A planet of Rage (rewritten)
The pilot wiped his forehead of sweat and continued beating down the giants and spraying the smaller xith’kai in flames, immolating their whole forms and turning them to ash. They responded in kind by shooting the mechanical beast, but their bone shards could penetrate the metal frame, and thanks to the compact assembly of cables and redundancies, those that pierced through the exterior of these parts could not get far enough to cause any significant damage.
“This thing won’t hold up if they keep cutting the cables,” the pilot said to himself. “The synacor...a damned impressive machine nonetheless.”
It swiped its flamethrower to the side, throwing a few aliens away into their companions or the large containers. On the sides, the regimentaries continued shooting at the rotting monsters trying to kill them while the engineers cowered behind them with the rest of the civilians. Some still used their welding torches to wound the creatures and push them back. Veruus, on the other hand, was having trouble fighting with the spear wielder. Every movement it made was smooth. Disciplined. Avoiding as much effort and waste of energy as possible. Such tactics had consequences.
Veruus deflected a strike from above and tried to slash downwards, narrowly dodging the creature. “Stop dancing around and fight me properly!” the lieutenant-colonel shouted.
He fired several shots at the spear wielder, failing to hit it during its twirling and sliding left and right across the floor like an ice skater. It backed up then thrust its spear forward, scaring Veruus but not hitting him.
“This is stupid,” the regimentary groaned.
Veruus pulled a grenade from his right sleeve, pulled the pin out with his teeth, and chucked it at the alien. It was a sudden action, but the alien failed to dodge it completely. Its right arm had been perforated, and while it was stunned, the lieutenant-colonel took the opportunity to slam his sword into its left shoulder.
“Ha!” the man celebrated.
The synacor was getting overwhelmed by the aliens, and several had already broken through part of the regimentary blockade and were slaughtering the soldiers and civilians. A blast of flame incinerated a large column of xith’kai while three rockets shot from the machines shoulders obliterated most of the aliens coming through the hallway.
“If I’m going to die, I’m taking as many of you with me as I can!” the pilot assured.
In his moment of glory, Veruus noticed that the corpses of the dead, be they xith’kai or human, were being dragged away by several tiny creatures as well as a few of the human-sized xith’kai. He was taken out of his thoughts by the alien forcing his blade out of it by way of the brown growths it demonstrated earlier erupting from the wound. and stitching the decayed flesh back together.
“What is this creature?” Veruus thought. “It already doesn’t match the rest of the aliens. Is it really one of them, or is it another alien?”
Loud gunshots and explosions echoed from beyond the halls, including the agonizing screams of the dying, prompting the pilot of the synacor to cry out.
“The reinforcements are almost here! Hold fast, everyone!”
The hours of fighting were taking their toll on everyone, and the fact that some had broken through did not help the situation. The synacor itself was screeching in agony. It was not ready to take on such daunting tasks and had only been built up to test its capabilities on terrain with all of its parts. Smoke from overheating was trailing from its joints and engine, and it was visibly slowing down, much to the fear and anger of the pilot.
“I’ll kill you yet, alien!” Veruus shouted.
Again, he deflected the spear thrusts and strikes by the alien, but could not harm it, and his efforts to shoot failed as it either dodged or deflected with its spear. The fighting in the halls was becoming louder and louder, and while there were still regimentaries dying from the fighting, they were still pushing through. The base shook multiple times. The ship carcasses from above were hitting the base and the lands around it, digging deep into the land and destroying much of the base.
One such tremor caused Veruus to lose his balance. He had no time to register the effects that he was face-to-face with the spear-wielding alien. A trembling hand reached for his fat belly and met with the body of the spear while another reached for the face of the apathetic creature staring at him. Its skin was slightly loose, but still had some life to it, and its features were softer than expected. A sharp, square nose and firm lips.
“Xith’Kai,” it hissed in its raspy voice.
Veruus gave a silent chuckle but coughed at the strain of fluids going through his esophagus. The alien still did not take its eyes off of the man and continued to stare at his eyes with a disturbing level of intrigue.
“Ha...” Veruus strained. “I’m too stubborn to be killed without getting my last word in.” His head dropped and he felt his consciousness fading. “MY DEATH THROES ARE FOR KILLING OTHERS, NOT DYING!” he bellowed.
His left arm bolted towards the head of the alien, and a loud bang followed by a roar of pain quickly followed. The alien dropped Veruus and its spear and clenched the right side of its face, teeth grinding.
“Veruus!” the pilot shouting alongside a few regimentaries.
The alien quickly grabbed its spear with its left hand and fled the premises whilst keeping its face covered as much as possible. Of the few hundred people present in the warehouse, little more than a dozen remained. The xith’kai turned to face the entrance and saw their kin getting chopped up like vegetables. seven tower forweall of the Crimson Gaze were punching the aliens that got too close with the hilt of their glowan swol clamm then sliced them apart with the glowing pink blades.
One of the towers pushed through their comrades and raised their sword to the air, breaking the pieces and letting them fly around, piercing and lodging themselves into their bodies. The xith’kai combusted thanks to the mana infection coursing through them because of the blade shards. Several dozen regimentaries sporting white uniforms flooded into the room and rushed towards the dead and the survivors. They sported ‘102nd’ on their left shoulders. One of them let their rifle dangle to their side and punched the wall, rage in their eyes.
“We were too late!” she lamented. “We were there. We were in the halls, but we were too late!”
The synacor screeched loudly then shut down, its bulk crashing back to the ground and denting the metal plates. The pilot hoisted himself out through the top and rushed towards Veruus, grabbing his head and raising it. Several of the new regimentaries moved in to get a better look at the man.
The pilot chuckled. “He’s smiling, even when he’s dead.”
The woman from earlier stepped in and helped the pilot stand up, allowing her to introduce herself. “I am staff sergeant Crin,” she explained. “We came here on the behest of Fleet Admiral Petrason, but...” she looked around at the dead of both sides.
“You’re too late,” the pilot finished. He got up and sighed and looked around to the wounded and the Crimson Gaze heeding no attention those they saved, literally vaulting over them to get a better look at the aliens they didn’t kill themselves. “It doesn’t matter. Had you come now or later, we would have died anyways.” He wiped his forehead. “We were lucky to have brought the synacor here when we did.”
“Synacor?” the woman repeated.
The pilot pointed to the machine. “That thing.”
Crin rubbed her chin pensively and smirked. “Does it still work?” The pilot shook his head in response.
“Damn. I was hoping we might be able to use it to punch through to the power station feeding the orbital defenses.”
“It’s still down?!” the pilot shouted.
“Of course!” Crin answered. “The ship pieces have been crashing on the planet for hours now. It’s only now that they’ve started hitting the base.”
The pilot cursed under his breath. “We had a team going there.” He rubbed his temples and looked back to the staff sergeant. “What about the orbital battle? Can we expect more reinforcements?”
“Not by us,” one of the towers scoffed.
The two stared at him then went back to their discussion, leaving the tower to shrug at his failed taunt.
Crin took a moment to mull over some ideas. “The orbital defenses have internal heating, don’t they?” The pilot nodded. “How long does it take them to heat up?”
The pilot shrugged. “I’m just an engineer appointed to test the creations of Bregu Killigan and Head Pillar Craeft Eriee. They haven’t let me near the orbital defenses yet.”
“Then we should assume it will take them ten minutes to get ready.” There was a pause, leaving the two to hear the moaning and weeping of the survivors. “We have to get those cannons up and ready not just to destroy the fragments of the ships but destroy the hundreds more entering the system.”
In orbit, the titan of the Crimson Gaze roared over the smaller cruisers and heavy cruisers next to it. While only three kilometers in length, it was eleven-point-four kilometers top-to-bottom. This pillar titan was known as a ‘Stapol-class titan’. Very few foundations and regimentarium fleets adopted the vertical shape due to the difficulty maneuvering it and aiming its weaponry. The waxing-crescent ship’s voice was in the thrusters built into inwards curve, and while it didn’t create noise in space, its voice was bright enough to blind those around it. The largest were in the tips, and both had been designed to allow independent movement, facilitating maneuvers in tandem with the retrothrusters. For the front, where there were no need for magitech windows, large cannons jutted out. At the top and bottom of the ship were brightly glowing blue grids, both split down their middle. They were known as fanels, and are among some of the most potent magitech weaponry for a titan.
Unfortunately, they seemed to pose little threat to the xith’kai. The blindingly bright beams of light firing off into ranks of ally and enemy to impact the rotting ships did naught but illuminate the surroundings while missiles, magnetically accelerated slugs, and plasma balls tore the ships in tiny pieces. Because of the sheer size of the titan and its shape, many guns were aimed at the fleets, and the xith’kai could do nothing but dent the surface of Crimson Gaze vessel. Thanks to the multiple layers of herondium armor plating on its face, the stapol titan was four times stronger than any other ship currently in service. However, because the Crimson Gaze are so narcissistic and prideful, they forewent the use of mana shields entirely, leaving the rest of the ship exposed.
Hundreds of flashes sparkle in front of the vessel caused by giant bone shards and corrosive missiles. Little damage was done. The shards would fragment and reflect the light of the far away sun in the distance, creating a space of bright lights and tranquility despite the large-scale battle happening. The regimentary ships, however, were not so fortunate. Their hulls were not designed with the same thoughts in mind, and so the metal would eventually cave in after several hits from xith’kai weaponry. Some of the xith’kai would latch onto the regimentarium’s with the aid of their tentacles and gradually crush or tear apart the hull with its strength.
One crew member of a destroyer working frantically to fill a minor hull breach looked outside the hole to see several of the ships try and latch onto the titan just to be shredded to ribbons by its plethora of cannons. That’s when another detail outside of the foundation’s colors came to mind.
“Are those roses painted on its hull?”
Another boosted in using the rockets built into their suit. They had multiple sheets of steel in tow. “Hm. No. that’s a pink ranunculus,” the second engineer noted. “Looks like a rose, but it isn’t.” They placed a sheet over a large crack and started to weld it into place.
The first shook their head. “Did they really have to paint it all over the ship? It looks ridiculous.” They focused their eyes as much as they could to better see the smaller details. “I think they painted the thorns over the turrets.”
The second stopped welding and stared into space. “But...the ranunculus doesn’t have thorns...” they sighed despondently.
Within the bridge of the same ship, Mentri sat, bellowing orders and assessing information given to her about the status of her fleet. Her seat was in the back of the bridge sitting at an elevation and allowing her to see both through the cylindrical, segmented magitech windows and the actions of her bridge crew. Several monitors lined the sides of the narrow bridge where the crew frantically worked to relay information at their stations. Four lone stations in open spheres shapes sat closest to the windows and were linked to weaponry. Those responsible had to actively relay information to engineers and weapon specialists about issues in any quadrant of the ship to be repaired as quickly as possible. The drones did nothing but facilitate the job.
Sitting in the middle was a large table sunk into the floor. Usually used to relay communications and make quick mapping decisions, it was ignored in the pressing moment for the console built into the fleet admiral’s arm rests.
While ordering a damaged wing to pull back for long-range support in favor of a fresh group of ships coming from above, the titan unleashed a bright wave of pink light, blinding everyone on the bridge. The light engulfed ships in a wide arc in front of it and started pulling them towards it, gradually crushing them together into a singularity...be they friend or foe.
“Get our ships out of there!” Mentri shouted.
“I can’t get into contact with those caught in the gravity wave the titan is emitting!” a crewman shouted.
The fleet admiral grinded her teeth together and slammed her fist against her arm rest. “Those stupid pillars! What do they think they’re doing?!” she bellowed. A loud crack resonated in the bridge of the ship, shocking the crew. “What was that? Was that us?” Mentri asked.
The crew aided her in trying to determine the cause audibly, but one, perhaps distracted by the battle outside, called everyone’s attention and pointed to the window. “No. It’s the titan. Look!” she said.
Everyone looked to the see that the titan’s lower half had jolted to its left and the lights from its hull flickered fervently until they went out completely.
“What just happened?” Mentri asked calmly. “Were they attacked by an enemy weapon?”
The crew were frantically searching through reports, scans, and sharing information to try and correlate anything, leading to a low-tone mumbling in the bridge.
“We...don’t know,” one of the crew lamented.
Mentri leaned her head against her arm. “What do you mean? It’s a titan. Surely those aliens attacked with something! There have to be traces in the space around them!”
Most of the crew looked at each other worryingly.
“There’s nothing. No traces of a weapon. No energy signatures. Nothing. We don’t know what it was.” He looked back to his bright screen then to the window outside. “I’m not even sure how we heard that impact to begin with.”
The fleet admiral slouched in her seat and buried her face into her hands. She had seen all manner of weaponry. From the ramshackle desperation of rebellious movements to the more organic projectiles of the Joros Daman. While it was true that she had no experience with these aliens, much like everyone else, she never experienced any form of weaponry that never left a trace of itself.
“What could it have been?” she wondered. “What could have the strength to push several million tons of mass like that” She looked to the rotting ships through the gaps of her fingers and groaned with disgust. “Those couldn’t have done it. Not even close.”
A voice, deep and sinister despite being but a silent murmur rang in her ears before vanishing in an instant. “Slaughter them in my name,” it said.
The aliens walked together through a canal flanked by building-sized pipes in a twisted simulacrum of military marches. One of the xith’kai stopped its march and looked at the multiple floors of massive city on the araeran world. Despite just being one city, it could easily house tens of millions within its confines, and the massive columns holding the upper floors had the diameter of three buildings.
Despite only seeing in shades of red and orange, the alien could still distinguish fire and smoke from the debris of combat and demolition. Three of the five layers of the city had been pierced clumsily by a crashing transport ship, creating a ray of sunlight from the early morning sun above. The fighting on the lowest level had stopped for now, but regimentaries, pillars, other xith’kai, and even local law enforcement and personal ‘armies’ were doing their best against the invaders. Of course, the hired armies were only doing what they could to minimize damage to their employer’s assets.
“To kill them is to give me power and strength.”
The xith’kai obeyed the voice and returned to the ranks, sinking into the mass and vanishing amongst its identicals. They had to obey the voice. It was their only want.
“They have the audacity to worship another deity. Do not let this affront go unanswered.”
A low rumbling shook the canal, and a loud voice boomed across the ranks.
“Zes Hayr Skraûj!”
That voice’s powerful words echoed through the entirety of Tamanach. The xith’kai aliens did not react when one of their own ships came from the sky as a burning wreck. Luckily, the city’s few ant orbital defenses were still very much functional, but they weren’t made to destroy the smaller pieces they had created. The xith’kai that survived the whole ordeal climbed out from the wreckage and disappeared into the city, adding more to the already taxed defenders.
The xith’kai from before stopped for a moment, much like a few others in the thousands marching through the canal for a motive unknown to them. Corrupted images flowed through them. Their origins were unknown. Possibly. The burning buildings seemed all too familiar, and the screams amplified the familiarity, but the true essence of the aliens quashed the images. They returned to their march.
Whatever their goals were, they would not come to be. One of the barred off sewer pipes was freed of its grate by a sawol vice of the Brandom Arodnes foundation. The foundations of the bar were torn off their hinges, taking pieces of the pipe with them and letting the war machine barrel through the column of aliens and smash them to bits. Several pillars rushed out after it, providing firing support upon the aliens below. The xith’kai would not have a moment to recover from the surprise attack. Another figure stepped out after them, a single-barrel cannon extending from the back of its forearm.
Eriee checked her new weapon’s locks before looking back to the pillars crouched just a few steps down from the pipe’s ramp. She raised her left arm, and with a flex of her fingers, a shell of noncolored metal engulfed in blue flames shot forth and smashed into the swarms next to the sawol vice. The pillars underneath the firing arc looked back at the woman, faces seething with rage behind their helmets.
Eriee hummed in disappointment and disgust. “Too little power. Not enough effect. More mana needed...” She brought up a holographic journal from a projector on her neck armor and logged in the results. “More efforts needed to make this a viable heavy weapon for regular pillars.” The woman ignored the fighting happening in front of her and looked up. “We must reach the higher levels. The aliens must enter from the ground to attack the facilities above.” She looked back to the group and continued her monotonous speech. “Keep the pillar facilities intact. Our prototypes lie within.”
She jumped down from the pipe and slid across the ramp. Its surface had been made smooth from decades of waste poured down into the canals to read the filtration plants below. The other pillars were not happy with her direction, however.
“She’s the worst leader I’ve had the displeasure of working under,” one pillar grumbled.
“Tells us to stay shoot an acid round into the foundations of a bridge to cause the debris to fall onto the xith’kai and crush them.” The pillar pretended to spit. “Ends up causing a whole section of the second level to collapse down, taking those above to their deaths and forcing us to flee into the sewers.”
A third slammed his palm against his left shoulder several times, shaking loose dust and debris. “I’m still getting rubble out of my armor,” she grumbled. “Why even bring the sawol vice with us? He would have been much better protecting the entrance to the merchant district.”
An assembly plant on the third level of the city was seeing the greatest concentration of xith’kai, and with just a few pillars and regimentaries left, the people living in and around it depended more on the hired muscle than the actual military. Much to the surprise of both the pillars and regimentaries, the mercenaries were attacking the aliens in close combat, using multiple layers of wood tied with ropes and leather to take the claws of the invaders. They fought with swords, make-shift spears, and warhammers meant for an antiquity collector. All still carried a pistol and would fire it off at any xith’kai approaching at an awkward angle.
The pillars were comprised of the cwildeseten hiding in the windows of nearby buildings and a few surviving Brandom Arodnes. They were attempting to catch the attention of the aliens towards their encirclement barricade rather than let the regular humans do their job for them. The floor was made wet by rain that trickled down from the highest above, and the sun in the distance created a soothing orange hue from it setting in the distance. Its light was further filtered by the white clouds in front of it. The debris of dropped crates the size of military transport vehicles and corpses along the streets disturbed the otherwise stable appearance of glass on the wet floor and buildings.
The owner of the nearby shipyard; Kor Shipyard, grinned at the mass of aliens being held up in place. His smile lacked many teeth, and his large, fluffy coat was bogged down by sweat and water. Standing behind a makeshift barricade of crates, ropes, and nets, the rotund business owner pulled down a large metal lever with his right arm. The mercenaries let out a yell and jumped out of the way just before a long crate crashed down, crushing the xith’kai around and damaging the weapon components inside.
“Ha ha!” he cheered. “That’s a proper way to kill the enemy!” He waddled forward on a peg leg with outstretched arms. “That’s why I hired you lot!”
The mercenaries groaned in pain while they got back to their feet. They were aided by their less-injured fellows and the regimentaries around. One civilian sporting a drab expression dragged his feet up to the owner of the shipyard and grabbed his shoulder.
“Sir, you really need to stop this.”
The owner spun around, annoyed, and stroked his huge white beard. It was decorated with black and golden rings. “What do you mean? I’m just helping my investments!”
The civilian took a deep breath. “I know I’m going to be fired for this, but your obsession with pirates of Earth’s old centuries is getting out of hand.”
Kor adjusted his left eye patch and put his fists on his hips. “If I don’t want bionic replacements for my image, then I won’t use them!” he protested loudly. He looked on to the cleared streets and hummed. “Besides. The pillars are scouring what’s left of those things in the city.” He stroked his beard and looked up. “They don’t seem too interested in this one, strangely.”
The civilian opened his mouth, but frowned instead. “That’s...true. This city IS mostly here for building parts and basic supplies, like rope and mechanical parts.” He grabbed his chin with two fingers and looked down pensively. “It was my understanding these things were stupid, what with how they shambled in the streets just to get gunned down one after the other.”
“As long as they can be killed, I don’t care,” Kor shrugged. “With the lines free, I can send bits and bobbles to the other troops around the planet whenever I can.”
“You’re getting ahead of yourself, sir,” the employee said. “They’re still in the city. Just not in our viscinity.”
Kor waved the notion away. “Formalities.” He looked to the distance and saw several corpses of xith’kai and human being dragged away by dozens of little crab-like creatures along the roads. “I heard the head pillar craeft came to use specifically to make a head of operations here,” he noted.
The employee scratched the back of his head and sat down on one of the boxes next to the old man. “I know of her. Isn’t she crazy?”
A loud explosion shook the zone and scared the other civilians wallowing in the destruction. Regimentaries and pillars brandished their weapons and looked around for the source. Loud thumping reached their ears. It was around a corner to the right of their dead-end, but the source was a sawol vice. Once it determined that there were no threats, it called to the others to follow it towards the defenders. A few dozen pillars of the Emperor’s Guard rounded the corner and rushed to their fellows to learn of anything about the state of the city and its inhabitants. Eriee, however, contemplated the titanic shipyard before it. It dwarfed any building for kilometers around.
“Eriee?” Kor called out.
The woman broke herself off from her thoughts and slowly walked to the man with a dead xith’kai clenched in her fist. Its skull had been pulverized. Her calm and static demeanor created an aura of unease amongst the regimentaries and civilians around. The man wobbled towards the woman and extended a hand to her, a wry grin on his face.
“I want to thank ya for the help you provided in protecting my fabrication district and my assets,” he joked. “Employees are essential to the proper functioning of my facilities.” His smile faded slightly and he pointed to the pillar’s hand. “Why are you dragging that around?”
The pillar craeft stared at the man in an awkward silence and casually let go of the corpse she had been dragging around. The man had become uncomfortable and had long retracted his arm. “I can replace your archaic limb replacements with much more enhanced bionics.”
“I don’t want a replacement!” the man spat out angrily.
Eriee tilted her head then brought up her map from her arm. “The xith’kai are mostly eliminated.” She looked to her group of pillars. “We’ll use this city as a staging grounds to deploy and transport resources from orbit.” She turned to Kor. “Are you willing to provide transportation services?” The man’s mouth was agape. He was speechless. “You will be compensated fairly, and your employees as well. That will encourage hard work among...employees, I believe?” She looked away from him and hummed.
“O-of course!” the would-be pirate agreed eagerly. He called to the survivors. “Alright you lot! Get to the cargohaulers! We’ve got money to make!” He saw that none of them were willing after what they had witnessed, and he chuckled internally. “They will compensate you accordingly as well! Your homes will be repaired and your bellies filled!”
It started as a quiet murmur between the survivors exchanging words to those who hadn’t heard or understood fully, then trying to weight in the pros and cons of such an endeavor. Agreeing to the work, the bosses of each department riled the workers up and all rushed towards the titanic building in the distance.
“Send a contingent of pillars to ensure the security of the transports,” Eriee spoke to a squad leader. “And send a message to the ships in orbit to send all supply transports to this city.”
Within the city-fortress of Calagh, the utlenda carver of the Niethgaest Biologic worked enthusiastically on carving up the corpses of xith’kai. He had demanded that any found be brought to him, and while almost everyone had deserted the space behind the wall for appropriate medical facilities, the corpses had decided to take their place.
“What should I name this variant?” he hummed. “I should try using similar sounds to ‘xith’kai’,” he mused. He prodded at one of the smaller aliens and the rifles that were part of their bodies. “I’ll call this one a...veyvar. Yes. And these weapons. These...ban sharders.” He clapped enthusiastically. “Perfect!” He sifted through the corpses and pulled a larger, bulkier xith’kai. Taking a moment to catch his breath, he analyzed the creature in detail. “A veydran.” He smiled. “The best part of this job is naming things.”
Another load of xith’kai were dumped via wagon in front of the utlenda carver. He rubbed his hands together eagerly while the workers turned away with disgust to return to the recovery efforts. Several of these had intact blades as digits or carried a variety of sharpened bone as swords. While noting the details, the utlenda noticed that these xith’kai did not have any form of ranged weaponry.
“Solely melee focused?” he pondered. “Very interesting. And not all of them have blades. Some have whips.” He looked around, a somber thought crossing his mind. “No. They’re mindless. I don’t even know what serves as a brain or nervous system in them.” He took a paper pamphlet held in his outfit and wrote all the names he was coming up with so far. “These weapons will be ban flaesc. A rudimentary name, but, it’s up for discussion.” He shrugged and threw that ‘weapon’ into a pile of cut up corpses behind him.
The utlenda carver sifted through the bodies, ignoring the smaller xith’kai he had already seen. After tossing dozens of corpses aside, the man came upon a gigantic beast thrice the size of a pillar scieldan. He reveled in the absurdity it represented.
“A Necrodan!” he blurted uncontrollably. He lifted the blown remnants of its many arms checked inside the stubs. “Yes. I see chambers surrounding the muscle tissue and wrapped by tendons.” He squeeze the stub, letting out several bone shards the size of a man’s fist covered in a viscous green goo. “A necrodan ymbset. They must carry massive weaponry perfect for siege warfare.” He left the giant for later and started to look around, eager for more. “What else is there?”
He found a large fold of skin with multiple bullet holes through. There was no face, but it sported multiple swollen ‘gills’ along its belly. “So this was the flyer...” The carver was skeptical. “I would very much like to know how this...hafetien even managed to fly.”
He wiped his mask with a hand and looked at the corpses laid about before him, taking in the delicate perfume of rot and decay. Some flying insects and beetles were already starting to take interest in the xith’kai and their aroma.
“How do they work?” the carver wondered. He repeated the same line several times in a row. “The Joros Daman use material found in nature to armor themselves, and they’re just beasts.” He looked down at the flesh underneath his feet. “Yet these creatures fire pieces of themselves without end. Where do they get the resources? They should be losing mass!” His frustration changed to excitement. “I can’t wait to find a way to classify these creatures.”
A small group of Cwildeseten pillars, their armors painted in a varied group of browns, crawled along the uneven, sandy dunes of Calder 1 and stopped on a steep rise. Without the sand storms raging across the surface of the Calders currently, there was no accurate way to spy on them from orbit. The lands were pocked with cracks and holes the sand fell through, consequence of the rising of the xith’kai. So, the cwildesten foundation chose to enter the planet’s atmosphere upon small ships and land at different points across the three planets to do what their machines could not.
“Oodravos, I assume you have intricate knowledge of your new system,” Opunh said.
Oodravos shook his head. “No. I have never once set foot upon the Calders.”
Opunh turned to face him. “Not once?” He shook his head in disappointment. “Your time with the Emperor’s Guard had rendered you heavy-footed and clumsy.”
Oodravos stared at his former comrade through his helmet. “That’s quite harsh, coming from you.” He gestured to the wide plain of sands before them with one arm. “All of this does not give any advantages. Only disadvantages. At the most, we could have installed secret resource bunkers, if anything.”
“That would have still been something,” the other pillar sighed. “Everything has advantages and disadvantages. You should KNOW this,” he berated Opunh.
The berated still shrugged. “Different environments call for different approaches. We never had a need to check the Calders because of the surface conditions.”
Opunh groaned internally and took a peak over the tip of the sandy hill. There were two other cwildeseten several dozen kilometers away using a stone outcrop as a perch to look around. Both hid away within its cracks for a reason that baffled the man, then the reasons became apparent. The ground was gradually shaking harder and harder, loosening sand build up and deafening the spies with a loud screeching. Oodravos attributed the sound to the screeching of the dying and tormented. A large vessel slowly flew overhead, casting an immense shadow on the ground below and filling up the vision of the two pillars behind the dune.
An amorphous length of massive bones jutting out from rotting meat. That was the vessel above. It had no true design, no seeable weaponry, but its size brough worry to the two pillars.
“That’s a cruiser class,” Oodravos whispered. “It’s easily four or five kilometers in length.” He tapped his left breast with a finger. “I can’t say what kind, though.”
“Up until now, the largest ships we’ve had were destroyers, and they were just a few dozen meters shy of even that classification,” Opunh added. He turned to face his former comrade. “It would become dangerous if they started to bring out stronger vessels.”
“Mana Magis forbid they have dreadnoughts.” Oodravos worried. “They might not be hard to kill, but weapons in large numbers more than make up for potential losses.”
“Especially the size carried on dreadnought classes,” Opunh agreed. “I suggest we wait for it to leave, then we can start moving.”
Oodravos nodded slowly and silently. After several nerve-wracking minutes of rumbling, the ship had reached a safe enough distance for both to run off. They found themselves hiding in natural trenches of brown stone overlooking a large portion of the land infested with xith’kai. The smaller ships took off in great numbers far off into space before several more xith’kai started fusing together to create another. The two pillars surveyed the landscape until Opunh gasped in shock.
“What is it?” Oodravos asked.
“There.” He pointed to an area of the sea of rot.
“I can’t see anything.”
Opunh slowly turned to look at him sideways. “Use the zooming function in your helmet. The scope visor is not there as a fashion sense,” he berated. The man shook his head and looked back into the distance. “When all this is over I’m asking your bregu to send you back to us temporarily to refine your abilities. It’s already uncommon for a foundation to have specialty squads, but with your rusty talents, this one won’t have that anymore.”
Oodravos ignored the commentary and went about searching for the cause of concern. He reeled his head back when he saw it.
It was a tall alien that easily stood out amongst the rest. It was rotted, and yet its skin still looked smooth. Cartilage and flesh molded over what clothes it had, staining them brown, but the sharp runes upon it still glowed a bright orange. The light seeped through the flesh itself and illuminated its face. The whole right had melted into a group of thick ropes, but its left eye was still intact. The pupil was red-orange and shaped like a star, but the iris had been replaced by a black outgrowth sticking out several inches from its face. Its upper arms were bloated and sported tube-like shapes leading to cylindrical holes just before the elbows. It held a rifle in its hands. Made of little more than metal with bone growing over its rusted sections and flesh creating the stock that wrapped around the shoulder of the alien like a pincer. The barrel opening sported a cap over the top inscribed with hundreds of microscopic runes illegible from the distance.
“What is that thing?” Oodravos wondered.
“I heard rumors of a spear wielding xith’kai that stuck out from the rest. An anomaly, the regimentaries called it.” Opunh narrowed his eyes. “I...don’t see one on this creature.”
“There’s more of them?” the other pillar spoke in shock. “What even are they? They’re clearly not xith’kai.”
Opunh took a moment to think then faced Oodravos. “Do you think it’s possible that they’ve assimilated creatures from civilizations we’ve yet to meet?”
Oodravos shrugged. “It’s possible, but then why have we only seen two that stick out?” he asked. “It doesn’t add up. There’s something we’re missing.” They stared at the sea of aliens a while longer, recording everything via their helmets.
“Have you received any news from Xylon?” Opunh asked while adjusting his vision.
“Why would we receive news from there?” the other pillar asked flatly.
“Isn’t it part of your system?”
Oodravos groaned. “Then why--”
“It’s a hellic planet. We have no reason to do anything there except define stellar paths that circumvent it as much as possible.” The man, readjusted himself in the sand. “The life there is particularly voracious and dangerous.” The man chuckled. “The planet eats ships.”
Opunh stared at his former comrade in dead silence. “It ate ships? And this is funny to you?”
“Considering what we’re living through?” Oodravos nodded. A loud screal caught the attention of the two scouts and the groups dotted about the landscape nearby. “What was that?!”
The two clutched to the edge of the trenches as well as they could. A terrifying earthquake shook the whole planet and split its lands apart down to the very core. Waves of transparent orange-green flew out from the sea of aliens to reach the sky and flow across the landscape in quick succession. When it had finally stopped, the two pillars raised their heads from the trench, shaking the sand off of their armor and only just catching a glimpse of something rather small shooting off into space. The two stared into space, completely caught off guard.
“Just coming here has filled me with a plethora of confusing questions rather than answering any of them,” Opunh lamented. “A second of these weird creatures we don’t know the origin of, and now some kind of mana user?”
Oodravos shivered. “I’m not sure that was mana in the same sense as we know it. It felt...above us. From another level of existence entirely.”
Opunh nodded and started fiddling with his helmet. “I’ll inform the other parties to evacuate immediately. No point in staying here longer. I’ll also send a message to the leading parties.”
Killigan was polishing out the slot for the replacement visor for his helmet. He didn’t have time to properly repair his armor, leaving Gherma and many others concerned for his well-being. He spent several hours starting at his armor, filing down dents and cleaning away at any residue of the liquefied gas from the sewers. He was sitting at a clearing in the city flanked by the piled up rubble where all humans, be they a simple civilian or a mighty pillar, rushed back and forth carrying supplies, equipment, and orders to their fellows. War vehicles would drive into transport ships that would bolt off in a rage of fire and light into orbit while others would land and disembark supplies or wounded. The bregu of the Emperor’s Guard paid it no heed.
“Are you okay, sir?” Gherma asked.
Killigan groaned quietly in response. “Yes.”
Gherma noticed a subtle shake in his bregu’s voice, but before he could speak to him of it, a civilian rushed to the working pillar and leaned against her knees, gasping for air.
“Excuse me a moment,” she wheezed. “I’ve been running around all day.” She took several more breaths and cleared her throat. “The aliens have been sighted above Xylon.”
The two pillars and the few others around stared at her.
“They’re going over it to reach us faster?” Killigan asked her.
The woman shook her head. “I was told they’re attacking it.”
Killigan jumped to his feet. “Take me to the ones who discovered this,” he ordered.
The woman complied and brought the two to a transport ship where two communications operators worked under stressful conditions of cramped space and message relaying.
“I brought them,” the woman said.
One of the operators took her headphones off and held them in one hand. Her eyes were sunk and her clothes replaced with temporary, wine-red robes. There was no time to clean her previous or get the others if her home still existed.
“Good. Go away,” she said angrily.
Killigan stomped towards the operator. “What is this about the xith’kai attacking Xylon?”
“See for yourself, sir.” She turned the monitor hanging from the ceiling of the infantry transport and set the real-time footage of the planet. “We sent several dozens of drones to each planet to survey them, but only this one has managed to evade Xylon so far.”
The bregu shook his head. “What possible reason could they have for attacking a hellic planet? We have no one on there.”
The woman shrugged. “It’s possible they think some of us are still there?”
“They don’t seem to know what they’re doing,” Gherma said. “I’ve yet to notice them having a goal asides from killing us all.”
Killigan brooded. “I’ve noticed this too. They use tactics to slaughter us, but never occupy an area after they’ve passed through them nor do they steal resources.” He leaned against the wall “So what is happening now?”
Hundreds of xith’kai ships, ranging from tiny corvettes to large destroyers a few cruisers could be seen firing at the planet below, causing damage in the guise of brought flashes below.
“Those are some pretty large ships in that fleet,” Killigan said.
“Could be cruiser class,” Gherma supposed.
The green surface of Xylon did not react to the ships of the xith’kai for a while. The three observers instinctively flinched backwards when one of the destroyers blew apart in a bright flash of igniting gases. The operator zoomed into the scene, allowing the observers to see the causes of the destruction. Several four-finned, black thorns of varying in size from a fighter to a vyrde were being launched from the planet into the fleet above, snapping apart whatever they touched. The observers did not react. These were normal occurrence, then the vines stretched out. They grabbed hold of the xith’kai and crushed them or snapped the ships apart while thorns continued firing from the surface. The plant life was angry. The planet was furious.
“That’s...new.” Killigan spoke in shock. “That never happened before. It only shot thorns at us.” He found himself leaning in closer to the screen, his mind wracked with curiosity.”
The vines whipped about like angry tentacles, crashing into the larger ships and causing them to collide with others while the darts continued soaring through space and the aliens. Chestnut-like structures started growing from the tip of the tentacles and, with every whip, were thrown towards another group of aliens where they would explode, launching a shower of sharp pins in every direction and immolating the tinier ones in its vicinity.
“Something isn’t right,” Killigan said. “It’s never done this before.”
“I don’t know what to say,” the operator shrugged.
“Well then, have you received any news for me from the other parts of the system?” he asked with a raised brow.
The woman shook her head. “Not yet, sir.”
“Then we’ll keep observing this confusing and terrifying sight until we’re ready to go to the other planets to aid in their liberation.”
Gherma agreed silently, but in a moment of distraction, saw Killigan’s fists shaking softly. His bregu clearly had something on his mind, but the source of the shaking yet still eluded the new pillar. He needed more information before approaching the pillar craeft.