Ves felt conflicted. After almost a week of gathering intel, he was beginning to exhaust his sources. Kemila wasn't all that large and there were only so many mech pilots and feral cats he could question.
Most of them already said the same things for a while, which further reinforced his belief that he was wasting his time at this point.
In truth, he recognized that he was merely stalling over his decision. He felt torn between setting his sights on the weaker Dragon Cat or the very formidable Zeigra.
Both of them possessed their own strong points and peculiarities, but the difficulty in getting close to them varied very wildly.
\"Hunting a Crown Cat isn't easy at all!\" He lamented.
If he set his sights on Zeigra and his rumored metal assimilation and corrosion abilities, then Ves faced a lot of difficult hurdles to hunt down the dangerous cat.
First, he had to hire a strong-enough hunting team willing to take him along for the hunt.
Hardly any established hunting outfit who dared to tackle a Crown Cat would work with a strange foreigner like him. Mech designer or not, Ves was still an outsider in the hunting community.
His choices were very few for that reason. In fact, the only hunting team that he might be able to persuade in hunting down the strong huge cat was the Mark of Caantz!
Just the thought about getting in bed with a bunch of religious nuts who engaged in strange ritualistic hunting ceremonies gave him the creeps!
Right now, evening settled on Kemila. Tomorrow, he decided to take the next step. The only consideration he had to make was which huge cat he should settle upon.
\"Should I go for the Dragon Cat or Zeigra?\"
The two weren't in the same league.
While the Dragon Cat only exhibited a single vague ability, everything about Zeigra was exceptional. Ves suspected that House Laterna likely wouldn't be able to replicate his abilities if the Crown Cat relied on spirituality to perform his tricks.
In the end, caution won out for once. Hunting a Crown Cat was a very big endeavor that required weeks or even months of preparation. A hunting team didn't decide to go out into the hunting zone to hunt one of the most dangerous huge cats on Felixia in an instant!
He couldn't afford to linger too long in the Sentinel Kingdom. He had a schedule to maintain, and his shortened stay in the Chuko Republic only bought him a couple of extra weeks at most.
Ves recognized that he faced the same kind of difficult choice back when he was shopping for Kinners.
\"One choice is adequate but doable. The other choice is great but very difficult. Which one should I choose?\"
As a mech designer, he always pursued a high degree of excellence in his work. He really hated working with inferior materials and component designs.
Though Ves was not as compulsive about quality as Gloriana, he still believed he should make the effort to obtain something better if he had the option to do so. This was why he continually hesitated about crossing out Zeigra.
He felt like he was doing himself, his ambitions and the Devil Tiger a disservice if he went for the lesser option!
Ves furiously shook his head. \"Damnit! I'm not Gloriana!\"
She would probably opt for Zeigra over the Dragon Cat anyday. As long as she could get a hunting team to agree to hunt down the Crown Cat, why shouldn't she make the attempt?
He was different. He did not demand perfection from his mechs. His previous designs reflected a reasonable balance between quality and practicality. While his premium mechs were more expensive than the average mech on the market, he made sure not to go too far.
The question of necessity also came to the fore. Certainly, everything he heard about Zeigra made the Crown Cat highly compatible to his vision for the Devil Tiger.
Combining an adaptable, evolvable smart metal tiger mech with a design spirit from a notorious Crown Cat who shared some of the same abilities sounded like a match made in heaven!
\"It's too bad that heaven is too unobtainable.\" He sighed.
His original purpose for coming to Felixia was to obtain a spiritual fragment of a large cat or tiger-like species. It hardly mattered what kind of fragment he obtained so long as it came from a creature that could adapt to the Devil Tiger's mech frame.
The main reason why Ves focused on gathering rumors about supposed strange abilities associated with the huge cats was because he needed to determine which ones possessed spirituality.
He accomplished that. After almost a week of gathering information, he became certain that both the Dragon Cat and Zeigra both possessed spirituality, and with considerable strength.
Though they weren't Sacred Gods like Qilanxo and Pairixan who could call down lightning storms from the skies or form an impenetrable space barrier, their strength ought to be sufficient for Ves to obtain a decent spiritual fragment.
\"It won't be the strongest, but it will probably be good enough to empower my mech.\"
As for what attributes they carried and what abilities they could bestow to his Devil Tiger, those considerations went beyond the scope of his initial plans.
Certainly his Devil Tiger design might very well exhibit an immense boost in power and survivability if it inherited some of Zeigra's remarkable abilities. It would bring the mech one step closer to achieving the legendary status that Ves had dreamt.
Yet.. could he afford to engage in feature creep?
\"I've been so caught up in admiring a Crown Cat that I've inadvertently moved my goalposts!\"
That wasn't necessarily a bad thing. His initial imagination before he arrived at Felixia was a little limited. He had no idea what kind of spiritual fragments he could obtain and turn into the Devil Tiger's design spirit.
Now that he blew away the fog and uncovered two different options, the question of choice paralyzed him into indecision.
\"This is the first time I have a choice.\"
His Crystal Lord's X-Factor was fine despite possessing a very anemic design spirit based around a spiritual remnant.
His Aurora Titan's X-Factor blew everything else out of the water, but how could he possibly obtain another spiritual fragment as wondrous as that of Qilanxo?
His Transcendent Messenger's X-Factor was nearly as strong as that of the Aurora Titan, but Ves made use of the spiritual residue of a very significant human figure.
In each of those cases, choice never came up. Ves just worked with what he had without thinking too much about alternatives.
Ves crossed his arms and thought deeply.
\"It's different now. Now that I have more agency in this aspect, I have the option to change my mind.\"
Even if he already defined many aspects of his Devil Tiger design, he still left a lot of ambiguity. Once he finally obtained a spiritual fragment, he could easily tailor his ongoing work to the properties of the huge cat the fragment belonged to regardless of their quirks.
Regarding their fighting styles, the Devil Tiger was flexible enough to accommodate both.
\"It's the mech pilot that really defined the fighting style.\" He muttered. \"Though if both the mech and mech pilot matches, then the combination will perform much better.\"
So the choice of what kind of design spirit he adopted mattered. The influence it exerted through the X-Factor meant that the Devil Tiger would perform a little better under different circumstances.
Ves activated his comm and reviewed some of the footage of the Dragon Cat and Zeigra in battle. Which cat fit best with his Devil Tiger if he only looked at their fighting style?
Though both cats fought ferociously in head-on brawls, they each adopted slightly different styles.
The Dragon Cat was a pure exobeast. She lacked most of the genetic programming that the biotech researchers of House Laterna inserted into the genes of their organic products.
\"That's not necessarily a bad thing.\"
The Dragon Cat fought with natural instinct honed over millions of years of constant evolution. Going through the process of survival of the fittest ensured her species was very good at dealing with the threats on her native planet and environment.
In contrast, almost every aspect about Zeigra had been designed. The exobiologists and geneticists who cooked up his species had probably been messing around, but also incorporated many artificial improvements into his genome.
Many of those enhancements likely addressed combat against mechs. One of the biggest reasons why Zeigra had become so infamous was because he recognized the roles of different mechs and tried to avoid their strong points while exploiting their vulnerabilities.
Just like any intelligent huge cat, Zeigra preferred to ambush ranged mechs whenever possible!
This was a lot different from the Dragon Cat, who preferred to take out whatever mech was closer!
\"The Dragon Cat thrives on instinct while Zeigra is guided by his programming.\"
Ves had a feeling that this difference might prove crucial. What if Zeigra's bioprogramming contained hidden instructions?
The possibility that House Laterna's biotech researchers planted all kinds of backdoors and hidden orders into the Crown Cat's genes was very real!
Ves had studied some of the raw data that Lucky retrieved from House Laterna's research outposts in Eron and Asco. While he failed to interpret most of the data, he did get a sense of how much the local researchers interfered with the wildlife on the planet.
\"Almost every aspect is under their control.\" He concluded.
As much as Ves admired Zeigra's abilities and fighting prowess, he preferred to impart his Devil Tiger with a more primal design spirit.
With an X-Factor inclined towards ferocity, instinct and brutality, his Devil Tiger might fare a bit worse on the survival department, but the boost to its aggression reinforced its double-edged nature.
\"Maybe going with the lesser choice isn't so bad at all.\"
While the Dragon Cat had her shortcomings, Ves did not mind them all that much. One of his goals for the Devil Tiger was to design a mech that demanded the utmost from its mech pilot.
So what if his mech drove a mech pilot to death?! The only mech pilots who were going to be piloting his mech anyway would be a bunch of murderous Nyxian pirates!
As a one-off experimental project, the primary purpose of the Devil Tiger was to test his assumptions and confirm or disprove his guesses.
The more extreme he designed the mech, the more pronounced the results it returned!
On top of amplifying the extremes, the rumored ability of the Dragon Cat might prove to be a boon if the Devil Tiger was capable of imitating its powers.
\"Will it, though?\"
As far as he knew, no Aurora Titan produced by the LMC ever replicated Qilanxo's space barrier.
Could a mech even express the powers of its design spirit in the first place?
\"I don't know the answer.\"
He didn't have any evidence ruling this possibility out, but neither did he possess any proof that his Aurora Titans could summon space barriers either.
\"It's an interesting possibility nonetheless.\" Ves rubbed his chin.
As he thought about this question even further, he suddenly made a very significant realization.
What if.. he could instill his mech designs with design spirits based off other entities.
Entities such as.. mech pilots?
What if he transferred the spirituality of a dead or dying mech pilot and infused it into his mech?
\"That's just the start!\"
As soon as Ves came up with this notion, countless new ideas emerged from his imagination!
What if he created a dynastic mech where he continually infused the mech with the spiritual fragments of past generations of its mech pilots? How well would the mech perform if piloted by the latest generation of their family line?
What if.. what if he obtained a spiritual fragment or the complete spirituality of an expert pilot and implanted it into his mech design? Would the mech turn into an 'expert mech' that still expressed the power of one even if a regular mech pilot interfaced with the empowered machine?
If Ves somehow managed to make this radical notion into a reality, then he would in essence solve one of the MTA's biggest problems!
He'd be able to ensure the continuity of expert pilots or even ace and god pilots by perpetuating their abilities after their death!
\"This.. this is a game changer!\"
Ves started to breathe heavily. How could he have overlooked this direction?!
The possibilities were limitless, and so was their potential!