The next morning, Ves and Gloriana met during breakfast but separated shortly afterwards.
Ves still needed to tour more sites before he was ready to tackle work.
Though Gloriana enjoyed accompanying her boyfriend, she didn't intend to spend all of her time with him. She still needed to study, perform research and manage her own affairs.
"I'll be supervising the installation of my lab and workshop equipment." She told him once they were ready to depart. "After that, we'll meet again when you convene your design team, right?"
Ves calmly nodded. "It's not much of a design team. So far, I only have Ketis. I've also been informed that a couple of teenage Larkinsons will be joining us as well. They're the seeds the Larkinsons have selected to learn from my hip. Please treat them well."
"I understand, but Ves, a good mech designer isn't so easy to raise. I don't mean to insult your relatives, but..."
"You don't have to couch your words to me." He spoke. "I know very well that the odds that they'll advance to Journeyman is exceedingly small. I'm not looking to turn them into my successors, though. It's already sufficient for them to become capable Apprentices that can assist me in my work or provide the Larkinsons with at least some measure of financial continuity."
The Larkinsons did not have a tradition of raising mech designers, so Ves did not expect too much from the seeds his family selected. Regardless if they possessed spiritual potential or not, as long as they possessed the right attitudes, he was willing to tutor them from time to time.
Of course, Ves couldn't teach them too much at their young age. The best he could do was to prepare them well enough that they would be able to apply for the best mech design universities in the region.
Not the Ansel University of Mech Design, though. Anything but Ansel.
If the Bright Republic successfully survived the current crisis, then Ves would recommend them to the Dorum Center of Technology and Innovation. With his connections, he could get a stupid pig accepted as a mech design student.
Well, that was for later.
Ves and Gloriana kissed before they went their separate ways. Clixie, Melody and her bodyguards followed after their lady while Nitaa and Lucky accompanied their lord.
As they boarded a shuttle, the vehicle lifted off and flew towards the Mech Nursery. Some aerial mechs of the Sentinels surrounded the shuttle while a couple of landbound mechs of the Avatars followed on the ground.
"What do you think so far of the people you've met at the Cloud Estate and the Mech Nursery?" He asked Nitaa.
"So far, I haven't detected anyone who holds malice against you, sir."
"What does your nose tell you?"
"All of the people we've met on this planet are not involved with the cult as far as I know."
Ves nodded, though he didn't blindly accept her judgement. What if an agent of a splinter organization of the Five Scrolls Compact embedded some spies and informers within his company?
Unless they possessed extraordinary powers like Nitaa, detecting them was incredibly hard!
He left the vital role of identifying spies and informers to Crindon. In his capacity as Captain of the Virtual Security Department, Crindon wouldn't have to conduct his search alone.
Considering how Flashlight operated, Ves knew for sure they inserted at least dozens of spies in his company.
While Ves did not intend to expose them or root them out, he still wanted to identify them. It was better to know and not do anything about it than remaining ignorant he could ill afford it. Doubtlessly, many other organizations may have planted their spies in his workforce as well.
It was one thing to tolerate an informer like Gavin or in the LMC, but it would be devastating if a spy managed to slip into the ranks of his Avatars of Myth!
"Do you have any other concerns, Nitaa?"
"I do, sir. I have been speaking with some of the bodyguards of the Glory Battalion as well as some of your other guards. You are making a lot of waves lately. This also means you are making many people upset. Now that you are making very large moves, I'm afraid the people who lose out will resort to drastic measures to stop you from doing more damage."
Ves scratched his chin. "You're right. I can't avoid disturbing others, but I enjoy a sufficient amount of protection from my backers. The Bright Republic is on my side. Gloriana and by extension her Glory Battalion is on my side. Calabast is on my side. If that isn't enough, I can count on the Avatars of Myth and Living Sentinels to foil any assassination attempts."
"You are sending out the majority of your Avatars and many of your Sentinels to fight the sandmen." Nitaa pointed out. "This reduces your security, especially when you are separated from Gloriana. To be frank, I highly prefer it if you remain with her as much as possible. While the Glory Battalion is tasked to protect her first, they will eliminate any threat that targets you because Gloriana would also be at risk."
Depending on his girlfriend's bodyguards to protect him put a sour taste in his mouth. Wasn't it his intention to cultivate the Avatars of Myth into an elite second-class mech force?
Even if the Avatars became capable enough to fend off all local threats, what if some donkey from the Hegemony or the Coalition decided that Ves had to be wiped out?
The backing and protection he currently enjoyed only shielded him against third-class threats. For the rest, he needed to depend on his girlfriend, which deeply unsatisfied him. The Glory Battalion obviously wouldn't risk their lives for Ves alone.
"I can only depend on something I can build myself!"
He needed to elevate the Avatars into a second-class mech force as soon as possible!
His shuttle arrived at the Mech Nursery a brief moment later. As he entered into the range of the aura of a Desolate Soldier installed as a display model, he took the time to admire the mech for a moment.
"Very adequate." Ves nodded in satisfaction. "It's not entirely flawless, though."
The mech technicians of the LMC had done their best to fabricate the mech without his personal guidance. The Desolate Soldier was a very simple mech design to begin with, and Ves already transmitted detailed fabrication plans to the company.
If his mech technicians were too stupid to follow all of his instructions, then they didn't deserve to work for the LMC!
As much as Ves itched to fabricate a couple of gold label Desolate Soldiers, he did not consider them meaningful.
Who would spend so much effort on crafting high-quality versions of a cheap product?
Ves shook his head and proceeded to his appointments.
For most of the morning, Ves visited the other two mech forces under his purview.
He began with meeting Commander Cinnabar and the Battle Criers. While Ves hadn't paid much attention to them since he returned to Cloudy Curtain, as Kinners they didn't need much babysitting.
The most pertinent issue he wanted to discuss with the Battle Criers was whether they were willing to fight on behalf of the Bright Republic.
"This is what we are made for." Commander Cinnabar replied to Ves. "Do you think that because we're Kinners, we only care about the safety of the Kinner Tribe? We are an extension of your will, now. Your concerns are our concerns. Let alone that this is a fight which mech pilots shouldn't avoid. I can think of no better cause to fight for than protecting humanity against alien aggression."
At this point, Ves already signed a contract with the Battle Criers and bought them out in the Kinner tradition. Even though he knew he held the power to do almost anything he wanted with the Battle Criers, he didn't want to overstep the line.
Hearing Cinnabar's declaration reassured him a lot.
"I'm glad to hear that, commander. If that is so, I won't hesitate. Please deploy some of your Battle Criers to the front. Aside from doing what is necessary, I also want you to focus on hardening your mech pilots. I have no doubts about your loyalty, but your troops can use some more polishing. Since the sandmen are about to flood the Bright Republic, you'll enjoy all the battles you need to hammer your men into shape."
As a mercenary commander, Cinnabar understood Ves' argument. "We've never been cowards. We've already survived our fair share of battles."
"I hope your Battle Criers can prove yourselves once more. To those that survive, I'm willing to invest your development. Becoming second-class mech pilots is not out of the question!"
He had already dangled out this bait, but it didn't hurt to remind the Battle Criers of what they stood to gain.
Once Ves made sure that the Battle Criers were settling in, he departed to the largest base.
Dozens of mechs of the mechs of the Living Sentinels stood on standby right inside the grounds of the base. Every mech pilot wearing the silver uniform of the Sentinels greeted Ves with respect.
He met with Magdalena Larkinson shortly afterwards in her office. A stern lady with an aging face, the Magdalena still radiated strong military vibes.
Not a lot of time had passed since she retired from service. The onset of the sandman invasion coupled with the outbreak of the Komodo War had probably caused her to dust off her and don military bearing.
"Sir." She saluted towards him. "Welcome to the Living Sentinels."
Ves casually waved his hand at her. "Knock it off. We're not in the military."
"Sorry, sir. Old habits die hard."
"Well, I can see how you managed to become the commander of the Living Sentinels."
"Even if we aren't as excellent as your Avatars of Myth, we have a lot of responsibilities on our shoulders. The LMC is our family's main source of prosperity now, far outstripping the meager profits earned by the Larkinson Estate."
Ves was impressed by her dedication. "That's true. I'm glad you are taking your job seriously. It's not meant to be a retirement home for Larkinsons who are tired of serving in the Mech Corps."
"The Larkinson mech pilots who have truly hung up their piloting coats have all gone to become mech instructors for our mech academy." Magdalena smirked. "You should pay a visit to them sometime."
"I plan to do so immediately after this meeting." Ves nodded.
He had some business to do in Freslin. Not only did he want to check out the latest preoccupation of the Larkinsons, he also wanted to talk with Dietrich from Walter's Whalers.
Though Ves hadn't kept in touch with the Whalers lately, he heard that they suffered a very severe setback when they attempted to return to Bentheim and conquer some turf.
Ves got down to business with the Sentinel Commander.
As Ves hadn't been involved in the establishment of the Living Sentinels, he wanted to make sure they hadn't made any decisions he disagreed with. It would be much harder to impose changes once the Sentinels became set in their ways.
He paid especially close attention to their budget. Even though the LMC took care of their bills, he didn't want the Living Sentinels to develop into a bloodsucking parasite.
Fortunately, Magdalena ran a tight ship. The Living Sentinels employed a lot of Larkinsons, and while Ves suspected that plenty of nepotism took place, at the very least his relatives weren't lazy and corrupt.
"I'm very content with your arrangements." He told her. "I approve of your handling. Keep up the good work."
As Ves left the base of the Living Sentinels, he took another look at their mechs before he left.
Though the Avatars of Myth, Battle Criers and the Living Sentinels still hadn't reached their optimal forms, they already held a lot of battle power. With hundreds of mechs at his disposal, Ves no longer felt that he was powerless anymore.
Even if he was still a mech designer, he actually possessed some teeth now!
"I just have to polish them by deploying them against the sandmen." He muttered. "Only then are they sharp enough to bite my enemies to death."