Quote:“The first officially recognized virtual denizen was a girl by the name of Lia Kingsley. She had been physically crippled beyond repair due to genetic tampering. One night, her physical body passed, and a month later, her online one came into being.”
Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum
We talked for hours. Izzy, or Isabella was chatty. Maybe she was excited at our ability to finally converse. To her it had been years with me attached and tugging our ribbon for attention. For me it felt like days, weeks maybe. I couldn’t tell exactly but the contact was welcome.
She asked all sorts of questions about my history. I couldn’t answer very many. I told her about my fight against the giant dog of flames. It made her unfocused eyes grow wide with amazement.
“You really battled a demon all by yourself?” Her tone was filled with excitement. How was she so captivated by the concept of fighting a monstrous dog?
“I lost. Rather badly, and was hurt.” I said. Our conversation didn’t go in to my eventual death and possible insanity. Maybe this was all a delusion and I was laying on a hospital bed. Still, Isabella felt real.
“You still fought it Mistier Spirit.” She didn’t like using my name. I tried to get her to call me Pierce multiple times during our babble but that failed. “But, can’t you get better?”
“It did something bad to me. It still hurts.” I said slowly. An unexpected event was happening in the background of my black space. The red flames towards each horizon seemed to be made of cardboard. Those pieces were starting to fall forward one at a time. It made no sense.
For a moment none of what she said registered. I stared at the unfolding scene as pain started to register. Each drop of cardboard fire signaled another wave. I choked it back, ground teeth together and doing my best to ignore the anguish.
Izzy’s words registered across the distance. “Because the bad thing changed you?”
Pushing the pain away seemed to have an effect on the wall decorations. As if these false black and red tinted flames were a symbol for a defensive wall around me. I groaned and drove the sensation back, distancing myself from it mentally and physically.
“Mister Spirit? Are you okay? Your energy hard to keep steady.” Izzy brought me back to the now.
“I think so.” I tried to stay calm. A vague memory regarding a virus came to mind. That monster’s burning drool had matched the same green sort of fire that slowly appeared all around me.
I liked this place even less. No longer was in a realm of darkness with slight fiery tinting. Now I knew it was just a barricade against some sort of second visitation of that green nastiness.
“Then we can change you back!” She declared happily.
“I don’t think you can do anything.” I said to the little girl. She felt just as real as my pain, those flames, and the granite boxes with words.
“We’ll get strong, and burn out the bad monsters fire with your own.” She jumped with excitement and our connection started to waver. Izzy noticed and quickly sat back down to her meditation pose.
“How do we do that?” I said, as green flames taunted me in the distance. They were uncomfortable feeling. Skin I didn’t have crawled just looking at the unnatural illumination.
“Mommy says said once we can talk, we’ll be ready to go to Grandpa Hubble’s, then if he says we can, Guardian School.” She managed not to leap around in excitement. For a young child she was amazingly reserved.
“Guardian School?” I smiled and entertained this fantasy of hers. Or maybe she had a secret to remove those nasty green flames.
“It’s a really cool place! We’ll learn to fight monsters and grow strong!” She couldn’t contain it anymore. Izzy ran around the room. Our connection screen shook violently. “Then we can burn out the badness hurting you, and go on adventures!”
“That sounds cool.” I said to the tiny question mark in my hand. My words didn’t make it through. Izzy’s jumping was brought to an abrupt halt as her eyes rolled and the child passed out completely. I panicked and dove for the tiny screen.
Her mom cried out and ran in from another portion of their tiny house. There was a moment of panic on the elder woman’s face that echoed my own. Miss Brand checked her daughters pulse and face. The little girl was pale. A brief flash of light condensed in the mother’s hand and pressed against Isabella.
“Little Izzy, you should have told me!” Miss Brand said.
I needed to figure out a way to tell how much energy Izzy hand, otherwise I would just end up talking her into passing out again. The problem was the rules of this place still made no sense. We were connected, and the little girl had spent a week just forming together a spell of sorts to talk to me.
From her point of view it involved condensing energy and lights from all over. To me it was a granite box. This world had responded to my mental effort to push away the pain though, maybe I could trigger an ability by focusing hard enough.
Izzy’s world kept going. Her mother had things well in line. Soon the little girl was in her tiny bed in one corner of the house. A fireplace blazed nearby. The flicker of energy crackling off small logs hypnotized me for a moment. It felt inviting, far more comforting than the green behind my wall of cardboard protection.
I held her cord and stared at it, trying to image a method to see how much she had left. A bar of some sort might do the trick.
Imagery and focus could push back the green flames then cover them up with red ones made of cardboard. For Izzy’s sake I had to figure out a solution for knowing her mana. Especially if our next step was a Guardian School. She formed a spell to talk to me, I wanted to met her halfway.
It took a few days of Izzy’s life for me to manage it. Constant mental focus on creating a way to see how much power was left resulted in a granite message. I proudly read the simple text window.
[Sense Contractor Mana] granted!
“Yes!” I stood up and celebrated the success. In this room of darkness there were still possible ways for me to help.
Having no other options available to me made it easier. My old world had games, television, digital worlds and other distractions made it hard to focus. Here, there was nothing else but Izzy and assisting her.
She sat in bed for days. Whatever skill or spell she had used kept her from eating or drinking much. Both parents took turns with the small child, but there were times no one else stayed in the home with her. I watched over her. My presence was often unneeded but I stayed ready to dive through the screen and burn anyone that dare come too close.
[Sense Contractor Health] granted!
[Sense Contractor Status] granted!
My window to Izzy showed her packing up what meager items she owned. The small girl certainly seemed better, physically at least. Expressions crossed her face in equal amounts of excitement and panic. My new found skill showed a [Apprehensive] status like some mood ring bubble floating to the side of my eyesight.
She talked frequently to Mister and Misses Brand. Their words were fuzzy and my head throbbed. Days of narrow minded focus had passed. I felt amazed that it was possible for me to manage concentration for that long. The old me, the one who was a distant memory, could never have done that. No sane person would just sit and focus on trying to feel another person’s energy. I wasn’t even sure I actually had sensed a darned thing. Just enough focus and concentration upon trying to find a way allowed a notice to display.
Izzy’s health and mana were both filled completely. I had nothing to compare them too. I vowed to try and figure out other people’s energy levels next, if such a thing were possible. That [Kidnapper] had seemed simple enough to stop, so health bars might exist for other people.
My thoughts turned inward, trying to figure out some sort of method for seeing my own abilities. It was kind of fun too, that moment of breakthrough. It was like realizing there was a toe on my foot that could be wiggled if I tried hard enough. It was a simple joy to success and get my own floating bars. Like when I figured out how to put my own shoes on as a child. Or when Izzy managed to buy her one pretty dress.
[Sense Personal Trait] [Mana] granted!
[Sense Personal Trait] [Health] granted!
[Sense Personal Trait] [Status Alterations] granted!
That was how I kept myself entertained until Izzy squeaked in outrage. I quickly dropped my latest attempted trait development in order to tune in to her conversation.
“Grandpa? I have to see Grandpa?” She said.
“You know how it is. He is a great and powerful man. Only his word is what keeps us safer than most.” Miss Brand tried to be positive for the little girl. Though Izzy was rapidly growing up. Her height had shot up in the last year, growing a few inches. At this rate she would stand above many others by her late teens.
“Where was he when I was almost taken?” Izzy said with an abrupt snarl. Her emotions echoed my own on the matter. A person who kept the town safe was a failure if his own family was in danger.
“He sent me the message, telling me where to find you.”
“I was left alone for hours mommy.” She said. I felt hurt, we had been in that alley together. “Except for Perseus. He saved me, not Grandpa Hubble.”
I hadn’t saved her for recognition but it made me feel happy and slightly embarrassed. Part of my actions stemmed from how I was wired. Part of it had been because she was the only window out of my prison. Being praised because I acted from fear, even a little, felt wrong.
“Your Grandpa has gone to great lengths, and uses normally all of his power to keep us safe. Maybe one day you’ll graduate from Guardian School and be able to help him.”
“I don’t want to.” Izzy slurred the words together a little. Her young age was more obvious when angry. “He’s mean.”
“He’s kinder than you understand. When you’re older it will make more sense.” Izzy’s father said. He hefted the little girl up into the carriage then went for their luggage. Mister Brand then loaded up two bundles of luggage onto the horse drawn vehicle as well. Izzy’s departure meant their household belongings were reduced by almost half.
They were not well to do or rich, but never once had anyone complained. At least not in range of little Isabella. I had no other eyes or ears into the world.
Their goodbyes were remarkably well composed. I used my view to watch her parents. They held on to each other and stared at the horse as it traveled away. My final glimpse showed Miss Brand burying her head under the father’s arm and sobbing. Isabella didn’t sniffle once until our cart was a mile or so down the road. Then she spoke across our bond.
“Will they be okay?” Izzy asked.
“My dad,” I started to speak but couldn’t remember exactly where it was going. “I remember going away to trade school. He argued that I could stay. But I left anyway. He survived years before me, he would survive those after.”
“You had a daddy?” She forgot her own worries for a moment. We clearly had a walk ahead of us and I felt okay sharing.
“I was not always a spirit.” I smiled on my end of our connection. Here in this world of darkness I felt like an almost lost ghost. Haunting my own portion of the afterlife and trying not to remember the green fires which coursed through me.
“Was your daddy nice?”
“He was distant. As I grew older I realized he was sad.” I tried to remember his face. The expression had just seemed stern as a child. The older I grew, the more I saw hints of sadness and a worn down man that never seemed to change.
“Why was he sad?” She asked.
“I never really understood, not until I was older.” I answered.
“I will understand, if you tell me.” She insisted. Izzy was smart for a child her age. The young girl often answered questions that her father posed, little tests of capability. At seven she was helping Miss Brand with nearly all the household chores and shopping. Though she walked around with far more watchful an eye since her near kidnapping.
“Maybe.” But I said nothing more on the subject, instead distracting her with questions of this Grandpa Hubble. I was able to get some information out of the young girl. She didn’t like him because he was old, powerful, and never smiled.
The last reason seemed an odd one. I didn’t know my own grandparents. Their faces were a blurred picture somewhere on the internet. A website visited once out of curiosity but never thought of again. They had passed long before I grew old enough to know any better.
“Grandpa will probably test us.” She warned me with all the seriousness of a small child. I thought Izzy was joking at first but her father’s eyes showed no hint of laughter.
“Test? Are they dangerous?” I asked. Our carriage kept rolling along the road. The bricked path below us was well kept and free of litter.
“Maybe. I don’t know. Daddy was tested once before he could get married to mommy.” Izzy said. She stared off into the distance with unfocused eyes. “He said it was very scary.”
The mention of her father being afraid seemed to shock her. Izzy’s face drained of some color. Her chin nearly quivered but no tears came forth. I didn’t need the mood ring style bit of awareness to know that she was scared.
“It’s okay. I’m strong, and you’re a clever child.” I tried to reassure us both and parroted her parents praise.
“I’m not clever.” She glared at nothing in particular. These conversations always felt like we spoke to each other through a audio only connection. “I’m smart!”
“You are smart and clever.” I nodded along but Izzy wouldn’t be able to see it. “You figured out how to talk to me.”
“And more! But it’s a secret!” She said and abruptly covered her mouth. Our carriage driver was kind enough to ignore the talking. Either he was used to such one sided conversation or had been paid enough not to inquire.
This cart likely was furnished by Grandpa Hubble. He was rich and influential according to Izzy’s half terrified ramblings. I watched over Izzy’s head and looked out the window. Soon she too turned to view our surroundings.
Fields, endless fields. People farmed in some areas. It was an extremely boring landscape. How much farmland did one small city need? I felt like drifting off.
“Are you bored Mister Spirit?”
“I expected something else.” I said while shrugging. She seemed to sense my indifference. Maybe Izzy had developed some sort of [Sense Trait] like I did. Did she see some little spirit version of me yawning? Or did she get a window into my world?
I looked around briefly in wonder. No floating cameras made of flame sat around me which might record this odd world. Our connecting was restricted to talking and the tattoo. If anything she sensed me through the ribbon of shimmering black.
“What trial did your father have to do?” My hope was to get a hint from her stories. I couldn’t do much but burn things and talk.
“He never said.”
“Did your mother have to pass a trial?” I tilted my head with confusion. The false flame wall around me seemed to breath in and out in time with my mental confusion.
“No. Us girls have the gift.” She shook her hair. Izzy kept it shoulder length, though a few incidents when she was younger had resulted in sudden haircuts.
“Then why do we need to do his trial?” I was grumpy about this whole process. Mister and Miss Brand had shoved us into a cart all on our own to a old man who sounded humorless and a bit mean.
“Because I want to go to school, and be a Guardian.”
We were still looking at the carriages front. The vehicle drifted to an odd halt. A man ran by our door and into the distance without even a farewell. It was our driver.
All around us red eyes glowed. A few at first. Then dozens, and more. I didn’t understand what to make of them. At some point sunset had started. Izzy and I sat in the carriages back looking out at a looming horde of tiny monsters.
“What is that?” I asked. “Are those demons?”
“A trial.” She said. Her status flickered through a dozen emotions. Worry, upset, annoyance, and landed on stoic resolution. I was impressed that a seven year old child could react that way to an army of rats with glowing eyes.
“Time to show you my new trick Mister Spirit.”
“Peirce please.” I switched my view from the field of rats to little Izzy. Both were still in their protection version of the world. Her tiny hands came together. I saw the swirl of lights come together slowly. Izzy’s eyes took on a far away look as her lips muttered words unheard.
In her hands another item formed. White light came together in a mimicry of her flame tattoo. She touched it against her shoulder and a bright light flared. My head started buzzing as message popped up.
[Summon (Request)] initiated by Isabella Brand for contracted denizen of [The Outer World].
Yes or No
“Oh?” My face would have been grinning, had I one.
“Let’s go Mister Spirit. Our first demons to be cleansed from this world.” Izzy said with a surprising fierceness.
“Not our first Izzy,” I remembered the [Kidnapper] “but I’m with you.”
Accepting her summons made my world come alive, far more than the prior foggy encounter with a [Kidnapper]. A million times more vivid than that first moment in the crib. It felt more real than my own flicker of memories. I was in reality again, but everything seemed far bigger than it should be.
“Hello?” I said in confusion. What I heard was a cat’s meow instead.
[The Overseer]‘s log: Both subjects have integrated enough to provide status updates to each other. This is sooner than expected given the unique nature of Subject 42’s situation.
His partnered denizen, IB, accepted the process without a hitch and kept on moving their reality forward into the next phase. Things are progressing rapidly given the perceived time versus real time. I often envy the denizen’s ability to speed through dull portions of existence.
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