Several years after receiving the System, Ves often thought of his parents. Both his father and mother turned out to be more than met the eye.
Ves sometimes wondered if he ever truly knew his mother. His memories of her before her death and after she reappeared as a ghost were as different as night and day!
The more he thought about it, the harder it was for him to deny that the gentle and completely normal mother who raised him was a facade.
His real mother turned out to be a whole other beast, a wolf in sheep's clothing who attempted to raise Ves as another sheep.
If Ves did not come into contact with the System, then he likely would have never learned the truth.
Yet this course of events did not come to pass. As soon as Ves obtained the System from his father, his entire life took a radically different turn.
His mother didn't want him to become a wolf. He became one regardless as various events stripped him of his sheepskin and unearthed his true nature.
While his transformation brought him great benefits, it also exposed him to a very huge vulnerability. Ever since he first heard about the Five Scrolls Compact from Doctor Jutland, his fear towards the origin of the System kept growing.
To hear that a dignitary from the most central portion of the Compact was on their way to the Komodo Star Sector alarmed him to no end!
Why would someone so important travel all the way out to the most remote and underdeveloped star sectors in human space?
He bet it definitely involved the Metal Scroll!
Over the years, Ves figured out that the Five Scrolls Compact might not know as much as he feared. Otherwise, his father wouldn't have fled civilized space while simultaneously dumping the System on his lap.
Yet even if the Compact was in the dark about Ves, the experiments their researchers conducted meant that they probably suspected that something iffy was going on in this region of space. Something important enough for the so-called Ruined Temple to take note.
"What is the Ruined Temple?" He asked.
"It's the ancestral temple of the Compact." Nitaa explained. "We were always taught to revere the temple and the dignitaries that are fortunate to be selected by the Holy Sons and Daughters to serve them in person. Each dignitary from the Ruined Temple holds absolute sway over the brothers and sisters stationed throughout the galaxy."
"Why is it called that way? Do you know that?"
"It's due to the Great Betrayal! Rebels turned against the Compact and launched a surprise attack against the Great Temple! The blow they struck was so awful that they subsequently formed the CFA and MTA, suppressing Compact influences throughout the galaxy and proclaiming that a new age has come!"
The Age of Conquest was very much a period of time where the Five Scrolls Compact held great sway. The Age of Mechs that followed afterwards shaped up to be an age defined by the Big Two that succeeded the secretive cult.
Unfortunately, Nitaa could tell Ves little more than that. Unlike Virtual Rear Admiral Ordoth, who had been created by a very high-ranking informer or spy of the Compact, his bodyguard had not even entered the bottom floor of the cult.
The stories imparted to her therefore consisted of basic, targeted information meant to instill awe and devotion to the Compact. If they ever defected or got caught by the authorities, the Compact wouldn't be worried because someone like Nitaa knew nothing of value.
Perhaps most pertinent to Ves was that Nitaa knew nothing about the disposition of the Sacred Scrolls.
She didn't know that the Compact only retained possession of the Water Scroll and the Earth Scroll.
She didn't know that the CFA and MTA snatched the Fire Scroll from the Great Temple.
She didn't know the Wood Scroll went missing during the chaos of the Great Betrayal.
She didn't know that the Metal Scroll was in fact only a short distance away!
While she knew that Ves had to be in possession of a Sacred Scroll, she did not know which of the five he possessed.
"If I may ask, sir.. which Scroll.."
"It's the Metal Scroll."
"Ah! I see! That's why you're a mech designer!"
Well, that wasn't quite right, but Ves did not quibble over the details. Instead, he focused on getting answers.
"Do you know who this dignitary is and how powerful they are? Can you tell me anything about the forces at their disposal?"
Nitaa shook her head in regret. "I have no idea, sir. The Fl'xixians are highly excited, though. They believe that the procession that is heading towards us will bring a lot of beneficial tech and enhancements. Everyone related to the Compact is hoping that the dignitary's arrival in the star sector will massively improve their strength and capabilities, thereby altering the balance of power in the entire star cluster."
This sounded incredibly worrisome to Ves. The dignitary would likely stay in the region for a while considering that he took decades to travel here. Ves would never be able to stay safe in the Komodo Star Sector once this huge figure settled in the Nyxian Gap!
"Can you tell me anything about the timeframe of this great person's arrival?"
"No. I've heard estimates ranging from a decade to three decades from now. The distance from the Ruined Temple to our star sector is immense. I don't even know what FTL method is being used to carry the dignitary to our region of space."
This left a very huge cloud of uncertainty over Ves. Ever since Nitaa revealed that a prominent figure of the Compact was on their way, he already began fermenting plans for a long-term vacation to a different star cluster.
The best way to avoid detection was to be well away from the areas being searched! The dignitary wouldn't be able to track down the System if it wasn't there in the first place!
The only problem was that such a move came with severe repercussions. Not only would he have to separate himself from most of his friends and acquaintances, the LMC's momentum would also stall without his direct presence.
Nonetheless, those drawbacks paled before the threat of the Five Scrolls Compact! None of his ambitions in the Komodo Star Sector held any meaning if he landed in the hands of their insane researchers and cultists!
All of this required careful thought. Planning such a major move not only demanded careful planning, but also a reasonable excuse to avoid arousing any suspicion.
Considering that the dignitary's arrival was at least a decade away, Ves had plenty of time to consider his future options carefully.
"Alright. Thank you for this warning, Nitaa. You've been very helpful to me by forewarning me. I really don't want to land in the hands of the Compact."
"It is my honor to serve you, Your Holiness."
"I told you not to call me that. It's a Compact custom, and neither of us are aligned with them. Just call me by something normal."
A troubled expression appeared on her face. "I.. It's hard for me to do so, Mr. Larkinson. You are the most eminent individual in the star sector! Not even the councilors of the MTA at Centerpoint can match your august height! You carry one of the five greatest artifacts that helped propel humanity to the dominant race in the galaxy!"
Ves crossed his arms and sighed. "I'm not as impressive as you think I am. The Metal Scroll I carry is.. not quite right. It's weaker than you think. Possessing it doesn't mean I'm capable of withstanding orbital bombardment or stopping a mech from stomping me flat with its foot. While the Scroll does provide me with some advantages, it takes time for me to match your expectations."
This dose of reality disappointed Nitaa immensely. "I see..."
"I am all by myself. I don't have anyone other than Lucky and my parents who are in on these secrets. I haven't built up an organization around me that can help me fight back against the Compact. I am constantly hiding in plain sight."
He took a risk by revealing his weak state. His bodyguard would be spending lots of time with him, so she would find out sooner or later that being a Holy Son did not mean he held the power of life and death over everyone in the star sector.
Even though Ves plainly exposed himself, secretly he had been on guard. He observed her with his spiritual vision. He could summon the Amastendira within moments, and Lucky also diverted some attention to the tall woman in case she made any threatening moves.
Fortunately for everyone involved, Nitaa displayed no hint of malice.
"I believe that you will one day be able to wield great power of humanity, Your Holiness. This is the destiny of all of those who the Sacred Scrolls found worthy to bear them! The entire galaxy will one day learn of your greatness!"
To be honest, Ves did not know whether Nitaa spoke the truth or just recited some lie made up by the Compact. They certainly did everything possible to elevate the stature of their Holy Sons and Daughters.
He easily came around to the idea that the Scrolls weren't inert and could in fact think for themselves. Yet did they really select their own bearers? What were their criteria, and did they all have to be aligned to the Compact's crazy beliefs?
So far, the System did not compel him to worship the so-called immortal gods, but Ves had a feeling his version of the Metal Scroll was brain-damaged. Recovering from its presumed destruction during the Great Betrayal must have been immensely difficult for it to repair.
Perhaps it even lost a significant chunk of its memories and directives!
He questioned Nitaa some more about the Compact, but other than some meaningless rituals and unsubstantiated rumors, she did not have that much to say.
"I am not even that well-versed in the Order of Fl'xix." She said with regret. "While it is intricately tied to the Compact, we understood very early that we are primarily serving as their arm in this region of space."
The implication was that more organizations like the Order of Fl'xix existed in other states. Ves wouldn't know which one was in cahoots with the Compact as they were very good at hiding themselves. Having Nitaa by his side might help in identifying them, but mostly the different groupings of the Compact weren't even aware of each other's identities.
This was the annoying part about opposing a threat in the dark. The Compact adopted a tried-and-true clandestine cell system which involved setting numerous autonomous cells.
The disadvantages of such a structure were aplenty. The cells often performed redundant tasks. They couldn't pool their resources together to pursue large-scale efforts. In some cases, they might even fight against each other without knowing that they were on the same side!
Yet for all of these weaknesses, the Compact valued the secrecy it brought. The destruction or defection of a single cell would never be able to threaten the security of the Ruined Temple and the true cadre of the organization.
In essence, while the Five Scrolls Compact wouldn't be able to wrest control of the galaxy from the Big Two anytime soon, exterminating them was impossible!
Neither the CFA and the MTA managed to wipe them out, so it was a complete fantasy if Ves thought he could defeat the powerful cult by his own efforts!
The best he could do was figure out a way to dismantle their regional cell in the Nyxian Gap. While he already resolved to leave the star cluster before the dignitary of the Ruined Temple arrived, it wasn't in his nature to flee without taking a parting shot at his bogeymen!
Plans already began to form in his mind. His next two steps in his tour would bring him to the Sentinel Kingdom, which practically bordered the Nyxian Gap. Perhaps he might be able to inquire more about the Compact in that state.