After a week of tinkering and modification work, the Felixia Catslayers finally commenced with their ambitious hunt.
Practically half of Kemila's residents emerged from their homes, bars and other workplaces in order to witness the procession of the Felixia Catstrikers.
Like any dutiful scion and mech pilot of House Laterna, Lady Miralix ingratiated herself in Kemila's hunting community.
She spent a fair amount of time in the middling hunting city going on various hunts, doing business with the local shops and service providers, and learning from more experienced hunters.
For this reason, lots of locals paid attention to everything she did. So when she and her hunting team finally set off for their long-anticipated hunt, the citizens of Kemila largely cheered them on that morning!
Nonetheless, the moment the crowds at the streets caught sight of the altered Kinslayer marching proudly at the head of the procession, their cheers stilled in their throats for a moment.
\"How come it looks so different than before!\"
\"Not even the huge cats I've faced in battle are as ferocious as Lady Miralix's Kinslayer!\"
A burst of discussion and admiration exploded from the crowd of people closest to the compound. Almost everyone in the city caught a glimpse of the Kinslayer or its predecessors before.
Yet the difference between now and then was that the current incarnation of the Kinslayer gave a vastly stronger impression than before!
Whereas before the hunters regarded the Kinslayer as a fine battle machine and a quality mech, now they started to believe it had become capable of something more.
The Kinslayer evoked a powerful sense of pride and confidence! Even Ves looked a bit stumped when he witnessed the mech basked in the energy of the parade.
Vescas, the Kinslayer's new design spirit, took after its parents! Its pride came from the Dragon Cat while its confidence came from himself! The two of them combined led to an aura that turned the Kinslayer into a mech that made everyone believe it could triumph against a Crown Cat!
\"Oh, you silly Lucky.\" He admonished the pet that perched on his shoulder. \"I can't turn you into something like that. You'll have to develop your own air.\"
\"I don't think you'll appreciate the process I have to do in order to make you resemble the Kinslayer.\"
Ves, Lucky and Nitaa accompanied the hunting team in one of their four fast legged transports.
Each hunting team consisted of twelve mechs and up to four extra support vehicles. The latter carried spare parts, some basic fabrication and repair equipment, additional supplies and more.
The legged transports resembled the ones the Vandals and Swordmaidens utilized on Aeon Corona VII.
Of course, the models used by the Catstrikers were optimized for close-to-standard gravity, so they moved a lot faster. At their full speed, they could keep up with any sprinting medium mech.
Right now, Ves looked out of the transparent viewscreen at the top of one of the legged transports. His commanding view over the crowd and the mechs in the procession gave him a very clear picture of how the changes he made to the Kinslayer sparked a drastic change to how people reacted to its appearance!
Compared to the seemingly-transformed tiger mech, the humanoid ranged and melee mechs that trailed after it like obedient soldiers barely looked any different.
While Ves did manage to help the mech technicians perform various tweaks and optimizations under the hood, he simply didn't have the time or resources to impart them with a spiritual component.
\"Hopefully, it won't come to bite me back in the butt.\"
Ves, Lady Miralix and everyone else accompanying the hunting team depended on the performance of the humanoid mechs to wear Zeigra down.
If the humanoid mechs failed to contain the powerful Crown Cat in the first couple of rounds, then the Kinslayer might be forced to step forward prematurely!
This was an outcome that everyone on their hunting team wanted to prevent, including Ves. He thought he could make more improvements to the other mechs, but the Kinslayer demanded so much of his attention that he barely squeezed enough time to soup up the other mechs.
\"Well, it's not like they were in shambles before I got my hands on them. I've seen worse.\"
To someone like Lady Miralix, succeeding in this hunt determined the success she enjoyed in the future. With so much at stake, it did not surprise him at all that she paid far more attention to the state and quality of her mechs than regular mech commanders.
Ves approved of her attitude. Her willingness to make a lot of concessions in order to acquire his assistance proved how much she invested in her mechs.
\"If more mech pilots and mech commanders were like her, the LMC would be making vastly more sales.\"
In truth, even if more and more people in the mech community started to learn about the remarkable nature of his products, they still hesitated to open their wallets. The high prices that his company charged still posed an enormous deterrent to popularizing his style of mechs.
It reminded Ves that he had to design a series of cheaper mechs at some point in order to service the lower end of the mech market.
\"Mr. Larkinson?\" Nitaa asked. She'd been standing quietly at his side in the observation compartment. \"Please forgive me for my presumptuousness, but can I ask a question?\"
\"Sure. You don't need to ask for permission. I consider you as something more than just a bodyguard.\"
\"What are we even doing here? What is so important about participating in this dangerous hunt that you have to participate in person?\"
Ves stopped admiring the work he did to the Kinslayer and turned around to face his Kinner bodyguard. He had to crane his neck upwards due to her height, which irked him a bit.
\"Nitaa, you've spent some months in my company, which is enough time for you to become familiar with me. Do you think I'm the sort of person who does something without a reason?\"
She shook her head. \"I know that you are not one for wasting time, sir.\"
\"This is the same. My words and actions might not make much sense from time to time, but there's always a reason behind my decisions.\"
\"But are your decisions sound?\" She questioned. \"Although I don't wish to disparage you, I think the concerns expressed by your executive assistant are valid. Your judgement is... outside the norm.\"
Ves crossed his arms. \"I'll give you that. I know what Gavin and you are worried about, but you just have to put your faith in me that I am doing the best for both myself and anyone who depends on me. There are factors in play that I don't dare to reveal to you or anyone else.\"
\"I understand that, sir, but is it worth taking so many risks?\" She frowned. \"Right now, we are on our way to hunt one of the deadliest hostile creatures on Felixia. Each Crown Cat is a tough and unreasonable monster. Who knows how many mechs have succumbed to the rage of these huge cats, and legged transports aren't exempt from danger!\"
\"I share your concerns, Nitaa, but I'm still convinced this is the best course of action for me. I have already made a lot of gains on Felixia, but the grand prize has yet to fall into my hands. I won't leave Felixia until I'm satisfied!\"
He turned back towards the viewscreen in order to watch the hunting team move out of the city premises and head into the deepest hunting zone within Kemila's range.
In truth, Ves already made a lot of gains. Without coming across a damaged and dying spiritual remnant from an exobeast that had recently been slain, Ves would have never come up with his series of new spiritual techniques.
It was in rare encounters like these that frequently prodded him into coming up with novel solutions to unexpected problems. Spiritual invasion, spiritual alignment and spiritual restoration were the latest tools he added into his spiritual toolbox.
His options and his versatility in the spiritual department grew by the day. He had made a lot of strides in the path of life since the start of his one-year tour, so much so that Ves thought it might be time to hit the brakes soon.
Though the path of life continued to tempt him with greater possibilities, he couldn't neglect the path of determinism. Adding too many uncontrollable factors in his mech designs would eventually lead to disaster!
To him, life possessed unlimited potential. The danger here was that not every outcome favored him. If his own design spirits turned against him one day, Ves would have to rely on precautions to limit the damage.
Unfortunately, the path of life did not place a strong emphasis on control. Once a new spiritual product came into existence, Ves lost direct control over them. How they developed was anyone's guess.
Only the path of determinism provided a solid framework to rein in his spiritual products! Even if the problem didn't appear to be acute right now, he saw the need for solutions to be ready at hand in the future.
\"Will there ever be a time where you can let your guard down and stop chasing after power?\" Nitaa asked, interrupting the silence.
Ves ruefully smiled as he stared at the giant tropical forest looming closer and closer.
\"I don't think that time will ever come. There's always a threat in the background that is ready to pull out the knives as soon as I reveal my back to them. If I wanted to be at the whim of fate and circumstance, I can just abandon everything I have and turn back to the life of a normal space peasant. Even then, I'll never be safe, as normal citizens are still subject to events that affect entire states.\"
His answer made Nitaa uneasy, though she already expected such an answer.
\"When someone grows into power, they have the option to resist. Those that lack sufficient power have no choice at all.\"
\"Exactly. I've suffered from lacking power plenty of times in the past. No more. As soon as I gained some control over my life, I resolved to never put myself in such a helpless condition again. The decisions I've made and the risks I've taken are a necessary price to pay in order to remedy my deficiency.\"
\"You could slow down, sir.\" Nitaa frowned. \"I won't argue with you about the merits of pursuing growth, but the speed and urgency in which you are doing it has turned you into a greater threat to yourself than any external enemy!\"
Ves turned around again and faced Nitaa with a flat face. \"Haha. That's funny. Nice joke. Just to be clear, I'm always doing what is best for myself! Sure, I have to go through a lot of pain sometimes, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel.\"
The two stopped talking once the hunting team finally moved into the tropical forest. The massive genetically-modified trees towered far above the height of mechs, providing both hunter and prey with plenty of solid obstacles that made every attempt to sprint a nightmare in this environment!
Their comms also chirped, notifying that they had both lost connection to the planetary network.
\"The hunting zones are under a complete blockade.\" Ves said seriously. \"There's no way we can call for help.\"
Everything fell into the neatly-planned arrangements of House Laterna. The hunting zones became areas where hunters had to rely on their efforts to catch their prey.
If they failed, no one would come and save them. No matter how many signals they transmitted, no one would come to their aid.
Even a privileged member of a noble house was not exempt! In the eyes of House Laterna and almost every other noble institution, the sanctity of the hunt mattered more than the life of a single family member!
\"We're on our own from now on!\" Ves declared. \"The true hunt has begun!\"