Chapter 1: Deora
It threw her from her bed as it smashed through the bedroom wall.
Deora tried to shield herself from the flying chunks of brick and plaster, but fell as they rushed towards her. Head spinning, she tried checking herself over for bruises or scratches, and, through blurred eyes, noticed small patches of blood on her arms. Ears rang with a piercing whine. Her nose tickled, and her eyes burned; she wiped the plaster and brick-dust from her face and shook her head, trying to clear her vision.
When it cleared, she backed away, trying to find something to haul herself up with.
The ovoid that had crashed through her wall stood in the middle of her room, completely unscathed. Eyes wide, she stared at it in a mix of horror and fascination. Xaosian? She was almost certain she was right; the sleek darkness of it was reminiscent of their culture.
She grabbed a shelf and tried to pull herself up, but the shelf buckled and she fell again. The windowsill took her weight and she ran, footfalls drumming the ground.
A pneumatic hiss.
She turned as the ovoid opened; eight large humanoids stepped out. Noticing the black, blade-like plates making up their armour, the red twin parabola insignia on their breastplates, the claws and the serpentine faces, she knew her suspicions were right. All eight Xaosians held guns. Big guns. She ducked back behind the doorframe, hoping they hadn't seen her yet. They were speaking to one another, not in the Common tongue, but in a completely different language. Xarici?
She fled, barely keeping upright. The hallway was narrow enough to give her something to cling on to, and she used the walls well enough to keep her standing.
She had tried to resist, she really had; she'd managed when they burst through her wall. Now, she may as well have lit a beacon. She rounded a corner, into the kitchen. Heavy footfalls followed. Nearly slipping on the cold kitchen tiles, she was just able to right herself until she made it to the dining room. Something shattered in the kitchen after another gunshot. Grabbing her keys from the table, she ran out of the dining room and towards her front door.
Her hands were shaking, and the keys just scratched around the lock. She looked behind, seeing shadows enter the room. Grabbing the key with both hands, she guided it to the lock and wrenched it open. A bullet slammed into as it opened, narrowly missing her head and forcing the door from her hand. She bit back the scream this time, and stared at the bullet-hole in shock.
She continued to run, slamming the door shut behind her; it would slow them down for all of two seconds, she was sure. The dark corridors of her apartment skyscraper gave her both an advantage and a disadvantage; they couldn't see her, but she couldn't see them. There were four corridors on this first floor, each leading out from the elevator, to a single apartment. She paused briefly; if she woke them, they could get out and possibly be safe from the invaders. If she didn't, they could be murdered, or the Xaosians might pass them by altogether. Heart pounding, she glanced down her corridor, but didn't see the Xaosians. Ignoring tense muscles, ignoring that fear that gripped them, she started towards her neighbour's corridor, but a bullet passed in front of her, splintering the wall next to her. She gasped and recoiled back, heart pounding.
Too late now.
She considered going further, she really did. But she knew, with a heavy heart, that she had to abandon them, or die. She turned, punching the elevator's “call” button, pounding it until the doors opened.
Large, shadowy things moved in the darkness, coming towards her, guns raised.
The elevator doors opened, the bulb inside lighting up the corridors. She ran inside, hugging the wall so they couldn't shoot her, and hammered the “down” button. The doors shut as a barrage of bullets smashed against the back of the elevator. She breathed a sigh of relief; even a brief reprieve from fleeing was better than none. Doubled over, she tried to catch her breath, but her heart was pounding too fast for her to get her breathing back to normal. Her hands couldn't stop shaking, and the cuts on her arm were bleeding even more now, tracing rivers on her skin. They stung slightly, like papercuts, but she didn't care about that right now.
She looked up abruptly as the top of the elevator buckled, one of the Xaosians had leapt down the elevator shaft. The doors opened. She ran, turning to look back at the elevator. A panel from the top was thrown out of the elevator, clattering to the floor. The Xaosian raised its weapon and shot at her three times. They all missed, shattering the glass in the doors behind her. She ran to the doors, jumping through the gap left behind by the broken windows.
The horror outside was worse.
Hordes of Xaosian troops stormed the streets of Raan, piling off of huge Xaosian Titan-Class ships, indiscriminately slaughtering Raanians. The unmistakable roars of small Reapers filled the air, but screams and cries for help almost drowned them out. Raanian Stingers pursued them, but the Reapers seemed to be more than a match for them. Bombing runs had turned the streets into twisting craters with sparks flying from the ground and geysers erupting from broken pipes.
Some Raanians tried to escape in their Autos. It might have succeeded had it not been for the Xaosian tanks; large as a house, these moved on giant barrels rather than caterpillar treads, enabling it to crush everything in its path. More of the ovoid pods were fired out of the airborne Titans, smashing into the skyscrapers. Some began to crumble as multiple pods hit them, tearing the structures apart.
The Xaosian was still following her. She considered running more, but it would only follow her until it got a clean shot. She rounded a corner, running a little bit further, before doubling back and waiting at the corner.
The Xaosian rounded the corner, and she pounced on it, taking it by surprise. It dropped the gun as she twisted its arm. She heard it grunt, before smashing an armoured fist into her temple, knocking her down. Her head exploded into a world of pain, and she could feel a warmth growing on the side of her head: blood; skin had been torn away by the jagged knuckles on its gauntlets.
She rolled out of the way of a kick, and dived for the abandoned gun. It was heavier than she'd expected; she'd never held one before. Her first shot missed, even with the kickback suppressors. The Xaosian kicked her in the ribs, and she heard something crack, before breathing became sharp and painful. The second shot hit the Xaosian in the chest, clipping the armour plating from below, and shearing it straight off. It stumbled back, and she jumped to her feet, and shot it twice more in the gap left by the sheared off armour. The Xaosian gasped; a death rattle, before it went down, chest covered in blood.
She stepped away from the corpse, arms going limp at her side; she barely kept hold of the gun, feeling it slip through open fingers. Hands shook, and knees threatened to buckle. She wiped her blood from her cheek. Breathing deeply to try and calm herself, she only felt pain from her cracked ribs, which were probably piercing a lung now. She coughed, and tasted copper. Her head span, the world span, and the ground threatened to come up to meet her.
From her skyscraper, she heard gunfire and screams. She sank to her knees and just stared straight ahead, mouth hanging open. I could have saved them. Self-loathing grew inside her, but her hatred for the Xaosians was stronger. She tightened her hold on her gun and got to her feet; she knew that, if she died, then their deaths were for nothing; she sacrificed them for herself.
A growing dread twisted her heart as she turned around to see the Xaosian she'd shot slowly stand back up. She stepped back, feeling the rage set in, but also confusion; I killed it. Hands stopped shaking, knees stood firm and she pumped the trigger, sending bullet after bullet into the Xaosian. Most bullets did nothing but dent the armour; she couldn't get the right angle on it again. I killed it. It darted towards her, running with a wild beast's speed. She aimed carefully at shot at its head. The helmet's visor cracked, and the Xaosian flinched, slowing it down briefly, before it lunged for her, grabbing the gun. She fought with it, pumping the trigger. The crack in the visor spread until it shattered. With a roar, the Xaosian grabbed the gun, shoving the barrel away from its face. She tried to fight back, push back, but for all her strength, the brute was too strong; she felt like her arms were about to snap.
But I killed it?
It kicked her in the stomach, throwing her back and wrenching the gun from her hands. She stumbled back, winded; it hurt even more to breathe now. Vision clouded with a red mist, and her last few seconds were filled with pain, confusion and regret. A lone tear mixed with the blood on her face.
A bullet went through her skull.