Posted By: Andres<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 1 February 2008, 10:11 am
"Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality."
-Edgar Allan Poe
The muzzle blast echoed between the burnt out slopes of the hills that surrounded the small town. A combat veteran could recognize the sound on a weapon in any situation, and react accordingly, but some times in the bowels of a battlefield that experience worked the other way around. It was an odd effect from continuous permanence on the battlefield. Even the loudest, most recognizable sounds, the thunder that erupted from an SRS99, made no effect in a battletested person in certain situations. Somehow a battlefield veteran felt if something was fired directly at him and the one whom it had been fired at lay decapitated on the ground.
Some people called it instinct, some experience; it was an irony of both. The creatures beneath were gloating in victory and feast. They had won, defeated the humans and were now celebrating the glory of a won battle. It was something that all combat veterans had seen, and all knew how to exploit the virtue that sometimes was a fatal flaw, as it had been that precise second.
The enemy in the village did not react to the sound, maybe a head turned in the general direction, but all remained in their task of butchering unarmed, underwhelming enemies. It has something to do with being part of a combat unit, the more people were around you, the less one worried about weird sounds.
The Gunnery Sergeant noticed the only enemies who noticed the death of the Brute were the half dozen Grunts that surrounded the corpse that laid dead on the stone steps of the plaza, all still in shock at the loss of their superior. He thumbed the safety off and dropped the first two with two bursts from his BR.55 before any of the others reacted, even noticed. Two pairs that remained jumped, turned and ran towards the rubble of City Hall hoping to find any form of cover from this unseen foe. Ricardo put two into the ranking Grunt that fled the scene, a red Major, who collapsed, immobile, still alive and in pain, he moved to the next, no mercy for this enemy.
"Gunny," called Dwight from the ground. "I have a shot."
Another round from the SRS would undoubtedly cause a stir in the enemy, and that was suicide, well, immediate suicide. As lucky as they had been, one thing was being on a streak, another was to push that luck to the edge of sanity. "Negative," replied Ricardo as another burst exited the muzzle of his long rifle, two slugs hitting the right side of the chest of the little puke, falling wounded on the ground.
"Guns!" called another voice, he didn't look down, he knew the voice very well, it was Corporal Ibrahim Al-Asan, the team's designated marksman. "Three Grunts, on the courtyard by City Hall, take them down silently."
With Al-Asan the rest of the team reached the treeline, heard the order and complied. The trio of surviving enemies was within inches of the rubble, their last hope for survival; none reached it as ten rounds found each body. He made a last sweep of the area with his scope, finding nothing to reveal a stir within the enemy force.
God, what had he done? The Gunnery Sergeant had actually forfeited the life of a child, a little girl, an innocent life that had yet not flourished. His hands trembled, not out of stress as they did after any battle, but of rage. Not towards his enemy, not that the reservoir of that feeling inside of him had diminished, but towards himself. He had forgotten about humanity, about what being a man, a real man, was all about. It was not about having a big gun, facing and killing an enemy; it was about protecting the weak. Being a good soldier was not always following orders, it was about doing what was right. He had sworn to protect the weak ones, that was what a man ultimately was, and it was the Marine way. He felt ashamed.
"Gunnery Sergeant?" asked the Lieutenant looking up, his face revealing nothing but doubt, not about uncertainty of action, but what had caused it.
"It had to be done," Gunnery Sergeant Ricardo Nuñez noted without any regret, not one of outcome anyway.
"They seem to miss the fact that we just waxed a few of their own," said Lieutenant Savarese, as a question and a fact.
"Happens," replied the Gunny, "won't be long till they notice," he looked back up into the scope, not down to his fellow Marines, "orders, sir?"
Lieutenant Loiselle Savarese looked down on the village. If he ordered to pack and retreat, and the Covenant eventually found out, which was certainly any minute when one of the filthy beasts went to look for more spoils of war to enjoy, his team might escape. If he fought, and that was what he felt he should do, his men would be decimated, the enemy had a full company down there. "Run or hide Gunny, what do you suggest?"
The Gunny's lips moved, but he did not emit any sound. The answer was so obvious, in what was the soundly tactical move, and what he should do in terms or righteousness. His training was clear, Recon Teams do not engage unless the reasons call it for. His gut, mind or instinct told him to fight. There was no chance to survive the battle, but there was redemption, something only he understood. He compromised, "both."
Maraus looked down on the enemy, if it could be called that, the filth that laid wasted on its bed. It had fought, with a rustic weapon even for a human, one of those that fired metal pellets like a spray. An enemy was somebody who battled, not a savage beast that defended his life from the slaughter. It tried, in vain, to protect its family, the mate, of course, and its five offspring. The children escaped the immediate death; they were locked inside the governance building with the rest of the cattle. Maraus took his time with it, inflicting as much pain as he could before finishing its life. He took one last, unmerciful look at the banquet, then laughed and exited the home of the animal.
"A fine meal, milord?" asked Yap-Ye, his faithful clerk, an old Grunt that was certainly well respected among its ilk, and the only one of the lesser creatures he had some form of feeling for. It was more like a sapient pet than anything, though smart and loyal, it was a pet nonetheless.
"I have had better, filth always tastes the same," Chieftain Maraus said with a chuckle. Around the home his personal detail stood guard, his clerk, three Kig-Yar scouts and his second in command, where was he? "Tanaus, were did he go?"
"To the pit were the humans were locked, sire, he went there to find something rare!" Yap-Ye let out with a chuckle and growl, small creatures were so cheerful.
"Shall we join him?" he ordered. "Call everyone, lets finish this," Maraus looked at the horizon above the trees. Red morning light was pouring over the line the treetops formed; dawn was approaching, time to move forward as intelligence reports informed that the filth had plans to attack, how wonderful. He began to walk, flanked by his Jackal scouts, Yap-Ye at his side. "Any news from the front?"
"The attack has been stopped by a human position to the south; they say the advance will proceed later on." At the end of the street another team of warriors stood, this time those from Yope, who would be called Yopeus by the end of the day, first encounter with an enemy for the youngster.
"Chieftain Maraus," said solemnly the youngster, bowing his head as the rest of his group bowed down to their knees.
"Anything to report?"
"Humans," he said looking now up, "taste weird."
"Didn't like it?" the Chieftain asked as he began to walk to the human government building.
"I said weird, not bad sire."
Maraus nearly choked, and then let out a deafening roar; it was humor that only Brutes understood. "Glad you like it, enemy's flesh makes one stronger!"
"Yes sire." At the end of the street laid an intersection, the building they were looking, the City Hall -a hall? Humans were so mundane, it was a Building!- was to the right of the intersection. When they turned they were confronted by a sight none of them were prepared to see. They all held still, pondering what had caused it. His friend of a thousand battles laid decapitated, thick, red blood poured out of the lump that was once his head. Manaus roared, his arms wide open, his face poised at the sky, his mouth emitting a sound that scared even his fellow Brutes. He unhinged his faithful Gravity Hammer, looked forward and ran towards the body, flanked by Yope and the rest.
Six Grunts lay on the blood soaked stone beneath their feet. He looked around, barking orders to his warriors to check the nearby houses, which the slaughter had reduced to rubble and iron skeletons. Suddenly a cry on the back, one of the Grunts was alive.
He rushed towards the creature, two wounds on his chest poured blood slowly, it was dark purple, one of the livers was hit, in the rear he might had have a chance, not here, in the front struggling to survive in a fight already decided. "Where is the filth?"
"Up there," said the Grunt, pointing at the treeline on the slope to the North of the town, a perfect place for an Osoona team to hide. "We had no chance, please " Manaus ignored the pleas, if it was alive after he finished the humans he would give him to his personal physician. The bulk of his crèche had already reached the square, four platoons of two dozen Unggoy, ten Kig-Jar scouts and the Brute commander. He raised his hammer towards the direction of the treeline.
"Yope, take your fighters and-" the sheer force of the strike was enough throw him of balance, the blow to his chest plate felt like a thrust from a uncharged Hammer, he landed on his rear like pushed by a Lekoglo. To his sides, chaos ignited. A yellow line of tracers descended from the place the Grunt had indicated, in a straight line it found one of the Jiralhanae, fifty of the human bolts struck the beast, pouring a spray of blood and pieces of power armor on the ground.
He snapped back to his feet, pointed and barked a sound very distinctive to Grunts, the order to charge immediately in the direction pointed. Sixty of the small dogs ran between the buildings, growling and shrieking as they walked over the path of destruction they had helped create. Beams sprout from the beam rifles of the scouts, landing around the humans on the top, so little they knew.
The Gunny hugged the earth as tightly as he could, hoping to be mistaken for foliage. To his left and right four men did the same, the quintet's ghillie suits gave the impression of an odd formation of a grass patch as the Grunts poured out of the houses into the open, just ten meters to the right. He dared not to look up; his face was stuck to the ground as forcefully as it was physically possible. Ten seconds passed, the gunfire ceased, and what remained were the surprised screams of Grunts. It was a trick he had learned from some old Navy guy at Reach.
The guncam on any weapon could be used to point form a concealed position, but it could also be just to see. He had laid the M247S on the ground, to the verbal and physical complaints of Corporal Hammer, and then just programmed it to fire after it received a specific type of burst transmission. It was by sheer luck that the Brute walked exactly in the path of the bullets, right on the center of the square. He looked up into the town, the stench of burnt flesh, the smell of smoke rising towards the sky and the silence of death in what just hours before had been a joyful town. How could good luck in the face of horrible fate exist? He jerked himself back to reality with a simple shook of head.
On the top of the hill the Grunts communicated their findings, causing another roar that made Goosebumps appear on the skin of every Marine. The Gunny smiled another example of the bittersweet joy, an occurrence that happened constantly in the battlefield. His right thumb removed the safety cap of the detonator, and then slammed into the button. Popping like a root over the ground a metal receiver received the wireless transmission, sending an electrical charge to the two kilos of C4 buried beneath the earth.
The explosion rocked the earth, actually lifting the Marines from the ground; they clung to down to the mud, only a few moments of discipline remained.
On the treeline only two Marines remained, hidden from sight as lumps of grass at the bed of a large Oak. The Lieutenant and Hammer, the team's gunner who had surrendered his long automatic rifle for the grenade launcher of a comrade who had perished a day before. Next to him the Lieutenant wielded a large twin missile launcher, the M-19 SSM Jackhammer. It was the next to last phase of the suicidal plan.
The startle Covenant were even more when by the trees a whoosh of white smoke preceded a yellow tracer streaking towards them. A single 106mm rocket and six 50mm grenades cruised in the air towards the enemy assembled in the Plaza.
"Go! Go! Go!" ordered the Gunny as Covenant return fire from Brute Shots ravished the place the missile had erupted from. Five grass covered figures lifted from the ground, proceeding to run towards the outskirts of the thrashed town, the smell of death lingering in the air, reminding the Marines who for a second had felt hope the possibilities of their survival or victory, and the reality of what awaited them inside the town. Killing Grunts was a pedestrian task in the battlefield, killing what was waiting for them inside the village was not.
The Gunny paired two of his shooters. The corpsman, Doc Skuki and Corporal Karl Schmitt the team's RTO who had left his radio with the overwatch team on the treeline. Both packed SMGs, and would be on point. Next in the formation were Penzini and Al-Asan, the long riflemen, followed by the Gunny, on the rear. Only one physical obstacle remained between the Marines and the town, a small, white fence right out of a child's storybook that had remained intact through the onslaught. The men jumped over, using their hands to balance on the air, and then sprinted to the stone wall of one of the homes on the concrete border of the village. "Al?" asked Ricardo as he wiped his forehead with the back of his left hand.
"Clear," called Al-Asan after checking the motion tracker embedded above the receiver of his SMG. The RTO snuck onto the rear door of the house, then walked in a silent as a soft breeze into the house, swinging his SMG in the doorway, giving the "clear" sign and then everyone moved in. They all went to the front, towards the first street, bypassing an odd sight of order, this house had been untouched by the onslaught.
The man checked the monitor on the receiver of his SMG. "City Hall is crawling with movement, small and fast, large and slow, twenty odd contacts," he informed. City Hall was across the next block of houses. Like any other house on the center of the town these were two stories high, cramped next to each other with large porches where in times of normality that would never return small gatherings of neighbors took place. Once they made their way through, the tough part of the mission would start and end.
"OK," said the Gunny, wishing he had stayed in the treeline, overwatching the enemy while the Lieutenant took the assault party to the kill zone. He wished, but did not like, he reminded himself. As the last stunt of his life, he would mess the fuck out of the savages. "You two take the left flank, fifty meters, ground," he said pointing at the assault team and then turned to look at Al and Penzini. "Left, fifty meters, topside, wait for my go." The Gunny inhaled large drops of salty water descended from his hair, moisture messing with the greasepaint on his face, and uncomfortable sensation spread across his skin. He met eyes with the rest of his men one last time, the gaze of the thousand yards different but all the same in their eyes. As it was in the business they were in, they were forced to be in, the battle might be over in seconds. The war would last a lifetime for the warriors, no matter how long the life was. His hands flexed on his riffle, "go."
Maraus was in pain, the missile had broken the tile floor of the plaza and a large, thick piece of rock had lodged into his chest, cracking his power armor. The armor of a Brute Chieftain was something that was looked up, even for the arrogant Elites, and the crack on one was a crack on the pride, in this case Chiefain Maraus of the Kara Clan, the most successful and savage fighter in the whole Brute tribe and the Covenant.
As soon as the dizziness and confusion that the shellshock brought down on him passed, he jumped and looked for his servant, Yap-Ye, around the plaza, which was filled limbs and blood from humans and Covenant alike. The horrors of wars brought enemies together in death, something only warriors understood. Maraus swept his gaze across the plaza, his eyes scrutinizing every piece of gore and puddle he saw, no feeling in his gut, as was expected from a Chieftain of the Jiralhanae. Armless, lying on his back, his servant from childhood laid contorting on the ground a meter away.
He jumped right next to it, "Yap."
"Sire," cried the lesser being in a tone that was filled with pain, but was heard as any other squeal from a lesser being. "I have failed."
Maraus felt something he had never felt for anything other than a Brute, grief. That odd combination of nostalgia and sadness his peers never talked. "You have done right, my friend," he let out in contempt. "I will take you to my physicians back at Doisac, you will survive," the Chieftain whispered as he waited the little servant to die. He had never thought had he somehow will miss his boyhood servant, who had always been there, from his first broken arm in a fight, to his short lived romance life before he joined the battlements of the Covenant.
sire," said the Unggoy with his last breath. Maraus grabbed the COM unit attached to its back, after treating the corpse with as much humility as he could.
A squeak howled after he engaged in communications with the Legion of Chieftain Makiaus, a Grunt Major jumped at the sight of a deity.
"I need reinforcements, now!"
"Sire!" cried the beast on the other end. "We are engaged!"
"Nearly a Legion of humans lies at my doorsteps! Send all help, now!"
The Grunt barked and the COM went death. Around him survivors gathered, a decent force for an urban battle. Two dozen Grunts, seven Jackal snipers and a Brute, a young, useless puke named Rau. He turned at the useless puke. "Rau, be brave, defend this plaza at all cost."
The youngster nodded, his body shaken, he was the lowest ranking Brute in the whole Armada invading this planet, his short life reaching its culmination at that point. "Sire," he uttered as his commander turned and ran away, disappearing in the darkness of the concrete and stone valleys of the human town. Where was he going?
Corporal Dwight Penzini swung his heavy, long SRS90C to face the plaza on the top floor of the two story apartment building. It had taken six minutes to reach the place, moving across rubble, and in some cases, the stench and carcasses of dead civilians on the path, to get to their fighting positions. It would be a classic assault on an open position, a diversionary central attack, a massive flank attack, and an overwatch element. Penzini and Al-Asan was on the later.
"Clear," replied the Arab, his BR.55A sweeping the area, finding nothing but death, gore and blood on the stone steps of the plaza. His motion tracker showed nothing, both an encouragement and a possible deception. The Covenant creatures were specialists in luring everyone and everything into ambushes. As it was the motto of any special unit in the UNSC, "machines break, eyes rarely do."
He swept his rifle across the plaza, with IR, Thermal and IES modes on his scope. "I think its clear Al."
"Yes, it seems that way," he reported after his own scan, "I'll call it in
"square is clear Gunny."
"So it would seem." Ricardo unscrewed the silencer from the muzzle of his rifle, released the subsonic round filled magazine and then slammed a magazine filled with thirty six high power cartridges. The stealth part was over, the suicidal part had begun.
Minor Rau of the Brutes hid under the rubble his eyes fixed on the buildings around the square. The Chieftain had disappeared in the darkness, leaving him the task of defending against the humans. It was his first assignment in the field, to serve with the Legendary Chieftain Maraus, something that was supposed to be an honor, but not for him. Maraus was famed around the Covenant by his viciousness and suicidal courage, not the best way to try to get to the top, by dying following some Brute that was already on the top.
"Sire," it was the voice of Bek, personal scout to the Chieftain, as every Jackal, his voice resembled the sounds emitted from a choking creature.
"I have humans in the Plaza, fifty meters to the sunup side of the town, inside a building; I think I saw two running in there."
The Minor looked back, a squad of Unggoy waited behind him, hiding and waiting for the order to die. So wonderfully stupid creatures. He pointed at the leader then waved forward. The dozen jumped out from their hiding holes and then stumbled their way across the rubble, japing and squalling along the way, forfeiting any surprise and the inherent chance of survival. When they were all in position, the leader barked and howled, signaling a charge forward.
Rau waited the commotion, the thunderous sound of human weapons and the reprisal fire from his Jackal scouts placed around the square too. The absence of which was more surprising than any amount of violence. Squealing and howling in their high pitched voices the small, chubby and clumsy creatures stereotyped their way across the open terrain, moving literally like meat to the grinder.
The leader fired his needler on the closest building, the purple beams twirling in the air as they headed to the stone wall, erupting small rocks in every direction, a dozen or so weapons joined in, wrecking havoc on the remnants of what once had been model homes in a colorful town
Ricardo was bleeding. A shard from a spent needle had severed his left cheek, he stuck as closely and still as he could to the tile floor. They had been spotted, which meant somewhere on the darkness of the skyline the eyes of Jackal were hunting them, stalking their only remaining advantage, the cover of darkness. Outside the plasma fire had ceased, and the only thing he heard were the howls of cheerful Grunts.
Nuñez inhaled, and then everything flowed like combat always did, automatically, instinctively and unpredictably. "Hit 'em!" he stood up, exposing his head and the long silhouette of his BR.55 to the openness of the plaza. The pack of Grunts faced a house nearly fifty meters to the right, their fixed on a smoking, bouncing sphere that flew out of one of the windows. They wondered for a second why rubble had lasted so long to emerge from the pounding of their weapons, only when the fuse reached its end did one of the Grunts managed to howl a warning, too late.
He closed his eyes to hide the flash and fired randomly across the plaza, his finger squeezing the stiff trigger of his weapon as quickly as he could, spraying the opposite side of the open terrain with saboted lead. Hoping to lure the enemy towards him. As soon as he heard the click he dropped, ejected the magazine and slammed a new fresh mag filled with thirty six rounds
Al-Asan kept his right eye fixed on the scope even as sweat struggled with his eyebrows downwards. He knew he had only one shot at this, and with his silenced rifle it had to be a damn good one. He scrutinized the surroundings from his thermal imager sight, looking for a brighter red in the pink background. As he made his way through the remaining rooftop of a caved in house, he saw it, a bright red outline of a small biped creature which moved to get a clear shot a the source of the fire. He squeezed the trigger, the silhouette dropped and called, "down, on the rooftop!"
It was the last thing the brave Marine would ever say, think or do
Ricardo heard the call from his marksman, then knelt and exposed his head again. There was nothing to bee seen except the familiar sight of havoc. Nothing moved in the stone steps, grassy patches and rubble that remained of the square. "Go," called Ricardo as he raised his right knee almost as high as his chest, placed his worn out boot on the window frame and kicked himself out of the house. He scanned right, a sole figure emerged from the house to his left, one man had died. Both Recon Marines paired up, the RTO, Schmitt, to the right and the Gunny on the left, each man scanning ninety degrees forward
Lance Corporal Dwight Penzini was mute. Dark, red liquid covered the right side of his body, blood that was not his but from his brother of war, Corporal Ibrahim Al-Asan. He wasn't sure if he could talk, he wasn't sure if he wanted to. A few minutes before he had been a hardcore, highly trained and disciplined killing machine, now just the latter. An angry human who had seen the horrors of a diabolic enemy, reduced to the purest instinct of a person in such place, the lust for retribution. He could see clearly the Brute on the courtyard, hiding between the rubble as his brothers slowly made their way towards a trap.
He could see the snipers on the rooftops, two lying prone, trailing the pair of grass dressed figures as they headed for a deathtrap. It was a dilemma. He could kill that Brute with ease, but he would not survive to help his comrades with the Jackals. His training told him to kill the Jackals, the rest of his psyche screamed for the Brute, who had eaten and butchered all the people in the town. His death was certain, as it was a distinct possibility for his comrades. Silenced, in a way he did not understood, unable to do anything but scream in his head, he took his last, long breath, tightening the stock of his rifle on his shoulder. He waited for his next heartbeat, as his heart was inert between heartbeats he pulled the trigger
The lingering doubt of what Penzini and Al-Asan were doing was gone. Urban fighting was fast and messy, a grinder for the green and a reminder for the experienced. As the latter, he did not scan the ground but the rooftops. Jackals were great hunters, but as all great hunters they had a flaw, they had a tell at the end, right before taking the shot. For an experienced hunter the cease of movement was a revealing as a sudden one. Jackal's were built oddly, their breathing system moved their shoulders sharply as they inhaled and exhaled, when they held their breath they remained completely still. As faintly as it might seem to the tenderfoot next to him, he knew it was there.
He fired his rifle as fast as he could on what he thought the target to be. A loud, choking roar howled between bursts. "Ambush!" warned Ricardo as loud blast from the SRS joined the fray
Maraus watched from the top of human governance building as the events unfolded bellow. They were tenacious, these humans, only these, not the weaklings locked on the building where he stood. Rau jumped out of his hiding place, landing a meter away from the human with the long weapon. Even a useless husk like Rau was too fast for it. The human was kicked in the abdomen, thrown a meter away by the sheer force of the blow.
The standing human aimed his short weapon at the young Brute who raised his spiker the same way. They both looked at each other, their eyes meeting for a second before each activated their weapons. At any distance a spike would tear through a human, but a short human weapon was a spitball against a Brute, but not at that range, at pointblank range. The human landed on the ground, dismembered by any effect. Rau stood long enough to see the human die; he then collapsed to his knees. A useful pawn, he had served his duty.
Ricardo struggled to get as much air as he could into his lungs. He looked at the red haze of dawn above, a beautiful vista in any world, so far apart, but so immediate close, a blend of two realities which were so different, but the same after all. The color red in the sky was slightly lighter than the blood that stained the floor, so stunning in both senses, a reminder and a waiver from the reality. As breath returned to his body he crunched, sitting up, gripping his rifle and looking around.
Corporal Karl Schmitt laid death, too many hot red spikes stuck on his body almost severed him completely. A meter from him a Brute took his last breath, pierced by nearly forty .197 rounds had laid waist on its middle body. It was over, he felt. He activated TEAMCOM and then uttered, "clear." The revelation suddenly hit him. He had survived, endured, and had his retribution. All the source for celebration was there but his only reaction was the most common after a firefight. His hands, face and shoulders began to tremble. His breathing became erratic, thick sweat poured down from his hair, staining the shirt beneath his suit. His mind focused on nothingness, only emotion reigned his actions, and lack off. Salty water from his eyes dropped from his eyes, it was just too much to hold in, the reservoir had crumbled to the pressure.
"Dwight," he called, receiving only static on his earpiece. "Ell-tee? Al?" he asked desperately.
"One copies," called the Lieutenant after an infinite three seconds. "Good job Gunny
I'm coming down, sorry for the wait, Hammer lost his left leg, but I think I stopped the bleeding... those damned Brute Shots, he looks like a blender. We'll be there presently." The COM clicked death.
Ricardo helped himself up with his rifle, the shaking diminished as a friendly voice was heard. The veteran Marine walked towards the body of Corporal Karl Schmitt, UNSCDF Marine Corps. There was a certain solemn fact about a soldier killed in battle, no matter how senseless the death was. He died so that others could live, no matter who killed him, an odd and unnatural circle of life. Ricardo turned around facing the massive building that was City Hall. Unknowing what horrors waited inside, he parted from his comrade to see if any of the senseless violence had yielded results.
Each step felt like a mile, going on the red stained marble floor, reaching the top where the massive egg shaped door laid closed, thick chains wrapped around the golden hilts. The metal shackle was secured only by a thick nail. Ricardo could not help to chuckle, the irony. The Covenant, capable of landing waste to entire civilizations, used such rustic means to lock up people. He pulled the nail and the chains dropped, the doors swung a second to their sides, revealing to the Gunnery Sergeant what was in there. A dozen ragged, dirty figures stood in a reception like building, hiding behind rustic barricades, wielding sticks and metal debris to defend them, not in the condition to put up an actual fight. "Whoa!"
"Stand back monster!" cried one elderly woman who took a step forward, raising what looked like a kitchen knife in her right hand. Ricardo instinctively gripped tightly his rifle.
"I'm not a monster, I'm a Marine." The woman seemed to choke. She stood fast, her face covered in the darkness of the building. A faint squeal emitted from her lips, the other ones whispered and mumbled. "I'm coming in."
He used both his arms to swing the doors open, orange light of dawn filled the hallway revealing the mud, dirt and blood soaked faces of the persons inside. They could had been twenty or eighty, there was no tell behind the cloak of filth and cold gazes in their eyes, their expressions completely emotionless.
The elderly lady collapsed on the ground, howls of pain and joy emitted from her voice. "Grams, don't cry," said suddenly a shorter figure with soft voice that emerged out of a perfect hiding spot the Gunny hadn't noticed. Ricardo followed her, her blood soaked arms wrapped around the old lady. The tetric scene for a second felt joyous.
"Told you they would come," called a man in one of the barricades, wearing a brown service uniform where a silvery badge was pinned. "Howdy, I'm deputy Rowling- Oh shit!"
The unthinkable happened. Ricardo's rifle was pulled from his arms, the belt ripping across his light body armor, his two-one-zero weight raised in the air like a puppet. Two thick arms wrapped across his body, crushing several of his ribs in a pair of excruciating seconds, and then he was flipped around. Inches from his face two pairs of red eyes and a breath that could wake up the death met him. The pair of pupils were fixed on his own like headlights from an incoming train, the rest of the face moved as the monster inhaled and exhaled, but not the eyes. The red headlights were fixed on his own, a halo of red veins around them. His fangs were there too, in that horrible image, covered with cauterized blood from all the victims of the night. "My god!" the Gunny squealed out, throwing all the weight and strength he could into his fist with a blow that could knock out any man, but not this creature. It smiled, or so it seemed, its lips and teeth forming a shape of an oddly amused grin.
The beast swung its fist at Ricardo, breaking his right kneecap, laughing like a monster from a nightmare and throwing him into the ground like a rag doll. Ricardo inhaled, he knew how it was. This was his end. It was not what he imagined when he joined the Corps; there was no glory or victory over an enemy hill or Army, surrounded by the corpses of enemies and with his victorious comrades around, cheering. Instead of that glorifying image he was confronted with the harsh reality of what hell surrounded him. A devastated human town, the bloodied, mutilated cadavers of his fellow men around him, unarmed and a pray for a devil.
It could be a nightmare, but it wasn't. Nightmares were never so diabolic, so unforgiving, so real. It was the reality that shadowed the hope he had so unworthily celebrated, shaking on the ground. The Gunnery Sergeant looked back, behind him woman and children screamed, the sounds muffled somehow. They used to tell him that when confronted with death a man would see his life before his eyes. Somewhere and sometime he had been a happy kid, playing and chanting. That life somehow had been erased. As he looked into the blood red eyes of the Brute he remembered what his life had been all about.
Ricardo had felt it, lived it, fought it. The past three years had been dedicated to kill and to save, to live and die in a matter of seconds. He wore his Dress Blues with pride and honor. At the finale of his short life he was confronted with horror for the last time. Horror that somehow did not cause fear in him
Maraus looked down at the feast on at his paws. It had fought to the very end, even now in the presence of an omnipotent being his eyes stared at him, a gaze that seemed to see more than what met the eye. He had seen humans in their last seconds of life before, scared, agonizing, simply lost to their emotions. This animal was different. It looked back at him, met his gaze. Only a few Brutes and even less in the Covenant dared to do so. He had the eyes of a savage murderer, deep, focused eyes that did not have shine or light. A gaze that even some Elites avoided when necessary.
It was a warrior, this human, one who had seen death before, one that even when contemplating his demise did not flinch. It had yielded to its ultimate destination with honor.
Maraus, Chieftain of the Jiralhanae, contemplated a first for a human, his red eyes and red stained fangs that had submitted humans into desperation did not have any further effect on this vermin and that was an effect that was offensive to any Chieftain. This time, it was different. He was not offended. He had seen the tenacity of humans before, fighting to the death. Some even strapping explosives and sacrificing themselves for the good of their race, but never like this. A very human feeling crawled on his back, mercy. This human would die, but with honor. Painless and glorifying. The human looked at him, this time his gaze was something completely different of what it had been just seconds before
"Everybody, stand back!" he screamed out of the blue causing a stir in the Brute who crouched into its battle stance. His hand went for his harness and he grabbed a grenade, pulling the pin but not releasing the fuse. Ricardo stared at the beast, holding the grenade in front of his face. Somehow the roles had changed. This time the red eyes of the Brute did not seemed threatening, but threatened, looking like too red marbles more than anything. Gunnery Sergeant Ricardo Nuñez thought to say something
memorable, instead he simply released the fuse, a click indicating the five second countdown had began.
He rolled the grenade. Blackness, a deafening blast and then