2 years after Earth Day
This was paradise. The magnificent trees stood tall and proud waving their green leaves and removing all worries in my mind. Grass beneath was a wide field of nature-green; just like the blue ocean. Whenever I take a deep breath, I feel that I am actually living, breathing and feeling. It was Sunday morning as well. Birds flew on top, gliding with the gleaming sunlight scarfing down the leaves. When the comforting warmth from it reaches my skin, I, again feel that I am alive.
Yes, this was a paradise. It was. Really, I mean it, it’s very true. A bloody, shitty paradise called Earth – and a hell of a great place to call home.
“Leon get yourself straightened up, we’re entering hostile area,” said Michelle. She used to be a professor. After my parents died during the so called ‘war’ over the past two years, Michelle, my former teacher, was the closest person I’ve got. She fed me, taught me, and kept me in shape. So far, she was doing a great job.
“Is there anywhere non-hostile except the Sectors?” I complained. The Crusaders, the military group I was in, slowly arranged themselves. Most of them already clutched the hilt of their swords. Even Michelle, who was most of the times calm and rational, looked nervous. “Relax, Miss Professor, it’s a simple rescue mission. How bad can it be?”
“Please don’t say that. Every time you say something negative, it tends to happen,” she frowned at me, looking around anxiously. Michelle and I were on the vanguard of the group. Only 50 Crusaders were deployed for the rescue and we were the only Crusaders for Sector 3 with a population of nearly 1500 people, including normal soldiers. Oh yes, we were special. We used swords like those knights way back in the 10th century or so. Michelle told me that the word ‘Crusader’ was also from that period. But you know what, I never gave a damn about it.
“Hey! I see them!” one of the Crusaders shouted. Eyes fixed towards where the man was pointing at. I followed his finger and, in the middle of the thick forest, there was a destroyed assault helicopter. Some debris on the grass was still slightly on fire and the rest dangled along the tree vines.
“He..lp… He...lp me,” pleaded a man, who was on the grass between the devastated metal craps. He desperately tried to crawl out. Michelle was the first to approach him, along with a few medics. They pulled him out and found that he was, obviously, badly wounded. A metal scrap broke both of his leg, there was a huge scar along his right arm and his head was bleeding dangerously. The thing was, he was still bleeding and a trail of blood... Wait still bleeding?
“Shit, they’re still here,” I alarmed everyone and unsheathed my sword from my side. It made a crystal-clear cling. Several others noticed what I had sensed and followed me by readying themselves. Other poor fellows stood dumbfounded for a few seconds. A few seconds? It may be a small time, normally, but in jobs like this, it’s the few seconds that makes the difference between life and death. Michelle and the medics were busy giving first aid to the dying pilot. I slowly walked towards them to protect when they were vulnerable looking after the man. The long grass tickled my ankle as I slid across the grass. They weren’t showing themselves, but I knew. They were there lurking in the dark of the woods, watching…watching until we show a weak point.
Chaos occurred in a matter of seconds. It started with this poor Crusader guy getting her head and heart penetrated by Hunter spikes. Then, two others were sliced down like a chuck of cheese against a cutting knife. My head was spinning around to see where the attack was coming from and my legs charged straight for Michelle and the medics.
“Hunters!” cried a Crusader. I circled around. But they were nowhere to be seen, not yet. I gripped my sword with two hands and stood in front of Michelle still hunched over the wounded man. I turned my head backwards to see whether they were done.
“You are taking forever!” I shouted at the medics that were about to drag more people to death. Then it appeared in front of me.
A black creature about 1.5 times of normal human height. It was fast. Way faster than normal humans. In that few seconds when the creature was just facing me, its red eyes seemed to penetrate through mine, as if spying on what I was thinking. Its mouth moved frantically with acidic saliva dropping down on the grass from the protruded fangs. The creature was walking on two feet, like us. But the force it can create made drastic difference from ours. Not just the leg, but the sheer force emitted is enough to overwhelm humans with their small, fragile body. And of course, the Hunter’s most noticeable feature was its pair of razor-sharp blades most likely grown from their arms as a part of the body. What was ironic though, was that despite their deadly presence, the Hunters are one of the most common creatures that lived on Earth currently. If there were others, well, we never met them so far.
I ducked, anticipating it to attack first. Their devilishly fast swing cut through the air. The Hunters were fearsome creatures. But for me, normal Hunters were not that much of a problem, save that they mostly attack in groups. After evading once and before the other arm reaches out for me, I brandished my sword against it. Targeting the weakest point of the Hunter, their abdomen, I charged inward at a very close distance with it. The moment I stopped and made my swing, I was too close to it that the Hunter could not react with its arm-blade effectively. Giving a crushing blow from high up, a disgusting green liquid exploded out killing the Hunter instantly.
“We need to get out of the woods. Now,” I said to Michelle. She finally concurred and told the medics to carry the man. The professor herself ran to the director of our group. Director Han seemed to agree with his head nodding.
“Get back to base! Let’s get the hell out of this hellhole!” he yelled out loud. Hopefully, everyone heard it and they started running away with dozens of Hunters on our tail. I started to run with them the last, with Michelle just in front of me. While madly fleeing down the forest, I saw the black shadows all around us: right, left and behind. It was obvious, that continuing like this would end up in a massacre.
“We’re getting caught up!” Michelle yelled back. I looked back. They were certainly closer. I looked sideways. They were closing in. I wanted to fight. Kill these entire murderous beasts down to the last one. But inside a thick forest, even I was not sure I could fight my best. So I hurried on, hoping for an open field.
“We’re almost there!” shouted the director somewhere in front. Then I felt a deadly chill from my back. I swirled around. A black blade was on top of me, just in time to block it. With enormous strength, I kicked the arm of the creature and swiped a clean blow to it. Its stomach disconnected and I turned back to catch up with others.
By now, there were the spikes flying from the sides, killing off Crusaders one by one. But no one slowed down to care the fallen. They just ran on, praying that they won’t be the next target of the spikes. I heard whizzing and zooming of the spikes around me. Inside the thick woods, the sounds seemed louder and clearer. And they seemed to become more frequent as the Crusaders ran out from the woods. And finally, after a nightmarish run out of the forest, we saw the huge metallic barricade of Sector 3.
I stepped on the soft grass of the wide plain field in front of the Sector. I rotated my position, facing the enemies and backing the Sector.
“Leon, what are you doing? We need to get inside!” shouted Michelle who noticed I wasn’t following anymore.
“I’m going to fight. The spikes are going to hunt us down,” I said determined. She must have been worried because she ran away from the running Crusaders.
“Leon, we have orders to –“
“Here comes,” I interrupted and I smirked to her. “I’m glad you’re watching my back.”
Around two dozens of Hunters raced out of the woods. The two that engaged with me whirled their arms around to shred my body into pieces. I blocked it with my sword and counter attacked without hesitation. I jumped sideways, between the two arms of one Hunter, cut opened one Hunter’s chest. Kicking off the dead one, I spun around to meet the second. Its blade caught with mine. Its legs went up to fail my defense. I gave up my block and took a step backwards to avoid it. The Hunter took advantage of that moment and lunged itself toward me, with its both arms targeting me. The move was inappropriate; too much movement and too much time to attack. I rolled forwards, opposite direction from where the Hunter was leaping at. I raised my sword sticky with Hunter blood and slashed at its back, slicing the back shell defending and wounding it badly. The sword then went straight into the Hunter’s back, perfectly penetrating its back.
Suddenly, I noticed a movement from behind. A Hunter was swirling its blade against me. It was too late to avoid. I ducked low and hoped for it to knock off my sword. Just the moment I was preparing for an impact, a scream managed me to look up. It was the professor with her sword. She cut through the Hunter’s body beautifully.
“Gods… Leon you are a stubborn head," muttered with a sigh. She looked around and saw the same thing I saw: a group of Hunters surrounding us. Though a small group, the strength was way beyond most of normal soldier battalions; since each one is deadly enough to kill dozens of people. “Look what you’ve got me into.”
“I knew you would like it,” I said ignoring her complaint. “And, the Commander in Sector 3 should be sensible enough to send some backups.”
“I doubt it,” she replied. The Hunters’ red eyes gleamed like some devil straight out from the hell itself. Some of the Hunters had red human blood on their blades and they looked willing to drink some more. “What’s the plan?”
“Attack,” I replied simply. I leaped up to one of the Hunters, bringing down tremendous force on it through my sword. It crushed the Hunter’s armor and instantly killed it. The rest of the Hunters immediately reacted with my movement. They rushed against the two of us and divided us so that we won’t combine our forces. Hunters had a normal brain; and thank gods for two years the Sectors managed to figure it out so it was not really different from fighting some monstrous creature with a human brain. They isolated the two and attacked us individually.
I just figured out my plan didn’t go well so I pushed myself towards the direction Michelle might be in. I hurled myself like some hurricane and swiped across Hunters’ stomach, drawing a clean, magnificent crescent that killed some Hunters all at once. One of them blocked my blow and slammed me with its body. I was bounced off and landed on the group. I tripped the nearest Hunter with my legs and stood up to finish it. My sword danced around frantically here and there. Some of the Hunters made use of the advantage of numbers and injured, thankfully, my left arm quite badly. When I just had time to take a breath, with several more Hunters blocking my way, there were scars and bruises all over my body, red with blood.
Then a feminine scream of a human caught my attention.
She’s in trouble.
I pushed myself to the limit. My left arm’s wound poured out more blood – I ignored. She was in danger and saving her was the thing I was going to do.
“Goddamn Hunters,” I cursed. I always wondered whether Hunters knew our language. “Bloodsucking bastards.”
As if my prediction was correct, they enclosed my position, surrounding me once more. This time, though, I didn’t have to kill them one by one. Suppressing the pain from my left arm, I grabbed my sword with two hands very firmly. I spun it around like a tornado. A silver aura-like shadow followed the sword that drew a perfect circle, killing all the nearby Hunters.
Other Hunters saw me making a killing spree. They gathered up and charged at me with incredible speed. Leaving my sword on my right hand, I punched the closest Hunter charging and smashed its skull, striking it down on the ground. My fist hurt like hell as if I just punched a piece of metal but I had no time to think about it. I turned around and slammed on Hunter with my body and sent myself flying off a few meters away, grounding the Hunter down in the grass. I crushed its head with my leg, pounding it down on it. Then I saw Michelle barely holding off with a sword in one and the other, holding off an injury from over-bleeding. I ran towards the two Hunters causing her a threat. Piercing one’s heart my stabbing from the back, there was only three Hunters left. She helped me fight off since both of us were hurt. I blocked off one’s blade with ease and Michelle finished it off by decapitating. The rest two ran away, knowing their defeat.
Michelle collapsed on the ground, still holding onto her injury, but throwing her sword away. I blindly stood in the middle of the dead Hunters. Everyone in the Sector would say I’ve done something that was impossible for any Crusader: to block off so much Hunters on my own. But somehow, a look of disdain overwhelmed any sense of pride.
“Did you use 'it'?” she asked looking up.
“…Yes I did,” I replied reluctantly. In the distance, I saw two convoys driving its way towards us. So much for the backup.
“You’re bleeding badly. Scarlet’s going to kill me for letting you get hurt,” she said with a faint smile.
“…” I stayed silent until the convoy arrived and took us into the settlement.
Sector 3 was a settlement established by the population of the 3rd Ark. So far, all five Sectors remained somewhat intact. With their very own group of soldiers, citizens, and Crusaders, they kept their independence from other Sectors and the Hunters. Though I have no idea why they would want to keep independence from other Sectors, Sector 3 was not the worst place to live.
When Michelle and I were sent to the military hospital inside the main headquarter of Sector 3, Scarlet was the first person to come to us.
“Thank the gods you’re okay. I thought you were almost dying and –“ she stopped herself and ran towards me. “I was worried!"
“Of course you were,” I murmured. She was a nice girl and I didn’t dislike her, but sometimes she could be too much caring, I should say.
“The patients need their rest. Please wait outside,” said the doctor pushing Scarlet away from my bed. She resisted the doctor and frowned uncomfortably.
“You can go. I’ll be fine,” I said. She relaxed and walked outside with the doctor. When I glanced at Michelle she was on the verge of exploding with laughter. “Please don’t.”
“No, no. It’s not what I mean…” she said but soon laughed out loud with her hands covering her mouth. I stared at her indifferently and embarrassed. When she finally calmed down, she wiped her tears from her eyes. “I envy you Leon. You’re what, 23? 24? And there’s a beautiful woman who is devoted to you.”
“You know how disturbing that sounds – I mean how you say it?” I complained childishly. “Seriously. It’s not that I don't like her but -“
“No, I’m serious,” she said suddenly. “I really do envy you; just because there’s a person who truly loves you.”
That took me aback. She wasn’t always so serious about Scarlet.
“You know both of our family died during the first year of the ‘war’ with these repulsive creatures,” she said. “You know that you and I both signed up for the Crusaders at the same time. After that, you know that we’ve been fighting these monsters by killing them with our very own hands.”
“Hey, don’t get so serious about these stuffs…” I managed to say. “You’re supposed to give me happiness and ‘mental’ protection, not painful lectures. Isn’t that why my parents left you to take care of me?”
“You don’t understand yet…
Remember my history lecture whey you were young?” she explained. I had no idea
what she was trying to say. All of the sudden she was talking serious about how
it’s precious to have a ‘lover’. Now she was asking me about some history
lecture in the past. “The time I told you about the Crusaders in the
Middle-Ages? And about who these Crusaders were?”
“Yeah. You said they were pilgrims, people seeking fortune, fanatics and whatever,” I said, losing my interest. I lied on my bed, comforting myself in the best position.
“Well I haven’t told you the definition of Crusaders then… Crusaders are people who strongly believe in what they do, and that it is the right thing,” she said looking at the ceiling. Michelle lowered her head towards me. “Do you believe in yourself? And Scarlet and even me?”
“Of course I do. I wouldn’t be doing this shit if I wasn’t,” I blurted out.
“Exactly. But I guarantee you… one day, those you believe in will disappear one by one. And this world will test your belief and behavior,” she said. “At that point, you’ll realize that even the least admirable people can keep you running and fighting.”