2-5: Red and Nathan
October 8, one month before the boy named Red met Catherine in the middle of a battlefield. This is the story of how two of the five generals involved in the Global Unification War met.
The meeting took place by accident on the graveyard created for the victims of the battle between the Crimson and Cerulean Armies. It had barely been a month since this historic event, and Red, the boy known as the Crimson General who got the epithet of “Blazing Monster” from this very battle, was visiting the grave of Shirley, the late Cerulean General who died at his hand. Having left his base in secret for this visit, Red was wearing a cap and sunglasses to cover up as much of his face as possible.
As the boy entered the graveyard, he spotted the figure of a man standing in front of where he was headed. Curious as to what this person had to do with Shirley, he slowly walked towards him.
I’ll just use my acute hearing to eavesdrop a bit, Red thought.
However, instead of hearing the man talk to himself or to the tombstone, an unexpected message awaited him.
“A teenage brat walking towards the grave of a former general all alone in a time of war…if you can hear me right now, then there’s no denying your identity.”
This statement was made with the minimum volume allowed for Red to hear. In order to pull this off, the person needed to possess the same level of acuteness and perception that he did.
Basically, only a fellow general could pull it off.
There was no one around. With the two generals completely alone and a distance of about 20 meters between them – a distance that, in all honesty, meant nothing because either one of them could easily close it – they conversed.
“I’ve seen Ivory in the news before,” Red said. “You’re either Emerald or Gold.”
As he made his hypothesis, Red instinctively tilted his head. Given that the man was a general, it was strange that he was not as covered in clothing. Instead, he was wearing a plain shirt and jeans, a far cry from Red who was, on top of his sunglasses and cap, wearing a cardigan which made him feel hotter than usual. It was meant to complement the excessive accessories he used to hide his face, but in hindsight he began to realize that he may have overdone it.
However, before he could make any internal monologues or visible reactions, the mysterious man responded to his statement.
“I heard Gold is an old man,” he said.
Red raised an eyebrow. “…how old are we talking here?”
“Retirement age, bro.”
From a curious expression, Red’s eyes instantly widened and he lost control of his voice. “What, seriously? Did you send in spies or something for that piece of info?!” He placed his hand on his chin in a thinking gesture. “But wait, retirement age…wouldn’t that make him the weakest general, then? Ah…”
He then finally realized that he had broken the atmosphere of secrecy with his outburst. He covered his mouth in embarrassment.
In response, the man in front of Shirley’s grave laughed loudly and faced the teenage general. “Hahaha! Don’t mind it, kiddo. I’m not here to fight.” He raised his hands. “See? I’m unarmed. I see you are, as well.”
Before Red could give a reply, however, as if changing his mind, the man gave a serious expression and miniature whirlwinds began forming around him.
“Or would you like to settle things right now?”
Red shook his head. “I’d rather not get corpses involved,” he answered. Now that the man was standing in front of him, Red could see that he had brown eyes. Contacts…I knew it.
The whirlwinds disappeared instantly, and the man gave a bright smile. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Truce, then?”
What is up with this guy? “Let’s make a few things clear, Emerald,” Red said. “I’m alone right now. I have no intention to fight because I don’t want to get the bodies of the dead here involved. Also, in a war where a general’s life has so much weight, I’d rather stage an attack between armies with a strategy that I believe would guarantee that I will live and you will die.”
The man smiled. “I’m actually not alone right now. But precisely because of that, I don’t intend to fight either.”
“There’s no one here, though.”
“My honey’s waiting just outside the cemetery.” This response surprised Red, but the man continued before any reactions became visible. “If you think about it, I would be more at risk here because you could easily kill her. If we can hold a temporary ceasefire and simply act as two people visiting Cerulean’s grave, that’d be awesome.”
Red nodded and walked towards the man. Soon they were face-to-face.
“I’m Red, the Crimson General.” He extended his hand. “Are those contacts?”
“Nathan, Emerald.” The man received Red’s hand and shook it firmly. “And yes. On the other hand, you look awfully suspicious in that getup. Why don’t you just get contacts as well?”
“I don’t like stuffing things in my eyes,” Red replied as they broke off the handshake. “But then again, I guess the cap is a little overkill, considering they would never think that a kid was actually a general.”
“Indeed.” Nathan laughed briefly. “So anyway, why are you here? And all alone, at that.”
Red held his head in his hand as he was hit with a sudden internal pain. “I just…needed a break. This war has been so overwhelming, especially with the whole Shirley thing. You’ve heard the reports about how I killed her, right? Honestly, I still haven’t gotten over the whole Crimson beat Cerulean thing after all these months, and so I wanted to stop by and apologize all over again in front of her corpse.”
Nathan nodded. “I understand; it must be really tough for one so young. Which begs the question: how on earth did you end up becoming a general?” He pointed at himself with his thumb. “I mean, I was enlisted in the war and chosen to try out the serum as part of a secret project that was known only to a select few. I can’t imagine a teenage boy being chosen on purpose.”
“You’re right.” Red heaved a sigh. “Can I sit down for a bit? I feel like I can open up better that way, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.” Nathan went ahead and sat on the floor. “Go ahead.”
With a smile, Red sat beside him. With the two generals side-by-side in front of Shirley’s grave, Red told Nathan his entire story, from how his life changed upon his mother’s death, his heroic act to save an important person to him, and how his father gave him a second chance at life as a fire-wielding superhuman. He ended with a story that he kept as brief as possible: the very recent memory of his battle with the Cerulean Army.
“…and then I killed Shirley and went berserk. I then carried her corpse to this very spot and dug her grave myself.”
“Right in the middle of a major battle?”
“I was out of my mind,” Red replied. “Anyone could have shot me, but for some reason, thankfully, they respected my feelings and let me be. I say that I dug her grave, but to be honest I don’t remember much about it; my memory of that moment is mostly hazy.”
“I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that. I’ve killed my own fair share of people, but they were all adult soldiers. You and Cerulean were just teenagers caught in a grand-scale war.” He shook his head. “No, never mind; I won’t pry any further. Let me talk about myself for a change in pace.”
Nathan was enlisted as part of the candidates for the general serum, and he accepted the responsibility in order to protect his childhood sweetheart, Louise, whom he proposed to upon becoming the Emerald General. They plan on having their wedding once the war was over.
“So in essence,” Nathan concluded, “I’m kind of the same as you, taking part in a war and killing people for the sake of protecting a girl.”
Red briefly chuckled. “I guess so.” He heaved a sigh. “Damn, being all chummy with you like this makes me not want to face you now.”
“Same here. But when the time comes, we’ll probably go all out against each anyways. Somehow I get that feeling.”
“Yeah. We’d probably be out to kill each other if it comes down to it. If only because we respect each other that much.”
Nathan scratched his head and stood up. “Aww man, this is too depressing! Let’s just shift the topic again, shall we?”
Red followed suit and got up. “Agreed.”
“So, now you know my story and I know yours. What’s Cerulean’s deal? Having met her, I assume you know her backstory.”
“Yes,” Red replied. “I found out after the whole battle against the Cerulean Army. Shirley was the granddaughter of their lead scientist, and over 30 people had died taking the general serum before she stepped in. She noticed that her grandpa was getting stressed out of his mind, and all she wanted to do was help and prevent any further deaths if she could. She had no idea that she’d be forced to take part in a global-scale war, but when she did find out, she accepted the responsibility anyways.”
“The Water General who protects her allies like a flowing river of life,” Nathan said, reciting the rumored description of what kind of person the Cerulean General was. “Deep inside, she was a sweet, innocent girl who was sucked into a war created for the sake of humanity’s future…I guess.”
“In an attempt to bring a brighter future for mankind, we’ve taken the lives of quite a number of people,” Red added. “I’m starting to doubt the intent behind this whole thing. And to think I might have to cross paths with you as enemies…”
Nathan shook his head. “Forget about that for now. Come, I’ll introduce you to my fiancée and we can have a cup of coffee or something.”
“I don’t drink coffee. It gets in the way of my sleep.”
“Hot chocolate it is, then.”
Red raised his eyebrows and made a quick frown of satisfaction. “Eh, good enough.”
“Her name’s Louise. She’s a real catch.”
“So it’s really bad over there as well, huh?”
Red, Nathan, and his fiancée Louise were inside a café. Nathan had introduced Red to her without telling her that he was a general, and Louise did not question Red not taking off his glasses despite being indoors. Having heard that Red came from another country, Louise relentlessly asked question after question, until the topic of the war came up.
“There’s no immediate threat right now, it seems,” Red replied. “The Ivory General seems like someone who wouldn’t act rashly or resort to skirmishes. If he’s anything like the rumors say, he’d step in with the intent of taking a country in one fell swoop.”
“Like a clean assassination,” Louise added.
Red flinched. “For a woman so young, it’s kinda sad how involved you seem to be in this war.” Louise was 27 years old, and while that was a full decade older than Red, the young boy could not believe how she had not lost her mind by now with her fiancée constantly out on fights against the unknown Golden General. Or perhaps the danger simply had not reached that point just yet. She’ll reach her limit sooner or later. Just as how I broke down after Shirley died…
“I told her not to get involved,” Nathan said, placing his hand on his forehead in frustration. “But she’s just so damn pushy.” He heaved a sigh. “But then again…thanks for having my back.”
Louise gave a sweet smile that stunned even Red. “I agreed to marry you once the war was over. I’m part of whatever decision you make, you idiot.”
“I love you too, honey.” Nathan laughed and patted Louise’s shoulder. “Say, I need to go to the bathroom for a bit. Play nice with Red here, okay?”
And when Nathan was out of sight, Louise quickly glared at Red.
“So Red, I’ve been meaning to ask this,” she began. “Nathan has me. How about you? Do you have someone whom you can cling onto during these trying times?”
Red shook his head. “Not that I know of, no.”
“But being a general means standing at the helm of murder, right? Anyone who tries fighting on his own would go insane no matter how much power they have…all the more likely for one as young as you.”
Red bowed his head. “So you figured it out, huh? Must’ve been really easy.”
“A teenage boy from another country is running around here on his own despite there being a worldwide war. Please.” Louise placed her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her hands. “So, what’s your story? Hurry, before Nathan comes and finds out that I know your identity. He probably kept it secret because he didn’t want to worry me.”
“I nearly died trying to protect this girl, and during the operation following my near-death experience, my dad - our country’s lead scientist - injected the general serum on me, ensuring my survival and turning me into a general. Ever since then, I’ve been trying to become strong enough to win the war. And if fate would have it, Nathan and I would eventually…”
“You’ll be out to kill him and he you.” Louise showed a look of concern as she stared at the boy in sunglasses. “Has it been rough, young general?”
Red’s heart melted and he felt that it would be okay to open up to this woman. “…yes,” he replied. “The whole thing with Cerulean was really bad, as well. I just had to visit her grave and ask her to forgive me so that I could somehow move forward.”
Louise bowed her head. “My fiancée has my full support,” she said. “I want him to win this war and start a family with him. I can only pray that you may find someone who would support you the same way I do Nathan. If you force yourself too hard, you will break down for sure.”
Red bit his lip. I already have…
“Yo, sorry for the wait, you two!” came Nathan’s voice as he hurriedly went back to his seat.
Louise gave Red a sweet smile, as if assuring him that their brief conversation would be a secret between them, to which the young general responded with a polite nod.
After a few more minutes of talking, the three decided to call it a day. As they exited the café, Nathan put his arm around Louise and whispered a request:
“Gimme one last conversation with the kid, willya?”
Louise gave a simple smile and nodded, after which Nathan rushed over to Red and patted the boy’s head.
“What the hell are you doing, you enemy?”
Nathan let out a laugh. “Hey, I thought we called a temporary truce here? Anyway, I’d like to strike a little deal with you as a fellow general.”
Red thought for a few seconds before responding. “I’m listening.”
Nathan removed his hand from Red’s head and put it around the boy’s shoulder. “The Ivory General is an assassin that thrives in taking down lone targets with unbelievable precision,” Nathan began. “I’m taking part in this war as a general to protect the woman I love, and quite similarly, you got yourself involved in this whole thing in order to protect a girl. Our women are our weaknesses, and if Ivory finds out about this piece of info, our armies – no, out countries – will be in grave danger.”
“…so you want to ally yourself with me in the event that Ivory goes for Louise, is that it?”
“And I will go to your aid if he comes for your special someone. How about it? If we work together, that’s basically one general down for sure. Besides, while Gold is a complete enigma, somehow I feel like Ivory is the most dangerous out of all of us. So how about it?”
Red smiled. “Interesting. I’m in.”
Present day, November 25.
Several months after the fateful encounter between Red and Nathan, the deal was carried out. The two generals joined forces, and now it was all over. Nathan, after having fulfilled his duty, was rendered silent at the sight before him: Red the Crimson General was on his knees, crying uncontrollably in front of a burnt corpse. A few of the soldiers around him were silently dispersing, and a girl nearby had just woken up from a long slumber.
The girl slowly approached the crying boy with her hands on her mouth. “Red, what happened…?”
But the boy named Red simply kept crying.
He cried and cried, his emotions out of control to the point of him releasing sparks of flame around him that prevented anyone from getting close.
Eventually, the flames went out and the crying stopped. However, they did not fade in the way the people around him expected; instead, it stopped abruptly, so sudden that his uncle, the division commander named Allen, felt alarmed and ran towards him.
From his bent position, Red lost the strength in his arms and his upper body slowly began to fall down. Upon closer inspection, not only were there tears on the ground beneath him, but also blood.
He was too exhausted and injured after the long battle.
The remaining soldiers immediately followed suit and were dashing with all their strength in order to catch his fall. However…
“Stop right there!!”
Stretching out his hands, the boy named Red immediately caught his fall. He was gasping heavily for air as he put his right leg forward, but it seemed as if was unable to stand up because he stayed in that position.
“I’m done with the sentiments,” he said. He was still panting. “The enemy’s…nearly wiped out, right? Begin…burial operations…now.”
Burial operations. Once Red gave the signal, the Crimson Army was to head towards a predetermined location and bury everyone who had died, be it allies or enemies. The troops, who sympathized with Red’s unnatural level of sentimentality, were willing to take part in the burial operations, but they never expected him to make the call right after the battle.
Not with him like this.
“Didn’t you idiots hear me?”
But Red was serious. He slowly stood up, preventing any concerned party who tried to get closer to him with small flame sparks. Catherine and the soldiers could feel the pain in his legs and body with his occasional wincing and how long it took for him to fully stand.
“I repeat: Didn’t you hear me?” he finally said. “Begin mobilizing to bury everyone right away. This is an order.”