Part 2 - 8
The world knew who I was – who I really was and what I was made for. Nevertheless, I couldn’t understand how those people just threw me down to the ground. If the reason for overthrowing me was the ones inside the files, I was able to imagine what they thought of me. That… brought up another question that disturbed me to the end: What am I?
“You’re Leon Veridi, the one and only," Scarlet only replied so easily.
“That’s not what I meant,” I murmured. I glanced at the other three outside the shack eating as well.
“Get over it Leon. You should be the last person to give up,” her tone was stern yet gentle as always. “Besides it doesn’t make any difference with who you are.”
“Except that’s the exact question I want the answer to,” I said. My injured spot was soar but after sleeping, it got better. I touched it slightly and it stung when I did.
“Well…” she said with a sigh. “It doesn’t really matter in the end.”
“Because I have no doubt you’ll go on despite your problems.”
I looked at her blankly. Before I could reply, she went out to give the others some soup.
The forest was so peaceful. I often imagined how people in the past dared to destroy such environment. Serenity. Calmness. If it wasn’t for the Hunters – if it wasn’t for all this politics, I would have been living in a shack like this in the middle of the woods. In fact, I was certain the Dominion would never find us when we crawl deep inside the forest – not for another five years or so. I could just stay here, eat by hunting animals, and move from place to place only when the pursuers are near. It was indeed a tantalizing option.
But no, Scarlet was right and I hated for it – ironically, hated myself for hating it too.
I had a job to do. Nobody will dare command me to do it, no, it was an obligation.
If one of your supposedly-dead family members was found out to be alive, there was only one option to be made. I finished my bowl and pulled out my sword underneath a stack of hay. Then I went out to meet the others.
“Made up your mind Leon?” Numen asked naturally. All four looked straight into my eyes.
“Get ready,” I said. They stood up and cleaned the area.
“Give us the order,” said Kale. “Are we heading for Eden?”
“I – we have a larger issue right now,” I said. I glanced at Scarlet. “We’re going to go meet an old friend.”
“Are we abandoning Eden then?”
“…” it was still once a place where I was able to carry out my idealistic plan... but – “The Eden we know does not exist anymore.”
“Mr. President, Director Rick is here.”
“Ask him when did he asked me for permissions,” Jerrod said with a sigh. The door flung opened. Rick came inside with bandages over his leg. His face was disturbing as always.
“I came here to report for duty,” he said with a wry smile. Jerrod ignored his grin and looked at his wound. “Although we lost quite many, we’re injecting more drugs to volunteers to reinforce. We should restore the number in no time.”
“Leon should have the credit for that,” he replied.
“And we are planning to attack Eden tomorrow as soon as everything is ready.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Jerrod blurted. Rick raised his eyebrows. Shit. Jerrod pursed his lips.
“Do you have intel in this?”
“Your wounds are not healed.”
“A commander commands. I don’t really use my legs to command,” the director said sternly. “And besides, as you said, I’m not here to earn your permission.”
The director stormed away. The president massaged his forehead; his head was aching very badly these days.
“Mr. President Ha-“
“Jerrod,” a familiar voice called him. Jerrod raised his head and saw Han.
“What do you want?” murmured the president.
“...” Han sighed at the look of him. “Look at you. Where’s the proud President of the Earth Dominion?”
“This is not a good time Han.”
“But it’s the only time,” said Han. “Leon’s alive.”
“They were ‘overthrown’ from Eden,” said Han.
“They’re planning to head for the North Hive.”
“…” Jerrod needed some time to process that. “What?”
“He has four followers: Numen, Mia, Kale and Scarlet,” he said. Jerrod was expecting that; if Leon did anything with anyone, it was always the four.
“They’re all going to die. That Hive is impossible. The assault just days ago were from that Hive.”
I know. And the Hunters from the North Hive are stronger than normal ones,
their number even greater. They’re strategic, collective and smart,” said Han. “But…
you know Leon’s purpose to go there is not to destroy the hive or exterminating
“…” Jerrod’s expression only got grimmer. “What are you playing at?”
“I need to regroup the Crusaders. They didn’t receive any damage from recent battles. Many have left to join the Slayers but much of the remaining Crusaders are still veterans,” said Han. “I want to support Leon.”
“You’re going to kill yourself and the rest of the Crusaders. Ten Commanding units. Two lair Controllers. And basic units with a number of; god knows how many…” Jerrod said
“Tell me Jerrod. Are you serious about that? Or are you just worried about your own sake?” Han asked sharply.
“Of course! I’m very worried about my own sake! Because unlike someone, I still have a better purpose in life to live!” Jerrod suddenly shouted.
“I believe that purpose is to live the rest of your days as a puppet,” Han snapped coldly. “I trusted you to be the only person to understand me right now – now that so many have left… but I guess I was wrong.”
“Now that you know, leave me,” mumbled the president. He pulled out a bottle of whisky and started drinking. Han silently cursed and headed out when Jerrod called him. “… if you…”
“I’m busier than you think Jerrod.”
“If you… ever make it…” his voice was shaking. From the whisky or from something else, Han did not know why. “Can you ask… her something?”
“…” Han looked at the president half anger, half sympathy. Perhaps this is the end for the proud Captain and Commander of the 3rd Settlement. “Truth be told Jerrod, she was never truly angry. But I can bet that she was only a little sad.”
“I wish I could just…”
“What is done is done. There’s nothing you can do. Look at yourself,” Han finished and left the president’s room. The guard in front was already gone. The door slammed shut by the whirling wind.
The president rested himself on the chair. He blankly stared at the numerous files of the past on the monitor. Normally, he looked at them when he was grim – it tended to remind him the ‘good old past’. But now, watching them was even more depressing.
Night came faster than Han imagined. Stars were blinking as if welcoming his plan. It was nearly midnight. Only the moon and post lights illuminated the empty streets.
“Han, is it time?” Dane asked. Han nodded. He turned around to the Crusaders behind him, all armed and ready. There were barely seventy Crusaders armed in the Crusader bunker. The rest, Han thought, was not qualified for this one way ticket to elsewhere. Still, every one of them has survived the Hornet’s Nest. He at least thought they had what it takes.
“We thought Hornet’s Nest was hell itself and the Controller the demon himself. But unfortunately, true hell was what people called a paradise on Earth and the true demon was the one who tore down the identity of Crusaders,” said Han. His voice, for once in a long time, was filled with confidence. “Five years has passed since the exodus of the most elite Crusaders the world has ever seen. Even so, very few are left that maintain the rightful cause we all used to hold. Even ‘Eden’ fell into the hands of some idiots. But I know the remaining did not forget our true enemy. So… who is our enemy?”
“The HUNTERS!” the crowd shouted.
“Then we leave tonight to face them. And be side by side with the same faces five years ago,” he said. “Our responsibility for the Dominion is down to zero.”
Crusader bunker burst open. All of them pulled out their swords and readied themselves to escape the city.
“Take the airfield! We’re flying out!” Han ordered. “Meg, secure the west wing. Al, you take your squad to set a perimeter to slow down the Ravens as much as possible. The rest of you follow me! Fire up the birds!”
The Crusaders flowed through the city like flood water. The darkness of the night was their advantage, even the civilians had hard time realizing what was happening. Yet, time was against them and the alarm soon went off.
“This is it! Get ready!” shouted Han.
“Kill the defectors!” yelled a voice from the streets. Dozens of Ravens plundered out from buildings all armed and ready. They fired their rifles at the Crusaders at will. The streets were instantly swallowed by chaos. Gunfire roared and swords sparked.
“The airfield is just around the corner! To me!” Han commanded. He drew out a hand gun and shot the Raven behind him.
The Crusaders grouped up at the airfield. But the Ravens were faster in mustering up than anyone had thought. They were starting to get pinned down in the open.
“Dammit, start the engine!”
“It’s not happening Han! We’re taking too much fire! The moment we start up, they’ll all charge at us!” shouted Meg. “We need to fight back or die like sitting ducks!”
“We can’t afford to risk lives before we even start..!”
“We’re about to die before we even start!” Meg yelled back. “This is as if they knew this was coming!”
“If there is one person I told this was going to happen…” Han murmured as bullets danced in the air. The Crusaders started to panic one by one. They started taking shots, dying.
“No, he might be a bastard but not an idiot. He’s done too much to do more of such deed,” said Han. He tucked his gun back into his pocket and unsheathed his blade. “This was a one way trip anyway. Let’s do this.”
“Draw swords! Readying to engage in close combat!” Meg exclaimed. Rifles stopped roaring. Crusaders gripped their swords high and Ravens pulled out theirs in respond.
Han looked around to see the least favorable person he could think of.
“Put down your swords,” Rick said from somewhere in the darkness. He walked out casually to the street light from just beyond the helicopter Han used for cover. “This is not how we do things. We’re humans – we talk to straighten things out.”
Han did not say anything. But he whispered to Meg and Albert by his side.
“Now is the chance. Ready the helicopters. We need at least five. Ready for my signal to start the engine,” said Han softly. Meg and Albert quickly moved backwards to the others as silent as possible.
“Talk then, Rick,” said Han, still not showing himself.
“The Crusaders have fought for the Dominion in honor. Bled for humanity with valor… but all the legacy – despite its short history – is what you’re trying to destroy right now…” said Rick. Han felt disgusted by his sarcastic tone. “Such a pity.”
“Get to the goddam point.”
“Surrender now, obviously. You know what to do to make things really right,” said Rick. “The ‘justice’ you seem to require does not end with all Crusaders dead in the very city they fought for.”
Meg and Albert nodded in the distance. They signaled they were ready. Han responded back.
“This is not about justice as you think,” Han said and stood up. At the same time loaded his pistol and launched a bullet at Rick’s head. The trigger clicked and the metal pierced through the air.
But something blocked its way from blowing Rick’s head off. Two Ravens were holding some kind of shield to protect Rick.
“Neat eh? The doctor was more far-reaching than we have thought. He has already made formulas to upgrade the Ravens,” said Rick. “As for the act of… such violence, I will suspect you prefer death.”
“Kill them –“
Gunshot pierced through the airfield. The two Ravens protecting Rick was instantly dead and lied on the cold concrete with blood soaking the ground. Rick stood frozen with blood drops in his face.
“Rick Cornell, you are under arrest,” said a voice. Behind him were lines of soldiers all armed with state-of-the-art normal troops can wield.
“Jerrod?” Rick said, startled. “You have no right to –“
“I have the every right. I’m the president of this city!” He aimed his gun at Rick’s head. At the same time, the swords of Ravens pointed at the president’s neck. Jerrod laughed cynically. “What is this…? Stand down!”
“Are you drunk Jerrod?” Rick smiled coldly. He raised his hands over his head for his troops. “Arrest the president so he could return to his room.” He glanced at Han. “Kill anyone else that is not civilian.”
“Not while I breathe. This is still my city, Rick,” The Ravens started to act quickly. “Engage! Help the Crusaders leave the city. Hold the Ravens back!”
A soldier shot a rocket launcher just after Jerrod’s orders. The Ravens could not respond and the large explosion forced the airfield into mayhem once again. Jerrod quickly moved towards the middle of the airfield while the others fought back. The dust from the explosion gave him cover.
“This is our cue…” said Han. He signaled the Crusaders. They all climbed into the helicopters and the engine soon came to life. Most of the Ravens were busy handling the soldiers. Their equipment was enough to damage the Raven armors, giving the Crusaders enough time. Han stared at the fight for a moment before he climbed on top of the helicopter that was already hovering.
“Jerrod…” Han looked back. “Well, you proved yourself useful at last.”
“Tell Leon…” Jerrod’s voice was grim.
“And if you find her…” said Jerrod. “Tell her I’m sorry…”
“…” Han looked at his old friend in pity. “I will… but I’m afraid it’s too late for an apology for both of them.”
“I’ve been lost for too long… But maybe I can choose the right path for just one night.”
“...do what you have to do Jerrod,” said Han for the last time. “You’re still the president of the Earth Dominion.”
The helicopters hovered in the air and quickly flied away into the distance.
“Jerrod! You asshole!” Rick shouted in rage. Jerrod turned. He finally saw the enemy within the walls of the city.
“I should have killed Vincent before he set foot in this planet,” said Jerrod.
“Don’t you disgrace his name! He is –“
“A lunatic. And I still can’t believe I acted to trick Michelle into his plans. When she still believed me at the brink of her death,” said Jerrod. “I should have called for help and un-cuffed her when I had the chance.”
“Ha! Regret is for losers of history, Jerrod,” said Rick. He unsheathed his sword.
“She trusted me even at the very last moment… but I made the wrong choice again and again even when I was able to choose otherwise…” said Jerrod. He watched Rick charge at him. The president casually reached out his gun and channeled a trigger. He took a shot – a blaze of lightning shot out from the barrel and blew off Rick’s right leg. He immediately collapsed and started to wail in agony. “This is my last chance, Rick. I’m not going to let it get through me. For once in my life after setting foot on Earth, I shall make the right choice.”
“Move the tower turrets. Aim for the Ravens within the city,” ordered Jerrod. The bodyguards behind him pulled out huge rifles Rick has never seen. “This is the last legacy of Earth’s military technology century ago. The last piece of weapon from the Lost Technology. I’ve hidden them so that they could be used before human’s extinction here. But… I believe this is the right time to use them.”
“Sit up and watch Rick. You and your Ravens are never leaving the city. Not until you’ve killed all of us.”