Galaport, Galatea

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

18 June 3077

"Hey, your unit the one that killed the Bionic Witch?"

Jeremiah spun on his bar stool to see who had addressed him. At the door stood a man in a disheveled Com Guard uniform; he appeared to be about one hundred sixty centimeters tall and less than seventy kilos in weight; neatly parted, medium-length brown hair and hazel eyes made him even more average. "Why would you be asking?"

Stepping over to the bar counter right next to the mercenary colonel, the Comstar man stated, "I'm looking for a job."

Righteous Ascent's commander sputtered the fusionnare he had been taking a sip of. "Run that by me again?"

"I'm looking for a job."

"Don't you have one with your fellow Guardsmen?"

"Not anymore. My unit was eliminated."

Seron scoffed. "Join the club." He took another swig of his drink, emptying it, and called for a simple, weaker beer.

"Andrew Benavidas."

"Pleased to meet you."

"I own a warship."

For the second time, Jeremiah nearly choked on his drink. "You what?"

Andrew nodded. "A refitted Du Shi Wang and two Excalibur-class pocket warships, modified to carry men and materiel."

"You're hired. Whatever salary you want, you've got it."

"Revenge on the gods-damned Blakists is all the salary I'll need."

"Well, revenge won't pay your bills, so I'll give you and your crews twenty percent of every contract we get. Fair enough?"

"Fair enough."

"'Course, we aren't going on a contract just yet. The next mission I have lined up is a pure revenge mission. I'll brief everyone at the same time. By the way, do you have any personnel who can work an HPG unit?"

"Most of us are cross-trained in that respect."

"Good. Follow me." Jeremiah tossed a few C-Bills onto the bar and walked out, Andrew following.

"Our target is what?" one of the new warriors of Righteous Ascent, a former Wolf's Dragoon, asked incredulously.

"The capitol and Research and Development Center of the Word of Blake's 'hidden' worlds, Casa."

"And, we're not even getting paid for this?"

"Don't worry. You'll still get paid. Just not as much as usual. And, because we aren't bound to a contract, we have full salvage rights. Whatever we can haul off is ours."

"Okay. That's good news. Now, what might that salvage consist of?"

"The remnants of an entire Division, the Tenth."

"A second-line unit. Well, it's better than nothing."

"And, we'll also get whatever tech the Blakists are developing there."

Evil grins spread throughout the merc unit.

Zenith Jump Point, Galatea

Skye Province

Lyran Alliance

20 June 3077

"There she is, Colonel. I haven't decided on a new name for her, yet," Andrew stated as he pointed out through the forward view screen of the Excalibur that Righteous Ascent's Alpha Battalion had been loaded on at the ancient battleship keeping station at the jump point.

Colonel Biddix looked out and examined the massive space-faring vessel. "From what I know of the Du Shi Wangs, I can see that you restored the original complement of Naval Lasers and PPCs, but…are those Naval Gauss Rifles?"

"Yes, sir. Heavies, ten of them. Four on each side and two on the nose."

"Ouch. I've seen what those weapons could do during the Civil War. Ten of them." The older man whistled.

"And each is fed from its own twenty-round rotary ammunition bin, similar to a revolver. I also added an additional grav deck, replaced the engines, doubled the number of lifeboats and escape pods, and upgraded the armor, lasers, and heat sinks. However, that came at the cost of cargo capacity, which has been reduced to 59,839 tons."

"Still a hefty amount."

"I guess." The familiar clang of the dropship hooking into its docking collar rang through the ship. "Let's see the inside, shall we?"

"After you, Commodore."

"Commodore? I like that." By the time the two officers arrived at the docking collar, the airlock hatch finished cycling the different atmospheres on both sides and slid open with a whisper. "Follow me."

The former Comguard naval officer proceeded to give the mercenary colonel a tour of his ship. The mechwarrior was most impressed by the improvements in the living quarters in the ancient battleship. "You know, I think someone could live very well here. I would be honored if this was my command ship for this campaign against the Word of Blake."

"Thank you, Colonel."

"Pirate" Jump Point, twelve thousand kilometers from planet designate "Casa"

System Unknown

Chaos March

Word of Blake Protectorate

4 October 3077

One moment, the space between the fourth and fifth planets was empty. The next, a nine-hundred-thousand-ton starship filled that space.

"We are on target, sir," the lead Navigation officer announced.

"Good to hear, Commander," Andrew replied. "Sensor Ops?"

"Near as I can tell, orbital planetary defenses consist of a few Battlesats with aerospace fighter and dropship support. As expected, the Blakists noticed our arrival. I mark two Essex destroyers and one Congress frigate on an intercept course, with their full dropship and fighter complements deployed. Aerospace fighters are confirmed as various Spectrals while the dropships are a mix of Titans, Pentagons, and Leopard PWs."

"Angel Flight and Excaliburs deploy. Concentrate fire on the Leopards. Gun Boss, the Congress is your primary target. Kill it before it can get in range. Hit those destroyers only if you have the spare firepower."

"Missile launches detected. I mark four Killer Whales, four Barracudas and two White sharks. Three minutes to impact."

"Excaliburs, concentrate your fire on those missiles. Gun Boss, do the same with the forward PPC battery."

"Yes sir. Generating firing solutions. Firing in ten."

While the Excaliburs concentrated on the lighter, and less armored, White Sharks and Barracudas, the four Heavy Naval PPCs mounted on the nose of the Du Shi Wang lashed out at the Killer Whales; one of them slashed two missiles at the same time, while another missed entirely.

The Excaliburs also lashed out at their opposing dropships before pulling off and doubling back toward the Templar Knight. The four Krakens they launched all plowed into the nose of one of the two Pentagons. Under the combined assault, the fast-assault dropship faltered, shuddered, and finally collapsed in on itself.

"Two Barracudas and one White Shark still inbound. Brace for impact in four-zero seconds."

"Helm, down fifty-five, starboard twenty."

"Down fifty-five, starboard twenty, aye, sir." The ship appeared to lurch as the massive inter-planetary engines engaged to push the ancient ship through the tight turn. However, the desperate maneuver worked…mostly. The remaining White Shark sailed over the hull with scant tens of meters to spare. The two Barracudas tore decent divots in the armor.

"Level out, port twenty. Take it slow. Gun Boss, slam those Gausses into that Congress. Try not to hit the bridge."

"You got it, sir." Soon came the double-clang of the two massive forward gauss cannons accelerating the half-ton nickel-iron spheres down their barrels to become a ship-killing payload. One slug skittered off of the side of the Congress's nose, digging a massive trough in the frontal armor. The other cored straight into the launch tube of the Killer Whale missile launcher. Unfortunately, the slug hit the currently loaded missile, which detonated and triggered sympathetic detonations in the magazines for the NACs and the remaining missiles. In less than a minute, the frigate was torn completely apart.

"Helmsman, set up a broadside against those Essexes."

"No need. The dropships are pulling off and I'm reading K-F drive power spikes in both of those destroyers."

"Understood. As soon as they jump, set us up in low orbit to provide covering fire to our ground forces. Excaliburs, your path is clear."

"Roger that, Commodore. Beginning our drop run."

Dropship Faithful Squire

Inbound Planet Designate "Casa," System Unidentified

Chaos March

Word of Blake Protectorate

5 October 3077

"Touchdown in five minutes. They're scattered, but they'll regroup pretty quickly."

"Roger that." For the second mission since he had gotten it, Jeremiah climbed up the chain ladder leading to the Oni's cockpit. His climb was a little easier than normal due to the fact that Andrew had brought a new piece of Star League lostech that had only recently been rediscovered: the mechwarrior cooling suit. When he got up into the cockpit, he sat down and plugged the coolant hose that came up from beside the command chair into the suit and settled the still-bulky neurohelmet onto the padded collar of the suit. After plugging the suit's sensor cables into the helmet, the colonel flipped the lever that brought the massive Vlar engine rumbling to life. "Diagnostics," he ordered the computer as he activated the retraction unit for the ladder and buckled the five-point harness.

"Weapons…online. Sensors…online. All systems nominal. Please state your access phrase."

"Live bravely; die hard."

"Welcome, Colonel."

"All right, Avengers," he began, using the nickname the unit had decided on. "When we land planet-side, the Blakists will do all they can to stop us from razing this facility to the ground, but we will have to clear them from our path. Saddle up and give them a display of wrath worthy of General Aleksandr Kerensky when he struck down Amaris the Usurper."

"Hoo-ah, Colonel. Clear out those 'Mechs and we'll clear out the complex," rang a voice the Colonel was surprised to hear.

"Charles? Why aren't you in your Wolfhound?"

"Someone had to test out the second class of our unique battlearmors in full-on live-fire combat conditions."

Jeremiah sighed. "Great," he muttered, too low for his mic to pick up. Before he could muse further on the subject, the dropship thudded against the ground. Though he could neither see nor hear it, he knew that the second Excalibur, Pilgrims' Guard, was touching down less than half a klick away. The instant the 'Mech bay doors of the Faithful Squire opened, he set the Oni into a stately walk at a speed of thirty-two kilometers per hour and led his battalion out onto the dusty plateau that the Blakists had built their base on.

The ground, which had been turned into glass in some places by the fusillade of naval lasers the Templar Knight had bombarded the surface with, crunched under the hundred-ton step of the Oni. His first victim was a Tempest that had only been "grazed" by the massive lasers: its left arm was gone and its left torso heavily damaged. A PPC and plasma bolt snuffed out the extra-light engine. He followed that up by beheading a Falcon Hawk with his retractable blade.

As other Blakist 'Mechs began to gather their wits and attempt to stand against the oncoming battalions, most became wreathed in explosions as Eric Kensington's Salamanders unleashed a hail of Swarm LRMs, a hundred and eighty in all. What few were left standing were then cut down by the combined firepower of the remaining sixty-six 'Mechs of Righteous Ascent. The Cobra VTOLs (which now numbered a dozen) and the newly formed and incorporated Rolling Thunder armor unit (four wheeled tanks, four tracked Omnitanks, and four additional VTOLs, two Crow scouts and two heavily modified Peregrines) added their firepower to the fight.

In minutes, the Blakist division lay in ruins. "All right, Charlie. Your path is clear. Tell us what you find inside," Jeremiah stated as he watched the twelve Cobras fly toward different parts of the facility, each disgorging a full platoon of battlearmor. "Good luck, all of you," he whispered.

Major Charles Pinter stepped slowly through the facility, keeping an eye on both his sensor readout and his surroundings. In the half-light, he thought he saw a slight movement near the corner he was approaching. Instinctively, both his armor's recoilless rifle and the shotgun mounted in the anti-personnel weapon slot were quickly trained on the location he estimated that the hostile's torso would be, and he began side-stepping to keep the possible ambusher as far away as possible; the last thing he needed was a vibroblade in the gut. Soon enough, he was proven right as a Robe soldier wearing Tornado armor charged at him with a vibrosword humming dangerously.

The mini-rocket blasted open a hole in the enemy trooper's armor, which was followed by the close spread of pellets from the shotgun; the poor sod never stood a chance. Rounding the corner, the Major came upon a heavy ferro-aluminum door. Fortunately, he had about twenty kilos of C8 explosives left in the cargo slot of his armor. One kilogram applied to each hinge sent the door clanging to the ground.

Behind the door was a line of ten cells, five on each side of a short hallway. Only a couple of them were occupied. On one side was a Mechwarrior, modified with certain Manei Domini implants. On the other side was a pair of warriors that made him start. "You're Elementals!"

"Yes, mercenary surat. We are."

Pinter took off his helmet and slashed the locks with his suit's vibroblade. Opening the doors he asked, "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Guess," one of the foot-soldiers stated, gesturing to her fellow infantrywoman. What Charles saw made him blanch a little. The other Elemental appeared to have practically every Domini tech that existed installed in her body from prosthetic eyes to dermal plating in the chest to myomer-enhanced prosthetics replacing her legs and arms.

"They were trying to fuse Manei Domini enhancements with Clan eugenics?"

"Indeed. And it appears the three of us were the only ones who survived the dishonorable procedure."

"Would you like to join us and get revenge for your fellow Clanners' wasteful deaths?"

The less-tampered-with of the Elementals considered the offer for a moment before replying, "While warriors who would sell their skills to the highest bidder are normally beneath me in honor, the Word of Blake are no better than the Dark Caste and my rage and my honor demand that I find a way to destroy the savashri. Besides, I would be relegated to a solahma unit were I to return to Clan space, and Aeranna would be shunned as something less than human due to the tampering to her body. I will join you. I am River Tan."

"Wherever my sibkin's honor leads, mine follows," Aeranna added.

"I will leave, while there is still some honor attached to my name!" the mechwarrior stated as his refusal.

The mercenary introduced himself and began leading the way out of the facility.

"Commodore? You may want to see this," former Demi-Precentor, now Captain Allison Kierdon, now Benavidas' first mate, stated.

"What is it, Ally?"

"Take a look."

Through the viewport was what appeared to be a wrecked shipyard with the framework of a single warship, also wrecked, moored in place. It was colossal in size, easily longer than a McKenna. The only visible internal structures were a massive barrel that appeared to be over half a kilometer in length and the equally gigantic Kearny-Fuchida drive mounting. "Mother of God. What is that?"

Shaking her head, Allison replied, "I wish I knew."

Andrew pondered for a moment, and then he ordered, "Get some salvage crews out there. I want to know everything about that ship and, more importantly, if there were any more of its class constructed."

Hours Later

"We pulled these out of the shipyard's main computer. They're stills from some simulated combats. The Blakists couldn't wipe everything," Major Aaron Kering stated as he spread a few photos across the main conference table on the Templar Knight's bridge.

They depicted a massive warship the likes of which was theretofore unknown in the Inner Sphere. After nearly a minute of study, Colonel Biddix noted, "Wait. These are two different vessels."

"How can you tell?" the commodore asked.

He tapped the prow of the pictured vessel. "There are minor differences. The size of the main gun, the exact placement of the secondary weapons…"

"He's right," Kierdon concurred.

Kering nodded his head sadly. "Indeed." He tapped the warship with the smaller weapon barrel. "This one was notated in the logs as the Golden Rain, and the other was to be christened Blake's Guiding Light. What little we could find makes it seem as if the Rain was completed, while the Light was the wrecked frame we found in the 'yard."

The colonel pondered for a moment, and then stated, "Commodore, I think we should keep this information on file, just in case we run into either this ship class or Stone's coalition forces. I'd wager that they'd want to know about it. In the meantime, I have a message I'd like delivered to Gibson and Terra using the HPG here."

"What is it?"

"'Your men are obsolete.'"