Injury recovered quickly, but the casualties just to protect the camp until my recovery was too great. Nobody noticed the specific dead men but when I engaged combat after four days of rest, everyone recognized the missing comrades who seemed always beside each other.
Still advancing was somewhat successful. Extreme conditions did make people to commence extreme performances and we were able to retain the number of 91 Crusaders and 598 foot soldiers. Seven of fifteen ‘main characters’ remained. Some of the directors began to fight along as well.
August 28th Year 2, the human army finally reached the main structure of the lair. However, there was no time to rest. It took another one and a half days of fighting to secure an area for another camp. Just after finishing up everything for the base, the nine used-to-be squad leaders and directors gathered up inside the command post.
Mia Eiens and Freya Embers of Sector 2, Numen and Viola Hay of Sector 4, Arnold Vance of Sector 5, Michelle and I from Sector 3 was the remaining – or the surviving – seven. They all gathered up, and the directors soon entered the tent as well. Fourteen people got together around a table. They all found a seat and sat down. But nobody spoke even a single word. For a while, the silence maintained.
“Well… everyone’s here then,” said Han. A pause. He scratched his head. “… so –“
“What’s our plan Han?” asked Rick with a huge sigh. He leaned backward and closed his eyes. “We reached this disgusting structure. Now what?”
“Any words from the Dominion?” asked Mia almost desperately.
“Yes,” said Han. All eyes pointed towards him. “The words are these: Kill the Controller.”
“Goddam it! They don’t even send us any reinforcements or resources and they tell us to go on until one side dies out?” demanded Director Rick, raged with anger. “I say we turn back. I know we held a hell of a good fight until now but we don’t know how many are left in there. We already have given enough damage for us to retain peace for several years or so!”
“Calm down Rick, you’re not helping. You heard Han before; the casualties when we simply retreat may be more than we expect,” said Fran. “Besides, we reached this far. There’s got to be something else to do than run.”
“How many Crusaders are we left with?” asked Nelson.
“91 Crusaders including us; if you subtract the wounded, there are only 80 Crusaders able to fight in full condition,” said Michelle. “Still we do have nearly 600 soldiers left.”
“The soldiers are good for nothing. All they are doing out here is wasting their ammo on some impenetrable creature. The helicopters certainly help but their firearms were never meant to penetrate such thick armor and we have too few of them,” said Fran.
“Then what do you propose to do? Sit here and talk about how miserable out situation is all day? You’re the one not helping Francis!” shouted Rick.
“Woah, now, we can’t afford fighting with –“
“Shut up! Everyone should realize how ridiculous this war is! Did anyone feel a great sense of achievement when we pushed our way here? That we are protecting the settlement? Those idiots in the city are probably living comfortably on their sofas and beds, discussing about whether they need to increase the number of public toilets!” yelled out Director Rick furiously. “I, at least, can boast that I never felt anything positive during this blood war; only the oppression of our so called ‘president’ to force our way in. And on top of everything,” he suddenly pointed at me across the table. “It’s absurd having the fate of us and the success of this war clinging onto one person!”
“Hey, he has nothing to blame; all he did was killing the Chimera and a whole bunch of Hunters for good. Rick, just –“ Director Fran and the others tried to calm him down, but his temper wasn’t going anywhere. As the other directors except Han struggled to soften his rage, the Rick’s frustration only exacerbated. The seven of us remained quiet, watching the directors’ babble. They also must think this situation was preposterous – I thought it was childish too. However, the reason nobody, not even the directors, tried to deny Rick’s statement was probably because everything he said was absolute truth. They were in a miserable situation. And they had to trust on one person for the termination of this fight. That was me.
“Everyone just shut up goddam it!” Han suddenly shouted out them. Everyone froze and slowly returned to their seat. Rick continued to complain quietly. “The entire army fought for over a day just to secure the new camp here. Everyone, and I literally mean everyone, strived so hard just to get here. We should be examining our result. We should be planning out our strategy. Not remind ourselves of the situation we are in – everyone knows that! They’ve been here for 10 weeks, how can’t they be unaware of it?”
“This armchair argument is what’s really not helping,” said Director Han. He looked up to the roof of the tent, and then dropped his head down. “Three days from now, we engage in an all-out war. Directors will also participate, as well as myself. The Hunters have their enemy right in front of their front door; they are not going to prolong this fight either. Inform this to everyone and make sure everyone gets the rest they want. Unleash all weaponry and give out spare ones as well. Distribute the rest of the food we have to everyone.”
“But we won’t have any left then,” said Nelson.
“You don’t get my point do you?” said Han. He laughed lightly. “I mean to finish this war after three days. After that, all of us can either return home or be buried under the very soil we stand on.”
Han’s orders were implemented immediately. First, everyone was gathered up consecutively in their groups to receive all kinds of weapon. All Crusaders were given two swords and one firearm. The soldiers were given ammunition more than they need in one battle. After that was done, the directors opened the food supplies and gave them out until they emptied all the containers.
“Han looks quite resolute,” I murmured. I looked at my bag of food. When saved, it was an amount where I could last nearly a week.
“Still, I’m glad he finally came to this,” said Michelle. I looked up at her while sitting down on a bench. I unwittingly pulled out bread and gobbled it into my mouth. “We had to fight like this some day.”
“What will happen when we return alive?” I asked, almost to myself.
“Won’t the people praise us and cheer for us?” Michelle answered. I also wished for that… but I couldn’t help the cynical laugh that came out of my mouth. “After all, we’re the ones that really ended this forsaken war.”
“This war wasn’t all that bad. Many of us died but there are some gains other than several years of peace,” I said.
“Didn’t you feel yourself being improved over the past few weeks?” I questioned her. She looked as if she was considering. “The survivors who return will be expert Hunter-killers. Nobody would have expected such performances in anyone before this war became desperate.”
Michelle looked at me as if she was surprised. I ignored her unusual expression and looked afar. Then I saw Scarlet walking towards our direction. I waved at her so she can recognize me.
“Where have you been?” she asked me.
“Here,” I said slightly baffled. “Why?”
“Han has been looking for you after the meeting you guys had,” she said. I glanced at Michelle, but signaled back that she had no idea.
“I’ll be right back,” I said and stood up.
Han was still in the tent sitting in the same seat as when we were having a meeting. He noticed me and requested me to close the door. Then, he offered me a seat opposite of him.
“What do you want?” I asked, slightly demandingly.
“You’ve done well. I asked you not to blow out the last candle fire and you did – the candle is burning quite brightly,” he said. He made a clicking sound with his fingers on the table. “But it seems like there is going to be a huge gust of wind that’s trying to blow out the flickering fire… this time, the gust of wind which I made it myself.”
“You want me to block the wind from extinguishing the fire,” I guessed. “Rick said it himself. It’s ridiculous that every result of this war is counting on my performance. That is something you cannot deny.”
“And I do,” he said shrugging. “But honestly, your exceptional performance alone is ridiculous as well. You have the potential to end this war –“
“I don’t want to hear about it. It’s the same thing all over again,” I said, annoyed. The director gave up his words as I intercepted.
“What about for Michelle and Scarlet?” he asked me.
“Bring this disastrous war to an end for them – how about it?” asked Han.
“That was very rash,” I said coldly. “And sly.”
“I’m quite desperate and the others will think the same.”
“Go to hell, Han,” I said, standing up. I did not hesitate to leave the tent. And I did not turn back to see his face.
The tent’s entrance curtain brushed down and closed behind as Leon left. Director Han was left alone. He sighed out loud to the ceiling.
“I’m sorry Leon… just too sorry… But isn’t this something you can overlook?”
It must have been the effect after talking to that idiot. The camp looked even more miserable than ten minutes ago. It wasn’t hard ignoring the thought but strangely, Scarlet and Michelle became a powerful reminder. It wasn’t surprising to be concerned with the matter for the rest of that day.
“He said that?” Michelle asked me just before dozing off to sleep. She cocked her head as if considering what I said. “Well, it’s certainly evident that many are expecting you to bring this war to an end. But…”
She glanced at me in a way that made me feel slightly awkward. When I started to react, she quickly removed her eyes away from me.
“Is there something wrong?” I questioned her.
“No, not at all. I just thought Han is pushing you too much,” she said. “Just because someone is extraordinary doesn’t mean they can simply rely everything on him. Before being exceptional, every genius was humans, and humans are affected by heavy burdens.”
“But you do want the war to end quickly,” I said double-checking.
“Of course. Too many have died already. It will absolutely be great if the war was to finish as fast as possible,” said Michelle. “What I want to say is that you don’t have to force yourself. Doing something forcefully may help others but will hurt you physically and mentally. Just…”
I waited for her to continue but she swallowed her words.
um… be yourself, as you always did,” she finished. It was bizarre; how Michelle
struggled so much. She always came up with a mature answer for me and create a
somewhat guideline for me to follow. This time, and perhaps for the first time,
she looked hesitative – even reluctant to answer.
Everyone had the same idea and everyone wanted to same thing. So we decided to act quickly; before our morale decline even further.
Next day: the Hunters, under the Controller’s command, besieged the camp.
“Shit! Get some ammo for the artillery!” shouted a soldier from the small tower. I was on top of the wall watching the entire swarm of Hunters patiently waiting for the order to trample down over the petty human race. The Controller itself was nowhere to be seen, but the powerful sense of it informed me that it was certainly near somewhere the camp, waiting for the time to create the greatest turmoil. Michelle was just beside me and several other Crusaders as well. Scarlet and the other pilots went to start their engines.
“What in the bloody hell is happening!” shouted Han as he ran up on the wall with the other four directors following. He leaned out of the nearest tower and saw the waves of black before him. He looked frightened; or was he angry? His expression was hard to explain.
“Just like Saladin’s siege of Jerusalem,” murmured Michelle. She tapped her hand on her sword hilt. “To crush your enemy with overwhelming number.”
“How many do you think?” asked Han to the directors.
“At least 470,” said Lamy. She looked afar. “If there’s more inside the woods, I’m afraid we are already outnumbered very badly.”
“Being outnumbered was never our concern because we always fought outnumbered,” said Han gritting his teeth. He asked one soldier for a telescope and quickly scanned the area in a circle. “Any sign of the Controller?”
“It might not be present but –“
“It’s here,” I said staring out into the distance. I slowly scanned through the huge army of Hunters. “We just can’t see it yet.”
“What are they waiting for? I don’t believe those barbaric creatures with tactics,” groaned Rick from Han’s side. Nobody answered. Everyone simply glared back at the Hunters with their hungry eyes.
And there was a sudden whoosh.
A devastating explosion followed.
Everyone looked back and saw a helicopter burst into flames and turn into millions of pieces. The debris crashed down in the middle of the camp and everyone began to run away from the crash site.
I looked at Michelle, both worried whether that was…
“Nicholas is down! I repeat Nicholas’s bird is down!” rang from the earphone. I was relieved. But Michelle still looked anxious. I looked back at the field. The wave was moving.
“What hit him?” shouted Fran.
“They’re moving!” I shouted at them. I quickly climbed down the wall. The directors cursed as they saw the black swarm of Hunters marching toward camp. The thumping sound of their legs and feet seemed to continue forever. The march was slow but suffocating.
“Everyone to your post! I want birds high up in the air so we don’t have a huge flaming metal crashing down during the fight!” ordered the commander-in-chief. I was already in front of the gate with Michelle and all the other Crusaders. The soldiers stood on walls and towers and behind structures to cover fire. Many of their faces looked nervous. Some of them were sweating like they’ve just had a shower.
As the thumping grew louder, Crusaders in the front row stepped backward. They swallowed so loudly in the deadly silence that I heard one even though I was at the back. Only the thumping of the Hunter, pounding of our hearts, and the gulping of our saliva was heard.
The trample sounded louder.
Naked blades began to show themselves one by one.
Trample only got louder.
Total silence danced in the atmosphere.
The wall was tall enough to hide the Hunters that were probably right in front of us.
The metal gate supported by the barricade was destroyed open.
Black wave rushed in like a huge tidal wave.
Who am I fighting for… and what am I fighting for…
Now I have the answer.
I unleashed my blade and charged inside.
The final battle of Operation Hornet Nest has begun.