Michelle was not a Christian but she carried a Bible from time to time. I asked her why read it if she didn’t believe in the words in it.
“There are just times when you just want a God on your side even if you have never believed in one your entire life,” she would explain. She sometimes read me Genesis and described how wonderful it would have been if Adam never ate that fruit; of course, assuming God did make everything and Eden did exist. “Maybe this is believing but… well, I just sometimes think how would it feel to be in an ideal world like Eden.”
“Why can’t you just make places like Eden? If you can have everything you want, isn’t that the ideal place?” I asked innocently.
“It’s not about having everything you want. It’s about being in eternal peace and happiness; no sorrow, no grieve… no remorse,” she said. She was cutting an apple for me and eating it while talking about such topic made me feel weird. “But… of course there isn’t such a place in this world. You just… long for it and work your ways towards it, hoping you will one day stop at a place closest to that you think it is ideal. After all, that’s why you call places like Eden an ‘ideal’.”
I looked backed at all the memories I had with Michelle. She taught me numerous things – things that just enlighten people’s minds. Then at the same time, she was my only true family. Those who called themselves as ‘parents’ weren’t really parents at all; they were more like legal guardians who adopted me due to mandatory responsibility. My real parents… well they were never there when I looked around.
Many things happened and I knew what happened at what time. But paradoxically, I couldn’t truly remember how all of them mean for me and for her. If Han told me the truth, she had already given up too much things from the point she became a Crusader to ‘protect’ me.
Now she’s dead.
The clock was still pointing 6 p.m. I had plenty of time until it starts. I closed my eyes and tried to rest. I felt abnormally tired.
“Is Scarlet gone already?” asked Numen. The others nodded.
“I had contact with her just a moment, she landed just outside the city’s radar,” said Mia. She rolled out a map of the surrounding area of the settlement. “She’s just here; about four clicks to the West. At midnight, she’ll meet us at the other side of the wall.”
“Are we really doing this…?” Kale slipped in nervously. All of the Crusaders looked at him. His face instantly reddened. “I mean… it’s not a decision we can just make… like… well, it’ll not just be simple as leaving the city and wandering off into the woods.”
“Nobody’s forcing you Kale. This is not a must,” said Numen. He looked down at the map. “But this is my choice; my decision. Nobody will treat you as a traitor even if you turn back. I’m here – we’re all here – in trust that Leon’s decision is right.”
Kale was certainly uneasy. There were several others, actually, who thought the same. The plan didn’t end with just leaving the city unscathed. In fact the leaving was the easiest part. Surviving out in the wild to rebuild a society? That was something entirely different. Besides, the twenty Crusaders were not all. They were also taking their remaining relatives; those that survived.
“Well…” said Numen. He folded the map. “I’ll figure everyone’s in this. Get everything ready until 9. Only pack what you can carry inside your bag. Water and food are necessities; clothes should be minimized as possible. We act at 10 by infiltrating the armory.”
“What do you think of this world?” I asked. The glittering lake was behind me. Everyone looked puzzled.
“What are you getting at?” Numen inquired. “Why are we here?”
“When I was in the Ark years before the D-day, I was a trained Crusader. I was a fighter but I didn’t know what I should fight for. They just trained me and boom – I became a soldier,” I said. “I bet you all were a Crusader just as me at those times. But apparently the 3rd Ark had the most since the experiment was first started there. I guessed we would be warring against other Arks. And the captain was probably getting ready to conquer them all.”
“What does that have to do with dragging us here?”
“I mean we were never made to become heroes and heroines ‘liberating’ the Earth in the first place. We were trained to be killers, to crush the humans on the other side,” I said. “But anyway, since we’re all here praised as heroes, it’s not something we can doing anything about it. Then it comes down to another question. What are you fighting for?”
“We fight for humanity’s survival and reconquering of this planet,” Kale answered confidently. He looked around him. “Isn’t that why? Isn’t that why we all fight?”
“Do you really fight in the love of humanity? Or do you fight because those you cherish or you are inside the boundary as a human being?” I asked Kale. He didn’t say anything. “Tricky isn’t it? I’ll give you my answer: I honestly don’t give a shit about what happens to the soldiers or the other Crusaders, or Han, or the president himself. I cared and fought for those who actually treated me with the dearest sincerity; the people who enlightened me that I’m alive in this world. I fought for and protected those I felt I have to.”
“That led me all the way here,” I said looking at Prima. “Unfortunately, when everything was going just perfect, that person died and I couldn’t do anything about it. I believed in the Dominion for once in my life but even that trust was wasted and spat on.”
“If I really just wanted to scout, I would have had Han organize the team for me,” I said scanning the Crusaders. “I chose each and every one of you myself because I thought you might know what I am going through – to be unable to find a cause to fight for and to be lost.”
“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about, Leon. I respect you as a Crusader but I think this might go beyond the line,” said Numen. “Why don’t we just all go back –“
“I saw Viola Hay die in your very own hands, Numen,” I interrupted. “She died but the Dominion forced her to fight on by injecting a drug. She must have died painfully for that drug is probably the cruelest drug humans invented.”
I turned to Mia.
“And I know Samuel Eiens died because he was forced undertake a suicidal mission to protect Sector 1 and 2. The mission wasn’t even worth it for Chimera was absolutely above their league. But the Commander of your Sector commanded so. In the end, the mission team was annihilated within a half an hour after they left the gate.”
I took out a thick sheet of papers.
“Just put your hands up and I’ll tell you why you will know how I feel and how I know how you feel,” nobody even flinched their hands. I threw the numerous sheets of paper in front of them. The papers flattered in the air as they helplessly land on the river back. “You fought your way through the currents of time. So, you guys either really love humanity or you you’ve been fighting for practically no purpose and were just pretending to protect something that hardly exist; although I expect the latter case is what you guys are in.”
“What do you want from us if you know us so well?” Mia spat. I saw many of their expressions. Most of them looked uncomfortable.
“I don’t trust the Dominion. I don’t trust Han, Jerrod and especially that doctor. So before the time comes when I can’t rely on anyone else than the Dominion, I am going to leave the city,” I said.
“You are mad. We can’t survive in the wild by our own,” said Neal.
“Every one of you fights for the people you love or yourself. But I don’t think anyone here believes the Dominion can protect them for you for real because everyone of you has been betrayed. Many of you have at least some families or relatives left; those that keep you mentally alive. Don’t you want to protect them yourself?” I asked them in a much sterner voice. “I do, so my plan is to rebuild a new society. A community of Crusaders that’s not pretending to protect but really fighting for what you want.”
“What if we disagree going with you?” asked Numen. “What are you going to do? Kill us?”
“I don’t need to kill you because you’ll probably be in distress until you die; desperate to find answers you cannot find alone.”
“I told you everything. If you think ‘is that all you’ve got?’, it’s very true. I’m not here to force any of you and I won’t blame if one of you tells Han or other governmental figure about my plan. But… I want you to think. Are the things you do and believe really what you want do and believe? Or are you just pretending to act so, deceiving yourself for eternity?”
10:30 p.m. September 27h Year 2
Numen and Mia unsheathed their swords. All eighteen were in position. Mia nodded to Numen, signaling she was ready. Numen clicked his transmitter.
“Ready whenever you are, Kale,” said Numen.
A few seconds later, the entire city went dark.
Streetlights died. Houses blackened. Tower lights were killed. Cloud covered the moonlight so the city was immediately darkened.
“We have 3 minute window before they turn the power back on and activate the alarm. Mia and I will go for the prison. Everyone else, do what you have to do. Try not to kill anyone in the process,” said Numen. “Let’s finish this short and sweet.”
The city was in complete chaos. People in the streets ran around madly, trying to find somewhere to hide. Some people banged on some stranger’s door desperate to find a safe place. The Blackout incident certainly had an effect.
The two Crusaders dashed through the mayhem instantly made by the darkness.
“There!” Mia pointed at a long building also with lights out. Numen forced the front door open and knocked out the two guards. Several others came running with rifles. Mia threw a chair at them and blocked their movement. Then she leaped at them, striking their neck at the back.
The prison was dark. The clock stopped at 10:31. There only one guard; the others went outside to identify what was happening. I waited patiently until my eyes adapted to the dark. Just when I stood up, a guard bashed inside with a flashlight.
“Secure the priso–“ He fell down face first. I saw Mia and Numen. Mia fired a gun at the remaining guard. From the sound of it, it wasn’t a killing gun.
“You’re like two hours early,” I said. Numen destroyed the prison door and freed me.
“We decided to quicken the pace,” shrugged Mia. She looked at her watch. “So far so good. Let’s go back to where others are. By now they should be drilling the hole.”
“She’s just outside the wall. We’ll meet her as soon as we finish drilling,” said Numen.
“You guys go on first. I need to get my sword,” I said. The two nodded and quickly disappeared through the corridor of the building. I took a deep breath. This isn’t even first step. There’s way more to go.
Soon, I exited the building, covering my head and face with a hood. Even though the electricity was to be turned back on very soon, I was able to hide myself in the dark on my way to my house.
When I arrived, the power just came on and the city was illuminated brightly. And immediately, a boisterous alarm shook the entire area. I ignored and packed my bag. I stuffed in clothes, water, and all the food in my fridge, though not very much, and the book Michelle gave me as a present. I picked up Prima and bashed out the door.
The soldiers were already busy. They ran in lines, patrolling the streets. The group that was going to leave was not such a small group that will just be ignored. Speed was everything. I covered my head with the hood and ran to the area of the drilling.
“Ready?” Kale asked the others. They all stepped back and nodded. 63 people. It was not a large group but it was still big enough to notify someone that something was happening in the area. He looked at the windows on the gym and found none watching them. He attached the drill bomb on the barricade and pushed the button. Number 10 appeared on the countdown area and it started to decline. Kale backed up to where everyone else was and waited.
The bomb exploded, but in an abnormal way for a bomb. It was almost soundless and there was hardly any smoke. The small round bomb’s center sunk towards the barricade, crushing the metal. Suddenly, the center core started destroying its way through the barricade. The rest of the bomb expanded into a circle big enough for a person if he crouched in.
Soon, the center core finished penetrating the metallic wall and fell to the ground on the other side. The expanded circle-shaped part of the bomb started breaking its way in as well.
“Scarlet! You there?” Kale shouted through the hole that the small core made. There was no respond for a moment. “Scarlet?”
“Kale?” said a voice from the other side. Kale turned back and gave a thumbs-up to the rest of the group.
The bomb circular bomb was rather slow in drilling. About five minutes passed when the drill penetrated halfway.
“Kale! Neal!” shouted a voice from the back. Numen and Mia came back. “How’s it going?”
“Scarlet’s on the other side waiting. The bomb is slower than we’ve thought,” said Neal. He looked at the gym nervously. “Really, with this speed, we need another five minutes or so but we might be found by then.”
“He went to get his stuff,” said Mia.
“Kale, can you shut the power off again?” Numen asked. Kale blinked.
“I can but…”
“I’ll come with you and cover your back. Hurry! Or everything we’ve planned for will be nothing if we fail here!” he urged Kale, pushing his back. Kale reluctantly ran towards the power station with Numen following his back.
“Okay, those that can’t fight stay hidden as best as you can. Those that can, we’ll make a perimeter around this area,” said Mia. She handed a dozen of tranquilizer guns. As soon as she handed them out, gunfire roared from the distance and shouts of arrest and justice boomed. “Take cover!”
“That’s real guns dammit! Can’t we use our swords?” yelled Neal. The area was engulfed with chaos in a matter of seconds. Soldiers appeared from the streets, from the windows of the gym and the roof of the building.
“No! We’re not doing this to kill people, remember!” Mia shouted back.
There was a rattle of a helicopter. The aircraft hovered up high. It started shooting machine guns at the Crusaders. The relatives who followed the Crusaders wailed in terror. Young ones screamed and the adults tried to take cover as best as possible. The tranquilizers were obviously ineffective to the aircraft so the Crusaders sat behind coverings helplessly.
“Fuxx! Where the hell is Numen and Kale? Leon’s not here either! We’re screwed!” Raul screamed. He fired more shots at the soldiers who were knocked out immediately. “The plan’s toasted!”
“Just hold on! We can get through this alive!” Mia cried, trying to calm the others.
“How’s the bomb doing?”
“Still need some time!”
I dashed my way through the emptied streets. The lights were back on and soldiers were all concentrating at one point. I didn’t need anyone to notify the group was pinned down. By the sound of a helicopter, the government was reacting harsher than expected. But that mattered little. The plan was going to succeed one way or the other. I was going to make it happen no matter what; even if I have to kill some of their men. I was just passing the cemetery when a familiar voice stopped me.
The man was just in front of me.
“Why are you here? I have a more pressing matter than talking with you,” I said coldly. His expression was unreadable. He looked slightly sad, but he looked angry and disappointed at the same time.
“You’re running away,” said Han, he smiled cynically. “Was this your plan all along?”
“What did you think it was? Did you think I would overrun the government?” I answered.
“A bold move, Leon. Very bold,” said Han. He unsheathed his sword. “Jerrod’s powerless and Dr. Greg isn’t in the city. You could take this place if you wanted to.”
“I didn’t plan this scheme for bloodshed, Han. Step aside and put that back where it belongs.”
“And when did you care about other people’s lives? You’re a killing machine all along,” he said. Then he laughed like some insane man. “Is it her last word again? You can’t change anything if you cling onto some dead person’s words.”
“That ‘dead person’ is not just a dead person,” I said, starting to get a little annoyed. The ex-director raised his left hand. In his hand was a pistol. “You can’t kill me with that.”
“It’s a flare, not a gun. I could call the Ravens here right away. They’re waiting for anyone’s call if they find you,” he said. “They’re quite powerful and there are about a dozen of prototypes all ready.”
“I can kill them.”
“You just said you’ll get through this without bloodshed.”
“I will if I have to,” I said. I was irritated. Why am I delayed like this? “Besides, you won’t fire the flare.”
He cocked his head. “Why not?”
“Because you won’t,” I said and hurried past him. I used my ability so even if he does fire, it won’t be of any use.
And as expected, I was on my way and no flare soared into the sky.
The city darkened again. The windows of the gym went dark again. The lights on the barricade died and the entire streets were blacked. The only light was from the helicopter and large torch lights from the soldiers. Those alone were very limited so the Crusaders gained their advantage.
Suddenly, the gunfire stopped and the machine gun stopped storming bullets.
“Wh… what’s happening?” Neal asked as he peeked out from a rock. He glanced at the bomb and it was only inches away from finishing. He tapped on Mia’s shoulder to notify. “Hey, the bomb –“
“The bomb’s not a problem.”
“Of course it’s the problem,” he said. Mia was staring at the opening in front. “What’s wrong?”
In front of the hiding Crusaders, were the three directors. They were fully armed. Behind them was another fifty Crusaders also armed to the teeth.
“Traitors to the Earth Dominion, you should be ashamed of yourself! To call yourself as Crusaders… you dare free a murder and try to flee with him?” Director Rick’s voice boomed in the area. “You are helplessly outnumbered and even if you leave the city, you won’t go far until the helicopters will find you. If you surrender now and come out, everyone will be spared and the sentence will be minimized to life imprisonment. If you refuse, every one of you will die in the hands of those who you called comrades.”
Mia pursed her lips behind the rock. Neal only gave a nervous look.
“Can’t we beat them?” he asked. She shook her head.
“They might be old but they’re quite capable. Besides, they’ll have soldiers at their back along with almost twice the number of Crusaders…”
“Remember, we’re offering this deal of pity not –“
“Because you don’t have the guts to fight us in a fair fight?”
“Leon! He’s back,” Tyson exclaimed. “Numen and Kale is with him!”
It was a perfect timing. If I was a little late, every one of them would have either surrendered or died. The new main director and all the others were fully armed. He had about fifty or sixty Crusaders on his disposal. But that didn’t matter. They were nothing but flies. If it wasn’t for the three directors, they would’ve been nothing for they were mostly newbies or not fully trained. The twenty of us, however, were veterans I picked that went through two hive raids.
“You… Han should have prevented you from proceeding. I guess he is no use as a Crusader now…” Rick growled. He unsheathed his sword. I could see he was quite mad – I had no idea why. “Leon Veridi is the traitor of humanity! Kill him! Whoever kills him will be well-rewarded!”
“Take the others and get out,” I whispered to Numen and Kale. “I’ll buy some time. Go with Scarlet to the helicopter and start the engine. Notify me through the transmitter and I’ll be on my way.”
“Don’t kid me,” I said. They nodded and grouped with the others behind the objects. The bomb fully drilled a hole and everyone started to rush to it.
“Don’t let them escape!”
I used my ability to approach the Dominion’s army in a flash of a second. I kicked the soldiers before they even react. The mobilized soldiers on the field were only about sixty to seventy; a number not even worth a burden.
The soldiers started to shoot at my direction instead of the escaping group. But their reaction was too slow; I used my bare fist and feet to knock them out one by one.
“Dammit!” Rick raised his sword. Director Nelson and Fran raised theirs as well. The entire Crusader and the soldiers began to focus on me. “Kill Leon Veridi, then their plan fails!”
I cursed. It wasn’t the best scenario I thought of. To buy time and escape from such a mess without killing anyone was not easy. The Crusaders and soldiers were not much of a problem, but the directors had skills and experience. The came at me fiercely and their blade strokes were sharp.
I embodied a portion of my ability into my hands and struck it hard against Director Nelson. He was flown off into the air and collided with the solid wall of the gym. He spat out blood and didn’t stand up. The Crusaders wavered and there were murmurs of hesitation in the entire army. The main director, however, looked more raged. He yelled as he charged at me. Two to go… I took a deep breath as the two directors charged at me.
Rick’s sword slashed through the air and I evaded by backing up. Director Fran came from the back. I ducked under and kicked my way forward, slamming the main director. He acted quickly and didn’t stumble to the ground, but took my arm and used his might to get me out of the way. I rolled on the ground and stood back up. Instinctively, my right hand went to the hilt of the sword. I gritted my teeth. Shit…
A dead person’s word.
Director Rick charged directly at me. He lunged his sword and me.
In an instant, I unsheathed my sword, focused my silver ability into the sword and drew a perfect circle around myself. Prima met with Rick’s sword and there was a shattering noise – the director’s sword was broken into a million pieces.
“What…!” the main director looked like an idiot. Director Fran stood where he was standing, almost shocked. I didn’t lose my chance. The man was immobilized and I just found a way to get out of this without making further mess. I quickly ran behind the man’s back and pointed my blade at his throat.
“Nobody moves,” I said. Nobody looked like they wanted to move anyway. “Tell them to throw their weapons on the ground. The helicopter is to land. The pilot should also come out.”
“…” I couldn’t see his face but I could feel he was horrified because I never felt a man shaking so much. “Do… do what he says!”
All the Crusaders and soldiers threw the weapons on the ground. The helicopter landed on the street and the pilot soon exited the aircraft. Perfect. I couldn’t help a smile.
I stepped backwards toward the hole where everyone escaped.
“Leon…” my transmitter buzzed. It was Scarlet’s voice. “Leon…! We’re all ready.”
“…” I moved quicker and I was just in front of the hole. “I’m on my way.”
I didn’t remove my sword from the director’s neck. Everyone else was watching me in anxiety – they had to.
I dragged the director through the hole. The army started to step forward. I closed the blade deeper into the flesh of the neck. They stopped and flinched and back-stepped. I was finally out of the hole and out of the city. I turned around from the hole so they couldn’t see me.
“I hear anything, I will cut his throat!” I shouted. There was no sound of footsteps. The terrified director was nearly paralyzed. It was truly a pathetic look. I smacked his neck and he blacked out without a squeak.
All I did next was taking off into the woods toward where Scarlet and everyone else was waiting.
The first step of the first plan in my life worked perfectly.
The only problem lied with whether I was doing the right thing.
“He really did escape didn’t he?” Han asked Lamy. She nodded.
“He had Rick as hostage until he fled unscathed. They said he also wounded Nelson badly along with another twenty wounded,” she answered. She looked Han incredulously. “Why didn’t you just pull the flare? Now you might go to jail for this.”
“I couldn’t,” said Han. “He was right. I can’t pull the trigger…”
Lamy looked at the man nervously. She hugged him to calm him.
“Han… you have nothing to do with all this. Even if you do, you couldn’t do anything about it. It’s Leon’s choice… you have to let it go,” said Lamy. She pushed his lifeless body to the bed so he could lie down. “Get some rest. Forget about it for now.”
“I can’t Lamy, I forgot too many things. I let go too many things. Now, I really don’t remember anything…” the ex-director buried himself in the blanket. Lamy didn’t know what to do. She tried to tell him something, but soon closed her mouth. She lied beside him and turned the lights off.
Sorry Michelle… I couldn’t protect him.
Han ran and finally found Michelle entering the admission center. She was waiting in a long line. She saw Han and waved at him. She was smiling so brightly and cheerfully that Han almost turned his back and returned. She looked very happy. But Han thought this was something that just couldn’t go over like that. He walked towards her.
“Michelle…” he said weakly. “You don’t have to do this. You can’t do this. Do you know what I’ve done just to prevent you from doing this? And now…”
“I’m sorry Han…” she said grimly. “I really am. I can’t tell you how much I owe you and I will forever be in your debt; a debt that I will never be able to pay back. But…”
“Is it about Leon? He’s not even –“
“Don’t say that,” she snapped. “He’s more human than anyone thinks.”
“Fine, then I want to at least hear a good reason for becoming a Crusader after all the things we’ve gone through,” said Han.
“…” she dropped her head to the ground. Han looked at her anxiously. “Throughout my life, I’ve been pushed to the edge of the cliff. My dead parents forced me to do something I never wanted to do, refused all the things I really wanted to do; all in the favor of themselves. Even after their death, I heard people saying things. Things about what I should do. Isn’t that absurd? My parents were my parents, nothing more. And I am just… me!”
“I hated people
judging me what to do and what to not do. But couldn’t do anything about it
because I was afraid,” she said. She looked up at Han. Her eyes were watered. “Whenever
I tried to run further from the cliff, something always dragged me to the edge
again. Because of that, I became a history professor when I never dreamed of
becoming a professor in my entire life. I became one because everyone seemed to expect that.”
“Then… I started teaching Leon because, well, his education was my responsibility. Even Leon had to be educated to some extent. As I got closer with him, I told how tired I was to him. I guessed ‘how deeply can he think anyway?’. But do you know what he said every time?”
“He said all I had to do was to stop doing what I hate. He said I should stop destroying myself,” said Michelle. She was really crying. Han lost his words. He ignored all the eyes from the other people in the line. He embraced her and wiped her tears. “He was the first person to say anything like that… and… his words were so innocent and pure that I couldn’t help caring for him.”
“Michelle, I didn’t know…” Han stuttered.
“Even though he was made for this, it doesn’t mean he will be invincible,” said Michelle. “I’m sorry Han… but…”
“It’s fine Michelle,” said Han. He hugged her more tightly. “I prevented you from becoming a Crusader because you didn’t want to become one. Now that, you really want to become one and you believe you have a good reason, I will support you in any way possible.”
“Thank you…” she wiped her tears herself. She regained her smile and Han couldn’t help grinning back.
“But do you really think you can protect him?” he asked. Michelle laughed.
“I’ll have to try. But even if I can’t, I’ll always know you’ll be there to help me out.”
Part 1: When We Were All Crusaders