Chapter 15 – The Crucible’s Heat

Quote:“Toward that end multiple Case Seven’s provide themselves a series of challenges. After each challenge was completed we attempted to recall them to the waking world. Most clung to the digital land, preferring instead to rise to a new conflict. Often they issued their own rewards forth as well.”

Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum

We sat on the first floor of a trainee dungeon. This place felt oddly clean for a place filled with monsters of all sorts. Six rooms connected to each other in a string that tilted slightly downhill. Each one filled with large mice huddled against the walls. They weren’t very aggressive, and popped when pounced on.

“There’s, some different demons in the next room. Maybe?” I sniffed but couldn’t separate the smells. Woodchips tones mixed up with pine nuts and lettuce. Being a cat did not mean my nose was exceptional, especially in a place like this that was tainted by all sorts of scents.

“Mhm. These mice aren’t really that dangerous, but they’re good practice.” Izzy nodded and tried another combination of spells. She put the plus and a lantern shape together and made the creature glow rose petal pink. I pounced and the creature popped with a sizzle of flame and milky white.

Warmth flooded me claws with the latest little monster. The health bar I used to track my own status pulsed lightly.

“Do that one again, please.” I meowed while licking my paw clean of the latest monster. Flame red claws didn’t impact me like it did these poor little rodents.

Izzy concentrated. The plus spun together first from motes of light that only during casting. She cupped the completed symbol against her chest and pulled down the lantern again. Once merged together the lantern sat on the outside, while the plus existed within. It flew through the air towards this latest unaggressive demon mouse.

This time I stopped and chewed my own tail again. Izzy gave me a weird look but my actions stopped after a few health points dropped off. I leapt, eviscerated the barely sentient beast, and enjoyed the recovery to my health.

“Ooooh,” she said.

“Cool. I get health back.” My tail no longer itched after the red health bar pulsed. We could use that combination to heal me, if needed. Plus it might help me decide what to attack if Izzy’s voice couldn’t be heard clearly.

“MMmmhm.” She said behind me.

I turned to look at Izzy. She was still wearing a simple robe like Grandpa Hubble. Hers was a washed out pink color that hadn’t improved much over time.

“You know. We need to find you some better things to wear. YOu’re going to be twelve soon.” I said. A dungeon felt like the perfect place to discuss aspects of our future.

“Mmmmhm.” Her tone tipped downward. “No, I’m okay.”

“Do we get anything for beating this dungeon? A reward we can maybe sell?” I asked while trying to figure out what sort of items a young girl might like to wear. Would she want a ribbon to hold up her hair? Miss Brand had often worn one. Mister Brand seemed to prefer a small hat to block out the sun.

“I think they provide a little bit of coin to students who do well.” Izzy said.

Jewelry maybe? No, Izzy struck me as the type who might need shoes. Especially if we were going to travel around eventually. I made a note in my head, shoes, a nicer dress, and maybe ribbons.

“Well, there we go. Let’s go forth and do well. Then we can buy you a dress, and then maybe you’ll actually talk to that boy instead of just staring at him.” I still didn’t like Nathan or Dale. Both of them didn’t seem good enough for my Isabella. She would have a prince or hero or some great knight riding a horse. I didn’t care as long as they were willing to do everything needed to keep her safe.

It was silly of me to even feel that way. Maybe these issues were tied to losing both females in my immediate family. Some ladies clearly could take care of themselves, such as Professor Lianne. Colleen did well from what I saw. Isabella would get there eventually, but I just wanted to be sure.

“Pierce? Are we going to the next room?” Izzy’s voice shook me out of the absent stare. She seemed to be blushing just a little.

“Yes.” I had forgotten the young girl could read my emotions. She wasn’t old enough to really care that much about boys yet, hopefully. Still, with her parents gone and Grandpa Hubble only sending enough for tuition, room, and board, it was up to me to look at the bigger picture.

Girls needed clothes, real clothes.

We stopped at the doorway and I watched a small stream of mice pour from the next room. They avoided walking across the middle and instead hugged the wall in a sharp turn. I sniffed and swished my tail. Izzy stood a few feet behind me and watched.

She didn’t like all these demonic rodents. After our encounter with the [Terror Rat]s I understood completely. At least the mice were dumb and seemed focused on escape of the dungeon. I focused more on how they avoided certain places.

“Mmmh. Pierce? Is something wrong?”

“Yes, no. Maybe?” I shook my head. It was a suspicion, nothing more. Izzy had mentioned that dungeons came with traps so maybe they avoided the spot for a reason.

It felt like searching for weakened floorboards in a burning building. In simulated training I learned to hug walls, find the thicker beams and walk along those, all sorts of tricks for navigating around a possible pitfall.

Here, I could be much more lazy and just one of the endless stream of rodents. I reached a paw out and the small critter curled around and tried to bite. This time my claws were sheathed so it didn’t pop right away. Instead it flipped towards the doorway and bounced.

A sound grated and Izzy gasped. One sharp blade dropped from the ceiling and bisected the mouse. It withdrew back into the ceiling and a mechanism clicked. I licked a lip then flipped another. The blade once again slammed down.

Izzy shot a bolt of fire at it, but that failed to do any damage. It was a good idea though. I tried to leap on top of the blade afterwards, to see if my weight would make any difference. The trap lifted up without any care for my efforts.

“We have a few seconds to get past, while it’s withdrawing.” I nodded happily after the six such mouse was cut in two like a balloon.

“That’s very scary.” She said.

“You have your Essence Saving Stone all set up, right?” I remembered Professor Lianne handing us a small glowing crystal. She showed Izzy how to charge it and place the item into one of the Dungeons alcoves up top.

The process too cool to watch. She would make the rock glow, put it into a small hole in the wall, and that hole would seal up and freeze like an icecube. No one else could touch it except for Izzy. Even my attempts failed.

“Mmmh. Yes, if I, die here, we’ll get put back up to the top. Afterwards I can’t return for eight more hours.” She spoke of the Essence Saving Stone’s refractory period. Apparently once a charge was burned out the stone lost all energy until enough time passed.

Between the stone and the alcove limitations this dungeon had low foot traffic. We had only seen a few other students go through, and most of them simply walked right through the first few rooms. Izzy and I weren’t trying to reach the bottom then, we were practicing abilities and skills. For us tonight was a warmup.

I flipped a seventh mouse and saw the system provide me a message.

Skill [Detect Minor Trap] gained!

 

Now the space with a guillotine glowed a nasty looking green. It reminded me of the dog and it’s green fire drippings. Both eyes narrowed in annoyance while fur on my back started to rise angrily.

“We should be okay. I can detect some of these traps now.” I vowed not to let Izzy go anywhere without me scouting ahead first. Especially if anything in a dungeon moved funny.

We quickly crossed under the blade after tripping it again. The next room looked a bit darker and less clean. We had crossed some sort of threshold, even the mouse monsters looked more imposing.

A few nearby mice actually started coming for us instead of hugging the walls. I took great joy in flipping the first one behind us into the guillotine trap and hearing a hiss of steam coming out. The next two popped under pressure from my paws. They didn’t even have time to squeek.

“Why are they attacking us now?”

“A challenge, maybe?” It seemed sort of familiar. ALmost like a game I had played years ago. Starting areas had weak creatures that wouldn’t attack. The higher level monsters got more aggressive. This, process, seemed to make sense in this weird world.

Five more went down and I heard a ding of noise. The system provided me a message.

For your single minded destruction of small rodents you have gained the following achievement.

[Bane of Rodents]: Damage to all rodents is increased by 10%, this damage will stack with the natural racial increase for being a [Feline].

 

I dove for six more of the little critters in happiness. Whatever grey system above ruled my boxes saw fit to reward my absent minded critter destruction.

“Pierce, the next room is over here.” She spoke near the doorway.

“Hold on!” I yelled a bit more intensely than expected. There was a clear circle of icky green next to her It denoted a trap, I think. “Back towards me.”

Izzy looked worried for a second then stepped away from the passage to part five of this dungeons first floor. The first three had been made of mice mindlessly walking towards the exit. This next one might be worse, or it might just be more of the same.

I tossed another rat. This time the trap flared with some gibberish symbols and fire appeared. Interestingly, the nasty green faded away. Izzy tossed a few more of her little fireballs at the rats while I waited for the trap to rearm.

After ten seconds it flared to life once more. I tossed another of the endless mice towards it and noted with happiness that lit up again.

“Hold on. One more thing.” I stood closer to the trap and waited to trigger it a third time. My body lightly stepped onto it and fire flared around me. It felt warm but hardly hurt like the green flames of [The Outer World]. I nodded, having happily discovered my fire immunity.

Hadn’t that window talking about my abilities implied some sort of physical resistance as well? Better yet, I could actually just phase through the prior trap as well. I started meowing wildly in a laugh. Soon I was dizzy from chasing my tail in happiness.

“Pierce, what are you doing?”

“I’m perfect for this place! Look!” I ran to the trap before, where the razor like blade dropped from the ceiling.

“No! Pierce!” Izzy started running for me. Her body was large enough to just kick a few more aggressive mice right out of the way.

The sharpened trap sprung, and I sat there licking my paw. [Intangibile] was activated and my body didn’t feel more than a slight omph as it fell.

“Pierce? You’re okay? You’re okay!”

“See?”

“This is great, we can do it Pierce! You’re such a good spirit!” She jumped up and down which caused her robe to hang in the air.

I leapt through the walls between this room and the next. They held no mystery to me now that I had practiced for over a year at not falling through floorings. Izzy’s face popped in and out of view as my body ran around wildly. My rapid pace wandered all the way from the first doorway back to Izzy’s spot in the fourth room.

As I curved through walls I noticed an unexpectedly hidden doorway next to the first area. Thin rock walling separated the new area from old. A switch hung off the wall and a small chest in the back of the alcove that seemed to be safe. We might have just found a secret.

“I think I found something back here.” I spoke to Izzy using our long distance communication. “A doorway?”

Izzy moved closer. I closed my eyes and could see the arrow denoting her presence approaching me. She too must be able to sense my location. Most of our abilities seemed linked that way. Once she was nearby I leapt up for the switch and tried to wrap my forearms around it. It took three tries to get enough purchase. Izzy’s jaw dropped as the wall rumbled to one side.

“Secret passage!” I proclaimed proudly. “Now, if only I had a treasure seeking ability.” My meows drifted off sadly.

“Pierce, this, there’s a secret like this in the first floor? I’ve never heard any of the students talk about it.”

I tried to shrug but ended up licking a paw instead. Mixed up representations of mental emotions was still getting to me after all these years. Strange, how fast they had flown by.

She skipped back to the treasure chest. Izzy’s eyes were lit up in excitement. There was no lock on it, and the small two foot long box flipped open with minimal effort. Her hands reached in and grabbed an item.

“What is it?”

“Earrings. Really small earrings.” She held them up. They shimmered with red light from the dungeons magically lit ambience.

“Your ears aren’t pierced though, are they?”

“Nope, these are clip ons though. See, they hinge in the back.” She was young but the hang pointing to a metal backing seemed huge. I leaned in and sniffed at both objects but didn’t notice anything special.

I nodded and felt somewhat pleased. The idea of us running around fighting with metal loops that might be ripped out of her ears was scary. At least got her some small piece of girlish wear. It brightened up this whole prospect, though earrings hadn’t been on my list of items to buy her.

Maybe we needed something heavier. Full body plate armor came to mind briefly. She would be extra safe in that. I shuddered, then vibrated in a full body shake. The ripples traveled all the way to my tails tip before calming back down.

“So, I’ll check the dungeon as we go around. Maybe there’s more hidden here.” I nodded, pleased that my abilities could donate even more to our possible adventures. Exploration, fighting, trap detection, plus so many things might just go right through me. I had the makings of a great spirit helper. Not like that stupid bird Professor Lianne had.

The small treasure chest snapped close on it’s own. Moments later the solid wooden casing faded from view. Izzy looked at me, I had no idea what that meant. Maybe it was just gone, in order to recharge for some other student’s adventures.

“Lets try the last room.” Izzy suggested. She turned out of our little alcove and walked back through the dungeon onto part five of the first floor.

The mice were more aggressive, but still easy enough to push back. My ability [Inspire Minor Terror] pushed a lot of them back, especially after the first few balloon popping pounces. We bypassed four more traps moving across room five. Finally we stood at a literal doorway to the sixth and final chamber of this floor. It was closed with heavy iron chains locked across it.

“We should stop here.” She sounded worried.

“You don’t want to see what’s behind this door?” I asked in confusion. That seemed like a great thing to mark the end of our first day. We could rush in there and risk whatever happened knowing the safety of our lives was ensured by the Essence Saving Stone.

“No, I think we’ve done enough for today.” Izzy firmed up towards the end of her words.

“If we check it out, and fail, we’ll end up outside. But we took down that snake, and the large rat. Those were probably harder than whatever is in the room.” I licked my lips and almost started drooling. We were about to fight another big creature, between this and all the little guys I would be well on the way to another empowerment.

Would I be able to grow stronger once we made it through the first floor, or second? What would happen if we made it to the bottom? I held no illusions of coming out the other end a complete master of destruction, but I believed my abilities were lending themselves far better to our goals then Nathan’s might.

She nodded, sensing my excited emotions and anxiousness. Izzy said “Maybe we could try.”

The door opened. Inside sat a headless monkey with a stick in it’s hands. Izzy and I looked at each other then shrugged. This situation was very strange. What could a headless simian do against us? It’s surroundings were far more tainted looking. Mouse droppings were everywhere.

The boss monster stabbed it’s stick out into a mouses back. One hand pulled the squealing demon off it’s stick and lifted it above a gaping neck. Muscles squashed together as the mouse disappeared into an exposed throat.

Izzy made a face. I made one too. We looked at each and nodded again. Behind us the door slid closed and no longer had a handle to open. It trapped us inside. Izzy gulped, and I tried not to wonder how gross such a half monkey creature could taste.The demon mice had been like lemon drops.

I charged for the creature. It ran for a panel along the wall and started lifting it up. Mice poured from the opening doorway. I yowled and activated the [Aura of Minor Flame] while trying to hack at the monkey.

It hopped away, using the staff as a method of bouncing around. Izzy shouted and seemed at a loss for what to do.

“Use the flame ring!” I shouted at her. There were too many little monsters flowing across the land like a tidal wave. By the time I popped a dozen little mice the boss was already at another grate, lifting and releasing the next flood.

“Pierce!” She shouted. Izzy cast the double flame ring which engulfed her in a near pillar of burning. Mice coming in popped rapidly but my aura chewed through mana. We hadn’t entered this fight with full energy.

I wasn’t smart enough to figure out this problem. My attempts at leaping after the money failed. Even headless the creature moved too fast. I managed to rake the bosses back legs as it bounced around to another metal grate. It lifted and our third wave started.

Everything seemed content to ignore me. My failure to catch the headless monkey continued through round six, and Izzy’s shield gave out. A flood of demon mice rolled over her. Izzy’s health dropped off far before the monkey’s. In the end, we were overwhelmed and popped back out at the dungeon’s entrance. Her Essence Saving Stone triggered just prior to health hitting zero. She related with full health to the top, and I was booted out too.

“That did not go as planned.” Izzy said with a surprising amount of calmness. Her face was devoid of color and both hands were clenched together. Small vibrations shot through her.

[The Overseer]‘s log: They worked together very well. In the end their attempts to build up a defensive layer made substantial progress. We tested them until the break point. IB will do as all Denizen’s in this case, she will reflect, and build better defenses. This is different than a normal Case Seven’s progression route by far.

The visual interpretation of what happened on a programming level was stellar. I’m not sure if I feel envy, or worry. As a scientist these feelings are meant to be set aside for impartiality. The results must be what is used to reflect, but it’s hard.

Still, it is a personal drive that makes me so good at this job. I often remember how my own family’s trials got me started in this line of work. To think, I originally wanted to study space engines. The mind’s capabilities proved to be much more interesting and personal. Especially after…

No. This is a journal about Case Sevens, not my own issues.

 

 

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2 responses

  1. “Here, I could be much more lazy and just one of the endless stream of rodents.”
    ^just follow one^

    ” ALmost like a game I had played years ago.”
    ^Almost^

    “My attempts at leaping after the money failed.”
    ^monkey^

    “She related with full health to the top, and I was booted out too.”
    ^retreated^

    “Full body plate armor came to mind briefly.”
    ^Lol, and right after dresses, shoes and earrings.^

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ok,

    so feedbacks and comments:

    “I didn’t care as long as they were willing to do everything needed to keep her safe.”
    –> those are daddy thoughts…. interesting way of showing how he feels about her

    “I tried to shrug but ended up licking a paw instead.”
    –> 😀

    “The idea of us running around fighting with metal loops that might be ripped out of her ears was scary. ”
    –> that’s wisdom !! Good that you could criticize this little bit of combat-stupidity that happens on some drawn images of medieval-fantastic fighters !

    “Maybe we needed something heavier. Full body plate armor came to mind briefly. ”
    –> gj !

    typos (not counting those of kgy121):
    “There’s, some different demons in the next room. Maybe?”
    –>There’s some (no comma)

    “YOu’re going to be twelve soon.””
    –> You’re

    “The process too cool to watch. ”
    –> there is missing a word there.

    “This, process, seemed to make sense in this weird world.”
    –>This process seemed to make sense in this weird world. (no commas to be had)

    Like

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