A day in the desert. A goliath scorpion scuttled languidly past sunbathed rocks the colour of blood. The air shimmered with intense reflected heat, as the sky, devoid of clouds, is occasionally broken by the lazy flight of a vulture.
In the midst of this great expanse of sand and rock, stood several tall, black spires. Piercing up into the sky, they seemed to be trying to draw blood from the heavens. Many warriors have attempted to climb them using only their wits and their limbs.
Many have failed.
The cost of failure is death.
As we watch, yet another man strived to conquer the obsidian watchtowers of the desert. His hands, bleeding and bruised, searched for another handhold to use on the way up. His arms, aching and sore, protested at every new command from his brain. His legs, tiredly supporting some of his weight, were as heavy as lead. His lips, dry and cracked, struggled to draw more oxygen into his lungs to sustain his torturous ascent.
By sheer force of his will, he continued his painstaking, lonely way up to the summit of the spire he was on.
Moreau's Dagger, they called it. Where Ethan Moreau had gained many of his visions and goals for the future. Where it could be rightly said that the true origins of Clan Goliath Scorpion lie, and not on some forsaken training ground on Strana Mechty. Where humanity first witnessed the potent power of the gift of the Goliath Scorpion, contained within its sting.
The climber nears the top, and just barely maintained his grip as he was buffeted by the strong desert wind. Gritting his teeth, he resisted the temptation to just let go, to let the wind carry him within its deadly embrace. No, he told himself. He had gone through too much, too far, and for too long to give up now!
He finally reached the small piece of flat ground at the summit, flinging an arm over the edge, as he pulled himself off the side of the spire. Looking out below him, he could see the entirety of the desert he had traversed for the past several days. One could easily sink into sleep and exhaustion at this point, but this man had other ideas. Trained from birth to be one of the finest warriors ever witnessed by humanity, he had almost inhuman constitution and willpower.
Unslinging his backpack from his shoulders, he proceeded to built a small campfire with the wood he had brought along. It was not long before the flames were flickering strongly atop the spire, as night fell upon the desert, bringing with it the dangers of intense cold.
The man sat in a meditative position, staring at the flames in front of his eyes, as he struggled to make sense of the twisting path the fates had chosen for him. Everything he had undergone, every battle he had fought, every trial he had endured, had led up to this moment. His destiny, surely, must be close to revelation now!
Did General Ethan Moreau know what he had set in motion, more than two hundred years ago, when he had shouted Nicholas Kerensky's name, the name of the ilKhan of the Clans, from the top of the spire? Did he seek answers to the many questions that must have plagued him with the destruction of the 81st Division, nicknamed the Devils of Devil's Rock, or more importantly, his command? Did the former Star League Defense Force Gunslinger ever regret his decision to remain behind on Babylon, contributing to its ruin?
The warrior knew none of the answers to these questions, but they ran through his head nonetheless, whispering doubts in his mind. He shook his head vigorously, driving away the extraneous thoughts. They were of no use to him.
A bottle of bright green fluid was placed to his right, as a black pouch was laid on his left. Never taking his eyes off the fire, he reached out with his left hand, and dug inside the pouch for an item.
It came out with a piece of blackened mech armour, torn off his mech by a missile from his enemy during his initial trial of position. He had gained the rank of Star Captain in that first battle. The armour piece was fed to the flames.
The hand went into the pouch several more times. As the relics of past battles during the clan invasion were tossed into the fire, he could feel a deep sense of loss, as though he was slowly expunging all physical traces of his past from his present. There was the remnants of a shattered ammo crate from the supply camp on Tukayyid, where he had witnessed such slaughter that even today, he still struggled to comprehend the complex feelings the horrendous campaign stirred within him.
Though it had been fifteen years, he had not forgotten the screams of his men, as the Com Guards swarmed their defensive position in the Losijie District in a singular wave of death, the endless shrieks of autocannon fire, the hoarse roar of massed missile launches, and the thunderous explosions of falling artillery shells shaking him to the very core of his soul.
The next item was a tattered unit patch of the Otomo, the personal bodyguards of the Coordinator of the Draconis Combine, who had fought with such shining courage during the Battle of Luthien. In the end, he had been defeated by a red and black Archer belonging to the Kell Hounds.
A piece of myomer muscle, from the Atlas he had defeated on Avon. The Atlas pilot had surprisingly become one of his most faithful companions, accompanying him on his meandering way amongst the clans. There was no one else the warrior trusted more to cover his back.
There were more sacrifices to be made. The vineers of his career as a Nova Cat warrior were just the beginning of the story.
Now his hand came up with a piece of white bone. It was clear to an observer that the finger bone was too large to be that of any human, even an elemental. The massive claw at the end of it only confirms the fact. A piece from the ghost bear he had killed in a desperate duel for his life, during that clawing ritual years ago, when he was abtakha to Clan Ghost Bear.
A lock of hair from the fiery mane of a hell horse, when he had led his branding party, against all odds, to success and glory. He had been much hated then, within that clan of stouthearted warriors, although he had barely spent more than a year with the Bears. The ancient feud between the Horses and the Bears could never be resolved.
A piece from a hellion mask, taken from an Ice Hellion who had challenged him when he was in that clan of hot heads and hotter tempers.
A coyote tooth, taken during his one month sabbatical in Clan Coyote, where he had hunted alongside the ferocious beasts that were the clan's namesake.
A bent maltese cross, bequeathed to him from a dying comrade when he was with the Cloud Cobras. The Cloisters had started him on the road to better understanding of himself, and the world around him. He would be eternally grateful to ecKhan Peyes Mannix for opening his eyes to the fallacies inherent in the universe.
A patch of wrinkled, shed skin from a star adder, picked up during his Trial of Bloodright in the jungles of Arcadia. Then, he had been with Clan Star Adder, and fighting for his bloodname in an unaugmented battle. The piece of adder skin he had stumbled upon had proven to be a lifesaver.
The fire was blazing with a frightening intensity, as it eagerly devoured the vineers the warrior had thrown into it. He gazed into the flames, watching the memoirs of his life shrivel and warp in the intense heat of the inferno. Tired and drained from the efforts of the past few days, he felt a bit lightheaded, and had to center himself to prevent himself from falling into unconsciousness.
There was one last thing he had to do, as all his vineers had been used. The ritual he was performing was the first, and probably the last of its kind. The vineers he had sacrificed were unique to each clan, an identifier of their strengths and weaknesses. He had experienced life as a warrior in no less than eight clans, probably a record in the history of the clans since their founding by Nicholas Kerensky.
Now cradling the bottle of green fluid in his arms, he proceeded to unstopper it. A strong, slightly nauseating smell drifted up to his nostrils. He quickly fought against the wave of vertigo that had suddenly threatened to overwhelm him, and barely succeeded.
Necrosia. The name itself invokes thoughts of ambrosia, the nectar of the gods, and necromancy, the magic of death. And for good reason. The drink of the Goliath Scorpions is deadly and yet possessed of frightening gifts that are bestowed onto those who dare to consume it.
The warrior had to argue long and hard with his superior officers for the supply of the toxic fluid he had obtained before they relented. Normally, when a warrior imbibes necrosia for the first time in his life, it was to be in a strict ritual, with medical care close at hand. More than one Goliath Scorpion had failed the rite of imbibing the toxic fluid, proving the unworthiness of their genes.
Famed for the visions it could bring, as well as the incredible sense of focus it could confer on the drinker at times, the warrior had brought it along specially for his vision rite, where he hoped it would improve his scrying of the future. The original vision rite of the Nova Cats was already very potent and draining, and could sometimes even kill the person undergoing it. By drinking necrosia in the hopes of attaining something even greater, he ran the risk of dying in his endeavour.
He glanced once at the bottle of thick bright green liquid, then flung his head back as he chugged down the entire contents of the bottle in one swallow. He threw the bottle away, and turned his eyes back to the flames. He could already feel the intoxicating effects of the necrosia dulling his senses, beckoning him to rest. He gritted his teeth and strove to stay awake, waiting for a message in the flames. He remembered hearing that visions came easiest when a person was situated in the middle of dreaming and wakefulness.
His resolve sustained him for barely a minute, when his body convulsed from the effects of the necrosia. He collapsed onto the hard black rock of the spire, clinging onto consciousness as he continued to stare into the flames.
Unbidden thought begun to stray into his mind again, as it drifted through his memories. He saw in the flames a large building, metallic and forbidding, where a group of children were trooping out. Looking closer, he could see the sibko patch of the Burning Tooth Sibko on the clothes of the children, as they were led by a grizzled, limping warrior to a waiting hovercraft transport.
Seek out the past; it is your future.Loremaster Ethan Moreau, Clan Goliath Scorpion Remembrance The Nice Guy Presents… Across The Sea Of Stars Ways Of Seeing Training Facility, Barcella, Kerensky Cluster 19th April, 3042
"Hurry up, you little stravag dogs!" Secorra, their training officer, barked.
Aff, aff, I'm already moving as fast as I can. I am not little, nor am I a dog. Descartin grumbled in his mind, while lugging along the massive pack that he had just been issued with, containing all the necessities for barracks living.
It seemed very stupid that each and every member of the sibko was likewise grappling with an identical pack, which came to almost their height, and weighed as much as they did. How in name of the Kerenskys did the officers expect them to carry it with any speed?
The ground on which they walked was a flat piece of ground, the grass having been trampled flat long ago by the unforgiving boots of countless cadets and training officers. It served as a parade ground, drilling field, and general practice area. Des wondered why they never got to pave the area with concrete, which would have made movement over it a lot easier.
The line of a dozen cadets from the Burning Tooth snaked to a non-descript building two levels high, with the insignia of their clan on one side the only decoration and mark of affiliation. It would their residence for the rest of their training lives.
Secorra continued haranguing them as they marched, his harsh tone hurting their ears and his incessant spittle showering the nearest cadets with droplets of saliva on their once clean uniforms, now soiled and dirty from the constant dust rising from the ground.
The huge pack had been presented to them the very moment they had stepped off the hoverbus which had brought them to the training facility from their former home in the city suburbs. Next their assigned training officers had introduced themselves, in a fast and unflinching manner that almost made Des' head spin with the speed of their short perfunctory speeches. It was a far cry from the comforting tones of Ulvor, their former sibparent, who had sent them away on the hoverbus.
Their immediate instructors' names were Secorra, a large, grizzled and uncouth looking man in his forties, and Jazelyn, a graceful woman who did not look as if she belonged in the training facility, but rather still on the frontlines of battle.
The overall officer in charge of the facility was Varro Drummond, a former Star Colonel who had decided to retire from battle after sustaining too many internal injuries during his last battle.
The instructors had not wasted any time, immediately shouting at them to proceed to their new barracks to stow their new equipment in their bunks on the second floor, and assemble at the parade ground in twenty minutes time. The cadets were still a bit dazed at the sudden barrage of instructions and orders they had been saddled with after a long journey on the hovercraft, as they hesitantly got to grips with their tasks.
"Not easy at all, quiaff?" Deserk commented as he moved behind Des, also struggling with his pack. Des noted with some relief that Deserk was also having the same amount of trouble with his load.
"Aff. Let us stop complaining and get this as over as quickly as possible." Descartin concentrated, tensing his body as he increased his speed, fighting the weight of the pack every step of the way. He knew he was tiring himself out unnecessarily this way, but he could hardly care less.
In short order, he had taken over at the lead of the line, moving almost at jogging speed as he reached the stairs. Without pausing for a breath, he continued up the stairs at the same speed, pushing himself as he thudded up the steps to the bunks.
He picked the bed nearest to the door as he entered the room, throwing the pack into the locker beside it. He slammed the door of the locker shut, then ran out of the room, feeling a lot lighter and faster now that he was no longer hobbled by the pack.
He burst down the staircase, bounding down the steps one whole flight at a time, and needing only two dangerous leaps to get to the ground level again. As he went down, he passed his sibkin trudging their way up, all their expressions with the same mixed look of jealousy and concern. Jealousy because he had dared to take the lead on their very first task, concern because they still had a whole day of training in front of them.
Des liked, no, wanted, to win, to be the first, no matter what they were doing. From being first into the showers to the first to finish eating, he was always among the first few, if not the first to finish a task. The same attitude carried over to their training, and everybody knew he was easily the best among them.
However, he had never sought to impose his own superiority on the others, and perhaps it was this reason, more than any other, that allowed him to remain on good terms with his sibkin. He was accepted as their nominal leader, their head mischief, and the benchmark everybody aspired to.
He slid to a halt on the parade ground in front of Jazelyn, and snapped to attention, allowing a blank look to settle over his face, forcing himself to show no fatigue even as his lungs heaved for air. He kept his posture straight, fighting the urge to slump from exhaustion due to his previous exertions.
She stared at him appraisingly for a few seconds, then looked at the stopwatch on her wrist. She looked relaxed, as though she was not worried at all about the success or failure of his sibko, unlike Secorra, who was getting more agitated and even louder by the second, which Des had not thought possible. Jazelyn possessed a serene calm that was in stark contrast to the permanently uptight Secorra.
About two minutes left, Des estimated to himself silently. The others had better hurry up if they did not want to get on the wrong side of their training officer on the very first day.
He heard the sounds of his fellow sibkin as they formed up on him, coming to attention in the exact same posture as he was.
He knew that anyone who looked at the long line of cadets that had formed up would think that he was looking at a group of clones. Strictly speaking, they were not, but the products of a gene matching from two warriors. Siblings did tend to look very similar, especially in such a controlled reproductive process as the scientists used.
Their geneparents were bloodnamed, of course. The clan's eugenics program had a rigid set of rules and guidelines set down by Nicholas Kerensky himself that described in detail the process by which new generations of warriors are to be produced.
The scientists would first take the genetic material of two warriors, then in a reasonable facsimile of the reproductive process, split the chromosome pairs into their respective zygotes. The sperm and/or ova would then be combined in a tube to give the embryonic future possible warrior, who would then mature inside an iron womb.
The technique gives enough assurance of genetic similarity, but also ample randomness in the final genetic product due to the 'jumping gene' effect that nature had employed to ensure genetic diversity and co-opted by clan scientists.
The genefather of their sibko was Star Captain Jifandar Lenardon, an undistinguished warrior who served in many minor skirmishes for the clan, but who never really achieved great fame in battle.
Their genemother was the distinguished one, Star Colonel Hannah Winters. She died while defending one of their primary mech facilities in a Trial of Position with the hated Smoke Jaguars, her cluster destroying over twice their numbers in Jaguar mechs, while she alone accounted for at least five more. That act earned her genetic material immediate use in the breeding program. The Winters bloodname House was primarily known for its elemental lines, but there were still a few mechwarrior lines, all of them renowned and highly prized by the clan. Only the very best genetic material were used, to ensure the skill and abilities of the next generation.
And Descartin was determined to be the very best warrior the clans had ever seen.
Jazelyn looked at her watch just as the last cadet arrived, then looked up with a tight smile.
"Ten seconds of time left. Adequate." She remarked to Secorra, as he strode up just behind the last cadet to fall into line.
"Adequate?" Secorra nearly choked on his saliva as he said this. Des hoped he would choke. "That is not adequate. That is pathetic! These little cubs are weak and slow! Not a single one of them will survive their training, much less become a warrior of the clan!" Descartin tried to watch impassively as Secorra slobbered all over the place.
"Shall we put your belief to the test, then?" Training Commander Varro Drummond asked as he walked to the front of the line of cadets standing rigidly at attention.
"Each of you will bid for the right to take on these cubs." He turned to the cadets. "And you, in turn, shall strive to defeat your instructors. Or at the very least try to." He grinned evilly, a devilish leer that combined with the metal parts all over his body, would have sent others of lesser fortitude to hiding under their beds.
Descartin and his sibko was made of sterner stuff, though, and the display did not frighten them in the least.
"The starting bid is six for each of you." Varro intoned solemnly.
"I bid four cubs for my most esteemed colleague." Secorra sneered at Jazelyn, confident that he could handle all eight of the cadets, leaving her with no glory at all with her easy victory. Nine, on the other hand, would be too much for either of them to handle.
She countered easily. "I bid three for my colleague, and the right to choose his opponents." Her eyes flicked over to Varro Drummond for a while in a gesture that Des could not understand.
Secorra laughed cruelly. "Bargained well and done. I shall defeat any three of these cubs you choose easily, while you shall be pulled under by the weight of nine others. Choose my opponents now!" He swung his arms, loosening the muscles in anticipation of the fight.
Jazelyn did not hesitate. It seemed that she knew who to choose already even before the first bid was made. She pointed at him, Deserk, and Lintya, a girl who was the among the best hand to hand fighters in the sibko.
After himself, of course.
"Step aside from each other, and then we'll begin." Varro turned to the line of cadets. "All of you, do not hold back. They have not yet earned your respect, and to hold back is to hold them in contempt, to underestimate them. And we, the Nova Cats, do not underestimate anyone! Give it your all, and show me, show them, what you are capable of!"
As the line dissolved into two clumps of cadets facing their respective opponents, Varro shouted, "Begin!"
Jazelyn's figure immediately blurred into action, smashing into the cadets with efficiency and effortless grace. Des found himself watching the fight for a while before his eyes were brought back to his own fight by an insult from Secorra.
"Come on, you spineless cowards! Fight me!" Secorra yelled as he started advancing on them menacingly, his huge hands balled into fists.
Turning his head slightly, Descartin exchanged glances with Deserk. Des jerked his head slightly towards Secorra, urging his sibkin to attack first. It was their usual plan for taking on any opponent. Des would let Deserk have the honor of trying to take down an opponent first, and only commit when Deserk was either defeated or severely overmatched.
It started off as a standard bidding ritual amongst themselves, but eventually evolved into its present form when Des seemed to win whenever he won a bid, and Deserk lost when he won the bid. They had come to this arrangement after Deserk had gotten sick of never having 'any fun', as he had put it.
Deserk's eyes rolled upwards as he resigned himself to his fate, moving forward together with Lintya as they split up, forcing Secorra to divide his focus. Their plan was clear, to force him to try to defend from two sides at once.
Secorra laughed in response to their actions, and spotted Descartin standing aloof to one side. "No hiding, cub! Come and face me like a true warrior!"
Des refused to be taunted. He would let Deserk and Lintya have their chance at glory. If they won, he would not have to fight, while if they lost, he would have the advantage of having observed his opponent beforehand. A true warrior employs guile and cunning in combat. He stayed where he was, letting his stance irritate the instructor into making a rash move at his sibkin.
Secorra moved towards Lintya first, a massive paw smashing aside her arms as she tried to defend herself, winning through by sheer strength. He threw his other hand forward in a venomous punch, hitting her right in the stomach even as Deserk flung himself into the air on a jump kick.
Deserk smashed into Secorra's back as the big man finished off Lintya with a vicious kick to her face. She sprawled backwards on her back, and laid very still. The only evidence that showed that she still lived was the rapid rise and fall of her chest.
Des stared intently as Secorra easily brushed off Deserk's attack, charging a shoulder into his sibkin as Deserk tried to get up from his kick, then used both palms to slam them against Deserk's temples, as though trying to squash a melon with his hands. Deserk went out like a light, falling unconscious to the ground.
Secorra flicked a finger out disdainfully at Descartin. "I will make this especially painful for you." He was not even winded.
Des cocked his head to one side while walking forward, as if considering the threat. Secorra stepped in swinging a punch around without warning, his body movement not betraying any indication of his attack.
Except Des was already spinning below the blow and to one side, flailing a leg around like a chain as he did so, the tip of his boot a hammer into Secorra's knee joint. He spun away, a mocking smile on his face.
Secorra buckled for a while, before he recovered and tried to get in close to inflict his punishing blows on Descartin. He moved with deceptive speed for his size, getting within arms reach of Des.
As he punched again, Des dropped to the ground and rolled forward until he was to one side of the warrior, then clasped his hands to deal Secorra's knee another damaging blow. He rolled away again as Secorra lashed out with a kick, barely missing the fast moving cadet.
As Des gained some safe distance from the furious instructor, he could see that his attacks had achieved the desired effect of reducing Secorra's mobility. He was favoring his left leg, the one that Des had concentrated on. But Des also knew that he had yet to deal any real hurt on the man.
He closed the distance, this time intentionally telegraphing a swing of his right leg up towards Secorra's face. The instructor predictably caught the foot, but before he could do anything with it, Des was already in the air, his left foot propelling his body from terra firma and then whipping up into Secorra's right cheek. As the injured man howled with pain and released the hold on his right foot, Des moved forward.
It was a trick, as Secorra suddenly slugged him in the stomach just as he advanced, the blow driving all the air from his lungs. Des fell to the ground on his back, as Secorra went in for the kill.
To hell with it! Des shunted away the pain in his middle, but he continued lying on the ground. Just when he sensed Secorra within striking range, he twisted his body around, both legs angled as he spun on his back, using his last reserves of strength to gain momentum as his legs hit into Secorra's legs again. The man stumbled, his hands flailing, and it was all the time Des needed.
Instead of retreating, Des leapt forward this time, Secorra's out of position hands closing in behind him as he launched a hand at Secorra's throat. Secorra's thick arms closed in around Des even as his right hand managed to clutch the man's windpipe. A red haze fell over his vision, as he begun to crush his opponent's throat.
"Stop!" The red haze fled as quickly as it had appeared. "Cadet! You will release the instructor's throat right now!"
Des looked around uncomprehendingly, his hand still on the neck of Secorra in a tight death grip. The words took a moment to register, and Des relaxed his hand slowly. It took him another few seconds before he realized Secorra was already unconscious.
He got to his feet shakily, and took a good look at the other group which had tangled with Jazelyn. They were littered all over the parade field, while Jazelyn looked none the worse for wear. He could swear that she gave a smirk as she looked over Secorra's unconscious body, and a matching grin towards him.
Deserk was groggily getting to his feet as well, while Varro wore an inscrutable look as he observed the scene. Des realized belatedly that it was Training Commander Varro Drummond who had given the orders for him to stop. He felt the red haze threatening to cloud his sight again, as he grew angry at Commander Drummond for stopping the fight.
The Commander seemed to sense his rage, as he walked up to Des, who came to attention despite the pain in his guts. Drummond asked, "You seek satisfaction, quiaff?"
Never taking his eyes off the Commander, Des replied, "Aff."
Varro grinned sardonically as he opened his arms wide. "Take your best shot, cub." An invitation for attack.
Des did not care anymore, even though he knew he should not have spoke back to the Commander in such a manner. He went in, both hands held up, ready to block or absorb any attacks from the Commander.
Drummond did not bat an eyelid as Des punched forward cautiously, ready to pull back to defend. All of a sudden, the Commander shifted forward, his head meeting the punch before it had gained much speed, taking away its sting, and the next thing Des knew, he was hit in the head by a roundhouse that was harder than anything he had ever felt in his life.
He staggered backward, and then another blow that was equally as hard went into his stomach. Des felt something go snap inside him, and blood rising up to his mouth. He flew backwards several meters from the force of the attack, and rolled for several more before stopping.
Des could feel the blood trickling down his chin, as he looked up to Varro, who was standing over him.
"You will obey my instructions. And do not even think that your defeat of Officer Secorra impresses me in the least. There is only one way to earn respect from me, and that is when you are a true warrior of the clan. Jazelyn, get this litter of cubs out of my sight!" Varro started walking away, as Jazelyn started hauling cadets to their feet and shoving them into line. For the second time in the day, Des pushed away the pain his body was feeling, and got into the ranks.
If Varro Drummond had looked back, he would have noticed Descartin's grim smile.
Finally, a real warrior to look up to. I will beat you one day.
"March! Double time! Left! Right! Left!" Jazelyn started yelling, as the cadets marched back to their bunks, leaving a dizzy Secorra only just coming to his senses.