5-5: The Final Cry of a Dying Star
The crimson-eyed boy heard the cries of his men. If he got hit by the barrage of enemy fire in front of him, even a general like him would be unable to take that much damage. However, as much as he knew the situation at hand and how high the stakes were for him at the moment, Red was simply unable to move.
Perhaps it was fatigue, or it may have been the shock of having been hit by two bullets when he had gotten used to evading, deflecting, or allowing only bare, minimal scrapes from the others. In fact, it may very well have been a painful combination of both, but one thing was for certain: Red could only brace himself in fear as he paid the price for arrogantly overestimating his strength, thinking that he could take on an army’s responsibility all by himself.
However, he ended up bracing himself for nothing.
The next thing he knew, he could feel that he was being carried away by someone at a high speed, the sound of explosions that he had grown used to gradually becoming weaker and weaker by the moment.
“Red, hang in there!” came a familiar man’s voice.
Squinting his eyes, the boy named Red instantly assessed the situation and found out that he had been saved by David, one of his commanding officers, and currently this man was carrying him out of the battlefield.
“I’m...safe...?” Red muttered.
“Of course you are!” David replied. “You’ve done so much for us, we would never allow you to die!”
“What about...” The boy could feel a stinging pain in his body. “...what about the fight?”
“You were able to get through to everyone in the alliance, and they’re all fighting together right now.”
“I see...” With those two words, Red closed his eyes and allowed himself to lose consciousness for a while. He would get back to the encampment, the bullets would be taken out from his body, and he would rejoin the battle soon after.
This was the plan, but for now he would rest. After all, the effort he had exerted in this battle was comparable to what he had done during the battle against the Ivory Army, and that one had caused him to sleep for two whole days when it was over.
Meanwhile, in the battlefield, a significant turn of events had occurred in order to get the boy named Red to safety.
“Victor, you idiot! Why did you cover for me?!”
Because Red was unable to move right after getting shot, several Crimson Army bio-soldiers had dashed in and taken the barrage of enemy fire, including two division commanders, Roger and Victor. Roger had originally covered Red and pushed him to David in order to be taken to safety, but at the last split-second Victor arrived in turn as a shield for Roger.
Most of the bio-soldiers who had stepped in were either dead or severely injured, and Victor’s arm had been blown off. After the initial barrage died down and reinforcements arrived to continue the battle, several soldiers were carefully taking Victor away in order to have him treated as soon as possible, alongside the other injured troops.
“You have a family, Victor!” Roger screamed as more and more soldiers came to their aid. “You should have just let me die! If it’s for the kid, I don’t mind laying down my life anyway!”
“You’re the only idiot here!” Victor shouted back, wincing momentarily as he held what was left of his arm in order to prevent further bleeding. “You got it backwards: I’ve already experienced the joy of having a wife and a kid, but you...you haven’t even married the woman you love! She’s waiting for your proposal, right?!”
“Besides,” the man continued, “Red gave me an order, remember? That I was to die for him. Giving my life for him is the only way to atone for what I’ve done to him, as well as to repay the debt I owe him. Ugh...!”
“Stop talking! You’re definitely gonna make it out alive! And then you can go drinking with Red again or something!”
Victor was immediately taken away, and Roger clenched his fists. The Emerald and Ivory soldiers, moved by Red’s actions, have settled on a temporary truce and are currently fighting together in order to make up for what they had the boy go through.
“There are so many people around me,” he told himself. “And yet, I’m still scared. To think that Red had to go through this alone during the battle with Zack and just a while ago...”
Just then, Felix appeared from behind and tapped his shoulder.
“Stop dillydallying, Roger!” he said. “Allen’s at the HQ, Victor’s down, and David’s taking Red to safety! You and I are the only division commanders who can fight right now!”
“You still have to propose to Cynthia, right?” Felix added, smiling. “I also made a promise to Sharon. I told her that once all of this is over, I’d take her outside of the country on a really long and fun vacation.”
Roger, seeing his comrade’s efforts to encourage him, smiled back. “That’s right,” he said. “I’m gonna tell Cynthia how I feel.”
“That’s the spirit!”
The battle began anew without the staff-wielding boy.
Red gasped as he simultaneously opened his eyes. An instant after, he got up; he had been in a bed on a separate camp from the main headquarters and even from the usual patients. His clothes had holes from where he had been shot, but the bullets have been taken out and his body had already regenerated.
“Oh, you’re awake?” came a female voice. It was Emily, and she was the only person in that tent. “How do you feel?”
“How long was I asleep?” Red asked, ignoring Emily’s question. “What’s the situation out there right now?” Judging from what he could hear, however, it seemed as if the battle was still ongoing.
“You were asleep for about 20 minutes,” Emily replied. “That’s already taking into account the time it took for you to get back here. And the alliance as well as the civilians from the opposing side have returned.”
“I see...” Red could feel a stinging pain on his chest. “Say, can I tell you something?”
“Dad’s pretty bad as a father,” the boy began saying, with his head bowed and a weak smile on his face. “Sure, I respect and look up to him as a human being and a member of society - heck, he’s a pretty rare genius, after all - but when it comes to being a dad...he’s probably as bad at it as he is good in his work. But that’s only because he’s never had the chance to be one. He’s pretty clumsy when it comes to that, you see, and I can tell that he has no idea how to approach me now as a father. But I can see it very clearly despite everything: He wants to be one. He wants to be the father that I never had, and that sincerity is something that I am rooting for no matter what happens.”
“Red, what’s this, all of a sudden...?”
“Once the two of you start a new life together,” Red continued, “I hope you’ll help him. It will be a fresh start for him, so please...”
“What are you talking about?” Emily asked. “You’ll be part of the family too, Red. It doesn’t have to be just me behind Adam.”
“Yeah...I guess you’re...” However, Red refused to finish his sentence. Heaving a sigh, he stood up. “I better head back to HQ. There’s something I have to tell everyone.”
During the entire time, Red could not shake off the weight he was feeling on his chest.
Red entered the HQ shortly with Emily only to see the people inside in a frenzy.
“We have to evacuate now!”
“It’s all over! Retreat!”
“We didn’t make it in time!”
Emily gasped, while Red showed no visible reactions, which alerted everyone inside.
“What’s wrong, Crimson?!” an Ivory official asked. “Can’t you tell what the situation is right now?!”
“Gold has finally made his move,” Red said in response. “Come on, it’s pretty obvious with how everyone’s acting. I had a feeling that this was bound to happen though, considering how long the fight has dragged on.” He heaved a sigh. “I guess the war’s finally gonna end, huh?”
No one could understand what was going on in the boy’s mind, and so a majority felt angry at how calm his expression was.
“A large amount of our forces are going to be obliterated at this rate!” came the Emerald official who had ordered him to be restrained just recently. “This alliance is done for! Oh, I get it! You’ve lost all hope and now you’re resigning yourself to-”
“Maybe I am,” Red said, cutting off the man. “But there’s hope for everyone else.”
“What are you saying...?”
Red repeated the words that had gotten everyone in an uproar just a while ago: “I’m going in.”
He was planning on doing something to the mass of buildings on his own.
“Don’t tell me...” Adam said. “...the supernova...?”
The supernova. A term coined by Adam himself to refer to Red’s theoretical potential to unleash a flaming explosion with enough sheer power to one-shot two generals: the target and himself. It was supposed to be a last-ditch attack that was never meant to be used, but with the situation at hand...
“That’s right,” Red replied with a nod as he went to his table, grabbing his staff and Vanessa’s dagger from there. “I’ll just take these in case something gets in my way.”
“You plan on causing a large aerial explosion in order to save everyone?” Adam asked, his chest starting to feel heavy as he looked at his son. “Is that it, Red?”
In response to this, Jason immediately stood up and approached Red, saying, “No! You should run away with us right now! There’s still time, Red!”
“You idiot!” Red suddenly cried out as he slammed his hands on his table. “There’s no time! I’m going!”
Gritting his teeth, Jason stood right between Red and the exit. “I’m not letting you. If you really insist, you’re going to have to kill me first.”
“I just don’t want you throwing your life away like last time!” As Jason said this, he could feel some tears forming in his eyes. “You were dying right in front of me just about half a year ago! And when I found out that you were still alive, I was so happy. Now you’re gonna let me and everyone else experience that same crushing sense of grief from back then?!”
Red bowed his head. “...Allen, please...”
At this soft command, Allen, Red’s uncle and right-hand man, appeared behind Jason and forcibly twisted the boy’s arm towards his back, restraining him.
“Nggh! Let...go!” Jason yelled while he struggled, but it was no use; he could not even budge.
Heaving a sigh, Red slowly walked away, past Jason, and straight for the door.
“Additional command,” he suddenly said as he stopped near the exit. “At the very least, let my best friend see me off...” Immediately, Allen turned around so that Jason was facing Red’s back. As he did so, the man could not help but softly sob as he saw his nephew ready to sacrifice himself for them.
“No! Let go of me! Red, you bastard!!!” Jason cried out. Violently turning his head towards Catherine, he continued, “Catherine, what are you doing?! He’ll listen to you! Stop him! You can’t let him get away!” He knew that if Catherine actually did do anything, she would also most likely be restrained. Nevertheless, he still said those words to her, if only to appeal to every single means of stopping the boy from what he was about to do, no matter how useless his efforts may be.
Seeing his best friend’s desperation, Red could not help but give a sad smile, and he turned around briefly to look at Jason.
“If you have time to feel sorry for me,” he said, “then use that time to make others happy. I’ve been doing nothing but spread sadness throughout this war, so can I count on you to make up for what I’ve done? Can I count on you to help out as many people as I’ve made suffer?”
“You can’t do this, Red! Don’t go shoving responsibilities onto me; you go make those people happy!”
Red shook his head. Meanwhile, Catherine was standing wide-eyed in front of him, speechless.
Why aren’t you stopping him? she said internally, though her expression stayed frozen in shock. Jason’s right! There must be another way! Just stop him from throwing away his life and maybe we can do something! Come on Catherine, stop him! What are you doing?!
Soon, tears started falling from the girl’s expressionless eyes.
Red smiled at this and approached her, placing his hand on her head. “Remember that thing I said in the letter I gave you?” he asked. “I’m sorry if it bothers you, but my feelings haven’t changed at all since then. In the end, I guess I still wanted to have you all for myself.”
I feel the same way, Red. So why are you going? Stay with me! You don’t have to do this!
“But it’s all gonna be over now. I promised you, didn’t I? I’ll get you out of this war alive. I’ll make sure you survive, and I will no longer have to burden you with my feelings. Just hang on for a little longer, okay?”
Catherine’s crying was starting to become more and more audible, but she could not bring herself to say anything,
“You’re the best friend anyone could hope for,” Red said as he removed his hand from her head. Jason was still struggling to get out of Allen’s grasp while the rest of the crew avoided looking at him. “I hope that I ended up being useful to you. Please use the overflowing kindness you showed me to as many people as possible.”
No...no...! Say something, Catherine!
“Besides, you’re not the only one I’m trying to protect right now.”
Turning his back to everyone, Red waved one final time before exiting the headquarters and flying out.
The moment he got outside, he noticed that the Crimson Alliance had already evacuated, and he could see the large mass of buildings floating from far away. Straining his eyes, he could see a figure flying alongside it. He could only surmise that it was the Golden General, and that the enigmatic man was required to be in close proximity to the buildings for the large-scale attack to work.
But either way, he had no time for that.
“My only target is that mass of stuff,” Red told himself. “Anything else is irrelevant.”
Concentrating his elemental powers, a flaming aura started pulsating around his body as he flew higher and higher into the sky.
The boy named Red was engulfed in a large aura of flame with a 50-meter radius. His plan was to spread his supernova to detonate all the bombs in the gigantic mass at once. He would clash with the buildings in the sky, so that the ones below will not have to be a part of it.
In the face of this disaster, the boy simply smiled.
“So it’s finally come to this, huh?” he told himself as he dropped his metallic Bo Staff. “It’s been one heck of a ride, this war...”
It all began on the night of June 28, when his estranged father gave him a serum that held unimaginable power. From that point on, he became the Crimson General, a historical figure that would be remembered for generations to come.
Shortly after the dawn of the war, he was able to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with, killing an enemy general in a one-sided duel and taking down an army along with it. However, this did not happen without its own consequences: Red had lost several of his troops, including a female bio-soldier whom he had grown endeared to, and he was at that moment plunged into the depths of the suffering of war. He proceeded to kill thousands more, and was able to hold out until the final battle, all for the sake of protecting that one girl whom he cared about more than anything else in the world.
While he was, through his choices and actions in the war, an existence trapped in the constant midst of death and despair, there were several rays of light that shone in front of his blood-red eyes: The birth of Victor’s daughter, Rose; the news of Louise, the late Emerald General’s fiancée, being pregnant with the man’s child; Roger’s plan to marry Cynthia; Adam and Emily planning on remarrying and starting a new life together; Charles promising to move on from the tragedy of his marriage and bring to fruition his years of planning for a better world for everyone; and there were so many more things to look forward to.
He could not let those things end here.
Red finally realized it. True, he initially fought as a general in order to protect that one girl. However, what he was doing right now was for something even bigger. His friends and comrades have become an existence that he was willing to not just fight for; he was ready to give up his life for them if needed.
“One final explosion...” he muttered as the buildings grew closer to him. “I just need one final explosion, and those guys will be spared.”
However, there was one more thing, and Red flinched at the thought of it.
In the end, it wasn’t just that he was willing to die if it meant saving the people he has grown to love. Somewhere deep inside his heart, he actually wanted to die.
It’s so heavy...
Facing a dead end in his life, he could finally be honest with himself. Throughout the war, he had seen countless people dying, mostly by his hand. However, instead of brushing off these deaths as necessary and justifying his actions as being for a “good” or “noble” cause, he had taken the effort to learn the lives that these people have led, and it had done nothing to him aside from multiplying his guilt and internal suffering significantly more than what was needed in a context where killing was the norm. At this moment, with the addition of the hordes that he had just recently fought with, the weight in his chest was heavier than ever before.
I see...so that’s why...
Looking back, perhaps he had reached his limit some time during his rampage against the Golden Army, precisely when he got shot. Perhaps it wasn’t a failure to avoid getting hit, but him wishing somewhere in his heart to just get away from everything, to run away someplace far from all the suffering and grief. After all, the moment he woke up after getting shot, his mind had been filled with nothing but his plan to die in order to protect everyone.
He told Emily to take care of Adam.
He told Jason to make the world a better place in his stead.
And he told Catherine that he would no longer burden her with his feelings.
I can’t take it...I’m not strong enough to carry this burden for the rest of my life…This is the only way…
Spreading out his arms, he increased the area of his flaming aura to match that of the mass of buildings. His eyes were concentrated, fixed on the final enemy in front of him. The power overwhelmed him, scared him.
And yet he was smiling.
At the center of what would be the most violent explosion in history was a calm sentiment of that boy as he unleashed his final attack, the supernova. He smiled, looking at death straight in the face for the second time as he thought:
I guess, in the end…I definitely deserve this.
At the end of the explosion, the members of the Crimson Alliance gathered around to see what had happened.
Was it over? Did Red make it? Or was it too much for him?
These questions were answered soon enough when a single figure stood before them.
“The war is over.”
This was the message that was carved deep into their hearts as they gazed at a pair of eyes dyed a certain color.