Ves stepped out of Master Olson's estate with a profound sense of loss.
Though he did not value his apprenticeship to Master Olson all that much recently, to formally put an end to it made him realize what else he relied upon.
He keenly felt the absence of the psychological comfort his status as her apprentice provided. As long as he had a powerful Master Mech Designer hovering over his head, he felt he could get away with a lot.
Now that he lost her direct care, Ves did not feel so easily anymore. A former apprentice may possess some lingering informal ties to Master Olson, but formally he was no longer a part of her organization.
Many mech designers who completed their apprenticeships under a Master often moved on to join their company or become a part of their business network.
Not so for Ves. In order to reinforce the impression that Ves no longer had anything to do with the Friday Coalition, Master Olson did not bring up any of those options.
She didn't want to put up any barriers for Ves to pursue a relationship with Gloriana, after all!
Though his supposed girlfriend's antics had pushed Master Olson into cutting ties, Ves did not begrudge Gloriana all too much.
"While it's a shame to turn away from the Friday Coalition, it really is better if I'm no longer under Master Olson's thumb."
He possessed too many secrets. He was always afraid that Master Olson might find out the truth. Though he thought highly of her integrity, what if she was different from what he imagined?
Hardly any mech designer would be able to contain their greed if they knew of the full import of the System!
The more time he spent under Master Olson's supervision, the harder it would be for him to keep his secrets from her hawkish perception.
Even today, Ves never felt as if he completely managed to fool Master Olson.
In hindsight, although he believed that his attempts at misdirection had caught on, it was rather disturbing to him how easily Master Olson bought his nonsense. He expected better from a Master. They were so spiritually powerful that even if they didn't share his unique perception, they should still be able to observe more than a normal human!
A suspicion crept up in his mind. Could it be that Master Olson knew that Ves was being dishonest, but accepted his excuses in order to avoid putting him on the spot?
"That might very well be a possibility."
She might have already leaned towards cutting ties before the meeting even started. Why would she be curious about his circumstances if that was the case?
In the end, Master Olson made a decision that served both of their interests. She would no longer be at risk of getting involved in a potential controversy. Meanwhile, Ves wouldn't have to deal with any conflicts of interests if he grew closer to Gloriana.
"Not that I'm too sure about her yet. She's a real handful." He muttered.
While it was a shame to lose the psychological comfort his apprenticeship provided, he also felt a huge burden had been lifted off his shoulders. Now that Master Olson no longer scrutinized him so closely, he would have a much better time hiding his secrets.
A Master Mech Designer's attention was a double-edged sword! Getting rid of it may leave him on his own again, but he always preferred that from the start.
Perhaps he would still value Master Olson's protective umbrella when he was an Apprentice, but now that he became a Journeyman, he became a lot more assured about himself.
"It's not as if I'm truly alone."
Ves still possessed numerous connections. The Larkinsons, Professor Ventag, Flashlight, the Tovars, the Ylvaine Protectorate and Calabast all backed him up in different ways.
As long as he kept expanding his network, he could replace the protective function of his apprenticeship to Master Olson with ties to other powerful figures.
"Powerful figures like... Gloriana."
He could not deny that Gloriana's status far surpassed him. Even though she did not equal the likes of Master Olson, she was still a prominent scion from the Hexadric Hegemony. She carried a lot of weight by virtue of her lineage. Becoming a promising Journeyman on top of that significantly amplified her clout.
He still felt uncomfortable, though. His stature and prestige was a far cry from hers, and that made him feel profoundly inadequate. How could he face her as a proud man when her very existence diminished his pride?
He was a man! He should stand up to his woman! Whatever nonsense the Hexers believed, Ves could not accept being the lesser partner in any potential relationship!
A fire lit up inside his mind. He needed to work hard to stay ahead of Gloriana! If he was stronger than her, she wouldn't be able to dictate his life to this extent! Not only would he be able to call the shots, but he could also start protecting himself instead of depending on others!
"Ves! Mr. Larkinson!" Zona Fonseca ran up to him. "I just heard that you're parting with Master Olson! Is that true?!"
Ves nodded. "It's true."
"Why!? Did you do anything wrong or something?!"
"You'll find out soon enough, I guess. Make no mistake, we both agreed on ending my apprenticeship. It no longer served a purpose and it is the best course of action if we take the future into account. Our separation is nothing more than closing a chapter in our lives."
Though Zona still looked saddened, she accepted the explanation. "So you won't hang out with us after all? We hardly ever knew you. There are tons more apprentices who would like to meet with you and learn some tips."
Ves sagely smiled. "Master Olson's guidance is sufficient. If she hasn't taught you more, it's because you are better off learning those lessons on your own."
The two began to walk towards his transit shuttle.
"So... I guess this is it. Will this be the last time you visit the Leemar System?" Zona asked.
"Very likely. I won't be as welcome to Leemar as before."
Perhaps the entire Friday Coalition would become rather awkward for him in the future.
That reminded him that he should draw down his ongoing security contracts with SASS in the near future. Sanyal-Ablin Security Services was an enterprise of the Konsu Clan, which happened to be the second-strongest partner of the Coalition!
"Then.. can we still stay in contact through our comms?"
"I don't think that is entirely wise." He responded. "I really don't have that much to offer to you anyway. You should forge relationships with your fellow Fridaymen instead. They'll be much more valuable to you once you step out of Master Olson's shadow."
She didn't look that confident. "I'm just a nominal disciple though. While my chances of advancing to Journeyman is greater than the average Leemar graduate, it is still an uncertain prospect."
Ves chuckled and stretched his hand. Zona widened her eyes as Ves rubbed the top of her head.
He did not do that without a reason. Aside from trying to reassure her, he also wanted to confirm whether he sensed the presence of spirituality within her mind.
Fortunately, she did. Although her spiritual energy was weak and faint, its presence at least signified that she possessed the potential to become a Journeyman. She just needed to apply herself.
"Let me tell you that you will surely be able to become a Journeyman. It's difficult, but it's doable. However, your chances are a lot better if you gain some confidence and stop doubting yourself. Earning Master Olson's regard should be enough proof of your ability!"
"B-But I'm still nothing compared to you!"
"Don't compare yourself to me. Master Olson and I both know that I'm not a typical mech designer. That was one of the reasons why we put an end to my apprenticeship. Rather than comparing yourself to outstanding mech designers for no good reason, I suggest you look inward and set achievable goals for yourself."
They finally arrived at the shuttle parked near the estate. Zona still looked thoughtful, and to her credit she seemed to take his advice seriously.
"I'll think about what you said. I think you're right, though. I should be more confident in myself!"
Ves smiled. "That's the spirit."
The two shook hands before Ves entered the shuttle. As the vehicle lifted off in the air, Ves looked out the window and stared melancholy at the campus stretching out below.
He truly felt a little sad for saying that he might not be able to visit Leemar any longer.
Though he could still decide to visit the public cities and settlement of Leemar II, Ves decided against it. Who knew how far the news of his relationship with Gloriana had spread.
The Fridaymen would probably not be so petty as to make trouble to him over it. After all, Master Olson already told him that he was a nobody in their perspective.
Still, to spare himself of any potential incidents, Ves decided he should get out of Coalition space as soon as possible!
"Thanks for that, Gloriana." He scoffed.
He really needed to confront his 'girlfriend' for her unilateral announcement of their 'relationship'. Preferably, he wanted to teach her a lesson, but he doubted Clixie or her bodyguards would allow him to do so without consequence.
A few fantasies of how he would teach her a lesson flitted through his mind, some more.. unspeakable.. Than others. Yet Ves quickly dispensed with those unrealistic scenarios.
Rather than him teaching Gloriana a lesson, the reverse would probably happen!
"In the end, it all comes down to strength!" He softly cried in frustration.
Ves thought he did quite well for himself in the past few years. His rise had been rapid and brisk and reaching Journeyman at such an early age had already made his life much easier.
Yet now that he came in touch with an existence like Gloriana, his confidence suddenly deflated. How could he ever reverse their current power dynamic?
By advancing faster than her. Ves could think of nothing but the System that could help him the most in achieving this goal. As competent and driven as Gloriana appeared to be, she was still an orthodox mech designer! Whatever assistance she received would never come close to matching the prowess of the System!
"Hehe. I won't be your doormat forever!" Ves grinned.
He began to consider his future plans. Since he exited the Bright Republic, he might as well take the opportunity to travel around the star sector. He never really did explore it entirely. Ves felt he could definitely benefit from broadening his perspective and see how other, more distant states fared.
"A Journeyman is supposed to travel a lot, after all."
The only snag in the plan was that he had already sent Melkor and the Avatars of Myth back to Cloudy Curtain.
Although he could call them up and have them turn around, Ves did not feel the need to do so.
"I can easily contract a security company or a mercenary corps to guarantee my safety."
Ves did not plan on traveling anywhere dangerous for his impromptu space tour, so he could make do with a standard arrangement. He just had to make sure that whoever he contracted didn't have any ties to the Friday Coalition.
"I'll have to exit Coalition space first then." He muttered.
During his travels, he also planned to study up on both bestial mechs and smart metal technology. Once he gained enough proficiency in both fields, he then planned to design a mech that incorporated both.
"If it's good enough, I can even add the design to the LMC's mech catalog!"
Ves recalled that while the Komodo Star Sector mostly made use of humanoid mechs, there were a couple of states where bestial mechs were prevalent.
"They're worth paying a visit."
It was only now that he truly felt he embodied a proper Journeyman Mech Designer.