2 days passed. I had postponed the scout mission for another week. But the others knew what to do. I knew what do to.
“Is this it?”
Albrino nodded. He handed me three packs.
“I wonder what the greatest Crusader of history would do with that,” he said. I looked at the three packs of explosives in my hand. They looked like a small circular object – almost like a ball only a little elliptical. I shoved it inside my pocket. “If you’re going to kill Hunters with that or destroy some lair, I believe this is not the best weapon.”
“A drill-bomb,” I said. “How much thick can it penetrate?”
“With all three of them? With the right angle, it can break through more than ten meters of concrete,” said Albrino.
“Well, I believe it is the best weapon for my cause,” I said. I turned back and was about to leave the place. “Thanks, old man.”
“You must have read the inscriptions on your blade,” said the blacksmith. I halted and unsheathed my sword. The inscriptions were vividly carved in.
“I don’t read Latin,” I said simply. “I believe you do.”
“Do you know what it means?”
“No,” I said. I placed the blade back where it belongs. “And I don’t need to. If the time comes when I have to, I’ll figure it out myself.”
The weather was strange these days; it rained very frequently. I opened my umbrella and began to walk through the wet, muddy street. It was afternoon but with the rain showering down, there weren’t many people in the streets. Two days passed. The authority must know I had violated the rules of scouting and implemented an unauthorized mission, again. They’d probably be debating what to do about me by now. The government just had to be rife with idiots; a president that is so easily swayed by a scientist, who in turn supposedly thinks he rules the world or something; a main director that is destroyed by mere words and the other directors that follow his example; they were the ones who ran the Dominion. I looked up at the grayness of the sky. Just wait… just wait a little more. Then I’ll be off this wretched situation.
“Only a crippled director will let his men do what he likes to do,” said Vincent Greg. “I believe, Director Han, you are the crippled director. You just let Leon run around doing what he wants. Both cases where Leon enforced an unauthorized mission, it has been a crisis of humanity. You should be aware that his scout team is formed with twenty of the best Crusaders.”
“Yes I am,” was all Han said. “Can I go now? I am totally uninformed for I am currently being interrogated by a scientist for chrissake.”
“The Raven Project cannot completely replace the Crusaders for now!” the doctor was furious.
“Well in that case, I don’t give a shit,” said Han. “Why don’t you just go into your lab and hasten the experiment and let some other person interrogate me. I’m sure there are lots of places where you are needed.”
“Leon’s behavior and his attitude towards the Dominion is increasingly disturbing and –“
“You talk about the benefit of humanity and I will smash that old face of yours once again,” said Han. He shook his hands that were cuffed to the desk and turned his head towards the window where the others should be watching. “You know what; this is a complete waste of time. How the hell can I track down every single action Leon does? Damn, he is stronger than me! I have no idea why you don’t have him cuffed?”
Vincent Greg looked at the window and shook his head.
“Han McCline, main director of the Crusader, you are guilty of not managing your men,” announced Dr. Greg. “Normally, you’ll be imprisoned for the rest of your lives for military codes are quite strict in cases like this. But due to your leadership of leading the Operation of Hornet’s Nest and considering all the contribution you have done to the Dominion, you’re punishment will be lightened to being relieved from your position.”
“…!” Han was so shocked by what he just heard he could even respond. Then he was dragged out by some men outside of the building. They didn’t even give him his umbrella back.
“Shit…” Han gave a cynical laugh. “Leon, you goddam juvenile, look what you’ve got me into.”
From a distance, he said Lamy running towards him. She was holding two umbrellas.
“What happened?” she asked worriedly.
“I was relieved,” said Han, lighting up a cigarette as he took the umbrella. “I still don’t understand why the hell I was here in the first place.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong!” she cried in irritation. “It’s that Dr. Greg again isn’t it?”
“…” Han breathed in and let out gray smoke that was greyer than the sky. “Right you are.”
“What was the name of the crime?”
“Failure to babysit my men,” said Han. He walked with her towards his house.
Was Vincent so extreme like that? To relive my position so rashly?
There were many things Han didn’t know. He didn’t know what Leon was doing. He didn’t know what the president was doing. Hell, he didn’t know what he was doing. But one thing was certain. He never saw that scientist in such hurry for he was always devilishly calm. I guess for once, in his life he met a wall.
Dr. Greg was back in his office looking out the window in frustration. The current of time was speeding quickly than he had thought. Original plan was to construct a stable groundwork to topple the Dominion so he could rule behind Jerrod. However, Leon’s sudden achievement was like tipping off a snowball on the tip of a mountain. In no time, he knew Leon’s influence will grow at unstoppable speed and he might have to wait another decade or so to exceed it. Vincent Greg was not going to see that happen.
Jerrod will announce the outcome of the mission. People will praise him as the greatest hero that might even free this land from the Hunters. That was something Vincent couldn’t do anything about it. The problem was what happens next. Aptly responded, Vincent can break the wings Leon had all these times. If he can’t, all his work until now was to be disposed in vain. He was certainly not going to let that happen.
“Mark,” the doctor called. The man quickly stood up in front of his desk. “How do you see all this?”
“Leon is a great threat, doctor,” said Mark. “It’s not easy to root his power out completely.”
“Is slowing it down all we can do?”
“Doctor, I said it is not easy; it doesn’t mean it’s impossible,” said Mark. He pulled out a handful of paper and laid it on his desk. “But we have only one shot at this.”
The doctor skimmed through the highlighted contents. He flipped through the pages and read the points carefully. It was only ten pages long. When he finished, Vincent calmly lowered the paper.
“Do you think it’ll work?”
“If you think the casualties are uncomfortable –“
“No. I don’t mean that. I can sacrifice half of this city if I have to,” he said coldly. “I mean are you certain it will work?”
“Yes, doctor,” said Mark. He tried not to show any shaking. “It will not only crush Leon’s reputation, but also raise yours.”
“…” he read through the report again and scratched his chin. “What do you need, then?”
September 21st Year 2.
President Jerrod Hamel announced the destruction of Lair ‘Treehouse’ and admitted the strength of the Crusaders. We were hailed as true heroes – the 20 Best Crusaders of all times that survived every single combat situation from the day we landed on Earth.
Everything was going as planned and the D-day was coming fast. Scarlet and I checked the walls every two days and its perimeter. With Han relieved of his position, there was no one I could trust inside the government. I didn’t even try to communicate with Director Lamy who might have become another source of information. I just couldn’t risk it.
There were two sides of being the true heroes. People followed us a lot, which made private meetings nearly impossible. But on the other side, the citizen’s support granted us much freedom from the government and the new line of power within the Crusaders as well.
But the day was September 27th. Something I couldn’t even imagine happened.
“Open the door!” shouted some man outside my door. It was very early in the morning. Annoyed, I stormed out to the door and flung it open.
Almost twenty men were outside, all armed. They were ordinary soldiers with guns. And all of them were pointing at me. Their eyes flared with anger-looking feelings as if they want to shoot me dead.
“What the hell is this for?” I demanded.
“Leon Veridi, leader of the Scout team for the Crusaders. You are under arrest for murder and enforcing unauthorized mission that, regardless of your intention, led to the death of your team members,” said the man.
The man didn’t explain more. He pulled out a pair of handcuffs and tried to bind my hands. I looked back at my room, not even five meters from where I stood. If I ran and got my sword, I was able to kill every single one of them in a second. Protect them Leon.
What was I doing? What am I doing? What is this…
I pursed my lips in anger. Why…?
I was so close… it had to be this day.
I walked the streets, surrounded by soldiers. About a week ago, I was praised by everyone who I walked pass by. Now, they were all watching me like seeing some monster. I didn’t even know what was happening. Who the hell did I kill?
One of the citizens threw a potato and it fell right in front of me. I looked toward the direction it came from. A man was looking at me, almost in disgust.
“What a devil,” said someone from the crowd that saw me walk. “He led his squad to death just to make himself a hero.”
“Death to the pretender!”
“Kill the fake hero!”
“Hey he might have killed Michelle too!”
There are lines that people just shouldn’t cross.
I slammed the soldier that was beside me hard. He flew into the crowd and knocked a whole dozen of people back. I found the person who just said that and kicked him in the stomach. The man was unarmed and unready. He was attacked totally unexpectedly. He was flown backward and crashed on the wall of a building. When he collapsed to the ground, he did not move.
I was breathing harshly. Beads of sweat ran down.
“You don’t dare talk about her,” I said growling like an animal. “You don’t dare…”
I looked around. People were watching straight at me. Their mouths were wide opened. Some of them covered their children’s eyes and refused to see the wretched body of the man.
It was shocking. How they looked at me with hatred with the same eyes that saw me with respect and awe. It might have been a signal – a signal to move the plan to this day. But even that was too late. If that was going to come true, I needed my sword. The cuffs were specially made so I couldn’t break it without consuming a lot of energy.
Stay cool, Leon… you are not going to die here or get imprisoned to death. It’s not the time for that.
But their eyes… the people’s eyes were something you couldn’t forget. The distaste… the disgust… the hate… the repulsion… all of them was embodied through one part of human’s body. Condensed, they were stronger, sharper, and destructive than any sword I have wielded. It was true… I lived my life without considering those that was really precious to me. I ignored those that condemned me behind my back because they didn’t deserve any attention. But this was different.
The entire mob…
“You bastard!” a soldier yelled out from the back and pushed some metal-feeling object to my neck. Electricity zapped me instantly and everything was black.
But strangely, I was for once, relieved that I didn’t have to see those eyes.
“Congratulations doctor,” said Mark at his office. “You’ve done it. The plan worked perfectly.”
“Manipulation of the casualty report; I have to admit it was a perfect trick,” said Dr. Greg. His monitor hacked into the security camera of the prison and he watched Leon his cage. “A beast captured in a cage. Or should I say a monster captured in a cage?”
“There is a small problem though…” Dr. Greg’s eyes flared. Mark tried to stay calm. “Leon has the power to break out of his cell. If he is really wants to –“
“That’s something we don’t need to worry about,” said the doctor. His eyes were fixed to the monitor, watching everything. “Because he won’t.”
“But… we’ve angered him quite enough what if –“
“Mark, you’re a good assistant and have trusted me for your entire career. I acknowledge your criticism,” Vincent said. “But this is something you can’t question me, though you’ll never understand. He will not break out because if he does, it will be letting her down.”
“What if –“
“And letting her down… well that will be totally out of character and I’ve misjudged him.”
I wasn’t going to die here. There were just too many things to be done.
What am I doing? What am I really doing?
When a single sprout of doubt pokes its head out of the soil of determination, it reproduces itself into infinity. In seconds, the sprout becomes a full grown plant which in turn makes more of them bloom around it. They are all slightly different. Some has round leaves some has sharp ones. Some has pink flowers some has white. But in the end, they all come from a single sprout that started to grow in the first place. And soon, the plant overgrows, suffocating the soil and eventually decaying it. When the soil dies, all the plants die as well. But even by dying together, sprout of doubt already accomplished its purpose.
I was to die anyway. I knew how Han looked when I asked the question about my health. He might have said it lightly but his facial expression was enough to notify I will die if I continue using my ability. But that death was to come way in the future; at least compared to now. My body was still able to embody the immense strength of my silver ability but the situation I was in pushed me to the edge of the cliff in a matter of seconds. I was just on the verge of death without even being close to my goal.
I was desperate; nevertheless very calm. I could have used my ability and break through the cell, kill everyone and get my scout team and their family to leave this place for good. People will die in the process but their sacrifice will be necessary.
I looked at the clock. It was not even noon. I wondered if they announced my arrest. If they did… well, they’ll figure my plan failed.
I saw one of the guards moving up to the door. Through the small window on the gate, he said something to whoever was outside the gate. The gate soon opened. I expected Scarlet but it was an entirely different person.
“Leon Veridi, you have a visitor,” said the guard leading me to an open space. They cuffed my entire body; my legs, my arms, my hands… The visitor came inside the visiting area.
“Look at you,” said Han. “The brightest star only dies the quickest.”
“That doesn’t only apply to me, Han,” I said indifferently. “The once almighty director of the Crusader, now just an old Crusader ready for retirement.”
He sat on the chair just opposite of me.
“What the hell happened to you?”
“You tell me,” I said. “Oh, right. You can’t because you don’t have the right to know stuff like that now.”
“I’ve heard that enough,” he said. “And I know more information than you due to Lamy.”
“Oh, yeah? What do you know?”
“I know you are guilty of murder,” said Han. I spat. “I know that you didn’t because I was still the director when I received the correct report.”
“Let me guess. It’s that mad scientist,” I said. Han nodded. “With Rick as main director, Jerrod as president and that ‘doctor’ with power, I guess it’s surprising I didn’t die ages ago.”
“I know you can break out of here right now but you aren’t.”
“…” I didn’t say anything. “Her last word.”
“Her last word wouldn’t want me to,” I said miserably. Then Han laughed coldly. “What?”
“I didn’t believe you still remembered her,” he said. “But I guess you are still the same in the end. Everything you are doing is for her.”
“Why are you here, Han?” I said with a sigh. I was tired; tired of thinking, tired of doubting, tired of talking.
“I thought you might ask me a favor,” he said. I looked up at him with my eyes wide with astonishment. “But I guess you don’t have the guts to ask me now.”
He slowly stood up and went for the exit. I was staring at his back as he walked to the door.
“I can’t believe in myself,” I said just before he stepped out. Han stopped and closed the door. He turned towards me. “I can’t believe that what I am doing is right. The only thing I did until now was to kill. To kill Hunters by following orders was all I did. When I didn’t follow orders, I followed Michelle.”
“But both of them are gone,” I said. I felt my eyes becoming watery. “I was born to fight not to make decisions. I know that because I know myself. A few weeks ago, there was a signpost in my life that told me where to go. Even the faintest sign was gracious. But since I don’t see any of them now, I decided to follow my own road for the first time in my life. But… it was only to find out that I’ve fell into a trap. The trap which I installed myself.”
“I can’t ask you a favor even though I know what it is,” I said, drops of tears ran down my cheeks. “I can’t –“
“You don’t have the will to do what you think is right. You’re still a coward Leon. In fact, you’ve become the worst coward I can ever think of. You don’t believe in yourself. You don’t believe in what you do. You don’t believe in what you say. You don’t believe what you are capable of. You don’t believe in others. Hell, you don’t believe in Michelle either.”
“Don’t you –“ I tried to charge in front of him but my cuffs strangled my body and I was slammed back onto the chair.
“Do you know how I’m related to Michelle?” he asked all of the sudden. “Do you know why I always remind you she’s as important to me as it is to you?”
“Michelle despised being a Crusader,” said Han. “But her parents demanded her to be one for the honor of their family. Her parents died soon after and, unfortunately, their will was to educate Michelle as a Crusader.”
“The most important choice was hers, nonetheless so she chose not to become one. I gave up everything to defend her from the others who demanded her to become a Crusader as she was the last one in her family. They claimed it was for her good, her family’s good and the good of all humanity – and I said humanity my ass,” said Han. His tone was getting tense every word he spat out. “But then, you came into her life, becoming her student while she lived as a professor. And do you know what happened?”
He slammed his fist on the table and made a humongous dent on it.
“YOU decided to join the Crusaders! And she followed your decision!” he cried. “YOU broke the peace that I maintained by giving up my job, my status and my money! I was furious. I wished you never existed. But do you know what she said when I asked why you are following her?”
“…” how she thought of me. That was a whole different question. I loved her like my sister, my family. But Michelle… she never really told me how she thought of me. At least not directly so that I could really know.
“She said you were the only person that was sincere to her,” he said his eyes were also wet now. He dropped his head down. “She said Leon was the only person that didn’t push her to the edge of a cliff; that he was the only one that pulled her back and rescue her from destroying herself. Then she added that she needed to protect you as you protected her.”
“NOW!” he grabbed my neck and bashed me on the wall. His was crying so direly. “She’s dead! She died fighting with you, supporting you and protecting you. But don’t… don’t tell me what you can do for her and what you can’t. DON’T TELL ME YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING!”
“I… I just…”
“DON’T YOU DARE TELL ME…” he swallowed his breath. Streaks of tears seemed like making him more desperate than I was. “Don’t you dare tell me… you will just sit in this cell waiting for your death? She gave her life. And she’s gone with the words she always spoke. IS THIS? IS THIS ALL YOU CAN GIVE HER? IF YOU REALLY LOVED HER?”
My heart beat rapidly. Han’s hands slowly released me and I collapsed to the ground. I tried to wipe the water out of my eyes but with my body strained, I couldn’t do it. But Han… he let his tears drop to the ground. He didn’t stop his sorrow from being shown.
The plant of doubt and dismay was sowed long ago and it already overwhelmed my determination, my courage, everything. I should have rooted it out as soon as it popped its head out of the ground. But I failed. I failed myself and I failed Michelle who might be watching me from the heaven; perhaps even crying like me or Han in grieve of what I have become.
But is it that overwhelming? Is it that overwhelming that I can’t even try to root them out right now?
“Tell me Leon,” Han said, his voice was nearly locked from moaning and was shaking. “Tell me what you can do. Ask me the favor you have deep inside your heart. So I can know… know what you can really do for her.”
“…” I opened my mouth, but it closed soon enough. I opened it again and words came out weakly as I reached myself behind his eyes. “September 28th 0:00.”
“Good… good…” he said as he stood up. “She might finally be right about you…”
Han left the room almost limping. When the door slammed shut, the guards accompanied him outside. Then, I was taken back to my cell.
I wiped the tears with my sleeves and stood up.
The clock pointed 12:05.
Han left the prison. It wasn’t raining today but the sky was miserably grey. He lit up a cigarette. It was his last one in the pack. When he tried to stick it in his mouth, someone from the back slammed him.
“Sorry, man!” the man who looked like the guard just ran pass him with just two words for apology.
The cigarette fell to the ground and the light was fading fast. Han stomped on it and killed the fire. He sighed and pulled out his phone.
“Plan’s changed. You’re leaving this god forsaken place at midnight.”