I admit: a few hundred failures to open my interface later, and I was feeling a biiiiiiit discouraged. The fact that I was being dragged through the underbrush while my owner sought out low-level mobs to ineptly battle didn't exactly help.
I mean, seriously: what was I even doing? Was this going to be the rest of my life? Lying on my back, getting dragged around through fetch quests, trying in vain to open an interface that might not even exist?
No no no, think positive! I knew for a fact that I had access to the messages function, in some form or other. Hinterlands, maybe if I got the interface open I could message Lucy and let her know that I'm human! Well, formerly human. Also, please figure out a way to carry me, but not the breast thing. That was weird. And surprisingly uncomfortable, despite all claims of anime and manga to the contrary.
My arm had fallen listlessly by my side while I had my bought with self-pity, but I forced myself to lift it and try again. We hadn't moved in a bit, so it was probable that my owner and her duffle-y boyfriend had finished off their latest set of mobs and were sorting through the loot. Not that anything that dropped at this level was worth sorting, but eh. When you first start playing every piece of equipment is new and interesting, I suppose.
"Luce, I think your pet is bugging out." Oh great, the snazz-hole got bored and noticed me. CONGRATS, IT ONLY TOOK YOU FORTY MINUTES! What an idiot. I locked eyes with him and very intentionally swiped downward again. Like I'm going to change my behavior because of you, you pompous—
Pa-keeng! I stopped dead, my arm frozen in place. No interface yet, but I knew that sound! That was the sound of a behavior-based stat increase! BOOYAH BONKERS, I HAD STATS!
…stupid profanity filter. But the point stood! In addition to the automatic growth applied to stats on a level-up and the user-assignable stat points that I'd seen Lucy mangle so recently, BAO also provided every character with a small pool of 100 stat points that could be earned based on behavior. That wasn't very much—something like 10 or 12 percent of the total possible stat points for a character at the max level—but because they were gained based on in-game behavior, they caused every character you rolled to come out a little different, even if your broad strategy was similar. One of those things that new players mostly ignored, and a lot of my fellow streamers urgently researched in their continual attempts to min-max towards perfection. I hadn't paid a lot of attention to them for most of my runs; I mean sure, there were a few times when I'd grind a sub stat up a little through behavior points to meet a requirement for a class or something, but I mostly just let them do their own thing.
However, that I'd just received a behavior point…well, that changed everything. That meant that even though I couldn't access my interface, I could still get rough feedback based on the behavior point sound. It also meant that I had stats, and presumably skills. I'd just need to figure out how to access them. Or, in the case of skills, how to acquire them in the first place. Hmmm. That was a pretty tall order, given my inability to communicate with anything, but I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.
Okay, so I'd probably just raised…agility? I guess? Or strength at the outside, though swinging my arm around wouldn't normally grind that stat, since I wasn't lifting or moving anything other than my body. So that meant that my arm-swinging practice was having some effect. Was that helpful, though?
I gave my arm another practice swing, and I thought it was a little crisper. I felt like I was a bit closer to the outward flick at the end. Though that could just be all in my head, or simply a side effect of repetition. There wasn't really any analog in the computer game I used to play; stats didn't directly affect your character's ability to move around because all movement was automated and identical across all players. This was a fully immersive environment, though, so surely stats did something, right? Come to think of it, how did skills translate from computer to full immersion virtual environment? It's not like the server could just insert the knowledge for how to swing a sword around or whatever into the player's brain. Right?
Well, not like that was something I needed to worry about, given I wasn't a player. For now, I figured I just needed to—
"She looks fine to me! She's just tired out because she can't keep up, like I told you! Aren't you, my little fluffy-kins?"
Oh, right. Lucy and Ban-boy. Lucy scooped me up and squished me against her cheek. I personally wouldn't go sticking a miniature owl-thing that's been dragged along through the dirt for miles up against my face, but you do you, I guess.
"Why was it lying on the ground like that, though? And you didn't see, but it was stuck in some sort of loop or something. I really think you need to report that thing to support. It looked like it was bugging out pretty hard."
I'll bug you out, you overblown—
"No, see, she falls over when she tries to follow me. Look at her ickle little feet! She just can't keep up!"
Ack! Stop that! Lucy flipped me sideways, grabbed one of my ickle feet, and wiggled it at Ray. Do you mind, woman?!
Ray looked skeptical. "I don't know, Luce, I really—"
Enough! I've had enough! I desperately squirmed, flapping my arms as hard as I could as I fought against my oppressor, and then with a pop I freed myself! For the briefest instant I arced slightly upwards. Oh man, did these wings actually work?! I was flying! Booyah! In your face Banzy-butt! I'm—uh oh.
With a tragic cheeeep I plummeted down and impacted the ground face-first with a soft thwump. Uh, perhaps we could just forget that last…
Pa-keeng! Awwww, yeah, there be stats in da house! My ignominious fall a thing of the past, I hopped up onto my feet and stuck an arm out in a victory pose.
"Look at you, fluff-kins!" Lucy had evidently knelt down next to me and was leaning forward. "You almost flew! I'm so proud of you!"
Well, uh…oh gosh, now I was getting all flustered. Although maybe less from the praise and more from the fact that I was pretty sure if this weren't a video game Lucy would be having a major wardrobe malfunction right now. I lowered my arms and kind of turned to one side in embarrassment. For her. Not for me, obviously. I was awesome.
Pa-keeng! Wait, another one? What was that for? Seriously, why was I getting all these stat increases for practically nothing when I had to grind over an hour to get that first one? Was Ray right? Was I actually bugging out?
No, I'd transform into an oracular duck before I'd acknowledge Mr. Banz was right about anything. It must have been a weird coincidence. Like, maybe the first stat was Agility, and the second could have been Endurance or Strength from the flying attempt or colliding with the ground. Then maybe an Intellect point for figuring out flying? I wasn't really clear on how you'd grind Intellect as a baseball-sized ball of fluff, actually.
Eh, no biggie. I'd figure it out. Maybe it was just the exhilaration of discovering I might one day actually be able to fly—as physically improbable as that seemed—or maybe it was discovering that even though I was trapped in this lame body I still had access to stat progression, but I was riding high! Time to go grind some more stats! Now what were my two lame companions up to? I'd lost track of them for a moment there.
"Okay, sounds good," Ray was saying. "We should be able to find the last few bunches of brimweed before I need to go. Too bad we didn't make it to the dungeon, but we can go next time. Are you at level five yet?"
"Uh, no, I don't think—" Lucy swiped vertically, and quickly navigated to her character screen. "Just a sneeze away from level four, looks like."
"Diddly." Wait, did Ray have the profanity filter on, too? Oh, no, I guess mine must just translated absolutely everything automatically. Lucky me. "Well, next time, I guess. Wonder why you're leveling up so slow."
Gee, I don't know, lame-brain. I didn't catch a lot of the action from where I was lying on my back, but even without paying much attention I could see that Ray had barely let Lucy get a hit in edgewise against most of the enemies. Maybe if you were a team player, she'd be higher level.
Nix-born, man. I tell you.
Anyway, they were hunting brimweed? As Ray headed off into the woods with Lucy in tow, I looked around. I couldn't be certain about our location without access to the minimap, but I was pretty sure there should be a river over to our left. Or maybe behind us? Okay, I wasn't exactly clear which direction was north at the moment, but I did know that the darkening bark of the trees in the direction that Ray was headed meant he was entering the zone around a dungeon. And everyone knows brimweed is far more likely to spawn near running water than in one of the more dangerous zones.
The invisible barrier hit me from behind and forced me forward onto my face.
Evidently not. I wiggled and shoved against the ground, finally reorienting myself so that at least I wasn't getting my beak dragged through the dirt. Just in time to be introduced to a rock face first.
Lovely. I stayed splatted upside down on the rock for a moment before the force propelling me peeled me off around the side and sent me flying at a slightly higher speed than before until I bounced off a tree and got whipped into the ground on the ricochet. Looked like if I somehow managed to exceed the bounds of my prison, I gained some acceleration. How nice.
I squirmed around again, this time managing to successfully flip myself over without immediately colliding with anything. Nothing for it, I supposed. Time to start grinding again and see if I couldn't get that diddly interface open. Or at least gain another stat increase.
Unfortunately, by the time Ray finally decided to log out, they hadn't found their last piece of brimweed, and I hadn't successfully ground out any more stats. So much for my momentum.
As Ray's character faded away into nothing, Lucy bent down and picked me up. "What do you think, Fluff-kins? Ray said I shouldn't adventure on my own just yet, but I only need one more piece of brimweed. Think we can find it together?"
Lucy, the guy's a duffle. Of course we can find you a stupid piece of brimweed. And it's not like you can't defeat the enemies in South Yorba, he just never let you get a shot in edgewise. Cheep!
"Yeah, I think so, too." She turned and hesitantly looked around. "I don't know if we should keep going this way, though. I thought I saw…" She switched me into her left hand, swiped her interface open with her right, navigated to the inventory, and viewed the details of the four bundles of brimweed she'd already found. "Yeah, that's what I thought. It says right here it grows near running water, but we haven't seen any water in a while."
Yeah, no scribble, Sherlock. I wiggled out of her hand, flapping my arms as hard as I could as I fell toward the earth and managing to land on my feet. Pa-keeng! You know it, stat system! I waddled out in the direction where the bark on the trees was a little lighter, then turned back to look at Lucy. Cheep!
She'd been watching me with a scribble-eating grin on her face. "Sure, that way's as good as any, I suppose. Let's go!"
Pa-keeng! Wow, I really didn't understand what was getting me stat increases. But whatever. I figured I'd take a break from trying to open my interface and practice walking and flying. Without Ray around, I was betting Lucy would be a lot less likely to move so fast that I'd end up getting dragged around.
I was right, although I didn't get much time to practice walking because we found the brimweed she needed five minutes later when we emerged from the trees at the bank of the nearby river.