Chapter 49: Sumpter Copepods
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Achieved Novice Feline Whip [Grade 3]

Blunt Damage to Shell: 9 Durability
Shield Absorbs: 70% of Damage or 21 Durability
Durability Remaining: 40.0
Max Shield Remaining: 94.0

Shaking my head, my flame-like hair sways as I knock the blue wall away. I was just bounced across the room, my face has been scraped off, and I require a moment to orientate myself. The haze lurches toward me, mending my cheeks, jaw, and eye. With my eye repaired, my vision is restored.

Something warm sits against my shell. I glance beside me to see Jessica’s face is a mere two feet from mine. I tilt my head and look downward to discover that the place the Kiln struck was Jessica’s thigh. I am confident a sizable blue bruise must be surfacing upon her thigh as my speed was certainly not low. If it was not for this room being filled with vermillion haze, I very well might have lost all of it while being spun in circles.

I look down once again to find blemishes have begun to emerge upon Jessica’s trousers, and the threads are unraveling. Jumping to my feet, I back away; the area where the trousers were touching the kiln falls away, revealing, as I expected, a big blue bruise. Still, I do not notice any infection on her bare leg, only the bruise.

Raising my arm, I wiggle my fingers, waving at her.

“Y-you were what was in the welding suit, l-like, the whole time…?” she stutters.

She is not quite as surprised as I would have expected. This is when most typically scream or are too baffled to converse.’

I place my right index finger on my chin and bend over to peer into Jessica’s brown eyes. This is the best way to loosely judge a person’s intentions and emotions. Simply observe and ask thyself: do they recoil, do their eyes shiver, do they attempt to shove, and other such questions. It is not something I have done since my time at the orphanage and convent, but it works more than one might expect.

My fiery pink pupils reflect in Jessica's own. She gazes into mine; her eyes are wide with a hint of subtle shivering, except not much more than that. A mix of fear and curiosity, yet, it seems a tad subdued, perhaps a brave demeanor, but nevertheless, acting in such a way is suspicious. It is merely expected that when something such as myself gets this close that the person would be afraid.

‘She has some type of personal experience with oddities, and that makes her an unknown. I shall help her from beneath the coffin, yet I shan’t be escorting her from hereabouts. From what I learned from Terra, things such as me are unknown among most common peoples. If something such as myself found me in the past, I very well might have vomited in fear.’ I straighten my back, shrug, and take a few steps back. ‘Regardless, I have done more than enough.’

“H-hello, I-I’m Jessica.”

I raise my hand and make the thumbs-up gesture. ‘Aye, I am aware.’

“Can… can you tell me your name?” she asks, her fingers rubbing together.

Shaking my head, I peer downward. Jessica asks again, yet I must begin acquiring my bearings before attempting conversation. My head traces the path of the unwound cattail. Blue haze continues to flow up the cattail as I trace it to its origin. It leads me to the clicker that is emitting pale blue smoke rising from it. Bending down, I lift a bronze cog that lies strewn amidst numerous others.

A hot, nay, a searing hot sensation emanates from the kiln. My head moves back to the kiln’s shell; the blue haze has made its way to the shell and is being consumed.

Both the Cosmic System and Earl provide a message.

Elixir - Decoction Absorbed.
Effect: Mana Overload - 3H 20M
Ramifications: -91% Mana Pool for an estimated 25H 32M upon loss of effects.

Earl Interface:

Warning: The user has entered Mana Overload. The user may experience loss of cognizance if excess Mana is not expended at an accelerated rate.

Examining the two walls, I clench my fist and spin around. ‘What; This is unexpected?! It seems I must expend Mana and ignore the burning sensation. More than anything, I cannot afford to lose cognition! There could not be a worse time; if that Barlowe man is to be believed, three additional clickers are approaching somewhere hereabouts.’

I draw the cattail from the inner remnants of the clicker. A stray bolt of lightning shoots from within, striking the end of the cattail. Flinching, I watch as the last two feet of cattail bursts and droplets of oily vermillion haze drip about the Arcade. ‘...I believe I may have confirmed that the lightning from the clicker and from the tome are different! Without the arc suit, the lightning from the clicker is dangerous to both me and the copepods while the tome is only the copepods!’

“What was that!?” Jessica shouts, gawking at the cattail’s remains. I do not answer, so Jessica resumes on her own, “That… that thing around your nec—”

I turn away. Witnessing this, Jessica bites her tongue and stares off into a corner. With the room full of vermillion haze, the cattail reforms and I coil it around my torso.

When I step away to make preparations for my departure, I notice Jessica’s stretching her arm toward me. “W-wait!” Jessica says, reaching for my ankle. “You’re gonna help me right, help me get out from under this casket!?”

Turning, I hold up one finger and nod. ‘I have nary any intention of leaving the coffin, if I can manage it, that is. Still, prithee, be patient!’

As if she can hear me, she breathes a sigh of relief. Her breath sends out a hot cloud of vermillion haze.

Outside the Arcade, I overhear two men speaking to one another. Jessica does not seem to notice the men talking, which means at the very least she does not have a Perception stat that rivals my own. Of course, she could just be practicing trickery.

Eyeing Jessica, I listen carefully and realize that the two voices are those of Lincoln and Pierce, the two Consortium people I cannot seem to escape.

Pierce scoffs. “Gary says not to go in. Suspected P-Class Terror, possibly that Kiln, phantom, whatever, the newbies ran into, but he was unable to achieve visual.”

“The researchers?” Lincoln asks simply.

“They were subdued by the clicker. Everything was going well up until Gary tried to subdue a police officer that wandered in.”

“Probably those two that have a habit of asking too many questions.” Lincoln scoffs. “What do we know about the P-Class?”

“I could hardly hear because someone was screaming at him, but yeah. If it is the same one, Preston said it seemed like it tried to say something with what resembled sign language last time, but without an interpreter, it’s dangerous to attempt communication… By the way, he did say they were sending clickers from the nearby localities,” Pierce says, releasing a nasally breath after doing so.

“Those jackasses…? Fuck, whatever, we’ll deal with them later; we should consider going in there and pulling the researchers out of there.”

“Yeah, and they ordered us not to kill it, or we’d be run out of Chicago. It only just barely managed to beat the newbies and wannabes from the Hex Church, from what I understood. Still, the thing could have killed them; probably should have killed them if the rumors about rocks are to be believed.”

“Well, that doesn’t matter to corporate. People are second in their eyes, hell sometimes third or fourth. Besides…” Lincoln pauses; I assume he is enjoying one of his cigarettes. “It didn’t kill them, and not because of anything they did to prevent it.”

“All I’m really gettin’ at is, for us, killing it would be easy,” Pierce says, taking a deep breath.

‘Killing it would be easy!?’ I scream in my mind.

Jessica snaps her fingers. “...H-hey, uh, sorry, but you’ve been staring at me this whole time. Is everything okay?”

I wave my hand toward Jessica.

‘I do not know if they could truly bring about my demise as easily as they say, but I shan’t be risking it.’ I gather a platoon of copepods and point at a Consortium man. ‘With haste, grip the clothing of that man there, and drag them outside!’

Pierce and Lincoln’s debate continues outside the Arcade as the copepods lift their back legs and hook the clothing of the Consortium man I indicated.

“Uhmm…” Jessica follows the man as the copepods drag him away. “He’s gonna have a concussion,” she whispers.

Hearing her words, I notice the Consortium man’s head is bouncing against the tile, so I lift his head and order a copepod below it. His eyes follow me as I do so.

The copepods are slow and something else demands my attention—pressure has begun to grow in my kiln. I glance at a few items that lie scattered about the room: the coffin, the yellow tome, the black book, and the arc suit. ‘I could learn something from all those items, the coffin most of all; moreover, there is a lot of Vermillion haze I can make use of now that I have Mana.’

With the burning increasing, I resolve to make an attempt; producing copepods is one of the few ways I know of to expend Mana in mass anyway. Glancing at Jessica, I rush toward a sheet of white paper. ‘I need to give her a warning in regards to what is about to occur.‘

The last of the blue haze enters the kiln, and one of Earl’s walls appears.

Earl Interface:

Absorbed ‘Elixir Decoction’
Reduced Erysichthon value 0
Essence value 0
0.0 Refinable Nebula
0.0 Refinable Vitrum

Details: Specially harvested Mana rich decoction.

I was curious about the blue substance I have seen several times now; however, the purple wall provides little information with the only portion of note being the word “harvested.”

As I push Earl’s wall away and lower myself to seize some white paper, I hear Pierce shout, “Lincoln, at the front!”

“...Are those bugs?” Lincoln’s voice with uncertainty.

I glance up to see the Consortium man’s legs disappear into the cold night outside the Arcade.

“Who cares? It's dragging one of the researchers; pull them out of there!” The sounds of a light scuffle follow Pierce’s words. I never had any intention of the copepods returning, so this is as expected.

While the pair left to deal with their newfound responsibility, my kiln starts to feel so bloated that I seriously ponder whether or not it may burst. Looking down, I can see the flame within it is burning far brighter than usual. ‘Prithee, Status, Cosmic System!’

Name: Constance Nightingale
Race: Kiln
Seed Type: Tower [Germination]
Variant: Oort Stained Glass
Forms: [Particulate] [Collapsed **Inaccessible**]
Shell Level: 1
Flame Level: 1 (Progress Past Germination)
Durability: 43.2/49
Mana: 396.8/230 [115/115 Max Shielding]
Erysichthon: 00/100
Inborn Effects: Corrupting Oort Cloud
Adaptations: [Cattail Tendrils] [Comrade Cracker] [Throng of Haze] [Negating Membrane]
Skills: [Feline Whip (N-3)] [Gluttonous Naturalist (N-3)] [Supine Humorism (N-0)] [Tenebrous Sneak (N-4)] [Scrounger (I-1)] [Mana Compression (I-0)]
Titles: [Roanoke Lost] [Parasitic Thief +] [Trailblazer (Humorism)]


‘Copepods! I must make copepods to use Mana!’ Grabbing two sheets of white paper, the copepods start to appear and drop one after another from the kiln’s shell. The vermillion haze that is trapped in the Arcade flows toward me. I rush toward the plash of water near the barrels, dipping the cattail into it. [1] The cattail’s oily surface drips and stains the puddle of water red. ‘I do not know why I did not think of this earlier. The cattail’s outer layer is thick enough that I may use it as if it is ink.’

Taking one sheet of paper, I fold it a few times and then dip the paper’s sharp edge into the cattail’s red ink. The white paper absorbs much of the ink, dying it red, but I can make it work sufficiently. Lowering myself, I use the edge of the paper to write a short message for Jessica, “Good Morrow, Jessica. As per our agreement, I shall save thy freedom, I suppose. Do not be afraid, and do not struggle. This shan’t be enjoyable for me either.”

I stare at the message. To be frank, it looks as if someone scribbled their last will and testament in their own blood as they laid dying. ‘It shall have to do; now I need something that will allow the copepods to survive in the cold, windy weather for as long as possible.’

My gaze veers toward some of the plastic blankets that are strewn about the floor; these have always been at the back of my mind. The mere fact that the Arcade has been retaining such a large amount of vermillion haze is proof of their effectiveness. ‘Jessica first, then I shall start gathering blankets.’

With a small nod, I rush to Jessica. Her bloodshot eyes are wide, darting from left to right. She has her hand over her mouth, attempting to stifle any unintended cries that might escape. I hold the message before her, she recoils, blinking a few times. ‘Apologies for the copepods, though admittedly it makes me strangely delighted that thou art more fearful of them than me… but that is not important, just read this!’

She stares at the paper for a time, glances at me, and then back at the message. “This, uh, is basically unreadable,” she says, lifting the paper that shivers in her hands.

‘Thy face is unreadable! Even in such terrible ink, my handwriting is superb! I practiced quite a lot thou shouldst knoweth…! Relax Constance; she knows not what she says.’ Squinting at Jessica, I point at two particular sections, “save thy freedom” and “do not be afraid.”

As before, Jessica gazes at it, then me, then at the kiln that has copepods crawling on it, and back at the paper. “W-why don’t you just use a pen? There is no way I can read this,” she states, pointing at a white stick on the ground.

‘Pen?’ I think back to the time I saw Pierce using a similar object. ‘Pen!?’

“Hey… were you responsible for these bugs the whole time?”

Waving my hand, I rush over to the white stick. ‘This is nary a time for such frivolous, unimportant, and difficult to answer questions!’

Seizing the pen, I inspect it to discern how to operate it. It seems simple enough with only the word “Pascal Economy” written on the side. Flipping it over, I can see one side has some sort of ball. I notice some black ink still stuck to the end. I hurry to Jessica and take the paper. Lowering myself, I place the paper against the ground. I expect the ink to run dry quickly, so I try to keep my words, yet the pen seems to act as if its ink is endless. Somehow I manage to rewrite everything as best as I can with such a wondrous pen.

‘I shall take this endless pen with me also!’ I stand and hand Jessica the rewritten letter.

She takes the note; her eyes run over the letters a few times over. “Fuckin’ hell, this cursive looks like something you’d see inscribed on a dried-out scroll in a cave that’s been sealed for a thousand years. It even has some Old English in it. How the hell do you write like this?”

‘Old... Old English!?’ I reach to rip the paper from her hands, but she jerks it away.

“S-sorry, I was just curious. I got the gist of what you were trying to say, but I haven’t finished. I’ll prepare myself for whatever it is you’re about to do. I’ll try anyway.”

‘...I do not appreciate my handwriting being criticized.’ I spin around and scan the room.

Outside, I hear Pierce and Lincoln speaking. The pair are once more discussing entering the Arcade. ‘I could write to those two with this!’ I think, staring at the endless wonder.

Retrieving another sheet of paper, I am about to scribble an epistle, except I pause for a moment, ‘Terra would likely say this is the type of situation I should use “you”... but, aye, I refuse. This is my domain, so I shall use what words I wish.’

I begin writing the epistle, “To the gentleman by the names of Pierce and Lincoln, I demand that none enter this place. Thy people shall remain unharmed. Any damage that has been wrought thus far was done by the item designated as a ‘clicker’ and the person named Gary.

Furthermore, I wish to assert that ‘killing me’ shall not be as ‘easy’ as Pierce mistakenly believes. I was exceedingly kind with my treatment of thy ‘newbies’ and ‘wannabes’ as they are commonly referred to as. In closing, please, do not enter.”

I do not sign my name. My preference is to remain nameless unless I have intentions of maintaining a lasting acquaintanceship. It is easier that way if I ever choose to disappear.

Gathering a platoon, I approach a Consortium woman, roll up the epistle, and stuff it into her attire, allowing it to jut out so it is noticeable. ‘Drag her through that door,’ I command, pointing at the woman and then the door.

‘This is a risk. Everything I am doing presently is a risk… The payoff is too much to ignore; there is far too much I can gain from all of this to abandon it.’

The number of copepods has become troublesome, I am not certain, but it must be approaching a thousand. I start separating the copepods into platoons of thirty and then legions of ten platoons. I only manage to complete two legions before concluding that I do not have time to separate them all, though I confess that counting helped calm my nerves.

Thinking for a moment, I realize I have never attempted to combine copepods after having created them. My finger moves between two copepods. ‘Soldiers, join together!’

Both copepods charge at one another; when they make contact, their bodies mix. When the haze settles, a copepod that would rival the chamber pot tunnel’s rats is born.

‘It worked! Decoys! I can use them for decoys! I shall combine the two legions as well, it is easier to control them like that, but it can wait until last. All those copepods that are not a part of Legion one or Legion two join together!’

The Arcade becomes a frenzy as hundreds of copepods charge toward one another. When they reach a certain size, I stop them from combining and order them to the side. When things have settled, I have four giant copepods that range in size from a large dog to an adolescent donkey.

“Good God in Light, those are massive!? How about you, please, let me out from under this damn coffin. Being trapped with these things around is just plain cruel!” Jessica shouts.

I dismissively wave my hand at Jessica. ‘I warned thou before I began! I do not wish to have to worry about thy location while I work.’

Jessica says something in protest, yet, I do not acknowledge it this time.

Directing some copepods, I flip the tops of metal tables unto their backs. I then rush to a corner retrieving a plastic blanket and throw it over them. This makes them seem as if they are some sort of lumpy mass, and that is all I shall require. I repeat this with every table in the room, excluding the one atop Jessica’s chest. When I have finished, four tables and copepods, covered in plastic blankets.

One of the Cosmic System’s walls appears.

Achieved Interim Scrounger [Grade 2]

‘Ah, as always, a welcome boon.’ I dismiss the wall with a subtle nod.

Noticing my kiln’s pressure has diminished, I check my status to find my Mana is now below two hundred. I order the new arrivals to join together, giving me another copepod the size of an adolescent donkey; this raises my numbers to five large copepods and two legions. Grappling another table, I toss it on the back of the new copepods and cover it in a plastic blanket.

A small clacking sound catches my attention. I look over, finding the jar with the white copepod with “sea louse” written on the cover. Staring at it and my own copepods, a thought crosses my mind, ‘Would a different variety of copepod offer any adaptations?’

Unwinding the cattail, I spread the tendrils but hesitate. The haze copepods are not as disgusting as the real thing. Being made of haze makes the haze copepods seem almost unreal, in a way. Like they merely have that shape and are not truly a wiggling, squirming creature as the genuine throng of copepods, and this one does.

‘I would ordinarily kill the creature first, but for copepods, I shall never provide quarter.’ I turn my head away and drag the glass jar into the haze. The sound of the panicked copepod bouncing resounds as I lift the cattail and smash the jar against the ground. A tiny squeak similar to air escaping a kettle arises from the haze as the copepod dissolves inside it.

Along with the tasty feeling, a purple wall appears.

Earl Interface:

Absorbed ‘Island Louse’
Reduced Erysichthon value 0
Essence value 1
0.3 Refinable Nebula
0.1 Refinable Vitrum

Details: A sea louse that was buried beneath the soil of an island when it was exposed to mana and awakened.

I read the box and then state, ‘Prithee, Earl, show me any adaptations thou recommend as well as any that may include the island “louse.”’

[1]. Plash: Small puddle, shallow pool, wet ground.

Sumpter: a packhorse, mule, or other beasts of burden.

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