The ship in the sea rocked and creaked. Steel ships were rare especially in places like Tropic. Metalwork was extremely expensive; those who knew how to do it were very rare. The shortage of metal and metalworkers rendered the Confederate Navy’s fleet so that only one in every five ships were steel, most of which were salvaged pre-Sukebe artifacts.

A quiet giggling reverberated softly about the steel interior of the engine room of the Confederate Flagship. A woman… no pokégirl flitted around the room in a garish outfit and a street performer’s makeup. She thoroughly seemed to be enjoying her job. She carefully handled plastic bottles filled with a clear liquid and emptied them onto oil filters, the surface of fuel tanks, onto the tops of engines, and many other vital system apparati  earning herself a rewarding hiss praising her job well done.

The door of the engine room opened revealing a Confederate Sailor with a giggling pokégirl of his own. He stopped when his foot stepped on something squishy and a rank smell filled his nostrils. He looked about furtively before his eyes fell on the frozen pokégirl in the loud outfit that had been flitting about the engine room.

“Hey! You there, what are you doing here?” he barked, “Where’s your master?”

The pokégirl struggled for words briefly before suddenly the pokégirl beside the man was recalled in a flash of red light. The sailor spun around, ready to meet his foe, but the space that the figure occupied blurred and it was gone. His head then lolled back with a crunch and he fell to the floor.

The disgusted Shadowcat rounded on the other pokégirl. “What are you doing?” she hissed, “I’ve already applied the solution to the guns and battery firing mechanisms and their gears. What’s taking so long?” Damn Harleyquins and those other ‘artists.’ They never seem to know how to simply get things done and over with. As a domesticated pokégirl, she found it even more infuriating dealing with the mostly mute ferals.

The Harleyquin just gave a nervous chuckle and pointed down at the floor. The Shadowcat realized what the smell was. Half a dozen bodies littered the floor in addition to the Shadowcat’s contribution to the group.

The cat-type frowned. “Is this room really that busy?”

The Harleyquin pulled a number of pokéballs out of her sleeves. They seemed to equal the number of bodies that were scattered across the room.

“Of course… guess this place isn’t as private as thought.” Nothing was ever easy.”Are you done at least?” At the Harleyquins nod, they teleported away, ready to raise more havoc.

The wooden ships of the Navy were a joke to [The Center]. Once a sufficiently powerful fire-type was teleported on board, there was no saving the infrastructure. Setting sail for the portion of Tropic that [The Center] controlled was put on delay. Too much chaos was being sewn. They had to wait.

“Sir,” came the voice of one of Charles’s Lieutenants, one of the most competent guerillas at his disposal.

“What can I do for you, Garry?” Charles asked pleasantly. He was in a good mood. Basshead’s resources were not much, but it was a strong foothold against the Confederacy. Isla Sol Naranja was certainly the poorest island in the League, but it at the very least had fertile soil and lumber. Basshead was all sand, sand with a little wooded area that was mostly cleared out for the capital of Peachtree. Nevertheless, the only thing that stood between [The Center] and the Capital was Appalachia whose southern end seemed unguarded. It was all just too good.

“Charles…” Garry began, losing the formality, “we’ve been losing men.”

Sighing, Charles looked up to Garry. Of course something would put a damper on his mood. “Garry, you know we’re at war-“

“The rate of our loss has tripled!” Garry shouted loudly, immediately regretting it afterward. If there was anything Charles hated, it was being interrupted. Most people learned that soon after their first interactions with him. He wasn’t the sort that would directly berate or punish you for it, but his kind of payback was much more subtle than that. “Sorry ‘bout tha’,” he corrected himself, bowing his head in shame. “It’s just-“

“I know,” Charles said, stopping him there, “It’s difficult isn’t it? We trained these men and trained alongside others… How many did we lose when we Captured Dominion?”

“Only twenty, and those were from panicky civilians with illegal guns and from stumbling across the feral that idiot one idiot locked up in his office at the Capitol Building. We lost another fifteen men to the bobbies before we had them surrounded and they surrendered.”

“How many have we lost since we started attacking the Confederate Navy?”

“From what I can tell, over two hundred.”

“How many ships have we sunk?”

“Sixty-seven over the last three months… we’ve disabled most of the steel ships as well. With how difficult those are to repair and the amount of steel required, they’re probably out of commission.”

“Do you wish we could undo all of the damage dealt the Confederacy to revive the men lost?”

Garry opened his mouth, but no sound came forth. Charles stood, revealing his ever-growing stature. He grunted as he stood. He had long since run his calcium supplements dry. The arches in his feet were starting to flatten out and he was starting to experience the joint pain associated with his acromegaly. Living off of potatoes, spinach, sardines, and cheese only slowed down the process.

One stride, and he was upon Garry and had a hand on the other man’s shoulder, the man who had been to many of raids that had lead to the loss of men. “The best we can do is try to minimize future losses. Our attacks are crippling to the Tropic League, we cannot let up now, lest they overwhelm us in our time of relent.” All the sober lieutenant could do was nod.

 There were losses on [The Center]’s side, more so than throughout the entire rest of their little crusade. The Confederate Navy was better trained than the ‘Tamers’ that had been scattered around Naranja and Basshead. Many men and pokégirls were brought back injured only to perish to complications later. In the beginning, few losses were incurred, and the names of those who had passed were cherished and passed around the room in celebration and reverence. Now, seeing the losses add up was killing the previously immovable morale of [The Center].

Charles wondered if it was because they were too used to winning and dealing with the ineptitude of the Tamers that had been left behind on Naranja, if it was because the ability of [The Center] had been yet to truly be tested.

The Confederate Navy had done its best to try and sail around Appalachia. This proved to be difficult in practice. Strange reports of engine failure and critical systems malfunctions plagued the forces, causing long delays especially since the heart of the confederacy, St. Hopkins, demanded that the steel battle ships be in tip-top shape by the time the battle was taken to the insurgents. Bureaucracy took its toll on the Confederacy. All [The Center] had was a short, absolute chain of command, with no excuses, stemming from Charlemagne “Charles” Fitzmoleneux. With the most important and powerful individuals captured by [The Center] on Isla Sol Naranja and Basshead and with the information they contained plundered by psychics, [The Center] now had the gall to go after the southern tip of Appalachia.

Appalachia was the only island in the League that, at the time, had more than one major city. It was also the wealthiest island as a whole because of the large concentration of its populace and the semblance of industrial activity that it somehow had managed to recreate where the other islands had not.

One of its three major cities, and the smallest of the three, was located at the southern side of the island. Besides the density of its population and the port activity, the one thing that made it interesting was that it had a factory. The factory was one of the few that still was able to produce springs and gears. It was unknown where they were getting their ore. Such a thing lead to good things for [The Center]. It could allow them to act on the confiscated blueprints for a cheap, mostly wooden lever-action rifle; although, such a thing would only be good for taking out humans, they were for all intents and purposes the main cohesive agent of the Confederacy’s military. Many other intriguing ideas were being played with, but planning how to use a factory would not bring the factory to them.

The attack on the city was sudden and swift as always. Scouts, telescopes, and psychics revealed key locations of attack. It seemed like it would be another graceful capture and garrison. However, Appalachia had one thing that the other two islands did not.

As [The Center] took out key individuals and the main offices of government in the city, a group of pokégirls and their owners teleported in. Amidst the back and forth teleportations ferrying groups of guerillas and their pokégirls all over the city and to and from the city and Basshead as well as Naranja, it went unnoticed at first. Then the first pokégirl technique hit a guerilla of [The Center]. The Confederates had used teleportation to ambush the guerillas. In what seemed like moments, they flooded the city and began to hit the relatively scattered forces of [The Center] like a nut cracker. Small, cornered units were quickly surrounded and blown to bits.

Blasts of elements flew in a brief exchange before [The Center] fell back. They had always been trained to fall back if they were attacked or confronted on a traditional battlefront. The battlefield was not the place of a guerilla. Many pokégirls of [The Center] were injured as they retreated, and many more men were killed. The city would not be theirs.

Elsewhere, damage assessment was taken. [The Center] had lost 300 men in one fell swoop, fifteen percent of the force sent, and their ‘girls for the most part captured or MIA. It was a disaster. The Confederate force had surprise on their side and, by the looks of it, superior numbers. They had also adapted to the teleport strategy [The Center] had been using up until this point. This could be very, very bad if they discovered any of the locations that they had erected a base. They needed a way to stay hidden and stall the Confederacy.

Charles pondered possibilities and ways to save his insurgency but was interrupted by one of the leaders of the scout units. He was a gaunt fellow and very lanky with what appeared to be of a Creole background of some kind. His Ladyiens and his other scouting ‘girls were by his side including what seemed to be one of those A-bra ‘girls and some kind of subterranean animorph covered in dirt.

“What have you gathered?” Charles asked authoritatively. His brow was drawn down. Everything could fall apart at a moments’ notice.

“They’ve been moving over the mountains where we don’t have any networks or allies,” he said in the sleepy tone that never seemed to leave his voice, “Weren’t marching either. Their Tamers scattered and gathered in the sewers under the city with some creative teleportation. It’s probably safe to say that they’ve got troops hiding around other big targets.”

“Damn!” Charles bit out. It was probably for the best that they hadn’t made any offensive moves yet, but with this loss, they might get cocky knowing now that it is possible to beat the insurgents. And, if any of the captured men or ‘girls talked… Something had to be done soon.

“That ain’t the worst of it, Charles,” the scout said, “We’ve seen Confederate Tamers gathering near the south most port. It’s just a little fishing village, but it’s too close for my comfort.” Despite the lazy tone in his voice, his eyes were staring off into space.

Charles grit his teeth, but remained calm. Ships they could handle. That could buy them some time, but if even one ship with a teleport capable pokégirl made it across, the Confederacy could flood them with enemies. They… they could buy themselves some time, and then they’d need to play it by ear.

Charles stood and took a deep breath. It was originally just a stupid idea of his that he came up with on a lark, but it was probably the only thing that could save them.

            “We need to implement Project Crow. Pass the word on to the other senior members but keep it away from scouts and anyone slated to raid anything anywhere. We need to keep this on the inside until it’s done.”

            “I’m on it.”

It was overcast when the Confederate military tore through the first longhouses on the northern front of Basshead. There were no crops around any of them; nothing worth pillaging was contained within. At first, the Confederates met this oddity with confusion. It seemed like there was a longhouse every few miles. What was this? Had they abandoned all this so quickly? The Confederate tamers hooted and hollered at the prospect of intimidating the feared insurgents that had been plaguing them so.

Still, much didn’t add up. The repeated attacks on their wooden seacraft, the only kind they could get a hold of with the steel shortage and their battleships out of commission, had taken their toll on them. They had thought that sending out many troops en masse would have allowed them to get at least one of their teleporters over onto the other island, but the insurgents proved to be a right pain in the ass. Their own teleporters ported in fire-types and that damnable dragon with her hyperbeam and took out their ships in droves.

However, with the insurgents being distracted with the ships being built and loosed from the southern end of Appalachia, the main Confederate force finally managed to sail their fleets around Appalachia. So, the Confederate military force seemed to finally be together in one place. The insurgents could only take out so many ships. It wasn’t long before one of the ships finally got close enough for one of their teleporters to see enough of Basshead to be able to port troops over directly.

At first, the guerillas attempted to ambush whoever teleported to the Basshead beachfront, but it was short lived. Sure, their more powerful ‘girls managed to take out a few groups of their men; although, in the grand scheme of things it was irrelevant. Eventually, they managed to port enough men and pokégirls over that they became too numerous to engage in a direct fashion. The insurgency would die soon. Nothing could stand the might of the Confederacy, they thought.

So, when they found the first deserted longhouses, they had a surge of pride and knew that the enemy was on the run. The fishers and villagers were uncooperative and many openly refused to house them, the ballsy little shits. Small detachments were sent to show the villagers the error of their ways. There was nothing they could do.

Still, the amount of men that had to have vacated! More and more longhouses were being found. How many had evacuated? And so quickly…Cowards. Laziness set in. There was no challenge in this. Just more shifty fishermen and the weirdos in the capital, Peachtree, never looking anyone in the eye. After a week, a routine set in. Boredom started to seep into the consciousness of the Confederate soldiers and sailors. They should be pursuing the damn rebels to Naranja rather than sitting here sifting through all these empty wooden buildings.

“Hey boss?” a confederate grunt called over his superior.

“What is it?”

“Just another empty building.

“Fucking hell, how many of these are there? I used to live in Peachtree and none of these fucking things were here before I got transferred to the main Confederate force.”

“Dunno sir, but aren’t we wasting our time checking these things out? I mean shouldn’t we be doing more important things?”

The grunt’s superior snorted. “Command’s still afraid the insurgents are hiding under every fucking rock. Sure, they acted all big like they were king shit when they were just hitting and running, but now that we’re on them, the cowards are running scared. The idiots up top don’t seem to realize that the insurgents are gone, retreated. Why else would all these damn fortifications be empty?”

The grunt just shrugged. Their ‘girls were silent. They knew better than to interrupt or distract from anything that wasn’t strictly business, for the sake of their own health. They stayed in the background as their masters grumbled and peeked through the longhouse structure.

The Confederates had a brilliant idea. The villagers were being uncooperative and the ideal housing solution was right here. These longhouses could serve as the Confederate force’s lodging and they could use their teleport capable ‘girls to ferry supplies in. They’d have to thank the insurgents for creating garrisons for them. It was just oh so nice of them.

Before Sukebe altered the world forever, there was a remarkable animal known as the crow. It was so common that many people considered them vermin. However, the intelligence of this animal was far greater than most any other, certainly more so than that of any known ferals. In pre-Sukebe Japan, they were hated for tearing up electrical infrastructure to build their nests, so a campaign was launched by the Japanese government to hire people to knock down all the crows nests in one of their major cities. In response to this, the birds thoroughly outwitted the Japanese government by going on a building frenzy leaving innumerable dummy nests throughout the entire city. What made this strategy brilliant was the fact that whenever the government employees actually managed to get a nest in use by crows, the crows would simply pick up their chicks and fly to one of the hundreds of other already built nests littering the city.

The crows, however, didn’t actively fight back so much as they rendered the efforts of the humans utterly futile. In Tropic, the ‘crows’ not only can move instantly between the dummy ‘nests’ without restriction, but they are quite capable of striking back freely as they ghost through the League. One thing that sped up the process, however, was that the confederates decided to shelter themselves in the longhouses [The Center] had built, the longhouses where they knew exactly where each and every one was located.

Charles had wanted to see this done personally. The commanding officer of the First Confederate Tamer Corp was in one of [The Center]’s nice, comfy longhouses. The area had been scouted by the few pokégirls they had that were both psychic and those odd dark types that were immune to psychic attacks and scanning. It didn’t take long before the only teleport capable pokégirl and psychic in the area, a lone Ka-D-Bra, was taken out by a Shadowcat and a Kaftara quickly and silently. A moment later, all the entrances were sealed and two Denmothers, Charles’s Dracass, and a Hellcat torched the place to the ground. The hyperbeam launched by Susana, the Dracass, straight down the lengthwise end probably took out most of the feeble resistance that could have possibly formed inside. It was still a beautiful site, to see the head of an enemy force get blown off so quickly and efficiently.