His mech broker's prediction came true, once again proving that she knew her business. At the end of the week, Ves sold more than twenty-thousand virtual mechs. Most of his customers came from the Republic, curious to see what a mech designed by a fancy apprentice to a mystical master looked like.
Overall, his customers appreciated the Young Blood. They called it a hidden gem and an underrated mech. His sales received a second boost when the variant's only gold label mech got resold someone else, who proceeded to donate the machine to a fairly popular streamer.
Emily Norford, known online as EmStar, made a living out of streaming her performance in games like Iron Spirit. Though she was a potentate, her aptitude scores placed her on the lower end of the scale.
No one except pirates wanted to sign her on as a mech pilot, so she turned to Iron Spirit to satisfy her mech cravings. Due to her inconsistent controls, her performance dilly-dallied between Gold and Silver League, which was rather low for a girl in her early twenties.
She nonetheless attracted a major following of viewers and fans. Each time she streamed from her personalised simulator pod from home, she earned thousands of credits in donations. This came on top of the generous subscription fee she charged for extra benefits such as exclusive interviews.
The reason why Emily attracted so many viewers was simple. She was hot. Her genetic aptitude for piloting mechs might come up short, but she certainly won the lottery when it came to looks. Even without any makeup she always attracted everyone's eyes. She ruthlessly took advantage of this and invested into gaming.
Nowadays, EmStar consistently ranked in the top 100 in the Bright Republic. She might be nothing special outside her state, but the locals all found her to be an adorable player. Her fellow citizens cheered when she won a match and booed when someone stomped her into the ground.
Watching her overcome try to overcome her genetic limits was like watching a kitten try to climb up a step just out of reach. Her audience pitied her and encouraged her while drooling at her skintight piloting suited form.
Everyone knew a possibility existed where a pilot could spontaneously break through their current genetic aptitude. Those who scored an E could reach the level of a D. Those who toiled for years as an average pilot with a score of C could break through the level of a B.
Even EmStar knew her odds of breaking through wasn't optimistic, but she tried her best each and every day.
She came across the Young Blood's gold label mech when a regular viewer abruptly gifted her account with this mech. The female streamer thought little of the gift since she received at least a couple of donated mechs a week on average. Still, she smiled to the camera and gave her thanks even as she read the details of her latest acquisition.
"Wow, this knight is apparently a limited edition mech designed by one of our Republic's own!" Emstar announced while she put up a projection of the model's appearance and specs. "The model is a variant of the Hoplite, one of my favorite mechs. The Hoplite is slow but easy to pilot."
She frowned a little when she read that the mech had been redesigned to increase its speed and flexibility. She preferred to pilot slow and heavy mechs which placed less importance on mechanical control and neural responsiveness.
After a few minutes of introducing the mech, Emily finally entered the cockpit. She looked around and seemed impressed by the comfortable chair. That certainly wasn't standard. Her virtual avatar pressed the activation button and sat back as the mech came to life.
An explosion occurred in her mind. For a moment, she thought her simulator pod had glitched. She quickly calmed down once she realized the pod's diagnostics showed green. No pain accompanied the hard-to-describe sensations happening in her mind.
The mental connection process continued until she found herself in control of a seemingly well-oiled machine. "Sorry guys. I got distracted by this mech. It's quite a rush!"
Emily eagerly tested out her mech. The Young Blood moved rather sluggish on account of her inferior aptitude, but the chat exploded into shock as Emily slowly practiced her routine.
She forgot all about the audience as she once again repeated her moves. The knight responded well to her commands. It made her feel she was piloting a top-quality mech. A strange fog of calm blanketed her enthusiasm.
"There's no better way to put this baby to the test than to see it in action."
The woman hungered for battle. After queuing up for a 50v50 Wartorn Instance match, she continued to test her mech.
First, she tried the augmented dash. Emily yelped for a moment as her mech's feet suddenly sported claws and dug into the ground. Moments later, the mech flew forward with implacable momentum, leaving a sharp trail of red in her wake.
"This dash is more powerful than I thought! The stock Hoplite isn't capable of reaching this distance. I'm also able to maintain my balance during the movement. This mech is remarkably well-designed!"
She also tried the shield bash a number of times. The bash hadn't changed, but the shield released a pressurized cloud of smoke from the sides when hitting something solid.
"My sensors automatically switch when I complete the bash. It's a good way to confuse opponents if they are solely using the visible spectrum of light."
While the emission of smoke had little practical effect, it looked damn cool and made her feel she was performing a special move. A number of viewers quickly decided to buy the Young Blood mech on that account alone.
The match locked in a moment later. Emily's mech disappeared from her personal space and reappeared in a waiting area filled with fifty mechs of all shapes and sizes.
She recognized none of the nicknames hovering above their heads. She currently played in the Silver League, which opened up matchmaking to the rest of the galaxy, though a slight regional bias was still in effect.
Emily ignored the player sporting the crown trying to boss everyone else around. In the Silver League, most pilots were kids who all had a better idea on what to do. Instead, she interacted with her audience before the start of the match cut the instantaneous transmission of her stream.
The game mandated a delay in any streaming broadcast in order to prevent an active player from spying on their opponents in real time.
The delay varied between game modes. For the huge Wartorn Instances game mode, that delay ran up to five minutes, which was why most streamers preferred to play duels. Minutes-long delays broke up any attempt to hold a conversation with their audience.
Fortunately, Emily had enough loyal fans to stick around her stream and watch the commercials, many of which she personally showed up. Sponsorship made up another portion of her income.
Once the hatch opened up, the gaggle of mechs exited and spread out over an alien planet. The alien foliage and strange animals made it clear that the planet had not been terraformed. Dense clusters of hills and caves hid behind the exotic foliage, offering mechs an alternate approach to their team's various objectives.
The goal of Emily's team was simple. They had to capture and hold three out of five different exotic mineral mines. They were all spread equally over the battlefield, though their team could only take possession of the mines if they held the tunnels.
Many artillery and aerial mechs bemoaned the underground tunnels. They still had a use on this map, but the real stars consisted of mechs specialized for close to medium-ranged combat.
As a knight, Emily's mech attracted a random assortment of players who wanted to take advantage of her shield.
"You're a knight, right? Can we tag along with you and hide behind your huge round shield?"
"No problem. I can use some guns to cover my back. Just be sure not to move in front of me."
Six mechs chose to let her take the lead. The motley collection of mechs traversed the alien jungle en route to the closest mine. They all moved at the pace of their slowest member, which in this case turned out to be Emily's mech.
No one could help it. A knight always moved slow due to their plentiful armor. Several flying mechs flew over their heads. Her squad members released some pot shots in their direction but the fliers already disappeared over the hills.
"Stop shooting!" Someone hollered over their voice channel. "You're wasting ammo and revealing our position to boot!"
After ten minutes of careful navigation, they reached the site of their first objective. The tunnel looked natural instead of excavated, which meant that they might be facing uneven terrain and strange turns.
"EmStar, please take the lead. These tunnels are only wide enough for two mechs walking abreast. That leaves us with just enough space to shoot around your sides."
It also left her as their squad's punching bag, but Emily often ended up with this role anyway. She sighed with her lovely face and resolutely piloted her Young Blood into the natural cave.
Everyone switched to alternate vision modes such as night vision or infrared. It painted their vision in various monotones that leeched the color out of their moods as well. Everyone kept their mouths shut as they anticipated danger.
At least they didn't have to worry about a tunnel collapse. The game occasionally turned essential parts of the terrain invincible in order to even the odds, but only in the lower leagues.
Just as they approach the mouth of a wider cavern, their world turned bright as a barrage of lasers and shells hit the Young Blood's shield. The heavy shield held up against the barrage, though the yellow lotus flower painted onto its surface lost half of its petals.
"I'm counting four heat signatures!"
"There's another one activating close! It's a heavy knight!"
Emily's entire squad cursed their luck. The heavy knight conveniently blocked the mouth of the tunnel like a cork in a wine bottle. Without eliminating this heavily armed mech, they stood no chance in taking the mine.
"They're one mech short compared to us. We can still make it through." Emily said, trying to motivate her squad members in committing to the assault.
"Are you crazy? Our weapons have no chance of punching through their shield!"
"If we can't break through our enemy's front, then let's go take them out from behind!"
Normally, Emily might vacillate along with the rest. Somehow, her usual panic was nowhere to be seen. Instead, she piloted her knight like a veteran and responded to the situation with the ease of a professional. Her viewers who watched her stream on delay praised her uncharacteristic decisiveness when she resolutely jumped into the fray.
A second volley of beams and projectiles impacted her shield. The damage ruined its top layer but did affect anything else.
The Young Blood jogged its way forward as fast as possible while her squad members belatedly followed behind her. They began to return fire, which largely splashed ineffectually against the enemy knight's oval shield.
It kept the enemy knight pinned down if nothing else. Emily squeezed her delicate hands into fists and drove her mech forward, not even noticing she moved her mech with fluency above her aptitude.
"What are we going to do if we get close?" Another female pilot asked with uncertainty tinged in her voice. "That heavy lug is blocking our way. None of our mechs have the necessary throw weight to dislodge him from his position."
"Oh, don't worry about that. Let me take care of that." Emily replied. She already planned her next moves. Right now she was figuring out what to do after she brought her squad into the open cavern.
Before they could ask how a medium knight could possibly push around a mech that vastly outmassed her, Emily already started to shift her mech. The Young Blood raised its sword over its head, as if preparing to chop the enemy in front.
In response, the heavy knight raised its oval shield higher in order to cover its head.
"Just as planned." She called, and bent her mech's legs.
The Young Blood accumulated a substantial power in its oversized leg muscles. The artificial muscles creaked when subjected to pressure. The mech also oriented its torso so that its shield faced the side, ready to be brought up to the front.
Emily mentally counted down until she reached zero. Her mech turned into an enormous blur as it took off from standstill. The red streak of vapor partially obscured everyone's sights as the Young Blood dove towards the unsuspecting heavy knight.
The heavy mech did not expect its opponent to enter his range this quickly. The pilot lacked the mental preparation to do anything else but keep up the shield.
The Young Blood did not slow down and attack its opponent with a sword. Instead, it bashed its round shield against the larger oval shield of its adversary. Like the mech itself, the shield moved faster than it ought to, and the yellow smoke emitted from the shield sowed further confusion.
If the heavy knight properly braced for a full collision, then it might have only skidded a little backwards. Instead, the rapid speed in which the Young Blood moved caused the unprepared mech to stumble several steps away. Though the mech sustained little damage, the collision succeeded in rattling the pilot.
Though Emily's mech received some form of damage to its shield arm, the young woman already executed her next steps. Her mech's strengthened legs halted the rebound and allowed the brand new knight to move past its opponent's flanks. The heavy knight belatedly tried to slash Emily's mech, but only bounced off its battered shield.
"Shoot the heavy! Now!"
"You're still in our line of fire!"
Emily's allies reluctantly fired at the heavy knight, wary of accidentally hitting her mech. The Young Blood ignored the risks of friendly fire and instead weaved around the heavier knight, looking for an opportunity to threaten its vulnerable rear.
The opposing ranged mechs followed suit with even greater care. The medium mech moved fast enough that their shots risked going wide and hitting their ally.
The assault from multiple angles confused the heavy mech. It didn't know which side to face its shield and its ally's near-misses also added to the chaos. The pilot eventually decided to use the oval shield to block the enemy fire.
"Big mistake!" Emily said as her eyes sparkled with the gleam of a correct prediction. Her mech's powerful legs allowed it to shift its direction at a sharp angle, almost coming up to the heavy knight's flank before its pilot could bring up its sword.
Emily's first attack crashed against the flat of the heavy knight's blade. While the heavy successfully fended off the attack, the force behind the blow caused it to stagger just a tiny bit. This gave Emily an opening to slip her mech's sword past her opponent's weapon and puncture the mech.
Her sword only sunk in shallowly as the heavy knight's armor was not for show. Emily frowned a bit. For a moment, she expected the stab to sink into her opponent's armor and draw blood. Shaking her head, she regained her composure and struck again and again, this time going for speed instead of power.
The heavy knight did a decent job in fending off the flurry of attacks. Emily did her best to get past the heavy knight's guard, all the while withstanding the raking strikes from its allies with the round shield.
The fight turned into a mirrored battle of attrition, but Emily knew her mech would break first. The Young Blood's shield couldn't last as long as the oval shield. With decisive deliberation, she stopped defending against the lasers and shells that targeted her mech and swirled her mech around.
The round shield emitted another burst of yellow smoke as it crashed against the heavy knight's sword arm with augmented force. Despite the brief windup, the bash successfully pushed away the sword, allowing Emily to stab underneath the enemy mech's armpit.
Only a limited amount of armor protected the vulnerable joint. The Young Blood's sword succeeded in punching through, though the sheer amount of components inside halted its advance shortly afterwards.
While the arm remained functional, the limb lost a substantial amount of power and speed. The heavy knight found itself unable to keep up with the Young Blood's follow-up attacks. Emily systematically dismantled the heavy mech like a butcher slaughtering a pig.
The heavy knight completely forgot about its comrades and let itself be pushed out of the way.
"Go on! Get inside this cave and hunt down the others!" Emily yelled to her squad mates. "Let me take care of this knight!"
She maintained her assault on the heavy knight, which responded by putting up its near-indestructible shield. Like a turtle retracting into its shell, the heavy knight gave up the chance to win and sought to last as long as possible.
Emily obliged her opponent by continuing to hammer against its shield. Bit by bit, the oval shield started to crack. She didn't expect to break it on her own. Instead, she kept her opponent in place while her squad used their superior numbers to demolish the remaining enemies.
After losing two of their own, her squad members returned to finish off the heavy knight. The poor mech tried to hug the cavern walls and hide its profile behind its shield. Everyone laughed as its shield couldn't cover its fat and bulky chassis.
"Good work EmStar." A mech slid over from the side and planted its feet on the heavy knight's wreck. "This tough bastard is a hard nut to crack. I'm surprised your mech is able to push this beast a few steps back. Did you plan all that or did you just roll with whatever came to your mind?"
"I don't know." She admitted. For some reason, she felt empowered while she piloted this mech.
Most of her difficulties in controlling her mechs became muted this time ever since she entered the virtual cockpit. Emily felt as if she received a blessing. She performed all of her limited sword moves with more assurance and speed than before. Even her viewers who watch the previous battle on delay admired her increased fluency.
Even more viewers started to take a second look at the Young Blood. There must be something about the mech that turned a bad pilot into a decent killing machine.
As for Emily, the remainder of their squad successfully occupied their mine. Due to its proximity to their headquarters, the enemy team never mounted an assault to take it back. They focused instead on maintaining their grip on their three nearest mines.
Eventually, Emily ordered all the other mechs to leave the cave and let her stay behind. "The assault on the third mine isn't going well. They need your firepower."
"What if the enemy diverts a squad to this mine? You won't be able to beat any squad that comes in your way."
"They won't come." Emily said with conviction. "They already lost a bunch of mechs. They can't afford to lose another squad of mechs."
Reluctantly, they parted and went their separate ways. The Young Blood stood quietly as it stood in the dark. No one else kept Emily company except her own mech.
Her pressing heartbeat slowed down. She breathed evenly. Coming back from her combat high took a lot of effort. Emily invested a lot more into the battle than she thought.
The reinforcements turned out to come at a very helpful time. The ranged mechs had circles around and attacked the enemy mine from an alternate tunnel.
They struck in coordination with the main assault force.
The defenders received a nasty shock when their reserve endured several painful volleys an unprotected flank. The small disruption grew into a major breach of cohesion as the defenders tried to defend against attacks from multiple directions.