Ever since his mind underwent some inexplicable changes, his influence on the X-Factor deepened.
In particular, anything he imagined into existence took on a life on its own.

What did this mean?

It meant that his images took back their sovereignty! Their history, behavior, attitudes and aspirations developed on their own without conscious input from Ves.
He might have created them in his mind, but their transformation into an insubstantial lifeform shielded them from any further alterations.

Rather than describe them as his creations, to be altered or discarded at will, they became thoughts given form, that could not be violated on a whim.

Naturally, Ves still remained the ultimate arbiter of their lives.
As long as they took up space in the real estate of his mind, he could wipe them all away if he wished.

”Not that it ’s desirable to do so. ”

Ves created the images to enhance the quality of his mech.
If he wiped them out before completing his design, he ’d be neutering its X-Factor.

Like a parent who meticulously raised their kids, they had to let go of the reins when they grew up.
Ves merely hoped he raised them well enough that they didn ’t do stupid things like doing drugs or spend all their time awake on games.

Currently, his three images shared the same amount of mental power provided by Ves.
Thus, the initial struggles didn ’t amount to anything as all three images encountered the same level of opposition.

The stalemate quickly ended once his images expressed their personality traits.
The assassin mech exhibited the least amount of activity, as it led a fairly short and one-dimensional life.
In contrast, the cheetah and the Last Spear both enjoyed complete lives!

With their inherent advantages, they employed their power in much more creative ways.
They soon noticed the assassin mech ’s failure to keep up.
Sensing weakness, the cheetah and the Last Spear tacitly stopped their probes against each other and turned their full might onto the poor mech.

The battle ended in an instant.
Faced with attacks from two fronts, the assassin mech could barely put up a defense.
The two voracious predators eagerly broke through its guard and frantically absorbed the substance that made up its existence.

The assassin mech died.
The cheetah and the Last Spear cannibalized its very existence and used the energies to enrich their lives.
They both underwent another minor transformation that strengthened their existences.

Once they fully digested their meals, the two surviving images eyed each other with barely restrained aggression.
The cheetah exhibited unrelenting hunger towards flesh while the Last Spear stoically wished to put down the beast.

The Last Spear pounced first.
As a former guardsman, he knew that he wouldn ’t be able to take his rival by surprise.
So he decided to attack the cheetah openly, taking hold of the opportunity to deliver the first blow.

The cheetah reared back in surprise.
The animal totem ’s strengthened existence suffered substantial damage from the opening strike.
Enraged, the cheetah pounced on the Last Spear and started tearing apart his substance with its claws and teeth.

In the end, the primal ferocity of the cheetah was no match for the ingenuity of man.
The animal only knew how to attack and paid little attention to defense.
The Last Spear endured the assault as best he could while he steadily whittled down the cheetah ’s existence.

Once he landed the final blow with his spear, the cheetah ceased to live.
Its damaged and punctured existence became the tonic that fueled the Last Spear ’s final growth.
The man steadily absorbed his final opponent ’s substance.
His aura continued to grow stronger as he did so.

When nothing was left of the other two images, the Last Spear bent down on his knees and saluted to the memory of the fallen royal house.
Ves could feel his earnest devotion to his cause and how it gave him strength.
The added energies had transformed the surviving image into something that approached a living human being.

”It ’s too bad it still falls short. ”

Ves vaguely sensed that the Last Spear lacked a crucial ingredient that prevented his ascension into a higher state of being.
The melancholy that emanated from the image bled over to Ves, and even he started to feel depressed.

He shook his head.
”I can ’t lose sight of my goal. ”

If he started sympathising with him images, he ’d become their servants instead of the other way around.
Ves had to remind himself that as much as he aspired to explore every facet of the X-Factor, it had to fulfill its original purpose of strengthening his mech designs.

”I ’m a runaway scientist who wants to subvert the heavens.
It ’s stupid to treat them like actual humans. ”

It sounded a little callous, but it was an important distinction to make.

Now that the battle in his mind came to a conclusion, Ves resumed designing his mech.
The changes in his mind immediately led to adjustments in his style.

While he still maintained his original vision, his perspective shifted to a direction that highly favored his sole surviving image.
The Last Spear exerted a very strong influence in his decision making, to the point where Ves even backtracked on some of his earlier decisions.

Overall, his assassin mech became even stronger with the spear.
His design gained some added flexibility in its arms, allowing it to wield its spear more effectively besides thrusting it forward.

Ves didn ’t necessarily agree with this direction as he had to sacrifice some redundancy in the arms to make room for the modifications.

”A skillful mech pilot will be able to outduel an opponent, but a lesser skilled pilot will suffer. ”

With much less room for error, it heightened the difficulty of piloting his design.
The mech pilot had to avoid damage to its arms at all costs.
Despite its added capability, his core design still retained its focus on assassination.

The Last Spear ’s domineering influence permeated his entire design.
The two became connected in a way that made it impossible for Ves to separate the two.
He could only destroy them both if he stopped in his tracks, because his sole surviving image could only be contained within his mind for a couple of months.

That had been an unwelcome surprise.
While Ves never mothballed his projects so far, to learn that his images only had a limited lifespan ruined his mood somewhat.

Once his images reached a higher state, his mindspace became more unwelcoming to their presence.
He had to finish his design as fast as possible so that he could anchor their existences to a more accommodating space.

Fortunately, Ves didn ’t intend to spend too much time on his assassin mech.
As the Barracuda swiftly reached the Bright Republic and almost reached his home, Ves put the finishing touches on his largely-completed design.

Besides the redesign, Ves encountered very few hurdles on his way.
His ample knowledge and the simple requirements for his design allowed him to focus solely on a couple of priorities, which led to very few conflicts.

Ves borrowed a few influences from his other designs for his assassin mech.
Most significantly, Ves incorporated the Festive Cloud Generator within the small amount of space available.
Once the mech sprung its ambush and charged forward with its spear, the entire mech should emit a massive amount of raging black smoke.

If its target became lucky enough to spot the phenomenon, the pilot should feel a lot of dread at the incoming wave of doom.
Its effect became even more pronounced than the one he added to the Young Blood ’s legs.

His knight mech simply left a sharp trail behind its legs when it charged, while his assassin mech pumped out a lot more vapor.
Ves wanted to amp up the illusion that nothing could stop his mech once it charged out into the open.

While all of the vapor didn ’t help the mech in its escape, it should still have a measurable psychological effect to bystanders.

If things went right, the black train of doom should become his assassin mech ’s calling card.
Anyone who spotted it should instantly associate it to his design.

Ves spent some time on personalising its appearance.
The stealth armor his variant adopted from the FFL-25 took on a default black coating that minimized reflections.
While anything he added over the coating minutely affected its ability to stay hidden, its active stealth systems should be good enough to minimize the problem.

”I think you ’ll like this. ” He said to his image as he added the emblem of the fallen royal house onto the chest of his design.
The circular symbol resembled a curled up yellow otter.

The Last Spear pulsed with strong emotion once Ves finished adding the emblem.
Naturally, he also added in the symbol for his company at the much less prominent place on one of his assassin mech ’s arms.

The little touches of color added some levity to its serious appearance.
Still, Ves didn ’t wish to detract too much from its original purpose.

”All it needs is a name. ”

Ves already started thinking of a suitable name at the tail end of his design phase.
He wanted to leave a name on his design that encapsulated its role without being too garish or incomprehensible.

”What about the DarkSpear? ”

It certainly encapsulated the nature of his assassin mech in the most succinct way possible.
Those who first encounter the name should immediately be able to associate it with his variant due to the unusual pairing of a stealth mech with a spear weapon.

With that done, Ves submitted his latest design to the System after activating his Privacy Shield.
Even in the confines of his own ship, he remained ambivalent about its security.

[Design Evaluation: DarkSpear]

Variant name: FFL-25P DarkSpear
Base model: DarkSilver FFL-25
Original Manufacturer: Carrera Designs
Weight Classification: Medium
Recommended Role: Assassin Mech

Armor: F+
Carrying Capacity: E-
Aesthetics: B+
Endurance: D
Energy Efficiency: E
Flexibility: C-
Firepower: B-
Integrity: C
Mobility: C+
Spotting: D
Stealth: A-
X-Factor: C++

Deviance: 76%
Performance improvement: 18%
Cost efficiency: -3%

Overall evaluation: The DarkSpear is a radical departure from the DarkSilver FFL-25 in many ways.
While it largely retained the original ’s stealth systems, the DarkSpear is able to assassinate its targets as long as it remains unopposed during its brief but violent approach.

[You have received 100 Design Points for completing an original design with a performance improvement of over 10%.]

[You have received 500 Design Points for designing a mech with a moderate presence of X-Factor.]

The System really didn ’t give his design any high marks.
Over the year since he owned the System, Ves learned that the program evaluated his designs in comparison to the same type of mechs.

While he wouldn ’t have to compare his works directly with the best designs in the galaxy, it still disappointed him a bit that his DarkSpear variant scored so low in many areas.

Different from his other evaluations, the System added a category for stealth.
Only in this area did Ves achieve some results.
While he hadn ’t introduced any innovations in this area, his redesign successfully preserved the strengths of the FFL-25 ’s strong stealth systems.
In the few areas that mattered, the DarkSpear at least met the minimum standard to fulfill its role.

The only thing that puzzled him was that the System rated him C++ for the X-Factor.
Ves had never seen the System use a double plus as a modifier for his score.

”System, why did you give me a C++ and not a B- or something like that? ”

This time, the System got off its lazy butt and answered his question in earnest.

[The X-Factor of your design has improved only marginally.
The difference in quality exceed your previous efforts but it fails to meet the necessary standards to obtain a higher rating.]

Ves figured something like that must have happened, but it still disappointed him that his experiments hadn ’t led to a major breakthrough.

”Obviously, something must be different.
I ’ll have to wait for customer feedback in order to find out if anything has improved. ”

Ves introduced his latest variant to his virtual catalog with hardly any notice.
At first, none of his fans noticed the addition of a new 4-star mech.

That changed soon after when the first qualified Iron Spirit players tried out the DarkSpear.
Word soon spread among the local players who reached the Gold League or higher.

A new phenomenon soon emerged in the local virtual mech scene.

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