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"To absent friends!" Bartley and Mills tapped their mugs together. They both finished the bittersweet ale and Mills looked out the window, seeing Titanna playing with the wolves pups that had grown up to almost adult size.

"How's everything going?" Mills asked.

Bartley poured another round and took a sip before he replied, "Quiet and simple."

Mills nodded, "Well, at least it's safe out here."

"It's a crazy world out there," Mills waved his mug around. "Crazy gods and goddess... Warmongering Empires and man eating goblins..."

"I... kinda wished we were back home," Mills sighed. "At least things are just black and white. Here, it feels like everything is not so simple. Can't kill something without it going critical or having some butterfly effect that comes back and bite your ass."

Bartley nodded in silent understanding while Mills rumbled on, "Ever since we came here... how many of us are left? I mean the real Marines, not these elves playing dress up..."

"It's just me, you, Koing, and James left in our section," Mills said. "And Collins, Lambert, and Cooper are left in the other section."

"When we first boarded the Singapore," Mills continued to rant on. "We had a full platoon! A GODDAMN FULL PLATOON!"

"That's 30 men!" Mills spoke in a low voice. "Now? Only 9 of us remains, counting the CO and Top..."

"9 out of 30..." Mills sighed deeply. "Granted more than half of us died fighting the Swarm... but still only 9 of us are left!"

Bartley gently took away Mills's mug. "You shouldn't drink too much, you still need to drive back..."

"I can't help think of our odds here," Mills covered his face. "Ever since Drake died, I blamed myself for not getting the convoy to his position fast enough... If we didn't get cluster fucked... maybe he did not have to die..."

"You can't do everything, Mills..." Bartley patted his back and spoke in an encouraging tone. "You are not god..."

"Fuck gods!" Mills cursed. "If possible, I want to kill off every fucking god out here! Anit gods supposed to help mortals? Why the fuck are they killing us off and treating us like shit?"

Bartley could only give a helpless shrug. "Maybe this is why our old ancient civilizations fell?"

"Fuck it," Mills sighed. "After... I broke the news to Irisval, she just froze there. After seeing her like that, you know what was I thinking, Big Guy?"

"What?" Bartley asked.

"Her," Mills jerked his head towards the window. "I imagined her face when the next Officer or NCO in full dress uniform knocks on her door saying, Dear Madam while handing a folded up flag over..."

"And tells her how I died gloriously on the field of battle in service of the nation..."

-----

UN, City of Haven, Residental District

Irisval sat unmoving on the couch with the curtains drawn up, leaving the living room dark and gloomy. The only sound came from the ticking of the wall clock and her occasional sniffles. She stared blankly at the wall, her mind a complete mess as the words from Drake's fellow soldier replayed in her head again and again.

"Irisval... Hi..." The smartly dressed soldier which Irisval recognized as Drake's friend who was also a hooman. "Can my colleague and I come inside for a while?"

She frowned at the strange request but she stepped aside, letting both soldiers who dressed in their formal greys instead of the usual eye blending uniforms. "I have some news for you... but I think you better take a seat first..."

"What is it?" Irisval asked curiously. "Would you all like something to drink?"

"No thank you, madam..." The other soldier replied. "I am 2nd Lieutenant Silverstar, the officer in charge of Falcon Company."

He took out a white envelope with the stamp of the UN Marines and said in a gentle voice, "On behalf of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, I am here to regrettably inform you that of the untimely death of Specialist Corporal Drake Mcguire. He died ten days ago, in the city of Norshelm. As certain operations details are classified and still undergoing investigation, we could not inform you earlier of his death till now. Additionally, the mortuary officer will contact you regarding his mortuary affairs."

"Again, on behalf of the Commandant of the Marine Corps and every Marine here, please accept the Marines' deepest condolences..." Lt Silverstar gestured to Mills who carefully handed over a folded up flag of the UN with a red bronze medal pinned on it.

Irisval remembered she blankly took the flag and stared at the bronze medal in confusion. The medal was in a shape of a five pointed star tipped with trefoils containing a crown of laurel and oak. In the center was five stars with an anchor and the English word 'VALOR'.

"Irisval?" Mills called out gently. "I am really sorry. He was a friend and a brother to me."

"He... he died?" Irisval's silver eyes stared widely at Mills, making him unable to look at her in the eye. He could only nod. "How did he... die?"

"A helo of ours crashed into the city..." Mills replied honestly, ignoring the look given to him by his officer. "Two of the crew were still alive then... but the whole city had gone mad and they were moving in to kill them."

"He... volunteered to go down to hold off the enemy till rescue came..." Mills took a deep breath and looked into Irisval's unfaltering glaze. "I... I... was the rescue... and I couldn't get to them... him in time... For his heroic efforts... he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor... "

"I see..." Irisval closed her eyes. "Thank you... I... I need to be alone..."

"I... understand..." Mills hung his head down. "If you ever need anything, anything at all... don't hesitate to contact me or any of the guys!"

Irisval couldn't remember what happened after that, just that something broke inside her. There were no tears, just a deep sorrow and she sat there in a daze all day. It was until someone rang her doorbell that she woke up from her daze and she opened the door, finding Billie, Kaga, and Sherene looking at her with concern in their eyes.

"Are you alright?" Sherene quickly asked as the three girls clustered around Irisval. "I... just received news about it... And I quickly came over with the rest..."

"I... I..." Irisval felt herself choking up and tears suddenly burst out. She hugged her three friends tightly as she cried her eyes out in sorrow while they tried their best to comfort her.

-----

UNS Singapore, Conference Room

The door closed as the last person entered the room and Captain Blake stood up and started the meeting. "Alright, everyone is here. Let's begin."

"First of all, as all of you have heard, the town of Falledge is currently under our control," Blake said. "Now we have basically have two cities to draw resources from."

"That brings us to the next point," Blake continued. "Integration and education."

"The new population will not be as open minded or willing like the refugees of Goldrose were," said Blake as he looked at everyone in the conference table. "It will take time and effort to win the new population over and also to have them embrace new ideas, technology, and culture."

"I will leave this daunting task to City Hall to handle," Blake turned to Sherene who nodded in acknowledgment. "They should have some experience in this field."

"Do you have anything to report or share with everyone?" Blake asked Sherene who stood up.

"As of now, our food production, construction, and mining exceed our basic requirements," Sherene smiled. "The only issues we have are manpower and education. I am hoping to draw from the new population from the two cities and whatever refugees that want to join us."

"As for education, it will take some time to improve the level of literacy of the new population," Sherene stated. "And also, the City Hall is drawing up plans to introduce electrical power to the cities, starting with Orwell's Point."

"Yes," Chief Engineer Matt stood up and said. "Working with the Princess's staff, I have come out with several power plant designs suited for the terrain at Orwell's Point. Unfortunately, we can't use wind or hydropower due to the terrain and setting of the city."

"But we can set plenty of solar collectors since the city sits next to the Plains," Matt said. "We can build the solar collectors easily and coincidence with the completion of the highway."

"The solar collectors will be easy to maintan and operate," Matt continued. "This way we do not need to station critical personnel there, and instead we can train and teach the locals how to work the collectors."

"Good," Blake nodded. "Do it. If Orwell's Point is to be developed further, they need electricity."

"As for the refugees from Norshelm, we are allocating them to settle down in Orwell's Point," Sherene said. "There are two thousand three hundred and four men and women. As of now, housing is being constructed for them."

"We also plan to develop a town in the middle of the Highway between Haven and Orwell's Point to exploit the resources found in the forest and also act as a waystation between cities," Sherene added. "When that time comes, I plan to move people willing to migrate to a new place from Orwell's Point."

"Alright, next, military affairs," Blake said. "What is the outcome of the cause of the explosion in Norshelm?"

Magister Thorn stood up and gave a bow before he cleared his throat, "We detected a large amount of divine powers concentrated in the crater."

"This leads us to be certain that whatever that died there," Thorn gave a pause. "Is a divine being."

"So for which god that died that," Thorn gave a shrug. "We can only guess it was the goddess, judging by the statement given by the rescued pilot who said the crazies all worshipped her as Hedone."

"The force of the explosion thankfully is only contained within a sphere of ten meters radius... Or we have more deaths," Dr. Sharon said next. "We theorized that it is probably due to the Goddess's powers were... weak."

"So you are saying if a God with his powers at full if he was killed, the explosion will be worst?" Commander Ford asked.

"Yes," Dr. Sharon nodded. "But as to how many times, I do not know. It can be a hundred times or even a thousand times or a million. We have no gauge to base our findings on."

"Damn..." Ford gave a thoughtful frown to Blake.

"Alright," Blake spoke up. "Try your best to see if we can make use of this information. Come out with a plan of action in case we bump into another God. We need some sort of SOP for the troops to tackle in such a situation which I can guess is getting very common lately..."

"Frank?" Blake turned to Colonel Frank who stood up.

"We will have a few more new Battalions for the Marines in a couple of weeks when the current batch of recruits pass out from basic," Frank said. "Also we plan to recruit locally and merge the current militia into a new ground force, called the Self Defense Force."

"The SDF's functions will be mostly involved with fixed defense of the cities," Frank said. "We will try to use locals so that there will be less of a hassle to transfer the SDF troops here and there."

"The founding of the SDF will allow our Marines to be our mobile strike force," Frank explained. "This way, we put more manpower into areas of conflict and not have another incident like Norshelm from repeating due to lack of troops."

"The Marines will become our hammer while the SDF will be our anvil against any threats to the cities."

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