The Ylvaine Protectorate had never been the same after the brief visitation of the Bright Martyr.
His coming and going only lasted a few months, but the ripple effects of his actions still echoed throughout the highly religious state to this day!
A number of highly controversial debates ensued after the Bright Martyr painfully exposed many problems the Ylvainans tried their best to bury under the ground. The division between Ylvainans had never become more stark.
Yet even as the faithful joined sides and argued against each other over the best course forward, the Protectorate had never been more united!
Despite their differences of opinion, Ylvainans of all stripes grew more ardent about the faith they held in common.
They were all Ylvainans! No matter how much they disagreed, they were still brothers and sisters! United by a set of common beliefs, it became more important than ever to present a common front against the outside galaxy!
The Curin Dynasty, which aggressively pushed for greater reforms, readily agreed to compromises whenever the Poxco Dynasty pushed back.
The stoic and stiff-necked Kronon Dynasty also shifted some of their long-held customs. They loosened up some of their rules and cautiously introduced some compassion in their decision-making.
The Shepherds of the Flock, the Attendants of Ylvaine and the Protectors of the Faith all experienced their own renaissance. No longer did they grow further apart and divide the Protectorate into three isolated silos.
For the first time in hundreds of years, the three leading dynasties each started to move closer to each other!
Even the notorious True Ylvaine Dynasty subsided in their radical actions!
To Taon Melin, he experienced this new spirit of cooperation first-hand. As a young elite Kronon mech pilot, he originally fell under the employ of Director Cecily Curin. She selected him and five of his fellow elite Kronons to pilot the upcoming hero mechs designed specifically to serve as her ceremonial bodyguard detail.
"How things change. It seemed only yesterday that I was treated as an outcast for my Ascensionist beliefs." He sighed.
The Ascensionists, often regarded as cultists and deviants of the orthodox Ylvainan faith, now gained prominence within the Kronon Dynasty, to the consternation of the more conservative Poxco Dynasty.
Though widespread acceptance still wasn't on the cards, Taon Melin and his fellow Ascensionist enjoyed being able to talk about their beliefs openly.
It was all thanks to the Transcendent Messengers they piloted!
The mechs that had originally been designed to serve as ceremonial bodyguards turned out to be so much more. Each of the Transcendent Messengers were masterpieces of Ylvainan mech design!
Their ability to touch the faith of every devout Ylvainan became so famed that it became untenable for Director Cecily to maintain her possession of the mechs!
They were simply too precious to remain in the possession of a single person! The Protectorate already declared the mechs as national treasures. From what Taon had heard, the Poxco Dynasty even contemplated designating them as holy relics of the Ylvainan Faith!
The only reason why the traditionalists hadn't done so yet was due to their reluctance to further add to the credibility to the Bright Martyr. The Poxcos still regarded the notorious Brighter as a harbinger of change, both for the better and for the worse.
As Taon quietly contemplated the drastic turns of his life, the person sitting next to him at a bench in the courtyard of the Inquisition Headquarters finally spoke up. His guest had arrived a moment ago.
"How are you adjusting after your transfer?" Director Cecily asked with mild concern. "Neither of us foresaw that you'd be transferred to the Ylvainan Inquisition. Unfortunately, the Poxcos are insistent on obtaining control over Zeal."
"I am content, director." Taon offered the powerful woman a respectful nod. "I am the chosen of Zeal. The Inquisition tried their best to replace me with their Poxco mech pilots, but none of them can bring out its strength as well as I've been able to demonstrate."
Older mech pilots. Younger mech pilots. Innocent mech pilots. Scheming mech pilots. The Poxco Dynasty paraded many different variations of Poxco pilots in an attempt to supplant Taon Melin from the valuable relic mech.
Each of them failed!
Few mech pilots could proficiently pilot a hero mech to begin with. Those that did encountered another problem, which was that Zeal felt a little pale when others piloted the mech. Only when Taon Melin himself entered the cockpit did the mech truly come alive, as the Living Mech Corporation often described.
He was chosen!
Not only him, but his fellow Kronons who were originally assigned to serve as Director Cecily's bodyguard had been chosen as well!
It was as if the Bright Martyr specifically designed each of the six Transcendent Messengers for their use!
Not even the handful of Poxco expert pilots that the Inquisition paraded to Zeal succeeded in bringing out its greatest strength!
Both Taon, Director Cecily and the rest of the Ylvaine Protectorate heard about this strange phenomenon. The Ylvainans started to believe the mechs had minds of their own!
That Taon and his fellow chosen all happened to be Ascensionists led to a lot of bitterness from the Attendants of Ylvaine. Had they been wrong in rejecting the Ascensionist beliefs?
One thing was for sure. Taon did not mix well with the Ylvainan Inquisition. Despite his zeal and evotion in the Ylvainan Faith, the Inquisition was still sour at their failure to replace him with one of their Poxco mech pilots!
Director Cecily gave the young mech pilot a reassuring smile. "Your place as Zeal's designated mech pilot will remain assured so long as you align with its ideals. The Bright Martyr designs each of his mech with the premise that they are alive. Never take Zeal for granted."
"I am learning something new every time I hop inside its cockpit. Zeal is a fantastic mech and one that has brought me closer to the prophet than any church or shrine has ever managed to do. I am endlessly grateful that I received the opportunity of doing the prophet's work each time I sortie with Zeal!"
"I'm glad you think that way, Taon, because the time for you to muster up your mechs in parades and publicity stunts will soon be over. The Star Faith Collective have become more and more unbridled in their aggressive incursions. One of the reasons why I'm visiting the headquarters of the Inquisition is because we are discussing the potential deployment of several Transcendent Messengers to the border systems. Zeal may be one of the mechs that we will select to defend one of the border planets."
"I am already aware of my mission." Taon's eyes lit up with fiery conviction. "The Starrers must be stopped, and they shall! This, I am certain! Zeal is destined to turn back their unbridled assaults!"
"I.. see." Director Cecily replied. "Please keep in mind that failure is not an option. The Ylvaine Protectorate is taking a huge risk by deploying some of the Transcendent Messengers into battle. Zeal and every other mech in the set have evolved into symbols of our people. Their defeat in battle will come as a gut punch to the Protectorate. The loss or capture of a Transcendent Messenger will deal incalculable damage to our faith!"
"Zeal will not lose! I will die before I let that happen!"
"You are not piloting Sacrifice. Please do not treat your mech too carelessly, Taon. The deployment of the Transcendent Messengers represent a huge gamble on our part. While a considerable number of leaders are opposed to risking them in battle, I think the Ylvaine Protectorate needs to see that these mechs are not just there to look pretty. They are hero mechs, after all. To truly galvanize our people, the Transcendent Messengers must lead the charge!"
None of these political concerns registered to Taon that much. To him, piloting Zeal to the best of his ability was all that mattered. He already knew that Zeal was destined to be more than just a glorified parade mech.
"You will not find me wanting in battle." He promised. "Every Kronon mech pilot is already prepared for battle!"
"This isn't only about yourself! Do not forget who and what you are fighting for! Aside from the Ylvainan Faith and its believers, you are also fighting for one more person. The Bright Martyr himself is counting on you. Many Ylvainans are already convinced of his blessed status, but the more traditional-minded Ylvainans are still on the fence."
"They are fools." Taon crossed his arms. "They will see the truth. I am sure of it. Every mech pilot that isn't piloting one of the Bright Marty's mechs are missing out on a golden opportunity to ascend and grow closer to Prophet Ylvaine!"
Director Cecily smiled. "I'm glad you think that way. Please voice your opinions more, even if unasked. The Bright Martyr needs all the help he can get to gain wider acceptance. Above all else, please develop yourself further and aim your sights higher. If you happen to excel in a magnificent manner, there might be an opportunity waiting for you in the future."
"I'm aware. You don't need to look any further. Zeal and I will be at your disposal whenever we are needed. The visions do not lie!"
"Your conviction is admirable. If only more Ylvainans were supportive of our cause."
After a few minutes of chatting, Director Cecily finally departed from one of the inner courtyards of the Inquisition headquarters. She was a busy woman, and she still had a few more chosen mech pilot to visit.
Taon watched the woman saunter away in the company of her bodyguards.
Recent events may have brought many Ylvainans together, but they also hardened certain radicals against the woman responsible for pushing them in motion.
Director Cecily endured three different assassination attempts. Each of them failed, but her protection detail grew more and more numerous.
"She doesn't even need all of that protection." Taon contemptuously snorted. "She is far more deadly than all of the assassins put together!"
Taon saw visions. He had been seeing them for a while. Sometimes, the vivid visions came to him when he piloted Zeal. Sometimes, they came to him during his sleep.
A normal person would have dismissed these visions as dreams or fabrications of the mind. Perhaps even some Ylvainans would doubt the veracity of their visions despite their vividness.
Not Taon. He plainly accepted the visions as the truth. While he was not conceited enough to claim that he was following in the footsteps of the Great Prophet, he nonetheless believed he was blessed by the great figure.
"I am chosen."
This singular belief sustained him throughout all of the changes in his life. No matter who he worked for, no matter how much the Inquisition wanted to replace him with their own, his visions gave him the bedrock he needed to stand firm.
"I am ready."
He was ready to fight! He did not convert to Ascensionism because he wanted to live a life of comfort and luxury.
Though he had the option to sit back and enjoy the glory of being one of the chosen, he knew he could be so much more.
"I am a vessel."
He could feel it in his bones. Just as Ves Larkinson channeled Prophet Ylvaine, Taon too believed he too represented his will!
"The Bright Martyr..."
Taon held a lot of thoughts about the man. Unlike many Ylvainans, he easily got around to the idea that the Great Prophet favored a seemingly-faithless Brighter mech designer.
"Everyone is an Ylvainan!"
The prophet cared for every human and alien. Even those who held contradictory beliefs to the Ylvainan Faith still deserved redemption.
"Even the Star Faith Collective is worthy of redemption." He muttered.
Of course, they still needed to be taught a lesson before they saw the light. The Starrers and their heretical worship of stars needed to be stopped!