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Hagane no Dōmei


Evangeline Anovilis
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The days in Tokyo grew longer again, with the first snow starting to melt under the rays of the late winter sun. People were busy on the streets and one of the world's largest cities went to work, just like every other day. But despite the bustling activity in the national capital, there were areas of tranquility, almost untouched by the hectic rat race surrounding it. Such a sanctuary was the Akechi mansion. A slight bit outside the centre, it was a typical old-style Japanese mansion, serving as the home of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Akechi Mitsuki while in Tokyo.

 

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Surrounded by a wall seperating it from the rest of the neighbourhood, it represented well the soul of its owner, Date thouht, as she walked past the traditional garden architecture, the carefully arranged and pruned trees, ponds and rock elements, providing a harmonous and pleasing sight for someone valuing the old aesthetic principles of Japan. It was a serenity created amidst the turmoil, shutting out the impurities and preserving an internal order that was carefully tended to. At times Date wondered whether or not even she herself would be better suited for foreign affairs than Akechi, who was not uncapable as an administrator or as a person, but surely lacked much finesse that was needed in diplomacy. But then again, the recent debacle was also the Kaigun's fault.

 

Slowly, the Minister of the Fleet proceeded through the garden, and despite having an appointment, taking a bit of time to grasp the scenery next to her. Her black hair and black officer's coat creating a sharp contrast to the white snow surrounding her. Once she reached the entrance however, she stopped for a moment, took another deep breath, before knocking. Within a short time, the door opened and a servant of the household would let her in, respectfully bowing to the guest and telling Date that the master was awaiting her further in the back of the building. Thanking the servant, Date Seiranko exchanged her pair of boots for slippers, and wandered through the hallways of the mansion, until she finally found Akechi.

 

The master of the house, Akechi Mitsuki was hardly different from Date in age or appearance, nor in thought. Both prefering a refined and orderly style, mixing the image of a refined Yamato Nadeshiko with the assertiveness that was needed to fulfill their duty. Both felt rather traditional, valuing the culture and legacy they inherited from their respective lineages, but at the same time, both had caused controversy and knew that to succeed, they would have to find ways around certain barriers that were in their way. And while both did not see the current order of things too negatively, they did both have a rather authoritarian streak, Akechi most likely more so than Date.

 

As Seiranko entered the room, Mitsuki did not look up, sitting properly in hakama, rather finishing the last strokes on the scroll before her. Swift, but with trained care and expression, the brush completed the signs, now in full reading 臥薪嘗胆, 'sleeping on firewood, licking gall'. Once finished, Akechi laid aside the brush and looked up. Date slowly sat down, assuming a traditional seiza position. "I see, you have not lost it." Akechi took a can of green tea and poured Date a cup, before taking her own and nipping on it. "I never have." Date nodded calmly. "I was merely unsure for a moment, when I saw the calligraphy. I did hear you practiced your swordsmanship." Akechi stayed silent for a moment, mustering Date opposite of her. "Indeed I practice kenjutsu. But as a fellow practitioner of it, I assume that maybe you know that honing one's penmanship and character are just as important than strength." Date nodded, understandingly adding. "Precision and timing.", which solely earned another silent nod from Akechi. Date took her cup of tea and took a sip, as a moment of silence came about.

 

Mitsuki turned to the side for a moment, watching the panorama of the garden. Amidst the snowed in stones, a lone camellia stood out, the red blossoms brightly blooming. "You know, soon the blossoms will fall." She sighed. "I wonder, is it right to steer this course?" Mitsuki took a sip from er cup. Seiranko waited for a few seconds. "I do understand your worries. But, what are the alternatives?" Mitsuki nodded. "There are none. Our responsibility is for the entire nation. We have to endure and follow the path of Oishi and his companions." "But what if Kira had died?" Mitsuki merely shook her head. "On the level of nations, this is of no matter. The Americans are arrogant and are looking down on our nation. One day their hubris will catch up to them. But they will not go easily." Date nodded. "Well, as Yamamoto once said, we would need to march on Washington to dictate terms." For a moment Mitsuki was gnawing on her lip, the anger inside her boiling up. "Indeed..."

 

Akechi turned around again, facing Date directly. "How is the fleet?" Date shook her head. "No different than yesterday or the day before. Ships need time. To protect our Empire, we will need a far greater strength, if we want to act with confidence." Pulling forth a newspaper article of the Yomiuri Shimbun, Akechi pointed at the headline. "They want to increase the superiority. The sun must not fall prey to the eagle." Date nodded. "It shall not. Defensive parity shall be achieved soon enough. Full parity should be more than possible, if there are no cuts. How is the political side?" Akechi shook her head. "Nothing from Beijing. I would doubt the Emperor to condone a war across the Pacific though. One would hope however, that there be no more independent acts by the military. The scorn of the Emperor cannot be the will of the Japanese people." "I will see to it."

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  • 1 month later...

Hastily, the last soldiers came ranning out of the barracks, to fill the few gaps left in the neatly lined up ranks of the Second Division, First Company of the Kure Naval Land Forces. Though trying to keep a low profile, due to their shameful tardyness, once in position, they straightened up, just like all the other soldiers, their Howa rifle at their side, their eyes fixated on some distant point in front. Only, as after about half a minute of absolute silence, suddenly a few steps could be heard, the whole company simultanously turned their heads towards the entrance. Minister of the Fleet, Date had arrived.

Saluting the men, she slowly walked past them, her aide and right hand Akubana trailing Date like a shadow. Having served as a Captain in the past, before retiring and starting a political career, the minister was a staunch naval enthusiast and her standing among most troops was quite high. Similarly, being part of the inner circle of the so-called "Northern Clique" was no secret and cemented the power base of Date. As such many regarded the minister as sort of mother of the new Nihon Kaigun and despite having no active rank anymore, they greeted Date with utmost respect.

However, Date also went to a certain degree to invoke such an image, often visiting the troops, keeping herself informed on even minute details and slowly creating a network of personal relations that branched out throughout the service. She even exchanged the normal suit of a civilian administrator with a naval uniform coat and the peaked cap of a naval officer. Akubana meanwhile was an active duty officer, the de-facto head of the Kaigun Jōhōkyoku, the Naval Intelligence Bureau, a former Totsū officer and pretty much Date's eyes and ears in her own ranks and abroad. As the occassion demanded, she wore her uniform, though she was rather reluctant to stand out, rather keeping close to her superior. If sailors looked with a certain admiration at Date, they looked with quite a bit of dismay at her shadow, who's judgement many deemed detrimental to one's career.

After the two had passed the ranks of lined up soldiers, the commander of the base greeted them respectfully. A bit elderly, he took great care to show his best side to the honoured guests, rather not risking his post, which he most likely would continue to provide for him until retirement in the coming years. After a deferential bow, he would guide the two inside the nearby building complex, Kure Naval Arsenal.

Enclosed by several industrial facilities, a fence and guarded fiercely by soldiers of the Naval Land Forces, in front of Date, a couple of massive drydocks opened up. Altough there still was a sizeable number of engineers working in them, their creation was as good as finished. Two giants of steel pointing towards the sky, thousands of tons heavy, hundreds of metres long, armed heavier than even a fair number of artillery batteries combined. Date, who had visited the facilities regularly and was by now somewhat used to the sight of the warships, still was in awe when confronted with the sheer size of the floating fortresses the nation had ordered and which would be starting their sea trials within days from then. "Everytime I see them, my heart skips a beat.", she'd mention to Akubana, once the base commander had retreated. "I guess.", the aide responded, having hardly any words for her superior's fascination for ships. "Well, soon they will be completed and then, finally, Japan will have a battlefield of decent size." the Fleet Minister exclaimed proudly. Akubana merely smiled. "Well, having a fleet is nice, but using them..."

 

Date turned around, facing her subordinate with a stern glance, while crossing her hands behind her back. "Indeed... I doubt there'll be any great conflict within the next five years, but it is better to have a fleet... to have options." The matter of actual conflict had cut short the euphoria of before. Date knew just too well what Akubana was pointing at. Altough the head of the Naval Intelligence Bureau was considered an enigma to many, this time she had been rather clear. "Akechi requested us to restrain military adventurism, for the good of the Empire. The Emperor was not amused by our actions and it remains an issue in our foreign affairs." Akubana nodded again. Her long bangs, which even fell over her left eye, her utter avoidance of any exposure to others and an outstanding shrewdness made it hard for others to guess what she was thinking, though Date could guess. "I'm also not amazed, but we aren't some third-world country infested with warlordism and the Emperor reacted more strongly than expected." Date sighed.

 

"Well, maybe Akechi should keep more of an eye on the Prime Minister then. That one definitely is not to be unerestimated." Date's expression, already somewhat troubled, became even more worried, as she heard Akubana's words. "Anything you wish to report?" The head of the naval intelligence started to smile somewhat mischievously. "My sources report, Prime Minister Tachibana has attempted to contact the Americans. Of course, without including Akechi. Seemingly, it is about reapproachment." "Hmmm..." Date knew not how to react really. "On the one hand, I guess, it's not something we could really argue against, and Akechi, well, she's been a bit of a hot-head. But on the other hand..." "I heard she has the backing of Konoe and also of Kisakinomiya." Date frowned. "In that case, I guess there's little we can do."

 

Slowly the two wandered along the drydock with its massive occupant. The weather seemed fair, though, as they neared the sea, gusts of wind became more frequent. With one hand holding fast to her cap, the Minister of the Fleet gestured with her left, as she tried to make up her thoughts. The fact Tachibana had seen it fit to build certain coalitions inside the elite was nothing completely unexpected, but the inclusion of the respected Konoe and the most powerful industrial magnate, Kisakinomiya in this coalition was more than troublesome. "For now, we ought to leave it be, but I would hope Tachibana really does not forget what our party aims for, first and foremost." Like so often, Akubana nodded in agreement, staying silent for a moment, before responding. "If I may, I guess we should leave the Americas to Fuso and Nanwa." The two finally arrived at the end of the massive naval yard, in front of them the wide harbour bay of Kure. "Indeed. Still, we ought to keep the forces prepared." "Prepared for what? We are at peace, the world calms down.", Akubana replied, feigning innocent ignorance. "Prepared for the inevitable. Even this peace will come to an end, at some point of time. And then it will be the day, when Japan revises its role in the world." "Dangerous words..." Date shook her head, as she looked out to the sea. "Only if the Empire were to lose. And that is why we build ships..." Akubana merely nodded, when a sudden gust of wind uncovered for a moment the cold grin on her face.

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