The Long Gauntlet
The unexpected strike and detonation of the 5th Hussars’ largest ammo depots left the unit completely in disarray. Convinced that the strike had only been a prelude for an imminent assault, all scouting troops were set to watching over any and all routes for an attack that would never come. By the time word had reached the 5th of Blackthornes deception, any attempt to keep the last elements of their force from reaching space had been lost.
Once more tactically embarrassed by the Blackthornes, the 5th’s commander ordered their remaining aerial support to follow the group, while ground forces stages a takeover of the abandoned base to claim for their own in order to salvage some face in light of the situation. Over the next several hours, the two Leopard-class dropships were constantly and aggressively hounded as they made their way toward the rendezvous point. While able to hold the air before, the aerospace pilots’ inexperience in space showed all too well. By the time the convoy reached its destination, only 2 of the 6 fighters remained, reducing the Rooks total force to half its original strength.
Despite the losses, the Hussars never pressed their advantage. While hardly unscathed, they maintained numerical superiority yet there are no records of any push made to cut the Blackthornes off. It is entirely possible the commander intended to run them to ground, or use them to track where the larger Union and Overlord ships had fled, but this too is never made clear. What is clear is that the final hours of the chase quickly dissolved into utter chaos as the ships neared a debris field. Known to few, the debris field was actually a marker for a pirate jump point that occasionally opened up in the area. It was also the exact place that the now-forgotten Lyran Strike force had been holding out, waiting for a pickup from one of the main fleet’s jumpships. In a gesture of either brilliance or desperation, the two Leopard Dropships put themselves right into the middle of this nest, braving the firepower from both sides, in order to draw the Hussars back into conflict with the more numerous and better armed Lyrans. The tactic took its toll, damaging both ships heavily, but it succeeded in turning a chase into a melee. Amid this three-way fight, a jumpship did push its way into the field, but not via jump.
The ancient Blackthornes' Star Lord-class ship, the Torannchless, now fully armed and manned with the power of a Union and Overlord in addition to its two fixed Confederate Dropships would make itself known, quickly carving out a space about itself as well as securing the final routes for the last of its small fleet to dock. Unfortunately, the Cait Sith proved too far gone, the crew barely managing to escape before the ship began to tear itself apart. The Gae Bolga had also suffered significant damage, but with the assistance of the last of the Rooks, it was able to safely dock with the jumpship as the fighting slowed to its end. The Lyrans had realized the unlikelihood of any ship making it to them in time, and had begun its surrender to the Hussars. Against all odds, the jumpship managed to avoid any new critical damage during the assault and recover, making its first jump in more than two hundred years.