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Youjo Senki, Volumen 3, Capitulo 2, Parte 2


THE SAME DAY, THE GENERAL STAFF OFFICE, OPERATIONS DIVISION

“Open sesame.”

That day at the General Staff Office, members of every section were on edge yet unable to suppress their excitement. Still, they bustled about doing their duty to prepare for what would come next.

The entire General Staff was enveloped in the atmosphere of exhilaration and nerves that preceded a major operation, but Operations had erupted into back-patting upon hearing news of Operation Shock and Awe’s success.

The unexpected plan to blow up the Republican Rhine Army Group headquarters, the results that caused everyone to marvel at how perfectly it had been pulled off it was all thanks to the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion’s skillful performance.

So to Major General von Rudersdorf, who read the success telegram with a grin, things were off to a great start. Pessimists had said, “Well, at the very least we’ll throw their headquarters into confusion…,” but here was the pleasant outcome of expecting what he knew he could from that rascal.

Zettour, you rascal. What a pet you’ve pulled out of your pocket for us. Even Rudersdorf was so delighted that for a brief moment, he wanted to forget about appearances, hit the beer hall, and roar, Cheers!

Thanks to the Service Corps’ efficient procurement of the necessary equipment and personnel for Operation Shock and Awe, Operation Lock Pick was proceeding almost completely according to plan.

Which was why Rudersdorf wondered what was making his brother-in-arms so worried when he was called out of a meeting for an emergency or some such.

“Just received an important message from the Foreign Office. We got an official notice from the Commonwealth via the embassy.”

“An ultimatum?”

“No, more like the opposite. Apparently, they’ve taken the bizarre position that ‘the time for international cooperation to restore peace has come!’”

He gave an “ohh” of understanding. Rudersdorf could understand the awkwardness of receiving an offer for peace talks right as they were preparing for a major offensive.

“They want to facilitate peace? So things have gotten delicate…?”

“Exactly. And their request is extremely problematic. Supposedly they want us to respond to their peace offering, but the condition they’ve given is restitutio in integrum.2 And apparently, they’re demanding an answer within a week.”

But the condition Major General von Zettour mentioned was so unexpected, even Rudersdorf was surprised. Restore the situation to the way it was prewar?

“Restitutio in integrum? I don’t want to say this, but that means all our hard work will have been for nothing. They’ve got to be kidding! Peace under those terms is out of the question. If we were going to agree to that, why would we have not once but twice eradicated threats in our region? I never want to see the borders established by the Treaty of Londinium ever again.”

Rudersdorf was a bit puzzled by the strange timing of this notice from the Commonwealth, but the terms erased his confusion, and he gave his answer roughly.

So they’re telling us to reset our national security environment to the way it was before the conflict started?

He understood that their request was based on the balance of power theory. In other words, the proposal was only what the Commonwealth wanted for itself.

Of course, Rudersdorf understood the reason of it, as a diplomatic motion in the name of the country’s own interest. But even bias has its limits. His look said, There’s no possibility that they wrote this as a joke?

But the other man wore an equally perplexed expression.

Which was when Rudersdorf finally realized, Ahh, that’s why he had such a strange look on his face. After all, they were being offered a tone-deaf diplomatic proposal written in an absurdly self-serving tone. It was no wonder he was confused.

“Yes, but if we ignore them, we risk an intervention. It seems that part of the Commonwealth’s fleet has already begun maneuvers. I’m currently inquiring with the High Seas Fleet as to their movements…”

But behind his puzzled expression was a struggle to understand the motive behind the Commonwealth’s message.

He had no idea what the Commonwealth authorities were thinking. The notice was dripping with egotism that made it seem like the writers were going out of their way to display what a self-serving nation they represented. But the Empire didn’t know what kind of thinking went into the draft.

For the Empire, it would be hard to swallow a request to return everything to the way it was before the war. The only possible reply was a no; in short, if the proposal was made with the expectation of refusal, it meant the Commonwealth wanted an excuse to attack the Empire.

But then…why not just send an ultimatum?

Or rather, would those miserly fellows really come stick their necks into a continental war where there was nothing in it for them? No one was sure about that point. That plus the intel that part of their fleet was on the move despite their strange posture made the Commonwealth’s goals more or less impossible to fathom.

Those inconsistencies gave Zettour pause, and he couldn’t find a way to explain the situation well, even to himself.

“At least for now, we haven’t confirmed the mobilization of any land troops. So maybe it’s just diplomatic posturing? There hasn’t been an ultimatum, right?”

“No, we haven’t received anything like that. No sign of mobilization, either. What is the Commonwealth after, making a proposal like this?”

“Could the root lie in their domestic situation? If you think of it as a way to get around parliament and evade the demands of their internal politics, it starts to make sense.”

“That seemed to be the consensus in the meeting of the Supreme High Command, too. Anyhow, nothing good will come of worrying about it. We just need to do our duty… So the die is cast, huh? No, I suppose we crossed the Rubicon the moment we made the Low Lands bait.”

But in the end, even if they were confused, both Zettour and Rudersdorf knew the Empire didn’t have many options left at that point. In which case, their job was to simply choose the best one for the current situation.

They understood the folly of getting distracted by external noise and losing sight of their duty. They were soldiers and officers of the Imperial Army General Staff. Their job was to push ahead, so there was nothing else they needed to do.

“That’s right. Hesitation would be the Reich’s downfall. We can only press on.”

In order to catch the Republican Army in their revolving door,3 they had carried out a reorganization of the lines despite significant opposition. The bait was something the enemy couldn’t resist. Hence why they flourished the red cape of the western industrial region in front of the enraged bull of the Republic to lure it to the killing grounds.

If they didn’t slay the bull with one strike, they would be the ones to get gored to death.

“Even if the Commonwealth joins the war, how many divisions does it have in the first place? Probably less than ten it can deploy, right?”

According to Rudersdorf’s thinking, it couldn’t have much effect on the Rhine front even if it did come to intervene, so he didn’t see anything to worry about.

“All we have is estimates, but seven or eight divisions, plus a division or two of cavalry. Plus a few brigades. Oh, and they also have some degree of air force capable of striking land targets.”

“If that’s all, frankly, they aren’t much of a threat. If they attack, all we have to do is call a police officer and have them arrested on suspicion of violating immigration law.”

Honestly, in numerical terms, the Principality of Dacia’s army posed a bigger threat. The Commonwealth was an island nation. It was hard for the Empire to get to them, but the opposite was also true.

If such a country wanted to interfere, it would have to transport troops by sea. Suppose those troops did come that long way on the water the scale of the Commonwealth’s standing army was simply not big enough to be a serious threat.

Even a generous estimate of their available troops gave them ten divisions. The Commonwealth’s infantry units could operate as a threat only on the tactical level. On the Rhine front, where well over a hundred divisions were clashing, ten wasn’t nothing, but…it was still only ten.

That wasn’t enough to be a threat on the operational level, much less the strategic level.

“Certainly, in the case of the land army, that’s true, but the power gap between our navies is indisputable. It would be a headache if they put a blockade on us.”

“Whoa, whoa, are you serious, Zettour? If they could just keep a blockade going, that would be a surprise. I don’t know how long you want to keep fighting this war, but I want to end it. I’m sick of getting complaints about ersatz coffee.”

In truth, the Commonwealth was still a troublesome power. There was no way to attack them without getting past the Royal Navy they were so proud of. Of course, the Imperial Navy was ashamed of it, but although it could fight as well as or better than the Republican Navy, the outcome of a battle against the Commonwealth’s navy would be a toss-up at best, even if it brought all its warships to bear on the Commonwealth’s navy even just the home fleet. If the Commonwealth pulled ships from its channel fleet or the forces it had dispatched to other locations, that would be enough to make the Imperial Navy inferior.

On the other hand…

That was it.

Without a finishing move, they could stare each other down as much as they wanted, but they would arrive at nothing but an endless stalemate.

“Let’s get it over with.”

“Yes, I’d certainly like to end the war sooner rather than later. So…you want to go through with that plan?”

“Exactly. Which is why I need to ask you about the logistics… Zettour, can’t you do something to make that advance possible?”

Rudersdorf, the one who had mustered all of his know-how to draft the plan for the operation, was confident that glory and victory were within the Imperial Army’s grasp. To him, the war against the Republic was like a footrace, and all that was left was to run unhindered through the tape at the finish line.

The question was whether they could keep their strength up long enough to make it.

“General von Rudersdorf, I had some of my staff make an estimate. East of the Rhine lines I can promise whatever you need, but if we’re going as far as Parisii, we’ll have to overcome the significant obstacle of distance. I can’t guarantee you more than eight shells a day.”

“That’s awfully stingy.”

“Furthermore, that number includes only shells under 155 mm, and we can just barely maintain that amount for a short period of time under optimal conditions. Our supply lines are nearing their limits.”

“No heavy artillery and only eight shells per gun? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The number Zettour gave was so outrageous that Rudersdorf glared at him, paying no heed to the staffers in the area looking their way in shock.

There’s no way to fight a war with that allotment of shells.

The words were on the tip of his tongue.

“If we can’t use enemy railroads, then we’re forced to rely on horses and trucks. I explained the circumstances already. We’ve requisitioned everything we can from our regional army groups and the two occupied territories, but it’s nowhere near enough.”

“I understand how hard the Service Corps is working, but getting hit with numerical reality is harsh. Under these circumstances…we could be done for if it turns into an artillery battle. If we can’t get at least forty-four shells per gun per day…”

“There aren’t enough horses. We’re also hopelessly low on hay. Even if we wanted to get it on the ground, it’s not the right season. Neither is there enough time to have field engineers lay narrow-gauge rail in no-man’s-land. We’ll be running our horses into the ground to get even those eight shells and food to the front lines.”

Rudersdorf abruptly swallowed his next words. Zettour was the one telling him this, and that fact left him no choice but silence because he knew that if Zettour was saying it couldn’t be done, the depths of human ingenuity had already been plumbed.

If the job was left up to anyone else, they probably wouldn’t be able to deliver even half of what Zettour had promised.

“My friend, I’ll be frank. I agree with your plan for the operation as such. I don’t intend to withhold any support I can give. I did my very best, and my very best is that number. Please understand that this is the limit of what we are capable of.”

“All right. Then how long can we operate under those terms?”

Thus, accepting the extreme unpleasantness of their harsh reality, Rudersdorf asked where the line was. If that slim amount of supplies could be provided for a short amount of time, then how long, exactly?

“Two weeks. If we don’t get too worn down, then maybe another two weeks from there, but after that everyone should pray to God in whatever way they believe in.”

Rudersdorf thought the time limit was harsh, but he did manage to find one ray of hopeful light in it.

If they could succeed in taking out the enemy’s main forces…

If they ripped up the enemy’s ability to fight back by the roots, they would be having the ceremony to occupy Parisii’s palace before the next month was out.

“In other words, I need you to understand that if we get bogged down in trench warfare, our supply lines will become paralyzed. Our army is specialized for mobility along interior lines.” Zettour’s grievances clearly indicated areas the Imperial Army needed to improve. “Providing logistical support for operations that go beyond our organizational plan such as sending troops onto foreign soil is a nightmare. If you could manage to pull horse fodder and railways out of thin air, we might be able to do the impossible. As it is, though, we’re just barely managing to make penguins fly, so please understand.”

“Fine. We’ll make an unstoppable advance. You sure talk like a textbook, though. But when push comes to shove, you can provide the minimum supplies for the advancing troops, right?”

The only direction to go was forward.

And he believed that the Service Corps, that Zettour, could get them the minimum the bare minimum of what they needed to do so.

“Only to Parisii. I’m not an alchemist. Don’t go assuming I can create an endless supply of gold. Also, the hard truth is that the route is too slim to deliver shells. If you can’t lure in and annihilate the Republican Army’s main forces, you’ll have to give up on Parisii. Please keep that in mind as an officer of the General Staff.”

“Of course. Still…isn’t there anything you can do about heavy artillery?”

Rudersdorf found himself asking the favor even though he knew it was taking advantage of their friendship. Even just a little bit, please.

“Don’t be ridiculous! You were the one who said to assume enemy railroads would be basically destroyed! How are we supposed to transport heavy artillery shells and guns with no trains? I’m repeating myself, but the horses are already worked to the bone. If we work them any harder, the rate of attrition will be insupportable. The army doesn’t have any logistical leeway; in fact, the eight shells I can get you, I can only get because we’re commandeering farm horses and fodder stockpiles from civilians. And furthermore,” Zettour glared at Rudersdorf, annoyed, as he went on in a low voice, “practically all our heavy artillery is camouflaged in place in the Low Lands! So no more crying for the moon!”

Having personally requested the concentrated placement of those guns, Rudersdorf couldn’t very well ask his friend to somehow come up with more.

“I know, I know. Ahh, I guess there’s nothing we can do. We’ll have to work on improving artillery mobility.”

“You mean the mechanized artillery idea? Yeah, with the trench war we’ve had to be focused on existing guns. This’ll be a good opportunity. Let’s talk to Kluku Weapons.”

Rudersdorf and Zettour agreed that the mobility issues with not only the heavy artillery, but artillery in general, had become worrisome when considering an advance.

In trench warfare, guns with limited mobility could withstand a degree of counterbattery fire by holing up inside their positions and bunkers. But in a field battle, it was extremely difficult to rapidly change their positions. The current reality was that their firepower was often late to critical engagements.

If the guns couldn’t advance after the army broke through the trenches, the infantry had to fight without artillery support. Even if they provided mage or air force support, they couldn’t expect the same level of firepower as from the big guns.

Still, Zettour repeated, “But don’t forget. This is all only if the revolving door goes around like it’s supposed to.”

So Rudersdorf nodded confidently. “Leave it to me. Open sesame!”

Those were magic words.

Rudersdorf was secretly very pleased with his very appropriate key phrase for Operation Lock Pick. They would literally blow up the trenches where they had been piling up corpses in vain, as neither side could break through. They would pry open the Republic’s stubborn defenses.

“…I see you still have devastatingly bad taste in catchphrases.”

“It’s way better than getting all pedantic, isn’t it? Above all, it’s easy to understand.” Rudersdorf did worry about the fact that those outside Operations didn’t seem to care for it much. Still, he thumped his chest with his fist to say, You can count on me. “Well, ‘renaissance’ isn’t bad, either. This is ancient wisdom.”

Tunneling had been used to break castle walls in the ages before there were cannons. Now was the time to employ that knowledge once again. Let’s teach those arrogant Republicans not to scoff at ancient ideas. Just the thought of it made Rudersdorf happy.

“…What’s most important is the principle of the revolving door. Now, which side will history put the weight on?”

“Both it’ll be a historically huge encirclement. Now then, gentlemen, let’s end this war.”





The Low Lands had become a vacuum when they let the Imperial Army withdraw. While the left wing of the Republic’s Eastern Army Group advanced to push their front lines up, the units of the right wing were still facing off against the left wing of the Imperial Army, and they were all sick of the deadlock.

As far as they could tell, all the radio and official reports covered was the pursuit of the enemy on the Low Lands front. Meanwhile, their daily lives were filled with the monotony of quiet lines.

In the forward-most trench, they were anxious about little scuffles in no-man’s-land and snipers. In the reserve trench a ways back, soldiers sulked about the unchanging menu, engaging in futile arguments with the logistics man. And even their frontline HQ was envious of the fortune of the Low Land troops; its officers, beset by irritation and embarrassing impatience, sat around in meetings with nothing to say. No one was having a very good time of it.

To make matters worse, it was being whispered that the Commonwealth was intervening, mediating, or possibly even joining the war as an ally, and they heard that the battle to annihilate the Empire was nearly at hand. It didn’t feel very good to be so far from the action at a time like that.

In such an atmosphere, it wasn’t rare to see a certain mid-ranking officer wearing a particularly grouchy frown, standing firmly with a cigarette gripped so tightly between his teeth it seemed like he would chomp it to pieces.

The officer, Lieutenant Colonel Vianto, gave off an aura of fury he couldn’t hide, projecting the fight of a bulldog from every part of his body. He wasn’t allowed an outlet for that energy, for some incomprehensible reason, and it had him seething with anger.

He fiercely protested the assignment of the few mages who narrowly escaped from Arene to the colonies for “reorganization,” but he was blocked by red tape, which made him furious just thinking about it, and the higher-ups, who evaded taking indirect responsibility for the tragedy in Arene.

I swear these assholes have no goddamn clue!

Vianto was so mad the bitterness of the cigarette he had crushed in his mouth didn’t even register to him. Seized by violent emotion, he drove his fist into the wall. His fist was charged with a formula he had cast unconsciously, leaving distinct cracks in the wall, but he was still fuming.

That was how much he resented his current situation.

…The operation in Arene to damage the Empire’s rear had threatened the Imperial Army’s logistics. That was true. So he could understand why the brass talked about the Imperial Army’s retreat as an outcome of that.

But…

They were supposed to pursue the enemy once they retreated. If they had gone after the Empire’s forces, surely they could have achieved something, perhaps even something as fanciful as an imperial surrender.

But instead, the enemy got away, and Republican troops moved in to take the land left behind like beggars accepting pity, which the brass then proclaimed as a victory. On top of that, when Vianto realized the significance of his mages being transferred, he had the urge to punch out higher-ups by the dozens.

Those sons of bitches! he screamed in his head. They were silencing anyone who had been involved in the uprising at Arene or doing everything in their power to transfer them away from the front lines all to cover up the fact that their prediction had been too optimistic. Pathetic!

Service in the rear or a post at some colony is probably in my near future, too, he thought with an exhausted sigh.

He had written a mountain of petitions in protest. This is what I get for fulfilling my mission? It’s absurd! I can’t go on like this.

Sadly, the only people he could complain to were the generals at the frontline HQ he belonged to. In other words, they would just let him vent until he ran out of steam.

Eat shit.

It was so stupid, he couldn’t stand it.

“Fuck!”

He hurled his cigarette to the ground, then used a booted foot to grind the butt out with the rage of someone avenging his mother, before requesting permission to fly from airspace control.

He couldn’t just stand there smoldering.

If I don’t somehow stay on the front lines until we defeat the Empire and knock those assholes out of the sky, I can’t say a proper good-bye to my dead men and the people we failed to protect.

He could hardly bear the boiling pressure inside him as the two sides stared one another down.

Worst of all, due to the various difficulties that add friction to any advance, they didn’t have a clear picture of the advancing units’ situation, which was unsettling. He knew from experience that the communication lines of an advancing army faced an unending parade of obstacles.

Once you got a ways away from the railroads, communication grew more difficult. Then the phone lines the field engineers finally managed to roll out would end up severed in every possible way whether on purpose or not from getting blown up by enemy shells to run over by friendly cavalry or trucks.

The enemy, being the enemy, would emit jamming signals at full power, so allies would increase their output as well, but that only created all manner of confusion. For instance, it became more difficult to pick up other units’ signals.

So Vianto thought he would go see for himself what was going on.

Luckily, perhaps, his excuse that he was special ops going to get a handle on enemy movements worked they needed the intel and flight permission was surprisingly easy to get.

Since he was going anyhow, and they didn’t have regular contact with the front lines, he was asked to perform unofficial officer reconnaissance and messenger duties. On top of that surely out of genuine good will, but still he got saddled with a trunk filled with all sorts of alcohol and tobacco scraped together by everyone from the staff officers to the NCOs with a “Please give this to the officers suffering on the front lines.”

At this rate, thought Vianto, laden with a mountain of notes, I’m no different from a messenger pigeon or a cigarette dog, but he knew the significance of the things he’d been trusted with.

There was emotion behind the requests, and knowledge that these items were needed on the forward-most lines.

This way of spending his time was a zillion times more meaningful than wasting it on the bureaucrats and their stupid regulations.

More than anything, Vianto personally knew how comforting it would be for the officers struggling on the front to receive tidings and luxury items from the rear. Thus, even though he knew flying with a heavy load meant a whole new level of exhaustion was in his future, he didn’t turn down a single request.

“This is Vianto. Call sign Whiskey Dog. Requesting permission to take off from CP.”

When he was granted permission to fly, they asked for his call sign, so like those before him, he jokingly referred to himself as a delivery dog that was planning to shuttle cigarettes and whiskey to the front lines.

“Whiskey Dog, this is CP. All Rhine airspace controllers have been notified. Multiple signaling stations have replied, and all state that they’re hoping you arrive as soon as possible. We’ve also received enthusiastic welcomes from each unit in the Low Lands…”

“Ha-ha-ha! Then I’d better not worry them by being late. Okay, I’m off!”

Though his exchange with CP included laughter, each word told him how hard it was for the soldiers out there. Vianto knew from experience how easily logistics for an advancing army could get screwed up. All the more reason he just had to get his delivery through. With a wry grin, he told himself he couldn’t be late.

“CP, roger! Have a good trip!”

“Whiskey Dog, roger! I know you told me to get there on time!”

“Got it. I’m betting on you, Colonel! If I lose, you owe me a drink!”

“Okay, you can count on me.”

With that solemn assurance, Vianto took off. Although he ascended a bit more cautiously than usual, with so many bottles of alcohol, the process was the same one he had repeated a number of times. Focusing on the point he wanted to manipulate via the computation orb, he deployed a formula that would only interfere as much as necessary. After that, he gave in to the floating sensation and let the propulsion carry him upward.

Which was why, when he managed to get safely into the air, there was nothing particularly special about it to him. It was a normal takeoff.

Until the following moment.

Without warning, he was struck by a flash and the thundering roar of an explosion. Sent spinning like a leaf tossed on white rapids, he lost all sense of direction and couldn’t even tell if he was upright or not.

Between the enormous shock waves and the blast resonating in his stomach, it was all Vianto’s disoriented brain could do to keep him in the air.

But the shock only lasted a moment.

A few seconds later, when his senses had calmed down enough to function, he was glad to find them telling him there was nothing wrong with his body.

Relieved, he sighed.

It was then that his brain finally wondered what in the world that explosion had been.

He started. Once his cognitive faculties were recovered enough for him to look around, the sight of thick black smoke in the direction of the front lines and above him froze his brain.

He had been in the process of taking off, but he was still up in the air.

Yet, here was smoke he had to look up to see? Multiple plumes? Hanging over the front lines?

Noise, shock, and smoke.

The first possibility that occurred to him was that the ammunition dump had suffered a hit and exploded. It would have to be a huge amount of powder going at once or something similar…

“…More than one?”

But as he voiced that fact, he was forced to admit that his guess was decidedly off.

There were multiple sources of black smoke.

And as far as he could tell, they were at even intervals.

Once he understood the significance of the fact that they were man-made explosions, he realized what had happened.

Man-made explosions?

On the Rhine front, man-made explosions could only mean combat action. So did the ammo dumps get caught up in it?

But then he realized his understanding was flawed. Even if all the ammunition dumps on the front blew at once, there’s no way they would make such neatly spaced plumes of smoke.

When he realized that, it dawned on him through not logic but his gut, via experience, that the situation was far worse than he imagined.

This was an imperial attack. Then that means… He quickly tried to see what the scene beneath the smoke looked like. What he saw via the observation formula he initiated made him gasp.

There were supposed to be trenches on this side of no-man’s-land. Defensive positions three trenches deep with artillery installations and multiple pillboxes to provide protected firing positions. They should have been right there.

But what he saw was a big lonely wasteland covered in rubble and a cloud of dirt.

All their defensive positions had been wiped off the map.

They had all literally vanished.

“CP to Whiskey Dog, what’s going on? What was that explosion?”

“…Gone.”

Vianto spoke almost without realizing it.

“Huh? Colonel? Sorry, please say it again.”

It’s all gone.

He shouted, his voice shaking, “It’s blasted to bits! The entire front was blown up! The lines are gone!”

“Gone? Colonel, you’ll have to excuse me, but that’s not…”

The CP still hadn’t grasped the situation. Annoyed by the radio operator’s laidback attitude, Vianto focused via his observation formula on a moving group, and in the next moment, he was practically straining his vocal cords screaming a warning to all units.

“Ngh! Enemy spotted! A composite group of armored units and mechanized infantry! The scale is… They’re everywhere…”

“What?!”

For a moment, CP was speechless.

“W-warn the front lines!” the radio operator added as if he’d finally remembered.

At that moment, the normal instructions, the need to warn the lines, made Vianto feel strangely off somehow.

Why do I feel weird? he asked himself. Ohh. A wry grin spread across his exhausted face.

I don’t need to send a warning anymore. There’s no one left to warn.

“Whiskey Dog to CP. I question the necessity of that.”

“Sir?” The tone of voice said, What are you talking about?

Ahh, he still doesn’t get it, thought Vianto as he said, “No, right now, I’m on the forward-most line. The front lines have been wiped out.”

“…Colonel?”

“I saw it. The frontline trenches our front lines were all blown sky high. Everything. They’re a huge crater now!”

This is the forward-most line. Our army’s defensive lines are being pried open at this very moment, on an unprecedented scale. And Vianto had experienced Arene. There was no escaping the chill that ran down his spine.

“I’m coming down! Call HQ! Hurry! There’s no time to lose!”

Once the imperial military machine is up and running, it’s not an easy feat to stop it. He learned that in Arene.

Those guys don’t miss a thing. They’re borderline psychotic perfectionists. Their devotion to their war machine must transcend even the fabled raison d’état.

“Urgent to Rhine Army Group HQ! If you don’t send every last mobile and strategic reserve unit here, we won’t be able to plug this hole! Hurry!”

He conveyed the crisis in a panic over the wireless as he landed. When he rushed into the command area, distress was written all over the face of the officer waiting for him.

“Lieutenant General Michalis, 10th Division. Colonel, go to the army group headquarters immediately! You’ve got to warn the others!”

“I beg your pardon, sir, but why?!” Why go to the trouble of sending a messenger? But the division commander interrupted.

“Colonel, we’ve lost all methods of communication, wired or otherwise! Nothing connects!”

No communications…? That means…

“…What?!”

That means no one received my warning!

As he processed the news in a daze, he had hardly any choice but to despair… With even the reserve trench obliterated, did frontline command have even a single division to work with? Whatever they had, they would have to use it to defend a front an entire army had been protecting.

They needed reinforcements as soon as possible.

“Colonel, the enemy is headed this way, right?”

What the hell? thought Vianto as he nodded despondently and continued his report.

HQ doesn’t know what’s going on. So they haven’t sent reinforcements. They probably haven’t even realized the enemy is about to break through.

“The explanation is simple. In order to take us out, those imperial bastards are not only jamming but they went so far as to cut our wires in the rear. That’s borderline paranoid, but it sure was effective as hell.”

“Ngh. Understood. I’ll fly to the army group headquarters immediately!”

They were detestably familiar with how thorough the Empire was, and yet here they were. But there was no time to wallow in frustration. Someone had to sound the alarm. And the fastest in this situation would be a magic officer messenger.

“It’s scribbles, but I wrote you a note. I’m counting on you please alert HQ! At this rate, the front will… Even Horatius couldn’t defend the bridge on his own. Reinforcements we need reinforcements now!”

The moment Vianto understood everything, he cast away the backpack full of bottles and notes he was still carrying. Feeling much lighter, he took the envelope from the commander, wrapped it in cloth, put it away in his breast pocket. Then he shook the commander’s hand and made a vow.

“I will deliver this message.”

There was nothing else he needed to say.

As he rushed out of frontline command and deployed a flight formula, his chest was bursting with violent emotion. He couldn’t bear leaving fellow soldiers like that, essentially running away, but his sense of duty told him: Alert the others to this crisis!

The members of the 10th Division…were prepared to die. Just like Horatius, they would protect the fatherland as gatekeepers. That’s why, no matter what it takes, I have to call reinforcements while they buy time. If he was too late, the service of those heroes would be all for naught. I’ve got to fly.

Thus, though he was still bewildered, Vianto shouted warnings and orders to intercept as he wove his way through the jumble of soldiers, and as soon as he was up, he flew desperately toward the rear headquarters with all the speed he had.

But before he could get enough altitude, he had to take erratic evasive maneuvers.

The optical sniping formulas raining down on him couldn’t have come from more than a company’s worth of mages. But the scale of the attack was nothing compared to the reality that imperial mages had penetrated this far into their territory a curse escaped him.

Or should he have been amazed at their skill? They’re so good at war it makes me sick.

“Ngh! Shit, you rotten potato bastards!” he spat as he deployed a series of optical deception formulas not to repulse the enemy but to help him get away.

At the same time, he needed to avoid pursuit, so though his consciousness was threatening to fade, he willed it to stay bound to this world and whipped his agonized lungs, ascending to 8,500.

Immediately after that, the enemies who seemed like they would follow him fired several explosion-type formulas, undisciplined, perhaps as a diversion, and then turned around, abandoning him.

There was some distance between them now, but surely wiping out everyone at the HQ facilities was a higher priority for enemy command than taking Vianto out. The inhuman rationalism of their disgustingly clear sense of purpose sent a chill up his spine.

What it meant was that…the friendly HQ that had just sent him out would come under fire.

The relief of escaping pursuit clashed with the shame of sacrificing his fellow soldiers to escape his current circumstances were infuriating; there was nothing he could do.

“I’m sorry… Shit! Why…why did this happen?”

His clenched fists trembled with anger as he choked out his fury at an oxygen-poor altitude. Really, this was the situation his kind were meant to prevent, and that realization gave birth to outrage toward the enemy mage unit freely attacking their frontline command post. So why am I leaving the ground troops as lures and running away?

It was so pathetic and humiliating.

A tsunami of indescribable emotions was welling up inside him, but he repressed even that and focused completely on flying with all his might toward the rear because it was his mission, in order to avert the collapse of the front, even if he had to sacrifice everything to complete it.

“…HQ, come in. HQ? Ahh, shit, it won’t connect. What are the air defense controllers doing right when I need them?”

Which was why, spurred by impatience, he furiously continued calling the Rhine Army Group headquarters even though they weren’t answering. Of course, he knew what the situation was. He realized it must have been utter chaos.

But Vianto couldn’t help but feel some contempt. How could they have let imperial mages penetrate so far into our territory without so much as warning us? Are the air defense controllers taking a nap or what?

The only emotion he could summon was disgust. Especially because once initial interception was delayed, enemy contact would be disorganized.

“…Calling Rhine Army Group Headquarters. Rhine Army Group Headquarters, come in! I say again, Rhine Army Group Headquarters. Rhine Army Group Headquarters, please respond!”

Are the waves just not reaching them because I’m still a ways away? Irritated at the thought, he continued calling via his computation orb, but the lack of response was getting frustrating.

Why does this have to happen now? All he could do was fly on, burning up with impatience.

“Agh, damn it! Did the radio operator fall asleep? It’s kind of a bad time!”

So he continued unleashing his rage at HQ as he flew near the limit of combat speed. Then he saw it.

“…What is this?”

Cratered land. The headquarters facilities smoking, in flames.

It was the cluster of facilities that had been known as Rhine Army Group HQ.

The soldiers running to and fro on the ground performing rescues and fighting fires were clad in Republican uniforms.

So this was where the Rhine Army Group headquarters was.

This was the place.

This place giving off black smoke, plunged into a crucible of unsalvageable confusion, this place was…? “This is HQ? Of all the…”

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