The Flagrant Vandals made it out!
Those who fought on the surface almost couldn\'t believe they made it out of hell.
Pretty much all of the mech pilots came out of their mechs in a broken state.
Though they admirably held themselves together on the field due to their training, once they returned to safety the trauma seeped through the cracks.
Ves and Chief Haine stood on a ramp overlooking one of the hangar bays of the Shield of Hispania.
They watched on as mech technicians carefully peeled open the cockpits of heavily damaged landbound mechs to reach the mech pilots trapped inside.
Throughout it all, the overall mood in the hangar bay was depressing.
While the inherent resilience of the Flagrant Vandals prevented them from lashing out or doing anything drastic, Ves sensed nothing good from the men.
Have the Vandals always sustained so many losses in a single campaign Ves asked.
Plenty. The chief technician replied.
Just not in big battles like this.
Ordinarily, we don\'t like to move in huge formations and pit our mechs against anything tough.
Normally, we split up in smaller squadrons and spent most of our time raiding Vesian shipping lines.
Sometimes, we\'re able to catch a juicy convoy, and in other times, we end up bumping our noses into a patrol.
All of those skirmishes takes a toll on our numbers.
So the Vandals are used to losses, but only in bite-sized packages.
The chief glanced at Ves with a cool expression.
Larkinson, we are soldiers above else.
We aren\'t cowards who value our lives above anything else.
Even if the Mech Corps doesn\'t regard us very highly, within ourselves lies the hope that we can prove ourselves to be equal to those shining mech regiments that have become household names in the Republic.
Mech regiments such as the Stellar Lancers, the Infernal Hellhounds and the Volari Starhawks all enjoyed significant renown back home.
Their funding and support was incomparable to the Flagrant Vandals.
Ves could see how the pride of those who had been forced onto the Vandals had been impugned.
If Ves was a mech pilot who had been thrown into this garbage bin of a mech regiment, he too would have wished to prove himself in battle.
I mean no disrespect, Chief Haine.
It\'s just that the civilian in me can\'t get used to seeing so many comrades fall.
How can the Vandals push on and keep their heads high
Everyone deals with loss in a different way.
The survivors are taken care of.
We\'re not clueless in that regard.
Soldier or not, humans are fragile.
From the moment our civilization has ascended to the stars, we\'ve become very good at handling trauma.
He could see that a number of mental health specialists already started receiving the mech pilots who emerged from the cockpits.
Ves ordinarily ignored the specialists since they hardly did anything but take up space, but right now they were worth their weight in gold.
A lot of our landbound mechs got trashed.
You\'ve got a lot of work ahead of yourself if you want to salvage something out of this mess.
I know. Ves laughed sardonically at himself.
I don\'t even look at the latest figures anymore.
I\'m scared I\'ll get a heart attack once I see how many mechs we\'ve lost and how many wrecks we need to restore.
Those giant monsters on the Kamwin continent aren\'t gentle at all.
A large proportion of mechs that got trashed consisted of melee mechs that received an awful battering from the monster hordes.
The monsters attacked with a combination of blunt and cutting forces that combined resulted in some of the most awful sort of damage to the mechs.
The damage to the melee mechs that got smacked around by the monsters is incredibly arduous to fix.
It\'s different from the mechs that Venerable Foster managed to down.
That feisty girl always tried to finish off her opponents as expediently as possible, so most of the damage we\'ve incurred from her is concentrated on a small set of critically damaged components.
Ves understood her point.
On the other hand, the mechs that incurred damage from the monsters require a complete overhaul.
All of that blunt force has penetrated through the surface armor of our mechs.
The damage to their internals is extensive, and it will take lots of time to pin down which component needs to be replaced.
Leaving out the wrecks that the Vandals had been forced to leave behind, the Vandals hadn\'t sustained too much material damage.
Any damaged mech they managed to retrieve could be fixed up over time as the mech technicians could easily take out a damaged parts and recycle them in order fabricate replacement parts.
The only problem was that this would take way too much time with their current equipment and manpower.
Without the industrial capacity of the Wolf Mother, the Verle Task Force needed years to make up all of the losses they sustained.
Their landbound contingent was in shambles while their spaceborn contingent never regained their prime.
Our spaceborn battle efficiency isn\'t too bad, so it is not the end of the galaxy. The chief patted his back in an attempt to console him.
Repairing the landbound mechs is a megaproject.
No one expects you to fix everything up.
Right now, it\'s more important to finish our mission and return home before we can consider rebuilding our forces.
She was right.
The Vandals went through hell and almost reached the gates that led to heaven.
Once they crossed the borders of the Hafner Duchy, they would finally be able to breathe easily as they didn\'t have to worry about constant ambushes from the reigning power in the region.
Though the Reinald Republic wasn\'t exactly an ally of the Bright Republic, their shared enemy kept their relations fairly cordial.
It wasn\'t uncommon to see Brighter ships trawling about in Reinald space and vica versa.
Many of the larger Brighter companies established subsidiaries in the Reinald Republic.
The Flagrant Vandals would be able to gain preferential treatment from them.
The Vandals counted on this to be their deliverance after this ordeal was over.
What happens next
That depends, Mr.
We\'ve captured an expert pilot at a very great cost.
If I was the Major, I would be very eager to trade her away for some much-needed concessions.
Major Verle is going to try to play the rebels against Hafner, I bet.
He\'ll be playing a very dangerous game.
The thing about negotiating is that it works best if nobody is aware of what others want.
Right now, it\'s plain to see that every side wants.
The Flagrant Vandals wanted to cross the borders.
The Hafner Duchy wanted their precious expert pilot back.
The rebels wanted to weaken the Hafner Duchy.
The negotiation is going to be a dance. Ves guessed.
Each side will go through the motions, but I think everyone has already settled on an outcome.
The process is still important.
It can decide whether we\'ll enjoy the bulk of the rewards or if our rebel partners will lay claim to the lion\'s share of the spoils.
From what Ves could see, the only way to please all three sides was to involve everyone in the same transaction.
Venerable Foster was the main prize.
While it would have been better for the Bright Republic to deny her release, she wasn\'t very useful to the Vandals.
It was like having access to a huge bank account.
Would the impressive figure be able to save his life if someone pointed a gun at Ves
Right now, the Vandals desperately needed to raise their strength.
Trading away an expert pilot despite the huge threat she posed to her enemies in the future was more attractive than squirreling her away like a lump of precious ore.
Considering the sheer value of a young and healthy expert pilot, the Hafner Duchy would likely be willing to bleed really hard to get her back.
Of course, the Vandals hadn\'t been able to capture her by themselves.
Peace for Hafner helped a lot in the background, from providing actionable intelligence to sabotaging the Hafner forces from within.
Their help was especially valuable at the end where their double agents caused the garrison fleet to waver at critical moments! Therefore, the interests of Peace for Hafner shouldn\'t be neglected.
Besides, considering that the Verle Task Force was about to enter the Reinald Republic, making the rebel group happy was an important concern.
Though no Reinald official ever confirmed the rumors, it was pretty much an open secret that the rebel groups operating in Hafner space were Reinald\'s sock puppets.
I hope that we\'ve got some competent negotiators among our ranks, then. Ves muttered.
In any case, these mechs won\'t get serviced by themselves.
Let\'s get to work, shall we
Ves took stock of the damage together with Chief Haine.
He studied the abuse the landbound mechs had suffered from the blunt force impacts from the rampaging monsters.
Though he only inspected a small sample, the damage looked worse than he thought.
The beasts possessed a weak defense, but a powerful offense! Any mech that tussled with the monsters of the Kamwin continent up close required a complete disassembly.
The main reason for this was that in some cases, the internal frame had been affected!
It\'s going to take multiple days of work from an entire group of mech technicians to fix one of these damaged landbound mechs. Ves concluded morosely.
That doesn\'t sound so bad if only a handful of mechs require such treatment, but we\'re talking about close to two-hundred machines here.
Chief Haine had been right that the Vandals didn\'t plan on fighting anymore landbound battles for the foreseeable time.
However, Ves did not believe that everything would end once they reached the Reinald Republic.
He already started casting his gaze on what the task force would be doing next.
Will we really be returning to the Bright Republic for a lengthy downtime
Somehow, Ves did not believe this odyssey would end so soon.
At the very least, the matter with Lord Javier and his secret presence aboard the Shield of Hispania foreshadowed a continuation of their secret movements.
What\'s so important about Lord Javier and why is it so important to reach the Reinald Republic within a certain time
Ves still couldn\'t connect the dots despite the vast amount of data at his fingertips.
In fact, the awful state of the Vandals made it clear that they weren\'t ready for another major operation at all.
He dearly hoped that bigwigs didn\'t have another difficult mission in store for them once they reached the end of the journey.
After taking stock of the situation at the hangar bays, Ves returned to his office to draw up a new schedule.
The original one he composed more than a month ago was plainly unworkable considering how much the Vandals had been set back.
When he entered his office, Ves saw that Iris wasn\'t present at her desk.
She\'s probably helping with the negotiations.
Ves wondered if he would soon be saying goodbye to Iris.
Now that the Vandals were about to reach their destination, they had no need to trade for favors from the rebel movements that made themselves home in the Vesia Kingdom.
Realizing that she would soon be out of his life, Ves realized that he would miss her presence.
She had been of great assistance to Ves.
Not only did she introduce him to neural interface technology, she also deepened his understanding of Vesian culture and military.
I\'ll have to prepare a farewell gift to her. He affirmed to himself.
Perhaps once the war is over, she\'ll finally smarten up and give up on her unrealistic dream to turn the Kingdom away from feudalism.
Ves chuckled to himself.
Sometimes he had the feeling that nothing would ever change.
The Bright Republic and Vesia Kingdom would likely look the same a hundred years from now.
He wouldn\'t know what to do if something changed.