Together Earl and I make the walk back toward the hill where the door that I traveled through once was before rudely disappearing. The only noise is the pat of Earl’s canvas shoes and the squeaking of the lantern she holds out in front of her.
Without looking back, Earl speaks, “Statement: While we walk, this one wishes to finish their statements and notes.”
I nod. ‘If we can move closer to leaving and have the conversation at the same time, all the better.’
Raising her arm, she points toward the big flaming ball. “Statement: The empyrean here, in the pantry, can regulate temperature, humidity, and its special light can even decrease the water needed by vegetation to an extent. Nevertheless, since the user cannot currently alter topography, there can be no lakes, rivers, streams, etc., for water. Critical Note: The user needs to be creative and selective with their species to work around this limitation. Please keep in mind that Tenebrous is almost entirely level; therefore, water won’t drain as it would in the material world and will simply pool around barriers or seep into the soil.”
“Speaking of which, is there water here? How am I meant to supply the plants with water?”
“Answer: The empyrean can be forced to push the humidity levels to the point of fog or a mist and as I mentioned, its light on this floor has been tuned to assist in reducing water consumption. The user should not take the empyrean for granted. Its usage has an Essence cost, so the user needs to work toward creating an environment that can both offset that cost and eventually bring in Essence gains before our rations reach their user set limit.”
“...I shall try to think of something and keep all that in mind, I suppose.” I glance at the willow tree before adding, “This fog and mist, I believe I need to know more about it before knowing how well I may make use of it.”
“Explanation: If this variant of the empyrean is pushed to its uppermost limits, the area surrounding it will have a constant misty rain. After that, the first mile will have thin misty rain, then a thick fog, and so on; this process will stop and start based on saturation levels. If the user believes they will require more water than that, they will need to introduce it from the material world or search for a way to produce water by another means. Note: The user can likewise use the vegetation itself to trap moisture, so keep that in mind as well.”
“Aye, then it sounds as if most things will be fine for the first mile at least.”
While thinking for a moment, I realize we have moved much closer to the hill. ‘I was more captivated by our conversation than I realized.’
“Observation: The user seems rather… enthused about this task.” My kiln bumps against something comparable to a stone fort. Peering downward, Earl is there gazing up at me with a tilted head and a sly grin. I step back as she opens the lantern’s hatch, revealing the violet flame is both burning bright and swaying frantically. “Statement: This one knew the user would approve of this one’s methods. The user and this one aren’t so different; the user is a survivor, not even the destruction of her flesh ended her struggles. It only makes sense that the user would enjoy observing, or perhaps, even sharing the experience of other beings’ own struggles.”
“That’s… that’s not what this is.”
Closing the lanterns hatch, she grins. “Response: This one believes themselves a survivor as well, though this one can’t remember why. The user should embrace it and use it to empower themselves.”
“Again, that’s not what this is! This is different from leeching Essence. Coming in here would be due to someone’s own decisions. The consequences of such actions are their own to carry... Also, empower myself?” I raise my dark shadowy hands and shake my head. “How much can I really empower myself when I am naught but haze? Are Kiln not considered weak!?”
She huffs. “Response: The user misunderstood this one when this one responded to the user. Misunderstandings are one of the reasons this one doesn’t always respond to the user.”
My shoulder slump. “...I am just going to ignore the last part. If I misunderstood, then prithee, I would relish some clarity.”
“Statement: Fine, this one will tell the user. Explanation: Kiln are deemed weak because, when firstborn, they’re essentially confused, disoriented, and terrified treasure chests that advertise their location to everything nearby via their own Mana. Not to mention the chaos and attention their birth reaping warrants. That means, when Mana was still prevalent, most Kiln lasted mere moments before being promptly executed. Their remains would then be sold and traded for exorbitant quantities of valuables, enough to support the establishment of entire kingdoms in some cases. Thus, in truth, the limits of more mature Kiln are unknown to this one.”
“So… I am not weak?” I ask, placing my hand over my kiln to protect it from becoming ‘remains.’
Squinting, she swings around and begins to resume our walk to the hill. “Statement: I believe this one stated the limits of a mature Kiln are unknown to this one, but regardless, with the Cosmic System’s assistance, survivors will not be weak for long. That is why this one knows the user will have the fleshies and the spirits of Tenebrous cowering and pleading for mercy beneath them someday.”
‘Survivors will not be weak for long. As long as I survive, I shall continue to grow… which reminds me.’
“How long will it take for the vegetation to grow; is it normal growth or...?”
“Answer: The vegetation is expected to achieve between 60 and 75% maturity by the time the user reawakens. That is regardless of the amount or variety assigned by the user.”
“That is really impressive, Earl...” Puffing out her chest, she nods. “...and I believe I have everything I need, so I am ready to leave.”
Hearing my words, she deflates as we arrive at an inconspicuous area a few feet away from the edge of the grass. I look over, finding nothing there, but Earl seems unconcerned.
Pouting and gesturing lazily toward a specific area of the hill, she says, “Information: If the user wishes to save the hairy primate from pain and suffering, they should hurry. Further, to open and close the gate, the password, ‘Rich or poor, all things find their way to Tenebrous’ is required for everyone, with the exclusion of the user and this one. Note: Every gate will have its own phrase to leave and enter; after saying the phrase, the gate opens and will shut a minute later. However, the user can open and close the gate with or without it, and there is no timer. This means the gate is still open, so…” She waves a hand toward a random area of the hill.
“Aye, it is appreciated, but I do not see anything.” Raising an eyebrow, she simply waves again, this time with both hands. “I suppose... Where art thou gate? Prithee, show thyself.”
Immediately after my question, a purple flame rises skyward from the ground, mimicking a door’s shape. The flame fades. In the place of the flame, a familiar door with a woman in golden armor and a man in leather stands. Just as I left it, they are standing apart and through the door, except they are not in reversed positions on either side of the door. Through the door, I can see Gen staring at the gate room’s stained glass walls as if he is admiring them. I realize he is actually just searching for the place the pellet impacted earlier, but I do not believe there is one; the glass reflected it.
“Earl, could I not just shut the gate from this side?”
She nods a big grin spreads across her pale face; tilting her head, she asks, “Query: Does the user wish to stay here with this one for a while longer and search the dark outskirts of Tenebrous for the beast spirit? This one shall show them their true form.”
“...Do not be so silly, Earl! I am simply too busy.” I step swiftly toward the door, a sensation akin to leaving a room after extinguishing the lights creeps up my back. If I pause for even a moment, I fully expect something to grab my arm, preventing me from leaving.
“Till… till the morrow Earl!” I manage to say, shuffling through the stained gate’s door.
“Statement: Farewell user. This one looks forward to our eternal and everlasting relationship,” she says with a giggle.
‘Close the gate!’ The door slides shut, smothering the echoes of Earl’s giggles.
Moving a few steps away, I put my hand on my chest and lean against the wall. A purple wall appears.
Recommendation: Move beyond the fear of Tenebrous. It holds no ill will toward the user; it simply is.
I push Earl’s wall away and slide down the smooth glass wall, resting upon my posterior. ‘Perhaps after it has changed, but that is not today.’
Hearing something “ooh” next to me, I lazily turn my head to find Gen standing there. He pats his stomach, pointing in the direction of the cave entrance. ‘Thou needs to go outside, I presume.’
Forcing myself back to my feet, I float into the rubbish room and motion toward Gen to follow. While I remove the bricks from the entrance, Gen retrieves the rubbish sled. We could do without it, but I have tried to stop him from bringing it before and he simply refuses not to bring it. He seems to believe dragging it around is a requirement, except this time, he stops upon noticing the new sled I retrieved earlier.
His gaze swings between the rubbish sled and this new one. ‘...Take it, Gen. We will retrieve the coffin and some other items while we are at it. Nary any rest for those that cannot sleep, I suppose.’
Placing the sled on the ground, I tie a string to it and toss it to Gen, who seizes it with a few big nods. Together, the two of us exit and begin our nightly ritual of gathering supplies. As I do so, I look up, noticing a dozen clickers passing overhead in an arrow formation.
I shake my head, saying in my head, ‘Just… just ignore it, Constance, an issue for later,’ and then continue searching rubbish bins for materials and food.
‘Push Gen. Push!’
Gen and I are returning to the cave with the coffin loaded atop the sled. The coffin is too heavy for the sled, but my strength is far better in my sable form than my vermillion, so I am managing to force it forward. I also have Gen, who is pulling the rope to the best of his ability. He is not actually doing that much, but I can see helping seems to make him happy, so steal that away from him.
Reaching the edge of the stone stairs, I stop; I have already put some thought into how I am going to get it down. My solution is quite simple, I shall push it down the stairs and deal with whatever the situation is after it settles at the bottom.
I motion for Gen to move to the other side of the coffin. Raising my hands, I pretend I am pushing and then point at the coffin. I lower myself and pretend to push it with my arms, but in reality, I bend the cattail, spread its tendrils, and grip the coffin.
Gen joins me after a moment of confusion, and then together, we push.
The coffin and sled cross the threshold of the old stone staircase. Instantly the coffin separates from the sled, skipping the first two stairs and then tumbling longways toward the bottom. On its way down, it thumps against each and every stair as if it is intentionally performing flips to entertain an audience. With one last thump, it slides under its own momentum down a slight incline, where it comes to rest on some rough rock a few feet from the cave’s entrance. Thanks to the orientation and a lip of stone above the cave’s entrance, snow does not typically accumulate outside the cave, which shall make it more difficult to slide the coffin inside.
Next to me, I hear the sounds of clapping. I glance over to see Gen showing his teeth and hitting his palms together. ‘I am certain I did not teach him that.’
I move down the stairs and pray that the presumed Kiln within does not burst from the top of the coffin in a fury. ‘Apologies,’ I think to myself, beginning to push the coffin toward the cave. ‘But that was rather loud, so let us not tarry.’
Without snow outside the cave, the iron coffin grinds against the ground as I draw it into the cave. It takes me an hour of continually tugging at it over and over to pull it through the door.
‘As heavy as it is, it still seems like it is light for iron. I honestly thought I might have to cover it and abandon it outside without snow or a sled to slide it over.’
Gen and I gather the supplies we scavenged, take them into the cave and brick the entrance up with the coffin inside. A blue wall appears when I take a piece of rubbish and wedge it between a set of bricks to hold them steady.
Achieved Interim Scrounger [Grade 5]
You Have Shown Enough Ability to Rank A Interim Skill to the Novice Rank
Please Select One Below
[Novice Scrounger II]
[Novice Trashy Scrounger]
[Novice Routine Scrounger]
I glance at it and then shake my head. ‘This is great, and it is appreciated, Cosmic System, but I do not have the mental capacity for this right now. Prithee, I shall decide at a later time. I… I simply cannot make a well-thought-out decision right now. Time until the end of germination runs short and I have a long list of things that require my attention over the next few days.’
Hearing the sound of something, creaking I glance in the direction of the noise. There I notice one of the beads on my new adaptation shatter. As it does so, red vermillion haze spreads through my body, dying it a slightly redder shade. ‘That is interesting, however... I can think of some ways I might be able to use that in the future.’
I grab the messenger orb to see if Terra sent the contract draft as she said she would. This is my priority currently, so it’s important to check before Terra arrives in the morning. Actually, now that I ponder it, I assume she has some way to find me because I never informed her of my location. ‘If it’s necessary, I shall return to the castle to find her, I suppose.’
Constance, the rough draft of the contract is attached below. Just look it over, and we’ll talk about it more later and don’t worry, I’ll find you tomorrow.
Finding the wall, I glance at the time sent. ‘Terra, it has to be three in the morning right now. Doth thou not know normal people require sleep?’
I press the wall, and one of my hands becomes locked to the orb like the time I did this before.
Extracting Mana from stable Mana origin.
Mana, at least what I believe is Mana, flows from my kiln and toward the wall, turning it to the light purple.
Updating orb based on amendments sent twenty-four minutes ago… … ...complete.
After the Mana has been yanked from my kiln and the wall reverts to its original blue, a rather large wall takes its place.
Party TG - Entity 27101 Designated as Terra Iris Galtry.
Party C? - Entity ?? Designated as Constance. [Note from Terra: Need your Cosmic #...Also, I can’t believe I don't know your last name.]
Party TG and Party C wish to make a reciprocal contract on the basis of mutual cooperation and trust from here forth.
Party TG Stipulations
**All stipulations above can be waived if Party C firmly feels they’re incapable of fulfilling the terms, are incapacitated, are not within a reasonable distance, are ignorant of happenings, or have made some type of agreement with Party TG.**
Party C Stipulations
**All stipulations above can be waived if Party TG firmly feels they’re incapable of fulfilling the terms, are incapacitated, are not within a reasonable distance, are ignorant of happenings, or have made some type of agreement with Party C.**
[Note from Terra: I know you’re going to have a problem with this, Constance, but it’s necessary, and I won’t make the contract without its inclusion.]
The consequence is as follows - if Party C is physically destroyed, suffers irreparable mental ruin, or is irreversibly bound by any parties connected with Party TG (directly or indirectly) prior to the signing of this contract or by any outside parties that held the intentions of voiding this contract, then Party TG will perish.
(After 5-years, both parties can willingly agree to extend, alter, or remove any part of this contract excluding Stipulations S4 and S8.)
‘...Good lord.’ I look at the long page, my eyes moving through the many words and lines. ‘This is quite a lot and it looks like there are things on a different wall. This is far from how the domination contract seemed to work.’
My finger touches the wall and the next one appears. I find this new wall is mostly about the possibility of voiding stipulations one through three if… well, essentially, too unnecessarily malicious, immoral, or “radical” for the other person. This being a special spirit contract, it only activates if the other person truly feels that way. It seems as if stipulations four and eight never void, which is a bit odd. Then there are things about consequences if we fail to uphold a stipulation, and they all vary from severe to none at all depending on the actions taken by the other party.
The strangest one was for lying, which included a minor headache after lying the first time, a fit of blinking the second time, and then a strong compulsion to share the information the third time. Then there are other things in there that make stipulations one through three and five through seven frequently voluntary unless the other person is genuinely and deliberately not attempting to fulfill them in any way, at which point punishments begin. Those punishments usually center around a compulsion to confess to the other person in regards to why the stipulations are not being fulfilled.
I recall some violations in the book I read on contracts stating they can force people to do things against their will or even explicitly modify someone’s sentiments or thoughts. The compulsions to confess already feel a tad intrusive, so I am glad she did not go any further than that.
However, the thing that sticks out more than anything is the affixed consequence. It is by far the harshest punishment with little room for interpretation. The only thing comparable is the consequence for betrayal, intentional malicious sabotage, and other such things, which basically takes the “eye for an eye” approach. The affixed consequence does not take into account any of that, something could happen to me that is almost entirely out of her control and that would be that.
‘She’s right, I do have my concern, but I do not believe she would put that in there without good reason.’
For the next hour or so, I read through the contract a few times over. There is not much I can think to add; everything is rather responsible and provides a way out if it is unreasonable for the opposing “party.” The only part that does not allow much room is the lying stipulations, but it still excludes times when the information itself will endanger the other’s being.
All in all, it’s relatively simple enough; it primarily makes it, so our relationship consists of the two of us supporting one another, with the smallest possible worry of betrayal. Someone to rely on is something I believe both Terra and I have gone without for quite some time.
Pondering for a few more minutes, I shrug. ‘I will discuss it with Terra later. It is time to practice my Mana skills before she supposedly arrives.’