Part 2 - 11
More than half of my life, I’ve lived for myself.
Truth be told, Michelle and Scarlet were people who brought me happiness, tranquility and joy. Jerrod, Vincent and even Han were just ‘enemies’ I made up myself. Vincent was an exception but the other two… I just needed someone to dislike, someone to condemn – it almost felt I was compelled to do so. I wondered whether such predisposition was also a type of DNA traits Vincent inserted in me.
I killed the Hunters. Aside from being with Michelle or Scarlet, fighting was another thing I could be immersed. I didn’t need to think about anything else then – only the enemies in front. The thrilling adrenaline that flowed through my body when my blade screeched in the air was something my instincts could not forget. It didn’t bother me for a while. After, however, when I was in Eden doing pretty much nothing, I figured how odd it was to feel ecstasy when killing another creature. And this too… I wondered whether it was just some artificial manipulation of my genetic codes.
No – actually, I wanted to believe that way. After all, I was ‘made’ as a weapon.
Then I ask myself: is there something wrong with what I am?
“No?” I frowned.
“We have no idea what we’re up against. I don’t care if you’re god of war or something, but I can’t allow you to go in by yourself,” Han said.
“Who put you in charge, Han?” I spat. “Besides, I’m not going on my own.”
“And we all know who we’re up against.”
Han stared at me. Then he scanned the others that were just behind me.
“Can we talk? In private?” he finally said.
“We already talked a lot in private.”
The director sighed. He rubbed his forehead with his fingers and looked very frustrated. He walked back and forth around the tent. After a few minutes, he stopped and turned.
“Fine. We’ll do it your way, but whenever and wherever you go, the rest of us goes as well,” he said. Han found a chair to sit down. “I guess nothing can persuade you guys to remain here until I order. So we might as well die all together or win the day all together.”
“I don’t care with that. But we’re advancing at dusk, tomorrow,” I said. I signaled everyone else to leave. “Get everyone ready.”
I turned and was about to exit the tent along with the others when Han called me back.
“Leon, you have to let her go in order to face her.”
“…” uncertainty within me still existed, as if I was still hoping for some miracle to come true. “I already did. You worry about yourself.”
“Well… we’ll see about that soon enough.”
The camp didn’t seem to be inside a war zone. Hunters did not roar. No assaults have been made and there were no signs of the creatures lurking around the base. I looked around the fighters, supposedly anticipating that at least half of them will not make it out of this. They were all familiar faces. Not familiar as in the ones I taught in Eden, but the ‘good old’ Crusaders were all in one place again. Many have been turned into a Slayer or Raven, but many of them stayed as well. It felt relaxing to be among familiar faces, especially the ones I fought with in the so far largest battle humans have waged.
“What are you thinking?” Scarlet came and sat by my side.
“People,” I answered, still scanning around the camp, testing myself to recognize the individuals.
“Well… all we need is ordinary soldiers with guns and it’ll be Hornet’s Nest all over again,” she said leaning on my shoulders. “Are you afraid?”
“... more than ever,” I admitted.
“Something more than that,” I murmured. I thought about an appropriate word. “I’m afraid of losing.”
“Losing? Ah… I understand. Sometimes they seem harsher than one’s death,” she said. I had no idea what she was thinking about what I said. Still, I guessed she understood the point. “Then are you ready?”
“To do what?”
“To do what you have to do. When you’re out there…” Scarlet said. Her voice failed at the last part. She sat up. “Never mind what I said. You’ll do great. You always had.”
“Yeah…” I wished I could do what she says… “Um… by the way, can you do me a favor?”
“I was hoping you stay here with the others until this is over,” I said – a little too directly. She faced me and her expression changed instantly into confusion and anger.
“You’re joking,” she said, frowning. “You can’t just tell me what to do.”
“I… you know I said I’m afraid of losing and…”
“And what about my loss?”
“What?” I was taken aback. I regretted having to say this so directly and imperatively. I took a deep breath. “Please, Scarlet. I’m… I’ve never been this desperate about fighting. In the past, I actually liked it – it allowed me to put my mind into something else, blow my stress away. But this time, it’s different. It’s so different and puzzling that I have no idea what outcomes will result!”
“And for once, I feel uncertainty and danger in fighting Hunters. I’m worried, anxious and nervous what might happen. I can’t predict myself standing in the middle of Hunters’ corpses this time,” I said, my tone was blatantly dire. Fortunately Scarlet’s anger seemed to diminish. “I just want to save the last thing I’m willing to protect, the last person that can give my life meanings.”
To my relief, she hugged me the moment I finished talking. I felt the tears when she did as wetness smeared into my clothes. I embraced her back and she didn’t say anything for a long time.
“Okay, Leon,” she finally said, standing up. “I’ll stay out. But I need to promise me something.”
“Promise me you’ll be back in one piece when everything is done.”
“Promise me,” she said looking straight into my eyes. I tried to figure out a good answer.
“I promise…” I said, unable to say anything else.
“Then it’s settled,” she said smiling a pleasant one that always made me smile back. “You should get some rest. It’s going to be a big day tomorrow.” And she took off.
I was walking down the woods. I wasn’t armed – I had no swords, guns, or armor. But the forest seemed peaceful enough. Birds singing by the sound of leaves, warm breeze swaying around me; the world was in tranquility and calmness. Hunters were nowhere to be seen, nor were other soldiers or Crusaders. Just me, the trees, and dirt underneath.
I sat down beneath a large willow tree. The soft grass tickled my hand as I lowered myself. Sunlight squeezed its way through the leaves and reached me. Its warmth soothed me even more. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the comfort.
Ten or maybe fifteen minutes passed until I opened my eyes. The forest was exactly the same as before I closed my eyes. I stood up and strolled down the woods, without knowing the destination.
A sudden whisper made me jump.
The voice did not belong to the forest. It was not in harmony with the peacefulness of the woods. The cold, chilly and pale tone was too disturbing. I rapidly turned around, right and left, to find the source of the voice. No one.
The same voice again. My head started to spin faster, my eyes trying to suck in anything that can be relevant to the voice. I tried to call out for the person speaking but no words came out. Frustrated, I started dashing through the trees, hoping to get rid of the voice entering his head.
The sudden sharpness forced me to a halt. The tone was more aggressive and threatening. I felt drops of sweat trickling down my back. I slowly turned around – the voice did seem come from my back.
“…!” I woke up. I woke up all sweating and panting like a stray dog. I touched my side and felt the metal bar holding my bunk. I looked around and I was just inside my tent. I removed the small blanket and found my shoes. My heart did not seem to stop beating and thumping. Beads of sweat still ran down my body. A dream.
“Leon, time to –“ Scarlet came inside. “Is there something wrong? You’re a mess.”
“Am I?” I smirked. I took a deep breath and stood up. “Just a bad dream, nothing more.”
“Do you remember what it was about?”
“It’s…” I hesitated. “It’s one of those dreams you just can’t put the pieces back together.”
“…alright,” I felt the suspicion in her voice but she seemed to be cool about it. “Get ready. It’s D-day.”
She closed the tent door and exited.
“D-day…” I murmured to myself. As Scarlet suspected, I remembered my dream – every inch of it. And the last part was too shocking to forget. The image was a little fuzzy but it was just one figure I had to recognize. “Michelle… it’s you again.”
I geared up and rallied with the others in front of the gate of the camp. The Crusaders were lined up and were all readied for battle. Han and the other leaders were at the front of the troops, giving their squad instructions. I walked up to them. As I walked pass the ranks, the Crusaders saluted and I saluted back – an awkward conduct for me but I guessed it was necessary.
“There you are. The main character,” Kale greeted me as soon as he caught me in sight. “Lucky for you, you don’t have to lead anyone, because we’re doing those stuffs.”
“All you need to do, Leon, is draw out the Controller and kill it,” said Han.
“So all I need to do is fight. Simple enough,” I said cheerfully.
“I wish it was as simple as you say it,” he said. Before I could ask Han what he meant, Scarlet called me from behind.
“You look fine today,” she said. Her voice still contained disappointment and reluctance.
“Sorry,” I quickly answered. “But you still play a crucial role.”
“You need to lead the helicopters to get us out of the hellhole we’re about to enter.”
“Really?” she said in a blatantly sarcastic way. Then her expression immediately soothed. “Just promise me, one more time, that you’ll be there when I do come for you.”
“I already promised –“
“Come on Leon,” Han dragged me back and in front of the Crusaders. “That’s enough love talk for today. You can kiss her when you come back.”
I was about to talk back but when I saw Scarlet’s faint smile, I decided it was better not to say anything more.
“Alright, Director Han. It’s time for your big speech and we’ll be ready to go,” said Numen snickering from his side. Han gave him an irritated look but still turned around to face the soldiers. makes people stronger.
“Alright listen up!” Han spoke up and everyone went silent to hear what he has to say. “It’s been five years – in fact, almost six years – since all the remaining Crusaders band up like this to fight in battle. Some are relatively new, some of us are old – but we were always under the banner as Crusaders. We fought and pioneered our way on Earth, protecting those that require safety. We are the first to do so and all of us should respect each other for that.
“Now, every one of us received the briefing file for this assault,” he continued. Silence covered the entire camp. Han seemed to be cautious of what he was saying. “And nine out of ten knows exactly what we are facing. This is not just an operation to destroy a Hunter lair to secure the colony’s safety – this is more than that. This is about rescuing one of the finest Crusaders lived so far, who unfortunately, had to be inhumanely experimented and die.”
“I told you about respect. Whatever we’re about to face should not be how she is treated after death. We’re going to save her from that demonic body so she can rest in peace,” Han said. He glanced at me when he was finishing. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be the Last Crusade. Release Michelle Nathans from the Hunter that binds her and let nothing stop you in between.”
“That was one awful speech,” I said soullessly.
“At least it’s gonna to get others going,” Han said. “But don’t worry about my speech or the others. You need to worry about yourself.”
“I can protect myself quite well,” I blurted. But Han stared at me incredulously. He stepped closer.
“Listen Leon. There are three very, very important thing you need to remember to make this mission a success,” Han said sternly – almost threatening. “First is not to die, but I agree you can do that fairly well. Second is not you over-use your ability. Last, and most importantly, you should do what you have to do when the time is right.”
“What does that supposed to mean?” I frowned.
“You know exactly what I mean and probably everyone is worried about it, even yourself,” he finished. Then, Han walked away and started to get the others to march out. I stood where I was for a while to process what he said to me. I wasn’t annoyed because of how he said such things to me; I was frustrated that I knew what he was talking about. To be honest, and like Han said, I was unsure and uncertain whether I could make the move when I must.
I was uncertain… whether I could swing a blade at Michelle to kill her.
“HOLD THE LINE!” Han screamed on top of his voice. “GODDAMIT, EVERYONE STAY TOGETHER!”
Minutes after leaving the camp, the entire company was surrounded by massive swarm of Hunters. There were barely 300 Crusaders fighting, so it didn’t seem like a problem for Hunters to simply encircle us with sheer force and number. So far, the army was not able to march far into the lair zone.
“We need a plan B, Han,” I said, right by his side. I chopped down all the Hunters I saw that got in my way. Besides, immense number was not linked to individual’s skill; they were still just basic units. “We’re not going anywhere like this.”
“What the hell do you suggest?” he demanded in a frustrated tone.
“Push forward by force. Have the best fighters at the front to force their way onward. The rest can watch our back.”
“That is going to cause a lot of casualties.”
“We’re sitting duck here anyway!” I shouted, annoyed. Han defended himself from a sudden attack and stabbed his sword at his enemy.
“Do your magic then,” he said, almost reluctantly. I instantly turned to find my companions. “Everyone! Push FORWARD!”
“Numen, Mia, Kale! To me!” I yelled out. Then, I charged my way to the vanguard and started brandishing my way forward. Soon enough, the three were at my side killing down Hunters on our path. “We’re going to clear the path just like last time. Let the others take care about our back and just enforce your way towards the inner zone.”
“Leon, I just have a bad feeling about this,” Numen murmured from my side.
“…” I refused to answer to that. I relentlessly went on cutting down my foe.
My blade was already sticky with Hunter blood but I did not slow down. I was pulling back the urge to unleash my ability to wipe out dozens of Hunters on my way. I nearly felt helpless – I was far away from confronting her and yet, time was flying in the speed of light. Of course, I was still partly baffled how I should react when I do confront her, but that was something I’d worry about later.
Total mayhem continued for hours. Hunters did not cease to attack and they kept on coming back, as if they were reincarnated. The Crusaders on the other hand, grew wearier as time passed. The first couple of hours after the ambush, Han and the other squad leaders were yelling out orders and words to sustain morale. Now, everyone was busy fighting. Some of them, from what I’ve seen, were fighting to keep themselves at balance, to hold their swords straight and force themselves to stand up and engage.
I lost track of time and how much we’ve came. Battle started at early morning – now the sun was on the other side of the sky, but the lair was nowhere to be seen. Hunters continuously charged in like mad bulls – though much of them died powerlessly, it wasn’t without progress. At first, not much died. Only minor injuries were made due to sophisticated formations and ample experience of Crusaders. Now, those injuries triggered blood loss and unbearable wounds, those, in turn, induced death.
“This is… not going anywhere,” I murmured to myself.
“Can’t we pull out the commanding unit like last time?” Mia suggested.
“I don’t think the Hunters are stupid enough to fall for that again,” said Numen. His breath was blatantly unnatural compared to several hours ago. Even the best fighters were beginning to feel fatigue.
“One last push guys,” I ordered, focusing my mind on the battle. “If it doesn’t work… we’ll have to trust Han to claim a retreat at the right time.”
“It’ll be hard to have a coordinated movement with a large group –“
“No, just the four of us,” I said. The others did not respond for a moment. They were probably worried and nervous. It was not a secret they were lacking strength to keep up the fight for a long time. “The rest of them can follow us depending on their skills.”
“Well,” Kale said with a cynical laugh. “What are we waiting for?”
I unleashed my ability and lunged forward. Instantly, a surge of power wiped out dozens of Hunters. Han must have sensed its presence – if he was beside me, I wouldn’t be able to continue but he was quite far in the back.
I became unstoppable with such immense energy. The Hunters died like falling leaves. Within a few minutes, the vanguard advanced more distance than it did for the last couple of hours. Blades danced around, slicing and crushing the enemies. Whoever is controlling this swarm would not be able to neglect such quick unit loss in such a short time.
I glanced back to see the rest of the Crusaders trying to keep up with our speed. They eliminated the renewed Hunters to clear the way we’ve passed through. And among the Crusaders marching up our path…
“Leon! Leon!” Han appeared from nowhere and pulled my shoulder back. His face was filled with frustration. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Making a way for your men back there who were practically doing NOTHING FOR THE PAST FEW HOURS!” I, in turn, shouted back in irritation that he was being mad just because I used my power.
“I told you to not use your ability,” he warned in a stern voice. “You don’t know how much you’ll need when you confront the Controller you can’t afford to waste it!”
“Then what do you want us to do? Die like sitting ducks back there?” I demanded.
“You have no idea the risk you are taking, Leon,” he said gravely.
“Exactly! So you should stop teaching me what to do with my abilities!”
“Do you seriously –“
“Uh… I’m sorry to interrupt but we have a problem here,” Kale murmured from my side. The two of us stopped arguing and looked around. Something was certainly going on.
The Hunters stopped attacking.
Instead, they kept a certain distance and held their ground.
“It’s probably a chance – attack!” Han blurted. It was very unlikely of him to execute such irrational commands. Of course, none of the Crusaders dared to move. They apparently ‘sensed’ something was going on that wasn’t’ just right.
Then there was a slightly, almost inaudibly, low buzzing sound from where the Hunters were standing. At first, only a few were ‘buzzing’ but soon, half of the swarm was doing to same thing and everyone noticed the sound.
“What are they doing?” Numen asked.
“Don’t ask me,” Mia shrugged.
“It’s like…” Kale cocked his head. “They’re communicating or something.”
“Orders?” asked one of the other Crusaders in charge of a squad. “Han…? Do we engage?”
Han looked just as confused as the Crusader who asked the question. He scanned around as if desperate for an answer.
“Something’s coming Albert; get the others ready for something big,” was all Han said. “I’ll be rather careful… I guess, to fight in this situation.”
The buzzing halted soon enough and the atmosphere became even more tensed.
I felt the nervousness the others were feeling beside me. I felt my heart also beating incredibly fast.
And then everything happened very fast.
I felt a sudden chill, fright of death, upon me and quickly reacted by backing up and ducking down. As expected, some sort of projectile swooped over my head. When I looked back, I saw dozens of trees destroyed down like broken glass. When I tried to focus on whatever it came from, I found nothing except the lines of Hunters. I didn’t have time to exclaim about it before the second projectile found another target that was not so lucky.
The Crusader ‘disappeared’ from where he was standing and was forced to fly with whatever it hit him. What was left of him wasn’t pretty either.
“Albert!” Han managed to cry out. Before anyone could react, the third projectile fired from nowhere and killed another anonymous Crusader. “Shit! We’re sitting ducks here, push forward! Force an engagement so the shooter doesn’t have a clear target!”
The Crusaders started charging toward an engagement. The Hunters that stood and did nothing responded to the attack and started fighting the Crusaders again. Once again, the Crusaders were fighting, surrounded by Hunters, and with the fear of the ‘shooter’ targeting one of them.
I pushed forward to fight my own battle. I did slightly catch the glimpse of the direction so I started charging my way through the wave of Hunters to reach my destination. However, I was lost inside the horde of Hunters with nearly zero visibility of the surrounding except the black creatures trying to tear me apart.
It was just when I was trying to regroup with the others that all sorts of events exploded at once. I heard Han desperately calling for me through the transmitting. Forcing my way, I managed to rally with my companions as soon as possible.
“Leon! Leon you have to help!” Han shouted as he ran towards me. “Where were you?”
“I was trying to find the shooter –“
“Never mind that. She’s here.”
For a second, I doubted myself of what I’ve heard. I stood in front of him blankly – even with all the chaos around me.
“The Controller of this lair, Michelle, is here – she’s massacring our troops at the back! Get over there!” he continued to yell orders at me.
His words forced me to run through the Crusaders towards the back of the line. And yet, my heart was filled with uncertainty – again. It was happiness from reunion and fear from what she had become of her mixed together; except… the latter was overwhelmingly stronger.
I have to go.
My mind still shouted at me and I very much agreed.
My legs began to move quickly. I shoved anyone and killed anything on my way and headed straight for the Controller.
“Leon?” one of the Crusaders noticed me. He was covered in blood, barely on foot. “She… it’s over there!”
I took a deep breath and pushed myself through the Crusaders.
“Han, do you think… Leon can do it?” Numen asked from his side.
“Do you want what I really think?” Han said coldly. Numen nodded slightly.
She was there. Right before me eye. The same clothes, although damaged; the same sword; the same eyes that used to look at me. There seemed nothing… nothing wrong with her. Nothing… except the red blood on her blade; the eyes that looked through me wasn’t exactly the same either.
But there she stood… staring at me as if trying to draw out a distant memory. I swallowed my breath and slowly walked towards her. Step by step, I went closer but she continued to stare back at me like a statue. My right hand slowly gripped the hilt of my sword.
Then she moved. Step by step… the two of us became closer, and closer, and closer…
“If he makes it quick, we win. If he hesitates, we’ll probably lose at least half of the Crusaders today.”
Her blade flashed in the sunlight. The slash was unbelievably fast and accurate. It wiped out the entire line of Crusaders around me. They collapsed to the ground and soaked the grass with red. I watched in horror, at the fallen and at Michelle.
She did not target me on purpose…
My hand clutched the handle of the blade and was ready to strike her – and it took every last bit of willpower to be ready to point a sword at her. I was ready… and…
She dropped her sword from her hand. Then she looked at me. This time, it wasn’t the coldness, the chill, the violence. It was warmth… and sadness… I suddenly felt dreamy like I’ve just woken up from a sleep.
“Michelle… I –“
“LEON,” the horrifying, screeching tone of her voice woke me up. But it was too late. From the human-looking flesh, came out blades like normal Hunters. She slashed at me and I was only an inch away from decapitation. The arm-blade was ruthless but my mind was not in a good state. For the first time in my life, I froze in the middle of a fight from shock. My hand still clutched onto the hilt but somehow could not pull it out.
“LEON!” there was another eerie voice from her and that… simply destroyed my mental state. It was her – the appearance was nearly the same. But...
“Leon!” a human voice from my back – I guessed it was Han. “Holy shit!” He must have seen her. Before I could notice, the arm-blade retracted to nowhere and the tip upon my neck was the very sword Michelle received back at the city.
The sword rose up. It was ready to strike me down. Her eyes changed into ‘evil mode’ and this time, I sensed, there was no mercy. I was the prey this time – a prey disarmed by shock.
The world became fuzzy and slowed down like a scene from a movie. The sword came down. My grip over the sword loosened and I closed my eyes.
The last thing I felt from this day was a painful collision and I was out.