"No Face to Vast Network One"
"All phases of Operation has been completed."
"Operation ended. All "Legion" forces in Network are to cease combat operations."
"Retreat to Controlled Areas."
Outcome wise, the first joint operation of countries against the "Legion" since the inception of the war was a success.
They were unable to regain land from the "Legion" Controlled Area. The probe West into the corridor resulted merely in the dominion of a frontline centered around the old high speed railway, but a consensus from the three countries was that they could expand territories from there. The “Legion” had spent many years amassing forces for an all out assault, failed, was forced to retreat, and did not have enough strength to begin another immediate assault again.
By working together, humanity could fight against the "Legion".
A small step it may be, it brought a great amount of hope.
"──Even so, this is still not an optimistic situation."
It was morning in the Federation capital, St. Yedder, snow falling outside the windows.
Standing before the massive desk in the President’s office were the Western Army Chief of Staff and the 177th Mobile Division Headquarters commander, who said.
"The Western Army had lost 60% of its forces. A regular replacement of forces will be insufficient, and we will have to cut down on the education cycle for all specialist cadet schools, officer cadet schools, and boot camps. However, it is it is undeniable that training would be insufficient. The training facilities too will require the same number of candidates, which will result in decrease of the Federation national power.”
In War, the army was not one to produce, but to guzzle resources and manpower. The age groups of productivity and repopulation had been drafted into the military for national defense purposes. Surely the Future National Power would be depleted.
The United Kingdom and the Alliance too might be facing the same situation. Both had low populations, and their situations might be more dire.
"In contrast, the "Legion" might have some depleted squads, but the production Weisels and the electricity generationg Atomarias remain unscath. Regeneration abilities wise, they are able to mass produce weapons far beyond our side…and it is likely that this will only get worse as the war goes on."
"No need to mince your words, Major General. In other words, if we are to continue pushing through with our strategy, given the situation, humanity will lose due to weariness if it cannot regain the entire continent…am I correct?"
"Yes. Thus, I believe there is a need to revise our strategy…"
In the short term, if another assault of similar scale was to begin, humanity would be unable to withstand it.
They sent in a massive counteroffensive, and destroyed the "Morpho". Both objectives were completed, but the initiative remained with the "Legion". It was understood that the Federation had been weary, and made lots of sacrifices.
"We are not going to gradually move forth, but to focus on limited offensives. While maintaining our defensive lines, we shall establish a squad, and focus our firepower to eliminate the cores of the "Legion". The Western Army has viewed them as the first candidates, but we never expected you to have the same opinion, Your Excellency"
The Federation, formerly a military superpower, viewed them as elite.
"We shall create a strike force centered around the Eighty-Sixers, the young soldiers who were saved from the old Republic…pardon us, but you have long reviled using those youths as sacrifices for the peace of the country. Does this proposal go against your ideals?"
"That's the case, but they volunteered──and hoped to go the frontlines. I had no choice."
Ernst looked out of the window, viewing the snowy St. Yedder as he answered calmly. It was an early Winter morning, and the capital was beginning preparations for the Christmas Eve festival.
"They have their own ideals, and I have no right to refuse just because I pity them. If they would rather choose to return to the battlefield, I do hope for a few comrades to accompany them. And furthermore, regarding Shinn…Captain Nouzen, I do hope to keep them in a place as safe as possible."
He glanced aside at the holographic email floating in the air as he quibbed.
The file of the Federation army's Gifted had a personal stamp on it. That stamp stood out on the personal file filled with the special notes involving the operation.
"The strike force will have to attack the core of the "Legion", and is also expected to provide aid to the surrounding countries. If they are to be deployed around various countries, and be placed under the charge of the foreign commanders, there will be some attention given to them, at least…I am not willing to have them become lab rats just because they are young capable Canaries."
Ernst glanced aside, and the Major General's face was rigid. In contrast, the Chief of Staff snorted.
"The unsavoriness of our army has caused this. So that is the scepticism you have, Your Excellency."
So he said, showing a malicious sneer as he tilted his head.
"But as for that Captain Nouzen, will he be willing to accept having a guest officer as his commander? He will be the direct subordinate. Is he not more likely to choose the current Division, rather than obey the commands of his old oppressor?"
"I mentioned it to him. He just returned from his break yesterday."
The Chief of Staff raised an eyebrow, and Ernst shrugged.
Including Shinn, Nordlicht Squadron had participated in the reclamation of the old San Magnolia Republic administrative zones, but in the battle for the first area, there was a deadlock against the enemy. Thus, the main forces retreated, regrouped with the reinforcements, and retreated.
A soldier's battle efficiency would drop after a certain amount of time had elapsed in an operation. As a former military superpower, the Federation had forayed north and south, and had a clear understanding of timely handovers and rest. It was temporary, but the youths could finally get some rest.
"That was what I too worried about, but it seems there was no need for that. Because ──…"
Shinn was dressed in military uniform, for it was an official moment for a soldier, and the military black trench coat draped over it, he strolled down the Federation capital under the snowy clouds.
The National Cemetery took up a large area of St. Yedder’s suburbs, and visible were the powder snow was like ash, the skies concealed in a veil of white, yet glowing slightly, and the Lilacs surrounding the cemetery, the leaves fallen and the black bark exposed to the chilly winds. Amidst the monochromatic landscape in this snowy veil, the clusters of graves stood, scattered with the uniform-clad vestige of various ages and genders, probably of the Western Army soldiers who returned at the same time.
It was said these snowflakes were the flowers of winter. In Spring, it was the Lilacs that bloomed. In Summer, it was the Roses beneath the Lilacs that bloomed. In Autumn, the Salvias littered the ground. The heroes who had no visitors to their graves could get an equal yearly amount of floral offerings. Shinn recalled that he had never seen the scenery of the National Cemetery other than the winter season.
It appeared there was lots he knew not of.
At a corner of the many new graves, Shinn stood before an ordinary one.
"──It’s been a while,Eugene"
Etched on the stone grave was the name and the gap of seventeen years between his birth and his death, and it remained silent in the tranquil morning of the large cemetery, covered by the thin layer of snow that fell over the night.
"Sorry for being late."
But Eugene was not there.
Half the body was left behind. His will and memories were no longer inside.
Shinn could hear fragments of the lingering wishes and thoughts of the Dead who remained. For him, it was not a difference of values or religions, just a matter of fact.
There was no Heaven, and no Hell.
All the Dead, without exempt, would return to the darkness at the bottom of the world.
Thus, Shinn was not talking to anyone else but the Eugene in his memories. Even so, Shinn needed this plain gravestone with only a name just to hold a personal conversation, which he found a little unfathomable.
Inscribed on the gravestone was his name, birth year and death year. Once all who knew him disappeared, he would be rendered merely a record.
The Federation soldiers that returned to the void wanted graves to remember them by, and back on the Eighty Sixth area, the 576 comrades entrusted their redemption on small aluminium fragments. What they truly wanted after death was probably not the graves however, but rather people to remember them by.
"The Western frontlines remains as it was when you’re alive.”
He places the flowers he bought at the entrance before the grave. The Federation was in the middle of a harsh winter, so the flowers were white Lilies raided in a greenhouse. The tender white color looked exceptionally white when compared to the polished black granite gravestone.
The granny selling flowers knew he was a soldier; after all, he was dressed in military uniform. This is a gift from me, so she handed another bouquet of flowers to Shinn. On this snowy day, the granny arrived early in the morning at the entrance of the National Cemetery, where the KIA laid asleep. She pursed her lips, lifted her head, as though it was her mission to do so.
"The surviving Eighty-Sixers of the Republic have all been protected by the Federation, and the army has decided to start a new squad centered on them, specialized in piloting "Juggernauts". Once the break's over, I will be deployed there."
Ten thousand men or so in total, a large battalion, in fact.
Practically all the surviving Processors volunteered to join the Federation army.
A year ago, Shinn and his comrades made the same decision.
"──You asked me before, why I want to fight."
Or rather, Eugene wanted to ask, only to be interrupted, and never got the chance to.
Neither Shinn nor Eugene would have expected it to be the last conversation between them.
Death remained impartial to all, sudden.
That was why the Eighty-Sixers insisted on living to the very end with no regrets, to keep living until they had no regrets, and to continue fighting with this dignity.
And they had nothing other than that.
"To be honest, I still don't know. For us, for me, I don't have the reason to fight like you spoke up. I have no place to return to, no place I want to go to…and nothing I want to protect."
His family was dead, and he was unfamiliar with the inherited culture , the hometown he grew up in was already erased in the darkness of his memories.
Furthermore, he used the laments of the countless ghost as guides, remembered the memories and souls of his dead comrades, and lived on with the goal of slaying his brother. It was truly difficult of him to look forward to a future without his brother.
The distant future that might not be there, or the tomorrow that should be right around the corner remained so vague, ambiguous, unpredictable.
Shinn still had no wishes, nor did he have anything he wanted.
"But I want to…I promised to bring them to the very end, and I guess I know that what I want to show them isn't the battlefield."
There was also a girl he bade farewell to a year ago.
Ever since that, she struggled alone on the Republic battlefield, all to catch up to them. It would be overly cruel for her to catch up only to see a battlefield filled with death everywhere.
Before he went on the special scouting mission, they had a last conversation that night. Shinn back then had assumed that there would be no aid, but hoped that she could survive, not hoping that she would witness that devastation.
Back then, the one before him had said that he wanted to show his sister the sea, for she had not seen it.
He wanted to show her the unknown she did not see.
"I don't really want to see it, but I want to bring people along. I hope to show them the unknown, the things they haven't seen. I guess I'll use this as the reason to fight."
This wish could not be fulfilled, for this world was chained by the "Legion".
Of course, the gravestone would not respond, and it did not contain Eugene's soul at all.
However, he felt that the approachable, kind peer of his would smile and say, That's good.
"I'll come back again…next time, I'll tell you things you haven't seen."
The gravestone did not respond.
Instead, the laments of the mechanical ghosts seeped into this tranquillity. The thoughts of the comrades trapped in the battlefield kept lamenting with their final words, wandering around, seeking release.
I get it. I'm not going to forget all of you.
He turned around silently, and the moment he stepped forward, he vaguely spotted a person in the corner of his eyes. It resembled Eugene, or his dead brother. The moment he looked over, he found a long haired girl turning her head back amidst the fluttering veil of snow, her silhouette resembling Kaie, and yet like the person who had unwittingly caught up to them.
He left behind the Dead that had returned, and gave pursuit to the ghosts that wandered the battlefield, along with his comrades-in-arms who had not returned here.
The heroes laid in eternal rest, silent amidst the powder snow that fell as they watched the Death God walk away.
There was always an old granny at the entrance before the "National, Cemetery", and she would always give Nina a bouquet of flowers.
Nina's little body hugged the bouquet of Lilies that were too big, and walked down the path to her brother's grave, which she was already familiar with.
Over the past half year and so, Nina started to slowly realize that dying meant that her brother would never return, and would never meet her again.
It was said her brother was killed, and in other words, a certain person caused him to be unable to return.
It made her sad, despondent, crestfallen, and so she wrote a letter to that person, but till this point, she did not receive a reply. That might have been a bad person, and did not respond, or perhaps the letter did not reach him.
It was said this 'war' was really terrible, and many died, just like her brother. Maybe that baddie died too.
Nina thought that if the baddie met her brother in Heaven, he could say sorry to her brother. Her brother was a kind person, and surely the baddie could be forgiven, and they could be friends in Heaven.
Because hating a person would make a person feel angry, painful, not a good thing.
At that moment, she noticed a pile of soft milky white before her brother's grave, different from the cold white snow.
She teetered forth, carrying it…they were Lilies, and the snow had yet to pile on them. Someone must have offered them just now.
She looked around, and within the gaps of the grave, a person that had walked far away entered her sights. That person was a little taller than her brother, a boy of similar age.
And like the brother she saw for the last time, he was dressed in a steel-colored uniform.
She recalled seeing that person somewhere.
She recalled him having fun with her brother.
Without thinking, she called out softly, but the voice could not reach the other end of the snow veil.
Glad that you came?
Glad that you remembered?
Or are you glad that you managed to make it back alive, unlike my dead brother?
For some reason, the young Nina felt a strong urge to say something.
"Erm,…thank you very much…！"
The voice was sucked into the snow, and the young girl, not knowing how to shout, could not convey her voice.
But even so, she felt that the vague silhouette at the other end of the powder snow turned his head around slightly.
The "Juggernauts" and their loyal follower, were buried in the Spring garden at the very end of their journey. The young officer of similar age was dressed in the steel-colored uniform of the Federation army smiled calmly.
"Pleased to be of acquaintance, but not exactly. This is the first time we are meeting though."
As for why those words sounded so elated, Lena did not know.
"It has been a while, Handler One. Geade Federation Captain, ex-Spearhead Squadron leader, Shinei Nouzen."
She was completely dumbfounded.
Lena's silvery white eyes widened as she looked up to the youth who introduced himself.
He was of similar age to her, just graduated from officer cadet school, and promoted twice at such a young age, already the rank of Captain. He had the pitch black hair of an Onyx and the bloody red eyes of a Pyrope, a handsome white face to the point of aloofness.
Lena never knew of his appearance before.
The photo they left for her was too crude, taken from a far distance, and she could not see their appearances clearly.
But the voice,
The calm, stoic voice seemed a little distant, yet it sounded comfortable—
The boy naturally smiled back with some wryness.
"That's the first time you called me that. Yes, it's me, Major Millize."
"Yeah. Didn't manage to die."
Whether the voice was somewhat curt, or overly blunt.
Lena barely held in the tears that nearly burst out.
She did not want her eyes to be blurred by her tears, for fear that if she blinked, he would disappear.
Instead, she did her best to smile.
It was likely she was looking unbecoming, but she cared not for that.
Over these two years.
These two years, while the Republic stagnated, and was finally vanquished—what happened to them?
They crossed the "Legion" controlled area, arrived at foreign lands, and were dressed in uniforms differing from their homelands.
Needless to say, over these two years, they had been fighting.
For them, fighting to the very end was a form of pride, a journey they embarked on with a smile.
"…I have always been chasing after you.
The red eyes were beaming.
"I caught up."
For some reason, that quiet voice seemed so nostalgic.
She held his outstretched hand with two hands, the tears finally falling against her will, but a smile naturally formed.
She had no chance to say those words.
But this time, she finally could.
"Henceforth──I too will fight alongside all of you."