Push Back (rewritten)
“My bregu, please!” Gherma protested. “Don’t move.” He tried to push Killigan down, but the bregu refused.
A few larger xith’kai had still broken into the defensive compound, but Killigan was too high on adrenaline to care. Being distracted allowed him to easily deal with the aliens, and with the strange mana surrounding his gauntlets, every hit would blow off a large chunk of body from the monsters. From the walls, the defenders supported the new reinforcements as much as they could. Irregularly, a large explosion preceded by whistling would crash into the ground, destroying entire city blocks and a plethora of xith’kai along with them. The ships in orbit were providing orbital bombardment when they had a chance to cause maximal damage, something that the inhabitants weren’t very happy with.
From one of the clouds surrounding the ‘rain drops’ closest to the wall, bright blue-green beams of flame emerged and dug into the rotting flesh of the aliens around them. One of the Emperor’s Guard shooting at the xith’kai recognized them as ‘Glowan Swol’. Comprised of several sharp pieces of metal connected together by mana, they were easy to transport and had the same ease in cutting exposed flesh. Puwandese muscle and bone was tough to cut through and required several slices, but the blades easily cut through the aliens as though they were made of air.
Another orbital shell slammed into the city, causing the lands to tremble under the earthquake of destruction. It was followed by a huge, rectangular drop pod landing behind the wall next to the bregu and the other defenders. It had slowed thanks to the existence of multiple rocket pods on its sides and underneath it. Both sides of its long body shot off, allowing gigantic, armless mechs that Killigan encountered once when he was called upon by the Marma Fissures for the first time. It spewed steam when it moved forward and tumbled forward. The pilot was not used to the ramp. However, the vehicle had no issue vaulting over pillars and regimentaries to reach the growing gap in the wall and bombard the aliens with volley after volley of missiles and foot stomps. Several more of them came out, but they waited behind. One of them was enough for the gap.
A bulky xith’kai broke through the barrage and punched the mecha away, causing it to collapse onto the floor.
“Support the Laventam,” a regimentary officer shouted. “It might be huge but it won’t be able to crush all the aliens in close combat.”
Royal-purple vyrdes with bright-pink outer ridges flew in from the sky and landed just outside the city fortress. Killigan did not recognize the colors, but he was still happy to get more reinforcements. It took about a day’s worth of further combat to get rid of what had already infiltrated the city, but with the gas running through the underground, there were no chances of xith’kai still being there. It facilitated the extermination. Killigan rubbed the top of his partially melted helmet and felt anger run through him.
“Can we ever chase them off the planet?” he thought to himself.
He was alerted to incoming escorts by a pillar on the wall. The massive gates slid open with a painful screech and creak, letting four pillar foundation escort comprised of five members each to come through unhindered and let them see the physical devastation caused to the people. Several rows of wounded were being tended to by volunteers, regimentary medics, and pillar flaesc, but despite the number of people tending to them, there were never enough medics nor medicines.
Killigan recognized two of the foundations: The Marma Fissures and the Cwildeseten. One of the groups sported the same colors as the vyrde he spotted earlier. Their torso, arms, and legs were painted royal purple while the rest of the armor were covered in hot pink. It seemed that most foundations had a habit of using two colors for their color schemes. They had no need for camouflage, being the frontline troops meant to direct all attention to them, after all. The Emperor’s Guard was one of the very foundations that used more than two colors for their pattern. The second unknown foundation was colored mantis green, with their secondary being rust orange. Their painting scheme was very similar to the pink ones, save for the right half of their helmets also being painted rust orange.
The Marma Fissure pillar stepped out from the middle of the group and called out to the fellow super soldier in yellow armor. “Killigan Ghor, bregu of the Emperor’s Guard?”
The bregu was getting his armor sprayed with a neutralizing compound by a pillar craeft. They had designed their right gauntlet with tubes in the fingers to spray liquid compounds, and before they moved out of the way to let Killigan speak, they took a squarish capsule from their left shoulder, bent it to crack, then reloaded their palm.
“You have me,” the man replied roughly behind his helmet.
The marma pillar nodded. “I am Gialdam: Lieutenant second-class of the reinforcement flotilla sent to your system. We were two-thousand three hundred.” His helmet tilted to the side. “Or, we were before dropping into Calagh.”
“I am sorry that you have already had to lose your comrades when you only just arrived here,” Killigan lamented.
The leading Cwildseten, distinguishable by the green color of the lens in his helmet, spoke up. “I am Opunh, of the Cwildeseten Foudation. We came with a thousand of our own and a few of our vehicles and equipment.” His voice was inaudible and without energy, like Oodravos’. “You know what we are best at, so we will help from the shadows.”
The bregu smiled behind his helmet. “I appreciate the help from our fellow foundations, and the Cwildesten will be a key to eliminating whatever leaders and bases these...disgusting creatures have,” Killigan spat.
The pillars with the rusted colors stepped forward and punched their chests with their right hands as a salute. “We have come to aid the Golden Fist. Bregu of the Emperor’s Guard foundation.” They shouted in unison.
One of the pillars stepped out of the group and spoke louder. “I am Tyrius, of the Brandom Arodnes foundation. We came with half our forces to your aid, but our reasons are not pure,” he spoke with a very monotonous and bland tone.
Killigan felt nothing to these Brandom Arodnes. “The important thing is that you’ve come to aid us regardless.” He folded back his gauntlet then grabbed the forearm of the pillar and the two locked them together. “I wish to see this to bring our foundations closer. Foundations that know each other only by name.”
“Additionally, we have brought a complement of vehicles and walkers, including a Sawol Vice,” Tyrius said.
“And what of the regimentariums that have come to our aid?” Killigan asked. His voice was ripe with concern.
“Haha!” Tyrius pointed to the sky. “They’re still up there fighting in space. They’re keeping anymore of those things from reaching the planet’s surface.”
“Finally come to greet us, I see,” Gialdam spoke with disgust.
The purple pillars ignored him and pushed the pillar aside. Their armors bore several tiny hooks built into them and could be pushed out through some method known only to them. Upon these claws of metal had been strung up the decaying flesh and punctured bones of the xith’kai.
“Why are you garnishing your armor with the flesh of those creatures?” Tyrius asked.
A pillar whose left pauldron was solid pink turned towards the Brandom pillar with disdain.
“Tis’ not beauticious to wear the trophies of the defeated foes? I do so love to sport them and display the grandeur of the Crimson Gaze.” He moved a hand across the top of his helmet as though passing through his hair.
Another pillar stepped forward and presented herself with much more dignity and pride than the squad leader with her. “Unlike the cowards here, we came with our whole foundation,” she said proudly.
Everyone stared at them after that declaration, a mixture of emotions rushing across the crowd.
“You are absolute fools” Gialdam said calmly.“You took your entire foundation here?” He stepped in front of the woman glared at her through her helmet. “And what about your systems? The people and assets you have?!”
The woman completely ignored her prosecutor, preferring instead to gaze at the teeth of the xith’kai she attached to the ends of her fingers. If her face were revealed, she would have displayed a disgusting and twisted form of admiration of her new ‘aspects’.
“I have no reason to be persecuted by one of your kind, Marma Fissure,” she scoffed without looking at him.
“One of my kind?” Gialdam repeated. He pointed to himself then back to her several times. “We’re both pillars.”
“Of different quality, clearly. Even your name lacks any sort of redeeming quality. No strength. No originality. Why, those that are part of our systems are more than happy to die for us.” She crossed her arms and looked away towards the carnage that had befallen the city and shrugged. “We can always get more systems and populations. We have a titan just for that,” she stated dismissively. “And we bring it wherever we go.”
The crowd of civilians not needing treatment started hushing quiet whispers to eachother about the rumors they’d heard of the Crimson Gaze.
Those are the Crimson Gaze?
Those Crimson Gaze?
Aren’t they full of themselves? Although I’ve heard they fought off an entire warband of puwandese on their own.
That’s nothing special!
The warband had multiple dreadnoughts.
I heard that they’re so prideful that they denied a god of egotism and pride to bring them into his thrall.
“I recount no such vessel upon our arrival, and we arrived second-to-last,” Tyrius interjected.
The squad leader stepped forward and pushed his comrade aside. “Why would we waste a mountain drill on tiny rocks? It is meant for mountains,” he mocked. Before the lieutenant could answer, the pillar put a hand in front of his face. “We will enter the command center and await your arrival. The regimentaries can only feel courage when hiding in their war machines, so their commanders won’t be arriving for quite some time.”
Killigan and a few of the suffering regimentaries around both glared at the Crimson Gaze pillars, but the bregu kept his head immobile. No one could see where his eyes were going with his helmet on. A hand landed on Killigan’s shoulder, bringing his alert mind immediately towards its owner. It was Opunh, laughing at the scene he had just witnessed.
“The Crimson Gaze are quite the interesting group, are they not?” he asked.
“They are overbearing and blind to their faults,” Tyrius said. “Pillars should have pride in only their duty and success in performing that duty.
The bregu looked back to the group walking up the streets towards the main tower and frowned. “Who are they?” he asked.
“If I may,” Gherma butted in. Killigan gave him the go-ahead with a wave of his hand. “Thank you. The Crimson Gaze are a foundation despised by nigh the entirety of the Terran Expanse and actively avoided by the puwandese...surprisingly enough...” he trailed off.
The bregu stared at his soldier. “I’m baffled,” Killigan said. “That the puwandese would avoid combat is astonishing.”
“They avoid them because the Crimson Gaze prefer to fight from their titan or using ranged weaponry,” Tyrius explained. He fumbled with his armor, and a blue glow flickered around him briefly before disappearing. “The puwandese find no fun in being destroyed so easily, and we found that such tactics are too costly and dangerous. Not everything can be solved with a long-range bullet.”
Gherma looked at his gun pensively. The stock had been hit on its corner by the corrosive gas and had melted into a few drops. “What confuses me is why they came to our aid. They’ve never answered distress calls before.”
Opunh snorted at the ideas going through his head. “Likely for the fame and pride that could be wrought by them defeating a new alien threat on their own. IF on their own.”
“That is one of their problems,” Tyrius sighed. “If they do not change their ways, they will not get through this war intact.” He scoffed. “If they can even go through a simple skirmish.”
A regimentary carrying a heavy squarish backpack twice his height rushed to Killigan and leaned forward, panting in exhaustion. Taking a few moments to wipe the sweat from his forehead and shake his hands, he passed a bent bar of metal to the bregu.
“Lieutenant...lieutenant colonel Veruus...IS calling you from...from Aman, si-”
The regimentary collapsed on the floor, panting in fatigue. Two of the pillars in the escort squads grabbed him and lifted him up by his arms, commenting on the weight of the box. On its surface were a multitude of dials and touchscreens, although the pillars were unfamiliar as to how it functioned despite knowing the device itself.
The bregu brought the bar to his helmet and let it stick to the side. “Veruus?” he asked. Killigan flinched in pain at the loud noises coming from the device, garnering head turns.
Static came out for a long time before Killigan or whoever the responsible on the other cleared up the channel to the best of their ability.
“Bregu Killigan?” Veruus asked. Multiple loud pops nearly drowned his voice.
“What’s going on?” Killigan said. “Give me a status report!” he demanded.
“We’re being attacked by the rotting aliens, but we’re holding our own for now.” Cracks echoed through the device, and the voices of Veruus and a few unknown regimentaries were audible as muffled sounds. “It seems these things have no body temperat-BLASTED-” Veruus was heard cursing multiple times through the device. Everyone had also clearly understood the sound of something cracking and the man laughing behind the device. “They have no body temperatures. They freeze almost instantly after leaving the ships. They keep trying to get closer.”
“The reinforcements are here!” Killigan shouted.
“What’s that?” Veruus asked loudly. “Adjust the signals. I can’t hear you well.”
The exhausted regimentary had his pack removed by the pillars, freeing his softened body and letting him work on the dials and the calculations on the touch screens.
“Do you hear me now?” Killigan asked for the sixth time.
“Loud and clear.”
The bregu nodded. “The reinforcements have come. The regimentarium fleets are in orbit, and we have pill foundations as well.”
“That’s fantastic!” A whistling noise followed by a meaty puncture concerned the bregu. Veruus cursed behind his clenched teeth and pulled something out of his body. “Damnable things got me. Shooting my stomach! Aiming for the easy targets, huh?!”
“Veruus!” Killigan shouted. “Concentrate! Is there anything you can tell me from where you are? Aman is the last planet of the system. You certainly had more information reach you before the xith’kai got to your base.”
“Xith’Kai?” There was a pause. “I like the name. As for what you wanted to know, a few of our own went to Tamanach to defend our assets there. Major Kellin was part of them.” There was a sudden silence on the other end. “Did you fix the interplanetary teleportal yet?”
Killigan laid his hand upon his helmet’s forehead and rubbed it slowly. “That was a prototype, and it only works for one at a time. I told you that maybe three could’ve gone through before it blew.”
Static covered Veruus’ voice for a moment before the transmission was cleared up again. “What about the reinforcements you mentioned?”
“I’m going to convene with them and the leaders of these regimentariums. Hold out until they know the whole situation.”
“Alright, but time is not a luxury we can afford. The ships here are emitting hot steam. They’re likely trying to create as much heat for the tiny ones as they can so they can reach our base. I will see you during our victory.”
Killigan instinctively nodded, unaware of the humor in his gesture, then the feed cut. Regimentarium soldier and volunteers formed groups to search the city ruins for survivors. While it wasn’t normally allowed, the regimentariums gave some of their weapons to the volunteers. There was no telling how many more of the creatures were still present. Pillars and civilian doctors were preoccupied with building up more tents and cleaning any cloths and mattresses they found to place the wounded upon. The bregu heaved an internal sigh of relief at the sight of the vigilance and teamwork that his people displayed.
The visitors followed Killigan to the massive tower sporting chimneys of smoke and missing chunks, but the damages weren’t too significant. It didn’t risk collapse any time soon. They eventually found themselves where Killigan had been several weeks prior. Regardless of the constant fighting, the room was still mostly intact, save for cracked windows and monitors having lost their hold on the walls. The Crimson Gaze were waiting patiently next to the largest projector table, and standing next to them were seven holographic projections of regimentarium fleet admirals.
Killigan noticed that there were seven blue holographic projections of what appeared to be admirals standing next to the pillars. Three were women and four were men, but all wore long coats with various decorations over their wrists and chest. Some glimmered with the gold and silver of their success, while others had son in gifts given to them by the people they saved. The differences between just seven people took away Killigan’s breath. He couldn’t comprehend it.
The wrists of their coats were folded back to reveal a whiter, paler, and softer textile. Killigan did see that a golden Blostm was sewn into their coats, covering the entirety of their left breast. A long strand of gold grew from the flower to wrap around their left arm with three vines. It was an artistic decoration that reignited Killigan’s child-like love for fantastical designing.
“You are late, Bregu Killigan,” an admiral complained. “It’s not because you’re a pillar scieldan that you can consider yourself above the time of meeting.” He nearly fell over but pushed against his cane to regain his balance.
This admiral was a weary old man who had seen more death than he would have ever wished. He was bald and his skin was wrinkled and sagging, but he seemed to hold strong. His eyes had been replaced by gray optics whose iris were an assortment of focusing lenses protected behind sharp blades shrinking and growing depending on how the owner needed to see. Even though they were mechanical, and Killigan knew what they showed, the eyes were...dead. Or rather, the frowning owner was empty inside, and the bregu felt that he was not long for the world. It reminded him of Zenith and what possible reason he could have to continue living for so long when a man who has led hundreds of thousands -if not millions- would rather die than live another day.
“I’ve never once declared such a statement,” Killigan replied calmly as he got into place around the table. The other representatives followed after.
“Why are THEY here?”
This admiral was in her forties and had the left side of her hair tied in a bunion while the right was shaved in the back with a long strand of hair hanging in front of her face. She had more life in her eyes and her crossed arms amplified her determination for warfare and slaughter. She had stabbed puwandese teeth in as many parts of her coat as she could, aiming only for the largest she could get her hands on. It was a gruesome trophy.
“Because none of you would be alive if we hadn’t come,” the Crimson Gaze leader mocked.
Killigan ignored his comment, as did the others. “The seven of you are admirals leading our reinforcements?” He leaned forward and grabbed onto the edge of the table. “I am more than grateful for your timely intervention, but I fear that most of the system has already been destroyed.”
“Then we will rebuild it,” Gherma spoke. “We were made for that. If the system falls, then we will rebuild it stronger than ever.”
The old man grumbled. “I think introductions are necessary. I am Eribus; Admiral of the 756th Retrus Regimentarium. My fleet is the one overhead, currently destroying any alien ships appearing.”
The woman sporting puwandese teeth spoke next. “I am Mentri; Admiral of the 76 Retrus Regimentarium and secondary commander during our deployment here. I came with comhub ships to restore and provide communications support during deployment to the other planets of this system.”
Another man bowed with a hand over his chest. His entire left arm was completely mechanical and followed the bone structure of a regular human’s arm perfectly. It had no imitation flesh on it and, instead, had blue veins flowing across its surface. This was magitech, something normal humans don’t, or rather shouldn’t, have access to. His lips were a metallic blue and his skin was powdered white. Judging by some blemishes on his face, the bregu determined he was hiding something about himself
“Perhaps my haste to learn more about pillars and reinforcing my home system have proven costly to my knowledge?” Killigan thought to himself.
“Admiral Petrason, says I. My purpose is to lead the 102nd Frontasian Regimentarium,” he spoke with a digital echo in his voice. He moved his hands and arms theatrically when he spoke.
“Ah. The Frontarians are a people living on the fringes of our Expanse,” Tyrius said. “We won’t need to worry about them being overwhelmed.”
“A hardy people?” Killigan questioned himself whilst looking at the pillar. He looked to the admiral and nodded. “A great addition to our forces here if that is the case.”
Petrason looked insulted. “You insult me! Of course we are strong!”
Another woman presented herself. She was thinner than the others and appeared to be struggling to stand under the weight of her coat. Her white-blonde hair was thin and rough like straw, and she appeared visibly miserable despite having a strong voice. “Varta; Admiral of the 359th Gryt Regimentarium.”
“Tyber; Admiral of the 358th Gumhri regimentarium.” The man’s face was encased in a gas mask, with only a yellow-brown glass visor displaying his eyes. His build was average, but his spoke with a tired slurr.
“Vyrte; Admiral of the 1025th Cor Regimentarium.” Vyrte was an elderly woman, but unlike Eribus, she was spry and aware of her surroundings. Several parts of her arms, including six fingers, had been replaced with mechanical prosthetics.
The last admiral was an old man bound in a chair and afflicted by an unknown disease. On the armrests of his chair, Killigan could see two different hands. Likely the attendants. The admiral coughed before speaking. “Azeryu; Fleet Admiral of the 2nd Earth Flottila.”
Several of the people working around the command center stopped their tasks and turned around.
“What is a man in such a ‘grand’ position doing in such a...” the pink pillar spun her hand. “backwater system like this? The Earth flotilla never moves unless an incredible threat is abound.”
Trembling, the old man forced himself forward in his seat. “And a grave threat it is. An unknown alien race with massive numbers laying waste to one of our systems. Were it the puwandese,” he waved his hand. “I wouldn’t have bothered, but we CANNOT let something like this go by unhindered.” He cleared his throat and sat back in his chair, carefully aided by the people standing next to him. “I have brought a member of the Niethgaest Biologic with me. He will reach the city and study the remains of the corpses and get back to use with his finds.” He took several difficult, raspy gasps of air then looked to Killigan. “I am hoping that you have devised a plan to save your system, Killigan Ghor?”
Mentri crossed her arms. Doubt was already setting in. “I am curious to know this as well. What are our priority targets here? What do we save first? What do we destroy first? Where did these creatures come from? Did they form any bases?” she wondered.
Undeterred, the bregu flexed his hands several times to relax himself. He mentioned the three Calders and their status as dead planets making them too costly for terraforming. He even mentioned the mining and all that ensued from it, but the admirals weren’t satisfied. His explanations were too light.
“During the mining, these things awoke and started wreaking havoc in your system.” Gialdam crossed his arms. He closed his eyes and tried to think.
“That’s right,” Killigan confirmed.
“And what shall we call these aliens? Corpse Walkers? Flesh Gnats?” Vyrte laughed.
“Xith’Kai,” Killigan responded.
“Yes. I overheard an unusual looking one hiss these words out while they slaughtered my pillars.” He paused. “But that was from a recording on Calder 1. I have not seen it since.”
“Unusual how?” Mentri leaned forward in interest.
“It had the same rotting exterior as the rest, but it seemed more...humanoid. Solid, with many bizarre runes covering its body. It wore an armor the likes I had never seen, but it seemed to be engulfed within the flesh. This...‘alien’ distinguished itself not only by these traits but by simply speaking and ordering the others.”
Mentri smiled. “Oh? These ‘xith’kai’ do not speak?”
“They mostly grunt and screech if not making other, more disgusting sounds.” Killigan shivered at the memories which were far too vivid for him.
“Then what are your plans, bregu?” Azeryu hummed. “You know this system better than us.”
“Well, attacking the three Calders is pointless. We don’t know how many are there, and we need to save the two regimentariums at Aman before we can think of such a thing.” He thought deeply. “We need to save Tamanach and it’s ressources.”
“Why that and not another world?” the old man asked.
“Tamanach is our Araeran world. It houses the majority of our military production facilities. We need to liberate it and Aman.”
Petrason hummed in delight. “I will blockade Calder 1 and prevent anymore...um...xith’kai from invading the rest of the system.”
“I can aid in this as well. I brought a titan vessel with me,” Azeryu added. “It was designed around space combat, so none of the xith’kai ships will pass us.” He brought up the map of the system within his ship, estranging the others at the meeting and analyzed it. “Since Petrason is going to Calder 1, I shall go to Calders 2 and 3. The Earth flottila is far larger than the others that have come, but I will send any excess regimentary battalions to the fleets leading planetary assaults.” He rubbed his face and shivered. “How we approach all of these battles will depend on the situations at hand.”
“We will need maps of the planets and important facilities,” Tyber said. “We cannot devise plans without information of the terrain.”
“Very good,” Killigan said. “As for the rest of us...”
A woman panted heavily from exhaustion as she hid away in a small boiler room. She broke the door, preventing it from closing down properly and leaving a small opening below. The rumbling and churning of the boiler tanks created enough noise to mute whatever sounds she herself made. Flashes of light erupted down the hallway constantly, and it had been that way for several hours already. The woman was shaking violently as a result.
“Come on, Anyeta,” she told herself. “If you stay here, they won’t find you and reinforcements will come.”
Rotting limbs squished against the floor in front of the broken door, but they didn’t stay long. Whomever they belonged to was shot by the regimentaries in the hall and were replaced by boots. Anyeta could see the soldiers moving left and right, reacting to orders being shouted at them. Heavier steps followed behind them, likely heavy weaponry to be set up. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the time.
“Xith’Kai,” a voice hissed out.
The men and women outside screamed in fear as they were quickly cut down by an unknown assailant. Their feet were much smaller, and, to Anya, it looked like they were dancing effortlessly between the soldiers and the bullets. The woman quickly threw her hands to her mouth when a regimentary fell heavily to the ground, her face void of light and covered in red. The assailant remained stationary for a moment, silent, reveling in the massacre.
“Xith’Kai, Skraûj,” it hissed before resuming it slow walk across the hallway.
Its footsteps thunked loudly in the metal hallways, contrasting with the near-silence broken only by muffled fighting elsewhere in the base. They were quickly followed by the stomps and squishes of the other xith’kai following behind. Several of them stopped in front of the door to bang on it in an attempt to force it down. When their acts of violence did not work, one extended its tentacle-esque arm under the opening and slithered to the ceiling where the end spread out like tree roots. The metal was forced upwards and folded under the strength of the xith’kai. Anyeta screamed.
“I’m not a fighter! I’m just an engineer! Don’t kill me!”
Anyeta grabbed the wrench she used to break the door and bashed the alien creature’s head in with a loud crunch. She took the opportunity to slip past it through the wide open space it created and rushed down the halls, passing several pockets of combat and narrowly dodging the bullets fired by both sides. The massive white halls were filled with dust and corpses from both sides. The walls had been destroyed by stray bullets and grenades, and the lights above flickered from the damage, if they were even capable of staying on. Some plants of Calagh had been sitting in pots around the base as well, but they laid in shreds upon the ground with their soil spread everywhere. The woman was thankful that the halls had been designed so large and tall for the pillars despite the base only being for regimentaries. The signs on the walls directing to specific armories, boiler rooms, cafeterias, and so on were still present, and their height kept them safe from all but the worst fighting.
“Mana Magis, source of creation; Grant me protection that I might see another day,” she prayed sporadically.
She was thrown against the wall when the one opposite her landing spot was blown outwards. Stunned, the engineer could barely make out that xith’kai with bulky frames were standing on the other side of the hole. She almost screamed when a figure raised themselves from the rubble. It was a pillar of the Emperor’s Guard that had been station at Aman.
“It’s not by throwing a pillar through three concrete walls that you’ll kill her!” the pillar yelled angrily.
She wiped the dust and rubble off of her when a xith’kai with a flesh whip tried hitting her. When it failed, the creature tried to get closer, but that was a mistake. It was grabbed by its face then smashed into the ground. The pillar laughed cheerfully at the result.
“I love these prototype gauntlets!” she shouted.
She clenched and released her fists several times, creating white mist. Her gauntlets were slightly larger than standard issue and sported pyramidal spikes thrumming with mana all across the palm. She had yet to notice Anyeta and hopped back through the hole towards the xith’kai.
“I can’t stay here now. I have to leave!”
She wasted no time getting back up and running away. Her body still felt sore from the impact against the wall, manifesting itself by a limp after every second step.
“If I had one of those gauntlet things,” Anyeta thought aloud. “I could’ve gotten through this, but that bregu won’t forge anything for us ‘regular people’,” she mumbled under breath.“Maybe I should have lied about being a regimentary so I could’ve gotten a weapon to defend myself.”
She passed a corridor where a regimentary stabbed a xith’kai through its lower jaw with a bayonet and ripped its head off. Anyeta calmed herself after the display and stopped at a large gray door at the end of this hall. Turrets in the ceiling were sparking from damage, but the assailants appeared to have moved on. She tried to pry the door open, finding little success. Anyeta was about to grab her wrench but realized she didn’t have it with her anymore. She cursed.
“I must have dropped it when I was hit by that pillar.” She put her palm to her face and squeeze it with seething rage. “It’s okay,” she growled. “There are other ways to open this door.”
She looked around for anything she could use to pry the door up, using the support frame for a broken turret as her tool. She used all of her strength to bend the already damaged beam of metal down from the rest of the frame and tried to force it under the door. Unfortunately, she was not successful, and eventually gave up.
“My best chance of survival is to reach the hangars and take a ship to Calagh.” She started to think and her certainty began to waiver. “It’s certainly still standing. It’s a fortress-city, after all.” Having restored her confidence, she took a moment to think. The aliens weren’t around yet, so she thought herself allowed this luxury. “I’ll have to go through the air ducts.” She peeked around the corner. “But first, I need to find one.”
The mess in the hallways and the dim lights weren’t helping Anyeta run easily. She was forced to stop multiple times and carefully step over the corpses before her. On two occasions she had to hide amongst them, throwing up afterwards. On the second occasion, she leaned against the wall and gasped for air after the disgusting task.
“Xiiiiiith...Kaiiiii,” a voice hissed behind her.
Anyeta turned around to see a thin alien wielding a spear standing at the opposite of the hallway. Rather than try to understand its form, she bolted in the opposite direction down the hall and rushed through a cafeteria where a pillar and several regimentaries were currently fighting. Tables were turned over, glass panes were shattered, and corpses were strewn all over. Some xith’kai had been embedded into the ceiling and their limbs dangled loosely.
“Is that a civilian?” one of the regimentaries shouted. He stood up from behind a flipped metal table and pointed to the large exit behind him. “Run that way. There’s a large warehouse where we set up camp. Lieutenant-colonel Veruus is over there. They’ll keep you safe.”
He shot a xith’kai’s arm off, saving Anyeta and letting her flee unharmed. She knew deep down that she should have warned them of the danger. The thing following her, but she couldn’t manage to speak. She was too frightened. She wanted to find safety, and a large warehouse meant that there were airducts somewhere. She would be able to flee to the hangar. There weren’t many bodies in these parts of the hall, but one stood out amongst them all: A pillar slumped against the wall with seven long boney-spears jutting out from their body. The xith’kai that had gotten through were very thorough. Every loss was a heavy blow due to the very limited number of pillars stationed on Aman.
Feeling a sharp stabbing sensation in her chest, the woman stopped a moment and leaned against the wall. A fire had broken out in the room behind it, and the heat was going through the open doorway, letting her breathe in warm air to soothe her frozen, cracked throat. Her chest heaved up and down rapidly. She had never run so much so fast before. Her body was unable to follow what her spirit wanted. A break was needed. It took several minutes before she could even stand again, and even then; her vision was blurry and her head hurt. Anyeta decided to use the walls as support to move forward, and the further she went, the louder the voices of the entrenched soldiers was.
“I made it!” she cheered quietly when she saw weapon barrels poking out from behind cover.
She used her remaining strength to run to the barricade, albeit rough and sloppily.
“Hey! Over here!” she cried out.
“A civilian?” one of the regimentaries replied. “Get here, quickly!”
Anyeta’s footsteps became louder to the defenders, then they stopped. The soldiers looked to each other, confused.
Anyeta was pushed off of the bloodied spear into the pile of dead soldiers and xith’kai. The abnormal xith’kai stared at her for a long moment. Her face was still smiling despite being twisted by pain.
The utlenda carver; member of the Niethgaest Biologic, actively cut up the xith’kai corpses in the streets. He ignored all security conventions to prevent further contamination and preservation of the subject. His arms were mechanical replacements, and from the forearms extended four thin arms of metal tipped with two digits. Each was occupied pulling apart, bending, twisting, and cutting apart the corpse. His head was covered in skin-tight, blue rubber. Massive goggles with circular yellow lenses hid half of his face while the rest was covered by a white mask. He wore a loose full-body suit protecting the rest of his body as well as featureless black boots.
The victims of his prior dissections lay around him in randomly sized piles of browns and green. He had been surprised at first at the prospect of rotting corpses wandering around.
He pulled out a huge strand of sour flesh, holding the rope above the corpse and getting in very closely to analyze every minute detail. “Hmmm. There’s no brain,” he hummed. He moved his lower jaw from side-to-side. “And yet I detect hints of neural activity in the nerves.” The rope fell apart in his hands. “At least, those that I can find.” The utlenda carver tugged at the skin and noticed several lengthy abrasions along the surface. “They’re fusing together, or are they growing? Fascinating.” He took out a small vial from his left arm and poured a drop of the blue liquid onto the body. There was a long wait, but he became increasingly disturbed when he noticed nothing was happening. “No mana? Impossible. Even the recently deceased still have mana within their bodies.” He reached further into the body and was rewarded by a spurt of rancid corpse juices. “They show signs of rotting for several days, but they are attacking us.” A humming came from the biologist as he tried to piece his discoveries together. “They’re capable of individual actions and movement, so they’re at least semi-sentient.” He hit one on its cranium, denting it in with a resounding crack. “Something else is leading them, or at least directing them.”
“Keep ’em back!”
Many regimentaries and civilians had gathered at the warehouse and used the metal boxes filled with provisions, spare clothing, and bed covers to barricade the entrances and provide a support platform for heavy weaponry and cover. Those stationed in the mess hall and other checkpoints further down in the base seemed to be holding their own. The corridors gave them the advantage in terms of defense. While it was true that they were quite large, the xith’kai had no way of bypassing two franca heavy machine guns placed side-by-side and actively fed by an assistant gunner. Thanks to its design allowing the displacement of the triggering mechanism and pull-out grips atop and on the sides of the gun, the pillars could carry it with a box-magazine underneath it.
The franca’s body was elongated like a pipe with a horseshoe-shaped tripod keeping it stable atop the boxes, bags, and other amenities used as cover. A large black cover wrapped around the base of the barrel and over the stock and thinned towards the muzzle where it vanished. Several regimentaries could extend the barrel, adding to potential muzzle velocity, but there was always a limit. It was easier to simply pull the barrel out and replace it with a new one when it overheated. IF it overheated.
One such pillar was currently amusing herself with one, and with it carrying modified high-explosive rounds, she was painting the base in rotten gore. There was no point in using the light AP ammo. There were no vehicles nor highly armored xith’kai around. With a box-cartridge carrying a thousand rounds, the pillar had no chance of ammo shortage for the time being, provided she conserved ammunition. Designed with wall separation and spring loading and ‘ribbed rollers’ on the roof and base of the walls, the bullets could not jam into each other within the cartridge.
It was uncommon for a pillar to use regimentary heavy weaponry, but no one was going to complain. In the warehouse, several radio stations had been set up using spare equipment lying around in the boxes. Regimentaries were sitting at the stations, headsets on, trying to focus the signals while others fiddle with the internal mechanisms of the device to ensure they were working correctly and at full capacity. The soldiers present were a mixture of the 82nd and 101st Calagh regimentariums. The contrast in colors became all the more apparent when they stood next to each other. Veruus was the highest ranking officer currently present, and he wasn’t enjoying the situation
“Lieutenant,” a radio operator called. “I’m picking up radio traffic from orbit.” She fiddle with dials then input calculations into the machine. “Yes. I can confirm that it’s not xith’kai.
The stumpy man rushed forward and reached for the headphones. “Let me hear,” he demanded. “It sounds like...there are pillars coming here.” His eyes wandered around as he tried to focus on the sounds. A scowl crossed his face. “What is this? Bragging?” he complained.
“I can barely make it out, but...” He focused again. “They sound like they’re bragging about themselves and reprimanding us concerning our current state.” He pulled the headphones off of his head and glared at it as if it had just insulted his whole family. “These aren’t the Emperor’s Guard!” he bellowed.
“It...might be the Crimson Gaze,” a wounded regimentary supposed. “They’re infamous for their bragging behavior.”
“And how efficient are they?” Veruus asked with raised brows. He got a shrug in response.
An explosion came from the barrier right in front of the barricade to the large warehouse. The lights above flickered from the tremor, and the contents of the crates vibrated in tandem. It was a large xith’kai occupying the whole space of the hallway in front of them. Its right arm was morphed into a boney cannon with rotting flesh consistently twirling towards and around it. A toothy grin peered out from behind its decayed face, but no eyes could be seen. It was quickly tackled from its side by a plethora of explosive rounds from a franca. The pillar carrying it vaulted over the barricade and walked over the group of regimentary censing the ammunition they scrounged up.
“It seems they’ve come with an additional regimentarium,” the operator continued.
Veruus looked at her with wide eyes. “Really?” he smiled.
Another operator yelled out at the sergeant. “The Crimson Gaze brought their titan and are actively destroying ships in orbit.” He checked the incoming news once more. “They aren’t destroying the bodies entering the atmosphere.
The lieutenant-colonel clenched his fists angrily and bared his teeth. “Damnable idiots! They’re trying to kill us!” he bellowed. “We need to reactivate the orbital defenses.”
“But we can’t reach the surface, and even if, the cannons were designed to shoot down small asteroids and other stellar bodies, not massive interstellar warships!”
The man wiped his forehead and paced around in an attempt to remember anything important. “What about the suit Bregu Killigan designed for us?”
“The giant thing that looks like a sawol vice?”
“That’s the one!” Veruus shouted.
“I’m not sure, sir,” the operator sighed. He faced the monitor again. “It’s a prototype, and it has no armor. We managed to bring it here, but...”
A regimentary covered in soot and spilled oil stepped out from behind a pile of creates. His dirty blue uniform was decorated with white lines running along the sides. Along his waist was a toolbelt that was practically empty and had seen better days. It was a miracle that the leather was still holding together considering all the splits and cracks it sported.
“I overheard you mentioning our little project.” He coughed out a cloud of smoke and cleared his throat. “We’ve been hard at work back there.” He scratched the back of his head. “We’re lucky that we even managed to get one over here.”
“But will it work?”
The engineer shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s an unfinished prototype that the bregu sent to use for evaluation of its design, not for combat.”
Veruus grabbed the bridge of his nose and exhaled. “Can it fight? Carry any weaponry?”
“Well...we have weaponry for it. The bregu also sent them along for testing. Not sure if they’ll hold.”
The engineer was grabbed by the shoulders. “I don’t care! We have no other choice! Prepare it!”
The engineer rushed back to the worksite and continued his fiddling. A loud scream followed by red-clay colored explosion brought everyone’s attention back to the barricade in front of the warehouse. Several more xith’kai were trying to break through the mass storm of bullets, but neither the defenders nor the pillar were going to let them pass. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stop the swarm using the corpses of their comrades as shields.
The spear wielding xith’kai pushed through the lesser and slammed the base of its spear onto the grown, and from it grew large brown veins slithering along the walls and barricade like fungi vines.
“Get away from there!” Veruus shouted.
Several of the regimentaries pulled away, taking their weapons with them, but a few didn’t react in time. The veins burst open, emitting a semi-transparent brown gas that caused them to fall dead and their bodies to shrivel up like raisins.
“Focus your fire on that thing!” Veruus shouted and pointed to the alien.
Everyone complied to the orders and unleashed a fury of bullets from their guns. Only the pillar still had her franca in hand and was pushing the anomaly back until bulky xith’kai pushed through the gap and shielded it with the solid, shining bones serving as shields along their forearms. Thrice the size of a normal human, they didn’t hesitate to use even unshielded parts of their bodies to take bullets and let the lesser aliens through.
“No you don’t!” the pillar spurted.
She jumped forward and slowly straffed the large aliens in an attempt to make them turn away from the defenders behind her. Annoyed, one of them jumped forward and swiped her with its right arm, destroying the franca and smashing her into the wall, cratering it. She slid down onto her boots and readjusted her helmet.
“You’re going to pay for that,” she threatened. “Just because I don’t have my weapons doesn’t mean I can’t fight!”
She charged at the giant, dodge another swipe, then punched its right chest. Several bones cracked under the weight, but she didn’t have time to send out another punch. Her armor was bombarded with hundreds of bone shrapnel that tore down her mana shield but had trouble getting through her armor. The dissipation of her shield caused her a few microseconds of surprise, which cost her. The giant smashed its forearm down onto her, and while she managed to catch it and prevent herself from being forced down, she was stuck on one knee. A precarious position that made her an easy target. Three large spears hit her armor, denting it with loud bangs, then a fourth and fifth pierced through the chinks. She fell dead.
“If you don’t hurry up back there, we’re not going to live through this!” Veruus shouted at the engineers. “They just killed the pillar!”
The blueprints and maintenance instructions had been scrawled upon dozen of map-sized sheets of paper.
“She says to attach this mana conduit onto the rotor here,” one of them said. She scratched her head.
“But it already has one. Is it a redundant cable?”
“Then what about this one over here? It has no conduit.”
“That’s this one, you idiot!” The woman ripped out one of the blue cables from a joint and placed it in the proper area angrily. “These instructions are insane! We’re about to die and we can’t even put conduits in because the creators never bothered to think about those that need to maintain them!”
“We don’t have time for this!” the pilot berated. “Bicker later!”
“We’re stressed! Too much pressure being put on us! “I...” She slammed the back of an industrial cable roller. “I can’t think straight!”
The spear wielder used the lesser xith’kai to wade through the horde of bullets and coordinate impalements and slashes with the movements of these. It threw its spear at a regimentary using a grenade launcher, impaling him and two civilians behind him. It brought its spear back then continued its coordinated attacks.
“I-it’s g-getting cl-closer!” one of the soldiers stammered.
“Don’t let up,” Veruus ordered. “Even if they get to use, I’ll kill every one of those bastards, EVEN IN DEATH!” he bellowed.
Several xith’kai were about to crash upon civilians to Veruus’ left, but he had had enough of bloodshed. He jumped to the flank of the xith’kai and pulled an obsidian sword he kept hidden underneath his coat to slice their heads and arms clean off. He pulled out a pistol from his inner coat pocket and fired a few rounds into the giant standing before him, causing it to grumble and step back a few paces. The spear wielder used its back to dive bomb the lieutenant-colonel, but he dodged at just the right moment, seeing only his right arm be slightly cut by the tainted blade.
“Nice try, but I’m not so easy to kill,” Veruus taunted.
With a loud cry of its joints and the firing of it mana engine, the prototype walker stomped from behind the containers, ready to destroy the xith’kai with the aid of its stressed pilot.
It was near five meters in height, almost scraping the ceiling, and bore two large arms exposing wiring, tubing, and the frame. Only the pilot’s seat, sitting in the chest, had something akin to armor plating, but that was due to the mass of gears, clumps of wires, and computer boards surrounding him. Thanks to it being a tripod, it had no qualms stomping across any terrain it would have been put in, although there was only flat terrain present. The pilot broke the third leg in two and fused the pieces into the two existing ones, thickening it and adding strength. The tall monstrosity of a machine cracked and whirred in response.
“Well,” the female engineer started. “At least it’s going through a trial by fire.”
“In the worst possible way,” the male engineer lamented.
The left arm ended in a clasp of several claws moving about, eager to squeeze something into slices. The left was a massive flame-thrower holding the containers in the arm and taking the form of a simple tube. It was mostly covered in reimaginings of existing weaponry, but it did have built-on rocket launchers in its shoulders, although only the left was loaded with seven rockets instead of the ten standard.
“Time to kill them all,” the pilot said.
The machine screamed as it was once more pushed into movement and charged into the aliens before it. The deafening stomps it made with each step cracked the ground and demonstrated the mass it carried. It had no resistance when it slammed into a shield xith’kai, then another behind it, nor did it slow when the giants slid over and crushed the smaller ones around them. The giants screamed and clawed at the metal construct, but they could get a grip and were crushed against the wall by a shoulder bash performed by the monster.
The regimentaries were shooting the smaller aliens while Veruus dueled with the spear wielding xith’kai and the machine crushed everything it could reach underfoot. No one knew if they would survive yet, and everyone was gripped with fear while the pungent odor of the xith’kai was all that churned about their very beings.