Hellping

[86 V3] Chapter 6 – Over There

The television’s ‘news program’ talked about the ‘situation’ on the Western battlefront’ where her brother was at. The news report stated that the ‘Federation army’ had defeated lots of invading “Legion”.

Six year old Nina Lantz lifted her head when she heard a car park before her house.

The red and black colors of the twin-headed hawk was imprinted upon the Federation official vehicle. Every letter sent from her brother Eugene, currently serving the army, was delivered by this steel-colored sedan.

Her aunt welcomed them, and upon seeing the twin-headed hawk crest of the Federation army on the envelope, Nina knew that it was from her brother, so she teetered forth. Ever since he had enlisted in special cadet school half a year ago, her brother hardly came back home, and did not do so ever since he was officially assigned a month and half ago. Her beloved brother was ten years old, resilient and kind.

Nina wanted to call out to her aunt, but she noticed that something was amiss with her, and so she stopped in her tracks.

Her aunt’s face turned pale as she received the letter, her hands, wrinkled from housework, were quivering slightly.

The soldier handing the letter over had a black sash dangling diagonally across his steel-colored uniform, his lips pursed grimly.

What happened?

Did something happen to my brother?

At that moment, the live footage of the Western frontline’s was replaced with a dazzling flash and a silent boom.

Shinn twitched his body, and the glass fragments fell onto the floor, making a clattering noise.

He, having pressed Frederica down, slowly got up on his feet. The glass windows were shattered, and the dust raised by the tremor fluttered under the sunlight shining onto the corridors of the Division Headquarters.

He could feel blood on the left side of his temple, probably due to shards from the glass, but he wiped it off with the back of his hand. The impact from the tremor destroyed the glass, passing right above him as he laid on the floor, causing his ears to be in pain.

Shinn looked beyond the windows with its now nonexistent frames, and narrowed his eyes.

Frederica staggered to her feet.

“…Has it stopped? Shinei, the situation of the damage…”

“Don’t look.”

Shinn did not wait for her to answer as he wrapped his arms around the little head at his belly, covering her sights.

Beyond the window, tens of kilometres away from the command base was the FOB 14 barely visible. At this point, the base, including the 5000 forces, had vanished without a trace.

Not crumbled, not destroyed, but vanished. The vague grey cluster of silhouettes that were down by the horizon had vanished without a trace. The large cloud of dust that was lingering in the air was the only thing that remained, and it seemed to be an indication that something was there before it was destroyed by a cannon.

He turned around, and found that the command base was slightly damaged. A hangar not too far away was utterly devastated, forming a wretched crater. While an unguided long distance cannon is not particularly accurate to begin with, it’s circular error probability still remained big.

The barracks and the ”Vanargand” were ripped apart completely, and amidst their wreckages, large fragments of the cannon was to be seen. He had never seen destruction on such a scale before.

Everyone inside was probably annihilated.

FOB 14, which was caught under the same concentrated cannon fire, probably encountered the same fate.

From far away, he could hear the weak pleas for aid from the tanks that were caught in the impact and were toppled over, probably unable to evade it in time.

Upon hearing the voices, Frederica’s little body started shivering. She kept shaking her head, barely opening her red eyes to look out of the window, only to end up widening it, and freezing up.

“That…”

“Frederica.”

“Did…Kiri, do this…”

“Frederica. Return to your room. Don’t look outside.”

Suddenly, Frederica looked up to Shinn.

Her feeble eyes were on the verge of tears.

“Are you,”

“…What?”

“Will you end up, like that too? Like Kiri──”

“No way. I don’t want to be a part of the ”Legion”.”

He had no intentions to linger on in this world after he died.

The door to the commander’s office opened with a bang.

“Lieutenant Nouzen, you alright!?”

“Yeah”

Though he had a little blood on him, it was merely a scratch compared to the situation at hand. Grethe pursed her lips nervously, ushering him into the office with her eyes.

“Did you hear where that cannon came from? We need to locate it and strike back.”

“Understood…but.”

Shinn nudged Frederica aside, pushing her back to get her to head back, and shook his head gently.

“Even if we figure out where the attack came from, what could we possibly do…it’s probably hundreds of kilometers away.”

Soon after it was formed, the Federation had devoted at least half of its resources to fight the ”Legion”, even at the expense of establishing its laws properly. Most situations demanded for its people to make ’on-site decisions’, and this allowed for reduced red tape and improved flexibility for all involved personnel and bureaus.

Of course, this applied more so to the president, who had the most authority in the army and the government.

“──We have identified this long distance cannon as a new ”Legion” unit. Henceforth, it shall be called ”Morpho”.”

Geade Federation presidential estate, “Adlerhorst”.

This place used to be the residence of the king during the imperial era, and the residence of the dictator during the dictatorship. The palace construct symbolized the dignity and honor of the late monarch, and at this point, it became the national defense meeting hall for the military and the higher hierarchy of the government.

Within the vast meeting room, the attendees sat in a concentric manner. Ernst was seated at the frontmost, central position, looking up at the 3D model holographic display floating above the middle of the meeting room.

“The first bombardment consisted of 55 shots fired towards the 8th Armored Corps, FOB 14. 72 minutes later, 45 were fired towards FOB 13. 15 hours later, 50 rounds were fired at the fifth infantry Corps located at both FOB 28 and FOB 30.”

Four lines of cannon fire popped up, starting from the “Legion” controlled areas to where they had hit, the FOB icons. 4 sub-screens appeared atop the 3D models, showing the aftermath of the bombardments.

The bases that were supposed to have appeared had completely disappeared. Everything was shattered apart, leaving a few craters instead upon the barren wastelands.

“Each FOB was destroyed under the earlier mentioned bombardments. 4 regiments were stationed at each base, at least 20,000 soldiers were killed.”

Within a day, they had lost 4 FOBs, including the 20,000 combatants and the base backline crew.

The analyst reported with a trained, monotonous tone, but clearly sounded stiff, unable to hide the tension in the voice.

“Currently, the hypothesized specifications include a main cannon with a barrel of 800mm, maximum firing distance of 400km. Initial velocity of the cannon is 8000m per second…it is deduced to be a railgun.”

Ernst narrowed his eyes.

Railgun.

A projectile weapon that accelerates a sliding projectile along two conductive rails using electromagnetic forces.

It required a lot of electricity, and it was difficult to miniaturize them, but its velocity is astounding compared to the cannons that are typically fired at an initial velocity of 2000 meters per second. The projectile’s destructiveness varied with the kinetic energy, which was half the mass of the armature multiplied by the velocity.

Even when taking into account that the armature had slowed down when it landed, an initial velocity of 8000 meters per second, along with an 800mm barrel, would mean that the projectile weighted several tonnes. It’s destructive power was massive enough to reduce the sturdiest of fortresses into cities of sand, let alone the prefab FOBs.

“──They have already mentioned this in the report when they were to be protected, no?”

“Yes. However, we have yet to develop effective countermeasures.”

Most of the researchers under the Empire General military research branch that had developed the “Legion” units were under the old regime, and they were devoured along with the bases. It was likely that the related knowledge, and even their brains were devoured by the “Legion”.

At this point, the Federation had no expertise to surpass the Empire, and were unable to develop weapons on a similar level.

“We do believe that the 15 hour pause between the second and the third shot was used to change the barrel. It is likely that the barrel was considerably worn down when an 800mm caliber was fired. During this time, the Western forces loaded all their cruise missiles, and immediately after the fourth strike by the enemy, launched the missiles to fight back considerably. There are no reliable estimates of the effects of the attacks itself as the trajectories could not be observed, but it seemed that considerable damage was caused to the enemy.”

Everywhere deep within the Contested Area of the ”Legion” was filled with the electronic jamming of the Eintagsfliege, so all forms of guided measures would fail. It would be fine if the attack originated from the entire battle area tens of kilometers away, but to strike a pinpoint target that was hundreds of kilometers away was utterly impossible.

But even so, if they did intend to strike the target, they had to make up for it with numbers. At this juncture though, they had already completely depleted all of their few guided missiles.

The precision-guided missiles and the GPS satellite that was launched had not been used in a long while, for they were ineffective against the “Legion”.

“After the assault, the “Morpho” neither attacked nor moved, proving the effects of the attack. However, according to the report of the Cassandra, it appears that the enemy unit was not taken down.”

The one referred to was Shinn. It was the first time Ernst had known of this.

However, Ernst could not blame Shinn for this. The Eighty Sixers were stripped of their human rights by their own country, and reduced to mere human weapons. They knew that in the human society, anything cruel could be rationalized with excuses, and turning him into a convenient Canary was surely a worse fate.

In fact…Shinn’s fate might have turned out that way if not for their predicament.
Unfortunately for Shinn though, his senses were extremely vast. Ernst could easily imagine that if they had not returned to the battlefield as they wished, they could have been detained at the military facility near the safe capital.

Shinn’s personal file was sent along with the report, and as he looked down at the photo clipped to the file, Ernst gritted his teeth.

For a long time, Shinn did not speak up as he had been wary of this, but he was willing to notify the entire Western frontline of the enemy attack. Clearly, this showed how dire the situation was. In the face of this crisis, Ernst as a ‘guardian’ was completely useless. He was outraged by his own helplessness.

Perhaps Shinn, who had fought to the death against the “Legion” for the past five years, might have felt fear in the face of the massive army.

However, he was unable to ask others for help, and could only face it alone…surely he must have suffered.

At the frontmost of the meeting hall was a holographic screen, the low resolution silhouette of a person twitched.

“──The drone of our United Kingdom has entered enemy territory. The estimation of the damages done, along with the successful observation of the ”Morpho”. There was no direct hit to it, but there is no doubt that it took considerable damage”

He was the Crown Prince of the United Kingdom of Roa Graecia, Zafar Idynolk.

As the main “Legion” forces had retreated, the Eintagsfliege had retreated to the Controlled area, so connection was finally made. He was the representative of the United Kingdom of Roa Graecia.

It was the Crown Prince attending the meeting, and not the younger prince who was acting as commander against the “Legion” at the Southern Frontline. He was second in authority only to the King, the vice commander-in-chief of the United Kingdom army. Clearly, to the United Kingdom, the “Morpho” was of considerable threat.

A slender, aged, female general of the Wald Alliance straightened her back, or to be more precise, her holographic image.

She was the commander of the Alliance’s Northern defense, Lieutenant General Bell Aigis. Since its establishment, the militarily neutral country had introduced conscription regardless of gender, and it appeared that the policy had still not changed.

“Since you have made it so close, why have your drones not eliminated the “Morpho” yet?”

The Crown Prince smiled gracefully.

“Unfortunately, the unit’s payload is not too great. It is only a short distance, but we have successfully entered the “Legion” controlled area. I believe all parties have witnessed that our units are smaller than the “Legion”. To put it simply…its capacity is as great as a weapon that an adorable maiden can hold. Also, lots of effort and sacrifices have been made to send this one unit into the enemy territory. As the older brother, it is unreasonable to impose this upon my younger brother.”

It appeared that this was the reason why the younger brother did not show up.

The unit was probably meant for observation and surveillance, and required a controller from afar. For the younger prince of the Royal family to personally control it, surely there was a reason why no other controller was chosen.

Lieutenant General Bell snorted.

“You have…put in quite the extravagant effort.”

They were willing to sacrifice it just to scout, and even revealing it publicly.

“Henceforth, we will be partners in this joint operation. What else is there to hide? Trust is what ties humans and countries together after all.”

Well, it was a lie after all.

They boasted and emphasized their country’s fighting capabilities and the sacrifices made while hinting at more cards at hand. The three countries would carry out a joint operation, mostly to benefit themselves as much as possible.

The representatives of the two countries were on both sides of the semicircle, staring each other down with gentle smiles. Ernst in the middle merely smiled away.

They had all been isolated for ten years.

Such were foreign relations. Such was the way countries greeted each other.

Lieutenant General Bell sneered coldly.

“Your determination is amazing, dear Crown Prince…however, can you explain to us the tactics and algorithms used by the “Legion”. The “Mariana Model” AI used by the ”Legion” was developed by your country after all.”

The Crown Prince continued smiling gently.

“Naturally, Lieutenant General…we will be willing to share this information, since your country has developed the technology of a multi-legged field dress with better mobility that was used for actual combat, and used to develop the “Legion” units.”

An awkward silence lingered between the representatives of the two countries.

Ernst sighed, and spoke up. While both sides were protecting their own interests, this was not the time to raise this issue. Both their statements were hitting the Federation right where it was sore.

For it was the Federation’s predecessor, the Geade Empire, that had developed the “Legion”, which trampled upon the entire continent and was pressing down upon the three countries.

“What we should consider should be, how we should be dealing with the “Morpho”, and also the “Legion” that has been confirmed to have equal intelligence, no?”

“Our Alliance has learned that the “Legion” units have become smarter…ever since they showed up, the defenses have been more frantic.”

“The one weakness of the ”Legion” was that its tactics were too simple. Now with the commander unit to make up for this, we too have quite the bother on our hands”

Lieutenant General Bell leaned back, looked up, and sighed.

“…That mass scale attack was probably a counterattack by the “Legion” after gathering more of our soldiers on the frontlines. Annoyingly, the scraps of metal have become smarter.”

“All we can hope is that a certain Republic could reflect on increasing the number of enemies by not collecting the dead and sending outstanding soldiers to the controlled areas. Of course, that is if they are alive.”

The Crown Prince shook his head. The Federation had protected the escaped Eighty Sixers, and learned about the prototype “Morpho”. Their harrowing fates in the Republic and their escape to the Federation had been documented to the other two countries.

“Well, they have been a democratic Republic of fools that speaks emptily of equal human rights, only to secure their own safety and segregate others as ‘Colorata’ after all. Segregation leads to discrimination, and that leads to harm, so it was inevitable…we do however express our sympathies for our slain compatriots and the Eighty Sixers who too encountered the same fate despite not being our compatriots.”

The Crown Prince sighed, and turned towards the analyst who stood silently still by the side, waving with a completely elegant gesture.

“Pardon me for interrupting your report. Please continue.”

“Yes”

The analyst showed some respect for the other royal families, but was not blindly obedient to them. The analyst gave Ernst a look, spotted a nod, and continued,

“I shall continue then──given it’s speed and where they were fired from, we have deduced that the “Morpho” was loaded onto the tracks, down the old inter-country highways. Currently, it is located at the terminal of Kreuzberk city, capable of hitting all bases on the Western frontlines, the United Kingdom’s subcity Heit Birch, the second capital of the Alliance Esthorn, and the Republic’s subcity Charity. Also, assuming it can move along the remaining railways within the “Legion” controlled areas and the contested areas.”

The 3D model of the battle map was switched to 2D, enlarged in scale to show a larger region. The old high speed railways were highlighted in thick lines, with the 400km radius of the railgun overlapping them.

Including the representatives of the two countries, all officers and officials present gasped.

“The Federation capital St. Yedder, the United Kingdom capital Arx Styrie, the Alliance capital Capela, and all eighty five administrative areas of the Republic of San Magnolia will be within firing range.”

These were the confirmed survivors after the “Legion” ravaged the continent, humanity’s last bastion. Their capitals were undoubtedly within range.

Like a snake, the one way to destroy a country remained the same.

Go straight for the head.

“Given the current estimated productivity of the Weisel, a minimum of 8 weeks is required until it is repaired and deployed. If we cannot think of a countermeasure within these remaining 8 weeks…we will lose.”

Ernst silently spoke up.

“Is there any reliable way to fight them?”

The analyst’s lips were pursed.

“It is unknown if the commanders on the western frontlines have any opinions of this. The analytical branch’s conclusion is that──”

 

“──There is no reliable countermeasure against this high speed, long distance cannon bombardment.”

They were in the command room of the Western army, an ancient fortress on noble land ten years ago. The room was surrounded with thick stone walls, with no windows, and the room was completely dark..

The holographic screen above the round table showed a faint glow, dimly lighting the faces of the commanders and the vice commanders of the reserve like ghosts.

“Even if we want to shoot it down with cannons, our anti-air cannons are neither fast nor clustered enough. The enemy shell alone weighs several tonnes, and our 40mm machine turrets won’t put a scratch on it.”

The young Chief of Staff opened several holographic displays on the side, not looking at the others as he explained. He had a handsome face and a dignity unique only to the nobles.

His family was once the owner of this fortress, and had significant influence in heavy industries. He, the inheritor of the blood, had the ability to match his standing. The nobles of the old Empire would teach certain vocational or tactical knowledge to their children since young, and thus the children had a deeper understanding than the typical experts.

And the creation of the “Legion”, automated drones unbefitting of its times, was due to this habit of the Empire.

“We have siphoned guided missiles from other frontlines, but this isn’t a foolproof method. A lack of guiding functions, slow firing speed, and also easy pickings for the Stachelschwein. The “Morpho” itself seems to possess good anti-air functions.”

The holographic screen darkened for a moment, and what was aired next was a low resolution, black and white video. It was the footage from the United KIngdom’s scout drone.

The screen displayed the remains of the city, with clouds visible in the distance. Visibility was low, about the height of the human eye. A few flashes appeared by the side of the footage, followed by a series of explosions in the skies. Those were the guided missiles that barely made it through, and were completely shot down.

On the video, a cluster of missiles passed through the thick anti-air fire, activated its seeking system and went towards a massive target deep within the ruins, only to be shot down by anti-air fire, exploding up close. Thus, the video ended.

“These are the two methods…however the cannon range is too small for a counterattack. Also, the Eintagsfliege and Stachelschwein have seized all air control, and aviation forces will have difficulties launching ground attacks.”

The “Legion” anti-air element included the Stachelschwein and the Eintagsfliege deployed in the air. The latter could jam electric signals, and launch suicide attacks upon any projectiles’ trajectories. In other words, they were the ”Legion” hard counter against jet planes.

“──So basically,”

A Brigadier General with prosthetic legs, transferred from the Old Empire Air Force continued on.

“Other than the pilots flying courier crafts at the backline, all the pilots of the fighter jet pilot, assault crafts and bombers had become “Vanargand” operators…and they have almost died out. Even with the few survivors left, none of them can fly”

“So, as expected.”

The commanders gathered their eyes upon the Western army Chief of Staff, who nodded.

“──We’ll have to destroy it using land forces”

Silence befell the meeting room.

The commander of the reserve army, slouched upon the chair, grumbled away,

“So we’re going to send in all forces on the Western frontlines towards the ”Legion” controlled areas…and strike straight at the heart of the ”Legion” that’s hundreds of kilometers away?”

For the Federation soldiers, who had been fighting against a numerically and specification wise superior enemy over the last ten years, this was a suicidal assault mission done under overwhelmingly disadvantageous conditions.

Any soldier participating in this mission had a very unlikely chance of making it back alive.

But if they did not do so, the entire Western frontline, and even the Federation would be destroyed. Even if the chances of success was zero, they had to figure out a way to succeed.

“…Including the reinforcements and reserve forces, the fighting strength on the Western frontlines has been whittled down by 26% during the last attack. Since we can’t involve the other defense lines in this, we can only fight with what’s left.”

“The normal ”Legion” units have been destroyed on considerably equal figures too,…”

“But the base numbers are different. The reproductive ability is far too different. Looking at the observed outcome, they have five armies on the Western frontlines alone. The automated factories deep within the controlled area remain unscathed, and it’s likely that there will be more of the enemy two months later…the Cassandra really has a convenient tool to predict our total annihilation.”

The vice commander of the 5th Infantry Regiment snorted, tapping at a thin piece of paper attached to a file.

It was a personal file without a photo attached. Everyone present knew why. After a pause, the vice commander whispered with some pain.

“No matter the squad chosen to destroy it…it’ll be a sacrifice.”

“Yeah…that’s why we need to choose the ones most likely to succeed,”

It was the most painful decision for them to make.

“The one person we can’t afford to lose.”

 

“…!”

Shinn let out a groan without thinking, and the head of the Information Analytics Branch seated opposite to him overheard.

“What is it, Lieutenant Nouzen?“

The stone-faced field officer asked, sounding more concerned than curious, and for a moment, Shinn could not answer. The cry sounded so distant and vague at this point..

The mechanical cries of the souls kept echoing in his ears.

He was figuring out their positions.

“Lieutenant.“

It was on the second cry that Shinn recovered. They were in a corner of the Information Analytics room in the 177th Division Headquarters base. The military had requested for his ‘aid’ to determine the enemy numbers for their planning, and over the past few days, he had been seeking the enemy.

Before the field officer was a hologram that could only be seen from the front, who waved it off, closed the document on the screen, and tilted his head like a hunting dog.

“Do you need a rest? You’ve been listening since morning. Even though you’re hearing the ”Legion” all the time, it’s different from consciously paying attention to them like right now.”

“No need.”

Shinn shook his head, indicating that he was fine. The field officer sighed, and stood up.

“…I see. I guess you lot──you especially, do act like disposable weapons.”

The voice remained flat, with neither mockery nor ridicule behind those words.

With the stare upon his back, the field officer turned around to the cabinet. He took out what seemed to be a personal tea set and a pot with a tea cosy used to keep it warm. It appeared that this officer was one of the rare people who loved black tea, but that tea, which originated from the east of the continent, was no more than a synthesized product from a manufacturing plant. The synthesized leaves had a unique faint medicinal scent to it.

“Parts are interchangeable, but they can only be obtained after others are wrecked. That’s why people pretend that the parts aren’t worn out, and forget the moment of heartbreak when they break down. You’re continuing to fight with fatigue, contempt and fear surrounding you, until you’re wrecked and cannot move. You’re basically a human weapon facing against the “Legion”.”

The field officer served two cups of tea, one before Shinn, who did not accept it. He took a sip, and continued,

“You aren’t looking so good. This isn’t the battlefield of zero dead you once were in. Everyone fighting is alive. Maybe you can relieve yourself of some pain and fatigue from time to time when you decide that you should. Fatigue and pain are alarms from the body, and it’s not a good thing to be slow to react to them…relax, those guys are also seeking them out.”

He pointed at the glass window of an office behind him. Inside there, a group of soldiers in steel colored uniforms were hard at work. They varied in age and genders, but their hair and eyes were blood red. They were Pyropes.

It was said that some of the nobles would inherit unique abilities, and it was common for Rubera nobles of the Pyropes to have heightened neural senses. Of those who possessed such an ability, many of them joined the military as scouts and interrogators.

“Remember. On this world, no matter whether good or bad…each person is irreplaceable.”

The prior assault brought about a lot of casualties. To ease the burden on the frontlines, the wounded were immediately brought back. However, at the military hospital in the capital far from the frontlines, the silent, looming despair was suffocating.

The large ward rooms were filled with suffocating silence. Second Lieutenant Alvin Marcel held the crutch with much difficulty, taking care of his fractured right leg as he slowly got out of the building.

There was nobody he knew in the hospital. There were none of his friends who had just died in battle, no peers from the special cadet school. Most of them continued to fight on the Western frontlines, and some of them were no longer living.

That included people like Eugene, a classmate during middle school at the special cadet school, and a squadmate.

News of a new ”Legion” unit, its deduced capabilities and the potential damage it could cause had reached the citizens. Even from the hospital, one could see that the streets of St. Yedder were terrifyingly quiet. Everyone seemed to be like a bunch of terrified animals, hiding in their nests with bated breath in the face of impending danger, watching for changes that might appear intently.

Freedom of press had been a basic of modern democracy. FOB 14 was the first to be destroyed, and it was impossible to conceal this news as the attack happened during the live broadcast. The government probably decided that it would be better to inform the people than to arbitrarily control the news and result in rumors and riots.

The decision might have worked, for there was minimal unrest and chaos in the Federation, but most of its people remained calm. Some people fled the capital upon learning that it would be within railgun range if the Western frontlines retreated or collapsed, but most of the people continued with their daily lives.

However, it was because deep within their hearts, they knew.

The Federation protected half her lands, but she was surrounded by ”Legion”. There was nowhere to run.

“…Hm?”

The Federation hospital was located in the military area, and no ordinary citizens were allowed except during pressing matters like calamities. Beyond the gates where the sentries kept watch along with the rare traces of people, he spotted a petite figure.

Marcel had a look, and went forth.

It was a child he knew.

The little sister he met when he went to his classmate’s house.

Yes.

Eugene’s.

“Kid, what’s the matter? Why are you here?”

He asked, and saw the girl’s shoulders shiver before she turned around.

Eugene had once complained with a grimace that this girl was really terrified of strangers. However, Eugene himself was always clinging to others. Marcel even joked, who do you think you resemble there?

…Thus.

That was why he got involved with the death god who had escaped from his country.

The large silver eyes looked up at Marcel, blinking as though he was someone she recognized. He exited the gate, and she hurried towards him..

“I’m here to look for my brother…but they wouldn’t let me in.”

Marcel glanced aside at the sentry, who appeared to be a few years older than him, carrying his assault rifle, and remaining still while averting his eyes.

Well, they were not being mean to her for no rhyme or reason. Even if she was a petulant child, regulations were regulations.

Marcel pursed his lips.

With a lot of struggle, he knelt down, lowered his eyes to the level of the little girl.

“…Is brother coming back?”

The Federation soldiers would never abandon any of their comrades. They would ensure that each and every soldier would be returned to their families, even if they were corpses.

Eugene’s corpse too was taken back after the battle had ended, and his coffin was returned to his family right before the assault began.

However, the girl’s wish for her brother to return home was not in the manner she had yearned.

Nina shook her head slightly.

Her two braids swayed along, flickering like fireflies.

“He’s not back. Just a box returned…that’s not my brother.”

“…!”

Marcel bit his lips.

The corpses of those declared KIA.

Whenever they were too unsightly, the military would seal the coffin shut to avoid having the family see it. The coffins would then be buried immediately.

Eugene probably met the same fate.

He was left only with his upper body, and his head was shot through with a bullet. Such a sight should not be seen by the little sister.

But for the young Nina who had yet to understand death…it would be surreal to expect her to believe that the sealed coffin with the Federation flag draped over it was Eugene.

Marcel nearly gnawed his lips apart.

He recalled the blood-soaked uniform of the feared, revered death god of a youth soldier, standing in the thick forest of the Western battlefront, amidst the otherworldly greenery, holding the handgun that robbed the life of his comrade.

On the battlefield, killing off the heavily injured was a form of mercy.

It was probably because the head, the brain was shot through, that the “Legion” headhunters or the Tausendfüssler did not take his head away, to turn him into a “Legion” ghost.

But──but.

It was for that very reason that Nina never got to meet Eugene at his the last moment. He managed to return home, yet he has not returned, and his death may not be welcomed. Did you think of that possibility to begin with?

Hey.

Nouzen.

You Eighty-Sixer, killing as nonchalantly as a death god, murdering your comrade without batting an eye.

“…Brother”

Nina continued to seek the non-existing figure of her brother with her innocent eyes. Marcel had enough, and averted his eyes.

He knew Nina had no such intentions, yet he felt that he was being reproached.

Why,

Why didn’t you save brother?

But that wasn’t me.

That moment.

That guy.

Didn’t save him.

Didn’t protect him.

Didn’t remain by his side.

They were buddies, yet he left Eugene behind to pilot the headless war goddess “Reginleif”.

It’s not my fault.

Blame him.

It was he who killed Eugene then.

That guy.

Ahh, suddenly, he had a feeling that he understood something.

Why did the citizens of the Republic of San Magnolia discriminate and oppress the Eighty Sixers? Why could they do such inhumane things to the Eighty Sixers, who were also human like them? It was the most unspeakable thing, but for the first time, Marcel felt that he understood the reason why.

In the face of sudden misfortune.

In the face of their own helplessness.

 

People would always want to push the blame onto others.

 

“…Eugene,”

Marcel could not see the smile on his lips as he spoke, and he could not see the malice hidden beneath his numb face.

“I guess everyone would be scared of a cannon that could blow this entire base up from the controlled area after all.”

Krena looked around like a listless kitten as she said so, putting the scrambled eggs into her mouth.

It was morning, and they were in the cafeteria of the 177th Division Headquarters. The place was overcrowded due to the mobile reserve forces and realigned forces, but there was nary any noise made as they ate, and everyone appeared to be really tense.

Ange took a sip of coffee from the paper cup, and said,

“That new Railgun model is called the Morpho, no? Have they not been told that it won’t be attacking for 2 more months since it’s undergoing repairs?”

“Well, the estimate is based on a footage from a country that they couldn’t contact for ten years, and the footage itself was only five seconds long due to the jamming. There’s also the ‘special ability’ of the Eighty Sixer that they can’t really comprehend. The Processors of the Republic didn’t really believe it until they were told of it, right?”

Seo stabbed at the famous Federation Wurst with his fork, saying this with no proper etiquette. “I guess so”, Ange sighed.

One might say that they were surprised by the extremely realistic organization called the military, even the higher ups, could accept Shinn’s ability wholeheartedly.

“But they still haven’t showed any signs of chaos. The Federation army is really well trained in that regard.”

“I guess. Those white swines of the Republic would have already started running, starting with the Handlers.”

Seo showed a smirk, and then stopped doing so.

“…But if that happens, can Major, survive?”

“Seo.”

A reprimanded Seo looked distraught as he clammed up.

Upon seeing that awkward, timid appearance, Shinn frowned.

“What?”

“Eh, what was that, I wonder? You haven’t realized it yet?”

Seo said, looking confused.

So, what was that?

Goodness gracious, so Raiden sighed, and said.

“…Rather than thinking about what the Railgun “Morpho” is all about, the Federation guys realized how serious the situation is. Maybe we’ll all die tomorrow without being able to do anything.”

The battlefield was such a place, but not everyone realized this. For organisms that instinctively prioritize self-survival, there was no situation more pressing than this.

Hm hm, Krena snorted, somewhat pleased.

“We’re all used to it anyway, so.”

They had to survive tomorrow’s battlefield that remained unknown.

Such was the fate of the Eighty Sixers, who had to die at the end of their mission.

However,

Shinn quietly thought to himself.

He did not fear death that was looming upon him.

He had accepted his death the next day as a matter of fact.

It was a result of them adapting and surviving the Republic’s battlefield…and was not something worth to be proud of.

He feared not his impending death, even though it was natural that he would die the following day…

By the time he realized this, he found Frederica, seated next to him, staring towards him.

“Shinei? Is there something bothering you?”

Hearing her voice filled with surprise, Shinn realized that he had been quiet for a long time.

“…It’s nothing.”

Seo had a fork in hand, his face placed on his other hand.

“You haven’t been resting well, have you? There were lots of the “Legion” when we fought them, and you’re probably tired…it’s like you lost yourself in there back then.”

“You never got to watch your surroundings, did you? You missed out on the signs of the “Legion” retreating, Mr Shinn. Was that your first time?”

“…”

Now that they mentioned it, it seemed to be the case.

“You never answered when synchronized…that is not your usual manner of fighting..”

“Synchronize?”

“So you have not realized it yet…?”

Frederica gave an unchildlike sigh, and looked around at everyone. The long black hair fell down her shoulders like silk strands..

“Including Shinei, the advice to all of you is to rest. While it is the same battlefield, there is a significant difference between the Republic and the Federation, and you are probably feeling some form of fatigue and discomfort.”

The Eighty Sixth battlefield had no decent support or command, and neither a military organization. They were deemed as ‘drones’, and no military regulations applied to them. It was due to Shinn’s ability that they could grasp the movements of the “Legion”, and every person had some spare time to enjoy themselves. Whenever there was no mission, everyone present would find things to do to spend time.

But in the regimented Federation army, even though there were some problems arising due to this ten year war, their usual habits could not be applied here.

Even so,

“Rest at a time like this? That’s kinda hard, you know?”

“Ensuring the mental health of the soldiers is certainly important to the army. Actually, many officers of similar age to you people were sent to the backlines during the prior assault due to signs of combat stress reaction. As Eighty Sixers, there is probably more consideration needed for you lot.”

Krena scowled unhappily.

“I don’t want that. I’m not willing to be treated specially just because I’m pitied.”

Even amidst the buzz in the cafeteria, the girl’s shrill voice stood out. There were inadvertent looks directed towards her, frozen just like the frigid atmosphere.

…Eighty-Sixers.

Someone muttered.

The monsters born out of the Republic.
Can’t the monsters just murder each other in the controlled area? Why drag us too?

Upon sensing the malice from everyone, Frederica gulped. However, the Eighty-Sixers, including Shinn, remained unfazed.

They did not care at this point.

As they were Eighty-Sixers, they were suspected by the Republic to collude with the “Legion”, resulting in the Republic’s defeat. Thus, they were exiled to the battlefield.

For Shinn, who had the rich Empire bloodline and an ability, he was deemed the death god, the harbinger of war and death, and was shunned by his fellow Eighty-Sixers.

This world was always exceptionally harsh to the minorities, the ‘unordinary’, the heretics.

Raiden quietly spoke up.

“…Krena.”

“I get it….but this feels better than being pitied by them. We’re used to this.”

“…”

“Even if we’re trampled, all we need to do is not lose. That’s different from pity. Pity feels like, we lost even though we didn’t…I hate that.“

The military had a hasty breakfast time, and the stares quickly dispersed. However, there was some distance lingering in the air, and Frederica looked around uneasily.

Raiden snorted.

“…But, two months of probation. It’s not really possible to think of a counter-strategy during this short interval, I guess.”

“I heard that just in case, they might start the operation half a month earlier…well, it’s probably some kind of a reckless plan anyway.”

“The Federation’s really reckless there, but it’s true that specs, numbers and intel wise, we’re disadvantaged. Also, the “Legion” can’t be rattled no matter how we hit them.”

The terms lowered morale and contributions did not matter to the “Legion”. They would not regret any losses of lives. Such were weaknesses that could be exploited if the enemies were human, and yet at this point, they could only gamble their hopes on some risky strategy. Ordinary tactics would fail in the face of the overwhelmingly superior drones, and they would be torn apart by massive firepower.

The only way out was through brute force—a frontal assault.

“Missiles aren’t enough, cannons won’t work, aircrafts can’t be used…so.”

“Guess it’ll have to be the land forces. But we don’t know whether it’ll be a frontal charge, or a penetration.”

At this moment, a person dressed in a steel-colored uniform stood at the entrance of the cafeteria.

“──Attention!”

The booming order echoed throughout the cafeteria, and everyone present instinctively stopped moving. It was the result of the usual training, and even the five lazy Eighty-Sixers were no exception. The mascot girl, startled by the sudden roar, shrivelled a tad later.

The officer with the Colonel insignia on his Federation uniform scanned the highly trained soldiers like a wolf, and nodded,

“The strategy has been decided. All company commanders and above are to gather at the briefing room at 0900.”

 

The current time was 0730, Federation Standard Time.

Shinn was alone in his living quarters, pondering again.

He recalled the callous remark Seo made..

—But if that happens, can Major, survive?

In fact, there was no ‘if’.

He was the only one who could sense the situation, and as there was no need to say so, he told nobody.

The Republic had fallen.

He realized it as he had assisted to seek out the enemies in the “Legion” controlled area. Beyond the controlled area was the Republic’s territory, though much smaller than the Federation, and it was completely overwhelmed by the howls of the machinery ghosts.

He had heard that after the enemy had launched its full scale assault, an unnatural seismic wave was detected, and it was likely a signal that the Grand Mur was breached. Given the effects of the Morpho, it would be most effective if a mass scale assault was launched in conjunction. In fact, the cannon was fired after the assaults ended. It might be plausible to say that the Republic was occupied before then.

It took a week from the start of the mass invasion to the breach of the Grand Mur.

The country had lost all means to fend for itself, having pushed the responsibility of the battlefield to the Eighty-Sixers, unwilling to face reality, and hid inside its own sweet little dream. That was how long it lasted.

For the Eighty-Sixers, it was merely a country they had fleeting memories of during their childhood. It was not their homeland, and no feelings were felt whether it was trampled upon or destroyed.
However.

──The Republic will probably be saved before it gets wiped out.

── So, please hang until then, Major.

Did we make it or not?

A sigh lingered along the corridor that was covered with some glass fragments

──Can you please not forget about us, Major?

If we die, even just for a moment.

Yes, that was what he had hoped…yet again, he was the one remembering everything.

Suddenly, he felt that he was the one left behind

He was abandoned by the comrades who sacrificed themselves on the Eighty-Sixth battlefield, abandoned by those he conversed with, those he had interacted with. Death had taken too many things from him.

The death god had engraved the names and memories of those who had fought alongside him, and died before him, on the aluminium plates. He never thought that he was suffering for this role.

──Please do not leave me behind.

That was what she had hoped for.

Yet she too had gone before them..

“─-Hm?,”

Shinn saw a thin envelope at the bottom of his door, and stopped in his tracks.

Another one? He was speechless about the anonymous ‘passionate citizens’ who sent letters on their own volition. Even at this moment, or rather, at this particular juncture, the ‘pitiful Eighty-Sixers’ were deemed to be targets of pity. Shinn could only lament at their attitudes.

He was about to discard it, and noticed something.

The envelope was not opened.

Due to security reasons, the Federation army would check every letter between soldiers and family. However, this envelope in his hands was not opened.

In fact such items should be intercepted by the military capital of the Federation, and given how the Western frontline forces were being reshuffled, there was no way that they could have afforded the time to deliver a letter.

He inspected the envelop, and saw that there was no recipient and address, not even a stamp. Clearly the letter did not come through official means.

“…”

Shinn narrowed his eyes, and flipped to check the back.

Unexpectedly, there was a sender written on it.

It was written in pencil, in a crooked, thin, indistinguishable manner, clearly of a child’s

Nina Lantz.

Lantz.

Shinn frowned, and took out his multi tool knife to open the envelope. It was thin, something a child would clearly use, so there should not be any gadget inside.

The letter itself was thin, folded twice. He opened it with one hand.

There were two lines written on it.

 

Why did you kill brother

Return brother

 

Hmm.

He showed a cold smirk.

He did not know who did this. Surely this person knew both Shinn and Eugene, and only of the circumstances behind Eugene’s death. Shinn had an idea, but surely the culprit was pretty free to do such a thing.

In fact, Shinn did not see him during the prior assault, but since the letter could be delivered, he probably did not die. There should be other surviving peers from the special cadet school serving on the Western Frontline, and it’s not a difficult task to send a letter through irregular means. However, it was just a boring gesture.

However, he probably did this due to this particular situation.

He hid behind the back of a young girl’s blame, using it as a shield of justice, and lambasted someone else for being the killer.

“…I guess”

Why.

Why did you kill brother?

Why did you leave him to die?

Why didn’t you save him?

He heard these words countless times..

Such questions were repeated to him countless times, ever since he first stepped onto the battlefield of the Eighty Six Area.

You could hear the voices of the “Legion”. You’re such a powerful, gifted person. You managed to survive.

But why is it that he died, and not you?

He had heard this same line far too many times, and all of them failed to meet the crucial point, without exception. The responsibility of one’s own life could only be carried by oneself. He himself was not to blame it all on the weakness of those that he was protecting, but surely it was a mistake to reproach the living on this matter.

But this time, it was a little different.

She’s waiting for me.

He could hear a reprimand, from the peer he only met once, whose appearance he did not remember, from the extremely young girl, and at the same time, from Eugene himself.

She’s waiting for me to return.

She knew I was waiting to return.

Why?

Why?

Why are you the one returning, when nobody’s waiting for you?

Why are you the one returning, when nothing’s waiting for you?

 

Why is it he who died.

Why is it that he died instead of you?

 

“…Yeah.”

That might be the case. His forlorn mutter echoed down the empty corridor.

But unlike what he was thinking, the thin letter in his hand was crushed.

Raiden ascended the stairs of the Prefab barrack, saw Shinn standing before his door, and stopped.

“What, Shinn, you’re back…what’ the matter?”

Raiden felt a chill as he saw the blood red eyes that were turned abruptly towards him.

He remembered those eyes.

Shinn had shown those eyes on a certain night in the First Battle Zone. That day, four of their comrades were killed by the long distance cannon, and Shinn knew that he could not avoid the fate of fighting his brother.

Those were the same eyes.

“──It’s nothing.”

What? Shinn’s voice was filled with some gloom, yet it appeared that he had not realized it.

Raiden swallowed his fear and anxiety, saying,

“Orders have changed. The meeting time is still at 0900, but it is at the commander’s office. Only the Nordlicht Squadron commander and the commander of the 1028th…just you and the Colonel.”

The blood eyes narrowed upon hearing those unexpected words.

Upon hearing news that a certain commander and a squad commander under her charge were summoned, Grethe sensed that something was amiss.

But after hearing the unexpected commands, her red lips started quivering.

“The main priority of this operation is to eliminate the “Morpho” Railgun, hidden 120km Northwest to the 177th Divisional Headquarters, at the old high speed railway terminal deep within the “Legion” controlled territory.”

The holographic screen showed the battlefield’s map, showcasing an area far larger than the 40km map used by the headquarters. It was the map showing the entire Western frontline, and the defense lines of the United Kingdom of Roa Graecia to the North and the Wald Alliance to the South.

Grethe’s forces accomplished the most on the Western battlefront, but this map was truly too big for a squadron to handle, especially one that had been depleted due to the massive assault.

“The second priority is to secure the old Western border, known as the ‘corridor’.“

On the strategy map, the area in question was blinking slowly. It was several dozen kilometres from the Western frontline, a belt near the old border.

As named, the corridor was where the three countries were connected. Not only did it have streets linking the three countries, it also contained at least half of the old highway. If they could occupy the area, they could easily limit the train ferrying the long distance cannons, or maybe even disable it.

The “Legion” could pave more tracks elsewhere, but the easiest method to get across would be through this area, whether it was through the streets or the railway tracks. It would be a burden on the “Legion” worker units to pass through areas that were difficult to pass.

“The participating forces include all remaining Western forces and reserve mobile forces, along with the Southern army of the Alliance, the defense forces of the United Kingdom, and the Central Army…at this point, the other two subcapitals are within range. This isn’t the time to remain passive.”

The United Kingdom and the Federation were separated by the natural defences of the Dragonbone mountain range, while the Wald Alliance was defended by the rugged mountain terrain centered around the peak of Mount Vlumnest, allowing them to use the natural defences to fend off the “Legion” assaults till this point.

But those defences were powerless in the face of a long distance cannon that could fire through the skies.

“I’ll summarize the strategy. The three country alliance will press hard into the “Legion” controlled territory, luring the main forces of the enemy out onto the frontlines. At the same time, a special squad will be airdropped deep into enemy territory to eliminate the “Morpho”.”

It was a simple, yet extremely crude plan.

With Shinn’s assistance, they had determined that the enemy “Legion” forces on the Western frontline was the size of 5 army corps, tens of thousands of enemies. The “Legion” simply needed resupply points and freight transportation, no other backups, and they already outnumber the human forces many times over. All forces were to break through using their shorthanded forces, and it was an utterly reckless plan. The special squad sent into the deepest rea might not even be able to return alive.

Surely the commanders knew about it, but the Major General continued on calmly. While facing the purple eyes, the pitch black eye would not budge.

“After the “Morpho” is destroyed, the special squad will have to hold its ground until the main Federation army arrives.”

The one eyed man stared coldly beyond Grethe, at Shinn behind her,

 

“The fifteen members of Nordlicht Squadron under the command of Lieutenant Shinei Nouzen.”

 

Shinn’s face showed no change.

The Major General watched his lowered red eyes, and continued,

“This operation will be the biggest collaboration in history. You will be the spearhead to break through the “Legion” steel walls. I do hope that you will succeed.”

If he had known why the squad named Spearhead was created, that would not be a laughing matter.

However, he did mention it…it was blunt sarcasm.

Grethe kept suppressing her rage with all her might, saying,

“If I may ask something, Major General.”

“What is it, Lieutenant Colonel Wenzel?”

“Why──choose our Nordlicht Squadron?”

The Major General snorted nonchalantly.

“The demands for this special squadron is extremely stringent. The ”Vanargand” is too slow and heavy to be airlifted in. Of course, the cannon is too slow to be deployed. The units require higher mobility and firepower, and need to be airlifted. Also, we need people with combat experience to fight while communications have been broken off, survivability under harsh conditions, and capable of pinpointing the location of the “Morpho”. The only ones that fit the criteria are your ”Reginleif” and Lieutenant Nouzen , Lieutenant Colonel.”

Grethe bit hard on her red lips.

“This is absolutely shameless…! So they’re Eighty Sixers, with no friends or families in the Federation, children nobody cares about even if they died, and as discardable as pawns. Is that what you are implying!?”

“Watch your words, Lieutenant Colonel.”

“No, I will not remain quiet about this. You are treating them as a suicide squad! Even if the Lieutenant and the others are to die, you just want them to attract the attention of the “Legion”, the “Morpho”, and get the main forces in to increase the success rate of the missiles, or to wear down the enemy defences. Is that what you intended!?”

The Circular Error of Probability remained large, but the accuracy could increase if they went a little closer. If they could reach the frontlines of the enemy and attack with the same intensity, there was a likelihood that they could hit the target directly, and eliminate it.

“We will prepare ample firepower to attack, just in case. I did not order them not to return. We are different from the Republic.”

“No way is that different! What do you think Nordlicht Squadron’s chances of survival are──!?”

While a transport helicopter can navigate down low to avoid radar and anti-air functions, they were still a lot slower than a plane. The ”Reginleif” is relatively light, but one unit weighed at least ten tonnes, and a helicopter could only barely ferry one.. 15 helicopters were required for a 15 men squadron, and the loud rotors would surely be detected by the potent optical and sound sensors of the Ameise.

And like all flight weapons, a transport helicopter hardly carried any heavy armor.

Half of them were expected to be shot down.

For a squadron with only 15 units, if half the units were neutralized, and they were to fight the “Morpho” and any of the units guarding it , the outcome would be obvious.

However, this strategy was established.

This suicide squad was assembled.

The Major General sighed, looking miffed.

“Any more and it will be a defiance of orders. If you have any other suggestions, do state so.”

Grethe was immediately left speechless.

The Major General shook his head slightly.

“Someone has to do this. Thus ──”

The Major General looked at Shinn again.

The calm red eyes remained lowered. His life, along with his comrades, were served on the platter again, yet his eyes showed no signs of faltering.

It was madness. Did he, and his fellow Eighty-Sixers realize this?

“Lieutenant, you have experience of breaking through the”Legion” controlled area. Since you succeeded once, you can succeed again. Even if that’s not the case, you Eighty-Sixers do love to fight.”

The moment he said this, the Major General’s one eye was filled with an inexplicable emotion.

It was akin to a deep anguish, loads of fear, rage due to being bitten by a puppy he had picked up, and guilt of throwing children to the wolves just to ensure his own safety.

Sadness and fear are the same as not understanding if they were exploited. Pitying while looking down from above, and looking up pleadingly out of fear were simply a lack of desire for mutual understanding, to deliberately distance oneself.

Once he saw that he was not hated as he had hoped for, he used the difference between them as an excuse to cover up his guilt.

For they’re “different” from us.

“Our Federation had saved you from the battlefield, and given you lives and environment to live with. Even so, all of you chose to return to the battlefield, and that means you have prepared yourself for this. The duty of a combatant, a soldier, is to fight. One of the responsibilities is to die fighting.”

Grethe accompanied Shinn out of the office, and the office door was slammed shut. At the same time, the door to the personal room of the office was opened.

Entering was the Western Forces Chief of Staff.

Even at the frontlines where the situation remained pressing, he was dressed in a clean, proper uniform, even with cologne on. It was however a ruse to ensure that his capable aide would not determine the situation based on his facial expression and the clothes. In fact, he had no time to sleep, and had lots of intel to process.

“Sorry for making you do the dirty work, Major General.”

“No worries. It’s the duty of the Division Chief.”

The commander’s job was to send young people to their deaths, whether they had parents, siblings, children, or bright futures. To be precise, he is to order them to fight the enemy, even if they died in the process.

However, it was rare for him to give an order to basically send others to their deaths. The Major General gave a gloomy sigh.

“──Do you think they can make it back?”

Just one of them.

The Chief of Staff shrugged.

He was a pure blood Onyx, with black hair and eyes. He was the Major General’s junior at military college, and was of the same year as Grethe.

For these two of the same age, one ended up as the Chief of Staff for the Western army, a general, while the other ended up as the commander of an experimental squad, a field officer. The former had direct ties to the nobility that formed the old government of the Empire; while the other was the daughter of a major enterprise merchant. After all, the deciding difference between them was their heritage.

A commander had to be cruel, to think of every soldier as a pawn, and discard them for the sake of completing the objective.

The nobles too had their own way of thinking, viewing the citizens within their lands as personal assets. In a sense, there was a similarity between the two──and not something Grethe had.

“According to the analysis of the Senate Headquarters, the chances of Nordlicht Squadron making it back is almost zero, not exactly zero in other words…of course, it’s just a numbers game.”

Numerically, a one may appear after many zeros in a decimal, and thus the decimal is not exactly zero, but it was laughable to conclude that there was a “possible chance of survival”.

Despite knowing that, the Chief of Staff showed a cruel sneer.

“Any ordinary soldier would have shown a little anger at least in the face of this mission. The berserkers (monsters) created by the Republic accepted it without a second thought. They’re looking like it was a mission befitting an Eighty-Sixer.”

Among the massive hordes of the ”Legion”, the numerous soldiers who fought alongside the Eighty-Sixers and witnessed their fight, spoke of it, and soon, rumors of their fight reached the entire Western frontlines.

In the face of the appropriately named “Legion” army, they never retreated, and risked their lives as they fought on with ample bloodlust. Compared to what they were protecting behind them, their brilliance remained absolutely massive.

For the combatants who worried about living, and suppressed their fear for the sake of their families and compatriots, such ferocity was akin to madness to them.

“To defeat a monster, we need to become monsters. Right, the only ones that can fight monsters are monsters. That is the descendent of two monsters of the old Empire army, the ’Scarlet Witch’ Maika and the ‘Black General” Nouzen. It’s all the more appropriate to use him to deal with the machine monsters.”

Grethe shut the thick office door, and sighed

“…Are you disappointed, Lieutenant? Your destination, this world, is simply just this.”

It was necessary. They had no next of kin. They were foreigners. For such reasons, children were sent to their deaths. They risked their lives to make it till here, but what awaited them was the same fate.

“..I think this is an appropriate conclusion given the current situation. The Federation can’t maintain it’s frontlines unless we eliminate the “Morpho”. Furthermore.”

Shinn continued on nonchalantly as he stared at the office door, shrugging.

“The FOB is within range, and yet hasn’t moved away. That’s good enough, I guess. I’m not unhappy about it.”

“Ahh…the Republic probably won’t bother…”

Grethe chuckled dryly. The soldiers that should be protecting their country, their comrades, did not stand before their enemies. The Republic could only be deemed as mad, thinking that everything was fine like that.

And they, forced to grow up in the world filled with madness, could not rid themselves of their mad way of life even after escaping from it.

Grethe stopped smiling, and turned around.

“What’s needed are the specs of the ”Reginleif”, and your ability. This however, doesn’t mean that you need to go.”

Principle-wise, the military merely needed to achieve the given objective, and it was up to the commander’s discretion to use the means necessary. The battlefield remained everchanging, with too many uncertainties, limited measures would merely shackle the operation.

“Let the Wargus handle this assault operation…you all don’t have to go.”

At that moment, Shinn was clenching his fists, but Grethe did not notice it as her back was turned towards him.

“Also, once this battle ends, do retire from the army.. You have done lots for the country that hasn’t protected you. There’s no need──”

“──So,”

Upon being interrupted, Grethe turned around towards Shinn,

And then, she gasped.

“So you want us to give up on being ourselves, just to satisfy your own sense of justice and compassion? Is that what you mean?”

The boy remained before her eyes.

He was showing a tender expression befitting his age, an expression he had never shown when he was protected by the Federation half a year ago, when the enemy began its onslaught.

His face was filled with stubbornness.

“We’re grateful that your people saved us. This however doesn’t mean that we should be pitied, that we should give up fighting. For us,”

This is everything──…!

He kept suppressing his emotions. Thus, his words felt so heart-wrenching.

Why did they continue to fight?

They had no reason to fight, so why keep fighting?

For them, the Eighty-Sixers, there was no question more humiliating than that.

For that was the last of their dignity.

They swore not to give up, to fight until the very end, and to survive until the very end. They were rid of everything, and left only with their dignity and that was their everything.

The families that they should have been protecting no longer remained, and their hometowns were no more. Historically, they did not know their heritage, and culturally, they did not remember a single picture book that their parents recited to them.

The country that was supposed to be their homeland had trampled upon their pride, and it only hoped for them to die. They had no reason to keep living, yet they kept gasping for air, unwilling to succumb.

Thus, they wanted to protect themselves, to protect their dignity.

They stood upon the battlefield of despair, shackled by the army of machine ghosts and the malice of their oppressors, an inevitable fate. Yet they did not succumb to despair, and were left only with their pride to keep fighting on until the very end.

Why keep fighting?

Even if they were asked this, they could not answer.

They couldn’t.

For they had nothing. They had nothing to lose by not fighting, and nothing to protect through fighting.

However, fighting was the only thing for which they could hold their heads high, and they just did not want to lose this remaining dignity. Thus, they gave up on the life they could have had.

“If we let others fight and escape the battlefield, or act like nothing is happening, our necks will be on the noose again. That makes it no different from the Republicans, no different from walking corpses. No way will we want to end up like that!”

The usually stoic boy spoke with a rare stiff tone filled with angry words. It was the strong sense of rejection that he had felt.

Damn it. The red lips gnawed together again.

She realized what she was hurting.

She was hurting the remaining dignity they had left, the one trace of hope that they had of her.

They were Eighty-Sixers.

They were abandoned on the battlefield, forced to survive, and hurdled through trials over and over again in a pool of endless despair. They were helpless children who had nothing left other than their dignity.

Grethe and many others had given them words of kindness and concern, that they should forget the battlefield, and live a stable life, but to the Eighty-Sixers, they were robbing away the last bits of the dignity they had left.

The red eyes lowered, and never looked up at her again.

“Commanding from the backline will result in a fatal time lag…the squad will be directed by me personally.”

Once the assault operation was announced in the briefing room, the atmosphere for each squadron remained heavy, forlorn, and tense.

The objectives themselves were insane to begin with, almost impossible. All forces could only give their all to accomplish this mission.

If they did not destroy the tactical weapon with the 400km firing range, the three countries, including the Federation, or even Humanity as a whole might be wiped out.

The Western front would launch a full scale assault, and press forward 100km.

And chosen to lead the charge were the young Eighty-Sixer soldiers.

The strategic map displayed on the holographic screen in the briefing room remained cold and cruel.

 

Within the tense briefing room were the 1028th Experimental squad, and the Nordlicht Squadron under its charge.

They were the special forces to be sent to the deepest area of the battlefield. Of the entire Western army, the chances of their survival remained the slimmest.

Once she was done, Grethe left the briefing room, followed by the other reporting officers. The maintenance crew and the research team had a few words as they exited, and the Wargus pilots remained where they were, with stiff looks on their faces.

Before he left the five Eighty-Sixers in the briefing room, the Master Sergeant Bernault turned back.

“Leader.”

The aged sergeant, often acting as Shinn’s adjutant, no longer spoke as a subordinate, but as a senior trying to coax a disobedient child.

“We’re grateful that you aren’t leaving us behind…even though we’re Wargus who can kill without flinching, we’re not so ruthless as to watch brats of similar age to our relatives’ kids get killed for no reason…if you have a change of mind and want us to go alone, just give the order.”

“…”

Nobody answered. Bernault did not say any more as he left the briefing room.

Raiden took a long sigh, and leaned back hard upon the sturdy backrest. He looked up at the ceiling, sliding down.

“…Well, given the scale of this operation, it’ll be great if they alone can go.”

“The entire army will lure out the ”Legion”, and we’ll break through during this time, go a few hundred klicks in, and figure out a way to destroy the “Morpho”.”

“And we can only return once the main forces make it to us. We don’t know if the main forces can even make it.”

“Well, that has to depend on if we survive though. We are to be surrounded by enemies, with no support. Certainly that is not much different from the Republic.”

But though they grumbled, they were grimacing. They had already anticipated it. They had accepted it.

In fact, there was no other way.

If they did not eliminate it, they would be eliminated. The enemy unit stood in the heart of enemy territory, and there was no safe manner to destroy it. To live on, they had to take this risk, even if more than half of the army was to be sacrificed

It was the same predicament as the battlefield of the Republic’s Eighty Sixth Area.

There was never a simple battle.

There was never a guarantee that they could survive a battle.

Just like always.

The only difference was that this time, they chose to return to the battlefield.

They chose this path.

They, the Eighty-Sixers, were the only ones who understood the suffering they went through to come this far, and that was all the more reason for them not to give up.

But even after knowing this, Shinn spoke up.

“The Lieutenant Colonel said that we don’t have to participate.”

“Is she joking? This makes us no different from the white swines.”

Seo grumbled, and understood something as he chuckled.

“…Hey, Shinn, you argued with the Colonel, didn’t you? We’re all the same.”

During the briefing, Grethe never looked at Shinn in the eyes. Seo knew that Grethe hated the notion of sacrificing the young soldiers, and realized that a quarrel might have occurred.

The emerald eyes suddenly lowered.

“But well, we’re sent to the most dangerous place because we’re the Eighty-Sixers. It does feel a little…lonely.”

The Federation certainly was not a bad country.

At the very least, it was far better than the Republic.

However, that country determined them to be pawns to be sacrificed first, and it was a forlorn feeling that they felt.

“…I guess.”

Why did they continue to fight? What were they fighting to protect?

That question was an assumption that people fought to protect something. To the Eighty-Sixers who had nothing left, them stepping back onto the battlefield was something that the Federation could not accept.

They had no hometown to return to, no families to protect, and if they could not find solace at the end of their journey, the battlefield remained the only refuge for them.

They were unwilling to be raised as pets due to compassion.

Monsters.

This might be more appropriate term for them.

They lived on the battlefield, fighting until the last moments of their lives.

Surely this was not the normal life of a human.

But even so,

Seo subconsciously clenched his fists.

We have nothing but our dignity left, to keep on fighting.

“──Due to the aforementioned reasons, Nordlicht Squadron, and the five Eighty-Sixers have been chosen to destroy the “Morpho”.”

The capital of the Federation St. Yedder was located at a high altitude, and the summer sunset was late, turning the office of the official presidential residence a bright crimson.

Ernst’s eyes were upon a holographic display on a wall, and the Western Army Chief of Staff remained grim faced.

“This is a legal order, and part of my authority as the Western Army Chief of Staff. They are children protected under you, Mr President, but no preferential treatment will be given since they are enlisted. You do not have the authority to override my orders.”

“Understood. I was already prepared for this when I agreed to their wish to serve the army…it would not make sense for me to have Federation soldiers die while I protect my children.”

Perhaps the Chief of Staff felt some guilt from Ernst’ flat tone. The Lieutenant General hastily continued on with an urgent tone.

“I do think that this is the perfect material to campaign with. The youths saved from the inhumane country willingly volunteered for the most dangerous squad involving the survival of their new country out of loyalty…this moving story will easily gain favour with the people. Once this is reported, the number of volunteers will rise, along with your popularity, Mr President.”

“Do not involve politics in this, Lieutenant General. It is unlike you.”

Ernst merely snorted at the grim square face of the man with the disposition of an ancient warrior.

And then, he asked.

“…Lieutenant General, is this the ‘disinfection’ you spoke of a year ago?”

For a moment.

There was silence.

“When they were protected, a few generals, including you, have expressed this point. The children who escaped the “Legion” controlled area might have something to time. It’s impossible for anyone to survive while crossing through the “Legion” controlled area, and they might be infected with something. You said that it is safer to execute them, for the safety of the Federation people.”

Five young soldiers, not of legal age, barely managed to escape the demonic clutches of the ‘Headhunters’. A majority of the army commanders and the people at the Divisional Headquarters sheltering them were sympathetic to their plights.

The suicidal unit was taken in along with them. They showed an overly wary attitude, and the scars they had added proof to testimonies that they were oppressed by their own country.

However, there was a possibility that it was all a ruse.

There was also a possibility that the Republic had sent them as staff for certain reasons.

The “Legion” had a prohibition not to use biological weapons, and they were checked and isolated strictly and regularly. However, nobody could prove that they were infected by biological weapons, or that they were not biological weapons themselves.

Nobody could assure that they were completely ‘clean’.

If they were fellow comrades, some risks could be taken, but ultimately, they were foreigners. The Federation had no duty to protect them.

A few generals had strongly insisted for them to be executed just in case.

But Ernst rejected this notion, stating that the Federation should not be doing this if it wants to be a just country. The generals agreed.

“I’m not saying that it was a cruel suggestion. The difference between them need not always be down to malice. Sometimes, it can be down to kindness. Some unimportant things may be discarded to protect important things. This line of thinking by itself isn’t wrong.”

No matter how inhumane the outcome was, no matter how far one might stray from being humane when doing something.

The notion to protect loved ones always remained humane.

“However, as a person, it is a mistake to enact violence to exert your will without stating the reason and logic behind it. While there might be an agreement, some may act discreetly using the country’s safety as an excuse…now surely, you wouldn’t do that, right?”

“──Of course.”

For some reason, there was a delay in response.

“However, I do implore you to rethink this one more time. They are not pitiful children, but berserkers feared by many. Is our beloved country really willing to accept such people? Is this the direction that our Federation should be progressing towards?”

Upon hearing the advice born out of bitterness, Ernst merely laughed it off.

“Of course, General.”

At the very least, Ernst knew that the Lieutenant General was not a madman who would go out of his way to murder children.

And knowing that, he answered without hesitation.

“That’s the ideal that I──the country that I lead should have. Besides, I,”

Over the ten years, he had maintained more than half of the people’s support.

“I am the one representing the will of all of the Federation citizens.”

Dignity.

Purity.

Justice.

The Lieutenant General gasped, for the president stating his ideals before him somewhat resembled a vicious fire dragon spouting flames.

They were asked to pack their personal belongings, since the chance of survival for this operation remained extremely small. Unlike the last time however, Shinn had few belongings to begin with.

And so, Shinn knocked on the door to the room with the only belonging to be returned.

“Frederica”

“The door is open.”
He nudged aside the thin plywood door, and found furniture lined up in this cramped, pavement-like room. Frederica was seated on the cramped bed, putting a doll beneath her chin, within her clutches as she turned aside in a huff.

“That operation.”

She said without looking back at Shinn, and the latter raised an eyebrow.

“You agreed to it, no? That reckless special assault operation of no return.”

“I thought I removed the RAID device…you saw it, didn’t you?”

The operation was military classified. No forms of communication were allowed in the briefing room, including RAID devices.

For this operation especially, if news of it was to be leaked, there was a high chance of chaos and uprising. If the “Legion” were to intercept and analyse this plan, all the hard work put into it would be for naught.

But Frederica who was able to see a person’s past and present, could see the strategic map on the holographic screen. It was not difficult to deduce what the operation entailed.

“Then I don’t have to add anything more…hurry back to the capital now. Once preparation for the operation begins, the transport line won’t have the time to send you back.”

“…A mascot is a hostage to a soldier. There is no place to return to. you know that.”

The mascot girls would only be a hindrance on the battlefield, yet it was not allowed to send them to the backlines.

They were hostages to ensure that the soldiers would not desert the battlefield, like daughters, like little sisters.

Their predicaments varied greatly.

Some were homeless orphans. Some were children sold by their parents so that there was one less mouth to feed. Some were peasant girls thrown into the barracks in place of the aristocratic children, all for the sake of showing loyalty to the country.

They were not permitted to leave the frontlines, so that the soldiers would not desert the base that could be blown up at any given moment. Even if they did leave, they had no place to return to.

The duty of a mascot remained until 12 at most. After that, all of them ended up attending elementary school, and then later on, joined the army.

They had nowhere to return to, and grew up with the waters of the battlefield. Ultimately, they could not leave the battlefield.

Yes, until then.

“You can return back now, right? Do you have the time to be concerned about others?”

“Perhaps it is possible using the authority of that blockhead…but why is it that I am asked to return? Is it not you who said that one’s way of living cannot be decided by others?”

“I also said that there’s no need to get involved with the death of others.”

Shinn had seen his family depart to the battlefield for good, saw friendly units blown up upon the main screen of his “Juggernaut”, was pleaded to kill his own comrades, and had comrades who killed themselves after hearing the laments of the Dead through the Para-RAID…it would be better not to witness something like that, if possible.

It was likely that for the next operation, more than half of the combatants would die.

It would be a scene straight out of Hell, not something to be seen by Frederica, who could see the present of the living.

“Normally, this operation won’t be permitted, and we’re in a severe disadvantage. It’s one thing if we’re beaten back, but if they counterattack, the frontlines may fall, and this base might not last.”

If that was to happen, the base, and even the capital would be doomed. Shinn however did not say it. If that were to happen, it would be pointless to run anyway, and he did not want that little speck of hope to be dashed.

“I remember his voice….when fighting in the first area, four people were blown up by him. I don’t need you to tell me where he is.”

Kino, Chise, Toma and Cloto. Those were the names of the four comrades who fought on the last battlefield of the Eighty Sixth Area, only to be blown up by a distant cannon in the blink of an eye.

“Then is it not the other way around! It is I who is related to Kiriya who should be on the battlefield, and you should be the one returning back instead!”

Frederica immediately scampered to his side, tugging firmly at his clothes, yelling. The doll in her clutches fell from the bed. It was the handmade teddy bear he had bought for her, just because she said she wanted it. It was not cute in any way, and Shinn had no idea what she liked about it.

“As Grethe and I have said, you should not fight. As your ability can indicate the location of the enemy, you should be by the backlines, helping the army observe the movements of the “Legion”. Finally you managed to escape the battlefield of death that is the Eighty-Sixth area, so why should you waste your life in such a reckless operation.”

“You can see your Knight, but we can’t cut in if you can’t see the other enemies. We’ll just be wiped out.”

“But…!”

“…So, why are you so eager to have us fall back?”

The similarly blood red eyes widened timidly.

Not because Eugene had died, and not because she realized that people would die one day.

Thinking back about it, Frederica initially said that if they wish to return to the battlefield, she hoped that they would slay the soul of her Knight, and not fight him.

“You wanted us to slay your Knight, didn’t you? We need to eliminate that Morpho even if the entire Federation army gets wiped out, but why reduce the chances of the operation’s success…you aren’t really hoping that it gets destroyed, right?”

“…”

For a moment, fear clearly appeared in Frederica’s eyes.

Shinn looked down at her, and sighed. It was just as he had thought.

“…That’s all the more reason for you to return. Forget about it all. You don’t want to end up like us, right?”

“! Do, do you have any right to say that to anyone!”

Frederica hollered, trying her utmost to shove back.

As a youth, Shinn’s body had fully matured, and he had fought on the battlefield for a long time. There was a thorough difference in physique and weight as compared to Frederica, who failed to nudge Shinn, and tumbled a few steps before regaining her footing.

“You once sought the soul of your dead brother, aiming to slay it, and now you are telling me to not seek the soul of my Knight!? Why!? Why say that I cannot do it!?…You probably understand that you have no aim, no place to return to, and struggle on with your little bit of pride. That is the kind of pitiful soul you will become. Do you want to end up like that!?”

She pointed her delicate hand to the Northwest.

She was correctly pointing to where her Knight was, and Shinn, having heard its final voice, knew that.

However, the voice alone could not determine how it looked like at this point.

“…I’m not your Knight.”

──She’s the same as the old me.

──How.

Shinn once had such a conversation with Raiden.

Thinking back about it, truly, Frederica was different from him.

No matter the sacrifices made, no matter what was discarded, Shinn had no choice but to keep going.

One could only advance by paying off his debts.

And his brother was not someone he could easily give up on.

“It’s your business thinking of me as him…but don’t lump your regrets and guilt on me.”

“!…You fool!”

Frederica finally had enough, and hollered in rage. The girl’s shrill voice echoed in the cramped room.

“It is I telling you not to go! As i have said, you should abide, fool!”

She clenched her little fists, stomping on the ground like a toddler, hollering away. The red eyes were immediately filled with tears as they glared at Shinn.

“You regretted not saying that to your brother, did you not? You hoped for him not to leave, but you did not, and your brother went and died there. That left you with regret all this time. So why are you doing the same thing as your brother did!? Why is it that whatever your brother did to you, whatever suffering he caused you, why are you too doing the same!?”

The petite body hollered from the bottom of its heart, and Frederica was left wheezing. She inhaled greatly, and tears flowed down her cheek. At that moment, teardrops fell like repressed emotions breaking through a dam.

“…Frederica”

“Do not go.”

A feeble, delicate voice rang.

“In no way do I wish to lose another brother again…no way do I want you to die like Kiri did.”

“…”

“Another older brother’s death on the battlefield is something that I do not wish for. No, I do not wish for another person to die…do not go.”

It was the middle of the night.

A blackout was implemented for the bases along the Western frontlines, but the work of the commanding officers did not end.

The lights were switched off, yet the commander office of the 177th Division Headquarters remained lit, and at the thick desk, the Major General continued to work using the light of the holographic screen. He heard a knock, and lifted his head.

Once he saw a silhouette enter the room, he frowned.

“──If it’s to cancel this operation, that’s a no go.”

“I know. I’m here to suggest something.”

Grethe’s high heels clicked away as she stood before the desk, nodding.

No soldier nor officer could refuse to execute an order, but an officer had the right to present a suggestion. As for whether it would be accepted, that would depend upon the superior.

In the darkness, the purple eyes glittered…there and then, Grethe smiled.

“Splitting Nordlicht Squadron into platoons is to avoid this situation from happening, right. Senior Richard?”

The Processors themselves had demon-like capabilities, but there was a known limit to how much a platoon could accomplish. Naturally, they should be facing fewer enemies as a result. There would be few friendlies, so the scale of battle would not be as great, and their combat prowess would not be as reputed. At most, they would end up as the stuff of legends on the battlefield, talked about during free time.

And the units, which had always fought in platoons, could never succeed such a delicate operation if they were a squadron instead.

“…I heard it’s called the “Juggernaut”, right? Looking at the mission recorder’s data of that flawed weapon, it’s something I wanted to try out. Including the first sortie of Nordlicht Squadron, when everyone in the company died except for Lieutenant Nouzen. However, you seem to be merely concerned with gathering the results of the battle and the high mobility combat data.”

The “Juggernaut” mission recorder contained compressed data file’s since its first sortie. The Major General had affirmed it.

The number of sorties and kills were abnormally high.

When they were interrogated under detention, they learnt that there were three other units, and every broken unit would be discarded for another unit. The last unit in particular was not used for a long time. Upon seeing the data however, Richard had a hard time believing their testimonies.

He knew that if they were to be sent to the frontlines all the time, it would not end well for them.

Shinn was a sharp, overly refined demonic blade, far different from the Federation soldiers. If they were too dazzling, there would be envy, and the last drop of blood might be squeezed out of them.

But in fact, Shinn’s bloodlust was far beyond expectations.

“…Don’t get too hung up over them. They’re pitiful, but that’s how it is. They’re children who grew up on the battlefield, surviving every one of them. Battles have become part and parcel of their lives, and it’s impossible to get rid of it. No matter how we try to protect and love them…they’ll never forget the battlefield.”

“No.”

Upon being interrupted, the Major General raised his only eye..

The purple eyes glittered in the darkness.

“They aren’t pitiful, and this isn’t something we can decide on. What we can do is to give them enough time to make the decision, and wait until they can make that decision themselves.”

They were overly accustomed to the battlefield, and were more reliable than any ordinary soldier, so she had forgotten about that.

Even Grethe, who had thought of them as young soldiers who could have died way too early, probably had subconsciously thought of them as veterans.

But in fact, they were in their late teens, and they had been at the Federation for no more than a year.

Anyone would need time to adapt to the new environment. Furthermore, the environment they were in before was completely different, and they ended up distrusting others.

In the face of the new world called the Federation that suddenly appeared before them, they were not adapted well enough to reach out for what they yearned for. What they could do was to keep protecting themselves, and not ask for more.

For the entire time, they lived in fear of death that might come the next day. They knew how to live the day, but they did not know how to face the following day.

Thus, it was fine for them to say that they only felt pride in fighting. They said they had no families to protect, no hometown to return to, and that was a fact, so that’s that.

However, once they adapt, if they wanted to regain what was taken from them,

Or that, despite all that, if they chose to live on the battlefield again.

That would be the choice that they made, and not something that was influenced by others, nor was it something that could be decided by others.

She did not know when that day would come. How many years it would take.

But that day would surely come.

“They’re Federation citizens now, but they were foreigners to begin with. Is there a need to go this far?”

“Of course. That is our responsibility. Our arrogance to save the lives of five as though we are going to save a drowning pup.”

Surely they would feel happy to have nice food, comfy beds, and a kind master. That was what she thought was kind of her, but thinking back, she was treating them no different from dogs. She did not consider their wills and dignity.

Basically, she had never treated them as fellow human’s. Her treatment was no different from the Republic’s treatment of the Eighty-Sixers. If she had stubbornly assumed that she was doing a good thing, it would be even worse of her.

Even upon seeing a living person before themselves, there were times where they would be deemed as a certain character in a drama or a movie, a feel-good form of pity, or an icon of justice.

“Can a bloody blade polished by the battlefield understand human emotions?”

“We used to have a similar bet, Richard. I won back then—but after that, everything got taken away by the “Legion”.”

“…”

The Major General let out a long sigh.

“I’ll repeat myself again. Don’t get too involved with them, Grethe. You’re just seeing the dead in them…those guys won’t be back.”

“Yeah, that’s right. But…what about that?”

Grethe remained unruly as she slammed her hands onto the desk, leaning forward, showing a smile that he was particularly concerned with.

“If those who know what I lost pity me as a result, I’ll be glad for that. I’ll repeat myself as many times as I want. I’m not willing to let children die on the battlefield…I’ll do whatever it takes to prevent that.”

Saying that, Grethe suddenly smiled.

The red lips that was gnawed through bloomed in the darkness, showing an alluring smile.

“My cute war maidens, the “Reginleifs” will be deployed, and they’ll be delivered by those doofus of a transport helicopter.──grant me the permission to use that.“

The Major General rested his elbows on the table, his hands folded and covering his mouth as he sighed.

“…That?”

“Yes”

Grethe nodded.

On the left chest of her uniform was the pilot emblem of the old air force, of a winged maiden, even though the organization had been dismissed.

“The “Nachzehrer”.”

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