Terra stares at me. Only seconds earlier, she unveiled her face, revealing that it has been partially sewn with gray or perhaps a more argent colored fabric.
Unable to confront my gaze, she turns away and asks, “What do you think? Pretty scary, isn’t it? This was stitched to me on my tenth birthday. The ‘optimal age’ to have forty percent of my face replaced with silken runes, as that man put it. To add insult to injury, this face, stitched with runes, is the face that everyone now associates with ‘Galtry.’ What an unfunny joke life can sometimes be.” She scoffs and fiddles with the veil. Kneading the veil between her fingers, the fibers rub together, making a faint noise. “I paid the Consortium a substantial sum of money for a pair of veils, so I could disguise my appearance and go into public casually. Worth every penny for the semblance of normality they have afforded me the last couple of years.”
I study her appearance closely. “I think it…”
She nods as if she already knows what I am about to say. The dark rings around her iris shift and wiggle as if it is ink that refuses to dry. “You know, the first thing I did after getting the veils was to visit a chain cafe. I didn’t even order anything for the first hour; I just sat there. Not that I didn’t get some looks, but they weren’t looks of fear. They were different. It had been years since a stranger glanced at me without turning pale. It was therapeutic.”
Seeing Terra’s forlorn expression, my eyelids narrow. “I think it looks...”
“I know, it loo—”
I scoop a handful of snow and drop it over Terra’s noggin. “I am attempting to speak!”
The snow slowly slides off her head. She narrows her eyes, purses her lips, and side-eyes me. “It’s cold... Sorry for interrupting you… I guess.”
Finally, having my turn to speak, I nod and cross my arms, “I think it looks remarkably fashionable and so mysterious! I love it! It is not scary at all; if thy wish is to see scary then look nary any further than me.” I pause, realizing my own appearance does not really matter, so I backtrack, “That second point is not really relevant, but regardless, thou shouldst not be so afraid to show thy face. I think it looks charming. Ah! Actually, I learned a cant from a child earlier today; I had never heard it used like this. I think it was ‘crisp,’ at least it was something like that. So, as they say, I believe thy appearance is crisp.” 
Terra gawks at me, her eyes shuddering. “Constance.” Her hand stretches toward the fabric attached to her face. She seems uncertain how to react, and then eventually, she sighs. “I appreciate the flattery, but it’s unnecessary.”
“Flattery?” I unfurl my arms and shake my head. “I was not attempting to wheedle thou; I am being sincere.” 
She blinks a few times and then puts the veil back on, remaining quiet for a while. “W-what does wheedle even mean?” she belatedly mutters to herself.
“It means I wa—”
“It’s okay. I’ll look it up later…” She shakes her head; to me, it seems as if she simply does not know how to respond to my words. “We need to move on. I’m short on time and can’t stay away forever. Caldwell can only tell my ‘bodyguards’ I’m taking an afternoon nap for so long before they get suspicious.”
“Is that so… then I… I suppose it is only fair that I tell a secret now,” I reply.
Raising a hand, she shakes her head, removes the satchel from her chest, and places it in her lap. “No, again I appreciate it, but I should finish saying what I need to say. I may never finish if I don’t keep going.”
“Aye.” I straighten my back. “If that is what thou wishes to do, then I suppose I shall listen.”
She opens the bag and removes the silver tome I have seen a few times before, except for the first time I notice it has an engraving on the cover. If I remember, Lorelai and Vincent had a serpent on their tomes, but Terra’s seems to resemble a moth. Engraved in white, it has two antennas, six little legs, and a big pair of wings that rest to either side of its body.
Setting the tome in her lap, she removes some black ink and a silver quill. She raises the cover, revealing that all the pages are blank and yellowed like parchment. Placing the ink to the side, she opens it, dips the quill, and writes, “The memoir of Erik Galtry, the man who lost his name.”
As she writes, the ink sinks into the yellowed pages, the yellow color fades, replaced by a silver wash. A faint radiance arises and the pages begin to flip. One after another, they turn, yet there never seems to be an end to the pages; they simply keep flipping. Like someone squeezed a sponge, ink bubbles from the pages, forming people and shapes. They are all made of the same black ink and move about the pages until they combine into a moving image.
“Memories can be fractural, so pay attention,” Terra states.
‘Memories? So this is a memory; that is fascinating.’
Pages continue to flow by; an image of a tall man, a short woman, and a little girl emerge. The woman kisses the little girl on the forehead and shuffles off the page, after which the man takes her hand. Both the girl and man travel along the various pages until they step through a door and find themselves somewhere outside. They play together; the little girl runs about as the man chases her, both have big smiles across their faces. The woman reenters the scene and says something to the man. The pair strolls out of view, leaving the girl alone. With the couple gone, the girl hops playfully toward a box full of what resembles sand and begins to play by herself.
While the girl plays, shoveling sand into a bucket, Terra adds her own remarks, “They went to finish lunch; I vaguely remember we used to do a late breakfast for lunch on Saturdays, brunch basically. I’d play in the backyard by myself, a normal Saturday until, like most things worth telling usually goes, it wasn’t...”
I nod, watching things unfold.
At the top of the page, a sparkle and then a smear of ink falls to the lower half of the page where the girl plays. It smashes into the sand, sending it flying in all directions. The little girl opens her mouth, spitting out the sand that flew into her mouth. Still spitting sand, she crawls on her hands and knees toward whatever crashed into her sand. There is a tear in the scene before it reappears, and the little girl’s arm is extended, reaching toward a black smear in a shallow hole.
The smear flexes, a look of fear comes across the girl’s face. Spreading, the smear drags itself across the silver page until everything around the little girl is draped in black.
“I don’t remember what it said, but I remember it being something I knew I shouldn’t know. Not in the sense of a child learning something bad. It was on a much deeper level than that.”
From all four corners of the page black ink begins to enclose the girl until all that remains is her hand, the black smear, and the shivering pupil of her left eye. At the last second, another hand reaches in, stopping her from moving any closer to the smear. The blackness recedes, revealing the shape of the man from the beginning. When the image clears, the smear is gone, the girl’s shape has been dyed a silver color, and the man’s eyes have become as corrupt as an abyss. Yet, the man maintains a smile, embracing the little girl, he weeps black tears.
Terra sighs. “Spent some time in the hospital after that, only a few days. My hair had turned white, eventually taking on its silver appearance. My right eye also gained its silver coloring then; the rings came later in life. Since I couldn’t remember what it said, at first, the only thing that changed in my life was that I had to start visiting a Consortium maintained clinic once every few months. Except, I just hadn’t realized dad had changed, the whispers hadn’t disappeared; they just found a better ear.”
Now the pages begin to turn even faster; every page seems to be a different day. The man seems to read a lot during this time. Every day that passes, the man’s image becomes more and more of a smear: first the right half of his face, then his torso, arms, and legs. When that happens, the woman returns, picks up the girl of silver, and they leave. The man watches them go as the smear spreads, enveloping the last of his body until the left half of his face is smeared in ink.
“Not sure what happened during that time, but next I saw him, he didn’t even walk the same, still…”
Finally, the image shows the little silver girl; she seems a tad taller in this one. She lies in bed, a window to her back—a smeared face appears in the window. The smeared face taps a finger on the window; the scene fractures and then reforms into a new one. The little girl is standing in a chair with the window open.
“...still, I missed dad.” She lifts her arms, and the smeared man takes her.
I grab the end of the cattail and fiddle with it; I am not certain if I should speak, so I continue to listen.
“That is the story of how my father exchanged his own self to save me from something I can’t even remember anymore. His name was Erik Galtry, but that person and that name belong to a dead man. Nowadays, people don’t know him by that name, and if you tried, he wouldn’t even realize you’re talking to him.” Terra closes the tome and looks at me; her eyes are totally empty. “The only name he’ll answer to, the only one he even recognizes now is the name, Bishop.”
My hand releases the cattail. For a moment, I forget that I cannot breathe and attempt to gasp. “Thy father! The Bishop!?”
“Well, he is just one of them, but yes,” she says after a moment’s wavering.
‘I-I know that I should be a tad more sensitive, but…!’
I simply cannot help myself from blurting out questions, “There are more!? What does that mean; how can there be more!?”
“Several men, just like my father, all of them go by the same name—the Bishop. None of them respond to their real names anymore, just ‘Bishop’ or ‘Bishop of’ and then their jurisdiction. Of course, I only know my father’s name, and I’m probably one of a few people who know it. Still, I have talked to one of their wives once and one of their daughters. Both had filed missing person’s reports, found them, and both Bishops were absolutely infuriated.”
She shakes her head and continues, “They were so furious they had the building that stored their records burned to the ground. Of course, they blamed it on Galtry; that’s the whole purpose of her existence. It turned into a big scandal and people literally protested for my arrest after that. When nothing happened, I began to receive letters filled with ricin from a man whose son died in the fire. That man was arrested and now sits in prison; this only infuriated people further.”
I only comprehend parts of her words, and most of that is because I am still trying to make peace with her previous words. “I am sorry, but I still cannot believe there are more Bishops! Terra, thy father, scorns me; what shall happen if they all come for me!?”
“Don’t worry.” She forces a tiny smile. “I can promise the church won’t be able to hurt you after the contract.”
I lift my arm, motioning in the general direction of the Hex Church. “The church is so close, confrontation seems inevitable, all I can do is stall until I am stronger. So how couldst thou possibly promise such things. I understand it is thy father, but I am certain it is not as simple as asking him to leave me be!”
‘Good lord, speaking of the contract am I a dullard for thinking of doing it at all, I mean, the Bishop… the Bishops!? Nay… nay, I should calm down. Terra is not her father unless she is just that astonishing of an actor… She did act as if we met by coincidence for some time, though.’
“You’ll understand when... if we make the contract,” she whispers.
Both of us look toward our laps in tandem. Things become quiet as we sit listening to the wind. The only noise that exists other than the wind is the sound of Terra scratching the cover of her tome.
“Do you hate me?” she asks in a small voice. “I’m not one to usually care about that kind of thing, but, well, I’d prefer you didn’t obviously.”
Looking up, I shake my head. “Nay. It is not as if thou brought me harm, quite the opposite in fact. Thou hast helped me considerably. Besides, I met thy father before we did, and so, it’s not as if thou art responsible for that. I am not one to hold the sins of the parents against the children.”
She nods slowly, releasing a sigh of relief; still, I can tell she is still partially lost in her thoughts.
“My condolences. I am sorry to hear about what happened to thy father… It is difficult for me to understand, as I do not have any memory of my own parents, but I know it must be hard.”
“I appreciate it. The hardest part is not being able to do anything, but I’ve accepted that I can’t, and I’ve decided to stop trying. With the Cosmic System’s imminent return, that shell of my father is a cause I no longer have the time for. Besides, being around him is dangerous. Every time he speaks, he tells four lies and one unignorable truth; that way, you’ll always be questioning which one you should prepare for. That’s just how he is now.”
“I… I suppose if there was a way to fix him, thou wouldst have found it,” I respond.
“It is not that I think there isn’t a way, it’s just that…” She lifts her head and touches her veil. “How far, how long, can I just let things continue? I’ve given up on him and the situation has changed.”
I tilt my head. “The situation has changed?”
Terra clenches her fist, her brows furrow. “Before now, there was nothing I could do to interfere, but now I have found a medium to exploit—two major cracks in the Church's impenetrable facade.”
“A crack in their facade? I do not understand; what does that imply?”
“They officially made me Galtry when I was thirteen and then surrounded me with their most trusted people. They made me the face to draw people to the organization and to introduce the Hex Church to the world. It worked amazingly well. People wanted to be a part of the same religion as Galtry; people wanted to know what the Hex Church was and how they felt about such a murderous child being a part of their religion. Books were written about ‘Galtry: Youngest Crime Lord,’ a television show, there were two movies! People were absolutely obsessed. Questions about the fabric, questions about my life, who I was, what I wanted, multiple assassination attempts, people trying to steal my clothes to sell. Twice, not once, but twice, a suicidal person approached me and said their last wish in life was to be murdered by Galtry. It was and still is insane!”
“...Aye, that all certainly sounds mad,” I respond, rubbing the back of my neck.
‘Though this city has proven to be that it knows naught but insanity numerous times already.’
“Meanwhile, while everyone else was treating me like some kind of fascinating exhibit, in the actual Galtry criminal organization, I had zero authority. The upper echelons of the organization were run by Hex Church members, while the middle and bottom didn’t care as long as they got their money. Worst of all, it totally trapped me, like a bird in a cage. There’s no running from your organization when you’re the face of an internationally recognized criminal syndicate. I’d be arrested the minute I tried to leave New York City.”
Terra leans forward with a simper and a dangerous glint in her eyes. “But everything has changed. There are rumors of monsters everywhere, talk of powerful people doing superhuman things, whispers of a big announcement. The people in the middle and bottom that once only cared about getting paid are scared. They don’t care about money anymore. They want a leader. They want a firm footing. All they know is Galtry; they’ve burned bridges, committed crimes, all to be under her thumb. That’s why they’re more eager than ever to listen and that’s why I’m preparing a coup, so to speak, to separate Galtry and The Church.”
Thinking of the implications of her words, I realize something. “...Doth thou mean, they intend to actually be Galtry? Are they not a major bloodthirsty criminal, known for doing awful things?”
“They are, but Constance…” She raises her hands, showing them to me, they are trembling. “If things continue to progress, as they say, only the luckiest of people will escape with blood on their hands. As for everyone else, they will either be dead or drenched in it. That’s why I am prepared to let myself and Galtry be the bloody wall that shields everyone else if it means I get to decide whose blood it is that gets spilled. I have some people I want to protect, and I’m not such a dense idealist to let them drown in it when they can stand on my shoulders to breathe.”
Clutching her legs, she tries to calm her shaking hands by squeezing them. She continues, “But, I’m scared too. I’d make a lot more people my enemy, and the city’s situation is precarious, to say the least. Yet, I’m prepared to set off the powder keg, Galtry’s ready and I’m ready to play her part, for real. I’ll have to thoroughly purge the upper echelons of the organization and I can’t leave them alive. It's too dangerous to do that; they’ve all built a reputation and loyalties within the organization. They’re all terrible people who deserve anything that happens to them, but blood is blood, and it will be the first blood to stain me.”
She goes silent, calming herself.
‘That is a very dangerous line of thinking; it is not as if I do not understand.’ I look at my body and my kiln. ‘I am a monster, in the most literal sense. I have never taken a life, but I know it is something I shall have to do as well someday.’
I shake my head and then look out over the icy lake. “I am afraid I do not have a great answer, and similar to thou, I have been struggling with the same thoughts and difficulties. I have just barely avoided it thus far, yet for the first time, I have a place to defend and cannot just flee as I have in the past.
“Moreover, I assume, this contract would, in some way, make me a brick in thy bloody wall.”
She does not respond; however, her silence says more than enough.
Recommendation: Return to the gate and enter.
The wall vanishes without a word.
I look Terra up and down, and for the first time, I think I might genuinely understand this person. ‘This person is starving, she craves something she cannot have... Loneliness, ambivalence, and a world that seems to wish to crush one beneath its weight, I know it all well. The difference is, this person will not and cannot run from her burdens. I always ran away, every time. As a child, I ran from ruffians. As an adolescent, I ran from the nuns. As a young woman, I ran from the nobles. I ran so long, and so far, I ended up in Roanoke, where I finally hesitated to run. Then in Tenebrous, I ran again. Now I am a Kiln, and I still run. The reason I am even sitting here at the noble’s castle is because I ran here after opening the gate.’
Raising my hands, I gaze at the shadowy haze that drifts about my palms. “In life, I was many things: a thief, beggar, swindler, cheat, burglar, but never a killer.”
Terra’s head drops, a look of shame surfaces, and she turns away.
I stare at the bustling city. “Yet, I shan’t criticize thou. In fact, I think it is courageous and commendable for thou to face thy burdens with so much fervor. It’s impracticable, nay, impossible for me to never bloody myself; I have known that for some time now, though I have managed to avoid it thus far... Still, even if I was not a monster, and I were living when the world was to come to ruin, I would have done what it took to fill both my and Sir Mouser’s belly.”
My eyes drift across the castle walls. Its gray stone and my memories of life cause my thoughts to stray. “Thou knoweth, my dream as a little girl was to be a fair knight. I always wanted to show up and hear people gasp in excitement at my arrival and not just because I snatched the bread they carried in their hands. I used to stand in the alleys for hours waiting for my chance to rush out and save someone in distress with my valiant tree branch sword. It was always the same fantasy. That I would arrive, brandish my sword, they would look up at me, and I would be towering above them—high above the earth, impossible to ignore, I would be a beautiful, colorful beacon that would wipe away the gray in the eyes of those I rescued…”
I raise my arm, pointing to the sky. “‘It is I’ is what I had planned to shout. I did not need to introduce myself; people could never forget someone so gallant and awe-inspiring. At least that is what I remember thinking as a child.”
Dropping my arm, I brush some snow off the side of the stone rails and shake my head. “I do not know if something like that will ever happen now, but I do know that I am tired. A lifetime, an afterlife, and a rebirth that have all been spent running; I cannot keep going for much longer. I am exhausted.”
My hand moves to my recently acquired adaptation, the beads around my shoulder. “...It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that I could count all the things I have truly owned on my fingers and toes because if someone wished to live a life as I did, one must own practically nothing. Otherwise, they may get too comfortable, causing them to hesitate like I did, and then they find it is too late. They simply do not have anywhere left to run. Their legs finally give out and the war of attrition between them and the world has been lost. In the end, when they see death rearing its head, they shall pretend to be satisfied with their fate because that moment of comfort makes them realize how tired they truly were. Even if they survive, they will forever feel starved, hungry for the comfort they have always been forced to abandon.”
Thoughts of floundering through London, Tenebrous, and New York, and then thinking about my time in my little cottage in the woods, leave a bitter taste upon my nonexistent tongue. I push the bitterness to the back of my mind and gaze upon the frozen lake. “It is hard to feel starved and continue anyway. This is why I believe thou art a far stronger person than I was in life or death, and… I would be more than pleased to take a stand with thou... Perhaps, we may even ease the burden of those that deserve such a privilege.”
Pausing to think for a moment, I continue, “Like this elderly woman I saw a few weeks back, feeding pigeons, sh—”
I cease speaking, hearing the sound of stifled crying.
“Thank you,” she murmurs.