|2348 Hours, January 19th, 2559
Spacer's Rest, Beta Gabriel, Epsilon Eridani System
They came in the night, their approach unseen and unheard. No alarms went up from the settlement's exterior walls, nor did any of its guardsmen fire off a single shot in its defence. There was no battle; only slaughter, and all that followed.
Robert Amenwae winced as his knees hit the mud, his entire body pushed down easily by the alien's great shaggy paw. Other captives were being thrust to their knees on his left and right, forming a long line down the little town's main street before the entrance to its landing port. With the power to Spacer's Rest cut off, all Amenwae could make out were their attackers, floodlit by a light from one of their own hovering dropships and clad in red-plated suits of powered armour. There were at least twenty aliens - all foul-tempered, savage Brutes - milling about, carrying crude spiker rifles and long, jagged knives. The rain plinked noisily off their armoured helmets and kept their captives' heads down as they shivered in a line, awaiting their fate.
"Graham," Amenwae whispered to the man on his right. "Is that you?"
Though he could hardly make out the next captive, there was no mistaking the muscular figure beside him. "Yeah," the man muttered.
Amenwae breathed a sigh of relief, but kept his head low. "Where's Roger?"
"You're sure?" Amenwae's eyes rose as a pair of Brutes lumbered past, hefting what looked like large sacks over their soldiers. "I thought-"
"I know," Graham Wallace, Amenwae's bodyguard, grunted. "They got him and anyone else who had tried to run."
"Shit," Amenwae breathed, shaking water droplets out of his sodden beard. "If only-"
Amenwae halted mid-sentence as something struck the ground several metres away, sending a wave of mud and icy water splashing over the captives. A few cried out in surprise, while others wailed or begged for mercy. Most remained silent, struck dumb by fear.
"Humans!" A harsh, guttural voice rang out across the street. In front of them stood a massive, black-haired Brute in dark armour, holding aloft a similarly huge hammer, its haft adorned with all manner of bones and its muddied head glowing. Many were human. "Offer no resistance, for you now kneel before the Ravaged Tusks!"
Amenwae's heart fell as he heard that name. Of all the notorious raiders and slavers that plagued the frontier, the Ravaged Tusks were among the worst. A few years ago they wouldn't have dared to venture this far into the Inner Colonies, but with mankind's military might scattered and many of its systems kept in check by the watchful eye of the Created and their unstoppable Guardian constructs, some groups were taking this opportunity to profit from the chaos.
"I am Heradus," the raider continued, bellowing over the rainfall. "Chieftain of this pack, and your judge in the cycles to come! Prove yourselves worthy in body and spirit, and you may yet live. Do not, and you will suffer the fate of those who opposed us."
Heradus thrust a hand to his left, where a pair of his underlings had begun to strip and mutilate the corpses of the dead. Sharing a pained look towards Wallace, Amenwae felt the bile rise in his throat as the butchers hacked away with their spiked bayonets, tossing away severed heads. One bounced as it hit the muddy ground, and rolled towards the captives. The light struck it for a moment, and Amenwae gagged as he recognised the pale, bearded face of Roger Maxon, his friend and comrade within the New Colonial Alliance. It had been his idea to come here, believing the remote colony to be an ideal place for a new base until the galaxy turned upside-down a few months back. It probably never occurred to him that he'd one day end up as food for a pack of monstrous aliens.
Unable to hold it in any more, Amenwae leant forward and vomited into the mud. A few Brutes chuckled at this display, amused by his suffering. His stomach emptied and body exhausted, Amenwae felt himself slowly falling into the vile puddle when Wallace's strong hands pulled him back; like the others, he had not been manacled or cuffed by the raiders when they captured him.
"Stay strong," Wallace said, his eyes now on the Brute leader, who was watching them intently. "They see weakness and they'll exploit it. Seen it happen."
Amenwae tried to nod, but barely managed it. The cold and wet were really starting to seep into his bones now, and he began to wonder if he'd die of exposure before the Brutes had their fun. Wallace was a tougher man than him, having served in the ODST's during the war, but even his fellow rebel had begun to shiver. A shadow appeared over the pair, and as a foul musk crept its way into his nostrils Amenwae looked up to see the feral orange eyes of Heradus peering down at him. He held the stare for a few seconds before realising what a mistake he'd made. A sharp blow to the side of his head made Amenwae's ears ring and nearly knocked him over.
"Got your strength back?" Heradus bared his sharp teeth in a vicious leer. "You'll make good sport."
Amenwae blinked, looking desperately towards Wallace. The man said nothing, and he couldn't blame him. It was every man for himself at this point after all. Feeling the Chieftain's gaze still upon him, he tried to come up with an appropriate response, but was at a loss for words. There was no reasoning with such a creature, and Amenwae could only blankly into the dark mud until Heradus snorted loudly and turned away.
"Deravum, come here!" He called for one of his cohorts, still speaking in English. "An example will be made of this one."