Before his mother continued to talk, her translucent body began to shift and compress in on itself.
Ves finally noted the miniature, hand-sized body floating within the center of her ghostly form.
That was the crystal builder leader's body! It was something his mother had seized from his possession several years ago!
Though his mother had molded its crystalline makeup into a vague feminine shape that conformed to her own appearance, she couldn't do anything about its diminutive stature.
She made the best out of her situation by donning it with a colorful red robe. Its traditional fashion greatly enhanced her elegance and added some much needed stature to her tiny form.
Once his mother fully retracted her exposed spirituality into the crystalline body, the pressure around her disappeared. Like a closed box, the crystal builder leader's body fully restrained her aura and other side effects from her unusual spiritual form!
\"Ah, that's better!\" She sighed in pleasure. \"Since you've grown to this point, I'm sure you know that taking on my form is unsustainable. I'm truly thankful for this container you've managed to scrounge up. I wouldn't nearly have been able to exert as much help to your father without such a suitable body!\"
Ves grimaced at her words. Each time his mother mentioned something about helping his father, he no longer dared to raise his voice in protest.
He really cared about his father! He did not want to mess up by resisting his mother's attempts at grabbing his stuff, even if he hated it every step of the way!
\"Is this all?\" He asked with a sulk.
The tiny crystalline form offered another motherly smile to Ves. \"Oh, not at all! I told you that I came to celebrate your birthday, and I meant it! Your father and I even pooled together to prepare your birthday gift!\"
\"A birthday gift? For me? Really?\"
It was as if Ves couldn't fathom his mother giving anything to him. Most of the time, it was him who passed on his stuff to her! To find out that her mother actually wanted to gift him for once sounded alien!
\"Our situation is a bit better now.\" She said, as if reading his thoughts from his troubled expression. \"Whatever you think of us, we are still your parents. We love you and we wish you the best.\"
Though Ves always maintained a sliver of doubt whether she was actually his mother or not, his intuition told him that she spoke the truth. She hadn't uttered any lies since she appeared!
He shoved aside his doubts about her identity and just accepted that the ghost that occupied the crystal builder leader's body was truly her mother. By now, he didn't want to contemplate the alternative.
He sighed. \"Alright. What did you get for me, mom?\"
Once he recovered from his abrupt loss of spiritual energy, he stabilized his mood. In any case, it wasn't as if his mother had taken something indispensable. He estimated he could easily replenish what he lost within a couple of weeks.
Knowing his mother, it was pointless to do anything else except to go along with her arrangements.
Her body floated over to a nearby table, where she picked up a box tied with a colorful ribbon bowtie the size of her own body. Once she lifted it up, she floated towards Ves and dropped it in her hands.
\"Here you go! Open it up!\"
His mother grinned with anticipation and the excitement of a teenager as Ves tentatively pulled the ribbon and opened his present.
\"These are.. a pair of rings?\"
\"Yes! As you've said, you've grown up, Ves. You're at the point in your life where you should seek to share your life with someone else. When I caught up on what you were up to these days, I heard the loveliest piece of news. Is it true that you have a girlfriend now?!\"
\"Wonderful! Gloriana sounds like a good catch. Whether you want to tie the knot with her or not, I support your choice. I just hope you have some consideration for your poor old parents marry someone before we grow old and senile! I want to hold my grandkids one day!\"
Oh, god. Not her too. Ves palmed his face in exasperation. \"Gloriana and I just know each other. It's way too soon to think of marriage!\"
\"You don't have to use our gift immediately! The rings are special. Just save them up for when you are sure you want to spend the rest of your life with the woman you love. If your tastes run different and you have a liking for men or something, I won't mind. I'm open-minded and with all of the procreation tech these days-\"
\"-AHEM.\" Ves loudly interrupted his caught-up mother. \"You don't have to worry about which direction I swing. Besides, these rings.. no offense, mom, but don't they look a little bit plain?\"
Traditional wedding rings usually consisted of platinum on the cheaper end and varying grades of exotics at the more expensive end.
While Ves failed to recognize the materials of the pair of rings that his mother had gifted him, their matte black appearance looked extremely underwhelming. In fact, they differed from something made of cheap carbon!
\"As I've stated, Ves, they're special.\" She smiled intriguingly at him. \"I'll leave it up to you to discover its secrets. Know that it carries the love of both your father and I. Besides, the rings are plain for a reason. Since you're a mech designer, I'm sure you can decorate it according to your tastes. Don't you think it's great if you add in your own design to the physical proof of your bond with one another?\"
He had to admit, that sounded very appealing to Ves. Not that he contemplated proposing to Gloriana or anyone else anytime soon. He had time to wait, his mother's urging be damned.
\"Thank you.. mother. Your present is very thoughtful.\"
Lucky climbed up on the bed and stared up at the tiny form of his mother. Despite being large enough to bite his mother's crystalline body in half if he pounced on her, the cat mewled like a kitten in her presence.
Ves looked scandalized at his pet. Lucky never acted to subservient to him! Who was his true owner here?!
\"Lucky! Come over here, buddy!\"
His cat acted like he didn't exist! The cat comfortably curled up below his mother's floating miniature form.
His mother snapped her tiny fingers. \"My time is short, Ves. As much as I'd like to stay, I have to leave soon.\"
\"Why?\" He whined, even though a part of him already celebrated at the thought of his mother's departure!
\"I'm being hunted. I think you know who.\"
\"Don't mention that name!\" She furiously hissed. \"You are dabbling with forces you cannot possibly fathom!\"
Ves crossed his arms across his chest. \"I think you owe me some answers, mom. I've already brushed with the Compact several times. I've also learned some very explosive details.\"
Her tiny face soured. \"I never wanted you to get entangled with your ilk. Your father didn't want you to get involved either. It's why he dropped everything in the Bright Republic and went into hiding. He wanted to minimize any possibility that you'd enter their view..\"
\"I think it's too late for that. Please answer me. Is the System my father gifted me the so-called Metal Scroll? Are you tied to the Five Scrolls Compact in any way?\"
The air between them grew incredibly grave once he asked his questions. He noted that his mother emanated a subtle field that reminded him of a jamming field ever since she appeared, so he did not hold his curiosity back.
\"Ves.. you are asking questions that I can't answer.\" She shook her head. \"Some things just aren't meant to be spoken aloud.\"
Ves narrowed his eyes in suspicion. \"Are you under a compulsion or something?\"
Her lack of answer was an answer in itself. Ves understood that she'd been subjected to some sort of restriction that limited what she could do. Whether she truly couldn't say anything or simply wanted to keep Ves in the dark, he couldn't make up his mind.
He had the feeling that his mother wanted him to know as little as possible, and that frustrated him a lot!
\"Do you know about the envoy of the Ruined Temple secretly making his way to the Five Scrolls Compact branch hidden in the Nyxian Gap?\"
This time, she lost her composure. She genuinely looked alarmed! \"What?! Where did you hear this? How reliable is your information?!\"
Ves pointed towards the crumpled heap of his bodyguard resting at the opposite side of the room. His mother probably knocked Nitaa unconscious with one of her tricks.
\"My bodyguard used to be a former member of one of the Compact's splinter organizations. Though she only heard some rumors, I think she is definitely on to something. Supposedly, the high dignitary from the Ruined Temple has been underway for a while and will arrive at the Nyxian Gap in a decade or so. I'm not too sure!\"
The news really shocked his mother. A short pause ensued as she processed the new information. Her face scrunched up in determination.
\"I see. I'll perform my own investigations. What you've claimed is extremely important! If it turns out to be true, then the forewarning you've passed on is extremely crucial! What are your plans in the event it's true?\"
\"I already came up with a plan, and even got my girlfriend on board...\"
Ves briefly explained his intentions to go on a grand expedition. His mother listened with rapt attention and eventually nodded.
\"That's very wise. Even if your precaution turns out to be excessive, it's still a good idea to stay as far away from anyone who claims to be from that accursed Temple!\"
\"What about my father and you? What will the two of you do?\"
\"Don't worry about us. We are more than capable of taking care of ourselves. We don't want to entangle you any further in our difficulties. Our burdens are our own to bear. The best way you can make us happy is to live a good life and start a family. We don't want any further help from you. The more you try to help us, the more you risk getting caught up in our problems.\"
Ves argued a bit with his mother about this. He really did not feel comfortable living a blissful, ignorant life while knowing that his parents might be drowning in the Nyxian Gap.
However, his mother strongly insisted on drawing a very firm line between them. The sins of the parents should start and end with them! Ves ought to keep his nose out of their problems.
\"Look, even if you want to help us, there is nothing you can do.\" His mother shook her head as she placed her tiny hands against her hips. \"I have to go, Ves. The longer I linger, the greater the risk of exposure. I'm constantly being tracked. It's the main reason I don't dare to spend more time with you, even though I miss you immensely.\"
Both his mother and Ves looked sad at that. He still had so many more questions to ask. How many more years did he have to live in ignorance of what his parents had done to obtain the Mech Designer System and provoke the Compact?
\"Can you leave me a comm address or something so that I can continue to talk to you? It's really frustrating to me that I haven't spoken to my dad in five years!\"
The tiny form shook her head. \"I'm sorry, Ves. The galactic net is one of the least secure means of communications. Any method of communication presents a risk. We only have to slip up once for us to meet our ends. I can't subject you to the risk of such a disaster!\"
For a moment, Ves felt a bit weird. Did he get his paranoia from his mother? Because that sounded exactly like something he would say!
In the end, after a brief chat where his mother continued to say little of substance, she finally bid farewell and phased out of his hotel room.
Ves had no idea when he would be able to talk or meet with his mother again, and that realization saddened him in a very profound way.
\"Will I ever obtain the answers I want?\"