[86 V1] Chapter 3 – Your Inspiring Appearance As You Stand Before the Gates of Hades

Half a month had passed since Lena took command as Handler of Squad Spearhead.

On that day, there were no casualties in the battle during the day, and Lena, feeling relieved, activated her Para-RAID to contact the Processors as usual. It was after dinner, and she was in her room.

Over the past half month, Spearhead had more sorties than the other squads, but there were no dead amongst the processors. It seemed they were the real deal as elite veterans.

“Calling in now to say good work for the day.”

She could hear some chaos, probably some distance away, easily drained out by the responses of the processors. It was likely the sounds of night battles in the other battle zones ringing into the hangar.

“Good work there, Handler One.”

The first to answer was typically Undertaker. His voice was poised and quiet, with no hint of his moniker “death god.”

There were a few others who connected through the Para-RAIDs, giving their greetings.

There was the Vice-Commander Werewolf, crude in words yet a reliable big brother to the squad.

There was the polite, blunt Kirschblüte who would be first to answer everything, including the stupid talk.

The burly mood maker, Black Dog.

The Snow Witch whose voice and personality were equally kind.

And the Laughing Fox who would spew vicious words with the soft voice of a girl.

The first impression Lena had of the Undertaker was that he was one of few words, rarely talking except when it came to business, but everyone would gather by his side whenever he synchronized with her, and there were a few without Para-RAIDs following him, so he did seem to be adored.

“First off, Undertaker, regarding the resupply you requested for a few days back…”

Raiden overheard the Handler discussing the mission with Shinn as he stared at the crossword puzzle of a magazine he picked up, using it to spend the time.

Shinn’s room was in a dilapidated barracks, and several members were leisurely lazing around in the room. Seo was focusing on sketching; Haruto, Kaie, and Krena were happily playing cards; Angel was sewing complicated looking lace patterns; and Daiya was repairing a broken radio. The others were at the canteen and the other rooms, and from afar, he could hear laughter.

Shinn, as squad leader, had to do various administrative duties like report writing, and he had the largest room in the barracks that doubled as an office. Raiden often came into this room to discuss various matters about the squad, and got several others who came to spice the mood. Thus, it became a place for everyone to rest and interact.

For Shinn, the owner of the room, he simply needed a place to read, and he did not care if the cat next to him shook its tail, that it was the endgame of a thrilling chess match, or whether others did a belly dance before him (Kujo and Daiya actually did so). At this moment, he was conversing with the Handler, lying on the steel bed in his room as usual, his pillow a cushion as he read the old novel he had taken from a random library. The black cat with white paws was crouched quietly on his chest, and it became a common fixture.

How peaceful. He took a sip of coffee from the mug. That was the traditional replacement coffee (Ersatz Café) for Squad Steadfast, the brewing recipe handed down till this point. The ingredients were the Dandelions used in the camp, but it was a lot better than the factory synthesized taste of the mysterious liquid made from the strange black powder.

…What will that old hag say if she’s to taste this coffee?

Utterly strict and inflexible, cautious and plain, that old hag would never understand the taste of the coffee.

Even in the eighty five zones, the beverages produced by the factories were no different from the synthesized materials in the Concentration Camps.

Will she still pity people like us?

The cat let out a shrill purr, overlapping the bell-like voice of the Handler.

Nyaa, Once she heard the cat during the conversation, Lena was taken aback.

“A… cat?”

“Yeah, the squad adopted it.”

Black Dog answered.

“Just to add, I was the one who picked it up. When I was assigned to this squad, I saw this little one squatting in the doors of a house that got blown up by a tank cannon. Its parents and siblings are all dead, this one is the only one left.”

“And for some reason, it just likes to latch onto Undertaker.”

“Nobody played with it, patted its head, or combed it.”

“It’s not being clingy. Just being a loyal pet. Look at it.”

“Well, it’s not moving while he’s reading. Looks like it’s never going to cling onto you, Black Dog.”

“Hey, that’s too much! What’s with that logic!? Correct it now! Doo doo doo.”

Lena chuckled as she heard the Processors bicker amongst each other. It seemed they were no different from other boys and girls of her age, and she even wondered why she was not with them.

“What is the name of that cat?”

With a smile, she asked, and the members answered in unison,

“Blackie.”

“White.”

“Two-fur.”

“Kiddo.”

“Kitty.”

“Lemarck.”

“…Seriously, don’t name a cat based on the author of the novel you’re reading. That’s way too casual… anyway, what are you reading man? It’s classless…”

Laughing Fox was the only one retorting instead of giving a name.

In any case, Lena was confused.

“Erm… are there many cats there?”

“Didn’t you hear us? There’s only one.”

She remained clueless. Black Dog, unable to take the awkwardness, decided to lend her a hand.

“It’s a black cat, with white paws, so there are some who call it Blackie, or White, and some call it Two-fur. There’s no fixed name, and everyone just calls it whatever they feel like. Recently though, it’d come running towards us once we yelled at it.”

I see.

“…But, why raise this cat?”

“…Ahh…. well.”

Black Dog stammered, and was about to answer.

Suddenly, he disconnected from the Para-RAID.

Krena abruptly got up and left the room, toppling the chair, and Daiya, closest to her, hurried over. The sound of the toppled chair echoed through the room.

“…? Did something happen?”

Daiya was disconnected, and Krena was never connected in the first place. Shinn fibbed.

“Oh, there’s a mouse in the room.”

“Mouse!!?”

“…That’s too lax of you.”

Seo’s little jab apparently never reached the ears of their Handler.

A mouse appeared… the Handler’s voice was trembling, and it seemed she was really terrified of them. Shinn nonchalantly answered as he narrowed his eyes at the door Krena slammed as she stormed out.

Daiya headed to the end of the corridor, and found Krena exhaling hard, venting all the stress in her body.

Why is everyone, and her…

Simply hearing her voice left Krena repulsed, anxious, jumpy. Up to this moment, she had spent her nights happily with everyone else, and it was a rare comfortable time for her.

“Krena.”

“Why is everyone, and that woman…”

“Just for now. It’s not long until that princess stops bothering us.”

Daiya shrugged, his eyes filled with honesty, showing his usual frivolous attitude. No matter the Handler, in the past, none of them could handle that “death god.”

That girl had yet to know the real origin of Shinn’s moniker. Such enemies had never shown up, and her luck would soon run out.

The mutated, calamitous Black Sheep amidst the White Sheep of the <Legion>.

These “Black Sheep” were called as such for they were once few in numbers, yet their numbers have far surpassed the “White Sheep” at this point.

And then there were the “Shepherds,” the bigger danger.

Krena gritted her teeth. She knew, she knew that.

“Why hasn’t Shinn dealt with her already?”

She said as she repressed the emotions in her heart, her words oozing with vileness.

“What’s there to bother about that white swine? Our synchronization rate is already set to the minimum.”

“That’s the normal procedure. Shinn didn’t destroy it just because he wanted it.”

The synchronization rate of the Para-RAID was set to the minimum, so as to allow consciousness and messages to be accurately conveyed across the noisy battlefield, such that only the actual person speaking could hear.

Daiya then asked calmly, not in a rebuking manner, but in a coaxing manner.

“Besides, can you say those words to Shinn? I hate her, so please wreck her with that thing of yours. Can you say that?”

Krena pursed her lips, remaining silent. What Daiya said was true.

Shinn and the other squadmates were her allies, her family. She could never say such harsh things to her family.

That should be normal for Shinn.

But.

“Sorry… but I still can’t forgive them. They killed papa, mama, treated them as trash, and shot them like targets.”

On the night she was deported to the Concentration Camp, the Alba soldiers were laughing out loud as they had her parents shot, all just to see where the bullets could hit, how much they could take until they died.

Her sister, seven years older than she was, was sent to the frontlines immediately after they were rounded up. Back then, she was fourteen. Now Krena is already fifteen.

But on that night, someone chased those scoundrels away, ignoring the blood on his body as he did his best to revive her dying parents, yet was unable to save them. Apologizing them to them was an Alba, a Serena soldier.

“The Whites are all scumbags… I’ll never forgive them.”

Soon, both of them returned to the room, and the topic had long diverted from the mouse to the scenery and usual daily lives on the battlefield.

Daiya merely shrugged as he spotted Raiden looking towards him, and continued to repair the radio. Krena picked up the kitten that was crouched on the bed next to Shinn and started playing with it. However, she may not have been in the mood to do so.

And so Shinn shifted aside, indicating for Krena to sit down. The latter cradled the kitten, looking nonchalant as she sat at the other side of the bed, pulling quite a distance from him.

“Really? Are there really that many stars to be seen, Kirschblüte?”

“Lots of them. I guess it was about two years back, when I just kept looking up, and suddenly a few stars started to fall from the skies. Most of the stars were flowing in trails of light. It’s really an impressive sight.”

The Kirschblüte Kaie continued to deal the cards, ignoring the fact that Krena had left her seat before.

Raiden too had seen that meteor shower. However, back then, he was in the middle of the battlefield, as both friends and foes were obliterated, with Shinn alone next to him. The “Juggernauts” they piloted had depleted their power packs, and the straggling Fido hurriedly wandered the battlefield, gathering them. They could not smile, let alone marvel at this sight.

There were no lights lit on the battlefield, and thus at night, the surroundings remained dark. That might be the endless darkness. On the ground, they could not see the fingers of their outstretched hands, and in the skies above, the white flames continued to slide across. The silent, breathtakingly majestic scenery was so beautiful, so radiant, as though the world was breaking into pieces, the end of the world declared.

I guess it’s worth seeing such a scene before we die. Raiden really regretted saying that back then. That bastard let out a chuckle.

“I’ll probably never get to see it again for the rest of my life… comets can be seen every year, but a meteor shower is like once in a few decades, and it’s said that such a massive one can’t be seen in a hundred years… oh, I heard that from Kujo (Sirius).”

“It’s a pity… I want to have a look too.”

“You can’t see them within the Wall (over there)?”

“The streets here are covered in light. I cannot see the stars.”

“Ahh.”

Kaie chuckled. How nostalgic it was for her.

“Now that you mention it… the night here is really dark. Not many people around here, it’s far from the city, and the lights are controlled, so we’re always able to see the stars in the night sky, so full of them. This is a benefit of living here.”

“…”

Upon hearing Kaie’s conclusion, the Handler went silent. She probably heard an unexpected answer. Perhaps she had assumed there was nothing good to hear from the mouths of the Processors, living in the Hell on Earth.

A strange voice raised this question.

That voice was filled with conviction, one ready to be lambasted and reproached.

“Kirschblüte… d-do you hate us?”

Kaie was momentarily silent.

“…Well, the painful discrimination is just tough, of course. It’s not easy being in the Concentration Camp, and every day we go out to battle is scary. Those people who imposed this lifestyle and duty on us, dismissing the Eighty Sixers as livestock instead of humans are not popular, to say the least.”

The Handler was about to say something, probably to apologize or blame herself, but Kaie continued on. Naturally, she had no intention of letting the Handler speak up.

“But I know not all Albas are bad… just like how not all Eighty Sixers are good people.”

“Eh…?”

Kaie suddenly pursed her lips bitterly.

“I’m a Far East Black (Orienta). Back in the Concentration Camp and my old squad, I encountered some things.”

Not only her, but Angel too… and though he did not mention it, Shinn probably suffered the same thing. Those that had the mixed blood of the oppressed, the Eighty Sixers, and the oppressors, the Albas, or the Empire’s nobles, their status was taken as a pretext to be detained. They were all the target of frustration and unhappiness. The rare races of the Republic, originating from the east and the south, were also discriminated for no reason at all.

Not all Eighty Sixers were innocent victims.

To the minority and the weak, the world remained so cold, indifferent towards them.

“Anyways, there are good ones amongst the Albas. I’ve never met them personally, but there are those I know who said so. So I won’t hate you just because you are an Alba.”

“I see… so I guess I will have to thank them all.”

Kaie leaned forward a little. They were only synchronized, but seemed as though they were talking face to face.

“I have a question. Why do you care about us?”

A scorching image suddenly appeared in Shinn’s mind, and he lifted his eyes.

He had never encountered any fire or flaming torture; it seemed these were the memories of the Handler.

“I remember being saved by others. Those people were Processors, just like you…”

Lena recalled.

“We’re born to this country, raised in this country, citizens of the Republic.”

“Nobody admits to this now, but that’s why we have to prove ourselves. Fighting to protect our country is our duty, and honor as citizens. That is why we will fight.”

I want to respond to the words of that person who saved me.

“He said that he’s fighting to prove his identity as a citizen of the Republic. I feel that we need to answer that call. I feel it is a betrayal of ideals to have you fight, be sacrificed, and not acknowledging you, let alone not trying to understand you well… it is unforgivable, I feel.”

Upon hearing such naïve words, Raiden narrowed his eyes.

Kaie tilted her head as she heard that, and pondered for a moment, saying,

“Handler One, you really are a virgin.”

—Pfffff!?

Heard was the sound of tea spat from the lips of the Handler. She was not the only one, for the air burst out from the lungs of the other members.

Krena and Haruto, the only ones not synchronized, tilted their heads in confusion, and once they heard Angel’s explanation, they too burst out laughing.

The Handler girl continued to cough away.

Kaie was initially perplexed by everyone’s reactions, before her face started to pale,

“…Ahh! Sorry, my mistake here! I wanted to say that you’re like a virgin!”

Typically, such mistakes would not be made. Even so, the meaning was similar.

Daiya and Haruto were cupping their cramping tummies, slamming on the wall (Shut up! And Kino, who was next door, growled back). Even Shinn showed a rare reaction, his shoulders shaking.

Kaie panicked.

“Erm, I want to say that, you’re the type of girl who thinks that the whole world is covered in flowers, or that there’s a perfect, innocent ideal. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is…”

Clearly the Handler had frozen in place, her face beetroot.

“…You’re not a bad person. So, one piece of advice for you.”

Kaie finally appeared to have calmed down, as she said,

“You are not suited for this position. And you shouldn’t be caring about us. We’re not fighting for such noble reasons, so you don’t have to care about us… better swap yourself out before you regret it.”

You’re not a bad person, so Kaie said.

You’re a good person, yet that was not what she said.

Back then, Lena did not understand the distinction between them.

“Handler One to all forces. Enemy forces detected on radar.”

On this day, all forces of Squad Spearhead sortied. Lena was in the control room, watching the screen as she said,

“It’s an enemy squad of Grauwolf and Löwe. And a few anti-tank cannons (Stier) following—”

”We know, Handler One. Ready to intercept at Point 478.”

“Ah… understood. Undertaker.”

She was about to convey the positions of the enemies and the operation strategy, only to be cut off, and could only affirm blankly.

Squad Spearhead, a gathering of veterans, had no need for Lena’s leadership, and recently, her main job was to provide all kinds of assistance to support them, including analyzing the enemy, escalating the priority for resupply, visit the information branch every day, search for intel pertaining to the battle zone, and so on.

Over the past few days, she had been repeatedly requesting permission to use the intercepting cannon at the back of the battle zone. It had enough range, and at the very least, suppressed the firepower from the Scorpions, which should make the battles a little easier. However, the interception cannon was for single use, to be realigned after every shot. The transport team however did not wish to spend much effort for the inferior Eighty Sixers, and were unwilling to shift them. Thus, she could never get the permit. When she grumbled about it during her regular contact, ”That thing’s all rusty now, isn’t it?” she was rebuffed by Laughing Fox.

“Undertaker. Gunslinger here in position.”

”Laughing Fox to Undertaker. Team Three in position.”

The teams quickly arrived at their designated locations, having predicted the path of the <Legion> as they remained in flawless ambush positions.

It seemed they had established where the <Legion> was going and attacking, and the Processors of Spearhead might have seen something, or independently determined their positions.

Let’s ask them while this battle is over, Lena thought. If their methods could be shared with the other squads, perhaps that might reduce the number of Processors killed in ambushes. Precious intel was only useful personally, and one major flaw of this twisted battle system, was that the data could not be gathered and disseminated.

In any case, she had a look at the map of the first battlezone she found on the prior night, and said,

“Undertaker, please have Gunslinger positioned at 500 meters away, in the three o’clock direction. There should be a high tower over there that can be used for cover. It should be able to allow for a prone position for shooting, and enhanced vision.”

After a pause, Undertaker answered,

“Affirming… Gunslinger, can you see that position?”

“Hold on, give me ten seconds… yes, there is. I shall head there.”

“That position will cover the opposite direction as the vanguard team one is attacking towards. Considering that Undertaker’s basic strategy is to break their ranks and eliminate them, this should help hide our forces in the initial phase better than before.”

Werewolf snickered.

“So basically, used as bait. You sound like a Princess there, but it sure is interesting.”

“…The Löwe and Stier units are unable to shoot at high angles, and thus unable to attack gunners from high vantage pages. Also, if there is a need to shift, she can evade using the surrounding landscape…”

“Don’t misunderstand… that is a good idea. Right, Gunslinger?”

“Fine with anything as long as it can help others.”

The girl tersely responded, and directed her icy tone at Lena.

“You found a new map? How convenient huh?”

Lena grimaced. It seemed she was unable to get on the good side of this girl called the Gunslinger. Not even once did the latter participate in the daily contact, and even in the usual conversations, she was full of spite.

The map Lena had was once created by the military, with a lot of time and manpower put into it. It was detailed; however, it was said the map never made it to the frontline bases acting as important defense points. The map Squad Spearhead had was salvaged from a random pile of trash, by one of their ex-members, and they had been using it up to this point after much was added and edited. They were familiar with some locations and routes that would be beneficial to counterattack, but other than that, they were not familiar with the landscape at all.

“Should I send it over later?”

The data was massive, and it was inconvenient to send during the battle, so perhaps it would not be late for her to send it later.

Werewolf’s voice was full of ridicule.

“That’s fine. But is it fine to send a classified military map to enemy citizens (Eighty Sixers)?”

“It is fine. Information is to be used after all.”

Upon hearing her response, Werewolf went silent and let out a little sigh, probably out of lament.

Lena rummaged this map from a pile of cardboard boxes that was unmanaged, and nobody knew where it was before she found it. Nobody knew if it was lost or stolen, let alone photocopied, surely that was no classified information.

Nine years ago, when the war started, all forces of the military, including the backline, charged to the battlefront, and were slaughtered. Thus, the information and the empty positions were never passed down properly, resulting in much information being lost.

And the pride of professional soldiers, who should have dealt with such issues decisively, was gone.

“Also, none of you are just Eighty Sixers. I have never called you that—”

“Yes yes… they’re here.”

A tense atmosphere lingered. Some of them seemed excited, probably due to confidence as veterans, or due to the mass amounts of adrenaline being pumped into their bodies during an intense battle.

The roars of the cannons riveted her ears through the synchronized hearing.

On the chaotic battlefield, the red blips of the <Legion> started to dwindle in numbers.

The first team of Spearhead waded through the forest in the battlezone, and wiped out the Stier that had strong firepower but low defence and mobility. In the meantime, they lured the Grauwolf and the Löwe into the forest, intercepted them, and took them down one at a time. Due to the many obstacles in the forest, the Löwe had difficulty turning back, and unable to display its usual mobility, its firing range was greatly hindered. The <Legion> was forced to scatter in the cramped space, resulting in a loss of numerical advantage on their page.

To a bystander, they were very familiar in their actions, but in fact, the battle was not easy for them. The “Juggernaut” piloted by Kirschblüte barely managed to avoid a shot, ducked into a grove of trees, and tried to get to the left of the Löwe.

Lena immediately felt a chill. The positioning of the Löwe was a little strange. That enemy unit should not be there, given where the other enemy units were positioned. There was no way that single unit could provide cover for the surrounding units.

She frantically identified where Kirschblüte was headed, a clearly marked area on the map of the battlezone, which the latter would not know, a certain thing that seemed to be covered—

“Do not go there! Kirschblüte!”

“Eh?”

But it was too late to stop her

The blip indicating the position of the Kirschblüte came to an unnatural halt on the radar.

“…What? A wetland…!?”

Kaie shook hard due to inertia as her unit came to a rattling halt, groaning. Based on the screen, it appeared that the two front legs of her unit were sunk deep into the ground, she realized however that she was standing on wetlands, which only resembled grasslands due to the dark forest. This was a death trap for a “Juggernaut,” for the pressure its legs exert onto the ground was huge.

Anyway, I should retreat from here as soon as possible.So Kaie thought as she held her joysticks—

“Kirschblüte! Get out of there!”

She lifted her head upon Shinn’s warning. The optical sensors of the Kirschblüte drifted upwards along with her eyes.

Before her eyes was a Löwe.

“…Ah.”

The distance between the two was at bare minimum, and the Löwe swung its front legs. Viciously. The spinning gears moved the joints, no matter how the prey under its feet whimpered.

“No.”

Her voice was feeble, like a child on the verge of crying.

“I don’t want to die.”

The gears spun, and the massive legs able to move fast and support a mass of fifty tonnes slapped the Kirschblüte aside.

The joints were very feeble, and once it took an impact beyond a limit, the insides would be sent flying. This clamshell-like cockpit, dubbed the “guillotine” by the Processors, splintered apart as befitting of its name.

Something round landed on the ground with a thud, rolled into the greenery, and vanished.

After a moment of shock, the communication system was overwhelmed with growls and rage.

“Kirschblüte!? —Shit!!”

“Undertaker, I’m going to retrieve her. Give me a minute! We can’t just leave her like that!”

Shinn answered, his voice as calm as ever, like water beneath the icy surface of a winter lake.

“It’s pointless, Snow Witch… it’s a trap, and they’re lying in wait.”

The Löwe that had killed Kaie remained hidden there. It’s a common tactic often used by Snipers, to lay out an injured soldier or corpse in an obvious position, and kill any enemies who come to aid or retrieve.

Angel did not answer, instead hitting her fist onto the dashboard, which gave a thud. The “Snow White” continued to fire 57mm grenades upon the Kirschblüte and the area around it.

“Kirschblüte is KIA. Kino (Fafnir), assist Team Four… the enemies are few now, eliminate them before they breach her.”

“Understood.”

The calm response was not swallowed in rage. These “codenamed” were already too used to seeing their friends blown up before them, or the signals of their friends lost on the radar, so much so that they were numb. Agony would have to wait for its turn after the battle ended, for they would otherwise be buried as well. This damned sense of rationality was forged through the flames of war, such that they had to set all feelings aside, except for the necessity of remaining calm. Such was the decision made after being used to the madness of the battlefield, as humans were gradually imbued with the subconsciousness of a fighting machine.

For a moment, in the blink of an eye, the four-legged spiders creaked, giving off weird footstep sounds as they entered the darkness of the greenery.

They slaughtered everything, like a bunch of wandering skeletons before the Gates of Hades, so that after they sent her off, their departed comrade would not feel lonely.

Soon after, the forces of the <Legion> were liquidated. None could retreat, and they were all eliminated without a trace, in a demonstration of the wills of the Processors. Lena felt a pain in her heart.

Two days ago, just two days ago, she heard the deceased one describe the majestic scene of the meteor shower, and those proud words. Regret surged into her heart like a tide.

If only she could have found the map sooner.

If only she had alerted them earlier.

“Battle is over. Good work, everyone.”

Nobody responded. Everyone was probably in anguish.

“With regards to the death of Kirschblüte… my regrets. If only I could only done a little more…”

At that moment,

A terrifying silence came from the other end of the Para-RAID.

“…Regret?”

Uttering back was Laughing Fox. His voice was calm, yet clattering, trying his best to control his rage.

“What are you regretting? What’s the deaths of an Eighty Sixer or two to you? Once you get home from work, you’ll just forget about it, and have a happy dinner, right? All you know is saying such pretty words. You know how empty they are!?”

For a moment, she was taken aback, not knowing what he was saying, and not knowing how she should answer.

Hey, It was unknown what feelings Laughing Fox had when Lena was at a loss of words, for he sighed, and continued, with clear hostility, disgust, and rage,

“You said you wouldn’t discriminate against others, won’t think of us as pigs, call yourself so pure and righteous. That’s just a game for you to beautify yourself as a Saint, because we were bored. Mind reading the mood here though? We just lost a comrade. No time to entertain your fake goodness, get it?”

“Fa—”

Fake goodness?

“Or do you think that we don’t feel anything just because a comrade died? –Haha, yeah, for you, Eighty Sixers are just a bunch of Eighty Sixers, pigs who are beneath humans, and no way can the exalted humans reason with those beneath them!”

“No…”

The sudden words left Lena’s mind completely blank.

“No! I wasn’t…!”

“No? Then what else? You dump us onto the battlefield as weapons, have us fight to the death, and hide within the walls, just enjoying the show with an uppity face there. If that’s not calling us Eighty Sixers as ‘pigs,’ then what?”

“…”

The feelings of the Processors seeped into her heart through the Para-RAID.

Some were unconcerned, while others, like Laughing Fox, were giving looks of varying levels of coldness, with malice, disgust, and forsakenness.

“Not calling us Eighty Sixers!? You just haven’t called us that, that’s all! What ‘protecting this country is our pride as citizens, that we have to respond to the call. Do you think we came to fighting a war willingly!? Isn’t it because you chased us out here and forced us to fight!? Do you know how many millions died ever since the war started!? You don’t care about ending the war, just say those nice words everyday, and think that’s enough to think of us as humans. You—”

With one sentence after another, Laughing Fox proceeded to slap her face verbally.

Lena had assumed she was thinking of them as people. That was all. What he said next was the decisive proof that she did not, gorging blood out from her bright, sparkling heart.

“—Never bothered asking for our names anyway, haven’t you!?”

 


At that moment, she forgot to breathe.

“Ah…”

She recalled the conversations they had, and went into a state of shock. Right, she did not know their names, and never once did she ask them. She could not call any of them by their names, whether it was the Undertaker who always answered first, or the enthusiastic Kirschblüte. Naturally, she never gave her name, only referring to herself as Handler One, the codename indicating that she was the manager and invigilator. She never felt anything amiss about it.

Such was an act of disrespect between humans, one that was absolutely unforgivable, unless it was an established guideline.

She unwittingly did so, without realizing it.

Pets should be treated as pets.

She recalled her mother saying this, and herself acting this way. Other than the fact that she never blurted it out, how was she any different from her mother—

Her body started to shiver. Tears welled from her eyes, dripping like trails of pearls off a loose thread. She could not say anything, and could whimper. She covered her mouth with both hands. She had unwittingly trampled upon others, never feeling a sense of remorse. She was terrified upon seeing the ugly face hidden in her heart, and was terrified.

Werewolf, no, the Colorata boy she referred to as such, whose name and appearance she did not know of, hissed back.

“Seo.”

“Raiden! Why protect this white swine—!?”

“Seeeo.”

“Tch… got it.”

The click of a tongue rang. Laughing Fox’s presence vanished from the Para-RAID.

Werewolf gave a long sigh, venting all his feelings out from his heart, and directed his words towards her,

“Handler One, disconnect.”

“…Werewolf, erm.”

“The battle has ended. We have no duty bound to be managed… what Laughing Fox did was too much, but this does not mean that we are willing to chat around with you.”

The icy cold tone had no intention to criticize, yet it sounded exceptionally cruel to Lena’s ears.

He never berated her insolence. He never blamed her, showing that he had given up on her. In any case, while they pretended to talk, she had no intention to listen, and did not know what she was saying. To him, she was simply a swine resembling a human. He had already given up.

“…Sorry.”

She suppressed the trembling in her voice as she eked those words out, and after a pause, she disconnected. None of them responded to her apology.

After disconnecting with the Handler and the other squadmates, Seo felt unbearable.

And then, Angel finally connected with him.

“Seo.”

“…I know.”

He grumbled. He hated his immature response, and pouted in anger.

“I understand how you feel, but you were too much there. Even if it was the truth, you should not have said so.”

“I understand… sorry.”

He understood. He had promised everyone that he would not do that. There was no need to emphasize anything that was understood, and he had abided by this promise up to this point.

He expressed everything in his heart with the harshest words he could think of, but his heart could never be quelled. Instead, he was increasingly agitated, and that infuriated him. The sharp words also hurt his irreplaceable squadmates, the ones he should not be hurting.

He broke that promise. He broke that important promise, because of that damned white swine.

But he could not endure. For surely it was because,

“…Of that Squad Leader?”

“…Yeah.”

He recalled the massive back.

When he was twelve, and had just enrolled, he met the Leader of his first squad.

He was cheerful, bubbly, and yet ostracized by everyone in the squad. Back then, even Seo hated him.

The personal codename “Laughing Fox” was inherited from him. Back then, Seo’s sketching skills were not decent in any way, and he could only doodle on the smiling Fox under the canopy of the Leader’s “Juggernaut”, turning it into a sneer of a mischievous fox.

Once he heard that white swine talk like a self-professed Saint, with the same expression as that Leader, acting sympathetic over Kaie’s death, Seo could not bear it anymore.

A single moment of impulse resulted in the outcome he was most unwilling to see.

“…Sorry, Kaie.”

He lowered his eyes when he saw the remains of the burnt “Kirschblüte.” He had seen countless of his comrades’ corpses, but for her, he could not bury her when she was in front of him, and neither could he retrieve her corpse.

“I did what that white swine did. I wasted your sacrifice.”

To you, who stood so proudly even after experiencing so much, and never grumbled anything until the very end.

Each night a squadmate died, the rest would be alone or in groups, mourning for the dead in their own ways. Nobody entered Shinn’s room.

The light of the moon and the many stars filled the room, such that there was no need to switch the lights on. Shinn had his eyes closed under this cold light. Suddenly, he heard a tapping on the window from the outside, and opened his bloody red eyes.

Outside the windows of the barracks was Fido, extending its crane arms to the second level, and with the manipulators, handed over the metal plate that was several centimetres wide.

“Thanks.”

“Pii.”

Shinn received the plate, and Fido flickered its optical sensors, before creaking as it turned around, and returned to the automated reclamation plant to deliver the container full of debris. Such was the actual job of a “Scavenger.”

Once he laid out the metal plate on a piece of cloth, the Para-RAID was activated.

Shinn stopped his hand from undoing the cloth bag of basic tools, and frowned. He was the only one being synchronized to, and the other party was not a member of this base.

“…”

But once she contacted him, she never said anything, a feeling of pain and sadness instead lingering. Shinn sighed, and asked,

“Is there anything, Handler one?”

It seemed her shoulders jolted, but she remained silent, probably hesitant. Shinn did not mind, waiting patiently for her to speak up.

He continued with his work, and after a while, the Handler girl finally let out a quivering voice. This time, Shinn did not stop what he was doing as he heard the probing, delicate voice that was still fearful of rejection.

“…Erm…”

If he had refused, she would simply disconnect obediently, so she thought.

With this notion in mind, Lena was terrified as she heard the usual, calm voice.

Again and again she tried easing her breathing, preparing to talk, and after several tries, she finally let out a voice.

“…Erm, Undertaker. Is it convenient now…?”

“Yeah sure.”

It was a calm, steady, monotonous voice of a flat reply.

Once she heard that usual tone, she finally understood that it was not a display of his calmness, but that he was simply aloof towards her.

She lowered her head, berating her heart for hesitating due to fear.

Perhaps it was still despicable of her.

She should have introduced herself to every member. However, she had no courage to try contacting Laughing Fox or Werewolf, who would surely not be contacted again.

“My apologies. For what happened in the day, and everything before, I am really sorry… erm.”

She clenched her fists that were placed on her knees.

“My name is Lena. Vladlena Millize. It might be late for me to ask now… but do you mind telling me of your names…?”

The silence lingered for a while.

Lena felt utter apprehension in this silence. The voice coming from afar emphasized this silence before her.

“…If you are bothered by what Laughing Fox just said…”

The voice was still filled with coldness. It was aloof, straightforward, an objective narration.

“Then you have no need to do so. What he said isn’t representative of what all of us think. This isn’t a problem you alone caused, and it’s unlikely you would have been able to do anything with your own power. We understand. What he is blaming is what you couldn’t do, there’s no need to mind.”

“But… it is my fault for not asking everyone their names.”

“There’s no need for that. The Para-RAID synchronization is designed so that the <Legion> won’t eavesdrop, but we do need to identify each other through codenames. Why do you think the personal particulars of the Processors aren’t disclosed?”

Lena pursed her lips. It was not difficult to realize the reason, though it was not a glorious one to begin with.

“So that the Handlers will never think of the Processors as humans.”

“Yeah. Most of the Handlers won’t live past a year. It’s way too much responsibility for a single Handler to deal with so many deaths. Probably out of this consideration.”

“This is too despicable! I…”

She recovered, and her voice once again shrivelled.

“I too am despicable… but I don’t want to remain like this possible. If you’re willing… can you please, tell me your names?”

Shinn could only sigh at this unexpectedly obstinate Handler girl.

“The real name of today’s KIA Kirschblüte is Kaie Tanya.”

“!”

There was a clearly delighted squeal from the other end of the Para-RAID, but it was stifled once she realized it was the name of the girl who had just died on the day itself. In contrast, Shinn calmly gave the names of his squadmates.

“Vice Commander Werewolf’s name is Raiden Shuga. Laughing Fox is Seo Lica. Snow Witch is Angel Ema. Gunslinger is Krena Cucumila. Black Dog is Daiya Iruma—”

After the names of the twenty squadmates, the Handler concluded them,

“I am Vladlena Millize. Please call me Lena.”

“Heard that just now… your rank is?”

“Ah… yes. Major. Just appointed.”

“So is it fine for me to call your Major Millize?”

“…Goodness.”

Lena gave a wry smile upon hearing Shinn’s insistence to call her his superior.

And then, she finally thought of something, asking,

“Nobody seems to be around today…what are you doing?”

Shinn was momentarily silent.

“—A name.”

“Eh?”

“I’m engraving Kaie’s name now… us Eighty Sixers have no graves.”

He raised the little metal plate, put it under the moonlight, and inspected it. The rectangular aluminium alloy had Kaie’s name engraved upon it, the reddened part with black words upon it. On the picture of the five-petaled cherry blossom petal, the word “Kirschblüte” of her native tongue was written, the personal codename of Kaie’s “Juggernaut.”

“In the first Squad I was in, I had a promise with others to engrave the names of those KIA on the debris of their units, and the survivors are to keep them. The ones to finally live on will carry the pieces of those dead along.”

Initially, they were unable to obtain the debris of some units, and could only use other metal plates or wooden boards to replace, and engrave the names of the dead with nails, as proof that they once existed.

Once Fido learned of this, it started to compromise and obtain the debris of the unit. It also learned to cut off the personal mark of the dead that was located at the bottom of the canopy.

All the metal plates, including the members of his initial squad, and the deceased he encountered later on, were in the equipment box located in the “Undertaker” cockpit. All he wanted to do was to abide by the promise he made with them.

“Back then, the one who lived through to the end was me. I then went to another squad, and ended up being the only one alive again. So I have to bring them along. I need to keep the comrades who fought alongside me all the time.”

Lena felt a sudden jolt in her heart once she heard that calm voice.

She suddenly understood that unlike before, the poise in his voice was not that he was unfazed.

And she was quickly embarrassed by this.

He simply accepted the countless deaths of those around him. Never once did he lament their deaths, for he simply accepted it and took them on.

In the day, he did not simply recognize that a squadmate had died and emptily mourn over her death. He simply took on her death in stride, and that really was more admirable.

“How many have died at this point…?”

“Five hundred and sixty one, including Kaie.”

He answered immediately, and she pursed her lips. She did not remember the numbers of those who had died under her command. They were not numerous in numbers, but if she were to be asked, she might not be able to recall precisely.

“…So that’s why you’re called ‘Undertaker.’”

“That’s one reason.”

He could only remember his deceased comrades, unable to build graves for them, and imprinted his memories and thoughts about them on the aluminium plates.

It was no wonder that he was so adored. This boy, called the Undertaker, was so kind—

Upon thinking about this.

Lena suddenly widened her eyes.

“Erm, Undertaker.”

But even at this moment, Shinn did not realize how he had expressed so little care and concern for everything else. This not only applied to Lena, but also for himself.

“I do not recall hearing your name…?”

Shinn blinked his eyes. Are you unwilling to tell me? she asked, but that was not the case. It just slipped out of his mind.

“Sorry. Shinei Nouzen.”

For Shinn, his name, or personal codename were just identification markers for him, and he did not care about what he was called. He simply answered, only to lift his eyes once he heard Lena gasp.

“Nouzen…!?”

Lena repeated that name in a daze.

Thunk! It sounded as though her chair was toppled over as she suddenly stood up.

“Do you know of someone called Shourei Nouzen? His personal codename is Dullahan, with the personal mark of a white headless skeleton knight…!”

Shinn widened his eyes slightly.

“Let us have a look at the battlefield, Lena. Have a look at what is going on there.”

On that day, the Republic’s Colonel Vaclav Millize brought his one daughter, the ten year old Vladlena along to the frontlines, on a scout plane.

“…Are we in the middle of war, father?”

“Yes, of course. At the same time, we are doing something extremely inhumane.”

Vaclav was one of the few survivors of the Republic’s army. The subordinates under him fought for their families and compatriots, basked in blood, and yet his beloved country introduced a vicious law that trampled upon their ideals.

They deemed that some of their people, whom they should protect, were not humans, and shooed them out, forcing them to battle.

He was unable to forget an incident that happened onat a certain town.

They hastily conscripted new recruits to replace their corps that were wiped out, and most of them were unemployed due to psychotic tendencies and laziness, lacking in education, and the first mission they received was to shoo away the citizens next to them, with guns. The pitifully little morality they had was wiped away, and all squads started being violent everywhere.

He still remembered that scoundrel shooting down their parents before the children’s eyes.

The girl, probably the older sister, bawled out loud, and the younger sister watched this with her icy eyes. This image remained imprinted upon Vaclav’s mind.

It was unlikely that they would ever forgive the Albas and the Republic.

“…If we can hurry and stop this… better hurry…”

The scout plane was not flying too fast, so that his young daughter could see everything beyond the <Grand Mur>.

The citizens living in the first legislative zone hardly went out. The fighter plane flew over the production factories along the hilly ravines along the edge of the zones, across the solar power generators, geothermal generators, wind power generators, and across the <Grand Mur> that stood tall and majestic like the mountains. Lena widened her eyes as she saw this scenery for the first time in her life. However, once the plane flew over the skies of the containment zone, she saw the shoddy barracks surrounded by wire fences and mines draped upon the grasslands as the sunset shone upon it, and her eyes looked increasingly bleak, unlike the enthusiasm she showed before.

Vaclav smiled as he saw his daughter look outside with a grim look. Such a smart maiden; she could observe, learn, and think with her own eyes, even without others teaching her.

It was a military offense to use a military craft for personal use, and have a civilian without permit ride on it, but he did not care. The actual Republic Army consisted of failures wearing military clothes and caps, spending their working time gaming, gambling, and partying after work.

“Head down a little further from the frontlines. I want to show my child what a battlefield is like.”

He told the pilot, who was holding the joystick. A scout plane hardly had the chance to fly beyond the eighty five legislative zones, and since there was hardly a chance to fly far, the pilot enthusiastically agreed by nodding without much of a thought.

“Understood, Colonel… but the area should be a no-fly zone established by the logistics team, right?”

“It’s fine. We’re not flying into a contested area. It’ll be night if we keep flying at this speed. The <Legion> won’t get moving.”

The <Legion> would typically move in the day, for their power was generated through electricity. The generator-type enemies in the occupied zone, the Admirals, would produce energy packs for the fighting forces in the day, and if the <Legion> units were to run out of power during battle, they could recharge their power through solar panels. As electricity could not be generated at night, they would be shot down once their power ran out. Thus, they typically would avoid fighting at night.

While Vaclav wanted to show Lena how intense a battle against the <Legion> would be…

Nothing compared to the safety of his daughter. As he watched her little back, he grimaced.

Yet Vaclav made a mistake.

Subconsciously, he might have assumed that only the Eighty Sixers would be sacrificed on the battlefield, and did not mind too much.

The <Legion> surrounded them, their contact with the other countries was blocked off, and they could not deploy fighter jets to attack enemy land targets.

The Stachelschwein.

These are the mobile anti-air units of the <Legion> deployed everywhere in the Republic and everywhere else right when the war started, hidden amidst the Eintagsfliege.

The bright lights of the battlefield lit the pitch black sky, and red flames scattered along with a deafening explosion.

The rotor blades on the left wing got hit as the scout plane let out a trail of blaze, lost its balance, and gradually fell towards the ground.

One Squad Leader was on patrol at night as he witnessed this scene.

“…Hey, there was a scout plane.”

“Huh? Ohh, forget about it, Dullahan. Probably some dumb swine who flew a plane to see the frontlines. Isn’t it great for us Eighty Sixers to see several dead white swines?”

The leader did not hear his words, instead closing the hatch of his cockpit, and activated his beloved unit. Bloody red hair, and pitch black iris in the eyes.

“Hey Dullahan…”

“I’m going to save them… continue with the patrol.”

A sea of fire surrounded her when she opened her eyes.

Lena’s hands were on the ground as she supported her body off it, staring around in a daze.

Everything was ablaze, and her father was not moving in the middle of the flames, for everything above his torso had vanished.

She heard the calls coming from the outside, and climbed out of the cabin.

Before her was a massive monster she could only see when her head was lifted, its exterior reflecting a blunt silver amidst the flames.

The bloody red eyes were glowing like glass, and the multi-purpose machine guns mounted upon its shoulders were a terrifyingly deep color. The worm-like joints were grinding erratically, and the frame lingered in the air, practically gliding on ice, in a revolting manner.

The pilot, not too far away, was yelling something, and raised the assault rifle on his waist, squeezing the trigger madly. Most of the bullets missed, and the few that did merely grazed the armor. The Ameise paid no heed as it slowly approached him, and nonchalantly swung its front legs forward. At that moment, the upper body of the pilot was severed, and the blood splattered from the severed region like a geyser, the lower body left behind tumbling over.

The Ameise’s optical sensor unit then turned to Lena again.

She could only shrink back, at her wits end. At that moment,

“—Anyone who’s still alive there, get down!”

A booming roar echoed through the speakers. A four-legged spider torqued a trail of fire, charging over with the darkness of the night and the red flames in the background.

The personal mark of the white headless skeleton knight, at the side of the spider, was embellished in Lena’s eyes.

It raised the heavy machine guns on its combat arms, and started firing. The heavy machine guns roars, ripping at the ears.

The assault rifle the soldier had just used was a mere toy compared to them. The bullets of the heavy machine gun could easily shoot through concrete walls and armored tanks, and they rushed towards the Ameise like a strong gust, before the latter could turn around.

The thin armor of the Ameise was immediately torn through, becoming a thoroughly deformed piece of scrap metal.

Lena, still dazed amidst the blazing of heavy machine gun fire, lifted her head, and saw the massive spider creaking towards her.

“You alright?”

She was increasingly terrified as she heard the monster speak with a human voice and language, remaining silent, and shrivelling. The body of the spider then broke into two, the hatch opened, and someone appeared from within.

It was a boy, approximately twenty, with bloody red hair, a slender body, and black-green spectacles.

The big brother who had just saved her called himself Shourei Nouzen.

She came to the entrance of the place he called <base>. There were many mechanical spiders inside the base, and the stars filled the night sky, a scene not to be seen in the first legislative zone.

There were a few others in the <base>, but this big brother had warned not to approach them. None of them had approached her, only glaring at her from afar, which left her a little terrified.

Once she heard this big brother state his name, Lena blinked her eyes. She never knew, nor had heard of this name.

“…That is a weird name.”

“Yep. Heard that even in the Empire, only the families of dad uses this rare family name. The name too is a weird one.”

The big brother shrugged with a wry smile.

“Call me Ray. That’s not a nice name to read huh? It does seem to be a traditional name of my family, but it’s too foreign for the Republic.”

“Aren’t you a citizen of the Republic, big brother?”

“My parents were born in the Empire, while my little brother and I were born in the Republic… yeah, I got a little brother, about the same age as you are… he should be all grown up now.”

Ray was smiling as he said this, but looked so lonely. His eyes were filled with nostalgia and bitterness, as though he was looking not too far away.

“You haven’t see him?”

“…Yeah. I can’t go back.”

Until the end of their service, the Eighty Sixers could never go back, and not rest on any day. Back then, Lena did not know that.

Are you hungry? he asked, and she remembered that she had yet to eat, but she was not feeling hungry, and shook her head. Ray’s eyes became earnest, You should be able to drink some sweet stuff, right? He plopped a piece of chocolate into hot water, and handed it to her. Though she was young, Lena realized such treatment was rare at such places.

“…Father once said.”

“Hm?”

“That we did cruel things to Colorata. You’re one too, big brother. Why did you save me?”

Ray had a torn look on his face upon being posed this direct question from the girl. The latter had seen such a face before, the face of an adult who would try to answer what would be a complex question for her.

“…Well, we are being cruelly treated now, our freedoms are taken away, our dignities trampled upon. This is unforgivable for anyone, and those who did that are unforgivable. We were treated like that, branded as lower than humans, citizens, barbaric, violent, despicable pigs.”

The impressionable, icy rage flickered in those black eyes for a moment, for faded in an instant. He took a mug, had a sip of water, and tried to swallow that rage down.

“But we do belong to this country, and are citizens of the Republic, born to this country.”

It was a calm sentence filled with determination and ruggedness, echoing in Lena’s ears.

“Nobody now is willing to admit, but it’s because of this that we’re working hard to prove this. We’re fighting to protect our country, and it’s our duty and honor as citizens. That’s why we’re able to fight, and protect through battle. We will protect… and no way will we do worse than those who will only work with their mouths.”

Lena blinked in confusion. Battle, for the sake of protecting, to prove. However, the enemy were such massive monsters.

“Are you not scared…?”

“Of course I am. But if I don’t fight, I can’t live on.”

He shrugged and smiled, lifted his head, and looked up at the starry sky.

The stars filled every corner of the night skies, glittering away, resulting in a terrifying silence. Appearing between the stars was an endless void, a dignified night.

The smile vanished from Ray’s face. With every word, he punctuated a solemn oath.

“I won’t die, and I can’t die. I’ll have to live on, to find my little brother.”

To this day, the sixteen year old Lena could still remember the earnest look and words from Ray.

And so when she heard of a family name similar to his, she stood up in excitement, not caring that the chair was toppled over, or that her teacup had fallen over and shattered.

Ray had mentioned that his last name was rare even in the Empire, and Lena had never met anyone else called “Nouzen.” This boy with a similar name might be family to Ray, or even the one who was of similar age to her—

Finally, Shinn spoke up.

He appeared to have been momentarily dumbfounded, for it was the first time she had heard such a stupefied voice from him.

“…That’s my older brother.”

“Older brother… then.”

I haven’t met him, he said. I want to meet him, he said. That person once swore

I see, so he’s the little brother.

“He did say that he really wanted to meet you, that he had to go back… may I ask how your older brother is doing?”

Lena anxiously asked, for she was overwhelmed with nostalgia, but Shinn’s voice was back to being icy.

“He died. Five years ago. On the Eastern Front.”

Ah.

“…My apologies.”

“No.”

A terse answer from him that implied it really was nothing.

Lena was slightly confused by how Shinn’s attitude was so different from Ray’s when the latter talked about the former. He remained silent, but it seemed he was not being aloof, as though he was familiar with death.

While she was wondering what she should say, Shinn quietly spoke.

“You asked me, what do I want to do once I retire, right?”

“Ah… yes.”

“I don’t really have anything I want to do, whether it’s now or when I retire. There is something I have to do however… I need to find my older brother. I have been looking for him over the past five years.”

Lena tilted her head in confusion. He knew that his brother had died, so that meant,

“You wish to find… his body?”

He seemed a little agitated.

It was not a smile, more of a sneer, one icy and heartless as compared to before.

His eyes were as alluring as a sharp, terrifying blade of ice, filled with madness.

“—No.”

The following day.

After hearing a brief explanation from Shinn, the Handler synchronized with the squad, apologized, and asked for their names, one by one. This left Seo really awkward.

“…Shinn. Mind if you don’t do anything unnecessary?”

“You’re regretting it now, right? You shouldn’t have said that anyway.”

Daiya showed a smirk, while Angel showed a tender look in her eyes. Damn it Krena, why are you looking away and acting like it has nothing to do with you? You were just as angry as I was. You would have yelled if I didn’t.

“I heard that you’re Major Millize. Didn’t Shinn tell you our names?”

“I did hear from him. But I never heard any of you mention your names.”

So you’re can’t call us by our names until we have forgiven you? You’re troublesome.

Shinn remained silent, and Lena appeared to be a child who was shrivelling, waiting to be scolded, for she knew she was in the wrong. Seo showed a frustrated look, either because he was peeved, or that he was uncooperative.

“The Leader who was first assigned to our squad.”

This sudden diversion of topic left Lena slightly perturbed, but he continued,

“Was as happy as an idiot, and was already a soldier to begin with… an Alba.”

He could hear a gasp from the other end of the Para-RAID.

“He survived the first defenses, and said that it was weird for just the Eighty Sixers to fight, so he came to the frontlines. My squadmates never said anything in front of him, but they badmouthed him behind his back many times. Anyway, he was really irritating, already an irritating one to begin with. He said that everyone’s a Processor, but he’s the one who chose to come here, while we never had a choice. Even if he did come here, he could have gone back home if he got sick of this. We all got angry whenever he pretended to be one of us. Everyone was betting on when he would use up all his pity and go back.”

“…”

“But we were all wrong. That Leader never went back, even until the very end. He died without going back. He protected the other Processors, remained behind, and died.”

The last to hear his words was Seo. Seo was the closest to the Leader as they left him behind, and at that moment, the latter contacted him through the wireless communicator, asking to hear him out, even if they paid no heed to his words.

—I know you guys hate me. It’s normal, I won’t say anything about it.

—Of course you guys hate me. I didn’t come here to help you after all, and not to save you.

—I just feel that if I let you guys fight, I’ll never be able to forgive myself. I’m scared of becoming like that. I came to this battlefield for my own sake, and of course, I won’t be forgiven.

—Don’t ever forgive me.

Suddenly, the wireless communicator was filled with static, and silence beckoned. Seo finally understood that Leader knew such a day would come, and never once synchronized with them on the Para-RAID. He had already made up his mind, that when he returned to the battlefield a second time, he would die in battle and never return.

Seo regretted it, he regretted that he could never say a few words to the Leader. Even at this moment, he regretted it.

“Look, I don’t want you to do the same thing as that leader. I just want to say that, as long as you remain there behind the walls, you’ll never be equals to us, and that we’ll never be comrades of yours. That’s all.”

Once he said what he wanted to say, he did a lazy stretch. It was clearly a past of his everyone else had known, self-explanatory, and something he had thought over many times over. At this point, it would not hurt for him to say this.

“That’s all I have to say here… ahh, I’m Seo Lica. Just call me Seo, or Lica, or cute shitty pig, anything you like.”

“This is not a trivial matter… I do apologize, for everything through yesterday, really.”

“That’s enough already. Goodness, you’re annoying.”

“So when Kaie talked about that good person… that was who she was referring to?”

“Not just that leader. That goes for everyone else who came back to fight, like him.”

Everyone else was also fighting against this tragic world, created by those of their kind.

“…”

Raiden then introduced himself.

“This is the Vice Commander Raiden here… first off, I’ve got to apologize here. We thought you were just showing pity and acting like a Saint when you keep contacting us every night, and we were laughing at you, a swine who never knew how pretentious you were. We all have to apologize about that. Our bad. And also.”

The black, metallic eyes coldly narrowed.

“As Seo said, we don’t think of you as equals, or a comrade. You are the idiot who trampled upon us and said such pretty words from high up. That will never change, and we can’t really change our opinion here. If you want some people to continue spending time with you though, we don’t mind thinking of it as free time, but I personally don’t recommend doing so. You really aren’t suited to be a Handler… better resign as soon as possible.”

Lena let out a little chuckle.

“If you do not mind the hassle, please allow me to intrude upon your spare time.”

Raiden gave a wry smile. His ferocious wolf-like face was filled with a rare trace of human emotion.

“You’re a hopeless idiot too…. ah yeah. Send the map over. You forgot after crying all night long, right?”

This time, Lena smiled again.

“Immediately.”

As he nonchalantly overheard their conversations, Shinn recalled the words Lena said.

Shourei Nouzen.

A name he had not heard in a while.

He never thought he would hear that name again. He almost forgot about such a name. Shinn never called that person by his name, even until the very end.

Unwittingly, his right hand reached for the scarf wrapped around his neck.

Brother.

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