The first wraith faded into view several steps beyond the end of the wagon. Wraiths in BAO were ghostly enemies whose bodies looked like churning smoke with glowing red eyes. These particular wraiths were humanoid—presumably the folks who had been accompanying this wagon—although there were animal and monster wraiths that could show up in some dungeons. Wraiths were honestly kind of weak, but with a twist: they were completely immune to physical attacks. The only way to damage them was with magic.
We were so hammered. Wait, hammered? Heh, what an oddly-appropriate—
The wraith bounded forward with an unearthly screech, that caused Lucy's head to whip up. "What the—ack!" In her surprise, Lucy stepped backward, tripped over a some of the junk littering the wagon, and fell right over the side.
On the plus side, that meant that the wraith's viciously swiping claws found only air. On the down side, that meant that she was lying wheezing on her back while two more wraiths faded into existence a little beyond her in the trees.
By the time I'd waddled out of the wagon, Lucy had secured the hammer somewhere and was brandishing her sword at the wraith that was hovering above her near the edge of the wagon. She apparently hadn't noticed the other two, which were quickly moving her way. For crying out loud!
I waddled toward her as fast as I could. Cheep cheep cheep!
Granted, I would have been a little disinclined to pay attention to my companion animal if a shadowy monster with three-inch claws was leaping at me, too.
Lucy side-stepped the wraith's swing, and swung her sword into its back with a shouted "Hah!"
Of course, the sword passed right through the wraith as if it was made of air, sending Lucy stumbling sideways. While the original wraith was still in some sort of recovery animation or something after its flying leap, the two that had been approaching her from behind had no such restrictions. The nearest of them launched itself forward while she was still off-balance, and raked her with its claws.
"Ack!" yelled Lucy, swinging wide with the sword and once again failing to do any damage whatsoever. Her eyes went wide when she saw the second and third wraith and she began swinging her sword wildly.
The first and second wraiths ignored her strikes, taking turns to rake her with their claws. As they whittled her health down, Lucy's frustration visibly skyrocketed. When the third wraith launched itself at her in what I was beginning to recognize was the closest thing they had to a long-distance attack, she finally lost her composure.
Dodging aside as the third wraith went sailing by, Lucy stepped right into an attack from the first wraith who hit her with a four or five slash combo.
"Diddle it!" screamed Lucy, and in a fit of anger flung her sword after the third wraith.
I winced. Throwing away your weapon might not have been the best choice. Though, now that I thought of it, maybe she'd finally get out her wand. Using it at point blank range would be tricky, and I wasn't sure she had enough health to outlast the wraiths, but at least its magical attacks would connect.
Defying my expectations, though, she pulled out the hammer she'd collected for the fetch quest.
With a shout of anger, she spun and brought the hammer down in an overhand swing. Oh, looked like she activated Icy Grip! That would probably work really…uh, so that would have worked really well if she had actually connected with the wraith. Instead her anger-fueled attack connected with nothing but dirt.
To my surprise, however, it did have an effect. As the hammer slammed into the ground, a small wave of icy blue air exploded out from the point of impact, knocking the two nearby wraiths back. I wasn't sure how much damage it did, but both of them now had a light blue tint which indicated they'd been afflicted with a freeze effect.
"That was awesome!" exclaimed Lucy. "Did you see that, Fluff-kins?!"
Yes yes, I saw. I waved an arm at her. Now go slaughter the nice wraiths before they force you into a respawn. Pa-keeng!
Lucy swung back around in time to interrupt the second wraith's attack with an Icy Gripped hammer to the face. The wraith imploded with a fading cry.
"Huh, these things are pretty weak to magic attacks, aren't they?"
She easily evaded the first wraith's attack thanks to its lowered speed, then swapped out the hammer for her wand. It had been a long while since my last ice build, but I vaguely recalled that Icy Grip was one of the skills with both a set number of charges and a cooldown once those charges were expended. Looked like at the base level it offered two charges.
By the time the third wraith had rejoined the fray, Lucy had mopped up the first wraith with blasts from her wand, and then she just dodged and backed up as the final wraith attacked until she'd hit it enough to put it away.
"Whew, that was kind of rough, wasn't it, Fluff-kins?" Lucy asked as the sound of the last wraith's final despairing cry faded out and the lighting returned to normal. The wraiths didn't leave behind any bodies, so instead of checking for loot Lucy stepped over and scooped me up off the ground. "You want to practice your flying?" Without waiting for an answer, she gave me a little toss and I happily flapped around her head.
As Lucy headed back to town and I worked on finding the right power, stroke angle, and speed to keep up with her, I brooded.
Frankly, I was feeling kind of useless. That whole battle, I just sat and watched from the sidelines, because hey! There wasn't anything else that I could do. If I could lift off and fly from the ground, I might have been able to get Lucy to notice the wraiths that had surprised her from behind, so that was something I could work on. But there was nothing I could do to help with the fight otherwise. Every enemy we'd ever seen had completely ignored me and gone straight for the players, so I didn't expect I'd be able to distract them. I didn't have any offensive power, although admittedly I hadn't been able to get close enough to any enemies to try pecking them while they were still mobile, and that wouldn't have helped with the wraiths given their immunity to physical attacks. Chalk that one up to another thing I could test out, though I wasn't holding out much hope. I'd never sustained damage from all my tumbles, as best I could tell, so I guess if I ever achieved enough mobility I might be able to intercept an attack? That seemed kind of dangerous, and I was dubious my round little body would ever get that quick, but I'd give it a shot if I ever had the chance.
I pumped my wings harder in frustration, sending myself coasting ahead of Lucy, and executed a leisurely circuit around her. She interrupted her poor attempt at whistling to laugh and clap. Pa-keeng!
Perhaps I'd have more options when I finally got my inventory open. For now, I guess all of my goals depended on improving my mobility. Hm, come to think, I came close to a barrel roll when I was first practicing my flying in the blacksmith's shop, huh? I held one arm still while I swiped hard with the other and successfully rolled myself over just before performing a suicide dive bomb head-first into the dirt. Pa-keeng!
Lucy saw the whole thing. I pushed myself to my feet with perfect affrontery and held up my arms toward her. I still couldn't launch myself into the air, goll diddle it. Pa-keeng!
Once she got over her laughing fit, she obliged me by tossing me back up.
I never did quite get the hang of the barrel roll before we made it back to town, but by accident I figured out a way to whip around in the air and head back the other direction while I was experimenting, and the Pa-keeng! when I first performed the maneuver sure felt good.
We made it back to the blacksmith without mishap, though Lucy strictly forbade me from flying around his shop. While she extensively explored every possible branch of the NPC's post-quest dialog tree, I wandered around the floor and practiced my inventory-opening movement.
It definitely wasn't my imagination. I was getting closer to achieving the flick at the end. Some of my stats must actually affect my ability to manipulate my own body.
That was kind of weird, when I thought about it. I hadn't kept a close count, but I must have gotten over 10 behavior points, presumably distributed across multiple stats. If that was enough to improve actual dexterity, then players must improve in absolute leaps and bounds every time they dumped points into something.
Which when I thought about it, made no sense. There was no way the game was improving people's intelligence, and I'd never noticed Lucy suddenly moving quicker or being noticeably stronger after increasing her own stats. I supposed it could just be more gradual for player characters, but I was still skeptical.
Whatever. I swiped the air again and remained certain that the improvement wasn't all in my head. It must have something to do with being a cosmetic companion animal. After all, I was physically growing when I pecked at enemies, too, which was not something that had any equivalent for players that I knew of.
I took a short break from swiping my arm through the air, held it up in front of my eyes where I could see it really well, and tried to wiggle—well, I didn't have fingers, but that was the closest equivalent to what it felt like. I didn't have a lot of success until I started trying to make a gripping motion instead. That, oddly, worked better. It wasn't a very large range of movement, but the very tip of my wing definitely curled inward slightly and, to a much lesser extent, outward. Perhaps practicing that motion would get me closer to the interface. Worth a shot. I was sick of swiping my arm up and down, and I didn't really want to develop too much more muscle memory since the motion was completely wrong for flying. Assuming muscle memory in this game was a thing.
Though I guess that stuff is all in your head, anyway? I wasn't entirely clear on how it worked. Wow, did I ever miss the internet.
While I was at it, I also tried rotating my arm forward and backward. It was surprisingly difficult, but maybe if I combined that motion with the flick after practicing gripping I'd have better luck.
I gave it an experimental test, with disappointing results, but decided I'd spend some time on those motions in the immediate future, just to shake things up.
Glancing back at Lucy I saw that she was finally handing over the hammer with a decidedly conflicted look on her face. Jeez, what did this no-name NPC even have to say that would take that long?!
"Thank yeh! Now I'll finally be able to expand my stock!"
"You don't happen to sell hammers like that, do you? I—lost my sword, and I really liked how the hammer felt."
More like she really liked not needing to worry about whether she was swinging with the sharp side of her weapon or not.
"Ah, yeh'll be wanting a war hammer in that case. These tools of mine won't serve for fighting."
"Where would I get a war hammer?"
"I could make yeh one, but I'll need some materials from a haunted grove."
Oh great. Another fetch quest with wraiths, here we come!