Chapter 16 – Hearthstone

Quote:“This has worked in one case so far. The subject in question immediately demanded to be put back into the virtual reality in order to ‘save’ his companion AI. The scenario that was built to keep his mind stable proved to be of immediate importance to him – to the extent of inflicting self harm.”

Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum

That night, once Izzy was asleep, I went back to the dungeon and visited the boss again. It was easier to survive this sort of situation on my own. Any time the mice the mouse or headless monkey got out of control I just walked through a wall.

It was annoying. After six rounds of this I noticed a few things.

Upon leaving the room, both the monkey and the mice would reset. The logic behind that made no sense. Headbutting the door open caused the entire counter to begin again, almost like it was completely scripted. Perhaps it was, this place existed to help students practice.

My health hardly dropped. I didn’t bother activating the [Aura of Minor Flame] since this was me testing out the process. Izzy’s mood still registered as asleep but it seemed restless. Perhaps my actions were causing her distress.

I restarted the encounter for round seven.

“Hey!” I leapt over to the first round of mice and started yelling. They didn’t seem to care about me at all. There had to be some way to get them to register my presence over Izzy’s so I could hold back the waves.

I batted one of the small critters towards the headless monkey. It took a sliver of damage but kept moving towards a metal plate on the wall. Monkey hands lifted it up, and out poured the next wave of slightly aggressive mice.

My yelling didn’t have any effect. It came out as ignored yowls of noise or half choked meows as the small critters brushed by me. I kept alternating between both actions until the floor was covered with a layer of rodents. A sea of squeaking enemies slowed down the headless monkey.

I just altered using [Insubstantial] to get past the clumped up little critters. Eventually there were too many and enough clear spots. This time instead of resetting the place and calling it a failure, I left the monkey open a eight grate, then a ninth and tenth. Soon there were too many and the simien kept right on trying to make it through.

After twenty waves the mice were starting to turn on each other. Small gushes of steam poured out all across the ocean of rodents. I tried to ride the surface of mice by barely activating my [Insubstantial] ability. It felt weird to halfway clench a muscle in order to stay partially tangible. I felt proud when a message popped up telling me of a new ability.

[Ghost Walk] learned!

Details: By carefully using your [Insubstantial] ability you have learned to walk through solid objects while still maintaining partial intangibility. Be warned, attempting to pass through more powerful creatures will cause the user damage. Lesser creatures will suffer [Spirit] damage if ill intent is coupled with the walk.



As a result of developing a new skill, your mind has expanded.

  • [Depth] acknowledged!
  • Low [Depth] added to Spirit traits for all further empowerments


My mana bar took a small jump up which made me happy. I’m not sure what caused these messages but they were helpful. It also meant that I might be able to get more mana, and use my abilities longer by figuring out new ways to apply things.

[Ghost Walk] seemed really cool to have. I’ll bet this entire mob of mice could be mowed down rapidly by just being angry and using [Ghost Walk]. Maybe later, after I watched to see what would happen to the headless monkey.

Our flood of rodents reached the grates. The monkey kept going, opening more and more choots. They started getting stuck in an open position. This many squirming critters would have easily drowned Izzy, and soon the monkey might follow.

I swished a tail and rode the wave of mice. They undulated and squirmed below while my eyes were fixated on the headless boss. Finally, after the fourth grate got stuck in an open position, it just stood there. The mess of mice slow rose to a higher level.

There was a thump, like an absurdly loud heartbeat, or something slamming into the ground. All the mice started popping rapidly. My ocean of critters fell further down. Finally, after my paws once again touched the ground, I could see the headless monkey lying dead on it’s side.

I stared at it and sniffed. Did this count as a win for me? Would I get some pop up message telling me that my efforts to defeat the boss had been rewarded? The monkey deflated like a whoopee cushion and that was good enough for me.

“Hah!” I laughed and danced around. It was sort of a win. Not perfect, not terrible, but satisfying.

By morning, I had successfully drowned the monkey in his own minion army four more times. It felt like I was crashing some intentionally powerful boss encounter by just sitting in a room and being indifferent. This was a perfectly cat like response.

I walked back to the medium sized dorm room with my tail held proudly in the air. Me, one single spirit beast, had defeated the entire first floor without any assistance. I had learned to walk through objects and raise myself with them. Tomorrow night I would poke around the lower floors and scout out pathways through for Izzy.

Soon, maybe after a few more abilities and this next advancement, I would be a dungeon crawling kitten extraordinaire.

The ever present janitor wheeled around with his barrels. Scents lingered from behind and confused me. Sunlight hadn’t dared peek over the horizon yet this heavyset man was out doing the rounds. Who was I to talk about keeping odd hours? We nodded at each other in passing.

I traveled past flower gardens and sniffed roses. They reminded me of Izzy’s spell casting. There was a hint of distant sunlight peeking over by the time I returned home. Izzy might be up, or she might need assistance from careful kitty paws.

She stood in the main room, dressed but not alert. One arm hung down without any tension and an alternate fist rubbed at her eye. She said “Pierce?”

“Morning Izzy.” I meowed while jumping onto a countertop. She walked further through the bottom floor towards the small kitchen wall and started getting items together for food.

“Where were you?” Izzy asked.

“Oh, no where important.” I tried to sound playful but couldn’t put it off. My swishing tail was an emotional indicator, plus Izzy might be awake enough to sense excited undertones. “I managed to make that monkey drown in his own rodents.”

There was a clatter and Izzy’s face bunched up with confusion. The plate she had been holding lay on the floor, broken into pieces. Her tiny body seemed to sway and she reached out to hold onto a counter’s edge.

I managed to stay mostly calm. Our latest broken dish was far enough away that the young girl couldn’t step on it. This had to be at least her tenth dish dropped in the last year. Izzy was smart. She performed miracles I didn’t understand with spells, but mornings were slow starts.

Eventually she kicked back into gear and cleaned up the broken plate. It went into a garbage can that the janitor would eventually pick up.

“Mmmhm.” She brightened. “Well I think I figured out an idea too. So, we can try again this afternoon, after class and meditation.”

We went to class. Normally she took in all the details with a wide eyed intensity. Today, Izzy studied but felt almost absent minded. My tail flicked a few times then I decided to nap on it. Sleeping was nearly useless as a spirit and I could have gone without any at all. Still, class was boring.

Afterwards we went and talked to the professor. Dale was once again pushing to be allowed access to the advanced class. I had no idea what that meant or why it was so special. The boy annoyed me, even though Izzy seemed faintly smitten. I mulled over dresses and other clothing.

“Professor Lianne?” Izzy said after waiting her turn.

“Isabella, how can I help you today?” The professor seemed torn between glaring at Dale’s retreating form and looking almost wistful. It made me shudder a bit, especially considering Professor Brand seemed to be dating two different men at once.

“Mmmmmhm. Pierce and I went into the dungeon last night and-” She started to explain but the professors excited clap

“How did you do? I hope it wasn’t too scary. Some students absolutely find them terrifying.” Her head tilted and red curls shifted.

“No.” Izzy’s head shook back and forth and the earrings caught afternoon light. “I wasn’t scared, Pierce helped a lot. He, we, found these.” She lifted a hand to the glittering red stone clipped on to an ear.

“Oh, you found one of the secret areas! Well done!” Professor Lianne knew right away what the earrings meant. She squinted a little then nodded, a smile stretched across her face.

“I, just wanted to make sure it’s okay to keep them, that’s all.”

“Oh yes, of course it is. Part of each instructor’s job is to donate materials to the dungeons. Mages provide energy for the creatures and Essence Savor Stones, others craft items. Still more design the rooms. Anything you earn down there is yours to keep.”

“So, I could just constantly check that secret room for more items?” Izzy asked an idea that I too had wondered about.

My tail swished in anticipation of receiving an answer. Could we farm this dungeon for simple items? They probably didn’t mean much to places near this school, but if Izzy and I were to travel further away we might have trade items. There was no telling how coin might work in the reaches of this world.

“Not exactly. The treasures here are special. That chest will never show up for you again, now that you’ve gotten the rewards.”

Izzy brightened for a moment. The smile faded quickly and she moved on to more questions. “What about the lower floors? Are they full of treasures and traps?”

“Of course. Not all take the same shape, but once a floor has been completed, nothing in there will harm you again. Afterwards you can try the next level, and so on until this dungeon is completed.” She reached out to ruffle Izzy’s black hair. The younger girl made a face but withstood the moment of attention.

“What about groups?” I asked. Izzy repeated the meow in English for Professor Lianne.

“Groups receive different, and often harder challenges, some fight over the rewards as well. We expect a certain amount of, conflict, which is why we have the Essence Saving Stones.” Professor Lianne liked to lean over towards Izzy and explain things. I tried not to pay much attention or jealousy might flare up again. Part of me really missed being human.

Izzy’s professor explained a few more aspects but I started to zone out. If my contractor wanted to work with other people, so be it. I intended to make sure she never needed a group. It was just a matter of figuring out more skills and ways to advance myself.

“So, this one has eight floors, then if we reach the bottom we can move on to an intermediate one?” She said.

“You got it.” Professor Lianne resisted the urge to tweak Izzy’s nose. “But don’t rush, there’s many great adventurers that have never made it through our beginner course. You go at your own pace, when you’re ready.”

“Mmmmhhm.” Izzy backed up and bowed again. “Thank you Professor. Come on Pierce!” She didn’t hesitate to run towards the dungeon. I leapt into action after her. Behind us Professor Lianne waved goodbye with long well manicured fingernails.

I did look back, just to see how far the freckles went down her dress. Her bending over brought a ripple to the clothes that made an easy line of sight. The answer seemed to be freckles littered skin all the way to her bellybutton.

Izzy’s jealousy mood came back to bear and I concentrated on running to the dungeon. Being so bound to a young girl was awkward when my perfectly natural desires came to mind. I had to find a way to prevent those thoughts from leaking out or we might have issues later on.

Her thought meter flashed through a couple more complex emotions that seemed out of place for a child. I didn’t really understand it on any level. We charged forth, going right through the traps and first few floors.

Once again we readied ourselves at the closed doorway to room six.

“Did you want me to show you how I did it?” I asked her.

“No, I sort of guess you used your ghost ability. Right?”

I nodded and felt slightly less clever. My own abilities had potential but it took me a lot of attempts to figure out how to use it against the boss. Izzy probably would have figured it out in three tries.

“We’ll try my plan. I’ve got to figure out how to work with you Pierce, not without you.” Guilt flushed through me at Izzy’s words. I had gone off without her in order to grow stronger. “As long as we’re bound, our greatest strength will exist together.”

“But Izzy, I want to be able to protect you, what if you’re out of mana.” I protested with laid back ears. One flicked forward again upon hearing another mouse wander around.

“What if you’re out of health? We need to be able to protect each other Pierce.”

“What’s your idea?” I asked, genuinely interested. Izzy must have figured out something during her fitful night’s rest. Maybe the idea came to her when daydreaming during class.

“I’ll hold the monkey, and you kill it.” She said.

I felt stunned at the simplicity implied by her tone. I asked her “How?”

“You’ll see!” She reached for the door and pushed it open. The monkey once again did it’s opening action of spearing a mouse. “Let’s go Pierce.”

We walked in, and Izzy quickly moved to casting. “Get the little ones with your aura Pierce! You’ve got to keep the mice under control!”

She was doing one of her dual cast spells. It involved at least one ring shape. I nodded and quickly ran over and activated my [Aura of Minor Flame]. Red energy poured out around me, mice popped rapidly under both claw and my abilities damage.

“Almost!” Her teeth were gritting together. We had practiced a lot of these things but not on agile or bigger targets. It might take more work to hold down a monkey three times my size.

I missed some of the rodents, they went for Izzy instead. Catching them while running to the second grate was difficult. She shook then switched tactics, a huge circle of flame appeared around her. Mice attacking the young girl popped into small balls of steam. More streamed in her direction but they too turned to air.

We made it through two more grates before she managed to launch the other spell. This time a huge pillar of fire swallowed up the monkey. It froze mid hop. The wooden item it used as a pogo stick poked through the flames. It hissed and burned but the monkey seemed to be trapped.

“Go Pierce!” She shouted at me. Her young voice roared through the wall of flames. I yowled along feeling far more fierce than a kitten should be.

“Death from above!” I leap up in a high arc. My body plummeted through the warm flames onto a confused and headless monkey. Finally after so much chasing I had the creature in my grasp.

I tore at it rapidly. These were not the attacks of a tiny housecat. These were the giant paws of a proud [Flame Spirit Kitten]! They tore at it’s neck and shoulders. I rent flesh apart with pent up anger. This creature dared unleash hordes upon Izzy!

Without a head it could only wheeze in pain. Once it fell there was another crashing heartbeat of noise. The circle of flame fell away as the boss hit zero. I stabbed at it a few more times in order to make sure the source of scripted terror was removed from our lives. This time there was a clear difference, a box popped up.

I huffed my tiny chest and shuffled over to Izzy. Both of our flame rings were now gone. Once we were next to each other she reached down and scratched behind my ears.

Subject 42 Status Updated

  • [Headless Mice Master] killed.
  • Total Boss Rank Demons Killed: 3
  • Total Minion Rank Demons Killed: 107
  • Total Traits discovered: 15


The boss lost all air like a whoopee cushion once more. This time the stick stayed behind. Izzy walked over and picked it up. Flame rippled up and down it’s length, burning away the crude shape. Now it looked well made, a prize for her success at defeating the first boss.

I looked around and sniffed. Part of me felt this boss had been far too easy. “Two spells? That’s all it took?”

“It’s only the first floor. There’s seven more, and this one hardly took any effort, right?” She waited for me to nod. I tilted my head and tried not to purr in confusion. “We can take this place easily Pierce, we’ve just got to learn each step of the way.”

“Only two spells.” I muttered to myself. She was right, on my own the monkey had been far harder to deal with. Together it was absurdly easy. “That felt too easy.”

[The Overseer]s Log: Subject 42 figured out how to crash the first stage of our training program. He actually overloaded the entire scenario. The smaller programs spawned couldn’t figure out how to attack him so they kept stacking up. Part of me regrets picking a cat, but this spirit portion and insubstantial skill was spawned from Subject 42’s thought process.

This sheds more light on why the virtual world denizens have such a hard time with Case Sevens. They simply don’t exist in the same way, or bend rules to fit their minds perceived needs. I’ve tried multiple times to follow the coding lines, and even the other scientists are at a loss. We’ll hand over the records to another branch and see what they come back with.

IB insisted on finding her own way to defeat stage one, managing to pin the spawning program in one place while Subject 42 followed up. This was a far more realistic solution. They progressed through two more stages before running into a wall. Both spent the next few days in review. IB made more modifications to her code while Subject 42 rested.


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4 Comments on “Chapter 16 – Hearthstone

  1. Pingback: First RE:Guards Update – 16 | FrustratedEgo Stories

  2. Well, that’s me caught up. So far, liking what I’m getting. 🙂 Although, you might want to go through the bulk updates with an editor’s eye, again. I think I picked up missing words and such… but, am too used to reading horribly mangled works, I automatically barrel over them by filling in the intent, so they don’t stick in my medium- or long-term memory. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I mention in a few places that this hasn’t been reviewed by my editor – it was a rushed work overall, to meet deadline. Thanks for reading though!


  3. feedback and comments:

    the Doctor”s quotes are really interesting… it explains and it makes us lose it.
    on one hand she says that the “world” is imaginary… and she somehow finds the case seven “addicted” or “stupid” (I don’t have the right word here)

    on the other hand she/they said to Pierce that it was “real” and she tried to create this artificial case seven.

    I’m really interested to see how the situation will be solved in the end : Pierce stopping being a case seven and IB somehow following him… or the case sevens connecting in a virtual world and Dr Long (Pr Lianne ?) helping him transfert into a totally virtual body… or anything else.

    That sea of mices is an interesting experience…

    and the ending : ” It felt like I was crashing some intentionally powerful boss encounter by just sitting in a room and being indifferent. This was a perfectly cat like response.”
    –> XD

    That janitor…. he appears frequently… is he really “only” a janitor ???

    “Her thought meter flashed through a couple more complex emotions that seemed out of place for a child. I didn’t really understand it on any level.”
    –> interesting point that happens here (like a wink to the reader … but that the MC doesn’t understand)

    I’m also wondering about the thoughts of IB regarding Perseus… Is Izzy’s Jealousy only simulated… ?

    “I nodded and felt slightly less clever. ”
    –> you can’t outwit a damn AI 😀


    NONE (that I noticed… there may be one or two ..but…)

    cookies for you !

    and now /me will return sadly onto his cushion, waiting for the next episode of “kitty-cat in the machine”.

    Liked by 1 person

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