The gleam of shiny black armor was clearly visible ahead, standing out against the dark green color of the surrounding foliage. James looked around carefully before advancing behind the soldier in front of him, making sure not to miss any sign of locust presence. Command had received reports of a small raid force of black armored theron guards attacking small towns and villages in this area, slaughtering any and all humans they came in contact with. The purpose of these attacks was unknown, but they were reported to have been led by a giant black-armored locust wielding a huge knife. This could only be RAAM, the general of the locust horde, and the mission of this Onyx Guard squad was to terminate him and his force of therons with extreme prejudice.
Captain McPherson held his hand up, signaling the squad to stop. Nine of them took up positions in the surrounding foliage as he and the two other Guards moved forward to scout the area for any potential threats. James looked around to take in his surroundings. The various shades of green and yellow glowed with the sunlight above, creating a soft peaceful ambience. The peaceful mood was abruptly interrupted with the sound of a hammerburst firing.
"GET TO COVER!" The captain's voice yelled over the com. "Carpathian, take Ramirez and Gustafson and flank left!"
James hurried to follow the order, hammerburst rounds kicking up debris at his feet as he ran. Ramirez and Gustafson scurried right behind him, all slamming up against a brick wall for cover just a the projectile from a torquebow whistled by Gus's head. The explosion rocked the ground beneath them, showering them in dirt and creating a huge cloud of dust. James motioned for the two subordinates to follow, ducking around the corner to the adjacent side of the building. He used his hands to signal that they would make a rush to an overturned car in the middle of the street, and set up an offensive position there. He counted down on his fingers: three, two, one, go. Gus made a dash to the car, followed closely by Ramirez, with James bringing up the rear. They reached the car, and began laying down suppressive fire directly into the enemy flank. The shells from their lancers ripped through the bodies of the drones, sending them reeling as they fell to the ground. The drones, realizing they had been flanked, repositioned and returned fire.
"Ramirez, try your longshot.", James ordered. The soldier removed the sniper rifle from his back and replaced it with his lancer. He took aim, exhaled slightly, and squeezed the trigger. The crack of the rifle resounded through the streets, and the red mist where a drone's head had been a moment ago evidenced why Ramirez was one of the most feared snipers in the entire Onyx Guard. He took shot after shot in similar fashion, aiming for only a moment before erupting another locust skull into a burst of blood, skull fragments, and brain matter. The drones were too fearful of his accuracy to even peak out from the concrete barrier they had taken shelter behind, allowing the main force to move up and dispatch them with their gnasher shotguns and chainsaw bayonets. The captain led the charge, revving his chainsaw as he approached the locust position, and taking off one drone's head before quickly moving to another and sawing his arm off as he swung a knife, then flipping the weapon upside down and cutting the hapless drone completely in half from the groin to the top of his skull. The other Guards joined the fray, sawing and shooting until every last drone laid dead in scattered pieces.
James and his two comrades approached the main group. The captain's shiny black armor was now glistening dark crimson; streaks of blood rolling down his breastplate. He gripped the face of his helmet with one strong hand, removing it and taking a deep breath.
"Good work men", he said in between heavy inhales and exhales, "those grub bastards didn't stand a chance." The troops looked back and forth at one another, confidently shaking their heads in agreement with him. McPherson was an inspiring leader; a man of immense physical stature who looked as though he could take on the entire locust horde alone with his bare hands. He was a veteran of the pendulum wars, and had 38 verified kills with a pendulum era lancer bayonet alone. He was a legend among the Onyx Guard, and was respected and feared by all.
"Any sign of our designated target?" he asked the men.
"No sir, no therons spotted anywhere."
"Well fan out and continue searching, if there's a locust presence in this area, we're sure to find them here as we-"
His sentence was cut short as a torquebow shot an arrow straight into his mouth. His eyes glazed over just before his head and torso exploded into pieces and showered down on the soldiers, killing the two closest to him instantly, and burying shrapnel in Ramirez' helmet. The troops instinctively scattered as the half hiss, half growl of a theron guard filled their ears. They scurried for shelter as a rain of hammerburst and torquebow fire came down on them from the surrounding buildings. They kept their heads down, blindly firing over what cover they could find, each doing his best to stay out of the line of fire of the deadly accurate theron warriors.
"What color is their armor? Is it black?!?" James shouted over the coms.
"I don't know, we didn't have time to look!" Corporal Tanner yelled back. "You're in command now, what should we do?"
The reality of the situation finally hit James Carpathian like a boomshot to the skull. I am next in the chain of command. These men are now my responsibility. He quickly began barking orders out to the remaining 8 troops under his command. "Regroup in the building directly behind us! Gus, Tanner, Lyons, lay down covering fire! The rest of you, go go go!"
The soldiers sprung into motion, dashing madly toward the entrance of the vacant building as the remaining Guards covered the retreat. "Yup, black armor alright! Looks like we've found our…", Tanner grimly remarked to James, unable to finish the sentence as a hammerburst round shattered the lens of his helmet and launched out the back of his skull. The five Guards who had been ordered to retreat had now reached their post and began supporting the remaining soldiers with cover fire.
"Alright our turn! Gus, Lyons, let's go!" James turned away from the enemy, looking down at Tanner's lifeless body. He grabbed his COG tags, breaking the small chain holding them around his neck, and placed them in the pouch on his belt. "Rest in peace, brother." he said under his breath, then back pressed firmly against the concrete he was using as shelter, he took one last deep breath and ran toward the door of the building. He heard the ping of a locust frag grenade clinking against the cement behind him, and dove for the door just as it exploded. The force of the blast propelled him through the air, causing him to loose balance and go toppling headlong into a wall just as the Guards already in the building slammed the door shut behind him.
"Ramirez, can you still see well enough to shoot?" James asked the sniper, noticing the chunks of metal buried in his helmet.
"I'm fine sir, uninjured. My helmet protected me from any damage." he replied.
"See if you can't take out some of those guards and syphon a bit of their courage."
"Right away, sir!" He replied, adjusting his sights and peaking out of one of the windows. He squeezed the trigger, smirking slightly with pleasure over taking another locust life.
"Any eyes on RAAM yet? He's sure to be here somewhere."
"Not yet sir, but we'll find him and take him out." private Lyons replied. The confidence in his voice was encouraging to Carpathian, but he secretly began to question whether they'd make it out alive at all, much less complete their task. He was in command now though, and the squad's survival was now his responsibility. He would do his duty or die trying.
"BOOOOM." A deep voice outside echoed across the now quiet cement and concrete of the empty streets and vacant buildings. A rocket whistled through the air, and the bricks and mortar of the building the squad of Onyx Guards had taken refuge in became nothing more than dust and rubble.
"Boomer!" One of the troops shouted in warning as another shell came through the hole made by the first, hitting the soldier in the torso and completely obliterating his entire body. The black armored theron guards saw their chance, and began firing on the Onyx Guard position through the hole the boomer had made. Hammerburst fire poured in through the hole, as the soldiers took cover behind the broken and crumbling brick walls.
"We have to find a better position! This place isn't defensible anymore!" Ramirez shouted in between shots.
"Focus your fire on the boomer. We can't afford any more holes!"
"I think we have bigger problems…" Gustafson's voice trailed off as James turned to look out of the hole in the wall, only to see a massive 10 foot figure clothed in dark black armor approaching them with a giant serrated knife in one hand and boltok pistol in the other.
"Is that him?" private Manning asked quizzically.
"Yes, fire everything you've got! Stop him!" Carpathian screamed, a hint of desperation beginning to show in his voice. The squad opened fire together, all pelting the gargantuan General RAAM with lancer and longshot ammo. Ramirez took aim at RAAM's face, fired, and watched in disbelief as the bullet merely nicked his chin. Their eyes met for a split second as RAAM paused to touch his chin, looked down at the spot of blood on his fingers, then looked back at him and smiled.
"He is a demon! He cannot be stopped!" Ramirez shrieked, the hardened combat veteran reduced to nothing more than a terrified boy. "We must leave this place before there are none of us left!"
"Hold your ground, continue fire!" Carpathian barked out. he knew if they lost discipline now and broke ranks, all would be lost. "Pick up that rifle and continue shooting, private!" RAAM continued his advance, the bullets bouncing off of his armor as if they were nothing more than little chips of ice. Closer and closer he came, their weapons proving futile against this invincible locust warrior. Gustafson revved his chainsaw, determined to defeat this monster. He charged forward, breaking from cover and approaching the black armored giant. He swung his lancer's bayonet toward RAAM's ribs, making solid contact under his arm. His arms jolted at the force of the impact as the lancer bounced off of the armor a bit, then began grinding against it. RAAM swung his arm out, landing a firm blow to Gus's face and sending him reeling back. He sheathed the knife, at the same moment shooting Gus in the leg with his pistol. He fell to his knees in pain, as RAAM grabbed his helmet, slinging him to the ground and removing his helmet in one motion, then bringing his foot firmly down on the back of his skull. The crunch was sickening, as blood and brain spurted out from beneath the monster's boot. He removed his foot to reveal the mashed neck, vertebrae poking out, sinews still hanging from the bone.
RAAM turned back to the COG soldiers, his fierce blood red eyes glistening with obvious enjoyment. He raised his hand, signaling the therons, who had already slowed their attack, to cease fire. He then drew his knife, raising the blade to his mouth and licking it with his serpentine tongue, as if tasting the blood of the uncountable many this blade must have slaughtered. He lunged forward, and was among the troops in an instant. They spread out, hoping to avoid his huge, muscular arms wielding his weapons of destruction and death. He took three shots with his pistol, hitting two of the men in the head with a bullet each, and grazing Ramirez' leg with the third. Maybe they're the lucky ones, James thought for a moment. He had brandished his gnasher, and was showering RAAM's face and head with pellets as he scrambled to get out of his reach. Lyons yelled indiscernibly, leaping onto the behemoth's back and attempting to slice his throat open with a knife. It had no visible effect at all. RAAM dropped his pistol, grabbed him by the arm and slung him to the ground with such force that his back plate was dented, then proceeded to grab him by the leg and use him as a weapon to beat the other soldiers with. He struck private Maddock with Lyons' torso, sending him reeling, then sheathed his knife once more, seizing Lyons' arms in his huge leathery hand, placing a foot on the man's back, and ripping him in half. He threw the legs at Maddock, knocking him back down as he attempted to recover, and dropped the top half, stepping on it as he advanced toward Maddock. He brandished his knife, skewering the helpless soldier and pinning him to the wall with it, clear off the ground.
The bloodthirsty creature turned to Ramirez, who was now once again wielding his lancer. RAAM picked up a lancer from one of the fallen Onyx Guards, revving the chainsaw and knocking Ramirez' chainsaw to the side as he charged. He brought the arm back around, pushing the lancer through Ramirez' neck like a hot knife through butter. The body fell to the ground, blood spurting from the neck, as RAAM caught the head out of the air, spun around, and threw it at James with such force that it shattered on the wall inches from his face, cracking as it made impact. He looked at it as the remnants fell to the ground, sheer terror gripping him. RAAM walked toward him, cornering him as he tried to back away. "Please… please have mercy." James whimpered. RAAM seized him by the throat, raising him off of the ground. He walked over to where Maddock hung from the giant knife, seizing the fearsome weapon's handle and effortlessly pulling it free of the wall. He let Maddock's corpse slide off of the blade, then cut the straps holding James' armor on. It clanged as it fell to the ground, and James knew he would not leave this place alive. RAAM sliced across his belly, and he could hear the splash of his own blood and intestines hitting the ground beneath him. His body stiffened in agony as RAAM forced his enormous hand into the incision he had made, grabbed a handful of James' vital organs, and pulled them out of him through his stomach. His eyes glazed over, and RAAM threw his corpse aside, as if suddenly disgusted by the very thing that had given him such amusement when it was alive.
RAAM stepped out of the building through the giant hole in the wall, raising his blood-drenched blade above his head in victory. "DEATHHHHHH TO GROUNDWALKERSSSSS" he half roared, half hissed. The theron guards at his command took up the cry, screaming it to the now red sky, as the sun shone it's last rays before disappearing behind the horizon.