2-1: Ivory's Challenge
“What the hell happened?!” Red blurted out upon hearing the news he dreaded the most, reported by none other than his uncle, his own right-hand man who was bleeding heavily right now. He wanted to explode at that moment, but seeing Allen in great pain made him torn on what he should do. As a general, he was supposed to keep his cool, but as a teenager who devoted his life into protecting that one girl, he was supposed to be entitled to some degree of extreme rage…right?
“Catherine’s been kidnapped.”
That was the report given to him, and the young general could not believe it. Catherine was the only reason he took part in the war, why he accepted becoming the Crimson General. If he were to lose her…
“What happened?” Red asked again as he stepped forward, with Allen being taken to a stretcher. “Why did you go out without letting me know?”
“It was Catherine’s request,” Allen replied as he was taken away, with Red and the soldiers in the area following him. “She was asking me about the generals, and…”
“And then there’s Zack, the general of the Ivory Army who attacked us that day you got reunited with Red,” Allen explained to Catherine. “So far he has shown himself to be very calculative, only going into battle if he has a sure advantage. For example, you’re aware of the news that we defeated the Cerulean Army, right? It was actually thanks to Zack’s army attacking first. For some reason, he knew that the Cerulean General was a 16-year-old girl named Shirley, and he capitalized on this, attacking before the army became cohesive and before Shirley could get used to having to kill in a war. We simply followed up on that.”
“I heard Zack was good at assassination and stealth. Why is that?”
“Each general has his own additional power beyond their elements,” Allen replied. “For example, Red has the power of fire, and alongside it he has increased combat sense, even beyond that of the generals. Thus, in order to make the most use of his ability, he tends to fight in the front lines. Meanwhile, Zack is a lightning-user and specializes in, as you mentioned, stealth and quick attacks, like a lightning bolt. Truth be told, he may be the most dangerous general because of his ability to take down key figures in the world. For all we know, he could be planning on assassinating the generals in their sleep. If the generals are to band together, it should be against him, but then again they’re all meant to kill each other, so I can’t see an alliance happening.”
“I see. So wait, Zack is a careful planner who only attacks if he knows he can get out with a clear advantage. I think I can see that now, considering how he attacked right when Red was away, only to retreat upon his arrival.”
“We also believe that to be the case,” Allen said, “that Zack knew about Red being gone and so attacked in such good timing.”
“That means as long as Red is around, he won’t attack, right?”
“Well, yeah, pretty much.”
“Plus you told me that the Emerald and Golden generals are fighting against each other at the moment. I can imagine that once one side in that fight begins losing, Zack and his army would appear to clean things up.”
“What are you getting at here, Catherine?”
“I need to go outside.” Catherine put her hands together in a gesture of request. “There’s no way the Ivory Army is still around, so can I? You can accompany me if you’re too paranoid. But you can’t tell Red.”
“What do you plan on doing?”
“I need to go back to my house,” Catherine replied. “I’ve been wanting to get this picture frame of me with my parents for quite a while now, but I wasn’t sure if it was safe…and I’m sure Red would be overprotective and not let me out. So while he’s disabled in the bathroom, could you…?”
Allen scratched his head. “I…guess. I mean, you did lose your parents, so I can imagine how hard it’s been for you. Sure, I’ll go with you. But you’re gonna have to answer to Red once he finds out.”
Catherine nodded. “Thanks.”
“We got into the remains of her house,” Allen continued his report. “But then Zack was there. Just when Catherine got the picture frame, we were attacked. Zack gave me a letter of challenge and spared my life while taking Catherine away. I took the picture frame plus this letter before rushing back here. I’m really sorry, Red.” He reached for his pocket and handed Red two letters. One was a folded paper and the other was an envelope that had “To: Catherine” written on it.
Red grabbed both letters and handed the envelope to Roger who was nearby. “Put this one in Catherine’s room,” he ordered. “The family picture, as well. I’ll read this letter from Zack once I get back to my room. I’ll announce the contents after and we’re gonna have to figure things out. I want all 5 division commanders and Chuck present at the meeting room tomorrow at 8am sharp.”
The meeting room was a small room with a large table where maps were usually laid. Its main purpose was for a select few leaders to discuss war plans. The 1000 bio-soldiers were divided into five divisions, each with their own leaders, of which include Allen, Victor, and Roger. The other two were men named David and Greg. Additionally, the Crimson Army has on its side a military strategist, a 65-year-old former military general named Charles. For the most part, he locks himself up in the base, researching on various material related to the war, only coming out to eat or if it was Red’s orders. While he used to demand that he be called Mr. Charles or Sir Charles, Red jokingly calls him Chuck, which he has eventually gotten used to.
“You’re a bio-soldier,” Red told Allen as he turned his back. “You’ll be fine by tomorrow. I expect you to be at the meeting, got it?”
Allen made a grin. “Of course.” However, this smile disappeared almost instantly as he bit his lips. I’m sorry, Red…
Red punched a hole into the metallic wall of his room, the sheer force causing a few of the joints in his arms dislocated, but that did not matter to him at the moment. Holding his head with his uninjured hand, he went to his bed where Zack’s letter was. Because he could only use one hand, it took him a while to open the note.
Two days from now, at the capital. I will wage war with you in your own country. Come, and let us settle the score. I printed the place where I will have your girl, but you can’t just hastily go straight there, or she loses her life. I hope to have a fun time with you, Red.
Red gritted his teeth. “That bastard, he’ll kill Catherine in the event that my army starts winning…I can’t just dive straight into that place either. Dammit, dammit…!”
The next day, at 8:30am, Red and the key figures of the Crimson Army were gathered around a large table. In it was a map of the capital city that had scribbles and lines of varying colors indicating different possible pathways all over it. On a corner of the table as well lay Zack’s letter of challenge that had at the bottom part of it printed where Catherine would be held: the back of a certain building that had a gigantic trash bin beside it. It was situated in a dark alley, which Red thought would be ideal to avoid a large-scale rescue operation.
Red had told his subordinates what Zack’s letter contained, and from there on out he fell silent, letting everyone discuss various strategies and pathways around the city to try gaining an upper hand. Thirty minutes have passed, and several plans have been drawn out, but none that would satisfy Red because of a simple problem.
In all scenarios, Catherine could not be saved.
“This is no good, Mr. General,” Charles said, shaking his head. “From the very beginning, you already knew, didn’t you? The moment that girl got into the hands of the most dangerous general…”
Red heaved a sigh and shook his head. He had stayed silent for too long. “I know,” he replied. “But I’m not giving up.”
“Now that’s just being stubborn, kid,” Victor commented.
Red gave Victor a sharp glare and a ball of fire appeared, scaring off the adult for a second. “I’m in this war to protect Catherine,” he said, firm in his resolve. “I’m not taking part in a plan that’ll get her killed.”
“And I’m saying that’s impossible!” Victor retorted, slamming his hands to the table. His eyes fixed themselves on the ball of flame just a couple of inches away from his face, which was preventing him from seeing his general. “Are you seriously planning on putting our army at great risk just to save a girl?!”
Red extinguished the flame. “Yes…”
Roger’s eyes widened. “Hey, hey, even I wouldn’t be able to agree to-”
“…is what I’d probably say if this was one month ago.” The division commander’s line was broken by Red, who revealed that he wasn’t finished with his sentence. “Remember, you all agreed to fight for my selfish goal of protecting Catherine. But lately I’ve seen how heavy the burden is in this war. I’ve seen how many lives are being entrusted to me, and I can’t just completely ignore it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still gonna try saving Catherine, but I want to make it so that it happens with the least amount of casualties…” His palms, which were resting on the table, clenched into fists. “…and a win over the Ivory Army.”
“Throughout the entire meeting, the only ones talking about strategy were us,” Charles said. “But you were the one who was able to get the details of the upcoming battle first. Surely you’ve thought of a plan, Mr. General…?”
Red heaved a sigh. “I have a plan,” Red said, causing the eyes of the people in the room to light up momentarily. “But I can’t say it.” Looks of disappointment appeared almost instantly. Red waved his hands in front of him as an apology. “Look, look, I have my own reasons. But this much I can say: I can’t go to the front lines in this fight. I’ll disappear for a bit, and execute my own little plan. I guarantee that if you guys hold up until I appear, we will win.”
Chuck raised an eyebrow. “What kind of a plan is that, Mr. General…?”
“It’s not foolproof,” Red said. “That’s why I can’t tell you the details. But trust me, if you guys wanna win this fight, this is our only chance. Like I said, I’m not letting Catherine die, but you don’t have to worry because I don’t plan on sacrificing an unreasonable amount of my own soldiers just for my goal. Now, I stayed silent for the most part in order to see what plans you could come up with. Let’s resume this meeting, and I need a plan that’ll help us last long enough to try keeping the fight at a stalemate.”
“How can we stay in a stalemate if we don’t have you and they have Zack?”
Red tilted his head. “But this is our own city,” he said. “We have terrain familiarity. And we have brilliant minds like Chuck. Isn’t it for this purpose that strategy in war exists?”
Charles smiled. “You’re placing a tall order, kiddo,” he said. “I’ll take it.”
The meeting ended 30 minutes later, at around 9am. After ordering the people present in the room to spread word that they are all to meet exactly one hour from then at the large meeting room, Red went straight to his room and lay down in his bed, creating sparks of flame in midair to kill time, which also doubled as accuracy practice for his Flame Spark attack.
Red was unable to notice how many minutes had passed as he was engrossed at perfecting his Flame Spark, but in the middle of his practice, he heard a knock on the door, prompting him to stop and get up from his bed.
“Who is it?”
“I’m terribly sorry to interrupt.” It was Harry. “But Sir Adam wants to talk to you.”
What does that old man want at a time like this? Does he wanna lecture me or something? ”All right, I’ll be right there.”