Private Helsman, known as Dog to the unit, collapsed, his chest exploding from multiple bullet holes, after the Order’s elite Homeguard funneled the remaining soldiers of the Republic squad, known as the Rats, into a kill zone.
Zap and Dapper died first at the target location when the package failed to work properly after a bullet penetrated the mechanism. The squad leader ordered the men to protect the building while he opened and fixed it, hopefully before the Order figured out where they were hiding. The men did their duty, using cover and choke points to keep the Order confused and away from the drop zone until the squad leader called over the radio that it was time to leave. Dapper died from a sniper shot to the head, his body still hanging partially out of the window when the bulldozer collapsed the side and roof of the building, crushing Zap underneath. The Homeguard stormed the building but the Rats had already retreated. They never noticed the device counting down under their feet.
The dark wet streets were covered in mud and the Rats were no different as they slipped repeatedly during their escape. As they ran from the building, the tracker units were already on their trail with dogs leading their handlers and kill squads. The Rats moved quickly down the side of a ditch, the same path they used to approach Firemond, the Order’s capital city, the previous night, but the river had swollen from the rainfall. The men held up their rifles as they swam across when the first bullets rang out from a nearby bridge spanning the river. The water popped up as rounds impacted and Sergeant Pimoro, the squad supply officer due to his uncanny ability to procure equipment and gear for missions from authorized, and sometimes unauthorized channels, went under and never resurfaced.
As the Rat’s crawled out of the river, the arriving transport trucks bringing more troops to the hunt illuminated them as they crossed an open field. Two Rats were gunned down as the squad belly crawled through the mud and weeds to the closest building in the industrial complex. The Homeguard continued to press the attack as the squad, now down to three soldiers, climbed through a broken window into an abandoned office, old papers and animal feces littering the ground. The men heard the Homeguard shouting but they ignored the calls for surrender and continued to move through the building.
Dog, the pointman for the group, was the first to cross the old assembly area lined with the large machines that appeared dilapidated due to the amount of rust. Whatever had been manufactured here had ceased operation years ago, probably when the war started. He made it halfway when the shooting started from troops on the roof firing through the open skylights. As Dog collapsed, grenades crashed through the window behind the two remaining Rats. They dashed between the machines and jumped in a side room as the Homeguard ducked behind cover. The grenades exploded sending shrapnel throughout the building.
“The whole damn place is going to come down on us,” Corporal Grissam whispered quietly to his squad leader as the building supports groaned.
“As long as it takes them out with out,” the squad leader replied in an angry voice.
As the dust started to clear, Grissam and the squad leader could hear the Homeguard soldiers talking among themselves as they organized into hunting packs.
“Stop, you fools before you bring down the entire building,” shouted someone new in assembly area in an accent that marked him from the upper class in Order society. “Only two Republic dogs are left. Find them or you will face my judgement!”
“As you say, my lord,” shouted several soldiers without hesitation.
“That’s the one,” the squad leader whispered, “I want dead before this mission is over.”
Grissam, prone in the mud and peeking over the rubble, looked back. “That’s a Blessed, we’ll never get near him.”
“Just stay down and don’t move until I tell you” the squad leader ordered as he slid deeper in the mud. Grissam followed until only his face was barely visible.
They waited. The Homeguard lit their bullseye lanterns and swept the building but could not find any signs of the Republic other than the dead soldier in the middle of the assembly room. Grissam was sure they would find them in the office room they were hiding in but the soldiers swept their lights repeatedly across the mud and debris and continued on. When the Homeguard scouts found an open door leading to a trail outside of the building to a nearby field, the highborn officer ordered the soldiers to pursue. As the soldiers departed, Grissam and his squad leader slithered out of their mudeholes.
The squad leader low crawled to the door next to Grissam.
“The Blessed do not carry weapons but their bodyguards do. I’ll get the one of the left and you the right. Then we’ll kill him,” said the squad leader as he pointed to the officer. His submachine gun was designed for close combat but Grissam only needed one good shot with his bolt rifle.
“Got it,” Grissam said excited. Every soldier in the Republic dreamed of killing a Blessed, one of the most feared and hated figures in the Order hierarchy.
They crawled slowly over the pile of rubble outside of the office and back into the assembly room behind a stack of crates. The two bodyguards stood watch where Dog fell as the officer searched through the fallen Republic soldier’s clothing and backpack. A compass and canteen lay discarded and half buried in the mud as the officer continued the search for anything that might indicate what the Republic soldiers were doing in Firebrand.
“Make it quick because we don’t know how long we’ll have before his friends return.” Grissam nodded. Three, two, one, he silently counted down on his fingers.
The soldier on the right fell immediately, the back of his head spewing skull and brain matter from Grissam’s shot from his powerful rifle. The other soldier’s began to turn when the squad leader sprayed him with bullets, his wool coat shredded and spitting fabric from multiple bullet hits. He collapsed next to his partner as he gasped for another breath.
“Hello, Blessed,” Grissam said cheerfully. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet one of the Order’s ruling class.”
The officer stood up and turned around, keeping his arms at his sides. He smiled when he saw both Republic soldiers that his men were searching for.
“It is not often that one of the holy Blessed get to experience the thrill of combat. The Overlord frowns upon it but I shall savor this moment,” the officer said without a hint of fear even with two enemy rifles pointed at him.
“Well, you let him know when you meet each other in hell!” shouted Grissam as he fired his rifle. Suddenly a thousand stars and blue waves surrounded the Blessed and the bullet suddenly stopped and dropped to the ground. “What the?” Grissam asked as he slammed another round into the chamber.
The squad leader stepped forward and released a stream of bullets at the Blessed but the stars and waves pulsed each time and the bullets fell harmlessly to the ground.
“Blessed are we who are eternal, for we walk in the light of righteousness and shall remove the darkness from the world,” chanted the officer. The Republic soldiers knew the words, the Order always started each propaganda transmission over the wireless with that same statement.
“God dammit!” screamed Grissam as he fired again with the same result, “why won’t you die!”
“Because I am one of the chosen. And since I only need one of you for interrogation,” the officer said with a smile as he produced a small silver device and pointed it at the squad leader, “the other is expendable.”
The squad leader did not flinch when the Blessed suddenly aimed his weapon at Grissam and fired. A red beam emitted from the weapon enveloped Grissam and shredded his flesh and internals into nothing. In the span of one breath, he was no longer existed.
“And it looks like you are the winner. Blessed are the chosen,” said the officer to the stunned Republic squad leader who said nothing.
The sudden ringing from his backpack filled the room and broke the squad leader’s silence.
“No Blessed, for I bring the fires of death,” the squad leader said as a bright light consumed all the air around the two men. The Blessed tried to look away but felt his eyes burn away from inside his skull. He could no longer see the Republic squad leader or anything when the building collapsed on top of them.