For some reason, the prominent sculpture of Prophet Ylvaine seemed highly incongruent in this setting.
Calabast herself admitted that Madame Cecily was a fabricated identity that didn ’t exist before she infiltrated the Protectorate.

Now that she faced him from the other side of the desk, grinning like a certain mechanical cat who just devoured a huge lump of high-grade exotics, Ves simply could not equate her to a devout believer.

”What is it, Ves? ” Calabast asked as she caught his skeptical expression.

”Is it difficult for you to maintain your cover identity here? What if you ’re found out? I doubt the Ylvainans will be pleased to have a nonbeliever in charge of such an important responsibility. ”

”Come now.
Who do you think I am? ” She chuckled.
”That little fellow from Flashlight who recently joined your staff has nothing on me! Infiltrating a religious state like the Protectorate is not as difficult as you imagine.
In time, you will realize that the Protectorate will play a very important role in the future.
You ’ll thank me for being in the right position at the right time. ”

I suppose you can ’t tell me anything? ”

”I ’m sorry.
Some secrets are best left with me.
For now, it ’s important for you to expand your presence in the Protectorate.
Our goal is to make your mech company into one of the leading foreign enterprises involved in the local mech market. ”

Ves adopted a skeptical expression again.
”I ’m happy to see that happen, but is that even possible? The LMC is far from a dominant mech company in the Bright Republic, let alone in the rest of the star sector.
It is a bit too much to expect for the LMC to take up a leading position in the Protectorate when companies like NORA Consolidated and other mech companies owned by Seniors can do a much better job. ”

”Ah, but that ’s the genius of it. ” She grinned.
’The Ylvaine Protectorate recognizes the need to liberalize the mech market, but the opposition to it is very intense.
The pressure exerted by the Ylvainan Journeymen and Seniors will make it so that the liberalization process will be slow and gradual.
Any mech company that is led by a foreign Senior will be restricted from entering, while a smaller mech company led by a Journeyman like you will be able to slip through the cracks.
Very few Ylvainans in the mech industry feel threatened by your presence. ”

Basically, with Calabast ’s help, the LMC stood to benefit from a first-mover advantage in the Protectorate mech market for a substantial amount of time.

”How much time are we talking about here? ”

”Two or three decades.
It ’s difficult to estimate that far ahead.
In my judgement, as long as the Protectorate continues to pursue gradual liberalization, you can expect to enjoy that much time in which the Protectorate ’s mech market can serve as your playground.
Every year, I ’m expected to permit more foreign mech companies to enter the market without many restrictions, so don ’t think you have this place to yourself. ”

The local Ylvainan mech designers also wouldn ’t sit still and let the foreign mech designers take away their market share.
Ves knew that Calabast couldn ’t push the local interest groups too far on this matter.

”I take it you can manipulate the foreign entrants into the market in my favor, right? ”

I ’m expected to allow a number of mech companies led by Apprentices or Journeyman entry into the market.
Unlike the offer that I ’m about to extend to you, your competitors won ’t enjoy unrestricted access.
While they are allowed to expert a much greater amount of mechs to the Protectorate than before, tariffs and other trade barriers will make them more expensive and less competitive to the other offerings in the market. ”

If Calabast kept her promises, then a mech designed by Ves that sold for 50 million credits would be for sale in the Protectorate for roughly the same price.

On the other hand, a competitor would still need to deal with a number of trade barriers that increased the cost and reduced the profit of every sale.
A mech sold by a competitor needed to be priced at 55 to 65 million credits in order to earn the same amount of profit!

This was a massive competitive advantage to the LMC!

”So all I need to do to earn the right to earn the right to do unrestricted business with the Protectorate is to fulfill the commission, right? ”

It ’s not a sham if that ’s what you ’re thinking of.
My cover identity ’s power base isn ’t entirely secure.
Not everyone in the Curin and the Kronon Dynasty agrees with opening up the economy, and I haven ’t even mentioned the Poxco Dynasty yet.
Suffice to say, need a lot of protection if I want to remain in a position to help you.
Ever since I left my old employers, I have to depend on myself for protection.
It will be good if you can lend a hand. ”

”Do you really need my help? ” Ves asked.
”Surely the local mech designers won ’t resort to perverting the designs of your bodyguard mechs. ”

In truth, I can import a decent mech from any foreign mech company if I don ’t trust any of our domestic mech companies.
I just wanted to invite you here so that we can hit multiple birds with a single stone.
By making you responsible for designing six of my bodyguard mechs, we can make multiple statements that advance our interests. ”

”One message would be that you don ’t trust or think you can rely on a bodyguard mech designed by a domestic mech designer. ” Ves mentioned.

It ’s meant to be an indirect slap in the face of the Ylvainan mech industry that I turned to a foreigner instead of one of their own. ”

”I heard your bodyguard mech pilots all consist of members of the Kronon Family.
Will they be agreeable to your choice of mechs? ”

”They ’re good soldiers. ” Calabast dismissed the concern with a wave of her hand.
”Regardless of their personal opinions, they ’ll follow orders.
They will pilot a hollowed-out mech-sized cleaning bot if that is what is expected of them.
The Protectors of the Faith is one of the least political institutions in the Ylvaine Protectorate.
The Ylvainans learned the hard way that pairing fanatics and extremists with mechs is a recipe for disaster. ”

What she said made a lot of sense, but Ves reserved his own judgement.
”Can I meet the six mech pilots who will pilot the commissioned mechs in person? It will help me a lot if I have a solid impression of the people who will actually make use of my products. ”

I ’ll schedule a meeting for you with them tomorrow.
Right now, they are housed in a training base not far from here.
My new batch of guards are young mech pilots who graduated from the mech academies only recently.
Please take that into account when you design your mech. ”

”I understand.
However, do you really think it is a good idea to assign inexperienced mech pilots to hero mechs? Not everyone is suitable to pilot such a mech. ”

Calabast swiveled her chair to stare up at the sculpture of Prophet Ylvaine.
”You and I need to impress the local mech designers.
If you come up with a great hero mech design, we can impress them to such an extent that they won ’t raise any eyebrows when I give you unrestricted access to the local mech market. ”

”I can do that..
I think.
Do you want my mechs to look fancy or do they have to be combat effective as well? ”

From what I ’ve gathered from your design style, you are capable of both, right? That will be very beneficial to you as you work in this state.
Many Ylvainans have a penchant for elegant, artful-looking mechs.
Your Blackbeak and the Crystal Lord received a modest amount of attention in some of the local mech circles.
The only reason why your company didn ’t sell more of them is because your gold label mechs are far too difficult to obtain. ”

”What are your demands when it comes to their performance? ”

”I ’ll leave that up to you.
Aside from looking impressive, I want the new mechs to be able to fend off landbound but especially aerial threats. ”

”Is there anything else you want to add to your shopping list? ”

I want you to apply a religious theme to the mechs.
Outwardly, the mechs have to come across as holy machines. ”

Ves looked pensive.
”While I am confident in my artistic skills, I am not an expert in the Ylvainan Faith.
How am I supposed to design a mech with this theme when I know nothing about this faith? ”

”You don ’t have to work alone.
Not every mech designer is against the reforms.
I ’ll put you in touch of a couple of friendlier mech designers, though they aren ’t very high in rank.
They should still be able to help you in this field. ”

”Thank you.
From what I ’ve already seen of Protectorate mechs, it ’s best to have a local on hand to help me shape the aesthetics of my mech. ”

Outward appearances didn ’t matter too much in the Bright Republic, but in the Protectorate many mech buyers expected a certain look to their designs.

”I think it ’ll take me a couple of months to finish the commission. ”

”I will put the best workshop I have access to at your disposal.
If you are short on anything, feel free to inform me.
I will make sure you are supplied with what you need as long as it falls within our budget.
I can ’t spend an unlimited amount of money for this commission, so you need to make sure you design some efficient mechs. ”

”No problem.
Can I have a full list of parameters that needs special attention? ”

Calabast shook her head.
”I ’ll prepare the list tonight.
I don ’t have too many demands, though.
Their ceremonial purpose comes first, but they should still be good enough to put up a fight. ”

After some poignant questions, Ves understood what Calabast wanted out of the commissioned mechs.

She wanted to intimidate the local mech designers.
A hero mech that looked fantastic and performed decently would not have been anything special if designed by a local.
If they learned that a foreigner designed such a mech, they had no choice but to bear the implicit insult.

Keeping the local mech designers busy and worried allowed Ves enough room to establish himself in the Protectorate ’s mech market.

After Ves received all of the instructions of what Calabast expected of the mechs, he could begin to work whenever he wanted.

He still had one more question, though.

”Seeing that you are not entirely safe here, will I be in any trouble while I work here? ”

Calabast nodded grimly.
”Some of my problems might spill over to you.
It ’s unavoidable.
I trust in your survival abilities.
A Holy Son shouldn ’t die so easily. ”

Ves wanted to groan.
”I don ’t appreciate being exposed to any danger.
Can ’t you just let me return home to the Bright Republic and finish my work at home? ”

You need to immerse yourself in the Ylvainan culture and way of life if you want to design mechs that appeal to Ylvainans.
Running home will also weaken the statements that I intend to convey. ”

Those sounded like weak reasons to him.
”Is that all? ”

”For now, yes.
If you are really concerned about your safety, then I can allow your own bodyguard mechs to accompany you on the surface of Kesseling VIII. ”

Ves trusted in the Avatars of Myth he brought along this trip.
Currently, the mechs and mech pilots taking part in this mission were still stuck aboard the Greenfeather in high orbit.

Ves still felt as if there was more to the situation than Calabast revealed.
”Please tell it to me straight.
Am I in serious threat while I ’m here? ”

”It depends. ”

”On what? ”

”On whether you will be able to charm the local mech community. ”

Ves began to smile.
”Is that all? I ’ll have you know that I ’m an excellent charmer.
I ’ll have the locals eating from the palm of my hand in no time! ”

”I see that sarcasm suits you well. ”

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