An expert pilot was one of the top mech pilots of any state.

Capable of resonating with special materials added to expert mechs, they were able to achieve reality-bending feats with the force of their will.

Each mech pilot who advanced to expert candidate, the precursor of this rank, always received favored treatment from the state.

They were both treasures and strategic weapons.
States with more expert pilots than their neighbors always gained a significant advantage in any conflicts.

Regular mech pilots always worshipped strength.
The presence of a friendly expert pilot fighting by their side always boosted their morale.

On the other hand, facing an enemy expert pilot in combat was deeply demoralizing.

It was nigh-impossible for normal mechs to defeat an expert pilot equipped with an expert mech that complimented their strengths.

Ves knew this very well.
Not only had he heard all kinds of stories about the Larkinson expert pilots in his youth, he also had the distinct pleasure of seeing the ground forces of the Vandals and Swordmaidens wiped out by Venerable Foster.

As long as the expert pilot and expert mech were strong enough, mortals ceased to pose a threat.

He heard stories where mech armies numbering hundreds of thousands of mechs collapsed due to fielding too few expert mechs.

While most expert mechs still possessed distinct weaknesses and limitations, it was far too hard to cope with them.
Faster, tougher, longer-lasting and more durable than any standard mech, they could always choose the terms of battle.

If the foes they faced threatened to overwhelm them, the expert mechs could simply choose to withdraw or engage in guerilla tactics.

Even if a single expert mech faced an entire mech regiment, as long as the latter did not field an expert mech, the mech regiment was destined to be wiped out!

It might take weeks, but as long as the expert mech retreated and resupplied without issue, the numerically-superior force could only wait for death!

Considering their immense battle prowess and inspirational value, expert pilots should never be left alone and neglected.

Since force of will was an external expression of spirituality, the MTA eventually managed to find a way to detect its presence.
In fact, the MTA continually refined their sensors to the point where it could be measured along the lavere scale.

Let alone expert pilots, expert candidates should never be able to escape detection!

This also made them exceptionally poor at stealth operations.
It was far too difficult for them to sneak around unless their force of will revolved around hiding their presence.

Yet the reality in front of Ves shattered his misconceptions.
The Bright Republic somehow rescued a genuine expert pilot only to dump her on this random farming settlement on Cloudy Curtain as if she was a discarded good!

What the hell was wrong with his home state!? Was it too much to ask that the government scanned the refugees for the presence of force of will just like they did with scanning for weapons, diseases, injuries, health problems and so on?

Yet as Ves discreetly studied the woman sitting opposite to him with his spiritual vision, he slowly figured the reason why she escaped everyone ’s attention.

First, she was a fairly weak expert pilot.
The refugee was weaker than any other expert pilot he had seen, including Venerable Xie.

Ordinarily, that wasn ’t an issue, as a newly-advanced expert pilot still lit up like a beacon in sensors designed to detect resonance.

The problem was that the woman ’s force of will appeared to have collapsed!

Yes, collapsed!

Every expert pilot that Ves had met possessed a strong, overarching will that they had merged with their spirituality.
The blending of will and spiritual energy produced a powerful field that acted on both people and material that specifically resonated with its properties!

It was actually similar to the glow of his mechs, but with actual force.

This was the basis of an expert pilot ’s application of strength.
The empowered auras or energy fields they radiated acted on their mechs, thereby achieving selective resonance that resulted in powerful resonance abilities.

Yet what happened if a force of will stopped radiating an energy field?

What if the will that formed the core of their spiritual strength had weakened to the point of starvation?

What if an expert pilot… lost faith?

Something like this almost never happened, but that did not mean that it was impossible.

An enormous defeat, the death of loved ones or the collapse of her home state were some of the many possible reasons for the woman ’s descent into despair.

Once an expert pilot fell into this pit, they ceased to be strong.
With their force of will rendered inert, there was no way they could use their strength to empower their mechs!

An expert pilot without resonance was just a very skilled mech pilot.
While they still retained their superhuman level of skill and insane learning ability, they were as frail as mortals.

The woman ’s force of will was so silent and listless that sensors couldn ’t detect it anymore.

If not for his exceptional perception of spirituality, he wouldn ’t have detected a trace of this buried treasure in this forgettable farming settlement!

Though her force of will had grown inert, she still carried the unmistakable presence of an expert pilot in his eyes.
It was just that her abnormally subdued and defeated demeanor caused her to be overlooked by those who hadn ’t come into contact with expert pilots.

Trying his best to maintain composure, Ves carefully tried to engage the woman in conversation.

”My name is Ves Larkinson.
I ’m a Journeyman Mech Designer from the Bright Republic.
What is your name? ”

”… ”

”Where do you come from? ”

”… ”

”How long have you been stuck in this settlement? ”

”… ”

”I come from a military family with a long history of service.
We are famed for producing expert pilots every generation. ”

”… ”

The woman refrained from speaking.
Instead, her dull eyes bore down on him as if she was dead and nothing else mattered.

His smile grew increasingly more brittle at the lack of response.

If she was anyone else, Ves would have prodded her more directly.
Yet in the face of an expert pilot, he had to tread exceptionally carefully.

Since he found a lost and unclaimed expert pilot in the wild, he was determined to have her as his own! He would not allow anyone to snatch this treasure from his nose!

The Bright Republic could never find out.
Having learned his lesson with Jannzi, Ves tried to avoid giving any sign that he believed that the woman was an expert pilot.

Ves merely babbled on a bit about himself and the Larkinsons.
He referenced his family expert pilots rather frequently, though that shouldn ’t arouse any suspicions from the monitoring system that was doubtlessly built into this house.

Seeing as the expert pilot was giving him the silent treatment, Ves paused his chat to look up her record through her comm.

[Davia Stark

Former military mech pilot.

Former mercenary mech pilot.

Citizen of a fallen state.
Participated in the Sand War.
Member of a mercenary corps which suffered defeat and annihilation in a battle against the sandman race.

Suffers from depression.

Deteriorating physical condition due to lack of training and nutrition.
Body suffers from chronic pain as a result of lingering battle injuries.

In queue for physical treatment and therapy.
Estimated wait time: 633 days.

Unresponsive to AI-driven psychiatric treatments.
Unresponsive to local group counselling sessions.

In queue for in-person psychiatric treatment.
Estimated wait time: 1253 days. 

Declared unfit for combat.]

Davia Stark needed help.
That had become clear to Ves.

Sadly, due to the immense flood of refugees, the government ’s resources were far too strained.
Providing intensive care and treatment to refugees was a luxury the government could not afford at this stage.

Ves tried to refrain from grinning.

The Bright Republic completely neglected the opportunity to approach Davia Stark and convert her into fighting on its behalf!

How could he miss such an exceptional opportunity? He had to fill in the void right away before the government got wise!

”Madame Stark. ” He shifted his tone.
”As a brave and heroic veteran in the ongoing Sand War, I cannot allow you to languish in this boring refugee settlement.
Why not come with me and allow me to arrange treatment and rehabilitation for you? The Bright Republic needs your strength.
Humanity needs your strength. ”

Though Davia Stark remained unmoved by his offer, he noticed a couple of minute reactions from her listless force of will.

Calling her a brave and heroic veteran evoked a negative response.
Mentioning that humanity needed her evoked a positive response.

Though her fluctuations were faint, it was enough for him to get a read on her.
Through the conversation, he already spent a lot of time to figure out the properties of her force of will.

Its final response was the most telling.
For just a single instant, her force of will showed signs of coming alive.

Then, her despair quickly reasserted itself, crushing her hopes and dreams before they even had time to develop.

His frown grew deeper as he witnessed what had happened.
He could tell it wouldn ’t be easy to solve this problem.

Stark ’s condition reminded him much of William Urbesh ’s cowardice.

The latter ’s fear of fighting actual opponents was so deeply rooted that it made him unfit for combat.

Now that Davia Stark suffered from something similar, it wouldn ’t be easy to restore her to her prime.

From what Ves heard about expert pilots who lost their heart, it was very hard for them to regain their strength.
They needed to undergo a long period of counselling and rehabilitation.

No medicine or treatment guaranteed success.
They had to rediscover their reasons to live and fight.

That might take years.
The worst part about this was that success wasn ’t guaranteed.

Expert pilots tended to be the strongest-willed humans in the galaxy.
They were very clearly a notch above in this aspect.
For them to suffer such a severe setback that caused their will to collapse was often enough to drive regular mech pilots to suicide!

Did he have to resort to spiritual surgery in order to mend her crippled force of will?

Ves minutely shook his head.
That was too risky.
The unusual condition of William Urbesh after he underwent his treatment was enough for Ves to know that messing with people ’s minds and spiritualities was exceedingly dangerous.

He could not afford to ruin an expert pilot beyond redemption due to performing hasty, untested spiritual treatments.

He decided to figure out a solution later.
For now, he wanted to secure this buried gem and prevent anyone else from picking up this immense bargain.

”Have you considered it, Madame Stark? ”

”Get out. ” She whispered.

Ves shrugged and turned to Gavin.

Motioning him to step forward, he whispered some instructions in his assistant ’s ear.

”Go set up a charity organization in my name.
Let ’s call it something pleasant such as the ’Ves Larkinson Foundation for Wounded Veterans ’ or something.
I don ’t care how many bureaucrats you bribe, but get it up and running as fast as possible.
Once you ’ve set it up, announce that we will be taking ten random veterans of the Sand War among the refugee population and invest in their treatment. ”

”A charity? You? Have you gone insane? ” Gavin puzzlingly whispered back.

”Just do what I say, Benny! Make sure that Davia Stark is among the first beneficiaries of my charity.
Set aside a budget of 1 billion bright credits to show that I ’m committed to this venture. ”

I don ’t think Davia Stark looks willing to accept your generosity. ”

Ves chuckled under his breath.
”She doesn ’t have any say in the matter. ”

They proceeded to set up the so-called Ves Larkinson Foundation for Wounded Veterans within an hour.
With the LMC ’s immense influence in Cloudy Curtain, it hardly took any effort to turn it into a real, certified charity organization.

Now that the Foundation became a recognized entity, Ves began to apply his influence to the mayor of the settlement and elsewhere.

He quickly explored the settlement and picked out nine random mech pilots that desperately needed treatment.
He even gave up ten slots in his recruitment quota to gain permission to take them away.

He ordered a shuttle to pick them all up and bring them back to the Mech Nursery.

Though the veterans he selected were more than willing to receive free treatment and rehabilitation, Davia Stark was a different story.

This was where his Foundation came in.
If Ves wanted to take Davia away by force, then he wouldn ’t be able to do so.
Yet now that he founded a charity, he could easily use it as an excuse to bring this unwilling mech pilot away for the greater good!

Though everything sounded a bit dubious, the mayor of the settlement and the officials in charge of managing the refugees didn ’t care.
They were so overworked that they could hardly spare any thought to the wishes of a single refugee!

Davia Stark had fallen into his hands!

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