When a Sword Cries
“It is good to have an end to journey
towards, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Ursula Le Guin
Prologue - Horizon
0542 Hours, January 5 3051
Waseda Hills, Luthien
Pesht Military District, Draconis Combine
Shin Barley gazed at the morning sky of the planet known as the Black Pearl, unable to tear himself away from the blazing sight for more than a few seconds.
Even with the tinges of orange and yellow from the choking smog of the planet, the sky was blood red. I suppose the Dracs think that’s a good omen, Shin pondered grimly as he visually scanned the ‘Mechs in his lance. But within moments he was staring back at the sky.
Regular scout chatter over the comms suddenly died down as individual MechWarriors made impromptu reports of their own. Overhead, streaks of fire glinted in the morning sun, burning towards the Tairakana Plains and ever higher.
Shin, already staring at the haunting sky of Luthien, was one of the few who saw the first visible casualties of the aerobattle; a Clan fighter fell to the predations of two Kuritan Slayers, twisting the advanced machine into a burning shower of debris. A subdued cheer was raised by the mercenaries, but as the aerobattle moved on, the comm lines were once again dominated by scouts and their constant reports of enemy strength and movement.
Mere specks now, even with the magnification equipment afforded to a modern soldier, none of the mercenaries saw the two celebrated Slayers break off unmolested from the swirling melee and angle towards the known landing zones of the Clanners and slam into a wall of fire from a Nova Cat trinary. From champions to statistics in heartbeats.
Moving his lance on the most defensible terrain he could spot, Barley kept an eye out for the other lances in the company. Dresden’s fire support lance was well behind them and Arroyo’s command lance was forming a line alongside them. Captain Magda Arroyo trusted in her lance commanders, keeping silent as her Lieutenants issued orders to their lances, taking the best positions as they hunkered down for the storm.
The distant thunder of weapons fire shook the settling complacency out of the mercenaries. Fragmented reports of massive Clan losses from a single trap were punctuated by reports of renewed pushes as the Combine forces grudgingly gave ground.
On and on it went for hours. The Combine regiments hurled themselves time and time again against the Clanners and each time the Smoke Jaguars and Nova Cats regrouped and pushed forward. The rumbling thunder was rolling ever nearer.
Shin was in the middle of another systems check for his entire lance for the umpteenth time when the comm lines exploded. The 1st Sword of Light, Otomo, 2nd Legion of Vega, and the Genyosha had been overrun. Glancing at his chronometer, Shin cursed in admiration. 1102 hours… They started when? 0815? Blake strike me down if I ever mock a Sna—Kuritan again.
Orders were passed to again keep radio chatter down as advanced scouts radioed in the Clan advance. Pockets of resistance were being swept aside as the shattered DCMS regiments made the Clanners pay for every footfall towards the Imperial City.
His lance stationed in the fringes of the left flank, Shin could do nothing but wait. He found himself staring back up at the red hued sky and wondered solemnly, Who was it that wrote ‘As above, so below... into the fires we go’?
1237 hours, January 5 3051
Waseda Hills, Luthien
Pesht Military District, Draconis Combine
Shin pushed his old Enforcer ENF-4R forward, working the pedals in its cockpit furiously as he danced between swirls of LRMs. A few missiles clanged against his machine, but not enough faze the grizzled Barley. Smoke obscured his vision, but it wasn’t not enough to hide his prey; a battered Vulture OmniMech dragging its shattered right leg behind it.
Frustrated by its relentless hunter, the Clan ‘Mech fired pulses from one of its double barrelled arms, piercing the smoke with coherent light. Armour evaporated from the Enforcer’s left torso and Shin fought against, and then rode the force of so much armour being lost and continued forward.
Bringing his own laser to bear, Shin let loose a silent whoop as the beam hit home, severing the Vulture’s right arm and leaving the double-barrelled limb clanging on the ground. Already fighting the crippling of one leg, the loss of the arm strained the pilot’s capabilities even further. The Vulture staggered once and almost regained its footing.
To Shin’s right, a Shadow Hawk nudged the situation past the edge of the pilot’s skill with a full alpha strike. Missiles and autocannon shells hammered the OmniMech, forcing it down as if a hand of fire and smoke were swatting it to the ground.
Shin didn’t bother to look for a command couch, not that he would’ve been able to see one in the grey inferno they had raised. Instead, he moved his Enforcer forward and kicked off the Vulture’s twisted right leg just in time to see a flash in his communications panel.
He knew without reading the message what the orders were. Fall back. Regroup. Reload. Wait. Signalling to his force to form on him, a rag-tag reinforced lance of mercenaries and Kuritans, Shin counted up the ‘Mechs and noticed one missing. Scanning the immediate area across all bands a BattleMech can, the fate of the missing Dragoon dawned on him at the sight of his XO’s Shadow Hawk crushing the Vulture’s cockpit with its armoured heel.
It took a few seconds to get the Shadow Hawk pilot to stop kicking, not that Shin tried hard to, but it took more to get its pilot to start moving again. The force of seven ‘Mechs, now five mercenaries and two Kuritans, traced a path back to the nearest repair silo. No one dared to speak as they walked past the corpses of broken gods, each offering their own silent prayers and curses for every fallen ‘Mech.
Shin paused briefly at the site of his lance’s first stand, along with the Dragoon company he was attached to. Sylvia Arroyo fought a magnificent defensive battle, but she was, in the end, outmaneuvered by the Clan ‘Mechs that poured out from the Tairakana Plains in an unceasing wave.
A flanking action made by a lance of 2nd Legion of Vega survivors siphoned off enough pressure for his lance to push through and link up with them but Dresden’s lance of twin Archers and Griffins refused to budge; the GRF-1Ns could’ve made it, Shin was sure, but that would have meant leaving the two Archers behind and that meant that it wasn’t an option.
The lance died as they fought, side by side in a line abreast formation in a fighting withdrawal until, apparently, they were surrounded. It was with bitterness that Shin used their graves as a landmark to turn west into a small valley hiding a small Mobile Field Base.
“Close up the distances people, I don’t want anyone getting lost in this haze.”
Expecting little enemy contact this far behind enemy lines, in between the remnants of the Combine line and far from the centre of the mercenary lines, Shin didn’t react fast enough to the sudden presence of a Clan OmniMech that had earned itself the reputation for tenacity in the hours of fighting on Luthien.
The Nobori-nin’s left arm spat fire, sending shells tearing through the tatters of armour on the Enforcer’s right arm. Shin’s own autocannon managed to survive intact, but the lower actuator was shattered, sending his return fire churning nothing but dirt and debris.
Snapping off a quick shot with his laser, Shin drew a gash into the Nobori-nin’s scarred right flank, sending droplets of armour into the ground. Shouts from his lancemates went unheeded as he continued his duel until a massive explosion to his left forced him to take notice. All Shin saw were the legs of a ‘Mech planted firmly into the ground, spewing smoke where a BattleMech once was.
Barley’s mind barely registered the loss of Lisa Frye, his own XO, but it sickened him that he was more worried about the loss of the SHD-2H as more contacts blipped onto his radar screen. It’s a friggin’ Trinary…
Working the panel of his comm suite with his left hand, Shin danced around the banner-bearing ‘Mech until he finished stringing together a warning. RepSilo 071. NC Trinary.
I just hope there’s someone left to take the message, Shin thought humourlessly as another explosion washed over his ‘Mech. A smile crept up into his face as both he and the Nobori-nin pilot paused and stared at a Grand Dragon standing defiantly over the smouldering remains of a Thor. He grinned even wider as he recognized the ‘Mech belonging to that of an old friend.
His partner had enough of the delay and sent another burst of of autocannon fire to accompany a missile salvo already in the air. Shin ducked his Enforcer underneath the streaming missiles and gritted his teeth as he walked right into the Nobori-nin’s trap.
The two ‘Mechs sailed past each other as they rose on plumes of fire. Another salvo from Shin’s autocannon tore the 'Mech’s right arm, but not before the shell’s pierced the Nobori-nin’s metal hide to find a half-empty ammunition bay in its left torso. The force of the explosion rocked the OmniMech as it vented fire and shrapnel behind it, but the Clan ‘warrior didn’t even stagger as he raised his Nobori-nin’s triple-barrelled right arm.
The Clan ‘Mech’s right shoulder was the last thing Shin saw as the arm erupted in light and washed over his ENF-4R. Warning klaxons drowned his consciousness as he felt his ‘Mech buckle under the fusillade. The numbers ‘119’ was burnt in his mind’s eye as he slipped into darkness.
Shin didn’t see his old friend charge to his rescue, a scene with which he had become accustomed to years ago, belching fire and light from his ‘Mech to rush at his fallen side. The Grand Dragon defied all that stood before him, but though his will was great, the metal was weak. When he awoke, night had already settled and he was already in a hospital bed.
A bed beside him lay his old friend. Damaged. Bruised. Breathing. Barely.
Still grinning like an idiot.
The instruments around him started whirring and beeping. Nurses, stained with long hours of work, started calling for a doctor as Shin noticed his old friend's eyes were losing their steel blue-green edge.
Shin felt it was as good a time as any. “You just had to be a hero, didn’t you Hiro?”
The sound of a good friend's laughter graced Shin's ears one last time.
"In a world where duty is a mountain and death is but a feather, I fear we have created a mountain of feathers."
Gunji no Kanrei Theodore Kurita (after the Battle of Luthien) Memoirs of a Samurai, New Samarkand Press, 3072
0345 hours, January 6 3051
Near the Imperial Palace, Luthien
Pesht Military District, Draconis Combine
"Today, we bury our dead. For that is all that we can do now. We, who have served beside them, have fought with them, have embraced them as not only comrades, but as friends, we are the ones that must not forget. Not the civilians who watched from afar, nor the students who will study this Battle. No, they do not know the price that was paid for Luthien’s freedom. The divine willing, they shall never know it."
"We bury our comrades, here on the soil they fought to protect and I ensure you all that all those within the Dragon’s embrace will honour them for all time. Yet, my comrades and my friends, they will not be the last to die in this war. We have struck a blow that has sent these invaders reeling, yet it is not fatal. Before the end of this war, we may yet have to gather in a meeting like this." Solemnly, Theodore Kurita stepped down from the small podium in front of hundreds of mercenaries and samurai and walked towards a serenel lake.
Holding a hand made paper crane in his hands, the Kanrei knelt and gently placed the crane on the water. Those gathered followed Theodore’s lead and placed their own hand made cranes onto the lake. One crane for one dead.
So many cranes… brooded Theodore as he stifled some macabre hope that perhaps there were overlaps and there may be two or more cranes for one person.
They stood there, on the bank of a hidden lake used for centuries by Kuritan children as a water-playground – a place of innocence – and silently mourned the lost. Tears fell from the eyes of many, as many from normally-stoic samurai as well from the gaijin mercenaries, yet Theodore knew he could not join them. He could not show weakness in front of so many.
As the ceremony ended, a servant approached the Kanrei and spoke a simple message, "He did not survive, Theodore-sama." Sighing greatly, the man-who-should-be-Coordinator took a simple piece of paper, folded it delicately and gingerly held it as he walked back towards the lake.
Many of the gathered warriors were already on their way to leave when they saw the Kanrei returning with another crane. Some warriors could no longer contain their grief and an outpouring of muffled sobs and quickly wiped-away tears followed in Theodore’s wake.
Rest, my friend Hiro. You are in exceptional company. Go to her and let your children be my worry; you have done more than enough.
With that offered prayer and promise, the Kanrei felt tears moistening his cheeks.
Theodore made no move to dry them.