Religion formed one of the great divisions of human civilization. Belief in a transcendent existence or an unfathomable structure holding reality aloft provided a framework for humans to find meaning in their lives.
In fact, many of the other alien races that humanity contacted also exhibited beliefs.
The argument between believers and non-believers raged throughout the ages without any sign of consensus.
Fortunately, humanity's expansion in space lessened the pressure of conflict between the two sides. The galaxy was so big that everyone had a place to call their own. Older religions who could trace their origins from Old Earth ruled entire star sectors while newer religions traveled to the outskirts of human space and occupied an unclaimed star system.
In this way, secular states and religious states largely learned to live alongside each other. The rate of conflict between the two types of states wasn't any higher than usual.
If they did go to war, then the impetus for the conflict rarely revolved around clashing ideologies.
Since the founding of Bright Republic and the Ylvaine Protectorate, the two states never found any cause to go to war. The Bright Republic already had their hands full with the Vesia Kingdom, so they tried their best to placate their religious neighbor.
The Ylvainans isolated themselves after a traumatic flight from the galactic heartland. It took several centuries for them to process their crisis of faith and the loss of both their prophet and his entire dynasty.
By the time they were ready to look outwards again, tensions quickly rose with their neighboring Star Faith Collective.
Both of them were religious states, but both of them centered around radically different beliefs!
The Ylvainans possessed transcendent beliefs based around many scattered predictions spoken by Prophet Ylvaine.
The Star Worshippers literally worshipped stars as living, thinking deities. The larger, more energetic and more luminous the star, the more powerful the stellar god!
The conflict between them began to flare in recent times because the Star Worshippers began to eye some of the star systems claimed by the Protectorate. Those star systems possessed powerful singular, binary or even trinary stars!
It didn't help that their beliefs weren't compatible with each other. While the Ylvainans were rather vague and obtuse about the existence of higher powers, one of their core beliefs fundamentally clashed with the central belief of the Star Worshippers.
Prophet Ylvaine once stated that a time would come where every form of life would eventually transcend into immortal godlike beings!
Whether it was a human, alien, exobeast, plant or a virus, a time of ending would come one day where each living being ascended to godhood!
This pivotal prediction sparked a lot of tension between the Ylvainans and nearly everyone else, whether they were secular or religious!
The secularists vehemently disagreed with the Ylvainan inclination to encourage peace between humans and aliens. To an Ylvainan, the aliens were fellow brothers and sisters.
While they accepted the war would always take place between humans and aliens, it was no different from the wars that humanity already waged against themselves. In the larger scheme of things, the Ylvainans dreamed of a time where humans and aliens lived alongside each other in a single galactic community!
Their friendly stance on aliens did not endear the Ylvainan Faith to many states, particularly the secular ones. Their overarching belief that all forms of life would ascend to godhood did not sit well with many other religions that believed in the supremacy of their own gods!
Ves didn't know whether the Star Worshippers aggressively pushed the Ylvainans because of a faith or plain greed. What mattered was the Ylvaine Protectorate faced a continuous escalation of conflict that could erupt into outright war at any time!
Having kept to themselves for all this time, the Ylvainans found to their horror that their war readiness was not up to par compared to the more geopolitically-active Star Faith Collective.
No matter how much fervor the Protectors of the Faith possessed, a strong and sincere belief was not enough to win a battle on its own!
Strong mechs, blooded mech pilots, war-tested martial traditions and robust supply lines mattered more, and the Ylvainans came up short in each of these areas!
Ves and his staff already figured out some of these dynamics through their own research, but the data chip that Calabast threw at him at the end of their meeting painted a dire picture!
As Ves allowed Ketis, Gavin and Leland to study its contents, each of them seem amazed.
"Madame Cecily favors you very much if she is willing to pass on these unvarnished truths to us." Leland noted while looking sharply at Ves. "By chance, did you seduce her or something?"
"Pfff! Don't joke around, please." Ves replied. Even if Calabast looked gorgeous, she was still a spy! "We just found we had more things in common than we thought. As long as we fulfill her expectations, Madame Cecily is willing to elevate the LMC's presence in the Protectorate in order to whip the domestic mech industry back into shape. Each of us are using each other in more ways than one."
None of his staff understood the hidden meaning behind his words. Perhaps Leland might have caught something, but even he shouldn't be aware of Madame Cecily's true identity.
"You know, the predicament the Protectorate has fallen under is an excellent opportunity for us!" Gavin said with shining eyes. "The LMC is a mech company based in Brighter traditions, which counts for a lot since our customers can count on our mechs to perform well in heated conflicts."
"The Ylvainan mech market is significantly smaller than the one back home, though." Ves revealed. "The Ylvaine Protectorate doesn't have a very strong and active mercenary tradition. It's primarily the private forces and smaller dynasties and organizations who are purchasing mechs."
Even a peaceful, isolated state like the Ylvaine Protectorate still possessed demand for commercial mechs
The reformers wanted their state to develop a stronger mercenary tradition. Not only would this strengthen the Protectorate's total strength, but also added a lot more flexibility to how it could be employed. Mercenary corps fulfilled a wide variety of roles, many of which the Protectors of the Faith couldn't be bothered to perform themselves.
With all the mercenary corps about to pop up in the future, the Ylvainan mech industry looked forward to enjoying a boom in sales. The last thing they wanted to see was foreign mech companies swooping in to steal their market share during these good times!
The Bright Republic was known for engaging in frequent war against the Vesians. Along with the relatively open competition in its mech market, the average quality standard was quite high!
The mech buyers in the Bright Republic weren't fools who put their lives on the line by buying bad products. Mech designers only enjoyed success in this state if their designs could keep up with the demands of medium to high-intensity conflict!
Although Ves felt very confident about the LMC's products, he did not think his company would be able to upend the Protectorate mech market by itself.
"I don't think we should look down on the local competition." He cautioned them all. "From what I can tell, their mechs may not be up to par against the mechs used by the Star Worshippers, but they are not too far behind. Once the domestic mech designers stop being complacent, they'll be able to offer very stiff competition."
Even though the Protectorate didn't import many foreign mechs, their domestic mech designers still absorbed information and knowledge from the outside galaxy. They kept up with the latest developments and trends and even licensed many component designs from foreign companies.
The key difference lay in the design. The real reason the Ylvainan mech industry resisted foreign pressure was that they knew that they hadn't sharpened their design skills as much!
If Ves and a random Ylvainan Journeyman each designed a mech out of the same set of component licenses, the latter would probably lose!
Ves predicted that a substantial amount of mech designers currently operating in the Ylvaine Protectorate faced a crisis as they were only competitive during the easy times!
While the Novices and Apprentices faced the brunt of the competition, the higher-ranking mech designers also faced a squeeze! They could say goodbye to the fat profit margins their companies earned as foreign competitors would be able to offer cheaper mechs with better performance.
Yet what the Ylvainan mech designers currently lacked, they could make it up over time. The entire point of opening up the mech market was to elevate the overall standard of mech design in the Protectorate. If foreign mech companies remained dominant after several decades, then a backlash might occur!
Ves summed up the situation. "In short, as long as we take advantage of the opportunity that Madame Cecily has presented to us, the LMC stands to gain a temporary lead in the Ylvainan mech market. During this time, we need to convert our initial gains into an enduring advantage!"
One of the most important steps to doing so was to become familiar with the Ylvainan style of mech design. Due to their low exposure to foreign mech designs, the Ylvainan mech market developed some specific preferences with regards to the mechs they favored.
The morning after his meeting with Calabast, Ves and his staff went on a little excursion to explore the capital city of Kesseling VIII. The Avatars of Myth accompanying the business trip received permission to deploy some of their mechs to guard the group.
The Office of Strategic Mech Management dispatched a guide to accompany the Brighters and introduce them to some of the best sights on the planet.
"Krent is the oldest city on Kesseling VIII. It is famed for its vibrant industry and commerce as it offers very attractive conditions to businesses that settle here." Leon Dalvish spoke. "While there are more prosperous star systems in the Protectorate, most of it is occupied by dominant companies who are not very tolerant towards newcomers."
Ves nodded in understanding. "Kesseling VIII is doing quite well despite not being a port system."
The Ylvaine Protectorate happened to possess their own port system, but due to the state's long-standing policy of isolation, few foreign traders visited the place. While the Zophon System still developed into a strong domestic industrial nexus, it could have been so much more.
The Bright Republic took advantage of this situation by funneling all of the trade that would have passed by Zophon to Bentheim!
Now, it was too late for Zophon to take its rightful share of trade. Bentheim became too dominant for most trade companies to consider passing through an Ylvainan port system!
What Ves and the rest of his group noted the most was all the outward signs of devotion to the Ylvainan Faith. Statues, projections and other depictions of Prophet Ylvaine and his Martyred Followers were everywhere! The general baroque and classical style of architecture fostered a very traditional mood among the locals that stood in stark contrast to the Bright Republic's more modern and fast-paced lifestyle!
"What's with all the beckoning gestures from the statues?" Ketis curiously asked.
"We believe that while Prophet Ylvaine and his Martyred Followers have transcended to a higher existence upon the moment of their mortal passing." Leon patiently explained. "We have faith that they are watching over us now, awaiting the time where everyone gets the opportunity to transcend and join their side. That is why they are holding out their hands in a welcoming fashion."
"What about the Ylvainans who die before this ascension event happens?" She asked.
"The Prophet states that their souls are washed and returned to new forms of life. Where they end up is a matter of chance and fate. A poor Ylvainan might be born a rich Ylvainan. A Kronon might be born as a Curin. Perhaps they can even become a Brighter, a Vesian, a Terran or even an alien in their next lives! We are all bound to the cycle of life and death before the Time of Ascension!"
It was safe to say that almost every outsider recoiled at this belief! The idea that a human could be reborn as an alien in their next lives was very anathematic to the dominant ideology of human supremacy!
Even Ves wanted to scratch his head at the idea. Had Prophet Ylvaine jacked himself up with recreational stimulants to come up with this controversial belief?