Quote:“At one point we tried to force the paired AI to confront their Case Seven companion. We hoped this would cause a self-rejection of the reality built around the Case Seven individual. This provided to have mixed results, even manually induced subjects showed too much investment in the alternate world for one mind to surface alone.”
Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum
We, mostly Izzy, practiced combinations for almost three weeks. It got easier for her to hold them, and the amount of spells just putting two items together made was boggling. With the amount of half spells Grandpa Hubble taught her we could do all sorts of things.
Putting a big fireball mosaic of lights into the ring caused a rippling after effect to the explosion. That same ring, if Izzy doubled up on it, created a six foot tall circle that would lock someone up in flames. My favorite was the plus symbol and the big fireball put on me. I got huge and felt like my meow turned into a roar of power!
“When can we go?” I eagerly stared at the book of animals Izzy was studying. She had allowed me to wake her earlier so the last of her homework would be done in time to talk to the teacher.
Plus, she was actually willing to ask about visiting the schools training dungeon. I couldn’t wait to see what it was like. Visions of finally getting some of those tiny mice filled my head.
I didn’t want to admit it, but her figuring out all those spells meant I was the weaker side of our partnership. My only means of progression so far was fighting more monsters, where Izzy seemed to grow just by practicing those spell combinations.
“Soon Pierce, I just need to be ready for anything down there.” She said calmly.
I often felt that Izzy was almost too smart for a child of her age. She acted closer to fifteen in terms of ability, and sometimes near twenty five in temperament. Maybe it was this world, maybe kids just had less of a childhood. It could have been my fault, if it weren’t for me she could have stayed at home with her mother and father.
“Maybe we should just try. I can scout ahead, we should be safe enough, right?” I asked.
“Mmmhm. Dungeons have traps, and hidden secrets, and monsters that appear from the walls. It’s not easy to just walk in.”
“But the mice at the doorway…” I lamented.
After years as a cat I felt almost resigned to eating random critters. They often tasted a bit like rare steak. Barely cooked, almost faint. There was something about being a [Flame Spirit Kitten] that turned everything I did manage to get into a weird sugary flavor.
Izzy smiled and scratched behind my ears. The action felt smoother, more refined than it had when she was eight. I often marveled that she had grown up so quickly while I just lazed about chasing butterflies. It was difficult to reconcile the pins and needles of waiting for a call in my old life with this new one of lazing about.
Class was boring as always. We sat outside near one of the grassy areas. There were sun warmed stone seats that felt fantastic. Izzy often complained that they were uncomfortable. A dozen benches formed a half circle around the teacher, who was busy demonstrating the properties of a pile of herbs.
I attended today only to see what would happen with Izzy’s attempt at getting permission from the teacher. For her part she kept glancing towards one of the other students, a boy that I had never noticed before today. There was something about him that felt far more real than everything else around here. As if we shared a secret point of view that no one else had. That very similarity annoyed me greatly, plus the way Izzy kept looking at him while writing out notes onto paper.
The boy had to be thirteen, maybe fourteen. His clothes were poor but well kept. Care had gone into every ounce of the person’s demeanor. I wondered why I hadn’t seen him before, but this person was clearly one of the six chosen by Professor Lianne.
He annoyed me. It was the glint that lit up his eyes every time they passed over a female. I placed myself between Izzy and the other boy frequently. She seemed intent upon looking around me.
“He’s not that interesting.” I said with a tail swish.
“MMmmhm.” Her face turned red, and nothing more was said that day. Izzy tried to concentrate on taking notes from the teacher’s lecture. I kept up my awkward position between the two people.
Boys. She was too young to deal with them, especially one that seemed so lecherous and clearly had attracted the gazes of other girls. Colleen and even our teacher seemed to pay an awkward amount of attention to him. I would happily launch an attack against such a playboy in the making.
Then again I had issues with girls. Two had left me due to my own failures in high school. None really showed any interest in dealing with me during the rest of my education and being a firefighter took up too much time.
Eventually class ended and Izzy approached Professor Lianne.
“I want to be moved to the advanced class.” The letch in the making from before “My grades are good enough.”
“Now Dale, you know that no matter how well you do, there’s still one test you need to pass.”
“Well, where is it?” The boy, Dale, demanded. His skin had a tan complexion, almost a soft Asian tint but not quite. He didn’t wear the robes of a mage like Izzy did.
“When the time is right, you’ll find it.” Professor Lianne said. She reached out to give the smaller boy a pat. I wanted to light him on fire, which was a dirty thought for an adult like me to have.
Dale marched off. This was just a kid, but at the same time he felt like an adult pretending to be a child. The way the youngster spoke showed no respect for adults. Izzy at least said thank you and bowed.
I snorted and swished my tail as he went. Once Dale traveled far enough away I felt clear headed and could look at Professor Lianne. She was busy chatting to Izzy.
“You want to visit the Trainee Dungeon?” Professor Lianne asked calmly. Her nose wrinkled a bit making the freckles bunch up.
“Mmmmhm. We do.” My girl responded.
I rubbed Izzy’s leg with my head and purred happily. We had to keep moving forward, and study only helped learn things. Isabella and I both needed to train our reactions to handle demons, especially if we wanted to be trained Defenders.
“It’s very dangerous, and you can be hurt.” The Professor bent at an angle that I thoroughly enjoyed. Of course my mind happily told me those feelings meant I was no better than Dale.
At least I was technically closer to her age. Sort of. Being an extra-large kitten summoned from [The Outer World] skewed my chances of finding a happy relationship. Too many years had gone by, too much about this world was weird. Even if I turned into an human through some empowerment, I would probably be made of fire.
“We’ve fought demons before Professor.” Izzy said. She seemed distracted. The status indicator for my contractor switched to worried and flashed with an ember of jealousy.
I tried to clamp down on my own emotions and studied my surroundings more. One ear stayed angled towards the ladies. Izzy might have been picking up on my feelings much as I watched hers. Being bound like this was weird at times.
“Are you sure? Not all methods to reach graduation require fighting. Some study and explore the depths of our abilities. Others craft works of art.” Professor Lianne said.
“I am interested in Artifice and Spell Craft, but Pierce can’t progress without fighting against demons.” Izzy said.
Whiskers reached back and scratched at a cheek in an abrupt twitch. One ear laid flat. Isabella was intent up doing this for me. Once again I felt selfish with these desires.
“There are other methods, alchemists can concoct an elixir that accelerates change.” Professor Lianne said which further compounded the guilt.
“Mmmmhm. But I can’t learn those without going to the advanced class, right?” Izzy asked.
I was sure there were people to stalk that might have clues on this advanced placement test. Being a cat who could walk through walls would help. After Izzy went to bed I would poke around to see what might be available. Perhaps that Dale kid could be followed.
“You are right in that Miss Brand.” The professor answered.
“Professor Lianne, until I pass that test, Pierce and I need to progress together with what means we have available.” Izzy used some fancy words for an eleven year old. I felt proud that she could be so articulate. “Mmh, and we’re not rich enough to afford potions.”
“Your Grandfather is well respected, perhaps he can request one for you?” The professor sat down on a bench next to Izzy while wearing concern on her face.
“Grandpa has enough trouble with his current tasks. It takes almost a month just to get a letter through to my parents.” She said. I had forgotten all about her writing letters to Mister and Missus Brand. Izzy clearly was a better child then I. When was the last time I had talked to my own father?
“Very well then, Isabella Brand. I will submit the request, and by tomorrow I will have your Essence Saving Stone.” Professor Lianne nodded which caused her curly red hair to sway just enough. I stared at them briefly and once again Izzy’s mood jumped to jelous.
“Thank you Professor Lianne.” Izzy bowed. The professor waved goodbye and we both ran off. My contractor’s emotional status shifted to excitement with a hint of apprehension.
Izzy couldn’t sleep right away. She stayed up late that night practicing her spells. None were cast in the confines of her room. After all the practice she managed to hold onto two spells with a lot more ease. We would need it during the later floors. At least, I assumed going further into the dungeon required more work.
Those other three students hadn’t made it past the halfway point. Izzy and I might not make it past the first floor, but we would try. Worst case scenario I would die and hopefully she would escape unharmed.
I mulled over the possible issues with this dungeon process. After pushing Izzy for it I felt conflicted. She would suffer through pain if I failed. Once she had access, could I sneak off alone and practice without her? Maybe there were ways to develop skills that would help us in dungeons, like a trap finding one.
At some point Izzy got out of bed and started flipping through the book of monsters again. It was well past midnight but no hint of a sun had peeked over the horizon. We only had one window out into the world and it faced towards morning.
I yawned at her. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for something.” Izzy said. She seemed completely distracted.
Considering how late at night it was I felt worried. Sleep would help her more than it did me. I often spent my nights prowling around or losing track of time. Occasionally I got sent back to [The Outer World] where nothing happened aside from pain.
“What are you looking for?” I padded over to the table’s edge and hoped up. Part of me wanted to poke my nose straight into the book to better see it.
“That dog you described. The one with green dripping flames.” Izzy sounded almost offhanded about it. Her brow lowered and eyebrows scrunched together.
I froze for a moment. The giant dog had torn a hole out of my side, burned me with more pain than anything else. Even my moments in [The Outer World] felt more like after echoes of that original agony.
“It doesn’t exist here.” My words wavered a little bit in a low meow.
“It’s a demon, they all exist in this world, somewhere. We’re going to find it Pierce, and this time we’re going to beat it together.”
The very idea made me blink rapidly a few times. Facing that giant creature once had been hard enough. With a few minutes to think, or not having children to try and protect, I would have run screaming for the hills. Terrorists didn’t attack Montana.
“Okay Izzy.” My heart shook a bit. It took effort not to let my mind wander in a brief moment of panic. What if that same green canine beast met me here? I was weak to [Dog]s in general. Plus maybe it would send me out of this world and into the next.
“Are you okay Pierce? We don’t have to, if you don’t want to.” Isabella Brand looked so worried for me right then.
The idea of chasing that beast didn’t sit well at all. I shook my tiny cat head and tried not to let my unease grow anymore.
“I’m going to go for a stroll. If you need me, just summon me back.” I said.
I walked right through the door. The brief ripple of solid objects barely disturbed me anymore. From there I ran straight out the door and towards the water’s edge half a mile away.
Izzy’s school, this place we had arrived upon, took up a great tract of land reaching from the cities edges to the shore. Easily two or three square miles. Enough to house a few hundred students, dozens of teachers, cleaning staff, and the dungeon entrance.
I stared into the water and tried to recall more of my own life. Mother, sister, father, friends. The people I went to school with, those I worked alongside for five months after graduation and finding a post of duty. nothing stood out anymore. Just blurs, one blur after another.
There were details that still made sense. Objects that sounded familiar. Terms rung a bell but didn’t fit this new world. I didn’t like it. Maybe the reason her looking at that boy bothered me so much had more to do with my isolation.
Without Izzy I would be lost in darkness. I missed my family, that much was clear through the muddled haze of memories. My sister hadn’t really meant much to me until she was gone. I sat there on a wooden dock looking down at water below while trying to remember their faces.
I couldn’t even remember my own anymore. All that remained of the life before was a blue furred cat with red claws. The low light around made it hard to even pick myself out.
[Low Light Vision] gained!
The granite notice of my skills increasing just made me sigh even more. Of course I would eventually see in the dark. I spent the better part of this last year stalking around at night. Progress made me brighten just a little but the emotion was soon muted.
“Aw fuck.” I yowled at the still water. Emotion hit me for a moment, normally I could bottle it up but not after tonight. “I’m sorry dad. Where ever, who ever you were. First mom left you, then sis died to that stupid daylight virus. Now me.”
Nothing answered of course. No visions of my father’s face graced the pools reflection. I didn’t get an image of my old body striking some heroic pose. Even the whole tape reel of my life and that ‘Remember’ message felt faded.
“Pierce.” Izzy’s voice came through. She sounded almost wounded. The kind of shy hurt that young girls did when they were upset but afraid to ask.
“Yes, Izzy.” I had forgotten that we could speak, even across distances now.
“Mmmhm.” She hesitated for a moment. “What’s a daylight virus?”
I contemplated the small ripples of water for a moment. This dock was peaceful at night. There were a few small fish huddled around the peers legs but they were not worth struggling to reach. One arm reached out in a lazy stretch.
“In my old world, a group or terrorists managed to engineer this, thing.” I didn’t know the scientific terms behind it. The media did, their experts did, but none of those explanations mattered. “It, sat in the water all up and down our country’s coastline, spreading peacefully the first three days..”
“But Pierce, I don’t understand. What did it do?” Izzy’s words echoed in my head from far away. The young girl should still be in her room studying those large tomes of information.
“Anyone infected turned into literal dust a week after exposure, and since it was in our water supply it hit a lot of people.” My words came out without emotion. I held myself separate from the memory and tried not to let a national tragedy tear me apart one more.
“Why didn’t your realities mages detect it?” She asked me. It sounded so innocent. This must have been what my dad felt like when he tried to explain that I couldn’t visit mom that summer. That she would never be able to call me again. All that was left were recordings that I must have played hundreds of times, to myself, at night after dad had gone to sleep.
And I couldn’t fucking remember them. They were gone. It made me mad. My paw snapped out and disturbed the idling fish below. Water hissed and steam flooded my formerly quiet dock.
“They did, eventually, once it was too late. The virus killed millions in a month.” I spat the body count out. Technically we didn’t even know how many were impacted. The bodies left over were tossed around by wind and rain.
“That sounds like a very scary demon.” She said.
“Man made demons are worse than any other natural disaster, at least in my old world.”
Our connect went silent and I contemplated just leaping into the water. It would hurt a little, my abilities would be diminished, but at least then I would be doing something. Maybe getting a [Swimming] skill or [Water Resistance] from exposure. I would never let myself feel so useless again.
“Are there many rogue mages where you come from?” Izzy asked after a long pause.
“Maybe, I don’t know. It was, it is, I-” Words were failing me at this point. I took a breath and tried to paw at the water below in order to collect myself. “The demon that killed me was another man made virus. I think.” The details were fuzzy. Izzy and I talked about this before, I thought we had anyway.
“But you still fought that demon virus, right? Even if it was scary? That’s what you told me before.” Izzy sounded wistful, as if I were some knight in shining armor.
“I did. To help some children.” I was no hero, my powers didn’t come with super strength, smarts, or clever plans to get out of danger. All I had was the ability to throw myself into danger with little forethought. Another person might call it a death wish.
“Then you can fight it again, only it will be less scary. I’ll be with you.”
“I know Izzy.”
I set my head down and stared at the water.
“Pierce?” Izzy said much closer.
I swiveled my ears around and heard her walking closer. Our conversation had drug the young girl out from her warm dorm and into the night.
“Yes Izzy?” I felt tired but didn’t want to ignore her. She was so young, and came out here just because I was feeling melancholy. The gesture made me happy and guilty at the same time.
Izzy sat down, and bare toes dipped into the settling water below. She asked “Was your sister nice?”
“She was a little sister. Sometimes she yelled at me, sometimes she laughed at the damnedest things. She ruined my clothes and stole the best toys.” I couldn’t remember what exactly. “And I was there, if I had kept my parents together, maybe, maybe she would still be alive.”
“Pierce. We can’t change the past.” Her hand reached out and stroked my irritated fur. The action soothed a little and made it easier to talk about my fuzzy past. It felt odd how clearly some things could be answered, but other details were just blurred over.
“I know. I know.” My head lowered down and I tried to relax. “They, made all of us talk to a shrink, all of us at the school after it happened. I never did more than the single session but I think dad went a lot. I just wish I had known. Somehow.”
“But if you had, you would have never met me. And I would have been taken away!” Her voice vibrated with intensity. It wasn’t fear. That tone, mixed with my mood monitor indicated a buried anger at that event in her past.
“I’m glad I helped you.” I said.
“And those other kids, you saved them, would you have been a fireman without them?”
“Fire fighter,” My clarification was silly and pointless. “But no, they probably would have died to that monster.”
“Well then I think this is good. Between you and me, we’ll save all sorts of lives!” Her petting increased in intensity and my back flattened just a bit to avoid the extra pressure. Izzy lightened up a bit.
Between being petted and Izzy’s courageous goals I felt better. She tried so hard to encourage me without any real reason. “I hope so.”
“But, Pierce?” She looked down at me.
“Yes Izzy?” I felt flattered that this little girl had chosen me. There were other Binder’s all over the Defender School grounds. Tons of people and personalities. Other creatures seemed to be readily available.
“I, I don’t want to just be a replacement for your little sister. I’m me, Isabella Brand, not her. Is, is that alright?” Little Izzy, eleven years old and going on eighteen. I was barely nineteen myself with only a jaded outlook on relationships.
No, she wasn’t my sister at all. This world wasn’t the old one. I wasn’t myself. Everything that existed before lost importance upon reaching [The Outer World]. All that mattered was sharing this new life with someone, to not be a stranger in a strange land.
“Of course.” I said. My head rammed into her leg gently, but no purring came forth.
[The Overseer]‘s log: It often escapes the public’s notice, they’re too focused on an us versus them mentality, but every denizen seems born with a certain drive to improve the humans around them. Their methods differ, but the end results can rarely be denied.
IB started trying to turn Subject 42 towards the possibility of facing a simulation of what killed him. Based on the case files I’ve reviewed this isn’t actually a fear of his, his issues seem deeper rooted. Most likely they are tied to how his mother and sister passed during one of the worst acts of terrorism to ever hit the East Coast.
This may be why she’s lingered so long on a younger form. The denizen must be trying to use that to spark emotions of his little sister issues. IB could have just as easily presented herself as full grown, or embodied some lingering male fantasy, but didn’t. The logs show that Subject 42, even divorced from his physical body, is wired to show interest in females.
What was more interesting was IB’s own response. This pairing they’ve gone through is indeed much deeper than marriage, being twins, or even conjoined. They are in essence helping each other create an entire world.