“This is Director Han. All personnel move to Chimera’s location to support the Crusader’s fight. Chimera’s death is absolute priority,” ringed Han’s voice through the earphone. Everyone moved swiftly heading towards Hugo’s direction.
“Do you think he’ll live?” asked Michelle.
“…,” I said nothing. After running awhile, I caught a glimpse of the Chimera, with its devilish size and appearance. It walked out, steadily and calmly, towards the entire army of humans. Its whole body was now out of the forest area and into the plain. In its right hand, he held a head covered in thick red blood. It tossed it in the middle so that everyone could see it.
“Hugo!” someone shrieked. She ran out from the group and towards the helpless head of Hugo Camell. The world was silent except for the sorrowful mourn of the woman. And with its two red eyes, the Chimera watched this all. The woman seemed to have been consumed with anger. She blindly unsheathed her sword and charged at the Chimera’s huge body. The Hunter simply pierced her skull with the sharpness of its blade and threw the dead corpse away.
What had just happened terrorized everyone. Everyone started to slowly step back. In a matter of seconds, those at the front started pushing their way to the back. Those pushed to the front struggled their way back again. This went on until the army was finally in chaos rife with horrified people; not trained soldiers or fighters.
“This is hopeless,” I murmured to Michelle. The Chimera, as if tired of seeing its preys running around, moved forward. I laid my hands on the two swords and Michelle did the same. “It’s all on us. I’ll expect heavy resistance from the basic units.”
“Are you sure?” said Michelle. Her voice was slightly shaking. “This is not the best situation to fight.”
“Like there was a best situation,” I mumbled. I tapped on my earphone. “Fire every missile you have when I give the signal. Then retreat as fast as you can.”
Chimera took a big step forward. Its heavy feet made a dead sound as it stomped on the ground. Slow was its steps, but my heart was pounding rapidly like some freight train roaring. I didn’t see anything from that point on. I didn’t see the fleeing people. I didn’t see Michelle beside me. I only saw the creature on its way towards me. The loudness of the chopper was unheard as well; just the heavy breath and the stomp of the Chimera drove its way through my ears.
“Now!” I yelled.
The red flame exploded simultaneously as my leap. Trusting my armor to protect me from the fire, I jumped and charged at it. The Chimera sliced through the inferno and smoke and attacked me in a flash.
Blades clashed like a meteor strike. So great was the collision that my hands became numb. What was horrible was that the Chimera had blocked it with only one of its blade. It wasn’t 100 percent of my ability but I was certain I calculated right so that the initiating blast was bound to stagger it. The Chimera, to my despair, has become stronger every time I’ve fought it. I tried to push harder but it waved me off before I could execute more force. I was bounced off a distance away.
The other Hunters tried to intercept. Michelle was just behind me. Then they ceased to move; instead of charging in, they receded backward. That surely gave a message; a message that I understood.
“Michelle, get everyone back. Scarlet you can return as well,” I said through the earphone.
“You need help to hold off –“
“No… I don’t,” I said. “Don’t worry; I won’t throw my earphone away… This one is mine.”
Cautiously, everyone stepped back and finally retreated to a distance away. The camp was probably some hundred meters away. If I killed the Chimera, the Hunters will be short of commanding units; there will be a distortion in chain of command. And if that happens in such strict, orderly status system? The rest of the Hunter will die out like flies.
In a few seconds, I found myself in a middle of a swarm of Hunters. I was confronting the Chimera in the middle of them. Like a gladiator in the Coliseum, waiting to kill the beast to entertain the mob – except that the Chimera is the gladiator; the Hunters, the mob; and me, the beast.
“We fought each other ten times, including the first one you turned your back,” I said. I might have been crazy; to think they will actually understand our language. “And now this is the eleventh… let’s hope it’s the last one.”
A firsthand attack failed. And a situation surrounded like this… not good; despite Michelle and the others must be somewhere close. Speed is the virtue now.
The two of us charged at each other at the same time. The Chimera swung its massive blade at me but I slipped down to avoid it. From under, I performed a powerful uppercut. The Chimera leaned back and only gave a harmless scratch. It consecutively struck down its two blades using the advantage of position. I slid through the gap between its legs and quickly stood up behind; then I stabbed from my position. The Chimera’s speed was immensely fast as it spun itself and deflected the stab without any desperate movement.
Like two storms competing eagerly to consume on another, the fight continued on. Like I expected initially, the Chimera was certainly stronger than prior to the fight. Between every battle the humans had each day, I developed a way to vary my pattern of my stroke like an offbeat in music rhythm. Never was such modification blocked or deflected by any other commanding units, let alone the basic units, but the Chimera was doing quite well in doing so. The enemy felt more like an impenetrable wall of concrete – a wall that posed less of a threat for me right now but will return with a catastrophic disaster for everyone.
But much of that was beyond my concern; the only thing I cared was the creature in front of my eyes that was eager to kill me. At first, it only used its blades to attack but as time passed, the strikes became bolder. It started to push itself inward like I usually do when I try to disable the opponent’s attack for a moment. Chimera also tried to kick my head off but I managed to evade. With a consecutive bashing of its arm, padded with thick layer of skin, I was thrown off from a heavy blow. It was only a single hit; but my mouth already tasted blood as I spit the ooze out.
Then the Hunters around me started to twitch. Then suddenly, they all came to life and assaulted from all direction. Without any other choice, I unleashed every potential of my ability and rampaged my sword. At the same time, I tried to keep distance from the Chimera in case he ambushes from the middle of the swarm. The silver streams of the sword’s stroke illuminated the area and soon left only carcasses of Hunters which charged toward me. The Chimera stood unmoved, right where it was before every Hunter began to attack. After the technique, I felt a noticeable reduce in energy.
The others must have seen the Hunters moving; I heard shouts through the earphone and choppers’ engine coming to life. Glancing at the corpses of Hunters near my area, the other Hunters seemed hesitant to move in first. Soon, gunfire followed and blade clashes thereafter. I smiled cynically at the Chimera.
“I was in the middle of hundreds of Hunters, but it was interesting you didn’t charge with them,” I said. Then I spat at its direction. “I believe it was closer to cowardice than caution.”
As if it understood what I said, the Chimera ‘flew’ towards me in a blinding speed. It literally flew – it soared through the air towards me while remaining in midair. It completely took me off guard and though I desperately managed to block it, I had to consume a lot of my ability to keep myself from being thrown off. Still, the strike was devastating; I was pushed off nearly ten meters as the Chimera continued to add pressure. If I impetuously tried to deflect, it would mean my death. Instead, I carefully measured the timing for a chance and in a blink; I ducked down and simultaneously, relieved the two blades that were pinning me down. Non-stopping, I hurled my swords upward and performed a powerful uppercut.
Green blood splashed onto my face. The Chimera let out a hideous roar and staggered backward. It was really monstrous though; in such a distance, probably only inches away, the Chimera avoided fatal blow that could have dissected its body into three. Already, some of the other Hunters started to move into my direction to protect their commander. However, their distance was way further than my proximity with the Chimera. With my right sword, I brought a deftly stab against the Chimera. Then suddenly, it caught my blade with its hands and with its immense strength, pulled out the sword from my hand and tossed it away in the distance. The two strip of injury done by the sharpness of my blade was still there, pouring out blood every second. Even so, the Chimera moved faster and stronger than I thought.
With one sword, and my eyes glancing on the abandoned one, I continued to fight with the Chimera. Several other basic units also engaged in combat and the job to finish off the Chimera became harder. If it escapes again… I one blow, I cut through two Hunters and charged my way in toward the Chimera. I attempted another stab – this time, it caught it with two hands and direly blocked it from piercing its abdomen. I was pushing in all my strength but I just couldn’t force it in quickly. I noticed more Hunters on the way and I smacked its leg with mine, using the small drops of ability left in my body. The Chimera growled ghastly, hopefully, in pain. The window afforded me to add more pressure and force my sword to penetrate its stomach. The blade’s tip reached the skin of the Hunter. Slowly, it worked its way in. Green blood streamed out at first, then more started pushing out. Finally, I was able to fully permeate through the Chimera’s thick skin as the tip protruded from the back. The Chimera’s strength suddenly diminished greatly. And I stood up nearly exhausted and fatigue.
Chimera, in its last resistance, smashed my chest with its concrete foot. I coughed out desperately for breath as I was flown off almost ten meters away. I used my hands to stand up, in case any Hunter tried to push its blade against my back. Yet, my eyes were still fixed on the stumbling Chimera, with a sword stuck in its stomach. A black figure blocked my view. I looked up and saw a basic unit trying to finish me off.
I fiercely yelled out stood up and slammed the Hunter down on the ground. With the last drop of my silver aura, I bashed its head and the Hunter laid still. The final blow of the Chimera was an absolute critical blow. Breathing became difficult as I drew in air. By then, I realized that the entire area was in madness. And like some savior, a chopper landed just left of me. And I heard a desperate voice calling my name. Vision started to blur; but my eyes were still on the enduring Chimera. I was knocked out on the ground, but someone grabbed me just in time. At that point, I didn’t care if it was Michelle or Scarlet or some stranger. I just felt safe and I was satisfied for it.
The person who grabbed me carried and the chopper engine’s sound became louder. My sight really started to fade off when I, at last, saw the Chimera crash onto the ground head first. I was at peace by then.
But that was when I saw a bizarre figure flying from above and landing just around the Chimera’s dead body. I tried to point at it with my fingers but I was too weak to do so. Breathing failed. Eyes shut down. My mind, ceased to think
Director Han entered the shack grimly. Everyone read his expression and was anxious.
“What does the president say?” asked Director Nelson. Han silently sat down on a stool in front of the four directors.
“Jerrod apparently wants all of us to die out here,” he said. Everyone sighed and complained in disappointment. The war was ongoing for nearly seven weeks. The Chimera was dead – that was undoubtedly a positive side – but the emergence of an unknown unit brought a catastrophic end. “Or he believes in us so much that he actually thinks we can end this war before October.”
“Then we – I mean the people currently living peacefully at the settlement – chose the wrong president,” blurted Rick. “The Chimera’s dead; fine! But now we have a stronger enemy waiting for us to come closer. The intelligence from the dominion that basic Hunters will lose control and order if all the commanding units are wiped out is false after all.”
“Technically speaking, we still have one more commander in the house,” replied Fran. He popped up an image on the screen used for briefing. The black and white image showed a humanoid-looking monster standing idly among the thick woods. “Unfortunately, that’s what we’re up against. The potential strength of the controller was unpredictable… well, until yesterday.”
“Hugo Camell is dead. Leon Veridi is wounded and will be unsuitable for continuous combat for the next several days. What in the world does the Dominion expect?” demanded Rick furiously. “We can’t even go in further. The only person who can fight against this – ‘controller’ is probably Leon as well.”
The table went silent. Nobody spoke anything. They did not have any creative solutions to figure out a way out of the disaster. Han finally spoke.
“Orders are orders anyway. Besides, if we retreat, the Hunters are going to track us down to the settlement, leaving more casualties,” said the commander-in-chief. He sighed and looked down. “We defend the post until Leon Veridi fully recovers from his wound. It is said that it’s not that severe; only a bruise on his chest. This is the best we can do right now. This war needs to end one way or the other; when he recovers, we throw everything we've got."
I woke up feeling very uncomfortable. My entire body was sort of numb and ached at the same time. The small bunk bed was all I was lying down on and that too, was uncomfortable. I pulled myself up to stand straight. My chest pained badly and I recognized rolls of bandages around it. I recalled the Chimera’s last strike against me and touched my chest area gently. The pain swan through the entire body and I quickly removed my hand. Lifting my heavy body, I wore my shoes, got out of the bunk bed and headed outside the tent.
“Leon!” shouted Scarlet’s voice from the side. I noticed her holding two bowls of meal. She saw me standing up and rushed towards me. “You’re awake!”
“I guess it has been a few days?” I asked her. She shook her head.
“Chimera is –“ I revisited my memory when I saw the Chimera fall, but I wanted to ascertain.
“Dead,” she said instead. She slowly pushed me into the tent again. “The doctor informed me that you’ll need absolute rest until you can fight again.”
“Where’s the rest? The camp looks quite empty,” I asked her, reentering the small private tent and toward the bunk bed.
“Most of them are out fighting near the post to defend the area,” she replied. Scarlet pulled out a portable table and laid two bowls of food on top. She handed me one and a spoon with it. “The entire army is in a bad shape. So the commander-in-chief decided to defend the area until you can fight again at your best performance.”
“Chimera’s dead. I thought we should be moving forward,” I said ignorantly. Scarlet’s face darkened. She waved her spoon in the porridge. “All the commanding units are dead. What’s the problem? There’s plenty of Crusaders left at least to advance.”
“Everyone’s waiting for you because the same day Chimera died; the human army was nearly destroyed until the last men. The ‘controller’ of the lair showed itself on the battlefield,” she explained. The first image that rang in my head: the black and white image of an unknown Hunter. So that’s what I saw back then… “You’re pretty much the only person potentially capable of fighting it.”
“So everyone’s counting on me…” I murmured. This was ridiculous. “Can’t the directors call a retreat? We inflicted more damage than we’ve originally thought. Many of us will probably think we had enough.”
“Jerrod thinks otherwise,” she said shortly. Scarlet ate a few spoons and turned to me. “Do you like to fight?”
“What?” I asked her, making sure I heard right. “What do you mean?”
“Everyone wants you to fight; right after you recover,” she said. Her expression was dark and grim. “So do you want to fight on?”
“Isn’t it the only way to finish this mess and get back to some normal life? Well, although we never had any normal life,” I shrugged indifferently.
“… right. It’s the only way. Others are fighting beyond their will; we shouldn’t complain…” murmured Scarlet. She was almost talking to herself with her voice nearly a whisper. She stood up first and started to head out. “I have something else to do so I’ll leave you to yourself until Michelle and the other arrive.”
I didn’t notice whether something was wrong; neither did I know what I said meant. It was only awhile after that I realized how Scarlet felt that moment.
The army did not return even after supper time. Until that moment, I moved around the camp and lightly trained myself to be fixed for fighting again. Scarlet and some doctor-looking person occasionally came and requested me to return to the tent. At around 8 o’ clock in the afternoon, everyone returned to the base, one by one, looking extremely tired. I was sitting on a bench near the entrance they came in when Han sat beside me. Nobody took significant notice to the commander-in-chief although they glanced towards us from time to time.
“Smile, Leon,” he said patting his hand on my shoulder.
“What for? I don’t see any reason for me to be so happy,” I said.
“You’re their last hope. They see you walking and healthy and uninjured, they will surely be reassured,” said Han. He took out a pack of cigarette, lit one up, and slipped it in his mouth. “I know you don’t really care about others but I personally think it’ll feel good becoming the last hope for someone else; even if they’re complete strangers.”
“I don’t know why everyone thinks I could end this war,” I said. I eyed at the fatigue soldiers and Crusaders. “They look reluctant to fight – of course their performance is horrible.”
“Do you know what’s funny?” he said smoking. “Nobody forces them to stay. Of course, some may regard a suicide to leave the base, but staying and fighting on is just as dangerous.”
“For many, staying poses much more chance of survival,” I said, unwittingly. “Those running away need enough ability to stay alive until they reach a safe location.”
“Then why do you stay?” asked Han.
“You can leave this camp, maybe take Scarlet and Michelle with you, and disappear into the woods. There’s food unprotected in the warehouse, water as well. If you leave at night and disappear, you three will survive,” said Han so seriously that I was surprised. “You never cared about anyone here; so why will you care what happens to the rest of us?”
“That’s ridiculous…!” I paused. Maybe Han was so convincing that I bought it or maybe I actually thought of doing it at that instant.
“See?” he smirked cynically. He finished his cigarette fast and threw it on the ground. The fire died as his shoe stomped on it. “But… Scarlet stayed. Michelle stayed as well. And you stayed as well. Do you think you three will be happy alone in this hostile planet? I have no doubt on whether you can survive; but how long will you last all alone? I bet one month maximum.”
“…” I quietly listened to Han’s words while fixing my eyes on the dead cigarette. “Get to the point, Han.”
“You chose to stay even though you’re the most capable person to survive out there,” he said. “You might be fighting for yourself; for Michelle or Scarlet; or to get a normal life. But that doesn’t matter because whatever and however you think about fighting on, keeps others’ candle of hope. I know you’re tired after consecutive combat against commanding units and the Chimera. I understand you’re complains.”
“If you do –“
“Scarlet lost her chopper carrying your fainted body to the camp. In fact, the act of a pilot to drive her aircraft in the middle of a battlefield seemed a suicide. If it wasn’t for other Crusaders’ effort to resist off the controller to destroy the bird in midair, you would be under this very soil with Scarlet beside you,” snapped the director. “Without you noticing, there’s people who believes in you to fight to our victory and sacrifice themselves for it. It’s happening whether you like or not. I tolerated many of your behaviors Leon; but I don’t think I could just watch you blow out the fire from their last candle.”