[86 Side Stories] Undertaker (Part 4)

Despite that, it was Fido’s job to cut out fragments from the “Juggernaut”, and Shin’s duty to remain there. Saiki had no real reason to remain behind.

If there were corpses, they could have buried them stealthily (for that reason, Saiki had a shovel in his “Juggernaut”), but unfortunately, most of the”Juggernaut” debris were taken away by the “Legion”.

The “Legion” had the Tausendfüssler, their equivalent the “Scavenger”, that could reclaim reusable parts and resources. Even without weapons, these steel centipedes could easily crush human bodies. They were extremely efficient, capable of clearing the battlefield in a single night. In that case, perhaps he should look for some flowers, so Saiki thought, but he found no blooming flowers in the deep forest no person could easily probe into. While searching around, Saiki found his eyes pursuing a certain thing.

It had white wings, and refracted the gentle spring sunshine. It was a fine, fragile living creature, seemingly frolicking in the gentle breeze.

A butterfly.

“O…kay.”

He raised his hands, cupping it between them, and once he captured it nimbly, he reeled back.

He looked back, and found Shin giving a stoic, dumbfounded look.

Erm.

To distract themselves from the awkward atmosphere, Saiki tried to act calm, asking,

“You want to catch them too?”

“Don’t wanna.”

Unexpectedly, he was refused in an immature manner.

Shin might have noticed the immaturity in his voice too, for he immediately frowned.

“…You’re a strange one.”

“Look, I don’t really care when we’re in battle, but I’m a little peeved to have someone younger than me say that. Anyway, don’t call people weird so suddenly.”

Perhaps Shin himself had forgotten that he too was an eccentric one.

Having said that, Saiki opened his hand. The butterfly clasped within his grasp fluttered away. It left the ground, fling higher, and flew off to the blue skies of sprint above the carpet of green leaves.

Staring back, Shin spoke up.

“Didn’t you say you want one.”

“Hmm, well, sorta.”

The little white butterfly could not be seen once it entered the blue sky. Despite that, Saiki continued to pursue where it flew, saying,

“That little one might actually be one of them, you know?”

One of their comrades who had died at this place the previous day.

“…?”

Shin’s stoic look appeared a little taken aback, and Saiki shrugged.

“They say the butterflies are souls of the Dead, that blue is the color of Heaven. Haven’t you heard of it?”

Even without anything telling them so, in all cultures, to various people, butterflies were the symbols of souls and the afterlife.

“No…do you believe in those things?”

Heaven, the world of the afterlife.

Shin probably never believed in those things, given how disgusted he sounded. Saiki could only grimace and shake his irony at the irony of the death god not believing in either Heaven or Hell.

“Heaven isn’t anything special. It’s probably just a paradise for those who died ugly, a place with no worries. But butterflies, well,”

Humans believed they were reincarnations of the Dead.

“I guess…I believe what people say about them.”

His stare naturally drifted to the sky. It was blue spring sky, a little misty.

Perhaps, beyond that blue was a blue abyss of a sea Saiki had never seen before. Perhaps it was because he believed in the existence of a world for the Dead, and the color of heaven is blue.

“You’re in a Concentration Camp before, right? What happened to the kids there? Those younger than you, babies when they were detained?”

Shin went silent.

He seemed to have thought of something, for he went completely silent.

“They’re all dead.”

“I guess. Same goes for my side. Everyone’s dead.”

Conditions of the Concentration Camps were extremely harsh, and they were stressful environments full of sudden outbursts and violence. Their guardians, the parents and siblings, were deported to the battlefield along with the other adults, and without proper medical treatment, the mortality rates of these infants were extremely high.

Babies and infants were highly prone to mortality. It was only with recent medical advancements that most children were able to grow into adults.

And it was said the infants who lost that one respite were never able to survive their first winter day.

“At the camp I was at, there was some illness everyone caught. There’s no way to treat them, and they’re scared of spreading the illness…so those sick were confined in the barracks outside the Concentration Camp.”

“…”

“They…”

Saiki recalled about them, their cries, their anguish groans. He looked into the barracks once he heard nary a sound, and depicted on the furthest wall in were,

“There were butterflies drawn there. They drew them on the barrack wall with their own hands.”

They were colored mud and sand. There was no way there could be any crayons or coloring within this Concentration Camp, this hut for livestock, located beyond the Grand Mur.

But Saiki had a hallucination of dancing colors.

The countless children who had drawn countless butterflies would surely see vibrant, radiant colors in their dreams.

“There was no way they would have known how to draw. Back then, those kids were just a little older than babies. Nobody could have taught them. But they drew butterflies.”

They did not know that butterflies were a symbol of the soul…perhaps it was a hallucination of butterflies being released from Hell.

It was for that reason that butterflies were deemed the symbol of those who died, so Saiki thought that perhaps people reincarnate as butterflies once they died. So too did his parents, older sister, older brother, and the comrades who died before he did.

“Same for us.”

It was said there were azure butterflies that existed only on Republic’s land, and not on this 86th District. These beautiful butterflies were giving off a razzling, dazzling blue light, existing in this world.

These creatures were surrounded by the world of death, the reincarnation of the dead souls. However, Saiki surely could not witness them personally.

Same if he had died.

“Guess that butterfly’s the only one. Those who die can only become butterflies. Their thin wings and weak bodies will be hit by the wind and the rain. They’ll definitely fall not too far away from their corpses.”

He had never seen the wonderful world those children had dreamt of.

But,

“But, it’s different. This place is different…because you’re here.”

Even though the Dead could only reincarnate as weak butterflies, there was the death god who would carry them along.

Saiki, along with his deceased comrades, would surely go further with Shin than if he had been alone. They would be able to see things they could not have.

They could enter through the gaps of the forests, deep into the contested area of the East. The red flowers were blooming really brightly upon the “Legion” dominion, along with their neighboring areas.

Perhaps they could arrive beyond that crimson.

 

Shin arrived back at the hangar of the base, parked his “Juggernaut”, but did not open the canopy, and let out a little sigh. Through the still active screen, he saw Saiki hop off the latter’s parked “Juggernaut”, heading elsewhere with his distinct fleeting footsteps. Did he leave something in the cramped cockpit? Surprisingly to Shin, the latter brought out a shovel.

…Is he crazy?

Shin had always drawn a line to ensure nobody else would cross it, but it seemed he himself had crossed the line. He found himself reeling, reaching a hand out.

But no matter how he reached his hand out, everyone else would have left before him.

A sudden static broke his thoughts.

“――Handler One to First Squadron. Undertaker. Do you hear me?”

“Undertaker to Handler One. What is it?”

There was a young, timid male voice from the wireless, and Shin flatly responded. Most of the Handlers within the walls dared not to connect through Para-RAID with Shin. Some extremely timid ones would only do the bare minimum of connecting with him through wireless.

Shin awaited the response as he wondered if their Handler was asking him them to patrol. They never had to patrol for a long time, so they never did.

“Communicating the next mission――we have confirmed that there’s a forward base being constructed deep within the Contested Area, near “Legion” area. All of the first squadron is to head over and destroy it immediately.”

Shin raised an eyebrow.

The “Legion” would build forward bases as platforms to extend their frontlines――and expand their dominion. Once done, the “Legion” would surely begin to attack. Lots of force would be required to break it.

Thus, it was imperative that they were to destroy the forward base before it was completed――before the attack, and the Eighty-Sixes, being the defenses of the Republic, would naturally be deployed.

“Just the First Squadron? What about the Second Squadron, or any other reinforcements?”

The “Legion” too knew that they would be attacked before their forward bases were completed. The intercepting and defense forces were deployed around the places the Handler had spoken of.

Two battalions worth of enemies, with the main units that were the Löwe and Dinosauria, along with the Stiers designated for intercepting enemies. It was overwhelming firepower against a squadron of “Juggernauts”, let alone a single unit.

“None. It’s determined there’s no need for reinforcements.”

Shin let out a deep sigh. The Handler beyond the communicator recoiled, but the former did not mind. He had no need to care about this.

Their enemies were two battalions worth of “Legion”, and they were nowhere near a full squadron of “Juggernauts”. In other words,

“You’re telling us all to die, aren’t you, Handler One?”

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