Chapter 33 – Branding New Awareness

Quote:All that we are is a sum of all that we have been. This lie is truth on this side of the veil and that. Each bit of the past like a chain holding back the light of a single soul. To let the power of a mind without tether shine through, those chains of the past were to be removed. Unfettered, they shape the void based on unfulfilled wants.

Desire however is born from memories of lacking. Removing past risks a loss of want, and causes these spirits to lose focus. They spread throughout all the room given and live out vague dreams that soon have an absence of reason and logic. The only end can be a flare of painful light as the forgetfully unchained give in to entropy.

I have seen this happen once, and count myself fortunate that we saved at least one lost soul from this endless corner of darkness. Yet our task is to resolve those three closest to us. Only then can we truly ascend back to the heavens and stop leading our duplicitous lives.

I know not exactly what my torch light made of soul thinks of our companions in this world, or if he is even aware of them. Yet we both realize that they must be removed somehow. To make him shine bright and fight the looming darkness we might need to unwind the shackles. To unwind those bindings I must tear the pieces of his soul away.

Would that I had a box to keep his past moments in, but crafting such a tool is beyond me. The Ghost refuses to provide me his secret and watches from the edge of darkness. Greater still is the wish that my torch and I could speak plainly to each other without a curse. I struggle to speak his words yet we both misunderstand each other. The Ghost says all in due time. He says one day we shall speak as equals, and that day will not come soon enough.

-Isabella Brand, speaking of her trials with Subject 42

Izzy was right, nothing could be the same after hearing her story, even though very little made clear sense. For nights in a row I dreamed of the past with a freakish. Each moment caused me to wake up as emotions from the more powerful memories washed over me only to fade again.

One morning, in Izzy’s dorm room, the smell of smoke startled me to wakefulness. Fuzziness threatened to make me sleep through the danger. Slowly sensation trickled in. The sound of a fireplace crackling from dying logs hung in the background. Dry ash’s taste fouled my mouth.

My half asleep mind relived moments of the past. I was a boy again, but part of me remembered being on fire, while even more of me could recall stumbling through lightning interlaced with flames. Only there were trees around, and the woman in front of me hadn’t been clad in lightning. Their order jumbled together incoherently until part of me sat on a bench eating ice-cream while watching a mouse scurry across the ground. A hawk circled overhead.

Then those ideas fell apart as the scene shifted. Now I was a bit older, but still barely a teenager. I sat at a table feeling aggravated over numbers that made no sense. Someone barged through the door at high speeds. We talked, but the details slipped by until my mind latched onto a more specific moment.

“I want to prepare you for the worst son,” the other man spoke haltingly as if the expectation was already deemed impossible. “They might be dead. Your mother and sister, they might be victims too. Lauren and Lily might be dead.”

“No they’re not!” Sudden rage coursed through me. I knew in that slice of the past that anger and worry were a constant companion all day. I shouted at the vague face. My stomach shook, neither arm held still. The chair under me skidded across the ground then legs threatened to buckle. “You’re lying!”

The man’s expression was almost visible. I could tell they were sad, a slump of shoulders and back that refused straighten. Whoever the other person was didn’t even look in my direction. Their gaze went straight by, over a shoulder, towards a sliding door that overlooked an apartment complex pool.

“No one’s answering my calls,” the tired voice said. “We’re driving out there tonight. I already ordered up a car. You should grab some clothes. If Lauren’s there she’ll understand us visiting without warning.”

It hit me in that moment. My mind started to reject the possibility that everything had gone wrong. It felt like my mind clouded over.

“They wouldn’t even be in New York if you had just made up with mom! She would have been here where it’s safe! It’s your fault!”

I had shouted, cried, and freaked out all in rapid succession before attacking the other man. The moment shattered repeatedly while the sound of a distinctly female voice played out of the fuzzy man’s mouth.

“Calm down little flame, it’s okay. I’m here besides you,” the woman said.

It didn’t help. My head shot up in a panic. Both feet tore a path out the door and along grass. Wind brushed by but was barely felt. The scene scared me so bad that my mind didn’t fully kick into gear until I reached the lake’s edge and ran straight along the pier to the end. There sat still water mocking me with indifference to the panic which shook me.

There I stood trying to gather my wits. It barely dawned on me that we were no longer in the cardboard box or [Outer World]. At some point, and the details were fuzzy, we had returned to Izzy’s school.

Other thoughts caught up and registered all in a line, as if I weren’t already reeling from the first emotional gut punch. A feeling of nails slipping across bare flesh preceded Izzy’s startled scream. Her mood meter alternated between a dark black, fiery red and a hint of soft yellow. The lingering yell echoed in my head along with my own voice from the memory.

“I’m sorry,” I said while breathing rapidly. She should be able to hear me, we were connected.

“It’s not your fault,” she responded right away. “It’ll be okay. We’re going to get through this together.”

Those were the same words I should have said to my dad. I couldn’t remember his face exactly, but during that bout of anger he had nearly crumpled. I had been hurt, me, and hadn’t even considered how the older man felt. His wife and daughter might be gone.

The scene started playing again before it could be stopped. I remembered wanting to close the door on my room and simply play a game. That way I could exist in a fantasy where none of them had been hurt and nothing cruel could be permanent.

The scream hit me again. Izzy’s voice and my own yelled at the man in the memory, rambling incoherently with denial. They blended together as if there were an echo chamber in my head.

“Pierce!” they yelled abruptly.

I swallowed back a sour taste and let myself escape the past.

“Remember what we talked about. Remember, it’s already happened. It’s this side of the lunar landing bringing your memories to life. They’re not real,” she tried to reassure me, and staying upbeat was getting harder. “You can consider it another moment to get rid of later, but only if we need to.”

There were a lot of memories I didn’t want. The childish person of my past that had only made a terrible situation worse belonged to another lifetime. Izzy said letting those memories flitter away be one way to gain power of the world around us, but it felt like having those moments also gave shape to this place. The two ideas were contradictory.

This memory was a bit different however, it had my mother and sister’s names. How could I turn aside the first mention of who they were? If I tore it away because of childishness then would I be more of an adult, or less, without having screwed up before? Each moment of the past made me who I was, even if that person from before was vague. An sullen teen, bitter from the loss of his family and unable to emotionally open up to others.

My entire highschool life, what I remembered anyway, involved keeping people at arm’s length, even those girls I dated. It amazed me that Izzy could even handle the jumble of insanity I was. I scanned over her readings Arm’s length was where everyone belonged again and noticed that the health bar had a chunk missing.

“You lied, I hurt you.” I shook some more but didn’t let the memory come back. “The bed’s too small, if I’m going to keep reliving the past like this. You’re all I have here, and I can’t keep hurting you.”

First it had been Dale, and pushing us to help Colleen at the risk of Izzy’s life. How much had that one suborn action cost us? The world around might have been very different had we both simply chosen a different route to travel.

“It can’t be helped. Your mind is struggling to bridge the two worlds and keep a path open to return along. It’s how Mother designed our plane. It doesn’t want to let people forget,” she spoke in keywords that were proven to get past the gibberish making curse. “Mother’s creation isn’t about death, but life.”

By the time I returned to the larger dorm room Izzy had almost gotten dressed. There was a red line that ran down her cheek and nicked along a collarbone. She hastily pulled the robe over it and didn’t even show a sign of embarrassment.

“Don’t worry about it’s only a scratch,” she said. “You’re a big cat right now, these things happen.”

When I had been a small kitten, such damage would be difficult. My body simply didn’t have the size or mass. Now I was too large. Fragmented portions of my past kept resurfacing at night making sleeping in here dangerous. Izzy had outright argued when I tried to suggest resting elsewhere though.

“We got off to a bad morning. Can we start today over?” the young woman asked as I padded through the door.

I wanted to hide myself under a paw but managed to look up at her. The woman had grown much taller, almost absurdly lanky and I was jealous. A human form felt incredibly far away despite our recent adventures. There had been no notices of skills, talents, or new advanced spirit forms. We needed to work on that, and I made a mental note to figure out ways to improve myself without losing the past.

“Good morning, Isabella Brand,” I greeted her while growling softly. Carefully sending my thought through our connection freed the rest of me up to grumble.

“Good morning, Mister Spirit,” she wrinkled her nose.

Our day restarted on a better track. I walked with her to class and reflected about our recent changes. Isabella Brand clearly had moved on from the scared little girl crying for her mother. Events with Dale and Colleen had changed us both, and Izzy became a harder version of herself. The features of Mister Brand won out over her Mother’s cherry expressions.

Time started passing rapidly with the same pattern. What confused me was how obvious the fast forwarding felt now. My mind seemed to be categorizing events into general abridged versions of events rather than living each moment. I wondered if had to do with that story Izzy explained to me and an altered perception, or maybe this resulted from increased [Focus].

For example, we attended school still, but Izzy worried less about lectures from her teachers and more about learning new abilities and spell combinations. We stopped working with other students. She did well in her courses and we occasionally talked about tests being performed. Her finals resulted in nearly perfect scores.

In the blur of days we tackled dungeons and found them easier than they had been. Being able to switch to [Frost] impacted both of us. She worked with me until we moved from the day long wait between forms to a much shorter hour. Having a higher [Focus] and [Learning] helped. Shifting between two elements however came with clear drawbacks. Going from fire to frost was like diving in an ice filled bucket and coming out the other side with a detached clarity. Ice to flame went the other way around, riling my emotions up and making everything super charged.

My own strength didn’t really grow, so much as become more apparent and easier to work with. I could beat all the other spirits in the school, even those belonging to professors. It would earn us a promotion upon graduation. The bird and rat that belonged to those two were not happy, but their opinions didn’t matter. Not since my escape into the wide world outside, I felt less invested in this school with every passing day.

“Are you awake yet?” Izzy’s words teased across our connection. “You can’t just sleep all day and let life pass you by.”

It was a late spring morning before the world started to slow down again to a more reasonable pace. I felt muddled and found myself lying on a hilltop, enjoy the sun baking my skin with a breeze crossing through.

“I’m awake now,” I pretested while trying to come to grips with this location. It certainly felt pleasant. I took in a breath filled with the scent of flowers from a garden nearby. They tickled my nose with a hint of lavender.

“Well let’s get going. We can’t hide in the safety of this school forever, and I think we’re as ready as we can get,” she said.

I stood up and stretched myself out to the fullest extent of my limbs. Stiff legs walked unevenly towards the dorm. Lips curled and whiskers waved at the edge of my sight. Images flickered through sorting themselves out as I tried to remember what had just happened.

It was like Izzy’s early school years all over again. Things just blurred for now reason, but now I suspected they were part of the oddity to this world. She had called it a veil and told me during our recent conversations that time didn’t move the same as it did in the real world.

“You seem excited,” I muttered while following the compass marker towards Izzy’s location. She stood outside her dorm checking pockets for items and trying to make sure the fresh set of robes looked good. My head butted into her leg as a greeting.

“Silly kitten, of course I am! We’re finally moving on to our purpose! To be Guardians, and not just accidentally succeeding this time.” She jumped with an uncharacteristically happy clap then skipped off down the path.

I padded after.

“Once we’ve graduated we get to visit the oracle, then she’ll confirm our life’s quest.” She sounded too excited. “If we complete the quest then we’ll be free! Come on, this is what we wanted!”

“Okay,” I said without much consideration. We had talked about our goals, gaining power, being free, defeating the others, but I didn’t know who they were or what we truly faced. It wasn’t being unwilling to fight, just worried about what, or how we actually did.

We walked down the crowded sidewalk. People jostled by at high speeds, eager to get to their destinations. A series of similar looking men ran by with folded chairs, others had ribbons or streamers. At least six people had hands in the air, suspending a huge statue between them that I couldn’t make out the details of.

“If you could go anywhere, where would you go?” Izzy asked excitedly.

There were too many factors to consider. Izzy had asked me all sorts of details over the years, and some of them were rotating through as I decided what to toss away and what might be worth keeping, incase. There hadn’t been any call to actually lose memories, and the [First World Legacy] didn’t provide me clues on what route might be best.

“I don’t know how much time has passed on, that side. My dad might be dead, but I think I would like to visit my family’s grave,” I spoke quietly then looked up. “What about you?”

“I’d like to see my parents,” she answered. “I don’t remember much of them, but I’m told you used to work with my father, for a little while.”

“I did?”

“He was someone you met, before here,” Izzy smiled. “I think he’s the one who helped get you here. Does the name Prometheus ring a bell?”

It did, but at the same time I struggled to recall why. Confusion hit me. Long whiskers tingled as my tongue passed over. An itch behind my neck took a good ten seconds of scratching to get out. The motion left me dazed as I figured out what topic to settle on first.

“I thought your parents were in that valley, the one with Grandpa Hubble’s tower,” I managed to get one question out.

“Sort of,” she paused for half a step then sighed. “They memories of a place. Like this place is a memory of things you knew,” Izzy gestured around to the people running by. “We both picked something familiar to prepare ourselves.”

I didn’t remember people in multicolored robes at all.

“Then, this isn’t real?” I struggled for a moment. If Izzy’s parents weren’t in the valley, then those people weren’t real.

“It is, and isn’t,” Izzy answered calmly.

I mumbled in a half growl with confusion.

“I know. I don’t want to be vague at all, but it’s hard. When we talk to the Ladies of Soul, which should be soon, they’re likely to make official what we already intended to do.”

“Our goal of stopping the others?” I questioned with my head tilted.

“If we can. You’re not as submerged as you were in this world. Every passing second your mind wakes a little more, and that’s going to put us a step behind. I’m here though, and together we might still be able to overpower them one at a time.”

“Why am I less submerged? Why just now? We’ve been here for years and I don’t understand how none of this was obvious before.” I asked her. Izzy brightened a lot them nodded. “Why this place? It’s nothing like what I remember from the past.”

“It’s because when your soul was captured from another world, there were, complications,” she started to explain. “Some were a side effect of what happened, others were done to you, to help get you into the world.”

We kept walking on towards a large auditorium. Izzy nodded politely to a few people traveling by. I wondered why she bothered to interact with them if this was all some vague world built on a memory.

“Your body and soul were revenged, almost beyond repair. The Ladies of Soul still struggle to undo the curse on your original vessel. Parts of your past were rebuilt. Still, you mostly exist here with me.”

“But?” I asked.

“With knowledge of the old world come rules. Your past binds you to a belief in limitations. You think slower than they do, react slower, believe you have limits where none are set by the First World Legacy.”

“Like waking up from a dream,” I said. “That’s what you mean isn’t it? If I believe I’m in the dream, it’s more real. If I know I’m separate from the dream it starts to fade.”

“Yes,” she turned and put out both hands towards me. “That’s it exactly! A dream you didn’t know you were having! That’s very good. I hadn’t thought about dreams. I will have to ask the Ladies of Soul if they have tried returning the lost by waking them up.”

“You’ve talked to them? I thought they were something distant, or kind of a curse word.”

“You’ve met them too. I’ve felt them calling you more than once.”

My ears twitched abruptly. There were times when the world Izzy lived in was clearly replaced by something else. The vision often confused me, but at least two of the figures were female.

“Really?” I asked.

“Mmmhm,” Izzy responded with a nod.

We were approaching a large double doorway. Banners and signs full of glowing letters that moved when we looked at them lined the expansive walkway. A line of people in robes were waiting at the doorway. I looked around and saw people of all walks gathered together. People inside were talking, calling off a list of names that were nearly inaudible.

“I have another confession,” Izzy said quietly. We stood at the doorway to an auditorium that didn’t feel familiar in the slightest. I tried to dig through the recent memories which had been resurfacing and could find nothing about a wide open school room like this. The bleachers on one side might have rung a bell however. Maybe they were kind of like the ones from my football games.


“This school wasn’t created by you alone,” she said.

My head twisted to the side. There were two gazelle spirit beasts that look absurdly tasty despite their weird colorings. They reminded me of hamburgers, steak, and the sizzle of fat on a grill. A memory swept me away of dad cooking in the kitchen while I sat in my bedroom playing with moving images.

“Okay.” I couldn’t get the smell of meat cooking out of my head. It made me super hungry, but only ash lingered along my tongue.

“This school was partially created by Dale,” Izzy looked down. “Without him, we have less defenses.”

That demanded my attention. My neck popped as it turned rapidly to look up at Izzy. “What?”

“He was a lost soul,” she said. “Some of the people here are from your memories. Others from his. Without him, this place grows harder to support.”

I squinted and looked down the line again. There was the abused boy who stood huddled under wrappings. He still looked tired and kept to himself, but a weak smile escaped when he glanced behind him. Izzy waved back but didn’t pay much attention.

There were a number of professors lined up shaking hands with students as they passed through. I tried to recall names but could only come up with Professor Lianne. She was the one with a sun hawk pet of some sort.

“You know,” I said while looking at the slowly moving procession in front of us. Izzy’s barely stood out in the crowd around us. “I don’t think we’ve ever talked this much before.”

“I talk all the time. You’re just learning to listen instead of charging blindly from one task to the next.”

My head tilted to one side and ears pulled back. My life in Izzy’s world had consisted mostly of napping or fighting creatures.

“Was I really that bad?” I asked.

“Isabella Brand!” a deep voice shouted. The auditorium shook with cheering and drowned out any response the young woman might have given me. Instead she patted my head, and stepped up onto a platform. I trailed after her and tried to eye the crowd around me.

There were other figures out there. I squinted for a moment and saw three that were odd compared to the rest. They stood out, like Dale had, but these figures were clearly not Dale.

“Smile,” Izzy suggested across our connection. “We’re being watched.”

I did more than smile. With a loud roar that startled the front row [Aura of True Flame] lit up, complete with five balls of fire. The people in front were fairly used to me so didn’t panic, but I felt proud at managing so many small bundles of flame. They danced in a circle around Izzy and I while one of the teachers wiped away a sudden bout of sweat.

“Speech!” someone shouted. Izzy blushed and shook her head.

My butt sat down and eyes glanced out over the crowd. The figures in the back became more distinct. Each one felt familiar but I couldn’t place where exactly.

One looked like a tall hulking creature with green skin. Next to it sat a slender beauty that was a similar coloring. Both wore very little clothing. The yellow eyes of both glared straight at me, and a dumb grin spread across the hulking one’s face.

On another wall sat a slightly older man, talking to at least four different girls who were all blindingly beautiful. They looked almost like supermodels, and it made very little sense, because the man himself was drab. None of the girls looked our way, but the male kept glancing over.

Third was a ring of knights sitting around what looked like a queen. She wore a long red cloak with thick fur lining. The woman managed to look cool, distant, and made feel overheated with those clothes. Her knights in their shining armor weren’t much better.

“There they are,” Izzy spoke carefully across our private connection. “I would bet anything that the Ladies of Soul guided them here.”

I paused to try and process as Izzy shook hands with more teachers. The flames flickered off. My head shook as all three groups calmly walked out the rear auditorium doors in different directions. Apparently they had witnessed what they cared about.

“Brace yourself,” Izzy whispered. “Once we step off the stage the Ladies of Soul will call you. It may be more jarring than before.”

I wanted to know why we were going on stage in the first place. If this entire school thing was a figment, then there wouldn’t be much point in playing out the scenario. Had we put on a show of some sort for the other three parties?

Everything felt weird since my awareness of the world at large started increasing. I longed for the simple days where everything around me could be taken at face value. Students were just uninteresting people, and teachers were there to help Izzy. Instead all of them had become props that felt even more lifeless than before.

My mind was lost in thought and paws walked down the stage stairs automatically. The world around me fuzzed with purple static.

“We’ve got him!” someone’s voice said. “Look at that, almost forty five percent physical, holy cow, that’s a record. Whatever Izzy’s doing is working.”

“It’s not just her, it’s because of what we did to him,” the blonde woman said. She walked closer and put up her a hand towards glass in front of me.

Breathing hurt the worst. Each attempted lifting of my chest strained muscles along the back. My stomach clenched and muscles jerked. Liquid sloshed around. The woman’s’ muffled voice tried to travel through liquid again.

“I’m Doctor Long, can you hear me alright?”

“The Ladies of Soul?” I tried to focus but the pain threatened to dislodge my thoughts. Both eyes closed and the green tint faded.

“Dammit, thirty two percent now. We’ll never recover the synchronization rates until the virus is cured!”

“Pierce listen closely, and try to remember, it’s important that you remember, okay?”

At least the damn box hadn’t been triggered. The stupid message acted like a key phrase in some children’s television show.

Televisions. Projections, that’s what their screens with images were. The word came back to me among others.

“He’s climbing too high, we’re going to have to tear some back down if we want to keep him in Case seven status,” another woman said.

“Okay. We were ready for that,” Doctor Long said. “We’re going to try and change the interface a bit. Don’t panic, okay?”

“Okay,” breathing was the worst of it.

“Imagine what you’re seeing as a lake. A view into another realm. You’re not here, you’re safe on your side.”

“Immersion’s going up, but physical-” The man stopped talking after Doctor Long’s hand flipped him off.

“Think Pierce, a flat surface. A lake, just like the one at the school’s edge. The same one from your high school. Find yourself staring into it, just like you used to.”

The woman spoke slowly. I felt my eyelids sinking down. Almost in perfect time with her commands a lake appeared. All around it was a darkness that didn’t belong to Izzy’s world, or my own.

It felt like standing at the docks of her school years ago, but we had graduated a year ago then started wandering all around the world. That lake I used to visit at nights was no longer here.

“Fishes dance far below the surface. They bit at plants, and the water is so clear,” the woman continued speaking. “The clearest thing you’ve ever seen. That’s all this is, a vision in the water, you’re okay, Isabella is right next to you.”

I blinked then looked over. Izzy knelt next to the water’s edge and waved her hand over its surface. A single finger poked into the lake and still surface rippled. I dipped a paw into the water, and a second blasphemous ripple echoed out across the surface. The sight made me purr in happiness.

“Listen close,” a female said. I struggled to remember where I had heard this tone before. Tired, worried, a high tone to the word you. “I’ve consulted the Voices on your plight with Isabella Brand.”

My body felt heavy and sluggish. Thoughts tripped over themselves. Finally I heard a voice close to mine ask, “Do we have a quest?”

I coughed and tried to understand where we were, but the more my mind attempted to focus the worse her image became. For a moment everything shifted, and I could see another scene inside the lake’s still surface. A figure floated inside a tube of green liquid. The man’s body hung there, mostly whole. Parts of his leg were missing, and hair looked like it was still growing in.

“Yes, but The Council of Voices is worried,” the woman said. “Neither of you are true denizens of their world. They don’t like what we’ve done here and the results aren’t to their liking.”

“Because of Colleen,” Izzy said to the image.

The name Voices rang a bell. I vaguely remembered meeting one a long time ago. It had been a shepherd or something similar in a field of black sheep that spat lightning. The sensation wavered, then shifted again. Now I was watching the man in his tube from a different angle.

“Colleen is safe, but they will not open such a door again. If there are other’s like her, they’re stuck until the entire realm is cleaned. Isabella, that means you will never come out unless the other, unchained gods,” the woman’s Voice stuttered briefly, “are removed.”

“What do we need to do?” The voice said my thoughts but sounded mechanical. The man in the tube jerked twice violently as a stray question occurred to me. Was that my body back in reality? Izzy had said I expected in both places, and only visited her realm with my spirit.

“There will be no escape until you’ve defeated the Self Crowned Queen, the Gilded Sword, and the Face Bearing Wall. You need to be ready.”

This just felt like a dream. I could picture a blonde ponytail and worried gaze but not much else. She might have been the same one from my other muddled memories. I had thought they were dreams, but clearly they hadn’t been.

“We’ve got to drop him back in!” a man shouted.

“Remember Pierce, don’t ever let yourself forget or you’ll cease to be. All this will fail, and Isabella would die without you! Don’t forget!” the blonde woman, whose name slipped away from me, yelled the last words.

Her lake view shattered. The image inside of a man floating in green muck disappeared with it. An auditorium full of people returned. My eyes were wide and front paws spread out. There was an arch to my back that screamed ready to attack. I looked around for monsters that might be after us but found nothing.

“Come back Pierce, stay with me.” Izzy’s voice was low and urgent. People whispered in the background but they weren’t distinct.

“What,” I mumbled while trying to gather my mind. Red seeped out unbidden. Flames spiraled together. Professors and teachers had scooted far away from us. The floorboards of the auditorium’s stage had charred at some point.

I fell over and curled up into a tight ball.

“You saw the higher realm for a moment. Your mind was in two, almost three layers. Let yourself adapt to this world again. It’s okay, I’m here to help you, just relax.” Izzy spoke line after line of soothing words trying to both explain and calm me down.

“What’s,” I said. The memories of that dream space were already fading. “Why did they need to do that. Wasn’t that our goal already?”

“Now it’s just official, we have a way out Pierce, for both of us. Do you understand? Both of us.” She lifted a finger and pointed towards a fuzzy square with black border and grey backing. “Look, do you see the message?”

Quest: Bind the Unchained Gods

Difficulty: Ultra high

Success Conditions: You have been tasked with defeating or causing three powerful figures to withdraw from this world. These figures are the Self-Crowned Queen, the Gilded Sword, and the Face Bearing Wall.

Failure Conditions: This quest must be completed before you become the very thing you struggle against. If your contractor dies it will also fail the quest and leave you in limbo with potentially no way out.

Reward: Upon completion of this task you will be granted one wish.

I nodded then stood up, then fell over promptly as the ground began to shake. The rumbling increased and flooring started to split. Izzy’s mood meter went from forest green to fire red.

“Where are the defenders!” Professor Lianne shouted.

“A labyrinth! Students, everyone! Back to your dorms! First class students assemble with the teachers!” an old man shouted out orders.

The ceiling split as half the building started sinking. Part of the wall crumbled. Runes ran up the building’s side like spider webs trying to hold back a mountain. Large doors cracked as more of the training yard nearby became visible.

Outside, on the yard we had walked to get here, the ground crumbled away. A hoard of green skinned creatures with rusty masks burst forth. Each one wielded clubs made of shoddy looking metal.

Lightning streaked overhead. Two large men wielding greatswords charged by. Students who had been in the practice dungeon depths lost their composure as it became apparent this was no longer an abstract lesson.

My head whipped back and forth between Izzy’s grim expression and the unfolding carnage. It didn’t hit me how serious all of this might be, until I saw the first student’s head get bashed in by a long metal pole wielded by one of the creatures.

“What’s going on?” I asked. Those monsters weren’t figments of any hazy reality. They were simply demolishing our school’s defenders by sheer numbers.

“Voices, I prayed we’d have longer before they invaded. We waited to long.”

“How could they already being invading?” My arms tensed and muscles rippled. The recent vision from those Ladies of Soul left me dazed but we were about to be in a fight.

“Does it matter? They made the first move, and if they kill us, then it’s all over for both of us.” Izzy’s jaw quivered briefly before she lifted both hands. Pink rose light gathered into small bundles of fire. Her father’s serious eyes gazed across the rapidly opening hallway.

[The Overseer]’s Log: There are things I don’t understand. IB is one of them. She doesn’t speak to us the same as she does to Subject 42. Is this deliberate or a side effect of Yates’ programming? Does it have to do with our filters and code descramblers in place?

I know the video feeds show her as a studious but friendly girl. Yet when we get a transcript along the private channel her words come out closer to a mystic or seer lost in the darkness.

Which one is truth? My team asks over and over again and I am no wiser than they are. Part of me wonders if we somehow broke IB, or if the program rewrote itself to have a split view. Maybe IB has to be both in order to be part of Subject 42’s reality and still remember what she is. Still, the idea that we essentially have a higher and lower version of IB is terrifying. She’s not a Voice, but something else. More symbiotic with Subject 42 than any denizen has ever been.

I have to ask someone about this, but Uncle Grant is actually angry, aunt Xin won’t talk to anyone without his say so, and the Counsel of Voices has put a restriction on dealing with this project after Colleen was made public. At this point I’ve been reduced to waiting for legal to drop another lawsuit on my desk to replace the last one, or a Voice to come leaping out of the screen.

I can only hope that those two manage a miracle so that we don’t get shut down. The boards alternative of gelding the minds of every Case Seven to occur is not a fix.



5 Comments on “Chapter 33 – Branding New Awareness

  1. Pingback: FR, and first three reviews. « FrustratedEgo Stories

    • Yes and no – it’s currently paused while I wrap up a few other works – then the whole thing will be rewritten into something with a bit more sense. Hopefully.

      I’m not sure when exactly I’ll get to it.


      • Do you have links to your other works that I can dull the monotonous tedium of ever6day life with while I wait and hope?


      • Nevermind. It was easy to find. Don’t know why I thought it wasn’t. Thanks for all the good work though. You’re a great author.


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