The Mech Touch Chapter 698
697 Living Altar
Ignorance was bliss.
Ves should have never messed with his Spirituality. Look where that got him. He detected an invisible mob of robed worshippers that pretty much filled up the entire compartment, but couldn't act on the information!
If he spoke out now and warned his comrades, who would believe him? He'd only be tipping off the worshippers of Haatumak, thereby drawing unnecessary attention from them. Nothing good would come from revealing their presence when they didn't appear to be malicious!
From what he could tell, while the invisible figures weren't doing anything other than to stare creepily at the nearest humans, he still felt as if there presence wasn't simple.
Nobody would surround a bunch of people with invisible and completely undetectable cultists for the fun of it!
He eventually decided to pull back his curiosity and deactivate his newly enhanced sight. The compartment appeared blessedly empty and void of any creepy cultists.
As the negotiations began to wind down, Ves tried and failed to come up for a reason why the Church of Haatumak sent so many invisible cultists in this compartment. He simply couldn't explain their behavior at all, from their motivations to how they accomplished this strange feat.
Even among the frontier, their methods were too extreme!
Therefore, Ves concluded that guessing anything about them was an exercise in futility. He'd be driven mad before he could derive any meaning from their actions.
He'd rather explore his new discovery instead.
Spirituality seemed more wondrous and versatile than he thought. He already found out that they were the key to the advancement of mech pilots and possibly mech designers as well. Back home, Lucky managed to learn and retain the ability to turn his mechanical cat-like body intangible, a trick that Ves had never mastered to his regret.
Ves assumed his Spirituality only excelled at creating imaginary entities, but it turned out to be more versatile than he thought.
Did aptitude play a role? Were certain people or entities inclined towards certain applications of spiritual energy than other methods? Or could Ves utilize any possible use as long as he nailed down the correct method?
The difference was profound. If the latter leaned towards the truth, then Ves would someday be capable of performing feats that resembled magic by employing nothing but his mind!
As Ves mulled over this issue, the negotiation finally ended. Both Commander Lydia and Major Verle appeared content with the deal they made with the Coinlord. After making a lot of commitments to participate in various strange rituals, the Church of Haatumak would only charge a modest fee to 'bless' each of their starships.
This was what they came for. As they exited the strangely empty compartment, the two leaders addressed their subordinates.
"We shall be remaining aboard the Temple of Haatumak for three more days." Verle began. "Each of you shall follow a different attendant, who will guide you to different parts of their vessel in order to take part in their worship and other rituals."
The Swordmaidens already knew what was in store, but some of the Vandals groaned.
"I do not expect you to convert to their religion! In fact, it would be better if you'd not! Just remember your instructions. Remain polite and respectful, but don't get hoodwinked! We are both Vandals and Brighters! Remember your heritage, and I'm confident you won't go astray!"
Commander Lydia approached the Vandals. "My Swordmaidens and I have been through their mumbo-jumbo before. The ceremonies the worshippers of Haatumak conduct are unsettling, but harmless. The only way they can harm you is if your conviction is too weak, something which you Vandals shouldn't be too concerned about. Have you seen the pirates along the way?"
They nodded. They came across many random pirates who joined the dark-robed cultists into worshipping some idol or alien script.
"They're the ones who forgot themselves. They abandoned their ship, captain and comrades to become a nameless devotee to Haatumak." She spoke grimly. "If you fall into their trap, don't expect us to rescue you. One of the agreements we made with the Church of Haatumak is that once you become a believer, you are no longer part of our crew."Find authorized novels in Webnovel，faster updates, better experience，Please click www.webnovel.com for visiting.
The Vandals acknowledged the warning but didn't consider themselves to be at risk. Compared to the pathetic, weak-willed pirates that the Church hoodwinked into joining their side, the Vandals were made of sterner stuff.
A few minutes later, a number of lighter robed figures arrived behind the heels of the Seventeenth Altar. The man bowed before the delegation and gestured at the cultists he brought.
"Our acolytes will accompany each of your delegates to their intended destinations. Rest assured that we will take care of your men and women. They will be in good hands."
Even if the guests doubted the goodwill of the Church, they had no choice but to play along.
The slightly hunched and short figure that approached Ves turned out to be an old lady of some sorts. The crone-like figure hid her face underneath the hood of her robes, but her voice as well as her contours betrayed enough to figure out a few clues.
"Head designer Larkinson. I am Acolyte Villis. Your presence is requested at our mech workshop. Follow."
The Vandals and Swordmaidens split up. As a mech designer, Ves figured that the Church wanted to employ rituals related to mechs when it came to him and Mayra. However, another acolyte led Mayra towards a different section of the ship, so it seemed he wouldn't be able to lean on her experience this time.
Acolyte Villis led Ves to a series of corridors and elevators that brought him deeper into the lower decks of the Temple of Haatumak. Along the way, he encountered fewer cultists and worshippers, but the number of altars and symbols painted on the bulkheads never receded.
Along the silent journey, Ves dared not to stimulate his Spirituality. He didn't need to, because his instincts and his passive senses warned him that the invisible watchers never left his presence. He could guess that their presence might have drastically been reduced, but he never felt truly alone with Acolyte Villis.
"Yes, head designer?"
"Are you permitted to answer some questions?"
The robed acolyte shrugged. Ves took that to mean that she had never been forbidden to do so, but that few guests actually took the initiative to do so.
Considering how creepy the interior of the Temple appeared and how strangely the worshippers behaved, Ves didn't blame the others from keeping their mouths shut.
Yet while Ves sensed plenty of latent threats from his surroundings, the worshippers never revealed any signs of actual malice. As long as he stayed under their radar, the robed figures didn't place a lot of emphasis on him. They had no reason to suspect he was anything special.
"Can you tell me about Haatumak? What kind of god is he?"
The acolyte halted in her footsteps. The old crone turned around until her obscured hooded face glanced at Ves. For some reason, he still wasn't able to make out any of her facial features.
The lighting that illuminated the corridors might be rather dim, but it shouldn't have been able to blacken the insides of the hoods completely!
More strange magics was afoot.
"Haatumak.. you'd do well not to pry into matters you are not yet worthy to know."
It seems as if they really prize the secrecy surrounding their religion. Ves didn't know whether they did it for show or if they really believed in the entity they called by that name. He half-believed that all of the theatrics he had witnessed so far were made-up rituals meant to cover up the possibility that they acted as an arm of the Five Scrolls Compact.
He still hadn't obtained any solid proof that the Compact had a hand in the Church, he summed up his courage and kept asking probing questions.
Since asking about Haatumak directly touched upon a taboo, Ves took on a different tack. "Who is the Seventeenth Altar? Why is he called by that title?"
Apparently, the acolyte faced much less restrictions when it came to this topic. She answered calmly but readily.
"The Seventeenth Altar is one of the ninety-nine Living Altars in human flesh. They are one of the most devoted servants of our Church, dedicating both their bodies and their fate to our lord. As the seventeenth-ranked Altar, the man is closer to our lord than many other believers. He is one of the leading shepherds of the acolytes."
"So are they the mid-ranked priests of your Church?"
"I have heard them described in that fashion." The crone responded as they both resumed their journey towards the Temple's mech workshop. "To be more accurate, they are not quite priests. They have taken a step beyond what even the High Priest has taken in our devotion towards our lord. They have offered up their very flesh and bones to be turned into a Living Altar upon which others may offer their sacrifices! You cannot fathom the immensity of such a choice to us!"
Ves blinked a few times. He tried to parse the meaning behind her words. For some reason, a worshipper who went beyond a priest were called Living Altars. The main significance behind this transformation appeared to be to facilitate the rituals the Church regularly cooked up.
What was an altar?
He imagined a table or solid raised surface, upon which random religious props were scattered over its surface. It served as a convenient surface to place down a bowl of holy water or a ritual dagger. They also served as a sacred area upon which various solemn rituals may be conducted by priests.
So what did a Living Altar do?
The image of the table replaced itself with an ugly, old man who subjected his body with an abundance of genetic modification. The so-called Living Altar stood at the spot of the previous altar and bent down backwards until his arms supported his arching body beneath his head.
The Living Altar's rough, uneven stomach served as a makeshift surface this time!
Ves quickly shook his head. Such a sight was stupid. The literal meaning of Living Altar simply made no sense.
Suddenly, a disconcerting possibility sprang within his mind. "Say, what kind of rituals do Living Altars partake in?
The old crone chuckled in a disturbing cackle that sounded like a murder of crows found a carcass to feast upon. "You will regret asking me that question. It is no secret of ours what Living Altars are responsible for. The Seventeenth Altar will be present at the ritual of sacrifice. When your Swordmaiden allies bring their slaves aboard the Temple, do you believe we are content with slitting their throats and let their blood spill on the deck? Haatumak is the watcher, but he also grows hungry!"
"Then.. the Living Altars.."
"You do not need to stammer your words, head designer. At the crucial time, the Living Altars become hosts to Haatumak's Hunger. As the temporary embodiment of a single aspect of our lord, they shall feast upon the flesh that is offered up to us! Only through their assistance will we sate the appetite of our lord! It is a transcendent ritual that acolytes are lucky to attend! Even I only witnessed less than a dozen sacrifices myself."
Ves grunted but did not speak up any longer. He still needed to process the inhuman practices that Acolyte Willis revealed.
The Living Altars were cannibals! They brazenly disregarded the fundamental rule in human society that human life deserved to be treated with dignity!
This MTA and CFA-enforced rule would usually be mentioned in cases where aliens or unscrupulous people enslaved defenseless humans.
However, eating them was worse! It was bad enough that plenty of alien races developed a palate for human flesh. For humans to practice cannibalism was simply a step too far!
Any human degenerate enough to eat the flesh of their own race was no longer be considered as humans themselves!