220 From Fear to Purpose
The skirmish began with Baiken smashing her wrench down on the metal cranium of an android lunging at her, smashing the machine into the floor with a loud, echoing bang. This was instantly followed by another loud noise as Saigo punched the blunt end of his naginata through the neck of another android, sending it tumbling back as it leaked oily black fluid onto the floor. They had no time to rest however, as more androids stepped over the corpses of the fallen, reaching at them with their metal hands as their jaws opened wide to bite into their flesh.
Markus found the scene before him far more terrifying than the encounters they had with the old, dilapidated androids they encountered when they first arrived on the city, but despite his fear, he tried to maintain his composure and struck out with all his strength at an android that was stepping forward to grab Baiken who was busy dealing with her second target. The metal pipe he was wielding came down with a clang on the machine's shoulder, knocking it off balance long enough for Lieutenant Azai to send his blade in with a quick stab to sever the fluid conduits in the android's neck, dropping it to the floor as it bled oil.
"I told you, Go for the head or neck!" Baiken shouted next to Markus as she felled another android with a strong strike.
Markus heard the disapproval in her voice, and he knew he had messed up. His fear and nervousness was getting the better of him and had caused him to forget that important piece of information. In truth, he had very little combat experience aside from his training back home and some controlled hunts, so he was way out of his element standing shoulder to shoulder with these three battle-hardened Asurai warriors that had faced down the beast waves at the Bulwark, not to mention the other trials they had faced.
The thing was, Markus had gone through a lot recently during his journey to find Zoey, and through the life altering experiences he had since escaping from his brother's control he had come to realize how small and insignificant life was in the grand scale of things. He had grown up influenced by the arrogance of his family and the nobles around him, believing that his existence was truly blessed and superior to the peasants and low-born that served them, but that reality had been shattered by the things he had experienced since encountering Zoey. Seeing Zoey and the Asurai clan work so hard to survive against everything that came their way was eye-opening for him, and he had come to realize that the value of a life was not determined by the circumstances of birth, it was determined by a simple, yet profound concept; the will to live.
Every Asurai he had seen had a burning desire to live on in place of those that had died. Markus had seen that fire in their eyes, and he felt inferior when he had realized what it represented. He had no such purpose, no such drive or conviction. The only thing he had pushing him onward was the fear of dying. Markus didn't know why they hadn't killed him yet, or why he had been brought on this mission. Maybe it was so they could make him afraid by showing him these terrifying machines? He didn't know, but he knew they didn't trust him, and most of them despised him for who he was, though they had good reason for that. Perhaps the reason was to test him? Or was it to give him a second chance?
Sudden realization dawned on Markus. A second chance… Maybe that was exactly what this was all about! If that was true, it would explain why he had been allowed to live and why the old man they called Saigo had brought him on this mission! With these thoughts flashing through his mind, Markus steeled himself, and when the next machine entered into his range, he struck hard, smashing his makeshift weapon into the side of its head and sending it tumbling to the ground. His vision was now a little clearer, and his fear suppressed by his desire to survive and prove himself, not only to the Asurai clan, but to his own self as well. He did not think himself worthy of a second chance after all the wrong he had done in his life, but if he had the chance for redemption, then he had to take it.
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Next to Markus, Baiken snorted with begrudging approval at his strike. At least the dumb noble was listening to her advice now. If he had continued to be useless, then she would have tossed him into the host of bloodthirsty machines without a second thought. As more androids came at them, General Saigo was also watching Markus out of the corner of his eye while he efficiently dispatched the machines. Baiken had not noticed the young man's internal struggle and newfound purpose, but Saigo had, and the old General showed a flash of shrewd approval deep in his eyes.
Out of all the Asurai left, he was the oldest by far other than Ssaul, and he had seen many things in his life, but this was the first time he had encountered a noble that truly regretted the things he had done. He saw a chance for a troubled young man to take his first steps on a new path in life, and regardless of his background, Saigo wanted to give the young man that chance. After all, what better revenge was there than turning your enemy's son into a good person that sympathized with your own cause?
Of course, Saigo had no way of knowing how it would all turn out, but he was willing to take a chance on this one. Call it instinct, or a gut feeling, but he felt that it would not all be in vain.