86 Volume 2 Chapter 1

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The skies over the frontlines were engulfed in thin clouds of Eintagsfliege, staining it with a corrupted silver.

“The incoming Löwes are determined to be a battalion!…we have got another company incoming!”

The screams of the company echoed through the wireless communications. Till this point, the company had lost 30% of its total fighting strength, and the news of the enemy's reinforcements was no different to a proclamation of death to the remaining survivors of the Geade Federation’s 177th Armor Battalion, 141st Regiments' , 18th Company.

“45 seconds till contact! Oh G.o.d…!”

“Argh…they’re still coming…!?”

Seated in the dual-manned c.o.c.kpit of the “Vanargand”, Eugene groaned as the unit shook left and right. He was a Selena, with silvery white hair and eyes. His youthful bespectacled face was a little slim considering he was seventeen.

The Federation’s tactics to deal with the were rather basic, to overwhelm one with many. Even with their 3rd generation full dress weapon “Vanargand”, taking on a single Löwe would require at least double the fighting strength. If the Federation is outnumbered, then it has no chances of winning.

“s.h.i.+t, what are the bombardiers doing!? Provide the intercepting fire already!”

The gunner and the company commander seated behind him bemoaned, his rants echoing through the wireless. The noise coming from the eight legs reverberated loudly with the thundering from the tank cannons and the roars of the power pack; even inside the c.o.c.kpit of the “Vanargand”, conversation was possible only through the wireless system.

Of course, the commander also understood that with the intermittent interference of the Eintagsfliege, the radars and sensors could not function normally, and with only our naked eyes we could not see the surroundings clearly, since the surrounding was dark. Any battle with the would always begin with a sudden raid.

With a 12.7mm heavy machine gun mounted, the battered Armored Skeleton was mercilessly pounded along with its fellow friendlies by the Grauwolf Melee Hunters. The “Vanargands” armed with thick compound armour and a powerful 120mm cannon, were a tad bit slower in terms of mobility. In contrast to the that was made to be a weapon of ma.s.sacre, humans had no hope to match them in terms of reaction time, and their units were slower in terms of acceleration. While their top speeds were about equal, there was a fatal difference in their acceleration, braking, turning, and various other mobility related functions.

“Don’t slack off! There’s no way back even if we try to run away!”

“You sc.r.a.p metals, bring it on! I’m willing to be a s.h.i.+eld for my countrymen!”

“d.a.m.n it! I can’t die here! I can’t let myself be taken away by them …!”

The wireless communicator was filled with the las.h.i.+ngs and gunshots of the foot soldiers as they took on the metal beasts in a desperate struggle, along with their dying screams.

Eugene could only grit his teeth as he heard the clear determination in their voices.

Pip. At this moment, someone responded to their distress call.

Numerous cannons shot down from the skies, as though ripping apart the blue moonlight and the faint veil of the night, striking right above the with utmost precision, resulting in a cl.u.s.ter of bullets pelting upon them.

This bombardment had barely managed to avoid hitting the fan-shaped formation of the armored troops, and hit the nucleus areas of the ; a perfect masterstroke.

The Ameise, equipped with weak armor, were completely neutralized. The rocket launchers on the back of the Grauwolfs were damaged, and had to be discarded. While the lightweight units were being depleted, the Löwes, still standing beside the cannons that were spinning about, were shot from the side by piercing rounds at the next instant, and were completely wrecked.

Once the dust dispersed, the Löwe fell to the ground, and the sound of the continuous bombardments could finally be heard from far away.

The sound of the cannon with an initial velocity of one thousand and six hundred meters per second, several times the speed of sound, could only be heard after the shot landed. It's distinct sound was heavy and shrill, like metal plates clas.h.i.+ng.

“The 88mm (Ratsch-b.u.mm)…!?”

“No-no way…!”

Like a jumping spider mercilessly hunting the worms crawling upon the ground, it appeared from beyond the darkness of the skies, and a.s.saulted the “Legion”.

The unit landed right atop the turret of the Löwe in the middle of the pack, and slammed the anti armor pile driver on its four legs into the enemy, causing it to s.h.i.+ver.

The four long thin legs mimicked the the joints of a spider, and the white armor were like grounded ash. The two combat arms were equipped with ultra vibration blades and wire anchors, and they were curled up like the jaws of a spider. Also, it was equipped with an 88mm smoothbore cannon.

The 57mm pile drivers on the tips of the four legs gave a menacing coldness befitting the war G.o.ddess, and at the same time, resembled the white skeleton seeking its lots skull on the battlefield.

“The “Reginleif”…!”

There were cries in the wireless communicator, but they were not showing relief upon seeing the incoming aid. Instead, it seemed they were as terrified of it as they were to the enemy.

The XM2 “Reginleif”. The “Vanargand” focused primarily on offensive and defensive capabilities, and was equipped with compound armor and a 120mm smoothbore cannon. In contrast, this unit focused primarily on mobility, and as compared to its weight, has tremendous output in its highly potent linear actuators. It was a late 3rd generation combat unit.

It had discarded armor and firepower to enhance mobility, but the excessive mobility can wreck a pilot’s body. This three dimensional high potent personalized unit was created with such a maniacal concept in mind.

It was designed based on the fiendish manned drones created by the Republic on the other side of the controlled areas, developed for ‘them’ who came from the Republic.

The had neither life no emotions, and would neither fear nor lament its deceased comrades. They immediately switched prioritized, and ignoring the remains of their fellow units, the Löwes cannons immediately flew before the “Reginleif”.

The “Reginleif” retreated back by inches, and the cannons plummeted upon the Löwe on the ground. The turret, dozens of tonnes in weight, was blown into the air due to he ammunition exploding within it. The turret was specifically designed not to have a blow-off panel, so as to protect its secrets, and this in turn resulted in its majestic final moments.

The “Reginleif” darted through the dark red flames and the countless armor shrapnel raining upon it, racing through the battlefield.

In an instant, it darted through the fifty meters gap between the Löwes, leaped to the side, and landed right before a Löwe that turned its turret around, trying to aim at it. At the same time, it fired the Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) from its Ratsch-b.u.mm into the flank of the enemy. The high frequency blade sliced upon a Grauwolf that closed in without warning, and the machine charged towards another Löwe alone.

Yes, one unit.

One single unit. That one unit practically annihilated the that had been completely unscathed. The shrill screeches of the high frequency blades kept echoing, the purple sparks of the pile drivers kept flas.h.i.+ng, and the Ratsch-b.u.m continued to roar, reducing each enemy unit into sc.r.a.p.

In no way was it due to the machine’s specifications. It was simply due to the overwhelming ability of pilot within–deliberately dubbed as such ironically and respectfully, not as a pilot for the ‘unmanned machine’, but as a ‘processor’.

On average, the Löwe killing rate of a “Reginleif” as compared to the “Vanargand” was pretty similar. The former’s armor would not withstand a single cannon blow, and had a higher mortality rate. In fact, a squadron piloting the “Reginleif” was practically wiped out during an experimental battle. Only one–standing on that battlefield, eradicated the enemy units alone.

That war junkie lef the h.e.l.l called the battlefield with the a.s.sistance of the Federation, only to choose to return there.

‘They’ did not fear the prospect of battling the . ‘They’ did not fear death. ‘They’, without care, boarded the “Reginleif” that had eschewed its armor–and the lives of the pilots, charging into the lonely battlefield when faced with the oppression of the .

Madness.

Suddenly, a shadow rose, trying to grab the slender limb of the “Reginleif”. The latter immediately lifted his leg to evade it, and stomped hard upon it, using the pile driver at the leg to stab into the human head.

It was an anti-tank automated drone–Eugene knew that. However, he was still left intimidated somewhere in his heart. Was the Processor really able to determine that it was not a friendly at that moment?

Or was it that he never cared it was a friendly, and prioritized protecting himself?

The long limb was raised nonchalantly, and tossed the drone stabbed into the leg onto the last enemy Löwe. The activated detonator ignited the explosives upon impact, and the metals, reduced to high speed particles along with the explosion, instantly shot through the top armor of the Löwe.

The scarlet flames rising to the skies lit the “Reginleif” along with the personal mark on its snowy armor.

The Processor might be mad after all. He, a headless skeleton raising a shovel, the symbol of a death G.o.d so overly heinous and ominous, so feared and yet so respected on the battlefield.

During the first sortie, when all the friendlies were wiped out, he alone eliminated an entire unit. Even amongst ‘them’, he was the cream of the crop, his personal mark standing out amongst them.

The name was–definitely

Eugene recalled, and widened his eyes. The company commander, seated at the cannoneer seat, lashed out,

They, borne out of malice of the Republic, went through arduous, horrifying trials. They were as horrifying as the itself, and their name were feared as the weapons of slaughter taking on human form.

“Eighty-Sixers…the monsters of the Republic…!”

In fact, it is preferable to avoid using multi-legged or caterpillar legged armored weapons outside of battle, to mitigate wear and malfunction.

The “Undertaker”, s.h.i.+nn, placed a personalized cargo carrier back into his personal “Reginleif”, and returned back to his cabin. This carrier was designed by the advanced technology bureau, prototype deployment squad 1028 “Nordlicht”.

He was dressed in the steel-colored panzer jacket uniform of the Federation, the twin-headed hawk crest of the country and the insignia denoting his rank as Second Lieutenant. Wearing the blue scarf on his neck was strictly a breach of military code, but n.o.body cared about this appearance as long as it was not an official meeting.

He was about to remove the RAID device beneath his scar, only to be contacted by the of the Para-RAID of the mechanic crew in the container cargo to the back.

“–Lieutenant Nouzen.”

“Corporal, the wireless is still switched on.”

There was a click of the tongue from both the Para-RAID and the wireless.

“Argh, forgot. Well, this Para-RAID’s way too different from the wireless. It’s one thing for us to be experimenting with this shrew here, why get this thing tested in our squadron too…so, same ol’ level of ammo as the last time, half APFSDS and half HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank warheads), ya?”

Most of “Nordlicht” were Wargue, soldiers of the old battlezones, and without official military rank. Back when the Federation was still the Empire, these soldiers were sent to the Wolfsland at the border, where skirmishes often occurred, and lived there, considered additional manpower. Having lived on the battlefield for generations, these crude men were deemed as mercenaries under the current administration, and lax in discipline. Crude in tone they might be, that was the utmost respect shown.

“Yeah.”

“Also, got no spare high freq blades, ya. Number of “Juggernauts” been dropping, and ya the only guy using such strange weapons there. Enough with the nerve-wrecking tactics next time, will ya?”

Another unique trait of the Nordlicht was they would not call the XM2 by its official term “Reginleif”. Instead, they would call it the “Juggernaut”, the ‘drone’ of the Republic that formed the blueprint of it. Jut a month ago, during the experimentation of the newest machine, the original squad captain, along with a squadron which amounted of half of this company, was wiped out. As the highest ranked soldier of the remaining forces, s.h.i.+nn took over as squad leader. He had a habit of calling his unit the “Juggernaut”, and it seemed everyone else was influenced as a result.

In fact, all members of the squad felt it was a name more befitting than the war maiden it was actually named.

It tormented the test pilots during the development process, and half of the squadron a.s.signed with these units were wiped out. The steel horse was certainly appropriately named, its moniker based upon the deformed G.o.d mercilessly devouring in the name of Salvation.

As the units were extremely picky in their choice of pilots, Nordlicht could not be regrouped, let alone be a.s.signed with an additional member, despite them completely unbefitting the military definition of battle.

“Doesn’t matter. The should be retreating now.”

“Hmmm? …Ohh, I see…I don’t know what’s going on, but it sure is useful. “

s.h.i.+nn removed the RAID device, ignoring the amazement and monologue imbued with grimace and fear that was directed to no one in particular. The RAID device was a metallic ring, a choker mic on the throat, only with a more polished appearance and improved functions.

So this is close to being a choker again. Nothing changed so he thought.

Suddenly, he could hear some shrill words from the pilot seat. The dated language seemed pompous, and for s.h.i.+nn, who knew nothing other than the battlefield, it was a difference of an era or two.

“Good work ye, s.h.i.+nei.”

“…Frederica. How did you get in again?”

Poking her head out from the seat and turning back was a pet.i.te girl of ten years or so.

She had a delicate body, and had a pretty, intricate white doll-like face beneath her military cap. The red eyes of the Pyrope were dazzling like a gemstone, and the black hair of the Onyx seemed strangely fitting with the grim looking steel-colored military uniform.

s.h.i.+nn had known this girl from at least half a year, even before he was a.s.signed to this prototype squad. She puffed her flat chest proudly

“How naive of you to collude with the maintenance crew against we. They’ll were busy with the final checks for the emergency deployment. Lots of chances to slip in.”

“–Corporal. We have to talk once I return.”

“Lieutenant…!? No erm, hear our side out first! We were really too busy, ya…!”

s.h.i.+nn shut off the wireless without bothering to hear the excuses, sighed, and lowered his head towards the eyes of the same color as his.

“How many do I have to repeat myself again, not to come along when I’m deployed? Know your position, ‘Mascot’.”

“Do not forgot, your actions are under us control. Thereafter, you have no right to criticize. Your commander is I. Bernault never complained.”

The middle-aged man who had returned first, the sergeant most senior in the squadron merely shrugged away, not say anything else.

Bernault knew that while s.h.i.+nn was tactically correct, he was simply grumbling out of personal feelings, and it was not worth talking. s.h.i.+nn himself never pursued the matter.

“Their fault for not catching up. If we missed the time to attack because we have to meet up, there’s no purpose in the term mobilizing the defense.”

The Processors who were abandoned with the squadron at the back gave a quiet grimace.

And Frederica in turn frowned,

“Mobilizing the defense, uh? While its a mission suited for you…I’d say that I do not like it. Such tactics will require our forces to first break through.”

The plan was to deliberately deploy the infantry as the main forces on the frontline, and hide the armored corps with high mobility and firepower at the back. Once the frontline was breached, the armored forces would be deployed forward and wipe out the enemy quickly. The attacks over the past month had been particularly vicious, and the forces on the Western frontline could only cease advancement and remain put to reduce the depletion of their forces.

“But even if we managed to hang on till now, as long as there is a difference in forces and reproduction ability, it will be a matter of time until such tactics fail to work–what are we going to do when that time is to come?”

s.h.i.+nn ignored her, and sat down, What is the point of saying this now? There is no need to worry about that.

At this point.

Once the country’s completely battered, what would become of the forces on the frontlines? Was that even a question

Frederica leaned her body over unhappily.

“You listening, s.h.i.+nei? Also, one weakness of yours is the unwillingness to reflect upon your actions. No longer in the Eighty Six area of the Republic you are; this is the Federation’s battlefield–hya!”

The girl was not being loud, but that distinct shrill voice of hers was grating to s.h.i.+nn, who pulled down the military cap of the girl leaning over, down past her nose to shut her up.

s.h.i.+nn ignored the flailing girl next to me, leaned on the hard backrest, closing his eyes. There were too many of the attacking at night, and the requests he received on this day were relentless. While it was not the first time he was fighting throughout the night, he wanted to at least secure some sleep time for himself.

Next to him, Frederica was still flailing away.

“Woah! I cannot take it off at all! Bernault! Help me!”

“Okay okay, but be quiet after I take it off. The lieutenant and everyone else have been fighting for a few days. They’re all tired, and need sleep.”

“Umu…sorry.”

There seemed to be a glance directed towards s.h.i.+nn, who did not mind as he let his body fall into a light sleep.

Even in slumber, he could hear the laments of the dead mechanical souls, not dwindling at all, and in fact, covering the entire West.

FOB15 (Forward Operating Base No.15) was the main camp for the 141st Armor Corps, located on the Geade Federation western battlefront, right behind the standby second defensive line patrolled by the 177th armored corps.

The base was rather vast, considering the many personnel along with the armored units that were to be contained. In the vast officer mess, Eugene was supporting a tray with one hand as he kept looking for a certain person. The camp had to be reestablished multiple times as the battlefront varied, and thus, the cafeteria was new and simple. If it had been ten years ago, before the civil revolution, when the Federation was still the Empire, there would probably be an image of a dictator, rather than the tapestry ‘We shall boast our Justice to the World’ on the wall inside.

“Hm. The officers from Nordlicht are still there.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s great that you’re willing to understanding the foreigners, young lieutenant. Those Eighty-Sixers too deserve our sympathies compa.s.sion.”

The pureblood Saphir Captain, who seemed to be an ex-n.o.ble, bared his teeth with a hearty smile, and Eugene gave a vague smile in turn, headed towards where the Captain was point.

The Captain was correct in what he said. Eugene himself never met any ‘Eighty-Sixer’ after them, except for him, let alone met them. He was also a little intimidated by them.

However, he was not being as kind as the Captain had implied. If he conversed with them normally, he should be able to know how they were as people, so he thought, but…

The Federation was a multi-racial country, and the military base naturally had races of various colors, but they were all relatively young, some youths in their teens. Like Eugene, they were graduates from the special cadet school. It was a unique establishment, set up for those who went through middle school education to be granted the rank of lieutenant after the bare minimum training, and the higher education they should be afforded before their vocation would be taught during their military days.

Over the ten years of war against the , the Federation lost too many officers, and had to maintain the number of officers this way.

But thanks to this, those that were of ordinary families had chances to become officers, voluntary. No matter how dire the situation was, they could not simply conscript soldiers while ignoring the will of its people. The Federation government was not this fallen. Forcibly conscripting others for battle was something only the vile would do.

The Federation was different from the Empire, and naturally, different from that country in the West.

In modern warfare, the demand was for soldiers proficient and experienced in wielding weapons. Surely getting numbers alone would not be of much help. That was what Eugene’s buddy, his bunkmate in special cadet school explained.

“…Hey, why are the Nordlicht guys here?”

“Didn’t we request for their a.s.sistance just yesterday? The headless skeleton possessed by that death G.o.d is really unnerving.”

“Heard a lot of them got shot down during this month after they came in. Both friendlies and enemies.”

“Seriously, is there something in them or something? I really thought they are some processors or something.”

“Enough with that. You’re no different from the sc.u.mbags of the Republic when you’re acting like that. How can our glorious Federation do such a thing?”

“Well put–may glory be upon the double-headed eagle at all times.”

Eugene pa.s.sed by some soldiers as burly as the armored infantry, and ironically, it guided him to where he wanted to head to.

He spotted the one he was looking for at the end of a long table in a corner of the cafeteria, and brought his tray over.

Opposite that person was a pet.i.te girl wearing a military girl. He himself was dressed in a double-breasted blazer, quietly dumping the food on his tray into his mouth.

Both of them were Onyx and Pyropes, with black hair and blazing red eyes, and they really resembled siblings. The old empire n.o.bles had distinctive appearances, and as a result, the two of them had identical appearances. Eugene heard that he had no family left, however.

In the bustling cafeteria in the morning, this was the only s.p.a.ce that was distinctively empty. It was either because they were shunned by the n.o.bles who respected purebloods, or were reviled by the suppressed civilians for having the distinct colors and appearances (both Onyx and Pyropes were n.o.bles throughout the Empire time, and mixed bloods were particular hated by both sides), or that their squad and names in particular were notorious enough.

The girl tapped at a corner of the tray with her fork, and spoke with the shrill chirp of a canary,

“…s.h.i.+nei. Do you like mushrooms?”

“Not really. Don’t force yourself if you don’t them?”

“Bu-but tis’ the hard work of the chef. Leftovers are disrespectful.”

“Then do your best.”

“Uuu.”

Though he said so, he did move the b.u.t.ter-fried mushrooms on the girl’s plate onto his, leaving only one behind. He might appear aloof, but he was a kind-hearted older brother.”

“It’s been a while, s.h.i.+nn.”

The red eyes looked over at him, and once the former recognized him, they blinked.

“Eugene. So you’re a.s.signed here?”

“Just last month.”

He greeted the girl, and sat on the chair next to her. The latter looked back at him, her red eyes b.l.o.o.d.y and large.

“Thanks for yesterday. That skeleton personal mark is yours, right?”

s.h.i.+nn paused,

“Ehh…sorry, which squad were you in?”

It seemed Eugene’s squad was not the only one asking for a.s.sistance.

“Haha. Sure was active yesterday, huh.”

Frederica looked back and forth between them, and asked,

“Do you know each other?”

“Same batch during cadet school.”

“We knew each other soon after enrolling. Both of us were in the armored corps, in the same dormitory, and buddies during training. Both of us were in the same test unit wheen practicing how to operate the “Vanargand”.”

Frederica’s eyes immediately drifted.

“Ahhh…sure is not easy, I supposed.”

With an impish enthusiasm, Eugene leaned over,

“Not at all. This guy’s boring and dull, can’t understand what he’s thinking, you know.”

“Uu, I’d suppose. He would always look at a book whenever others talk to him, and will never lift his head up. If he’d find it boring, he will never talk, if not ignore outright.”

“Some people wonder what’s the color of his blood when it gets really chilly at night, and yet he does exert a lot of effort on weird things. You heard of the legendary moment when s.h.i.+nn got zero?”

“Oh? What would that be about.”

“During the mock battle of combat training, he got the “Vanargand” to jump. Dangerous piloting, so he failed.”

That was four months ago, near the end of the three months basic training in the special cadet school.

Though that maneuver was certainly part of piloting skills, but with a combat weight in excess of fifty tonnes, having the “Vanargand” jump up would easily damage the unit and endanger the pilots inside. In fact, the gunner Eugene back hit the back of his head onto the headrest, and he could feel fire on the verge of blazing out of his eyes.

It was truly remarkable to see someone dislike a tank with st.u.r.dy armor and powerful cannons for being too heavy. s.h.i.+nn, unused to piloting the “Vanargand”, was a.s.signed to the prototype squad with the “Reginleif” as a result, the 1028….Eugene really felt lonely back then.

s.h.i.+nn, the person being yapped at, nonchalantly sipped at his coffee, being a downer as usual.

Both Eugene and Frederica looked displeased. Both of them glanced at each other, and snorted in unison.

“Lieutenant Eugene Lantz of the 18th Squadron. Pleased to meet you.”

“Frederica Rosenfort. An acquaintances.h.i.+p…now then.”

Frederica finished the coffee with lots of milk and sugar (so much so that s.h.i.+nn confiscated the sugar after the fourth scoop of sugar), and got up.

“Since old friends have met, I’d pardon myself for intruding. Excuse me.”

With both hands, she took the tray that was meant for adults, a lot larger than her head, and skilfully darted through the crowd before vanis.h.i.+ng.

Eugene watched the delicate looking back leave, and asked,

Such a young girl surely was unbefitting of the military base.

“…Your squad ‘Victory G.o.ddess (mascot)’?”

“Yeah.”

It was a military tradition that had lasted since the Empire era.

It was said to be a tactic used to prevent soldiers from deserting. They would have the daugthers or little sisters of the soldiers, young girls in particular live and dine along with the soldiers to create a family atmosphere. The army had hoped that the soldiers would protect the cute ‘daughters’, that they would fight the enemy with no regards for their own lives.

“Basically, our squad’s full of mercenaries. Well, it’s no different from being hostages like before.”

Truth be told, it was not basically, but exactly.

Just the previous night, of the squad a.s.signed for aid, s.h.i.+nn was the only actual soldier. The others were mercenaries (Wargus), for the other soldiers, including s.h.i.+nn’s superiors, had died in battle against the .

“…That’s harsh. We still need mascots now? Amongst the Wargus too?”

“She chose to do so.”

s.h.i.+nn flatly noted, and Eugene frowned,

“You got to be kidding. Why’s such a young girl going to battle?”

s.h.i.+nn’s b.l.o.o.d.y red eyes gave a glance. At that moment, Eugene felt his chest jump for a moment.

It was a look of one wanting some distance. No, it was a look of one who clearly understood the distance between them.

Those eyes indicated that they were not living in the same world, that there was a creva.s.se neither could cross.

Eugene shook his head, and continued,

“Where’s the reason to fight for that kid? Is there something to protect? Family, country, justice, way of life, there’s no need for her to protect any of these…so why is she still fighting–right?”

s.h.i.+nn closed his eyes, and then opened them again.

As he opened them, the red eyes showed none of the distance from before.

“…Maybe.”

s.h.i.+nn went off to get a second cup of coffee, and brought another cup for Eugene. The latte thanked him as he received the paper cup.

While it was called coffee, it was simply a concocted subst.i.tute, of fried barley and chicory. The land was surrounded thoroughly by the , and with the electronic jamming of the Eintagsfliege, the Federation could not affirm if the other countries still existed, let alone communicate or trade with the outside world. Naturally, n.o.body knew how real coffee looked like, for they were from the Southern continent and the Southeast.

“Oh yes, you have a little sister, I remember.”

“Oh yeah, she’s still young though.”

Eugene fondled the locket he hung on his neck, alongside his dog tag underneath his s.h.i.+rt.

“…We got no parents. I got to work hard to get her into a better school.”

Six years ago, when the war against the escalated, Eugene and his family were forced to evacuate their hometown.

The train to the capital had no s.p.a.ce for the entire family to ride on. Thus, his parents chose to send their two children onto the train, and decided to stay behind.

That was the last he saw of them.

The chaos and panic resulted in them being unable to have a proper family photo. His little sister, still a baby back then, could not remember the appearances of her parents.

“It’s summer break in elementary school. If I get to return during the next break, I want to bring her out. We can’t really go somewhere too far, but the zoo or the theme park should be fine. I should also buy something for her. She’s a girl, so I should prepare some clothes and shoes. Ah, I heard there’s a new cafe in the department store at the capital (Sankt Yedder).

Seeing Eugene being all excited, s.h.i.+nn showed a smile,

“Must be tough being an older brother.”

“It’s nice isn’t it? I’m not giving her to you.”

“Unfortunately, I got a lot of things on my mind.”

s.h.i.+nn looked dumbfounded, and immediately after, looked grim,

“Shouldn’t you not have become a soldier anyway? The situation isn’t improving, and there won’t be any guarantees in the future.”

You’re her only next of kin.

Eugene, having interpreted these unspoken words, stopped smiling.

“Is that experience from the previous battlefield?”

“–Yeah.”

That was what Eugene heard from s.h.i.+nn, when they were still officer cadets.

And thus, he managed to save himself.

In special cadet school, the cadets would step upon a real battlefield as part of their training. They wore old camouflage clothes, and patrolled the frontlines with only an a.s.sault rifle. This was to ensure that they would experience the battlefield, a ‘mission’ to bolster their courage. Unfortunately, they so happened to be ambushed by the , and the instructor leading them died in the skirmish. It was because he was partnered with s.h.i.+nn that Eugene fortuitously made it alive.

Back then, Eugene had asked s.h.i.+nn why the latter could determine the moments of the …why he was so familiar with combat.

After some hesitation, s.h.i.+nn answered, narrating his experiences with his usual monotone.

His past.

His own experiences, from how his own country had sentenced him to death, to how he kept on living.

The shocking throat scar hidden beneath the collar of his military uniform was clearly inflicted with the intent to kill, just like a beheading. Eugene did not have the courage to ask.

And it was because s.h.i.+nn knew the cruelty of the battlefield, how arduous the battles against the were, that he would express such worries. Having understood this, Eugene was really delighted. Though s.h.i.+nn was quiet and introverted, he was not a bad person.

And even after all the harrowing experiences, s.h.i.+nn was still willing to become friends with him, a pureblood Alba.

“…Well, yeah, you’re right.”

Eugene took a sip of the cold coffee, and grimaced. It was bitter. He had forgotten to add sugar.

“Just yesterday, fifteen members of our squad died. The controlled area is a little bigger as compared to ten years ago, and this base was s.h.i.+fted here in Spring this year. However, it doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been lots of sacrifices.”

The previous ident.i.ty of the Federation–the Geade Federation, once occupied lands from the northwest of the continent to the far North, and horizontally It was the largest country on continent, with the biggest population, and also a military superpower.

Soon after the Federation was formed, it was a.s.saulted by the , but the Wolfsland at the border fulfilled their initial purposes. While the area was diminished by half, the vital areas of production and activities were protected successfully, along with the capital area.

The Federation managed to maintain a vast amount of production and military might after much defending, and at the same time, they obtained the remaining specifications data of the units within the old Empire research labs. Also, after ten years of war against the , they ama.s.sed various combat experiences against them.

With all these factors taken into account, the Federation finally had the ability to withstand the on even grounds, and started to reclaim lost lands little by little. The security of the country and the expansion of its lands could be said to be built on the country’s might, and the blood of every soldier.

Specifications-wise, the did not have to consider the feeble pilots, and incorporated more functions, so they were better than the Federation’s weapons in every facet.

Also, while the should have a lifespan limit program in its central processing system, it had overcome this issue by taking the brains of the dead (which s.h.i.+nn had dubbed such units as ‘black sheep’), allow them to continue battling without ending. They kept attacking aggressively, to obtain the individual brains that had yet to rot, and even organized ‘hunters squads’ specialized in capturing soldiers alive. The existence of these squads proved that if this kept up, the Federation would be the first to fall in this war of attrition.

“Just yesterday, from I could see, the other squads are basically the same. It’s a miracle that the second defensive line hasn’t been breached.”

“The captain and the others said that when it’s not going well, this is normal. The Western front is the biggest battlefield for the Federation, and the 177th Armor Battalion is one of the many heavy battle areas on the Western frontline.”

The eastern battlefront, along with the first to fourth battlefront in the north and south were all mountainous regions. Due to the natural obstacles, it was easier to maintain the defensive lines. However, the Western battlefront was a complete flat plain, and skirmishes had to be done head on. A four hundred kilometers stretch of the battlefield, and there were four battalions a.s.signed, the most of the frontlines. With these disadvantageous conditions, the casualty rate on the Western battlefront remained high…and naturally, this was the place with the highest KIA.

“Normal, huh. I’ve been fighting on this battlefield for a month, but the casualty rate here definitely isn’t now. The number of wiped out doesn’t match our casualty rate. We managed to hold the line, but there’s way too many people dying.”

“It’s true that it doesn’t feel like we’re winning. The captain and the others have naturally become used to it, and the higher ups of the army are all n.o.bility from old times. A civilian death or two is just a matter of numbers to them.”

Saying that, Eugene realized his mistake, and pursed his lips.

The friend before him was really beckoned by the Republic as livestock, never once tallied amongst the dead.

“…Sorry.”

“? What is it?”

s.h.i.+nn showed a look of surprise, and Eugene merely waved his hand. It was fine for s.h.i.+nn to not notice it, for there was no need to harken the painful memories.

But.

Eugene suddenly had a thought.

So why did s.h.i.+nn return to the battlefield?

s.h.i.+nn no longer had family.

His family was abandoned on the battlefield by his own country, the Republic, and he was the only one left behind.

He was not born in the Federation, and there was n.o.body worth protecting in this country, nor was there a mission for him to protect his country or compatriots. He could simply live on through the Federation government’s provisions if he simply wanted to fill his stomach.

But–why?

“…s.h.i.+nn, I say.”

“What?”

“No…about you.”

Is it really okay to ask? So Eugene hesitated before he asked.

Suddenly, the red eyes were looking else.

The eyes were looking beyond the distance, practically through the thick walls of the base, his expressio icy. Overwhelmed by that vigor, Eugene hesitated.

“…Wh.”

He was about to ask–why.

At that moment.

The shrill siren interrupted his words.

It was the drone venturing deep into the contested area airing this siren, for the was detected.

The units were once developed by the Geade Empire, and launched a full scale war upon the continent. However, the Federation, inheriting part of that technology, would only use scouting drones that could be controlled over a long distanced.

In the Empire era, higher education was afforded only to the aristocrats that formed the dictators.h.i.+p government, along with those right beneath n.o.bility, so technology-wise, the Federation was no match for the old Empire. The lead designer who single-handedly developed the artificial intelligence for the was killed before the war started, and the Federation could no longer create drones on par with the .

Also, both the Federation government and its citizens felt that drones should not be used for war. It was the duty of the citizens, their privilege, to protect the country, and fight for their comrades. They could not, and would not let robots rob them of this glory.

With their own eyes, they had witnessed what would happen when their robots were out of control.

A short moment of silence came with the tension, and it was replaced by the tense, blaring siren. Both of them got up.

“Again? Seriously, those sc.r.a.p metals have nothing better to do? No way they’ll be popular with the ladies.”

The term Weisel originate from the queen ant after all, so in other words, the soldier ants should all be females.”

“So that makes the Federation amy h.o.r.n.y men? How pa.s.sionate, I’m going to cry.”

Both of them joked as they exited the cafeteria, and went their separate ways on the corridor. Eugene belonged to the official armored division, and was under a different command branch as compared to s.h.i.+nn, who was sent from the prototype division. Naturally, their units were in different hangars.

“See you later then.”

“Yeah.”

The main battlefield on the Western battlefront mostly comprised of a cramped, forested areas, or ruins of old cities.

These were the measures implemented to combat the main forces of the , the Löwe, and also the Dinosauria used to break through the lines, all to mitigate their disadvantages. However, the situation did not go as they wished. The ma.s.s of the “Vanargand” certainly was not small, and it would be heard to move within the cramped areas. Once they were isolated from their fellow machines, they would be easily surrounded by the smaller Grauwolfs, and be disadvantaged.

The forest of conifers and hardwood was unique only to the Western battlefront. The Grauwolfs would scale the thick, st.u.r.dy old trunks, leap down, and strike from everywhere, so Eugene kept piloting the “Vanargand”, trying to escape them. The heavy weight of fifty tonnes darted through the silent forest, causing the ground to rumble, and the drive system screeching away.

The kept attacking day and night, roaring like a tsunami.

They would attack at irregular, inopportune moments, and kept repeating the same motions to wear down the Federation’s fighting strength, stamina and morale. At times, once they began attacking, the a.s.saults would last half a month.

Unlike humans, who had to spend single digits of months in the womb and years to grow, the Weisels deep within the controlled areas could regenerate the indefinitely, enabling their tactic of summoning black clouds.

The skies above the battlefield was covered by the silver clouds of Eintagsfliege, resulting in a continual jamming of the sensors, radar, and data link; at the same time, the Scorpions long distance cannons would rain upon the trenches. Capabilities-wise, the armored infantry was no match for the “Grauwolfs”, and the “Vanargand”. Numbers-wise, the were advantageous, and would attack in squads. While the tactics were pretty basic, the differences in numbers and capabilities were sufficient enough to corner the Federation, their relentless a.s.saults befitting their names as the army of the dead.

What if we’re defeated. so he would think from time to time.

Will we be defeated one day, the Federation, humanity, against killing machines without knowing the reasons and purposes for war–…

“Lieutenant Lantz! What are you s.p.a.cing out for? You want to die?”

“! Sorry!”

And with the growl, Eugene was kicked in the back, finally recovering from his thoughts. The red blips indicated the cluttered the radar screen. The vetronics barely managed to connect, and showed the situation of the various squads on the hologram windows.

The situation was dire. The armored division, supposedly behind the second defensive line for mobility defense, had rushed to the frontlines.

Nordlicht, the squad s.h.i.+nn belonged to, should be in deployment nearby. It was attacking the flank of the advancing Löwes, darting into enemy lines to halt the attack. The armored corps seized the opportunity to regroup and counterattack with Nordlicht.

s.h.i.+nn’s squad was always there when they needed him most.

And that was where it was most dangerous. Both the enemy and friendlies feel one after another, the bodies piling up, the blood forming creeks.

Yet in the battlefield of h.e.l.l people feared and shunned, Nordlicht kept advancing.

Eugene knew that many on the frontlines hailed them as the bloodsucking devils.

The headless skeletons bearing the name of a Walkure would follow the scent of blood to the land of Death.

And with a buzzing noise, all the optical screens multiple holographic windows were blurred out.

The holographic windows showed the Eintagsfliege density changing. There was jamming.

And before everything was swallowed in the noise, he could vaguely hear Nordlicht hurriedly retreating, and someone on the public channels yelling at all the forces.

An oncoming projectile in the air exploded, the shock tremoring the surrounding air.

In modern warforce, a recoilless cannon with low velocity would still exceed supersonic. The sound would always be later than a hit.

The hail of metal pelted.

The wireless was completely silent due to the strong interference. Due to the Para-RAID that connected the subconsciousness of people, s.h.i.+nn was not affected.

“Fine there, s.h.i.+nei?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh good.”

Saying that, Frederica’s voice quivered.

“But…my apologies, bad news, I fear.”

s.h.i.+nn looked up at the metallic colored carca.s.s giving off blue smoke, ripped apart by the rain of self-forging fragments, and slowly spoke up.

“Frederica–close your ‘eyes’.”

He opened his eye, and found lush greenery by the surroundings.

Right above him were the tender green leaves of Oaks and Blumes, along with the sharp, rich green of Spruce and Pines. The sunlight barely managed to s.h.i.+ne through the Eintagsfliege, and lit the surrounding mist with the surrounding green. The distinct emerald green of the northern summer forest was like droplets, like smoke.

The dew-covered undergrowth touched his face, and he knew he was lying down. Right nearby was the silhouette of the “Vanargand”, lying on the ground like the carca.s.s of a large beast.”

A slender figure knelt by his side. Eugene narrowed his eyes.

“s.h.i.+nn.”

The b.l.o.o.d.y red eyes turned towards him silently. The icy, poised look showed no signs of faltering at such a moment.

If a death G.o.d really existed, surely its eyes would be like this.

“What happened to the squad leader…?”

“Dead.”

“What, about me…?”

He had a feeling that he was a lost cause. If there had been a glimmer of hope, there was no way s.h.i.+nn would leave him be.

“Better not ask.”

“Tell me.”

s.h.i.+nn sighed.

“Everything below the stomach’s gone.”

Looking at s.h.i.+nn’s blood-soaked steel-colored uniform, Eugene could guess the severity of his wounds.

Seriously…he’s not a bad guy. He knew it was a little inopportune, but Eugene eked a smile.

s.h.i.+nn knew Eugene was a goner, and yet he dirtied his uniform, and pulled him out from the c.o.c.kpit. Eugene could feel no pain, so perhaps he was given morphine. This extremely precious painkiller was used on a dying soldier.

And he was grateful to be brought outside.

He would have hated to die in the cramped c.o.c.kpit, along with the stench of his blood and intestines.

“s.h.i.+nn…one last thing I ask of you…”

“What?”

“Mind, giving me my locket…inside my equipment…”

Once he saw the red eyes looking down at him falter however, Eugene understood.

Ahh, I have no hands to hold the locket.

s.h.i.+nn removed his glove, and took the locket out, probably worried that it would be stained by blood. After some thought, he moved it from the collar of the pilot clothes to the inside of the s.h.i.+rt. Some heat was absorbed as the icy metal rested on Eugenes body, and it took him a while to get used to it.

s.h.i.+nn then stood up wordlessly, like an ominous crow. He opened the holster on his right thigh, and pulled his pistol out.

He pulled the slide, and loaded the bullet into the chamber. It was a 9mm automatic gun, one of a larger caliber than the standard handgun the Federation issued its pilots, yet unable to pierce through the armor.

If Eugene were to be doing the same thing, surely his hands would be shaking, unable to squeeze the trigger. However, the eyes beneath the muzzle pointed at him showed no signs of wavering.

Eugene knew it was not out of aloofness. With his last ounce of breath, he smiled. That was all he could do as thanks.

“Sorry…and thank you.”

A gunshot.

While Frederica did say he was alive, she never said to save him. At that point, he understood what was going on.

“Fido…”

He called out subconsciously, and then realized that his loyal “Scavenger” had been put to eternal rest in the controlled area, for there was no need to bring it along. He then kept quiet.

The Federation would not abandon any comrade, even if that person had become a corpse. Once this battle was over, Eugene’s corpse would be reclaimed, and brought to his family for a funeral. If humans really did have souls, perhaps they could have a moment of solace before they return to the dark abyss at the ends of the world.

All s.h.i.+nn did was to remember, his name, his dying face, his elated face, and the numerous stories of his family. It was the same for him as it was for the hundreds of comrades he watched depart.

That was all he could do. In the past, and even now.

He took down one of the two dog tags to write a death report. Suddenly, he heard some footsteps, as though something really heavy was being dragged along.

It was not the , for the astounding accelerators and buffers would leave even a Dinosauria silent. Furthermore, if there was any approaching, s.h.i.+nn would have noticed it.

And finally, from the thick, lush green mist, there was the squadron mark of the eighteenth squadron, the hedgehog, the silhouette of a battered “Vanargand”.

Once he saw the wrecked “Vanargand” and the young soldier, not of his squadron, standing next to his comrade, the lone surviving operator of the eighteenth squadron, the pilot of the one surviving “Vanargand” stood still.

The might be lying in ambush somewhere, for it was a corner of the battlefield where death continued. The soldier before him did not wield his a.s.sault rifle, looking completely defenseless, and utterly reckless. The way he stood still however, he was completely devoid of any sense of danger.

Standing in the shadow of the wrecked “Vanargand” was a white armored quad-pedaled unit in standby. Once he saw that, the pilot gasped.

The “Reginleif”. The headless white skeleton that symbolized calamity, only appearing on the devastated battlefield.

The boy took off his helmet, and was unable to communicate with the wireless. The gunner on the back seat remained wary as he opened the c.o.c.kpit.

The young soldier glanced at them, raising an eyebrow. The pilot gasped.

“Nouzen…!”

It was his peer in cadet school.

Special cadet school was basically a measure to replenish the number of lost officers, and many students were brought to study here due to their poverty. This boy before him was outstanding, his grades in combat training were top notch, but due to insubordination and various issues, he was deployed to a certain prototype squadron. It was said that the squad was filled with Wargus, barbarians born out of Wolfslands, and were made to pilot the prototype as a form of punishment.

Before the boy was the operator of the wrecked machine, again from the same batch, the boy’s buddy and bunkmate, Eugene Lantz.

Once he saw the half corpse left behind, he gasped.

“Perfect timing. Please write the KIA report.”

He caught the dog tag the boy carelessly tossed.

The gunner calmly asked,

“You sent him off?”

He probably deduced it from the handgun wielded in one hand, along with the splattered blood on the gra.s.s and the ground.

While it was typically a medical officer’s responsibility to administer a triage of the casualty, there was no requirement for a specialist to determine if the wounds were obvious. If they were too serious, and aid was too late, ending a life would be relief and consolation for the dying.

s.h.i.+nn nodded. While the gunner showed a conflicted look, he was about to give his thanks, only for the young operator to yell,

“–Why didn’t you save him!?”

s.h.i.+nn did not respond.

Instead, he merely looked back, his b.l.o.o.d.y red eyes stiff and calm,

“You know it’s Eugene, right!? Right before we sortied, he said he saw you, you know!? …Why didn’t you save him!? You were cutting your way through the battles of the other squads!?”

Even amongst the armored division focused on mobile defense, Nordlicht’s performances were the best of the bunch. It was to be expected, for they were always striking back at the enemy when other squads could not afford to do so.

Even though he was so amazing.

Even though he was aided and protected by the Federation, and did not need to return to the battlefield again!

“You just want to wipe out those pieces of sc.r.a.p metal, right!? –You war hungry Eighty Sixer!”

Eighty Six.

They were the compatriots from the Republic of San Magnolia, deemed by their country as pigs with the appearances of humans, and saved by the Geade Federation.

There were five soldiers who were forced to depart for their execution, and finally arrived in the lands of the Federation.

s.h.i.+nn remained silent.

And while the operator was about to keep talking, his officer, the gunner, grabbed him on the shoulder.

“Enough already, Lieutenant Marcel. Do you want to be as decadent as the sc.u.m of the Republic?”

Marcel muted himself once he heard those words. The Republic did such inhumane things to the ‘Eighty Sixers”, the citizens they should be protecting. Half a year ago, when the Federation sheltered and s.h.i.+elded them, media reports aired through television, radio and the like for days, so everyone knew.

Surely he did not want to be like them.

But.

Patting Marcel’s shoulder, the gunner lowered his head.

“I do hope you will forgive Lieutenant Marcel’s rudeness. Also, I will like to thank you in Lieutenant Lant’z place. Thank you, and I apologize.”

“…No worries.”

s.h.i.+nn nodded. With an anguished look, the gunner watched him, and after some thought, he said,

“If you volunteered the Federation army as thanks for saving you, you do not need to do so.”

“…”

“Our Federation will never succ.u.mb to the . This is not simply for the sake of winning the war; it is also to declare our justice. Our battle is for our own will, to protect our families, country and compatriots. In no way will we force you poor children to partic.i.p.ate in war…it isn’t too late to retire and enjoy your days.”

s.h.i.+nn merely stared back at him blankly.

Suddenly, he averted his eyes, and turned his back on the gunner, who though was not his direct superior, was rude on his part. With a calm, aloof voice, he noted,

“The is coming. Better regroup with our forces now.”

s.h.i.+nn had a glance at the battle situations on the many windows in the c.o.c.kpit of his “Juggernaut”, the “Undertaker”.

Eugene’s death was already out of his mind at this point. Having spent five years living on the battlefield, his mind was sculpted into a war machine.

He recalled that he had switched off the Para-RAID for the time being. While he was fine with his squadmates who sortied since the era of the Empire hearing this, he was unwilling to have Frederica hear him personally kill his friend. While he had pointedly told her not to look, it was unknown if she did.

They were synchronized, and Frederica’s voice immediately rang by his ears. It seemed she had been waiting,

“s.h.i.+nei?”

“How’s the situation?”

The vetronics data connection had not been restored. While he was certain of the locations, he had to determine his allies locations from how the enemy was scattered. It was not an impossible task, but the friendlies were more than he imagined on this battlefield, and it was better to ask someone to know.

“Not good. The main forces retreated to standby, primed to counter. The prior cannon a.s.sault had caused great devastation.”

“Got a more detailed report on the damages?”

“Several squads do have missing commanders…while I’d still be in the command car, the data link has yet to be recovered…”

It appeared the jamming of the Eintagsfliege was yet to be dispersed. The anti-aircraft guns meant to disperse them were suppressed by the Scorpions, and could not advance.

The Federation’s fighting strength far surpa.s.sed the Republic’s, and the weapons used for combat were outstanding. The cannons and data link provided much needed support…yet they still could not defeat the .

The laughable defense system of the Republic managed to last nine years, probably because the Federation had weakened the by at least half. One might even say that the used the Republic’s battleground as a trial, a training session.

“–There is contact from Division Headquarters. During the counterattack, Nordlicht shall strike from the flank. To gather at point twenty seven-thirty two, and wait for instructions…a communications soldier reported to us directly. Sure is a tight sport.”

“Understood.”

s.h.i.+nn turned the “Undertaker” around. Soon after, he regrouped with Nordlicht, along with the remaining two soldiers in his squad.

The members scattered all over the battlefield to to his side, and the radar screen showed blue blips of friendlies, of similar numbers to before.

He saw the familiar personal codenames on the blips, and at the same time, heard a familiar voice he had not heard in a while,

“–A rare reunion we have here, eh? So many “Vanargands” got wiped out?”

‘Werewolf’.

s.h.i.+nn glanced at the name that appeared with the squad code and unit serial, and responded to the other end of the Para-RAID.

“Raiden…how’s the squads you’re supporting?”

“Too bad the actual armored corps on my side got wiped out too…looks like we won’t have the fighting strength to counterattack.”

“…Never had hope for them anyway.”

“However, if the counterattack fails this time, we will really be isolated. Rather than an a.s.sault, we are basically cutting off the bait they have laid out.”

“We got thrown to the worst battlefield and are left to fend for ourselves. Guess everywhere’s the same.”

Chiming in were the other Eighty-Sixers scattered all over the battlefield.

On the radar screen that kept blinking due to the strong jamming, the usual names appeared.

Once he saw those names, s.h.i.+nn sighed.

They had arrived at a different country, but the war had not changed. In the face of the ghost army of machines, humans were powerless to resist, and were gradually devoured by the perimeter.

Never once did he expect that beyond the plains where countless of his comrades had fallen, the same war was continuing–and that he would step onto the battlefield again, facing the same enemies.

Not when he was a.s.signed to the special scouting mission of an execution.

Not then.

86 Volume 2 Chapter 1

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86 Volume 2 Chapter 1 summary

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