A slight change in a few lines, but otherwise it's the same chapter. Enjoy.

Chapter 2: In Isara's Memory

At the shooting range, Marina sat at a workbench next to Nadine and Leon Schmidt. Nadine was busily tinkering with a new sniper rifle nicknamed the "Springfield". Marina had been given the new prototype due to her combat record. Yet she still felt she didn't deserve the honor after what had happened at Marberry.

As Nadine busily turned her screwdriver, Leon asked, "Are you sure about this, Marina? Your usual scope isn't made to work with a rifle like this."

"I'm sure," said Marina. "I've used this one since…"

"Since what?" Nadine asked.

"…Since my dad passed it on to me…"

After a few more clockwise turns, Nadine raised the rifle and said, "That should do it. See how it works."

Marina took the newly modified Springfield, opened the loading chamber, and added a round to it. The new sniper rounds were a far greater caliber than Marina was used to, but they would hopefully serve the same purpose.

Taking aim down the shooting range, Marina centered the crosshairs of her father's sniper scope on a target, 600 meters away. Seconds later, there was a loud bang. Wisps of smoke emanated from the Springfield's barrel as Marina lowered the weapon.

"…"

"A bull's-eye!" Leon said happily as he looked through a pair of binoculars. "That's great!"

"It's off center by about four degrees," Marina interrupted. "This thing's too powerful for its own good."

"What?" Leon looked at the target and, sure enough, Marina's shot hadn't been dead center. It was off by about an inch or so to the right.

"This thing's no good to me if I miss." Handing the rifle back to Leon, Marina said, "Fix it."

"Uh, umm, sure…" Leon said nervously. "But that could take a while…"

"…Make it happen…"

Marina got to her feet and left the shooting range, leaving Leon and Nadine sweating slightly. She then made her way toward the barracks. She had until the next morning to rest up before Squad Seven was set to move out toward the town of Bruhl.


The morning sky was shrouded by grey clouds, something that seemed to mirror the current state of Squad Seven. Morale was low, both from Isara's death and Cezary's escape from captivity. He so far hadn't been seen since his escape, something that worried the squad.

As Marina marched alongside the Edelweiss, she overheard a conversation between Susie, Noce, and Alicia. From what Marina had heard, all three of them had formerly been part of the Bruhl Town Patrol, and had been present when the Empire initially attacked. Going back to where the war had started for them was likely to be a difficult thing, Marina thought.

Thinking about it gave Marina an unpleasant memory of her own hometown, Forstwald, which had all but been annihilated by Imperial tanks. Being a hunter with no experience with antitank weaponry, she had been unable to stop the heavily armored war machines from leveling building after building. Forced to hide from the tanks, Marina had been made to watch in the slaughter of a Darcsen family by Imperial shock troopers, who laughed as they killed the family one at a time.

Marina grimaced as the horrific images flashed through her head. Behind her, Catherine saw Marina's expression, which made her worry.

Walking up beside Marina, Catherine said, "What's wrong?"

"…"

"It's not the first time I've seen that face. What is it?"

"…I was just remembering how in Forstwald, I…"

"Marina, you mustn't blame yourself for what happened. If you had intervened, you would've been killed too."

Marina said nothing to Catherine's words. In retrospect she had done the right thing. Marina had been outnumbered five-to-one, and would only have added to the tragic losses of Forstwald if she had exposed herself.

"…Catherine, do you know why I enlisted?"

"I felt I shouldn't ask, Marina."

"It was so I could protect the weak from those who would harm them. When I joined, I swore to do whatever I could to protect those who couldn't defend themselves. But… so many times, I've failed. At Vasel, Barious, Fouzen… and Marberry… No matter how hard I try, I just can't keep to my word. Every time I fight, innocent lives are lost because I can't save them."

Catherine paused at these words for a moment, but then said with a sigh, "…Just like him…"

"What?"

"You're so much like Marcus. He also fought for that reason. But time and again, he just couldn't do what he set out to do."

"…"

"Marina, I'll tell you what I told him: you expect too much of yourself."

Marina didn't respond to this, but was left to ponder over what Catherine meant. Her concentration, however, was broken by a loud sneeze coming from Aika Thompson, who had wandered a bit too close to a set of flowers. Vyse Inglebard, a childhood friend of Aika's, handed her a tissue, which she blew her nose into.

"…Excuse me…" Marina moved away from the flowers, as she too was allergic to pollen.

At least, that what everyone else thought. Catherine, however, knew that Marina more than anything wanted to be alone with her thoughts.


It took until the next morning to reach the outskirts of Bruhl. The rest of the 3rd Regiment had been given the order to hold outside the perimeter of Bruhl while Squad Seven entered the town to secure it.

The sight of it was a mixture of happiness and sorrow to Alicia, Susie, Noce and Welkin, who all called Bruhl home. The Sister Mills, which had been wrecked at the start of the war, were still in ruins, as were countless homes and buildings.

"So this is Bruhl, huh?" said Musaad Mayfield, who the other Sevens normally called 'Musaad the Mole' for his expertise at trench warfare.

"This is it, home sweet home," said Noce, though he wasn't happy seeing Bruhl still in shambles.

"We're back…" said Welkin. "Back to where it all started."

"It's been five months since we left Bruhl," said Alicia. "Now… all but one of us is back to make this home again."

Welkin was silent as he viewed the situation. He could clearly see Imperial armor parked in the town center. To his dismay, the Imperials had also set up numerous anti-tank defenses, though he saw no sign of snipers. That didn't mean they weren't there.

Turning to the other Sevens, Welkin said, "Captain Varrot said she specifically requested this operation from General Damon."

"She said that?" asked Alicia.

"Yes. You know how she feels about him, but she begged him to give us Bruhl. She wanted us to remember why we're fighting, to help us get past Isara's death."

Alicia, not to mention the other Seven's, were left speechless at Welkin's words. Yet among the Seven's, Marina wasn't consoled by the lieutenant's words. It had been her fault Isara had died since she wasn't good enough. And compared to him, her goal was quite different, and it was a goal she had failed at time and time again.

"Let's take back our… Take back Isara's home!" Welkin shouted. This brought a rising cry from Squad Seven as they prepared for battle. Turning to face the enemy's defenses, which were also mobilizing, Welkin said, "Isara… We're taking back our home, Is! Squad Seven, move out!"

The squad moved in, with the Edelweiss and Shamrock taking point. The two tanks were quickly met by a hail of machine gun fire and rifle bullets. Alicia, Susie, and Rosie took cover behind the Edelweiss, while Largo, Jann Walker, and Nadine ducked behind the Shamrock.

"EEP, they're shooting at us, Largo!" Jann said in his usual flamboyant tone.

With a sigh, Largo said sarcastically, "You think so? I hadn't noticed!"

On the sides, the other Seven's poured into alleyways and ducked behind and into buildings. The fight quickly began to spread throughout Bruhl.


Juno Coren dashed into a dilapidated building, followed by Aisha Newman, Karl Landzaat, Lynn, and Rosina Selden. A group of six Imperial shock troopers opened fire on the group from behind a set of sandbags.

"Suppressing fire!" shouted Juno.

She then raised her rifle, taking blind-fire shots at the enemy. Aisha and Lynn quickly shot a hail of bullets at the Imperials; Lynn hit one in the head, killing him instantly. Karl tossed a grenade at the enemy, but it fell short of the sandbags and exploded harmlessly in front of them.

"They're too far!" shouted Karl. "I can't throw it that far!"

"Such a wimp," hissed the muscular Rosina. "Watch and weep!"

Rosina snatched a grenade from Karl and tossed it. The explosive landed behind the sandbags, forcing the Imperials to flee. With a powerful blast, one soldier was killed, while the sandbags were blown away. Without cover, the rest were quickly gunned down.

"Tch… no wonder you're engaged to that dark-hair," Rosina said to Karl. "You're as weak as her kind."

Karl was clearly offended by this, but was too much of a coward to say anything. Rosina could crush him like a bug if she wanted.

"Stop fighting!" yelled Aisha. "Save it for the enemy!"

With a huff, Rosina raised her lance and moved to follow Juno and Aisha to a nearby building. Karl was left cursing himself for his weakness.

At that moment, he felt Lynn's hand on his shoulder. Looking into her eyes brought a smile to his face. But then, he saw a glint of light behind her, coming from the window of a house across the street.

In horror, Karl shouted, "Lynn, get down!"

Karl shoved Lynn to the ground as a sniper round flew into the building, hitting Karl in the upper chest. He howled in pain as toppled over.

"Karl! KARL!" Lynn screamed.

Juno and Aisha heard Lynn's screams and whirled about to regroup with her. Rosina, however, did not follow.

As Aisha rushed out into the open, Juno saw the enemy sniper in the window and shouted, "Aisha, duck!"

Aisha dove for the floor as the sniper fired, missing his mark.

"Rosina, take him out!"

"Alright, alright, I got it!" Rosina yelled as she aimed her lance.

Rosina's lance flashed as a round flew out, striking the sniper's position and demolishing it and its occupant. With the threat gone, Juno and Aisha ran to help Karl and Lynn, the latter who was screaming for a medic.

"Soo… dark…" Karl moaned.

"Karl, please! Don't leave me! KARL!" Lynn cried as tears flowed down her face.

At that moment, one of the medics, Mina, showed up and quickly set her kit down next to Karl. She took out a pair of tweezers and some gauze as she worked to remove the bullet from Karl.

"Mina, please save him! Please!" Lynn said, nearly hysterical.

After examining the wound, Mina said to Lynn, "He'll be alright, Lynn. The bullet didn't hit his lungs, and I should be able to stop the bleeding."

Lynn was relieved that Karl would live, but it didn't stop her from crying.


A lancer round whistled over Vyse's head as he, Aika, Jane Turner, Audrey Heitinga, and Claudia Mann stayed crouched behind a set of sandbags. They were pinned down by at least ten assorted Imperial soldiers.

"Woooie! We're in trouble now!" Vyse said, cocky despite the circumstances.

"Vyse, this is no time for heroics!" Aika snapped, though she knew it wouldn't stop her childhood friend. He always ran headlong into challenges.

"Damn Imps…" Jane hissed. Then, to Claudia's shock, Jane sprung up from her cover, spraying bullets from her machine gun as she screamed, "Die! Die! DIE!"

Two Imperial soldiers were perforated by Jane's bullets, but a third tossed a grenade in Jane's direction, forcing her to dash away from the explosive. As Jane took cover again, Vyse noticed a pair of scouts trying move on their left flank.

"Claudia, cover the left flank!" Vyse shouted.

Nodding, Claudia moved to take her position. But as she did, a lancer round struck the floor above the group, causing the building to shake. Claudia lost her balance and shrieked as she fell flat on her face, dropping her rifle. Then, with a loud clatter, planks of wood came crashing down, burying Claudia's legs in debris.

As she tried to free herself, Claudia shouted, "Audrey, help! I'm stuck!"

Dropping her lance, Audrey rushed over to assist Claudia. Despite her svelte physique, Audrey was easily able to start removing heavy columns of wood from the pile that had trapped Claudia.

Then, Audrey heard Claudia shriek in terror. Hearing a hissing noise, Audrey looked down to see a grenade in front of Claudia, just out of the engineer's reach, but close enough to blow them both to pieces. Claudia was covering her head, awaiting the inevitable explosion that would kill her.

Audrey scrambled over to the grenade and kicked it away. The grenade exploded inches from the door, though the armor plates Audrey wore blocked most of the shrapnel. Both girls were unharmed.

As the explosion cleared, the Imperial scouts stormed into the building. What they hadn't accounted for, however, was Jane. The psychotic shock trooper laughed sadistically as she unleashed a full clip of ammunition into the two soldiers.

"You like that, huh?" Jane shouted. "Goddamn Imps!"

"Th– thanks, Jane…" Claudia said, still covering her head with her hands.

"Oh, shut up, Cursia. Do I have to do everything myself?"

Jane slid over to the spot Claudia was supposed to be guarding and fired a hail of bullets at a group of Imperials behind some sandbags. Though what Jane had said was hurtful, Claudia knew it was right. All her life, Claudia had been cursed with bad luck, which tended to have an adverse effect on others. Some of the other Seven's had nicknamed her 'Cursia' because of this.

"Don't listen to Psycho-bitch, Claudia," Audrey said cheerfully. "Now hold still and I'll have you out in no time."

"Shut it, skinny!" Jane shouted back. Audrey ignored the insult.

Watching the scene, Aika said, "Think we should do something, Vyse?"

"Nah, we've got bigger fish to fry, baby," Vyse answered.

He then shot another blind burst at the enemy so as not to expose himself. Aika did the same.


Edy shrieked as she and Homer were pursued by a field of enemy bullets. The two barged into a nearby butcher shop, where Ted Ustinov and his friend Melville Young were busy suppressing a group of five more soldiers. This came as a shock to Edy; the two jokers weren't supposed to be at that position.

Seeing Edy and Homer dart into the shop, Ted said, "Tough crowd today, huh?"

"You said it, Tedster," said Melville.

"What are you two idiots doing?" Edy screeched. "You're supposed to be guarding the back!"

"Got it covered, Edy," Ted said casually. "Say, remember that water pail joke we pulled on Nils two weeks ago?"

"Huh?" said Homer, confused. "What do you mean?"

Before Ted could answer, a pair of grenade explosions rocked the building, coming from the back entrance. Melville then said, "Ted and I came up with a special version for the Imps. Think they liked it?"

"I'd probably be lying if I said yes, Mel," said Ted with a laugh.

Edy sighed loudly at this. The tactic, though effective, wasn't funny to her.


Emile and Oscar Bielert crept through the upper floor of a partly damaged home, searching for good sniping positions and for enemy snipers. Though close combat wasn't their forte, they had been given specific orders by Welkin to search for enemy snipers. Thankfully, they had Alex Raymond with them for protection.

As Alex peered into a room, he signaled to the Bielert brothers that it was clear. The two snipers moved into the room and swung open the windows to pick their targets.

"See anything, Em?" asked Oscar.

"Nothing yet," Emile replied.

"So, what do I do?" asked Alex.

"Just watch the door and don't distract us, alright?" said Oscar.

"Right, suuure, I just looove guard duty."

Alex took his place in the adjacent hallway while Emile and Oscar searched for any targets of opportunity. Though there were plenty of enemy troops to target, the two brothers had been specifically ordered to make the Imperial snipers priority targets.

"Ugh, I can't find any of them," said Oscar.

"Cezary was always so good at finding them," said Emile.

"Don't go mentioning him, Em. He's no longer one of us."

"I know, I know. But still, you have to admit he was good at this kind of thing."

Oscar didn't say anything. Emile was right; Cezary had been the best sniper-hunter of Squad Seven before being expelled. But Oscar had never liked Cezary; despite his skill, he always looked down on the Bielert brothers as nuisances.

Then, Emile saw an Imperial sniper positioned on the stairs that wrapped around the side of the Sister Mills. Taking careful aim, Emile fired a shot. But to his dismay, the bullet missed by a few inches. The sniper, aware he was being targeted, dashed down the stairs, preventing Emile from lining up a shot.

"Dammit! I missed!"

Suddenly, Oscar looked down at the enemy below. A scout had seen them, and was directing his comrades to fire.

"Emile, get down!"

The two snipers ducked as a hail of bullets peppered their position. They were forced to crawl away from the windows; they'd have to find a new position now.


Marina slowly crept from room to room in an apartment that lined the main street of Bruhl. So far, she hadn't taken out any snipers. On the other side of the street, Catherine did the same as Marina.

Creeping up to a window, Marina saw Welkin's group slowly attempting to advance. However, a pair of anti-tank cannons kept the Edelweiss and Shamrock from moving forward safely. At the rate they were moving, it didn't look as though they were going to make it to the town center.

Marina's eyes scanned the windows and rooftops of Bruhl's buildings. Then, she saw an Imperial sniper hiding behind a chimney, aiming down at the main group. Marina took aim at the sniper with her Springfield.

But to Marina's shock, she couldn't keep her rifle straight. It continually trembled in her hand. An unfamiliar feeling seemed to wash over her: doubt. Doubt that she could really do any good in the battle. Doubt that she could live up to her goal to protect others.

What if she missed? The sniper would then be free to either escape or kill one of the others. Marina couldn't fathom it, but she couldn't deny it either. She was scared. Scared of failing the others. Scared of failing those in need. Scared of failing Gallia. Scared of failing Isara…

On the opposite side of the street, Catherine looked over and saw Marina aiming at something. But Marina hadn't fired. Concerned, Catherine looked at Marina through her scope, and was shocked to see a look of fear on her face.

Flicking on her short-range radio, Catherine said, "Marina, what's wrong? What are you doing?"

"…" Marina was silent, but Catherine could hear short, fearful breaths coming from the radio.

"Marina? Marina, talk to me! What's wrong?"

Catherine watched as Marina shut her exposed eye, clearly paralyzed in fear.

Down below, Rosie and Cherry hid behind a pair of sandbags as machine gun fire whizzed by them. The Edelweiss' cannon blared as it fired at an Imperial heavy tank, hitting its treads. Though damaged, the tank was still kicking.

Looking back at Largo and Jann, Rosie shouted, "Largo, Jann, cover us! We'll go after those guns!"

"Got it!" Largo responded. He and Jann dashed for Rosie's previous position as the lead shock trooper dashed out for a spot behind a pile of rubble with Cherry in tow.

Just then, Marina saw it. The sniper she was targeting had set his eyes on Rosie, and moved his rifle in her direction. Time seemed to slow down for Marina as it happened. Her mind screamed at her body to shoot, but she couldn't move.

"Marina! Don't just stand there!" Catherine shouted through the radio. "Do something!"

Something suddenly seemed to click for Marina. She pulled the trigger, just as the enemy sniper did.

"…"

Marina's shot had hit the sniper right between the eyes. He slumped over and fell off the roof, landing in an alley.

Now, worried about Rosie, Marina looked down at her position. Rosie was still alive, but was nursing a cut on her leg. It had been from the enemy sniper's shot.

"…No…" Marina grimaced at this sight, blaming herself for it because of her hesitation.

"Marina, did you get him?" said Catherine through the radio.

"…I got him… but… Rosie… Dammit!"

Marina pounded her fist against a wall in frustration. Catherine, seeing this, was at a loss for words.

Suddenly, Rosie's voice blared over the radio. "Hey Marina, care to cut that any closer? What the hell are you doing up there?"

"I… Dammit…!" Marina said as she pounded the wall again. "Isara, I…"

"Marina, snap out of it!" Rosie shouted. "You think you're the only one who let Isara down at Marberry?"

Marina's eyes shot open at these words.

"I was looking her in the eye when she was shot. The boss, all of us, we wanted to do something for her, but we couldn't! And somehow, you think it's alright for you to take all the blame? If you don't do anything here today, all you'll be doing is letting her down! You'll let ALL of us down! So get a grip and start shooting!"

If Rosie had slapped Marina in the face, it would've had the same effect. Any fear of failure Marina had once felt suddenly vanished, replaced by cold determination.

"…Understood…"

Raising her rifle, Marina moved to a new room and peered out into the street. Suddenly, her field of fire seemed to be filled with enemy snipers, ones she hadn't seen before. The return of her focus seemed to make them that much easier to spot now.

"…The hunt begins…"

Marina took aim at a sniper in a window and fired. The bullet went clean through his scope and skull, killing him instantly. Marina quickly reloaded and took aim at another sniper. Seconds later, the sniper toppled down to the street below with a bullet in his head.

On the ground, a scout noticed the blare of Marina's sniper rifle and shot up at the window with his rifle. Marina ducked into the window until the scout had fired off his rounds. Then, as the scout attempted to reload, Marina looked down at him, took aim, and sent a round clean through his head.

Meanwhile, the Edelweiss shuddered as an anti-tank round grazed its sloped armor. Welkin fired back at the enemy's gun emplacement, but the round missed. The Edelweiss had already taken a severe beating, and the Shamrock was also getting beat up by the enemy's cannons.

Welkin then heard his new pilot, Kreis Czherny, yelp in terror. "There's– There's too many of them! I can't– NO!"

"Stay with me, Kreis!" Welkin shouted. "Please, I need your help!"

"Welkin, I– I'm so scared! I don't wanna die! I don't wanna die!"

"We'll make it, Kreis! We have to! For Isara's sake, we'll make it!"

At that moment, an anti-tank shell slammed into the front of the Shamrock, piercing its armor. Smoke and fire began to bellow from the tank's innards.

"Zaka! Zaka, come in!"

Over the radio, Zaka responded amidst coughs, "I'm– I'm still here, boss. But the Shamrock can't take any more of this. I gotta pull out."

"Pull back, Zaka. We'll cover your retreat."

"Roger that. Sorry, boss."

The Shamrock whined as it began to move backwards, attempting to flee the combat zone. Seeing the tank's retreat, the Imperial commander ordered both of the cannons to target the Edelweiss.

Hiding behind a building, Largo shouted to Alicia, "Someone's gotta take out those cannons, or we're finished!"

"We can't get close to them!" shouted Alicia.

From her position, Rosie winced as a burst of machine gun fire peppered her cover, slowly chipping it away. She then said, "Marina, we could REALLY use your help right now!"

"…" Marina didn't respond, which worried Rosie. What if she didn't help?

From where she stood, Marina took aim at one of the crewmembers of the anti-tank cannons. The soldier was busy loading another round into the cannon. Marina took careful aim, but not at the soldier.

"Good night…!"

Marina fired. Her round struck the now-armed shell the soldier had been loading into the cannon, setting off its payload. The explosion destroyed the cannon, killing its crew as well. The explosion also carried over to the adjacent shells, setting them off.

"…Antitank cannon destroyed…"

Amazed, Rosie said, "That'll do nicely…"

"Good job, Marina," Welkin said over the radio. "But there's still one cannon to deal with."

"I don't have a shot, sir," said Marina.

"I know. Rosie, you, Largo and Nadine have to take that cannon out. Marina, Catherine, provide sniper support. Everybody else, cover fire."

A unanimous "Roger!" was heard over the radio. Marina reloaded her rifle as she said, "…Understood, sir…"

Largo and Nadine moved up to Rosie's position as she suppressed a pair of shock troopers. Alicia, Noce, and Cherry fired at the enemy positions as best they could to suppress. Susie, however, was too petrified in fear to shoot; she had always hated killing, and even if it meant retaking Bruhl she couldn't bring herself to take a life.

From her position, Catherine spotted a sniper as he drew a bead on Noce. Catherine fired at the sniper, hitting him in the chest and killing him. But then, a sharp pain suddenly ripped through Catherine's arm. Another sniper had spotted her and hit her in the upper right arm, missing her head. But seconds later, the sniper took a hit to his head from Marina and died instantly.

Clasping the bleeding wound in her arm, Catherine grunted, "Urgh…! Sorry Marina, but I have to pull out!" Catherine then pulled back through the building, making for the village perimeter.

Marina, now on her own, looked back in Rosie's direction. She and Largo were slowly but surely making their way to the last anti-tank cannon. A heavy Gatling gun had the two pinned down, letting a pair of shock troopers move up close to them. Marina took aim at the gunner operating the Gatling gun and put a bullet through his skull.

"…Gunner neutralized…"

The gunner's companion, however, had seen Marina's shot. He quickly took control of the Gatling gun and unleashed a hail of heavy bullets at Marina's position. Marina dove to the floor to avoid being shredded.

Seeing that the gunner was distracted, Largo raised his Lancaar lance and fired at the Gatling gun. The turret was disintegrated, along with its operator. Now free to move, Rosie swung out from cover and killed the two advancing shock troopers. As Nadine reloaded Largo's Lancaar, Rosie dashed for a nearby bar and dove through a broken window. Taking cover, Rosie smirked at how her choice of cover was ironic, considering her background.

Motioning to Largo, Rosie shouted, "Get over here, you big lug! Hurry!"

Largo made a hard dash to the bar with Nadine close behind as bullets rained around them. As the two entered the building, Largo turned and saw he had a perfect shot at the second anti-tank cannon. Largo raised his lance and fired, blowing the cannon to a fiery ball of scrap.

"All clear, boss!" Largo said over the radio. "Cannon's been dealt with."

"Good job, Sevens!" Welkin replied. "Kreis, move us forward. Let's finish this!"

"R– Roger that, sir!"

The Edelweiss, though damaged, began to roll forward and fired a shell at some sandbags, blowing them away with the soldiers that hid behind them. Alicia, Noce and Cherry moved behind the Edelweiss, soon joined by Rosie, Largo, Nadine and Jann.

From her sniper perch, Marina watched as the Edelweiss began plowing through the Imperial defenses as it approached the center of town. The Imperials, with their defenses shattered, began fleeing in terror as the other Sevens began moving into the town center from other paths.

The battle was all but over. Squad Seven had won.

As Marina sat down on the floor, she sighed in relief. "…Isara… please, rest easy now…"


That night was a time of celebration for Squad Seven. Alicia was busy in the town bakery producing loaf after loaf of bread, while Melville and Ted provided laughs through a comedy routine. And around a roaring bonfire, Freesia York performed in a flowing dance before the men and women of the Gallian Militia.

Marina, however, chose to exclude herself from the festivities. She had hidden herself away in the Sister Mills, where it was dark and cold. She wanted to be alone.

"…"

Marina was still blaming herself for hesitating in the battle. Such a thing had never happened to her before, and she couldn't get past allowing herself to let it happen. If she hadn't hesitated, maybe the others wouldn't have had such difficulty in the battle.

None of the Sevens had been killed, but many were wounded. Karl Landzaat had been hospitalized from a sniper wound, but the medic Mina said he would make a full recovery. Lynn hadn't left his side since the end of the battle. Hearing news of this didn't make Marina feel any better.

"…Was this the best I could do…?" Marina pondered to herself.

"Moink…? Moink…!"

Marina looked down at her feet to see Hans snuggling against her leg. She picked up the porcavian and stroked his ears.

"…Hans… you were worried about me?"

"Moi-oink!"

Marina smiled at this response, something she wouldn't have let anyone else see.

"A lousy performance today, Wulfstan. Quite lousy."

Marina's eyes shot wide open at hearing the familiar voice. Her eyes darted around, trying to find the source. Then, she noticed her radio was still on.

As she picked up the radio, the voice said, "You've lost your touch, Wulfstan. I wouldn't have hesitated the way you did."

"…Cezary…!"

"Oh good, you remember me."

"How did you get this frequency?"

"It wasn't that hard, considering what I have to work with."

From his hiding place, Cezary Regard held a sniper rifle in his hands as he sat next to a Gallian-made handheld radio.

"Where are you, you piece of–"

"My, my, you're in a bad mood," Cezary interrupted. "You might want to pick your words more carefully. From where I'm standing, I have a perfect shot at the Sister Mills. And that includes that damn pig."

Marina froze; Cezary had her in his crosshairs. He had the perfect opportunity to kill her, and every motivation. So why didn't he shoot?

"…Why don't you get it over with, then?"

"Now? It's tempting, but killing you right now would be too easy. Besides, with all these patrols crawling around, I doubt I'd live to tell the tale. But don't worry; I'll be back for you. I'll be back very soon."

Cezary said nothing more, cutting off the transmission. Looking out the window, Marina peered around for any sign of Cezary, but found nothing.

"…"

For nearly an hour, Marina stared off into the encroaching night.

End of Chapter 2

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