Together my sumpter copepods pass underneath the arched exit of the Arcade. If time was a concern before, it is even more so now. Meanwhile, I lie inside the opened arc suit atop the coffin carrying, or more simply the coffin copepod. Gliding forward, I poke my head out from beneath the plastic blanket draped over its back. This way, I may pretend that my lower body is not beneath a blanket abundant with a multitude of vermillion copepods.
We step further unto the Terrace, the plastic blankets that are fastened to the fences lazily flutter in the breeze, thumping against each other. With six sumpter copepods, I place five of them in a formation that resembles an arrow-head and then one at the center. So there is one at the front, one to its left and right, followed by a final two at the back. I rub my palms together. Placing them in this order is, in truth, trickery. Naturally, they would suspect me to travel upon the copepod at the center, but my coffin copepod has taken a position at the far back left corner in actuality.
Lowering my eyelids, I look to the sky; it is cloaked in sheets of white clouds and is otherwise empty. If I had to estimate the time that has passed since I arrived, I would suppose I wasted at least an hour in the Arcade since the day has grown beyond the morningtide.
But how long I was in there is not that important; what is important is how long I was in there from the time the clickers were sent here. They could be here at any moment, and I would estimate this copepod’s utmost speed is around the same as a person’s walking speed. Which is not as horrid as it may sound; that is about how fast I was when I first arrived in this era, after all. The other copepods can move somewhat faster, but again, similar to myself, their speed does not vary much from one another since they are all made of the same haze.
‘I do not see nor hear any clickers.’ Looking forward, I point straight ahead. ’Let us continue our advance.’
Approaching the barrier of fences, I direct them to charge and push them down. The slowest charge I have ever witnessed commences as we ram and shove the fences, sending them into a sluggish tumble.
‘Flee to the north-west, toward the arched bridge. Then we shall go our separate ways to split their attention… I suppose I will have to repeat all that since none of the copepods will remember.’ Being at the back, the coffin copepod and I pass within a few inches of a section of fence that is still upright. I shut my right eyelid to regain my vermillion sight in one eye.
Just as we pass the fence, something within the arc suit makes a sharp ding. Hearing the noise, I pat my hand against the inner surface of the arc suit. The only item I placed in the arc suit was the lap-top; everything else, I tucked beneath the arc suit. With so many copepods, I cannot seem to find it.
‘Shush! Why ar—’ Before I may gather my thoughts, I hear a breath. A puff of white smoke floats past my face.
The cattail reacts to the presence before I even adequately understand what is happening. It shoots from beneath the plastic blanket and takes aim for the person’s eyes. In my peripheral, I see the person dodge the burning-red cattail with a turn of their neck. A hand then reaches into the arc suit, skimming the side of my jaw. Some of the smaller copepods burst into naught more than a faint fog.
Realizing I have fallen into a trap, I loop the cattail round, unravel its tendrils, and dart toward the back of the person’s head. I feel icy fingers followed by the silky cloth of a person’s sleeve brush against the side of my Kiln. Whoever it is, they are far too close, and they do not fear the haze’s effect. My hand reflexively seizes the person’s own. They easily overpower the weak grip of my vermillion hands. If this is an attack, my only hope is that the mana shield shall mitigate the damage.
Yet, I do not feel any pain; rather, I hear the sound of a hand clamping down upon the lap-top. It yanks the lap-top from the inside of the arc suit. I can feel its smooth surface thump against the kiln. One of my eyes is scattered when the lap-top is pulled from the neck of the arc suit.
At the same time, the cattail’s tendrils shut. ‘Did I catch them!?’ When my haze restores my eyes, I find that, alas, the person has blocked the cattail with their free hand and prevented it from reaching their head.
My own head spins in the direction of the person’s face. There I find a man with sleepy eyes, messy black hair, wearing a black suit with a mask hanging loosely from his neck. It is someone I recognize in an instant, Lincoln the Solicitor from the Consortium, and he is now holding the lap-top I had stolen.
He tucks it beneath his arm, his other hands still in the cattail’s grasp sheds a tiny clicking sound, and he casually jerks his hand from the cattail’s clutches. I pull the cattail back; his hand is unaffected by the cattail. With my vermillion vision, I notice that his arm is a ruby red while the rest of his body is a light red. He flexes his fingers, inspecting his hand. His fingers produce a few odd noises as he makes a fist and then spreads his fingers wide. The noises vanish, and his half-closed eyes gaze into mine.
My haze feels as if it is trembling. ‘Nay, this is bad, but… is he malicious?’
Without a word, we scrutinize one another. He was able to grab the lap-top before I was even able to consciously react. Indeed, he startled me, yet it was far too swift. With the cattail sticking out, the plastic blanket is lifted higher, and vermillion haze leaks. Lincoln’s eyes drift downward toward my chest, I realize he is merely observing the haze, but I still raise an arm, placing it in a position to cover my shoulders.
‘This… I do not wear this gown by my own choice.’
He rolls his eyes, but I still perceive the faint blush on his cheeks. The end of his cigarette glows, another puff of smoke exits the side of his mouth. Throwing his cigarette to the ground, he snuffs it with his heel and then lifts the mask that hangs around his neck. Adjusting the mask, his hand reaches into his coat. My plastic blanket blows, the end of which slaps the side of his mask. Numerous copepods gather to my sides, peering at Lincoln.
Pausing, his eyes move between the copepods, and a muffled sigh escapes from him. “Fuckin’ weird,” he grumbles.
He pulls out a familiar epistle; it is the one I penned and sent them earlier. Flexing his fingers, he exposes a second epistle behind mine. He puts the one I wrote back into his pocket. Taking out what I believe is a black pen from his pocket, he scribbles some more words onto the other epistle and then holds the epistle and pen toward the cattail.
‘...’ The cattail grips it.
I bend the cattail, bringing me the paper and pen. I take the two items and read the short, simple message, “Thanks, for going easy on the newbies.” it says with an additional messy line beneath it, “All valuable Consortium tech carries trackers and sound emitters.”
Lincoln performs a writing motion with his hand. “I know you can’t speak. Can you hear?” he asks, his low voice softened by his mask.
I nod. ‘He is fast, and I am short on time. I do not have time to fight, nor am I certain I would prevail.’
“Great. I assume you wrote the note then.”
Staring at the paper, I reposition myself, drop my hand from my chest, stuff the hem of my dress back, and then place the paper against the table’s back. As I am about to put pen to paper, I notice Lincoln’s pen seems much better than my own. Instead of a ball at the end, it has a sharp golden tip that is much more reminiscent of a quill, and the pen’s stem is a polished black that reflects both my pink and light purple eye. Lincoln was even able to write using it without deputy clippie’s assistance.
My gaze drifts to Lincoln and then back to the pen. ‘I shall respond first.’
I write, “What art thou attempting?”
“I’m not attempting anything. I just figured you’d slip out this way, only realized you had the computer when you got close. Now, I’ll toss that question back at you, ‘what art… what are you attempting?’” he says with a small chuckle. “Your answer is important.”
‘That is a threat; I have been subject to enough threats in my time to know one when it happens!’
Hesitating, I peek at the cattail that waves in the air. Although Lincoln has not spared it a glance, I can see his finger twitch whenever it waves in his direction. I keep it as simple as possible as I deem it best to keep the information I provide to anyone at a minimum.
Thinking for a moment, I write, “To live free and as I desire.”
I hold the note toward Lincoln, so he can read it. He stares at my note, going silent. Meantime, I flip the pen in my hand and slide it beneath me; it now has a new owner. His eyes dim, a bitter scoff follows.
“You and half the Consortium,” he says, motioning toward the Arcade where Pierce was previously. “Over a week ago, I told my partner there were worse places than here, but that won’t be true forever. The city’s done for.”
In the distance, I can hear Pierce shout, “Lincoln, where ya at!? The other localities are gonna be here in ten. Those bastards can’t find the Kiln before us!”
“I don’t have a good way to take you alive, and I owe you, assuming you give me back my pen, that is,” Lincoln says with a click of his tongue. Putting one arm behind my back, I use the other to retrieve the pen from beneath me.
I hold the pen toward him. ‘I just forgot it! Certainly, I was not envious!’
“Work on your sleight of hand. It’s not bad, but it could be better, could save your life even.” Taking the pen, he turns around and strolls away. His footsteps echo as they beat against the stone path. “Good luck chasin’ the dream.”
Drawing the cattail back beneath the plastic blanket, it drops and rests upon the top of my head. ‘...Everyone in this era is mad, all of them. Ordinary people do not exist any longer. But, what did he mean? It does not matter, I must leave, and he is unpredictable. If I am lucky, we shall not meet again. Also, my sleight of hand is excellent.’
Watching him turn a corner and vanish into the chilly park, I drop back down to my stomach and motion the copepods, ‘Onward… Aye. Onward.’
When we arrive at the arched bridge, I order them into a line. After we have crossed, I remove two of the sumpter copepods. Those two shall play the role of both distractions and alarms. Pointing at one, I command, ‘Thou march toward the Northwest,’ I point at the other, ‘and thou march toward the East.’
They commence marching, and I return the other three to an arrow formation and one in the middle. ‘Let us continue this way, I shall retrieve Gentleman Ape when and if I can deliver the coffin to the cave. God willing, the noble’s guard, Jessica, would have already made her exit by now as well.’
We move close to The Lake’s bank; if something approaches, we can perceive if it comes from the water. Not to mention, they should be wary of the dinosaur after the previous occasion. I stare at the water, I can see the occasional bright red shape on the water. They are most certainly fish as I can see the tail shape; still, I do not think the vermillion sight works as well at seeing through water. Trees and vegetation are all dyed in a red tint, similar to how my normal vision has a purple hue.
Turning my gaze toward the copepods, they are growing thinner, though I admit the vermillion haze is doing better than I anticipated. This is because after it is whisked aside by the wind, it sometimes strays back into the blanket, where it floats back to the top. I order the copepods in the arc suit to merge into the casket copepod. When they exit, they squirm over my Kiln like a wave, I have to stop myself from slapping them away. The copepods are not intelligent enough to navigate somewhere complicated without my directions.
In the distance, I hear a noise. Looking toward the sound, I see a puff of red swept upward in the draft. ‘Something has destroyed one of the copepods!’
I urge the copepods to move quicker. If I am correct, we have traveled around a thousand paces with at least an additional thousand paces remaining. Another hundred paces, I witness another puff of vermillion haze sail into the clouds above. Watching, I observe a clicker rise up and dart toward the South where the Terrace is located. We manage another hundred paces when I hear it—a clicking sound followed by a crackling. Rather than a lightning bolt that hits everything around, a single bolt descends upon the middle copepod. The lightning jumps around the plastic blankets, a white smoke arises from it as vermillion haze leaks from all sides. A cloud of vermillion haze rides the breeze skyward as a metallic clang echoes and the square metal table, covered by a plastic blanket, bounces against the earth.
‘Nay!’ I sink back into the plastic blanket, and gesture toward where I recall vegetation and command the right copepod. ‘Flee! Do not stop!’
With my vermillion vision, I watch the clicker follow. This is another of my tactics. If one copepod rushes away while the other two continue as normal, it makes that one the most suspicious. For whatever reason, the clicker does not use the lightning again. Instead, I hear something familiar, “English? 普通话? हिन्दी? Español?”
Peeping through the plastic, I glance toward the sound. There I see a scout and clicker to either side of the sumpter copepod. ‘They are attempting to speak to it. It succeeded!’ I command the remaining legion copepods to merge into the coffin copepod.
The scouting orb’s voice changes, “Hey!” a shrill woman’s voice yells. “Y’fuckin’ under there!? If ya come out, I won’t shoot’cha, I swear! Unless you’re not actually under there… Just come on out then, I won’t let the others getcha.”
It swings toward the coffin copepod. ‘Flee!’ I command the last sumpter copepod to rush onto The Lake. My hope is the vulgar woman shall follow it.
“H-hey! Don’t you dare get yourself killed; I want my damn bonus, but most of all, I wanna rub Gary’s big greasy nose in it! I’ve never wanted anything more in the last two to three hours!”
‘If thou wishes to rub Gary’s nose, then go to him and leave me be! Still, where are the other clickers? It is as if they are competing with one another...? Pierce also made it seem like that was the case.’
Moving high into the air, the scout floats over the top of the sumpter copepod. ‘Return!’ I shout at the other copepod. It hurries back, I point it straight and then make my own coffin copepod swap places with it. My coffin copepod vanishes into the thicket and then travels toward the north. A splash reverberates from The Lake; I presume a fish or the dinosaur assaulted the copepod that was traveling over the water.
Time creeps forward, and I do not know how, but I manage to enter an area of trees, near a place called Azalea Pond. That is around two hundred fifty feet from whence I deceived the clicker. As for the last remaining sumpter copepod, it is likely at its end; perhaps, it has already been swept away.
I hesitate to create more small copepods for my own coffin copepod as I have returned to only having access to the haze in my body to work with. ‘I need to hide the coffin and retrieve it later. Perhaps even a day or two until my Mana recovers… Which reminds me.’
Summoning my Status, I see my Ersichython is now “3/155.” I stare at my hands; they are as dense as they always have been. ‘Incredibly helpful, but the additional haze is in the beads, so I do not get the benefit of looking more… solid, I suppose.’
The casket copepod enters an especially thick set of hedges. I decide to keep the arc suit on, it protects me from the lightning, and the only one that knows I am in it is Jessica. Assuming she was not a deep clandestine spy, then perhaps I might avoid conflict with it again. 
Furthermore, the arc suit is still holding some vermillion haze, and I think I can use it to carry my items without the snow or my body damaging them. Preparing to abandon the coffin copepod, I stuff the papers, deputy clippie, the pen, and the book into the arc suit as well. I leave the tome since it persists in its effort to assault me if I touch it, and I do not know how it will affect the other items or myself if it continues for too long. Thus I shall retrieve it later as well.
I swing the arc suit’s legs and slide off the side of the copepod, dragging the plastic blanket with me. Vermillion haze pours off the copepod, weaving and floating through the trees and snow-covered bushes. The coffin and square table sink deeper into the copepod’s back until it bursts.
A big cloud of vermillion is swept upward in a draft. If I had a heart, it would stop. ‘...Prithee. I believe I have suffered enough misfortune for a nibble of luck.’
Dropping my head, I listen to the whistle of the wind, a minute passes, two, three, four minutes, and nothing happens. I place my hand against the outside of the arc suit and lift my head. Waddling to the plastic blanket, I let the cattail out and drag it over the coffin as well as the tome. I lift some stones and toss them at the edge of the plastic blanket.
‘It would take me a week to return to the cave moving about like this.’ My gaze drifts to the hedges. ‘But if I had my sable haze back, then I should be able to return within the hour.’
The snow almost trips me as I shuffle my legs toward the hedges. Frankly, I miss running around in my haze form. Glancing from left to right, I toss the arc suit’s helmet to the side, allowing vermillion haze to exit it. The vermillion haze is swept away faster than my sable, and I commence eating the hedges to supplement whatever is lost. I also create a few copepods and allow them to disperse.
After consuming several plants, my cattail was able to get my tendril around, Earl’s wall appears.
Absorbed ‘East Asian Smartweed’
Reduced Erysichthon value 19
Details: A miscellaneous heap of unrelated organic substances. None of these substances have awoken to Mana.
My Mana drops as my skin changes to a darker color with a tinge of red. I flex my legs, finding it much easier to move. Well, it is not as if I am rambling through neck-deep water any longer. Now it merely feels as if I am encased in a bulky, cumbersome crate, and someone has cut a hole in the bottom for my legs to stick out the bottom. Still, I do not get physically tired, so I believe I can manage.
As the snow begins to fall once more, I resume my walk to the cave. ‘I shall leave my items and then retrieve Gentleman Ape.’