The bunch who were called entered the solemn inner room silently.
Even though deep down they were nervous and excited, the most basic of etiquette still had to be reserved. After all, this was the Church of the Dome's most sacred place, a place for worshiping all the holy relics and statues of the past popes.
In most circumstances, only the pope and Saintess were allowed inside. Even the Seven Apostles weren't able to enter easily.
While this group of priests didn't know why they had been summoned, they were now filled with a sense of unmeasured pride, for being able to enter the inner chamber of the Central Chapel was something an ordinary clergy member could brag about for an entire lifetime.
Inside the inner chamber.
The white altar in the center held the silver placenta, while niches in the surrounding walls were full of statues of past popes and some other sacred artifacts.
The place was dignified and solemn.
And the pope, clad in a magnificent robe and topped with an exquisite and towering white hat, stood on the steps before the altar with his golden scepter in hand.
Rodney watched the neatly lined-up priests get on their knees to bow with the usual benevolent smile on his face. With a warm, wizened voice, he said, "Please rise. There's no need to be so formal. All who are blessed by the moon are my children and are treated equally by me."
This made the priests feel a sense of warmth, and all nervous tension they had was gently soothed by an invisible spiritual force, amplifying their admiration and respect for the pope.
Rodney gazed at everyone with a smile which brightened when he saw those indistinct, protruding, and twisted marks on their faces and necks.
He stepped forward and spoke slightly louder, “You must all be curious as to why I have summoned all of you here.”
Nobody answered, nor did anyone dare to.
Although the pope was so benevolent and affable, this only made them aware of the distance between themselves and His Holiness.
Rodney didn't plan to let them answer either and continued, “You should all know that this is the most hallowed place in the Church where ordinary people cannot set foot, dedicated to the three sacred artifacts and the statues of the former popes.
"Today, you have the privilege of entering here because you have one thing in common that sets you apart from the rest."
One thing in common that sets us apart from the rest?
This seemingly contradictory statement caused this bunch of clergy to show puzzled looks. But after a lackluster day of service in the Church of the Dome, there wasn't anything that made them stand out, yet someone immediately associated it with something they had done differently from the rest recently.
One of the priests got visibly excited and probed cautiously, “Your Holiness, is it because of Holy Moon Essence?"
Rodney nodded, his smile unchanging. “That’s right. First, I must tell you the truth about Holy Moon Essence.”
He turned and paced around the altar and reached out to gently caress the silver placenta, whispering, “Holy Moon Essence is nominally a meditation aid, but in reality, is used to filter out qualities. Its main component is from a sacred artifact... Since the very first time you all used Holy Moon Essence, someone has been secretly observing the changes in your bodies till now."
Hearing they had been watched didn't cause them to have any conflicting sentiments. On the contrary, they felt delight at having been watched by the upper hierarchy.
And the following sentence ignited their emotions—
"Congratulations to the few of you present. You are the lucky chosen ones."
Rodney raised his voice. "Today, you will have the privilege of getting to touch a sacred artifact!"
Touch… a sacred artifact?!
The bunch of priests froze momentarily from disbelief before a sense of extreme fervor overcame them.
This was like a dream, being able to enter the inner chamber and getting the opportunity to touch a sacred artifact. It was akin to a commoner suddenly having the opportunity to enter the palace and touch the throne with their own hands—an unimaginable fantasy that could only be dreamed of.
And a component of Holy Moon Essence came from a sacred artifact. Wasn't that the same as them having a sacred artifact within themselves? This was simply a great honor!
Instantly, all of them felt great delight, their faith towards the Church and the Moon reaching its peak.
Following that, the first priest knelt down, followed by the others as they recited the baptismal rites.
Rodney smiled kindly. "The Moon will always protect you for all eternity.
Overwhelmed by this great opportunity, the priests hadn't realized that their beloved pope had only said that Holy Moon Essence could filter out qualities, but hadn't said what those qualities were nor the reason why those screened and selected had to touch the sacred artifact.
With the Saintess leading them, the devout priests formed a circle around the altar and reached their hands towards the silver placenta in the center.
There were exactly seven of them.
Moments after each of them had touched the sacred artifact, the silver placenta suddenly emitted a silver light with a vaguely psychedelic tint.
Rodney stood nearby, watching the scene without any change of expression.
He raised his hand with 'Ancient Ring', one of the three sacred artifacts, on his finger. “By the ancient vow, during the period of Full Moon, the Sleeping Moon Child will be reborn here. The placenta, the fetus, and the womb are ready. The passage has been established. May the Moon open its eyes, may it stretch its body and may it breathe."
He recited the incantation seven times, using a different moon phrase each time.
Every time this was recited, a complex circle of runes would light up from the central altar and expand in every direction, quickly spreading across the entire inner chamber and eventually converging and disappearing through the circular window at the center of the ceiling.
After the final round of incantations concluded, the entire inner chamber was covered in shimmering runes. And only at this moment would someone see that the entire layout of the inner chamber resembled the shape of a woman's womb if they were to look at it.
The entirety of the Central Chapel’s inner chamber was basically a complete, large-scale sacrificial altar!
Those seven priests were in the center of its radiance and could no longer move.
That placenta emanated a peculiar silver light that seemed alive, entangling around their bodies, leaving the seven priests with perplexed and terrified expressions.
“Wh-what is going on?!” The only priest who had dared to open his mouth had spoken in that moment of bewilderment and difficulty, the blindfold on his face falling off in his struggle.
Rodney was not bothered and only said, “We may begin. Please descend.”
Before the priest could react, he heard a shrill scream from beside him.
He was unable to turn his head, so he could only do his best to inch his eyes in the direction of the sound. In his peripheral vision was an unforgettable image that would remain for the rest of his life.
A nun being engulfed by light had her entire body quickly swell up like an inflatable balloon. Like red balloons filled with yellow pus and fluid, streaks of blood traces protruded from her skin from time to time, as if writhing marks swimming between her skin and flesh.
These writhing marks were increasing and becoming more and more obvious. It looked like there were hundreds of them. They were crowding, squeezing, and nibbling away. In the midst of the nun’s screaming, she became a human sac filled with these tentacles.Her body was distorted until her eyeballs were squeezed out of their sockets and rolled to the ground before she turned completely silent.
At the same time, it was also the last scene that this priest would ever see.
He felt severe pain afflicting him. Lowering his head slightly, he saw that his own stomach was already split open, his intestines seemed to be alive and twisting wildly.
Vaguely, he saw his eyes on his own intestines open and looked at him.