Quote:“Our attempts at manually creating a Case Seven require a difficult balance between belief and immersion. So far improved results happen when the subject only understands portions of their arrival. Providing them too much information causes a rejection in the process. Additionally the subject needs to remember enough of their original existence, or they lose their sense of self in the new reality.”
Doctor Long, The Virtual Conundrum
I got out of [The Outer World] box enough to feel better about this feline body. Going back wasn’t terrible either, provided my own health and mana hadn’t suffered any drops. Being brought to Izzy’s world made life brighter while felt slower.
Lazy days were spent running around the roof while she trained. I worked on turning quickly. Sometimes I practiced tumbling with bits of ash from my own tail. Hours went into trying to control my [Aura of Heat] and reduce the trail of ashes. Other days boiled down to fantastic naps in a windowsill. Life continued on this way for about three more months, until one morning Grandpa Hubble broke the routine.
“I think we’re done here little one.” Grandpa Hubble said one morning. “You’re as ready as I can get you, and it’s time you moved on to learn the missing pieces.”
Izzy jumped and shouted with joy then stopped. Her dark hair had grown long and uncut.
“Does that mean I can attend Guardian School?” She asked. “Finally?”
“It seems so. The way will be long, but I have a Protector to assist you.” Grandpa Hubble was busy trying to pass a plate over to Izzy for dinner.
“There’s no one else here Grandpa Hubble.” Izzy didn’t take the plate right away. She looked around.
I knew the answer but didn’t want to spoil it for her. Four days ago I had been sniffing at one of the statues down below. They didn’t actually take offense until I leapt up to the top of one. The statue kicked and me and gave a soundless scream.
“I said a Protector little one, not a friend, not a companion.” Grandpa Hubble said while I licked one paw. My ear felt itchy and I learned that scratching too hard actually dealt me damage.
“When will I meet him?”
“In the morning.” He didn’t answer any more questions that night.
Izzy stewed but ate her meal. If we were traveling, this might be our last warm one. I had tried to eat a simple field mouse once and it tasted good, until I realized how unsanitary that was. Stealing from under the table was much better.
I just was reduced to begging with a meow and standing on my hind legs to paw the table. It made Grandpa Hubble scowl and shake his mess of scarecrow hair about. Begging from him was unappetizing because of the lingering smell of moldy dirt from his brown robe.
Izzy had tried to use me to set his clothing on fire a month ago. That event resulted in my banishment to [The Outer World] despite protests that it wasn’t my idea. I had just eaten a chunk of river fish. Being banished to my afterlife taught me there was no need to go to the bathroom in [The Outer World]. A small blessing during a week of boredom.
We made our way to a bedroom on the second floor of Grandpa Hubble’s tower. Izzy huddled under thick blankets. I sat on the bed’s edge staring out a window. There had been small bat like creatures fluttering outside that often distracted me.
“Are you excited Perseus?” Izzy bubbled with excitement.
My tail twitched in irritation. Izzy’s parents had drilled manners into the girl. She couldn’t settle on what to call me, Mister Spirit or Perseus. Only once had Pierce slipped from her lips. It hardly mattered in the long run, but it made me feel kind of creepy.
The word flashed across my memories. I thought of Izzy’s face, and those left behind. There weren’t many friends in school, but my father. Maybe somewhere out there my body sat in a hospital bed waiting for consciousness to return. This didn’t feel like a dream.
Remembering my own parents reminded me of Izzy’s situation. How could a young child bear to just walk away from her parents? I spent weeks being crushed by my mother’s absence. When my sister and mom died to that stupid virus I felt numb, like there was nothing left inside. I had chosen to stop giving a damn about other people. In school, I hadn’t been the only one torn apart by the biological war’s aftermath.
“Are you excited?” I asked her back.
“I’ve wanted to be a Guardian since you first saved me, that time.” Her words started to drift off. “I had been chosen by a spirit, like in moms stories. We could travel and help other people, then save them from monsters.”
“You’re awfully composed for one so young.” I turned my head towards her and flicked one ear back. “Months without your parents. And now we’re going to travel even further.”
“But I have you.” Her words were quiet again. Both of the young girl’s eyes were wide and tears started to well up from the edges.
It took me a moment to realize what I had done. Izzy clearly only managed thus far because of my presence. It made sense, we had been together since she was a newborn. Despite the difference in our age and perspectives, our lives were tied together.
The [Aura of Heat] shut off completely. I concentrated on trying not to trail ash around then crawled under the covers. Izzy made room in her lap and reached out a tentative hand to pet my back.
She fell asleep mid stroke and I purred for a long time afterwards, trying to comfort the only person who really mattered to me. Being summoned to [The Inner World] took Izzy far less energy than it used to. After three months she could maintain the connection for days. A lonely girl who missed her parents had done all that work, for me.
Grandpa Hubble shuffled down the stairs. I lifted my head slightly and kept one eye on the old man. He walked over with halting motions brought on by age and aches.
“Spirit.” He said.
I flicked an ear at him and yawned.
“Listen well. Isabella Brand is my granddaughter, and this journey is too much for one so young.” He spoke softly.
The other eye opened and both ears turned forward just slightly to better hear his low volume.
“She does it for you, because of her foolish notion that you are a worthy being.” He looked close to collapse but kept talking. “I’ve given her what aid I can, but some lessons can’t be taught, they can only be expierenced.”
“I know.” I gave a low meow in response.
The old man grumbled and shook his head. Our communication was often one sided like this. Grandpa Hubble started shaking and leaned in. Giant eyes seemed to glow with a distant light. Darkness surrounding endless stars. This was the man who summoned an army of [Terror Rat]s just to test us. He owned this tower and protected an entire valley from monsters outside. Behind him shadows started to crawl around the room.
My back bunched up and I got ready to lash out. Part of me had dismissed the elderly man. Only now did I realize what kind of terror Grandpa Hubble could be.
“Don’t let her down, or by all the Voices above I will find the abyss you call home and erase your existence from every layer of reality.” He said. Shadows on the wall grew deep red eyes. All of them stared at me, promising violence of the soul rending type.
I tried to stay calm but my feline body frozen with fear. It took everything available just to blink, only once. That seemed to satisfy the old terror. He nodded then shuffled off to stairs.
Footsteps kept moving about above me. The image of shadows coming to life and promising violence lingered. My breath stayed stilled until I was certain the man had stopped shuffling about. This comfortable spot with Izzy’s sleeping form had been tainted by mild fear. That night I didn’t get any sleep.
By morning I had convinced myself that the old man was just trying to look out for his granddaughter. It made me calmer. I had dealt with upset family members before. There had been a man who normally handled the worst confrontations when we worked together. My eyes were unfocused by morning. The man’s name escaped me, and somehow that felt wrong.
Sunlight peeked over the horizon. Enough to stir me from the silent guarding position I had taken at the bed’s bottom half. I stood up with a stretch and walked up to Izzy’s face. She sat there breathing loudly enough to make my ears twitch.
I reached out and tapped her on the face. We had to make sure everything was packed and ready to go. Two bags, hopefully they would be carried by our Protector. Maybe we would get another carriage.
“Owwie.” She said. I cringed and stepped back. These claws were too sharp to wake her up that way again. Izzy’s health bar was thankfully unchanged. “Perseus?”
“Breakfast is ready.” I said with more calm than expected. Part of me expected Grandpa hubble to come flying out of a corner to fulfill his promises of doom.
“Breakfast.” She repeated without much comprehension. “Oh. Breakfast. Then, we’re leaving again, aren’t we?”
I nodded while staring at her. There was a bit of redness to one cheek showing her fresh scratch.
“Mmmhm.” Izzy hummed and rubbed where I had pawed.
Breakfast sat on a counter. Chunks of stiff bread, dried meat, and an apple. That’s all we were given. I didn’t need to eat but it would have been nice to get something a bit fresher.
Grandpa Hubble sat outside the wooden door to his tower. I sniffed cautiously at the ground near him. The shadow didn’t move or wiggle in unnatural ways. Even so, I refused to set a paw anywhere near the older man. He gave me a glare in return. My eyes kept getting distracted by the wild hair framing his face.
“This is your Protector. A creation of my own devising. Perfectly loyal, and will walk the route from here to your school without faltering.” The old man said.
I stared at this Protector. It was basically a giant statue of some well chiseled man complete with a hard clay sword. It stood far above Izzy and Grandpa Carver, which meant that I was almost small enough to perch on it’s shoulder.
“I hope it carries her bags.” I muttered from a good ten feet away.
Their words were difficult to pay attention to. Even though this world was new and full of so many mysteries part of me didn’t like hearing anything explained. It felt like high school all over again.
Izzy stood and I sniffed around, inspecting the world for new things. This magical world had so many smells that brought back memories of the old one. Each sniff flashed another moment of life. Many of them were related to camping as a child. My father had tried to get us out for the first few years after his divorce.
“Be careful child. You, and all Binders risk much to bare the weight of two souls.” Grandpa Hubble said. “I can only hope you surmount the challenges ahead.”
“Thank you Grandpa Hubble.” Izzy said with a bow.
“It is my duty, both as your grandfather, and as Warden of this valley. Now go. Your Protector does not know how to wait.” Grandpa Hubble managed to look slightly pleased. It was a rare thing to see any positive emotions on the old man’s face.
Izzy turned and looked at the stone giant wandering towards a mountain path. One of it’s hands held on to the reigns of a horse and carriage I hadn’t really taken note of. We were fortunate enough to get a vehicle to ride on. The Protector didn’t seem capable of holding all of us and walking forth at the same time.
Her eyes went back to mine and I saw the hesitation. She didn’t want to be alone traveling even further from her home. My first days in trade school had instilled the same sort of unease. I walked over to her leg and tried to reassure Izzy with a headbutt.
To me everything felt mostly the same. The only difference being if I sat in [The Outer World] or [The Inner World]. Beyond that it was her, always Isabella Brand, a thin girl who seemed to be destined for using some sort of fire magic. All these other people were without substance.
Maybe one day I would run into a person who felt worthy of being noticed. No, that was a bit uncharitable, but these others were flat. I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the bond between Izzy and I that just soured everything else.
We walked up into the hills. I happily ran along, not feeling tired in the least. As the elevation increased I started to feel a bit of strain. It was most like due to the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. I remembered that much from school for learning about fire behavior.
The road went on, and Izzy didn’t seem pleased with trying to march after a giant made of stone. The large Protector showed no signs of slowing or caring about the physical welfare of it’s charge. I would have attacked the monster but the last time I did it resulted in being forced back to [The Outer Realm] and suffering a lot of pain from having no health.
Half a day later Izzy was beyond exhausted. Why she spent so much time walking was beyond me. The Protector stopped near a small stream and just stood there. Izzy climbed into the back of the carriage and laid down while I wandered over to the water. I loved looking into the reflections, each small wave was hypnotic. Being dunked didn’t kill me, it just reduced my abilities until dried out.
“Be careful Mister Spirit.” She said.
The Protector stood there doing nothing but waiting. I ignored them both and happily pawed at the water. Splashing seemed so much more fun now that I was a kitten, plus there was a minnow down there just below the surface. Maybe, it was hard to tell.
I dipped a paw in again. Steam sizzled as the flame from my claws made contact. The obstruction made me slink around to get another angle. My attempts to fish were failing miserably. It was far easier to fish in smaller ponds or on kitchen counter tops.
“Perseus! Let’s go!” Izzy yelled. I turned away from my fishing to see that Izzy and her Protector were moving forth. I shrugged then went after them.
“Okay-” My words cut off as something strong yanked me sideways. A startled hiss escape and my claws started lashing out violently. Whatever was picking me up did not seem friendly at all. They latched on to something and a jet of steam filled up my vision.
“Perseus!” Izzy yelled again. Sudden worry and confusion laced her words.
I yowled and clawed, but most of her words were difficult to hear. She seemed to be frantically shouting at the Guardian. My world kept shaking up and down violently. Whatever had me seemed to use tentacles for arms that were set upon snapping my neck.
A white and pink ball of energy flared into the creature’s arm. My attacker shrieked. The river shore was lined with bushes that all vibrated in time with the yell. I blinked and tried to yell at Izzy. She could easily escape and just release my summons.
Instead the little girl was running towards me. Screaming a warning failed. My throat hurt from being yanked around. I looked for signs of the enemy but could only see something long slithering through the bushes.
Something else looped about my midsection. I panicked. Each attack was either herding me or dragging me away from Izzy. Another bundle of pink and white fire flew over my head but it didn’t help. Izzy was screaming but this latest loop had pulled me into the water.
No longer did seeing my own reflection seem comforting. What had been a peaceful attempt at fishing for minnows turn into a struggle to survive. Isabella needed to stay away from this, far, far away.
My head was yanked underwater. Drawing lips downward and trying to clamp my jaw didn’t prevent liquid from coming in. Being feline made it nearly impossible to seal my mouth. I was going to drown and be pulled to the depths of this swamp.
[Aura of Heat] activated but didn’t do anything. The water around me just felt a little less chilled. The health bar to one side was almost completely out.
“Pierce!” Izzy yelled my name. Her words sounded muffled by water and fur matting in both ears. I tried to climb out of the river, but each attempt slipped without purchase.
“Snake?” I couldn’t help but question our attacker out loud. This would be the third round of combat and I just didn’t understand the rules. To top it off my feline lungs were filling with water. Finally the message I desperately needed came up.
Contractor Isabella Brand is activating [Dismiss Contracted Spirit].
I braced myself for the next part. My health and mana were low enough from an utter failure to defend myself. I liked to think the demon had taken damage too, but mine was clearly worse.
My [The Outer World] home was once again bathed in green flames. [The Outer World: Respite] activated and my health went up a small amount. Being ready helped as I managed to survive the worst part about returning and retain some sanity. Long enough that I could focus on reading the new text which appeared quickly in front of me.
[Summon (Request)] initiated by Isabella Brand for contracted denizen of [The Outer World].
Her summon came faster than I could regain my bearings. Of course I accepted. She had been running after me and away from her Protector. The giant stone humanoid didn’t seem interested in turning around to help us either. Stupid, it was probably designed just to guard the pathway, not anything off of it.
“Pierce!” She yelled my nickname. That probably meant I was in trouble.
The pain from earlier still overrode most of my ability to think. Being a giant kitten was hard enough. My brain struggled to move unresponsive legs. There was a tall waving pillar in the grass. A long tongue stuck out and tasted the air. Slowly a snake like creature came into focus. It’s face looked to be part rodent, scales ran down the monster’s body.
“Pierce!” Izzy screamed even louder. Her voice picked up on the end and just didn’t let go. The creature that had me now had Izzy.
I staggered like a drunken kitty and tried to make my way to her. The snake creature was wiggling off towards the water to drown her like it did me. I managed to get my rear in motion enough to start raking at the creatures back scales. Steam hissed from the tail wound but it closed up quickly.
It shrieked again and twisted hard on Izzy’s body. I saw the girls health bar fall quickly. That tactic didn’t work. The creature was too big for [Intimidation] and [Aura of Heat] took too much mana. I barely had any good options other than throwing myself violently into the monster’s face.
Moving got easier. I tore my away across the grass to get in front of the rat snake demon. My attention split between watching the bushes for other monsters and trying to predict the creature’s path. Going into burning buildings required the same ability to watch our surroundings. I had practiced in some technological devices.
There was a memory there that didn’t click right. One of those fuzzy moments where an object in the past didn’t register correctly. I shook it off and veered into the path between snake and riverbed.
“Pierce.” Her voice faded off. The girl had less breath, worse still, a one leg was turning blue from constriction.
Our snake demon attacker reared up and opened wide jaws in a hiss. I dove straight for the creature’s loops around Izzy. There were no other good targets for my leaping and claws. Rear legs dug into one loop while my forward arms flailed for better purchase.
Isabella wore a sickened expression. Something like drool or barf was coming up. I didn’t have time to evaluate her completely. The extremely long snake twisted around and tried to bite at my back. Minor damage from my [Aura of Heat] singed the creatures face.
This rodent faced creature sunk jaws into my flesh. I focused on clawing apart the monster’s skin. Izzy needed to be free, then she could run and release my summon. Pain would be my burden but not hers, at least if I had my way.
The creature crunched bones in my back. Our trip to the river halted as cat, child, and demon intertwined in a maze of ferocity. I pushed the pain back as much as possible. My body cried out, nothing worked correctly. I stretched at a wrong angle and managed to finish carving a streak along the monster’s side.
Steam hissed and the creature deflated in the exact same manner as those prior. I grinned. This was my win. My health bar showed a sliver remaining. Izzy sobbed and shook in the aftermath. The scramble had taken maybe a few minutes. Our useless Defender still hadn’t shown itself.
“This wasn’t how it should go Perseus. It’s all wrong.” Izzy said while shaking.
[The Overseer]‘s log: We’re losing data and I don’t know where or how. Physically Subject 42 is still in transit, but there seems to be outside interference with the programming. It shouldn’t be a denizen since they proposed this project in the first place.
I’m at a loss. IB has the capability of fighting off the attack but it might not be enough. Even when adding in Subject 42’s processing they barely fought off the attack.
Who would want to interfere? It’s possible another Case Seven’s reaching out. Like attracts like, but all known ones should be isolated back at the lab. I will contact the other scientists, maybe one of them ran an experiment without notifying me.
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