Part 2 - 13
No hesitation this time – that applied both ways.
Two finest blades on Earth clashed like thunder; its speed as fast as light, its impact as powerful as a nuclear bomb. It was a fight between two monsters with identical techniques of a sword fight. What I knew, I taught Michelle. What Michelle knew, she taught me. It was only fair.
“Michelle…” I murmured when I was bounced off when a sudden burst of energy was offset by a powerful strike.
The world was nothing. It was just me and her fighting until the death. She swiped sideways and an unidentified energy force, as similar as mine, forced me to back off meters away.
The experiment was a perfect success.
That was Vincent’s words. So far his words rang true.
That meant I need to show her the equal kind of respect. I forced out as much ability as I could and embodied around me like a guardian watching over its master. I shot out and slashed my blade upon her. She blocked it. But the power was not something one organism can simply block. She was pushed off from ground and flew backwards, crashing onto the ground. Even so, despite the massive-looking damage, the Controller was soon back on her feet, with nearly zero sign of injury.
She dashed out. I leaped up to meet her blade. There was no need for words, only the ringing and clinging of steel answers whatever question we threw at each other. Metal met metal, it crashed onto one another, creating a massive impulse forced the Hunters nearby to step back. Like Han said, such power was not human – and it never should be.
A fight between two killing monsters.
One was supposed to be one, veiled with a title as a ‘Crusader hero’, but was saved by one person’s simple behavior.
The other was never supposed to be one. She was the purest human, with ideal I respected, but was crushed under one man’s foul ambition.
It was a twisted fate. I was supposed to be the one she was now. She was supposed to be the hero with the ideal humanity. That was why I was in so much debt to the one person who was a savior to me. That was why I must be victorious and give her back her ideal, her humanity and her freedom.
The experiment was successful.
That meant no words could turn her back into what she was before it. Only one thing was able to wake her up. One thing I never even imagined that it would be me that would bring it upon her.
The fight was nearly an art – a dance: a dangerous dance of blades with fanciful, yet lethal strokes and strikes. My ability was in full thrust mode. Her power was also as powerful as mind. Any creature that got in the way would be severed into pieces. Like I said before, it was beyond human capacity.
Blades gained speed every second they met. The energy forces that had been mere shadows of the blades were now a blast of force. It was like an afterimage, only that it was as powerful and real as the swords.
Her monstrous strike severed the air and came right at me. I evaded just in time and the sword cracked the earth, making a hole on the ground. I raised my sword and didn’t give myself or her to think before acting. I was not to hesitate, not to look her face for over a second. Despite the brutality of her force, the inhumanity of her actions, the appearance of Michelle Nathans as a Hunter was dangerously similar with her human version.
“LEON!” The horrible shriek also reminded me of who I was fighting, every time I start to forget it. It let me keep focused on her weapon, not herself.
Her sword whizzed across my ear. The steel ringed like a bell around my ear from the massive force of Michelle the Controller. The blade did not even give any chance for me to perform a decent counter attack. Despite the enormous force driven into every strike, its speed did not decline, nor did she seem to be tired from it.
“Agh!” I cried out. Her blade struck right onto mine. Deflecting wasn’t possible. I tumbled backwards. Her blade descended and I quickly rolled sideways to save myself. The only probable advantage for me was her size. She was not as enormous as the other Controllers. If only I can just…!
I tackled her leg, where it looked most vulnerable. She lost balance and stumbled forward, giving me like to stand up. The energy aura from both sides did not cease to amplify every second. I had no idea how she was taking it, but I felt my life line sinking into drainage hole every minute…
Time was against me. I dashed against her. She tried to intercept it with her sword but I used my ability’s power to push it aside. It was a window of nearly half a second, when I slammed myself to her and charged forward with my body slammed into hers.
I was forced to stop as we crashed into the wall of the lair. To my disappointment, she showed no sign of injury or tiredness, even though the wall was completely destroy from the impact. Instead, she looked even more aggressive. She attempted a vicious stab upon my chest. I slipped sideways but nearly fell down. She grabbed my neck with her other hand and threw me inside the lair through hole.
I collided with another wall behind me. My back felt like every bone inside broke all of the sudden. I spat out blood and managed to stand up again. Michelle… I stared at her for a second when she paused attacking… no, the Controller of this lair was unlike any other Controllers. She knew how we fought, knew how we engage in combat or war… knew how I fought with Hunters.
“Die now… Leon,” she said. It was not her voice; only some eerie monstrous, soulless voice of a Hunter who somehow learned to talk.
She leaped and struck down from above.
“Come in,” he said. He was looking into the void, thinking of something he couldn’t quite make sense of it. What was I doing…? He shook his head and looked at the person who just came in. “Meg? I don’t recall calling you.”
“We’re ready to fight,” she said decisively. Han stared at her blankly.
“I’m sure you are.”
“It means, let us go out to join the vanguard,” she said. “Only, the ‘vanguard’ was composed of four people and it’s probably that you let them on a suicide mission to fight until sunrise.”
“Ouch,” Han murmured. “Still they are the best. They can hold on. Besides, we lost too much from one mistake of one man. It’s wise to be more careful when moving the entire army the second time.”
“You are shitting me,” she spat. “The reason we came here as Crusaders, is to act as one, not like some coward who sits behind until the end of the battle.”
“You don’t get the point. It’ll not be the end of the battle –“
“HAN!” she shouted. It was so sudden that Han nearly jumped off his seat. “You’re the one that was most eager for this. What’s up with you? Why do you send Leon and his team while you sit back behind a table?”
Han looked down at his desk, fidgeting with his fingers.
“You don’t know anything…” was all he could mutter.
“I’ve had enough. They might not be called Crusaders but they were the most original members we ever had. I cannot let them just die out there,” she said and turned back to leave the tent. “I’m taking my squad. At least they remember what it is to become a Crusader and why they came on this one-way trip in the first place.”
And then, before Han could digest when had just happen, Albert came in.
“Yes, you can go ahead and take your squad to battle,” Han blurted coldly.
“I was going to anyway,” Albert said coolly. “But, still, think of it again. We – you can’t just stay behind a desk until sunrise, hoping the four of them out there bring some progress.”
“I stick to the plan,” Han said stiffly. Albert looked at him, almost glaring. Han continued to look down, not trying to meet his eyes. Then Albert smiled cynically.
“I guess Leon is not the only one to freeze in front of her,” Albert stated. Han tried to stay as calm as possible. “You’re afraid… afraid to see her, just like Leon. You’re hoping he’ll kill her before you can see the second time.”
“I’m hoping he’ll kill her because he is capable of doing it and it is ‘right’ for Leon to do the job,” Han said, trying to stabilize his shaking tone. The smile from Albert disappeared and a stern look replaced it.
“Han, wake up. You’re only justifying to yourself the actions you are taking. You’ve only added burden to Leon. And when he fails…” Albert’s voice faltered, almost on purpose. Han felt cold sweat running down his back. “God knows what will happen to the rest of us and who will take responsibility.”
The world was shaking violently. Every strike was more than just a kiss of steel.
I began to feel… the squeak of my bones, the scream of my muscles. Time was just a one sided dice that favored the opponent. The balance of power that has so far sustained was bound to break. At that moment…
It was just too sad that she would not hesitate to cut through my flesh. Already… deep inside me… I’ve already given up on her ever since the duel started.
My sword was almost thrown away from my grasp. I desperately clutched my blade but tumbled onto the ground as a consequence of my foolish behavior. She did not attempt the final blow right away. To her eyes, I’ve already lost. The monster with Michelle’s mask made a cruel smile.
“It’s very unlikely of you, to have your mind on something else other than fighting,” the creature managed a full sentence and the tone, the voice… it was still disgustingly eerie. I dared not to look up at her. I only stared onto the bloodless ground.
The lair was surprisingly clean. It was completely different from the last two. Its ground was just dirt and grass. The smell wasn’t the odor I’ve expected. The corridor… the long aisle inside the lair was very familiar. It reminded me a long lost home.
“Any last words?” I was surprised when she said that, even in that monster voice of hers.
“I guess a human part of you still lives,” I murmured quietly. I glanced far inside the corridor. Then I found the courage to look straight into her eyes, see her face.
“Then die, Leon!”
It was a dire move. I rolled aside, forcing all my strength in avoiding the strike. I didn’t have time to think of the consequence of such a desperate move, but all my muscles jerked for survival.
I rolled violently on the ground, further from where she was standing with her cruel eyes. The rough roll sprained my left ankle but that was least of my concern. She was disoriented for a few seconds of my sudden reaction. I squinted my eyes at her to double check that I haven’t seen an illusion. Yes… what I saw was not wrong. Thanks to the dim light from the hole of the lair, I was certain for sure.
The small silver necklace dangled upon her neck.
It was the same shape and size with the one Han showed me for the first time.
For all I know, Han was keeping it and left it on her grave stone. She was not wearing that when I last saw her in the hospital. She could not have something she didn’t have when she was experimented. When the ‘Hunter’ part of her was released, it was impossible for her to go get the necklace.
Unless, there the Michelle I knew was still in there.
“You…” the Hunter growled.
Too afraid I was to what Han said about my ability and my body. The fear of being killed by Michelle overwhelmed the purpose of being. I was to give her life, like she has for me. I was to sacrifice for her, like she has done it for me. In the end, this fight wasn’t about my capacity to exert the supernatural power. It was about what I could do to reach my goal.
My answer to that: anything.
I charged at her. This time, no silver power was embodied from my strike. I had to survive as long as I could, until ‘she’ wakes up. I couldn’t afford my lifeline being burnt by some alien energy force.
That was the hope I chose to cling to.
“No ability?” the monster cocked its head and easily deflected my strike with her powers.
It was just me and my purest blade techniques: the ones I’ve learnt and mastered before I realized what I was capable of. Crusaders were sword fighters, not magicians. And for the last time in my life, I’ve never been so desperate to become one.
Dance of swords began once again. The duel was nearly an art. It was an art so deadly that anyone who might clumsily intercept it would die. Yet the trajectory of two perfected blades was enough to induce awe.
I hurled myself this way and that. Avoiding her sword was not an option, it was a must. Agility was always my strength. Utilizing it, I stabbed and jabbed whenever possible. The Controller responded effectively; avoiding the ones that seemed fatal, simply deflecting the ones that looked trivial.
Slowly but steadily, the consequence of not using my ability began to overtake my strength. For a second I made a mistake of letting my guards down and the creature did not let it pass by. She stabbed her sword at my abdomen with full thrust. It was unavoidable. I twisted my sword, trying to cushion the impact as much as possible while defending my stomach from being dismantled.
“Agh…” I was not ‘flown’ away. It was more like I’ve crashed into a truck at full speed and my body was out of control like some ragdoll. I was out in the open, out from the lair where hundreds of Hunters stood watching the two of us fight until the death. I managed not to black out from the collision with the ground and found myself nearly twenty meters away from the Controller, who was slowly exiting the hole of the lair.
I’ve found the hope I wanted. I’ve establish a vague plan, but a plan nonetheless, to embody the hope into reality. But the fact that she had overwhelming edge in strength and stamina – with or without my powers – did not change. My advantage in speed did not matter when I was worn out.
I looked up. The sky began to redden, signaling the sunrise.
No… I can’t give up now.
My main concern in terms of people was only two – Michelle and Scarlet. That did not really change even until now. And even for their good, I couldn’t give up and let them down. Even if it cost my life, I had to continue forward.
“Michelle,” I murmured at the figure. I knew the Controller could barely hear me from the distance. Still… “I know you’re in there… it’s time for you to wake up for real.”
I stood up and braced myself. The Hunter charged in like a mad bull. I slowly walked to her direction as well. If she is going exert sheer force then…
My sword clashed with hers. The deafening sound of the collision itself proved the might of the Controller’s strength. And with all my power, I was defending it, forcing myself not to give into the force, not to be overwhelmed by it. My knee collapsed to the ground, but that was as far as I let her push me down. Then, she released her sword, probably thinking my defense unbreakable in that situation.
Now is the chance.
The last strike was not some random strike; I was certain she had applied quite a lot of strength. The interval between the last one and the next one was bound to be longer than usual. If I want to buy time until whatever miracle happens, I needed some edge.
I did what I do best. I quickly dashed towards her and closed onto her. It was the technique I used against many named Hunters; few of them made it out alive. I came in very close, inches from her flesh. It was somewhat blatant what I was going to do next, from the enemy’s perspective, but that was the point. Sometimes the most obvious attack became the most powerful blow. Anyhow, there were very few ways to avoid my blade in such range.
“Michelle…!” I swiped her from the side. My blade drew an excellent crescent, crossing through her abdomen…
But my sword was intercepted by brutal force. Instead, I saw her knee driving its way through my chest. Despite the human-looking flesh, the hardness was just as same as any Hunter armor. Its toughness bashed my chest and for a moment, I felt like my heart stopped beating. The impulse forced me to step back.
“Hgh…” I gasped, desperately for air. The Controller, apparently, was not going to let another chance pass by. She instantly changed to offense mode and brandished her blade. I helplessly raised my sword in defense. And by luck or not, her blade’s force was partly negated by it.
Still, the sword did not stop to slash my flesh. I cried out in pain. My left shoulder was wounded. I glanced at it. The injury was not deathly fatal but enough to cripple my performance. It wasn’t my sword arm but… no.
Look at her. Look at ‘Michelle’. She has become a monster – isn’t that enough sacrifice for you?
One arm. A very cheat consequence if only I could make her human again.
Don’t. Stop. Fighting.
The Hunter punched my injured arm and I wailed out in agony. I had seldom been wounded in battle, but this one… I knew it was devastating. Still, I gripped my sword even harder. I rapidly attempted a counter attack. I slashed my sword upward, against her side. Just as I’ve expected, she was careless for a second due to my wound. I managed to damage her armor and even injure her flesh. Blood smeared out of the body of the Controller. And…
Red blood dripped from the side of my blade.
The Hunter cried out monstrously and all the other Hunters that were standing like spectators sudden closed in one step. It was like an immense number of army surrounding one enemy, and waiting for its commander to attack. Tension skyrocketed to its climax as the Controller covered its wound with her hand.
Red blood. Silver necklace.
This was not a coincidence.
I swirled around and swiped my blade. But this time, she leaned back and evaded it. I did not stop. I ignored the pain from my left arm, which dangled lifelessly as I moved around for multiple assaults. Apparently, the wound made her more furious and the attack became even more lethal; it was dodge or die, blocking was also risky.
I bombarded her with my blade, trying my best not to give her a chance to attack.
Then two blades punctured out of her arm and slashed at my face. I instinctively turned my head away to avoid my head torn into pieces but it cut through the soft flesh. The armor suit did not protect the head part and did not suppress any pain. My face stung but that was beyond my concerns.
Three swords attacked me from every side. I ducked the first one, striving to get close to her again. I struck down my blade upon her head but her left arm blade blocked its way. Her right blade came in for a counter strike. I kicked her leg and had her blade miss its target. I went in for another strike against her side. Her sword deflected it and her arm blade attacked me, making a cross. I was force to fall back to dodge it. Then she charged in immediately. The energy force embodied in her blades grew stronger and stronger. But I had to withstand every strike.
I attempted to counter back her relentless charge. Stepping forward, I anticipated her sword’s trajectory and bounced it away from my position. Before the arm blades attacked, I aimed for her heart, and went for a powerful stab.
“Michelle –“ I shouted.
“This is the end, Leon,” the Hunter suddenly growled coldly.
Lethal blade came out of nowhere and headed straight for my neck.
“It’s way after sunrise, why isn’t there any reinforcements?” Kale demanded. The three of them, Mia, Kale and Numen, were holding ground, back to back. The Hunters didn’t really seem to care what happened to their Controller because there were countless of Hunters surrounding them, waiting slowly for their deaths.
“They’re not attacking as aggressively as before,” Mia murmured. Her voice tone was rough from tiredness. “They’re exhausting us out…”
“This lair has more Hunters than any of us had thought,” Numen said. He cut down a Hunter and swiped open its throat. As Mia said, they were not attacking like wild animals. Nearly two hours has passed since Leon left them. Sunrise was about an hour ago and now, the bright star was peeking its way out from the mountains afar. Despite the shining hope rising from the horizon, the main troops were nowhere to be seen.
Then a sudden flash of projectile whizzed pass Numen’s left ear. He was suddenly taken off balance and tumbled to the ground. The Hunters rampaged to kill off the enemy on the ground when Mia quickly pulled him up.
“Did you guys…” before he could finish, the second javelin soared through the battle field in the speed of light. It was impossible to detect it through naked eye, they only had to trust their instincts to avoid it. He glanced at the other two and knew they have felt the second throw. “A commanding unit is nearby.”
“It’s probably the same one from the other day,” Mia said. “But we can’t move an inch from here. We’re sitting targets!”
The three them felt it. The intervals between throws were shortening; the power was increasing every shot. They had no idea how long they could stand in such a small area, avoiding all the throws.
“Should we hope for reinforcements or Leon killing the Controller?” Numen blurted. None of the two dared to answer any of them. They had enough problems evading javelins and fighting off the Hunters enclosing on them. The three of them continued to fight without words. Even talking was a waste of energy and they needed every last drop of it.
“Argh!” Kale was the first one to break the ice the bad way. He was running out of stamina and focus was lost for a split second. And the projectile, as fierce as a ferocious beast, slashed through his side. He bent down in pain and pressured his wound.
“Kale! Numen cover me!” she came to him to see his wound. She quickly helped him administer first aid with small amount of bandages.
“I can’t hold out much longer!” Numen cried out. He felt a projectile to his direction and slashed his sword, releasing silver energy force. The two weapons clashed and the javelin broke into a million pieces. “Ugh…”
The supernatural power was never human’s ability, nor was his powers; it was obvious that the usage was incompatible with his state of body. Numen stumbled but managed to keep to his feet. His sharp instinct was still aware of the surrounding Hunters and the javelin. He readied himself for another strike.
“I can fight…” Kale muttered.
“Of course you can, get up!” she pulled him up. The two of them stood up.
“INCOMING!” Numen yelled. He pushed the two to the ground. And immediately, the three of them felt extremely fast weaponry swoosh over their heads. When Numen looked up to see the damage, he saw five dead Hunters behind him, each with a javelin punctured through their heart. A chill ran down Numen’s back.
“What are you staring at?” Mia shouted at Numen as she pushed him up. “Get up! We don’t have time to be awed at our enemy!”
The thrower was merciless. Even worse, the basic units became offensive after consecutive throws. The three of them were back on their feet. They desperately tried to push their way out of the prison of Hunters. But with the support of a sniper from nowhere, it was easier said than done.
The javelin injured Mia this time. The weapon scraped her hand and her sword dropped to the ground.
“Woah!” Kale shouted and he direly managed to intercept the second javelin aimed for her life. But the impact did do him some damage and the impulse affected his wound. He stumbled to his knee.
A Hunter from the back let out a strike against Kale’s back. Mia desperately kicked its abdomen and pushed it away. She grabbed her sword and leaped up to give a finishing blow.
“Shit!” Numen shouted. “It’s coming again! Multiple shots!”
“Where?” Mia asked, also screaming.
“I don’t know!” Numen said in puzzlement. He couldn’t concentrate in this chaos. “Take cover –“
A massive explosion from somewhere somehow blinded the thrower’s aim and the Commanding unit that was hiding from a tree branch was forced to withdraw its killing blow. It looked around to identify the cause of the explosion. It had a portion of the Hunters to find and kill the human responsible. It jumped down from the tree and headed for the three humans to kill them off.
“You guys all right?” said a voice from behind the smoke.
“I go for the reinforcement this time,” Kale smirked as he coughed from the black smoke.
“Who is this?” Mia shouted.
“2nd squad,” a woman stepped out. She glanced at her side to another man. “With a little support from the 3rd.”
“Very funny Meg,” he murmured. He looked to the other Crusaders. “Clear this place up!”
They Crusaders started to kill off the Hunters disarrayed from the large explosion.
“This is Albert, leader of 3rd squad,” Meg said. “And I’m Meg, in charge of the 2nd squad.”
“No offense… but is this it? We had five squads,” Numen asked incredulously. Albert and Meg looked at each other nervously.
“Let’s just say… problem happened at the camp after you guys left. Miscommunication, I would say,” Albert managed to explain. The three Slayers seemed even more confused. “But that’s not the point. At least we’re here…”
“And so are we,” said Han from nowhere. “So it would be good if you take that back Albert.”
“Han McCline?” Meg exclaimed in surprise. “You –“
Han ignored her and went up Numen.
“Where’s Leon?” he demanded.
“He’s… uh, doing his job,” Numen said vaguely. Mia pushed him aside, frustrated.
"He’s probably at the lair fighting Michelle,” she said directly.
“What? Alone?” Han said, not knowing how to react to that. “And no one tried to stop him?”
They refused to answer that. It all happened too fast. One second they were together, next, Leon disappeared through the Hunters.
“We must get to him. It’s our only chance,” said Han.
“What do you mean?”
“As you’ve already noticed, this lair does not house hundreds of Hunters; it houses nearly a thousand – way more than the data provided from the old satellite of the Dominion,” Han said. “IF… if by any chance Leon loses… we all die for nothing.”
Silence settled down among the leaders of the Crusaders.
“What are we waiting for then?” Kale suggested, breaking the silence. “Let’s go finish this.”
“This is it then,” Han said. “One last march of the Crusade.”
“Gather up!” the squad leaders ordered the Crusaders in line. The three Slayers were at the vanguard. Han and the other squad leaders, followed by a band of Crusaders marched through the forest.
“Mia, I just happen to remember…” Numen said from her side. “It seems like we’re forgetting something…”
And a scream of agony soon covered the air. The entire army halted and helplessly watched one of the squad leaders die without mercy.
“That?” Mia muttered back at Numen. “At least it’s on the ground, not hiding.”
“We’ll take it from here,” Kale said to Han. He stepped forward towards the Commanding unit.
“We are?” Numen complained. Mia pulled him forward.
“Go, you know where to find Leon,” she said to him.
“See you on the other side then.”
My vision was fuzzy. I couldn’t see clearly what was in front of me. Figures like large blobs just appeared and disappeared from my sight. I felt pain. The physical injury was something I’ve never experienced and the pain was unimaginable. But no words came out from my mouth, only coarse gasping flowed through my ears.
Whatever it was, I felt terrible. The horrible blade cutting open my skin and drilling its way until the entire blade crushed through the flesh… the pain was fatal.
She had the necklace. She did not spill green blood. Wasn’t that enough evidence for hope to bring her back?
Why was she, who despite being a Hunter, remembered my name and who I was, so desperate to kill me?
For some reason, I haven’t died but I was on the ground, helplessly questioning myself. Han said this was a rescue mission. We were going to free her soul, her mind and return her to human being – at least, that was how I interpreted ‘rescuing’. But how can I ‘rescue’ her if the person in trouble desperate refuses? How can I ‘rescue’ her if she is beyond my power?
Han probably meant killing her. But I wanted to find a way, whatever it takes, to bring her back to human form and mind. But… this monster in front of me was refusing both options. Hope was fading as the pain turned into numbness. In the end, no matter how much I sacrifice, Michelle Nathans was beyond my grasp and power. That was it; end of story; period.
What am I supposed to do now?
Let her rest in peace.
All I wanted was returning something she gave me. No matter what I said out loud to others, it was what I’ve wanted.
Cold chill drifted down my back even though the adrenaline bursting to suppress the pain was heating my body. Did I really… have no choice but to kill her?
She lives through the day and Michelle will live as a Hunter and roam the Earth to wipe out all mankind and stand at the top of the food chain as predator. Perhaps this was why the others wanted her killed. It was fear.
Visions started to become clearer. The time seemed eons since I’ve stumbled down until now but not even a full minute had passed.
“You still try to stand up?” the Hunter bellowed. I looked at it. It wasn’t three blades – it was five. The two blades from her knee had suddenly punctured out of her and stabbed my body. I tried to locate my wound. One of the stabs injured my left thigh. The other penetrated the right side of my stomach. The blades were not primary ones because they were very short, only several inches. The wound was wider than I’ve expected, but not as deep. Still, it was enough to leave the fight one sided.
My left shoulder squeaked like some rusty metal joint from the earlier injury. I finally managed to stand up and balance myself. Now that I was… only one duty was left upon me.
“I’m sorry Michelle,” I said to the brightening sky, weakly. “This is all I can do.”