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 In the end, Dietrich accepted his offer to join the Battle Criers. It wasn't as if he had anything better to do.

While Ves hadn't mentioned that the Battle Criers consisted entirely of Kinners, he didn't anticipate many problems. The Battle Criers were ruffians at heart, which meant that Dietrich should easily be able to fit in once he managed to get over the fact that he would be serving alongside a bunch of foreigners.

"You won't regret your choice, Dietrich." Ves smiled and shook the other man's head. "Now go close this bar, clean yourself up and report to the Battle Criers based at the Mech Nursery. I'll call ahead and tell them to give you a warm welcome."

Dietrich eyed him with some suspicion. "Why do I get the feeling you're bamboozling me or something? You're being awfully keen on recruiting me. Even if my skills are decent, you can afford better."

"Some things can't be bought." Ves replied. "I trust you and I have a good feeling about you. It's up to you to decide how you want to reciprocate."

"Let's drink to that."

After retrieving a bottle from the top shelf, Dietrich poured two glasses and offered one of them to Ves.

Both of them clinked their glasses together and gulped down their drinks.

While Dietrich soon began to grow tipsy, Ves remained as sober as ever. At this quantity, alcohol had little effect on his altered metabolism.

"Well, I have to go now, Dietrich. I hope you can pick up your life and find a new meaning to live on. You deserve better than the Whalers."

Ves left the bar and returned to his shuttle. As his vehicle brought him to the outskirts of Freslin, he briefly reflected on Dietrich's experiences while scratching Lucky's ears.

"So much has changed over a year."

As Ves and the LMC rose to prominence, Dietrich suffered an enormous fall from grace.

What struck Ves the most was how quickly Dietrich lost everyone and everything around him. Without the tall trees of his father and the old guard, Dietrich was left naked and vulnerable to the predations of his former subordinates and allies.

Even though Ves considered Dietrich to be a decent fellow, he didn't possess any remarkable strength to suppress any unrest within his former organization.

"Something like that will never happen to me." Ves vowed.

As much as Ves respected Walter, the old gang leader had been way too sloppy and careless. Aside from underestimating the brutal competition at Bentheim, he ran the Whalers as poorly as he did when it was still a small-time gang.

Ves especially disapproved of the decision to expand rapidly. While it felt good to gain so much new strength, the newcomers vastly outnumbered the old Whalers. The latter hadn't made any good attempts to integrate the former into the organization, thereby letting an enormous hidden danger fester underneath their noses.

"In the end, the newcomers were more loyal to themselves than the organization."

The Cloud Whalers were nothing like Walter's Whalers now. Ves predicted that their old heritage would soon be forgotten as the new leaders attempted to wipe away as much of Walter's influence as possible.

"They're not worth my time anymore." He grumbled.

He decided not to meddle in the relationship between the LMC and the Cloud Whalers. Now that the Living Sentinels had been formed, his mech company wouldn't be easy to bully.

What happened to Dietrich served as a valuable lesson to Ves and affirmed his own decisions.

Unlike old Walter, Ves insisted on setting the foundation for his old Avatars of Myth. Even though he could have ordered them to recruit hundreds of mech pilots at once, how could the Avatars possibly turn them into loyal subordinates?

His recent visits to the Avatars and Sentinels vindicated his decisions. Even though both mech forces were still rather young, Ves was very satisfied by their loyalty and dedication to their respective causes.

What was truly critical to the success of the Avatars and Sentinels was the Larkinsons involved in forming them! Any random Larkinson mech officer was ten times better in managing an outfit than Walter!

"Leadership matters!"

Of course, Ves recognized that he became dangerously dependent on the Larkinsons to run two out of three of his mech forces. He needed to make sure they stayed under his thumb. It would be pretty devastating for him if the Larkinsons turned their back to him one day!

"Sir, we've reached our next stop." Nitaa informed Ves.

As Ves stepped out of his shuttle, he swept the tall and expansive campus.

"Welcome to the Larkinson Basic Mech Academy, Ves." An old man walked up to him with a gentle smile.

"Elder Ronsel. I didn't expect to greet you here at the landing zone."

"Haha! You're a pillar of the family now. You deserve the same courtesy as our expert pilots."

Ves hadn't actually taken notice of Elder Ronsel before, but he knew the older man's story.

When he employed his spiritual vision towards Ronsel, he immediately noted the diminished and lethargic spirituality inside his head.

Ronsel used to be a promising mech pilot from grandpa Benjamin's generation. The elder managed to advance to expert candidate, elevating his prospects immensely.

As long as he took another step, he would have become another respected expert pilot of the Larkinson Family!

Sadly, war was not kind to Ronsel. Before he could obtain the chance to undergo apotheosis, Ronsel lost his mech during an arduous battle against the Vesians. Even if he managed to eject, his cockpit sustained moderate damage.

The result? Just like Benjamin, Ronsel lost his ability to pilot mechs! He sustained too much brain damage to interface with a machine!

What was the worth of an expert candidate who was no longer able to pilot mechs? Ronsel's entire career had been ruined!

Fortunately, he managed to pick himself up after his departure from the Mech Corps. He may have lost his ability to pilot mechs, but he was still an expert candidate!

Disabled or not, his elevated skills and unique experiences turned him into an excellent teacher.

He soon became known as one of the best mech instructors. Every young Larkinson mech cadet wanted to enjoy his tutelage. Ronsel became so passionate about teaching that he became even better at guiding mech cadets than actual expert pilots!

For this reason, once the Larkinson Family took over the local mech academy, Elder Ronsel had instantly been tapped to become its principal.

"Everything here looks new." Ves commented after he greeted the elder. The two walked alongside each other. "Even the training mechs are all new."

Elder Ronsel gestured towards the brand-new training halls and expansive outdoor training grounds, all scaled up for mechs.

"The old academy ran on a shoestring budget. It was completely inefficient. As soon as we took it over, we razed the old facilities and sold off the battered training mechs. After a lot of investment, our new academy has finally met our standards. We're even in the process of expanding our capacity to handle the influx of mech cadets among the refugees."

Ves turned around and witnessed a lot of new facilities under construction. The Larkinsons already spent billions of credits to reform the mech academy, but now they spent billions more to double or triple its capacity within a few months!

"Isn't this a poor time to invest the bulk of the Larkinson Estate's earnings into a mech academy?" Ves skeptically asked.

"Teaching is a noble profession, Ves. We Larkinsons have always excelled in training mech cadets. It's just that we never had the capital to run our own mech academy before you came into the picture. We're very grateful that you allowed us to fulfill our dreams."

Ves directed a suspicious glance at the seemingly-amiable principal.

"Is that the only reason to throw a lot of money at this pit? Tell me the truth, Ronsel."

"We're building an institution, Ves." Ronsel sighed. "Don't look at how much we spent. Instead, you should look at what we stand to gain."

"Mech academies have never been profitable."

"Money is just one part of the equation, Ves. Think of how many local mech cadets will graduate in the coming years. With our proven Larkinson teaching methods, many of them will become capable mech pilots."

"What's the point of that?"

"Many of them are already highly predisposed towards you and the LMC. They won't forget their alma maters when they graduate, Ves. The mech pilots we educate will become our backbone in the future. Whether they go on to serve in the Mech Corps, the Avatars or the Sentinels, we can always count on them for support."

If Ves intended to stick around in the Bright Republic, he might have appreciated the value of this long-term plan.

However, it took too long for the mech academy to bear fruit. Ves immediately grew less interested.

"Whatever. Do what you want. Show me around please."

In the following hour, Ves toured various facilities to familiarize himself with the mech academy. He observed hundreds of mech cadets undergoing physical conditioning. He witnessed another class learning how to shoot a practice rifle under the stern instruction of a Larkinson.

What interested him the most was live mech practice sessions. Various cheap but extremely robust mechs were attempting to navigate a complicated path through an expansive training ground.

While Ves regretted that he hadn't designed any training mechs, he had to admit that the Larkinsons chose well.

"These mechs are very durable and easy to maintain."

"All training mechs possess these qualities."

"Still, I commend your selection. These are some of the most cost-effective training mechs I've seen."

As Ronsel kept showing him around, Ves had already noticed the presence of his now-familiar Desolate Soldier mechs.

If the Bright Republic started to become familiar with its effects, how could the Larkinsons not be aware?

Ves already counted more than a dozen Desolate Soldiers placed throughout the mech academy!

"Ronsel... do you think it is a good idea to expose tens of thousands of mech cadets to my Desolate Soldiers?"

The old man chuckled. "Our mech cadets became significantly more attentive and dedicated to their studies after we procured your Desolate Soldiers. Even though some of our pupils have begun to slack, they're still a lot more diligent than before."

"Ronsel.." Ves frowned. "I have never tested the effects of long-term exposure to growning young mech cadets."

"We believe the merits outweigh the risks. You wouldn't have published your mech if it wasn't safe for human use, correct?"

"That's true, but.. even if it's permissible, is it the right thing to do?"

The principal adopted a severe expression. "There is a difference between Larkinson mech cadets and normal mech cadets. Our family members have all instilled the proper values in our younger generation. The same can't be said for the majority of our students. Even if we are doing our best to impart the right values into their heads, there is only so much we can do, Ves."

At this time, they reached a parade ground where around five-hundred mech cadets stood in formation.

"Watch this." Ronsel told him before stepping up to the serious-looking kids in uniform.

All of them looked incredibly intense!

"Cadets! Identify yourselves!"

"WE ARE LARKINSON MECH CADETS!"

"What is your cause?"

"WE FIGHT TO PROTECT THE BRIGHT REPUBLIC!"

"Who are your benefactors?"

"WE GIVE THANKS TO THE LARKINSON FAMILY!"

The fervor demonstrated by the mech cadets matched that of the Ylvainans! How long had the Larkinsons been working on these kids?

Ves wanted to scratch his head. Was it necessary for the Larkinsons to adopt a rigorous, military-style training approach at this stage?

This was too excessive!

Once Ronsel dismissed the mech cadets, he guided Ves to a separate training facility.

Aside from touring the Larkinson's pet project, Ves had another reason to visit the mech academy.

It was time for him to pick up William Urbesh from the tender care of the Larkinsons.

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