The Mech Touch Chapter 583
583 Wicked Thieves
Avid Serpent refused to move at the end of the match. Even as a bunch of heavy lifter bots hauled Broken Claw's tiger mech away, the axeman mech remained on the arena grounds.
The audience members stilled as they sensed an unusual spectacle coming.
"Avid Serpent! Avid Serpent! Avid Serpent!" Her new fans repeated her pseudonym like a mantra.
After half a minute of inactivity, her mech finally raised its axe!
"Who said that I was a deserter?! Who said that I'm a coward who values her life over her loyalty? I am a Vesian! That remains true whether I'm part of the Mech Legion or not! I have fought and bled for my state for years, and I will do so once again!"
"Vesia! Vesia! Vesia!"
"Sod off, you Vesians! This is the Reinald Republic!"
"Kick her out already! I wanna see the next duel!"
Ves and the rest of the Vandals looked unsettled. They might have cheered if they shared the same nationality as Avid Serpent, but the fact of the matter was that she fought on behalf of the enemy. No matter how valiant she appeared right now, the enemy was the enemy.
"What do you think she's doing?" Ensign Tiss asked.
"No idea." He shrugged. "Is this even allowed?"
"There are no rules in the arena." Trian explained. Only a mech pilot understood other mech pilots best. "All types of desperate people compete in the underground arena. The operators love a good drama, and winning a match gives the mech pilot the undivided attention of the crowd. You can do a lot with that attention."
Lieutenant Feray nodded. "I've been to a few underground rings. Some mech pilots who compete in these arenas are trying to get hired. Others wish to absolve their mistakes and regain their honor. It sounds like Avid Serpent falls under that category."
The ebuilliant crowd smelled a good story, and sat in anticipation for the Vesian mech duelist's next words.
"Vesians! I have never forgotten you, nor have I forsaken the stars that I call home! Let me prove my allegiance to you by taking revenge for the shame you have suffered in recent times!"
A large amount of ooh's and aah's ran through the crowd.
"As a Vesian citizen, I've followed the news and I'm as depressed and ashamed as any of you! The shamelessness of the Bright Republic knows no bounds! Their dishonorable Mech Corps sent out their most depraved mech regiment of all, the Flagrant Vandals, to kill and raid our innocent civilians!"
"I love you, Flagrant Vandals!"
"Meh, the Vandals are the mutts of the Mech Corps!"
"Hahaha! The Flagrant Vandals are the pride of the Bright Republic!"
"The Flagrant Vandals are nothing but pirates in disguise!"
"That means they have Reinaldan blood in them!"
The Vesian mech duelist let the crowd simmer a bit before continuing. "Hearing people's praise of the Flagrant Vandals makes my blood boil to the brim! Shame on you for idolizing this gathering of thieves! From their name alone they actually take pride in their wickedness! Their crimes against the Kingdom are innumerable! From throwing artificial meteorites into a populated city, to capturing one of our revered Venerables without her own expert mech, how low can they go?!"
Her words polarized the crowd. Since the Reinald Republic bordered the Vesia Kingdom, they paid a lot of attention on what went on with their bigger neighbor. The Bright-Vesia Wars became a keen topic of interest in their daily lives.
Recently, nothing caught more attention than the actions of the Flagrant Vandals. The main fleet had inexplicably split in two, with one branch heading towards the Reinald Republic! Practically everyone followed the exploits of the Verle Task Force and its hard-fought victories against some of the best the Vesians threw at them. Each time the Vandals overcame an obstacle, the admiration among the Reinaldans grew.
Due to the fact that the Reinaldans considered the Vesians as an ominous rivals, the success of the Flagrant Vandals was something to be celebrated. By far the overwhelming majority of the Reinald Republic approved of their achievements.
Not only that, most of the foreigners who visited the Harkensen System admired their performance under adversity as well. It took a lot of guts and ingenuity to run the gauntlet from the middle of an entire enemy state! Nobody pitied the Vesians for their failure to stop the task force from escaping their territories when they had countless mechs at their disposal.
Of course, the outsiders only formed their opinions from a narrow perspective. They didn't have access to the full picture. The Vesians were not only hampered by their serious internal division, they also faced many limitations and setbacks by the low-key actions of the rebel groups that acted as a cancer to the Kingdom.
How could patriotic Vesians not stand still as their state received a battering from the public? Foreign bystanders fundamentally misunderstood the odds stacked against the Mech Legion!
"I say no more! No more hero worship for the Flagrant Vandals! Wicked thieves deserve to be scorned rather than worshipped! I may be all alone out here, but the Kingdom lives on within my heart!"
Avid Serpent's axeman mech abruptly threw its axe to the ground. The blade of the axe dug into the sand like a falling executioner's axe! The thud rang through the hall like a drumbeat through everyone's ears.
"On behalf of the stars that I call home, I issue a challenge to the Flagrant Vandals! I know you are here! There is no one here who have missed your triumphant arrival in the Harkensen System! Stand up from the seats and show yourselves!"
The entire crowd fell silent. Those who stood immediately sat down. No bystander wanted to earn the spicy Vesian mech duelist's ire. Avid Serpent's axeman mech slowly turned around to behold the entire audience.
"Where are you, Vandals? I'm right here! Are you brave enough to meet my challenge?"
The arena lights dimmed down until the entire underground space fell into shadows. A series of flood lights illuminated from above. The largest one shone upon Avid Serpent's mech standing with its axe thrown before in an immensely heroic bearing.
The other flood lights shone upon several clumps of people sitting in the stands. One one them happened to land squarely on Ves' group!
Nolsen cursed. "Damn Reinaldans. They're putting us on the spot! Can't we enjoy some privacy?"
None of the Vandals in the group looked pleased at Avid Serpent's naked challenge. Her slanderous words belittled the herculean challenge of fighting their way out of Vesian space. How could they take her words lying down?
Yet her challenge also seemed iffy. Why would she issue a challenge to the Flagrant Vandals out of the blue? Was it because she felt genuinely indignant about the Vesia Kingdom's defeats? Was she grasping at straws in order to win back honor for herself? Or were others instigating this fight from the dark?
No matter how fishy the situation looked, the Flagrant Vandals had been put in the spotlight. Refusing to stand up to Avid Serpent's brazen challenge would tarnish their hard-fought reputation.
The only problem was that the Vandals had all split up in groups of ten and went their separate ways. Even if a lot of groups attended the underground matches, nobody knew whether they were the highest ranking officers on site. Unless Major Verle was present in the flesh, no one dared to speak on behalf of their entire unit.
"I see you, Vandals!" Avid Serpent broadcasted from her mech as it pointed a finger at the people under the spotlight. "Come on! You think you can rest on your laurels? Think again! Are the big bad Vandals cowering from a lone Vesian like me? You craven Brighters! Stand up and face my challenge!"
Every off-duty Vandal had to repress their anger. In order to preserve the dignity of their mech regiment, they rigidly stayed in place and kept their mouths shut. Spouting random words in the glare of the public eye might lead to a devastating outcome. No Vandal wanted to bear the responsibility for staining their unit.
Ves looked at the Vandals sitting next to him and knew that none of them possessed the clout to represent the Vandals when they spoke. The highest ranking officer among them was Lieutenant Nolsen Feray, and he was only a mere security officer. A proper response to Avid Serpent's challenge should be given by a mech officer, but all they had was Trian and another mech pilot. Both of them were relatively junior mech pilots who made up the rank-and-file.
Luckily, one of the other Vandal groups in the audience happened to bring a mech officer. A single figure stood up from the spotlight and a familiar voice rang out. The arena operators already made a move to amplify her voice.
"You want to challenge my mech regiment? What gives you the qualifications to do so!"
Ves widened his eyes. He knew who was speaking out right now, and he had a very mixed history with that particular mech officer.
"I dare because I am a Vesian and I have proved my mettle on this ground! Who are you to question my qualifications?"
"I am Captain Rosa Orfan." The figure on the other side of the stands declared. "I have fought in the heart of the capital city of Detemen IV and have defeated Lord Javier's Loquacious Raphael in person. I have subsequently hunted down and fought a Vesian expert pilot without an expert on my side on Nova Migolatus I! Twice I have taken down a Vesian elite!"
The majority of the crowd swung in Captain Orfan's favor. The encouraging cheers fell upon her head, which swelled it past its limits!
Ves and some of the other Vandals groaned or shook their heads. Captain Orfan was one of their most problematic mech officers, though few dared to confront her about her issues. Right now, she basically inflated her importance while leaving no credit to the rest of the Vandals.
"That woman! Even if she's a captain, she shouldn't talk like that!" Trian complained.
"Big mouth or not, have some respect for the mech captain." Someone else said. "She can beat any of you within a minute in a mech duel. Her skills are the real deal."
"Captain Orfan." Avid Serpent spoke. "Good. Good. I am not afraid of a mech captain! Do you accept my challenge then?"
Fortunately, Captain Orfan wasn't stupid enough to dive into the challenge without some prudence. "Only if we can agree on the terms."
"Fine! As the challenged party, you have the right to propose the terms of our duel. Speak, then!"
"Alright." Orfan said as she fell into thought.
Though they were currently in an underground arena where rules didn't apply, people still attached a lot of importance to the ritual surrounding mech duels. Any terms that flew wildly out of bounds would only make a mockery out of this sacred occasion. Basically, Captain Orfan wouldn't be able to impose any ridiculous terms.
"First, we'll hold our duel in three days. We haven't received any prior notice to this challenge. A fight right now is too sudden for us."
"Agreed." Avid Serpent responded. "If you need to fortify your courage, then be my guest. It's not my fault you are quaking in your boots."
Some of the crowd erupted into laughter.
"Second term, we fight in our own mechs."
"I do not agree! My axeman mech pales in comparison to your mech. Even though I've never seen your mech before, a mech captain is entitled to pilot the best. Would our duel be fair if your mech is at least thrice as valuable as mine?"
"Fair duel! Fair duel! Fair duel!"
"You idiot, you think a mech captain will choose to pilot a rustbucket?"
Overall, the crowd was swayed by Avid Serpent's response. This was not a duel where mech pilots pitted their individual strength or the capabilities of their mech models. This was purely a contest of honor.
"Fine then! If the arena operators can lend me a spearman mech of the same value as her axeman mech, I'll kick your butt regardless!"
Ves shot forward from his seat. "No! You idiot!"
"AGREED!" Some nameless man's voice thundered from above as if it came from the will of heaven.
Something moved on the arena grounds. A section of the grounds retracted into the ground, then went back up. Surprisingly, the section now bore a partially-damaged lancer mech.
"Property of a deceased competitor. In line to be recycled." The voice spoke again but with less boom this time.
Orfan probably didn't think much of the broken mech, but refusing now would put the arena operators in a bad light. "Adequate, though I'm not sure we can fix it up in time for the duel."
"Make do, then!" The challenger spat. "Are you not without support?"
Eventually, Captain Orfan and Avid Serpent hashed out a detailed agreement for the upcoming duel.