Ves immediately grew jealous as the shuttle brought him and some of his followers to Gloriana's personal starship.
Compared to the Barracuda, the Stellar Chaser appeared to be at least twice at large. Featuring decent armor and large thrusters, the ship could have been employed as a blockade runner!
When the shuttle entered the Stellar Chaser's small cargo and hangar bay, Ves noted that there was enough room to transport a couple of mechs if need be. That was a lot better than the cargo hold of his own vessel, which barely accommodated a single mech but nothing else.
He couldn't help but grow jealous. He'd feel a lot safer if he traveled aboard a powerful frigate-sized vessel like the Stellar Chaser. It offered a lot more protection and cargo capacity while retaining nearly the same amount of speed.
"Then again, it probably costs a fortune." Ves murmured.
He won the Barracuda at Leemar for free, so Ves felt a little better about his own dinky little ship. He only grumbled a bit because the relative sizes and capabilities of their starships reflected the overall disparity between their backgrounds.
"This won't be the last time I make these comparisons."
Ves already resigned himself to acknowledging his inferiority in certain matters. However, he still maintained his confidence due to his confidence in his mech design ability.
In the area that mattered the most, Ves believed he had the grounds to surpass Gloriana!
"Are you exciting about meeting Clixie again, Lucky?" He asked his cat who was resting on his lap.
Ves patted his cat's head. "Don't be too conceited. Just because Clixie is organic doesn't mean she is less capable than you. Who knows what Rubarthan Sentinel Cats are capable of. We've already seen how Felixia's engineered cats can be dangerous. The Rubarthans are way ahead of House Laterna in cooking up dangerous cat species."
Lucky did not exhibit any concern. Just like Ves, he believed he was the best cat in the galaxy! Nothing could beat a gem cat!
As the shuttle entered the bay of the Stellar Chaser and settled down on the deck, Ves exited the hatch. Lucky and Nitaa followed suit.
Since this was their second physical meeting, Ves made sure to dress to impress. Feeling the need to puff himself up, he wore his full Pride of Dusk ensemble, though he left his decorative cat ears in his pocket.
His goal wasn't to make Gloriana laugh.
Instead, he wanted to sear an image of strength and masculinity in her mind!
He predicted that if he did not stand his ground right at the start, she'd walk all over him! Ves did not relish being treated as a typical male Hexer who perennially bowed their heads and acted servilely in the presence of alpha female Hexers!
He breathed deeply. Ves believed he was about to wage his most pivotal battle of his life!
Ves subtly tuned his overcoat, lowering its spiritual barrier and allowing Zeigra's spiritual fragment to radiate its hostile, prideful aura.
He did not ask for permission to come aboard as his boots stepped onto the metal deck. He imposed himself on Gloriana's ship as if he granted permission to himself!
A row of six armored guards greeted him from the other side of the bay. The guards stood straight but with their helmets folded, allowing him to see their determined and dutiful expressions.
Ves recognized their blue-and-gold color scheme and the six-sided diamond emblem depicted on their chests. The guards were part of the Glory Battalion. Each of them had been trained by the Wodin Warriors and selected to become a part of Gloriana's personal guard retinue.
Two women stood ahead of her own guards. The more professionally-dressed woman looked smart and stood a half-step behind her employer. She held a data pad in her hand while watching Ves' arrival with a faintly surprised expression, though she did her best to stay neutral.
Ves quickly recognized her as Gloriana's Benny. He wondered whether she served two masters just like his own Benny. Maintaining double loyalties seemed to be a common affliction among Bennies.
He finally turned his attention to Gloriana herself. Just like Ves, she dressed up as well. She braided a part of her hair in a crown, leaving the rest to curl around her sculpted face. Due to her natural or engineered beauty, she only applied light makeup on herself.
As for her outfit, she looked as if she was going on a date or a wonderful day out. Her black, two-piece outfit showed off her smooth neck, her slim belly, and a pair of bare legs that made Ves beat faster.
He inwardly shook his head. This was not the time to get mesmerized! He needed to focus on his mission!
As Ves began to walk across the deck, he gradually raised the ferocious aura radiating from his overcoat. He manipulated plenty of people with his Pride of Dusk's spiritual component, and became very proficient at finetuning its aura to apply pressure on people.
As Zeigra's perpetually-angry aura washed over the guards standing behind Gloriana, they did a decent job at maintaining their professionalism. They shifted the grips on their weapons and became a little more vigilant.
As for Gloriana and her assistant, both of them showed different reactions. The pressure affected the assistant the most. She sweated a little and began to see Ves as a stalking tiger. The effect grew greater as Ves closed within spitting distance!
Yet as much as Ves derived satisfaction in intimidating Gloriana's assistant, he became dismayed at the reaction of his girlfriend herself.
Instead of sweating or shrinking back on herself, her back remained straight and her posture continued to radiate that special kind of self-assurance that only Hexer women possessed!
Even Clixie, who sat besides her feet, showed no sign of fear, despite sensing the aura of a hostile Crown Cat!
Not only that, but Gloriana even lit up in pleasure and excitement at his appearance! The closer Ves came forward, the happier she became!
It was as if the fearsome aura of an immensely dangerous creature didn't even come close to overcoming her overflowing adoration!
It became clear that her obsession for him was every bit as real as he feared. A chill went through his spine.
"Gloriana." He spoke, trying to put up a brave front.
"Ves. You look so dashing right now. It's even better than the projections in my archives." She gave him a loving smile. "Anyway, welcome aboard the Stellar Chaser. I have been waiting for you for almost a year. Now, you're finally in my grasp!"
She sprung forward and jumped into his body. Ves had already braced himself and easily managed to catch her due to his strength. Before he could ask what she was doing, her lips immediately met his own!
Though Ves was astonished, her attractive fragrance and her sensuously soft lips momentarily overcame his reticence! Gloriana's boundless enthusiasm infected him and caused him to hold her waist and kiss back!
"Ahem! Gloriana, please remember your mother's instruction!" Her assistant suddenly spoke in the same clipped accent adopted by every upper class Hexer.
Though Gloriana doubtlessly heard the warning, she heedlessly pressed on with her kiss, as if she wanted to compensate for all the times she missed him since their first meeting!
Ves didn't complain. The more he kissed her, the more he got into it! He held her body in a possessive embrace and tried to assert his dominance through their tongue sparring.
Gloriana finally drew back. She placed her hands on his arms, signalling for him to let go. He did so, reluctantly.
"Sorry, Ves. I can't help myself."
"You don't have to be sorry." He responded.
She gestured to her grumpy assistant. "This is Melody Raft, my secretary and helper."
The woman, older by Gloriana by a decade, glanced critically at her charge. "I am also here to make sure that the two of you respect each other's boundaries."
Gloriana winced a bit, not at Melody, but at her mother! She looked sheepishly at Ves. "I'm sorry. My mother isn't very pleased at our relationship. She doesn't want me to get too close to you without meeting you first."
"That's fine with me." Although a part of him strongly protested at his decision. "We should take it slow. Even if we're in a relationship, we barely spent any time together."
"Great! Come on, let's head inside! I recently rearranged the Stellar Chaser's lounge compartment! You'll love it, I'm sure!"
She grabbed his arm and dragged him to the exit hatch. Their cats and bodyguards silently followed after the pair.
While Lucky and Clixie showed plenty of curiosity towards each other as they padded after their owners.
Ves didn't pay attention to the antics of their cats. Instead, he frowned as Gloriana eagerly glomped his arm without showing any sign that she was affected by his outfit's aura!
Seeing that his Pride of Dusk hadn't played any role, he gradually restricted its aura until its effect faded into the background.
"That's a neat trick." She commented.
"You've noticed?" Ves responded sharply. "How come you aren't affected?"
She grinned at him while patting his forearm. "Oh, you silly handsome mech designer. I've studied your work extensively. Since I couldn't get close to you, I decided to get close to your mechs instead. I managed to buy the gold label editions of your Blackbeak, Crystal Lord and Aurora Titan models after approaching their previous owners. I would have offered to buy one of your Transcendent Messengers as well, but the Ylvainans haven't budged at all no matter what price I've offered!"
"Ylvainans can be stubborn when it comes to their faith." Ves gently warned her. "My Transcendent Messengers
"I realized that as well. Though it's a shame for me to miss one of your greatest works, I've spent a lot of time studying your mechs. I even slept in their cockpits, wishing that you were with me to show off your mechs in person. I've gotten used to the feelings they impart to me. They remind me of you. I can feel the love you put in your mechs."
This woman! Ves became astonished when he heard how much time she spent with his mechs! She spent so much time in their auras that they no longer affected her mood in any way!
"Those mechs are some of my earlier works. I hope you don't think that they are reflective of my current abilities."
"I know that, silly. My older works are rough as well. It's difficult to look back on our older mech designs and feel proud about them. However, it also makes me happy to see how much worse I was in the past. As long as I spot imperfections in my previous mech designs, it means my standards have raised!"
That was a remarkably positive outlook. Ves previously feared that Gloriana's perfectionist tendencies may have led to unhealthy attitudes towards imperfect works, but it appeared that she was not as simple as he thought.
"What do you think about my designs?"
"Sublime." She spoke as her eyes gazed upwards as if she was imagining them in front of her. "I can see how much you've improved with every new design. Still, your mechs share a lot in common. Even in your earliest mech designs, I can clearly sense the dedication and passion you put into your work. I've never encountered anything like it in other mech designs. How can you make your mechs so impactful and so full of feeling?"
"I.. it's complicated. It's a trade secret. We'll have to conduct an exchange."
"Oh. I see. Well, we can always get to know each other's abilities slowly once we collaborate on a mech design. I can't wait until we knock heads together in the same project!"
She radiated so much excitement at the possibility that her entire body vibrated!
While Ves shared some of her anticipation, he also feared that the reality may fall short of her expectations. What if combining their design philosophies failed to produce the synergies she hoped for? He could hardly expect her to maintain her enthusiasm if that was the case!