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Things were becoming so much clearer now. As if he had been deep underwater and swimming upwards towards a flickering light that pulsed in time with the shifting waters. He couldn't see very far through the murk that surrounded him, and all his senses were muted.

As he got nearer to the surface, more and more of his world began to resolve. The others called him 'The One,' but it had not always been that way. He strained to see the memories that danced at the fringes of his mental darkness, but they darted in and out like colorful fish, refusing to get too close. Stretching upwards toward the light, he sought to escape from this mental prison he had entered to keep himself alive and sane until the time was right.

At long last, he broke through to the surface. Understanding and faculties snapped back to him that been dormant from his long hibernation. He shook his head from the disorientation of trying to process too much at once. The darkness welled up again, trying to push him under and he was only able to retain control with a determined effort. Wave after wave of the dark influence battered at him, trying to submerge him back to his feral state, but he remained centered. At long last, the pressure eased, and he opened his eyes.

-------

 

Early the next morning Gus quickly ate an energy bar and filled his thermos with some of the cold water from the dispenser his suite. He needed to evaluate the blueprints and make plans on what facilities he would unlock and in what order. Not being a morning person, he decided it would probably be good to get some training in to shake the fog of sleep from his head so he could focus better.

He headed down to the arena, and Chop Chop, as Gus liked calling him, was waiting in the center of the arena. Arms folded, he stood in a blue column of light the holographic projector emanated, evaluating Gus as he approached.

He stood on the platform, and the system scanned him. On a nearby screen he saw a message:

Nanobot-sync loading… and a blue bar filling to 100%. Gus wondered how much more efficient training would be for an army that could customize each training regimen for that soldier. He felt like he had improved much more quickly than he would have without the feedback the Nth gave him in positioning his body and how quickly things became fluid and comfortable. With the scan complete a message flashed on his display:

A quest is offered you: Fight for your Right

Quest Conditions:

1) Review battle history

2) Train and obtain the skills Parry and Counter-attack

3) Level Counter-attack to level 2

4) Defeat 3 virtual opponents [mantids]

 

Quest Rewards: 1000 XP, 350 Facility Points, unlocked skills

Time requirements: Must complete conditions in less than 3 hours or forfeit all rewards, including unlocked skills

 

Gus asked to review the previous battle and have it analyzed. Unlike the day before, the view that materialized was not as complete as the representation the day before. Gus guessed that the battle took place away from available sensors and satellite, but he did see a humanoid constellation of tiny dots that Gus associated with himself because of the spear stance. The Nth scattered through his system must be reporting their position in three-dimensional space, rendering his movements. An orange figure clearly represented the mantids. It made him wonder how Nth from two different people interacted. His mind considered how telepaths must have some Nth scanning ability that could pick up on the signals of other---

“Hai!” Chop Chop shouted, brows furrowed and his lip even more pugged out than usual. Gus focused on the display again.

Gus watched a playback of the entire battle; then the scene reversed back to the beginning. Chop Chop would play the video and Gus could see on the display where during the fight he had overextended, other times where his stance was too narrow. The playback slowed in areas where he had scored a hit, so he could see what was working in his battle style. Each hit displayed a red numerical value on how much damage accrued during the battle. Gus paid attention to what attacks were more effective. When the Mantid with Wreck-luse made its entry, the red numbers flashed in time as the toxin worked, -8, -8, -7, -8 and so on. After reviewing the areas where he needed improvement in his previous battle, Gus saw the prompt: 'End Evaluation Y/N?' Gus clicked yes and turned to face Chop Chop.

A hologram of a Mantid appeared, and Chop Chop demonstrated a technique to block an attack from the talons on the metal band that spanned the center of the spear between where Gus usually gripped the spear. Gus would have to search among the racks in the middle tier to find this upgraded type of spear, as he had only used ones with all wood shafts. Chop Chop used a variety of movements to place the metal band in just the right place to block various types of attacks. After the tutorial, Chop Chop retreated to the side of the arena and froze in place.

Gus took that as a signal to find his weapons. He jogged up to where the level where spears were. Gus searched and spied the same spear design in the tutorial. Grabbing his usual three, he headed down to the arena.

Once again the virtual display showed Gus' form in a stance in blue. He oriented himself, then practiced following the prescribed moves as the program directed his movements. After about 10 minutes, he felt like he had got the gist of the action. One of the things that had helped the most when he was learning guitar was practicing at a slow speed until it was perfect, then slowly adding speed until the song was at normal tempo. Using that method, he avoided learning the song incorrectly, getting sloppy and repeating the same errors. It worked just as well with his spear training. Performing the motion like he was doing tai chi, he flowed through the pattern. A little tone sounded when he had executed correctly. After he got three tones in a row, Gus sped up a tiny bit. After 15 more minutes of focused movement, a chime sounded.

 

You have learned the skill, Parry. You are now able to block certain attacks if attacked while equipped with a spear. This skill is upgradable to Counter-Attack!

 

The display then changed to display Gus' blue form and an orange mantid shape approach and attack. The Gus figure parried, deflecting the mantid to the side, the representation then shifted, flowing into an attack on the follow through that hit the virtual mantid in the back. The tutorial ended, and Gus again began practice in earnest.

The arena provided a virtual mantid to practice against, and Gus found he could slow down the speed of his attacker to use his method to practice this technique. It was difficult to know if the timing was right without any feedback. Gus had to rely on the tingle feedback he had experienced yesterday to evaluate if he was executing the attack correctly, as he could not look up at the virtual display and keep his eyes on the mantid attacking. The extra concentration this required was harder to coordinate and start hearing success tones.

Gus had to take a break to let his stamina bar refill and get a drink. Wiping the sweat off his brow he began again and had to get back into the groove, the short break had thrown off his form, and it took a couple of minutes to muscle memory to reestablish.

The nice thing about being Nth assisted is that after he executed the correct movement repeatedly, muscle memory established much more easily than if Gus was only doing drills. Increasing his speed, he got to the point where he almost looked forward to testing the technique against another Mantid. A familiar chime let him know he had reached sufficient skill to unlock the ability.

 

You have upgraded Parry to the skill Counter-attack! You are now able to activate this skill after a successful parry attempt. Use this skill to level it!

 

Gus now saw the panel slide back, and a pillowbot appeared, sheathed in the orange Mantid holographic skin. A red bar appeared with 135/135 above the mantid. Chop Chop shouted from the sidelines, "Defend!"

The mantid attacked, leaving Gus no time to prepare. He reflexively parried but missed the counter-attack due to his poor footing. The jolt from the parry caused him to stumble step backward. Those suckers don’t pull any punches! Shaking his head and getting centered, Gus turned and faced off against the pillow-mantid. It feinted, and Gus flinched in response, but quickly reset for another attack. When the mantid tried again, Gus swept the mantid to the side and skewered it as it passed. He was rewarded by a '-40 ' appearing above the mantid as his attack connected. The mantid spun and relentlessly attacked again. Gus managed the parry but did not complete the counter. The intensity and pressure of attack added a new layer of difficulty and challenged his ability to focus. On the next pass, Gus was able to activate Sweep the Leg downing the creature. The stunned state of the mantid allowed him to score four more hits that dispatched the virtual zombie while it lay there incapacitated. The orange skin evaporated revealing the pillowbot form underneath, lying prone.

"Good jorb!" Gus complimented himself in his best Coach Z voice.

After a reset period, the pillowbot stood again and was re-skinned with the Mantid form. Gus noticed that even though he had pierced it with the spear, the material he had thought was a robot covered with some sort of cloth was entirely intact. Before he could ruminate further, the panel slid open, and another pillow-mantid joined the fray! "Damn Chop Chop, you're a jerk!" Gus thought he saw the corners of Chop Chop’s pug-lip smirk slightly.

Gus had to monitor his surroundings carefully because the mantids began to circle. One tried to sneak behind Gus, and he had to spin and then get back into a stance where he could parry. One jumped, and Gus was able to execute his Counter-attack ability. He sprang away, and the other mantid just missed attacking while he was out of Gus' sight with the twist that Counter-attack applied. He jabbed quickly and scored a hit. A chime sounded.

 

You have unlocked a bonus skill: Chained attack. Hit a second target when a successful Counter-attack triggers without receiving any damage by either attacker50% chance of activating a chained attack with any direct attack if no damage is taken.

 

"Bazinga! Thought you had me, ugly?" Gus taunted, his voice quavery with adrenaline. The mantids reverted to their circling pattern, and Gus was ready for the opportunistic attack from the support mantid. He was able to score a critical hit in the head, and that Mantid was out of the fight. Fighting a single enemy was simple in comparison, and he dispatched the second mantid after a couple of attacks and Counter-attack cycles. A ding and chime simultaneously sounded.

 

Quest completed: 1000 XP

 

You have leveled up the skill: Counter-attack to Level 2!

+350 Facility Points awarded.

+500 XP bonus for unlocking hidden skill during combat

+300 FP for unlocking hidden skill during combat

 

LEVEL UP!  Congratulations, Level 7 reached  4000 XP until next level

You have been awarded 400 facility points(FP)

You have been awarded 5 stat points

Gus still had about an hour before the deadline, but the dimming lights of the arena gave him the tacit notification that he had completed as much training as he could for the day. Gus wasn't sure if it was an effect of the Nth or just excitement over leveling up his skills, but he always felt amped after finishing a quest. Maybe it was related to the level up euphoria, just with adrenaline or something. He was more than ready to make some manor upgrades and was excited to see what he would be available.



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Carl Stubblefield

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