There were two who made me who I was. One was that moron director. The other was Michelle. Specifically, Han taught me swords, Michelle taught me how to become a Crusader. Han said I had talent. Michelle did not say anything. Then Han stopped teaching me. Michelle was the one who taught the rest of what she knew. I became stronger. I had greater power. I surpassed Michelle, probably even Han too. From some point on, the relationship of teacher-student reversed. That was why she was the only one in Sector 3 who could handle my strength at maximum. She learned what I knew; I learned what she knew – to the last, smallest movement of a blade.
Two blades flashed. In just a second, the swords were already dancing around us. I revolved sideways, thrusting a monstrous blow at her. She flipped her body to evade and leaped up at me without a second thought. Stepping backwards, I defected her strike with mine, offsetting the impact.
“Using your ability is cheating, Leon,” she said. I spoke nothing, simply stared at her movement. She did not charge for me. So I came in firsthand.
Using sheer force, the momentum granted me speed fast as Hugo. I dashed up to her. I hurled myself in midair and struck my blade down at her. She failed to avoid and instead blocked it with two hands gripping the sword. She gritted her teeth and the massive impulse crushed her down, making a small crater on the concrete floor of the arena. One knee collapsed on the damaged concrete and my blade was still crossed with hers. Just when I was about to lift the sword, to deliver a consecutive attack, she caught the chance and kicked my hands grabbing the sword. I was unable to react by a surprise attack and my sword went flying in the air and landed far away from my position. She instantly stood up and swung her sword at me. I leaned back to avoid. I slowly back stepped towards my abandoned sword with Michelle pointing the sword at me. She brandished it on my position and every time I had to risk my life evading it – yes risk my life. It was not as mine, but her strategy was same as mine; to strike a blow that is not defendable, so one hit was certain to give a critical blow against fragile human bodies.
She boldly charged in at me, slammed my body with hers and attempted a powerful and hasty stab. I easily dodged it by sliding sideways and exerted an immediate counter attack. With my two bare hands, I struck the joints of her shoulder and her sword arm. Then, kneed the broad side of her blade and made it bounce off her hands. Her decisive judgment in situations was always astonishing. She instantly grabbed my leg and pushed forward, smashing my body against the ground. I felt the pain as well as the cracks and debris of concrete beneath my back. I rotated my body, swinging my legs violently to make some distance. She backed off for a second and I tackled her right leg with my left. She was left unbalanced and tumbled on the ground. I stood up, ran for my blade and firmly grabbed it. Meanwhile, Michelle also recovered her weapon. The two of us charged against each other, but I was slightly faster. With a blitz of swings and strikes of lethal metal, she suddenly became busy of deflecting and blocking my strikes. I readied myself for a final blow; concentrated all my ability on one single stroke of a blade.
From the top, I drew a vertical line of gleaming silver to the very ground of the arena floor. The impulse created a massive colloidal damage, shattering the protective glass that should’ve enclosed the arena under any circumstances. I heard screams and yells from the spectators and the dust from the damage failed my line of sight. I lifted my sword in front of me. When the dust calmed down and confusion from the spectators settled, my sword’s point was directing at Michelle, sitting on the ground with a broken sword in her hand. She wasn’t hurt, just the blade was broken, meaning inability to fight further.
Soon the buzz rang. The announcer stated my victory. And medical team rushed up to help us exit.
“His ability is astonishing,” stated Fran. Then he looked at Han. “I cannot believe you taught those two. I think they can alter the drift of this war.”
“I’d say it’s fearfully powerful,” said Rick pursing his lips. “They are beyond the category of human kind, thus should have another regulation for them.”
“Rick, that is too harsh. One is a boy who’s not even 25. The other is his practical mother and a teacher the boy’s known for his entire life after his parents’ death,” explained Han. Too much was among his concerns, most was beyond his power. The fight in the arena minutes ago reminded him a distasteful past that filled him with regret.
“Yes, I’ve seen his report and the woman’s. It’s not really humane for us to regulate two people, most likely vital for the protection of the people, simply because they have too much power,” said Lamy. “We can always make them use their abilities in the right situation.”
“I have to agree… but Rick here has a point. We know what they are capable of since we know every single information about the Crusaders. Whereas, Michelle and Leon doesn’t know that; how much people can their abilities can influence,” said Nelson. “Actions cannot be taken at the present, but Michelle Nathans and Leon Veridi are, and should be, subject to surveillance. Do we all agree?”
I was walking with Scarlet, just outside the borders of the camps of settlers. The area was practically hostile but the soldiers knew I had the capability to save myself and didn’t impose any sanctions. Scarlet was delighted to come outside from the forest of metallic buildings and the busy airfield where she worked. She ran around like a child, examining all kinds of natural monuments Earth has produced over the century of human vacancy. Michelle was resting inside the hospital, probably sleeping by now. The doctors strongly insisted I go to rest as well. But I refused. Lying on a bed and doing nothing for the next several hours was the last thing I wished to do.
“I heard you defeated the strongest guy from Sector 1. And Michelle,” said Scarlet, picking some wild flowers around the trees. “I heard it was quite a fight.”
“You weren’t watching?” I asked. She shook her head.
“I believed it wasn’t worth it; the result is always the same. The scenario where you and Michelle reaches the finals, and in the end, victory goes to Leon Veridi,” said Scarlet.
“Should I take that as a compliment?” I muttered. She looked back and smiled.
“Of course. It means I have utter faith in you,” she said.
I leaned against a huge tree and watched Scarlet as she continued to pick up anything she thought pretty. A short breeze from the forest seemed to refresh my mind. The wind smelled of leaves and the breeze was gentle as fur and cotton. It was almost unbelievable that such foul creatures habitat in such a beautiful planet. I wished a better life. And honestly, life in the Ark wasn’t bad. I had a normal parent. A normal teacher. Normal friends and normal happenings. Now, I was in the only human-habitable planet in the solar system; also one of the most beautiful and marvelous planet, and every day duty were to sharpen my sword. It was all unfair.
“Scarlet, what was your life back in the Ark?” I asked her. She halted, cocked her head.
“Horrible,” she said. She instantly looked depressed even just by watching her back. “It’ll be better off unknown.”
“Uh… okay. Sorry…” I stammered. I felt immensely embarrassed and tried to find a topic to cheer her up. “Um… you have any interesting news from your side?”
“…” she seemed to refuse responding. But after several seconds, she managed to open her mouth. “No, not really. Though I heard the airfield is undergoing renovation to hold birds from the other four Sectors.”
“That’s something new,” I said. She quietly moved to another location. I have to say it was one of the most awkward situations in my life.
“Let’s go back. I have quite a schedule today,” she said standing up. I was relieved and followed her into the settlement.
Just after Scarlet took off, Han called for me. It was uncomfortable leaving Scarlet like that but my legs soon carried me into the command center. When Han and I entered the Crusader command, there was no one present. He took a seat at the very back of the room and I stood just in front of the door.
“What do you want?” I asked cynically. The director’s eyes stared at me. Then he straightened himself up.
“I’m just worried,” he said.
“What’s in your mind?” I asked him impatiently. “Is it because of the ‘rivalry’ among the directors?”
“You did a good job. Thanks to you, I can keep my head up high when I’m with those four,” said the director.
“Then what in the world do you want from me?” I demanded.
“I’m worried about you, Leon Veridi. You’re the one that’s in my mind,” said Han. “You’ve been using a lot of your ability lately; how do you feel?”
“What do you mean how do I feel? I use my ability at times I want that’s all,” I answered.
“I said: you’ve been using your ability a lot. I mean much more than before. How do you feel?” the director questioned. I was starting to become annoyed.
“Nothing! I feel nothing, absolutely normal…” my voice faded off. Han raised his eyebrows.
“You see? Your body is adapting very, no, too quickly. And catastrophe can happen, just like before,” said Han suddenly. I was baffled and had no idea what he was getting to. He glanced at me. “Just, don’t use your ability too much. Don’t use it unless absolutely necessary.”
“Why? I’m getting stronger; isn’t that good news? – a better chance to defeat the Hunters?” I demanded. First of all, he was talking insane; telling me this and that when I was actually developing. And it was unfair to tell me to use my ability less without any explanation. “You can’t be serious!”
“I’m very serious, Leon. As you teacher, I stronger advise you not to use your ability frequently. In fact, the influence can be both physical to your body and political,” he continued. “I’m sorry for lack of explanation but you have to understand, things are becoming more complicated than just killing Hunters. There are eyes watching you and –“
“You know what, Han?” I interrupted. “Go fxxx yourself.”
I slammed the room and went out. It was outrageous. No one told me what to do, not even Michelle ordered me to do things.
“You’re horrible at talking people into things,” said a voice behind. A man entered from the back door. “Han, I am disappointed.”
“I was never good at words. I had no idea what I was saying?” Han said with a sigh.
“Keep on persuading him. It is the truth anyway; you’re not lying. At any cost, the Raven Project should be finished in a few months,” said the old man.
“Already? The Crusaders are not ready –“
“Don’t. I cannot delay the project anymore. Jerrod is providing everything I need,” he said.
“And what are you offering him?” asked Han coldly.
“What he wants,” said the old man. “Keep up Han; you don’t have a promised future. Or maybe I can offer you a job – if you satisfy my need.”
It was almost supper time and the sun was setting, with the day growing darker. Michelle was nowhere to be seen. And most importantly, I had nothing to do. I hated being alone, I was, in fact, tired of it. So despite all odds, I decided to visit Scarlet; partly due to how I simply left her feeling like that. I dislike admitting but she was one of few people I had that was close.
She was at the airfield, as always, inside her helicopter. She caught the sight of me and waved at me. Until then, I was anxious how I’ll approach her and was worried whether she was still keeping it to her. But that should have been no one’s concerns after all.
“What’s up?” she asked me, stepping out of her seat. Scarlet scanned me and blinked. “I suppose you’re bored?”
I nodded. I sat on the passenger seat and Scarlet hopped on next to me. From behind, she opened up some kind of small cabinet and grabbed out two can of Coke and handed one for me.
“Do you realize you look awfully exhausted these days? I mean, when you’re not fighting,” she said. I frowned at her. Just moments ago Han said I should’ve noticed that despite the large usage of the ability, my body and health was perfectly in shape, now Scarlet was telling me I looked tired.
“What do you mean? I’m fine. Only bored; that’s all,” I answered with a shrug.
"I’ve seen you fight with Hunters and other Crusaders. But I’ve also seen you in your ordinary life – like shopping, sleeping, things like that. And, in case you don’t know, you are acting noticeably slower at non-combat situations,” Scarlet said quite assertively. I drank a mouthful of Coke, trying not to think about it.
“It’s probably the special skill I have that differentiates me with other Crusader. That skill tends to consume more physical energy,” I blurted. “I had to use it quite often these days.”
“Really? How come you never told me that? How did you come upon this skill?” she said suddenly curious. I was taken off guard and for a moment my mind went blank as a piece of paper.
“I... I don’t –“
I was interrupted by darkness.
If it was during early afternoon, nobody would’ve noticed. But it was time when night started creeping in and it was evidently darker with every single electric light turned off.
“What is this? Black-out?” questioned Scarlet puzzled. She looked around. I jumped out of the helicopter and did the same. All I found was more confused people bobbing their heads around to see what was going on. “That’s weird, we –“
“Never had black-outs for two years,” I said instead. My instincts told me something was wrong. My hands automatically headed for my right hip but only the thin air was present. I cursed and turned to Scarlet. She started to look frightened. I gave her a hand and started walking towards the command center with haste.
“I thought the generators were the same ones from the Ark – which had no problem for a century…” she murmured. But without a word she followed me.
We were half way through the distance from the airfield to the command center. It was then I heard an eerie, screeching noise from beyond. I stopped. Scarlet stopped. And so did everyone else close by. We all stared towards where the sound came from. It was not bad until then. Not so bad…
Except that the noise was too familiar.