The sight of an expert pilot in action greatly inspired Ves. Though he'd seen plenty of archival footage and exaggerated drama depictions of expert mechs, seeing one so close and in such detail exhilarated him like nothing else.
Nevertheless, Ves would never have the opportunity to design an expert mech any time soon. The development of each mech relied on restricted technologies with regards to integrating resonating exotics into various components.
For example, at a minimum, the Fire Worm's armor, power reactor, energy cells and internal architecture had received massive enhancements in order to channel so much energy at once. Ves had no clue how to go about designing a mech that could accomplish a fraction of what the Fire Worm exhibited.
In the mech industry, anyone who wanted to design a customized mech for an expert pilot had to be a Journeyman Mech Designer at a minimum. In practice, Senior Mech Designers always took charge over the development of expert mechs. The difficulty of nurturing expert pilots insured they always received some of the best treatment available.
"Did you understand how the Fire Worm is able to hurt those energy creatures?" Ves asked Chief Petrisc.
"Nope. Not a clue."
This left the deep mining expedition in an awkward state. The Gregarious Wrath and her contingent of mechs remained helpless against any further incursions by the same species of aliens. They had only reached the edge of the core and already they faced three of the beasts at once.
What would happen if ten of them came? Or twenty?
The sudden appearance of indigenous life forms forced the Mech Corps to curtail their plans of branching out. With only one mech capable of fighting back against the worms, the Mech Corps wouldn't be able to send out smaller tunnelers and mining machines on their own.
After a couple of hours of formulating new plans, the captain of the Gregarious Wrath finally ordered the massive beast to continue to borrow towards the center. The Wrath would be taking the lead after all.
Over the next couple of days, the Wrath kept encountering packs of devourers once every few hours. Their threat forced Venerable Drake to remain awake and alert in order beat them back before they inflicted catastrophic damage on the giant tunneler. Naturally, the rest of the crew also had to stay on their toes.
Even then, the men and women aboard the Gregarious Wrath never slacked off on their duties. They had been through worse, so staying alert for so long hardly fazed them at all. Even Drake could go without sleep for a few days with the help of stimulants.
They made fair progress into the core. This time, a dozen smaller mining machines followed the Wrath in her wake. Anytime their mineral scanners detected a promising signal, they dug the side walls until they dug out traces of Rorach's Bone or some other highly active exotic. With these activities alone, this deep mining expedition had already turned a profit.
Still, the largest piece of Rorach's Bone that the mining machines had uncovered was only as large as a fingertip. That obviously didn't satisfy the System's greedy demands.
As Ves gradually inched closer to his goal, up on the surface, the Glowing Planet had turned into a true battlefield. The amount of mechs that perished at the hands of others had surpassed ten-thousand and began to approach twenty-thousand.
The struggle to occupy the juiciest territories with the richest deposits of high-grade exotics prompted many smaller outfits to fight among themselves. Groups with greater forces relied on their deterrent factor to discourage most fights before they started, but sometimes greed overtook common sense.
The Mech Corps occupied the most valuable red zone on the Glowing Planet, so they also happened to draw the most powerful of these reckless groups. Highly fanatical pirates under the lead of the Dragons of the Void kept chipping away at the Mech Corps.
This in turn had put a huge burden on the gangs and mercenary corps that settled at the edge of the red zone. As the first line of defense, they often had to take the brunt of the pirate attacks. Attrition had reached an unsustainable level and some outfits even lost eighty percent of their mechs.
At this point in time, the Mech Corps had ceded a third of their territory. The bases painstakingly constructed by the Blood Claws and Walter's Whalers had to be abandoned upon pulling back the defensive lines.
While the Blood Claws only lost around forty percent of their mechs, the Whalers had ceased to become an effective standalone force. Whatever mechs they retained could hardly be relied on to stand in the frontlines as years of lackluster maintenance and shoddy procurement caught up to them. Only a handful of their elites continued to operate under the banners of the much-diminished Blood Claws.
Right now, the Mech Corps fended off the latest thrust of opportunistic pirates. This time, the Dragons of the Void somehow roped in a couple of mercenary outfits to join in their thrust, so the battle became especially frigid as mercs always displayed more competence on the field.
"This is ridiculous! How many mechs have the Dragons thrown away? How is any of this worth it?!" Raella huffed as her mech expertly darted around a mercenary knight. The enemy mech deftly turned to keep her beaten-up Sliverath from stabbing it in the back.
This turned out to be a trap as Fadah's Blackbeak charged in from its rear. The merc detected the approach and panicked. In his attempt to dodge both, a volley of lasers struck the knight in the sword arm, causing its grip to loosen enough for the Blackbeak to bash it out of reach.
Without exchanging any words, Raella moved in and together with Fadah pressured the weaponless knight from both sides. While the merc held off the two-pronged assault with his knight's single shield, it started to accumulate more and more damage whenever he slipped up.
The Sliverath dove forward with two upraised daggers. Before the knight could adjust, the Blackbeak locked its shield with its own, preventing it from maneuvering it elsewhere.
The daggers stabbed into the knight's back and sank in deep. Even though its boasted decent rear armor, Raella had put her mech's entire momentum into the double blow. The knight lost all power and sank down into a heap.
"These mercs are a tough nut to crack." Raella remarked.
Fadah agreed. "I don't know how much they're getting paid, but this is ridiculous. We dismantled an entire squad and they're still not running away."
The battle still raged on at the center of the gates, which had already been torn down by the concerted efforts of the pirates and mechs. To be honest, the outfits in the employ of the Mech Corps only played a side role in this battle. Their job was to hold the flanks and prevent the pirates from sneaking in the base from another direction.
"Tch. My mech won't hold out for long." Raella cursed as she checked the status readouts of her Sliverath. Constant battle and accumulation of battle damage had stretched its integrity to its limits. "I think I'll have to bow out soon."
"No problem. I can take care of the rest with Dietrich." Fadah replied with quiet confidence.
Of the two, Fadah had taken down twice as many mechs. Even the Blood Claws acknowledged his skill and considered him the strongest mech pilot after Walter.
In truth, Fadah owed much of his success to the Blackbeak. The highly modified offensive knight had turned into a terror on the battlefield. Even if it had a tendency to build up too much heat in this airless environment, the Blackbeak always bounced back after each round of repairs. Its true worth as a durable mech started to shine through.
The Blackbeak's excellent performance helped stabilize the lines and prevent the pirates from threatening the base from another direction.
Up in space, the Mech Corps long lost any hope of maintaining orbital supremacy. The only upside was that no other force had been able to secure the orbit for themselves as well. So many different factions angled for control over the skies above the Glowing Planet that they'd all gang up on anyone who wanted to monopolize the benefits to themselves.
This led to a rather tense standoff as nobody wanted to provoke a needless fight. Even if they won a single battle, they'd lose so many mechs and ships that they had become worse off than before. Knocking off one single group among hundreds hardly reduced the threat the victor faced.
Ghanso Larkinson gloomily kept his eyes on the plot as his new mech continued to patrol around a small formation of fleet carriers. After he recovered from his first loss, he'd been transferred to another squad and put into a spare mech, which happened to be a copy of the old baseline Vhedra design.
The Vhedra suited him better than the S variant. His previous narrow escape against a foreign faction's expert pilot hadn't dimmed his enthusiasm for piloting mechs. Instead, it sparked a fire within him, prompting him to become much more focused in his training to be a better mech pilot.
"I won't let your death be in vain, Alex." He whispered to himself as his mech continued its patrol alongside the rest of his squad.
He already distinguished himself by taking down seven mechs since his reassignment. Ever since he broke past his limits and managed to score a hit against the enemy expert mech, Ghanso found that his accuracy against moving targets had improved by leaps and bounds. Even the swiftest light mechs couldn't escape his retribution.
"Larkinson! You're drifting away! Get back in formation!"
For now, the Mech Corps maintained a sufficient hold onto the red zone, but whether they could get away with the haul they've made so far was still in question.
Nevertheless, Ves cared for none of those concerns, as the Gregarious Wrath finally reached a sufficient depth where they encountered vastly more traces of Rorach's Bone.
In fact, he sensed it before anyone else because strange waves resonated with his sixth sense. Over the past couple of days, Ves realized that some of the secrets of Rorach's Bone had to do with their ability to amplify the resonance of any component. This was actually considered an even more valuable trait than its ability to self-repair.
The importance placed on resonance made Ves suspect that it had something in common with the sixth sense. Even if expert mech pilots didn't gain his sensitivity regarding the sixth sense, they still gained the ability to affect resonating exotics with their mind and will.
"It's an entirely different application of metaphysics."
Besides working on a common set of wavelengths and energy, Ves realized that expert mech pilots applied their enhanced powers in a different fashion. Whereas Ves focused on creating the imaginary and bringing them to life, the mech pilots exerted their influence directly in the material dimensions to accomplish immediate effects.
His presence aboard the Gregarious Wrath enabled him to learn a lot on things he wasn't supposed to learn yet. Apprentice Mech Designers should focus on polishing their foundations.
"I can see why that's prudent. The amount of knowledge needed to work on something as mythical as Rorach's Bone alone is astounding."
Even if Ves had no chance of designing an expert mech on his own, the added knowledge enhanced his understanding of metaphysics. This is turn improved his ability to imbue the X-Factor into a design.
He even came up with a certain guess that his abilities would improve with the help of a resonating exotic.
In any case, the Gregarious Wrath slowed her digging once the researchers determined they had reached their goal. They had dug so deep into the Glowing Planet that they had come across the likely origin point of the Rorach's Bone they had found so far.
They had reached the fabled boneyard.