Since Ves had a deal with Lady Miralix, he decided to leverage her status and ask her for a favor.
As a scion of House Laterna, it only took a few calls for her to grant Ves permission to visit the cooling chamber which stored the frozen remains of the Dragon Cat.
By the time Ves arrived at the Kemila Hunting Hall with Lucky and Nitaa as his company, Benedict Vinzler greeted him yet again.
\"Mr. Larkinson! I did not expect to see you so soon!\"
As soon as the two shook hands, they began to board a waiting aircar. As the vehicle headed to the entrance of the underground holding cell complex, the relations manager began to explain the allowances they made.
\"We first requested the Rocit Butchers for permission to allow a guest to observe the remains.\"
\"Since we're on our way to the facility, I take it they granted permission?\"
Vinzler smiled. \"Every member of the Butchers, from their commander to their mech technicians, is out partying in the city right now. They're always incredibly exuberant after every hunt. I believe they are still drinking their faces stupid even now!\"
That made it easy for the hunting hall to request a favor from them. Perhaps to them it wasn't a big deal that someone wanted to see the results of their hunt up close.
\"In what condition is the carcass?\"
\"It's partially complete, though it doesn't look pretty. The Butchers already carved out some portions to cook and consume the meat immediately after they slew the Dragon Cat. They believe the meat tastes the sweetest just after successfully taking down a beast.\"
\"Is the head still present?\" Ves pressed.
This was a very important question to him! The presence of the head and the brains of the Dragon Cat was pivotal!
\"No. The head is the most valuable part to hunters. Even the Butchers value them. They've already removed the head and sent it to the taxidermists in order to treat it and turn it into a hunting trophy.\"
What a shame! Ves expected that something like this would happen seeing that hunters placed a huge value on heads.Still, he lamented the loss of opportunity to see the head of a freshly-slain beast in person!
From what Ves observed of the hunting trophies mounted in the Kemila Hunting Hall, preserved heads retained nothing of their original spirituality, if they even had one at all. He guessed that spirituality only lingered for a limited amount of time upon the death of a spiritually potent entity.
\"What is your interest in the Dragon Cat, if I might ask? It is not every day that a visitor demands to see the carcass of a huge cat.\"
\"I've made a deal with Lady Miralix to tune up her mechs in preparation for the upcoming hunt.\" Ves replied as he came up with an excuse on the fly. \"I'd like to study the remains of a huge cat up close both to help me optimise the design of her personal mech and to get a better idea what kind of opponent she's about to face.\"
Vinzler nodded in understanding. \"I see. One point I'd like to note is that the Dragon Cat is an unadulterated product of nature. She's a pure exobeast, and a very alien one compared to the organic products of House Laterna. Her physiology and body structure is vastly different from that of a genetically-designed Crown Cat such as Zeigra. Aside from that, the Dragon Cat is also smaller and weaker, so do not think that Zeigra is as easy to defeat.\"
\"I'm aware. I'll be sure to take that into account.\"
\"You've already visited these holding cells before, though. Haven't the captive cats you've observed before satisfied you enough?\"
\"Yeah, but that is when they were still alive and too dangerous to let me approach. I'd like to take a really close look, if you know what I mean.\"
The manager shrugged, not quite comprehending what Ves wanted out of this visit.
That was fine. Mech designers tended to be weird, and to reinforce that impression, Ves intentionally wore his cat ear attachments on his head again.
Once the aircar deposited them in the underground holding facility, Vinzler led Ves and his company all the way to the floor which held the cooling chambers.
After a brief inspection, they walked through a small side door placed next to the huge mech-sized vault door.
A chill briefly splashed across their faces, but a background system quickly became active which warded the humans from the cold.
\"Here she is! The Dragon Cat, or at least what the Butchers have left unattended! Impressive, is she not? I can still imagine the majesty this exobeast conveyed when she was at the prime of her life!\"
Ves indeed admired the Dragon Cat by quite a bit. Its lizard-like traits reminded him of the hexapod kings of Groening IV.
Of course, the Dragon Cat still resembled cats in many ways, otherwise she wouldn't have been brought to Felixia in the first place.
\"It's a pity though..\" Ves disappointedly said. \"The Butchers have really went to town on the Dragon Cat.\"
The carcass... it looked awful. The footage of the Dragon Cat portrayed her as a majestic giant exobeast. Now... the headless carcass displayed a multitude of ugly cuts and bruises. Many of her scales got lost during the fight or got cut right through by the giant blades and axes wielded by the Butcher mechs.
Huge chunks of flesh had been ripped out of the carcass as well, either due to the brutality of the battle or because the Butchers wanted to organize a huge barbecue.
Whether the Dragon Cat's flesh was even edible to humans or not, Ves had no idea! Since the members of the Rocit Butchers hadn't started dropping dead yet, then it was probably okay.
\"Can I have a moment alone?\" Ves asked. \"I'd like to study the carcass in peace. The quiet will allow me to think like a mech designer.\"
\"Certainly, Mr. Larkinson. I do have to warn you that you aren't allowed to touch the carcass or remove any tissue, fluids, bones or any material. The contents in this vault completely belongs to the Butchers. If you provoke their ire, I don't think your status as a Journeyman will save you from their butcher blades.\"
Ves smiled. \"I know my limits.\"
As Vinzler left the cooling chamber, Ves turned and picked up Lucky. His dull white bone-metallic shell felt cool to his hands.
\"Are you cold, Lucky?\"
\"Well, I hope you can stay warm, because we're about to get a very close look at the carcass.\"
Ves turned to Nitaa. \"You can follow me around, but don't disturb me in my contemplation. I don't want anyone to interrupt me while I'm studying the carcass, is that clear?\"
\"Yes, sir.\" His tall bodyguard stoically replied. \"If I might say, the carcass may be emanating bacteria and other toxic particulate matter. You never know with exobeasts.\"
\"I'll be fine. My body can take a few alien germs.\"
Though Nitaa looked incredibly dubious at his claim, Ves actually held back. He could probably drink a glass of raw sewage and still be able to digest the contents on account of his numerous body upgrades!
As Ves carelessly stepped forward, he began to unfold his spiritual senses. He immediately picked up Nitaa's latent spiritual power, but sensed none from the frozen mass of flesh before his sights.
This.. was incredibly disappointing. Though the remains of the once-mighty Dragon Cat definitely impressed him up close, the fact that he sensed no spirituality in its flesh at all was a huge letdown.
Had he misjudged the Dragon Cat? Was she really just a big, dumb exobeast with the spirituality of a nutrient pack?
He refused to believe the Dragon Cat's carcass was devoid of spirituality. He strongly suspected that she possessed more than a trace amount of spirituality when she was alive, and her body should still have motes of it left if only through diffusion.
\"If only the Dragon Cat's head is still here.\" He sighed.
What he saw right now simply consisted of a giant, mutilated pile of flesh. The stench emanating from it was dreadful, and Nitaa firmly kept her helmet closed in order to maintain an airtight seal within her armor.
Not Ves. He wanted to douse himself in the Dragon Cat's scent. The huge chunks of frozen blood and flesh didn't scare him at all. What he wanted was to immerse himself in the once-proud exobeast and see whether he could find a thread that might lead him to a remnant of the Dragon Cat's spirituality.
He had no idea what happened with the spirituality of a powerful entity after they died. He long theorized that they would partially linger in the material realm for a while before shifting completely to the imaginary realm.
Right now, he guessed that enough time had passed for the unbound spirituality of the Dragon Cat to have moved on to the imaginary realm.
From what he could tell, the weaker spiritual remnants would quickly be obliterated by the corrosion in this strange and not-quite-real plane of existence.
The stronger ones such as the spiritual remnant of the crystal builder might be able to endure for longer, but even then most of their traits and strength would be worn away by the constant corrosive spiritual winds that flowed throughout this realm.
\"All I need is a trail! A thread! Something that can lead me to the source!\" He whispered to himself.
Nitaa had no idea what her employer was looking for. Lucky knew more than her, but even he lacked the spiritual sensitivity of his owner!
It was only when Ves strayed closer to the long and broken torso that he finally paused.
It was as if his heart skipped a beat.
\"Do you sense that, Lucky?\"
While Lucky expressed his confusion, Ves closed his eyes and concentrated fully on his spiritual senses. He was sure he picked up something unusual! He tried to remember the direction of the disturbance, and slowly began to shuffle his feet.
\"There! I'm getting closer!\"
An echo of something.. was present in the vicinity. Like a cat smelling a juicy fish, Ves slowly neared the source of the increasingly alluring presence.
\"Mr. Larkinson!\" Nitaa called and gently placed her armored hand on his shoulder. \"Careful now! You were about to bump into the carcass!\"
Though a flash of irritation struck his mind, he nonetheless opened his eyes to see he was looking straight into the cut sides of the Dragon Cat's ribcage!
\"Ah, sorry. I lost myself for a moment there.\"
He didn't step forward but neither did he move back. Instead, he reengaged his spiritual senses and tried to penetrate them deeply into the carcass.
At this distance, the strange presence had become a lot more clear to him. Like a lighthouse in the distance, Ves unerringly approached the distant light, which subsequently became more clear to him. Now that he locked in a solid direction, he accelerated his approach!
As he continued to stretch his spiritual senses further, he finally realized what he had found.
\"If I'm guessing right, this is the heart of the Dragon Cat!\"
Due to convergent evolution, much of the Dragon Cat's physiology resembled that of terrestrial beasts. Ves knew from his studies that the exobeast possessed a heart that circulated its blood throughout its body.
From the coordinates of the spiritual echo he sensed, Ves was pretty certain that it sat right in the location of the Dragon Cat's heart!
\"The heart is the key!\"
As a critical life-sustaining organ, the heart played a pivotal role to many species throughout the galaxy! Ves was not surprised to find out that the Dragon Cat's heart still exhibited some latent spirituality.
Much of the blood that circulated through the brains also returned to the heart! Along with the vital nature of the heart, it was pretty much the second-most important organ in the Dragon Cat's body!
Still... now that he detected this.. echo, what could he do with it? From what he could sense, the echo was merely an imprint of something that used to be present. Right now, neither the heart or the rest of the carcass seemed to contain any active motes of spirituality!
\"It's all gone!\"
Ves stared at the mountain of frozen flesh right before his face with a determined expression. While the echo was only a shadow of what used to be present, it was still a critical find.
\"It's a trail! As long as I follow it, I can close in on the source!\"
Although it was just a theory, Ves felt it was worth a try!