The venue of the opening banquet took place in a majestic dining hall.
Kester Hills was no stranger in providing service to members of high society, so the dining hall looked quite resplendent.
The marble stonework and titanium-golden metalwork had all been fashioned into a clean and modern style that nevertheless did not become too abstract.

The design of the dining hall with its emphasis on space and geometric shapes provided a suitable backdrop for the guests to take the stage.

Every member of the Tovar Peace Delegation arrived in some of the best clothing that the senator ’s staff provided to each of them.
Ves milled around in the periphery of Colonel Xelven and the other military officers.

All of them wore similar mess dress uniforms.
The senior officers boasted much higher numbers of medals, badges and other awards.

If Ves was afraid he ’d be overshadowed by the flood of decorations from the careerist military officers, he shouldn ’t have been worried.
Some might carry a Torchbearer, others a Darkness Eater, but absolutely no one carried both at once! The extremely rare Golden Mech further signified that he was a mech designer, not a mech pilot!

His top awards had been designed to call out attention with the incorporation of shiny exotics and luminescent materials designed to simulate fire and light.
The Golden Mech in particular caught a lot of attention due to its relative size and gaudiness.

The eleclic combination of medals already drew the attention of the other old men and women of the Tovar Peace Delegation.
They had seen him walk around on the Felicitous Remembrance and the Lormant Carnival, but were not quite aware of what his ribbons on his service uniform represented back then.
Now they realized that Ves may be more that met the eye.

Of course, Ves did not particularly care about impressing his fellow Brighters at this time.
Instead, he along with everyone else faced the Colchester Peace Delegation.

As the formal introduction rituals went underway, Ves studied his opposites.

The first thing that struck him was that they made for an imposing image.
A higher proportion of military officers made up their ranks.
Some of the bureaucrats, statesmen, businessmen and even academics also carried the same air as their soldiers, signifying that they once served in the military as well!

The Vesians also seemed to group up amongst themselves.
Unlike the Brighters who stood in a single, uniform row with equal spacing between them, the Vesians vaguely bunched up a bit into a handful of separate cliques.

Only a small number of them appeared to be the core confidants of Prince Colchester.
The rest hailed from different duchies who distrusted those from other duchies.

Ves guessed that this continued division would complicate the peace talks once they finally commenced.

Senator Tovar and Prince Colchester both stood in the middle of their ranks.
At some unspoken signal, they both walked forward until they arrived right in front of each other.

They studied each other.

Both old men experienced more than two centuries in their lives, and would live at least a century more.
The vicissitudes of living all of those years reflected in their faces and their posture.
They were no average humans in the galaxy.
They were born from privileged families and had been groomed to lead their respective states since young.

Looking far away from the center, Ves became struck with the notion that they were the same kind of men.
Both of them were leaders and both of them were old.
That gave them something in common that none of the other members of their delegations could ever come close to matching!

”Prince Colchester. ”

”Senator Tovar. ”

They shook hands and smiled in diplomatic fashions.
None of their true thoughts could be discerned as they tried to read each other ’s expressions and body language.

Eventually, they separated and led their delegations to the lengthy but narrow dining tables.

A band began to play soft music while staff started to bring in appetizers.
However, no one focused on the food and drink and instead stared at the opposite side of the narrow tables where their Vesian counterparts took seats.

Ves sat a long line down the table for military officers and officials.
Lieutenant Colonel Xelven sat at the head of the table and already started to swap some casual stories with a noble officer from the Mech Legion.

Everyone ’s ranks, seniority and age descended further down the table until only mere captains sat at the other end.

For various reasons, Ves sat at the other end of the table.
The officer who sat next to him might be a mere mech captain, but he was at least twenty years older and of a very different breed from the more casual and approachable Vandals.

Ves instead turned his attention back to the Vesian military officers.
He glanced at each member of the Mech Legion, trying to see if he recognized any of them, all the way until he came at the end where he met a pair of burning eyes that tried to poke holes at him for some reason!

He blinked.

He stared at the face surrounding those eyes and belatedly realized he knew this woman!

”Venerable Foster! How can you be here?! ” He asked with a somewhat alarmed tone.

He probably made a faux pas somewhere but his shock had overridden his senses!

The blond woman in front of him narrowed her eyes.
”My apologies for disappointing your expectations, Mr.
It seems we both survived our missions.
It ’s very strange what happened to the vessel back then.
I almost didn ’t make it out.
Yet strangely enough I find you here.
Out of the handful of people who survived the disaster back then, how can a puny mech designer like you possibly make it out unscathed? Did you have something to do with it perhaps? ”

Ves laughed a little awkwardly, sweat already starting to pour down his brow.
”I am not at liberty to discuss any details, let alone with a Vesian like you.
Please mind our surroundings. ”

They were in a very public setting right now.
Even if Ves received permission to discuss the details of the Aeon Corona Mission, he would never divulge any details to Venerable Foster just to satisfy his curiosity.

She was the enemy!

The other military officers noticed the tense dynamic between the two.
They couldn ’t quite figure out why even though they shared some traits in common.
One was a decorated mech designer.
The other was a decorated expert pilot.
Both of them were roughly from the same generation and were younger than most members of their delegations.

Ves felt increasingly pressured as Venerable Foster brought more and more of her ire to bear on him.
His Spirituality felt discomfited by her strong will.
She was likely imagining killing him or something.

As the waiters delivered the dishes and drew back, some of the guests began to dig in.
Ves immediately started to eat some sort of salad pâté made out of important exobeast liver to avoid her attention.

Unfortunately, Venerable Foster was just as capable of maintaining her acid gaze on Ves as she sampled the delicacies.

”If you think you can avoid me, Mr.
Larkinson, think again. ”

There was something about her voice that forced Ves to look up to her again.
Ves was vaguely aware that Venerable Foster must be unconsciously manipulating her very real spirituality in this manner.
It was how expert pilots commanded attention and obedience from their lessers.
He already experienced this effect from Venerable Xie, but only to a lesser degree.

However, compared to that weak expert pilot, Venerable Foster ’s will was much more pure and concentrated! Whenever she spoke, Ves pretty much felt her intentions and attitude.
She was not the sort of person who camouflaged the meaning of her words or engaged in doublespeak.

She spoke bluntly and directly with no ambiguity.
She was a woman who knew what she wanted, and that empowered her will into some sort of mental force field that aligned in the same cohesive directions like an electromagnetic field!

It was as if a contest of wills took place in a realm invisible to everyone but Ves.
Perhaps because he possessed a tangle form of Spirituality, he was actually more susceptible to this effect than a norm.
He actively concentrated his mind in order to shield his Spirituality against submitting to her will.

Perhaps Venerable Foster noticed something about him, because she eased up on her invisible assault.
”Looks like you ’re not a big of a wimp as you pretended to be back then.
The Mech Corps isn ’t in the habit of awarding those medals of yours to wimps. ”

Ves smiled back in a strained fashion.
Even if she became a bit more amiable for the moment, there was no doubt that she would rather stick a dagger in his stomach.

”How come you are a part of Prince Colchester ’s delegation? ”

”Who says I can ’t represent both the Vesia Kingdom and the Hafner Duchy? ” She replied mockingly as the next courses arrived.
”I was introduced to the royal family through Lady Amalia of Imodris.
Even though I love the Hafner Duchy and always consider it my home, expert pilots like myself ought to stand up for more than their own tribes. ”

Some of the Vesian officers sitting close by looked askance at her.
It seemed her opinion did not play well with her colleagues in the Mech Legion.
She showed no hint of reproach in her opinion, though.
Even though she was still a mere mech captain, as a baroness and expert pilot she could damn say nearly whatever she wanted without repercussion!

This was the privilege of strength in a state which worshipped it to a much greater degree than the Bright Republic!

”What is your stance on the possibility of peace between our states? ” He asked.

”Naturally, I support Prince Colchester ’s endeavors. ” She stated confidently.
”Even though I would like nothing but to vanquish the Mech Corps and overrun your entire state along with any other loyal Vesian, as a guardian of the Kingdom I must take a wider perspective.
Make no mistake, Brighter.
The wars between our states will never end.
Yet I also believe it shouldn ’t be a problem to put an extended pause in our conflict if it ’s necessary.
Once we no longer have to be concerned about outside interference, we can immediately end our truce. ”

That was a very practical point of view, and the other officers near her couldn ’t help but nod in agreement.

Talk of permanently ending the conflict between their states was a bridge too far for most Vesians.
Even the Brighters would feel uncomfortable.
By phrasing the proposed peace as pressing the pause button, the two states would be able to maintain the stance that they remained hostile to their archenemies.

How long the proposed truce would last and whether both states would actually stick to its terms were still in question.
The upcoming peace talks aimed to address these difficulties in order to see whether both sides could come to a reluctant accord that both states might be able to stomach.

The talk between the two became very stilted.
While Ves and Venerable Foster both shared some of the same experiences and already knew each other, they both disliked each other intensity as well.

They just didn ’t have anyone else to talk with.
Everyone else was older.
Ves himself was a mech designer, which distinguished himself from the long-serving mech pilots and administrators.
Venerable Foster in the meantime may be a highly respected expert pilot, but diplomacy did not come naturally to her.
She never hid her animosity towards the Brighters and directly made her dislike for them known.

It was no surprise that the other Brighter officers did their best to ignore Venerable Foster ’s presence and engaged in conversation among their own peers.

As an unfortunate consequence of that, Venerable Foster kept turning her ire towards Ves throughout the banquet.

”You craven little mech designer.
Don ’t look down at your food when I ’m speaking to you.
I won ’t let you get away for all the shenanigans you pulled off back then! ”

Ves wanted to vomit blood.
Why was she so fixated on him? What happened to her and the rest of the Vesian ground forces when Sigrund escaped from his cage?

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