Achieved Interim [Mana Compression (I-3)]
Placing the messenger orb to the side, I lean against the wall behind me. ‘I managed to get another rank and it was not as draining as it was a couple of days ago.’
Since obtaining the Interim skill, the way to train my Mana compression has been to write in the messenger orb, but I attempted something new this time. I tried to draw; more specifically, I wanted to try and make a map within it.
After speaking to Earl I realized, a map would not be the worst of ideas for both Tenebrous and the park. Besides, I am bored of writing random messages, notes, reminders, poetry, and some songs in the orb. So I made my attempt to make the map, which turned out to be more enjoyable and engaging than I thought it would be. This is how I also realized my life lacks entertainment; therefore, I believe I shall keep experimenting with map-making as a distraction from now on.
I glance at all the rubbish tossed about the room. Rising to my feet, I begin to throw all the clutter toward the corners of the cave. If Terra is coming to my abode, I guess I should… well, not clean up, but at least make a path for her to walk. ‘I really hope it does not smell; I have never had a guest before.’
Going through our food stock, I consume all the food that appears to be the oldest. This takes my Erysichthon to the maximum. I notice my lost bead returns, except it comes back as black and not red. ‘So it is as I thought. It’s just storing the haze I have. I think I can use it to store a certain haze variant and then maybe find a way to swap them somehow. I will have to experiment with that as well, perhaps after germination.’
“Hey, Constance, are you in there?” I hear a familiar, uncertain voice outside the cave asking.
‘She actually found me! I did not expect her to actually find me; at least, not so quickly!’ My eyes sweep across the dim, horribly messy cave; the only source of light in this part comes from the gate rooms glowing stained glass. ‘...I live in a cave with an Ape! Good lord, this is embarrassing; someone as wealthy as Terra is going to hate this...! Which means she shall hate me!’
Moving to the edge of the cave, I push some of the bricks from the entrance. I drop to my knees and stick my head outside. My head is around where her knees are, so it’s a bit of a new angle to see Terra from. From here, I can see between the gap where the vail is and her skin. She carries the same satchel she had yesterday.
Both her eyes, gray and green, glance downward. She takes a step back and raises an eyebrow.
“Welcome.” I wave, motioning for her to crawl through the hole and into the cave. “Apologies for the... everything.” Drifting backward, I shout, “Prithee, do not hate me for what thou art about to witness!”
Outside I hear her drop to her knees and begin crawling through.
‘I… I suppose I could have increased the height of the entrance a tad more.’ As soon as her head enters, she freezes when her eyes behold the cave’s bountiful interior. ‘I somewhat hoped it would be too dark for her to see.’
“Dost thou hate me?” I ask in a tiny voice, wringing my hands together.
“...Of course not.” She blinks a few times, gazing upon the cave, and then finishes crawling. Removing a torch from her satchel, she runs it across the cave and asks with a clearly forced smile, “Constance, how… how long have you been living here?”
I glance back just in time to see an old slice of ‘pizza,’ that Gen must have stuck to the ceiling, fall onto the iron coffin below it. “...It was like this when I discovered it, I swear,” I respond, turning back around. “Aye, an untidy hermit lived here; I am not such a messy person that I would allow this to happen…. Let’s go into the other room; it is much cleaner!”
“A clean room... Yeah, let’s do th—” Stopping mid-sentence, her eyes concentrate on the coffin and then drift toward the side of the room where the yellow tome rests. “Where on earth did those come from and how are they here?”
“Did I not mention those?”
“Well, you did mention the coffin. I just didn’t expect it to be here. How did you get those dents in it? And as for the tome, you definitely didn’t mention it.”
“Oh, the dents are because I pushed it down the stairs.” A laugh exits her lips as she approaches the tome and reaches for it. “Wha-wait! Do not touch it!”
A spark shoots from the tome, striking Terra’s finger. “It seems rather upset and active,” she says. “We can use this, probably.”
“Use it? For magic? I have had that thought; it seemed unlikely to work, however.”
Shaking her head, she states, “Losing a spirit tome is one of the worst things that could happen to a Spirit Scribe. As far as magic goes, you could maybe use it for magic, but there would be some serious blowback. You’d need to know what to write to make spells work.”
“Oh, then how dost thou suggest we use it then?”
“Extortion, to put it plainly. We could get them to help us with the threat of tossing their tome into the ocean or worse, inscribing certain things into it that may cause problems to the person’s psyche…”
“Ah, I guess I have become used to things being more complicated than that. If it’s important, then thou could use it for that.”
Terra looks at me with furrowed brows. “You don’t have a problem with extortion?”
“Certainly, if there were better means, I would prefer those, but I have done it various times to solicit food and clothing. Especially when I was young and could easily slip away. If they did not come to retrieve their item or tried to deceive me, I just traded it to someone else or cast it into a latrine if they made me particularly angry.”
“I will have to be careful not to make you too angry then.” She laughs. “I’d hate if my things started ending up in the toilet.”
“Aye, it is best not to anger me,” I respond, pretending to toss a lock of hair back.
With another laugh, she balances the torch on some rubbish and removes her silver tome. Flipping through the pages, she stops. “How did you get the tome here? Didn’t it try to resist you?”
“I merely carried it; it seemed to try but could not hurt me.”
Placing her hand on one of the pages, silver thread rises from its pages. “Interesting,” she murmurs. She points at the tome; silver strings shoot from her fingertips and toward the yellow tome. They embed themselves into the tome’s cover. The threads wrap around one side and then the other, sealing the tome’s pages shut. “You shouldn’t be able to touch it without sealing it first.”
“It did not hurt at all. It just tickled a bit.”
“Tickled?” Smirking, she glances at the coffin. “Mind if I take the tome? I’ll trade you the key for the coffin in return, but I should warn you it might take me a bit of time to find the key. I’m sure my father has been keeping the key close since you took the coffin, and he left town a couple of days ago to check on the progress of spirit scribes at the slaughterhouses.”
“I suppose so. I would rather have the key to the coffin than a book that tries to attack me every time I go near it… Though I am not certain if it really is a Kiln in the coffin.”
“It’s unmistakably something like a Kiln at least, that coffin is probably sealed shut to smother its mana leakage, but when I’m this close, I can still feel it leaking a tad.”
Taking a long look at the tome and then the coffin, I nod. “Then, I guess, it would be wise to trade for the key then.”
“Then it’s a trade. I’ll get it to you after I find an opportunity to acquire it.” Grabbing the tome, she places it in her satchel before retrieving her torch. “Now about this other room...”
“Aye! I hope this other room is more to thy liking and if it is not, well, I do not have any other rooms so… I hope thou like it.”
When we enter the gate room with walls covered in stained glass, Terra gasps. “Woah... This is incredible! I’ve never seen stained glass like this before. It’s so vibrant and precise.” She extinguishes and slips her torch into her satchel.
“Aye, I am glad thou like it.”
Moving around the room, she seems to become lost in the beautiful images that surround the gate to Tenebrous. Her foot kicks something, a metallic noise echoes. The pistol I left from my previous venture slides across the floor.
Terra raises an eyebrow. Walking over to it, she takes it in her hands and pulls something at the top of the pistol. A copper-colored casing ejects from the side of the pistol and bounces against the floor. She presses something else, causing the pistol’s base to slide out. Inspecting it, she asks, “Constance, if you don’t mind me asking, why is there a loaded pistol with its safety off just sitting in the center of the room?”
I glance at the little tube that shot from the pistol and then back at Terra. “I thought it really brought the room together.”
She sighs. “I’m going to partially dismantle it to prevent any accidents; if you don’t mind, that is.”
Hesitating, I recall the earlier incident. “Aye… that is fine, I suppose.”
“I’ve been around a lot of firearms, so I’ll show you how to use it later if you want.”
“Verily! I would enjoy learning more about it!”
Drawn by the commotion, an “ooh” sounds from the rubbish room next door. Gen enters the room, scratching his posterior with one hand and an empty pudding cup in the other.
Terra visibly recoils upon seeing him.
“The hermit of which I spoke seems to have awakened from his slumber,” I state, rubbing the back of my neck.
Releasing a big yawn, Gen smacks his gums together and then notices Terra’s presence. The two peer at one another. The room is utterly silent.
Tilting his head, Gen raises his arm that grips the empty pudding cup. He lobs it at Terra.
‘Gen, nay! Bad!’ I reach out with my hand to catch it, but I am also afraid of getting too close to Terra and infecting her so I stop.
The cup bounces off her noggin and then jiggles against the ground. Terra raises her hand, placing it against her forehead as Gen turns to leave.
“Apologies!” I pick up the cup and cast it back at Gen, who moves out of sight just as the cup soars by the back of his head. “Again, apologies!”
‘Why!? Why, Gen!?’ My right hand fiddles with the cattail wrapped around my torso as I place my left against my forehead. ‘I should have been able to catch that…’
When our gazes meet, I drop my hands and hastily attempt to explain, “I believe Gen thinks thou art invading his home, or perhaps he is merely jealous! Oh, it might be because of the pistol, he does not like it…! But, honestly, he is a difficult one to figure out!”
“It’s fine, but… you never said you brought a… a mutated monkey from the zoo back with you.”
“He is an evolved ape, I think; I read about them in a book. I provided him medical care. Then he just never left, so he lives here now too.”
Taking a breath, she drops her arm. “Medical care? How?”
“Ah, I am a bit of an amateur, but I am licensed by the Cosmic System, so I shall show thou!”
Straightening my back and puffing out my chest, ‘Prithee display my Humorism qualifications Cosmic System.’
Displaying ‘Trailblazer (Humorism)’ Title to Entity.
I push the wall away. “I am not an ordinary haze monster, Terra; this haze is also a Doctor.”
Her eyes move back and forth as she reads what must be a wall from the Cosmic System. “Humorism.” A stiff smile spreads across her face. “Well, you are full of surprises, that’s for sure and he didn’t seem to be in any pain.”
‘Odd. She does not seem impressed; I was looking forward to showing her my qualifications… I only got it because everyone else has passed, but she does not need to know that.’
Allowing my back to relax, I gesture toward the door Gen was just at. “Aye, his wounds healed much quicker than I anticipated. Terra is there something wrong with humori—”
“We’ll talk about that some other time!” she says, waving her hand and glancing away. “Let’s… let’s talk about the contract. Did you have time to read it?”
Squinting, I cross my arms. “Fine, we shall discuss it later. Aye, I read it and thou must already know what I wish to ask about.”
“About the affixed consequence, I assume.”
Uncrossing my arms, I nod.
“It’s quite simple, actually.” She sighs, staring at the pistol that is still in her hands. “With it, our lives are tied together; if that wasn’t the case, they might try to destroy you.”
“Destroy me!? Just because I made a contract?”
“No, because you made a contract with me. My father would almost certainly destroy you to ‘free’ me of any contractual obligations and if he couldn’t do it himself, he’d hire someone who could.”
“...So that is why the wording is so strange. It makes it so the Hex Church would also have to kill thou if they wished to destroy me. Regardless of if they do it themselves or if they hire someone to do it for them.”
“Yes, I don’t know about the rest of the Hex Church, but my father is very cautious to make sure no harm comes to me.” She pauses, scrutinizing the pistol in her hands before adding, “The only time I’ve ever seen my father genuinely angry was after someone tried to assassinate me.”
“I mean, thou art his daughter. From watching the other families, it does not seem strange for him to be protective.” I tilt my head, asking, “Is that not how families are for most people?”
She waves my remark away dismissively. “No, it’s not something like that. I’m fairly certain he’s incapable of those types of sentiments. All that matters is he wants me alive. I’ll use that against him to protect you from not just him but conceivably the whole Hex Church.” Her gaze moves about the room. “What would you say if I asked to use this room for something important?”
“Use this room?” I look at the shimmering gate before turning back toward her. “I do not know what thou means.”
“Hmm, let’s sign the contract first if you’re okay with it. After that, I’ll explain in more detail, and of course, you can say no if you want.”
Her words make me recognize something that may be an issue in the future. “Actually, now that I think about it, can I? With the contract, that is.”
“Yes, of course, I made everything pretty loose, so neither of us can start taking advantage of the other. The only one that I left less room for was the fourth stipulation… and I believe you know we both have issues with trust, so I’m sure you’ve figured out why it’s like that.”
“Aye, thou do not need to speak of that more, I understand. Oh, there was another thing, the contract used the word ‘feel’ a lot, is that not a bit too loose of a word?”
“If this was a normal contract, sure, but this is a spirit contract, meaning if someone truly ‘feels’ something, then the contract will know. A spirit contract is judging both parties on a much deeper level than simply ‘interpretation’ of the words—it judges based on intent, feelings, and other such things, in order to decide whether the contract was breached. Moreover, I left it like that because, to put it simply, people change. It’s better to accommodate for individual changes in a lifetime contract.”
“Aye, I had read some things like that in the contract book.” I think for a moment and adds, “So, I suppose, part of the fourth stipulation is to prevent us from becoming enemies, regardless of what happens in the future.”
She nods with a heavy sigh. Walking to the edge of the room, she lowers herself and places the disassembled pistol on the ground. “With what’s going on, everyone and everything will be different than they are now in the end.” Standing, she turns and inspects the stained glass walls. “Heroes turning to villains, villains becoming heroes, lions turning to sheep, sheep to lions, and other such things will be as common as the changing of the weather.”
‘She is not wrong; it’s still a bit of a bitter thought that we might one day oppose each other even if it is indirectly. I suppose we shall just have to pray that neither of us travels down a path they cannot come back from.’
“I understand.” I cross my arms and then state. “But before the contract, which I presently intend to make, I want to know about thy plan. I believe it foolish not to ask beforehand since thou seem to be intending to do it before I enter germination. Is that correct?”
She peers into the eyes of the stained glass woman who wears the golden armor. “Well, yes, it would be before then. It must be before then, actually, and it’s fair you’d want to know beforehand. I’m probably just too eager.”
Continuing around the room, she studies the walls, running her fingers over much of it. “We need more people, you and I both do, and there are a lot of ordinary people out there that are looking for a lifeline. Most haven’t even realized what’s going on, but the ones who have basically been censored and hushed for the time being, at least until leaders are prepared to formally announce the Cosmic System’s existence. That makes this a prime opportunity for us.”
“Thou wishes to use these people is what I gathered when we spoke previously.”
Her eyes abandon the walls, she turns and begins to step toward me. “That’s right, most of these people have a family member that has awakened, which is how they know about it in the first place, so they’re desperately searching for a way to join them. I hired an agency to start gathering names and contact information last night.”
“This is the part that has something to do with my haze? Dost thou wish to use it to awaken these people?”
Stopping directly in front of me, she nods. “Yep, and the fact that the Cosmic System hasn’t been officially recognized works for us as well, since we can’t reasonably have millions of people pouring into Central Park. Neither of us could handle so many desperate people.”
‘Millions? Are there even that many people in the world? Perhaps an exaggeration.’
“Aye… I would never wish to have that many people around me. What I do not understand is why we would want all these people around? Further, what is to stop more from arriving as more people discover what is happening?”
She smirks. “If we attract enough of these people to intrude upon the quarantine zone, we will provide quite the headache for the Consortium, who are already spread thin. Then we can force the Consortium to the negotiating table, offering them a chance to clean their hands of the area. Then you should be able to go to sleep as you told me you’d need to.”
“So thou wouldst just have them make it bothersome for the Consortium and then make them an offer…?”
“Yes, and with you on my side and the haze, we can satisfy them by offering to sell it to them with some added stipulations. While we also satisfy the people who came to you in the first place by awakening their loved ones. This forces their eggs into our basket as we talked about last time.”
“I… I suppose that might be a way to resolve the issue with the Consortium, but I do not know how much haze I can provide.” I gesture toward the stained glass walls. “However, I believe it is rather important to my Tower that it retains most of it.”
“We’ll leave the amount vague, something like ‘20% of haze extracted with a maximum of some number.’ That way, we don’t guarantee more than we can take. As long as they feel they’re getting a good deal, we’ll be able to get them to back off.”
“Aye. If it is something like that, I suppose it would be fine. What’s to keep people from simply leaving?”
“As for what I hope will keep more people from coming in the meantime is the quarantine zone, lack of official information, and ultimately your fellow Kiln on the outskirts of the city. With a favorable and mutual position established with the Consortium and the people that come, this puts me in a position to prepare my take over of the Galtry organization…. I anticipate anyway.”
“Thou means when the other Kiln appears, they shall effectively be a wall to intrusion but…” I think for a moment; indeed, it might keep more people out, yet if that is the case, it does the same thing in reverse. “Terra… Dost thou intend to trap those that come to the Tower in the park?”
“I don’t know, to be honest. There are too many unknowns, factors, and people at play here… I do believe this is the best solution to keep us both safe in the long term. It makes us both valuable to many people, which both paints a target on us and puts people beside us. Still, the consequences on bringing people here will be for us to bear…” She looks downward with a bitter look. “This is the type of thing I was referring to when I said ‘the lucky ones will only get their hands bloody.’”
“It is as thou said, we do not know enough to say if they shall be trapped here or not. Also, they are the ones who chose to come here for the haze and to awaken. I suppose it is a bit of a trade-off.”
“By the way, how do you make the haze?” She motions toward my body. “Like your personal haze.”
“I gain most of my haze and most of my Essence by eating ‘organic material.’”
Her eyes grow wide. “Eating? Wait, you did ask a strange question about eating to gain Essence last we talked... That’s so unfair!”
“Aye, but it has been difficult to gather enough food to take advantage of it while also not attracting attention. It would not be so bad if I could just eat plants; however, only meat really gives me Essence.”
“What level are you!? You’ve got to be decently high!”
“Nay, from our past conversations and ones I have listened in on, I believe Kiln level differently than people. It is not solely Essence. Still, Essence is vital for my growth. I wish I could gather more.”
“Is that so?” She sighs. “Well, I’ll find a way to get you some meat, so don’t worry about that anymore.”
“Really!? That would certainly be a big help!” I nod, glancing at the gate. “Let us make the contract! Then I have some new information to discuss.”
Tilting her head, she pulls out her silver tome once again, a tiny bottle of transparent ink, and a pair of quills. “If I’d known I only needed to offer you food, this would have been a lot quicker. If you’re ready.”
“It has naught to do with the food!”
She smiles as the two of us take a seat in the center of the gate room. She opens the tome and places it between us; the page is empty. “My father gave me this ink to use on a spirit to dominate them. I’m not sure how much money he must have spent on or even found the ingredients, but it brings me great pleasure to use it to sow the first seeds of severing our ties.”
Lifting a quill, she dips the end of it into the clear bottle of ink. “Since this is a reciprocal contract, not a domination, it requires a more personal touch.” When she lifts the quill, a translucent silver flame wiggles at the end.
‘A flame?’ I take a quill and dip it into the ink. Raising it, a much more defined violet flame dances at the end.
“Kiln’s consciousness has so much more substance,” I hear Terra whisper to herself. She points at the book. “Touch the book with your quill and, if this ink works as advertised, it should take care of the rest.”
Terra touches her quill to the tome; I follow suit. The same contract from earlier appears with a few added details at the top of the page. “Ah, the Cosmic System says your last name is Nightingale. That’s a really ‘crisp’ last name; I wonder if you’re related to the nurse,” she says.
“A nurse with my surname?” I shake my head. “It is unlikely. I do not recall where I learned my surname; to be honest, I might have taken it because I simply liked it. Nay, it is highly doubtful I am related.”
“I see. Either way, it’s a great last name and fits you very well. So if you did choose it, it was a good choice… but wow, your Cosmic number is really low! I wonder if people will find that impressive in the future...”
‘My number is low?’ Glancing at Terra, I can see she is reading through it once more. ‘I should just do the same.’ I follow her example very deliberately and thoroughly, reading through the contract.
Reciprocal Contract Offer:
Do you accept?
After studying the wall and seeing Terra has finished as well, I answer, “Aye.” The page burst into a mixture of silver and violet fire.
Reciprocal Contract Offer:
Imprinting now. Please wait...
The silver flame separates from the violet and spreads to my hand; meanwhile, the same is happening to Terra. I can see her eyes have grown wide as her hand is surrounded by the violet flame. The silver flames twist into the shape of a moth above my hand and then disperses into my haze, promptly sinking into my kiln. Above Terra’s hand, the violet flame twists into the shape of a willow tree with a noose hanging from it and then fades into the pores of her skin.
Reciprocal Contract Offer:
Success. The contract between Constance Nightingale and Terra Iris Galtry is ratified and is now in effect.
Reading the wall, I raise my hand and then look at Terra, who is still wide-eyed. “I dare say that might have been the most unexpected thing to happen to me in at least an hour or two.”