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The Other War (Cover)

Chapter 59 - The Other War
Kirin Star System
Kerensky Cluster
April, 3062

The red sun rose over the fog shrouded dark green and purple grasslands of the Quivira Game Reserve. Rebekah eagerly awaited the warmth and light of day after twelve hours of freezing moonless night. Her commpad beeped with Shaman Great Oak's morning message. She pulled the gray device with its partially cracked screen from a rough leather pouch tied to the belt that held her furred clothes together. Today's passage was from the Tsalagi canon, the Shaman's choice of quotes seemed supernatural; inspiring her when she was feeling low, or encouraging her after a successful day although she never sent him any updates besides, 'All is well. Still looking for my Thunderbird.' A calming chime informed her that the message was transmitted.

“Will today be the day?” She asked of herself steadied by the stout hunting spear in her hands, a modern version that she had chosen, the grasslands were bare of trees so one could not be crafted on site. A month in this cold wilderness had yet to give her a vision or purpose but perhaps her mind was more occupied by other thoughts. Either that or she had just not experienced enough hardship, Drum Canyon had been harsher than the plains of Kirin which despite the freezing nights had cooler days and abundant easily trapped game.

She peered through binoculars at a grazing herd spread out over a dozen kilometers just rousing from their sleeping areas. These grasslands supported great herds of creatures thriving in its thin yet oxygen rich atmosphere. Kirin's axial tilt was nearly 20* making for intense seasons, in summer meltwater filled basins forming vast inland marshes thick with grass. Massive herds migrated hundreds of kilometers North-South with the seasons and her arrival coincided with the largest of these.

Through the lenses she could see thunderbirds circling the herd, their piercing cries echoed off the cairn like rocks erupting from the grass like giant teeth from a primeval maw. While they were no danger to the grazers below the animals knew they were often harbingers of coyotes. On Kirin as in Strana Mechty and Tamaron the synergy between the two helped them attain their full potential. Kirin was however less arid so prey grew larger and they followed.

Prior to dawn she had packed up her camp which fit neatly into a woven basket pack, her tightly rolled sheepskin bedroll mounted atop it. In her hands she carried the spear and her atlatl darts, their thrower hung from her belt along with her comm-pad, waterskin, and knife. While a Warrior could take any weapon she had chosen the most primitive in design. Killing a hundred kilo Coyote with a carbine counted but she was aiming for a bloodname and thus needed to impress someone enough for a sponsorship to the Grand Melee at the end of the year.

Rebekah set out to follow the herd on foot. She had refused to take a coyote yet although there were opportunities instead she choose to endure longer in the plains, think through what happened on Delios, and demonstrate all that she had learned in Sibko. Her Pack Leader Cairo, had thinned half her sibko with months long expeditions into the desert, by comparison Kirin seemed like paradise.

The mixed herd moved slowly across the plains content with grazing and browsing shrubs tough enough to survive the windswept lowlands. She followed behind gathering herbs and looking for camp locations. Wind speed increased dramatically mid day until it was throwing dust into her face with enough force that she had to don goggles. With little surface water to moderate climate and intense seasonal variance Kirin had immense winds coming down from the Southern Uplift during its summer.

A great mass of clouds filled with lightning gathered above the eastern highlands. She backtracked diving down into a Whakka burrow just as the wind began to howl overhead. The tunnel was just large enough for her to recline slightly although her blonde hair was tickling the roots above. Above she heard the thump of hail on the sod above and sounds of animals taking shelter to protect themselves in case it got worse.
“Might have some company soon.” she said drawing her long knife and flashlight while placing the spears beside her. She would be a snack if coyotes were nearby and chose to take shelter in the same complex. Large caverns were uncommon on the plains so coyote packs often occupied vacant burrows or made their own in order to shelter pups while hunting.

Above her the storm picked up while she breathed in the earthy scent of the roots and rich humus above her. Inside the burrow channeled wind blew past her tossing her braids tied with leather straps. A noise like the freight trains that passed her barracks on San Mateo surrounded her, “Tornado. Gonna make a damned mess of the place.” The ground around her was unstable, clods of dirt fell from the ceiling threatening to engulf her, and heard the hole she entered in collapse.

Her watch alarm rang out marking the end of the day, in the tropics the sun set fast and she had lost an entire day hiding underground. The storm settled but the wind continued whipping across the plains. She heard a scratching sound, shifting position to greet anything trying to intrude on her with a spear point.

She lay in the dirt spear pointed back across herself to hold her ground as the coyote cleared the collapsed tunnel. Its great paws digging through the dirt hoping for an easy kill buried in the fallen tunnel. Rebekah aimed for its snarling jaws, as soon as it cleared she stabbing as hard as she could embedding the spear into the coyote which yelped in pain. Its teeth tore into her legs grabbing her boot and ripping her shin which bled under the claws.

Her arms came up defensively as it pressed forward to avenge the harm, clawing at her legs while attempting to bite off her left arm. Instead it found the carbon fiber spear shaft which cracked under the immense pressure. The spear was useless this close so she reached down to find her knife and hold back the assault.

Fearful she realized that during the struggle she had kicked it away and could not feel it. With a roll she turned the attacker aside before stabbing the bladed of her broken spear into the muscular neck of her attacker. Warm blood gushed forth from its arteries mixing with her own in the close confines of her would be tomb. She stabbed it again and again until it stopped moving lost in bloodlust and adrenaline. Exhausted she pulled out the comm pad and sent a distress message.

With her lifeblood draining from the deep scratches covering her body she pulled out every piece of cloth and clotting agent from the medpack attached to her belt. She sprinkled the powder into the long wound on her abdomen feeling the burn and gritting her teeth to suppress screams almost blacking out. With not other option she pushed through applying a pressure dressing to her left arm and bandaging the other injuries as best she could before succumbing.

A short distance away Point Leader Magnus Ghost was on maneuvers with the 44th Mechanized Assault, the aptly named Tornado Cluster. He looked out over the starless plains faintly illuminated in the running lights of his Point's Anhur VTOL which was racing over the grasslands in search of Hell's Horses for the Rite of Branding. His own brand was visible just below his sternum as were the others who had stripped down to a minimum, their AC unit was acting up and its fusion reactor warmed it well beyond the 12*C outside.

The pilot's voice appeared in his earphones, “Point Leader, we are detecting a Coyote distress signal nearby, should we divert?”

“Tradition and our honor demands we answer it.” He looked toward his other Elementals lingering on a stoic blond Elemental, another former Ghost Bear now prospective Horse who understood and nodded. “We can look for horses tomorrow.”

Below them the Anhur's spotlights displayed carnage, Magnus fired his pistol several times to disperse the coyotes feeding off Tallasi killed by hail. The slight aerospace pheno pilots stood on the back ramp with SMGs at the ready. Light on the plains attracted attention from grasslands' predators. Elementals with headlamps set out toward the beacon. Magnus stood atop a small rise characteristic of Whakka, irritating mustelids that made these plains difficult to drive across, with the detector in his hand. “She is around here somewhere, look for entrances underground.”

Gunner called him over, a much to small hole for the large Horse Elementals led down into the burrow. “Get digging. I will get one of the pilots to recover her.” The Elemental called another man over and the two of them got to work digging down and stabilizing the hole for the rescue mission. Hell's Horse Aerospace fighters were much closer to their Mechwarrior brethren than even they were to the Elementals. Even for the slight pilot the Coyote was easily dragged out of the burrow and handed up to waiting Horses. Magnus looked over her with his flashlight, the blonde woman was covered in blood and pale from the lack of it, “Does she live?”

Aff, there was a dead coyote tangled up next to her, so I guess only some of that's hers. Weak though, unless she gets some blood she will be a goner by the time we get her to a hospital.”

“We have to try, I will take her back to the Anhur. You get the others, time is of the essence.”

Magnus shouldered the wounded coyote pocketing the broken spear point she held in a death grip. He laid her out on one of the long benches that folded out from the side of the helicopter's crew bay. The bloody co-pilot returned to his post and the VTOL set off toward the nearest ranger station.

All Elementals were familiar with trauma medicine so they acted quickly to clean and bandage neglected injuries while separating her blood from the coyote's. Their medikit lacked fluids as the Anhur had been recently brought back into service after spending a decade in the boneyard. “She's your type Magnus. We can conduct a transfusion.”

He looked down at the young mechwarrior no older than himself, “I was saved from certain death once by strangers.” before rolling up his sleeves, “We are both Warriors perhaps we will even fight alongside one another someday.” The Elementals lowered the smaller Mechwarrior to the floor before setting up a tap from Magnus who laid down in her place allowing gravity and their hearts to do the work.

Rebekah woke in a hospital bed with Shaman Great-Oak sitting nearby on a large chair clutching his prayer beads. His wizened features were softened by sleep, his breathing relaxed and even. She looked down to see her injuries bandaged up with proper dressings, her pain dulled by some kind of drug. City lights were visible through the screened window to her left.

She sighed, a month of isolation and hardship had ended abruptly and in failure. Killing a coyote in self-defense was not hunting and needing to be rescued was worse than dying there. The whole trip and all that time would have to be repeated after she healed up.

“Why did I even bother to hit the distress call? Everyone I care about is gone.”

“Rather selfish of you, Rebekah.” Great-Oak's eyes slowly opened and he sat erect in the chair looking at her intently, “To diminish the sacrifice of another young Warrior in such a crass manner. Your hunt was a success and you have communed with the kachinas by bathing in the blood of the coyote.”

“I saw the skeleton man in a vision after my injuries. He danced along the shadows of my flashlight wearing a mask with a black octopus with moving tentacles. I felt as though I could drown in the rising darkness.”

The Shaman nodded at the admission, “You were very close to death when the Horses found you and brought you to this place.” He stood from the chair his bone, coral, and glass beads shaking gently with the motion. “Rest child and reflect on your vision. I will return to help interpret it when I am able.”

Great-Oak gently placed a leather drawstring bag decorated with intricate beadwork on the table opposite her, “The Warrior that saved your life entrusted these items to me prior to returning to the wilderness, as grave goods in case you died on the table. I am pleased that you can once more make use of them.”

As he departed she attempted to stand but was tangled up in feeds and bound together like a mummy. Only when a MedTech stopped by to check on her could she see what had been saved. Inside was her spear's broken point cleaned of blood but a visible token of her Hunt and Khan Koga's gold challenge coin whose weight was once more comforting in her hand just as it had been on many hard days.

In orbit
Kerensky Cluster
January 18th, 3063

Khan Sullivan Koga's face was visible from the vidscreens throughout Kirin, rapidly becoming the de facto capital of the Hell's Horses due to its proximity to Tamaron's dynamic Khan and rapid industrialization. CCS Howling had slipped its cage last week for its maiden voyage as a Feral Class Battlecruiser. The first full Warship upgraded at their new cageworks which had been defended vigorously against Snow Raven challenges to their supremacy. CWS Trossen long mothballed by Clan Wolf would replace it after the initial bugs had been worked out, already the Wolf Yardship Den Mother was in the process of restoring the ancient Sovetskii Soyuz around Tranquil.

Sovetskii Soyuz Class Heavy Cruiser - Refit (No Logo) (Matt Plog)

Feral-Class Battlecruiser

Sullivan had a number of festivities planned for the occasion emphasizing the counter-Snake Alliance coalition with the Goliath Scorpions and Hell's Horses. The carnival atmosphere was matched with the hotly anticipated Kufahl Grand Melee to replace the late Silas. Its Bloodhouse Leader Sancia had disapproved seeing her internal politics as just that, internal, as had the Loremaster. Their objections did not find the support required among the Bloodnamed however and a brief Trial of Refusal was won handily by the Khan's supporters.

Mechwarrior Rebekah had used the rest of the year to upgrade her Conjurer to a Masauwu Battlemech pulled from a Brian Cache on Babylon. The old prototype lacked weapons and its engine had been damaged before going into storage. Nevertheless the intermediate prototype was proving adaptive almost as adaptive as the Omnimech created twenty years after. It was the perfect design for a Grand Melee and she intended to win or last long enough against more experienced Mechwarriors to upgrade her slot to a front line unit opposing the Snakes in the Homeworlds.

Bloodhouse Leader Sancia led the participants in the ritual chants prior to engaging in this sacred challenge, Many would enter but only one would prove worthy of a blood-lineage as prestigious as Silas' had been. The sun set rapidly on the plains of Kirin and massive light-towers came to life marking the Circle of Equals.

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