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The Siege of Amone, September 12th - Taking position

There was a devastating rumble of voices coming around the camp. Those who'd orchestrated the firing of the canisters seemingly laughed to themselves and clinked their crystal clear pints with the success of the city's evaporation of life. As long as the soldiers within were smart enough to put on the masks issued, there would be little to no problems at all, and thus the rest of the operation should be as swift as it was easy. Alexander was not one of those optimists unfortunately and knew very well that the war was a breeding ground for anomalies. Things never went the way one would plan. As a Captain, Alexander knew this exceptionally well. Plans were always in need of slight alteration, no matter how successful they were going, and were an art of dance more than a painted picture, ready and awaiting judgement on its complete sketch. It was always more of a skill to dance around the conjuring issues of a strategy than a sense of natural luck. A good plan could be made by anyone, seemingly by chance, but only the consistent strategist could keep up the changes in accordance to the assault. Alexander was a strategist, there was no doubt about it. In comparison to the tactics used in 1910EC, his had evolved into something unnaturally modern, the future of combat and the progression of stalemate breakthroughs. No longer were they on the defence once he'd employed all of his doctrines into the higher commanders of the Federation Army, and now the reclamation of long-lost land could be taken back, mile by bloody mile. Soon, after the City of Amone was taken, he would be able to return to the homeland he was born upon, one that was his soul purpose for joining the army initially before his obsessive nature over Lucia took control. Assen was going to be his resting place if it was the last thing he'd do. Once his homeland was free of Imperial occupation, he'd likely retire and never fight again unless they brought it to his doorstep.

Yet despite this previous lust of wanting to get his homeland back, something was far too disturbing about the means. Sure, in the past, Alexander had saluted his fellow soldiers and proudly announced that he would do whatever it took to protect his soldiers, his people and his country, but today was different. War had changed him violently yet he was still able to identify what was wrong. The gas, all in their yellow clouds and plumes rapidly spreading over the city, made for a chaotic and apocalyptic atmosphere. Where had the good days gone? No one knew. Part of him knew that this was indeed the most desperate attempts to ridicule the battlefield in their favour. Project Land-Creeper was supposed to be the upcoming tool to win the war for them, one that at least abode by conventional war-mongering methods of combat, but the use of this gas was far too...disturbing. The Imperials would likely replicate it. Anything one side tried, the other tried to improve and master themselves. Armoured Cars were already being deployed on the northern frontline, trying to break through and support Gallia in their own struggle to fend off the Imperial menace, and the simple factor of shocktroopers were an originating Imperial design. Gas being used against the Imperials may have inspired them to try more radical methods of wiping out life as they knew it.

Dwelling upon the matter didn't exactly help stop it, to his misfortune. Alexander was surprised that despite how well he knew his mental decline had been, there was still this empathy trying to poke its way out of his monstrous clad. All around him were the preparations to move in and secure as much of the city as possible. Trucks filled to the brim with supplies were closely followed by soldiers preparing to make the march up to Amone's walls. Sappers were plentiful and their job mainly consisted of building defences on whatever established the frontline inside the city. Layers of barricades and fortified street junctions would mimic the trench-based warfare found anywhere else on Europa's frontier, but without the deadly disease and conditions plaguing its depths. Wire layers had coils of barbed strips all prepared and tightly contained for supporting the flanks and cutting off certain bottlenecks in the city. Whilst their main goal was to aggressively prepare for the liberation of Amone, the righteous passage back into Assen as the Federation knew it, pioneers of strategy, such as Alexander himself, had made sure that preparations for defence were also accounted for and listed in their stockpiles. One could never be too cautious, so they said, and caution was what was beginning to win them the war. Previous attempts to throw thousands of able men into the fray had proven futile and pointless. Now was the age of war's transition into the mobile conflict, where soldiers no longer stood in rows of orderly fashion and politely exchanged gunfire one after the other. War wasn't a sport nor an adventure anymore. Some still refused to accept that in the high command, though.

As Alexander placed his helmet back onto his head, fixing his uniform and webbing accordingly, the familiar sounds of lightly trodden boots began to rear up against him, stopping just beneath a metre from his body. With a quick salute, a small smile came to Alexander's face as he recognised the true beacon of a good soldier, Staff Sergeant Baker.

"Thought I'd stop by to pass on some information before we head in there." Alexander nodded in appreciation for his relay, and allowed for him to continue with an avid smile of acceptance. The Staff Sergeant really had been a shining beacon of hope to the other soldiers; the bridge between the officers and regular soldiers was built upon his back and honour. What a man, some would say...what a man indeed. "Major Willis' detachment reported news of important Imperial documents being received roughly two days ago. Took them a while to radio it in, but a marksman shot the Major himself, cutting them off from communications."

Alexander nodded politely, sighing as the news of yet another promising officer fell onto the deaf ears of many. The Major was a higher rank than himself, but was most likely the same age as Alexander himself. Particularly youthful for his seniority, he held a lot of experience from the frontline and had delivered some amazing operations in his day. Documentation stealing was amongst those of his prioritised strategies, through countless raiding parties and even once sneaking into the Imperial trenches himself at the dead of twilight. His mission was clear, apparently, and that was to study Amone's progress with his boys and to detail a strong write-up of all Imperial war materials located within. After that, he was entrusted with the almost impossible task of finding hidden materials. For months he studied the movement of many Imperial weapons and trucks coming in and out of Amone, bringing strange mechanical pieces like they were preparing for a jigsaw puzzle's construction. They were definitely staging something within Amone, hoping it would make an effective difference. What that was became a mystery until those documents were taken, lately transferred over through unfathomable isolation within Amone's walls. The soldiers who'd been working with him also reported his death too, pointing their suspicions towards the one true sniper of the Imperial wasteland. Even if they were just rumours, it would've made sense, considering only the officer was targeted. Luckily for the, the information was safe and secure, and all of the worthwhile sacrifices were becoming clearer and clearer by the day.

Whilst waiting for the news to come, Alexander had been cleaning his rifle endlessly, trying to take his mind off of the fact that they were going to enter the City of Amone soon, following the devastating results and aftermath of their bombardment. Baker began to continue with a quiet mumble going about his voice, making sure not to spill too much confidential detail so openly to the nearly prepped soldiers surrounding their every angle.

"Speaks of an artillery gun like no other, one that can roam. Sounds awfully like the plans for Project Land-Creeper, but they speak more of trajectory based warfare. Could be devastating if they let that one go off."

"Then we should be on time with our strike. You know that once we're in Amone, things aren't going to be easy as much as pushing upwards. These foolish new generals have it too up-themselves to accept that they can't wipe out Imperials so easily. You can hate them as much as you like, but a real soldier must appreciate and respect their mettle. They are tough men and women, unending in their struggles. We will face resistance." Both Alexander and Baker both sighed in synchronisation with one another, letting their stress unleash as they began to walk away from the tents, equipment tightly wrapped around their bodies like pack mules. Even as officers, they had a lot to do on their own behalf. Several bearded elders with many shiny medals across their uniform called for the order to depart, soldiers beginning to take their ranks and march onwards towards Amone's very walls. They didn't have much time, and so both the Captain and the Staff Sergeant grabbed their rucksacks and started moving themselves as a pair, not bothering to join the orderly fashioned advancement. "Come, we should really get moving."

The march was tiresome, sluggish and effectively depressing for the duo. As they walked alongside the new reinforcements to secure Amone, hoping to clear up the entire city before the Vinlander Expeditionary forces arrived in masses to claim the glory, Alexander could see the remnants of age-old battles. Stemming back to the very first day in which artillery fell around Amone, Alexander was punished with a million images he wished to never witness again. Craters that had filled in with water or the old layouts of filled in dugouts were still present. Scattered sheets of corrugated metal were visible, poking out of the ragged mud as the rain continued to shower over the land. Most of the bodies from both the cavalry charge and the previous charges had been cleared and buried. The horses from before were either used for fuel or decontaminated for food for those suffering with low rations. Trips into the city to send the meat in were mostly futile, so most of it was stockpiled and chilled for when they managed to relieve them of their stress and isolation. Baker started to hum to himself as they walked together, minding their own thoughts to themselves. That was until Alexander broke the silence once more. It was a strange question to ask, but the thoughts of his own needed to be shooed off by distractions.

"Staff Sergeant?" It felt awkward to request such menial and minor things from those beneath his rank, but for once he was dependent on the safe atmosphere of Baker's personality. The uncle of the group, as many referred to him by. Lord, the world would end if he were to be amongst this conflict's casualty list. "What was the regiment like...back before I arrived?"

"Sorry, Sir...What do you mean by that?" With peculiar intrigue, the older Staff Sergeant placed two finger tips onto his chin and waggled it slightly, imitating a sort of humorous confusion to his rather strange question. There was never really any talk of the olden times with the Captain. The past was what had caused all of his imperfections, and those imperfections did not breed good determination like most would expect. All the death and destruction, losing all of his closest friends and allies to the fields only ten or so miles away, it had its ways with changing a man, even the strongest. Talks of the past being initiated by Alexander, towards someone else in particular, was a much welcomed change of personality. Though in reality, this was likely a last burst of his pureness for a while. Alexander had made strange conversations to himself about finding Lucia, and perhaps enforcing his authority upon the squadmates that had apparently tampered with his own daughter-figure.

" was it? Tell me some stories about the past in the regiments, something uplifting perhaps?" A quaint smirk plastered itself upon Baker's face as he nodded, thinking for a moment before finally granting the memory he wished. It wasn't a long one, but he found it rather joyous.

"Well, Captain, I remember about eight months before you arrived, we were trudging through a forest near the south coast. Had no trenches, the lot of them. I'm telling you, Sir, they were much more terrifying at first. No trench walls or sandbags to cover your head, just had to keep walking and fighting whenever you came across another Imperial bunch. There was this one time, though, that we were doing a patrol, fourteen of us lads and lasses. We had this Private, Jimmie I think his name was, who'd been picking on a girl named Pauline. Little Pauline was, as we rumoured, to be his dream sweetheart, but obviously knowing the lad he thought being mean and teasing her was the key to her heart, or at least a way to get close to her. Ridiculous, I know...But during one patrol he was halfway through making fun of her, calling her out on some past mistakes she made in her rifle maintenance when suddenly he slipped...Fell straight into a rabbit hole." Baker started to chuckle to himself, trying to contain the small nostalgic laughter he had building up inside. Even Alexander began to look at him with a curious grin, folding his arms and intently waiting for what was to come next. Already so, it seemed rather comedic. And so Baker continued, this time with a snicker coming through his lips as every word came out. "Now, Sir, I ain't gonna say he was large...but he was a large chap, proper ration hogger and all. When he fell in the rabbit hole, he got his waist stuck around its rim and only his top half was poking out. Little Pauline burst into laughter and made fun of him as he struggled and became even more stuck. We spent around an hour tryin' to dig the poor lad out with our bayonets because our entrenching tools were two miles behind us after a supply disruption. The lad was teething and squealing for us not to accidentally prod him whilst we were digging, and we were busy laughing our arses off. Best part is, an Imperial deserter found us as he was running away from his own boys, and then he saw us digging this large lad out of a hole, looked at us and then called out in native Imperial: "Oh nein, der zustand dieses loses ist lächerlich!" The poor bugger saw us and thought we were hopeless, and ran back to his own forces thinking they weren't so bad anymore."

The two suddenly burst into a roar of laughter, so much so that the men and women marching beside them even looked over in curiosity. Well, technically only Baker roared with laughter, but a significant chuckle did escape Alexander's lips, which was rather uncharacteristic to anyone other than Baker himself. As they continued, for just a moment that was, both of them began to feel like things were alright for the first time in years, that a war was not around and that things were simply as they were: peaceful.

Alexander looked at him with some strange interest, before poking another question towards him. Even though he knew quite a lot about Baker, there was still apparently much more to learn about from what the surface dictated. And in itself, Alexander coloured himself rather intrigued.

"You know Native Imperial? How'd you come about that, around 90% of the Fritz themselves don't even speak a word of it, let alone know basic phrases. Most of them speak common Europa, right?"

"Quite so, Sir, but I picked it up in 1911 when Colonel Aaron Hill placed me as his personal guardsmen for an Imperial officer he thought was Captain Harkvald, or Green Fox. Turned out to be a load of bollocks and not be the chap, but after months with him I basically learnt a lot of things from the officer. Luka, I believe his name was. After he was eventually given an option to help the Federation as a spy, which he surprisingly took the offer on after our friendship, I pursued to learn more of the language out of curiosity. Nothing else, Sir. Always had a favourite phrase too: Sehr gut, Herr. Ich muss sagen, dass mein Heimatland heutzutage sehr stark ist."

" never fail to surprise me. Even if I have no fucking clue what you're saying..." Once again, the two forgot there was a war, and laughed it up together, passing a field that was once filled with corpses and never once dwelling upon the possibility that they were next.

The Siege of Amone, September 12th - Taking lives

More gunfire had engulfed the local area. The equivalent size of another squad had reached the inn's traumatic dispensary of blood and joined the outrage of the battle. Two automatic gunners had already set up either side of the inn, one at the entrance and one near the exit that the civilians had previously evacuated from, making them pinned between a rock and a hard place. Every now and then, the chiselling of brick and wooden walls were caved in with small circular holes from which bullets entered through. Glasses upon tables were shattered by the stray pathways of gunfire. Jean pinned down his head as close to the ground as his squat would allow him, the palm of his hand fully pressing down against the top of his reliable helmet. Several Federation soldiers who'd tried to assist Luke in his evacuation soon found themselves peppered and dropped to the ground quickly, their blood and backs slumping against tables and other walls that were yet to be tainted. Jean's breath drew frantic once more. Alongside the suppressive wave of automatic gunfire, several more accurate shots of precision spewed from the metallic mouths of Imperial rifles. Those who'd been lucky enough to secure gas masks from dead Federation soldiers were already taking the initiative to exact a bloodthirsty revenge, tearing at those who were intact. Shouts outside sometimes indicated that perhaps the few civilians who were caught in the crossfire inside were not valid targets and were supposed to be focusing on those inside, those who were armed and apparently responsible for such a violent outburst. It was a day to live forever within Jean's mind; it was a violent day of infamy and collapse. Jean's heart was bled dry of all peace once the gas had fallen, but the additional battling of the Imperial remnants and the Federation stragglers felt more like sandpapering the wound and preparing to operate upon it with unsanitary medical tools. How did something so quiet and so tranquil blow so quickly out of proportion? The cloudiness of the room had now besieged all hope of clean air pockets inside, and had proven that nowhere was ultimately as safe as they'd expect.

For a moment, Jean felt himself relax, his muscles almost sank back into their bones as a strange urge to act subverted his own expectations. Jean's eyes drifted towards the corpse of one of the unnamed Federation soldiers, only identified by the round metallic disk tucked beneath his shirt collar. There was no time to really identify the dead, as much as he wanted to, but something upon the body had caught his eye. Without thinking, Jean sprawled across the floor and began to drag himself along quickly, moving as fast as his body would allow him to. As he kept on moving, Jean's head and face turned towards the rest of the group aggressively, filled with frustration and agony. For some strange reason, the extraordinary fury within his tone was enough to break his usual character. Now, he'd finally settled into the mindset of an NCO, though only for just a second.

"Get out that back entrance now! No more time-wasting. You stay, you're dead. Go!" Jean finally reached the corpse of his desired prize and began to strip its webbing and gear. Strapped tightly by the tip of a carabiner was the familiar sight of an uninitiated Ragnite bomb. Jean had never handled one outside of the one-off training session, but this felt more than terrifying up close. He'd seen what these could do. At Hill 58, he'd ordered the devastating volley of ragnite bombs, one after the other, from his shocktroopers to a nerve-wracking effect, blasting through the sheets of skin and muscle beneath the Imperial uniforms. They had power, a lot of it, and were far more effective than the pre-ragnite handheld explosives previously prototyped back in the earliest days of mankind's major warfare. Ragnite was such a...strange mineral, of its sorts. It was mystical, unending in all its potential and possibilities. There were talks of it being used for medicinal use, and it was already a type of compound for the construction and movement of vehicles seen in both the military and homesteads behind the frontline. Once he had it unclipped, Jean fumbled around with it to find its ignition pin for future reference, then began to make the perilous journey of crawling back to the very same window he'd been holding out on. His mind was set on protecting those behind him, delaying the advance of the Imperial storm as much as possible. He didn't want to leave the building until every one of his own soldiers within his own squad had made an attempt to get out. This was his code, his honour, which was something he held very little of. Jean was a man of his word, and the day he told Reyna he would protect her and the squad with all he had was not a demonstration of lies and self-encouragement, it was him selling his life for theirs. Jean didn't intend on dying today, but he valued the lives of those around him far more. Hell, even Luke had been making an effort to evacuate civilians when no one else could, which was extremely inspiring of him.

Pinned against the window once more, Jean tried to pique his vision once more and gently peer outside, trying to see where the machinegun was. So far, it was reloading, leaving only the riflemen on the ground to begin their push and make headway towards the porch. Fuck, this was it. Jean quickly jolted back down and lifted the ragnite bomb from his hands, wrapping a tight index-finger into the pin's metal structure and forcing it out with extreme panic. As the footsteps began to come nearer, the bomb's ignition was finally listed with the aura of its azure blue ragnite tone, leaving only one step left. Without much thought Jean tossed it over his head, outside the window, as hard as he could, hearing the sound of approaching boots halt for just a second as they screamed in panic, only to be followed by a cloud of dust and smoke. The force of the explosion tossed strange pockets into the gas' stance all over, throwing the gunfire into another state of temporary silence. Jean stood up, hoping that everyone had already began to leave, and made his own way towards the exit with a quick dash. And as his head went beneath the doorframe, sending him outside once more, Jean's breath became muffled once more by the foggy, unfertilised gas that intoxicated the streets. The escape was now.

The Siege of Amone, September 12th - Waltz through the misty graveyard

Cackles of the demonic rifles sporadically chain linked the entirety of the world around him. The distant sounds of gunfire battering one another in unequal intervals started to test Jean's own patience and confidence. As he wandered around aimlessly, twisting his head every now and then to the new sounds of coughing and panicked outrage, his face felt ever-more claustrophobic as the time went by. His peripherals were silenced and segmented into two round goggles, ones that acted as the shielding between the fresh air and the poisonous vapour surrounding the streets. Time grew tired of seeing only the yellow mist, and suddenly small clumps of the gas outside seemed to form small pockets of cleaner air, if only for a second or two. The beats of his heart became as audible as the endless streams of tears from the sufferings' eyes. Countless lives were being wasted and decomposed by the coarse particles daintily drifting through the sky. Jean continued walking, his rifle kept close by his chest, whilst he struggled to regain his bearings and quickly dash for the inn. Everything was still a daze for him. Still lurking around the atmospheric landscape, Jean began to recognise several similar buildings from the outside. There was an old, barely standing pastry shop that had been caved in with explosives before their arrival to the neutral zone. From there, it was easy to tell that he hadn't gone too far off track and was still near the inn, if not on the same street. Now all he had to do was rid his muscles of this sickening paralysis. Fear had taken his body by storm and forced him to pace slowly, as if he didn't want to disturb the quietness of the eerie sky. Jean's breath rebounded from the base of his mask back onto his sweating face, almost reminding him of how close to death he truly was. The warmth of his exhalation made his most uncomfortable, if the gas itself hadn't done that job well enough. Why was it that the world around him crumbled so easily in beautiful moments? Times were he had danced and eaten wild foods to the sweet sounds of Reyna's phonograph were clouded and shrouded in constant bombardment.

Every step was met with caution. Several times along his passage he nearly tripped over the already dead, or dying, bodies of Imperials and unfortunate Federation soldiers who weren't quick enough to place their protection upon their heads. Jean's eyes watered slightly at their sights and his breath became quicker and quicker. Every second he spent out in the foggy wasteland made him more disturbed by the profane, inhumane sights to see. It was like a tour through horror itself, watching from behind the safety of glass as the sickening safari only showed those who were harmfully smouldered. Every now and then, Jean would stop dead in his tracks and look down at the still faces of those who were deceased. Some were frothing at the mouth from the desolation of fresh air. Others had strange wounds that resembled shrapnel breaches, or gunshot wounds. Fights had broken out throughout the entirety of Amone, and those who were caught in the crossfire of the gas were sure to be engaged in heated debates of gunfire before succumbing to their fate. Jean's hands shook as he slowly brought the skin of his fingers against their faces, closing the empty eyes staring back up at him. They frightened him more than anything else. It almost made them feel alive. Almost.

Jean didn't intend on taking his time whilst walking through the sheets of gas, but the horrors that were laid every few metres were more than enough to unsettle his mind. Those who were hoping to get some rest, or were in the process of arriving at the inn, were brutally gouged from their relieved states as hundreds of particles either filled their lungs, or desperate soldiers without the masks attempted to fight for whatever protection they could get. Whilst noticing some of the Federation soldiers on the floor, he could tell that many of them died for that same reason. Some still wore their masks, having not been looted by the time the gas engulfed them. A strong hissing sound previously engulfing entirety of the street began to die down, slowing down further as its payload had begun to cease. That being said, the gas itself may have stopped flowing out, but it indeed lingered violently through the drift of the morning sky. Jean closed his eyes for a moment and prayed that the war would end soon, if not the unlucky strike of a stray bullet were to put him out of the misery coarsely bleeding him dry. He began to move quicker, pacing himself as he frantically began to search for a means of returning to his squad. The earlier gunshots sounded like a blend of exterior and interior containment, some still on the same street as himself. Their presence had died down quite a lot, indicating that the brawls had ended in their current state and a victor may have emerged. Jean hoped to the heavens that were above that by chance, his Squad were the ones to have come out on top if they'd been involved in such incursions. More and more shouts began to take up arms in the local area.

With the voices coming closer all around him, as well as the consistent accompaniment of coughs, Jean was ever-more frantic about finding the inn. He knew that by the occasional signs in the street, he was getting closer and closer, only a few houses away at best. Part of him wanted to smile with a sense of relief, but there was no real feeling or emotion of the sort. Contained within his little brown mask, Jean began to clear his throat, allowing him to feel the horrifying privilege of being a spectator to the lunacy of the execution. But as he got closer, seeing the silhouette of the inn's porch becoming slightly more clear through the clasps in the gas clouds, something caught him off guard. A body was moving, no several. Just to his left, probably across the street. As he turned, expecting another struggling figure gagging in his final hours, instead Jean was even more stunned to see the true cause. Whilst stood over another Federation soldier, two or more Imperial uniformed men were busy scavenging away at the fallen corpse of one of their foes. Upon their faces were the exact same masks that Jean's group had been given, as well as the entire Amone infiltration force. It was clear from the very start that they'd taken the initiative before anyone else, forcing themselves upon the weaker and astounded in their moment of fear. After securing the masks, they'd either shoot the victim in mercy or let them writhe in their agony as their own nation's weapon was used against them in a last fit of bitter irony. As Jean moved, they stopped, raising their masked heads towards him. For once, Jean could see the true side effects of witnessing these blank, expressionless glimmer of their glass conical lenses. Jean froze in place as they glared at him, their eyes and faces completely wiped by the drabs of their masks. Jean began to move slowly to the right, hoping that perhaps by chance these desperate warriors were merciful enough now that they had their prize.

But as he began to move, one of them raised their rifle upwards, pointing towards them as they yelled indiscriminately. Jean's eyes quickly became wide open as he saw the tips of the first gun raise and aim towards him. He quickly began to rush to his right, the shot ringing out and smashing a piece of unshattered glass behind where he just was. Jean's breath became laced with panic and a determination to survive another minute or two. As another shot from the second rifle zipped past his head, being shot only from the opposing path of the street. Only a small, hip-high slab of rubble was available at the time, and he dove behind it without much of a thought, hearing yet another gunshot closely follow by. As he fell, Jean tried to call out urgently for them to hold their fire, despite them being the enemy. All of the time he'd spent in the inn had made him even more clouded as to what an enemy really was. But as the fourth shot reigned out and kept him in position, he felt like there was no choice as the sounds of bootsteps spreading out made him more than aware of their strategy. With what little time frame he had left, Jean poked his head out from the rubble and quickly lined up the sights on the right-hand soldier, moving sluggishly towards a broken automobile for cover. Before he could make it, Jean squeezed the trigger and fired it, slamming straight into the hip of the Imperial, who collapsed onto the ground and wriggled around in pain, crawling behind the car for safety. His shot hadn't killed, fortunately for the opposing fights, but it did open a door of opportunity. Jean rushed rightwards, keeping his head down and the hand atop of his helmet, keeping it tightly worn. Another bullet whizzed past him, slamming into the concrete just beside him. As fast as he could, Jean bolted his rifle and turned, blindly firing another shot to no avail. As the shot rang out, he moved to the steps of the inn, finally reaching the porch and dashing through the window aggressively, landing heavily onto the floor. The wind was taken straight out of his system as he landed, giving him a struggle as he tried to crawl upwards. For once, he seemed glad to see the squad before him, assembling for evacuation.

"We..." He panted heavily for air, finally putting down his hands to pull him up. Without question, he laid against the wall to the window, peering out cautiously as another shot fired through the wooden door, missing Isaac by a few metres or so. "We have to leave, now! Get everyone out the rear door and run through at least four streets. Dash in and out of buildings if you have to, but we...we need to not lose one another. Go! Isaac take lead, get the wounded slowly behind. Someone take Thomas out there...Freya! Do it! I'll follow as soon as you start moving outside." Just as he finished, another shot reigned out. This time, it seemed more automatic, far more than the previous. Across the street, high up in one of the buildings just barely above the gas cloud, the repeating fire of a machine gun began to tear through the walls and windows, even striking one or two of the inn staff still evacuating with Luke. Their bodies fell onto the ground, blocking the exit only slightly but still easily adjustable by whoever coordinated their escape. Jean crouched down and blindly poked his gun outwards, firing again and bolting the Longfield once more. The peace had officially been broken.

The Siege of Amone, September 12th - The Attack of the Dead Men

Jean's heart paced around endlessly as the scavenge for life began. He could see some of the early risers getting into position already, including Luke who'd tried to admirably escort some of the citizens outside. It was hopeless though. Many who were leaving the exit he'd made were already choking themselves, some of them having inhaled a painful amount of gas prior to the open route. Jean's face sank when he thought of their lungs, bubbling and filling with saliva until they were unable to breathe and function properly. It was a scary thought. Why was this happening? What government agency back in the Federation looked upon this completely inhumane method of killing and decided it was fit for combat? Jean's breath could be heard building up, faster and faster, as the mask's inhaler and filter kept on doing what it was designed for: keeping Jean alive. His peripherals were slightly hindered by the mask's rounded goggles and eyepieces, but it sure did beat the unrelenting agony he could hear outside of the isolated, claustrophobic capsule his head and face was buried within. Suddenly, a palm slapped the back of his head and the familiar Oceanic shout caught him off guard. Victoria looked at him with a level-head, as she would call it, and tried to force Jean back into reality with the violent persuasion of physical force. It suddenly infuriated Jean, making him feel diminished and perilous to the situation. How did she imagine he was going to act? Frolicking around like children in a daisy field, pretending that the worst was to be ignored and a cool-headed demeanour had to be fluctuated through his mind and soul? There was no way in hell anyone could keep calm when watching a brand new weapon decimate the lives of those around them. Jean almost launched a hand out to grab Victoria's shoulder, letting her know that he had some form of makeshift plan, but he decided not to out of respect of the situation. Instead, he looked at her through the fogginess of his mask and blankly spoke out in an unusually coarse tone. If she wanted a toughened and focused squad leader, then she'd at least get something out of it.

Jean's rifle sling was placed around his neck, allowing him to fully wander around without having it clutched entirely within his hands. Strange noises began to come outside as he heard the muffed sounds of choking and shouting clouding the streets as much as the gas itself had. There was no time to split himself into two separate entities, following the substances of dualism, and instead he had to make a decision on where he was most needed. Victoria was already in the progress of shouting her fucking tits off, making Jean more anxious about her involvement with the group. She was too hard-headed from the situation. Sure, everyone had their moments of aggression in danger, but even Franz wasn't this bad it seemed. Jean simply let her go upstairs, instead turning to Isaac, his trusty friend and second in command.

"Isaac, I want you t-to orchestrate the squad, please get them into position and prepare to leave this inn as soon as possible. I'm going to help anyone in any way I can, but I need you to help guide the personal evacuation of our group. I'm sorry, you can't prioritise the inn keepers first, Luke is working on that, but we need to make sure we make it out too, so I trust you with that!" As his breath drew short from the constant line of panic, Jean moved his head towards the windows as he started fumbling towards them, seeing the gas starting to slowly pour into the inn through the cracks in the glass. If it weren't for the devilish masks given to them, they would've been on the floor, writhing in the upmost pain imaginable. Even bullets seemed more harmless at this stage, as they had the capability to instantly cut off all forms of life without pain even being taken into account, if it was accurate enough. Hell, a blighter that turned into an infected wound seemed far more satisfying than the torturous glare of the yellow mist. "And k-keep an eye on that Victoria. She tries anything fucked up, tell her she can walk the streets alone."

As he made his way towards the windows, he clambered back outside into the depths of the gas clouds, shuddering as only two sounds seemed to accompany his lonesome wander. Splitting the darkness of the now gagging room behind him to the upsetting grim sky above, Jean let his boots fall down onto the patio of the inn before he unslung his rifle and moved out slightly, listening to the deafening silence of hissing still leaking out of the gas shell. Heaven's above, how was this even possible? What twisted mind sat in the cells of their very laboratories and thought this was a decent method of winning the war? Torturing the enemy was one thing, but scarring the minds of their own soldiers in the process, that was true madness. Jean's ears were suddenly engulfed in the endless silence that now occupied outside. For a moment, he could not hear the shouts and panics inside, nor the approaching sounds of footsteps or coughs coming from further within the mist. Jean's frantic mind had ceased for a moment as he quietly wandered out into the fog, just outside of the inn, unable to see very many metres ahead of his own place. With the spread of the mist, his mind and vision was reduced to nothing other than the glassed viewing platform that his gas mask had given, shielding him from the angered hissing of the tormented smoke. Jean's face kept on getting closer and closer, silently wandering around outside as if he were a stealthy fox prowling the streets for an answer to this sickly devastation. Eventually, he stopped, his hand and eyes suddenly seeing something out of the corner of his tight peripherals. As quick as his feeble mind would let him, Jean twisted around towards its direction with his rifle raised, the primed firing pin already indicating that it was loaded and prepared for the incineration of any aggressive attackers.

However, he could not shoot. For before him once again was a very familiar face, dressed only in olive clad, whispering to herself in the deathly depths of this yellow vapour. Her face looked boiled, and scarred, as if she'd been plunged into the climax of a pot of water hanging just above the violent stove. Jean's rifle began to lower, once again shocked by the lone figure standing before him. He knew it...part of him knew that this was just another stupid hoax or hallucination he was having, and he would've been right to assume, but it looked so real to him. There she was. Olivia. In the flesh, or rather the artificial fragmentation of the mind. Her soul was before him, seemingly. Bags laid beneath her very weakened eyes, where tangents of bloodshot veins spread from her iris to the whites of her eye. Jean brought a hand up, trying to let it rest upon her frail cheek, but it simply faded through it, confirming that this was nothing more than the allusion of the mind. Jean's face still, however, was left in shock, blatantly staring at her with confusion, trying to read the silent words that she mouthed. Eventually, he began to hear her voice beckon him lightly. What was she saying? Well, Jean couldn't really believe what it was. Part of him couldn't even think, nor speak, of what she was whispering. What was it? What in God's name was it? The slurs of her language and dialect were on the tip of his own tongue but something seemed to distort that judgement and deception he'd usually have had. There was something old about her grimacing appearance, where she'd started to distort and almost fade in parts of her tormented skull. The same bullet wounds of before suddenly burst through her chest, letting an oozing sensation of false blood, clearly again a trick of the mind, to seep from her body, mimicking the impact of a machine gun directly targeting her. Yet, her body didn't flinch. Instead, she still stood, wide eyed and motionless, whilst her mouth continued to shape itself into silent sentences inaudible to even Jean. Quickly, he heard something behind him, the noise of another thick cough, before Jean turned back around to see nothing but the yellow mist, the apparition of his sister now vanished into the thickened smog that surrounded him.

As his mind once again transitioned back into the state of panic, he realised that he'd dawdled outside alone for too long, reincorporating his focus back onto the sounds of coughing that were outside, away from the inn. Whoever was suffering, perhaps, just maybe, Jean had a chance of saving them and becoming a wholesome individual worth of praise and thankfulness, but instead his mind was left to the gutters as before him stood a man dressed in a scarily familiar outfit. Topped upon his head with a loose strap was the steel stahlhelm. Loosely slanted over, with the arching back contouring his posture, the Imperial soldier stood there, holding the rag to his face and violently spewing out in tears of hopelessness.

And so, walking forward, the covered darkness of the man's choking soon came into the dim light of the mist. The yellow particles of poisonous dust surrounded and engulfed their presence, Jean silently walking forward and stopping just a few metres before him. Instead of acting straight away, Jean was completely shaken out of fear. The Imperial was crying to himself. In-between every single gasp of air came the standard, pitiful whimpers of wishing to go home, hoping to return to the mother and father he'd left behind. He was just older than Jean, maybe by three years, but the weathering of his face from the coarse battles of the war had made him seem almost a decade older than he was. The rag seemed to be keeping him alive, though barely and still with the complete absence of comfort. Pain had enriched his vital systems and his throat was clogging up from the spray of gas pouring down and swelling up within his lungs. Jean continued to watch, within his mask. To the Imperial, the emotion in Jean's face was hidden. Perhaps the Federation didn't intend on hiding their own soldier's emotions from the enemy, but the daunting stare of its glassy, beady eyes made anyone else feel uncomfortable. Carefully, the soldier began to turn his head towards Jean, still coughing up a storm before finally looking at him and studying the uniform. Bloody hands slowly started to raise towards the Francian, pointing towards him with a sharp and crooked finger that almost imitated that of an elderly man. Jean felt a sudden surge of compassion and sympathy, followed by guilt and regret, soaring through his veins as he stepped forward, holding out a hand to quickly take the Imperial's arm with the intention of freeing him from the mortal coil of suffering. Who knew, perhaps Jean could still hold enough lucky time to ensure this man's survival?

"Quickly, come with me." Jean's voice, as expected, was masked and muffled by the mask. It wasn't inaudible clearly, and thus the Imperial heard him through the thickness of his coughs. "Follow me quickly and I'll get you to safety, I promise!"

However, the reaction from the imperial was less than favourable. He suddenly began to reach for his belt, pulling out a spiked wooden club, slung together with barbed wire. Jean took a panicked step back, finding his balance after the shock of the unsheathed weapon caught his eye. A barbaric representation of adrenaline suddenly began to reveal itself as the Imperial lunged forward, sluggishly, and waved the bat around, missing Jean at first. His focus and overall strength was completely battered by the gas intake, and the more he moved the more he ingested its toxicity. But time and time again, the soldier swung at Jean, suddenly screaming in the middle of his words.

"I...I'll...k-kill you, bastard!" As his war cry burst out into the open, Jean found the soldier becoming more and more sporadic, flinging his bat faster and more violently, becoming better with his aim. Still trying his best to dodge the attacks, he felt the weapon graze his webbing, though barely enough to create a small tear, and realised that there was no way out of this. Jean's voice tried to reason with him, but the sounds of his choking overruled his voice. Nothing other than the deathly final words of the soldier seemed to release into the air, before suddenly the soldier fell onto a knee, his face becoming cold and emotionless for the last time. There, he collapsed onto the floor, fully passing out and remaining unconscious after subsiding to the dominant air bleaching his lungs defiantly. Jean breathed heavily into his mask, hearing his own churned breath coming out loudly. He'd originally came outside to respond to the coughing, hoping to find someone who was in need of assistance, and instead all he found was the grimacing tones of death and its underlings. Quickly, he turned back, running in the direction he thought would lead to the inn, heading only to the walls of another building. The smog had almost blinded his pathway, creating a strange labyrinth of invisible hedgerows blocking his innate path. Jean cursed to himself more and more, clearly becoming frustrated and panicky over his misdirection, hoping he could return to the inn on time. His thoughts and prayers were left on the vitality of his squad, who were clearly not alone as the uproaring sound of Imperial gunshots seemed to target and come from within the direction he could now pinpoint. His voice trembled as he realised the peace had been broken. The use of gas had sent those unable to find protection into a state of desperate bloodlust, wanting to kill anyone they could before they themselves were taken down by its drowning yellow odour.

The Siege of Amone, September 12th - The Training

Before the sound of artillery slamming into the road became a real concern and danger to the entire Squad, Lucia had been sleeping beside Michael's bedside again. She'd stayed up far later than he had, and instead went into his room after he'd finally drifted off himself. Last time she'd fallen asleep first and he comforted her slumber, but this time she was defiant to let the favour be returned. Once asleep, Lucia crept inside and sat beside his bed, feeling an urge to gently rub her hands through his soft hair from its recent cleaning. Her face lit up like the fireworks of the olden childhood she barely remembered. It was sad to imagine that there was never a childhood she could really remember at all, other than the torture and plagued tragedy of her tutor and guardian, Alexander-John Arthurs. The Captain had forced her into developing a sense of stockholm syndrome, falling into a paternal state of compassion for her elder and following his words, no matter what violent consequences would come about it. Even during the time she never agreed to it, like at Hill 58, where she would bawl and cry in silence over how horrific it was, she complied without raising any questions as his word was almost her law of nature. She'd been awake only a few moments when the glass broke and the windows were shattered by the ear-piercing sound of collisions outside. She'd squealed in such a frantic manner that surely anyone would've heard it, including her companion Michael.

Once that had happened, she looked up, standing and grabbing her gear intensely from the corner of the room. Her webbing was already equipped onto her chest rigs and the rifle was all that was needed. Upon its tip sat the sharp bayonet that was far too brandished in comparison to everyone else's. Clearly she'd been paranoid over the lack of combat she'd actually been in and ensured her weaponry was to a top tier level, including the fact that her bayonet had not yet been used unlike Jean's or the rest of the squad. This was her time to at least gather her own safety. The calls for gas masks to be put on took her by surprise. Life began to slow down as the hissing sound of gas and the coughing outside began to flood her innocent ears. Lucia's eyes darted back towards Michael as she looked at him fearfully. Her mind was flooded with the calls to safety as she moved towards him, unquestionably grabbing his mask and beginning to fit it onto his small head, though their heads were roughly the same size. A flash of worry and fear was clearly glistening in her eyes and the trembling of her voice, revealing the sweet innocent girl that she was again. The tone beckoned for Michael's safety over her own in that moment, where she nodded unquestionably at the sounds of orders coming from a familiar Victoria further down the inn's corridors.

"You first. I'll get mine on now. See...w-we'll do it together, right Michael?" As she hesitantly fumbled around with the cords of her own mask, the slip up of her fingers were becoming more and more apparent as she'd shuddered in fear. Lucia felt her confidence breaking apart. Why did the war have to be so violent? She could not see who was making them, but the screams of the innocent were clearly audible from their room. Whimpers and squeals of pain left her soft, gentle lips as she knew that whatever was out there, it was coming for them soon enough. What were these masks for? Gas? Was it like the air, that type of gas? No, it sounded worse. It sounded like the noises the men and women made when they climbed out of the trench in Garnia, the ones who never returned, and the bodies that fell back inside the trench she was ordered to stand within. "I'm...s-scared, Mickey. What's going o-"

Suddenly, a thumping sound of heavy boots approached their door quickly, violently breaching its hinges and throwing it open. Lucia was left sat still, suddenly turning her head out of fright and launching to her feet. Desperately, the two who'd entered were dressed down in a casual attire of the Imperial armed services, loosely having not been able to get dressed. They were amongst some of the few who still stayed and resided within the inn, clearly having been enjoying the small time of peace they'd had. One of the two's eyes were bloodshot red with fear, trembling and panicking whilst the elder of the two, dressed in a more officer's outfit, looked sternly and aggressively towards them without the notion to blink. A long temper seemed to be locked within his heart as they slammed the door behind them. Outside, the consistent flow of shouts and chaos had masked their entrance, letting them slip inside without anything of suspicion. The officer marched forwards, slowly beginning to draw a revolver form his pocket and holding it by his side.

"T-Those masks! Surrender them to us, now, and we'll let you live!" Lucia stepped back in shock as he reached out a hand towards Michael's mask, preparing to raise the revolver towards the man she adored's head. His finger slipped onto the trigger, and for an instant moment Lucia's world became dark. The two wandering in, hoping to take the only protection against the gas they could find, and threatening them with their lives, most likely to kill them regardless, made her freeze in fear. No. She couldn't lose Michael. She couldn't lose anyone else. This was it. Her heart began to beat quickly. Images of strange amounts of flashbacks came to her mind, reminding her of the things she was taught by a man with almost no remorse now. If she were to survive, she had to fight. And if she had to fight, she had to kill. Lucia's head suddenly became focused on only one thing, and that was the task of protecting someone she cared deeply about, even if he didn't know it yet. And when the hands came too close to Michael's face, aggressive attempting to rip the mask from his tightened head, she suddenly felt her own innocent mind fade away. This was it. She had to do it. This was what she was trained for.

Without a word, she suddenly moved forward, slamming the stock of her rifle into the officer's stomach and pushing him back away from Michael. As she did so, her fluent movement was far too...elegant, almost? It was like the ballet dancers of Francia, who gracefully glided along the stage with extreme perfection after many hours and hours of practice. The officer's finger squeezed the trigger, firing a shot past Michael's head and into the wall just behind him, ringing loudly against his ears at an ear-piercing volume. Once his shot had come off, Lucia quickly raised the sole of her boot and placed it against his stomach, pushing harshly against it to shove him to the ground. Once he was down, she prepared to raise the rifle again to bash it against his head with extreme prejudice, but another hand stopped her. The second Imperial grasped onto her rifle in an attempt to save his superior, only for Lucia to quickly swipe at his legs with her own. By knocking him back, she began to twist her rifle forwards, revealing the bayonet again. Her mind was focused on killing just as she'd been taught. Wildly, she precisely aimed her stabs and only grazed the soldier, spraying small flickers of blood against the walls of the bedroom. He called out in pain, yelling a name almost indistinguishable to Lucia. The natural bloodlust implanted into her mind by Alexander had forced her into a state of unsympathetic war-mongering. Closely by, the sounds of desperate movements came from behind, and Lucia moved around quickly to thrust the bayonet forward again, suddenly striking the shoulder of the officer preparing to strike at her once again. His teeth gnawed and gritted in harsh agony, but he persisted, having been a man of experience and pain all his life. Aggressively swinging back, he aimed the revolver again at Lucia, only for her to quickly disarm him with the forceful grasp upon his arm. She brought the arm down upon her knee, nearly to the point of dislocation, frantically making him drop the revolver onto the floor. Her legs danced around the screaming officer as she turned him around, putting him inbetween both her and the second soldier. But before he could react to the new positioning, Lucia shoved bayonet forward again after dislodging it form his body, suddenly driving it straight through his skull.

His face became empty, yet she wasn't done there. Lucia dug the blade deeper into his cranium and forced it further and further, yelling with adrenaline surging through her body. To make amends to his threat, she even forced herself to pull the trigger viciously positioned towards the victim's head. As the bullet and gunshot rang out aggressively, it jerked and fell backwards, dislodging himself from the bayonet as the bullet drove through his skull and unleashing a fountain of blood out across the area. From the rear of his head, its encased innards were suddenly blasted open as a mixture of bone and brain splattered against the walls, some even drenching the second fearful soldier behind. Once crumbled against the floor, the second soldier stood in shock, giving Lucia another opening to lunge forward. Her hands dropped her rifle as she quickly swiped a blade from the corpse of the officer, still freshly cold and bloody from her interjecting ferocity, and clenched it tightly between her two hands. With as much force as before, she began to strike the blade directly into the stomach of the soldier, plunging it deep within him and slicing upwards with ease, suddenly forcing him to look down in shock as a strange sight of inside organs hung loosely out of his new open deep wound. No scream came from his mouth, mostly out of pure shock and trauma, whilst Lucia quickly spun behind him, finally holding the knife against his neck and slicing it smoothly against the skin, dropping him to the ground like a fly to a zapping light bulb. And as she did so...the room fell silent once more.

The Siege of Amone, September 11th - A dance to remember

Jean leaned back into his chair, but ensured his back kept straight and properly postured in the presence of such an endearing soul, as Reyna could've easily been identified as. Deep down, Jean could tell that there was a certain type of anxiety probably lurking within her mind. There was no way in hell that anyone, especially of one with such pride and purity, would not feel the slightest bit of fear when it came to the tasks of the mole-rat. It went without saying that Jean would be utterly distressed if that role was handed to him, but part of him felt even more guilty about having to send other individuals he cared about to do the dirty work of the Siege. Despite his suspicions, Reyna made her best attempt to deflect all negativity from the situation by ensuring confidence and prominent understanding of the dangers that lurked ahead. The world had been unkind to her, clearly, as it had been with Jean and the rest of Squad 1. It didn't take much to shift ones mind from confidence to sheer panic, and all that could have happened within the blink of an eye or the snap of a finger. Whilst wandering the fields of the Europan Front, listening to the stories of the veteran soldiers and reading all the physical documents and accounts of the Great Europan War, Jean had come to learn that no matter how confident a man or woman could be in their job, duty and objective, the bullet would always fly faster than the time it took to react.

Thinking of the bullet brought a strange silence from Jean at first, where he sat there looking at the table and back up at Reyna with a melancholic nod. He remembered how close he'd come to death at the hands of a metal-plated bullet skimming off of his helmet. The time it caught his steel protection, bouncing off at a strangely miraculous trajectory, he fell to the ground and spend a few minutes trying to gather his surroundings. It was moments like those that made Jean appreciate the life he was living. However, murdering the soldiers he opposed was enough to sway that opinion and perhaps plead the ideological crusade of death cradling a better outcome. Wise men once stated in the past that a meaningless life was not one to live by. Jean himself had once quoted to a Lieutenant at Garnia that living took courage, of course this was during the three days before the rest of his future friends arrived. Quietly, he finally nodded and understood that the past words he'd given were still as relevant as they were now. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the sweet release of another man's bullet to end the suffering he had. But...there was something before him that reminded him that the future was likely not all bleak and sorrowful. Whilst his silence must've only gone of for a few seconds, the process of thought felt like it had carried on for hours on end. Jean eventually smiled to himself, then back at Reyna, as the realisation that despite all cruelty and darkness that spread itself across the land Reyna still looked as extravagant as the day they'd first met. It took a lot to admit that, of course, to Reyna and so he kept his mouth relatively shut for the time being. Instead, he nodded and at least acknowledged her confidence with an equally as positive response.

"As long as you're ready, I cannot help but admire that courage. We could all use the positivity in our lives, and the beacons that give us it are the ones with true potential." For a second, he couldn't help but contain a thin chuckle before letting it loose, helping to brighten the mood from his darkened thoughts and worries. Eventually, he waved a hand before his face to try and mimic him clearing up the strange things he had to say. "Sorry, I don't mean to talk all poetically still. Conversationalist agendas are still a learning curve for me, you know, as are many things I'm experiencing here. But on a more grounded dialect, I am really glad you are feeling at peace with the whole fiasco. As long as you know Squad 1, and me especially, are behind you on your objective, then I hope that at least helps spring some more confidence."

There was a sudden change in motion as Reyna began to think for a moment, keen on taking Jean's focus away from a small possession of hers without as much of a second to lose. It worked, of course, as Jean himself wasn't as invasive as someone like Diana, Luke or, heavens forbid, Lucia. Suddenly, she ran over to the specific phonograph, or was it a gramophone, and started to cycle through several songs endlessly. Jean looked over with strange intrigue and interest towards her peculiar behaviour, but unlike his usual antics of discomfort he decided to play along to see what she had in mind. Clearly she was setting up some form of entertainment to do with the sound and music of the area. But his expectations were suddenly shaken from their foundations as she ran back, chanting out her true intentions. Dancing? Was this really what she wanted? The beats-per-minute were high in their fabulous swing-tone, suddenly flooding Jean full of memories of how he and Olivia danced around the gramophone in their home kitchen. Jean was silent at first, but slowly felt a smile coming across his face. God, Ines must've been happy to see this expression, if she was paying attention, as suddenly a new light burst out from within him. This wasn't the usual happiness Jean showed on a rare occasion, this was something much more. Blends of nostalgia and reincarnations of the past were spiralling around his head. His fingers went numb and his head felt light. Her hands gently touched the skin of his hand, before wrapping around his wrist and pulling him forward. The sudden collision of skin left his face in a state of red blemishing, but he couldn't help but wash it away almost as quickly as it arrived when she took the lead.

Suddenly, she started dancing first, looking as if she'd been practising for this moment her entire life. It astonished Jean when she began, fully blowing his expectations out of the water. There was choreography, and style, to its passionate yet melodic movements. The swing of the beat was enough to carry her momentum throughout the course of the tune, where she was the central state and Jean was the audience. Not for long though, as soon enough, Jean couldn't help but feel his body fall into a transcending glimmer of hope. Whilst it didn't match Reyna's expertise, Jean was too busy engraving the fun and happiness of the situation into his veins to really care. The moment was suddenly alive and the Corporal was far too engrossed into its upbeat pacing to really engage in negative thoughts. Whilst he moved, his mind began to create images of the past, where he pictured Reyna's position being replaced by that of Olivia. The bar around them was suddenly transformed into a homely kitchen, where the resonance of the room reverberated a loving familial signature. The song was almost similar in its own way too, using the same orchestration of instruments and arrangements of arpeggios one after another, acting as fills to liven up the drawn out verses. Back then, Jean was young, and even looking down at what appeared to be his hands was a younger rendition of himself. He giggled, chuckled and laughed in many ways as the two twirled. The world kept snapping between Reyna and Olivia, glimmering that familiar past over and over again. With Reyna still dancing with Jean, his mind was put at a complete ease as he kept his pacing up with hers, falling behind on rare occasions due to the perfection in her fluid movement. A moment like this would never come again for a long time. This was the moment he'd dreamt off for many years and many nights, hoping to someday replicate with the absence of his loving sibling. The world was not enough for what Reyna had offered on that day, and Jean's heart suddenly felt slightly more repaired. All of those previous days were spent with a gigantic hole, a lack of presence one must admit from where the loving counterpart in his life had died off, the emptiness inside was a little bit more complete than before. It wasn't yet completely repaired, but it was getting closer to it, and Reyna herself was unaware of the effect it was having on the poor tragedy and misfortune of this Francian lost soul.

Endlessly, he found his heart hopelessly falling for her time and time again, unable to really withstand the kindness she showed at every given interval. He was hopeless, wasn't he? Jean couldn't admit it himself, nor would he look himself in the eyes of a mirror's reflection to realise how much of a fool he could've been, but Jean was completely sure that this was a feeling like no other. Never before had anyone in the world, even including Olivia, managed to capture Jean's true emotions for the first time in their life. It was strange, but he didn't dwell on the emotion for too long, as Reyna's movement kept him entranced and almost jealous of her innate ability to keep up a gracious choreography. Eventually, the song came to a close, and Jean himself suddenly found himself giggling away with immense happiness, unable to contain the sudden flow of positivity within his veins. This was uncharacteristic to everyone else, it seemed, but deep down Jean knew that this was the real him, the real individual that roamed the earth, filled with innocence and happiness. As the day continued, it felt like ages as the following songs kept coming, their breaths getting shorter and more exhausted by the dancing of the day. It was a moment that would forever resonate within Jean's polite mind, for the remainder of his potentially short life. Part of him hoped that it would be a life that lived on for years and years more, just so he could imagine the moment he shared with Reyna forever.

The day drew on, and after a while, he felt himself sitting down, out of breath but not out of his mind. There was so much satisfaction in his expression that showed how wholesome the moment really was, one that brought the absolute best out of him that had the potential to stay with his squadmates until death would part them from one another. It was a rare opportunity, one that had never come around and could possibly never come around once again. This was a moment for everyone to remember, and not just for Jean. His muscles ached slightly as the fluidity of the dance left him breathless and exhausted. As he waited for Reyna to eventually stop her dancing, unsure if the other squad members would finally join in, Jean waited for her to slow down and to take her own rest. And so, he approached her with a gleaming, wholesome smile plastered directly upon his happy and glimmering face. And so, he started to talk in appraisal for her efforts.

"You...didn't tell me you could dance so amazingly, Reyna! I'm...lost for words, and breath..." He took a minute to slowly regain the pacing in his respiration before he finally began to conclude what he had to say to her. It took a lot for his heart and lungs to adjust to what he had in mind, and it was finally a strange act of gratification towards her. "Well...I...well thank you, for that. It's...god, where to start? It's made my entire year,, having to do that. Dancing, I've...not done it in years. Years, I mean! Like...loads of them. It's just...refreshing and all. So, I'd just like to thank you, more than I ever could really..."

Suddenly, Jean did the completely unforeseeable. With Reyna within his vicinity, he leaned down so part of his head was aligned with the top of hers and planted a gentle kiss atop of her forehead, as a way of providing his gratitude towards her efforts that day. It was a moment that even surprised Jean himself, one that clearly caused a lot of inner flustering towards how he really handled the situation itself, but the exterior body didn't show any sign of hesitation, only lasting for less than a second before he stepped back and made his way for the stairs. Before he ascended, not really sure if anyone else had fully picked up on what he'd snuck in to the situation, Jean turned around and smiled greatly as he called out to his squad for his final farewell for the day, hoping to spend the rest of the afternoon and night relaxing and preparing his uniform for the operation tomorrow.

"My friends, of Squad 1, hear my voice. Tonight, I want you to enjoy yourselves...but without alcohol because the prohibition is still active. Please, remember to sleep reasonably and to prepare your kit. Everyone must sleep in their uniforms so we can get up nice and early, have a light breakfast and move onward. Let this be a day to remember for a while, for it sure has been for me. It may be the last time we ever share such happiness together as one, but by George we'll make it one for the books. Goodnight, Squad 1. Que Dieu fasse briller le chemin devant vous!"

The Siege of Amone, September 12th - The Launch

The boots outside his tent were furiously engaged in their pacing. Everything outside was alive and ready, gradually getting more and more hectic as the activity soared far greater than the previous day's content. There were shouts and carriages dragged by horses indicating a strict arrival. Several trucks and loads of troops began to unload in immense numbers, all barking orders left, right and centre towards one another. Alexander stood with the tips of his fingers caressing the bridge of his nose, trying to recall the stress of resisting this operation. How had it fallen into such idle minds, ones who were only there to fulfil the purpose of eliminating the enemy forces? There was no consideration for how many potential friendly casualties there'd be, to which many would compare it to the blindness of artillery fire and the fact that the soldiers were prepared to wear gas masks, still many of which didn't know about. The time was ticking by endlessly and his heart beat faster than before. Lucia could still be out there, waiting for a vitalised rescue from her guardian. This could be the end of her. That was something he wasn't going to accept. There was a sense of urgency to stop the operation altogether, but the agent was already loaded into the canister shells and braced for the order to fire. Time was ticking away, trickling away like the water droplets in the gutter.

Eventually, Alexander staggered outside, dressed in the more combat-suitable uniform that paralleled his formal attire. The helmet was tightly strapped around his chin and this time he carried a rifle alongside the regular revolver he held close to his chest. Even for those who held a sense of class and elegance to their appearance, Alexander was smart enough to prepare himself suitably for the situation at hand, knowing that every weapon was going to be needed at his disposal for this coming operation. There was no stopping it this time. All the complaining, alternative strategies and objections he'd made had fallen upon deaf ears, unable to really find their footing in the eventful rising of tension. Soldiers were lined up in their huge ranks, upon his exit, already donning the masks on their faces. There was an almost indescribable fear that many of the onlookers saw, seeing that these Federation soldiers, usually appreciated for the colours and tones of their happiness, to be replaced by menacing and faceless masks in order to protect them from any toxic bio-hazard. Many commanding officers were briefing and rallying their units in order to prepare them for the upcoming assault. The plan was simple, really.

In order to secure a stable frontline within the City of Amone, it was decided that the harmful gas agent was to be used as a clearance tool, providing enough chaos and distractions for the main army to go in and break the usual pocket-based territory that plagued the holy urban jungle. Once the gas shells were sent out, troops would quickly march towards the breach in the wall and start securing each street as well as they could until enough resistance could threaten them. There, sappers would begin barricading streets and setting up a stable defensive route. Those whose squads were involved in securing highly valued political buildings for infrastructure would be relieved and replaced with hardened defenders, preparing for the upcoming assault on the Cathedral of Light, one of the ultimate goals for the whole operation. However, this wasn't something that could just happen in a single day. As soon as the gas went off, it would take just over a week for the forces to secure half of the city and to reunite with any potential soldiers still attempting to complete their missions, including Lucia's squad. This angered Alexander quite a bit as it increased the ever-looming threat that was death. The time began to tick down slower and slower. It was now 0600 hours. On the dot. And so, just like that, Alexander held his breath as the order for the gas canisters began to suddenly fill the sky with an uproar of toxic whistles.

The Siege of Amone, September 12th - Gas! Gas, boys!

Slowly, his mind began to return to the plains of reality, leaving the ethereal land of dreams behind for the morning's early rising. He must've woken up just slightly earlier than the designated end to their curfew, and that in itself was alright. Unlike the previous night, he didn't feel that upset, not for the tension of the building moment. Jean sat up onto the edge of his bed and simply smiled to himself, reminiscing of the previous day. Had he really been so happy? It was a feeling like no other, one that was fruitfully blending his past with the future ahead. It felt odd and surreal to imagine that during the dancing, his mind and body was transported to those olden days of his youth, where the inn was replaced by the kitchen of his own abode. It wasn't time-travel, of course, but rather him almost transcending into the realms of what had brought joy throughout his bleak childhood. There was a strange fear to feel in seeing his eyes snap between Reyna and Olivia, as if it were really his body transcending the laws of time, however his mind was creative enough to fixate strange alterations to what he really perceived as the truth. In reality, it was more that he was simply going in and out of a day-dream, one that was focusing on a particular moment of his past. It felt blissful. The memories of that night were stuck deeply into his own mind and would continue to do so for however longer the world had deemed his life would continue for. As the thought crossed his mind, from the brilliance of the dancing to the soft gentle touch of Reyna's skin to his lips, Jean truly felt a genuine smile come about and rid of his previous diseased moods. It was only for a moment that the smile lasted, for he knew that the future was going to bring much more devilish baggage to withhold.

Sluggishly, he began to rise out of the bed. The morning dew was bare in its entirety and the sounds of rainfall were still very prominent. Assen was known for its terrible weather, at least on a bleak scale, but this was rather extreme. Jean jokingly told himself a rather ironic conspiracy that the Imperials were controlling the weather, only to laugh to himself at the ridiculousness of the idea. As advanced as they were, this was not the kind of science they were capable of. He turned his head to the mirror that he'd looked in once before and sighed, adjusting his uniform and putting on his webbing again. Since he had ordered the entire squad to sleep in their combat gear, ready for an early deployment, it was only worthwhile to check that the equipment he bared was still in high numbers. Though they had some sharp anxiety about doing so, the inn staff were kind enough as to give the squad back their ammo and to have it ready in their webbing, on the slight agreement that until they set foot outside of the area of neutrality no ammo was to be loaded into their rifles. It was a fair agreement, and so Jean had found himself with an empty rifle, yet the ammo needed for its emergency was still close by.

Jean was the first downstairs. The others were likely waking up still or were checking their gear within their rooms. Some were even possibly making the best out of their grim situations like the previous days, potentially enjoying their last moments of peace before they were subjected to moving back out into the storm of warfare. After nodding towards several of the kindhearted staff who'd woken up early for their departure, he walked out of the front door for a moment of silence and fresh air, giving the calm before the upcoming blizzard of course. Catherine was outside too, of all people, working under the cover of the front porch to shield her from the rainfall above. Large patches of the cobbled road were drenched in puddles that spanned for tens of metres, whilst certain gutters on certain rooftops had already split from the excessive precipitation. She was busy with the tables and chairs outside, making sure they were set up in an orderly fashion and with a by-the-book professional standard to be seen. As Jean walked out, she turned quickly and nodded her head politely, smiling with a friendly glimmer to her gaze. As Jean had noticed before, she did seem like an older version of Reyna, in terms of her personality and manner of presentation, and that in itself made Jean more comfortable with talking to this new acquaintance of his. It was a shame that Jean had to leave within the hour, knowing that they may never come across one another again. Well, there were some promises he could make at least.

"Good morning, Corporal! Awful weather we're having, aren't we?" Her radiance of purity outshone the rest of the abysmal weather, but her sense of humour made it more down to earth than most would have expected. Jean couldn't help but smile and lightly chuckle at her oxymoron, talking of the good morning but only following it with the worst news possible. Suddenly, Catherine put down the chair she was holding and smirked at Jean brightly, pointing towards the attire he was wearing. "Well, don't you look all nice and professional in that uniform of yours. I'd bet the Imperials were jealous that you had something more practical to wear than the generic grey backdrop."

Jean knew that there was some practicality to the clothes they were wearing. It, in of itself, was more of an experiment to see how patterned clothing would fair in the field of battle. Clearly they had the urbanised rendition of this new experimental attire, but it definitely felt more comfortable and accessible than the previous olive drabs handed to them at Garnia. In reality, Jean felt a sense of relief that he joined up when he did. Only just above a year before Jean's enlistment, soldiers weren't even equipped with steel helmets for protection, both on the Imperial and Federation side of things. Everyone wore their fancy hats of smart dress and held minimal amounts of protection overall. Thinking back to the time the bullet scraped by his helmet, replacing it with a hand only meant that the life he'd continued to live afterwards would be over before he knew it. Jean looked down at himself and tugged at one of the belts, testing its sturdiness and comfort altogether. There were better clothes to have worn, but in comparison to the usual lice-infested clothes they were handed, this was a godsend. It felt as if the Federation were trying to keep up the morale of their troops whilst simultaneously investing in more effective combat gear. Jean's ears, especially on the train beforehand, had picked up many individuals talking about the same advancements in weaponry, and that someday it could've been possible for a single man to wield the firepower of the Imperial machine guns without the need of a crew to help handle it. Now that was a scary thought. Obviously such weapons this early on in development would hold no use other than to clear trenches or city streets like Amone but there was a sense of understanding as to why certain experimental gear was being pursued. Each faction had to get the edge over their opposition in order to survive. Survival was paramount and death was only a setback for the future of humanity, or so they viewed. At the very least, Jean saw the positive side of war in that it pressured everyone to better their tools of social and military care, helping to advance civilisation in the most gruesome and cruel way imaginable. First aid and surgery had come a long way indeed since the war had started, and many troops were still receiving the best medical assistance available in the entirety of Europa, eventually hoping to put them into practice on the homefront.

"It would be improper of us to not try to be our very best, at least that's what the commanders always say. This and that, always bright and dandy. Y'know, sometimes I think they forget what it really is like on the frontlines. But then again, they would not have been able to anticipate anything along the lines of a inn slap-bang in the centre of it all." As the two chuckle, Jean walked closer to Catherine and smiled greatly, holding out a small bag full of his entire wages earned so far. The soldier's wage wasn't great, but the francs themselves were more than enough to truly show his gratitude towards their hospitality and care. Whilst he'd been stationed in the confinement of this paradise, Jean had almost forgotten what war was like, and the horrors it brought with him. Every single part of him didn't want to leave the inn behind, never to return in order to carry out some extreme military sabotage operation, but it had to be done by someone at the end of the day. Amone depended on it, and so did the inn. "Here, take this. It's all I have, but...take it as a token of our gratitude here in Squad 1. We appreciate all that you've done for us these past three days and, well...I think I should be the one to step up and let you know that we're forever in your debt, from life until death."

"Aww, Corporal, you don't need to do this, it's just part of our job, after all." Jean nodded, but took her hand and clasped it around the coin bag quickly, letting her take control over its spending or savings. With a quick nod, Jean himself smiled in response, letting his words do the talking.

"And whilst it may not be as wholesome, it's our job to preserve these small things you've set up. The imperials are going to be happy that you provide such helpful establishments. No matter who takes control of Amone by the end of this bloody exchange, you'll thrive and grow into something beautiful for other soldiers to be thankful of. My word may be a dime a dozen, one of many you've already heard, but do take pride in the work you do and the safety you provide where others may be ashamed of theirs." As he finished, Catherine felt herself spring into a sense of happiness and cheeriness. There was no greater feeling to her than to hear the voice of one of her own side's appreciation towards all that her inn had provided. She wasn't the owner, no, which made the gratitude ever more sweetening for her, as most of the formal soldiers directed that appraisal towards the old man in charge. But just as she was about to open her mouth in response, a sudden distant thud began to echo throughout the early morning sky. Jean heard it too, and poked his head out from beneath the dry rooftop that shadowed them from the rainfall.

His eyes narrowed slightly as throughout the sky, he began to see hundreds of small silhouettes flying upwards, trails of vapour pouring from behind them. They were trajectory rounds, flying upwards into the sky. Jean's heart stopped for a moment as he suddenly realised that the combat was likely to erupt on a greater scale than ever before. They seemed distant and the ones he could see clearly had completely separate landing points to that of the inn's location, for the early shots. A cannonade was beginning, but for a strange reason their travelling and outlines seemed far different to that of a normal artillery bombardment. Their arc was suddenly cut off as their barrelled down, and from the opposing end of Amone another distant thumping sound could be heard, like that of a bass drum. The flames of war had been ignited again, but no one truly knew what was so special about this artillery bombardment of such proportion. The shells kept going in a continuous stream, arching up and spreading out into what felt like thousands of individual targets. Catherine walked to the side of Jean, close by, and poked her head out into the rain too, unsure of what to make of the scene above them. She seemed more concerned by Jean's more glaring look, one of intense worry and confusion. In that moment, Jean quickly began to tighten up his helmet, preparing for the worst situation possible.

"Catherine, how common is this?"

"What...uhh...Artillery? Well it's common, but I've never seen something that large before, not here at least. Why?" She looked towards Jean with minor distress, unsure of what to make of the events as the thumping sounds began to grow louder and more frequent. Jean finished tightening up the helmet strap and preparing his uniform once more, before turning back towards her. "Should we get back inside? I doubt it's anything of importance to us, here at the inn?"

"Catherine, I want you to head back inside and to start thinking of an escape route, if need be. I don't like the look of this, but it..." Suddenly, Jean was cut off as he could hear the sound of whistling from above. He poked his head outside of the porch once more to see something metallic, large and fast cruising across the sky, far closer than the other shells were going. The whistles instantly reminded him of Garnia, where the bombardment was met with a preemptive whistling from hell. His heart began to race and his mind was thrown into chaos, he walked backwards as he turned to Catherine, trying to call out a large amount of worry and ordering her to get inside, but it was too late. The shell landed in the middle of the street and kicked up a storm of smoke and ash. Some of the windows of the inn cracked and shattered by the sheer force of the street-based shell, sending chiselled dust from the cobbled street into the air. Jean was thrown to the ground, and so was Catherine, though they weren't hurt in the way they'd expect. Jean lifted his head slowly from the ground and looked towards the clearing dust, seeing an oddly shaped artillery shell that wasn't symbolic of any of the regular shells the Federation used. All across its outer layer, words in small print talking of toxicity and high levels of danger left Jean feeling nothing more than sheer agony to its sight, pulling his head up once more to see what it was. Catherine was coughing beside him, just from the wind being taken out of her system, before finding herself too fixating on the shell. It hadn't exploded. What was this?

Why hadn't it exploded? Shells were supposed to detonate upon impact and send shrapnel in all directions, wiping out large areas of soldiers without as much of an ounce of mercy. This one was different though. Its shape looked more like a drill, one to solidify its position into the ground and to keep itself sturdy. The rain fell upon its metallic shell and collected onto the ground, before the artillery piece suddenly burst on its top layer, revealing a thick layer of a yellow mist. Jean's eyes were forced open once more as he saw the speed of the mist, spreading out above and around the shell. Its weight was denser than air and far more terrifying to look upon. The way it engulfed the street began to sporadically inflict fear throughout the two outside, causing both Jean and Catherine to scramble to their feet. It slowly drew closer and closer, creeping towards the inn without any intention to spare it. What was this strange thing? Jean made his way for the door before he struggled to open it, bashing against it heavily. It was locked, or jammed perhaps? The hinges had been shattered by the impact force of the nearby shell, rendering it fully useless for entrance or exiting. He was at least eight metres away from Catherine, who'd stayed in her spot out of immense fear. Jean's pounding on the door grew louder and louder, as he struggled to try and secure their exit from the mysterious mist crawling towards them. He turned around, seeing Catherine in her place before shouting out to her.

"C-Catherine! Get away from there, now!" But despite his aggressive intentions and attempts, it was too late. She turned around to face Jean, just as the cloud began to circle her. Almost immediately, she breathed in a huge amount of the substance, and began to cough violently. Jean reached out a hand, but the gas kept slowly creeping towards him. She collapsed onto her knees and gagged hysterically, her eyes watering and beginning to redden as her lungs kept filling up with the particles in the local atmosphere. Jean began to watch in complete horror as Catherine coughed more and more, violently vomiting onto the floorboards of the patio. In whatever ejected from her mouth was a mixture of saliva, blood and the contents of her morning meal, all blended together in one horrific mess. Her life was fleeting in seconds, quicker than any harmful asbestos was usually capable of back home. Jean called out in fear, yelling her name before watching her twitch and collapse, unable to stand up. He had to react, but he couldn't run in to save her. She seemed to have met her own demise as her hand let go of the coin purse Jean had given her, letting it drop onto the floor and to gather the particles of dust layered within this strange air.

In a state of panic, Jean looked down to his webbing and remembered seeing something so...haunting. The mask. It looked up to him with an emotionless glare, its tinted protective eyes staring directly into his soul. Without thinking, he began to wrap it around his head and face, engulfing his entire humanity with its eyeless engagement. Questions raced around his mind as to why they'd been given these masks, and only to find the answer was that this was an expected attack. Or perhaps, it wasn't an attack on the Federation, or more an assault from them. Jean felt his mind go blank and his eyes water quickly as the mask finally tightened around his head, shielding him from the toxic atmosphere. Catherine was still laid on the floor, drowning in her own vomit it seemed, gargling away in the worst pain imaginable. Jean screamed her name again, before turning and running towards one of the windows that had been smashed partially by the shell's shockwave. With the but of his rifle, Jean began to break the window down more so that he had an entrance, knowing that its already broken structure wasn't enough to keep the gas out. As he ran inside, his breath was sporadic and the muffled voice of his claustrophobic face, tightly wrapped inside the mysterious mask that all of the Federation soldiers had been issued, and called out as loud as he could.

"G-Get the civies out of the house! Go! Everyone else, p-put on your mask! Put it on! NOW! Fucking now! Do it. Please...Don't let it choke you out!" He hoped that everyone upstairs could hear him, everyone within Squad 1, and that they were awake to truly make sense of the horrific situation at hand. It was like a tragic tale of terrifying proportions. The muffling of Jean's voice from the mask made it unclear for what he may have been saying, and it was almost impossible anyone upstairs to hear anything other than the smashing of glass, the shouting downstairs and a muffled scream that was incoherent for anyone listening through the floorboards. This...this was horror. This was true terror. This was war.

The Siege of Amone, September 11th - A time where the birds still sang their lullabies

The rainfall continued to pepper the fields surrounding Amone, and the trees that were once used to bring life to Amone's surrounding forestry were drowned in the one thing they were fruitful in. There was a bitter spite in the striking precipitation that fell unto the world. Most of the other officers had already gone inside, enjoying their funny little expensive meals from within their more prestigious dugouts than those found in the common soldier's hands. Even though he'd been brought up by aristocracy and wealth, there was nothing more sickly than its presence on the working man's battlefield, being an exclusive commodity for those brought into positions of power, most of which were yet to directly kill a man or woman themselves. It was a lot better than when the war first started, and that almost every officer within the Federation was from a position of wealth and power. Now it was a meritocracy, and that was where Alexander himself shone best. Achievements meant promotions, not notoriety. If it was that way, the lack of truth around Middleton's name back home would've been enough to propel him to a higher status by now, but he rejected it. Now, he was a Captain, one that had fallen from grace. The worst part of it all was the fact that part of him was still self-aware of the monster he'd become, seeing that his mind was brought to its knees and forced to lick the dirt off of corruption's steel-toe capped boots, doused in a sludge commonly found at the bottom of the regular Europan trench. It must be nice, having the ability to shove a stuffed lamb or recently carved chicken put down onto a grand plate before you, smiling as the men outside freeze or starve on just their small rations. Whilst the common eye saw the insane Captain as distrusting of his own men, it was far from the truth. The Captain loved them all. He would never admit it. His future self would always deny such feelings, but the past Alexander that once roamed the world would look upon the men and women who served under his command with a beaming smile and raise a glass to them, yelling a great Cheero as they too shared a similar glee. Those giddy days were gone, weren't they though. Those days were nothing more than a fragile void waiting to be recovered by the blissful embrace of death itself. How unfair life had become...

Alexander didn't write home anymore. There was little care left. Viscount Oscar Middleton would've received letters regularly from William, the older and more respected brother of Alexander's tarnished consensus. Even with the name of a false hero that spread throughout the civie-streets of the Federation, both the Viscount and Lady that called themselves his parents would never give him the pat on the back, or the hug of appreciation. Love was not a word his family used often to describe how much Alexander actually meant to them. An after thought. A waste of resources. A failed prospect that didn't meet the expectations of their enriched ideologies. Two of the Viscount's other songs were killed in the earlier years of the conflict. The eldest, Henry, was murdered in 1913EC aboard the HRS Francis Drake, a royal dreadnought that was finally destroyed at Heligoland Peak. Down with the ship, they said. Bartholomew, on the other hand, was killed at the fateful Maren River crossing. Very early war, in that case. It pained Alexander to even consider writing to his own home, knowing his words would forever disappoint his father just for simply existing themselves. William occasionally sent letters to Alexander under strict circumstances, but responses were hard to give back to him due to the sporadic movement and schedules of the Captain's own career.

His mind had been stuck in one place for the last three days, since he'd arrived at Amone. This was the border to Assen, his homeland. Just under a year ago, he was here once more, fighting within his beloved 21st Edinburgh Fusiliers. It was a shame that the stench of the red-rainwater dew was still stuck thickly within his memory. It had given him the brash hatred towards the Vinlander generals and their glorification of the war. Sure, they were volunteers to prepare the United States themselves for a potential entry into the war, but it was far too dangerous to assign them to what was the last ditch effort at holding on to Assen. Alexander thought that every day was worse than the last after that early November morning. Storming the fortification lines that were now only 13 or so miles away from where he stood today, here just outside of Amone, thousands of men and women who followed and trusted him were cut down in violent waves without any sort of repent. The chain of command kept sending more and more into the fray, and it was close to even having Lucia sent out there. The world crumbled around Alexander when he climbed out of his trench, stumbling across the devastated land. Bodies were at every metre, and for once the Imperials seemed to take pity on him, crying his eyes out as he gathered one identity disk after another, watching the bodies of those who he called his friends before. Hundreds of thousands of them. All covered in blood, mucus, spit and decay. Half of the bodies weren't identifiable. Some thought it was the most tragic scene to withhold on the war. The Man who Waltzed the Graveyard, as the event became known as. One 1st Lieutenant, breaking down into endless streams of tears until his mind broke whilst he walked amongst all the dead who trusted him.

It wasn't just his mind that changed that day, nor his attitude towards how he would've contained his anger, but there was someone else who was badly inflicted. Lucia. She'd been under his protection for around a year by then, hiding amongst his sleeves and away from the frontline combat. Without much prejudice, the research and original reason of their meeting had become one of a fatherly complex. Lucia was the light to his world. She wasn't a lover, nor was she a fighter. She was Lucia. The days were silent, with him making sure officers didn't get their grubby hands onto her whenever they wanted extra hands on call. No rifle was placed into her hand with the intention of killing another human, not then or ever. The only time he let her strike anger out was when a rat or two scoffed at her meals and threatened to pass infection around the trenches, to which she happily saw the challenge to kill it. Other soldiers looked at her like she was a useless piece of baggage, but with what Alexander knew, she was more than that. And before that early November morning, she wasn't just a project to him. There was something about how they used to talk and smile that really made her special...

"Lieutenant, is it okay to eat the extra food? Wouldn't the old officer-man get angry at us again?" Her sweet little cheeks puffed out eagerly as ignored her hesitation to eat, placing the pieces of freshly sliced bread into her gaping mouth. A small giggle came about as she continued to load her painfully hungry stomach up with the bakery products recently donated to her by Corporal White, a familiar face in the NCO dugout. As Lucia blissfully brought out that honest question, slightly concerned about her own reputation amongst the 21st Edinburgh Fusilier's ranks with high command, Alexander smiled lovingly to himself, extending out his open palm to ruffle up her dainty, crystal white hair. With her helmet taken off, she was far more free to express her childhood. It was lucky that she was gifted these extra rations, especially seeing as she was the most popular icon within the regiment, almost as if she were a mascot of the sorts. Once Alexander's faint hand scruffed up her hair once more, she began to chuckle again, even with her mouth full. The two shared a joyful laugh together as she sat up onto her own bed, still trying to get used to the uncomfortable spring mattresses the army had provided them. Finally, Alexander spoke by continuing to button up her sleeves, adjusting her uniform to be more presentable for the outside world of their dugout.

"If it's okay with me, then it is okay for you. You deserve it. You're a big girl, remember." They shared another mutual smile together as she opened her mouth greatly, taking another bite out of her slices whilst making strange feline-like noises for her appreciation of its soft, fluffy texture. Whilst it wasn't warm, it was far better than anything she'd managed to eat in recent months, or even years, considering the conditions of the trenches. Time and time again, Alexander tried to sneak her food from the officer's mess halls back at the regimental headquarters, but was unable to every single time. Every day Lucia yearned to eat some form of hot roast, trying to imitate the noises of the animal she playfully chewed upon to make everyone around her laugh. "I can't believe you're fifteen now, Lucia. That's a big number, you know. That's 5475 days on Europan soil, alive and breathing. Call yourself a lucky girl, wouldn't you?"

Lucia beamed as she looked over to the bedside table. Well, it was more of an old ammunition box that was put beside her bed, imitating that of a chest of draws or something. Atop of it was usually a candle, but that had been moved aside for the makeshift cards and paper messages given to her on the special morning of her life's anniversary. From the aforementioned Corporal White's small snapshot roll-film that his camera had made, one of himself, Alexander and Lucia herself sat atop of an artillery gun, to the hundreds of messages written out by C and B company. She glimmered at the hopeful addresses given to her, and they were all there: Private Mason, who still was always given the chance to cook and brew tea for the officers, the Jefferson brothers, the 'Lads of the Emma-Gees' (a select collective of privates all from the machine gun squads, who always were known for their bright smiles), the beauty of the west 'Sergeant Amanda Brown' and all the other names could be seen signing piece by piece. Lucia, for the first time in a long time, truly felt loved and appreciated, completely under the care of her own regiment and compassionate Lieutenant before her.

For a moment, her mind went into a small drift, as it always did. Her understanding of the world was still majorly minuscule in comparison to the common soldier, but her friends and seemingly adopted family on the frontlines gave her all the appropriate information they could whenever she needed it. Alexander smirked and tried desperately to conceal his own chuckle when she pulled her thinking face, always seeing how innocently childish it was of her to do so. Either way, she eventually pouted before grinning herself, and Lucia finally managed to formulate the moment's next big question.

"Why don't the Officer's like to hang out with us? Mr Richards from the Em...uhh...Em...Emma..." She stumbled on her words, pulling another confused pout as she tried to remember the informal name for their collective friendship circle. Lucia's eyes darted towards for a helpful push in the right direction, before her own mind figured it out herself, treating it as if it were a brand now achievement to be proud of. "The Emma-Gees, that's it! Well, he said that the officers didn't think you were nice and kind, or that you should be a bit meaner like the Colonel."

"Bah, those old coots couldn't get any fun unless it were paid for in huge sums of cash. They seem to like to party, but not with those who didn't hold a candle to their rather formal upbringings." Lucia, once again, giggled at his almost mocking tone of their richness. It always struck her the right way when he disregarded the aristocracy that he'd been brought up with for the benefit of his own soldiers, finding comfort and a sense of belonging within their ranks, even as an officer of high regard and authority. Alexander placed a hand gently on her cheek as they both smiled into one another's faces, much like that of a father and daughter. "But you have us, the 21st. We're all here for you, and we hope we made you have the best birthday a girl could ask for. Looks like we'll have a lot to do for your 16th, won't we, little Lucia?"

"There's one way to make it better, without much effort..." Before Alexander could question what she meant, right after tilting his head, Lucia spread out her arms and wrapped the around her guardian, beaming brightly into his heart as she glistened on that birthday night. "Just let us continue to be happy together, Mr Middleton. Just let us be happy."

A tear came to Alexander's eye as he felt the surge of paternal love soar wildly through his mind. He couldn't control the emotions at hand. Nothing could ever bring such a beautiful moment ever to shame. There was no wrong in the world with her around. These two were going to be together forever, as a father and daughter figure in one another's own innocent eyes, just trying to get by and survive the war. With their minds put to rest, Middleton nodded, mouthing out the words that he promised to forever take care of her, and to never let harm come in her way. And with that, he thought to himself that whatever he did, it was for her own life, for her own brilliance. Even if there was still a different reason for why these two had met in the first place, and that his research would have to continue regardless, at least he could love her as the daughter he would never have. He would never lose her, and she would never lose him.

But she did.
She lost him forever.

The Siege of Amone, September 11th - A break from it all

Jean looked somewhat happy with his own response to Luke, taking in a sense of pride for the confidence required for such a small endeavour. It wasn't that the content of the authoritative drive was something of extreme intellect or even any brilliance, but more the fact Jean had to build up a lot of courage to say the words he did. According to the lovely Diana to his right, it seemed to have worked considering her tears now flushing out. Part of Jean's heartstrings were plucked with great tension, like that of a guitar or a plectrum against a viola, but part of Jean's motive was to stay strong and try to push past those emotions. Luke's response was still yet to be seen, but Jean was suddenly more taken aback by another interjection into his own final consideration of confidence. His own friend and NCO, Mr Black, turned up and began to summarise what Jean had said. For a moment, Jean froze in place, staring at Isaac with a small sense of disbelief. To the Francian, it felt like his attempt at encouraging his own confidence and sense of dignity was tossed aside by Isaac, who came in prancing around about morale and card games, repeating what Jean said towards Isaac in the most laid back manner conceivable. There was no major reason why, but Jean felt a strange annoyance to having himself interrupted and summarised in such a short and bland way. It wasn't that what Isaac was doing wasn't particularly done with malicious intent, but the way he'd came in once again made Jean look more incapable of delivering some form of authority on his own. Some could've referred to it as Jean's fragile insecurities and true lack of dignity, but Jean himself saw it as a small provocation of his own ability once more, making his face dim and darken with slight self-pity. How embarrassing...Luke was probably laughing on the inside about how small, soft Corporal Robin-Charpentier had to get help to gang up on him. Everyone had this goal to make Jean the better person, but it was at times like these when an indirect and accidental damage to what little pride Jean still had left that made him slightly down in place.

It didn't take much to shove a man already on the edge. Right now, in this very inn, Jean had felt like he'd been through so many emotions that it was unmatched by any theatre of war thus far. Even back home, his standards of emotions and shift in mood was spread over several days or weeks, and in three days within Amone's unholy walls he'd covered most of the positives and negatives for what to feel and when to feel it. Love, anger, hatred and sorrow. Trauma and memories were a large part of his time at the inn and they themselves were far too indivisible from the distinguished reality and false manifestations of his own mind. This war had done a number on him. Jean felt pent up inside with his emotional baggage. The world had fallen apart, crumbled before his very eyes. Anomalies only once thought within fiction were conceived right here, and right now, in the reality of the world. Outside, rainfall reminded him on an hourly basis that there was no true happiness within this inn. Everyone was distracting themselves. Everyone was hiding from the reality of the war. Jean had been doing that for seventeen years prior to his own enlistment, and now he was being shown the music. Fuck, fuck it all. Get out of gutter, Jean. He'd tell himself a lot that all he had to do was focus on the reality at hand. Jean was a failure. Jean was a traumatised failure. Everyone here had already established their place in the war, whether they were going to be the moral compass, or the supporting friend, or the lover, or the drinker, or the arsehole, or the sad one...Jean was nowhere to be seen. Jean had disappeared completely, vanished like the ashes of some Mediterranean volcanic plume.

What was worse than disappearing completely? Well, not existing in the first place was one thing. Jean still felt like there was no establishment. Maybe people only cared about him out of pity or sympathy? There was no real connection to him or his counterparts, except from the few good conversations he had with Isaac and Reyna. Michael and Franz were also good assets to have, as Jean yearned to converse with them more, and Lucia had been a recent well-induced addition to his Jean's own personal recovery, but still the Francian never felt like he truly belonged. Sent in by pressure of social class, thrown into a position of false power and rationalism, and Jean was nothing more than a shadow of someone else's greater story. He was the background to someone's origin tale, or an extra to their stage performance. Everyone had goals, aspirations and futures laid out ahead of them. Jean had nothing. Honestly, Jean felt like his only true purpose in life was to make the others feel better about themselves. He didn't have it the worst either, so sometimes he felt like his huge mental health issues were incomprehensible to everyone else's much more eventful lives. He was no protagonist to anyone's future history lesson. Jean was not anyone's future.

Jean stood up, turning away for a moment and mumbling something to himself. Part of him had suddenly vanished. His aura was now a void, and it was easily detectable to the keen-eye. It was as if he were a spectre, floating in-between everyone else's conversations and presence, haunting them with the stoic realisation of pain, agony and war. His face felt pale and devoid of all colour. His eyes were drawn into a greyish murk, blemished only by the bloodshot anguish of the Great Europan War, as it was no called. There was nothing great about this. Jean wanted to hold that gun to his head again, but this time there was at least the self-control to stay very well away from it, and to instead talk to the greatest medicine ever conceived by a human: Private Reyna Hall.

"Please...enjoy your card game, I don't think I'll sit this one through, but remember the prohibition on alcohol for today and tomorrow. I don't want any distractions for our mission, okay? We're here for a reason, and we can try to do it well. Now...just...uh...just stay happy, I guess?" As Jean moved away, he approached Reyna, who was sitting alone with a book in her hand. It was her journal of course, as Lucia had already tried to swipe it up as her usual nosy self did, but so far she'd failed in every way to get a hold of its small leathery body. Luckily for the beauty that was Reyna, she didn't have to worry about Jean being invasive. He could empathise. His poems had been swiped twice since his introduction to Squad 1, and nothing was more frustrating that having your secrets and thoughts leaked without any sort of personal approval. It was damaging to morale and to confidence. Whilst Inès did compliment his writing, there was a sense of deprecation towards how she took it beneath his own consent. Those were the sort of moves that didn't boost confidence for someone like Jean, but rather challenged them further.

As he walked over to Reyna, he hesitated for a moment. One of Jean's biggest fears was being the antagonist to her life. Was he being that? He was certain that she was on good terms with him still, but a huge part of Jean's issue was that he could never see the best side of reality. It was the fear of disappointment and embarrassment, but for him it was a case of just taking a deep breath and being himself, not actively acting out of his ordinary self. Jean pulled out a chair nearby her and sat down politely and carefully as to not disturb her elegant and almost formal aura. For some reason, Jean was immensely attracted to her elegance, as it showed a level of grace and virtue on the battlefield, no matter the situation. She was like a beacon out on the coastline of Francia, one that helped guide lost ships inwards. Jean thought that, to himself, that was what Reyna was to him. He smiled and nodded his head with respect as he took his own deep breath, taking out his flask and having another sip of the tea he saved from yesterday.

"Good morning, Reyna. I hope you had a comfortable night. You seemed to have raised some popularity amongst the squad with you tea yesterday. Diana was going on about it constantly, and I still have some in my flask here now." His chuckle responding to his own statement was met with a softness and tender care to his own form and tone. Jean was still quite nervous around her, but not in a similar way as everyone else. She made him feel somewhat bright on the inside. Something about the way they spoke made him happy. It just did. No one could ever explain that feeling. And for Jean, Reyna was the key to realising what was truly worthwhile in this god-forsaken world. "As sweet as you are, the tea is."

Jean looked down at the table, slightly red in the face himself, before he sighed heavily and decided to mention something that had been on his mind for quite some time in his dreams. Something dark was coming, something that Reyna was to be heavily involved within. Jean knew this because of what Lucia had said in her own worries, and they were now shared and reciprocated by her Corporal, himself. With a quiet nod, Jean lowered his voice and leaned closer to Reyna, looking at her with a serious gaze of care and compassion, as if he just needed to hear her response just to soothe his troubled mind.

"R-Reyna...I must ask you something, if you don't mind?" Jean's formality came out once more, as it usually did in their solo conversations. But this wasn't one with anything lovely or wonderful to go with it. This time, there was a hint of regret to what he had to ask. " you remember Hill 58, or Garnia? When...when we first met? That was a lovely moment, but I said something to you that I now realise burdens my promise. I said I wanted to make sure you made it through the war without witnessing the horrible things I did, without having to do the horrible deeds the commanders made me commit towards. But, when we go on to our objective, in the tunnel system, I have to send you into those depths, almost alone. I don't want to, Reyna, and I'm sure you might feel like it's necessary, but I want to know do you feel about it? Is it something to be nervous about? And if it is, can I help in any way? I've got such a bright future and life ahead of you, I don't want to put that at risk, at least not any more at risk as it is simply being here on the frontline. And, please don't take this as some sort of overly zealous attempt to preserve someone. You are capable of many great things, but even the strongest sometimes cannot handle what we have to go through. I may not be the strongest in mind, my heart I am, so I know what it might be like."

The Siege of Amone, September 11th - A sense of authority

Slowly, his eyes fluttered open as the knocking of a fist against his door ruined the perfect night he was having. It was blissful, right up until that moment. The warmth of the bed and the comfort of the pillows and duvet: everything around him was just glorious. The only way it could've been better was if Reyna or Diana had been curled up with him, but Jean knew that the latter of the two was occupied the previous night with her own strange enigmas, ones that slightly saddened Jean whilst he tried to block it from his mind. After the wholesome conversation they'd had, it felt a little odd hearing Diana go off with what seemed to sound like Victoria, the new girl. Just another way to rub it in the face, he supposed. Can't have anything nice without fourteen negatives accompanying it like some enriched prison guardsmen. Damn, the world really liked to kick him down whilst he was at it. It was this sort of time that Jean would probably get out of the bed, try and find Reyna and just have a nice wholesome experience with her over a cup of tea, which in his mind sounded like the most splendid idea for someone as respectful as herself. A deep conversation was needed between the two, one that could at least let Jean learn more about her, and vice versa. The inn did seem like the perfect place to do such, but in reality Jean was too worried that he might be invading her free time and ruining the only experience at rest and relaxation she may ever get before one of them bites the bullet. The harsh reality was that the chances of both Reyna and Jean making it out alive at the same time were incredibly low. Human life was sometimes measured in not only months but days or hours here on the Europan Front. There were individuals who were killed the second their head and body became exposed from the outside of a trench, not even having the opportunity to meet face-to-face with the opposing Imperial soldiers who were responsible for their slaughter. The harsh reality was that, just that. People were not expected to survive.

The quote went 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori', 'It is sweet and proper to die for one's country." Jean had heard that ring out many times during his studies of creative writing and poetry, far too often it had seemed. The names of men and women who were lucky enough to dodge the drafts or conscription by acting as some poncy propaganda writers, they disgusted Jean. Many of them used it as a way to earn hundreds, if not thousands, of undeserved piles of cash, where they would sit comfortably in their new mansions or manors all over the Federation's cleanest landscapes. For a reason yet unknown, Jean felt like his involvement in the war had given him some purpose: to be the honest writer who tells everyone back home what the war had become and why it seemed all but futile. The other writers back home spoke of honour, glory and duty, as if any of that really mattered out here. They were shepherds to the slaughtering pits, where they narrowed hundreds of thousands of young men and women into joining the army. The practice was frightening. To know that one of the real villains of this episodic war was the pen which made contact with the paper.

The knock came again, flipping his mind out of the philosophical gutter it had just dipped itself within. Jean rubbed his eyes with the tips of his now-clean fingers, still noticing the fresh bandages around his hand. It was nice that the inn staff had actually replenished the wound and disinfected it, despite how painful it really was to do so. The bandage was now a crystal white, and more spares were regularly given out to ensure it didn't become anything less than the purest colour. Jean called out for the individual knocking to open the door and to come inside, to which he was met with a familiar female who worked for the White Hart. With a golden flow of hair crawling down her back, she was the embodiment of beauty for most of the soldiers here. Apparently, for the older soldiers of the Imperial Army, she was a very popular attraction for them, having many suitors who'd challenge one another for her love, which she clearly didn't reciprocate. Catherine, of course, was her name. She'd been assigned to Jean's room and gave a lot of guidance in terms of medical awareness, making sure he was fully understanding on how to treat any similar wounds should the situation come around again. As she walked inside, Catherine bowed extensively to show her true politeness, before walking around and beginning to tidy a few things up. At first, Jean sat there in silence, scrambling to put his own undershirt on out of common courtesy, but she seemed to engrossed in her duties to really make a fuss out of the whole situation.

"Had a good sleep, Mr Charpentier?" With her manner of speech and elegance in movement, Jean almost pictured her as a slightly older version of Reyna. That wasn't a thought he wanted to develop too much, perhaps out of courtesy for Reyna herself, but either way it wouldn't exactly be an insult to the Vinlander. Jean nodded slowly, rubbing his eyes again before slipping his legs out from under the duvet covers to drape over the side of the bed-frame. Luckily for both of the two, he was at least clothed with his trousers still. "One of the waitresses passed some concerns about you, so we wanted to make sure you were at least comfortable for last night. Glad to see it worked well, our beds."

"Yes, thank you very much. But, uhh..." Jean looked over, concern of his own flushing his eyes completely, devoid of all confidence for just a moment. "You can tell the staff not to give me any special consideration. My friends deserve every bit of comfort ahead of me, no matter the situation. I appreciate the concern, at the very least, but do put my friends before me, if that is okay with you?"

Catherine let out a rather elegant giggle of her own, even bringing the tips of her fingers right up to her own lips to almost conceal the laughter she had built inside. It seemed really odd for someone of her excellence to be surrounded by such common soldiers, all flushing down their drinks and fucking like rabbits, if Jean could have made a comment on the amount of activity last night. Once Jean stood up, she instinctively began to start dressing his bed once more, replacing its sheets and eventually flattening it out across the mattress to make it seem like it'd been preserved for years and years in such a pristine manner. Jean was impressed by her finesse and ability to add near perfection to every action she did, and so he listened further to her response.

"Oh, don't ask if it's okay with me, Mr Charpentier. Without sounding too profession, even for my own standards, your comfort is paramount." What she said next resonated well with Jean, as he too had felt rather similar to what she had to say. It took him by surprise when she managed to keep an utterly straight face of joyful smiles, as if she had learnt to never let the horrors of the world engulf her. "I've seen what this war does to people, and there's no feeling worse than one of loneliness. I was here when Amone first got invaded, and occupied, and have been here ever since, refusing to leave these walls until either the fat lady sings or I can smell freedom. Until that time comes around, though, I'm going to wait here and give you soldiers, no matter of what allegiance, the comfort you need to stay strong."

Jean nodded with his own friendly smile. She seemed to have her heart dead-set in the right direction, not even faltering to fall akin to the corruption. Her home city had been invaded and yet she still sat here with open arms, even to the soldiers who were responsible for bringing the war to her doorstep. It must've taken a lot of courage to really put forward that kind of obligation, but she was more than happy to oblige by it. Jean gave her a courteous nod and excused himself, giving her one last thank for her consideration and kindness. The descent down the stairs was rather rotten, not because of the conditions of the stairs but rather the loud tempo of the early-morning consumers. Luke and Ines were the first two notable ones to really be taking a stance in the morning meal, already having a large plate full of food before them. The full Edinburgh Breakfast, if he wasn't mistaken. There used to be several small cafes and restaurants in Liege that sold those, and Olivia used to take some home for Jean to eat, considering his rather isolated upbringing. Those were the days to live and die for, it seemed, though Jean didn't really feel like dying again. Eventually, Jean reached the bottom step and took a deep breath. Outside there was still a lot of rain showering down upon the pavement. If it weren't for Amone's drainage system the entire road would've likely been knee-high in precipitation by now, which in and of itself was a really unsettling thought for the anxious Corporal.

As he walked down, the first stop he made was to the bar table. Jean knew that there was no upfront costs, or any costs at all, for the living space provided, but Jean felt that it was necessary for his own spending. Unlike Freya or Thomas, there was no one back home for him to send the money towards, and so what little the army gave him in response to his enlistment would just pile up until it collected dust. Jean placed down a handful of Francian money directly onto the counter, looking at the surprised barmaid behind it. Jean nodded, and before she could protest he simply shook his head to deny any form of questioning. It was a tip, one that would be distributed throughout the entire staff of the White Hart, at least. Eventually, he continued in silence, across the room, until someone seemed to beckon him over. Inès, it was. How peculiar.

Once he sat down, Inès pressed the jokingly awkward question about whether or not Jean spent the night with a special someone of his. At first, Jean looked as if he were about to fluster, as his reddening face indicated, but instead he tried to not make as much of a big deal as he could. The vagueness of who she was talking about made it unclear whether she was referring to Reyna, Kalisa or Diana, but the obvious presumption was the former. Reyna was indeed at the top of Jean's interests, mainly because of all the positives that came with her. Jean hadn't exactly striven to formally claim her, as some of the unadulterated suitors of the Atlantic Army may have stated. Jean wasn't the kind of individual bent on those sort of formal methods of love, either way, and so he simply waved his hand before his face as she assured she hadn't told anyone. If it was that obvious to her that she knew, it worried him about how everyone else perceived his staggering intrigue in the art of love. Jean let out a thin sigh before opening his small flask, still with its own hot tea inside of it. In reality, Jean had taken some of the tea Reyna had given him to his own hip-flask and insisted on the White Hart's staff to keep it heated until the morning. Whilst it didn't have the succulent freshness it had when Reyna first gave him the wholesome mug of purely made tea, it still had all the wondrous hints of beauty laced within every taste. Jean could be seen smiling with satisfaction and a sense of relief, as per his expression.

" I didn't. She's a sweet girl, and it isn't my place to stride into her life if she didn't want me to. She gave me some tea, and it was beautifully tasteful. Couldn't get enough of it." He leaned back into his chair and took another large sip from the flask, smiling as he looked up to the ceiling. For once, Jean seemed to be balanced with some form of mutual relaxation, the night's sleep having clearly taken a good toll on his mood. There was still the odd hint of sadness, broken-hearts and anxiety with every word he uttered, but at that point Jean couldn't argue that it wasn't part of him. His confidence had a long way to go, indeed.

Inès kept the good mood going when she complimented his writing again. Part of Jean felt like the appraisal was superficial, but that was more because of how selective he'd been with who saw his writing works. He appreciated the comment nevertheless, finding it to be a genuine surge of happiness in his spine. Having never shown someone his work, only for them to catch him off guard and still find some sort of respectability within it was a very heart-warming thing to hear. He doubted that the same sort of appreciation may have come from the individuals whom the poem was directed towards, but at the end of the day, no writer was perfect. Jean wasn't perfect at anything, or would he ever be, but the talk of his scribbling endeavours were enough to help rest his mind furthermore. He clipped the carabiner to his belt again and leaned forward slightly, giving a silent nod at first to her comment. When Inès referred Reyna as a proper individual, Jean couldn't help but smirk humorously at the comment. Whilst Reyna, in comparison, was more like a princess than the street-wise person the Francian before Jean was, she wasn't completely proper. Something about some of the thought processing Jean saw her make within her facial expressions sometimes suggested that she was not always someone who had thoughts of crystal clear colouring, no matter how pure and wholesome she really was. Jean appreciated that sense of honesty about her, and it made her feel even more real as an individual, where previously Jean only saw her as an angel from above.

She began to talk about his confidence. It made him slightly uncomfortable when she was as straightforward as she had to be, but the truth was there. To Inès, Jean wasn't the bravest, by a long shot it seemed, but he had a sense of compassion still laced within his system. Even as self-deprecating as he was, the Corporal could not argue that he was without compassion. It was the only thing keeping him alive, or rather in such huge danger. With a prod to the chest, Jean looked down at her finger whilst she briefly mentioned a previous NCO or two, which caught his interest. He didn't want to push the story any further, not yet at least, for fear that it might've dampened the mood completely for him. Jean, only for a second, held Inès' wrist to move her finger down a centimetre or two, chuckling as he did so.

"If you were meant to point to my heart, you missed it by a centimetre. I mean, unless you're saying I have a lot of true ribs." He laughed to himself quietly, finding a slight bit of surprise at his own attempt at lightening the mood. Inès didn't really know Jean a lot, though she acted like she knew all that there was. She clearly wasn't there at the Garnian Salient when things took a turn for the worst, but Jean felt a small, though very small, sense of pride for how he orchestrated the soon-to-be squad during that charge. "Back at Hill 58, Kalisa said I had a lot of balls, which was awkward enough as it was. It was when I dragged a Sergeant's body out of the open line-of-sight of the Imp machine gunners, just to get a pair of binoculars. Y'know...the same ones I still carry with my uniform today. Took a shot to the head, but the bullet skimmed my helmet. Never been more afraid of death in my life, or as close as it seemed."

Just as his anecdote came to its short conclusion, Diana showed up with a glum look about her. Hangover, of course. It was a good thing Jean was still yet to announce his prohibition on alcoholic substances for the day, but he wanted more individuals to turn up downstairs before he made such an announcement clear. She asked the usual questions, of course, about how everyone was and their sleep, the usual, before looking at Jean in secrecy about what he mentioned to her. Diana was going to tell someone, of course. Why wouldn't she? Knowing Diana, you couldn't tell her to hide the secrets of where the cookie-jar was, and without torture she'd still tell the enemy regardless. As cheerful, lovable and funny as she was, Diana was far from tactful. It was probably one of the main reasons Jean hadn't shared any major secrets with her so far, out of fear that it'd essentially be signing a contract saying 'Diana is allowed to blurt this out, sorry'. Jean let out a thin and nervous sigh, letting his expressive actions speak for themselves rather than him actually raising his voice as his concern. Either way, he couldn't object to her. Jean did tell her to tell people if she wanted to, though more mistakenly than he anticipated. Perhaps this was for the better, or the worst, that she did go around and tell his romantic interests what he felt about them. God, that'd be embarrassing.

But it was in the next minute that the conversation and mood took a nose dive. Luke was nearby, clearly minding his own business, when Diana provoked him. It could've been a playful tease, but she seemingly did share a similar distrust and disliking to Luke, though Jean wasn't in a similar position to just insult him. It surprised the Corporal that Diana was prepared to provoke him so easily, as if something had already happened between the two he did not yet know of. And following that, before Jean could give a telling-off to Diana, Luke thrashed out with some harsh words. He ironically told Diana to shoot him, going into some graphic detail about how he wanted her to load a round and point it to his head, which suddenly set off a fuse within Jean's own head. He' was almost as if he knew what Jean tried, but clearly he didn't. Luke wasn't that sort of person to blurt it out if he knew it, would he? No...only Isaac knew, at least explicitly. Britta didn't know the details yet but she likely knew that Jean's own mental state was still at a major threat. No, Luke didn't know, but there was some irony to what he yelled at. There was a thin silence in the room before Jean stood up, pulling his chair to face Luke directly from across his table. Jean took a seat, and for some reason, didn't feel any sense of aggression or anxiety towards him. A sort of confidence, but not a surge of it, had swarmed inside his muscles and mind, making him talk and think rationally, as if this had been planned out for ages. A sense of authority, one could say.

"Luke...I'm going to be honest here, you're one of the few people I know who somehow acts more of an arsehole sober than when they're drunk." Once again, Jean's uncharacteristic swearing was accompanied by another uncharacteristic collected tone, all calm and without too much bite to it. It was only the start of his small telling off, at least for now, which would find its way to Diana too for her provocation. "Now I don't want to make this a big deal, but I understand that Diana pissed you off, which she shouldn't have done in the first place, right Diana? Being an arsehole does not make any of you better than the other. But, Luke, what grinds my gears is what you think. Diana mentioning family might not have been the best move, and it wasn't by any means. She didn't know, clearly, but at the same time you didn't think about what you had to say. You're in a room full of soldiers, some older than us and suffering for longer. Don't talk about putting bullets to people's heads so explicitly. Diana didn't know what you may have gone through. And at the same time, you don't know what others have. Keep your mouth in check, and your head in the right place, and we can all just get along nice and well. I don't want to fall out, not like the last time you showed bigotry, but I want to remind both you and Diana not to make things harder...for everyone. Otherwise who knows, maybe you might regret what you painstakingly ask for."

The Siege of Amone, September 10th - Solid Advice

Thomas was propped up against the head-board of his own bed, sighing heavily to himself as the silence began to take its toll again. For him, there was nothing worse than inactivity: an inability to do something productive or worthwhile in that moment. He'd been spending his years either constantly working on a farm or serving his friends and people proudly, fighting for some sort of war he should've had no part of in the first place. However, whilst this was what occupied his last few years, he thought a break from it all would do him some good. Freya had been adamant to not let him go wild with drinking and instead forced him to rest up due to the injuries and wounds he'd received in the previous incursion. Damn, they still hurt quite badly. It wasn't anything he hadn't received before, but it was definitely the most serious of injuries he'd picked up in all of his military career. Shot several times, of course, and had to crawl through no-man's land just to return back for medical attention, but this felt different. Part of him had fallen into a weakness like no other. The stabbing wounds flashed a strange surge of agony through his bones as the hours went by, reminding him that they'd previously been the homes for several tipped blades. The inn staff were kind enough to treat his wounds properly, thanking Jean's squad for stabilising it beforehand. As always, the pain was far worse during the disinfecting stage, which always was a loathsome process for anyone who'd come across a regular blighty. Time kept slipping by heavily, as if it were dragging the entire weight of his fallen comrades in some old wooden cart that lacked any proper wheels. How cumbersome that would've been. Thomas had seen his fair share of death and destruction throughout his years of combat, losing almost every friend in the books of his own personal history. Names like Primrose Evergreen, Howard Smithson, Wesley Thompson and Amanda Horthy were no longer accompanied by real, living individuals. They were just memories. Hundreds of names he'd learnt over the course of the past's progression had ultimately brutalised the journey to the present. He didn't want to lose anymore, but in reality there was only Freya left. Freya was as careless as she was careful at times, which didn't make sense to most individuals, however to Thomas it made perfect sense. Part of him wanted to find a way to spend a special night with someone, making sure that if he was to lose Freya or lose himself in the coming months of the war, at least he would be able to die as a happy individual who proudly did his best to create happiness for others. To die as a man who did the right thing: that was Thomas' true endgame strategy and objective to live by.

The walls were quiet, for the last few hours. Around 3 hours ago, maybe more considering his loss of the concept of time, there were the unmistakable noises of love-making going around in several rooms. God, Thomas couldn't help but feel a little depressed by the noises. Not only were they rubbing it in, seemingly, it also reminded Thomas of the fact that love was one of the few things he'd never been able to grasp during his time on the frontline. It wasn't that the concept was alienated to him, as Freya had been a good case-study for when she and Naomi were together peacefully, it still made him moderately disappointed with how the world had turned out. He didn't like only being known as a soldier, or a good war-hero or whatever, but that still didn't change the fact that he wanted something to stand by after the war inevitably ended, or someone to at least make the last of his days more enjoyable if he were to not make it that far. Endorsed completely under the reality of fatalism, the philosophical belief that everyone had a set fate that was unavoidable, Thomas had already pictured that this was to be his destiny. Death came by so fruitfully, without stopping to consider who it claimed. Heroes were not exempt from its scrutiny, and so just as everyone else was Thomas was under the knife soon enough.

A knock came at the door, and suddenly, a female walked in. For a second, Thomas was a bit sceptical as to who this individual was, as he'd never seen her before, not even amongst the inn staff, and the fact he was sprawled across his bed with only his bottom trousers being worn was quite an uncomfortable position for most individuals. Across his torso, lacking the shirt of course, there were dressings of bandages and other parts patched all over in many different, yet very specific, spots. Eventually, he just let the situation play out as it was, not even bothering to cover up his top half to hide all the injuries he'd recently taken from the imperial stabbing. From the first glance, Thomas was amused with the lovely, picturesque figure of an Oceanic woman, specifically the one Freya had mentioned earlier before. She had a darker hair tone to that of Freya herself and walked around with her own confident aura, but as she came closer and closer to Thomas it seemed to dissipate. In his past, only a few soldiers who recognised him actually acknowledged his infamous name amongst the Oceanic Expeditionary Troops, but none had gone out of their own way to approach him. She did that, and with her graceful entrance she gave the most genuinely sweet introduction, suddenly causing Thomas to chuckle lightly to himself with an expression of gratitude and happiness for the change of scenery. Instantly, he sat up, trying to meet her eye level a bit more, before beckoning for her to come closer.

"Victoria, is it? Well met. And I say 'well met' because I'm sure there's no better sight to look at than the one before me right now." With his friendly tone, he gently winked at her and laughed to himself, giving a cheerful output of tone and keeping up with the standards of cheeriness he was known for. "And don't think I'm a joker. Freya may already be quite overly excited, as everyone below has learnt, but I'm still more collected and true to my word."

As she came inside, Thomas let his breath exhale quickly, allowing him to fully appreciate the newfound company. Her nervousness was truly adorable and somewhat admirable, giving him some gratitude for something he clearly hadn't done other than provide a sense of independence for the Dominion of Oceania. It was always amazing to meet someone from his homeland out here in the foreign cultures of Europa, and especially one of such good looks and taste it seemed. He noticed that perhaps his bandages being on show were a little concerning, considering he may have been thought of as some outrageous, invincible soldier without anything to lose. He chuckled at the preposterous thought of someone even thinking that, but it'd been revealed once by a fellow friend of the past that his image had that sort of ridiculousness to it. Thomas offered her a space to sit down on his bed, knowing it must've been at the very least more comfortable than standing up.

"Don't mind the field dressings. Last fight we had had me shot and stabbed a few times. Hurts like hell, but those Imps ain't tough enough to kill us Occies, are they?" He patted her on the back jovially and chuckled to himself, poking fun at the age-old saying that Oceanics couldn't die, they just leave the field of action. The thoughts behind that saying were to inspire troops and to truly let the world know how committed they were to preserving their families, their culture and their honourable fortune in morality. "You're with Corporal Robin-Charpentier, aren't you? The Francian Darcsen, of course. What do you think of him so far, if you've spoken at all?"

As she began to lay out her answer, Thomas instinctively flicked her hair randomly to try and throw her conversation off, sort of as a mini test to ensnare her interest away from her conversation, but nevertheless her reaction, he nodded for her to continue. The way she spoke was far from elegant, as Freya had mentioned before, but that was a common part of the Oceanic culture. There was no space for aristocracy, even within its governmental representatives. The Kingdom of Edinburgh always slashed away at the dignities of Oceanic Ministers, claiming that their brash and informal methods of political debates were far from the common etiquette, to which those ministers just told them to fuck off. It was a wonderful stereotype to go by, the outrageously over-the-top individuals of loud misunderstanding with their thick accents, and Thomas found pride in knowing that they had a recognised appearance to the rest of the world. It was a step closer to independence, after all, albeit a small one. Once she had finished answering his question, Thomas patted her on the shoulder, wincing slightly in moderate pain as the cuts and wounds beneath the bandages were put under the stress of movement once more. His face clenched, but after he finished moving, he gasped slightly for fresh air and panted, allowing himself to finally relax in his new position. Thomas gave her a weakened smile, clearly impacted by the pain of his wounds, before he looked towards Victoria. Something deep down started to tell the NCO to start talking with future advice for this girl. Earlier his mind had reminded him that potentially, his time was going to be up in a few months or weeks, and that he should give it his all to improve the mental states of everyone around him. And knowing the topic of conversation, Thomas nodded before looking at her directly, a friendly smile upon his face.

"Y'know, Vicky...I can call you Vicky, right? Anyway, mate, whatever Jean may seem like at the moment, I'll admit he's a good kid, despite it sometimes not looking like it. Sure he's got some nerve and flaws to his figure, but I feel like you were lucky to assign yourself to him. Reminded me of my first time in command, nervous and confused. Albeit, back then, lass, I was already used to combat. Jean though, first time commanding and in the field of battle since Garnia. Only a month or so ago did he actually come into the war. Mad, isn't it? Makes you appreciate the little things, all the very little things in life..." Thomas sighed, looking away with a sort of sorrowful glisten in his eyes. There was a sudden change in atmosphere as he realised what he was leading up towards. He couldn't flat out explain to this girl, Victoria, that he was predicting his own death within the coming future, as it wouldn't be a good way to spend time with a famous individual. Luckily for him, he managed to tiptoe around it, and just get straight to the point he wanted to make. "From first glance, you seem like a strong, capable girl, don't y'ah? If it's not too much to ask, please just stay with Jean until the war comes to a halt. I fear he might go too far in his quest to protect everyone. I heard the conversation he had next door, and...well...let's just say it seems best for him to have some support over the coming trials. He may be an NCO, but as one myself, nothing sucks more than to be looked at as just a dispenser of orders. Well, I don't know how you view me, so I can't tell you that." Gently, Thomas chuckled, noticing that the sun outside his window had completely disappeared. Darkness had engulfed the room, leaving an eerie privacy and silence between the two newcomers. For a moment, though, Thomas felt a little more alive than he did dead, and that was something to be thankful for.

The Siege of Amone, September 10th - Awkwardness

"I'm...I'm sorry, Lucia...I don't quite, understand what you actually want from me?" Jean nervously shook his eyes from side to side, unsure of how to react to the absurd question she had brought upon him. The pouncing of her inquiry was similar to that of an artillery shell dropping upon a hopeless individual, unable to prepare or defend himself from the explosive ordinance that was dumped atop of their position. Jean was definitely able to cross that question off of his bingo list, seemingly finding it unfathomable that he was even asked something so bizarre. Be her older brother? What did that even mean? Jean knew that Lucia had grown up as an only child, potentially, and the shielding of her entire upbringing by Captain Middleton had brought far too much loneliness into her well-being. Time was of the essence for her to secure a sort of sibling like relationship, and this was her chance. Except, Jean wasn't her sibling. Jean had no relation to her by blood, or anything other than close friends. He couldn't help but nervously laugh as Lucia pouted at him with a bit of embarrassment towards his reaction. What a strange predicament they were both in, and it was indeed one that Jean couldn't exactly handle well with his anxiety shooting through the roof. Somewhere, in some sick mind (likely Michael's), Lucia asking desperately to have them as her big brother could've sparked some sort of twisted fantasy that you'd only expect from the south of Vinland's borders, where inbreeding was more of a stereotype.

Lucia equally went bright red at her cheeks, stumbling to formulate a sentence of her own as her question was becoming more of a nuisance than a simple request. Lucia still had no clear understanding of how social adaptability worked out and proved her ineptness tenfold with a ridiculous question like that. However, she seemed very driven to push for an answer, leaning across the table and essentially sprawling across it, laying on her front just to pressure Jean into giving her another answer. It was a lot to ask for. Jean hadn't exactly thought of himself as someone's older brother, especially with the two-year raw memoirs of losing an older sibling of his own. He shook his head in hesitation, before wrapping his fingers around the bridge of his nose so he could properly conceive the strangeness to the request. Lucia waited anxiously herself, wanting to see if he would reciprocate an answer of familial ties, bonding together as new siblings. Clearly, she had no idea what made a sister or a brother, but this seemed to be her general gist of the concept. Jean finally spoke, stuttering as he did so.

"I...I g-guess? I mean, why do you want a sibling? And...why are you asking me of all people? Why not Michael?" Associating Michael as a sibling seemingly brought her into another status of constant pouting, sticking her lips out in an embarrassed fashion once more, before she finally said something that took Jean's drink out of his mouth in a shocking spit. Even though she lowered her voice to a whisper, to share the response between the two, she still brought all the surprise and embarrassment out of Jean's system in one fell-swoop.

"Because I don't want to marry someone who might be called my sibling. That's yucky! Bleugh!" Well, that cleared up the queries Jean had about how Lucia felt about Michael; clearly she hadn't exactly told anyone she had a huge crush on Michael, though her sitting her backside onto the lap of him in a rather alluring way might've given it away. Lucia was an unpredictable girl, one with many capabilities and though-processes that challenged the average thinker. She was unable to find a direct path of socialising nor was she able to confine to a single mood. From crying to screaming, to then smiling and giggling without any sort of transition, her mind was seemingly splintered into many segments that decided when they wanted priority over her emotions. It was scary to think that, especially knowing her shady past with Middleton in the last few years. Jean wanted to press the question right then and there about her relationship with the Captain, but her mood seemed to be too high spirited to shatter with a question so forceful as that, so instead he let it slide and instead smirked at her strange reaction. "Though...I don't really know what marriage is, Jean. Is it like holding hands? I used to think that's how babies were made, but then Freya told me that its actually when you get the boy and sti-"

"How about, as your new older brother, you don't ever tell me what Freya has told you, like...ever again? She's a bit of a wild-case Lucia, and you seem far too...well...unique to really find any mutual understanding with her." Jean's face lit up like a brightened winter tree that was on fire, blushing out at Lucia's thoughtless outburst of how individuals were conjoined in sexual lust. Jean hadn't thought much about the act himself, mainly because he was more interested in the relationship that came with those acts of lust, but it was still a concept he found himself too embarrassed to publicly speak about. For now, he rested his head into his hands, before standing up slowly. "Look, I'm...I'm going to go to bed, Lucia. Don't stay up too long, even if the older soldiers do too. We all need our rest. You know the mission that's coming up, right?"

"Yeah, I know. Alex told me about it, and how the sappers will have to crawl into an impie hole. It sounds scary, and I don't like scary things that much. But that also means Michael, and Reyna and Gwyn, will all have to crawl through it, and that's scary to think about to. I don't...I don't like scary things, Jean." And just like that, Lucia's eyes started to water and welt like a drowned flower in the spring showers. The change in her mood was unsettling in how quick and sporadic it was, even taking Jean a second to shift into the realisation that she was now upset over the strange thoughts. How her mind worked was an enigma, a case of a tortured soul who'd spent years under the guidance of a seemingly mad man whose soul was dedicated to obsessing over her. Jean didn't know how to act as she silently began to weep herself for a few minutes, before wiping her eyes and weakly smiling up at Jean with an adorable innocence to her face once more. "P-Promise me you'll protect us, Jean? It must be a bit sad to send people to die but, you can stop that, right? We're doing really well alongside you, and you've given us a lot to be thankful for. I...uhm...who else would make a good big brother, r-right?"

She began to giggle with great fragility, before breaking down into another set of silent tears, whimpering to herself after disturbing her mind with the potential to lose Michael, and her friends Reyna and Gwyn, to the tunnel systems only a week or so away. It was scary. She was powerless to help. All of what Alexander had taught her would be wasted and Jean would be forced to take her under his wing, hiding her once more from the plain sights of reality. Reality was scary for her, and Jean could tell. There was always this promised land of colour, love and wisdom given to her as a child, and yet it was all taken away from her as soon as the war started. She'd developed a strong hatred for the Imperials, apparently during her first year beneath Middleton's reign, but soon found a way to suppress all emotional attachments towards the Federation's soldiers too. It was how she instinctively managed to pull the trigger and claim her first kill on her own ally back in Garnia. That was until she met Michael, and Jean too, who seemed to have sparked something that was dangerously threatening to her superior. And that emotion was the simplicity of being able to care.

The Siege of Amone, September 11th, Morning - Against his Code

Standing beside his faithful ally, Staff Sergeant Baker, Alexander watched begrudgingly as the waves of logistical troops and carts wheeled themselves by and into position, beginning the construction of several artillery launchers preemptively. The situated assault plan was far too daring for any of them to comprehend, but it had to be done, or so command said. All of Amone rested upon their decision, on whether to delay the foothold even further or simply act upon it with whatever weapons they had at their disposal. Project: Land-Creeper was yet to be completed and ready for on-field testing, and so Project: False Wind seemed to be the go-to source of experimental weaponry to finally break the stalemate. It was one of horrific proportions that brought a great deal of nerve towards many of the commanding staff centred around Amone, but they had no ultimate input on the final say of its deployment. How cruel, it could seem. The fact that the literal formations of breathable air had been converted into a tool to kill one another shocked many as its first use on the battlefield was soon to be experimented with. There wasn't really any proper testing on what the effects were like on human soldiers, as the testing had only been humanely conducted upon rodents and a single primate, which raised a lot of questions on whether or not it would be an effective deterrent to the Imperial occupation. It wasn't exactly going to be a weapon that could be deployed all over the Europan front, but it was definitely a strikingly shocking revelation that had the capabilities of altering how warfare was conducted. No longer was it just about brutal weapons designed to kill up close, but now there were tools that did it without the soldier even needing to fire the gun or swing the axe.

Baker looked at his Captain with strange intrigue, noticing a stifling anger upon his expression as the soldiers rolled by with their specifically tagged artillery shells, lined with a yellow finish all over to separate their purpose from regular HE bombardment rounds. Across their metallic body was all sort of scientific scriptures that reminded Alex of his previous life, being surrounded by similar phrases and warnings plastered across every surface. Whatever was in those canisters, Alexander had no real agreement in their involvement to the Amone siege. It put a lot of people in jeopardy, and not just the Imperial soldiers it was intended to target. Many factors could hinder the operation as a whole, such as indirect friendly-fire. Middleton could've been seen as a controversial figure, but unnecessarily choking his own platoons and regiment without any breach of conduct beforehand truly struck a nerve with him. What if those there didn't get their gas masks on in time, or perhaps didn't exactly know what their purpose was for? None of the soldiers were briefed on what their purpose was as to stop interrogations on Federation prisoners leaking information about their aerial agent. Baker sighed heavily and gently nudged Alexander with his elbow.

"Something on your mind, Sir?" He was keen to quiz him on the true emotions of his thoughts. There was a great therapeutic intention behind letting Alexander speak his mind without needed to hold up the act of a brutalised Captain in front of his men. Something was troubling him. Now, whilst Baker didn't like half of the things Alexander had done as a soldier, with some very questionable means of enforcing authority, Baker knew that deep inside him was the same man who once held that honourable personality and ethical values. Now, he was corrupted by factors of war and loss, and this was his way of coping.

"I don't want them to launch this new agent into Amone. What...what if Lucia gets hurt? Or what if she dies from the horrific deathly gas? She can't die u-until I have helped her reach that potential she needed. She can't let her life flee her whilst I am not there to protect her, damn it. Baker, I am scared of losing her permanently, especially with the threats of many other factors trapped in Amone with her, hell if she's even still alive." There was a brief silence, before Baker finally nodded and made sure to change his focus.

"It's very good that you feel some sort of fear for your own troops, Sir. Compassion reminds us that we are human, and I can tell you now that you still have that humanity somewhere, if you do not mind me speaking my own mind, Sir." Middleton chuckled at Baker's kindness, before looking down at his chained watch with a small smile on his face.

"In twenty-one hours, specifically at 0600 on the dot, these gas shells will be launched into a large trajectory all across Amone, covering as much of the Imperial pockets as possible, as far as our shoddy intelligence suggests. Once they launch, we go into Amone. I've made some arrangements with the Major to let me reunite with the regiment's remnant, hopefully so we can find Lucia. I don't like this idea of gas, Staff Sergeant, but our only other option is to wait another few months before those fucking Vinlanders arrive and claim all the glory, as if glory even matters here."

The Siege of Amone, September 10th - 'What if I wasn't here?'

Clearly his sly attempt to slide into Diana's conversation had gone rather well as she seemed to flourish a redder tone than usual, blemishing out her brightest features with a single glow. A grin kept itself plastered upon Jean's sweetly cleaned face from earlier that morning, where he had a nice bath before the interruptions of the hallucination. He slightly missed being able to flirt casually with people like Diana and Reyna, which was something he didn't do that often in the most recent days of their time in Amone. It made his heart beat faster than it usually did and a fit of uncontrollable smiles would always encircle the regular calmness he rarely had. Diana was a sweetheart, no doubt, just like Reyna and Kalisa, but much like the other two she had her own unique personality and set of traits that was unmatched and different in its own way. Reyna had elegance on her side. Kalisa had a lovely aura of self-control. Diana? Well, Diana had the most alluring personality of them all, seemingly going out her way to actively let everyone know what she liked in as polite of a way as she could make it. It was like a slightly more experienced version of Lucia in that everything had to be straight forward and there was little restriction to what her filter went through, but in a way Jean kind of liked that about her. Honest did go a long way, even though Diana's first honesty was enough to make Jean stagger back in utter surprise upon Hill 58. Even then, Diana had a rather womanly figure to herself, which Jean hadn't actually taken any time to awe upon, mainly because of the highly embarrassing factor that Jean held some form of moral dignity when it came to his first triad of romantic interests. Here, however, it was hard not to. Diana seemed to have her uniform a bit more relaxed than before, as if only hours before she'd stripped them down completely and ignored the privacy they provided. Jean didn't specifically know that this was actually part of the truth or that her devilish failed bet with Luke was now a topic of discussion, but even then he smiled at her once he fully gathered and realised her physique.

Jean felt himself fluster slightly when Diana sweetly shot back with her true preference of Jean's flirting, finding it somewhat flattering himself that she thought that way still. At first, he didn't know how to react, knowing that Jean's first attempt at flirting with her was more of an embarrassment technique with a hint of passion laced within it, and from her response he felt a mischievous grin circumnavigate his emotions before he let a phrase or two slip out quietly, enough for only Diana and himself to contemplate.

"I'm more than happy to stare for longer then." Oh god. Jean had already dropped the ball and felt himself grow brightly red in the face. He pulled himself away from her quickly before exploding into a panicked state of embarrassment and confusion as to why he took the flirting further than he usually did. "A-Ahhh, sorry I didn't...I didn't mean to...uhm...So how are you?" It was definitely not a smooth transition, his attempt at changing the subject, and by all means was it as coarse as the memories previously flashing through Jean's broken mind, but for some reason it felt rather genuine of him to apologise. He was still far too inexperienced with this sense of courteous flirtation and romantic pursuit. Before his invitation to the 15th Atlantic Rifles, the Darcsen had no experience of friendship other than that of his very own flesh and blood, Olivia. It was a huge leap to be going after someone with the intentions of potentially committing an oath of love towards for the coming years, but Jean was still truly desperate to fill that empty hole still cascading his heart. It needed filling, and the longer it remained open and empty the more it would spread around the rest of his body.

Diana was quick to change the subject to, giving him a rather well-thought question that was sure to trip him up. Jean himself was thoughtful about what she asked, his impressions on everyone else to be specific, and instead found himself chuckling to himself with nervousness and a strange, coy smile. Was he really being asked this? Either way, Jean needed a good distraction, and thinking about everyone he'd sworn to protect seemed to be a good place to start, despite the fact he'd have to honestly open up some of his more radical feelings towards a few specific squadmates under his command. Her quizzing was carefully planned, or perhaps brought out of a state of random trails of thought, but it did help immensely with the previous melancholy he suffered from. Jean stared at her for a moment, contemplating on who to start with and how to give his honest opinion of Kalisa, Reyna and Diana herself. Eventually, he took a deep breath and nodded, finally finding his place to begin.

"How I feel about everyone? Well...I'll start somewhere dim. Luke: not a fan of him. Bigotry doesn't settle well in my stomach, if you hadn't of guessed by my...uhm...embarrassing outburst towards him. I can't deny that he might be doing his job as a soldier well, but that only gets you so far in my books. I guess I could come onto the Occies: Thomas is pretty calm and collected, only just met Victoria and Freya is a bit out-there but genuinely pleasant to converse with. Michael strikes me as a great guy, and I really enjoy talking to him. Haven't had many serious conversations because of him being swarmed by Lucia's adorableness, but he's a very philanthropic individual, and I can't help but relate to that." He paused for a minute, losing himself into looking at Diana again, her eyes and physique once more with a strange awkwardness to his mind. He knew he had to talk about Diana, and the other two beauties, very soon in order to answer her question truthfully. That was the part Jean was not particularly looking forward towards. "I...don't think a lot about the other new recruits, Gwyn and that lot. They seem nice, but I can't say I've spoken to them much. Franz is an alright chap, but has a lot weighing on his shoulders, same as me, so I can feel some empathy. Ines has her quirks, and...ability to be quite loud, I suppose. Isaac and Britta are a nice duo, and I enjoy Isaac's support that he's shown the squad and me personally over these last few months. And then..."

He stopped for a second, eyeing up Diana as she must've known her name was amongst the final three to be mentioned. Jean felt his cheeks blare a bright red once more as he tried to spit it out but failed several times, clearly embarrassed by the truth of his attraction. Why did she specifically have to ask about his honest impressions of everyone else? If she had just missed out that one word he wouldn't have felt so inclined and pressured to open up about something so secretive and benevolent as such. His face blemished more and more as the pressure built up. Oh god, this was really the true feeling of being put on the spot, wasn't it? He felt sorry for all those who'd been through this years and years before his life had even began. Eventually, Jean plucked up some small courage and lowered his voice to a gentle whisper, one enough to soothe Diana for sure.

"Well...w-well there's you, Diana, and there's also Kalisa and Reyna. I'm...well...I guess it''s only fair to say that...uhm...I may...just maybe, have...developed a really...really...really strong attraction to...all three of y-you." What didn't help was Diana's wholesome comment on Jean's eyes and how beautiful they were, causing him to shake his head and fluster wildly without any understanding of how to take the situation. Why was romance so hard and embarrassing? It felt as hard as Franz probably was around Ines, and that in itself was a rather discomforting thought to cross his Francian mind. Jean began to wildly apologise for the mini breakdown of his revelation, having shown that he was indeed attracted to Diana, as well as Kalisa and Reyna as much as herself. "I-Ignore that I...I am just being honest!"

Luckily for Jean, Diana went off on her own tangent about some revelations of her past, talking about the family she seemed to have bad connections with. Jean himself began to listen with intrigue and genuine curiosity. It felt a bit tragic that she had a family still around, yet the simple mentioning of their name felt more like a burden than an actual motive to keep pressing on. For that reason, Jean couldn't find any words to say then and there, instead sitting in silence and nodding his head as she continued. God, the weight of everyone's own separate burdens was enough to really unsettle Jean, making him feel more depressed that the world was treating these good people worse and worse with each passing day. It was unfair and downright sickening to imagine Europa being as sickly as it was to its own graceful occupants, even the ones who were not permitted to even bring any harm to a flower if they so could. He sighed heavily, before his eyes were caught off guard by someone standing beside him. Jean felt the tap on his shoulder and turned his head, finding that the small and innocent Lucia was stood before him with a somewhat eager look on her face. It was strange seeing that, as apparently only moments before she was drunk off-of-her-mind from a single pint glass. Either way, Jean could take the hint, and told Lucia he'd be just a second, watching her roam off on her own to another corner of the room, awaiting Jean's arrival.

With that now said, Jean turned towards Diana, giving her one wholesome smile to try and follow up from his minor confession of attraction towards her, Kalisa and Reyna in one go, before leaving an open-minded statement to keep her company as he begged his own departure. It was rather devilish of him to keep some sort of romantic undertone to what he said, but in that moment, Jean didn't care if she took it that way. At least there was some comfort in her, Kalisa or even Reyna taking any of his flirts into a romantic mindset.

"I might go to bed after I talk to Lucia, here. So, if you need me at all, and I mean anything at all, just come and find me and I'll see if I can help. Have a pleasant night, Diana, if I hadn't already made it that way." Jean placed his hand atop of Diana's head, patting it gently and ruffling around her neatened long hair with a large grin on his face. It must've made her a bit shy from the phantom head-patting that Jean could deliver. Either way, giving her one last look, and even contemplating waiting around to see if Diana wanted to take the conversation any further, Jean turned and made his way over towards Lucia, who was eagerly bouncing around in her seat.

"Sooooooo, Mr Robin-Charpentier...What's it like?" For the past ten minutes, Jean had sat in silence watching her guzzle down her night's meal with a happiness glowing all over her face. Every shovelling of food that entered into her mouth was followed by a strangely pleasured moan of satisfaction, one that was surely enough to turn Michael's head into a state of uncontrolled fantasy. However, these noises were just for the food she was eating for the moment. Some form of slab of meat, a steak of beef perhaps, and for the time Jean waited for her to finally say something she'd already cleaned half of her plate with immense power. She seemed to have a strangely elegant taste for food, as if she'd been starved for years before. Though the thought of that backtracked to something he'd been meaning to ask her, about a particular Captain of interest. Unfortunately for him, Lucia was first to draw her question like an outlaw fighting in the ranches of Vinland.

"I'm...sorry, what do you mean?" Lucia followed his confusion with her regularly girlish giggle, one that really brought out the youth and inexperience of her mind and body. Lucia really didn't belong here on the frontlines, probably the least of everyone else. Whilst Jean was mentally unequipped to handle the stress of war, Lucia didn't even have the correct age entitled to her actions. There was a shyness in everything she did, whether that was laughing or talking. Jean still couldn't shake the image of her crying in the trenches of Hill 58, back when she'd finally been relieved of her anti-coward duty that Middleton had forced upon her. Was that a common practice for soldiers who were considered weaker? Either way, there was a lot of questions that needed to be asked after this randomised topic had gone out of the way.

"Having a sibling, silly. I heard you have an older sister, and I read some of your letters the other night whilst you were on watch duty, asleep on Reyna's thighs." The adorable innocence of how she put it made Jean flurry into a straight crimson red, far redder than he'd been around Diana only moments before. Was it really that obvious for her? Why was she also snooping through his letters again? This must've been the sixth time, the previous five being on the train to Amone. Where had this habit and lack of tactful privacy come from? Either way, it suited her adorableness further as she giggled again at his response.

However, Jean didn't smile immediately, knowing that she didn't seem aware of what had happened to Olivia. Jean sighed and put one of his hands beneath his chin, resisting the urge to drop down onto the table and slam it harshly against the wooden surface. At least here, he could compose himself a little clearer than he could if he broke down yet again. For once, he tried to push out all the angry and sad thoughts considering her mentioning of her sister; clearly Lucia had no idea of what had truly happened.

"Uh...yeah...had a sister. She was killed in the first year of the war." Lucia's face instantly dropped as soon as Jean said so, which made Jean's heart melt immediately. She had a pure look on her face that made anyone feel guilt when her pouting of sadness or realisation of a mistake came into light. For a moment, Jean could figure out why Michael was so attracted to her, as her angelic representation shone brighter than any flare that was shot on the fields of Garnia a few days before the charge. Jean quickly shook his head and tried to defuse the situation by continuing with her question, hoping to shed some light on the situation. "It''s amazing though. You have someone you think you take for granted, wishing they weren't related to you, but when they're gone you truly understand why they were as great as they were. They are there whenever you feel low and defend you from any metaphysical thoughts and unpleasantness on a daily basis. Guardians, as my sister would always describe elder siblings as. And to me, she was and still is the best guardian that could've ever lived."

"Aww, that's so sweet Jean!" Lucia curled up on her chair, finally letting some tears slowly trickle down her face. Jean had clearly failed in preventing her tears, but she at least seemed to be smiling whilst her emotions once again started to take the best of her. An emotional wreck, she was, but Jean could relate. Suddenly, she chirped up and poked Jean on the face, causing him to freeze in confusion with what she had to say next. "I never had a sibling. Jean, can you be my older brother?"

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