Lieutenant Eloise Pelican deployed on the battered but still functional Valiant Warden in the murky space of the Dark Sphere.

What struck Ves immediately was the lack of stars.
When Ves used Eloise ’s senses that had been patched into her mech to observe the surroundings, he only saw a great gnawing abyss in each and every direction.

It was a highly disconcerting sight! Without the stars of the galaxy and the wider cosmos to provide a soothing background, every mech pilot trapped within the Dark Sphere always risked becoming lost if they went too deep.

The Dark Sphere wasn ’t completely empty, though.
Asteroids and planetoids occasionally fell into the Dark Sphere, only to get corrupted and consumed by the indigenous astral life that resided in this isolated pocket space.

The constant threat of Starspawn forced the Insurmountable Drakes to maintain a ready patrol of mechs around their meager ships.
Even though deploying them consumed more fuel or energy, they had no choice.
They learned the hard way that deploying when the Starspawn attacked was already too late.

As Eloise led a small squad of rifleman mechs of many different models, Ves reflected upon the situation he found himself in.
After eavesdropping on some of the conversations and observing some of the mechs and other tech the Insurmountable Drakes used, he figured out when and where this event took place.

The mechs piloted by Eloise and the others were either lastgen or two generations back compared to Ves ’ current time.

This was quite recent!

If he garnered a guess, then would say he had traveled only thirty to forty years in the past.

As for their location, Ves surreptitiously dug up Eloise ’s galactic geography knowledge from her mind.
He found out that the Silent Nomad and the Pure Wheel was thousands of light-years away from the Komodo Star Sector.

They still resided in the galactic rim, but a bit further coreward.
Due to their earlier colonization, the states that emerged in the two star sectors developed much further, to the point where they set aside internal struggles in favor of competing against neighboring star sectors.

The two star sectors differed a lot, though they somewhat took after their names.

The states of the Pure Wheel Star Sector possessed a strong religious character, as the star sector had been opened up specifically to house all of the troublesome religious organizations exiled from their old star sectors.

While the Pure Wheel states fundamentally disagreed with each other due to their strong beliefs, they eventually tired of beating each other up for their beliefs.
Instead of warring against each other and thereby weakening the star sector against foreign aggressors, they pragmatically decided to put down their arms to expand their state religions into other star sectors instead.

The Silent Nomad Star Sector housed fiercely independent-minded secular organizations.
The star sector was notable in that it hosted a very strong mercenary tradition, with some massive mercenary corps ballooning to such a size that people there referred to them as mercenary conglomerates!

The states there possessed a long history of picking all kinds of fights with each other, thereby providing mercenaries with plenty of business.
Nonetheless, the states slowly put down their bickering when the states neighboring Pure Wheel Star Sector started making inroads into their territory.

Overall, the two star sectors were already at odds, but the appearance of the Dark Sphere around the border of the two sectors really blew up the conflict!

At this time, Eloise cared little about the conflict between the two states.
She just wanted to go home to reunite with her son! For that matter, the Insurmountable Drakes and every other independent outfit trapped within the Dark Sphere also wanted to get out and go home!

Everyone wanted to go home!

To be honest, Eloise planned to only serve with the Insurmountable Drakes for a few months before her contract ran out.
At that point, she intended to retire from the mercenary corps to work for a security company that allowed her to spend some time with her family.

The Dark Sphere ruined everything.
This bizarre spatial anomaly hovered around the border of the two star sectors randomly popping up to swallow several ships and fleets in transit.
There was no rhyme and reason for its appearances and movement patterns.

Even as Ves slowly dug up the circumstances around this mysterious Dark Sphere, he did not forget to pay attention to how Eloise skillfully piloted her space knight.

Due to its patchy, frankenstein-like repairs, her Valiant Warden no longer resembled its original model in any way.
Much of the space knight ’s internal components had all been salvaged from other mechs when the original ones wore out or got destroyed.

The armor plating by itself looked like an awful patchwork of crudely welded and fused plates from dozens of mechs.
The inconsistent plating meant that some portions of the mech withstood energy damage well, while other portions performed better against physical damage.

Eloise knew her mech so well that she was able to proficiently take advantage of these traits to allow the right sections of armor to take the blows they were able to withstand the best!

It reminded Ves of his intentions of how the polarizing module should be used.
Eloise ’s skill in selective damage redirection resembled the skill the mech pilots of his new mech needed to master to shape most efficient polarizing fields!

”Keep chugging along, Warden. ” Eloise whispered affectionately as she skillfully piloted her mech in the most efficient fashion possible.
”Just hold on for a week.
We ’ll get out of the Dark Sphere within that time. ”

Another notable aspect about the mech was that Eloise ’s strong emotions affected the Warden on a spiritual level.
The constant battling and piloting prompted Eloise to develop a strong affection towards her own mech.
Her will to battle in order to reunite with her young son carried over to the Warden, allowing a minor X-Factor to take shape that echoed with her desires to return home!

”We have to return home! ”

That phrase was being bandied about a lot among the fugitives in the Dark Sphere.
Everyone wanted to exit the Dark Sphere and go home.
Yet as far as they knew, none of them ever succeeded!

In truth, the outfits that all managed to survive up to now went to great lengths to keep themselves alive and combat capable.
With no way to gain fuel and supplies from the dark and nebula-filled environment, they resorted to raiding isolated ships or each other!

In effect, the depraved conditions of the Dark Sphere forced every single outfit to turn pirate!

Eloise herself used to object to this behavior, but her overriding desire to return to her son had eroded her moral objections.

”We have to return home! ”

This single conviction shared by many outfits trapped within the Dark Sphere all forced them to cannibalize each other for valuable supplies.
Mechs didn ’t repair by themselves and starships needed a steady source of ship-grade fuel.

Even as Ves tried to prevent himself from becoming affected by Eloise ’s obsessive desire to reunite with her son, he studied her operation of her mech in greater detail.

Since it appeared that battle wouldn ’t break out for the time being, Eloise did not expend too much effort into piloting her mech.
Nonetheless, the skill and reflexes she developed over a decade of suviving the Dark Sphere made her develop plenty of unique habits and quirks.

Ves recognized that many of the more unusual quirks served to compensate for her Valiant Warden ’s eccentricities and irregularities.
Nonetheless, Eloise diligently maintained many good habits universal to piloting spaceborn mechs.

Many of these small rules that she learned from veteran Drakes or developed on her own seemed quite useful to Ves.
This was what he aimed to learn from his Mastery experience!

Ves eagerly observed Eloise ’s every little trick and method.
He also took note of her concerns and frustrations of her own mech.

He already learned a laundry list of issues he needed to take note of when he began to properly design his upcoming space knight! The more issues he addressed preemptively at the design phase, the less problems mech pilots faced when they finally got to pilot his new product!

However, this wasn ’t enough for him.
He wanted to observe Eloise when she was in her best state during battle.
Only when battle commenced would he be able to observe the most critical aspects that she took into account to survive!

Several days went by as the Insurmountable Drakes navigated to a rallying point provided by Mr.
While navigation was rather difficult in the Dark Sphere, the dark and foggy nebulas with their varying temperatures and mix of particles enabled them to develop a rough three-dimensional map of the Dark Sphere.

The further to the center, the warmer it got.
Strange processes went on in the inner portion of the sphere.
The center attracted a lot of planetoids and asteroids and swallowed them over time.
New Starspawn emerged from the feeding processes which subsequently flew out to assault the human presence in order to grow!

In fact, Eloise and many of the other independents trapped in the Dark Sphere believed that the states from the Silent Nomad and Pure Wheel Star Sectors deliberately trapped them in this jar to feed the Starspawn!

Only after the Starspawn consumed a number of mechs or high-quality materials did they evolve into Alpha Starspawn.
These evolved entities were not only a major threat to outfits, but their tissue also possessed very unique traits that turned them into valuable source material for certain biological processes!

What the use of Starspawn tissue actually was, none of the Drakes knew.
They knew it was valuable though, so they salvaged a bunch of remains from Alpha Starspawn and stored them in the freezer, to be sold whenever they emerged out of the Dark Sphere.

When the Insurmountable Drakes finally reached the outer area of the Dark Sphere marked with pink particles, they encountered a handful of other outfits.

Everyone put up their guard.
Fighting between mercenaries, treasure hunters, pirates and all manner of scoundrels long led to an intense mutual distrust against each other.
Without any way of gaining supplies except for robbing each other, it was incredibly difficult to gather a great number of independents in one place without another fight breaking out!

That they somehow managed to refrain from firing their weapons showed how serious they were this time to break out!

The enigmatic Mr.
Drenad from the Angel ’s Wing Foundation deserved much of the credit.
An unmarked carrier known only as the Defiled Gene served as the glue that kept the separate outfits together.

Ves was ready to see the battle commence.
This extended Mastery experience showed him many areas of interests related to spaceborn mechs and space knights that he hadn ’t fully considered before.
In fact, he already harvested a lot more than he initially thought!

The only problem was that his continued attachment to Eloise subjecting him to her increasingly more volatile mood swings.

At some points, she functioned as a regular mech lieutenant in charge of leading a small number of mechs on patrol.

At other points, she abruptly wailed against her awful fate and longed to be reunited with her son! Her strong emotions were so disconcerting to Ves that he was getting rather impatient to see the battle commence!

This mental trip to the past already lasted a week, which meant he was absent in the present day for a week as well!

It was a good thing that he prepared the LMC for his absence, but that didn ’t mean that Ves liked to be gone that long!

”I see that every outfit that has received an invitation has arrived. ” Mr.
Drenad spoke over a broadcast to every independent gathered at this site.
”A half day of travel away from here lies the most vulnerable exit of the Dark Sphere.
Guarded by a garrison and a range of space fortifications of Dark Nomads, it is a hard obstacle to overcome, but not an impossible one! At this time, the Defiled Gene will be enacting our stratagem which forms the key to our break through.
Please maintain a healthy distance from our carrier as it will exceedingly perilous for you to stray too close. ”

As Eloise and everyone else wondered what Mr.
Drenad had in store, alarms suddenly rang from her Valiant Warden ’s sensors.

”Starspawn! ”

A flood of dark, partially-transparent mech-sized jellyfish-like creatures emerged from the pink nebula.
Even as everyone armed their weapons, Drenad forcefully commanded them to a halt!

”STOP! The Starspawn that are drawn to us are temporarily under our control! ” The man spoke.
”Your commanders are fully aware of our plan.
The Starspawn won ’t be a threat as long as they are not disturbed! ”

A chill went through Eloise ’s back.
She had only ever met hostile, rabid Starspawn in the Dark Sphere.
How had Mr.
Drenad managed to control them? Was this the power of the Angel ’s Wing Foundation?

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