Chapter 18 – Reflected Tails

Quote:“The larger challenge, and opportunity for improvement is related to the Case Seven’s perception of their new reality. Our attempts at breaking them out went against the rules. Their minds, and the programming given to the alternate reality required us to play within set guidelines.”

Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum

Jezebel shot lightning bolts at me frequently. Dale probably ordered the small coiling dragon to prevent me from following them. Colleen’s presence was the vague reason I had, she kind of reminded me of one of the girls I dated. Most every girl did, especially when faces from the prior world were impossible to distinctly remember.

Still, Colleen reminded me of one of them. The vague athletic built put a slight spring in my step as she stalked around floor five’s maze of doorways. Any benefit to following her around was canceled out by Dale’s constantly leering mug.

The male seemed to catch on to my attempts to sneak with increasing quickness. By the time they navigated to the boss room, roughly thirty minutes of combat and resting later, he could almost pinpoint me with accuracy. Often I used [Ghost Walk] through walls and found myself ducking back to avoid an electrical blast.

It made no sense to me. In the future I would need to up my ability to stalk students through the dungeon. Maybe there would be a skill tied to it, then I could be a sneaky [Flame Spirit Kitten] and death from above unsuspecting monsters, or people. Mostly Dale. Right in his stupid face, with burning kitty claws that dealt spirit damage too.

I decided to wait a few minutes, and let them try the boss, if only to watch Dale fail miserably. Half a boring hour passed while I attacking [Wooden Golem]s in the prior room. [Aura of Minor Flame] still hadn’t increased in power, but it worked wonders against monsters made of wood.

In truth, I probably didn’t even need the ability. My claws might be strong enough if I moved quickly. Being a cat had lots of speed advantages, but being hit took huge chunks of health. Finishing them quickly was the only solution. Luckily they only had about five times the health of those mice on floor one.

It made sense, this was still a beginner dungeon. Each floor came with a puzzle and challenge. I tried to learn fighting the monsters. [Angry Mice] often swarmed in mass. [Wooden Golem]s were slow and stalked after people. The [Two Headed Goat]s on floor three rammed into walls more than real people. The [Frost Wisps] monsters on floor seven were deadly though based, so that entire place sucked thus far.

Izzy and I weren’t there yet. I only knew the rough layout because traveling through walls made life absurdly easy. Maybe that was part of my problem, none of these battles felt hard, or dangerous. There was a sense of excitement but no reward. I really wanted to figure out the next stage of creature upgrades after kitten.

Anything to stop feeling mostly stuck and useless while Izzy kept moving forward. She had figured out how to merge all those spells, learning something about her staff, and even increased her mana pool.

I was a [Treasure Hunter]. It was useful, these abilities were good, but none of it was strength. Dale and Colleen had it, I needed to rely on hit and run, tumbles, or sheer avoidance to survive.

Maybe I spent too much time in the dungeon and not enough fighting random monsters. Maybe once Izzy could get out of school, and we needed to roam the countryside, maybe I would learn more. Or the secret could have been simply being with Izzy to fight together. My stupid kill counters for bosses and lesser beings had gone up, but nothing triggered an advancement.

Maybe one day I could just wander outside the city as far as possible to see if there were monsters in the hills still. More [Tribal Lizardmen] might be fun, not that Izzy wasn’t freezing and super young. Being a [Flame Spirit Kitten] might allow me to take one that was unharmed. I didn’t even know if it was possible to range that far from Izzy.

“Alright, that stupid cat seems to be gone.” Dale’s voice carried across two rooms.

My tail flipped in anticipation of an event more interesting than sitting around dwelling on my limited choices. Dale and Colleen sounded like they were moving. I stared at them from two rooms away, thankful that the odd teleportation space of this floor prevented direct eye contact.

They walked into the boss’s room. I leapt through two walls rapidly and sniffed around. Everything here was clear. Dale hadn’t left any traps behind. If I poked my nose through the next door I should a room full of mirrors and a four armed hamster that tossed projectiles at people.

It wasn’t easy. Izzy and I coordinated our attacks, and sometimes I would leap through the wrong mirror only to wind up back at the fifth floor entrance. For normal students that would cause issues, I just leapt through walls and made my way back.

“Over there!” Dale shouted. I could hear the sound of glass shattering. Colleen’s cry of outrage was drowned out by the male shouting, “There’s the boss!”

I poked a nose through to make sure Colleen was okay.

Shards of glass were all over. This was far different than when Izzy and I performed the fight. Her fireballs would often just cause the glass to warp and sad. Their swords actually broke them completely.

“Treasure!” Dale pointed towards one of the mirrors. “Don’t break that one!”

I did my cat best to act indifferent to the chaos around me. My body sat perched halfway through a broken mirror. Occasionally one arm reached out to tap at a flying shard of glass. Batting away objects kept me entertained while Colleen and Dale shattered four more mirrors.

They were trying to avoid one of the reflective surfaces. The treasure chest they were looking at did exist, but it was also in a room that was trapped. Dozens of the [Wooden Golem]s would spawn upon entering it’s surface. Izzy and I did that twice, but my [Aura of Minor Flame] made it easy.

Their battle was going down hill. The more mirrors that were destroyed, the faster and angrier the four armed bipedal hamster became. Objects that looked like nuts but hurt like bowling balls were flying out rapidly.

“Protect the treasure!” Dale ordered.

“It won’t shatter it’s own mirrors!”

“Yes it will.” I meowed. A bolt of lightning streaked through the air in my direction.

They were trying to reduce the beasts options. I yawned in boredom. All their dodging around looked far too frantic. Izzy was calm and collected during these fights. I, however, ran where she directed with an almost eager glee. It was a far cry from our first fight against the [Terror Rat]s.

“Dale!” She shouted at the male teen. His face curled up in a brief bout of horror. The hamster was getting ready to toss a deadly walnut right towards the treasure mirror.

I expected the [Vile Hamster] to break his own mirrors, what I didn’t expect was Dale diving through the reflective surface after the treasure. The idiotic prick was not in the middle of a trap room where he would likely die. Jezebel was still here fighting. The pane shattered into hundreds of little pieces as a giant walnut hit it.

Laughter hacked out of me as I imagined the young man’s current predicament. Right now a mess of monsters would be swarming on him. If he managed to survive then the only exit would send him back to the beginning, and Jezebel was still here fighting.

“Pierce!” Colleen looked absolutely lost and got hit by a projectile. “Are you still there!?” She was shouting. Jezebel kept casting small charges of lightning but they were weakening.

I jumped down from my ceiling perch and activated [Aura of Minor Flame]. Colleen backed away from me, slowly trying to get towards a corner. One of the female’s hands started reaching for her bag. No doubt to pull out a healing potion. Cuts lined her face and legs.

Izzy was sensible and wore her robe. Colleen had been trying to treat a dungeon crawl as a chance to flirt. Still, I shouldn’t hold her poor taste in men against her.

“Master!” Jezebel cried out. She seemed lost and lightning spun off in random directions.

“Pierce, can you help us?” Colleen barely managed to get through the question as a stray bolt slammed into her leg. The woman’s teeth chartered briefly as she jerked away.

“I need master!” Her formerly subservient tone turned into a lost little girl. An image of Izzy as a child came to mind.

Maybe the small dragon spirit couldn’t be that far from Dale? I wasn’t sure what rules applied to other people. Izzy and I certainly didn’t function the same as the few other spirits I had seen. Still, letting Jezebel suffer felt wrong.

I tried to yowl loudly and activate my [Inspire Minor Terror] ability, which worked on all mortal creatures. Ghosts didn’t care, but this [Vile Hamster] paused and started chattered wildly.

[Inspire Minor Terror]

Details: All creatures occasionally need to be reminded that you are no simple kitten. Flame is your ally, spirits can’t escape your claws, and the rodent world should fear your hunting prowess! Let out your mightiest roar to inflict terror upon those foes weakest to you.

Effect: Causes terror in anyone weak to the following: [Spirit], [Fire], [Feline]

 

“Hit the mirrors!” My words came out as a high pitched yowl which seemed to terrify the giant four armed hamster even more. It stood there on it’s hind legs, looking like a small furry child. It’s mouth ushered forth confused squeaks in my direction.

Colleen showed some presence of mind, recovering first from my area of effect terror ability. Reflective surfaces shattered around us. Jezebel too pulled herself together, sending electrical bolts towards the shards.

The [Vile Hamster] regained his sanity and threw walnuts at us rapidly. They fired out far to quickly,, pelting all of us. Colleen’s health rapidly dropped. I took a few hits myself but was saved by my [Resistance: Physical] ability.

Jezebel went first. Her body shattered in a cloud of lightning and blue light. At her core hung the mosaic each caster used to effect the world. The jagged bolt of a spell hung for one, receiving two more pelts from flying walnuts, before falling to the ground and melted into air.

Colleen shouted out next. I tried to intercept the flying objects but my body was too small to get them all. Colleen was easily double the mass of my kitten form. Were I human then I could have stood guard.

Even so, my [Aura of Minor Flame] was causing her damage. I turned towards the [Vile Hamster] and tried to go on the offensive. There were four mirrors left. One went down while Colleen cried out. The second shattered seconds later as I slammed into it. Glass shards took out a chunk of my health.

I hoped Izzy would forgive my recklessness. She had a test tomorrow and I was out getting myself beat up. The younger girl with her serious eyes would glare at me in the morning.

The third mirror cracked as Colleen tried to spill a potion over her wounds. Four arms of the [Vile Hamster] pumped out an endless stream of walnuts from who knew where. Her small vial of red liquid crashed as one of the projectile collided with it. Her voice cried out.

My tiny legs pumped harder, I was trying to move fast enough to get Colleen through this dungeon in one piece. The third glass shattered as I dove headlong into it. These claws and their [Shredding] damage were terrible at breaking such hard surfaces.

There was a yowl of noise that didn’t belong to me. The [Vile Hamster] crawled out of the one remaining mirror. This part of the fight I knew how to handle easily. Especially since the boss had very little health. Most of the fight was dodging away from projectiles while ensuring there was one mirror left. Izzy and I performed that by melting their edges together and triggering this stage.

“Death from above!” I bunched up my legs and leapt straight in an upward arc. There was no ring of flame around me to help deal extra damage. My claws landed on the [Vile hamster]s back.

It screamed. I screamed. Glass shards dug into the boss’s feet, exhibiting another one of it’s weaknesses. Small wisps of milky white crawled out of the poke marks my claws rapidly provided. The creature’s fur was soft, and only it’s hands were calloused from throwing objects all day long. Soon the last of it’s health crashed and the [Vile Hamster] popped like all demons did.

“Colleen? I got him.” I meowed while huffing. My mana bar was extremely low. There was enough health left that Izzy shouldn’t have any nightmares tonight.

  • [Guardian] ranked up! Rank 2 [Guardian], defensive stats increasing.
  • [Resistance: Minor Projectile] trait earned!
  • [Defender] trait earned!

 

 

[Defender]

Details: Monsters you attack have a hard time focuses on anyone else! This can be mitigated by creatures who attack more than one target, or are a much higher rank than your current abilities. In addition creatures three sizes or greater may not not notice you.

 

That fight had been harder by far than many Izzy and I joined together on. I felt proud, and happy that my actions saved someone, at least until I saw Colleen was missing from the room. There was only one way that happened in the beginner dungeon. She had died, sort of, and been recalled to the surface.

My feet screamed with jolts of pain. My path veered upward using almost two years worth of knowledge in this dungeon. The path was up, there was an exit, and she should be coming to in a moment.

By the time I made it back to the dungeon entrance both Colleen and Dale were busy yelling. Her hair looked to be a frightful mess, and Dale’s clothing seemed ass composed as ever. A new arm bracelet adorned his left bicep. Clearly he had received the treasure, but died shortly after.

“I knew we would be okay. I wanted to get that treasure so we could use it next time, to beat the boss!” Dale shouted. His hand waved towards Colleen. Anger lined his expression and a trace of lightning type energy leaked out. He too channeled the electrical element like Jezebel.

Thinking of the other spirit made me sad for just a moment. It wasn’t her fault that she had been left behind. Did she experience tons of pain like I did? Was her landscape one filled with bolts spitting down from the skies, instead of green fire like mine?

“Pierce could have led us to the treasure.” Colleen shouted back. There were a few late night students walking by in the distance. They stopped to stare for a moment then moved on.

“I could have.” My confirmation came out as a yawn. It was getting late, and this spat only kept me mildly entertained. Seeing two people yell at each other reminded me of my own failures with women. I vaguely remembered being dumped because my eyes happened to drift in the wrong direction more than once.

“We don’t need him.” Dale took a step towards me in anger. My back arched in preparation of unleashing burning kitten claws.

“You don’t want him. There’s a difference, and I don’t want you.” Colleen crossed her arms and huffed. “I would have been better off letting Pierce guide me alone.”

“You wouldn’t even make it to the fifth floor without me.”

I sighed and lowered my head. Once this nonsense was over my feet would crawl back to Izzy’s warm bed and conk out. The only reason to stay had been making sure Colleen made it home safely as well. Dale seemed explosive in his anger bouts, and self entitled.

“I’ll bet I make it to the eighth floor before you do.” She said with a foot stomp.

“Oh yeah? What would you be willing to bet?”

My tongue starting laying back uneven fur. Rushing out of the bottom floor after Colleen’s Essence Saver Stone recalled her had taken a lot out of me.

“Anything! A self centered jerk like you will never be able to make it down there.”

“Anything? Are you sure?” He asked. There was a quick leer of his eyes as they traveled up and down Colleen’s body. I felt nausea creep up.

“Ha!” Colleen nodded while looking slightly reddened. I felt like this had turned into an unexplained high school drama. The girl I knew was farm more level headed than this. Maybe being around Dale had confused her somehow.

“And if you lose, you can just leave this school, a man who would sacrifice a comrade isn’t fit to be a Guardian.” Colleen redeemed herself a little by adding her own condition to the wager. I would actually try to help her succeed, regardless of payment. Maybe Izzy might be willing to form a small party. It might help us through floor six.

“Deal. If I can’t beat you down there, then this schools teachers must really be terrible.” He said, then marched off.

My eyes rolled. Now Dale was blaming the teachers for his inability. Professor Lianne had been nothing but helpful to Colleen and Izzy. The younger male was just a self centered ass who sought to blame others.

[The Overseer]s notes: My job mostly consists of taking two completely different versions of dta and trying to reconcile them. On one hand our entire team sees coding for each even going on in the digital world. On the other we have an almost movie like scenario going on. Often the two barely connect.

For example, today IB tried to establish the secondary memory bank she was provided. It was installed a few weeks ago but each item must be integrated slowly in order to ensure no other Subject moves in on the resource. This is slightly different from the full internet, as there are tons of resource points set aside purely for denizen use.

Subject 42 went back to trying to interpret the programming hurdles we created for IB. His perception of them is oddly accurate, but at the same time very confusing. A program designed to redirect minor attacks at a program’s core was perceived as a series of mirrors that needed to be smashed. I often wonder if the real world is like that as well, I remember asking my mother frequently, if we all saw the color blue in the same manner.

 

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