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Tall Tales (Chapter Cover Art)

Someone wanted a story from the prospective of the Clans, and this idea popped into my head.

Also, I don't usually write Clanners, unless their the antagonist, so characterization may be a little off.

Story By JA Baker[]

Urban Legend
Author JA Baker
Series Name Tall Tales
Alternate Universe Name
Year Written May 29th, 2020
Story Era Dark Age Era

Goat Path. A horrid name for a truly horrid world.

I have no idea why anyone would want to settle such a desolate and unyielding world. just trying to grow enough food to live off of is, I have been told, nearly impossible. Nor does it possess any natural resources that can not be just as easily found on countless other, more hospitable worlds. But, for whatever reason, it was colonized, and as such, we could not simply ignore it as we undertook our Great Crusade upon the Inner Sphere.

My Cluster was one of the first to make planet-fall, just ahead of the Steel Vipers. We found only a token garrison of second-line Mercenaries and local Militia; certainly no threat to warriors of Clan Jade Falcon. But they refused our batchall, and then ignored the rules of honorable combat by concentrating fire and trying to hide in the planets capital. We had come as liberators, and having to half destroy a city to weed out the last remnants of the Militia caused no end of collateral damage.

Strange words, you may think, for a Crusader such as myself, but even I can appreciate that resources needed to rebuild a city could be of better use elsewhere, and dead workers produce nothing.

We had arrived expecting to face our enemies in open combat. To test ourselves against them in the crucible of war, only to be denied time and time again. It is no surprise that we let our anger get the better of us, especially when we discovered that the BattleMech that had been giving us so much trouble was but an UrbanMech. A unit even the lowest of solahma would consider beneath them. Finally having it cornered, Star Captain Garth Von Jankmon took it upon himself to punish the Inner Sphere pilot.

Summoner OmniMech (Firing)

Summoner firing it's weapons

First, he disabled the UrbanMech's autocannon. Then used the imposing bulk of his Summoner to slowly force it backwards towards a river that ran through the middle of the city. The pilot tried to surrender, pleading for mercy, stating that their ejection system had been disabled by battle damage. But the Star Captain was not listening, instead slowly burning the armor from the UrbanMech, forcing it to stumble backwards until it toppled into the fast-flowing waters. It tumbled over and over, eventually getting stuck against a half-submerged rock midstream. With its armor ruined, its internal spaces stated to fill with water, slowly dragging it deeper into the water.

The pilot was trapped, and slowly drowning is no death for a warrior. Even Inner Sphere militia, I targeted the cockpit asking permission to fire to end the ending their suffering.

Garth Von Jankmon refused stating that the UrbanMech was his opponent. He would not allow anyone under his command to break zellbrigen by targeting an opponent he was in combat with. It was foolish, pure rage on his part. the unnamed pilot of the UrbanMech had challenged his dominance of the world, and he wanted to not only punish them, but to make a statement should anyone else wish to challenge him. So he made us stand on the riverbank and watch as the helpless pilot slowly sank into the water, the radio filled with at first cries for help, then a string of curses aimed at Clan Jade Falcon in general, our Trinary in particular, and Star Captain Garth Von Jankmon by name. I have never heard such cold anger, such certainty of righteous indignation, as I heard in that woman's voice.

The final sound was the report of a single gunshot echoing around the strike machines cockpit, then silence as it finally vanished from sight.

Our Star Colonel, a towering Elemental, was less than happy with Garth Von Jankmon's actions. She challenged him to a Circle of Equals, where she beat him into a bloody pulp before having our Trinary assigned to garrison Goat Path as the rest of the Cluster moved on to the next target. None of us were happy with this news, but none more so than Garth Von Jankmon. Whom made it his personal mission in life to make the people of Goat Path suffer for his dishonor. He cracked down on any dissent harshly, handing out collective punishments where a single example would have been more appropriate. Do not get me wrong, I am no Warden, but even I can see that a warrior can only stand on solid ground. Even our Star Captains actions were making our position increasingly unstable. We were trying to educate the population as to how to adapt to life as members of Clan Jade Falcon to lift them up above the level the Inner Sphere had sunk to since the fall of the Star League. Only then can they become full, productive members of the Clan.

There were a few minor incidents at first. work-slows and minor civil disobedience that could easily be handled by the solahma troops assigned to act as paramilitary police. But no, the Star Captain insisted on sending out a point of Elementals to break up a peaceful demonstration by force. He then went on to insist that they did so augmented, with life ammunition rather than less-lethal alternatives. It very quickly descended into a massacre, with the unarmed protesters no match for the Elementals, and they scattered through the streets of the planetary capital, leaving the dead and dying in their wake. Garth Von Jankmon gave the order to pursue, grinning as he watched the feed from the Point Commanders armor.

I was about to challenge him to a Circle of Equals myself, when suddenly and without warning, one of the Elementals was killed. Their armor ripped asunder by an unknown and unseen enemy. The rest of the Point reacted with the speed and precision one would expect of a Jade Falcon. Backtracking the weapons fire and seeking out any hidden foe with the laser-like keenness of our namesake. I called up a map to a secondary screen, quickly locating the street they were on. the enemy seemed to be down a blind alleyway, which ended in a narrow passageway that would have been impassable to anyone but unarmored infantry. It was, in short, the perfect kill-box for the SRM equipped Elementals, and they quickly unleashed everything they had, filling the shadows with flame and shrapnel. The ground beneath their feet shook, as did the buildings that surrounded the alleyway, the explosions echoing out across the city like a rolling thunder. Garth Von Jankmon grinned like a Wolf whose just learned to count without using their fingers as the smoke and flame filled the main screen.

But that smile died on his lips as a burst of autocannon fire answered back, decapitating one of the Elementals instantly. The remaining three fired their second volley of SRM's, then dropped their spent launchers and advanced, lasers and machineguns at the ready. The Point Commander moved forward centimeter by centimeter, a bolt of azure laser fire shattering brickwork just above her head. The other two surviving members of the point took the opportunity to fire long, rolling bursts of machinegun fire into the alleyway, their shots hitting nothing but masonry.

Using hand gestures, the Point Commander ordered one of her subordinates to jump onto the roof an an abandoned warehouse that made up one side of the alleyway and try and get a look at who and what they were facing. It was a smart move, as even a Wolf will be sure of their prey before attacking. They leave that foolishness to the Smoke Jaguars. With the other survivors providing covering fire, they managed to make it to the roof and glanced down, only to report that the alleyway was empty, aside from burning debris.

Garth Von Jankmon was enraged, ordering the rest of the Trinary and the solahma troops out to secure the city. He personally led the search for the unseen attacker, even as members of the technical cast surveyed the site of the battle. Despite the obvious damage done to the two dead Elementals and the surrounding buildings, they found no spent ammunition or shell casings. They were, however, able to determine that the primary weapon used seemed to be a Class-10 autocannon firing 150mm shells. They were not, however, able to explain just how a vehicle or BattleMech capable of carrying such a weapon could slip in and out of the alleyway without being seen, especially given how narrow the only other entrance was.

For two days we searched the city and the surrounding area, looking for any clues as to who or what had attacked the Elementals, but all we had to show for it at the end was two dead warriors and two broken suits of power armor.

Our esteemed Star Captain grew vindictive, convinced that the people of Goat Path were conspiring against him and his already harsh rule grew tyrannical. He imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on all but the most essential of workers, cutting food, water and power rations for everyone else. Houses were searched completely at random, protests met with a rifle butt to the face, or pistol to the back of the head. Such tactics may have their place, but even a blind man could have seen that the people were as much in the dark as we were. No matter what we offered or threatened, nobody came forward with anything useful.

Two weeks later, and one of our MechWarriors, Karl, was on patrol near our base when he reported taking fire from an unseen enemy. Despite being a fledgling, he remained calm, even as we could hear the alarms and warnings his BattleMechs computer was giving out over the open radio. The rest of his Star raced to support him, even as the rest of us raced to the hangers, neurohelmets in hand. I was starting up my Mad Dog when I heard the radio suddenly go quiet. We raced out to the scene of the ambush, only to find the burning remains of Karl's Kit Fox in the middle of am open field. His Star had already spread out, looking for any signs of his attacker, but they found not a single blade of grass out of place. Certainly no trace of anything capable of bringing down a warrior of the Clans.

Again the technicians examined the scene. Again they found no trace of the weapon used, but determined that it was the work of a Class-10 Autocannon in the 150mm range.

Unfortunately, this seemed to tip Garth Von Jankmon into full paranoia. He became convinced that there was a conspiracy to keep him from obtaining glory on the front lines. He had been a ristar, having won his Bloodname at a young age, and on his first attempt. To find himself relegated to garrison duty on a world so far from the fighting... I truly believe that it broke something inside him.

As one of his senior subordinates, I was given the task of investigating just what was happening, and I immediately contacted the Watch, seeking information on any possible new weapon or equipment that would allow an enemy to strike unseen and leave no trace but carnage. In return I received some briefing documents about Null Signature Systems and Chameleon Light Polarization Shields, but this was, as they say in the Inner Sphere, lost technology that had been incredibly rare even during the time of the Star League. Even among the Clans, only a few working examples existed, and only then as curiosities for the Scientists and Technicians to wonder at.

No, if the Successor Lords had access to such technology, they wouldn't be using it to pick-off seemingly random warriors on a world far from the front, but trying to strike at our leaders on the front lines, deployed as part of a dezgra headhunter unit. Nor could they explain the lack of physical evidence, as even if the unseen attacker or attackers were using ceaseless ammunition, there should have been traces of the shells found. But, despite extensive searches of both locations, not a single piece of shrapnel had been found. One technician, a rugged looking man by the name of Mac, had said it was like the rounds had impacted, then just melted away.

A third attack saw a squad of solahma infantry on a security sweep annihilated, but one managed to report over the radio before being killed that their attacker was a BattleMech, but interference garbled the transmission as they were about to identify it. Garth Von Jankmon ordered every available unit to the area, having ordered our technicians to repair and refit some of the damaged Inner Sphere vehicles and BattleMechs recovered from the field of battle as isorla during the invasion, assigning them to solahma pilots and crews to booster our numbers. While far from parity with even a second-line unit, they added an extra pair of binaries to our numbers, allowing us to search a much wider area.

The unforgiving nature of the terrain required the use of primarily hover vehicles, and the majority of the solahma force was equipped with light, fast moving tanks such as the uninspired but functional Pegasus. Sweeping far and wide, they relished the opportunity to serve their Clan once again, and their eagerness and zeal could easily have been mistaken for that of cadet given their first taste of combat. More than once, I had to remind them that they were venturing too far ahead of my star, earning chuckles from MechWarrior Dusa, joking about how I sounded more like a Falconer than a Star Commander.

I swear, if she was not sibkin, I would have seen her in a circle of equals. True though her words may have been.

But the solahma did pull back, meaning that they were still within visual range when the lead vehicle exploded. The ammunition for the SRM launcher detonating with such ferocity that the turret was sent rocketing high into the air. The other vehicles scattered, age having not dulled the reflexes of their crews too much, as their turrets turned to search for the enemy. A volley of autocannon fire ripped into the side of another tank, but the pilot was able to pull the vehicle into a tight turn, getting clear before it managed to claw its way through the armor. My active and passive sensors showed nothing, no sign of the enemy, but one of the solahma tanks had obvious managed to back-track the origin of the weapons fire, sending a flight of missiles into a thick clump of trees that had found purchase amid the sharp crevices that dotted the landscape.

Zellbrigen having long been forgotten, I followed up their attack with two flights of LRM's and a fully spread of lasers, sending the heat levels in my cockpit shooting up. The small grove exploded as the missiles ripped them apart, smoke and flame filling the air. The surviving tanks and the rest of my Star added their own weapons fire to the cauldron of destruction, massive chunks of rock being pulverized to dust every second.

Despite all logic, a fresh burst of autocannon fire answered back, followed by the azure flash of a small caliber laser. They tore the turret off of one of the Pegasus', the pilot fighting to keep the suddenly unbalanced vehicle under control as they sort what little cover there was. I gave the order to keep up the barrage, even as I worked to fully encircle the enemy, not wanting them to slip away yet again. Every time I heard the tone indicating that my LRM launchers had reloaded, I sent them hurling towards the start still unseen enemy, my lasers likewise firing as fast as they charge, heat levels be damned!

Through it all, I could hear Garth Von Jankmon on the radio demanding updates and conformation that we had killed the enemy that had been stalking us, seemingly with impunity. I tried filling him in. Even as a Hover APC filled with solahma infantry burst into flames, the troops inside spilling out of the shattered hull, their bodies covered in flames. Dusa turned her machineguns on them, giving them a clean death over the relatively slow agony of burning.

Then, as soon as it had started, the attack was over. no more burst of autocannon fire or bolts of laser light emerged to taunt us. For the briefest of moments, through the smoke and flame, I thought I saw the outline of a squat BattleMech slowly turning away. But, just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone.

It should be of no surprise that Garth Von Jankmon was less than happy with my report on the incident. He was unconcerned with our losses; he viewed the solahma as little more than munitions to be expended as needed, but our continued inability to bring the enemy to battle and at least identify them only worsened his paranoia. He began to look upon some of his fellow MechWarriors as if we were involved in the plot he felt sure was conspiring against him, keeping his own council and only informing us of his plans when absolutely necessary. He did take note when I mentioned seeing what appeared to be a BattleMech through the smoke and flame, and spent hours going over the gun-camera footage of the engagement, going so far as to bring in technicians drawn from what had been a local news channel to try an enhance the video.

It was, I fully admit, one of the smarter things he did, and something I would not have thought of myself.

Unfortunately, they found no conclusive evidence beyond a few suggestive shadows, but it was enough to at least deflect some of the Star Captains anger, and I was allowed to continue as a Star Commander. Others were not so lucky, as the attacks continued, claiming the lives of several MechWarriors and more of our solahma support unit. Our losses reached the point where even Garth Von Jankmon was forced to acquiesce to allowing some of the solahma to test for the right to regain the position as front line warriors. I was fortunate to find myself commanding David Buhallin, a former Star Captain and falconer, assigning to my star to replace a warrior reassigned to Garth Von Jankmon's star. While almost twice my age, David Buhallin brought with him a degree of experience and, dare I say it without sounding like a Nova Cat, wisdom, and I found myself relying on him more and more often.

Indeed, I was with David Buhallin when I finally found myself face to face with our elusive foe.

It was twilight, an the two of us were making a security sweep of the outlying guard posts around the former Militia base that we had taken for our own, his refitted Centurion keeping pace with my Mad Dog. Garth Von Jankmon had insisted that all such patrols be carried out by at least two MechWarriors in a bid to ensure that we would not miss anyone trying to ambush us. We were just creating a low rise, and I was about to challenge the guard post, when I heard David Buhallin utter a string of curses over the open channel. Looking up from my communications screen, I saw the outpost in flames, the coastal flash of ammunition cooking off amid the gathering dark. Back-lit perfectly by the flames was the low, hunched form of an UrbanMech.

UrbanMech (In Combat)

UrbanMech in Combat

I issued a challenge over every frequency. Switching my weapons from stand-by to read without needing to even think about it. I saw the right arm of the Centurion beside my rise up, tracking the target even as the old warrior at the controls pulled away to the left. Opening up the distance between us so we could catch it in a crossfire if needed. The torso of the UrbanMech slowly turned to face me, and I felt like I had walked into a ice storm.

Even in the steadily growing shadows, I could see where the lighter machine had be riddled with weapons fire. Its armor stripped away to reveal massive rents in its internal structure. From these gaping wounds, water poured in unending torrents, almost making it look like it was bleeding.

I dropped my cross-hairs over the image on my HUD, but it refused to confirm a targeting lock. Inferred, mag-scan, neutrino detector; all my instruments showed nothing. Putting my trust in my own skill and training, I fired anyway, lasers momentarily turning night into day, followed by the thunderous roar of my LRM launchers sending 40 missiles down-range. David Buhallin joined is adding two score of missiles and a long, rolling burst of autocannon fire that sounded like ripping canvas.

On my honor, I watched my lasers track up to and clean through the UrbanMech. Followed by the wave of missiles and autocannon fire. I watched as they went straight through it as if it was nothing more than a hologram. I then watched, unable to do anything, as the UrbanMech fired a single volley of autocannon fire in response, blowing the head clean off of David Buhallin's Centurion, finally allowing him to die a warriors death.

It turned to face me, and I found myself frozen, unable to do anything more than await the end. But, instead of firing, it seemed to ripple, like a reflection on water, then slowly fade from sight.

I spent the next week in a cell while I was subjected to a battery of tests, both physical and physiological. I was made to recount the events surrounding the destruction of the guard post and the death of David Buhallin again and again. Even agreeing to submit to chemical interrogation to ensure what I was say was the truth. Meanwhile, my Mad Dog and the remains of the Centurion were also subject to the strictest possible scrutiny possible with the equipment and personnel to hand. The gun-camera footage was checked and rechecked, looking for any hint that it could have been tampered with. But nothing was found, and eventually, Garth Von Jankmon had to release me. It was only then that I learned that two more attacks had taken place, claiming the lives of two MechWarriors and over a dozen of the solahma troops.

I did my best to compose a report for the Watch, trying to put into words events that I had no words to describe. In the end, I simply sent them the transcript of one of my interrogations and the gun-camera recordings. It took them another week to respond, during which no one ventured out of the base, even the solahma keeping themselves confined to the fortified barracks by the main spaceport. No further attacks were made, but it was becoming increasingly clear that we were losing control of the planet, a fact that chipped away at Garth Von Jankmon's already tenuous grip on reality.

He was at the point of ordering the remaining garrison out at gunpoint when we received our orders. Remain on lock-down and await the arrival of a specialist, who was being sent under the personal authority of Khan Elias Crichell and Loremaster Kael Pershaw. To have arguably the two most powerful members of out Clan taking a personal interest in our situation was both reassuring and worrying, as it was clear that our actions, and inactions, were being observed at the highest levels.

Another month was spent hunkered down with the garrison complex, nobody daring to venture out. Some may view it as cowardly, unbecoming of warriors of Clan Jade Falcon, but I ask those people this. where is the honor in dying under the guns of an enemy you can neither see nor hit? Is it not far better to avoid wasteful combat and preserve the resources of the Clan for future battles?

Eventually, we received word that a ship had arrived at a pirate point just a days journey from Goat Path, and that a DropShip bearing the promised specialist was inbound. Garth Von Jankmon, who did not look or smell like he had shaved or showed in a month had us ready and alert. Our BattleMechs ready to form an honor guard for what he felt sure was a high ranking officer. I only wish I had seen his face when the ramp lowered an a solitary Shadow Cat with the markings of Clan Cloud Cobra stepped out.

The pilot, a slender woman who looked so young I would have mistaken her for a cadet. She identified herself as MechWarrior Stephanie, of the Josian Cloister. Her letters of introduction and authority identified her as an apparent expert in certain unexplained phenomenon and occurrence. Something that certainly seemed to cover our situation. The first thing she asked for was to examine the site of the first incident, taking only a acolyte from the local HPG station as her guide, stating that she did not want to draw any unnecessary attention. And poor functionary, apparently a native of some distant world within the Free Worlds League, was understandably jumpy. Surely that at any moment the UrbanMech would appear and kill them.

But their expedition went went unmolested, and Stephanie allowed the Acolyte to return to the HPG station with her thanks.

Next she asked to see what physical evidence we had, which was limited to the broken remains of the various BattleMechs, vehicles and power armor suits that the UrbanMech had destroyed. She spent hours explaining them in ways that even our senior technicians found difficult to follow, their inability to explain what was going on only enraging Garth Von Jankmon further. But, as she was operating under the direct authority of the Khan and Loremaster, there was nothing he could do but allow her to go about her business.

Dusa came to me, concerned about the Star Captains state of mind, and I promised her that I would step up and relive him of command if needed.

Eventually, as the only known survivor of a direct encounter with the UrbanMech, MechWarrior Stephanie asked to speak with me. She had taken over an unused office that had belonged to some functionary in what had been the Militia headquarters, and I found myself sitting across from her.

"Star Commander Astrid." She smiled, her slightly odd accent only helping to set her apart, despite the fact that she wore only a MechWarriors duty uniform, with only the shoulder patches to single her out, "Tell me about the battle for the capital, during the initial invasion."

"The invasion?" I blinked, confused by her question, "You are investigating the... UrbanMech that has been attacking our garrison, Quiaff?"

"Aff, but I have reason to believe that the two are connected." the Cloud Cobra poured two cups of what passed for coffee locally, "What do you know about my... position, amongst the Watch?"
"I had assumed that you are an independent investigator. You are not Jade Falcon. Indeed, your Clan is not a part of the invasion, so I thought that you had been sent to offer an impartial report on... whatever has been happening."

"That is only partly true, and I apologize if you think I have been misleading you." Stephanie sat, perfectly composed, in her chair, "There have always been things that we have had trouble explaining scientifically. Places, events, objects, even individuals, that sit outside of our understanding of how the universe is supposed to work. One of the lesser known duties of the Watch is to investigate these... oddities, as best we can, and determine if they are a threat to the Clans."

"You believe that there is one of these, oddities, here on Goat Path?" he asked her

"Oh, you tell me. a seemingly second-line BattleMech that even most Inner Sphere pilots would look down upon has been systematically eliminating your entire trinary and your supporting solahma detachment. All while taking no damage and leaving no physical evidence besides the wreckage of its victims. Does that sound like something usual to you, Star Commander Astrid of House Qwabe?"
"Neg... Neg, it does not." I admitted, unable to meet her gaze, "I have no fear of death. I will do my duty for the Clans, come what may, but this... How does one fight an enemy, when your weapons seemingly pass right through it?"

"Finally, someone is asking the right questions." Stephanie smiled softly, "You are a good person, Star Commander. Even if I had not listened to people talking about you, I would have known that from your report on the invasion and it is that goodness that saved your life."

"I do not understand."

"It is often said that the path to true wisdom starts with admitting that you know nothing." the Cloud Cobra smiled coyly, "The Militia UrbanMech that you faced in the city, the one your Star Captain forced into the river. Did you asked permission to destroy the cockpit. Why?"

"It was the honorable thing to do. The pilot knew she had no chance of defeating us, yet she still faced our entire Trianary. She should have been taken as a Bondswoman. With the possibly even given the chance to serve as a warrior again, if she proved herself worthy. Instead..."

"Instead, Garth Von Jankmon's left her to drown, forcing you all to watch. Why did he do that, do you think? And your true opinion on the matter, please."

"Star Captain... Garth Von..." I hesitated, but weeks of living on a knifes edge finally broke through my resolve not to let an outsider see my Clans internal issues, "He is a sadist and a thug. He hides behind honor and duty to excuse his own weakness. Sending others out to face danger while he remains safely behind. I do not know how he managed to obtain his Bloodname, and if I ever meet his sponsor, I will challenge them to a Circle of Equals and take extreme pleasure in beating them senseless."

"Yes, I had come to the same conclusion on my own, and my report to your Khan will say as." Stephanie nodded, "People like Garth Von Jankmon have their place, but like all tools, you need the right one for the right job."

"What is going on, then?" I asked.

"Now that is an interesting question." Stephanie stood, "Come. let us talk with your Star Captain."

Garth Von Jankmon was not happy to see us. In fact, he was outright hostile, only stopping short of activity insulting Stephanie. Despite her position as an official representative of both the Khan Elias Crichell and Loremaster Kael Pershaw. She ignored his obvious hostility and sat in one of the chairs across from his desk, gesturing for me to take the other.

"I shall get straight to the point." she looked him dead in the eye, her voice calm and level, "You have a wraith problem."

"A what?" the Star Captain snapped.

"A form of ghost or malevolent spirit in this case the result of a curse placed upon yourself and your command due to your actions during the invasion of this planet." Stephanie remained completely deadpan, without a hint of emotion, almost as if she was a falconer instructing a cadet on some matter-of-fact subject, "I would, if possible, like to examine any surviving records pertaining to the pilot of the UrbanMech you forced into the river. she was obviously far from a normal individual if her spirit is capable of maintaining such an impressive physical presence after her death."

"Do you take me for a fool, Cloud Cobra?" Garth Von Jankmon stood. Leaning across his desk with fists clenched so tightly his knuckles turned white, "I do not know what kind of game you think you are playing, but I am a Star Captain of Clan Jade Falcon. I will not..."

"You are relieved of your command." Stephanie produced a verigraph chip and inserted it into the reader built into the desk. It scanned Garth Von Jankmon's DNA from where his hands were pressed against the screen, and an official order, bearing the signatures of both the Khan and Loremaster appeared, "You will remain confined to quarters until further notice."

Garth Von Jankmon looked like he was about to say something, but Stephanie raised a hand to silence him.
"The order has been automatically logged on your system. All of your access and authorization codes have been nullified." She rose to her feet, staring him down with a strength of will I would never have suspected of her, "There may be a chance for you to regain what honor you have left. Only time, and fate, will tell."

I was surprised. Happily so, when he refrained from attacking her. Given his deteriorated mental state, I had half expected him to lunge across the desk and attempt to strangle her with his bare hands. Instead he slowly slumped into his chair. An oddly relieved look on his face, as if a great weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.

Unfortunately, that weight then descended upon me. As the senior officer left on Goat Path, I found myself thrust into the position of garrison commander. Not that I had much left to command, as the slow attrition of the UrbanMech, this wraith, as Stephanie had called it, had reduced our numbers to a binary of MechWarriors and Elementals, maybe two dozen solahma troops and the scattered elements of what preexisting local law enforcement had agreed to continue to operate under our laws. We controlled the former Militia base and the spaceport for sure, but it was clear that the rest of the planet was slipping into, if not open rebellion, civil disobedience. This only increased once word got out that Garth Von Jankmon was no longer in command.

There is an old Terran proverb; uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, and my head felt decidedly uneasy.

A week passed, during which I did my best to perform the duties of a garrison commander, only having to face two Trials of Position by warriors who thought they could do a better job. Other than that, things seemed to reach some kind of equilibrium, with the local population realizing that they were only enjoying a respite before the work of bringing them fully into Clan Jade Falcon continued. Making a very open fact of the number of recovered BattleMechs and vehicles I had the technicians restore to working order helped. But, despite the relatively calm atmosphere, there was an underlying current of uncertainty: we remained secure in our base, unwilling to risk encountering the Wraith until Stephanie had come up with a plan for dealing with it once and for all.

In the end, the answer presented itself.

I was getting ready to spend some time in the sparing ring, looking forward to burning off all the excess energy that I had built up, spending days sat behind a desk, going over reports from the security detachments, when the general alarm sounded. I raced to the command center, still dressed in my PT kit, dodging past people heading to their own assigned stations.

"Situation report!" I ordered as I stepped through the doorway.

"It... It is here, Star Commander." the young technician at the main console pointed at the main display screen.

The UrbanMech stood in the middle of the road, maybe a kilometer away from the main gate. I instantly recognized it as the same one that had killed David Buhallin, MechWarrior Karl and the rest. Its armor was still torn and twisted. Far more water than was physically possible continuing to pour out through the rents.

"Founder preserve us..." I heard a soft voice behind me, and turned to see Stephanie had entered the room, and was maybe a step behind me, "It is read about such things in reports, but it is quite another to see one with your own eyes."

"Aff, that it is." I nodded, "Is there anything we can do? Besides allow it to use what is left of our Trinary for target practice?"

"We give it what it wants." There was a strangely neutral expression on the Cloud Cobras face, "Have Garth Von Jankmon report to the Mech Bay. I will meet him there."

I gave the order to summon the disgraced Star Captain. Then followed the strange MechWarrior to the cavernous hanger where her Shadow Cat stood between my Mad Dog and Garth Von Jankmon's Summoner. He arrived soon after, flanked by a pair of Elementals, who Stephanie quickly dismissed.
"Ask not for whom the bells tolls, Garth Von Jankmon, for it tolls for thee." Stephanie nodded towards the gantry that led to his OmniMech, "It is time for you to face the Demon of your own making; perhaps a chance to regain your honor."

He only grunted, before quickly making his way towards the cockpit.
"I will go with him. I need to see the end of this with my own eyes." Stephanie turned to face me, "You may stay behind, if you wish."

"I am a warrior of Clan Jade Falcon: I do not like hiding from the enemy." I shook my head, "Even the immaterial ones."

The three of us climbed into and activated our OmniMechs in silence, only speaking to the somewhat confused technician assigned to traffic control. Garth Von Jankmon led us out of the hanger, followed by MechWarrior Stephanie and myself. The normally busy parade ground was empty, but I could see members of various casts watching from windows and doorways as we made our way out. The massive gate rolled slowly open, and I will admit that I half expected a burst of autocannon fire to come bursting through the moment the UrbanMech was in sight. But, instead, it seemed content to just watch us from afar as we made our way out, Stephanie moving to the left, while I took the right flank, forming a standard triangular formation with Garth Von Jankmon at the fore.

All the while, the UrbanMech remained motionless, water continuing to cascade from its ruined frame.

"Well, freebirth?" Garth Von Jankmon called out over every radio channel and the external speakers built into his Summoner, "Here I am!"

The UrbanMech remained as motionless as a mountain.

"Is this not what you wanted? Am I not the one who killed you?" the Star Captain half laughed, "After all this, are you too afraid to respond? Was I right? Are you truly no warrior worthy of the..."

Whatever he intended to say next was lost to time. As the small laser that made up the left arm fired just once. Against all logic and understanding, it tore through the armor and protection of the Summoners cockpit, vaporizing Garth Von Jankmon in an instant. The OmniMech rocked back and forth a few times and for a moment. I felt sure it would fall, but somehow it remained standing.

I looked at the UrbanMech, my hands only lightly grasping the controls, waiting to see what it would do next

Time seemed to slow to a crawl, then I noticed that I was able to see the treeline through the UrbanMech. As if it was slowly fading from sight. It was slow at first, but it soon became clear that the mysterious BattleMech was starting to just fade away into nothingness. Eventually, the only proof that remained to prove it had ever been there was the decapitated Summoner, smoke rising from the crematorium that was its cockpit.

It exists now, only in my memories.

The End

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