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Orphan Reborn

1

The Past Cuts Deeper than the Blade

24

1

“There are only two ways to reach a person’s soul. Good food or a bullet to the head.”

 

This was Natalie Breck’s dogma that she imposed to herself for a long time. In every breath, every move, and every strategy, the storm of her mind was all directed on putting a hole on someone’s skull. Almost a decade has passed and her viewpoint in combat never changed.

 

Natalie was a seventeen year old girl trained to become an ‘asset’ of the Break Ridge Security Corporation. She had long hair with highlights of blue fashioned in a ponytail. Her body was toned like the other trainees but she was the only one who had scars all over.

 

She was standing in the middle of an empty spot of a training simulation. It was illuminated by the high noon sun. She was wielding a plastic sword on her right hand and a gun loaded with paint bullets on the left.

 

There were wide concrete pillars around Nat built to imitate tree trunks in the forest or portray an urban jungle.

 

The crowd gathered above the arena on suspended catwalks. There were boos and insults roaring from it which Nat knew was intended for her.

 

Nat deliberately stood on an open spot. She wanted to lure her opponent out by giving him the idea that she was at a disadvantage.

 

The soles of Nat’s feet lay firmly on the ground while observing her surroundings. She was in a pre-lunge stance and her body twisted slightly. She assumed a pose in which she was about to draw her sword from its sheath.

 

Since Nat’s enemy hid and took advantage of the wide pillars, launching an attack at her will take time. He should be able to aim and shoot in less than a second to take her reflexes into account. This sudden movement amidst stationary pillars will be easy for Nat to notice thus exposing his adversary’s location.

 

This was option number one for the enemy.

 

Nat also knew that she was better and more agile than her enemy and she took advantage of that. There was little to no chance that he would land a bullet on her considering the distance and aiming time.

 

She also knew that if the enemy thought of fighting Nat head on with a sword it would even take more time for her to react since he needed to get close enough to land a blow.

 

This was option number two for the enemy. The stupid move.

 

Either way, he already lost, Natalie thought.

 

“You have to come out some time you know,” Nat taunted. “Scared that a little girl will beat your ass, B ranker?”

 

There was no response. Nat hoped that his enemy’s ego would get the best of him but she miscalculated on that part a bit. She just enjoyed talking down on him instead.

 

There was a sudden scratch noise from the ground behind Nat. Instead of lunging forward, she slightly leaned toward the right, then applied a sudden force on her left foot and lunged sideways.

 

By the time the painted rubber bullet was fired from the enemy’s gun, Nat had already dodged it. She headed toward the pillars and used it as cover from fire while chasing her shooter down.

 

“There you are, mister hide and seek,” Nat continued to taunt while she carefully timed her cover from bullets, from pillar to pillar.

 

“You freak, you think you can lure me in by pretending to draw your sword?” the enemy taunted back while shooting and keeping distance from Nat’s assault. “Everyone knows that you are no good with it. Might as well throw it away, you coward.”

 

“If I’m the coward, then why are you the one running away?” Nat responded with a smirk on her face, “Come now little mouse, I won’t bite.”

 

Nat’s enemy intended to empty his magazine even when he knew he wouldn’t land a shot. He his swordsmanship skills were better than hers and he did expect Nat to close the distance between him and her.

 

She was a reckless fighter after all.

 

Nat was playing into his trap. He knew that she could dodge the first two or three shots from afar: an obvious fake out. He wanted her to get closer so he could launch a surprise attack with his sword.

 

When Nat was about to close in, he drew his blade then used one of the pillars to take cover from Nat’s first two shots.

 

After dodging, Nat was already close enough. All he had to do was lunge toward her and land a blow. He looked at his adversary expecting panic painted all over her face. Instead, he saw a plastic blade hurling toward him.

 

His natural reflexes helped him dodge the blade. It caught him off guard and that broke his battle trance. He did not know his next step.

 

It was all over after that. A moment of hesitation always spelled the end of a warrior’s life. This was a common belief in the battlefield. Both Nat and her enemy knew this, but it was only she who applied it in her duel.

 

Next thing he knew, he had red paint splattered on his forehead. Nat was smiling while she was still pointing the gun at his adversary’s head. She released the magazine of her gun and showed it to him.

 

“Oh, look. I wasted two bullets on you,” Nat teased. “I'd take it as a compliment, if I were you.”

 

“You threw your sword at me?” he asked Nat. “You are a disgrace to the brotherhood!

 

“Disgrace to your brotherhood? You completely forgot that I’m a girl, right?” Nat responded while walking toward her enemy. “Next time you insult me and challenge me in a duel, make sure that you have what it takes to bring me down.”

 

“A real soldier never throws his sword. It’s a dishonor to everything that we believe in!” he shouted valiantly.

 

“And look where honor and belief got you,” Nat responded.

 

She was never really the type to follow the rules. As long as she kept her head ahead of everyone, she knew that she could survive.

 

Yes, survive. It was impossible for her to actually ‘live’ in the situation she is in. In an institution filled with men blinded with self-righteous principles, Nat never really knew how to fit in nor had the convenience to be who she really was.

 

For a decade, she felt completely alone.

 

Break Ridge Security Corporation was led by a man called Homer C. No one knows his real name and only the high ranking and fully fledged soldiers that graduated from the corporation were able to see his face.

 

The corporation was the best choice in the country to hire bodyguards, assassins, and even spies. They were the go-to option by many government officials, high-profile criminals, and celebrities.

 

For the trainees and the trainers, Homer C. was only a voice coming out of the speakers in Break Ridge HQ.

 

One of the corporation’s principles was that no woman should be allowed to fight. The role of guardian and protector can only be attained by a man. The reason behind this was based wholly on anatomy and social constructs that emerge from facts of evolution.

 

There was a whole booklet about it.

 

Employees, trainers, and trainees of the corporation strongly believe that a woman was designed more to bear and take care of a child.

 

Nat did not believe in the corporation's views on men and women. She had already defeated many trainees, even the ones that were slightly more skilled than her and all of them were male.

 

She believes that she has disproven the corporation’s ideals many times. Gender was an insignificant factor to one’s capabilities and potential, she thought. A bullet or a blade wouldn’t know the difference anyway.

 

But Nat was an exception and that boggled her mind constantly. In the years that she was training under the corporation’s care, she lived as a soldier like anyone else. She strongly believed that there was a connection between the death of her parents and Homer C adopting her.

 

For a long time, the answer to that riddle was hard for her to find.

 

“I understand that our policies do not adhere to women being warriors,” this was one of Nat’s memories of Homer C. announcing the day of her arrival in the corporation. “But please, treat Natalie Breck as one of us.”

 

Of course, nobody cared. One of the many policies in the institution was that, “you are free to do whatever you want. Everyday is an opportunity for survival.” That’s the reason why everyone wanted to fight everyone.

 

Nat despised Homer C. She knew that he was lying to all his constituents. She was told that the reason she was adopted was because it was a favor from the government. Many rumors say that it was because he did not have a daughter.

 

Others believe that she was just trained to become a glorified training dummy. That Homer C. would never allow her to graduate and accept jobs. They said that she would proceed as a trainer instead.

 

At the end of the day, Natalie always expressed her confusion and anger through sparring and dueling. She was always up for a fight. Because she was constantly ridiculed for her gender and her inability to be a better swordsman, the fire to become stronger lingered.

 

But this fire has been growing for a very long time and has reached its limit.

 

“What was that, Breck?” Largo, a trainee that refereed the duel, asked Nat in a disappointed tone. He towered down on her as if trying to warn her. “You threw your blade at him.”

 

“Relax, Largo. I knew he was going to dodge it,” Nat responded while she climbed up off the suspended catwalk.

 

“I am not concerned about the blade nor your co-trainee,” Largo followed Nat, wanting to instill a lesson to her. “What happens in real battle when you run out of bullets and you don’t have your blade with you?”

 

“Well, it’s a good thing that it was not a real battle, right? It’s just a simulation using a plastic blade and painted rubber bullets,” Nat explained while walking amidst the crowd. There were insults all around.

 

“I understand that you make use of what you have in a situation, but you always have to assume that the simulations are real,” Largo continued. “What happens if you graduate and you lose your life in a real mission just because you did not take the simulations seriously?”

 

“I heard that I was not going to graduate and take real missions,” Nat finally got out of the bickering crowd and made her way outside.

 

Largo followed her and tried to stop the other trainees from insulting Nat. She walked across the grass field and went toward the mess hall on the other side of the lawn to drink some water. He followed her closely behind her.

 

“You know the reason why we train you guys with the sword more, right?” Largo continued. “Guns are easy to wield and they are only as good as the bullets in your magazine.”

 

“Wrong. You can throw the guns, too. You even trained us throwing rocks and fashion sticks as knives so what’s your point?” Nat entered the mess hall.

 

Footsteps of Largo and Nat echoed inside the hall. Its size was comparable to that of a cathedral. They continued their argument toward a water dispenser beside the bathroom.

 

“That was a lesson about resourcefulness,” Largo continued. “The point is, being able to master swordsmanship is what makes us strong. Guns are just an auxiliary tool to make other jobs easier.”

 

“And that’s why I chose to master guns over blades. So, you do agree with me,” Nat responded sarcastically. “Don’t worry, if I run out of bullets in a mission that is purely hypothetical, I will, theoretically, run away.”

 

“Nat, please stop. It is my job to help you in your training,” Largo said sincerely. “Let us trainers help you hone your skills more on swordsmanship. If you are exceptional with guns, we can only imagine how good you are with blades. Let us teach you.”

 

Break Ridge Security Corporation did not only produce the finest ‘assets’ in the country, they were also popular among celebrities and popular figures across the globe just because they wielded swords.

 

Each trainee was trained both on gun fights, swordsmanship, and hand to hand combat. The idea was to produce assets that don’t rely too much on guns or other high tech weaponry.

 

The reasoning behind this was because: 1.) The issue of friendly fire during missions and the extent of damage guns cause should be avoided. 2.) Guns require too many conditions in order to be utilized efficiently (e.g. bullets, reload time, aiming time, etc. 3.) They were bulky.

 

A blade on the other hand shares little to no similarities at all with these issues. Sure, they lack the range and the efficiency of handguns and rifles in some situations, but they were the ‘asset’s’ last line of defense.

 

It was with blades that kept the ‘assets’ reliable especially in worst case scenarios like encounters that would stretch for days.

 

Some of the top tier ‘assets’ were even capable of deflecting and cutting bullets in half. It was said that soldiers in this caliber would choose a sword rather than a gun in any type of combat.

 

This was also the reason why trainees who were good at wielding guns were not well appreciated compared to those who were good with blades. Aside from the fact that swordsmanship required more discipline compared to gunmanship, the advantages of guns were more limited than blades especially in high profile operations.

 

This was the ultimate goal of the corporation. To create a new breed of security group that was the most efficient and the most reliable throughout the country.

 

Natalie, on the other hand, uses a mix of both. Her method of winning combats was to either keep her distance or close the distance using fast agile movements, which was a swordsman’s technique, and end it with a bullet through the head.

 

Sometimes, Nat switches it up as an element of surprise.

 

This was the reason why she wins almost all of her fights. In training standards, it was unorthodox. Most of her opponents wouldn’t be able to know her next move. But for high class assets like Largo, Nat’s method was no more than just playing around.

 

“You do realize that you will not be your best self if you keep refusing us,” Largo tried to tap into Nat’s softer side. “We have been here since you were a kid. We witnessed your growth. It would be a waste if your arrogance hinders you from your true potential.”

 

“Don’t try to samurai-talk me, Largo,” Natalie just finished drinking her glass of water. “I don’t need a reason to be better. I’m just a glorified training dummy, remember?”

 

“You know too well not to distract yourself with rumors. It’s complete nonsense,” Largo reached out to a glass and poured himself water from the dispenser. He drinks it in one go “First of all, what benefit would Sir Homer get if he never lets you graduate and take on missions? You think he will just let the corporation’s resources be wasted on an asset like you and not receive revenue in return?”

 

Nat was listening intently while Largo poured himself another glass full of water.

 

“Secondly, your confidence with your flashy acrobatics and witty street combat will cost you your life in the outside world,” Largo continued. “You will graduate and you will get missions. If you don’t discipline yourself with the art of swordsmanship, your recklessness will prevail.”

 

Largo drank the glass full of water in one go again.

 

What Largo said spooked Nat a bit. It wouldn’t make sense for Mr. Homer to just keep her in training for nothing.

 

“Is that a threat, Sir Largo?” Natalie asked.

 

“More of a head’s up, Nat. Stop acting like you have figured this world out,” Largo began to walk out of the vicinity. “I hope you realize that your past doesn’t define you. Your future does.”

 

Largo finally ended his talk with Natalie. He only wanted what was best for her since she had no place to go but up.

 

“But what if you’re wrong about everything? It’s all just an assumption, right?” Natalie raised her voice a bit and it echoed throughout the mess hall. “I would have trained for nothing!”

 

“Yes, they are assumptions. Assumptions that you can’t disprove,” Largo continued. “What if you were wrong, Nat? What if the rumors were not true? Do you think you can accept death in the state you are in?”

 

“What do you mean the state that I am in?” Natalie asked confusingly.

 

“The state in which you are weak,” Largo said in a soft, disappointed voice.

 

Largo walked out of the mess hall then back into the training grounds.

 

Natalie was left with a heavy heart. She never really treated herself as weak. She had to train by herself diligently for many years.

 

Even the trainers don’t take Natalie seriously. Plus, considering that she had to live everyday in ridicule and with little to no friends, weak was an unfair description of the ‘state’ she was in.

 

Natalie might have misunderstood what Largo said, she thought. She pondered upon it over and over as she walked back to her quarters.

 

After taking a shower, Nat went to the meditation area. It was somewhere far away from the quarters and the training grounds. It was a place right on top of a hill where trainees would go and clear their minds.

 

Natalie wanted to ease her anxiety and think more about what Largo meant by ‘weak’. Or about Homer’s motivation on training her under his care.

 

Maybe Largo was right. Homer was a businessman after all, Nat thought. The rumors might be false and that she will definitely graduate and take on real missions in the future.

 

She sat down in the middle of the grassy meadow and closed her eyes. She breathed in and breathed out slowly, feeling the air coursing through his lungs.

 

Suddenly, she heard footsteps behind her. Someone was walking toward her.

 

Natalie opened and rolled her eyes expecting one of the trainees to challenge her in a duel again.

 

“Can’t you see I’m meditating?” Natalie said irritatingly as she turned her head.

 

Natalie was taken aback from the mysterious individual that approached her. It was a fairly tall boy, maybe a year younger than Natalie. He was wearing the same uniform as other trainees: a white shirt with long sleeves and red trousers.

 

The only thing odd about the trainee was that he was wearing a white kabuki mask and that he was wielding a real long blade. She also noticed a handgun on the trainee’s side arm pocket which she can only guess was also real.

 

Natalie already had the feeling that she was in danger. She looked around the open field. If ever the trainee’s handgun was loaded with real bullets, her only viable cover from his shots was the curve at the top of the hill, or the trees along the pathwalk at the foot of the hill.

 

Both of which were very far away from her.

 

Considering that she was caught in a disadvantageous spot, Nat looked at the trainee again. She was not sure if it was a prank or a trainer testing her skills on an open field. But looking at how real the blade appeared, she doubted that it was either of the two.

 

“Where did you get those?” Natalie asked. She wanted to talk to the boy in the kabuki mask first before taking a rash action.

 

“Do you see this open field around you?” the boy said with a muffled voice. “This is one of our weaknesses.”

 

The boy in the Kabuki Mask drew his hand gun. Natalie stood up but dodging a bullet from a sitting position was impossible. The boy shot her on the back of her left thigh, leaving her incapable of using her agile speed.

 

Natalie screamed in pain. Her shrieks can be heard from Break Ridge HQ.

 

“In an open field, there’s no strategy. There are no covers that you can seek refuge in. No chance to change the momentum of combat,” the boy explained as Natalie continued to whimper and crawled away from him. “Oh shush now. Even if I did not shoot you there, I will always have a clean shot on you, wounded or not. Running or no running.”

 

Natalie thought that this was planned. That the boy waited for her to go alone in the meditation area in the open field. But what confused Natalie the most was how the boy procured real weapons.

 

“Like I told you. An open field is one of our weaknesses,” the boy said, firing another shot on Natalie’s right thigh. She screamed in excruciating pain, like a hog being slaughtered. “Now that you are incapacitated, decapitating you will be easy.”

 

The boy unsheathed his sword and walked slowly toward the wounded Natalie. She begged for mercy. She screamed at the boy who was about to kill her and asked him again and again: why?

 

Natalie crawled slowly amidst the green field. Her blood was dripping on the loamy soil and painted the blades of grass red.

 

“You waited for me to go here alone! Why!?” Natalie did not know what to think. “I’m a lonely person. I have been alone all my life! We’re trainees! You have no benefit to gain from killing me!”

 

“Oh, yes I do. But I’ll keep it a secret from you. It’s more fun that way,” the boy continued as he assumed a stance. “Don’t fret, Ms. Natalie Breck. I promise a clean painless cut.”

 

Natalie looked at the boy. She wanted to examine the face of her killer, every hair strand and every wrinkle on the skin on his neck.

 

The blade cut deep into her neck and slashed it clean, as the boy promised. Natalie had nothing in her mind but the question ‘why’?

 

Blood spewed all over and carpeted around Natalie’s body.

 

But instead of darkness, there was light that entered Natalie’s soul. The kind of light that blinded her whole consciousness and fused with all things around her with its essence.

 

The hill, the boy, the trees and the sky, disintegrated into oblivion.

 

The whole world became non-existent and there was nothingness for a brief moment.

 

_____________________________________________________

 

Natalie was in some kind of trance. She can see all her memories before her, like a curtain made of televisions.

 

She doubted her death. Her life in the corporation was nothing more than just pure survival.

 

“How am I able to die without actually living?” she thought. “A blade that cut my neck clean was not fair. It does not compute.”

 

Then, she remembered Largo’s last words:

 

‘You are weak’.

 

She understood then.

 

What’s the purpose of living if she can’t protect her own life, she thought. She deserved to die because she refused to be a better soldier, to be a better protector of her own self.

 

Instead, she let her anger and despair get the better of her. She let her past get in the way of her future.

 

That’s the reason why Largo said that to her.

 

If only she had another chance, she thought. Maybe she can make things right.

 

One evening at Break Ridge HQ's meditation area, Natalie opened her eyes and found herself gasping for air, standing up as she did.

 

She laid on the same ground where she was murdered.

 

She tried feeling her neck then her face.

 

She was alive, she thought.

 

Then it dawned on her that it was dark.

 

She can hear the sound of crickets.

 

Her eyesight was still adjusting from the process.

 

Her vision was still blurry but she could see faint lights in the sky.

 

Natalie started to crawl, feeling the ground as she did, trying to make sure that she was indeed alive.

 

Then, as the blur on her vision started to clear, she saw the kabuki mask of her murderer that lay in front of her.

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