Deep Sea Embers
Chapter 607: The Dark Ally and the Skull of Dreams

The atmosphere inside the hall abruptly shifted as a sudden surge of warmth enveloped the space. It felt as if a potent ray of sunlight had broken through the confines of the ceiling, moving with intention and purpose over the heads of the assembly below. Yet, in the presence of this strange heat, the artificial illumination provided by the gas lamps and candle holders diminished inexplicably, as though being consumed by lurking shadows.

However, members affiliated with the Annihilation Cult, present within the confines of the hall, appeared remarkably unfazed by this unforeseen alteration. After a fleeting moment of mild upheaval, every eye was magnetically pulled upwards to behold the architectural marvel of the grand dome overhead.

Richard’s gaze followed suit. As he scanned the opulent interiors of the hall — from the luxuriant drapes and glittering chandeliers to the intricately painted expanse of the ceiling — it became evident that every nook was immersed in this elusive radiance. This play of light seemed to dance and shift, creating mesmerizing patterns, before coalescing towards the epicenter of the dome, where its genuine essence was unveiled.

Manifesting as a glowing orb, it bore an uncanny resemblance to a blazing sun in its full glory. It radiated an almost blinding brilliance and warmth. However, its ethereal and almost ghostly quality hinted at it being more of a holographic projection than a solid entity. Slowly, and with deliberate grace, this minuscule sun commenced its descent, making its way directly towards the Saint positioned at the heart of the hall.

Hushed conversations and muffled whispers buzzed through the gathering. Richard managed to catch fragments of these whispered dialogues, which indicated growing unrest among the attendees. A few expressed their indignation at the audacity of the “envoy of the foreign deity” for disregarding established customs and protocols. Some went as far as to argue that the hall’s sanctity was being desecrated by allowing the emissaries of an alien faith to enter.

Yet, the powerful voice of the Saint reverberated, reaching both the ears and the very souls of everyone present, swiftly quieting the murmurs. “Ah, our ‘ally’ makes their entrance,” he declared.

As the Saint’s words resonated, the luminous exterior of the descending sun-like entity started to wane. As it grew dimmer, its core became visible to all.

The heart of this projection was a horrifying mass, resembling a ball of peculiar flesh and teeming with undulating tentacles. Interspersed among these tentacles were countless eyes, marking this entity as the offspring of the sun.

The projection stretched out its tentacles, with every eye darting in multiple directions. Almost instantaneously, beneath this solar offspring, another spectral figure took form.

This was a human figure clad in dark robes adorned with golden trims, indicative of the Sun Cult’s priestly rank. A golden mask, fashioned to mirror the sun, obscured his face. The spectral priest, representing the Sun Cult, touched down gracefully on the central platform, assuming a position before the Saint.

The solar offspring emitted a deeply unsettling hum. This sound, composed of multi-layered whispers and uncanny noises, seemed alien and nearly incomprehensible to human ears, inducing a feeling of unease in those who heard it.

The figure, distinguished by a shimmering golden mask shaped like the sun, stepped forth to address the assembly. Interpreting the vague undulations in the atmosphere, he began, “I perceive the palpable tension in this hall.”

The Saint, an imposing presence with unusual eyestalks that now rose in a gesture that combined intrigue with dominance, responded, “You must grasp the significance of where you stand. This is the consecrated congregation site dedicated to our Deity. For centuries, we’ve safeguarded its sanctity by excluding devotees and representatives of external divinities. However, rest assured that our dedication to the pact we forged remains unwavering despite these age-old customs.”

The projected figure of the sun offspring, hanging in the air, seemed to expand slightly, its deep, enigmatic resonances filling the space. Swiftly, the sun priest by its side interpreted the vibrations, “These doctrinal disagreements can be the burden of the times to come. The twilight approaches, and we, the lingering fragments of the Deep Sea Era, must prioritize our mutual coexistence.”

The Saint’s deep voice rumbled, “Indeed, mutual existence. In the impending reshaped world, our variances will find their places. Did you arrive here to underline this sentiment?”

The sun priest, his mask reflecting the ambient glow, replied, “Not solely for that purpose. I sought to engage with you about the unfortunate setbacks we encountered in our recent expedition. My intention was to meet you earlier, but the oppressive presence of the counterfeit sun hindered me. Now that it has dipped below the horizon, I’ve made my way here.”

He continued with a sense of urgency, “In the vast maze-like forest birthed from the ‘Dream of the Nameless One,’ several of our kin met their untimely demise. The merciless flames of the Fire Usurpers engulfed them, and their souls could not find their way back to our sanctuary. This issue demands immediate discussion.”

The Saint’s form seemed to bristle, the jagged bone-like protrusions on his frame creating a soft clattering, perhaps signaling his discontent, “We too mourn the tragic fate of the sun descendants. But understand that we were not spared from adversity either. The sudden appearance of ‘him’ was unforeseen. His ship was last spotted far in the northern regions. His unexpected intervention and the actions of his disciples caught us off guard. Pointing fingers at us for such unpredictable events is not just unfounded, but discourteous.”

The ethereal glow around the sun offspring dimmed momentarily as it hesitated in the air. After a brief pause, it emitted a soft murmur. Instantaneously, the priest echoed its sentiments, “We haven’t come to cast blame on our allies. Our intentions are transparent. While we’re committed to backing your ventures in the ‘Dream of the Nameless One,’ we’ll withdraw our support if our alliance is exploited. Mutual respect is paramount.”

The Saint’s voice resonated, rich with a profound solemnity that echoed in the vast hall. “Messenger, I recognize the weight of your concerns,” he said, “But please be assured, we will not dismiss this episode lightly. In fact, just prior to your arrival, we had solidified our intentions to strike back at the disciples of the Fire Usurper. We’ve prioritized locating and capturing the heretical figure responsible for the attacks on both the sun descendants and our own kin, intent on restraining her and her malevolent spirit. While she may possess cunning and great strength, we are resolved to confront any dangers head-on to seek justice for those we’ve lost.”

Standing prominently on the dais, the sun priest, his face obscured by the gleaming golden mask, relayed the sentiments of the sun offspring, “Your motivations—whether they stem from a genuine thirst for revenge or how you propose to counter the powerful and enigmatic ‘Fire Usurpers’—are irrelevant to us. Never forget our foundational goal: the ‘Dream of the Nameless One’ conceals treasures coveted by both our factions. Transparent teamwork and unwavering alliance are our primary concerns. All other matters fade in significance.”

The Saint momentarily reflected before responding. The bone-like protrusions adorning his form made a rhythmic clattering, signaling agreement, “Precisely. We each have our distinct quests… Our pursuit remains fixated on that singular tree.”

The sun offspring, now lowering closer to the ground, directed its myriad eyes, nestled amidst its writhing tentacles, towards the large brain enshrined within an ornate skeletal structure on the platform. “And our quest,” it conveyed, “is solely for that sun.”

The ambient warmth that had blanketed the hall began to recede. The luminescence of both the sun offspring hovering above and the sun priest on the dais diminished before completely fading. In what felt like a fleeting moment, these otherworldly visitors had vacated the revered assembly hall.

An imposing silence hung heavy in the air. It was only after an extended pause that the members of the Annihilation Cult collectively exhaled as if they had been holding their breaths. Richard felt the frantic pace of his heart gradually decelerate, though a residual tightness remained in his chest.

He was profoundly unsettled.

While it may have been merely a projection that graced their presence, it was a manifestation of the sun offspring, birthed from the very core of the “Black Sun”. Such an entity, almost god-like in its essence, posed an inherent and potent threat to mortals. After all, the majority of those gathered hadn’t yet transcended the confines of their mortality.

Perhaps only the revered “Saint” in their midst held the capability to truly rival the power of the formidable “sun offspring.”

A voice emerged from the sea of attendees, “We should’ve never allowed the envoys of alien deities within these walls,” they uttered with a tinge of resentment, “Ever since their ‘sunlight’ graced our abode, they’ve grown increasingly brazen.”

“That ‘offspring’… It exudes a perturbing aura,” whispered a voice near Richard, the words laced with unease, “Its mindset, its genuine intentions, they remain unknowable to us. The constant need for an intermediary, that masked priest, to decode its messages makes one wonder. What unsettling truths might lurk behind the words we hear? And those countless eyes, as they survey us, they don’t seem to reflect the gaze of one sentient being to another. It’s as if we’re mere curiosities.”

Another voice chimed in, “I feel the same about the ‘descendants of the sun.’ They emanate an aura devoid of any discernible reason or sentiment. Ultimately, they appear as remnants from a bygone age, relics lost to the abyss of time, now wallowing in obscurity.”

Ripples of hushed conversations began to permeate throughout the hall as long-suppressed feelings and apprehensions resurfaced among the attendees. But, abruptly, the resonant voice of the Saint reverberated, not just audibly, but mentally, silencing the growing murmur, “Enough.”

A sudden stillness enveloped the hall.

He continued, his voice calm yet commanding, “I acknowledge your apprehensions. However, their might is indispensable to us.”

A disciple, cloaked in the distinct robes of the Annihilation Cult, stepped closer to the platform, voicing a concern that weighed on many minds, “O Venerable One, regarding the sun offspring and its ‘descendants,’ can we truly rely on them to uphold their end of the bargain?”

The Saint pondered for a brief moment before responding, “I have never placed unwavering trust in pledges made by such otherworldly entities, especially since their origin was marred by deceit. However, as long as our goals align, they lack motive to shatter this alliance. Their reliance on us is as significant as ours on them. Within the tapestry spun by the Dream of the Nameless One, it’s us they’re fated to ally with.”

The whisperings of skepticism evaporated.

Almost on cue, the chimes of the ornate mechanical clock, majestically mounted at the far end of the hall, reverberated.


The echoing chimes filled the silence.

The Saint’s voice rose again, pulling everyone’s focus, “This discussion has reached its conclusion. Time is of the essence. Soon, the bridge between our realm and the Dream of the Nameless One will manifest. All those slated for tonight’s venture into the dream, step forth and ready yourselves to make contact with the Skull of Dreams.”

Richard, encircled by a cadre of fellow black-robed initiates, caught a glimpse of several of his comrades advancing towards the platform. Among them, he recognized Dumont, the same individual who had approached him earlier.

Not wanting to lag behind, Richard quickened his pace.

Concurrently, a group of cultists adorned in muted gray robes made their way into the hall. They maneuvered a robust, rune-etched cart, its surface concealed by a blood-soaked black cloth. Beneath it, a shadowy, enigmatic form lay hidden.

“Position the Skull of Dreams at the platform’s forefront,” the Saint decreed.

As the cultists methodically wheeled the cart towards the elevated platform that dominated the center of the hall, the anticipation in the room was palpable. With deliberate care, a pair of them positioned themselves on either side of the cloth shrouding the cart’s mysterious content, their fingers lightly grasping its edges.

Richard’s pulse quickened. While he had faced the “Skull of Dreams” multiple times before, its mere presence never failed to stir a cocktail of trepidation and reverence within him.

The “Skull of Dreams” was an artifact renowned not just for its immense power, but also for the disconcerting aura it emanated. Every interaction with it brought forth an unrelenting dread that seemed to seep into one’s very soul. Although his unwavering faith and dedication bolstered his resolve to engage with the artifact, these convictions provided little comfort against the overwhelming unease that the skull induced. Each encounter with it felt like stepping into unfamiliar territory, where a primal fear held dominion.

With a synchronized motion, the two cultists removed the dark cloth, pulling it away to unveil the artifact beneath.

Laid out before the assembly was the “Skull of Dreams”— an eerily realistic depiction of a goat’s head, sculpted meticulously from what appeared to be dark, age-worn wood. Its deep black hue seemed to absorb the ambient light, making it appear as if shadows clung to its surface. The detailing was uncanny, with every groove, indentation, and line adding to its lifelike nature.

Chapter 607: The Dark Ally and the Skull of Dreams
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