Ves laughed in triumph as he returned with his prize. He did it! He managed to seek out Venerable Fontain's spiritual presence within the imaginary realm and abscond with a portion of his personal spiritual energy!
The success of this imaginary excursion confirmed several theories that Ves developed about spirituality and its connection to the imaginary realm. There was a lot of potential here. His unique awareness and perception of spirituality allowed him to interact with it in ways completely novel to those who were blind to its existence!
He quickly stifled his laughter and tried to regain his composure. It wouldn't do to attract too much attention from the monitoring system, especially after inflicting major harm to Venerable Fontain!
Since spirituality seems to play a key role in empowering expert pilots, and losing a small chunk of it would certainly be felt by them! Ves expected that his actions would lead to severe consequences for Venerable Fontain, and none of it would be good!
Above all else, Ves could not afford to be connected to the crime!
Therefore, the next day, Ves tried his best to shake off his exhaustion and spiritual weariness and pretended to work on his upcoming mech design.
He browsed through NORA Consolidated's vast library of component licenses which Professor Ventag generally gave him access to at some point. He wanted to familiarize himself with the options at his disposal and the limitations he needed to take into account when he began to work on his upcoming draft design.
Just as the morning shift progressed, an alert sounded from the hatch to his quarters. It opened up barely a second later. A squad of guards hailing from the Spiral Shockers quickly entered. Some of them carried weapons while others held scanners.
Ves stood up and pretended to be surprised. "Gentlemen, what seems to be the problem?"
"Please stay still while we inspect your quarters. We have reason to suspect that intruders may have infiltrated the escort fleet."
"Are we in danger?"
"We have already found one major instance of sabotage." The guard officer replied. "In light of this egregious sneak attack, we are scouring every single corner of our ships. For the duration of our return journey, we will remain in yellow alert. I highly suggest for you to remain within your quarters for the duration of this emergency. We don't want anything happening to you, Mr. Larkinson."
Ves nodded graciously. "Understood. I won't get in your way."
He hoped that the guards didn't detect anything strange about the cold sweat pouring down his back. For some reason, what he just did last night spooked the Spiral Shockers into thinking that Venerable Fontain suffered a deliberate attack!
His actions single-handedly threw the entire escort fleet into disarray!
Fortunately, it didn't appear that they thought that Ves had anything to do with the attack. After five minutes of fruitless searching, the guards quickly left his quarters, shutting the hatch as they departed.
Outwardly Ves looked mildly concerned. Inwardly, he sighed in relief. Nothing about the behavior of the guards suggested that they kept up their guard against him. They were just searching his quarters as ordered, not expecting to find anything incriminating.
Ves tried to keep the grin off his face as he became more and more reassured that no one connected the incident back to him. While he was very curious how exactly Venerable Fontain suffered from the breach of his mental fortification and the theft of some of his spiritual energy, he didn't possess the requisite authority to make any inquiries.
It was already suspicious enough that he asked to obtain Venerable Fontain's record.
"I should let sleeping dogs lie."
He already got what he wanted, so to involve himself further would only invite more suspicion on him. Instead, he continued to pretend that he was studying something on his terminal while he focused the majority of his concentration into his own mind.
Qilanxo's spiritual fragment occupied the majority of his mental space. Even at rest, it continued to exert a substantial influence on his mind.
His mind slowly firmed up and got used to the pain. Yet that did not make it any less dangerous. He still felt as if a powerful bomb had nestled deep inside of him. Even if the fragment was remarkably well-behaved, its mere presence alone represented a substantial risk to his mental health!
Sitting in the far side of his mental space rested another image. The pale image of a space knight that served as the base model did not possess any intrinsic spirituality. It only carried as much as Ves had been able to bestow on it. He now realized that this process was rather weak and unrefined.
"I can only animate an image to the extent I understand its life."
It was beyond his means to totally reproduce the entire life of a complete image. He had the best chance of doing so with mechs, but at this stage he lacked the knowledge, experience and direction to animate the image of a mech to the fullest extent.
"I should develop another technique that can address this shortcoming one day."
Right now, the base model wasn't too important so Ves left it be. He turned his mental concentration to the only other spiritual fragment in his spiritual domain.
Fontain's spiritual fragment looked a lot smaller and weaker than the one he received from Qilanxo. It made sense as the Sacred God was comparable to an ace pilot while Venerable Fontain was only an expert pilot.
Ves also hadn't managed to steal a lot of spiritual energy in his last excursion into the imaginary realm. While he couldn't quantify how much spiritual energy he absconded with, he figured it wasn't very much.
He made some estimations based on the relative size and proportion between the balls of gas and the huge size of Fontain's mental fortification.Ves concluded that he may have only nabbed less than a single percent of the expert pilot's total spiritual energy at most.
Tiny as it was, the spiritual fragment carried Venerable Fontain's imprint, and that turned it into a valuable resource for his current design project. With this fragment along with what he learned from the expert pilot's record, Ves would be able to repurpose it into the finest human myth he had ever conceived!
Right now, Ves was at the cusp of shaping the three images and combining them together. Comparing their relative strengths, he was afraid that Qilanxo's spiritual fragment would be so strong that it would outright wipe out the other two images when they approached.
"I can't let that happen."
As he shaped the fragments into a form that resembled his images but better, he tried to communicate with the fragments.
He had no luck with Venerable Fontain's spiritual fragment. It seemed to be governed by a remnant of Fontain's will, and it somehow knew it landed in hostile territory.
Considering that Ves did not base the X-Factor of his upcoming design around the human myth, he didn't bother trying to beat it into submission.
Instead, he intended to let Qilanxo's spiritual fragment do all the heavy lifting. The only problem was that Ves wanted it to subsume the weaker fragment without annihilating it entirely. How could he get it to cooperate?
"Maybe I should just ask."
Ves concentrated even deeper and tried to commune with Qilanxo's spiritual fragment. He mentally directed its attention to the other two images and tried to convey two powerful concepts.
Just those two words. As Ves was afraid that a derivative of Qilanxo's consciousness wouldn't be able to understand the meaning of those two words, he conveyed his own understanding of them along with his messages.
The spiritual fragment flared. It understood his intentions. Quicker than he thought possible, it blazed across his mental space and gobbled up the image of the base model and Fontain's spiritual fragment!
After that, it returned to the center of his mind and began to experience several convulsions as it added on new traits!
The spikes of pain that accompanied this transformation quickly broke up Ves' concentration and kicked his consciousness out of his own mental space.
"Ahh!" Ves nursed his head. "This damn headache is getting worse."
He hoped that Qilanxo's spiritual fragment would have enough sense to incorporate the right traits from its meals.
As Ves waited for hours, the spiritual fragment eventually finished its digestion. When Ves tentatively reentered his mental space, he did not spot too many differences. The powerful flame that represented the fragment still carried a strong imprint of Qilanxo's consciousness. Only minute portions of the base role and the human myth had been added to its existence, with the latter playing a slightly more substantial role.
Ves inwardly sighed. "This is the best I can do for the moment."
That wasn't entirely true. Ves suspected that he could repeat his earlier excursion and pay another visit to Venerable Fontain's spiritual presence within the imaginary realm.
If the damage that Ves previously inflicted was as serious as he thought, then the hole in the shell may not have been patched up yet!
Yet Ves instantly dashed that thought from his mind. While it sounded great if he could strengthen the human myth component of his Triple Division technique, the risks far outweighed the benefits.
Venerable Fontain would certainly be on guard against intrusions now!
"I'd be a fool to return to the scene of the crime so shortly after the first violation."
He learned an important lesson here. If he wanted to obtain a stronger spiritual fragment from someone in the future, he better to it right the very first time!
As the slightly-improved spiritual fragment started to stabilize, Ves tentatively believed it was ready to be put to use in helping him design his next mech.
Ves took a deep breath and activated the design software on his terminal.
Working with an active and independent spiritual fragment that mainly carried Qilanxo's imprint rather than his own demanded a change in his approach.
Before he worked with spiritual fragments, Ves pretty much controlled his images as if they were puppets. Even if they contained some spark of life, they were undeniably figments of his own imagination, so Ves exerted a very strong influence over their imaginary lives.
This time was different. Qilanxo's spiritual fragment only carried a minute portion of his imprint due to assimilating the image of the base model which fully spring from his own mind.
Ves made another important observation. Whether he could control an image or a spiritual fragment depended on the source of their imprints!
"I subconsciously program my own images to be obedient to me." Ves surmised.
He knew he was a bit of a control freak. Whenever he created an image, he would always seek to keep them under his thumb. There was no sense in conjuring up a bomb that exploded in his face.
It was different with Qilanxo's powerful spiritual fragment that had been slightly augmented by the assimilation of the base model and human myth. Despite consisting of only a tiny portion of Qilanxo's vast spirit, it was far stronger than any spiritual strength that Ves could ever muster!
"If I can't control the fragment, I'll have to negotiate with it instead!"
In order for Ves to make use of the augmented spiritual fragment, he needed to coax it into cooperating with his design work.
Fortunately, the powerful fragment proved cooperative to his overtures. Qilanxo's good impression on Ves carried over to the spiritual fragment she freely bestowed to him. Having the fragment's cooperation made his life much easier as it barely took any effort for him to get it to cooperate.
Ves realized that he might not be so lucky next time when he embarked on another design project.
Not every fragment would have a good impression of him, as Venerable Fontain's spiritual fragment already demonstrated.
"I'll have to beat them into submission or find some way to make them more pliable. There's no way I can entrust a hostile entity to assist in my design work." He muttered.