Chapter 24 – Burned Babe

Quote:Were these devices a medicine, they would have already been pulled down from the shelves, but once again the law is behind technology.

Out of every ten thousand users, roughly three are possible Case Seven candidates. There is to say nothing of contributing factors like relative virtual time compared to real time, emotional stability, household living arrangements, and mental factors.

We have struggled to remind people that there is more to life than a virtual reality. This year we will once again be asking for support from our constituents to get a bill proposed to limit either realism, duration, or some other factor to reduce likelihood of these Case Seven’s from occurring.

– Larrence Matthews, Head of the Digital Awareness Mandate Nation

Ice floated all around and I was desperately trying to find a place to leap away to. Instead, all three of us seemed to be stuck on different chunks as we bobbed around. Being this close to a frozen lake surface disturbed me. Even thinking about that sort of chill sense unwelcome twitches through my entire spine.

“Voices above.” Colleen hoarsely whispered from nearby. “Did you have to blow it all up?”

Izzy groaned in response. Merging four spells like that had really hit the girl hard. I tried to get a feel for everyone’s status. Everything ached with the strain and nails on my paw had actually ripped off. Colleen looked okay but bits of hair were mussed or outright singed.

I tried to stay balanced on my floating bit of iceberg and said, “The floor boss is defeated, we can move on now.”

Leaping up would probably send me spiraling into the water. This was the same problem I had faced when falling into the lava on floor six, only this frozen hell would actually hurt a lot. Going back to [The Outer World] still had a price of pain.

“Isabella?” Colleen couldn’t understand my noises and Izzy looked half aware. The blast had left her unharmed due to our shared immunities, but flying through the air and falling down hadn’t been kind.

Her health bar looked dangerously low. Colleen was using her sword as a paddle to bring their floating ice chunks together. I tried to find something less terrifying than ice and subarctic water but failed. In the end my own paws dipped into water as tried to elegantly cat paddle over. Bits of my health were shaved off while [Aura of True Flame] ate at the last of my mana.

Soon all three of us were on the larger floating piece of former rock. I looked up, in hopes that our rock would reform into something more stable and manageable. We must have broken the event. When Dale died it automatically repaired but now the block stayed a shattered mess.

Izzy groaned and managed to sit up. Her eyes seemed unfocused. One kept drifting to an invisible object floating a few feet in front of her nose before both finally found the same barring.

“Mmmhm. Pierce?” She sounded sleepy.

“Hello, Isabella Brand.” I tried to sound formal. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“But we’ve known each other a year-” Her words faded off and head shook. “-a lot of years.” Izzy finished.

“Sorry. I thought maybe you got hit on the head.” I felt out of touch with my training as a fire fighter. There had been rules and guides. An entire series of prompts displayed on my helmet that would tell me what steps to follow. Maybe the [First World Legacy] stretched in to my old realm.

It seemed weird, but all those notices helped us skip a lot of training in favor of field work and, something. There had been something else, a machine with parts perhaps? My body shook in a huff, shaking the iceberg we stood on.

“I’m okay, I think. Mmmh. Just backlash from using that many spells together.”

“That was a lot of firepower.” Colleen seemed to be cradling the shield arm. There was a small green jewel visible on her bracer. That must have been a focal point for the energy protection skill.

Izzy stood up slowly with a pained wince. I walked over and offered my enlarged body as support. Her fingers felt warm digging into a layer of fur. Colleen staggered over while Izzy got the staff straight.

I looked up at the young ladies while trying to stay still. They were both in bad shape. Izzy’s mana bar had been completely depleted, there wasn’t much health either. If we got far enough she might be able to see the eight floor as a team. After that, we would need to turn in.

“There’s a door over there.” I shifted my head to the right.

Our ice burg floated off to the side from another huge chunk. At the base was a nearly frozen over doorway that went down past the shifting water’s surface. Past the sliver of space we could walk through looked to be a lit brick stairwell. Logic didn’t really apply to this dungeon. The floor avoid had lava, this one was frozen, yet the ceiling showed no signs of melting.

Colleen stuck a foot out and pushed us off another bit of ice. Our makeshift lifeboat moved slowly towards the doorway. By the time we reached it Izzy could stand on her own feet. I stayed there to support both girls. We were partners, and I had all the fur.

I stepped across first, using my wider stance to hold us in place. Frozen water sent shivers along my belly. Izzy and Colleen stepped into the doorway first.

“Don’t slip Pierce.” Izzy said to me. Her words drug with exhaustion. I put all my weight forward and lifted one paw at a time. Nails scrambled against ice as our floating support slipped away.

Feet touched cold water and my health plummeted. Brief terror at [Cold] damage overrode my thoughts as paws kicked. Colleen tried to get an arm around me, but this new form was too big. She ended up yanking fur and Izzy fell back.

My large body turned rapidly as I tried to find the foot that had touched such freezing waters. Both girls were knocked into walls.

“Pierce, you’re okay. It’s okay.”

I groaned and whimpered then tumbled to try and get to the leg. My rear slammed into the wall and down a few steps, leaving me upside down. The world blurred as spots swam into view. Both teeth were chattering. I huffed while inverted and looked at the ladies.

“Oh. Oh shit.” I muttered. Colleen was looking at a fresh cut which lined one leg. “I’m sorry. Tell her I’m sorry.” I righted myself and backed up a little.

God dammit, I had been reckless with what should have been a simple jump.

“It’s okay Pierce. We’ll be healed once we leave, remember? Pain is only temporary down here.” Izzy reminded me. The winded pant to her lungs air failed to add credibility.

“I know but-” My voice came out in a low meow of worry.

“It’s okay.” Colleen reassured us while smiling softly. “Let’s see the eighth floor, maybe we can beat Dale tonight. Wouldn’t that be fun.” She tried to sound loud but winced upon taking a deep breath. “I’d like to see his smug face when we beat him.”

“And kick him out,” I said.

Izzy too smiled weakly and walked up. Her fingers scratched the space between my ears. I felt reassured that both girls braved my presence after that terrible reaction.

Together we went down a floor. Eight opened up a bit into a cavern. I had spied on people down here before but been perplexed.

“Music. This floor has something to do with music.” I looked up at Izzy then back towards our open space. These dungeons were all a combination of puzzle, combat, and situational awareness.

“Mmmhm.” Izzy said. Her head tilted against the staff.

“There’s some traps too.” My nose pointed towards some of the long panels on the ground. Traps showed up a nasty green color.

There were white and black strips, alternating in most spots. The darker panels were lifted up a step and maybe two feet wide. They reminded me of a musical instrument, but at the same time the memory felt clouded because it belonged to the old world.

“Three of the dark panels. This whole range here.” I walked near down the row of wide steps and tried to outline the dangerous area. My nose caught wind of something smelling like pork chops. “There may be a treasure nearby.”

Izzy determined it was best for me to trigger dungeon traps first. This way we would know what consequences might hit us. She nodded in my direction, reading the thought and granting permission. Both girls stepped back towards the doorway. I tentatively placed a paw onto one trapped panels then sprang back as sickly green light flared.

The room bonged. My head swam as the discordant sound assaulted us. Up above rocks shook and something screeched. I tilted my head back at an awkward angle in time to note a white teardrop forming into a humanoid shape. Only the creature was all wrong and hung from the ceiling like any sane person might stand on the floor.

It screeched, showing two rows of pointed teeth. Three more teardrops flowed from the roof as the first one fell towards me. I roared loudly but failed to phase the falling creature. Sharp talons met my angered claws.

“Rank Seventeen! Dismorphia!” Izzy tried to shout but the words were lost under an echo. I had no clue what a [Dismorphia] was anyway. “Go for their heads or wings!”

No, I figured out it tore things up better than I did. Bits of health dropped. My skin felt numb and screamed at the same time. I growled and put up the [Aura of True Flame], with barely enough mana to generate a single orb.

Being bigger helped as I bowed the smaller creature backwards. It fought to escape and my paw rapped repeatedly across its noggin, tearing through its skin with an angry pop.

Demons, that’s what these beasts were. Only they would deflate like overstuffed balloons. I tried to impose myself between Izzy and roared at the others who were landing. A trio of [Dismorphia] heads snapped in my direction in unison.

I leapt for them. The snarled and lifted six arms at once. Their fingers stuck out like wicked knives. Behind us, a sword clattered to the ground.

The mess of monsters and I tumbled around. My kitten habits were still too hard to ignore. Lions relied on weight while I tried to use agility with this bulkier body. The result involved me diving into spins and slamming into the floor repeatedly.

One died to a blast from Izzy. Her mana flashed critical. The fireball spell looked tiny compared to that big inferno before. I mangled one of the others along it’s back, tearing a hole for steam to eject from between tiny looking wings.

“Isabella.” Colleen sounded weak. She had been fighting a loose fifth that appeared out of nowhere. Her enemy lay defeated as I scrambled to take care of the last one.

Past our remaining enemy I could see where Colleen’s hand pressed over her chest. One side of her face was scrunched while the other looked slack. Drool dripped down.

“Colleen?” Izzy set down her staff and ran over. Both hands immediately tried to prop up her friend. I finished off the remaining monster then looked around for more enemies.

“Something’s wrong. I feel wrong.” The older girl said.

I had no idea what that meant. There were no more enemies around. Nothing looked out of place that I could tell. Walls were clean and the long panels on the ground stopped lighting up. Musical tones which had layered over each other started to fade.

“Feel. Sick.” Colleen’s words turned choppy. Her face looked pale and I nosed closer and she gasped in momentary relief. The heat seemed to help a little bit.

My chest huffed up and down. Breathing was mostly pointless but habits from the old world died hard. That quick skirmish when we were already low on health took a huge toll.

“Can we help her?” I said.

“I don’t know what’s wrong. She has no temperature, but there’s-“ Izzy trailed off and formed a few small spells. I worried for her mana but we had little else in the way of options.

The color drained from Izzy’s face and every hint of that playful smile vanished. Even her father’s serious eyes seemed to go slack.

“Dale.” The younger woman said.

“Cold, I feel cold. My arms, where are my arms?” Colleen stared up at the ceiling and lay still. Breathing had gone shallow and a pinky finger twitched.

“Dale! He must be doing something with her Essence Saver Stone!”

“What?!” My roar echoed in my ears reminding me of the [Dismorphia]’s screeches. Izzy didn’t even notice.

“You must get up top! Check the Essence Saver Stones!” She yelled and conflicting emotions ran through me. Izzy’s face scrunched in annoyance at my hesitation. “I’ll be okay!”

I wasted no more time and ran straight for one of the walls. My body ached. The burning of over exerted muscles only got worse as I made to the dungeon boundary and started climbed up. This was far enough outside the confines that no monsters would obstruct me.

My body reached the surface with a triumphant roar. The world seemed to shake around me. Late morning birds took flight and small rodents actually stopped their struggle to find food.

Dale stood there, with a small jewel in his hand. Essence Saver Stone’s looked a little bit different for each person. His spirit, Jezebel, floated nearby. I didn’t have time for complex thoughts or moments of wondering. I only knew that this student shouldn’t have been powerful enough to go against the teachers of this school and break their system.

Almost in unison with that thought lights around the campus flared. There seemed to be some sort of alarm going off. A large barking dog noise bounded around the area making my skin crawl. The school guardians had been alerted, far too late for my tastes.

Dale grunted in pain from my unexpected attack. The stone in his hands seemed to break into a dozen more pieces. My eyes widened and I hoped the damage wasn’t further aggravated by me. The sirens took on a new tone of urgency.

“He got Colleen’s stone!” I roared and Jezebel’s tail flinched. Her retaliatory shot went wide as Dale hammered an elbow into my back.

“Pierce!” Izzy screamed across our connection. “You’re too weak to stop him! Just try to prevent his escape!”

“He hurt Colleen! I’ll kill him!” At times, I felt like I barely knew the girl, but she was part of Izzy’s life and had been helping her since day one in a roundabout fashion.

“You will not harm my master!” The small coiling dragon of lightning screamed at me.

“I never liked this school anyway,” Dale said dryly.

I charged at him again. I had no idea what else to do besides throw myself into danger to help my friends. Reasons were for those with the luxury of time to think. When it came down to it, beyond the race floor eight, snide attitude, or equal amounts of betrayals, I really just didn’t like Dale.

[The Overseer]’s log: The security staff is in a tizzy over something, which is excessively aggravating since they’re being tight lipped. The impression I’ve been getting is that our security breach is larger than expected. I’m fairly sure the stress is getting to me. I found a grey hair this morning and my own journals are starting to get less professional.

To top it off, Subject 42 started to directly confront Subject 17, after his beating in IB’s destructive testing. Both of them are operating well below half while Subject 17’s readings are all amped up. Talk about a day of madness.

The night crew will have to monitor this one. I’ve been up for sixty hours straight and the fallout from today will likely require another sixty. Security and project failure aren’t even the worst of it. It’s all the dammed political angles.

 

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  1. Pingback: RE:Guards Update (24 – 27) « FrustratedEgo Stories

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