Part 2 - 4
Coffee tasted bitter.
The scars felt soar.
Muscles seemed unnatural.
It was starting. Whatever was happening to my body, it was happening. It wasn’t as bad as I had originally thought, though. The only part that hurt was the wounds, not the whole body. I had no problem fighting. But…
The morning coffee just had to be so bitter.
“This is a clear meaning of WAR!” Tyson roared. He banged his fist on the desk and cried out to everyone. “They ambushed us and nearly killed us all!”
“Ravens,” Mia said bluntly. She fidgeted with the mark Slayers had found. “I can’t be too sure whether it was you that was incautious or it was them that were the skillful.”
“Fine! I admit I wasn’t the best leader to respond. But what about those dead Slayers!” he cried. Then he turned to me. “Leon! You have to do something. It was your idea to have these inexperienced out in the field in the first place!”
“Hey, his hands are clean on this one,” Kale interrupted. “Everyone just calm down and –“
“They butchered our people like they were Hunters!”
“Tyson has a point,” said Numen. Tyson clapped his hands. His supporters all looked at Numen. “But that is not a good reason to declare ‘war’ against the Dominion.”
“They are the one who provoked us first!” Tonilia joined him. “I think we’re already at war.”
“You’re not serious,” Numen spat. “Do you really want to destroy this community for the sake of several lives?”
“That several lives could have been dozens!” Tyson kept on insisting. “We should either retaliate or demand some kind of compensation for this. For the sake of us all.”
“No,” I said. Tyson looked at me with extreme animosity.
“Now this is outrageous. I thought you should be taking care of us! I mean the whole lot of us!” he demanded.
“…” I sighed. “I have no reasons to go to war neither do I have reasons to demand the Dominion anything. Dead is dead. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
“They you’re just going to let this pass on? What are we supposed to tell the others! Or the people who came here recently, hearing all the great care we promised? Huh? What are we going to tell them about this?” Tyson was extremely angry. He stomped towards the door and left the room, banging the door hard behind him. Now everyone moved their eyes from Tyson to me.
“Tell their families that Ravens ambushed Tyson and Tonilia’s team. I don’t want anybody to bring such subject again, ever,” I concluded.
“But… there still has to be something done about this… right?” Tonilia asked carefully. I silently stood up. “Come on, Leon. You’re our leader. Please, take some responsible for this…”
“Right now… I don’t think I can promise you anything on this case,” was all I was able to say. I walked out of the room with everyone at my back.
What would they be thinking? How helpless I am? How indecisive I am?
I thought moving to this place and making a new world would make me feel better. But that was a mistake. This choice only brought me more problems I need to solve.
Time was spiraling down fast. It was nearing the sixth year to lead the Slayers and Eden. And for the first time I began to wonder whether I was really meant to lead; whether I was really a leader or not. Ironically, I never wanted to be a leader nor was I happy to be one. I’ve worked my way to protect myself, the ones I loved and cherish the memories of the gleeful past.
And all of that just led me right here.
But now I have a choice. I can either continue to protect myself, or I could choose to really become a leader of Eden, a leader of a community.
“May I come in?” Lucas came into my room.
“You’re already in my room,” I blurted.
“I knocked but you didn’t answer,” I shrugged back. He sat down on a stool. “You looked very troubled.”
“I am very troubled,” I said.
“Is it about the recent incident?” he asked. I didn’t answer. “Or is it just more profound than that?”
“What would you do Lucas,” I paused. He just stared at me, waiting, “if you took authority instead of me?”
Lucas looked grave. He looked as if he was totaling taken aback.
“I… would say… I refuse whatever power you would give me,” he finished. That wasn’t the answer I expected, though. Perhaps, I looked too blatantly disappointed. “Do you know what I thought when the first group of us was building this community?”
“Hope?” I guessed.
“I saw opportunity,” he said. “There are about five hundred people living here and they are all here because of that. You’ve given them a chance to choose a new life; for all of them.”
“I never –“
“It doesn’t matter whether you intended or not, Leon,” Lucas continued. “What’s most important is that people look upon you as their leader. They look you as the hero they saw you back at the Dominion but now, they also look you as their commander.”
“I’ve failed as a leader, Lucas. Slayers were slain in front of our front yard. We don’t even have a secure defense system to fend off the Hunters,” I said grimly.
“Do you think that really matters? You’ve protected them for the past five or six years. They need your leadership Leon. Whatever you are thinking… you have a job to do here,” Lucas almost sounded desperate. “If you are truly abdicating, I would have misjudged you.”
“Perhaps…” I packed my bag and placed my sword on my side. “You misjudged how selfish I am.”
“Again?” Scarlet asked me.
“Sorry Scarlet, but…” my words faltered.
“I mean… I don’t mind flying again but…” she looked awfully worried. “With the recent incident… I don’t think it’s safe. There’s no reason to go back too.”
“There is a reason,” I said. “I just don’t know what.”
She frowned; and sighed. Scarlet turned around and beckoned me to follow.
We didn’t talk for first halfway. She just flew her bird and I sat on the passenger’s seat. I honestly hoped for some conversation but no words came through the headphone. I looked afar to overcome the tedium.
There were only the trees, the wide ambiguity of the forest. It was disgustingly wearisome to see them every day. I’ve dreamed of seeing the greenness when I was abroad the Ark just before landing. I longed to stand within the forests back when I first experienced the simulation. But now, the forest only meant dread, death and uncertainty. No one dares to walk the forest. No one wants to walk in the forest. They all want their homes, their loved ones and their past of when they dreamed of a better life on Earth. Many have the first one. Some has the second one too, but none seemed to have the last wish; for the simple reason that it is impossible with predators lurking in the woods.
But I tried hard. I tried to settle in the Dominion with Michelle and Scarlet – I’ve failed for numerous reasons. I built a brand new community I even named Eden – it never went even close to its name value. It was just the last haven for those who refused the Dominion, nothing more.
For a very long time, I had forgotten what I really wanted.
“Will you understand if I released myself from my position?” I asked. I was hoping for a yes.
“Is that why you looked so anxious back there?” she answered back. I knew she was evading a direct answer. I understood; I doubted anyone would just say ‘yes’, considering the current state I am in.
“Maybe… it just seems like I’m neglecting my purpose of being here, at Eden,” I said leaning back on my seat. “Lucas doesn’t want me to but…”
“You’ve led the Slayers for five whole years why now?”
“Sometimes, when I visit Michelle’s grave, I question myself whether what I do is really meant to be done. I ask myself ‘will she be happy with it?’” I said. “But… she’s gone. Michelle’s been dead for years. Her memories are fading among us. I made Eden to make a world she would have wanted to live in, not to make a new society that can oppose the Dominion.”
“Leon… I can understand,” she said back. “It doesn’t matter what others think. If you think it’s the right deed and you feel the purpose is justified, I am wholeheartedly willing to follow and support.”
“Do what you have to do. For Michelle, for me, for you… or even for everyone.”
The helicopter suddenly jerked. It shook so violently that I almost tumbled across the narrow aisle between the two rows of seats.
“Something’s on the ground,” Scarlet said. I felt she was trying to stay calm. “But… we’re only a few kilometers from the city…”
I looked out from the deck. The trees blocked most of the things beneath the leaves but the distasteful color of the Hunters was something I couldn’t miss.
“The city’s under attack,” I said.
“Is Eden under attack?”
“No. Lucas never leaves the Eye. He would have called me by now if he saw a single Hunter within our domain,” I said.
Red flamed burst up from the same direction where the city is.
“I think this is a horrible timing…” she murmured through the headphone.
“No, this is perfect timing.”
“Push them back!” shouted Rick. He waved his sword towards the herd of Hunters smashing anything or anyone in their path. “I want all Raven squads defending the main gate! Don’t let them come any further!”
The Ravens moved in great haste in following orders. They pulled out their swords and started fending off the swarm of Hunters.
The city was in mayhem. Gunfire roared like a hurricane and the gruesome noise of Hunters and humans combined shook the earth. Swords flashed like daylight and blades danced like moonlight. Fire burned among houses and people screamed and yelled out for survival.
“Dammit where are the Crusaders?” yelled Rick. He looked around to see only Ravens in their black and blue armor.
“Rick! Rick!” Nelson called out for him from behind. “We have a problem.”
“Other than that Han is not here and nor are his Crusaders?” the Raven Commander growled in fury.
“Han is at the East gate,” Nelson said desperately. “But that’s not the point. West gate is breached. Their number is Hornet’s Nest all over again.”
“If their numbers are so great why are we attacked off guard?” Rick demanded. Nelson stumbled on his words. “Shit! The South gate needs greater attention. I want every able Raven – I don’t care whether they are novices or not – I want them mustered at the South gate and the West. Any news from North?”
“North does not report any engagement so we displaced all the troops there to other gates.”
“This isn’t Hornet’s Nest,” spat Rick. “At least we had a place to run away.”
The Hunters marched forward. They pulled out their blades and leaped at the Crusaders all at once. Han slammed one Hunter with his sword and dug his sword deep into its skull.
“Stay in line,” said the director. The others slowly backed up as the Hunters kept on forward. “Don’t let them kill you; we don’t have enough recruits these days.”
The line of Hunters growled and roar like ferocious animals. They all started to charge in. The Crusaders held their ground, but the number was too small to sustain the defense line, slowly but certainly, the East defense line was retreating.
“Fire!” Gunners from the back of the line concentrated their fire on the Hunters closing on. Only light artillery was usable since heavy weapons became Lost Technologies. Unfortunately, the light weapons were not strong enough to completely penetrate Hunter’s armor. Hence, the only role of the gunners was to limit Hunters’ movement.
“Push forward! We fail here, the world as we know it will be gone! I guarantee you!” shouted Han to his men. “Form in a –“
A disastrous impact quaked the earth. Dust and clouds covered the area. All guns ceased fire. All swords halted slashing. The only noise heard from the East gate was the low, terrorizing growl of a large species in front of them. The dust began to clear out. The black shadow of the creature became a clearer shape of a monster.
“Run,” Han said, almost whispering.
“I said RUN!” he yelled and everyone began fleeing to save their own lives. “Inform the generals right now!”
The creature howled like a hungry wolf that just found its prey. Its eye glared at the humans running here and there and fangs became wet with saliva. The Hunter stomped across the ground, towards the nearest living meat. Its blade dissected through anything with its devilish might.
“This is Lieutenant Erik from East Gate. Cyclops has joined the party.”
Madhouse – no slaughterhouse was the right word from the humans’ perspective. This was worse than the Blackout Incident. Three out of four gates were completely breached and much of the men were retreating to the inner city. Regardless of Ravens, Crusaders, or ordinary soldiers, everyone died out. The Ravens weren’t weak. They were at least able enough to stand off a Hunter assault.
It was just that the Hunters picked every weak spot of the city when they attacked.
I finished off the last Hunter in the area where we landed. Scarlet was still inside the helicopter, alert for any enemy. The city was only several hundred meters away. The walls were evidently damaged and I heard Hunters rushing into the city.
“I’m going to go in,” I said to Scarlet. She didn’t say anything.
“You really have no reason to fight here. You know they will somehow fend the Hunters off,” she said, blatantly miserably.
“Yeah, I know. Sometimes people need to be at the edge of a cliff to really show their potentials,” I said. “And Ravens are strong. I don’t really have to go in there.”
“But you’ll go in anyway? Michelle would be proud of you,” said Scarlet in a mocking tone. She jumped out of the pilot seat and lightly kissed my cheek. “I think I’m saying this every time you go off to fight but still… don’t die, Leon.”
“I won’t.” I can’t and I will never let myself.
The South gate was destroyed. But the only cause was the number of the Hunters, in the end, they were nothing but ants. I swung my blade furiously and the Hunters died out like flies. The Ravens in the area hardly took notice of me so I kept on moving inward.
The South gate was breached but the Ravens seemed like they were holding the line. Han. I need to find Han. I expected to find Rick or the Raven Commander but they were nowhere to be seen even as I approached the defense line.
And there was a scream.
I turned toward where the yell was coming from. It was coming from the East gate. There was a sudden explosion and red flame soared up into the air. But the wail did not stop. The Ravens in the area hardly took notice. They were busy fighting the enemies in front of them. I dashed past them.
“Leon? What are you –“ I leaped across the field and approached Rick in an instant. I swung my green-blooded sword onto his neck and covered his mouth. It was a crazy thing to do in the middle of a battle, but as Scarlet said, it was not my fight. I didn’t need to consume my ability with such trifles that didn’t involve Eden.
I pulled him across the battlefield quickly so that no one would notice. Then, I found an empty space between two houses and pushed him onto the ground.
“What in the world do you think you are doing here? You have no right to be here Leon,” he shouted. Rick unsheathed his sword. His sword was clean as a freshly made blade.
“You don’t decide what right I have Rick,” I said. Then I pointed Prima’s tip at his neck. “Once a Crusader director is now a captain of a Raven squad.”
“Don’t deny Leon. Ravens are better than weak Crusaders,” he said. I am wasting time here.
“Why should I tell you?”
I swiped the tip of my blade across the Raven captain’s soft neck flesh. It was only a slight cut, but blood trickled down and the man looked terrified. He touched his neck and winced.
“You…” he growled.
“It’s not a hard question.”
It was idiotic and irrational of him. It was a simple question. He had to answer either West gate or East. But I knew the vain pride he had for nothing. And as I expected, he resisted answering. I snatched the sword from his hand without much difficulty.
“I believe a sword should be in the hands of a trained person and the title of captain should be given to those with the responsibility,” I said. His face still roared in anger. “But I see none in you, Rick. I just can’t how you became a director or a captain in the first place.”
“You have no idea…”
“I very much do. Generals are not always those who are good at strategies in war. They become one just because they are good at politics, good at licking other people’s boots,” I glared at him. “But that’s just when there isn’t any war ongoing. So wake up Rick, you’re right in the middle of one of the largest war in the history of mankind.”
Rick’s sword rang in my hand. I held the blade so that the blade’s tip was just pointing at his left leg. I pushed the sword down vertically and Rick screamed and wailed in pain. Blood poured out from the wound. They are all the same.
“Where’s Han?” I asked again.
“EAST! EAST GATE!” he shouted so loud that it alerted others fighting the battle. I quickly took off before anyone could find me.
East gate was gone. It was literally destroyed and was laid waste. Nearly a block of houses were in ruins. The barricade where the gate should have been was utterly crumbled into blocks of debris.
In the middle of it, was a single commanding unit.
“Leon? What are you doing here?” was Han’s words the instant he saw me.
“That is the last thing you need to concern about,” I said. The Hunters in line did not attack except those that approached. Hence, the battle at East gate was stagnant with lines of humans and Hunters staring at each other. “Cyclops.”
“Yes, I never wished seeing that thing again,” he said grumbling. “We’ve been like this for the past ten minutes. Everyone’s confused and most importantly shocked.”
I was thinking. It was really not my fight. I could leave. Cyclops won’t follow me. I could leave ride Scarlet’s helicopter back to Eden, and inform the others about the news.
“Since we have some moment; why are you here?” he asked me again. “Don’t tell me it’s not important because I know you won’t be fighting here just for the goodness of mankind or something. You’re body’s state also –“
“I need to see Jerrod,” I said. I looked him straight in the eyes. “I need to see the president.”
“Do you mean the actual president or the formal president?”
“Interesting,” he looked at the Cyclops who was not moving. It looked like a robot without any power. “So are going to help us? Or are you going to wait until this fight is over? Both choices have their pros and cons.”
“Sooner I meet Jerrod, the better,” I said. “I’ll kill the Cyclops, your men can finish the rest.”
“You’re in a hurry?” smirked the director.
“Well, I just had a sword plucked to Rick’s leg and I don’t think I’ll last long in the city when things settle down,” I shrugged back.
“Director Han!” a Crusader shouted. He pointed at the Hunters. They were alive again as if they understood our conversation.
“Director Han! South and West defense line has been breached!” a signaler reported.
“Whoever the Controller of this swarm is, it is probably the smartest Controller,” said Han.
I unsheathed my blade and leaped across the field at the Cyclops.
Cyclops and Chimera. They were the two ‘largest’ Hunter ever seen since now. Though to be exact, Cyclops was much huge. It earned it name from its unusual one eye and of course its abnormal size of body. Its strength was needless to say just from the largeness and the arm-blade was nearly as twice as longer than normal Hunter’s.
The first time I knew its existence was through a picture printed from Eden. When I led my patrols to kill it, I had to be satisfied that I was able to drive it off from our land. Strength and power were two words to describe the Cyclops and right now, it wasn’t strange to see the crumbled barricade.
Its only weakness, if anyone insists on finding one, was obviously, speed.
The problem was that my technique relied on sheer force. To crush the enemy’s defense or to not give moment for a breath – that was my ‘motto’ all along.
The two lines that were stationary all charged to each other. Han and his Crusaders took the basic units while I attacked the Cyclops.
I clutched my sword with two hands and sliced upward. The Hunter turned its head to evade and soon, its mighty blade targeted me. Blocking was useless. I slid sideways and let the blade skim past mine. I pushed its blade away and ran closer to the creature. The Cyclops backed up a step and raised its blades to attack. I quickly grabbed the chance to assault and unleashed my ability.
Silver light gleamed with my sword and I struck the Hunter’s thick armor.
Cyclops stumbled. It collapsed onto the ground on its knees. It wasn’t moving. Its head dropped towards the ground so that its glaring eye was no longer visible from where I stood.
“Is it dead?”
I glanced at my sword. There was no green blood. There was no ooze. There was no sign of any damage.
I raised my sword again to finish the job. Prima glided down, severing the air between the blade and the Hunter.
But the Cyclops stood up faster. It cut off my attack with its blade and my sword arm bounced off. The monster immediately slammed my body. Without any way of defense, my fragile body flew backwards, colliding with a defense barricade.
The armor I wore was not as perfect as the ones made in by the Dominion. It wasn’t made so that it could absorb Hunter’s blast completely. So even with the armor on, I felt my back squeak in pain and muscles cry in soreness. I stood up.
The gleaming red eye was still staring at me. The sharpness almost looked as if it would penetrate anything. The Cyclops seemed confident. It stomped across the battleground, ignoring the other Crusaders fighting basic units.
Cyclops’s armor was much too thick for normal attacks. Speed and agility was already beyond my concern. The problem was how to pierce through its armor with the least usage of my ability possible. I took a deep breath.
Then I charged with incredible speed toward the Hunter.
The Cyclops slashed its blade against the ground. It missed me but the impact against the earth was destructive enough to influence even other Crusaders nearby. But it takes more than that to block me.
I hurled myself and positioned myself on the side of the Hunter. It brandished its blade to follow my movement. Too slow. Suddenly, the creature moved its legs and attempted a kick. The heavy leg of the Hunter just slid past my ears and the impulse rang through my head. The impulse was so powerful it hurt my ears. Ignoring, I dashed in closer to the Hunter.
The only vulnerable part was its head. But targeting its head was a difficult job when the enemy was too large. Wasteful movement only brought death since seconds of attacks are the ones that decide the winner. The strongest technique I can use. It was my only choice. A second of hesitation about the consequence meant my death.
running towards me. She probably saw the Hunters leaving the city like waves
retreating from a beach. It felt strange, though. Much of the people must have
noticed us but none seemed to cause any trouble; at least not yet.
“Leon, you didn’t use your ability again did you?” she asked sternly. I looked at her nervously and hesitated.
“Of course not,” I managed to say. “There was no need to.”
“Scarlet,” said Han from behind her. She turned around. “Well, the three of us meet quite often these days.”
“You guys need to leave or follow me right now,” he said lowering his voice so that only the two of us can hear. “It’ll not be long until someone wants you two arrested. Then, there’ll be more bloodshed.”
“Where are you taking us?”
“To meet the president, as I promised with Leon,” he said. Han started walking and we followed. When I tried to get up, a sudden strange feeling in my body refused to stand and I collapsed to the ground, helplessly.
“Leon!” Scarlet grabbed my arm and helped me up. Han only stared at me.
“It’s getting worse isn’t it,” he said in a low, deep tone. I couldn’t help but nod. I was certain Han knew everything – about the state I was in, about the relationship with Jerrod and Dr. Greg and Michelle; but he never seemed to tell me anything.
“I’m fine,” I said. I was able to walk after a few minutes like nothing ever happened. “Take us to Jerrod, now.”
The room was luxury itself. Walls were decorated with all kinds of artworks of mankind. From antiques from the Middle ages all the way to high-end modern devices were all displayed inside the president’s room. The chandelier shined like the sun itself and all furniture were carved from wood.
But the room was chilling cold. The atmosphere was depression itself. And in the middle of it was the lonely president on his chair, in front of his hollow desk. Whiskey bottle beside him was nearly empty. The tea in the cup in front of him was full but looked already cold.
“Han,” he said. Jerrod acted as if he just revived from the dead. When Scarlet and I also came into the room, he didn’t look that surprised. “Leon Veridi and Scarlet Dane. It’s a pleasure.”
“Look at you – all drunk again,” Han spat. Jerrod only chuckled.
“There’s nothing I have to do in this wretched world. To be exact, there’s nothing I can do except making petty announcements to the people,” the president said back. His eyes moved towards me and Scarlet. “Not as enjoyable as your last visit, don’t you think?”
“Did Han tell you?”
“Yes he did.”
There was a pause in our conversation. An awkward tension flowed among the four of us.
“You said you wanted to see me?” Jerrod asked. “Well, here you are. Ask me. There aren’t much people visiting me these days so I’m very much happy to answer what you want to know.”
“It’s about Vincent Greg.”
The president’s expression changed instantly. His face turned dark and cold.
“He died years ago, Leon. What you want to know burned up with the hidden lab of his,” Jerrod said flatly. “If you think Vincent killed Michelle and you want revenge, you would rather kill me since I took part in it as well.”
“Wait what?” Han looked as if he never heard of such words.
“Han, you better stay out of this one,” Jerrod said.
“If I really wanted revenge, I would have done it the day I left this city,” I said. “What I want is the truth.”
“Do Vincent’s last words bother you?” Jerrod smiled mockingly. “It shouldn’t; he’s a madman.”
“I didn’t come all the way here to kill Hunters. I didn’t come here to hear what you have to say about my decision either,” I said. “I want to see Vincent Greg right now.”
“He’s dead. You saw it yourself. He burned with the flames and even if he didn’t, the wounds will have killed him anyway,” Jerrod answered. “Han, why do you bring such troubles?”
“Leon, what are you trying to say? Greg’s been dead for years. I’ve seen his body in the coffin,” said Han.
“Jerrod don’t lie. You and I both know exactly what happened the day the lab burned into flames,” I said, pushing my demands harder. I unsheathed my sword and pointed the tip at Jerrod’s neck. Han unsheathed his. I quickly moved my feet and kicked his hand. The sword was knocked off helplessly from his hand. “I honestly do not want to use force since we have some acquaintance in the past.”
“I have nothing to lose, Leon Veridi,” he said.
“You have everything to lose,” I said.
“Take me to the place you imprisoned Vincent Greg. Now.”