Chapter 04 – Waking up beyond the Portal
1.2k 21 32
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

And we’re finally there! I’m not sure how much the real world will come back in flashbacks or “alternate point of views” from this point onwards, but in my head, currently? It’s all over, and we’re going to finally have fun on the other side of the Portal!


     I am cold. Very cold. That’s the first feeling that comes to me. I feel slightly sweaty and wet too, but mostly cold. That happens often enough in Winter -- I wake up in the middle of the night, every bed blanket, sheet and comforter all piled up at the foot of the bed. So nothing yet is unusual enough to force me awake. I try to slowly wrestle one eyelid open. I want an idea of how close to morning it is. Using the illumination level around trying to determine if it is to the time to wake up. 


     I can see that the room is still very dark, but there’s a very low amount of light, which appears greenish-blue at the moment. I assume it's that giant highway electronic advertisement they built a few months after I bought and moved-in in my house. At night, whenever the ad changes, it pretty much “paints” the roof and walls of my bedroom in an ever-changing rainbow color.


     I shut my eyes and shift my position slightly, trying to return to sleep. I must not have thrown all my blankets, because as I shift, I discover my fluffiest blanket and grab hold of it with both arms. It’s warm and feels so safe. If it’s dark enough outdoors for that ad to show this much light in here, it’s because we’re still a long way away from dawn. And even though I’m slightly awake now, I know I should keep getting some rest, if only to recharge my body’s energies.


     Suddenly, a loud noise surprises me. *Psh-sKLANG.*, *Psh-sKLANG.*! Adrenaline suddenly fills my heart. My eyes are wide open. Making sure to stay immobile, my gaze is desperately going over every inch in my field of view to try and locate the source of the noise. But I don’t see any movement at all. Nothing. No movement, no sound for what feels like an hour, yet lasted probably merely seconds. The sound begins again, louder this time. *Psh-sKLANG.*, *Psh-sKLANG.* *PSH-SKLANG!*.


     It’s a very regular, rhythmic sound. It reminds me of footsteps, as if whatever is causing it was made of metal and weighed multiple tons! Once again, silence takes over for what seems to be an eternity. I feel like my brain is diverting a hundred percent of its focus to my sense of hearing alone. Because of that, I am now starting to drown in the sounds of my panicked heartbeat. Finally, when the strange sound returns, the volume seems to indicate it is moving away. *Psh-sKLANG.*, *Psh-sKLANG.*...


     Whatever is the source of this hellish noise doesn’t seem interested in walking up the stairs to my bedroom… wait.

     Wait. A. Darn. Minute.

     No longer focusing on the sounds, and with my eyes still both wide open from earlier, I finally start making note of my surroundings. I don’t see the windows, my dresser and mirror. My work computer, desk, printer and pile of paperwork are gone. No basket of dirty laundry. Not even a pile of blankets at the foot of bed, which is also missing. 


     I am in a strange square room connecting to two identical corridors. “Light” seems to emanate from the floor itself, which looks like it is made of light turquoise square ceramic tiles. Each tile seems to be four feet by four feet. The walls of the room look to be at least 15 feet tall, divided in two halves. 


     The bottom half is made of large stone bricks. They look to be neatly matching the ceramic floor tiles in length, and 2 feet tall each. At the middle point, the top half of the wall turns into a patterned look. A repeating design, cut in what could be simply stone, but gives me the impression of wealth. Granite or marble, perhaps? Every three feet or so, the same design shows up. It looks vaguely like a Window, but looking at it, I feel it possibly represents pages of a book. There doesn't seem to be any text or hieroglyph on it, so I don’t know where this feeling is coming from. Instinct?


     I can actually see that the roof isn’t straight. It’s made of some sort of stone as well, and is constructed so that the roof curves upwards, making the center of the room taller than the edges by a few feet at least. At what should be about eye-level, and appearing at regular intervals, rectangular-prism-shaped lights are attached to the walls. There’s no sound or flickering flame. It simply looks like phosphorescent milky-white stone. It had weird, fractal-like irregular patterns covering it, reminding me of quartz, or other sedimentary rock.


     I shiver and am reminded of the first feeling that sprang to mind after I started regaining consciousness; I am very cold. The ceramic floor that I am laying against feels like it is near probably only a few degrees shy of freezing temperature. The ambient air feels unnaturally much warmer than the floor, so I decide that I should stand up and limit my contact with the floor. Less chance that those tiles drain all my heat energy and send me into hypothermia.


     The first thing I realize when I decide to try to stand up is that I don’t have a bed blanket. That comforting warmth that I was hugging earlier was actually a part of my own body. A white haired tail, nearly as wide as my torso, and longer… My hands are still clutched together, holding both my arms and legs. They’re almost imperceptible beneath all that fluffy fur. But that’s not all. The tail is actually hiding the majority of my own body, from my current curled up position on the ground. My face is also nearly completely buried in the tip of my tail.


     I am grateful at the tail's obfuscating presence. I can jump to conclusion rather easily, and take a wild guess at what is going on with me right now. But since it's a deduction rather observation, I feel I am able to stay focused on what matters for now. I have long since learned that the brain relies on our senses way more than we expect. For example, if you cut yourself by accident, you might not notice anything weird, until you accidentally touch the blood, or catch a glance of it. THAT is when you suddenly feel the pain. The fact I'm all curled up and not seeing my body is a blessing -- I don't think falling in a total state of panic right now would do me any good.


     So yeah. Detective Flip here. Who am I? I don’t have a mirror, and didn’t do a thorough checkup, but I am able to paint a pretty accurate picture of my current situation. I am somehow currently seeing from my character Neva’s point of view. Where am I? The client was downloading a location before it would allow me to spawn there -- Pso’Xja. This was a dungeon shrouded in mystery. It definitely had something to do with an ancient, fallen race, and was also strongly tied to the Summoner class. The “ancients” who built this place really revered the elemental Avatars. This was also totally not a location for newbie players. 


     Actually, this was a location known for its difficult encounters. The storyline in FF11 had the player characters fight Diablos in here, one of the series’ most popular “Avatar”. Avatars were known by different names in almost every Final Fantasy game, but essentially, the “Summons”, Aeons, Eidolons, Fal’Cies, ESPERs, etc. If memory serves, Diablos resides here, and his power is over the realm of nightmares, or dreams? The “subconscious plane”, actually, if I recall his exact words.


     While he was set up by the game writers to be a powerful antagonist that you had no choice but to defeat, Diablos’ words and reasoning were very sound. In the face of the destruction of the world, he offered to preserve people’s souls in the realm of dreams, and therefore save those people from their inescapable fate. His solution was different from those of many other allies or enemies, but his goal felt to me like they were ultimately driven from the right place.


     I am not sure how confident it makes me to know I just woke up from my SLEEPING in my bedroom in real life. WAKING up in the skin of the character I just spent multiple hours creating, in the ruins adjacent to the Lord of Dreams' realm. Or that I currently had no idea where exactly I was in the ruins of ancient civilization. Actually, scratch all that. I am not sure I could even stand on my own two feet at the moment, and I am grateful at how I’m managing to stay this calm through all of this. I know I'm currently filtering all the strange signals I get swarmed from my body, but I may not be able to keep at it once I start posing, touching and prodding.


     Just thinking about all this, I notice my breathing has been steadily accelerating and my heartbeat is back to super sonic speeds. The loud noise are getting drowned by a strange white noise. I am beginning to lose it, I need to try to calm down, but I don’t know what I can do… I need help. Anyone? …Rune? I wonder what will happen to Rune without me around. I already miss his comforting presence after I wake up. He’d certainly manage to calm me down a little, if only he was here… I begin to feel like what could be tears welling under my eyes. Well, that’s unusual, I don’t remember having cried in decades. I force my eyes closed and stuff my face even deeper in the fluffy tail, perhaps that will hold back the tears or breakdown?


     A low humming sound starts to strangely haunt the entire room. A few seconds later, the odd sound vanishes, replaced by a bunch of strange, twinkling and tingling sounds echoing. Reminds me of Japanese summer chimes...? I can feel the ears on top of my head turning towards the center of the room, tracking the source of the sound. I can now hear tiny, hesitant and very light footsteps. Familiar light footsteps, followed by an even more and oh-so-familiar chirping voice “Mrwor?” I open my eyes and turn my gaze in his direction. Rune is there, looking inquisitively at me. He’s so much bigger than I remember. Different perspective, then. He looks bigger because I’m so much smaller than before.


     Something feels weird. Rune seems to glowing in a whitish-blue aura. It’s somewhat faint, but unmistakably surrounding him. That aura feels very familiar to me -- like it’s linked to “me”. I’m not an expert in chakra, energy flows or any of those theories, but I still have this innate impression or understanding that a stream of energy is flowing from me into him, and the surplus energy is released as this weird light. Am I using “mana” to summon him into this world from my own, then? If that’s the case, perhaps he doesn’t need all the mana I’m throwing at him, and he’s just releasing it, and unused mana has a visible.. Fingerprint of sorts?. It would make sense if summoned creatures can’t accrue Mana Points beyond the amount they need to keep their facilities running.


     I free my left hand and start extending it to offer him a chance to smell my new body. That’s when I notice not only the armored plated gauntlets, but also the mostly exposed freckled arm beneath it. And the dried blood covering most of it. That’s a lot of dried blood. And the little I can see of the skin beneath, it looks almost blue from the cold. How am I even still alive? Rune doesn’t seem intimidated by me, and circles past the arm, curling and cuddling next to my torso. He shifts position twice, scooting closer and closer. His body touching my unfamiliar body and, mostly, unfamiliar budding breasts is certainly making me feel self-conscious. I can feel my embarrassment turning my cheeks bright red!


     At the same time, the comforting presence is such a balm for my turmoiled soul. I can feel my breathing slowly returning to normal speed, and Rune’s purring is making me feel so much safer. I bring my left arm back to support him and start petting his soft fluffy head. It doesn’t take very long that I feel relaxed enough to fall asleep. Even the occasional rhythmic metallic footsteps isn’t enough to prevent me from returning to Morpheus’ arms. I don’t know how long I plan to sleep, especially given that I’m still barely dressed, in a strange ruin that feels colder than a beer fridge in a grocery store… But neither logic nor reason are the ones at the helm right now. Wow. That is probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever said in all my… is it forty or fourteen years of life, now?


     I wake up an indeterminate amount of time later, feeling Rune’s sand-paper tongue licking my face with a mission. This is ticklish as all hell! I try to tell Rune to stop, but nothing very coherent comes out of my mouth, but giggles and laughter. Instead, I decide to take my two hands and push him off my chest. He resists a little, apparently unimpressed at getting interrupted in the middle of his self-appointed duty. In the past, Rune licking me mercilessly was a sign that it was time to get out of bed and feed him. But almost as importantly, I could feel that I was starving as well.


     Well, this is going to be a good first challenge. I don’t think I have any canned food for him with me, and I don’t seem to have any bag or provisions for myself, either. For the first time since waking up in this place, I give a serious attempt at changing to a sit down position. All the signals that I get from my body are unfamiliar. The disappeared weight, the impression of scale and distances, the lack of some body parts, the extra body parts, the curves where there was none before… The one thing that registers in my mind as I place my arms against the ground to lift myself is that I don’t see any dried blood. And my skin looks a lot healthier. And I can see way more of the freckles that cover it.


     I put my right hand against the inner part of my forearm. My skin is smooth and warm. And most importantly, all cleaned up. “Did you do all that, Ru-kitten?” I ask out loud in Neva’s soft and gentle voice. Rune is too busy licking his own fur to pay me much heed. I finish raising my torso up and, in a smooth and instinctive motion, I find myself sitting down, my legs crossed and my tail rolled around my knees. That was… a rather well-trained movement, I conclude. It reminds me of the kind of recovery martial artists practice to get back on their feet smoothly. I’m instantly reminded of falling exercises in Judo, and wonder if it’s the same kind of concept.


     Either by instinct or out of some kind of habit that this body and this version of Rune seem to share, he immediately notices the empty spot in my lap and leaps into the nest between my legs and starts making himself comfortable. “What are we going to do about breakfast, baby? Mommy doesn’t have anything for you, or for hers---myself.” Pronouns might become difficult... Rune is fixing my eyes as I talk to him, and he gives me his most honest answer, “Meow~.” I pet him behind the ears a bit, not sure what I should be doing next.


     Rune, however, seems to have decided to take action. He jumps off my lap after a few seconds and walks towards one of the two corridors leading out of the room. Without watching at all if I’m following him, he keeps walking, until he’s out of my line of sight. I take this opportunity to try and focus my sense of hearing in his direction, to see how much further I can hear him. The answer is -- not much. He’s a cat, after all, and walking silently comes as naturally to him… as, I suppose, it should come to me, now.


     I suppose I could try prowling silently in this empty room a bit to see how good I am at this. Once again, I am surprised by not only the ease, but the fluidity and effortlessness of the motion to go from my sitting position to standing straight. I have to mentally review multiple times the motion I just did times to realize I spinned clockwise 360º as I got up. I’m assuming that such a motion was meant to move slightly out of an attack’s reach, as well as help with my balance. The feeling of my tail and hair flowing behind me was quite intoxicating, as well. I’ve had slightly longer than shoulder-length hair in the past, but Neva’s hair was going well past her hips! And I must admit that while it looked great on screen, it felt just RIGHT in the flesh.


     The armored boots and gauntlets only covered the outer half of the limbs, and were designed to let the skin breathe. They felt very lightweight, and certainly were made with mobility over protection in mind. I have to admit that I barely registered their presence. So, a quick inventory of changes, and how I felt about them. Height/Size: Sounds easy to adjust to new scale. Tail: Soft and cute. Glad to have you on board! Ears: Will need a mirror to judge their effect on my looks, but the extra sensitivity and fine-control seems to be a good boon. New voice: Soooooo good~! Hips, Waist, Breasts: Feeling a bit like I’m a pretender who managed to sneak in a secret club. That doesn’t stop me from running my hands over my new curves and closing my eyes, letting all the new and unfamiliar feelings sink into me.


     “Rwooor?” Rune is coming back, chirping. Oh, he’s also carrying something in his mouth. And going by the shape and color… “Rune, baby, did you find and kill a bat? I want to reward my good boy, but I don’t have any treats for you here.” He walks to my feet, and drops the dead bat on top of my left shoe. He then uses his right paw to push it towards me. “Rwo~” he repeats.


     “Err. You want me to do what with this dead bat, Rune? Eat it?” Come to think of it, that’s quite obvious this is what he wants me to do. I bend my knee and look at the (hopefully) dead bat. Even if I had some firepit and tools, I don’t really think a bat is something I’d like to turn into a meal. I get the impression it’d be very leathery and rough, and without much meat. The bat Rune brought back isn’t exactly small, but it’s still nowhere near the size of a chicken. And just like chicken, I don’t know how edible raw bat would be. But I am very hungry.


     The smell of the bat, however, is absolutely repulsive. Is my nose more sensitive now? I had already a rather difficult time when it came to some specific scents... I suppose that’s a good indicator that I’m not hungry enough to dig in just yet. I stand back on my feet and look at the two corridors. Rune came back from one of them with a bat, so I assume this direction leads further deeper in the ruins. If I want to return to civilization, I must first leave this ruin and find my way across the Beaucedine Glacier. I leave the bat on the ground and start walking in the other corridor, confident that this is the way out. Rune is following me, carrying his gift in his mouth.


     The corridor takes a few sharp turns roughly every 20 meters. Similar rooms to the one I woke up in show up occasionally. A few times I have to climb stairs, and once I even had to ride a floating elevator up a few stories. It looks cool in games, when they make those floating platforms elevators. But it’s really freaky to be on one in person, without any visible walls or security. 0/10, wouldn’t recommend. Rune is strangely calm about the whole thing and diligently carrying my “lunch” all the way so far.


     Speaking of weird technology, I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent here. Those Quartz lamps I talked about earlier, they are really weird. I actually stopped in front of one and tried to figure out why they were so puzzling to me. For starters, the light they emit doesn’t cast any shadows -- I can block entirely the back of the lamp, and the walls around totally ignore my efforts. And when I tried to cover the lamp, I realized that the light is totally heatless. Non-thermal light, so similar to LEDs or phosphorescence. While this is not an impossible phenomena, it certainly shows that the “ancients” have access to some form of science or magic that is comparable to Earth’s 21sth century. That, or I am currently in a world that doesn’t follow the laws of physics, but rather the more flaky rules of computer graphics rendering.


     It’s not very far after the “elevator” ride that I arrive at a big, circular room. In front of me, an iron gate bars the way. Beyond the gate, there’s another tunnel, and it seems to lead to… pure white. And in between, patrolling left to right. Right to left, is a mechanical automaton made of beige and black “cermet” (A term for Ceramic/Metal hybrids). The automaton must be at least three times as tall as I am, and looks to be about as large as it is tall. The legs and waist are tiny, and the arms and shoulders constitute the bulk of its mass. The “hands / claws” almost hit the ground when it’s walking. The head is almost hidden behind a protective collar. 


     The sound of its footsteps is clearly the same family that I was hearing when I first woke up -- there must be others; it’s impossible that I would have heard this specific doll from that far. “Dolls”. That was the name of the family of enemies that all shared this generic design. I don’t really recall on the top of my head what the Pso’Xja dolls were called. I want to say “Panzer Doll”, but I’m probably off. I don’t think it will get mad at me for getting its name wrong, anyway. If it can get mad at things at all.


     Which leads me to wonder if that doll was actually meant to prevent people from entering the ruins, or prevent them from leaving. “Yes.” I joke as I answer my question out loud. At least me talking doesn’t seem to make the doll react in any way. I put one hand on the iron bars of the gate and give it a small push and pull, trying to determine the amount of effort needed to open the way. Looks like I have to push, which means the gate is meant to keep people from entering. Hopefully the doll is also following the same rules. I push the gate completely open, actually needing to use my shoulder and leg strength at times. The hinges are pretty rusted and almost frozen from the cold.


     The doll is still tirelessly patrolling the antechamber. Left to right. Turn around, and repeat. The open iron gate and my presence at the threshold doesn’t seem to make it react at all. I take a tentative step, then make sure to take as many as I can when it reaches the end of its patrol path. It takes a while before turning around, so I want to make sure to use that window of opportunity to not get detected if I can avoid it. I step through the antechamber into the tunnel that leads to the “light”. The doll turns around, ignores me, and keeps patrolling. Perhaps it's just not aggressive? 


     It doesn’t take many steps before I realize that this isn’t quite “light”. But rather the mother of all snowstorms. Holy hell. I can’t believe this -- there must be some kind of force-field at the end of this tunnel, because as soon as it ends, the snow storm on the other side is raging with the strength of Grandfather Winter’s most epic tantrum ever. Yet not a single snowflake is getting inside the Pso’Xja tunnels. I look down at myself, wearing little more than a skin tight swimsuit, light gauntlets, greaves and running shoes. Stepping into this storm, I probably won’t last a minute, even if this body of mine was built inspired on Siberian cats, who should be able to survive through this.


     I look down at Rune, and he doesn’t seem phased by the snowstorm. He’s looking at me, probably wondering what I plan to do next. I turn around and wonder where I should go to wait for the snowstorm to subside. I didn’t cross many crossroads on the way here. For the most part, it’s been following a straight line. So I could go “deeper” in, where Rune found the bat, and see what I missed in that direction. Probably at least another doll, since I could hear it so closely back there. As I absently step away from the blizzard, I hear a very tone-dead, neutral voice coming from its artificial vocal chords declare a most intriguing statement “Intruder detected. Engaging target”


     Oh for fuck’s sake...!