Kantai Collection - KanColle - Kakuyoku no Kizuna:Volume1 Chapter 4: The Meaning of Luck (Part 2)
Chapter 4: The Meaning of Luck (Part 2)
The midsummer's sun streamed through the wide-open window into the the Naval District Office.
The trees surrounding the Naval District hummed with the "SZAZAKARAIIIISUUUUU*" of ten thousand cicadas as the fan in the corner valiantly pushed along the hot air. This nation's summer is just like the summer we know, it's very hot.
The Admiral brought me here about a month after I had come to this Naval District, on a certain afternoon.
"Regarding the Confirmation you wanted, Shoukaku, the report has arrived."
The Admiral sat in front of me, hand lying on a document spread over the desk, speaking with a sigh.
"Your theory has been validated by the evidence. You indeed sustain significantly more hits than other carriers--even if we consider 'Luck', this is still the case. In other words..."
"I am still constrained by the title of 'The Unlucky Ship'--correct?"
I cut through the Admiral with my own voice--from an Admiral's standpoint, these words were probably hard to say.
"...This kind of judgement certainly isn't surprising."
As predicted, the Admiral responded apologetically. I smiled mildly at him as always, telling him not to take it to heart.
I had long since come to terms with this.
From the moment I was born as a shipgirl, it had been like this.
It was because I, like some of the shipgirls, had clear memories of "That War."
It was not altogether surprising that would have to bear results and a legacy as a shipgirl identical to those memories.
Listening to the report at the Admiral's side, secretary-ship Houshou-nee bore a complicated expression.
"But, this way you'll..."
There was clear sorrow in the Admiral's voice. I shook my head.
"It's not a problem. After all, I have my own hopes."
"I wish to avoid bringing my misfortune onto others--that and that only."
"What happens to me is unimportant. No matter how many wounds I sustain, how many times I have to retreat, I don't mind. But I do not wish to lose anyone on account of this. This is my sole wish as a shipgirl."
"Are you worried about your demise in that 'Battle of the Marianas' you speak of?"
"I wouldn't be able to forget something like that even if I tried."
I spoke with a hint of self-mockery. Even now, I occasionally dream of what happened then.
It had been a torpedo, striking while the air groups were being refueled. A diesel leak triggered an explosion that lit me on fire. Those who did not burn were swallowed by the waves, life after life vanishing before me--unfortunately, I remembered all that with perfect clarity.
Nearly three out of four crewmen had died--some fifteen hundred. Among the Standard Carriers, this was one of the most tragic of figures.
Perhaps that was why.
Or perhaps it was my lingering worry for new model carrier Taihou and my sister Zuikaku, both of whom would subsequently perish in the line of duty, that caused it.
I do not want to bring misfortune on anyone again. I hope that this time I can protect what is important to me.
Even if it means repeating my fate in 'That War' and ending my days at the bottom of the sea.
As long as my death has meaning, has value.
"With that in mind, why don't we hurry to bring Zuikaku--my sister, the one renowned in 'That War' as the illustrious 'Lucky Carrier' to the Naval District?"
I maintained my smile as I spoke with firm words.
"That child should be the same as me, bearing the legacy of 'the Lucky Carrier'. As long as she becomes a main fleet standard carrier, she will be of great assistance to this naval district."
And so, clutching conviction to heart, I told the Admiral,
"And before that happens, leave it to me to protected Zuikaku. Even if I have to be her shield, I will definitely..."
If I bear the legacy of that war, after all, I ought to be the one to draw the enemy to me when she is in danger, just like back then.
Awoken by past worries, Shoukaku lay in a daze.
She knew where she was--in her room in the naval district, on her futon. The Warm winter sun peeked through the window as the frigid wind shook the forest restlessly.
But she did not understand why she was here.
"If I recall correctly, I was in the waters around Okinoshima, and in order to protect ZUikaku..."
She recalled the torpedo wakes as they rushed at her and Zuikaku.
Though she had been the flagship at the time, her attention had been drawn by the four battleships, and so the destroyers had managed to close in unnoticed and release their deadly payload. If she had done nothing, both she and Zuikaku would have been stricken by multiple torpedoes with doubtlessly heavy and (with some bad luck) potentially fatal damage.
It was exactly because of that she had instructed the half-formed 2nd air group to intervene from their location between Zuikaku and the incoming torpedos and block what they could.
Given, she could have attempted to both direct her planes and evade as Zuikaku in the Orel Sea--but this would divide her attention and potentially prevent her from accomplishing either objective.
When Taihou came under torpedo attack during the battle of the Marianas, one of the Suisei had rammed a torpedo, sacrificing his life to block the attack. While he failed and Taihou was ultimately sunk by that torpedo spread, she could definitely succeed--and it was for this reason that she acted as she did.
(However, I only released some ten or so planes--a little too few for all those torpedos. That's why I came to terms with taking a few torps....)
Shoukaku looked at her bathrobed body. Perhaps she was lucky after all--her body bore not a single wound. From the wintry scene outside, it seemed as if little time had passed since the battle in the Okinoshima waters.
Out of nowhere, a wave of unease struck her.
(My survival means...)
She was the "unlucky ship." What if this legacy had targeted the Admiral or the other shipgirls? If Zuikaku's luck was an insufficient defense--
Her oath to the Admiral flashed through her mind.
The doors slammed open as destroyer Yukikaze stepped into the room--and then stopped, as if transfixed with shock.
"I-I'm really sorry! Shoukaku-nee was still sleeping....!"
That's fine, I was just about to get up."
Shoukaku smiled to calm Yukikaze, as she did to reassure Zuikaku.
"Well then, what happened?"
"Yes, Zuikaku-onee, she--"
"Zuikaku? Is Zuikaku alright...?"
Shoukaku bolted up, shoving her covers aside.
Yukikaze's gaze turned from Shoukaku elsewhere as she spoke with a voice of apology.
"She's fine, but...."
"Do you think this is some kind of joke?!"
Zuikaku shouted in rage.
The location was the Naval District office. Zuikaku had only just returned yesterday with her wounded comrades.
Having called her over, the Admiral now sat behind the desk in front of her. No secretary ship stood by his side, and no other shipgirls were present--a one-on-one standoff.
Zuikaku slammed a hand on the table, her expression filled with rage as she bellowed.
"You want me to attack Okinoshima again? And with Shoukaku-nee too--what the hell is wrong with you? There's--"
"--A main fleet built around four Ru-classes garrisoned there, a force stronger than anything we have faced."
As if to complete Zuikaku's thought, the Admiral interjected with an emotionless tone.
"And among those four Ru-classes, there is a new model--after that battle, we have named it the 'Flagship Type.'"
"Well then if you already know....!"
"Moreover, those four battleships are attempting a new tactic, trying to surround us with water pillars by firing in series and trying to obscure our line of sight--Suppression Shelling, essentially. I assume that means they are equipped with the newest Radars."
The Admiral spoke in a firm tone that proscribed any interruption.
"Range seemed equivalent to that of the Nagato-class...if they were normal Battleships they'd went straight for the kill. In night battle, the disparity in accuracy may well become even more pronounced."
"It's exactly because of this that we are betting our hopes on the power of you carriers. Carrier planes can strike from beyond their fearsome firing range and attack those four battleships from beyond the horizon. Currently, the Naval District and Factory is operating at full capacity, stockpiling resources and equipment for this sortie."
From beginning to end, the Admiral spoke with icy calm.
"This may well be the last chance given to us. Reconnaissance shows that enemy patrols have increased in both activity and patrol radius. Do you know what that means?"
Zuikaku felt a chill travel down her spine.
"That the main fleet is preparing to make their move against home base...?"
"It's possible that this Naval District is their target. If, by any chance, the Abyssals are not the regrets of 'That War' but the fate of shipgirls who have sank, it would not be surprising if they knew the location of this Naval District."
Zuikaku's expression was bleak--while it was certainly possible, she would rather have left it unsaid.
"...and it is precisely due to this that I plan to dispatch you sisters of the 5thCarDiv. Thankfully, you only sustained minor damage. 1stCarDiv and 2ndCarDiv's standard carriers have yet to fully recover--they are unlikely to be capable of sortieing in the near future; the same goes for Mutsu and the other Battleships. Currently, the only ship that can take them on are you two."
"....you can try to convince me with your arguments, but the reality is nothing like that."
Zuikaku tightly gripped the desk as she glared at the Admiral.
"Why do you believe that I could take on monsters like those? Shoukaku-nee and my survival and return...."
As she spoke, her recollection of the Battle at Okinoshima floated into her mind.
Even as Zuikaku cried out her warning, Shoukaku was engulfed in multiple water spouts, briefly shielding her from view.
What happened was obvious--Shoukaku had used the carrier planes above her to target the torpedo spread, simultaneously using her body to shield Zuikaku from the remaining torpedos. Just like she had resolved to do before the battle.
Zuikaku shook wordlessly, simply staring as the curtain of geysers receded. As expected, Shoukaku could not have stopped all the torpedos; several shot past on either side of her--even so, Zuikaku was completely unharmed.
(H-how...how can this be...!)
Zuikaku felt the hopelessness seeping through her spirit. As it was, she may as well have been the one that had sank Shoukaku--living up to the name of the 'lucky carrier', she had sacrificed the 'unlucky ship' for her own survival.
(I never asked for this! I just wanted to fight to save this world....!)
The pillars of water slowly collapsed--revealing to Zuikaku a figure collapsed like the geysers around her.
Zuikaku hurried rushed over as she lifted Shoukaku from where she lay on the water's surface.
Shoukaku's body was covered in wounds, her equipment virtually destroyed--it seemed not a single carrier plane had survived. But she was alive--Shoukaku had once said that shipgirls would float, as long as they remained alive.
(Thank god! But, why...?)
Even as she cried tears of joy, Zuikaku felt a smidgen of unease. Even if Shoukaku carrier planes had managed to reduce the torpedos coming at her, the remainder should have been more than enough to finish her in her current state. And yet, Shoukaku had managed to just barely hold on.
Presently, several carrier planes flew over at low altitude. These planes bore floats--they weren't Shoukaku's, at any rate.
It seemed like this seaplane team had joined Shoukaku in attacking the torpedos, saving her life in the process.
(Seaplanes? It can't be...?)
"--are you alright, 5thCarDiv Sisters?"
The voice in her ear--a radio transmission. And that voice belonged to--"
This transmission came from Aviation Battleship Ise. Zuikaku gaped at Ise and Hyuuga, astonished.
Ise and Hyuuga evaded the continued fire from the four Ru-classes and the pillars of water surrounding them.
Both had sustained several direct hits and several near misses and the wounds to prove it--their protective barriers were also in tatters. But they continued moving as they evaded shell after shell. While they moved as sluggishly as their status as battleships implied, they moved spryly, dodging only after the enemy had fired.
(So even at Cape Engano....!)
Breathless, Zuikaku remembered the last scenes she had witnessed of "That War."
The Battle of Engano where she sank had been the last decisive battle for her side--the carrier battle of the Leyte Gulf. Ise and Hyuuga had been responsible for the protection of four carriers, led by Zuikaku, committing themselves to a harrowing anti-air battle.
The battle had ended in disaster for the Japanese--all four carriers were lost. But Ise and Hyuuga had managed to shrewdly evade the enemy planes' waves of attacks, surviving a battle from which no survivors were expected. Watching these two shipgirls now, it seemed as if they had inherited that agility, so unlike those of battleships.
Ise's voice rose urgently.
"--is Shoukaku fine? We're falling back now--we of the 4thCarDiv will form the rearguard, you 5thCarDiv sisters hurry up and scram!"
"To leave in this situation....?"
"We just received orders from the Admiral! We've finally managed to unmask the enemy Main Fleet's true face--given how the battle is going, we have no option but to retreat...!"
Zuikaku found that her blood was rising far faster than her relief.
(Doesn't that mean that we were sent just to scout out the enemy's composition...!?)
From a certain point of view, this was a reasonable judgement and choice--even so, she could not accept it.
"--We of the 4thCarDiv's durability and evasion is more than enough, if it's just buying time against those four Battleships--now hurry up!"
"B-but, if that happens you'll..."
"Don't look underestimate the 4thCarDiv! Right, Hyuuga!"
"That's right. Let them witness the true power of the Aviation Battleships! Zuikaku, we'll definitely catch up with you--get going!"
The two bellowed, as if to reassure themselves.
At the same time, gunfire echoed in the distance--Maya and Choukai were engaging the Destroyers that had just launched the torpedo spread.
Zuikaku gulped. Currently, the enemy was completely focused elsewhere--
In her confusion, Zuikaku saw the wounded Shoukaku as an expression of anguish appeared across her face--it seemed she was trying to endure the pain. If she didn't escape, Shoukaku might sink.
Zuikaku lifted Shoukaku up as she started her retreat.
"The only reason we survived was because Ise-nee and Hyuuga-nee acted as our shields."
Zuikaku lowered her head with her remorseful admission.
"But after we made it out, those two returned with severe damage. Maya, Choukai and Shoukaku-nee were the same...that was the limit of our power."
"Our Higher-Ups believe that you, as the 'Lucky Carrier,' are needed in the fleet for us to have any chance of victory."
Zuikaku glared once more at the Admiral, who took it in calmly.
"I'm sure Shoukaku has told you before of your ability as the 'Lucky Carrier' to grasp the most fortunate result. It's because of this status that we were given this last chance."
"'Lucky Carrier' this, 'Lucky Carrier' That....is everyone just treating me as an object to carry around?!"
Zuikaku leaned forwards as she shouted in rage. Something that she had been struggling to endure had finally boiled over.
"The power to grasp the most fortunate outcome? I never trusted your fucking luck, I just did my best! Don't just foist a role on me like that!"
"I have no objection with your explanation. But we need your power to save the world. The fact is that you managed to unveil the enemy's true face and successfully escaped with a wounded Shoukaku from the battle. Given your comparative combat ability, this result may as well be a miracle."
"So I was called here just for that, then? So I'm just a bloody lucky charm you carry around so the miracles come falling? Sacrificing Shoukaku-nee and the other shipgirls for some crap like that--this is a little too unreasonable!"
"The one who said that shipgirls aren't tools of war, wasn't that you, Admiral?"
"That's fine as well--this is a war, and sacrifices must sometimes be made."
"We must grab our fates with our own hands."
Nearly gasping in rage, Zuikaku couldn't stop herself from raising her shortbow. Of course, she didn't loose the carrier plane at the arrow's tip--but just a twitch of the finger, and the plane would immediately shoot at the Admiral.
The Admiral didn't move, but gazed back evenly with a resolve that stood up to Zuikaku's rage.
In spite of her teeth-grinding rage, Zuikaku didn't shoot--she couldn't shoot.
A voice from behind her--Zuikaku turned around with shock to see Shoukaku staring at her, having thrown the office doors open. From the heaving of her shoulders, it appeared that she had rushed over as fast as she could.
Zuikaku spoke gently. Shoukaku, who had been wounded protecting her, had returned. Joy, elation and guilt flashed through her mind--along with complicated feelings about Shoukaku's resolve.
However, Shoukaku approached Zuikaku soundlessly, snatching Zuikaku's shortbow--and then raising her right arm in a broad slap.
"Apologize to the Admiral,"
Shoukaku said severely to Zuikaku, who touched her face in a daze.
"....! Didn't you lie to me too, Shoukaku-nee?!"
Shoukaku roared back reflexively, expelling all the regrets and depression that had followed that last battle in a single breath.
Don't say any more--saying any more would hurt Shoukaku-nee, another Zuikaku cautioned desperately. But Zuikaku wouldn't stop, couldn't stop.
"'I won't sink again' my ass. Tossing out lies to reassure me and then try to sacrifice yourself for me...that's just like Dinosaurs! The one giving up against the title of 'the Unlucky Ship' is clearly you, Shoukaku-nee!"
"I don't want to be a lucky charm or a weapon of war--and I sure as hell don't want to be a reason for Shoukaku-nee to sacrifice herself!"
Zuikaku turned and ran, through the open door into the hall.
"Hold on, Zuikaku!"
Though her elder sister's remonstrances reached her, Zuikaku did not stop running.
Shoukaku did not run after Zuikaku.
No, she couldn't run after her.
Firstly, it was unlikely that Zuikaku in her current state would listen to her words. Secondly, she had lied, as Zuikaku ahd said. And as Zuikaku had said, she had chosen to accept her status as 'the Unlucky Ship' and do her best under the circumstances.
(But that's all I can do...)
Those experiences in "That War" culminating in the title of "The Unlucky Ship;" the high hit sustenance rate that had come with that title; that low hit rate, even though the experience and skill was clearly there--that was just how things were---she couldn't do anything about it.
"Thank you, Shoukaku--though I want to say that, are you alright now?"
The Admiral inquired as he let loose a sigh of relaxation. Shoukaku stood up straight, responding with head lowered.
"Yes, thanks to you. My apologies for letting you witness my willfusl sister's display."
"Don't worry about it. That kind of spirit is what your sister ought to have."
The Admiral responded as if it were nothing. It seemed like he had expected Zuikaku's response.
Shoukaku nodded slightly as she spoke with a careful tone:
"I've heard the gist of it from Yukikaze. Moreover, that exchange confirmed a guess of mine--deploying the 5thCarDiv to use Zuikaku's power of the 'Lucky Carrier' was the request of the higher-ups and not the Admiral, correct?"
The Admiral said nothing as he gazed at Shoukaku, his face clearly displeased.
(I was right, huh...)
Shoukaku held back her sigh. The Admiral had come to lead the Naval District due to political backing--this had been obvious from the missions up until now. Moreover, his political base was far from solid.
The intent of Shoukaku and Zuikaku's last sortie had probably been to "grasp their formation, even if you can't wipe out the main fleet." That intent could be seen in the choice of sortieing Ise and Hyuuga, both veterans skilled in evasion.
Moreover, if this had been the primary goal, there was no need to send her and Zuikaku. Indeed, throwing in a rookie such as Zuikaku was still very risky, "Lucky Carrier" or not.
Pushing forwards in spite of all this--it had to be pressure from the higher-ups.
(Even if it was only to satisfy the demands of the higher-ups, the Admiral still took full responsibility of everything related to us as our commander while resolving to maintain clear accountability. That's probably why he didn't say anything...)
Perhaps the Admiral had gleaned from the shipgirl's recollections of "That War" that a string of disasters had resulted from poor accountability.
After all, there was no need for a bunch of shipgirls balancing a war with the abyssals with daily life at the Naval District to understand the Admiral's political position regarding his higher ups. In a certain sense, this was also an attempt to protect the hearts of the shipgirls.
At the very least, this was what the Admiral had in mind when he fought.
Perhaps he had dealt so severely with Zuikaku so that Zuikaku could vent all the suspicions and questions remaining from the previous battle and allow her to confront her feelings.
(What a difficult man to understand.)
Shoukaku frowned discontentedly as she suppressed a sigh before voicing another one of her convictions.
"However, Admiral. The Admiral I know wouldn't repeat this kind of thing."
"Plus, this time around we're not deploying until we've completely grasped the Okinoshima Garrison Fleet's formation--I presume you have a plan then?"
As Shoukaku watched inquisitively, the Admiral broke into a chilling grin.
"...aren't you a little full of yourself, moping alone here at a time like this?"
Standing on the seawall that snaked around the naval district shoreline, Hiyou inquired with an expression of confusion.
At her feet Zuikaku crouched slavically, her face and expression concealed by her legs.
After the argument in the naval district office, Zuikaku had run here from the naval district. At least there would be some time for solitude here--or so she had thought.
Unfortunately, her hopes proved naive. Zuikaku had only been here for a short time before Hiyou had started talking behind her. More likely than not, Hiyou had been sent by a certain someone in the naval district.
(After that debacle, I don't have the face to return to the naval district...)
Though she felt Hiyou come closer to her, Zuikaku's depression was not assuaged.
(I just wanted to work hard as a shipgirl, but....)
Not a single word Zuikaku had said to Shoukaku and the Admiral had been dishonest or untrue. Given, aiming her equipment at the admiral was a little overdone, but Zuikaku did not feel that she had said anything wrong.
Even so, a strong sense of regret lingered
(I spoke out of line with Shoukaku-nee...)
Undecided between standing uncomfortably and sitting uncomfortably, the young woman dug her thumbnails into herself.
(Shoukaku-nee clearly just wanted to protect me...she clearly just went through a situation that made her think as she did...)
Shoukaku had not escaped the wounds of "That War." Indeed, it was the very opposite--she was one of the ones to remember it the most vividly. And it was due to those experiences that she so selflessly tried to protect Zuikaku.
Shoukaku is the "unlucky ship", so she is hit more; Zuikaku is the "lucky carrier," so she brings her side good luck--if this theory becomes a rule, there would be no ship better suited to be "the ship in charge of being hit" than Shoukaku.
Moreover, if she truly possessed the power to grasp the best possible result, it was not illogical for the Naval District to prepare for a long war with the abyssals--
(But I hate this kind of thinking....)
To Zuikaku, Shoukaku was an irreplaceable sister, one which she could not bear to harm for her sake.
(Nevermind that I'm still a rookie. Even if I were given some responsibility like "grabbing the best possible result", I'd have not a clue how to do it...)
In the worst case scenario, no miracle would be triggered at all, and all the shipgirls with her except for herself would perish--it was certainly a possibility that Zuikaku considered.
(what should I do...?)
"Oy, are you listening to me?"
Hiyou spoke again from behind her, but Zuikaku wasn't interested in answering.
The silence persisted nearly a minute more--finally, Hiyou sighed. Sitting down next to Zuikaku, she started speaking, her gaze directed at the sea.
"I heard about it. And I'm also aware of that 'you may have a certain ability' crap too."
"I've always had Junyou by me, after all. That girl was an accomplished veteran in 'That War', and survived until the end...though it's not to your degree, it would not be unreasonable to call her a 'lucky carrier' as well. In reality, her hit sustenance rate in this war is indeed lower...to tell you the truth, I'm quite jealous."
"That's why I can understand Shoukaku's feelings, and your feelings to some extent. Junyou has always been forgiving of me, constrained as I am by tactics...while it is in part to prevent me from feeling inferior, I suspect Junyou simply doesn't want to consider the idea that 'she is lucky.' If we were always aware of our own fortunes, their results and that kind of business, we'd simply be incapable of getting along with our comrades."
She felt the same right now--that was what Zuikaku thought, her face hidden in her legs. In regards to Junyou's situation, her concern for Hiyou had already made that self-evident.
And yet after a pause, Hiyou spoke up again, with a harsher voice.
"But Junyou has never given up due to her situation. She had never used 'luck' or 'it was pre-ordained' as a pretext to give up."
Hiyou had never rebuked Zuikaku like this before, and Zuikaku froze.
"I am the same. I am a light carrier who cannot compare with standard carriers, and I accomplished little worth mentioning in 'That War'....but so what? How can I bend my knee to luck and fate? Stuff like that, I'll toss them aside with this shining hand of mine!"
Hiyou's right hand, rock in hand, glowed with her magical onmyodo powers or some shit. With what may or may not have been sheer willpower, the air around Hiyou began to tremble.
Zuikaku looked up slowly. In front of her, Hiyou stood up, clutching the stone in her hand.
Hiyou stared at the seaside as before. And yet the gaze that emanated from those purple eyes seemed to imbibe Hiyou's resolution.
(In other words, the Admiral basically said the same thing...)
One should decide her own fate--the Admiral had said this to her, back before Shoukaku had reached the office.
Thinking carefully, that phrase may have been the expression not of the Admiral and this world's faith, but that of a hope that could guide both Zuikaku, gradually fettered by the results of "That War," and Shoukaku, long since subjugated by them.
Furthermore, she was the "Lucky Carrier," the shipgirl that carryied the power to "Grasp the best possible result"--perhaps she could end her connection to that past with her own hands. Given, this was an inherently contradictory train of thought, but this was a thought--
(Whether I truly grasp the power to grasp the most fortunate result and what the best possible result, I don't know...)
Hiyou's dark hair and red dress fluttered in the wind, but she resolutely stared out towards the sea as before--seeing her face, Zuikaku was struck with a thought.
(But the only one who can decide whether and how to use this power is I...if I use it right, perhaps it can be the power that saves everyone. Of course, Shoukaku-nee's heart is no exception...)
Even if she was the "Lucky Carrier," there was no need to truly confirm or deny this power.
The only way to avoid others sacrificing themselves for her was to use her power to solve those problems. If she didn't want to be a lucky charm or a weapon, what she needed to do was, again, to change herself, with her own power.
Of course, Zuikaku knew neither the specifics nor whether she could actually save Shoukaku's heart. Hell, the fetters binding herself with Shoukaku may well be broken--on this point, Zuikaku felt both fear and unease.
But perhaps there would be a way, as long as she gave it her all as before. After all, the title of 'the lucky carrier' shouldn't be an empty title--
"The sparkle seems to have returned to your eyes...go!"
Cracking into a slightly teasing grin, Hiyou hurled the stone in her right hand towards the sea. Perhaps it had something to do with Hiyou's magical Onmyoudou powers, but the stone continued to skip off the water's surface until it was lost in the waves.
Hiyou remarked cheerfully. She turned again towards Zuikaku.
"Really now, at this rate you're going to befoul the name of the 5thCarD...rather, the new 1stCarDiv. We were the ones propping up the Main Fleet Carrier Task Force after Midway; get it together."
Zuikaku scratched her cheek with a crooked grin.
"Ahaha, well, there were a lot of reasons..."
Though she had patched up her feelings, the "Okinoshima Main Garrison Fleet blocking us" remained an obstacle.
In order to deal with that main fleet, she'd most likely have to deploy as before with Shoukaku.
And before that could be done, some new tactics would need to be devised. Zuikaku did not believe her fortune would be enough on its own against such strong enemies.
"But how should I say this...well, I feel a lot better now. Thanks! Thanks for coming here just to cheer me up!"
"I-I wasn't giving my advice for your sake!"
Clearly embarrassed Hiyou waved the thanks away.
"This is for the whole Naval District...and the Admiral!"
"After all, he asked me in the past to take care of you in my own way. I just happened to see you run out of the naval district and remembered this...."
"Is that so..."
For all her surprise, Zuikaku also felt slightly apologetic.
Perhaps the Admiral had long since forseen this situation and had dispatched Hiyou to deal with this istuation.
Perhaps he had spoken earlier with such a harsh tone in order to help her grasp this current line of logic. Or perhaps he had hoped he could personally change Shoukaku's sense of self-sacrifice--
(But how could I have figured something like that out?! If he had said it clearly...)
"Moreover, Junyou and I are being deployed to the Okinoshima waters as well."
"Hiyou and Junyou too?"
Zuikaku gaped in astonishment. It seemed like the Admiral had abandoned surface combat and had resolved to deal with the enemy's fearsome main fleet with air power.
"That's right. As such, wouldn't it be a problem if a fleet comrade were all depressed? That's why it's for myself too--definitely not for your sake! After all, the New 1stCarDiv and the new 2ndCarDiv are rivals, and I'm not about to get all lovey dovey with you!"
"I-is that so..."
Hiyou huffily crossed her arms. Zuikaku, figuring that Hiyou was trying to hide her embarrassment, broke into laughter as she tried to move on.
"Whatever, let's not worry about that for now--we need to think of some strategies..."
Hiyou's eyes turned once more to the oceans.
"I've already seen your battle report. The enemy main fleet's core are the four Ru-class battleships, one of which is a flagship-type that's stronger than the elite-type. Once caught in the enemy's continuous fire the situation deteriorates dramatically, so we must devise a way by which we can eliminate the vast majority of the opponents within the opening air attack. However..."
Hiyou stopped at this point. Thinking of the unspoken implications, Zuikaku could not suppress a pang of regret.
During the battle with the enemy main force, she and Shoukaku had both launched a first wave. Though all had reached the enemy's airspace, fierce AA fire had prevented them from inflicting any significant damage.
(From the intensity of the AA fire, it's possible that even the next-generation Suisei dive bombers and Tenzan torpedo bombers currently in development would be insufficient to break through the barrage)
"While I'm sure the Admiral has some good ideas..."
Hiyou whispered with a mix of anticipation and unease.
If it was impossible to obtain decisive victory through the air, the next time may well still end in a defeat. Not only would this defeat give the enemy main fleet a chance to approach the homeland, but it could also make possible the worst-case scenario of an attack on the Naval District, a battle which could decide the progress of the war in a single moment.
At that moment, an unfamiliar engine rumble reached the silent Zuikaku and Hiyou.
"That engine sound...could it be?"
Zuikaku had heard this sound before--at the Marianas, her own air complement had included planes that had bore these engines.
(Ahh, these were the engines of the new model recon Saiun...but, those numbers are too large for a recon team....!)
Zuikaku turned to where Hiyou's finger pointed--and immediately understood.
These carrier planes bore a graceful streamlined shape and a distinctive inverted gull-wing layout, wings that tapered up from the fuselage to the tip. There were enough planes to mount two carriers, and their reverberating engine sounds belonged to the scaled down but high-powered Nakajima Homare engine. The plane squadrons shot over the two at high speed.
(I once heard rumors of that fuselage during "That War...!)
Capabilities surpassing the Type 99 Dive bomber and the Type 97 Torpedo Bomber--or even the Suisei Dive bomber and Tenzan Torpedo bombers; a plane that combined dive bombing and torpedo bombing capabilities in a new revolutionary design allegedly fast enough to outstrip the Type 21 Zero.
She had never mounted this decisive-battle, blueprint weapon in "That War", but she had one day hoped for that chance. The weapon "So advanced that it had to remain classified" Yuubari mentioned, maybe it was this.
It's name is--
"The Sienar Fleet Systems TIE Line Fighter...!"
The Admiral recalled the Admiral's words--if it were Carriers, they would be able to attack the four Ru-class from outside their range. The Naval District and Factories had been working at double speed to churn out the necessary supplies and equipment--indeed, the Ryuusei-kai was a standout design. If two standard carrier's worth of Ryuusei Kai could be manufactured, even the enemy main fleet, with its powerful AA suite, might still take mortal damage.
Combined with her own luck, perhaps--
(That's the 5thCarDiv is needed, and that's why I am needed...)
Watching the Ryuusei Kai squadrons flying into the distance, Zuikaku felt a surge of hot blood rush through her veins.
Several hours later, Zuikaku received the official sortie order.
"I will now explain the details of the new operation."
The Admiral's voice reverberated through the Naval District Office. The skies framed in the window had long since gone black.
Inside the office were assembled the four carriers notified about their role--Zuikaku, Shoukaku, Hiyou and Junyou.
Zuikaku kept her distance from Shoukaku--she was not quite sure how to face her elder sister. Shoukaku, it seemed, was of a similar sentiment, and both of them made sure their eyes would not meet.
"As everyone is well aware, our naval district's last assault on the Okinoshima Anchorage was an abject failure, with well over half the main fleet heavily damaged by the enemy. We now believe that the enemy main fleet anchored until now at the anchorage is preparing for an invasion of the mainland."
Several fairies promptly suck a strategic map onto a whiteboard standing on the workdesk.
"If we leave the enemy free rein, our homeland and this Naval District will most likely come under attack. We must prevent this from happening at all costs. As such, we will be deploying with you all serving as the main fleet in a Carrier Task Force capacity to the Okinoshima Waters for a third attack. This operation will be referred to as 'Operation A-go.'"
Zuikaku gulped. The name of this operation was familiar.
(The Operation that led to the battle at the Marianas was also called Operation A-go.)
In "That War" and in this war, A-go represented the commitment to a decisive battle.
"This time we will be betting our hopes on you four carriers preemptively neutralizing the enemy in order to nullify the enemy's suppressing fire."
The Admiral explained in a heavier voice.
"Thanks to previous developments at the factories, we have manufactured sufficient quantites of the prototype Suisei Kai to outfit two carriers. Standard Carriers Shoukaku and Zuikaku will mount these Suisei Kai, along with Type 52 Zeroes, as the fleet's primary striking force. Due to the limited number of Type 52 Zeroes, however, Zuikaku's remaining supplement will be equipped with Type 62 Zeroes."
Zuikaku nodded slightly. As Yuubari and RJ had said in the factories, the Type 62 Zeroes were variations of the base Type 52 Zero model--if you could deal with their slightly inferior specs, they were more than capable of seizing air superiority. When it came to battle against the main force, they would also be able to serve in a dive bombing capacity.
"Hiyou and Junyou will deploy as always with Type 21 Zeroes, Type 99 Dive Bombers and Type 97 Torpedo Bombers. However, we will be limiting the numbers of Type 99s, which will be primarily used as scouts. In combat, we will rely on the Type 97s. The Type 99's dive bombs may be ineffective against the Ru-class."
Hiyou and Junyou both responded with a crisp "understood."
"As for the enemy patrols and pickets, please remove them with preemptive air strikes to the best of your ability. Looking at their composition, you should have more than enough to wrest air superiority. As long the enemy is disabled, it is acceptable to disengage and move on."
The enemy's gate is down--that was what the Admiral's gaze said.
"Once the enemy main force is encountered, focus everything on the first attack. Even if the enemy is Ru-class, breaking the enemy's formation with torpedos should help to inhibit their suppression fire. Your primary target is the Flagship Ru-class that appears to be serving as flagship. As before, sinking the flagship should plunge the leaderless enemy into confusion."
The fairies promptly affixed several photos of the flagship type  on the whiteboard. A few of Hyuuga and Ise's observation seaplanes had managed to survive, and theses photos appeared to have been brought back thanks to their actions.
As the Admiral said, the Flagship Ru-class had indeed stood in front of the enemy fleet; it seemed like that she was indeed the coordinator.
"In the case that a preemptive strike fails, chances will be that you will lose the ability to inhibit their suppressing fire and thus suffer defeat. If that happens, the enemy will close in on the homeland. If this happens, the Naval District will deploy into Home Waters in preparation for a last-ditch defense."
It didn't require much thought to realize that there was no plan at that point. If they failed, the Naval District's home fleet would consist of Heavy Cruisers and other smaller vessels. At that point, the battle plan would be encroaching on the nation's vital naval trade network.
"The flagship this time will be Shoukaku--as before. Are there any questions?"
The Admiral looked to the four shipgirls. It appeared he wanted each of them to imagine the consequences of the failure of their last stand.
Shoukaku raised her hand. There was no smile on her face now, only grimness. The Admiral tipped his head lightly, beckoning her to speech.
"As the flagship, there is something I would like to confirm with the Admiral in regards to this operation: when it comes down to it, is our priority 'our survival,' or 'the elimination of the enemy main fleet?'"
Zuikaku gazed at Shoukaku and the Admiral uncomfortably. Similarly, Hiyou and Junyou also eyed the two with tension written across their faces.
"....of course, our priority is to eliminate the enemy main fleet."
The Admiral's voice was low, but clear.
"If we fail this battle, we will have lost the war. If the price for destroying the enemy main force is your lives, I, as a commanding officer, am prepared to pay."
His distress was palpable in his voice as he continued.
"However, I forbid any of you from entering battle with this resolve. There is a high likelihood that you all will be integral to our battles in the future; as such, I demand (however unreasonably) that you defeat the enemy and return to this naval district. Fight, fight with every ounce of your soul against the enemy against you. Whatever the result, I am prepared to take full responsibility."
"I understand. Thank you."
Shoukaku nodded lightly as Zuikaku felt a pang of guilty.
Her sister had doubtlessly brought up this question to make sure Zuikaku understood the Admiral's thoughts. The Admiral had no plans to use the shipgirls as weapons. Given, some decisions may have seemed the opposite, but for the Admiral, this remained a heart-rending decision--
(I understand this kind of thing....but, Shoukaku-nee...)
"Moreover, regarding the remaining two ships..."
"I was just about to explain that. Come in, you two."
The office door swung open with a heavy clack as from it came the shapes of two rather small shipgirls. Zuikaku's eyes widened--one of the two destroyers wore a white sailor uniform as a large dress, with a pair of large binoculars hanging from her neck. The other shipgirl wore a black-on-white sailor uniform, her hair an opulent, striking white.
Zuikaku gulped. She had seen these two destroyers before, and found what she had in common with them.
(It can't be, these two are...)
The Admiral's voice echoed through the office.
"Destroyers Yukikaze and Hibiki. They are this naval district's most seasoned destroyers, and I am confident they are upt to the task of escorting you all."
The Admiral paused for a moment before regarding the six shipgirls before speaking a half-plea, half-order.
"Please, use your power as shipgirls to give us humans a future."
The skies above the waters around Okinoshima were as clear as always.
Zuikaku and company sailed under the dazzling sun at full speed ahead.
Ten hours had elapsed since their departure from their naval district, and it had been two hours ago that they had left the transport ship and officially began their deployment. They had encountered the enemy three times and taken only scratch damage--and now only the main fleet was ahead of them. It appeared that someone out there had been looking out for them on this route as well.
The fleet was split into two units, with destroyers Yukikaze and Hibiki forming a vanguard for Zuikaku, Shoukaku, Hiyou and Junyou's main force. The vanguard served as both an advance force and, on enemy encounter, bait.
The six shipgirls remained silent. The impending approach of the enemy main fleet seemed to bring about a pressure that lapsed even Junyou into silence. Hiyou and Shoukaku did not need mentioning.
Zuikaku, too, had yielded to this pervading feeling.
(This is kind of bad...)
She felt a throb in her chest. Under this atmosphere it was questionable whether they'd be able to make use of their full power even if they met with the enemy.
(But I don't know how to solve this...)
She looked to Shoukaku--Shoukaku, as in the battle before, gazed forwards, her expression tight.
Looking back, Zuikaku had not said a word to Shoukaku through deployment--partly because she didn't know what to say, and partly because she still did not know how to change Shoukaku's resolve.
Doubtlessly, the current Shoukaku would willing sacrifice herself for her. After all, this was operation "A-go," the last chance for the Naval District to take out the Okinoshima Enemy Anchorage. Given the fact that the fate of the homeland would be determined by the results of this battle, the situation could not be more serious.
(But I really just don't want to see Shoukaku-nee like this...)
Zuikaku noticed that she gripped the shortbow in her right hand abnormally tightly.
(I wish fortune to Shoukaku-nee too...I wish that her smile is not just a reassurance for my sake, but from her heart. Or else...)
A wireless transmission from somewhere--it was destroyer Yukikaze. From Shoukaku's complete lack of response, it seemed as if Yukikaze had words for Zuikaku only.
"I read you. Go on, Yukikaze."
Zuikaku's lips barely moved, to avoid attracting Shoukaku's notice. She could secretly guess what Yukikaze wanted to talk about.
"Don't worry about it, everyone over here is really quiet, and I'm pretty bored. After all, we haven't discovered the enemy main force yet."
In reality, the fleet had already launched scouts in all directions--it would be unsurprising if the enemy was found at this very moment. Nevertheless, Zuikaku didn't want to silence Yukikaze.
"--thank you. Hibiki is also listening to this transmission, is that alright?"
"No problem. Ah, also, sorry I didn't greet you guys yet. I'll be in your care today, Yukikaze, Hibiki."
"-Y-yes! Yukikaze will do her best!"
The bipolarity of the two destroyer's response almost caused Zuikaku to burst into laughter.
"Well then, what do you guys want to ask me?"
"--Okay. To be honest, we've been hiding something all this time from Zuikaku-nee, and we ought to apologize to you about it..."
"You two were observing me to see whether I was the 'Lucky Carrier' that could grasp the most fortunate outcome, right?"
"....! How did you...?"
"It'd be hard not to know."
Listening to Yukikaze's embarrassment, Zuikaku broke into a bitter smile.
"You two were watching with Akagi-senpai during my inaugural battle with Kaga-senpai, and I saw you guys during drills and exercises too. Oh, so Akagi-senpai is in on this too then? Ehh, she's even higher up in seniority than Shoukaku-nee. I suppose it was expected."
"--Ehh, you got us..."
"Plus, isn't Yukikaze like me, a ship people figured would be able to grasp that most fortunate outcome? In 'That War' I also heard you being referred to as the 'Lucky Destroyer.' You survived until the end, too, so I figured..."
That last part was more instinct. From her occasional run-ins with Yukikaze, Zuikaku had noticed that she carried herself with an air unlike those of the other destroyers. An unburdened feeling, maybe. It was a vague term at best, but it was simultaneously different from the other shipgirls and similar to herself.
It was exactly because of this that Zuikaku figured that Yukikaze might be a shipgirl with similar abilities. Of course, this revelation came after the last sortie.
Akagi was the same. She was the Naval District's most senior standard carrier, and the shipgirl closest to the Admiral; there was no way she did not notice Zuikaku and Yukikaze's situation.
"--t-that's right...as expected of Zuikaku-nee..."
Perhaps Zuikaku had been on target too many times, for Yukikaze responded with a tone of admiration that caused Zuikaku to again break into a crooked smile.
"Also, Hibiki must have also survived to the end of 'That War', and thus have known who in the naval district possessed the fruits of fortune....that's why you fight with Yukikaze, correct? And that's why Akagi-senpai asked you to take care of me...am I correct, Hibiki?"
Hibiki remained silent, but Zuikaku took that as affirmation.
"...that's why I'm not concerned about this kind of thing. Yukikaze doesn't need to apologize, and neither does Hibiki--both of you were simply doing your jobs, right? This is an issue between Shoukaku-nee and I."
"--Don't you feel sad sometimes? Scared?"
From Yukikaze's tentative question, it seemed that the name of "The Lucky Destroyer" and the alleged ability to Grasp the Most Fortunate Outcome sat heavily on her shoulders.
"Of course, it's nothing to be happy about. But I won't stop here."
"If this power really exists, then I will use it where I need to. I want to protect Shoukaku-nee and stand beside her in battle. That's why I will do my best with all I have as before--that is how I feel."
"That is what Yukikaze thinks as well, right?"
Yukikaze responded hesitantly after several seconds of silence. That brief emptiness allowed Zuikaku to feel just how grim the road of the "Lucky Destroyer" was for Yukikaze.
(Yukikaze is most likely like me...)
"--it might be strange to say 'because of this', but...I'll be leaving Shoukaku-nee to you."
From her position advancing into the distance, Yukikaze turned around to regard Zuikaku for a moment before continuing.
"--Hibiki and I both survived 'That War,', and continued serving on active duty for a significant period afterwards, so we remember a bit of what happened after the war." 
"--that's why it pains us to see a shipgirl as stubborn as Shoukaku-nee. True, 'That War' was a painful memory, both for us and our crews; even so, few hated or resented us, even as the losers. Shoukaku-nee's surviving crew probably felt the same, which is why..."
Yukikaze could not continue, and Zuikaku didn't want to push her.
Both she and Yukikaze knew that saying this to Shoukaku would accomplish nothing. Shoukaku lived in the shadow of her misfortunes from 'That War;' bringing up the events that followed would not bring her out from there.
"I understand. Thank you for your concerns."
In an increasingly choked voice, Zuikaku spoke to Yukikaze.
"At any rate, Hibiki, Yukikaze, focus on the battle. Just keep dodging, and we'll think of a way to defeat the enemy."
"--Alright, then we'll leave it to you...because Yukikaze will never sink! Hibiki-nee, let's do our best together!"
"--sounds about right."
Yukikaze shouted rousingly, while Hibiki responded with a hint of warmth, expressionless as ever.
Hibiki was one of the 6thDesDev and got along well with destroyers Ikazuchi, Inazuma and Akatsuki--but perhaps on another level, she had a certain connection with Yukikaze as well.
That aside, through her conversation with Yukikaze and Hibiki, Zuikaku felt that perhaps she had reached some kind of realization.
Perhaps the way to change Shoukaku's resolve was not through words, but actions...
(So maybe this is that most fortunate result...)
Five minutes later, one of the fleet's scout planes finally caught sight of the enemy main fleet.
This scout plane belonged to Standard Carrier Zuikaku.
Whether it was because the Abyssals sensing the oncoming assault or a natural deterioration in weather conditions, the surface of the Okinoshima waters began to stir and roil.
Even so, the four carriers advanced at maximum battle speed, splitting the waters with their advance.
"Keep your prows upwind; all ships, begin launch!"
Shoukaku shrilly spoke above the din as she raised her own shortbow.
"Once the air group has assembled, send your attack teams west and target the main fleet that Zuikaku detected! The Fleet composition remains as previously--one flagship BB, three elite BBs and two unidentified DDs! All ships are currently advancing on our position in line ahead formation!"
"This one attack will determine it all--everyone, I'm counting on you!"
Between the order and the response, the six shipgirls had not forgotten to prepare. Shoukaku, Zuikaku, Hiyou and Junyou each loosed their arrows or launched their Shikigami and allowed them to fall into formation. Meanwhile, the two destroyers popped a smokescreen via their turbines as they moved into engage the Ru-class battleships in an attempt to draw fire from the carriers.
(This attack decides it all....!)
Repeating Shoukaku's line in her mind, Zuikaku continued firing her arrows.
(This battle is a chance to change Shoukaku-nee's heart--but, before that happens, we must win above all...!)
She continued shooting, even as she started to notice her ragged breathing. Each arrow split into the air in a burst of light, transmuting into the Type 52 Zero and Ryuusei Kai before forming into position. The Type 62 Zeros remained behind as a contingency plan, while the Ryuusei Kai all carried torpedos.
Zuikaku glanced at the other carriers--they, too, were also launching their carrier planes and then consolidating them. Shoukaku, like Zuikaku, carried Type 52 Zero and Ryuusei Kai, whereas Hiyou and Junyou carried the good ol' Type 21 Zeroes, Type 99 Dive Bombers and Type 97 Torpedo Bobmers.
The cloud of planes assembled in the air continued to swell into one large air group of some two hundred planes. Zuikaku had only seen an air group of this size once or twice even in "That War."
With the last launches came the sound of guns--the four RU-class had began opening fire at Yukikaze and Hibiki.
"We're counting on you, Yukikaze, Hibiki....!"
Eyeing both her own air group and the smoke-wreathed horizon, Junyou softly murmured.
"Because once you're destroyed, the targets become us....!"
Zuikaku felt her body clench. As Junyou had said, if Yukikaze or Hibiki were destroyed, it would be the carrier group's turn to endure the suppression shelling.
A great explosion in the distance, followed by a great pillar just over the Horizon; just the thought of the accurate barrage that had straddled Ise and Hyuuga now focusing on those two slender shipgirls made Zuikaku want to rush to their rescue.
(But, those two must....!)
Zuikaku forcibly suppressed these impulses. her thoughts a prayer. A second later--
"All air groups, begin your attack runs!"
Having waited until the air assembly had completed, Shoukaku gave the order.
"Your target is the Ru-class Battleship Group! We're counting on you, go!"
"Hopefully...an attack that'll finish them out of our visual range!"
Zuikaku shouted along with Shoukaku as Hiyou and Junyou also laid down their orders.
"Alright, let's get revenge for Akagi-senpai and Kaga-senpai! Right, Junyou?"
"Yeah! Let's give it our all and give 'em a beating--Off you go!"
In total over 200 planes formed the first attack wave; at the four shipgirls' order, they shot as one towards the enemy fleet. The sight left even Zuikaku, who had sent them, gaping--this was doubtless an all-in, all-out assault.
Among the most magnificent among them were Shoukaku and Zuikaku's Ryuusei-Kai attack teams. Protected by the Type 52 Zeroes in a vast inverted gull-wing formation, they advanced as a subversion of the past fast attacks of the past.
"Report from Hibiki--enemy battleships have opened up with AA guns,"
Junyou reported with a hand to her ear.
"But the effect seems limited--the Ryuusei-kai seems to be too fast for each battleship to cope!"
"In that case....!"
In the time that Shoukaku uttered her shout of anticipation, the attack teams began to separate, beginning their individual attack runs.
Planes began to fall. As expected, the four Ru-class' AA power was overwhelming; within mere seconds, the air was filled with the black puffs of AA fire. And yet as Hibiki reported, the enemy could not quite adjust to the Ryuusei Kai's speed--losses were significantly lighter than in previous battles.
And so, each of the attack teams launched their torpedos--moments later, the four Ru-classes were bracketed by water pillars.
Zuikaku clenched her fist as she stared in the enemy fleet's direction. It would be up to the closer Hibiki and Yukikaze to report the results.
Presently, Yukikaze reported with a tone of regret.
"--no-go! Out of the four, two have been heavily-damaged, but the other two aren't hurt at all! One of them is the flagship class!"
"So they missed....?"
Shoukaku pressed with a voice of disbelief.
"--No! The two enemy destroyers acted as shields...both those destroyers have sank! But....!"
Zuikaku stood dumbstruck. While everyone was aware that the abyssal were, like the shipgirls, capable and willing to act autonomously to protect the flagship, nobody thought that it would be at this time that--
But Zuikaku now admitted that they had been far too naive. Right after, Hiyou spoke up.
"All ships, begin evasive maneuvers! The surviving Ru-classes are now firing in our direction!"
"At this time?!"
Even as the others responded incredulously, a seemingly unending chain of explosions bracketed the field.
Zuikaku had not yet lost her bearings. Countless shells exploded around her with shockwaves that smashed her onto the water surface.
"Ugh....!" she murmured as she stood back up.
Enduring the pain, she looked around her--as the waterspouts collapsed, they left a cloud of mist in their wake.
Squinting, she made out the silhouettes of three shipgirls, each emitting smoke--and her face whitened.
Of the three, Hiyou and Junyou showed clearly heavy damage. With their flight decks half ruined and their other equipment virtually wiped out, the two could only grit their teeth as they knelt on the ocean surface.
Shoukaku's damage was not as severe as those of the Hiyou-class--even now, she stood up, tottering gently. Even so, her equipment also bore significant damage--her combat ability would doubtlessly be affected.
The enemy's barrage in this direction had inexplicably halted instead of chaining. The only explanation was that Yukikaze and Hibiki had once more caught the enemy's attention.
(And what about the carrier planes?)
Zuikaku looked to the sky--from the horizon, the spent first wave was now returning. They numbered around fifty, virtually all of whom were the Type 52 Zeroes and Ryuusei Kai. Hiyou and Junyou's planes had been slaughtered, nearly to the last fairy.
Of the two hundred attack planes, only one in four had returned--the losses were exceedingly heavy, far beyond Zuikaku's worst fears. And now, the only carriers that remained were she and Shoukaku.
(But, we have to regain the initiative with these remnants...!)
The enemy still had two unharmed Ru-classes. If they didn't find a way to deal with this, there would be no chance of victory.
(But what should I do...?)
"Zuikaku, hurry and retrieve those carrier planes. Take my portion too."
Standing uneasily, Shoukaku glared at the enemy fleet with a simmering anger as she spoke to Zuikaku.
"We are launching a second wave. You deal with the elite, I'll find a way to deal with the flagship type."
"Find a way....what way is there?"
Zuikaku loudly voiced her doubts. Shoukaku was giving her own carriers to Zuikaku and simultaneously calling for a second wave--a normal carrier couldn't do this.
(No, we are shipgirls--as long as there's a will, there's a way....)
"Shoukaku-nee, you're not planning on closing in on the Flagship Ru-class and detonating yourself, are you....?"
Zuikaku's eyes widened. Shoukaku continued to glare the enemy vessel as before, confirming Zuikaku's suspicions.
Shipgirls had turbine systems as well. If they could close in on the enemy and then blow up their turbines, they could deal devastating damage--at the cost of their lives.
In "That War", one would normally never consider allowing a carrier to close in on a battleship. Even so, they were shipgirls--there were shipgirls who fought with sword, spear and anchor in CQC--there were even some who fought with bare hands and technique. From that standpoint, Shoukaku's strategy was neither particular outlandish or impractical.
But this strategy meant that Shoukaku would definitely die.
"No! If you do that--"
"There are no other ways to finish the remaining two Ru-classes,"
Shoukaku responded bluntly.
"From the enemy's AA abilities, the likelihood of finishing the remaining two Ru-classes with our remaining complement is low. If we use this tactic, we can finish both vessels."
Moreover, the Admiral has not given the order to retreat....that means the Admiral trusts us. That's why, we have to respond to that trust...!"
With that, Shoukaku turned to Zuikaku as she broke into her usual smile.
"Zuikaku, you are the 'Lucky Carrier'--you will definitely be able to use your ability to grasp the best possible outcome to bring everyone a miracle. No matter how hard the battles get, no matter how painful, you have to survive for that reason--so that you can reach out and retrieve it all--and I believe that it's my job to open that road for you."
"For me, the one who bears the fate of 'the unlucky ship', this is both my desire and my salvation....so please, let me go."
Zuikaku could find no retort. Shoukaku's resolve was doubtlessly genuine, and this tactic was also logical. If the Okinoshima Main Fleet was not destroyed now, the homeland and the Naval District would be endangered such that it was possible that mankind would lose altogether.
The Admiral had also said that "Destruction of the enemy holds precedence over survival." Shoukaku's idea was backed on each front.
Apart from the fact that Zuikaku couldn't accept it.
(That's right. This kind of tactic is definitely flawed!"
Zuikaku bit her lip as she once more confirmed her own reasoning.
(We are shipgirls--we came here not only to win this war, but also to confront the memories of 'That War'...I'm sure the Admiral doesn't want Shoukaku do to this either....!)
What should be done instead--at this point, several memories surfaced in Zuikaku's mind.
The words the Admiral had said to her. The words Hiyou had said to her. That stone that Hiyou had hurled at the sea--
(THat's right. That's it.)
Zuikaku had found a chance to win.
Clenching her first and enduring the pain, she righted herself and spoke:
"I don't understand as much as Shoukaku-nee thinks I do."
"I can't accept something like this! I don't plan to live on for that kind of thing...that is neither my wish nor my salvation!"
She stared at the two Ru-classes in the distance. The sounds of shelling had not yet ceased--Yukikaze and Hibiki were still fighting. They trusted their comrades, carrying their survivor's guilt with them.
"This time around, I will definitely fight with Shoukaku-nee until the end--that is my wish and my salvation! And if anybody wants to stop me, even if that person is you, Shoukaku-nee, I won't let them!"
"Zuikaku! But that's the only choice if we want the operation to succeed....!"
"No, there's another way! Shoukaku-nee, look. I will definitely take down those two battleships and secure a chance to turn the tables! That's why--please don't give up and help me!"
In the course of this debate, the survivors of the first wave had successfully landed. In order to prepare them once more, Zuikaku raised her shortbow.
"Because I, Zuikaku-- 'The Lucky Carrier,' did not base my nickname on a lie!"
Next, Zuikaku continued to shoot out carrier planes--without assembling, plane after plane flew peacemeal towards the remaining two Ru-classes.
The buzz of motors and propellers closed in--hearing it, Hibiki felt a sense of bemusement.
(To launch a second wave at this time...aren't they just asking to be shot down?)
At that moment, another cloud of waterspouts surrounded her--clenching her teeth, Hibiki began evading.
After the conclusion of the four carriers' first wave, Yukikaze and Hibiki had been actively dodging the shelling of the two Ru-classes. Shoukaku, after all, had not given any new orders--moreover, Hibiki reckoned that she and Yukikaze would be in charge of drawing fire, whether they were retreating or fighting.
In "That War", Hibiki had understood that half-assed air strikes would have no effect on an opponent with a strong AA complement. This point had come long and hard upon the winners of "That War"--but this was the case even in mutually bloodless conflicts. Because it had long since become indirectly related to military affairs.
Even so, the surviving Standard Carrier was still doing this. Did she have an idea? Or were they simply making one last gamble--
The shell splashes were everywhere once more. As she evaded, Hibiki glanced at Yukikaze (who was doing the same) and the Attack Teams Zuikaku and company had released--
(....so that's how it is. That's not a bad way to go about it.)
Having figured out Zuikaku's plan, Hibiki's smile curled up into a trusting smile.
Zuikaku's attack teams were divided roughly into Type 52 Zeroes, Type 62 Zero Fighter-Bombers, and the Ryuusei-Kai, and flew towards the two Ru-class in that order.
The two Ru-class immediately stopped firing at Yukikaze and Hibiki as they opened up again with AA fire. Under the fire of both their main guns and their AA guns, the leading Type 52 Zeros withered, falling one after the other.
The Ru-class had become convinced that the Type 52 Zero carried bombs, and had thus focused their fire on the skies above. Whether the bombers was launching into level bombing runs or dive bombing runs, this response was reasonable.
And yet, the Type 62s behind the Type 52s descended to near sea-level, hugging the surface as if they were about to launch torpedoes.
This attack appeared to have taken the Ru-classes by surprise, and their AA fire flitted only intermittently above the Type 62 Zeroes. The Type 62s now flew clear of the barrage, dropping their bombs onto the surface as they closed into the two vessels.
Following the laws of physics, the bombs bounced across the surface as they closed in on the Ru-classes.
In front of the bombs were what looked like the Ru-class' radar systems.
"See that?! That's the power of Skip Bombing!"
Zuikaku's voice was full of jubilation--hearing it, Shoukaku gaped wordlessly at the explosions racking the Ru-class battleships.
She understood what Zuikaku was doing, or what she had wanted to do--Skip Bombing.
A bomber would close in on a target on the water's surface, not unlike a torpedo bomber. Launching at short distances, the bombs would hydroplane across the water's surface towards the target. This kind of attack required piloting, evasion and planes of the highest class; if done correctly, though, it dramatically improved hit rate. Since the velocity of the bombs themselves were rather low, their damage could not compare to that of dive bombers or torpedo--but if it could penetrate somewhere relatively weakly armored, it would be more than enough to deal a devastating blow.
Skip Bombing was a tactic that had been employed by the enemies of "That War" against them, and Zuikaku had somehow managed to remember this tactic and use it in practice.
Using the Type 52s as a decoy and the Type 62 for the attack, Zuikaku had pulled it off. Moreover, the Type 62's targets were the radar FCS--a major player in both shelling and AA coordination.
--as predicted, the wall of fire put up by the Ru-class began to show cracks--cracks which the Ryuusei-kai rushed into, dropping their torpedos as they descended.
A new set of explosions appeared--the Ru-class were surely taking heavy damage. Even if they didn't sink outright, they would not be able to maintain their suppressing barrage--
(Zuikaku....my sister did it....?)
Staring Speechless, Shoukaku glanced at Zuikaku as she cheered on her attack teams.
Before this, she had always seen Zuikaku as an existence that had to be protected. This whole time, she had believed that protecting her until the war's end would give her self-sacrifice meaning. If that could be achieved, she believed that she could bear the fate of "The Unlucky Ship" without question.
But Zuikaku had managed to invalidate that with her own strength. No, perhaps that result was due to the power of "The Lucky Ship"--even so, this could not have succeeded without Zuikaku's will.
(This is how Zuikaku wishes to fight, to protect her comrades...)
The Salvation Zuikaku sought was not the same as the one Shoukaku sought--Shoukaku had known this from the start. And yet, she had always believed that this was the only way to victory.
That belief, now, had begun to unravel.
Zuikaku was not relying on the destiny of the "Luckiest Ship"--she had not yet resigned herself to that power. She was still trying to grasp the future with her own strength and will.
(Perhaps I can live like that as well....?)
Shoukaku felt a flicker of hope--but it was buried almost instantaneously by a wave of self-mistrust. Since she was the "Unlucky Ship," her biggest contribution would be to serve as the scapegoat for the misfortune of others--
"Come, Shoukaku-nee, bring in the second attack wave and let's launch the third one!"
Zuikaku ran and clutched Shoukaku's hand with hands of energy.
"If the two of us launch a new wave together, it'll make it harder for the enemy to catch a break! Those two ships are still there, we haven't won....but, we can definitely win!"
Zuikaku's confident words and her grasp began to shake Shoukaku's heart.
Zuikaku believed in herself. She believed that she could escape the grasp of destiny and surpass it all--she believed that she would be able to work hard no matter what.
As if to confirm Zuikaku's conjecture, the distant Ru-classes had regained the initiative, advancing towards Shoukaku and Zuikaku, in spite of Yukikaze and Hibiki's attempts to stop them with gunfire. Even if the third wave did not succeed in finishing those two battleships, it was possible that, with Hibiki and Yukikaze's survival, that they be finished with torpedos.
"Did you forget about us....?"
"We've taken the advantage~ but now is the time to be serious!"
Words from behind them--Hiyou and Junyou shakily stood up. Laying out their half-burnt scrolls, they began calling out what Shikigami they had left.
"We've still got half a flight decks, so we can at least send out some Zeroes as decoys--if it's necessary, we'll be your bait!"
"Hiyou, Junyou...! Mm, let's go!"
Zuikaku nodded vigorously before regarding Shoukaku.
"So come along too, Shoukaku-nee!"
Yukikaze's shout echoed from the battlefield, as if to cut off Zuikaku. The sound of gunfire once again covered her voice.
"The Flagship Ru-class is firing again! It seems that her guns are undamaged!"
"....She can still move? Even when her radar's been ruined....she shouldn't even be able to fire accurately!"
Zuikaku's shock was palpable--but Shoukaku understood the Flagship Ru's goal. HE. The enemy had no doubt decided that four damaged carriers did not need precisely-aimed AP shells--area damage HE shells would be sufficient. The enemy, after all, was the defense-enhanced Flagship Ru-class--even if it had taken some severe hits, it was certain that its own shells would be accurate enough.
The whine of shells closed in. They would impact in less than ten seconds--from the sound, these were doubtlessly aimed at Zuikaku. Given the AOE of a HE shell, it was unlikely that Zuikaku would be able to dodge.
Zuikaku stared hopelessly at the sky.
And yet, Shoukaku immediately launched into movement.
(If I were to take this shell for Zuikaku, I'd definitely sink, and Zuikaku would definitely survive....but, if Zuikaku believes i me, then I, too....!"
Yukikaze's report had instantly dispelled the reveling atmosphere. As the whistle of shells closed in, the sudden reversal in situation had plunged Zuikaku into despair.
If she lost her ability to launch her carrier planes, they'd lose all hopes of a counterattack. That would make things a definite defeat--
(And we got so far....!)
The carrier planes she relied on were still returning, and all her ready air group had already been dispatched. She was out of options--
A moment later, Zuikaku saw a certain sight.
Shoukaku had nocked an arrow--a Type 99 with a bomb on board--onto her shortbow, and now now raised it towards the descending shells.
"Trust me, Zuikaku....!"
Shoukaku's voice trembled ever so slightly at the end. She was scared, after all, of what she was about to do. Even so, Shoukaku continued moving.
"In order to continue with you, I'm going to give it a shot....!"
A sharp whistle from the shortbow as the type 99 shot into the sky. A moment later, the arrow separated into multiple Type 99's--charging at the descending shells. The effects were unknowable--this kind of thing couldn't possibly happen in "That War," after all--this was something only shipgirls and their logic-defying existence could do.
(But, I've never heard of using carrier planes to stop shells...)
For shipgirls, this was a completely novel tactic. In the worst-case scenario, both of them would sink from the failure of this tactic--it would have been safer for Shoukaku to just take the shells.
Even so, Shoukaku used this tactic in the hope that the two of them would survive. And in the meantime, she bore in her heart fear--fear that "my misfortune would trigger now."
Seconds later, multiple explosions racked the skies above Zuikaku and Shoukaku--the Type 99s had impacted the shells and triggered their bombs. Several more seconds later, explosions appeared around the two.
Due to the explosion of the Type 99s, the HE shell trajectories had been slightly altered. Furthermore, the Shells had still been a significant distance away from the two shipgirls--even a small alteration in angle had huge effects.
Next up, a string of further explosions--most of it was luck, but there were still many shells that exploded next to Zuikaku as planned. If Shoukaku had not acted, they might have all hit Zuikaku.
Several moments later, though now smoking, Zuikaku and Shoukaku still stood in combat-capable condition.
Zuikaku bore an expression of disbelief. Next to her, Shoukaku sighed as she watched the sky.
"We got through....somehow....?"
I, too, can grasp my own luck--that was the feeling that pervaded those words.
"Even though I felt that I couldn't do it a second time...."
At this moment, the carrier planes of the second air group closed in on the four carriers, returning into arrow and shikigami form for recollection.
The two Ru-class now engaged Yukikaze and Hibiki once more. Both sides were engaging at unprecedentedly close ranges--this was the price of engaging the four carriers with no heed to the two ships in front of them. Under fire from Yukikaze and Hibiki's constant rain of shells, they struggled in vain to find an opportunity to fire with their main guns once more.
As long as that continued, it could definitely be done--with that conviction, Zuikaku shouted,
"Shoukaku-nee, do it! We can definitely do it!"
Shoukaku nodded in embarrassment. Saying goodbye to many of her old beliefs and tightening her expression, she solemnly gave her next order:
"The Third Attack Team, prepare to launch!"
There was a palpable sense of tension on board the Command Ship used by the shipgirls deployed to the Okinoshima Waters as a rest stop, and around the shipgirls protected it.
Since the Fleet led by Shoukaku had begun engaging the main fleet, all communication had ceased. The only person with the authority to watch the battle on screen was the Admiral; some reports were secrets even to the shipgirls defending the Command ship. In order to avoid accidents this time around, the Admiral had chosen to command from the Naval District.
The Escort Fleet consisted of the Fubuki-class destroyers, with Fubuki herself serving as teh flagship.
Perhaps unable to bear the tension, Isonami whispered,
"Shoukaku-nee and company should be fine, right...."
"It'll definitely be fine!"
Fubuki responded as if to reassure Isonami.
"Zuikaku-nee's with the fleet! Plus there's Yukikaze, Hibiki, Hiyou and Junyou-nee..."
Even if she knew there was no basis to her argument, she still responded.
"If it's the, they'll definitely...!"
"Oy, you guys, look!"
Miyuki pointed towards the horizon, where--"
"Is that everyone from the fleet?"
"We seem to have made it back..."
Zuikaku mumbled. She carried a heavily-damaged Hiyou on her right shoulder, while Shoukaku used her left shoulder to support an also heavily-damaged Junyou. While Yukikaze and Hibiki were unhurt, they had served as before as the four carriers' vanguard.
In the course of the battle with the Enemy Main Fleet, Zuikaku and company's third wave assault and Yukikaze and Hibiki's torpedoes had proved effective, sufficient for a victory. Even after Yukikaze and Hibiki's torpedos had lit her up, the Flagship Ru-class that had put Zuikaku and company in the danger zone had held on a little longer before ultimately succumbing and gently subsiding under the waves. Refusing to sink back into the abyss from whence she came--that seemed to be the impression given in her last struggle.
Nobody responded to Zuikaku's words--on seeing the command ship that would take them back to the mainland, each of them was flooded with relief. Even Shoukaku, as the older sister, was no exception--her expression suggested she had let out a breath of air she had held for a long, long time.
(But now the mainland has been protected, and we've maintained our initiative. Plus...)
Suddenly, Shoukaku called her sister's name.
Shoukaku spoke with her usual gentle expression--albeit one that betrayed mixed feeling underneath.
"I'm sorry for before...also, from here on out, I'll be in your care. I, too, will do all I can so I can fight alongside you."
Zuikaku's joy bubbled up like a fountain--this was the first time she had heard Shoukaku say what was in her heart. Of course, she had no proof for this guess, and Shoukaku perhaps was still at a loss.
Even so, Zuikaku remained overjoyed. In Shoukaku's eyes, she no longer appeared to just be the weapon known as "the lucky carrier", but as her sister--a shipgirl of her own.
And so, Zuikaku nodded vigorously before replying:
"Thank you, Shoukaku-nee! From here on out, as a shipgirl, I'll do my best....so I can become part of the main fleet like you!"
Shoukaku grinned awkwardly with a "are you still talking about that, even now" kind of smile.
"Even though we were helped by a lot of trump cards, in the end we made such an excellent result. As far as I'm concerned, you are already part of the main fleet. Just like me....rather, beyond me...."
"Even so, I am a shipgirl just like everyone else....not just that, but I want to be a "Lucky Carrier" that can bring Luckiness to everyone! As long as I still have planes, I won't lose....!"
In the distance, Fubuki and the other shipgirls on escort duty waved their hands as if in blessing as they closed in--
Translator's Notes and References
- no shit, does this author know what subtlety means?
- taken during the battle, no doubt
- Yukikaze was transferred to the Republic of China Navy as Tan Yang, whereas Hibiki was transferred to the Soviet Union as Verniy
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