Part 2 - 3
The town was busier than ever the next day. Slayers were hastily moving in line, readying for the largest scouting mission I’ve ever implemented. The other non-fighters were busy installing defense perimeter in case the town is attacked while we were gone. People brought in food from the outside of the wall and stuffed them inside their houses. Anything that got in the way was removed and soon enough, the streets were emptied; save the barricades.
The veterans were each assigned a group of Slayers. They showed up where everyone was grouped up. They were probably getting everyone geared up and ready to go.
“Leon.” An old low voice called me from inside my house.
“Is everyone ready?” I asked Lucas who came outside to the balcony.
“Everyone but you,” he said. He looked at me. “You don’t have to go, you know. The last thing these people want is you becoming powerless.”
“I have a long way to go to reach that point,” I shrugged. But the old man still had that worried look on his face. “I won’t have to use my ability during this scout. And I believe I know what’s going on with my body better than anyone.”
“That depends on how you look at ‘what’s going on with your body’,” Lucas said. “The people believes in you Leon, whether you like it or not. They respect your capability and they will always respect it until the day you lose it. What you have to do is to delay that day as much as possible.”
“…” I stared down at the Slayers rallied up in the middle of the town. From a distance, I heard a helicopter roaring too. “Get everyone ready right now. I want to leave as soon as I’m down there.”
Sometimes I ask myself whether what I was doing right now was really the best choice I could have made. Or I sometimes imagine how I would have been living if I didn’t leave the city that night. It was truly hard to imagine. And every time I ask myself, I never found an answer.
Lucas tells me the people believed in me and respected me. He says that those are the things that keep Eden in one piece. The truth is, I never wanted all this responsibility, I just wanted a new place to live to make a fresh start – just a new place I could see the future and commemorate the past. That was all I’ve wanted…
Almost every time I was alone, I thought about these things and often it made me miserable. Nevertheless, I ponder about it the next time I am alone even though it would end up ruining my mood.
But what really ruined my mood for the day was when I stood in front of a small wooden cross that I made it myself plucked to the ground. The cross stood on a small hill facing a large beautiful lake. The grass around was smooth like silk. And just before I joined the others, I once again stepped in front of it to destroy my day.
I sat down on the grass facing the cross. In the middle, I had carven a name; a name gone like the wind itself; a name that I cannot hear a respond from.
“It’s really funny,” I said to the cross. “I came here to forget all the sorrow and do things you would be proud of: living on my life and protecting those I can. And yet… it seems the former is too hard to do because… even now I stand here trying to remember the days…”
The cross stuck to the ground did not say anything back. I sneered at myself for expecting an answer.
“In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever forget about anything we’ve done in the past, Michelle. There are just things that can’t be done,” I said. The cross, of course, said nothing back. I stood up and swept the dirt off my trousers. “I think I regret it Michelle… If I didn’t become a Crusader in the first place, we would rather be living in the city right now, not knowing anything…”
The Slayers looked very bored. When I showed up in front of them, Numen came rushing towards me.
“You’re very late.”
“I have my reasons,” I said coldly. I turned to the crowd of Slayers all lined up. “Let’s get over with this then.”
“Leon. Orders,” Mia said.
“Our objective is search-and-destroy. All platoons and platoon leaders know where to scout around so I won’t go through the details right now,” I said aloud. “It is 9:35 in the morning so I want every platoon back until 6:00 in the afternoon. You are authorized to destroy anything or anyone that gets in your way with all means necessary. Everyone knows their duty so pack up, gear up and get moving.”
The platoon leaders had their company march out of Eden one by one. There were only a total of 10 platoons with only about 15 Slayers. Still the number was more than enough to sweep the area.
“Mia, Kale, Numen, Neal,” I called. They gathered up. “You guys come with me. We’re going on the helicopter.”
“What about our team?” Kale asked.
“There are plenty of veterans capable of scout the region. I need you four to come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“Where Numen told us the group of Hunters is,” I said.
“You said we can’t act unless –“
“We’re scouting Numen,” I said. “Not going to war. Everyone get aboard.”
There were no conversations during the flight. Everyone just sat there and looked out into the distance. I liked the silence. It made me feel like I was alone in this miserable planet. Most people might think solitude is similar to isolation or being an outsider. But that wasn’t right. When I am with others in a group; in a society, I don’t always decide what to do; I don’t always decide my fate. The world decides it for me even though I never asked for it. And I’ve faced a horrible consequence of letting other things hold my fate in their grasp. But alone, none of them happen. It’s just me and… the small world around me. For once, I can truly be mater of myself.
The helicopter slowed down as I pondered about all kinds of things.
“There. I believe this is where I saw them,” said Numen pointing down below the ground carpeted with green leaves. “Better be careful here. They might still be –“
All of the sudden, something zapped past the aircraft and the helicopter tilted sideways. I grabbed a handle on the ceiling and ducked down. Covered by the thickness of the leaves, I saw a moving creature covered in dark purple.
“Scarlet, we need to fight,” I said calmly.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea…” she stuttered.
“We run now, they’ll probably follow us all the way to Eden. We need to get off our tail right here.”
Another projectile just flied past in front of me. I looked at the others. They were all readied to jump off. I clipped my belt attached to the helicopter to the handle and tightened it up.
“As soon as we jump down, get to cover.”
“I can help!” Scarlet exclaimed.
“Of course you can,” I said. “But I don’t think you’ll want your helicopter falling into pieces.”
She didn’t say anything back. I felt sorry for her. She was involved in every fight but could never help it because she was so different with all the Slayers. She was normal.
“Right…” I said carefully. A screeching scream boasted from below. “Let’s finish this short and sweet.”
The five of us leaped off from the helicopter. We flied down into the leaves and branches and saw them.
Numen’s information was absolutely correct. I counted almost 100 Hunters instantly. It was unprecedented to see such a large number in the woods that wasn’t even near a lair. I removed the clip from the belt and let the rope loose.
“Stay close. Kill everything in your path. Proceed south at the same time, back to Eden,” I commanded through the transmitter. I checked the helicopter fly south and unsheathed my sword. I took a deep breath. And leaped down right in the middle of my enemies.
A blindingly hurling sword was what I’ve become as I leaped down onto the Hunters. Their body might be large and strength so great so that they’ve become the highest rank in the food chain on the man-less Earth. But ever since I’ve become a fighter, I have always practiced to pierce through that thick armor of them. Not by the traditional method of sticking a sword onto their weak spot, but purely through sheer force and might of what my ability could embody. I didn’t seek for an area to attack; I just did – whether it was their arms, legs, head or stomach. That was how I’ve become what I was right now – and also why my technique is taught among the Slayers.
Absence of any sort of commander among the Hunter was when they were the weakest. I rampaged this way and that but those foolish creatures never managed to assault back at me through an organized strategy. They just followed where I went and the poor idiots in the front rank just died out like autumn leaves falling down.
“Leon!” it was Numen’s voice. "Neal and Kale doesn't respond!”
“Did he leave the bird?”
“Yes I saw them but I can’t contact them!”
“Group up. You should see Mia and me in your radar,” I said. I stepped backward and continued south while checking the outdated mini radar on my wrist. Apparently, we never got the advanced gizmos so it was all we had. The horrible thing was that the radius was too small. I only saw total of three dots on it. “Did you see where they landed?”
“I believe 3 o’ clock from my location. They were together when I last saw them too.”
“Got it,” I said. Mia was some meters west from me and Numen was closing one me. “Everyone follow me. Quickly.”
The Hunters roared and screamed. Their deafening yell boomed throughout the entire woods. I dashed between woods, killing Hunters on my way and ditching those in pursuit. When I finally caught sight of Mia and Numen by my side we began the search immediately.
“We still have the radars. They do too unless they died already. Use them,” I commanded. “In case anything goes wrong. Just regroup back at Eden. It’s only an hour walk.”
I went up north, deeper into the swarm while the Mia and Numen ran to east and west respectively. The sun was already high up in the sky, dangling in the middle of the blue ocean above. It would have been a lovely weather to take a picnic… if it wasn’t for these creatures.
Seen from a third person, we were helplessly outnumbered. But the four were the best I chose and taught myself. If there were someone with even the slightest chance of completely copying my technique, it was them. They might not be able to do absurd things like one versus a hundred, but they were capable enough to sometimes do unexpected performances that just awed others. And one of the things I taught them was the ability to flee and fight at the same time. To some extent, it was the essence of the skills I used – to inflict as much as damage through only a several swing.
Mia and Numen were the two best. They were one of the fifteen during the Hornet’s Nest, and apparently, their groundwork was solid. So even with the three of us, the Hunters couldn’t catch us up; rather, the Hunters on the front kept on dying out.
“Found it!” Numen shouted. He pointed towards 9 o’ clock with his free hand. The three of us turned simultaneously and the swarm of Hunters stomped just behind us.
Two dots appeared on the small radar screen.They blinked madly as if screaming for help.
We went in deeper into the woods and farther from Eden. Hunters on our tail were pursuing us like a mad bull and their stomping made a stampede almost resembling an average earthquake.
And from a distance, I heard swings clinging.
“Leon!” Neal yelled. He was on the ground. His armor was stained in blood but he was still holding his sword. “Get out of here!”
A javelin-sort of object slashed through the air and went past right beside my ears. The impulse was powerful enough to make me stumble. I signaled Mia and Numen to get over to Kale and Neal. I quickly stood up and scanned the surrounding. Next time, that thing might pierce through my skull instead of thin air.
Only the greenness of the forest and the darkness of the Hunters were seen all around. I couldn’t expect such force from a basic unit; it had to be the purple one or a controller.
I reacted fast and ducked. The javelin was so fast that it looked formless. It dismantled the large tree behind me in a single strike. I looked around again – nothing.
“Leon! We need to get out of here!” Kale ran over to me with the other three behind him. “This is not just an ordinary group of Hunters! We need to leave. NOW.”
“Neal can you run?” Mia asked as she helped him struggle over to a tree. Neal nodded. “Let’s go then.”
“Wait. Don’t move,” I said. The swarm slowly closed on us. But the thrower was unseen. “One wrong step might be the end of us all.”
“We couldn’t identify it. It doesn’t come out from the forest,” said Kale. We made a small circle backing a tree as the Hunters walked toward us. “It’s what got Neal into that shape.”
What now…? A sniper in the woods. I didn’t know how long it for it to ‘reload’. I didn’t know where it was shooting from. I didn’t know what in the world was shooting it. The Hunters were still about ten yards away. But they were seizing us quickly. We stay, we would die. We ran frantically, we would die as well.
“Stick together because I’ll not be coming back the second time,” I said. Neal stood up. He wrapped his wounded arm with his cloth. “On my mark, run into the Hunters. Stay as low as possible.”
“Try not to kill them. Just deflect any attack and kill those that are right in front of you,” I said. “We’re making a clean high way out of this.”
I took a deep breath and braced myself. All I need is just a perfect timing.
The moment everyone stepped forward, the javelin flashed and soared through the air, right at us.
Shining silver collided with the flying projectile. It happened literally, in a blink of a second. Whatever it was throwing, it was sliced into two but the energy in it was still present. The segments crashed onto any natural obstacles and made a destructive damage. I noticed everyone unmoving and staring at me.
“What the hell do you think you are doing? Run!”
Numen stabbed through a Hunter in front and everyone followed him from behind. The swarm was obviously huge and the spaciousness of the forest made things worse. But still, it was the only way out. I followed them from the back while counting the time until the next throw.
Hunters surfed in like tidal waves from both sides. We somehow managed to maintain a line but we were going too slowly. A minute or so passed; the sniper did not throw any javelins. So it was either that my plan worked or its reloading time was longer than I had originally thought.
“There’s too many of them!” Numen shouted. His voice was barely audible. The screams and howls from the hideous creatures nearly muted all humanly voice. “Where the hell is Scarlet?”
“Stop SHITTING and just GO!” I shouted back. I hurled my blade and dissected several Hunters in a row.
Numen drilled his way and made it to an open space.
And there was a sudden wail.
“Shit!” Numen cried. When we all made it out, he was on his knees. His sword was gone from his hand. “It hit my sword; my wrist –“
“Get up! You’re not even bleeding!” I demanded. The stampede of Hunters roared from behind, probably outrageous by the mockery we’ve just done to them.
Numen stood up with Neal’s help. And everyone started to run without looking back.
“Where’s our flight?” Kale demanded. He was gasping for breath.
“We need to get as far away from whatever that is throwing these things,” I answered. I looked at my radar the helicopter was close. But if one of those things pierced through the aircraft, we were doomed. And Scarlet…
“You should see the helicopter if you keep on going the same direction,” I said.
“What about you?” Mia asked looking puzzled.
“We need a distraction for Scarlet,” I said. “Aboard the helicopter. It’s an order.”
Tyson and Tonilia had their team slowly proceed through the woods. The area was beyond the Eye’s range but not too far off. When something happened, they can quickly enter the Eye’s Zone and request for help. While Tyson and Tonilia walked their company from the back of the line, Tyson complained.
“Why in the world are we doing this? Numen checks these areas three times a week,” he muttered.
“Now, now, you don’t want to become a bad model for these Slayers,” she said, mockingly. She rested her hands inside her jacket’s pockets. “Still, it is quite pointless scouting this area… it’s not even the area Numen and Mia pointed out during the council.” “Exactly my point. We should be training these guys, not taking them a walk,” Tyson argued. He said it too loud that some of the Slayers in the front glanced back at him.
“Who knows, some of the groups that went north might be actually fighting.”
“That’s worse. It means we’ll have more people dead than alive.”
“Well I don’t –“ Tyson’s eyes flashed. He suddenly interrupted the conversation and jumped on Tonilia and crashed together on the ground. “Hey! What the –“
There was a sudden gunfire.
It was loud and clear so nobody mistook for anything else.
Tonilia looked nervously at Tyson, then at the trees around them.
“We have visitors.” whispered Tyson. He looked his team in front, all looking back at him, waiting for any orders. Their expressions were tensed and frightened. After all, almost half of them were inexperienced. “Get to cover, ready yourself.”
“Tell me… is this better or worse?” she asked. Her hands slowly pulled out her blade.
“Depends on how you see it…”
Machine gun exploded.
“TAKE COVER!” Tyson shouted.
Tyson sprang to his feet and Tonilia rolled behind a tree. He unsheathed his blade and looked around. The machine gun was rattling from above. He took out a pistol from his pocket and shot at the direction from where it was shooting. The rattling stopped and a human being fell down from the leaves.
Tyson looked at his company. There were some who were struggling from shots. This is bad. We’re outmatched out here.
“Everyone retreat back to Eden!” Tyson shouted. The Slayers ran in panic. They all started fleeing back to where they came from. Tonilia and Tyson took their backs and followed them.
From a distance, one by one, Tyson saw them revealing themselves. Ravens.
“Tyson, we need to fight,” she said from his side. She eyed at the dozens of Ravens from both sides. “Or we’ll all die for nothing. We need to fight back so that at least some of us survive.”
As if the Ravens heard what Tonilia said, they suddenly ambushed from all directions. They pulled out their naked blade and starting slashing at the Slayers.
“Don’t run! Engage!” Tyson commanded again. The Slayers obeyed his every word and started to fight. But their response was late. The Ravens struck first and almost five of the Slayers were stabbed to death in an instant.
“Look what we have here.” A voice from the back of Tyson chilled through his ears. Tyson tried to turn back but the person’s blade was on his neck first. Tonilia reacted fast but not fast enough. The Raven was already pointing the tip of his blade at the neck before she could attack. “Please, don’t let me kill this poor boyfriend of yours and stay still.”
Shit… what have I done…
Then he remembered. If I can just… though it is not perfect…
thrashed his sword upward and a faint light of silver followed his sword. He kicked as hard as he could against the Raven’s
leg and struck his sword with a devastating blow. The silver aura crashed onto
the sword and the Raven staggered badly that he almost lost his grasp on his
Tonilia didn’t lose her chance. She leaped at the Raven and attempted a killing blow.
But the Raven recovered his balance quickly. It rolled sideways and evaded her attack. Then he rapidly stood up and tried to take her behind the back. Tyson blocked his move. The swords collided. The Raven suddenly pulled out another sword from his side and counter attacked. Tonilia deflected the second sword and the three of them stepped back all at once. They stared at each other, glaring at one another’s movements.
The Raven lunged himself at Tonilia. She was caught off guard and just managed to defend herself but was thrown behind due to the impact. She crashed on the ground. He pulled his arms back to slice her into two when Tyson threw himself and together, collided with the ground. The Raven bashed Tyson with his hardened armor and kicked him off. He raised his sword to kill Tyson, this time.
“Tyson!” another voice boomed from the forest. The Raven looked back from where the voice came from and sheathed his sword. He cursed something while murmuring and hastily left Tyson be. The entire company of Ravens was gone in a matter of seconds. All that was left of them were a few dead ones. And when everything was done, Raul and Yura’s team came out from the forest. “Tyson! Ton! You okay?”
“Raul?” When Tyson stood up, as shocked as he was, he was glad to see his fellow companion. “Thank the gods…”
“We heard gunfire and yelling so we came straight away,” Yura explained. She helped Tyson up. She had the team help each other get some quick medical care.
Tyson and Tonilia looked around and saw more than a half of the company on the ground, lifelessly.
“…” Tyson collapsed to the ground. “So many died in such a short time…”
“Hey… it’s not your fault. You were ambushed,” Raul said, trying to cheer him up. “Ton, let’s go. I think you guys had enough scouting for a day.”
“Everyone get back to Eden!” Yura commanded to everyone.
Raul pulled Tyson up. The two teams limped back to the town.
Tyson stopped in front of a dead Raven.
“Wait.” He pulled his sword and cut a piece from the armor. There were words written on it.
RAVEN COMPANY ALPHA
It was like one versus 130. It reminded me of a very old classic war movie called 300 only worse. The enemy wasn’t humans with steel junks and riding useless animals. They were a completely new species that physically are better than humans in every way. On top of that, there was an unidentified commanding unit from somewhere in the woods, through javelins in a speed of light. I might have regretted my choice if only the consequences didn’t involve Scarlet.
I fought as best as I can, evading the javelins that was thrown time to time. In fact, the javelin was more frightening than two dozens of basic units. I tried to use my ability as less as possible, but realistically, that wasn’t possible.
I did not charge in. Instead, stood as a blockade to buy the others time to get on the helicopter and killed anything that tried to get past me. I was pulled back, naturally, even though I killed almost thirty or forty Hunters.
With consecutive use of my ability, I was starting to wear out.
“Leon!” Perfect. “We’re all here. Scarlet’s asking why we left you –“
“I’m on my way. I want her to lift off as soon as she sees me in sight.”
I jumped high up and crashed forward with in a devilish force. My sword dismantled all the Hunters in the area I crashed onto. When the Hunters were regrouping, I sheathed my sword and began to run back.
Hunters were fast. There was a reason why people named them ‘Hunters’ and why they were at the top of the food chain in this world. They were faster than any human can think of. And compared to their size, it was almost impossible to think of such large creature running in such speed.
I had to stay as much distance as possible with them. I had to use my ability again to fortify my legs and help me sprint faster than any human. When I finally saw the helicopter, shouted it to lift off. The bird started to hover.
The sniper was taking its shot now that it saw my escape route. The aircraft shook violently as it tried to move desperately.
“Lower the ladder. Get higher!” I shouted at them, hoping they can hear me.
The aircraft hovered higher and a long ladder went down from the deck. I jumped, caught the tip of the ladder and saw the Hunters below.
That was the last javelin.
I climbed up on board and saw everyone in a good shape.
“Leon, don’t ever to that. You almost got yourself killed,” Scarlet warned.
“…” I shrugged. “Hardly.”
The helicopter flied back. But while returning, I went back to the fundamental question.
The group of such large Hunters in a forest was something still unprecedented and unexplained.
And though there are plenty of unknown commanding units in this planet, I had never heard of any ‘sniper’ unit that lived around the area. If it did, I would have heard it from either source.
What were they doing there?
Why were they there in the first place?
Because I had to sense there was something going and that this was just the start of all the queer things to happen.