Still, the fact that one of his predictions came true and that interfacing with a sacred god could induce a beast rider into transforming into an expert candidate already represented a major bombshell.

Forget alarming the Komodo Star Sector, something as explosive as this might shock the entire galaxy down to the very heart of the Big Two or the first-rate superstates!

It went without saying that only a limited amount of people knew of this inside secret.
While the Vandals ordinarily played fast and loose with secrets and confidential matters, this time none of those in the know dared to leak out the news.

Even Lieutenant Dise of the Swordmaidens kept her mouth shut, only seeing fit to inform Commander Lydia of this development.

Ves sighed deeply at this outcome.
From the first time he witnessed a successful interfacing attempt, he already predicted that Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise transformed into expert candidates.

Yet deep down, he hoped that such a transformation didn ’t succeed.
Everything would have been much simpler if sacred gods couldn ’t turn any random mech pilot into someone capable of advancing into experts.

Too many mech pilots desired to advance! Some would hand over control over entire star systems in the galactic center for the opportunity to advance into expert pilots!

What would they do once they found out about this seemingly guaranteed method to turn them into expert candidates?

All hell would break loose in the galaxy!

It was too much for the pitiful Flagrant Vandals to bear.
They were the scoundrels of the Bright Republic ’s Mech Corps.
As a raiding regiment manned by dregs and cast-offs, how could they carry such an enormous burden on their shoulders?

This was why most Vandals remained ignorant of the truth.
Rather than burdening their fragile shoulders with a weight that they couldn ’t possibly bear, it was better to let others carry the weight instead.

Unfortunately, Ves was one of the few who had been forced to share the heavy burden.
This was a weight independent from the heavy gravity, but it pressed upon his body nonetheless as he left the infirmary.

The casual advice and insights he shared with the team of doctors and experts in the know already enlightened them to the exact nature of the significance of what it meant to be an expert candidate.

They also learned from him on how to guide Captain Orfan into using her new status as an expert candidate as a springboard to advance to a genuine expert pilot!

Ves normally wouldn ’t spill so much about his understanding of expert pilots, as some of them concerned valuable lessons learned by the Larkinsons over many generations.

However, the Flagrant Swordmaidens entered a period of unprecedented peril.
Though he didn ’t hold his hopes that Captain Orfan might be able to advance in the near future, the faster she matured the higher their chances of survival.

Nobody despised more expert pilots on their side!

Ves decided to pay a visit to Qilanxo during the next rest period.
He hadn ’t visited her in a while, so she showed some initiative and roared a friendly greeting when she spotted his approach.

”Haha! ” Ves chuckled.
”Glad to see you too.
There ’s a lot of buzzing going on about what you did to your beast riders.
You ’re amazing, you know that? ”

Qilanxo roared expressively.
It seemed her time with the Flagrant Swordmaidens and the beast riders finally mellowed her out.
The events that happened near the ancient city of Samar finally started to fade from her mind.

By interfacing with both Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise, Qilanxo gained a whole new perspective on the foreigners from the stars.
She was probably one of the most well-informed indigenous life forms on the planet right now.

Due to all of the ears around them, Ves didn ’t bring up any confidential matters.
He only chatted idly about how she was doing, whether she was ready to fight, and so on.
Qilanxo eagerly replied and roared back at him, and while he couldn ’t interpret her entire meaning, he got the gist of it anyway.

Still, the true purpose of their meeting was for Ves to probe Qilanxo on a spiritual level.
He extended his sixth sense and risked activating his spiritual vision in order to see what changed since the last time he viewed her in this manner.

Qilanxo ’s spirituality was as huge as always.
It was so enormous in fact that Ves felt oppressed even though it didn ’t seem very real.
Ves tried hard to detect if anything changed since last time, and he finally sensed that her spirituality lost some strength.

It felt huge, but it was as if someone had taken a bite out of it.
Was this the price Qilanxo paid to forcefully elevate her beast riders into expert candidates?

This confirmed to Ves that Qilanxo paid a heavy price for Captain Orfan and Lieutenant Dise ’s benefit.
It explained why the sacred gods never bonded to the blessed people more than once at a time.

Ves grew curious how exactly Qilanxo managed to ’donate ’ a part of her spirituality to her beast riders.
He believed that this process served as the key to turning other people into expert candidates.
The other changes associated with the transformations were merely side benefits as far as he was concerned.

In private, Ves surmised that such an elaborate and intricate transfer of spirituality could not have come naturally.
This transformation and empowering process had been baked into the sacred gods by design!

Not just any exobiologist could have cooked up something like this.
In fact, as Ves started to flit through the possibilities in his mind, he started to develop a creeping suspicion on who might be responsible for the grand design that had shaped the entire ecosystem of Aeon Corona VII.

The Five Scrolls Compact!

Only these crazy fanatics with their mixed awareness of spirituality could have cooked up something like this!

Yet how could this be their work?

There was only one answer in his mind.
The Five Scrolls Compact managed to infiltrate the Starlight Megalodon, a proud and resplendent capital ship of the Common Fleet Alliance.

Ves would have expected the all-powerful CFA to vet their crew but especially the exobiologists, yet somehow they overlooked a scarily competent exobiologist ’s true origins.
How could they have slipped up so much?

The mysteries of the Starlight Megalodon and what happened ever since she crash landed on Seven continued to dwell on his mind.
The notion that vast conspiracies might have been at work to turn the situation as it was today continued to gain strength in his mind.

All of these revelations set Ves ill at ease, and he quickly begged Qilanxo goodbye before he left.

He sunk back into work for the next few weeks.
He puzzled over the Starlight Megalodon, he puzzled over his equipment ’s strange immunity to the breakdown effect and he puzzled over how to advance to Journeyman in the fastest possible speed.

Ves felt as if his status as an Apprentice had turned into shackles.
Only Apprentices who started to reach the age of fifty or higher would have felt this way, but Ves only started practicing his career a few years ago!

”Alas, there are no shortcuts here. ” He sighed at the last thought.
”I still need to find an opportunity to design more mechs. ”

In the meantime, the mech technicians become more accustomed to the challenges of fabricating all of the parts for the Enduring Protector.

For now, Ves did not order the men to assemble them yet.
Instead, they packed them off in some of the containers that had become empty after the Vandals used up the materials stored inside.

Many of their transports carried empty loads as the months went by.
Their stock of supplies dipped significantly even after they carried away a lot of salvage from the battle against the Caged Tongs.

However, all of it was worth it because they finally reached the edge of the red zone after several weeks of marching!

”Finally, we are here! ”

”The Starlight Megalodon is just a stone ’s throw away for our mechs! ”

”Don ’t get complacent, boys and girls! Right now, we ’re a hundred kilometers away from the crash site, but I ’ll bet that our rivals aren ’t too far away! This is no time to sit back and relax! ”

The Vandals and Swordmaidens knew that if they could manage to get this close to the fabled battleship, then so could others.
Everyone kicked themselves into a state of vigilance.
The long days of monotonous work and marching was over now!

The heavy transports congregated in a circle around Qilanxo, who would be able to summon up her space barrier and defend their vulnerable supply train against any long-ranged bombardment.

Vast swathes of mechs arranged as scouts and patrols radiated outward from their position in a circle.
They did not dare range their mechs too far.
Not only would it be easy to bump into an enemy ambush, the breakdown effect had also grown extremely strong!

It wasn ’t so rare nowadays that mechs malfunctioned more than three times a day.
If a mech patrolled more than two hours away from the temporary camp, they might not even be able to limp back under their own force as the mech continued to fall apart by the minute!

”How can anyone think of fighting a battle under this horrendous condition? ” Chief Dakkon asked.
”The breakdown effect will wreck more mechs than enemy attacks! ”

”That ’s why Captain Byrd isn ’t so eager to send our mechs out to sniff out the trail of our rivals. ” Ves calmly replied.

”Our jobs are going to be extremely hard nowadays.
Mechs and machinery are both breaking down at an unprecedented rate.
Frankly, we should be pulling back a bit. ”

”Captain Byrd won ’t allow it.
We need to hold this position so that the people and mechs we send out to the red zone has somewhere safe to go back to.
It won ’t be long now before they deploy. ”

A day later, the time to send out the troops finally arrived.

The so-called exploration party consisting of security officers and specialists finished their training and preparations.
All of them wore simple suits of light combat armor and carried very simple but reliable gear.

The Swordmaidens prepared their own warriors as well.
While they hardly sent in any experts, they more than made up for it with extremely deadly greatsword-wielding battle fanatics.
As far as the Swordmaidens were concerned, the breakdown effect was a blessing to them! With most advanced technologies rendered useless, they wouldn ’t face so many sophisticated weapons this time.

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All of the men and women on foot boarded special fast transports laden with supplies.
Chief Dakkon personally designed these transports to be even more reliable and breakdown-proof than the other vehicles, incorporating much more durable and expensive materials to make them last longer.

Of course, one of the most significant assets one of the transports carried was a god crystal generator.
As long as the exploration party brought one of these generators along, they would never have to worry about their mechs and machines running out of power.

Ves stood with Chief Dakkon and some others as they were about to send off the exploration party.

”The mechs are coming! ”

Two squads of mechs poured out of the ranks of the Vandals and the Swordmaidens.

Twelve complete Enduring Protectors marched out slowly on their four crawler-type legs.
While every Vandal had already seen glimpses of them during the last few days, this was the first time they witnessed all twelve moving out in unison.

Their auras blended together and amplified their effects, causing them to form an imposing impression to the Vandals.
Even the Swordmaidens looked mightily impressed at the invisible feelings they somehow managed to conjure.

They couldn ’t help but believe that with these mechs around, the members of the exploration party would be in safe hands!

Yet Ves did not pay too much attention to the Enduring Protectors, as he already knew everything about them.
Instead, he turned his attention to the side of the Swordmaidens.
He finally witnessed Mayra ’s breakdown-proof design.

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