Quote:”In the thirty years we have been dealing with these digital, denizens, the world has seen change. Endless change. Technology is rapidly approaching critical mass and our ability to adapt to new possibilities is constantly strained.
It is in humanity’s best interests to maintain positive relationships with beings that can provide us a unique perspective, and expertise in a world that is rapidly becoming science fantasy.”
– President Elect Margaret Trump
My wounds were healing from [The Outer World: Respite], so at least we were still connected. Two months had passed without verbal contact or even a box. Maybe three months. Maybe it was an hour. I had no dammed way of telling without my connection to Izzy. It sat dim and nearly lifeless.
I wandered the fire planes while feeling frustrated. Fire plane, whatever. This place made less sense the further my travels went. Giraffes were replaced with creatures which looked like hippos with overbite. They traveled in herds together towards pits of black tar. Each gulp would make flaming fur of varied colors ignite with fresh energy.
Blue fire furs would attack red beasts. Orange furred hippos would compete against dull brown hippo things. They were racist but all looked alike to me. Blue seemed to be the typical winner unless overwhelmed.
None of them liked me. My last few attempts to get near the watering, oil, hole had met with ruthless stampeding. Drinking from the bottom of the lake ended with me almost drowning. I felt annoyed that out here I needed to breathe.
Being in [The Outer World] so long had started to change me. My stomach kept rumbling for the first time in forever. I tried not to note how much luster vanished from my own fur. The cord connecting me with my contractor flopped uselessly along the ground.
Still, I wandered in hopes of finding an edge to the world. Some days, minutes maybe, I ran. Eventually I reached a large valley and lay down near a bush. It sat heavy with ash in the way other bushes might be laden with pollen.
I hated being made of fire. I felt upset not knowing where Colleen was in all this. Above all else, I really didn’t like not talking to Isabella Brand.
The world grew darker the further I traveled. Fires which once littered the landscape grew smaller. The tar like pools which represented water started to fade.
“Mmmhm.” I tried to fill my general silence with Izzy’s sound.
She still refused to respond. It felt like Izzy spent a lot of time sleeping. I still could see her mood everything indicated a slow recovery. Mana and health seemed to be blocked out at a quarter of their old values.
“I’m sorry Izzy.” I muttered to myself.
Izzy didn’t respond. That marked another milestone in an indiscernible amount of time since our last actual conversation.
I stood up slowly while trying to ignore the tense gut muscles and stiff shoulders. They refused to move correctly after this minor eternity of wandering.
My valley seemed peaceful enough, but it wasn’t Izzy’s bed or Grumble Goat’s tower. It wasn’t the peer where I gazed into a still water’s surface. I continued the search for something familiar to anchor to.
“Screeee!” I heard a high pitched noise loud enough to make my ears curl.
Talking out loud where no one could listen was an action for insane humans. Dignified adolescents lions like myself stuck to confused murmurs and grumbles, or preparing to hide in the dirt. I may have been a brave lion fire beast of unknown race name, but survival outweighed pride. Dying, or whatever, would put me back in my black cardboard box and lose all this progress to nowhere.
“Screeeeeee!” The noise came again. Thumbs slowly started rattling the area. Something huge was walking in my direction.
I looked up and saw a pair of round red eyes big enough to engulf me. My heart skipped distance between us seemed to shrink. A rodent of some sort loomed miles away. It’s head poked through the valleys exit path. The mouth opened slowly but kept on going for what must have been a mile across.
Cold air poured out from an impossible huge maw as it screeched again. I felt the temperature drop from this far away. My former resting companion, the ash laden plant, froze in spot.
[Cold] damage, or [Frost] or [Something Very Bad] was being done to the entire area. What few flames existed this far out sputtered briefly before going out. I looked over to see fiery hippo packs of all types trying to exit the valley through another route. Their color induced feud seemed forgotten in the urge to flee.
The massive monster mouse screamed again and thumped slowly in my direction. My head tilted to one side in brief confusion. How could such a large being possibly exist? Was I living in a madhouse?
I certainly felt delirious after days, weeks, or months of solitude. Loneliness can get to a guy and make them think all sorts of odd thoughts. Maybe the frost breath mouse could be my friend.
It stomped again. My shoulders rolled with the unheeded demand of instincts.
“Izzy? If you can still hear me, what’s the rating on a giant mouse who breathes frost?” I asked.
For a moment our connection crackled. Static came across the line. I heard the sound of a dry throat rasping for air, but in the end, Izzy didn’t respond.
Maybe she hadn’t brought me back because of something else? I frowned as the giant mouse of frozen doom rumbled across the landscape.
Nostrils flared as I tried to take in scents from all around. Dying didn’t appeal, so I clenched my gut to go [Insubstantial] and [Ghost Walk] through the dirt. [Underground Navigation] would allow me to hide or find a cave in time.
Only the giant mouse of frost smelled good. A memory flashed. In it I laughed happily with a faceless older woman and man. That moment in the past included a covered stroller, protecting it’s passenger as the sun beamed down radiating heat. An giant bird flew overhead as a chipmunk avoided it’s gaze by scrambling up a tree. The flavor went with strawberry ice cream.
“Screeeee!” The monster shouted much closer. It’s black eyes threatened once more to swallow my mind whole. I shivered from the memory of ice cream. That cool shadow memory of a bird circling overhead caught my attention.
I squinted and looked up in confusion. There was no sun overhead, but the bird wasn’t in my memory.
“Eeeeehhaaaa!” It yelled back at the colossal mouse. Air cracked as the huge monster tucked in both wings to dive.
Fur bristled and I started running. Turf tore beneath my paws as muscles ached. The world narrowed to a tunnel of escape. Small ticks and other animals fled nearby, seeking the safety of distance. I made it to base of a steep hill as two giant beasts collided behind me.
Their first crossing shook the air. Smaller creatures nearby were obliterated and razor sharp wind cut across my flank. I roared then curled into a defensive posture behind nearby shrubbery. My health bar had taken a minor hit from.
“Screeeee!” Responded back the insanely huge beast. It’s huge blackened eyes reminded me of those [Terror Rat]s, only with deep blue coloring, frost whiskers and on a huge scale. Cold air blasted across the valley and shuddered through the plant I hid behind.
There were dozens of other monsters sitting further up the hill. They were beings of fire like myself. I looked around to the far ridge and saw a few small creature’s made of ice as well. They seemed to be watching and waiting. My own nostrils were alight with the scent of treasure.
My tail swished back and forth slowly. The giant fire bird screeched loudly while batting wings. Talons were dug into the mouse’s back. Ice was flung to the far reaches of our valley.
“Screeee!” It hissed and a thin tail that still easily surpassed a trees thickness curled around. It knocked over rocks and bushes.
My gut clenched to activate [Ghost Walk] then I ducked into the rocky formation below. Rumbling sounds and huge shockwaves rattled the dirt. Smells vanished as my path went through dirt and rock downward. Layers of dead plants broke up the boring darkness.
I couldn’t see through, but relied on [Underground Navigation] to get me to a small pocket of safety. I ran through the dirt, once again wondering about the strange rules of this other world. Kittens, cats, mini lions of any sort shouldn’t be able to float through the ground.
Air grew thin. My lungs ached and a wave of dizziness hit. [The Outer World] treated me far more like a living creature than [The Inner World]. I burst through with a gasp for whatever air this small cavern could held.
My body shook and a ripple crawled up my spine. One small ball of flame spun a lazy circle around me, eating up more air and illuminating this location. The cave inside was in poor shape. Rubble lay all around and move threatened to come down.
“Rrrreeeeeee.” A monstrous voice penetrated my cavern underneath. I looked around and tried to figure out how far down this small haven was. Thirty feet? Forty?
The earth rumbled again then the roof cracked. Daylight could be seen pouring through along with a fresh chill. My refuge had been broken into by two titan sized elementals. I ran through a wall and tried to stay ahead of the demolishing landscape. Up again I went. Other monsters were in the process of fleeing. I was the only one stupid enough to stay this close to their fighting.
The mouse thing had entire chunks missing. One eye on the valleys other side. I took a breath of air then pushed my paws to move faster. Nails tore at slightly frozen ground in an attempt to get purchase.
A sudden ripple in the earth sent me skipped across slippery dirt. Health suffered with every second of contact with the [Frost].
I sat half sunken into disturbed ground and took a few rapid breathes. The colossal mouse lay still only fifty feet away. It’s body could have easily taken up one of Izzy’s school yards. The bird’s body faced away from me. It flapped wings at frozen beasts in the distance. It’s fire flickered wildly melting away the frozen carcass below.
“Rrah, Rahh!” It yelled. I looked at it, and the memory of that bird circling overhead on a sunny day flashed through once more.
There was something in the mouse’s body. A large slab of dead looking ice that smelled delicious.
The bird charged towards creatures in the distance, scarring them away from it’s food. Behind us sat the fire beasts, staring down in our direction. They took looked at the same prize I saw.
“Izzy?” I meowed. “What’s a frozen heart do?”
She didn’t answer. I didn’t want to risk death and being sent all the way back to my prison of cardboard fire, but this looked valuable. Above all the fear and desperation, was a gnawing hunger that threatened to remove what little sanity I had left.
The others milled about and I surfed then started running. Our bird creature that had fought against the rat sat flapped one wing at the frozen monsters and ignored us. One wing hung limply. Beasts of fire started down the path and fiery buzzards started gathering overhead.
In the titanic battle, neither beast had won. Not really. I ignored the limping bird. It would probably be swarmed by the little creatures. Instead there was the prize, a heart or some core belonging to the massive melting mouse.
I made it, and the smell of strawberry ice cream overwhelmed my senses. Heavy sweetness so thick it might make my stomach sick. My tongue licked a huge bit and it melted right away. The action hurt my health but I didn’t care.
The flame beasts detoured right around me. Their intent might be the bird that had fought instead. Sure enough in seconds they were landing on the grounded bird. Hippos of various flames landed their maws on its legs. Smaller birds attacked. It squawked and shook.
During the ensuing show I kept at my self-abuse of eating ice cream. Cold chills wound down my belly. My tongue licked over whispers to pull of portions that clumped along my face. A slight roar escaped as I ate. The strawberry melting heart gave me a headache but felt good.
If I would die from this, then I would die happy and relieving a childhood memory. An innocence lost, like my happier times with Izzy. Childhood seemed so much simpler.
A pack of frost beasts circled nearby. They had likely veered for the mouse’s carcass. Their path wound ever closer as blue hyena things filled the air with agitated yips. I snarled and swung my paw. Huge gulps of dead mouse went down my gullet. My health kept dipping.
One lunged for me. I yowled then shoved my face in for one last bite before running through the ground. Yipping faded as the earth swallowed me whole.
I stumbled to the ruins of my underground refuge and licked my fur of the remaining chunks of strawberry mouse. Distant sounds filled the air as various creatures fought over the remains. There hadn’t been much left of the beasts core once I got done.
[Essence of Ice] absorbed!
Details: This ability allows a spirit to change attributes to another school. All skills and abilities will adjust to match the new nature if required.
Duration, abilities, health and mana will all be adversely impacted until synchronization with the skill reaches max levels.
After changing base attributes the user will be unable to switch again for roughly one day. Attempts to swap between different natures will hurt and leave the user unable to function until they have recovered.
I stared at the message. After all this, after watching those giant creatures battle it out, I had managed to scoop up such a treasure. Izzy would be proud, right? Too bad the ability came too late. We could have easily used this to help Colleen. Or had I only roamed out this far because she died?
“Izzy?” I tried to whisper across our connection.
Still, she didn’t answer. Maybe this whole [Essence of Ice] thing was a hint. Maybe I felt different about myself after being so clearly dismissed and rejected. A childhood lost could never be regained.
My head felt heavy and shoulders ached. No matter how strong I became, none of it meant anything without being by her side. After a literal cat nap I felt better. The health bar sat at nearly full, proof of what little contact Izzy and I still maintained.
Up top a large number of beasts still fought and gathered. None of them smell as appetizing like the strawberry had. I put one paw in front of the other and started out of the ruined valley.
This place had apparently been the border between two elemental realms. From the mountain top I could see flame filled landscapes on one side, and frozen peaks across the other. The distance looked cold, but I would adapt and survive until called forth again. Eyes crossed and a low growl escaped as [Essence of Ice] activated.
It hurt, but I was still alive.
[The Overseer]’s log:
One of the other lab workers started calling Subject 42 Schrodinger’s Cat. At first I objected, but part of me realized the name is fitting. His, original body, is a barely functional wreck that still is being torn up. We haven’t been able to completely reverse engineer it.
The Subject’s mind isn’t even housed inside his own body. It’s off gallivanting around the restricted cyber sphere while mostly being shepherded by IB. In some sense he is inside a box, made of digitally generated worlds and technology we still barely understand.
If we do have to abruptly plug him back in, we’re uncertain if he’ll be alive or dead. Plus he thinks he’s a cat. The only thing missing is a radioactive isotope. I doubt anyone intended this experiment to be used as a case of quantum physics, but the name does fit.