Five years was a lot of time for people to change, Ves realized. Meeting some of his old acquaintances made it clear that life moved on for everyone.
While Ves experienced unimaginably perilous adventures and advanced to an enviable height in his career, other people haven't been slacking off either.
Although Charlotte made it sound as if she hadn't achieved anything at all, Ves knew that she was already set to ascend to an unimaginable height as long as she worked hard.
As for Patricia, while she made it sound as if she was just an Apprentice, Ves did not believe that a mech designer as exceptional as her would remain obscure forever. She had always been surrounded by mystery ever since she showed off her amazing competence in mech design. That had only increased ever since she mixed up with the even more mysterious Master Null in the Friday Coalition.
Once he received her present which turned out to be a data chip that contained a rare textbook, Ves calmly stepped away from Patricia. Gavin, who was following a half-step behind, patted his back in an encouraging fashion.
"Buck up, Ves. Even if one ship has sailed, plenty more are still anchored in port."
Ves swatted away his assistant's hand. "Stop kidding around. It's not like that."
"Sure, boss. Whatever you say."
In order to take his mind off meeting several old acquaintances, he greeted the only Larkinson who stood alone.
In fact, his grandfather the rest of the family tried their best not to acknowledge their black sheep!
"I see you haven't repaired your relations with the family at all, Raella."
"Hmph! Those old coots took one look at my clothes before shaking their heads in disappointment." Raella huffed. She gestured towards her outfit, which made her Blood Claw allegiance abundantly clear. "I could hear them telling Lanie and the other kids that they shouldn't follow my example. That's the only value I have left to the Larkinsons."
"Don't talk down on yourself like that, Raella. Everyone has a different station in life. You should be glad that you found your own calling."
"Whatever. I haven't come here to talk about my family issues. Today is all about you, Ves. Congratulations for growing up. You're a bigshot now. Some of the senior cadre of the Blood Claws even glowingly mentioned you a few times in my presence. They appreciate the things you've done for them and Walter's Whalers."
"I'm glad to hear the Blood Claws hold me in high regard." Ves smiled a bit thinly. He would rather prefer he didn't catch their attention. "Has anything changed lately?"
Raella proudly nodded. "I finally promoted to Blood Champion Captain! You could say I'm part of their cadre now!"
"Congratulations, Raella. That's a big achievement!"
"Any mech pilot of my skill can climb this far. This is just the start!" She boasted. "I have to admit, my family name and my ties with you is a big reason why I promoted so quickly."
"Do you feel like you got promoted solely due to those advantages?"
"Nah. The Blood Claws aren't silly. They don't put useless people in charge. I've proven myself for several years. Once my bosses realized that I'm here to stay, they've steadily increased my responsibilities. I'm in charge of a lot of underground mech duelists now."
"That sounds very impressive."
The Blood Claws could have given her a grand-sounding title that possessed little actual substance.
Instead, they actually put her in charge of something that allowed her to accumulate valuable leadership experience. It meant that they were really serious about investing in Raella despite her potentially problematic family name.
"By the way, Melinda wanted to attend your birthday party as well, but a captain of the Planetary Guard can't just up and run to Cloudy Curtain. I brought her present along with my own."
Ves received a handcrafted mug bearing an evil caricature of his face from Raella. In his opinion, plastering the words 'Devil Tongue' underneath the cartoonish image wasn't even necessary.
"Wow." He uttered goodnaturedly. "Whoever created this caricature is good."
"I just commissioned a random artist from the galactic net to paint your face this way." Raella dismissively waved her hand.
"I'll definitely place this mug on my desk." He said before passing it over to Gavin to be placed on the central display.
Next, he opened up his present from Melinda next, which turned out to be a small scale model of a Planetary Guard mech. In fact, she piloted this exact same mech model!
Raella grinned at the sight of the miniature mech. "Melinda figured that since you're a mech designer, you'd appreciate a mech. She remembers that you used to play with mech figurines all the time when you were a little kid! You'd cry like a baby whenever she held one of your toys out of your reach!"
Ves lightly whacked her stomach while he tried to hold in his embarrassment. "Please don't pass around stories like that, especially now."
"Ooof! What have you eaten these days?" She moaned while rubbing her tummy. "Have you no sympathy for a girl?"
"You're a Blood Champion Captain. I know you can take it, Raella."
"Heh. At least you acknowledge that I'm the big sister here."
Even though Raella and Melinda's presents didn't amount to much, Ves appreciated them anyway. These gifts may be ordinary objects, but they carried their sincere sentiments.
This was exactly what Ves wanted to experience during his birthday party.
Before Ves moved on to the sumptuous banquet, he greeted a surprising guest who arrived fairly late to the party.
The man's robed figure was extremely striking to Ves, since he had seen the same style of garments from many Ylvainans!
"Welcome to my birthday party." Ves politely greeted the latecomer. "Cloudy Curtain is a long way from the Ylvaine Protectorate. What brings you here?"
"Not every Ylvainan is afraid of the dark." The young man said with a smooth voice that exuded youth and strength. "Ever since I stepped into the Bright Republic, I found that there is plenty of light. It is an honor to meet the Bright Martyr. Ah, where are my manners? My name is James Immel. I'm currently on a business tour to experience the many diverse cultures this star sector has to offer."
Ves raised his eyebrow. "It must be quite difficult to obtain permission to travel abroad. Not every Ylvainan is as open-minded as you. Are you a Curin?"
"Not exactly." James shook his head underneath the hood of his robe. "I'm not affiliated with any of the three dynasties. I lead a modest company that is looking to take advantage of the opportunities that are opening up. I'm very charmed with the words you've spoken that day. My people should be looking outwards, not inwards. I've always held these thoughts in my heart, but after you revealed yourself, you gave all of us a chance to express our thoughts in the open."
"Ah, I'm glad to be of service to open-minded Ylvainans like you. Please enjoy the party and don't take offense to the other guests if they bother you about your faith."
James nonchalantly shrugged. "I take no offense at the inquiries of the unenlightened. In fact, I appreciate the insatiable curiosity of your fellow Brighters. They possess so many misunderstandings about our faith that it is always a pleasure to make them see our beliefs in another light."
This James sounded like a very magnanimous figure if he was telling the truth. Even though he obscured most of his body with his voluminous dark robe, there was a sense of ease around him that made Ves relax.
"With an attitude like that, I'm sure your company will enjoy much success when it enters into other markets."
When it came time for Ves to open the present he received from James, he momentarily lost his composure.
"This is... a very familiar-looking nutrient pack."
James released a smile. "It is a replica of the nutrient pack that used to be consumed by the prophet himself. Products like this have been circulating in the Ylvaine Protectorate ever since you were acquitted by the tribunal. It is our way of saying that there is nothing holy about nutrient packs."
Ves held the nutrient pack with a mixed expression. Its packaging was an exact match of the nutrient pack wrapper he stole from the Grand Cathedral of Ylvaine's Mercy.
He underestimated their humor. He couldn't imagine the Ylvainans would feel okay with mass producing this style of nutrient packs.
"It's a very accurate replica." Ves whispered.
He could tell, since he actually held the original.
"Even if it is just a replica, it is not worth any less than the original." James remarked while gesturing with his hand in a ritual fashion. "The original nutrient pack once fed a prophet and a visionary. Who knows if the nutrient pack in your hand will serve the same purpose one day?"
With those sagely words, the Ylvainan stepped back and faded to the sides to mingle with some of the other businessmen.
Ves looked down at the deceptively simple nutrient pack before passing it over to Gavin. "Put this nutrient pack in the list of sentimental gifts that I want to display in my office, Benny."
"Really, Ves? It's just a nutrient pack!"
"It's a nutrient pack with a story. That makes it more valuable than ninety percent of the gifts I received so far. It's worthy enough to be placed in my office."
Once Ves and Gavin made sure they greeted everyone of importance, Ves loudly clapped his hands.
"Alright, folks! Let's enter the banquet hall! I've been told that we've been hiring cooks from all over the star sector to sample the specialties of every state!"
Everyone filed into the expansive banquet hall that was capable of holding hundreds of guests with plenty of room to spare.
The interior design intrigued Ves a lot. The overwhelmingly white interior had been interspersed with artificial indoor pools upon which remarkable plants floated on the surface. Alien fish leisurely swam underneath the clear surface, giving everyone a dazzling view of the variety of species living alongside each other in harmony.
Ves hadn't been involved in designing this interior. In fact, he didn't know who the architect was in the first place.
"Calsie hired an architect from Moira's Paradise for the interior design." Gavin responded when he asked. "Since life is a recurring theme of yours, she wanted the banquet hall to incorporate a living element without being too intrusive."
"She certainly hired the right architect for the job. I'm very satisfied with this design. It's clean and elegant while remaining unpretentious."
The artistic principles behind the interior design differed from his own, but Ves appreciated it nonetheless. While Ves showed a clear preference towards grandeur and bombast, the architect focused more on class and elegance.
"The architect is probably a woman." He muttered.
Everyone slowly took their seats. Ves sat at a table next to Ketis, who eyed Raella with some guardedness.
Both women seemed to recognize each other as warriors. They exuded the same kind of air.
"Who is this woman, Ves? Your new girlfriend?" Raella asked.
Ves almost spewed the champagne he just sipped. "Ketis is a mech designer! She assists me in my design work!"
Fortunately, before this conversation could go any further, Lucky hopped onto the table and dropped an object onto the surface.
Because of the public setting, Lucky didn't expose his capabilities. To most of the visitors attending the party, Lucky was just a very attractive-looking mechanical cat.
"Is this my birthday present from you, Lucky?"
The gift that Lucky dropped onto the table was very.. strange. It was a full-sized plushy doll modeled after Lucky himself!
Gavin tried to stifle his laugh when he saw the present. "That's a souvenir from the LMC's gift shop! Lucky is a very popular mascot to the company. Our gift shop sells various different plushy versions of your cat."
Ves picked up the cheap plushy with a dubious expression. "Come on, Lucky. A doll can never replace you! Hasn't it been long enough? It's my birthday!"
"Meow!" Lucky thumped his tail against the table.
He sighed. "Fine. You win. I'll take you on some tasting tours once we visit Bentheim and the Centerpoint System."