Being a Kinner was a harsh life.
Ves understood this.
Yet despite their hard living and lack of refinement, Ves admired the Kinners so much more than the indolent Kamoners!

Living under the shadow of the mighty Friday Coalition, the Kamon Republic may not hold much value.
However, their proximity to the second-rate state gave them an unprecedented degree of security as well as extremely lucrative business ties.

For this reason, the Kamon Republic developed in peace for centuries.
They neglected their armed forces as well as their mech community in favor of increasing the standard of living of their citizens to the highest level among third-rate states in the Komodo Star Sector.

Perhaps only the citizens of the second-rate states lived better than the Kamoners!

Yet all of their focus on economic and cultural development came at the cost of their ability to stand up and survive on their own.
Most of their industry and trade revolved around consumer goods and commodities that made many citizens happier, but did not help a bit in strengthening their military might!

The Kinner Tribe developed in the opposite direction.
Situated a distance away from the second-rate states, the small third-rate state did not enjoy the protection of any big brothers.

In fact, its territory was so poor in resources that everyone expected it to be thrown in the dustbin of history in time!

That it managed to hang on and thrive by dint of their mercenary trade drew a lot of admiration from Ves.
The Kinners had no use of frivolous luxuries and pointless consumer goods.
They only cared about increasing their strength and providing the next generation with better opportunities.

All of those adherents of the Societal Revival Theory would definitely salivate if they visited the Kinner Tribe.
Ves himself was already doing so inwardly ever since he stepped foot on Bloodstone II!

Kelandra guided the group deeper into the hall in order to approach the lounging mercenaries playing Pirate Empires or chatting with their friends on comm.
Not a lot of clients had entered the hall this early in the day, so Ves quickly got to talk with a mercenary corps representative.

The Kinner tribesman ’s eyes lit up as he spotted the approaching visitors and their guide.
”Kelandra! Who might you be bringing to us today? ”

”This is Mr.
Larkinson, a Journeyman who has come all the way from the Republic.
He is in search to hire a mercenary corps of your size for a year, with the opportunity to buy it out at the end of the mission. ”

”So it ’s one of those situations. ” The mercenary nodded in understanding.
The other representatives in the hall had pitched their ears and heard Kelandra ’s deliberately raised voice as well.
”Well, you ’ve come to the right place! ”

The Kinner merc began to introduce the outfit he belonged to.
The Roaring Crashers as they called themselves explicitly specialized in offensive operations.
The Crashers maintained both a spaceborn and landbound mech contingent, and they were open to attacking both land fortifications and space fortifications.

”Every Crasher is a Kinner of honor and courage! ” The representative boasted.
”As long as the mission intel is accurate, you can depend on us to crack open any bulwark! ”

Ves shook his head.
”I apologise, I ’m not looking to storm some pirate den or something.
I ’m mainly in the market for guards and escorts as I tour through the star sector. ”

I see.
I ’m afraid the Roaring Crashers won ’t be able to fulfill your request.
Guard and escort duty bores us. ” The merc ’s face fell.

Kelandra drew Ves and the rest to another gathering of mercs.

”As you see, mercenary corps can specialize in many mission types.
The Roaring Crashers for example are very notable for their willingness to take on high-risk offensive operations.
While they are very demanding with regards to their prices and conditions, they have enjoyed a lot of success acting as the hammer of their well-heeled clients. ”

A mercenary corps like the Roaring Crashers could help reinforce a risky offensive operation.
Their main draw was their willingness to face danger and their easy availability.
For these reasons, hiring them was extremely expensive!

Ves had no desire to pay so much for something he didn ’t need.
Mercenary corps that oriented around more routine missions may not be as ferocious, but they were a lot more affordable.

His guide brought him to another spokesperson.

The stern-looking woman who represented her mercenary corps looked like she had gone through a lot of rough scrapes.
She regarded Ves as if she was assessing his threat.

”You ’ve got good judgement, mech designer.
Kelandra is a great guide. ”

”Thank you.
Can you tell me about your mercenary corps? ”

”Sure! The Emerald Bears came about just over thirty years ago with tribal assistance.
We started as a scrappy outfit numbering just half a mech company ’s worth of spaceborn combatants and a creaky old converted carrier.
We mainly started escorting small trade convoys carrying sensitive goods.
The pay wasn ’t all that bad, but we frequently encounter opportunistic pirates and robbers. ”

”And you beat them without issue? ”

”Most of the time.
We did well enough that we quickly earned the capital to expand our mechs.
That allowed us to take on more elaborate missions.
While he mainly focused on developing our spaceborn company, we also raised a landbound company and some guards in order to provide the kind of protection that clients such as you are looking for.
Nowadays, we ’ve mostly moved on from escorting trade convoys and entered in the business of protecting VIPs.
In our short but storied history, we only failed a handful of times! ”

Not every escort or protection mission ended in success.
Mercenaries inherently engaged in risky business.
Even if they did the best they could, the opposition might still be able to overpower or outwit their defenses.

The Emerald Bears could do little about it except to incur a red mark on their record.
However, their failures did little to stop their growth, seeing as they still qualified to hawk their services at Askaya Halls.

”What are your rates? ” Ves asked.

The female merc quoted a number of prices in local currency as well as coalition credits and hex credits.

While Ves could somewhat bear the price of hiring them for a year, he felt quite leery about buying them out.
Even if he bought them without their equipment, the Emerald Bears still charged a princely sum for their mech pilots!

The woman noticed his hesitation.
”All of our mech pilots are veteran Kinner mercenaries with at least ten years under our belt.
They ’ve also gone through a lot of supplementary training that increased their systematic performance.
You will find none of our mech pilots to be lacking in any way. ”

Though Ves believed everything she said, the price premium the Emerald Bears charged still fell well outside his psychological limit.

He accepted that acquiring the services of a good mech pilot should cost something.
Yet did Ves truly need a mercenary corps as good as the Emerald Bears?

Inwardly, he didn ’t think so.
While he wasn ’t always conscious about the prices he paid, at these sums Ves did not wish to squander his money!

Eventually, he begged off every offer.
”My apologies, but the Emerald Bears seem to be a bit too excessive for what I seek. ”

Is that so? Well, We ’re always here as long as we are still accepting clients.
If you ever change your mind, you ’ll know where to find us if you are in need of excellent guards! ”

As Kelandra took him to a variety of representatives, she managed to gain a better idea of what Ves was looking for.
Many of the mercenary corps available for hire were either too large, too small, too expensive or too shabby for his tastes.

”I see now that Askaya Halls likely has little to offer to you. ” She said after she brought him to multiple smaller halls over the course of several hours.
”I hope the visit has still been fruitful for you.
These mercenaries are our pride and joy. ”

”The mercenary corps that I ’ve encountered here are some of the best in the business that I ’ve seen. ” Ves conceded.
”However, it is unnecessary for me to hire the best.
It is not as if I wish to enter into a high-risk region like the frontier or the Nyxian Gap.
I ’ll just be touring through some third-rate states.
Even if they aren ’t free of risk, I don ’t think it ’s necessary to enlist a mercenary corps that is prepared to wage all-out war. ”

After Kelandra inquired more about the kind of mercenaries Ves sought to hire, she led them back to an aircar and programmed in a different destination.

”I know exactly where to bring you.
Askaya Halls is where all of our best and more reputable mercenary corps ply their business, but the bulk of activity takes place at Ornament Halls.
That ’s where most of the middle-tier mercenary corps have set up.
Their price-to-performance ratios are quite high. ”

”Sounds exactly to my liking. ”

The site of Ornament Halls was littered with ancient structures.
According to Kelandra, the Kinner Tribe used to conduct their most important rituals and ceremonies here.
While they had since moved on to more impressive sites, Ornament Halls remained as the most frequented mercenary gathering place on Bloodstone II.

The amount of traffic at this site surpassed that of Askaya Halls by a considerable degree.
Whereas Askaya Halls mainly attracted major clients with big budgets, Ornament Halls seemed more like a bazaar where tons of middling clients haggled face-to-face with the mercenary representatives who set up shop in or outside the halls.

A lot more mercenaries from each outfit were present here, giving clients a greater sense on who they could hire.
The mercenaries didn ’t spend their time sleeping or playing Pirate Empires either.
They actually made an effort to look more presentable and ready to answer any questions a potential client might have.

All of this seemed to Ves that these middling mercenary corps needed to exert a lot more effort to get hired.

”The competition between mercenary corps is more intense at this tier. ” Kelandra explained as she led them through a crowd of Kinners, clients, freelance mech pilots and other people.
”While you can still find plenty of Kinner mercenary corps here, a lot of foreign outfits have set up shop as well in these halls. ”

As they passed by numerous mercenary gatherings, Ves noted that the foreign mercenary corps charged considerably less than their Kinner counterparts.
In fact, many of them charged a third or less for the same services a Kinner mercenary corps demanded!

”Are any of these foreigners to your liking? ” Kelandra asked.

”No thanks. ” Ves shook his head.
”I came to Bloodstone to hire a Kinner mercenary corps.
While these non-Kinner outfits all seem decent, I ’m specifically in need for men and women I can trust.
I ’m still open to supplementing my escort with individual freelance mech pilots, though. ”

”I see.
Ornament Halls offer plenty of both, have no fear. ”

The group entered one of the busy halls where Kelandra guided them to a mercenary representative that had just turned away a potential client.

Unlike the reps at Askaya Hall, the mercenary did not recognize Kelandra, though he did identify her role.

”Greetings, mech designer.
I speak on behalf of the Vertion Stoneguards, a proud Kinner mercenary corps of over twenty years. ”

”Tell me about the Stoneguards. ” Ves asked, intrigued by their name.

”We Stoneguards excel in protecting our clients.
We offer comprehensive protection in space, on land and indoors.
We have protected many mech designers like you, some of which contracted us to escort them into the riskier parts of space. ”

”Are the Stoneguards open to being bought out? ”

”I ’m afraid not. ” The merc shook his head.
”We have ambitions to grow into a tribal corps.
We can ’t do that when we never have the opportunity to return to the Kinner Tribe for the remainder of our lives. ”

I see.
I ’ll be looking elsewhere then.
Take care. ”

As the group moved away, Kelandra made an important remark.
”Many Kinner mercenary corps dream of being elevated to a tribal corps, but few manage to do so.
The mercenary business is simply too dangerous and attrition can be frightening. ”

”It ’s a worthy dream to pursue regardless. ” Ves replied.

Everyone should set a lofty goal for themselves.
Ves had already done so himself, and many great people did likewise.

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