Terra sits noiselessly, looking rather downcast. However, as I explain everything I know about Kiln and the Tower, she gradually recovers from her downhearted stupor. I do not reveal everything, though, things like Earl, the gate, souls, spirits, Tenebrous, and Gen I omit. Those shall remain secret for now because it would all take too long to explain and with what little I comprehend, it would just lead to confusion. I shall wait until I know more before discussing those subjects.
After that, I go into detail about what happened with the Consortium a few days ago and the pair of spirit scribes several days ago.
Throughout my explanations, she only interrupts once to elaborate on the Consortium, “They are going to be a problem. We can’t overly antagonize them. Unbeknownst to most, the Consortium has practically turned the entire city of Chicago into a mercantile based City-State at this point. They are just waiting for the right to make their move. It’s really great you didn’t fatally injure anyone, or they’d consider you a much more dangerous threat. If they felt so inclined, they could buy and dig up all of Central Park. Still, if they’ve taken an interest in you, we’ll need to satisfy them somehow, that way we can buy and use their services in the future. We must maintain a business-like relationship with them.”
She goes quiet again as I resume explaining everything. When I finish, the sun has nearly set on the horizon.
“I think I understand,” she says with a slight nod. “These structures, places, or whatever become a way to offset a Kiln’s constant Essence decay.”
“Uhm…” Hearing her understand so quickly, and about something I had only partly conjectured in my own head, leaves me a bit short for words. “I… I suppose; it is something like that. How did thou come to that conclusion?”
“That’s just what it sounded like to me. Still, it’s strange. From what you’ve told me, you haven’t actually noticed yourself losing Essence.”
“Aye, I thought so too. It has been a great help to not have to worry about it, though, so I have just taken it as a blessing for the most part. Not that I do not find it suspicious.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, but if I had to speculate, I’d say there is a source of Essence you’re drawing from and you just haven’t found what it is yet. Whatever it is, it reasonably won’t last forever, so keep that in mind.”
‘A source of Essence I am drawing from and it will not last forever…!’ Her words cause something in my mind to make a connection. ‘That “R” in the adaptation wall, is that where I have been drawing Essence from?’
Terra wipes her eyes, huffs, and then asks, “So are the Tower’s roots responsible for the beasts in The Lake too?”
Looking toward the snowy ground, I shake my head and answer, “Nay, but in the near the future, it may be the origin of more beasts.” I hesitate; everything has been a result of necessity, except this next part is solely something I have to decide on my own. “I… I have been considering installing a vent in the chamber pot tunnels and if I do that, it would turn them into tunnels filled with beasts. I am uncertain, though. It feels like a bit too much.”
“Chamber pot tunnels; I guess you’re talking about the sewers.” She lets out a tiny laugh and then a sigh. For a moment, she remains silent before a bitter look surfaces. “But… I think you should do it. It’s not a bad idea to vent it into the sewers. Actually, I’d even go as far to say it’s one of the most advantageous things that could happen to this city in the long run.”
Her words make me recoil; I did not expect her to say such a thing. “Not a bad idea? How is it not bad to fill the ground beneath people’s feet with monsters and beasts?”
“I-it’s obviously a moral gray area, but the truth it is, it’s beneficial at the same time. The benefits would be great for some people. We just talked about it, so I know you understand the importance of Essence and how hard it has been for you to gather. The only real source of Essence in the city itself is park animals, pets, and, well, people.”
I nod slowly, waiting for her to resume.
“Moreover, the only way to get Essence is to kill something of appropriate size or strength. That means anyone not being groomed by a cult or organization is at a severe disadvantage.”
“Groomed? What does that mean? Can people not simply obtain Essence from eating?”
“From eating?” She tilts her head as if my words are unusual. “Uh, no, of course not, and by groomed, I just mean someone who is being placed in a position to acquire Essence regularly. For most, they will be around the same level now as when the Beta began. Unless…”
Realizing what she is attempting to convey, I respond, “Unless they have someplace and something to hunt for Essence? I have noticed that small creatures like rats do not give Essence.”
With a nod, she explains, “From what I’ve learned, Essence is only absorbed if it’s whatever the Cosmic System considers a whole number, and small animals don’t render enough to meet that condition. So as you said, yes, somewhere that can be accessed for hunting would be a great asset to those that could make use of it.”
“The chamber pot tunnels then… What about the innocent people that get caught up in all this? This city is overflowing with people; it seems practically inevitable that an innocent person shall be killed.”
“I… Yes, that will unquestionably happen.” She pauses, gathering her thoughts; a bitter frown appears upon her face. “But I personally think it would cause a lot of suffering in the short term yet prevent much more in the long term. It’s cold toward those that will suffer the consequences early, yet it’s still not as bad as simply allowing the cults or other organizations to grow in power and thrive while the common person remains stagnant. What’s going to happen if there isn’t a government or a proper society to protect and shield those people in the future?”
“Then… I suppose those people would be at the mercy of some questionable people who could collect Essence beforehand. They would be powerless to deny them for quite some time, I would imagine. Perhaps never if the previous nobility cannot spare any soldiers and they elect to establish a new aristocracy with its own lineage of nobility. Situations like that have occurred in England in the past,” I answer with my hands beneath my chin in a pondering manner.
She scratches her head and smiles.“Well, yes, maybe not an aristocracy, but you understand my point. Furthermore, something like beasts and monsters appearing will happen sooner or later, and this would probably be a milder, more controlled version of what’s to happen. If the sewers are changed first, it would essentially serve as a way to wean people into the idea of fighting beasts and the struggles they can expect to face in the future. In fact, this is a good segue into what I wanted to discuss regarding the other Kiln and you specifically.”
“The other Kiln and me? What does that mean, dost thou know of the other Kiln?” I ask, my hand drifting to my own kiln.
“I’ve been making some calculated moves with the lower rungs of the organization, mostly the ones that have been ignored or slighted in some way. What I wanted to discuss is the not insignificant number of what I suspect may be Kiln. I can’t say for sure, but they’ve been acting in ways that suggest that a lot of them could be. That being said, I think you were amongst some of the first arrivals, yet since then, their activity has been increasing.”
I tilt my head and stare at Terra. Her eyes are a bit bloodshot from having failed to suppress a few tears earlier. I can tell she is starting to get cold and tired, but this information is too important. “Is it really possible that there can be that many? I have not seen any hereabouts.”
“There aren’t as many in the Manhattan area, that’s where we are right now by the way. In the surrounding areas of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and New Jersey, there are more. Then the further you move away from Manhattan, the activity increases until it gradually drops back off to nothing. The Consortium has been struggling to keep everything temporarily under wraps because of a contract they have with the federal government. Still, they’re basically just gluing everything together until it all comes crashing down. They aren’t concerned about New York City’s fate in the long term, no one is really, there are too many things happening and the stakes too high.”
‘If there really are other Kiln about, what shall happen when their domains sprout? This must have been what that Lincoln person was referring to when he said, “the city is done for.” But, it does not make sense why there would be so few near me.’
I decide to ask Terra. “Why would there be more Kiln in those areas? Why would more not appear near the park as I did?”
“Well, I wasn’t sure before speaking to you, but I believe it could be a mixture of things.” Pursing her lips she begins to think. Her legs that overhang the side of the castle move back and forth lightly. “I think the fact that Manhattan is densely populated and that it would be harder to hide here plays a part in it. Meaning many of them could have conceivably gotten themselves killed or fled to less dense areas. Still, that didn’t really explain the discrepancy. Now that I’ve spoken to you, I have a few new deductions I can make... Do you remember when you told me your type was a ‘Tower?’”
Looking toward the tall buildings in the city, I realize what she must be implying. “I presume thy reasoning is that there may not be as many Kiln hereabouts because there are not as many places they can be. They are not of the right type for such a place, meaning the surrounding areas are more suitable for them, so that is where they moved toward.”
Her eyes go wide, and she nods. “That's right! I still don’t think it fully explains everything. However, it’s a start.” She lets out a heavy sigh. “Personally, I think something or someone had a hand in creating this situation.”
“Someone else? Truly? Was it not just the Cosmic System’s doing? Why would someone want to make something like this happen?”
“I don’t know yet. I do think the Cosmic System played a part in it sure, but something is still strange. I’m just missing motivation. If there is no motivation, I’ll just have to assume it was all the Cosmic System’s doing, I guess,” she says, shaking her head.
Lincoln’s words again run through my mind mixing with thoughts of what it means if Kiln appear throughout the city as Terra seems to be implying. “Dost thou believe this city is ‘done for?’”
“Even if I did, it doesn’t matter, all my eggs are in one basket and it sounds like yours are too. Also, now that I’ve heard about your tower and your potential plan for the sewers, I believe the city, as a whole, is far from done for. It’ll never be the same as it is now, yet it can become a place for those that wish to prepare for the future.” Terra shifts her position. “Your tower is important, right? You need to keep an eye on it, and you need people in and around it, right?”
“I… I mean, aye, that is what I have been led to believe.”
“Then let us kill two birds with one stone.”
I tilt my head and ask, “Is that the same as ‘to stop two gaps with one bush?’”
Smiling, she answers, “I have no idea, but my point is, I think we can solve both of those problems with the same solution—people. Ordinary people can solve this problem for you.”
“Solve this problem for me? I am afraid that people are typically the problem, not the solution. Besides, why would ordinary people stay around my Tower if the city essentially becomes a hellscape? I cannot protect them if that is what is being implied, I wish to help those that are willing to help themselves, but that is different from protecting them.”
“No, no, they’ll protect themselves because you have something they need, something that could save their lives in the future. Which is why, along with the sewers, I believe we can get ordinary people to congregate around you with us nary lifting a finger.”
‘Presumably by “nary lifting a finger,” she means we shan’t have to do anything. What is she implying beyond that though?’
“What dost thou mean by, ‘I have something they need?’” I rub the back of my neck, glancing around awkwardly. “Are we speaking of something tangible or is this something more… uhm, philosophical, like ‘hope,’ because I do not believe that shall work.”
“This is reality, Constance, not some corny kid’s book. No one in the United States would even get out of bed for something as vacant as ‘hope.’ Not without something tangible for them personally at least.” Rummaging through her bag, she removes a stack of papers. She flips through them and shows me some pictures. “Do you remember these people? You’ve met them all, haven’t you?”
The first is a young man; he seems to be in a white bed, presenting the thumbs-up gesture.
I point and answer a bit rigidly. “That is the shrieking man; he breathed in my haze a few weeks ago.”
She shrugs. “I don’t know about ‘shrieking man,’ but it sounds like it might be the same person. He is a teenager named Daniel Fields and this picture is of him in the hospital after he came into contact with you. Now, what about the other one?”
I study the next picture and recognized the person on it instantly as the man named Preston. There is not anything further in the picture; it simply seems like some kind of portrait with a blank white wall behind him.
Pointing, I answer, “That is Preston of the Consortium.”
“Yes, that’s him, and this one?” nodding, she moves onto the next picture.
This one is yet another man. Like Daniel, he is in a white bed, except he is hooked up to a machine. He has only a single left arm and where his legs should be are white bandages wrapped tight around a stump.
“The fopdoodle… Did I do that to him?”
“Huh?” She glances at the picture and then jerks it away. “Sorry, that was supposed to be a different one; I’m really sorry!”
“It… it is fine. From what I understand, he is a man that does not deserve my pity, but… I am curious how it progressed to such levels. He was supposed to have someone coming for him.”
Putting the picture away, she sighs. “It was a mixture of frostbite and some type of bacterial disease that together caused extensive gangrene throughout his limbs. Only one of them was able to be saved. He’s been in a coma since… I only had the picture because I’ve been looking into people you’ve interacted with. It was supposed to be a picture of that Officer Jessica; I guess I misplaced it.”
“Jessica? Did she manage to escape the Consortium?”
“Yeah, she managed to escape. Anyway, her situation is similar to Daniel’s.” Terra puts everything away and digs through her satchel. “Now, this video, I mean, these moving pictures are from a few days after you made contact with Daniel.” Removing her lap-top, she directs it toward me. “Now watch this video.”
The video shows Daniel standing outside some type of establishment. A sign hangs above the counter and says, “Faz Pizzeria” above it. ‘Oh, pizza, I have eaten that food before.’
Daniel stands there as a woman walks out, “Welcome back, Daniel. I heard what happened, and don’t worry, I don’t think you’re crazy,” the woman says.
“Gee, thanks, I guess,” Daniel responds with a lengthy sigh.
“Don’t worry about it!” She laughs, holding a square box toward Daniel. “I’ve had those days too. Anyway, take this, the address is on the ticket.”
Someone yells for the woman; she turns her head as Daniel reaches for the box. Just before he takes the box, he vanishes and then reappears. When he does so, he screams, grabs his stomach, and vomits on both the box and woman.
“What the fuck, you psycho!?” the woman screams.
Terra lowers the lap-top. “He got into the Beta because of your haze. He awoke! Some random kid who used to deliver pizza for a living actually awoke because of you; that’s unbelievable!”
“Is it?” I point at the lap-top limply. “It seemed more like he was rather sick and suffered greatly because of it.”
Waving her hand, she shakes her head, denying my claim. “People were and still are literally killing themselves by injecting themselves with Elixir to try and get into the Beta. Your haze can get them into the beta too, except it seems to have a much lower fatality rate!”
She places the lap-top to the side and fumbles with some more papers. One sheet gets swept away, but she reaches out and catches it without even looking up. Discovering what she is looking for, she holds it so I can see; it is nothing except numbers, and I have nary an idea of what I am reading.
“That sample of your haze I took, I paid to have a foreign epidemiologist fly into New York in secret to run a test with it—a nice german man. Anyway, I told him I wanted to know the fatality rate and effects of it, so he tested it on one hundred mice; a little annoying for him to do something so archaic after how much I paid him.” She sighs, rolling her eyes before retracting the paper and pointing at some of the numbers. “The results were better than anticipated: ten mice awoke without any complications, sixty-five awoke after recovery, fourteen awoke after they were placed in a high oxygen environment, eight were maimed by other mice, and then three passed away immediately. Best of all, like you told me once before, it doesn’t really spread between things. It usually requires direct contact with the sample.”
“...It sounds like thou believes it to be rather special, but do the other Kiln not awaken things as well?”
“Maybe some can, I don’t know, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is you can do it now, not tomorrow, not next week, but now. We can get people to come here and put their eggs into our basket now… Wait. Hold… hold on a second. I think… I think...” I can see Terra’s face go blank as her words trail off. Her eyes squint and her lips purse as she begins mouthing something as if she is talking to someone.
She raises a finger, mumbling, “Just a second, I think I might have just thought of something.” Watching her right now is like watching someone receive a spark of divine inspiration. Seemingly having forgotten to breathe, she takes a deep breath and glances at me. She hesitates to say anything at first but finally says, “I think we might be able to solve a lot of our present and even our future problems with a few big moves! Constance, are you willing to make the contract with me? Together we can solidify a place in the world.”
I flick some snow at her. “It is not fair to use my words against me so soon… and aye, I am willing to make the contract as long as the terms are agreeable.”
“Thank you! I need to see how practical my idea is. Give me a day; I’ll come to find you tomorrow morning!” She smiles and stands, packing her bag. “I’ll send a rough draft of the contract to your messenger orb. Take some time to look it over and alter whatever you want. We’ll talk about it before we seal it officially, of course.”
“...” I am not certain what has made her so enthusiastic and I am afraid if I question her. If I do she might fall back into her previous stupor. “Well, then I suppose I shall see thou again soon.”
“Of course…!” She turns, stops, and then spins back around. “Wait, have you had an easy enough time figuring out the messaging orb? I never did get to explain it to you fully.”
“It is fine. I can manage it well enough to access the contract, assuming it is like the one time I pressed the wall…”
“It sounds like the same thing. I’m impressed you were able to find it on your own! More importantly, are you sure? I’m kind of leaving in a hurry; I’m just a bit excited.”
I nod and wave her away. “If thou can truly solve some of our problems, I do not wish to keep thou. Besides, I have decided to stop running.” I stand. “There is something I must face.”
She tilts her head. “Is it something dangerous? Should I come with you?”
“Nay, but it’s not somewhere thou shouldst ever follow.”
“Wow, that sounded so… ‘crisp’ as they say,” she lets out a small chuckle as I nod in agreement. “Well, if you change your mind just wait a day and I’ll go with you. I don’t mind.”
“If I do not go now, I shan’t ever have the resolve to do it.”
She rubs the back of her neck. “Yeah, I understand that. Oh, another thing, if you see a man with red hair named Lorcan, he’s got a bag he’s supposed to be giving you.”
“Lorcan and the twins; thou knoweth them!?” I shout into my mind.
“Yeah, I’ve been paying down his debts along with his mother’s medical bills, so for the past few weeks, he’s been working for me. Since he’s not a spirit scribe, his loyalty to the church was dubious, so I took advantage of that. Still, you shouldn’t trust him. I just have more leverage on him than most. Also, the twins and my students like him.” She lowers and crosses her arms. “He said you ran away from him and then tried to say something about a monkey. You should hear some of the ridiculous excuses people come up with sometimes. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll see you again before he finds you.”
‘Twins and students… Those must be the children who drew those pictures, I presume. If this conversation continues, I shan’t be able to enter the Tenebrous Place. My mind is already a bit of a mess.’
“Aye… well, I suppose, we shall talk about this more later then. I am going to leave before I change my mind.” I start to walk away, stopping just short of leaving the noble’s castle. “And I thank thou; I shall follow thy example and try not to run… as much.”