The terrorist attack on the Grand Church of the Grey Martyr affected the entire Kesseling System. All the deaths and destruction disrupted a lot of trade and business transactions, sending the local economy to a nosedive.
A significant amount of scared Ylvainans abruptly moved away from Krent or Kesseling VIII, which further exacerbated the living conditions of those who remained.
The only reason the local economy hadn't crashed was because the Curin Dynasty pumped a lot of money into the star system. Their vigorous efforts helped prop up everyone's jobs and businesses, though only at great cost.
Even the most reform-minded Curins began to have second-thoughts about Madame Cecily Curin's decision to continue working with Ves. The reform agenda took an awful hit due to her initiatives, making her even less popular among her erstwhile 'relatives'!
When Ves next met up with Calabast at her tightly-guarded headquarters, he encountered a lot of protestors and mechs.
An entire mech company of Protectors of the Faith had come out in force. Their presence deterred the protesters from taking any rash actions and also safeguarded the life of the most controversial Curin in the Kesseling System.
A lot of people didn't like the Director of Strategic Mech Management right now! She carried just as much blame for provoking the terrorist attack as Ves!
Due to the raised security levels, Ves had to go through numerous security inspections. He left everything including Lucky and his comm behind before the beefy guard presence allowed him to enter Madame Cecily's office.
"Ves." Calabast said with a slightly weary tone voice as soon as she activated her signal jammer. "I know I was supposed to introduce you to some local Ylvainan mech designers today, but there's a setback."
"The Apprentices who initially expressed their interest in working with you have all decided to change their minds. They've canceled their appointments and left the Kesseling System as soon as possible. We tried to approach some other Novices and Apprentices to make up for their absence, but not a single Ylvainan mech designer we came in touch with has accepted our generous offers!"
Even though he faintly expected this reaction, Ves nonetheless grimaced. "Mech designers are very risk averse when their lives are on the line. Ylvainan mech designers have never been exposed to danger, unlike the mech designers from my own state."
He didn't mention that most of Brighter mech designers still remained cowards anyway.
"The problem remains that no matter how much incentives I've offered, not a single Ylvainan mech designer thinks it's worthwhile to cooperate with us." Calabast sighed. She knew the score as well as anyone. "Every Ylvainan mech designer wants to maintain a good reputation in the Protectorate. Working with you will ruin their mech companies if they own their own businesses. Even if they don't, the taint they acquired from associating with you will mean that they won't have any hope of getting hired by an Ylvainan company."
Working with Ves had always been a gamble. Right now, the odds were stacked against him. The chance of success had plunged while the cost of betting on him increased to an unacceptable degree.
Mech designers always possessed a good mind for mathematics. Even a first-year mech design student could calculate odds. It didn't surprise Ves at all that every Ylvainan mech designer concluded that collaborating with him was a bad bet!
Still, that left both of them deprived of an essential asset. Without an Ylvainan mech designer to lend their credibility to the hero mech design, it was impossible for Ves to claim he designed an authentic Ylvainan mech!
The joint venture between him and Calabast also fell into an awkward place. Without a local mech designer to take the helm of the Living Mech Ylvaine Corporation, Ves wouldn't be able to advance his business agenda with regards to the Protectorate's mech market.
"Do we enjoy any support at all?" Ves asked.
"The most ardent reformers in the Protectorate still believe in the cause." Calabast replied. "We can count on their backing. The need to liberalize the Protectorate's economy and revitalize its industry is still a priority to them. The sooner they can get this done, the better their chances of winning the war against the Star Faith Collective."
The fundamental division in Protectorate society was to what extent they needed to embrace change to survive the upcoming war. Relations between the Ylvaine Protectorate and the Star Faith Collective continually deteriorated to the point where war became more and more likely.
The initial skirmishes already revealed that the Protectors of the Faith couldn't keep up. Unlike their isolationist neighbors, the Star Faith Collective never closed themselves off from the rest of the galaxy. They embraced all the latests trends and their mech market was just as competitive as that of the Bright Republic.
The three leading dynasties of the Ylvaine Protectorate all read the signs. What they disagreed on was how they should address their shortcomings.
The reformers favored change. If their mechs weren't good enough to keep up with the machines deployed by the Star Faith Collective, then they should just change that by borrowing foreign help.
The traditionalists rejected that approach due to religious reasons. They believed that letting go of their principles and watering down their unique customs would distance the Protectorate from the Ylvainan Faith.
The most hardcore believers of the Faith believed that their piety should be enough to win against any opponent!
Thinking about the differences between the two factions prompted Ves to make an important realization.
"We don't need an Ylvainan mech designer."
"Pardon?" Calabast raised her eyebrows. "I've already told you that the Ylvainans can be quite xenophobic. Recent events magnified this tendency among the locals. We are even more dependent on local help than before!"
Ves resolutely shook his head. "I don't think so at all. Look at it this way. The entire point of the reform agenda is abandon older customs that hold back the strength of their mechs. The premise behind this idea is that the reformers recognize that their domestic mech designers are no good!"
"Although that's true, most reformers only seek modest changes. They don't want to upend every existing paradigms that make up an Ylvainan mech!"
"Change is necessary. Rather than pussy-footing around, why not be bold for once and take a leap? The traditionalists already hate us regardless of how much we try to accommodate their feelings. I think the time for compromise is over now."
"You're being reckless, Ves. There is always a need for compromise. While we both look down on the hardliners in the Protectorate, they comprise a good chunk of its total population. It's extremely unwise to aggravate your relations with them. Burning your bridges with them won't do you any good!"
A stubborn streak crept up within Ves. The more Calabast argued against his decision, the more he became convinced that he should stick to his stance!
"I've already decided, Calabast. I don't want to play by the rules of traditionalists anymore. I believe I can design an Ylvainan mech as well as any Ylvainan mech designer. I don't need their help."
Although the two of them disagreed on this matter, Ves wouldn't let Calabast have her way this time.
When it came to designing mechs, Ves always stuck to his principles!
After a ten-minute argument, Calabast shook her head in disappointment. "You mech designers are always touchy about your mechs. I really don't like the direction you're forcing us to take. You are taking unnecessary risks when there are safer alternatives available. If you give me some time, I can probably bribe a desperate-enough domestic mech designer to collaborate on your project."
"Don't bother. I don't want any help from unqualified mech designers with ulterior motives."
The meeting ended shortly after they held their contentious talk. All of the recent setbacks weakened Calabast's confidence. Her position in the government was constantly under threat and it took a lot of energy for her to maintain her current directorship. She could hardly spare the time to manage Ves.
For his part, Ves knew that he acted too willfully and impulsive for his own good. He received plenty of good advice, all of which he quickly set aside because he didn't want to give the traditionalists any satisfaction!
He recognized that he was being a lot more irrational than usual.
Perhaps it was because he never got over from his latest harrowing, life-threatening encounter. Ever since he came back from the ruined grand church, he never truly calmed down.
Was it a good idea for him to let his anger affect his decisions? No.
Did it feel good to let his emotions take the reins? Hell yes!
A strong drive to design a mech surged within his body. He was like a dormant engine that had slowly been roused to life. He was more ready to design a mech than ever before!
Ves always valued such an emotional state. His passion had been stoked. A strong sense of purpose drove him onward. All of these conditions increased his motivation to the highest degree possible.
As Ves returned to the guarded compound, he immersed himself in his passion in order to prepare himself for what was about to come.
"It's time to design my mech."
First, he should come up with a vision and mech concept. Calabast initially requested him to design a hero mech which could serve as her ceremonial bodyguard. The mech needed to fulfill both a ceremonial and practical function.
"The mech has to look great, feel great and perform great."
These requirements corresponded to the form, spirit and function of the mech. Ves possessed a good amount of confidence in both the form and function of his mech design.
Ves worried the least about the performance of his mech. As a Journeyman, as long as he spent enough time on his work, his mechs would never disappoint in this area.
Calabast already put an entire catalog of component licenses at his disposal and set a generous budget. This meant that Ves didn't need to worry too much about cost efficiency. It was fine if the hero mech surpassed the Aurora Titan in cost because Calabast only wanted six copies.
As for the form of his mech, Ves believed he observed enough Ylvainan mechs to emulate their characteristic visual style. He believed in his artistic skills. He was more than capable of emulating the look of Ylvainan mechs.
"I don't want to design a clone, though."
Ves wanted to introduce something new to the Ylvainan mech market. He didn't want to copycat their style just to blend in. He wanted to make a different statement with his work.
"I'm a foreigner anyway. Copying their visual style without possessing the heart for it will just lead to hollow imitations. That's not what I want to make."
When it came to art, integrity was important. It was too easy to copy another style, but whether the artist could make it their own was another matter.
Ves didn't feel too strongly about the Ylvainan visual style. While their mechs looked impressive and matched some of his own preferences, he wasn't an adherent to the Ylvainan Faith. This meant that his attempts to incorporate religious elements onto the external appearances of his mechs would always come off as insincere.
"I should put some more thought on this matter."
Ves recognized that he needed to find a way to solve this problem. Although he already told Calabast that he didn't want to appease the traditionalists, he still wanted to obtain their support, if only to drag them into the camp of the reformers!
Aside from the form of the mech, Ves wanted to do something special with its X-Factor as well.
Although his visit to the Grand Church of the Grey Martyr ended in tragedy, his brief exposure to the Grey Martyr's relics opened his eyes.
This was because Ves noted that some of the relics contained a touch of spirituality.