Note: All English Discussion is Italicized, and Eliksni is not.
Evergreen Point, Pacific Northwest.
House Mist Territory
It had been a week since Nicole had covered all the holes in the walls and ceiling with the wooden sheets Rykis had helped her purchase. They worked wonderfully in conjunction with a heater Jasix had brought her not too long after Nicole had returned. Together, the weather sealed room and heater kept her warm even while it snowed outside. The heat that wafted through the hole in the floor that led to Rykis’ space told her that he had a similar setup.
While meeting down there for her daily language lessons, she saw that he had blocked off his windows with a massive street sign. When she finally questioned him about how he got one all by himself, he showed off a small spherical machine, not too much larger than her Ghost. “We have storage devices, break down objects into information, like you Guardians’ Ghosts do.”
“Couldn’t you have just used that on the wood for me?” She blabbed out in confusion.
“Only works on non-living… inorganic stuff. Like metal, though nothing too complicated or volatile. Though they are quite rare in Eliksni society. I have one because I use to work at one of the markets regularly.”
Nicole nodded and followed along. They were conversing entirely in the Fallen language now. It seemed strange to her that she was learning so quickly; but she had been alive for just over a month now, and had been dead for God knows how long. Who was she to judge how long it took a space magic powered zombie to learn how to speak another language.
However, it had occurred to Nicole that her Ghost was not learning any of the language like she was. He was the only one Nicole had to speak English with but it put him at a disadvantage with the others. “Do you think I could get one?”
“I do not think so, unless there is a broken one your Ghost could see about fixing.” Rykis rubbed the bottom of his facemask. “I could see about asking the Archon the next time I am at the Center…”
“Okay, we-” Nicole stopped talking when she heard something.
A voice called out from somewhere outside the room. From the sound of it, they were in the old buildings atrium a few floors below their rooms. “Hello?! Is there anyone here? Messenger service!”
“I wonder what this is about?” Rykis asked aloud as he got up from his bed. Unlike Nicole, he had one of those beds she had seen at the old military base. She had asked about getting one, but Rykis said it would take some time to locate one for her. He opened the door to the atrium and stuck his head out. “What is it? I am on the fifth floor.”
The messenger was of the House of Mist’s not-Dregs; the Fallen that were smaller than the Vandals, but had both pairs of arms still. The messenger walked up the stairs and came to Rykis’ door. “Vandal Rykis… Guardian. The Kell is calling a briefing of all ready fighters. The meeting is at noon, at Baron Acskis’ dwelling. Message understood?”
Rykis nodded, “Yes… we will be there, thank you.” The not-Dreg messenger returned Rykis’ nod and headed back out. Rykis turned to Nicole and sighed. “…I fear that the time has come for our move on the Devils.”
“Well if that’s true, then it’s about time,” Nicole said. “How long has it been since you said Humans crossed the mountain pass?”
“Years, not sure. Sometimes they routed around the pass on Ninety, but they’ve not come for a long time,” he replied. Rykis walked over to his window and pulled away one of the road signs to peer at the sky. “It is an hour and a half to noon… probably. We should get going.”
Nicole hopped off the bed and stretched her back. “Alright, I’ll get my armor-” She called to her Ghost in English. “Ghost? Armor me up, looks like the Kell is rallying the troops.”
The Ghost flew down into Rykis’ room, through the hole in the ceiling. “What’s going on?” The armor still flashed across her body suit, fitting much better than her old set.
“Messenger said that they’re calling a meeting. Rykis thinks that we’ll be going after that roadblock camp up in the mountains.”
“It’s about time we do something Guardian like.”
Her Ghost grumbled and vanished into her armor, anticipating her to start on her way.
She glanced over at Rykis, who had been strapping the individual armor plates back across his undersuit. He had left his painter’s sash and bag off against the wall, and had begun to check his rifle over. “I never asked this before, but are you a soldier?”
“Well not exactly… I work at the market as a translator, and as the only real skilled artistic person… I paint signs. However that is beside the point, I am trained, as is every Eliksni in the House Mist, in the event that I am needed.”
“So you’re… a militia member?” Nicole asked as they walked down the stairs and out of the building.
“I suppose that is a good way of saying it, but the only reason I’m in any fighting right now is because the Kell assigned me to follow you, and he definitely wants you at that meeting.” Rykis replied.
Nicole frowned, she did not want to be responsible for him getting hurt. He had been really nice to her ever since she had met him; though he was also the only one could speak to her. But, he seemed to genuinely accept her. “You… don’t have to follow me into this, I can understand your language well enough now.”
“Oh?” Rykis’ eye ridge raised slightly in an inquisitive look. “What does this mean?” He then proceeded to speak something in the Fallen language, and Nicole had absolutely no clue what he was saying. Her silent confusion behind her faceplate caused Rykis to break out a laugh. “That settles it then, I am staying with you.”
Nicole sighed and conceded with a nod. “Fine… you’re right, I just don’t want you getting killed because of me.”
“I have been taking care of myself just fine,” Rykis said. “It will be fine, Nicole. Though I am glad to hear that you care about me.”
The journey across the ruined occupied city was rough with snow. It came up to her knee in the middle of the road, and snow drifts were climbing the sides of long abandoned vehicles. None of the Eliksni children were out in the streets that day. Everyone seemed to be inside during the storm.
Nicole walked warily away from the skyscrapers; thousands of broken windows held massive icicles that would most definitely cause impact damage without actually damaging her armor. The constant falling snow and wind made seeing the Baron’s dome nearly impossible until they were a few hundred meters away. The guards standing outside the main entrance were more ornate than the Baron’s usual guard complement; their armor was cleaner and had more decorative details across their armor surface. They wore layers of animal pelts over their armor to probably brace themselves against the cold.
The two glanced at her, their exhale plainly visible in the freezing air. Their rifles raised slightly as they inspected the pair approaching them. When they got closer, one of the guards opened the door and the other waved Nicole and Rykis through. “Quickly, in the back. They are going to begin shortly,” one said.
“That was quite expedient…” Rykis led the way to the briefing space.
The room was filled with quite a bit more Eliksni, they were mostly Captains with a handful of Vandals. Baron Acskis was not in his mini-throne, that seat was occupied by the largest Fallen Nicole had ever seen; it was the House of Mist’s Kell.
She had seen the Kell only once before when she was only a few hours old; Nicole had been very intimidated back when she had no idea what was going on here. The Kell had moved the throne closer to the display table, and the tactical map that Nicole’s Ghost had made was being displayed.
As soon as Nicole and Rykis entered the room the Kell stood from the throne. “Good, the Guardian has arrived. Baron, let us begin.” Nicole began to translate what was said for her Ghost to understand. He was very thankful that she had remembered to do that for him.
Baron Acskis glared at Nicole in the back of the room, and then stepped up to the projection. “We will be assaulting what we believe to be the main House of Devils camp tonight. Using the storm for cover, Captain Balkasis will take the armor divisions and Captain Verasis’ three Pike groups up the valley-” He made motions and the map transferred to the region, with lines dictating the directions people were to take. “-and attack the Devils roadblock headon and crush it. Meanwhile, Captain Takas will lead twelve Skiffs to flank around and set down on the frozen lakebed and the surrounding ridgeline.”
The Kell took over briefly for the Baron and pointed back at Nicole while clearing his throat. “Guardian, that is what you’re going to be following. Senior Captain Takas and her forces will assault the main encampment. Skiff flyovers indicated that their main camp is directly north from the lakebed. I have utmost confidence in you all, and I expect you to utilize the assets at your disposal to their full potential.”
Nicole noted that the Kell seemed to glare down at the Baron during that last bit. Acskis gave a passing glance towards her again. A knot formed in her stomach; this was not going to be a quick one-and-done operation like the scouting run she had gone out. This was also going to be the first time she had gone into combat since then, and the third time since she had awakened. Nicole glanced over at Rykis, who was looking at the deployment map with some intense concentration.
He turned toward her slightly and noticed her look; he sighed and waved towards the projection. It was still difficult to gauge his facial expression, because the mask, and being a different species than whatever predispositions she woke up with often teamed up together. “I hope you really do have those advantages you mentioned back at your hearing. Your presence has encouraged us to be more aggressive than we have ever been in years.”
Nicole just nodded her head, she was wondering the same thing. Other than her Ghost being able to revive her, she did not seem to be any better than any of the Fallen here. In fact, they were probably better than her in all other aspects regarding combat. The briefing went on; explaining retreat and evacuation routes, where medical stations would be established, and the Kell emphasized that any House Mist fighters should stay out of both the Tanks and the Guardian’s way when in the field of combat. Nicole wondered what the Kell thought she was able to do that made it a danger to be near her.
The Kell stood from their seat and waved to the groups of Fallen. “We will be moving out as soon as we are ready. Go to your groups and await the order.”
She looked over at Rykis again. A Captain had walked over and was talking with him. The Captain was tall and slender, their armor on the other hand was bulky and covered in pouches. They nodded their head to Nicole and introduced themselves. “Guardian… I am Senior Captain Takas. I’ll be leading the Skiff deployment. You’ll be going in with us tonight.”
Nicole returned the nod, but honestly did not know how else to respond other than her name. “It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Guardian Nicole.”
“Mmm… Neh-cole, I see.” Captain Takas waved to the door. “Come, Rykis and Neh-cole. The Skiffs are waiting down in the staging area.” Takas walked them out of the Baron’s home and down the hillside towards the old freeway.
Nicole had seen the staging area before a few weeks ago, but now it was something completely different. There were about half a dozen of the old Human tanks huddled out of the snow beneath the overpass; as well as a few other old vehicles of Human make. They had Spider Tanks too, but they were folded up on trailers, like what Nicole had seen back on the train. The activity in the area was beginning to pick up now that the Captains had returned from the briefing.
Captain Takas lead them beyond the highway and over to an open field that may have been a parking lot at one point in the past. The twelve dropships the Baron had mentioned waited near the ground, gently rocking in the wind and snow. A few held Spider tanks latched into their cargo area, and Groups of Fallen were climbing aboard at the order of other lower Captains. Takas stopped beside the lead Skiff and gestured towards one of the access doors. “This is the one you’ll be riding in. As soon as we hit the ground, you’ll dismount from one of those drop bays.” She pointed over to one of the holes in the bottom of the ship. “When you’re out, clear the zone as quickly as possible. Vandal Rykis here will be right behind you.”
“Got it, Captain.” Nicole said, grabbing hold of one of the hand grips beside the hatch.
“You’ll be the first out. Clear the way for my troops.” Captain Takas’ voice held a tone of seriousness that Nicole had not heard since the Baron had shot her through the head. Nicole gulped and hoisted herself in; which was not as easy since she lacked the additional two arms the Eliksni had.
The inside of the Skiff was cramped with the others already inside the craft, though they moved out of the way for her as soon as she boarded. No one wanted to touch her apparently. Other than that… it was still a small claustrophobic space. Machinery and pipes lined the bulkheads with computer screens and gauges squeezed between them. The lack of space did not seem to bother the others though.
The drop bays were located in the tail of the Skiff and the only way to get there was down a low tube she would have to crouch down to get through; seeing as that was the only place where the others were not gathering, Nicole knelt down and crawled to the back of the bay. The bays were wide open and cold air mixed with a few loose snowflakes wisped up around her. Rykis crawled up beside her and sat across from the hole into the world beyond.
“The Kell has ordered the Tanks out, it will take them some time to reach the pass, so we will be waiting here until they are close enough…” Rykis paused. “Also, the storm is getting worse. The weather station near the mountains is reporting that it is even stronger there.”
“Do you think the Tanks will be fine in this weather?” Nicole asked.
“Yes, we’ve tested them in previous winters. They will just be slow.” Rykis shrugged and shifted his position in the bay. He pulled a bag off of the wall and stuffed it under his side for some cushion.
Nicole pulled one off and did the same, he had a good idea. “Ugh, why did they call us in now if it’s going to take hours for the Tanks to get there?”
“Wouldn’t you want to do only one briefing instead of two?” Rykis offered. “Besides, it is not like we can’t just continue what we were doing in the tower here… which was what?”
“Um, you were telling me about that storage ball you got, but that was pretty much over with.” Nicole pointed at the pouch that held it on his belt. “What other kinds of tech would I be able to get once I’m part of the House?” The alarms sounded in her helmet, she needed to switch out the Ether canister. She slipped a fresh one out of a thigh pouch and switched the two out. A cold crisp puff of air blew into her face, it smelled pleasant. Though she did not need to wear her helmet right at the moment, so she cut the air supply and took it off.
Rykis told her about the data-pads and weapons that would be available to her once the Kell had granted her official status in the House. Though there was not much beyond that. He said that she could request a Pike for personal use, or send a vehicle to Tansis to see if it could be repaired, but Nicole really liked the idea of having a Pike. She thought back to when she rode the Pike back down the mountain pass, how freeing it had felt. That would definitely be something she would look into later.
When the call to take off finally came, Nicole had dozed off on top of the bag. She was quickly awakened by the sudden high pitched whine of the Skiff’s engines lifting the craft out of its low hover. More snow blew in through the hatch as the Skiff flew higher into the storm. It was dusk outside, the orange glow of the setting sun tinted the storm clouds more the higher they climbed. Nicole threw her helmet back on and it hissed back to pressurization.
She summoned her Ghost to the palm of her hand. “Alright, quiet guy, did you get the attack plan for review?”
Her Ghost replied. “Finally, something I can understand. I must say, you learning a language I don’t know is very infuriating. But if you have to ask, yes I did.” His eye lit up and a small projection of the Kell’s plan was floating in the air between Nicole and Rykis’ sleeping form. She reviewed it, at least three times. The Skiffs were to drop them off in the lakebed, and then shoot up to the ridge line to deposit a few of the Spider tanks on top. Covering fire would be provided, but that was all she was able to understand from the map. She huffed and leaned back against the bulkhead.
Nicole glanced down through the hatch as the Skiff dropped down beneath the cloud later. They were very close to the mountain slopes, way too close. The pass road, old Interstate Ninety, was probably only fifty meters beneath them, and passing by fast. She could just barely see the tank column crawling through the snow just below. The trucks were nowhere to be seen, neither were the walkers.
The tanks were mere moments away from rounding the final corner before they were in sight of the Devil roadblock. The lights in the Skiffs snapped off, as they broke off from the others and flew over the ridge line.
“Here it begins… when the lights come back to full that is when we go.” Rykis sat up from the bag he was sleeping against. Behind them, the other Eliksni in the craft queued up for the drop bays.
An explosion echoed through the mountain valley, coming in over the sound of the Skiff engines. Then another, and another. Rapid gunfire followed. The Tank column had engaged the roadblock.
With the battle beginning, the Skiffs dropped like rocks and swept down low across a frozen lakebed. They flew meters off the ground for just a few moments before stopping suddenly. The lights inside the dropbay snapped back on, and an alarm chirped repeatedly.
Nicole dropped down into the snow. The downforce from the engines was kicking up all the snow from the ground and swirling it randomly across her face. She charged forward and scanned the area that she could see. It was not much in the heavy snowfall, but she had ran into a cluster of tents.
Fallen wearing House Devils colors were emerging from snow-covered tents to investigate the fighting that had begun at the ridge line. Either they were not paying attention, or the snow was too thick, but they seemed to head away from Nicole without seeing her. She squeezed the trigger and her rifle kicked against her shoulder.
Her bullets tore through the nearest group and the under armored Dregs crumpled to the ground. A quick glance around showed that was all she could see here were Dregs, the higher ranks must have another place in camp. Hearing the sound of gunfire from behind them, the other Devils spun around in Nicole’s direction. Electrically charged bolts sizzled passed her and she slid into cover behind a nearby crate. It’s not that she probably could not handle a few shots, it’s just that there were a lot of Dregs out there.
An object sailed through the air and landed in the snow nearby Nicole’s leg. Arcs of electricity linked it to the ground and the crate’s surface, and it began to hiss loudly. “Move!” Her Ghost shouded into her ear.
Not to react slowly, Nicole immediately dove out and away from the crate just moments before the space behind her erupted in a thundering explosion and bolts of lightning. She shook her head and pushed out of the snow. The Dreg and a few of their allies that presumably threw the grenade were charging through the burning tents that littered the area around where the crate had been moments before. Nicole brought her rifle up to take them out first, but a volley of fire from her left got them first.
Rykis ran over to her and pulled her to her feet. He slapped her back. “You’re good. Keep moving, we’re clearing as a wave.”
Sure enough, the other squads from the Skiffs were just charging into the tents, and taking on any Dregs that were caught off guard. Most of them seemed to have fled further north, where the others were likely camped. She saw that some Mist Vandals had shoved Dregs into the snow and somehow restrained their arms to their backs. They were taking prisoners. Everything here was moving very quickly, as what Eliksni combat seemed to be.
Nicole moved with Rykis, taking the lead. Her weapon chattering away at the unfortunate Fallen that chose to stay in her way. The three Skiffs behind them took off and fired down into the tent city ahead of the advancing Mist forces before flying back to the relative safety of the ridgeline. The Explosions had ceased on the other side of the camp. Either the Tanks had broken through, or something had gone wrong; all she could hear was the sound of small arms fire from further ahead to the east.
Things were going well enough until Nicole encountered a House Devils Vandal weilding a Shrapnel Launcher. The weapon launched razor sharp projectiles smothered in a burning oily substance. They cut through her shields in one shot, but none impacted her armor with enough force to puncture. She had been in the middle of a reload, and she instinctively reached down to her belt for something. Her hand came back clutching the grip of a simple knife that had materialized out of thin air. Without putting much thought into it, she flipped the knife around to holding from the blade and threw it at the Vandal. As soon as the knife left her fingers it burst into flames, lit by some unknown source. When it struck the dreg the flames immediately spread across the creature almost like they were liquid.
If it had not been killed by the blade sticking into its face, then the crackling fire did the trick.
A series of bright flashes went off up the ridge, followed by a tremendous explosion north of her position. The shockwave blew the snow out of the sky, and for a brief moment Nicole could see what was left of the small town to her north. Pieces belonging to what looked like Pikes and Spider tanks began to fall from the fireball. The leg of a House Devils walker slammed into the snow beside Nicole, still twitching.
Briefly, Nicole could see the ridge above the Devil camp and it was lined with the six Mist Spider tanks she had noticed were missing from the tank column earlier. They had flanked around the mountain and climbed up the backside. Judging by the debris that were raining down, they had just taken out the camp’s vehicle area.
The snow returned and brought the visibility back down to only a few meters. A few ground based flashes streaked upwards towards the ridge. Not all of the Devils’ armor had been destroyed it seemed.
Nicole rolled to the side and fired a burst into the chest of a Vandal. Higher ranks were starting to filter south to meet the invading attackers. She moved virtually on her own, however keeping an eye on Rykis who was always nearby. One of her bursts struck the Vandal’s unarmored face, and its head just exploded. A white gas sprayed from the neck, and took the rough form of the Vandal before blowing away in the wind.
She was just dumbfounded at that sight, and she looked back at Rykis for a brief moment. What the hell was that? It did not make any sense to her. That would be a question for after the fight.
To her left, the silhouette of a Devil Captain loomed over the shattered remains of a tent. Its shockblades crackled and hissed as it sliced through the protective armor of a Mist Vandal. The electricity arced from the blade to the Vandal, causing it to convulse rapidly as it fell into the snow.
Nicole turned her rife to the Captain and opened fire with a sustained burst. The bullets plinked off the Captain’s shields, the shield indicator on her HUD hardly moved. She had been right not to try and take on the Fallen earlier in the month when all she had was a pistol, this rife was barely getting the job done as it was. But now it seemed completely useless against the Captain.
“Uhh… any ideas, Ghost?” She was able to hear the panic in her own voice as she instinctively asked in her native language.
Her Ghost’s voice cracked from her helmet speakers and an indicator started to flash across her visor, highlighting various fallen weapons that had been dropped by the dead. “I’m working on it… give me a second.”
She continued to plink away at the shields, constantly moving to stay out of the Captain’s range.A highlight flashed across her HUD; it was displaying an overlay above a discarded Wire rifle sticking out of the snow.
“That should do the trick!” Her Ghost announced.
Nicole threw her rifle onto her back and slid through to snow to grab the weapon, dodging underneath a swing from the Captain’s shock blades. She had seen it used more than a few times on the only two engagements she had been on previously. Pulling the trigger, the weapon charged up and fired.
The energy bolt slammed into the Devil’s shields. They burst in a flash of blue crackling energy, and the Captain stumbled from the force of it.
Nicole’s shoulder hurt too, there was not that much padding on the rifle’s shoulder stock. However, it was in her interest to make it worse for the Captain; she fired again. This bolt had no shields to stop it, but the heavy armor over the Eliksni’s body provided ample protection. A good sized dent on the breastplate knocked the Captain back, but he stood back up and moved to charge for her chucking as he went, and then vanished.
She blinked the confusion. It took her less than a second to recall that Tansis had told her that the Eliksni could teleport; but it was a second too long. The Captain reappeared right in front of her and brought one of his electrified blades across her chest. It glanced off her armor, but sliced through her soft padded belly. She winced and lept back out of the Captain’s reach, then pulled the trigger once more.
The recoil kicked her shoulder, and the reverberations caused more pain to shoot from her stomach. The Captain would not be a problem anymore; it’s headless corpse sat half a meter away in the snow.
With one hand, Nicole pressed against her wound and it came back red. More pain pulsed from within. “Not… again…” she muttered. Cautiously, she peeled the bodysuit apart at the tear, unsure if this would be a wound would have to be healed right away.
Evidently the bodysuit had been keeping her insides.. inside. Bits of her internals fell down into the snow and blood turned it red. She dropped down to her knees as the pain tripled. That just caused more to flow from the gaping hole in her body.
With the Captain dead, there did not seem to be any other Devil’s around. Her Ghost appeared beside her and flew down to her belly. “Ooh that’s bad… let’s fix that right up shall we?”
Nicole tried to tell him to shut it and just fix her, but she could not make herself say the words. She had never been really wounded. Except for when the Baron shot her when he was frustrated, she had just been instant killed every time and had been spared the pain. Her Ghost’s eye emitted a bright light and she felt it’s warmth pass over the pulsing spot. All at once, the pain ceased and was replaced in a warm sensation. Nicole watched as the bodysuit was stitched back together by her Ghost. It looked good as new, and she felt good as new.
“There you go, all patched-“ The sound of crackling electricity sailed through the air and struck the snow not too far from Nicole. An Eliksni Grenade blinked once and detonated in a flurry of snow and arcing bolts of energy. Nicole rolled into her side and was thrown a few meters by the blast. Her Ghost, however, was propelled head on into a crumbling wall nearby.
The smoke rose from singed points on her armor where the bolts had arced between her and the grenade, she rolled over and crawled towards the crumbling wall. Her body tinged from the shock, but she pushed beyond it and jabbed her hand into the hole in the wall. Nicole pulled out her Ghost; he was intact, but was not responding to her. He blinked and his fins twitched, however her Ghost did not float off of her hand.
“No no no… Ghost!” She brushed the soot from his shell and eye. “Wake up buddy…” The Ghost just blinked again with no other response. If he was out of commission, even temporarily, what would happen to her if she died? Would she just be down for a bit of time, or would she be dead for good; she had no clue.
The ground rumbled as another barrage from the Mist tanks on the ridge fell closer to where she sat in the snow. It brought her back into the moment at hand and the battle still going on around her. A House Devils Vandal lept over the other end of the shattered house and raised its shrapnel launcher. Nicole stuffed her Ghost into one of her belt pouches and dove for the Wire rifle nearby. Before she could shoulder it, the Vandal took a rapid fire burst to its side and dropped.
Rykis lowered his rifle and grabbed Nicole’s shoulder. He lifted her to her feet and handed her a spare automatic rifle from his back. “Are you okay, Neh-cole?”
“My Ghost is stunned and out of commission. I think I’m mortal for now,” she replied with a cough, answering in the best Eliksni she could muster at that moment. “How are you holding up?”
Rykis’ face flashed with concern behind his mask, but he nodded. “I am… Doing fine. But you need to avoid getting into these situations. Use more cover.”
“Yeah, okay.” Nicole shouldered the rifle and glanced around, “We need to move north.” The fight in their immediate vicinity had seemed to come to an end, with the sound of battle heating up further up the valley. She moved at a half couch through the snow. It was slow moving, but kept her form out of sight among all the impact craters across the field.
The area beyond the first Devil camp was barren snowfields much like the lake bed where they had landed. The occasional tree gave the Mist fighters some cover besides the snowstorm. The radar on her visor blooped as a group of red contacts advanced toward them. She was not sure what the range was now that she was on her own for now. Dropping down on to her belly she groaned internally as her bruised ribs protested the strain. Rykis dropped behind her and crawled through the snow beside her.
“What is it?” He asked.
“Sensor is showing that there are some Devil’s up ahead, four of them coming towards us.” Nicole moved forward, slowly and continued to talk. “Going to stay low so they don’t spot us first”
“Remember, stay safe.” Rykis still sounded concerned. Nicole sent back a look at the Vandal but kept pushing on. He remained just a few instances behind her.
She checked the sensor after a few meters to see that the four icons had stopped moving towards them. They were just beyond her field of view in the storm so she aimed the automatic rifle in their direction. However, before she fired, the indicators vanished from the readout. Confused, Nicole stood up on one knee.
Suddenly, a bucket full of snow belched from a small depression beside her and the rumble of machinery shook around her. The snow fell away as one of the Fallen Spider Tanks rose out from its snow covered pit and knocked Nicole effortlessly out of the way. Rolling back upright, Nicole brought her rifle around. It looked like a different model than the kind she had seen so far. Sitting on the back, right behind the main gun turret was a Devil captain seated on an auxiliary turret and a myriad of other weaponry hanging down right beneath the Walker’s head; Its two front legs were angled differently as it began to walk towards the ridge line.
She opened fire with the auto rifle and the energy charged shots pittered harmlessly against the hull. Lowering the gun slightly she sighed. “Okay I didn’t think that would really work… Rykis, we have a problem!”
The Captain on the auxiliary turret spotted her and swung the weapon around to face her down. Kicking up snow, Nicole dashed in a roll as the spot where she had been exploded. She fired back, letting the bullets rake across the Captain’s shields. The indicator that appeared above him flashed down, this gun appearing to be more effective against shields than her old Assault rifle. She kept on him, moving behind the Walker to the other side. The Captain’s shield burst and he fell from the turret spasming. But unfortunately the Walker became aware of the fight going on behind it, and it turned in place; one of the legs stomping down on the dying Captain attempting to get back on his feet.
“Rykis!?” Nicole shouted, looking around her. “Where the hell are you?”
The Walker spun around enough for its chin mounted machine gun spun up and began to lace the area around Nicole with fire. She dove out of the way, coming back up on her feet and moving around the back side of the machine to keep it turning.
Coming in behind her, Rykis tore something off of his belt and pulled the lid off. A brilliant red flame sprung from the flare as he dashed passed the Guardian. Nicole looked on in confusion as Rykis ran straight towards the spider walker and slapped the flare to the side, some unseen adhesive holding it to the hull. He sprinted back at her, and picked her up. “I have just called it into our tanks!” he shouted.
The machine gun on the tank spun up and spat bullets in their direction as the gravity of what Rykis had done dropped into her mind. On the ridge above the valley, the Mist Spider tanks honed in on the flash of light on their sensors, and fired. Nine high explosive shells were launched through the air and slammed into the Devil’s Walker. The first two shells detonated against the armor, doing little besides denting the armor plating, but seven more blasted against the vulnerable joints; ripping the machine and its crew apart.
Rykis thankfully had put enough ground between them and the tank for them to be spared death from the concussive force alone. He had dropped them into a tree well to take cover when the tank ceased to be. The blast knocked the snow from the branches, partially burying them in the pit.
Nicoled looked up at Rykis, sitting in the air pocket he had created when he dropped in above her. The only light at the moment was from his four glowing eyes.
“Are you okay?” He asked as one of his arms knocked open a small hole for air, although neither of them needed it.
The snow from the hold collapsed, landing on her helmet’s visor. She couldn’t move her arms under the snow, but she nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine…” She stifled a laugh. “Rykis that was the craziest thing I have ever seen… granted I only remember about a month… but still.”
Rykis shrugged, knocking more snow down onto her. “You are Ghostless, and I care…” With that, he stood and helped Nicole out from the snow. “Besides, neither of us were armed for such a fight.”
“Well, thanks…” Nicole smiled behind her helmet. “Are you okay? That machine gun was getting pretty close to hitting you.”
He looked down and gave himself a patdown of his front and back, coming back clean. “All seems to be well.” Rykis looked like he was going to continue, but paused and listened to a voice speaking in his helmet.
It then occurred to her that she had not been hearing any of Mist’s radio traffic since her Ghost had gone offline. She did not even know how to manually change her signal.
He looked down at her once he had heard enough and noted the way her helmet was tilted; he relayed whatever information he was given to her. “Baron Acskis has announced that the fight is winding down, and our tanks have rolled through the Devil leadership camp and secured a site for transport. It seems that they’re calling for those of us from the first wave to group with the tanks and let the fresh reinforcements finish clearing the camp for any pockets of Devils.”
Nicole glanced around where she stood in the snowstorm, the area was illuminated by the burning remains of the tank and the trees that remained around it; noticing almost at once that the fight had seemed to piddle into the occasional bursts of gunfire off in the distance. Her mind went back to the attack plan. This camp spanned nearly nine square kilometers according to her Ghost’s count, and the eastern part of the camp, across the old highway, had held the Devil’s air pads. Apparently during the fight they had found that their leadership was to the north, where the tanks now waited.
The two walked through the snow, on edge the entire way. Bodies and ruined equipment belonging to the House of Devils was scattered in groups, most not too far from what looked like the remains of cabins they had probably been using as shelter. They had managed to catch the Devils’ by surprise, and won out.
The tanks were sitting in snow up to their side panels, and a few had plows fastened to their front plates. Nicole spied more than a handful of fresh dents and ruined armor panels. All recent battle damage. There were only three of the tanks here too.
“Will we be getting Skiff pickups once we are out of the battle site?” One of the House Mist Not-Dregs asked, climbing aboard the back of one of the tank turrets.
The Not-Dreg standing out of the tank’s cupola, a Tanker as Tansis had informed her, shook their head. “No, you will either march back, or ride on the turret. Skiffs are ferrying critically injured to where Baroness Kisakas has set up medical treatment.” The first Not-Dreg grumbled and threw a pack onto the back of the turret and sat down on it. leaving it at that.
Rykis waved for Nicole to climb on first, and she obliged; taking a seat on the cold metal on the front of the turret, where she could lean against the main cannon for support. Ideally, they would not need to move the gun on their way back to the staging area. Rykis dropped heavily against the turret beside her. The fatigue that she began to feel in her body was probably hitting him just as hard.
One of the tanks, fully loaded with House Mist fighters, lurched and began to pull out of formation. Dozens of others were walking beside it, having arrived too late to secure a spot on the first run out of there but opting not to wait for one of the other tanks to leave. Almost as soon as the tank had left the grouping point, a sheet of metal that had been up against a ruined building exploded outwards, bouncing off a nearby hulk of a truck.
Nicole found herself staring straight down the blowing barrel of a rocket launcher held by a House Devil Dreg. In the split-second before the Dreg launched the rocket, Nicole’s head raced. She just had to jump off the tank, but Rykis probably would not react as fast… and he was only there because of her and she cared for him too. She gave him a shove off of the turret, and only afterwards did she recall that her Ghost was still not working and in her pocket.
The rocket slammed into the turret’s armored plate where she had been leaning just moments before. Her shields managed to soak up the blast and kept her alive, but the wind had been thoroughly knocked from her lungs. She was launched sideways into a snowbank that had formed against a shipping container. Pain shot through her leg as it violently impacted something buried beneath the surface. She felt a snap in her leg as snow buried her underneath the container. Her head was spinning, but she was alive; however that pain in her leg was just growing worse by the second
Outside the snowbank, the Vandal atop the third tank swung the machine gun turret around and lit up the doorway, The armor-piercing tipped bullets punched fist sized holes in everything and the Vandal did not stop firing until he was sure no others were hiding inside the building.
Rykis stumbled up from where he landed and looked from the tank, where he had been sitting, and to the missing chunk of building that the rocket had been fired from. Where was Neh-Cole? He spun around and scanned the snow, all four of his eyes searching for the Guardian. They had been getting close, as friends at the very least. It was strange as well, being the one to teach her how to speak his language or being her purposed guardian… he was a guardian for Guardian. Rykis would have laughed if the situation was better. He spotted her arm swinging around in a snow pile trying to dig herself out.
Leaning down, he used the butt of his rifle to dig snow out from around her. As he got close, the snow began to turn red and it took a second for his mind to make the connection that Human blood was red. Moving with more haste, Rykis grabbed Neh-Cole’s arm and pulled her out. The blood was coming from a large gash in her leg, but it was impossible to tell how bad beneath the bodysuit; there was a jagged piece of metal visible in the melted red snow that looked to belong to the remains of a vehicle from long ago. She groaned when he rightened her.
“Thanks…” she mumbled and attempted to take a step away from him now that she was free. Unfortunately when Nicole went to step on her injured leg, the pain overwhelmed her again and she dropped back to the ground. “Fuck.”
Rykis quickly scooped her up and held her in his four arms. “It is alright, Neh-Cole. I do not mind.” He offered to carry her down the mountain.
She gasped as her injured leg swung down and bent at a weird angle, the pain flashing through her again. Rykis’ lower arms shifted in order to provide support and ease the pain. “Okay… Thanks… Be gentle I think its broken?”
Nicole took her Ghost out of her pocket to see if he would wake up and heal her, but he did not, Choosing to flash wildly like a strobe light instead. She placed him back into her pocket with a resigned sigh, hopefully they would be able to find a fix for him before too long.
What Rykis meant by carrying her down the mountain was actually just holding her in his arms and walking over to the tank. He climbed aboard and set her atop a pile of tarps with her leg stabilized. Nicole’s helmet was off and she was leaning against his side when the tank rolled off down the highway, making its way back to the Bellevue ruins four hours away.
Rolling though where the road block had been the day before, Nicole could see the remains of one of Mist’s Human tanks smoldering from its opened hatches. A neat hole was punched in the side of its turret. Directly across the highway from the old human vehicle was one of the strange Devil walkers, with its entire crew compartment blown open. It appeared that it had been the one responsible for the killing blow. Further down the road, another Mist tank sat disabled, its track was blown to bits, but otherwise completely intact. The night had been hard fought, but they had won.
A Vandal climbed over top the turret from the other side and looked across the handful passengers riding on the front. “Medic here. Is anyone hurt?”
Nicole did not say anything since she was sure that the medic would not have anything for a Human. However, Rykis waved them over. “Here, the Guardian’s Ghost is damaged, and her leg is wounded.”
“The Human?” the medic asked, crawling over to Nicole’s leg.
“Yes, I’m Human. Can you do anything to help?” Nicole spoke up now that the medic was here already.
The medic unlatched Nicole’s thigh armor and peeled open the body suit to examine the damage. “Mm, bone broken just above your knee… this will take a while to heal normally.” The Vandal must have read Nicole’s inquisitive expression for they continued. “Leg anatomy is very similar to us. Plus cross training was more useful years ago… I think I may still have some Human safe medicines in my kit…” The medic dug into their pack for a few moments and pulled out a cluster of faded glass vials the remains of english letters barely visible.
Nicole frowned and looked from the medic’s face to the vials, and then back at them. “Are those still viable?”
“They were when I last worked on a Human… probably seven years ago. Old age creation, they say they never expire.” The Vandal pulled out what looked like an injection needle mixed with a gun.
The words UMIC were embossed on the side in worn out chrome. She recognized the name from her ancient security badge. Maybe the medic got the device from where she had worked.
After squinting at the faded text on the side of the vial, the medic loaded it into the needle gun and jabbed around the wound three times. The machine hissed with each injection and then the medic stowed the device in their bag. “This should be a pain reliever, I will wrap and brace the leg until you can get to better facilities.” Nicole nodded as they continued to do just what they said they would.
The pain began to fade until it was nice and dull. Still there, but much more manageable. She began to feel drowsy, either the exhaustion from battle was finally seeping into her system or it was the painkillers were doing it. “Can I see the bottle?” She asked.
“Sure,” The medic pulled the bottle from the injection gun and handed it to Nicole.
She brought the small vial up to her face and tried to read what little was legible on its wrapper. It was definitely a painkiller, and a small bit of surviving subtext said that it would cause extreme drowsiness if dosed properly. “Thanks, this’ll make me sleep.” Nicole handed it back to the Vandal and sighed, deciding not to fight against the medicine and get some rest.
Nicole repositioned her head onto a bundle of Rykis’ cloak, so that it was not his armor plates, and let the rumbling tank send her off to sleep.
Something was wrong. Nicole felt off, she could not see. Vertigo flashed across her mind and orange light with a thunderous bang erupted around her. Ice ran across her body and she managed to tear her eyes open. The tank was burning, and she had been thrown carelessly into the snow. Her armor was gone, instead she was her original bodysuit she had been resurrected in.
She rolled onto her stomach and scrambled away from the wreck. Nothing was making sense and concentrating on anything was proving impossible. The ground around the tank splintered and broke away, falling into whatever lay below.
The ground beneath her shook, and she turned over to see a Kell sized Devil Captain walking in her direction. Nicole tried to scramble away, but seemed to be going nowhere no matter how hard she struggled.
Rykis appeared just up the road, firing at the Captain with his rifle, a flare in one of his lower hands brightly flashing red. “Neh-cole, Hold on!” he shouted.
The Devil Captain waved, and instead of a barrage of fire coming to strike the Captain and save her, the glowing shots fell atop Rykis… obliterating her friend. A gaseous silhouette of him rose out from the fireball and dissipated in the air.
She rolled back onto her back and scrambled for the sidearm on her hip, but it was completely useless against the Captain. The bullets just pinged harmlessly off of the armor. There was nothing she could do.
He reached down and picked her Ghost from her pocket, not even flinching at each bullet impact. Nicole dropped her pistol in defeat. Her head spinning even faster. The Captain closed his fist over the Ghost, crushing the first thing she knew into a fine white powder and letting it blow away in the wind. The Devil Captain stood tall, seeming to grow even larger before her very eyes. He raised his foot, now the size of an old city bus, and brought it down on her.
Nicole shot up from the bed, throwing the blanket off of her and tweaking her broken leg in the process. She was drenched in sweat, even with her bodysuit folded down to her waist. It was a dream… just a dream. Controlling her breathing, she glanced around the room she was in; she was back in her tower. This was Rykis’ bed. Had that medication really kept her asleep for the entire drive, and walk back home? It evidently had.
Light flashed on through the hole that led up into her room, and Rykis climbed down to check up on her. “Neh-cole, are you okay?”
She nodded in the dim light, “Yes… now I am… That stuff really did a number on me didn’t it?”
“I carried you back after the Kell dismissed us from the staging area. You slept through all of it,” Rykis said.
“I see…” She was still tired, and still scared of going back to sleep. But having Rykis here with her was making her feel better. “I was having a rough nightmare just a few moments ago…”
He nodded thoughtfully. “I am also having issues sleeping. That was a terrifying situation we went through tonight.”
“I think it’s trivial to be scared if I could just be revived later. But I feel really bad that you had to go through that because of me.” Nicole put forward her thoughts.
“To be honest, I could have decided not to go, but like I mentioned before I left, I am here to help you…” Rykis looked down at her and twiddled his thumbs, “But I would be lying if I say that I am glad I did.”
“I get that, I’d rather not go and fight either; but that’s apparently what Guardians are supposed to do,” Nicole sighed. “I don’t want to think about it… just wanna go back to sleep.” Rykis nodded and started back towards the ladder that led up to her room, but Nicole called back to him. “Wait… Rykis.” She hesitated. “Do you think you could stay here with me?”
Rykis stopped, and turned back around. His head cocked at an angle. “Are…are you sure?”
Nicole moved over, so that there was more space in the bed, she separated the blankets in two so they would each have one. “Just be sure that you don’t hit my leg.” He nodded slowly and came over. The bed was big enough for them to use and not touch. But she felt that just having him nearby would help her sleep.
“That is… doable,” Rykis replied, crawling in beside her. “We’ll look into getting your Ghost fixed in the morning,”
“Sounds.. like… a… plan…” Nicole yawned out loud. She was grateful for the other presence with her. Even if he carefully stayed clear of her leg. He was a welcomed friend, and maybe more. Though that would be something to look into later; some feelings were still new to her, and would need time to develop.
They slept well, even into the next morning.
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