Kelly, Linda and Fred strode forward into the thick, green forests, down the most beaten path they could find. Beside their little road, a small creek ran in parallel, the sound of rushing water serving to calm the trio of Spartans. Around them, birds chirped and animals moved to and fro, perfect warning systems in the case of more of those strange creatures. Their target was the next village over.
All of them were tense, though none said it. Even as they walked through the thick shrubs, down the dirt path. Fred knew well enough that they were, as Sergeant Johnson would've put it, 'up shit creek without a paddle', though a Spartan would've never understood the meaning of the saying proper in their day-to-day life. This place was as alien to them as the Halos, though admittedly it had a different set of issues and a new foe:These Grimm.
The trip to the village was pretty much a hint of respite for the Spartans, all of whom had been active since day 01 of Chief's disappearance over the Ark, trying to both work on their own missions and find him through back channels and such. If Cortana had really, honestly sent that message and was with John, that was a boon for them. For all three of them. It meant they weren't alone here. Hell, maybe Chief knew the place better than them, depending on where they were.
Fred raised his balled fist to signal a halt. The team instantly went for their closest weapon that had ammunition, stopping only as they saw a string of people clad in camouflage cloaks emerge from the tree-line. They wore a skull symbol on their kevlar armors and carried ballistic rifles and weapons. Their leader, a younger man, stepped up, pushing off the camouflage cloak's hood and stating, "You folks look strange."
One hand signal from Fred and Blue Team lowered their weapons. The man in charge of the team then said "We've been told..."
"Yer friendly, I presume." The lead raised a brow. Fred and the others nodded. They had the Grimm to fry, not fellow humans. The Commander simply smirked, then said "Alright. Follow us... Yer gonna need ammo, you can find the armory and they'll hand you some extra depending on caliber. Just be careful and don't startle the folk, our village is more militarized than the other ones on this path."
"You folks mercenary?" Kelly asked, slinging her shotgun onto her back.
"Some of the local villages do hire us from time to time as escort to Vale, aye." The man stated, then waved the rest of his hunting party off. About a dozen others beside his comrades stood up from the bushes on the right, slinging on their backs .50cal rifles, both Anti-Materiel Snipers and normal assault rifles and Carbines, the latter chambered in, seemingly, whatever passed for Fifty Beowulf here. They also had massive, silver bayonets slung on their hips in sheaths. Their bayonets.
The group rallied up, with the Spartans at the front alongside the Huntsmen's commander. He was toting a shotgun in his hands and a sword on his hip, the former loaded with high-caliber Slugs. He looked to Fred and asked "You folks from Atlas? Cause I've only seen armor even barely resembling that in their kit catalogs. Stuff looks very sophisticated and technologically-advanced compared to the stuff we have."
"We're probably not from anywhere familiar to you." Fred answered rather absentmindedly.
The man raised a brow at him, then chuckled and said "Fair enough." with a smirk. The team caught sight of the village walls, all of them lined with automated defense turrets in the 20mm and above range. At the gate sat a couple of old robot models, rusted out, but still clearly capable of toting weaponry in the form of arm-mounted chain-guns. Entering the village, they were greeted by paved roads, concrete buildings and more people clad in armor and carrying rifles than you could shake a battle rifle at.
"So..." The man started again, "My name's Cole Ross. I'm the chief of the village of Magna. Welcome to our place. Can I ask where you folks are headed?"
The Spartans exchanged looks, utilizing their single-beam communication systems and cutting their mics off. Cole sat there for a moment, brow raised. Fred sighed, shoulders sagging upon his two comrades' agreement that they should get some directions, at the very least. He turned on his external microphone again, then said "We're heading a few hundred kilometers down south-east."
"You're headed for Vale, then." The man smirked, "Long way out."
"We can manage." Kelly quipped.
"I'll bet. With the armors alone, you got my vote of confidence." Cole returned, slinging his own rifle onto his shoulder and starting, "You're gonna run into a few more villages along the way. Most of them should be keen to help and hand ya supplies, but there's the village of Silkshire, mid-point to Vale... It's a Faunus-only village with strong ties to the White Fang. I'd suggest avoiding it as you'd avoid any sorta plague or bigger Grimm."
"These 'White Fang' troublesome?" Linda inquired.
"'Bout as can be, since their little downturn into terrorism. We've had a few spats with'em, but the local Faunus in the village here dislike'em as much as the next human over." Cole explained, leading them further into the town. A faint drone echoed afar, vanishing as fast as it'd come. He continued, "Silkshire was passable until a couple weeks ago, when something really irked the Chieftain about humans. Ain't got any idea why she'd be pointing guns at the whole lot of us, but at least the Grimm harass them as much as they do the rest of the towns."
"Sounds like we'll either have to go through there or cut through Grimm-infested forestry to make it past..." Murmured Kelly into the single-beam. Fred winked an emerald acknowledgement light at that, considering their options as the man took them to what seemed to be an Inn of sorts. It had a sign showing it as such, anyways. The building itself looked more 'civilian' than the others, made of a combination of wood and plaster, with a beautifully-built roof and very homey and welcoming on the inside. They saw through the windows the people, traveler and local alike, drinking together at the bar.
Cole propped open the door, sliding in and calling out "Hey! Jackie!"
A young, blonde-haired beauty with blue eyes poked her head up from behind the bar counter, then smiled and said "Hey to you as well, Cole. Whatcha got for me today?"
"Three new arrivals. Figured they're in need of a warm meal." He stated, then turned to them and asked "Y'all would like something to eat, right? I mean, gotta be with full stomachs if you're heading out."
"I could go for some warm food..." Kelly stated, rubbing the top of her helmet. She winced, feeling a slight pain at the top. Fred and Linda both seemed to tense, but agreed. Jackie, probably the Innkeeper, showed them to take a seat at a nearby table. Doing so, the Spartans found the chairs around it holding their weight pretty well, compared to most other normal furniture.
Cole nodded to them with a smile, before walking out of the place to go meet his troops. Fred hummed, switching his mic off again and stating "Doesn't this seem a little suspicious?"
"It does." The two girls said in unison.
"Let's hope nothing important happens... I'd like to make it as fast as possible to that rally point." The Spartan Commander then stated, leaning back into his seat and hearing it groan under him. He scanned the room, which was occupied by people of all walks of life. Faunus as well, of course. They'd encountered the Humanoid race with only the added animal traits in the first village they'd been in and found them strange, but human enough to excuse.
The others around ranged from the place's Militia that were currently off-duty to travelling Huntsmen and Huntresses and to merchants, most of which had come for a day's and night's rest within the town. Most seemed to ignore them, but the Spartans still remained tense, feeling watched, until they saw it was a young girl. A young gazelle Faunus girl, her ears replaced by the animal's, sat with her mother, slurping from a juicebox and staring at them.
"Maybe it's nothing..." Kelly shrugged, hopeful.
They watched as Jackie came to them, three plates of food in hand. She smiled to them, then said "How'd you three even run into Cole?"
"Heading up to Vale..." Fred stated, "We met him on the road up, with the rest of his scout team."
"And he brought you over." She smirked, "'Course he would."
"Does he do this often?" Linda inquired, looking at the plate stacked high with mashed potatoes and some kind of sauce-laden meat.
"Only when he finds folks interesting." She stated, "And armor like that's plenty interesting."
Kelly gave the girl a once-over, noticing that she, too, wore a uniform underneath her frilly innkeeper apron. She asked, "Is everybody in this village part of the Militia?" as she lifted her helmet slightly, feeling that discomfort at the top of her head vanish for a bot. Jackie nodded, showing them she also had a handgun on her hip, an older model, rusty as hell, clearly a hand-me-down, but one that worked.
"It's kind of our thing." She noted, "Town was founded by a general in the Vale Army immediately after the end of the Great War, so we kind of maintained the Military vibe. We also make plenty of kit from license production. Small factory below the town provides us with the guns and ammo." And she looked around the table once, "Anyways, y'all folks enjoy the food on the house. When you want to leave, just let me know. I'm gonna set up rooms just in case y'all wanna stay the night, so I'd like to know if I can give them to the next travelers."
Fred and the others nodded. Turning back to their food, the Spartans were left alone for most of the meal. They simply exchanged glances between one-another, as if asking each-other what to do. They could spend the evening here, but they'd have to double-time it to the RV point. They didn't have an exact time-frame of how long it would be an available area for recovery of all assets and Fred had just now figured, blindly, that if they sent that message and the packet via broadband planetary transmit, it meant there was more than them around. More UNSC troops.
He wondered how big that village, Silkshire, was. Could they easily bypass it to avoid any sort of risk of confrontation tomorrow? He stared at the food in his plate, half-eaten, wondering to himself if that was the case. No, they couldn't really spend an evening here. They'd need to be out and about sooner rather than later. Still, the fact that people here were acting so kind... He wondered.
His train of thought was cut short by a Militiaman bursting inside and yelling "SHE'S HERE!"
Several people, all dressed in the standard uniforms and with random details that made them stand out, stood up, Jackie included. The Spartan stood up too, drawing their firearms and exiting into the main street. There, they found about two dozen of the local Militia lined up near the gate opposite the one they came through. Most of them seemed terrified, but among them was Cole's little squad, all of whom stared with steely, impassive gazes at the enemy ahead:Faunus soldiery.
Bearing white and black uniforms and toting more advanced weaponry, compared to that of the Militia here, at least, the Faunus Militia of the village of Silkshire also outnumbered then by a five-to-one margin at least. On horseback, wearing a more decorated version of that same uniform, sat a woman with lion's ears and a mane of long, platinum-blonde hair. Her green eyes peered at the Militia, a wry grin on her face. "Well!" She started, chuckling, "If it ain't the most sorry bunch of morons this side of the continent... What's the matter, Cole? Picking a fight?"
"Looks to me like you are, Chieftain." The man stared, racking the bolt of his rifle. Several of the enemy's own militia trained their guns on him and his platoon as Fred, Kelly and Linda stepped up. The Chieftain of Silkshire raised a brow, her grin ear-to-ear. She started laughing, a light cackle that turned into a mad, long laugh, her eyes focusing on the Super-soldiers.
"What's this?! Got some Atlas folks to provide security!? You finally cave in to their demands, Cole? Oh, you poor fuck!"
"We aren't Atlas." Fred remarked, before Cole could, walking up beside the man. He had no idea what it was, but it was mentioned several times to him at this point. Enough to figure it must've been another country.
"Oh? Then what are you three? 'Cause I don't think an ass-end village in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere, Sanus, has any sort of ability to produce military hardware like that. Hell, it looks outside most Kingdoms' power to build armor like yours."
"Why are you here?" Fred wasn't taking anything today. They had an objective and no half-baked terrorist camp town was gonna keep them from reaching their target.
"The person who'll tear this place in fucking half if Cole brought you along so he doesn't have to pay his tithe." The girl smirked, "Now, how about you and your friends come to the winning side? There's no point in wasting your armor and ammo to fight alongside them. You'd do better under my tutelage and protection, maybe. If not, well... We could easily kill y-"
A gun thundered.
A bullet snapped.
And her lion's ear twitched. The woman was wide-eyed, tracing the contrail from the high-caliber bullet that was fired past her ear. The leader of the three elites had given a single hand signal and one of his compatriots, one who looked like she had spider's eyes, had fired. The barrel of her sniper still had smoke coming out of it. The leader of the White Fang stared at the Spartans, a combination of fear and anger in her eyes. The Spartan spoke harshly, "Next one's going between your eyes if you don't get out of here."
She growled, "Impudent dog..."
"I'd watch my mouth..." Cole seemed to grow all the more cocky, a grin on his face. He stated, "You heard them. Next one's between your eyes," Leaning his rifle against his shoulder. The woman growled, then turned away, giving a hand signal to her army to withdraw. Not even an ending threat or a monologue to go with the spook. She was either a professional or just didn't want to deal with shit today either.
She only paused to turn and say "I feel like this ain't the last time we're gonna see each-other, you three... Watch your fucking backs."
"Mhm..." Fred dismissed her with a nod, turning toward the crowd of village soldiers as they erupted into cheers. The woman scoffed, turning to leave for Silkshire atop her high black horse. As Fred and the Spartans returned to the Inn, he figured that, hey, things had gone awry, but not in the way he or the others expected. In fact, they'd gone wrong differently.
They'd basically just made enemies with the people they were supposed to travel by. Then again, they threatened them and their fellow humans with death in case they decided to join forces. He looked to Linda and Kelly as the folks around them cheered them on, then said "Looks like we'll have to break that little camp apart. Linda, we're gonna have to have a talk about trigger discipline..."
The sniper shrugged, "I did what I thought was right, Sir." Plus, the gal had threatened them. Self-defense!
"Of course, you did..." Sighed the man. He walked up to a smiling Jackie, then said "Guess we'll take the rooms after all... Until the evening."
"Thanks for the backup, folks. Planning on going after them in the night?" Cole patted him on the shoulder.
"Yeah." The Spartan nodded.
"Sorry to let ya know, boss, but uh... Faunus have enhanced night vision. You may as well be going after them during day-time." The man chuckled, "One of ours learned that the hard way back in the Faunus Rights Revolution." to which the Spartans looked to one another. Oh, wonderful, 'twas that kind of tension between peoples. All three of them nodded, having taken in the new information.
"Eh, don't worry about it!" Jackie smirked, "I'm sure your armor gives a nice boost!"
"It does." The trio said in unison, Kelly feeling the top of her helmet again. Jackie smirked, then waved them toward their rooms, allowing them to settle inside for the evening. Another delay, one that the man hoped wouldn't cause too much concern in terms of their timely arrival to Beacon. Still, Fred figured it'd be better than nothing. They would probably have had to fight their way through anyway, even if they didn't delay and left today.
He sighed, figuring he'd need intel. Kelly had volunteered rather quickly for that job, having retrieved a Storm Covenant's active camo. With her speed, he wasn't sure that'd help, so he elected instead to send Lin while he and a pouty Kelly asked around for information. He figured that, if anyone would know the town, it would be Cole and Jackie, since either one of them must've traveled through on escort jobs at least once.
God, Fred had a distaste for missions with this little intel and a timer in the back of his head...
Going in this blind was not fun.