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 \"You should be ashamed of yourself.\" Ves theatrically shook his head in disappointment. \"Do you know why? Because you are a bunch of pampered kids!\"

The stares of resentment from the mech pilots attending the meeting grew more severe. Their acrimony towards Ves continually increased as he continued to disparage them in various ways.

Even Lady Miralix looked astonished! If Ves continued to pile up insults onto her mech pilots, they might decide to depart right this instant! That was the last thing she wanted to see!

Yet as soon as she thought about opening her mouth to reprimand the mech designer, she simply failed to sum up the courage to do so! Her heart quivered each time she was about to speak!

Ves ignored the noblewoman's distress and transmitted his full ire towards the mech pilots. Each and everyone of them began to feel ashamed when they met his eyes, though they didn't know why!

\"Do you think you are real mech pilots? Just because you've graduated from a mech academy doesn't mean you amount to something! Even the shabby pirates in the frontier are superior to you! Do you know why? It's because they have the courage to fight even under the most awful circumstances imaginable!\"

His rebukes continually battered at their self-esteem. While Ves had to admit that he was taking some liberties with the truth, he really wanted to teach these brats a lesson!

\"Let me ask you again.\" He spoke. \"Do you have the guts to consider yourselves to live up to your profession?\"

Silence.

\"Where is your courage? Where is your willingness to push yourselves? I don't see any of that here today! Let me tell you what I've witnessed from true mech pilots. They're willing to fight when ordered to even when they're outnumbered by two-to-one! I've seen real soldiers throw themselves into battles when the odds of victory are against them! These men and women in uniform are true mech pilots!\"

\"You have no right to look down on us!\" Someone finally summed up the courage to respond. \"War is war! Mech pilots are expected to do their duty! This is different! Hunting a Crown Cat is nothing more than a selfish pursuit! We aren't harming anyone by beating a retreat!\"

Ves grinned like a shark. \"Are you sure about that? In my judgement, the odds are fifty-fifty. Zeigra has as much of a chance of winning as us. Are these odds too low for you spoiled brats?\"

\"It's not worth it for us to gamble our lives for a bit of fame!\"

BANG!

\"There is more than fame and prestige on the line here!\" Ves burst out while slamming both of his knuckles against the surface of the conference table! \"You goddamn mech pilots all dream of building up a wonderful career for yourself, but promotions won't come by if you lack the persistence to fight for opportunities! This hunt has always been a golden chance for you all, but at the first sign of difficulty, you've all turned into snivelling cowards!\"

\"I object to that! You have no right to call us cowards!\"

\"I'm not painting you as cowards! Your own conduct has painted you as cowards!\" Ves pointed at the mech pilot who spoke back at him. \"Don't you see what you people are turning your backs against? This is a rare opportunity to test yourself and push your resolve to the limits! The entire reason why House Laterna imposes this challenge to every mech pilot who bears their name is because a trial like this separates the warriors from the braggarts!\"

A part of Ves felt kind of bad to paint their prudent decision in a bad light. Personally, he thought that they made a rational choice by objectively weighing the benefits and risks.

What Ves was doing right now amounted to upending their calculations by bombarding them with additional considerations regardless of whether they were relevant or not! Even if the mech pilots didn't agree with his words, a sliver of doubt would still chip away at their determination!

\"From what I've heard, Nyxian pirates are some of the most dangerous scum you can fight against in the Komodo Star Sector. Do you think you're ready to confront them in battle when they've stacked the deck against you? There are many situations where they don't play fair! When you inevitably face a situation where the odds of victory can be as low as twenty percent, are you willing to fight your way out or put yourselves at the mercy of the most ruthless and despicable pirates in the region?\"

\"We'll never be placed in such a situation!\"

\"Oh really?\" Ves snorted. \"Has every battle the Sentinel Kingdom engaged in been fought on favorable terms? Can you state with confidence that none of the Peacekeeper outfits have ever been led into a trap?\"

Another moment of silence.

\"Do you see now why I think you're shaming yourselves? You would never last on the battlefield with your pampered attitudes! The worst thing about it is that every colleague who you'll work with in the future will all be able to see how little you can tolerate discomfort! Any adverse situation you encounter, you'd rather cease and pull back rather than grit your teeth and push through!\"

The arguments that Ves made use of partially drew on the indoctrination that every mech pilot went through in their academy days.

As a Larkinson and someone who frequently interacted with mech pilots all his life, Ves knew exactly what kind of ideals the mech academies wanted to instill in their mech cadets!

Courage, honor, duty, fealty, brotherhood, sacrifice and more were just some of the common values that every mech pilot internalized from their mech instructors.

Mech pilots were expected to fight. In order to make them willing to put their lives at risk and perform the dreadful act of killing other people, their minds needed to be stuffed with specific beliefs.

These ideals also served to anchor the morality of the mech pilots in a way that benefited society. Mech pilots trained to kill without any other considerations were much more likely to join a criminal or pirate gang!

While Ves wasn't familiar with the precise curriculum that Sentinel potentates had to go through, he could make an educated guess.

The Kingdom's strong animosity towards pirates almost certainly led to a very intense focus on shaping the norms and values of every mech cadet!

This meant that when Ves disparaged the mech pilots in such a direct and confrontational fashion, he directly targeted their hearts!

The mech pilots found it harder and harder to respond against Ves. For some reason, they began to feel they truly didn't deserve to be regarded as real mech pilots!

\"It's true that the prospect of battling Zeigra once again is not a sure bet.\" Ves spoke while constantly sweeping his eyes over his audience. The brief instances of eye contact made it even harder for them to stand up against him! \"Yet Zeigra is not a god! He can be defeated! To turn back on this critical moment is a huge mistake!\"

\"Why is it a mistake?\"

\"Do I need to explain it to you pampered brats?! Where is your competitive drive! How can you expect to achieve anything great in your lives when you aren't willing to step out of your comfort zone? The next and likely final confrontation against Zeigra will be a battle to the death in the truest sense. Either Zeigra dies, or all of us dies!\"

\"That's exactly why we should retreat!\" One of the members of the support staff uttered. \"We've never signed up for a suicide mission!\"

Ves glared at the person who spoke out, who immediately quivered backwards. \"All hunts against Crown Cats are suicide missions! You all know damn well what you've signed up for! The casualty statistics that the Kemila Hunting Hall has published is easily accessible to you! When Lady Miralix paid you your fat paychecks, it's because it already includes hazard pay! I don't believe that any of you signed up for this hunting team without being aware of the risks!\"

That shot down most of the support personnel, though their resentment towards him had probably grown.

He didn't care. Only the mech pilots mattered. As long as he got through to some of them, the hunting team would still be able to proceed with the hunt!

\"Look, the matter is simple.\" He spoke, turning his gaze back to the mech pilots. \"If you are content to wallow in your mediocrity, then go ahead and depart from this hunting team. If instead you think you are capable of achieving more, then stick with Lady Miralix and trust in her abilities. I know that killing Zeigra will be hard, but it is exactly in battles like these that test your courage, your conviction and your piloting abilities to the limit where expert candidates are born!\"

This was a known fact. Even if advancing to expert candidate was as unlikely as winning the lottery, a lot of those lottery winners tended to emerge in the midst of arduous battles!

With his understanding of expert pilots, Ves believed that the combination of intense emotions, extreme pressure and forcing pilots to exhibit the utmost of their abilities presented an ideal conditions for any mech pilots to make their breakthroughs!

Of course, Ves didn't expect any of these dummies to break through the extraordinary threshold during this hunt. He had already scouted out their spiritual potential and found nothing of significance.

Just like Lady Miralix, her subordinates were destined to remain as mortals. Ves didn't tell them that, though. Just pointing out that something like that could happen among them already lifted some of their hopes!

Ves had done more than enough to savage their egos. This was the moment where he had to present a light at the end of the tunnel.

He knew that abusing people was not an optimal method to motivate people! Ves needed to give them something to look forward to if they played along!

\"Mech pilots come in many flavors. Most mech pilots I've met are adequate soldiers and warriors. I count all of you in this category. Yet is this really what you will amount to in your lives? Who will remember you when you retire after a lifetime of boring service? What deeds will you accomplish when the most impressive accomplishment in your records is an abortive hunt against a Crown Cat? Is this the legacy that you intend to leave behind in order to make your mark on history?\"

No! Though none of the mech pilots spoke out, their eyes betrayed their unwillingness.

Every mech pilot imagined themselves as heroes in their minds! Piloting mechs was such a great and lauded vocation that it was easy for many mech pilots to believe they were destined for greatness!

This was especially so for recent graduates who still hadn't endured the grind and slog of actual duty!

Ves deliberately appealed to their desire for greatness because he didn't see any other angle he could use to motivate the mech pilots.

In the end, neither Ves nor Lady Miralix could coerce the mech pilots into fighting Zeigra. They needed to decide for themselves whether they were willing to risk their lives to earn a substantial amount of reputation and prestige!

\"Make your choice.\" He said with a tone of expectation. \"Are you brave enough to go through the crucible of heroes, or will you rather run from it with your tails stuck between your legs? Choose carefully. An opportunity like this might very well happen once!\"

He nodded towards every mech pilot before slowly drawing back.

Silence reigned in the meeting room as every mech pilot contemplated their options.

Each of them viewed their earlier decisions in a new light.

In the end, only half of the mech pilots agreed to stay onboard. The other half threw in the towel.

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