Joshua smiled with satisfaction as he leaned back in his piloting chair inside his personal simulator pod. After months of grinding up the ranks, he finally broke past the Bronze League and entered the Silver League. For a teenager of his age, reaching such a height was impressive. Only the top 3% of the potentates in his grade matched or surpassed this result.
"Aw man, you've finally promoted. Looks like we won't be playing together for a while." Triceratopsss whined over the comm.
Joshua, or TheSeventhSnake in the game, smiled back at his friend. "Hey, at least you won't be taking too long to follow me up. You've been showing plenty of improvement."
"I got more time to hop in the game now that summer break is here. I mean, the mech classes are fine and all, but a real match always beats a dry lecture."
While Joshua didn't entirely agree, he kept his opinions mum. "I'm going to go pick out a new mech to play with the big boys. Are you interested in helping me choose?"
"Nah. I got to go eat dinner soon. See ya later, pal."
As both of them went their separate ways, Joshua entered the market district of the game. He approached a familiar holographic panel and set the category of the items from 1-star junk to 2-star mechs.
The machines that appeared in front of him roused his interests. The mechs all looked bigger, leaner or more ferocious than their more primitive counterparts. He long dreamed of piloting a more powerful machine than his favorite Seraphim. While the flier was a great machine, he came to grow frustrated at the mech's extensive limitations. Joshua longed to free himself from those chains.
As he browsed through the many light fliers the catalog held, a recommendation attracted his eyes. The market interface pointed out a new 2-star mech to him. One designed by a familiar name.
"Chasing Clouds? So that's what you've been up to. No wonder I haven't seen any 1-star designs from your account."
Joshua regretted not piloting anything new from the upstart designer. Though his products were never the best performers in their categories, they all possessed plenty of character. It also helped they both came from the same planet.
He looked at the latest product the fellow Cloudsman released. When his view was filled with the shiny chrome exterior of the variant called Mist Prowler, Joshua was blown aback.
"It's just like the Seraphim."
He did not refer to technical aspects when he compared their designs. The Seraphim was a light flier that mainly relied on a marksman rifle to harass enemies from afar. He only got in close to melee range if he needed to change his strategy.
This Mist Prowler on the other hand lacked any flight capabilities. Not only was it a weight class heavier, it also packed more power in its limbs, allowing it to run fairly fast for a medium and dodge about with almost unprecedented response time. It largely mimicked the nimbleness of light mechs while possessing the power of a medium mech. This helps with adding strength to its melee attacks, which this urban combat mech primarily relied upon.
No, despite their differences, they emanate a similar presence despite their different playstyles. Joshua was probably the most intimate Seraphim in the game, so he had a nose for these kinds of things. The Mist Prowler was just as aggressive as the Seraphim, only in a different flavor. Whereas the Seraphim sought to seek and destroy the enemy in the most direct fashion possible, the Mist Prowler was content to drag out the hunt and slowly envelop their opponents.
"Hm, that's strange. What's with the stealth option?"
Adding a particle ejector to a hunter or ambush type mech wasn't unusual. But Joshua couldn't figure out why the designer added it to a mech with such a bright and shiny chrome finish.
Then he noted the designer incorporated his practically trademark Cloud Festive Generator right next to the ejector. "Ah, so that's why."
Joshua had a lot of fun playing around with the Cloud Generator. It made him the envy of his friends whenever they teamed up. Though it served no practical purpose and often attracted the enemy to him, he liked to arrive on the battlefield in a bombastic fashion. He loved using it to play games with his opponent's minds.
The mech was different from anything he played before, so he considered whether it was useful to purchase this mech. As his first 2-star mech, he wanted to pilot something familiar so he could leverage his best skills immediately. If he picked the wrong mech to start his career in the Silver League, he might lose too many matches, causing his hard-earned rank to demote. That would be a disaster.
"It's from Chasing Clouds. I don't think he'd release something crappy."
He trusted the designer. He sometimes felt there was a connection between them, an intimacy many pilots had for their favorite designers. Sometimes they became so enthusiastic they resembled fanboys and fangirls. Joshua liked to think he wasn't so blind, so he took the time to scour over the specs and look over the simulations of the variant before making his purchase.
"Ah what the heck, who am I kidding. I'm totally going to buy this mech anyway."
Though the hefty credit price was a step up from the dirt-cheap 1-star mechs, Joshua never paid attention to even eye-popping prices. With a quick credit transfer, Joshua now owned the first handmade Mist Prowler.
As Joshua returned to his private area and entered the mech stables, he could feel the presence of the Mist Prowler. It demanded attention even as it wanted to stay unnoticed. The dichotomy easily caused confusion, but Joshua only felt more intimate towards his new mech. He understood the designer's philosophy, having mastered the Seraphim. No matter how much the designer tried to make a subtle mech, he just couldn't resist showing off. Why else did he include cloud generators and bright colors?
After a brief time of familiarizing himself with the new mech's controls, he threw himself into matchmaking. As he wanted to put his mech to its paces, he chose to enter the gigantic Wartorn Instances mode. Even the smallest 50v50 map possessed plenty of space for him to work his magic without bumping into too many people.
The game finished matching enough players together, causing them all to enter their team's lobby. Joshua took a look around. This was his first match in Silver and he knew that he wasn't playing with people from Cloudy Curtain anymore. Once a player graduated from Bronze, the entire galaxy opened up to them allowing them to play with people tens of thousands of light-years away.
A big and bulky spider mech stood in the center of the room. The small crown hovering over its head demanded everyone's attention.
"Alright guys, I'm NotchedHalberd, and I'll be your captain for this match." A young man's voice spoke out from the team channel. "As we're all playing in the Silver League, I won't bore you with complicated plans. I know only 10% of you will even listen to me. Instead, I just want you to keep one thing in mind: don't all rush forward when the hatch opens up. We artillery mechs need some help fending off the enemy scouts."
Whether much of their team followed this advice, Joshua wasn't hopeful. In fact, he planned to ditch his teammates and find an empty zone to hunt for prey. He could only really stretch his new mech's capabilities by fighting without distractions.
The map eventually loaded and caused the bay doors to open. The map revealed itself to be a hot desert canyon like map. Groans issued out from most of the mech pilots, especially those that relied heavily on energy weapons.
"Fuck! It's Scorched Canyon!"
"Goddammit, it's so hot you can cook an egg on a rock. Who the fuck thought of this stupid scenario? There's nothing here that's worth fighting for!"
"90% of my loadout is based on lasers. I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to sit here and afk for a while."
Hot environments impacted energy-dependent mechs disproportionately. In the real universe, mech outfits tailored their mechs to the local environment in advance. Unfortunately, Iron Spirit's matchmaking kept the map the players had to contest over a secret until the match finally started. This always caused some mech pilots to wallow in misfortune while others danced with glee.
Joshua also plastered a smile on his face. While the Mist Prowler was not set up to fight in deserts, it nevertheless held a slight advantage. His mech's offensive power only consisted of a few melee weapons. The lack of any wrist or shoulder-mounted weapons limited Joshua's offensive options, but honed his mech's strengths in a couple of categories that could be fully exploited in the coming match.
"Don't let the enemy bastards take over all of the top ridges!"
The Scorched Canyon map featured an unusual layout with many winding cliffs and canyons. The final objective of this map was to conquer and hold an ancient alien ruin situated in a deep valley in the middle of a lot of cliffs. Holding the nearby high ground was essential in either sieging the valley or preventing the enemy from taking advantage of them. However, the top plateaus were inaccessible to all but flight mechs. Their presence was essential in taking over the map.
Joshua raced forward and grew more in tune with his mech as he did so. His first movements looked awkward, but he quickly got used to the unusual balance of his agile mech. By the time he traversed halfway to the valley, he could easily dodge pass rocks and other obstacles in his way.
A couple of mechs that traveled in the same direction as him veered off as they entered a narrower route that brought them to the flanks of the valley. Unlike many others, Joshua continued to head straight towards the center.
"Hey noob! It's dangerous if you go into the ruins!"
"He's dead already."
"The fucking loser probably doesn't know how this map works at all."
The risks were exceedingly high if he entered the valley too early, but Joshua could rely on his mech to pull through. The Mist Prowler crossed the wide open space with a sprint that neared the speed of the fastest medium mechs.
Unfortunately, its shiny exterior easily reflected the bright sun in the sky, drawing all sorts of unsavory eyes at him. The scouts that have already reached the nearby ridges grew red, and those with ranged weapons started to fire potshots at him. At this range, the chances of getting hit was minimal, but Joshua didn't enjoy the experience.
Incredibly, he managed to dodge all but a couple of glancing blows. The pressure of incoming fire was a powerful motivator to mastering the Mist Prowler's quirks. His mech practically danced through the hazards with only a few scuffs marks from accurate laser fire. Even the onlookers from his own team popped out their eyes.
Once Joshua reached the midst of the ruins, he was able to use the tall stone structures to break line of sight. Though the enemy could keep raining down fire, damaging the ruins penalized their team's final score. Only by employing scouts and spotters to feed accurate coordinates would teams be able to bombard an enemy occupant without causing excessive collateral damage.
"The first part is over." Joshua sighed as he came down from the high. Though he only piloted his new mech for a short while, he already felt it moved like his own body, but even better. The mech's amazing mix of speed, agility and strength made this mech a great close combat mech. Now that he cast the bait, he only needed to wait until an enemy approached.
Joshua got his first customer. A three-man team of light scouts hastily entered the ruins from the other side. His own team tried to punish their brazen approach and succeeded in scratching their paint at the very least. One mech even suffered a malfunction in his rifle when it got blown apart by a lucky shell.
Ordinarily, a speed-based medium mech preferred not to tangle with light mechs. They moved faster than them while possessing similar amounts of offensive power. The disparity in armor could be negated entirely if the light mechs could use their speed advantage to stay out of reach. This disparity widened the medium mech possessed no ranged weapons.
The Mist Prowler unfortunately lacked even a pistol.
"No matter. These ruins will be my best friend."
The ancient and extensive alien ruins represented the closest urban combat environment in the map. While he could also play around in rock-littered canyons, the spaces there were just a little too small. While the Mist Prowler excelled in complex environments, they needed a certain amount of room to maneuver, which most narrow canyons lacked.
As the three scuffed light mechs crossed over to the other side of the ruins, Joshua prepared for their arrival. He held no hope in hiding his mech from their superior sensors. Instead, he walked his mech around and chose a suitable area to make his stand.
The Mist Prowler was not a mech that enjoyed letting his enemies come to him. By choosing to set up at busy street, he could use the plentiful structures to block the enemy's field of view and force them to come closer. Like a spider sitting in the middle of his web, Joshua waited for the mechs to fall into his range.
When the first of the light mechs stepped into the narrower street, Joshua initiated his plan. He activated his particle ejector, which instantly blasted an entire canister's worth of sensor-blocking junk in the air. The cloud generator also did its work by pumping out a generous amount of psychedelic vapor.
The modules expended their payloads rapidly, causing a couple of blocks of streets to be obscured from optical as well as many other types of sensors. This not only blinded the light mechs, it also prevented onlookers from above or below to interfere with Joshua's hunt.
He grinned as he felt his anticipation grow. Having mapped the surrounding streets before, Joshua slowly piloted his mech forward. The mech's footsteps weren't exactly subtle, but the panicking light mechs allowed him to get in close.
The mech with the damaged laser rifle showed up in front of Joshua first. The Mist Prowler came out far too sudden for the enemy mech to respond in time. Its shiny exterior reflected all kinds of bright and crazy colors due to the rays passing through the colorful vapor. In fact, the effect worked even better than traditional camouflage.
"Death!" Joshua yelled as he urged his nimble mech to thrust forward with its spear.
The force behind his approach was incredible, but the light mech was no slouch either. The enemy pilot bent his mech to the side, causing the spearhead to penetrate the edge of its waist but no deeper.
"That's not all I got!"
Usually, a mech that put most of its forward momentum in a weapon thrust left itself open to retaliation. Joshua merely pushed his Mist Prowler to jump sideways with the enemy and allow the spear to slash the light mech again.
The force behind the second blow wasn't too much, but Joshua was able to control his strike to hit the damaged section again. Few other mechs could achieve such acrobatics.
The spearhead carved through the light mech's armor like a hot knife through butter. The fatal hit allowed the spearhead to wreck a couple of components near its engine. Not enough to take it out entirely, but enough to slow down the light mech's mobility.
"He's here! Come and save me!" The enemy pilot yelled out in the open as he was unable to connect with his teammates with all the interference in the air.
"You'll be dead before they come!"
The light mech tried to turn the tables on the Mist Prowler by diving forwards within the spear's reach. However, Joshua skillfully spun the spear with remarkable dexterity and knocked the light mech's stride off-track with a smack. With another spin he slashed his spear at the enemy's arm, but the lack of power and momentum behind the hasty blow only caused the armor to get cut.
Joshua was a little frustrated with the spear. It worked great if he could build up his speed and stab forward with the incredible weight of his mech behind the blow. Close in like this and it felt more like an unnecessary burden. Therefore he simply dropped it and pulled out the Mist Prowler's heated knives from their holster.
With a pair of hot blades in its hands, the medium mech surged forward in pursuit. The light mech scrambled to parry one knife, only to let the other make a shallow stab in its chest. Before the light mech could pull out, Joshua kept up his barrage and pressed his opponent relentlessly.
One of his knives finally dug past the chest armor and tore a deep gash in the light mech's power reactor.
"Urgh! Fuck! He got me!"
With its mobility impaired and a faltering power reactor, the light mech was practically dead in the water. A couple of follow ups finished off the poor mech.
"First kill." Joshua licked his lips. He started to like this new playstyle. Though the thick mist of particles and colors made it difficult for him to seek out his opponents, they also had a hard time bumping into him.
He realized that using the particle generator on an unsuspecting group negated their numerical advantage. As long as they weren't too close, his mech could take all the time in the world to defeat them one by one.
With only instincts and luck guiding him to his next prey, Joshua led his Mist Prowler deeper into the hazy fog. He had two more mechs to hunt down before the particles sank down onto the earth.
"Heh. What Silver League?" He mocked. "Within my mist, they're dead men walking."