3-4: She Who Promised
“Nessie, don’t be so hasty,” the teenage boy said as he and a girl his age faced two adult strangers in rugged clothing. “We don’t know if they’re armed or-”
Her eyebrows crossed, the girl began striding forward. “Why I oughtta...”
The two men were holding guns behind their backs. When the female teenager started walking toward them, they revealed it and fired without hesitation.
The teenage boy pushed the girl sideways in time and received five shots in various parts of his body.
“Go...!” he exclaimed before he fell. “Now!”
The female charged straight to the two men and, in a quick flurry of punches and kicks, knocked the men out and disarmed them. She threw one gun far from them and took the other in her hand.
When she looked back, she saw her companion on the floor, with a lot of blood flowing from all the gunshots.
“Arthur!” she exclaimed as she kneeled down beside him. “Hang in there! I’ll call for help right away!”
The boy, who was just barely alive at this point, gave a worried expression and reached his hand out to the girl’s face. “Nessie...? Are you...hurt anywhere?”
“I’m fine! Don’t worry about me! More importantly, we have to-”
“I see...you’re fine.” His eyes closed as his face formed a grin. “Good, good. You’re not hurt. Thank... goodness...”
His outstretched hand fell to the ground as he drew his last breath with a satisfied smile.
Vanessa violently got up from her bed. Her head was profusely sweating as she gasped for air. Looking at her surroundings, she realized that she was in her room, and she had woken up one of her roommates, a bio-soldier’s wife named Anabelle.
Anabelle gave a start, then she rolled over on her bed to face her panic-ridden friend as she turned on a lamp beside her. “What’s wrong, Vanessa? Bad dream?”
Vanessa put her hand on her chest. Her heart was beating wildly. “It’s an old memory that resurfaced as a dream,” she replied. “Say, how did I end up here? And what time is it? The others are still asleep...”
Anabelle got up and looked at her alarm clock. “It’s only 3am,” she said. “As for why you’re here, the boss carried you straight to your bed, silent as a rock. He looked pretty sleepy himself, so we didn’t bother asking him anything.”
“That red-eyed general.”
Vanessa’s hand went from her chest to her head, her thumb and middle finger squeezing her temples. Her eyes widened. “That’s right...I was with Red. I tried to...”
“…can I…kiss you?”
Vanesa cupped Red’s face with her hands.
“Close your eyes.”
The young general complied. Vanessa’s heart skipped a beat.
Now he really does look like him...
Closing her eyes as well, Vanessa slowly leaned forward. When her their faces were about a couple of inches away from each other, Red clenched his fist, bracing himself. He shut his eyelids more forcefully.
At the same time, Vanessa bit her lip, pushed Red away, and proceeded to cry with a child-like squeak in her as she said,
“You’re not Arthur!”
Red, whose hands were resting on the grassy soil as he sat on the ground, smiled. “I’m not Arthur, eh? Then who am I?”
Vanessa tried wiping her face, but her efforts proved to be in vain as her tears would not stop flowing.
“You’re not Arthur,” she repeated. “You’re Red. You may look like him, sound like him, and act like him, but...”
Red slowly stood up. “But?”
“But no one could possibly ever replace him.” Her outburst had subsided, but she was still crying. “He’ll always remain special to me. I’m happy with how my life turned out, and without him I couldn’t possibly have gotten this far. I am who I am because he was a part of me. Dammit, you made me remember him again! Waaaah!” And once again, Vanessa started crying like a baby.
With a slight chuckle, Red walked toward the crying woman sprawled down on the ground, kneeled down in front of her, and gently took her in his arms.
Vanessa, wide-eyed, stopped crying. “Red...? What are you doing?”
With his chin resting on Vanessa’s shoulder, Red replied, “You clearly haven’t gotten over the whole incident with Arthur. You can’t go on risking your life while stuck in the past like that. You still have more tears to shed for him, don’t you?”
He could feel Vanessa sink her head into his chest, but she did not say anything.
“I’m not going anywhere, Nessie,” Red continued. “Cry your heart out. Cry and cry until your eyes run dry. I’ll be right here with you all the way.”
Vanessa suddenly formed a fist with her right hand and hit Red’s chest with it.
“Arthur used to call me ‘Nessie’!” Her crying intensified.
Red rolled his eyes. Oh boy...
“Heh.” Vanessa smiled. “Is he really just 17?”
Anabelle rubbed her eyes. “Did you say something, Nessa?”
The female bio soldier shook her head. “No, nothing. Let’s go back to sleep. Good night, Anabelle.”
“Good night.” Anabelle turned off her lamp and there was complete darkness once more.
July 13, 7am. It was breakfast time, and Red was sitting down on the same spot he had been used to in the cafeteria. He showed trouble keeping his eyes open, and his head occasionally nodded awkwardly.
“I swear, if only I hadn’t gotten used to waking up early,” he told himself with a weakened voice. “I’ll just go back to sleep right after this, I guess. Better dig in now before-”
“Yo, Red,” came a familiar female voice, effectively interrupting the red-eyed boy’s meal. “Can I sit with you again?”
“Oh, hey Nessie,” Red replied. “Go ahead. Look, I don’t really feel like talking right now; I’ll eat real quickly, then go back to my bed. Did you have a good sleep?”
“Well, yeah, like a normal person. How many hours did you clock in, Red?”
“Let’s see...” Red made a thinking gesture. “I got you to your room at 11pm, made my evening rituals till 11:30, woke up at 6:30 to wash up and get here. So 7 hours.”
“That’s not bad at all,” Vanessa said. “Why do you look like a mess?”
“Are you kidding me?!” Red, with his weakened eyes, gave Vanessa an irritated look. “I need at least 9 hours of sleep! I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been the type that can’t do all-nighters, much less staying up late without getting up equally late.”
Vanessa chuckled as she stared at Red. “You’re a weirdo.”
Red smiled back. “Says the grown woman who needed a teenager as a shoulder to cry on.”
“Okay, you got me. Let’s eat now so you can sleep as soon as possible.”
Vanessa would go on to accompany Red as much as she could throughout the week that followed.
July 20, 9am.
Red the Crimson General was in a room with a large, circular table. This was where he would discuss strategies with his five division commanders and main military strategist Charles. As of this moment, he had just finished a meeting and was waiting in silence as the door to the room slowly opened.
“Vanessa reporting for duty, Sir Red,” came the voice of a 28-year-old female as she entered and stood in attention, facing the red-eyed boy. Two of the division commanders, who were inevitably facing away from her due to the circular table, turned their chairs around so that all eyes were on her.
“At ease, Nessie,” Red said with a slight raise of his hand.
With a pout on her face, she eased up in her posture. “May I know why I was summoned here, O Great One?” There was a tone of sarcasm in her voice.
Placing his elbows on the table and intertwining his fingers together, Red rested the lower half of his face on his hands and replied, “I’m giving you a special task. We’ll be forming a Raid Unit and I want you to lead it.”
“Why me, sir?”
Victor grinned. “Because the kid here says you would’ve been the sixth division commander,” he replied. “Your record’s pretty much spotless, and even among the soldiers here you stand out like a sore thumb in terms of skills and wits.”
“Plus you’re really influential,” Red continued. “While I didn’t want to make you handle a big part of the army as a commander, we deemed you the most qualified for taking charge of a small unit.” He heaved a sigh. “Let me explain from the ground up: It’s been pointed out to me that in this war, we’ll need to do as much damage as we can. But we can’t afford to stage an all-out fight from the get-go; not with us not even having intel on the enemy. So we’ll be forming a Raid Unit, a small group that will wreak havoc on cities to cripple the enemies as much as possible. Also, while I said it’s a Raid Unit and that you’ll be in charge of it, what I mean is that I’ll do most of the raiding and you guys just cover me.”
Vanessa raised an eyebrow. “The general himself in the vanguard of covert operations? Isn’t anyone against this?”
The adults sitting around Red sighed as they all raised their hands.
“Overruled,” the crimson-eyed boy said. “I swear his is the fifth time and it’s starting to get old real quick. Don’t be such worrywarts; Nessie here will have my back.”
“...and that’s basically the story,” Allen said. “He just won’t listen to us, and he’s using the fact that he defeated all 1000 biologically-enhanced soldiers as an argument. Anyway, you will take on the position, won’t you?”
The female bio-soldier straightened her posture and gave a swift, stiff salute. “It would be my honor, sir.”
At this response, Red immediately slammed the table and stood up with a grin. “Great!” With everyone in the room frozen after twitching in surprise, the teenage boy walked straight out to the door. “I was worried we’d take too long. I didn’t wanna miss this show on TV, you see, so I’m really glad that I’ll make it in time. We won’t have much TV to watch once the war breaks out after all, you know what I mean?”
As he passed by Vanessa, who still held her salute but with her face showing a confused expression, he tapped her on the shoulder. “I’m entrusting my back to you, Nessie,” he said in a low-tone semi-whisper. “I’m sure I have nothing to worry about.”
Then he exited and dashed away out of sight.
Vanessa dropped her salute and held both her hands to cover her mouth. Her cheeks were visibly red.
Victor slammed his fist on the table. “I knew it!” he exclaimed. “But seriously, why that kid? He’s like a decade younger than you!”
From covering her mouth, Vanessa repositioned her hands to hide her entire face. She then fell to a crouching position, unable to say a word.
“Still, I’m impressed,” came Allen’s voice. “The past week, you’ve been with him pretty much all the time, and yet this is the first time I’ve seen you break down like this. I’m also curious as to why you suddenly have feelings for my nephew. Is it because he’s turned into a pretty cool leader? Or maybe it’s his resemblance to that childhood friend of yours?”
Vanessa bit her lip. Indeed...why? she wondered while her face was still covered. Perhaps...it’s all of those reasons, and more. Despite being a teenager, he’s become really dependable. Clearly Arthur’s my type, so being an exact lookalike, Red passes with flying colors. Also...he was the one who really let me move on with my life. He understood me when I thought only Arthur could gain access to my innermost feelings...
Uncovering her face, she raised her head and looked at the division commanders, stopping her gaze at Allen, perhaps because he was Red’s uncle. “Please don’t tell him about this,” she requested. “I’ll make sure it doesn’t get in the way of what we’re supposed to do. And besides...it’s not like the two of us are gonna get past being soldier and general, right?”
Roger grumbled for a few moments before speaking up. “I’m willing to root for you,” he finally said. “Not only are you clearly qualified, but you’ve shown that you hold a concern for Red that goes beyond the duty required of your position. The kid should be fine with you protecting him.”
The other division commanders nodded in approval, and Vanessa gave a smile of relief.
“I’ll do anything for Red.”
“I’ll do anything for Red.”
January 15. Vanessa’s words rang through Catherine’s mind as she remembered having said the exact same thing just a few months ago.
“I haven’t seen a Vanessa in this base, and if you were her roommate, Anabelle, then...”
The girls in the room bowed their heads in silence.
“What happened to her?” Catherine continued in order to dispel the silence. “Was it during one of the raid operations?”
The women looked at each other, and Anabelle took the lead by smiling and patting Catherine’s head while replying, “That’s a story for another time. It’s getting pretty late; we still need to wake up early tomorrow, so we should sleep now.”
“Wait, one last question,” Catherine interjected. “What happened to the Raid Unit? Who’s leading it now?”
“It has never been inactive,” Sharon replied. “In fact, just the other day-”
Before she could finish, Anabelle gave Sharon a sharp look. “Sharon!”
“What? We weren’t even supposed to tell her about Red’s past. What’s the harm now? We might as well tell her everything that the kid’s been hiding, right?”
Anabelle sighed. “Fine. Tell her.”
Catherine’s head tilted.
“Red is still in control of the Raid Unit,” Sharon proceeded. “You know those days when he disappears because he says he has meetings or scouting duties? Most of the time he’s actually out at night burning towns and cities to the ground, taking civilian lives while at it.”
Catherine’s eyes widened in surprise. “Is that...hey, so he’s been killing people all this time without me knowing?”
“It’s the reality of war,” Wilma said, continuing from where Sharon took off. “What, you thought Red got the title of ‘Blazing Monster’ just from the fight against the Cerulean Army? He doesn’t just kill soldiers; that would be too ideal in a war. It took him a while, but he eventually accepted that he had to be a mass murderer if he was to win this war. That’s what it means to be a monster in order to protect you.”
“He used to lock himself up in his room after a raiding operation,” Sharon added. “One can only imagine the pain and emotional trauma it would put on a teenager like him who was just dragged into a situation as big as a global-scale war. None of us blame him for having occasionally broken down, but by the time you arrived, he had already accepted his role. Or more like he was able to steel his resolve precisely because he could see you everyday.”
From Catherine’s eyes, tears formed anew. She covered her face and bowed her head.
Anabelle took Catherine in her arms as the young girl started sobbing. “I hope now you see why we respect him so much,” she said. “He may have a fairly unique reason to fight in this war - kill thousands upon thousands in order to protect just one girl - but his resolve is real. One can’t help but be moved by his determination, don’t you think?”
Catherine, still crying, nodded.
“Let’s go to sleep now, dear,” Anabelle suggested. “Victor said he’d go drinking with Red, so I’m guessing they’re both drunk by now, along with the other soldiers. We’re gonna have our work cut out for us tomorrow.”
Breaking from Anabelle’s embrace, Catherine wiped her face and made a loud sniff before replying, “Okay. I’ll do my best.”
However, as they were about to end things there, they heard knocks from the door caused by kicking. Two male voices were heard.
“My hands are full,” came the voice of a teenage boy. “Please open the door.”
The other one was a voice that Anabelle knew all too well. “ANABELLE I LOVE YOUUUU!”
Heaving a disappointed sigh, Anabelle got up and opened the door. When he did, her husband Victor threw himself right at her.
Bending her knees, Anabelle was able to prevent herself from falling with Victor’s weight. “I swear, it’s a good thing I used to be a soldier,” she said. “Any normal wife would’ve collapsed under all that weight, you know?” He then turned to face Red. “Thanks for going out of your way, Red. You should go rest as we- oh dear.”
The young general was bent forward, his hands resting on his knees as he barely stood up. His face was flustered.
“Oh, sorry Annie,” he said as he straightened his posture. “I didn’t drink as much as Victor here, plus I was able to take a good nap before he went haywire, but I guess the alcohol’s still getting to me a bit. Anyway, I’ll take my leave now.”
“No wait, Red,” Anabelle said before the young general could turn around. “I need to take care of Victor over here.” Victor started making a goofy-sounding laugh. “But you should get Catherine to walk you to your room in case something happens. That should be fine, right dear?” She faced the teenage girl.
Catherine, surprised at the suggestion, simply decided to nod and say, “Sure, I don’t mind.”
Red turned his back on the girls and his drunken subordinate. “No, really I don’t need a companion; I can go to my room by myself no problemo.”
However, Catherine had made up her mind. Nodding to her roommates, she got up from her bed and sprinted towards Red until they were walking together out of the room.
“I swear I’m fine,” Red said as he and Catherine walked through the hallways. “Who the hell do you think I am? I’m the-”
“The Crimson General,” Catherine interrupted. “You’re the Blazing Monster, the teenage general with red eyes that’s known as the strongest fighter in the world. You’ve defeated two of the four enemy generals, killed thousands of soldiers and civilian lives...” She stopped in her tracks. “...you’re also the leader of the army’s raid unit...killing thousands more outside the battles that I know of.”
Red, who was several paces ahead of his companion, suddenly froze. “You...where did you...”
He could feel a tackle from behind. Catherine had dashed towards him and now he was being embraced tightly.
“I won’t tell you to stop trying so hard,” she said. “I’ll stop being so naive as to think that I understand you. But I will say one thing...”
Red tried raising his arm to reach out to Catherine’s hands gripping him, but because of his indecisiveness his hand simply dangled in the air as he stayed silent.
“I’ll always be by your side no matter what you do, no matter what happens.” Reaching out one of her arms forward, she grabbed Red’s dangling hand and clasped it on her own as she held her embrace. “I may not be able to feel firsthand the things you’ve suffered through during this war, as well as other losses you’ve experienced in your life. But...you can tell me anything. I’ll be here to listen to you. The way you’ve always supportively listened to me in the past. This time let me be the one to support you. Please, Red...at the very least I want to share in your pain. You don’t have to shoulder it all by yourself.”
Breaking off of Catherine’s embrace, he proceeded to walk to his room with her. Catherine followed, her face starting to become flustered.
He did not let go of her hand the entire time.
“I didn’t need it,” Red said as he and Catherine stood in front of the door to his room, “but thanks for accompanying me all this way. I’ll take it from here.”
Catherine nodded as she gave a smile. “We should...better stop holding hands now...”
In a panic, Red removed his hand from hers, with a jerk as if he had touched something really hot. “Right, right. Anyway, good night. Thanks again.”
“No problem. Good night, Red.”
Red entered the room and closed the door.
Once inside, the red-eyed general leaned on the door, put the hand he held Catherine with in front of him, and smiled.
“You’ll share in my pain, huh...?” he said with a soft voice. “I guess I could take you up on that offer. Then again, it won’t make much of a difference, since I probably won’t make it in the end. As much as I want to win, with the way things are...” He clenched his fist. “Yeah, I probably won’t make it.”
Chuckling at his thoughts, the semi-tipsy general slowly walked to his bed and fell flat on his belly.
Meanwhile, Catherine had not left. She had stayed in front of Red’s doorsteps because she was frozen after holding hands with him for so long, and when she heard him talking to himself, her eyes widened. As she did a while ago when Red was passed out in the bar, she ran out of the area with her mind a complete haze.
He won’t make it...? What does he mean? Her speed increased and she violently shook her head. I can’t believe I’m running again...I was doing this when I got Red’s confession letter, I did this when I found out that I was the reason he nearly died back in June 28, and here I am again, running away. While he’s out there facing immense danger and the emotional pain from being a general with an entire country resting on his shoulders, I always have my back on everything, running away while talking to myself.
Didn’t I promise Victor that I would protect Red? Didn’t I say that I would do anything for him? She gritted her teeth. Should the time come when Red is in trouble and needs me to be by his side…in the end, should that time come, would I turn tail, just like this? The way I always have?