Two days later, Ves sat at an observation chamber at the upper decks of the Temple. It was built out of one of the eye sockets of the leviathan remnant's skeleton, and so could easily accommodate a small crowd of guests.
Ves tiredly wiped his face. He worked for two days straight, neither sleeping nor ever lowering his guard against the potential antics the cultists might be up to. Sometimes, Ves heard awful noises and screams from the other side of the mech workshop. Other times, the chamber descended into a place of worship as every mech technician spontaneously put down their tools and kneeled down to pray to Haatumak.
Suffice to say, the sooner he got off the Temple, the easier he could breathe. The constant staring and the all-encompassing strangeness grated on his nerves, eating away his sanity every second he spent aboard this massive vessel.
The Temple of Haatumak represented one of the ugliest facets of the frontier. She was one of many starships in the Faris Star Region that played host to exiles too extreme to conform to the rules and customs of civilized space.
In the lawless environment of the untamed stars, the worshippers that ran the ship exhibited a complete lack of restraint. With no one to stop them, they did whatever they thought that Haatumak approved.
This cruel and sadistic Redemption Duel counted as one of them, and a milder one at that. The MTA would have a heart attack if they witnessed it, but Ves fortunately diverged his values from theirs long ago.
The observation chamber became host to a number of middle-ranked Living Altars and their Acolyte followers.
From what Ves picked up during his time aboard the Temple, the Living Altars each different substantially in their beliefs and their teaching. While they all venerated Haatumak above anything else, they expressed them in different ways.
The various Acolytes of the Church either chose a Living Altar to follow or were assigned to them by a Priest. Each Acolyte had the potential to become a Priest or Living Altar themselves, which represented an opportunity to escape their humble status at the bottom of the totem pole and become a figure of stature within the Church.
However, attrition among the Acolytes constantly took a toll on their numbers. Dangers roamed aplenty aboard the Temple, and those who met an unfortunate end from a ritual gone wrong happened quite a lot.
Still, some of this was pure speculation on his part. He hadn't been able to decipher why people felt drawn to the Church in the first place, and how the cultists selected their new entrants.
Ves turned his head and saw to his surprise that Mayra had arrived. Her Acolyte minder guided the Swordmaiden mech designer towards the empty seat next to his own. Clad in savage, tribal-like armor, she looked as valiant as any other Swordmaiden.
She was everything Ketis tried to be. Sitting so close to her made him feel as if he sat next to a dormant exobeast. Yet Ves was well aware that Mayra's fighting prowess paled in comparison to her ability in mech design.
Perhaps the mech designers back in civilized space might scoff as a savage calling herself a Journeyman, but Ves considered her the real deal.
"Mayra! Why are you here?"
The middle-aged woman grinned at him. "My mech is about to take part in a duel. What about you?"
"It's the same for me! Wait a second.. How many duels are taking place today?"
"Only one Redemption Duel is on the agenda for today." Acolyte Villis helpfully informed him, causing Ves to look distressed.
"What?!" He sat up straight in his chair. "I've been matching my design against yours!? That doesn't make any sense! I'm still an Apprentice Mech Designer while you're a Journeyman Mech Designer!"
Acolyte Villis released a sadistic cackle. "Did you think this competition was fair? Hah! Naive! The frontier is never fair to its people, and neither is Haatumak! We must all deal with the hand we are dealt!"
Mayra placed her gauntleted hand on his own that rested on the seatrest. "Calm yourself, Mr. Larkinson. What's done is done. The worshippers of Haatumak delight in getting a rise out of their guests. It's one of the few sources of entertainment they are allowed to enjoy."
She was right. An outburst changed nothing, so Ves pushed down his alarm. Still, his bones cried out against the unfairness of matching up an Apprentice against a Journeyman!
No matter how highly he thought of his ability, he never considered himself to be superior to a genuine Journeyman. Their degree of utilization and their condensed design philosophies gave them a solid edge of Ves whose true strength still remained rather brittle and ephemeral.
In the mech industry, Apprentices were children and Journeymen were adults. The latter always won against the former in a direct battle.
Ves had no choice but to prepare himself for defeat this time.
As they waited for the spectators to catch up to the event, the two guests began to talk about Ketis.
"How is my protege fairing so far in your care?" Mayra asked.
Ves was struck as her bearing as a Swordmaiden and a mech designer. It contained the best parts of both, having discarded the uncontrolled wildness that was inherent in a Swordmaiden and the physical insecurity of a mech designer. Best of all, Mayra managed to do so without revealing a hint of instability.
He wondered what kind of excess Mayra hid beneath her composure. From what he knew about mech designers, Mayra's veneer of civility looked convincing, but he bet she had her own skeletons in the closet. No successful mech designer survived the frontier without some blemishes on their hands.
"Ketis is doing well enough under my instruction, I suppose. As she lacks the institutional upbringing that a mech designer internalizes from a university or institution, I've been focused on drilling her on that aspect. I've simultaneously pushed her to be more hands-on with her work. I understand she hasn't spent much time in the mech workshops."
Mayra raised her eyebrow at him. "You put her in a mech workshop? Do you know how she must hate the thought of working in close proximity to the mech technicians?"
"Look, I've heard that you treat your mech technicians like slaves, but that doesn't excuse washing your hands from the responsibilities outside the design phase. I've been brought up by the idea that a good mech designer is one that masters all the phases in the life cycle of a mech. It's not enough to become proficient at the design phase. Knowing how to fabricate and service them is a vital component of our duties, especially if we are employed in the service of an outfit."
"You're right, of course." She conceded. "Yet Ketis is different than us. Her drive isn't there. I didn't bring her down to the mech workshops because the work there is largely menial. Flooding her with too much menial work will only snuff out the embers that drive her forward."
Ves disagreed. The Swordmaidens had themselves to blame for treating their mech technicians like garbage, thereby poisoning Ketis' respect for their class. Solving this issue and showing her the value of a well-trained team of mech technicians was one of his biggest challenges.
"I'm not sure how long she's able to stay under my wing. She needs more than a few months to round out her shortcomings as a mech designer, at least in the classical sense."
"You don't need to go that far." Mayra smiled at Ves. "As long as she discovers her drive, the rest can be made up later. Right now, experiencing a radically different working environment will hopefully force her to question what she really wants out of her life."
The pirate designer had been part of the Swordmaidens since they were small and weak. Mayra went through many hardships when she fought and struggled alongside Commander Lydia. Ketis missed out on this difficult period, and therefore lacked perspective.
Her time under Ves aboard the Shield of Hispania already benefited her. Ves enjoyed the same fruits as his various adventures and his current tour of duty forced him to endure radically different mech design conditions.
At some point, the Soulless Priest who presided over the duel no longer delayed the matter. A whole ceremony must be taking place in the central hall or some other compartment, but guests like Ves and Mayra were prohibited from witnessing it. Thus, they'd been pushed to an observation chamber along with some other unimportant cultists.
Two mechs emerged from different hangar bays. At this distance, Ves had difficulty seeing them with the naked eye. Fortunately, high-fidelity projectors sprang to life. Two of them transmitted closeups for each dueling mech while a third one attempted to frame them both to provide an overview of the battle.
Surprisingly, the mechs hadn't activated yet. Instead, they were being towed out into open space by two other mechs that possessed robust flight systems. While it still took some time to tow out the competition mechs to a safe distance from the Temple of Haatumak and her escorts, ten minutes later the Soulless Priest must have been satisfied as he ordered the tow mechs to cut their connections and fly out of the way.
A silence ensued in the observation chamber as all the cultists halted their conversation. No one was interested in small talk while the duel was about to commence.
Two more projections sprang to life. They depicted the interior of the cockpits of the two mechs. One of them depicted Acolyte Gien, while the other depicted a female mech pilot.
"Who's the woman?" He asked.
"Acolyte Evie Simmons." Mayra answered. With the duel ready to start at any moment, she saw no point in withholding her accomplishments. "She's a striker mech pilot, actually, but the Redemption Rose the worshippers assigned to her is a medium space knight! Prepping the mech to work with someone who specializes in a different type of mechs has been challenging."
Hearing that caused Ves to become a little upset over the uneven matchup. Failing to provide a preferred mech type increased the odds for his side, but only a little.
That was because striker mechs had much in common with knight mechs. Both were comparatively hefty mech types that depended on brute force and ponderous moves to fight.
Knight mechs leaned more towards defense by limiting themselves to a sword and shield as their primary armament.Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
Striker mechs leaned towards offense with their short-ranged wide-area weaponry such as shotguns and flamethrowers.
In addition, every mech pilot's basic training forced them to become proficient with both knight mechs and rifleman mechs before they branched out to other mech types.
To someone like Acolyte Evie, piloting a knight mech was like picking up an old hobby. If she spent the last weeks practicing with knight mechs in the simulators, then she wouldn't be worse off.
Ves stared hard at the Redemption Rose's design. As someone who dabbled extensively in landbound knight mechs, he identified a lot of distinctive features about the Redemption Rose.
"Looks like you've modified the Redemption Rose from a defensive knight into an offensive knight!"
In his eyes, the Redemption Rose appeared as if it used to be overweight, but underwent surgery that removed a lot of excess fat. The sudden transition always left some marks behind, particularly when Mayra had been in a rush.
Besides slimming down the space knight, the Redemption Rose design sported many shared elements of the Misty Slasher. The space knight inherited both the increased arm strength and the placement of miniboosters from Mayra's exclusive swordsman mech design!
To call the Redemption Rose might not be accurate. Through Mayra's extensive intervention, the formerly defense-oriented space knight turned into one of the strangest hybrids between an offensive space knight and a swordsman mech that Ves had ever seen!
It was basically a swordsman mech with a shield!
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