That night, over two million witnesses to the duel went crazy. The story of how Captain Orfan's mech tripped the other mech before punching it to death became an instant legend in the Harksensen System!
The honor duel had been the most exciting arena battle on Harkensen III in recent memory! So many people hit themselves on their heads for declining to attend. If they only coughed up 20,000 marks, they would have seen the dramatic course of the events in person instead of listening about it in hearsay!
Those that attended the duel erupted in jubilation or despair. There was no doubt about it. Despite the unconventional ending of the duel, the match had definitely been worth attending!
Though the Vesians visiting the system all became depressed, most people thought that Avid Serpent fought very ably. She displayed a lot of skill and fought with ceaseless courage. If the engine of her mech hadn't been impacted so much, then she no doubt would have kept hitting back.
"Avid Serpent hasn't lost. Her mech failed on her. How could it break so easily after being impaled by a single spear?"
The Vesians sought out a scapegoat to vent their frustrations. There was no better target at the moment than Gabriel Creta. What Master's apprentice? What successful businessman? Your work fell short!
A lot of shade was being thrown at him, a lot of it without cause. Ves sympathized with his competitor. That could have been him. At the end of the match, Ves got to opportunity to meet Creta again. Both of them gathered in the underground halls leading to the workshops.
"Mr. Creta. I'm sorry for your loss."
The older man shook his head. He didn't appear to take the criticisms directed against him to heart. "She went into the ring expecting to win or die. Her death is not unjust. You've done an amazing work at transforming the Pointed Sentinel mech."
"It's a shame about Avid Serpent." Ves remarked. "I never got to learn her identity. Do you know who she is?"
"She never confided her identity to me. I think she hoped to take off her mask and announce her name to the public when she won the honor duel. Now that she has lost.. It's better to let sleeping dogs lie."
This could be considered a final mercy to the woman that bore the name of Avid Serpent. Though losing the duel hadn't affected her honor all that much, there was no doubt she dragged the name of the Vesia Kingdom through the mud. If the Vesians found out her real name, they would doubtlessly curse her name for a couple of months.
The two mech designers talked shop for a few minutes. Both of them briefly described what they had done. As expected, Creta hadn't gone as far as Ves! When the other mech designer heard that Ves went as far as turning the Pointed Sentinel into a frankenstein mech, he expressed his admiration.
"That was exceptionally risky of you, but it evidently paid off. Even I never expected that your mech could keep up with the Rogue Breaker after it had passed through my hand. All the time, I was modifying the machine with an eye towards a comprehensive crush in performance against your mech. It seems I was very much mistaken at that."
After chatting some more, they finally said goodbye to each other. Ves enjoyed the talk. He faintly perceived that Mr. Creta was from the same mold as him. Compared to their allegiance, they cared more about designing mechs. Both of them harvested a tiny bit from their conversations.
"I really can't underestimate older Apprentices. Not all of them are stagnating at a lower boundary than me." He sighed as he watched the other mech designer walking towards the exit.
Ves hadn't been able to learn too many lessons from Creta's shallow exposition. However, he was still able to affirm that the other mech designer was able to utilize his knowledge more exquisitely than what Ves could accomplish by himself.
"This is what experience brings."
Someone who had been in the game for decades developed their own polished methods. In a situation where a mech designer wasn't able to increase the breadth and depth of their knowledge, they instead attempted to develop ways to utilize their existing knowledge better.
"He's making the best of what he has!"
Ves had mostly faced younger mech designers in design duels in his career. Rarely had he been able to compare notes with someone who could be considered a veteran in the business like Gabriel Creta. The direct comparison of their work this time illuminated Ves that he had a long way to go with regards to designing better mechs.
"The only problem is that progress of this kind only comes from time and effort. I can't accelerate this learning process through any other means."
Even if he acquired a million Skills and a hundred Attribute poitns from the System, he would still muck it up somehow. More tools at his disposal did not mean he could design a better mech. It was how he used it that really mattered.
Ves contemplated about this issue the entire way back to the temporary Vandal compound. As he crashed into his bed, he still hadn't figured out a way to improve his utilization besides designing lots of mechs.
"Maybe that's why designing multiple original mechs is one of the criteria to become a Journeyman Mech Designer. Without practical experience, how can a mech designer be any good at utilizing what they learned? A useless bookworm who can't design a mech on their own is unqualified to become a Journeyman."
It also explained why some mech designers stalled in the Apprentice phase despite designing scores of mechs. One of the factors that held them back was doubtless their poor grasp on utilization. If they robotically churned out design after design without putting all of their effort and passion into their work, they would likely consider it to be a chore.
No matter how much anyone had harvested from this duel, Ves had definitely won a lot. The path to advancement became a lot more clearer in his mind. That alone was worth all of the effort of designing a frankenstein mech.
The next day, everything appeared to go back to normal. Half of the Vandals enjoyed shore leave while the other half were hard at work at fixing up their assets.
The only thing that changed was that everyone felt like a winner. Captain Orfan's performance had put the Flagrant Vandals in a very good light! Despite being billed as a raiding regiment, Orfan showed the Reinaldans and the visitors that they still possessed teeth!
"Hahahaha! I can't forget what happened last night! Avid Serpent had us on the ropes, but we whallopped her good!"
"Hey! Have some respect for the girl!"
"Why should I? She's a Vesian, and a treacherous one at that! As far as I'm concerned, she got what was coming for her!"
The Vandals spoke non-stop about the duel. This wasn't a surprise as many of them attended the duel. Of course, they could never pay the entire 20,000 marks for a seat. Instead, the Vandals received a whole bunch of free tickets from the underground arena. Just like Ves, they received free tickets because they were all related the Vandals.
After breakfast, Ves joined his old group with lots of welcome and appreciation. Though Captain Orfan earned the most kudos out of the Vandals, the contribution of Ves had not been forgotten. It was thanks to his efforts that her mech held out despite suffering a lot of damage!
"I heard from a mech technician who worked on the captain's mech that you turned it into a frankenstein mech! Is that true?" Ensign Tiss asked.
As an engineer, Tiss was clearer than most people on how difficult it was to cobble up a frankenstein mech together.
"It takes a lot of smarts to prevent it from falling apart."
"What a boastful mech designer!" A mech pilot exclaimed.
"Alright, knock it off, Vandals." Lieutenant Nolsen Feray said. "I'm sorry you missed the last couple of days, Ves, but there are plenty of sights left to see. We only have a short time left on Harkensen III before we head over to the beaches of Harkensen I. Let's make the best of our time."
Their group had already drafted an entire schedule for their stay on Harkensen III. They already visited several iconic sights on Harkensen III such as famous mech museums and historical monuments. They even visited the black markets in the evening.
As the group boarded a large-sized aircar that took off into the air, Ves asked what they experienced the last few days when he was absent.
"How are the black markets?"
"Very shady." Tiss said as she blinked at him with her big eyes. "It's a lot less friendlier than the grey market. They forced us to wear a sensor-blocking veil and mask that Nolsen scanned on his own to determine whether they had been bugged."
"Did he find something?"
"Surprisingly, no. The black markets are fairly scrupulous in this. They wouldn't be able to attract any customers if they're nosing the true identities of their visitors."
This told him that the black market wasn't without rules.
"Why do you look so grim then?"
"The black market isn't really a place for outsiders like us to mix in. It's a lot ruder than he grey market. Everyone is acting quiet and mysterious. Still, the things they have on sale can make you dazzle."
Ves could imagine the kind of products that circulated in the black market. Most of the goods had likely come from the hands of pirates. Still, that didn't detract from his interest.
According to the schedule, Ves still had an opportunity to visit a different black market. At that time, he would naturally be able to sample what the pirates and scummy treasure hunters routinely harvested.
The next couple of days, Ves made up for lost time by visiting many different sights on Harkensen III. The lively cities on the planet didn't pale too much in comparison to Black Belle City. The only thing that disappointed him was that he missed out on visiting the capital city's black market. The other markets underneath the medium-sized cities all catered to a special clientele.
The one Ves had visited was a market for slaves. All kinds of humanoid and non-humanoid aliens could be obtained from this market. The sight disgusted some of the visiting Vandals. Even Ves found the practice to be repulsive.
Not only did they have to endure lifeless aliens stuffed into cramped climate-controlled boxes, the market also seemed especially desolate at this time.
"What's wrong with this place? Has something happened?" He asked.
"The Reinaldans are kind of spooked." Nolsen explained. "You might not have heard about it, but a little of trouble has stirred up lately. Last night, two unsealed mechs started fighting at some place called Kwanza City. In another city, an unknown group invaded a restaurant and slaughtered all of the customers!"
"I heard it was some kind of gang hit because many of the guests were part of some local gang." Tiss said. "I'm not too sure about the details, but the Honored Ones are blaming the violence on the local gangs."
"What do the gangs have to say?"
"They're blaming the foreigners for all their troubles."
In other words, everyone was pointing fingers at each other instead of trying to cooperate to stem the tide of violence. Ves furrowed his brows. Why did such incidents crop up during the time the Vandals stopped over at this star system? Were the Vandals related to these incidents? Too bad he couldn't read any clues from the news reports.
"I'm already looking forward to shuttling over to Harkensen I." Ves said lightly, trying to disguise his interest in the incidents. "If this planet keeps blowing up all the time, I would rather spend my time on the beach."
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