”The True Believers sacrificed twenty-three mechs and two tunneling machines just to capture my prototype? ” Ves asked with disbelief.

The Protector officer assigned to question him nodded from his open-faced helmet.
”We managed to capture some of the mech pilots alive.
We ’re interrogating them right at this instant and we will know more at the end of the day. ”

This had been an awful day for Ves.
Just when the prototype nearly completed all of the tests, the New Ylvaine Dynasty launched a sudden, perplexing attack on the subterranean testing ground.

Wasn ’t this facility supposed to be secure? Hadn ’t all the personnel been vetted all the time? How could the Protectors of the Faith allow the True Believer to take over his prototype and successfully make off with their spoils?

”It ’s clear that the operation is premeditated and targeted. ” The Protector explained.
”Their only goal was to obtain your mech prototype for reasons that isn ’t clear to us.
When they initially tunneled into this facility, we assumed they were targeting you.
We deployed our mechs and other defenses around the control room you were in and bunkered down to meet the oncoming intruders. ”

”And then the True Believers suddenly turned to the testing chambers and absconded with my prototype. ” Ves summed up what happened next.

”Our forces harried their rear as they attempted to make off with your prototype, but they prioritized its retrieval above everything else.
Their rearguard constantly entangled our pursuit force and fought without regard for their lives in an attempt to stall us as much as possible.
While we managed to defeat a lot of mechs and disable two strategically-important tunneling machines, we failed to overcome their determination to extract with your mech. ”

Neither of them knew why the True Believers engaged in this awful trade.
The value of a single beaten-up prototype of an unfinished mech design could never match up to the mechs and tunneling machines they lost.

No sane person would make this tradeoff unless they valued the prototype as much as an expert mech!

However, in the Ylvaine Protectorate, perhaps no one was more insane than the New Ylvaine Dynasty!

Ves tiredly rubbed his face.
”I really have no idea what they are after.
While my Transcendent Messenger is a great design, it ’s extremely hard to pilot and not that much of a terror on the battlefield.
It ’s not worth losing seventeen mid-range mechs. ”

He was convinced the actual True Believers were responsible this time.
Only people with no common sense would be willing to lose so many assets to obtain a single mech.

During the attack, he got a good glimpse of the mechs employed by the attackers.
Unlike the cheap, bargain bin mechs deployed to attack the Church of the Grand Martyr, the mechs this time all cost around 400 million Ylvainan dollars or 32 million bright credits!

The tunneling machines cost even more as they were designed to be difficult to detect and fast.
The True Believers must definitely be hurting to lose two of these expensive and extremely useful assets.
Their loss directly affected their future operations on this planet!

”Do you think they want to take credit for our mech design? ” Ketis suddenly asked from the side.
”If they publish the mech under the names of one of their mech designers, then all of our work would be for nothing! ”

”That ’s not possible. ” Ves shook his head.
”I ’ve maintained extensive logs of the design process and any knowledgeable mech designer will realize that the Transcendent Messenger completely conforms to my design style.
No plagiarist will succeed in taking credit for our work. ”

Incidents like this happened every now and then.
Sometimes, the plagiarists got away with it, but most of the time the truth eventually came out.
Each mech designer possessed a very distinct design style, which was like a fingerprint.

Ketis frowned while she idly scratched Lucky ’s chin.
”Maybe the living prophet predicted the future and saw that we were developing a great mech.
Maybe he wanted to obtain a copy himself and saw that this was the best opportunity for him to obtain a Transcendent Messenger. ”

This sounded so ridiculous that both Ves and the Protector officer scoffed.

”Stealing the Transcendent Messenger just to make use of it is antithetical to their extremist standpoints. ” Ves pointed out.
”As far as I know, they ’ve always been strong believers of Ylvainan supremacy.
They ’re even more radical than the traditionalists in this regard.
How could they possibly be seen piloting a mech designed by a foreigner? ”

A sardonic smile appeared on her face.
”You don ’t know how duplicitous these cultists can get.
I ’ve seen plenty of cults selectively break their own rules whenever it ’s convenient for them.
Who knows what their living prophet was smoking when he decided he wanted to steal our prototype. ”

Did the living prophet himself order his subordinates to steal the prototype? That sounded very unlikely.
What would he do with a hero mech?

”Is the living prophet a mech pilot? ” Ves asked suspiciously.

”No. ” The Protector officer shook his head.
”According to our files, he doesn ’t possess the right genetic aptitude.
He has never been seen piloting a mech in his life. ”

Then what were the True Believers doing with the prototype? No one knew, and that made Ves more unsettled.
He guessed that the fanatics definitely intended to put the prototype to use for their own purposes.
Depending on what they did with his mech, their actions could be very damaging for his business prospects in the Protectorate.

After answering some questions about the mech, the Protector officer took Ves, Ketis and Lucky down to the security center.

The Protectors of the Faith managed to take quite a number of True Believers captive.
Not only did they capture the mech pilots of the mechs they disabled, but they also captured the crews of the tunneling machines.

Right now, the Protectors were desperately interrogating them en masse before the Ylvainan Inquisition and other factions took them away.

The Protector officer requested a status update.
After receiving a quick rundown of the progress the interrogators made so far, the man shook his head.

”None of our men have succeeded in prying open the mouths of the captives.
I ’ll let you see for yourself. ”

They moved over to an observation chamber that monitored all of the ongoing interrogations.
All of the screens and projections showed True Believers ranting madly at their interrogators?

”What is the purpose behind stealing Mr.
Larkinson ’s prototype mech? ” One of the interrogators asked.

The deranged fanatic mech pilot.
”HAHAHAHAHA! The Ylvaine Dynasty will rise again! The Second Calamity will soon be upon us, and its tides will sweep over the entire star sector! ”

”Answer the question! What is the reason for stealing the prototype?! ”

”The prophet is reborn! The true Ylvaine Dynasty will sweep the rot that has festered in the Protectorate! The Ylvainan Faith must stand strong and stay true! ”

The Protector officer cut the feed.
”Every captive True Believer is like this.
None of them are coherent enough to answer our questions because they are all hooked on a cocktail of stimulants.
Any truth serums we inject will either result in no effect or push them over the edge.
It will take weeks or months of specialized treatment to detoxify their bodies sufficiently to interrogate them while they are coherent. ”

That meant Ves likely wouldn ’t be able to obtain the answers to his questions anytime soon.
Even if the mech pilots they captured this time appeared to be part of the New Ylvaine Dynasty ’s cadre, the way the cult was set up, they likely wouldn ’t be able to tell all that much in the first place.

Hours went by as the Kronons and Curins continued to deal with the aftermath.
Ves and Ketis faced repeated questioning, but they were just as befuddled about the raid as the Ylvainans.

At some point, the dreaded Ylvainan Inquisition arrived at the subterranean testing ground.
A team of robed inquisitors and staff moved into the security center to take some of the captives away.

Ves met a very familiar figure at this time.

You just can ’t stay out of trouble, can you? It is rather peculiar that you are involved yet again with the True Believers. ”

”Unwillingly, Your Excellency.
I don ’t want anything to do with those terrorists. ” Ves replied with a strained smile.

High Inquisitor Xefin Lin Poxco studied Ves and Ketis with his very sharp pair of eyes.
”Your presence in the Protectorate is a security risk and a disaster to this planet.
If it were up to us, we ’d expel you from our state right this instance.
Unfortunately, the Curins don ’t think so.
Please do us all a favor and return where you came from before you provoke the True Believers into taking action yet again. ”

”I do not have a habit of giving up once I ’ve accepted an assignment.
As long as Madame Cecily hasn ’t canceled her commission, I ’m committed to seeing it to completion. ”

After a bit of chitchat, the high inquisitor marched off in order to supervise his men.
Ves continued to maintain his smile until the old man walked out of sight.

”What a creepy bastard. ” Ketis muttered.
”He knows he can ’t do anything to us, so he resorts to puffing himself up in order to intimidate us into leaving. ”

Ves lightly smacked her head.
”Don ’t talk like that in a place like this.
The esteemed high inquisitor is a very influential figure among the Attendants of Ylvaine.
Don ’t give him an excuse to take us into custody. ”

Obviously, the only reason the high inquisitor refrained from doing so was because Ves still enjoyed the backing of Madame Cecily and by extension the Curin Dynasty.

However, with each incident he became involved in, the more pressure the Curins endured.
If Ves kept getting swept up in major incidents, then the Curins would no longer be able to protect him.
At that point, he ’d be forced to leave the Protectorate, which he really didn ’t want to do before he completed the commission.

His pride as a mech designer compelled him to fulfill his promises.

Now that the Ylvainan Inquisition had arrived to take over a part of the follow-up investigation, Ves and Ketis glumly departed the subterrean testing ground.

Perhaps the only consolation was that they managed to return with a secure data chip containing all the data the facility gathered from the tests of the prototype.
Only the final stress tests on the agenda had been skipped, which meant that Ves almost got all of the data he needed to improve his design for a second iteration.

After a long shuttle ride back to the guest compound at Krent, Ketis and Lucky went off to cuddle and play in private.

Meanwhile, Ves met with Leland and explained what happened after the latter activated his signal jammer.

”It ’s a shame that the ongoing curfew makes it difficult for me to get in touch with my informers. ” Leland sighed.
”While I ’m aware that the True Believers have built up a strong presence on this planet, I never heard any indications that they were aiming to obtain one of your prototypes. ”

”Can you think of any reasons what the True Believers plan to do with my mech? ”

He shrugged.
”I can ’t say for certain.
Perhaps they wish to discredit you somehow by employing your mech in outrageous acts such as attacking the grand cathedral or laying waste to a school.
It would be the crudest and most direct method to turn the Ylvainans against you.
After all, the attacks wouldn ’t happen if you weren ’t designing such a deadly mech! ”

This reasoning sounded crazy, yet as long as it advanced their agenda, Ves could see the True Believers doing it.
As long as the media aligned with the traditionalists exaggerated the role of the stolen prototype in any violent acts it perpetrated, then Ves would definitely receive a lot of blame!

However, as crazy as the True Believers appeared to be, Ves wasn ’t entirely convinced of this possibility.

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