First On Earth

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It grasped me by the neck and pushed me all the way until my back collided with a thick oak tree. I felt my armor nearly destroyed as the tree dismantled into pieces. I was thrown backwards and it freed me by the neck. I gasped for air. But there was not enough time – the Hunter roared and jumped right at me.

I rolled to the side. It slashed its blade against me. The right arm area of my armor was instantly damaged and disabled. I quickly grabbed my sword previously abandoned on the ground and engaged a counter attack. The Hunter simple brushed my sword aside with one of its blade and continued to shower down a blitz of strikes with the other. Then, instead of activating my ability through my sword, I applied it directly through my body. I gave a direct kick on its chest area and I finally allowed myself some distance. The purple Hunter growled, staggering from the kick. He leaped to the side, and using a nearby tree as assistance, he charged towards me.

I swung my blade against its charge with the silver aura accompanying the path of my sword. The strike was immediately cancelled out with the Hunter deflecting it. It was bounced off from the impact and landed almost right in front of me. It brandished its blades. This one was fast – I was becoming too busy to defend that I couldn’t deliver a counter strike.

Its speed made advantageous fight against me; therefore I always had to follow its behavior after the Hunter acted. If it avoids unfavorable fight with speed, I’ll give it an overpowering strike, unavoidable and inevitable. Before the war, I would never have thought something like this. But surviving all the struggles throughout the war, it seemed to reconfirm that there’s nothing like an actual battle to improve oneself.

The Hunter was directly in front. I reinforced my power with my ability, and as I always did when I fought purple heads, I danced in silver light. The technique was not tactically planned out or organized. It was literally ‘jumping around all over the place’. Misused, it’ll only be a waste of energy with little effectiveness. With slightly added delicacy in controlling it, there was no other technique I knew that could pulverize the enemy with sheer force.

If somebody saw this from a distance, he’ll probably see endless curves in silver strokes. In truth, within the realm of the strokes, an overwhelming strike of my sword was hailing down to the enemies. After that, it was not long until I transmitted my message through the earphone.

“This is Leon Veridi, leader of Squad 7,” I said. The purple Hunter was slain in front of me, severed beautifully by the abdomen and the head. The green blood poured out, soaking the soil with that disgusting substance. “CU-3 is down.”

At the base camp, everyone who I encountered said something like ‘good job’, or ‘well done’ and stuffs like that. They’ve probably started saying it since I injured the Chimera. That was… what, five weeks ago? The war certainly was making progress, but in this speed, I predicted lasting nearly half a year. Besides, the camp hasn’t been able to march on since the appearance of seven commanding units and recovery of Chimera. Making a fortress inside the lair was certainly something but nearly two dozens of people died out every day – it was a matter of time before we retreat or be wiped out.

167 Crusaders remained. Squad 3, 9, 10 and 12 was completely annihilated. Squad 3, 4, 9, 10 lost their leader. That meant out of fifteen ‘main characters’, 11 remained. But the supporters, originally over 300, were reduced to 156. The soldiers… well; they always maintained their numbers somehow. The problem was the Crusaders. The directors on the site were also beginning to worry. Some of them even seemed to wait for a retreat order.

My mission that day was killing Commanding Unit number 3 which I did in the end. Half of the Crusaders, supporting me so that I get a one on one fight against the commanding unit, returned earlier. The other half didn’t return until supper time. Those returned from supporting Hugo looked much more exhausted.

“I guess you won again,” said Scarlet, getting me a drink. I thankfully accepted it and sat down on a bench as I watched ‘Hugo’s team’ sluggishly moving across the camp. “I hope they caught this one. Last time, they had let it escape.”

I smirked cynically. I fought with him only once but he was very predictable. Of course, his speed and agility is beyond anyone’s, or anything’s, imagination, but that alone was not quite enough to kill the purple Hunters definitely. Out of three ‘expedition’ to kill the purple Hunters, Hugo failed two times. Unfortunately for him, the comparison with me was making his life unhappy.

Many thought unfortunate for Hugo to miss the Hunters, but nobody actually complained it out loud. The way people see it – Hugo was just as precious as I was. Everyone was desperate in their own way and the only place to lean on was each other. Once distrust sprouts, this army will have inevitably self-destructed.

But it was six weeks since the start of war. Some soldiers began to wonder what was going on inside of the commanders’ head back at the settlement. It was the first time they’ve fought unstoppably in a war and it was exhausting everyone. So the camp was quiet. Only noises of firearms to protect the camp were heard. Those that weren’t fighting were resting to recover from injury or fatigue. This was everyone’s schedule after the campaign to kill the purple Hunters. And this… was going on for nearly a week.

“We’re going out tomorrow too,” announced Michelle who just came back from reporting. She collapsed onto the bench we were sitting and let out a heavy sigh. She seemed like she wanted to say something, but she kept her mouth.

“Again?” I asked.

“It’s the only way to end this war. You and Hugo are the key to it,” said Michelle. She looked at Hugo in the distance, walking weakly down the camp. “He seems depressed than ever. It’s not really his fault that the Hunter got away.”

“He failed again?” asked Scarlet, who was also looking at him. Michelle nodded. After a while, Hugo disappeared into a tent. “How long do you think this war will last?”

“At least another month,” I answered. Five purple Hunters were killed. It was very good news because that only left two. But Chimera, the eighth, stood like some huge barricade, impeding the entire human army to victory. No, there was actually another wall – the controller of the lair. The thought reminded me of the blurry image Dr. Greg showed me back at the settlement. A humanoid Hunter – that was something too frightening to think about.

Days went by very quickly. Once returning after a mission, I would usually rest in my tent. Whenever I came out, it was already morning. What was ever disturbing was the ominous scent in the air every morning. I smelled death – like some indication that many will die. Unfortunately it was never wrong. Then… there was a time when that scent was particularly strong.

The aircraft started to hover with their engines roaring. I entered the armory and grabbed two swords. The Crusaders were meant to have one sword each but with so many dead; remainders went over to the living. Everyone gathered at the entrance except for soldiers to protect the camp. Han showed himself at the front.

“There will be no group this time and there will be no expeditions either,” he said. Then Han paused noticeably hesitative. He turned to his back, towards the wildness of the lair. “Three purple remains. After that, we will be only one step away from the end of this war. Every one of you fought well… and I dare say that I believe you will fight well today as well.”

“Our objective is the extermination of three commanding units. The death of five confused many basic Hunters and they are certainly not in the best condition to fight,” said Han. Then he laughed cynically. “Apparently we, the directors, are pressured to lead victory soon. I’m afraid nobody will be able to rest before the three dies for the camp will be on the move. Today’s fight holds whether we all die out here or proceed. I – we – hope everyone will show their best performance. Good luck.”

“CU-1 6 o’ clock! CU-6 7 o’ clock!” a voice blared through the earphone.

“Hugo Camell marking CU-1,” buzzed Hugo’s voice.

Fifteen minutes after leaving the camp, everyone was engaged in harsh combat. Without any particular formation, the group of Crusader, supported by mass of soldiers, each fought their way through forest of Hunters. Firearms boomed endlessly from the sky and the ground and missiles battered down the ground with deafening noise. It was like some modern warfare taking place in Medieval Ages.

“Leon! You need to kill the other commanding unit before Chimera shows up!” shouted Michelle from my side. The concept of squads disappeared days ago and I brandished my way through to find my target. Michelle was right behind me. “Run! I’ll cover your way and make sure nothing intercepts!”

“Scarlet, are you with me?” I said clicking the earphone.

“Always,” she answered.

“Pinpoint CU-6 for me and provide missile cover, will you?” I requested. The helicopter on top of me moved immediately. I unleashed my ability and dashed my way through, following the direction of Scarlet’s aircraft.

“Visual on CU-1 – engaging combat,” ringed Hugo’s voice.

“Found it! 100 meters west from your direction!” buzzed Scarlet.

I turned sideways. The Hunters tried to interrupt my movement but with Michelle supporting me from the back, I was fearless and unstoppable. And just like Scarlet informed, I found the purple head fighting three Crusaders and some dozen soldiers. About ten basic Hunters were with it and the small group was about to be terminated. From the woods, I leaped out.

“Get back!” I shouted at them. The small group engaging the purple Hunter quickly moved out. Machine gun showered from the sky and Michelle instantly began to fight the ten basic units. I unsheathed my second sword and faced front to front with the purple Hunter.

“Leon Veridi; engaging CU-6.”

Michelle pushed me hard and by the time I was cornered, the duel ended with Michelle’s victory. Michelle lent her hand to pull me up. Bruise was everywhere on my body and my back especially ached.

“Do you know why you lost?” she asked.

“You punched me and kicked me in the stomach,” I complained rubbing my wounds.

“Well… your body can also be utilized to defeat your enemy. Holding a sword doesn’t mean you can’t use your hands or feet,” she answered simply.

“Then I’ll rather wield two swords. If I can afford to use the other hand, it’ll be better to have a stronger weapon than bare hand,” I said.

“No one has ever used two swords for a reason, Leon,” said Michelle calmly. She tossed me a couple of bandages to mend my injuries. “Even though the history of Crusader is short, dual wielding has explicit disadvantage.”

“Is this another theory?” I asked cynically.

“A theory that has been correct since the establishment of Crusaders. If you have two swords, it’s not particularly balanced. It also means you can’t defend as effective,” she said. “Of course, the strength may be stronger with two weapons. But wielding two is like walking on a tightrope. When you take a weapon, you need to know every aspect of it to handle it perfectly. With two, it’s hard to measure them.”

“Then do I have to learn to punch and kick?” I asked her childishly.

“Well if you really want to use both hands, hold your sword with two hands,” she said with a smile.

Blades clashed with each other. My right sword stroke down but the Hunter blocked it. Without giving a moment, I barraged with my left. The silver aura, which normally only shadows my sword, flickered in a small burst as the sword collided. I jumped and rotated around, evading the incoming arm-blades. I reached the height where my leg leveled with the Hunter’s head. I afforded a powerful kick and landed softly on the ground. The purple Hunter staggered backward but soon regained its balance. I tried not to give a single second as I charged in again. Thrusting myself against the Hunter, I cleaved the Hunter with both of my sword. Sliver energy emitted a small burst and the Hunter was forced to the ground due to its immense power.

“Leon, Michelle you need to wrap up there fast. There’s an entire horde of Hunters gathering to your location,” said Scarlet’s voice.

I couldn’t afford an answer. The purple Hunter quickly lashed my side with its leg and freed itself. I tumbled across the ground and crashed on a tree. I got up hurriedly and managed to block the Hunter’s instant charge attack. The strength was undeniable; I was thrown behind. Before I even landed, the Hunter charged at me. Using a nearby wood as a help, I bounced forward towards the Hunter.

Four blades collided with a deafening noise. The colloidal impact let out a burst of impulse, damaging trees and soil around us. I twisted my body and drove myself closer to the Hunter. The Hunter seemed to have realized what was happening and tried to fall backward, but it was too late. I slashed my left against its arm and lacerated it. With my right, I decapitated before the Hunter could resist.

The head helplessly dropped on the ground and green blood soaked the soil. The headless body twitched violently as if trying to kill me. I dismantled the other arm and two legs with three clean blows and the Hunter finally ceased to exist. Michelle was also finished killing off the surrounding Hunters with the other.

“Scarlet, we’re done here,” I said through the earphone.

“The Hunters are swarming from 12 o’ clock, 10 o’ clock and 3 o’ clock. You can either force your way towards 12 o’ clock to regroup faster or take a detour south,” she said.

“The Hunters are not going to disappear by itself just because they missed us. We’ll push through,” I said. I signaled everyone in the area to follow and headed north to rally up with the rest. I switched my channel so that everyone can hear. “This is Leon Veridi. CU-6 is down.”

“Hugo, damn it! Be careful!” Sam shouted from behind. He was fighting wildly. The blue energy seemed to cover the entire area where he fought. Sam wished he could calm down but he was unable to do anything but shout desperately for he was busy fighting off the basic units. “Hugo! You’re using it too much!”

Hugo dashed forward, struck once with his sword then he appeared from behind in a blink of a second. He gave a considerable amount of damage by injuring the Hunter’s side. The purple Hunter growled. It turned behind and swung its blade. Hugo moved quickly and evaded it without much difficulty. However, the Hunter foresaw Hugo’s movement and stabbed at him with its other blade.

Hugo managed to block it with his sword but was struck heavily and was glanced off. He smashed onto the ground with a painful groan. The commanding Hunter saw its chance and charged directly at Hugo just standing up from the ground.

“Hugo!” yelled Sam direly. His voice was drowned with the clash of blade with a Hunter.

A flash of blue energy burst as the Hunter approached just in front of him. Hugo dramatically recovered his balance and gave a penetrating blow upon the Hunter. He stumbled down behind the purple Hunter whose abdomen has been torn apart. He leaned on his sword and coughed out blood. Hugo gritted his teeth and tried to stand up. His legs seemed feebler than ever but he managed to stand still. Just in time, reinforcement of soldiers and other Crusaders arrived and killed the black Hunters around the region. Sam ran to help Hugo.

“Hugo! What were you thinking…!” he exclaimed. He pulled Hugo’s right arm over his shoulder and helped him retreat from the area to return to the main army. But Hugo removed his arm from Sam’s shoulder.

“I’m fine. Just give me some painkillers. We have more Hunters to kill,” said Hugo. He spat out blood salivated inside his mouth and chose to walk. “Shit…”

“I’ll report for you –“

“This is Hugo Camell,” said Hugo quickly. He looked behind at his achievement and continued. “CU-1 is down. I repeat; CU-1 is –“

There was a tremendous boom. And after that, everyone started screaming in terror. Everyone looked at where the noise was coming from. Through a series of wood, three Crusaders ran out. One covered in blood and the others filled with horrid.

“Run! Run! Run for your lives!” one of them shouted. Just that moment, the three of them collapsed to the ground as if they were struck with something. One soldier carefully went over to look. Everyone was silent. The soldier picked up the projectile that killed the three. He showed it high up. Everyone saw it. And at the same time, the soldier was also brought to the ground.

“This is –“ Hugo tried to report to the entire army when Sam interrupted.

“Chimera! Visual on Chimera!” he shouted in panic. The monstrous figure of a purplish green Hunter walked out from the woods and confronted the small group of Crusaders and soldiers. Nobody dared to move. Sam froze in terror. Hugo smiled slightly to himself. He drew his sword that was just used as a cane and readied himself.

“This is Hugo Camell. We have visual on Chimera; requesting all possible means for reinforcement. Those on site will engage,” he said. He pulled out his earphone and crushed it with his fingers. He took a deep breath. His body was certainly weaker than normal. Rationally, he should run, but instead he chose to stand. “I was the best in my Sector. But there always seems to be an impassable wall in life… Let’s see how long I can stand.”

“Leon,” said Scarlet from the earphone. “The Chimera –“

“I know,” I said. By the crushing sound, Hugo deliberately destroyed his means to communicate. I heard some unknown people shouting through the earphone to fall back. “And I don’t think we have much time.”

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