The Grand Church of the Grey Martyr was an immense structure built out of a combination of stone and more advanced materials. This protected the grand church against attacks from mechs, but could prove deadly once the walls and ceilings were no longer held in place.
The rain of rocks and heavier alloys dropping over the entire group proved devastating to both the Protectors of the Faith and the mob of fanatics that attacked them! The sheer weight of them was far more than any individual could withstand!
Even the combat armor worn by the Protectors of the Faith failed to withstand the sudden rain of heavy debris! Many of them were outright killed, while those who endured less debris sustained severe injuries which their failing suits of armor desperately tried to treat!
As battle continued to rage elsewhere in the grand church, the collapsed section fell into a momentary lull of silence.
Half a minute later, a scuffed but intact armored form carefully dug out the pile of debris that settled on the ground floor. The Rising Red Dragon carefully held on to Leon who was trying to hold in his cries of pain while he held his broken and half-crushed arm.
"Shut up!" Ketis retorted as she abruptly dropped him onto the pile of debris. "How can you Ylvainans allow your grand church to be attacked so brazenly?"
"I don't know! I never thought that the New Ylvaine Dynasty maintained such a huge presence on Kesseling VIII. It doesn't make any sense!"
Ketis didn't concern herself about Leon's mistaken assumptions. What mattered right now was surviving this attack!
"Stay put! I'm going to dig out Ves!"
She holstered her Udor and began to bend down and move aside the chunks over the spot where Ves last threw himself down to cover Gavin's body.
She used the superior mechanical strength of her Rising Red Dragon to remove the smaller pieces. As for the larger pieces, she unsheathed her greatsword and carefully sliced them up into manageable portions.
Five minutes passed by until she managed to form a small hole over the dented back of Sparous Vize.
"Are you still alive down there?" Ketis asked.
"Yeah." Ves replied as he awkwardly held his position. "Lucky helped me survive the collapse."
The cat crawled out from underneath his armor looking a lot less energetic.
At the moment when Ves threw his armored form over Gavin, Lucky flew above and used his energy claws to slice the largest chunks of debris! While Lucky's efforts didn't make a lot of difference, his efforts nonetheless prevented the Sparous Vize from getting overwhelmed.
As soon as Ketis dug aside enough debris, Ves carefully stood up. The Sparous Vize fared a lot worse than the Rising Red Dragon, but its quality nonetheless helped him avoid the same outcome of that of his guard detail.
His shield generator also helped take off the load during the initial impacts.
"We sure got our money's worth." Ves said as he helped Gavin stand up and climb out of the hole.
His assistant incurred a lot of trauma. His entire body shook and he had trouble maintaining his footing on the bed of debris.
"I thought we would die!"
As Leon and Gavin tried to come to terms to the ordeal they went through, Ves turned his attention to Lucky.
"Are there any other threats nearby, Lucky?"
"The fighting is already starting to die down?"
"No further threats are coming?"
"Okay, got it. Activate and maintain an ECM field over us to be sure. Maybe the True Believers will direct another wave of attackers at us of they think we survived the collapse of the ceiling.
"I know you expended a lot of energy, but I'll make it up to you later! I'll ask for compensation directly from Madame Cecily!"
Ves felt awfully pissed as Calabast for overlooking the acute threat posed by the True Believers. She was supposed to be a spy! It was her job to be on top of these kinds of threats! How could she be so incompetent that she overlooked all the hardware and people the True Believers moved into place?
Obviously, her intelligence network wasn't up to snuff yet. Whoever fed her the information that the True Believers posed a negligible threat did a good job fooling Calabast.
Ves and Ketis moved Leon and Gavin over to a defensible position away from the collapsed ceiling. They huddled there under Lucky's ECM as the cat continued to cast his sensors in every direction.
The fighting in the main hall and outside the church started to die down. No further attackers approached their position.
Just fifteen minutes after the start of the attack, the Protectors of the Faith finally arrived at the grand church in force!
By then, the traitors among the mechs stationed at the church had already been eliminated. As for the attacking mechs that stormed the church in every direction, most of them had already been wrecked.
The Avatars of Myth did an exemplary job in fending off the attackers, taking out twenty of them with just a couple of Crystal Lords!
Once a large amount of Protectors on foot poured into the main hall of the grand church, they swept up the remnants of the fanatics with overwhelming force.
It was too late. Many innocent Ylvainans died from the crossfire, stampede and crushing debris. Large holes poked through the high ceiling of the church, illuminating the blood and bodies that littered the interior of the church.
As the primary target of this attack, the Protectors of the Faith dispatched commandos to Ves' last known position. Lucky dropped his ECM field at their approach, allowing them to detect the survivors.
"Mr. Larkinson! Come with us!"
The commandos forcefully took Ves, Ketis and the injured men away.
Hours later, Ves returned back to the headquarters of the Office of Strategic Mech Management. Right now, the entire Kesseling System was on high alert, so the headquarters currently hosted four times as many guard mechs!
The Avatars of Myth, fresh out of one battle, only took a short rest before piloting their mechs again. None of them were willing to take the chance that the New Ylvaine Dynasty already exhausted all of their assets on Kessling VIII.
"So, Calabast." Ves spoke as he sat in her office inside his dented armor. At this stage, he wasn't willing to relinquish his protection. "I recall you said something about the True Believers."
"I stand by my words, Ves." She said. "Just because the attackers talked like True Believers doesn't mean that they are actually the real thing. The attack came too abruptly."
Ves raised his eyebrow. "Are you trying to deny you're wrong?"
"Damnit, Ves! Don't be fooled by what took place on the surface! While the True Believers have never been the most rational terrorists, they would never be crazy enough to inflict death and destruction on this scale, especially to the Grand Church of the Grey Martyr!"
"What do you think actually took place, then?"
"I think another organization is responsible. It could be the traditionalists. It could be the Attendants of Ylvaine." Calabast pinched her head. "I'm pretty sure it's not the True Believers. It simply doesn't make sense."
"Prophet Ylvaine never made much sense."
Calabast frowned at Ves. "Whatever you think about the New Ylvaine Dynasty, they can't afford to alienate their grassroots support. While they've never shield away from civilian casualties, they have never shown this much disregard for collateral damage. This terrorist attack will set back their support by a huge margin."
They eventually moved on from this topic. Calabast seemed oddly adamant about sticking to her theories.
"What happens to me now?" Ves asked.
"I don't know. I will have to meet with the senior Curins to see what they have to say. They might want to pull the plug on your commission and send you back to the Bright Republic as fast as possible."
Ves furrowed his brows. "Won't that be giving in to the demands of the terrorists?"
"News of your involvement has already spread." She said and threw out a data pad that contained some articles she collected from the local news portals. "Even though you're a victim, the media has already begun to lay the blame on your feet!"
He skimmed through the headlines.
THE CAUSE OF THE ATTACK - VES LARKINSON IS A DANGER TO YLVAINAN SOCIETY
GO HOME VES! WE DON'T WANT YOU HERE!
TRUE BELIEVERS VOW TO CONTINUE THEIR ATTACKS UNTIL VES LARKINSON IS DEAD OR GONE!
"These are smear articles!"
"Many news portals published them soon after the first details of the attacks emerged." Calabast said. "The publications that acted the fastests are mostly aligned with the traditionalists and the Attendants of Ylvaine. Even though they state that the True Believers are the main culprits of the attack, the journalists are all trying to shift some of the blame on you. If you weren't in the Protectorate, the slaughter would have never taken place!"
Ves felt like puking blood. "That's victim blaming!"
"It's working. A lot of Ylvainans are getting swayed by these articles. You have to know that the Ylvainans have always been predisposed against foreigners. Public opinion is turning against your presence. Even some of the supporters of the reform agenda are beginning to have second thoughts about your involvement."
All of these revelations began to look suspicious to Ves. "This smells like a plot, and a premeditated one at that."
Whether the True Believers were actually involved or not, at least one element of Ylvainan Society wanted him gone. They knew that as long as Ves succeeded in impressing the locals with his mechs, he'd be able to do a lot more business in the Protectorate, thereby advancing the reform agenda.
"Right now, my staff and I are working as hard as we can to keep the deal between us going." She said. "I've even called in some favors from my old employers to exert some influence on the decisions of the higher-ups. I've spent an enormous amount of social capital, you know."
"Am I supposed to be thankful? I don't even know who you worked for before you moved to the Protectorate!"
Right now, the situation seemed dire. Although Ves was glad he was able to retain his life and the lives of his comrades, his mood sank when he thought that all of his plans for the Ylvaine Protectorate were about to be ruined due to a targeted conspiracy against the reform agenda!
"Relax, Ves. The Curin Dynasty won't give up on us." Calabast said. "The only problem is that it will be difficult for us to proceed with our plans."
"The traditionalists are trying to use this incident to convince the public that it isn't worth it to get in bed with foreign mech designers. They don't add much strength to the mechs sold in the Protectorate. In fact, their presence will only serve as magnets for further destructive terrorist attacks!"
This was plainly giving in to intimidation. Yet even though this opinion was starting to get a lot of sway among the Ylvainans, Ves nonetheless saw a glimmer of hope in this awful situation.
Ves began to smile. "I see. If that's the case, then the only way I can prove the traditionalists wrong is to design a great mech. As long as my mech strongly appeals to the Ylvainans, then the public will become convinced that it is more than worth it to work with a foreigner like me! My mech design will be my rebuttal!"
"Do you think it's easy to impress the skeptics among the Ylvainan population?" Calabast retorted. "The bar is raised now. There's a lot at stake. With so much public scrutiny over your work, it's not enough for you to meet the high expectations we've set on this project. If you truly want to win back enough support, you have to surpass everyone's expectations!"
"Calabast, if there is one thing I am confident about, it is my ability to design mechs. Just wait. In a few months, I'll convert every skeptic with my hero mech design!"