Chapter 52: Completing The First Gate
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Over an hour has crawled by since I abandoned the coffin. In that time, I have managed to drop off my plunder at the cave, retrieve Gentleman Ape, and even return to the cave. I was forced to hurry due to the elixir’s ramifications, which has been gradually worsening. There was never a moment's opportunity to loiter and I even had to leave the arc suit at the cave when I went to retrieve Gentleman Ape.

Fortunately, since I was mostly vermillion haze, it was faster than when my body was made of sable. I would estimate my speed was comparable to an ordinary man’s sprint, so I made it to Gentleman Ape in nary any time at all. Returning took more time because Gentleman Ape can only walk so fast, and most of my vermillion haze had blown away. So much vermillion haze has blown away that I have regained my night vision, and after eating some plants as I walked, my body is nearly back to its typical charcoal-black.

I glance at Gentleman Ape, who is stumbling through the snow, dragging the rubbish sled. His white fur blends into the snow well; only his stripes and red face are clearly visible. He refused to let me drag the rubbish sled despite my efforts. When I returned, he seemed rather annoyed that I left him, so he has been slow to listen to me and not very cooperative.

Feeling myself becoming progressively more lightheaded, I ask the Cosmic System, ‘Prithee, how long do I have before the elixir’s ramifications are at their height?’

The blue wall of the Cosmic System surfaces.

Repercussions of ‘Elixir - Decoction’ estimated to peak in 0H 23M.

Reading the wall, I know that when I lose that much mana my lightheadedness will be at its most debilitating, but more concerning is that I shall lose access to the majority of my mana. That means my mana shield will not have the strength it typically does, which is dangerous for me.

Still, with or without the mana, I cannot afford to not make use of any time I may have. Though, thinking more about it, there is plenty I may do in the meantime, like pondering ways to retrieve the coffin, the tasks, reading, and skill progression. I do not lack things to do but rather the time for them all.

Upon arriving at the stairs that lead to the cave, we remove the items atop the rubbish sled and then descend to the cave. With our arms full of what we scavenged earlier in the day, I use the cattail to jerk the bricks from the cave entrance and toss everything inside. Wrapping the cattail back around me, I wave for Gentleman Ape to hurry in, and after staring at me for a minute, he nods and then enters.

After he disappears into the opening, I rush in behind him, yank the rubbish sled through the opening, and seal the cave’s entrance. The moment I turn and witness the beauty of my rubbish-filled home, I collapse with my back against the cave wall, pull my legs close, and lower my head.

‘That whole ordeal was frightening, and the more I think, the more I realize how much worse it could have been… With that Lincoln man especially, I have never had anyone, so threatening get that close to my kiln before; not even the Bishop managed such a thing. The only real comparison would be the wretched rat, and it almost killed me. Perhaps I tried to do a tad too much at once.’

With my eyes peering at the hard earth, I notice the little yellow orbs floating around the shell. These were given to me to complete the task of placing gates and vents for the Tower. Seeing them reminds me that I planned to place a gate in the cave. It seems like something simple I could do now, but one of Earl’s walls stated, “Any area a gate is placed, will be altered to a suitable degree.”

In need of a distraction, I ponder this before resolving to attempt my luck by asking Earl directly. ‘Earl, if I place the gate, how much is a “suitable degree?” Will it expose my position?’

The cave remains silent; the only sound I can hear is the patter of Gentleman Ape’s feet. ‘How inconspicuous is placing the gate, Earl?’

He does not answer, so I scream into the depths of my own mind. ‘Earl, prithee, assist me this one time? What doth thou recommend!?’

A few minutes pass, and an answer never arrives. Sitting for a while longer, my thoughts stray toward other things. I release my legs and stand. Gentleman Ape makes a small noise and saunters up to me, raising a cup of his favorite food item toward me.

I wave my hand. ‘Nay, it is appreciated, but we shan’t be able to gather more of those anytime soon.’ Walking to the corner of the room, I retrieve Gentleman Ape’s writing stick. Squatting, I wave the stick in front of him. ‘More importantly, those are meant to be thy reward for a job well done. Do not think I have forgotten.’

Tossing the stick in front of Gentleman Ape, he stares at it and then at me. A look that is reminiscent of someone who has made an unswayable decision spreads across his face. He grabs the stick, then with his other hand, points at the stick, himself, and then the ground.

With a thump, he drops to his posterior, writing “Gen” into the hard dirt and then stopping. He throws the stick to the ground and refuses to scribble more. Squinting, I take the stick and hand it back to him. He repeats his previous action and stops at “Gen,” except this time he casts the stick toward the edge of the cave.

I shake my head at this hairy little man’s antics. ‘Aye, aye, I believe thou hath made thy point. Frankly, I am not certain if thou art just being lazy, but Gen is an excellent name regardless. I suppose it is rather obvious in retrospect; I just thought it was a habit that thou had developed.’

A belated purple wall appears.

Earl Interface:

Recommendation: Place at least one gate as soon as possible. Gates will alter the area, but not the environment.

At first, I believe something has gone awry with the roots again, except after reading it, I realize this is the answer to my earlier questions. Earl has never taken this long to answer me before. Mayhaps, he was merely uncertain.

‘...It is appreciated, Earl. I presume what thou art implying is the area changes, but to put it simply, a cave shall stay a cave. Either way, since thou seem to have taken the time to ponder it, I shall take thy advice.’

I stand and step around Gentleman, nay, Gen, and scrutinize the cave walls—one spot with a crack grabs my attention. The crack is close to the center of the cave and nearly anyplace in the cave would do in all honesty, so I resolve to place the gate over the crack.

Yet, staring at the wall, I hesitate. Truthfully, I wish to wait, but I feel as if I should heed Earl’s recommendation, seeing that he acted a tad out of the ordinary by replying at all, never mind several minutes after being questioned.

I raise my hand and place it on my forehead, I am beginning to feel dizzy and I merely wish to be done with this. So lowering my hand, I point. ‘Aye, let us get on with it. I wish to install a gate on that wall, Earl.’

One of the yellow lights spins around the kiln. It separates and bobs toward the crack in the cave’s wall. Like a leaf upon the breeze, it rubs against the wall and then sinks into the crack as if it is water.

Dropping my arm, a heavy bout of lightheadedness swells and both a purple and blue wall appears seconds after the other.

-92% Mana Pool. Mana pool will recover over an estimated 28H 39M.

Earl Interface:

The gate will complete within the next 72 hours to 75 hours.

I read the walls and then take a seat. Unraveling the cattail, I stretch it toward the Hex Church book, the ecology book, and the messenger orb. I drag the items to me and then bend the cattail toward our pile of food stock.

As I consume random bits of food, my eyes drift to the crack, a faint radiance emanates from within. I shake my head and open the Ecology book. ‘I only wish to read; I have done more than enough today.’

Achieved Interim [Mana Compression (I-1)]
Achieved Interim [Mana Compression (I-2)]
Achieved Interim Scrounger [Grade 3]
Achieved Interim Scrounger [Grade 4]
Achieved Novice Feline Whip [Grade 4]
Achieved Novice Gluttonous Naturalist [Grade 4]
Achieved Novice Tenebrous Sneak [Grade 5]
Achieved Novice Tenebrous Sneak [Grade 6]

Three days come and go.

Over two of those days the ramifications of the elixir’s “overload” faded and my mana has recovered. Gen and I have spent our time primarily in hiding except when we would go out for a few hours. We have kept to the northern portion of the park to scavenge and have ceased visiting the children to gather supplies. It is too dangerous to go back after Lorcan was there last time.

While the ramifications were still ongoing, I made use of what little mana I possessed to train my Mana Compression by using the messenger orb. Thus I was able to advance it by two grades. One additional grade for mana compression a day would be sufficient at this point, but I plan to attempt two in one day soon. That way, I could guarantee that I acquire the skill, just in case any new incidents ensue in the next few days.

Moreover, I made excellent progress with my other skills, especially the Interim skill Scrounger and the Tenebrous Sneak skill. I also learned that Novice skills do not advance at “Grade 5,” and I am not certain what the grade requirement is to advance my rank. Presumably, it is either only a matter of time, or I must do something specific to advance.

Other than that, I spent time reading the ecology book and the other book I took, “Gospel of the Hexed: Contracting Man’s Past.” I did not make it very far into the Gospel of the Hexed; many of the subjects clearly require knowledge of certain concepts or topics I am not privy to.

The most interesting thing I was able to understand was the different types of contracts covered: domination, subordinate, reciprocal, and the odd one out, a bargain. Domination was the one Emily attempted to use on me and it gives one of the “parties” absolute authority over the other. Subordinate is an “in good faith” contract that may become void if the higher party abuses the lower party. Reciprocal is one where two parties make an agreement that is mutually beneficial. Finally, a bargain is a temporary contract related to the trading of goods or some services.

Of those types, save for bargaining, they can be “lifetime,” “upon fulfillment,” or “until void.” Lifetime is only available for domination or reciprocal and is the rarest because, as the name suggests, there is not a way out of it excluding death. There were some means for a domination contract to get around it, but not for reciprocal; those seem to take into account that both parties willingly consented to the stipulations and that the agreement was mutually beneficial. The other two are more self-explanatory and can apply to any of the contracts, except bargains.

I also learned that a spirit scribe, what Emily claimed to be, can make these contracts between anyone with or without themselves being involved. This can apparently be done because the contract is written unto the spirits of the ones who made the agreement and then recorded in the spirit scribes tome.

‘A lifetime reciprocal contract… a guaranteed way to trust another. It sounds rather familiar. Where could she be? I pray it will not be too much longer until we meet again.’

My shoulders drop as my thoughts wander.

At this moment specifically, I am alone and am in the process of returning to the cave. I snuck out, leaving Gen to his devices after I recalled a child with his mother carrying a sled weeks ago. So after walking to the north of the park, I found a hiding place to watch for children with sleds. For hours I sat until an older child commenced throwing a fit. While they were acting hateful toward their mother and putting on a performance, I took the opportunity to borrow their sled. I plan to use it for the coffin since dragging the coffin all the way to the cave by force is not practical.

But I shall wait until nightfall to retrieve the coffin; I know it is still there as I went to check on it and the Terrace a day ago. When I did so, I was able to bring the yellow tome back with me; nevertheless, I intend to return to the cave for now. The gate shall be finished within the hour, and, well, the cave has changed significantly under its effect. As for the Terrace, I did not see many Consortium people there, which is excellent, but it seemed as if they were preparing for there to be a lot of people. The worst part is they appeared to be placing sturdier, taller fences. It is all concerning, yet there is naught I may do about it without more information or preparation.

With the sled in tow, I approach the stairs to the cave. The trees in the area all have a bit of weakness and sickliness about them. Some of the trees that would ordinarily retain their leaves regardless of the time of year have even begun to drop their leaves. I presume this is likely the gate’s doing.

Descending the stairs and arriving at the cave’s entrance, I unwind the cattail and begin pulling bricks. Over the past days, I have widened the opening into the cave to allow larger things to enter, such as the coffin and sled. Where before I only had a single wedge of bricks that was big enough for Gen, I now have ten. If all ten are all removed, the opening becomes around five feet wide by two feet tall, but I rarely remove them all. Just enough to pull whatever I require through the opening.

With the bricks out of the way, I push the sled through and follow behind. There is not a need for my night vision here any longer. The cave’s ceiling has been glassed over by stained glass that emanates a gentle glow, comparable to the light of a full moon.

Yet this is not even the most significant change to occur. Without warning, a section of the wall with the crack in it collapsed yesterday. After the dust cleared, what was left was an archway that leads into a circular room with an ornate door opposite the archway.

This makes me think that the crack I laid the gate in led to some sort of hollow. I suppose it is also conceivable that the gate itself enlarged the cave, except I never encountered any loose soil to warrant that explanation. The only reason I am not convinced is that the room appears rather intentional in its shape, so I presume it may have been a combination of a hollow and the gate itself.

I glance at Gen, who snores lightly, his back curved as he sleeps on a sack of rubbish. Placing the sled to the side, I walk into the room I have merely been calling the gate room. Upon stepping through the archway, I cannot help but stop and admire it.

The ceiling and floor look like what one would expect in a cave, uneven and ridged. While the walls are smooth, I think that is because of the stained glass panels that cover them. There are twelve panels, six on each side of the arched doorway, with the final two panels each making up a side of the ornate door. Each panel shows a depiction that somewhat mirrors the other. By that, I mean the one closest to the arched doorway both displays a mother cradling a child, except one has a mother adorned in jewels while the other has a mother in rags.

If I stand at the center of the room and face the ornate door, the panels on the right depict a girl born into riches. The first panel is the mother cradling the child, then a young lady in a beautiful gown, yet she looks unhappy. For the next three panels, the young lady is seen picking up a sword, training her swordplay, and then donning armour of gold.

On the opposite side, it shows a boy born into poverty. He matures into a strong young man by the second panel. By the third panel, he battles against ruffians using a rusty knife. The fourth, he trains with a wooden sword. The fifth, he tans leather while a polished iron sword rests at his feet.

By the sixth panel, both the young lady and the young man meet. Each stands at opposite sides of the ornate door; rather, the final panels are the door. The young man wearing the poor equipment grips the door’s crack with his left hand while the young lady in golden armour grips it with her right gauntlet. In their opposite hands, their swords are raised and cross one another to make an “X” that bars the door.

I run my hands across the smooth panels and think back to what Earl said yesterday after this room was revealed. His wall was baffling yet straightforward. He stated that the gate would actually lead somewhere upon completion, and he even recommended that I enter it when it has finished.

Having made my way around the room, I reenter the rubbage room. Since I have time, I have been experimenting with an item I attained a while ago now. Retrieving the item, I take a seat in one corner of the gate room. The item in question is the pistol I ‘borrowed’ from Preston. I spent last week struggling to attain my Interim Mana Compression, and then, to be honest, I have been afraid to experiment with this weapon. All I know is if I pull the “tricker,” then that shall send the pellet soaring. [1]

I turn the pistol, inspect the barrel, and then spin the pistol around. ‘I am going to do it.’ I stand and walk back into the rubbish area of the cave. ‘I shall discharge this weapon, so I may use it later if the need arises.’

Glancing at the cave’s entrance, I remember the sound of the pistol is rather loud, so I grab a bag of rubbish with the cattail and pull it into the gate room. Gen watches and then follows me into the gate room.

I place the rubbish bag and then look between it and the pistol. ‘That rubbish bag will take the impact... I think.’

I motion toward Gen, instructing him to cover his ears. He does not understand, at least I believe he does not, but he enjoys mimicking me, and I have learned to use that to my advantage. Gripping the pistol in the cattail’s tendrils, I step away, lean my head back a tad, and prepare for the deafening sound.

Gen tilts his head, his hands over his ears, as I flex the tendrils. The deafening noise I expected reverberates. More sounds follow as the pellet rips through the rubbish bag and strikes the glass panel behind it. The pellet bounces off of the glass panel, producing a blue shimmer as it does so; another blue shimmer spreads from the wall in the corner, and then another from the ornate door.

I duck as the pellet seemingly strikes the cave ceiling above me—a dusting of rock and stone sprinkles onto Gen and I. My gaze slowly curves upward until it reaches the pistol that is still gripped in the cattail’s tendrils. I release it and wrap the cattail around my torso.

‘Nay. I do not like it… Perhaps I shall try again on another occasion.’

Standing, I look to Gen, but he is not there. I spin in place and cannot seem to find him, so I go into the other room where I notice a shivering heap of rubbish—a tiny whimpering exudes from the pile.

‘Apologies, Gen! I did not know; it was not my intention to frighten thou!’

I rush to our stockpile at the edge of the room and retrieve Gen’s favorite food. Gripping the cup of pudding by its edge, I wave it above the shivering pile, the whimpers fade, replaced by the sounds of sniffing. A hairy arm gradually rises from the pile, takes the cup, and then sinks back into the pile.

‘Aye, nary a need to worry, I am certain that must have been scary. It was scary for me…! Also, I suppose thou hast been struck by it before, so it must be even worse.’ The sound of something scraping together echoes from the gate room. ‘Is that the gate? Is it complete?’

Drifting into the gate room, the panels of glass radiate light. I watch as the young lady in gold armour and the young man in the leather equipment drop their blades, placing them at their side. The panels commence separating, revealing what is behind the door—an unforgettable place of darkness and a lonesome hill atop which a single dead willow tree sleeps.

[1]. Tricker: device by means of which a catch or spring is released and a mechanism set in action. Tricker was the usual form in English until c. 1750 and it was replaced by trigger.

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