The group of us dispersed. They ran back to the line. The Hunters took no notice and stood unmoving. I slowly stepped back. Unless I was seeing some fantasy, the Hunter looked exactly the same as the one I fought last time. My stamina was already quite drained from the fight and Itruly had my doubts. And still, among the ones who didn’t flee, I was at the foremost.
“That’s… Leon, it’s the same…” Michelle’s voice shook. I didn’t need to answer that.
The purple one glared at me with its ruthless red eyes but did not make any sudden moves. After a moment of total silence and unmoved, the purple Hunter stepped closer. It advanced its legs, closing in one step at a time. The long blades on its arms – much longer than the normal ones – was intimidating enough to frighten the others. Around fifty fought with Michelle and I a few minute ago; only a couple left. The rest was with the line of surviving soldiers and the directors. With the tension so great, no one dared to fire a shot; only raised their guns and peeked through the scopes on their enemy.
“Can you do it?” asked Michelle from my side. When I hesitated, she added. “You’ll be saving everyone. Me, Scarlet, with another thousand people… you’re the only one who fought it, the only one who can overthrow this calamity.”
“Do I have your luck?”I responded.
“As always,” she answered. I must have been crazy but I do remember: I actually managed a smile, a slight laugh. It just reminds me how someone’s belief, trust and love can affect you; how they can draw out extraordinary performances, because it was hell of a miracle what happened. After all, being relatively strong wasn’t being unconditionally strong.
“Watch my back. I’ll need a proper stage like last time,” I said determined. I raised my sword and looted another from a dead Crusader just under my feet. I unleashed my second sword, releasing its sharpness from the thick scabbard. The Hunter did not stop closing in. The other normal ones were statues and so were all the other soldiers.
I lashed in, hurling my swords from the side against the purple Hunter. At the same time, gun fire revived and all the other Hunters broke from their pause. The settlement became a madhouse again, but Michelle was doing a marvelous job of keeping other Hunters away from me and my foe.
I was forgetting how fast this one was. It back-stepped with incredible haste, then struck its blade on top of me. I had to use both of my blades to block it for I wasn’t in the state to handle the force with ease. As soon as the force receded, I launched an attack straightaway. From the side, aiming at its abdomen, I slashed the two blades left to right. The Hunter evaded, but this time, it didn’t move fast enough to perfectly dodge the blow. A sense of stagger was seen for a second, but it recovered as if it was a simple scratch. The purple Hunter came right at me like a whirlwind. Its arm-blade came from the right. I deflected with quick reaction. The blow was lightly struck. A consecutive attack came from the left; again, not accompanied by devilishly heavy strikes. Soon, I found myself being embroiled by the Hunter’s deft strikes. The pace wasn’t too hot; I afforded to block or deflect all of it, but it certainly circumscribed by range of attack as well as losing the initiative to bring crushing blitz to the enemy.
All of the sudden, the Hunter leaped up, soaring downward at me. The moment I realized my status, it was too late to avoid it. I drew up my ability and slashed upward against the Hunter commencing a devastative attack. With the silver aura shadowing my sword and the lethal blade of the Hunter colliding, it resulted with a massive impulse. The air was compressing on that moment, releasing a considerate amount of pressure with the impact. The Hunter was bounced off backwards, but successfully regaining its balance.
Amongst the ongoing chaos, with every single personnel fighting to survive, I was making a solo performance. Michelle must have been exhausted but protected me from other Hunters’ interception the entire battle. If I failed, everything and everyone was bound to die. Losing was not an option.
Even so, my body wasn’t in the state to overwhelm the Hunter like last time. Blood trickled down my right arm – the one that I used from trying to offset the last attack from the air. I felt it. I knew how long I was able to use my ability from that moment and how long my body and withstand. I had to kill the thing quickly.
I started throwing everything I’ve got. Releasing a maximum thrust of my ability, I went inside first. The Hunter was certainly quick to react, but I initiated a consecutive barrage to overwhelm that speed.
The silver shadow danced under the night sky. With almost random-looking swings, my blows began to surpass the Hunter’s; at the same time, abating its speed. The Hunter roared; so loudly that it made me dither for a moment. Using that second of a window, it charged right at me. Its destructive blade collided with my swords frontally. My head was inches away from the blade as well as the Hunter’s. Its monstrous face was enough to fill my mind with distaste. I pulled one sword up and struck downward.
I expected some damage. The distance between us was not even a meter. To avoid a melee attack within such range was a miracle. The sword striking its way down was interrupted by another blade. With agility that was literally ‘blinding’, the Hunter slipped the other blade out and stabbed against the direction of my heart.
The blade penetrated my flesh. A millisecond before the blade pierced my heart into two; I flung my sword to intercept as best as I could. I didn’t die – thank the god, but my left shoulder started to spit out blood and red ooze. My left arm was numb; paralyzed might be a better description. One of my weapons landed helplessly on the soil below and most likely, the adrenaline was the only thing that kept the insufferable pain out of my concern.
The Hunter seemed to be enjoying this situation. It didn’t attack right away, nor did it give a fatal blow to finish me off. Surrounded by confusion between the humans and the Hunters, the purple one looked down at me with its red eyes. Its disgusting mouth with huge fangs opened and closed. If Hunters had any kind of expression of emotions, it must have been cold, cynical smile, belittling its foe that was about to die.
But again, I didn’t die that day, nor did I wish to. What that purple thing overlooked was that it underestimated me by… let’s just say a lot. I was still the strongest Crusader the settlements had. I wasn’t going to die because of some purple, mutated creature. Beside, death didn’t just mean losing my lives at that time.
I stood up straight. The creature’s red eyes followed my movement. Its mouth opened again and closed. I gripped the sword with my right hand. The left was useless with blood stained all over it. I started walking towards it; gritting my teeth, glaring right back at the ferocious eyes.
The Hunter charged. It threw its body on me, blade forward. I already had a silver aura lingering around the blade. I brandished to deflect its movement. The Hunter braked in the middle, swirled left and responded with a sheer force. I ducked low, dodging it unscathed. Then, I drew myself inward again, making the distance incredibly close. I didn’t swing my sword right away, but calmly bashed its leg with mine. The Hunter staggered and I found my opportunity. The silver aura lightened up, illuminating nearby areas. I spun myself, slashing my sword from left to right. The aura, the ability was strong as ever; I was forcefully drawing out every drop of energy left to display such power. I failed to disconnect Hunter’s chest from the leg, but the green blood was vividly seen even during the night. The Hunter’s energy was crippled. Now, it was the creature who was staggering down, trying to regain its balance, and me who was looking down at it. But I didn’t make the same mistake as the beast did. I kicked its body, making it crashing on the ground. I raised my sword on top of the Hunter’s helpless body and pushed the blade inside it. Green blood squirted out and the red glare faded.
It may sound crazy; but I felt very drowsy. With my body reaching total fatigue and blood pouring out of my wound, I collapsed to the ground. Before blackness caught me, I must have heard Michelle’s voice, but I fell backwards before saying a word.
Everyone stood up, clapped; gave a round of applause as Commander Jerrod entered. His expression didn’t seem that fond of the celebration. With indifference lingering his face, he sat down on a chair right at the center of the oval-shaped table. Directors, executives, counselors and commanders of the five Sectors were present.
“Commander Jerrod, I have to admit the defense system of Sector 3 was miraculous. Sector 1 and 2 had to abdicate our land to those beastly creatures after such a massive attack,” exclaimed Commander Rackel.
“Our esteemed commander did not mention the greatly increased manpower mobilized for this defense, but the performance of the soldiers and Crusaders of Sector 3 was certainly praiseworthy,” said Dr. Greg. When he spoke, Jerrod glared at him. But the doctor took no notice and everyone else nodded responded with agreement. “Now, I’ve seen the report of the two Crusaders called Michelle Nathans and Leon Veridi but this battle was an opportunity I – we – could really see their potential directly. I suppose this is the result of such supreme leadership of the Commander and the director of Sector 3. Doesn’t everyone concur?”
The mumbling of agreement continued with more credits and praises from others. Jerrod frowned in inconvenience at Dr. Greg. But the doctor simply ignored and retained his leisurely smile.
“Commander Jerrod, you don’t look so well. Aren’t you not glad of our victory?” asked Commander Soren. All eyes focused on Jerrod.
“No, I am certainly exhilarated by our success of defense. And I have to say Dr. Greg exaggerated too much. It was more of the Crusaders’ efforts that made them what they are. The simple reason I cannot smile is that the loss of the soldiers, regardless of Sectors, does break my heart,” said the Commander quickly. He added an appropriate acting to make it believable as possible. Everyone fell for it. “Um… speaking of losses, we should move onto the casualties.”
“Well, yes. If our statistics are correct and didn’t miss out anyone on the list, there are 368 KIA soldiers,” announced Charles. Many of the people looked relieved; considering that the population of soldiers reaches nearly 1300 men. “But, we have a lot of dead from the Crusaders, who, in truth, prevented the KIA rates of soldiers elevating. Our numbers show 307 KIA Crusaders… which leaves only 353 Crusaders left in the settlement. There are some Crusaders remaining at other Sectors, which fortunately did not report any invasions, but they are too little to recover to its original size.”
“How about civilians?” asked Jerrod. His face became darker as Charles spoke.
“We have 146 civilians’ dead. Luckily, it was supper time and most was inside their houses. As soon as the alarm went off they retreated underground,” said Charles. The cheerfulness disappeared instantly and the table went silent. “Uh… sir? I’m afraid we have more problems…”
“Out with it,” blurted Jerrod. He sighed and closed his eyes.
“We are running out of resources. The materials from the Arks are running low. If this rate continues – and considering the incoming population – resource shortage will hit us soon,” said Charles. “The Earth regenerated for over a century. It’s time we make use of the regenerated materials.”
Jerrod said nothing. The others murmured with each other and Jerrod tried hard to ignore.
“Commander, your orders?” asked Charles.
Everyone left. Jerrod was still sitting on his chair. Dr. Greg, to Jerrod’s annoyance, stayed.
“What do you want?” demanded Jerrod irritated.
“I imagine you must be feeling horrible,” said the doctor cynically. “In situation where your least favorite card is your only hope – the same card that will one day make you fulfill your ambition.”
“Shut the crap, Vincent. If you’re here – from the moment you arrived days ago – to mock me and provoke me, you did very well. So leave me alone. I don’t need to hear that from you,” scowled the commander. He waved his hands, insisting Dr. Greg to exit the room.
“The Raven Project is bound to be finished soon. You won’t have to rely on him from that day on,” finished the doctor as he left.