First On Earth

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The camp was engulfed with chaos in a matter of seconds. Soldiers yelled out from all direction. Han tried to have the others maintain cool-headed by commanding tactics through the earphone. However, with the battle beginning to become a slaughter, nobody was able to stay sane and radical enough to hear them.

“South gate is breached! South gate is breached!” yelled someone through the transmitter. The North gate that was prior to the breach of the South was defending rather well. Second breach, however, was grave news to everyone.

“Michelle, Fran and Rick! I need you to get to the South gate!” ordered Han. They quickly moved and I readied myself to follow her. But the director called me back. “Leon! You can’t go anywhere. There’s enough work to do right here!”

I gritted my teeth, but knew it was no use protesting in this chaos.

The Hunters marched in, literally, like some tidal wave. Killing one was replaced by double the original. Never was this a sort of ambush so the Crusaders were putting up a good fight at first. But overwhelming number seemed capable of discouraging anyone.

“Make and maintain a perimeter around the gate! Don’t let any of them inside!” shouted Han at the top of his voice. I strived to balance my stamina and at the same time, tried not to use my ability. The Controller could appear anytime and the last thing I needed was an exhaust in energy to embody my ability.

The madhouse remained as climax. The Hunters forced inside almost brainlessly without any seeming strategy. As I saw it, the rate of death for Hunters was the same as every Crusader’s. And yet, their army was so large that even charging thoughtlessly was seen as a strategy against small group of fighters. In any case, the army’s actual strength was entirely up to the 91 Crusaders. To put it bluntly, the battle in front of the lair was between at least 400 Hunters and 91 Crusaders with 598 human decoys.

Time flew and by the time the sun was high up in the air, the ‘perimeter’ Director Han ordered to maintain started to leak. Probably from fatigue from extreme condition or overwhelming status of combat, Crusaders started to die out one by one with deadly arm-blades penetrating their hearts and skulls.

“We’re most likely in hell,” cursed Director Han from my side. The perimeter broke and everyone started to fight almost in individuals. And slowly, but steadily, I started to see less Hunters dying and more humans collapsing to the bloodied soil. “Or is hell a much better alternative?”

“Han! We’re not getting anywhere!” shouted Nelson from the confusion of the battle. “We’re all going to die like this even before the Controller shows up!”

“Maintain the –“

“Screw your perimeter Han. We need to fight in a group!” cried Lamy as she joined Han and I. “Where’s the others?”

“Help!” yelled from the crowd to the west.

“That’s Numen’s voice.”

Everyone moved towards the direction. I followed them as I struck the Hunters down one by one. They were certainly getting stronger; like the Chimera, but the tremendous number of them kept on making me forget about that. Green blood was all over my swords and body. The ooze was normally accompanied with disgusting odor, but everyone’s direness seemed to filter our nose so that we only smelled the scent of human flesh and blood.

“Viola’s down!” said a voice through the transmitter.

When the four of us arrived at Numen’s location, he was barely standing and fighting. Streaks of tear mixed with two types of blood made him look horrible, but nobody bothered to care with Viola Hay down on the ground.

“Cover me!” said Director Nelson. He kneeled down near the dying soul and attempted an emergency care. The rest of us fought with our life on the line as the Hunters roared in against us like a fearsome tornado.

“Inject the adrenaline,” suggested Lamy.

“No! You’re mad!” cried Numen back. “No!”

You’re mad Numen! We need every single person to defend off these bastards. Inject the adrenaline so she can be some help!” yelled the commander-in-chief. “It’s a bloody order so do it!”

Nelson pulled out a small injector and inserted some liquid into Viola’s body. He quickly wrapped the wound by ripping his jacket-armor’s cloth. Within seconds, the girl woke straight up coughing.

“I was –“

“Viola, I want you do grab your sword and keep up the fight!” demanded Han. She hurriedly stood up with a weapon in her hand. The six of us held our position somewhere near the gate and fought endlessly. “Where’s Arnold? I never commanded him to go to the South gate!”

“I saw him fighting over there with the others!” pointed Viola. She saw her brother in panic and ran to him. “Come on Numen, I’m fine.”

“No –“

“Numen Hay you have to get your shit straight or you’ll be the one to be injected!” yelled out Han. He cut through the Hunters in the vanguard with the others following him behind. Numen was in the middle, nearly paralyzed. Viola kept on glancing at her brother which made her unable to unleash her full strength. Director Lamy had to cover her time to time from getting wounded. “Does anybody know where Arnold and the other Crusaders are specifically?”

“There! I see our side!” shouted Director Nelson, pointing towards the gate side. Indeed, there were a few dozens of Crusader cramped up in a group and cornered against the very bulwark of the camp. The unscathed soldiers from their top showered down metal but it hardly did any damage but slowing their movement by a little. In front of the surviving group was Arnold. He waved as he caught the sight of us.

The Hunters must have known we were trying to combine the survivors. Hunters made barricade with their body, disconnecting the sight over them. Unable to see the other group, the smaller company of eight was easily surrounded

"Kill! Towards that way! Just push through! Leon, get to the back and cover our trail!” commanded Director Han.

I ignored his order. As being in front, I unchained my ability and danced my way through the forest of Hunters. They were helplessly slain by the delicate strokes of my sword I’ve practiced for the entire weeks since the start of the war. Instantly, the road towards the other band of survivors opened with nearly twenty Hunters’ death in a second. The Hunters must be able to feel fear as well because the happening seemed to make them hesitative as they backed off for a moment before they rushed in again.

“Where are the others?” asked Nelson. “We should have at least 40 to 50 men after dividing the Crusaders in two.”

“There’s only thirty or so left of us. The rest died,” reported Arnold. His breath was coarse and was gasping quite badly. Everyone’s face darkened. But even moaning took too much time. The beasts only attacked restlessly.

“Rick! How’s it going on there?” shouted Han through his transmitter.

“Shit! It’s about time you asked!” the curse of Director Rick rang through the earphone. “Freya’s dead. The rest of the directors and rankers are alive here. But we only have about forty Crusaders left. The soldiers are not helping at all and the Hunters seem to know that because they are hardly attacking them. Goddam it Han! We’re all going to die!”

“We need to regroup as one! There’s no point of fighting separately now! Get all the surviving Crusaders and rendezvous at the center!” said Han back.

“Roger that.”

“Push to the center of the camp! We’ll make our last stand there!” shouted Han. The word ‘last stand’ was one perfect phrase that showed our situation. The very top rankers did tend to survive for a long time, but war wasn’t a game where one-man-army can happen. The Controller hasn’t even showed up but nearly one third of us were dead already. In fact, I started to feel we might not even see the Controller that day.

“Everyone, we’re move toward the center! Michelle and I’ll go front! Mia and the rest of the directors take the back! Go, go, go!” shouted Director Rick.

“What about Freya?” yelled Mia back. Her voice was still hoarse from the sob.

“She’s dead Mia! We have no choice!” cried Fran. He took her hand and pulled her up so she could resume fighting.

“There’s too many of them! We can’t get through!” shouted Michelle. Her breath was getting rougher every minute. The condition was more extreme than any other battle she has fought. The rest of the rankers and directors were also in a bad shape, let alone the rest of the Crusaders.

“We have to get through or all of us are goners!” Rick said back.

“What about the soldiers?”

“You can’t be serious; the Hunters aren’t even taking attention to them. It’s us that they are trying to eliminate. Fight on!”

“We need missiles to make a way!” cried Fran through the earphone.

“This is my last HFE missile,” said Scarlet from the air.

A flashing rocket drilled through the air and exploded just couple of meters away from the group. The area was consumed by a brilliant red flame that soared high up in the air. A wall of fire was created that burned on Hunter armor. The Hunters were instantly overwhelmed in confusion as the fierce flame ate through their thick skin.

“Go, go, go! It’s our one last chance!” ordered Rick on top of his voice. He clicked on his earphone. “Do we have any bird in the air with heavy firepower?”

“This is Howard. I have two HFE missiles left but I’m the only one left, sir,” buzzed a voice through his transmitter.

“Try not to lose them we’ll need them soon,” said Director Rick.

“I have a major activity on my radar,” reported Scarlet.

“Isn’t any activity on ground major?” Rick demanded, irritated.

“No, this is… Howard! Get out of there!” she yelled out.

An unidentified projectile penetrated the pilot seat of Howard’s helicopter. The force was so strong that Howard was pulled out of his seat in a speed of light and disappeared with the projectile.

“Shit! What the –“

The helicopter twirled like a tornado and lost balance as it crashed in the middle of the battlefield. The helicopter burst into inferno and the HFE missiles with it. The Hunters quickly evacuated prior to the crash and many were left still unscathed.

“No, no… now we have zero time left! Scarlet, you need to get out of that heli!” shouted Fran from the back of the group. “The fire’s still on, use them as cover. Rick! Forward!”

“Mia!” said Director Fran. She grabbed her by the shoulder. “Contact the other group. Tell them they’ll need to come to us.”

“What?” she asked.

“The owner of the house just joined the party.”

Our group arrived at the center of the camp. There wasn’t any difference in how we fought, but that wasn’t something everyone was worried. Michelle’s group was nowhere to be seen.

“Hey isn’t that ours?” Arnold pointed to the sky. A helicopter was flying low just a few meters away.

“That’s Scarlet’s bird. She should be with Michelle’s –“

“Han I have words from Mia!” yelled Nelson.

“Leon, Viola, and Arnold, rescue her from the plane and get her armed,” said Director Han. He quickly turned to Director Nelson. “What’s the word?”

“…” for a moment, the director seemed frozen. “Controller’s here. She says we need to come to them.”

I was just removing Scarlet from the helicopter when Han’s eyes met mine.

“Leon! The Controller…!” she coughed. I embraced her so she could relax. “What are you doing?”

I pulled out the second sword I had on my left hip. The entire group advanced towards the south.

“I hope you made up your mind,” said Han so that only I could hear him.

“Not for you.”

“Not for the thousands of people in the settlement nor the rest of the Crusaders and soldiers in the camp,” said Han. I gritted my teeth and glared at him. “Just this once, Leon… be a pawn on the chessboard… You’re one step away from becoming a queen. Go for it.”

I took the lead. Han must have smiled behind me. I actually knew I was going to fight the Controller anyway. But I was angry – why? Probably I was just raged that I looked like I was really a pawn – a pawn of Director Han, the commander-in-chief of Operation Hornet’s Nest.

I unleashed my full strength: my ability, power, technique – everything. Brandishing my way through the petty Hunters, our group saw Rick and Michelle in a matter of minutes after the contact.

“Leon! It’s over there!” shouted Michelle. The basic units were still fighting. No sportsmanship now… I laughed coldly.

“Can you fight?” I asked her.

“What do you mean?” she frowned.

“You’re fighting with me,” I said. I touched her shoulder. “I would like to have food you cooked for tomorrow’s supper.”

“Let’s make the stage people. Looks like the Hunters are tired with one on one,” said Han through the transmitter.

I saw the Controller for the first time in real life, and with a clear mind. Its arm-blade was missing. Instead, it held on one long pole-looking object on its right hand. The object looked like the weapon. It was different – for a Hunter to wield a weapon instead of having it attached to their body. The size of it was similar to that of normal commanding unit, but the color of its skin was black with reddish light combined. The eyes of it were blinding yellow, and glowed like some ghost. No claws. No particular armor-looking skin. And no protruded fangs from its mouth. It was certainly enough to give anyone who saw it a shock.

“I can’t believe it doesn’t look threatening,” I murmured to Michelle. The small area among the three of us was left untouched. The rest of the region was still in chaos with everyone else intertwined in ferocious battle.

“Don’t let its looks fool you,” whispered Michelle. “It is responsible for tens of Crusaders even after the Chimera died.”

The Controller slowly stepped forward as we also closed onto it. It was mostly buried under the noise of the battle but the Controller certainly growled. The sound conveyed enough anger for a human to understand.

The Controller was first to act.

Its weapon swirled around the air and against our side. It was so fast that I barely saw it coming. But even from blocking, I was pushed off ground from the heavy impact. Michelle charged in before the pole relocated to attempt another blow. It raised its weapon and slammed it downward to intercept Michelle’s movement. She backed off but re-entered through the left side. I charged in through the right.

The silver energy showed itself illuminating brightly as it crashed down against the Hunter. The two of us struck its side at the same time, but it was reacted extremely hastily. The pole turned against me and blocked my strike conveying almost full thrust of my ability and kicked Michelle away from its body as well. The Controller was simply neutralizing every strike we attempt effectively and without any damage. Still, we didn’t stop attacking. Both of us knew very well the moment we lose the upper hand in assault, it will mean the end of us both.

Weapons were only crossed a few times; yet its strength was proven to be the strongest enemy I’ve ever met. Chimera was nothing.

I hurled myself down onto the Controller with both swords spinning like a whirlwind. Michelle stabbed from the other side. Just when the Controller’s attention was dispersed, I kicked inside and slashed down from head to toe.

And I was a fool to think it was the end.

The monster had evaded some of the damage from back-stepping. It immediately launched its pole against me. I crossed my swords to block myself. The pole struck hard; immensely hard that I was flown away in the distance and collapsed to the ground head first.

“What…” I glared at the thing, but the Controller was busy finishing up with Michelle. Before it could inflict any more injury, I thrust forward. Michelle was barely defending when I managed to resume engaging in fight. The three swords fought together and struck the Hunter simultaneously. I embodied tons of energy into it and Michelle’s power was also added. It was hence, enough to stagger the Controller backward for a few seconds. I ducked in to get myself closer. This time, Michelle came in as well. The pole was already on its way to force both of us off ground. With absolute haste, I slammed the arm holding the pole, impeding its movement.

The Controller roared.

Seconds before we could deliver a fatal blow from the proximity, the Hunter punched my side from the left. I was bounced off to the right and Michelle, who was just beside me, as well. The humongous pole was on top of us as we were on the ground and disabled. The left side of my stomach felt like it was about to explode with pain indescribable. Michelle stood up first and held the sword with both hands to block the striking pole from killing us both. I gave a harsh cough and spat out blood. The armor was undoubtedly useless now so even a single contact against me will be against the fragility of the human skin. That is, one hit will be the death of me.

“You’re armor…” said Michelle worried.

“Keep it holding,” I said ignoring her concern. I dashed in as fast as I could. Empowering my legs with the silver energy, I delivered a powerful kick against the Hunter. The pole was removed from pressuring Michelle and she freely charged in as well. The pole came around from the left and I ducked it through. The pole was just about the come from the other side. “Destroy that filthy head, will you.”

“With pleasure,” she answered. Michelle jumped across the distance between her and the Hunter. Meanwhile, I emitted everything I’ve got to keep both of Controller’s arms busy. I threw one of my swords like a javelin targeting the left and rushed to the right to block the pole from penetrating her. The sword I threw missed but gave enough time for Michelle to approach it. She drew a nice crescent against its head when –

Something blackish exploded between us and the Controller. We had no idea what that was except that we were bounced off backward by it. Still, I was certain Michelle successfully decapitated its neck and the body will soon collapse.

From the blackish wall-looking substance, a long pole drilled through the air and on its way towards me. I was so taken aback that I couldn’t properly react but to move slightly sideway to avoid death. Thank the gods, the pole did not sever my flesh or punctured my skin, but as it grazed against my left arm, my skin, let alone the armor was cut open and blood started to pour out instantly. The injury also left some strange burning kind of feeling that augmented the pain. I yelled out as I grabbed the wound with my right hand.

“I thought that thing was dead!” I yelled. The black substance faded like a mist and the Controller slowly walked out. The head was still on top of its neck but it was coughing out green Hunter blood. The Controller ran towards us in a sudden. I tried to forget about my injury and held my sword with the right hand. “It doesn’t look it’ll last long, we need to finish this quickly.”

“What do you want?” she asked me, concentrating on the Controller charging like a mad bull.

“Cover me… I’ll end this for good,” I said. I moaned in pain and wiped the blood with my armor. Michelle leaped in first against the charging Hunter.

The two collided. The impact let out a strong wind around them. I timed myself and ran in from the side. Michelle was losing the confrontation so I strived to speed up even if it was bound to aggravate the wound. I jumped up from the Controller’s right side. It saw me leaping and quickly struck Michelle with its pole.

“Michelle!” I cried out. I struck down with both hands on the grip. I drew out every last bit of my ability and fortified it on this final blow I planned to make. The Hunter stabbed its pole against me in the air.

Everything was like in slow mode. The terrifying pole was on its way right through my head. I steadily, took a deep breath and focused on the Controller, not the pole. The hands holding the sword lowered down to bring the strike. The pole moved. It lay sideways to block my strike. I did not hesitate – the ultimate swing of my sword dissected through the pole in half and continued its way in full force.

The Controller was cut in half with the dangling head finally cut off as it crashed onto the ground.

“Controller is down. I repeat Controller is down,” I said through the transmitter. I clutched on my wound which hurt more than ever. The burning feeling was getting worse as well.

I looked around. The Hunters were noticeably baffled and confused. Now they’ve lost all the leaders with authority to command the swarm. The other Crusaders were finishing off those fleeing from the camp in ruins. Scarlet was the first to come for me – I had to smile for that.

“You did it!” she shouted hugging me. “Where’s Michelle?”

“Wait… what?” I demanded. I staggered across the area. I remembered Michelle being struck by the Controller just before it died. When I found her, she was on the ground unmoving. “No, no, no…”

Scarlet pulled her up. Her head was wet with blood and her eyes were closed. Just that second, the worst scenario flashed through my mind. I shook her in the slightest hope.

“No, no, no… this is not happening,” I muttered. Scarlet touched her neck and put her ears on her nose. I looked at her desperately.

“She’s alive,” said Scarlet. “Medic! We need a medic!”

I wanted to stay until the medic finished his work. I should have stayed – until she woke up…

But I was too exhausted. The pain on my left arm felt worse than ever. I collapsed onto the grass.

The camp was already cleared out with only a few dying Hunters. The whole place smelled horrible with all kinds of blood and dead bodies. Han came towards me with the same distasteful face of his.

“Shouldn’t you need a medic as well?” he asked as he kneeled beside me.

“She needs more than me,” I said. Still, I couldn’t help groaning in pain.

“You’ve done well,” said Han. He stood up and walked away.

I could have cut his head; or pierce my sword through his heart.

But I couldn’t.

Word is Leon Veridi just killed the Controller,” said an assistant.

“So now he’s killed several commanding units, one Controller, and another hundred or more basic units,” said the doctor. He flipped through the pages. “How impressive…”

“But... killing the Controller destroys the system but not the vicious nature of the Hunters,” said the doctor wryly. He threw the report pages in anger. “I need more time. Tell them to continue fighting until the lair is completely destroyed. And at the end, I want the lair to be burned into ashes.”

“Yes doctor,” said the assistant. He hesitated to leave. The doctor gave an irritating glance. “Um… about the Raven Project… we still lack the experiment needed for the final validation…”

“You can leave,” roared Dr. Greg. The assistant bowed and hurried out of the room. He looked at the digital map of the area where the battle was taking place. He laughed cynically. “Leon Veridi… you seem to frustrate me from the day you were made.”

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