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Dead Man's Hand - A Taste of Ashes (Chapter Cover Art) 1

Chapter 8[]

Dead Man's Hand: A Taste Of Ashes[]

Farmland, Sweet Water
Coventry Province
Federated Commonwealth
10th July, 3057

An orchestral rendition of Danse Macabre by Saint-Saëns echoed across the countryside, audible even above the sound of weapons fire the the rhythmic thump of BattleMechs on the march. DeWalt always felt that death and destruction went best with classical music, despite the protests of one of her former subordinates: locking the man in a soundproof room for a week with a constant soundtrack of some of her favorite pieces had driven him to slash his own wrists.

She liked to think that she'd made her point, and nobody had questioned her choice in music since.

"Death feels... whimsical, tonight." she smiled to herself as she watched the fields around her, as far as the eye could see, burn.

Doolally had requested a distraction, something that would draw out the local militia and their Mercenary lap-dogs, and he'd been so wonderfully vague as to the details. He knew that letting her of the leash would result in, well, her enjoying herself, but he also knew that he had to let her indulge herself every now and then, for his own sake. DeWalt knew that she was little more than a rabid dog, but Doolally had found a way to at least give her psychotic tendencies a direction, while a less forgiving man would have simply put a bullet through her twisted brain and dumped her in a shallow grave.

As such, she'd given her command the order to destroy everything in their path: ever field of crops or orchard of trees burned, ever herd of cattle was gunned down, every building raised to the ground... any locals they found, well, that was up to the individual choice of the MechWarrior. Some liked to gun them down immediately, savoring the immediate rush, whole others liked to let them think they had a chance to escape, letting them die tired. A couple liked to forgo weapons, and trample them underfoot, or to cripple them, and let them die slowly.

DeWalt only liked to burn things, and she wasn't picky as to what, so long as it was within range of her flamer.

ZA718 Heavy
Sweetwater, Coventry Province
Federated Commonwealth
10th July, 3057

Aung heard a double thump against his cockpit canopy, and poked up to see the cargo master give the sixty-seconds signal.

On paper, his plan was tantamount to a suicide pact, but he'd done it before, back when he was still with the Legion of Vega. Growing up poor in the Combine, he hadn't had many choices in life: work at the same factory as his parents and older siblings, join one of the local Yakuza gangs, or sign-up for the DCMS. Well, he'd seen what working in the factory for decades had done to his parents, and as someone very obviously not ethnically Japanese, he would never have been more than an enforcer for the Yakuza, so that only left serving the Dragon. Fortunately, his entry exam had shown a natural aptitude for piloting a BattleMech, and he had soon found himself in uniform, just in time for the Ronin War back in mid 3030s.

Unfortunately, his first commander had been something of a traditionalist, who still favored the so-called 'Charge of the Horde', a long discredited, but still occasionally successful tactic. Essentially, take a group with green but motivated troops in cheap, easy to replace BattleMechs, and try the bury the enemy in weight of numbers. It was exactly as stupid as it sounds, as people had long since worked out tactics for dealing with such a crude attack, but nobody had thought to ask Aung his opinion on the matter.

He'd survived, but his background meant that he was destined for one of the less reputable units, and he had eventually ended up in the Legion.

Always under equipped, the Legion of Vega had developed the well deserved reputation for thinking outside the box, such as the deployment plan he'd suggested to Joker. But, in a oddly Zen-like calm, she'd agreed. It was disconcerting to see her so... unemotional, under the circumstances: someone who normally wore her heart in her sleeve, she'd become distant, almost robotic, once she'd received word of the pirate attack on the S&R team. I hadn't taken long to figure out exactly what that meant, and he'd been watching her carefully ever since.

As the oldest member of Dead Man's Hand, had felt protective of his team, even if their profession was, by its very nature, prone to extreme danger. But that didn't mean that he couldn't see through the mask his commander had assumed, to see her inner turmoil. He just hoped that she found an outlet for it before she did something reckless.

Not that he was helping much, by suggesting what he had.

Major Drake had laughed when she'd heard what they wanted to do, and no amount of arguing could dissuade her. It was ultimately the unexpected arrival of Doc Bart himself, who had come to learn first hand just what the militia was planning, that had gotten things moving. Upon bearing just what Aung was suggesting, he'd taken off his had and laughed long and loudly, calling the mercenary "my kind of crazy son-of-a-bitch!", and directly ordered Drake to give them whatever they needed.

A klaxon sounded, and the lights outside the canopy turned from red to green, and Aung readied himself for the jolt as the extraction parachute caught the wash from the King Karnov, pulling the cargo sled his Archer was strapped to clear out of the transports cargo bay. On his HUD, he could see a trio of icons indicating that the others had likewise been successfully deployed from their own transports. True, when Aung had last taken part in such an air-drop, he'd been piloting a Panther, and had been carried in a far smaller, and lower flying, Planetlifter, but really, it was just a question of scale.

That, and they simply didn't have the time to convert one Planetlifter to have a single enlarged cargo bay, to accommodate let alone four Mechs. So the King Karrnov's it was. Fortunately, they'd only needed three, as it had been possible to hit Scilicorn's Shadow Hawk and Kelso's Wolverine into a single aircraft.

The cargo sled fell free, the massive parachutes pulling the Archer upright as the altimeter started to rapidly count down.

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