The battle site soon became a hive of activity as soon as the hunting team definitively confirmed that Zeigra was dead.
Huge cats faked their own deaths before, and ambushed a lot of complacent hunters when they approached with their guards down.
Fortunately, the exobiologists on the hunting team confidently concluded that there was no way for Zeigra to ever come back alive again. The damage his body suffered was simply too severe!
The legged transports approached the messy and rocky battle site, their many sturdy legs easily allowing them to pass over the irregular terrain. Once they approached the corpse, they settled down and disgorged a large number of people and equipment.
Two main priorities occupied the support personnel.
First, they needed to rush a broken mech back into action. Zeigra had done a great job at disabling all of the mechs of the hunting team.
Even the Kinslayer could no longer be brought online due to all of the damage it suffered during the final confrontation!
This presented a huge concern to the hunting team as they were completely defenseless against the predation of the other huge cats that occupied the hunting zone!
\"We don't have to worry too much about any other huge cats approaching this location for a time.\" A hunting consultant cheerfully informed Ves as they stepped out of the transport.
\"The huge cats are highly territorial. They detest the presence of other cats on their turf. The only valid reason for the cats to get together is when they are in heat. Even then, many of the organic products are deliberately engineered to be sterile. House Laterna can't tolerate their products reproducing by themselves. Who will buy their products after buying a single breeding pair? Besides, the divergent genetics of each individual cat also makes it difficult for them to produce a viable offspring.\"
Ves nodded in understanding. \"So for now, we're safe?\"
\"Yep. We don't have to worry too much about the cats finding out about Zeigra's juicy carcass. As a Crown Cat, his territory is by far the most expansive in this hunting zone. Even if the other cats smell the scent of his carcass, their fear for him will keep them away for at least a week by our reckoning.\"
This relieved Ves a little, because he shouldered the main responsibility of jury-rigging a mech back into service.
He had a lot of work to do. Zeigra had done a huge number on all of the mechs. From all the data he studied earlier, restoring the Kinslayer to a mobile state was doable, but Ves did not expect he could bring the heavily-battered tiger mech back into fighting condition!
His only alternative was to find some way to restore the fallen humanoid mechs. Unfortunately, Zeigra chomped judicious bites out of the torsos of all of their frames. The damage to any single mech was too severe for Ves and the mech technicians to restore them to functionality with conventional repairs.
Ves already had a plan in mind, though. As long as they cannibalized the intact parts from other broken mechs, Ves expected they could bring at least two of the mechs back onto their feet after a few days of work.
They wouldn't be pretty, nor would they be able to withstand a lot of damage, but as long as they could fend off an opportunistic huge cat, that was enough!
While Ves and the technical personnel crawled over the fallen mechs, the hunting specialist and biotech specialists quickly moved into action to preserve their physical prize.
If they wanted to return with their trophies in the best possible condition, they had to move quickly to preserve Zeigra's carcass!
Even now, the hot, tropical humid environment was probably not doing the body any favors. Its many cuts, bruises and notably charred and burned neck sections presented huge temptations to any bacteria and other bugs in the vicinity!
Fortunately, the hunting team already planned for this occasion. Some of the legged transports brought to the expedition dumped their cargo onto the ground before reconfiguring their cargo bays into mobile cooling chambers.
While the carcass was too large and heavy to fit into any single legged transport, some of the hunters in the team specialized in skinning and cutting up huge cats. They expertly directed the workers who employed specialized cutting machinery to process the carcass at the quickest speed.
\"Start with the head, but be careful! Lady Miralix won't like it if we spoil her trophy!\"
The head had to be preserved at all cost. As the grand prize of the Crown Hunt, the hunters prioritized its preservation with utmost haste and diligence.
As for the remainder of the carcass, they would skin it and cut it up afterwards. Since the ownership of the rest of the body went to Ves, the hunters were clearly not as motivated to do their best.
It was fine, though. What use did Ves have for a giant, headless carcass?
As Ves turned back to his work and drew up some rudimentary preparation work to keep the mech technicians busy, he approached the fallen Kinslayer.
The tiger mech had been slumped alongside Zeigra's body ever since its heat projector expended all of its firepower.
Medical personnel already opened up the mech's cockpit to rush Lady Miralix to the infirmary at one of the legged transports. She had fallen unconscious at the end as she expended her all in the fight.
Everyone present saluted and looked at her with appreciation as a floating stretcher brought her away in order to monitor her health.
As for Ves, he expressed little interest in the noblewoman's condition. Instead, he arrived at the Kinslayer's damaged side and placed his palm onto its armor plating.
He surreptitiously extended his spiritual senses and managed to find the familiar presence of its design spirit. Vescas looked dispirited after undergoing two battles at once in two different realms.
\"Rest well. You deserve it. Hopefully, Lady Miralix appreciates you enough to restore you back to new.\"
Ves had no idea if Lady Miralix intended to do so. She might consider the Kinslayer to have fulfilled its purpose. Still, it would be a very heartless act for her to order the Kinslayer to be scrapped. As the mech that she took a liking to and had brought her to victory against a Crown Cat, the Kinslayer might very well become her permanent companion!
\"If Lady Miralix decides that her Kinslayer has lived long enough, you're free to strike out on your own. That's what you deserve.\"
In truth, Vescas wouldn't fare any better than Zeigra's spirituality when left unmoored and without a space to inhabit. Ves would certainly have to take Vescas out of the Kinslayer and place his spiritual product in another P-stone.
It was a good thing that Lady Miralix promised him a second P-stone upon their return to Kemila.
If that didn't work out, Ves could always host Vescas in his own mind. As his own creation, Ves was confident he could contain the spiritual product!
\"Hopefully, it won't come to that.\"
In his opinion, the Kinslayer deserved to live. Even though he wasn't involved in its design, he had become very attached to it due to the contributions he put into the mech. Adding Vescas as its design spirit had made a huge difference in the outcome of the Crown Hunt.
He began to get to work by performing a more thorough inspection on the state of the Kinslayer. The judgement he made earlier matched with his inspection. With the supplies and equipment the hunting team had brought, Ves was confident that he'd be able to bring the Kinslayer back online.
\"It can move, but it can't fight.\"
That was enough. Though Ves expected that he could only get three of its four limbs to work, that was sufficient for the mech to drag itself back to Kemila.
It would be a shame to leave the mech behind after all it had done. Under these hot and humid conditions, the exposed parts of the mech would certainly deteriorate. Even if mechs were built to take a beating and resist corrosion as much as possible, Ves still believed the mech would not fare well when left alone here for a week!
In the meantime, any other huge cat might stumble upon this site and trash the machine!
A few days passed by as the work proceeded rapidly. The mech technicians under the expert and experienced direction of Ves managed to restore a spearman mech, an axeman mech and a rifleman mech to basic functionality
The judicious jury-rigging and patchwork repairs meant that none of the mechs could muster up more than thirty percent of their former strength. They were basically paper tigers in the sense that they looked vastly more impressive than their actual battle power.
The three shambling mechs would certainly struggle against an ordinary huge cat!
\"We'll just have to trust that the presence of the three mechs is enough to deter the cats from attacks.\" A hunting consultant remarked. \"We'll be taking a different route on our way back. Before, we didn't make any attempts to avoid the other cats. That's not a good idea anymore. We'll be doing a lot of scouting to avoid unnecessary trouble.\"
Everyone who signed up on the hunting team consisted of professionals. While Lady Miralix had made some errors with regards to the composition of her piloting roster, she insisted on hiring competent personnel.
All in all, watching Lady Miralix lead her hunting team with mixed success taught him a lot of lessons. Many of her decisions elicited admiration in him, but a few notable choices had almost caused the hunt to fail!
Amidst the celebration and joy of defeating a Crown Cat, almost no one spared any thought about the defectors who wanted to give up and return. Not only did they quit the hunting team on their own accord, they also contributed nothing to the final round of battle.
Even if they played an important role in battling Zeigra in the previous three rounds, their contributions ultimately couldn't compensate for the fact that they stabbed their employer in the back in the most critical stage of the hunt!
While their actions technically weren't criminal as they didn't outright desert in the middle of an ongoing battle, such a disgraceful act deeply offended the sensibilities of the mech piloting community.
Mech pilots placed a huge amount of importance to the virtues of honor, courage, duty and so on! Families like the Larkinsons rose to fame in the Bright Republic because of their adherence to these values!
Mech pilots that faithfully embodied these virtues were held in high regard while those who spat on them were scorned by their fellow pilots. No ordinary outfit commander would want to hire scum who abandoned their employer and comrades before the job was done!
\"It's worse in the Sentinel Kingdom.\"
After spending some time in the Sentinel Kingdom, Ves realized that its martial culture emphasized honor to a much greater degree.
The constant struggle against the Nyxian pirates had forced the state to present itself as a bastion of order and righteousness.
The nobles and royals largely derived their legitimacy from their ability to protect the commoners from dangerous pirates!
Ves also benefited from this preoccupation as well. While his contributions to the hunt might not be as important as that of Lady Miralix and her loyal mech pilots, he was still an esteemed Journeyman!
Not only that, he personally accompanied the Felixia Catstrikers as they hunted Zeigra, risking his own life and limb to help repair and maintain the mechs in the field!
This achievement mattered the most in the Sentinel Kingdom! Ves expected his future business to go a lot smoother now that he could brag about going on a famed hunt in the state!
\"Hopefully, some of the local Journeymen will be a bit more willing to conduct an earnest exchange with me.\" He grinned. \"Hardly any Journeyman has dared to take part in a Crown Hunt!\"