Ves reluctantly left the underground hall at Ovrin ’s insistence.
While he really wished to study the venerable Valiant extensively, the hall was a sacred place.
The Valiant also had its best days behind it.
In order to preserve the heavy knight, the space needed to subjected to a host of preservation routines such as reducing its gravity and pumping in some special gas.

Though he hadn ’t studied the Valiant long enough to uncover all of its secrets, he hadn ’t left without a harvest.

As they ascended the extremely lengthy stairway, Ovrin asked him a question.

”Do you know why your grandfather pushed through the proposal to invest in your company? ”

”Is the family in trouble? ”

”We are tied to the fate of the Bright Republic.
What will happen if it falls one day? ”

They ’d be miserable beyond belief.
As a quintessential military family who served the Republic for many generations, they could never find shelter in a neighboring state.
No one would trust the Larkinsons if they discarded their oaths.

Ves understood his intentions now.
”You ’re using me as an escape route. ”

In essence, the Larkinsons wanted to take advantage of his enviable relations with a venerable Master Mech Designer.
As her apprentice in name, Ves could vouch for his family and facilitate their relocation to the Vermeer Group.

If Master Olson possessed a heart, she wouldn ’t object to saving his family.
Most likely, such considerations were beneath her notice.

”It ’s merely a contingency. ” Ovrin added.
”There are multiple considerations involved with the decision to invest in your company.
Depending on your performance, you ’ll become a vital pillar to us in the future.
Think of our initial investment as an expression of goodwill. ”

”Goodwill huh. ” Ves internally smirked.
If the Larkinsons wished to show some actual sincerity, then they should have only settled for a one percent stake.
”I ’m open to collaboration, but I ’d like to remain in charge. ”

”You ’re still the majority owner, so we won ’t quibble with the way you run your business.
While there are some who think you ’re not up to the task, as long as you are able to deliver positive results, they won ’t be able to pull any tricks. ”

According to the Republic ’s laws, a minority shareholder was entitled to several rights.
Even Ves couldn ’t block them from being a nuisance if they wished to.
Fortunately, he still possessed an ample majority.
As long as he didn ’t give them up, he ’d never have to submit to someone else ’s orders.

When Ves returned to his guest room, Lucky jumped from his perch and brushed his body against his owner ’s legs.

”Haha, I told you I ’d be back. ”

As Ves sat on his bed, he considered everything he learned today.
First, his fears that his father met an unfortunate end was abated.
Even if his father had to cut all of his ties and live like a rat, he still retained his life.

”My father is tougher than anyone.
He won ’t be fazed by the pirates lurking in the Nyxian Gap.
The Five Scrolls Compact on the other hand sounds like real trouble. ”

Any organization that extended its reach across the galaxy had to be a pinnacle organization.
If the mighty Mech Trade Association and the Common Fleet Alliance couldn ’t eliminate the Compact, then Ves absolutely couldn ’t underestimate them.
He still wondered why the Compact hadn ’t threatened him yet.

His logic told him that the conflict between the Compact and his father had no relations to the System.
Something as miraculous as the System warranted an immediate and overwhelming response once they figured out that Ves made use of it.

If the Compact wasn ’t after the System, why were they targeting his father in the first place?

”I don ’t have enough information. ” He concluded.
He could speculate all he wanted, but he couldn ’t act on them without proof.
”The intelligence we ’ve gathered is also a little sketchy.
I can ’t put too much trust in second or third-hand sources. ”

In order to corroborate what he heard, he opened his comm and visited the Clifford Society ’s online portal.
This time, he didn ’t bother entering its virtual world.
Instead, he opened an online archive and tried to find what the Society knew about the Compact.

Ves couldn ’t find anything at his level of jurisdiction.
His search results happily noted that it found mention of the Five Scrolls Compact in three different documents, but he would only be able to read them if he reached the master level.

Master level! A Master Mech Designer is not a cabbage that you could find on the road!

The insane level of jurisdiction required to read about the Compact spoke for itself.
This must be an extremely formidable organization that not even the Friday Coalition wished to provoke.

The lack of information made any further speculation useless.
For now, Ves had to focus on growing his strength.
Just because the Compact hadn ’t done anything to Ves didn ’t mean they might change their mind later on.
If some shadowy cult started to threaten his life, he wanted to be ready to fight back.

Instead, he used the rest of the day to ponder the puzzle that was the Valiant.
How could it surpass his own deliberate efforts to induce the X-Factor? The mech was several hundred years old.
Had its original designer already become aware of this metaphysical element.

His search through the galactic net and in the steering committee ’s internal network yielded little results.
The early days of the Bright Republic had been very tough.
Many pirates and outside factions frequently preyed on the nascent Republic who still hadn ’t completely shed its pacifist leanings.

They were only able to turn the tide when they started to employ battle-hardened mercenaries.
The first-generation Larkinson acquitted himself extremely well as a mercenary, so much so that the Republic rewarded him with land, status and citizenship.

The various archives described his ancestor ’s feats in excruciating detail.
Ves already learned about his performance in battle when his father tutored him when he was still a kid.

After half an hour of searching, Ves gave up.
”These stupid archives! ”

None of the historic documents mentioned anything about where the Larkinson ancestor got his mechs.
His fruitless search couldn ’t find a single mention of the mech designer who painstakingly tailored a custom mech for his ancestor.
Someone like that must be a supreme existence, but Ves couldn ’t proceed without further clues.

Ves only had his observations to go on in his quest to unravel the secrets of the Valiant.
For now, he only had a single bold guess.

When he looked at the Valiant, he got a sense of its history.
His memories of what he read about the Larkinson ancestor ’s performance in battle came to the fore.
It was as if the mech became the ancestor ’s living testament.

”It all comes down to life. ”

What if every mech started as a blank slate? What if these mechs were influenced by their experiences?

His perspective suddenly shifted.
If mechs possessed life, then they were also capable of growth.
Every life started as a newborn.
At this stage they were weak and infirm.
If nurtured properly, every life was capable blooming into an incomparable existence.

”A life is never static.
They start off weak, but who can say they can ’t grow up to be giants? ”

When Ves compared his gold label mechs to the Valiant, he got a sense that he was comparing a couple of toddlers to an elderly but grizzled veteran.
Their strengths simply couldn ’t compare.

It begged the question whether the Valiant started off this strong.
He very much doubted it.
Its designer might have passed on some metaphysical traits, but most of the Valiant ’s aura had most likely been acquired later.

Did this mean that his own mechs might be capable of growth?

”Most likely not. ”

He never took growth into account when he passed on his intent to his design.
They were designed to be strong at the very start.
Ves never imagined that his mechs could strengthen its intrinsic X-Factor after he fabricated them.
He was under the impression that the mechs were fixed at birth.

In the end, he blinded himself with his own assumptions.
More specifically, he still looked at mechs as if they were machines.
Before seeing the Valiant, he subconsciously assumed that he could manufacture a complete life.

So long as he manufactured the right inspirations, he could sharpen them into a purposeful intent that complemented his designs.

It completely ignored that life was capable of growing from their humble beginnings.
Every newborn needed two things before it turned into a formidable existence.

First, they had to possess a good foundation.
An ant remained an ant.
Even the most ferocious ant could easily be stomped by a harmless human child.

Ves guessed that his current progress in the X-Factor fell under this category.
His recent designs proved that he was capable of achieving a fairly rating according to the System.
Nevertheless, he faintly thought that he came across a bottleneck.
A moderate rating of C+ was the best he could achieve so far.

So how could he achieve a higher rating? He used to think he only had one avenue available, and that was to keep on strengthening the foundation.
While this might ultimately be the correct path, Ves did not have a single clue on how to proceed.
He was completely in the dark.

Now, he uncovered another path.
While it might not lead to his initial destination, it nonetheless enlightened him to another aspect of the X-Factor.
Now that he was aware of the previously hidden growth component, he could start to replicate the phenomenon in his own designs.

He repeatedly thanked his ancestor and the Valiant ’s mech designer.
His trip to Rittersberg had been worth it for this lesson alone.

”It ’s time for dinner! ”

Ves held onto Lucky and brought him along.
”Let ’s go and celebrate. ”

The entire Larkinson Compound turned into a festive location.
The holiday cheer infected all of the kids, who eagerly ran around with their little sparkling flags.

The cooks served up an extravagant feast for new year ’s eve.
The estate even hired some musicians to put on a performance.

Later at night, the new year finally dawned.
The entire sky lit up as fireworks loudly proclaimed the start of another year.
Elaborate projections came into existence.
They first displayed the Republican Torch before projecting a series of iconic images of the Republic ’s proudest moments.

Lucky meowed in confusion at the noise.
He didn ’t know what to make of all the fireworks.
Perhaps he thought the entire planet came under attack.
Over time, his mechanical cat calmed down once he saw that no one panicked.

A grinning Lanie ran up to Ves and held out her arms.
”Can I hold Lucky again? ”

”Sure. ” He said, and handed off his cat.

The little girl giggled before scampering away with her prize.
Ves smiled at her antics.
His recent brainstorming caused his thoughts to wander.
How would Little Lanie ’s life look like after a decade or two? Would she grow into a demure and stately lady, or would her upbringing shape her into a powerful amazon mech pilot?

”There is so much variation in life. ”

No one could predict the future.
As Lanie belonged to the Larkinsons, she would surely lack for nothing.
However she turned out, Ves hoped she didn ’t grow up with any regrets.

Throughout the night, the Republican Torch with its bright blue fire never dimmed.
Every planet in the Republic ’s borders projected the same unyielding symbol.
It carried the hope and ambition of the entire Bright Republic.
No one wanted the Vesians to invade and despoil their precious planets.

The torch inspired everyone.
They looked at the torch with sparkling eyes and imagined different dreams.
The kids imagined taking up the torch one day.
The adults resolved to fight for their loved ones.
The elderly prayed their previous sacrifices had been enough.

As for Ves? His ambition was boundless.

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