“What is the point of this stance?” Kiriai asked in a petulant voice. She maneuvered her body into a twist stance, or at least attempted to. It involved rotating her body while keeping her feet in place until both her knees touched together, and she came up on the ball of one foot.

“It’s a transition stance, like I explained earlier,” Yabban responded, ignoring Kiriai’s cranky mood. “Just like the front twist and rear twist stances, but instead of stepping into this one, you rotate in place.”

Kiriai moved a little too far, lost her balance and stumbled out of the stance with a growl.

“Perhaps you’d like to practice the intermediate kicks you’ve unlocked for a few minutes,” Yabban said. “You seemed to enjoy those, and once you’re in a better mood, we can finish these stances.”

Kiriai bit back her retort. She’d spent Ancestor’s Day alternating between Isha’s ministrations and watching footage of Antei’s fights late into the night. Now, after a full day of brawler training where Gebi kept ratcheting things to ever higher levels, Kiriai just wanted to crash into her bed. But it was already Monday. The big fight was in five days. She had to squeeze in some training against the virtual Antei before she was too tired to function.

But Yabban had insisted that she take the first part of her training to unlock the handful of intermediate stances she had left.

“This upgrade you keep hinting at better be worth it,” Kiriai groused as she contorted herself into the rotating twist stance again.

“I believe it is,” said Yabban, her eyes sharp and watching Kiriai’s every move. “It’s a sub-skill of autonomy that will allow me to better aid you during in-game training and focus your skills on defeating Brawler Antei.” Yabban stopped and met Kiriai’s gaze. “I know how important this fight is to your hood, Kiriai. This is the path that is best calculated to bring you success.”

Kiriai was suddenly struck by how much Yabban, and for that matter her entire crew, was doing to help.

Shame crept in, and Kiriai ducked her head. “I’m sorry, Yabban. I know you’re doing your best. I’ll try to be less grouchy about it.”

Kiriai twisted and bent, sure she finally had it right. When she looked up, Yabban had cracked a smile.

“I have to admit the rotating twist stance has very few practical applications in an arena fight,” she said. “But you look quite skilled all twisted up like that. It reminds me of a joke.”

Kiriai stared at Yabban for a minute, torn between humor and outrage.

“Congratulations, Trainee Kiriai,” Yabban said. “You have unlocked all the intermediate skills, which gives you one attribute point you can use to give me a new skill or upgrade an existing one.”

Kiriai relaxed her limbs and stood with a sigh. “You said something about a joke. Maybe you should tell me and I can decide if your humor attribute needs an upgrade.”

Yabban frowned. “That would be a waste when an autonomy sub-skill upgrade would unlock new training aids and allow me to offer valuable information out in the game world.”

Kiriai just raised her eyebrows and waited, doing her best to keep her expression stern.

Yabban narrowed her gaze for a moment, then shrugged. “A rope walks into a diner. The man inside says, ‘Sir, we don’t serve food to ropes here.’ So the rope goes outside, twists himself up, much like you just did. He messes up his hair and walks back in minutes later. The owner shouts at him, ‘Hey aren’t you the rope that I told to leave earlier?’”

Kiriai waited

Yabban didn’t say anything.

“And?” Kiriai finally asked.

“I’m pausing for comedic timing, Kiriai,” said Yabban with a satisfied smile.

Kiriai snorted but kept quiet, letting Yabban have her fun.

She finally gave a slight shrug before delivering the punch line. “The rope looks at the owner and says, ‘No sir, I’m a frayed knot.’”

A sputtering laugh erupted from Kiriai and with it, the last bit of her tension. “All right, Yabban. You’re right, your humor is perfectly fine the way it is,” she said. “But before I do the upgrade, give me a rundown of your stats, please. Not that I will disagree with your recommendation,” she hurried to add. “I just want to make sure we’re not missing anything. We don’t have any room for mistakes.”

Yabban nodded, her expression serious again. “You have unlocked the first level of personality as well as the two sub-skills humor and wise sayings. Your last attribute point unlocked my first level of autonomy.”

“What about fighting skills? Do you have any upgrades that would let you teach me more advanced fighting moves?”

“No. I have the full library of martial arts moves and skills. Teaching them depends on what you’ve unlocked and which prerequisites you’ve completed. My attributes points affect how you and I interact and how helpful I can be with my suggestions.”

“So this sub-skill you’re talking about, it will let you help me in the”—Kiriai caught herself and made sure to use Yabban’s term—“game world? How is that different from what you already do when you give me advice?”

“The only real way to understand is to unlock it and find out,” Yabban said. “It’s difficult to explain with words alone, much like all martial art skills.”

Kiriai stared at her trainer. But instead of seeing sarcasm, she saw an earnest desire to help in Yabban’s eyes.

Curiosity still tugged at Kiriai. This was the most she’d been able to pull out of Yabban and how the AI trainer worked. Learning about the possibilities was too much to ignore.

“Try,” Kiriai said.

An almost human expression of exasperation accompanied Yabban’s sigh. “I am restricted from doing anything that will give you an advantage during fights in the game world, but the more autonomy attributes you unlock, the more I can assist you as you train in the game world, not just here in the virtual dojo.”

Kiriai gave Yabban’s words some thought, trying to imagine how Yabban’s abilities to do things like simulate opponents would be any more useful in the real world than they were here where she could actually feel and touch them. When they’d first been experimenting, Yabban had presented Kiriai with opponents in the real world that looked and sounded real, but were insubstantial as ghosts. Only once they’d moved to her virtual dojo could Kiriai interact with them as if they were real. It made sense, once Kiriai had figured out that Yabban could only affect Kiriai’s senses in the real world, not reality itself. The error had disconcerted Yabban and she’d blamed it on a problem integrating with the main game servers . . . whatever that meant. In any case, the virtual dojo solved the problem.

“Do I have other choices besides the one you’ve picked out?”

“Yes, many of them, though some also have prerequisites you haven’t met yet.”

“Can you give me the list?”

“Are you sure you want to take the time for this? The list is extensive.”

“Fine,” Kiriai said with a huff. “I just want an idea. Give me five that I could do right now if I didn’t take your wise advice.”

Yabban’s eyes narrowed for a moment before she nodded. “The autonomy sub-skill I recommend you unlock is called Coaching, specifically Mental Coaching, which is different from its partner skill called Physical Coaching. The choices under Personality are as varied as you can imagine and new ones can actually be added to if you come up with a variation and submit it for approval. Also, there is an entirely new attribute tree called Analytics which includes various statistical sub-skills like Predictability and Attack Frequency—”

Kiriai held up her hand and Yabban stopped speaking. The different terms were making Kiriai’s head spin. “Fine,” she said. “You’re right. We don’t have time for this, but when this week is over, I want you to explain all those to me, including some personality ones. All right?”

“Agreed,” Yabban said with a smile and tip of her head. “Now, would you like to spend your attribute point to unlock Mental Coaching?”

Kiriai blew out a breath and said, “Yes.”

“Congratulations,” said Yabban with a smile. “Time to get to work.”

A moment later, a stocky woman appeared in front of Kiriai, already in a fighting stance, hands up and one eyebrow raised in challenge. She was only slightly taller than Kiriai but definitely outweighed her, with broad shoulders and muscular arms under the black gi top she wore.

Kiriai recognized Brawler Antei immediately. The fighter made her think of a stocky tree, full of solid strength that would take strenuous chopping to affect.

With a quick breath, Kiriai shook out her arms, loosened her neck and dropped back into her own stance. At least she felt full of energy and pain-free. Here in Yabban’s virtual studio, she could leave her tired and injured body behind for a few blissful minutes.

“Wait,” said Yabban. “Before we get started, let’s review my recommendation for the time you have left before the fight.”

Kiriai let out a groan as she looked at Yabban, but didn’t object.

“First, you will spend as much time as possible practicing against Antei’s favorite attacks and defenses. There isn’t any substitute for repetition and hard work. Second, you will drill the two fighting styles you rarely use, Counter and Evade, until you are as familiar with them as your usual Attack style. Then we’ll incorporate it against my simulation of Antei. And finally comes Mental Coaching. I will teach you the most effective time to use your pre-cog during a fight and we will use your new training aid, Targeting.”

Kiriai stared at Yabban, her mouth agape. She struggled to process everything Yabban had just said, but one thing stuck out to her. “My pre-cog?”

“Yes.” Yabban said with emphasis. “It is an unusual skill with great potential that you have been neglecting.”

“Hey,” Kiriai said with a frown. “I use it twice a day, every day morning and night to keep the energy from building up too much. And I used it in that fight with Akumu, if you can call that a fight. Plus, my control is improving a lot. I can make it manifest on command now, almost every time. That’s loads better than in the past. Even Shisen thinks I’m doing well.” Nothing Kiriai said seemed to affect Yabban, which made her stop and think. “What do you have to do with my pre-cog gift, anyway? You said you had no game data on it. Shisen is my trainer for it, since she’s the one with the experience.”

“I may not have your pre-cog skill in my basic database, but it isn’t unheard of for players to gain unique skills from quests or other gameplay. I have been monitoring how you use it and have enough data now to know that you are wasting a very valuable fighting tool.”

“Wasting? But I’ve used it in fights before. It’s made a huge difference.”

“And lately?” Yabban asked with a raised brow.

Kiriai flushed. “Well, with everything else going on—training all day, healing, watching hours of Antei’s fight footage, the political nastiness. Blast”—she let out a frustrated breath—“even everything you’ve got me working on: the Clock Principle, Environmental Awareness and finishing all these mostly useless Intermediate moves.” Kiriai’s words trailed off. Sometimes it seemed like everything was too much.

Instead of arguing back, Yabban just smiled. “Exactly why you needed to unlock mental coaching. From now on, I will cue you to activate your pre-cog twice at the perfect times during practice, instead of wasting it the way you are now. Sound good?”

Kiriai felt relieved at the idea. As long as she didn’t have to calculate when to use her pre-cog along with everything else she was trying to perfect, she was fine.

“What would you like to use as a command?” Yabban asked. “It needs to be a word that neither of us will commonly use, so there is no misunderstanding in the middle of a fight.”

“I’m assuming you don’t want to use the word slow, which I use to activate the gift?”

“No,” said Yabban. “Too easy to misunderstand.”

Kiriai thought for a minute and the answer was simple. “Just use pre-cog. It isn’t a term you use with me, and during a fight, it will be very clear what you want me to do.”

Yabban gave a brisk nod before waving at the figure of Brawler Antei, who hadn’t moved.

“Activate Targeting training aid.”

Kiriai watched, fascinated, as a fine reddish hue fell over the brawler, like a transparent paint. But instead of being a uniform color, it was very light in some areas and darker in others.

“Observe,” said Yabban with a grin.

Antei suddenly began shadow boxing, moving at the medium pace of a warm-up.

At first, Kiriai wasn’t sure what Yabban meant, but she kept watching. Antei’s fists and feet were only the faintest of reds as she moved, so that wasn’t it. Then Kiriai’s eye was drawn to a pulse of dark red that flashed on Antei’s torso, only to jump from one spot to another, under a rib, to her solar plexus, up to her jaw?

Was that—?

“Those are where she’s open!” Kiriai said, almost yelling in her excitement.

Yabban’s smile widened as she nodded. “I can only do this during training, not during a fight, but with enough practice, it should hone your ability to spot openings as soon as they appear and even to anticipate them.”

“Sweet! Let’s get started. I still need to get some sleep at some point.”

“And since you haven’t used your pre-cog for a second time today, I will call out the command during one of the rounds tonight, so be prepared. Agreed?”

Kiriai nodded.

Yabban’s expression turned serious, and she took the sensei’s usual position between Kiriai and the virtual Antei. “Ready?”

Kiriai let her knees bend and toes grip the floor before she nodded.



Support "World of Combat: A Dystopia Gamelit Series"

About the author


Bio: I started Kenpo Karate at 13 because my mom found a coupon for a free lesson. I sold candy at school (and got in trouble for it) but earned enough to carry a jar of small bills and change to pay for my first month of lessons. I fell in love with martial arts and obsessed about leveling up to black belt in three years time.

A newlywed at 26, I decided to switch classes to healer and four years later was awarded the rank of doctor.

And through it all I devoured stories and played games. I bought Starcraft for my husband when we first got married, but I secretly played it for a couple of weeks before giving it to him, because you know . . . competitive. :) My kids loved it when I helped moderate the Minecraft server they played on.

And now? I write stories combining everything I love.

Why don't you read a few pages and tell me what you think. I'm always looking to connect with readers and improve my writing. I love a good adventure and hope my stories deliver that.

Say hi - I answer.

-- Misty :)

Log in to comment
Log In

No one has commented yet. Be the first!