September 20th, 7:29 a.m. It was the time everyone agreed upon under a single purpose.
“Right,” I said crouching down behind the tall grass. “Let’s do this.”
Twenty Crusaders moved quickly. I had Scarlet land somewhere safe and man the radar for real time regional information.
“Hunters 1 and 11 o’ clock, both a half a click from your location,” Scarlet said through the transmitter.
“Everyone heard her?” I ordered. “Take them out.”
Mia led her squad to the left and Numen to the right. I led the rest through the middle. I stopped until I was 500m forward from previous location and waited for the others to catch up. A few seconds later, I heard slight sounds of slashing. Then, only the wind blew throughout the Hunter lair.
“Lair is about two clicks from you guys. Nothing yet is detected, but I think it’s best to stay on guard,” warned Scarlet. “I don’t see any commanding units either.
The field was deadly quiet. The stillness was so silent that ironically, made the entire area even tenser. The warm breeze of early autumn brushed my face. What was in front of me was a series of waves; waves of a green ocean. It was beautifully calm if it wasn’t for the location. Calmness. Silence. Stillness here, was only foreshadowing dread.
I clicked my transmitter. This wasn’t going anywhere.
“On my count, everyone runs to the lair and regroup in front of the entrance,” I said.
“They could be ambushing.”
“I agree, they could be just waiting us and we might be running into a trap.”
“Scarlet, anything?” I asked her ignoring their warnings.
“No. Not yet, but –“
“I said this lair had a total of about 120 to 140 Hunters,” I said. Then I took a deep breath. “Mia and Numen take out the commanding units. Your group will support each of your fight. I will kill the Controller.”
“So that’s the plan…?” I heard Numen sighing.
“We are going to crush them with sheer force.”
Still nothing moved in the bushes or the grass. I could see the lair high up from where I was. It almost looked empty with zero activity in the vicinity of it. I slowly drew my sword and had others unsheathe theirs as well.
I stood up with the rest of my group. Mia’s and Numen’s squad also came into sight. The twenty of us started to run, charge toward the one point I commanded.
“I see them now,” Scarlet said. Her voice was slightly shaking. “They’re surrounding you, Leon! You need to –“
“I see them,” I said, looking around it seemed like every single tree came to life with activity all over the place. I looked back. “Try to keep up. It’s going to be a full sprint to the rally point.”
I used my ability, making a blinding dash through the field of grass. I glanced back and noticed they were following all right. Mia and Numen’s company seemed to realize what was going on around us and sped up.
By the time we all came together, black creatures were already closing on us. We stood in circles, backing each other and readied.
“Do you see any purple things?” I asked Scarlet.
“Then we have nothing to worry about,” I said looking back. “Stick together; don’t die because it will be a shame if one of the best twenty Crusaders died fighting a basic unit.”
The green ocean was replaced by waves of black, disgusting and distasteful organism that walked the Earth. They marched steadily, in line like some Nazi soldiers in the movies. Some of them growled, howled and some of them boasted their blades. Few months ago, I was actually afraid; afraid they might kill me. Their size was monstrous compared to humans. Their strength was incomparably strong and fast. Now, however, they were nothing. Fear disappeared after surviving through the Chimera and the first Controller. Those ebony creatures were, to me, nothing more than an over-sized ant.
We dashed in full charge. The Hunters rushed in at the same time. And the two forces collided.
They died like rotten leaves on the ground in late fall. Sounds of wail and screams of pain were rife in the battlefield but none were those of human. I guessed the capability of the commanding unit or the Controller decides the strength of basic units as well. I had to say; they were much weaker than those at the Hornet’s Nest.
I slashed this way and that way. Every stroke meant the death of several Hunters in my way. I didn’t bother to activate my ability and when I looked at the other fighting, they didn’t look so much tensed. Honestly, I was ready to kill them all if the ‘best 20’ couldn’t do their job well. But I saw how they fought that day – they weren’t just ordinary Crusaders that survived the Hornet’s Nest by chance. They were, at least, some of the best I’ve seen so far besides Michelle.
Probably about thirty of them died. I noticed a few of us starting to get tired. I looked back at the entrance that wasn’t even a click from where we were.
“Scarlet change of plan: I want an eye in the sky,” I said. Then I told the others. “Let’s get inside. We need to call the commanders of this place before burning it hell.”
The Hunters had brains – that, I was certain after the short battle fought for like only an hour. The remaining basic units looked reluctant. When we moved forward toward them, they tended to hesitate before reacting. Just before I entered their lair, I heard the helicopter rising from the forest. It showered out missiles that killed another handful of Hunters in the field. And before anyone could realize, the Hunters followed us in. Whether it was due to panic or fear that their lair will be taken I didn’t know, but whatever their intention was, my plan worked.
“You and the Hunters will be out of radar if you go in further,” said Scarlet. “Are you sure about this? It seems rash.”
“They fight better than I thought. And the Controller has to be here. When everything is done and you see all twenty of them exiting the lair,” I paused. “I want you to fire every HFE you have at the lair.”
“Roger that,” she said. “Good luck.”
When the numerous Hunters attacked our camp during the last bit of Operation Hornet’s Nest, mayhem was one word that could describe the whole situation. Now, we recreated that mayhem in their ‘camp’ just with twenty Crusaders.
We were just inside the lair. The surrounding instantly darkened but visibility wasn’t zeroed. I ordered everyone to hold their ground in a relatively narrow corridor and we maintained the fight.
Swords flashed and butchered anything that moved and not human. Many Hunters had already died but there were quite enough to wear the other out. Mia, Numen or the other elite Crusaders might hold on for an entire day if they had to but I knew some didn’t just have that much stamina. With so few of us compared to them, every one Crusader was vital and affected greatly on the company’s capability. I wasn’t sure if it was intended, but the commanding unit didn’t show up even until then.
“Leon! Yura’s wounded!”
I looked back. What I have worried just became reality. I had her move to the center of our circle to avoid any more severe injuries. Perhaps another half an hour passed until Davis had his left leg punctured and Desmond losing his sword from harsh impact.
“Where are the purple Hunters!” exclaimed Numen. I pursed my lips as I crushed down two Hunters in front of me. The battle was growing longer than I had thought. Now, I couldn’t afford saving my ability for the near future. With full thrust, I lashed into the bunch of Hunters and brandished my sword in deadly swiftness. Silver curves and lines chopped through Hunter skin like knife cutting cheese. Almost a dozen Hunter laid dead when I my blade came to a halt.
“This isn’t going anywhere,” I murmured in annoyance. I signaled everyone to follow. “We are going for the lair’s core. Mia, Numen, Tyson and Kale; take the rear, but don’t fall back because I will go fast. Everyone else, just keep up with me and kill anything on your way.”
I dashed deeper into the lair. Everyone else followed. Like last time I entered the lair, Hunters jumped out from all direction. A Hunter’s lair had countless tunnels and passageways; they appeared from every one of them. Fortunately, their number was hopelessly limited and basic units were nothing when small in size. Running and fighting. Running and fighting… it continued for another hour or so.
“There!” I finally shouted to the others. I pointed at the light at the end of the passageway. Lair’s center had no roof and I knew the sun will illuminate the area much brighter than the other parts of the structure. I took one last glance behind to make sure everyone was following. The four in the rear were doing well. The others were perfectly obeying orders.
I leaped forward, faster than anyone else. I took out two Hunters guarding the center and embraced myself into the light –
Something nearly made my heart stop.
I found myself ducking and behind me was a spear-looking weapon, drilled into the lair’s wall that was less than inch above me. When I looked up, I saw three Hunters. Two were purple. One was crimson. I barely managed to evade that thing but –
I saw my team coming in one by one.
“Duck!” I yelled desperately. Most of them were fast enough to avoid them. The javelins were unimaginably fast. And one of them… failed to dodge it.
“Helena!” The throw was so destructive that the spear made a disastrous hole in the fragility of human body.
“You can mourn for her later!” I shouted. The three of them were done throwing. Shit… I didn’t expect the three of them fighting all at once… “Take out the purple ones! I’ll handle the Controller!”
They weren’t as fast as the flying spears. When the two purple Hunters engaged with the rest of my team, I intercepted the Controller from joining them by charging from the side. I slammed its body hard, pushing it against the hardness of the wall.
Its fearful yellow eyes glared and unleashed its weapon. It was a shape of a black spear, like the one it threw, but longer and thicker. The Hunter swung it sideways with rapid motion. I ducked down and charged in again. The Controller kicked my shoulder and I was bounced off.
It came at me, this time, while I was on the ground. Swiftly, I drew my second sword from my right and tried to block the enormous spear trying to dissect me. I successfully blocked it and the two weapons collided. I lifted Prima and was about to strike it down. Now!
The Hunter pushed its spear harder – that was unexpected because normally anyone or anything will back off. What came after that was even more shocking: some smoke came out from the impact point of my second sword and the spear quickly began to dive through the blade itself.
“What the… shit!” I cursed.
Hot, liquefied steel dropped on my skin and I cried out in pain. I gave up counter attacking and slid my way out, standing up behind the Hunter. I rechecked my second sword. The blade was nearly useless with half of it eroded. I wiped out the steel droplet and concentrated on the fight.
The spear was fast, but
it wasn’t quick enough. I bounced against a wall and attacked from above. I
hurled myself and thrashed its armor. The Hunter had avoided getting its head
smashed but the armor on its left shoulder was destroyed. Without giving any
moment, I leaped at it again. I drew a circle of silver light and it backed
stepped just in time. Black spear counter attacked. Instead of trying to block
it, I rolled sideways, throwing my second sword like a javelin to act like a distraction.
It dodged it easily by stepping aside.
Using my ability, I gave an immense thrust on my body and nearly flied toward it. I lifted Prima high up and slashed downward. The Controller tried to block it with its spear, but the strength I empowered in this strike wasn’t something a single unit could bear. The spear broke in half. The Controller staggered and backed against the wall, like it was waiting for its death. Gladly, I was about the make a final blow –
“Leon! Back!” Mia’s voice boomed from behind. I looked back and saw two purple Hunters coming straight at me. Their charge was too obvious and vulnerable for a counter strike. Instead of killing the disarmed Controller, I decided to kill the two at once, first.
They threw like four more javelins at me as they charged further in. Their accuracy was terrible and it just whizzed pass me. I made a perfect silver crescent and the two purple Hunters were dismantled into two with ease.
Suddenly, Numen and Mia came running toward my direction with their swords ready. Puzzled, I looked back and noticed the Controller was gone. At the spot where it should be, was a hole large enough for a Hunter to escape. And just outlining the hole, were the four javelins. I immediately clicked my transmitter on.
“Scarlet! Scarlet!” I shouted as I had everyone get outside through the hole.
“Leon?” the transmission was online. “Is that you? Coming out from that hole?”
“Yeah, it’s me. You noticed a Hunter running out from it?” I asked. When I dashed out, I looked around to see where it went. “The Controller just escaped!”
“I see it in my radar but it’s already getting far very fast,” she said. “It’s going through the forest. 9 o’ clock from your location.”
The Controller was alive, meaning Hunters were still in control. The remaining basic units swarmed out of the lair and just blocked the direction where Scarlet said it fled to. Even though they’ll be dead in seconds, I knew that window will make the Controller’s escape more possible. I gritted my teeth. The others were all out of the lair and were just as distressed as I was.
“Where did it go again?” I asked Scarlet.
“9 o’ clock. All the way North to me exact,” she said. Then she sighed. “It just ran off my radar…”
“Burn this thing to hell,” I told her.
I snatched my transmitter and smashed it on the ground in distressful fury. Gritting my teeth, I looked at the stationary barricade of Hunters and charged toward them. Their number probably didn’t even reach 50. I bombarded them with insanely destructive force as series of enormous strokes in silver light crushed their life force into nothing.
“GODDAMIT!” I shouted to the sky. It was a mistake. A terribly, foolish mistake.
Then suddenly I felt very strange.
I felt like something was coming up from my throat – I felt like throwing up with my stomach rumbling very badly. I coughed and collapsed to my knee. I heard the others running for me. Everything suddenly looked very vague and blurry. I gasped for fresh air as Numen and Kale helped me up. The symptom was so intense I didn’t feel the great heat from the HFE missiles that was burning the lair into ashes.
“Leon! Leon! What’s happening?” Kale grabbed me before I fell down again and settled me down on the ground.
Vision started to recover and my mind was becoming clear again. My breath became steady and I was back to normal as if nothing ever happened. What…
I stood up. I staggered a little bit but whatever that was, I had recovered to normal.
“I’m fine…” I said. North… The lake was east from here… then, it’s safe for now… “We can’t catch it. Let’s go back. I need some rest.”
“Director Han, the scout team is very late. I heard they took off at daybreak. It’s almost noon,” said the secretary. Han wasn’t feeling so good these days, both figuratively and literally. He felt everything so bothersome. “The president asks where they went.”
“Leon said they went to scout; that’s what a scout team is for. If they did something else there, well, that’s none of my business,” Han said. The secretary looked unimpressed. She demanded for more. “I said that’s all I know.”
Then Han heard a slight noise from the airfield outside. I looked at the window and saw Scarlet’s helicopter just landing.
“There you go,” Han pointed through the window. “Ask him where he was.”
The secretary left the room in haste like she was some reporter running to the scene before anyone else. When Han was certain she left the building, he opened up a real-time map of where Leon’s team was supposed to ‘scout’.
“…” Han was surprised. But something told him he expected it sooner or later. “What the hell are you thinking Leon…?”
“Mr. Veridi?” some woman came straight at me as I stepped out of the helicopter. She looked urgent.
“Who the hell are you?” I said coldly.
“I’m President Hamel’s –“
“Then I have no business with you,” I snapped. The others ignored her just the same. “It’s all for today. Have some rest; we all had a rough day. As a reward, I’ll give you guys a day off tomorrow.”
“Wait that is not for you to –“
“I already said you have no business here, ma’am,” I said sternly. I turned back without even seeing her reaction. Partly because she was with the president; partly because I had much urgent matter to do.
“Leon? Aren’t you going home?” Scarlet asked when she noticed I was going to the wrong direction. I smiled comfortingly.
“I just have to put my things back and… yeah I’ll be going home right after that,” I said. She nodded unnaturally and gave me this strange expression that just somehow made people guilty. Then she was on her way. “I promise.”
I returned to the command center to return my armor. I had forgotten to recover the leftover of my second sword. What should I call it – destroyed? Melted? Anyhow, it was the oddest and the most shocking thing I saw. Those swords were never meant to break in the first place; they were made to embody the unlimited energy of a Crusader. But that spear dived through it too easily. It seemed like every Controller had some kind of special ability. The Hornet’s Nest Controller had some poison on its weapon too.
I coughed harshly. It was that symptom again. It wasn’t as intense but it was enough to notice me that something was wrong with my body. Michelle might have known what I was going through. But she wasn’t here, she wasn’t alive. The one other person that was with me throughout my life…
I arrived at the main Crusader command center. As always the main director was in front of his computer, staring at it absentmindedly. Now, he didn’t even notice me until I reached his desk.
He almost jumped in astonishment. When Han saw me, he leaned back on his chair. Then he smirked as he turned his monitor towards me and showed me a picture of HCZ-2 in ashes.
“You burned it perfectly,” he said almost sounding impressed.
“Wait how did you get that?” I stuttered.
“It’s confidential but I’ll tell you anyway because I never knew you would actually do it,” said Han. “It’s an image from an old surviving satellite; the only one out of hundreds that works.”
“I thought you would be mad,” I shrugged.
“Did anyone die?”
“Only a few light wounds.”
“Then I have no reason to be,” he turned his chair and his monitor back to normal. “So, why are you here? It seems like every time you visit me, I have to ask you the same question.”
“…” I said nothing at first. Was it pride? Was it just embarrassing that the best Crusader in history was ill? Well, maybe it was something quite related to that, because… I was the best. “What’s happening to my body, Han?”
His eyes flared and instantly looked into my eyes.
“Just after I used my ability at the last bit of the fight, I… I felt like throwing up and coughed –“
“Blood?” he asked. I said no. He looked a little relaxed but his smirk and smile all died out.
“What the hell is happening to me?” I demanded.
“...” he didn’t speak for a second. Han’s eyes moved around: first he looked down, then at his monitor, and then back to the floor. “You’re fine.”
“You’re lying,” I said cynically. “You have that look.”
“Fine, I was lying when I said you’re fine. But it’s nothing you have to worry about. That ability, it’s something beyond mankind’s ability. So, you’re human body had just… gone a little beyond the line and all,” Han explained. He recovered his normal expression. “All you need is some rest. After a few days of rest, you can use that silver thing of yours and you’ll be fine.”
I didn’t believe him. But I wanted to. It wasn’t the first time I used that much energy all at once. That time, I was fine. Han’s words were tantalizing; something I wanted to trust. But I knew my body well. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew something was not right. With so much doubt crossing each other, I left the room and headed home. I need some rest anyway.
Han watched as Leon exit with suspicion. He had to be; he knew his body better than anyone else.
The breakdown is happening too fast. What is going on with him these days?
Han knew, by decreasing the frequency of using his ability, it can noticeably slow the effect but in the end, Leon was going to be broken.
It was too early to reveal everything to Leon. He wasn’t ready and he wished he never will be. With Michelle’s death and all, he could perhaps go insane. But without telling him everything, Han knew… he couldn’t warn him everything.
He only hoped for more time.