Back to Arratan
Being challenged to a match of Berserk wasn’t new to Adano. It was one of the most popular games throughout the Canonical Coherence. He wasn’t a master at this game, but he had fought stronger enemies than this synth morph wearer Danisho with his milk coloured skin, silver coloured eyes, and short greyish teal hair. They quickly agreed on the rules of the match: Three out of five battles for victory, fighting unarmored in a virtual copy of the current environment, melee weapons only, and only three of them, out of their current personal game inventories.
The game engine actually had to downgrade the natural armor of the combatants. While Adano had a carbon lattice based dermal armor that was assembled by his own native nanobots, Danisho’s skin consisted mainly of carbon-fiber enhanced polymer layers. Not that those were completely impenetrable to blades, but achieving more than superficial damage with regular weapons was extremely hard, even with superhuman strength and speed. So, the game engine computed virtual copies of the participant’s bodies that didn’t posses their “natural” armor.
Danisho’s weapon choice was practical: A halbert, a rapier, and an accompanying parrying dagger. Adano opted for a Japanese swords theme: A huge nodachi, a katana, and a smaller wakizashi, all of them traditionally crafted and differentially hardened. Danisho was irritated by that choice: “Huh, do you get style points for such a choice of weapons where you come from?”
This was of course a reference to the common knowledge that Japanese swords, at least those of the traditional type, weren’t actually the best types of swords for actual combat performance. Adano’s reasons for still using those were that he wanted Danisho to underestimate him. He didn’t want to display his full power, just as a matter of principle. Instead of replying, Adano merely focused on the upcoming battle. His real body was now greyed out and surrounded by red ribbons that told others that he was “away”. On the virtual battlefield that was the camp of the tribe, the only present beings were Danisho and Adano.
With his 2.2 meter long halbert, Danisho had the advantage of greater reach. Overcoming that advantage was a really hard problem for Adano with his nodachi that was slightly less than still impressive 1.5 meters long. Smacking the halbert repeatedly until it broke would have been a possible strategy, if its top wasn’t encased by steel. Instead, he dashed at Danisho with all the speed he had, smacked the halbert, which was pointed at his heart, down with a forceful blow of his nodachi, jumped over the halbert, immediately let go of his nodachi, griped his katana and attacked Danisho’s neck with a single motion that unsheathed his katana and would have immediately decapitated Danisho. That is, if he didn’t evade that attack by quickly letting himself fall backwards, while simultaneously reaching for his rapier and parrying dagger. Still being in midair, and having overswung his katana, he couldn’t evade the quick stab from the parrying dagger directed to his heart. Instead, he used his microgravity agility training to rotate his body in mid air, so that the blow would be mostly deflected by his rotating rib cage. The blow was still strong enough to crack a rib, but of course it didn’t hurt, because all pain signals were nullified during a Berserk match.
Adano rolled off his left shoulder and couldn’t effectively intercept the quick slash of Danisho’s rapier that hit his right upper leg. He used the full force of his left leg to throw himself at Danisho, drawing his wakizashi with his left hand in a reverse grip, while he used the katana in his right hand to deflect a rapier stab directed at his head. The Wakizashi attack to Danisho’s upper torso was intercepted by his parrying dagger while Danisho stepped backwards to increase the distance to his opponent. With his agile rapier, Danisho had no problem eclipsing Adano’s katana and quickly forcing the tip of his blade through his heart. In a last attempt at retaliation, Adano swung his katana at Danisho, but he quickly stepped back und escaped that attack unscathed. With his lethal wound and reduced mobility, Adano didn’t stand a chance of winning this round, so he surrendered.
His virtual body regenerated completely in the time that the combatants took to get into their starting positions for the second round. Time for a different strategy. This time, Adano only used his both shorter swords, the katana with his right hand, and the wakizashi in his left. Of course, this was very unusual, and generally not a good idea, since such Japanese swords were particularly unwieldy when used single-handedly. But he had to use a different tactic to overcome his reach disadvantage, and storming into his enemy directly turned out to be not the best idea. This time, he sprinted towards Danisho, pushing his halbert to the side with quick and powerful blows with his swords, after which he slashed at Danisho quickly. While Danisho could evade the first attack with the katana, the second blow with the wakizashi sliced up his belly. Letting go of his halbert, he reached for his rapier and parrying dagger, but he couldn’t draw them quickly enough this time, and was decapitated by a rapid slash of Adano’s katana.
Sure, that made Danisho lose the second round, so he reached down to his head, picked it up and placed it back where it belonged. With his wounds quickly sealing up, the third round started a few seconds later. This time, Danisho went for an unusual stance with his rapier drawn in his left hand, and his right hand holding the halbert at its center of gravity. For a second, Adano was unsure how to handle this new situation. With his nodachi, he would have about the same reach as Danisho. He decided to go all in, and storm towards him with his nodachi prepared for a large and powerful swing, ignoring the pointy ends of his opponents’ weapons. Adano deliberately let himself get impaled by Danisho’s rapier – after quickly sidestepping to his right, so that only his left lung would be punctured, and not his heart. Danisho tried deflecting the blow of Adano’s nodachi with his halbert, but with a polearm in only one hand, he didn’t have the power to stop the blow, and merely managed to redirect the blade to his hip, rather than the middle of his torso. Actually, the nodachi got stuck in Danisho’s right hip, and Adano reached for his katana, while Danisho drew his rapier out of his lung. Danisho let go of his ineffective halbert, and drew his parrying dagger with his right hand. He stabbed Adano in the chest again with the rapier, this time in his right lung as consequence of another sidestepping maneuver. Meanwhile, his parrying dagger couldn’t stop Adano’s quick katana cut which managed to nearly remove Danisho’s right arm from the rest of his body.
With his right arm having become pretty much useless, Danisho resorted to stabbing Adano repeatedly with his rapier, even though he moved too fast to get a good chance of hitting his heart. Still, he got a quick lucky strike that cut a part of Adano’s heart open, but at the price of letting Adano cut deep into his skull from above with another powerful katana swing that ended with the blade getting stuck in the upper areas of Danisho’s virtual brain. The game interpreted neither of those attacks as absolutely incapacitating, so both combatants went on maiming each other. Adano now drew his wakizashi and aimed at Danisho’s neck, while he still tried piercing Adano’s heart again. After the next time that Danisho had pierced his lung again, Adano grabbed the rapier with his left hand, and swung his wakizashi one handedly at Danisho’s neck, getting the blade stuck in his spinal cord, this time. That eventually counted as incapacitating hit, so Adano had won this round again, even though he would have quickly bled to death, if we had been a regular mortal human.
While Danisho’s wounds healed, and Adano’s swords flew back into their sheaths on their own, Danisho commented: “I won’t let you win as easily, this time.” Adano ignored that remark, and chose his katana and wakizashi combination again. He let the nodachi rest in the grass behind him. As he rushed towards Danisho this time, he noticed him nearly matching his speed and direction, so that Adano couldn’t get really close to him. Danisho carefully evaded most of the blows to his halbert and used each opening after a missed swing to attack Adano’s torso, who quickly stepped back just in time when he was about to get hit. For a while, they were running in circles around each other, always maintaining enough distance for evading any hits.
Adano wasn’t happy about this, in particular because prolonged Berserk fights cost points to both combatants. The next time he attacked Danisho’s halbert, he stepped forwards and to the side as quick reaction to his counterattack. Danisho managed a glancing hit to Adano’s torso, but couldn’t proceed effectively from that point onwards, since Adano stayed so close to the halbert that no further attack would have any real power. As Adano prepared to attack Danisho with his katana, Danisho drew his rapier surprisingly rapidly and surprised Adano by cutting his throat with a lightning fast slash. Without being deterred, Adano aimed at Danisho’s right arm, which he missed as Danisho stepped to the side with unprecedented speed. Adano’s attack to Danisho’s belly was blocked by a quickly drawn parrying dagger. Immediately afterwards, Adano got hit in his left elbow by another quick slash of Danisho’s rapier. That hit didn’t render his left arm useless, but it has cut some muscles and tendons, so that further wakizashi attacks would be far less effective. Instead, he focused his katana for a direct attack on Danisho’s neck, but he was fast enough to step backwards sufficiently to only get hit superficially.
Danisho succeeded at keeping a large distance between him and his wounded attacker. If Adano couldn’t quickly land a decisive hit, he would bleed to death and lose this round. Getting close to Danisho became increasingly hard, as his blood pressure dropped from his lethal wound. So, he took the wakizashi in his right hand, and the katana in his left, and attacked Danisho’s rapier with a quick but weak strike. Meanwhile he aimed at his heart with the wakizashi, which he threw at Danisho with the largest speed he could muster. It got slightly deflected by a hit from the parrying dagger, but got stuck in his right shoulder. Gripping his katana with both hands, he swung it violently at Danisho’s torso. Danisho propelled himself backwards and downwards in order to evade that blow, which hit the side of his rib cage, and broke a couple of ribs so violently that they pierced his lung. Danisho tried thrusting his rapier into his attacker, but the wakizashi stuck in his shoulder severely impaired the mobility of his right arm. He managed to get a hit to Adano’s left shoulder, but it wasn’t very effective. When Adano went on to strike down on the opponent lying on the ground, Danisho bounced back from the ground upwards and forwards with all his remaining strength and speed, and went for a blazingly fast attack on Adano’s heart with his parrying dagger, which cut it into half. Adano’s katana hit Danisho’s back in at an angle that made the attack ineffective at hitting any vital organs, though Danisho’s left kidney got sliced up for good. Of course, that wasn’t good enough and Adano had lost this round.
It was time for the final round. Now it got clear to Adano that Danisho hadn’t started out with this full level of speed and strength, but downplayed them in the first rounds. Should he also up his ante? No, why should he. It’s not like this match mattered a lot. It was merely enjoyable play. Dealing with a worthy opponent like Danisho was fun. Overcoming Danisho’s speed and range advantage would be hard to achieve with any regular tactics. And an enemy like Danisho also would not be susceptible to be lured into terrain that provided a tactical advantage, or would he? That thought made Adano sprint to the nearest tree with a sufficiently wide stem and hide behind it. Danisho bemoaned: “Oh come on, fight like a true warrior please. Do you seriously expect to win this way?”
Adano didn’t care. The tree provided the cover necessary to nullify Danisho’s reach advantage, as he could easily protect himself from any halbert attacks by staying on the other side of the tree. Danisho complained: “Do you really want to get a reputation for stalling a Berserk match? How is that compatible with the code of honor of the Polymath Champions League?” Adano countered: “Do I make you nervous? How much do you really care about winning this match?” To which Danisho inquired: “Do you want to enforce a draw?”
“Would you be willing to accept one?”
“What would be the point of that? Recognizing you as equal opponent? Is it that what you want?”
“Would you feel offended by that?”
“That wouldn’t be a proper representation of the situation. I’ve let you win twice.”
“Ah, is that so? So you admit that you didn’t put all your effort into winning at first?”
“It’s not about winning an irrelevant match of Berserk. So what if I didn’t tried by best to beat you?”
“Then what is this all about?”
“This game should be about fun, shouldn’t it?”
“I’d like to agree with you, but is having fun your whole intention?”
“Look at you! You are hiding behind a tree and having a conversation about this game with me, during a match that should consist of us trying to incapacitate each other’s body with ancient melee weapons. Why are you doing this?”
“Perhaps I just want to find out what kind of person you really are. After all, I don’t really know anyone here, really.”
“And you want to find out who I really am, by testing how I react under this kind of pressure?”
“Wouldn’t that be a good idea? After all, you have only seen me how I react under a level of pressure that is incomparably higher than yours. And that’s not fair. Also, I haven’t been able to show my best side in this situation.”
“Please, what am I supposed to say about that? That I am sorry for your situation? Would that help you in any way?”
“Perhaps it would. I’m not sure about that.”
“Ok, I am sorry about your situation. I’m only trying to help. Do you feel better now?”
“How are you trying to help me? By distracting me from my trapped situation with this Berserk match? Is that your way of helping?”
“Maybe it is. Would that be bad?”
“I’m not sure. I feel like I should appreciate your effort, but I cannot judge whether it’s actually helping. How can I judge anything without my wiseguide?”
“Argh, those are exactly the thoughts I wanted to distract you from. Do you see now what you’ve done by hiding behind this tree?”
“I’m sorry, if I thwarted your plans. You seem well intentioned, but I can’t know whether you have ulterior motives.”
“And how can I know whether you are the person you claim to be?”
“It looks like we’ll have to cope with this kind of uncertainty, or can you propose a solution?”
“Maybe I should have let you win. Then we would have avoided this awkward conversation.”
“Oh, you could have attacked me with your rapier and parrying dagger. But you have played it safe and kept your distance to me.”
“What? Are you trying to blame me now for this?”
“I’m merely observing your actions and stating the obvious.”
“Fine. And what now? Do you wish to continue this conversation indefinitely?”
“I don’t know. It’s kinda fun. As it has been fun fighting you with my swords. You are a good warrior.”
“Thank you. You are surprisingly decent as Berserk player, too.”
“But not as good as you?”
“There’s only one way to really find that out, right?”
Adano dug the tip of his nodachi into the ground, took his wakizashi into his right hand, aimed at Danisho’s solar plexus and threw it as quickly as his intentionally limited power would admit. Danisho could evade getting hit just in time by sidestepping quickly, even though he had to let go of his halbert for that. Adano used this opportunity to take up his nodachi again and rush at Danisho who has already drawn his rapier which he swung at Adano’s neck, while Adano swung his nodachi down diagonally from the top. The cut with the rapier was fast and strong enough to sever Adano’s spine. His nodachi cleanly cut off Danisho’s left arm at his shoulder and even cut through his left lung, where it got stuck. That was of course some severe damage, but it didn’t make up for the immediately incapacitating attack from Danisho who finally won this match.
Their virtual bodies were pulled back into their real bodies with immense speed, which immediately reacted with a wild adrenaline rush following their violent out of body experiences. “Congratulations, Danisho” Adano spoke out loudly with his actual voice in the human standard vocalization of Sol Traditional. This got him the attention of those few tribesmembers who hadn’t already spectated the Berserk match of the combatants. “Thanks. And thank you for accepting my challenge. It was fun playing with you.” Danisho sent out to all the tribesmembers.
Shi Xifeng commented: “Your fighting skills seem to be pretty decent. Especially for someone as young as you. Do you happen to have a suitable Quest character?”
Adano inquired: “How does the Quest system of the Mevara realm of Arratan work?”
“Your actual physical body is taken as basis for your Quest character. The properties of the character are then adjusted by in-game magic to add specific strengths and weaknesses. Character attributes are automatically improved by relevant experience and training. The same goes for skills, which are mostly specific to the Mevara realm, but compatible with similar realms from other habitats. That would be useful, if you had a Quest character that was trained in medieval-type magic. You could integrate the skills of that character into your Mevara Arratan Quest character.”
“I’ve got an old character that I wanted to turn into a frost mage, but I didn’t really come far with leveling up. Other than that, I have nothing that would be suitable here.”
“Fine, that’s certainly better than nothing. Jolan can train your frost magician skills, if you’d like. Even though we are a rather powerful group, any additional support from you would be welcome.”
Thankfully Shi didn’t mention something about him being a newbie who would be an annoying burden to the tribe, Adano thought.
“That would be great. But do you really expect me to be involved in any Quest battles?”
“If you want to stay with us, it would be hard to avoid those. We insist that you get combat ready ASAP.”
Probably that was another ploy to keep him distracted from deeper thoughts about his current situation, but it was also a reasonable request. Members of a Quest gamer group who opted out of battles would raise suspicion. Though, he might use that to his advantage, Adano considered.
“Fine. Let’s start with the training, as soon as you are ready.”
“Great. Training can start immediately. But you will also need some equipment. We can lend you some high level equipment that can get you started here. You’ll need magically enhanced armor, so that you won’t drop dead once one of our strong enemies sneezes at you. Actually, you’ll be better off with multiple layers of armor. You should focus on training a cooling spell, so you won’t overheat.”
During this conversation, the game had already imported and activated Adano’s wannabe frost mage character automatically. The only thing that really changed was that Adano suddenly became aware of his magical in-game skills and their levels of refinement. Since he had been a pretty low-level mage, he couldn’t do much more than create a slight breeze without any magic items.
Jolan, an anthropomorphic arctic fox with yellow eyes approached him and stuck her long white spiral staff into the ground before him, commanding: “Try moving it with your magic from a distance.” Adano tried focusing a conjured blast of air on the staff, but hardly even got it to vibrate. Frustrated, he stepped closer until his magical aura touched the staff and used that connection to gently push the staff away. Jolan commented: “Pushing is easy, try pulling next.” The magical force in the game was usually repelling. Getting it to attract something was quite tricky, indeed. Only by enclosing his hands around the tip of the staff, almost touching it, could get it to shake a lot, slowly moving towards him. Jolan wasn’t really impressed: “Looks like you’ll need some really intense training, if that is all you’ve got.” Mastering magic in Quest was a time consuming task, and expert games actually trained for decades in order to be able to cast the most powerful spells. Adano sure didn’t plan on spending so much time in Arratan, but setting his mind on learning frost magic would at least give him a clear and straightforward purpose.
For the first time, Adano hat the opportunity to really take in his surroundings. As he had expected, Arratan was a large McKendree cylinder. It had a radius of 950 km and measured 9200 km in length. It was a fully enclosed cylinder that didn’t let any sun or starlight in. Instead, it was illuminated from within by a single central sky luminaire with a radius of about 40 km. It directed more light towards the end caps than to closer regions, but not so much as to compensate the large distance. Therefore, the endcaps of the habitat were arctic regions, covered by snow and glaciers. The middle of the habitat looked like a searing hot desert. Nighttime was created by slowly moving layers of low hanging black night clouds which consisted of swarms of microscopic drones, which blocked the light from illuminated regions of the habitat. Jolan interrupted Adano’s observations: “Yeah, Arratan may look interesting, but still kinda standard. At the moment, that’s not important, though. Focusing on your magic skills is what should be one your mind now!”
Jolan was a strict, but helpful teacher. She conjured up a couple of small orbs that Adano had to align with this magic telekinetic powers. The tribe quickly packed up their tents and went on marching through vast grasslands. Wild horses, buffalo, and antelopes were grazing in the distance. They were outside of the local metanet proximity telepathy range, so he couldn’t figure out what kinds of minds they were. Jolan noticed him getting distracted again: “Don’t get yourself distracted by the surroundings here, focus on the orbs!” As if trying to keep the orbs in their right positions while walking wasn’t hard enough, Jolan then decided to give Adano a heavy gambeson, made out of some special kind of linen that was also interwoven with many layers of magic protection. Those layers of magic made it about ten times harder for Adano to exert his magic forces with any precision on the orbs. He had to reroute his own magic streams of energy around the hardened magic streams of his multiply enchanted armor. In addition to that, the gambeson made him sweat all the time. Luckily, it had an inner padding that soaked up his sweat.
It was tough for Adano to keep his focus on his magic training. There were so many questions that ran through his mind, but he had to let them subside and return his focus to the orbs hanging in the air before him. Jolan didn’t grant him any breaks. His regulator had to use clever hacks to compensate for the neural strain that was caused by practicing magic this intensely all the time. He had no opportunity to observe or question anything. His mind became one with the orbs and his magic trying to control them.
After a day of relentless magic training, Adano became aware that the tribe had stopped again, long past the night clouds overshadowed them. The tribe has set up a campfire. Shi Xifeng approached him: “Your discipline is remarkable for someone as young as you. I assume training this hard is not unusual for someone who grew up as PCL reinterpreter?”
“What? I am allowed to converse with you instead of continuing my training?”
“Oh, you are not obliged to train all the time. Jolan was certainly very strict on you, but only because you let her go on that way.”
“Is there any specific reason you’ve interrupted your strategy of distracting me with magic training?”
“If you ask so directly, then yes. There are a couple of people who want to play a match of Paradigm against you.”
Paradigm, the legendary strategy game developed by the complex during the Prestige Wars, was a game in which the events during the game changed the rules of the game. After Chess and Go have become strongly solved games, there was a perceived need for a new classical strategy game. And Paradigm emerged to fill exactly that role. Paradigm was a highly abstract and multi-layered game. The first part of the game was the Paradigm field, which visualised the current rules of the game and their flow in time. Then the game consisted of one or more playing fields, and units acting within them, being controlled by the players. Finally, there was the world of the players in which they could communicate with one another, and observe their opponents. A crucial aspect of the game was to gain rule force, which allowed them to change the rules of the game in certain ways.
Was this a test? Of course it was. But what was the right thing to do? Accept the challenge, or continue training? Was there even such a thing as a right answer? Adano wasn’t sure about that. He would display determination by continuing the magic training session until he was thoroughly exhausted. But that would probably be a bad idea. Better to use the opportunity to find out more about the tribesmembers by playing a game with them. After these thoughts rushed through his mind, Adano agreed to play Paradigm.
At first, the game would start with eight players. The best four players from the first match would face one another in one on one matches. Given that a paradigm match could well take many hours, it wasn’t clear whether those four best players would get any sleep tonight, but so be it.
The eight initial participants were Shi Xifeng, Adano, chief Modi, shaman Zathinax, the synth Danisho, the red dragon Chahezla, the deer Sapestris, and an English gentleman called Desmond. Each player only had a private view of the playing field in their own mind’s eye. They agreed on playing Paradigm with the classical rules for changing the rules, and with the “wild” rule starting point, which was more or less modelled after the conflict between the value factions during the historic period of the Unleashment. There were no alliances between the players, at least no official ones.
Each player started out with five generic units which could specialize themselves to fulfill certain roles. The game proceeded in real time, so speed was essential. In this kind of multiplayer game it was important not to be much more aggressive than the other players, because that would make them ally themselves against the aggressor. So, he started out with a balanced strategy, in his units specialised on collection of matter, energy, production of industry, boosting other units, and combat respectively. That was a pretty basic and conservative strategy. Adano didn’t know with what kind of specializations the other players started out with, since he couldn’t see the units of the other players at this stage. He decided to ignore them for the beginning, and focus on developing his own faction quickly.
Surprisingly soon, Shi claimed to be attacked by Chahezla via infiltrator nanobots who tried to control Shi’s units. Verifying that claim would have been costly. Helping Shi would also bind his resources, so he merely bumped his own infiltration defenses a bit, instead of intervening into the alleged conflict between Shi and Chahezla. Shortly afterwards, Shi proclaimed that she had proof that Chahezla was attacking her. Well, that changed the situation. Adano used his resources to create two anti-infiltrator units, and sent one to Shi’s base in order to help her out. Turns out that he wasn’t the only one. Desmond had apparently done the same. Together, Shi, Adano, and Desmond could repel Chahezla’s attack easily, while the other players merely observed the nanobot and information warfare between the involved players. Shortly after Chahezla’s retreat, Modi asked for help, claiming he was being overwhelmed by another attack from Chahezla. At the same time, Danisho equally claimed being attacked by Chahezla. It seemed unlikely that Chahezla had the resources to attack both players effectively at the same time, so it was likely that at least one of them was dishonest about being attacked. Due to the absence of further information, the other players simply waited and pursued their original strategies.
It was Desmond who provided all other players with a proof that Danisho was lying about being attacked by Chahezla. The coalition subsequently went on to protect Modi from an actual attack by Chahezla. Having her attacks thwarted, Chahezla proposed forming an alliance with the coalition, in order to have a chance against the other players who haven’t wasted their resources on a costly conflict. The coalition demanded that Chahezla should follow the orders of the the coalition members, if they were to form an alliance. Chahezla was quick to agree to that demand. With united forces, they agreed to prepare for a prestige war and rapidly enforced the first paradigm shift in the match, consisting of introducing penalties for aggression and misdirection. Of course, Danisho was negatively affected by that paradigm shift, and asked to join the alliance as another supporting member like Chahezla. The alliance agreed to that offer. Now, only Zathinax and Sapestris weren’t part of the large alliance. Instead, both formed the so-called “Progress Group”, as a counterweight to the large alliance.
Apparently, Zathinax and Sapestris had invested a lot into research and culture. The Progress Group was indeed quite advanced compared to the large alliance which was hampered in its development by the previous conflicts it had been involved in. Units from all players of the large alliance started deserting and converted to the Progress Group. Desmond suggested initiating a paradigm shift towards artistic endeavours. That shift happened closely after the Progress Group managed to enforce a paradigm shift towards research. The combined rule changes favoured scientific arts projects in particular, and would grant those a lot of prestige. While the Progress Groups established large and prosperous scientific and artistic academies, the large alliance invested its resources on creating lots of small communities of artists doing DIY research. Some units of the Progress Group converted to those communities, which contributed to an emerging balance between both teams.
Leveraging the rules against aggression and misdirection, the Progress Group started a campaign against Chahezla and Danisho who quickly lost out in the global prestige conflict. Quickly, most of Chahezla’s and Danisho’s units completely converted to the Progress Group, which turned it into the dominant power in this Paradigm match. It looked like the Progress Group would win.
Something unexpected happened then. Adano suddenly had access to technologies most likely developed by the Progress Group. It was Desmond who told him in private that he possessed an espionage network that could covertly copy the research done by the Progress Group. With his industrial base that he focus on during this game, Adano was supposed to create habitats that would be colonized by Shi’s specialized artists. Desmond proposed creating a new team called “Vision Thing” that united only his faction, and those of Adano and Shi. They agreed covertly, but before pronouncing the new team they enforced a paradigm shift that would favour newly emerging teams.
Chahezla, Danisho, and Modi were now out of luck. Their technology was outdated compared to that of the other teams, and their units quickly converted to the emergent superpower of the Vision Thing. So, they formed a new team called the “Diaspora”, which invested everything into expansion, and created small colonies throughout the playing field. Nevertheless, this only gave them a temporary last hope. Those colonies quickly collapsed and the last of their units converted to the Vision Thing.
As reaction to their technologies being stolen, the Progress Group triggered a paradigm shift that favoured true novelty. But Desmond had his own plans. In secret, he prepared a paradigm shift that would reverse the disadvantage of direct aggression, and covertly asked Adano to form a novel team called “New Tomorrow” that only included both of them. Adano certainly now had the technologies, industrial base, and military expertise to crush most resistance. Adano agreed to Desmond’s offer. Together, they quickly developed vastly superior infiltrator nanobots and started an attack on Shi. Because Shi had relied on the support of Adano and Desmond, her defenses were quickly overrun, and her units were assimilated by the New Tomorrow. Thus only four players were left: Zathinax and Sapestris from the Progress Group and Adano and Desmond from the New Tomorrow. They would now face one another in one on one matches. If the match had continued regularly, Adano was pretty sure that Desmond would have won it.
Betraying the chief mentor Shi like that wasn’t really nice, but in a match of Paradigm real world allegiances between players usually didn’t count. Paradigm was about the best players winning, and not about playing nice with your friends. Adano suspected that he was still being judged for this action, but at least he would have signalled being a serious player. Apart from that, he had no good reason for displaying loyalty towards Shi.
In the following one on one matches each player started out with 11 units and a smaller playing field, but almost all other rules and starting conditions were the same. Sapestris turned out to be the first opponent of Adano. This time he went for a much more aggressive strategy and used multiple different attack units: Drone swarms, drone carriers, battle cruisers, cyber infiltrators, combat androids. They used different weapons like lasers, missiles, EMPs, and nanobot swarms, in the hope that at least some of them would cause sufficient damage to the units of Sapestris. Unfortunately, she seemed to have anticipated any attack Adano has thrown on her, and easily repelled all attack waves, leaving Adano with spent resources, which were insufficient to defend against the swift, coordinated and focussed counterattack with a full scale military. He was reminded of his matches against his mentor Arizzi, who could dominate him just as easily.
After that match, he waited for the game between Zathinax and Desmond to end. It looked as if Zathinax had the upper claw, but a surprising paradigm shift put Desmond in a favorable situation. Zathinax couldn’t recover from the shift quickly enough to defend against the assimilator attack from Desmond. After this sudden defeat, it was Zathinax’s turn to play against Adano. By now, it has dawned on Adano that he played against superb Paradigm players here. If he wanted to win, he had to use rather unconventional strategies. Also, he had to disguise his attentions really well, as players on this level seemed to be quite adept at intelligence and predicting his every move. Coming up with suitable strategies against such opponents was an unnervingly challenging task, especially since he has drained his mental reserves by remaining in a highly focused state all day without rest or even eating. Even with his augmented biomachinery and the support of his regulator, he couldn’t operate at maximum performance right now. He desperately wished for the guidance of Diolineda, who was painfully absent.
Expecting Zathinax to focus on developing technology rapidly, Adano prepared for a paradigm shift that enforced a critical penalty on advanced technology. Meanwhile, his mainline strategy was developing an industrial base that could be used for any kind of more specific strategy. It seemed as if Zathinax couldn’t tell what Adano has planned, as he apparently followed the strategy Adano had expected him to follow. In fact, Adano was successful at implementing his paradigm shift, but it was quickly followed by a paradigm shift enforced by Zathinax that negated Adano’s shift and put him at a severe disadvantage. That could only have worked, if Zathinax had indeed anticipated Adano’s move. Zathinax continued to widen the technological gap between him and Adano, until his units became virtually unstoppable, and forced Adano to surrender. Adano wasn’t used to play against Paradigm players who were as smart as Sapestris and Zathinax.
Meanwhile, the match between Sapestris and Desmond was still going on. Sapestris again chose a reactive strategy, but that didn’t help her much, because Desmond was doing the same, while being remarkably good at counter-intelligence. Sapestris couldn’t get enough information about what Desmond was up to, so she was compelled to strike early, just to be crushed by a surprise counter-attack.
The last matches were between Zathinax and Sapestris and Desmond and Adano. With the prospect of fighting an undefeated opponent, Adano was at a loss what he could do to even have a chance of winning. Instead, he opted for a losing move by letting his assistant play in his stead, and engaged in a conversation with Desmond. Of course, his assistant protested about this being a really bad idea, but he went on regardless. Adano started addressing Desmond in private: “You play like a professional Paradigm gamer.”
“Oh, I’m sorry if my past still shows. I try giving my opponents a chance, but my desire to win gets me again and again.”
“Where are you from?”
“Ah, I’m from Sol Romulus 7 Jathilan, a pretty Paradigm-crazy habitat.”
“And what brought you to Arratan?”
“I was playing so badly compared to my fellow tribesmembers that they exiled me.”
Adano couldn’t tell whether Desmond was serious about this. Nothing indicated that he was joking, except the sheer ridiculousness of this claim in addition to the direct and casual way of apparently admitting it. But with professional Paradigm gamers one could never be sure about that. So, he pretended to take Desmond’s claim at face value.
“Oh, I would never have expected that. So, they were way better at Paradigm than you?”
“Haha, no. I was just kidding. I wasn’t exiled or banned or something. I just felt that I wasn’t progressing quickly enough, so I thought that trying something else might widen my horizon and make me an even better gamer.”
“How has that turned out for you so far?”
“It’s horrible. These Arratanians don’t take Paradigm seriously enough. There’s hardly anyone who can play at my level. Occasionally I play against Arratan herself, just to test myself against a superior enemy.”
“What? You can actually play Paradigm against Arratan directly?”
“Hehe, I wished that were true. But I would really love to play Paradigm against real complex. Anyway, I’m slowly getting fond of this Quest game. Its parallels with Paradigm are far from obvious, but there are some subtle connections.”
“Well, first of all, the importance of strategy. You can’t just go ahead and ‘play’ as you please. No, you need to prepare any step in advance, and be strategic about your objectives.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Anything else?”
“It’s not apparent, but there could be things like weak paradigm shifts hidden within the Quest metagame.”
“Interesting. What made you come to this conclusion?”
“Oh, you would need to analyse the dynamics of this tribe for a couple of months to get it. It’s really thrilling what’s going on right now.”
“Can you tell me more?”
“Yes, if you manage to defeat me in a Paradigm game.”
“So, in other words no?”
“That’s your interpretation.”
For a brief moment, Adano considered playing seriously for the slight chance of winning by sheer luck, or by Desmond letting him win on purpose. Actually, he assisted his assistant in playing against Desmond. This reversal of roles was interesting and unexpected for all participants. Desmond mocked this approach that was quite obvious to him: “Ah, you are doing your own player-level paradigm shift here. Very creative, you amuse me.”
It was apparent that Desmond didn’t even put much effort into playing particularly well. He made stupid mistakes on purpose to prolong the game. Even though this made Adano get some hope for a lucky victory, it angered him that Desmond was toying with him like this. All that this way of playing achieved, was extending the inevitable end needlessly. In frustration, Adano went for a kamikaze paradigm shift that turned all his units into suicide fighters. Of course, Desmond didn’t have any problem dealing with that threat. Eventually, Adano lost, just as expected.
After this intense day, Adano dropped to the bed that has been prepared for him and fell into a deep sleep immediately. His regulator made his brain recapitulate the magic training he has done during the day. That made his sleep kinda stressful, but at least he wasn’t plagued by nightmares like during the last night.
Merely three hours after he fell asleep, he was woken up by Jolan who urged him to continue his magic training. Spontaneously the thought occurred to Adano that this training routine wasn’t even half as hard as the training he had received from his old mentor Arizzi.