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A War Without Casualties

The Republic of San Magnolia has long been under attack from the neighboring Giadian Empire's army of unmanned drones known as the Legion. After years of painstaking research, the Republic finally developed autonomous drones of their own, turning the one-sided struggle into a war without casualties-or at least, that's what the government claims.In truth, there is no such thing as a bloodless war. Beyond the fortified walls protecting the eighty-five Republic territories lies the "nonexistent" Eighty-Sixth Sector. The young men and women of this forsaken land are branded the Eighty-Six and, stripped of their humanity, pilot the "unmanned" weapons into battle...

86 is a Military Science-Fiction Light Novel by Asato Asato, illustrated by Shrabii, and mech design by I-IVnote , which follows the story of Major Vladilena "Lena" Milizé as she's given command of a veteran Eighty-six squadron which, for some reason, goes through their handlers like crazy, including some that committed suicide, and how the unit's leader, Captain Shinei "Shin" Nouzen, might have something to do with it. All the while Lena has to battle institutional racism and gaining acceptance with the squadron who, understandably, does not recognize her as one of their own, even as she's trying to keep them alive.


Two volumes have been released in English so far by Yen Press. The web novel side stories can be found here (in Japanese).

Warning: Unmarked spoilers for Volume 1 below, due to First Episode Twists required to discuss any future volumes.

General Tropes

  • Adaptive Ability: As the Spearhead Squadron has discovered, the Legion's drones are slowly improving in tactics and design, and unlike what analysts say, their production is not slowing down.
  • Anti-Air: The Legion doesn't seem to have their own air force other than solar-powered EWACS aircraft and jammers, however their Stachelschwein Mobile AA is good enough that flying any kind of aircraft into their territory is basically suicidal, relegating aircraft to support and logistics role. Lena and her father was shot down when she's a child after he took her on an observation trip.
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  • A.K.A.-47: The story takes quite a bit of cue from World War II, so some of the machines in the series are futuristic version of World War 2 vehicles. The most notable is the Morpho, which is basically the Schwerer Gustav with the cannon being a railgun instead of a conventional gun. There are this trope's version of more modern equipments as well, like the Nachzehrer being Korabl Maket/Caspian Sea Monster fused with the Antonov An-225's cargo capacity and B-2 Spirit's stealth.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The Legion drones end up growing beyond what the Empire anticipated by developing the ability to copy the last memories and thinking of their victims. On another level, once the Empire collapses due to internal rebellion and is replaced by the Federation of Giad, the Legion also begin targeting the Federation solely on the basis of being "not the Empire." This is played with, however, since the Legion's still technically following Empire's orders.
  • Anachronic Order: Volume 2 has this a bit early on, where it jumps from the 2-year skip in Volume 1's epilogue to Lena getting demoted and commanding another Processor unit, to Shin doing his job as Federacy officer, and then back to right after they destroyed AI Rei's Dinosauria, where the story continues in normal order.
  • And Then What?: After successfully killing his brother at the end of Volume 1 (or rather, he finally gets to chat with his brother in early Volume's complicated), Shin is at a complete and total loss on what to do after, and it takes Volume 2 and 3 before he finally found his answer.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • In Volume 1, when the fight against Dinosauria and its escort goes badly, Lena suddenly came out of nowhere and dropped multiple artillery shells onto groups of Legion drones, giving them fighting chance. Then she saved Shin's life by hitting the Dinosauria with dud shells which gave Shin enough time to wake up and put it down. Turns out the reason that she didn't say goodbye to them earlier isn't because she's too sad or angry to, instead she's busy having Annette giving her some Para-RAID modifications to allow sight-sharing and access code to interception cannons.
    • In Volume 3, Lena pulls this again when her unit, being unidentified to Shin at the time, unleashed large number of mortars at the Morpho that AI Kiriya's using, immobilizing it, destroyed its explosive reactive armor panels, and gives Shin another chance to beat it. She then follows up with napalm missiles that disable Morpho's close combat electrified whip and destroyed its legs and railroad tracks, then when it's trying to do a suicide attack, Frederica distracted it long enough for Shin to put in a final shot.
  • Butt-Monkey: Quite a number of humor in the side stories are at Lena's expense, which isn't helped by her Sheltered Aristocrat upbringing.
  • Cain and Abel: Rei was so angered by his mother's death that he tried to strangle his brother Shin to death for it, blaming him for her death. He ends up regretting it immensely, however, and tried to find Shin again to apologize, which is cut short by his death and assimilation. Shin also tries to find the Legion unit housing his brother's memory and kill it to put his brother out of misery.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: While it takes persuasion, Annette eventually changes from being apathetic to Eighty-sixers' plight (due to not wanting to suffer the pain of losing Shin due to prejudice again) to fully supporting Lena and help secretly boost Lena's Para-RAID's capabilities, and is one of the few people being involved in Lena's plan to continue fighting when San Magnolia falls.
  • Childhood Friend: Annette and Shin turns out to be this, which Lena eventually uses as a leverage to get Annette to help her save Shin and the Spearhead Squadron from their suicide mission.
  • Child Prodigy: Lena is such a good Handler she has the rank of Major. Annette is a tech genius who is in charge of the development of Para-RAID after her father dies. Shin is probably one of the best Juggernaut pilot of the whole Republic. All of them are only 16.
  • Child Soldiers: A lot of Processors are this due to staggering casualty rates suffered by adults. Shin himself starts being a soldier at 11. Even Lena technically count, being given a job as a Handler at the age of 16. It also shows how much it can affect the psyche of the soldiers, since the Spearhead Squadron, even after they managed to escape to Giad and finally able to leave the battlefield behind, chooses to return to the battlefield because they simply cannot adjust to the civilian life due to the fact that they have been soldiers for a large part of their lives and have no idea what to do after.
  • Code Name: Processors aren't allowed to have names, but they eventually receive Code Names if they survive long enough. Shin's is Undertaker, Anju is Snow Witch, Raiden is Werewolf and so on.
  • Crapsack World: From the very beginning it's obvious things are horrible for everyone, especially the Eighty-Six, who are dehumanized and forced to fight a losing war against a mechanized horde that seemingly never ends, while the Republic of San Magnolia acts as if things aren't horrible when in fact they live on Gilded Cage with no way out. The situation on other nations is not much better.
  • Contrived Coincidence: How likely was that Lena would end up handling the Squadron led by the younger brother of the man who saved her and her father when they crashed in the warzone nine years prior? And that said brother was a childhood friend of her friend?
  • Curtains Match the Window: All pureblood Albans have silver eyes and hairs. Lena herself eventually subverts this when she starts partially dyeing her hair red. Anju, who has distant Alban ancestor, has silvery-blue hair and eye.
  • Defector from Decadence: The remaining Spearhead Squadron managed to survive the "Special Reconnaissance mission" and joined up with the Federated Republic of Giad. Lena and the other surviving Processors joined later, after the Republic was destroyed and her remaining forces were rescued by the Federacy.
  • Dehumanization: As explained by Lena's epigraph, San Magnolian government did this to non-Albans (or even part-Albans) by reducing them to pigs wearing human skins, thus cannot be subjected to human rights. And since they're not considered to be human, Juggernauts piloted by them aren't considered manned.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: One one hand, San Magnolia betrayed its very principle when it stripped non-Albans of their citizenship, and most Albans went with it. On the other hand, Giad is slowly trying to implement a stable democracy in place of its old monarchy.
  • Determined Defeatist: The Eighty-sixes knew that the Republic would never give them back citizenship. They still fight because if they're going to die, it's going to be on their terms.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Presidential Order that stripped Colorata-descended people of their citizenship is numbered 6609. Reverse the number order, and we get...yes, this is basically the parallel to the US setting up internment camp for Japanese-, German-, and Italian-Americans. note 
  • Don't Look at Me!: Shin and Lena's meeting after the destruction of Morpho has both sides not knowing each other's identity. Even when Lena blurt out her name, Shin still refuses to give his name, because learning Lena's hardships and sacrifices she suffers in order to meet him again, he doesn't want her to see him in another battlefield, but rather somewhere better. Frederica happily states that Shin finally found a reason to live.
  • Driven to Suicide: Annette's father committed suicide due to the guilt of human experimentation needed to be done in order to make Para-RAID works by setting Para-RAID synchronization to maximum.
  • Dwindling Party: By the end of the first volume only five members of the Spearhead Squadron manage to escape San Magnolia and the Legion; Shin, Raiden, Kurena, Anju and Theo.
  • Enemy Mine: Despite fears by the higher ups, surprisingly large number of Eighty-six units chose to fight with the Republic when the Gran Mur fell and Lena asking for their assistance, reasoning that having access to surviving infrastructures like power plants, food processing factories and such increase their odds of survival. The rest chose to dug up in internment camps they lived in.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Alba call the Eighty-Six pigs or cattle, and the Colorata in return refer to Alba as "white pigs."
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: San Magnolia is an unholy combination of World War 2 United States, the Confederate States, France, and Nazi Germany. Giad is Imperial Germany and later West/modern day Germany, Roa Gracia is autocratic monarchy version of the UK.
  • First-Episode Twist: It's practically impossible to discuss anything from Volume 2 onward without knowing the massive number of spoilers within the first volume, namely Shin's ability to hear dead people assimilated by the Legion, Empire of Giad falling to revolution and changed the government structure to a Republic, thus turning the war into a full-on Robot War, the Legion's assimilating human nervous system and got past its own time limit, Legion has full-on assimilated human personalities inside Shepherd units, San Magnolian government never planned to give any Eighty-sixers back their citizenship, San Magnolia's eventual destruction, and the remaining Spearhead Squadron's survival and subsequent reunion with Lena as Federacy officers. These twists do fit well into the first volume if it's a standalone novel, which a few reviewers noted that it does feel like the novel's originally going to be just that.
  • Fragile Speedster: The M1A4 Juggernaut is this, being weakly armed and poorly armored but has high agility partly due to its grapple system. The Federacy XM-2 Reginleif, being reversed engineered from M1A4 (due to their difficulty creating their own high mobility units), retains the mobility but was given substantially better weapons and proper biological and chemical protection. The Federacy pilots hated them, due to being more used to Mighty Glacier units.
  • The Grim Reaper: One of Shin's job is this: he helps Mercy Kill dying teammates and carry on their memories.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Lena readily accepts her nickname of "The Bloodstained Queen" and "Bloody Reina" because she feels she earns it for throwing away lives of the people under her command, because whatever she do she can never save them. This is despite the fact that her unit suffers one of the the lowest casualty rate of all units in the Republic.
  • High School A.U.: School IF is basically this, being lighthearted short stories setting the cast in a Japanese high school.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Republic, not wanting to admit to the world that the Juggernauts are manned, forbid any kind of body retrieval or burial/cremation of dead Processors. This leads to Legion having ample amount of bodies to harvest for human neural patterns, prolonging the war that they will lose instead of their hope that the Legion will shut down in 2 years.
  • Honorary Princess: Lena's reputation as "The Bloodstained Queen" ends up with her new subordinate Shiden always referring to her as "your highness" when talking to her. More than a few points in the novel also refers to her as such, though at least initially it's mocking her for her Sheltered Aristocrat upbringing.
  • Hopeless War: The Legion are able to continue operating beyond their 50,000 hour system lifespan by scanning and copying the brain activity of any human corpses that have their heads intact on the battlefield, and can continue to operate by copying these basic personalities across their units (the advanced ones have much bigger limitation, see Only One Me Allowed Right Now). This essentially means the Legion is a self-sustaining, infinite army, at least on the software side. The only way to defeat them would be to destroy the hardware side, i.e. taking out the automated factories that continuously build these machines. But that is impossible for the San Magnolia Republic as they are too weakened to strike inside enemy lines.
  • Hope Spot: The Republic's scientists have discovered by studying Legion wreckage that they are bound by a 50,000 hour system lifespan (roughly 6 years) that will deactivate if they stop receiving updates from HQ. Since the Empire of Giad mysteriously collapsed 4 years ago, this means the Republic only needs to hold out for 2 more years and all of the Legion will deactivate at once once that threshold is passed. Spearhead Squadron unfortunately knows that the Legion have developed a way to get around this limitation and continue operating indefinitely.
  • Human Resources: As Shin grimly notes, the Legion compensates its missing materials by salvaging the corpses of Processors, including his brother Shourei.
  • Idiot Hair: Lena has two. This is probably to highlight her Sheltered Aristocrat upbringing.
  • Inappropriately Close Comrades: By volume 5, Lena and Shin starts becoming romantically involved, with them kissing each other in Volume 7.
  • Interquel: Volume 2 and 3 serves as this, expanding on the 2 year gap mentioned in Epilogue 1 of Volume 1 (mostly from Shin's perspective, since Epilogue 1 is from Lena's perspective) and how Lena and Shin meets again as Federacy officers in Epilogue 2.
  • I See Dead People: Due to nearly being strangled to death by his brother Shin can hear the memories of the dead that is inhabiting the Legion drones. His former handlers either resigned or killed themselves when they hear those voices via Shin's Resonance. It's also useful since he can use this scout Legion drones' locations much better than with radar, especially given how good the Legion's signal jamming is. Which means his unit doesn't need to go on patrol and can have extra free time.
  • It Can Think: The Legion isn't able to do this at first, since their limited intelligence means that more than a few times Empire troops have to be deployed to cover their weakness, but after they start assimilating human neural patterns, the Legion gets a lot more intelligent, even start changing directive from just killing everything to start capturing some humans alive in order to copy their intact neural pattern instead of a degraded one.
  • I Reject Your Reality: The entire nation of San Magnolia delude themselves into believing things aren't as bleak as they seem, that the Colorata are nothing but animals and the war will be over very soon. In fact, by the time the story starts, the civilians are even calling for demobilization. When the bubble inevitably bursts, the only forces that make a meaningful defense are Lena's forces.
  • Kill All Humans: Kiriya is this, due to being driven mad being deployed into combat constantly during the Giadian Civil War making him develop a big case of misanthropy, then he gets assimilated and being put in command of a Morpho. The only thing that can override this is him wanting to reunite with his princess, Frederica, again, which Frederica happily exploits in order to stop AI Kiriya from pulling a suicide attack long enough for Shin to kill him.
  • The Last DJ: Lena is one of the few Albans left that still treat the battle against the Legion seriously and treats the Eighty-sixes as humans instead of subhumans. In fact, her treatment of the Spearhead Squadron (including sending them fireworks illegally) and unauthorized use of interception cannons ends up getting her demoted from a Major to a Lieutenant.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Kurena is in love with Shin, however by Volume 2 the rest of the squadron told her that Shin's feeling for her is this trope, so her love is unrequited .
  • Mascot: Empire (later Federal Republic) of Giad always have a young girl serving as a unit's mascot attached to them, as a way to keep units in cohesion and hold the combat unit hostage, since if they broke and die, the mascot dies with them. Frederica is attached to one in Volume 2.
  • Meaningful Name: In American English, to "eighty-six" something is a euphemism for "to dispose of" which is exactly what the Republic intends for the denizens of District Eighty-Six. The author confirmed in Volume 2 afterwords that this is a deliberate choice.
  • Mildly Military: The Eighty-six units tends to be pretty lax in terms of military discipline when not in battle, since the Handlers generally don't care about them enough to worry about that, and they don't come into the field for direct inspection. Spearhead Squadron has a bit of trouble adjusting to the fact that Lena takes her job very seriously, and later have a bit of trouble adjusting to more disciplined Giadian military (although their assignment to the Nordlicht Squadron does allow them to be a bit more lax than the other units).
  • Nanomachines: The Legion's CPU used this to simulate mammal's central nervous system. Later the Black Sheeps and Shepherds get human's central nervous system. Some Legion drones can use them to create arms to manipulate objects or even block some projectiles.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Lena comes from a wealthy noble family, but rather than hiding behind the walls and pretending everything is alright, she joined the military academy and did her best to ensure the Eighty-Six remain alive as long as possible.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Averted and Invoked: there are plenty of documents and such regarding Legion's design and construction by the Empire, however they seem to mostly been destroyed during the Giadian revolution, and only limited documentations are recovered by the new government. The attempt to reverse engineer the Legion by the Federacy wasn't too successful either, only managed to make unmanned scout units (which is the only type of AI the population tolerates), due to the combination of the original creators died before the war, higher education being restricted mainly to the aristocratic class and the post-revolution world being dominated by middle class, with a lot of the educated elites dead during the revolution, and that the population is against using armed combat drones due to the Legion.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: Lena's epigraph at the beginning of Volume 1 make it seems like she's endorsing San Magnolia's racism. The end of Volume 1 shows that epigraph again, but expanded with her real thoughts on the initial epigraph itself: that that embracement of racism is the start of the end of the Republic.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Shin and AI Rei toward each other. Sensing their conflict is about to begin, the two of them order their respective units to stand down. Rei even blows away one of his own subordinates who dares interfere in the battle.
  • Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: During the war, most of the food in the Republic, both inside and outside the wall, are synthetic food. Giad averts this due to them still controlling large amounts of farmland.
  • Only One Me Allowed Right Now: Shepherds, who have full human personalities, seems to be unable to withstand having more than one of it being in existence, unlike Black Sheeps which, since they don't have personalities, can exist in multiple. This becomes a problem for the Legion if a Shepherd is getting destroyed, since they can't have backups, they don't seem to transfer the personalities until it's way under emergency, and trying to transfer full consciousness in that condition and in short amount of time is impossible. Thus, even if the personality is transferred over, it's heavily damaged.
  • Out of Focus: Lena is mostly out of focus in Volume 2 and 3, only appearing in the prologue and epilogue of Volume 2, though she plays a crucial role in Volume 3's climax.
  • People of Hair Color: This is how the Alba separated themselves from the Colorata. Alba are easily identified by their silver hair and eyes.
  • Pre-Meeting: Shin's Handler in the prologue of Volume 1 is heavily implied to be Lena, most likely being a newly minted Handler, given the Handler's apology to the Eighty-sixers is similar to what Lena did later.
  • Royal Brat: Frederica shows a shade of this with her haughty yet oddly mature attitude, even after she and the Giadian royal family's dethroned. She does show a lot of care for her adoptive family despite her behavior, however, even acting as Shin's sort-of therapist.
  • Red Baron:
    • Shin's nickname among the Processors and Handlers of the Eastern Front, the Reaper, is both feared and revered because of his ability to hear the voices of the dead. This ability had been used in the past to force Handlers who had tried to toy with Processors to retire by linking the Para-RAID at a higher Resonance level, thus allowing the Handler to also hear the horrifying screams of the Legion Black Sheep. Among Processors, the Reaper is rumored to use his squadron to prolong his own life; however, those who worked with the Reaper respect his compassion to the fallen and his use of his ability to create a better life for his fellow Processors.
    • By the first volume's end, Lena is most widely known across the continent as "The Bloodstained Queen" and "Bloody Reina" due to the fact that she will not hesitate to sacrifice her squad to achieve her objectives. And yet in spite of the name, her squad still has much lower casualty counts compared to the rest of the military, leading to them being called the "Queen's Knights." This is due to the fact that Lena is actually trying to accomplish offensive missions against the Legion instead of the rest of the military that simply uses 86's as stationary cannon fodder on a shrinking and hopeless defense line. Shin and his squad members all think that it doesn't fit her at all.
  • Redemption Equals Death: AI Rei, as the Dinosauria, after realizing that he nearly killed his brother again due to wanting to liberating him from his human shell, and nearly got destroyed by Shin in return, managed to barely hold his memory together and used the backup Dinosauria he was transfer to to save Shin when the latter was nearly captured by a Lowe when Shin tried to serve as a decoy for the rest of his unit to escape. In their shared dream, Rei finally manages to apologize to Shin and wishes him a better future, and carry the five to the Federacy border before the Federacy destroyed the Dinosauria, killing Rei permanently.
  • Rags to Royalty: Inverted and Downplayed: Frederica was the last Empress of Giad before the government was toppled. Now she's attached to Shin's combat unit as a mascot. However, she is now the adoptive daughter of the Interim President, who's trying to protect her from witchhunt, and her job as the mascot is with his consent.
  • Riches to Rags: A number of wealthy Colorata families are hit by this when Presidential Order 6609 hits, including Shin's family, especially given that his father was one of Para-RAID's co-creators, and that his Nouzen family is a split branch of the Giadian Royal Guard Nouzen family that emigrated to San Magnolia. Averted in the Federacy, where the new government elect to keep the aristocrats who are controlling important industries in place because trying anything otherwise would be extremely bad for the economy for a country still fighting a Robot War.
  • Robot War: The war has become one of these as of the end of the first volume. With both the Empire of Giad and the Republic of San Magnolia fallen, the Empire's successor nation the Federation of Giad is left to absorb the remnants of San Magnolia and continue the fight against the Legion drone army, which is now running rampant across the continent following its programming to fight for a country that no longer exists.
  • Safety in Indifference: A lot of San Magnolian Albans who aren't into racism are mostly this, due to fear of being ostracized by their peers. Annette acts like this due to losing Shin when they're children, until Lena convinced her otherwise.
  • Seers: Frederica has the ability to see into the past and the present of a person, as long as she knows their name.
  • Separated by a Common Language: While the San Magnolia and Giad use the same language, there are some differences when it comes to vocabulary, particular in military terminology, which results in Lena brushing off Shin calling her Major when she refers to herself as Captain near the end of Volume 3 when the two initially don't realize each other's identity, merely thinking that Shin called her Major due to this trope and not the fact that he knew her identity and rank when she was in command of Spearhead Squadron.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Lena is quite sheltered. The short story in special edition of Volume 1 shows she doesn't even know what sewing is, and assumes that buttons are naturally stuck on clothes. Another short story has being so unfamiliar with bicycle she falls off one with training wheels. Less humorously, she's very slow on the uptake that Eighty-sixers will never get their citizenship back, never realizing that she never sees a Colorata within the 85 sectors after the war starts, even though some of them should have survived long enough to finish their 5 year service. Not to mention that her upbringing means that Lena, despite trying her best, still displays some subconscious form of prejudices, with the big one being that she doesn't even ask for the names of people in Shin's unit until half a year later.
  • Spider Tank: Both Legion drones and Juggernauts look like this instead of typical humanoid mecha.
  • Suicide Mission: Since the Republic never planned to give the Eighty-sixers back their citizenship, any Processors that somehow managed to survive to the end of the service will be sent on a Suicide Mission to kill them off. Shin and the rest of Spearhead Squadron only survived due to the intervention by Lena and later AI Rei.
  • Telepathy: Para-RAID allows those connected together to communicate via what's essentially artificial telepathy by tapping into the human collective unconscious. Depending on synchronization level, the amount of info that can be shared can range from just simple voices to sharing images from each other's eyeballs. Turning the synchronization level to maximum is ill-advised. Since it's unjammable, and the prevalence of Legion's signal jamming, it's one of the only technological edge the Republic has. There are also mentions of natural telepathy between blood relatives.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: In order to stop AI Kiriya from pulling a suicide attack on Shin, Frederica willingly exposes herself, then points a gun at her own head, trusting that AI Kiriya would want her to be alive and stop the attack. It works.
  • Undying Loyalty: Fido is an AI created by Shin's father and is absolutely loyal to Shin, even wandering the battlefield by itself trying to search for Shin after he and his family is taken away due to Presidential Order 6609 being passed. After the scavenger unit it's housed in is destroyed and the AI core is recovered and reactivated, Fido won't respond to external stimuli until Shin's name is mentioned.
  • Weight Woe: Dengeki Thanksgiving Festival 2018 short story has Lena hitting the gym, fearing that she enjoys too much Giad food and might start packing weight. Shin teases her by telling her not to overdo it or she won't get to eat schnitzel.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Frederica, despite being only 10, due to her upbringing as the future Empress, in combination of her powers as a seer allows her to be way more mature psychologically than her age is. In fact, she ends up as a sort-of therapist to Shin's group even if she has her own issues.
  • You Didn't Ask: Shiden realized that the pilot Lena's talking to near the end of Volume 3 is Shin due to her being able to see Shin's personal mark on the side of his mech, however she didn't mention this to Lena.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Albans have silver hair, Raiden has steel-green hair and Anju has silver-blue hair originating from a distant Alba ancestor.

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