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 Once Lady Miralix left with her cat Genevieve and the box containing the P-stone, Ves informed his staff of what transpired.

He received a mixed reception.

\"Just after you decided to go for the Dragon Cat, you suddenly consider hunting Zeigra again because a lady asked for help?\" Gavin asked.

\"She didn't seduce me, if that's what you're implying, Benny. The equation is simple. Hunting the Dragon Cat is fairly safe but yields little return. Hunting a Crown Cat is a lot more dangerous, but I won't necessarily get anything better than the previous choice.\"

\"If that is true, why did you reopen the door to hunt for Zeigra?\"

\"Because Lady Miralix is desperate.\" Ves grinned. \"She needs a skilled mech designer to modify her mechs, and for now her only choice is me. Considering her situation, I don't think she can afford to hold out for another mech designer, not without losing her standing within her noble house.\"

\"So it's a seller's market! You can essentially dictate any price you want as long as it doesn't cross her bottom line!\"

Both of them knew what it meant. Because of time and opportunity constraints, Lady Miralix appeared to be in dire need to enhance her mechs!

Ves had tested out her resolve by presenting an unyielding attitude. If she already had some alternatives in mind, then she wouldn't have accommodated him to this extent.

This clued Ves in that Lady Miralix really had no choice but to continue to negotiate with him! Though she maintained her composure as an eminent lady of House Laterna, she'd actually been begging him throughout the entire negotiation!

\"Do you really think you can negotiate more concessions out of Lady Miralix, boss? Nobles tend to be very proud. If you go too far, she might retaliate!\"

Ves waved away the issue. \"I've gotten a good measure of Lady Miralix, and I don't think she's stupid enough to let pride get in the way of completing a life-changing coming-of-age ceremony. This hunt is important to her. There is no way she'll attempt to screw me over while she still requires my earnest cooperation.\"

His judgement of the woman and his intuition both pointed towards this direction. This made him feel more at ease with playing hardball.

\"Still though, Ves. Zeigra is a very dangerous cat. A lot of bodies ended up in his stomach. I can hardly see whether all of the concessions you've managed to secure from Lady Miralix is worth exposing yourself to so much risk!\"

\"That's why I intend to be unabashed in setting my demands. My cooperation won't come cheap, that you can be assured of.\" Ves grinned like a shark.

The other people in the room said their piece as well.

Predictably, Nitaa objected the most. \"I highly suggest you stick to your original plan, sir. Hunting the Dragon Cat is a safe and secure course of action, as you yourself have described. Why are you throwing all of that out of the window as soon as the noble you wanted to avoid the entire week appealed to your greed?\"

\"It's all about weighing risk against reward.\" Ves reiterated. \"I'm making a rational decision here! As long as Lady Miralix coughs up enough goodies, then participating in an attempt to hunt Zeigra is no longer a ludicrous choice!\"

Both Gavin and Nitaa looked at Ves as if he had lost his mind!

\"No offense, boss, but that's the stupidest risk assessment that I've ever heard! You're basically pressing the muzzle of a faulty gun against your head while betting that it will misfire when you pull the trigger! Is it really worth it to pull the trigger when the chance of shooting yourself in the head is significant?!\"

Ves did not see anything wrong with that analogy as long as he added something.

\"If I get to win a huge prize if I win the bet, then sure I'll pull the trigger!\"

\"You!\"

Gavin palmed his face. \"Don't you realize how ridiculous you sound?! How many times can you pull the trigger before the gun eventually fires off?! You might win a gamble once or twice, but the chance of lethal discharge can't be staved off forever! It only takes one wrong gamble for you to lose your life!\"

Ves shook his head. \"The problem with analogies like the one you're using right now is that they are grossly oversimplified. The chances of encountering a mishap while hunting a Crown Cat is significant, but I can do a lot to stack the odds in my favor. As long as I improve the mechs assigned to the hunt to an impressive degree, then the chance I'll get gobbled up by Zeigra is much lower!\"

The argument continued to rage between Ves and his staff.

Nitaa and Gavin heavily disagreed with what they saw as a suicidal course of action. Crindon expressed opposition as well, but to a lesser degree.

As for the Ingvars, they surprisingly took the opposite side!

\"Hunting a Crown Cat is a prestigious accomplishment.\" Casella declared. \"While I'm familiar with Mr. Larkinson's colorful wartime record, his bravery is confined to only a single conflict. Perhaps the citizens of the Bright Republic have a different opinion, but to foreigners like us, his wartime accomplishments are so impressive that we can't help but doubt they are even real!\"

\"What does doubting his record during the Bright-Vesia War have to do about hunting Crown Cats?!\" Gavin asked in a heated manner.

\"To prove that Mr. Larkinson's earlier accomplishments aren't hogwash! A successful hunt on a reputable hunting ground in Felixia conveys a lot of prestige, especially if we can return with a trophy in hand! While it's a shame that Lady Miralix insists on claiming the head, the other parts can still be used to show off the perils that our boss has gone through!\"

The perspective of highborn scions differed from that of common-born citizens such as Gavin, Nitaa and Crindon.

Though Ves found many aspects about Imon and Casella Ingvar to be detrimental, this time he saw a lot of value in their upbringing.

\"How reputable are hunts?\"

\"A lot.\" Casella answered. \"To many nobles and high officials, wartime service doesn't rate that high if you're not a mech pilot, because what can you really do in a mech battle? The logistical support you provide in the background is nothing compared to pitching a mech to the forefront of a battle!\"

Unspoken here was the tendency for influential and connected people to arrange cushy positions in the rear of the war theater. Ves had encountered plenty of such practices in the Bright Republic!

\"So having a hunt under my belt is of greater value than earning merits in war?\" Ves asked dubiously.

\"Your wartime service is great for impressing commoners, but not from those born in a higher station.\" Imon stated. \"Hunting grounds like the ones that Felixia provide are known for their fairness. Places like these are set up all over human space to provide an equitable competition for every noble and high official to prove their mettle.\"

It sounded absurd to Ves that high society considered hunting to be more reputable than wartime service!

Casella added another complicating factor. \"A big problem with wars is that they happen only intermittently. Some states never even go to war. Back in the Kingdom of the Three Flowers, restless nobles participate in all kinds of high-profile events to prove they are better than their rivals. Hunting is one of the most convenient ways to bolster your reputation and earn some prestige because it is available all-year.\"

This was the reason why the hunting industry generated a healthy amount of business despite providing little practical contribution to society. It was a rich person's hobby that allowed nobles and other members of high society a way to puff themselves up.

As someone who hadn't been born in a higher station, Ves still had difficulty coming around to this perspective.

\"Will it really provide an advantage to me in my relations with others?\" He asked with a tinge of doubt.

\"It's difficult to explain. Hunting is both a dangerous, life-threatening activity and a form of theater. As long as you've hunted down a formidable creature, you can make endless use of your trophy to impress the uninitiated and earn respect from the initiated. The point about the hunt isn't about challenging or proving yourself. It's about leveraging your achievements to your advantage in your business, political or social life.\"

\"So it's a masquerade, pretty much. The trophies we gain from the hunt are the masks we wear to make us appear more formidable than we really are behind our facades.\"

\"The masks can only be obtained for a price. Only hunts that are reputable and recognized by high society matter.\" The female Ingvar emphasized. \"Felixia's Asco Continent happens to be recognized by every third-rate state in the star sector. Hunting a famed Crown Cat will earn you kudos not only in the Sentinel Kingdom, but also in the Kingdom of the Three Flowers, the Kinner Tribe and maybe even in your home state!\"

\"Okay. I think I understand. Let me think about this matter further. Hunting Zeigra is never about earning prestige to me, but I do have to admit that it's a nice bonus. However, my main goal has always been to obtain inspiration for my next design project.\"

He decided to wait and see what Lady Miralix could drum up in three days that could bring him around to the idea of hunting Zeigra.

While Gavin suggested to him over and over that Ves did not have to accompany Lady Miralix on her hunt after tuning up her mech. Why not do the job, accept the rewards, then go back to planning to hunt the Dragon Cat?

\"It's an option.\" Ves partially became swayed. \"I'll judge for myself whether Lady Miralix, her mech pilots and her mechs are strong enough to fare well against a Crown Cat. If I don't think they have a good chance of success, I'll just stay in Kemila while they head into the hunting zone.\"

He still eyed the additional boost to his reputation and prestige if he personally accompanied the hunting team. While it sounded rather farcical to commoners, Ves knew that this was actually a very valuable opportunity to earn an invisible currency that he always had trouble with recently.

For example, his lack of reputation in high society prevented him from gaining access to the more premier Kinner mercenaries. Notable talents that Ves really wanted to hire such as Commander Oryn Mair flatly refused to engage with him because he was a nobody in their circles!

\"Reputation matters!\"

According to the Ingvars, hunting a Crown Cat was one of the most prestigious hunts in the sector-wide hunting community. Ves would be able to earn enduring advantages in the Komodo Star Sector and perhaps even beyond if he had a successful hunt under his belt.

At the end of the second day, Ves was just about to retire to his bed when Crindon arrived at his room with a worried expression.

\"This is bad, sir!\"

\"What is it?\" Ves looked alert and stopped petting Lucky. \"Are we in trouble?\"

\"I've recently got word that the Rocit Butchers set out this morning to hunt the Dragon Cat! Right now, they're probably halfway, and considering their hunting speed, they'll reach her habitat by the next day!\"

\"What?!\" Ves stood up in shock.

\"That's not all! The hunting commander of the Butchers has set out in person this time!\"

The leader of the Rocit Butchers was rumored to be a formidable mech pilot and warrior! If he led the hunting team in person, then the Dragon Cat was as good as dead by the end of the next day!

\"That's not all! Word on the street is that the Butchers hadn't decided to hunt the Dragon Cat on their own initiative. They accepted a very lucrative mission that's been issued to them the day before yesterday!\"

Ves did not have to think long to know who was responsible!

\"Damnit! Well played, Lady Miralix!\"

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