Posted atop a nearby hill, Makar could faintly see the shape of the nearby ruins, the thin night fog obscuring most of the details. Hidden inside the broken buildings, the small army had bunkered up as they waited for the return of the smaller detachment that had gone deep under the earth, looking for their target.
In front of where Makar and Chimera stood laid a large grass field, extending to the ruins. Behind them, the road they had taken lead down toward the large forest bordering the grasslands. A deep and thick forest, host to a wide variety of creatures.
Sitting on the ground near her rifle, Chimera was enjoying the tea she had prepared a few minutes sooner, to help them fight the cold of the night. This insidious cold had been brought forth by the chilly wind coming from the north, menacing to affect their motor skills on an important fight night.
"How long until contact?" asked Chimera who had no actual link with the forward scout group.
"If the target keeps moving at the same speed, we should have news in about five minutes." replied Makar after an instant, coordinating directly with one of the runners who maintained contact with the rest of the group.
"I still have time to finish my tea, then." finished Chimera, apparently very happy not to waste any tea.
[Redacted due to Character Development Spoiler... (Sorry! Please read the 6/2/2016 update for explanation)]
"The target is in chase. Collision in less than three. Prepare for engagement." said the voice of the forward team’s scout in Makar’s radio.
Soon after he had shared the info with Chimera, she had snapped out the emotions created from her past and promptly dropped near the stock of her rifle, preparing herself for the moment she would need to enter the scene with a perfect shot. Weiss had instructed her to take the opportunity the kill of the Alpha would grant and fire on as much Elites as possible before their enemies regrouped and changed tactics. After that, she would act as moral support, taking as many shots on important targets as she could. Makar, for his part, was on sentinel duty, keeping watch and making sure nothing in the vicinity could come jumping at Chimera without them noticing. Crouched low on a large rock, he was overseeing a broad range of their surroundings at once, actively looking for anything that could come at them.
A minute later, the main event happened. The forward team had sprinted out of the ruins, coming into sight, their forerunner directing the group as the backlines were facing back, shields up high, blocking bullets after bullets as they ran backward as fast as they could without tripping. Behind them quickly came in sight the first of the Stratas who were after them. As the humanoid robots started flowing out, the ambush sprang open with the scouts out of the fire lines of the ambushed soldiers. Quickly after the gunshots started, the Stratas spread out around the terrain, responding to a silent call that probably came from deeper in the ruins. As the mass flowed out, Elites could be seen here and there, their reinforced body and yellow markings sticking out of the crowd of robots.
The moment the Alpha, with its matte silver body and its red markings, showed a glimpse of existence, Chimera’s grip on her weapon tightened even more than it had before. The leader of the Stratas had not yet reached the moonlight when the bullet left the barrel of the sniper rifle, making Makar jump from the sudden detonation. As the gravity picked up the weight of the bullet, counteracting the soft wind, it lowered what seemed at first like an overshot, and sent it directly in line with its target, nailing it directly in the bulk of its head, spattering the ground behind it with oil and other fluids necessary for its well-function. Even if she had somehow missed its brain chip, it would stop functioning pretty soon, its body unresponsive due to lack of cooling. As the body fell to the ground, a bullet case rang as it hit the ground, expelled from the high caliber rifle in an attempt to reload in a hurry.
But fortunately for them, she had nailed the control chip dead on, as shown by the massive movement of unrest gaining the robots, their highest layer of control crashing above their heads, making them lose valuable information on the state of the battlefield. They were no longer a single army with global knowledge, but less than a dozen smaller teams, each having to communicate on different networks to carry informations to one another, vulnerable to interference and miscommunication.
By the time they were reorganized, four Elites had fallen, three to the army and one had been the prey of the same caliber as his superior. From a three layer command structure, they had fallen already extremely low with the Elites now missing, as well as the Alpha. The remaining six Elites were probably patching themselves onto the different networks, trying to keep a sense of unity as much as they could. But it showed that some groups had been left to themselves as they moved in a sporadic and contrary to the rest. While the rest of the army was moving toward cover, reducing immediate casualties to a minimum, a detachment of eleven Tin Men, with one of them taking control of the group, its control node blinking dimly at a furious speed, charged across the field, taking fire from the ambushers on the other side of the ruins.
’Don’t let their battered heads face us’ Chimera heard over the radio, a transmission coming from the Vanguards down at ground level. She knew what he meant; The Stratas were hoping their heads would stay intact and act as surveillance for a while, before they shut down from lack of energy or overheat, patching back into the networks, sending the informations they could gather from their location, giving them a sense of control over the battlefield.
"As much as I would like for you to help more, I’m afraid we don’t have that time." said Makar, in her back.
"What’s up?" said Chimera, turning back from her rifle, getting up.
"You can probably hear it now that you aren’t as focused anymore, but we got Maulers on our ass. They started howling as soon as you fired the first round."
Now that he mentioned it, Chimera remembered hearing something similar to what he was talking about while she focused on the aftermath of her shot. Her brain had stifled the sensory stimulus but she now remembered it clearly. A sound similar to a large canine of Old Earth resounded in her mind. Was it a reproduction from the sounds she had heard earlier or was it happening again right now? Breaking out of her thoughts, she saw Makar getting ready, fixing a small contraption onto the string and body of his bow before loading what looked like a magazine in the protrusion, near the core of Bloody Limbs, his shiny new bow.
"What’s that?" asked Chimera as she quickly separated the rifle, in case they needed to move.
"A device me and Elder call the Slinger. It allows my bow to turn into a high powered pellet launcher. Against anything too big it won’t do much but Maulers should be in the range of what it can shoot down."
"What about the heavy Maulers?" said Chimera, referring to the larger ones, currently howling at them.
"We will have to take them down by other means. But it’s better that I can take down more of them in a shorter lapse of time than killing less, no matter their size, don’t you think?"
"Only because I am here to help you..." she said, closing her rifle case and opening the secondary access. There waited her trusty assault rifle which she quickly grabbed and reloaded.
"And I’m glad you are, Chimera. Now let’s kick some Maulers’ ass." closed off Makar as the wave of Maulers started coming out of the forest , quickly approaching on the path. "Here they come."
As the large wave approached, the fight quickly turned from guns and slinging bow to melee fighting. Hands, claws and close quarter weapons clashing in a ballet of hits and near misses. Around the fight’s main location, piles of bent metal and torn plastic formed a circle around the general area where they fought, remains of the Maulers piling up as they hit the ground around them, knocked away by sap and club hits. The rest of the Maulers prowled outside the ring, waiting for an opportunity to strike at them.
By the time the wave started thinning, they were starting to lose space to maneuver around each other without stepping on metal parts, potentially making them lose their footing or making them twist something dangerously. Falling at this point would had meant almost certain death for at least one of them, if not both.
As the last of the Maulers fled or fell to the ground, they were finally able to take a breath, taking careful steps out of the ring of carnage they had created. Burrowed somewhere under the mound of metal, Chimera’s sniper case was laying on the ground, ready to be carried back once they could find it and her assault rifle returned to it. As she searched for it, Makar took a sitting on his rock once again, scouting the surrounding with his binoculars. Looking for a moment toward the ruins, he tried to get a feeling of the results of the assault.
“Found it!” said Chimera, digging her sniper case out of the pile. "How’s it going over there?"
"Now that you’ve found your sniper, let’s go. The situation seems under control and I think it would be wiser for us to leave this to them and not risk ourselves. Raiders are unlikely to come for them due to their numbers but we have made quite a ruckus and a nice piece of scrap and if anyone is close, we can be sure they would be coming for this location."
"I guess you are right..." granted Chimera, sad to leave the soldiers without moral support.
"Now tell me, sweet sweet friend, where are the other Lords hiding?" said a voice hidden in the darkness of the room.
Under the sole spotlight of the room stood a man, large in frame, bound to his chair by a rope wrapped dozens of time around his wrists, holding his hands against his sides, his feet bound the same way to the legs of the chair.
"I knew we shouldn’t have taken you as an Intern..." replied the man. "What was it again? Graven? Barren?"
"Dear, dear, Darwin, you know what my name is... You just don’t want to remember it, do you? Is ignorance truly bliss? Do you really think not knowing the one who will kill you is actually protecting you?"
"It sure is buying me time, though." said Darwin, bound on his chair.
"Black as the abyss are my wings, tainting your mind. Red is my beak as I eat the carrions. For I am the Raven, proud and prophetic."
"Pitiful and pathetic, you mean." replied Darwin, interrupting his monologue.
"You always had the ways to bring me back down as I got into my monologue. Such a shame you never had the time to hear it in its full length. Now, where are they hiding?"
"I was the only one who required a realm to contain The Beast. The rest are all on the ground."
"Mmmm... Do I believe you? That is the question..."
"Why should I lie in such a situation? I have nothing to lose."
"You’ve got it wrong, dear little Darwin. It is not about you right now, but rather about the humanity. Your decisions tonight will not only impact yourself but the future of the humanity. So tell me now again, where are the others?"
"On the ground. As simple as that. Hidden in plain sight. You are the only ones with agents on the ground. We are simply on it to help."
"You are lying!" raged out Raven, coming in the light to choke Darwin. A large feathered cloak, imitating a raven, flowed on his back as he moved. "If you guys really were on the ground, we would had already found you!"
"How much time did it took you to find me?" croaked Darwin in Raven’s face, grinning as he released his hand on him, leaving for the darkness again. "You guys were actively looking for me and it took you such long time to find me while I wasn’t even hiding! Imagine finding someone trying to blend themselves with the other crows."
"You will pay for that one, little Darwin." muttered Raven, leaving the room, the spotlight closing as he left, leaving Darwin in the dark.