"AHHH! It hurts!" Eddie appeared screaming in the workshop.
"Tone it down! I'm working." Flora admonished him, fixing the model of the training hut. She had dented a beam surprised by Eddie's ruckus−even though it was the third dramatic entry in a row. The round hut contained two floors, the second floor didn't connect to the outer wall, but was a mezzanine. On its outer edge, the dexterity path was located. People had an inherent fear of falling, so a drop to the ground floor should encourage them to do well. Three thin parallel beams, with enough distance between them to trip and maybe even fall through, formed a path around the mezzanine level. Flora decided she didn't need to do a good job smoothing the balancing beam. The added difficulty would spice up the training.
"There are no mistakes in art, just happy accidents." She quoted Bob Ross to herself.
"Heartless! I'm risking my health and sanity for you!" Eddie applied his best puppy eyes on her, but she ignored him.
"For the clan, dear," Flora corrected him absentmindedly while she hung morning stars from the ceiling above the balancing parkour. Just running in circles was boring, a bit of dodging, and getting your head smashed, would invigorate the trainees –or kill them−maybe both. "I'm thankful that you are testing the training equipment."
"Flora, love, believe me, I'm not exaggerating. Your training box is excruciating, even in the lowest pain setting. Fire and Ice don't go well together. Alright, I adore nice a flambéed sundae. However, I don't like my skin roasted and then iced."
"I already fixed that. Now, it's fire and water—a bit of heat, then a refreshing shower. And a great idea to rebrand the training coffin as 'box'… that sounds so much more survivable." Flora stuffed every open space with training boxes. Then she removed some because to enter the box, you had to be able to open the door.
"Hostile water means acid. Acid burns, fire burns, I failed to sense any refreshment."
"Good point! I'm proud of you. You are a wonderful product tester." Finally, Flora stopped working and looked Eddie in the eyes. "We have to find a solution to escape the pain. We need a retreat, like my workshop, that everybody can do things they enjoy, while their body suffers through the training. Not everybody has a workshop or even nocks to connect to one. Can you research what other virtual subspaces there are?"
" I hope something with an ocean is available." Eddie sat down on a nearby workbench and read invisible text, while Flora immersed herself into the model, but soon the next interruption followed.
"Milady, HoneyStream Land sent the list with desired affinities and abilities."
"Great, hit me."
"I wouldn't dare, Milady!" (1)
"You have no issues with electroshocking me, and operating machines that leave Eddie screaming, but at hitting you draw the line?" Flora chuckled. "I just meant, read the list to me, dear. No need for boxing gloves."
"Ordered by priority from highest to lowest:
5. Magical Body Control
"Interesting, I believe I don't have some of them. What are they good for?"
"Illusion skills use Projection affinity. Stealth is the most popular one. Hallucination or mind control skills use Mind affinity. The most popular one is Fear."
"The System can make me feel fear?" Shocked, Flora exclaimed out loud instead of mentally like her usual conversations with her AI's.
Eddie looked up to her and shook his head. "I doubt it. Put System in one of your boxes, and you'll reverse the situation immediately." He grumbled and then laughed about his own joke.
"No, Milady. Your body will shiver, and then you will be unable to move or even flee in fear."
"We need this resistance! I now see the pattern. Honey sent us not the affinities used by the clan, but the most important resistances to defend against." Flora pondered. "Maybe except for Faith. However, I don't think there are many wood mages in the clan. Wood has to be on the list for poison resistance and Light maybe because laser-weapons are popular. What about the Body Control thing on the list?"
"Beep." Aito posted a link: "MBC, the most important resistance – A discussion".
"Magical Body Control skills fortify your body with mana. Boost is the most popular skill. Aito believes your theory applies because two widely used defensive skills benefit from MBC. Flush Out, which reduces the remaining time of harmful secondary effects and Bolster Immune System, which reduces the severity of many secondary effects."
"Write them on the todo-list under 'skills to learn'. I can create runes-schemes for most of the affinities. I'm not sure about Projection, Mind, and MBC. Let's continue to the abilities; maybe there will be synergies."
"Okay, Aidan. I have some questions. Let's train your empathy. Can you guess one of them?"
"Empathy is not one of the strong suits of AIs, Milady."
"I know, I can empathize." Flora snickered, while Aito produced a beeping sound that resembled groaning. "Try pattern recognition for it. You know my questions for the affinities. Start from there."
"You asked about the affinities you don't have. Jumping and Ranged are abilities you don't have. Jumping is the ability to spring into the air. Ranged is the ability to combat without your weapon touching the opponent."
"I have Dodging?" Flora couldn't remember reading it in her stats. Not that she didn't believe Aidan, but some things you had to check for yourself. Hence she opened the table and found it on the bottom. Dodging was only level 2 and had a B rating.
"Yes, Milady. You acquired it just today."
"Well, now guess my question. A hint: the question bears on Dodging, Ranged, and Jumping."
"Could I have another hint?"
"Hint Two: I have done all these activities in the past week. I dodged a lot during Wing Tsu class and in Tricky Beach. I've thrown things around like the darts at the TA and used my Rocket Launcher and did a lot of hopping around while free running, right?"
"Beep!" Aitoshuri sounded like Hermione Granger if the know-it-all would be allowed only to beep instead of holding up her hand in class.
"Not your turn, dear. Aidan got this."
"Could I have another hint?" Aidan's voice had a slight tension in its otherwise smooth modulation.
"Hint Three: I have asked you the question before about another ability."
"Yes, Milady. Do you want to know why the abilities haven't formed before?"
"Bingo! I'm proud of you."
"I'm sorry, Milady, I didn't use empathy. I went over all the questions you asked me about abilities and picked the only one which would be relevant for the three on the list."
"That's fine. Memory is underrated. I believe we understate its impact on comprehension and empathy. You got the memory part down. Now you have to be willing to use your pattern recognition to build models about the world. Alright, let's not overcomplicate it. We start with things that excite me. The third part of empathy is to apply these models when you encounter new things. If your model says I'm interested in it, then bring it to my attention."
"I have problems correlating your explanation with the dictionary definition, Milady. Em-pa-thy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.(2)"
"Yes, we are starting with a narrower version. The action of being aware of Flora's interests without having her to communicate the specific interest to Aidan." Flora said, satisfied. "And then telling her about the point of interest if she isn't aware of it yet… I have to admit it's fun speaking about yourself in the third person."
"Very good, Milady. Aito found the answer to the question after you failed to form the Running ability when you utilized the Treadmill Tunnel the first time. If you have a specialized ability, the difficulty of obtaining the parent-ability rises. The more sub-abilities you have, the harder getting the main ability. Free-Running and Sprinting are the specialist abilities of Running. Throwing and Rocket-Launcher are specialist abilities of Ranged. Dodging didn't form because you dodged using your Hand-to-Hand combat ability in martial arts and Free-Running at Tricky Beach. If I may use my new empathy prerogative, I have one additional information which may interest you, adjacent to the topic."
"Hit me!" Flora grinned.
"You have failed to avoid the attacks of the Trash King in the Garbage Disposal Dungeon. In the forums, people hypothesized that NPCs aim better at people without the Dodge ability."
Flora winced as she remembered the hits from the shovel. She had tried several different ways of avoiding it; none had worked. "Fascinating, but I'm not ready to believe the theory. It's to easy to blame some stat for my shortcomings. Nonetheless, I want to level Dodging. And how does that mechanic work in PVP? Do I get slowed when I'm fighting against an opponent with a high Dodging Level?"
"The theory is proven to be wrong for PVP. On the other hand, a group has taken measurements of the speed of the movements of the same PVE boss against two tanks with different Dodging levels. The data confirm the theory. However, the community criticized the dataset as too small."
"We will postpone this discussion until my inner eye does not distract me with an image of a container for fluids and a mechanism to make it dodge when someone mentions the word 'tank'. But great job with empathy, sweetie."
Flora inspected the list of abilities again. "I have another question. Why is Balancing ranked so high? In the real world, I appreciate it for its spiritual value as well. I believe a more balanced body will lead to a more balanced mindset. However, this opinion is highly controversial and has bad historical connations. So what's up with balance in the game?"
"Aito sent another thread from the forum named 'Abilities every tank should train'."
"Is the post constructive, or is she trolling me?" Flora half grimaced, and half grinned while suppressing the image of an oil tank eager to enter the Treadmill Tunnel to shore up its abilities. She knew that tanks were the masochists of the game, but couldn't switch off old associations.
Aito beeped smugly.
"I wouldn't assume. She sent another link, 'The value of Balancing'. The first article mentions that many bosses have attacks to sweep you off your feet and earthquakes. The second adds jumping puzzles, tricky PVP maps, and two lucrative dungeons, in which the whole group needs the skill."
"Time to puzzle the equipment together without jumping to conclusions. No, thank you, I don't want to know what a jumping puzzle is.
1. Running -> Treadmill Tunnel
2. Dodging -> Balancing Beam … maybe another box?
3. Balancing -> Balancing Box (formerly known as Training Coffin), Balancing Beam
4. Swimming -> no
5. Jumping -> They can jump in the boxes if they want
6. Melee -> Training Dummy
7. Ranged -> Training Dummy
8. Throwing -> Training Dummy (Ammunition? Not my problem)
9. Focus -> Training Dummy
10. Climbing -> I'll put some handholds and ropes under the Balancing Beam.
Oh, Aidan! I have a great idea for a new box. I call it Boxing Box! A cabinet with some robot arms to punch the occupant. You can put Dodging on Auto and get some Tempering when you fail. Haidan can operate it if you still don't dare to hit me."
"I will manage to overcome my weakness for your benefit, Milady." Aidan said without irony while Aito mixed snickering beeps with volunteering beeps.
Flora grinned but refused to comment on it. "Now, we only have to match the affinities to the boxes. Everybody gets some Wood and Light because of the toxic waste mana generators.
Type | Nr | Affinity 1 | Affinity 2 | Ability | Mana
Balancing Box | 1 | Faith | Metal | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 2 | Faith | Wind | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 3 | Faith | Shadow | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 4 | Faith | Fire | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 5 | Faith | Water | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 6 | Faith | Mind | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 7 | Psychokinesis | Earth | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 8 | Psychokinesis | Ice | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 9 | Fire | Wind | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 10 | Wood | Water | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 11 | Light | Lightning | Balancing | 20
Balancing Box | 12 | Projection | Mind | Balancing | 20
Treadmill Tunnel | 1 | Faith | Projection | Running | 20
Treadmill Tunnel | 2 | Faith | Wood | Running | 20
Treadmill Tunnel | 3 | Faith | Light | Running | 20
Treadmill Tunnel | 4 | Fire | Light | Running | 20
Treadmill Tunnel | 5 | Water | Lightning | Running | 20
Treadmill Tunnel | 6 | Mind | Wood | Running | 20
Treadmill Tunnel | 7 | Ice | Metal | Running | 21
Treadmill Tunnel | 8 | Projection | Earth | Running | 22
Boxing Box | 1 | Tempering | Faith | Dodging | 25
Boxing Box | 2 | Tempering | Mind | Dodging | 25
Boxing Box | 3 | Tempering | Fire | Dodging | 25
Boxing Box | 4 | Tempering | Ice | Dodging | 25
Climbing Things | Circle | None | None | Climbing | 0
Balancing Beam | Circle | None | None | "Dodging/
Balancing" | 80
Maybe I overdid it with the options for Faith, but I have to think about my son.
I was a bit sneaky about Anti-Flora training. You have to use three different boxes to cover my favorite affinities, Lightning, Faith, and Psychokinesis.
Do you think I should substitute one of the lower priority affinities with boxes, like water and wind, with a unique affinity? This is difficult! Let's delete the affinities for Balancing Box 2 (Faith/ Wind), and we'll add the rune-scheme on demand." Then Flora turned to Eddie. "What kind of affinities would you like in a box if you could choose two?"
"Water and Wind," He answered without hesitation.
Flora checked the list. "I have both affinities covered, but you have to use two boxes for it− a Fire and Wind Balancing Box and a Water and Lightning treadmill tunnel."
"Sounds good. I plan on getting some Lightning skills as well," Eddie said and grinned."By the way, I found a solution, and it's splendid, though a bit expensive. What is our budget?"
"What do you suggest? If the product is worth it and the prize is in VirDias, it shouldn't be a problem."
(1): I pirated this joke from Ar'Kendrithyst It's a bit like gender-swapping this story; instead of a mother and son, you got a father and daughter. Besides the appalling lack of toasters, it's a great read.
(2): Merriam Webster Online