Chapter 50: Packing For the Hermitage
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Earl Interface:

Warning: If essence drops under the 5 Essence line, the user will likely enter a frenzied state of mindless harvesting. It is recommended that the user avoids this dangerous state at all costs. If the user reaches 0, their flame will be snuffed.

Particulate Form Germination Tier Adaptations

Available Crown Adaptations
None Recommended

Available Skin Adaptations

Of Louse and Kiln +
(Recent Meal Island Louse)
A new variety of copepod will be incorporated into the user’s repertoire. Unlike the throng of copepods, these do not work well in groups and typically fight amongst themselves. Additionally, due to their starting size, they cannot be produced directly. Instead, the user must grow them in a haze rich environment outside of their form. These lice can subsist longer outside of a haze environment and understand more complex mental orders than a throng of copepods can.

[Cost: 131 Essence + 5.3 Refined Nebula + 1.1 Refined Vitrum]

Available Dress Adaptations

Snappish Beads
(Recent Feat Mana Compression)
Generate a beaded chain around the user’s left shoulder by becoming a host to two modified variants of salmonella bacteria—one specializing in excreting crude Acerb production, the other in excreting crude Acrid. Though crude, they’re modified to absorb and store quantities of haze. When the two substances blend, rather than explode, they’ll counteract, leaving nothing behind except salt and any absorbed haze. Grants a gross increase to the user’s potential Erysichthon value. Allows the storage of any of the four haze types for later use if the user can produce it. The storable amount depends on the variety.
Warning: Adaptation will rapidly absorb 56 Erysichthon of haze. Ensure the haze levels are at suitable quantities before adapting.
[Cost: 53 Essence + 1.3 Refined Nebula + 1.2 Refined Acerb + 0.7 Refined Vitrum + 0.4 Refined Acrid]

Grease Spattered Gown +
(Recent Meal Fried Potato Wedges)
Release an irresistible smell consisting of greasy fats and starches. Rodents and other such scavenging creatures will be attracted to the user’s location. The effect grows more pronounced as time passes, but additionally, the longer the user is in one area, the more cautious creatures will become of the enticing smell. Ultimately, they may come to fear the aroma of grease rather than crave it.
[Cost: 111 Essence + 7.1 Refined Nebula + 0.4 Refined Vebula]

Available Armament ‘Cattail’ Adaptations
None Recommended

Available Miscellaneous Adaptations

Deliciously Steamed Monkey
(Recent Meal Snow Monkey & Elixir Decoction)
When hot steam rises around the user’s shell, a dew will build on the shell’s wall. Not water, but rather the kiln’s paste in liquid form, the user can expect a short bump in Mana and copepod production. This adaptation does not enhance the user’s ability to resist liquids. Unintended effects may occur if shared with a low Constitution or unawakened individuals.
[Cost: 59 Essence + 1.8 Refined Nebula + 1.1 Refined Vebula]
Note: Sample squandered. Re-consumption is necessary if the user wishes to acquire.

Essence Available: 66 [R = 64%]
Refined Nebula Available: 6.4 (5.0)
Refined Vitrum Available: 5.0 (5.0)
Refined Acerb: 1.5 (0.0)
Refined Acrid: 0.4 (0.0)

When the wall appears, my eyes explore Earl’s wall, searching for the adaptation that might include the island louse. At the same time, I commence creating more copepods to supplement the many I have lost after using them to drag Consortium people from the Arcade. Once outside, I imagine they do not last long without protection or vermillion haze to sustain them.

Within the skin adaptation category, I locate the adaptation I was curious about. ‘Aye, so it is possible to expand my flock of copepods! That some adaptations might have superior variants of themselves is critical information; I shall have to sear into my mind. All that being said, it is far, far too expensive.’

With little time to tarry, I hastily run my sights over the remaining choices recommended by Earl.

‘The “grease spattered gown,” I have nary any desire for an adaptation that shall make me stink of grease, particularly when I cannot even smell anything myself. “Deliciously steamed monkey” is interesting, yet not useful now, and does Earl expect me to eat Gentleman Ape? Lastly, the “snappish beads” adaptation uses many of my resources, but... that is very beneficial for me, and I have never received an adaptation for a feat before. I suppose I shall ponder it while I prepare to leave.’

Dismissing the purple wall, I gather some copepods, point at a Consortium man, and instruct them to haul another person to Lincoln and Pierce outside. A small spark jumps from the scouting orb, reminding me that there is more of the “Elixir, Decoction” nearby. I check my Mana, finding it has dipped to under a hundred.

‘So many large copepods are using a lot of Mana. I shall require more!’ Seizing some cloth with the cattail, I toss it unto the sap-like Elixir, scoop as much as I can into the cloth, and then engulf it. The blue haze flows into the Kiln, the burning returns, so I make more copepods.

A moment later, both a purple and a blue wall appear.

Elixir - Decoction Absorbed.
Effect: Mana Overload - 2H 48M
Ramifications: -92% Mana Pool for an estimated 28H 39M upon loss of effects.

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.

‘The ramifications seem to have become worse. Not quite as severe, but I consumed much less than I did previously and tried to use the Mana before it rose to a high value.’ Pushing the walls away, I glance at the five large copepods that sit hidden beneath the plastic blankets. ‘I should bestow a new title upon them when they reach this size; thus, I shall refer to them as sumpter copepods!’ [1]

My attention then returns to Jessica. Having created so many vermillion copepods the room has grown more comfortable to see in and more importantly it is time to remove and load the coffin. The coffin is too heavy to lift, of that I am confident, so I must ensure it is on a copepod’s back from the beginning. If it tumbles off the back of the copepod then my chance of stealing the coffin to prevent the Consortium and Hex Church from damaging the roots again is reasonably forfeit.

I call forth the two legions I designated earlier.

Taking a quick moment, I assess the situation. Jessica lies on her back and upon her chest, a thin silver table presses against her bosom. The table itself rests flat side down, the legs skyward toward the ceiling. The coffin leans at an incline wedged at an angle between the two pairs of table legs. If the coffin was the needle of a compass and the table was facing the north, the coffin would be facing the north-east, but a bit closer to the north than east. It being wedged like this as well as the weight of the iron coffin itself, prevents it from sliding about.

I point at three copepods, ‘By my command, merge!’ I point at two copepods, ‘Prithee, marry together!’, and then one copepod, ‘Squeeze under the backside of the coffin!’

The plan is simple, increase the size of the copepods a bit at a time until Jessica can pull herself out. Once that has been accomplished, I will begin merging more copepods beneath the coffin and table. I cannot join too many in the back, or the coffin tilts forward, placing more weights on Jessica’s chest. Therefore, I wrap the cattail around the table’s back to assist while merging copepods in the middle and front.

“What the hell is that thing, fuckin’ tentacle!?” Jessica yells and kicks her feet yet does not move even a single barleycorn.

‘...’ Bending downward, I grab a torn piece of cloth near my naked heel and cast it at Jessica’s face. ‘Nay, it is not a tentacle.’

I place a pair of copepods at the front, middle, and back of the table and begin combining them. Growing each pair continues until the copepods nearest Jessica are the size of an adolescent puppy, the middle the size of a mouser, and the back are the size of large rats.

With her arms spread to allow room for the puppy-sized copepod, she gawks it. The copepod’s front appendages twitch as it moves a tad closer to Jessica, making it only an eyelash’s length from her torso.

“I think I can get out now!” Jessica remarks.

In a hurry, she places her palms flat against the tiles, turns her feet to be flat against the ground, and forces herself backward. Her feet bump the table as they slide underneath, the copepods stumble. One of the rat-sized copepods in the back is crushed, and I have to jerk the cattail upward.

Jessica stretches an arm and assists me in stabilizing the table and coffin. The remaining copepods cease swaying, and I succeed in getting a fresh copepod to take the crushed copepod’s place.

I present the thumbs-up gesture at her. ‘Aye, it is appreciated.’

She leaps to her feet, breathing heavily, peering at the copepods and the cattail. “Thanks for helping me; I’ll think of something to repay you,” Jessica says, rushing toward her partner Leo. She kicks a loose plastic sheet and freezes. Tossing the plastic sheet out of the way, a mask is revealed. “Thank god, a gas mask.” She puts on the mask and continues to her partner’s side.

Combining more copepods, I manage to make the coffin level and then begin mixing more copepods at the center of the table. A moment later, I am left with a copepod the size of a small donkey, carrying a table and coffin on its back. It used an entire one of my legions. I believe when they merge, a share of the haze is squandered. Moreover, with so much weight upon it, I can see its back and even the table has begun to warp. It has gone beyond the amount of weight the haze is meant to carry, which is to be expected because the copepods are even less stable than the comrade cracker adaptation. I do not anticipate it lasting long outside of the Arcade; to extend its time, I will need to feed it copepods as we flee if I wish to make it back to or near the cave.

“They’re paralyzed, as that guy said.” I flinch, spinning around to find Jessica shining a torch in Leo’s eyes. Jessica stands, peering at the copepods. “What is it you’re planning to do with these giant beetles?”

‘Beetles? They are my loyal soldiers!’ I glance at the copepods, their antenna twitch. ‘...But thou may refer to them as beetles if that is thy wish.’

I retrieve a new piece of white paper and my endless pen, writing, “I am leaving, once I have fled, wait a moment, and then leave by thy own means.”

“W-wait, you’re just going to leave us!?” she shouts in a muffled voice. She points at herself and Leo. “They said they were going to detain us, and police or not, the Consortium owns entire law firms worth of lawyers…! By the way, this fog I’m not going to...”

Flipping the white paper over, I continue, “Effects will fade. More importantly, yet more clickers shall be here soon, and I shan’t allow thou to follow me. If thou departs at the same time, they likely shan’t pay much regard toward thy presence.”

I toss the paper to the floor. ‘I need to flee to the cave, and I cannot get diverted, nor do I trust her. Apologies, Jessica!’

“Thou, thy, shan’t, what is with this, some kind of play. But, at least, it sounds like I won’t die from this fog stuff.” She rubs her temples with a sigh and then stares off into the corner of the room. “Whatever, I’m not even sure I’m not just hallucinating. I gotta question.”

Tilting my head, I motion for her to hurry while staring at her in anticipation of her question.

“Are you the only…” She gestures at me, waving her hands around, stirring the haze that surrounds her. Jessica looks me up and down while she stumbles on her own tongue.

Seeing this my own thoughts digress. ‘Now that I ponder it, how can Jessica see so well in the vermillion haze? Is it because she is affected by it? The vermillion haze is so odd.’

Jessica rubs the spiderwebbed crimson veins that persist and protrude past the limits of her mask. I can see a moment of worry, but she suppresses it by biting her lip. She resumes speaking, “Shit, I don’t know what to say… I just want to ask if you’re the only ‘thingy’ in the park?”

I cross my arms. ‘Thingy? I am not a thingy…! Verily, I might actually be a “thing;” nevertheless, I do not wish for anyone to refer to me as such!’

“Uhhh, sorry, I mean like, is there another one of your kind… like a black one?”

My arms unfurl and drop to my side. ‘...She knows of my sable form! Calm! Calm!’ I shake my head and shrug. ‘I know not of what thou speak of.’

Jessica squints. “Because my partner and I have been trying to gather information on it for a few weeks now.”

With an exterior of absolute composure, I tip my head and then shrug once again; still, my mind is racing. ‘Has information regarding my existence spread so far…!? I suppose I should not be too surprised, but I was just under the impression the Consortium and the Hex Church worked in secrecy. At least, they seemed to; all things pointed to that anyway… Good lord, perhaps I should go into the cave and never leave!’

“...Listen, I’m not an idiot. I can’t imagine that two ghost-people living in the same area wouldn’t know or be aware of each other. All I want to say as a favor to you for your help is, if you see her, tell her she has a month before a man in a tan suit comes looking for her.” Jessica hesitates before continuing, “A month is as long as I can stall the Espositos. Unless the Consortium is still around, that is, then they’ll reasonably back off, but either way, they’ll be snooping around this area.”

‘A man in a tan suit? I have heard that name before, from Terra. The name seems as if it would have its origin somewhere to the east of that one derelict kingdom, France.’

I take a white paper and pen the rough spelling of the word, “Espozeeto?”

“...You don’t know the Espositos? I… Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a ghost, or whatever you are, wouldn’t know. Long or short story? I doubt we have much time.”

Thinking for a moment, I nod, scribbling, “Long, I suppose, the more detailed, the better. However, I must work while thou speaks.”

Jessica shrugs while I turn and begin to gather items to prepare to depart this place. I start by tossing the frock with the two books atop the coffin as she speaks. Everything I wish to bring will be loaded onto the one copepod with the coffin. Rather than spreading the items amidst all the copepods, I shall be gambling on this copepod alone. The others will be distractions, assuming it is even necessary.

Dropping to my knees, I gather the scattered sheets of white paper. Some of them are a tad dirtied, yet they are all valuable to me, marred or not. ‘These are the first papers I have discovered without writing, and they are so clean. This era is so wasteful with its things. I should ask Terra if she knows where I may acquire more next we meet; I hope she is unharmed.’

In my peripheral, I discern a piece of brown board, that has several papers attached to it by a silver fastener at the top. I turn and take it in hand, reading the words “Deputy Clippie” on the silver fastener.

‘This seems useful as well; I will not have to use the floor to write.’ I inspect the papers attached to deputy clippie, finding they are full of words, so I leave it attached; perhaps I shall read them later.

Jessica coughs, adjusting the mask that covers her face. “So the Espositos are a crime family that has been around since… just after a court case involving the Consortium overturned a bunch of worker’s rights legislation decades ago. The Espositos started as a workers’ advocacy group if you can believe that. Anyway, they used to run the underground of this part of the city before Galtry appeared. Galtry pushed them out around a decade ago, so they usually stay away, but they will come around if something demands their attention.”

Placing the pile of white paper and deputy clippie next to the coffin, I hurry toward the arc suit.

‘Aye, I understood some of those words. I do not know about any court cases, but I suppose, to summarize everything else, Galtry and these “Espositos” are ruffians who fight a lot. That much is not complicated and is expected of ruffians.’

“Well, you won’t find a lot of that online.” She stops and stares at me, watching as I seize the arc suit and drag it toward the coffin copepod.

With a small chuckle, she rubs the back of her neck. “Not that you would go online or use a comput—”

Passing by the lap-top, I take it into my arms. Jessica’s mouth remains partially open as she watches me hug the lap-top and continue my trudge toward the sumpter coffin copepod.

She trips on her words when she resumes speaking, “A-anyway, uh… a-all of this is what I heard from a man named Giovanna after his cousin nearly froze to death that night the Boathouse restaurant got broken into.”

Casting the arc suit next to the left side of the coffin, Jessica’s statements sink in. ‘His cousin…? Nay, she does not mean the fopdoodle!’ I stare at the ground for a moment, shake my head, and make some adjustments to the arc suit's position. ‘There is nary a need to worry about it at this time. A month from now, I shall have my Tower, and my situation shall differ greatly.’

Jessica pauses and then says, “That’s all I’ll say; I think that information and me stalling is repayment enough. It’s up to you whether you tell the black ghost or not, I guess, but the fact you asked questions tells me you at least have an interest.”

I glance back, perform the thumb-up gesture, and then resume my preparations. Tucking the lap-top into the arc suit, I grab one last blanket of plastic, turn to Jessica, and wave farewell.

“Yeah, assuming you aren’t a hallucination, see ya… maybe” I nod and climb onto the back of the copepods with the coffin. She hesitates, placing her hand on the back of her neck. “Don’t trust anyone, including me.”

‘This is not meant to be rude, Jessica, but… I do not know why thou stated that so dramatically. I had nary any intention of trusting nor pursuing further engagement. I am not so gullible, Noble guards, Consortium, and Hex Church, all of them may keep far away from me! ’

I point at a few platoons of copepods and command them to drag out yet another Consortium person. The only copepods I have remaining are one of my two legions. With my command, they climb onto the sumpter copepod, crowding the back of the copepod.

Motioning toward the arc suit, I order another platoon into the arc suit where I shall be joining them. I spread the plastic blanket atop the sumpter copepod and dip down beneath the blanket that gradually settles atop the legs of the upturned table. I slide into the arc suit, pretending the tickling on my kiln is just the petals of roses. Being beneath the blankets reminds me of being in a tent if someone chose to make a tent from a flimsy material like plastic. Now there are six copepods with plastic blankets draped over them, causing all six to look identical, save for their mild differences in size and height. The coffin sumpter copepod is the largest.

Hidden from Jessica and with so much red haze about, a thought crosses my mind. ‘The Snappish Beads adaptation, now would be the best time to acquire it, while I am surrounded in Vermillion Haze… My biggest weakness has and remains my Erysichthon, as far as I am concerned, that makes it an essential adaptation. Earl, prithee, the Snappish Beads adaptation.’

The kiln’s flame swells, brightening the shapes of the copepods. A heavy muddle of thick orange and white haze spews from the kiln and drifts up my torso. I lean my head forward and observe as it gathers at my neckline. Small bumps arise from the haze as the orange and white haze look to be battling one another for dominance. Yet, in the end, they concede and mix together, forming beads that loop around the right side of my nape, around my left shoulder, and around the pit of my arm. It is like I have a very loose necklace and then a band around the underside of my arm hooked together by two strings of beads. From those strings, two additional pairs are added to each, all of which hang loosely from my shoulder and collar.

Scooting forward, I lift the edge of the plastic blanket. Haze rushes in and toward my shoulder. As each bead is stained a mix of red and pink, they all take on their own unique red and pink tint. When it has settled, several chains of beads draped over my left shoulder. With one hand still lifting the plastic, I attempt to raise it with the other, except when I do so, it does not move. Their reaction to my touch is reminiscent of the cattail, like a mess of oil and haze.

‘As with all the other adaptations, it is not a necklace, but instead, a part of my body.’ My fingers continue to fumble with the little spheres as I take stock of all my items. ‘It is time; this is where I shall discover whether I made a wise decision or if I was a tad too ambitious... and, I suppose, greedy.’

I glance upward to see Jessica standing there with Leo slung across her shoulders like a scarf. Through the mask upon her face, I can see both her eyes as well as the glassed-over eyes of Leo meeting my own. “I knew you wouldn’t just leave without saying goodbye.” She bounces Leo on her shoulders. “Y’know he feels a little light; weird.”

‘Light…? I hope she does not undergo the evolution phenomenon. Gentleman Ape is one thing, but a woman, well, I am not certain what would happen.’ Tilting my head, I take deputy clippie, a sheet of white paper, and the pen before scribbling, “Til the morrow, I suppose. Be mindful of thy health.”

“Where did you get all that shoulder beads from?” She asks, motioning toward her shoulders.

‘A mystery, mayhaps, Jessica.’ I place the paper and pen to the side with a shrug and command all six copepods through the arches. The sumpter copepod’s legs spasm as they place one appendage in front of the other.

‘Time is of the essence; to the hermitage, my sumpter copepods!’

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

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