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A Sister of Steel

A Sakura Taisen fan fiction story
by Elsa Bibat

Disclaimer: Sakura Taisen is owned by Sega, Red company and Ohji Hiroi. All licenses belong to the proper people. This is used without permission. This disclaimer also applies to several intellectual properties referred to in the text. Please be guided accordingly.

This file can be freely distributed so long as it appears in its complete form and proper credit given. No part may be reproduced for monetary gain without permission from the author.


Peking, February 7, 1943:

Iris Chateaubriand walked down the wide stone road, Peking's empty main thoroughfare, towards the Forbidden City. She was not going there to visit the fabled palaces, but to visit a monument. A memorial for an old friend.

"I was wondering where you were off to. Seems we had the same idea."

Battle-trained reflexes had her hands reach for her favored weapons, a cavalry saber and an archaic rune-encrusted revolver, and draw them with blinding speed. The same reflexes made her stop before those weapons simultaneously decapitated and shot her old friend.

Leni Milchentstrasse arched a delicate eyebrow as she looked down at the blade at her neck and the gun barrel pointed at her heart. Strands of her long ash-white hair fell to the ground as she watched.

"Nice. Impromptu haircut. Jumpy today, aren't you, Iris?"

Iris shook her head wryly, the bright golden mane of her hair glinted in the afternoon sun as she sheathed her weapons.

"Leni. Twenty-one years and you still manage to do that. How do you do it?"

"Clean living and shinobi training from the Tsukigumi. Besides, a good XO is a shadow of her captain."

The two old friends smiled at each other. Captain Iris Chateaubriand and Lieutenant Leni Milchenstrasse had gone through a lot with each other. They were both part of the original team that was known the world over as the first and foremost defense against the encroaching darkness.

The City Defense Project's and the Circle's culminating work: the Hanagumi Teikokukagekidan. Others may have followed; Les Fleurs de Paris, the Broadway Blossoms, the San Francisco Flowers, die Blumen der Berlin and others, but the original was known to the world since that faithful day in 1929.

When one of them gave her life to save the city of Peking and drag a demon back into whatever hell it had come from.

"So, you want to come with me?"

"I haven't visited her for a long time, too, you know."

They walked in silence and entered the Gates of Heavenly Peace to emerge in the small park that served as the memorial's home. Filled with flowers, it had been well taken care of by the Republic's gardeners. Taking the path they had last visited fourteen years ago when they came to bury one of their own.

"It's a nice place."

"Yes."

An uncomfortable silence followed.

"She'd have liked it." Leni was probing. Iris was obviously in one of her moods. Considering she was probably going to go down in history as one of the greatest armor commanders of all time, this was a bit puzzling. But maybe not, considering the events of the past six months.

Six months ago, Captain Iris Chateaubriand, in coordination with General Hiroyuki Yamashita, the "Tiger of Hanoi", and Admiral Shiori Soyokaze of the Otome Sentai, lanced through the Cabal lines, traveled over the worst country imaginable in under a month with thin supply lines and deep within enemy territory, and gave the Dark Cabal and the Beasts they served the bloodiest nose they had received in the war.

Not just bloodied their nose, but a broke a leg and arm, too.

The Siberian gulags were no more. No more legions of hungry dead or demonic servitors were going to come out of those hellholes. The survivors of the camps had been airlifted out by the Otome Sentai's dirigibles and the Shogei Maru. The Kasumi Gundan, the Japanese supernatural counter-intelligence division, was having a field day as the amount of intel they had obtained was enormous.

Tunguska was more of a blasted hole now than what it was back in 1940 when the Beast of Air was first awakened. Two of the bravest women that Leni Milchenstrasse had ever known in her life had died to make it so. The Tiger himself died along with an entire battalion of Mitsubishi Kanazuchi to ensure that those two did their job.

Then Iris Chateaubriand led the greatest fighting retreat in the history of warfare. The Imperial Third Army, the Imperial First Armored Cavalry, The Imperial Second Armored Infantry Regiment and the Hanagumi Teikokukagekidan, along with the Chinese Fourth Republican Armored Infantry, the Korean First Royal Cavalry and assorted Russian partisan groups, retreated more than a thousand miles, fighting.

Three months. From the wastes of the Siberia to the plains of Mongolia, until the day that they smashed through Cabal lines again at the Kerulen River and managed to reach Zhangjiakou.

Along the way, three-fourth of Iris Chateaubriand's army died. Never mind that it was probably the best she could have expected. Never mind that none of her personal team had died, the Teikokukagekidan's luck holding through once again. Never mind that she had been given the Imperial Medal of Courage, the Republican Medal of Valor and the Royal Ribbon of Thanks. Never mind that she became, in one fell swoop, a name said in the same breath as Patton, Montgomery and Rommel. She had even been the Japanese representative, though not a Japanese citizen, to the Allied Tibetan Conference at Shangri-la, standing beside such luminaries of what was even now being called the Second Demon War: Lamont Cranston, the Dalai Lama, the Grand Abbot of Shaolin and the Magi Laureate Albert Wulfric.

But that still could not erase one fact that hounded her since the day the dead were counted in sight of the Great Wall.

Two hundred fifty thousand men and women died. Under her command.

A thing like that could get to a woman. Even if that woman was months away from her thirtieth birthday.

Now, the Cabal armies were smashing against Zhangjiakou like a sledgehammer. It was going to fall. It had already held a month longer than expected.

Then they'd be at Peking… Where Iris Chateaubriand was waiting.

They were about to reach the clearing where the memorial lay when Iris ended the silence.

"You know, before we went out that day…."

"Yes?" Leni prompted. No need to ask what that day was.

"She was teaching me how to play Go. Remember when I was terrible at that game?"

Leni smiled. Iris had taken to the game slowly, but now she was one of the premier non-professional players in Japan.

"She promised me that when we came back, she'd teach me a trick to the game. To see the patterns."

Iris let a small thin smile appear on her lips. Moisture glistened in her eyes.

"When… when… that thing got her koubu… before she opened the hatch and went at that thing… she told me… told us all… she'd be watching over us and that she'd be back. Then… then she went."

Leni closed her eyes and saw it in her mind's eye.

// "NO!!!"

"I know -krrzzzkt- beat -krrzzzkt-ing. Sorry-krrzzkt-"

The whine of gears and mechanisms as the hatch started to open.

"STOP THAT!! We can beat this! Hold on! We'll get you out!!!"

A smile. Miraculously, for those last moments the kinematoscope was clear and the transmission smooth.

"Don't worry. I'll be watching you all. And I'll be back. Promise."

Then the transmission cut as the koubu exploded in a flash of energy, her form arching out, and weapon in hand as she ran down the appendage that had held her koubu.

Straight for the demon's face.

And she was glowing, as she brought her weapon to bear.

Then, fire and ice, wind and water, steel and earth, all the

elements, danced. //

"I'm not letting this city fall, Leni. No way in hell."

Leni smiled. Just the same thought that she had.

They entered the clearing and found that they were not the first there.

Nine young women had arrived there before them. Always nine, Leni thought, always nine for the sisterhood of steel.

They were the Beijing de Hehua, Beijing Lotus Blossoms, the local branch of the City Defense Project, named using the Republican name for the city. Leni had seen their koubu, tiexiaojie. Lightly armored, the armored suits were designed for speed and flexibility. Well, at least, most of them were. Leni had dropped by the mech hangars and saw one that was obviously a heavy weapons platform and if her guess was right it was piloted by the tall, Amazon-like woman that was striding towards them.

The woman's odd purple hair was tied into a warrior's braid, a martial artist's affectation that Leni had seen often in China. Her toned muscles, as accentuated by the tight-fitting cheongsam-cum-tunic that was the unit's uniform, told of years of physical combat training, signs of which reminded Leni of one of the Hanagumi's former members. Though she must be taller than Kanna, thought Leni as the woman towered before them.

Then, she went on her knees and kowtowed. The rest of her team followed suit.

Well, at least she knows who we are, Leni thought wryly as she spared Iris a glance. Iris was obviously discomfited at the show of obeisance and respect.

"Honorable elder, we are honored that you would share your presence with us."

Honorable elder? mouthed Iris at her XO. Leni could only widen her smile. Strategic and tactical genius Iris may be, but administratively she was a washout. That was why she was here.

"Please stand up, Colonel Luo. Captain Chateaubriand isn't exactly a stickler for protocol. And don't call us 'elder'; we're only ten years older than you, not thirty. Everyone. Please."

The tall woman and her team stood up ruefully.

"We apologize, Lieutenant Milchenstrasse, we were but surprised by your sudden arrival. I personally am happy to finally meet you. I regret that we couldn't have met you when you first arrived, but we were in Chongqing…."

Leni nodded, impressed. A few months after the attack on Tunguska, while Iris and Leni were still behind enemy lines, Makoto Shishio, one of the Beast's Revived Ones, had led an army of elite troops to strike at Chongqing as a counter to the Allied Siberian strike. It was, as far as the Kasumi Gundan were concerned, an attempt to break the lines of defense that lead to Tibet, location of one of the seven places of power that were the Beasts' goals, and to reallocate the forces keeping the light supply lines that supported the Allied strike force. From reports that she had read, the battle of Chongqing was a fierce one, any battle with a battalion of demonic Striders would be, and a veteran of it was due some respect.

"No apologies necessary, Colonel Luo. We are here merely to visit an old friend."

The captain blinked and looked behind them.

"Where is the rest of your team, Captain? I would think that they would be with you?"

"Er…." Leni hesitated. The rest of the team was at the base, recently returned from Japan. They had a bit of downtime at the protected home islands, holding a few plays to packed audiences at the old Imperial Theater. Leni and Iris hadn't joined them since they had both toured the front lines, evaluating defense strengths and going on to the Tibet Conference.

"We're here." A cocky voice interrupted from the other side of the clearing. Leni could only smile as a figure wearing a black coat, cut in the style popularized in the trenches of the first European Demon War, stepped out of the shadows of the late afternoon. "We took the scenic route when we heard that you were going."

Leni peered into the dark bushes looking for the young kunoichi's companions. Tsunade Shinomori, scion of the Oniwanbashuu ninja company, was lying about hearing about this little visit, of course. Iris hadn't told the base guards where she was going and Leni had jumped the fence, in accordance with her shinobi training, after seeing her captain leave. But Shinomori wasn't that smart. She had taken too much after her legendary grandmother, Misao Makimachi, to think things as deeply as that.

And she did say "we".

The other members of the team stepped out of the shadows. Takami Akechi, the fierce intelligence behind her glasses a reflection of her famous detective-uncle's, examining and cataloging the people and the clearing for information. Ryoko Kanzaki, niece to an old friend and interdimensional explorer from the world of Gaia, was looking at the statue that was the memorial's centerpiece with curiosity. Hinako Aino was smiling, the half-American blonde radiating that strange almost-manic sense of happiness she had. Emi Aoyama was looking over the Beijing team, her swordswoman's eyes gauging their skill. Kaori Higurashi, the oldest member among the current group excepting Leni and Iris, was fingering her nemuranai pistols, Leni recognizing the fact that she was listening to the spirit-voices that whispered from them. The sight of Keiko Asagiri's ever-present scowl brought to Leni the realization that she had missed all of them. Sisters of steel, Leni remembered Sakura once call all those who had ever piloted a koubu. They were sisters truly and it was nice that they would get to meet their departed sister.

"I see that the Peking base has no attractions for you children." Iris' tone was a dry, amused one.

Tsunade, the acknowledged leader of the younger ones, was the one who answered. "They were showing this hokey movie, 'Captain Scarlet Lizard' or something. Got bored. Besides, we missed you two spinsters." The last was said in a low, almost hesitant manner. Iris and Leni had both saved her life on that long march from Siberia and even before that, a year of being in the Teikokukagekidan had worn away at the wall of cockiness that Tsunade used to hide her feelings of inadequacy.

"Well, I might as well introduce you," Leni said with a smile. "Colonel Shen Luo, the Hanagumi Teikokukagekidan. Lieutenants Junior Grade Tsunade Shinomori, Kaori Higurashi and Emi Aoyama. Ensigns Takami Akechi and Keiko Asagiri. Finally, Petty Officers First Class Hinako Aino and Ryoko Kanzaki." Each had bowed when Leni had mentioned their name and the Peking team had made respectful bows of their own in response. Colonel Luo smiled and bowed to the team at the end of their introductions.

She looked to Leni and Iris and nodded. "A pleasure to meet all of you, Captain. Now I suppose I have to introduce my girls.

"Lieutenant Colonel Long Huang." Her shiny black hair tied up in a bun made her the oldest looking of the women. Bowing with a smile, she had that devious glint in her eyes, a glint that reminded Leni of Iris while strategizing, a sign of a sharp strategic mind. She's the brain, Leni thought as Colonel Shen continued.

"Majors Ying Cheng and Yan Yelu." Major Cheng, hair tied in a simple ponytail and a gentle smile gracing her face, was a gentle-looking woman who reminded Leni more of a happy hausfrau rather than a dangerous warrior, but her stance was that of a relaxed martial arts master that brought to Leni's mind her friend Ueshiba Morihei, the aikido founder and grandmaster. The flute that hung from a case on her belt was undoubtedly her weapon. Major Yelu was obviously from the north, Mongolia perhaps, with a light tulwar, furred hat with the fringes of her chestnut hair peeking out, riding skirt and cavalry boots. A horsewoman riding an iron horse. Leni smiled at the thought.

"Captains Ping Wanyan, Wushuang Lu and Xiniang Feng." The Wanyan girl was shy; newly promoted was Leni's thought. The twin daggers which were obviously her favored weapons hung from a shoulder rig. Lu was, surprisingly, a cripple, her cane supporting a leg too short to reach the ground. In spite of this, the girl had a smile on her face, a stray lock of her short-cut hair covering one eye giving her a rakish look that somehow reminded Leni of Kohran. An engineer's patch was on the shoulder of the young woman's uniform, marking her as the mechanic of the team. Captain Xiniang had the longest hair that she had ever seen in the army, reaching to the knees. It completed her haughty beautiful face. Her stance was that of a woman who knew her worth and expected — demanded — the appropriate response. The "Sumire" of the team, Leni thought with a smile. I wonder if she and the Colonel ever fight.

"Finally, Corporals Xiang Guo and Lu Gongsun." The two were probably the youngest of the team. Corporal Guo still had her hair in the traditional pigtails of a young woman before her sixteenth year. A grin was etched on her face while her eyes glowed with hero-worship. The other corporal had her hair out of the pigtails, but her locks only reached to her shoulders, another indication of youth. Both wore the traditional tasseled straight swords of Wu Shu practitioners at their hips.

Leni and Iris, along with the rest of their team, bowed as one at the end of the introductions.

"You are here to visit Tie Feng, Captain?"

"Um… who?" Leni could see puzzlement in her commanding officer's face. She shared it herself.

"Ah… I forget. You have not been in Beijing for awhile, haven't you?"

"Not in some time," Leni responded, a bit embarrassed. None of the old team had ever willingly come to Peking under any circumstance.

"Tie Feng is what we call her. All of Beijing calls her. She is like Guan Yu or Cheng Huang. A spirit to call on in time of need. That is why we were here, Captain." The tall woman explained as she gestured towards the statue that was on the raised pedestal in the middle of the clearing.

"'Iron Phoenix'?" Ryoko asked brushing away a lock of her platinum-white hair as she looked it over. "Rather appropriate from what footage I saw."

It was made of what was left of her koubu. Leni remembered Ohgami gathering every stray piece of steel and iron machinery at the fringes of the blast zone. Iris was the first one to help him. Pretty soon all of them were there. Even Sumire had arrived, the Shogei Maru making a special emergency trip.

President Sun Yat Sen himself had offered that a memorial be built in the city. They had all quickly agreed and Sumire brought the gathered metal to the Kanzaki foundries to be melted down and cast into the statue.

"Why is she wearing a mask?" Ryoko gestured with her hands to indicate the masked helmet that obscured the statue's upper face and hair.

"Secrecy. Before 1940, the City Defense Project was the League of Nation's most secure project. People knew about it, of course, but never knew who the members were. It would have been counterproductive if we had the face of one of ours on public display." Plus there had been a strange visit by an enigmatic woman with strange green highlights in her hair that had told them that hiding her identity would be beneficial for all. So, the Circle found a skilled actress with the same body type, an easy feat considering the CDP's membership, and had her pretend to be their old friend to announce her retirement.

"But the pig's out of the bag! Can't you tell us who she is?"

Leni grimaced as Hinako mangled another idiom and shook her head. "As far as people are concerned, she's nameless, as all the others who've left the service. I and Iris would like to keep it that way." The public had still not caught on to the fact that the former members of the troupe could have been pilots themselves. Score one for the Kazegumi, Leni thought to herself.

"So, this is where you all got to."

Leni turned and grinned as she saw her favorite sparring partner.

"Hey, flying weed, still haven’t crashed your Swordfish yet?"

Major Komachi Itsuki, twenty-two years old, of the Otome Sentai deigned to respond to that jibe with a red raspberry. The youngest squadron leader in the Allied forces excepting for Rosalind Fokker in the Luftfraulein, she probably had personally killed more enemy forces than anyone in the clearing. Well, if I had a supersonic fighter-bomber myself, I'd have as many kills, Leni thought as she responded with her own raspberry. But there was a trace of sadness in that thought. Otome Sentai pilots, and their corresponding equivalents in other countries, had the highest mortality rating among any Allied forces. Their planes were fueled by their life force, their aptly named soul engines literally devouring the pilot's spirit, a sacrifice willingly given in the name of defending their country and defeating the enemy. Even now, Leni could see the bags under her friend's eyes and the thinness in her arms as the diminutive pilot pulled out her kinematron and pressed the homing trace button.

"I've found them, Juri-sama."

At the mention of the name, Leni blinked.

"The Countess is looking for us?"

"Has been looking for you. We've got a problem."

Leni narrowed her eyes and glanced to her commanding officer. Iris was already in the zone, calculating what may have gone wrong.

Zhangjiakou may have fallen already or a strike group had managed to make a pincer attack or a wing of Wind Haunts is on the way or….

The screech of tires could be heard well within the park. It interrupted Leni's train of thought and she shook herself back into reality.

Glancing at the young squadron leader of Peking's Otome Sentai detachment, she asked, "What's wrong?"

Itsuki just shrugged. "Call from home. Then, she immediately called for a full base meeting. You're all here. I'm here; she's bringing the commander of the Chinese defense and Tachi."

As if in response to her statement, several figures emerged into the clearing. Countess Julie Arisugawa, or as her Japanese subordinates called her "Juri-sama", was dressed in the full-dress uniform of a Mahou Tsukai regiment commander, her light red, almost orange, hair afire in the late afternoon light. Technically in the line of succession to the Imperial Throne through her marriage to Count Yasunori Arisugawa, she was one of the more powerful mages trained in the Western tradition that the Imperial Army had. Her husband was the youngest member of the Circle and a powerful sorcerer in his own right.

At her side was the oldest member of the Imperial bodyguard, Soujiro Seta. The eighty-year-old swordsman was as spry as a fifty-year-old and his face still held that infamous Soujiro smile, a smile shared by his children and grandchildren. His equally elderly partner, Takeshi Kamigori, the Sixteenth Master of Paper was fanning himself with a sheaf of his favored weapon, strips of handmade rice paper. Leni had once seen the fragile looking man stop bullets with those flimsy-looking innocuous accessories.

Beside them, dressed in the uniform of the Imperial Army, was Brigadier General Tachi Kuno, youngest scion of Kuno Heavy Armaments and brother-in-law to an old friend. He led the Japanese garrison of Peking. Some would say this was because of nepotism, but those in the Army knew Tachi deserved it after he led the heroic defense of the legendary Shaolin Monastery while its occupants evacuated.

The other two were distinguished local figures. One, a noted doctor, was dressed in the old Mandarin style, but most people forgave him this eccentricity considering his stature and the organization he was part of. Plus, he was a personal friend of the President. No need to aggravate such a man. Leni had met him before, fourteen years ago, and she could still see that the one called "The Lord of Strange Deaths" was as sharp as ever.

His yellow-robed companion was the premier Taoist priest of the Republic. Everyone in the streets of Peking called him Uncle, recognizing his years of fighting the forces of darkness. Leni had also met him from their last time here and she could see that those steely eyes under his bushy eyebrows were still afire with his righteous zeal.

Everyone in the clearing had bowed at the entrance of the new arrivals. The Countess just waved it away and started into business.

"Clow Reed is dead." Her clipped, perfunctory tone could not hide the sadness inherent in that statement. Master Clow Reed was one of the few mages trained in the Eastern and Western traditions that had managed to blend them in a seamless whole. He was also the linchpin to the mystic defenses that made Japan safe from invasion.

For a moment, silence reigned as the Japanese contingent had the fact sink into their minds. Tsunade broke the silence.

"Hell."

The Countess favored her with a wry smile. "Correct as ever, Shinomori."

"What about the defenses?" Kaori Higurashi looked to the east, as if willing her eyes to see through the miles that lay between them and the home islands. Leni saw her fingering her guns once again.

"The Mystic Barrier will hold for awhile. Master Reed did have apprentices."

"How did he die?" Iris' voice was cold steel.

"Seemingly natural causes. He did have cancer and was getting old. He had been extending his life via thaumaturgical means, legal ones, to help in the war effort. He was just found dead this morning. Yue and Keroberos are in a catatonic state."

"Seemingly" was the important part of the statement there, Leni thought as her brain whirled. Assassins were deadlier nowadays, magic, black or white, east or west, enhancing the deadliness of any individual in any dozen ways.

"Then what is the problem?" Iris was still in the zone.

"Master Reed left a sorcerer's test instead of a phylactery. His power is active but unmanaged. His apprentices cannot access any of his enchantments. Every mage, wizard, shrine maiden, and even Gifted children is being called to participate in the test. As soon as possible."

"Every— All the Mahou Tsukai regiments?!"

"Yes. We're weakening the lines, but they'll need to hold while the test is going on. We cannot leave Japan undefended."

Leni could see the anger in Iris' eyes as the younger woman ran her gloved hand through her blonde hair.

"How about Peking? If we lose this city, the land supply line to the southern Chinese defenses will be broken. They'll break, Julie!" Only Iris would call her that in the Japanese forces. They had been old friends before the war.

"We have the sea lanes." The Countess' tone was a resigned one. She already knew this, Leni detected in her tone.

"With those things in the water?! We don't have submarines enough for the constant supply runs. Both back and forth."

"Command is taking the risk."

Iris sighed. Then she closed her eyes and looked up. Leni had seen her do that before, many times, on the way back from Siberia.

"How about the city defense? Who's our support? We're in a valley, Julie. We need your regiment's punch and range."

"There will be no city defense. As present ranking officer of the Allied armies, I'm calling for a fall back of all Peking forces to Pyongyang. The Korean Royal—"

"No." Iris beat Leni to it.

"Iris, I know this—"

"No. We will not be falling back. That is final." Hammered steel, trained by a sisterhood of steel. Leni could hear Maria in those words, the voice of a veteran soldier; Kanna at her most stubborn; Sakura at her most courageous; Sumire's honest unwillingness to surrender; Kohran's persistence; Orihime's nobility; Ohgami's patriotism; Me: in my heart of hearts. "Are you being insubordinate, Captain Chateaubriand?" The sharp edge of the Countess' voice was dangerous.

"No." Surprisingly, it was not Iris. It was Colonel Luo. "The captain is right. She is merely stating fact. We will not fall back. You Japanese may, but we will not. Is that not right, Doctor?"

The cat-green eyes seemed to glow with a devilish light as the Doctor smiled.

"No. We will not. For an old friend, you might say."

Countess Arisugawa just looked around the clearing and glanced to the statue. Her hard face softened. Looking to the major and the general beside her, she asked, "I'm assuming you two will be joining this little party."

Tachi smiled as Komachi just rolled her eyes and shrugged before she responded. "Dying already, Juri-sama. A few months earlier is not going to make a difference. The Pink Peony Squadron is with the Hanagumi and the Lotus Blossoms."

The Countess returned her gaze to Iris. "You'll still need mages."

"My lady, the Taoist magic we utilize may be a bit limited in use against those that march against us, but we do have a few tricks." A rare smile flickered into existence on the stone-faced priest's face as he pulled a ward from his sleeves, making it float in midair with the power of his chi.

The Countess just arched an eyebrow.

"There a lot of you?"

"As many as necessary." The Doctor was stroking his long thin beard as he said this. "I have means of getting at least half a regiment of them in the city before the Beast's army arrives. I may even have time to properly reinforce the city defenses. There is a rather large wall in their way." The enigmatic smile on his was the only clue to the devious mind's hidden thoughts.

"How—? Forget it. You're who you are, after all." The Countess massaged her temples as she stared up into the sky and back into Iris' eyes. "You've got your defense. But it'll be like New York. Worse than New York."

Leni nodded in agreement. New York was the site of the longest urban combat battle in the war. The Beast of Earth had made a lightning strike from the South Americas for Washington, simultaneously with the Beast of Air's Alaskan invasion. It had rolled up Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina and managed to savage the American capital. It had then set Its eyes for Massachusetts, for the Miskatonic University and the society known as Arkham and the research project that they had begun.

But it had to go through New York City first. That was where Its forces were stopped. Four months of heavy fighting and half of New York was rubble. But It was stopped and the counterattack that followed, led by Patton himself and the Tesla-created five-man Megadeus armor called Voltron, sent It back down the Mason-Dixon Line.

But for those four months, it was hell in the Big Apple. Julie Arisugawa would know. That was where she met and married her husband.

"I know, Julie. And I know what I'm doing. I already have an idea. And I think the Doctor there has more than ideas."

The thin smile on the Doctor's face only widened. If it was any wider it would've split his face.

"Yes. Yes, I do. Come. Let us discuss this in a proper place, Captain Chateaubriand. I think the Countess has a plane to catch."

The Countess only nodded and prepared to leave.

"Juri-sama, a moment please."

Leni looked to Takami Akechi was chewing on her pen, a habit that she had noticed ever since the pilot had joined the team.

"What is it, Ensign?"

"The recall, Juri-sama. Clow Reed suspected a traitor, didn't he? Rather, traitors."

The realization struck her like a thunderbolt. Leni's eyes widened as she looked to the Countess.

"Never could hide a secret from an Akechi." Julie shook her head as she muttered. She glanced at Iris, seeing her friend's look of shock. "The sorcerer test that Master Reed left was a signal of sorts. It meant he couldn't trust his own apprentices his power. The recall's more important as a defense to Allied interest than bolstering the Japanese defenses. We've got Cabal infiltrators and Reed got the truth of it."

Leni could see Iris' eyes narrow before her captain answered. "Then reinforcements will be longer coming than I might think."

The Countess chuckled darkly. "No big cavalry. Maybe a bit of help here and there but no mage at the head of an army coming over the hill for quite awhile. Still think you can hold?"

Iris was silent as everyone in the clearing looked at her.

Then she smiled and looked back at the statue behind her.

"Of course, we'll hold. We've got an Iron Phoenix watching over us."

Captain Luo nodded at this and so did the Doctor. Leni could feel herself smile and, as they walked out of the clearing, glanced back.

The statue's pose lent itself well to the sunset's red light, giving a reddish sheen of burning gold to the shining steel that composed it.

For a moment, Leni Milchenstrasse could almost swear that the statue had raised its hand in blessing.

Then the moment was gone.

It was going to be all right, Leni thought as she turned to meet the future.

She had a sister and she'd be looking out for them.

She was the best sort of sister; hard and unyielding, purified by fire and adversity.

A Sister of Steel.

 


Author's notes: Won't be continuing this for a looong while, but if anyone needs that Sakura Taisen/WW2 vibe fix visit the TD1940 forums, kindly hosted by Bob Schroeck.

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Last revision: May 21, 2007

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