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 "The Komodo Star Sector has long enjoyed a period of relative stability. Do you think it's easy to start a war when order reigns?"

Calabast's question prompted Ves to consider her words from a different angle.

So far, Ves reacted to the war from the perspective of a hapless Brighter. How would he look at the conflict if he sat in the shoes of a Hexer?

"The MTA and CFA are apparently preoccupied.. many third-rate states are facing extinction from the sandmen.."

"Good. You're heading in the right direction, kid. Wars don't happen out of the blue. There are rules and customs that dictate when you're allowed to wage a war. Technically, the Big Two heavily frowns upon wars between human states when an alien race is bearing down on a star sector."

"Then why have the Hexers decided to pull the trigger anyway?"

"Because the sandmen are a distraction to us. The true powers in the star sector have never considered the aliens as a serious foe. Their threat level is simply too low. It's actually favorable to us that they have decided to attack human space because the star sector has become chaotic all of a sudden, which gives us enough of an opportunity to wage a decisive war without risking the intervention of anyone else."

Ves furrowed his brows as he tried to parse her answer. It was very difficult for him to approach the circumstances at this level.

"I'm not a statesman, Calabast. Can you explain it in a way that I can actually understand?"

"Let me give you a simple example. Let's say that you are in a classroom with thirty children. If the two smartest and most promising students suddenly start fighting each other, the teacher and everyone else will immediately try to separate the two. That's good for the classroom, but that's not what the pair want to see, especially if they are confident in winning."

"So..."

"Imagine if the teacher that normally keeps the pupils in line is called to the principal's office. Let's say that during the teacher's absence, a foreign class of students from another school suddenly barges into your classroom and picks a fight with your entire class. What will happen?"

"All of the students will fight the foreign class of students except the two who hate each other more than the foreign intruders." Ves expanded upon the analogy. "They're strong enough to beat up the foreign class by themselves, so they don't fear them at all. Instead, they consider each other to be a much greater threat!"

"Yes! And since the teacher and all of the other students are distracted, this is the best time to start a fight and see it through the end!"

"All of that rests on the premise that you can win." Ves remarked. "If the Friday Coalition turns out to be stronger than you Hexers thought, then your state risks complete annihilation!"

"If it happens, it happens." Calabast dismissively waved her hand. "It will just mean we were too weak to deserve to win. The Hegemony has been readying for war for hundreds of years, Ves. We fully know what we are getting into, and the same applies for the Coalition. Neither states are willing to tolerate each other's presence in the same star sector."

"Why, though? Why hate each other so much? Plenty of powerful second-rate states are able to live with their rivals in peace in other star sectors!"

"That's because those star sectors are older and more set in their ways. Their rulers have lost their courage and became too risk averse to pursue their greater ambitions. Neither the Coalition or the Hegemony is old enough to forget how much we fought each other since the opening of the Komodo Star Sector."

"So past events are sufficient grounds for an all-or-nothing wager with trillions of lives at stake?"

A cruel chuckle sounded from her throat. "Essentially, yes. We don't want to wage a timid war and end it with a peace treaty that only resulted in a change of ownership of a couple of star systems. We want it all, and we are confident enough that we can defeat our opponents. Even though the Hexadric Hegemony is ruled by six different matriarchal dynasties, we are much more united than the partners that make up the Coalition. With the opening blow we struck with Operation K, we're confident we can shatter their tenuous unity apart and pick them off one by one!"

"Is that all?"

"There's also another reason why we decided to launch our attack at this time. Operation K takes a lot of setup. A lot of Hexers were involved in putting the pieces into place. Though we are confident in keeping everyone quiet, there is always the risk that the Coalition might discover our efforts."

All of this sounded simple, but Ves could scarcely imagine the huge amount of death and destruction that might ensue from this conflict!

The Hexers were truly out for blood, and they didn't mind putting their entire state at risk to realize their ambitions!

That was the most courageous and reckless decision that Ves ever heard of! Many thoughts started to flit in his mind as he gained some comprehension.

"Was that what you were doing when we first met at Harkensen I in the Reinald Republic?"

She nodded. "The Hegemony has made many preparations to sow chaos. Destabilizing the Harkensen System was just one of many steps to stir the waters in the Komodo Star Sector. To be frank, the sandman invasion took the Hegemony by surprise. That said, it's a very welcome surprise, because it is doing a much better job at sowing chaos than our secret measures."

"I see. Does that mean you guys will leave us alone?"

"Very likely. Neither the Coalition nor the Hegemony wants to attract attention by getting caught in sabotaging the states that are desperately fighting off the sandmen. While we don't fear the third-rate states, if too many of them condemn our actions, then the MTA might be persuaded to step in and mediate our conflict."

"You make that sound like a bad thing."

"Because it is. In any case, the third-rate states don't warrant our attention anyway. The only reason for us to pay some importance to the Bright Republic is to keep an eye on their exports."

Ves grimaced. "The Bright Republic is very obviously aligned to the Friday Coalition. Most of our high-value exotics and other valuable exports flow through the Coalition. Some of the companies in our state are backed by powerful entities from the Coalition. Many mech designers and other professionals have ties to the educational institutions of the Coalition."

Though the Bright Republic didn't sign a major defensive pact with the Coalition, the two states shared a lot of smaller ties.

It was enough to make Ves concerned about his future in the Bright Republic! After all, not only did he cut ties with his Master from the Vermeer Group, he also started associating with a Hexer!

"This is exactly the reason why I've left the Protectorate and moved to your side. You will need my assistance and my advice to navigate the turbulent waters that you have entered when you returned to the Bright Republic. Your home state is no longer as safe as you think, at least not for you. All of those organizations and entities that have ties to the Coalition won't make any open moves towards you, but they might be persuaded to move against you in the dark."

Sweat started pouring from his brow. Ves became aware that his position in the Bright Republic may not be as solid as he thought.

"Don't worry too fast, Ves. Don't you have ties with Flashlight? I expect that they will soon clarify their stance towards you. They won't sell you out."

"Really?"

For some reason, Ves could scarcely imagine such a situation.

"Look, the Bright Republic aren't allies with the Friday Coalition. Your state hasn't declared war against the Hegemony either. What do you think will happen if the Coalition loses the war?"

"Any ties to the Coalition will suddenly turn worthless." Ves guessed before shaking his head. "No. It's worse. They'll turn toxic! Any lesser state that has been leaning towards the Coalition will enjoy less regard compared to lesser states that have supported the Hegemony from the start!"

"Exactly! While individuals such as you who have become friends with a Hexer are rare, it's in the best interest of the Bright Republic to keep you around, if only as a contingency plan. Once their favored side has lost, your value to your state is immeasurably great! You'll be expected to reduce the bad blood between the victorious Hegemony and your puny little state."

"I.. see."

Ves still thought his position in the Bright Republic was precarious. If not for his extensive business and family ties to his state, he would have packed his bags and moved to the Ylvaine Protectorate or something!

He recalled that unlike the Bright Republic, the Ylvaine Protectorate maintained light but friendly ties to the Hegemony! The Ylvainans wouldn't sell him out! In fact, they would probably welcome him with open arms!

This was still a bit too much to bear for Ves. He loved his home state. It took a lot of mental adjustment for him to regard it as a potential threat.

"So what exactly will you be doing?"

"I'll be around, and so will the Swordmaidens under a different name. It's best if I work in the dark, so I won't associate with you in the open. I'll regularly be visiting Cloudy Curtain, Bentheim and any other location that requires my attention."

"You haven't explained to me yet what you'll be doing."

Calabast sighed. "Let's just say that I will be putting out fires and handle threats directed against you before they become a problem. There are already elements in the Bright Republic that seek to gain the Coalition's favor by assassinating you or ruining your business."

"Won't it be better to leave such problems to Flashlight?"

She looked at him as if he was an idiot. "Flashlight answers to the government and has to balance many different interests. They may appear to act with impunity to you, but they are anything but impulsive. Unlike Flashlight, I'm completely on your side."

"It doesn't really feel that way."

"You should be more grateful, kid. I've done a lot of work to facilitate your rise and remove some of the obstacles in your way. I know you have a hard time understanding my line of work, but just trust me, you wouldn't have been nearly as successful if you don't have someone like me watching your back."

As much as Ves wanted to deny it, he knew she was right. He already noticed hints of her influence, particularly in relation to the Ylvaine Protectorate.

"So what do I do?" He asked.

"Just continue as normal as if the Friday Coalition and the Hexadric Hegemony isn't locked into a heated conflict. It's not your business, Ves, so don't even attempt to intervene there. Just stay put and keep designing new mechs. Your growth matters the most. Even if the entire Komodo Star Sector is burning down, don't stop improving."

"Is that it? What about Gloriana? Is she in danger here?"

"No." Calabast shook her head. "The Wodins are certainly aware of Operation K and our intentions to wage a decisive war in this period. They have already assessed the risks of sending Gloriana to the Bright Republic. No one will dare to attack her in the open. With the deterrence of the Glory Battalion, nothing will happen to her. In fact, their presence here will make you even safer, because no one wants to tangle with them directly!"

Ves didn't completely buy that explanation. It was one thing to allow a very valuable Journeyman to leave the Hegemony during peacetime. Now that a war broke out, Gloriana suddenly turned into a tempting and vulnerable target!

"Damn Hexers." He grumbled beneath his breath. "How many schemes are you hiding?"

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