Part 2 - 12
“…” I woke up on a soft bed. The experience was very familiar that it felt like dejavu. Right beside me was a girl sleeping in a very uncomfortable-looking way. “Scar–“
She suddenly woke up with a jerk that also startled me.
“Leon?” she murmured. When Scarlet saw me sitting up, she exclaimed and embraced me. “Leon! You’re finally awake! It’s… It’s good that you are…”
I felt her tears on my clothes. I tried to put the pieces together, remember what had happened to me. But I felt extremely exhausted that I had a hard time doing it. Instead, I held Scarlet tight and did not let go of her. It was just… good to have her beside.
“Yeah… I’m glad I’m awake too,” I muttered. Silence went on as she kept on holding me tight. But a swipe of a door broke the peace. Han came in. Along with the three of my most trusted warriors. Scarlet seemed to have noticed them entering and glanced at the intruders who invaded the space. She stood up and was about to leave. I wanted her to stay but by Han’s expression, she was almost forced to exit.
“You guys can leave as well,” said Han to the three.
“You have no right over us, old man,” Numen snorted.
“Come on,” Mia said nudging Numen. “No good will come to him if you continue.”
Now everyone was gone, except that bastard Han, who looked more than angry.
“You remember what happened before you were knocked out – or should I say, got your ass kicked by a freaking monster!” he shouted.
“She’s not –“ then I stopped. I felt guilty of finishing the sentence. Why?
“She’s not a monster?” Han yelled out in rage. “You are shitting me right? Do you realize the loss the rest of us had to bear just because you couldn’t cross blade with a soulless creature?”
“Stop it…” I said weakly.
“Half of the Crusaders were just butchered that day, Leon! HALF! We were forced to retreat to the base right away. But you – you’re talking shit here,” he said furiously. “If Michelle was alive –“
“Don’t you say that name again,” I said suddenly in a very cold tone.
“She’ll be so ashamed,” he finished. I lost my mind to that. I jumped over at Han and crashed him against the floor. I balled my fist and raised it over his head. The man didn’t flinch and that provoked me even more.
But I couldn’t…
I smashed the ground just beside Han’s head. I didn’t realize myself using my ability and it formed a small crater on the soil. I stood up helplessly.
“You’re the one who admitted it in the first place,” Han said. His tone was calmer. “You did say that Michelle Nathans you knew died five years ago.”
Han sighed – probably frustrated at me, so powerless in front of an actual Hunter.
“We have one more chance before you make them certain that you’re nothing in front of the Controller,” he said. I didn’t move to that. The mission I bore seemed too much… too difficult. “This’ll be your last fight, Leon. I’ll guarantee your future when this is all over. You and Scarlet, maybe the three out there as well, you can start a new life.”
"You have no idea…”
"You have my word. No one will touch you after this Crusade.”
“When I faced her…”
“This is your last chance; probably last chance for every one of us in this camp. We go back, the Dominion will hunt us down anyway,” Han said. “One way ticket… unless we win; do humanity one last good deed.”
“You need time… of course,” he snapped. “I’ll give you time until sundown. Trust me, I wish I have more time to give you, have all the time in the world. But we don’t.”
Then Han left, leaving the door closed shut
“Can we go in now?” Numen said in a very sarcastic tone as he watched Han leave them.
“You can… but I don’t think he’ll like anyone bothering him right now.”
“What did you tell him,” Kale demanded.
“What are you going to do? Execute him?” Kale spat.
“It’s not his ultimatum. It’s an ultimatum for us all,” said Han, irritated.
“What does that mean?” Numen murmured.
“It means… if Leon can’t confront her again, we’ll all die anyway without achieving anything,” Scarlet interrupted. Her expression was filled with sorrow. She watched the entrance to Leon’s tent in sympathy. If only I can... “Let’s go guys; he’ll probably need time for himself.”
Michelle used to say things about being a Crusader and what the word actually meant. Of course, it was before we landed on Earth so I had no idea what she was talking about. History, one of the subjects she taught, was least of my favorite as well. The time from then until now seemed like eons that… I can barely remember what she said. She did, however, say that a Crusader is someone who fights for something he believes. The traditional Crusaders believed in God, freeing the holy land and that was what they fought for. And for nearly almost a century, many of these ‘Crusaders’ fought in the area to free, capture, or retake the land.
It was sort of funny: not many of the original Crusaders today, the ones that were ‘picked’ from the Ark, did not become one voluntarily. Nevertheless, not a single one was seen complaining about their duty. ‘Chosen’ to become a fighter reborn through bioengineering… that was something they were forced to experience. But their duty as a Crusader was not. Every fight was their Crusade. Every soul was at least willing to fight for it.
That was it. That was what being a Crusader meant. Michelle talked riddles of it but I came to realize as time passed by. It was what she thought of it when I was ‘made’ to become one. Maybe… it was what Jerrod or Han or even Vincent had thought of before they all changed. One ideal to free the people of the fear the monsters have created. Their existence was more than enough.
It was this ideal that differed Crusaders from Ravens. The latter was no ideal, only one man’s twisted ambition; a fighting machine. Ravens themselves might be very human, but their cause wasn’t.
And I walked amongst these ideologies; an artificial intelligence purely for the purpose of a Crusader. Indeed I was the best, the strongest and the most esteemed. Vincent Greg’s plan was absolutely perfect and it would have been embodied in reality if it wasn’t for one person he ignored until the last: Michelle Nathans.
A must-be fighting organism loses its ultimate purpose if it has other thoughts in mind except battle.
I became a human being. I learned, I dreamed, I loved, and I fought.
I was still a Crusader. But I wasn’t a Crusader because I was born to become one. I was one of them because I willed it; I longed for it.
And perhaps… my ‘humanly cognition’ was not enough to sustain itself without a humanly purpose. The primary target was Michelle. My Crusade was for her for most of my life on Earth. But my purpose was smashed into pieces with her gone.
I fell, plummeted into the ground. Eden was no more than a hopeless dream I needed in order to retain my humanity. Scarlet was always the one to pull me back up whenever my mind got out of hand. But sometimes, the shock was just more than Scarlet or I could bear…
And now… here I was.
Can I crush the remaining pieces of my first purpose and kill her?
Or can I not, and let a whole lot of people be sacrificed for my false hope?
Feelings mixed together inside me. It wasn’t like a devil and an angel arguing; it wasn’t black or white. It was more like a lighter gray fighting a slightly darker gray. None of them is good or bad. They are just… how they are. It was what I chose that was important, not what they really were.
My Crusade was for her. That is something that won’t change.
Then… I have only one choice to make that is closest to it.
She’s the one who made me what I am today.
She’s the one who decides what will happen to me.
Then I’ll have to confront her; her true self, not the monster she is right now.
“You’ve come earlier than I’ve expected,” Han commented. He turned around from the map in front of him to face me. “So, are you able to fight her? Kill her for the sake of every soul in this camp?”
“…” I stared into his eyes. Then I softly, but with certain, answered back. “Upon my life.”
“Perfect,” he said. “Get ready.”
“Change of plan, Leon. You and your friends are the best of the best. Take them and get as close as you can to the lair. Confront the commanders and crumble their commanding system. After you’re gone, the rest of us are going to buy enough time to make the stage,” he said. Then he handed a package. “Take it.”
“What is it?”
“C-4. In case, you were so successful that you could infiltrate the lair’s core.”
“C-4? This is antique,” I snorted. “I can guarantee that the lair is quite tough.”
“Then use it to kill Hunters. I don’t care. But I also can guarantee it’ll be better than nothing,” Han shrugged back. “Besides, it’s the least we can ‘make’ with limited access to Earth’s resources other than timber or quarry.”
I shoved it in my backpack and was about to leave.
“Leon,” he called me back.
“… tell her I’m sorry,” he said, almost whispering. “Tell her Jerrod’s sorry.”
“…” What was I supposed to expect? I didn’t see his expression but I felt the how hurt it was just by saying it, by the way he spoke. “If you’re really sincere, you might as well tell her in front of her face.”
“That won’t be possible.”
“…” his face was grimmer than ever. “Go, Leon. Do your job and we’ll have plenty of time to talk about this.”
I walked out, and then stopped in front of the door.
“There are just things that cannot be forgiven, don’t you think?”
I didn’t have to hear an answer for that. I was sure Han knew it.
“Is this it?” Numen said excitedly.
“Yeah,” I replied, packing my gears. I turned to Scarlet. “Next time I come back, I’ll be breathing at least.”
“You better,” she said with a faint smile.
“Come on, Leon. Speed is this essence.”
“Well… I’ll see you later on,” I said. The way she looked at me was filled with helplessness and sorrow. It has been awhile I realized what always troubled her. “You’re already helping me more than you realize Scarlet, don’t you forget that.”
That was when she cheered up. And that was when I could leave without remorse.
The night was old and dim moonlight showered our way. The surrounding was unexpectedly quiet. Only the sound of wind ringed my ears. Hunters were so far nowhere to be seen, but that didn’t mean the retreated or something. They were hiding somewhere, waiting for the right time for ambush. That was a fact because we were dashing through their territory, their home ground. And the Controller herself… is someone who knows best about human tactics – probably the worst case scenario.
“So the plan?” Mia asked as she slowed down.
“We get as close as possible to the lair. Kill the commanders and destroy the base if we can. The Crusaders will draw the basic units’ attention as soon as sunrise,” I briefed up.
“I don’t get it. All the Hunters will be up our tails. How are they going to draw attention when we’re the primary threat?” Numen questioned. He looked at his watch. “We need to buy at least three hours until any light other than the moon.”
“Oh, and you think we cannot buy three hours?” Kale snickered beside him.
“No, I mean –“
“It doesn’t matter. Once the Crusader march on, this Controller would know better that two hundred Crusaders are not something to simply neglect and focus all forces on us,” I said. I took a deep breath. “But... here’s the hard part. We’re most likely going to split up – probably by force.”
“How? I mean there’s no one who can command the Hunters that well.”
“We’re not facing some random creature. It’s a Controller with human DNA from one of the finest Crusader,” Mia answered instead of me. “I agree, anyone with a brain would want to split up our small group, it’ll be much easier to overwhelm.”
“What I want you to know is that from some point on, or at least until the reinforcements arrive, we might not be able to watch each other’s back,” I said. “So be ready for that. You are the best fighters the Earth has so far. Trust your instincts.”
“Alright, we’ll have to push through as far as possible first.”
As expected, the Hunters were onto us as soon as we headed deeper into the Hunter Zone. Madness caught us very soon and everyone, every creature was swinging their blade to save themselves.
“Push on!” I swiped open a Hunter’s chest and crushed it down, but more tried to face me. It was not hard to put them to the sword. It was the number, however, that counted.
“This is yesterday morning all over again, Leon!” Kale shouted.
We are fighting a hydra. Perhaps we always had been. Rules on this land changed decades ago. We were the intruders; they were the masters of this land. The soil we set foot was their home ground. And we… fight, crusade for this land to reclaim as ours. That was us. No matter how they called us, that was what we used to do.
“Change of plan.”
They all continued to fight but I could tell they were listening to this one closely.
“You three stay together no matter what. There will be no limits to what you do, take care of each other’s back,” I commanded.
“What about you?” Mia asked, her voice slightly worried of what I am about to say.
“I will do what I must. What I am born to do,” I said. I steadied myself, gained balance and readied myself to drill myself through the swarm. “And you guys do what you do best. But don’t find me until the last Hunter falls. That is my last order. Ever.”
I pulled out the small transmitter from my ears and crushed it. Then I did not hesitate to unbind myself of the most powerful ability humans current have.
“Leon!” Ignore it.
The Crusaders, ironically, have a short and a long history depending on which perspective people would see its beginning. Thousand years ago? When religion roamed the land and roused men to follow their ideal? Or right now? When Earth is taken from us whether or not we are responsible for its loss and we are risking our lives to regain what is rightfully ours?
It was Michelle’s last present for me that taught me such things. Her last ideal. Her last purpose of being a Crusader. My humanity was hers; therefore I was to respect what she believes, what she follows.
I was the symbol of this ideal. Those that created me bore them; to be the sigil of Crusaders today. And this time, I was about to fulfill my purpose for the last time in my life.
“Get out of my way,” I murmured in fury. My ability was something these basic units cannot dare to cross. It was supernatural, not-human and way over their power to bear. The cost of crossing blades with something so powerful was only death.
Silver light beamed and slashed through the swarm like Swiss cheese. I nearly felt my life source draining its power every time the silver energy burst upon my enemies. But no… it was too late to stop, nor did I intend to.
I’ve crushed these idiots for nearly an hour when I finally reached my destination.
The lair stood there proud and almighty as always. It was the last fortress of the Hunters, the resting place of the Controller of the swarm, and the last battleground where I would face her.
The Hunters had feelings and emotions – that was for sure. After countless basic units have died before my hand, the others were clever to be hesitative.
The lair was about a kilometer away from my position. The Hunters were surrounding me like thick forest, but they seemed like they would not engage first unless I come to them. I lowered my sword.
“I’m waiting, Michelle,” I whispered to the sky. The horizon began to lighten up but the sun was not up yet. “It’s about time we face each other… it’s been too long.”
The Hunters slowly retreated, step by step. And I sensed it. They weren’t retreating. They were carrying out orders, making way for their queen. The Hunters backed up so there was enough space for a large truck within the space. I stayed silent, but alert of my surroundings.
Then there was a sudden collision near where I stood. Something had dropped from above. Strangely, it did not target where I stood, but right next to me. I stumbled from its impact but regained my balance soon enough. The other Hunters were still not attacking. The dust from the impact slowly waded away and the cause of the drop was now in front of me.
It was Michelle, one and only. She carried the same sword. She had the same eye. She wore the same clothes.
“You’ve come back,” the horrible voice, unfortunately, was what broke everything. She made a crooked smile that I’ve never seen from her face. It was so wicked that I instantly stepped back in disgust. It was Michelle. But at the same time, it was not. Indeed, it was a paradox, but the truth nevertheless. Tongue from her mouth slithered like a snake and licked her mouth like it was ready to eat me. Indeed… it was the truth. “My dear… Leon… Veridi. You’ve come for me…”
“It’s good to see you too,” I said, almost whispering. I was speaking to Michelle not to the monster she has become. I raised my sword. And she nearly looked surprised. “Michelle, you’ve given one soulless fighting machine its humanity… I’m grateful for that.”
“I will be glad to give it back.”