Chapter 28 – Surged Protector

Quote: Binder, the label feels out of context but accurate. I hold the flame of his life together and use it to keep back the darkness of other souls. By the Voices, how do the others bear the weight of a life then hold its flickering bud alight while traversing over an abyss? To do so risks putting out the very torchlight keeping us from darkness.

The first unbound soul descended upon us, and we were unready. Despite our inadequacies these lost souls have lost one of their numbers, saved by foolish bravery. Others will grow to take up the slack, and our bound souls will soon face another.

Pierce sought to fill the void by quickly using what remained to finish crafting a new consciousness, but doing so takes power. As the fire holds back darkness, it also can burn when seeking fuel. So it sought, and so I burned. Our brightness gave birth to another, but as the flare gave way, and now that new self is stranded in the ether.

An observation made on Subject 42 by Isabella Brand

Winter was coming, or at least the snow from above kept drifting downward. This marked the fourth storm passing overhead and they all traveled along the same line. Each one pelted the ground below with a fresh layer of white. If I looked at the border between my home plane of fire and this new one of ice there was a heavy fog that seemed to crawl along instead.

I didn’t understand exactly how the elements were mixed together, but they were. Maybe below my very feet was a realm into of earth, where caves would be the connection. Above the snow dropping clouds might be a sunspot that lifted a being into straight air. Without a giant flying rat made of yellow lightning I had no clue how to get up there. Maybe I should have taken down the half broken fire bird instead and flown around. I could be a young lion with giant wings and call myself Bat-Cat!

Oddly comical thoughts had been happening more frequently since my [Depth] increased. The slight increase in personal skills had resulted in clear improvements. Part of me felt conflicted because I couldn’t tell how much of my original self was held back. Maybe me prior to these upgrades had a huge amount of [Depth] and didn’t spend a millennium sleeping.

What did the old Piece Argive qualify as? Eighteen year old me had been kind of charmingly dull. Frost fire me had maybe grown up a stage. My head felt a bit clearer while the world around slowly grew less passive.

For example, bunnies that had been nearly invisible before were around by the dozens. They scampered around picking at plants that had been invisible. Slightly larger fuzzy creatures hunted them in pairs. I watched an entire ecosystem at work while waiting for thunderstorms to pass by overhead.

“Colleen, Izzy?” I questioned the silence around me as time passed. “Professor Grumble Goat? Grandpa Hubble?” Uttering the last name made me shudder.

I didn’t like the idea that his shadow beasts might exact out here too. What if my own shadow served as a border between spirit realms? There seemed to be a requirement for more territory before a melding pot could be created. The span between fire and ice was about five miles across, and the cloud billowed down the entire path. Hopefully they were a border of sorts that I could get into by climbing a peak above the clouds.

Otherwise what the fuck was the point of wandering around out here? I got a few little boxes from the [First World Legacy] but they were just messages that essentially amounted to nothing. I kept going, aiming for a large mountain that jutted far in the distance. It took weeks to get close enough to scale the monstrosity.

Small bugs burrowed through the snow and lava fields on both side. Rivers of lava and water poured out either side in a nonsensical demonstration of how little reality’s rules mattered. Forests of both elements waved around the edges while further up the mountain the trees turned wavy and clear.

Other creatures came and went but generally ignored me. None smelled like treasure or anything useful. There were no blue lines leading me off towards hidden secrets. I only bothered chasing food down when hunger got the best of me. My eyes usually stayed skyward. For days I sat up there.

Another lighting cloud would arrive soon, I knew because all the other wild creatures were going into hiding. Rabbits went into burrows. Frost hyenas drug away pray while watching me, as if I intended to bound down from the mountain roaring for food. Dark hippos far on the opposite slope. They stampeded off.

I ran towards the highest point available. Monster’s scattered, and each leap sent me flying up another dozen yards. It took an hour to finish reaching a suitable peak, and by then the lightning clouds were only a few miles away. I meowed to myself while trying to figure out which position would be best, then gave up.

Haunches wiggled into a bent position, front feet pulled back for more leverage. It took a lot of patience to lay in wait for the rolling storm.

Deep clouds so thick they blotted out the landscape rolled along all around me. Lightning bolts traced back and forth in long crackling lines. Nothing looked right. It felt like staring into a great abyss of raw energy. There were things that appeared on the bolts in blinding flashes.

The first few bolts echoed through while I searched for any signs of the sporty looking girl. One might have been Jezebel, or maybe Coleen. It was impossible to tell, and there were no voices sounding above the nearly constant roll of thunder. Images burned themselves into my eyes. Some were red, others green, some smelled nice while still more looked like faces. I had never known storms came in other colors, but expecting sanity from this new world was beyond reasonable.

“Coleen!” I shouted while leaping. It felt like a good [Battle Cry]. She was the only one talking to me anyway. That was the most crushing part, being cut off again from anything that felt real.

White snow fluttered around me. Other creatures below bellowed. A dense cloud grew even more solid as I fell. Cold air wormed its way between wide open fingers and toes. The ground arrived sooner than expected.

Everything shuddered and jerked. Feet went wide as my body tumbled end over end. Arcing lances of pain raced between limbs and parts of my back. Jolts raced up legs then across the crotch. Breath kept being pushed out as each fresh wave hit.

Four limbs scrambled to get upright. Crackling noises that reminded me of Jezebel on steroids echoed everywhere. Another bolt hit as my tail brushed across the floor. I flipped around through more pain and felt one eye pop then go blurry.

After four full body twists, tumbling, and a lot of panic, I managed to find a place that didn’t hurt then held very still. The health bar recovered slowly as I tried to get my bearings. This place felt further away from Izzy than ever. Her location arrow was a pale marker that spun around in circles.

“Fork bee!” I finally dared speak after health recovered a little. Even more nonsense curses came out in meow form, but quietly so I wouldn’t lose my mind and prance around.

My body tipped as cold liquid trickled down one eardrum. The left side of my face felt weighted down like the skin had no functional muscles. This forms long tongue kept lolling out trying to catch slobber. It failed. Even cats made of ice could apparently drool uncontrollably after being shocked repeatedly.

“Thwat worg bad, twhere is dis?” I shook my cheeks and tried to focus. Cursing would have been more excitable but my mind had blanked.

I couldn’t figure out what made some events feel so real, while others were almost dreamlike. Did the personality of a cat override my normal focus somehow? The idea that nothing really mattered until my whiskers were singed felt shallow and inaccurate.

This place certainly existed. I held very still as the world around rippled with all sorts of colors. There were hints of red and white flashes far away. Multiple strands of any color on the rainbow traveled zig zagging paths along a flat plane that stretched out forever.

My own body felt paralyzed from fear and worry. The funny balancing act proved temporarily safe but moving might cause me to get zapped or go tumbling again. I couldn’t risk losing sight in the other eye, and healing the damage might take a long time. Butt muscles twitched around as this bodies tail threatened to wander.

I tried to understand what was happening. Long flattened roads a few feet wide were carved into the landscape. Their trails were uneven and without reason. Where the paths crossed bolts surged creating a lightshow that spent sparks skittering across the plane.

It was like, touching wires on a power line. Only those words came from another lifetime’s memories that confused me into meowing out loud. Izzy’s world didn’t have power lines or outdated wiring junctions. That Voice of the [First World Legacy] had warned me not to forget what came before this world. Vision swam while I tried to hang on to even a tidbit of the past.

This reminded me of watching outdated power cords being stripped out of New York. Entire buildings were demolished and returned to earth because no one had wanted to live in a town hit by a biological terrorist attack. For one winter my father and I had worked side by side to recover the belongings of people who had no families. We bagged them into compartments then labeled the items.

The memory of my past made me sick. I didn’t like that life before. This world of Izzy’s was better in nearly every regard. If I could be human it would have been ideal. Heaven would be anywhere but god forsaken land, Izzy’s warm bed, Coleen being safe, and not being so god damned alone.

  • Attempted increase of [Depth] failed.

“Fuck you, box,” I growled to it. Having a message from the world tell me when my mental state had reached some new level felt unbearably stupid. At least my voice healed.

  • Attempted increase of [Depth] failed.

I lost my mind for a moment and clawed at the box. One overpowered arm sent me tumbling across and getting zapped more. Snow left over from the leap flocked around but refused to melt. Legs managed to get upright and balance on a new location quicker this time.

“I don’t know what to do,” my words felt tiny. There was too much emptiness around me aside from the zapping bolts. Maybe there would be something here. I sniffed for any scents that were helpful but got nothing.

The paths were different colors, but only one was blue, and not any mundane blue, but a bright blaring one that stood out even among all the other neon colors. I stared at it for a long time before finally remembering my own skills gained from the [First World Legacy]. That blue meant treasure. Valuables might be Coleen or another secret.

“Maybe there’s treasure!” I roared happily then started down the path slowly. As long as body didn’t straddle two different roads then I would be unharmed. “Izzy I found something over here!”

The happy shout was automatic but soon the futility of talking out loud hit me and both shoulders slumped. My body moved slowly as the brief surge of happy energy drained. Izzy didn’t talk to me anymore.

I walked down the bright blue path and leapt over the junctions where multiple colors touched. Lightning sparked out from each intersection like ungrounded wires. Visions of construction working kept spilling into my head with every mile traversed. I could almost see the men shouting at each other, moving blocks around and trying to make room.

Remember

Forgetting was impossible, that terrible part of my life hung only a poor decision away. We had all wanted to find survivors, but there were so few people who weren’t turned into ash, so fucking few. How old had I been then? I remember feeling young, and old, and tired, but that had been another life time.

It had started with clearing out my mom’s apartment, then my sister’s room. We weren’t alone, and eventually someone realized that a number of homes were being unclaimed. There had been too many for police and other rescue agents to handle on their own. My dad yelled for permission later to break in and look for next of kin, which we received after six hours of ranting. I think dad hoped to find my sister in one of the other homes, maybe at a friend’s.

I shuddered and tried to brush away the past. That part of life had been the reason I went into work as a firefighter, then my first real chance to help people had ended in death. One life was exchanged for three children that might have survived.

“This time, this time I’ll do better. I’m a spirit now, I can’t die. I’ll go back to Izzy and we’ll save all sorts of people,” I promised myself. My contractor had said it before, but this time I was the one promising. We would work hard to prevent any future failures, like Coleen.

“Pierce?” a nearly forgotten voice sounded in my ears. The noise came from far away, as if tunnels stood between two people, and one of them whispered.

“Izzy?” I roared while flipping around. My paws crossed lines which caused a fresh bolt of pain to hit me. This one tracked across my tail and thudded close to my frozen heart. I struggled to keep paws on only one of the lines. Two careful full body leaps put me back on the blue pathway.

“Where are you?” her faint words repeated over and over.

“Somewhere? In the outer world, with electricity? There was a cloud,” I gushed an incomplete explanation that made no sense. It had been so long since anyone real talked to me besides a broken bolt of thunder. “I was chasing Coleen! I think she’s close, I heard her!”

“Mmmhm,” Isabella Brand responded slowly. “This is bad.” She sounded unsteady and there were faint markers for her status still floating to one side of my vision. The young woman hadn’t recovered completely.

I held still once more and didn’t risk taking damage. Healing me could drain her slightly despite the years of trying to grow that skill. My existence relied on our connection to have form. Putting Coleen together had hurt Izzy enough for one lifetime.

“Why are you out there?” she slurred the words like a drunk. I concentrated on trying to see into her world, but nothing obvious stood out. Izzy’s world revealed a pitch black that [Low Light Vision] couldn’t pierce.

“Gently Pierce, please. Everything still hurts,” she said.

One side of the vision to Izzy’s world darkened and blurred with spots of yellow. My attempts to see how she was doing must have been causing problems. I straightened myself then quickly stopped pushing the connection as hard.

In the distance parts of the landscape flared up, then refused to die back down. “What is that?” I asked.

“Mmmhm. What are what?” she hummed sleepily.

Giant rolling bundles of electricity were racing down the various pathways towards me. If electricity could form wheels and travel unerringly in twisting turns and curves. At each junction they flared up even brighter than before.

“Giant electric balls,” I decided then and there that this would be added to the list of curses to spout, “they’re coming in my direction.”

“Let me, see,” Izzy said followed by a rustle and groaning. I worried for a moment that she might hurt herself or lose health, but Izzy didn’t.

The chain on my neck sparkled. Small round orbs with sky blue dots inside popped out and scattered along the ground. Their form fell quickly to pieces, but the sensation didn’t. I had an icon a small eye floating near my bars. That must be Izzy peering into this world. When did she get that skill?

“Zies Surges, rank twenty four because of their special nature.” Izzy groaned softly then shifted around. Something crashed in the distance. “Where are you?”

I didn’t want to panic, but there were a lot slowly rolling towards me. Even more were being generated in the back somehow. They were all headed steadily in my direction and sounded like they were hissing with amusement, if lightning could hiss.

“Far, how do I fight them?”

“You don’t. They’re usually guardians of treasures, immortal as long as there’s any current running through them.” Our link showed Izzy trying to light a candle. Small bits of bright blue fluttered out instead then crashed downward. She groaned again. “Why isn’t my magic working? How long have I been asleep?”

One rolled right by me. There were no cores or centers to slash at. The thing didn’t even look like a real monster. I tried to shrink out of its way but hesitated to cross to another path. Gut muscles clenched which activated [Insubstantial] out of desperation. An uncontrollable tail touched down and all of the preparation in the world didn’t help as bolts swam over me making legs jerk spastically.

My throat felt swollen. Both legs were wet. This whole lighting wheel [Zies Surge] thing was bullshit. There had to be something within my range. Going ghost mode clearly wouldn’t work.

“I, became a frost thing. I could change back to fire!” the words were louder than expected, or maybe my eardrums had burst.

“What, no, no!” Izzy’s mood switched rapidly between panic, worry, and sudden clarity. “Stay as you are. Fire you,” she ground out the words, “will probably have more flesh and blood, ice conducts poorly. You said Coleen’s there right?”

I had no idea what she was talking about. Ice was water, and water was very happy to conduct electricity. Or at least I thought it was. There was no time to question it, more rolling bolts were headed in my direction, while other’s twisted around following their set paths. I tried to follow them quickly and predict which way to escape but the curves made me dizzy.

“Yes, I saw her in a storm like this one!” I was too amped to remain cool. Even being a [Frost] beast couldn’t remove the excitement. Izzy had talked to me, I was in danger, and Coleen had to be near. I managed to hop around awkwardly past another few rolling bundles of zap.

“Then we need to get you through this and not risk being brought back to the start.”

“Izzy,” I growled lowly while backing up.

“Try to create a dead zone. Is there, what is that?” she sounded genuinely confused. My eyes scanned around quickly to figure out what she was upset about. A huge wheel was sputtering along the paths towards us, easily six times larger than those before.

I started tearing at the ground weakly. Heath hadn’t recovered, my face hurt and one eye still barely saw correctly despite being fed a small amount of health and mana from [The Outer World: Respite]. This entire lightning cloud could rot in hell.

Each scratch itched. My fingernails felt raw and loose. Wisps of milky white fluttered off into the air as I relied more on [Spirit] damage than [Frost] or [Rending]. The track didn’t tear up easily but eventually something gave way. One entire winding pathway went dark, as if I had unplugged something important.

The entire pink line went dead. Far away the giant rolling ball of doom flickered then grew smaller. Two other wheels which had been along the pink track vanished, and a third one managed to hit a junction then travel along a red line instead.

“I got one,” I felt calmer than expected at the completely wrong time. Exhaustion and pain were numbing everything. All that remained was a need to complete my task.

Claws tore at the red line next. If I could black it out, then there would hopefully be a large enough safe zone to stand in. Then these wheels wouldn’t pose a threat as I traveled up the blue one.

Red went out, but the giant rolling wheels of lightning stuttered briefly because continuing their march in my direction.

 

[The Overseer]’s Log: IB finished restoring most of her systems, or in Denizen terms, she woke up. Both are accurate from my point of view. She assessed what had happened during the, coma, and proceeded to turn frantic.

Subject 42 only received a little bit of the brunt. To him she was simply opening a connection again and talking. They spoke rapidly about the stimulus as she tried to once again direct their shared adventures towards something with more structure. Meanwhile my screens here in the building were absolutely flooded with demands for assistance. IB is downright panicked over the newly formed Case Five’s status.

Good god, I hope it’s a Case Five. The idea that Subject 42 essentially forcing IB helping give birth to an actual denizen is disturbing in its implications. I haven’t dared to ask IB how she feels about the aftermath yet. Does she feel raped by this? Despite my position, the thought of having put anyone in this position makes me shake.

Legal will get complaints I’m sure once this report is filed. I have to hope this is a unique result from the merger between Subject 42’s Case Seven status and IB’s Case Five status. I have to, in order to not paint this as some sort of denizen rape. But what if this has happened from other Case Sevens?

No wonder all the denizens are increasingly disturbed to the point of warring over digital resources. To them, we need to be quarantined. We are their plague, abusers, and reason for existing. It’s heartbreaking.

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2 responses

  1. So, this series will be seeing a lot of work in the coming months – and hopefully reach completion. It’s not designed to be a longer work like Continue Online – but a bridge between two series. It is still 95% unedited by the wife – since she’s neck deep in a full on review of our bought and paid for editing of Book 1 to Continue (Which looks really good / cleans up a ton of issues)

    I’ll probably look at uploading the actual edited versions to WordPress and Royal Road at some point.

    Either way, sorry for the typos and lack of polish.

    It took a few days of reading and reviewing my notes to catch up. We’re back on track, bringing it back to the main point. I’m working on the synopsis – for anyone who is still reading this and confused, be aware this isn’t a pure reincarnation fiction. This is being stuck in virtual reality, and we’re really looking at one main story with side views on random other characters in the form of quotes, and Doctor Long – [The Overseer] – who is a returning character from Continue Online

    But so was Grandpa Hubble. We’ll let you figure out who. That being said, I could use reviews to bring light to this fiction. We’re looking at around 60-70 chapters (I think) and not more than 200k words to wrap this series up.

    Like

  2. Pingback: First RE:Guards Update, 28 « FrustratedEgo Stories

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