Amaranth was hunting. He was hunting artifacts lost long ago, in ages long forgotten by man and beast. Masari artifacts. Priceless. Invaluable to the freedom fighters crusade against human oppressors.
The long grass of the savanna rolled under his feet as he ran; ran at speeds no human could ever match for hour after hour. Subtle scents filled his nostrils, a plethora of information on migration patterns, local predators, the settled fumes of an aircraft, a poacher's gun oil, and far, far more. The mating cries of distant birds filled his ears, as did the chirping of buried insects. All of this and more filled the sensory segments of his mind and was analyzed by an intuitive spatial awareness that granted him a nearly preternatural awareness of his surroundings.
In the distance he saw.. structures. The Peacekeepers emblem? "Hrmph."
Colonel Hugh Jackson wasn't really told what he and his men were guarding. Only that it was vital to humanity's safety against the alien, the Alien which was pushing everything the Peacekeepers had gained to it's current brink. He wasn't sure how the Red Guard or the Axis was faring, and he frankly didn't care. But still, he'd really like to know just what was behind that dome that the Scientists were couped up in.
He frowned as he looked over the reports, another poacher gang had to be shot when they got too close to the perimeter set up. And he had to issue another apology to their native country's government for the mess. And that meant more paper work. Paper work, just those two words made his stomach churn. Yes, Earth was going to need some changes when the Peacekeepers could finally establish themselves as the Sovereigns of the homeworld.
He then received a radio comm from a fire team of peacekeepers patrolling the outermost perimeter. "+Check point Tertius clear.+" The comm came in.
Corporal Nacht Richtmann hated Africa, too hot, too many damn bugs, too many damn nosy locals, too many damn stinky, filthy animals and too many damn tourists he had to shoo away. He honestly wondered why anyone would want to be up here. His riot officer like power suit had it's air conditioning turned up, his face hidden under the polarized visor of the blue-armor suit to keep away the infernal sun.
He honestly didn't even particularly like his men, two women, one of them a native of the area, two men, one of whom was some Hungarian fart who's name he couldn't pronounce. Insufferable, he thought as he flipped open the lid of his helmet and took out a bottle of beer, using his armor's coolant systems to keep it ice cold, against regulations as a being drunk with their kind of gear was a terrible combination, but who was going to know?
What he didn't know was that this motion was going to be his last.
Grey booted feet pounded the African grass. Amaranth was over seven feet tall and over over three hundred and fifty pounds of mutant muscle, zythium laced bone, and martial prowess. And he hadn't come to play around.
A huge and armored fist grabs the handle of a massive revolver. With the flicker of titanium the ancient gunslinger levels the barrel of the weapon at the side of the guards head and pulls the trigger. The blast levels grass for five meters in every direction. Blue-white plasma erupts from the barrel and an armor piercing projectile of diamond hard solidified air shreds the atmosphere at mach three. A mach cone can be seen in its wake; it tears through the sky toward the skull of one Corporal Nacht Richmann.
Whether his visor could have taken the bullet was a moot point, he had foolishly decided to lift it to get a quick beer. His decision to disdain the water his suit provided him perhaps costed him his life as the bullet smashed through his still very much human skull, blew out the back of his helmet, and sent the contents of his head pouring out the hole made in his helmet as he slumped to the ground, his beer bottle shattered and spilling it's contents to mix with his blood.
The other four members of Fireteam Raptor swiveled their heads to face the source of the sound and let loose wild, inaccurate bursts from their gauss weapons. The war with the hierarchy had taken it's toll on the number of skilled soldiers the Peacekeepers could afford to spare, and these green rookies dumped their clips out in a deluge that while impressive, had as much likelihood of hitting their intended target as one had of winning the lottery.
They were scared, frightened, still young and only just a cut above the have nots of peacekeeper society who were stuck in the unfortunate S.O.Bs who made up the reservists. Just a step above cannon fodder hidden away in the technology of the future.
Amaranth dived for cover, rolling up to one knee, facing the four remaining peacekeepers. Gauss fire peppered the ground around him, ripping up long plumes of dirt and whacking down yards of tall grass. He leveled his pistol and fired four rounds. Four long plumes of plasma flashed from the barrel and four armor piercing rounds ripped through the sky. The grass in front of Amaranth sizzled and crisped with the heat. He could feel sweet boil off his forehead as the four rounds ripped toward the skulls of his four remaining targets.
Each of them fell in turn, dropping silently as the Peacekeeper base in the distance loomed ahead. It was approaching time for a shift change in the patrols, which would leave an opening in the extraterrestrial human's defenses of their research site. Who could tell what sort of mad sciences they were conducting behind the walls of their dome?
They certainly seemed to know the importance of the Masari tech hidden in their dig site, it seemed worth having tanks on stand by, though currently they were awaiting new drivers. Peacekeeper tanks fortunately, were capable of being driven by a single person quite well, something any veteran of the battle of the first MARATHON ring would be well aware of. The havoc such a mighty armored beast as a guardian tank could wreak among hapless infantry would be awe inspiring to say the least.
Amaranth took one look at the tanks and altered his plan on the fly. He already had the element of surprise, adding the firepower of a guardian tank to it would be a force multiplier. He dashed to each tank in turn, dropping down into the commanders compartment and destroying the controls by dissolving the atomic bonds that held the materials together.
There could be only one. A grim expression crossed his face as he climbed into the final operational tank. He took his time learning the controls, and then flipped the power on. Acting quickly to retain his advantage of surprise he targeted whatever communication antenna, communication dish, or other instrument the facility had and fired the main cannon. The important thing was to prevent them from summoning reinforcements.
The peacekeepers were caught by surprise, the sight of one of their own mighty tanks suddenly firing upon them proving to be a most alarming sight. Most of the anti-armor troopers were caught in their barracks, dying as they were obliterated by the pounding shells and detonating munitions. Others were scythed down by automatic weapon or cannon fire as the tank began it's rampage and the communications system went out.
Already soldiers started fleeing as the Colonel stepped out, looking on at the Tank as he stood defiant, uselessly firing away the grenade launcher attachment to his tripart gun, standing in the blood and guts of his now dead soldiers, the ones who fled may survive to get their asses chewed out for cowardice, but he had seen war on many worlds, he'd seen things that no man ever should, he'd seen the sins of thought warp the flesh and mind. If this was to be his end, so be it, he made his peace.
Amaranth admired the Colonel's bravery. His last stand in the face of impossible odds was inspiring. That was what heroes were made from; unflinching resolve and courage in the face of certain death.
And death was certain. Amaranth turned the main weapon of the tank upon the man and pressed the firing stud. No degree of sentimentality could sway him from his moral duty. Protecting the mutant race.
As the dust and debris settled Amaranth checked the tanks sensors to see if any enemies remained.
Armaranth would see that in the chaos caused by the Guardian Tank's thunder and fury, the Peacekeeper base had either fled, lain crippled, or died in the confusion. Chaos always made cowards out of the brave, but these soldiers seemed far more spooked than what the Peacekeeper's propaganda sold as the guardians of the Earth.
Of course, there were those in both the human and mutant communities who believed that in truth, the Peacekeepers sought to bring the Earth into their dominion, pointing to the Peacekeeper's attempts at slowly leaking their culture and bringing in immigrants and more and more soldiers into the cradle of mankind and it's offshoots.
And given how unwilling the Peacekeepers were to play ball with Governments or Mutant organizations, it was easy to think of them as a third, standoffish faction, an unknown devil working it's tricks on the Earth and watching the conflict between Man and Mutant like a vulture, using the dangling threat of external invasion to sweeten their offerings.
Nevertheless, the Dome didn't look like it could take a Tank shell or two.
Amaranth did not hesitate. He turned the main canon of the Guardian Tank upon the Peacekeeper dome and opened fire. The Peacekeepers were not allies of the Arcani, and they were certainly not allies of Amaranth and the Flock. He saw them as opportunists Distant scavengers who were only interested in looting the earth of what treasures they could find.
The dome splintered on the end fired, seeming to hold itself up for a little before finally realizing it should expire, cracking apart as scientists garbed in decontamination hazard suits finally blearily looked at the vehicle approaching them, having only allowed themselves to access the outside world from outside the dome lest they somehow contaminate their works.
The men and women were faceless beneath their hazard suits, seeming to regard the unearthed Masari artefact like a work of art. It looked like a former outpost, something left to observe their children while the parents were gone. It was angular, geometrical, strong looking, unlike the slender, rounded, and gracile forms of their elf like creators.
Sentinels and guardians left in place stood dormant, but by no means destroyed, or even inconvenienced by the passing of the millenia. There were other additions, shrines made in a somewhat different, more Gothic structure, as if these later additions were created to honor the original, and in turn were the works of primitive times, before the era of nations or racial identity, when mankind's genus had countless competing offshoots rather than just those two that proved the fittest in the end.
Finally, the scientists started to process that they should be running, this elite cadre of supergeniuses, mutant, metahuman, and more than a few artificial intelligences, determining that their lives and knowledge were too important to be thrown away by continuing a futile fight. But one squad decided to make a fight of it.
Knowing that the outpost was beyond the ability of their weapons to damage, they used it as cover, firing from the safety of the outpost's walls, the light of their guns reflecting off the shiny gray and blue surface of the structures and the white and gold of the shrines, seeming to have little regard for the far more fragile artefacts of the genus that man and mutant shared's long forgotten history as they laid down fire, one bringing out a spectrum cannon with the aid of his crew-mate at the orders of their commander.
But for a moment, the Commander seemed to flicker, like he was an illusion and to someone of Armaranth's enhanced vision, it would be obvious that this man was no peacekeeper. Clad in red and black armor of an entirely different aesthetic, with a helmet with almost insectoid traits and if he looked closely, the Emblem of a bloody black hand against a red triangle with a black eye hanging above it. But the flickering illusion restored itself and the sergeant returned to normal visibility as the heavy weapons team prepared to fire their laser.
The mutant warrior had no idea how durable the artifacts were, or what their properties were. He holstered his pistol, judging the risk of damaging the priceless treasures too great when he had another viable option. An armored fist wrapped around the worn leather hilt of Armand and he drew the true adamantium blade.
As the flickering commander drew his eye Amaranth dropped into cover. Interesting, he thought as a hail of furious peacekeeper fire tore up the ground around him. Perhaps a internal organization that kept its eyes on the troops, a commissariat Or perhaps an outside infiltrator? Political rivals? Or just a different type of uniform? Amaranth left the question open, knowing he did not have enough information to make a judgement.
But he did have enough information to make a tactical choice, and that is what he did. Becoming intangible he dropped into the ground, dashing to to heavy weapons gunner, leaping from the ground behind him, becoming tangible and attempting to cleave the soldiers head from his shoulders with one swing of Armand.
The heavy weapons team's heads dropped to the ground, blood spurting from their necks in a font as the other soldiers kept up their fire, with the formerly flickering commander seeming to keep a healthy distance, almost coldly regarding the result of the fight as these soldiers, consumate professionals unlike the green rookies who fled, brought out their durable riot shields and formed a small maniple behind the rectangular shields.
The front soldiers brandished pistols, the rear laid their rifles on their shoulders and opened fire in buckshot mode, sending deadly streams of Shrapnel as the officer barked out orders in a dialect of French that would seem more than a little alien to anyone who knew the language on Earth. Probably just the development of the language after seventy or so years of isolation from Earth's developments of it.
And yet when the man fired his pistol, it was clearly a supercharged particle beam rather than a gauss weapon, sending a blue-white stream of particles accelerated to near light speed to have the effect of much heavier rounds while needing only tiny amounts of matter to do the job. That...probably wasn't standard issue for infantry weapons, even by Peacekeeper standards.
Amaranth took one look at the maniple formation and turned intangible before dropping into the dirt. That wasn't the kind of firepower he wanted to meet head on; even with all of his equipment and powers the broadside of a Peacekeeper formation was far, far too much to challenge. He felt a burning sensation on his face, and knew that he had taken a wound of some kind, though he was unable to tell what from; shrapnel or perhaps flying debris. Either way he was lucky to have not lost an eye or been wounded in the neck.
He dashed to their position and exited the ground directly behind them. They would catch on to this trick pretty soon, so Amaranth knew he needed to make it count. With a grunt of effort he charged into the rear of the formation, true adamantium blade cleaving left and right as he attempted to single handedly cut down as many of the troops as possible.
The soldiers, while good, weren't equipped to fight in melee, primarily only carrying combat knives as retrofitting with longer weapons was an arduous process, having long dismissed melee weapons as obsolete for anything but Frankensteins. Some tried to jab their knifes at weak points, but most were just eviscerated, lying in pools of their own blood as unshielded armor gave way to the Adamantium gutting them like fish and lopping off limbs.
Their suits had to be pumping in some potent combat drugs as most didn't scream in pain as they died. Just staring bitterly as they passed on. Finally, the leader deactivated his flicker field, revealing armor that even at a glance, was far more advanced than what the now deceased or dying peacekeeper troops were wearing.
Three optic lenses rested on the helmet along with two conventional ones, with a brilliant red cape hanging out behind him or her, the heavy armor making it difficult to tell what gender the leader was, and carried a worryingly large flamer as a primary weapon. Now with a clear look, it was quite clear that he or she wasn't of the Peacekeepers.
"And so our Messiah spoke, and tongues of flames ushered forth from his honeyed mouth." He or she said, with the helmet's voice modulation altering the voice beyond identifiability, making it sound booming and bombastic, seeming to quote some sort of religious text before letting out white hot gusts of fire that seemed to burn hotter than bolts of lightning, spraying the burning jet of flame around, chanting a hymn.
"And unto the unbelievers came our Lord's benediction, the fires of damnation to burn their flesh and purify their soul. And our master saw it, and thought it good." He or she quoted again, the signs of a shield rippling as the head surrounded them, although it seemed that the armor was at least designed to withstand the heat of the fires it was spitting forth.
Amaranth finished off the last of the soldiers with a nod of respect; acknowledging their unflinching bravery in the face of certain death. A flick of his wrist flung blood from the blade of his sword, and he turned his ancient eyes upon the leader. "Mm. You are more than what you seemed."
He raised his hand and created a shield of hardened hair between him and the flames. "Impressive. But it will take more tha-" As he spoke the intense heat engulfed his shield, igniting the solidified oxygen it is composed of. Amaranth jerked back, surprised as the flames devour his protective shield with such intensity his eyebrows are singed and a the skin on his forehead turns red.
The crusader had no choice now. He snatched one of his pistols from his hip and unloaded eight supersonic rounds of diamond hard, armor piercing solidified air at the flame throwing zealot. The fires were simply too hot for him to brave with his blade, he would be forced to accept the risk to the artifacts, especially now that they were menaced by a flame thrower.
The shields seemed to flicker before failing from the barrage as a cough came out, sent through the vocoders as the Zealot simply discarded the now too dangerous to risk flamethrower for a charged particle rifle, wisely figuring that if there were any breaches in the armor, usage of the flamethrower's heat would char grill the Priest.
"We stare into the doom offered to us by the Emperor of all Darkness and offer ourselves to the King of Rape. He stands with us and his name is Vrakmul, for he is the antithesis of those who would choke the freedom of the shadows." The priest quoted, firing off the rifle round and looking for cover for the shield to regenerate, the blue-light beams spraying forth in suppressive motion as the figure also prepared a monomolecular energy coated short sword in case melee was forced upon it.
It moved with an unearthly sort of grace and training, taking cover not out of any sense of fear, but out of a keen grasp of tactics.
Amaranth became intangible for a heartbeat, allowing the suppressing fire to pass harmlessly through his form. Whatever kind of shielding this enemy had was impressive and very high tech. Far beyond the materials technology of the Peacekeepers he had encountered so far.
The warrior decided to take advantage of the brief lull as his enemy took cover; Armand went back into its sheath across his back and he drew both pistols. Standing out in the open like a gunslinger of old he charged every round in both of his weapons, transforming them from armor piercing rounds to armor piercing high explosive rounds. Then, with a running start he jumped. More than fifteen meters into the air, the apex of his leap taking him over the head of his foe; denying him the advantage of cover while Amaranth emptied both pistols. Sixteen rounds of mach 2, armor piercing high explosive ammo.. targeting his foes rifle.
Ditching the rifle as the particle accelerator started to go haywire, the user threw the weapon away before stabbing the almost gladius like power sword forward, trying to catch him in the scorpion's sting before slashing the short sword, close examination would reveal cutting blades on the sides of the gauntlet's fingers, perhaps taking the Scorpion motif a little too seriously for it's own good.
"Ninefold are the council, enforcers of the will of the three. The Death Knight, the Nightwalker, and the Archlich. Hallowed be they, deliverers from oppression." The priest chanted before drawing a pistol and having the power field lengthen, allowing for a broadsword configuration at the price of making the field perhaps a bit less potent.
The armor seemed formadible, but the optics of any power suit always were the most vulnerable parts.
The gladius like blade slashed a second deep wound into Amaranth's face as he landed, blood poring down his forehead and covering one of his eyes, leaving him temporarily blind in one eye. He grunted as crimson blood dripped from his goatee. Throwing himself into a backwards roll to gain distance, using the time to solidify air inside the chambers of the revolver, creating another set of armor piercing ammo on the spot, he rises smoothly to his feet and unleashes eight rounds toward each eyepiece.
One had to wonder why the helmet came with three eye pieces given that if the wearer was human, there was one useless one, but broken all the same, the Eyepieces cracked and splintered, but somehow managed to catch and stop the bullets. However, the user was now blinded, the HUD giving it nothing but a splintered view with much of it blocked by the flattened out mass of the bullets.
Finally tearing off the helmet, the user would seem to be familiar to Amaranth, a mutant follower who had vanished at some point, but now she followed an entirely different Messiah who seemed to have taken all his teachings, torn them out, and replaced them with something else, something much darker. Once white hair now soaked in red with black marked upon it to make the symbol of a hand grasping for an eye amidst a triangle.
"And with the lies of false prophets shorn away, only the truth of the Black hand remains. That all will be one under the guidance of the Lord of Doom and that we shall have Peace through Power." She quoted, gritting her teeth as she threw herself forward, jabbing the blade in a quick motion, artificial muscle fibers, motors, and her own steel like musculature tensing and then snapping forward and attempting to pistol whip him in the face while chanting hateful litanies in a language no human or mutant he'd ever known of would have spoken, the frenzy for the mutant cause twisted and warped for the ideals of monsters who cared nothing for the squabbles of two off shoots of the same genus.
Amaranth raised an eyebrow at the long lost follower, having long wondered where she had gone. It was not uncommon for members of the Flock to simply vanish without a trace; some decided to give up the life of combat, others were killed and never found, other still kidnapped by rival organizations.
As the gladius drove forward Amaranth brought the barrel of one of his pistols down, sweeping the blade aside but leaving a long cut on the titanium of the massive revolver. The pistol whip caught him in the face, the power behind the blow rocking his entire seven foot frame, rattling his augmented bones and sending him staggering to one side. Still blinded in one eye due to the depth of the cut on his head he is quick to recover, and level both pistols at her head once more, unleashing sixteen more rounds as quickly as he can pull the triggers.
It was perhaps her last motion that saved her in a twisted sense, her attempt at getting at his neck raising her chest so that it took the rounds rather than her head. The rounds managed to shear off enough armor to send lethal amounts of metal into her chest, causing her to slump over, hitting the ground and falling to her hands as she coughed.
"You offer petty words and petty freedoms, but the Hand offers redemption for all in blackness...the fire will spread, the weak and unworthy will die in darkness, and the strong and deserving...they will rule in his name..." She coughed, hacking out blood as she reached for a long dormant system.
"It will begin...in fire from other worlds...of great rings of death and mighty champions...you will see them...fighters for a blind order...mere children drafted by gods...they, you, and all will heed the fallen Primalborn's words...or you will burn..." She managed before finally placing a device on a terminal of the Masari outpost, bringing long dormant systems to life.
The whine of systems powering up filled the air as the ancient outpost came to life. Mechanisms that had slept for over a hundred thousand years awoke while the woman's life began to ebb from her, only for her armor and weaponry, even the dyes on her hair, the nanomesh underneath, and the raiments beneath began to disintegrate around her harmlessly, any trace of her newfound organization's touch on her vanishing as the evidence of her involvement faded, with even the wound sealing as if by powerful magics.
But it seemed that as the wounds faded, the memories did as well, leaving the helpless woman unconscious on the floor as a hooded, incorporeal wraith seemed to emerge from her body, seeming to mold it's shape to a more armored state as hateful red eyes stared out of it's undead form. "It begins..." It said, voice at once whispering and right in the mutant's ear as the outpost sent out a message that went across the stars like the noise of a foghorn, telling all who could listen that it had returned to life.
Amaranth listened to her final words in silence while blood dripped from his face and onto the ground. He holstered both revolvers and waited while his regenerative abilities healed the wounds on his head, then took a rag from his utility belt and wiped the blood away.
"Abert. We have a serious problem here. Send Zero copies of my visual memories of this area and have her begin research on these artifacts. Whatever just happened here is going to attracted a lot of attention, I have to move out right He said through the telepathic link with his psychic assistant, Albert.
Then he turned, taking one last look to provide his researcher with as much data as possible, and departed the area before his pantheon of enemies discovered his location.
With that, the wraith vanished, seeming to disperse into smoke that thinned out until it was no longer visible to even the most enhanced eyes. But once such a message was sent to the stars, there would always be those who would listen. And with those who would listen, would always be those who would try to seek.