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Chapter 1948 In Decline

The Mech Touch
     Chapter 1948 In Decline

    Lucky lazily dozed off on Ves' lap. The cat had already inspected the entire interior and was disappointed when he found nothing of interest. Calabast was too careful to leave any traces behind.

    As Ves stroked his cat's metallic back, he faced Calabast with a guarded expression.

    His girlfriend had already made it clear that Calabast had been very busy in the last month.

    What's up with the Black Cats?

    She smiled as she sat on the other side of her desk. Let's address that later. To understand my Black Cats, we should first address the situation facing the Larkinson Clan.

    I'm about to meet with Raymond and the other Larkinson leaders later.

    Then it's even more important to talk about your clan with me, because they are going to spring a very unpleasant surprise on you. A lot of Larkinsons are having second thoughts about your leadership, Ves. The Battle of Kesseling VIII may have granted them a victory, but they never asked for this fight to begin with. It's inevitable that you'll be suffering the repercussions of your past decisions and actions.

    I never asked to be targeted by the Friday Coalition! Ves protested. Why are they even attacking me to begin with? I'm just one of the countless mech designers in this star sector!

    That's a lie and you know it. Calabast verbally stomped. You were never an average mech designer, and your latest exploits only increased your threat level. What you did to the sandmen could easily be done to the Fridaymen as well. When any analyst from the Coalition studies your work and the impact you've made to the Sand War, it's not that difficult to extrapolate your past exploits to the Komodo War.

    You're telling me that I'm a threat to the Friday Coalition. I don't even care about the Komodo War!

    They don't know that, Ves! To them, your girlfriend is a Hexer and you are becoming increasingly more valued by the Wodin Dynasty. To them, it seems that there is a very realistic possibility that you will lend your strength to their war effort. Even if your work is not as strong as the Fridaymen fear, they can't rule out the possibility that you can achieve more.

    They're afraid.

    That's right. They're not only afraid, but they're also strong. That is a deadly combination. It means that the Friday Coalition isn't willing to wait and see what you'll do. They want to nip this potential problem in the bud, so they aren't showing any scruples in trying to neutralize you as a threat! Whether it's killing you, kidnapping you or blackmailing you, one way or another the Friday Coalition doesn't want you to do anything that will strengthen the Hegemony!

    Anger welled within Ves. His repressed animosity towards the Coalition flared up yet again!

    Is that why they kidnapped the members of the Larkinson Family in the Bright Republic?

    She nodded. It's a dirty move, and one that has led to a lot of indignation in the Bright Republic, but the Fridaymen doesn't care. The Bright Republic is their client state in their perspective and leveraging the Larkinson Family to influence you is fair game.

    Those bastards!

    Look. It's too late to mend fences with the Friday Coalition. The moment it designated you as a threat to their interests, they won't sit still and let you act with impunity, especially when you are within reach.

    His decision to remain in the Ylvaine Protectorate proved to be a mistake. Ves didn't expect the Friday Coalition to be so shameless and force the religious state to defect to the other side!

    A storm raged across his face. The Fridaymen have made a very big mistake. Touching me is one thing. Touching my relatives is another thing! I didn't want to pick a fight with them, but now that they've killed my clansmen and kidnapped some of my distant relatives, I'm not going to let their actions go unanswered!

    Calabast observed Ves carefully before smirking in satisfaction. This was exactly the response she wanted to see!

    I can help you with taking revenge, Ves. Before we discuss that, let's get back to the clan. There's no simple way to put it. A number of Larkinson clansmen have already decided to leave the clan. They want to join the growing group of exiles from the old family who have managed to escape the Bright Republic's persecution.

    Ves paused for a moment. He couldn't say this news came as a surprise to him. He still reacted with surprise, though.

    How many?

    We've been doing our best to stem the bleeding, but.. The number of trueblood clansmen who want to leave will probably amount to two-hundred Larkinsons.

    That's around a fourth of our clan. Ves flatly said.

    After accounting for the casualties, the proportion is slightly bigger. What is more painful is that many of those Larkinsons consist of valuable mech pilots, administrators, mech instructors and other highly-skilled personnel. They serve as valuable pillars in your various organizations. Their absence will be deeply felt.

    Ves gritted his teeth. Many of them have signed the Larkinson Mandate. They made an oath. Now they want to leave just when we suffer our first setback?

    It's the remnants of the Larkinson Family that is partially luring them away. The old family that is fleeing the Bright Republic has reached out to the clan and offered them a place in their company. The exiles are being led by Venerable Ark Larkinson. You should know how much pull he has over the rest of your relatives.

    Ah. That explained much. Given a choice between following a young and trouble-prone mech designer like Ves and a pillar of the family like Ark, a lot of Larkinsons probably yearned for the more stable choice.

    The departure of some of your clansmen can't be avoided. They don't have the stomach to live a life of excitement and danger. They just want to lead a steady life with their families. I think the attitude you took in one of your contingency plans is right. It's better to let go of these fair-weather opportunists go. Their loyalty and commitment to the clan simply isn't sufficient enough to entrust them with heavy responsibilities.

    She was right. Ves fully agreed with her. The main reason he was upset was because he considered this to be another form of betrayal.

    It was one thing to refuse his offer to join the clan. Melinda, Ark, Benjamin and many other relatives declined his invitation.

    Yet hundreds of Larkinsons signed up with the clan. The Larkinson Mandate contained the names of every founding member. Ves now faced the unenviable prospect of striking the names of the leavers from the most important relic of his clan!

    If they want to leave so badly, then let them walk. Ves eventually came around and accepted this outcome. Where will they go?

    Right now, both us and the escaped members of the old family are fleeing to the Sentinel Kingdom. From there, the old family will probably go their own way. Ark Larkinson and his followers have already made it clear that they don't intend to join our clan. Many of them blame you for ruining their lives. Others don't want to subject themselves to your leadership. Whatever their reasons, unless you put your Devil Tongue charm to work, I doubt you can absorb these Larkinsons into your clan.

    I don't want them anyway. Ves shook his head. If their loyalty is so hard to gain, then they're not a good fit for our clan. What about the clansmen who remain? How committed are they?

    You still have many supporters among the Larkinsons, Ves, so you don't have to worry too much on this front. While they're pained by the losses, they are a bit more understanding about the dangers they must face in order to thrive. It helps that we offer a lot of rewards that the Larkinson Family can't match.

    Ves crossed his arms. Risk is accompanied with reward. Asking my Larkinsons to fight and brave death is not possible unless I give them something to fight for. Evidently, I haven't offered enough to retain 200 clansmen.

    Their impending departure is going to sting, Ves. Aside from leaving lots of holes in your hierarchy, the morale of the clan will also sink. That's not a very good development for a family organization that hasn't existed for long. The foundation of the clan is too weak. One more setback might bring it to the brink of collapse.

    He knew that Calabast wasn't exaggerating. While he hadn't talked with any Larkinsons yet, he could imagine how the Battle of Kesseling VIII inflicted a huge blow to their confidence.

    How bad is the problem?

    Right now, the news isn't so good. After fleeing the Bright Republic, your clansmen have to flee again. Confidence has already sunk to a precipitous level. I believe that Raymond Billlingsley-Larkinson and the other senior Larkinson elders will want to discuss how to turn it around.

    Won't the impending rescue attempt by your 'allies' ease their worries?

    We haven't disclosed the news of DIVA's rescue operation to anyone else except a few of those elders, Ves. Secrecy is paramount. The good news is that we don't have to stay quiet for much longer. While DIVA hasn't informed me when they will start the operation, they have to do it soon before the CRC arrives to take the hostages back to the Coalition.

    Ves hoped that he could restore some trust from the remaining members of his clan. At the very least, showing that he wasn't about to abandon his relatives would show that he still cared.

    What worried him the most after this setback was that his clan would continue to diminish in numbers. The Battle of Kesseling VIII was not going to be the last scuffle where his clansmen sacrificed their lives. Continuous battles and other dangerous incidents would keep chipping away at his clan, especially if they happened frequently!

    He needed to reverse this trend, because if he kept going at this pace, his clan might collapse before a single generation had passed!

    Calabast seemed to read him like a book. I know what you are concerned about. I've been thinking about this issue as well. With the life you lead and the ambitions you hold, conflict can never be ruled out. It takes an immense effort to earn passage to the Red Ocean, and it takes even more effort to thrive in that ruthless environment.

    Am I being unfair to my clan?

    I don't think so. She replied. Many clans and families have taken the risks. The founders of the Bright Republic, the various partners of the Friday Coalition and the Hexadric Hegemony all used to be similar to the Larkinson Clan. They weren't satisfied with the status quo and decided to brave many dangers in order to chase after fortune. What's important for you to realize is that you have more supporters than just your relatives. That's something I wanted to address today.

    What do you mean? Ves looked at Calabast with suspicion.

    He had a feeling that she had something very important to say.

    Your Larkinson Clan is about to diminish in numbers. It seems to me that your clan could use some fresh blood. Now, you just happen to have a lot of followers who are just as loyal if not more than your own clansmen. They don't have to share a blood or family relation with you in order to fight and die on your behalf. I've been talking about this with the Living Prophet. He agrees with me that the way you run your current groups is too disjointed. After a fruitful discussion, we came up with a proposal that will not only solve some of your problems, but also lead to a much clearer direction!

    Ves wasn't stupid. Talking about the decline of the clan and mentioning the loyalty of his non-family subordinates were both related!

    Don't tell me you want to induct my workers into my clan!?

    The grin on Calabast's face was an answer in itself!

    How many? He hesitantly asked.

    Everyone.

    This was a radical proposal! Just under ten-thousand mech pilots, ship crew, support personnel, managers and various other employees made up his current fleet!

    While Ves had to admit that all of those people made a lot of contributions, if he turned them into Larkinsons, the clan would become a completely different group! The Larkinson Clan he envisioned would be no more once his trueblood relatives became a minority!