Deep Sea Embers-Chapter 677: Pilgrimage

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Chapter 677: Pilgrimage

This novel is translated and hosted on bcatranslation.

From the moment Duncan first saw the massive ships known as the Arks, which looked like self-sustaining floating city-states, and learned of their constant travels across the ocean—a journey often called a “pilgrimage”—he began to doubt the true purpose of these impressive structures.

What did these Arks really signify, and what was the deeper significance behind their ongoing “pilgrimage”? Could it simply be a form of “patrolling”?

The city-states’ inhabitants commonly believed that the Arks symbolized the immense power of the four gods. They were viewed as the ultimate representation of the church’s military might and revered as the “traveling palaces” of these four deities in the human world. According to the Church of the Four Gods, the Arks’ mission was to patrol the Boundless Seas, serving both to deter heresy and protect the city-states from evil forces emerging from subspace. Initially, Duncan accepted this explanation without question. However, as he delved deeper into the church’s secrets through figures like Vanna, Morris, and Agatha, he noticed major discrepancies in this account.

The primary responsibility for dealing with heretical threats lay with the spiritual leaders assigned to each city-state, such as inquisitors and guardians. The routine tasks of intercepting heretics at sea and rescuing distressed sailors were carried out by the church’s regular naval forces. The crucial job of defending against subspace corruption and strengthening the city-states’ defenses was entrusted to the fervent prayers of bishops and a strategically organized network of church bell towers. In contrast, the four grand Arks appeared to have no real role in these worldly matters.

Most of the year, about three-quarters of it, the Arks conducted secretive patrols along hidden routes, traversing a liminal space between dimensions, far from any city. For the rest of the time, they patrolled near the “Eternal Veil” at the world’s edge. There, their interactions with the church’s border fleets were minimal, and they avoided any direct involvement with the city-states. In fact, they deliberately stayed away from the patrol fleets of the border city-states.

The Arks rarely appeared in the city-states, only showing up on exceptional occasions, like after significant events such as the Black Sun event at Pland. It was only during these rare appearances that they became visible to the public.

Apart from these special circumstances, the Arks remained isolated from the ordinary world. Even within the church’s four major sects, the Arks were shrouded in mystery, with most clergy never having the chance to board an Ark in their lifetimes. Only a select few, designated as “saints,” were allowed onto the Arks as part of their training. However, their access was limited to specific areas, and after completing their training, they were promptly sent back to their original cities. These “saints” were thus prevented from delving deeper into the mysterious secrets of the Arks.

The accumulating evidence pointed to a profound uncertainty about the existence of these vessels. It was at this point that Duncan reached a revelation.

“…The current four Arks that we know of were built several decades ago. Before these ‘giant ships’ were commissioned, the four major churches had an earlier generation of ‘Arks’, but those were nothing like the cathedral-like ships we see today…”

Frem’s voice was deep and authoritative, flowing smoothly like a river over stones, imbued with a tranquility that naturally soothed and persuaded his audience.

“The first generation of the church’s ‘Arks’ were just sizable vessels, integral to the church’s naval patrol force, part of its military armament. Unlike their successors, they weren’t shrouded in mystery, nor were they detached from the daily life of the mortal world.”

“Today’s ‘cathedral ships,’ however, represent a paradigm shift. It would be misleading to simply call them four ‘large ships’. More accurately, they serve as four ‘anchor points’, tethering the gods’ presence to a ‘balance point’ existing outside the mortal realm.”

Duncan listened intently, maintaining a serious expression. He understood that Frem’s explanations were tailored specifically for him. The other high-ranking church officials, including bishops and clerics from the Arks at the meeting, appeared well-informed about this hidden truth.

“…The identity of the person who first uncovered this truth has been lost to time. It came through a series of ‘revelations’ and ‘inspirations’. In our prayers, we heard whispers of truth; through visions induced by sacred incense, we saw darkness and corruption. At times, our souls felt a ‘pull’ from a realm beyond our own. The gods guided our thoughts to a vast, chaotic abyss, revealing to us their demise and despair… During this period, the connection between the earthly clergy and the four gods began to suffer frequent disturbances… This likely started around the year 1822.”

Frem paused, and at that moment, Lucretia, who was seated to the right of Duncan, seemed to have a sudden realization: “1822… The Silence Incident?!”

“Yes, the Silence Incident, a well-known event, but in reality, it was just one significant episode in a series of escalating crises that we couldn’t fully resolve.”

This reply came not from Frem, but from Banster, who was sitting beside him. The Death Pope, dressed in black robes, spoke with a slightly hoarse voice, his pale, corpse-like face adding gravity to his words.

“The entire clergy of the city-state abruptly lost their connection with Bartok. For twenty-four hours, a period we refer to as the ‘Silence’, they were tormented by continuous, haunting howls and screams that resonated only in their minds. Then, corrupted blood began to flow from the ‘Holy Sanctuary’, and the city-state’s archbishop made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the cathedral, dissolving into the tainted blood. Following this event, seventeen members of the clergy were martyred during the ‘Silence’, and another seventy-seven were driven to perpetual insanity, their minds irreparably fractured by the horrific visions from beyond our reality…”

“The Silence Incident in 1822 continued to echo for the next two decades, significantly weakening the barriers between reality and other realms in the Cold Sea to the north. This weakening allowed influences from subspace, the deep sea, and the spirit world to exploit this vulnerability. In the city-states around Cold Harbor, the emergence of ‘natural psychics’ during this period was alarmingly high, surpassing the combined total from all other city-states across the globe.”

Banster paused in his narration, his eyes shifting towards Lune.

“Yes, as Banster has described, the 1822 Cold Harbor Silence Incident was merely a glimpse into a much broader crisis,” Lune confirmed with a nod. “The truth of the matter is, for a significant duration, the Boundless Seas witnessed a troubling trend: our connection with the divine was faltering and becoming increasingly perilous. Prayers frequently went unanswered, and when they were answered, the replies were often disturbing and unnatural. This led to a weakening of the divine protection over the city-states and more frequent and severe anomalies during sea voyages. It was through a multitude of divine revelations and visions that we eventually came to understand the dire state of the gods.”

A heavy silence enveloped the hall.

Duncan, along with his followers, the four popes, and the bishops aboard the Arks, were all aware of a stark reality: the gods were dead. But acknowledging this truth openly, especially when considering the Great Annihilation and its connection to a myriad of past events, created a palpable, oppressive atmosphere in the room.

This novel is translated and hosted on bcatranslation.

“…So, you constructed the colossal Arks to strengthen our connection to the gods and to slow down their ‘decay’ process…” Duncan said, breaking the heavy silence. “I’m not concerned with the intricate ‘mechanics’ behind this process. What I want to understand is the ‘effect’ of your actions. Did it truly work? Frem mentioned earlier that the Arks ability to ‘delay’ has reached its limits. What exactly does that mean?” 𝘧𝘳𝓮𝓮𝓌𝘦𝓫𝓷𝘰𝘷ℯ𝑙.𝓬ℴ𝘮

“It did work, at least in the beginning,” Helena responded, nodding in agreement. “The Arks serve as anchors for the gods, and the ‘death’ of the gods is an intricate and drawn-out process. In truth, this process is essentially unstoppable, akin to the inexorable operation of the universe’s laws. Yet, the presence of these ‘anchor points’ has managed to maintain the gods in a somewhat stable condition until their complete ‘disappearance’. Our initial predictions were that this approach would be effective for several centuries, possibly even a millennium. We believed that with such an extended ‘buffer period’, we might discover alternative methods to further delay the gods’ decay, or perhaps even find… find…”

Helena’s voice trailed off, her words faltering as she seemed to struggle with expressing certain thoughts. It was as if she, along with the other popes, despite their decisive actions, were still grappling with the acceptance of some harsh realities.

In the wake of these revelations, Lune, Banster, and Frem lapsed into a contemplative silence, each wearing expressions that betrayed a mix of emotions – concern, resignation, and perhaps a hint of despair.

Beside Duncan, Lucretia’s brow was creased with confusion, reflecting her struggle to grasp the enormity of the situation. Nina and Shirley, on the other hand, were unable to conceal their curiosity, their faces etched with a blend of intrigue and apprehension. Morris seemed on the verge of speaking, his mouth opening slightly, but then he appeared to reconsider, opting for silence instead.

Amidst this heavy atmosphere, Duncan’s senses picked up a soft, almost ethereal sound of waves. It was as if faint whispers were reaching out to him from beyond a dense veil. He blinked, momentarily shifting his focus to the table in front of him.

There, he noticed a small, transient trace of water that appeared mysteriously on the table’s surface, only to vanish just as quickly.

Duncan, observing the fleeting trace of water, raised his eyes to meet Helena’s. There was a certain knowing look in his gaze.

“A substitute, right?”

Helena’s reaction was one of surprise; her eyes widened as she stared at Duncan, clearly not expecting this insight from him.

Duncan, however, simply shook his head slightly, choosing not to elaborate further. After a brief pause, he voiced his thoughts in a reflective tone, “…But now, only decades have elapsed, which is far short of the ‘several centuries’ you were hoping for.”

“Yes, the deterioration has accelerated beyond our initial projections,” Banster replied, his voice laden with a somber, hoarse quality. “We had believed that the current ‘balanced state’ of the gods could be sustained for up to a thousand years. But now, the forces of decay are rapidly spreading throughout the world. The original purpose of the Arks ‘pilgrimage’ was to fortify the link between the gods and the mortal realm. However, at this stage, we find ourselves devoting much of our efforts to mitigating the contamination emanating from their decaying presence… This reality weighs heavily on us.” Banster’s statement ended with a heavy sigh.

After a moment of silent reflection, Duncan addressed the room again: “So, you’ve initiated new measures. Are those related to the fleets assembling in the border seas?”