It dashed in. I stepped sideways, evading. It slammed my sword with its blade. I was heavily bounced off, horribly collapsing down on the ground. The purple Hunter hurled around its blades at me. I was just standing up, gripping my balance; just in time for me to block its stroke of blade – that should’ve deflected the blade.
I was under Hunter, with only my sword and the hand gripping it above my head. And the sword was the only thing between my body and the lethal arm-blade of it. Normally I counter attacked as soon as I successfully blocked a blow; but the blade kept on crushing me. Slowly and slowly, but sheer force. I felt my feet drilling through the grassy land, the coldness of the mud underneath. The more it pushed me, the more disadvantageous it was for me; all I had to do was pray for it to lift the blade.
The Hunter must have underestimated me. It raised its blade high up and attempted a finishing blow. The window must have been only a second; but that was all I needed. One second was a big difference in fights like this. Sometimes, in desperate times, it’s the ‘second’ that makes all the difference
I leaped up, with everything I’ve got, bashed the Hunter’s body and freeing myself.
Horrible was the sound of it, but it was the first time for me to be actually afraid. Hunters were animals; beasts, they were creatures bound to die by mankind one way or the other. After all, it was Michelle who taught me that we were the most intellectual organism on Earth. But somehow… I already started to sense the chain of events twisting, tangling, in a way that no one could foresee.
I started to hear sounds behind the trees around us. I glanced around and saw about a dozen Hunters with their ruthless eyes glaring back at us. The Hunters started to close on us. Michelle was still frozen on the ground, I was fighting the purple one and I knew I couldn’t deal with more Hunters. My eyes met with Michelle’s and probably we were thinking about the same thing.
Death… was waiting for us.
Then suddenly, the Hunters stopped. Their slow march around us ceased like magic. Then I saw it. The purple one moved its eyes, pointing at the group of Hunters besieging our position. Perhaps it was talking by some unknown communication system. And perhaps the purple Hunter…
The Hunter lashed at me, in sudden. I released my ability, knowing I had no chance without it. I stepped sideways, leaving only my sword where I was standing. The Hunter drifted its way and braked itself in front of my sword, turning to me just beside it. I swung myself, making a crescent with my sword. The purple monster blocked it, attempting to kill me with the other blade. But this time, it was different. The block wasn’t deflected; instead it stayed stuck with the right blade, restricting the Hunter’s movement. I released my sword from the position, hastily pushing myself towards the Hunter – that was my trick, the closer the enemy is to you while fighting close combat, ironically, the harder it gets to swing a cleaner blow.
I kicked the Hunter’s abdomen and it went struggling backwards. Before it recovered, I threw the sword like a spear. The crazy thing was that the thing blocked fatal injury by blocking it with its left arm. It could have penetrated its head and end the whole thing, but even such injury was enough. Barehanded, I hurdled upward attempting to crash on it.
“Michelle, sword!” I yelled. She was, thankfully, still managing herself to react as normal. She understood immediately and threw her weapon towards my direction.
I caught it. Swung it towards the left, where the right arm cannot reach easily. The Hunter screamed, in agony, I guessed, and I landed lightly on the grass behind it. And due to its similar size as humans, I gave a clean decapitation from the back.
The purple Hunter collapsed to the ground with a head short.
Then, as if proving myself that I have crossed my limit, my strength failed and everything went black.
I woke up and found myself on a familiar bed, with white blanket on top of me. I looked around and found Scarlet. Michelle was nowhere to be seen.
“You’re awake,” she said drowsily. She was leaning against my bed and looked like she just woke up just like me. “Michelle’s in the command center debriefing what happened.”
“I thought she was injured badly… and why am I here?” I asked her puzzled. My head ached, when I touched it, I felt bandages wrapped around.
“Actually, it was you that was injured badly. You don’t realize but you have scars and bruises all over your body. And about why you’re here… you dozed off in the returning helicopter,” she explained calmly. “According to Michelle, the Hunter was… what, overwhelming than normal?”
“Agh, I don’t want to remember,” I said and tried to get off the bed. “Can you take me to the headquarter?”
“No, even if I could, I won’t let you,” she snapped. She leaned back on the chair just beside my bed. I frowned; it wasn’t common for her to act like this. “I know how desperate you are to see her but you and I cannot go out. You know that you were supposed to stay inside the Sector and I wasn’t supposed to ride you there. That made Jerrod mad. I don’t know about you but I almost lost my license for my helicopter; thanks to you.”
“But you didn’t,” I said. She froze for a moment, just looking back. Then sighed and nodded. Then none of us spoke. I pushed myself back to the wall and leaned against it, staring downward. I glanced at her and she was quietly looking out the window. “Um… I’m sorry. I thought it would work… the thing… the excuse I suggested.”
“It did work; I didn’t lose my license. Instead, I cannot ride for five days,” she said casually, which was more frightening. Then she avoided my eyes and continued to look afar. Scarlet suddenly laughed lightly. She turned back. “Don’t worry, Leon. You came back in one piece and saved dozens of Crusaders including Michelle. It was a right thing.”
“…” I lost my words.
“Here comes Michelle,” she said. Just like she said, Michelle came inside looking very tired.
“Oh, you’re awake,” she commented. Then looking at Scarlet, “thanks for taking care of him… again.”
“No problem. I won’t have many things to do for the next couple of days,” shrugged Scarlet.
“Can he walk?” asked Michelle. Scarlet nodded. I got off the bed feeling quite fine. My left leg felt a little numb and my head ached like hell but it wasn’t so bad.
Scarlet left us as we exited the hospital. Then she started to trudge onward with a reason or word. I simply followed her. After a few minutes, I found myself inside the Crusader command room. Michelle looked uneasy and nervous and in front of me were three people: Dr. Greg, Commander Jerrod and his second-in-chief which I had no idea what his name was.
“What are they…?” I asked Michelle, carefully so I wasn’t overheard. She looked reluctant to react.
“No, Leon, what are you?” questioned the commander with his voice ever low and hoarse. “You ignored my orders and threatened one of my pilots to give you a ride!”
“And I saved dozens of lives which would have been dead corpse by now,” I replied angrily. If you think about it, I mean seriously, I’ve done something no one else could have and the result was a happy ending for everyone coming back to Sector 3. I recognized as the commander overreacting – wasn’t this something that you can just go over with? “And I earned more intel about the Hunters now –“
“I don’t give a damn if you killed a whole colony of Hunters and saved an entire settlement of people. What I do care, is that you disobeyed the system, the strict chain of command on the shoulders of every soldiers regardless of uniqueness. Now this system, as you decide to disobey so easily, is something that keeps all of us alive from that horror out there. This strict system is what keeps everyone and everything intact,” Commander Jerrod scowled like he was going to shoot me any second. The two other sitting on either side of him said nothing. “If you start to ignore this and wander off freely like some uncivilized person, you are ruining the society like a cancer cell. If you go on like this, there will be confusion of order within the settlement that I cannot prevent. And that, is not going to happen. So you will never, ever disobey my orders. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yeah sure,” I said tiredly. Sick was his ‘moral’ of the day and I refused listening to such any more.
“Gentlemen, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can handle watching this under-civilized soldier and listen to him talking. Charles, please write me a report of what he told you,” said the commander. Then he stormed out of the room, slammed the door shut behind.
“What a moron…” I muttered, eyeing back at the door the commander just left. And he calls himself a commander...
“Forget about him, Leon. Jerrod acts like a jerk sometimes,” explained Dr. Greg. He flipped over his sheets of paper and readied a small fountain pen.
“Oh, sometimes,” I murmured.
“Leon, the doctor will have some questions for you. I’ll wait outside,” said Michelle from my side. Then she walked over to the door.
“No need Professor Nathans. We also need you,” said Dr. Greg stopping Michelle from exiting. Then he pointed at some chairs for us to sit down. “Now, tell me, everything from head to top.”
“You have to be joking... are you sure they weren’t lying or… you wrote down the wrong thing?” asked Commander Jerrod. Charles shook his head side to side, denying. Jerrod only stared at the report his executive gave him. Dr. Greg was sitting on a chair, smoking a cigar. He looked over at the commander cynically. “Charles, contact the other commanders of the four Sectors.”
“Will do, sir,” replied Charles. He soon walked out of the room, leaving the doctor and Jerrod in the room.
“Vincent, I trust you as my friend but –“
“What you see with the tiny eyes of yours, is all the bloody truth you have. And please, I don’t remember developing a ‘friendly’ relationship with you, Jerrod,” snapped the doctor. He breathed out gray smoke and continued to smoke his cigar. The commander only looked at him with an annoyed frown. “The lad’s words are all true as well. At least… Nathans isn’t a person who would lie.”
“So what do we have now? We not only have to fight enemies that are physically overwhelming but also systematically organized? Hell, this was a disadvantageous fight in the first place and it’s getting worse every day,” exclaimed the commander. His hands were rounded up into fists and his face was getting redder. “Vincent –“
“You know what you can do to save the citizens as a whole. War is not measured by loss, but gains. We destroy the Hunters, at least access power to oppose them, with a few sacrifices, and we take back the entire Earth,” suggested the doctor. He finished smoking and discarded the leftovers. “You’ll be a hero to integrate the five Sectors to win the bloody war. And I get a generous amount of respect. It’s a win-win for both of us. When this goes well, why you can make your own kingdom or something.”
“...” the commander only glared at Dr. Greg with his red face and fists curled up. He looked down and did not answer back for a few minutes. The doctor calmly waited, looking down from the window at the scenery outside. “Fine… I’ll give you anything you want – all the resources you need… Just give me what I want… I’ll give you everything for it.”
“I’ve been waiting for that answer for too long Jerrod… and I will gladly carry out your order,” said the doctor, leaving the room, managing to hide the cold laugh that could have burst out.
“That wasn’t so bad,” said Michelle cheering me up. “He didn’t give you any additional penalty.”
“Yeah… I guess that’s true,” I said. The sun was already starting to set. When we reached the market place, people were already ready to close their shops and stack up the left overs. Michelle stayed back to buy the remaining stacks for a bargain, but I was too tired to follow up with her. When I finally reached my room in the residential area, I jumped onto my bed to realize how badly my head ached.
“Aw… shit…” I muttered out. As far as I felt, I practically just wasted like two hours listening to a jerk, who so maturely left the room because he couldn’t control his emotions, and two nerds who asked me to recite every single thing that happened in the woods. I stayed lying down on my bed with my face dug onto the softness of the sheet.
It was after some minutes or so when Michelle finally came back. I finally got off my bed and asked her for supper. She sighed and told me to wait a few more minutes until she set the meal up. I wandered around my house with Michelle restlessly cooking in the kitchen. So bored was I, and decided to scan some of the books Michelle always liked to read. It was obviously, all history books. But it was quite a collection. Michelle told me that many of the books from masterpieces to third-rated novels were lost during the hurrying extraction from Earth of Project RE.
“Michelle, I can’t believe you have all these boring history books and not the exciting novels you always talked about,” I shouted so that she could here. My eyes were still scanning through the columns of the bookshelf stacked up with history references.
“Because I’m a history professor, Leon. I had a proper job in the Ark,” she yelled back.
I scanned through the books and a bold cursive title caught my attention. I turned my neck sideways to read the letters on the side of the book. I pulled it out curiously and looked at the cover.
“Leon, the meal’s ready come and –“ she came over and saw me holding the book. “Can I guess you’re finally getting some interest in books?”
“… just had a curious title,” I answered.
“It was your favorite,” she said suddenly, when I was just about to stand up and leave.
“What?” I asked her.
“What were you, four? Five? It was your parents told me to read you some books. Now all I had were thick, boring history books like you said,” she said. Then, slowly sat down beside me. “But this was really the only book that you liked. All the others were like some sleeping pills for you. When I challenged myself with this one, I had to make all kinds of sound effects to keep you awake.”
“I wonder why I don’t remember…” I murmured awkwardly.
“Keep it, Leon,” said Michelle handing the book to me as she stood back up. “Maybe even try reading it yourself. You liked it when you were young, you’ll like it now just the same.”
“How do you know that?” I asked her, fidgeting with the book.
“Believe me, I know things with books than you,” she answered. “Come on, the food’s getting cold.”
“Knights of the Medieval Age…” I repeated after the book. The title wasn’t mind-grabbing. But somehow it just lured me in. The title was tedious just like any other history books, and yet… “Yeah, I’m coming.”
After the meal for my empty stomach, I was mentally and physically exhausted to do anything. Still, it was one of those times when it just felt too early to just sleep. I just wanted to spend some times not fighting out monsters and listening to morons but just to relax and get a normal life.
It was after couple of minutes lying down on my bed when I finally decided to read the history book. Michelle went to bed straight after eating so the questions regarding the past days had to wait until later on.
I opened up the first page and read through the contents: not much things that impressed me. After I finally opened the first chapter, a disastrously large amount of words and letters and vocabularies I’ve never seen seemed to encourage me to close the book and get to sleep. The funny thing was, I was kind of glad I didn’t read through it. With nothing to do, in the end, I settled myself comfortably inside the bed, under the blanket. The first thing that popped in mind was the matter earlier in the day. What I could have done and… what I’ve shouldn’t have done. I never knew why regrets don’t come in mind in that certain situation – or maybe that’s why it’s called ‘regrets’.
Sleep swarmed over me as I lied down doing nothing but closing my eyes. I started to dose off, with the most uneasy thought that seemed to have popped out of nowhere.
Do you think, you can seriously earn the life you want? That was his words from the first meeting with him face to face.
And I hated him for it.