The fleet of Wodin ships and captured Fridayman ships entered the Kesseling System, only to encounter a grand celebration!
Even though the Ylvaine Protectorate was still entangled in the later stages of the Sand War, the arrival of the Bright Martyr changed everything!
This was not the Ylvaine Protectorate of the past where the leaders of the three leading dynasties treated Ves with skepticism.
This time, almost every higher up believed in the Bright Martyr! The evidence in the form of the Transcendent Messengers, Holy Soldiers and Deliverers overwhelmingly proved that Ves had definitely been blessed by the Great Prophet!
Only the most bone-headed traditionalists still argued against recognizing Ves as the Bright Martyr. Everyone else, even the staunchest inquisitors of the Poxco Dynasty, fully bought into the myth that Prophet Ylvaine watched out over his flock through the medium of mechs!
Many churches and cathedrals even started adopting his mechs as altars! Compared to cold, unfeeling statues made in the Great Prophet's likeness, a Deliverer mech was fully capable of strengthening the faith of the believers by its ambient glow alone!
In these past several years, the Protectorate had already been inching towards accepting Ves. Yet the outbreak of the Sand War and the pressure exerted towards the state made many Ylvainans yearning for salvation.
While the Kronon Dynasty fought bravely against the sandmen, not a single hero in the war managed to eclipse the Bright Martyr!
While individual heroes won entire battles through their earnest efforts, only Ves managed to swing the war decisively in the Protectorate's favor!
That he managed to do so by releasing a couple of Ylvainan mech designs was incredible!
In less than a year, the lukewarm attitude towards Ves turned into full-throated support! Many Ylvainans, from the grassroots to the very top, believed that Ves was definitely a boon to the faith!
As for minor details such as his foreign origins and his apparent lack of faith, what did it matter? The mechs he designed were so clearly blessed by the Great Prophet himself that he deserved to be recorded into the annals of the Ylvainan Faith!
With such a massive and all-encompassing turnaround, the Ylvainans couldn't possibly treat Ves like a regular foreign guest.
They already prepared a grand parade for his entry!
The moment the Hexer fleet transitioned into the Kesseling System, numerous combat carriers flanked the new arrivals and deployed some of their mechs.
For a moment, the Glory Battalion became perplexed. Had the Hexers succumbed to the pressure exerted by the Fridaymen and switched their support?
"Calm down!" Ves urgently tried to tell the crew. "They're not hostile!"
He didn't need to speak out. The Kronon Dynasty already contacted the commanding officer of the fleet and told them of their upcoming arrangements.
The Hexers soon relaxed, though they still maintained some vigilance. While it was unlikely for the Ylvainans to turn hostile against them, the Glory Battalion still had a duty to uphold! It could never allow third parties to take over its primary mission!
For this reason, the eager Ylvainan honor guard had to escort the fleet to Kesseling VIII from a very healthy distance. In no way were they allowed to get close enough to threaten the Stellar Chaser!
While all of this was going on, celebrations already started to take place on the surface of their destination planet!
Both Ves and Gloriana watched the local news feed with astonishment.
"The sandman invasion hasn't subsided yet." Ves uttered. "Many star systems are still being flooded by sandman fleets. It's too soon to run the victory lap!"
"While the Ylvainans are definitely happy to receive the Bright Martyr, it's partially political theater." Gloriana opined. "The Ylvaine Protectorate is ascendant right now due to the deals it made with other states. However, the gains it made from the Sand War can all go up in smoke once the Komodo War spills over this region."
"I'm already aware of the threat the Protectorate faces from the Coalition and Coalition-aligned states. What does that have to do with this overblown spectacle, though?"
"The Ylvainans are trying to appeal to their prophet by using you as medium."
Gloriana spread her arms. "The Protectorate's geopolitical landscape is highly unfavorable, as you already know. While the states closer to the frontier have all been wiped out, the sandmen are still a threat. In almost every other direction, the Protectorate is surrounded by states that all lean towards the Coalition. What if they are encouraged to attack the only state that is friendly towards the Hexers?"
Though Ves already dismissed this possibility as an act that would do more harm than good for the Friday Coalition, what if it grew desperate? What if the Fridaymen made an impulsive decision?
As long as the Friday Coalition put heavy pressure on the Bright Republic and other nearby states, it might be possible for half-a-dozen nearby states to gang up on the Ylvaine Protectorate!
That would certainly spell the end for the religious state! Though the Kronon Dynasty demonstrated its valiance during the Sand War, it was impossible for them to resist the might of several hostile states!
While Ves understood all of this, he was perplexed by the actions of the Ylvainans.
"The Great Prophet isn't omnipotent. Even if I design some fantastic new Ylvainan mech, I doubt it can defeat entire mech divisions."
"That's why it's not only about appealing to Ylvaine." Gloriana added. "It's partially an appeal to us. The Ylvainans are calling for attention and trying to impress our Hegemony that they are worth investing in. As long as our state becomes impressed with their accomplishments, we might move to guarantee its independence."
"Will the Hegemony do so?"
Gloriana chuckled and shook her head. "How can our state spare any effort to a state that is too far away to reinforce easily? Any forces we send have to pass through the territories of numerous states aligned with the Friday Coalition. While that's not a major problem for now, it will definitely be an issue later on when the Komodo War is in full swing!"
"Then.. your people will just leave the Ylvainans to their own devices?" Ves frowned.
While he was not an Ylvainan, he possessed a definite affection for the Protectorate! He became a lot more grateful to the religious state after the Bright Republic profoundly disappointed him. At least the Ylvainans still offered his shelter in these troubling times!
"Don't be naive, Ves. Hexers don't care about what is going on in third-rate states. The only reason they pay attention to them at all is because of the exotics they supply to us and the trade that flows through their territories. In general, our matriachs look at the overall situation instead of focusing on any specific state. Compared to states that are actually contributing resources to our state, the Ylvaine Protectorate is a useless addition. It doesn't offer the Hegemony anything!"
Certainly, there was still some value in gaining the support of the Protectorate.
The state could act as an advanced Hexer outpost in the Fridayman's sphere of influence.
It could form a potential base where a Hexer raiding force could harass the Friday Coalition from a lightly-guarded flank.
The Protectorate could even serve as a nucleus for a possible wave of defections by the surrounding states!
Yet all of these benefits required substantial investment on the part of the Hexadric Hegemony.
While Ves wasn't entirely clear about the proceedings of the Komodo War, he knew that the Hegemony was truly devoting all of its efforts in the war theaters closer to home.
The Hexadric Hegemony was a rather insular state by nature. Only a few branches of the state devoted any energy towards the rest of the star sector. Their leaders didn't have much say in the decision-making of the government.
All in all, the likelihood that the Hegemony would spare any thought towards the Protectorate was virtually zero!
Once Ves realized this, his expression turned grave. He watched the celebrations taking place at Kesseling VIII and couldn't help but think that they were partying before an impending crash!
"Is there any way the Protectorate can avoid this fate?"
"It's up to the Friday Coalition, I think." Gloriana said.
That did not leave Ves with a lot of confidence. Neither Ves nor the Ylvainans had any way of influencing the decision-making of the Coalition.
Perhaps the people in charge might respect the Protectorate's contribution towards repelling the sandmen. Yet their leaders might also be shameless enough to ignore this merit and wipe out the state because it was an ugly stain on their maps!
Time passed and the fleet slowly reached orbit. The Ylvainan patrols didn't even bother approaching the Wodin ships for inspection.
Only a single ship out of five made landfall. The Stellar Chaser soon landed at a spaceport at the capital city of Krent.
As soon as Ves stepped out, he became buffeted by a wave of cheers and religious fervor!
An entire crowd of Ylvainans gathered at the spaceport! The press was fully present while the Kronons carefully guarded the crowd with their imposing mechs!
Ves was not in the mood to bask in the moment. Knowing that the Ylvainans still had to survive another calamity, he dearly wished to temper their moods.
However, the Ylvainans needed something to celebrate about. Ves also wanted the Ylvainans to continue to hold him in high regard. The chance of betrayal was much less if the entire state continued to adore the Bright Martyr!
For this reason, he eventually decided to play along with all of the pomp and ceremony. He met a number of senior Ylvainans and shook hands with them, he participated in a brief parade and he 'blessed' a number of Deliverers produced by a couple of local mech manufacturers.
Seeing so many Deliverers and Holy Soldiers warmed his heart. Not only that, their glows gave him a deeper impression of their source. Ylvaine's spiritual fragment almost seemed to come alive as its presence touched his mind!
Perhaps the Ylvainans were right on one thing. Their prophet had truly blessed the Bright Martyr!
Ves and Gloriana soon pulled away from the celebration. The Ylvainans did not wish to burden the Bright Martyr and the Hexers too much, and an excessively long victory parade was rather inappropriate since the Kronons still lost many mech pilots to the sandmen every day.
A true victory celebration would only commence when the Sand War finally came to an end!
"Phew. I'm glad that's done." Ves said as he and Gloriana along with their cats arrived at their new if temporary abode.
After riding a shuttle operated by the Glory Battalion, they reached a highly-guarded estate that his subordinates had already bought and renovated on his behalf.
Not a lot of people greeted him during this time. The local star had already dipped below the horizon and no one was in the mood to discuss serious business.
That could wait until tomorrow.
Only a handful of his trusted subordinates met him this time. Gavin, Melkor and Nitaa all welcomed him back.
"I knew you'd find a way to spoil Ghanso's plan." Melkor smirked.
"What if I didn't?"
"Then the LMC would just have to find another lead designer."
Nitaa approached him next. She looked incredibly remorseful. "Sir.. I'm sorry that—"
"—We'll be having none of that, Nitaa." Ves patted her strong arm. "You couldn't have done anything against an expert mech, let alone the entire Bright Republic. Your only responsibility is to guard me against hostile people. Only the Avatars are meant to fight against other mechs, but even they are limited in what they can do. Ultimately, the fault lies in me. If I was a bit more sensitive towards the scheming of my political opponents, I wouldn't have made myself so vulnerable to official authority."
Now that he experienced it once, Ves would never let down his guard against these kinds of threats! He did not dare to entrust his safety onto any state, including the Ylvaine Protectorate!
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