Pain came, I endured, pain left. Time passed while I rebuilt my mental defenses. The green fire eating health and mana bars faded as the last portion of red and black cardboard went on. It hurt, but then again nearly everything did right now. It seemed to be a major factor in my life. My consciousness flittered into nothingness after the walls were back up.
Subject 42 Status Updated
Criteria for stage one empowerment met. [The Overseer] has been notified. Evaluation will take time. Empowering will take approximately two days to prepare for and complete. [The Inner World] and [The Outer World] awareness will be unavailable during transfer.
My recovery took over one day to complete. Izzy didn’t call for me during that time. Once I had rested and the little girl fully healed was I summoned. I took it gladly. By an unspoken agreement we both sat in the carriage. It was missing entire chunks from where [Tribal Lizard]s had attacked us. Izzy didn’t leave the vehicle once. We made a deal that if I got into trouble she would just release me back to [The Outer World] instead of getting off the carriage in chase.
“Are you okay Izzy?” I asked upon returning to [The Inner World].
“Mmmmhm.” This time she managed not to agree happily. Her tone implied that things were not alright but she was going forward anyway. I understood that sort of feeling completely.
“What did you mean by being able to sense my emotions? How long have you been able to do that?” I skipped to another subject to try and get her talking. Anything to distract her from our near disaster.
Talking helped me understand this world’s rules a bit more. My biggest hope was this empowerment process. It didn’t say an empowerment or a upgrade. I expected to get something useful out of it though. This world seemed simple enough along those lines.
“A few years ago, shortly after we were bound, I started being able to sense stuff about you.” Izzy fiddled with a strand of matted hair. Dry dirt flaked apart as she cleaned.
“Like what?” I asked.
“First was a sense of how healthy you are. Then your energy, and finally feelings.” She felt nervous while speaking about this. I checked her mood, and she must be trying to get a handle on mine.
I didn’t really feel upset. Mostly it was idle curiosity about what this meant for the world’s rules. This explanation fell into the same order I had concentrated on learning things about her. We really were connected. That also explained how she had been able to give voice of my concerns when Grandpa Hubble talked about our potential future.
Being linked shed light on why she was worried I might not like this situation. Her age only played part of the factor, but trying to understand me also had an impact. She felt my unease and thought it because of my feelings towards her.
Mostly I was concerned about getting to the school, staying warm, and finding food for her. The stony Defender creature was broken in lots of places. Its arm sat in the back with us, thankfully unmoving.
We kept going. I got distracted running around on the ground. Being in a kitten’s body had certainly changed my priorities on what was important. Attacking butterflies or other bugs rated higher on the list then stressing over rules. Maybe that was just me. In my prior life I had spent years in school learning all sorts of information and none of those seemed to matter now. What good did Pythagoreans Theorem do to help me as a kitten?
This time I had even less drive to pay attention to such things. I wanted to know, but at the same time parts of me figured it would all become clear eventually. I just had to play my role, protect Izzy, and fight monsters.
The second day was also boring. Izzy kept up her practice with the spells but none of them clicked. Our food would apparently last the few days this trip should take. My only real goal was to wait for this empowerment message to make things a bit clearer. Only after much bug catching did I remember the last part of the message.
“Izzy.” I jumped back into our slowly plodding cart. The damaged Defender wasn’t able to carry us very well with one hand.
She just looked at me. Her eyes seemed tired and unfocused. I hadn’t really noticed if the young girl slept at all since our [Tribal Lizard] attack. Suddenly I worried about that more than my pending empowerment.
“Have you slept at all?” I switched to a more important concern. As fire fighters we were trained to handle immediate issues, not really long term ones. Often times they were handed over to family or doctors.
She shook her head very slowly. In one hand there was a half formed spell that looked dull and lifeless. Izzy wasn’t even trying to form it with energybits. They were almost solid tiles or puzzle pieces being shoved together without glue.
“You need rest.” I insisted.
“Can’t.” Izzy said. “We might be attacked. I need to get stronger.”
“You’re not going to make progress without resting your body and mind.” I pretended to sound wise. These were words my father had spoken to me once. His voice sounded distant though, difficult to remember. Based on this world’s clock I had been away at least eight years.
I hoped he was doing okay. What would happen to him if I too passed from a virus? My tail stopped and both ears froze. There was a sinking feeling inside my chest as chills crept up from behind.
“Can you stay with me?” She asked, the exhaustion sounded even more apparent. The little girl was running on fumes. Her need was immediate, my father would have moved on. I couldn’t let the past distract me.
“Of course.” I felt confused that she even needed to ask. Maybe I leapt around the mountain path searching for bugs, but I always came back the minute I noticed a [Cold] status to warm her up. Luckily we hadn’t gotten another rain storm, but chilled mountain air didn’t help.
The issue, I think, was that she was still so young. I needed to do a better job of looking out for her. Her parents were gone. Grandpa Hubble stayed in his tower. I was all that remained. This whole situation had gotten terrible because of me.
I curled up next to her and relied on body heat to keep us warm. Ash shedding was halted with a moment of willpower. Izzy pulled over a blanket and passed out almost immediately. Sitting in one spot wasn’t so bad. The blankets made our carriage a bit more comfortable. Izzy was warm.
One hand had frozen in an unfinished pat. In her other palm the pieces of a half formed spell were fading away. My visual notification of Izzy’s energy showed it recovering. Based on this calculation she would be able to keep me summoned for another few hours, provided nothing crazy happened.
My head dropped down to watch scenery go by. After a few months the action of using my paws as pillows felt far more natural. Eventually the slow plugging motion of our carriage rocked me to a complete sleep.
Words flashed across my mind. None of them made sense due to my sleeping state. They felt more like a faint dream happening to someone else.
Subject (73) interference scenario has finished. [The Overseer] has been notified. Primary host body revitalization process activated. Counting down…
A new world slowly came into focus. It felt like my brain had switched from one location to another. The first thing I tried to do was breathe. My throat felt obstructed. There was something in it clogging things up. At first I thought it was a piece of fish I had stolen, but the object was too big.
“Suspend his breathing.” A voice said. “Put it on automatic. Make sure his awareness is online. Holmes, we need visual confirmation of a response.”
My eyes darted around to find Izzy or the stone Defender. Instead there was a room full of tables and humans looking at me. I hadn’t seen this many humans in one place in ages. Where was I? Had I been summoned to a new body somehow?
One of the people wore a white coat. He pressed buttons and a bright light shone into my eye. It felt like staring down the midday sun. I lost the contest and blinked. Looking away didn’t help.
“Pupils are dilating. Legs and body parts are moving. Blink if you can hear me Mister Argive.” The man said.
That name was mine. Only a few people in the new world knew it. Wait, no. This seemed familiar. There were images floating all around. Pictures of human bodies with various portions lit up.
“Mister Argive, we brought you out to try and catch you up to speed.”
“Mmmph.” I groaned a noise that even I didn’t understand. This liquid around me was a light yellow slime of some sort. Moving through it felt gross. It wasn’t hot or cold.
“The virus is still eating at you, but we’ve made some progress. Our suspend animation program seems to be working well.”
I had just been sleeping on the lap of a small child. Where was Izzy? That couldn’t all be in my head. Could it? Everything collided together and failed to come up with a stable answer. Over eight years, that’s the number I kept coming back to.
“Doctor Long, we can’t keep him here forever. His brain chemistry is starting a reaction again.” There was a woman in the back that spoke. She didn’t look familiar from my few memories or Izzy’s world. None of them looked like anyone I knew.
The blond woman, who must be Doctor Long, sighed. “Put him back in. We’ll keep working on the body. Holmes, Gale, get him to stage two.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” One of them asked. I felt groggy again. They were pressing buttons floating in the air and noises came out of the goop around me. My eyes rolled and tried to catch where lights were flashing from up above.
“No, but we’ve got to try something new or Pierce will end up the same as those other two.” Doctor Long said with another sigh. She shook her head which caused a pony tail to bob back and forth.
“Understood.” The man next to the glass said. He turned to me and waved a hand in farewell. My eyesight drifted off into blackness once more.
I woke up slowly. Something odd had just happened but I couldn’t figure out what. The event was lost under a haze like most of my past life. There had been a woman, a Doctor of some sort.
Whatever happened had put me straight back into the darkness of [The Outer World]. A strange than normal box sat in front of me. This must have been the result from fighting all those monstrous creatures. It was silly, but now I was faced with a choice in order to help Izzy in the long run.
Empowering evaluation completed. Spiritual Evolution being processed. Please choose a new form from the list available.
There were many times where I wished to be a smarter man. A genius or well learned person might actually have a clue what the differences were between these choices. I mean, even I understood that being a [Flaming Blob] was bad. A reward based on existing was just silly.
The Ember Cat was likely just a bigger version of my current form. I could go with that, or be stuck as a kitten but move to a [Sun Kitten] form. I figured it would be the same size but with more sunniness.
Or, go with the [Unknown] option. I hoped it was something cooler than the other choices, but it might just be as bad as a [Flaming Blob] shape.
My finger reached out to press a button. A moment later I was hissing in confusion and second guessing myself. Eventually I just stabbed the one for [Unknown] and prayed [The Overseer] wouldn’t bone me completely.
Blackness swum over my mind once more. The land of cardboard walls against green fire and Isabella’s world both were gone. I felt dizzy and itched. Something crawled around under my skin but it was far away. Not enough to break the exhaustion keeping me mostly unaware.
When I awoke, things felt much different. A breeze shivered me to the core, as if air was swirling around inside of my body instead of outside.
“Oh God.” I muttered. This change had left me as a kitten still. My body was about the size of a bobcat, that hadn’t changed. The fur on my skin looked almost completely transparent. Only bits of dancing red and oranges obscured any vision.
Race: [Flame Spirit Kitten]
Racial Bonuses: All prior status bonuses still apply. Moderate [Speed], High [Reflex], Low [Endurance], Low [Brawn].
Damage Type[s]: [Shredding], [Fire], [Spirit]
Weaknesses: Yarn, warm beams of sunlight, [Cold], [Holy] school of spells, members of the [Dog] species
Spirit Learned Skills
Path: [Guardian (Uninitiated)]
“What the hell?” I muttered. “Really? This, I’m a ghost now? What if a, holy, dog, frost demon attacks!”
No one answered of course. Part of me felt that being transformed into a [Flame Spirit Kitten] wasn’t much of an upgrade. None of my abilities seemed to increase in damage or effectiveness, except intimidation. At least putting my trust in [The Overseer] hadn’t turned me into a [Limp Ooze] or something silly.
The other part of me kind of liked the idea of walking through walls. It felt very cat like to me. Having a new damage type might help Izzy out a lot, but adding another weakness on top of it was annoying. There had to be some way to remove these problems and grow stronger next time.
I sighed. Maybe Izzy would have a suggestion. My fingers traced to the shimmering black cord that connected us. A new color ran through, that of an almost translucent blue. It matched the softer tips of fur around my paws. They were nearly see through as well. Hopefully once in [The Outer World] I could find something better to look at.
“Izzy?” I tried to reach across the connection.
“Mister Spirit?” She sounded groggy. “Are we there?”
I focused a bit on sensing Izzy’s surroundings. There was a surprising change alright. The Defender seemed to have stopped and stood there umoving. They were near a giant bridge that spanned over running water. People were bustling all around but no one seemed interesting in touching her cart.
Honestly, she must have been exhausted to sleep through all that. No one had bothered her, probably because of the stone golem with an arm missing.
“Can you bring me through? I think we made it somewhere.”
“I’m hungry.” She said. A message came up on the grey slate telling me that Izzy was using her [Summon [Request] Contracted Spirit] ability. Of course I accepted and popped into a real world once more.
For a moment I stared in wonder. There were tall spires reaching into the sky. Many clustered by an obvious ocean. Our bridge sat on an upper slope that overlooked a bustling city. Water poured down from the mountains and flowed into the river. Boats with rolled up sails sat in a harbor far away near the water.
There were even colorful towers spiraling upwards that made Grandpa Hubble’s home look like a one-room ramshackle.
Overlapping images of cities in my past came to mind. I felt like this place was familiar but couldn’t exactly place it. It had been too many years, and those memories from my prior life felt like someone else’s.
“Papers! Anyone wanting to get in needs their papers!” A guard rattled by. He wore a shiny looking helmet and a very polished spear. Two other guardsmen were right behind him repeating the cry.
Izzy started digging while I just sat there, afraid to move too much. This new body took a bit of getting used to. There were all sorts of odd little bits of light floating around too. Not magic or energy, but blobs of light blue that swooshed through the air or buildings below.
“Do you see those?” I asked Izzy.
“Hold on, I have to find our papers.” She was digging through the bags. Pretty much all of our luggage had been partially ruined in the [Tribal Lizard] attack. I hadn’t taken note of papers or passports anywhere in our journey.
One of the lights bobbed in closer, inspecting carts and carriages all around us. It zipped through one after another with mild interest.
“Izzy?” I didn’t like how that thing was moving.
“Pierce?” She used my nickname right this time. I saw her look at me with confusion. Wrinkles appeared around her nose and eyes as Izzy tried to figure ou what happened. “You’ve got blue on you.”
“There’s a blob floating here.” The thing had grown close and it really bugged me. I didn’t understand what it was beyond a glowing fast moving butterfly. “Can I attack it?”
“What? No Pierce!” Izzy looked wild and alarmed.
“Papers!” The guard shouted at our carriage. “Papers please! No one gets into Azure Song without papers!”
I leapt for the floating bubble of blue anyway. It seemed to be laughing at me and deserved kitten death from above.
[The Overseer]‘s log: Subject 42’s adaptation to the new hardware limitations is progressing nicely. He remains aware and alert, and manually submerged into a virtual world. Our test today to bring him out and test functionally went better than expected.
It should be noted that the poor child is very ingrained in his local systems. The Gen 7 ARC isn’t even really needed at this point. His actual thoughts are being processed by the remote hardware while his actual mind is nearly catatonic. He probably didn’t even realise he was using the rooms audio speakers to talk and not his own voice.
It’s a testament to the human mind’s capabilities, or more accurately the lack of control being migrated to a digital platform allows. I had a hard time looking directly at him once he was aware. Referring to a person as Subject 42 seems almost disrespectful.
We’ve had a hard time getting the prior memories to link correctly between the original physical body, his neural storage tank, and the brain mimicry software. This is likely due to all the temporarily redacted data to allow him to continue functioning in this halfway state. It’s this or let him go back to the ravaged body ahead of schedule.
In other news, he actually chose to allow me the pleasure of deciding a new avatar for him. I do like cats, maybe it was something I inherited from my uncle.