Below is the complete text of The Witch of Capuzzo. This is the latest edition. I’ve made some corrections here and there, but it is roughly the same version that was included in The Witches of the Sphinx Volume 5.
The Witches of the Sphinx Volume 5 is now available for international sales from here:
The likelihood that the book will be available overseas in electronic form is very slim at this point.
Since I have control over my own story, I’ve decided it to share it with you for free. Perhaps I’ll set up an electronic collections box or something, but what’s important is that you now can read it in its entirety, share it among your friends, and tell me what you think if you wish.
If you want, you can use the feedback system below to let Nogami and I know of what you think of both the book.
Another reason why I have decided to share this story with you is to commemorate the publication of my own original land battle witches doujinshi, The Lionheart Witch.
The book will be published in conjunction with August 9th~12th, 2012 session of the Comic Market (C82.) The book will be available through Nogami’s doujinshi circle Firstspear on the third and final day of the Comic Market. Firstspear will be at the Comic Market on Day 3 (August 12th, 2012) at space A-41b in the East Hall 2 and only on Sunday. Don’t go there on other days and expect Firstspear to be there.
The Lionheart Witch is being published by my own doujinshi circle 8th Panzer Regiment. Firstspear will only be selling the book at C82. Hopefully 8th Panzer Regiment will have an independent space at the Comic Market in the coming years.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy The Witch of Capuzzo.
My deepest gratitude to Mr. Takeshi Nogami for his permission to reprint the illustrations that accompanied the story when it was first published in The Witches of the Sphinx Volume 5.
The Witch of Capuzzo
June 15th, 1941 – Cyrenaica
It was a land of barren deserts and sand dunes on the southern coast of the Mediterranean. Here at Tobruk, the extreme heat that slowly saps away a person’s strength had returned once more. Even through it was only 10am and the sun had not yet reached its peak, rays of sunlight dominated the deep blue sky. An aircraft that looked like it had a large hula hoop attached to it horizontally was lazily flying through the pristine blue sky. A person could cool off somewhat by taking advantage of the gusting winds produced by the silver wings racing through the blue skies, but that was not an option on the ground where there was no breeze at all. In this inferno, someone would fall prey to sunstroke if precautions were not taken.
And with that cry, water sprayed into the air, shining majestically in midair. A slender girl around the age of seventeen, her raven black hair bundled into in a high ponytail, had created a large, expanding circular splash by jumping into the water. Young maidens of Karlsland were frolicking on the cool, wet Mediterranean shore. Surrounding them was the sea and the beach, and beyond a gradual incline of land of about a hundred meters was a small embankment that stretched to the east and west as far as the eye could see.
It was on such a beachfront that six girls were exposing their pale white skin near a rocky outcropping. One girl was lounging under a beach parasol, but the remaining five were immersed in the sea and having a good time.
“Please, Ms. Kruschinski. Give it a rest. You almost washed away my glasses that time,” said the girl while adjusting her glasses. She had red hair in two braids that lay draped down her front. Her protest made it sound like she seemed to be a bit of a fusspot, unlike the girl she referred to as Kruschinski who was taller and standing in front of her. Kruschinski placed her right hand behind her head and apologized. The end of Kruschinski’s shiny black ponytail was dancing about in the sea.
“Haha, I’m sorry, Milde. I really am. But why didn’t you just leave the glasses behind?”
“If I didn’t have my glasses, how am I supposed to respond if some emergency happened!?”
“Milde is right, Kruschinski,” said another girl, roughly the same height of Kruschinski. She waded through the clear blue seawater that was not quite up to her stomach, the waves gently stroking her. While Milde and Kruschinski both wore two piece swimsuits, the third girl with long blond hair and voluptuous curves wore a tank top knotted to the side on top of her Karlsland regulation issue one piece swimming suit.
“Captain Kümmel, what is that?” asked Milde after she finished adjusting her glasses. She pointed to an aircraft that was flying overhead at an altitude that would be considered rather low under normal circumstances. The maiden referred to as Kümmel was the highest ranking officer among the girls on the beach. As Kümmel directed her gaze upon the aircraft flying above, her wavy golden blonde hair and ample bosom bounced about gracefully.
“I’m certain it’s a Jungfrau 52 transport,” responded Kümmel, “but I wonder what that ring-shaped thing is.”
“Um…” whispered a young girl who had joined the trio unannounced and unnoticed until now. She was the shortest among all of them and her speech was so soft, sometimes it was difficult to listen to her unless you were paying close attention. This girl with dark brown hair in a bob cut with bangs crouched down to submerge a body that was the least developed of this group.
“Hmm? What is it, Kleff?” asked Kümmel gently.
The young girl with the last name Kleff had a delicate frame and wore a regulation one piece swimsuit. Her hair usually draped over her eyes, making it difficult to see them, but now that she was looking down, completely obscuring them. She was always a somewhat introverted girl, but it appeared that she seemed even more embarrassed that usual right then.
“…Someone mentioned something…something about equipment that…detects Neuroi…”
“Humph, you wouldn’t need some huge hula hoop to do that. All you’d need to do is take a good look down below you,” quipped Kruschinski, but then Kümmel shot back.
“No, that’s not it. I remember now. Our regimental commander mentioned something about experimental equipment that could detect Neuroi hiding underground. That must be it.”
“Huh,” retorted Kruschinski with a burst of air. “Well I suppose I’d welcome any new equipment that would come in handy at beating back those monsters, but right now I’m more interested in seeing our Frau Haptmann’s new swimming equipment in action.”
Kümmel jumped upon hearing that proclamation from Kruschinski.
“Wo~~~~~~w! I’d love to see tha~~~~t!” was the boisterous, shrill, child-like voice unleashed by another young girl who rushed up to them, thrashing the surface of the sea on her way. While her tall height was second only to that of Kümmel and Kruschinski, the milky white complexion of her skin and short blonde hair radiated a particularly childish quality. In reality, she was the youngest of the six there.
“You think so, too, Albers?” proudly exclaimed Kruschinski. “Yeah, who wouldn’t? Right!?”
Kruschinski nodded her head enthusiastically with her arms folded across her chest. The young girl called Albers came over, smiled innocently, and bobbed her head in response.
“Knock it off, Kruschinski! There’s no way I could wear a swimsuit like that one! For the love of the gods, I never imagined you’d buy something like that…I should have never left you in charge of doing all the shopping in Tripoli…” said Kümmel with a sigh.
“Ms. Kruschinski! Even though you might be the same age as the Captain and have known her for a long time, she’s still your superior officer! That’s no way to address her!” barked Milde. She scolded Kruschinski, no longer able stand the sight of her dear Captain being made anxious, but Kruschinski was not about to stop. She proceeded to start fondling Albers’ body from behind.
“You got yourself a pretty nice body here, Albers, but you’re just thirteen, right? I’m the same age as our dear Captain, but I can’t hold a candle to her,” Kruschinski let off a sarcastic sigh.
“Wait, please,” giggled Albers, “Sergeant Major, you’re tickling me.”
“Kruschinski!” asserted Kümmel forcefully, “You’re getting out of line…” But then, she was cut off by Kruschinski, who suddenly stood at attention and saluted Kümmel.
“Frau Hauptmann, if I may say so, ma’am, you’re the one who is out of line!” The words Kruschinski employed were proper for military affairs, but her tone was completely devoid of sincerity. “I noticed that you’re wearing a tank top over your regulation swimsuit in order to hide the fact that your huge breasts won’t fit in it any longer! The very sight is so scandalous that Sergeant Kleff is having a hard time remaining unembarrassed by them, ma’am!”
When Kümmel looked toward Kleff, she caught sight of the little brown-haired girl looking directly at her breasts. When Kleff noticed that Kümmel had caught her looking, she looked away, embarrassed, submerging herself even deeper into the water.
Kümmel then realized that both Milde and Albers had their gaze fixed upon her bosom. They were asserting their presence quite blatantly through the undershirt that had become semi-transparent from being wet. Suddenly growing self-conscious, she instinctively covered her breasts with her hands and her cheeks grew rosy red from humiliation. Anger brewed inside Kümmel, as she felt all this was wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for Kruschinski.
“Kru…schin…ski…” uttered Kümmel, fighting hard to keep the anger inside remain contained.
“If you were wearing that swimsuit, your breasts would be properly covered,” countered Kruschinski, “Ah! Here’s what we should do!” Kruschinski spun around once and pointed her finger at Kümmel before continuing; “Frau Hauptmann and I should have a little bet. The first one who breaks regulations will be the loser. You have to show off that swimsuit if you lose. How does that sound?”
Kümmel was taken aback by this proposition and looked a little stunned. She couldn’t stop herself from asking what the rest of the bargain would entail.
“And if you lose?”
“I’ll take the qualification test to become a commissioned officer,” responded Kruschinski dryly.
Kümmel’s eyes opened wide upon hearing those words.
“Ms. Kruschinski! So you’ve finally decided to accept becoming a commissioned officer!?” responded Milde in a surprised voice.
“Huh!? Who said that? It’s not like I don’t have a shot at winning this bet,” countered Kruschinski, but everyone else there was utterly certain that Kümmel would win this wager right away.
“All right, Kruschinski. I will accept this bet!”
Milde and Albers cheered upon hearing Kümmel’s decision. Meanwhile, Kruschinski turned on the spot to dive away and started swimming. Unlike the others, Kleff noticed how Kruschinski had an evil grin on her face when she did this.
“Everyone!! We have an emergency! We’ve been placed on alert!” A girl jumped out from beneath a large parasol on the beach and yelled out. She was wearing a bikini, and her platinum blonde hair was tied in two pony tails. The expressions on the faces of the five in the water instantly changed. They rushed at once toward land with solemn faces.
“Becker!” Kümmel yelled back at the girl on land, “Get everything packed up!”
“Yes, Captain!” Becker replied, “Please get changed into what you need, and let me take care of the rest. I’ll catch up to you once I’m done!”
“That sounds good! Thank you, Becker!” replied Kümmel, slightly out of breath. She had already reached the spot where her clothes were near the beach parasol and started to get dressed. Kruschinski, Milde, Kleff and Albers were right behind her and started to get dressed, as well. The faces of all five had changed to that of warriors getting ready to do battle.
“This is Corporal Becker! Company commander Hannelore Kümmel and four others will return to their unit at once.” While Becker was busy making her report, the land battle witches of the Imperial Karlsland Army quickly dressed into their battle attire.
“I’m off!” Kruschinski said to the others as she rushed off and climbed up a slight embankment and ran across a simple paved road. There were no cars as far as the eye could see. This road was so narrow that two oncoming cars would have to carefully edge past each other to pass. It struck Sergeant Major Antonina Kruschinski ironic that this was the great coastline thoroughfare that linked the far ends of the southern coast of the Mediterranean.
But hey, it might be fun to do a road trip down this highway on a motorbike someday, Kruschinski thought to herself as she rushed to the rear of a Hannoma half-track that was parked on the side of the road. The half-track was a slender vehicle, designed as a troop transport with a large crew compartment in the rear and wide doors at the back. Opening the doors, Kruschinski got into the rear compartment and started to roll back the canvas tarp that was haphazardly spread across the top to create some shade. Inside, five pairs of land battle striker units were arrayed in a row, ready to be sent into battle at a moment’s notice.
Kruschinski pulled out headsets and throat microphones for the wireless from a storage bin, and then put on a backpack. After adjusting her equipment, Kruschinski called up the magical power of her animal familiar. Her body glowed slightly as light gray rabbit ears and a fluffy tail sprouted and firmly materialized on Kruschinski.
Kruschinski moved over to the second to last Mark IV medium fighting tracked legs stored inside the Hannoma. Her legs gracefully slipped inside and Kruschinski throttled up the magic engine housed within each of the units. A comforting, steady engine hum echoed inside the crew compartment. Once Kruschinski was satisfied with the engine idling, she picked up a short-barreled KhK37 L/24 witch combat gun that was on the floor nearby. Under normal circumstances, no ordinary person could possibly lift the gun up alone, and yet Kruschinski easily lifted the gun up with only her right arm. She pulled the bolt back with her left hand to check that the chamber was empty. The tall witch pulled out an ammunition strap for emergency situations like this and draped it over her neck, then quickly glanced around the side of the half-track facing away from the road to make sure no one was nearby.
Kruschinski let out a “Hup!” as she jumped out of the half-track, supporting herself on a handrail that was added on top and specifically designed to withstand abuse from the superhuman strength of witches. A loud thud was let loose as the ground gave way to her landing. When Kruschinski stood upright again, she noticed Kümmel and Milde had arrived at the half-track and were busily pulling out equipment from the stowage bins.
Kruschinski’s face hardened as she noticed something racing toward them on the coastal highway from the south. She moved onto the road and assumed a position to be able to guard her comrades as they busily readied their land battle strikers.
Kümmel grew lion ears and tails, while Milde sprouted the ears and the tail of a bat-eared fox. They followed roughly the same routine as Kruschinski and jumped onto the ground, ready for action. Albers and Kleff waited until the two were out of the half-track before they boarded it and also started to prepare for combat.
“Is it Neuroi? Did they break through Halfaya Pass?” Kümmel wondered out loud as she moved over to stand to the left of Kruschinski.
“No, I don’t think so, Captain,” replied Milde. She had her eyes closed and was listening attentively with her large ears. Milde could tell that the object racing towards them from the horizon was emitting the roar of an engine common in Britannian vehicles.
After Albers grew a labrador’s black ears and tail, and Kleff sprouted a pair of orange cat ears and a matching tail, the two joined the three others who were watching the highway vigilantly. By the time all five were lined up and ready, they had visual confirmation that the approaching object was a Britannian an armored reconnaissance car. It was a Hambler, an armored car noted for its sharp angles and blocky appearance.
“Time to do your thing, ladies! The Neuroi are coming!” was the first thing a pair of Britannian Army officers yelled out as they brought their car to a screeching halt.
Kümmel wasted no time introducing herself to these Britannian officers. “Kümmel, Karlsland 8th Panzer Regiment. We’ve just received word that we were to prepare for battle. We need to rush to our designated position — it’s northeast of here — but would mind telling me if the Neuroi are nearby?”
“No, not yet,” replied the man. “But there’s a lot of them. Problem is, I haven’t got the faintest idea how many will head where. But I’m willing bet my knickers the sectors east and south of Halfaya will have their hands full soon.”
“I see. Thank you very much for the information. Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, could you assist in collecting our equipment on the beach? We’re in a hurry,” and with that, Kümmel pointed toward Corporal Friederike Becker who had just climbed up the embankment carrying a radio transceiver.
“Can do!” exclaimed the pair of officers as they got out of the car and rushed toward Becker.
“Thank you, sir. You’re much too kind. There’s still the parasol on the beach, not to mention–“
But before Kümmel and the others could hear the rest of the exchange, they rushed away northwards on the highway towards Salum.
As it turned out, the orders that were awaiting Kümmel’s company when she returned to her post were stand by until further notice.
The staging area of the 8th Panzer Regiment of Karlsland’s 15th Panzer Division was midway on the highway connecting Bardia and Fort Capuzzo. Located slightly inland, it was at a point where it would be easy to rush to Halfaya Pass, Salum, Fort Capuzzo or Hafid Ridge. Kümmel’s unit — 1st Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Panzer Regiment — was positioned at the very forefront of the staging area. But at the time, they were all alone in the desert. When Becker returned in the Hannoma to rejoin her friends, she wanted to talk about how the Britannian officers, Lieutenant Miller and Clark, were so kind and gentlemanly, but her comrades had other things on their minds. Everybody else in Kümmel’s company was much more preoccupied with the bet that Sergeant Major Kruschinski and company commander Kümmel had agreed to.
Kümmel had actually wanted to take everybody under her command to enjoy the sea for a brief respite, but the lack of units available to hold the front lines would not allow it. While the campaign to reclaim Cyrenaica from Neuroi had been successful, there were major imbalances regarding operational effectiveness of the units involved in defending humanity in the North African front. The last few months of hard fighting had left many detachments in dire need of refitting and rest
That was all understandable to Kümmel. But because she made the choice of taking only the company headquarters (herself, Kruschinski and Becker) and the 1st platoon (Milde, Kleff and Albers) for the first trip to the beach, her company was now full of fidgety girls gossiping about what had happened there. This was not what Kümmel wanted.
“Um… uh… Platoon leader Milde, ma’am… Could I go…take a bathroom break?” were the words stammered by Corporal Huberta Albers that Kümmel managed to catch. This was the third time Albers had made that request in the last thirty minutes.
“Bel,” Milde sighed disapprovingly, “Look at Sergeant Major Kruschinski. She’s been standing at attention like a statue.”
“Yes, I know… but…” whimpered Albers, her eyes tearing up. Albers knew this was embarrassing, but it was also clear she was having a hard time suppressing her body’s biological demands.
“Don’t hold it against her, Milde” Kümmel softly called out. “It’s only natural. After all, here in the desert, you need to keep drinking a lot of water or you’ll suffer from dehydration.”
“Actually, Captain Kümmel,” Milde confided, “would you mind if both of us went?”
And so Sergeant Ekaterina Milde joined Albers to go relieve herself.
It’s hardly surprising, Kümmel thought. Although her girls might be talking about swimming and swimsuits on the surface, deep down, they were all very anxious and nervous. Hostilities with the Neuroi had broken out all over the Tobruk area, and yet no orders were forthcoming to her company of witches. All other elements of the 8th Panzer Regiment were either moving toward spots on the front line, or were already engaged in battle. Updates about the situation on the front, interspersed with heavy interference crackle, flowed in through Becker’s radio. Becker was acting jumpy, waiting for the order that would allow themselves to be committed to battle, but none was forthcoming. Kümmel placed her hand on Becker’s shoulder and softly instructed her to ease off on the radio. While Kümmel remained calm and composed, being left to wait for further orders while everybody else is fighting was unnerving for her as well. She could tell her girls were getting psychologically worn down from the anxiety that was gripping them.
Around noon, Kümmel had beach parasols set up in the desert and arranged so that her girls could rest in the shade to conserve their strength as best they could. While this made the situation a little more bearable, members of her unit were acting way too jittery for Kümmel’s tastes. She started getting worried about how her witches would perform when they actually did get called into action.
Another thing that really bothered Kümmel was Kruschinski’s weirdness. She was acting normal, and that wasn’t normal for Kruschinski. Usually, Kruschinski wouldn’t act serious and earnest even if her life depended on it, but now she was acting like a model soldier, always attentive and adhering strictly to protocol. Now Kümmel was starting to regret making that bet with Kruschinski. It took a while, but now Hannelore “Lore” Kümmel remembered that Antonina “Nina” Kruschinski was a very capable person when she chose to apply herself to do so.
“Kruschinski,” Kümmel called out, “would you please come with me?”
“Certainly, Frau Hauptmann!” was Kruschinski’s enthusiastic answer.
Kümmel could not hold back a sigh while Kruschinski followed her with a glint in her eye. From a distance, the scene resembled that of a dedicated adjunct serving a commanding officer weighed down by worries over her command. Kruschinski’s long black pony tail, which extended out from behind her side cap, flowed gracefully down all the way to her thighs, and bounced about precociously.
Kümmel’s company was positioned in the middle of the barren desert, and the pair walked out to a spot about 100 meters or so away. There, they slipped out of their land battle strikers and dug holes in the ground to tend to their biological needs. Secluded from the troops, the two squatted next to each other, staring out southwards to the horizon.
“Nina,” Kümmel groveled, “that swimsuit is just too embarrassing…”
“A deal is a deal, Lore” responded Kruschinski with a nasty grin on her face.
Kümmel let out a deep sigh.
“Alright… You win.”
“Wo-HOOO!” cheered Kruschinski as she bolted upright, her hands clenched into fists thrust up at the heavens. Kümmel, still squatting with her face bright red, tugged desperately at the hem of Kruschinski’s pullover shirt, begging her to sit back down.
“Okay! All right! Just please, sit back down and listen to me!” pleaded Kümmel.
“Oh of course,” smirked Kruschinski, “I’ll do anything my dear Captain tells me to do.”
“You’ll regret this!” protested Kümmel. “I will make you pass that damn qualification test if it’s the last thing I do!”
Kruschinski let off a warm smile, “Win a Knight’s Cross, and I’ll think about it.”
Those loving eyes completely disarmed Kümmel. All she could do was smile back at Kruschinski.
“All right, everyone,” called out Kümmel. She was addressing her company after returning with Kruschinski. “I need your attention. Now normally, regulations stipulate that you are not supposed to be enjoying music or whatnot while waiting to be called into action, but as the commanding officer here, I am going to break this rule today.”
Kümmel was standing in the middle, her witches in a loose circle around her. Upon hearing this proclamation from their commander, the girls let out a clearly audible exclamation of surprise.
“…Does this mean, Ms. Kruschinski wins the bet…?” Sergeant Theodora Kleff asked in a hushed tone.
“…I suppose…that would be the case…” Kümmel struggled to vocalize the answer. Avoiding eye-contact with those around her, Kümmel’s gaze wandered skyward.
The contrast between Milde’s expression of utter disbelief and Albers’ joyous one was priceless.
Kümmel adjusted her Karlsländer Afrikakorps regulation field cap and withdrew to a parasol, vacating the spot so the sergeant major could take center stage. “It’s all yours, Kruschinski.”
Without a uttering word, Kruschinski removed a harmonica from her pocket and took a deep breath. As the witches stared on with wide open eyes, she started performing a tune from Liberion masterfully. She had quickened the tempo somewhat, but it was a jazz number most girls there quickly identified.
“Isn’t that a piece by Gershwin…?” asked Milde staring at Kümmel.
“Yes… ‘Summertime,'” Kümmel answered fondly. “To pick something like this, out here, right now, our dear Sergeant Major never ceases to amaze, does she?”
Kümmel was captivated by the sight of Kruschinski with beads of sweat flowing down her forehead, completely engrossed in the performance. Kruschinski had arranged the composition to make it nearly devoid of the pathos in the original, making it even more relaxing and comforting. You could see the anxiety that filled the faces of the members of Kümmel’s company melt away. Some started tapping along with their fingers or their toes. It goes without saying, tapping toes while wearing land battle strikers creates a considerable beat, but that made the occasion all the more lively.
Entering into the third refrain, Kruschinski’s improvisation really started to take off, but then someone caught sight of something kicking up dust on the horizon, and the music stopped abruptly. The small shadow was approaching them from the south/southeast.
“Could it be Neuroi?,” wondered Becker nervously as she approached Kümmel. “I haven’t gotten any reports of them breaking through…”
When Kümmel answered, her tone was grave, but for different reasons. “No, that’s not Neuroi,” she answered while looking through her binoculars. “That’s one of ours, riding a motorcycle.”
Becker pulled out a map from the map case she always carried with her. “That motorcycle is coming from the direction of Fort Capuzzo,” she noted looking at the map. “Which means…”
“It means something’s happened to Lieutenant Colonel Knabe’s 15th Motorcycle Battalion stationed on the southern flank of Capuzzo,” observed Kümmel calmly. Although her tone was deliberate, Kümmel’s eyes had turned very stern.
The motorcycle rider that had arrived at Kümmel’s company was in bad shape. His sidecar was occupied by an injured soldier, whose breathing was feeble and weak. When the motorcyclist removed his goggles, his eyes were bloodshot, and tears started flowing out. It wasn’t from the sand. Normally, a man in his late twenties would be hesitant to show such behavior in front of young women, but his inhibitions must have loosened by the fact he finally felt safe, surrounded by friendly witches whom he could depend upon. He started talking, but he tried to get everything out all at once, and it wasn’t coming out clearly.
“It’s all right. Please, catch your breath,” and with that, Kümmel had the man sit down nearby. She handed him a canteen and put her hand on his shoulder while kneeling in front of him. “We’ll take your injured friend to the field dressing station. Go ahead and drink this. Take a few deep breaths.”
“Tha… Thank you…” The soldier said while wiping his tears with the sleeve of his tunic. He took two large gulps of water and then took three deep breaths, and that seemed to calm him down somewhat. He started to talk about what happened, but the tremendous fear that gripped him got in the way and he repeated himself at times. There were times when Kümmel’s subordinates tried to press him to go on, but she glared back at them to stop. She listened quietly and attentively to what he had to say. Kümmel was also sizing up the situation in her head.
The motorcycle troops are devoid of heavy equipment. There was no way they could be expected to defend Fort Capuzzo against Neuroi on their own. They were placed there as early warning watchmen, but it sounded like Neuroi appeared suddenly out of nowhere right in front of them. The Neuroi penetrated the perimeter before any meaningful defense could be put together, and that’s when the massacre started. Luckily, commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Knabe had issued strict instructions to abandon their positions if such a situation arose, so the 15th Motorcycle Battalion began retreating, in whatever scattered fashion they could. But it was clear that many soldiers were still left inside the fort. Kümmel could picture all too clearly how Neuroi must be picking off the fleeing motorcycle troopers, easy prey for them.
Within ten minutes, another motorcycle rider arrived, and then another. The faces of the fleeing soldiers were frozen in fear. The serious injuries they had sustained made it abundantly clear just how grave the situation was.
Things are getting out of hand, Kümmel thought.
The defensive forces were getting stretched too thin. The entire front was being battered by wave after wave of Neuroi attacks. High command must be running out of reserves, or they would have quickly directed a relief force to counter the assault at Fort Capuzzo. Becker tried to raise the regimental headquarters, but stated to Kümmel in a strained voice that she could not reach them.
Captain Hannelore Kümmel, commander of 1st (Witch) Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Panzer Regiment, 15th Panzer Division closed her eyes and sank deep into thought. She realized she could scarcely afford to think about this for any length of time. But be that as it may, acting rashly based on shortsighted impulse could result in an irrevocable disaster.
As it stands now, Kümmel thought, the only reserves available are my company of 12 witches. If we were to move out to retake Fort Capuzzo and a breach somewhere else along the defense line occurred, there would be nothing to stop the Neuroi from overrunning us all. This must be painfully clear to High Command, and that must be the reason why we haven’t been deployed somewhere.
As a soldier in the Karlsland Army, Kümmel understood this line of thinking perfectly. But Kümmel was not a person willing to be content with only thinking that far.
Inside her mind, Kümmel was absolutely convinced. If we act right now, Capuzzo can be saved.
Kümmel knew from experience that Neuroi could be surprised by a flanking attack or an assault from behind. Confused and in disarray, they are much easier to defeat. Kümmel also could not stop thinking about Knabe and his men being butchered at that very moment.
The young witches in Kümmel’s company stood around her, transfixed by their commander. Even they could tell that the judgment call that Kümmel faced was a very difficult one. They gasped at how little time elapsed between those emerald green eyes closing and opening again. When Kümmel opened her eyes, they could sense that an important decision had been made.
“Sergeant Milde, I’m going to leave 1st Company in your hands. You are to remain here on standby until you receive orders otherwise from headquarters.”
“What!?” gasped Milde, startled at Kümmel’s instructions. No one in the company doubted Milde’s abilities. She was already faithfully carrying out her duties as a platoon leader.
“And you, Frau…Commander…!?” Milde hesitated to ask the question to Kümmel.
“I’m going to make a quick visit to Capuzzo. A little reconnaissance,” replied Kümmel, a smile on her face.
Milde’s doubt over Kümmel’s statement was abundantly clear in the expression on her face, but Milde also fully realized her commander was speaking double-talk. Soldiers must remain bound by orders issued from above, and because of that, sometimes soldiers must come up with innovative interpretations of those orders to carve out a little leeway for themselves, and this is exactly what Kümmel was doing. In fact, this was doubletalk that bordered on insubordination.
“But please, going there alone would be…” Milde quickly stopped her sentence midway. She dared not to utter the word suicide in front of others when referring to the actions of her commander.
Kümmel was keenly aware of the thoughts going through her subordinate’s mind, and she felt strong confidence in Milde’s future as an officer. She nodded in approval.
Kümmel looked toward the sergeant major.
“Would you mind, Kruschinski?” she asked.
“Oh, well,” gibed Kruschinski, “I’ll do anything my dear Captain tells me to do.”
Outwardly, Kruschinski made it look like she was only begrudgingly complying with her commander’s wishes, but inside, she knew she’d be the one accompanying Kümmel on this mission.
The only thing left was to make sure the members of the company did not feel apprehensive about this development. Kruschinski understood perfectly what Kümmel wanted to do here.
“Well, shucks,” Kruschinski observed, “I should have kept my swimsuit on to show off my fabulous body to those motorcycle boys. Then I’d be able to borrow a hot bike from them whenever I wanted!”
And with that, Kruschinski raised her arms over her head and wiggled around like a stripper. When Kruschinski smiled coquettishly and slapped her own rear end, it made everyone break out in laughter. Even the motorcycle troops who had found their way to them in such a pitiful state couldn’t help but laugh.
“Kruschinski!!” blurted out Kümmel.
Actually, Kümmel was in complete awe of Kruschinski. Staring at her, Kümmel could not imagine how she could have put everybody at ease like Kruschinski just did.
Kümmel turned to Sergeant Milde and spoke softly to her.
“Milde, if more men from the motorcycle battalion arrive, take good care of them, alright? Transport the heavily injured back to the rear and have the rest stand by with you. Take care of things for me, ok?”
“Yes ma’am!” answered Milde.
“Now hold it right there,” shouted Kruschinski as she walked out toward Milde and Albers, “This ain’t the time to get all sentimental, is it, Albers!?” And with that Kruschinski smacked Albers’ rear end, causing a distinctly satisfying crack of flesh meeting flesh.
“Eeep!” yelped Albers, “You’re just being mean, Ms. Sergeant Major!” Albers’ cute protest charmed everybody around her.
Albers’ face was full of foreboding despair when Kümmel announced her intentions, and while Kruschinski’s comical act helped relieve her worries, she was still slightly tearing up. Kruschinski’s swift palm on Albers rear end wiped that away in a flash, and now her cheeks were a rosy red, angry at her abusive NCO.
Though she herself had no idea, Albers’ ever-changing moods warmed the hearts of those around her.
“Now, you make sure you don’t get fondled by the motorcycle gents, you hear me?” Kruschinski lectured Albers lightheartedly as she walked back to Kümmel.
“Time we get this show on the road, Frau Hauptmann?” asked Kruschinski.
Kümmel nodded in agreement.
The two checked their goggles, and then readied their witch combat guns, ammunition supplies and radio equipment. They turned in the direction of south/southwest and revved up their tracked legs. The pair locked their legs in a slightly bent position and diverted magic power produced by the strikers down onto the ground, propelling the units forward by causing the magic to make contact with the surface. This was called track dashing, and it was the fastest means of movement for land battle strikers.
As Kümmel and Kruschinski started to accelerate away, they heard a loud yell coming from an unexpected source.
“Have… Have a nice journey, Captain! Sergeant Major!” Kleff called out.
Kümmel was surprised to hear the usually quiet Kleff call out to them. Without turning, Kümmel raised her right arm holding the KhK37 gun. She did not wave. This was not goodbye. It was a simple acknowledgement of Kleff’s words. Kümmel way of saying, I’m on my way, I’ll see you later.
“Let’s punch it, Lore!”
“Just don’t overdo it, Nina.”
As the pair were alone once more, Kümmel and Kruschinski referred to each other by their nicknames. The roar from the magic engines inside their land battle strikers grew louder and the pair’s acceleration increased rapidly. Behind them, a large plume of dust rose up into the sky.
After going full throttle for about twenty minutes, Kümmel and Kruschinski encountered an 88mm anti-air gun deployed in the middle of the desert. The spot was roughly one kilometer from Fort Capuzzo, and though the gun was in position to fire from inside a small wadi — a small valley or a dry river gully — for some degree of cover, the area was almost completely barren. The pair was surprised that a flak team would choose a place like this to stop their tractor and set up their gun.
Lieutenant Tocki of 33rd Panzerjäger Battalion had anticipated the dangers facing Fort Capuzzo and brought in one of the most powerful guardians humanity possessed on the North African front, the mighty Acht-acht. Lieutenant Tocki explained to the pair of witches that he had originally planned to position the gun inside the fort, but just as his team was approaching it, Neuroi were spotted so he ordered the gun to be made ready for combat at once.
“According to the motorcycle infantry that have taken refuge here, there are at least fifity turtle-type Neuroi. They sound like the new types we’ve been hearing about. The men tell me small arms were completely useless against them.”
Kümmel carefully observed Fort Capuzzo through her binoculars while listening to the lieutenant. Although the fort was a mere one kilometer away, the sun’s heat was creating a slight mirage on the horizon, making it difficult to get an accurate view of the situation.
“We’ve knocked out three turtles,” continued Tocki. “But this swarm of Neuroi is strangely resourceful. They sometimes dig up the ground to create a cloud of dust, making it difficult for us to target them. I was starting to get worried about how long we’d be able to hold out, so I’m very relieved that you came to our aid, Captain.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” replied Kümmel. “Knowing your Acht-acht will be covering our rear will make us feel secure while we’re fighting. Now, the first thing we’ll have to do is draw the Neuroi away from the fort.”
“Wait a minute,” Tocki asked startled. “Captain, you don’t intend to go in there alone, do you?”
“Of course we do. We’re witches.” Kümmel responded quickly, her voice completely devoid of hesitation.
Tocki gulped in spite of himself. He considered himself to be a fearless tank-killer, but even he couldn’t imagine jumping into a battle of two against fifty. And yet, there was not a hint of doubt in the eyes of the blonde witch that was staring at him. Tocki felt intimidated by those eyes, but he felt obligated to talk her out of it.
“Captain,” he pleaded, “mounting a joint defensive action here would be much more practical…”
“If we did that, that gang of Neuroi’ll entrench itself at Capuzzo. And besides, we got friendlies in there. Ain’t that so, Mr. Lieutenant?” said Kruschinski, glaring at Tocki.
Kruschinski broke off eye contact with the Lieutenant, as if regretting having lashed out so harshly at a superior officer. She borrowed Kümmel’s binoculars and started studying the fort through the obscuring cloud of dust. When she spoke next, her tone had eased considerably.
“I’m not saying your judgment call’s wrong, Herr Lieutenant. Your call’s as good as any. But we took that fort once, and when we last took it, there were only three of us. Three witches. We had no Acht-acht helping us out. But now, we’ve got you.”
“Please, trust us,” Kümmel added softly but firmly, “and let us trust you.”
Kümmel’s eyes locked on his, Tocki felt embarrassed by the unflinching passion that was beaming from them.
“…Very good, ma’am. Now, what do you want us to do?” asked Tocki.
Kruschinski stopped looking through the binoculars and turned to Tocki. Her long, black pony tail swayed gracefully.
“That tractor you have,” Kruschinski nodded toward the 8 ton half-track tractor. “You got any mines in that thing?”
“Mines…?” Tocki’s left eyebrow went up at this.
At once, Tocki called out to his men to help gather the items the witches asked for. First of all, Kümmel and Kruschinski removed the Mauser C96 pistols that were attached as coaxial weapons to their KhK37 L/24 witch combat guns and swapped them out with MP40 Erma submachine guns. Next, they gave Tocki all their high explosive rounds for their KhK37s, borrowing cartridge belts for the MP40 in their place. This left Kümmel and Kruschinski with only armor-piercing rounds for their KhK37s, but since they intended to use the MP40 submachine gun to deal with lesser Neuroi drones, they relinquished the high explosive rounds normally reserved for that role. The pair wanted to reduce the weight they carried into battle as much as possible. After equipping themselves with the distinctive shaped MP40 ammo belts, each of the pair took possession of four hand grenades. Kümmel and Kruschinski shoved the stick grenades under their belts. Lastly, Kümmel and Kruschinski were each provided with two dish-shaped antitank mines that the tractor just happened to be carrying. The duo pocketed the delay fuses they would need to employ the mines in close-quarters combat.
Tocki and his men were impressed at how the two witches were standing strong in spite of all the extra baggage they had taken on. As Kümmel was laying out to Tocki the precise course of action to be taken, Kruschinski noticed she was missing a scarf. If they were about to plunge into the dust clouds to do battle, that was something she could not do without.
“Sergeant Major,” Lieutenant Tocki called out to Kruschinski, “Use mine if you’d like.”
A scarf with blue patterns on white fabric was presented to Kruschinski. She accepted the scarf humbly; “Thank you, Herr Lieutenant. I’ll give it back later.”
The scarf was the perfect complement to the red-and-white checkered scarf worn by Kümmel. Kruschinski wrapped the dashing scarf around her neck so it could easily cover her nose and mouth.
“Never mind that. Stories of your heroic exploits in battle will do just fine. I look forward to hearing it from both of you in person,” Tocki fixed his gaze on Kümmel and then on Kruschinski. “Please come back. Both of you.”
Kümmel and Kruschinski both nodded. They turned about and started track-dashing towards the southern tip of the enemy swarm.
Kruschinski suddenly turned her head and yelled out. Her cry was answered by boisterous cheers from the men at the 88mm gun.
“HEIA SAFARI!! HEIA SAFARI!!”
And with that, the Acht-acht opened fire. A streak of dusk sliced across the surface of the desert right alongside the path of the two land battle witches charging forward. Kümmel and Kruschinski observed the projectile making impact within the dust cloud looming up ahead, but there was no explosion indicating a Neuroi had been hit. That was fine. They wanted to keep the Neuroi busy with kicking up dust in an effort to mask their positions. Kümmel and Kruschinski could rush up to them undetected. Another round was let loose from the 88mm gun. The two could feel with their entire bodies the shock wave created by the supersonic projectile as it punched through air immediately to the left of them. It was intense.
Kümmel turned her face slightly to ask Kruschinski a question that puzzled her.
“Nina,” she called out, “What does ‘Heia Safari‘ mean?”
“What, Lore, you didn’t know that?” Kruschinski answered matter-of-factly. “It’s the battle cry that Karlsland yelled out in Africa in the last great Neuroi war.”
“Wow, Nina,” Kümmel giggled slightly, “How did you know that?”
“Back when I was shopping in Tripoli, you know, looking for your swimsuit and stuff, a kid managed to pick my pocket. I chased after him and caught him, and then he told me about the battle cry to make up for it.”
“You never change, Nina.”
Another round from the Acht-acht cracked through the air and its shock wave buffeted the two, but neither Kümmel nor Kruschinski felt any fear. To them, it felt more like someone slapping them on their backs, cheering them on.
For a brief moment, Kümmel closed her eyes and inhaled deeply through her nose. The air was brimming with the smell of sand, dust, and gun smoke, but there was a familiar smell that Kümmel recognized through it all. It was a smell she traced back to an old memory. When Kümmel opened her eyes again, the goggle lenses could not obscure the bright glow they radiated. They were the eyes of someone who had just made good on a promise.
“Here we go!”
In the next instant, the two shot into the plume of brown dust that obscured the southern tip of Capuzzo.
“Cease fire!” ordered Lieutenant Tocki. Standing next to his Acht-acht, he was closely observing the movement of the two witches through his binoculars. His helmeted second-in-command repeated the order to the soldiers manning the gun and then looked back to his commander.
“Sir,” Tocki’s second asked, “Do you think those two will be all right?”
Tocki lowered his binoculars and looked back. His eyes were sharp and committed.
“We will do the best in what we can do. They’ll do the same. Only the heavens know what will happen next, but in the meantime, I have every intention of doing everything in my power. Have you been able to reach headquarters?”
“No, sir!” Tocki’s second replied. “The radio is still out.”
“Then have the one of the motorcyclists who’s rested up take off and make contact.”
Tocki returned to observing through his binoculars. He could see a plume of dust suddenly shoot through the top of the brown haze. The lieutenant quietly commented to himself.
“And so it begins…”
There was a powerful explosion accompanied by an earthshaking rumble, and a turtle-shaped Neuroi started to disintegrate. The explosion unleashed by the mine Kümmel had attached to it was so powerful that it easily destroyed the core housed within the tough Neuroi armored shell. But it wasn’t as if Kümmel and Kruschinski idly stood by to confirm the Neuroi’s destruction. The two rushed toward their next prey, their movements resembling skaters masterfully gliding across a frozen surface.
Next, it was Kruschinski’s turn. She armed the large antitank mine by inserting a time-delay fuse into the hole located along the side of the heavy disk. Skillfully controlling her land battle striker units, she flitted in close to a Neuroi turtle and shoved the mine into the gap between its body and its turret. As she pulled away, she ignited the fuse. Moments later, there was an enormous blast behind Kruschinski as she briskly moved on.
While Kümmel and Kruschinski were quietly repeating this process, the turtle-shaped Neuroi was still under the impression that they were being shot at from afar. A number of them continued to fervently dig up the ground to create a dust cloud. After using up all their mines, the pair moved on to their next stage of their plan of attack.
Kümmel pulled out a stick grenade and silently pointed it toward a turtle that provided an opportune target. Kruschinski saw her signal and raised her thumb to acknowledge her partner’s plan. She pulled back the bolt of her MP40 to insert a round into its chamber. This was all being conducted while they were on the move.
Kümmel led the way and approached the Neuroi from the rear. As she closed in, she removed the cap at the end of the stick grenade and pulled on the string to ignite its fuse. Timing her actions, knowing that she had four and a half seconds until the grenade exploded, she swerved around to the Neuroi’s front and deposited the explosive right at the forward base of its turret. By the time the grenade exploded, Kümmel had already circled back around to the turtle’s far side.
The explosion left the Neuroi’s core in plain view, and Kruschinski zeroed in for the kill. She let loose a burst of about 10 shots of 9mm rounds from the MP40, and that was enough to destroy the exposed core. The turtle emitted a high-pitched wail and started disintegrating in a bright flash of light.
Kümmel and Kruschinski repeated this tag team attack a number of times and finished off five turtles in the process. By the time the fifth one was put down, the Neuroi realized there were wolves in their midst and stopping digging. Sensing the changed mood of the Neuroi, the pair threw their remaining grenades at the turtles, trying to create as much confusion as possible. Kümmel and Kruschinski now turned and fled, directing their land battle strikers away from Capuzzo. They were at a spot south/southeast of the fort, barely within range of Tocki’s Acht-acht.
Jumping out of the thick haze of smoke and dusk, Kümmel and Kruschinski were greeted by the brilliant colors of the deep blue skies and khaki yellow plains. It took a few seconds before their eyes could adjust to the sudden change in brightness. The two were were now out in the open, speeding away from the brown haze. A Neuroi turtle jumped out of the cloud of dust in hot pursuit of the pair, but was then was immediately hit by the Acht-acht located hundreds of yards away.
“Whoa,” Kruschinski exclaimed while lowering her scarf. “Lieutenant Tocki has got one mean crack shot manning his gun!”
Kümmel also adjusted her scarf so she could speak more clearly. From here on out, it was all going to be about fast-paced combat involving quick mobility against the Neuroi. The more easily they could communicate, the more effective they could be.
“It certain looks like it,” Kümmel concurred, but then she noticed that something had changed. The Neuroi weren’t coming after them blindly now. They detected the threat posed by the Acht-acht and they were changing tactics. The turtles were squatting down to make themselves harder to hit from a distance, and they were spreading out.
“What’s the deal with them?” Kruschinski wondered out loud to Kümmel as they kept moving.
The answer suddenly dawned on Kümmel and she immediately informed Kruschinski.
“Nina! They’re trying to get in between the Acht-acht and us. They’re trying to cross our lines of fire!”
“So that means…”
“Whenever Tocki’s men aim at a turtle, we’d in their sights.”
“Shit, these really are clever little bastards.”
Kümmel couldn’t agree more with her partner, “I’m not so sure our shields would be able to withstand rounds from an Acht-acht. And frankly, I doubt if Lieutenant Tocki would let his men shoot at us in combat.”
“So what do we do, Lore?”
“We keep moving south,” Kümmel answered. “We want to pull this pack away from Capuzzo as far as possible!”
As the two talked, the pack of turtle Neuroi started to spread out, getting set to close in on the witches. They were moving into a V formation, with the two wings fanning out around Kümmel and Kruschinski. The pair immediately headed south and resolved to penetrate the turtles’ right flank and break their encirclement.
The Mark IV fighting tracked legs that Kümmel and Kruschinski operated were not designed to be able to shoot and move at the same time. There were tricks in getting around this problem, but this was neither the place nor the time to employ them. The magic power output of a land battle striker is divided up between mobility, its defensive shield, amplifying the strength of the witch to allow her to handle heavy equipment, and canceling the recoil of powerful firearms like the witch combat gun. In the case of the Mark IV tracked legs, a witch’s entire body would be thrown back if she were to attempt shooting while in motion. This characteristic was not as much of a problem when they were engaging an enemy in close quarters, also known as “battle zero engagements,” but even then, it was better to stop and shoot for the sure kill if at all possible.
Kruschinski charged ahead toward a turtle that was in her path. When the Neuroi fired at her, she did not bother deploying her shield, and instead evaded the beam discharge at the last moment and continued to close in. Kruschinski did not bother to stop as she got in close enough to touch it. Instead, she kicked up one of the Neuroi’s legs, causing it to lose its balance, and then kept going.
Kümmel followed behind, and stopped to shoot twice at the toppled Neuroi and destroyed its core. If she had stayed there, the other turtles would have closed in on her in waves, so Kümmel immediately throttled up her magic engines and sped away.
That was just one of the many tag-team tactics that Kümmel and Kruschinski employed as the fierce firefight involving mobility and agility continued. The two witches individually employed other tactics they were proficient at. Kruschinski used her breathtaking agility to full effect and dispatched numerous Neuroi before they had any idea what was coming. Kümmel would find contours in the landscape that were perfect for an ambush, counterattacking Neuroi when they least expected it. There were times when the two would momentarily stop and stand their ground, deflecting attacks against them with their shield as they took careful aim and picked off Neuroi turtles one by one. If the opportunity arose, they would let loose an entire clip of 9mm rounds on a turtle, or resort to even more daring attacks, such as jumping on top of a turtle and unleashing an armor-piercing explosive round at point blank range from their KhK37.
As they went on like this, their ammunition supply dwindled rapidly and their clothes became drenched with sweat. Their skin glistened bright under the desert sun and droplets of sweat flung away from their bodies into the air. Even then, Kümmel and Kruschinski remained nimble and focused. In fact, Kruschinski was sometimes humming a tune as she danced about in evasive moves and shot at the Neuroi at point blank range.
While Kümmel wasn’t as completely caught up in the action as Kruschinski was, there was no doubt she herself found this experience invigorating. There was some part of her soul, deep down inside, that was completely exhilarated about this hunt, and that sensation scared Kümmel a little. But she was also delighted. She was delighted because she was convinced that their actions had succeeded in pulling away all the Neuroi that had previously been threatening the men of the motorcycle battalion stationed at Capuzzo.
At around the time when something close to an hour had gone by in non-stop fighting, Kümmel started thinking about what to do next. While this may have been an almost enjoyable experience, a calm voice in her head reminded her that fatigue can build up quickly unnoticed and that both she and Kruschinski must have used up a considerable part of their available magical stamina.
The Neuroi’s numbers had dwindled by this time. There were about fifty turtle-type Neuroi at the start, and now they were down to about ten. Kümmel’s experiences with fighting them taught her that Neuroi would usually start retreating after you delivered a strong counterattack like this. But this pack of Neuroi were still relentlessly trying to encircle them from their flanks. There’s something else going on here, Kümmel started thinking to herself.
“Man these pricks don’t know when to quit,” grumbled Kruschinski as she stopped momentarily. Kümmel also came to a halt along side Kruschinski and returned fire against the persistent turtles. While her partner was employing her shield against Neuroi attacks in between returning fire, Kruschinski inserted another clip of five rounds into the internal magazine of the of KhK37 L/24 witch combat gun. After all the rounds were pushed in through the chamber, Kruschinski pocked the remaining stripper clip. The flow of supplies tended to be intermittent in North Africa, and knowing this, Kruschinski developed a habit of conserving even stripper clips if the opportunity presented itself.
Kruschinski broke out in a cold sweat when she realized that most of her cartridge belts were devoid of ammunition. No matter which compartment she patted, they were all empty, save one remaining clip.
“Lore!” she yelled out, “I’m almost out of ammo!”
The two went on the move again. Kümmel checked her own supplies. She, too, had just a single five-round clip remaining in her cartridge belts. There were three more rounds already loaded inside her KhK37, but that was it. She had already used up all her 9mm ammunition.
“Nina!” she called out to Kruschinski. “How are you for 9mm? I’ve already used up mine.”
“I think there might be around 10 rounds left in the magazine I’ve already inserted.”
“Well, I only have 8 rounds left for my 37. I think it’s about time we pack it in.”
“I got 10 left for my 37,” replied Kruschinski. “Maybe we oughta throw these bums out, tell ’em to go home since we’ve run out sauerkraut.”
“Oh, if only we had some of your mother’s. I’d enjoy it even if it was covered in sand…”
Kümmel suddenly fell silent.
“What? What is it!?” Kruschinski yelled out.
“Nina!” Kümmel replied, “Halt and let them get right on top of us! I’ll find a spot where we can stick them with the bill!”
“Got it!” was the confident reply her partner gave as the two came to a complete stop.
While Kruschinski employed her shield to deflect fire from the Neuroi and returned fire, Kümmel removed her goggles and scanned the contours on the horizon with her binoculars. When Kümmel found what she was looking for, she turned and quickly explained the plan to Kruschinski. By this time, Kruschinski had already used up her 9mm ammo and the five rounds that were loaded inside in her Khk37.
Kümmel now unleashed the remaining rounds inside her witch combat gun. The pair actually managed to finish off two more turtles during this time, but the remaining eight charged at them brimming with haste and spite.
The two waited until the very last moment before pulling away at full speed from the lunging pack of Neuroi. Denied of the two witches that had caused them so much misery, the turtles appeared to grow enraged and stormed toward them as one large, furious mass. They were no longer spreading themselves out while going after the pair.
Kruschinski took the last remaining clip of five rounds and unconsciously began to insert the bullets into her gun, but then she stopped. After thinking for a brief moment, she handed Kümmel her last clip.
Kümmel had no idea why Kruschinski did this, and looked back at her incredulously.
“Lore, you’re a better marksman than me,” Kruschinski noted. “I’ll keep them occupied. You take them out. I’m counting on you.”
Kümmel opened her eyes wide upon hearing this from Kruschinski. She blinked once, but then nodded back confidently.
“Here we go!” exclaimed Kümmel.
And with that, the pair of witches broke into broadly meandering curves. Kruschinski went left while Kümmel broke to the right, leaving behind gentle curves in the desert sands speeding beneath them. When the two were about thirty meters apart, they changed direction and re-closed, their paths eventually intersecting. A huge plume of dust rose up behind them.
But the pack of Neuroi would have none of this. They charged ahead, plunging straight into the thick brown cloud. After a brief instant, the dust cleared, and the Neuroi saw that the witch in front of them had started to slow down. Sensing a golden opportunity at hand, the pack accelerated and jumped over a small wadi gap on the ground.
When the eighth and last turtle passed over the narrow gully, a shot suddenly rang out from below. The airborne Neuroi was pierced straight through its underside.
Kümmel got up from the narrow chasm she was lying in and started firing on the pack of Neuroi that was still going after Kruschinski. Remaining stationary, she managed to put down another three turtles in quick succession, unleashing round after round from behind. After emptying the entire magazine in her gun, Kümmel started to run after them in order to close in.
But she was not track dashing. Kümmel literally started running, thrusting out her legs, one at a time, kicking up dirt as she charged forward.
Kümmel inserted the last five-round clip into her gun while closing in, opening fire as she thundered ahead. If she was moving forward assisted by the power of the tracked legs, Kümmel would be shoved back each time she fired off a shot. Now, since she was physically running forward, she could divert the magic power to offset the recoil from her gun to keep going.
The blonde witch aimed and fired her gun at the four remaining turtles in quick succession. She was able to finish off the first one with one shot, but she had to expend two shots for the second and third one.
There was only one Neuroi left, and it broke off from going after Kruschinski and started to come after Kümmel.
Kümmel almost wanted to give her complements to this one last turtle-shaped Neuroi for being so persistent, but she was also growing quite tired of this. At the moment when the last Neuroi was almost close enough to touch, Kümmel let her anger explode.
A huge magic circle radiated out from Kümmel’s body, but unlike when a deflecting shield was projected, this magic circle was not spreading out in front of her. It was expanding out in a funnel shape with Kümmel in the center and its mouth aimed at the Neuroi. It resembled a maw of a beast that was about to swallow whole the Neuroi that was standing before the witch.
The small, spinning magic circles orbiting around the circumference of the main circle resembled fangs of a giant carnivore
Kruschinski quickly picked up that her partner had run out of ammo, and she was rushing back to Kümmel so she could assist her any way she could, but the powerful magic outburst stopped her dead in the tracks. Kruschinski was completely overwhelmed by the awesome fury being unleashed by the golden lion witch standing no more than 10 meters in front of her. This was not the first time Kruschinski saw Kümmel employ her special magic ability, the overawe. Kruschinski knew in her head that Kümmel’s rage was not being directed at her, and yet she could not stop the trembling of her hands and legs.
Kümmel was channeling out an intense blast of hatred that triggered a sense of instinctual, primal dread.
The turtle-shaped Neuroi completely froze up before Kümmel.
“GGRROAAR!!” Kümmel let loose an even deeper rumbling roar.
Her face was contorted with unbridled rage, projecting the pure, unadulterated fury of a provoked lion that was about to attack.
The turtle flinched, and then shrank down while producing a weak whimper.
But then, suddenly, numerous small drone-type Neuroi emerged from the ground in one big burst.
There’s more of them!?, Kruschinski thought to herself, her eyes wide open. But now, everything made sense. This explained why the motorcycle soldiers at Capuzzo reported that Neuroi had appeared out of nowhere. This pack of Neuroi included members that could travel underground.
Kümmel’s growl reverberated deeply, sounding like a carnivore sizing up the prey lined up before it, pondering which one should be devoured first.
The remaining Neuroi completely lost nerve and started to retreat eastwards, trembling as they went. In the center was the turtle type, surrounded by a dozen or so miniature drones, and the small entourage picked up speed as they drew further away. They looked like they wanted to leave the scene as fast as they possibly could.
Kümmel stared down the Neuroi as they retreated away. After the pack of Neuroi left, Kümmel waited a while before she disengaged her magic. When she did, the blonde witch suddenly lost all strength in her legs and knelt down, almost collapsing. It was if a string that had been holding her up had suddenly been severed.
“That…was amazing, Lore,” Kruschinski struggled to speak clearly. “I never knew you could do that with your magic…”
“I’ll do anything… To keep you safe… Nina…”
Sweat was pouring out of Kümmel, and she was breathing hard, making her large breasts heave forcefully. Her blonde hair clung to her chest and upper body, making it look all the more like a lion’s mane. She had exerted herself so much that she was having a hard time breathing. Kümmel loosened her shirt and tunic, then looked up at Kruschinski, who had walked up to her by then.
“Lore…” Kruschinski murmured. She cast aside her gun and slipped off her goggles to kneel down in front of Kümmel.
Suddenly, Kruschinski noticed Kümmel giggling slightly. It seemed Kümmel had recovered enough to regain her composure and her sense of humor.
“What?” pleaded Kruschinski, “What is it, Lore?”
“You look like a circus clown, Nina.”
Kruschinski realized that most of her face was black from all the smoke and dust, but the part that had been covered by her goggles was completely devoid of smears and whatnot. She couldn’t help herself from laughing out loud.
The sound of their laughter rang out across the barren desert basking in mid-afternoon sun.
“Oh, come on,” Kruschinski protested. “You’re not all that dif…”
“What is it?” The way her partner fell silent all of a sudden unnerved Kümmel.
Kruschinski was looking out solemnly to the south, and Kümmel turned her face to see what was causing her partner to change her demeanor all of a sudden. What Kümmel saw was a band of dust clouds on the far horizon. While billowing dust storms were still considerably removed from them, it was clear that whatever was creating the dust clouds was headed their way. The fact that the brown plume stretched out so far across the horizon alarmed both of them.
“That must be Neuroi’s main offensive force,” Kümmel analyzed calmly. “The pack we drove back was their forward scouts.”
Kümmel turned and looked to Kruschinski with a stern, stoic expression on her face.
“Sergeant Major Kruschinski, since radio communication with high command is disrupted, someone has to go there to inform them that the main thrust of the Neuroi offensive is headed this way. I am ordering you to go at once and relay this message to them.”
“Lore…” Kruschinski looked shocked to hear these words being spoken to her.
“I’ll rejoin you when we meet up with Milde. Go at once, Kruschinski. If you employ your special magic ability, you’ll…”
“I won’t go!” declared Kruschinski.
“Sergeant Major! This is a direct order from…!”
“I’m not going! I’ll never follow an order like that, EVER!” Kruschinski yelled out loud. “I don’t care what you do with me. Throw me into the stockade, send me to a penal unit, I don’t care!”
Kruschinski stood up and tears started to well up in her eyes as she glared back at Kümmel.
“You protected me at Berlin, Lore! You save me at Küstrin, and then at Arras! You’ve ALWAYS protected me! Again and again! Even now, we only drove them back because of what you did…”
“But I can hardly move, Nina! Don’t let me die in vain! That’s why…”
“That’s why, this time, it’s MY turn!”
And with that outburst, Kruschinski lowered her back and pulled Kümmel’s left arm across her neck to pull her up. Tears streamed from her eyes, washing the dust away from Kruschinski’s cheeks.
“STOP IT! I can’t stand you when you’re acting like this, Lore!”
The two slowly started to glide across the desert. Kruschinski revved up the engine in her Mark IV tracked legs and pulled Kümmel in the direction of their comrades at Fort Capuzzo.
“…Okay, okay, Nina. Please, let go of my arm,” pleaded Kümmel to Kruschinski.
“But it’s hard to move like this. If we don’t go too fast, I’ll be able to keep up with you…”
“NO! No, I won’t! I won’t ever let go you, Lore! EVER!”
All this time, while Kruschinski was carrying her partner towards safety, she refused to look at Kümmel. Since Kruschinski had Kümmel’s arm around her neck, their faces were right next to each other. But Kruschinski didn’t want to look. She was afraid Kümmel might say something, look at her a certain way and make her waver.
Kümmel saw how Kruschinski was strained with sorrow. She could sense from her old friend only sheer desperation was keeping her from falling apart. It was hard to imagine Kruschinski could ever look like this. With streaks of tears flowing down Kruschinski’s cheeks, Kümmel felt as if she was minding a small child, but she felt deeply appreciative of her partner all the same. She also felt terrible about hurting Kruschinski like this.
“And I won’t let go you either, Nina. I promise.”
“You promise!?” Kruschinski snapped back instinctively, staring directly at Kümmel, wanting to verify the truth behind her partner’s words.
“It’s nice to be able to see your face again, Nina.”
Kruschinski suddenly became self-conscious. The red on her cheeks spreading all the way to the ends of her ears. Flushed, Kruschinski hung her head. Kruschinski’s next words were so torn by emotion and choked up with sobbing they were a little hard to understand, but the constant stream of tears made their meaning very clear.
“Lore… Promise me… Promise you won’t ever…EVER say something like that…never ever…”
Kümmel herself started tearing up. It was a far cry from Kruschinski’s usual witty and worldly demeanor. Kümmel was so used to interacting with Kruschinski acting far older then her age, she sometimes forget just how young they both were.
“Yes, I promise,” swore Kümmel.
Kruschinski was finally willing to let go after she heard that. She sniffed a little while she wiped the tears off her face.
“Come on,” Kümmel gently coaxed Kruschinski, “let me have your hand.”
Prodded on by Kümmel, Kruschinski extended her right hand to meet Kümmel’s left. The two gripped each other’s hand tight and looked each other in the eye. Kümmel’s gentle smile finally got Kruschinski to smile again.
Taking care to not strain the magic engines inside their Mark IV tracked legs, the duo whisked across the barren desert, side by side. Ominously, the cloud of dust behind them kept growing bigger and bigger. Just once, the two looked back to see what was approaching. They stared at one another for a while. Eventually, Kümmel and Kruschinski turned their gaze toward the direction of Capuzzo. They both looked very calm and tranquil.
Kümmel giggled slightly and spoke softly to Kruschinski.
“You know what I remember, Nina?”
“I remember,” Kümmel reflected fondly, “the first time we went ice skating together. It was the first winter after we met.”
“Wow,” Kruschinski closed her eyes to recall the beauty of Karlsland in winter. “That sure brings back a whole lot of memories.”
“We skated together,” Kümmel pointed out, “holding hands.”
“Heheh, Lore, you were so afraid of falling that we ended up falling down together ’cause you weren’t willing to let go. I still remember how much I ached after that fall.”
Kümmel giggled back innocently; “I don’t remember that part.”
For a moment, the two fell silent. The only sounds they heard were the soothing drone of the magic engines inside their strikers, and an unnerving, thunderous rumbling that was approaching from behind. The sun had shifted, and their shadows grew longer and longer across the desert’s surface.
It was hard to tell if that moment lasted for a second or an eternity, but it was interrupted by Kruschinski.
“How about now?” Kruschinski asked.
“What about now?”
“Are you afraid?”
“Yes I am, but you now what…?” Kümmel beamed a smile while she tightened her grip on Kruschinski’s hand just a little. “I’ll manage as long as you’re with me.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
The two gently looked at one another. Suddenly, a white ball of light flared in the skies behind them.
“What the hell?” Kruschinski squinted as she looked up. “Is that some new Neuroi attack?”
“No, that’s…” but before Kümmel could finish, another ball of light flared up. This one was green.
“They’re signal flares! White and green…!” Kümmel proclaimed excitedly. “That’s Captain Miles of Britannia!”
The great wall of dust that was closing in on Kümmel and Kruschinski from the south was actually being created by friendly forces. One of the motorcycle men who had recovered after resting with Lieutenant Tocki’s panzerjägers had managed to contact headquarters. Rommel immediately recognized the seriousness of the situation and directed Captain Miles’ land battle witch unit and a Karlsland motorized panzerjäger battalion to form a relief force. Kümmel and Kruschinski were astonished to find General Rommel himself was leading this unit coming to their aid.
The huge dust clouds the two saw was in fact created by Rommel to deceive the Neuroi into believing a huge force was approaching them. Rommel instructed numerous trucks and half-tracks to drag canvas sheets on the desert ground to stir up lots of dust. Kümmel and Kruschinski had mistaken what the “dust maker unit” had created as being Neuroi.
After rendezvousing with them, the group hurried toward Fort Capuzzo. On the way, Kümmel conversed with Miles, whom she hadn’t seen for a long time, and talked to Rommel, who personally thanked her for her actions. Kümmel and Kruschinski efforts resulted in all the Neuroi being drawn away from the fort, thereby allowing the 15th Motorcycle Battalion to avoid annihilation. As luck would have it, Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Gustav-Georg Knabe and his aide, Lieutenant Kuhnow, managed to hide safely in a nearby drain, and they were able to reassemble their forces. Together with Lieutenant Tocki and his Acht-acht, Knabe was able to reinforce the defenses of Fort Capuzzo.
Once at Fort Capuzzo, Lieutenant Tocki and Lieutenant Colonel Knabe talked with General Rommel quietly while Kümmel and Kruschinski rested a bit. Kümmel and Miles struck up a conversation while she relaxed since they had not had an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company for quite some time, not since their encounter at Arras in 1940. While the two talked, the rest of Kümmel’s company rejoined them at the fort, accompanied not only by their battalion commander, Major Günther Fenski, but also Regimental Commander Lieutenant Colonel Hanne Cramer.
Kümmel apologized to Fenski about undertaking a “reconnaissance in force” mission on Fort Capuzzo under her own authority.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” replied Fenski in a fatherly manner to his witch, “Hannelore, I am happy that you acted as you did.”
“Even without orders from you?”
“I would say that you gave yourself the order because you knew that the lives of your comrades were at stake.”
Kümmel didn’t know what to say. Fenski nodded silently and presented Kümmel with a bottle of precious Mauser wine.
“Thank you, Sir!” she replied.
“Captain,” Rommel cut in, “were you not afraid? Going against Neuroi, two against fifty?” General Rommel had approached unnoticed and posed this question to Kümmel.
Kümmel saw Lieutenant Tocki and Lieutenant Colonel Knabe standing behind the two officers in front of her. And behind them were the girls of Kümmel Company. There was Milde and Albers, Becker and Kleff, and next to Becker, the regimental commander and fellow witch, Lieutenant Colonel Cramer. Kümmel could not stop her gaze from shifting from her to Captain Miles, who was standing behind her to her right.
“We were only able to do what we did because we had full faith in our comrades. That they would be doing their best in what they do!” answered Kümmel while still looking at Miles.
Kümmel then shifted her gaze to meet Kruschinski, who was standing nearby, leaning against the wall with her arms folded across her chest, returning her gaze.
Kümmel at last turned her head to General Rommel and looked at him straight in the eye.
“There was not a shred of anxiety in my heart, Sir!”
“Outstanding. I want to reward courage like that. Tell me, Captain, is there anything you need?”
Kümmel hesitated a moment, but then she voiced her request to Rommel.
“Your Excellency, there is one request I’d like to make if I may be permitted…”
* * *
One week later, members of the entire company under Kümmel were at the beach near the city of Salum on the Mediterranean, and they were having a grand old time. Granting the request from Kümmel, Rommel reorganized the positioning of units along the front so that Kümmel’s company could take a respite at the shore as a single unit.
Witches from Miles’ squadron joined them and made the leisurely occasion all the livelier.
“Come on, Captain,” Albers excitedly called to her commander. “A deal is a deal. Let’s lose the towel already!” While the young witch with short blonde hair chirped excitedly, she kept tugging at the corner of Kümmel’s towel that was covering her torso.
“Okay! Okay, Albers. Just let me prepare myself a little…”
“Wheeee!” shouted Albers as she managed to pull the towel away. And thus, Kümmel’s extraordinary shapely body was exposed for all to see in a revealing swimsuit. For a seventeen year old, Kümmel’s body had a extremely seductive quality to it, but she was not one who felt confident about flaunting it. She immediately covered her bosom with her left hand and her rear end with her right hand as her face flushed red from embarrassment. However, even though the swimsuit she wore certainly was sexy in the way it accentuated Kümmel’s long legs and large breasts, from the front it looked like a relatively normal one-piece swimsuit.
“Looks pretty normal,” Kleff murmured.
Kruschinski stood behind Kümmel, grinning broadly. She reached for a bottle of sunscreen lotion that lay on a beach towel on the sand. Kruschinski cleared her throat and made sure her voice sounded natural before she spoke to Kümmel.
“Captain, you need to put on some sunscreen. Here it comes…catch.”
“Oh. Uh, thanks,” Kümmel responded reflexively and turned to catch the bottle with both her hands. When she turned her back, the true splendor of Kümmel’s swimsuit came into full view.
“WoooooW! The back’s completely bare except for a few laces!” Albers blurted out the observation for all to hear.
“Pretty bold, Captain. But it fits you great,” added Kleff.
Kümmel could not be any more embarrassed as far as she was concerned, but by now she seemed to finally be resigned to this cruel torment, smiling back at Kleff’s complement.
“Th-Thank you, Kleff…”
Captain Miles eyes were open wide as she gazed upon Kümmel’s attire.
“Well,” she spoke in an astonished tone, “you Karlsländer witches certainly are bold.”
Standing right next to Miles was Milde, and she was not willing to let such an observation stand without protest.
“Actually, she’s only dressed like that because there was a bet between Captain Kümmel and Sergeant Major Kruschinski. Normally, Captain Kümmel would never dress like that!”
But then a proud laugh rang out from the small hill nearby. The laughter originated from none other than Regimental Commander Cramer, who was dressed in a white bathrobe. While no one know exactly how old Cramer was, the overall assumption was that she was in her late twenties, and yet there was no question her physique resembled that of a girl in her early teens. When she removed her bathrobe, her swimwear consisted of two sea shells for a bikini top and red pareo wraparound skirt. Combined with her light chestnut colored hair that extended all the way down to her knees, Cramer was the spitting image of a mermaid as often depicted in Western art.
“Now, THIS is a swimsuit! Bwa-hahaha!”
“Well,” Miles noted once more, “you Karlsländer witches certainly are bold.”
The only sound made by Milde was the smack produced by her palm hitting her face.
“Hey, Kümmel, I liked that little display you got going back there. Even I was inclined to add something to it,” Cramer said to Kümmel as she walked past her toward the beach.
“Ma’am, what do you mean?” Kümmel called out to her regimental commander.
“That deal with your land battle striker unit, of course. I must say I found the idea of sprucing it up it to better suit your nickname rather amusing. You’ve got good girls serving you, Kümmel.”
A sinking feeling immediately struck Kümmel. She scanned the coastline for the sight of Kruschinski, but she was nowhere to be found. She’s probably submerged in sea right now trying avoid me, Kümmel accurately concluded.
Just then, Becker came walking down from the hill and causally reported to her commander about a recent development she just witnessed, “Oh, Captain, there was a Fusō person by the name of Katō photographing your striker. She said something about this being the perfect piece to be printed in the newspapers.”
Kümmel’s face now turned a ghostly white. She rushed toward the half-track transport that was parked on the hill overlooking the beach. Her striker was supposed to be stored inside that half-track. Instead, her Mark IV tracked legs were placed out in the open, leaning against the side of the transport. As Kümmel walked toward it, she noticed how her land battle striker was covered in red markings. There were drawings of lions and messages of gratitude, and they covered almost every flat surface present on her striker.
When Kümmel looked around, she noticed a sign at the back of the half-track and some red paint with a brush next to it. The sign read: ‘Give this striker a custom paint job perfect for ‘The Lion of Capuzzo.’ Thanks for helping!’
The lionheart witch unleashed a roar that reverberated across the arid desert skies of Africa.
July 9th, 1941
Captain Hannelore Kümmel
Commander of 1st Company, I./8th Panzer-Regiment, 15th Panzer Division
Imperial Karlsland Heer
Your actions during Operation Sonnenblume on the North African front have been nothing short of exceptional. During your two engagements with the enemy at Fort Capuzzo, you exhibited phenomenal independent action that helped save the lives of many of your fellow soldiers.
In my capacity to represent all soldiers of the Karlsländer Afrikakorps and all of humanity, I hereby award you the Knight’s Cross.
For your courageousness in command and your extraordinary abilities as a land battle witch, Captain Hannelore Kümmel, you are a land battle witch commanding officer truly deserving of wearing the Knight’s Cross.
Lieutenant General Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel, Supreme Commander of Karlsländer Afrikakorps
Brigadier General Walter Neumann-Silkow, Commander of 15th Panzer Division, Karlsland Heer