m the enclosure and led him towards an assembly bay at the far corner of the workshop compartment.

Your task is a pressing one. ”

He had already gathered that.
”As long as it has to do with mechs, I won ’t shy away from the challenge. ”

Ves feared the worshippers of Haatumak would demand something crazy from Ves, such as taking a bite out of a recent sacrifice or something.
Ves had already heard some examples of the antics the sadistic cultists like to foist upon their guests.
It was as if they derived pleasure in the mental suffering of others.

He wasn ’t sure what his decision would be when faced with the option to partake in human flesh.

If he refused, he risked ruining the deal between the Church of Haatumak and the Flagrant Vandals.
If he played along, he ’d be breaking what was arguably the second-worst taboo of human society!

In comparison, mechs were safe.
Mechs were machines.
How could the worshippers of Haatumak possibly screw with mechs?

He was about to find out.

”We have arrived. ” The crone spoke.

They arrived in front of what appeared to be a salvaged humanoid mech.
Ves analyzed the frame of the mech and recognized the characteristic shape of a spaceborn medium lancer mech.

The acolyte emitted a warbling call that caused the handful of mech technicians to put down their tools and form up in front of her.
Only one figure took their time to come forth.

”Acolyte Gien! ” The crone lost her patience.
”Come forward right this instant! Your new mech designer has finally arrived! ”

The figure that shambled in front of them wore a half-torn brown robe splotched with crusted blood.
The piloting suit the acolyte wore underneath looked as if it had experienced better days, though at least it didn ’t exhibit any tears or rents that broke its ability to protect its wearer from vacuum.

The most striking feature of Acolyte Gien was that he was the first robed cultist that Ves had met who pulled back their hood! Ves half-expected to see a half-alien monstrosity, but Gien looked disappointingly human.

”Who might you be? ” The male acolyte asked rudely.

”My name is Ves Larkinson.
I am an Apprentice Mech Designer.
From what I understood, I ’m to be responsible for your mech for this so-called Redemption Duel. ”

The acolyte and mech pilot frowned at Ves.
”You? A heathen unbeliever is to be assigned to prepare my battle steed? Haatumak preserve my soul! ”

Acolyte Gien immediately stomped away without hearing another word from Ves.
The mech pilot ’s abrupt department stunned Ves into paralysis.

”What was that about? ” He eventually uttered to his guide.

”Acolyte Gien has violated his oaths and committed a terrible crime.
He is sentenced to death.
In two days, he will die. ”

Ves shouldn ’t be surprised he ended up in another screwed-up situation.
”What did he do, if I may ask? ”

The crone shook her gnarled head underneath the hood of her darker robe.
”Acolyte Gien is a new convert.
He has never shown much promise, but performed his duties diligently, until he didn ’t.
He has been caught in the midst of passing off restricted information to a spy. ”

”If he ’s guilty of treason, why don ’t you execute him and be done with the matter? ”

”It is a waste to execute an otherwise pious acolyte of ours.
Rather than end his life quickly, we prefer for him to redeem himself in the eyes of our lord.
The Redemption Duel is exactly that, a mech duel that serves as his one and only chance to earn a second chance to live. ”

All of this sounded rather convoluted and counterproductive to Ves, but he wasn ’t exactly in a position to criticize the customs of the Church.

”Is it a duel to the death? Where will the duel take place? Who will be his opponent? ”

The crone calmly answered his questions one by one.
”The duel will only end if at least one life perishes.
The duel shall take place in open space a short distance away from the Temple of Haatumak.
His opponent will be another acolyte who violated their oaths. ”

Ves understood what was going on now.
The Church evidently harbored at least two misbehaving mech pilots.
The priests could have chopped up their heads in a random sacrifice and have the Living Altars scoop up their brains like ice cream, but evidently they were short on entertainment or something.

Still, it sounded a bit too simple for the cultists to leave it at that.
There must be a caveat to this duel.

”I have a feeling this duel isn ’t so simple as it sounds.
What ’s the catch? ” He asked.

The old crone cackled, causing her dark robe to ripple.
”The Redemption Duel is no ordinary mech duel.
It is a test where the mech pilots must overcome the torture from their own mechs in order to maintain control over them! If their will and tolerance falls short of Haatumak ’s expectation, then their only fate is death! ”


”What does this ’torture ’ entail? ”

”The technical details escape me, but I am told that the Soulless One has prepared special cockpits to the fallen acolytes.
Piloting from one of the modified cockpits is said to be as painful as driving a dozen nails into your skull! Many times, the mental anguish has proven too much to the violators, and their consciousness has shattered entirely, leaving their bodies alive but their souls in pieces! ”

Ves tried to remain calm.
”I ’m to design a mech that is expressly meant to hurt its own mech pilot? ”

”Correct. ” The crone teased out.
Ves could practically hear the smirk she must be harboring inside the shadowy void of her hood.
”The mech you are responsible for readying for the duel is to be a torture machine first, and a fighting machine second.
The mech pilot must suffer for the Redemption Duel to receive Haatumak ’s blessings! ”

The horror of what the Church expected of Ves started to creep up on him.
A mech designer always wished the best for their mech pilots.
Even the more neglectful designers didn ’t wish their mech pilots ill!

To be working on a mech that was expressly meant to make their pilot suffer as much as possible went directly against the mech designer ’s creed!

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