Chapter 57: The Pantry and The Future
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I stand motionlessly gazing upon the figures of Roanoke’s people, hanging from the branches of the willow tree.

Noticing my lack of response, Earl raises an eyebrow, taking a few steps closer to me. “Subsequent Query: Is the user pleased? Does the user relish seeing them in a comparable position as the user was once so barbarically forced into?” She releases one of her hands from the lantern, walks a few steps, and leans forward. Inserting her arm into the haze, I wince when she taps on my kiln’s shell like a person would on someone’s shoulder. “Reformed Request: User, please tell this one what retribution tastes like. Tell this one so that this one may understand if they ever feel such a thing. So that they may thoroughly appreciate it when the time comes and share it with the user.”

Moving a step away from her and wrapping the cattail around my kiln to block her from touching it again, I shout, “Earl!” I point between them and her. “Why are they here; how are they here!?”

She huffs, dropping her arm and composing herself. “Response: This one has told the user of this before. This one will give more detail about the Earl Interface’s usefulness since this one wishes to be better appreciated by the user.”

While I listen, Earl dons a proud smirk upon noticing my attentiveness.

“Summary: The creation of a Kiln has such a large pull that they typically reap the flesh, souls, and spirits of those around them, as the user did to these heretics. This one used the Essence in their flesh to solidify the user’s and this one’s existence. This one then siphoned the Essence accumulated in their souls to create the empyrean above. Then this one allowed their souls to reenter the cycle before they were entirely sapped and driven from existence. Still, their spirits, or consciousness, remains and this one has been using them as rations for the user as well as to further advance the interior of the Tower.”

“These are their spirits… This must be what the ‘R’ on the adaptation wall refers to! Terra was right; the Essence was coming from someplace; it’s them. It has been them the whole time!”

She nods earnestly, taking a step closer. With her step, she is once more immediately in front of me. “Note: This one shall now accept praise from the user for my genius and ability.”

I stare down into her white eyes that peer at me with anticipation. Even without flesh, I can almost feel a bead of cold sweat on the back of my neck. “I suppose thy passion is admirable...”

With a smile, she says, “Statement: This one knows the Earl Interface is amongst the best interfaces to ever exist. The user shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge such a simple fact.”

“Earl, I would like to know how long the townsfolk of Roanoke have been hanging here like this,” I state, moving back a step.

She tilts her head. “Answer: They have been trapped since the user reaped them; however, their spirits have only been hanging since the user planted their seed.”

My gaze bounces between the many townsfolk; they seem to be devoid of expression and unaware. “Are… are they cognizant?”

“Remorseful Answer: Regrettably and shamefully, no, they aren’t. After being reaped, this one had to hold them in a state that’s conducive to siphoning. This one couldn’t find a way to both siphon their Essence and restore their cognizance so that they could experience what the user endured.”

“...So they are not just torpid and mentally broken from weeks of constant agony then?” [1]

She frowns, looking toward the ground with apparent shame. “Subsequent Answer: They likely only experienced a mere moment of what is known as ‘agony’ during the reaping. This one hopes the user is nevertheless satisfied with witnessing them in such a circumstance.”

“They remember nothing?”

Earl shakes her head.

I gaze upon the numerous faces of the people of Roanoke. None of them look to have aged a day and according to Earl, they have been unaware since I reaped them. That means the last thing they remember is me shattering them into glass. They likely would not even realize they are dead if they awoke here and now. To them, they only hanged me mere seconds earlier before something incomprehensible to them transpired.

“Even their attire seems to be in the same condition.”

“Response: It’s how they last recall themselves appearing, so it’s how they’ll appear until they think they should look differently.”

Stepping toward the closest person, I reach up and grab the hem of her gown. It flexes in my fingers like one would expect linen to act. Looking at her face, I realize I actually recognize this woman. ‘This person was Mrs. Viccars, if I recall correctly, a friend of Mrs. Sues. Mrs. Viccars’s son used to play with Mrs. Sue’s sonI caught them outside my cottage once or twice. Mrs. Viccars and her husband were one of the few that, at first, spoke out against my punishment. Though I believe it was because of the natives. We had a rather friendly relationship, and the town was reliant on trading with them. Still, it was nice that someone at least said something.’

I tug at the fabric, kneading it between my fingers. ‘This fabric, it does not act as if it has dried out or anything. It is as if it was stitched yesterday.’

“Is it really so simple, Earl, is their attire not real?”

“Response: They’re no longer fleshlings, so their outfits are as much a part of them as their ‘skin’ once was. However, what is simple will vary between whom is being asked. That being said, former fleshies don’t usually find it so simple to change their appearance—unlike the user and Kiln who are essentially rebirthed.”

“Earl, how doth thou know so much about these sorts of things?”

“Answer: This one knows many things they don’t remember learning. Further, the user’s soul will frequently impart past experiences and knowledge upon this one in order to better assist the user.”

“Is that so…” Releasing the fabric, my eyes settle upon an older gentleman who hangs from the lowest point of the tree. In fact, he hangs so low his legs are not even off the ground. I clench my fist, resisting the urge to charge over and slap him. “Preacher Daniels, I did not expect nor wish to ever see thou again.”

“Emotional Query: Is the user not satisfied with their revenge? Should this one invest time and resources into researching techniques to give the user a more satisfying outcome?”

I hesitate to answer. Shifting my gaze, I notice some of the other men and women. My shoulders slump and I shake my head. “Nay. I wish to know, what is going to happen to all of them, Earl? What will happen if their Essence continues to be drained?”

Thinking for a moment, she nods. “Assumption: They will be annihilated, utterly erased from existence,” she says, raising an eyebrow. “Solicitude: In truth, this one has had some mild concerns of the user’s reaction based on the user’s past decisions. [2] This one wishes for the user to understand that this is necessary.”

“Why is it necessary? I already killed them! Now thou art saying I should devour their spirits as well.”

“Subsequent Solicitude: This one doesn’t understand why the user would be concerned about such a thing, but once more, this is... necessary.”

“Earl, I am not opposed to someone receiving the punishment they deserve and I would be lying if I said deep down it did not feel a tad…” I squint, brushing my hair back. “...satisfying to see them undergo what I suffered. Yet still, that tinge of satisfaction wanes when I realize just how far beyond simple revenge this goes. So I ask again, why do we have to obliterate them in the most absolute sense of the word?”

She shakes her head with an exasperated sigh. “Explanation: As stated previously, all Kiln reap when they’re born; their coming into existence generates a vacuum that won’t dissipate until a certain volume of Essence has been swallowed. The user is fortunate so many sapient creatures were around; otherwise, the user would have only received Essence from surrounding organic material. Yet, since they were sapient, the user was able to collect their organic material, souls, and spirits. It has been a tremendous boon since the latter two don’t figure into the filling of the vacuum.”

“It seems as if thou art saying it is not actually necessary? That Kiln can be just fine reaping creatures that are not sapient. Moreover, it seems thou hast already made use out of them.”

“...” Earl does not acknowledge my question, simply spins around and motions for me to follow. “Statement: The food rations are not why this one asked the user to come here. Request: Please follow this one so that this one may run the user through other, much more serious concerns.”

Her feet, clothed in burlap, brush against the grass as she moves down the hill. ‘Earl must believe my attention span short. This conversation is not over.’

“Do not walk away; we need to discuss thy intent to annihilate them!”

Ignoring me, she continues.

“Earl, frankly, I am irritated that thou art forcing me to drag this out. I am not happy feeling like I am defending the people that put me here in the first place,” I shout into my mind.

She freezes, releasing a long drawn out groan. “Accommodation:” Turning around, she squeezes two fingers together. “This one will only perform a little annihilation upon the spirits. This one shall sap them to twenty-five percent of their Essence stores instead of zero. This one won’t tear any more than that from them.” Separating her fingers, she points at Preacher Daniels. “Save for that heretical spirit because this one has already drained him to nine percent.”

“That low…” I stare at the man. Even if I do not wish to utterly annihilate him, I still cannot find any pity for him, not that I searched that hard for it. “What happens to someone that has been drained that low?”

“Answer: Once the Tower is complete, nothing as long as they remain in the Tower. In Tenebrous, they’d most likely fade after a decade or so. It depends on several factors, and it’s not important. For now, he shall dangle.” She clenches her fist, raising it to her midriff. “Hopelessly clinging to his last few precious dribbles of Essence... If it’s what the user wishes, of course.

Ignoring the unnecessary dramatics at the end, I think for a moment and then state, “Well… I suppose it is fine; I presume if it can be taken, it can be given in the future... I do not know. I need more time to reflect on it. I never imagined they would be in here. We shall discuss this more later.”

Shrugging, she turns back around and continues walking into the depth of Tenebrous. I follow behind with everything lit in soft purple light things have become more bearable. Yet, it is not enough to completely ease my nerves. ‘I shan’t run. I shan’t run. I shan’t run.’

“Query: Does the user recall our previous meeting? It was long ago, but this one still remembers perfectly. Did our meeting mean as much to the user as it did to this one?”

“Doth thou mean the first wall or…?” I rub the back of my neck. “Mayhaps, I am just misremembering, but I believe I would recall our meeting.”

“Response: Of course, we have met before. This one dragged the user from Tenebrous originally. Does the user not recall this one valiantly pulling them from Tenebrous so that they may reap the pathetic town of Roanoke? The user looked at this one and this one addressed the user.”

I visibly flinch at her words. “Thou art the one that dragged me from Tenebrous!? Could thou have not been a bit more delicate, I was in considerable pain!”

“Explanation: This one could travel much faster with the rope grasped in this one’s teeth than if this one had carried the user, and time was crucial. If this one did not make it back in time, the user would have transformed in Tenebrous. Then the user would have likely perished.”

“With thy teeth?” I think back to that day. After I was dragged, there was something there I had nearly forgotten about it. “The only thing I recall is a low growl and a figure just before the tear to Tenebrous closed... Wait, a low growl. It was somewhat like thy voice earlier.”

“Response: Yes, that was this one in what this one believes is my original form. Though this one is not certain. Regardless, it doesn’t matter. This one is an interface and an interface it shall be forever; this one yearns for nothing else. Moreover, that ‘growl’ was this one wishing the user safe journeys and a bountiful future. Statement: It’s difficult to speak sometimes because this one occasionally forgets if they still have a tongue and how it works at times.”

‘Safe travels…? It was a horrifyingly sinister growl, though... I suppose her statement implies she does not speak much.’

“Earl, what art thou, besides an interface?” She pauses and tilts her head at my question. “What I mean is, what is thy original form,” I ask with some hesitation.

Turning to face me, she points at herself. “Query: The user really doesn’t recall seeing this one? This one remembers it fondly; it is among my most cherished memories.”

I shake my head. “Nay… apologies.”

Pursing her lips, she thinks for a moment, glances at me, and then spins back around. “Resolution: This one deems it something for another occasion. This one believes the user may have trouble proceeding with our tour if shown. Once again, it isn’t important anyway. As this one has already stated, this one is a proud interface. This one is certain that is what they wish to be until all dimensions and realities collapse in on themselves.”

‘Until what does what...? I believe I shall just ignore that.’ She motions for me to follow, descending the hill and walking into the wastes of black marble.

Eager to leave the tree behind, I chase after her; she waits for me a few feet from the edge of the grass.

“Earl, what is this black marble?” I ask.

“Answer: It is the exhausted remnants of numberless spirits, monstrosities, horrors, and abominations—quite fertile once Essence is beaten into it,” she says, making a fist and punching the air.

“These monstrosities and abominations… Are they still around? Prithee, say they are not.”

Peering at me, she grins, exposing her sharpened teeth. “Answer: As long as no creatures native to the material world enter through the gate before the user’s seed has germinated and the first floor is completed, there should be no issues.”

She begins to walk deeper into Tenebrous. Some time passes without conversation while I attempt to sort and work through all the new information since I arrived.

Earl breaks me from my thoughts. “Query: This one just recalled, why has the user not eaten the lowly creature known as ‘Gentleman Ape?’ This one offered an adaptation in hopes the user would do so.”

“Not everything needs to be consumed and stripped for resources, Earl...”

“Response: This one disagrees in this instance.” She spins around, motioning to the area around here. “Query: What does the user see around them?”

I do not look; I already know what surrounds me. “Black marble made from my nightmares.”

Sighing, she continues, “Explanation: Somewhat correct, though this one wishes the user would have at least humored this one. This is where the gates shall lead upon entry. This one is sure the user has already concluded much of this, but this one wants to prepare the user for the time between when the user enters their hibernation and the time when germination ends.”

“Am I going to be doing something? I figured I would be incognizant?”

“Answer: Yes, for most of it, the user will be incognizant, but there will be a time between when this one will temporarily awaken the user to decide on the makeup of this area.” She raises the lantern and rotates in a circle. “Query: Now, once more, what does the user see?”

This time I humor them. Excluding the hill with the burning willow in the far off distance, there is just black marble as far as I can see.

She lifts her hand to stop me from speaking. “Request: Please save any questions. The purpose of this is just so the user can begin considering their options now. More detailed nuances can be discussed post-germination.”

I nod. ‘Though, it is still a tad unreasonable… Well, I suppose I have plenty I am dealing with in the park. Not to mention, I am eager to leave here.’

“Explanation Continued: From our present location to the food stock on the hill will be the approximate radius the user shall be able to sustain initially. That gives the user approximately a one-mile diameter to operate with a maximum of around five miles per Tower floor. As the user gathers Essence, they can expand the area they may support.”

‘Five… five miles!?’ I am about to shout but swallow my words to allow Earl to continue.

Raising a finger, she points toward the giant fiery ball. “Note: The further the user moves, the less influence the empyrean will have on the area, so the user needs to plan appropriately. This likely won’t be an obstacle until later, however. Subsequent Inquiry: Does the user recall the material this one tasked the user with locating and studying?”

“Thou must be referring to the Ecology book? I have had a suspicion of what thou might have had me do with it, but even so…” I glance around the immense expanse. “This is far, far beyond my wildest expectations.”

“Response: All practical Essence sources that are available should be utilized. This one believes that developing an ecosystem within Tenebrous as well as leeching Essence from the material world is the most prolific avenue for maximum consumption. The Tower will manage the gates amongst other things...” She points at the tree in the distance. “...and the willow tree’s roots will collect the remnants of Essence from any fleshies that die within the pantry, funneling some of it to the Tower. Unfortunately, the willow tree isn’t efficient enough to extract their souls or even their spirits. The user will have to take measures if they wish to make it stable enough to do that without the assistance of the birth reaping.”

“Developing an ecosystem… and I am not really interested in stealing more souls or spirits.”

With a huff, she resumes speaking, “Statement: This leads to the next point, there will be two Tower interiors—one in the material world for local direct leeching and this one in Tenebrous that is more indirect.”

‘There will be two Tower interiors? One for leeching from those around the Tower with a second in Tenebrous and they both deal with Essence collection.’

I tilt my head. “Can I favor one source over the other?”

She furrows her brow and ignores my question. “Statement Continued: The one in the material world should only be accessed by the user while this one is where creatures of the flesh shall fight and perish as primitive fleshlings do instinctively. Query: Does the user have any questions related to the discussed topics? Note: Any questions outside of those topics or not presently pertinent won’t be acknowledged.”

“...Can I favor one source over the other?”

“Response: The Tower is an Essence vacuum, like the user’s birth reaping. Amount leeched from the material world by the Tower depends on multiple factors. This one has rendered a response on this topic once before.”

“Oh, aye, I recall that. What is the purpose of having two interiors, though? Why not just this one here?”

“Subsequent Response: The Tower is the user’s material body and complies with the laws of the material world. Still, Kiln are inefficient with their Essence consumption, creating the vacuum mentioned previously. As the user strengthens, adapts, and grows, their consumption increases. If the user is not careful, the Tower will begin leeching such large quantities of Essence that it could inhibit new growth in the domain, turning it into a dead zone. A dead zone is obviously unsustainable and will lead to the vacuum worsening until the user simply collapses in on themselves and perishes.”

She raps her heel against the ground of firm marble. ‘Is she implying that Tenebrous’s ground is an example of what a “dead zone” can be? I would imagine it is amongst the most extreme examples of one if that is the case.’

Continuing, she motions toward the willow tree. “We shall compensate with the second interior; other Kiln may come to a different conclusion. This one’s simulations show this solution works well for the user and their confusing habit of conferring pity upon weaklings. Note: This is why the Kiln guide was specially composed for the user and their type.”

“So basically all Kiln have different ways of gaining extra Essence. Fascinating. I am curious what they shall do.”

“Reply: Solutions may vary depending on the Kiln and their interface. The user’s personality works well with this solution and this one is intrigued by the idea of watching fleshlings struggle against one another. This one believes they may experience the thing known as ‘enjoyment’ while observing the frail fleshlings scatter their organic matter everywhere.”

I take another step back from Earl, but she matches me, taking one forward. ‘...It is difficult to have a conversation with her.’

Shaking my head, I ask, “To summarize why thou brought me here, I need to begin thinking about what I wish to place here, in the space available…” I show her my hazy hands and then shake my head. “Am I meant to build and plant it? That would be more than just an issue.”

“Answer: No, the user merely needs to consider an overall biome. Subsequent Summary: Being of the Tower type, the user is presently limited in what they can generate topographically. The user wouldn’t be able to manufacture a cave or mountains of stone, for example, but they could do a park or a forest because we have an abundance of fertile material to work with. Nevertheless, as it is their type specialty, the user could also produce simple vertical towers, like a monolith, of unrefined Vitrum. Though this one regrets to inform the user all Vitrum is in use elsewhere, so that is presently impossible.”

‘If it’s not possible, I almost prefer she not mention it.’

Leaning forward, she points at the kiln. “Further, this one can produce the simpler plants the user has absorbed, or even more optimally, the user can provide this one genuine material seed, and this one can make use of them.”

“So the ecosystem will be akin to a farm in a way?”

“Response: If it was a farm full of beasts and monsters with a constant never-ending struggle for survival, then yes.”

“Aye, I guessed that after thou mentioned the fighting; I prefer to ignore that aspect.”

Shrugging, she continues, “Note: Please, keep the design simplistic for now and keep in mind the type of flesh creatures the user may wish to introduce to their biome. The goal is for the biome to remain balanced with minimal involvement.”

“This honestly all sounds rather exciting... Perhaps I should compose some type of map then and mark locations; if it is truly that simple.”

“Response: That is an excellent approach; just make sure the user memorizes it before entering the low cognizant state and completing germination.” She raises a finger, straightens her back, and then declares, “Task: The user is responsible for conceiving of a flora biome conducive to creatures they could reasonably introduce. Note: This is not an official task, yet it should be taken seriously regardless.”

Earl opens her mouth to speak but pauses. Each side of the lantern begins to blink rapidly in its own distinct colors. She holds it up, tilting her head, staring at it intently.

With a nod, she points toward the hill and willow. “Warning: A creature has entered the gate room. If it enters Tenebrous before the Tower’s completion, it will be possessed by malicious spirits or attract unwanted creatures from the depths. Prediction: It is the ugly, hairy flesh creature the user allows in their presence. Recommendation: Devour the creature and cease besmirching the good name of the Tower Glass Kiln by keeping such a creature for company.”

[1]. Torpid: benumbed, without feeling or power.
[2]. Solicitude: care or concern for someone or something.

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