<== ==>  

“Tamar, what in the name of fuck is going on?” Lucifera asked as she and Herod descended.

“I don’t know, legata! We were on guard and then they just… appeared! Came from the skies like they had popped into existence- none of our sensors picked up on them until they were on top of us.” Tamar had still managed to down several flesh-dragons, their bodies lying around her. Her armor was soaked in sticky blue blood. “The rain is so heavy that the dropships can’t ascend quickly. We’ll be sitting ducks in the air and they can hit us again.”

Amalek landed next to them. “Then we need to evacuate,” he said quickly. “We have wounded too- Zabda and the rest of the medics are doing what they can but… it isn’t enough. We need a ship’s medical suite.” He turned to Lucifera. “Legata, I suggest we request immediate extraction. We aren’t prepared for combat this heavy.”

Lucifera paused, then nodded. “Fleet Command, this is Legata Lucifera Humol, 119th Legion,” she said into her headset. “We just came under heavy attack and suffered significant casualties. Heavy rain is impeding a retreat and multiple dropships were lost. Requesting immediate evacuation from our position, over.”

“Copy that legata. Patching your request through… request granted. Pick-up will arrive in T-minus nine minutes. Over and out.”

Lucifera switched to the colonel frequency. “Amalek set up a perimeter, I want to know if we’re about to get hit again,” she ordered. “Ruth, get me a count of the wounded and dead, get the former to Zabda and load the latter into a dropship. Tamar, find the Mater Sicario and tell her what we’re doing. Sheba, your girls are on clean-up duty- finish off any enemy wounded.”

While everyone got to work, Herod did the only useful thing she could: prepare for the next battle. She walked over to one of the flesh-dragons. The head and neck almost resembled a viper, a huge-mouthed pit snake with rows of gleaming teeth. Its body was lumpy and shapeless, with almost bat-like wings and a long, coiling tail. It was the color of vomit. Its flesh was so spongy that most of the rain that hit it bounced right off.

Amalek walked over to the dragon and ran a mailed finger along its slashed-open head. “This is… not a natural lifeform,” he muttered. “This is a result of Neighbors’ genetic engineering. The flesh is malleable and has a great deal of give to it… and it regenerates when damaged.”

“I killed one from point-blank with a rocket,” Herod offered.

“Mmm. Looks like Tamar took this one out with a high velocity spike to the dome.” Amalek peered inside the split skull. “But the head is small and constantly moving, not an easy shot even with a guidance system. Most lack the skill for either of those methods, there has to be an easier way…”

While Amalek pondered, Herod jogged away to meet back up with Lucifera. The legata was talking to Ruth, who had taken a minor wound to her left shoulder. “68 dead,” the colonel said, clutching her arm. “Another 117 severely injured, and hundreds more with minor wounds. This was a devastating attack, legata. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the enemy strike with such speed and coordination. It was like they were expecting us to land here.”

“Let’s not worry about that now,” Lucifera replied. “How are the wounded doing?”

“Zabda has it in hand, and I have as many birds as I can spare helping them… legata, what if they come back?” Ruth swallowed dryly.

Lucifera shook her head. “Whatever happens, we have got a mighty fleet and they have not. They show their faces again and I’ll paint them with another Wrath of God.”

“The weather is getting worse though,” said Ruth. “Soon the clouds will be impenetrable… what’s happening? Things don’t go like this normally.”

“Relax. Look, there’s our ride.” Lucifera pointed up. Sure enough, a massive BEACON frigate hovered overhead. It was the BV Isaiah: 2,000 feet long and shaped like a sunflower seed, large enough to easily carry five legions. The ship bristled with weaponry: mighty cannons that could fracture a planet’s crust, a battery of laser weaponry to reduce any number of small craft to atoms, and long-range precision artillery to take out pinpoint targets on the surface. It and ships like it had spent days pounding everything that even vaguely resembled a military position on Kra-Ki-Wa into mist, until all that remained were a few straggler positions that small unit tactics were better-suited to neutralizing.

It was the 119th’s home, the ship from which they had deployed for decades. The interior contained not only battle stations but also comfortable lodgings for its thousands of passengers, including a spa and three swimming pools.

The Isaiah slowly descended on the mesa, and through the rain a cheer went up. Of course it was heartening to see the true might of BEACON, one of its jaw-droppingly expensive and cataclysmically powerful capital ships. No number of reptilian savages would ever be a match for it.

The clouds intensified as the ship descended, though. Slowly, the Azariah was ensconced in dark clouds… odd. It had gone from clearly visible through the rain to nearly impossible to spot.

It seemed impossible, and yet it was happening right before their eyes. The heavy dark clouds coiled around the Isaiah, shrouding the ship in a shifting, billowing mass. The clouds pulsed and coiled almost sensually, moving like flesh, like they were alive.

White flames hissed from the bottom as the Isaiah shifted to a strong upward thrust- it was trying to escape. But no luck, the clouds surrounded the thrusters and…

And broke them right off.

Chunks of debris fell from the Isaiah and slammed into the ground a half-mile below, shaking the mesa. Several girls covered their mouths in horror. “W-what’s happening?” someone asked over the global channel. Nobody answered her.

The clouds had now completely engulfed the Isaiah, to the point that no part of the ship was in view. Horrific cracks and crunches sounded, and more pieces of debris slipped through the mass.

The bloated black cloud then began to lazily drift, leaking pieces of ship behind it. It was moving… towards the mesa. 

Towards the 119th Legion.

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