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A Dying Time

A Dying Time

"Only days after the demise of legendary warrior Benjamin Hines and his heir and daughter Elizabeth Hines missing, the mercenary forces of Hines Hellraisers are called into action. Their mission is to protect Hesperus II in the Isle of Skye. With civil war raging, it is vital that the planet's famous Defiance BattleMech production facilities not fall into the hands of the enemy. Seeing the Lyrans and Davionists at each other's throats, the Skye separatists have seized the opportunity to instigate a new rebellion, and they too threaten the safety of Hesperus II and its factories. Now commanding the Legion is Dana Bacha, Benjamin's oldest friend. But what Dana doesn't realize is that her troops are little more than pawns in the continuing hostilities between the factions of Victor and his ever-cunning sister, Katrina and that the Hellraisers are about to enter a battle they are meant to lose. If there is one constant in the universe, it is that pawns are made to be sacrificed..." -Agatha Felsner.

Prologue: In a Universe of War Even Legends Must Die

Mercenary Liaison Headquarters
Avalon City, New Avalon
Crucis March, Federated Suns
28 April 3067, 0930 Hours

The Federated Commonwealth liaison officer sat across the table from the remaining members of The Purged and began the Holovid-footage playback of the Fifteenth Battle of Hesperus. The images were grainy battlefield footage of the fighting that took place over two years on Hesperus II. Kaleb Bacha watch impassionately as the liaison officer debriefed him on the events that transpired on Hesperus II. Nearly every notable member of the Hellraisers were listed as killed-in-action during the debriefing; including the commanding officer of the Hellraisers at the time.

"I'm sorry for your loss Captain Bacha," says Lieutenant Lockwood. "We are trying to repatriot the remains of the Hellraisers from Hesperus but there are many logistical issues that are currently working against us. It may take as long as year to have them moved to the Hellraisers' holdings on Glengarry."

"How many personnel survived?" asks Kaleb coldly.

The liaison officer nervously thumbs through his after-action reports and swallows hard when he finds the figure.

"Thirty-Seven," says Lieutenant Lockwood hoarsely.

"Thirty-Seven MechWarriors?" replies Feroz. "That's better than the footage leads you to believe."

"Umm... No," says Lieutenant Lockwood. "Umm... Thirty-Seven total, seven MechWarriors, six armored crewmen, nine infantry, three aerospace personnel and twelve civilian assets. The rest of the unit is listed as killed or missing in action. Though we believe that the missing-in-action numbers are just those remains we currently haven't been able to identify for various reason germane to your profession."

"That almost ninety percent of the Hellraisers!" exclaims Ahmed.

Sasha turns and buries her head into her Boyfriend's shoulder and begins to sob uncontrollably. The rest of The Purged begin to embrace each other in a moment of grief; even the normally stoic Capellan native Arthur hangs his head in memory of friends lost.

"Again," says Lieutenant Lockwood. "I'm truly sorry for your loss."

Lieutenant Lockwood closes the file labeled Fifteenth Battle for Hesperus and ejects the holovid chip from the player. He quietly exits the room and closes the door behind him. As he walks away from the debriefing room the sounds of Sasha's sobbing can be heard throughout the hall.

Chapter I: This is Not the End

Temporary Task Force Bivouacs
Outside Avalon City, New Avalon
Crucis March, Federated Suns
30 April 3067, 1100 Hours

Kaleb sat in his tent staring at the noteputer. The casualties list from Hesperus II slowly scrolled down the screen. Kaleb could scarcely believe the names that scrolled past, "Major Joseph Pope, Major Randolph Manes, Major Dwayne Hicks and Captain Stephen Miller. These names were larger than life legends, people he had grown up in the shadow of his whole life. When he was younger, it seemed like they could never die, never be defeated. Kaleb reached out and hit a key on his Noteputer freezing the screen. The name hung there in bright green letters; Colonel Dana Bacha. Kaleb just stared at the screen in shock, so lost in thought he didn't hear the rap come from outside the tent. When the tent flap pulled back and two Davion Heavy Guards soldiers entered Kaleb snapped back to the moment and closed his noteputer. The two soldiers stand to either side of the opening and allow a third person entry into the tent.

"Kaleb," says Prince Victor. "My apologies, I am sorry for the intrusion."

Kaleb stands and bows before Prince Victor.

"No apologies neccessary my Prince," replies Kaleb. "What can I do for you?"

"Kaleb I've been telling you since Alyina to call me Victor," says Prince Victor. "But I have a feeling that you'll persist regardless."

Kaleb managed a weak smile and nodded in affirmation.

"I wanted to come and give you my condolensces personally," continues Prince Victor. "Words cannot express the sadness I feel for this tradgedy. I can't help but believe my sister visited this upon the Hellraisers because of the loyalty the Hellraisers had shown me in the past. If there is anything I can do to help you only need to ask."

"You are not responsible for Katherine's actions my Prince," replies Kaleb. "My mother understood the game she was playing and its now obvious that the whole reason my command exists was her attempt to shield me from Katherine's machinations. She thought that if she could see the trap coming then she could avoid it. I believe she didn't count on Katherine risking control of Hesperus in he bid to destroy the Hellraisers."

Prince Victor nodded grimly.

"My sister would risk anything to hurt me and those loyal to me," replies Prince Victor. "I will see her punished for all her crimes Kaleb; you have my word."

Prince Victor reaches out his hand to embrace his friend. Kaleb takes Prince Victor's hand and speaks.

"Just one more thing my Prince," says Kaleb.

"Yes?" replies Prince Victor.

"I need to resign my commission in the 10th Lyran Guards... again," says Kaleb.

They both let out a small chuckle and then embrace as brothers.

"You do what you must Kaleb," replies Prince Victor. "The 10th will always be a home to you if you want."

As Prince Victor steps back, Kaleb stands at attention and snaps his Prince a salute. Prince Victor returns his friends gesture of respect and then leaves him to grieve in private.

33rd Street North and Valley Road
Silicon, Downtown Harlech
Outreach, Chaos March
15 October 3067, 0300 Hours

Edwin Little and his brother-in-law Joseph Hall lean up against the bar watching the dance floor, the sound of techno music thumping a hard-driving beat. Their dates, Edwin's wife Ariana and Joseph's latest 'MechBunny Jackie, are dancing along with the techo-beat and strobing lights of Silicon; the best techno bar in all of downtown Harlech. Edwin leans in and pratically yells in Joseph's ear.

"Thanks for forcing us to come," yells Edwin. "It's been forever since we have gotten out of the apartment."

Joseph nods while continuing to stare at Jackie as she bounces around the dance floor. Edwin continues to speak.

"I had alot of fun," yells Edwin. "But it's getting late and we should really start to head back."

Joseph nods again and then catches a sideways glance at Edwin. He realizes that Edwin has been talking to him and he didn't hear a word he said.

"What?" yells back Joseph.

"It's late," yells Edwin. "We should go."

Joseph laughs

"Parenthood is making you old," yells Joseph. "It's barely three in the morning."

Just then Ariana and Jackie burst inbetween Edwin and Joseph embracing and kissing their significant others.

"Ariana says she needs to go and relieve the babysitter," yells Jackie.

"Yes," yells Ariana. "I thought this would be a good time to go show Jackie your 'Mech. She said you promised her a chance to the sit in the cockpit."

Ariana lets out a small smirk toward her brother.

"Fine," yells Joseph. "Let head home."

The four of them leave the pulse pumping sounds of Silicon behind and exit into the cold night air of Downtown Harlech. Joseph wraps his scarf around neck to block out some of the chill. The street around Silicon has alot of foot traffic even this late at night but as they continued south to the People Mover Express; an elevated Maglev train that criss-crosses from Downtown Harlech to the North Sticks and South Sticks of Harlech.

The two couples walk arm in arm talking about nothing much in particular when Joseph begins to hear the unmistakable sound of an Aerospace Fighter pulling a hard dive. Joseph grabs Jackie and push her toward his Sister and Brother-in-Law knocking them all from their feet and against the nearest Hover Car. He then covers them with his frame and the sonic boom of the aerospace fighter leveling off low over buildings. The shockwave shatters windows and sets off an innumerable amount of alarms all along the street. Seconds later another fighter streaks across the night sky in pursuit.

"What the hell was that?" screams Ariana. 

"What's going on?" whimpers Jackie as she brushes broken glass off herself and Ariana.

Joseph and Edwin stand and help the women to their feet and pass each other silent glances. The Dragoons don't let military aircraft fly over Harlech like that. Whatever was going on it wasn't good. Edwin reached for his Military Microcommunicator and takes a few steps away. He turns his head to talk over his shoulder.

"I don't know but I'll call into the precinct and find out," says Edwin.

Edwin's call rings once when an immense explosion rocks the city. The bright flash and resulting blast roars down the street taking everyone off their feet.; the result of a massive Fuel-Air Bomb detonating just a few blocks away. 

Joseph blinks the dust and debris from his eyes and he stares up at the night sky now filled with the bright engine flares of dog-fighting aerospace fighters. He slowly picks himself up from the ground and takes a look around trying to figure out what just happened. His mind wanders as he trys to remember where he is and what he was doing when he sees his sister Ariana lying motionless a few meters from him. The ringing in his ear is deafening and the sound gives the entire scene a surreal feeling. The sounds of BattleMech weapon fire begins to filter through the ringing in Joseph's ears and he stumbles toward his sister and another person lying prone next to her.

"Ariana?" bellows Joseph, unable to control his volume because of the ringing in his ears. "Are you okay?"

Ariana begins to stir.

"I think so," replies Ariana meekly. "What about Edwin and Jackie?"

Joseph turns to the woman laying next to Ariana and realizes that she is Jackie. He touches her shoulder and shakes her unconscious form. His breath catches in his throat as he turns her over. She seems still as death... Then she coughs violently and begins to frantically grope around in an attempt to gain her bearings.

"What's going on?" yells Jackie in a panic.

"Relax," says Joseph, his faculties finally returning to him. "Your fine. You're going to be fine. Just relax and be calm."

Ariana stumbles to her feet and wanders over to where Edwin was making his call to the precinct. She begins to call out his name.

"Edwin!?" says Ariana hoarsely. His name eliciting a hacking cough from her throat. "Edwin? Are you okay?"

Edwin doesn't move.

"Edwin!?" yells Ariana as she frantically stumbles to his prostrate body and collapses next to him. She turns him over and lets out a scream.

"JOSEPH!" screams Ariana.

Joseph turns towards his scream sister and sees her clutching Edwin in her arms. Edwin was in a pool of his own blood. He sat Jackie down as quickly as he could.

"Stay here!" commanded Joseph as he ran to Ariana and Edwin.

Joseph could see a piece of debris sticking from Edwin's chest on the right side. He wasn't a combat trained medic but he did have at least some field training in first aid; a side effect of working in the Hellraisers and The Purged these past few years. He checked his vitals, check him for other injuries and then took off his scarf and pressed it around the foreign object to stop the bleeding. Edwin starts to come around as Joseph presses down.

"Uhhh..." groans Edwin. "What happened?"

"Harlech is under attack," replies Joseph bluntly. The sound of nearby BattleMech weapon fire punctuating his statement. "That sounds a block or two out. I don't want to move you but we might have to if they start to get closer."

As if almost on que, the sound of roaring Jump Jets erupt nearby. A Black and Red Gallowglas lifted into the night air, rocketing up, up over the street and into full view of Joseph and his friends. The sound of SRM and Gauss Rifle explosions told Joseph that the Gallowglas pilot just barely escaped his attacker's salvo. The pilot was good too. He feathered back on his thrusters at the high point of his jump and leaned to one side, working his own sense of balance against the over-taxed Gyro. The 'Glas performed an almost graceful jumping spin and then cut the burn completely to drop in a bone-jaring crouch just on the other side of the building. The night sky above the building then erupted with a multi-hued light show. The various colors and discharges told Joseph that the pilot just unleashed an Alpha Strike on his assailant. The sound from discharge to impact told Joseph that the shots must have been close; probally less than thirty meters.

Joseph frantically motioned for Jackie to come to him. They needed to move and now. The terrified 'MechBunny scrambled to her feet and ran toward Joseph as if satan himself was chasing her. He caught her as she stumbled the last few steps and he brought her low to the ground. He took her hands and placed them on the blood soaked scarf.

"Hold pressure here and don't let go whatever happens!" commands Joseph. "Ariana grab his feet, we need to move now!"

The women did as they were instructed and Joseph moved toward Edwin's head and slipped his arms under Edwin's armpits.

"Sorry bro," says Joseph. "This is going to hurt alot!"

With that Joseph wrenches Edwin's large frame off the ground and begins to move away from the sounds of the nearby 'Mechs fighting. They got barely a dozen meters away when the building they were just at exploded from inside out with two giant 'Mechs spilling into the street. The 'Glas was grappling with a Thunderbolt and it pushed the lighter 'Mech across the street and into the opposite building. The second building held against the strain of the two metal giants pressing their full weight against it. The T-Bolt pushed the 'Glas backward and unleashed a salvo of weapon fire. It's missiles struck hard across the 'Glas, blowing a few smoking holes in the 'Mech's armor but its nickel-ferrous slug from its Light Gauss Rifle missed taking down a street lamp and bowling over the parked Hover Car that Jackie was just sitting against.

The 'Glas was radiating heat as it unleashed another Alpha Strike against the T-bolt. The PPC and Laser shots caved in the T-bolt's right side and found the ammunition bin. It erupted in a tall gout of fire and smoke, blowing debris out through special blast-directed chambers to preserve the BattleMech and the Mechwarrior's life; whatever was left of either. As the 'Glas's pilot began to fight with overrides, preventing a heat-induced shutdown, an Annihilator from further down the street stalked forward leading a short column of armored vehicles and tanks; including a pair of Badger Tracked Transports.

The Annihilator raised one double-barreled arm and blasted all that was left of the T-bolt's head clean away. It fell backwards against the damaged building which finally gave way under the weight of the sixty-five ton 'Mech. Joseph stopped moving Edwin and motioned for Ariana to put him down. He surveyed the approaching forces. He marveled at the shot the Annihilator had landed. Targeting systems could line up a shot like the one it just took but at almost one hundred and fifty meters and at a flank speed it would take a natural to handle that hundred ton monster that easily. Then Joseph spied a red "Z" painted across the upper right torso of the Annihilator; Zeta Battalion

The lead Badger rolled to a stop and deployed a light Star of Elemental Infantry. The Annihilator never slowed. It just kept moving south toward the DropPort. The Elementals moved toward the damaged buildings and toward Joseph and his friends. An abrupt lull fell over the scene as the Elementals began to render aid to the injured civilians; Edwin included. As Joseph stood there motionless amidst the carnage of the firefight he heard the comms of the Badger crackle to life and fill the night air.

"Gray One to all Dragoons. Wolf Actual is down! I repeat Wolf Actual is down!"

A crackle of static. Then.

"Set Condition Feral!"

Colchiss and High Streets
Merchantile Building, Downtown Harlech
Outreach, Chaos March
15 October 3067, 0630 Hours

Shells fell all around the stately Merchantile Building as a Avanti Hoverlimo slid into the underground parking entrance. The attack from TempTown was in full swing, hard-luck mercenaries striking out at the Dragoons and other allies in a desperate bid to join up with Waco Rangers, just outside North Sticks. Unfortunately, the Merchantile Building stood in the mercenaries' way.

Four uniformed security guards hustled their charge into the waiting limousine. Dameon Guillome, Vice President of Blackwell Heavy Industries, had picked the wrong time for a meeting with the Spaceport Guild over wage issues. 

Slapping the side of the limo, two of guards stepped back, allowing the secured vehicle to move out. Two Badgers joined the Avanti as it cleared the West Boulevard exit, taking standard escort positions with one ahead and one behind. The battlefront hadn't rolled fully into the downtown district yet, but it was only a matter of time. 

One hour earlier...

A Badger Tracked Transport came to a screeching halt just outside the 'Mech storage hangar that housed The Purged's BattleMechs. Joseph Hall barely waited for the ramp at the back of the vehicle to open before he lept over the side and began running toward the hangar. As Joseph entered the 'Mech Bay he could see a flurry of activity; technicians and MechWarriors doing final checks on their machines. A voice carried over the confusion, calling Joseph by name.

"Hall," yelled Christian Stavros. "Over here."

Joseph spun on his heels and search for the voice. He found Christian standing near a mostly empty table, holding Joseph's Neurohelmet in his hands. Joseph raced to the table and grabbed the MechWarrior Combat Suit one the table and started stripping out of his civies.

"What's going on Chris?" asks Joseph as he continues to strip and change into the combat suit.

"No one knows as of yet," replies Christian. "Rumor is that Waco Rangers and several other mercenary commands have launched a sneak attack at the Dragoons. Kaleb says there is more to this attack than Wayne Waco's decades old grudge against the Dragoons. He's ordered all the dependents to the DropShips and we are heading for Glengarry."

"Edwin and Alyina should be there by now," says Joseph. "I had the MediVac make for the DropShip when I got the emergency recall order. Are we planning to fight our way to the DropPort? That might not work out to well for us... the Dragoons set Condition Feral, Edwin told me what that meant and it ain't good for anyone to be in a 'Mech and come across a Dragoon unit."

"Well," replies Christian. "Kaleb got that covered. He told a last minute contract from Blackwell. Seems one of their VP's got caught out in this mess and they need an escort to the DropPort. So win win, we get paid and get off Outreach and we can use the Blackwell flag to avoid Condition Feral."

"I'm not sure it works that way Christian," replies Joseph. "But here's to hoping."

Jospeh pulled out his flask and takes a heavy swig. Another MechWarrior running to his 'Mech yells at Joseph in passing causing him to spill some of his flask.

"Enough of your superstitions Joseph," yells Richard Takamoto. "If it's your day to die no amount of alcohol will change it."

The Kuritan Ronin grinned at Joseph and then donned his neurohelmet before jumping on the lift carrying him up to his Falconer BattleMech. Joseph put away his flask and followed Christian to the opposite lift. As he rode the lift to his Shootist he started to get an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. Its the same feeling he got when the Clans invaded. The day that Blackjack burned to the ground and his whole world changed. There was more to this than just Waco Rangers wanting to settle a score..."

Present Time...

The convoy fell in line behind the lead BattleMech; a hulking Assault 'Mech the Hauptmann. This pinnacle of Lyran engineering was piloted by the commander of The Purged; Kaleb Bacha. Flanking the convoy was a Beowulf piloted by Sasha St. Cloud and a Marshal piloted by Jason Scott. Falling in behind the convoy was Joseph in his Shootist. 

Joseph's comms crackled to life, Kaleb's voice echoing in his cockpit.

"Ok people," says Kaleb over the comms. "Lets look alive. We have twelve kilometers to the DropPort but there is some heavy fighting in our way. Striker Actual, I want you to move ahead of the convoy and scout our best path to the DropPort. Battle Actual I want you to hang back and make sure we don't pick up any tails. If we encounter any Dragoon patrols use the challenge code that Blackwell Industries provided and we shouldn't have any issues. Lets get everyone to the DropShip safe and sound."

"Copy That," replies Striker Actual and Battle Actual.

The entire convoy began to roll out toward the DropPort. Less than fifteen minutes later Striker Actual made contact with the enemy. Lead elements of the 51st Dark Panzer Jaegers struck hard at Feroz's Lance and attempted a classical encirclement. Feroz ordered his lance to fall back on an oblique angle to the approaching convoy hoping to draw out the panzers and allow for Kaleb's lance to hit them from the side.

"Command Actual, I have elements of the 51st Dark Panzer Jaegers opening fire on me without cause," says Striker Actual. "Executing a fighting withdrawl down 7th street. You shoul see them any second."

"Copy That Striker Actual," replies Command Actual. "You bring to us, we'll knock 'em down."

As Feroz turned the corner to head down 7th Street his HUD (Heads Up Display) showed him the destruction being wrought on Harlech. Wide swathes of the city burned. Entire city blocks lay in flame and ruin and dark, roiling smoke scorched the sky, blotting out the early dawn. It was as if Hell itself had come to Outreach. For an instant, one incredibly long and painful heartbeat which thundered in his ears, he was back on Sudeten watching the Falcons cutting a swathe through the planet's militia company in a vain attempt to prevent the Hellraisers from escaping to their DropShips. 

A single heartbeat was all the time he had. The Jaegers were't above striking while a MechWarrior's guard was down. Feroz found himself in a crossfire between an ancient Clint and a fresh from the factory Thunderbolt. His Guillotine shook desperately as the Clint's PPC carved into one side and the T-Bolt's Light Gauss hammered a hard-edged blow on the right. Ruby lances and emerald darts slashed in behind, the lasers scarring and scoring deep into his BattleMech's armor. 

The Guillotine stumbled backward, out of the intersection Feroz had been holding. Thin-poured concrete on the street's sidewalk cracked and caved in beneath his feet. It took him out from under the T-Bolt's crosshairs, not a small favor, and all that prevented the seventy-ton machine from going down was the five-level parking garage he fell against. 

Leaning forward, putting his own balance to the test, Feroz dug in with throttle and foot pedals to lever his Guillotine back into the fight. His hands wrenched at the BattleMech's control sticks, already his finger tightened down on the main trigger. Dragging his crosshairs up and over, he found the Clint advancing at a run, coming right at him down the double-wide street and centered the target right dead center across the other BattleMech's square shaped torso. In a crackling, violent discharge, the ER PPC on the Guillotine struck at the Clint with a twist of hellish, blue-white energies. It cored through all that was left of the already too thin armor; burning and gouging a deep rent. Then Feroz thumbed the firing stud mounted on the ridge of his control stick and added both Snub-Nosed PPC's to the injury.

One of the Snub-Nosed Cannons sliced deep into and through the Clint's right arm, dropping a severed hand to the ground. His second Cannon punched a bright-white lance into the gaping wound already burned through the 'Mech's chest. Through the Clint's Gyroscopic stabilizer and right out the back. Forty tons of upright walking war machine relied on many critical systems, not least of which was a highly skilled and trained pilot. But a MechWarrior was more than a simple throttle jockey. Through the heavy neurohelmet all MechWarriors wore, his sense of balance, his inner ear, was translated into a regenerative feedback signal which worked with the Gyro, fed it information and strained against gravity. Feroz had just cut that particular cord.

The Clint staggered and sprawled out across the street, grinding sparks beneath it as it slid across the intersection. It ground to a halt not ten meters in front of Feroz's Guillotine; struggling to upright itself. Sweat burned in Feroz's eyes and his breathing came in careful, shallow gasps as the waste heat from the 'Mech's fusion reactor bled up through the cockpit deck. His temperature gauges spiked hard through the yellow and edged into the red.

Feroz chopped back his throttle and sidestepped his machine toward the Clint's head. Hebrought one large foot up and then crashed it down once... twice against the side of the angular "face". After the second stomp, there wasn't much left but a tangle of metal and ferroglass and mangled flesh.

"On your right, Striker Actual!" yells Command Actual over the comms.

The warning very nearly came too late. As it was, it barely gave Feroz a second to think before the warning screams of a missile lock pierced through the cockpit's tight confines; but alot can be done in a second. Enough time for a glance at his heads up display, to see the golden icon of friendly forces moving up behind the T-Bolt as it cleared the corner and took the intersection. More than enough time to shove down hard against his foot pedals, cutting in his jump jets. The thrusters lifted the Guillotine on fiery jets of plasma, rocking up, up over the street as the T-Bolt's missiles slammed into the ferrocrete street and blew a few extra holes in the corpse of the hapless Clint.

With Feroz clear of the line of fire, Kaleb and Joseph let loose with an Alpha Strike from their respective machines. The salvo fire from their heavy guns tore into rear armor of the T-Bolt. Though the T-Bolt was a Heavy 'Mech it couldn't suffer the burst fire from an Ultra AC/20, the nickel-ferros slug from a Gauss Rifle and the blue-white energies of a pair of ER PPC's. The T-bolt shuddered from the impact and was already exploding before it began to fall. 

With two 'Mechs down and their pilots slain the 51st Dark Panzer Jaegers began to fall back and regroup. If this had been any other time, Kaleb would have given the order to pursue, but with the VIP cargo and the dependants waiting at the DropPort, Kaleb ordered his command to press on. Battle Actual preformed a rear-guard action as the convoy continued, scoring two more kills before the Jaegers decided to break off and go find the targets they were hired to fight; the Wolf's Dragoons.

The fighting in TempTown grew worse, with several down and out mercenary companies and "lone wolf" pilots eventually tracking through downtown to join up with Colonel Waco and his allies in North Sticks. Shortly after dawn, the Dragoons Beta Regiment responded to the threat and began hammering the ad-hoc mercenary commands with a brutal block by block action that raged on as The Purged's DropShip lifted from Harlech.

Chapter II: This is Not the Beginning

Hines Hellraisers Warrior Hold
Loch Sheol, Glengarry
Skye March, Federated Commonwealth
12 May 3068, 1100 Hours

The DropShip touched down just outside of Loch Sheol at the starport of Dunkeld; the captial of Glengarry. Kaleb was the first out of the DropShip, piloting his Hauptmann. The rest of his Lance followed suit, Jason Scott in his Marshal, followed by Sasha St. Cloud in her Beowulf and bringing up the rear of the formation was Joseph Hall in his Shootist. The was little in the way of a greeting to meet them. A single Vehicle, with a small infantry detachment was waiting at safe distance from the DropShip's exhaust radius. 

As Kaleb and his command lance exited the DropShip and moved to meet the StarPort's security detail, the rest of the Company began to exit out of the DropShip's other bay doors. Feroz maneuvered his aged Guillotine down the ramp with the rest of his lance close behind; Christian Stavros in his Charger, Richard Takamoto in his Falconer and Arthur Chin in his Men Shen.

Ahmed ibn-Husain Munsor's Grand Titan moved ponderously out of the 'Mech bay; the rest of his lance waiting for the massive machine to clear a path. Ahmed paused briefly to stare at the empty 'Mech cubicle that held Walter's 'Mech. He still felt the loss of his friend deeply. As the massive 100 ton BattleMech stepped onto the ferrocrete tarmac the infantry detail visibly reacted. The massive BattleMech was designed to replace the ancient Atlas as the king of the battlefield; even down to the shock and awe its visage created. As Roy Gilbert's narrow Daikyu moved next to the Grand Titan, it looked comically frail in comparison. Though Roy's 'Mech was only 30 tons lighter, it looked far smaller. Even Charles Pope's Warhammer didn't look any more imposing. Ahmed's lance took up sentry positions around the DropShip.

"Alright folks," begins Kaleb. "Ahmed's lance has security detail. Feroz I want you to move to Loch Sheol and make sure there are no surprises for us. I'm going to have a chat with StarPort security here."

The sounds of acknowledgements crackles over Kaleb's comms as he moves his Hauptmann toward the security detail. Feroz and his lance begin a standard march toward the Hellraisers Warrior Hold. Kaleb was concerned that only a small infantry detachment was here to oppose a 'Mech landing at the StarPort. Even with the destruction of the Hellraisers at the Fifteenth Battle of Hesperus the Home Guard should have been here at Glengarry to protect the dependents of the unit. Their absence troubled him deeply. He eased his Hauptmann to a stop and switched his comms to his external speakers.

"Captain Kaleb Bacha of The Purged," booms Kaleb's voice over the speakers. "At the behest of Duchess Elizabeth Hines I am bringing my command to Loch Sheol. I am formally requesting civilian escort of my forces to the Hellraisers holdings."

The last bit was a little white lie. Kaleb didn't exactly get Elizabeth's permission to land his unit on Glengarry but he was hoping his reputation would be enough to impress the security into complying without demanding to see any written contract for the deployment of military forces to Glengarry. The past year of the Jihad had caused a great deal of confusion and delayed orders that it wouldn't be to unreasonable to assume the Duchess had brought The Purged back home.

The comms crackled to life with the commander of the security detail voice.

"Welcome home Captain Bacha," replies Sergeant Sullivan. "It has been far too long since you have been home. You might not remember but I fought alongside you at Coltbridge in '56. We really sent those Fourth Skye Guards packing."

Kaleb did remember a young militiamen named Sullivan. His platoon had skirmished with the lead elements of the Skye Guards to bait them into the outskirts of Coltbridge. Their near suicidal bravery caused two Guards 'Mech to be caught in a crossfire and seperated from their lance. Once the Guards 'Mechs were trapped the rest of the attacking force rushed in to break their friends out; their loyalty doomed them.

"I do," replies Kaleb. "Your bait and trap was the root cause of our victory at Coltbridge. I'm sorry it cost so many good men their lives to perform. I remember having to order you and the rest of your platoon into the Glencoe Highlands to rest and heal up."

The sergeant stood at attention and saluted the massive BattleMech. He looked like a small child saluting his soldier father. Kaleb was almost lost in the memories of the Second Skye Rebellion. Sergeant Sullivan finished his salute and waved his squad into their Goblin Medium Tank. The comms crackled to life once more.

"Okay Captain," says Sergeant Sullivan. "I know you know the way but follow us."

"Affirmative," replies Kaleb as he eased the Hauptmann forward.

"You have the perimeter Ahmed," says Kaleb.

"Copy That Kaleb," replies Ahmed. "Go with Allah, my friend."

The column headed into the Halidon Hills toward Loch Sheol and to whatever awaited them at the Hellraiser Compound.

Several Hours Later...

Kaleb stood on the shores of Loch Sheol, his BattleMech a short distance away. It stood like a silent guardian over him, dwarfing the nearby lakeside recreation center. The center housed all the things the hellraisers' dependents would use to enjoy some time at the lake. Kaleb remembered all the good times he had here as a child playing with CharlesEdwin and Edwin's siblings. He reached out to lean against a nearby tree and his hand touch a healed over scar on the normally smooth trunk. The sound of a woman screaming echoed in his mind as he flashed to a far worse time at the lake.

A cold sweat came over Kaleb as he got flashes of memories. He remembered huddling with Charles, Edwin and Elizabeth in the Rec Center. He can hear the sounds of Laura Little screaming in pain after being shot by a bunch of thugs sent by "The Dean". She tried to fight them off while Sharon Enders, Randolph's wife hid the children. 

"Sharon," yells the thug leader. "Come out right now or I put a bullet in this bitch's head. If nothing else it will shut her the fuck up!"

Kaleb squeezed his eyes tight as the scene played over in his head. All the children were crying and Elizabeth look terrified. Sharon got up to leave the Rec Center but Elizabeth grabbed her and begged her not to go. Sharon took ahold of Elizabeth and steadied her. She spoke calm and even.

"You have to keep them safe," said Sharon. "I will be fine but if I don't go they will hurt Laura."

Elizabeth began to protest. She shook her head vigorously no. Sharon took Elizabeth's head in her hands and whispered to her. Kaleb was barely four but he remembered everything perfectly. It was his first clear memory.

"There is no one else," said Sharon. "It has to be you."

Sharon then took Kaleb's hand and placed it in Elizabeth's.

"Whatever happens," said Sharon. "Stay here and keep them safe."

The emotions flooded over Kaleb making him lean even more heavily on the tree. He didn't hear the rest of his lancemates approach.

"Captain," says Joseph softly.

Kaleb straightens up at the sound of his name takes a moment to compose himself before turning around. He wipes the vestiges of tears from his eyes and turns to face Joseph.

"We looked everywhere," begins Joseph. "There is no one here. Everyone and everything is just gone."

"From what I can tell," interjects Sasha. "They have been gone for sometime. They left but not under duress or in a hurry. Everything was sealed up and secured."

"There is nothing here but ghosts," says Jason. "The whole place gives me the cree..."

Joseph elbows Jason in the ribs eliciting a sharp winching from him.

"What Jason means," interrupts Sasha. "Is we can't find any evidence of something amiss but it all feels wrong. If Sergeant Sullivan is correct, all the dependents disappeared one day and no one knows where they went. Everyone believes the Hellraisers just took everyone with them but there was no mention of dependents being sent anywhere before they deployed to [[Hesperus II]]."

Kaleb glanced back to the Rec Center, the echoes of crying children and Laura whimpering in agony carried on the wind. He remembers Elizabeth holding his hand and saying over and over again that it would be okay. That she would protect them.

Kaleb looked back to Joseph.

"Okay mount up," says Kaleb. "There is nothing left for us here. If we are going to get answers its not going to be from an empty holdfast."

Kaleb walked past his lancemates and toward his Hauptmann. After he was just out of earshot, Jason turned to Sasha with a confused look.

"What was that about Hall?" says Jason. 

"Ariana told me about this place," replies Joseph. "The Captain, Edwin and few of the dependents, including the Colonel were trapped here and a bunch of thugs from Dustball took Edwin's mother and Randolph's wife. It was the first time Kaleb saw anyone die. I think that incident more than anything made Edwin become a cop and Kaleb become a MechWarrior. They both wanted to protect people from assholes like that."

"And now there is no one left to protect," says Jason sofly.

"Oh they are out there," replies Sasha.

"How can you be so sure Sash?" replies Jason.

"I'm not," replies Sasha. "But I won't let myself think of the alternative."

"C'mon," says Joseph. "Let's not keep the Captain waiting."

The three of the head up toward their waiting BattleMechs, leaving the ghosts of the past behind them.

Kokuryu-Kai Council of Gems
Undetermined Location
Draconis Combine
3 August 3071, 2030 Hours

[Obsidian]: “So it has begun, then. I knew the traitors would show their true colors.” 

[ Jade ]: “As if they hadn’t before. We’ve all known the Cats would betray us sooner or later.”

[ Ruby ]: “This was not unanticipated.” 

[Diamond]: “Indeed. Though if they leave, they strip our worlds and lay them bare for Blakist rape.” 

[Pearl]: “Better that than suffer these genetic freaks much longer.” 

[Sapphire]: “You do not know of what you speak, Pearl. Things have changed in the past ten years. There are…plans…underway that utilize these vile creatures. Their true fate, as it is.” 

[Ruby]: “Enough!” [Pain-wracked coughing] 

[Opal]: “Save your strength, honored one. I see we have a visitor.” 

[ Jasper ]: “Hai, meiyo to naru sensei (Yes, honor to you teacher). [Jasper bows to Ruby] I bring news of consequence.” 

[Diamond]: “Speak, then. Let us derail the boastful prattling of our younger members.” 

[Jade]: [Indistinct muttering] 

[Ruby]: “Silence! You are all children and shameful! Is this what we have come to? A schoolhouse gang, plotting needlessly? Perhaps I should phone the Director myself…” [Coughing] 

[Jade]: “Apologies, Otōsan (father). Please, continue.” 

[Jasper]: “The Azami have chosen to defy the Coordinator and the Kanrei. They have recalled all their legions to Arkab and Algedi. They claim the indifference from the throne regarding their horrific tragedy has finally shown the Dragon’s true colors.” 

[Onyx]: ”Interesting…” 

[Opal]: “They have willfully defied the Dragon’s command?” 

[Jasper]: “Hai. And it seems they are anticipating, possibly even welcoming, a fight.” 

[Sapphire]: “With the waters still muddied around Luthien, redirecting focus to how the foreigners are rejecting the Dragon’s grace and generosity may work to our advantage.” 

[Jade]: “Indeed. First the Nova Cat rumors and now this…” 

[Ruby]: “I see opportunity. Onyx, I suggest you inform the Director that perhaps the Siriwan and her attendants should show our wayward children of Allah the true depth of their mistake.” 

[Onyx]:The Siriwan? But you know that is not one of…“ 

[Ruby]: “I know perfectly we…“ [Coughing] 

[Diamond]: “I see where Ruby is going. It is ideal. I will contact my agents on Algedi at once and make sure the proper words are spoken.” 

[Opal]: “And the Cats?” 

[Ruby]: “That solution is…” [wracked breathing] “…already in hand. Our protégé has executed a masterstroke. [Coughing] Excuse me. I must retire. We are done here.“ 

[Jade]: “Let me help you, Otosan.” 

[Ruby]: “Watch the skies, gentlemen. From there, the Dragon shall roar...” [Ruby rises to leave and Jade reaches to help. Ruby pulls away from Jade and struggles to leave the chamber under his own power.]

Bridge of the Dieron Star
In High orbit of New Samarkand
Galedon Military District, Draconis Combine
15 March 3072, 0900 Hours

Kiyomori Minamoto stares at the sealed letter in his hands. It bears the symbol of The Red Duke emblazoned on the wax seal. It has been barely seven months since he was in his Sensei's presence. He hesitated to open the letter, knowing the contents were the last thoughts of mentor. Kiyomori exhaled sharply and snapped the seal. He unfurled the scroll-like letter and perused the contents:


Yes, I use your name for once. Indulge an old man. You need to know that you are more than a codename to me. More than a protégé. More than a son. I am declaring you my heir. I have no riches to bestow. No lands. Not even a title, but a mockery of one. A flimsy shell from decades ago, when my title and my name brought fear to many. No longer. Yes, I am regarded as anathema. A fool. Psychotic, imbecilic, even senile. I only need to look to you, my honored son, and know the lies these words mean. You are my heir of more than titles, land and even power. You are the heir of the future. The promise of what is to come and what the Dragon can truly be. Through you, the old ways will never die. They will be reborn, reformed, hardened. Through you, the crippling death grip of the Kurita family will finally pass from the Dragon, as a snake sheds its skin. Through you, the mighty Draconis Combine of old shall rise from the ashes and strike fear and respect through the Inner Sphere once again. Through you, the Combine shall finally regain her rightful place as the new inheritor of the Star League and all the ideals of that glorious age. Through you, the future is bright. I have brought you this far. It is time for you to mount up and take the fight to the heart of the corrupted soul of our Dragon. And remove that stain once and for all. Be warned: Jade is not pleased. He knows of this, of course; I cannot deny my own blood the truth of my intentions. But he, at heart, cannot be what you are. And that revelation, once it dawns on him, will create your greatest obstacle. He is a tool. When the tool is dull, you replace it. Do not hesitate, my honored son. The Dragon stands at the cusp of greatness. Usher in the New Era. And may the Inner Sphere tremble once more when the Dragon roars."

Kiyomori rolles the letter back up and clutches it tightly. His father is gone and now he must remove the stain from his legacy... Jade must die.

Chapter III:This is Not the Beginning of the End


Hassid Ricol's private estates 

Vedsan City, Kaesong 

Alshain Military District Draconis Combine

5 January, 3072 0600 Hours

Jade watched his Father from a concealed camera in the elder Duke's hospice room. It had been a few days since his father had collapsed and the doctors were unable to do anything more to prolong his life. His father had called in his personal secretary and a ComStar representative from the HPG facility to come to his bedside. When Jade tried to remain in the room, his Father ordered him out and had the doors sealed and the security cameras disabled. Luckily, Jade didn't trust anyone, even his father's personal security and had other more discrete surveillance put in place to monitor his father should his failing health become an issue. For weeks now, his father has put an uncomfortable amount of distance between Jade and him. Their relationship had been strained ever since Jade failed to deal with Victor Ian Steiner-Davion on Luthien several years ago. 

Jade leaned forward and adjusted the volume on the surveillance to better hear the conversation.

"...he can no longer be trusted to carry on with my legacy," says Hassid Ricol.

"Are you sure you wish me to give this message to Adept here my lord?" asks his secretary. "Once this is delivered to Admiral Minamoto he will seek to end your son's life."

Hassid scoffs at the question that starts a fit of coughing. He wipes the blood from his mouth and looks at the dark red blotches on his white silk handkerchief.

"He might have my blood coursing through his veins but he is far from my son," replies Hassid. "He was a tool I discovered in the wreckage of one my earliest failed adventures. When Benjamin bested me on Helm I planned to use my new "son" against him. Alas he was far too useful over the years to waste on petty revenge so I decided to keep him. The time of his usefulness has come to an end and now it is time to rid my house of unwanted guests."

"Yes my lord," replies the Secretary. He turns to the Adept and places a verigraph encoded document in his hands. 

The Adept bows to the Duke and exits the room, escorted from the estates by a detachment of the Duke's guards. Jade contemplates pursuing the Adept and taking the document by force. The escort of ducal guards wouldn't be enough to stop him but he would probably have to kill the Adept to get the document from him; something that ComStar would endeavor to deal with and he didn't need to make more enemies than he needed to. Besides there were questions that he needed from his father first; namely who was Benjamin and how did he think he could use Jade against this man.

Jade stepped up to his father's door but the guards barred his way. He paused a moment to stare at each man, his look was clear, move or I will end your life. They stepped aside and let him through. Jade closed the doors behind him and stood facing the door for what seemed like an eternity. Hassid's weak voice broke the silence of the moment.

"You bugged the room didn't you?" asks Hassid.

"Just as you taught me Father," replies Jade as he turns around.

Hassid chuckles softly, trying not to elicit another coughing fit.

"So I guess you want answers," says Hassid.

"Yes Father," replies Jade. "Answers would be good, seeing how you have just signed my death warrant and gave it to Jasper."

"Well for one I am not your Father," says Hassid.

"How can that be!?" yells Jade. "You are always fond of boasting that your blood courses through my veins when I succeeded at the tasks you placed before me. Now that I failed to complete one mission I am no longer your son!?"

Hassid laughs again, this time a coughing fit overtakes him forcing him into a fetal position. Jade moves to his father's bedside but Hassid raises his hand to keep him at bay.

"You were nearly dead when my DEST troopers found you," wheezes Hassid. "You have a rare blood type, AB negative like me. So my blood does in fact course through your veins... or it did. I look at you now and know whatever was left of me in you is now gone."

Jade's face becomes like stone as his Father speaks.

"I took you from your real father because he duped me on Helm," continues Hassid. "I nursed you back to health and luckily the trauma you suffered made it easy to convince you that I was your father. I amused me to keep something so precious to Benjamin. I would have loved to inform him of my revenge but alas he died a few years ago. So before I pass I am going to remove his stain from my house..."

Hassid starts to cough once more. Jade steps forward. He reaches out to his father with one of his white silk handkerchief to catch the vomited blood. Jade then press the gentle cloth to Hassid's face and cups his mouth and nose in his hand. He holds them their as his Father feebly claws at Jade. A few moments pass before Hassid stops moving. Jade tosses the white handkerchief on his father's bed and walks from the room without looking back...

Epilogue: This is the End of the Beginning

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