Quote:“In our first two extraction attempts we used the subject’s closest living relative. The father of Subject Eighteen’s said, quote “Can you hear me son?”. Observation of Subject Eighteen showed a response to this stimulus, but it sent his virtual landscape into unexpected turmoil. Since then we’ve learned that outside stimulus is dangerous to a Case Seven’s psyche.”
Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum
My dive for the blue light resulted in a catastrophe. The wisp-like being dodged out of the way and gave an absurd giggling sound. I fell through towards the ground, having missed the expected thud of connection. Landing was oddly graceless as I sunk through stone and mortar.
“What?” I meowed with mild horror. This felt like a dream gone wrong. Everything around me closed in, as if bundled too tightly in a blanket. Seconds later I was free, down on the ground beneath the bridge. “What just happened?”
“Pierce!” Izzy’s words echoed oddly. I looked up in confusion. There were bricks and large rocks held together by long dried paste. Moss under my toes felt a bit too cold. Being in the shade was unpleasant.
I saw an edge and ran over to it, then kept going quickly all the way to the top where Izzy was. She had gotten down out of the cart and seemed to be talking to the Guard while waving barely dried parchment. I leap the last bit to our carriage, afraid of falling through the stone bridge edge again.
This time, I fell through the carriage, bridge, and to the ground. By the fourth lap I almost had managed to control [Insubstantial] enough to slow my sinking. Lap nine saw me giving up and diving straight for Izzy instead.
She had been busy chatting with the Guard, the gruff one who had been shouting at us actually sounded fairly friendly. I didn’t catch a lot of their words since my ears were mostly submerged into solid objects.
“Oooof.” Izzy said. “Pierce?”
“I keep falling.” I felt annoyed but my meow came out whiney. There were more blue blobs around us then there had been before. They seemed to be laughing at my failed efforts to stay afloat. “Shut up!” I hissed at them.
“It’s okay. They’re just young ice spirits Mister Pierce.” Izzy said. I grumbled a bit regarding my name being changed around once again before registering what she said.
“Ice spirits?” That chilled me. [Ice] was one of my three major weaknesses. “Eww.”
“They chill people’s water, we had one back at home.” She gave my head a pat. At least she wasn’t falling through me or something weird from the [Insubstantial] ability.
Her explanation didn’t make me feel any better. I hadn’t noticed them back in Isabella’s hometown or Grandpa Hubble’s tower. Then again my ability to see the world had been muted until she summoned me that first time. Starting off my life in [The Inner World] fighting hot air balloon rats seemed odd.
“Mmmhm. Okay! The Guard said our papers are good enough, but the Defender can’t come in.” Izzy seemed comfortable cradling my new form. Even though I was very large for a cat.
I eyed the ground and struggled to get down. This time my feet managed to avoid sinking through. All I had needed was a moment to compose myself instead of running in circles flailing.
“Good riddance.” The thing had been fooled by [Tribal Lizards], we probably would have been okay if it had just come back for us. “What happens to it now?”
“Mmmmhm.” She turned to the Defender and put out a hand then shouted. “Jobs done!”
The Defender actually smiled and then crumbled into a pile of dirt. That bit of earth further vanished into dust and was blown away. Seconds later the entire creature was gone, even its arm from the carriages back.
I eyed the piled and twitched with the urge to chase fading motes of dirt. It was restrained. Knowing my luck I would probably just fall through again. The idea made me shake my head abruptly and sneeze in displeasure.
“Come on.” Izzy set me down carefully. I had enough time to focus on not falling through objects this time. “We need to go register.”
More paperwork. That’s what I remembered of school. Most of it had been fingerprints and retinal scans, advanced technology that felt like a blur. I frowned as we walked along, trying to remember anything.
Izzy’s bags were carried by a guard following along behind us. I looked at the other villagers as we traveled. None of them were being escorted. Of course none of the people outside had a Defender like Izzy did. They probably weren’t going to the school that she had talked so much about. It was likely that none of them had powerful grandfathers who could freak out spirit animals by using a wall of moving shadows to make a point.
I shuddered and started to sink again. Brief fear apparently activated the desire to get away. Strange, I didn’t remember being so skittish before. It took a few deep breaths and noticing Izzy walking ahead for me to gather myself. If she could charge bravely into an unknown city just to learn how to help others, I could stop falling through rocks.
Izzy ran out of sight. Now I had no clue where she was. Our connection didn’t tell me that once the summon process had been completed. I was basically just a free floating ghost kitten being followed by a small mob of blue wisp things. Five minutes later, after hissing at glowing lights and sinking in manmade quicksand, I finally got back under control.
Only now Izzy was nowhere in sight. The little girl had completely vanished into the crowd. I started running to catch up. A mob of rats had been easier to avoid than people’s uncaring feet as they stomped around. People with carts tried to run me over, children tripped through me, [Insubstantial] was the hardest thing to control after this latest form.
By the end of the road I almost had it. It felt a lot like keeping the ash from trailing around in my [Ember Kitten] form. In my old body I would have called it clenching my gut, or an ab on one side. I tensed and relaxed multiple times trying to time my [Insubstantial] activation with the obstacles around me.
Finally I made it to a slightly less crowded side street. This felt like the wrong direction. Izzy would have been heading towards a school, which sounded big and important, the kind of location that had huge gates and open fields to practice at. I could almost see it now.
After climbing up to a higher vantage point, the top of a three story build, actually I was seeing something similar to what I expected. A place that looked almost perfectly ideal to teach hundreds of children how to harness their abilities. For Izzy it would be this Fire Binder title Grandpa Hubble had mentioned. There was a ton of other people there too.
All of them looked young, serious, but young. I couldn’t get much more than a studious air from this far back. Izzy had to be among them.
The intense bonus to leaping helped me cross more buildings. A misjudged one dive and ended up flying through a wall, causing my form to break into someone’s house. I yowled and just kept going. Those stupid blue blobs kept chasing me as well. Making myself [Insubstantial] felt far easier now. It had just been a matter of having the need and drive to learn. Physical skill were far easier than memorization anyway. At least this new world hadn’t thrown chanted spells at me.
I sniffed around, trying to get a whiff of Izzy. She always smelled like an autumn candle. That scent comprised of the forest just after rain, distant, fading, with just a hint of spice and lingering mystery. There was nothing outside the gate.
Tapping my foot at the long golden fence rods caused me to get a slight shock. Sour tastes filled my mouth. I wiggled my nose and tried to figure out leaping over it might be possible. The walls seem impossibly tall from the stone lined sidewalk I sat on. I opted for the main entrance instead.
Four large statues sat at the gate. One was a boring looking male with some huge lion behind him. It looked to be cut at odd angles, it’s fur seemed to be made of marble instead of something more natural, like hair. The other was a female with an ugly looking dog of equally large size. There was a liquid-like quality to their sleekness. All four sets of eyes glared over the empty doorway.
Naturally sleek looking dogs looked too much like the embedment of water and canine to me. Therefore they were to be completely avoided. I leisurely went the long way around just to not be near the liquid looking thing. No one else braved the gate. Even the small blue floating wisps hadn’t tried to follow me this far. They sat, safe bobbing on the other side, waiting to see what happened.
“Ah, ah little spirit. No trespassing.” A male voice echoed in the air around me. I sat down and looked around for the source. “Up here.”
My head tilted backwards at such an angle that I could see right up the male statues nose. There was a faint green light in the man’s eyes. Now, not only could giant hunks of carver rock defend a carriage, they were also equipped to talk to cats.
I felt mildly annoyed. Magic and fantasy was clearly full of unfair practices. Next there would be a Unicorn riding a dinosaur attacking the building while shooting rainbow lasers. My irritation had started to shine through. Being separated from Izzy was starting to bother me.
Normally I knew right where she was. Even going into this place felt like it might be a wrong choice. I couldn’t smell any sign of her, not that cat noses were up to par with a dog. I glared at the dog statue, it probably talked to.
“I’m just a cat.” I meowed up. No one but Izzy ever seemed to understand my speech.
“And I’m just a statue.” The male replied. His eyes green energy seemed to mist downward and fade into air.
I sniffed again and yawned. Both ears came forward as it occurred to me that this green eyed still man heard me just fine. That was mildly interesting. I looked at the other ones but chose to ignore the dog. Being a cat was all I had known for months now.
“I’m trying to find someone.” Maybe these four could help. They were clearly some sort of protector golem things. All four probably sat miles above the Defender that had brought us to this city.
“Are you now?” The man said. I still didn’t know if they had names at all. Text of this world was still mostly gibberish.
“My contractor.” I said with a sigh. “Has she passed this way?”
All four of the statues actually broke out into laughter. I saw flashes of energy from each one’s eyes as their voices crowded the area. An odd mix of yellow and green came from the lion. Dripping blue poured from the female. I had no idea what the dog did, it was still being ignored.
As a cat, I should really be ignoring these fancy speaking golems and doing whatever came to mind. They looked like carefully molded metal compared to the, now retired, Protector that had carried Izzy and I.
“A spirit that can’t find their contractor, how pathetic.” The man laughed and it wasn’t pleasant.
“Which poor fool was given this weak thing?” The female asked with her liquid blue eyes a glow. They both were carved with the same sort of clothing. Form hugging robes that showed curves on the female, and obviously a well-built male physique.
There was something like barking in the background but thankfully it was unclear. I flicked an ear in annoyance.
Silly me, I needed to find a place to focus and develop a new ability. Eventually I could go that route. I did my best to ignore the statues in cat like fashion and kept walking forward.
“Not so fast.” The male said. There was a growl from either side, perhaps feline, perhaps canine. It was hard to tell with the deep rumble.
“Where else would she be?” I asked while my tail swished in irritation.
Two of them laughed again. The female spoke over them after a sigh. “Try the front entrance, if you’re contractor is new here, that’s where she’ll be.”
One metal arm lifted and pointed to the right. I sniffed and licked a lip. These guys were clearly golems capable of moving and speaking on their own. They were also much more likely to be stronger, faster, and harder to run away from than the Defender would be.
“Thank you.” I turned and ran off in the direction pointed by the female statue. If I had been human still we might have talked more, but it felt like the part of me which took notice of curves and tone of voice had died a long time ago.
That made me slow my run and ponder life. This rebirth as a spirit from [The Outer World] came with a lot of downsides. Hopefully I wouldn’t start getting attracted to female cats. If things got that bad I may just start staying in my outer world home.
If it wasn’t like my equipment was right for a woman anyway, even if I found one. I kept moving forward to the front gate. This time there were tons more people gathered around a much larger entrance. Even grander statues of the same four beings lined a entry way that was easily forty feet wide.
I hugged a wall and went right in.
“We need six of the Coils, and two Mittens.” Someone said.
“I’m here to pick up the Hastener we ordered.” A completely different person with two children behind them spoke with annoyance.
There were six stalls with large blue canopies over them. Inside were men wearing simply white robes scribbling down information. People talking near me made nearly no sense. They seemed to be making exchanges for equipment. This crowd came with a wash of scents that confused me and noises that kept my ears swiveling.
I did not like this many people at all. The grass nearby was pleasantly trimmed though. Short enough that it didn’t feel like my paws were drowning in vines. From the shade under a tree I watched this odd little situation.
There was a sign over the gate with giant letters etched into it. I couldn’t read them though. Apparently spirits from [The Outer World] didn’t get any language abilities.
People picked things up in small box-like shapes. Nearly everything was wrapped in brown paper and twine. Others walked in to give verbal orders, after going through a line cordoned off by light blue ribbons.
A few got to cut through the line, straight to the front. Each one flashed a small badge of some sort then handed over a parchment. It seemed to be a written order for immediate resolution. I saw three such people pull this high priority process in the ten minutes of my Izzy search.
Finally I noticed that some young teenagers were walking off a path to one side. It went further into the property, past the half circle of order taking robe wearers. It seemed interesting, but this was probably the public face of this school. Not amazingly huge or overwhelming, but very bustling.
I tiptoed after one of the people leaving. They were older than Izzy, but still young. It fit, if this place was a school. My unsuspecting guide traveled through the area. We passed by an open field that looked like it saw a lot of foot traffic, even now there were six people simply running laps. Another location had a man with a bow released shot after shot in rapid succession.
One instructor was speaking in front of a handful of children. She wore green and seemed to be calling plants up from the ground. Some had crudely bound books to take notes in. Others had fancy crystals that spun images into the air. I got a sense that there were real differences between social classes.
Still my little guide marched on, shuffling quickly towards destinations unknown. I stopped and sniffed, and finally smelled that familiar scent of autumn. Isabella Brand had to be close.
Ears perked forward. This place was much quieter, except in the distance I could hear the little girl’s voice.
“I can’t find Pierce! He’s missing!” She said. “I’m not signing anything until I talk to him!”
“Well summon the sad little thing.” A male said. I didn’t like the idea of some strange man bossing Izzy around. Especially since her mood indicator was getting worse. I ran quickly, tail in the air, and feeling far more excited than simple reunion would warrant. Being lost for an hour had been a minor adventure and kind of stressful.
“I’m here, I’m here!” I meowed plaintively. There was a arching doorway that lead into the nearby building.
There was a man with brown bushy eyebrows and a scar on his cheek. Other young children were standing around. He glared at me as I wound myself around Izzy’s short legs. She clutched the two bags at her side and seemed exhausted.
“What is that filthy animal?” The man said.
“This is Pierce!” Izzy picked me up and I felt much better. Her mood brightened as well.
“Voices above, what a sad thing, look at it. No strength, no endurance, no wit or intelligence. Just like a cat, all nasty attitudes!” The man’s voice annoyed me. There was a vibration to it that almost barked at me.
I had enough wit to claw him in the face, which set bushy brows reeling back with a shout. Hopefully this would result in a matching scar on the other cheek. Izzy looked horrified, and I felt smug. This seemed like a good way to start our new school life.
[The Overseer]‘s log: The depths of these self created worlds boggles me sometimes. They often perceive things in a completely different way than expected. My new cat design was handed over and Subject 42 seemed to think he was now a ghost, fire, kitten.
I assume this is a mingling of many subconscious issues. One, he likely worries that he is dead in the old world, despite our programmed reminder. Two, he died during a fire so that image is ingrained into his brain. Three, he died to a creature that had once been a dog but was deliberately mutated as yet another in a long list of genetic tampering.
That’s an issue for the police to handle. I only care about solving these Case Seven’s. Subject 42 and his pairing with IB might just be the key. Plus the cat is kind of cute.