Part 2 - 14
The door slid open and there stood a familiar face.
“Ms. Nathans,” he said with a pleasant smile. “He’s awake. I just thought you might want to join us.”
She stood up with exhilaration. Michelle quickly dug her feet into her slippers and urged the scientist.
“Well what are we waiting for?”
Michelle raced through the corridor and Vincent Greg was desperately trying to catch her up while calling out her name to wait for him. Michelle finally stopped when she reached Vincent’s laboratory. She glanced at Vincent who was gasping for breath.
“You’re… you’re quite a runner, Ms. Nathans, for a scientist,” he said breathing heavily.
“First of all, you’re way older than I am,” she giggled and pointed at the locked door. “Lead the way.”
“Well, I’m only in my thirties, I wouldn’t call that old,” he said with a shrug. Vincent entered his password and ducked down for retina recognition. Soon, the door smoothly opened. “Still, I guess it’s a little bit old for a college student.”
Inside, already two people were waiting patiently. One was sitting on a stool curiously looking at the experiment tools. The other seemed tired because he was sleeping on a bench just beside the large cylinder.
“Michelle,” the man on the stool said, standing up to greet her. His voice apparently waked the sleeping man. “Good to have you here.”
“Ugh,” the man who just woke up groaned. “What took you so long, Vincent?”
“Well, I just thought we should have all our colleagues to see this so I took some time to fetch Ms. Nathans here,” said Vincent.
“Get up Jerrod,” the man pulled Jerrod up, who was still drowsy. Jerrod stood on his feet, rubbed his eyes.
“Right,” he said. He turned towards the cylinder. “Let’s wake him up, then.”
“Han will remove the pipe when I signal so. Jerrod, you push that button after the pipe is removed,” said Vincent. “And you, Ms. Nathans, would have the pleasure of watching this miracle.”
“I can help.”
“You’ve already helped me so much. At least give me the chance to return you the favor,” he said politely.
“Do what he says, Michelle,” said Han getting into position. “You’ve already devoted so much time and effort on this thing. You deserve it.”
Michelle gave up arguing and sat down on the stool right in front of the cylinder. Inside, was an artificial human being; the first Crusader to act as a hero. She gazed at the organism in awe. For this, she had challenged herself to double major in bioengineering while studying history. She revised algorithms and genetic codes Vincent had initially made and added her own suggestions. She was starting to love the being inside the cylinder. And after a long debate, she has succeeded in adding human emotions and empathy within the code after persuading Vincent who previously declined.
Michelle’s parents were horrible. They might have been great businessmen, politicians, lecturers and spokespeople, but they were terrible parents. She barely remembered herself with them except the time when she was very young. The love from families she has been told from many friends was only words to her.
Perhaps that was why she was so devoted to this being; also why she insisted in making him as human as possible, not just some god of war. Michelle never experienced what it meant to have a ‘family’, but she at least wanted to provide the feeling to others. She wanted to provide someone, what her families did not.
“Here goes nothing,” Vincent said as he began entering a command sequence to wake the Crusader up. “Now, Han.”
Han McCline unlocked the lever and pulled the large pipe out of the hole in the cylinder. As soon as it was disconnected, the entire cylinder began reacting to sudden change of environment. Jerrod, crouching beside the button he is supposed to press, seemed uninterested in the reaction and pushed the button right away.
A few seconds after Jerrod pressed the button, the cylinder stabilized. Everyone was speechless as they watched the cylinder do something amazing. And slowly… the glass that isolated the world from the inside of the cylinder slowly descended into the ground. The liquid inside poured out and soon, the being inside softly landed on the metal ground. Still, everyone waited silently, half excited; half worried, until the glass was fully removed.
The male did not move. He stayed motionless on the ground.
“What… is he dead or something?” Jerrod inquired.
“Shh!” Vincent said.
Still no movement.
“Is there anything we did wrong? Or –“
Suddenly the male gasped out for air. And everyone else rushed over to his side. He kept on breathing heavily, like someone was grabbing him by his throat.
“Shit! Han go and get some water,” Vincent said as he gently lifted the boy. “Jerrod, grab that respirator there!”
And everyone desperately moved to save the boy. Even from a non-professional’s view, the boy was certainly not in a good state as he continued to gasp for air. But thanks to fast response, his breathing stabilized with the respirator attached. The boy was soon asleep.
“That’s weird. He’s sleeping after he was choking to death?” Han asked cocking his head.
“It’s like a state of coma, except it’s not some fatal state of body, nor is it from any internal or external damage. The body is just recovering itself,” said Vincent. He looked at the boy who was now leaning onto Michelle’s shoulder.
“He looks like an ordinary boy,” Jerrod commented.
“He is an ordinary boy,” Michelle insisted.
“At least now,” Vincent said. “There’s still time for him to be educated and grow up. He might look like a normal five years old boy but I doubt he’ll be able to babble.”
“And who’s going to teach everything to him?”
“I will,” said Michelle, almost waiting for that question to be asked. “I’ll teach him. I’ve always wanted to teach someone.”
“Michelle, you don’t have to take the burden. We can hire a tutor, say he has some mental diseases,” Han said. “Then nobody will really suspect anything suspicious when he can’t say a single word at the age of five.”
“I insist,” Michelle said forcefully. Han looked at her disapprovingly.
“Let her be, Han,” said Jerrod from his side. “You’re not her father or something and she’s old enough to handle herself.”
“I’m fine. And I’m doing what I enjoy. There’s no need for anyone to be sorry for me,” she said cheerfully. Then she turned to look at the boy she was going to teach… and give him the meaning of family. Yes… I’ll be his family.
“So now that is settled, we’ll get ready to bring him to the real world,” said Vincent excitedly. “The Crusader Project should not go public yet, so to avoid any suspicion, I’ll send this boy to the Veridi.”
“The Veridi? You’re kidding me,” Michelle said, suddenly in rage.
“The boy needs at least an identity,” said Vincent. “I’ve already talked with them. This boy will be their adopted child and will be their family member only in formality. They run the largest charity business in the Arks and they’ll be the perfect family to avoid attention. Still, rest will be up to you Michelle. Most of the time, he’ll be with you. I’ve already told the Veridi this one is not really… human.”
“Right…” said Michelle. She was uncomfortable of how Vincent seemed to treat the boy but she was satisfied with the fact that the boy was her responsibility.
“So, do we have a name for this… boy?” Jerrod asked.
All eyes focused on Michelle.
“Make it something simple like… Bob or James or Henry,” Han suggested.
“Ingenious,” Jerrod mocked.
“So what do you think, Ms. Nathans?”
“…” she paused to ponder. Then she glanced at the sleeping child. “How about Leon?”
“Fine with me. Simple enough; not too obvious like Bob or James or Henry,” Jerrod snorted.
“Leon Veridi it is then. The name of the first Crusader.”
I was pushed back by brute force. My entire body felt numb but the pain lingered in me, torturing my nerves to stop fighting. I tasted blood in my mouth and spat it out. I didn’t have a mirror but I knew I was in horrible shape to fight anyone.
On the other hand, the Michelle-masked Hunter was much too eager to shred me into pieces. I had to let it go. Every second I let my concentration loose, the image of her human form seemed to merge with her Hunter figure – and that did not help the situation a bit. It only… discouraged me to let go of my sword. Let her go…
Its endurance was unimaginable. The force it exerted on every blow seemed nearly the same as when I first faced her few hours ago. I couldn’t counter attack – not with me in such shape – and I was only receiving consecutive strikes, desperately blocking with my blade. Sophistication of the blade works it showed me was gone long ago, now it was only trying to crush me with sheer force and overwhelming strength.
I was cornered. I was being pounded at like a cornered rat
Three of the Controller’s blade attacked in perfect concord. I ducked down to avoid the arm-blades and flashed my blade to block her primary one. But its leg shot out and the sharp knife from her legs aimed right at my chest.
I slashed my blade sideways, intercepting her leg. Silver energy shined as my sword sliced left leg that shot out on me. The Controller, even as it was injured, swirled its sword like a storm and pounded my chest with its hilt.
I wasn’t hit with the blade part but my heart still felt like it was going to explode from the damage. I looked at the Hunter. It was certainly injured. It left leg was crippled, but it was blatantly far from fatal and it wasn’t totally dismantled as I hoped. She soon caught balance then marched over to me.
The sudden use of my ability made matters worse. I had to use it to avoid death, but it seemed like I was one step closer to it anyway.
Is there any of that left?
The sun started to shine brightly behind her.
“Promise you’ll be back in one piece.”
I’ve hoped to return her back to normal – I’ve learned that wasn’t going to happen.
I’ve struggled to put her at rest – I’ve just realized she had a better chance of putting me to rest.
What was I supposed to hope for?
The Controller’s blade flashed above my head. The strike was an apparent, full power strike – a death blow to finish off a prey.
“I promise…” I muttered. Then I cried out. I lurched out forward slamming my body into the monster’s. The Hunter was not able to finish its blow and that gave me a small second window.
I brandished my sword and silver aura shadowed my entire sword. The supernatural force sped blindingly like a lightning and the blade portrayed an excellent curved crescent of silver.
The impulse destroyed her defense and she was blown away backwards all the way to the hole of the lair wall. It crashed onto the inner wall and smoke from the impact cloaked what have become of her.
I gasped for breath. My legs were shaking like mad and my brain commanded to stop fighting and lay down my sword – I could not… not until I confirmed…
“LEON!” the eerie, screeching shout of the creature couldn’t have been more distressful. From the disappearing smoke, it came out. The human-form Controller had a large visible cut across its abdomen but it seemed fine by the way it walked out, still armed to the teeth with three blades.
The Controller growled like a wild beast. It raised its sword and pointed its tip at me. For a second, I had no idea what that meant… until the Hunters that were surrounding me the whole time were brought to life. They closed in on my on every direction with their blades that looked deadlier than ever.
Of course… why would a bunch of Hunters do nothing when their commander was in danger…
I forced myself to stay on ground on two feet. I cut open the first Hunter than jumped on me and I had to restrain the urge to unleash my ability to kill all of them to approach the Controller.
I calculated two powerful strikes using my ability before something bad happens to my body or rather, my lifeline. Actually, two was risking too. One very powerful shot – that was all I had and all I could pull out.
Of course… that hope was to fade if I had to fight hundreds of Hunters before I could use one.
I was mindless – my arms just moved instinctively to the enemy while my mind drifted off. Maybe it was the wounds… maybe it was just me wanting to let it all go.
“There I see the lair!” Albert shouted. He pointed at a large dome structure in the distance. Han stared at it. “Should we force our way through?”
“Is there anything else to do?” Han replied. He surged his blade forward. “Our last battle awaits! CHARGE!”
The army of Crusaders roared forward. Their spirits were high and morale at its peak. The wave of blades struck the large swarm of blackness. Blades crossed blades and sound of fury boomed in the air.
“Albert! Meg!” Han called his two best soldiers. They came straight beside him. “We push our way through.”
“We need to find Leon,” Han answered. “If there is one magic that will end this, it’ll be his,” Han said. “Pray that he’ll be alive while we’re getting there.”
“Probably fighter the Controller,” Han gritted his teeth. “And God knows how long he’ll last when he’s in the middle of the enemy.”
The three shot off forward into the wave of Hunters. Han madly brandished his sword. Blade was soon soaked in Hunter blood, all sticky and disgusting. But he kept on cutting through his enemy. The Hunters however, did not seem to die
“Han! Han!” Albert shouted from his back. “You’re going too fast! You’re rushing too much!”
Meg pulled his shoulder back.
“Han, stop killing yourself!” she said. “The three of us is not good enough, we need to march together!”
“No!” Han shouted back. He held Meg by her shoulders. “You’re… you’re the one who said I shouldn’t be a coward, Meg! I CAN’T STAND THIS ANYMORE! THIS ALL MUST END TODAY!”
“Say that to the others when you’re DEAD!” Meg yelled as she slapped his face. “Wake up Han! You are not yourself. Pull yourself together! You’re a commander, Han. A commander leads us to victory. And soldiers like us, follow you to victory.”
Then from nowhere, a Hunter leaped out and lashed out its blade onto Han. Han winced in pain as he collapsed to his knees. Albert got rid of it before it could attack another human. Meg looked at his wounds on his right leg. Blood was pouring out uncontrollably and all she could do was ripping her shirt and wrap the injury.
“See what happens, Han?” Meg said, frustrated, but her tone softened. She picked up a transmitter. “Our commander is injured bring a medic!”
“I can –“
“No you can’t stand, let alone fight with a sword,” Albert said lifting up. A medic came out from their back with dozens of Crusaders desperately holding their lines. Albert looked around. “Our lines are getting thinner. We need to group if we want to push through to get to Leon.”
“Meg,” Han grabbed her armed and pulled her in front of his face. “You are the acting commander from this point on. Lead them to Leon Veridi. Confirm kill on the Controller,” he then pulled off the hand of the medic who was helping him. “Get off me.”
“You sound like you’re going to do something stupid.”
“Ah,” he said, still painful from his injury. “You’re right. I’m not done.”
“Come on then,” Meg turned and ordered the others. “We have our mission.”
“Meg,” Han called out. She glanced back. “Get it done.”
“All squad leaders, this is Meg Colds. I’m taking over Commander Han’s position. Group up to the center of the battle ground,” Meg spoke through the transmitter. “We’re punching our way to the lair.”
Large movement sparked up immediately and all the Crusaders started moving as one towards the center of the battlefield. The overwhelming number of Hunters seemed to have diminished after the main battle but the fact that the Crusaders were small in number did not change. Slowly but steadily, the 250 Crusaders moved up towards the lair which stood grand and proud in the distance.
“We should fire the missiles like we did last time,” Albert suggested. His squad was in the front line along with Meg’s and as time passed by, the damage of accumulating. “Heavy firepower to penetrate their defense.”
“No, for all we know, Leon is out there and could be hurled into the explosion. Last time, we had a clear shot and less difficulty in aiming; that’s the reason we risked it,” said Meg. Then she shot a look at Albert. “Of course, I don’t mind if you can kill the Controller by yourself.”
Albert complained to himself and kept on fighting. The lair in the distance looked so close but the distance, as always, did not seem to shorten even as he fought further into the swarm of Hunters.
“Flank it!” Kale shouted. Numen shot out from its side and poked its defense with his sword. The Commanding unit desperately blocked it with its arm-blade and tried to make some distance from the three of them to make a window for throwing. “Don’t let it throw one of those things again!”
“Let’s finish this,” Numen shouted. She nodded and the two attacked at once from both sides. The purple Hunter managed to block the blades but was pushed back from its impact. Kale rushed forward, trying to ignore the pain from the injury as much as possible, and slashed the Hunter in half by using the silver energy he learned from Leon. A clean cut penetrated the Hunter’s armor and dissected the creature into lifeless meat.
“Is it done?” Mia asked as she studied the carcass.
“Yup, that thing’s a goner,” Numen said as he unsheathed his blade. “Now for the –“
A sudden explosion from the body astonished all three of them. Kale, who was the closest, was flown back from the impulse and landed on his back. Numen and Mia covered their faces with their arms.
“Ugh,” Numen grumbled. He found his armor damaged from some liquid that came from the blast. “What the hell is this thing?”
“Some kind of acid…” Mia said scraping off the substance with her blade. “You okay, Kale? This thing fried some of the power from our armor.”
“I’m fine,” Kale murmured. Whatever that was melting through the armor, it also burned his skin a little bit. “Except that I feel like shit. First from some kind of javelin, next by this alien crap.”
“Everyone has their bad day,” Numen shrugged. He looked at his wrist that marked the location of enemies and allies. “The good news is Leon’s still alive, though we don’t know whether he’s keeping up the fight or just barely surviving.”
“Doesn’t matter what’s happening to him because that’s where we’re going anyway,” Mia said also studying her small screen. “Let’s go. We might be able to get there before the Crusaders if we are fast enough.”
How long did it pass? About an hour? I lost track of time while I desperately brandished my sword to survive. The sight of Michelle was gone and dozens of Hunters appeared instead. I was pretty sure the wound did not just do zero damage. It called on its army for a reason; she was practically toying with me before. I had no idea how Hunters regenerate their wounds but I was certain they were faster than humans. That meant…
A blade swooshed down from the back. I turned around just in time to block it from damaging me. But the violent turn in position affected my wounds which were getting worse every minute. In this continued, I was going to fall before even seeing the Controller again.
The sun was quite high up in the sky like it was bellowing its existence. Han must have launched a full attack hours ago but there were no signs of any Crusaders or the three of mine.
A sudden cohesive attack from the Hunters came from all sides. I ducked down to evade and again, my injuries were impacted by abrupt movements and blood did not stop coming out.
“No…” I murmured to myself. “This is not how it ends.”
I dismantled the Hunters’ leg in front of me and drew a circle with my sword with silver energy embodied around my blade. The Hunters that had surrounded me was slain in a blink of an eye. But a sudden pressure crushed my body to the ground. I contained the ability as much as possible but it was apparently not enough. I was lucky; the next time I might not be.
Unfortunate for me, the Hunters weren’t scared like before. They did hesitate for a second, but most of them stood up soon enough. I attacked first before they approached in. I sliced the head of one and continued my blade against the second target and slashed its stomach in half.
My instincts roared commands to my body and I turned. But the aftermath of the use of ability still lingered and I was slightly off balance and faltered sideways. The arm-blade continued its way towards my chest and I was barely able to avoid it. I desperately raised my blade, hoping it would cushion the damage when –
“LEON!” the Hunter’s chest was penetrated by a sword and its arm-blade ceased moving. The other Hunters around me were in sudden alert because they all turned to the dead Hunter’s direction. I quickly stood up and regained balance.
Behind the lifeless Hunter was three of most trusted fighters I had. And then every tension from my muscles seemed to have been released from my body. I stumbled from the damage of my wounds to the ground. Mia quickly came and caught me before I could black out or something.
“By the Gods…” Numen muttered. “What happened here?”
“I wounded her but she… it still lives,” I said pursing my lips. Mia helped me back up and managed a faint smile. “Apparently you guys are not where you’re supposed to be.”
“Actually we are,” said Kale who was covering me while I was recovering from the shock with Numen while Mia continued to first aid my injuries. “There are no Hunters left from where we were left. The reinforcements came just in time.”
“Everyone’s here. And I thought they would arrive first,” Numen shrugged. “This fight is going to end today one way or the other.”
“There,” Mia said. “You’re good – at least it’s all I could do right now.”
“Now what?” Kale asked. I looked around. The three of them were fighting off Hunters from my position. The bandages and morphine did some trick but it was obvious that they weren’t going to do much good in the end. “Leon?”
“Fire in the hole!”
Voice boomed from a distance and a sudden explosion made a swirling fire that swallowed an entire lot of Hunters to death. Thick gray smoke covered the air and the Hunters around us slowly began to retreat. From the smoke, two figures came running towards our position.
“See, Meg, we should have done this in the first place,” Albert sneered from her side. Meg ignored.
“You’re in good shape,” she said looking at the four of us.
“You are shitting me,” I spat.
“Wounded. Probably inside the lair.”
“They’re retreating inside. That last battle inside there is going to be tougher than any other one,” Albert said looking at the lair and the Hunters scattering into it.
“Bring me to the Controller,” I said. Meg nodded.
“You’re a better fighter than any one of us,” Albert frowned.
“I need every last drop of my power to face her. I don’t want to use it against some basic units.”
“Anyone know where the core is then?” Numen asked, scanning the lair.
“That thing’s a dome – it’s probably at the deepest area of the lair, in the middle,” Meg replied.
“Then we’re settled. Let’s wrap this up,” Meg finished. She signaled the Crusaders behind.
The lair felt more hostile than ever. When we entered through the destroyed wall, no Hunters met us. Instead, darkness thickened like a hollow abyss in the corridor. They were lurking where there weren’t any light. They were waiting for any prey to walk into the shadow like a true Hunter they were. Through the corridors, however, was where the Controller was healing itself. That was where I had to go. That was where it will truly end.
“This place is bigger than I’ve thought,” Kale murmured, looking around the tunnel of the lair.
Suddenly, a Hunter jumped out from nowhere and stood right in our way. For a moment everyone was too startled to do anything. The creature, that also seemed astonished, began fleeing before we could realize.
“After that thing!” Meg shouted.
“That seems like a bad idea,” Albert muttered from her side but the entire army was already marching forward at a faster pace and we were forced to lead the way.
The Hunter disappeared into the light in the distance but everyone was still charging forward like mad. Meg was the first to pop out to the light and Albert along with several Crusaders was right behind her.
“Careful!” Mia shouted from my side. But it seemed too late. Some kind of spike showered from above and deleted the life of the Crusaders that jumped out. Meg managed to survive but she was blatantly injured. Albert, luckily and miraculously, was out of range from the attack. He cried out and went over to her carried her behind the lines of Crusaders now all out in the open light.
Me and the others were last to step out to the light. The area was an empty space and the spikes, for some reason, did not attack again. No one knew the layout of the lair but I guessed everyone noticed: where we were standing, was the center of the lair. It wasn’t as deep inside as we’ve thought of still; all the evidence of the surrounding gave the answer.
“This is like…” Numen looked around in awe. “Some kind of arena.”
As soon as every Crusader was inside the core, the exits were blocked by Hunters. I scanned a total of four exits from the area. All of them were instantly guarded by purple Hunters. I recalled at least two or three Commanding units dead but… there were four more.
“This is a kill zone,” I said. From upper levels of the core, overlooking the Crusaders on the ground, came out the surviving Hunters that fled inside the lair. There were still hundreds of them and the Crusaders came way too deep in their home ground. The numerous Hunters roared in unison and the sound was just deafening.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders seemed busy digesting all the things that were happening altogether. Many seemed to panic, seeing themselves surrounded like this. Most of them had their eyes wandering around in terror. Only a few, busy treating Meg’s wounds, seemed to be calm enough.
“This is how it ends?” Kale said.
“One way or the other,” Mia replied unsheathing her sword.
“Well, it is the ‘final stage’, better make us feel like it,” Numen grinned. “Any last words?”
She… the Controller was somewhere near, looking over us; I was certain.
“We need to draw the Controller out. Then you guys can fight however you want,” I said.
I pushed through the crowds of Crusaders and pulled out Albert who was caring Meg.
“You are an officer of the Crusaders right?” I blurted. I grabbed him by the shoulder hard. “She can’t fight. That makes you in charge. Look around,” he glanced at his surroundings. “They will die because of you if you don’t have them fighting.”
An enormous explosion from nowhere changed everything. My ears rang and couldn’t hear anything. I quickly looked around. My ears continued to ring but I saw Crusaders on the ground, not moving. Their armors were burnt severely and much of their skin was as well. I saw Mia running towards me and I finally managed to stand on my feet.
“What happened…?” I shouted but couldn’t hear my own voice.
“Some… ….! Bomb… … Kale… …!” she said something in a very desperate expression but I was only able to hear words. Then she seemed to have realized my state. She shook me hard and pointed into the distance.
The ‘arena’ had become a battlefield already but it was slowly changing into a slaughterhouse. In the distance… there was the Controller. Fighting it was Kale and Numen, desperately trying to survive every single blow. Perhaps it was the explosion – I absentmindedly looked at them fighting when Mia shook me again.
“Leon!” I heard things more clearly. “Help…! They are… ….!”
I snapped out of confusion and started running towards it. I didn’t have time to worry about the Crusaders or that Albert or wounded Meg. I knew what I had to do the whole time and there was my ultimate goal to end all this. I dashed through the battleground and regained my auditory senses. Clear ringing of blades crossing, metal slashing into flesh, wails of agony and roaring of pain… they all came back to me. I was only meters away from the Controller…
Remember. That is not her. She would never have caused something like this.
“Get out of my way!” I shouted as I leaped above. Numen and Kale quickly rolled aside to avoid damage. I crashed down onto the Controller. The impact stunned its movement. “Go! Help out the Crusaders. There’s a war going on!”
I noticed helicopters hovering from above, firing Gatling guns from the sky – that seemed to explain the explosion.
The Controller charged at me before I could see what happens to the birds. I was certain I wounded it bad but its overwhelming power proved wrong. However, my wounds were very much exacerbating every time I cross blade with such enormous force.
It roared like a mad bull and did not give me time to breathe. I evaded the first rampaging attack and swirled my blade at its wound. The Controller turned aside and let the blade slide pass thin air. Two arm blades came right in for a counter attack. I ducked down and tackled its leg. The Hunter slashed its sword just before losing balance and I jumped to dodge. I smashed down from above and managed to damage the armor protecting its chest. The Controller stumbled back, glaring me back with two human eyes that had once shocked me to death.
It did not change – no red color of a normal Controller – size and shape of a mankind; of Michelle Nathans was all just identical.
"ARRRRGH!” the Controller growled fiercely. It readied its sword, the two arm blades, and two more short ‘knives’ punctured out from its leg. “DIE LEON!”
I was getting used to that horrid voice by then; immune to the cruel, sorrowful message it spoke while actually mentioning my name.
I blocked the ferocious charge with my swords, both hands desperately clutching the handle trying not to stand back. I successfully blocked it and was pushed back in that defensive position as the Controller exerted colossal force into its charge. The blades in its leg shot upward. I broke my defense and backed up to avoid the same move that had given me heavy wound.
The sword did not stop. It struck down. Just in time I stepped aside but I was struck by its arm blade that had swiped my side. I was thrown backwards and found my armor was ripped apart like some paper. Blood squeezed out from the injury. I quickly stood up.
My earlier wounds began to scream in pain. My muscles that exceeded the capacity to exert force squeaked like rusty metal joints. The remaining part of my rationality wailed for rest, for peace. But I couldn’t.
The figure in front of me, regardless of the possibility to return to good old days, was more than enough to get me going.
Fulfill the ideal she dreamed of.
I dashed forward. Silver energy burst out from my sword when I slashed in front. It blocked with its arm blades and it sword immediately went offense. I slammed my body inward. The Hunter was forced to stumble back and the sword missed its target. The leg shot upward again and I stepped back slightly to let it pass me.
Dexterity and speed was everything and all that I had that exceeded the Controller – I was to make the most of it.
Rapid movement; I turned sideways targeting the arm holding the sword. I drew a crescent against its right arm and bright silver aura collided with the thick armor. Red blood spurted out from it. And indeed a Controller it was; it managed to avoid its arm being dissected by blinding movement just before my blade completely sliced through the flesh. The armor at its right arm was absolutely destroyed. It successfully avoided getting its arm cut off but it had to give up the sword.
I quickly picked it up and looked at the dried blood that covered the entire sword.
The sword that was given to her to save humanity… had ruthlessly slain mankind. She would not have done it.
I wielded Michelle’s sword at my left hand and charged to end the fight. The Controller, however, was in a finer state than I have realized. Its arm blade was still in a good shape so it deflected my charge without difficulty.
“…!” I was startled by its quick movement for a counter strike and had to step back. It roared again, but its ferocity was much weaker than before. Then, the Controller started to step back. Just when I was about to attack in response, the four Commanding units landed between me and the Controller. They were more Hunter-like and now that I saw them closer, they had reddish light mixed with their purple color. Four ex-Controllers…
But my eyes were still fixed on the Controller. The Hunter pointed at me and the four Commanding units jumped right at me. I gritted my teeth. It was five verses one, if I could speed my way through them and kill the Controller in one blast –
“Leon!” Numen shouted from my side. He was with Kale, Mia and Albert. They managed to intercept the Commanding units just in time. I was astonished to see them.
“Go! You have one enemy in this battle!” Mia cried back. “Leave these ones to us; we’ll delay them as much as possible!”
They didn’t need an answer. I ran pass the purple Hunters who were greatly interfered by the four. The Controller did not step back. It marched forward like it also sensed this was going to be the final duel for real.
I leaped high in the air and shot the two swords from down. The Controller crossed its arm blades to block it. Its leg shot forward and I ducked to evade it. Left arm blade swung at a devilish speed and I blocked it with my sword. Right arm blade shot out instantly but I blocked it as well. I kicked its abdomen hard and it tumbled back.
The Controller finally looked tired, to tumble backward by a kick.
“This is the end, Michelle!” I yelled and I dashed at the Controller. I stabbed my blades at the Hunter when suddenly the Hunter’s movement hastened.
It rolled to avoid my blow and jumped back up. The arm blades swiped pass my face and scratched near my left eye. I wailed in pain. I felt liquid just on top of my eye and blood blinded it. The two arm blades crashed from above. I desperately blocked it with limited vision. I was crushed to my knee. And then, the Hunter’s leg shot up again. Normally, I wouldn’t fall for the trick twice – but the unbelievable force left inside the Controller seemed to make things happen. It stabbed in my right arm and I was forced to let my sword to the ground.
No…! This is not how it ends!
I kicked my way out; I struck its neck and the Controller was thrown back. My right arm stung but it was still capable of holding a weapon. No time to fetch my sword.
I jumped – it was no more than a few centimeters. I reached where the Hunter was on its back.
I held Michelle’s sword with both hands. I acted before it could react.
The blade of Michelle Nathans penetrated the heart of the Controller.
The Hunter squirmed.
Its arm moved for a second.
Then everything stopped.
The human eyes, the eyes of Michelle were wide open and it did not close back.
Only the sword that penetrated her heart swung back and forth as I let it go.
I collapsed to her corpse.
The coldness… and strange warmth was felt from dead.
I crawled to see her face. The eye was still wide open. I moved my hand that was nearly paralyzed. I moved it desperately towards her face. It went over her eyes and softly… as softly as possible… closed it.
Liquid came down my cheek. It wasn’t blood. It was pure tears…
The surrounding seemed to go blank. The world disappeared except the dead body of Michelle and my wounded body on top of her. Drops of water wet her face. I kneeled beside her. I removed the sword from her chest. I kissed her forehead. But streaks of water did not seem to stop.
“…” I looked at her dead face. “Thank you… for everything…”
And was it just a hallucination?
Was it just my imagination?
She made a faint smile when I said it.
The Commanding units were suddenly weakened – they suddenly slowed down like someone pulled the power plug out.
“This is our chance!” Kale shouted. Two Commanding units were down already but the remaining two were strong as a Controller. The four desperately fought. All of them had wounds all over their body but they did not stop. They had direct orders – to make Leon the stage he needed and they were definitely going to obey that.
The purple Hunters slowed down and its arm blade seemed powerless. Kale sliced one’s abdomen open while Numen decapitated its head. Mia stabbed the second’s chest. Albert finished it off by slashing its back.
“Yes!” Numen exclaimed in triumph. He looked around to see the same ‘power down’ effect to surrounding Hunters. The Crusaders and the helicopters above were finishing off the remaining Hunters.
“I guess the slaughterhouse for humans became the slaughterhouse for Hunters,” Kale said looking around the dead Hunters.
“We’ve lost more than Hornet’s Nest…” Albert murmured from his side.
“We have no time for this! Let’s go help Leon,” Mia yelled at them. She went on first to find Leon. The three of them followed her.
“Leon –“ Mia’s word stopped when she saw him crouching beside a dead person. Everyone froze. They did not dare to speak up. Leon looked alive. His hands slowly removed the sword from the dead body’s chest. Then he whispered something they couldn’t hear.
They all sheathed their swords. Despite the great victory, the heroism of Leon’s deed, not a single person watching him spoke up in glee. Only sorrow and solemnness flowed through the triumphant battlefield.
drop-off in – five, four, three, two one. Capsule No. 137 dropping.”
The so-called ‘capsule’ that was holding like two hundred Crusaders shook violently. Then it began to move. The capsule shuddered and a sound of an exhaust bursting began to blast the shuttle forward.
“This is it Leon,” Michelle said excited. “It’s Earth in… a century!”
“I thought we were fighters, not tourists,” Leon murmured, while looking out the window at the plant Earth. He’d seen Mars and thought it was quite beautiful, but seeing Earth in this distance? Leon understood why Michelle was so excited about Earth the whole time.
“Why? You’re not excited?”
“No!” I replied back, a little quickly. “I’m just… nervous.”
“About what? It’ll be beautiful on the ground. The trees, the animals, the sky, the cloud –“
“Well, we’ve seen the video of the monster and… I don’t really know how to fight like you do,” I murmured.
“Says who volunteered for Crusader, who said he’ll protect me,” she said with a smile. She patted Leon’s back. “Don’t worry. I taught you well and you’re a very fast learner.”
Leon looked back at her. Michelle made an unintended uncomfortable face when she said that. Leon only cocked his head.
“You really think so?” Leon asked, soullessly.
“Why not? It’s really the only thing you seem to be good at,” she said, trying to hide the inconvenience in her voice. Michelle still managed to smile. “You suck at history, math, science –“
“Very funny,” Leon complained. “Well if you say so,” then Leon looked around. “I think there’s a better view,” he said pointing to the window at the other side. He quickly made his way.
“Michelle.” A voice from behind her called her. She looked back to see Han.
“I didn’t know you were in this capsule,” Michelle said, her eyes still fixed out in the window. “Still avoiding Leon?”
“Well I never thought such great fighters like the Veridis to die so quickly on the ground,” he said, sitting just next to her. He glanced at Leon on the other side. “You think he’s okay?”
“He’s stronger than you think.”
“Of course he is,” Han said. “And I didn’t mean that. Do you think he’s okay to fight along us?”
“You’re still treating him like a tool. He’s a human being no matter what you or Jerrod might think,” she said. Then she turned to face him. “Now you sound like Vincent.”
“Thank you,” grumbled Han. “… take care of him, Michelle.”
“I will. I promised the day we woke him up,” Michelle said. “I will make him a real human. Not just some killing humanoid, no matter how long it takes.”
“Hope you’ll be alive until then,” Han joked.
“That is a horrible joke,” Michelle snapped. Han apologized immediately.
“Still… he’s being sent to the place he was made for. I have no idea what will happen to him,” Han said still with doubt in his voice.
“You wait and see. It’s Earth,” Michelle said with a faint smile. “It’s a magical planet that recovered on its own. It’ll change Leon. It’ll change everything.”