in vexation.
Yokoyama truly was a sickening disgrace.
"To an extent...We have more or less managed to maintain a low profile while being able to expire any opposing guerrillas. It's the only aid we have been able to grant without being forced to engage. I was unwilling to risk any one else getting captured until Kyoko and Ayaka had returned from their task in locating the hostages."
Heart uncontrollably thrashing against her sternum; Risa dolefully absorbed Neru and Moriya's conference.
As one of their vanguard enforcers; the girl knew she should have been more attentive to the discussion; yet the current state of her mentality remained unsound. She desired to know more of what happened to Manaka...
This lack of regard proved obvious to Kyoko as she herself had been observing Risa from the corner of her eye. All to familiar with the sense of melancholy that exuded from her demeanour.
Sucking in a course of air through her teeth; the shorter cadet inched closer to the enforcer where she could gently nudge against her shoulder. The sudden press of contact causing Risa to nearly leap backward in defence; having been so engulfed in her own thoughts.
"I'll spare you the obvious question I generally would be asking right now...But perhaps I could ask you another instead...Why Ozeki?"
The enforcer stifled a scoff at the girls audacity; weight shifting restlessly as she took care to avoid eye contact following the sudden inquiry.
"I don't have an exact decisive answer to that...It just turned out this way-" she replied in a hushed tone.
Pursing her lips as she mused the girls choice of words; Kyoko was certain the statement only held some partial truth in it's weight.
"I know I'm not exactly your first choice in having this conversation with-"
If not for the fact they were both so near to the inclusion of their units gathering; Kyoko could have sworn by the look Risa had pierced her with that the girl may have struck her then and there. Yet the discipline of her standing bound her to bury her obvious irritability.
This was not the time.
The cadet however; aware that she was overstepping her boundaries continued.
"You have to know she loved you...Risa; you must have known-"
"Are you stupid?" the enforcer hissed, "we are in the middle of an important exchange; this isn't the time cadet."
"I'm aware...But I couldn't just turn a blind eye anymore. The longer I push this aside I keep fearing it will never come to light-"
"What come to light Kyoko? The affair between the both of you?"
Oh she had tried so hard to resist retaliation. This girl was making her out to appear as a fool in front of everyone.
At this point; the raise in the enforcers voice had resounded just enough to capture the attention of all those that surrounded them. Much to her unease.
Disregarding Neru's attempt to address her; Risa turned her regard onto the cadet; squaring her shoulders; hands balling into white knuckles at her sides.
She meant to unload. But not here.
Sucking an agitated tut between her teeth; Risa raised a hand to wave off the inquisitive stares; "I'm sorry, I need a moment, please continue."
Twisting on her boot; the enforcer hurried herself out through one of the two doors at the entrance of the hall; hastily making her way down the corridor toward one of the institutions exists.
Perhaps if it were any other individual rambling on about personal matters at such a crucial occasion; Moriya may have interjected and suggested they talk on their own time. However; being that it was Risa allowing herself to express anything other than anger and regret; she decided to allow the pair to continue.
Fresh air...Raw and crisp as she stood in the darkness of the evening. From above; silver streaked overcast dimmed out the light of the moon.
Autumn was nearing.
Still as a marble statue; the girl did not turn to meet Kyoko who had pursued behind her.
"I already knew about the both of you going behind my back...That Shida Manaka-" she grinned; chuckle altering to a whimper; jaw clenching as she wrangled to oppress her sentiment. "Always doing reckless things...Whether on the battle field or to someone's heart-"
Cautiously; the shorter of the two reached outward to place her palm against the girls shoulder; slightly recoiling as the enforcer lurched away from her touch. The edges of her orbs misting over with tears that she wished so hard to deny.
"If you're so damn curious about why it was Ozeki...Well you have your answer. A distance between us where there should have been none at all...She made her choice and I made mine."
Averting her gaze to the various webbed cracks in the concrete at their feet; Kyoko shook her head; "to spare you...Protect you. She couldn't bare to keep leaving you behind as she continuously left on assignments that placed her in dangerous situations...Deep down it had always been you Risa."
Opening her mouth to rebuttal; she found herself snapping it shut as the entryway to the building clicked and whined as it was pushed outward to reveal a lone silhouette in it's frame.
"Don't mean to interrupt, but the Sergeant is about to assign our tasks, you two might want to include yourselves" The weight of Jurina's interruption nothing less than condescending.
"Just leave it alone-" she whispered and without a second glance toward Kyoko; the enforcer strolled past the Ace that currently held the door propped and made her way back to join the others gathered in the gym. Pressing the profound conversation she had shared to the back of her mind.
Once all members were accounted for; Moriya paced a narrow line in front of her unit.
"Well; this is it" she stated; jaw tight as she addressed the small crowd, "this is our last chance at a rescue attempt that we cannot afford to fail."
Neru moved to take her position beside the Sergeant who had finally ceased her pace; taking a rigid stance to observe.
"We've come this far; we are going to bring them home-" the Scout divulged.
"Risa, Kato-" Akane called; watching as the two soldiers stepped forward to break from the unit.
"You both will be undertaking the rescue efforts of Suzumon, Saito, Ozeki and Uemura. Kyoko and Ayaka were able to draft a route of the underground passageways rounding the subway tunnels. It will lead you straight into Akihabara's headquarters."
Reaching to her back pocket; the Sergeant pulled a folded sheet of paper to hand over to Risa; the latter retrieving it to study.
"As you both work toward those efforts; Kobayashi and Imaizumi will be advancing to infiltrate the medical bay to retrieve Koike and Yonetani-" she paused as she noted Jurina obnoxiously humming to clear her throat; volunteering to offer another tidbit of intel that had not come to light.
"I might add that Habu will most likely be there as well...Being cared for. If she's even still alive that is-" A bite to her words was evident; eyes narrowing as she directed a glance toward Kumi that stood to the wing of the platoon.
"Neru?" Moriya inquired. Yuipon and Zuumin edging toward an understanding of how much more difficult their task may have become with this revelation.
The Scout heaved a sigh, her mouth set in a hard line "there was an accident, an explosion. Habu was unfortunately caught in the blast. We have no idea if she made it or not..."
"Can I count on you both?" Akane continued. A slight uneasiness that the two girls just may sway in going rogue once more if the circumstances proved to dire.
The pair nodded in union. If she was indeed still alive; they would ensure to somehow bring her back to the others.
Positioning herself between Neru and Jurina; the Sergeant clapped the palms of her hands on either girls shoulders; orbs shifting from one to the other.
"As for you two; you will both be commanding our riot force cadets here-" she motioned toward the Hiragana girls. "I need you to launch a blitz to draw out Yokoyama's company."
From the expanse of the hall; an undertone of dissent could be heard, "you may draw out the pawns but do you really believe that they'll order Keya soldiers to engage against a blitz? Yui won't risk it. At this point she is no doubt going to hold Sugai and the others until the finale."
Hirate having calmed herself over the course of the conclave decided she may as well add her own assessment.
"You're not wrong Techi-" Moriya had to concede. "That is why I am going to be participating along the perimeter of this assault."
The Ace raised a brow at her Sergeant.
"I need to create a distraction that will get Yokoyama to release Yuuka and the others. I need them away from headquarters until the others are behind our wire. Sugai will need to be persuaded that they are indeed safe and that won't happen if she's being contained while awaiting AKB's next order."
"So you plan to hold their attention until the hostages are free?"
"It almost sounds like suicide" Jurina stated. "Your Captain has had no problem executing civilians in Roppongi. What makes you believe she won't kill you? Especially if she believes Yui will kill the others if she doesn't take you out."
"Can't you just tell her they are being rescued?" Kobayashi inquired.
Shaking her head; the Sergeant continued, "they may be wired to Yokoyama. If she gets wind that we are making efforts to rescue the others; she'll lock down the base and we'll never gain the upper hand. All I can do is act as a decoy until the others are safe...The General Commander at this stage has proved she has a taste for anything that permits another's misery. She would no doubt love to watch a scuffle between Keya's officers...I just hope Yuuka has kept me in her thoughts..."
A silence swept the gymnasium as the soldiers lowered their heads in admiration. Could you fight the one you breathed for?
"As for Techi and Harada-" she bullied down the knot in her chest, "I need you both to stand down until further notice. If we fail Hirate...My final order is to instruct Okada of STU to launch our final attack...I want them to unleash their bombardment into Akihabara...Yokoyama cannot be allowed to win this."
"Everyone..." the Ace delayed, "you'll all be killed-"
Averting her eyes; Akane nodded, "for Sakamichi..."
Lips drawing to a snarl; she threw her fist outward sideways to slam into the brick wall. Profile blanching; the girl shook her head; hand raising to splay across her thrashing heart, "You cannot just leave me to the sidelines Moriya. This whole time Yui has been hunting us to find my whereabouts. I've held off long enough; use me damn it!"
"I need you to stay alive Yurina."
Brow creasing; the Ace cringed as if waning from a blow, "You know I can end this..."
An internal brawl waged inside the Sergeants conscience. Of course they all knew this...But how could they keep weighing Techi with the burden of their survival. It was time Keya proved themselves as whole.
"Perhaps...But if you can't then what? Who will Sakamichi turn to? They will need a leader."
"I don't want to lead; Moriya..."
Breathing a sigh; the officer stepped to stand in front of the Ace; eyes fastening with one another as she gently reached outward to cup Hirate's face in her hands. For a time she studied; thoroughly absorbing the anguish concealed within her deep pools. A deadly force imprisoned within the flesh and bone of a young girl crying for release.
"Wait for my orders" she implored.
Realizing her Sergeant must have reached an understanding, Techi submitted, bobbing her head sharply in agreement.
Dropping her hands; Akane moved away from the Ace to direct her regard back to the others; satisfied that their overall briefing had been a success.
Driving her trust toward their success; she permitted herself to now solely focus on the coming hours of her hopeful yet foreboding encounter with Sugai Yuuka.
"Alright then Yui...Our move."
A slamming door.
Though the sound only lasted a second; it hung itself on one of the many shelves of her mind; a shard of a memory that's substance cut nearly as deep as the others.
Not sorrow nor anger but perhaps guilt? Or was it regret...
Memi had burst her way into the darkened room, four walls that had once been utilized as a teachers lounge; now abandoned aside from the lone silhouette that stood stationary by one of it's illuminated windows. The rest of their unit having retired earlier to separate ends of the institution; far from their presence.
"Don't you dare!" she advised; fleetingly surprised she had even managed to locate her. "Yurina; you are not going to disobey your orders-"
Steadily the girl turned her fixation from the outside world; body shifting with it to meet the intruder head on; orbs ablaze with resolution.
"Listen to me!"
But for all her beseeching; without notice; the Ace moved toward her; then past her; trudging until she reached the heavy door to carelessly slam it shut.
For a time the pair stood in silence; the cadet warily observing the back of her companion as her breath held in her chest.
It was only when she finally submitted to turn back that Memi unwillingly endured a quake of terror.
Would she risk it? Was she actually going to leave?...Were her words enough to stop her?
"Why is it always you?" Hirate mumbled; making haste to close the distance between them; reaching out to bring the girl crashing into her chest.
The cadet tried to gulp down the knot in her throat; squeezing her eyes shut tight as she pressed her face into the crook of her soldiers neck; hands gingerly snaking their way around to splay against the taut muscles of her shoulders.
"Promise me-" she sniffled, "promise me that you will wait for Moriya's directive."
"How the hell can I protect you by staying behind-" she grunted as the smaller of them jerked her closer.
Though she couldn't see it; Techi could feel the soft hidden smile against her warm flesh. An already failed attempt at lessening the upsetting brunt of the truth, "You can't this time..."
The words; though barely audible; carried enough weight to nearly knock the wind from the Aces very lungs.
Breaking their embrace; Hirate gently took the girls cheeks in her palms. For a moment; Memi thought maybe she was furious; but before she could consider it further; Techi once again pulled her in to cover her mouth with her own in a soft yet desperate kiss.
Chapter 15: Deliver us exemption
As the first tear escaped; the rest followed. A steady flow of release that dampened the soft woven strips of fabric pressed against her cheek. The muscle beneath her ribs pulsating an angry thrum as her lungs quivered through oxygen deprived sobs.
"You see Komiharu? Nothing but deception."
From her current position; arched over Habu's unconscious frame; Koike watched her antagonist through narrowed lids; brow creasing in resentment as she took upon the task of shielding the ailing soldier from the General Captains revolting deterrent.
"Are you even human?" the Medic choked; lowering herself down closer to her companion as she forced a hardened expression.
From the short distance between them; Koike could have sworn she noted a hint of amusement gleam across Yui's countenance as Komiharu surveyed the sequence; exuding with equal glee through dilated pupils.
"Possibly more human than you could comprehend..."
Erecting her stance; Yokoyama motioned for her subordinate to take her leave; the soldier exiting swiftly before her.
"You've used your one and only warning. Next time you threaten one of my officers...I promise you Koike; I will rip out her heart myself."
Silently vacating behind Komiharu without another word; the General continued on her way out of the infirmary; leaving a downcast veneer remaining in her absence and the Medic so evidently shaken.
Once the echo of her adversaries footfall diminished down the length of the bare corridor; Koike raised herself to stand upright; her full regard observing the recumbent individual below. Mind whirling as she became unable to recall just how long she had laboured to escort the soldier back from the borders of death.
Harshly; she rubbed at her reddened orbs to clear whatever tears remained; compelling herself to not give in to the fear that Yokoyama had tried to drive in to her not moments before.
If there ever were a time that Habu needed her to be tenacious; it was now.
Easing the tremble of her hands; Koike gingerly ran her fingertips through the girls saturated locks; careful to avoid the weight of the soft dressings that cloaked her temples.
"I don't want to say something stupid...But if I could go back I-" she paused; sucking in a breath to gulp back her remorse, "I would've never ignored you those nights we spent in those cells-"
Reclaiming her nerve; she leaned downward once more to delicately press her lips to the bridge of her soldiers nose. "I just really want to tell you...And for you to hear that I love you; and that I will give you all of the forgiveness you've been looking for...Just please don't ever leave me again-" she breathed; tone yielding to a whimper.
As the mist in her eyes welled to once again stream; she found the creak of a sliding door pull her awareness back to their reality. Body shifting as she moved to peer up; meeting the intruder who had entered her domain with a daring aspect.
"Yone-" she sighed; relief crashing into her as she welcomed the arrival of a familiar face.
"Koike" the girl recited; closing the gap between them; reaching out to take the Medic's hands in her own.
"I tried to come as soon as I heard the news. They wouldn't permit me to leave my station until everyone was accounted for and examined-" she motioned a nod in the comatose soldiers direction, "how is she?"
Regarding the inquiry; Koike turned her focus on Habu; orbs surveying her heavily bandaged frame, "It's taken several hours; but I've managed to somehow get her into a stable state..."
Yone trailed her comrades focus; scanning over the tedious work she had managed without the aid of assistance.
"Miraculously she only sustained second degree burns on near fifty percent of her body...That's not including the shrapnel I had to rummage around recovering..."
"Barotrauma?" Yone questioned.
Both went silent as they reflected on their circumstances.
"Yone...I don't know if she'll ever be able to resume her duties as a soldier-"
The Surgeon merely nodded; a rigid expression masking her countenance, "but after her recovery; wouldn't that be a good thing? Both of you could retire? After this war ends-"
Koike shook her head, "If...And if it doesn't?...Tell me what use to AKB is a wounded veteran?"
Yone had pondered the thought but hadn't dared mention it. Given their current situation; without being rescued; Yokoyama had her foot on their throats...Just what would she do to Habu if it became realized she could no longer partake in her ranks?
"We have to keep hope-" Yone pressed, "That Techi will come. Shida and Aoi...They must have been located by now. Zuumin and Yuipon. I'll bet they all found one another and rescued Moriya...Bet their on their way as we speak" she attempted to ease the tension.
Yet sadly; all the Medic could do was lay her head in her palms and weep.
Gently; Yone reached forward to pull the girl into her arms; offering the only form of comfort she could.
"God help us-"
Hours would elapse around the pair; yet the aura that lingered within the chamber would remain stagnant. Yone could already sense; from the narrow slits of the windows muted blinds; it was going to be a grey, slow morning.
The Surgeon from her seat observed as Koike for the third time since her arrival moved to drain another low dose of fentanyl into Habu's IV drip lines; closely watching the translucent liquids for a moment before returning to the shortened chair at her side. A deep sigh escaping making her exhaustion apparent.
"Why don't you get some rest-"
It came as no surprise when Koike merely shook her head to reject the suggestion.
"I'll be alright."
Sure, Yone could have argued against the resistance; but she was also aware that it would become a futile contest.
From the right pocket of her shirt; the Medic retrieved a small square piece of paper; it's edges creased having weathered the duration of being kept as a reminder.
After pushing back the loose strands of hair from her vision; Koike sunk back into the depth of her rickety seat; it's skeleton groaning as the dead-weight increased; her orbs fixed on the tiny but meaningful card stock in her grasp.
A gentle smile tugged at the edges of her lips; possibly the first one Yone could recall witnessing since before the war; the Medic turning the picture to show her comrade.
"It's me" she chuckled "...I found it in her uniform..."
It was a small revelation; but to Koike it almost seemed to convey the only shred of light left to spare.
"I suppose it goes to show since the beginning you all had kept us in your thoughts..."
Yone scoffed, "of course...Always. We all believed that Moriya's decision had been the right and only way to resolve any of this mess...However; it ended up as a foolish juvenile mistake...I suppose love can blind perception."
"Allowing love to guide your judgment...Perhaps we truly are terrible soldiers."
The Surgeon could only nod in agreement.
"What of Yuuka though?"
Koike raised a brow, "what of her?"
"It seems as though we've all been targeting the Sergeant throughout this whole ordeal...Yet our Captain put up the least amount of resistance in our capture."
It had become a delicate subject no one had dared challenge until now.
"We all know Yuuka as level headed...Sometimes dumb...But always trying to act with the best intentions."
Koike took note of the look of inquisitiveness clouding Yone's expression.
"Put it this way...Our Captains job is to lead and protect not only us but also ensure the safety of the civilians within our district. At the time of the ambush; do you truly believe we could have won against Yokoyama?"
"Sugai made the only decision she could at that moment that would ensure our survival while also betting on the fact she believes the others will come-"
"You've noticed it though haven't you?" Yone addressed; the tips of her fingers anxiously drumming over the tops of her thighs, "her hope is fleeting..."
Averting her gaze; the Medic carefully tucked away the photograph back into the chest pocket of her shirt.
"If she retaliates now Yone; we will all-"
Crimson. Drumfire. Sulfur. Metallic.
If one from the outside were looking in; as if to read the pages of a book and to ask the pair what had just transpired in the fever of that moment; those would have been the words to describe the actuality of their senses. A merciless inundation that would drag them back into the opposing roles they were compelled to perform.
Beyond the external's of the concrete barrier; the boisterous wail of a siren resounded. Screams of panic and orders merging into one another to produce an orchestra of chaos.
It was a call to mobilize; yet all Koike could do was remain in a petrified state as the deafening torrent of cannonade and gunshots hurtled down on the perimeter of their building.
Dazed; the girl could almost hear the muffled yells of her comrade desperately trying to bring her attention back; but all she could manage was a slight glance at Habu's unwavering form.
The swift impact of Yone's palm making contact with the side of her face; her own hand reaching up to touch the now pulsating flesh as she made eye contact with her comrade.
"Wake up! Ready yourself; we're under attack!"
Hadn't they just been having a quiet conversation?
The blast of a near white detonation caused the Medic to leap to her feet and move toward the window; much to Yone's horror.
There was no time to protest as she felt herself be jerked away from the pane; another explosion rocking the four corners of the chamber.
"Have you lost it? Get your station ready Koike; I need to get back to mine. Hurry up!" she snapped; the tile screeching against the tread of her sole as she whirled to make way for the door.
Wrenching the entryway open; the Surgeon rushed to vacate the room when a volley of flaming hot rounds ripped past her face; causing a spray of crimson to stipple across her cheek. Remnants of soldiers that had just been massacred not ten feet from her; their bodies crumpling in a tangle of limbs.
As if the near brush with death had sucked the very air from her lungs; she stumbled rearwards for cover; tumbling to her backside as she went; swift in regaining herself to shut the door and bolt it.
Nearly managing to slam it closed; an obstruction of four digits wrapped themselves tightly around it's edge; fighting against the force; ensuring to keep it ajar.
Barring her teeth through the wrangle; Yone could feel the muscle's of her arms begin to scream in protest. This would not be a struggle she could win.
Across the stretch of the chamber; Koike hurried. Snatching up a pair of shears and hurtling them toward her occupied companion before darting to offer her own added weight.
Evidently losing the bid to seal the gap; Yone was bullied to release her hold and bulldozed downward to the tiles of the floor. Squeezing her eyes shut tight; she recoiled to her knees as she went to blindly thrust the scissors into any ligament that the intruder may have carelessly offered.
Drawing a sharp breath; Yone hauled against the sturdy constraint of her last defence; the blunt outline of it's length anchored in her aggressors palm.
"Wait Yone!" Koike called; striving to put an end to the Surgeons efforts.
With such a force to nearly lift the girl to her feet; Yone felt her own grip release the cool metal; surrendering it to be confiscated; the front of her uniform becoming balled tightly into a fist only to be used as a source of leverage.
Hoisted to her soles; the Surgeon snarled; wild orbs snapping open to lock with a somber visage mere inches from her own. A face she had not seen in what she had perceived by now as long ago.
"Yu-Yuipon-" she gaped; jaw quivering; heart thrumming frantically against the cavity of her sternum.
Another silhouette entered from the soldiers wake; shorter in stature; their arrival drawing a second torrent of astonishment.
Promptly; the Medic dashed forward to converge with their rogue allies. Kobayashi subtly disengaging the clutch she had retained on Yone's shirt before offering a hand to help the fallen girl upright.
"Are you both alright?" Zuumin examined; vision fluctuating between the two captives.
Koike bobbed her head rapidly; remaining in awe of the pairs arrival.
"How-Where did you?-"
The queries were put to an abrupt halt as Kobayashi discovered the once vigorous and affable enforcer resting in comatose near the back of the four walls. A display so heartbreaking that the soldier could almost not bear to look.
"So that SKE Ace was correct...She really is in bad shape..."
Zuumin had shifted her weight to the side; near erect on the tips of her toes to gain sight of what Yuipon had taken note of.
"SKE Ace?-" Yone repeated, "You mean that Matsui Jurina?" Angst blanched her complexion, "Is she not with AKB?"
"Are you working with the enemy?"
Koike abstractedly moved to bring herself closer to Habu; focus never deserting the duo that loitered the entryway.
A union of half-hearted laughter erupted from the two rogues; dissipating as briskly as it had come when they noted it was in fact not a joking accusation.
"You're serious..." Kobayashi expelled; mouth returning to a hardened line.
"Jurina has been aiding us this whole time. She deserted her own unit in favour of her beliefs..." Zuumin clarified.
"Koike, Yone; we're here to take you home. Everyone is waiting for us in Roppongi...These headquarters are under attack as we speak by Hiragana. Risa and Kato are busy getting to the others-"
"Risa-" Yone mouthed, "Risa's alive?"
"Very much so."
"But WE might not be for much longer if we don't hurry up and get moving. With Habu in her current state this mission just became a hell of a lot more difficult-" Zuumin urged; readjusting the weight of the rifle that lay stationary over her left shoulder.
"Right...Yone; I'll need you to help me move her; this isn't going to be easy given the route we need to retrace-"
The Surgeon scoffed, "I'm no princess Yuipon; you forget that even though as of late I've spent quite a bit of time indoors; I also completed the same training as you lot."
Barring a toothy grin; the Soldier nodded then motioned for her to aid in transferring the rangy girl onto a portable stretcher.
Koike uneasily stood aside to watch as her partner was delicately hoisted and fastened to the anything but comfortable slab of wood. Near grateful of the fact she was currently unaware of the quandary taking place around her.
"Zuumin, you lead; Koike, I need you to flank us-"
The instruction caused a pause among the room as everyone took a moment to evaluate the decision.
Kobayashi sighed knowingly; raking a hand through her hair, "right...I'll take up the flank. Koike; help Yone with the stretcher."
"Wait; what about the others?" Koike inquired.
"We told you; Risa and Kato are retrieving them-"
"No; I meant Sugai and her unit-"
Kobayashi and Zuumin exchanged a discouraging glance at one another before directing their regard on the Medic.
Another bout of shock-waves rocked the foundation of the central command room. The many shelves and cabinets lined with stacks of folders and paperwork rattling about as they edged to topple with each quake.
Leisurely; Yokoyama remained seated in her large leather chair; seemingly disregarding the question that came from her go-to accomplice Komiharu. Hands folded in front of her face as her chin rested on the entwined digits; carefully observing the bright monitors stacked neatly along her desk. Their screens emitting the only source of illumination; a vibrant red hue in the otherwise blackened room.
"I heard you the first time Komiyama" she snapped.
"What are you looking for..." A tone brimming with agitation suspended the hostility between the colleagues before it could escalate further.
Yamamoto Sayaka of NMB stood to the far right; nearly swallowed whole by the veil of shadows aside from the minimum hint of light that reached her features. At her side; the overwhelming presence of Ota Yuuri; a top prospect to become the units next Ace; observed mutely.
Yokoyama continued to scrutinize the movements occurring on the CRT's.
"I've never seen this squadron before-" she admitted; ogling as the assailants advanced in their siege upon their headquarters.
"Don't be so feeble-minded, Makki" she singled out the lone Captain of SKE, "Guerillas wouldn't be this proficient...Komiyama; set the surveillance to our borders-"
As requested; the Soldier hunched slightly forward to lay her hand down over top of the mouse; dragging it to click through the various options to readjust the footage location to focus along the wire of Akihabara.
The General Captain expelled a ripple of laughter; aspect contorting to a venomous sneer.
"Oh would you look at this-"
The others in the room gathered near to inspect what Yokoyama was so delighted to see. A lone silhouette trudging stealthily along the outskirts of their district.
"Looks like Moriya finally found her way."
Brow furrowing; Makki leaned in closer; "If Moriya is free...How the hell did she escape?"
Yui maintained a smirk, "Simple" her knuckles popping as she balled them out in front of her to stretch, "the game until this point was to see just how long it would take to lure them in."
Yokoyama scoffed, "Sayaka; do me a favour and fill her in please" irritation evident as she grew tired of explaining the obvious.
Rolling her eyes; the Captain drummed her fingertips against her crossed biceps.
"The AWOL members found her..."
"You see" Yui refocused her attention on the SKE member, "After HKT was wiped out, Sakura and Sashihara managed a retreat; their report stating that after Shida was expired; Hirate near lost her mind."
"Your plan was to draw them in all along..."
Makki could not withhold the evident grind of her jaw as she studied the occupants of the room; "you sacrificed HKT intentionally...Why couldn't you have just executed Moriya that night you ambushed them in Tokyo? Why go to such lengths to draw this out..."
"This would be no fun if I just killed them all right away. I want to make them writhe beforehand. I want the nation to watch Hirate Yurina crumble before her demise. No one will defy AKB ever again..."
"We can finish that job for you-"
A declaration exuding rancor; the arrival of two individuals evoked the awareness residing in the chamber as they entered from the shadows of the doorway.
"I want you to draw her out Colonel."
A maniacal chortle hissed in response, "easy enough, you see here-" Sashihara ticked the surveillance footage back towards the invading platoon.
"This girl" she pointed at a lone cadet; hunkered down low behind the remnants of a buckled concrete wall; rifle cradled firmly to her chest as she diligently pursued to reload. "Our juggernauts frailty. My assumption is Hirate will be used as their last card...However; given her current fractured state of mind; if this girl is-" she paused; lips twisting once again as delight overtook her, "let's just say taking down Keya's Ace will become as easy as snapping a twig."
Yokoyama reclined back into her chair, "I like where this is going..."
Saito Makiko had begun to believe she had made a grave mistake. Regardless of their divided convictions; Makki couldn't help but ruminate over the actuality that Jurina had forsaken SKE and was surely aiding their adversary. What had once felt like the right decision now felt like anything but. This was not a war to protect the various districts from the threat they believed as Keyakizaka...This was nothing but an exhibition for Yokoyama to prove a point...Sakamichi, HKT...What if SKE were next?
"What of Moriya?"
"Oh don't fret Komiharu; I have something special planned just for her" she beamed; orbs clouding with a fusion of satisfaction and animosity.
Dread, alarm, hesitation?
The farther she trudged along the outer edges of Akihabara; Moriya began to feel the intense density of an internal debate on which emotion prevailed above all else.
From the distance; the reverberation of artillery fire indicated that their ploy was well underway and there was not a doubt in her mind that Yui hadn't already pinpointed her location. Now all she could hope would be that Yokoyama would set her sights on the lone militants course of action and send out her unit of contrived Keya soldiers.
"Who'd of thought we may have ended up here-"
Memories...The very elements of an individuals identity...
"That first summer I met you..."
"Private Moriya; can you tell me what the speed of light is? It's the god forsaken speed at which you keep screwing up; now get the hell out of my face! You reek of failure."
Gnashing her teeth; the cadet scowled downward at the sopping asphalt beneath her palms; the callous ridicule of her drill sergeants words resonating long after they had moved on with the other trainees.
The private had been unable to recall just how long she had remained pinned to her hands and knees as the rain lashed down against her back. Yet what had felt like an eternity truly must have only been moments do to the fact a lone straggler from the pack had caught up only to halt beside her crumbled form.
"Hey; are you alright?"
The girl must have been keeping a steady pace; even having been left behind by the rest of the group; Akane could tell by the labour behind the gasping of her words.
At first; Moriya ignored the question; wallowing in her own self pity; despising the sentiment of defeat.
The individual persisted.
"Would you get lost! I'm fine damn it-"
Akane; with wild orbs gazed upwards to pierce at the girl who continued to pry.
The face was one she easily recognized. Sugai Yuuka; the units idiot. An Aristocrats daughter...A soul who had already been near dubbed unfit to become a soldier. Just why the hell was she even here?
Seemingly; the girl was unfazed by the harsh rejection of her teammate and simply pointed out the obvious, "so you just really enjoy resting in the pouring rain?"
"You're not as dumb as you look princess; now would you mind leaving me alone."
The cadet spiraled her eyes and pressed further, "the Sergeant always preaches to never leave anyone behind-"
"Leave!" she shouted; relying on her tactic of intimidation.
"Temper; temper...Humour me then; get up private."
Akane snickered; tutting a huff of irritation before pushing her body upright and eventually heaving herself to stand.
"See-" she scoffed, "fine."
Sugai raised a brow; arms folding across her chest as she scrutinized.
Oh she deserved a failing grade in acting.
Moriya was quick to note the cadets orbs flicker beyond her position to somewhere over her shoulder; causing her head to tilt in speculation.
Manaka? The only one she would not lose to!
As she moved to whirl around; a sudden spasm of discomfort sent a shock from her ankle upward; causing her to grunt and drop back down to her knee. Jaw gritting tightly against the ache.
Only after gathering her poise and lifting her regard from her lowered state; did she realize that the two of them were still very much alone.
"Maybe it was in those moments where I decided that to be by your side was my contentment..."
"You lucked out that it was only a sprained ankle."
Moriya had been resting placidly on a bench outside in the sweltering heat of the midday sun. Relishing in the brightness it had to offer after having been absent over the course of the last few days.
"Don't patronize me princess" she grumbled, "besides; isn't it you who was lucky? The Sergeant threatened to send you packing because you strayed so far behind the group..."
Yuuka who had taken an uninvited seat next to the girl had been holding a plastic bag; one from which she retrieved two ice cold cans of soda from; generously offering one to the cadet.
"I don't touch that kind of junk."
Unfazed by the decline; Yuuka shrugged it off; placing the beverage back into the bag by her boots, "they decided to let me stay because I fell even farther behind to assist you."
Moriya snickered, "what an excuse...You were already way behind before you even found me."
"Perhaps; but sometimes being at the back you can gain a clearer advantage."
Sugai sipped at her drink.
"By being farther back I can observe the unit and it's surroundings better."
"Sounds like something a leader would say."
"I'm no leader. Just a cadet who believes in what this platoon is being built on. I would say the leadership belongs to the strongest of us-"
"Too be honest I'm not so sure; but so far I'm seeing promise in Shida, Hirate and yourself-"
Akane edged herself forward to the tip of the wooden bench; reaching beside herself to grab the stationary crutch she had set there before pulling herself to stand and lean against it.
"I won't lose to Shida" she proclaimed, "or that kid Hirate."
Slanting her weight further onto the aluminum aid nestled in the crook of her underarm; the girl twisted to look at her comrade who had remained seated.
"If someday I become a Captain; Princess; you may just be a useful second in command."
The girl groaned, "stop calling me that will you? It's Sugai."
"Yuuka." Moriya outstretched an open palm toward her, "Nice to officially meet you."
Shaking her head at the shameless display of ego; Sugai took the offered hand into her own and shook it.
A furious scarlet flushed over the cadets complexion; causing her to draw back hastily from the welcoming grasp.
Yuuka couldn't help but smile at the girls obvious manner of abashment.
"Alright; future Captain Moriya Akane it is."
"Or perhaps what I felt for you at that time had already reached even far beyond just that..."
"Congratulations on your promotion; Captain Sugai."
It was a title she truly believed she would never get used to; nor one she felt deserving of. A title that caused a sense of melancholy to resurface each time it was used.
"And you; Sergeant Nen."
By now it had become an unspoken promise between the pair. One Moriya had surrendered to long before. A name only Yuuka was permitted to use.
"Why so glum?"
Akane already knew the silent truth; and she worried.
"Nen; I can't do this..." proclaimed the girl, a pang of dread formulating in the pit of her gut, "I can't lead a platoon of soldiers" she conceded; tilting her chin downward to veil her vision from the only one she desired so near.
Tenderly; Moriya entwined her arms around the girls slender frame and pulled her in close.
"Yuuka; you were chosen for a reason. No one else embodies Keyakizaka's precept more than you. Believe in yourself...I do."
Burying herself in as close as their bodies would permit; Sugai inhaled the girls familiar scent; a strive in calming her rattled nerves.
"Make me a promise-"
"What's that?" the Sergeant mumbled; cheek pressing into her companion's dark velvety locks.
"We do this together; always; no matter what happens..."
Yuuka couldn't help but feel the edges of her lips tug into a soft smile.
"Forever; Sergeant. That's an order."
"Those days...That's right" she whispered to herself; allowing the gravity of her recollection to crash down and envelope the beating heart in her chest. "Those days...The precious moments that I fell in love."
"There is no place for a word like that here; Sergeant Moriya."
Akane dug deep within to find the strength she needed now more than ever. That familiar voice; though cruel and stern; still enticed a burning fervency to ignite within her core.
The dawn had carried with it a cool draft; their shadows; all six she counted; stretching out tall across the bone dry earth in front of them. For a day in Autumn; she could already tell that the afternoon would bring with it an abnormal blazing heat.
"So it would seem."
"What would you have me do?"
Sugai recoiled; the statement lashing at her like a whip.
"You know by now I have no choice...Nen, what is our happiness compared to the lives of the one's we both swore to protect."
"No matter what happens-"
"You left me no choice!" she shouted again; a tight knot balling in her throat, "you abandoned that promise and left me to pick up the pieces alone..."
Moriya couldn't help but avert her gaze from the girls she had at one time called her allies; tormented by her past mistakes; knowing that she had let every single one of them down.
"As Captain I must make the hard decisions; that is one thing this war has taught me. There is no more room for error...One life for many."
Akane watched as Sugai lowered her rifle and passed it over into Oda's care; ridding herself of all other firearms she concealed before drawing a lengthy blade from it's leather sheath at the side of her boot. It's razor edge glistening a blinding luster as the sun reflected off it's steel.
Heaving a heavy breath; the Sergeant followed suit in disarming herself but in turn did not reveal any weapon. The decision causing an evident discomfort to radiate from the unit.
The audacious decision would not be enough to stop the Captain; Akane knew this; and so she welcomed the lunging Soldier to unleash all of her anguish and misery in what may have become their last meeting.
Chapter 16: Hold us now, sold us out
It could have been described as a full assault on the senses. An overwhelming impediment that could distract even the most skilled from the tasks at hand.
Though the continuous prattle of bullets and hammer of explosions had ceased; what remained was an ever growing aftermath of putrid black smoke billowing throughout the urban battlefield. A horrible density that could be seen; felt and cut with a knife.
In the distance; the small unit could hear the panicked screams of others scattered about. Whether they belonged to their company or not was anyone's guess.
"Sound off; is everyone accounted for?"
Mirei readjusted her lowered position against the stacks of sandbags to observe her assigned unit. The lot crouched low to the earth leaving her unsure of casualties.
The tone directed the squad leader to pull away from her cover and edge toward a pair of cadet's; their attention fixed on one's lower abdomen.
The voice had come from Memi who had occupied herself with trying to ease the girls fingers away from the abrasion .
"Let me see-"
Mirei was quick to kneel; pulling apart the tear in the girls shirt to gain a better view.
"It's nothing" Takase hissed; pushing away the offer, "I just caught some debris from the wall-"
Mirei raised a brow as she ignored the girls efforts to reject aid.
"Wood...Looks like it's from one of the planks...That's one hell of a splinter-" she pursed her lips, "Far from your heart though...You'll live; let's get it out before infection sets - Kage!" she urged.
It took their appointed Medic no longer than a few moments to respond to the summon; greeting the three at their shallow level, "You called?"
"Get private Takase patched up. I want her brought back to Neru straight afterward-"
Fury overtook the girls expression as Mirei ordered her withdrawal; watching as she moved to return to her previous position. It was obvious she was leaving no room for debate.
"Wh- No! I'm fine!"
"Sit still Private-" Kage urged as she moved to fish into the small wound.
"Manafi; please-" Memi urged; remaining at the girls side to help if Kage required assistance.
Wincing against the ache; Takase bit back a whimper, "Mirei don't ignore me!" she snapped; sweat beading from her temple.
"Splinter my ass Mirei-" Kage tried her best to ignore the Cadets pleads toward their leader as she managed to extract the shrapnel.
"Would you shut up! They could be watc-"
Any witness may have called it as such...
The rapid clank of a slug ricocheting off the top of their Medics helmet had enough force to near knock her flat on her face. The spectacle causing Memi's eyes to widen in disbelief and Kage to scramble even lower for cover.
"They don't know when to quit-" Mirei snarled; hoisting her rifle.
How right had she been; those words holding more truth to them than anyone could have fathomed.
So it came.
As sure as the ever changing seasons and the incessant flow of time. A clout so potent which caused Memi to succumb to the unmerciful onslaught; a quality of benevolence that rendered her unable to watch the exhibition any longer.
One. Two. Three-
She counted as they were struck down onto the fragmented concrete; their limp physiques involuntarily staining it's canvas an oily scarlet.
Were they dead or alive? She was uncertain of her comrades fates. What she was certain of however was that she was now in deep, deep trouble; and like a wild animal caught in a snare with its hunters closing in; she was about to be pulled under even further.
It was an unsolicited blow. The impact so abrupt she was sure her brain had rattled against the inner walls of her skull; a drumming throb that would cause an immediate descent into darkness.
Neru having been engaged in maintaining a watch over the radio transceiver was quick to note the huff of discomfort slip from her restless cohort.
"It's nothing-" she returned; fingers kneading the flesh at the back of her scalp, "just a persistent ache that won't quit..."
"Do you want some Aspirin?"
The Ace raised a hand in decline; dismissing the offer in favour of kicking her legs up to lay stretched out on her back across a dingy lounge sofa situated by a lone office window.
Neru pressed no further; deducing that the girl must have been brooding over the fact she had been left behind. Of course she knew any offered words of reassurance would be wasted; yet she couldn't help but try.
"I know this is hard for you-"
"Spare me-" she snapped; crooking her neck from it's reclined position.
The Scout maintained her calm demeanor.
"Do you think it's any easier on me?"
"Fuuchan is one of the hostages I've entrusted to Risa and Kato. Don't you think I'd rather it be me going to get her? It's as Moriya said, we all have a role to play-""
Hirate swallowed any quip she had built up in the time it had taken Neru to lecture her; opting to return her attention back to the greying tiles of the grid drop-ceiling above.
Neru shook her head; muttering under her breath in regards to the soldiers childish exhibition; and went back to focusing on the receiver.
It had taken less time than expected for a rush of static to burst from the devices speaker; an eager voice shouting through from the other side.
"Neru; do you copy-"
Hurriedly; she raised the transceiver to her mouth before pressing hard against the PTT button.
"Clear; go ahead."
She almost wanted to ask what had happened to their agreement on using a moniker but the timber on the opposite end declared urgency. It belonged to Jurina.
"We've taken a hit; our left vanguard has been wiped out!"
Hirate hadn't requested a repeat; instead leaping to her boots and bounding across the distance to yank the device from Neru's hands; the latter grunting in vexation.
"Explain wiped out-"
White noise. The silence near crippling as she waited impatiently for a response.
"No; miraculously...Just heavily wounded-"
"Where is Memi?" she demanded.
"They took her-"
"Who took her?"
Truly; the Ace already knew the answer to her own question but even she could not evade a repressed tendency of denial.
"Those two nut jobs from HKT...Sakura and Sashihara Rino-"
As she witnessed the blood drain from her face; Neru was certain now that if humans could implode; this is what they may have looked like beforehand.
"Hirate-" Neru urged a futile warning, "this is what they want-"
But no matter how much she implored her to stay; the Ace's mind had already gone to where Memi was; and her body would shortly follow.
In those desperate moments; trudging the line between life or death; near any human will sacrifice their virtue. A choice stripped from them with a means to simply survive.
It is now that Akane believes that a broken manner of virtue is all she has left.
Was she to part with that as well? In front of her repressed unit...In front of Sugai?
"I hate you!"
Moriya blocks a fist.
"No you don't."
She dodges another.
"I wish we'd never met!"
The Sergeant catches another blow and spins the girl around to pull her back in tight to her chest.
"That's a lie" she breathes into her ear.
The Captain strikes backwards with her elbow into Moriya's side to free herself from the embrace.
As the Sergeant stumbled back from the impact; Yuuka lashed out once more with her blade; it's tip grazing the bridge of her partner's nose; casting a spatter of crimson to stream over and into her eye; the flow continuing down her cheek to drip from her jaw.
It was subtle; but Moriya could hear the air catch in Sugai's throat.
She was holding back...
Even still; the pity was not to last. As Akane made a move to wipe the fluid from her vision; the Captain made another lunge.
Stepping back to evade; she raised her hands to intercept as Sugai continued to advance.
Using her forearm to counter a drive; Moriya bumped against her wrist to liberate the blade; the attempt foiled as Yuuka met her with equal speed; slamming her knuckles into the Sergeants impaired mien.
"Persistent-" she wheezed.
"Learned from the best."
Managing a firm grip on Moriya's collar; she wrenched hard enough that they both heard the ruffled tear of nylon.
"I should kill you-"
"I wouldn't blame you."
Had she forgotten she had the weapon?
The Sergeant's uncertainty became subdued as Yuuka snaked her arm around the girls head; constricting before unloading a barrage of devastating knee shots into her ribs.
Pain webbed throughout her torso as she felt the bone's buckle; shattering under the weight of force; causing a choked gasp as the oxygen was sucked from her lungs.
Right leg; Left leg.
Forward and backward.
A jab; a hook; an uppercut.
By this point; Moriya could near only focus on the trembling of her legs as Sugai punished her with a last roundhouse kick to the skull; driving her ruthlessly into the soil below.
Somehow; as the others witnessed the scene unfold; it played out as a one sided boxing match that neither opponent wanted to win.
As Akane remained in a heap on the ground; Sugai huffed to ease her laboured breathing; narrowed orbs never leaving the girls fallen position.
It was hot. Almost too hot for a day in Autumn. It also couldn't be helped that the duo had spent the last half an hour fighting one another in close combat; both oscillating on the fringe of their limits.
With the sun beating down on them and the excessive heat from the smoke that billowed from the cities interior; Sugai could feel her uniform sopping in sweat.
"Get up Sergeant-" she growled; wiping at the perspiration on her upper lip.
When Moriya did not acknowledge her; it caused her brow to crease in frustration.
"I said get up!"
Groaning; the downed girl eased herself onto her side before rolling onto her hands and knees; vision blurred with stars as her sweat and blood dripped to the dust below.
"This is too painful to watch-" Nijika mumbled to Shiori; wondering herself if they should intervene but knowing they could not.
"Akane knows Yuuka is holding back...She won't kill her-" Oda added.
"She just might-" Rika folded her arms over her chest, "she knows what Yokoyama will do-"
"Either way; Moriya hasn't even bothered to attack..." Nijika bit at her bottom lip, "that Commander...This is nothing but a game for her to watch."
A game that neither could end...A continuous waltz the two were willing to share for eternity.
Once Akane had staggered back to her feet; posture slumped; Sugai observed; certain her Nen had more to offer in defense than the pitiful display so far.
Just how long could they stall an outcome?
Someone save us...
Bullying back her tears; Yuuka rushed forward; raising the blade to take another swing at the Sergeant; believing that she would once again impede the strike.
A sentiment she would never forget as Moriya dropped her guard at the last second to trap the plunge of the razors edge into the lower right side of her chest.
Shiori gasped out loud; her body involuntarily lurching forward but being stopped by Naako's outstretched hand.
Sugai stared at the hilt of the weapon as it's length was buried beneath her partners flesh. Disbelief contorted her brow; gaze shifting to lock orbs with Moriya who was already moving to pull her into a warm embrace.
"Looks lik-ugh-" she grunted against the pain; breathing in what little air she could manage, "we're out of time-"
To be human...Just what sins is one willing to commit for the sake of loyalty?...As individuals it is near ingrained within to take what one must to survive...But there are times one is reminded, sparsely, as to how they've taken their very existence for granted.
The essence of life?-
Faith...One cannot live without it in something or someone.
Brief...Sweet moments duelling bitter experiences.
Precious...They will choose life over everything else.
Karma...It observes; It will serve them what is rightfully theirs.
Odyssey...It owes them nothing but is everything.
That's right...No matter the circumstances, fate will inevitably bend; and once bent; break to remind each and every one of them that they cannot fail to appreciate actuality.
"She's still alive; we haven't killed her...Yet."
When she came to; groggily; she could recall that she had heard this familiar voice once before but could not pinpoint from where. Every noise muffled by the enduring thrum of her pulse against her eardrums; a sense that tied her to this world and not the next accompanied by the excruciating throb in her crown and the bitter taste of rust that gurgled behind her lips.
"Both of you will be shortly if you don't release her-"
Now that was a voice she recognized.
Gradually her eyes fluttered open to rally with a border of darkness; a blindfold. As she made to wipe at the stickiness on her face; she noted a scorching bite gnaw against her wrists. The bind only tightening further the more she struggled against it; shoulder blades nagging as they contorted at an awkward angle to accommodate her arms behind her back.
"What the-" she groaned; dazed; voice hoarse and parched as if she hadn't used it in ages.
It was violently abrupt.
A ruthless jerk to her head as it was yanked back by a fistful of hair, a firm grip establishing itself around her bicep; twisting to hoist her to her feet; legs scrambling and weaving awkwardly to balance herself and follow the constraint in hopes of relief.
Respiring deeply; the Cadet ensured to keep a placid mien; rolling her tongue against her inner cheek before spitting out a wad of blood.
With her senses heightened; she could hear the Aces grating breaths beneath the torrent of blustering Soldiers. Had they already brawled during her dormancy? Regardless; they were pushing Hirate into a corner; and they were working hard to do so.
Yes they could have all shot one another. However; Memi had become fully mindful that this was a ploy set up by none other than Yokoyama and Hirate was now HKT's puppet willing to do anything to ensure her survival.
Oh they had her right where they wanted her.
"Wasn't it not long ago we were at the same juncture?" Sakura provoked, "have you not learned your lesson?"
"How pitiful, it's unseemly that you've been the General Captain's concern this whole time...A pathetic enforcer such as yourself. Even your own Captain threw away her lust- "
"It's disgraceful really...A supposed god of death allowing something as trivial as love to impair her-"
They were not wrong. Though few; every Ace the Cadet had encountered that did not belong to Keya had cast away sentiment in favour of supremacy but not Yurina. The Soldier through her trials had preserved that fragment of compassion and she adored her for it.
"Yurina-" her voice quivered; orbs misting as her satin locks were wrenched further back; brow distorting as she was forced to accept the rigid muzzle of a gun press into her cheek.
An careless display of dominance.
The duo snickered.
Sunlight shrouded by plumes of smog. Sudden; harsh and unexpected but so very welcome.
Whichever of the pair liberated her vision from the veil was unknown but either way; Memi knew it was not a decision forged of mercy.
As her eye's adjusted to what little brightness the day could manage throughout the urban warzone; the first sight she saw was Hirate; stance unyielding as she held her rifle to the crook of her shoulder.
There were no words to describe the expression Memi witnessed.
If the Reaper had a face...
"Yurina you need to wake up!" she snapped; ignoring the attention she had drawn from her captors. "I've had enough of you feeling sorry for your damn self; it's pathetic. I will never forgive you if you give in to this; never!"
"Quite the mouth on this one-" Sakura shifted a glance toward Sashihara as she wrangled the cadet in closer to maintain control.
Memi watched the girl's movements.
Don't lower your rifle damn it!
Determining that her words hadn't been enough; she cried out, "Don't!"
"How many times will you live through the same scenario Hirate?" The Colonel mumbled, "What about a deal? Come join us and we'll give her a quick death-"
Sakura scowled; her gun unwavering as she adjusted it's position; pressing it's barrel further causing a contusion in the girls temple; "I swear I will-"
The deafening shot came without warning; it's advent punching a burning sting of white fire straight through Memi's left shoulder causing her torso to snap round from the force; slamming her back into the frame of her detainer.
Staggering to keep herself upright; her eyes shifted to gaze down at the red splaying across her chest; bottom jaw slack with disbelief before her body crumbled forward with a thud onto the dirt.
Sakura; guise now similarly perplexed; instantly followed.
Memi was certain through her shock that the desperate pleas for aid belonged to Sakura while she herself gasped and writhed through the agony; her life seeping out onto the earth around them to blend with the HKT Ace's. It was only after gaining quick sight of the lifeless body next to her own that she became fully aware that it was her own cries.
"You truly are full of surprises..." Sashihara could near not believe what she had just seen.
"You wanted a devil didn't you?"
The Colonel spared no words of retort as she looked on toward her opponent.
"Soldiers like us...We only have one rule."
"And what is that?"
"All lives hold no value-"
Hirate bolted to take advantage of the stunned Colonel; giving and receiving the beating that followed; swearing that if she was going to die here; she would be taking this sinister lackey with her.
The Captain could not stop the oncoming flow of tears.
"Wh-why?" she choked, "you were supposed to block-"
The Sergeant pressed her face into the girls neck and inhaled deeply; finding a moment of serenity; a scent she had missed for so long.
"Shhh It's goin-" she twitched uneasily; recomposing herself as best as she could, "-Going to be alright-"
Sugai could feel the weight increasing in her arms as Moriya's legs began to give out from under her; causing the Captain to hold her as they both sunk to the ground; arms cradling the Sergeants torso as she took in the damage she had inflicted.
"What part of this is ok Nen-" she whimpered; sniffling as she tried to gently wipe away some of the blood on Moriya's face, "I can't do this..."
Above the fissure her fingers twitched; unwilling to remove the bayonet fearing that it would cause the girl to hemorrhage out; worsening her state.
Devastation masked her countenance as she aimed an apologetic look at her unit, "I've failed every single one of you..."
Even though the Soldiers were aware of what Sugai's choice would mean for them; for the ones they cared for most; none dared move to finish what their leader could not.
Struggling; Akane reached for the radio that sat fastened to her belt loop; pulling it free to raise to her lips.
"H-Hirate; Moriya gen one; do you copy-"
White static rippled through the other side but carried no voice.
After another moment; the Sergeant tried again; ignoring the sudden adaption of Sugai's expression.
"Hirate-" she groaned; hissing back a wince as another ache jolted through her, "It's Moriya damn it!"
"Techi's..." Yuuka gawked at the radio, "she's alive?"
"Moriya; it's Nagahama-"
Disbelief took over Sugai's mien as she heard the familiar voice break from the speaker.
"Neru...Where the hell is Hirate?"
"They've taken Memi."
It was all the Sergeant needed to hear to know that the girl had once again disobeyed her orders.
"We're out of time..." she muttered, "I'm sorry for this; but you need to make the call Neru..."
"Our people are still inside the wire; including you-"
"This will never end..."
As leaders they could not rid the weight of guilt that failing their unit had caused. Both aware now that even if Sugai were to strike down Akane in this moment; the fight would continue until every part of Sakamichi; including it's civilians were wiped out. The members being used as leverage to be executed regardless of cooperation or not...
"Tell Okada to launch the strike."
"We're already dead!"
It was something that had become foreign to her; the unbearable sensation of fear.
"Is this a ploy Nen...Was that truly Neru?...Is Techi really here?"
Could either of those truths make a difference anymore...
Chapter 17: Forever and Never
Yui Yokoyama would pay the price for her atrocities; a certainty that AKB and their allies were still blissfully unaware of.
"Aren't you daring-"
Harada Aoi would count this as her first time meeting Saito Makiko. An encounter that had been decided after an offer and much deliberation. A risk neither wanted to take but one that felt necessary for their units survival.
"What more do we have to lose; Private?"
Motorcycle's stationed on their kickstands; they stood at a secure distance from one another; no trust spared as they watched; whereabouts concealed by the canopy of trees far from the distant altercation within the city.
Makki rubbed the uneven veins of a leaf between her fingers; a discreet motion to calm her nerves.
"Given Neru's permission; we've agreed to your terms to meet. Alone and no weapons...We're on borrowed time so what is it you want?"
"How is Jurina?"
"Not your concern; nor what we agreed upon-"
Aoi had met tons of service personnel throughout her duration of action but none quite as uncanny as this one.
"I want SKE to walk away from this-"
"It's a little late for that don't you think? Your company is on standby; you've already raised your flag-"
"We haven't engaged."
Aoi pursed her lips.
"Why would you want to commit treason...You are part of 48; how could we trust you?"
The Captain laughed uneasily, "treason...Do you honestly believe Yuihan will stop after Sakamichi is wiped out?"
"It's become a grander scale Harada...That commander is no longer the girl I remember her to be."
The trees groan and sway as a cool breeze webs through the vast rows of foliage; alleviation from the heat beyond the brilliant veil of red and gold. It is subtle but brings with it a moment of tranquility not felt for a long time.
"I know our duties as Soldiers. We protect our districts; aid our allies in times of need...But having been at the front of this mess; I've come to realize and understand Jurina's choice in abandoning us..."
Aoi could sense the frustration in the Captain's voice.
"Moriya's crimes against Nogizaka and Yoshi cannot be forgiven...But as the leader of SKE myself; I can sympathize and understand why she did it."
"Make no mistake; her transgressions will be dealt with...But it will be dealt with by Keya; no one else."
Makki nodded; unwilling to overstep bounds.
"Understand that as we speak; Sashihara and Sakura are on the move...They are going to take one of your Cadets."
This vital piece of information intrigues the Scout.
"I can't recall her name-"
Aoi glares as she begins to feel as if she is being toyed with.
"Regardless; they mean to use her to draw out Hirate."
Those sly dogs...
"Alright...What is your proposal?"
Three days...A week? A month? At what point had they stopped caring about time? They could not recall.
By now; secured within the confines of AKB's lockup; having been offered limited rations and no sunlight; hope had already neared it's depletion. With no sights of their comrades return or indication of Hirate's anticipated arrival it was simply a matter of waiting for death to come.
For whatever reason; during their captivity; Yokoyama had placed the four in a single cell; it's capacity barely large enough to accommodate two.
Perhaps the General Captain felt it necessary to keep as many chambers vacant as possible for more prisoners...But even that seemed unlikely as no one else had joined them since their arrival.
"A rabbit must have run over my grave-"
Uemura cast a puzzled glance.
"I just had a shiver go up my spine."
Noting the explanation hadn't made it any clearer; Fuyuka shook her head and went back to occupying her time with counting the many bricks that lined the walls.
"Have you noticed?" Ozeki inquired; finger tips fiddling with the hem of her shirt.
"The explosions...They've been getting louder-"
"Probably just some guerillas that got lucky and breached the wire...I don't expect it to last much longer." Suzumon tipped her head back to rest against the rigid barrier.
"Way to be optimistic-"
"The hell with being optimistic-" she stood, "where has that gotten us so far? Those poor bastards are fighting a losing war..."
"You know I'm growing sick of your negative attitude-"
"Well you must have mistaken me for someone who gives a damn."
"Mon, Ozek; that's enough! This isn't the time; you both need to cool off-" Fuyuka inserted herself between the bickering pair unwilling to listen any longer.
Suzumon gaped at the enforcer; tension running high; considering if there was even a point in challenging the injunction.
Short lived; the contemplation was ceased by the groan of an opening door; the quartet casting heed toward the entryway.
Komiharu strolls into the guardhouse silently before slanting her shoulder against the wall; watching the four girls with intent.
They attempt to ignore her but eventually Suzumon succumbs to irritability.
"It's rude to stare don't you think?"
Komiharu smirks; arms crossing above her chest, "just following orders."
"You were ordered to gawk?" the spy scoffed, "looks like Yokoyama decided you're quite useless if you're not out there with your troops."
"Cute...But not quite-" she stepped away from crisp partition, "a group of unmarked Soldiers are attacking-"
Fuyuka leans into the bars of her enclosure, "who?"
"Who the hell do you think?" she snaps, "That Sergeant of yours; Moriya...She's been sighted; but of course; Yokoyama had Sugai and the others take care of that-"
"What have you done!"
Komiharu laughs with satisfaction, "I haven't gotten to the best part yet...We have some extra intel that your trump card has made her way all the way here-"
"Techi-" Uemura; like Saito; now stood at her feet.
The guard chews at her bottom lip.
"Hirate; Soldiers-" Fuyuka began to piece the strategy together; orbs widening as a revelation struck her, "Neru-"
"Looks like you all may have more answers than Yui had anticipated-"
The Soldier scowls; challenging the Senior Officer.
Suzumon raises a brow; not moving from her position as she watches their adversary.
"I suppose fortune is still in our favour-"
Another blast rocks the four walls around them causing Komiharu to cuss. Malice would swallow the best of her.
"You know; a benefit of my position is that Yokoyama has placed her trust in my decisions; believing that I am capable of making the right one's during desperate situations."
The Soldier leers at Ozeki who has been stationary on a bottom bunk seemingly uninterested in the entirety of the discussion.
"As it stands; I'll admit I'm restless being stuck in here; sitting on the sidelines; feeling useless as we wait out this pathetic attempt at a siege-"
Reaching to her belt hook; she retrieves a chain; a number of keys rattling until she separates one that fits the cell door; slipping it in place and twisting until the lock clanked with a release.
Before sliding the gate open; she drew her handgun and held it at eye level, "now, all of you face the wall."
For a moment the four surveyed the guard; wondering if she was being serious.
"Now!" she shrieked.
They moved in union; positioning themselves against the cool concrete barrier; curious to see if their lives still held any advantage.
Uemura squeezed her eyes shut; the ordeal becoming quite frightening. It was one thing to fight another being but this girl seemed too far from being human...The true definition of a monster.
"The rules were that I'm not supposed to touch a hair on any of your heads; that doing so could cause friction with our new unit; however; there is one among you and-" she stopped behind Ozeki; bending in just close enough to whisper hot breath against her ear, "as far as I'm aware; Risa is dead right?...Which means you'll have no one to miss you anyway."
Cringing at the declaration; Ozeki spun around to meet the immoral adversary; swallowing hard; daring to fight for her life.
A choice stolen.
"Let's see if we can get private Ozeki to talk; what do you lot think?"
By now the hostage had already been drug from the cell; her comrades left in a state of horror as they moved to the iron gate of their prison; hands wrapping around the bars.
"She doesn't know anything; none of us do!" Fuyuka bargained.
"What would make you think I would believe that?-"
"I'm serious!" she wailed.
"Well then I guess I don't need her after all-"
As Komiharu lifted the muzzle to force against the girls jaw; Uemura cried out.
The air shattered as a slug punched through the flesh and bone of the sentries hand spraying scarlet and launching the piece across the room.
Silence fell upon its wake.
Then came the howl of realization; Komiharu freeing her bind on the hostage in favour of cradling her mutilated limb.
"What the f-!"
Taking the opportunity; Ozeki lurched out of reach; quickly backing away from where she had been detained; wild eyes darting from the officer toward where the shot had originated from.
"So much for being stealth-"
"Like I had a choice."
From the shadows of the entryway; Risa and Kato made their appearance; a sight no one in the block had anticipated.
Ozeki found herself petrified; unable to trust what she was witnessing.
Risa noted the anguish and disbelief on her companions face and found her demeanor soften. After having waited for so long she had finally found her...
"You-" Komiharu snarled; spit dribbling from her bottom lip.
The profound moment was cut short.
"Oh; right...I guess I missed-"
Mercy had no place here.
It took less than a second for Risa to fire a round into the AKB Soldiers head and one extra to watch her fall to the floor in a lifeless heap.
The enforcer looked on as the prisoner still met her with doubt.
Warily; Ozeki walked toward the two intruders until she stood in front of Risa; head tilting slightly to look upwards and meet her gaze.
The soldier scoffed; orbs misting, "you're sorry-" she sniffled, "Risa; they told me you were dead..."
They would wait no longer as Ozeki rushed in close; throwing her arms around the taller girl; holding her tightly around the waist; fearful that if she were to let go she would wake.
"Surprise-" she breathed; shutting her eyes tight and resting her chin atop her partners crown; burrowing against satin locks.
"Ok you two; time for a reunion later, as for now we need to focus on getting out of here."
Kato's words were urgent as she brought them back to actuality.
After patting Ozeki's head; Risa snatched the keys from the corpse and moved to unlock the cell door; greeting her bewildered unit as they filed out.
"How-?" Fuyuka started.
"I'll fill you in later but for now we need to move and move fast...Neru is waiting; Fuuchan-"
Those were the only words she needed to hear to become focused on making it out of that prison alive.
This exchange...Endless; as if you've been running down a dark tunnel for miles, but haven't gained an inch.
"You-" Hirate snarled, "I'm going to kill you-"
Sashihara smirked at the declaration, "I should have ended you back in Fukuoka-"
"Should've could've would've..." she taunted, "Opting for Sakura to do your dirty work-"
The duo stood parallel to one another; both drawing fatigued breaths as they broke to size one another up and down.
"That's right...But it wasn't a total loss; watching you squirm. I guess I should thank that useless bitch enforcer of yours; what was her name again? Shida?"
The Colonel could tell the remark had struck a chord.
"Guess it's too late for that now-"
Hirate felt her pulse throb.
Loose gravel launched from the ground as she bolted forward.
Gaze hardened; Sashihara welcomed the incoming charge; muscles straining as she sidestepped to evade a well aimed strike; countering back with her own.
If she was going to save Memi; she needed to end this and end it now.
Veering beneath the swing; Hirate lashed outward and up to take hold of her opponents shirt; anchoring her stance before hooking her boot behind the girls heel and kicking inwards.
Tangled; they fell into a cloud of dust.
For a moment Hirate knew she had the upper hand; having landed on top of the Colonel; straddling her chest as she pelted white knuckles down into the girls face.
A glint seized the corner of her eye; instinct prompting her to release her hold and cock backwards to avoid the jab of a concealed weapon.
"Son of a-"
Taking hold of Sashihara's collar; the Ace yanked upward with all her might; crashing her brow into the girls nose with a sickening crunch causing the knife to drop.
There was no indication of pain; only a sadistic laugh.
Hands snaking between Hirate's forearms; the girl clawed her nails into the Ace's temples to break skin; digging her thumbs into her eyes.
Shouting; Hirate jerked to free herself giving the Colonel the opportunity to reverse their positions; forcing the girl to tip and trapping her beneath her weight.
It was cruel. The sequence of the soldier forcing her knee downwards into her victims sternum; patiently waiting for the bones to buckle.
Barely; she blocks another incoming blow only for the pressure to increase against her lungs.
Callused hands wrap around her windpipe and they constrict.
"Was there truly a second you thought you were going to win?-" Sashihara huffed; lips tugging into a smirk.
Heart threatening to burst from it's cradle; her head pounded from being jostled about.
Can't breathe-Air...I need-
She was suffocating; and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
"It's over Hirate-"
What little strength she had left to grapple only caused the pressure to increase; her gasps for oxygen becoming less with each heave.
The world began to darken; dragging her down into the depths where she had sent so many before; where Shida waited; where Memi would soon join her.
The mass rose; causing her lungs to expand near full capacity as she choked; gulping desperately for the necessity she had been denied.
Vision reeling; she rolled to her side as Sashihara stood; moving away from her limp body.
What was going on?
That voice; muffled...Who?..
"Techi; get up-"
Sight clearing; the view of a blurred individual was enough to almost smother her all over again.
"Get up Soldier! Save her; you have to save her! You're not done yet!"
Clinging desperately to her consciousness; the Ace hoisted herself to her boots; staggering a moment; orbs straining to get a visual of where her antagonist had headed.
Right where she had been this whole time; weakly propped up on an elbow; the Cadet had managed to save her by drawing the Colonel's attention with a bullet.
The repetitive click of an empty chamber caused whatever strength Hirate had left to bolt toward the pair; snatching the discarded bayonet as she went.
Sashihara continued toward the fallen girl; raising her handgun; finger squeezing against it's trigger.
The Ace closed the margin at lightning speed; sparing no chances or regret and drove the sharp skewer straight through the Colonel's back; twisting and hoisting upwards.
"I wasn't dead yet-" she hissed against the girls ear; wrenching to liberate the blade.
Perhaps Sashihara had known that fact...Perhaps in the end she had decided that a life without Sakura would no longer be one worth living. That this would be her only way out.
Regardless; Hirate couldn't shake the feeling that this victory had been nothing short of a miracle.
Casting the corpse aside; the Ace kept her eyes locked on the Cadet who had released the gun and was now resting on her side; torso quivering with each breath as she pressed her digits into the hemorrhaging fissure.
Crouching; Techi shredded the length of her jacket sleeve before pressing it against the wound.
"Just please hold on a little longer-"
"I-I thought you were d-dead-" Memi sobbed, burying her tears into her saviours neck.
"I thought I was...You saved me-" she paused; orbs instantly burning alight as recollection struck her, "oh!"
The Cadet observed as Hirate wildly scoped their perimeter; maintaining a secure hold around her frame.
"What is it?-"
"I saw her...Shida. She was here; she spoke to me-"
Sorrow enveloped Memi's profile as she gingerly placed her hand against the Soldiers chest; willing herself closer.
"Yurina..." she spoke softly; her delicate tone enough to bring the girl's attention back; their eyes locking with one another.
It was heartbreaking to say the least; the realization that washed over Hirate's face and Memi knew that nothing else needed to be said on the matter...It's truth undesired as it once again held the tragic unfairness of reality.
"Let's get you home-"
Neru stands hunched over; fingers drumming against the table top as she eye's the radio in front of her.
How could Moriya ask her to do such a thing? How dare she!
Gnashing her teeth she snarled; snatching up the device and reeling her arm back to throw it.
Slamming it down; the girl ran her fingers past her temples to tangle through her hair and yell out a cry of frustration; a notion of defeat smothering her.
Gulping a deep breath; quivering; she picked up the radio once more and squeezed it tight.
"Come on Neru; you have to do this; you've been ordered to do this!"
Mist welled from her orbs.
"Just do it you coward-" she whimpered.
Courage did not come as she pressed against the PTT button; lips trembling as no words escaped.
Submitting; she hurtled the device toward the wall; opting for her rifle instead.
"I will not let you all die."
Rushing for the buildings exit; she yanks it's door wide open only to freeze in her tracks; bottom jaw going slack.
The Scout was unable to count; yet miraculously; she recognized each of the faces that would come to pass through the entryway. Worn; filthy and roughed up but each very much alive.
First came Zuumin; leading Yone and Koike who sustained the weight of Habu's stretcher; Kobayashi tailing behind.
Hiragana would follow; Jurina's team aided by Kumi as they helped the wounded members of their left vanguard that had been struck down by Sashihara and Sakura.
A short dark haired girl who cradled another in her arms smiled softly at her comrade as she passed by.
Hirate said nothing more as Risa urged her onward into the building; fingers entwined with Ozeki's; giving Neru a slight nod of approval.
"Uemura; Mon; Kato-"
Someone that had given Neru her final hope through all that seemed impossible.
Time ceased. Both uncertain of whether to laugh or cry.
Fuyuka closed the gap between them; seizing the Scout into a tight hold; the latter returning the embrace. Neru's mind put to ease.
Selfless. Genuine. Forever.
This was the love she had missed. The one that had been taken from her and one she had hoped would be brought back safe.
As she internally thanked Risa and Kato; her hold strengthened.
"Never letting go-" she whispered.
Fuyuka smiled through the tears that trickled down her cheeks.
In the wake of their reunion; after ensuring all numbers were accounted for; Neru returned to the main office; Suzumon and Fuyuka tailing close behind.
Immediately the Scout retrieved the radio she had hurtled to the floor earlier; thankful that it hadn't shattered in her moment of weakness.
"Where is Aoi?" Fuyuka inquired; having taken note of her absence.
"A meeting...But I haven't heard from her in the last five hours..."
"A meeting with who?"
"Saito Makiko of SKE-"
"SKE? Does Jurina know?"
Neru shook her head dolefully.
"Isn't it dangerous to have her out there all alone?"
"You would think...But somehow; I had a good feeling about this...Aoi will be alright."
Suzumon and Fuyuka exchange concerned glances.
Pressing against the button; Neru calls outward.
"Moriya gen one; this is Neru; do you copy?"
The impatience is evident on the Scouts mien as she waits; the hiss of white noise crippling.
It takes a matter of twenty one seconds for a response to break from the other side.
"Neru; this is Sugai; over."
The duo can't help but grin at the sound of their Captain's voice.
Yet the aura of dread that hung over Neru spoke volumes and the pair felt their joy slip away as quickly as it had come.
Hesitantly; after rotating the device in the palm of her hand; the Scout brought it's mic back to her lips and dared ask.
"Sugai...Where is Moriya?"