In a time of unceasing warfare,

The legacy of a fallen age,

Empires fight for an ancient throne

Battles are waged across the stars,

Fought by giant engines of war known as

BattleMechs

But not all battles are fought with from a cockpit,

And some battles have stakes

Higher than victory or defeat.

12 – Battle of Galisteo Pt 3

Texarkana Plains,

Galisteo, Tamarind Province

Free Worlds League

13 January 3026

The Grimm had driven them from the field of battle, yet had made no move to chase after them. Sure, they'd lost two companies of 'Mechs - mostly Lights and some Mediums - to mixed-weight company, but that still left them with roughly a reinforced battalion, so Ranger Company was badly outnumbered. Even with Lightning Company's hover vehicles, they were still facing overwhelming odds. The raid had failed, obviously, and the Hunters' command was prepping for withdrawal. What kept them from immediately doing so was the uncertainty of the information about the Marik aerospace strength on-world. As the 'Mechs would be the quickest to load up, Rapier and Lightning companies were in the process of loading onto the Condor- and Buccaneer-class DropShips they were attached to. Amber, from the observation deck of the Union-class Forever Fall, watched the process. Ren and Blake, along with Coco and Yatsuhashi, were patrolling the perimeter. The Assassin and the Spider had the speed to cover the perimeter, as well as to reach the Heavy-class Marauder and Warhammer, which had the range and firepower to cover them until the rest of the company could be deployed.

With a sigh, she turned back to the other people in the lounge with her. Though Coco Adel was nominally a lance leader, she'd opted to have Yang sit-in for her. Ruby, her second lance leader, was present as well - though she was silent from anger. Velvet and Fox were providing air cover for the DropShips, though considering what Aerospace Fighters Marik still had on-world it was doubtful that the two Medium-class Corsairs would be able to do much. Also present were the commanders of Rapier and Lightning Companies, captains Morgan and Argyle. The newest Hunter and the Fall's Tactical Officer, Weiss Schnee, was also present as Captain Vernal was occupied with prepping the ship for emergency launch

"It's obvious that this raid failed," she began without preamble. "As the on-scene commander, I'm making the call to pull out. Right now only the 'Mechs will be out, since we can pack them away faster than the tanks."

"The infantry has already boarded and packed away," Captain Morgan reported. "The DropShip is finishing up preparations for launch."

"Excellent," Amber said. "Normally, I'd authorize you to launch immediately, but considering that this was obviously a trap we can't risk solo runs."

"They have to know we'll pull out," Ruby pointed out. "I know we've all sworn an oath to annihilate the Grimm for what they've done, but hanging around is blatantly stupid so they have to be expecting us to pull out."

"And even if we have our fighters providing cover, that's just one Aero-Lance against at least three squadrons of Marik fighters," Weiss added in. "As good as Velvet and Fox are, even two Corsairs will succumb to sheer numbers."

"All good points," their CO agreed. "While waiting gives them a better chance to hit us during final loading and launch preparations as well as allowing them to bring more force to bear on us, launching as each DropShip is ready leaves them all vulnerable. So once all of the infantry and armor assets are loaded we'll begin loading the 'Mechs."

Yang waved a hand for permission to speak and said, "The problem I see there is which ones will be the last to load. Do we leave out the lighter, faster units as they can get on board faster, or the heavier ones which would have the greater endurance to handle withdrawing under fire?" Before Amber could answer, the warning klaxon sounded.

"Major Amber, this is Captain Vernal," the Fall's captain said over the comm, also maintaining the tradition of ground-pounder captains getting a ceremonial 'promotion' to major as there can only be one captain aboard a ship. "The recon flight has spotted a formation of Grimm 'Mechs moving towards us. Estimate puts them about thirty minutes from the perimeter."

"Deploy my lance for an assault," she ordered. "Get Coco and Yatsuhashi aboard, and have all 'Mechs locked into their repair gantries."

"Captain, that's suicide!" Ruby objected. "A single lance against all of that?!"

"We don't have a choice, Lieutenant," Amber replied, stressing Ruby's rank - which mattered not to the crimsonette.

"Like hell we don't!" she insisted. "You always told me that when we have no choice, it's only because we're missing the obvious solution."

"And what, by ComStar's supposed righteousness, is the obvious solution?"

"We're facing the Beowolf Legion, according to the unit identifier on their machines matching our Warbook programs," Ruby responded. "They rely mostly on Light- and Medium-class BattleMechs built more for speed than firepower and endurance, utilizing wolf pack tactics to bring down hardier enemies. The Fall possesses good ranged firepower. If we set our battleline inside the effective ranges of both systems, we can hammer them enough to buy us time to evacuate Galisteo."

Amber was silent for a moment, considering Ruby's proposed course of action. It had merit, and was a good plan under the circumstances - which told the experienced officer that the younger woman had definitely been paying attention in her strategies and tactics courses.

"I have to agree with Lieutenant Rose," Weiss spoke up. "Typically, Lyran tactics are to commit as much force as possible against the objective and bull over it. Based on the reviews of the last engagement, and previous Hunters engagements against this particular unit, they utilize a mixture of Capellan mobility tactics and Lyran brute force preference. I'd like to recommend an adjustment to the lieutenant's plan: deploy one of the lighter lances behind the effective range of the DropShip's class-5 autocannons, and have the other two lances - under full emission dark protocols, sneak their way around both sides of the Beowolves."

"Both of you raise good points, and have offered good alternatives," Amber agreed slowly. "Very well. We'll go with Lieutenant Rose's plan, with Lieutenant Schnee's suggestions. I'll lead my lance along the left flank, and Lieutenant Adel's lance will march around the right. Ruby, your lance will be the 'bait', so I want you to stay sharp and focused. It's not just your lance on the line right now, it's the entire command."

"Wait. What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that as this was your plan, approved though it is by me, you're in charge of it," the brunette explained. "It's up to you to keep us safe, and to execute the plan. Remember, though, that while a battle plan is always a good idea, a better one is a battle plan that can be easily adjusted and isn't rigidly followed."

*TCD*

Ten minutes later Coco and Amber's lances set out on their flanking/pincer maneuvers, with Ruby's lance - consisting of herself in her Phoenix Hawk, Ren in his Assassin, Blake in her Spider, and Pyrrha in her Dervish - taking the center position a few meters behind the Fall's effective AC/5 range. The latest reports from Velvet and Fox - streamed directly to each lance leader's battle computer as well as the tactical operations center on the DropShip itself - indicated that the Grimm 'Mechs were splitting up into two groups, with the second group lagging behind and itself diverging into two different groups that split to the sides. While it was uncertain if they knew about the flanking maneuvers or were executing their own strategy, it lessened the assault that Rose Lance would have to deal with.

What was worrying Amber, as she lead the command lance on its flanking march, was the lack of vehicles. She knew that the Beowolf Legion had several companies of fast hover tanks - including those lightly armed but fast as hell Savannah Masters - but they had yet to make an appearance. She still found it hard to believe that in the roughly eight years since The Betrayal Salem had been able to build her Grimm to several battalions in size while the Hunters barely managed to field a regiment, if that. And that their aerospace assets were barely adequate. She definitely planned on having words with Ozpin after they managed to blunt this assault and withdraw from Galisteo. Ahead of her, she watched as the JagerMech in her lance swiveled its torso left and right, the paired autocannon arms raised up and ready; like the Rifleman at the tail end of the lance's line-astern formation, the 65-ton JagerMech mounted a sensor array that was well-suited to both anti-air and ground-to-ground engagements. The Rifleman's high heat curve was the reason she had it at the back, as well as the fact that the Mydron Model D Light Autocannons in each arm of the JagerMech - while having a damage curve similar to machine guns - had a longer range than the former's AC/5s. She had herself in the third position of the formation, as her Thug's hard-hitting PPCs could deal the most damage at range but generated a lot of heat. The 75-ton Orion 'just' ahead of her mounted an LRM battery as well as an AC/10, making it well suited to provide support for the JagerMech.

"I don't like this," she muttered, though she hadn't really liked anything about this mission - Ruby's own misgivings notwithstanding. After all, she'd survived Salem's attack on her original lance, though barely, so she had little faith in Ozpin's leadership as it seemed like he always preferred to wait until after shit had hit the fan to act, or would reprimand those who chose to act before he wanted anyone to. She keyed her comm, keeping it to strictly short-range and speaking only to her lance.

"Eyes sharp, everyone," she ordered. "We should be near the Grimm, or almost. I don't want us to get caught with our pants down." The acknowledgements rolled in, but Amber still couldn't shake the feeling that something was about to go disastrously wrong.

*TCD*

Raven sidestepped her 'Mech, the 35-ton machine making an awkward-looking bobbing motion as it moved, to avoid the SRMs that would've impacted her RVN-1X-R had she not moved. Locking on to the Scimitar that had fired at her, she triggered the two Medium Lasers she carried and sliced into the hover tank's 'skirt', ripping a massive tear into it and causing air to spill out, which lead to the tank crashing into the ground and flipping over and over before it landed on its dorsal surface. When she had first 'acquired' her RVN-1X Raven from a Capellan warehouse, it had mounted both Medium Lasers in the right arm; she'd had one of them moved to a left arm mount to give her a better field of fire as well as to cover a weakness. Right now the Electronic Warfare System the prototype mounted was working as its creators had intended so her lance was covered from detection - as well as preventing the Beowolf vehicles from calling out a warning to their 'Mech assets. In this endeavor she was assisted by the pair of CTF-0X Cataphracts that her small command had stolen at the same time as her RVN-1X. Acting in a 'sheep dog' position were the pair of LCT-1E Locusts that rounded out her force. Though not as fast as the Grimm hovercraft, the pair of 25-ton 'Mechs were the fastest ones in her command and were more capable of corralling them.

A Saladin exploded nearby as its armor was ripped up by autocannon and laser fire, her brother's Blackjack moving into view.

"Raven, these guys were obviously meant as part of trap," he radioed her, using the line-of-sight laser comm to get through the jamming Shadow Lance was throwing out.

"Agreed," she said, twisting her 'Mech's torso and unloading an SRM salvo into the side of another Scimitar and hitting its ammo bin. "We've taken out about a company of these bastards so far; let the Cataphracts drive the rest into a retreat, if not an outright rout, and we'll take the Locusts and push on the landing zone."

"I'll hang back with them, as my Blackjack can't keep up with you," he said.

"Just drive them off; at this point it won't matter if the Beowolf Legion's 'Mechs know we're here, as they won't be able to turn around to engage us."

"Make it fast, Raven," was all he said in reply - and all that he needed to say. Raven wheeled her Raven around and ordered the pair of Locusts to follow. While the lighter 'Mechs could easily outrun her, but they held in wedge formation with her at her machine's top speed of 97.2 kilometers per hour. This allowed her prototype 'Mech's experimental electronic warfare equipment to, if it kept working right, cover all three of them as they neared the battle. Raven began running diagnostics on her 'Mech, as engaging other BattleMechs was different than fighting conventional armor. Her Medium Lasers were fully charged and functional, the SRM launcher was reloaded though she was down to roughly half a ton of ammunition, and best of all the EW gear was functioning as it should. Overall, her RVN-1X had only suffered a five percent loss in armor. She checked in with her impromptu lancemates, and they also reported only minimal damage and fully charged weapons (the -1E model of the Locust dropped the Machine Guns and ammo of the main variant in favor of a second Medium Laser and a pair of Small Lasers, in a Medium/Small combo in each 'arm').

"Listen up," she said after the status updates. "We'll have friendlies on the scans, even if they won't show up as such. The Legion favors fast, mobile 'Mechs and pack tactics, so stay close and cover each other." After getting the acknowledgements, Raven turned her attention to the upcoming intervention. She had no idea how her old unit would react to her appearance, especially when it would be revealed as her.

"I just hope they'll give me a chance," she muttered to herself, thinking of her daughters.

*TCD*

"They're in sight," Blake reported, her Spider racing back towards the chosen battle line alongside Ren's Assassin. "And my sensors reported, at their extreme range, signatures that match a Shadow Hawk and the Commonwealth's new Hatchetman design."

"Those two will be the Alpha units," she commented, making sure her weapons were charged and ready. "We'll be at a definite disadvantage even with support from the Fall. If we had spotters, Ren and Pyrrha could lay down some indirect LRM fire."

"That would have been a good, if mostly ineffective, idea," Ren agreed as he and Blake reach the Phoenix Hawk and Dervish and set themselves in their positions. As both the Spider and the Assassin - in spite of the latter being a 40-ton Medium-class machine - relied more on speed and mobility for defense rather than armor, Ruby had them set to act as a mobile element with her and Pyrrha anchoring their defensive line. Regardless, their purpose was to draw in the Beowolves to allow the Forever Fall's missiles to hammer them while Amber and Coco's lances slammed into the enemy force's flanks and (hopefully) rear. It didn't help that Ruby was feeling anxious and overwhelmed; Amber had told her that the whole unit was, for this plan, under her command and that it was her responsibility. Just then her console lit up with warnings from the remote sensors they'd left deployed and tied-in (they had no need to pack those up, really, since the cost was covered in the contract and they were commercially available, though military grade, products).

"They've hit the grid," she called out, though it wasn't really necessary. She keyed up the Fall. "Lieutenant Schnee, contact on the outer line. Estimate weapons range in five minutes."

"Confirmed, Rose Lead," the ex-LCAF officer replied. "We've got the signals from the targeting beacons, and our LRMs are locked and loaded. We'll fire on your signal, but remember the lines of fire for the autocannons."

"I won't forget," she grumbled, shutting off the line to the DropShip. She knew that Weiss was within reason to remind her, but still irrationally felt like she was being scolded. Switching to her lance frequency, she said, "Listen up, Rose Lance. We play this out by the plan, adapting as needed. Keep each other covered, and don't forget about the DropShip's weapons." There wasn't much time to say more, as the Beowolf Legion's lead elements came into visual range.

The hatch covers on the Dervish's torso-mounted LRM-10 launchers opened up, and it was momentarily shrouded in light smoke as twenty missiles shot up and away on tails of flame, followed by the five-missile salvo from Ren's Assassin. The twenty-five missiles slammed into the front line of 'Mechs, shattering armor, actuators, and weapons. Two of the four, one a Wasp that had apparently swapped its SRM-2 and ammo for a pair of Rocket Launchers and the other a Stinger, exploded from the impacts of missiles (the Wasp's rockets exploding and ripping the machine apart while the Stinger's fusion plant went critical from a lucky LRM detonating inside), while the other two were heavily battered - though only one kept moving as the other collapsed from it's pilot being killed after a couple of LRMs detonated against and shattered the canopy. As the missile launchers reloaded, more and more Grimm 'Mechs surged forward with the intention of overwhelming the Hunters.

Until a massive salvo of DropShip-fired LRMs slammed into the midst of the Grimm formation, having been triggered by a static-burst from Ruby right as Pyrrha and Ren's own LRMs hit the leading units.

It was obvious that the Beowolf Legion was caught off guard by the barrage, as well as being split in half. As Rose Lance prepared for when the disorientation wore off, which wouldn't last long, Ruby felt the potentially crushing weight of responsibility and wondered how the other two lances were faring.

*TCD*

"They've hit the line!" Yang yelled over the commline, though thanks to remote sensors Coco saw the data as well. She didn't say anything about it, though, as not only were the Hunters less strict than House units (but still maintained military decorum and protocol) but she knew that the blonde MechWarrior was worried for her sister. Though with more time in grade than the crimsonette, Coco knew that Ruby had greater potential as a leader and trusted in Amber's judgement, though she hoped the younger woman was up to the challenge.

"Move to line abreast and accelerate to maximum speed," she ordered, wheeling her Marauder to the left and moving the throttle to its stop. The large 75-ton machine lumbered forward in mincing run thanks to its reverse-jointed legs, Yatsuhashi's 70-ton Warhammer moving alongside her. The lighter armored Hunchbacks of Yang and Nora behind and between the pair of Heavy-class 'Mechs, though only Nora's LRM-equipped variant had a ranged bite since Yang's still retained the massive class-20 autocannon that was the design's trademark. As all four designs had the same top speed, it was easy to stay in formation and it wasn't long before their own sensors blared alerts to the signals of hostile units. Coco throttled back and edged closer to Nora's "Swayback" to support it as they held back to use their long-range weapons to hammer the Grimm 'Mechs. Yatsu kept pace with Yang, as her AC/20 was a close-in weapon that would easily make work of the lighter designs ahead of it; even though the large MechWarrior's ride mounted a PPC in each arm, the majority of its loadout was geared towards closer-ranged combat.

Coco locked on to a Grimm Jenner, a bit surprised that a principally Kurita design was in Marik space, and triggered her left arm PPC, the searing bolt of man-made lightning surging forth before slamming into the 35-tonner and shoving it hard even as armor and internals gave way right before the heat and electricity flickered into its SRM ammo bin. The explosion from the light-class 'Mech knocked over another pair of Grimm machines, even as its right side weapon pod spiraled away to slam into the lightly-armored head of a Stinger, killing its pilot immediately. Her right arm PPC spoke right as the Jenner exploded, its bolt tearing into - but not killing - a 40-ton Cicada, which turned towards her and began running at its top speed. It didn't get far before it literally exploded - though the legs kept moving for a few more seconds - as it came into range of Yang's AC/20. Even in pristine condition, a Cicada's armor wouldn't have been able to withstand a single burst from the massive gun. LRMs from Nora slammed into other Grimm 'Mechs, ripping the arm from a Wasp and cratering its chest armor to mere memory. If she stayed true to practice, she'd fire off a couple more salvos before attempting to close to melee range and use the hammer clutched in the right hand of her modified Hunchback. She watched as Yatsuhashi targeted another Cicada with both PPCs and let loose, killing yet another Grimm.

"Where the hell is Salem getting these idiots?" she asked in the confines of her cockpit as Yang moved her 'Mech up to shield the larger Warhammer while it vented the heat from both particle cannons. An indicator on one of her tertiary displays lit up, showing that she was now in range to engage her dorsal-mounted Large Laser. Pivoting the Marauder's torso, she fired the weapon at a Locust, but the scarlet beam only seared and popped armor plates as the lighter machine managed to mostly evade the shot - until a flight of fifteen LRMs slammed into the weakened armor and destroyed it along with some internals. The 25-tonner's reactor shut down, as at least one of the missiles had cracked the reactor shielding badly enough to breach it, which had caused the computer to engage the dampening fields to prevent a reactor failure. A return flight of five missiles slammed into the Hunchback's left torso, indicating that at least one of the 'Mechs - probably a Jenner - had swapped the typical SRM launcher for an LRM system.

And while the Grimm may have been falling even as they attempted to redirect their assault, Coco couldn't the ball of dread that formed in her gut.

*TCD*

Amber fired off a one-two punch from her 80-ton Thug's PPCs, watching as they slammed into the Grimm Hatchetman leading the assault against her lance. It was faster than the Lyran model being produced by Defiance Industries on Hesperus II, as well as lacking the class-10 autocannon the in-fighter design usually carried. The fact that its hatchet was on the left arm rather than the right arm wasn't a major concern. As the 45-ton 'Mech picked itself back up from being knocked down by her strike, she also noted that it seemed a bit better armored than the standard model as well. She readied her torso-mounted SRM-4s, the covers irising open, when a massive force slammed into her 'Mech's back, ripping apart armor that had been razed by repeated strafing attacks by the much lighter and faster Grimm 'Mechs. The brutish-looking 'Mech staggered forward, almost pitching cockpit-first into the ground, before she was able to recover. A subconscious glance at her damage display showed her rear armor virtually gone across the right and center areas, as well as the ammo-feed for her right torso SRM launcher shattered; she was lucky nothing had ricocheted into the ammo bin or the live rounds in the tubes. What shocked her more, though, was the machine that had fired upon her: it was a 60-ton Rifleman whose IFF (Identify Friend-Foe) tag indicated it was one of hers.

"Jaune," she said, stunned. She couldn't believe he would turn on them, even though Salem had done it almost a decade ago. She attempted to turn her 'Mech around, or at least the torso to bring a PPC to bear, but the assault-class 'Mech was moving slow due to the heat build-up from firing both heavy cannons, not that the traitor would give her time. Her rear camera, though certainly not good with resolution, picked up the tell-tale flash of autocannon fire right as the Rifleman's arm-mounted Large Lasers slammed into her rear armor again, followed seconds later by the shots from its AC/5s. With no armor on most of her rear torso, the shots ripped through the internal structure and components, touching off the SRM ammo and cracking the fusion plant's shielding. In one motion, Amber raised her Thug's arms and fired off the PPCs into the Hatchetman ahead of her, while triggering a burst transmission to the Forever Fall that she'd had keyed into her comm array's message buffer ever since they'd landed on Galisteo. The high heat, combined with the exploding missiles in her right torso, detonated the left torso SRMs as well as overloading the reactor. The massive Thug, at the 'light' end of the assault-class range of BattleMechs, essentially vaporized right then, shrapnel scattering across the immediate area and battering Jaune Arc's Rifleman.

Amber's death attracted the attention of the lance's JagerMech, which turned to engage the slightly lighter Rifleman as its pilot realized what had happened. Unfortunately, the other AA-oriented 'Mech had weaker rear armor than the Rifleman and Medium Lasers from multiple Grimm light-class 'Mechs slammed into and through the forged crystalline-steel plating, piercing the autocannon ammo bins before the pilot could eject. That just left the Orion, which - though battered and bruised - was standing its ground, its autocannon and lasers firing and hitting their targets as the SRMs shattered plating. Even its LRM-15 launcher was firing, though engaging targets further away. Jaune, his Rifleman making its slow but steady way to the last Hunter 'Mech, watched as its chest exploded outward, shortly followed by the cockpit as the MechWarrior inside ejected - only to be cut down by a Medium Laser. As the 75-ton BattleMech collapsed, it revealed a heavily modified 55-ton Shadow Hawk behind it. Unlike the standard models - and even field modified variants - this Beowolf Legion Shadow Hawk had dropped a lot of its standard gear to cram an AC/20 into the right torso. The blond attempted to raise the Beowolf Alpha, but had to immediately shut it off as static and warbling burst out of the cockpit speakers.

"What the hell?" he asked, as he knew that there weren't any jamming systems deployed in the area, by either side. His sensors seemed to be having issues as well, flickering between actual readings and possibly false returns but not being able to determine which was which. Then his console indicated an incoming line-of-sight lasercom, and he flicked a switch.

"There weren't supposed to be any jamming assets in this area. Care to explain?" came the voice of the Alpha.

"The Hunters didn't deploy any this far away," he replied. "Only the command lance was to come this way."

"Then there's someone else here. Reinforce our line and get ready." The Shadow Hawk turned away and walked off towards where the battle with Rose Lance was bogging down thanks to the intervention of the Forever Fall and the other two DropShips. Three Grimm 'Mechs - a Panther and a pair of Wolverines - linked up with him.

"The Alpha has detailed us as your lancemates," came a woman's voice from one of the Wolverines.

"Right," Jaune replied. He turned his lumbering 60-ton machine around and checked the status of his autocannon rounds. He was down to about three-fourths of his total load, and his heat level was now edging down into the blue; the Rifleman wasn't good at venting heat, especially if the Large Lasers were repeatedly fired. "Let's locate the source of the jamming and take it out."

*TCD*

"We can't keep this up," Ruby said to herself as she side-stepped a charging Jenner and brought her 'Mech's left arm down onto its side, denting the armor slightly and staggering the lighter 'Mech. Before it could recover, she triggered the left arm's Medium Laser into the 35-tonner's left hip, the emerald beam melting the housing and locking the joint up. She didn't have time to follow up the strike before a blast of charged particles slammed into her Phoenix Hawk, shattering armor as she staggered back. A quick, unaimed shot from her Large Laser was lucky enough to punch through the canopy of the Panther that had hit her. She slapped her comm switch, opening up the unit's frequency. "Everyone fall back to the DropShip!" she ordered.

"Ruby, Coco's lance will need time to rejoin us," Pyrrha pointed out as she bashed in the head of a Cicada with her Dervish's blocky SRM launcher, then fired off some of the last rounds in the one of the opposite arm. The two missiles spiraled out, slamming into a Stinger.

"We won't pull out without them, but we need to begin falling back," she pointed out.

"We can't break away without taking heavy damage," Blake pointed out, using her Spider's speed and jump capacity to avoid taking damage.

"Then we'll give them something else to focus on," she replied, accelerating her P-Hawk to its top speed before anyone could catch on. She'd made seven steps before her commline erupted, but her only response was to order them to fall back before cutting off that system. A Grimm Locust in front of her tried to back pedal, wanting to break away from the apparently mad Phoenix Hawk but didn't get enough distance before she was upon it. A hit from her left fist disoriented the pilot enough for her to work behind the 25-ton scout. Getting a grip on the projecting shoulders, just inside of the dual laser mounts of the LCT-1E, and wrenched it around. A quick stomp ruined one of its leg actuators, and the pilot began panicking as he became aware of the situation. Firing in a panic, the blasts from the Medium and Small Lasers in its 'arms' impacted with its own allies as the crimsonette used it as an impromptu turret. Return fire peppered the lighter 'Mech's hull, as well as the frontal armor of her own 'Mech, though the captured Grimm machine was taking the worst of it. She triggered her right arm's Large Laser, and by pure luck blew out the knee actuator of an opposing Phoenix Hawk.

By now all of the enemy was focused on her, and some of them were trying to dash around to target her weaker rear armor. A noise from her console drew her attention and showed that her sensors had picked up the IFF tags of Hammer Lance at the extreme edge of her maximum range (which was usually set to the effective range of her Large Laser). PPC fire from Coco's Marauder and Yatsu's Warhammer were impacting Grimm 'Mechs, drawing pressure off of her, but there was no sign of Amber's lance. Airborne laser fire fell amongst the enemy, and the two Corsairs attached to the Rangers flew past. Ruby spotted movement out of the corner of her eye and snapped her head around to see, outside of her viewport, the shape of a somewhat heavier Shadow Hawk. Only this one had a much larger cannon on its shoulder than was typical for the design, her sensors showing that not only was the 55-tonner only 150 meters away, but the autocannon was a class-20 - and was aimed right at her.

"Oh, fuck me sideways," she muttered, pivoting her 'Mech and dragging the Locust around. She saw the gun's muzzle erupt in smoke and fire and the next thing she knew her head was bouncing off the headrest of her ejection seat, causing her to bite her tongue as well as see stars. Alarms were blaring all around her, the cockpit's various displays warning of multiple problems, but Ruby couldn't focus on any of it; it was all she could do to stay conscious.

Pyrrha had seen it, though. She had seen the modified Shadow Hawk fire on Ruby and her 'hostage', had seen the 200mm shells rip through and up the Locust, with one ripping through the left arm of her lance leader's 'Mech. She'd seen the light 'Mech's fusion reactor go critical, the explosion throwing Ruby's Phoenix Hawk back hard. She targeted the Grimm BattleMech, the hatches on her LRM-10s opening up, only for her computer to warn her that her missile ammunition was depleted. She was out of range for her arm-mounted Medium Lasers and SRM-2s, which down to two salvos each. And as her Dervish didn't have hand actuators, she couldn't run down and drag the damaged P-Hawk out of the battle zone. Laser blasts impacted against and around the Shadow Hawk, forcing it to step backwards and increasing the distance from Ruby's fallen 'Mech. Pyrrha's sensors showed the two Corsairs banking away, though it was obvious that one of them was intending to come back around for another pass at the Grimm commander. Engaging her 'Mech's jump jets, Pyrrha jetted forward 150 meters and flexed the Dervish's knees as she landed to better absorb the impact and lessen the strain on the hydraulics and actuators. Rising up, she kicked her 'Mech into a run, trying to close the distance with the enemy. Blake and Ren raced past her, the 40-ton Assassin launching off a flight of LRMs at the Shadow Hawk as the two faster 'Mechs closed to engagement range.

Pyrrha was still out of her weapons' range when the Beowolf Alpha was hit by blasts from Particle Projection Cannons, stripping it of armor. The medium-class 'Mech staggered and nearly fell even as its left arm dropped off from melted and burned actuators and myomer. A full lance of Cicadas charged in, Medium and Small Lasers firing at the Hunters in order to drive them away from the Shadow Hawk. Judging the distance, Pyrrha engaged her jump jets and rocketed her Dervish into the air. With a quick burst from her left side jets, she adjusted her course and came down right on top of a Cicada, crushing its cockpit and knocking herself to the ground. Planting her 'Mech's handless arms on the ground, she lifted up her front torso and watched as Coco's lance came in to drive the Grimm from Ruby's fallen Phoenix Hawk while Blake and Ren kept the lighter and faster Grimm BattleMechs from circling around them. As the redhead brought her 'Mech back to its feet, she pondered the absence of the command lance - and the feeling of dread the thought provoked.

*TCD*

Jaune and his Grimm lancemates, along with support from a second lance consisting of a single Panther, a pair of Wasps, and a modified Jenner, were currently in an unexpected firefight. A pair of Locusts bearing markings he was unfamiliar with, along with another bird-like 'Mech that wasn't in his Rifleman's Warbook program, had ambushed the two lances after they'd moved away from the rest of the Legion. While unable to hit as hard as them, the mysterious interlopers were faster than the majority of his machines and the mystery 'Mech's pilot seemed to be of a caliber beyond them. His 60-ton machine's armor was still holding up well, especially as one of the Wolverines was covering his thinly armored rear.

Then the situation seemed to waver as another three 'Mechs approached the battle, two of them unknown but obviously heavy-class designs and the third a lighter but more well known Blackjack. Jaune was surprised, though, when the Blackjack hit him with a pair of Large Laser beams rather than the more familiar AC/2s; then his computer tagged it as a BJ-1DB rather than the more common BJ-1. The two mystery heavies, which bore some resemblance to the Marauder, hit his two lances with a single PPC strike from each as well as a salvo from autocannons of a caliber with the two his Rifleman carried. The two Locusts tag-teamed one of his Wolverines, the concerted attack from their lasers slicing into the 55-ton and piercing its SRM ammunition bin. The resulting explosion sent shrapnel everywhere, with one piece slicing into the leg of the Jenner and giving it a limp. Jaune bracketed one of the Locusts with his autocannons, causing it to pause for a split-second - in which he hit it with his Large Lasers. The light 'Mech's armor melted and ran under the beams, severing its left 'wing' and damaging its reactor shielding. Before he could capitalize on the advantage, his 'Mech was staggered by explosions against his rear armor. A check of his compressed 360-degree tactical display showed the unknown light 'Mech dashing away, and he guessed it was an SRM strike that had pretty much stripped his rear torso of armor. He attempted to rotate his Rifleman's arms 180-degrees to fire into his rear arc, but the other 'Mech was out of the line of fire by the time they came around. He brought them back up and around to the front, but wasn't fast enough to prevent one of the heavies from landing a PPC strike against him.

"Who the hell are these people?" he asked, struggling not to panic. While the Grimm MechWarriors were used to pack tactics and guerilla-style combat, it was obvious that their opponents were more experienced in such fighting and against numerically and weightier opposition. Plus there was whatever equipment or device they had that was interfering with sensors and communications, which further lessened the effectiveness of the Grimm. The ex-Hunter managed to guess that he was down by at least a lance, with the Wolverine and Jenner definitely disabled or destroyed. Twisting his 'Mech's torso to track one of the unknown heavies showed him the prone form of a Panther sans its head, confirming three down. Thanks to whatever jamming was going on, he was unable to get a solid lock on his target and used his blinking crosshares to make a 'best-guess' strike. Both Medium Lasers and only one of his autocannons hit one of the unknown heavies, maring and pockmarking armor plating and causing the heat levels in his cockpit to spike heavily under the draw from the reactor. His target triggered off its own weapons, the emerald beams of a pair of Medium Lasers teaming up with an autocannon burst penetrate armor on his last Wolverine. The medium 'Mech staggered back from the impact and loss of armor, but managed to remain on its feet and retaliated with its own autocannon and laser. A flat bang sounded at the same time as a massive explosion rocked his 'Mech, making it stumble forward and almost pitch to the ground. A quick check showed that his right rear armor was gone, along with his right arm, due to an ammunition explosion. Fortunately, he'd only had one reload left in the bin for that gun, which explained why it wasn't worse. The same birdlike 'Mech darted in front of him, and he snap-fired his Medium Lasers, turning his cockpit into an oven, though it was somewhat worth it as one of the beams seared a line across the lighter 'Mech's torso. His grin faded, though, as it stopped and pivoted to face him, bringing what his sensors said were a pair of Medium Lasers and an SRM launcher in line with his cockpit. With him. The emblem splashed across its beak-like nose was one he'd only seen in his reviews of the Hunters' personnel records. "Son of a-" was all he had time to say, as emerald beams and high explosive missiles converged on his cockpit.

Raven watched without remorse as smoke and fire billowed out of the Rifleman's cockpit, the heavy 'Mech in Hunters combat colors falling to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut. Judging by the fact that they had yet to encounter a Thug, the raven-haired woman knew that her lances were too late to save Amber. Her two Cataphracts double-teamed the remaining Wolverine, their PPCs coring the medium-class BattleMech while Qrow fired his four Medium Lasers into a Panther, one being lucky enough to pierce its reactor and forcing the computer to shut it down (her brother had exchanged both AC/2s and the single ton of ammunition for the two heavy lasers, and 3 additional Heat Sinks - although they weren't enough to dissipate the heat fast enough). Raven thumbed the button on her console that shut of her Raven's EW gear, and flicked her comm three times, the 'pulses' still able to be picked up by the Cataphract-0Xs. Their MechWarriors shut off their own EW equipment, allowing all units in the area uninhibited use of sensors and comms. A quick check of her sensors showed that only a Wasp and a Panther were left of the Grimm 'Mechs, though it wasn't for two much longer as her five lancemates targeted them.

"Shadow and Flash Lances, form up on me," she commanded over the scrambled unit-wide commline. "We need to link up with the Hunters."

"What about the Corvidae?" Qrow asked.

"I'm going to have it link up with us at the Hunters' OZ," she answered. "Then we'll launch with them and provide additional cover to the Jump Point."

"We came in at a Pirate Point, though."

"Shut up, Qrow." Shutting off her comm as her six 'Mechs moved at the speed of the damaged Locust, Raven isolated herself with her thoughts. Engaging the Grimm vehicles, and then those two 'Mech lances, hadn't given her much time for thought. But now that she had nothing to occupy her mind and distract her, her thoughts drifted to her daughters and how she'd pretty much abandoned them when they needed her the most. She didn't believe she deserved another chance, but nevertheless hoped they would at least listen to her before passing judgement. As her birdlike Raven walked its way through the battlefield, she spotted the fallen form of Amber's Thug, mostly intact but its torso blasted open from internal explosions. "Salem and her Grimm have caused us nothing but pain and heartache," she murmured as she moved along, her EW gear deactivated still. "You survived the Betrayal, only to fall at another one. Your killer has been brought to justice, but another still remains. No Grimm shall survive a Hunter's wrath." With that, her pseudo-eulogy was finished and she activated her comm unit.

"Remember," she said, "no sudden movements and keep your targeting systems off; right now they'll be on a hair trigger against unknowns."

"What of the Grimm still between us and them?" one of her lancemates asked.

"They'll be falling back by now. After all, a full battalion of 'Mechs got destroyed or disabled by a company plus us. If anything, they'll need to retreat just to reform for a new assault."

"Should the Corvidae launch the fighters for strafing runs?" Qrow asked.

"Negative," Raven said. "It'll be too time-consuming to recover them for an immediate dust-off; as it is, we'll need to wait for the Fall to recover its fighters before it can blast off."

"This will be an interesting reunion."

"Remember what I said about true but unhelpful comments?"

"Not at all."

"You're an ass, Qrow."

*TCD*

Coco watched as the Grimm fell back, the badly damaged Shadow Hawk leading the way while a lance each of Cicadas and Flamer-equipped Jenners (the Medium Lasers having been moved from the arms to the torsos and the Flamers installed in the arms) acted as a screening force to keep the Hunters back while the main body withdrew. Not that the mercenaries cared at the moment; they were more concerned about Ruby and the missing command lance than chasing down the Beowolf Legion. Velvet's AirLance reported that there was a demi-company of 'Mechs approaching the battlefield, including three unknowns, but none of them had active targeting systems and did not sport Grimm colors. As Amber was unresponsive and MIA (Missing In Action), and Ruby was unconscious in her cockpit, the brunette from the Davion world of Mistral was currently the senior ranking MechWarrior and had requested that Lightning Company deploy its vehicles to assist the Ranger 'Mechs in securing a perimeter for repair and recovery efforts (the limited recovery assets they possessed also deployed). Yang's Hunchback had taken up station next to her sister's prone Phoenix Hawk, torso twisting back and forth as she tracked the retreating Grimm.

"We've got a visual on those 'Mechs the fighters reported," radioed one of Lightning's J. Edgar hover tanks. "What should we do, Lieutenant?"

"Let them approach," Coco said, moving her Marauder in that direction. The 75-ton machine was battered from the recent fighting, it's armor scorched, melted, and pocked. The weapon-pod at the end of its right arm was rent open along the bottom outside portion, the Medium Laser disabled as a result of that (which had come from an alpha strike by a Jenner). A couple of Heat Sinks had also been destroyed, which meant she'd be running even hotter than normal, but she didn't think that would be an issue right now. As she neared the perimeter covered by Demon Lance, she saw that the newcomers had stopped and held their place. As Velvet had said, three of them were decidedly unfamiliar designs. Two of them, obviously in the heavy-class, bore a fairly strong resemblance to her own Marauder, while the third could've been a variant of the two Locusts with it except it had a narrower, more aerodynamic body and sported a missile launcher in the right torso. Painted on its nose, just under the cockpit window, was an emblem that Coco hadn't seen outside of the unit roster: what looked like a clock with a stylized bird wing over and to the left of it.

"Identify yourself," Coco said after activating her 'Mech's external speakers.

"Is that little Coco?" came a voice she hadn't heard in almost a decade. "A lance leader now, that's impressive." There was a sigh. "In response to your challenge, I am Raven Branwen, commanding officer of Murder Company."

"That's reassuring," was her sardonic reply.

"It's a reference to what a group of Terran ravens or crows is called, you dingus."

"What are you doing here?"

"That's a conversation we don't have time for," Raven replied. "I'm not refusing to talk, mind you, but my DropShip is on the way to extract my lances, and the Beowolf Legion has only pulled back to regroup. There's enough time for salvage and recovery, but any repairs will need to be done enroute to the Jump Points."

"We can't pull out until the command lance gets back," Coco replied. There was no reply from the older ex-Hunter, but the silence was heavy and told a lot.

"They aren't coming, kid."

*TCD*

Castle Grimm, Shadow Plains

Epsilon, Stewart Commonwealth

Free Worlds League

10 January 3026

Neo had always been a survivor, as had her partner Roman. While they had grown up on different worlds - Neo had been born on a Davion world that suffered from repeated predations by House Liao, while Roman was from a world on the Kurita border of the Davion realm - their lives had many parallels. And they both had a strong instinct when it came to their survival, usually able to get out when the getting was good. Right now, sitting in the cockpit of her Stinger, Neo wondered if either of them would be able to get out of this. Neither she nor Roman were 'good' people, but they also weren't the monsters they'd seen the Grimm could be. The mission to a Lyran world - whose name they hadn't been told - was a case in point; they'd watched as the raiding force they'd been attached to not only slaughtered the defending House unit and planetary militia, but unarmed civilians as well. Neither her Stinger nor Roman's Phoenix Hawk were outfitted for anti-infantry operations, which was probably what had kept them alive when they hadn't participated in the massacres. They had watched as Grimm 'Mechs equipped with Machine Guns, Flamers, and Inferno-SRMs ran wild through the nearest population center.

Hearing about atrocities is one thing, witnessing them another.

"We need to get out of here," Roman grunted, shifting a bit. The much shorter heterochromatic woman looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "I don't just mean this coffin," he added; normally, the cockpit of the 20-ton Stinger was cramped for MechWarriors, though it wasn't too bad for Neo, but with Roman in there with her so they could talk made it an exceptionally tight fit. She tilted her head to one side.

"No, I don't know how we can do it," he answered. "Salem pretty much owns this world, in spite of it supposedly belonging to House Marik, which means the Drop Port is heavily monitored."

Neo drew her finger across her throat.

"Yeah, I know we'll end up being dead either way, considering that witch's penchant for killing her own forces," he agreed, "but I'd like to live longer than the time it'd take to get from here to the Drop Port perimeter."

"Perhaps I can help with that," came a voice from the cockpit hatch. Snapping their heads over, the two of them saw Salem's chief lieutenant, Cinder Fall, standing there and felt themselves go cold with dread. "Oh, don't look like that. I may have been one of the original members of Salem's Grimm, but that doesn't mean I'm fanatical, nor blind to her actions."

"What are you saying?" the ginger asked, discretely letting a hand fall to the laser pistol holstered at his side.

"I'm saying that I'm not blind to what Salem's doing, what she's becoming. She doesn't tolerate failure, and all three of us know what usually happens to those who fail her."

Neo looked at her, her mismatched eyes seeming to switch colors.

"I've had my doubts about her over the past year, and especially in the last few months," Cinder replied. "I'm not one to quibble over civilian casualties, but killing them as the main purpose?" She shrugged. "Not my style. In three days, an independent trader will be touching down at Epsilon's main Drop Port. It's a Union-class, so there will be plenty of space for a few 'Mechs. Especially as it still has a few 'Mech bays installed."

"How do you know all of that?" Roman asked, highly suspicious.

"I set it up to get out of here myself," she replied bluntly. "As well as Emerald and Mercury. Having our 'Mechs would be a quick way to generate some C-bills to get us started, which is why I needed this DropShip. There's enough space for the two of you, as well. I don't intend to rejoin the Hunters, and I doubt they'd let me back, but I don't intend to become Dispossessed."

Neo looked at Roman and hunched a shoulder.

"We don't really have a choice if we want to get out of here," he reluctantly agreed. "You know Salem won't just let us go."

"I know," Cinder said with a nod. "It'll be a running battle up to the spaceport, although I don't think Salem would risk going that far since she needs House Marik to believe she works for them. The local militia doesn't like or trust her - or us, really - but their heaviest BattleMechs are a pair of Whitworths and a couple of UrbanMechs."

"Definitely not much help, then."

"Three days, you two," she reminded them, pulling her head out of the light 'Mech's cockpit and climbing down the aclove's ladder. She knew it was a risk, telling those two of her plans, but overhearing them talking about splitting away had decided her; she was rather fond of Neo, much to Emerald's dismay, and didn't want the younger woman to suffer the fate of those who crossed the 'Grimm Queen'.

Roman followed shortly after Cinder, making sure to check for anyone else in the 'Mech Bay before leaving himself. Neo, though, remained behind in her cockpit to lock down the controls and computer. She also picked up the eROM chip Cinder had left behind, which Roman hadn't noticed. The word 'Goodwitch' had been written on it, so the pink/brown-haired woman knew it wasn't meant for her. She didn't know who this 'Goodwitch' person was, but suspected she'd know when it was time.

E/N: I am sorry it took me so long to update this, but I'd hit a bump and - in the process of taking time off from it to get past it - ended up forgetting about it until a week ago. I didn't want to lose the muse, so I took my time in working on this chapter, and I have to say I like what I've done.

Next Time, On Rose's Rangers: To Catch a Dream…...

The escape from Galisteo has some surprising events for the Rangers, decisions are made, and the 'Fall Faction' makes its bid for freedom.