Chapter 05 – Fighting lessons
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I’ve never written combat sequences before! I have no idea how to write those! Let’s see! Perhaps my year of Karate and Choi Kwang Do will resurface and help me figure out how combat works? It’s been so long. I should probably start martial arts training again -- There’s actually a Baji Quan school in my town, and I was a pretty good player of Akira and Kokoro in Virtua Fighter & Dead or Alive, respectively. But I digress! Time to see how Neva will fare!


     Sink or swim time, huh? I bend down my knees, and shift my stance. Perhaps due to my dabbling in martial arts before, or from my new body’s instinctive abilities, I assume a side stance -- Yup Sugi was the name of that stance in the Korean Martial Art I practiced. My body is roughly about 60° degrees to the side of my target, left leg forward, right leg back. I place my arms up in a defensive position, the left arm forward protecting the torso, the right arm protecting the jaw -- Bang Uh Jasae. As my hands reach those positions, I notice the three-metal prongs that I saw in the character creation screen are now attached to my fists! They apparently grow straight out of the gauntlet’s knuckle guards? I tighten my hands around grips I hadn’t felt before, and the blades react, twitching and stretching, like a cat’s claws would when pressing against their pads. This is all rather exciting!


     Still, there’s no time to waste, and before anything happens, I should study the odds. On the left corner, weighing probably around 110 pounds soaking wet, a catgirl monk, with not enough armor to safely and legally ride a bicycle. And on the opposite corner, she is facing this monstrosity weighing several tons, a combination of magic and hybrid metals. One has maybe up to one hour of experience moving her own body, and no combat experience whatsoever. The other has, likely, centuries of compiled battle data from all members of its kind. Weight is extremely important in combat, and he’s got me beat to a ratio of about 20:1. Reach is another important one, and he’s more than twice my size, and the majority of the mass of the doll counts as its “Arms”. I will be generous to myself and say he’s got me 5:1 here. And experience.. Well, that’s, I suppose, where we’ll see how good Neva’s muscle memory is. 


     But to be frank. I’m screwed no matter how I look at it.


     My ears twitch as I hear a hiss-turned-growl sound and hone-in on the source of the angry sound, my gaze following right behind. Rune is a few feet in front of me, the dead bat he’s been carrying left behind without a care. He’s defensively placed between my aissalliant and myself in an aggressive combat stance. His back is arched and his tail and ears are flat. He’s growling loudly, but there’s another sound, closer to a deep rumbling that seems to be coming from all around him.


     His magical aura is expanding and shaking, he must be doing something with that excess “mana” I had seen before. Oblivious or ignoring Rune totally, The doll keeps walking towards me. Suddenly, Rune leaps in the air, leaving behind a trail of shiny lights of all colors of the rainbow. As soon as he reaches the eye-level of our opponent, he twists mid-air, and backflips, all four legs extended, shooting back toward the ground in a graceful arc. Following the curve of his flip, each of his four paws left behind a shining crescent that shot straight to the golem’s head in quick succession, stopping it in its track and even pushing it back a full footstep. Not only can  Rune do magic ranged claw attacks, they’re able to knock back this monstrosity!?


     Without making a single sound that would resemble pain, confusion or anger, the doll turns to face Rune and assumes a fighting stance, raising his right arm and opening his right hand. Really, did my cat just steal aggro from me? The doll’s “hands”, as it is, are made of 3 rectangular prisms that serve as fingers. Through some clever engineering, those prisms can split open in halves, turning each finger into a claw with scissors-like sharp blades. And twice the reach. I understand those are probably warrior-dolls meant to wage war and protect their territory, but this feels way overkill at the moment!


     Seeing as any individual finger is big enough to cut Rune in half, and most likely backed by enough power to deliver on that promise, I take a few side-steps forward, ready to join the fray. The creation’s hips and waist are the narrowest and probably least armored part of their body -- The two of them combined still have less total mass than as a single hand! While it’s certainly a well-defended body part, on virtue of being hidden in the center of its massive body, it screams “fatal weak spot” to me. The doll throws a series of punches and cutting attacks at Rune, who manages to evade them all with minimal movements -- almost as if he was moving as little as possible to infuriate his opponent. Could he be actually doing that? Taunting for aggro?


     Once I judge the distance is right, I take a final and longer side step, and spin my left foot clockwise as soon as it lands on the ground. I use the extra momentum to throw a jumping Dolmya Yup Chagi, or spinning side-kick, with my right leg, straight to the creature’s narrowest part of its body. I remember that side-kicks were always one of my best attacks, especially given the strength of my legs, so I had high hopes that my attack would not only connect, but would have some kind of impact. As soon as the hit lands, I smoothly drop my foot in a mirrored stance, my right-leg and right arm now the closest to our enemy. Continuing the motion set by the landing and stance change, my left hand is already on the way to deliver a punch when my brain catches up with my body and I stop my punch in mid-air.


     There’s nothing to strike in front of me -- the upper half of the doll had been sent flying by the impact of my kick, and crashed loudly against the iron bars of the gate at the other end of the antechamber. Seconds later, the body and arms simply slump down on the floor. In a display of rebellion or confusion, the legs stand still for just a few moments before Wile E. Coyoting to the ground in a sudden deafening racket. “The heck?” I burst out of laughing, which sounds definitely cuter than my cavernous inner voice… I idly wonder if those two voices will ever reconcile, and how.


     Rune however, didn’t hesitate. I notice as he leaps over the crashed legs and again straight for the Doll’s head, claws fully extended. The little murder ball of teeth of claws hooked itself against the head, and started raking, slashing and scratching at it furiously. I’m not too sure how good his attacks were against whatever the head was made of, but one thing was clear --  the doll didn’t appreciate it! It flails its arms and scissors-fingers around wildly, trying to shake the little offender. I shake myself out of my stupor and rush to Rune’s assistance, before a lucky hit lands on him!


     As I approach, an unpredictable sudden strike from the golem’s left arm suddenly appears in my peripheral vision, mere inches away from hitting me! I reflexively bend my torso backwards and let myself slide on the ground, feet first, dodging the hit by a split second. Using the momentum from the slide, I shoot myself upwards, springing feet first towards the left arm. Coiling my arms around the narrow upper arm and shoulder plate, I pincer the much bigger lower arm with both of my legs. 


     I don’t know if it’s instincts driving me, but my current plan is apparently to bank on the seemingly prodigal strength of those legs of mine. I’m currently thinking that I can twist, bend, break, or tear off the arm at the elbow, I just hope I have enough upper body muscle to pull it off! As if reading my mind, the claws and plating on my gauntlet seemed to gain a will of their own. With a satisfying Sch-Klang!, the blades dig themselves deep, locking into the creature’s upper arm. Well, this is certainly an interesting fighting style I’m randomly developing here!


     So, the doll’s upper and lower arm are actually held together by an invisible force -- magic, telekinesis, magnetism? There is no muscle or ligaments here, the two parts are just hovering next to each other. I have no idea what kind of force I need to apply to counter that magic. At the very least, I expect it should be similar to the force an actual muscle or joint would have, otherwise the arm would simply fall due to its weight, and wouldn’t be a usable tool.


     Remembering how little pressure is needed to break a human’s kneecap (30 to 40 pounds or so, for those interested), I tried to predict the weight / ratio that corresponds to a magically-hovering-arm of a 3-ton robot. Using a base of 25% of the total body weight, I assume that 750 pounds should do the trick. Well, I used to easily leg-press over 600 pounds when I was younger, and Neva is certainly in better shape than I was. And… Wait, is it I or Neva? Ugh, whatever. “WE”. I suppose, we certainly don't have the same weight anymore, and probably nowhere near the same muscle mass.


     So yeah, I’m latched to the shoulder and upper arm, and start pushing the lower arm away with all my might. What I expected to be a long struggle, QTE beam-battle of epic proportions ended up over a lot sooner than I had anticipated! I barely felt any resistance, separating the two halves felt about as easy as removing an arm from those old magnetic Force Commander toy robots from the late ‘70s. As soon as the “connection” with the lower arm was severed, it was sent flying halfway across the room, landing in a thunderous crash. Any motions the claw/hand had before immediately stopped.


     Not only was the disconnected arm no longer moving, even from this distance I can clearly see the material flaking away, losing most of its color, hardness. Thousands of little cracks appear all over, as if the millennium that magic had kept it in working order were instantly catching up with a vengeance. Rapidly, the arm couldn’t even keep its shape, collapsing under its own weight. “O---kay…?” 


     I didn’t really have time to fully grok what just happened, and was immediately distracted by the feeling of a weird rumbling vibration emanating from the doll. A strange light slowly builds all around us, the doll’s lifeless voice simply states “Readying weapon skill: Typhoon.” Thinking quickly, I let go of my grasp on its shoulder, but before I could jump off, the rumbling reached its apex “Releasing.. Typhoon!”


     The golem shifts both of its shoulders upwards, making both arms parallel to the ground. It then suddenly pushed itself away from the wall, spinning like a gyroscope -- An unbalanced one, seeing as it was missing half an arm! Both Rune and myself are thrown off, but the arms are spinning so fast that I get clobbered a few times before finally getting pushed out of range. I blocked the hits as best as I could, curled into a ball, protected by my arm and leg armor. 


     Well, I may be strong and able to rip limbs off those things and knock them flying, but I do not recommend getting hit by several hundred pounds of CerMet repeatedly. I’ll probably have visible bruises for weeks from this, if not worse! It REALLY hurts. 0/10, do not recommend. As I finally manage to get back to my feet after hitting the ground, I feel myself smiling. “Now it’s my turn, you fuck!” I bend my leg and spin around, and spring back towards the whirligig like a woman possessed! Back into the fray in a single hop, my vision turns red -- I feel like I’m flying as I prepare my elbow and shoulder for an explosive tackle!


     The chest of the golem partially caves-in under the strength of the first impact, and I follow-up with a flurry of slashing motions -- let me christen those “Tair Ur Shitap Chigi”, my “claws” chipping sizable chunks of the doll’s torso away. The doll’s neutral voice resonates “Core Exposed. Beginning Self-Destruct sequence...” Bright light begins to shine through the cracks in its chest area “Oh no you don’t!” I shout, sending a straight punch right through its center. 


     I can only assume the core is right there! I open my hand, and blindly prod around to locate the core, whatever it is. I use the strength of my legs to push my shoulder and arm deeper inside the cavity, collapsing the chest even further and finally manage to get a finger to touch a warm spherical object. Pushing harder, I stretch with all my might, closing my hand over it and rip it out from within, hoping this will stop the self-destruct sequence.


     As I hoped, as soon as I extract the spherical object, the rumbling stops. And like the lower arm did before, the entire body of the doll starts to age in front of my eyes, fracturing into multitudes of broken bits and pieces. The core remains warm in my hand, and the glow very slowly turns from imminent-danger angry red glow to a safer-looking stabilized blue.


     Thinking quickly, I take a step closer to the right side of the chest and, with a gentle push of my feet, roll the lower arm a few paces away. I kneel next to it, holding the core a few inches away. Something tells me that if I keep it close, I can probably keep that part of the doll in “working” condition. I have no idea if the claws are still a danger even when the “head” and brain are detached, but I’m not exactly keen on figuring it out. So I stomp on them with my feet, and shove them out of reach.


     Inspired by the fact my gauntlets seem to follow my mental instructions, I tentatively try to lift the arm from the ground by lifting the core, imagining the two objects connected to each other by an invisible cable. I grin like an idiot as I realize that the arm is following the movement of the core, and that the core itself doesn’t seem to have gained a single ounce of weight. Ever though it’s probably now tied to a 200 pounds or so object. What kind of broken rules of physics is this world following, anyway?


     I am reminded of an interesting “glitch” in Half-life 2, where you could use 2 large pieces of metal, and the Gravity gun, and with some clever trickery of positioning and physics, you could create a “hover-car” of sorts. It needed some finagling but if you got it right, you could stand on a metal plate that was itself being pulled “up” off the ground by a second metal plate that your Gravgun was holding. In real physics, it makes no sense that you could do that, but computer versions of physics are.. Funky.


     My earlier grin evolves into a genuine shit-eating grin. Could I actually do this, then? I lower the doll’s arm almost to ground level, and tentatively place one leg on top of it. I then climb on the arm with my other leg. I wobbily adjust my position forward, trying to keep the hand holding the core as stable as I can. Now’s the time to see how insane this magic thing is. Can I lift this thing up and move it around while I’m “riding” it ? I move my hand almost imperceptibly, and am immediately rewarded by the feeling of being moved around, akin to riding a snowboard or rocket… 


     Okay. I’ll need some space to learn how to properly ride this thing around, and I could probably use some kind of safety device--- oh! If my gauntlets can latch on demand, can I also simply have my greaves also grow claws and root myself in this thing? Sh-Klang, Sh-Klang!! Well, that answers that question. Surrogate boot clasps is a go? Okay, so now this is like Back to the Future’s hoverboard. Except shaped like a weird rocket. Maybe someday I can find some tools to adjust the shape so it’s more comfortable. But for now, it looks like a character or vehicle in a first person game. I can move forward, backward, and sideways.


     “Hey Rukitten? I’m going to try flying this thing around outside… Wait for me and stay here, maybe?” Rune stops cleaning himself and stares at me, tilting his head, probably puzzled. He doesn’t wait very long before continuing his much more important task. Taking it very slowly, I move the core towards the exit, guiding my vehicle out of the room, and towards the snowstorm. 


     It doesn’t take very long before I realize that I can “roll” the core like I would a trackball mouse, to change orientation. It’s not a natural control scheme at all, but I suppose that’s something I’ll be able to improve at some point. Perhaps if I can use two cores, one for direction, and one for heading? That’d be like the two analog sticks on a controller -- and that’s something I am confident I could handle!


     As I approach the force field that keeps the snowstorm at bay, I stop and find myself re-evaluating the wisdom of flying in the middle of a snowstorm on an untested vehicle. Well, let’s see. For starters, this is a FLYING device, so it’s not like snow or ice should have any impact on traction (or lack thereof), so that’s one winter hazard that I can safely ignore. Next, the fact there’s probably a few feet of snow all over means that any accident that leads to a crash, the snow could help cushion a fall. 


     Of course, there are problems -- awful visibility (so don’t go too fast, Nevie…), and the sub-zero temperature (I’m SO not dressed for this), are still going to be a problem. Hot air goes upwards, cold downwards, but even knowing this, I don’t think there will be warm temperatures if I climb straight up. What would be useful is to have any idea where north, south, east and west were. Because I know the Duchy of Jeuno, if it exists in this world, should be vaguely south-east from here. Seeing as the city is built on top of a network of bridges connecting two continents, it should be rather easy to spot, once I get closer to that area.


     I suppose I will have to fly blind and see if I spot anything at all. The “crag” of Fei'Yin should be the easiest structure to spot from here. Crags can be found all over the world and they all have the same shape and size. A giant structure, made of white CerMet, with a massive central tower, surrounded by four smaller ones. Crags had been built by an ancient and now gone civilization, to harvest the energy of Mother Crystals. Weird, giant bone-white vertebrates connect together all the crags found in the world. Seeing those giant spines floating several hundred feet above some locations can create some very ghastly sights.  


     Unfortunately, if memory serves, Fey’Yin’s crag is actually below ground level, and thus will not be all that easy to spot, even when flying. The weird CerMet vertebrae are also, for the most part, running underground, and only peek out from time to time. Not a very good guide. In any case, there’s not really anything more useful in Fei’Yin compared to Pso’Xja to me right now. What I need is a town or village.


     The Winter Viera village of Llanfair then? Where Rythea was supposed to spawn after going through character creation? That’s two entire zones away, and the opposite direction from Jeuno, too -- it would require flying over Xarcabard, “The land of truths”. The land where the ShadowLord’s castle, Castle Zvahl, could be found. Remembering that Greater Amphiptere, some REALLY mean flying dragons, are known to patrol the skills above this area, I think it’s safer to avoid that part of the world. 


     The other nearest nation belongs to those long-necked Elvaans. I’d have to fly over the Ranguemont mountain range, instead of going through the Pass, but then I would find myself in the forest of Ronfaure, with its maple trees and warmer temperatures. I don’t really hate the silly French-inspired Elves. They’re actually funny, in an abrasive and very Monty Python way. To get there I would have to head South-West.


     So let’s assess the 8 cardinal directions. South-West and South-East are good. South is also good, since I could safely course-correct to either of the two other choices. West is very bad, North, North-East and East are all fairly bad. And finally, North-West is good. Looks like it’s a coin toss, then. Since I can’t tell which direction I’d be heading, I can pick any one at random, and I have a 50% chance of heading somewhere that’s good for me.


     I finally push the core forward, making my vehicle cross the threshold of the snow storm. Aaaand, yeah. This is… very cold. I try to adjust my position a little, seeing if there’s any way to hide behind my hair or tail at least partially. Sadly, the wing is pretty strong, and my hair is just getting blown to and fro, and is currently being annoying and painful, rather than providing warmth.


     I grit my teeth, and keep the vehicle in movement albeit at a very slow pace. Even when I can open my eyes in this stinging wind, I can’t really see anything, so there’s no way to tell if there’s a cliff, tree or path in front. It doesn’t take very long that I feel my body already starting to drop non-essential functions, this… isn’t good. A sudden pain in my left hand causes me to stop the vehicle. Oh. Shit, that’s not good. My left arm, still bruised up from the earlier beating, which I had totally forgotten about, is now turning a very concerning shade of purple.


     Internal bleeding…? Shit, that’s. Oh. Yeah, I’m so losing consciousness over … this…