Quote:“Maintaining a link between the physical body and digital self-image is paramount in this project. Interjecting reminders of a past world are one aspect, the other is ensuring a connection to perceived mortality. From there a Case Seven will often create their own scenario to enforce both points. Both of these ideas stemmed from the original Case Zero study files on possible future ramifications.”
Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum
Status update with [Voice of First World Legacy] completed. Mental stability evaluation provided to [The Overseer].
Primary host body revitalization process activated. Counting down…
“Mister Argive?” Someone was speaking. Their voice sounded familiar but so very far away. It was like a forgotten memory trying to resurface from a mile underwater, and I hated water.
Fluid filled both ears. I tried to lay them back but the resulting sensation was wrong. Neck muscles pulled tight and my forehead wrinkled. Shaking back and forth to clear the liquid didn’t help. A green substance clung to every inch of fur.
“Mister Argive? Can you hear me?” The woman said.
Light flared and everything blurred together. Colors vibrant in a way I had hadn’t felt recently stood out. A golden blob, like the sun, stood in front of me. She, at least it seemed to be a female, was a fuzzy thing. It almost looked like Professor Lianne, or maybe an older version of Colleen.
I could be mad. This place felt familiar and dreamlike. There were rows of tables in the background with images moving on them. My arm paw lifted in order to grasp one of those flickering images, but it vanished, and a woman standing next the screen grew pale. She glared at me afterwards, and I couldn’t figure out why.
“Mist Argive. If you can understand me, please nod.”
Was she talking to me? I shook and could see wires attached and a haze of green all around. She seemed to take that as a sign of some sort.
“Holmes, he’s synced up, correct? These aren’t just echo tremors like the others?” She asked one of the people behind her.
A man in the distance somewhere nodded. He looked oddly like the janitor who took out trash all over. My brain was just trying to create links where none existed. Where had I gone? Where was Izzy? I needed to return to my new home and be ready to help her and Colleen. We were going to go through a dungeon.
“He’s connected but rejecting it. The subject is pushing to return to their side, and synchronization is falling below acceptable standards.” The man named Holmes said. He jiggled while talking and it made me chuckle weakly. “The connection between existences at this level is tenuous enough without the mental stressors.”
The blur of golden hair turned around and walked away. There was a strut that spoke of a well-defined female’s backside. One of the best things about being a cat is that no one notices where I watch half the time.
Except Izzy. My mind tried to pick up on our connection but failed. I couldn’t see the small orb display that provided me information on her emotions. There was no health bar or energy. Not even my own status readings were around anymore.
The green around me started vibrating as I struggled. This place wasn’t right, there were excessive differences from the world I had started to accept as my own. I wanted to go home, I wanted to go back to Izzy’s comfortable bed.
“He’s surging!” Another female further into the room shouted as two of the little picture squares floating nearby flickered out of existence.
“There’s an open port, he’s starting to jump!”
“What!?” The blond shouted. “Disconnect him immediately and keep working on it. We need to make this work.” The blond woman said.
“We’ll get him back.” Holmes looked partial upset. He reminded me of that heavyset janitor whose hair had been really graying recently.
If these people wanted to take me away from [The Inner World], then they were in for a fight. No one could make me leave Izzy. She actually needed me, and the old me was dead. That man, that old version of me, had died in a painful bath of insanely colored fire.
My mind faded and the green ooze around me seemed to take on the aspect of flames. The numbing feeling of floating and being drugged faded and left only raw pain. I screamed as [The Outer World] darkness spun into existence around me.
Empowering evaluation completed. Spiritual Evolution being processed. New form is being assigned due to current pathing.
New form being assigned regardless of spiritual contractees whims.
It felt like I existed in one moment of perpetual agony which continued to overwhelm everything until my mind crawled into a dark hole to hibernate. Time passed and there was a brief ping of awareness as yet another box popped up, but the contents were lost due to being barely awake.
Eventually, I started rousing to consciousness as a loud noise echoed in my ears. It wasn’t the meow or cute little roar of frustration I experienced on a normal day. This sound belonged to a mighty beast capable of sending lesser animals into flight.
I had just been somewhere else, but even now the images were fading to blurs in my memory. That blond woman seemed so familiar. Thinking about that recently experienced event made my head throb in irritation.
Two more of the loud painful roars echoed through the confines of [The Outer World] before it really registered what was happening. My eyes came into focus upon a wall built around me of cardboard red flames.
“Pierce?” Izzy’s voice sounded worried. “Pierce are you okay?”
I looked around and tried to understand what had happened. It felt, real, but almost like a memory from another lifetime. What had that room been? They were family, the kind of faces I saw sometimes in a dream.
“I think so.” A loud sound snarled out of me. It made me jump and roll in worry that a creature had broken into this sanctuary. My head bobbed to the left, then right, scanning everything carefully.
None of the walls looked damaged. Even the hole that I had torn out before in order to wander looked solid and patched up. This place was safe.
My connection to Izzy shone with a bright red border that hadn’t been present before. Small flecks of rose colored energy still traveled down an otherwise ink black string that was thicker than ever.
Strangely being bound didn’t bother me. It was a sign in my mind that Isabella Brand and I were more connected than ever. The brief moment of fear at being taken away from the only world that still existed faded. There had been another universe once but it felt distance.
“Can you come through? Colleen wanted to try and do that dungeon two nights ago, but you just vanished.”
“Sorry. I’m sorry.” My face flushed with heat. We had been going to work on beating that place before There was a box calmly floating from the [First World Legacy] but it was quickly obscured by Izzy pulling me through.
Apparently this [First World Legacy] didn’t believe in providing people more than one window. I wasn’t even sure how to bring up any statistics on my own, they just appeared as events occurred. Was I strong? Was I weak? It felt like neither really applied, my [Flame Spirit Kitten] form was just somewhat unique in that it could walk through walls.
The bridge between worlds spun as my Isabella’s world came into view. Cardboard walls faded and were replaced by the walls of her slightly smaller dorm room. A worried little black haired girl sat there staring at me with serious eyes.
“Voices above Pierce, what happened?” she said without pause. There wasn’t even enough time to get my barrings straight.
“What do you mean?” I grunted in confusion which came out far louder than expected.
Both sides of her mouth turned down and her body seemed much smaller than before. “Mmmhm. You’re big.” She said.
My head tilted down and ears perked forward in attention. They felt a little different now, not as sharp as before. I stuck out a paw and instead of the prior dainty little object there was a much bigger pad than ever before.
“What?” A small roar of panic issued forth from me. This was too much. I felt like I had woken up to find myself going from an eight year old body to a teenager.
The fur itself still held that same fiery red with a blueish halo of longer furs. My color scheme was the least of my worries. I stared at the edge of Izzy’s bed and tried to figure out how a creature now slightly bigger than a human could possibly fit on such a small cot.
“Really? That’s your first thought?” She commented on the ideas going through my head. Sometimes I forgot that my mind wasn’t a fortress of solitude anymore. It hadn’t been once Izzy and I joined.
“But-“ I drifted off in contemplative silence.
“You’re going to be too big.” She shook her head and seemed almost amused. “Though I liked the smaller kitten form better.”
My tail, which had been a hard enough to contain extension in the old form, was now large and strong enough to knock over a pile of Izzy’s books. Parchment went everywhere and ink spilled. I immediately phased out partway in an effort to restrict the damage.
Izzy cried out and ran over to the pile of homework. Books were hastily straightened and I felt terrible. She had to walk to the edges of her room just to get around my form. My attempt at curling into a tighter ball wasn’t working.
“I’m too big.” I muttered and covered my face with a giant paw. This was embarrassing. Before I had been simple a really large cat, now I was closer to an adolescent lion.
“Mmmhm. Maybe we could make you smaller, but not forever!” She stopped to scratch between my ears. The motion made me close both eyes in bliss and fall against a wall. “I think the bigger shape will help, let’s see those monsters ignore you now!”
“That’s true.” I felt happy which came out as a much deeper purr than normal.
“You look stronger Pierce!” Izzy said. For a moment there was another emotion that crossed her face, but whatever it was got buried quickly. I felt confused for a moment then shrugged.
My tongue reflexively started straightening disturbed fur. That felt beyond weird. My fur felt thicker than ever, and this new tongue was rougher. Being a beast instead of human certainly shifted around normal for me. And the room was too bright.
“I’m glad you’ve grown stronger Pierce, I really am, but we also promised to help Colleen, didn’t we? So that we could beat Dale through this dungeon?” Izzy was upset at me, and these last few moments of life had been confusing. I tried to get my head on straight.
“I know.” A paw covered my nose again and I fell to the side. My roll brought me colliding with her chair and knocked over the books once more. [Insubstantial] seemed to be having problems. This time Izzy didn’t bother trying to recover her books and sighed.
“Okay. I’ll talk to Colleen, and see if we can maybe get something to make you smaller. At this rate I’ll never get any homework done.” My contractor sighed heavily then tried to smile. Her mood meter was all over the place during our reunion.
It hadn’t felt like three days to me, but I remembered a message saying as much before everything went black.
“But first, you should go walk around, or something. I need to move the furniture.”
“Maybe I can-“ I started to offer assistance. Being big meant moving things would be easier.
“No, not even Pierce. I’ll get Colleen, we can talk about you behind your back too.” The young woman said.
I wasn’t sure the idea of teenage girls talking about me was such a good thing. Briefly I was torn between trying to figure out ways to listen in while feeling self-berating for being creepy and nosy. Girls deserved space, and I wasn’t her father, boyfriend, or brother. We were contracted, we were bound together, but at some point she deserved her own space to think.
I nodded and walked through the door, pleased that [Insubstantial] worked long enough to get me past the enchanted passageway. Walking would help acquaint me with the new body anyway. It had taken a few days to get around the first kitten form, much less being comfortable walking through walls. This was more of the same but my arms felt bulkier. There was more to the chest area.
Movement in the new body came mostly by instinct, as if on some level movement was merely a thought being executed in [The Inner World]. I had no good place to go, and it was late at night. The sun’s warmth had long since faded from all the pavement.
I found myself down at the water’s edge, eying the peer and debating whether the wood could support me. It seemed unlikely. Each step brought a new sense of weight and strength, but there was a trade off of lightness. Even my perch on Grumble Goat’s tower wouldn’t work anymore. Izzy could figure something out to solve the problem.
Then I could be a mini-lion thing, whatever this new form was. The fur looked like a [Flame Spirit Kitten], but there was a weight around my neck that hadn’t been there before. Concentrating let me see the edges of a mane. It was one more object that would stay wet forever if fell into the water.
I settled for a walkway that was lined in stone and directly overlooked the water. From there, my mind drifted off into thoughts of our future. Being a much bigger cat was what I wanted, Izzy could get fame and respect for being a proud [Fire Binder], I would be there until, well until I couldn’t be.
Discussing my recent revelations with Izzy didn’t feel right. Not yet. The idea that my time here was limited as that [Voice of the First World Legacy] sheep herder said scared me.
Never mind all that depressive nonsense. I had a new body and had missed the key details. Clearly my [Brawn] had gone up, my [Reaction] felt the same as I moved and looked around, even [Speed] could reach the same rush if I pushed it.
Izzy’s status slipped into slumber and I kept practicing in preparation for our eventual trip into the dungeon below. Tomorrow afternoon, after she had her coursework, would certainly be interesting.
“My my. You’ve finally had a growth spurt.” A voice said just before the sun started to ascend. My head turned around to find the Janitor from before pushing his barrel along.
The strange part was I hadn’t remembered a trash can being nearby. Normally the smells at least registered on some level, but sure enough, this school’s large refuse removal was busy turning over a waist high basket. I stared at the brown piece of woodwork and wondered how heavy it might be. Maybe a mage used magic to make it lighter.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you, you know.” He held a hint of tired amusement in his voice.
I looked at him at twitched an ear. Being up all night made me yawn. The man actually paled briefly before trying to chuckle again. He was friendly and knew me well enough to recognize the new form without confusion.
“You’re not the first spirit to come through here. Not by a long shot. Most, they start out small, young, wide eyed, but not you.” He said.
My head dipped briefly in acknowledgment. Silent communication was hard. Without Izzy to relay words this conversation would be difficult.
“Students, mostly, they grow up too. You and Izzy were so small when you started classes.” His words were partially drowned out by the loud bang of a trash can over and over.
I remembered it. She had been near nine years old and brave enough to travel for days in the back of a cart. We suffered through that [Tribal Lizard] attack, with the Defender golem creature.
“All of you, students and spirits alike, change over time. It’s all about attitude you see.” He set back down the trash can and stared at me while trying to keep up a friendly chuckle.
I didn’t know where he was going with this at all.
“But no matter how tough they get, or how prepared the teachers try to be, we always lose one or two from each class.” The man tried to laugh again, but this time it sounded mildly disturbing. “What I’m saying, Mister Pierce, is that you should protect those dear to you, if you can.”
My ear flicked again, which caused the heavyset trash carrier to nod in response then wheel off. That had been rather ominous for such an early morning conversation.
[The Overseer]‘s log: I had to file a reprimand because Doctor Olive left her wireless connection port open. That meant dealing with security because they’ve failed to properly screen for this stuff upon entry to the site. It’s important enough that we can’t trust an AI with it since they’re vulnerable around Case Seven’s to begin with. Anyway, it’s turned out to reveal a larger problem. Security missed the check because someone’s been poking around the firewalls again.This project is too dangerous for even an outer layer breach to be allowed. Denizens are at risk, and humanity is too reliant upon cyberspace to pull out now. It wouldn’t be so bad if the digital world had stable programming, but ever since the Case Zero tampering, their version of reality has been transforming. It makes me wonder sometimes…