Quote:“In order to understand this phenomenon and find a method of extraction we have put three people into a Case Seven status. This process was done with the assistance of AI’s. Each person is reviewed and analyzed for a virtual partner that best suits their needs.”
Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum
Being summoned to another world had a price. [The Outer World] struck back with the memory of green fire. I felt myself hissing streams of pure rage instead of yelling. Cardboard walls of protection had completely fallen over in my absence.
My tiny body curled up from the pain. I understood being hurt but this more than expected. Agony crippled the ability to move or wiggle. I focused my mind on pushing away nasty impure fire and put each cardboard wall back up.
Minutes passed, or hours. Maybe days. I didn’t know for sure. It felt like an eternity before my eyes could do anything but stare without comprehension into the distance. Finally I blinked, then my eyes closed for another moment and a deep shuddering breath escaped.
The walls were back in one piece. I slowly walked up to them and found that I had a hand, finally. However, it was not a human one. Instead my recent summoning to [The Inner World] had given me a paw. The same small kitty limbs from before had followed me back.
Cardboard was a word from another world, like so many in my head. I didn’t know how to compare that existence of before to this new one. Claws nudged one of the makeshift walls to peel it back. A momentary bout of pain flared up but I managed to get past it and figure out the wall.
Behind the defense was a deep landscape of green fire. I tried to understand why, or how it came to be. Was this my afterlife? Did that which killed me in the prior one haunt this second chance? I tried to remember those words spoken in the ambulance days ago.
The memories flickered by again. She, the blond with a pony tail, had said a virus was attacking me. Their attempted cure must have failed and I died, but that idea conflicted with the sign stating I was not dead. I tried to put things together but my thoughts felt obscured somehow. The understanding was being kept out of reach along with so many other concepts. In the end the ideas went nowhere.
Thoughts turned to something easier, Izzy. I focused for a moment, reaching out to the young girl. My body throbbed and ached. Part of me desired nothing more than to curl up into a ball then sleep. I had to see how she fared first.
Our connection flared to life. The chain of shimmering black showed signs of white magic flowing towards my new ash colored body. I followed the
“Mister Spirit!” Izzy’s voice sounded excited.
“Isabella. Did you pass the trial?”
“Mmmhhm.” She hummed. I could still see signs of her status. Her health was filled but the mana amount kept changing. Part of it was our conversation, but Izzy must also being practicing a spell.
“Is Grandpa Hubble treating you well?” I asked.
“Mmmmmhmmm.” She sounded affirmative again. I wanted to see this Grandpa Hubble but trying to pull on a visual connection wasn’t working. Nothing responded correctly.
“I think I need more rest Isabella.” I shuddered. The walls around me quivered just a bit. A haunting past of green threatened to break in at any moment.
Pushing it away once had reduced me to catatonia. A second might just tear my mind to pieces. Being summoned to Izzy’s world came with a price. Maybe it was being hunt so bad.
“Izzy.” My view cracked. The darkness echoed with a pleading meow of noise.
“Coming back hurt. Do you know why?” I panted. My cut quivered but failed to stay still.
“Tell your spirit friend that it was the recoil. Only by becoming stronger or suffering less will the anguish be minimized.” The same old voice from before came through. It had to be Grandpa Hubble. I tried to recall his features but could only picture the jutting strands of grey.
“Getting stronger. How do we do that?” I asked her. Understanding this world would help me out immensely. Grandpa Hubble sounded like he had answers. He was assertive when it came to ordering Izzy around.
Tiny feet clanked along the ground. “Perseus wants to know how to get stronger. I don’t like him suffering for me.”
“That’s how a relationship works. Life is full of suffering and of joy, sharing those moments is we grow. In the end you’ll be stronger, or broken against the rocks of time and tide.” Grandpa Hubble’s cane clattered on wood. It was difficult to tell what was going on but it sounded like dry fingers were sliding across parchment.
Paper. I tried to remember if any was used in my old world. Miss Brand occasionally rolled up a letter for family members. That must be why the noise sounded familiar. My head shook and one paw came up to dig at an ear weakly.
“I don’t like that Grandpa Hubble.” Izzy said. Her voice seemed to be facing away.
“Tough. You chose this life little Fire Binder, keep going or quit.” Grandpa Hubble said in the background.
“He sounds like an ass.” I said to Izzy. The old man may be right in a sense. My own life had been full of enough roller coaster events to confirm the crudely put statements. Maybe this new world was just harsh.
“Mister Spirit!” She chided with her mother’s tone of voice. Giving a weak chuckle made me clenching gut ache once more. “You should rest. I’ll talk to Grandpa.”
“Call me if you need me. Or just want company. I think, if we’re not fighting something, it might hurt less. Right?” I said.
“Mmmhmm.” She made the same affirmative noise from earlier.
I left our connection go. The small bits of white light stopped coming across. My existence in the darkness was quiet and lonely. Part of me welcomed the solitude in which to recover. Bars for health and mana showed painful lows that didn’t seem to be increasing.
Time passed. My awareness seemed to dip in focus. The walls of cardboard flame seemed to dance and wiggle into different positions each time I blinked. This body was strange. Flame like nails, a grey fur and a cloud of gray that followed me. My own tail twitched occasionally, leaving a trail of ash that faded into nothing.
None of those things were important right now. I needed to recover both health and mana in order to help Izzy. My mind shifted to healing myself somehow, I imagined those bars going up in the same manor I had used to build the other traits. Time passed, but eventually I managed to make process.
[The Outer World: Respite] learned!
Details: For a minor portion of your contracted partner’s mana [The Outer World] denizen can restore lost energy. The drain is low but constant until completely recovered.
I worried about draining Izzy but couldn’t focus enough to contact her. Gaining one simple trait had cost most of my attention. Both eyes slipped downward and time passed again. I fought to keep them open.
What if this time I didn’t wake up? Would I cease to be or wake up in reality? Just how long had I existed without rest? It frightened me, but eventually exhaustion won over worry.
When my eyes opened I felt miles better. Excitement ran through every inch of this [Ember Kitten] body. I stood up and shook, then stretched. A giant yawn escaped as hind legs kicked out one after the other.
To top it off my head rolled back and forth and one ear itched. Violent scratching ensued and small flakes of burned material flooded the air. After a few seconds I noticed a granite window off to one side displaying odd text.
Subject  Status Updated:
Criteria for empowerment partially met. Continued performance will allow for evolution of spirit body. Positive progress is being reported to [The Overseer].
[The Overseer]? That name didn’t ring any bells. The sound of evolving my spirit body sounded useful, especially if it would help me support Izzy without suffering like before. I scanned over the items which displayed and hoped that increasing those totals was the key.
I felt satisfied and tried to imagine what sort of enemies Izzy’s adventures might bring us. [Terror Rat]s tasted gross. Maybe the next monster would be a cotton candy field mouse that tasted like ice cream. That would be cool.
The cord between Izzy and I shone with light. Reaching out to her was far quicker than last time. Even the visual display came back.
She was asleep in a bed with a comfortable looking blanket over her. I marveled that such a grumpy old man cared enough to keep her cozy. Maybe Grandpa Hubble wasn’t such a terrible person.
Days passed and my opinion changed. Grandpa Hubble and Izzy were going through mind numbing training. He made her piece together half a dozen little spells but nothing ever actually clicked. I watched and tried to understand what the point was.
Our recent combat had left it’s mark. Her energy gradient changed between pure white and a rose pink tint. It looked far more attractive than my own flaky greys.
Grandpa Hubble lived a large tower. The elderly man traveled up and down winding stairways with surprising nimbleness. Izzy’s bed was on the second floor. Their training took place on the roof, during sunrise, high noon, and sunset. Apparently those bouts of sunlight were key in learning fire magics.
I couldn’t really focus on that part of things. Learning my own abilities seemed far easier than paying attention to every little thing Grandpa Hubble said. When he spoke about me, it was always ‘that spirit’ or ‘the idiot’.
“You should start bringing that idiot out more.” Grandpa Hubble’s words caught my attention.
“It’s hard to keep him here for very long.” Izzy said. We must have been here for a few months. “It makes my chest tight, and head fuzzy.”
Overhearing that admission confused me. Once again I didn’t understand enough of the rules. Grandpa Hubble often focused on assigning tasks, without much explanation, to stretch Izzy’s abilities.
“Practice. Then the spirit can walk with you easier.” He said.
“Is that good?” She asked.
“Being bound to a spirit will be difficult, and the longer you’re together, the harder it is to untwine.” Grandpa Hubble stared over the edge of his tower. Eyes scanned the small city for signs I couldn’t see. This limited flat view [The Outer World] provided me made it hard to get a full picture.
Keeping up with their conversational logic was difficult. Intelligence was never my strong point. Maybe if I were smarter, or clever like the youngest Brand girl, I could have had a million skills or abilities. My only real skill still seemed to be throwing myself in the way of danger, again, and again.
“Fates become linked, emotions start to blend, but you’ll carry a weight of power that most can’t compare with.” The old man continued talking. His unkempt hair blew in the breeze.
A bending of our existences sounded odd. Izzy was great, we were connected, but she was also just a child. It was like having a little sister to watch over. I wanted to keep her safe, but if there were other options, would I stay?
“What if we don’t want to be bound?” She asked before I could say anything.
“Then I remove that tattoo, and you go back to your old existence. Down there, among the rabble.” The old man clicked his blackened cane against the ground. He still kept eyes out into the distance. “Another will take your place, or maybe not, and this spirit friend of yours will be a lost soul forever.”
I didn’t like that idea either. My choices were between this growing bind with Izzy or being abandoned in darkness until someone else came into my life.
“I don’t like it.” She muttered.
The cranky old man turned around. His face wore seriousness with an undercurrent of strain. “Do what you must, or do nothing. The choice is yours. My only role is to prepare you for the world outside, or send you back.”
“Yeah, by giving you half formed spells, or whatever.” I said. This whole magic thing felt too much like energy science. There were vague rules. Learning seemed to be more about focusing the mind verses scribbling down long mathematical equations.
“He’s trying to help Mister Spirit.” Isabella whispered. She must have heard me. “But he’s cranky, and old, smells, and reads me bedtime stories.”
Grandpa Hubble wandered down the tower stairs, leaving Izzy to practice her latest task. She was trying to pull down energy to form a ring shape. The young female hung her head in annoyance then waved both hands at the forming mosaic of rose pink and white.
“What do you want to do?” She asked me.
“I don’t know.” I looked around at the cardboard walls of dark red fire. Behind them was a landscape of pain. “You said we could get stronger.”
“Mmmhmm.” She tried to form a different bit of energy. This shape looked like old jumping jacks.
“And if we do that, it won’t hurt as much, right?”
“Mmmmhmm.” She nodded again. “That’s how it should work. Spirits fight demons, and get stronger. But-” Izzy’s energy constructs shattered and her mana bar recovered. I took note that half formed spells didn’t actually use any energy, not until their completion.
“But?” I prompted.
“You could choose another potential, instead of me.” The young girl shook again and started another shape. This time it was a number eight that twisted oddly. “Do you want someone else?”
I paced around my poorly protected afterlife. This crimson tainted darkness was everything. In theory it was real, and I was not dead. If so, where was my old world in all this? My thoughts went in circles for a long time. The sunset reduced down to a sliver of light above distant city.
Why we were connected? I tried to remember if any such alternate reality existed in my old world. Nothing came to mind, once again my thoughts felt muddled by unseen fog. Izzy was the only window into a world outside this cage.
“Mister Spirit?” She said.
“I know you Izzy. You’re a smart girl, and me, I’m just a dumb bundle of fur. Next time I may end up as a bird, or a lizard.” And she reminded me of my little sister.
“Mmmhm.” She hummed again. This time Izzy put together a familiar spell. Lights pulled in from the air about us into her small ball of pink white fire. The small bundle slowly merged with her tattoo.
[Summon (Request)] initiated by Isabella Brand for contracted denizen of [The Outer World].
Yes or No
“Would you like to come out?” Izzy asked.
“I think it’s technically going in, from my point of view.” I tried to sound clever but the words were hesitant. This whole [The Inner World] and [The Outer World] labeling felt strange.
I accepted the summons. My afterlife faded away and once again Izzy’s world became more real than anything else. The first thing I did was leap up to the towers rail and gain a view like Grandpa Hubble had. Seeing things from his point of view might help.
Maybe it was just a nice view. Farms littered the ground between here and town. Forests lined both sides. Looking over my shoulder showed a road traveling up into a mountain range. This tower seemed to sit at the far end of a valley, standing guard. What was out there that Grandpa Hubble protected town from? Bigger demons?
Other sensations hit me. Fading heat from the stone beneath my feet tingled against soft soled paws. A few stray rays of remaining sunlight made my back twitch. Somewhere below a scent of cooking meat tainted the air.
My belly rumbled angrily. I leap down and poked my tiny head down the stairs. The smell grew stronger.
“Are you hungry Mister Spirit?” Izzy walked up behind me. She was so tall for such a young child. This body had the advantage of speed, but hopefully one day I could feel a bit more natural with it.
Either way, being outside, or inside, was much nicer than [The Outer World]. All I had there was cardboard walls barricading myself away from painful green flames. My happiness expressed itself as purring.
[The Overseer]‘s log: Today was not a good day.
Subject 42’s physical body is still undergoing intense therapy. Every time he reaches out to try and reconnect with the nervous system it causes feedback to pour through. We’re lucky he’s figured out how to reduce the stress this causes his new hardware.
In addition IB was prepared to decouple their connection completely. I watched the protocoles come online, they were able to reach an understanding. It’s time we brought Subject 42 to our main site for easier evaluation.
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