Hellping

The light of the full moon shone amazingly brightly on the ruins, and countless pale red petals gathered under the sakura trees of the Far East, as though giving rise to this hazy moonlight.

They were in the Eastern Front’s first ward of the Republic, which Spearhead Squadron was responsible. In the rubble-buried streets of the abandoned city, the cherry trees were neatly arranged on both sides of the street, and in full bloom. The canopy of the light-flowered sakura trees had almost completely blotted the straight road unique to the Republic.

One could look up to see the blue moonlight shining upon the petals that were falling raindrops. It was a spring night, a breeze blowing, and even the beasts slept soundly. The pale red flowers under the silent moonlight night appeared to be transformed into some evil demon.

Leaning back against the “Juggernaut” that was parked atop a pile of rubble at a suitable height, Shin looked up at the silent and enchanting scene.

Let’s go see the flowers, it was Kaie who suggested so, wanting to see how the cherry blossoms appeared while blooming in the dark. It was a custom from the Far East, where she originated from. Enjoy the flowers, enjoy the sake. It was also the spring event that her people love when the seasons change.

Although Kaie, who was born in Republic, did not have much understanding of this, she had a partial inkling to understand this past, and found some sake utensils of the Ear East.

The cup was an unfamiliar, flat piece of drinking utensil that felt light as paper after years of being used to metal cutlery. It was said that the wood was shaved and applied with some special pigment. This pigment called lacquer looked very deep, as though anyone using it would be drawn in. The sake clear as water reflected the sakuras.

After a little sip, the alcohol that burned the throat dissipated a strong and mellow sweetness, refreshing the heart. It was the sweet taste of grains, which he had recently known a little about recently.

Gulp, Mashu finished his drink at once. He had silver hair of a Celesta and light blue eyes, and a strong body and height like a snow leopard.

“—Tastes good.”

He was not much of a talker, and was a bit too quiet. Shin just smiled lightly at the teenager who was the Spearhead Squadron’s machine gunner.

“Looks like our efforts weren’t wasted this time.”

“I don’t know how it’s supposed to taste like—but I guess it’s good.”

“Somehow, I feel lighter after drinking it.”

Mina, holding the small cup with her hands, smiled. She had blonde hair tied in a braid, the symbol of an Emeralde and and brown eyes of an Agate. She looked short and young, but she was part of the vanguard.

“…You can’t hold your liquor? Don’t drink too much then.”

Kujo, a southern Onyx with black hair and black skin, showed a wry smile as he downed his cup. He was the cheerful hunk who wrote the countdown to retirement—or KIA on the hangar blackboard, and he looked strong compared to his fragile looking little stepsister.

“Might be a little late though~ why are you spinning around, Kujo~?”

“Goodness…”

“Ehe (/≧▽≦)/”

“Well, you shouldn’t drink so much if you’re already that tipsy.”

Kaie glanced aside at the row of sakura trees and gave a wry smile.

Before her was the sight of a drunken mess, Daiya, Haruto, Kino and Touma were doing a strange dance. The other boys and girls were yapping away and cheering on..

While Chise was hiding in the back, the slightly tanned Kuroto with silver hair forcibly dragged Chise by the small hand to join in on this intriguing dance. Wow~ the onlookers cheered enthusiastically.

Kaie, the one who suggested this event, watched on with a conflicted look as she saw her comrades start a commotion like wild horses.

“The thing about enjoying flowers is that it should be focused on marvelling. Going crazy and being drunk is defeats the purpose of it…and besides, aren’t they too quick to get drunk? Are they not used to it? Well, I guess it’s their first time drinking after all”

These domesticated human-like animals were deemed to have no human rights. The Eighty-Sixers’ daily diet consisted of bland, synthetic food, and it was impossible to give them anything they liked.

“Well, as long as they have fun.”

“…You’re already way before them now, right? I’ve always wanted to say this, but I only managed to convey it now.”

Kaie then pouted her coral colored lips that were thicker than the sakuras above them, smiling wryly.

“But it’s really fun though. Everyone’s together, yapping away. We’ve been fighting for years, but such moments are really rare.”

Everyone really enjoyed the time they had with their comrades during the moments of rest, and when there were no other trivial matters.

Kujo gave a cheerful smile.

“Yeah, we’ll lose if we can’t have fun!”

“That’s right!”

A completely drunk-looking Mina, who was playing with the giant man, spiritedly raised her hands towards the sky, while one could see Mashu show a smile, a rare sight at that.

At that moment, Daiya and Haruto stopped their octopus dance and came over.

“Hm, huh? Whatcha want?”

Daiya’s face was slightly flushed.

His voice was a little slurred, and his expression slack. He looked a little unsteady.

It seemed he was really drunk, for it was his first time drinking..

Kaie, who was sitting, looked up at the face that was positioned high up, and frowned,

“You guys know you’re noisy right? Daiya, Haruto.”

“Heh, that’s because,”

Daiya giggled and waved a hand.

“I’m on fire after drinking this. It’s like, yeah, a festival! That’s how it feels!”

“Besides, Shin and Kaie, isn’t the mood around you two too calm? We don’t always get the chance to have fun! Yay! Come here!”

Haruto, who was speaking with an accent just moments ago, suddenly glazed over.

“Ah, sorry sorry. I shouldn’t have done this. Stop it, Shin and Mashu. No need for the courtesy. Ah, don’t make it sound like the end of the world is coming soon. It’s really scary.”

““Yay.””

“Spare me bros.”

The two of them spoke flatly, and immediately dealt with Haruto (very violently). Kujo could not help but laugh, and Mina, who had no idea what they were talking about since the beginning, also giggled out loud.

Daiya looked upwards with his arms folded.

“But I want to come up with an activity for everyone to have fun too. If not a snowball fight, then a sakura fight, or maybe a treasure hunt under those trees!”

Kujo said,

“No, just enjoy the sakuras.”

“Ehh~, they look pretty, but it’s still too boring.”

“Nya~”

“…I’d have forgotten about the cat if you didn’t mention it.”

Mashu muttered in a low voice, while Haruto, playing the fool, pouted.

The wryly smiling Shin said,

“They usually bury corpses under the sakura trees. There won’t be treasure.”

““You’re kidding!?””

But for some reason, Daiya’s and Haruto’s eyes lit up.

“Fine by me! Let’s go have a look!”

“Kino, Kino! Did you bring the shovel? Men!”

“Why would we have one, you idiot?”

“Let’s get a shovel and start digging from somewhere! We’ll have a contest to see who digs one up first!!”

“Hey, that’s cheating! Wait a minute, Daiya!”

As soon as the words left their mouths, Daiya, Haruto, Kino and Touma rushed towards the sakura trees.

Kaie, who saw them leave, slumped her shoulders.

“Good grief …”

Suddenly, Mina stood up.

“Ah, Kujo, look! It’s a shooting star!”

“No, wait, don’t do that…don’t go chasing after shooting stars like a kid!”

Upon seeing Mina give chase after the shooting star, Kujo immediately stood up. Sorry, Kujo raised his hand to apologize and immediately ran after the little bunny chasing the shooting star.

Then, Mashu, who had been smiling wryly, stood up as well.

“I’ll go help.”

After he said that, he gave chase after the two. The silhouettes clad in camouflages disappeared one after another in the darkness of the night under the sakura trees.

“……”

Chise lost his bearings as he staggered towards the trees. Noticing this, Kuroto hurried after him. The two of them waved over, and disappeared into the darkness of the towering trees.

They disappeared one after another. The Spearhead Squadron members gradually left the stage after toasting under the sakura trees, amidst laughter. As the petals danced, the girls got up and left, waving vigorously with occasional squeals, and also disappeared in the direction of the flowers. The two teenager soldiers that were laughing and walking saluted as well, and followed after them.

One after another, the crowd departed.

They went beyond the darkness.

Nobody knew what was beyond the night.

Just as they knew not of the day of their demise.

The Dead had passed and no longer existed, and the night waited for no man. The laughter that echoed finally returned to silence.

Kaie, the last one left behind, elegantly raised her glass and downed it all.

“…it’s great. It’s amazing how you managed to find this rice wine from the Far East. Did you get this for me?”

“Yes. I think it’s more appropriate.”

Kaie, who had taken the sakuras as part of her last memories in a corner of this battlefield, did not know the flavor of the wine brewed in the land of her forefathers.

Indeed, until the end, she never knew what it really tasted like.

The Eighty-Sixers, born in the Republic and raised on the battlefield, knew nothing of the world beyond the battlefield.

And they withered away without understanding others..

Kaie held the empty glass in front of her chest with both hands and smiled.

“…In the country where my ancestors were born, you can’t drink if you’re under twenty years old. I think you crossed the line today.”

Shin showed a wry smile once she said this in a serious manner.

“You’re at that age now, aren’t you?”

“Yeah…I guess. I was 18 two years ago. I can’t remember when my birthday was.”

They were thrown into the 86th district, tormented under the harsh environment of the Concentration camp and the cruelty of the battlefield; their sense of dates blurred.

The family members who celebrated their birthdays had also died almost instantly, so most of them hardly remembered their own birthdays.

That was what Shin thought at least, and so did Kaie. After all memories of his parents, brother, and homeland that vaguely came to mind, or was about to, they forgot about their birthdays.

The fatal battlefield set up to clear the 86th district did not require such things.

“—April 7.”

Once he said so, Kaie opened her eyes

Shin looked at her and told her a sincere tone.

“After the fall of Republic, they found the personnel files of all the Processors from the Republic army headquarters. There were mine and Raiden’s, and the other units as well.”

That was the evidence of the existence of the KIA Eighty-Sixers—that were supposedly erased, even their names and graves.

“It’s possible to track back the family name and original addresses to some extent from there. Of course, that includes the birth day—and the home, even though we won’t recognize it if we go there.”

After the Federacy’s army recaptured the first district Liberté et Égalité, Shin took the opportunity that came with the lull to have a look.

There was no need to remember that unfamiliar home, and it could be said he merely dropped by to have a look.

“…So that’s why you came over today? In April when the sakuras are in full bloom?”

“That’s right. But,”

They were born into the world, and would only stop at the very end. They survived after years of trials and tribulations, and survive. They did exist. Recently, they planned to hold a birthday event for those soldiers during this period close to Kaie’s birthday.

But why?

“I still remember. I haven’t forgotten. I want to tell you this again.”

He promised to bring along a piece of those he had fought alongside with, who had died before him, until the very end. It was also his duty as an Undertaker. He had yet to abandon that responsibility.

He did not forget.

The Eighty-Sixers were not allowed to erect graves. The comrades of Spearhead Squadron were in eternal slumber at unknown whereabouts. This place signified huge tombstone.

At this point, he survived and stepped into this place again.

“This is how…”

Kaie looked down and smiled faintly.

“You’re…born in May, right? …Now you caught up to me. You’re two years younger than me.”

“Yeah.”

“I hate this, but,”

At this point, Kaie was happy, sincerely so as she smiled,

“I’m glad you guys survived.”

In addition to Kaie’s voice, the voices of Daiya, Haruto, Kino, Kujo and Mashu, who were absent, were also included.

“… Yeah.”

At that moment, a strong wind blew by.

The sakuras were very short-lived, thin and fragile, fitting of its image as an illusory flower, they would instantly bloom and wither as quickly. There was no lingering attachment as they left the  branches easily and slowly floated to the ground.

Thus, this ominous flower was scorned by warriors who vowed to live.

But the pure flower was also beloved by the warriors who ran to the battlefield with their deaths impending.

The falling flowers wither. The sakura trees were in full bloom, and countless petals fluttered with the wind.

Light as paper, they played around with the air currents and covered their atmosphere in their own colors before they landed.

People call it, falling cherry blossoms.

His The field of vision was occupied by the same color, countless petals dancing in the air. Fuwaah, the sakuras fluttered with the night breeze, and the whole street was covered by the swirl formed by them.

Kaie and the other comrades disappeared into the darkness, and everything was covered up by the veil of fading petals…

“Captain Nouzen?”

There was a sweet, fresh scent of violets, which he was acquainted with over the past month..

Shin looked back and saw Lena standing under the rain of sakuras. She was wearing the blue uniform of the Republic, and had silver hair and eyes of an Alba..

There was no one under the blooming sakura trees. On the pile of rubble used as a substitute for a table, there was a lacquered cup filled with sake, not touched at all. Shin was sitting there by himself.

There was no one there who would have picked up that cup and drank it all.

A long while had passed since two years ago.

Lena walks down the cracked street, the sound of her high heels spreading throughout, accompanied by a scent of fine perfume that was unbefitting of the ruins that was abandoned eleven years ago.

She was the tactical commander, and Shin was the operations commander. They were both affiliated to the 86th Mobile Strike Package of the Federacy’s Western Front, and were deployed here to support the old Republic. The place they were stationed at was a temporary base near the Eastern Front First Ward front line where Shin was the leader of Spearhead Squadron.

He came alone to this battlefield sealed in darkness, even though he knew it was a violation of military discipline.

“You suddenly disappeared from the barracks, and I wondered where you went…since it’s you, I dared to come out since I determined there is no “Legion” around.”

“Sorry about that. I wanted to head back soon, so I didn’t feel the need to tell you.”

With that, Shin stood up and put the drained cup in his hand next to the untouched one.

“But how did you know that I was here? I thought you wouldn’t have known about this place when you never stepped foot here, Colonel.”

That aside, perhaps he did mention of this place during the Para-RAID communications back then, but he never did connect here.

“After your “Juggernaut” disappeared, captain, I went to ask the maintenance crew.  They were not sure either, so I asked Lieutenant Shuga.”

“…I guess everyone got a loose tongue.”

Shin looked towards the “Juggernaut” Lena had rode on, and Raiden shrugged..

The maintenance crew aside, Raiden should not open up to her.

But given that she was brought here, it seemed Raiden was forced into doing so.

Not noticing the subtle stares between those two, Lena looked up at the beautiful blooming sakuras that seemed to fill the sky.

After a while, phew, she could not help but sigh.

“…So pretty.”

“Yes…it’s as pretty as it was two years ago.”

Shin did not look at her silvery white eyes at this moment, but at the scene.

In the still silent darkness, he continued to look at the blooming pale red flowers.

“The whole Spearhead Squadron had been here to enjoy the flowers, when they were assigned to this first ward two years ago.”

“……”

The Eighty-Sixers who had lived long enough would be assigned to this final battlefield, to fight until they died, and mandated to die at the end of their six-month term.

“It was Kaie’s suggestion. All twenty-four members of the squadron were still alive. But back then …”

It was not much different from before, and he squinted his eyes at the sakura trees lined up by the road.

However, most of the people who watched the flowers back then were no longer present. The scene was the only thing that remained unchanged, the blooming sakuras, the bright moon and the darkness.

“It’s a pity about the cups.”

That was something they had exchanged before her demise, but most of the people in the squadron did not know the significance of it.

“Sorry…to have disturbed you.”

“Eh. No, it’s fine.”

He came here just to sweep the graves of his comrades’ non-existent headstones.

When Shin told her it was time to go back, Lena gave an awkward look and nodded. She looked aside at the pair of cups placed on the rubble, and was apprehensive to speak.

Instead, yes, she lowered her little head and sniffed with her nose.

“…I think it smells good.”

Yes, Shin was holding the earthenware container that goes with the sake cups—the Tokkuri.

“Do you want a sip before returning to base? There’s not much left, though.”

“Is it wine…?”

“Said to be from the Far East, Kaie’s hometown.”

“…Woah, there is such a thing…I thought the Federacy has yet to restore diplomatic relations with other countries, right?”

Like the Republic, the Federacy was embargoed by hordes of “Legion”, and it was only recently that the existence of neighboring countries was confirmed.

The countries have only progressed to the point of human contact, and the Far East has yet to confirm diplomatic relations.

Not to mention the specialty products from there.

The cups were only found after he had scoured all the department stores and antique stores in Sankt Jeder. In the worst case scenario that he could not find any, he would have to replace it with something else.

“It was made by a winery in the southeast of Federacy during its off hours. It’s not really valuable since nobody in the Federacy knows about it, so it’s not worth much. Feels like it’s something of a personal inclination.”

It was placed on the corner of the shelf, collecting dust, and the clerk barely remembered there was such a thing.

Lena showed a wry smile.

“So this was the source of the commotion that came from the cafeteria after I left the base.”

It was larger than the typical wine bottles, and at least double the capacity of the Federacy’s alcohol beverages. It was heavy and unnecessary, so he had given the rest to the members, save for a few cups and the Tokkuri. It seemed everyone was very interested in this..

The Federacy did not prohibit drinking outside of duty hours, and Shin made sure there was no “Legion” in the vicinity, so he was able to act so brazenly.

“Then, I shall keep you company too… so.”

Ahem. Suddenly, Lena coughed on purpose.

She pointed her finger at Shin and smiled like she had caught him off guard.

“Activate drinking mode, Captain Nouzen.”

Shin could help but give a wry smile.

“I’m the kind of person who can’t get drunk. The Onyx are known for their alcohol tolerance.”

It was said by Ernst—a fellow Onyx who was his official stepfather. In ancient times, the warrior class Onyx had a strong tolerance to drugs containing alcohol.

In fact, Shin, a half-blood Onyx, and Raiden, a pure-blooded Onyx himself, had strong tolerance for alcohol.

Lena’s teasing expression instantly disappeared.

“Really? Raiden, is it really okay to drink until you are unconscious?”

“You’ll be hated.”

“Give me a break.”

Both parties ignored the murmuring Raiden.

On a side note, driving after drinking was not illegal in both the Federacy and the Republic, as long as no one was hit.

“So, given the Federacy’s laws, you can drink now, no, Captain?”

“No problem if you’re sixteen, I reached that two years ago.”

“What month and date is that?”

“Someday…in May, I guess?”

He did not remember, since he did not really care about it.

“What should I do if you do not remember…?”

Lena slumped her shoulders and sighed upon this thought.

“Well, we should be headed back to the Federacy. Once we reach the headquarters, place check on it and report to me.”

“…I don’t mind, but what’s the reason for doing so?”

“I have decided.”

When she said that, Lena smiled like a blooming flower.

“A birthday party for everyone…let us work hard together.”

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