Quote:“Based on our studies it can be concluded that most people trapped in a virtual reality share one of three origins. A traumatic event they wish to avoid thinking about, mental disabilities that limit their ability to communicate in the real world, or those who have a low attachment to reality as a result of treatment by their peers.”
Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum
My head pounded with pain. Izzy and I both were sitting in an alley. What had formerly been an interactive projection of her life now existed all around us, as real as any other memory. The alley was long and sunlight was setting. Both buildings around us were poorly made and only barely two floors tall. This place smelled funny, like ash. Or maybe it was the dead body.
I kicked corpse every few minutes. The man wore ratty clothes. Everything I touched flared up with puffs of smoke and tiny flames which sputtered out quickly. Part of me felt satisfied and abusing such a terrible man. Dad would have been disappointed.
Izzy stared at the body in between sniffles. Her inherited dark hair and light skin blended badly with snot trails. I tried to make funny faces and cheer the little girl up but it did nothing useful. I wanted to see her moms secretive smile and dad serious eyes light up with joy.
The pain my noggin only grew with each moment. Izzy’s world fuzzed in and out frequently. I tried to hold on, to stay with her until someone came to help.
“Izzy!” A voice shouted in the distance. Her mother’s tone implied none of the secretive amusement that normal colored each word.
A sigh shuddered through me and the world fuzzed once more. Trying to stay in this three dimensional version of things took a lot of effort. The pounding grew worse as I tried to concentrate on Izzy’s face.
“Do you hear her? She’s on the way.” I wanted to sound positive despite the lingering headache. This pain wasn’t like the burning sensation, it was a different level of draining. Mentally exhausted and scratchiness combined to make Izzy’s world fade once again.
“Mommy!” Izzy looked in the direction I was pointing.
“Izzy!” The mother shouted. I heard footsteps running as she came over to clutch the small child to her chest.”What happened!?”
“See?” I said. The pain made my voice unsteady.
The little girl cried even louder and both eyes stayed wide open. One tiny hand pointed to the burned remains I had abused. How would that kidnapping have gone in my world? An emergency response from monitoring equipment, then Pods from the sky would taser the offender while normal emergency personnel responded.
Whatever. The man didn’t feel real to me. Not like Izzy, years of her life almost felt more real than my own at this point. Had I really watched her for so long? Or were my perceptions all screwed up?
“What is that?” The mother said.
I lost focus for a moment and concentrated hard upon seeing the mother’s face. Her gaze seemed to be staring roughly where my chest would have been. It felt foolish but I tried to wave. One arm hung limply.
“Child, let the spirit return home!” She shouted.
“Won’t go!” Izzy almost shouted. “Tired mommy!”
“Spirit, can you hear me?” Her mother said. I tried to remember this womans name but it didn’t come to mind. My head attempted a nod but failed.
“Hi.” I tried to sound upbeat about it. For years of this girl’s life I had been mostly an observer. To me, this was our third actual encounter where I reached out.
“Izzy. Listen carefully. You’ve called upon an other world spirit. It’s draining you, and it. Do you understand?” The mother said.
I could have told the lady that four year olds would not understand. Izzy looked confused, her eyes were giant and without focus. She seemed to be trying to make sense of our conversation but it wasn’t clicking. Did Izzy suffer from the same headache as I?
“Spirit, I am only a weak Soul Caster, but I shall try to connect you with my daughter.” Izzy’s mom was talking in my direction, but she her eyes weren’t focused on me. She seemed to be sensing where I was but not actually sure. “I do this only because you have saved her life, and without a true connection you may both die.”
We might die? My addled brain cleared up just a bit. I didn’t want to pass on again, and this little girl shouldn’t suffer because I was trying to stay with her. My head nodded slowly, but there was no way to know if Izzy’s mother could actually see the response.
“This will hurt. I’m sorry, so sorry. You’re far too young.” Her mother was babbling now. One of her hands raised up and light swirled around. I stared in awe as bits of energy drifted in from points unknown. The flakes were caught by an unseen swirl of gravity and pulled towards her palm where they glommed together like a three dimensional mosaic.
What was she doing? Some sort of magic? Maybe that stuff was real in Izzy’s world. I didn’t know exactly what to think at this point. The only magic I knew about was from something, something in my old world that seemed just beyond reach. What had it been? Entertainment of some sort, fantasy, make believe.
This woman didn’t seem to be a fantasy. Unless I was mad.
Izzy’s mother clutched tightly to her child and pressed the palm down against a shoulder. Too late did I realize that she had said this would hurt. I growled and tried to move for the mother, intent upon protecting Izzy from anyone who might attack her.
I felt too tired. The throbbing headache had reached a nearly crippling point where even thought felt impossible. My body seemed to be flaking away like a piece of wood burned to ashes.
The mother cried while biting her upper lip hard enough to pierce skin. Izzy’s scream was far different from the one of fear. This was outrage and pain, the same any child might face when repeatedly spanked too hard.
Energy from the hand seemed to pour through skin, lighting it up from the inside. Flesh turned translucent and bone opaque. Darkness rushed up to meet the bits of energy. Izzy screamed and a box appeared.
Contract Proposal Information: This is your first attempt at being contracted with. Each contract will change the interaction between those involved. In most cases this is done between a Denizen of [The Inner World] and a spirit from [The Outer World]. You may chose to deny a contract of this nature with no penalties.
Note: More complex contracts may require sacrifices or special materials.
Contract Proposal Ranking: Basic
Denizen of [The Inner World] will receive:
Denizen of [The Outer World] will receive:
Note: Spirit Forms are determined by the spirits nature and affinities. This can only be assigned once upon being summoned the first time. Further modification is possible depending upon feats performed.
The young girl kept screaming as I tried to read the boxes urgently blinking in front of me. The longer I took, the louder her wailing became. My nonexistent stomach felt sick and twisted sideways. Both eyes started to water. The headache grew worse in leaps and bounds. I tried to find an accept option and managed to press it.
The world felt slightly less blurry right away. Enough so that I could focus on what was happening to Izzy’s shoulder. Lights of black and white bound together then pulled back to the skin’s surface. Her mom was slightly lifting away her hand, as if using the motion to draw these threads to the surface. My own leg ached but in this place I had no body parts to look to. On Izzy’s skin a pattern formed. One single bit of flame with two tongues poking out.
There was a faint smell in the air of sizzled flesh, but that was from the dead body behind us. My mouth tasted bits of copper that could only have come if I had bitten my nonexistent lip. No one else had come down this alley way during our whole adventure. Izzy’s mom lifted her hand from the tattooed upper arm and sighed heavily.
“There. It is done, not a full bond, but enough for now.” Izzy’s mother pulled the crying child close to her. “Little one, you can let it go. Let the spirit return home, so that you both may rest.”
Moments later another box displayed.
Contractor Isabella Brand is activating [Dismiss Contracted Spirit].
I let it happen. After all, this was for the best. My headache started to fade just a little. Even Izzy sighed and started shaking. Sweat dripped down the little girl’s face as she clung to her mother. That image faded back to a two dimensional picture in my world of crimson tinted blackness.
Then nothing. I sat there for a long time while portions of Izzy’s life blinked by. Her walk home with mommy went well. Both parents guarded their daughter zealously for the next few months. For my part I watched the odd bits of her life, ready to leap through in a moment’s notice.
Time flickered by in clumps. I checked myself over for signs of change like the small fire tattoo on Izzy’s shoulder. It healed almost perfectly. She would stare at in for moments at a time. Fingers traced along the blackened lines, if she tilted it just right the surface shimmered silver.
I too looked at her tattoo. Shimmering black lines signified our weird connection. We were bound together between emptiness and her old fashioned world. These pictures of her life formed portals that I didn’t want to cross. Attempting to do might hurt her again.
Izzy’s world grew more detailed. Her parents grew a bit older. Strands of grey started to break up her father’s dark hair. The mother’s hands shook more often. I watched it all with a passive sort of enthrallment.
My awareness had an odd tingle since our contract. Tiny wiggles crawled along the back of my mind every so often. Between the small girl and I was a black and silver thread, colored the same as her tattoo. When I touched it Izzy would wince. After the fifth such moment she ran to mom.
“Ahhhh!” The projection of Izzy yelled like she was being chased. Maybe she was because my little window into her world kept pace. If anyone was after her now, it was me, a strange stalker from [The Outer World].
“What is it dear?” Her mother asked. I tried once again to remember the woman’s name but came up blank.
“It keeps happening!” She yelled.
“Izzy, Izzy, you’re not strong enough to bare its weight. Not yet.” Her mother would say. “Focus on your studies. Practice your meditations.”
“But mom, it keeps happening.” Izzy whined. Her serious eyes glared upwards but a curve of childish lips made it humorous. I smiled happily.
“Then perhaps the spirit wants to talk. Their realms are often lonely.” Her mother offered a suggestion. My heart rate jumped a bit. To no longer be alone in this darkness? To talk to someone?
I wanted talk to someone. I wanted that very much. My hand clenched on the cord between us and Izzy’s face winced. The scent of ash once again crawled around me while this backdrop of dark cardboard flames started dancing.
“How do I do that?” Izzy said through grated teeth. Shaky hands dropped the thread of shimmering darkness. It fell to the ground and the young girl’s face showed a wave of relief.
“How does she do that?” I echoed her.
“The same way you learn any magic, a lot of concentration, and a lot of luck.” Her mother said with a tired smile.
I sat cross legged in the darkness watching them. Waiting for some occurrence where anything new would happen. My past felt further and further away as Izzy grew older. The cord in my hand called me forth. I desperately want to be out in the world again. To a place where I could live and breathe more than flame tinted darkness.
Reality called, even if it wasn’t mine.
Izzy sat there with her legs crossed underneath. She wore a dress that was hand crafted and made her look like a sunflower. Specks of light appeared near her but they didn’t get sucked in like the mother managed to do. I could see a clear difference in ability between them.
I tried to do the same but it didn’t work. No white lights swirled around. We both kept our efforts. Her training had far more success than any of my efforts. Time passed in her world and mine.
My head hurt and throbbed. The lingering pain from my burns seemed almost distant. Far away, like it had been cast upon the walls to my prison of the afterlife. Everything brightened in bits.
By her seventh birthday Izzy could pull the lights together in her palm. They formed a three dimensional object that looked like a cat’s curvy tail.
“At last.” The young child looked delighted. Then she pushed the object into the air.
Her palm slammed against the projection screen. I got to my feet and jumped back in confusion.
“What?” I demanded an answer from an otherwise barren room.
Her young face dripped with sweat. The focused glare of her father’s eyes challenged the space between us. She was such a serious child, and this had been just another obstacle in the young girl’s way, one Izzy tried to crush with force of will.
I didn’t know how she managed it. The small bundle of light bits shattered and she cried out. It didn’t stop her. Lizzy tried again multiple times a day for a week. I carefully held our thread of connect while cheering her on.
On the eight day, her hand managed to shove the small bundle of light into my room. Something else finally existed in the world where I had been mostly isolated since a dog chewed on my side. I might have gone mad were it not for those single flashes of my life in the beginning and a sign saying remember.
Her tiny cat tail made of white lights shattered. I stood a few feet away holding my breath, hoping it wouldn’t permanently fall apart like so many attempts prior had. Floating bits of snow wiggled and vibrated suddenly, reforming their rightful shape. It flew around the darkness looking for me.
I waited and tried not to shake apart myself.
Finally the small item of white found me. I almost broke down in sad giggles as I realized this wasn’t a cat’s tail. It was a question mark. Seeing a representation of my old world here in the new one brought a moment of muted nostalgia.
It was weird to have something else inside with me. This was the first time anyone had actually reached in my direction. My hand reached out to cup the small question mark in one hand. A box popped up. Lines of red lettering against granite asked me for a response.
Accept [Communicate with Contractor] skill?
Yes or No
I didn’t hesitate. The question mark broke apart with more brilliance than ever before. Bits of the former question mark’s light fell downward and suck like glitter. Displace bits of the ground flowed towards our connecting ribbon. They flowed back, exchanging mass or energy with the object Izzy had sent through.
She grit her teeth together as the blackness came through. I could see the flame tattoo on her shoulder spiral with additional detail. Both curls of fire took on more depth, going from a child’s simple lines but curved with shadows.
My own head hurt. It felt like someone was digging into my neck with a spoon. I tried to grab at my neck but having no real limbs made the mental effort pointless. The moment passed, and I tried to get over my pain.
“Hello. Mister Spirit?”
A wave of relief washed over me. I tried to keep my voice steady and spoke up. “Hello.”
“Hello Mister Spirit! My names Isabella Brand!” Her voice was so young. Memories of my sister came back. She had been about this age the last time we spoke, just before the virus wiped out so much of America’s east coast.
“I’m Perseus Argive. It’s a pleasure to meet you Isabella.” I gave her my full name. Our conversation felt formal enough to warrant more than a nickname. My eyes blinked a few times and I tried to stay collected. It had been so long since I actually talked to another individual.
My mind still felt nineteen, but with Izzy’s life to measure time again, it was probably closer to thirty. I was basically a creepy old man talking to some little girl. Still, I had something else to hold on to. Even if this girl a young stranger from another world, she was the only person in the world who could talk to me. That meant everything.
[The Overseer]‘s log: Both Subject 42 and his partnering denizen have connected correctly. More neural pathways are linking together. Further studies show that Subject 42 is establishing rules for their pairing. This will allow them to function on a level playing field within the reality being established.
Lets hope this isn’t tying a noose around both their necks. If this progresses much further we will be unable to disconnect the two.
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