Toshi dove face first into the mud, narrowly dodging the hail of machine gun fire flying from out the dense brush of the jungle. As the rounds splattered into the ground, chunks of displaced clay and grass flew up into his face. A hand from above grabbed Toshi by the collar of his uniform, dragging him up and over a nearby crater.
“We need to get out of here!” His savior screamed.
Toshi took a moment to wipe the mud from his face. At first he could not concentrate on anything other than the hissing of hot lead zipping over the crater wall. The man yelling at him was his friend. Yukio Kitano.
“Why are you still sitting there?!”
Toshi took a deep breath and tried to push the noise to the back of his trembling mind. Bullets crackled from all sides, shrapnel shredded through the trees, planes raced above them menacingly. The Americans were finally here.
Yukio shouldered his rifle and loaded a clip of rounds into the breech. He gave Toshi a quick nod, signalling that it was time to go. Toshi gripped his weapon tight, looking for any comfort it could provide. He shuttered out an anxious exhale as he ran his finger down the cool steel barrel.
The pair burst into action. Leaping out of the crater and sprinting with shoulders hunched through the tall grass. Shots crackled past their ears, but they kept running.
“This way! Follow me!” Yukio exclaimed.
He led Toshi down a game trail to a narrow creek. They splashed through the water, slipping on the algae covered river rocks. They kept trudging their way against the flow until the gunfire was reduced to gentle knocks in the distance. Yukio pointed at a cement staircase and they scrambled up the steps. Back into the lush jungle foliage.
“Stop! I need to stop for a moment!” Toshi shouted.
As he gasped for breath, Yukio drank greedily from his canteen.
“You know.” Toshi labored. “I never wanted any of this.”
Yukio grunted in agreement as he capped his canteen. He cocked his head to the side.
“You know the only reason I enlisted was-“
A single shot reverberated close by. The pair flinched, throwing their hands protectively over their faces.
“What the hell are you doing?” An imperial officer climbed out from the brush, a hand on the hilt of his sword. He holstered his smoking handgun, awaiting a reply.
Surprised, Toshi tried to formulate an excuse. But could only seem to muster a collection of broken syllables.
“If we didn’t need men, I would cut you down where you stand.” The officer continued.
With a gloved hand he reached into his satchel to reveal a pair of white strips of cloth. A red dot bled through the center so as to resemble the Japanese flag.
“Here. Take these.”
Yukio looked over at Toshi nervously as they folded and tied the flags over their foreheads. The officer directed them to a clearing where a large group of almost fifty men stood at attention silently. All of them with headbands knotted around their heads. An unspoken tension built as the popping of machine gun fire inched closer. The officer cleared his throat with the same mechanical tempo.
“It has been a great honor to lead you up to this point. I have asked a lot of you, and now I will ask even more.” The officer drew his sword and held it above his head. “Defend the homeland at all costs!“
The soldiers around Toshi and Yokio echoed his sentiment with fanatical cheers. The two friends swapped worried looks as the officer charged through the jungle, pointing his sword in the direction of certain death.
“TENNO HAIKA! BANZAI!!“
*Long live the Emperor! Ten thousand ages!*