The large hallway was constructed from giant marble slabs of various colors.
A decorative ceiling painting in the shape of an arch hung above her head, and the crystal chandeliers hanging at regular intervals shone and sparkled brightly. Stone statues of unimaginable prices lined the sides, separated by round pillars that were painstakingly decorated with gold and silver by artisans.
From the large glass panes which let in bountiful sunlight during the day now shone through an especially bright moon face.
This was the Lorelia Federation Front Line Outpost which was modified from an abandoned palace.
A lone girl with beautiful platinum-blond hair was walking through this gaudy hallway.
Her name was Philia Loadrain.
Her silky-smooth hair seemed to absorb the moonlight, glimmering like a kaleidoscope of silver and platinum. Like a princess right out of a fantasy world, she had that ethereal presence around her.
All those walking by her in the opposite direction seemed to fell into a stupor when they saw her, before snapping out of their daze and moving to the side flusteredly to make way for her.
“Salute, Colonel Loadrain!”
“Oh… how beautiful as always!”
“—Shh. Keep it down, dumbass.”
Those lined up by the side were pretty much the same age as her.
They were all dressed in their uniforms, and the gleam in their eyes must due to the remnants of the adrenaline flowing in their blood from the battlefield just then.
No—that wasn’t all.
That emotion in their eyes was a sort of reverence. It didn’t matter even if they were male or female, senior or junior. Their impassioned gaze were all focused upon Philia alone.
A tension hung in the air.
It was as though they were keeping each other in check with their eyes, a rather unproductive endeavor if you asked her. In her mind, Philia thought that she would like that this behavior doesn’t spread anymore than at the battlefield already.
The moment someone makes a move, the stillness would collapse like a chain of dominoes. If that happens, the crowd would pour in all at once and she wouldn’t be able to move amidst the pushing. She must make it back to her room before that happens, as she had learnt the hard way in the past.
“Excuse me, Colonel, we’re just got our hands on this full-course banquet ticket we spent three months worth of points on, how would you like to join us—”
“Colonel, we’re just about to have a viewing night of your battle record later, we’d be honored if you could—”
She turned a fake smile towards all the soldiers calling out to her and left quickly without replying.
She suppressed the urge to break out into a run right this moment and lengthened the stride of her footsteps. The fight today had brought her close to her limit of fatigue. This was all the fault of that black-haired Elmer boy.
No matter how much bullets she fired at him, he zipped through them like a butterfly and the skirmish didn’t end however long it took. In the end, she only managed to kill him once in the afternoon. The extended combat with him each time made her all the more exhausted compared to the usual missions. And she wasn’t an outdoors type to begin with, so her legs were like chunks of lead at this point.
However, she made it a point to not show it in her appearance as she continued walking with her back upright.
By chance, Philia had come to know that several dozens of her pictures were taken and circulated widely among the ranks.
It annoyed her to no ends, but there were no doubts that if a photo of her with an undignified appearance were to hit the market, they would all be disillusioned. As an elite, she had to protect her honor no matter the cost.
In that manner, she made her way to a separate wing through a narrow corridor. Just ahead was the women’s dormitory.
Once she entered the male-forbidden oasis, she climbed the stair rapidly taking three steps at a time.
When she finally reached her room, she slammed her palm against the biometric identification device—even though it was meant to be contactless—and practically dived into her room.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, I’m absolutely beat!”
It was a double room with simple furnitures mirrored on both sides.
It wasn’t as grand and luxurious as the central block she passed by just now, but this was also a sturdy stone-laid building with rich history. Since it served as a barrack, the interior was dry and uninspired, but very livable being cool in the summer yet kept out cold in the winter.
An object literally flew into Philia’s arms.
It was a one-of-a-kind flying drone with a streamline shape and blue slit.
This was the personal drone “Eve” granted to her for her outstanding performance during her virgin mission.
In the base, personnel meeting a certain level of performance were allowed to inspect their arms in their own rooms, so after each mission, an all-purpose drone would carry their stuff back.
“Good job as always, Eve.”
Philia stroked the surface of the drone as if it was a pet, and it also buried itself into her bosom as if it was one. It seemed to be telling her to pet it more and was extremely cute.
In addition to projectile weapon, Eve was also equipped with directed-energy weapons and many other armaments. Furthermore, it was a superior unit an onboard AI that allowed it to continue operation even after an EMP attack.
Philia owed her life to Eve in a number of occasions.
She held such a deep feelings for it that calling it her partner wasn’t a misnomer.
“Oh, you’re back, Philia. That’s rather early today.”
A girl sitting on the sofa dressed in nothing but a t-shirt called out to her.
Her name was Cisty Kaltor and she was Philia’s roommate.
She had neck-length black hair that was rare for someone in this base. In the land of Lorelia, girls usually grew up to become what others called “gorgeous”, but she was what you’d called “cute”.
She always told Philia how jealous she was of her looks and praised her, but Philia was envious of her youthful appearance instead. Though, if she were to actually tell Cisty that, she would be sure to turn completely red and become unable to speak for the whole day, so she hid those words in her heart.
“I just ran away from two invitations. …It’s seriously tiring at this point. Taking to the battlefield day after day is already exhausting enough as it is and now they want me go to this viewing or that banquet… I just can’t.”
“I just don’t get you… Is keeping up appearance as a elite something even worth doing?”
“…Always leading the way as the vanguard. That alone is my raison d’être.”
“That’s not true at all, if you ask me.”
Cisty muttered briefly, then said in a bright voice to change the mood.
“By the way, who’d those inviters belonged to?”
“…The ‘9mm Appreciation Club’ and the ‘Nyan Nyan World Production Commitee’.”
“Hm, the second one sounds pretty fun actually.”
“…Don’t be tricked. Their true identity is that of an extremist organization that lures cat-lovers with that name and forces them into a virtual room with only puppy dogs to try to convert them into the dogs camp.”
“Ugh… talk about scary. Speaking of which, you like cats, Philia?”
“…Not really. I’m okay with them.”
“Oh come on, stop lying. Didn’t you get tricked by that name hook, line and sinker and went?”
“Oh, shut up.”
Philia let go of Eve and opened the small closet that came with the room.
She hung her outer garment on a hanger and unzipped her skirt to change out. Then, she put on a jersey with a urban camouflage design in no time and jumped onto her bed.
“…It’s not like they want the individual known as Philia Loadrain to join their society, they’re just trying to get close to the idol ‘Lethal Blue’. It’s like they’re in a cult.”
“The princess who dominates any battleground she stands on with her overwhelming might—anyone who sees that back from behind would be mesmerized… I can see why they’d want to worship you.”
Cisty’s lighthearted words made Philia frown.
“…I don’t need worshippers. I’m just giving my all at what’s in front of me. Why can’t they just leave me alone.”
“In that case, you should just make more friends. It’s because you are always by yourself that people come up to you and ambush you. And yet, you find it hard to reject them outright when you’re so concerned with keeping up appearance.”
“I don’t think friends are something you make just so you can have an excuse.”
When Philia glared at her, Cisty shrugged her shoulders.
“It’s just a figure of speech.”
“…And anyway, I don’t need friends either. All I need are comrade-in-arms that will guard my back, not people to make frivolous chatter with.”
“There you go acting strong again. Don’t think I don’t know. You always try to match your Res timing with mine because you hate to be alone in the day.”
“Th-That’s not true at all!”
“You say you don’t need friends, but what do you call me?”
“……You… you’re just a roommate.”
Philia averted her face, but a smile grew on Cisty’s face instead and she jumped onto her bed and sidled up to her in a hug.
“Geez, you’re always so untrue to your feelings. That was when you’re supposed to say ‘You’re not just a friend, you’re my best friend’!”
She vigorously cuddled Philia in her arms.
Philia pushed her away in embarrassment.
“You’re annoying, go away. The juniors would cry if they heard what you said.”
Despite the way she is, Cisty was actually very popular among a group of female juniors.
Apparently, her appeal was how “she looked gentle usually, but was merciless on the battlefield”.
To Philia who knew her comparatively longer, she thought Cisty was generally merciless, be it on the battlefield or anywhere.
On that note, Cisty was placed 2nd in last month’s “I Want that Admired Person to Shoot Me Dead!! Ranking, 8th Edition”. Philia didn’t want to talk about who got first place.
In the first place, what the heck even is a ranking where you vote for who you want to shoot you to death? As usual, there was no telling what kind of insane ideas the recreational clubs in this base would think up of next, and there were far too many silly people who enthusiastically casted their votes for this for that matter. Still in Cisty’s embrace, Philia gave a deep sigh.
Just then, the long bolt-action rifle placed on the wooden table in front of the sofa caught her eyes.
That was Cisty’s primary weapon, the sniper rifle SMR-52, commonly known as “Katheraine”.
It was the most commonly used standard-issue sniper rifle in the Federation army, and was sturdy enough to operate in any terrain including snow or mud. Unfortunately, the recoil was huge which affected accuracy, making it a weapon hard to master.
Cisty’s Katheraine was connected to many cables with several hologram windows hanging around it.
“It finally broke down?”
Philia asked while poking Cisty’s cheeks buried in her chest.
Unlike assault rifles which were used and discarded as often as one’s physical body, individual sniper rifles had to be meticulously maintained by their users. That’s why users always kept them in tip-top condition, and made sure to return to the spot where they were killed in order to recover them. This was only possible due to them being rearline support.
Cisty finally released Philia from her arms and stretch out widely.
It was really vague, but apparently she was trying to say that she gave up.
“Well, it’s just today’s sniping didn’t go very well.”
“There’s something off about the lateral deviation… The trajectory forecast is pretty much on the spot already, but I’m trying to up the accuracy even more by using smart bullets. Not sure if it’s because of that, but when shooting from an angle, the bullet ricochet instead of piercing through.”
Philia placed a hand on her chin and hmmed.
As its name suggested, smart bullets were a special type of bullet with a mechanism allowing it to change its center of gravity, making it possible to curve and pursue the enemy. However, as a result of its complicated components, it had less penetrating power than a normal bullet.
“Katheraine is originally geared towards high-power, highly-penetrating rounds, so if you’re looking for long-range accuracy sniping, maybe you should change to using Lacia.”
“No way! Katheraine is my first and only weapon, I can’t possibly change her out now! That’s why I’m tuning the barrel and the gas block to try to get even a bit more initial velocity. …Although I’m guessing the problem lies with me not being able to perform the necessary calculations fast enough in the first place.”
She said as she gave an exaggerated sigh.
Following which, she glared deep into Philia’s face.
“You really are exceptional, Philia! To be able to control a drone swarm while using a light machine gun to corner your prey! Not to mention all your bullets are smart bullets! …It’s just ridiculous!”
“It’s nothing that special. I’m just slightly better than average at performing parallel calculations and multi-tasking. Complicated computations are out of my reach. Besides, calculations for smart bullets are much simpler at short-range where I operate at.”
“And I’m saying that that parallel calculation part is unusual. What did you even eat to be able to compute so many tasks at once.”
Saying so, Cisty lifted up Philia’s chest from underneath using her index and middle fingers.
The soft pillows easily changed shape according to her fingers.
And when she spitefully released her hands, the two bowl-shaped fat deposits sprang back with an impressive bounce.
“…Really, what did you even eat to grow these puppies?”
Philia wordlessly hammered her on her head.
“Ow… You didn’t have to hit so hard.”
“You dummy. Here I was thinking about it seriously for you.”
Cisty buried her head into Philia’s pillow, when all of a sudden, she thought of something and turned her head.
“So? How was he today? You know, that guy.”
“That guy…? What are you talking about?”
Philia craned her neck at her vague words.
Cisty kicked her legs up and down in vexation.
“Him, you know, him. That rare human being apart from me whom you get all emotional about.”
She was being very roundabout.
Smiling in cold sweat, Philia regretted bringing him up to Cisty who got all the more curious the more she heard about him.
Suddenly, Eve slid in between the two without a sound.
Then, it projected a holographic window into the air.
“…Ah, bad Eve!”
Philia uttered shortly.
It was the scene of her being shot by a black-haired boy with a distinct face.
The video was most likely extracted from the database of enemy units collected by the United Tactical Assist System.
Philia quickly scooped Eve up and flashed a wide smile.
“…Oh, that. …Right, that. …Now I recall. To think I had cleanly forgotten about that in all the fatigue and buzz going around greeting people.”
“R-Right… I regret asking about it too.”
“…Come on, Eve. Didn’t I already instructed you to erase all data about that man when I’m off duty.”
In her arms, the drone shivered lightly.
“Wow… As expected of a personal unit. It’s even capable of knowing when its owner’s anger barometer is at its MAX…”
Eve escaped from its owner’s grasps and landed quietly on the table next to Katheraine.
Philia heaved a sigh and sat back down, but moments later she began cursing.
“I didn’t managed to land a single fatal shot on that guy again today. …Not even once! Can you believe it!? How is that even possible!?”
“My my… as usual, that Blood Naught guy really trips you up, huh.”
“He really makes my blood seethe! Just what is he thinking!? This is a battlefield! And yet, none of my bullets hit and I also can’t seem to break through his counter-electronics shield! All in all, it’s just a huge waste of time! Thanks to him, my score this month is in the gutter, again!”
“But, your overall ranking is still this base’s top all the same, no?”
“That’s right, but still—”
Grrr! She clutched at her head.
What is this sense of frustration?
I just don’t understand!
She thought back to the final encounter of the day when she shot him, of that strange viscous sensation in her finger that resulted from it.
Of his detached smile then, and the dreadfully sorrowful and melancholic look on his face when he pulled the trigger earlier that day.
Either of those faces seemed to belong to separate people, but both were actually of a single person, him.
Those two expression seemed to cause a turmoil in her heart.
“…Seriously, what’s with him. Just thinking about it lights a flame in my stomach.”
In the end, she couldn’t figure out the name behind the emotion she was feeling and muttered hatefully under her breath.