[86 V3] Chapter 8 – Run to the Battlefront

“──First off, I’ll explain the current situation.”

7 hours later, the voice of an unacquainted young man was connected on the Para-RAID.

“The allied army of the three countries have basically seized the corridor for the time being. It will take some time until complete suppression. The United Kingdom has been progressing a little slower, but this is still within acceptable.”

Shinn listened nonchalantly as he remained seated in the cockpit of the “Undertaker”, evading the seeking Ameise, and did not answer. There were no patrols within range, and the noises within the cockpit should not be picked up. However, the enemy was not too far away for them to let their guard down.

The officer calling himself the Western Army Chief of Staff did not reprimand the junior officer’s rudeness, perhaps understanding the situation, and continued,

“The second objective of this operation can be said to be achieved, but unfortunately, the first objective to destroy the “Morpho” is yet to be complete. Yeah, it is the fault of Command HQ here for not anticipating a second unit, not the lot of you there. Do not mind.”

The others did not join in the conversation, as they immediately looked unconcerned. Needless to say, they did not mind at all.

“This operation is pointless if we don’t eliminate the threat of the “Morpho”. Thus, all forces will continue to advance, but we’ll zone in on the old high speed railways, pursuing the “Morpho” while limiting its possible range of motion.”

Shinn opened the old high speed railway on the old data map, affirming the predicted advance path the Chief of Staff had said. They would be headed 150km south of the old Empire’s border, beforeing making a turn there and heading West.

“Right now, your current position is 70km west of the Western Army main forces. As your squad is much smaller, your progress will be much different, and the distance will be bigger. There will be no aerial, artillery support or reinforcements. With these, I want to ask again. Are you going to continue your pursuit?”

“…Well, there’s no support and relief from the main forces for this mission. Don’t think anything changed at all.”

“The difference here is that it will take a longer time to regroup. To be honest, I cannot assure that the main forces can reach your point of advance, or that you can remain alive until then.”

Shinn let out a little sigh. What is he saying?

At this point, he was repeating himself.

“It’s not like we got any other choice here.

The Chief of Staff appeared to be giving a bitter grin.

“Your honest assessment left me with nothing to fall back on…someone has to do this mission, but it does feel unfair to have assigned you lot, and keeping to the original plan despite the changes in circumstances. What I mean is that if you have a change of heart, you can swap out with others.”

“Enough with the jokes. It’ll take time to change over, and the “Morpho” will end up further into the controlled area. It’ll make it more difficult to destroy it.”

It appeared the grin got wider.

“…Once you are swapped out to the backlines, the difficulty of the mission will have nothing to do with you, you know?”

“We’ll die either way if the “Morpho” isn’t eliminated. It’s pointless to run for the day and die the next day.”

“I see?…Well, that’s all I have to say. Any questions?”

“No.”

By suppressing the ground, the humans could freely scorch the Einstagfliege using anti-aircraft guns, and fly aircrafts to the frontlines.

“Seriously, the lot of them is really unadorable. Pitiful they may be, they are going to die in battle one day.”

The Chief of Staff removed the RAID device, handed it to the aide by his side, and snorted.

He had come to the frontlines to gather accurate information instead of rumors, and all forces had been busy realigning before they could advance. Somehow or another, they had arrived on a hill overseeing the old city of Kreuzberk. The survivors on the frontlines to be grouped with reinforcements from the back, while the wounded and KIA were to be sent to the backlines. At this point, they were all jumbled up everywhere.

Echoed everywhere were instructions for resupplies and realignment, yelled, and the engines of the trucks piled with body bags. There were many armored infantries inside and beside the burned, immobilized ”Vanargands”, and the wounded were stretchered away.

They did not notice the general right next to them, for they were all curled up wearily. The Chief of Staff chose not to gain their attention as he narrowed his eyes at the city center of Kreuzberk had been completely levelled by the railgun blast.

Fallen by his side was the twisted frame of the ”Reginleif”, with its armor fallen off. Within the cockpit was Grethe, who looked completely unhurt compared to her unit, scowling away.

Yes, she was basically unscatched. Once signal was lost from the “Nachzehrer”, everyone had predicted that the squadron would die in battle, but they were unhurt. Better keep it a secret from that worrisome Major General, so the Chief of Staff thought.

“And who has been hoping for him to die in battle soon?…a pure-blooded Onyx ex-noble like you must have felt the mixed blood Lieutenant born in the Republic is an eyesore, William.”

“I am not so narrow-minded, Grethe. Mixed blood has its own beauty, one limited to its own generation.”

Saying that, the Chief of Staff sneered.

“…Also, he has not shown any worry about you. Your concerns are for naught.”

“Of course. I’ll be so pathetic that I can die if a kid at least ten years younger than me is to worry about me.”

Grethe seemed pretty unamused as she retorted.

Ever since acting as decoy, she had avoided battle the entire time, but she remained alive while acting alone in the “Legion” controlled area. How many of the current “Vanargand” are capable of such feats?

Nevertheless, the fatal mobility the “Reginleif” possessed had produced the results Grethe desired.

“Looks like you did not lose your touch, spider girl── “Legion” killer Black Widow.“

The straight bridge on Grethe frowned hard.

“Enough with that, man-cutting mantis. You do know where that nickname come from.”

Haha, the Chief of Staff laughed heartily.

“Of course. I was the one who came up with that nickname after all. It’s not everyday you get to see a bride dressed in a mourning gown instead of a wedding gown because of her husband.”

“You rascal.”

Grethe retorted as she grabbed the outstretched right hand of the Chief of Staff. The latter pulled the hand, and assisted her off the “Reginleif”.

The 10 Wargus or so under her charge started to climb up from the foot of the hill. The Chief of Staff watched the sergeants in their prime ages, and shrugged to Grethe who stood by his side.

“Who was the one who dumped me, and was engaged to a fool who died while leaving behind a lady who was to be married a month later──the Major General and I wanted to mess around by dumping roses all over the church during the ceremony.”

“…”

The Chief of Staff was furious, and filled that fool’s coffin with roses instead of the shattered corpse.

“…I do not care about what happens to those monsters, but it is unpleasant to have you cry because of them, and that is why I do not want them to die in battle for no reason.”

The “Juggernauts” were deep within a vast forest of oak, lurking in a pit beneath dense bushes and tall undergrowth. The Ameise did not appear to have noticed them.

The patrol squads trampled upon the grass and the branches as they left with their laments. Shinn unwittingly heaved a sigh of relief, and Raiden, in the “Werewolf” just not too far away, said,

“Are they gone?”

“Yeah, but better to stay still for a while just in case…let’s wait while taking a break.”

Saying that, Shinn felt the tension ease from the other end of the Para-RAID.

He could feel some of them stretching their backs. While the “Reginleif” cockpit was much better than the Republic’s “Juggernaut”, it did not particular focus on comfort, and was not a focus in the slightly. The field dress cockpit was cramped to reduce the front projected area, and did not take into consideration the stress the pilots would bear.

Shinn had a look outside, and saw the sun that did not show itself over the earth when the operation began. It was midway, and the sun shone through the gaps of the heavily clustered leaves. Countless ovals of light overlapped each other, covering the 5 “Juggernauts” and the following Fido with spots.

Now then.

Everyone gathered their eyes on Fido…the container it carried..

Before they sortied, they were busy with the briefing and the checks of their units. Thus they did not notice that person’s absence early in the morning.

Fido fidgeted uneasily as the silent stares gathered upon it. One could sense stares coming from the windowless container, and the thing inside looked flustered, before that happened.

“N-nya. Nyaa.”

““““Are you stupid!?”“““

Everyone other than Shinn retorted, their voices still hushed as they were in enemy territory (Ange was a little off in her response, for she went “Are you a fool!?”).

Shinn ignored the old-fashioned, poor acting as he said,

“Fido”

“Pii,”

Fido averted its optical sensors. Faced with such unnecessary theatrics, Shinn kicked at it.

“It’s an order. Open the container.”

“…Pii.”

“No, Fido. Do not open…ahh.”

And, as expected, with nowhere to hide in the container, Frederica was curled up in the space between the fastened 88mm ammo cases and the energy packs .

Before she could say anything, Seo had reached out to the back of her neck, picking her up like a kitten, and grabbed her out.

“What the hell are you doing…!?”

“Hyaaa…!?”

The thunderous outrage had Frederica cringing her neck.

The furious, heavily muffled voice was filled with the murderous rage of one hacking at the neck.

“You know we can’t go back, right!? Why did you come along!? You could have died accidentally!”

At that moment, Frederica’s bloody red eyes were glittering with anguish.

“Because I hate this about you all!”

The sudden words left Seo silent.

Frederica realized the danger after her loud outburst, and covered her mouth with both hands.

Looking overwhelmed, she lifted her head towards Shinn, who shook his head. The Ameise was long gone at this time, and the voice seemed to have dispersed amidst the dense, overlapping branches and leaves. They might be playing coy, but the main forces positioned further away did not appear to be moving.

Frederica heaved a sigh of relief, and folded her arms as she continued what she was talking about.

“Deary, why can you not return? To think that the lot of you can say this. How long are you going to stay in that Eighty-Sixth battlefield of certain death? Did that Ernst not say that you must return?…that should be the only fate you should abide.”

So, Frederica tried her best to lift her slender shoulders.

“You may think of I as a hostage. Not to ensure that you do not run from the battlefield, but to ensure that you cannot run from your obligation to remain alive…you do not wish for a young, cute, delicate I to be hurt, right?”

She said that with a pale face.

Her lips were the only part smiling.

Seeing that, Shinn let out a sigh.

“…Raiden. What if I get you to bring her back…”

“That’s too much to ask. You’re the only one able to do that.”

Raiden was right.

They were 70km away from the main forces, and the only way to advance while avoiding all the “Legion” that had cluttered their path would be to know their whereabouts, for escape would be impossible otherwise.

“Guess I got no choice but to bring her along…I guess nobody else can bring her along.”

The “Juggernaut” itself possessed mobility capable of wrecking a person’s body. The vanguards Shinn and Seo always moved erratically, which Frederica surely could not withstand. The sniper Krena had to focus, and so was Ange who had to fight multiple enemies. Fido was not a combat armor, and having Frederica continue to remain in it was out of the question. By process of elimination, Raiden was the only one who could bring her along.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t do this again…even if you don’t do this, we aren’t exactly aiming to just die.”

“…Umu.”

For some reason, the bloody red eyes looked over at Shinn again, before lowering. The latter said,

“Frederica.”

Frederica lifted her head, and Shinn tossed that thing to her.

She caught it in a panic, saw the thing in her hands, and widened her eyes. It was an automatic handgun, larger than the Federation’s issue. It was a model belonging to the Republic army.

“You know how to use this, right? In case we all get wiped out and you can’t regroup with the main forces, end yourself with that. The “Legion” won’t torture humans, but they won’t kill off dying people.”

Several times, Shinn had seen several dying comrades who were not killed off, some even begging for him to kill them off.

And the thing dealing the final blow to them was the handgun Shinn handed over. He did not care about the past units or the Republic uniform he used, but this handgun was the only thing he was reluctant to give up.

“Is this fine…did you not use this handgun to send off Eugene, your comrade?”

“…Didn’t I tell you to close your eyes?”

“Fool. What I saw were the memories. You bor everyone’s…”

Frederica stopped talking, and embraced the handgun in her chest.

“This shall be graciously in my care now…but as I am too weak, these hands cannot hold such a heavy thing for long. Surely I will return when we return to base…so do ensure that all returns.”

 

Due to the time and the patrol squads loitering around, they could not move from where they were. They decided to have an early breakfast, beginning preparations while ignoring Frederica, who did not know anything about camping.

But even so, the situation did not allow for them to set fires, so they had combat rations, a standard equipment for armored forces. Contained was a meal’s worth of food in laminated packs, sterilized and stored food that could be self-heated through hydration in case fires could not be set.

The grey laminated packs were colored with urban camouflage, and printed with the twin-headed hawk crest along with the explanations. Shinn took one out from Fido’s container, and sniffed at it.

“Nothing’s written about what’s inside. Maybe it’s just to get them to enjoy the food, but it’s troublesome now.”

“Yeah”

Next to him, Raiden responded. Frederice did not know what they were talking about.

There were twenty two items on the menu for combat rations, and one had to open to see what was inside. All Frederica knew was that it was meant to raise the soldier’s anticipation for the contents, like a present surprise.

Once the self-heated pack was handed over to her, she understood what they two of them meant.

“It’s hot. Make sure you don’t get burned.”

“Umu.”

It appeared there was no Einstagfliege nor Rabe flying about. Frederica saw Fido deploy its solar panels under the sunny areas, preparing for the journey with no end in sight, cutting the pack that was handed to her.

There were times where the packs had to be parachuted, and thus, they were particularly tough. Except for the outside however, the inside could be torn with hands. With much effort, Frederica opened the packaging, and held her breath.

It was the smell of roasted meat, steamy after being heated.

The “Nachzehrer” was originally intended for backline support, flying at low altitude, and thus, the storage was not pressurized. Fido was not designed to store any persons inside, and thus there was no NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) protection functions installed. Frederica had scented upon the stench of the battle over the entire morning, burned metal, ash, and the stench of human flesh half-charred by the heat of the ammunition.

Upon seeing Frederica cover her mouth, Shinn, having expected this, looked around at the others.

“Anyone else who didn’t get meat?“

“I have trout here. Frederica, let’s swap.”

Krena snatched the bag in Frederica’s hands, and swapped it over. The raw stench of beasts distanced, allowing Frederica to be relieved..

Without hesitation, Seo used the spoon given to scoop some of the Eintopf, saying,

“Obviously, this isn’t for kids to eat. There’s usually a lot of food given, so eat what you want.”

“Umu….but,”

She recalled the bloody stench that was still lingering in her nostrils. The fish pack had the unique feeling of a vacuum pack, and its contents was flaky and small, as though overcooked. Frederica used the plastic spoon attached to poke at it, and said,

“Never thought you could stomach it…”

Upon saying that, she regretted her words. She sounded like she was reproaching them for being so aloof, even after witnessing many deaths.

But Shinn and the others did not mind.

“Yeah. We’re used to it.”

“Normally, we’ll eat immediately after moving the injured. We didn’t have time to care, and we were hungry.”

“It didn’t matter to us after some time, we didn’t end up not wanting to see meat.”

Saying that, the five hastily consumed the contents of the packs. It appeared they did not associate the meat food with the devastation of war. They were in enemy territory, and had no time to relax and rest.

Right, so Frederica steeled herself as she brought the cream colored trout to her mouth.

She nibbled, and froze still.

Upon seeing the unspeakable expression on Frederica’s face, Krena giggled impishly.

“So Princess, it’s not delicious huh?”

“…………Umu.”

The quality of the food is correlated to the morale of the soldiers, and thus, the developers had been working hard on this. However, the main features of such foods was portability and calorie intake, while taste was secondary. Honestly, the Federation army meals was prepared by the base cafeterias or the cooking cars. Combat rations focused primarily on utility. There was no need to spare effort for better tasting food.

But even so, such tastes was above average for most officers, sergeants and NCOs. Frederica was the last queen to the Empire, the adopted daughter of the temporary president, and had tasted fine cooking the entire time. It was a tough ordeal for her.

The taste was too overbearing as it was meant for combatants worn out from battle. The texture was beyond chewy, and there was the stench of preservatives after heating, which made it undesirable for her.

“My apologies for saying this again…but you are somehow able to stomach this.”

Luckily, it appeared none of them were offended, as they heartily responded with chuckles,

“Sounds like this is a lot better than the rations back then. From what Bernault, the first batch was like eating starch.”

“It is interesting how whenever food is described as inedible, the comparison will be things that definitely has not been eaten.”

Like soap, sponge, dirt, or a rag cloth filled with milk.

“But even so, starch is too…”

In a certain myth of the Far East, a little bird had its tongue cut out as punishment for consuming starch, but that starch was made through crushing rice. What Bernault spoke of was probably more of an adhesive instead.

Also, Frederica had no intention of eating that Far East crushed starch.

“There’s no doubt it’s a hundred times better than the synthesized food in the Eighty Sixth Area. There’s nothing more disgusting than that.”

“What kind of taste is it?”

Upon hearing that, the Eighty-Sixers exchanges looks, and responded in unison. Even Shinn, who was unconcerned as he listened without smiling, joined in with the response.

Ahh, it appeared to be utterly unsavory…so Frederica realized.

If Shinn, who did not particularly nitpick about food, was showing a not-too-obvious disgruntled look.

“““““Plastic explosives.“““““

“…”

It appeared what they ate was not food at all.

 

“──It stopped?”

Before they left, Shinn muttered sceptically to himself. It appeared the “Morpho” had stopped in its tracks after moving all the way West.

“Probably maintenance…changing the barrel or something.”

“Quite likely.”

In any case, they had decided upon their advance. They were near the Northwest border of the Empire, and they would head diagonally down southwest, through the controlled area, with the shortest distance possible.

The “Löwe” and ”Dinosauria” were unable to intrude upon this old forest with its trunks, where the roots of the large trees rose from the ground, and the branches and leaves were intertwined, forming a natural hazard. The five ”Juggernauts” and one “Scavenger” made haste through this area.

As decided during lunch, Frederica was riding on the “Werewolf”.

The “Juggernaut” cockpit had a foldable auxiliary seat meant to hold down and transport the wounded, but it was mostly for emergencies, and not meant to be accommodated for a long time. To be precise, it was hard and cramped.

Thus, Frederica quickly left the auxiliary seat, and was seated between Raiden’s knees at this point.

According to Shinn’s estimate, they probably could advance for a while without fighting. Also, Raiden was tall, unlikely to be obstructed, and thus left her to do as she pleased.

Secondary to everything else, if the others were to see him in this state, this would not end with just a few jokes. Raiden sighed; he was relieved that they did not have to appear on screen in real time whenever they had to communicate, unlike the anime robot shows he had seen during his childhood.

“Once the battle starts, return to the auxiliary seat immediately. Also, don’t talk when that happens. You’ll bite your tongue.”

“I understand. Do not think of I as a child.”

Though she said so, her eyes were glancing at the flowing scenery outside on the optical screen, acting just like a child. Her eyes were glittering with curiosity and excitement, and though she had assumed she hid it well, her enthusiasm was clear.

“Ohh, now there are deer! Raiden, a deer!”

“Yeah…”

He glanced aside, and found two deer at the other end of the trees, his black eyes staring at the trespassers unsuited for this location. The mother was surely the hornless doe, and the other was a little, delicate fawn.

Surely they will be nice to eat, so he thought, but he swallowed it for nobody would have wanted to hear him.
Raiden himself was sick and tired of seeing the same scenes on the Eighty-Sixth area battlefield, but surely Frederica felt different. She knew only of the last bastion of the Empire army, St. Yedder, and the FOB…Raiden realized she might be seeing this for the first time.

Well, he was not unacquainted with this feeling after all.

Almost a year had passed since the last Autumn, when they were assigned to the Special Scouting Mission. Back then, he had witnessed many scenes for the first time…and they were truly breathtaking.

It was truly a special feeling to be able to witness things once unknown.

During the five years he remained hidden in the Eighty Five Areas, Raiden managed to watch the television from time to time.Even so, that was the feeling he felt.

He could not imagine what his comrades could have felt, for ten years ago, they were confined into the Eighty Sixth Area, only knowing of the Concentration Camps and the battlefield.

Once, Raiden stepped foot upon an abandoned ancient city.

It was a cloudless day, and the red color of the sunset filled the skies. The streets were built with white stone, the crimson sunlight shining through the red leaves left on the ginkgo trees, and the atmosphere was glittering golden amidst the evening ruins.

Krena excitedly scampered around, and fell atop the fallen leaves, her face facing the sky. Shinn could not laughing away when he saw it, and that left Krena completely red face as she bickered with him.

…Yes, back then, he was still smiling.

When did it end up this way?

By the time he realized this, he found Frederica staring at him with her bloody red eyes.

“Raiden…you are Shinei’s close friend, no?”

“Nope. We just have a long history together.”

Frederica’s blunt words left Raiden unwilling to admit this fact as he denied it without thinking. Frederica however was unwilling to avert her earnest eyes.

“…Kid, you referring to the battle just now?”

“It has been like that since the mass invasion happened.”

Hmph, so Raiden snorted. He remembered her mentioning something similar.

“When the invasion happened, to be honest, our minds were in a mess…there were too many enemies. I thought he was affected by those things, but,”

Raiden had assumed Shinn was affected by the endless hordes of enemies and the deafening laments of the ghosts,

“What was his state like….anyway, why did you synchronize with him?”

Back then, the situation was too dire. She was reminded not to synchronize before they sortied, for fear that they would be distracted.

None of them wanted Frederica to hear of anyone dying. It was a terrifying moment as the laments of the swarming Dead were plentiful enough to leave Shinn shaken.

Shinn surely did not want the young Frederica’s to crumble because of that.

“…The Republic──the “Grand Mur” has fallen. So I wanted to inform him…”

“…”

That idiot’s taking on this burden alone. So Raiden grimaced. Shinn could determine the locations of the “Legion” far away, and surely would not have missed the destruction of the Republic

For Shinn, the white swines of the Republic were nothing to him, for they had lazed and slothed.

── We shall be on our way, Major.

It was rare, really rare, for that idiot to be really concerned about that last Handler.

Frederica shrivelled. She appeared chilly as she cupped her shoulders with her hands.

“But he did not respond. Back then, Shinei was looking…just like Kiriya during his last moments”

It was worse than what Raiden had thought.

“…That bad?”

“He could not see anything other than the enemy he had to beat. The same happened during the battle just now….no, it was worse than when the invasion happened…”

“Yeah. That guy never forgot us around him when he fought.”

No──that happened once.

The last battle that happened at the Eighty Sixth Area of the Republic, the first battle zone.

Shinn spent five years searching, and finally found the lost head, along with the ghost of his brother.

He said he wanted to fight alone.

He never considered their feelings.

…So that’s what happened.

“Frederica…you okay if I tell you to ignore everything other than that idiot?”

Raiden looked down at the red eyed girl, who nodded gingerly.

“──.Further advance has been decided.”

The crude armored commander vehicle was unbefitting of an official state car, and it was dark inside. Visible within was a hazy silhouette of a controller seat lowered as much as possible, with a shadow slumped upon it, and a girl kneeling on one knee.

The Crown Prince was dressed in a long-sleeved, high collared army uniform of the United Kingdom, standing at the door as he continued.

“According to the Gifted that had tracked down the whereabouts of the “Morpho”, the massive dragon appears to be on the South Flower Crane Route at the Southern end of the Controlled Area. The main Federation forces shall work together with the Wald Alliance to advance and dominate this route. Our United Kingdom in turn shall work with a separate Federation force to suppress the North Flower Crane Route to the north of the Controlled Area.”

The shadow covered his eyes with the back of his hand, and the girl instead had her eyes turned to the Crown Prince. Her eyes were green like a cat, glittering in the darkness.

“More effort will be required from all of you…do we have sufficient spares for the worn out parts?”

“As a precaution, they have been ordered in advance to deliver anything that can be deployed from the backlines. However, as fast as we can move, we can only begin operation this evening if we are to advance a corps’ worth of forces. Until then, preparations will be completed on our side.”

Upon hearing the deft response, the Crown Prince gracefully nodded with a smile.

“To assist the forces advancing south, our United Kingdom shall provide a misdirection. However, the “Legion” cannot possibly overlook the advance of the main Federation force…what are the countermeasures?”

“It is said the Alliance will use an anti-radar weapon. Metallic clouds shall be deployed at low altitude to discret the Rabe and the Ameise sensors, breaking up their communications. It will be for a short time, and will only cover the southern side of the Controlled Area, but we have been told that it could buy some time and cause the “Legion” to determine that the United Kingdom army are the main forces.”

“The Alliance certainly is that determined here. This move will only work once on the “Legion”, given its high learning capabilities.”

“It is a wise decision, for if we fail, there will be no next time. This goes for our United Kingdom too.”

“As you wish, brother…however,”

The shadow never looked at the Crown Prince in the eye, and never moved the hand away from the eyes, despite the latter outranking him in military rank and succession to the throne. It was then that he corrected his insolence as looked back at the Crown Prince.

His eyes were purple.

“There is a aircraft prototype in development that cannot fly on its own, and a Suicide Squad comprising of young soldiers. Truly it is as outrageous as the Republic’s drones…but nobody is in the mood to sweat the details, I suppose.”

“I do find your cute Lerches to be pretty disgusting themselves…the situation will only get more dire. Please think of countermeasures.”

“Understood.“

The Southern skies were dyed a madder red, and a flock of white machine flew off from the south.

Those were miniature aerial drones controlled from afar. They self-destructed before the Stachelschwein could react. The tiny fragments remained plentiful as they scattered everywhere beneath the last vestiges of the day, overlapping, and finally became dark clouds blotting out the sunset light.

The second array flew over the dark clouds, and self-destructed. Following that was the third, and the fourth which was destroyed by anti-air fire, temporarily jamming the “Legion” communication network.

But this jamming action was completely useless against the Ameise, which were not caught in the cloud of metal.

The aircraft silhouettes and the clouds did not exist in the database, but they were deemed as offensive actions. The machine ants greedily gathered the intel and disseminated it through its vast network. Their highly potent sensors could not view through the clouds, and all communications with the friendlies beneath the clouds were jammed. Thus, it was determined to be an anti-radar weapon that neutralized light and electromagnetic waves.

Misdirecting the enemy before an attack was a basic. However, this action was too obvious, and the “Legion” reinforced its defences everywhere other than the area around the metallic clouds.

Presently, the United Kingdom and the Federation army would be advancing from the North and the Northwest.

Clearly it was a misdirection, so the commander unit of the two frontlines determined, and requested for reinforcements from the backline within the Controlled Area.

“──There’s movement. It looks like they were baited by the misdirection at the north.”

“A double whammy huh? Both North and South are working hard.”

They spent the entire day venturing through the forest, and chose a seemingly forgotten village as a campsite.

The “Juggernaut” were laid prone at the plaza. Raiden stood at a little chapel opposite a Cathedral with light shining through its rose window, and shook his head with some relief.
“Now the main forces are finally able to move…guess it won’t be just some distance between us.”

“They’re planning to advance the entire night. I guess they’ll close the distance between us somewhat.

“Looks that way.”

The main forces could swap combatants when fatigued, and unlike them, this small squad had to rest their bodies. Also, the “Juggernauts” had been fighting and moving the entire day, so maintenance was required. They could stay awake for a few consecutive days if the worst case scenario played out, but that efficiency would drop, including combat.

Luckily, the “Morpho” appeared to be stationary, probably undergoing maintenance. A lot of effort would be needed to load a projectile 800mm in diameter and several tonnes heavy. The armor withstanding the penetration of the 88mm tank cannons was probably as heavy as every other module. The enemy had disseminated the structure diagram of the CPU, and had forcibly commanded for an all-out an attack, which could have influenced the situation.

The simple stone huts showed no signs of destruction or battle, and it appeared the villagers had left this place before they were attacked by the “Legion”, probably years ago. The three girls, including Frederica, were off to the kitchen, having guessed that the stoves could be used. Seo went to see if there were any decent rooms in the houses, and alone in the chapel were just Raiden and Shinn.

“…Shinn.”

What? Shinn retorted as he looked over at Raiden listlessly, and the latter went straight to the point.

“Take Frederica and go back.”

A tad later.

No, probably a little longer.

“…Why?”

“Don’t give me that. Didn’t I say in the day that you’re most suited? Who else other than you can head back through the “Legion” undetected?”

“What if they pursue me?”

“Well didn’t they stop? Even if it can move, it’ll just move on the tracks, and you can avoid it through the Para-RAID. Good thing this isn’t like the last time too, since they’re really luring the enemy away with some big misdirections.”

Hmph, so Shinn was looking like a blade.

Ahh, it’s that face.

It was a smile of an ice blade, of madness, of a war demon taking on the deathlands.

It was the same face he made when he challenged his brother.

“You think the “Legion” will be busy just by fighting off the misdirection and the main army? We had experiencing passing through here, this Controlled Area, and you know that if we fight, we’ll be wiped out, right?”

“It’s better than being dragged along by you now…there’s always something wrong in that head of yours, but it’s been getting ridiculous recently. You’re far past it ever since that battle just now.”

Shinn’s usual demeanour was to charge right upon the line of death, and brute force his way through in close combat. However, he was typically able to remain calm, grasp the combat situation, or at the least, was watching over the battle. While there were some doubts to his sanity, they did not really worry about him.

And that fulcrum had clearly been crumbling apart  .

He was toeing upon the edge of the blade like usual, but he was just focused on the enemy unit before him. He was focused on the arduous, intense battle between the enemy, the “Legion”, created to murder and much superior to humanity for that purpose.

He was basically begging for a fight to the bitter end.

“You’re being too affected by something…what happened?”

Perhaps he was affected by the ghost of Frederica’s Knight, which he never met when the latter was alive.

Or perhaps he was caught up in the madness of the battlefield.

“…It’s nothing.”

Raiden clicked his tongue. This bastard.

“You think you can bluff me with that, you idiot?“

Perhaps Shinn himself did not notice it.

Shinn might have assumed that his emotions were hidden beneath his poker face, but he might be rattled, conflicted and perturbed about himself.

“…Bluff?”

“Unfortunately, I know you for so longer, and I can see a little of your own blind spots”

Shinn could not see his own expression.

At this point, he had no self-awareness at all.

Not in regard to the expression he showed.

“You’re just drifting around, not knowing what to do…how many years have you regressed?”

When they first met, Shinn appeared to be a cruel, twisted, unstable presence to Raiden’s eyes.

At this point, he lack the sociability, but he was worse back then, always drawing a line against those around him.

He would only socialize during briefings, reporting time, or burying the dead, and hardly spoke to the other Eighty-Sixer squadmates and the maintenance crew. As his moniker implied, he was a death god venturing the battlefield, obsessed with a certain person’s death…even if he had comrades to rely on, he would never open his heart to them.

Looking back, Raiden found it difficult to begrudge Shinn for that.

Shinn was nearly murdered by his brother, who died without forgiving him, apparently. He was sent to the areas with the most fighting, and every single time, Shinn was the only one left alive, the squads all wiped out.

──You.

──You haven’t died even after hanging out with me for so long.

Half a year passed, and their squad was disbanded. They were on board the transport carrier, headed towards the next mission field when Shinn said this. Back then, his voice was of a higher pitch, like a child, as his voice did not crack.

What nonsense are you saying? So Raiden retorted, and did not think too much into it.

But back then, Shinn might have secretly thought that he was the cause of his brother’s death, and that of his comrades who died in battle before him.

It’s not your fault.

It was only recently that Shinn got to sort out his feelings, or at the very least, hear Raiden out and not be too affected. They survived the Eighty Sixth Battlefield for many years, and gained many more ‘codenamed’ like Krena, Seo and Ange. The squadmates he had did not die as easily as before.

The red eyes were lowered, tormented by something as they tried to avert. Without looking back in the eyes, Shinn spat loathingly,

“In that case, bring Frederica back yourself. It’s better for me to pursue alone than to be burdened by the rest of you.”

“…What are you saying?”

“If there’s a need for anyone who can’t return, I’ll be enough. If you guys plan to return, there’s no need to continue down this path of no return.”

“You…!”

Raiden reached his hand out without thinking.

He grabbed the front torso of the Panzer Jacke, took a step forward, grabbed Shinn, and slammed the latter into the pillar at the back, causing a blunt sound.

“…Enough,”

When they first met, there was a difference in height. Both of them later grew to their respective heights, but the height difference remained similar. Raiden glared downwards at the red eyes that were glaring back, gritting his teeth as he eked out a voice.

“Don’t you think that everything’s fine if you just sacrifice yourself? Don’t act like you’re not going to return.”

“…I’m not planning to die.”

“Yeah, I guess so. But you have no intention of returning alive!”

The manner in which he said ‘if you guys plan to return’ made it seem like it was somebody else’s matter entirely.

It was as if it did not matter if he died.

It was as if it did not matter if he died alone, that nobody would be hurt.

That notion did not start on this day.

It started almost a year ago, during the last battle of the special scouting mission, which he intended to be a decoy.

And before then, when he bitterly sought the soul of his brother during the last battle in the Eighty Sixth area.

He was giving an expression that showed that he did not care if it ended there and then.

“Why did you want to end your brother? To keep going, right? You survived to bury and send your brother off, right…don’t be mistaken!”

“In that case,”

He squeaked out a voice.

At the same time, that voice was filled with anguish.

“In that case, what’s the point? For what purpose am I──…!”

He blurted out a question in his agitation, and stopped midway through, fearful of asking anymore.

It was a silence that showed he had no answer to the question he asked.

Ahh, so that’s how it is.

Raiden realized.

This person really was an ice blade.

He was focused on forging himself, and upon killing the target, it shattered. Such was Shinn’s existence.

Why, to this point?

Had he not realized it?

“…I just don’t want to die, that’s all. That’s enough for me, I think. Same goes for the others.”

Surely that should be enough reason for a person to keep on living.

However, Shinn was told ‘It’s all your fault’, nearly got killed, and kept fighting to repay his sins.

Shinn kept living, probably unable to accept that he was fighting just to survive.

“It’s your path, your decision. We’re in the same boat here however…if you’re tired, I’ll carry you along. If you can’t hang on, just rest. So,”

Just as Shinn chose to be a decoy during the last battle of their scouting mission.

Just as when Shinn encountered his brother’s ghost during the last battle in the Eighty Sixth Area.

He showed no concerns to Raiden’s feelings.

“I’m not letting you fight alone.”

 

“For some reason, it feels like I’m the one excluded, or not counted as one of the guys. Anyway, it doesn’t matter since that’s not my character.”

“Well, both Shinn and Raiden do know each other for a long time, long before we met them. It does seem like something has happened.”

“I guess so.”

“Really?”

“It’s probably one of those cheesy episodes in a manga where they fight it out with fists or something. Go ask Raiden when he gets back.”

…Such was the conversation.

In descending order of height, Ange, Seo, and Frederica were poking half their faces out, whispering.

Basically, they were hidden behind Fido’s container that was slowly and stealthily creeping to the entrance of the chapel. Krena, the last one left, was pulled back by Ange, her mouth covered with a hand, mumbling something.

Krena had witnessed the duo bickering, and wanted to dash over like a dog, only to be caught and held back by Ange.

It appeared they were done talking, and Ange only let go upon affirming that they left, or rather, Shinn waved Raiden’s hand off, ending this on an unpleasant note.

A flailing Krena stumbled two, three steps upon once she was let go, unable to stop her momentum. She wanted to question their actions, but Seo spoke up before she could.

“Say, Krena. Even if you do rush over now, nothing can be solved. You’ll just make the situation all the move complicated.”

“Wh-what…I won’t!”

“If you go over, Shinn would have run away for sure. If they can’t have a good conversation, there’s no point talking things through.”

“Boys do love to act tough and not show weaknesses before girls after all.”

“…Ehh, yeah, Ange, that’s right, but mind not saying that in front of me? It feels weird. Also, that doesn’t just apply to guys. Girls too are the same, right?”

“I suppose.”

Ange smiled demurely, and Seo looked up at her unhappily.

It’s like I’ve been drawing the short straw ever since Daiya died…so Seo thought, but he would not say it out. It was too tasteless of a joke, and no way was he willing to let Ange hear those words.

They had sent way too many dead comrades, unable to step out of the shadows.

But even so,

“…Well, you can say that we can’t let go of this matter. Shinn has been acting weird recently.”

Seo himself could not clearly imagine the future.

And he felt Shinn was more likely to be unwilling to face it.

See no evil, think no evil. He was unwilling to entertain that notion.

The Dead had passed on. He could do nothing other than to mourn over them, and they were vestiges of the past.

Surely it was difficult…to be imprisoned by those things and look upon the future, but,

“…Anyway, that last battle we had before we arrived at the Federation seemed weird now that I think about it…it’s like he was so willing to do it even after knowing that he’ll die. Back then, he would never do that, nor let anyone else do it.”

For before then, Shinn had to slay the ghost of his brother.

And he had to keep living for that purpose.

Hmm, so Krena pursed her lips unhappily.

“I don’t think so.”

And Seo gave her a sarcastic look.

“…Krena, maybe you should try understanding him a little more, and not just give chase after him.”

“That…”

“Shinn isn’t…a death god existing for our sake.”

He was not an wooden idol to be admired, depended, worshipped.

Krena wanted to refute, but kept quiet once Seo pointed that out.

Her eyes fluttered, and after some thought, she averted her eyes awkwardly.

“…I get it.”

“Ange, you’ve been worried about this, right…you know?”

Upon hearing that, Ange grimaced.

“He does seem similar to me…I do understand a little how it is like to be a child unwanted by his family, how he would think of his family, the world, and himself..”

“…”

“Shinn thinks that maybe it was all his fault. Logically, he knows that is not true, but he cannot help but keep blaming himself…not only was he unwanted, his brother did say so, no? That feeling is not something he can get rid of alone.”

Krena lowered her shoulders dejectedly.

“So in other words…us accompanying him isn’t enough?”

“At the end of the day, all we can say to him is that we’ll tag along until we die. We’re just relying on him, and one day, we will end up leaving him.”

In that sense, their relationship with Shinn remained unequal.

It was no wonder that they did not think of him as a guy too, so Seo quietly sighed.

It was his fault for relying, letting Shinn bear everything…and never trying to share the load with him.

“…Will we end up troubled over the same things one day? I guess so. After all, we never actually thought about what the future is, what tomorrow is.”

Thinking back, them knowing of their certain deaths after serving five years in the army was a form of redemption.

No matter how arduous the battles were, how malicious the white swines were, they could hang on, for they could see the ending. If they did not succumb until then, it would be a victory for them. They would be able to fight until the very end, and die off with a smile. That was the dignity they thought they could protect.

They never expected to be alive, and be told to return, to survive.

This time, they did not know what attitude they should live by, how many years they would live, decades even, and worried that they could not last. In the face of that indefinite time, they remained hesitant to advance.

There was only one dignity they all had, and if they could not survive this long pride, they would lose it.

Having thought that…they were unwilling to think of the future.

“Shinn certainly had his brother as an objective, and surely he found that if he continues to advance, there is no end. However, we all are the same, without a goal in life, or a want.”

They could go anywhere, but it did not mean that they had somewhere they had to go to.

They were akin to a wanderer alone in the wilderness, who nobody cared for even if they arrived nowhere, remained as they were, shrivelled up and waited to rot, becoming empty, unchanging existences.

One day, they all would remained hesitant to move on in the face of such loneliness and emptiness.

Shinn however had noticed it a little earlier than they did.

Good grief, so Seo sighed.

“I guess even though he’s the Pointman, he doesn’t have to lead the way in such things.”

So they ended up subconsciously realizing it.

They know they had to face it no matter how much they hated it.

They knew that it was different from living on the battlefield called the Eighty Sixth Area, where they could prepare to depart for the afterlife the next day.

“Well, Shinn may not appear like it, but he does care about us. I do think that is his personality.”

“Yeah.”

Seo nodded, and suddenly glanced aside at Krena.

“I’ll put it this way, Krena. This is really a big chance. They say that when someone’s most devastated, that’s when they’re most prone.”

“If I may say so, Seo, this is a great chance, but only bad women do that. This is unbefitting of Krena.”

“I guess so.”

“Th-that’s not it! I’m not that,”

“Yes yes. We heard it all. Also, everyone knows already, okay?”

“And Krena, did you not admit it yourself? Why correct yourself now?”

“That time was, erm…”

Krena’s already reddened face became beetroot.

With a mosquito-like buzz, she fidgeted, and asked,

“…………………………Wait, did Shinn realize it?”

““…”“

Seo and Ange exchanged looks without a second thought.

For regarding that question,

The answer was terribly cruel.

And it would be extremely inappropriate to state it before her eyes.

“…It must be said that he has realized it, but well, twas more of an admiring child, or a possessive feeling.”

And so it was said.

“Shinei thinks of you as a little sister…one that requires lots of care. Truth be told, it appears he does not view of you as a girl.”

“…”

Ahh, so the soul left Krena’s body.

Ange grabbed Frederica’s shoulders firmly, showing a gentle, shiny smile while the latter was shaking her head frantically, looking pale. Seo tried to round things off.

“Eh…well, you’re considered a reliable comrade, I guess. Anyway, that’s how it is right now.”

“Uu…yeah, I-I’m great at sniping! I’ll definitely be of help!”

Seo nodded wordlessly. Truly, for the close ranged fighter Shinn, Krena was an invaluable ally as she was able to provide accurate covering fire in the middle of his dogfight.

That should be the case,

“But…ehh, the Republic’s wiped out, huh…?”

For ten years, the country abused its massive authority that was not to be defied, oppressing the Eighty-Sixers, and drove them to their deaths. How quickly it vanished.

“According to what I saw of Kiriya’s memories, the Grand Mur had collapsed, and there were signs of “Legion” invading in hordes. Unlike the Federation, the Republic frontlines collapsed in an instant. It appears…the country is gone.”

“I guess so. The Republic’s defense strategy is to use the Eighty-Sixers as pawns, ensuring their own safety.”

“And they ended up with the same fate…this isn’t funny.”

They did not care about the deaths of the white swines, but they could not laugh at how the few existing kind Albas and the many Eighty-Sixers comrades had died because of the swines’ tomfoolery.

Krena sighed.

“It must be the first time…Shinn got to say ‘we’ll be on our way’.”

Those were the first words he left behind for others.

To the first person he felt he could entrust with, or wanted to.

“Guess Major…didn’t manage to make it after all.”

 

The “Juggernaut” was standing on the stone plaza, resting after a day’s worth of activity. Shinn heard wilted leaves behind trampled, and turned around to find Fido.

He was standing by the side of his unit, and shrugged as he stared at the optical sensor staring back.

“Don’t worry. I won’t be going alone.”

“…Pii.”

“But…going alone does feel a little easier.”

Since I don’t have to bury anyone else.

The murmurs were only heard by the Scavenger accompanying the Death God.

The white flowers glittered like pearls on the lush green velvet grasslands, and Kiriya brushed aside the petals as he raced across it.

There was nothing stopping the massive steel dragon from racing through the “Legion” controlled area. It darted past the opened forest, crossed the bridge over the massive river, passed the hills that rippled like the waves, and stopped at the battle area it was in charge of.

It alone was enough to destroy a stronghold, but after every battle, it required a long period of maintenance. The barrel would be completely worn out after firing a hundred rounds, and just changing it would take at least half a day….in that aspect, it was truly inconvenient.

That white field dress’ navigation speed might be similar, but it would have to break through enemy ranks, which would imped him somewhat, while Kiriya could leisurely pass by enemy territory.

It glanced aside at the maintenance machinery on standby, beginning work. Its eyes were locked in to the grey shadow in the distance rearing its head out to peek.

“Pale Rider to No Face. Arrived at mission area. Will sortie in another 40 hours. Beginning execution at BMNT1 after maintenance is complete.”

“Copy that.”

Now then.

Would it end up having a face off against this unexpected compatriot.

Or would it fire its glorious fireworks to harken the end of Human history?

“──Major General. It is time to wake up.”

The armies of the three countries had been fighting the entire night, but they took shifts, and the combatants did not end up fighting without rest.

The soldiers had emptied out cargo space used to store the infantry tanks, the jeeps and the “Vanargand”, and the Division HQ generals advancing along with the frontlines followed suit.

At a corner of the canvas tent that formed HQ, the Chief of Staff was dressed impeccably even though it was not time to wake up, and the Major General narrowed his eyes in annoyance.

They spent the entire prior night planning for operation plans till this day, and the Chief of Staff should have slept a tad later, yet he appeared to be just fine.

“You’ve aged, senior…or so I should say, but you are still in your 30s, no? Be careful lest you grow a belly.”

“How energetic of you, William…keep acting reckless while you are still young. You will end up like me soon.”

“Hard to tell.”

“Whatever you say. Once you get older than 30, your body feels like it’s over the hill.”

They were back to their old tone as students of the army college many years ago, probably because they had just woken up.The Major General shook his head, shaking off the sleepiness that could not be purged in fewer than three hours of rest, and put on the military coat that was tossed aside.

For the sake of their objective, he started off by asking the most important question.

“What about the Eighty-Sixers?”

“I had just synchronized with them…this Republic’s invention really is convenient. No way will I have the Empire Research Branch imitate it however.”

He pointed at the silver ring called the Para-RAID device, leering.

It allowed for humans to communicate through consciousness. It would have been pointless to experiment this on humans, and on could surely imagine that lots of lives were sacrificed until its completely, or to the Republic, lots of pigs.

The Major General had no wishes to use, or have others use a thing that was created through such immoral principles and technology, but the Chief of Staff had other ideas. While condemning it for being immoral, clearly he viewed it as a useful tool, and wanted to make effective use of it.

Speaking of which.

“…Finally connected, you say?”

“It is a connection made through shared consciousness, and it is impossible to connect when the other party is asleep. It’s unbelievable that a five men squad can be sleeping in the middle of enemy territory.”

Perhaps,

The Eighty-Sixers lived on the battlefield before they hit puberty, and survived the “Legion” Controlled Area for at least a month. Surely it was an extension of the part and parcel of their lives.

Perhaps they were used to it.

The Major General recalled a conversation two months ago.

Including the time in officer cadet school, he had served the army for at least twenty years, and had always been on the frontlines ever since the war against the “Legion” started, and the battles that caused him lots of mental stress.

If the battlefield was simply daily life to the Eighty-Sixers, and the daily lives he and the other Federation soldiers had was foreign to them, it would take some time for them to get used to this foreign daily life.

Even she spent five years getting used to it…and as for how she got used to it, that was another matter.

“Guess where are they right now? 120km West of the old Empire border. We spent the entire night advancing to this position. Infuriating, do you not think so?”

The Major General realized what was insinuated, and raised an eyebrow.

“…That is surprising. I thought you would try to use those children in this battle as much as possible.”

And the Chief of Staff in turn shrugged nonchalantly.

“Do not be mistaken. I do think a fine, sharp blade should be used as much as possible, and it is best if they can be used for long…but it will be terrible if the “Legion” is to take them. We have to retrieve them as soon as possible.”

For a long time, they had fought with the “Vanargand” and the “Reginleif” accompanying. Thus, the absence of both in the morning left him unnerved.

Bernault was in a corner of the barracks as they got ready to sortie, wielding the assault rifle that was the only thing left out his discarded personal machine, and was seated around in a circle with his subordinates, lifting his head when he saw Grethe approach.

“We’ll begin advance at BMNT2. You guys ready?””

“Copy that, Lieutenant Colonel. Ready to mobilized here…since,”

He raised the field dress pilot issued assault rifle that had a foldable stock towards her.

“It’s a lot lighter for us now.”

A 7.62mm assault rifle could tear an adult male’s limbs to shreds, but was certainly insufficient firepower when dealing with the “Legion”. The Wargus was wielding these weapons that could barely fend off the Ameise and Grauwolves when used appropriately, intending to fight on the battlefield. Grethe smiled.

“Are you worried about the Lieutenant and the others, Sergeant?“

“I’ll return those words right back at you, Lieutenant Colonel. You’re worried about the Lieutenant and the others, aren’t you?”

“I did all I could. What’s left is to believe in them.”

“You say that, but you sent in a spare ”Reginleif” unit, ammunition, spare parts and maintenance crew from the backline just in case, didn’t you? Heard you argued to the bitter end with the Chief of Staff regarding the arrangement of the transport craft.”

Even the rigid, aloof, and capable looking general surrendered unconditionally.

“Well, aren’t you the same, Sergeant? I did say the lot of you have nothing to do, that you may fall back, and you remain disobedient.”

“Well, that’ll look bad on our part. Whatcha think will happen if the brats come back shouting that they caught a centipede and a bunch of uncles here are all drunk out of their minds? We’ll be a laughing stock for the ages.”

That would certainly be the worst case scenario imaginable.

Hmph. So Bernault long out a long snort, and continued,

“…Might be difficult for this massive army, but we better hurry. Your “Juggernaut” is pretty decent, Lieutenant Colonel, but there are some issues given that the unit itself never went through much testing.”

“Yeah.”

All field dresses required a similar amount of maintenance time as the operation, “Reginleif” notwithstanding. While the units were not that delicate to malfunction without maintenance, the “Reginleif” actual operation time was too little, and there might be flaws undiscovered.

Grethe nodded away, and suddenly frowned.

“Speaking of which, you all have been calling it a ”Juggernaut”.”

“That’s a more appropriate name than an adorable war maiden, for us Wargus.”

While the Lieutenant Colonel was frowning unhappily, Bernault cocked an eyebrow.

“And for those shitty reckless brats who always do what we tell them not to.”

 

“──Ah, my bad.”

Upon hearing Seo mutter this from the other end of the Para-RAID, Raiden looked over from
the Ameise wreckage to the “Laughing Fox” itself.

The intense bombardments of 88mm tank cannons continued to echo day and night in the Contested Area, and the noise would linger to the distance, into the “Legion” Controlled Area devoid of people.

For that reason, Nordlicht Squadron tried their best to avoid combat, and in cases when combat was inevitable, they would suppress with close ranged armaments to ambush and suppress.

It was through this principle that the “Laughing Fox” trampled upon a Grauwolf, and was bout to hop off from it, only to stop.

It appeared the front left leg was jammed within the Grauwolf armor, the explosion of the propellant resulted in the pile driver firmly entrenched into it, unable to be removed.

“Is there any way to pull out, Seo?”

“Hm, guess not. I can’t move at all…might just purge it instead.”

The pile driver firmly entrenched within the thick metal armor could hardly be removed with the actuator output, and caused tremendous stress to the joint. Soon after, the exploding bolt was activated, and ”Laughing Fox” got off with the pile driver separated.

“Now the “Laughing Fox” is damaged too…that’s worse damage than we thought.”

“…Yeah, Ange and I got hit by shrapnel during the battle yesterday, and Raiden broke a gun when he was knocked apart…”

They had all lost guns, wire anchors, pile drivers, or had damaged armor, twisted frames, and various other damages

The status window indicated the amount of ammunition and energy packs Fido had left, and even that was unnerving. The assault operation was set to be finished in half a day, and while they did prepare extra assuming that they would be isolated, it was insufficient for battle over a few days.

“Guess Shinn’s the only one alright. We don’t have any spare blades though.”

“…No,”

Hearing that response, Raiden raised an eyebrow. After the verbal scuffle they had the previous day, he barely exchanged words with Shinn.

The voice was as flat as usual, and Shinn was never one for idle chat, so he probably did not truly intend to shun Raiden.

“The drive system yesterday hasn’t been working well. Looks like the first battle caused too much stress on it.”

“…You haven’t changed your old habit of damaging those legs huh?”

Compared to the Republic’s walking coffins, the “Reginleif” was designed to be light and sturdy for high mobility combat, yet there were faults. How did he use it?

“I can patch things up for the time being, and worst case scenario, it’s not like it’s can’t move.”

“You say that, but if you turn too much, it’ll break. Don’t get too crazy.”

“…”

Shinn appeared unwilling to respond. How childish.

“──Looking at how much ammo and energy packs we have left, we can only last until the next day is over. We should be able to make it, but let’s try to hang on until we catch up.”

These strange words left Raiden dropping his shoulders weakly. He’s still saying such things?

Until we catch up.

Not until they rendezvous with the main forces.

“…Understood”

 

Frederica was within the cockpit of the “Werewolf”, and she opened her ‘eyes’.

Her ability allowed her to witness the silhouette and background of those she met, as though she was by the person’s side. At this point, the silhouette remained unchanging, and the past was a memory the person subconsciously recalled.

It appeared someone was recalling a memory last Autumn. After the oppression by the Republic, the gang risked their lives, breaking through the “Legion” Controlled Area. That was their journey of freedom, one that should have ended with them unable to last a month.

Where did they witness this scenery? Autumn was in bloom, and the rusted color of wilted leaves laid before her. The scarred quad-pedaled armor looked barren to an outsider. They were dressed in old desert camouflage fatigues that was completely dusty due to the battlefield. This journey was probably close to the end. They probably realized that they could not advance much further.

But even so, the youths were laughing.

They were joking, chatting enthusiastically, looking lethargic, yet having fun.

Frederica could see the back of the black haired youth facing her, a smile etched upon his lips.

Even after achieving and losing the objective of killing his brother, Shinn back then could think of advancing the next day, and smile like before.

The reason why he could not do so was,

Frederica shook her head, and closed her eyes.

The Ameise was 80km away from the old Kreuzberk city, amidst the forest, and discovered that thing.

It was a snapped branch caused by a thing approximately two meters in height. There were footprints not of “Legion”, but of a quad-pedalled weapon.

The multi-purposed sensors scanned these scars, and the Ameise transmitted the report back to the main forces.

Foxtrot 113 calling for tactical data link.

 

There was confirmation of enemy elements deep within enemy territory.

The sun rose from the Eastern horizon behind them, passed the Southern skies, and set towards the West. The “Reginleifs” gave chase as they raced through the prairie.

The United Kingdom army had bogged down the “Legion” main forces, while the Federation and Wald Alliance joint armies were headed down the south Flower Crane route of the high speed railway, appearing to have diverted the “Legion” attention. The group managed to avoid combat due to Shinn’s ability, and ever since that first battle, they did not encounter any enemies, and were moving quickly within enemy territory.

They were in the middle of the battlefield, strangely able to journey on without issues, and every scenery on by the optical screen depicted the “Legion” controlled territory, catching Frederica’s attitude several times.

Amidst the forest, there was a flower field with dancing blue flowers growing wildly amidst them. The sunlight shone through the thick leaves, and the bright green of the tender leaves fought for the glittering sunlight along with these flowers.

There was a town devoured by greenery, and the shrubs growing freely had cracked past the stone pavements, the trees on the walkways devoured the abandoned cars, road signs, and Holy Maiden figures, while the many layers of vines pulled the houses down. The delicate flowers were blooming in the Autumn, atop these rusted objects.

There was an abandoned village with houses made of pastel colored bricks, perhaps due to the soil it had, resulting in what appeared to be a country out of a fairy tale. The tall shrubs might used to be a wheat field, and the faded scarecrow stood there, waiting for a certain person to return, or so it seemed.

At noon, they rested in the church at the middle of a city, a somber looking vertical Gothic Cathedral . The stained glass windows reached into the ceiling, and glittered beneath the transparent sunlight, casting colors and unlimited blessings upon the empty sanctuary with nobody worshipping.

The sun left its midday position, there were were no forests or cities to provide cover the rest of their way. They knew of the dangers, but they darted by the lake devoid of shelter.

The vast surface of the lake reflected an abandoned castle in the distance, and the clear deep blue color of the skies formed a contrast with the massive red flowers covering a tall, white tower. The gales rumbled through the eroded arrow slits, and the lone shadow of a black bird fluttered its wings forlornly. From afar, one could see its feathers falling as it threw itself to the skies, rising up the chilly wind high in the skies.

It was serene and beautiful.

Frederica was slowly starting to understand why the Eighty-Sixers thought so little of the Federation’s survival, Humanity’s survival, or even that of theirs and their comrades.

If people were to be purged out of the streets, lived on the battlefield, and lived within such sceneries.

They would find the world to be beautiful.

There was no need for Humanity, for the world remained tranquil and beautiful.

There was no place on this world where Humanity had to be.

 

This world did not need humans to begin with.

 

There was no solace

No matter where they were, no matter who they were…it applied to everyone.

The sun finally set beyond the horizon.

The last lights of this day caused the cloudless sunset to resemble a scorching fire, forming a long shadow upon the vast prairie. The distant mountains formed black edges by the Southern skies, and in this world with the atmosphere dyed scarlet, the “Juggernauts” dragged their long black shadows as they advanced through the sea of grass.

On the other side of the crimson light, there was dazzling golden light, and at the opposite direction, there were dark shadows fluttering in the wind. Frederica observed this, and spoke up.

It was like a sea.

It came and subsided like the tide, though it was a common metaphor.

“…Have any seen the sea?”

Nobody answered her words that were neither a question nor a monologue, including Raiden who was in the same unit.

“I have not, and know not of such scenes…there are many I do not know of. What about you?”

The red eyes were staring at the optical screens, narrowing wincingly, yearning for something.

“I have thoughts of going to the beach. I wanted to visit what they called the beach, to visit the coast somewhere in the South as seen in the photo of Ernst’s honeymoon, with many people there…surely it will be fun.”

The Federation had no seas.

There was one place bordering the sea during the Empire era, but it was to the North, and was a military port. The only place where a beach could be enjoyed would be the Southern coast of their neighbour, the Republic of San Mangolia, or countries further South of the Alliance, which were inaccessible as they were obstructed by the “Legion”.

A tad later, Krena spoke up.

“The sea…yeah, I never got to see it before.”

“Nobody got the chance to leave the residence area. The Concentration Camps might be the first time we got to go somewhere far. I think I spotted it once when I was on a transport heli moving between battle areas, but thinking back, I suppose it was not the case.”

“Never went to the sea, but there was a large lake nearby I used to play at…right, maybe those were fun times. There were a few people who went there to play.”

“I think there was such an activity some year in elementary school. The war started before I could attend though…so nope. Never got to see it.”

Someone let out an immature chuckle on the Para-RAID.

“The sea, huh…I do want to check it out. Let’s go over once the war’s over.”

“In that case, I want to go to the Southern islands. The kind with coral reefs and coconut leaves. Oh, and also white beaches.”

“I’ll like to go see the icy seas of the North instead. Also, I heard that we can walk on it when the temperatures are really low. Might be fun going there.”

“Well, we can have a look at the sea of stars. That Kujo wanted to organize a moon viewing event, but never got to do it. Let’s prepare for one next time.”

They were cautious as they advanced, but there were no enemies to be seen, even in the surrounding distance. Soon after, everyone started chatting away, distracting themselves from the tension with some casual talk.

There was one amongst them who never participated in their talk, and despite everyone knowing it, never mentioned this.

 

The next night, they arrived at the ruins of what appeared to be a metropolis, and chose to set camp at a complicated looking exhibition hall.

Having travelled the entire day, they did their maintenance of the ”Juggernauts” before the sun descended completely, and when the sun had set completely, they were done with dinner, and after that, they just had to sleep.

The barracks would contain minimal necessities, but sleeping on the ground or concrete is inappropriate as body warmth would be lost. If they had insufficient rest, it would affect them during the battles beyond the next day.

Thus, Raiden and the others laid out the foldable beds stored in Fido’s container, covered themselves with blankets, and soon fell asleep.

It was not comfortable in the slightest, but the Eighty-Sixers were used to such torrid environments. It was not uncommon for them to spend the night with just blankets in the barracks of the Eighty Sixth Area.

But for Frederica, who never slept anywhere else other than a comfortable mattress bed, it was a little arduous.

As she laid down in the thick darkness, Frederica did not feel sleepy at all despite closing her crimson eyes, and finally gave up as she opened them.

She twitched about, and snuggled out of her blanket, leaving behind the contraption of pipes and canvas that could not be considered a bed, and slipped into her little military boots.

The short bed meant that the cold air would reach her directly, and there were worms she had never seen crawling boldly on the concrete floor by the side, vexing her. Having spent the past half a year sleeping without her favorite teddy bear next to her had left her somewhat uneasy.

The exhibition hall was centred with a colonnade ceiling leading to the ceiling in the center, a vast corridor, and halls of various sizes. At this point, the canvas of the ceiling was torn and draped, the dazzling stars shining into the room. There was no artificial lights, and the darkness in the deepest parts of the battlefield was an unknown darkness to Frederica. Beyond the other end of the corridor were the folded limbs of the “Juggernaut”, and the silhouettes of the people that were sleeping next to it.

Beneath the stars that formed a bright, shiny contrast to the night was Shinn, first to keep watch for the night, and he lifted his head.

“──Can’t sleep?”

He was not being wary of the “Legion”, but of the wild animals.

The wild animals had been isolated from the Lebensraum of humanity for over ten years, born deep within the Controlled Area, and never feared them as a result. They shunned the “Legion”, which was more merciless than humans in wanton murdering, indiscriminate between humans and animals, and thus, would not approach metals and gunpowder stench easily. However, it was prudent to be cautious on the Eighty-Sixers part. It was said they spent nights this way when they passed through the Controlled Area, unable to build fires.

Of the shifts that would last a few hours, Shinn got the easiest first shift, probably because Raiden and the others were being concerned about him. Shinn could hear the “Legion” voices even in his sleep, and this responsibility could not be replaced. Everyone wanted him to sleep a little longer.

“Umu. Apologies for not sleeping even when not assigned to patrol. It does not feel good to sleep…”

Frederica received a mug of instant coffee from Shinn, and went to sit on the simple bed Shinn was sitting on. Instant coffee and solid fuel that could boil a pot of water were staples of military rations. The warm coffee was brewed using the hot water from the early dinner, and it was very sweet, as lots of sugar was added to replenish the heaps of calories lost in battle.

Shinn did not like sweet stuff, and continued drinking from the mug with displeasure.

“I feel that instead of having people who cannot use rifles patrol around, you should simply have Fido keep watch.”

“Pii.”

“…Fido, being active will only be a waste of energy pack. Didn’t I tell you to remain in standby mode until we call for you tomorrow?”

“Pii.”

“….Right. Do as you please.”

The optical sensor flickered, as though nodding. It apparently had intentions to accompany Shinn, and enter standby mode once he was done with his shift. Shinn saw that it was accompanying him like a loyal, stubborn servant, and sighed in resignation. Frederica chuckled…only to frown thereafter.

As they were in the battlefield, she felt that the Eighty-Sixers, including Shinn, were more likely to accompany the ”Juggernauts”.

The four silhouettes were all asleep, leaning upon their ”Juggernauts”. Shinn was basked under the stars, leaning on the “Undertaker”, and leaned his shoulder upon the assault rifle meant for defense purposes. Like a toddler hugging a doll to sleep, it appeared he feared the darkness and could not sleep without it.

They were trapped between the “Legion” army and their homeland that had oppressed and purged them. They lived through the battlefield, not knowing of tomorrow, and had to wriggle their way out in a twisted manner, while faced with impending doom.

Perhaps, unlike their appearances, they were immature somewhere in their mind──…

“…What”

“Nothing.”

Frederica could be said to be the same as them. Averting the similar red eyes, she looked up at the starry sky.

Unlike Winter, when the stars glittered clearly due to the cold sinking air, the shining stars of Autumn remained dull, murmuring quietly. The numerous stars blotting the planet dazzled far away. The heat from the grasslands during the day had vanished without a trace, and the sweet fragrant flowers sublimed into the starry darkness.

The night was filled with falling stars, and flower fragrance in the darkness.

But to Frederica, it was a beautiful, yet merciless scene.

The breath-taking starry sky and the darkness filled with flower fragrance happened because no one lived here. If there were people living here, the feeble starry lights and the fragrance would feebly fade away amidst the lights and bustle of the city.

It was like a sandy desert, a fading wilderness. This scene of despair before her was the same as a wasteland contaminated due to certain disasters, reduced to an uninhabitable ruin.

Barren it was.

She looked aside, and in a dark corner of the space, she could vaguely see an old abandoned bunny doll lying there forlornly.

“…Is this scene,”

Perhaps the robots built to be the embodiment of slaughter and destruction could not help themselves.

Those that died were trapped inside, and they used to be human.

“What the ”Legion” had hoped for?”

 

Frederica’s words appeared to be a monologue rather than a question, but Shinn had a little thought, and shook his head.

“Hard to tell.”

Shinn could only deduce the last voices of the Dead, and could only deduce from there what they thought before they were trapped within the “Legion”.

The laments of the mechanical ghosts entered his ears, all of them pleading to return.

“…Maybe it didn’t hope for anything.”

They were weapons, tools meant to be used by people for personal wishes.

“Those guys are ghosts. Doesn’t matter whether those KIA were taken or not. The Dead…never have hopes to begin with.”

“How do you know?”

“…I’m the same.”

He was nearly killed, only to escape the brink of death. Surely somewhere inside him remained dead.

Ever since that night, he really never had any hopes.

After slaying his brother, he had nothing.

He had nothing he wanted to do, nor a place he wanted to head to.

He never thought of the future.

He looked aside, not looking back at the red eyes staring up at him.

He started to realize that he was doing nothing except for running away.

“The sea,”

Shinn was born in the capital of the Republic, Liberté et Égalité, and never took a step from until he was taken to the Concentration Camp. He never saw the sea, the sceneries robbed by the “Legion”.

“I won’t think of looking at it, and won’t think of anything I really want to do, or want to go to. I’m not really concerned by this…but at evening, I find it weird that I can’t think of anything ‘I want to do’, not even that little thing.”

He could not think of any trivial, unimportant wishes he could immediately speak of, no matter how insignificant they were.

During late Autumn the previous year, they went in the opposite direction, advanced through the Controlled Area, and really enjoyed themselves…yes, so he recalled, he should be happy. He witnessed many natural sceneries he knew not of, saw foreign cultures as he went through cities and villagers. They stopped at many places, or chose not to stay. Each time, they could freely decide and advance, the first time they had complete freedom──Shinn remembered that back then, he was the same as his comrades, just enjoying himself.

For he thought it was a matter of time until the end came.

For he felt that one day, he would arrive at the end of his journey. He thought he would be unable to return anywhere, and without anyone else knowing, would die in battle with the flawed aluminium coffin as his resting bed.

But somehow, he got saved by his brother, and salvaged by the Federation. Unexpectedly, he lived, and what appeared before him was the long future he never thought of. For him, who should not be alive to begin with, the future was truly, overly long , the objective too distant.

The ‘freedom’ he obtained was unexpectedly a desert to him. He had no bloodline or homeland, and no objective to guide him. This overly massive void…terrified him.

It should be the same for his comrades, but amidst the void, they found some little wishes.

Not having any wishes was no different from not living.

Not hoping for anything was no different from not desiring to live.

It appeared he alone had not been living on properly.

“──I’m not your Knight.”

Shinn repeated the words he said a month and a half ago, when the strategy was decided, and sighed.

“I know that…but sorry. I’ve been using your Knight as an excuse.”

An excuse to return to the battlefield, for he had no objective to ask of.

“The fact remains that I want to keep going until the very end, but my brother’s no longer my objective. Right now, I think I need a new objective to replace the old.”

Hmph, so Frederica snorted.

“That is not all, I assume.”

“…?”

“You do need to know that you are looking at the mirror in the wrong manner. You do not have a cruel personality, unlike what you think. You could have just left it as ‘it has nothing to do with me’, but you cannot turn away even when someone asks you for help, let alone a ghost…an all-loving death god you are.”

She muttered, her sturdy gaze looking looking afar, and not this place.

“At the very least──you responded to I, and thus able to release Kiri.”

Her eyes were fixated on the howling Knight in the darkness of the night.

“I do wish to release him, trapped deep within the battlefield, wailing with that pitiful look…I hope to be free from seeing that tragic fate repeatedly. What about you?”

“…No.”

All Shinn hoped to do was to bury the howling voices deep within the battlefield.

Not once did he think of getting rid of them.

“So do I,”

At that moment, Frederica smiled with an expression on the verge of tears.

“I am terrified of losing Kiri.”

She feared losing.

She feared──.

“For I am an unwanted child in this Federation. This country has transformed into a Republic, and for I am a child of calamity, just living means that I am a spark for unrest…my absence is best for anyone.”

The Federation had shifted from a dictatorship to a Republican country, but the ex-nobles that hoarded lots of authority remained in power. Despite arriving at the Federation for no more than a year, Shinn sensed this despite knowing nothing other than the army. Nobles of various tribes occupied most of the higher ranks, the two colors Onyx and Pyropes in particular taking up at least half of the general ranks.

If those ambitious ones hoping to topple the country over knew of the Queen’s survival,

“But I do feel that I have to keep living, so that one day, I can slay that Knight of mine. Once Kiri…gets slain, this excuse no longer remains. I, fear that.”

“…”

Even so.

There was a need to bury him, to redeem herself, lest she remained unable to move on.

“…You fear now, unwilling to move forward, for you try to look at your future correct, in the direction filled with much hardship. It is not a shameless thing, and over this short period, you can think of your fellow comrades as pillars of support. Comrades…are people who stay together and protect each other.”

“….Raiden said that too.”

Suddenly.

A chilly thought entered his chest.

Even if the situation remained as such.

Our death god.

Yes, those that called him such.

Would one day, surely ,

“Take a move before me…huh?”

“…?”

“…It’s nothing.”

The ambiguous words dissipated in the darkness of the late night.

BMNT1.

At dawn, when the sun was yet to show itself, Kiriya awoke from its standby mode, having detected some light around it. The ancient battlefield was cluttered with twisted heavy cannon barrels that stood tall like sword-marked graves of an ancient battlefield. Looking across, the friendly units with folded wings had woken up, the buzzing of the flapping wings echoing.

The time of the purge had arrived. The Einstagfliege hordes was camouflaged along with it under the darkness, and there was signs of other “Legion” units under its command awakening doens of kilometres away.

The enemy did not appear to be moving. A predawn attack was a common, old-fashioned fashion during the pre-radar, night vision era, but it remained effective against the enemy that lacked both.

The observed intel by the Ameise was sent, and Kiriya looked into the horizon tens of kilometres away, its optical sensors only capable of seeing the top of the horizon, the armored deck, and the concrete constructs.

“Pale Rider to No Face. Beginning sweep operation immediately.”

The sleepless drone immediately responded.

“No Face here. Copy.──sending intel from Vast Network .”

…Hm?

“Enemy forces have been detected in Controlled Area. Collating the situation, it is deduced to be the ones you are tracking. Thus, a search will be done near your operating area.”

A sneer echoed in the mind.

“──Understood.”

So you have caught up, my comrade.

The fireworks will rise. Until then—hurry over.

“──Let’s go.”

It was the third day of the mission, the last day no matter the outcome.

As dawn broke in the azure night, the ”Juggernauts” raced out of the abandoned city.

With the ”Undertaker” leading the charge, the squad formed an irregular wedge formation. They raced across the main streets with the faded five colored flags, trampling upon the glass and concrete shrapnel, leaping over the fallen female statues.

At that moment, the skies in the West glowed.

Then, there was a bullet impact felt from apart. The tremendous concentrated fire caused the thick dust across the horizon to rise heavily.

““Morpho”…maybe not. Probably a Scorpion.”

“A pretty bad shot…but there are no Federation forces there. Who do they intend to hit…”

Once Ange said that, she, along with everyone else, gasped.

Pursuing the rising clouds of dust was a crimson sea of flames, dying the skies where it landed.

“An incendiary bomb…!?”

Incendiary ammunition contained viscous compound fluids, and ignites once it lands and spreads, with the objective being to burn the target down.

The Republic and Federation comprised mostly of stone structures that were not very flammable, and thus, the “Legion” hardly used them. However, they were more despised than any other weapon. The high viscosity of the napalm allowed for continual burning on the target, and could not be doused out with water. Anyone unfortunate to be splashed with it would end up with a thoroughly tragic fate.

Another flash appeared again. On the horizon was a misty forest between the buildings, which was ignited immediately.

“Shit, they’re trying to drive us out!”

The “Legion” must have realized they were deep within enemy territory.

Even though the “Reginleif” was the latest build, it could not advance through the burning flames. The cooling systems could not hold up, and the pilot would surely suffocating when moving through the napalm flames that consumed lots of oxygen.

The third shot occurred close to where they were. The enemy was destroying all possible hiding spots and routes.

“Shinn!”

“Looks like we have to move out. All hands, prepare for combat. Will make contact with first wave 300 seconds later.”

Shinn affirmed the location of the “Legion” nearby, and upon leaving the flatlands, he chose the route with least number of enemy forces, racing through the ruins.

The Scorpions roared. Bombardments were about to come. The moment they realized, the abandoned city they were at became a target.

The rounds landed within close proximity, the trees on the pedestrian pathway hit directly, becoming fireballs. The living trees that were hard to burn could not withstand the napalm flames of 1300 degrees Celsius.

The mud-like napalm continued to pour on, the flames sublimed the surface, and reduced the surroundings into a sea of fire. The city concealed beneath the night was engulfed in hellfire, black shadows and red flames swaying.

The old building collapsed with the flames, and the group escaped the streets by a whisker.

“We-we’re discovered!”

Near the distant horizon were the silhouettes of the Ameise aimed towards them. The “Gunslinger” immediately shot them down with a cannon, but even so, the surrounding units would have received the transmitted intel before the 88mm rounds could echo.

The next moment, the massive army hidden beyond the horizon loomed on, causing even Raiden to gasp.

“What’s with those numbers…!? Those guys keep showing up like insects every time!!”

“Probably shows how important the ”Morpho” is…the left flank is weaker. We’ll break through at maximum speed.”

“….Understood.”

 

The flames meshed together, summoning gales, and the calamity fusion formed an updraft that swirled heaps of ash into the skies above, resulting in the water vapor above to coagulate as water.

The soot-ladened, blackened torrential downpour pelted upon the “Juggernauts”, which were hurdling the flatlands, racing past the low hills and the spiky roads.

The incindiary ammunition fulfilled its objectives, and though bombardment had seized, the steels of the grenades continued to be mixed with the rain, pelting incessantly, the metallic shadows quietly appearing beyond the greenery without any footsteps.

The landscape of the hills was extremely uneven, the branches and roots intertwined heavily, preventing the entry of the heavyweight ”Löwe”. However, the Ameise was of similar weight to the “Juggernaut”, and continued their pursuit from behind. The pursuing ”Löwe” forces received intel from the data link, and through the shrubs and branches, they could be seen giving chase beneath the cliff, down the flatter riverbed.

“──Shinn, how much distance do we have left?”

“15000 straight ahead. The enemy’s moving and stopping…I don’t know what the intentions are, but we should be able to pull some distance.

Frederica said.

“He is planning something…but what is this place? The cannons positions are fixed, so how can they help on the frontlines…”

Frederica’s words trailed off as she gasped. Wait…so she wanted to say, but there was no time to ask.

“Below! They are shooting!”

A ”Löwe” below turned its 120mm cannon turret towards them. The two front legs were lifted, and the cannon was fired at this irregular angle of elevation.

“…!”

The cannon hit the ground beneath the feet of ”Laughing Fox”, in the middle of the wedge formation, and ”Snow Witch” at the back. The dirt that was lifted exploded up into the sky, and as a follow up, the Scorpion bombarded them. The 155mm calibre mortars were capable of decimating the sturdiest of fortresses, and caused the damp dirt holding up the hills to be ripped apart, crumbling and falling.

“Ah…!?”

The “Snow Witch” was caught in the collapse, and fell.

“Ange!?”

“…I am fine here. The unit is not damaged…but.”

After falling for at least 10 meters, the “Snow Witch” finally stopped at a flat place, pulled its limbs from the ground, and turned around to look.

The red optical sensor quickly scanned the collapsed slope, and nudged to the left and right. The “Juggernaut” sensors were in tracking mode, and Ange inside was probably shaking her head.

“Sorry, I do not think I can climb back. I shall try to delay the enemy here…Fido, leave all the spare missiles pods!”

Fido immediately braked to a halt, nearly tripping over as it opened the container on its back, allowing the missiles pods contained within to fall down the slope.

The remaining four “Juggernauts” tilted back to nod, and continued their advance to avoid falling down. The Ameise pursuing them evaded the shots, and tried heading down a different path. There was no way to stop them completely at this point.

Fido meandered around, trying to catch up to them, and there were explosions to be heard from the riverbed behind them. It was the noise of the anti-tank mortars with lit fuses, piercing through the weak top armor of the “Löwe”. Following that was the second and third explosion occurring echoing. The “Juggernauts” continued to move beyond 100 kmh in such treacherous terrain, so fast that such loud noises were left far behind.

The slower Ameise were left in the lurch, but upon realizing that they could not catch up, they requested for aid through the data link. The “Legion” units several kilometres before them seemed to have changed direction immediately, and deployed a formation on the projected path, trying to cordon the “Juggernauts” off.

Seo, hearing the same voices through the Para-RAID, sneered.

“They’re still coming…another 10,000 to go. These guys are going to be a nuisance when we make it to the “Morpho”.”

The group darted beneath the dark clouds pelting rain of faint in, down the gentle slope. Waiting for them was a fungal-infected bottom of the hill, the little grandeur stone city appeared before them. They invaded the ruins, and raced past it

The moment they broke through, ”Laughing Fox”, covering the rear, immediately turned around. As he spun in a half-turn motion, he fired the wire anchor into a nearby building, and spun the unit back. The building was worn down after nine years of degradation, and the pillar was accurately destroyed. The building let out a boom as it fell onto the road.

And the rearguard ”Laughing Fox” was separated from the other ”Juggernauts” before him.

The “Legion” units sensed the tremors of the collapse and the defeaning booms, moving towards it. Upon hearing that, Seo cackled.

“After this is an open field, right? I’m useless at such a place, so I’ll be a decoy here! …I’ll try to delay them, leaving the rest to you guys!”

The invading squad broke into two.

Both sides were caught by the surrounding forces, and engaged in combat.

“──Understood”

Kiriya heard the report form the Vast Network, and could not help but sigh. Technically however, it had no mouth to exhale, no lungs, and could not sigh to begin with.

They were somehow caught by the worthless small fries. As someone of the Nouzens, that person really was too careless.

However, the cool-headedness to use his comrade, the rearguard as a sacrificial decoy while he continued his pursuit, was something to be praised for.

Contrary to the report received, the rangy and potent anti-air radar caught intel of a group of enemy units. Not the enemy unit fighting the “Löwe” in the hills, not the unit scampering around in the ruins, but a third group that was unidentified. There were four enemy units, and looking at the response, three of them should be the Federation’s newest field dress.

“──Pale Rider to Vast Network.”

This might be the unexpected reunion with its compatriot.

How could it allow for the small fries to get involved?

“Begin regular bombardment schedule. Shall cut off all communications until schedule is complete.”

It chose not to transmit the obtained data, and disconnected after this message.

Even so, the enemy was bringing along unwanted people.

Thus, it would deal with them first.

“──Evade! It is firing!”

Frederica’s shriek could be heard from the Para-RAID, and the “Morpho” screams intensified.

Shinn instinctively pulled the stick up, and at the next moment, the cannon hit the side where the “Undertaker” jumped from. The shockwaves from the supersonic cannon knocked the unit aside, the scattered ground pelting upon it like a shotgun.

“…!”

Another cannon shot was fired at them. Amidst the grasslands of dawn, the hills rippled like the stormy seas, and there appeared to be a hail of machine gun fire ──no, the rapid fire cannons continued to bombard them the three ”Juggernauts”, which rolled aside to evade.

It was capable of rapid fire—No.

“CIWS, huh?”

He had seen the railgun strike on the first battle zone of the Republic, during the last battle before they reached Federation grounds, and the concentrated fire that wiped out FOBs of the Western Army that were wiped out. What he had witnessed was a lot weaker than those.

The assisting computer had diagnosed the initial velocity at a similar 8000 meters per second. The ammunition quality, the caliber was probably smaller than the main cannon, and in return, the cannon possessed rapid fire capabilities. It appeared the “Morpho” was comprised of railguns, even the anti-air defense systems aimed to shoot missiles down.

Ultimately, it was the right decision to bring Frederica along, so Shinn bitterly thought

This “Morpho” was once her Knight, and thus, she was capable of detecting the attacks faster than Shinn. The distance between them was approximately 7000. Any shot from the enemy Railgun would land within a second, and any sign in this battle was a precious advantage.

The tungsten hail fired at extremely high velocities contained fatal amounts of energy, sweeping the battlefield without rest.

The three “Juggernauts” leapt, retreated and rolled, using all their instincts and skills to evade. The “Vanargand” would be unable to withstand a piercing round fired at such velocity, let alone these aluminium coffins of a “Juggernaut”. They had no choice but to keep evading.

“This guy…!”

The cannon paused for a few seconds due to overheating, and Krena clicked her tongue as she ramped up the sniper cannon of the”Gunslinger”.

She aimed at the enemy on the other side of the hill with the precision nobody else could mimic, and fired. The torrent of shots bombarding them stopped sith tentativeness.

“I’ll distract them! Hurry up and move! I’m firing scattered shots! It’s not going to cause much damage!”

Krena fired a few covering shots, and once the last shot was fired, she hopped away a few times from the ”Undertaker” and the Werewolf”, pulling her distance greatly. The hail of bullets swept at where the ”Gunslinger” was, pursuing it while it was firing back, luring more shots away from them.

“Hurry!”

“──Please.”

At that moment, Krena smiled proudly.

“Leave it to me.”

Beyond the hill, the enemy unit did not stop firing.

Looking at the interval between the shots, it appeared there was only one unit. The radar lost sight of it it as it had hidden itself in the shadows, but at the last observed moment, there were four units.

The obnoxious distractions would follow soon. It would be too much hassle to deal with this sniper along with the enemy. There was a need to quickly eliminate it.

It got up, twisted its body, and aimed the optical sensors to the back.

Buzz, a bluish white snake of electronic raced through the long and massive barrel base.

At that moment, lots of noise filled the optical screens.

“What’s going on…?”

“It’s not jamming. Probably just an EMP.”

Saying that, Shinn noticed.

The Railgun was a weapon that accelerates a projectile using massive amounts of electrical power.

When it fires, surely it would cause an EMP to its surroundings.

The ”Morpho” screams intensified.

“──Krena! That’s enough. Get away from there!”

There was a flash opposite the hill, and a boom echoed into the skies behind them.

“Krena!”

“Kyyaaa!?”

Something, probably the shrapnel from a massive cannon shot that self-destructed in the air rained down quickly, letting out a shrill wind-cutting sound along with the impact. The blip of the “Gunslinger” disappeared, and Krena was disconnected from the Para-RAID.

For a moment, the others were taken aback.

The “Morpho” seized this opening to unleash its CIWS, sweeping the skies in a fanning manner.

The supersonic arrows of metal immediately blotted the blue skies a color of steel, forming a diagonal torrent raining upon them.

There was no time to evade. Both of them got their units to duck, and reduce the surface area open to bombardment. Despite that, the left front leg was blown apart by the cannons.

“…!”

“Raiden!”

Frederica screamed, holding back her pain, and the “Undertaker”, trying to stand up, stopped what it was doing. Looking over, Shinn found the “Werewolf” sprawled on the ground, unable to get up.

“…You injured.”

Shinn was not asking, but affirming. They were connected on the Para-RAID, but the unit was severely damaged, and the two legs on the right were blown off, the cracks in the armor reaching deep into the cockpit.

It was unlikely they were unscatched inside.

“H-he was protecting me.”

“I won’t die from this…sorry, but I’ll have to fall out.”

The good thing about a multi-pedalled machine was that it could move despite some damages. However, there was a limit to the movement range when the legs on one side was blown off.

…It would be better not to have Frederica remain in the “Werewolf” which had no means to fight.

“Fido. Get Frederica on board.”

Fido teetered over. It did not take a direct hit, as it was quite some distance from the others. Despite that, the legs were a little immobile and damaged, probably caused by the shrapnel or the shockwaves.

Shinn knew it would be cruel to command this to the garbage collector that was in this condition, but he said,

“If I’m beaten here, get Frederica and return back. Don’t worry about getting any of the others. Make sure she gets back to the Federation.”

“Pii.”

“Shinei!”

Fido responded with an electronic sound, as though nodding seriously. Frederica tried to protest, but Shinn ignored her as he continued,

“Look, you’re scared of losing him, but you want to save him, right? That’s why you have to live on.”

“…!”

Frederica pursed her lips, and nodded. The Canopy of the ”Werewolf” was lifted, and the petite figure hopped off, running towards Fido’s opened container, before hiding inside. Cockpit

Shinn looked towards the figure a hand taller than him, and nodded despite knowing the latter could not see him.

“Don’t die.”

“…Yeah.”

With the vague murmur as a response, the last unit, the “Undertaker” raced off.

The remaining distance was 3000.

He got around the last mound.

 

And appearing before him was a vast blue sky.

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