Clutching Sun Scripture at his chest and harboring a heart full of doubts, Vincent walked through the silent chapel as moonlight reflected through the stained glass panels all around onto his priest robes.
Because it was night, he still had a blindfold over his face to avoid gazing at the moon.
In the past, he felt that this was a necessary act of reverence to demonstrate the believer’s humility as well as the price they paid for the moon’s protection and power.
But now, the doubts had started to grow. Followers ought to maintain utter respect for their god, but when the true form of their god couldn’t be seen, that seemed a little strange.
They believed in the moon and called out the moon’s name. But… Would they know if they were truly worshipping the moon?
Vincent suppressed his sacrilegious thoughts that were sprouting like weeds in his head. Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm his mind and clear his thoughts as he walked down the long corridor to the confessional where the Seventh Apostle was situated.
The church where the Seventh Apostle was located was huge, with high domes symbolizing the greatness of the divine. Exquisite stained glass windows and magnificent white sculptures could be seen everywhere and there was a circular skylight at the very top which bathed everyone that entered in moonlight.
The main hall was in the center of the entire church and could hold more than a thousand. At the two sides were the priest quarters. The confessional of the apostle that oversees the parish was inaccessible to ordinary folk and only priests could enter this place.
The Church of the Dome was the most widely practiced faith in Azir and also where ordinary folk would have the most contact with transcendent beings.
But in truth, an apostle would only receive transcendent beings.
The Church of the Dome consisted of the pope, saintesses, evangelists, priests, nuns, and clergymen in decreasing rank.
There was only one pope, chosen by divine right. There were two saintesses, representing the light and dark sides of the moon and were in charge of conveying the holy word.
Seven apostles with titles according to the phases of the moon each had their own respective powers — New, Waxing Crescent, Waxing Gibbous, Full, Waning Gibbous, WaningCrescent and Dark.
Vincent was in the parish of the Dark Moon Apostle.
Evangelists roamed the land, preaching the Church of the Dome's faith everywhere they went. Their job scope wasn't much different from priests, just as if they were dispatch priests.
The reason as to why evangelists were a rank higher than priests was because they were the Church of the Dome's fighters and were actually combat adept priests. Compared to priests that specialized in healing, evangelists were favored more by the upper levels. Therefore, priests were like slightly dysfunctional goods and were only sent out to teach the faith to ordinary folk.
As for nuns and clergymen, these were just transcendent beings with even lower ability. Although their numbers were great, they were basically overlooked most of the time.
Vincent placed his hand on the wooden door of the confessional, hesitated for a bit before pushing it open slowly.
The sound of the door being opened was accentuated by the silence of the empty corridor.
The confessional was a small, nearly airtight chamber, except for a small window at the very top, through which pale silvery moonlight shone through and lit up the red-robed apostle standing at the very front.
The newly appointed Dark Moon Apostle was a lady by the name of Vanessa. She had long, straight chestnut hair, a soft, beautiful face, and a smile that seemed to be full of constant warmth.
Like Vincent, she too was blindfolded, but that didn't diminish the calming effect she had on others around her.
This was the Dark Moon Apostle's power, 'Silent Domain'. Of course, this was just a surface effect from the spillage. When the real power was truly activated, it would be a comprehensive silencing ability, causing aether in a large area to go dormant and unable to be used. On the battlefield, this was simply a deadly weapon.
The previous Dark Moon Apostle had unfortunately died a martyr's death while fighting a dream beast invasion. Thus, the saintesses and pope had elected an evangelist to become the seventh apostle and be bestowed with power.
Vincent lowered his head and entered. With a trembling voice, he bowed. "Your Excellency, I have sinned."
Vanessa was still new to the role and this was the first time a priest had come seeking forgiveness and to repent.
However, this wasn't all that unusual. The faith of the moon was so widespread that it was not uncommon for clergy members to confess their sins to a higher authority and seek forgiveness.
"Father Vincent, how have you sinned?" Vanessa asked with a kind smile.
"Speak the truth to the Moon, repent sincerely and mend your ways with an alert mind, the Moon shall always be merciful."
Vincent knew these words very well. He had often spoken the same words to the faithful many times. But now, he did find it somewhat strange to be on the receiving end.
He got rid of these thoughts and concentrated on his acting. The bookstore owner was right. He could not show any hesitation. As a priest with complete faith in the church, he had to immediately report all of these anomalies truthfully so that nobody could suspect that anything was amiss.
Vincent followed the script he had come up with. "I... I've been feeling very uneasy lately."
The smile on Vanessa's face wavered slightly. "Uneasy?"
Vincent answered timidly, "Yes, I often feel anxious, irritable, and unable to meditate. I find it difficult to breathe, and my entire body would shiver. I also frequently hear voices and see things..."
"Wait," Vanessa's slight smile still remained. "This isn't a sin, Father."
Vincent shook his head. "Please hear me out. I initially thought that it was because I've been so busy lately but it's much more serious than I thought."
After describing his symptoms in detail, he blurted out in panic. "Your Excellency, I... I've seen the moon in my hallucinations! I have sinned!"
There was a subtle change in Vanessa's expression and her eyes turned cold briefly. But she quickly returned back to her friendly and reassuring image as she comforted Vincent. "You've seen the moon? Are you certain that it's the moon that you saw?"
"I... I've never seen it before, but I've heard descriptions of it. It should be the moon and it was in the water." Vincent then asked, "Your Excellency, what should I do? Am I not pious enough..."
Still smiling, Vanessa replied, "It doesn't matter. That isn't the actual moon and it's just your imagination. You've never seen the moon before, right?
"Don't worry about it. All you need is a good rest. You were amongst those that received Holy Moon Essence awhile back. Use more of it if you are feeling uneasy. I'm sure you've experienced its effectiveness. If you feel that you aren't pious enough, have it guide you to the moon's protection."
Vincent acted like he had been successfully convinced and continued speaking with Vanessa for a while more before he took his leave.
Vanessa's smile vanished as she watched him leave.
"Bring me Vincent's surveillance records," she ordered coldly. "What has he been up to recently?"
An attendant suddenly appeared at the side and handed her a piece of white wax.
Vincent didn't realize that he and other clergy members that had been issued Holy Moon Essence were actually being monitored in secret via their holy emblems.