Author's Note: Okay, I had too much fun writing the previous chapter to this little crossover, so of course I had to write an addition to it.
This time around, I decided to add some different characters into this along with the others from before. And just like the previous chapter, in the spirit of Ready Player One, I've hidden a good number of references within here. :)
Anyway, I hope y'all enjoy this. As always, let me know what your thoughts were on this. Your thoughts, good and bad, are always gladly appreciated.
The large steel machine started to tumble to the ground like a tree falling in the woods. As it started to near the empty city streets, Judy immediately sprinted away from where it was going to end up landing. Just as it toppled and collided into the front of nearby building, she met up with Nick.
"The coast is now clear," an automated, monotone voice echoed above the heads of the two mammals. "Proceed to the shelter for further protection."
After hearing that, Nick looked over at Judy and asked, "Now where the heck is the shelter?"
Judy quickly pointed to a building a couple of blocks down on the right. "It's over there!" she exclaimed. "Come on! We can make it in time."
The rabbit started to run as fast as her paws could physically carry her, and Nick proceeded to follow her tracks from behind. The fox quickly pulled up his current inventory and selected one of the power-ups available for use within this particular game. It was what was called a "Speed Multiplier," with its ability being exactly what was stated—increasing a mammal's running speed.
Once it had been activated, Nick suddenly started to run much faster than he was a few seconds ago. He ran and joined Judy on her side as they both made way for the shelter they had been suggested to go to.
The two of them were currently playing one of the many different games available to them through the massive virtual reality known as the OASIS. This one in particular—which was of Judy's choosing—took place in a dystopian world ruled by large machines that scanned the city for mammals in order to hunt them down. The object of the game was to not get detected by any of the machines for the amount of time designated, and either run away or take them down if sighted by them. Even though there were some moments that nearly costed them the game within the last ten minutes, they were safe to say that things were going quite well.
"Only sixty seconds remaining," the same automated voice from before announced.
Now that they were this close to the building that would provide them with protection from the enemies of the game, the amount of time that was left wasn't as much of a concern.
The two mammals ran onto the litter-covered sidewalks and approached a bland building with a steel door reminiscent of the rollup kind on a self storage unit. Just as they were about to both breathe sighs of relief, however, a red dot started to shine right above their heads. Judy turned her head around to see that another giant, metallic machine was the source of that laser. It had managed to sight right before they could make it to safety.
"Sweet cheese and crackers," she muttered under her breath. She quickly unveiling her inventory and selecting a shield icon from the various choices. "Nick, get behind me!" she said to the vulpine behind her. "We got company!"
The second he heard the command from the doe, Nick got behind her and crouched down. Right then and there, Judy activated the protective shield that she had chosen from her inventory. Both of them were immediately encompassed by a purple dome, which easily reflected all of the bullets that the nearby machine started to fire near them. As long as they remained protected by this, neither of them would receive a scratch.
The machine seized fire upon being unable to hit them, proceeding to stomp its way to a different location away from them. The dome around the fox and rabbit dissipated, leaving them exposed to the danger of the cityscape once again.
The voice that made the announcements within the game came back on another time, telling them there was only twenty seconds left. Upon hearing this, Nick got back up from the ground, quickly looking in both directions to ensure that nothing was going to catch the two of them by surprise. He then darted over to where a big button was located. He placed his paw over it and pressed it multiple times, looking over and seeing the door to the shelter slowly opening up.
Once it was open enough fro them to fit inside, they both ran forward with only a few measly seconds to spare. Now that they were in where safety was a guarantee, the doorway behind them quickly shut again.
The shelter they now found themselves in was dimly lit and had a very eery feel to it. As they walked ahead a couple of spaces, they started to see a small group of mammals sitting down against the walls that now surrounded them. Some of them were huddled in blankets, clutching onto their kits with looks of fear plastered upon them, while others had a tough appearance to them. They all remained perfectly silent as they passed by; being a certain type of non-playable character within this game, they could not communicate or interact with players.
"You have completed the task," an automated, monotone voice echoed.
Following the announcement was the sounds of dark yet ambient music, which gradually increased in loudness as it reverberated around them.
Just as Nick went to speak to Judy, a holographic screen appeared over the heads of both mammals. "Do You Wish to Restart?" it read.
Nick placed a paw over the side of the screen that said "No" and watched as it disappeared from above them. He then pulled up the leaderboard. Displayed upon it were the names of who had found the key that lead to the prize hidden within the OASIS, and this list was him and Judy. As he gazed at the names that remained lower in place, he saw two progressing upward in status that made the fox let out a sigh. Below all of the names that typically remained in the same position were two players named "Pack Member A113" and "Pack Member LK-4D4."
"What is it, Nick?" Judy asked upon hearing his sigh.
"It seems like The Pack is gettin' smarter," the fox replied. "They found out where the key we did before was and now they're probably close to finding the next one. If they get their paws on that fortune, you just know they're gonna run the whole OASIS into the ground."
"Don't worry, Slick," Judy said to him. "We're gonna get it before any of them even come close to it."
Known by practically all of those on here determined to win the contest in the OASIS, The Pack pertained to a group of mammals, consisting mostly of wolves, bent on gaining control of the virtual reality and potentially destroying it. They were always being mentioned in reports on the news, and one could easily spot them in a crowd of avatars, as they could always be see in plain gray attire and helmets that displayed their given name within The Pack.
Nick smiled back at the gray rabbit's reassuring words, closing the screen that displayed the names. "Any sort of clues here that could help us out on our search?"
"None that I could point out," Judy responded. "But I still feel that the next key is hidden in something along the lines of science fiction. The riddle did say to 'aim towards the future.' So even though it's not in this sci-fi game, it's definitely in another one like this one."
"Where to next, then, Carrots?"
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the OASIS...
As he piloted his large spacecraft through the course of astroids floating around, he spotted a flock of several smaller ships zooming by. The gray wolf pressed flicked a few nearby switches on his vessel's controls before steering it upward and some distance to the right. Although he had gotten away from the enemy ships for now, there was no doubt that they would track where he was and return to where he was.
He had already scanned almost every possible inch of the perimeter of this game, and so far that had been no signs of what he was truly on the hunt for. There honestly wasn't anywhere else to go and explore, so he continued to course he was piloting in. He had already been here before, but he traveled this direction anyway.
Perhaps there's something hidden really well and I'm just not seeing it, he thought.
But he dismissed that possibility from his thoughts. The others were here as well, and had scattered in various direction to search for what he was. With a large number of fellow seekers present, whose skills in spotting things were extremely well, surely someone had to find something. It didn't make any sense whatsoever, but he had to just play the game and pray that he would come across something.
The dark galactic environment he was greeted with here was more of the same, which was nothing but planetoids circling freely on all sides. Approaching one of the astronomical objects closer to him, he activated one of his spacecraft's mechanisms and fired at it. A multitude crystallized pieces broke off of the planetoid, and he steered himself to where they were starting to drift to within this vacuum of outer space.
Once he got himself as close as possible to them, the wolf pressed a square button on his dash labeled "Crystal Collection." The pieces of the planetoid slowly started to approach his vessel, as if a humongous magnet was attracting them to it.
Before he could collect all of them, however, a good number of them swiftly drifted to the left, away from his ship. Looking out in that direction, he realized that the enemy ships were stealing the crystals for themselves.
As those ships flew away in unison, the gray-furred canid grunted under his breath. Several computerized beeps rung around him, and the image of a white wolf started to appear on the screen on the right side of the cockpit.
"Larry," the white wolf on the screen said, his voice sounding like nervousness was taking him over. "I'm in a bit of a pickle. I-I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I can't fend them off-"
The gray canid sighed and shook his head. "Gary," he replied, "the first thing you gotta do is calm the heck down. You're gonna think rationally if you're in a panic."
Gary could be seen taking several fast, deep breaths from the little image on the display. "These small ships are on my tail! Some of them keep going elsewhere and coming back but some of them are firing at me."
Larry responded, "I'll try to find out where you and some of the others are and I'll help you. You're just gonna have to try and fend them off as best as you can."
"I'm trying but something's wrong with my controls! It's like they're-"
A sudden boom came over the speaker near by the screen, and the display of Gary suddenly started to glitch and distort before its signal went blank.
"That's not good," Larry muttered to himself. "Those ships must've shot him down."
The gray wolf steered the ship upward and proceeded to zoom far away from the asteroids nearby.
"Beware! I live!" a muffled, wicked-sounding voice came from his speakers.
Larry sagged his head as that sound greeted his ears. The danger's here, he thought.
The gray wolf went with his first instinct and steered his ship to the right, praying that he didn't have any sort of run-in with what had just made that statement over the speakers. However, things started to worsen as he heard a deafening roar some time later.
The canid turned the vessel around, hoping that by doing so it would get him away from the peril that made itself present. But he only got so far before encountering a large, circle-shaped spacecraft within his path. It had a demonic-looking face constructed on its front, and the eyes and mouth of it glowed an eery red color as he approached.
The roar that he had heard not too long ago sounded once again, this time much louder than before. The noise pounded against him, making him want to put his paws over his ears like a pup to make it sound quieter.
Larry tried to get himself away, but quickly discovered that he couldn't steer in any direction. The buttons to the controls across his dash were all blinking as they started to malfunction. Beeping emitted across his ship, and he started to see that the indicator showing how much fuel was left was drastically starting to decrease.
His paws became shaky as he nervously gulped, bracing himself for his surroundings to suddenly cut to total darkness.
Larry gasped for air and removed the visor from off of his eyes. His heart feeling like it was going to pound out of his very chest, he looked around as the bland sights of the base's interior came back to him.
To his right he saw Gary, who had been sitting blankly as he stared of into the space. In front of him and behind, as well as on both of his sides, he saw that the rest of the members of The Pack were still in the game. Everyone was leaned back against their OASIS positioning seats, pantomiming several motions that all meant they were doing something in the game.
The key was definitely not there, he thought as he sagged his head.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the OASIS...
The steady bassline of house music filled Jack's ears, coming from some bulky speakers not too far away from where a DJ was performing. From where he stood amongst the others present, a jackal could be seen standing on top of a tall podium shaped like a giant prism, which strobed as the performance continued. As the electronic musician turned some knobs on his old-fashioned turntable setup, the song being played started to increase in speed.
Gosh, he thought. I wasn't expecting it to be this crowded at this time.
The mismatched sound of something above him caused the lagomorph to look away from the performance. As he peaked his head upward, his eyes caught sight of a spherical robot of some sort, with a blue glowing eye and two little handles. It glided across a swerving metal beam that was suspended from the ceiling. Trailing several inches behind it looked identical to it, only that it had a yellowish eye and was fidgeting as it incoherently mumbled about space.
"Look out behind you, rabbit!" he heard a certain voice say behind him, causing him to turn around from what he had been looking at.
Approaching him on his left a few seconds later was Skye, who was gliding in the air towards him on a hoverboard that looked like it came straight out of a movie. The blue full-body jumpsuit made her look absolutely gorgeous to him.
After the two of them engaged in a short conversation, the vixen started to walk away from all of the crowdedness. She had told him before that he had a surprise in store, and it was just a matter of time until he found out what it was. Jack followed her from behind, nearly colliding into some nearby robot with a white egg-shaped body and deep blue eyes.
Where Skye had them to was a good distance away from the crowds. The space he now found himself in stretched several hundred feet long, and positioned in several places within it were some large, globe-shaped vehicles, their appearance made them seem like they could easily glide around the area.
"What is this?" Jack asked. "A shortcut to the next key?"
"No. It's a little challenge I heard was happening on a forum post," the vixen said to him. Looking away from him, she added, "I'm taking the yellow one. That's one of my favorite colors."
Jack chuckled under his breath. As she walked up to where what she was heading towards was located, he followed her steps before going over towards a lime green vehicle of similar build. Once he approached it, the door on the side of it immediately slid open.
The striped rabbit took a seat inside the cushioned seat of the vehicle, looking at its controls. In front of him were three slender levers, as well as two pedals underneath them that he could assume were the brake and the acceleration.
The blank screen in front of him started to become filled with what looked like analog television static, which slowly faded away before being replaced with a still image. The image was a flat depiction of the space that he now found himself in.
"Welcome, participants," a deep voice announced, "to this competitive event. The object is pretty straightforward, and we will go over the rules before things begin. Your goal is to avoid being knocked off of the podium that the vehicles you and the other players are positioned upon. Portions of the flooring will gradually begin to disappear, increasing the difficulty and giving you less ability to maneuver freely. Whoever remains standing at the final portion of things will be able to continue to a track that concludes this slot of the event."
The images being displayed on the screen went on to give a very simplistic demonstration of what had just been spoken. As Jack watched them attentively, he quickly understood what was yet to come. The screen then changed to an illustration of the levers and pedals inside of his vehicle, with several flashing arrows pointing to them.
"The levers that you see in front of you," the announcer continued, "control which direction you wish to travel. Pulling either of the ones on your sides makes it travel either left or right, while the one in between those two is used for controlling whether you wish to go forwards or backwards. And the pedals below these controls are exactly the same on a standard car." As the image changed to a still image of the OASIS logo, it added, "We would also like to give everyone an important reminder: By being knocked off by another player, your avatar will be eliminated from the event and will be forced to regenerate at a later time. Remember to have fun, and good luck to you."
The display screen suddenly went black, and Jack sighed under his breath as he gripped his paws onto the levers that he now knew steered the vehicle left or right.
"Get ready!" A loud voice bellowed from some unseen speakers around him.
Following that proclamation was a detectable humming sound, coming from a large drone that was flying high above everyone that was here. A circular spotlight shined down from the aircraft, illuminating everywhere but the very edges of the area.
A feminine, monotone voice proceeded to count down from ten. Upon reaching one, several red lights surrounding everyone, similar to the kind on top of a police cruiser, started to flash. Accompanying their glow was the sudden sound of an air horn coming from the speakers.
Several of the vehicles on the opposite side of the arena, including Skye's, started to move forward, proceeding to thwack into one another like bumper cars at an amusement park.
In another location of the OASIS...
As his avatar materialized, he was immediately encompassed within a monochromatic world. The sky above, the grass underneath his paws, and the houses in the distance were all decked in shades of white, gray, and black. Its overall appearance and colorlessness was capable of giving any present goers the impression that they stepped straight into an old cartoon from the early days of animation, which was this area's exact intent.
With a wide smile taking over his muzzle, Wolford looked around at his surroundings and then gazed down at his avatar's reflection in the lake he now found himself standing near. His physical structure was practically complementary to the environment he had just entered. His body matched the landscape's black and white nature. Large cartoonish-looking eyes now took up a good portion of his face. His arms and legs now looked bendy and were much thinner than they were prior to activating this look for his avatar, and he now had a much shorter tail. Large white gloves now covered his paws, and he also had a tall and equally white hat resting on the top of his head.
Looking away from the water, he looked onto the horizon as the others that were accompanying him started to materialize a few paces away. Appearing before his eyes were none other than Clawhauser and Fangmeyer. Unlike the timber wolf, their avatars remained in full color, being the only tinges of it within this monochrome space. Wolford was the only one of the group who managed to unlock the ability to change his appearance to its currently-cartoonish look.
The tiger remained in the outfit that was standard for his avatar, while the cheetah seemed to be wearing a blue sailor's suit with white accents (the costume that he had most recently acquired).
"Woah," Clawhauser breathed as he look around at the black and white scenery. "This is pretty cool!"
"I know, right?" Wolford replied. "Couldn't agree more."
"So can you explain what we're doing here?" Fangmeyer chimed in. "Why are we in this cartoony land when the riddle we said hinted at something futuristic? Shouldn't we be heading towards somewhere with sci-fi feel to it if we wanna find it?"
The timber wolf paused before answering the tiger's questions. "You are right about the clue and how it said about the future," he said. "But old-time cartoons were kinda considered futuristic and evolutionary in their time. So how do you know that might not be the case here? What if the 'futuristic' part of the riddle's talking about the innovations made in the golden age of old-time cartoons?"
Fangmeyer nodded his head. The previous time he went by Wolford's notions, the result was nothing more than wasted time. But wha the canid was telling him actually seemed like a good possibility, even though he didn't wish to admit it out loud.
"You know," Clawhauser said, replying to the wolf, "that's actually a pretty good interpretation of that. I would've never came up with that."
"So what do we need to do now?" Fangmeyer asked.
"That's what I was getting to," Wolford continued. "I've played this particular game a good number of times—a boatload of fun, by the way—but I could never surpass a certain level. I always end up getting stuck at it and end up having to give up 'cause there's too much happening at once. But then I said to myself, 'What if we all worked and get passed it?' So that's exactly what we're gonna do. I figured if three mammals were playing at once, that level will be a bit easier to beat."
Just as he had finished telling his plans to the two felines in front of him, a display screen popped up in front of him, dangling a few inches above his head. The words on it made it looked like an inter title displaying the dialogue in a silent film. "Ready to Play?" it read. Underneath it was the typical selection to say yes or no, as well as a little, caricature-looking illustration of a coyote in what looked like a clown's makeup.
Grinning with determination from ear to ear, Wolford leaped up to the display with joy and slapped a gloved paw on the icon that simply read "Yes."
The words on the screen disappeared, being replaced with an old-time film leader that displayed a countdown from the number five. Once it reached its end, the display vanished altogether. The three mammals were then met with the sounds of ceremonial-sounding fanfare. After the noise coming from the unseen brass instruments seized, three cavities suddenly opened within the ground right where each of them stood.
The three descended into a temporary state of pure darkness. Not even a few seconds later, however, the brightness came back, and they now found themselves standing in an entirely new location. Wolford hadn't flinched one bit by the sudden sensation, but Clawhauser and Fangmeyer were both looking around in confusion as to what had just happened.
"Oh, yeah," the wolf said. "I forgot to give you guys a heads-up about that beginning."
"You think?" Fangmeyer snapped.
"Go!" a bubbly voice—belonging to the announcer to the game—said with a chuckle.
Calliope music started to resonate around the three mammals, sounding as if it was coming from an old record being played on a gramophone. The canid of the group proceeded to start running forward, while the two behind looked around, unsure of what to do.
"Come on, guys!'' he said to them. "The beginning of the first level's this way!"
Clawhauser and Fangmeyer both ran forward and caught up with the wolf, and they all started to stroll from there. They passed up several rows of cartoony-looking houses and buildings that were stretched out on both sides, eventually coming across a spacious patch of land that stood at the very end of where they were walking through.
As they stepped off of the dirt road and onto the long and flowing grass, the rows of constructions started to disappear from behind them. The way they vanished almost looked like they were being rubbed away with a pencil eraser, which was truly fitting given the feel of the game they were in.
Now it was just the three of them and a large field of nothing. However, just when Clawhauser and Fangmeyer were unsure of what would occur next, the level to the game that Wolford was talking about started to become constructed before their very eyes.
A couple inches away from where the three stood, a slope that looked like it was built from aged materials started to appear, traveling upward in height. From where the elevation of it ended, a raised platform emerged, spacious enough for all of them to walk around on it without having to stay in a single-file line. Other platforms that required a good jump up to reach were also visible, as well as a series of flashing symbols levitating where they were positioned.
"O…M…Goodness," Clawhauser said upon seeing the course before him. "I cannot believe that just happened right now."
Wolford looked away from the cheetah and tiger and over at the pathway now in front of him. "Let's begin."
The three passed through the first few levels with ease, but this was right around where Wolford had said he was having trouble. The words "Level Ten" were what greeted them as they brought the cartoony car they were riding in to a sudden halt. A couple of paces away from where they had stopped was the first portions of a rickety boardwalk, with a series of boats floating upon the surface of the monochrome water.
"This is it, guys," Wolford said. "This is what I can't get passed for the life of me."
"Well," Fangmeyer replied, "there's three of us this time, so you've got a better chance of doin' so."
The canid nodded. "Yeah, let's hope so."
They all got out of the car and started to make their way onto the boardwalk. They could feel how old the boards were that were keeping them above the water. Not much happened for awhile as they continued onward. There wasn't any obstacles of any sort appeared out in front of them. But Wolford, who had experienced this level several times before, knew that the false sense of tranquility it gave off wasn't going to remain much longer.
As they made a turn and walked over to another portion of the open boarddocks, almost as if it were on cue, things suddenly started to change. They all started to hear the sounds of menacing grunts emerging from their left, coming from several mammals in that direction. Emerging from large, nearby ship and onto the dock was a group of plump sailors, their appearance being enough to tell anyone that they were the villains of the level.
The heavy-looking foe that was in front of the group had black fur and was dressed in grayish overalls. The hat he wore upon his head didn't look one at all, but rather like a smokestack that could be seen on a steamboat. His large paws were clenched into fists as he eyed Wolford and the others up.
He grunted before unexpectedly running up to the timber wolf and shoving him to the wooden platform. He then back up as he laughed heartily to himself.
Wolford, meanwhile, coughed and brushed the cloud of smoke away from his face. Courtesy of his avatar's cartoon form, a circle of tiny twittering birds orbited his head, and he brushed those away as well.
Clawhauser approached him and hoisted back up from off of the ground. "You okay?" he asked.
"I'm fine," the canid answered. "That happens every time I encounter that guy. You'd think after the first time I'd be ready for it, but I always forget about it."
Fangmeyer, who was right behind them, searched through his avatar's inventory and selected a glowing sword, which appeared in his grip within a flash. "Don't worry," he said. "We're gonna get passed them."
Some Time Later...
Surely enough, they did succeed in getting passed the level that had been the considerable stumbling block. Even though it was difficult at times in the process, they completed it and were all feeling pleased.
The next three levels increased in the number of foes that they consisted of, but they got passed them with their combined skill. Now, however, they were in what appeared to be a safe zone, at least for the time being.
The three were now located on the outskirts of an area that looked like a small town, looking around and figuring out where to go. Clawhauser proceeded to stroll over some spaces away to the right as Wolford and Fangmeyer paused and gazed around at the surroundings.
After a moment of silence between the two of them, the tiger saw something in the distant that caught his eyes. He tapped Wolford's shoulder to get his attention and then pointed over to an object sticking out from the ground.
"You see that?" he asked.
The canid was still for a moment before nodding with confirmation. "Yeah, what is that?"
"I haven't got a clue what it is," Fangemeyer replied. "But maybe we should check it out."
The wolf and tiger both ran up to what they had both spotted, up until they were close enough to see what it was. Upon further observation, they both saw that it looked like it was a paintball gun.
His curiosity now piqued, Fangmeyer stepped towards it and picked it up. He got a careful hold of it, and also noticed that it happened to have a splash of the color green inside its dispenser. He aimed it an empty space where a patch of grass was and pulled the trigger. A paintball fired from it, traveling against the scenery and landing square onto the grass, transforming it from gray to green.
"Wow, that's pretty neat," Wolford remarked upon seeing the function of what they had discovered. "Wonder what it's doin' out here."
"Guys!" they both heard Clawhauser call out.
Fangmeyer turned his head to see the cheetah running up to where he was standing. "What is it, Benjamin?" he asked.
The cheetah replied, "I found something and I think you oughta see it."
Dropping the item they had just found back where they first saw it, the tiger followed Clawhauser as he lead him and Wolford over to the location of what he had discovered. After a good bit of walking, the town views became smaller and they approached the cheetah had encountered.
In the middle of the expanse he had lead them to what looked like a picket sign that was laying flat on the ground. "Venture no further then necessary," it read, with a star symbol underneath it. This strange message caused confusion amongst the three.
Wolford took a few steps up to where the sign laid, proceeding to hold out a paw and pick it up. As he went to lay it on its surface, the words of it were replaced with mottled shapes, followed by a series of zeroes and ones. A sudden hissing sound arose from the spot the sign remained, and the canid let out a yelp and back up.
"What the heck is that thing?" he said in shock.
"I think it's trying to tell us that we're closer to what we're looking for than we think," Clawhauser replied. "And that symbol of the star you just saw on it I ended up seeing on that tree over there in the distance."
Fangmeyer looked away from the wolf and cheetah and over to a large oak tree that he assumed was what was being spoken of. Just like Benjamin had said, there appeared to be a star, similar to what was on the sign they encountered, etched deeply into the bark of the tree.
They walked over towards it, and what had occurred to the sign proceeded to happen to the etching on it. As Fangmeyer went to rest a paw on the tree's bark, he found it passing directly through it like it was some sort of optical illusion. He gasped and pulled his paw back out, a look of shock taking over him.
"What is this?" he muttered. "Some kind of glitch?"
"I'm not thinkin' it's a glitch," Wolford replied. "My guess is that this is actually leading us to a shortcut. Someone must have put this in here somewhere without thinking anyone was going to encounter it."
"If that's the case, then where's this shortcut taking us to?"
"Further into the game, I guess. The only way we can know for sure is if we take it."
Fangmeyer sighed, taking several baby steps up to the tree once again. He placed his paw through it again, and then his entire arm. From there he started to walk through it and disappear out of the vision of the wolf and cheetah.
Clawhauser was the next to attempt what the tiger had done. As he then started to disappear, Wolford walked forward and went to do the same thing.
The next thing they knew, they were standing directly in the middle of an enormous circus tent. However, unlike the rest of the things they had seen that were in black and white, everything had splashes of color to it.
The tent had a typical red and white striped pattern to it, and around them was nothing more than a large wardrobe, a set of walking balls, a couple of wooden crates, some balloons that were tied down to the ground by a weight, and some bales of hay.
The carnival music playing around them suddenly started to slow down and become distorted in tone, causing them to become creeped out. It was then replaced with the sounds of deep piano notes being played, sounding like the instrument was really out of tune.
Just then, a figure appeared inside of the tent, chuckling wildly. Standing before the three was a white coyote in vividly-colored clown makeup, wearing a red button nose. On the top of his head was a hat with a little white daisy on it, and he donned mismatched clothing covered in polka dots, as well as a pair of oversized shoes. The tail of the clown canid had red stripes near the tip of it, matching the makeup that was on his muzzle.
"Hiya, folks! It's time for the show!" the coyote cackled with a somewhat-villainous tone. A cream pie appeared in his left paw, which he then threw directly at Fangmeyer's outfit as he laughed louder than before.
"Is this one of the mini-bosses?" Wolford mumbled to himself. "Never seen this before."
"I don't know," Clawhauser said, overhearing him, "but that clown is a bit unsettling."
"Did I ever tell you that I absolutely despise clowns?" Fangmeyer chimed in, wiping the stain left by the pie that had been thrown at him. "This thing's probably gonna be in my dreams tonight."
The wolf of the group quickly pulled up his inventory, scrolling to the bottom of it and selecting the very last thing from the choices that were listed. What appeared in his paws not even a second later was a large cartoonish mallet, which looked like it had been made out of wood and was a lot heavier than it looked. He had seen this item as they breezing through an earlier level of the game, so he had grabbed and put in his inventory in the event he would need it, such as now.
He turned to the right and whacked the mallet in his grasp against a nearby crate. As he broke open the slatted case on his side, the word "Pow!" appeared above it in what looked like the exclamatory speech bubble one would see in a comic book.
Wolford looked at the tiger and cheetah to his side and then over at the villainous clown that was staring at them. "Let's do this," he muttered to himself as the announcement commencing the beginning of the level sounded.
"No fair! You got to pick the last time."
"Yeah, because you're always picking something boring."
"I do not!"
"You do too!"
"Finn, Eva," the mother of the two quarreling otter pups said, "don't fight. Why don't the two of you pick one together?"
The two siblings looked at their mother and then at each other. "Yes, Mom," they said in unison.
With their visors in their grasp and their pup-sized suits on tight, Eva and Finn Otterton walked over to the couch and took a seat next to each other. As they slipped the goggles over their eyes, their mother and father joined one another and did the same.
The location they visited last before logging off materialized before them. They now stood on the very edge of a waterfront dock that lead to a small construction, where a yellow cargo plane was located. Near the front entrance, Eva and Finn, could see three mammals standing there. Waving back to them in a friendly manner was a sloth bear in a flight cap, a petite-looking brown bear, and a lion in a mechanic's outfit. These three mammals belonged to a simulation of a show that the parents of the two otters had watched when they were younger.
"Okay," Finn said, "what do we do now? It better not be that princess one you chose that time, Eva."
Eva simply giggled. Holding out a webbed paw and moving it in a circular motion, she unveiled a display that showed all of the possible things they could do. Both her and her brother's OASIS gear had been created differently in comparison to the kind their parents had. Displays had been crafted with an easier sense of accessibility, and the only activities they could do within the virtual reality were all appropriate for young users like them. Anything that had intense content or too difficult was incapable of being accessed, making the experience completely safe, although they were unaware of the technical details regarding it all.
Finn studied all of the activity options listed on the display, mumbling to himself as his eyes scrolled down the potential selections. "Firefly field? No. Beach? No. Dance party? No." He went through some of the other objects before he stumbled upon one of his personal favorites. "Oooh," he remarked upon seeing it, "let's do the-"
"No," Eva interrupted, shaking her head. "We always do that one when you're in charge of picking."
"Yeah," Finn said, "but only because it's the coolest choice of them all!"
What the young pup had his eye on was an activity titled "Science Land." The world that immersed one in, as its title implied, consisted of scientifically-themed surroundings that made learning things in the subject ten times more fun than reading about it from a textbook. Just like his sister had said, he always chose it before any of the other options.
"Let's do something different," Eva said after a pause.
"O-kay," Finn trailed as he rolled his eyes.
His sister laughed under her breath before pointing to another activity on the last. "Oooh! Oooh! Let's do the underwater world. Can we, please?"
The underwater world she was pertaining to was another really fun one. When they played in that particular one, they got to freely swim around in an exquisite watery expanse. And on top of that, they could even choose to change themselves into a variety of different forms fitting with the world. Eva always chose to be a mermaid with a pink tail when they played there, so it naturally became a favorite of hers for making her imagination come to life.
"How about this one?" Finn said, pointing a paw to the activity label below the underwater selection. Looking over at her sister, he asked, "You wanna be pirates?"
"Sounds fun," Eva replied. "Let's do that one. I don't think we've ever done it before."
"Let's set sail then, matey!" her brother remarked playfully before pressing the selection from the list.
Several seconds after making their selection, they suddenly appeared in an entirely different location. In fact, as the details started to set in, they realized that they were on a ship, floating against a deep inlet of the sea. But looking around at their new surroundings, they observed that they were not just on any ordinary vessel. They were on a humongous pirate ship that looked it like it had jumped right out of an adventurous picture book.
"Woah," Eva and Finn remarked in unison before their jaws dropped.
The pirate ship they were on, although neither them were bothering to take any measurements, stretched a good hundred or so feet in length. The large craft's exterior, as well as some its interior, had been painted in a dark shade of red, with flecks of white and black in different places. Several other mammals, all of them members of a pirate crew, could be seen on the opposite side of the ship.
As they looked behind them, the two siblings saw the shapes of a settlement that was way out in the distance from where the vessel was at the moment. Turning their attention away from it and down to the water below, they saw that it was clear and picturesque, like the kind one would see in tropical paintings.
"Finn," Eva said, "forget what I said about you always picking stuff that's boring."
Her brother nodded his head. "Yeah, this is awesome!"
Looking away from the gulf and down at herself, Eva replied, "And we even look like we're part of a pirate crew!"
Her avatar's outfit had changed to attire that a lot more complimentary to the concept of the activity. Now she donned the uniform of the typical pirate, complete with several medallions and a faded sash. Her brother's outfit, meanwhile, consisted of a discolored collared shirt, pants that had torn off at the knee, as well as a pale-tinted bandana around his head.
Finn looked at what he was wearing and remarked, "Woah! Didn't even notice that until now. That's so cool!"
The two otter pups heard a yell coming from behind them, coming from one of the crew members. A short moment afterwards, a loud boom sounded in the other direction. The suddenness of it, along with its force, made them nearly fall backwards.
"What was that?" Eva said.
"Must have been a cannon they fired," Finn replied. Turning his head the other direction, he pointed to something he was seeing and added, "Eva, look!"
"Out there! I think I see a piece of land."
What Finn was pertaining to was what looked like a small island, which Eva and him could see very faintly within their vision.
"Arrgh, maties!" came the call from a nearby tiger. "That'd be the hidin' place of the lost treasures we're searchin' for."
When creating their own personal space within the OASIS, it was typical for most mammals to give it a design based on what they enjoyed the most. Folks that considered themselves enthusiasts of classic cars and the like would deck theirs with purchasable merchandise that complimented the concept. Those who liked horror would typically give their space a more macabre atmosphere, or even make it look like a haunted mansion or estate from the cheesy classic films. The fanatics of superheroes and the like could be seen, without doubt, covering basically any available inch of their place with memorabilia.
The possibilities regarding how one could decorate their personal space were practically infinite. The OASIS had every style that one's heart could possibly desire. But despite all of those endless possibilities, Emmitt Otterton didn't decorate his place with a certain kind of theme in mind. If anything, his desired location for it to be set in was rather simplistic in comparison to what others had constructed.
Emmitt's space consisted mostly of bright, outdoor views, with a blue, cozy-looking house in the distance, neither too big nor too small. And within the large spacious area of land he had selected as the surroundings of his space, the largest flower garden any mammal could ever dream of could be seen. He had always wanted to plant a big garden for as long as he could remember, so it was basically natural for him to create one within the OASIS.
The otter had filled the area with a spacious variety of vibrant flowers that blossomed in the sunshine above his head. Lilacs, hyacinths, buttercups, daisies, and coneflowers were just a few of the perennials that encompassed him on either sides.
At the very moment, Emmitt was down on his knees as he tended to some of the plants that made up a certain portion of the virtual garden. Basically every square inch had been occupied by some sort of blossoming plant, but he had noticed a spot that he believed would be the perfect place for another flower to grow.
He pulled the inventory that displayed all of the supplies and other outdoor decorations that he could use his credits on. Flowering plants of all different shapes, colors, and sizes greeted him as his eyes quickly browsed through the list.
Emmitt muttered to himself, "Let's plant some… geraniums. Those would probably look good over here."
He selected the red geraniums, and they appeared in a small pot on his side. He then dug a hole within the flower beds in front of him, transferring the flowers he had just acquired in the spot he wanted to place them in.
As he patted the dirt around them, he started to hear the sound of paws stepped against the grass behind him. Looking away from the garden and over at the land behind him, he saw his wife, who had joined him in the space, standing there in a broad-brimmed hat.
"The garden looks beautiful as always," she said.
Emmitt smiled back at her. "Did you see I added a new plant?" he asked.
His wife looked over and noticed the plant within the garden. "Red geraniums. My favorite."
"The exact reason I decided to plant them."
The two of them remained where they were, gazing around at the vibrance of all of the different flowers in silence.
"Such tranquility," Emmitt observed. Looking back at his wife, he asked, "You want to head over to The Free-For-All? I'm sure the next event's beginning right now."
Mrs. Otterton laughed under her breath and nodded her head. "Definitely," she replied.
The sun was setting against the sky that had become tinted with a beautiful shade of crimson. And on the hilltop, where not a single soul stood, a light breeze blew fallen autumn leaves.
But this particular spot didn't remain unoccupied for long, as the two figures started to materialize in the very middle of it. As the two otters appeared on the hilltop, they looked down at what was on the bottom of the elevation within the land. Brick-built constructions could be seen in the distance, as well as a good number of different avatars wandering to and fro. Who they were saying were presumably other players, who had come for what was going to occur within the next few minutes.
What the "The Free-For-All" consisted of was basically what its name implied it was. A large of number of players congregated to a certain location, and what followed was all of them running around the area, collecting credits, searching for hidden objects and power-ups, and dodging opponents.
In the spirit of certain strategy games, the avatar of each mammal was given three lives, meaning that they would regenerate only that many times if they were knocked out. And there was a damage indicator that displayed a percentage from time to time; the higher the number was, the more a player was sensitive to damage. Anything and everything could happen, and attempting to make predictions of what would happen next was practically impossible. But they would be seeing for themselves what awaited them this time pretty soon, as the actual event was going to be starting within the matter of a few minutes. But until that moment came about, the two otters silently stood on the hill in anticipation.
Upon entering the territory of The Free-For-All, the appearance of their avatars had undergone a bit of a transformation. Mrs. Otterton now donned a dirndl consisting of purple and pink, and now wielded a frying pan in her paws. Meanwhile, Emmitt's fur was now green like a plant, and had little sproutlings in certain patches of it.
The two of them weren't exactly the kind that came to the OASIS for every crazily adventurous thing it offered, nor did they care about the search that practically everyone had been obsessing about. But sometimes it didn't hurt to do something along the lines of mindless fun. And that was why they decided to attend The Free-For-All. It provided a challenge while still being a lot of fun in the process.
"You ready?" Emmitt asked.
"Oh, yeah. Ready," his wife responded, just in time for the commencement of the countdown.
Some time later, elsewhere in the Free-For-All…
The event had been in full swing for the last five minutes or so, and things were pretty interesting. In that little bit of time that had passed, the three lives given had already been used by several mammals, and they had already been eliminated from what was happening. This wasn't a common occurrence by any means, as a majority of players that attended this had the stealthiness—a necessity in something like this—to avoid what was oncoming for a lot longer. Either someone here with a godly amount of expertise, bent on eliminating some of the competition in a quick manner, or there was just that many more present that were inexperienced in this kind of thing.
After having found themselves a spot where no one really was running near, the group of four spoke to one another in quiet voices. The mammals that the team consisted of were a lion in grey robes and a blue wizard's hat, a wolf in a white chiton and a pair of angel wings, a polar bear in a blue and black ninja uniform, and a female cheetah in basic attire.
They remained close as they started to strategize about what to do next. Having a well-thought-out game plan, without a doubt, was essential in events like this, and could lead mammals into either victory or defeat depending on good the actions are. But it was only a matter of time before the spot they were hiding from those remaining was found, so they to be quick in devising their strategy.
"Okay, I got a plan," the cheetah of the team said to the others. She pointed a paw to the white wolf to her right. "Grizzoli, you're gonna stay in the air for as long as possible and scan what's going on."
The canid in the chiton nodded his head, the angel wings that belonged to his avatar flapping back and forth. "Understood," he replied.
"Good," the slender, spotted feline said back. She pointed towards the lion as she continued on with informing the team about the plan. "Delgato, you use your staff to defend yourself if anyone gets too close." She then looked over at the polar bear and asked him, "Snarlov, is that uniform you purchased equipped with the freezing power?" When she was speaking to nodded his head, she continued, "Well your job is to use it to freeze those who try to eliminate you. But doing that'll probably give us away easily, so I'd advise only using that when it's an absolute necessity."
Delgato raised his paw like a kit in a classroom. "So what will you be doing, Kii?" he inquired out of curiosity.
The cheetah answered, "I'll be in charge collecting any loose credits or hidden objects. And in order to find said hidden objects within the perimeter, I believe that we should all head towards the-"
Her words, however, were cut short at the sound of a loud yell. Looking above her, she noticed that the noise was coming from a rhino in red plaid clothing with broken-looking overalls, who was currently hovering in the air. Following that was the sudden sound of trumpeting, and she saw that an elephant was only a short distance away from where the rhino was.
The two ungulates both started to fall down from where they were in air. As soon as they both reached the ground, the force of their landing created a sensation that resembled the beginning of an earthquake.
This caused Kii and the three mammals behind here tumble down in a clumsy manner. They all quickly got themselves back up, though, and into a mode of defense.
"That was totally unexpected," Kii muttered to herself. Looking back at the others, she compelled, "You guys go and I'll meet back up with you."
The three nodded understandingly before splitting up and sprinting towards a portion of the location that had more occupants. Kii, meanwhile, quickly pulled up one of the power-ups she had gotten her paws at the very beginning of things. The moment she activated it, her figure became completely invisible. This allowed her to remain indiscernible to the rhino and elephant that had caught her and the other off guard.
As the two ungulates looked around for where she was running to, the cheetah stormed off as fast her paws could carry her. She needed to get over to where the rest of the action was currently taking place, and where the others were.
Just as she was approaching where she needed to be, the power-up she had activated was starting to go away. Within the next few seconds or so, she would become visible to everyone else that was within the perimeter.
Once she had gotten back into the heart of the event, she was notified that the power-up had completely went away. As she became detectable once again, she approached a set of small barrels that had been stacked into a pyramid.
Kii managed to jump high enough to maneuver herself over them, flipping in the air as she did so. Once she landed on the ground, she slid herself towards a pile of coins that laid astray and picked them up.
She rolled on the ground to where another stack of barrels was located, keeping herself hidden behind them. She stealthily peeked around the left corner, just enough to see what was happening without being spotted by the naked eye.
In the corner of her vision, she saw Snarlov. The polar bear was near a closed barn-looking construction, and appeared to be cornered by a raccoon in an orange battle suit. As the procyon pointed a blaster towards him, he found himself getting hit with something. Not with the bear's freezing power, but with a ball of a sparkly glitter that came from someone undetectable.
Kii watched as the raccoon stumbled backwards, looking around for who had done that as he continued to grip onto his blaster. The one who hit him with the glitter made herself present, and turned to be a tanuki in attire that was also glittery from head to toe. She quickly ran away from the area, and Snarlov used his avatar's power to make the raccoon become frozen in place.
As the polar bear ran forward, Kii emerged from behind where she had been hiding and teamed up with him.
"Where's Delgato and Grizzoli?" she asked.
Snarlov shook his head with uncertainty. "I don't know," he replied. "They went ahead of here, but I'm not sure where those two could-"
Right then and there, Kii's ears were greeted with the sounds of a familiar voice calling for help. Not even a second later, she exclaimed, "I hear Delgato! He needs help!"
The cheetah took off running, and the polar bear did his best to keep up with her as she a good distance ahead of him. They soon approached a flat piece of land where no one could be seen, at least for the current moment. The closer they got, the more audible the lion's call became.
"Delgato!" Kii cried.
Snarlov tapped a claw against her shoulder. He pointed to something he was seeing not too far away in the sky. "I think that over there might be causing some trouble."
Along with the polar bear, Kii's jaw proceeded to drop at what they had spotted. In a spot within the expanse of sky, not too far away from where they both stood, was a humongous spaceship that looked like it was built of a large mass of pixels. A tractor beam descended from it, radiating an ear-piercing noise as it did so. Within the field of that beam was none other than the lion who had been calling out for help.
"You wait here," the cheetah commanded. "I'll go help Delgato."
With that she darted towards where the ship was located, seeing that Grizzoli was nearby and also trying to help. The wolf was several feet in the air, courtesy of his avatar's angel wings, and was trying to strike the ship with the two short swords in his paws. But his efforts proved to be no use, as it didn't make the situation any better.
Kii cried out, "Stop! That's not gonna work. We need to strike it down with something more powerful!"
Grizzoli flew away from the ship that had captured Delgato in its radiating beam, maneuvering himself over to where the cheetah stood and landing to the right of her. "What do we do now?" he asked. "If that thing flies away with him, it'll reduce one of his three lives."
"Like I said," she replied. "We take it down something powerful." Kii pulled up her inventory and selected a uniform from it labeled 'Cyborg Armor.' "Been wanting to try this out for awhile now," she muttered to herself. "Time to see what this does."
Upon her activating what she had chosen, her appearance started to change. Starting at her paws and heading up to her legs and torso, her body became encased in armor that matched her fur color, and a helmet that had several wires on the back of it.
"Woah," Kii muttered to herself before breaking into yet another sprint.
As soon as she got close to what she was trying to take down, she activated the "Energy Blast" that came with the armor she had on. She then lifted her arm up and pointed it directly at the large ship, just as a thick beam of orangish-yellow energy protruded from a projector on her armor.
Once what she had fired came into contact with it, the beam descending from the object in the sky suddenly went away. This sent Delgato falling towards the land, but luckily he managed to prevent himself from hitting the ground to hard.
Kii deactivated her armor, and her normal self became visible once again. She then ran up to the lion she had just rescued, who looked around with a bit of confusion. As she did so, the ship then flew off to somewhere further in the distance.
"What the-" Delgato started to mutter. "What was that thing? Did someone place it there on purpose?"
"No," Kii replied, "I believe that's an obstacle that belongs to The Free-For-All itself."
A mass of ice started to form in a circular shape on the land near them, and from it emerged Snarlov, who had presumably teleported his avatar to where they were standing. "Is he okay?" he asked out of concern.
"Yep," Delgato replied with a nod of his head. "All good here."
"That's good," the polar bear breathed before turning his head to the side, spotting something that caught his eye. "What's that gray object over there?" he asked before running over towards it.
Kii turned her head to see what he was talking about, widening her eyes upon realizing what it was. Holding a paw out in front of her, she called out, "Snarlov, don't touch that! That's a-"
But he already walked close enough to it before she could explain what it was. Snarlov slowly turned himself towards the spotted feline who had spoken to him. He proceeded to run back to where she stood, but his movements, although they looked like he was running, looked like he was going much slower. It was as if he was darting forward in slow motion.
"Why am I moving like a sloth?" he asked, his voice at its regular speed in comparison to the rest of his body's movements.
"That's what I was trying to warn you about," Kii said back. "That was a Speed Decreaser that you just touched."
"That stands to reason," the polar bear replied, right before the effects of what he had went by wore off.
Not even a few seconds later, he found himself able to run at a normal speed again. Just in time for the team, now reassembled, to head back into the action.
Elsewhere in the OASIS...
After having directed themselves through the expansive obstacle course, Jack and Skye both emerged from the vehicles they had been riding and stood with the others that also made it through the finish line. There had several more mammals when everything had started, but the number of remaining competitors in what they had just participated in gradually decreased.
The finish line stood near a body of water, which continuously splashed against the nighttime scenery of where the were now. But within the sounds fo the water Jack heard something, and it sounded like the softest voice.
"Skye?" the buck asked. "Do you hear something?"
"What? The sound of the water?" Skye asked back, now looking over at him.
Jack shook his head. "No," he answered. "Something a lot more hushed. I don't know, though; it could've just been my-"
The sound he had heard greeted his ears again, and he saw that Skye was also looking around like she had heard something as well.
The arctic vixen inquired, "Did you hear, like, someone murmuring something?"
The jackrabbit nodded. "Yeah, I did. But where's it coming from?"
"I don't know," Skye replied, scanning her surroundings for the source of what they were both hearing.
The vulpine then noticed a faint blue light shimmering against the dark, located in the far right corner of her vision. It almost resembled a will-o'-the-wisp, a mythological thing that she remembered hearing about once. Gesturing for the buck to her side to come forward, she said, "Follow me. I know what's making that sound."
Jack followed her footsteps as they followed the blue circle of light near them. It flickered as it started to travel further away from them, like it wanted them to catch it but was making it hard to.
It eventually stopped moving further away from them, and the two of them slowly approached as ti stopped near some bushes. Jack looked at it with curiosity, holding out a finger to touch it. Upon doing so, the light expanded into a rectangular shape.
Several seconds later, words started to appear above him and the vixen, also in the same color as the light.
To find what you seek, they read, you must look in not what you now consider the future. You must look in what the innovators of the past considered the future, which is what you would now call the present.
"I'm so lost," Jack said, looking over at Skye again.
The arctic vixen replied, "I'm pretty sure it's saying we should look at something that was older but was imagining what the future would look like. You know, like an old movie or something."
"So, something like Yak to the Future?" the striped rabbit asked. "Or that one where the two teens travel through time in the phone booth?"
"Perhaps," Skye answered with a nod of her head. "But it's also a possibility the clue's talking about one that's a lot more dated than those films. Maybe something from way back."
"Where do you think we should go to look for something like that?"
"I think I might know where we could start. There's a museum within the OASIS called 'Motion Picture Evolution.' It might be somewhere in there."
"Good idea," Jack said with a smile. "Let's search there and see if we come across anything that could decipher the clue."