Part 2 - 1
Kale felt the light breeze of autumn brushing his skin. The air was cool and smelled of leaves of the trees. A pleasant smell. And a pleasant morning. From the thick branch of a tree, he glanced at the others. There were a total of eleven people on the branches of the trees. Right beside Kale was Neal. The other ten were initiatives. Then, after a few minutes, there was an eerie sound in the distance. Neal tapped Kale on the shoulder.
“We should start.” Kale nodded. He clicked his transmitter.
“Everyone heard the sound? We expect five Hunters at most, but again, nobody knows for sure. Remember, your scores will be based on two main areas: collaboration and personal skills. Personal skill accounts for the most score but that doesn’t mean you can hope to pass without collaboration,” Kale announced. “Of course, there’s an individual bonus if you kill a Hunter all by yourself and a team bonus finish the job under three minutes.”
“You may begin…” Neal reset his stopwatch. “Now!”
The initiatives disappeared from their post instantly. Some began to go by foot. The others who were much more able went on by jumping from tree to tree. Neal and Kale followed their footsteps just so that it doesn’t affect their test.
“Where are they headed?” Neal asked as he landed on the ground. Kale looked at the tracker as he followed Neal down.
“Who’s in A-1?”
“Oh… well too bad for them,” chuckled Neal.
“Why is that?”
“She’s like the cruelest judge in this world!” he exclaimed. Kale only shrugged.
“It means she’s careful of choosing Slayers,” Kale stated. “We need to get moving.”
“Mia? You see our kids?”
Mia watched the Hunters move from the top of the tree. They didn’t notice her which was good. There were ten Hunters. That’s strange… a scout never goes over seven Hunters. From the distance, she heard the initiatives approaching with great speed.
“Yeah, I see them,” she said. Mia hesitated for a little but said it anyways. “But we have a slight problem: there are ten Hunters.”
“You have to be shitting me,” Neal said through the transmitter. “We should inform them about this.”
“…” Mia watched the entire scene. The team was only slightly away from the Hunters but they didn’t act like they were getting ready. The Hunters, however, already smelled the fresh scent of human flesh. They were reacting by backing up from the direction the team was approaching and were forming some kind of formation. “No. Let them deal with this on their own.”
“And what if one of them dies?”
“They are well-aware of how life-risking this exam is.”
“By the gods, Mia! Just go easy on them.”
“I am going easy on them,” she said and sighed. “I’ll intercept as soon as I see someone die.”
“Intercept as soon as when you see someone about to die, willya?” Mia turned her transmitter off.
The team just engaged with the Hunters. They seemed surprise to see twice the number they had expected. Still, their respond was not as bad as Mia thought. In fact, the team was overall very skilled compared to many teams she encountered. Their teamwork was nearly perfect as they struck down the Hunters one by one. Two of them were injured during the fight but even the injured fought on steadily. One of them even managed to kill a Hunter all by himself.
Three minutes passed. Ten Hunters were reduced to two and one went down as soon as the stopwatch read 3 minutes 30 second. One of them, supported by the other nine team members, leaped onto the last Hunter surviving and performed a perfect swing against its neck.
Mia stood up. She was about the come down to announce their final score which she thought it was quite high. Most of the teams she met either had at least one deaths or heavily wounded members. This one finished their job with only four lightly wounded fighters.
Then, there was a sudden screeching sound from behind the team. Eleventh Hunter?
From the trees, suddenly a purple Hunter leaped out and dismantled one of the members in half, instantly killing the poor kid. Shit.
“Kale, Neal, we have a commanding unit in A-1. It just leaped out from the forest and just killed one of the initiatives,” she informed. Then she jumped down. While she was about to engage, it killed another initiative that was trying to attack.
Mia faced the purple Hunter face to face.
“Everyone back up!” she yelled at the initiatives almost terrified in fear. She unsheathed her blade and charged towards it. She hurled herself at the Hunter but it deflected her strike and slammed her body through an immediate counter attack. She rolled up from the ground and charged back in.
A bright light in silver shined her sword and its stroke. The slash was blindingly fast and the Hunter didn’t have a moment to evade or defend. One of its arms was cut down. She didn’t stop and aimed for the head. Mia thought the Hunter to be in dismay, making it easier to finish it. But the Hunter ducked down and attempted a stab. It didn’t penetrate her flesh but the blade slightly slashed through her flesh. She quickly back stepped, making distance. Blood started to squeeze its way out of the wound and Mia covered the area with her hand.
“Mia!” Kale shouted from the top. He crashed down onto the Hunter right from the top. The commanding unit was crushed to the ground. With ease, Kale slid his sword through its throat and killed it for good. Neal soon landed beside him.
“We need a medical team right away at A-1,” said Neal through his transmitter. He took out his first aid and handed a bandage at Mia. He then went to look at the other initiatives.
“Eleven Hunters in a scouting group? This is unprecedented,” murmured Kale. He looked at the dead commanding unit and the other basic ones. “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” said Mia. She rolled up her bandage to the wound and cleaned the blood. “It’s just a slight cut.”
“You should bring this to Lucas. And tell Leon too,” she said. She stared at the purple creature. “I don’t think this was just an ordinary scout.”
“Is there another lair in the area?”
“Not that I know of. Even though there is one, I don’t think they will just let ten basic units and one commanding unit strolling in the woods. One dead commanding unit is a large loss from the Hunters’ perspective,” said Mia. “Or… maybe it wasn’t a scouting group.”
“Maybe it’s some kind of vanguard of a large army or something,” she suggested. “That might explain why a commanding unit is here.”
“Now that’s unprecedented too,” Kale blurted. “Honestly, I’ve never seen a Hunter attack since the Blackout Incident. And that was what, nearly five years ago.”
The helicopter rattled from above and it slowly hovered down. When it landed, everyone boarded the aircraft and went back.
A beeper made a boisterous sound that woke me up. Startled, I jumped up from my bed and sat up. Through the curtains, the shining sunshine gleamed in the room. I was so drowsy that I almost forgot the noise the beeper was making as I sat where I was for another ten minutes or so thoughtlessly. When I finally straightened myself up, I pulled the curtains to the sides and answered the beeper.
“Don’t tell me you just woke up,” said the voice of an old man.
“…” I looked around my messed up room. “Um…”
“You better get down here, we have a situation.”
I quickly got washed and dressed. When I went over to the Headquarter, everyone was already waiting for me.
“So what is the situation?” I asked as I swallowed a loaf of bread in my mouth. “I believe there was no event for today except the exam.”
“The exam is the problem,” said Kale. He slid a series of pictures on the table that stopped right in front of me. “That’s a picture from one of our cameras taken this morning at A-1.”
I pulled the pictures toward me to examine closely. They showed a total of eleven Hunters. The cheap camera only developed black and white pictures but one was noticeably larger than the others. I looked at the others when I figured out what was the problem.
“Taken this morning?” I checked. Kale nodded. “How many of the initiatives died?”
“Did any of them escape?”
“No, we killed them all.”
“…” I picked up the one containing the commanding unit.
“Mia believes there might be another lair in the area,” Neal shrugged. “I believe it’s absurd. We swept through regions within five miles from Eden. If there was a developing lair, we would have known already.”
“Still, it doesn’t explain a commanding unit loafing around in the woods with ten basic units,” Mia argued. I let them argue as I watched the photo even more carefully. Lucas stayed silent as well.
“A developing lair won’t just have commanding units strolling in the forest like this,” stated Kale. Neal nodded.
“Then ask the others!”
“Numen and the others are out for a region sweep,” I said. I put the picture down. “You can ask the initiatives if you want to keep on arguing like this.”
“We don’t know anything for now,” said Lucas finally opening his mouth. “Without broad-ranged radar, we can’t sense out any activity outside our cameras or unless we investigate ourselves. Mia might be right or she may be wrong.”
“In truth, appearance of commanding units matters little. It’s not that they pose a great threat unless they have hundreds of basic units with them,” I said. “But if this does mean there is a new lair near this area or implies a Hunter assault, it becomes a whole different story.”
“What do you want us to do?”
“Cancel all exams for the next two weeks. Then I want all veteran Slayers to enlarge the sweep area,” I commanded. I looked at Mia and Kale. “Then I want all the non-veterans sweeping the inner area with you two leading. And Lucas, I think you’ll need to help us out whenever you can in the Eye.”
“Then what about the trainings for the initiatives?” Neal asked. He was in charge of the entire training system. “They’ve been like the source of power that brought great progress to Eden. We can’t just neglect their exercise.”
“I’ll train them myself until this sweep is done,” I said. The others looked surprise. “But starting the day after tomorrow.”
“We lack intel. I’m going to get some,” I said. They cocked their heads. “Don’t worry of what I do, just do your job well. Dismissed.”
When everyone was gone and only Lucas was left, I fixed myself some sandwich for breakfast. Then we walked back to my place.
“You’re going back,” he said as we entered my house. I almost threw up. “What is it? Four years?”
“Five years and six months. I forgot the date,” I said, bracing myself. Then suddenly, I didn’t feel like eating and the bread and ham and egg in my mouth tasted like sand and rock. I found a trash can and threw half of the sandwich in the bin.
“You don’t really have to go you know,” said Lucas. His old eyes always looked so sharp that it just seemed like he was looking into what people were thinking.
“I just going to get some information,” I said. “That’s all.”
“I hope so,” he chuckled in a way that made me felt bad. “I honestly can’t judge what kind of person you are when you were in the city, since I never met you; I believe you were quite different from what you are today. And many people like the way you are now.”
“It depends on what time in the city…” I murmured.
“Nothing,” I said quickly. I pulled out my backpack and stuffed some food and water. Just before I leave, I picked up Prima. “I might be gone for a few days.”
“You know you delayed the training session for only a day.”
“Yes – I’m well aware of that.”
I put on a hood that covered my head and went to the airfield that held the one helicopter we had. As expected, Scarlet was just waiting for me with the engine all roaring.
“You’re late,” she complained. “Again.”
“The meeting happened to be longer than I expected,” I lied. She knew I was lying. She always did. Nevertheless, Scarlet always replied with a smile. “Let’s get going.”
“Are we going right through the front door?”
“Yup – we won’t have to wait for a stupid bomb to drill a hole.”
The aircraft hovered upward and it soared through the air towards east. I hanged on the rail on the roof of the passenger seat. As I looked down, I saw Eden, the very community I made. It was small; the population was no more than 500 people. But all of them were people who voluntarily came from the Dominion in disappointment with the government. This is step two.
I looked at the blue sky after Eden disappeared from my sight. It was bluer than usual and the light blue appeared richer. Was it just my imagination? It didn’t matter. I looked at just one goal from the day Michelle died. I ran like mad and finally, I made it this far. The race was still not over. But I believe I already overcame the hardest part. I thought all I needed to do was wait.
I stared at the sky for the entire flight. Then I unwittingly whispered to the sky.
“I wonder what you're seeing up there by now..."