No one in Kemila knew what kind of drastic, galaxy-overturning ideas that Ves had formed yesterday night.

If it was up to him, nobody would ever find out.
Not even Lucky, who curled up on his lap, knew what kind of radical theories Ves cooked up in his mind!

”Meowww… ”

”You ’ve already had enough to eat! Don ’t complain! ” Ves berated his cat as he munched on a croissant.

As Ves and the rest of his group aside from Nitaa enjoyed their breakfast, he began to announce the decisions he made yesterday.

”Starting today, please suspend all investigations.
I ’m satisfied with the information we ’ve gathered up to now.
It ’s time to begin with the next step. ”

That caused everyone to feel relieved.
Crindon and the Ingvars felt they had been making less and less gains lately.

”Which huge cat have you decided upon? ” Gavin asked.

”The Dragon Cat. ” Ves declared.
”Out of all the notable huge cats in the hunting zone, she ’s one of the few pure exobeasts that hasn ’t been subjected to genetic modification and programming.
She ’s a genuine product of nature that isn ’t bound to the biases and preconceptions of House Laterna ’s biotech researchers. ”

”Is that important? ”

”Yes. ” Ves nodded.
”If I ever want to design a bestial mech, then it ’s best to derive my inspiration from works of nature rather than works of man.
Going straight to the source, as it were.
Don ’t get me wrong, though.
Most artificial creations can be superior to naturally-evolved exobeasts.
It ’s just that for my purposes, I think I ’ll obtain better gains from observing a more primal creature. ”

This was just an excuse to obscure the real reasons he decided to pick the Dragon Cat over Zeigra.

Nonetheless, Imon frowned a bit.
”We collected a lot of hearsay about Zeigra, all of which painted an impressive picture.
Why didn ’t you settle for him, Mr.
Larkinson? ”

Ves crossed his arms.
”I don ’t owe you an explanation, but if you must know, there are too many practical problems involved with hunting a Crown Cat.
Not only will we have to secure the cooperation of a very strong hunting outfit, we ’ll also be wracked with numerous delays as the hunting attempt requires an exceptional amount of preparation.
Even then, the hunt is unlikely to succeed! The chance of death is too large to justify the attempt.
It ’s not worth gambling my life just to obtain a good impression of Zeigra. ”

That shut everyone up.
Nitaa and Gavin looked inordinately pleased at his sensible decision.
Neither wanted to see Ves throw himself against one of the deadliest cats on the Asco Continent!

”Which hunting team do you want to approach to help you hunt down the Dragon Cat? ” Gavin probed.

”I don ’t need the Dragon Cat to die. ” Ves held up his hand.
”For my purposes, just spending some time with the creature is sufficient.
Nevertheless, depending on the actual situation, I might change my mind.
I don ’t know what I ’ll need until I actually actually see her in the flesh. ”

His main goal for visiting Felixia was to harvest a spiritual fragment of an enormous cat-like creature.
Ves already knew that spiritual fragments retained their qualities regardless of the life or death of their sources.

”As for the team… ” Ves continued.
”The Mark of Caantz is out.
They ’re overqualified to hunt this kind of game.
I ’m not sure whether the Cadence Stalkers are suitable, though.
They ’ll require weeks of preparation and even then the actual hunting trip will last a while due to their trap-based hunting style. ”

”So you ’ve decided to go with the Rocit Butchers? ”

”They ’re my first choice, yes. ”

That caused some consternation to a few people.
The Ingvars in particular looked disgusted.

”The Butchers are literally brutes! ” Imon protested.
”Their existence besmirches the honor of our profession! At the very least, the Battle Criers are brave warriors.
The Butchers only care for killing and eating their own prey! ”

The former noble referred to their penchant for eating the meat of their kills.
Cooking and eating the flesh of the formidable huge cats that roamed the hunting zones was a big activity that united the otherwise rowdy Butcher mech pilots.

That, and the strength of their commander ensured that none of their mech pilots fell out of line.

Ves directed a calm expression towards Imon.
”Again, I ’m making the decisions here.
While I recognize your opinions, I haven ’t heard anything that convinces me to opt for another outfit. ”

Just as Ves wanted to move on with issuing new instructions to his staff, the doorbell to his hotel suite rang.

A couple of people frowned.
No one should be looking to approach him at this time.

”Benny, please answer the door. ”

As Gavin rose up and walked to the front door, he came face-to-face with a very well-dressed woman.

The newcomer ignored the assistant and tried to look further.
Larkinson, I know you are present.
You are a very hard man to schedule an appointment with.
Well, no more delays.
Let us talk. ”

Ves looked towards Crindon who made a very urgent hand sign.

”That ’s Lady Miralix of House Laterna, the third daughter of Countess Katherina! ” The Kinner spy furiously whispered.

His face soured.
Ves had kept his head down as much as possible in the past week in order to avoid political entanglement.
If there was anything he knew about nobles, it was that any interaction drew the ire of someone!

Still, now that she came up to his hotel suite in person, he could hardly refuse her direct request for a meeting.
Ves was confident he could fob off a messenger or an envoy, but refusing a noble lady on the very planet her noble house ruled over was practically suicide!

He waved his hand.
”I ’ll meet her in the front room.
Please make sure we aren ’t disturbed while I have my chat with the lady. ”

As the lady entered the suite, Ves greeted her with a mild smile.
He tried his best to keep his irritation out of his expression, though it didn ’t take a genius to figure out that he was less than enthusiastic about meeting a Sentinel noble.

”Lady Miralix. ” He greeted gently as he shook her hand.
”To what do I owe the pleasure of your abrupt visit? ”

As he withdrew his hand, he noted that her palm exerted strength and stability.
Those were the hands of a warrior!

Her appearance and clothing further reinforced her martial upbringing.
Her gold-frilled military-esque uniform showed off hints of her athletic stature.
Her blond hair had been cut to a bobcut, which prevented it from getting caught or stuck if she wore an interfacing helmet.

She offered a sharp smile back.
”It is not every day that Kemila is graced with a Journeyman such as you.
This city and the rest of Felixia doesn ’t have much to offer to mech designers of your height.
It is a rare opportunity for me to meet with a capable mech designer on my homeground.
I do hope you won ’t mind my presumptuousness. ”

”It is of no concern, my lady. ”

While Ves and Lady Miralix continued with their facetious greeting, Lucky padded warily towards the noblewoman ’s pet.

As a scion of House Laterna, how could she not possess her own cat?

The feline that accompanied Miralix looked exquisite.
The cat oozed elegance as her purple-black fur accentuated her slender, sinuous form.
The genetically-modified cat sat on her butt with her head turned upwards as if nothing in the room was worth her attention!

”Meow? ”

”Miao. ”

”Meow! ”

”Miao! ”

Lucky did not make much headway into engaging the purple-black cat in a conversation!

”That ’s a remarkable cat you have there. ” Ves diverted.
”She ’s very proud of herself as well. ”

He could tell, because the arrogant organic cat continued to rebuff Lucky ’s attempts!

Lady Miralix smiled indulgently at her cat.
”Genevieve is a proud designer cat of our house.
She is one of our house ’s most exclusive products.
If you want a cat like her, it ’s not impossible for me to supply you with one that matches your specifications. ”

”No thanks.
As you can see, I already have a perfectly serviceable cat. ”

”Your pet is very interesting.
My men have done some research to trace his model, but we haven ’t identified the producer. ”

”I ’ve been upgrading Lucky over the years.
He ’s very different from how he started out at the beginning. ”

After chatting a bit about their cats, Lady Miralix finally cut to the chase.

”I ’m sure there is much to talk about, but I didn ’t come here for a social call. ”

”I ’m not open to business. ” Ves calmly but firmly replied.
”I ’m already preoccupied with my own concerns. ”

The lady smiled.
”I ’ve heard.
You have been sending your lackeys into the city in order to gather intelligence.
Are you interested in hunting for Zeigra? ”

Ves shook his head.
Felixia ’s Crown Cats deserve their formidable reputations.
I have no intention of getting anywhere close to them.
Zeigra is a very impressive specimen, but I am only courageous enough of admiring him from afar. ”

This was not what the lady wanted to hear, obviously.
Miralax sat down on one of the couches in the hotel suite, prompting Ves to follow suit.

”I think it ’s best if I start this off by describing my own situation.
You see, Mr.
Larkinson, I am a mech pilot.
As a member of House Laterna, I ’ve been subjected to high expectations for all of my life.
I trained and polished my mech piloting skills as much as possible in order to meet our house ’s high standards.
No mech pilot of House Laterna must ever exhibit any shortcomings! Weakness is very much frowned upon in the Sentinel Kingdom ’s high society. ”

That sounded very similar to what took place in the Vesia Kingdom.

”Sentinel is a very strong state.
I ’m not surprised to hear that the nobility is expected to set an example. ”

”Ah, so you understand.
Now, before it is time for me to lead a detachment of household mech troops, I am expected to complete a mandatory challenge.
Every mech pilot of House Laterna is expected to pass this challenge shortly after graduating from the mech academy. ”

”Mandatory? ”

”Yes. ” She nodded seriously.
”We either pass this test, or die trying.
You ’re an intelligent man, Mr.
I think you can guess the nature of the challenge that I have to complete. ”

Ves already had an inkling of what Lady Miralix alluded to.
”You are tasked with hunting Zeigra? ”

The noblewoman shook her head.
”Not Zeigra specifically.
I can choose to hunt any Crown Cat in Asco.
I am not allowed to depart Felixia while I haven ’t completed this challenge.
If I choose not to go on a hunt, I will be stuck on this planet for the remainder of my life! ”

That probably sounded fine to some people, but not to an ambitious-looking woman such as Lady Miralix.
Ves could see it in her eyes.
She possessed the same gaze as those in the piloting profession who aimed higher!

”Why Zeigra, then? ”

”Zeigra is the twentieth-ranked Crown Cat on the listing.
While I ’m aware he ’s a fast grower, for now he is not as tricky or deadly as the higher-ranked Crown Cats. ”

So Lady Miralix merely targeted Zeigra because he was the least formidable Crown Cat.
That did not detract any bit from the sheer amount of risk surrounding this incredibly deadly huge cat!

”I would think that hunting a Crown Cat poses little difficulty to an eminent person such as you.
After all, you are part of the ruling house of this planet, correct? ”

”It is not as simple as that. ” She shook her head.
”There are rules that every hunter has to abide by.
I am no exception to this.
Otherwise, how can we maintain our moral superiority when we restrict other hunters from bringing in more firepower? There are limits to the quality and quantity of mechs I can assign to my hunting team. ”

”Even if that ’s the case, I ’m sure your hunting team is more than up to the challenge. ”

Lady Miralix smiled sadly.
”I wish I shared your optimism, Mr.
I am not so confident about my chances.
House Laterna does not tolerate weakness.
The rules will not be bent for me just because of my lineage.
The remains of plenty of Laternas have ended up in the stomachs of Crown Cats over the years! ”

That caused Ves to widen his eyes.
That was really ruthless of the house! No wonder Lady Miralix treated this challenge so gravely!

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