Violence and death.
February 26th, 2020. Wednesday. Overcast.
I have met the most amazing girl today.
Well. “Met” is maybe a strong word. We have… Exchanged some words. Talked for a little bit. But I got a really… Strong impression from her. She’s cool and aloof, but she’s also capable of such witty comebacks. And the piercing, soul-withering stares she can give you… They just leave me tongue-tied. Oh my god, I think I’m in love.
She’s such a remarkable woman.
Our conversation didn’t last very long, sadly, but from what she said I gathered that she hasn’t seen some movies I really like. No, scratch that, she doesn’t seem to be into movies at all, it’s as if she’s never been to the theatre in her life, which was really startling; I’ve never met anyone like that before.
I recommended her one of my favourite movies before we said goodbye; maybe next time she’ll have seen it, and we’ll have something to converse about.
I can’t wait to see her again.
Despite everything, I found myself smirking; Mark had always seemed so cool and strong and confident to me, it was really funny thinking about him being at a loss for words when he found a girl he liked. By day he was Defender Red, the strong hero who protected the innocent and helpless, but at night, when going out after a mission, in a pub or something, he didn’t know what to say to a woman who, apparently, barely gave him the time of day.
But on the other hand, it was also a bit sad; this was another facet of my brother I hadn’t known anything about, and now I never would. And likewise, I would never get to meet this “remarkable woman” he was apparently so lovestruck by.
I sighed. It couldn’t be helped, but I still missed Mark. I really wished I could talk to him, just one last time, if only to give him a proper goodbye. But that was impossible now, thanks to the Repulsoids. Thanks to Ruby Scorpion. I couldn’t wait to face him again, so that I could beat him up for killing my brother.
I placed the journal back into my desk drawer and got up; I had to get changed and get to breakfast, and then it would be time for another full day of training.
“Okay, we’re done for today,” Yellow said. I took a deep breath, nodded, lowered my weapon, and flicked the lever on my morpher; “Power Down,” it announced, as my suit disappeared.
It was the third day of morphed combat training, and so far we’d managed to avoid any accidents; we didn’t even have any close call, we’d been very careful not to injure each other.
I sat down on a bench, picked up a towel, and started dabbing at my sweat; Amelia handed me a water bottle and I gratefully took it, before draining it halfway with a couple gulps.
“Alright, Kennedy, listen up,” Clyde said, approaching me; he’d demorphed too, and had a towel slung over his shoulder. “You’re going to have to train with someone else next week, I’m taking some time off.”
“You are?” I asked, my eyebrows rising in surprise. I’d always thought of Clyde as someone who spent all of his time training, without ever taking a break – same as I did until very recently, actually. For him to take a whole week off seemed unusual, though harmless of course: if needs be, he could just teleport back and be at Defender Base instantly.
“I am,” he confirmed, nodding. “My aunt and uncle need my help for a bit, so I’m going back home to support them.”
“Alright,” I replied. “I’ll arrange some sparring matches with the others.”
“You do that,” he said, nodding again. “You’re getting really good, but you still need to keep training if you want to be ready for anything.”
I blinked. Was that… A compliment? It was the second one Clyde had ever given me; the first one had been when he’d said he thought I was strong enough to go rescue Maelyn on my own. Coming from him it felt a bit weird. But then again, he had tempered the compliment by telling me that I had to avoid slacking off.
“When are you leaving?” I said.
“Tomorrow, in the afternoon.” He paused, then went on, “If you want, we can still train in the morning before I leave. Just shuffle the schedule around.”
“Okay,” I answered.
There was an awkward pause, then Clyde said, “I better get back to work.”
I nodded, and he walked away.
I sighed, and got up from the bench; I never knew how to handle him, our conversations were always brief and to the point.
Ah well, it wasn’t like I needed to be friends with him or anything, after all.
I started heading for the showers, but stopped when the alarm’s noise pierced the silence of the training room.
“Ugh, what the hell?” Amelia complained. “Again? They’re really stepping up their attack schedule, what’s up with that?”
“Only one way to find out,” I replied, rushing towards the door.
“What are we looking at, corporal?” General Ryder asked.
“Looks like… Huh,” Mae replied, frowning at the screen. “Repulsoid presence has been confirmed in both Urbana and Greenville.”
“A two-pronged attack?” the general said, also frowning. “It’s been a while since last time.”
He turned to me and explained, “As far as we can tell, the Repulsoids have enough people to guard the entire front-line, but they’re spread quite thin: even managing one attack once in a while is stretching their forces already, let alone two.”
I nodded in acknowledgement. “So what do we do?” I said.
“Corporal, are there any Leaders on the field?” the general asked.
“None so far,” Maelyn said, “Though of course we can’t exclude their presence.”
“And how many soldiers are there?”
“Looks like… About fifty in Greenville, and twice that in Urbana.”
General Ryder nodded. “Alright, here’s the plan. Lieutenant Miller, Lieutenant Weber, Lieutenant Kennedy, you will head to Urbana, and engage the Repulsoids there. Captain Wilson, you and Lieutenant Walker are going to Greenville; when you’re done there, you’ll join the other three.” He paused. “Understood?”
“Yes, sir!” we replied in unison.
“Then move out.”
“Ready?” I asked. Green and Yellow nodded. “Okay… Go.”
We rounded the corner, finding ourselves face-to-face with the group of Repulsoid soldiers we’d been stalking for the previous ten minutes, and opened fire: several of them fell to the ground, dead, while the others scrambled for what little cover they could find – trash cans, mailboxes, and shop doors – and started returning fire. The three of us retreated around the corner, the Repulsoids’ plasma beans gouging deep holes in the concrete and masonry of the buildings which lined the street.
“How many did we get?” Green asked.
I thought back. “About… A half dozen, I think. So probably a bit more than half of this group.”
Yellow nodded in acknowledgement. “Okay. Green, you run across the street, see if you can draw their fire, Red and I will use the opening to shoot some more,” he said. “Then, once they’re disorganised, we rush in with swords.”
“Okay,” Green said.
Our plan worked to perfection; before long, all of the Repulsoid soldiers were either dead or fleeing for their lives – it was the third group we’d broken up that day, according to Maelyn we were about halfway done; she was also keeping up to date on how Blue and White were doing, and it looked like they would be joining us before long.
“This is strange,” Yellow said, as he ran his eyes on the scene.
“What is?” I asked.
“This many soldiers, and no Leaders? It’s weird. And three times in a row, even: the last two times we went out, it was the same.”
“Now that you mention it…” Green said.
“It’s almost as if they’re… Planning something,” Yellow continued. “Waiting for something.”
“Or someone,” said a new voice, one I’d never heard before. “You’re perceptive.”
Walking out of a door further down the street, calmly, as if without a care, came a figure: he was dressed in a shiny, shimmering armour, very similar to the one Emerald Scarab and Ruby Scorpion wore – only his was blue.
A new Leader.
The three of us took a stance, weapons at the ready, should he try to attack us; but it seemed like he wasn’t interested in doing so, at least for the moment.
“I have been studying your moves and your abilities for a while now, but it seems that you have realised it,” he continued. “Well, never mind. I have gathered enough information, there’s no further need for me to hide.”
I suddenly realised something. “You were there,” I said. “On our latest mission, when we tried to get a soldier to surrender. You were the one who killed them. And even on the mission before. I saw you.”
The Leader tilted his head to the side. “You saw me?” he asked.
I hesitated. “Well, not directly. But I saw a couple blue flashes, which I now realise were you, teleporting away.”
“Interesting,” he said. “I thought no one had noticed. You, too, are more perceptive than I thought.”
There was a long moment of silence, then Green said, “You’re not going to attack us?”
The man in the blue armour chuckled. “No, not this time. This was just… Reconnaissance. But next time, there shall be no mercy.” He raised his arm and pointed at me. “Remember this: I will avenge Ipsum’s death.”
I blinked. Wait, what? Whose death now? Ipsum was Ruby Scorpion’s name, I remembered as much, but he was alive the last I saw of him, being teleported away by Emerald Scarab. And yet, this man seemed to think I was responsible – which was weird: Scarab knew perfectly well that it was Maelyn, Defender Black, who’d defeated Ipsum. What did this mean?
Our enemy turned around, his back to us, and started to walk away; Yellow instantly drew his gun and fired a shot at him, but the Leader teleported away in a flash of blue light, and the plasma beam passed harmlessly through the air where he’d been standing a fraction of a second before.
“Damn,” Yellow cursed. “Too slow.”
“I’m sure you’ll get another chance,” Green said. “Come on now, let’s finish mopping up the remaining soldiers and then let’s head back to base. General Ryder will want a full report.”
March 15th, 2020. Sunday. Sunny.
I’ve finally met her again. It’s been so long, I was starting to lose hope. She’s still as amazing as I remembered her being.
And, surprise! She actually took my advice, and watched the movie I’d recommended to her. She said she really enjoyed it, but didn’t get a few things, character motivations mainly. It’s probably because of cultural differences – she’s not American.
We only had a few minutes to talk, but I feel like we’re connecting. She was… Less aggressive than last time. More curious. She actually asked me a few questions about myself, which hadn’t happened the previous time we’d met.
Then, sadly, she had to leave in a hurry, something had come up apparently. Maybe it was my friends, they showed up and made her nervous. Though I did have the time to invite her to go hiking if she wants to.
Yes, I know that inviting a girl to go hiking for a first date is bizarre at best, especially for someone who looks like a man. It might make her suspicious, asking to meet out in the wilderness without anyone around. But on the other hand, she’s certainly not a defenceless damsel. And I thought it would be better if we met somewhere secluded next time. So we can talk without getting interrupted. I gave her a time and place, I will be there. I hope she will join me. I would really like it if she did.
“A new Leader,” General Ryder said. He took a deep breath, and then let it out. “Okay, that complicates things. Now there’s three of them. We’ll have to be careful, even more careful than usual.”
“I don’t know about that,” Clyde interjected. “That man was seemingly convinced Ruby Scorpion had been killed by Lieutenant Kennedy during their encounter.”
The general’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Is that so?”
“It is,” Clyde confirmed. “His words were ‘I will avenge Ipsum’s death,’ and Ipsum is Scorpion’s name, right?” he asked, looking at me.
“Correct,” I replied. “At the very least, he introduced himself with that name in the nightclub at Dayton; and I think Emerald Scarab used it too, when referring to him, though I might be mistaken.”
“But Ruby Scorpion isn’t dead,” the general said. “Not according to the report you gave me when you came back from rescuing Corporal Kim; and her report agrees.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Mae nodded. “Stephanie gave him a beating, but his wounds were absolutely not life-threatening.”
“What does it mean, then?” Meg asked. “If Steph didn’t kill Scorpion, but this new Leader--”
“Sapphire Beetle,” Amelia said.
Meg looked at her. “Sapphire Beetle? Seriously?”
Amelia shrugged. “Hey, it fits with the theme.”
“…Okay, whatever,” Meg continued. “Sapphire Beetle thinks Steph killed Scorpion. This raises several questions, namely if Scorpion is actually dead, and if he is, who killed him.”
“It might be a bluff,” Elijah said. “They might be trying to convince us Scorpion is gone, when he actually isn’t.”
“To what end?” Clyde asked.
“So he can ambush us later, when we don’t expect it.”
“True,” the general nodded. “So, to be safe, we have to work under the assumption that there are three active Leaders.” He cleared his throat. “In any case, the new enemy is officially designated as Sapphire Beetle.”
Amelia smirked victoriously; Meg groaned and punched her lightly in the shoulder.
“As with all Leaders, we must assume Beetle is extremely dangerous,” the general continued. “Therefore, approach him--”
He was cut off as the alarm blared.
Mae frowned, and turned towards the screen. “Looks like… Another attack?” she said.
“So soon?” I asked, also frowning. “We’ve just gotten back.”
“Where?” General Ryder snapped.
“Decatur and Champaign.” She looked up from the screen and turned around to face us. “And there’s a Leader confirmed at both locations.”
“Damn,” the general said. “Alright. Captain Wilson, you and Lieutenant Kennedy are on Champaign, the others on Decatur. Move out.”
I surveyed the street: the bodies of several Repulsoid soldiers were strewn about.
“Okay,” I said. “This is done with.”
Blue nodded. “But still no sign of the Leader.” He tapped his helmet. “Mae, any news?”
“None,” came the answer. “He disappeared, went to ground as soon as you teleported in. Looks like he wants to play hide and seek.”
“He?” I asked. “So it’s Beetle?”
“It is,” she confirmed.
I gulped. “Alright.”
This was troubling. We had no idea what exactly Sapphire Beetle was capable of: the other two Leaders I’d faced had proven to have special abilities – fire for Scorpion and electricity for Scarab – so it made sense that this new threat would also have his own. And even if I hadn’t told the rest of the squad about it, I knew that invisibility was possible, I’d seen Mae use it.
What if Beetle could also turn invisible? And use that to stab us in the back?
“So, Defender Red. We meet again,” Sapphire Beetle said, striding out of a doorway.
Or, he could come out and face us straight on. That was also possible.
Blue and I squared off against him; he did the same, drawing his sword and taking a stance.
“Have you prepared yourself? Did you say your prayers and make peace with your god?” he asked.
“I’m an atheist,” I replied.
“And I’m agnostic,” Blue added.
Beetle tilted his head to the side. “I do not know what either of those words mean.”
He charged at us. He was fast, faster than Scorpion had been, but slower than Scarab: I had no problem following his movements with my eyes. My sword rose to meet his; I parried the first few blows, and then took a step back as he shifted his focus to Blue, who also deflected a couple of his strikes.
I lifted my blade, stepped in, and slashed at Beetle; he parried my attacks, and stepped back in turn. Blue was on him right away, attacking him relentlessly, trying to corner the Leader.
This was good. Really good. I was in synch with Blue, almost as if we could read each other’s minds – a result of my training, I realised: Clyde had taught me the tactics the Defenders most often employed, and we were putting them to use. Beetle was stepping back, retreating under our attacks.
This was good. We could really win this.
I started to raise my arms to strike at him again, but I realised my arms felt… Weird. Numb. And not the kind of numbness that comes from physical exercise, when your muscles grow tired. No, this felt almost as if I was… Cold?
And not just my arms, either. My legs too felt numb, and started to move sluggishly, to lag behind my mental commands.
What was happening?
I glanced at Blue, and saw him glancing back at me; he must have been feeling the same as I did, I realised.
I looked at Beetle. He’d retreated a few metres away from us, and he was just standing there, looking at us. His blade was shimmering with a blue light.
And I realised what was happening.
“So you’ve noticed,” he said. “But it’s too late.”
He thrust his sword high up, straight above his head; a cold, icy wind started to swirl around it, like a small tornado, which however was freezing the moisture right out of the air: I could see dark clouds, laden with snow, forming above him, and distinctly felt the temperature around us drop by several dozen degrees. I started to shiver; I didn’t like this at all.
“Take this!” Beetle shouted, and swung his sword downwards.
The clouds opened up, and everything went white: we were enveloped by a blizzard, with visibility dropping instantly to near zero. I glanced around, but all that I could see in the white-out conditions was Blue, standing a few steps away from me. He, too, was looking around, trying to get his bearings in the sudden storm we’d found ourselves into.
And then he gave a start, as if he’d seen something.
“Red, look out!” he shouted; he jumped towards me, and pushed me away with all his strength.
Out of the path of Sapphire Beetle’s descending blade.
Unfortunately, Blue didn’t manage to stop his momentum; he found himself standing where I’d been, and took Beetle’s attack straight in the chest. He collapsed to the ground.
“Amusing,” Beetle said. “Well, it makes no difference for me which one of you goes first.”
He reversed the grip on his sword, lifted it a couple feet in the air, and stabbed it down at Blue.
“No!” I shouted.
Blue’s suit sparked and stuttered, and then disappeared completely, leaving Eli lying there, motionless.
Beetle raised his hand and snapped his fingers; the blizzard was gone, as suddenly as it had appeared.
“I think this enough for today,” he said, then turned his head to look at me. “Enjoy the taste of despair; the next time we meet, it will be your turn.”
He wrapped himself in his cape and, with a flash of blue light, he was gone.
Still numb from the cold, I scrambled to my feet as best as I could, and ran towards Elijah’s inert form.
“No, no, no,” I mumbled, as I crouched over him. “No, please…”
I looked at him: he had a nasty wound in his side, where the sword had gone through him. Dark red blood was oozing out of the cut, pooling on the ground and staining his clothes and the white snow. He wasn’t moving at all.
I crouched in even closer, looking carefully at him. To my relief, I could see that his chest was moving, just barely: he was breathing, at the very least.
I tapped the side of my helmet. “This is an emergency,” I said. “I need a medical team at the teleport platform back at base, immediately.” I grabbed Eli’s arm. “Red ready for transport.”
“Medical team on the way,” came Maelyn’s voice. “Standby for transport.”
The world disappeared in a flash of red light.