Elsewhere, the Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom long threw the fate of the Glowing Planet to the back of their minds.
After all, once the two dominant second-rate states of the Komodo Star Sector laid claim to it, they lost rights to contend for ownership of the rogue planet.

The conversation of the day instead revolved around the daring raid of the Flagrant Vandals.
This obscure mech regiment under the 3rd Tarry Division never registered in the minds of the Brighters.
The Vesians were better acquainted with the Vandals, but often mistook them as wayward mercenaries gone pirate.

Their time of obscurity was a thing of the past.
The bombastic events at the Detemen System opened everyone ’s eyes to what this vagabond-like mech regiment was capable of.

Vandals sneaked into the core regions of the Kingdom and wreaked havoc at the unsuspecting star system, smashing the garrison fleet in the process! Then they split up.
The Vandals under the command of Major Verle overran a moon base, plunged a capital city into chaos, robbed half of its heavy industries of their assets and captured the planetary leader in a spectacular hunt!

Blood boiled in the citizens of the Republic!

”Hahaha! Look at how clueless they are when faced with an invasion! A planet of the republic would never fall into confusion like that when the Vesians intrude upon our star systems! ”

”This is the true face of the Kingdom! For all their boasts, they live under a tyranny! How else is the rebellion so strong! ”

”Who are the 6th Flagrant Vandals? I ’ve memorized every mech regiment under the 3rd Tarry Division, but I always thought they were understrength! ”

”They look like pirates with funding! Did we hire some washed-up frontier scum and organized them into a regiment or something? They ’re way too good in raiding the entire place! ”

”Did they really capture the heir of a count? The Vesians must be going mad right now! ”

Each piece of news buoyed up the Republic ’s flagging spirits.
It provided them with a timely victory to stall the decline in confidence over the war.

While the accomplishments at Detemen IV attracted the most attention, the Vandals also inflicted a lot of damage at Detemen II.
The resource-processing planet used to watch over a score of solar foundries.
They utilized the incredible heat and energies from the binary stars to transform raw ores and metals into processed alloys.

All of them had been wrecked, which set back House Jier enormously.
As the Vandals made landfall on the scorching hot planet, Count Reizen proved himself to be the better of Lord Javier in every way by taking personal command over the defense of their valuable renewable exotics mine.

There was little of value to be found on the surface of Detemen II, but the renewable exotics mine stood out as a massive outlier.
Sources of endless exotics were rare, as most of them formed in extreme and highly peculiar situations at the center of the galaxy.
The galactic rim only uncovered exotics from ancient stellar objects flung from the center to the outer portions of the galaxy many eons ago.

While stars and planets still ejected from the fulcrum of the center of the galaxy on a regular basis, they always got lost in the vastness of the galactic rim.

The renewable exotics mine was a unique byproduct of a set of coincidences in the galactic center.
It was very rare, and formed the basis of House Jier ’s long-term prosperity.
Every force aligned to the House pulled back from defending unimportant facilities in order to safeguard the mine.

They failed.
Over two days of hard fighting where Colonel Lowenfield ordered the launch of several waves of artificial asteroids, the defenses around the mine finally crumbled in the face of Vandal determination.
Count Reizen ’s custom mech fled through a tunnel in a bedraggled state, leaving the mine exposed to the Vandals.

Nobody knew what happened to it.
Some people guessed that the mine hid some sort of natural treasure that was responsible for making the mine renewable.
In any case, the mine lost its essential quality, and no longer generated new junk exotics.
Once House Jier mined all of the the existing deposits, the mine became exhausted.

These accomplishments fully smacked the face of the Vesians, who had grown arrogant at their continued successes at the frontlines.
Their indomitable fleets and mechs slowly pushed forward since the outbreak of the war, but the sudden raid on the Detemen System poured cold water over their shoulders.
The shock was too great that some of the Vesians pulled back their aggression.
This unintentionally gave the Mech Corps a rare and precious moment of reprieve.

This highlighted the power of the dissemination of information.
In an age where every planet was connected to a vast galactic network, every citizen and serviceman became easily swayed by the news, rumors and propaganda circulating in the void.

Joshua finished reading the news bulletins in his comm and felt his blood boil.
Right now, he attended a military-funded mech academy that rushed their mech cadets through years of training.

Many promising cadets couldn ’t handle the pressure.
They washed out after a couple of weeks of high-intensity training and got kicked back to their home star systems.

Though Joshua turned out to be of average ability and talent, his willpower and grit impressed the instructors.
Through hard work and focused training, he kept up with the grueling pace and accepted every abuse the instructors flung in his way.

He would not be deterred.
It was a dream for a native from Cloudy Curtain to attend a mech academies in Bentheim, and he resolved to never squander it.
For it is in this ruthless pace of training that Joshua improved the fastest.

”Damnit. ” He cursed as he browsed at his rankings in Iron Spirit.
”I ’m still too far away from unlocking 5-star mechs. ”

Nobody in his class understood his drive.
Joshua felt a little ashamed in telling his fellow cadets why he trained so hard.
The main reason why his willpower pushed him through was because he wanted to unlock the ability to pilot the LMC ’s best virtual mechs!

Sadly, it appeared that it would take at least another year for him to improve enough to escape the bottom of the Gold League.
Joshua regularly competed against mech pilots at least three years older than him.
Only until he could overcome this barrier would he be able to enter the Gold League properly, thereby qualifying him to pilot Iron Spirit ’s 5-star mechs.

”The Marc Antony Mark II, the Blackbeak, the Crystal Lord… why are you still so far away? ”

The latter two products gained an enormous amount of fame in the mech industry.
Joshua wasn ’t too exposed to that, but even he heard plenty of stories about their excellence.
Even the hardcore virtual athletes started to take note of the Blackbeak and the Crystal Lord.
Out of all of the virtual designs published by Chasing Clouds, it was these two that formed the crown.

While Joshua dreamed of piloting the the LMC ’s wonder mechs, elsewhere on Bentheim two women met each other at a quiet rooftop cafe.
Among the elegant plants and wood-fashioned furniture, the women stared at each other with varying levels of tension.

”Melinda. ”

”Raella. ”

The two Larkinsons happened to grow up together as their ages closely matched.
Nonetheless, their current occupations couldn ’t be more different.

”How ’s the Guard? ”

”It ’s been hectic, and it doesn ’t help that I ’ve been promoted to lieutenant. ” Melinda replied as a couple of service bots floated into their midst and delivered some refreshments.
”Thank heavens for the Flagrant Vandals.
They ’ve lifted everyone ’s moods so there ’s fewer troublemakers out there trying to make a fuss with their mechs. ”

Raella grinned as she sipped on a multicolored smoothie.
”Heh, the Vandals really sound like my kind of people.
If I knew they existed, I would have signed up to them instead! Not that I ’m unhappy with my current lot.
I ’ve finally been able to pursue the duelling career that I ’ve always dreamed about. ”

Melinda pressed her lips.
A mech duelist.
What a wonderful career.
Yet I don ’t see your matches on the galactic net. ”

”That would spoil the whole show! The underground duelling circuit isn ’t about reaching the highest amount of viewers.
It ’s about experiencing the exhilarating clash of multi-ton machines close-up and personal, where lives are at stake! There ’s no substitute for that kind of rush! ”

”It ’s too dangerous! It only takes one accident to claim your life! No one can win every duel.
The Larkinsons back home are worried sick about you! Even if you renounced the Family, there ’s still a place for you to return! ”

”Hey, it ’s not like everyone kills each other all the time in the underground duelling circuit. ” Raella waved away her cousin ’s concern.
”We only go through with it when the crowd is wild or someone pays me to do it.
I don ’t like to admit it, but my last name is a powerful talisman among the gangs.
Nobody wants to piss off a Larkinson.
They ’re all afraid Uncle Ark will run out of Citadel Havensworth and crush their entire gang, haha! ”

”That ’s not funny.
There are many insane duellists out there who don ’t care a whit about the Larkinsons. ”

”Then you better avenge me, Guard Lieutenant Larkinson. ” Raella spoke with mirth.

Melinda sighed and stirred the spoon in her coffee cup.
”Would you believe me if I told you that the Larkinsons are willing to subsidize your entry in a professional duelling team? You won ’t be able to enter the Rittersberg or Bentheim circuits, but there are many teams elsewhere in the Republic that is looking for talent.
Why don ’t you think about it? ”

Absolutely not, Melly.
I enjoyed my time in the amateur circuit, but I ’ve already seen what a rotten place the pro games are.
Sponsorships, merchandising, celebrity outreach, the entire circus around mech duels takes away from the actual fight.
I ’ve never felt more like a mech athlete until I began to take part in the underground duels.
The gangs don ’t bother so much with all of that commercial crap.
They only care about entertaining rumbles! ”

No matter how many times Melinda pleaded her cousin, Raella never relented from her stance.
Her frequent duels finally injected a sense of confidence and self-worth in her bearing.
She didn ’t flinch at all in front of a lieutenant from the Planetary Guard.

”I ’m my own person now! Even if the Vesians push through the frontlines come and try to take this life away from me, I ’ll be joining the rest of the Blood Claws in thrashing them out of Bentheim! You can at least be assured of that! ”

Both Larkinsons pursued different careers with success.
They would never be able to see eye-to-eye with each other.
If not for their shared family heritage, they would have never come together in the first place.
Yet the bonds of family proved stronger than the animosity engendered by their professions.

More Larkinsons dealt with their own issues in life.
Benjamin Larkinson, former expert pilot and one of the foremost heads of the Family, received a call from a surprising source.

”Miss Calsie, how are you today? ”

”Not doing well, to be honest. ” She replied over the comm.
Right now, she was calling from her office at the LMC in Cloudy Curtain to Benjamin who relaxed at the Larkinson Compound in Rittersberg.
”I need your help with something. ”

”What is it? ”

”The Ministry of Economic Development has been knocking at my doors to demand a stake in the LMC! It turns out we ’ve become a bit too successful and eye-catching in their eyes, so now they want a piece of the pie! ”

Benjamin instantly turned serious at that news.
”As expected. ”

”You expected this?! ”

”The Republic ’s mech industry is too important to be allowed free reign.
If you look closer at the ownership structure of other major mech manufacturer, the Ministry of Economic Development is a significant shareholder in all of those companies. ”

The news came at an enormous shock to Calsie, who never heard about this arrangement before.
”Why didn ’t Ves tell me about this? ”

”Because it ’s only relevant to mech companies that have reached a certain scale or developed something of strategic importance.
The LMC should have been a few years away from growing large enough to attract attention, but perhaps some people have stirred things up in the background. ”

”According to the latest toady from the Ministry, since the Crystal Lord was the runner-up to the Best Mech Design of the Year award, we should be privileged to receive their care. ”

Her tone betrayed her cynicism at the Ministry ’s offer.
This was a typical case of suffering from too much success.

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