Lucky eventually tracked down Ves and his group while they were being surrounded by a veritable herd of cats!

”Miaow Miaow! ”

”Mrooooow! ”

”Mew mew! ”

The sight riled Lucky up, especially since he saw Ves laughing while he fed some treats to a pampered white cat!

”MEOW! ”

The domineering entry of the gem cat instantly caused the other cats to look up in alarm.
Their cat senses told them that Lucky was a cat to take note!

”Meow. ”

The cats in the way stepped aside as Lucky majestically sauntered straight towards Ves.
The female white cat who previously enjoyed his owner ’s attention grew scared and quickly jumped away!

With Ves ’ lap free, Lucky jumped onto it and perched on it like he was sitting on a throne!

”Meow! ”

The cats started to disperse, though some of the more stubborn ones stuck around but ready to flee if Lucky made any hostile moves.

For his part, the gem cat ignored what he saw as lesser cats and began to look at Ves as if expecting his tribute of patting.

Ves obliged and stroked Lucky ’s back.
”What have you been up to this last hour? ”

”Meow. ”

”Haha, I can imagine the number of cat persons who want to buy you.
It must have given you a lot of headaches when you tried to make it clear that you ’re not for sale. ”

”Meow. ”

”Oh, you decided to move elsewhere to escape the crowd? ”

”Meow meow.
Meow meow meow.
Meow! Meow meow. ”

”Interesting, interesting. ” Ves rubbed his chin in intrigue.
”Did you find out anything else? ”

meow? ”

”Ah, sounds interesting.
It ’s too bad this planet is too damn monitored and secured. ”

While Ves left Lucky to play by himself, his cat slipped away and utilized his miniature stealth generator to snoop at a nearby underground research and observation post he detected with his advanced sensors.

During his brief jaunt, his cat quickly explored the labs but found nothing interesting.
The most his cat managed to do was to sneak to the local data banks stored in the bottom-most floor and utilize his automated CFA hacking programs to surreptitiously steal mountains of raw data.

While Lucky believed the hack succeeded, Ves did not expect to gain much out of the random data that his cat had retrieved.
In a busy city like this where loads of people roamed around, House Laterna would be stupid to place critical data within the vicinity!

The only way he could obtain more valuable data was if he or Lucky could sneak onto the Talin Continent somehow.

All of Felixia ’s major research institutions were situated there, but no casual tourist was allowed to step foot in Talin.
Ves saw no way of crossing an entire ocean unless he hijacked a very good stealth vehicle, and those weren ’t exactly close at hand.

He shrugged at Lucky.
”Let ’s leave that aside.
Let ’s just enjoy what Eron has to offer before heading to Asco so we can get a move on tracking down a huge cat. ”

A full day passed as Ves let himself go and enjoyed the various cat-themed attractions that the Eron Continent offered to its visitors.

A part of him thought that he should have brought Gloriana along.
The festive cat atmosphere was perfect for dates!

Ves had a lot of fun during this time.
Even if Lucky behaved rather cattily whenever he cuddled with a cat, at least his pet didn ’t exhibit too much jealousy anymore after Ves made a lot of promises that he wouldn ’t acquire any cats.

”Sheesh! You ’re just like Gloriana, Lucky! ”

”Meow! ”

His cat currently perched himself atop his head like he belonged there.
Not only that, but Lucky also started licking the cat ear attachments as if they needed a bath!

Despite his grumbling, Ves thoroughly enjoyed his visit on Eron.
Felixia had been in the tourism business for a very long time and knew exactly how to provide an enjoyable experience to their guests.
The meowing, purring and yowling cats he encountered in cities, villages and in nature preserves won over Ves and the rest of his entourage!

The only person in their group that resolutely kept her distance from the affection-seeking creatures was Nitaa.
His bodyguard dutifully remained alert to threats and refused to let any begging cat distract her from her mission!

Ves appreciated her dedication, though sometimes he felt she could use some relaxation herself.
He had never seen her engage in any hobbies or take any time off at all.

”What do you do for fun, Nitaa? ”

”I train.
I perform my duty.
I sleep. ”

doesn ’t sound very fun. ”

She smiled at him.
”I know what you are hinting at, sir, but this is what I was made for.
True Kinners are always able to derive our enjoyment from our work. ”

”That ’s because you ’ve literally been raised this way. ”

”Is that bad? ”

Ves wanted to say yes, but he couldn ’t summon up a sufficient argument.
He thoroughly believed that a human would be able to reach their greatest potential if they had the opportunity to live a wholesome and fulfilling life.

Someone raised to be a bot in human form did not meet his standards of a wholesome and fulfilling life.
Still, he knew that changing Nitaa ’s outlook on life was easier said than done.
The Kinners indoctrinated their tribesmen very well.

”Besides, I don ’t like cats that much.
I ’m not a cat person. ”

”Why so? Don ’t you think they ’re cute? ”

”They are too selfish and whimsical to my liking, sir.
Your own cat Lucky is a prime example of this.
To you, that makes them interesting and cute, but in my eyes they ’re nuisances. ”

”Sounds like dogs are more to your liking. ”

She smiled in a brief, indulging manner.
”They ’re loyal, caring and obedient.
What is not to like? Dogs are the favored pets of Kinners. ”

”I can see how they are to your liking. ”

Perhaps Ves should get her a dog sometime, though not now.
On Felixia, the existence of dogs was taboo!

During their visits, the Ingvar siblings also loosened up.
Spending months among the Battle Criers and being subjected to daily training and attitude adjustment sessions took their toll.

The jovial atmosphere and friendly cats were exactly what the Ingvars needed to recall happier times and rediscover who they were before they became fugitive mercenaries.

Of the two siblings, Ves thought that Casella was clearly the brighter of the two.
During an evening meal where everyone except Nitaa enjoyed a sumptuous dinner in a restaurant served by catgirl waitresses, Casella took him aside for a private meeting.

”I ’ve been thinking about our situation during our assignment. ” She began with a serious expression.
”It has been a few more months since my brother and I embarked on this assignment, and the sting of House Ingvar ’s fall and the betrayal of our household guards has faded.
The time we ’ve spent with the Battle Criers has humbled us a lot.
Though I can ’t speak for my brother, I really need to get this off my chest. ”

”What ’s the matter? ”

”I think… it ’s best for us to work for you in a longer-term capacity.
Though we aren ’t Kinners, I still prefer to continue working for you while our one-year contract has run its course. ”

That surprised Ves a bit.
He thought it would take a bit more hardship and humbling to get the noble Ingvar brats to realize their new reality.

”Working for me on a more fixed basis isn ’t impossible, but the two of you need to convince me that you are willing to follow my orders. ” He spoke.
”I ’m not a noble and I didn ’t grow up in a feudal state.
To me, the two of you are simply mercenaries on my payroll right now. ”

”I ’m aware.
It has taken some time for me to recognize that we are no different from commoners now that we ’ve lost the backing of our house.
A part of me still wishes for us to retain our pride of our upbringing, but without the necessary backing, we are merely empty shells.
I ’m more than ready to discard it and begin anew as a simple mech pilot. ”

”What about House Ingvar? ”

”I don ’t know why the Royal House of the Black Poppy attacked our house.
Maybe we intended to betray them.
Maybe we had something they really wanted.
Maybe they wanted to elevate another noble house in our place.
Whatever the reason, House Ingvar is no more, and taking revenge will not bring it back. ”

”You sound different than before. ” Ves noted.
”At the start, didn ’t you guys express some intentions of getting back at Black Poppy one day? ”

She snorted.
”Not even a Master Mech Designer can topple a royal house.
Black Poppy is too strong! The only way we could ever pose a threat to them is if we raise enough forces to challenge their rule over their territories.
Even if Imon and I one day raise such a humongous mech army, the other two royal houses won ’t sit still and let Black Poppy take the brunt of the assault. ”

”Because they ’re afraid they ’ll be next. ”

”Right. ” She closed her eyes.
”As much as I want to take Black Poppy to account for wiping out our relatives, we don ’t have any right to speak.
After a long time to think, I think it ’s best for us to move on with our lives.
The Kingdom of the Three Flowers no longer matters to me.
They can rot in their corner of the star sector for all I care. ”

That sounded quite encouraging to Ves, though her story contained a huge caveat.
”What does your brother Imon think about your willingness to move on from the tragedy that befell your house? ”

”Imon is..
not at this point yet.
He ’s very taken in by the pride and traditions of our fallen house.
Getting him to let go is..
difficult. ”

Ves smiled sardonically at Casella.
”The two of you are a package deal.
It ’s all well and good that you ’ve become aware of your new reality, but what if Imon wants to depart on a doomed quest to revive House Ingvar and tear down Black Poppy? ”

She looked down to her feet.
”I ’m still working on that. ”

”Well, you better work at it harder.
The both of you have potential, I can see it.
I also understand the attachment the two of you hold for your fallen house.
However, life isn ’t fair.
There are winners and losers everywhere.
If you find yourself on a losing end, you won ’t magically turn into an epic hero and become capable of toppling a ruling power of a state with justice and determination. ”

She let out a deep sigh.
”We know that life doesn ’t resemble the dramas, but deep in our hearts we still hope to redress the injustices that have befallen our house.
The difference between Imon and me is that my brother is much more optimistic. ”

”You ’ve given up while he is still clinging on to hope. ”

It is difficult for proud mech pilots like us to give up.
We ’ve been taught not to surrender if there is still a ray of hope. ”

Casella left after a short while.
Ves reflected on their conversation and believed that it was up to Imon whether they would fully be able to start anew.
Once they both reached this point in their development, Ves would be more than willing to invite them into the Avatars of Myth and nurture them properly.

He couldn ’t wait to develop methods that enabled and accelerated the development of expert candidates and expert pilots.

One of the theories he came up with was that spiritual attributes mattered.
They reflected the personalities of the mech pilots.

Most mech pilots with a perceptible amount of dormant spiritual energy shared similar attributes.
While there was nothing wrong with them as they could still advance to expert pilots and develop strong abilities, Ves suspected that rarer and more peculiar attributes yielded more exotic results.

This was why Ves paid special attention to the Ingvar siblings! Their attributes were different from that of every other mech pilot!

However, drawing out their strength and nurturing the two Ingvars to experts was a very consuming endeavor.
Ves did not wish to have another Jannzi situation on his hands, where all of his efforts went to naught!

Having learnt his lesson, this time Ves would ensure he laid the groundwork to obtain the loyal service of any potential expert pilot!

”Don ’t disappoint me, Casella. ” He whispered.

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