The Mech Touch Chapter 695
694 Sacrificial Offering
Ves tried to maintain his composure as the Vandal shuttle touched down on the flight deck next to the shuttle that arrived from the Jaded Sword. He couldn't come up with any conclusion right now.
He suspected that the leviathan-like creature might have been an extraordinary species of exobeasts or even sentient aliens akin to the devoluted aeliotonoc whales he once had the pleasure of seeing on Moira's Paradise. He even enjoyed a steak from the same species!
Trying to compare the flavors he sampled from the spiritually sensitive whales to the massive but stagnant spiritual remnant returned no positive results. The two didn't appear to be related at all.
As Ves mused about the complex flavors he sensed from his sixth sense, the Vandal delegation exited through the hatch of the shuttle and arrived in front of a small greeting party of robed emissaries of the Church of Haatumak.
Everyone retracted their helmets into the neck guard of their varying suits of armor. As guests, they could expect some basic courtesies from the Temple of Haatumak. Being granted the privilege to breathe normal air under normal pressure should be one of them.
Still, some faint sense of wariness urged Ves to unfold his helmet and close his faceplate until his armor hermetically sealed his body from the environment.
He ignored that impulse, though. It would have been terribly undiplomatic of him to act unilaterally like that out of his sense of unease.
As they nestled in the Faris Star Region for over a hundred years, they had fully merged with the customs of the frontier. Every worshipper in sight, which included the flight deck crew, wore some form of light combat armor underneath their garments.
Ves couldn't figure out much about the armor, other than that their contours beneath the robes showed that their wearers added a lot of modular attachments or possessed unique physiques.
The cloth of the hooded robes themselves came in earthy tones, but that was where the mundane ended. Unknown alien script that appeared oddly compelling covered the surface of robes. They weren't static, but rather moved around the cloth as if they were alive.
Sometimes, the script even jumped out of the cloth and took on a three-dimensional shape in the air!
These pulses happened erratically and without rhyme or reason. All of these phenomena added to the mystery surrounding the cultists.
Still, none of the Vandals or the Swordmaidens felt comfortable being in their presence. The closer they got, the more their instincts warned of danger. Even Ves sensed something profoundly amiss with these cultists, though when he tried casting his spiritual sense at them, he only found them to be average humans. Their spirituality wasn't any stronger than that of a civilian.
A resplendently dressed and armored Major Verle stepped forward. Commander Lydia joined him at his side. While Verle only made due with a luxurious cape, Lydia used another exobeast pelt to add to her stature.
They approached the lead robed figure, whose face was obscured in the dark. The dim lighting throughout the entire interior of the Temple didn't help matters either.
"I am Commander Lydia of Lydia's Swordmaidens. Please allow me to introduce Major Verle of the 6th Flagrant Vandals, 3rd Tarry Division of the Southern Mech Army of the Bright Republic Mech Corps."
"We meet again, Commander Lydia." A horse voice exited the robed emissary's mouth. "You may call me the Seventeenth Altar. As for you, stranger from a civilized state, on behalf of the Church of Haatumak, we bless you with the radiance of our watching god. Know that in these silent times, the presence of Haatumak will guide you to the light you Brighters so crave."
Ves felt a vague sense of deja-vu when he heard the so-called Seventeenth Altar speak. Did he know the cultist from somewhere? Had they met before? Or was the cultist messing with his mind with a peculiar speech technique?
"..Charmed." Verle eventually released. He raised his hand in an attempt to shake the Seventeenth Altar's hand, but thought better of it. Obviously his diplomatic training could use some refreshing. "This is not a suitable venue to talk business. Please lead the way."
"Very well. If you will follow us. Do not attempt to deviate from our path. You will die. This is not a warning. This is Haatumak's will."
Two-dozen officers from the Swordmaidens and the Vandals befuddled followed after the emissaries. What struck Ves as he stepped a little closer to the worshippers was the smell emanating out of their bodies.
They reeked like rotting insects and lizard meat gone stale! The atrocious blend of smells seemed to emanate from their very flesh, because there was nothing else the smells could have come from! Though the smell wasn't strong enough to induce physical nausea, none of the guests wanted to stay aboard the Temple any longer than necessary!
The lengthy, rusty and not entirely even corridors of the ship smelled as if it decades of accumulated sweat and other excretions from the cultists had stained the very bulkheads with their brand of smells.
The sounds and noise echoing off the barren corridors and largely empty compartments also added to the pervasive sense of otherness that suffused the Temple of Haatumak.
As a temple, the worshippers hadn't left the bulkheads bare. Random stretches of vague alien script dominated some spaces. At other places, some worshippers had worked the metal bulkheads, treating them as raw material to fashion incomprehensible sculptures of star systems, exobeasts and more alien script.
He could tell that the various depictions carried a profound message. At some of these impromptu works of art and piety, various groups of cultists knelt down and prayed in front of them. They were sometimes joined by pirate guests dressed in similar elaborate armored outfits as the Vandals and the Swordmaidens.
"Haatumak.. I beseech you.." A pirate prayed with a gruff frontier accent. "Bless my next raid.. may the sandmen never find my fleet.. may we plunder much booty.. harvest a rich amount of slaves.. please bless our raiding expedition.."
Ves wanted to slap the head of that praying pirate commander silly. Was Haatumak the god of piracy something?!
"..KhnlnfeheN.. Haatumak! 'UIothenana.. Ken'Haatumak la Kh'tnewAdda.."
If that wasn't bad enough, the robed members of the Church of Haatumak prayed in an entirely alien language.. some even spoke sounds that couldn't be pronounced with a baseline human's voice!
The unsettling, alien voices emanating from their throats disturbed the Vandals and the Swordmaidens even further. Even though the latter group had visited the Temple of Haatumak before, they never got used to the pervasive weirdness that suffused the entire vessel.
It didn't help that the worshippers adhered to the same hygiene and maintenance standards as the rest of the frontier. This meant that visitors encountered sporadic piles of junk and random splotches on the deck along the way to wherever the Seventeenth Altar was supposed to lead them towards.
Ves also observed a complete lack of cleaning bots along the way. Instead, robes worshippers appeared to be manually cleaning the deck with the most low-tech mops he had ever seen. They consisted of a salvaged alloy bar that could have come from a random shipwreck with a dense mop of artificial fibers stuck at one of the ends.
No wonder the corridor looked so dirty. Wasn't the Church worried about epidemics or something? Ves would rather see the return of cleaning bots despite their propensity to spontaneously commit genocide.
"..humzah.. Haatumak.. K'chREnotendada.. Haatumak.."
Their silent torture finally ended when they reached a large hollow chamber set up as a grand hall of worship. The same incomprehensible sights they encountered in the corridors seemed to dominate the entire hall.
Various statues of star systems, alien script and random exobeasts had been forged out of salvaged alloys. The worshippers who fashioned them together never hid the humble origins of their source materials. The visible diversity in their materials added a sense of triumph from adversity to their impression.
The low mantra of worship in alien language sounded a lot more pervasive in the hollow chamber. The echoes only amplified their ability to prevent any guests from relaxing.
The Seventeenth Altar waved his hand, causing his fellow attendant worshippers to disperse. "Please follow me to the Ritual Pit, guests. We must register your entry to our holy temple to the watchers of our venerable lord."
That sounded reassuring. Still, the fact that the Swordmaidens hadn't lashed out or anything demonstrated that this procedure shouldn't be harmful to them. Hopefully.Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click for visiting.
The Ritual Pit had been constructed through the deck in the middle of the hall. An empty amphitheater-like construction ringed the depression in the deck.
It looked as if someone incorporated a swimming pool in this chamber, only instead of filling it with water or some other normal fluid, the worshippers instead filled it with blood!
The Vandals tried hard not to show their disgust at the intense coppery smell that suffused the vicinity of the pool. Ves looked at the semi-viscous red liquid and tried to imagine how many humans the Church of Haatumak had bled to gather so much blood.
Flanking the unsettling pool, a pair of horse-sized genetically engineered beasts that resembled hounds from hell stood guard. Ves recognized a strong trace of dogs, but he couldn't identify which alien traits they had been blended with that made them appear so bloodthirsty and intimidating.
Oh, they were bloodthirsty alright.
Literally so as one of the hounds lazily plopped its muzzle close to the surface of the pool and started lapping at the blood as if they were drinking off a dog bowl!
An errant thought in his mind suspected that the Seventeenth Altar deliberately walked them through all of the other weirdness they encountered so far just to prevent them from freaking out at the sight of the massive pool of blood!
Ves felt as if they were being treated like frogs dumped into a pan of water that was slowly being brought to boil!
He wasn't the only one who thought so, as the reflexive motions of some of the Vandals showed they too faced a fight or flight response.
Naturally, nobody reacted in the end. They willingly entered the den of the beast. Turning around halfway would thoroughly offend the Church of Haatumak and may make it difficult for them to exit.
The Seventeenth Altar approached the edge of the pool, rummaged in the pockets of his robes and retrieved what appeared to be a nutrient pack of all things!
"Hmm.. strawberry chicken with authentic Rubarthan tomatoes flavor.. forty-three years old.. Good enough.."
The cultist ripped open the top of the pack before throwing it into the pool, wrapping and all!
The pool of blood started to bubble. Not because it heated up, but because something released a breath from beneath!
Ves and some of the Vandals took an unconscious step back. What kind of eldritch creature did the Seventeenth Altar woke up? Would this monster appreciate being disturbed by one of the most awful foods that humanity had ever invented?
"Arise!" The Seventeenth Altar raised his hands while forming claw-like shapes. "Arise, great envoy of our lord!"
What emerged from the pool of blood wasn't some massive exobeast. Nor did it resemble some kind of inanimate alien object or the like.
No, what actually emerged from the pool was a perfect specimen of a naked human male!
Though only the torso emerged from the surface, the fantastic athleticism of the body along with the naturally handsome contours of the body and face made many women among the Swordmaidens and Vandals stumble.
The only reason why they hadn't become more smitten at the figure was because the gaze of the man looked eerily dead.
Though his body seemed unquestionably functional, there didn't seem to be anything present in the strange man's mind!
"This.. this is a clone!" Someone uttered.
A clone! Of who?! And what purpose did the clone serve?!
Ves figured he was about to find out, because the Seventeenth Altar prostated before the emerged clone. The cultist muttered some alien words that none of the Swordmaidens or the Vandals understood. Hell, they didn't even know if the half-dead clone registered the words either.
Nonetheless, after blabbering for half a minute, the clone began to react. He was actually functional enough to respond to stimuli! Ves had never heard of any successful instances of clones that were able to do something so simple yet so far out of reach!
Every attempt at cloning a human resulted in a brain-dead sack of flesh! This seemed to be a universal rule, and applied to sentient aliens as well as most complex forms of life!
Yet either the Church of Haatumak had cracked the secret somehow, or the man wasn't a clone at all, and turned out to be a half-grown human who for some reason liked to spend his time submerged in blood!
Nonetheless, Ves didn't have any time to think further, because the clone started to make his move. The blood-soaked man's eyes began to shine.