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Chapter 1996 Toasted Relic
The introductory meeting ended shortly after. During the entire discussion, Ves failed to make any headway in reducing hostility of the Penitent Sisters.
Commander Valerie Chancy acted as if staying in the same room as a boy was a huge affront. Her two subordinates exhibited obvious unwillingness to take orders from the male genders.
What rankled Ves the most was the obvious lack of respect he received. To them, his accomplishments and his proven ability to punch the Friday Coalition in the face earned no regard.
They ignored everything about him aside from his gender. This sole trait determined their entire attitude towards him! Ves had a feeling that no matter how hard he tried to play nice with them, he would never be able to flip their attitudes!
Since that was the case, Ves decided to treat them with decidedly less attachment than his other forces. His Avatars, Sentinels and Battle Criers came first.
After the end of the meeting, the three leaders of the Penitent Sisters silently returned to their shuttle. The vehicle swiftly lifted off and flew back to the Surly Cockatrice.
While Gloriana left the conference room in order to resume her work at the design lab, Ves and Calabast stayed a little longer.
Lucky jumped and pounced on the Larkinson Mandate placed on the table.
The Golden Cat tried to avoid the gem cat but failed!
Intangible licks started to rake across Goldie's lustrous fur. Lucky was determined to give her another bath!
Ves smiled and watched amusingly as Lucky and Goldie wrestled against each other. Though the ancestral spirit had grown a little stronger, she was far from matching Lucky in terms of size!
"Is there something interesting going on?" Calabast asked as she carefully studied his expression.
"Ah, it's nothing important."
Unlike Ves, Calabast didn't possess any spiritual potential. Even if she did, she still wouldn't be able to observe the Golden Cat.
In some way, Ves believed it was a shame that she lacked this gift. She was already talented and capable as a mortal. How much stronger would she be if she obtained extraordinary assistance?
As Ves faced Calabast's amused expression, he changed his mind.
Maybe it was for the best that Calabast lacked spiritual potential. She would probably be ten times scarier if she possessed superhuman abilities!
"How do you think I handled the Penitent Sisters?" He asked.
"Hmm.." Calabast trailed a finger along her slender forearm. "You should have put your foot down harder. First impressions are important, and I'm not sure the Penitent Sisters realize who is really in charge. While it's understandable that you want to avoid touching their nerves, you shouldn't give them the idea that they can abuse your reticence to their advantage."
Ves dismissively waved his hand. "I don't think that's a big deal. I already have a lot of threats to worry about. I don't want to add another danger to my list."
If necessary, Ves could just treat the latest reinforcements as a temporary buffer. It wasn't necessary to earn their respect or loyalty in order to make effective use of their strength.
Sure, they probably wouldn't fight as hard as if they were truly committed to his cause, but the strength of their second-class mechs and second-class mech pilots was enough to keep him safe for the next couple of years!
Their presence bought him valuable time to transition his own mech forces to an equivalent level of strength. Each week, Ves received reports of another couple of Avatars and Sentinels promoting to a higher class.
Venerable Brutus and a handful of instructors from the Glory Battalion had kept up their tutoring sessions. Even remotely, their insights and lessons were very critical in allowing his mech pilots to recognize their own shortcomings and increase the efficiency of their training!
Five years from now, Ves assumed that most of his mech forces would finish their transition. By then, the relative importance of the Penitent Sisters diminished. Their importance would drop even further if they suffered substantial casualties.
Unlike his other mech forces, there was no way to replenish the ranks of the Penitent Sisters. DIVA and the Hegemony had no plans to dispatch any further reinforcements.
That was okay. Ves already appreciated their gesture.
Ves and Calabast began to discuss how to arrange the Penitent Sisters. They went over how to deploy them in battle and outside of battle. They determined how stern their orders should be and what kind of rules they needed to abide by in order to keep them in line.
This was not a straightforward decision!
Ves prioritized stability while Calabast emphasized control.
An argument threatened to form if Ves didn't propose a compromise.
"I'll let you do it your way for now." He said. "However, the moment we spot any signs that the Penitent Sisters are about to rebel or anything, I'll put a stop to your efforts. Is that clear?"
Calabast chuckled. "It looks like you are becoming more adept at bossing people around. You should adopt this attitude more often. The Penitent Sisters will kneel and weep in front of your feet before long!"
"Urgh, be serious, please. Now, I hope you can keep a close eye on the Penitent Sisters. While they are nominally committed to follow my orders, I'm not entirely sure whether all of the women are resigned to their punishment duty."
"You don't need to tell me what to do. I have already ordered my Black Cats to infiltrate the systems of their ships. I'll be able to observe everything that takes place inside before the end of the month."
She sounded unusually confident, and Ves had no cause to doubt her abilities. Bugging Hexer ships must be as easy as pie to the former DIVA agent.
"There's one thing I'd like you to clarify for me." He said. "What does your state actually expect from me? I doubt it assigned the Penitent Sisters to me because they want to get rid of some undesirables."
His strategic partner offered him a reassuring smile. "It's nothing you already don't know. The Penitent Sisters need to repent by serving under a boy. You happen to be the most suitable candidate, and you also happen to need some reinforcements. How you actually want to make use of them is mostly under your discretion. As long as you treat them as soldiers, you can throw them into battle and use them up as cannon fodder whenever you like."
"Does that mean the matriarchs won't fault me if the Penitent Sisters die out?"
"Ves. Killing them off is sort of the point of their punishment duty. The Hegemony government wants to get rid of them, but refrained from executing them straight away due to the considerable waste that entails. It's better to assign their 600 mech pilots to you and save the Hegemony valuable manpower that it can devote to the frontlines."
"I see. Must the Penitent Sisters die out?"
"Do you sympathize with their fate? Don't be. Their former ideology would have only led the Hexer people to their doom if it was allowed to spread. They don't have any allies. The only reasons why their punishment is a bit more lenient than usual is because their cause was always meant to benefit the Hegemony. They are well-meaning but misguided Hexers who took their extremism too far. If they dedicated themselves to a more moderate school of thought, then they would have become one the Hegemony's most dependable defenders!"
Ves didn't fully buy into Calabast's description of the Penitent Sisters. The women looked anything but 'well-meaning' and their desire to kill off every boy went far beyond being 'misguided'!
In any case, Ves felt a bit more relaxed once he learned he possessed a decent amount of leeway. He didn't have to treat the Penitent Sisters like glass or prioritize their lives over the lives of his loyal subordinates.
"Let's move on." He said. "You said earlier the Penitent Sisters have also brought something essential to me. Does that mean…"
Calabast slowly nodded. "While we were holding our meeting with the leaders of the Penitent Sisters, my agents already took the package from the shuttle. Right now, we placed it in one of the spare storage compartments. Let's go and check it, shall we?"
They stood up and exited the conference room. Ves picked up the Larkinson Mandate, much to Lucky's protests.
"As you can imagine, it was difficult to secure this package." Calabast told him in a low tone. "Plenty of leaders within DIVA object to your outrageous request, but luckily for you, the matriarchs in charge of running the agency are quite far-sighted. After a lot of searching, we eventually found an object that won't be missed but still fulfills all of the criteria you've set."
"I'm looking forward to seeing what you Hexers managed to scrounge up. I hope it isn't too shabby."
The woman trailed off after they reached the entrance to the storage compartment. Once they entered, a number of black-clothed personnel were sweeping their scanners across a crate. They silently halted their work and drew back at their entry.
Once Calabast came close, she carefully unlocked the lock keeping the metal crate shut.
The crate unlocked and revealed its valuable contents.
Ves looked at the object stored inside the chair-sized crate with a perplexed expression.
"It looks rather.. burned. Is it even complete?"
"This is the only remnant of the Idol of the Superior Mother, a very famed statue that has long been one of the Temple of Hexism's proudest works. At its prime, the statue attracted billions of pilgrims every year. It was especially popular among pregnant women who want to receive some encouragement on raising their children."
"Do you have a depiction of this statue in its prime?"
She projected some archival footage that displayed the statue placed in front of a temple. Large crowds of women respectfully approached it and made their prayers.
It was not difficult to see why the Idol of the Superior Mother attracted so much devotion. Its sculptor managed to craft a metallic statue that shone like shiny marble. The exotics integrated in the work of art caused the statue to glitter across its surface.
To Ves, the statue was very close to reaching masterwork quality! That was an exceptional accomplishment!
The size of the statue was pretty large. It loomed as tall as half a mech.
Compared to the majestic depiction of the Idol of the Superior Mother in its prime, Ves recognized none of it in the scorched and blackened remnant!
In fact, if Calabast didn't point out the piece of debris came from the original statue, Ves would have dismissed it as junk and ordered his crew to chuck it out of the airlock!
"I see why DIVA chose to present me with this object." Ves eventually said. "Where did they steal it from, a forgotten warehouse?"
"Close enough." Calabast shrugged. "That's not important. What matters is that you should be able to find what you are looking for in this piece. Tell me, can you work with this?"
"Can I ask for a refund?"
"I thought so."
He shrugged and began to inspect the blackened piece of junk in a different fashion. He concentrated his mind and began to inspect the remnant of the relic with his spiritual vision.
Though it was rather difficult to find, Ves did spot some spiritual residue. While the original statue probably accumulated a formidable amount of spiritual accumulation, the event that destroyed the statue probably flung most of it away.
Even so, the residue left within the chunk of debris was stronger than the spiritual energy he found in Ylvaine's nutrient pack wrapper!
"I can work with this." He reluctantly said, much to Calabast's relief. "It's not exactly ideal, but.. let me see if I can adapt it into something useful. I can't guarantee a perfect result, but I should at least be able to attain my goal."