Chapter 6 “Missing Cargo”
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While the sailors assembled with their chaotic footsteps, Lawrence and his second mate first went ahead to help the priest up into a better position. Then looking out the window, the old captain saw they were still in the thick of the fog and far from safety. Nevertheless, the sight of that terrifying ghost ship being gone was enough to satisfy him for now.
Next, he must determine exactly what the Vanished took from the White Oak—or what it left behind.
And it must be determined as shortly as possible.
He simply did not dare to let the ship back into the real world without ruling out all the hidden dangers – there are things, if brought, would cause catastrophic damage to the real world. On the contrary, he also didn’t want to extend their stay in the spirit world less there be an irreversible effect on his crew.
Eventually the noise from above deck brought him back from his thoughts. Looking up to examine the holy cleric and the incense burner, he asks with concern in his voice: “Mr. Ron, how stable are we right now?”
The priest heaved incessantly as he coughed like those who’s been stricken with illness. Then taking out a compass from his chest pocket, the priest etches some sort of sacred symbol with his finger at the air and silently chants a spell to make the arrow spin until it stops at a certain position.
“We’re floating somewhere in-between the surface and the spirit world, slightly closer to the real world so the influence of the depths is minimal….” The priest then got all confused after staring down at the compass arrow, “Strange… we are completely stable here despite the relic being turned off. We’re not sinking at all…. Uuoomph, ooomph…”
“Maybe the ‘collision’ of the Vanished actually knocked us onto a safe route,” Lawrence shook his head with a wry smile, trying to enliven the mood with a bad joke. “I heard there are some delicate balance points in the spirit world that can keep us from being pulled into the deeper parts…”
“Mr. Captain, this joke is bad even for you,” said the priest with a grin before breaking out in more wheezing coughs. “In any case, what happened today must be reported to the Church… The appearance of the Vanished is no small matter. There have been sightings of the Vanished for decades in the past, but never have we been able to confirm it like this. Oh bless the goddess for keeping us safe. Captain, you and your crew need to be psychologically prepared for when we return to Pland. None of you will be able to sail again in the near future.”
“You do not need to remind me Mr. Ron, I understand the authorities and the Church will not want a ship that’s suffered the visit of the Vanished to leave their sight so quickly. For the safety of all, I intend to make a report to both parties and the Explorers Association…. Alas, I also need to make a report to my terrible wife. I’m sure she will have quite the tongue lashing for me when I get back…” Captain Lawrence pressed his forehead hard, and after a long sigh he waved the pain away, “Without further ado, you need to rest now, and until we return to port, this ship needs the blessing of the goddess.”
The priest nodded at that, and soon the first mate had returned to the cabin as well.
“There are no missing aboard, and there are no new people,” the first mate reported as soon as they met without waiting for the captain’s question, “I personally examined the sailors assembled on deck and went to the boiler room to check the mechanics who remained there. They could all accurately pronounce the names of the gods they believed in.”
“Not a single one?” Lawrence’s eyes widened in surprise. This should have been good news, but he couldn’t believe things would be so well, “What about the holy relic?”
“The relic is functioning as normal,” the first mate nodded at once, “the navigator is preparing incense and essential oils for burning. We await your orders, Captain.”
Lawrence listened in disbelief and once again couldn’t stop muttering, “… Did he really spare our ship?”
“Good luck is in our favor, Captain.” The first mate spreads his hands, “We didn’t lose anyone. Perhaps that ghost captain only happens to pass by and our encounter is an accident.”
“Do you believe this yourself?” Lawrence immediately glanced at his first mate with a face, “If good luck really favors us, we wouldn’t have met at all…”
Halfway through his words, a rush of footsteps suddenly sounded outside before the cabin door swung open. A sweaty sailor promptly came before Lawrence with a look of dread.
“Captain! Anomaly 099 is missing!!”
There was an instant silence in the cab, and everyone was looking at each other. Somehow though, Lawrence only got a sense of relief at this news.
This is too great. We’ve finally found the problem on the ship!
But then he controlled the expression on his face and strode out the cabin with his first mate at the wheel. The old captain must confirm this immediately as he led the way forward to the deepest part of the steamship.
Soon, a special cabin came before their eyes.
The door of this cabin had dense occult symbols engraved on the frame, and the whole piece seems to be forged from black iron. The whole setup acted like a closed-off cage meant to preserve whatever’s held inside.
Lawrence first confirmed there was no damage to the symbols on the door, then looked up again towards the “relic room” one level above this one. This arrangement was to make sure the content of 009 wouldn’t pollute the rest of the ship and drag them “deep” into the sea.
But it was in such an arrangement – where both barrier and insurance remained intact – that the critical cargo escorted by the White Oak went missing.
Lawrence inhaled deeply and unsealed the lock, pushing the heavy iron door inward with force.
Inside the sealed room, the lights were bright, and the gas lamps hanging on the four columns illuminated the center with no blind spots to see. Yet, the “goods” that should’ve been here had disappeared, leaving only a few crisscrossing chains and some gray-white ashes scattered on the surrounding floorboard.
The lead deckhand’s voice spoke from behind: “According to the seal requirements of anomaly 099. The room was always lit, and every two hours, a crew member would come in to re-reinforce the chains around the ‘coffin’ and sprinkle ashes on the floor. But when the ghost ship appeared, because of the chaos, the sailor who was supposed to be on duty did not enter the room in time. It was almost seven minutes late when we discovered 099’s disappearance….”
“Just seven minutes won’t cause that thing to get out of control. The seals we placed here aren’t for decoration. At worst, the coffin would only be able to move about in the room.” Lawrence frowned and shook his head, “We know it’s missing for sure and has left the ship…. This is not the fault of the sailor.”
The deckhand appears a little nervous, “Then your meaning is…”
“It must be the Vanished,” Lawrence said in a deep voice, “and the ‘captain’ took Anomaly 099 with him…”
Speaking of this, he paused and sighed softly: “Perhaps we should be thankful that the Vanished only wanted that thing only and didn’t take any of our lives.”
The deckhand met his captain’s gaze, then around the empty seal room, he finally spoke with hesitancy, “But… how will we tell the authorities that we lost their important cargo?”
Lawrence didn’t get fazed by the mention and patted the man’s shoulder.
“The Vanished is a natural disaster, and we have maritime insurance.”
“…… Does the insurance company pay for this?”
“If they won’t then we will ask the Explorers Association to issue a new bounty for the Vanished…”
“Captain, aren’t you a little…”