Killigan, Gherma, and a few other pillars dropped off on the highest platform of the capital city of Gorach so they could find the pillars and regimentariums stationed there. Killigan told the group to continue without him as he wanted to assess damage to the city before continuing on. The bregu assumed the highest point of the city would be the best play for a field HQ considering his ships scanned massive xith’kai activity on the lower floors. The city stretched far and wide, almost vanishing on the horizon from its size. Vast plumes of smoke and bright lights emerged from the gray forest. Large chunks of the upper levels had caved in, exposing the plates below and the more intense fighting they held.
From the sunset, the sky gradually lost its blue filter, exposing the dark space above and lances of light being exchanged between ships along with accompanying pops of orange with every destroyed fighter and ship. Looking around, Killigan realized that the once opulent mansions of the wealthy were in tattered ruins. Their decorated walls and ornate garden scenery had been tarnished with bullets, explosives and bodies. If this was the destruction caused by the xith’kai when they barely had a presence at this highest level, what results had they caused below?
Killigan leaned forward against the thick, waist-high wall protecting people from falling off and sighed. He pulled his gauntlets back and removed his helmet, prompting Gherma’s emergence.
“Sir, is something wrong?” he asked.
Killigan looked to him, showing a distraught man and a face weary with stress and age. For a pillar, such a physical change was abnormal. His eyes were surrounded by a darkened ring of skin, his once bright hair had paled and been poorly tended to, giving them an appearance of straw. His pale skin had worsened, although his toned and adapted physique had not suffered from his current state.
“I’m just...” He sighed and dropped his face into his hands. “All I endeavored to do has been destroyed in a mere few weeks.”
“I don’t understand,” Gherma said.
“Look around you!” Killigan gestured to the whole of the city. “I was supposed to protect all of these people, and I failed!” He dropped back onto the wall. “I failed them all. I made them a promise that I was going to keep them all safe, and now they’re all dead and their homes are destroyed.” He wiped his eyes. “The Calaghi System and its inhabitants will never recover because of my assuredness of all we built.” Gherma stood next to the bregu, concern hidden behind his helmet. “It’s funny...I don’t even remember why I wanted to work so hard in the first place.” He looked at his hands and flexed his fingers.
“Sir, if I may,” Gherma asked. Killigan gestured him to speak. “I was only a law enforcer, so I never saw the death and destruction of the regimentariums or the swarms that the pillars regularly fight, but I put myself forward as a candidate for becoming a pillar scieldan. I finally became a pillar, and through the training you set up, here I am now.” He remained silent for a moment, observing Killigan’s expression. “I joined the pillars because I wanted to be better than what I already am. To be able to fight in place of others so that they need not sacrifice themselves.” He adjusted himself on the wall. It was uncomfortable with his armor and weapon in hand. “Had you not been here, there would have been no defenses for any of the planets, and there would have been nothing left to hold out for reinforcements.”
Killigan scoffed. “But had I not been here, Eriee would not have had a way to create her titan. There would be no path to the Calders, and the xith’kai would not have awoken.”
“Oh?” Gherma hummed inquisitively. “And who is to say they aren’t elsewhere? That they would have awoken there?” Killigan remained silent. “What if they were already waking up? You still couldn’t have stopped them.” He cleared his throat before resuming. “I know I shouldn’t be lecturing you considering I’m only thirty-seven and you’re in your hundreds already, but without your plans, the horror would have occurred to someone else, and the same results, maybe worse even, would have still happened. Without your plans for multiple different bunkers for the civilians and several defensive walls--”
“You misunderstand,” Killigan interjected. “I had fifty years to minimize casualties on all the planets, and yet, even with this planet-fortress, all my plans were destroyed in mere weeks.” He looked at his open palms then clenched his fists angrily. “Decades of designing, planning, and building. In but a fraction of that. An insignificant fraction.” He loosened his grip and heaved a sigh. “Lost. Millions have died because I didn’t plan far enough ahead.”
“You couldn’t have known,” Gherma explained. “I would have fared no better than you in your position. In fact, many of us would have outright died,” the pillar gestured to his comrades behind Killigan.
The bregu turned to see that the group of pillars he sent out were standing to attention.
“We are all human, sir,” one of them said. “We understand if you have fears and moments where you break, but you must push on, as you’ve inspired us to do.”
“We’ll fight to the very end to save the very last surviving soul. Pillars are meant to save as many as we can.”
“It’s impossible to save them all...” Killigan whispered under his breath. Although not fully ‘restored’, the man readjusted himself and locked his helmet back into place. “Take me to the HQ. We need to find Fodr and find where he and the other battle groups are located!”
The pillars nodded and ran towards the ruined quarter’s depths. Killigan still needed time to recover from his ordeal, but he felt a brief moment of relief with Gherma and his pillars at his side. He had developed a brave and courageous foundation and couldn’t help but feel ashamed before them. He also felt something more, like the hands of his mother and father rested on his shoulders. Understanding but forcing him forward. It was ironic to him that someone who surpassed their age was less wise than them. Perhaps in his head, or perhaps they were truly there. Only Mana Magis knew.
“Let the tanks roar forth!” Fodr bellowed.
Massive metal beasts burst through the battle line created by the regimentaries and the pillars, intent on demolishing any obstacles to free the way for the others and get rid of the xith’kai on the mega-bridge. Their cannons blasted apart the smaller xith’kai to small chunks, freeing some trapped by the advancing hordes. Their mighty treads crushed anything that might have survived the shot, allowing the regimentaries to advance with impunity, using the slow moving hulks as cover.
The mega-bridge’s supports had been damaged during the fighting the planet had been suffering for weeks. Large chunks had crumbled and fallen to the depths below, leaving holes behind them and fragile edges. Luckily, the bridge stayed up, but it would take work to reach the end and free the primary docking area for this portion of the city. Fodr grumbled at this.
“Two regimentariums and two pillar foundations and we still can’t get through them after a week straight.”
He turned around to see the field medics rushing back and forth to grab as many of the wounded as they could to the field hospital built into a destroyed commercial district. The tall buildings linked to each other served as the perfect protection, even with the damage they had already sustained, and the roof had received practically no damage, protecting from aerial attacks.
“Incoming!” a regimentary shouted.
Everyone jumped for cover. They needed protection from the man-sized blobs of green gastric acid fell from above. It slowly dispersed along the ground with small streams of white smoke and a sizzling. The unlucky regimentaries got in the burst of impact screamed under the dissolving properties, prompting the active response by pillar flaesc to neutralize the acid with a spray in their gauntlets. The victims were put to safety for the field medics so the pillar could resume his or her duties. The dissolving compound was not strong enough to damage the pillar armor significantly, but it managed to bore tiny holes within the ground itself, although it mostly amounted to tiny pockmarks upon the black surface of the road.
A regimentary officer gestured to the hellbenders in the backline. “Show them our own corrosive artillery!”
The cauldrons in the Hellbenders glowed hot and produced bright suns that melted away legions worth of xith’kai in a bright flash that nearly cooked everyone nearby despite the distance being several kilometers away. Even shielding their faces didn’t help.
“YES!” Fodr cheered. “All out warfare! I’ve been craving this for so long!” His wide smile turned to an enraged yell. “Damn skirmishes!”
“That pillar is crazy,” a regimentary whispered.
A woman next to the man reloaded her weapon and peaked around the side of the tank they were hiding behind. “I thought pillars were supposed to remain calm and collected on the battlefield.” She flinched from a shard grazing her and heaved a sigh of relief.
“They are.” The man scrunched his face. “Well, they’re supposed to be.”
Several of the veyvar managed to push through the tanks, ignoring the cannons and bullets tearing them apart. However, due to their dwindled numbers, they didn’t manage to gain any ground. Both pillars and regimentaries had their weapons trained on the vehicles before them.
Reveling in the warfare, Fodr took a deep breath and looked to the sky, seeing that the battle in space had not yet stopped.
“The only way to stop them completely is to bombard the Calders,” he thought to himself.
He was taken out of his trance by the sound of crunching metal and a loud explosion. One of the tanks was destroyed by a necrodan aflyge. Squad leaders cried orders to focus their fire on the giant and its surroundings, forcing the armored creature to protect itself with its two large arms and tentacles. It was slowly stepping back while yellow sparks flew off its body and explosions blinded it from all around.
Fodr reveled in the carnage, but he was interrupted by Killigan pulling him away. The pillar was startled at the sudden appearance of his bregu. Gherma and the other pillars accompanying Killigan rushed past his sides to reinforce their fellows.
“Fodr, I see you’ve been battling well,” Killigan teased.
The man wiped some bits of rotting flesh off of his armor before speaking. “I’ve been wanting this for quite some time,” he explained. “It is good to stretch the muscles every once in a while.”
Killigan preferred not to say anything and nodded silently whilst observing his environment. His heart tugged once more at the devastation and death present through the city. “I saw that you made quite the impact on the city blocks behind us,” he said casually. He looked around and frowned. “Where is Major Kellin? I was told that he had come to Gorach.”
Fodr shot several xith’kai with his aetgar before thinking about giving an answer. “A lanky guy who worked by-the-book?” he asked. His bregu nodded silently. “Oh. He died the first week he got here. There’s a lot more xith’kai on this planet then we thought, for some reason.” He noticed something tapping against his boot and angrily squished the culprit beneath his boot with a loud grunt. “These things have been a major nuisance since we got here, and they keep increasing in number!” he bellowed. “Damnable things have been stealing bodies from both sides.”
Killigan supported his arm with his other and dragged his fingers across his helmet in a partial hold. “That speech the magus gave me when I was fifteen...” He sighed loudly. “It’s been haunting me for so long...and now this. What’s next?” he wondered fearfully.
“Bring in the bordweall bayann!” Fodr shouted to the pillars.
The sounds of fighting were gradually overtaken by the thunderous roar of tank engines and treads grinding bone and stone beneath them. Two of the bordweall bayann had arrived, and they declared their presence by firing two shells at the necrodan, breaking its arms away then blowing its body apart in a thunderous clamor. Shots bounced off the near-flat, octagonal turret of the vehicles. The turrets of both vehicles held a different cannon from each other. The first held a long metallic barrel, whereas the second possessed a rectangular black tube with glowing blue cables running from its base into the turret. Blue mist rose out from the barrel mouth after it fired, warping the air around it.
A loud mechanical ‘slicing’ came from the hull of the tanks in bright flashes. It was a triple-linked, heavy machine gun sitting in the middle of a reverse-spear. The frontal hull had been angled to force rounds shot at it to be deflected towards the gun where a heavy mana shield waited to take the blast and absorb stray kinetic energy. For the first tank, it improved shell velocity, but for the second, it boosted its cannon’s impact capabilities and the amount of mana it fired at once. Killigan looked at the weapon and the plumes of mana that would leave its barrel every time it fired and found interest and suspicion in it.
The commander of the tank pushed the hatch open and stood through it. Despite being a pillar, she only wore rudimentary cloth and head protection. “The Lux Vyesyun is in overload!” she announced.
The tank hummed a worrisome tune, and when the commander closed the turret hatch, the cannon fired, creating a shockwave that painted the sunlight blue. A blue beam flew forth, disintegrating the attacking xith’kai and casting them into whatever twisted pit served as their afterlife. With a hole punched through a sixth of the remaining way forward, the regimentaries and pillars pushed forth with the hellbenders and the remaining bordweall while the other slowly rolled back to allow its systems to cool down.
Happy of the success of the attack, Killigan approached Fodr, preventing him from following the wave.
“I have news of the Calders,” Killigan said.
“Oh? And what’s the news?” Fodr answered dismissively.
“Those on Calder 3 have only been moving to Xylon in waves, but all the forces attacking us are from Calders 1 and 2.”
Fodr twitched. “Xylon? What purpose is there to attack that planet?”
Killigan shook his head and shrugged, creaking his already strained armor. “No idea.”
The war-lover wiped his visor of dust. “Are there more coming?”
“So far, they’re not stopping.” Fodr chuckled. “Good. More warfare for me.”
The bregu stared at his advisor. “What? All this death and destruction? And you’re reveling in it?”
“I’m BATHING in it!” the man shouted. “I live for war!” His cheerful demeanor became an angry scowl. “It’s because of YOU that I’ve been bored out of my mind.” He raised his arms in the air and walked around, angry. “You’ve been holding us all back for nothing more than petty fear.”
Killigan gave Fodr a blank stare and spoke monotonously. “Really? This whole time you were upset because we weren’t having full-on wars?”
“Yes! That’s what pillars are for! We drag the attention of the enemy to us then crush them underfoot.” Fodr shot down a xith’kai from the sky without looking by his third shot. He shook his head. “We have better things to do right now,” he said.
“I need to have a meeting with everyone,” Killigan said. “We need to formulate plans of attack to destroy as many of the xith’kai as we can so we can get to the Calders and put an end to this threat. Too many lives have been lost.” Killigan clenched his fists and turned his head partially.
“If you want that,” Fodr started. “Then you’ll need to help me deal with the xith’kai here. We’re almost at the landing pads.” He walked forward and pointed to the multiple diagonal columns leading away from the platform to the lower levels. “They’ve been coming up here through those. If we can take the platform, we’ll secure frontline supply routes and be able to squash the aliens trying to overrun us.”
“But that could take days more. How would my presence and that of about twenty extra pillars change the balance?” Killigan asked.
Fodr scoffed and pointed to the sky. “We have armored vehicles, and those.”
Several vyrdes flew over the bridge, dropping cluster bombs along its length. Killigan shielded his face from the constant banging deafening him and wiping out swaths of xith’kai, although the necrodan were still present. Some of the bomblets had not exploded, bringing into action their failsafes that produced a delayed explosion some seconds after.
“Fine. Let’s go,” Killigan said. He punched his gauntlets together, creating a powerful shockwave that forced Fodr back several inches.
The soldiers around cheered in unison when they saw Killigan charging forward and shoulder-bash into a rotting giant. Every punch blew large chunks off of the alien until it fell to the ground, its body inert. Gherma was the first to jump next to his bregu and did everything he could to keep the man from being struck from behind. A brief glimpse to the sides allowed the new pillar to see Fodr bashing xith’kai skulls in with the stock of his aetgar. If they were only knocked around slightly, then he would jam the barrel in their mouths and fire a round through their skull and into another xith’kai or two.
A group of regimentaries and xith’kai on the second lane were thrown off the mega-bridge thanks to several necrodan, but a tank rolled up next to Killigan and fired a round at the weakened floor, dropping the necrodan down with their victims.
“This is insane,” Killigan whispered to himself.
Several people almost fell down after a piece of the bridge further down the second lane broke off to crush anyone far below it. Several kilometers in the distance, Killigan and Gherma both bore witness to a stray orbital shell crashing into the city and leveling several blocks all at once.
“Sir!” Gherma shouted. “There’s a breach! The xith’kai haven’t filled it yet.”
“And the regimentaries are taking advantage of it,” Fodr said. “If we can push into it, we can push the xith’kai off the bridge, retake the platform, and plug up the tunnels leading up here, freeing this level of the city.”
Killigan followed his shoulders, muscles tensed and his will furrowed. “I won’t let anymore die while I do nothing!” he yelled to himself.
The bregu blocked off several strikes from necrodan and smaller xith’kai alike. He even found himself jumping into the line of fire of the xith’kai to protect his allies. His armor and mana shield were battered and bruised, but much like their user, they sported some form of will of iron. Killigan’s behavior surprised the regimentaries from outside the system, but those from Aman did not react. The pillar was tired and enraged. Every blow he gave to the xith’kai was multiplied with his rage following every subsequent strike. After around an Earth day of fighting, the soldiers all cheered at their victory while a few others went to the truck-sized tunnels and filled them up with stone blocks and sandbags they dragged back from the ruins of the commercial center on the other side of the bridge.
Killigan’s rage gradually tapered off until he was heaving heavy breaths from the efforts he gave and leaned against a bordweall.
“There!” Fodr cheered. “We killed them all! Now we can have the meeting you so crave.”
The bregu shook his head. “Why did you never return to your foundation?”
The pillar shrugged. “I gave my word to stay with you for a century.” He picked at the chunks stuck around the barrel of his gun. “Most bregus are war hungry. A sort of ‘celebration’ after becoming head of their own foundation.”
Killigan told Gherma to spread the word around of his order, and both pillar craeft and regimentary mechanic rushed to build up a field holograph projector made of no more than an orb on a floor pedestal and a keyboard on a metallic table. The representatives of the regimentarium fleets and reinforcing pillar foundations.
Killigan removed his helmet, displaying his weary face whose details didn’t go unnoticed.
“Oh ho. It seems these months of constant fighting haven’t been kind to even a bregu,” the Crimson Gaze pillar mocked.
Killigan smirked. “We’re all human, here.”
The pillar twitched. “Speak for yourself,” he spoke with an insulted tone of voice.
The bregu wiped sweat from his forehead. “I need to know how the fighting on the other planets is going and if you can assault the Calders.”
Azeryu cleared his throat. “Since the Calder 3 xith’kai have only been going to Xylon, my fleet has been stuck at Calder 2. Even with a titan we can’t break through. We can only stall them.”
Mentri’s chin was obscured by her hand. “I’ve had no luck, either, even with the Crimson Gaze. They’ve been busy destroying every alien ship they can see...although something odd occurred, it didn’t affect their ship for long.”
“Gialdam and I shall remain on the planets,” Tyrius explained. “We’re too far into the depths of our respective cities to be able to leave right now. The regimentaries currently fighting will be overwhelmed.”
“Then what can we do?”
Petrason chuckled loudly. “Bring the regimentary fleets, and leave some the transport and support vessels behind for those planetside,” he suggested with his shrill voice. “We’re leading Regimentarium flotillas. We have the ships to spare.”
The bregu nodded. “Then assemble the fleets as best as you can.” He became silent for a moment. “When do you believe you will be capable of sending your fleets to the first and second Calders?”
The admirals mumbled to each other before Varta gave an answer. “In five Earth days. We will consolidate our forces, make as many repairs as we can, refuel and restock, and we shall be ready.”
“Very well. Anything important I need to know of?” Killigan looked to everyone. Mentri frowned slightly but remained silent. The bregu nodded. “Very well. I hope to see success when you are prepared to attack the Calders.”
“You needn’t worry, Golden Fist,” Azeryu comforted. “We will consolidate a plan between u and will keep you appraised of the progress against the xith’kai.” He coughed and scratched his throat. “The Imperator Niethgaest Biologic must be enjoying all the samples they’ve been finding of these...rotting creatures,” he hissed.
Killigan nodded thankfully to the man, and the feed to the seven admirals cut off. He massaged the back of his neck while several soldiers piled against a blockade of a tunnel. The xith’kai were trying to get through. It was only by the intervention of pillars helping regimentaries set up franca heavy machine guns by pushing the barrels through the small cracks between the bags and stone that the xith’kai were pushed back.
The bregu sighed in relief when he saw Eriee’s helmet and her cold eyes glowing behind the lens of her helmet. “I was worried that I only had Fodr left.”
“What do you want?” Eriee asked coldly.
Killigan reeled back. “I need to know the state of Tamanach.”
“We are having difficulty pushing them out of the lower cities, but we are managing.” Eriee looked to the side, and Killigan heard a man shouting something inaudible. “I have also established a trade agreement with a factory owner. He is the one supplying the planets under siege.” A muted noise came through the transmission, but Killigan could not hear it. “I will inform you of future changes on Tamanach.”
Before the bregu could respond, the pillar craeft shut the transmissions off, leaving Killigan to his own thoughts. “She needs to work on her people skills,” he complained.
While Killigan continued fighting alongside his soldiers and comrades, focusing on reinforcing any chokepoints found and destroying the xith’kai from below, the regimentarium fleets had been spending the time waiting for supply fleets to come in from outside the system. With their ships mostly repaired and filled with fresh ammunition, food, medical supplies, and tools, the admirals were ready for the final stretch of the new war. The cwildeseten pillars warned of increased activity on the Calder planets, with an increasing number of ships cracking breaking the ground apart and gathering within orbit of their respective planets.
The Calder 3 xith’kai were still focused on Xylon, and they had yet to go further than the mesosphere. Even the few massive cruisers could not destroy the jungle lands below, as any who damaged the planet would see themselves become the focus of the ‘inhabitants’ and torn apart with vines.
Mentri clutched to her chair when the cockpit trembled violently. “Use the titan as cover!” she shouted. “Our own reinforcements will be here soon. Tell the P group to go grid V-seven. The xith’kai are weak there. Push them out then pincer the main fleets in front of us. Get the heavy artillery vessels to station themselves in v-four through eight when they’ve accomplished this.” Another tremor shook the ship. “We’ll have sufficient cover to annihilate these bastards!” she shouted angrily and slammed her fist on her arm rest.
The admiral looked outside the window to see the Crimson Gaze ship getting focused by several xith’kai battleships, causing Mentri to gnaw on her thumb angrily. When the cruisers had appeared, they were already a danger, but the battleships were far bigger and packed more firepower than she possessed. Her cruisers ranged from three to five kilometers, depending on the type, but these battleships dwarfed them with their eight kilometer length or width. The armor of the titan was lashed incessantly and violently, and after weeks of nonstop fighting, the damage was starting to go through. Large dents were accumulating along the surface, and some punctures were visible. Luckily, they weren’t drastic yet, but without any backup, there was no chance it would survive. Even the greatest of plate armor would not have survived constant strikes from warhammers and polearms without repairs.
Another tremor shook the ship, followed by several screens of the bridge crew bringing up multiple orange alert messages. The crew all shouted at nearly the same moment. Engine mana conduits being broken, hull breaches resulting in cannon anchors being torn out from the sudden depressurization. The admiral was growing tired of the same alerts.
“My ship must look like a puwandese vessel,” she groaned internally.
One of the crew turned towards Mentri and yelled out as loud as possible. “The reinforcements are on their way. They’re a few minutes out.”
Mentri slouched against her seat and rubbed her forehead. “And what about our losses?”
Another crewmember checked the database first. They became upset when a lighter tremor disrupted their display, prompting some hitting. “We’ve lost sixty-seven percent of the fleet that’s left,” she announced.
The admiral had a sudden urge to rip off her facial hair. Fortunately, she had none, and when she was going to respond, her eyes widened in horror. While the xith’kai vessels had been demolished, just as she had planned, hundreds of vessels had risen from the depths of Calder 1. From fighters to battleships, Mentri’s fleet was outclassed. She had no way of fighting them, even with the few artillery ships she still possessed. The whole planet was obscured.
It took her several attempts to give her order. “Tell all vessels to pull back around me. Form a defensive perimeter. We’ll have a greater chance of surviving if we can concentrate ourselves.”
Watching her own display monitor for all ships on the communications line, Mentri witnessed name after name of each ship turning red as they tried to do as she ordered. She could even see them outside, splitting apart in a bright explosion when the gases within them ignited in space. Her own ship was starting to split apart, with pieces of it getting clipped off the closer the armada approached. Even the titan and its gravity-producing weapon couldn’t thin the ranks of the xith’kai enough.
With teeth bared and fists clenched, Mentri spoke somberly. “Evacuate the ship. Retreat from the planet. We can’t hold out any longer, and this vessel is splitting at the seams.”
Without hesitating, the crew rushed out of the bridge for the escape pods, leaving Mentri behind. She took a last look at the scene laid before her then went to her own escape pod. By the time Petrason, Varta, and Tyber arrived, they were met with a field wreckage still being attacked by the xith’kai.
Petrason hummed in his seat and lowered his hand. “Bring the survivors to my ship, and get the other vessels linked to mine,” he spoke with a haughty tone. The man dabbed some white powder onto his cheeks and smiled at his reflection in his small hand mirror. “Oh, and let the xith’kai come to us,” he told his crew. “No need to rush forward and be impeded by the debris field while they can move freely.”
“Are you sure?” one of the bridge crew asked. Petrason merely scoffed at his question.
The admiral laid down upon his chair, legs laying over the armrest. “So, the titan there is that of the Crimson Gaze, I imagine?”
“Yes, sir,” a crew member responded.
Petrason didn’t react to the damage being done to his vessel as the combine fleets were doing several times more to the armada before them. He ate candied dates from a shiny brass bowl he had prepared next to his seat and chuckled to himself. “We’ll be done with this soon,” he mused.
Several hours later, and the battle had yet to cease. Petrason stared at his bowl with a scowl drawn across his face. “I’m out of candied dates,” he said calmly. “I’ve never run out of...CANDIED DATES!” He shouted the top of his lungs and threw the bowl angrily against the ground, making it bounce around the bridge with a hollow, metallic noise. He stood up and strained his fingers, giving the impression that he was clenching something large. “They are just mindless BEASTS! How have we not killed them yet?!” he bellowed. His hate-filled eyes shot to his crew staring at him in fear. “What is the status of the fleets?!” he shouted angrily.
“O-our fleet has lot seventeen percent of its total forces,” one crew replied. “Varta of the 359th Gryt Regimentarium has also reported to have recovered Admiral Mentri and a few hundred of the crew from her fleet.
Petrason sat down and slouched against his chair. He rubbed his forehead, smearing white make-up over his fingers and messing up his combed hair. “And the other fleets?”
The woman coughed and mumbled inaudibly. Her admiral shot a seething glare that burned through her. “Th-th-the 359th Gryt is at 27% losses and rising, and the 358th Gumhri Regimentarium are at 31%.”
“What about the xith’kai?”
The woman shrugged nervously. “I-I don’t know! The percentages keep going up and down!” she stuttered.
Petrason rested his hand against his face and laughed nervously. “So we’re fighting an enemy that’s so numerous that even terrain advantages and disadvantages mean nothing to them.”
“The debris of their ships have also been disappearing over the course of the battle,” a man said without looking away from his monitor. He was analyzing several different displays of data with scrutiny and appeared deep in thought. “I’m not sure what to make of it.”
The admiral exhaled loudly from his nose. “Then we have no chance of winning against them. The only true way is to have all seven fleets gathered i--”
The admiral was interrupted by Varta appearing from the holographic projector. “I have news,” she said.
Petrason raised an eyebrow. “Not good or bad?” he mused. “Just ‘news’?”
“Yes. The Crimson Gaze titan is going to attempt a breakthrough and create a hole for our fleets to go through,” Varta explained.
Petrason’s eyes darted back and forth. “That would allow us to envelop the ships and destroy them from both sides.” A smile grew upon his lips. “That would mean that--”
A bright flash blinded him and his bridge crew momentarily. The source was the Crimson Gaze titan fire its gravity weapon and causing several battleships and cruiser to be blown apart and take the surrounding vessels with it.
“What are they doing?!” Varta shouted. “Open a communications line!” she ordered her own bridge. “What do you mean they won’t answer?!”
“Do they have some kind of plan?” Petrason wondered aloud. He looked to Varta. “I have a plan,” he assured her.
The admiral folded his armrests to him and linked them together, creating an assortment of different screens and accompanying holographic keyboards. Several minutes passed by before he finally broke through the communications blockade and got a hold of the bridge of the Crimson Gaze titan, removing Varta’s face from the projection. The pillars were without their helmets, their faces unfazed while they rushed towards Calder 1. The bridge was poorly lit, with loose cables flashing electrical current at irregular intervals. Some pillars had been killed by collapsed support beams in the ship frame, and some stations had been outright destroyed and covered in debris. There were even a few punctures leading to space, and sirens were blaring loudly through the transmission. At least, all things visual were all Petrason could see with the poor angle he had acquired. He was mostly zoomed into the face of the pilot.
“What is the meaning of this?” he yelled at the pillar.
The pilot looked at the recorder with disgust and ignored it. “I’m talking to you, pillar!”
The pilot rolled his eyes before responding. “What do you want?”
“I want to know what you’re doing!”
“We’re going to take care of the threat on Calder 1, of course. Seeing as none of you can do anything about it,” he scoffed.
Petrason’s anger reached a boiling point, and his sweat was undoing all the work he spent on make-up. “I WILL NOT have you rush head first to kill them and have ALL of my...soldiers...” The admiral’s anger vanished, leaving him with a gaping mouth and a horrified expression. “You can’t do that!” The bridge crew looked at each other, confused and mumbling. “I saw the reports. All the Crimson Gaze pillars on that titan are all that’s left of your foundation.”
The pilot pretended to think but shrugged. His last words were ‘meh’ before he cut the feed.
“Meh? MEH?! THAT’S ALL HE HAS TO SAY?!” the admiral bellowed angrily.
Two bridge crew talked over each other, and after a few seconds of debate, the first man spoke. “Sir, the titan...it’s emitting dangerous amounts of energy.”
Petrason blinked several times. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Well, it’s a titan whose design is delegated fully to offense.”
The admiral immediately understood. “But that would destroy the whole surface of the planet.”
The titan fired its weaponry nonstop, dragging away hundreds of the xith’kai ships with it to the planet. When the titan vanished into the atmosphere of the planet, it created an explosion so massive and bright that ships just a few dozen kilometers away from the celestial body saw themselves engulfed in the violently expanding wave of blue mana and disintegrated into nothing on the spot. The explosion was visible even thousands of kilometers away, yet even such an event did not undermine Petrason’s more tactical mind.
“They’ve opened up a breach in the armada, and the planet won’t be sending out anymore reinforcements any time soon. Send the message to the other admirals. We’re free to eliminate what is left of the xith’kai and move on to Calder 2!”
Back on Gorach; Killigan, Gherma, and a few other regimentaries and pillars were sneaking underneath a fortified xith’kai position in a factory. Fodr had tracked the corpse trailings to this location, and allowed his bregu the task of overcharging the mana conduits beneath the foundations. Several of the regimentaries complained about the cramped spaces and the lights built into their helmets that did nothing to help them see any better. Dust had accumulated in the unexplored depths of the building, and several insects had been left to their own devices. The group exchanged hushed whispers as they planned their movements according to the blueprints one of the regimentaries was given for the mission.
The group split into teams of six, with two pillars for every eight regimentaries. Despite having to walk on his hands and knees, Killigan didn’t mind the situation. He could still hear the muffled explosions from above, and his helmet protected him from the scarves of dust that would fall down from them. When the bregu’s group reached their main power junction, they sighed in relief as they were finally able to stand. It took some time to remove the floor paneling and slide it quietly off its resting point before they could enter. The room was filled with a dull humming and flickering blue light created by the mana conduits leading to and from the large circuit conductor against the wall. Pipes surrounded it and covered the walls and ceiling to vanish into holes leading to different parts of the complex. Several monitors and closets decorated the empty spaces of the chamber, making the area a bit more cramped with all ten people around.
“So how do we do this?” Killigan asked. He looked at the white, armored door behind him. “Should we just place explosive and get out?” he wondered.
One the regimentaries opened the panel of the conduit and check the tiny status display. “We could just as well cause an overload. Whether we blow some up or cause an overload, it’ll still create a manaburst that will blow everything out of the lower floors.” She scratched her head and peeled off a webbing, her face twisted in disgust. “It will still take time for the process to occur,” she said.
“At least we’ll have time to escape,” another soldier commented.
Loud banging came from the metallic door behind everyone, putting their nerves on edge.
“They know we’re here!” the woman shouted.
Not thinking, Killigan threw her and the others behind and grabbed the conduit with his gauntlet. He crushed it then ripped it off the wall, throwing it angrily to the ground. The mana started to leak out and form into a transparent, sparkling blue cloud.
“Get out!” the bregu shouted. “The mission is accomplished. We must leave!”
He and Gherma waited behind for each regimentary to drop down the hole, and although the door gave the illusion that it was holding, the walls it was built into were not. They cracked and finally burst out, crushing two regimentaries against the wall and making Killigan cry out in rage. He punched the massive fist of rotting flesh and exposed bone, causing it to explode in a shower of brown fluids. The bregu found himself getting stabbed in the neck and pulled out into the first manufacturing floor of the factory.
The man stomped to the ground and clenched his muscles to keep him grounded and not be flung off by the force of gravity. He stopped against an assembly line separated by reinforced glass from the rest of the floor. Metal ingots of various sizes and colors were waiting to be sifted through by the machines and the diligent hands of workers who could spot anything the machines could not. Instead, they waited longingly for their attention as the massive machines around them were in slumber.
Killigan turned to face the necrodan that killed those under his watch, yet it never tried to attack him. Instead, it backed away and rejoined the xith’kai in front of the entrance where xith’kai were growing new fortifications to shoot from. Several corpses were being dropped from above or left behind by tiny crab creatures, although what the aliens were doing with the bodies of their fellows and of the humans, the bregu could not tell. The factory was overrun with the aliens, and yet not one of them were trying to attack Killigan, leaving the man feeling like he was stranded on an island.
“Sir!” Gherma shouted. He slid to a halt and aimed his weapon spastically.
The bregu was aggravated. “Why are you here?! I told you to flee!” he shouted. “It’s only a matter of time before it happens!”
Gherma chuckled. “I will follow my bregu anywhere. That is one of my many duties.” He looked at the xith’kai through the holes of the upper floors and frowned. “Why aren’t they attacking you?”
The bregu narrowed his eyes then pointed at something behind the Gherma. “I think that’s why.”
A resounding ‘clunk’ brought about the attention of Gherma, making him turn to face the source.
“Is that the anomaly?” Killigan asked. Gherma nodded in response. The bregu cracked the knuckles of his gauntlets. “Looks like it’s challenging me, if not us,” he noted.
“Then let us not disappoint it,” Gherma growled.
Killigan lunged forward, attempting to strike the creature in the head, but it brought its spear in front of it and blocked the strike with both hands. The brownish-orange mana of Killigan’s gauntlets flew about wildly, unable to affect its foe but knowing a xith’kai was near. The anomaly, unable to push its opponent away, used that as an advantage and jumped backwards using the gauntlets as the pressure point. It dived down and swiped at Killigan’s feet, but Gherma fired several rounds at the alien, forcing it to jump away angrily.
The bregu tried to punch it again, but the anomaly put its hands upon his gauntlet and flipped up via a handstand into the air. It forced itself down, using its spear to drive through Killigan’s armor and body. Looking up, the man’s eyes shot wide. A distant memory drove his muscles forward. The anomaly was struck by surprise when its spear and head were grabbed and slammed into the ground. The strike was followed by another downwards punch in an effort to kill it, but xith’kai were durable. It thrust its spear against the bregu’s gauntlet, throwing his aim off and allowing it to slide to the man’s clear side. The alien was free to stab the man’s side, and while the mana shield broke, the armor held firm.
Gherma didn’t hesitate trying to fill it with holes, and with Killigan still getting up, the xith’kai rushed to the pillar. The young pillar attempted to slam the stock of his gun into the anomaly but found only air as the receiver. His head suddenly turned after getting hit by the spear’s body, then he was pushed further by a spear thrust.
Gherma laughed and patted his stomach. “Unlike my bregu’s armor, mine is still more-or-less intact.” He struggled to raise his gun up due to the pain he received from the force that had passed through. “You won’t get me that easily.”
The xith’kai stared at its opponent for a long moment, forgetting about Killigan’s existence. It only managed to parry the bregu’s attack at the last second. Because it hadn’t braced, the man still managed to push through the defense and hit it with the full force of his gauntlet. The anomaly was sent flying through two large blocks of machinery and became engulfed by the corrupt mana of the gauntlets. It screamed in pain, tearing away at its decayed skin until the mana dissipated and its body began to mend itself.
“This is...tiresome,” Killigan panted. “How do you kill something that never grows tired?”
The anomaly dodged two more shots by Gherma and aimed the point of its spear at Killigan’s head, but the man caught the weapon in time. He tried to break the weapon, but the runes on its body fought against his brute strength.
“What is this?” Killigan spoke slowly. He looked back up to the alien’s wide-eyed, impassive face and grinned behind his helmet. “Pretty strong for such a scrawny thing, huh?” he said between grunts of force.
The anomaly’s body glowed with multiple alien runes that reflected what was on its spear, and Killigan’s gauntlets started unleashing their corrupt mana again, using the runes to travel to the anomaly and start consuming it again. It yelled out again.
“Xith’kai, Skraûj!” it bellowed.
“You can...talk?” Killigan said with disbelief. He forced the creature forward, pushing the spear up. “What are you?”
The alien’s eyes flickered with life, if for a few seconds, and it pushed the man back. It spoke with a rough, hollow voice that whistled through the rotten holes of its body. “I. Am...” It struck Killigan in the head with a punch and jumped back a few steps, yelling as it tore away at the mana-infected flesh. “I. Am...” When the mana dissipated, it dropped to its knees, still holding onto its upright spear. “Ha-No-Ma,” it hissed.
Gherma grabbed his bregu’s arm. “Sir, we need to leave. It’s disoriented and the others aren’t moving from their spots, so we can go.”
Killigan nodded and followed his soldier back to the room they had come in through. The explosion blew out the xith’kai from the factory’s five floors, shocking even the ones who had made the plan. Killigan and Gherma needed help to get out of the tunnels they had used. Their armor had saved them from the blast, but Killigan was the one most affected by it.
“I...really need to upgrade this...” he mused.
When rummaging through the debris, any signs of the anomaly were gone. Even its spear had left no trace, worrying the two pillars who confronted it. Killigan was immediately pulled away from the frontlines despite his protests, but this allowed him to make a few on-field repairs of his armor and call the admirals and the representatives of each foundation. He made the call whilst laying on a field bed within a large, closed tent, giving him a less-than-proper appearance.
“I need to know...” he said. He took a deep breath. “What is the extent of the damage to our armies and my system?”
Mentri was the first to speak. “I lost the entirety of my fleet. The 76th Retrus Regimentarium is no more,” she said sternly. “We are also still occupied with Calders 2 and 3. We have yet to stamp them out.”
Killigan sighed and threw his legs over the bed to sit properly. “What else?”
“Gorach has lost sixty-six percent of its total population,” Eriee explained. “The infrastructure of seventeen cities also need to be completely torn down and rebuilt. Only three cities are still moderately functional.” She checked a display on her left arm. “I have no knowledge of Tamanach yet.” She grabbed a man and raised him by his shirt to show to Killigan. “This man is the one who has agreed to direct the supplies and resources needed for the reconstruction of our system,” she explained. The would-be pirate had no time to introduce himself that the pillar craeft had already tossed him to the side like a doll. “His wages are fair.”
“I’d say that Aman took the least damage,” Vyrte explained. “It’s still functional and will only require some patching up.”
Killigan leaned against his joined hands and began trembling again, but his voice held firm. “What about the pillar foundations? How do they fare?” he asked.
Petrason shoved a candied date angrily into his mouth and chewed it loudly. “The Crimson Gaze has been wiped out.”
Killigan immediately jumped to his feet. “IT WHAT?!”
“I saw it myself,” Mentri said. “They just...crashed their titan into Calder 1, and its reactors wiped out all the xith’kai there. We just had to mop up what was still in the planet’s space and reach Calder 2.” She shook her head. “The Imperator Flaesc will have to find new candidates to revive their foundation. Perhaps they will be less inclined to such pride?” she pondered.
“And what of the others?!”
Gialdam was the first to speak. “The Marma fissures took only around two hundred casualties, not counting the lost. We are still standing strong and fighting the xith’kai on Gorach.”
“That is good,” Tyrius lauded. “We have not fared so well. Of our three thousand, we are only around a thousand and a hundred left.” He shook his head. “A heavy sacrifice you have put upon my soldiers, Golden Fist. The Brandom Arodnes foundation will not forget this ‘Dead War’, as the regimentaries and locals have already come to call it.”
The bregu remained silent.
“The Cwildeseten pillars only deplore a handful of losses,” Opunh said proudly. “Our skills have saved us and quite a few others.”
Killigan wobbled his fingers and reluctantly called for Oodravos. He did not feel at ease when he saw that even the calm and collected specialist looked weary and somber. “Oodravos,” Killigan started calmly. “What are our losses?”
There passed a minute before the cwildeseten mustered up the energy to speak. “Of our six thousand troops...five hundred and thirty-two remain,” he exhaled.
Killigan was in a stupor. He couldn’t figure out how to process what he had just heard. He didn’t want to believe it. He couldn’t. And yet...
“After this battle, my fleet will remain behind to aid in the safety of the Calaghi System until it has recovered,” Azeryu announced. His face was composed and his voice stern and calm, but he was red with rage. A rage not directed at the bregu, but at the results of this campaign and those yet to come.
“You need to protect Earth,” Eribus protested. “Your titan and your fleet don’t exist to stop at any damaged system.”
“And what would you have me do?” the admiral rebutted angrily. “Leave them to their own devices so they can rot and decay?!”
Their voices turned to mumbling for Killigan as his mind battled with reality and hundreds of different scenarios passed through his mind on how the war could have ended differently. With his head slouched in the palms of his gauntlets, the man’s face could not be seen. However, the weapons did not sit idly by. The corrupted mana flickered angrily and filled the pillar’s head temporarily, granting an illusion that disturbed him further.
He was in space, with a black void accentuated by a silvery cloud surrounding him. A cloaked figure floated before him, a hood covering its head but still showing its orange eyes with white pupils in their middle staring at him. Its eyes were filled with rage, illuminating very sharp and angular runes running along two, vanilla colored vertical stripes on its green cloak. They had no resemblance to the runes on Ha-No-Ma’s spear, further deepening the bregu’s confusion. Their light was a bright green that shifted to a brown-orange briefly. The entity pointed to Killigan, and he felt a massive pressure trying to push him far away. The hands were calliced, bony, thin, and ended in blackened claws. They were not connected to the sleeves of the creature, showing themselves as disconnected limbs only attached by an ebbing and flowing tide of black energy. The underside of the cloak spewed more of the energy, although it did not flutter away like smoke and remained relatively close to the entity creating it.
Around them both were hundreds of xith’kai vessels fleeing the Calaghi System despite there still being more coming from the remaining Calders.
It glared at the gauntlets, remembering something, then looked back to Killigan. “You did this,” it hissed in a booming voice that deafened Killigan. The bregu clutched his ears and braced for the weight. “I will kill you all. You and your gods. You will only have me in the end.” It laughed, creating multiple echoes in space. “My xith’kai will have you eventually. You barely survived this horde, so what will another do, I wonder,” it mused. It remained silent for a few seconds and spoke with a quiet rumble. “You will worship me one way or the other.”
The bregu was brought back into reality, hearing and seeing the admirals bickering about what to do after the xith’kai had been eliminated. Instead of intervening, Killigan pushed his face back into his palms. He was left to mull over the year of incessant fighting, all the losses incurred, and what he just saw.“A physical god?” He thought. “Who summoned him?”
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