First On Earth

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“For over two years, we human kinds have suffered from unknown creatures of the planet once ours. But the Hunters are merely beasts, and humans have seen and survived in more hostile eras. For the Earth was rightfully human’s habitat and will be so in the future, I, Commander Jerrod McKnight of Sector 3, previous captain of the 3rd Ark, announce the unison of five Sectors and the united settlement for all human kind –“

A great series of applauds and praises, hails and shout of excitement flowed through the main plaza. On the balcony, Jerrod stood in middle, with two commanders of the Sectors at each side. Incredulous was it when Jerrod was the only one to give a full speech and the others only a short comment. I turned around to leave in the middle, sick of the hypocritical behavior.

The other Sectors must have started to move things to Sector 3 during the night. The Sectors wasn’t very far from each other – especially 1 and 2. It was early in the morning but noisy cranes and the construction workers were boisterous as ever. So in the end, the five Sectors united. With an estimated number of almost 10 thousand citizens, 3 thousands soldiers and 600 Crusaders, the humans had a better chance to defend and attack.

Of course, Jerrod’s power grew every day.

The official training session of the day was the only time when Crusaders were in the gym. That day, the gym was quite crowded with soldiers and Crusaders from other Sectors. Though the construction and moving operations just started, many, even civilians, were already making trips to their future homes. A camp outside the barricade must have been set up because the gates were open and people were coming in and out. It was certainly not a scene you can see every day. I had a small hand bag and inside was the book Michelle gave me, just in case I get… well, the feeling to read stuffs.

I casually walked down the gym’s lobby and into the Crusader’s section. Underground, entering the practice room, the area was again very crowded with people I’ve never seen. Of course the simulation rooms were taken. Even the arenas were used by some pathetic looking fighters.

For once I was glad I brought something with me. I found a spot on a bench and started reading until someone gets tired of swinging swords. And hopefully it will happen soon because it took great willpower to sit and read the pages literally packed with words. The first few minutes were fine and I actually thought I was enjoying it – the tales of castle grounds weren’t so boring after all. But at some point, my eyes were on the arenas, watching two Crusaders fight each other as a practice. I reminded myself to concentrate on the book and lied down on the bench.

“Leon,” said a woman’s voice. I woke up with a thick object pressing my face.

“What? What happened?” I looked around, puzzled.

“Apparently you dozed off while reading the book I gave you. But I guess I’ll have to be content with the fact that you’re actually trying reading it,” Michelle sighed. I shrugged back. She helped me get up and she sat beside me on the bench.

“What’s new?” I asked her. “You don’t come down here often.”

“The directors met with each other after the speech. And I think these directors have some sort of rivalry with each other,” she said. “They’re opening a public tournament among the Crusaders of all the Sectors.”

“Great, I won’t be bored for the next few hours,” I said indifferently.

“No, it’s not great. We should be taking the fight to the enemy, prepare for war and quicken the unification of the settlements, not play around like this,” she blurted. Discontent flowed out of her mouth as she kept on explaining. Though it wasn’t the best thing to listen after waking up from a sleep, I sat down dumbfounded and just nodded to her words. “Besides, the tournament is going to be against the best of each Sector. When someone gets injured… or even die, it’ll be one less elite Crusader against the Hunters.”

“Yes I agree,” I responded emotionlessly.

“Then there is –“

“Oh, there’s Han over there,” I interrupted. She turned towards the entrance where the director and a few others in the same uniform walked out of the elevator. They were certainly having a boisterous conversation. They talked to each other so loud that Michelle and I were able to overhear the conversation from some distance away.

“Han, your fighters are no match for mine! They’ve been toughened and strengthened by hundreds of battles. You have no idea each and every one of them is like after fighting for their life lines!” exclaimed a tall man in his suit. Han didn’t respond, instead he continued his way through the rooms and arenas. When they disappeared through the corridor, their voice faded away.

“Our director doesn’t look good,” whispered Michelle. I had to nod.

“He never looks good. Besides the Crusaders of Sector 3 are not great fighters; you need to admit that,” I commented cynically.

It was after a few minutes or so when a sudden announcement froze everyone in the practice room to a halt. And indeed, Han’s voice informed that there will be a small tournament inside the gym soon and that all Crusaders ranked within ten should group up on the lower level beneath the practice room. The others were free to watch for there were plenty of rooms to spectate. Michelle and I stood up and when down with the lift. The fourth underground level isn’t opened often; only for special occasions. And today, was obviously, a special case that will either trample Han’s ego or let him keep his head high up. Soon, the two of us, now, with more Crusaders grouped up inside some waiting room.

“Do you know how young Hugo is? He’s twenty-five! And he’s the hero of Sector 1 and 2. Gods, he is one masterpiece. You have to see his speed, the agility! I believe the tournament has a winner already, my fellow directors,” exclaimed the tall man called Rick. Han was tired listening to his godforsaken friend. The directors of Sector 4 and 5 called Nelson and Lamy respectively, were also doing things of their own. Sector 2’s director Fran used to assist him and support Rick’s word a few minutes ago but he was also annoyed by then. “You know once, Hugo –“

“Hey, Nelson, Mark, you have any news from your settlements before the unification? It’s been a long time we talked,” said Hugo quickly. Director Rick looked blank for a second and Nelson and Mark looked lively.

“Well, isn’t every settlement the same? Hunter attacks, deaths… well, at least we didn’t have so much Hunter attacks as you did. Somehow it seems like Sector 4 and 5 is somewhat far from the ‘homes’ of the Hunters,” said Nelson with a shrug.

“Yes, though we still had precious lives taken, the Hunters’ invasions were not as bad as yours. I read the reports of the recent attacks of Sector 1, 2 and 3 and… well they’re no match for ours,” agreed Lamy. She sipped some coffee into her mouth and sat down comfortably on the couch.

“I think the tournament’s ready. Let’s go down and see whose student is the best shall we?” said Fran who was quiet for some moment. The five directors stood up and exited the room and into the balcony that was just above the main arena, having the best view. Spectators surrounded the dome-formed arena completely filling the room.

Rick came to Han just as he sat down on his seat.

“Watch, Han. You’ll be amaze. I’m actually testing this one – to see if he’s really talented,” he whispered to Han’s ears.

“Of course you are. I’m testing one as well, Rick. You should watch carefully as well,” spat Han. Rick gave a mocking grin and sat just beside Han.

The tournament has started.

To tell the truth, it was a boring tournament. The fight either ended very quickly because one was too strong for the other, or dragged for very long because the two were both horribly bad. Out of fifty contestants, I doubted some of them of how they survived fighting with Hunters. The only combat that was not an eyesore were the battles between the elites of the five Sectors. Among the elites, and my elites I mean within 3rd rank in each Sector, this Hugo Camell from Sector 1 was really showing off. His sword was fast – probably faster than me. And his strikes were accurate. He had the skills to make each swing of his blade, a telling blow for his opponent. Most of all, he was as young as I was.

“Hugo Camell versus Leon Veridi.”

“Think you can beat him? Somehow we made it to the semi-finals…” said Michelle worried. I gave a sign that I’ll be fine and went into the dome. And in front of me was this Hugo fellow and the five directors were just above me, watching down from the balcony. I clipped the safe guards on my sword and Hugo did the same. One of the directors rang a buzz to start and our blades unsheathed simultaneously.

It was a flash of seconds. The coldness of the blades kissed each other; each and every blow was barbarically strong. But it wasn’t unbearable. In fact, the strength itself wasn’t match for the Hunters. But what did bother me was the speed.

His blade strokes were delicate and light, but accurate and quick. What he was doing was like a circus man walking on a tightrope. One mistake will bring everything down and eventually end up with death or fatal damage. But somehow Hugo was manageable to stay rather balanced. Considering my type of style, where I simply crush the enemy with pure ‘force’, it was a tricky technique to fight against. But still, everyone had their flaws and after crossing a few swords, his was too obvious.

“By the gods, you are slow. There are dozens of people like you in my Sector, how did you even come this far?” said Hugo mockingly. He was playing, or he thought he was, with me simply because I was slightly slower than him. But the thing was: the dexterity was all he had.

“What you failed to notice is that you’re not fighting a Hunter,” I said. I swung my sword sideways. Hugo’s sword blinked and blocked it without much difficulty and right after, initiated a consecutive counter attack. Foreseeing the direction of his sword, I lashed my sword to the direction – with additional force from the ability of mine. Hugo looked aback, staggering backwards, then regaining his balance after getting some distance away. “And you rely on speed too much.”

I lunged, leaping towards him with full force. From sky-high, my sword crashed on his direction like a meteor strike. The silver shadow followed. Hugo desperately jumped sideways to evade but failed a stable landing and fell to the ground. Just when I was about to finish him, he disappeared. In front, just where he fell, was only the thin air.

“You’re not the only one who can use abilities,” a voice growled from behind. A chill went through my back. I turned as fast as I could, trying to block his strike with my weapon. Hugo’s sword hit slightly slower, but much more heavier and stronger and I was bounced off by the attack. As I stood up from the concrete arena, I felt streak of liquid from my forehead. Most likely, not sweat.

It was the first time to meet another person like me – user of some unknown ability that seemed to remove me from the category of human. His reliance on speed gave away his strategy; made him predicable… but the power of the ability was not something I could ignore. I took a deep breath. Gripped my sword with both hands and slowly marched forward. Then he disappeared again. It was the same – I guessed – no wonder he was so stubborn with speed and accuracy. Whatever his ability was specifically, it had something to do with unimaginable haste. And so far, it was impossible for my eyes to follow.

Which let me one choice.

With full force, I brandished my sword, drawing a perfectly beautiful circle around myself. He had to engage melee at some point, and my strategy was very clear: sheer force and simplicity.

Half way around the circle, the sword came to a halt, with an enormous sound of blades crossing. Left side. I thrust myself sideways, instinctively knowing his location, I body-slammed Hugo with an unexpected attack. Consistently using my ability, I managed to deflect his irrational attack to get me off his range. With my other free hand, I struck Hugo’s abdomen with a full thrust of force.

And Hugo flew backwards, crashing on the protective glass enclosing the arena. The glass of the area came to a serious crack and my opponent lay unconscious on the concrete ground. I simply stared at him indifferently until the medical team came.

“You wanna know a secret Rick?” asked Han to his fellow director right beside him. Rick was in total shock, unable to believe what just happened. “In fact I was testing one of my students as well. I guess mine earned a better score this time.”

“What… is he?” stammered Rick, still with his eyes and mouth wide opened.

“He’s the one. He’s the one you saw at the front page of our Crusader report,” said Han. He had to smirk, looking at his rival coming to a total mental shock. But his smile faded, seeing Leon with the sword in his hands… Because Han saw and knew too much about him.

The medical team rushed inside and carried Hugo away. Leon exited the arena. He had to fight the finals. He only had ten minutes to rest. But through Leon’s expressions, Han knew too much.

“And finally! The finals! With all the competitors from other Sectors eliminated, it only leaves two Crusaders from Sector 3. Leon Veridi and Michelle Nathans from Sector 3. Give them a round of applauds!”

“Is this the fifth time?” I asked her. She was holding a sword, facing me, and so was I.

“No, first in public,” she replied gently. She unsheathed and I followed her. “I know you were tired controlling your ability.”

“Was it that obvious?” I asked with a slight smile. “Full force?”

“Give it your best shot. You know I won’t die, Leon. I was one of the people who taught you,” she said. Her naked blade was raised between us.

“I know you did,” I positioned my sword as well. The crowd as silent as the dead. The arena roared with silence and the air grew heavier.

The buzz rang. And the fight began.

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