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The rapidly escalating upheaval taking place in the Vulcan Empire did not pass by unnoticed.
Many people outside of the Smiling Samuel Star Sector paid rapt attention to the news emerging from the powerful dwarven empire.
Few humans expressed sympathy for the turmoil taking place in the Vulcan Empire.
In fact, it was a lot more common to encounter expressions of glee and schadenfreude among the people who lived in fear next to the dwarves. The Empire of the Lost was particularly filled with humans who had either lost their homes and took great satisfaction in seeing the dwarves beat each other up over the silly question whether their god is a human or a dwarf!
"Who cares whether he is tall or short. As long as he doesn't show up, these crazy dwarves will keep killing each other!"
"I don't think this will go on. No one is that stupid. Both sides believe in the same god. It's not worth it to kill anyone else just because they believe that Vulcan looks like them or their enemies."
"This is all a trap! The Vulcanites are just pretending to fight against each other so they can lure us all in. Don't fall for it! As soon as one of us shows up, the dwarves will stop with their charade and unite forces in order to get a win over us humans!"
"Wait a minute. Don't these strange statues have the same features as the mechs fielded by that traveling clan? Maybe it has taken revenge!"
A lot of speculation circulated throughout the star cluster. A lot of news portals who had previously paid attention to the Battle of Fordilla Zentra and its participants soon connected the dots between the mysterious statues of Vulcan and the living mechs of the Larkinson Clan.
Those familiar with the infamous clan from the Komodo Star Sector even knew that their clan patriarch had a penchant for getting involved with various religions!
In fact, a lot of nosy journalists even dug up his notorious deeds in the Ylvaine Protectorate!
"This guy has a track record of exploiting religion to his own advantage!"
"Just look at the amount of states he visited that just happened to get ruined after his visits. Uh oh. He and his clan have currently been squatting in the Amswick System for quite some time. We need to get rid of him before he ruins the Empire of the Lost as well!"
Though Ves already attracted a fair amount of attention after the Battle of Fordilla Zentra, the crisis he single-handedly sparked in the Vulcan Empire put a spotlight on him. People were either happy or horrified at his clear act of revenge against the dwarves!
Just as expected, a lot of journalists and government officials really wanted to talk to Ves! If not, they at least wanted to obtain an explanation from the Larkinson Clan.
"It's not me, Benny!" Ves threw his hands up. "I'm not at fault!"
His personal assistant looked skeptical. "Really, boss? Then why do those two statue models work exactly like your mechs, your loyalty medallions, your various statues, your Larkinson Mandate and most notably your new hammer?"
"…Anyone could replicate or imitate my glows as long as they have the necessary know-how." Ves lamely replied. "There is an endless variety of technology available. Who knows whether a secret group used a fancy tech to make something that is similar to my glows? I'm being falsely accused here! Don't believe in the stories. It's all fake news!"
Gavin crossed his arms. "I don't see why you need to perpetuate your denial. No one is accusing you of any crimes. The Empire of the Lost would be crazy to show any disapproval. Its citizens will skin their own leaders alive if that happens!"
"I'm not worried about the Empire of the Lost. What I'm really concerned about is the MTA. I'm not responsible, just to be clear, but if the mechers fell for the false narrative as well, I don't want to be taken into account!"
"If you are responsible, you at least have a valid casus belli. You could argue that the Larkinson Clan and the Vulcan Empire is unofficially at war since both of our military forces fought a frontal battle. Although the laws and such are probably a lot more tangled, no one will blame you for lashing out. The dwarves had it coming."
Ves smiled. "That's nice to hear, Benny, but it's not me. Don't get me wrong. I'm celebrating what is happening over there as well, but I'm just an innocent, uninvolved bystander. The only thing I can do is cheer and pat whoever is responsible for making and distributing those statues."
"You know, self-congratulation is a typical sign of narcissism. Only vain people keep patting themselves on the back all the time."
"That's an interesting but ultimately irrelevant curiosity."
"By the way, the amount of official and unofficial inquiries has gone through the roof. It is becoming increasingly harder for our Press Department to stonewall all of the requests we've received in the last couple of days. Do you know how many preposterous rumors are flying around due to a lack of clarification? We've found that a number of rumors are even spread as a deliberate attempt to discredit or besmirch our clan! As long as you hold a single official press conference, you can lay all of this unfounded gossip to rest. We urgently need to control the narrative."
"We don't need to do anything, Benny." Ves scoffed. "We owe nothing to the public. Just remain silent. Don't confirm or deny any allegations. Ever since we've returned to the Amswick System, we have done nothing but sit around while we wait for our repair jobs to finish. That's all. There's no reason to poke into our business any further."
Seeing that Ves stubbornly stuck to his denials, Gavin no longer pressed the matter further and addressed the next item on the agenda.
Later onwards, Minister Shederin Purnesse stopped by the same office. Ves was a lot less reticent this time.
"What are your thoughts on the current developments in the Vulcan Empire?" Ves shiftily asked while he laid Blinky on his lap and started stroking his spiritual pet.
If Lucky was here, Ves would have pampered him instead, but he gem cat had been wandering around more often as of late.
"The reactions exhibited by the Vulcanites so far have mostly matched my predictions." Shederin smugly smiled as he settled down on a chair. "The traditionalists have started to crack down on the radicals while the latter have escalated their attempted takeover of the state. Everything would have gone a lot more peacefully if the citizens of the Vulcan Empire were more mature and capable of critical thinking, but these two traits are sorely lacking in insular states."
"What are the chances that the dwarves regain their sanity and succeed in toning down the infighting in their state?"
"Without external intervention, the chances are low." The foreign minister brutally opined. "What I have witnessed up to this point only reinforces my judgement that the Vulcanites are too immature to run a state. Their statecraft is too primitive and they have failed to maintain a proper separation between church and state. They already set themselves up for failure from the beginning. We are just the ones to push them over a cliff."
"Will the dwarves fall to their death or will the more competent among them be able to deploy their antigrav clothing?"
"That's an interesting question." Shederin looked intrigued. "There are certainly wise and clear-minded individuals in the dwarven state who are aware of the greater truth behind your statues and their effect on the Vulcanites. That does not mean that our plan will fall through. The defining trait of fanatics is that they are highly committed to their respective causes or camps. Think of the two sides in this internal conflict as tribes. No matter whether a tribe is wrong, evil or at fault, its members will stand up for it and fight to the death to prove that they are right."
Modern tribalism was one of the worst impulses of humankind. It distracted the population and encouraged people to treat their fellow citizens as enemies of the state instead of peers who just happened to hold a different opinion.
Many states had met their downfall throughout the long history of human civilization. Whether the Vulcan Empire would join this long and ignoble list still remained to be seen. There were still factors that could hinder the dwarven state's collapse.
"I am paying attention to a number of actors, both Vulcanite and foreign." Minister Shederin mentioned. "The decisions they make and the stances they adopt will decide the future of the Vulcan Empire. The most powerful and influential actor that can single-handedly stop or accelerate the dwarven state's collapse is the Mech Trade Association. In normal cases, the Association does not intervene in the rise and fall of states."
"This is not a normal case, though." Ves pointed out.
"You are correct in that, sir. The Mech Trade Association has its rules, but you can never completely predict their response. That said, my read on the situation is that the Vulcan Empire has become more of a liability than an asset to the Association. As long as that is the case, the mechers do not have a reason to relieve the Vulcanites of a crisis of their own making."
In other words, the dwarves were more trouble than they were worth. Their example showed that it was never a good idea to piss off a patron or guardian!
As the days went by, it became more obvious to other people that the dwarves weren't easily able to disentangle themselves from their sectarian strife.
Both sides believed in the same god, but they vehemently disagreed with each other on how to interpret him! Regular humans simply couldn't comprehend why such a detail was worth fighting and killing for. The escalating political and religious struggle in the Vulcan Empire seemed farcical if not for the fact that real lives were being lost with each passing day!
Ves instructed Minister Shederin to pay careful attention to any news concerning the MTA's unspoken support for the Vulcan Empire.
However, any mention of this topic was firmly left out of the public sphere. Though the charming old man had made a lot of friends during the time the Larkinson Clan stayed in Amswick, his contacts mostly consisted of other humans. None of them had access to any insider news.
All they heard was that the MTA and the highest levels of the Vulcan Empire's central administration held talks for many weeks. It appeared that the decision to preserve or revoke the MTA's guarantee was not a simple matter that could be decided by a single person on the spot.
This implied that there were a lot more interests involved than expected. Ves could not conceive of many reasons why this was the case.
He shrugged. "Oh well. If they wanted to save the Vulcan Empire, they shouldn't have dragged on the talks for so long."
The MTA's current behavior at least indicated that it was dissatisfied with the Vulcanites.
Ves predicted that the ongoing religious turmoil taking place in the Smiling Samuel Star Sector would only weaken the Vulcan Empire's case.
Everyone knew that the Mech Trade Association took a dim view on religions. The science-oriented organization might not be able to stop space peasants from falling for superstition, but it would never go out of its way to encourage its spread.
The sectarian strife that had engulfed the Vulcan Empire was one of the best examples why the MTA didn't want people to get caught up in religion! Warfare and conflict might be an intrinsic part of human nature but there were far better things to fight about than trying to prove an imaginary point!
"If these dwarves have any brains, they should have realized that gods aren't always benevolent."
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