Quote: He seeks her now, and my crafts lay in shambles, worn and difficult to remake in an iota of time. I can only trust this bound soul will care for the life we have shaped from power remaining from the other’s abdication. I pray we can save her from being claimed by one of the lost, to be turned into a Binder unwillingly.
Overseer, if you’re really out there as Pierce believes, you must save her from this darkness. We have to get her out of this bubble of ether given shape, to someone that can explain. I will make myself strong enough to rescue all the lost souls of this hell without need to risk others. She does not need to join me in sacrifice.
If Peirce understood this realm as I did, he would agree. It is a shame he believes himself as a lesser pawn to be used by me, when in truth our positions are reversed. Yet he rarely asks why or seeks a deeper understanding, he acts blind despite the hints.
Memories shared with me by the Ladies of Soul provide some context. This soul I powered not by love, but from repressed memories of a past he would cast aside if not for these unkind reminders. He focuses only on being brave for his father, and runs from moment to moment seeking to save others with little regard for their opinions.
An observation made on Subject 42 by Isabella Brand
The health bar may have been recovering but the rest of me shook, not from fear, but self-abuse. Being zapped too many times was bad for the fur and these nails might never recover. Regardless, I dug at a third line then managed to disconnect an additional purple track too. Scraping at connectors until there was no longer a solid circuit caused the lines to die.
The remaining array of colors thickened as that mass of bolts approached. It looked almost like a hand skittering across the landscape. I crouched down in a clearing then covered my head. A high pitched squeal rippled out making my ears ring even more than electricity. Both eyes went wide and I lost focus. The noise intensified while I tried to fade into the ground before it got close.
Sound caused me to misjudge the distance. Electrical bolts reached across two dead lanes on either side to arc into my fur then towards skin. Everything flashed red, pops could be heard. One leg went out uncontrollably as my body struggled to stuck in air.
Squeals died down but redness with black tinting didn’t go away. Noises were coming out of me that made no sense. Izzy’s voice tried to penetrate the haze but didn’t register. My neck felt heated, too warm but nearly useless. It failed to turn the attached head in any directly.
The only thing in sight was a thin blue line that trailed off into the distance. I huffed in and out. This wasn’t the worst pain of my life. It would pass. The green dog fire did, all of my adventures in the beginner dungeon did. Everything would eventually be okay again.
“Pierce? What are you doing?” Izzy’s words registered slowly.
I was already stumbling down the blue pathway. That final rolling surge seemed to signal an end to the rolling bolts. Other formerly colored trails were now dimmed completely. All that remained was the blue.
“Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” I tried to form a word for response. The pain hadn’t died down, it just lingered. I almost felt like a real man for one moment, with fingers that tingled warmly then dissolved slowly into pieces.
“You need to be careful.” She sniffed then coughed. My footsteps meandered along the path as Izzy continued in a worried tone, “Mmmhm, I can sense something ahead, something that scares me even here.”
My paws paused briefly. Slowly down almost saw me stumble to a complete halt. “What about Colleen?”
She paused. Izzy, the smartest girl in this whole world, had an uncertain mood indicator. It sat there rotating with a slight purple that managed to stand out against the blurring black and red landscape.
“Maybe. Maybe, if, if-” Izzy flickered from worry to confusion. The color mood meter didn’t really help me understand why, only what she felt. “Colleen will be. If I’m reading this right.”
That was enough to set my feet into action again, one slow stumble at a time along a path that didn’t end quickly. We, I and Izzy’s tether through reality, continued on down the line. A mile later and some of my senses started working again. The recovery from [Outer World: Respite] helped, but Izzy didn’t have much to spare for my recovery.
The soft sound of our half solid leash bumping into the ground stood out. Padding paws echoed between each slap like a drum. My vision still mostly blurred but the black spots were fading. A painful headache stuck itself behind one eye and refused to dislodge.
I managed to keep going. Izzy fell asleep at some point, then woke back up, and fell asleep again. It might have been days or quick naps that were distorted through our link. All that mattered was one foot kept moving in front of the other.
There was this memory in my head from a lifetime ago. My dad and I were in a car with everything we owned. In the distance loomed a set of mountains as we moved to our new home away from the coastline. In it we drove for an hour as the mountain grew larger but we still never approached the base. I felt like that now, like this huge object sat right there in eyesight but only grew bigger.
I felt kind of drunk too, or dizzy and confused. Maybe even twisted and used. Colleen existed at the end of a long blue path that might never reach an end at this point. The nonsense reality of entering a cloud, fighting surges of lightning, then walking along a colored line did briefly occur to me before being brushed away. This was just Izzy’s world, and it didn’t have to make sense.
Huge stair steps sat in the distance. The small square of functional eyesight scanned down one line and back up another. These stairs stretched on forever, but only one path showed the light blue lighting. I kept going.
“Are you sure? We can still go the other way,” Izzy said over our connection. She felt, distant was one way to describe the sensation, but tiny might be another.
“No. If you don’t like it, then just summon me,” I said. She didn’t, so we kept going. “Then we can finish this last floor, I guess.” Solving the last floor wouldn’t matter without Colleen. We were pushing hard for it because of the bet with dale, but Dale was gone, and so was Colleen. Being part of the advanced class had little appeal to me now.
The young woman drifted in and out. I heard the murmur of other voices across our connection. They were easier to understand that the nearly empty flat board landscape around me. Again I tried to understand how reality out here seemed so inconsistent but gave up. It was dream logic, where chairs could talk and cats laid eggs.
So when my path started inverting, twisting around, then started going upstairs and arriving in a basement, it didn’t surprise me. The path continued turning. It felt like something was deliberately trying to keep me away from the other end but the effort was weak.
“Izzy, are you okay?” I tried to focus on more important issues than our endless landscape. I kept saying her name when talking, so she wouldn’t think I was speaking to myself or someone else.
“I’ve been, sleeping for a long time,” she said. “And, I’m still very tired.”
“It’s my fault, isn’t it?” Self-awareness for my actions wasn’t difficult. Trying to save Colleen, thinking my knowledge of Izzy’s world was better than her teachers, foolishly risking our lives; all were examples of my reckless stupidity.
I needed to do better. We were both drifting in an out. There was a breeze going through that made me shudder from a chill, despite being made of [Frost]. The presence on the other end was breathing laboriously. I could sense that much, without even seeing the creature.
“I think I’m getting close,” I said to my partner.
“You are. I can feel a huge power through our link. Can’t you?”
The blue line vibrated intensely against my toes. That looming feeling of approaching a mountain still hung in the back of my mind. I could smell a burnt sour taste that tickled a good chunk of taste buds.
A huge wall grew more distinct in the distance. I didn’t understand what to expect from it, but the edges were curved and lightning rippled all along in both directions. Each bolt wiggled along like a snake. They would stop and curl into a large pattern that looked almost huge, as if a face in the wall was peering around.
I reared back to get a better visual and the bolts all snapped together at one time. Two huge eyes made of, I don’t know, liquid zaps were staring in opposite directions. The wall bulged outward until a face became apparent. My body couldn’t even find brain power to back up. The blue trail went all over the wall, past its face, but didn’t seem to come out anywhere.
“You?” the broken face stuttered briefly. Eyes lost focus and drifted in search. “You, you are a tiny little speck of memory.”
“Where’s Colleen?” I asked the wall without much pause. My head still hurt despite all the time that had seemed to pass.
“Colleen,” the wall’s mouth slid around in a completely disconnected manner from the rest of its face. “No, I have never mated with a Colleen. I would, remember,” it faded off and lost focus.
Colleen would never have slept with him. She flirted awkwardly with Dale and probably hadn’t changed much. Since it didn’t know about Colleen, I didn’t care about the wall. If it weren’t for the blue line crisscrossing the face I wouldn’t have even paused. My heavy head stared blankly; looking all across the being’s face.
The face chewed a few more times. One eye lost shape as the creature fell apart again. I rolled my head to the side and flopped back onto hind legs.
“Izzy, there’s a talking wall in the way,” I muttered carefully. The wall clearly understood me, and seemed senile. There would be no telling if it might throw bricks made of lightning. Those [Zies Surges] must have been guarding this location.
She didn’t answer. Izzy felt very small in the back of my head. Our contention shrunk down to a thin wire instead of the normal thicker cord. Her mood meter looked reduced in size as well.
“There’s treasure there, but I don’t know how to get past the wall. It’s annoying.” I stopped and cleaned one paw. The nails dangled loosely while a fresher pair lay underneath. Apparently they were shedding, which was a weird feeling. The arm wiggled and tried to scrape off dead claws.
“Are you ignoring me?” the wall stuck out even further and a neck appeared. Wrinkles formed in the lightning that reminded me of an old man. Not like Grandpa Hubble, but even further beyond in age. There were no remnants of hair and bare slits for eyes. It looked, tried.
“You don’t know anything about the person I’m after. You can stay here and, do whatever it is you’re doing.” My ear itched and none of the fur cleaned out right. Even this mostly frozen body of blue and light red tips wasn’t immune to getting goo in the wrong places.
It wasn’t from the electrical bolts. Most of this came from my own insides leaking out or melting repeatedly. Being supplied with healing energies from Izzy wasn’t enough to remove the dirtiness.
“Ignore me? I will not be ignored! I am not some sniveling child to be ignored!” it shouted at me. “I was a hero! A king! And now I am a god! They may have tried to lock me in the darkness, but I have not forgotten! I will not die without some respect!”
With each title it thundered violently. The face distorted and bulged against electricity made of skin. It shook again but the world barely noticed its titanic efforts. The words were loud but held no threat or sense of power. I had seen mortally wounded animals before, and this creature had all the markings of such a damaged creature. Whatever this thing was looked to be nearly dead and smelled of burnt rot.
“I still hold the power here!” it shouted. I assumed the wall to be male but couldn’t really tell. The electrical bolts crawled around then went nowhere.
One lip pulled back in a half hiss of noise. This was aggravating and only growing worse. The wall tried to attack but a bolt of lightning fluttered off weakly then fell to the ground. The wall’s eyes faded away for a moment then it started to lose shape.
The giant face slowly dwindled until the size looked more human. I padded closer but didn’t feel threatened. I had prepared myself to see dying people. Whatever species this wall was, death loomed nearby.
“I will not go,” the face devolved into mumbling. “I still live. I still, remember…”
My head shook quickly. Remember, that word drove me crazy but seemed important. That Voice guy with a piece of hay in his mouth had tried to impress upon me the dangers of forgetting. My body felt colder as the face started to look more human and less like a giant elemental creature of lightning.
“Fire, I remember fire.” The voice chewed at stray lightning bolts that might have been whiskers, food, or thoughts. They all felt possible in this place.
That didn’t seem right at all. Fire was my element, not his. “I remember fire too,” I said.
“Then thunder, I remember being scared of thunder at night,” it said with even less energy. “I don’t like the dark, but the sound of thunder scares me most of all.”
I nodded. The wall’s edges were starting to fade. Lightning bolts dimmed and crawled into a more conscious shape that still looked broken. Talking me clearly burned at the last reserves of whatever made the creature work.
Time passed as my tail swished. I felt tired as sleep threatened to pull. There was this sucking felling, as if something tried to gently pull me down into the depths of a river’s wake. Strands of effort keeping my mind aware started to unravel.
“Pierce! Stay with me!” Izzy screamed. There was a buzz of voices in the background our link. My head shook violently.
Time had passed enough that my vision was nearly healed The wall looked smaller, and the face on it barely a flicker of expression. Two eyes looked at me, and a tiny mouth.
“You?” the broken face stuttered briefly again. “Lost bundle of memory. Hold on to your past.” The face stared at me with one swollen eye. The other features were drifting apart. “Do not cast it aside.”
“I no longer remember who I was. Before I was a hero, I was man, before that, I was nothing. So the cycle completes, and to nothing I return.” The wall collapsed almost instantly. A single trail of blue light traveled onward through a doorway that had appeared behind the absent obstruction.
My tail swished around violently. Muscles along my back kept twitching. One ear flicked forward with worry. Colleen was important, but something even more worrisome just happened, and I didn’t understand at all.
“What was that?” I asked Izzy without moving a paw.
“The fate of true spirits who forget their past lives,” Izzy said dryly. She sounded tired, scared, and sad all at once.
The creatures last dying words shook me. It claimed to remember, the same as I had been warned to do by the [First World Legacy]. Then it admitted forgetting who it had been.
Nails on my paw dug into the floorboards as the world started to spin. My stomach felt increasing nauseous. I wanted to throw up food but couldn’t remember the last meal. I tried anyway. Dry hacking sounds issued forth. Both eyes watered. The shaking wouldn’t go away no matter how much my stomach heaved.
Death, a death that felt more real to me than anything experienced in Isabella’s school. One that hit me even harder than Dale’s had. That’s what I just witnessed and it did not sit well with me at all. Forgetting the past of my prior life was death and I didn’t know why.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you forget, okay?” Izzy said.
My nose felt stuffy. Sneezes came out and wet snowflakes fluttered around the room.
“Is this why you always ask about my old life?”
She didn’t answer in words, but the emotional meter turned a soft white. A swirl of green mixed in and faint sky blue lights mixed with more white trickled down the collar. It felt like Izzy was trying to wrap her arms around my neck for a hug.
“I’m trying hard to find another way, but it’s hard to study a subject very few know about. It may sound like Binders are common, but we’re not,” she sounded sad about the statement. “The Voices can’t risk many true Binders.”
“What about the others. Professor Lianne, or that other angry one who hates cats.”
“They’re not the same Pierce, not like you and I. You’re, different than almost all other spirits.”
It felt like we were talking about two different issues. Isabella Brand phrased her answers carefully, and the mood meter barely flickered with other sensations. They were still there lingering strands of colors that were injected into the small orb which helped me understand how she felt. The answer was ‘it’s complicated’.
I wanted to trust Izzy, because without her I would be lost in that dark place again. Somehow I knew that without that young woman and her serious eyes I would be formless. Without her holding on to the past would get harder. I might be lost forever then fade away. My fate wouldn’t be that of a former hero, king, or god. Just me, a man who died to a virus infused dog then became a spirit cat. That hardly ranked in hero territory.
I needed to do better. First Colleen, then back to Izzy. We could talk about the rest afterwards.
Past the doorway was a nearly empty area. The far walls faded off into mist, while the middle was a platform with thick iron bars that curled across the top into a cage. Lightning traveled along the bent black poles.
“Is that a cage?” Izzy asked across our connection. She must be looking at what I was again. Sure enough the small icon for a watchful eye made of frosty blue hung near the health and mana.
“Yes,” I stepped forward slowly. The creature inside smelled warm, but not like a summer’s day and all the scents it carried, like blankets that had been dried by the sun then brought inside.
Small jolts of electricity arced between pitch black bars that absorbed light. The woman inside pushed backwards with her legs. Thick metal bound her wrists. She cried after pushing against the bars. Lightning flared again.
“Coleen?” I lowered my head down.
Coleen’s wide eyes wavered. Her body looked barely human. Lightning bolts streaked across the young girl’s features. Every time she tried to move the area shuddered.
“It’s her. She’s, changed from what we knew, but that’s her,” Izzy insisted.
“Are you okay?” I tried to remember my training for dealing with trauma victims. Firefighters were first responders, we got people out of difficult places, but that was a lifetime ago.
Her eyes were wide with fear. The corner to her cage made her jump. I didn’t know how or why Colleen was locked up like this. The door had a simple latch. I reached for it with clumsy paws and managed to get the door opened. A few bolts arced through me but the damage was minimal after my earlier beating.
“It’s me, Pierce,” I said to her.
Opening the door didn’t help. Colleen didn’t speak. She looked around for an escape then shrunk as no alternate route out showed itself. Her eyes were filled to the brim with clear terror.
“Mmmhm. She’s in shock. You’ll have to take her out of there, and to the city,” Izzy said.
“The what?” I feel back on my rear again and tried to understand what the young woman was talking about. Maybe speaking out loud would help Colleen as well. I didn’t know what else to do, because opening the door wasn’t enough to keep the electricity clad woman safe.
“There’s a city of spirits. At least I’ve heard there is one.” Paper resulted in the background of our connection. “All of us originally came from there.”
“Even me?” my memories of a past life were hazy, but they lead me to believe that such a city wasn’t my home.
“Sort of. But you can’t go inside, at least I don’t think you can, not while we’re bound.”
That made my tail swish in agitation. Why was I so different from everyone else? “But Colleen can?” I asked.
“Mmmhm. Yes. The city, if you can reach the gateway, will be the best place to help her at,” Izzy said. “But I don’t know what they’ll do with you.”
“What’s that mean?”
“You’re,” she paused and considered her words carefully, “dangerous to others.”
There it was again. I was different. Everyone else felt unreal half the time. The total real people across this entire landscape had been increased to four, maybe five now. Isabella Brand had always felt real. Grandpa Hubble wasn’t exactly the same but still existed. Dale had certainly been a tangible annoyance. That wall of lightning that died from memory loss, and sort of Colleen. Colleen felt like Izzy, almost the same, but different.
“Why?” I asked.
Izzy said nothing, but the mood meter flickered through a wide range of colors. The question had sent her into a tizzy that hurt to watch. Eventually she settled on nearly black.
“Because spirits like you can turn into dead gods. Then they will be sealed away where they can’t harm anyone, until the day they die,” Izzy said. “Or else your kind will kill mine.”
The idea of such a fade made my foot slip then I fell to the ground. A bolt of lightning cross over into whiskers making me meow in annoyance as Colleen’s legs leapt over my head and out the door.
“Fuck,” I said with a cough.
[The Overseer]’s Log: Despite Subject 42’s perception of time, we here in the real world are moving at a slower pace. What he believes to have been almost a decade and a half comes out to be close to one year. Can you imagine? Living so fast that reality looks like a snail?
In other news, this entire note was written on my lunch break, where he believes it’s been months while IB gets back on line. IB is still barely functional considering where she was at prior to the burnout, but we’re still making progress.
More accurately, and this is the part that still stuns me, they succeeded. The primary statement of getting people out of the virtual world has been completed, now we have to see how far Subject 42 can go, and what other repercussions might exist. Connecting Subject 70 to 42 was a long shot, one which failed. IB is growing increasingly worried now that we’ve saved one, and lost another on the network.
I think I know how this will end, and I don’t like it. This will be better than a numbers victory. I’m not letting anything like my Uncle’s death occur again.
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