Hours after Ves arrived at his secluded villa, a heavily-guarded shuttle passed through the strict security perimeter.
An important guest had arrived.
Moments later, Calabast entered his room and activated four different signal jamming and shielding devices! The amount of precautions she took this time was double than before!
"Aren't you getting a little overboard?" Ves raised his eyebrow.
"I see you don't fully understand your new situation, kid. If you think that I'm being excessive, then you're severely underestimating how many people are interested in you right now! This entire villa is stuffed with sensors and recording devices! I'll leave you with some of my jammers, because you'll need it if you want to enjoy any measure of privacy."
Ves frowned when he heard that. "Is it that bad?"
"You're the most scrutinized person in the Protectorate right now. There is an army of thousands digging up your record and your history. As the 'Bright Martyr' who emerged in a spectacular fashion today, the amount of influence and soft power you possess is extremely huge!"
"You don't sound happy with that. Aren't you the person who came up with this stupid monikor in the first place?"
Calabast smiled deprecatingly at him. "Ah, at least you understand the efforts I've made on your behalf. While it's true that I prepared a number of plans depending on how the tribunal plays out, I didn't expect you to be so charismatic and so compelling to the Ylvainans! Your impact on the locals exceeded my expectations! Do you think that's good? It's not! The emergence of the Bright Martyr has disrupted the existing power balance that has long held sway in the Protectorate!"
The severity of her words finally hit home to Ves. "Are the leaders of the Protectorate afraid that I'll take over or something?"
"You should know how significant the Martyred Followers used to be. They served as the standard bearers and figureheads of the Ylvainan Faith during their lifetimes! They enjoyed Prophet Ylvaine's trust, giving each of them a very wide latitude on how to lead the faithful!"
Ves understood the severity of her words. "That time is over. The great prophet and his dynasty are gone while the Martyred Followers only exist in the history books and scriptures now. The Ylvainan people only look up to the Curins, the Kronons and the Poxcos for leadership these days."
"And they aren't very keen on giving up the power they've gained over the years. Even if half of the common folk believe that you're the Bright Martyr, that doesn't mean a consensus has emerged. The elders of the leading dynasties are only a couple of decisions away from ordering you killed in order to prevent a foreigner from taking over the Protectorate!"
"How absurd! What do they think I am? They're basically treating me like the living prophet, but with a lot more open support!"
"That's a good comparison to make. You already know how the leading dynasties abhor the living prophet. Now that a more credible figure has emerged who has taken advantage of the beliefs of the common folk, your threat surpasses that of the living prophet!"
"I think it's best for all of us if I leave the Protectorate, then." Ves concluded. "My job is already done here anyway. There's no reason for me to stick around."
"Agreed. The Ylvainan Inquisition has already released the set of six mechs into my care, but..."
"Their ownership is a matter of contention."
"What do you mean, Calabast?"
"The impact your prototype has made on the public has surpassed everyone's expectations, my own included! Now that many Ylvainans have learned that there are six other mechs that are almost exactly like it, all of the factions in the Protectorate want to own a Transcendent Messenger!"
"I didn't make my mechs for those bastards!" Ves said with indignation.
"I don't have any other choice." Calabast said helplessly. "The six mechs you've named after virtues are so special that it's impossible for me to retain possession of them. Offering them up to the leading dynasties will at least allow us temper their greed and ease some of their fears towards you. Right now, the plan is to donate two of your mechs to each of the three dynasties as a peace offering."
This didn't sound very fair to him. Ves had done nothing wrong. Why should he be forced to bribe the leading dynasties to ensure his safety? Shouldn't his status as a Bright Martyr afford him more respect?
Sadly, no matter how much he objected to this concession, Ves had no choice. He attracted too much heat!
"How are the mechs going to be allocated?"
"The three dynasties already hashed the allocation themselves. The Poxco Dynasty demands both Justice and Zeal."
That caused Ves to frown. "I understand why they want to obtain Zeal. It's the most zealous of the six mechs. But Justice? Really? After the travesty of their tribunal?"
"It's exactly because the Ylvainan Inquisition has tarnished their reputation that the Poxcos prioritize Justice. They want to repair and redeem the reputation of the inquisition, and what better way than to adopt Justice as their totem?"
"This is absurd!" Ves exclaimed. "The inquisition wanted to kill me! Now they suddenly want to take advantage of one of my prized mechs, something which they accused of being blasphemous! Have they no shame?"
"They don't. The inquisition is in such a bad state that they have set aside their shame in order to regain public trust. Before you object any further, you should look on the bright side. If the inquisition plans to make use of your mechs to repair their reputation, they are indirectly reinforcing your legitimacy as the Bright Martyr. This means that they'll be very reluctant to touch you again!"
"...Ah. You're right."
The Ylvainan Inquisition couldn't denounce Ves if they proudly paraded two of his custom mechs. While Ves detested the inquisition, he really didn't want to tangle with them again!
Calabast moved on. "The Kronon Dynasty has accumulated their own grievances against you. The lower ranks of the Protectors of the Faith are very supportive of your viewpoints, but the higher ranks are displeased that you've painted them as stodgy and out of touch."
"It's the truth."
"Even if it's the truth, the Kronons didn't like it when you aired their dirty laundry. Even now, they are catching a lot of flack from the public due to Kelber Kronon's controversial judgement. In order for them to regain their high esteem, they requested that we hand over Courage and Sacrifice."
"Well, at least they have good taste." He commented. "Courage fits best with the military, and Sacrifice is a mech that stands for their most important ideals."
Despite his criticism, Ves did not detest the Kronon Dynasty. They reminded him of the Larkinson Family but at a much greater scale. Their faults were rather mild as their intentions had always been good.
"This leaves Perseverance and Devotion to the Curins. The virtues that stand for these mechs may not be the most exciting, but they are very useful in helping the Shepherds of the Flock control the masses. The elders are pleased that they receive these two mechs as payment for all of the support they've given to us. We're pretty much even now."
Ves snorted. "How generous of them. As if my contributions to the reform agenda isn't enough. With everything that happened today, the traditionalists can't do anything to stop the reforms!"
"While that's true, the Protectorate will always remain divided." Calabast retorted. "While I'm sure the reform agenda will be able to ram through some impactful policy shifts, the Ylvainans are very conservative as a whole, so I'm sure the traditionalists will eventually bounce back. The gains you've made on behalf of the reform agenda aren't as big as you think."
He understood that he would be able to make more gains if he took advantage of his new status as the Bright Martyr, but that would ruffle too many feathers. It was better for him to step off the stage and let the Protectorate return to normality.
As Ves made peace with the distribution of mechs, he suddenly remembered an important detail.
"There's also the prototype." He recalled. "Please tell me it's back in our possession. Even if the True Believers did a good job of repairing it, it's still an incomplete mech! It has to be destroyed as soon as possible!"
Calabast looked reluctant all of a sudden, which wasn't a good sign. "About that, Ves..."
"What's the matter?"
"Part of the agreement the living prophet has made with the three leading dynasties is that they are allowed to take your prototype away from the Kesseling System!"
"What?! How could the authorities let the terrorists get away with my mech!?"
Even if the living prophet did him a huge favor for some inexplicable reason, Ves would not forgive them if they wanted to continue to make use of his prototype! It wasn't representative of the Transcendent Messenger at all! Its design contained too many flaws and weak points!
"We have no choice, Ves. When the living prophet made his demand, he threatened to order his men to attack the crowd that had gathered outside the courtroom! A river of blood would have flowed through the streets if the True Believers let loose on the crowd without any reservations!"
That was indeed a very serious threat. Ves understood why the authorities conceded the prototype to the fanatics. Although the decision left an awful taste in his mouth, he liked it even less if hundreds of thousands of Ylvainans died just because the True Believers didn't get to keep their new toy.
Still, the idea of terrorists parading the purest if primitive incarnation of the Transcendent Messenger around really did not sit well with him! If not for their extreme beliefs which put much credence to their threats, Ves would rather wish the authorities called their bluff.
"Do you know why the living prophet personally came and vouched for me at the tribunal?" He asked. "There shouldn't be any reason at all for him to stick up for me. I haven't done anything to advance the interests of the True Believers."
Calabast shrugged. "It's a mystery to us as well. The living prophet has always been erratic. That's what happens when you raise a pampered designer clone who has been taught that he's the living incarnation of a great historical figure. I don't have access to any intelligence on the New Ylvaine Dynasty, so it's hard to say what their calculus is. Personally, I think that the living prophet was already reaching the end of his life."
"Is that all?"
"Some of the analysts I've contacted believe the True Believers already prepared a successor. A newer, younger clone of the prophet has already been groomed to take over the organization."
That explained why the living prophet disregarded his life in order to grandstand and advertise for the True Believers.
"Wait a minute, does that mean that two living prophets existed at the same time? How the hell do the True Believers justify something like that?"
"They are both the same person as far as the True Believers are concerned. The great prophet is infinitely powerful. Who says that he can only occupy a single body?" Calabast smirked.
Those fanatics could come up with any explanation to justify their odd decisions.
Although Ves and Calabast shared some of their guesses, neither of them could make up their mind why the living prophet purposefully stood up for Ves. For all they knew, the living prophet truly foresaw something in the future.
Of course, Ves did not put much stock in this possibility.
The two moved on. Calabast handed over a data pad to Ves to address some formalities. As Ves signed all of the documents, he officially completed the commission.
"Hopefully, this will put an end to all of the recent excitement." She said after taking back the data pad. "While you're a free man, I suggest you depart from the Kesseling System tomorrow. Staying any longer here will expose you to a lot of risks. I'll help take care of your future business on this end."
Ves nodded and smiled. "I get it. I'm looking forward to leaving the Protectorate as well."
This wild adventure finally came to an end. Ves could not wait to return to the Bright Republic! At least the people there were sane!