That evening, Ves finally returned to his quarters in the compound assigned to the Tovar Peace Delegation.
While his stomach was filled with sumptuous food, his mind felt distressingly empty.
It took every bit of concentration and attentiveness to resist Venerable Foster\'s scathing remarks and accusations.
As Ves sat on his bed, he tried to figure out how she came to be here.
From her various remarks, he got the sense that while she and some of her fellow Vesian officers managed to escape from Aeon Corona VII alive and with their mission objective, much of the Vesian ground forces failed to extract in time.
The Hostland Warriors and the Meandering Monkeys demand an account from you! She burst out once during the conversation, unintentionally spilling some information that she shouldn\'t have among unrelated people.
Not that anyone would punish her for it.
She was a young and promising expert pilot who also earned a lot of merit in the Mech Legion.
That made Ves wonder if the recipient of the lockbox they managed to acquire was Prince Colchestor.
The prince still has at least seventy to a hundred years of life to go, but there\'s no harm in preparing for the future.
That might explain Venerable Foster\'s inclusion as a military attaché in the Prince\'s delegation.
Ves did not care too much which Vesian managed to enjoy an extended lifespan.
Whether it was some duke or prince who enjoyed this privilege, what really mattered was how much recognition Venerable Foster received.
Evidently, she enjoyed a lot of favor.
Despite her abrasive personality, Prince Colchester somehow saw fit to include her in his ranks.
There must be multiple reasons why she was present here in Kester Hills.
Are we really here to discuss peace talks, or is there more to these negotiations that they haven\'t told me Ves wondered.
Ves got the vague sense that Senator Tovar and Prince Colchester may be attempting to kill multiple birds with one stone.
That seemed to be the modus operandi among the powerful and influential.
They always aimed to fulfill multiple objectives at once.
The next day, the peace talks began in earnest.
Both delegations sent representatives to make their opening moves.
The talks took place at a formal conference chamber that offered large round tables, high ceilings with lots of light, and stuffy protocol that Ves didn\'t have the privilege to witness.
Only a handful of representatives from both sides met each other first so far.
The conference chamber was closed off to every other person including Ves.
Instead, he was expected to linger around at Kester Hills and strike up a conversation with some of the idle Vesian members of the delegation.
Ves had nothing in common with the Vesian dignitaries.
It would be hard for him to approach them, especially since they were mostly at least as old as his parents.
Both delegations mainly brought their powerhouses to the peace talks who were already familiar with the game.
At least I\'m out of yesterday\'s clown suit.
Now that everyone who served in the military showed off their decorations in full splendor, they returned to their more sober and business-like service dress uniforms.
The only exceptions to the rule had only been brought to the peace talks as afterthoughts.
Neither Ves nor Venerable Foster became attachés of their respective delegations due to careful planning or strategic considerations.
Their patrons merely treated them like pets that they wanted to bring along in their holiday rather than leave them sad and alone in their homes.
At least that was the sense that Ves constructed in his mind.
The lack of attention and expectation put on him also liberated him somewhat.
Even if he sat down in the dirt and build sandcastles all day, no one would fault him very much.
However, Ves knew that doing nothing substantial would lower Senator Tovar\'s good impression on him.
If he wanted to show that he remained an asset to the senator\'s circle, he needed to put some actual effort in his current assignment.
Besides, what else can I do in this tiny retreat There\'s hardly any entertainment out here.
Kester Hills normally served as a holiday retreat.
The bountiful nature offered many opportunities for hiking, mountain climbing, kayaking and other primitive activities for overworked managers tired of being surrounded by technology all day.
Ves did have to admit that the locale gave a strong sense of peace and serenity to him.
In fact, it reminded him of his native planet of Cloudy Curtain, except sunnier.
It was too bad that the Reinaldans relocated most of the workers facilitating those activities away for the duration of the peace talks.
Kester Hills became an invisible prison to him, with guards dispatched by the Honored Ones imposing order in the halls and on the streets.
Some attachés already started to approach each other and engage in modest conversations.
None of them lost their animosity towards each other, and not every conversation lasted long enough to forge some bonds.
Ves in the meantime switched his gaze back and forth between the gatherings of business magnates and military officers.
Who should he approach first
It\'s too difficult to forge a business partnership between the Bright Republic and the Vesia Kingdom. He considered for a moment.
Even if some collaboration can be forged between our two states, it won\'t be the likes of me who will get involved.
Yet he couldn\'t just walk up to a high-ranking Vesian military officer and swap war stories with each other.
Most of what he experienced in his short tour with the Mech Corps consisted of highly classified missions that couldn\'t be divulged to anyone, least of all a Vesian.
Most of the advice Lord Javier had given him didn\'t put that much emphasis on generational differences.
As long as Ves made a forceful impression, he\'d earn their respect somehow.
As Ves considered how to elevate himself into a big deal in the eyes of the Vesians, a slim but surprisingly strong hand grabbed hold of the collar of his uniform and dragged him out of the street and against the side of the wall of an empty estate.
Foster! What is the meaning of this!
You aren\'t getting away this time. She hissed as she brought her furious will to bear on him.
One way or another, I\'ll beat the answer out of you of what happened at that time.
The lives of thousands of Hostland Warriors and the Meandering Monkeys demand justice!
This was the second time Venerable Foster grabbed his collar and manhandled him against a surface.
The last time, Ves enjoyed little protection, so he didn\'t dare fight back.
This time was different.
He narrowed his eyes and pushed back against Venerable Foster, both physically and spiritually.
Though he did not possess the ability to infuse his willpower with his Spirituality like an expert pilot, he nonetheless attempted to concentrate his Spirituality into a dagger and send it out to Venerable Foster.
The expert pilot winced a little, though she wasn\'t sure where the sting in her mind came from.
During that brief interruption, Ves grabbed her hand that was grasping against his collar and wrung it away by using a greater fraction of his physical strength.
Fortunately, Venerable Foster expected to face a pushover, so she hadn\'t exerted that much strength at all.
In fact, she seemed surprised that Ves had the guts to resist her moves.
Ves got the sense that people rarely said no to Venerable Foster ever since she advanced to expert pilot.
Venerable Foster, please be conscious of our current surroundings.
We are not on the battlefield anymore.
A foot patrol of Honored Ones already arrived at the side.
An intimidating-looking exoskeleton soldier stepped forward.
Is there a problem here
Hopefully not. Ves responded.
Venerable Foster snorted and drew back her hand from Ves.
I won\'t stir up any trouble… for now.
Please be more mindful of the rules, Venerable Foster. The Honored One said with a hint of forced respect.
There was no way he would piss off an expert pilot, even a Vesian one.
If you wish to discuss more sensitive matters, there are more appropriate venues in Kester Hills.
Please guide us to one.
Ves found himself being led to a small, isolated courtyard.
He reluctantly took a seat next to a quant round garden table with a pot of tea already prepared for them.
He quickly poured himself some tea in his tiny glass and began to sip it for lack of anything better to do.
In contrast, Venerable Foster sat on her chair with a straight posture and continued to study Ves with her burning eyes.
She obviously wanted nothing more than to confront Ves of his past actions on Aeon Corona VII, yet her current assignment as well as the ubiquitous presence of the Honored restrained her from doing what she wanted.
Even if she was one of the most promising expert pilots to emerge from the Mech Legion in recent times, she didn\'t call the shots at the moment.
Before she became an expert pilot, she was a soldier, and obedience to Vesian authority had long been stamped in her psyche.
That left her with no opportunity to bring up the topics she really wanted to talk about.
Hence the extended silence ever since they sat down at this table.
So. Ves began after he took a few sips of his soothing lavender tea.
He found it regretful that the hosts hadn\'t served them chamomile tea, but then again he couldn\'t have everything.
Look, I get why you\'re not very pleased to see me right now.
The feeling is mutual.
However, our current bosses don\'t want us to make a scene.
You agree with the goal of the peace talks, right
The expert pilot restrained her aggression to an extent and breathed deeply.
Don\'t patronize me.
I\'m quite aware of what is necessary at the moment.
I am very much capable of taking the big picture into account.
Ves doubted it, but it wouldn\'t be polite to mention that.
Instead, he moved on.
Let\'s just… talk.
Try and find some common ground.
Command ground Us Venerable Foster reacted with a skeptical voice.
There is hardly anything I want to talk about with you.
I don\'t need to know my enemies better when they\'re destined to die at my hands.
This loathsome Vesian expert pilot made it really difficult for Ves to remain polite.
He grit his teeth as he held his frustrations back.
Why was he the only one of the two who tried to fulfill his diplomatic obligations
He even believed the main peace talks might encounter fewer hindrances than his attempt at maintaining a cordial conversation with Venerable Foster!
What happened to your Belisarius, by the way
Lost. She replied unemotionally.
It went down with the ship.
Which is definitely your fault somehow.
I know it.
I can smell it from your snivelling body.
Ves was secretly glad that Venerable Foster no longer had access to that ridiculously strong and powerful expert mech.
The Hafner Duchy pumped so much Rorach\'s Bone in its construction that its loss would be extremely painful to them! Even if Foster managed to return with the mission objective in hand, the loss of such an extravagantly expensive mech still marred her evaluation!
Perhaps next time you Vesians will have some sense and design a more efficient mech for you.
Obviously you aren\'t very attentive at keeping the property of the state secure.
That was if Foster spoke the truth.
He didn\'t rule out that she was lying in his face in order to misdirect the Bright Republic.
Still, Venerable Foster intensified her glowering, making her displeasure at those words plain to see.
You don\'t need to poke into my business.
By the way, where has that woman you hung out with back then Calabast is her name, right I\'m surprised she kept you alive after using you.
Ordinarily, intelligence types like her prefer to dispose of their tools once they outlived their usefulness.
Ves smiled back at Foster.
Unlike a wasteful pilot like you who somehow lost a mech worth a literal fortune, not everyone is as sloppy as you.
What the Hafner Duchy sees in you, I don\'t know.
The tension between the two intensified.
If the peace talks progressed this way at well, then Ves didn\'t see much hope for an amiable resolution.