Brucequest Thread Five, The Shadow Of Humanity. (2024)

((()))

Sarah Weaver had seen Leo Showers as Khan of the Smoke Jaguars since she was a small child, and six months ago, his supremacy over the Smoke Jaguars seemed naught but a precursor to him eventually leading all of the Clans.

When she had risen to SaKhan, Sarah had faced him in regular spars, and had firsthand knowledge of just how skilled the man was. There were a handful of other Smoke Jaguars who could best him one time in five in a spar, and none who could do so consistently, or were fool to try more than once in a full Trial.

Now...

As Sarah stood among the other Khans of the Grand Council, she could see that Showers was not like he had been before the Warlord came. His muscles were tense, his eyes were sharper, and his fury was tightly-reigned.

He was just one of five Khans that the Warlord had defeated; the Smoke Jaguars were not the only Clan to be humiliated by the Spheroid, but it had hardly been surprising when the Fire Mandrills or Blood Spirits had proven inadequate.

The Jade Falcons and the Smoke Jaguars though, how had this happened? Two of the four mightiest Clans, Sarah was not surprised that the ancient but fierce Yvonne Hazen had been defeated, but Leo Showers was supposed to be in the prime of a Khan's life, not yet even forty-five years old. Sarah was acutely aware that she was almost twenty years younger than Showers, that Hazen had been Khan for twenty years before she was born, and the Warlord had been older still.

Solahma had already started to challenge younger bloodnamed officers to test their fitness to command; some of those aging warriors had won their challenges. Sarah had faced one herself, and while she had of course triumphed, the gray-haired Mechwarrior Leslie had made her work for her victory.

Showers had focused on the trials for pride of place in the upcoming Operation Revival, as a Khan should, but his initial string of uninterrupted victories from the first to the final round had not been enough. The Ghost Bears had similarly been undefeated until they faced the Jaguars in the finals, but then immediately crushed contenders from the losers bracket to return for a rematch with the Jaguars, and then a third round to claim the ultimate victory.

Now, Tseng was ilKhan, and the other Crusaders looked to the Ghost Bears or Jade Falcons for leadership, not the Smoke Jaguars.

...And Ulric Kerensky, leader of the Wardens and Showers' rival for more than a decade, was ignoring the Smoke Jaguars. Not just Showers, but the Smoke Jaguars as a whole.

"Many of you claim we must strike now," Ulric declared, "Before the Spheroids come in strength, but I say you seek to solve a problem by creating that very problem. Samsonov became because he had grievance; that grievance is resolved. Do not create more. As the Council has already voted to do so, I must seek to stop you with a Trial of Refusal."

"The Council voted two to one against," ilKhan Tseng declared, "These are the odds you must face to triumph, Khan Kerensky. You know we will send our best to confirm our cause. Do you wish to risk losing your own finest Wolves?"

"Better than risk my warriors, and the warriors of all clans on a foolhardy endeavor," Kerensky retorted, "The purpose of the SLDF was to protect mankind, not conquer it."

"Sometimes," Tseng said grimly, "Mankind must be protected from themselves."

"We shall see," Ulric said flatly.

"The Ghost Bears and Smoke Jaguars will each send a Cluster to face you in this Trial," Tseng said, "As the clear champions in the Revival Trials."

Does Ulric think we are unruly children? Sarah Weaver wondered, Does he truly think he can best the two finalists of the trials?

((()))

If losing two out of three endurance battles against the Ghost Bears had taught Leo Showers anything, it was to respect how difficult it was to move a bear that didn't want to be moved. With Tseng taking up the rank of ilKhan, he now commanded both the Jaguars and the Bears, and unsurprisingly, had decided the Bears would serve as the anvil to the Jaguars hammer.

This meant that while leading the Jaguars against the Wolves trial of refusal, Leo had to spend an uncomfortable amount of time pushing his Dire Wolf to a full sprint. Every clan took the virtues of their totem at least somewhat seriously, but Leo doubted that many Khans could make theirs as irritating as the Wolves were this day.

Not a single 'mech they fielded had a cuise speed less than fifty kilometers an hour, and the Wolves were displaying their piloting skills in spending much of the battle sprinting at around ninety kilometers per hour. Again and again, they wheeled around the Ghost Bear formation, keeping the Jaguars out of position while they traded laser and autocannon fire at the very extreme limits of range.

The Trial had gone on for hours, and only a handful of 'mechs had been forced from the field. Showers had repeatedly been forced to push his subordinates back in line, to avoid getting strung out and potentially defeated in detail as they tried to get to a position where they could engage the Wolves. Like two moons orbiting a planet, the Jaguars chased the Wolves around the Bears again and again, lacking in the speed to actually catch them, only able to force them not to shift posture for a decisive engagement against the Bears.

It was one more frustration in decades of his rivalry with Ulric Kerensky, but Showers was determined not to let the Wolf Khan bait him into making a mistake.

There'd been far too many of those already.

Showers hadn't spent more than a few minutes chasing after sensor returns beyond visual range since he had been a sibkin in training, and he had forgotten how irritating it was.

"Are wolves so incapable of hunting?" Showers demanded, broadcasting over open frequencies.

"Do you not know?" came an immediate reply from Ulric, "Wolves are endurance hunters with but one peer, man. Wolves can maintain a hunt for days on end, if need be."

"Is that your justification for spending a month in an inconclusive trial against the Warlord?" ilKhan Tseng asked.

"I spent a month in pursuit of victory," Ulric replied evenly, "And did not find defeat. Every other Khan who faced the Warlord found defeat in minutes. It is clear the Wolf's wisdom is superior in this."

"...I will have to face him myself when we reach the sphere," Tseng declared.

"If we reach the sphere," Kerensky retorted, "This trial is not yet concluded."

"Let actions speak louder than words then," Tseng rumbled.

"Let them," Ulric agreed, and a moment later a new sensor contact appeared on Showers' display, out at the very extreme limits of range.

((()))

AN: One more of these, I think.

Brucequest Thread Five, The Shadow Of Humanity. (2024)
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