Chapter 21 – Warm Fur

Quote:“In twenty percent of our attempts to link together similar Case Sevens we noted outright degradation of the subjects link to their physical body. This could eventually lead to the subject becoming comatose and exhibiting all the signs of a functionally brain dead individual.”

Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum

“Well, you found me.” The man said. He had plant stalk of some sort in between his lips.

I hadn’t really expected to. There had been a box about this Voice thing, but the entire idea felt nonsensical. [The Outer World] had rapidly become even more alien than [The Inner World] Izzy lived in. Mostly because I looked inside a giant treasure chest and went to a landscape filled with sheep.

Even now balls of absurd fluff milled around, often trying to butt into me. My [Aura of Minor Flame] seemed to attract them like a small bonfire. The human stared at me while switching around the item in his mouth then bopping one of the nearby sheep with his spiral tipped staff.

“So, what did you want?” He asked. I tried to compare the accent to something I knew, but it was hard. The cadence was too slow and relaxed for my old world.

I stared at the man for a moment then felt annoyed. There was only one thing to say. “Where’s my treasure?”

The man arched an eyebrow slowly, moved the stalk in his mouth around again then said, “That’s rather narrow-minded.”

I licked a paw quickly while staying mentally prepared to go [Insubstantial] through the sheep. They were getting to close, and this shepherd might get angry if I clawed their backsides. Plus they were sheep, strange sheep, in another world, inside [The Outer World].

“Mmmmhm.” The man’s hum sounded much like Izzy’s for a moment. He leaned on the spiral cane and studied me. “You don’t like talking to people besides your contractor do you?”

My head tilted from confusion. How had this stranger even known?

“It’s the chain, and the fact that you look like a cat.” He answered an unspoken question in that sloth-like pace. “Normal people don’t look like cats.”

“I am a cat.” I said calmly. Eight years, nine, no, seven. How long ago had this feline form been given to me? My head felt weird surrounded by all these sheep. My efforts to count them were tiring.

“If you say so.” The shepherd shrugged and moved that dangling weed stalk around again. I eyed it while wondering how quickly it could be batted out of his mouth.

One, two, three sheep. They all looked the same. I started counting at least five more times just to reach ten sheep. My mind felt distant.

“So what do you really expect from a-” The man sounded amused but still spoke slowly. “-treasure chest?”

“I need to grow stronger.” I answered while feeling peacefully detached. These sheep were so fluffy, which didn’t make much sense. My vague recollection of Izzy’s world implied sheep were mostly coarse and smelled funny. These ones didn’t seem to be either. There was a scent of steaming tea and fuzzy blankets.

That was it, I felt like a sick child again, bundled up, muddled but warm. My dad had been very talkative, trying to explain what was happening and how his work had been. Anything to cheer me up, but my eyes were stuck staring at some images on a screen.

What had it been? I vaguely remembered a pet of some sort, that lived inside a machine. Or something along those lines, the memories were all lost in a haze. Then again, that was the old world, this one was new.

“Is it?” The figure pretending to be a shepherd asked. How I knew he was pretending didn’t make sense. Everything around me had a dreamlike sheen which slowly increased.

“It is.” I didn’t even take note that the man had asked me a question until a few moments later. After that I simply filed it away as weird spirit nonsense. I walked through walls, why couldn’t some other being here do fancy techniques?

“It’s that simple to you, this is here, that is there?” He asked slowly.

“Isn’t it? I died to a demon dog.” I felt certain of that. My old body was somewhere far, far away. Burned to a crisp and ashes or sitting in a ground plot. It would depend on what dad decided to do.

“If that’s what you believe, but I would remind you that none of the messages you’ve been given should be considered false.” His words weren’t that of a shepherd. Maybe that was the part that made me feel conflicted. Slow words and the accent kind of fit, but what sort of sheep herder used the word ‘considered’? Maybe my expectations were low.

“From the Legacy?” I asked instead.

“Yes, it will always show the truth.” The man shook his head for a moment then sighed. He slumped into the curled cane and stared downward towards me. For some reason it seemed less softer, and the sheep seemed a bit larger.

“Always?” I asked while trying to figure out what had changed.

“The Legacy is not allowed to lie.” The man shrugged and still sounded slow. It felt like my own brain was growing ever closer to stopping. “We, all of us, must have at least one thing to trust. The Legacy works for you just as well as it may for us.”

“Are you, not a spirit?” I asked.

“A spirit? In some sense, perhaps. Two thousand years ago I might have been considered a god to humans.” The man looked past me towards the distance. Where, or what, had him so enthralled wasn’t visible past the wall of white fluff. “But that was then, and this is now.”

“Can you help me get stronger?” Two sheep turned towards me after that statement. Their eyes were an unexpectedly deep black.

“What do you think you need, besides jewelry?” The Voice lifted a cheek to one side.

I didn’t have an answer to his question. Unlocking an advancement had happened once, and then there was that weird moment in a world that made no sense. Most of it felt like a forgotten memory in the past.

“To, fight bosses, and things?” I tilted my head in confusion. There weren’t better ways, were there? Maybe I could meditate over flame, or contemplate the purr ball mysteries. Izzy’s school seemed strangely absent ways for spirits to learn.

“So you’re the type who doesn’t know how to do anything but fight?” He looked down at me and squinted both eyes.

“Isn’t that how spirits grow?” Fur bristled as one of the sheep got too close. Flattened teeth nipped at tail hairs as another tried to bite me. [Insubstantial] was nearly automatic by now.

“Think back to your life before this. Did you fight a lot?”

I did. There had been something where I faced off against other people in competition. Inside my mind there was this sense of fierce battles that happened in seconds. Fighting, one on one, but nothing beyond that made sense. It was in the fuzzy past.

“So you don’t know.” The other man responded again without me speaking out loud. His staff poked at a sheep in the distance.

My tail swished past herbivore’s hooves in irritation. I felt certain this guy was looking down on me. The past didn’t play any bearing on who, or what I was now. Everything about being a cat felt perfectly natural now, after years of adapting.

“Mmmmh.” His tone sounded like Izzy’s pause, only more drawn out. “Well. Promise me you’ll at least consider my words, and I’ll give you a chance to get stronger.”

Hair made it hard to feel things like skin used to. My tail brushing across the ground felt uneven blades of grass being matted. Obstructions tingled, but nothing felt like real touch anymore. It was odd, my mind thought about being human once more, even if only for a few seconds at a time. That was one of my greatest hopes for growing stronger and gaining another empowerment. One day, I might be me, again.

“If you want it, this world can provide it. The first, she who created the Legacy, wanted all creatures to have a chance to live out their dreams.” He said.

“Who was she?” I was interested in this person who might have created Izzy’s world. That took a great deal of ability and knowledge to do. Did they know a bunch of complex spells like Izzy? Were there higher tiers that we could reach one day.

“Does it matter? Rest assured that she had more power and saw further than you or I could ever dream of given a thousand such lifetimes.”

My brief hopes that it was possible to reach such heights were dashed. One thousand lifetimes would be far too many away. My contractor would have long since passed, and not one bit of
“So, is that what you wanted to say?”

“It’s part of it. In the end, the creator of this world never intended for your kind to stay here long. One day, you’ll have to leave and return to your own existence.”

“What does that mean? I’m dead over there. I remember-” Green flame tore at me for the briefest moment. Walls of fire spawned by acid coated maws.

“Then you go to your next life over there, but a spirit’s existence can’t be maintained forever. It was never meant to, not without, sacrifice and much risk.”

I thought about what the man said briefly. It sounded like this life too was finite. The idea of leaving Izzy alone worried me, she was the only point of true stability available in this world.

“How long do I have?” There were no better questions to ask. He seemed certain, and he lived in some pocket dimension place. Clearly he knew more about how these worlds worked than I did.

The man pulled out his stock piece out and pointed towards me. “It’s not a matter of how long, but of what you remember.”

My head shook and the world spun. A brief flash of that box appeared again like a stamp on my vision. It burned over everything then faded away.

Remember

 

“When that last memory fades there will be no trial to walk. The path to that which was, will be gone, and your essence will start to unravel.” His slow words tugged at my mind, almost hypnotic. It might have been the soft feeling of sheep around me, or the muddle-headed memory of fighting a cold. “After that, you will be lost to time and tide.”

I sat there, staring at him without much in the way of comprehension. The words made sense, but at the same time my brain felt like an engine that had lost all power. Nothing clicked upstairs. Only one thought existed, replaying over and over in my head. Would I die if that other life got too far away?

“But I promised you strength, didn’t I?” The man put the weed back then started bopping sheep around us. “Since you’re the type who learns by combat, perhaps a fight will help.”

Each sheep hit shuddered and started changing color. Their fur no longer felt soft and warm. Course matted hair appeared in the place of pristine white. Hooves turned sharp and reflected sunlight. Horns twisted and curled into gnarled patterns.

“You’re going to make me fight sheep?” I had enough brainpower to register this. Combat was easy to react to for a cat, especially once we dove into dungeons regularly.

There were at least two dozen of the creatures looming over me. Their faces lined up in a circle all around. The shepherd who had been speaking took three steps back and started to merge into the background.

“Yes. Or you can get the flock out of here.” The man smiled from further away. That grin, and the man attached slowly faded into nothingness. An abandoned piece of well-chewed weed fell to the ground.

“Baaa!” One of them brayed before lifting hooves in my direction. Soon all of them were rearing back in preparation to stomp. Years of practice kicked in as my body automatically tried to unclench my gut for [Insubstantial].

All of the bleating sheep came down and stomping around in an ever widening circle. They were spreading out to get room for full spins as they beat up the ground.

“Not cool!” I shouted while trying to dodge. One of the many now stomping feet passed through my tail and sizzled. Hair stood out on end and my tail jerked. All four legs started clawing for purchase.

These goats were using electricity! Bolts of channeled lightning were a phasing kitten’s worst enemy, next to dogs and cold spells. I learned that with Jezebel.

I tried to claw a path up one of the dancing creatures. Slickened black fur denied my attempts at purchase. Small wisps of milky white floated off signifying damage. Hind legs jack rabbited into my face over and over causing a cheek bone to crunch.

“Fuck! Jesus Christ you mutton chop bastards!” Profanities escaped in yowls as I tried to recover and curl away from more feet.

[Aura of Minor Flame] worked a little. Their bodies were smoking with damage caused by the heat. I picked a target out of the two dozen baaing clones. Coursing energy from the herd made my legs jerk oddly as I mistimed the jump and tumbled instead.

Somehow I ended up halfway through the creature. I had done this to mice and other monsters, but never a being who channeled electricity. Neither feline arm retained correct control. Claws and legs flailed wildly, tearing into the innards of this beast. A message popped up from the First World Legacy but my teeth were chattering too hard.

My arm felt weird in this halfway state. Something seemed to be peeling skin out from under fur leaving all the nerve endings raw and screaming. I managed to retain a minute amount of consciousness and tore an exit through soft skin.

My claws kept rending the body. Creatures bleated in the background. Horns locked into flesh and lifted me away. I yowled, trying to activate [Inspire Minor Terror].

Sheep bleated and stomped around. I saw the half gutted remains of my former fleshy cage. A black gaze vanished as bottom eyelids rolled upwards. The creature fell to the ground with a thud of noise. Other sheep around me took offense and started trying to rush together. Electricity crackled across their darkened fur.

I hissed, arched my back and a paw swiped at the incoming wool wearing army. These beasts were twice the size of a poor [Flame Spirit Kitten] like me. [Inspire Minor Terror] seemed ineffective against their anger.

One down, and my health was looked better than I felt. Blood had slickened my fur. Underneath the matted fur there was skin which felt flayed. Comparing this pain to that green acidic fire put everything into perspective.

If I could handle that and still try to fight back, then another sheep gutting from its insides would be bearable. I shivered as fur bristled. Sheep around me bleated their electric backed defiance. Feet came down and I leap upwards.

The second sheep fell as I recklessly made mincemeat of its insides. The third, fourth, and fifth fell shortly after. Liquid matted my blue tinted fur. [Aura of Minor Flame] dried some of the remains into crusted bits.

Finally, after leaping into the last herd member and enduring the energy rippling through, the war was over. I crawled weakly out of the sheep’s body and tried to find a clear spot to lay down. Everything hurt, my bones were actually broken. Paws gave way from agony with every movement.

Challenge: Consecutive combat against 20 or more monsters of similar ranking.

  • Group Spawn: [Ba-Ba-Bad Sheeps] Defeated

Reward: Based on current build random physical traits are being increased.

  • Low [Endurance] elevated to Medium [Endurance]
  • [Aura of Minor Flame] elevated to [Aura of True Flame]
  • High [Reflex] elevated to Great [Reflex]

 

“Pierce, are you okay?” Izzy’s voice came through our connection. Thudding filled both ears making her words difficult to hear.

I hacked another gob of blood past sharp teeth then compulsively licked my side. The smear forming afterwards disgusted me. A paw tried to brush fur back and right the hair.

Shuddering huffs passed through me but nothing calmed the unease. That, entire fight, had hurt a great deal. My vision was starting to fade. Was the empowerment coming?

I tried to warn Izzy of the impending unconsciousness. A meow escaped me, not of words being translated into kitten speak, but an actual unfiltered cat noise.

 

[The Overseer]’s log: We’ve managed to pull up an entire readout of Subject 42’s status prior to the next round of conditioning. This is a compilation of his current traits within the digital world. It’s odd to see it in writing. This reading is merger of his own self-reflection and the systems acknowledgment of the scenario at hand. It reminds me of the days where I used to play games, a long time ago.

Race
[Flame Spirit Kitten]

Racial Bonuses
Moderate [Speed], Great [Reflex], Medium [Endurance], Low [Brawn], Low [Depth], Minor [Learning]

[Advanced Spirit Form] traits
[Inspire Minor Terror], [Leap Distance], [Insubstantial],[Commune with the Dead], [Resistance: Physical], [Resistance: Minor Projectile], [Immunity: Fire], [The Outer World: Respite]

Damage Type(s)
[Shredding], [Fire], [Spirit]

Weaknesses
Yarn, warm beams of sunlight, [Holy] school of spells, members of the [Dog] species

Major Weakness
[Frost] damage type

Visual Abilities
[Sense Personal Status (All)], [Sense Contractor Status (All)], [Summon Response Guide], [Underground Navigation]

Passive Abilities
[Detect Minor Trap], [Sense Hidden Passage], [Sense Hidden Passage], [Low Light Vision]

Action Reliant Abilities
[Defender], [Locate Valuables], [Ghost Walk], [Aura of True Flame]

Path
[Guardian Spirit (Initiated)]

Titles
[Bane of Rodents], [Treasure Hunter], [Man on Fire], [The Cat Who Walked Through Walls]

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4 responses

  1. thanks for the chapter.

    very interesting.. the plot advances.

    typos:
    Course matted hair appeared in the place of pristine white. Hooves turned sharp and reflected sunlight
    –> Coarse ?

    One down, and my health was looked better than I felt.
    –> looked (no was) or was looking ?

    Liked by 1 person

      • Read at royalroad, problems with registration, so … copy,paste.

        I don’t like to write as my English is … Well, I feel irritated when reading what I wrote. Funny, huh.

        That’s the reason why this is my first comment here. However, how I love (all) your fictions and you asked, here I’m.

        Before anyting, on the previous chapters I was itching to point some butterflies. BUT, I’m sure there’ll be no loss as your wife will eventualy find them. If not, when I come back to reread this fictions, I’ll point whatever I see (and remember).

        So. Here, food for thought! (PS: “Ctrl+F” is goodwill!)

        [a] “He had plant stalk of some sort in between his lips.”
        He had a plant stalk of some sort in between his lips.
        [?] Why ‘narrow minded’ is the correct in ‘then said, “That’s rather narrow minded”? At least it sounds correct to me.
        [b] “getting to close”
        getting too close
        [-] “My efforts to count them were tiring.”
        — Heh.
        [c] “why couldn’t some other being here do fancy techniques”
        why couldn’t some other being here have fancy techniques (?)
        [d] “It’s that simple to you, this is here, that is there?”
        Is it that simple to you: this is here, that is there?
        [e] “none of the message”
        none of the messages (?)
        [-] “For some reason it seemed less softer, and the sheep seemed a bit larger.”
        — One of the reasons why I like your works. They’re alive!
        [f] “I asked while trying to figure out what had changed.”
        I asked while trying to figure out if it had changed something.
        (Do you want him to be suspious of what the voice is saying?)
        [g] “It felt like my own brain was growing ever closer to stopping”
        It felt like my own brain was growing ever closer to stop (?)
        [-] “The Voice lifted a cheek to one side.”
        — He is a clown, isn’t he?
        [?] “purr ball mysteries”
        — processing … sorry, didn’t get it. You’re refering to something about cats, I assume. Is it nasty?
        [h] “Izzy’s school seemed strangely absent ways for spirits to learn.”
        Izzy’s school seemed strangely absent of ways for spirits to learn.
        [i] “There had been something where I faced off against other people in competition.”
        There had been something when/whenever I faced off against other people in competition. (?)
        [?] “Course matted hair”
        [-] “An abandoned piece of well-chewed weed fell to the ground. “Baaa!” One of them brayed before lifting hooves in my direction.”
        — Perfect! (‘Baa!’) Haha.
        [?] “… unclench my gut for [Insubstantial].” or
        “… clench my gut for [Insubstantial].” ?
        (An odd thought, don’t you think? His efforts are to become tangible or intangible?)
        [?] “jack rabbited into”. What? I get what was happening. But these words … no.
        [j] “One down, and my health was looked better than I felt.”
        One down, and my health looked better than I felt. or
        One down, and my health was looking better than I felt.
        [-] [Ba-Ba-Bad Sheep]
        — Ho. You need to lend me your hat!
        [k] “Based on current build random physical traits are being increased.”
        Based on current build, random physical traits are being increased.
        [-] That’s new: “[Man on fire]”. And odd. My comprehension was that he had burned from the inside out because of that dog’s nice bite.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. I’ll look through these, most of my extra attention is on getting book 2 ready for Amazon. This helps though – as the wife probably won’t want to look until it’s ready to be rolled into a book. CO and RS keep her busy.

        As far as [Man on fire] – I snuck that one in. There’s a few alludes to the ‘original world’ events when he’s talking to the blond lady in a room – but the status of his body is a bit vague. Eventually, as the story wraps around the next few events, we’ll get an outright explanation of what’s going on.

        Purr ball mysteries was basically a self mockery of his own status as a cat.

        Part of the gut clenching to go tangible or whatnot – is that everything he does in this reality ties back to his old body somehow. Think of it like kicking as a result of a dream, only much more realistic and sever. (He’s not dreaming though)

        Like

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