Two Days before the Events of the Ball
"This is Outrider Two Six, I have eyes on the ruins over." The radio buzzed.
Tyrier leaned over closer to the operator in the command truck and listened in to the verbal exchange.
"Two Six, this is Hotel," The operator smoothly replied. "What's the situation over there, over."
"Two Six, I got visual on multiple camps around the ruins. Looks like survivors, over."
"Hotel, Roger, keep observing, Hotel, out."
"Survivors?" Tyrier turned to Eagle company's OC, 2nd Lieutenant Rathia and said in a questioning tone.
"Not surprising, I guess?" Rathia replied. "There are over fifteen to twenty thousand people in that city. Even a God can't eat everyone."
"This might complicate things for us..." Tyrier said. "If they salvage any working tech..."
"We cross that bridge when we get there, Sergeant," Rathia patted Tyrier's shoulder. "We only have a single platoon and your section with us. Not counting the support staff, we barely have fifty people who can fight."
"Let's not poke the Stinger nest shall we?" Rathia said. "We access the situation first before we decide what to do next, alright?"
"Yes, Sir," Tyrier nodded. "We should reach the city within an hour."
"Okay, get your men ready for anything," Rathia ordered. "And no one fires unless attacked. Clear?"
The convoy of armored vehicles soon came within sight of the Tent City that sprung up around the ruins of the city. Scores of Men and Orcs armed with crude weapons appeared, jealously guarding their territory and eyeing the newcomers with suspicion and awe.
The convoy came to a halt a good distance away from the tent city and half a dozen motorcycles linked up with the vehicles.
"What now?" Tyrier climbed to the top of the command truck, next to Rathia who was observing their surroundings with high powered binoculars.
"I say there are, maybe five, six thousand survivors?" Rathia mentally counted the tents and people. "At least half used to be slaves. Can't hide the telltale scars or the different tan from their collars."
"Interesting," Tyrier frowned as he watched the armed groups. "Seems like they came to an agreement with the Oerkins and freed themselves."
"I see at least four different groups here," Rathia gestured to one large group on the left of the ruins. "There's one, red seemed to be their color."
Tyrier turned his binoculars towards the group Rathia pointed out. He saw dozens of clusters run down tents and crude shelters made out of salvaged material. Hundreds of red cloth strips fluttered in the breeze all over the tents.
The men had strips of red cloth tied to their arms or body and they brandished crude weaponry with strips of red cloth tied to the weapons. Most of the people in that group had red paint dabbed over their faces or exposed skin.
"Hmm, red seemed like their favorite," Tyrier commented.
"Seems like each group has taken control of one of the four gates of the ruins," Rathia added. "The nearest group to us looked like a ragtag band of beggars."
"On the west side, the Oerkins' camp is there," Rathia continued to report. "And the furthest on the southern end, the group look more well off."
"Looks like the leftovers of the merchants or rich people from the city," Tyrier eyed the last group. "They have the smallest number but the guards are well armed and armored compared to the rest."
"So we have at least four factions here," Rathia lowered his binos. "If we enter the city, most likely we will have to deal with either one of the factions here."
"Looks like that is the case," Tyrier sighed. "It's gonna be so troublesome..."
"Well, I guess being desperate had them banding up," Rathia replied. "Can't blame them for trying to survive here."
"Well, looks like we don't have to choose," Tyrier said. "We got some guests heading our way!"
"Looks like we kicked the Stingers' nest!" Rathia chuckled. "Everyone is coming to welcome us!"
The group with the better armed and armored guards sent a carriage with a couple of skinny looking land dragons that struggled to pull the carriage with its occupants towards the Marines.
The other factions seeing them sending out a party, all scrambled to dispatch their own party to welcome and find out who and what visitors had come.
Other than the carriage, the Oerkins rode their wind wolves over while the rest, ran over as swiftly as they could on foot.
The Oerkins being nearer to the Marines arrived first. A tall Oerkin with his body skeletal like, wore the skull of some fearsome creature as a helm strolled up to the Marines. "Greeting... soft skins... Why you come?"
Tyrier nudged Rathia from the side and gestured with his head at the Oerkin and Rathia's eyes narrowed as he recognized the handgrip of an Oerkin hand cannon sticking out from the hip of the Oerkin.
"Erm... We came to find... our people..." Rathia said. "We seek safe passage through the city ruins."
"There is only death here," The Oerkin whizzed. "Leave this cursed land now..."
"Wait! Waaait!" A voice cried out from a carriage and the land dragons pulling the carriage came to a halt with wheezing coughs.
A mid aged man, his tailored clothes hang on his lanky frame quickly exited the carriage. "Wait! I can offer you twice times what he offered to pay!"
Rathia glanced at Tyrier who gave a shrug and asked. "What did you think I was selling?"
"Food of course!" The man panted as he stood next to the glowering Oerkin. "I can pay you twice for what he is paying you!"
"I think you misunderstand something," Rathia put a hand up to stop the man from cutting in. "We did not sell anything to him."
"But... but..." The man stammered. "Than sell me all your food! I can give you a good price!"
"Before we continue," Rathia stopped the man again. "What is going on here?"
"My name is Kuhm!" The man in the oversized clothing introduced himself. "I used to be a merchant here, and I represent my people to speak here."
"Turok, Son of Drokk," The Oerkin saluted.
"We are all starving!" The man explained. "There is no food here! And barely any game to hunt! Even the nearby farms are bare!"
"Than why haven't anyone left this area?" Rathia was confused. "Surely there are more places that can provide food to support the people?"
"Are you joking?" The man cried. "We are in the middle of nowhere! The Oerkin here is all that remained of their tribes! Even the nearest city is over three weeks walk away!"
"There is not enough food nor water for people to travel that far!" The man explained. "Only here there is still water for us and some form of shelter. We are too weak to make the trek to the nearest settlements!"
"I see..." Rathia frowned. "Are there no traders?"
"They either have all died or fear to come to this area anymore!" The man sighed. "That creature that destroyed the city has scared all the merchants away!"
"This place... cursed..." The Oerkin suddenly spoke. "Dead city..."
"More guests coming!" Tyrier commented as the other two groups came panting. To the Marines' surprise, the Oerkin hissed at the approach of the group with the red banners.
The group of beggars shuffled their way over to stand together with the Oerkin and the merchant while the group in red stood by their own on the side.
Rathia observed the newcomers and realized that the red stripes tied on their arms and legs were actually bandages and the red was actually dried blood.
"I am Imran, leader of the free people here," A young lanky man with sunken cheekbones spoke up. "We wish to trade with you."
"I am Yohan, leader of the Pact," Another youngster strangely dressed in white robes appeared among the group of red. "They call me the Messiah, We welcome you."
"Eater of Kin!" The Oerkin growled at the side and spat while even the two other looked uncomfortable.
"I do not judge you nor pass judgment on your ways, Oerkin," The guy in the unnaturally white robes gently replied. "Do not presume your ways onto us!"
"Okay, I think everyone has gathered?" Rathia frowned. He was quite put off by the looks given to him and his men by the men in red. Even the merchant and his men and the beggars appeared to be eyeing them hungrily.
"Leave this place, soft skin," The Oerkin spoke again, ignoring the looks from the Pact. "There is much evil and suffering here, do not stay here!"
"No! Sell us your food before you leave!" The merchant cried out. Even the beggars nodded hurriedly. "We need food!"
"Enough..." The Messiah softly gestured and Kulm and Imran both halted and backed off hurriedly.
"What is your purpose in coming all the way here?" The Messiah asked in a friendly tone. Rathia suppressed a shiver as he noticed the rest of the Messiah's men that seemed to have a crazed look in their eyes.
"We are here to find someone," Rathia explained again. "We do not need any trouble, once we are done, we will leave this place."
"Oh, that is fine by me," The Messiah smiled. "We welcome you, but you have to forgive us for the lack of hospitality. We are quite lacking in food and other things..."
"It's alright," Rathia gave a smile back. "We are willing to share some of our supplies with you all. We will help as much as we could."
"That would be wonderful!" The Messiah clapped his hands together cheerfully like a child, making Tyrier frowned and gripped his sidearm.
The merchant and the beggar were delighted of course by the offers of food and their men quickly gathered before the Marines who quickly get them into order. They waited impatiently for the Marines to sort out their share of the supplies.
"Give them what we can spare," Rathia ordered. "Evenly."
"Even for the weird red guys?" One of the Marines asked. "They creep me out!"
"Yes, and the Oerkins too!" Rathia ordered.
Despite the small amount doled out to the survivors, they thanked the Marines and quickly left, afraid that their share would be stolen by another.
Surprisingly to the Marines, the people of the Pact were not as excited as the rest as they quietly carried the crates of food away without any hints of happiness.
Turok bowed deeply in appreciation to the aid given, "I thank you, soft skins. But I warn you again, leave this place immediately. Do not stay here long!"
"Wait," Rathia stopped the Turok as he was about to leave. "What did you call that guy in white?"
"Eater of Kin..." Turok repeated with a growl. "Beware of that soft skin."
"What is an Eater of Kin?" Rathia asked curiously.
"They feast on the flesh of their own kind, " Turok explained and climbed on to his wolf before leaving with his men.
"Did I hear it wrongly?" Rathia turned to Tyrier in shock. "Did he say they eat their own kind?"
Tyrier nodded and cursed. "Farking cannibals... We got farking cannibals here!"
The Messiah smiled as the several women tied up were brought before him. He nodded to his right hand man, who gestured to the side and several crates of supplies with the stencil stamped on the side, "Property of the U.N" were carried out.
The women struggled desperately against their bonds and screamed in their gags as the Pact carried them away towards the cook tents where large cauldrons of boiling soup bubbled.
"Send an invitation to our... new friends..." The Messiah smiled. "We are having a welcome dinner for them."
"Yes, Messiah!" His right hand man bowed deeply while crossing his arms over his shoulders in salute.
"Tell them... we got fresh meat tonight!"