I just want to thank you once again, to all of you who have continued following this story. This took a long time, and with good reason! First off, I was watching a lot of Bleach lately (an epic series, if you have not watched it). But this is the Valkyria Chronicles archive. I'm not ditching the Gallian Militia for the Soul Reapers. That said, it took a while for even me to realize that, and to actually finish the endings of this chapter. Second reason for delays, this chapter ended up being longer than the Barious and the Kloden escape chapter, so if you're short on time, be aware and try and read when you have enough free time. This chapter is 20,000 plus words! And it's strange how long I make something that most writers merely overlook. I fear I may have drawn this out too long, and I have a feeling these chapters are only going to get longer, minus the occasional out-of-battle scene in the barracks. I put quite a bit of effort in this, so I hope you can enjoy. Also, special thanks to Snowman23, who helped me come up with a few ideas. I made a couple subtle references to the works of Snowman in this chapter, sort of as a shout-out. Also, if you think I should divide this into two chapters, let me know. This chapter ended up being so much longer than I could have ever anticipated, so I hope you can at least enjoy some of the work I've put out for you. I apologize also if some of the sections seem at bit fast-paced or choppy (then again, I never seem to satisfy my standards/paranoia of not being accepted to be worthy of the VC author's ranks...). So, without further ado...
It has been a few days since the promotion, and Peter was still relatively new to being made into his new position as a Corporal. He'd expected Varrot to be a bit furious at him, and yet she was rather kind compared to her normal attitude and demeanor. The scout wondered how much of his promotion was due in part to his old friends at Squad 3, or the Lieutenant's influence. What bugged him the most though, was how Welkin seemed like he thought Peter could accomplish anything, but he was just one guy. Welkin always thought much more of his lowly squad members than most other officers would. Sometimes, dedication and loyalty probably helped a bit in terms of actual combat. As Peter pondered his future regarding the Squad, some of his friends said congrats on his new position, and others were somewhat astonished.
"Damn... I still can't believe you made Corporal... I mean, it's weird to think you're my superior officer now..."
Peter could only shrug in response to Noce's remark. Although significant in its own right, Peter didn't exactly feel special or refined. Though it meant he would now be able to a couple troops in a small team, he didn't feel as... changed as he thought a promotion would endow. To him, all it did was add an additional elaborate patch on his uniform. Peter looked to his side, as if for some kind of answer, but the crowds in the mess hall served no help. Looking down at the plate of military provisions serving as his breakfast, he took a bite before hesitantly explaining.
"Yeah... it's not as... endearing as I thought it would be, but you know..." Peter stammered, not exactly sure how to put it. "But Welkin thinks a lot of me, so I suppose I can't let him down."
Noce was writing out something on a piece of paper, presumably another ballad for Alicia. However, the mention of Welkin's name caused Noce to lose focus. He attempted to continue writing, though in frustration he crumpled up the paper and pulled out a new sheet.
"Well, he hasn't exactly been the best commander, but at least he knows you're a good enough guy. I'll at least give him that," Noce said, continuing to scribble something on a piece of paper. His fellow watchman paused and raised a brow.
"What do you mean, 'he hasn't exactly been the best commander?'" Peter asked. "I mean, he's been a good enough guy, he's won every battle so far, and he's led this single squad better than Damon ever did with the Regular's army."
"Well no shit, Peter. A drunk Darcsen in an Imperial uniform could lead the army better than Fatass-Damon! But that's not the point. Welkin's been too... too naive, he's been hiding behind this veil of the greatest guy ever only because of his father, and-"
"Damn it, Noce, calm down!" Peter exclaimed, standing up from his seat. Despite how much louder Peter was than the rest of the clamor in the mess hall of Fort Amatrain, not too many people paid too much attention to their squabble and continued on their own affairs. "First of all, what the hell do you have against Darcsens? Second, why the hell do you hate Welkin so much? I mean, is it just because he happens to spend a lot of time with Alicia? That's her decision to make. Besides, she's the squad's Master Sergeant. Why the hell shouldn't she be spending a lot of time with Welkin? This is all probably just in your head, Noce," Peter explained, his voice still raised.
"Peter, I know you're my friend, but..." Noce quietly said. He stood up from his own seat, standing in a rather imposing stance. Even though he was a bit shorter than his fellow watchman, Peter stood his ground. "Peter... when you talk about anything, making fun of me, or whatever... I'll let it slide. But if you talk about me and Alicia... you'll be crossing a fucking line... I know that this isn't just my imagination. The way she looks at him, the way she stands at attention to him... the way I wish she'd see me... I know that there's something. And god damn it, it's not fair! After all I've done for her, she can at least... To think she falls for some stupid ass like Welkin!"
"Then why the hell are you too much of a coward to tell her how you feel?" Peter retorted. Noce glared at Peter in the eye. His features tensed a bit, as if to yell something back in response. However, his face softened, and he slowly slid back to his seat.
"Because... if she can't accept me, if I get rejected... Go ahead and shoot me for all I care. To not be accepted by Alicia would be the worst of pains..." Noce quietly said. "As for the racial slur... it just slipped from my tongue. I'm sure you understand." He looked down at the poem he was writing earlier, and he hastily crumpled it up and tossed it. Peter, in response, had nothing to say about that. He rested back down in his own seat and continued eating his breakfast.
Amidst the heated discussion, Susie Evans sat timidly between the two, too afraid of breaking up the argument for fear she might instigate things further. Even through all the chattering of the squads in the mess hall, the very air around Peter and Noce exhibited a quiet, and even lamented aura. As the uncomfortable silence prolonged, the blonde decided to at least step up to break the silent atmosphere, and change the subject.
"So, I heard that the ambassador to the Atlantic Federation is coming over at Randgriz tonight," Susie said, hoping to at least get some sort of small talk going. Though both of them were silent for a moment, Peter turned his full attention to Susie, with Noce hesitantly following soon after.
"What brings the Feds over to Gallia? They come to bug us for more Ragnite again? At least it's more polite than invading our country, unlike some... others..." Peter rambled.
"No, actually there are rumors that the ambassador is proposing an alliance with Gallia, and the Prime Minister and Princess are holding a hearing. They're also honoring troops in the war with a feast. I heard that Welkin and Alicia are-"
Susie stopped herself mid-sentence at mentioning the names of the two people that spur Noce to rant on again. Thankfully, his annoyed expression wasn't focused on that.
"Why the hell would Gallia ally itself with the Federation? We can solve our own problems without their damn interference," Noce explained.
"I guess they are essentially taking our Ragnite. They're just veiling their true intentions with an alliance," Peter sighed. Susie glanced at the two watchmen, visibly disturbed, before adding her opinion.
"But wouldn't an alliance be good? We could be at peaceful terms with the Federation, and they'd help us fight the Empire. Plus, if we let them use our resources, they can probably end the whole war altogether. It could solve a lot of our problems, and Gallia might be made stronger because of it," Susie chirped, already expressing her fancy with the idea.
"Yeah, but Susie... They're just exploiting us for our resources. Feds might just be taking our Ragnite to fuel their own purposes. Plus they'll exploit Gallia's strategic position on the map. You say you hate war, Susie? Us joining them just might add fuel to their fire," Peter sincerely said. Susie looked over to Noce, as if to ask him his own a opinion. The poet scoffed in response to his colleague's comment, though still nodded his head in agreement.
"Yeah, Peter's right. An alliance means fighting someone else's war, for someone else's country, for someone else's reasons. It's a load of political bullshit, no doubt because of the work our oh so delightful regent..."
"Theoretically, what'll happen when the Federation/Gallian alliance defeats the Empire? We're just going to be subjects to the Fed's council and chancellors? I don't think so. They'll use us just to probably invade more countries. An alliance is supposed to bring about peace, not another war. War's stupid if you're fighting for the wrong reasons," Peter explained. "I mean, if we end up wasting our lives for what some council wants, then Gallians will probably have died for a meaningless cause. You don't want that, don't you Susie?"
Susie stayed silent, not exactly sure how to respond to that. Peace and alliances were very good, and there was no proof that those things Noce and Peter described would happen. Susie's wealthy family had several friends and contacts in the Federation, including several powerful politicians. They didn't seem so bad. That said, Susie knew that there was always a dark underbelly to anything's source of power and influence, even behind her own family's wealth. She had heard several questionable and disturbing things behind her own father's rise to wealth and power. Politics and war was simply a living entity, very unpredictable and dangerous. While it was good to see that Peter and Noce could talk and agree on something after their recent squabble, though in the end, it ironically left Susie in her own silence as the two continued talking about the Federation and Gallian politics, as if nothing happened earlier. Ever since the war, the two's friendship has always been something of a rocky one. While the two criticized one policy and another, Susie was left to her own accord once again, reflecting on just how dangerous a peaceful world might really be beneath its seemingly pure shell. Peace is still a desirable choice, though Susie pondered that she might have think about the road getting there.
Nothing much else happened throughout the day. He heard rumors of some kind of party going around the squads, due in part that the lieutenants and higher officers were allowed entry into Randgriz castle without the rest of them. In the silence, Peter could even faintly hear some orchestrated music coming from the floor below him. However, the scout didn't exactly seem in the mood. As the sunset fell, and the night took over with its starry skies, Peter contemplated. Looking through an open window on one of the balconies of Squad 7's quarters, Peter looked on towards the lit city standing before him. The lights were all on in the houses, and the castle literally gleamed like one from a fairy tale. Peter looked on at the city, wondering if people who moved to Bruhl were actually telling a fact that cities were crowded and noisy compared to the countryside. Randgriz didn't seem bad. In contrast to Bruhl, it seemed like a horrible place to live, yet in the few times of military leave, Peter was actually able to explore a bit. Districts in Randgriz still had residents dotting it (most of which were older citizens who weren't currently drafted). It seemed like not half as bad as he initially thought in his youth... He might've gone and moved there for a change. Peter quickly scoffed and rubbed the thought out.
"No... no, I can't move out of Bruhl... the town's in my blood..." Peter muttered, looking at the shawl around his neck, and glancing at the hat on his head.
Peter thought of what was happening in Bruhl right now. The town was no doubt in ruins by now. It's been about four months since Bruhl's invasion, the brave men and women of the town watch laying down their lives to buy time for the citizens. Looking back, Peter felt like a complete coward for leaving Bruhl with Susie, even if the watch was faced with impossible odds. And some day, Peter knew he had to go back to face Bruhl in the rebuilding, and help out. There was no way he wasn't going to fulfill the commitment to his city, though the thought of seeing the town he once knew as a former shadow of itself was... unnerving. Whenever Peter thought of Bruhl, he always wished it could go back to normal. Dan being his partner in crime. Noce being the uptight poet the former two made fun of. Hunting around the nearby forests. Watching the proud Bruhl windmills. Watching out for Susie, without wondering if she could die the next day. Nothing in the border town would ever be the same again. Sighing as he looked off to the horizon, Peter stared off to the starry gaze, and looked towards the horizon, with Randgriz Castle flashing out behind the midnight sky.
"Huh... maybe I could move here some day. Randgriz is... pretty." Peter then raised his brows at the comment that left his mouth and scoffed. "Yeah right. So's the sun. But if I keep looking at either of them, I'll go blind..." Peter scoffed. "What am I thinking? Bruhl's the only place for me. I was born there, I'll probably die there... considering Imps don't get me first..."
Peter turned his head away from the incriminating view of the city's skyline. If he just turns his back on Bruhl like he did back during the initial assault, he wouldn't forgive himself. The prospect of dying before even being able to return to Bruhl would seem even more of an insult. Peter sighed and looked for a distraction. Thinking that the supposed party downstairs was as good as any, the Bruhler walked out of the empty office downstairs. What he saw surprised him. In the wide open space in the center of the tank hangar, several members of the squad were dancing around, some with or without partners. They danced around the small band of militia men and women who played a couple of instruments, forming their own little orchestra. Most people Peter couldn't recognize, though the sight of people simply blowing off steam and enjoying themselves was enough to bring something of a smile to his face. Hell, people even wore casual clothing, or elaborate dresses and suits instead of military uniform. The blue militia uniform made Peter seem out of place, even if his hat and shawl just made him look like a well-equipped civilian (which incidentally enough, wasn't too far from the truth). Peter walked on, observing the waltzes and graceful (or awkward) movements of everyone. As he continued pacing around the tank hangar, or dance floor as they used it, Peter noticed a peculiar sight. Two girls were attempting to practice a sort of dance, both of them doing reasonably bad. Peter didn't have the slightest clue of dancing, though he was pretty confident that they were very uncoordinated. Peter laughed a bit at the comical event.
"Oh, ow! Stop stepping on my toes!" exclaimed the first girl.
"Ah, I'm sorry! T-that was my fault..." replied the second.
"Darn it, Nancy! You told me you could dance!"
"I did! I mean... I danced in middle school, but I was still a bit high in the class rankings!" Nancy replied. The klutz adjusted her glasses nervously."Oh... I'm sorry, Claudia."
"Ugh, how am I supposed to impress anyone when we both end up stumbling around? You're a nice gal, Nancy... maybe I should've asked Freesia..." Claudia replied. Peter raised a brow.
"So... What's going on here?" Peter asked. The sound of his voice caused both girls to jump. Both girls seemed to have had trouble calming down before composing themselves and turning to Peter. Opened her mouth, though hesitated slightly. After clearing her throat, she replied.
"Oh, well haven't you heard about that little ball that's going on here? I'm surprised you just got here," Claudia said, a hint of curiosity in her voice. "Since the lieutenant is off to his own meeting with the Princess of Gallia, leaving us behind, we tried to have our own little ball. For fun."
"A ball? Is that what they're calling it now?" Peter asked, laughing a bit. "The things people come up with..."
"Yeah... can't you tell?" Claudia asked. It there that Peter noticed what Claudia was wearing. She definitely wasn't wearing something standard of the militia, and they were pretty liberal about dress code as is. She was clad in a faded red dress, with some makeshift and improvised stitching which was clearly made to look formal. The fact she was wearing her traditional headband that matched with her outfit made her seem very peculiar and odd. She did about a twirl and let the bottom of the dress circle around with her and flourished a bow. Nancy was wearing a similar outfit that matched a hat not unlike Peter's. However, it looked less cheesy without special elaborate stitching.
"What the hell are you wearing?" Peter blurted. Despite the blunt nature of his question, Claudia still kept a somewhat cheery demeanor.
"It's a dress... Does it look convincing?" she asked. Clearly, she looked like she was very interested in the coming answer, so Peter stopped to think about his words.
"I think you look great," Peter said, though he was partly lying. The stitching on her dress alone made it tacky enough, let alone the fact she kept the headband. "Though I think you need to lose the headband. It seems out of place," he admitted.
Claudia looked down toward the ground to think before raising her head up. "Why do you wear your hat all the time?" she asked, seemingly out of nowhere.
"Because of my father...?" Peter replied, not sure where this was going. Claudia nodded at Peter's statement.
"Exactly. You honor your father, and I honor mine by wearing this," she said, pointing to the worn red band around her forehead.
Peter face palmed, almost wanting to kick himself for not remembering that fact that she told him when they first met. "So... What are you doing? I mean, you're still dressed in...that, and I assume you're still dancing?"
"Well..." Claudia stammered. "I was practicing how to dance with Nancy... but she hasn't been the 'ideal partner' so far..." Claudia began. Nancy quickly made an apologetic expression. "But I just want to try and get better, you know? I want to make myself look good in front of... certain people..."
"You're kidding. Why are you even doing this, doesn't it seem... childish?" Peter questioned skeptically. Claudia did about a mock gasp, though she seemed to be keeping her expression light-hearted.
"Oh, c'mon. Live a little! It's just fun!"
"Heh... Fine, do you want me to help you out a little?" Peter asked, shrugging his shoulders.
"Wait... what?" Claudia stammered.
"Sure, I might be able to help out with your problem. I might not know much of dancing, but I think I have better... footing..." Peter said, trying his best not to make Nancy feel bad.
"Are you sure?" Claudia insisted, her face a faint shade of red. "I mean, you don't have to if, if you don't want to. If y-you've got other things to do, or you might be dancing with Sus-"
Interrupting Claudia's rant, Peter took Claudia's hand to the dancing area. The engineer tried mouthing words to Nancy, as if for some sort of help, however the klutz was distracted by Ted, who was chatting her up, before leaving altogether. Seeing her friend not a reliable source of help anymore, Claudia turned to her partner.
"Hey, you said to live a little, right?" Peter repeated. Somewhat unsure, the headband-clad girl shrugged her shoulders and sighed.
"Yeah..." Claudia replied, smiling a bit. "I guess I did..."
Noce Wordsworth stood in his corner, separated from the rest of the group. Some of the older 7's were off watching, or off on their own activities as the others danced across an open space in what was once the tank hangar. A small group of 7's, most of whom Noce couldn't recognize, were playing instruments, including a piano, a violin, and even a tuba played by Melville of all people. Noce looked at the stage of dancers. Some groups were rather obvious, such as Lynn dancing with Karl (the latter of whom had difficulty due to an injury sustained in the escape from Kloden). Despite that, his lover caringly acted as his crutch for the duration of the song. Homer and that annoying girl, Edy were dancing, though every time the engineer made a mistake in his footing, or was off beat to the song being played, Edy would strike him. Yet he still enthusiastically complies and changes accordingly. Now that took patience. Or it was simply his masochistic and twisted outlook on life. Hermes was humorously dancing with himself, though every once in a while, a girl humored him for a short song. But he never convinced another girl to dance with him for a second song. Freesia undoubtedly was dominating the dance floor (her partner Salinas was there just to look good beside her; he couldn't hold a light to her skill). Other pairings were... surprising. Ted of all people was dancing with Nancy, and Noce thought that the infamous jester had a thing for Marina. Or maybe he did, and was just dancing with Nancy because Marina wouldn't allow Ted within twenty feet of her.
Noce looked on, thinking how fun the event looked. Hell, he'd have to write about this some day. Still, as fun as this event could be, Noce was still a tad depressed at the notion.
"Damn... if only Alicia were here..." Noce sighed, wishing for a single moment with Alicia to call his own.
"Alicia? What do you possibly see in her?" a voice retorted. Noce shockingly looked back to see a blonde woman in a pair of glasses sitting next to him. Unlike most other people in the room, she was wearing her standard militia uniform. The mention of the master sergeant's name put an ugly scowl on an otherwise pretty face. Noce had no idea who this woman was, or what her problem was.
"What the hell do you have against Alicia?" Noce asked accusingly.
"I don't know what people see in her. What makes her so special?" the woman asked.
"How can you say that?" Noce questioned, raising his voice. "Besides, who do you like that can even be compared to Alicia?"
The woman laughed, and her eyes were lowered, as if daydreaming. "The man I like... is Welkin Gunth-"
"The lieutenant? What the hell?" Noce shouted.
The woman reacted quickly by grabbing the front of Noce's uniform and dragging his face close to hers. "Keep your voice down! I don't want people to hear about this..." she told him in a hushed voice, almost threateningly.
"What the hell is up with Welkin? He's naive, he's oblivious, and he hides behind his father's fame!" Noce argued, his voice somewhat lowered. The blonde woman loosened her grip Noce's shirt, though an annoyed expression was on her face.
"Don't you dare say that about Welkin! He is a kind and great man who has helped save your ass more than once! And what is this Alicia's problem? She's just trying to veil herself as a cute and defenseless girl who the commander needs to protect! She's just a damsel dangling in front of the lieutenant! I mean, he's of course going to help her, but she's just going to-"
"Hey! Don't say that about Alicia! I will have you know that she's was a captain at the Bruhl Town Watch, and she was one hell of a shot! She can prove herself in a fight. Unlike Welkin, who hides in a tank while we're dying on the front lines..."
"Well I'll have you know that Welkin is a handsome and intelligent man, a graduate from the Randgriz University, and his extensive intelligence about nature and the Gallian environment has won us many battles! His experience as a tank commander also gives us our ace, and without him, you'd be taking the brunt of some tank shell! I mean, what's Alicia's special talent? Shouldn't Welkin be with someone as smart as he is?"
"Hey! Alicia is a selfless person, a protector, and she'd die for her friends! She's a baker too, and always makes the greatest breads, and contributes to the community in more ways than just researching in some city university! She should be with someone who helps out the town as much as she does!"
"Welkin has helped people throughout his whole life! He's taught children, he's come up with several new discoveries to the academic and biological world, and he does all of this in his life, while looking after his sister Isara, without any other family support whatsoever!"
"Alicia has proven herself to be the bravest and strongest soldier of Squad 7!"
"Lieutenant Gunther has only little experience, and yet he has proven himself to be the greatest commander in the Gallian Militia!"
Both Noce and Juno opened their mouths, as if to remark another comment as to why their love interest is the greatest person in the world, though both of them were speechless. They weren't out of things to say; they could do that all day. But when each of them listened momentarily to the comments and praise of Welkin and Alicia, the two hopeless romantics lowered their heads, in resignation and defeat. With the information soaking in, they realized just how pathetic they must seem in comparison to each of their counterparts.
"A baker... a protector... a friend of everyone..." Juno muttered.
"A graduate... a selfless guy... a leader..." Noce repeated.
"No wonder they like each other..." they both said in unison.
Juno looked toward the ground shamefully, while Noce buried his face in his palms. Both of them sat in depressing silence, thinking about the now-bleak possibility that their life-long friends could ever be with them.
"So, I assume Alicia chose Welkin over you?" the glasses-wearing girl asked.
"Yeah... and Welkin chose Alicia over you?" Noce replied. The woman nodded. Both of them sighed.
"Unfortunately... Anyway, I'm Juno."
The two nodded again, though each of them sat in silence. The air hung with an intense, uncomfortable feeling, only broken by the relative cheerfulness of the music playing by the dance floor. Noce got back to observing the dance floor. The crowd hadn't died out yet, and people were as cheerful as ever. However, amongst the crowd, Noce was able to see a familiar blue hat, and a familiar cursed headband. When he saw the two walking toward the dance floor, he tried to come up with several conclusions as to what the two could be doing, though Noce was led to a single answer each time.
"Well, I'll be damned..." Noce said. It was surprising to say the least, and the poet would definitely have to talk to him about this later.
Seeing as how even Peter seemed to be getting up towards the dance floor made him a bit antsy. Noce just at least wanted to blow off the steam and just do something he hadn't done since he joined the militia: have fun. He'd been a bit crabby and angered over Welkin taking away Alicia, and maybe this was necessary. And now way in hell he was going to stoop down the Herme's level and dance himself. Hesitantly, Noce looked to his side and saw Juno, who was also looking at him quizzically. Both opened their mouths, as to say something, though each of them nodded and read each other's minds, as Noce walked with Juno to the dance floor.
That act didn't mean anything. Noce stayed faithful that Welkin would screw up and Alicia would be left heartbroken. Then, he planned to swoop in and comfort Alicia and tell her everything's going to be all right. Noce also knew that Juno would no doubt be waiting for Welkin to screw up his relationship too. Then she could swoop in too, and everybody would be happy. Until then, Noce was perfectly content to dancing a waltz alongside the bespectacled beauty known as Juno.
And Juno knew that she was content with dancing with this country poet, until the time Alicia screws up her relationship with Welkin, and she and Noce could pick up the pieces of their broken hearts.
Until then, the hopeless romantics danced a melodic waltz, with as much twisting rhythms, swaying tones, and odd expressions as their own minds.
Peter guided Claudia towards the dancing area, as the small band of 7's started to play a new tune, a jazzy and rather fast one.
"Hey, I love this song! Let's go!" Claudia exclaimed, now being the one guiding Peter.
As they ran into the crowd, Peter attempted to try and strike a stance similar to a dance position that the people around him took, and how he felt a dancing stance should look in his own mind. Claudia did the same, though Peter could tell her stance was a bit awkward.
"Do you have any idea what you're doing?" Peter asked. The luckless girl looked down at her feet, though Peter couldn't tell if she was a bit embarrassed, or simply checking her footing.
"No..." she meekly responded.
"Neither do I."
That was enough to give her some slight encouragement. As the notes playing paced faster, Peter attempted to move alongside Claudia, however his focus was interrupted by a strange noise coming from the background. Several other of the 7's also heard it, until the band's music was interrupted altogether just to hear what the disturbance was. A siren echoed throughout the buildings in Fort Amatrain, and people stood in wonder as to what could be going on. Several confused, nervous, or otherwise uncomfortable faces stood throughout the tank hangar, at a loss of what could be going on.
"Just my luck... What is that...?" Claudia asked. Most of the squad was now visibly nervous. "Are the Imps breaching the town's walls?" Lots of chatter and panicked voices filled the crowd as soon as Claudia said that. Cursing herself for even mentioning such a thing out loud in a crowd, the luckless girl tried to calm down the people around her, trying to assure them that they weren't being invaded.
"Some kind of emergency siren, I know that much... hey, wait a sec..." Peter mumbled. As the siren blared throughout the base, a new strange noise was being played, coming from several locations within the crowd. Peter looked down and noticed his radio receiving a transmission.
It became clear that the noise was static coming from the radios the 7's had on them. Those still in uniform, or otherwise kept their radios stopped to listen. More static, followed by slight chatter in the background followed, until a clear and recognizable voice came on through the channels. All of the 7's began huddling up to those with the radios, just to hear what could be going on.
"Bzzt... Attention all units! Attention all units! This is Captain Eleanor Varrot of the Gallian Militia!"
The crowd stayed dead silent at the voice of their captain. Each of them stood at attention, nervously waiting for whatever orders were going to be thrown at them.
"Bzzt... Princess Cordelia has been kidnapped by Federation operatives. I need all units in the area to mobilize themselves at once!"
Throughout the entire squad, there was an uproar of shock, anger, surprise, and rage. Throughout the crowd, people were shouting things, some of them slurs on the Federation, and some even took arms.
"My god... those bastards..." Peter muttered under his breath. His brows furrowed, and the scout found himself clenching his fists. "Those sons a bitches..."
Those still in uniform with their equipment started heading out, and even some squad members in their civilian clothes took nothing more than a rifle and a ragnaid capsule. Everyone else headed to their barracks, to gather their things and take the fight to the Feds. Seeing a team in uniform already marching outside through the hangar doors, Peter took off in their direction though he felt someone tugging at his arm. Peter quickly turned around to see a distraught Claudia.
"Hey... you still owe me a dance!" she exclaimed.
Peter nodded in recognition, and took off after the engineer loosened her grip. She then ran off with the rest of the squad towards the barracks to change into their equipment.
"Bzzt... This is Captain Varrot of the Gallian Militia! I need any units in the area to go towards any and all ports at the edge of Randgriz. We have reason to believe that they will attempt to pull out by boat! Be advised, the Feds are traveling in an armed and armored car. And no explosives! Repeat! No explosives at all! We cannot risk harming the Princess! Use small arms to take out their radiators... Your mission is to rescue Her Highness unharmed. Failure isn't an option on this one, soldiers..."
Peter continued patrolling the area. The team in front of him divided up, presumably to scout out the armored vehicle's location. For all they knew, the Feds might have been on the other side of town, or somewhere far off and away from the squad's line of sight. Despite any doubt, every Gallian knew what the risks and duties were, and spreading out offered better chances of finding the Federation ops. Each marched on, scouting positions and ready to get the princess back. Peter started patrolling a alleyway, south towards the warehouse district.
It was almost an hour, and by now, a unit had to be positioned at every major exit in Randgriz, including the Royal Guard and Squad 7. It didn't take long for Peter to realize that they were some of the only line of defense. Aside from the royal guard, Squads 7 and 9 were the only military forces in Randgriz, and the 9's were on the opposite side of Randgriz. Everyone else was deployed somewhere, and the Regulars were barely reliable considering they had to cover Damon's ass. Collaborating with the local police forces in Randgriz, blockades and searches were being conducted of every vehicle passing by certain checkpoints across the capital. Progress was being broadcasted through radio channels. And so far, no luck recovering the car with Princess Cordelia.
Peter was pacing back and forth across a maze of alleys in the warehouse district close to a nearby port, with some other 7's wandering the area. Peter had a map of Randgriz in his possession to help get his bearings. He was in a southern port and storage area known as the Graz Warehouse District. The night and pure silence, backed up by what was at stake on this mission, gave Peter nothing but anxiety, as he sweated, moving back and forth through the endless hallways of a seemingly mirrored street or alley. The fact that nobody reported any sightings of an armored vehicle driving around was troubling. How stealthy could a large armored car be? Either they mapped some sort of secret path, the intel on their vehicle or means of transportation was off, or the Feds were listening to their radio chatter. If the the latter was true, then that meant they knew where an area could be at its weakest. Or maybe the Federation already made out with Princess Cordelia. The very thought shivered Peter's bones. No, they couldn't have. Peter tried to stay as alert as he could. In this particular operation, the Bruhler knew he was participating in something far larger than he was.
"Damn it, damn it, damn it..." Peter kept repeating. He couldn't help but clench his teeth, and tighten the grip on his rifle. This was the Princess that rode on the line. Nothing the Imps were able to throw seemed as much as an immediate threat as what the Federation was plotting.
"Hey, Peter!" Peter immediately turned around, Gallian rifle in hand, and aimed towards the voice. Claudia Mann raised her hands in the air innocently. "I-it's me, Claudia!"
Peter sighed and lowered the gun. He saw that she was now in uniform, though much of the heavy engineer equipment she usually wears, like her repairing tools, were left behind, only leaving a few pouches and a backpack. "Damn, this is really getting to me... We're just a couple of militia grunts, Claudia... why the hell are we trying to rescue the future Duchess of Gallia?"
Claudia lowered her arms slowly. "I dunno... then again, what makes being a soldier and defending Gallia from the Imperials any different?"
The blue-capped scout didn't respond, instead continuing his sweep of the area. With no response, Claudia merely sighed and joined in on Peter's patrol. It was comforting to have another set of feet following behind him, though Peter was still bordering paranoid on the situation at hand. He paced his steps, holding the rifle and using a keep eye to look in the distance. Peter noticed ladder leading up to a stairwell to the roof of a warehouse. Without warning, Peter climbed up the ladder and walked up the stairs, still leaving Claudia trying to catch up. Once on the roof, the scout took his binoculars out and started looking across Randgriz's urban landscape. He tried to pick out a vehicle, or any sign suspicious activity. As Peter looked for the kidnappers, Claudia looked towards the horizon and the moonlit waters of the Vasel River. She looked at the waters and the harbor, in nostalgia and wonder.
"You know, Randgriz kinda reminds me of my old town Port Water..." Claudia said. Peter listened, though he was too focused on scouting around to actually respond, or turn his head to face her even. "It was an old harbor and trading town, and people used to import and export things from Gallia to and from the Federation... Seeing these docks here kinda reminds me of that..."
In the midst of Claudia's talk of her home town, Peter noticed a man patrolling an alleyway in the warehouse district. Peter took a careful look at the man, trying to see anything that could be regarded as suspicious. He didn't look familiar, and he was definitely wearing a uniform from the Militia. A metal helmet covered his head and features.
"You know, Port Water was always crowded too, and there was always something going on everywhere... Of course, lots of people and things going on didn't exactly go well for me, considering my bad-"
"Claudia, do you know who that guy is? Is he another member of the squad?" Peter interrupted. The engineer stopped her rant, and quizzically looked at him. The Bruhler handed her his binoculars, and Claudia looked through the lenses. She carefully observed him.
"Huh... is he a policeman? No, he's wearing a militia uniform... I know a bunch of people on the squad by face, but I don't recognize him... Maybe he's from Squad 9 like the Captain said earlier?" she asked.
"No, Varrot also mentioned that Squad 9's on the other side of the city, opposite from us. What the hell is a Squad 9 soldier doing so far away from his unit?"
Claudia merely shrugged. Peter took his binoculars back and headed towards the stairwell. He quickly stepped down and slid down the ladder, Claudia trying to catch up with him again.
"Hey, Peter! Not so fast! Ah!" she cried. Peter was already on the ground, though he looked up and saw that the luckless girl had already fallen down the stairs. "Eh... I'm used to a few bangs and bruises..."
Claudia quickly got up and followed in Peter's suit. The militiaman paced around. Peter and Claudia hid in the shadows, trying to track the man down. The latter tried questioning as to why the needed to be stealthy at all, though Peter quickly dismissed her. As the two approached him, almost creeping silently, the militia soldier noticed a shadow and almost jumped, quickly turning around to face them.
"Oh, Valkyrur, you scared me. What the hell are you two doing?" the soldier meekly asked.
"We're patrolling the area. We need to be on the lookout for the Feds or anything that might lead us to Princess Cordelia," Peter explained.
"I see... Well, we're both looking for the same thing. Maybe we should just split up, and expand our search area. I'll be getting backup from my squad later on, don't worry. We'll handle this patrol."
Claudia nodded, though Peter looked on skeptically. "Whose unit are you in?" Peter questioned.
"Look, I'm on a strict order by a Captain Varrot. I don't know if that name means anything to you, but I make sure to follow her orders. Now please, move along," the soldier asked, in a rather polite and courteous manner. Claudia shrugged her shoulders.
"I don't think this guy has anything important. He's just another militia soldier like us."
With the spin of her heel, Claudia was about to walk off. Peter was about to follow her, giving the militiaman one last glare before leaving. However, that one glare opened his eyes. Peter noticed the patch on the militiaman's arm. It had the militia's insignia, with a number 3 sewn in.
"What the hell...?" Peter asked. He looked at that patch. It was a Squad 3 uniform. No question about it. Even if this man was a reserve who replaced someone since Peter left his old squad, Captain Varrot told him personally that Squad 3 was now disbanded since the fiasco in Barious. Though he wasn't sure if that was supposed to be common knowledge yet. Peter's eyes darted to and forth the patch and the militia soldier's face, most of the latter was being covered up by a helmet a size or two too big.
"Trouble?" the man asked. Peter regained his composure and stood at a more relaxed stance.
"No, I'm fine... so you're from Squad 3, right?" Peter asked, seeing if his suspicions are accurately made.
"Uh, yes sir. Recruited recently about a couple months ago."
"Uh huh... How's the lieutenant doing?" Peter said, continuing to play along.
"Well... last time I recall, he was out in the field. Took a nasty blow from a grenade, but I heard he'll be alright. We'll be out to push those Imp bastards out in no time," the militiaman assured.
Peter immediately pointed his rifle at the militiaman's head, Claudia wondering what in the world could be going on. The soldier kept his arms at his sides, not in the slightest bit nervous. "Soldier, what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Cut the bullshit. Squad 3 was disbanded recently. I saw the Lieutenant die with my own two eyes. Who the hell are you?" Peter demanded, keeping his aim on the man.
The soldier raised his brows, and what was once a calm demeanor turned to panic. He started to sweat, he looked down at the ground on his own two feet. Then his eyes wandered toward Claudia.
He simply sighed. "Fuck."
The man immediately grabbed Claudia, and pulled out a pistol, aiming it at her head. Claudia herself didn't resist, possibly out of shock or fear that if she squirmed, he might shoot her. The impostor held her as a human shield, and he had a hint of desperation in his eyes. Those eyes constantly darted from Claudia to Peter, anxiety slowly taking over. He shakily keeps the gun fixated on Claudia's head. Peter could tell this guy didn't have a lot of confidence. He was desperate, and simply lost it.
"L-look, maybe we can work somethi-"
Peter saw he wasn't focused on Claudia, his aim lowering slightly, and the scout took the opportunity to fire his rifle. He shot the impostor in the shoulder, yelping in pain. He let go of Claudia to try and nurse his wound. The engineer limply fell to the ground, the man shocked at how easily he let go of his hostage. Looking back at Peter, the man fired his pistol but missed, so he tried to make a mad run for it. He was running fast, but Peter aimed his gun and targeted his leg down the irons. With a few deep breathes, another squeeze of the trigger, and the slight recoil, a rifle round went straight through the enemy's knee. Stumbling, the man fell to the ground helpless. Peter ran straight to him. Placing a boot on his neck, the Bruhler had the sights pinned on his head.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Peter interrogated. The poser spit blood on Peter's boot. He quickly retaliated by smacking him in the face with the rifle butt. "Wrong answer."
"Damn it..." he coughed. "Fine, you got me..."
"Who are you, and who are you working for?" Peter demanded. The wounded man eyed his pistol on the ground, though the sight of this Gallian man's rifle aimed at his head tore up any hopes of resistance.
"Fuck it... I'm an operative for Ambassador Townshend. The political spokesman for the Atlantic Federation..." he weakly replied.
"You Fed sons a bitches... You're no better than the Imperials! Where the hell is the armored car with the Princess!"
"Yeah, right... If I tell you, I get killed."
"Alright, I see how it is. Either you die now or later!" Peter encouraged, pushing the end of rifle barrel against the Fed's forehead.
"Okay! Okay! We've been listening in through the comm channels and looking for a place that isn't heavily guarded! We then escaped and want to cause as little casualties for Gallia as possible! My job's just to scout an area and see if it's clear!" he panicked. The Federalist closed his eyes, sweating and shaking heavily.
"Where the hell did you get these uniforms?" the scout pressed on.
"I-I don't know! Some of the other ops said they found some of these in an empty barracks!" he cried out, still stammering and scared for his life.
Peter still hovered his finger over the trigger. He didn't exactly know what to make of that. For all he knew, this Fed was a guy who tried to steal the Princess, and disturbed the belongings of the wounded and dead to do so. Peter was tempted to end this guy's misery on the spot, though a radio transmission coming in interrupted the thought. And the message wasn't coming from Peter's.
"Bzzt... Attention! Is the Graz Warehouse District clear?"
The Fed looked down towards the radio on his belt and back to his captor. Sweating heavily, the spy breathed heavily, looking at Peter, who seemed to think for a minute. Then an idea creeped in his head.
"Well? Are you going to answer him or not?" Peter prompted. The Federalist's brows raised, still looking at the end of the rifle. The Fed sighed in resignation, realizing what his Gallian captor was implying. He hesitantly took the radio.
"Uh, yes Mr. Townshend? Graz Warehouse District is... clear. Prepare the mark for transport, over."
"Bzzt... Excellent. In the name of peace and equality We join hands in the brotherhood..."
"To defend these ideals from evil... Will we stand and fight..." the soldier finished. He terminated his transmission and looked back at Peter. "So... I helped you out... Can you let me go? I swear to god, I thought I was doing this for the greater good of Europa!" he defended. Peter held his gaze at the terrified Fed's face, until he decided to loosed the pressure on his neck, and take aim off of his head.
"You've got your chance. Get the hell out of Gallia. You might make it to the Federation and get medical attention before you bleed out. If I see you again, I'll finish the job."
The man quickly took advantage of the offer, springing himself off of the ground making a mad dash towards anywhere that wasn't there. Peter regretted letting him live, though he pitied him on how pathetic the first Fed he ever met was. It was a wonder why the Empire hadn't conquered them already. Looking back, Peter noticed Claudia was still on the ground. His eyes wide in surprise that she hadn't gotten up yet, he rushed toward her side.
"Claudia? Claudia!" he repeated. She wasn't conscious, that was for sure. He checker her body for any wounds he or the Fed might have inflicted, though she looked perfectly fine. She probably fainted because of the mere shock of the situation she was in. Though the matter didn't bother Peter as much as it would others. Peter had to deal with Susie fainting all the time, and this was as normal as anything got. Still, it was a pain in the ass for him to sling Claudia over his shoulder and hoist her up. At least she left behind most of her engineer's equipment. With a free hand, Peter transmitted a signal to Captain Varrot. Eventually, he got a response. Some comm chatter ensued, until the unmistakable voice of the Captain could be heard.
"Captain Varrot! This is Corporal Rothchild of Squad 7! I have confirmation that the Feds are on their way to the Graz Warehouse District! The transport will be here soon, you need to hurry!" he quickly explained. After a moment or so of comprehending this information, he got his response.
"Acknowledged. I'll be sure to alert any 7's in the area, as well as collaborate with the local police forces. They'll be on the way. Excellent work, Peter." Varrot thanked.
"Be advised, the enemy is wearing uniforms of the Gallian Militia. Squad 3 in particular. Tell them to be alert," Peter continued.
"Will do. Keep at it, Corporal. Happy hunting." The transmission ended, and Peter continued to lug around Claudia's unconscious form.
Peter continued a patrol, humorously with Claudia slung over his shoulder. With his rifle strapped around his chest, Peter kept his pistol on his with his free hand, on the lookout for any suspicious characters. It was still as tense as ever. The silence. The stakes. The success or failure of this mission riding on the balance. But after dealing with that Fed earlier, he knew he had a bit more confidence this time. He continued walking along the dark alleys, watching for any sign of movement or disturbances. In a way, hunting down Feds was sort of like the tracking and hunting Peter did in his civilian life. Looking out for footprints, listening to the minute sounds, and the like.
Peter was almost on a role when he found a wet footprint made from a nearby puddle. Gently placing Claudia on the ground and leaning her body against a wall, Peter treaded carefully, his pistol still firm in his grasp. He couldn't register the fact subtle footsteps were following him. Then, the unmistakable sound of a cocked gun.
"Put you're hands in the air! Now!" a voice shouted.
Peter immediately reacted by pointing his gun towards the origin of the disturbance, though he was left quite shocked. Somehow, a man managed to get around him, and while Peter didn't care for the details, this man now had the barrel of a shotgun pointing at the Bruhler's face. He looked like an aged man, bald, and a blue headband around his head. Despite the fact he was outgunned, Peter kept his aim fixated on the old guy.
"Who the hell are you?" the old man asked. Peter remained steady and ready to shoot as ever.
"Who the hell are you?" Peter retorted. The man with the shotgun didn't flinch, neither did he seem amused.
"One old son of a bitch you don't want to piss off. Now answer my fucking question."
Peter stayed his ground. The shotgun to his head unnerved him, though whether a type of bravery, bravado, or stupidity kept him standing there calmly, he didn't care to discern. "I'm Corporal Peter Rothchild of Squad 7."
"Squad 7, eh? Hmm... Bullshit," he called back. "Kid, I know pretty much most of that Squad by face, and I ain't never seen you before."
"Damn it old man, I'm telling you the truth! I was transferred in from Squad 3 way back, and-"
"You shut the hell up!" the old guy yelled. He smacked Peter in the chest with the barrel, causing him to stumble back, and the pistol in his hands to slip. Seeing as how the old man was keeping his finger over the trigger a little too close for comfort, Peter slowly raised his hands. "I don't know how you assholes in the Federation do it, but out here in Gallia, the guy with the bigger gun does the talking," the old man told him.
Peter stood very still, though he felt as though he didn't have much to fear from him, since he knew he was telling the truth about his status in Squad 7. And it seemed obvious that this guy was also a Gallian militiaman. The old man then eyed Claudia, who was unconscious on the ground.
"I heard some gunshots earlier. And that's Private... Mann, isn't it? What the hell did you do to her?" he asked, closing the space on Peter's head and the end of the barrel.
"I didn't do anything! I caught the real Fed operative, and he knocked her out! I'm the one who found out they were wearing Militia uniforms! I'm the guy who gave Varrot the message! I don't have a damn thing to be afraid of if I know I'm telling you the truth."
However, when Peter heard another set of footsteps walking by, that was enough to cause a bit more fear that he would have wanted. He could hear another weapon being loaded with a new clip, followed by a light, sadistic laugh.
"Finally found one of those Fed cowards?" a snakily eery voice called. It sent a shiver down Peter's spine, yet it was somewhat nostalgic of someone.
"Hey Jane, you recognize this little prick? Claims he's from Squad 7," the old man called out. Peter turned around slightly, and saw a woman with short black hair, pale skin, and a dark eye makeup. In the dark, she looked very intimidating indeed, though it took Peter a second to recognize the face and name. A blurry image hung in Peter's mind, until the face cleared into what he saw before him. She was the florist back in Bruhl. And judging from the look of surprise on Jane's face, she seemed to have recognized him too.
"What the hell...? Peter...?" Jane asked hesitantly. The man with the shotgun kept the firearm close to Peter's head, though the scout eased up and lowered his arms after hearing his own name.
"Jane? Huh... Noce told me you were in the Squad. Never thought I'd ever really see you of all people though," Peter replied with a shrug. Jane skeptically observed Peter before lowering her machine gun. She then signaled the old man to lower his weapon. Peter hesitantly picked up his pistol from the ground.
"You actually know this asshole, Jane?" he asked. She nodded her head, and even seemed slightly surprised to see a small grin on her face.
"Yeah... Peter here was a town watchman back in Bruhl. Most of 'em were a buncha stuck up assholes, but Peter seemed to get out of my way most of the time. He's alright," she commented. The old man looked at Jane quizically, then back at Peter.
"Heh, damn right he'd stay out of you're way... So, he's definitely not a Fed if he's from Bruhl? Damn, I thought knew everyone in the squad by now..." he sighed.
"Yeah, maybe you're just getting senile, old man."
Ignoring Jane, the man extended a hand to Peter. "Sorry about that. Just got caught up with finding anyone in Militia uniform I didn't recognize. The name's Coby Caird. No hard feelings about earlier, right?"
Still slightly taken aback by Coby's change of tune, Peter hesitantly shook his hand. "Right... no hard feelings... I guess..." he mumbled, not really sure if he could trust this guy. Jane was also questionable, though he felt that he could at least depend on her in a firefight. He knew that she had a rather... violent outlook, and that was before the war. He didn't know how this conflict changed her, and he didn't want to know.
Coby nodded, and eyed Claudia, who was still unconscious on the ground. She was still knocked out, though she looked more like she was sleeping, noticing the slight rise and fall of her chest, and a rather peaceful look about her. "What do we do about her?" Coby mentioned, pointing at the engineer.
"Well, maybe we just get someone to pick her up. I mean, I don't want to... disturb her or anything. Can't we get someone to-"
Peter's suggestion was interrupted as Jane lightly kicked Claudia on her shoulder. "Hey, wake your ass up!"
Claudia stirred slightly before lazily opening an eye. She rubs her shoulder, mumbling about something about her hometown and some random person that nobody could understand. Yawning, Claudia got off the ground, albeit still wobbly, but managed to regain her footing and noticed the three individuals in front of her.
"W-what... happened...?" she asked, curiously looking at everyone.
"You got knocked out when that Fed tried taking you hostage..." Peter explained quickly, yet still a bit concerned.
"What? Oh... why do things like that happen to me? Just my luck, huh?" the luckless girl mused with a shrug. Claudia noticed Jane standing nearby with a stern look on her pale face, almost causing the engineer flinching but remained steady on her toes. She looked almost unnerved by her, though the luckless girl merely focused her attention back to Peter. "So, uh, what happened since?"
Peter gave Claudia his pistol, while unstrapping the rifle for himself. "We need to find those kidnapping bastards. They're on their way here via armored car. Backup should be coming for us soon, so I say if we manage to find the car, or any other of those weird operatives they have, I say we stick around and kick some Federation ass."
"Now you're speaking my language. Where do we start?" Jane asked, enthusiastically. Peter noticed how people were starting to follow his lead again, and he remembered all too well what happened the last time. Still, Peter knew the risks of this mission, and he felt a bit more comfortable that the odds of survival and success were a lot higher in Randgriz in contrast to the unforgiving Kloden Wildwood. Peter pulled out the map he used earlier to plot out a course.
"Alright... so according to this, this warehouse district has two major entrances for traffic. Right here in the northwestern part of the district is where me and Claudia came through..." Peter planned out, pointing towards the key points on the map.
"And this place here, in the eastern side... This looks like the place Jane and I were just at..." Coby mentioned, pointing to the second entrance to the district. "So if we just fan out or something, we can just probably be on the lookout and wait for the other 7's to get there. Sounds like a plan."
"Alright, so you and Jane keep watch for any Feds on the way. Try to be alert too; anyone in militia uniforms might be a spy or enemy soldier. Remember: If they're wearing a Squad 3 uniform, they're not one of us. But who knows what else they've got under their sleeves... I'll get Claudia and we'll just go to the place we came in," Peter said. Coby nodded and went off to his own path. Jane followed suit, but not before glancing at Peter and nodding in acknowledgment. She then eagerly ran off, ahead of Coby, no doubt enthusiastic to fight the Feds.
Claudia stayed relatively silent since she woke up, and whether she was trying to recall the past events, registering the info, or simply fighting her grogginess was unknown.
"Claudia, you ready? We've gotta go."
The engineer snapped out of her daze, and her stance tensed up. She respectfully saluted and nodded. Peter laughed at the little gesture.
"Oh, come on, Claudia. I might be a corporal now, but I'm not the damn captain. I'm not good with formalities anyway," he said.
"Oh, well alright... Where to?"
Peter headed off, following the map as a way to guide himself through the dark alleys he had lost himself in. Claudia was right behind him.
"So this Peter guy has been with us since the Kloden op?"
"He's been with us for a couple months then? Damn, I never really got that kind of thing wrong before..."
"Maybe you're just getting senile, old man."
"Shit... Well, as long as I remember how to pull a trigger, I think that's enough to last through the war."
Jane nodded, and even grinned slightly. The old man was a pain in the ass, but the florist did respect him. He knew how to use a gun, he killed a bunch of Imps twenty years ago in the first war, and he still taught her a thing or two on being a shocktroop in the front lines. He was sort of alright in her book.
The two shocktroopers advanced through the alleyways. After navigating the urban area, they came across the entrance they went through that lead to the district. Several men, Randgriz law enforcement judging from their peaked caps, were setting up blockades. Two jeeps, and a wooden fence blocked the entryway to the district. Several armed officers were armed with rifles and pistols not unlike the standard issue for the militia. One of the officers noticed the pair walking by, and walked over toward them. A couple officers followed in suit of him, and judging by the elaborate feather decoration on the peaked cap (one similar to Damon's) the man leading the officers seemed like their sergeant. The officers following them pointed their guns at the two shocktroopers, while the police sergeant looked at them closely.
"Hmm... I don't think the Federation would recruit... older men..." he looked over at Jane, and a small grin creased his face. "And I don't think the Feds allow pretty young ladies to carry guns into war either..." he said, as he observed Coby and Jane respectively. The latter immediately took offense to the sergeant's comment. Her brows furrowed in annoyance, and the police officer took this as indication to back off.
"Hey, pal. I ain't a 'young lady.' I'm a damn shocktrooper for the militia," she hissed. She brandished her large Imperial trophy gun, adorned with several old and weathered scars from previous battles, and notches down the barrel, indicating a number of victims. "Bet mine's bigger than yours. Try calling me a young lady now... I dare ya..."
"Damn it, Jane. This ain't a time to bitch about this. He's on our damn side. We've got some Federation bastards to kill," Coby cut off, making her lowering her weapon. "So, you the head of the police department or something?" The police sergeant looked rather surprised, but soon shrugged it off as soon he was able to compose himself in a more professional manner.
"I see... Well, yes, I am the Chief of Police here in Randgriz. You must be part of the backup from Squad 7. The Randgriz Police Department has made a blockade, but we wouldn't want to tangle with the Feds without your help. Since the war started, we lost most of our best officers and personnel to the draft, and I'm not sure how long we'd last against Federation operatives. That's why I'm glad you two are here. Our job is to wait for reinforcements from your squad, as well as any troops from the royal guard, and be able to take on any resistance."
"Great. So we just wait here until the Feds come rolling in? Don't ya think they'd be... I dunno, smarter than just headed straight toward a blockade?" Jane retorted.
"Huh... That's the first time you ever implied that the Feds had any sort of intelligence, Jane," Coby laughed. "It seems kind of stupid that they'd just ask for a death wish by kidnapping the damn princess of Gallia, of all things."
"Then let's give 'em their wish!" Jane exclaimed in an oddly cheery manner.
The police sergeant still felt a bit unnerved by the two's presence, but judging from their genuine enthusiasm of killing Feds, that seemed to serve as good indication as any that they weren't spies for sure. The officer went at the head of the blockade, scouting out the roads and paths with his binoculars.
Peter and Claudia made it to their destination. In view, they could both see several Gallian police officers patrolling the entrance to the district. They put up a blockade with a few vehicles and a barbed wire fence. Several officers patrolled the area, each of them nervous and on edge. The pair ran up to join them, and the police welcomed their presence. However, what unnerved Peter was that they didn't bother to check them. Either they noticed the 7 patch on their uniforms, or they simply didn't have the caution or care to see if they were spies. Shrugging it off, Peter and Claudia stood at a position by the blockade's flank.
"Huh... Looks like they were able to get here quicker than us..." Claudia mumbled. "I think the police can handle things from here. I mean, they've got the blockade and guns and everything."
"Hmph... You can't really trust these city polices..." Peter said under his breath. Claudia gave the scout an odd look.
"Well, you're a town watchman aren't you? What's the difference?" she asked. Peter scoffed, almost as if his pride was hurt.
"Police just go by their book, and even the book is half-torn most of the time. They just look at most of the wrong problems, diagnose them incorrectly, and apply all the wrong remedies. Not to mention the corruption. I heard that organized crimes bribe the police here in Randgriz," Peter explained.
"You know, I once heard that Nils was part of one of those gangs... It's sad he's not here right now..." Claudia mentioned. "...So what makes a watchman a watchman?"
"We actually have the town's best interests in mind. We do our part and go above and beyond duty just to help out. You can't bullshit us. We, the citizens, can effectively govern ourselves, and it's one of the things that make Gallia a great country. As citizens, we know what needs and what doesn't need attention and what the hells going on in our community. Being a watchman means you're damn proud of being part of your town. And Bruhl's been one hell of a town," Peter said, almost nostalgic.
Claudia nodded along as she listened to Peter's rant about the good 'ol days, though her mind couldn't help but wander. Her eyes shifted from Peter, towards the blockade. She noticed how tense and nervous each officer was, their hands almost trembling with the guns in their hands. Some of them looked younger than even the average militia recruit. Her eyes wandered towards the night sky, looking at the sea of stars in the distance. Her eyes then drifted back towards the earth, as Claudia looked back at the warehouse district. She eyed the alleyways appearances of them, almost reminiscent of times in Port Water, before the war. As she walked down a lane of her own memories (as Peter still drifted on his) she noticed a peculiar silhouette in the distance. The dark shape came out of an alley, with another following it. The two emerged from the shadows, and the engineer could see that the two were wearing Gallian uniforms. At first glad that the two could be reinforcements to help out, she noticed that each of them wore large and heavy helmets, brought down to cover the top half of their face. She couldn't recognize them, and she feared for the worst. Taking a pair of binoculars from one of her packs, Claudia looked on towards the two approaching figures, each of them heading towards the barricade.
"Uh, Peter... What uniforms did you say were not one of ours?" Claudia asked, trying to get a clearer fix on the two, as they advanced with each passing second.
"And while the pay may not be as good as police, we... Wait, what?"
"What uniform is the enemy wearing?" she asked frantically. Peter was shocked at the urgency of Claudia's question, and stammered a bit before calmly answering her question.
"Squad 3. They stole uniforms from Squad 3."
"Uh oh..." she muttered.
Peter noticed what Claudia was looking at. Quickly, he grabbed his own binoculars and saw the two troops walking towards the barricade. Each of them wore Squad 3 uniforms, and were heavily armed with weapons outside of the militia's standard issue. The officers there paid no attention behind them, as they looked forward towards the roads.
"Oh, shit. "
Peter attempted to warn them, however as soon as he saw the Federation operatives aim their weapons at the unsuspecting policemen, he knew it was too late. Peter ducked under a low crudely made wooden wall, abruptly shoving Claudia's head under the barrier with him. As soon as they were out of sight, Peter heard the terrifying sound of machine guns, and the dying screams of the law enforcement. Peter held his rifle tightly in his grasp, while Claudia shivered in her spot.
"W-where are those reinforcements...?" she stuttered.
"I don't know..." Peter said. He slowly reached for his radio, as the gunfire raged on. "T-this is Corporal Rothchild of Squad 7!" he said, in a rather hushed voice. "The blockade here in the northwestern entrance is under attack! Repeat! Under attack! Send backup ASAP!"
Peter put away his radio and peeked over the wall. Several bodies lay on the ground where the officers once stood. Now, instead of merely two Federation operatives, there were five, their guns still smoking from the fight. They talked on their radios, no doubt to their superiors, and marched across the puddles of blood that stained the area. With only a lone scout and engineer, the two militia soldier knew they were outmanned and outgunned.
"Will the squad get here in time?" Claudia asked nervously. Peter paused, before nodding.
"Yeah, they will."
"What do we do until then...?"
"Pray. And hope for a miracle."
Coby and Jane still sat around the blockade at the eastern entrance of the warehouse district. They were rather annoyed at the lack of Feds to kill and even more annoyed that the rest of the Squad hasn't regrouped yet. The two of them were currently playing around with some cards and betting ducats with each other to kill the time.
"Uh huh... So what was that final battle like? Pushin' the Imps outta Ghirlandio?" Jane asked, as she placed a couple ducats on the crate acting as their table.
"Hmph... Damn hard. I remember it snowing there. Bitter cold... I remember Yoko bitching about some frostbite a while back. The cold also blanketed the Naggiar plains in some areas. It never really snowed like that in Gallia in a helluva long time..." Coby said. In the midst of reminiscing, he glanced at the cards in his hands and placed a few more ducats on the crate.
"Snowing? In Ghirlandio? Damn, sounds like you guys had it in for you... Battlin' Imps, and the cold," Jane replied, as she drew another card from the deck.
"Yeah... A girl in our squad had to get a couple fingers cut off 'cause they were frozen... We had to battle the Imps, the cold... ourselves... Not many people still had the will to battle them, and even less with their sanity. We lost a lot of good men..." Coby muttered. He paused, a few memories of his former squad rushing in, before he drew another card. He was barely remembering he and Jane were actually playing a game.
"Weren't Largo, the captain, and that other sniper... Catherine? Weren't they in your squad too?"
"Heh... Yeah, God must have a sense of humor bringing us all back together..." Coby placed his cards face down and reached in his pocket. He pulled out an old black and white photo, and gave it to Jane.
Jane put down her cards and looked at the photo carefully. She could recognize a few faces from the current squad, including Yoko still wearing that blue bonnet, Largo still wearing the same cheesy grin he likes to put for photos, a very young Catherine with her sniper rifle, and even Captain Varrot, before she was a captain. Jane also noticed Coby, still wearing the headband, albeit with a bit more hair on his head, and hugging an unknown girl who somewhat resembled Alicia.
"Yeah... I was still about... 45 back then? Shit, I was still the old-timer compared to everyone else..." Coby laughed.
"Hmm... Who the hell's that one girl you're hugging around?" Jane asked, as she picked up her cards again.
"Oh, she's... she was my daughter..." Coby mumbled, taking back the photo and looking at his daughter alongside him.
"What happened? The Imps get her?" Jane actually looked somewhat concerned, which was saying a lot, considering it was her.
"Yeah... Some Imperial officer stabbed her... I killed him, and was forced watch my daughter die in my arms before a medic arrived..." Coby said. His face was conflicted, almost angry yet melancholic.
"Don't worry, old man. We'll take out those Imps. Every last one of 'em for what they did to her," Jane proclaimed, patting Coby on the back for encouragement.
"Yeah... every last one..." Coby muttered under his breath. "Anyway... we should really get back to the game..." Coby said, very up for some distraction. Jane nodded and picked up her cards.
"Alright, so what do you have?" Jane asked.
"Pair of Eights. That's all I got."
"Oh... you bitch..." Coby laughed. Jane laughed snakily as she took the small ducat pile from the table, and stuffed it down one of her pockets. While pissed off about losing, Coby was already glad he had something to laugh about, in contrast to remembering horrors of EW1.
"So, up for another game?"
"Ah, not sure... didn't have many ducats to start off with..." Coby said, checking his wallet. However, the thought was interrupted as he heard some static coming from his radio. Turning up the volume for Jane to hear, the two shocktroopers heard only some feedback and static. Then, what sounded clearly like rapid gunfire and screams ensued, and the two froze in their seats. The static soon blurred and deafened the screams until it was silent again.
"Bzzt... T-this is Corporal Rothchild of Squad 7! ...The blockade here in the northwestern entrance is under attack! Repeat! Under attack! Send backup ASAP!"
The transmission cut off, and Coby and Jane were met up with only static again. Both of them paused for a second, before the latter grabbed her gun resting on the nearby wall. Coby packed up his cards and loaded a some shells into his shotgun. Both of them nodded, and ran off towards the distress. However, as they ran, the officer leading the police noticed the two heading away from the barricade, and quickly shouted to them.
"Hey, where the hell do you think you're going?" the police sergeant asked.
"Did you not just hear that radio message? We're going to kill the Feds that's harassing our units over there," Coby explained, though Jane didn't bother stopping to acknowledge the officer. The sergeant cursed, but he didn't attempt to encourage them any further. He let them go on their way.
The two shocktroopers ran, knowing that if an attack was being staged already, the Federation could very well be moving in on that location. The fate of the mission possibly hung in the balance. Jane ran as fast as her legs could go, though despite his fitness for a man of his age, Coby was left trailing behind the sadist, until he had to stop to take a breath of air.
"Damn it, Jane! Wait up... Let me... catch my... breath..." the old soldier huffed. He soon came to a full stop, and Jane was leaving him behind a trail of dust. "Shit... I ain't as fast as I used to be... Damn kids..."
Coby wiped the sweat from his forehead and stood still, just to allow some air to get back into his lungs. After gaining enough strength to walk again, Coby heard the sound of gunfire. Several indistinct shouts and screams were heard soon after. Coby looked over his shoulder and could already see the flashes of guns and even a faint blue light from an explosive off in the distance.
"Oh, fuck... one of these attacks are a distraction... Well, those assholes had to use their brains eventually..."
Coby ran with encouraged vigor, tightly holding the shotgun in his hands as he headed forward. However, he momentarily stopped as he looked over his shoulder, and even his old ears could hear the sounds of Jane's footsteps growing fainter.
"JAAAAANE!" he shouted as loud as he could. However, the sounds of footsteps grew faint, and Coby knew he had to try and settle this himself until the squad reinforcements arrive. "Stubborn bitch..."
The veteran ran back to the barricade, hiding around the corner of a wall. He could still hear some dying moans and screams accompanied by popping successions of a rapid fire weapon. He imagined how horrifying it must be. After all, these were merely law enforcement in a rowdy city. These guys weren't trained soldiers like the Feds that hounded at them. And even though he was just a carpenter most of his life, he still had proper training, and a hardened resolve that war inflicts on its participants. This small skirmish was nothing Coby hadn't faced before. He'd been through worse in the first war. He'd seen tougher odds. This was just a walk in the park.
Coby peered over the corner and saw pools of blood where the police once stood. He saw several men in Gallian uniform with their weapons held high. It was obvious who's country they were really working for. However, he noticed a Federation soldier patrol a little to close for comfort. The Fed almost flinched as he noticed a bald head peering from the corner of his eye, and when he came to investigate, the veteran fought back by firing the shotgun squarely in the man's chest. Coby hid back behind the corner as the other Feds opened fire with a hailstorm of bullets. He pumped the shotgun, releasing the spent shell, and aimed again. After setting sights on a Fed operative that was closing in, Coby pulled the trigger and quickly dispatched him. The cornered vet took several potshots from his position, managing to take out a few of the Federation troops, but he had no idea just how many of these guys were here. Taking a grenade from one of his belt pouches, Coby pulled off the safety, before the trigger string dangled down. Ripping the trigger and tossing the stick grenade around the corner, he saw the blue light resonate against the walls, and the blood that painted them. Wiping the sweat from his head, Coby peered over the corner and saw a several dead bodies, though it was difficult to discern whether or not they were in Gallian Militia uniforms, or the police uniforms, considering the similar blue hue, and the amount of blood which stained and pooled the area. However, Coby was able to recognize that there were more bodies than the actual number of officers that were stationed at the post, so he could assume he extras were ones he killed.
Getting out from his corner, Coby briefly scanned the area. No one was moving, and it was clear that everyone in the area was dead. An almost satisfied smile creased his lips, as he witnessed his carnage.
"Huh... Managed to take out a small team of Feds all by myself. I still got it..." he muttered.
His confidence was shattered as he heard a familiar popping noise, and a sharp, flash of pain in his back. Coby stumbled forward on his knees moaning out in pain. His hand reached towards the sore, and he felt the familiar warm sensation of blood.
"Oh, GOD DAMMIT! MY BACK!" he yelled. Looking over his shoulder, saw a lone Fed trooper crawling along the ground, a pistol in hand. He was severely crippled, and it looked like Coby's grenade blew off a part of his leg. Weakly raising his pistol again, the operative fired, but missed his target.
"Ha! It'll take more than that to bury me!" Coby yelled. He raised to shotgun and fired another blast, silencing the Fed's life. However, the pain in his back was still excruciating, and almost limping, Coby went for cover along a sandbag wall that was propped up by the police and sat down. Occasionally cursing while he fumbled for his ragnaid capsule, the veteran applied the substance to his wounded back. Hissing at how much the ragnaid stung when applied so quickly, he sighed when the pain subsided a bit. Peering his head over the sandbags, Coby saw the coast was clear. He lowered his head back under the wall and loaded more shells into his shotgun. Tending to his back, Coby hesitantly looked over the sandbag wall again, and didn't see anyone else investigating the area.
A familar clicking sound almost made him jump on the spot. Coby turned his head and saw a Federation operative in Gallian uniform pointing a gun at his head. Behind him were two more Federation soldiers. The soldier with the gun loaded his pistol and kept the sight on Coby's head. He was sure this wouldn't really end well in a head on fight with no cover. However, he still felt himself gripping the shotgun tightly. Not wanting to go down without a fight, the veteran quickly shot the Fed in the chest, causing him to stumble back and fall in a small puddle of his own blood. Coby pumped the shotgun and aimed again, however he felt another flash of sharp pain going through his right shoulder. His arm collapsed, not wanting to hold the gun anymore, and one of the Federation ops took out a pistol to finish Coby off.
"Shit... Well, better here than rotting in some old folk's home..." Coby mumbled, as he heard the Fed pull back the hammer. He thought of his accomplishments of the first war, the second, his role to the nation, and the possibility of joining his daughter... He closed his eyes, deep in thought. Maybe he'd finally get to see Cassandra again. The thought gave some sort of hope if he was going to go out on the moment. His contemplations were interrupted by the rapid fire of gunshots.
Seconds passed. "What the hell...?"
Coby knew he was still breathing, and it was evident he hadn't been shot. He opened his eyes to see more blood spattered on the walls, and surprisingly, not his own. One of the Federation troops limped achingly, a dark, almost black stain seeping across the stolen uniform. He saw another person in Gallian uniform approaching, and Coby sighed, knowing some sort of reinforcements finally arrived. What amazed him however, was the large Imperial machine gun being held in the noticeably feminine figure's hands. "... the fuck? Jane?"
The wounded soldier weakly tried raising his rifle, though Jane mercilessly ripped through him with several shots to the torso, undoubtedly causing a lot of overkill. The second Federation trooper, though shocked and pretty much scared shitless, raised his own weapon from behind Jane's back.
"Jane, watch out! Behind you!" Coby shouted. Before the sadist could turn around her head, a single shot echoed throughout the alleyways, and a single round sent a burst of red through the Fed's helmet. Jane didn't even seem one bit disturbed or surprised. In fact, she let out a small laugh before walking over to Coby. Noticing the wounds old man had, she knelt down to his level and pulled out a ragnaid capsule. She applied it to Coby's wound on his shoulder, and though he hissed in pain, Jane took that as a sign he was alright.
"Glad you've still got those brittle bones moving around, old man. I was afraid they'd fucked you up."
"Brittle? Heh... Glad to see you still care, ya stubborn bitch... What the hell took you so long?" Coby said, now feeling the pain in his arm lessen significantly. After he moved his arm around again, Jane helped him up to his feet.
"I met a friend of mine on the way to help out the other outpost. He was on a lead towards some suspicious group in Squad 3 uniforms. We took care of them," Jane explained. "Jeez, why the fuck do people have to take out a pistol and take so damn long to kill ya?"
"Some jackasses like to savor it, or make it more dramatic. Or some crap like that..." another person said. Coby flicked his attention towards a familiar young man with an X shaped scar on his head. "Anyway, after we killed those Feds back there, we tried getting back here as soon as possible,"
"Heh... Private Bierlert... Figures some of our most outspoken Imp haters teamed up, though it's ironic we have to kill Feds now," Coby mused, still a bit shaky. He straightened his back, causing a few audible cracks and a lot of cursing, though Coby was able to regain his composure.
"Yeah, nice shot back there, Oscar. I owe you another," Jane commented, with an unusually friendly pat on the back. Oscar merely nodded, though a hint of pride could be seen in his grin. Coby grunted, and checked his pouches for leftover ammunition.
"So what happens now?" he asked.
"We're getting more forces on the way here. The northwest entrance already received some backup. Plus, the Lieutenant himself is on the way over there. We've been given orders to abandon this sector, because we've got reports that an armored car is heading there towards that specific route. The Feds will think twice before messing with us," Oscar explained.
"Well what the hell are we standing around here for? Let's get moving!" Jane exclaimed.
The trio nodded, and after loading their weapons, they marched off. However, Coby couldn't help but feel that he had yet again cheated what was he thought was a sure death. He faced even more dreadful odds in the first war, especially in the cold trench warfare in Naggiar, and the snowy conflicts of Ghirlandio. To think that he was already having flashbacks of his daughter to the point he almost accepted death. Coby heaved a deep sigh.
"Cassandra... You're gonna have to wait on your old man... I've gotta help defend your home... make sure what happened to you happens to no one else..."
"Old man, you alright?" Jane asked. Snapping out of his thoughts, Coby nodded and proceeded to follow his comrades.
"Peter, I'm out of ammo!"
"Alicia! Heads up!"
Peter tossed a spare ammo clip towards his fellow watchman, both of whom were stuck in an intense firefight. Since the Bruhler called for backup, a few additional reinforcements helped out Peter and Claudia in the nick of time, lead by none other than Alicia Melchiott. The sergeant loaded her gun and proceeded to continue suppressive fire. First starting with Peter and Claudia, the group added five more people to the team defending the northwestern entrance, and several Federation troops marched to allow Gallia's kidnapped monarch out of the country. Everyone knew what was at stake, and everyone knew that this was one of their most important operations. The Feds had to be stopped at all costs.
Peter constantly shifted his attention from enemy to enemy, as each fell down. He was wondering just how many soldiers the Federation sneaked into Gallia. When he heard that these guys were operatives, he assumed maybe a team of about ten people. He didn't expect what could possibly be an army. How the hell were the Federalists able to stealthily infiltrate in such large numbers without anyone knowing. Someone on the inside for Gallia must've been responsible. But that wasn't the main concern. What was, was the parade of marching Feds laying down heavy fire on the militia resistance. The crossfire in the cramped urban environment was much different from the wooded forests of Kloden, or the wide open sands of Barious. Even more dangerous, were enemies on all levels, including operatives firing from windows of nearby buildings. And the fact that they were wearing Gallian uniform gave everyone in Squad 7 pause before they could declare a sure enemy in their sights. As Peter fired and assisted his comrades firing at the enemy, Claudia Mann stayed beneath the cover of the sandbag walls, supplying ammo and taking potshots whenever an enemy fired way too close for comfort. However, the headband-wearing girl noticed someone downed under the sandbags, and a familiar red substance not too far away.
"Oh, god... Man down!" Claudia shouted. Amidst the gunfire, the engineer noticed the man in Gallian uniform was one she recognized. Clutching his side, a familiar young man held his chest, heavily breathing. "Ted! Ted, are you alright!" Claudia asked.
"Ow... ow... I-it ain't so bad! I can still do this!" the jokester remarked. He tried picking up his rifle and aiming over the sandbag walls, though Claudia pulled him back under in the nick of time, as a bullet grazed his windswept hair. Double checking, Ted felt his chest again and felt that he was in fact bleeding. He suddenly coughed a small amount of blood at this realization. "Eh... maybe I ain't so good after all..."
Almost panicking from the blood, Claudia got a hold of herself and carefully administered some ragnaid over his wound, hoping it would suffice for treatment, though the constant crossfire between the two sides of the skirmish proved to be much of a distraction. As she grabbed out a small case of bandages from one of her packs, a dreadfully familiar cyan light illuminated the alleyways.
"Damn it! Grenade!" a squad member shouted.
The ensuing explosion was heard, and Claudia was shocked to see two people knocked off their feet and land on the ground. One of them, a young man with a pair of glasses, managed to get up from the ground, with seemingly little injuries. However, the other was still on the ground, faintly moaning, and barely moving his arms and legs. The young man dashed toward his comrade, violently shaking him to try and get some response.
"Wavy? Wavy, c'mon, you have to get up! Ah, damn it!"
Quickly looking back and forth between Ted, and the unconscious Wavy, Claudia gathered most of her medical tools with her, and attempted to rush over to help the Darcsen man.
"Nancy? Can you look over Ted for me?" the engineer asked. Nancy was left somewhat surprised, and almost tried to stutter something in protest. However, seeing how Ted was injured managed to put a bit of encouragement to look after him. She prayed she wouldn't mess up again. With that settled, Claudia crawled beneath the sandbag walls, hearing gunfire, and almost feeling the bullets cut the air and fly over her head.
"Wavy? Damn it, I fucked up again!"
"Mica, stop blaming everything on yourself. Besides, I'm sure Wavy'll make it," Claudia said, trying to calm the glasses-wearing pessimist. She started working, though she saw a large wound across the Darcsen's chest, bleeding heavily. Almost panicking at the sight of flowing blood, she took out a cloth rag to try and slow down the flow of blood. The white rag quickly was dying red, and it almost made Claudia sick to feel the warm liquid almost seeping past her gloves. She had to cover her mouth in order to stop herself from gagging. Claudia remembered just how squeamish she really was, one of the reasons she never became a medic. She made a gesture for Mica to grab something out of her pack while she tried to operate on Wavy, though the former was much to disturbed and panicked to notice.
"Damn it... Everywhere I go, I end up failing people... I got separated from Dorothy at Kloden... I can't even help people when they're right next to me... Damn it, damn it, damn it!"
"Mica, calm down and grab the suture kit from my pack!" Claudia shouted. Shocked at Claudia's sudden interruption, and even hesitant, Mica came to his senses and grabbed a small case from the backpack engineers often carry. Tossing it to Claudia, he tried focusing on hitting the Feds, but his worry shifted from the Feds shooting, to the fact he failed yet another person in this war.
"I... is there anything I can do? Anything at all?" Mica asked.
"Just keep them off of me while I try to get Wavy patched up!" Claudia responded.
"Oh, uh... Yes, of course..." Mica muttered, aiming his machine gun towards the nearest Fed.
Claudia checked a medical kit for some sort of tweezers; she seemed to have found a bit of shrapnel that was probably responsible for the gash across Wavy's chest. She continually checked his pulse, though the occasional rise and fall from his chest, as well as Wavy coughing or attempting to say something in his unconscious state was an encouraging sign he was still alive. Another explosion occurred nearby, though Claudia couldn't help but release a heavy sigh of relief when she saw no one was hurt. Claudia continued to try and focus on Wavy. She was no medic, but under the circumstances, she was all this team of Squad 7 troops had, at least until an actual medic arrives.
"Hold on, big guy... Just hang in there..."
Peter tossed Alicia another clip as she reloaded. The former was thankful that Claudia had supplied him with some spare ammunition before this full-fledged firefight began. For a team made up of a bunch of scouts, an engineer, and a shocktrooper, Peter thought that they were doing pretty well for themselves. As Peter focused on his targets, the sounds of popping and bangs of gunfire almost seemed rhythmic, not so much becoming an annoyance to him. He leveled it out, focusing whatever came in sight of rifle's irons. However, as he managed to deafen out the distractions, a new rather foreign sound came into play, this one a low humming sound that gradually got louder. Alicia continued firing, and when she ducked under cover, she paused for a second.
"You hear that too?" Peter asked. The fellow Bruhler nodded in response, though she was a bit uneasy. "Sounds like... a motor...?" Peter thought.
Alicia's eyes shot open, as the sound became more evident. The rumbling of a car engine was driving by at high speeds. "The armored car! It's on the way here!" Alicia shouted.
The attention of the team was distracted from what they were doing, as they too heard the car nearing by. "Get ready to fire at its radiators! Remember, the Captain said no grenades!" Peter shouted.
"Remember to try and keep your cool, and get this done! The princess is counting on-"
Alicia's speech was suddenly interrupted by a loud crash. The group looked to see the armored car smash straight through the wooden stockades and barbed wire fences that blocked the entrance, easily breaking through and maintaining full speed.
Everyone tried to open fire on the armored car's radiator as sped away, though the Feds laying the suppressive fire made things overly difficult to focus. The vehicle's glowing radiator was all that could be seen in the dark, and that too was starting to fade.
Then, trying to scout out the car's position, Alicia looked through a pair of binoculars. "Hey, it's not moving anymore..."
Everyone gave quizzical looks, and were confused. However, the train of thought was interrupted, as an immense blue flash of light lit up the alleys, and everyone ducked under cover, just to avoid blinding themselves. The group felt a powerful tremor, and the light undeniably came from a large explosion. When the blast cleared up, everyone was surprised that they were all in once piece. However, when they peered over the cover, they could see that in the Fed's wake, the operatives were obliterated.
"Hey, 7's. Sorry if I'm late," a familiar voice broadcast on the group's radio channel.
"Welkin!" Alicia happily chirped.
"Yeah, took a while to get ready and move the Eidelweiss here. But you have to hurry, I'm trying to block off the armored car's escape routes! Move while it changes its course!"
"Yes, sir!" Alicia nodded, putting away her radio. "Alright, 7's. You heard the Lieutenant. It's up to us to save the princess!"
"Yes, ma'am!" the team replied. Gathering their supplies and arms, the group moved out, though Claudia stayed behind still trying to get Wavy up on his feet. She looked up and saw everyone getting up and moving out, and even Ted seemed well enough to go on his own. Peter though, hesitated upon seeing Claudia staying behind.
"You're not coming...?" he simply asked.
"No... This guy needs my help. And I'll need to take him to a real medic for treatment. I won't leave him out here," the engineer replied.
"Oh, alright... Just be careful out here, Claudia. We don't know if any of those Feds are still crawling around here," Peter warned.
"I'll be okay. Thank you, Peter..." She watched the Bruhler nod and run off in suit of his fellow squad members. "So much for saving the princess... At least I can save this guy."
Focusing back on the Darcsen schoolteacher in front of her, Claudia carefully sewed the last stitch in Wavy's wound. Once again, the she was no medic, but Claudia possessed most of the emergency equipment for almost any situation, including treating the wounded. As Wavy twitched a bit, and even tossed his head almost regaining conscious, the engineer was almost overjoyed that he seemed to be waking up. Unfortunately, Wavy fell limp again, but his chest steadily rose and fell as usual.
"Well... I guess I'm on a role with this whole healing thing... I haven't killed anyone yet, so that's good..." Claudia laughed. She tried to lift Wavy off the ground, though it was difficult to get him in a position without the risk of opening his new stitches, and on top of that, he weighed much more than Claudia did.
"Need a hand there?"
Claudia almost jumped on the spot, though in her shock, dropped Wavy, causing him to knock his head on the pavement. He groaned slightly, though he remained unconscious and was able to do nothing about it. Claudia almost felt herself fumbling for a weapon as she turned around, only to find a familiar blonde-haired girl standing before her, with green eyes and a blue hair band. She was also carrying a stretcher. Embarrassed, Claudia briefly looked at Wavy on the ground, then back at the medic.
"Uh... just my luck..."
The medic only smiled, as she lowered the stretcher and lifted Wavy from the ground. Motioning for Claudia to help her, the two were able to hoist Wavy up and lay him on the stretcher, where each girl grabbed an end and picked him up.
"Looks like you were able to handle things before I arrived," the blonde commented, looking at the stitches, as well as the spent ragnaid capsules not too far away.
"Well thank you, um... Which one are you again...?" Claudia asked, once again feeling somewhat foolish.
"Oh, it's Fina... It's alright, nobody seems to get that sort of thing right. I don't blame anyone," Fina replied. The two walked off with toward they Fort Amatrain, hoping to send Wavy to the infirmary to properly heal anyone who needed it. "You seem to be decent in medicine... Kinda makes my job easier," Fina continued.
"Well, yeah... but I'm no medic... I'm just an engineer. With my luck, I wouldn't last long in medicine..."
"What's the matter? If you were able to get this man healed, I'm sure you could make a good medic with some training."
Claudia stayed silent for a bit, before managing to stammer out an answer. "Well, I wanted to be a nurse... But I failed the exam three times already, all of them for stupid reasons..." she trailed off, almost hiding a remorseful tone. "First I studied for the wrong section of the test, then failed miserably... second time I turned in the medical exam in the wrong basket..."
"And the third...?" Fina asked, though she regretted doing so, considering she felt like she was prying.
"I... forgot to put my name on the exam..." Claudia said, with an embarrassed laugh. "But I guess it's alright in the end... Maybe it's just a sign or something. Besides, I'm a little squeamish... Lots of blood kinda scares me," she continued, in a somewhat more upbeat tone.
"Maybe you should consider going back to nursing. We all get bad luck now and then. But maybe it's just a speed bump in the much bigger road ahead," Fina encouraged.
"I think I'm fine for now. Besides, being an engineer has been kinda good to me. I used to fix stuff up back home. I needed the money, but over time being a mechanic is surprisingly safe for me. I got used to it. Sure, I accidentally break something, or burn my hand, but it's what I've been doing for a while. Maybe that's just what I should be doing in the next few years. I've always tended to stick to what I could do best. Bad luck can put a couple dents in branching out to other things..." Claudia explained. Fina noted how the engineer spoke, almost melancholic. The medic wasn't entirely convinced.
"Mmmhmm... I think you can be better than this, Miss... um..."
"Oh, right... I never introduced myself. My name's Claudia. Claudia Mann. I'd shake your hand, but it appears both of ours are a bit occupied at the moment," she said, looking down at Wavy still in the stretcher, whom both girls were still carrying. He looked considerably less tense than he did a few minutes ago.
"Well, Claudia. I think you can do better than that..." Fina resumed. The pair stopped at an intersection in the alleyways. "Do you know where the base is from here?" Fina asked.
"Umm... Let's see..." Claudia stammered. Carefully attempting to balance her end of the stretcher with one arm and her knees, she pulled out a compass, in an attempt to get her bearings. It didn't help that she forgot which was the nearest Militia outpost. She simply hoped going north would lead the way. "Let's go this way," she proclaimed, pointing down one of the roads in the intersection. A complete guess, Claudia knew that it probably wouldn't lead very far. Sure enough, it wasn't too long before the pair were facing a dead-end.
"Guess I went the wrong way..." Claudia sighed.
"This wasn't too different from your life," Fina said, surprising her friend. "You saw the turn, but not the road that lies ahead."
"... Oh, I get it. Clever," the luckless girl replied. "Maybe I'll consider what you said. For now, at least until this war is over, I'm staying as an engie."
"Well, that's a start I suppose..."
Claudia merely shrugged and gave a slight chuckle, though she still couldn't help but wonder why Fina would care about that sort of thing. Saving the thought for a later time, the engineer turned around with Fina and carried Wavy off to find a nearby medical center or military outpost.
Coby, Jane, and Oscar rushed to the combat area, after hearing a report from a recent radio call. Evidently, the armored vehicle was spotted and all units had to get to area as soon as possible, before the car could get to the harbor and make its getaway. The trio managed to run into some Feds along the way, though the more they encountered them, the more the group realized that their numbers waned. The enemy was finally running out of troops to throw at them. With the way cleared forward for the squad to save the princess, everyone rushed to the area and stop the Federation.
As the trio managed to get very close to the area, they could hear the commotion and chatter from other Squad 7 forces.
"Looks like we found everyone. What the hell took them so long?" Coby mused.
"Who cares. We're here. That armored car's trapped somewhere. Let's kick those Feds' asses!" Oscar exclaimed.
Jane gave the sniper a good pat on the back, and laughed in agreement. As they progressed, they could hear the sound of gunfire, and the rapid fire was not the standard of militia arms. Leading the way, Coby walked off, until he saw several Squad 7 troops firing at a blue armored car. A gunner with a large fixed machine gun was firing back at them, as the vehicle was gaining speed and making its getaway; headed right towards Coby's group. The veteran smiled triumphantly, knowing that if the squad already cornered these guys, the mission is already as good as done. The fact the car was rolling straight toward them didn't phase him.
"Oscar, take out their gunner. When he's out of the way, we can all focus on being big goddamn heroes!" Coby shouted.
Oscar looked all too enthusiastic at the his order, and looked through the scope of his sniper rifle. However, something he overlooked what the speed of the vehicle. The armored car was getting increasingly closer, and from the scope, it looked like the Fed was right in front of him. Oscar found it hard to focus on the speeding target, though he tried to steady his aim. Holding his breath for one more shot, he fired the sniper rifle. A small bloody rip in the uniform could be seen on the shoulder.
"Damn it! I missed!"
While injured, the gunner didn't let go of the triggers on the machine gun. Swiveling the turret, the operative focused his attention to the few troops looking to ambush him. In a state of panic, Oscar, Coby, and Jane opened fire with their weapons, the latter two hoping that their rapid fire weapons would possibly make a lucky kill. Trying to think quickly, Jane pulled out a grenade, and eagerly ripped off the safety and was about to pull the trigger string.
"What the hell are you doing? Varrot strictly said no explosives!" Coby argued, grabbing the sadist's arm before she could pull the string.
"I ain't gonna kill the princess, old man. I'm just gonna blow the treads off that thing! One grenade ain't gonna blow the whole fucking car in one shot!" Jane retorted, brushing off Coby's grasp.
"What if hits the radiator!"
"Quit your blubbering, old man..." Jane muttered. With that, she pulled the trigger string and armed the grenade. The car was speeding by, and seconds away from passing the group. Jane threw the grenade, and as it sped by, it ignited in a cyan light, rocking the vehicle. However, the armored car was still speeding, sparks flying where it traveled. The gunner manning the turret turned around and aimed at the group one last time before it made its getaway. "Ah, shit."
As the machine gun let out the sound of a buzzsaw as it fired, Coby and Oscar dashed to the side, hoping to dodge the hailstorm of bullets. However, Jane wasn't fast enough, and she felt several quick flashes of pain pass through her body, before her chest began to feel numb. As the gunner stopped firing, Jane was left on her knees, shocked and stupefied. She fell forward, coughing blood.
"Damn it... of all the things to get killed by... I get killed by a god damn Fed..."
"Jane!" Oscar and Coby simultaneously shouted. Oscar tried grabbing some ragnaid from his pocket, though Jane looked to be suffering several shots around her stomach.
"Shit... shit! Man down!" Coby yelled as loud as he could. This prompted a punch in the chest from Jane, though she retracted her arm, still very weak.
"I... I ain't a man, you old prick!" Jane yelled.
"Well shit, Jane. You've got more balls than most of 'em do," Coby joked, though it was obvious his humor wasn't appreciated. Coby checked his own pockets for some ragnaid, but was distraught when he realized he had used all of his up back when he was wounded and the two Imp haters saved him.
Oscar was fruitlessly trying to help Jane, though even with the capsule's limiter removed, it didn't help a lot. "Damn it! I'm going to kill that son of a bitch!"
The sniper ditched his empty ragnaid capsule and grabbed his rifle from the ground. Even though the armored vehicle was a considerable distance away, the speed of it was much slower, no doubt due to Jane's risky but effective tactic. Aiming the scope on the Federation's machine gunner, Oscar steadied the center of his crosshair on the dull blue helmet and fired. A spray of blood came out, as the gunner's body limply fell back inside of the car. Satisfied, Oscar looked back and saw Jane attempting to get up on her own strength, though Coby's efforts to assist her were met with chastising that she was fine. After she was able to get up on her feet, she ended up collapsing again, with little strength left in her.
"Ugh... damn it... I can't die... I've still got Imps to kill..."
Coby was frustrated, and while Jane's will to live was almost unrivaled, he feared that wouldn't be enough to save her. "MEDIC!"
A few small faint sounds of footsteps could be heard nearby, and while Coby brooded over Jane's body, Oscar noticed two familiar young women, one a blonde and the other a black-haired girl with a red headband. They both were carrying a Darcsen man in a stretcher. Oscar was almost overjoyed at their fortuitous arrival, and tapped Coby on the shoulder to tell them that a medic arrived. Both girls eyes were wide in surprise, almost shocked even when they looked at a broken and bloodied Jane. Coby looked up, and while he was glad help conveniently arrived, he wasn't appreciative of their hesitancy.
"What the hell are you two waiting for? Get your asses over here and help her out!" Coby yelled.
Both girls almost jumped, though they each laid down the stretcher carefully, and rushed towards Jane, the blonde girl carrying a first-aid kit. Coby got out of the way as the medic pulled out a small syringe and injected it into Jane's arm.
"Ugh... My work's never done around here..." Fina whined, though it was obviously just joking.
"Alright, Fina. Just tell me what I can do to help, and we can try and save her," Claudia encouraged, grabbing her own medical equipment.
The two opened up Jane's uniform, and started to try and operate in the field. Coby and Oscar were left to anxiously watch the whole thing, and hoped for the best.
The armored car continued to try and speed by its Gallian aggressors, though the recent explosion left one of its set of treads broken severely, to the point of it slowing down considerably.
"C'mon, guys! We can do this! The car's right around the corner!"
Peter attempted to rally the group alongside him, as they followed a trail of skid marks and flying sparks, until they were able to follow the armored car very closely. Peter rushed alongside Alicia, who lead the way for their fellow 7's to save the day.
They saw the armored car reach the entrance to the harbor, and when it seemed close to getting away, the large rumbling of the Eidelweiss came forward, blocking the way to the Feds' escape. Cheering as they saw the commander's instantly recognizable tank, each of the 7's raised their weapons and aimed at the glowing blue fixation at the end of the car. Alicia raised her hand in the air, signaling everyone to aim at the car's radiator, and when she brought down her arm, everyone opened fire. After many sparks and bright flashes, the blue machine ceased to glow, and the rumbling sound of the armored car's engine came to a grinding halt.
Welkin could be seen popping his head out from the cupola, congratulating his team on a job well done. While some members of the squad jumped around in joy at their victory over the Feds, several others, including Peter, stood aiming their weapons at the doors. Patiently waiting, one of the metal doors on the vehicle creaked open. Two men in Gallian uniforms, as well as an aged man in a clean white suit stepped out, their hands raised over their heads. Peter kept his sights focused on the man in the fancy suit, presumably the Federation ambassador Susie mention that morning. He was extremely tempted to fire the trigger, though when he saw Alicia step in front of most of the team's line of sight, everyone lowered their weapons.
"Ted! Nancy! Mica!" Alicia shouted. Each of the three rushed forward and stood at attention to their sergeant. "I want the three of you to escort these men to the nearest police station. The law enforcement and government can decide what to do with these men," she ordered.
The three saluted and each of them pressed the end of their rifles towards the backs of remaining Feds, still walking with their hands over their heads. Peter walked towards the man in the suit, their supposed leader. The aged man had a look of nobility, and while he looked like he resigned to defeat, an almost smug look couldn't be wiped off his face.
"Why the hell'd you do it?" Peter bluntly asked.
The ambassador looked quizzically at Peter. "Pardon?"
"Why'd you kidnap our Princess? The way we see it, you're not exactly better than the Empire," Peter said, his agitation barely contained. The ambassador frowned, though kept a confident look on his face.
"Judge us not by our methods, but what we seek to achieve: Peace and Brotherhood for all of Europa," he explained. Peter wasn't convinced, but he continued on. "However, I can already see Gallia doesn't need the assistance of our Federation. A pity really, but I can see that this principality already has a mighty vanguard to defend it."
"Yeah, too bad that 'mighty vanguard' just foiled your plans," Peter said, almost mockingly.
"Indeed. Too bad, indeed... Still, it is not easy, but I know when I must accept defeat. Your brothers and kin have done well here. If only we were so unified, we could defeat the Imperials on our front..." the ambassador trailed off, somewhat musing of his own government.
"Uh, Peter, we gotta break this up here. I need to get this guy to the nearest station, ASAP. So, if you'll excuse me..." Nancy interrupted. Peter nodded as the girl escorted the Federation ambassador out of the area.
Peter almost didn't blame him. He didn't agree with his views, and his methods were extreme, though the intentions were right, however warped his fanatical mind created them. Still, he was responsible for the deaths of many Gallians, and he wouldn't hesitate to shoot the guy on the spot. The ambassador gave one last glance at Peter, before nodding almost approvingly.
"At least he had the right intentions... not the way I would have made a treaty with Gallia though..." a feminine voice mention. Peter turned around noticed his friend, Susie, standing with a radio pack. A pair of rather clunky headphones rested over her head, which she readily took off. A smile made its way on both of the childhood friends.
"Susie!" Peter exclaimed, opening his arms to hug her. "Where have you been this past battle? And what's with the radio equipment?"
"Oh, this? I've just been out scouting positions and sending coordinates for battles. I've been trying to tell people every major conflict in the area. As for why I wasn't in battle... I guess you can answer that yourself..." Susie mentioned with a shrug.
"Hehe... Same old Susie," Peter laughed, playfully putting an arm around her. "So do you still think this whole Federation/Gallia peace thing is still such a good idea?"
Susie paused, wearing a similar unsure expression as she did earlier that morning. "Like I said... not how I would have brokered peace... But that's politics, I suppose. Still, I'm glad Princess Cordelia is safe."
Peter looked around and saw a woman with an elaborate gown and headdress, no doubt the Princess herself. She seemed to have a conversation with the higher-ups of Squad 7, namely Welkin and Alicia. Peter noted how deeply affected the princess felt from whatever Welkin was talking about. After saying some goodbyes, Welkin escorted Cordelia out of the area, and Alicia was left almost dumbfounded. She wore an almost surprised and gleeful smile on her face. Curious as to what happened, Peter and Susie walked over to Alicia, who was still smiling with joy.
"Alicia, you were able to speak to Her Highness herself...? W-what an honor..." Susie said, and while she generally looked happy for her, Peter was able to note a rather uncharacteristic expression on her face: jealousy.
"So, what did you all talk about?" Peter asked.
Snapping out of her almost trance-like happiness, Alicia noticed her two fellow Bruhlers and calmed herself down. "Well, it just now struck me that that was the Princess of Gallia I was just talking to... but she seemed... conflicted. Unsure of herself. Welkin gave another philosophical thing about human nature, comparing to animals, and life, yet he can have such a way with words... The princess was affected by him..." she began. However, her smile she wore before quickly found its way back on her face. "But most of all, the Princess tried one of my cinnamon rolls and she loved it! I mean, she has royal cooks and bakers, and I'm just some country girl, and she actually liked it!"
"Well, Alicia. Noce did always say that your breads are taste that sends you straight to heaven... Bit of poetic exaggeration on his part, but not far from the truth," Peter commented. "And it's no question why the Princess would... Wait... Why the hell do you even carry cinnamon rolls with you in the middle of a battle?"
"Oh, uh... that..." Alicia stuttered embarrassingly. "Well, I understand that the people who make the military rations worked hard on them, but... I mean, you have to agree that they aren't the best thing to eat, so I just go ahead and bring my own food..."
"Sounds like self-pride, if you ask me," Peter joked, though when Alicia raised an almost annoyed brow, he quickly wiped the smirk off of his face. "So, what happens now that this is all over?"
"I want a rest... It has been a long night if you ask me..." Alicia replied, stretching her arms and yawning.
"Yes, rest would be very welcomed," Susie agreed.
"Going to bed already? C'mon, someone told me to live a little earlier. Let's go; I want to see if people are going to resume that 'ball' thing in our quarter of Fort Amatrain," Peter exclaimed, not a hint of grogginess in him.
"I'd rather not... Tomorrow's that time of week again, remember? Scout training. And I don't think Sergeant Rodriguez is going to appreciate a half-groggy scout doing the exercises tomorrow," Alicia retorted.
"Well, maybe I'm tired now..." Peter quickly said, walking ahead of the two Bruhler girls and heading back towards Fort Amatrain. Both of the girls laughed briefly, before deciding to follow in Peter's suit to get some well deserved rest. After all, saving the Princess of Gallia did have its strenuous and unforgiving perks about it.
YES! I Feel so accomplished right now. As you can see, much bigger chapter length, and a bit of change in the writing style. I drifted away from Peter's perspective quite a few times, just to add variety and more depth to characters. And while it's odd seeing some relationships, I kinda like to play on how squad members know each other, even if they're not on each others "likes" list. Camaraderie can so much farther than who you own personal friends are. But reiterating the different perspectives each writer sees characters can be very interesting. I also hope I made some of those aspects, as well as other unrelated aspects in this chapter believable. Anyway, I hope this chapter was able to make up for the long wait. I look forward to see what all of you think of this chapter, and I'll begin writing the next chapter shortly.