Space became littered with mechs and debris. Over a stretch of tens to hundreds of thousands of kilometers, the trail of wrecks unceasingly grew as the battle raged on. The death toll grew as well, particularly on the side of the Caged Masters.
The lethality of melee weapons surpassed the deadliness of rifle weapons. Laser weapons especially harvested the least lives as mech pilots were usually able to eject in time.
When faced with swords or daggers, a single well-placed hit could easily pierce through mech armor meant to withstand hardy kinetic rounds. The Vandal Inheritor mech pilots might not be the best representatives of their mech regiment, but their rigorous training and discipline quickly pulled them through.
While the rifleman mechs of the Caged managed to survive up to now with the help of their miniboosters, their less sophisticated cousins didn't fare so well. The genetic aptitude of many mech pilots of the Caged was rather poor. Putting them in humanoid mechs was a waste, so they piloted frontline mechs instead.
These cheap, disposable machines incorporated miniboosters as well, but their mech pilots weren't skilled enough to evade the determined Inheritor mechs. The Vandal skirmishers soon figured out the evasion pattern of the frontline mechs, and teamed up to place another teammate in the direction of the automatic activation of the miniboosters.
The frontline mechs fell in quick succession. The rifleman mechs of the Caged moved to rescue their brethren, but before they could move to help, the rest of the Vandal spaceborn mechs arrived.
"Hellcats! Get right up in their face!"
The Inheritor mechs weren't meant to destroy the mechs of the Caged on their own. Their primary goal was to entangle the enemy ranged mechs and force them to slow down in their flight. This granted the Vandal medium mechs the opportunity to catch up to the battle.
The Hellcat hybrid space knights made their presence known, leading a formation of many different Vesian mech models into the fray!
"Commence Chosen Shock Charge!"
Missiles darted out from their shoulder launchers, each of them forcing the Caged mechs into a defensive posture.
Once the Hellcats neared the rifleman mechs, they fired their wrist-mounted nail drivers instead. The agile Caged mechs mostly managed to dodge the short-ranged projectiles, but the ones that got hit suffered a severe piercing blow that punched right through their fragile armor.
The Caged mechs only had a couple of seconds left before the Hellcat mechs all slammed their shields into their disoriented frames! Though the Vandals wasn't able to field the Hellcat mechs in great numbers, their courageous charge had a disproportionate impact on their targets! Each mech they slammed into suffered an enormous amount of concussive damage.
With their frontal armor crunched and their mech pilots jarred from the shock, the vulnerable rifleman mechs couldn't do anything as the Hellcat mechs delivered the coup-de-grace with their swords.
Now that they caught up, the main force of the Flagrant Vandals finally unleashed their full might!
With the arrival of the Vandal prestige mechs, the battle instantly took a turn for the worse to the Caged. The predominantly ranged force had no hope of fending off the melee mechs of the Vandals. With the swift and agile Inheritors cutting off their escape routes, the Hellcats and the other Vandal medium mechs formed into pre-arranged formations and came at the disheveled gang mechs with unstoppable force.
"Double Chevron Assault!"
Mech squads formed into double-ranked chevrons and slammed into the Caged mechs. If the first impact didn't finish them off, the follow-up attacks guaranteed the kills. With the use of this formation, the disparity between the two forces widened! The Caged could never match the coordination of the Flagrant Vandals!
"Retreat!" Sub-boss Scornburned finally ordered. "The Flagrant Vandals can't be overcome! Let us depart!"
Ordinarily, the mech pilots of the Caged would never retreat so easily. Roppongans took their honor very seriously. Yet they had already started sliding into defeat ever since the Inheritor mechs caught up to them. The sudden shock attacks by the Hellcat mechs had tipped over their courage, causing them to waver just enough for the sub-boss to recognize the moment.
They had to retreat! As ignoble as it sounded, it was better than to perish against a foe they could never hope to defeat!
The mech pilots of the Caged had lost their nerve and flew their mechs back to their carriers as swiftly as possible. The Inheritors followed them but kept their distance. Their presence was meant to pressure the Caged and prevent them from regaining their courage.
The Hellcats and the other medium mechs turned to the mechs of the Masters of Combat. The Misty Slasher mechs started to run out of steam. While their berserk fighting methods might have been a recipe for success in the frontier, the Masters of Combat was made up entirely of seasoned veterans and elite mercenaries.
The Vandals needed to save the Swordmaidens from their own blunder!
"The battle is over now." Ves declared to himself. Even though they hit a couple of snags, they still managed to achieve the expected result. "It feels good to be on the superior side for once."
Still, the Vandals didin't let down their guards. They expected the Caged to crumble early, but they expected more from the Masters of Combat. Even now, their Nyven Skrats still managed to withstand the offensive. Now that the Vandal medium mechs had entered the fray, their situation became increasingly dire. If they still held back a trump card, then now would be the final time to put it into play.
Major Verle turned to Ves. "Those enhanced sensor arrays you produced. How much do you trust them?"
"With my life, sir. They might not be able to pick up anything fancy from the Friday Coalition of the Hexadric Hegemony, but at our level it's more than enough."
"Good. Initiate full active scanning! I want those sensors and detectors pumped up to the highest power!"
Not every Inheritor had raced ahead to tackle the Caged mechs. The Vandals held at least a company of Inheritors, half of which bore the crucial sensor upgrades. They formed the main line of defense against any threats that attempted to sneak up to their ships.
Upon the major's command, a series of scanning arrays popped up from the heads of the light mechs. A powerful pulse of energy surged from the arrays. Within a range of thousands of kilometers, the entire space around the Flagrant Swordmaiden fleet rippled with invisible waves.
Nothing became visible, but that didn't mean nothing was there!
"We've detected several anomalous signals to the rear of our ship! Range, two-hundred kilometers!"
"Akkara mechs, open fire at the suspect coordinates!"
The heavy mechs entrenched in the bunkers of the Shield of Hispania and the other Vandals ships all erupted their heavy cannons in the direction of the anomalous readings. Hundreds of laser beams and physical rounds saturated the region.
Within a spread of tens of kilometers, one explosive shell hit something other than empty space. A stealthed objected immediately lost its transparent visage and became visible to the naked eye!
"It's a stealthed boarding shuttle!"
The explosive shell had ripped through the thinly-armored shuttle, blasting apart its entire frontal section! The continuous volleys of the Akkara mechs soon hit other stealthed shuttles.
By the time the heavy artillery mechs fired ten volleys in quick succession, the entire area around the first shuttle became riddled with pieces of shuttle wreckage!
"What is the result?"
"Sir, our Akkara mechs have taken out seven stealthed shuttles in total! There are no survivors!"
The Vandals in the command center grinned when they heard how many precious stealth shuttles they destroyed. These high-tech toys cost a pretty penny to produce. Ever since the Flagrant Vandals aimed at the Masters of Combat, they did not believe a word about their inability to acquire stealth tech on their own.
"The Masters of Combat are made out of elite veteran Venidsan mech pilots. If any mercenary company has access to stealth tech, then they should be at the front of the list!"
Ever since Ves returned to the fleet, his trauma against stealth technology had compelled him to hit the books. He crammed through several books on anti-stealth tech. He still retained his position as head designer, so much of the knowledge library of the Mech Corps was open to him. Though the central database prohibited the dissemination of knowledge on stealth tech, books on how to counter them was readily available.
"Though I only had a day to read through a couple of books, that is more than enough to install some upgraded sensors on a handful of light mechs."
His paranoia paid off. The Venidsan mercenary corps had indeed planned to perform a fatal strike from stealth! Ves couldn't even imagine the damage the invisible shuttles could unleash to the unsuspecting Vandals.
Catching them off-guard and shooting them down before they could run or close the distance was the best outcome possible!
Ves softly laughed as nothing remained of the expensive shuttle and their well-trained boarding parties. The sensor readings could barely pick up the minute pieces of rubble. He enjoyed getting the better out of sneaky bastards attempting to ruin his life.
"It feels good to catch these Venidsan mice. I should make these sensor upgrades more prevalent among the Inheritor mechs."
The only reason why he couldn't upgrade all of the light skirmishers was because it was a fairly expensive upgrade. Ves had made a conscious decision as head designer to deviate from Professor Velten's standard design templates. Though he could justify his decision if it only affected a small portion of the Vandal mechs, if he insisted on making it a standard feature, then he would violate a bunch of rules, the most important of which was budget stipulations.
"If five million extra credits per mech allows me to sleep better at night, what does it matter?"
This didn't sound like a lot, but it increased the costs associated with the Inheritor mechs by twenty-five percent. The powerful sensor arrays were also very delicate, requiring frequent servicing in order to keep them functioning at their optimum states.
"It's not economical to arm a hundred Inheritors with this upgrade."
The Inheritors were meant to be cheap and disposable. Turning them all into expensive detection platforms was a step too far to the Vandals.
"Keep sweeping our perimeter with active scans. I don't want any space rock left unturned!"
Though a follow-up attack seemed unlikely, the Vandals did not mind wasting their energy on continuous scans.
The mech battle up ahead entered into the final stage. The Masters of Combat had been holding out hope that their stealth shuttles were able to turn the tide of the battle. Now that the Vandals wiped them all out before they could complete their missions, the Venidsan mercenaries had nothing left to throw at the Vandals!
Nonetheless, the Vesians stoically kept fighting even as the Vandal mechs took over from the exhausted Misty Slashers. While the Swordmaidens recalled their mechs, the Masters of Combat began to buckle.
Their multipurpose space knights endured a lot of hits, but their lack of mobility became their downfall. In front of the coordinated might of the Vandals, they were unable to move and had to force themselves into a spherical formation with every mech facing outwards. While this prevented the Vandals from striking at their rear, the relatively rigid formation fared very poorly against ranged bombardments.
The Vandal ships soon entered into firing range. The Akkara mechs unleashed volley after volley of heavy firepower. The Nyven Skrats didn't last. The continuous outpouring of laser cannon beams and high-explosive shells shredded their thick tower shields and pounded their frames until they broke up into pieces.
The Vandals didn't ask for surrender, and to their credit the Vesian mech pilots didn't ask for any. There could be no reconciliation between Brighters and Vesians, especially when the stakes were so high. They did not fight on behalf of their states right now. All of their decisions were being influenced by the players in the shadow.
"Sweep the battlefield and prepare to catch up to their ships." Major Verle commanded. "Tell Commander Lydia to pursue their combat fleet. Their escort mechs shouldn't be a hindrance to them. Make sure she understands to take the flagship intact. Inform Captain Rakeshir to separate from the Swordmaiden fleet in order to pursue the support ships. If we hurry up now, we might be able to catch up to them before they transition into FTL."
The Flagrant Swordmaidens managed to secure their first victory ever since they joined forces! Though everyone was already salivating about the spoils, not everyone seemed pleased by the outcome.