“Anarchy” – Chapter 8 – Into the Fray

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Jade Gaming couldn’t have seen this much traffic in months. There was no way. I’d never seen so many people in the building at once. The turnout was nothing remarkable – Western Grand Rally had to filter through several pools, hundreds strong, before it had anything resembling an official roster- but I was taken aback all the same. As planned, I immediately set to the task of remembering faces, as these would be my many rivals for the foreseeable future.

“Joel,” Perry stifled my shoulder, “Look.”

I followed his eyes to a long table where three stations were already retrofitted with Anarchy. The tournament hadn’t begun, so I figured these were just social matches (a.k.a. “friendlies”). Didn’t stop me from some exploratory action as Perry and I drifted over to watch.

It was no surprise when I studied each player and found them all quite formidable. One in particular caught my attention, a man whose tag read ‘iso’. He mained Lynx, a predatory feline battle-cat. He was a force of nature.

My eyes turned down to his opponent, who was muttering low-yield curses as he received damage debt at an extraordinary rate.

Iso played with a certain, how should I say, industrial efficiency. Every read and judgment was precise. Lynx didn’t move without certain reason. Even through his posture all of these traits remained. Iso was straight-backed, yet poised, and the controller was nearly mute in his hands.

But iso was not the only noteworthy thing in the room. Jordan and Comet had taken to discussion with a young lady to whom they were obviously familiar. What’s more, she had a controller, so I memorized her face, knowing we might be throwing down some time in the next couple of hours. Davis pitted ten dollars on a money match with somebody who could have been his brother. This seemed a tradition between the two, and drew in a small group of spectators to bare witness.

GG had found himself before a large screen with over two-dozen names scripted in symmetrical balance.

“Oh, the roster,” Perry made quick to study its contents more closely. Not like I didn’t.

Jade Tourney first round

Perry tapped an idle finger against his lips, “Trapanese?”

“Weird name,” I said, though truth be told, most of the names seemed weird. If not weird, then lazy.

Like, seriously. Legolas? Really?

“Could have been worse,” GG said in an arid, disconnected sort of way.

I lodged an authoritative finger at the screen, “What about this Dougie fella?”

A few lethargic seconds passed and he shrugged, “Never met the guy. Probably new, like you two.”

That was reassuring. My first opponent was coming from clear out of left field. No pre-emptive strategizing to be done. A completely unknown variable.

“And what’s gotten into you?” I asked GG, eyes folding.

He was looking papery, “A few things,” he directed our attention to different names on the screen, “First there’s R3M1X. He hasn’t been around for a few months because of family issues, but he’s claimed two grand prizes at the monthly tourney in the past. He’s very good, and he’s in my bracket.”

“I see.”

GG continued, “Comet is facing Miikii, so she probably won’t advance beyond the first round, and even if she did-”

“There’d be iso standing in the way after that,” I finished. GG gave me a look. “I saw him playing friendlies. He’s like a machine.”

GG nodded, “He beats Jordan most of the time.”

I swallowed.

“Davis looks like he should be fine, at least until the quarter-finals. Perry might also be able to push that far, at least until he faces R3M1X. I don’t know about this Dougie guy, but M-80 plays a mean Commando Raptor, so be careful.”

Perry shared a look with me. No, it didn’t slide past anyone that GG had glossed over his own matchups. He needn’t speak his mind in order to convey the message: he wasn’t expecting to beat R3M1X in the second round.

“Other than that, I don’t see any huge threats, here. I’m not familiar with these ‘Solomon’, ‘Dot dot dot’ and ‘# of Beast’ people though, so we’ll see. Zinky didn’t show up like we’d anticipated, but we’ll have our hands full with the competition as is.”

Breathing out my puffed cheeks I turned to examine my battlefield a little more thoroughly. I’d seen tournament venues online before and Jade Gaming was not weighing in very well with its competition. Then again, it was a family-owned business which had been struggling against larger corporations for a while. The main area was for retail, so we were occupying the back of the store. I would never have guessed they had so much space, but I suppose they used to house an arcade back here before financial issues demanded they sell everything, so it made sense. Now they use the space for tourneys such as this one.

The paint job was crap. The upper half of the walls were a faded white, with matching blue coating the bottom. Christmas lights generated about half the rooms light, the rest being provided by sunlight filtering in through ceiling-high windows. Each Anarchy station was set up on mismatching tables and filled in with equally displaced chairs. A brushing of dust kissed the edge where wall met floor, as if all of it had been swept there without any intention of actually removing it. In fact, it seemed like this had been the protocol for a long time.

I slowly assimilated myself into the scene, and even indulged in a few friendlies to pass the time. I went up against Oopsie daisy, Trapanese, and Vuture, all of whom wanted to play without their mains so as to hide their hand.

Seeing the wisdom, I sparred using Arakid, as I was half-decent with him. I won once, mostly on a fluke, but it was nice to warm up.

Finally the first matches got under way. There was only space enough for eight stations, so we went with the left-hand bracket first. This meant for a short time, I would be playing the role of Riotwing Cheerleader.

Nothing overly exciting happened, but there was a small flicker of hype during Davis’s match-up when during the second set, both combatants mutually K.O.’d each other, dragging the match into sudden death, where Davis advanced without a flourish.
Comet fought valiantly, but was clearly outmatched and lost back-to-back sets against Miikii. This tourney didn’t have a loser’s bracket, so she was conclusively out of the running, turning my nerves into wet clay.

Jordan ‘Burndaddy’ had a good trade-off with ‘pink’, but ultimately won out, if only because his air-game was far superior. I logged away for future reference that he was also good with Shiner, as that was his avatar of choice for this battle. So two of his seven primary characters were Brave and Shiner, with one of his three projects being Lady Thrice.

God, that’s insane.

Iso completely and unceremoniously dominated both sets against FEAR, only losing two of his cumulative six stocks.

Once the left side of the bracket had finished, the right side was up to bat, meaning it was my turn. Willing my hands not to sweat, I took a seat at the station where it was announced I’d be having my first showdown.

Dougie filled in the seat beside me and began unwrapping his controller cord (any serious anarchist brought their own controller to tournaments). The most immediate thing you need to know about Dougie was his size. This guy had to be weighing in at about two-forty, and we’re not talking some fluff-n-stuff. He was a head taller than me sitting down, and all beef. Highly unusual for somebody with any substantial commitment to video games to be that muscular, and I was surprised I hadn’t noticed him in the room until now.

He mained a very balanced character named Wingull, who also heralded from Seeds of Victory just like Brave. Wingull was one of the few characters with an attack that could be charged and held for later use. It was a sort of hadoken-type move with ludicrous knockback and damage. Against Brave, an attack like that at full-power would blow away my stock at 80 DD from nearly anywhere on the stage. I needed to tread with serious caution.

As soon as the battle started, Dougie made distance and started charging the special. If he insisted on a playstyle revolving around that attack, I could use it to my advantage. I closed in on him and resurrected my inner Zoro, wielding Brave’s dual-blades with toned efficiency. Dougie fought back, but it was a very defensive mode of combat, focused on walling me out and preventing my use of grapples. He was good at this, so I quickly abandoned that tact and focused on dancing around the platforms for optimal air game.
He charged and fired that attack four times before I finally took his first stock. He only managed to hit me with the third one, but I was close enough to the far ledge that the knockback almost killed me at 62 DD. My heart and stomach had a reunion in my throat before I was finally able to settle back down.

Betraying conventional wisdom, Dougie was unrelenting in his desire to make use of the charge technique, despite my growing ability to predict and evade each projectile fired. I ran him down for his second stock and he finally killed me with a buster, which is a common term for any character’s full-tilt non-special.

Eh, I’ll explain that sort of stuff later. Basically, it was an easy-to-use strong attack, best utilized when in close-range and the opponent has high DD, as busters deal more knockback than damage. Because this succeeded and his charge attack did not, naturally a player would adapt to capitalize on this strategy.

Dougie did not do this. He turned himself into fodder.

Dougie plugged away at that charge attack a dozen more times before I got him down to the last thread of his final stock and he got a lucky shot and killed me again. I was nervous being on my last stock, but I kept my head clear enough that I was able to destroy him once more and claim the set. I sighed a small hurricane.

I won my first set in a tournament, though not the match. It was best two of three.

Dougie’s face was threatening sweat and he kept wiping down his hands on his pant leg. I noticed the lines of moisture that had formed between my fingers and copied the gesture.

Dougie leaned back and cracked his jaw. “Pretty good,” he scratched his head.

“Nice shot there at the end,” I tried to compliment to keep the big-headedness at bay, but the compliment was cheap. His shot sucked and I had a temporary moment of idiocy.

“That was more you than me. You jumped into it on accident.”

“Still,” I said, trailing off.

Dougie stretched briefly and settled back, “Ready?”

Set two. “Yep.”

We started set two, and guess what? Screw Dougie. Screw that guy.

He totally played me. Like a freaking harp.

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“Anarchy” Chapter 7 – I Want to Be the Very Best

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As reward to myself for dutifully slaughtering all of my weekend homework in a single, three-hour sitting, I called over Perry, and instead of playing Anarchy, we decided to spend our Friday catching up on the newest episode of BBC’s Sherlock, which had been long in the rafters, awaiting completion. We started it twice, but had to stop for reasons unrelated to the show. Once it was because Serah had pulled away Perry, the other was thanks to my internet gloriously turning into a potato and deciding to crap out for the rest of the evening. Hopefully, neither of those were destined to be problems this time around.

As is most appropriate for such occasions, we made up some pizzas, because the best compliment to extended television-viewing is clogged arteries. About half-way through the episode, there was a knock at my bedroom door. I paused the show and beckoned entrance.

My dad opened the door, “Am I interrupting anything?”

“Nope. What’s up?”

“Oh, hello Perry. So you are here. I thought that was your car across the street.”

“Good evening, Joe.”

“Do either of you guys know a couple of girls named Serah and Jasmine?”

We collectively sighed, “Yes,” I dragged the word across nails and tacks, “What does she want?”

“I don’t know,” dad shrugged, “They’re at the front door asking for you.”

Perry took to full stature, some of his pudginess bouncing, “Hold on. I’ll be back in a second.” Perry shimmied past my dad and started down the stairs to our front door.

“They’re cute,” dad said.

Predictable father thing to say. “I know. One of them is Perry’s girlfriend. The Vietnamese one.”

“Are you kidding?” He reeled, and I wondered what exactly was crossing his mind to make him jerk back with such fervor.

“Seriously.”

“Huh. How about that.”

Perry returned with Serah and Jasmine at his back. Jasmine was one of our schoolmates. Perry and I had little actual interaction with her, but she spent a decent amount of time with Serah, so some encounters were unavoidable. She wasn’t particularly pleasant to be around. Not as accepting of nerd culture as Serah had been.

“I thought you said you were going to take care of it?” I said, annoyed that we might not finish this episode yet again.

Perry’s brow tented, “I never once spoke anything like that. I said ‘Hold on. I’ll be back in a second.’ No allusion to me kicking them off the premises or exiling them to another kingdom.”

“Dang.”

My dad took the liberty of removing himself from a situation he knew he didn’t belong in, which I appreciated. Not that I wanted to exclude him, but what could he contribute at this moment other than an awkward presence?

“So what do you want?” I snapped, slightly peeved.

“Okay, firstly,” Perry cut in, “I know you guys roast each other all the time. That’s fine. In fact, I encourage that, as it’s great entertainment. But Joel, please watch the tone. She’s just stopping by for a bit.”

A sweep of indignation lit up my chest like a Christmas tree, but turned to ash in the next breath, “Sorry.” I said, tingling at the wash of sudden humility. “How can we help you?”

“Oh my goodness, it can learn!” Serah said.

I thrust out my hands like a bridge to guide the bullet train of See-She’s-Mean-Too-Look-Look! right at Serah’s face. Perry turned and gave her an expression, “Really? I was trying to make this a good moment. You couldn’t have saved the comeback for at least thirty seconds?”

This time it was Serah’s turn to look humbled, and I’ll admit, a human part of my heart enjoyed it.

She sighed. “Okay. Sorry, Joel. We have thirty seconds and then everything is fair game.”

“Deal.”

“You’re not playing Anarchy?” Serah asked, “Even with the tournament tomorrow morning?”

Perry sat down on the futon (yes, I had one in my room) and started tugging free another slice of his hamburger pizza, “Nah. We’ve been playing all week. Rest is important, too.”

“What are you ladies up to this evening?” I asked again, the still bitter part of me noting it to be the third time I’d asked a question of this nature.

Serah bounced to a rhythm alive only inside her head, “Karaoke at Carmen’s.”

I did not know this Carmen person, but was willing to bet she wasn’t very good at singing. At least, not as good as Serah. “Nice.” I was acutely aware that Jasmine was estranged in my room, trapped in a conversation with people she didn’t like or even know. Sudden curiosity as to the natural odor of my room also began to plague me. Not often did girls breach the doorway to my living quarters. I showered daily and kept things tidy, so it shouldn’t be too bad. Right?

“Your place was along the way, so I decided we’d stop by for a minute to see how practice was going, but instead you’re doing what? Watchin– Oh my god, Benedict Cumberbatch!” Serah disregarded all social protocols and thrust her entirety towards my television, stuck on a still of Sherlock himself, played by the talented mister Cumberbatch. She was practically, no wait, literally hugging my screen.

“Marry me, Benedict,” she said, purring, “You suave, gorgeous hunk of man.”

I was waiting for her to actually kiss my television screen. Thankfully, she never did.

“I love you too, hon,” Perry said, taking a bite of pizza.

“You’re allowed to be jealous.”

Perry smiled, “That’s alright, as long as you understand you have no chance against Demi Lovato.”

“Really?” I pursed my lips and sat back in my chair, “Demi Lovato?”

Sacrificing the hand which was supporting the tip of his pizza, Perry thrust an indignant finger in my direction, “You have no room to talk, sir. Need I bring up your closet crush on Paramore’s Hayley Williams? Or T-Swift before that? Or, oh, who was the one before Taylor – OH YEAH, Misty from Pokemon.”

My dad’s laugh could be heard from downstairs. A flash of red went through my cheeks as both of the girls and Perry turned to look out the hallway of my door, following the noise.

With the scraps of my dignity, I tried to compose myself, “Hey now, that was a long time ago. And you liked Misty too, don’t give me that crap.”

If Jasmine had felt out-of-place before, now she’d become lost in enemy territory, which also happened to be as disquieting and bizarre as Alice’s Wonderland. Discomfort crept through her face and I couldn’t help but notice the nervousness in how she kept crossing and uncrossing her arms. Poor girl. She’d underestimated us.

“Awww,” Serah pulled herself away from Sherlock and bit her tongue lightly through a smile, much like a child with a joyful secret, “You liked Misty, Pear? That’s adorable.”

Perry stopped chewing mid-bite, “Um, okay.”

Serah walked by and rustled Perry’s tangled mop of hair, “So you wanna be the very best, too? Just like all of the Pokemon trainers?”

Oh, great. I knew where this was going.

“Wait,” Perry’s eyes widened, “Don’t-”

Serah bolted down into a flaring stance, craning her voice into the sky, “I WANNA BE THE VERY BEST, LIKE NO ONE EVER WAS!”

She was getting louder and though I’m relatively immune to embarrassment, the horror in Jasmine’s eyes told me we’d breached some sort of social wall. I started to cringe.

“TO CATCH THEM IS MY REAL TEST! TO TRAIN THEM IS MY CAUU-AH!” I launched from my chair and throttled Serah in the back, ushering her towards the door and cutting off the song.

“What?” Serah grinned over her shoulder, “Am I embarrassing you guys?”

“No,” I pushed harder and she leaned against my force, “You’re embarrassing yourself,” I looked at Jasmine, “I’m sorry she’s your friend.”

Jasmine was still in shock when Serah freed herself from my expulsion and playfully glared at me, “Uh, rude.”

“At least you aren’t stuck with her,” Perry said as though the floor was his only audience. It was meant to be heard, though, and I grinned at the indignation of Serah’s curling lip.
“Hon, I hope you die tomorrow,” Serah said as she stepped out of the door, Jasmine skirting around us slowly.

“You’re the best. Love you,” Perry lifted a soda can to her in respect and took a swig.

“I can’t believe we’re somehow all friends,” I said, “Thanks for coming over guys, have fun at karaoke.” I smiled a true smile and closed the door on them.

“Papa’s Little Girl” – Short Story

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It just doesn’t seem fair, you know?

I mean, I don’t hold anything against you.  How could I?  You are guilty only of good things, papa.  The warm night snuggling beside you or at the foot of your bed, I loved those.  They were some of my favorite things.  Not to mention the treat you’d grant me from your very own hand, and that smile when you’d drop, look me in the eye and say “That’s my girl,” with a comb of your fingers through my hair.  That was my favorite, too.

It’s hard not to love you, papa.  I know when I was young I had brothers and sisters.  I remember them vaguely, but I remember.  You took me home with you, so I haven’t seen them in a while, but that’s okay.  Maybe I was scared at first, being removed from my family. Scared of you. I can only hope my siblings were also blessed with such wonderful papa’s.  Thank you for making me safe and not scared anymore.  Thank you for sharing your home with a clumsy little girl like me.  Thank you so much, papa.

Papa, I’m still not sure why I’m not allowed to be a mama someday. I went to sleep around some strange people and when I woke up, well, it just hurt.  Something was wrong inside of me too, I just hadn’t figured out what at the time.  I’m not questioning you, papa.  I know you only want what’s best for me, but I still get sad sometimes.  Is that okay?  Am I allowed to be sad when I have such a great papa?  I just…I don’t know.  I wish I could be a great mama, too.  I wish I could show little puppies all of the love that you showed me.  I wish so bad to be as great as my papa.

It just didn’t seem fair back then.  Papa, you’re a good guy.  I’m sorry you get hurt sometimes.  Sorry the job people didn’t want you anymore.  Sorry that woman didn’t love you.  The tears you cried into my head were warm.  They made me want to cry, too.  When you kept saying “Why am I not good enough?”, I knew you weren’t talking to me, but papa, I wanted to answer so bad.  I wanted to tell you exactly how good you were.   That you were friendly, and funny, and made the sun sparkle, and worth the trust of all things in all the whole wide world.  You deserved the best friends, the best family.  I wanted my papa to be happy so bad it hurt.  I’m sorry I couldn’t help, papa.  You were the best papa a little girl could ask for, and it made me sad that I didn’t know how to tell you.  I’m not very good with words, papa.

But even though you got hurt sometimes, you never gave up.  Papa, that’s what’s great about you.  That’s why I’m proud to call you my papa.  You got a new job, a better job, and you stopped asking if you were good enough anymore.  It helped you be happy again.  Then you bought me my stuffed bunny toy, Squeakman.  I love Squeakman.  Even now, he’s still my best friend, even if he doesn’t squeak much anymore.

But even better than Squeakman was your face when you met mama.  I remember when you came back from your first date.  Oh papa, how you smiled!  You picked me up and spun me around and laughed with a full heart.  The spinning made me dizzy, but I’d be dizzy for a million years if it meant my papa could be happy.  Mama was a good lady, I knew.  We shared that same feminine instinct and class, so there was no doubt in my mind.

So papa, I know you’re no dummy.  That’s why I knew you’d propose to mama.  I’m sure the wedding was beautiful too, but I couldn’t go.  Nah, papa’s little girl was starting to feel tired lately.  That’s okay.  Squeakman and I celebrated from afar and eagerly awaited your return.  I was only sad once, the whole time you were gone, when I thought about being a mama myself.  But it passed and I remembered how happy my papa was.

Our new home was bigger than the old one and full of new smells, so me and Squeakman made a day of exploring it when you both went to work.  We found a secret lair beneath the deck, I chased two squirrels out of the yard, and we introduced ourselves to our neighbor Sammi.  She’s a bit of an airhead, but I like her.

Papa, you have no idea how my heart fell through the floor when mama got that call you were in the hospital.  They said it was an accident and you’d need surgery.  Papa, it just wasn’t fair.  I wanted to go and be by your side so bad, I would have turned over the world to find a way, but mama said I couldn’t come.  I didn’t want to disobey mama, and knew she had her reasons, so I stayed, though my soul was in tatters.  I paced, and cried, and prayed to Big Papa that you’d be okay.

I’m really thankful to mama.  She was there when I couldn’t be.  I knew she was good, but to think she was also the best.  She was the best mama a little girl could ask for, because she knew how to take care of you, papa.  I know she was the best, because once you got better and she was out with her friends for the night, you cried with me.  You cried and thanked Big Papa for sending mama to help you through life when it got hard.  I didn’t know you could do that.  I didn’t know a person could cry and smile at the same time, but you did it papa.

I saw you do it again a while later, when Little One was born.  I saw you cry, but not because you were sad.  No, you might have been even happier than ever.  I was happy too, and not just because of how Little One made you smile.  Little One helped kindle an old fire in my heart.  If I couldn’t be a mama myself, then I would help my mama protect her Little One.  I would do it with all of my heart.

Watching Little One grow was one of the best things in my life.  You were a great papa to us both and I loved showing Little One that you didn’t need to be afraid of people like me and Sammi.  People with four legs.  Thank you for allowing me to be there when Little One began to walk.  Thank you for letting me be a protector when you were gone.  I promised that until the day I die, I would never let any harm come to Little One.  On my honor as a mama.

But as Little One got bigger, I started to feel something strange. Papa, it happened every time you came home from work or kissed mama.  It happened every time you woke up in the morning and began to move around.  There was something wrong with all of it.  But the problem wasn’t with you, papa, it was with me.  I was broken.  I was changing and you weren’t.  The stairs I climbed to reach your bedroom, they seemed further apart, but you didn’t think so.  My legs which helped me run to your side everyday were made of heaviness. Why didn’t your legs seem heavier, papa? Why could you still run when I could not?

Eventually it became too much for this little girl.  I tried so hard to keep up with you, papa, but you were moving too fast.  Everything hurt and I was always tired.  But why?  All I wanted was to stay by my papa’s side.  Why couldn’t I do that anymore?  What was wrong with me?  It just wasn’t fair.

One day I woke up when Little One accidentally fell on me.  My body hurt something incredible.  I knew it wasn’t Little One’s fault, because I’d felt the pain growing deep inside of me for a while, but suddenly I couldn’t move.  I could barely even breathe, papa.  Do you know how scary that is, not being able to breathe?  Thank you for taking care of me though, and please let Little One know it wasn’t their fault.  I was a broken little girl.  I take full responsibility.

Still, it just wasn’t fair.  You took me in to see that doctor person.  I didn’t like that doctor person because he smelled like the people who stopped me from being a mama, but I trusted you knew what was best.  He placed cold things all over my body and shined a bunch of painful lights into my eyes.  He asked you to sit down in the chair so you could talk, but I knew what he was going to say.  I was starting to get the feeling that I wouldn’t get to leave with my papa today.  The words he used were big and confusing, but I understood the fear in your face.  He said I was broken, didn’t he?  I was too “old.”

What is old, papa?  Are you old?  Please don’t become old, it’s really not very fun.  I hope Little One never becomes old.

You left me with the doctor person for the night.  Papa, that was the loneliest night of my life.  I was so scared and I only had Big Papa to comfort me.  I could do nothing but lay down and wait and hope you’d come back when the sun rose again.

Thank you for coming back.  Thank you for bringing mama and Little One to see me.  This is going to be the last time, isn’t it?  I can tell because nobody is smiling.  I mean, you’re trying to smile, but you can’t trick me, papa.  I could smell your sadness when you stepped through the door.  I can feel your heart breaking, just like mine.

Papa, did I ever tell you how much I love mama’s voice? It’s so tender, like she’s apologizing to Big Papa for every bad thing everyone has ever done.  It’s so sweet, like a magical rain made of candy.  You are so special to have her, papa.  She’s a better mama than I could ever be.  Please take care of her forever and always.  I know you will, because that’s the kind of papa you are.

Little One doesn’t know what’s happening, do they?  That’s okay.  I protected them, just like I promised I would.  Please keep Little One safe when I’m gone.  Please show them what love is.

And Papa, it really, really isn’t fair, you know?  Why do you not look any different?  I spent my whole life with you.  You were there from the beginning.  Had you had little girls like me before?  Will you find another once I’ve left?  If you do, please be the papa I know you are, and show them how to be happy like me.  Fill them with wonder and hope and joy.  Little girls need those things from their papas.

Because I’m old now, papa, and very tired.  Thank you for placing Squeakman beside me, so I don’t have to go alone to find Big Papa.  Thank you for being here, even though I know it hurts your heart.  You’ve always been here, haven’t you?  I’ve seen you every day since I could remember, and you still look exactly the same as when we first met. That’s not fair.  I want to spend more time with my papa, but I can’t keep my eyes open anymore.  Why are my eyes the only ones that have to close?  Why do I have to go into the dark without my papa?

It just doesn’t seem fair, you know?

“Anarchy” Chapter 6 – Remember, Remember

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In a gesture of almost divine coincidence, my Advanced European History class was just beginning our unit on the Gunpowder Plot in London. You know, V for Vendetta, Guy Fawkes blows up everything. “Remember, remember the fifth of November”? Yeah, that Gunpowder Plot. The one meant to assassinate King James I of England. There were far more people in on the ordeal than just Fawkes, but thanks to Hollywood and that infamous white mask, he’s the only man people ever associate with the fiasco.

Anyways, this is appropriate, as these people are some of the most quintessential, real-world anarchists in recent history. Or, relatively recent. While I abide by the identifier of ‘anarchist’, these guys were serious about the term.

Though, Batman’s ‘Clown Prince of Crime’ still has them beat. The Joker is straight up loco.

Since I’m already talking about history (sort of), now is probably the best opportunity to enlighten you as to some historic details that will help in the long run. Is that alright? I’m not going to get stoned or whipped am I? Nobody will threaten to blow up my house?

Okay, cool.

Let’s start with me. This shouldn’t take very long, as there’s not much to talk about. Perhaps the most worthwhile segment of my personal story revolves around the absence of my mother, so I’ll begin there. Her name was Karin, and she was a suicide hotline specialist through the first six years of my childhood. I remember her being gentle and loving, but always with reservation. My father said she had issues in connecting with others and forming relationships. I guess her own son was not exempt from that problem. But she tried, so I cannot fault her for the handicap.

Somewhere around the time I was entering the second grade, she bore witness to a violent crime coming home from work after the evening shift. As I understand it (meaning, from what the authorities hypothesize), she somehow alerted the criminals to her presence. Probably yelped or cried for help or something. The two perpetrators gave chase. She ran, as we didn’t own a car, and only made it a block and a half before they caught her. They bludgeoned her to death.

Both of the culprits were caught on the camera of a gas station across the street and eventually drawn into the iron law. Both men belonged to a local gang and were tying up a loose end in their family. A snitch. Karin was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She needed to be silenced for witnessing an event she never wanted to see. Each of the convicted criminals are now serving time. Life, I believe. For whatever that’s worth.
Worst part? They were no older than I was in the course of this story. A sixteen and seventeen-year-old. I hate that. I hate that for so many reasons.

So for the majority of my life, I didn’t have a mom. Didn’t have a mother-figure of any sort. It was just me and padre, double-teaming the world. Wasn’t so bad after the first couple of years. Financially, we’re actually better off, because he’s since completed the degree he was going back to school for and found work as an accountant. More than enough to support himself and a single child. I adopted his love for hiking and camping when I was young, but steadily grew out of the activity with age. Mostly because I was being indoctrinated by a culture that kept me indoors, but also because my father had a bad back from sitting all day and it started to wear on his health. Just couldn’t make the climb so much after he hit forty. Still, we got along well, and I’d considered him one of my best friends, even if he wasn’t a “friend”, if you hear me.

Next up to bat, RequiaTek. The notorious company which dressed the events of this tale. Originally, RequiaTek manufactured only televisions, radios and other simple electronic products, circa the 60’s. They were known by a different name back then, however I neither know, nor care what it was. Dawning upon the early 90’s, they armed themselves with a new name to address the changing of the times, but had been in the business of producing and developing video games for over a decade by that point. Their oldest intellectual property was a modest (read: awful) little title called Arakid, which followed the titular character, a cartoonish, spider-child, as he tried to find his parents. The gameplay was appalling at best, even for its age, and the graphics could only be cured with fire and holy water. But it was enough to spring-load a new team into better projects, which eventually generated the momentum RequiaTek sees on the gaming scene today.

As I’ve said before, the game of Anarchy is something of a nexus for all of RequiaTek’s established franchises to date. More than twenty IP’s are represented, and as far as marketing is concerned, this move was brilliant. In the first year of Anarchy’s commercial release, it received gratuitous amounts of critical and fan acclaim as a family video game. Not until the initial hype settled did this new franchise pick up steam as a tournament-capable arena fighter like Street Fighter II. This has led its many loyal fans to consider Anarchy a ‘beautiful accident’.

The first Western Grand Rally tournament, largest Anarchy tourney in America, was held in 2009, with Styx as the first reigning champion. Styx mained Brave, by the way. Just throwing that out there. Ever since, the tournament had become a mecca for anarchists and grows in participants with every succeeding year. Nowadays they have to rent out stadiums to fit the masses who come to watch, not even accounting for the live stream of the tournament which draws in countless others to view online. Only one other tournament can compete with the WGR, and that’s all the way over in Japan, from where RequiaTek heralds. Sticking to typical Japanese peculiarity, that tourney was coined ‘Four Corners: The Elite and Thunderous!’ Exclamation mark officially included, of course.

Ready for everything to come full-circle? The WGR is traditionally held on the same day every year. Any guesses as to which day that is? Okay, well technically it’s two days, but it starts on November 5. “Remember, remember the fifth of November. The Gunpowder Treason and Plot.” The largest Anarchy showdown in the country takes place the same day as one of the most prominent acts of literal anarchy in history.

Don’t you just love it when things come together?

“Anarchy” Chapter 5 – Weird is Weird

anarchy c 5

“Hello, I’m Comet.”

“Hi, I’m Perry. Holy crap your eyes are really blue.”

“Thank you. I get that a lot.”

There was a notable absence from the session today. ‘Extremely-Dangerous-Keep-Out-Of-Reach-Of-Children’ Sid had bailed on practice. I sensed something stirring under Jordan’s glances that meant more than they spoke. This last weekend held secrets I needed to uncover.

Perry was making the rounds, introducing himself and prostrating all of his Anarchy identifiers to the team, at Jordan’s subtly commanding request. “My tag is ‘Od!n’. Like the Norse god, but with an exclamation mark instead of an ‘I’. My main is Lady Thrice, but I’ve recently been experimenting with Shiner for the sake of diversity. I’m not bad with Shiner, but Thrice is definitely still my top pick.”

“Weird combination of characters,” GG reclined at one of the desks against the wall, “Not bad, just weird.”

“I’m a weird guy,” Perry said with no particular inflection.

After explaining how the crew was ranked, Soldiers beneath Corporals, beneath the Vice Captain and then the Captain on top, Perry sat down to run the same gauntlet I had the Friday before.

Unlike my trial, he had the advantage of an info dump I’d provided on Sunday. This gave him a distinct leg-up, and he knew what sort of mess to expect from each member.
He lost to Comet.

“What in the name of lord Helix,” he said, not really angry, but instead devastatingly confused, as if he’d believed he’d found the answer to a challenging puzzle, only to be proven wrong and left without an idea of how to proceed. In his defense, Comet’s game seemed to be on today, as she performed significantly better than when I’d traded blows with her.

Comet stood from her seat, brushing aside a swathe of chestnut hair and flooding air through her loose t-shirt. Marvel’s Carnage was emblazoned on the front of the shirt, surrounded by the shadows of a bloody crucible he’d just finished slaughtering. Hindsight, she’d been wearing another Spider-Man related top on Friday. Interesting.

Handing off the controller to Davis, Comet tried to play the loss as no big deal. Which it wasn’t really, but after appealing to Perry’s ego earlier and telling him he’d probably beat Comet, I felt like the frustration was going to taint every remaining matchup.

As Davis sat down – his red jacket a flare among the white of the room – I noticed a small thing. He wasn’t half as perky as last I’d seen him. There was definitely a degree of tension tip-toeing around, but it was largely ignored for the sake of not making things awkward. Not with Davis. Davis was so indifferent and mentally distant that it was like finding shadows in Heaven. Alien and disconcerting.

Unlike our duel, Davis went straight for the throat instead of falling back on his bogus, bag of crude tricks. Perry fell apart the first stock, but managed to pull everything back in the second stock, taking both of Davis’ initial two stocks before being levelled at the beginning of Davis’s last life, equalizing the game at zero damage debt for each player’s final stock.
Then Davis whipped out the inner prick. So heavily he relied on hit-and-run and spamming projectiles that I was starting to itch just watching the match unfold. Fortunately, unlike Brave, Lady Thrice could counter Shiva’s range game with some distance techniques of her own. In the end, Perry handled the heat far better than myself, but still lost by a hairline margin. They were both sitting above 170 DD by the time the match ended. More than high enough for either player to take the cake.

Perry started laughing, and then kept on laughing well past the point of social acceptance or good reason.

“Hey, Perry, settle down man. You’re not a hyena.”

It took a few more, slightly more aggressive prompts from yours truly before he finally dialed it back. “Sorry, that was just…something else. I was so conflicted that laughing felt oddly relaxing. Again, sorry,” he shook his head, “Good match.”

“You too,” Davis said, but that was all. No fist bump, no bleeding bro-savvy aura. It made me sad, because whatever happened, regardless of its magnitude, was obviously affecting him. Unless it was something completely unrelated, but I somehow knew it wasn’t.

GG profoundly destroyed Perry with such pants-wetting efficiency that it was impossible to be upset at the loss. It was beautiful and almost artistic in execution. Perry and GG seemed to be developing a solid bond, though, despite the obliteration. GG made an off-hand reference to some science fiction show I didn’t recognize, but Perry clearly did, and returned a similar, slightly different line of dialogue. Then I found out they are both figurine collectors, and GG’s repertoire apparently has some obscenely rare stuff I know nothing about. That’s okay. I was just satisfied they were getting along.

Finally Jordan took up the mantle. I waited for him to pick Brave, but he didn’t. He selected Thrice, to copy Perry.

My mind imploded.

“Wait,” I interrupted, “I thought you mained Brave?”

He looked at me with knowing and a hidden well of satisfaction, “I wonder.”

“You wonder?” I grew indignant.

No. Was Jordan seriously prepared to play against whatever choice of character Perry had in store, using that character himself? Was he actually good with all of them? The mental deception and illusions he cast threw off my temperament. I wasn’t upset, just so flabbergasted that I had no words.

So instead of talking, I watched. If he really was good with all of the characters, or at least most of them, he’d prove it with skill. And so it was, Jordan came out the victor, though the win wasn’t as clean as against me. He was better with Brave, but was no layman with Lady Thrice. Both had considerable time logged into his copy of Anarchy, I was sure. That was bad enough, but it turned my stomach to possibly see how large his roster of elite characters reached.

And if Jordan was this good with two different characters, and truly was just toying with us, then how good was his real main? The character he would choose if there was money or a title on the line.

I didn’t cast Jordan as much for the theatrical type, but he decided then would be the best time to hint at a shocking bit of knowledge he knew would evoke reactions among us newcomers. Mister captain fancied himself as proficient with as many as seven characters, with three ‘projects’ who were almost within the range of being used in higher-level competition. Even worse?

Lady Thrice wasn’t even one of those seven. She was a project.

At this point, it seemed like bragging, but I think that was the point.

“Good job not getting pissy,” Jordan said after letting a little time melt away, “While everything I said was true, I was intentionally trying to get under your skin, Perry. Sorry if I upset you. You honestly did very well. Though I thought it was weird how you kept cutting your over-special short. You know that attack can carry almost twice as far, right?”

Perry nodded, “At risk of additional lag after the move is performed. Not worth it, especially when I’m already losing the match. Can’t make the windows too large for you or I’d be no competition at all,” Perry looked around, “So where is the last one? The kid from Toy Story? I wanted to take on his Bluffy.”

A half-snort came from Comet’s direction, though she looked around the room as if she somehow wasn’t obviously the culprit, “Sorry,” she said, turning back, “He totally does look like the Sid from Toy Story. Come on, that’s funny!”

Davis was supremely unamused, “We had a bit of a falling out.”

I blinked, “Which means?”

Jordan held up a hand at Davis, as if to ward off a demonic chant, “Do you want to join our crew? Both of you? Right now we have two openings. We could make due with one empty spot, but two is too many. I ask that you are able to attend at least two practices a week, and every competitive event unless notified in advance.”

“Sure, sure,” I waved it off, “But why is Sid not on the team anymore? What happened?”

A mask of equal parts calculation and stagnation effused Jordan’s every feature and fidget. The duration of this pause was deeply unsettling. It was even getting to the point that it seemed one of his own teammates was going to prod further, but finally the mask collapsed in a larger-than-life sigh of exhaustion, “Sorry, it’s been a long weekend and I still don’t know everything that happened. I’ll try to keep things digestible,” he cleared his throat and reached one lanky arm up to scratch at the crown of his head, “Sid is no longer part of the crew because of a number of internal complications. He proved unstable in a tournament setting, becoming overly aggressive when defeated. The proctors and myself gave him a number of chances to tone down his behaviors over the last couple months, but he never could.

“He also didn’t get along with Davis very well, and spoke some less-than-kind things which breached into personal, familial matters. Poor conduct and bad character, basically. Then there’s you two.”

“Us?” Perry said, moving to my side, making me feel like Batman and he was my Robin.

Jordan nodded and sighed again, “First, he didn’t seem very fond of you in the first place, Joel. I still don’t know why. But when you mentioned you were bringing Perry,” Jordan spread a fractional, open hand towards Perry, “Well, he went livid. Called both of you a bunch of names I’d rather not repeat. I don’t know the reason for this either, unfortunately. After you left on Friday, he exited soon after, in a tantrum. Sorry, but I don’t know any more than that. I’ve tried talking with him about it, but I fear he’s blocked my number or something,” he shrugged with the weight of a hopeless struggle, “Oh well.”

“Huh,” I said, out-of-body, “That’s weird.”

“Yeah.”

Perry seemed especially concerned, to the point of being rid of speech. He opened his mouth a few times, raised his hands in protest against something, and always withdrew before making the plunge. He settled for a resounding, “Us?”

“Like I said, I don’t know,” Jordan clapped his hands together softly, “Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” I dispelled the tension, “Thanks for letting us know.”

“So?”

“So what?”

“You said you were in, right?” He gazed at both of us with a sense of desperate curiosity.
In perfect harmony, both Perry and I locked glances and examined Jordan with the rest of his team. It would be the first step in a dream. I’d never had an actual crew, not even on the horizon. This could change things.

“I’m game,” I said, not giving myself an opportunity to overthink things.

“No offense,” Perry pursed his lips and wrung his hands as if applying hand sanitizer or foam soap, “But do you think that’s a good idea? I just lost to all of you.”

Jordan waved off this comment, “Your performance was more than good enough. I would like to judge you for consistency, but I don’t really have the convenience to make that call anymore. You’ll improve with time.”

A few beats passed, blood flowing through our veins almost louder than our own breathing, “I hope so,” Perry said, a smile breaking onto his cheeks and injecting morale into the room, “Okay, let’s do it.”

“Awesome,” GG chewed on his lower lip, cheeks pulled into a tight grin, “Welcome to the Riotwings.”

Jordan gave us a sideways nod, “Glad to have you aboard. Truly.”

“Ah,” Perry said, “I like it.”

“Riotwings?” I licked my lips, “I can roll with that.”

“You free to do a small tourney this weekend? Nothing major, just a local at Jade Gaming on 30th and Tribune. They hold a competition every other week. The turnout is small, but it’ll get you adjusted to the scheme of the official MLG setup for tournaments. Plus, you’ll be able to meet some of your rivals and hopefully find a few friends. If we’re lucky, Zinky will attend. Though, that usually means none of our crew stands a chance of winning, it’s still good to face people above our caliber. You learn a lot.”

“Zinky?” I said, eyes wide, “The same guy who held his own against Double J in the last Western Grand Rally? He’s from around here?”

“Childhood friends with Comet,” Jordan threw a thumb over his shoulder towards Comet, “Lives in the rural area south of the city, now. Pretty sure he’s homeschooled.”

“He’s a bit weird,” Comet said.

“We can both make it,” Perry answered, already knowing my schedule was clear.

“Good,” Jordan answered.

“Sorry for the trouble we’ve caused,” I said, apologetically, though I had a hard time actually feeling bad. I mean, I was part of a team now. An Anarchy crew. The Riotwings.

“No big deal. Your priority is to get ready for this weekend. Here’s my number. Trade with everyone else before you go. For now…”

“More Anarchy?” I answered, already making moves to take hold of the controller, “I can bring a second set on Wednesday,” I said, “We’ll need it if we want to train more fluidly. One set is too restrictive.” I scanned the character selection screen and landed on Brave.

“Thank goodness!” Comet said, “They almost had me bring mine. Wouldn’t have been fun dragging that thing here all of the time.”

“It’s fine,” I shrugged, “Now, I need to go super-saiyan if I want to stand a chance against some of the people I hope to face, so some serious training is in order.”

I grabbed the idle controller of Player 2 and stretched it out to the open crowd, “Who’s first?”

“Anarchy” Chapter 4 – A Girl Who Understands

anarchy c 4

Confession time, baby. I don’t drive. Not that I can’t. I just choose not to…

This is important, because Perry didn’t live very far away from the school, so I needed to walk to his house after leaving Jordan and company. Perry had a car, so I usually had to lean on him or my dad to service my sorry butt any great distance, and because I live not so far from the school either (albeit in a completely different direction), I walked to most destinations. Helped keep me in shape, I suppose. God knows I needed it, else I ran the risk of transmuting into a pile of porridge.

I should mention some geographical details for your convenience. I became a thought in my parents’ mind in Malcolm, Nebraska, and that is where my story finds root. Challenger Incoming! Joel enters the battlefield!

Malcolm is where I was born and reared, and it’s one of the only noteworthy cities in this otherwise profoundly depressing part of the country. I lived in the suburbs, and had only stepped foot on a farm a handful of times in my life, even if I was familiar with our countryside locale and produce. But Perry’s residence was a beautiful, if not cookie-cutter townhome that camped on the south rim of a small lake. His family made residence on the third floor, and I already knew what to expect when I reached their front door.

I knocked twice and heard a girl’s voice penetrate through the door, fluting like a song. Literally, she sang the words. “Come in!”

Serah. Perry’s ladylove of providence.

Opening the door, Perry and Serah were the only two people in the home, both of his parents still at work until later that evening. It smelled of clashing scents. Some aerosol fragrance in the vein of cinnamon, and the crisp, bubbling stir fry that Perry was cooking up at the oven. Staves of light burned from the window, illuminating an army of lazy dustlings. Dustlings. That’s a word as of this moment.

Music fed out of Perry’s father’s sound system in the living room, from beneath the television. Some temperamental and bouncy techno-pop something or other. Serah’s choice of tunes. She was lounging in the years-old loveseat under the window, quietly jamming to the sound waves, fluttering her bare feet off the edge of the sofa.

I’d actually known Serah long before she met Perry. We shared mathematics classes for two years, and talked on occasion. A rare thing, me talking to a girl, let alone one as attractive as this. Small frame, hair as smooth and pitch as ink, and gentle skin of Eurasian descent. Large influence of Vietnamese blood, if I recall. Yeah, that’s right, Perry got himself an exotic sort of gal. That’s special to some people.

Serah truly was a nice. Incredibly obnoxious habit of “unce, unce”ing with any bass drop she could get her ears on, but outside of that, nearly perfect, especially for Perry. I say that, because she did what most girls did not. She tolerated his hobbies, and not just video games and Anarchy. You see, Perry was a figurine collector. You know, one of the stereotypically textbook “look at me, I’m destined to live in my mother’s basement” sort of nerds, too. The shelf looming over his bed was littered with wonderfully cultured items. Most impressive was his twelve-inch model of Halo’s ‘The Arbiter’, reigning over all. These weren’t even counting the figures that lined his closet or windowsill.

She loved it.

Perry on the other hand didn’t seem to be overly receptive towards this divine gift. He was fond of Serah for all of the obvious reasons, and none of the special ones. She was exceedingly attractive, had an older brother that wasn’t at Perry’s throat for dating his sister, kept in good shape from soccer season, chambered a kind heart, an honest tongue, and possessed a voice granted by God himself.

Eh, I guess some of those are pretty legitimate.

Then there was Perry, as righteous a nerd-tastrophe as one could ever find. Fingers which had never seen a day of serious work in their life, a peppering of cushion around the edges (mostly Taco Bell, which he ate with near-religious frequency and fervor), and glasses that he needed to constantly realign or press up to the bridge of his nose. Perry was clean-skinned though, somehow, with a knockout smile and his father’s rich, chocolate melanin flowing through the veins.

Basically the opposite of myself, whose smile was a little crooked, had some splotches that formed on the neck when I got nervous, and in the winter was white enough to shame Count Tepes. Thankfully, once I burned a few times in the summer, I could usually requisition a decent tan, so not all hope was lost.

“Hey Pear,” Serah said, rocking to the beat, “Do we have an ETA on that stir fry? The rumblies are hitting me pretty hard right now.”

“Depends,” Perry sprinkled some sort of garlic seasoning into the mix, “How done do you want the peppers?”

I liberated an open seat of its vacancy, and tried not to look like the universe was pulling me apart with pliers at my excitement. That is to say, I gazed with excessive intensity at Perry until somebody said something.

“Yo, Joel. Sorry I didn’t say hi when you came in,” Perry said without looking up.

“Hon,” Serah said, “I think he wants to tell you something.” She grinned at my slashing, shark-like expression.

Perry pursed his lips and noticed my irreverent attention, “Okay, yeah, that’s not normal. What’s up?”

He said the words with kind interest, but didn’t seem to pick up on my ‘holy crap this is the best thing since the Roman Coliseum’ vibes, yet. “Perry, do you know Jordan from school?”

Scraping and sizzling erupted from the pan as Perry shuffled a wooden spoon through its contents. “Joel, there are several Jordans in our school.”

“THE Jordan. Two lockers.”

“The two lockers thing isn’t as special as you make it sound,” Perry said, “But I know who you’re talking about. What about him?”

“He’s an Anarchist.”

“Okay,” Perry said with paper-thin disappointment, as if he was expecting something more.

“And also the crew captain of a team that frequents tournaments.”

This actually jostled him away from his task. Perry spun out of the kitchen area, abandoning the meal for a moment before retaining his composure and going back to finish the job, “Woah, woah, what?”

I reveled in the unique satisfaction that came from blowing somebody’s mind. My slanted smile permeated the room with thicker potency than a kick of wine.

Not that I knew how wine tasted back then, of course. I was a teenager, we don’t drink. Duh.

“Who are the other members?”

“Comet, Davis, Sid and GG– erm, Garrison. I don’t know their last names. I played all of them. They’re good, each in their own way.”

“Played them?” Perry was basically salivating, and not because of the food, “Where?”

“At school. They practice after classes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”

“Were you invited to come back?!”

Hook, line, and sinker, “And you can come, too.”

“You know,” Serah cut in, “He’s trying to do something important, Joel. Why must you distract him?”

Playful exasperation hit my eyes, “You can starve, Serah.”

“Already working on it,” she grinned, “Seriously though, leave him alone. He might burn himself or something.”

“I’m basically done anyways,” Perry snapped off the heat of the stovetop and started scooping the stir onto a couple of plates, “Come get it, dearie.”

The endearment was so casual that it almost sounded like a jab at them actually being a couple.

Serah swung her legs off the sofa and onto the floor in such a blur that I might have actually been a little startled. Not my most impressive moment.

“Did you want any, Joel?” Perry asked, nodding to the Mediterranean chicken on the dish, diced with assorted peppers, onions and string beans.

Tempting. “I’ll pass, thank you though.”

“Woo!” Serah bounced with fresh animation as a new track came on over the speakers, “More for me.”

“Serah, most girls aren’t excited to eat more food. Usually they’re in business to cut down. You know, maintain their curves.”

Simply put, I was no savant with words, especially regarding the ladies. I rightfully deserved a slap upside the head for that one, but she took it in merciful stride.
“Not too worried about it,” she said, “I can still outrace you, and school you in arm-wrestling ten out of ten times.”

Tested and proven. I sighed.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” She said, shoveling chicken into her mouth.

Perry made up a plate for himself, but lacked any interest in actually eating it. He set the dish aside and took a seat next to me, thumbing his wide-rimmed glasses back into place, “So tell me more about these Anarchists. Are they looking for teammates?”

I bit my lip and decided to keep the whole truth to myself about their open position. Position. Singular. “Yep.”

“Oh man,” he cupped his hands behind his head, “We’ve gotta get in on that.”

“I know you’ve always wanted to play Anarchy a little more seriously,” Serah said, chomping on food from her stool at the kitchen counter, “Sounds like fun.”

“It would be,” I said slowly, “I’m still perplexed you’re like this.”

“Like what?” Serah took another bite, examining herself to make certain she hadn’t accidentally spilled on herself in her mad frenzy to consume every last morsel.

My tongue explored my cheek, “You know. Um. Understanding, I guess,” I grasped at words like they were whispers in a heavy crowd, “Not many girls are so encouraging of their boyfriend’s pursuit of video game-related interests.”

She shrugged, “I don’t see the problem. He gets a kick out of it, and I like the fire in his eyes when he’s desperately trying to win. It’s cute.”

“Cute?” Perry parroted the word, uncertain, “Not exactly what I strive to be.”

“Dude, shut up,” I told him, “If she likes you as cute, be freaking cute, man. Channel your inner Hello Kitty or whatever you need to do. Be adorable.”

He rolled his eyes at me and Serah laughed, her athlete’s belly flattening like a sheet of metal beneath her blouse.

“But seriously,” I turned the conversation back, “She’s a girl who understands. Even if it’s not the ‘best’ hobby or whatever, she knows you love it, and has no problem with that. As long as she’s still the number one priority, of course.”

“Of course,” Perry answered.

“Even then,” Serah stirred some noodles with the teeth of her fork, “I know I’m not the girl who understands him best,” she shook her head, “Lady Thrice has that one advantage.”

“Yeah, but you’re a real person,” Perry defended, “Though you’re right. Nothing beats that relationship. I love me some Thrice.”

Lady Thrice was Perry’s main. She was a sort of zombie-empress from a game called Tales of Otherland. Her character was the benevolent ruler of loyal subjects, but fate would have her assassinated at the end of the antagonist’s knife. However, her son managed to resurrect the lingering soul, where the empress dragged supernatural powers back into her cold corpse, now resurrected. At the end of the game, she would die again, though only metaphorically, as she gave up her aspiration for revenge. Without that burden, her lens on life was transformed again. So it was, she was thrice alive. Horray for narrative theming.

“To be fair, she got you first,” false resignation crept through Serah’s shoulders, “What’s little old me to do against an empress?”

“Sit and wallow in her place,” I said, pointedly, “Peasant.”

“You know,” she aimed the fork at me, still chewing, “You’re stepping dangerously close to the realm of Smacktown, kid.”

“Kid? We’re the same age.”

“All that more embarrassing that I am your superior in nearly every way.”

“Except being awesome.”

She raised an eyebrow at me, “Is that what we’re resorting to? Cheap playground nonsense?”

“Your mom.”

Serah snorted and turned the brunt of her attention back to the plate, nearly cleared, “Yeah, I’ll chalk this up as my win.”

“Your face is a win.”

“Joel, stop. I’m in pain watching you struggle,” Perry said as he turned to his food and began to eat right as Serah finished slurping down her last pepper.

So it went that the evening passed in a sheathe of warm company. We hung around, throttled to music (which I eventually hijacked so I needn’t endure an endless stream of techno-pop), went some rounds through our homework, and fantasized over what it would be like to be at the Western Grand Rally, the largest Anarchy tournament in the Americas. Perry dropped the news that he’d gotten a job at a nearby hamburger joint, where he’d be picking up some part time hours after school. Mostly Thursday and Friday, thankfully. Can’t have stuff like ‘work’ and ‘money’ and ‘responsibility’ get in the way of our fun.

Eventually Perry’s mother and father came home from work and his dad shuttled me back to my house at the crack of dusk. He didn’t mind the trip, usually. Gave him and my father time to catch up on their one, mutual hobby. Something, something football drafts and seasonal something, somethings.

It might seem like a boring and predictable thing, but my first order of business was to cut straight to my bedroom, where I promptly locked the door and fired up Anarchy. I wasn’t a part of Jordan’s crew yet (which I realized I still I didn’t know the team name, so I’d have to figure that out), but if I were to be a prospective member, I needed to up my ante. I mean, I’d almost lost to Dax and Petre, for heaven’s sake.

Hours and hours of further training would be required if I were to enter tournaments, and when I started to grow weary or bored, a quick thought of clashing with an established Anarchy personality on a stage to be seen by tens of thousands of people live and on the internet revitalized my passion. I could do it. I might lose, but I could take up arms against the best of the best, and that alone would be worth the time and experience.

So I played all night. I did homework on Saturday, and attended to the obligatory things, like lunch with my grandmother and donating blood. I did that sometimes. But afterwards I came back to my hyperbolic time chamber of a room and put the pedal to the metal, churning out hours slaughtering AI’s and defeating people in the often (but not always) lagged online feature of the game. I might have rage quit a couple times that weekend, but even in those three days alone, I felt a change in my performance.

Because of Jordan and his crew, I was preparing for war.

“Anarchy” Chapter 3 – Brave

anarchy c 3

Now, I’m not the most easily insulted person…okay, I lied, I’m offended rather easily, but I did not like the fact that Jordan, the crew captain, invited me to a battle and then shoved me off on this Comet girl. I mean, I’d already read her play-style from across the room, so why was she the first to sit down and challenge me? Besides, if I was picking up on the hierarchy correctly, she was a ‘soldier’ or whatever. In other words, the lowest rung of their arbitrary ladder.

“Don’t underestimate her,” GG grinned, clearly reading the trace irritation in my eyes.
A fair request, though it may have been a little difficult to actually follow through on. Comet sat in the hard, industrial chair beside me and took ownership of her controller. Anarchy’s patented orchestral rock theme played through the crappy television speakers as we navigated menus. When the character selection screen appeared, I shot straight to Brave, my main and character of choice. Comet already had Dax and Petre selected from the previous match, with her tag keyed in under the second player’s slot. I followed suit and added Myth under player one.

Comet thumbed a scythe of brown hair from her eyes, “Ready?”

But I had already moved on to the stage selection screen. Now, a brief 101 on the layout of Anarchy matches, if you’re a layman. Each match takes place on a two-dimensional arena, which is usually floating in the center of the screen. A character icon floats at the bottom of the screen so players may track the condition of their character at all times. Each round begins with the combatants appearing on the field in a course of light. Unlike most arcade fighters, there are not health bars which deplete as characters are attacked, but a number which floats over the character icon to represent how much damage they’ve received. This is referred to as ‘Damage Debt’, ‘Debt’, or simply ‘DD’. Debt increases with every consecutive strike against your character, starting at zero, and can go all the way up to one thousand, though it practically never reaches so high in casual or tournament play. The higher the debt you rack up on your opponent, the further their character is propelled with every attack they receive. Eventually, they start picking up enough Debt that they fly off the arena. The purpose of Anarchy is to increase the Debt enough so you may kill your opponent by knocking them outside any four sides of the screen (a.k.a. the “Blast Zone”), losing them a life, or ‘stock’. Tournament matches generally run you at three stock per standard play.

As for the arenas themselves, RequiaTek created Anarchy with over twenty-five maps, featuring iconic locations from all of their represented franchises. But some of the maps have natural setups, interrupters, or design schemes which notoriously disturb the flow of battle, or arbitrarily do harm to certain players, rendering the stages useless in tournaments, where an individual’s skill should not be hindered by luck-based hazards. Consequently, there are only eight stages allowed in competitive play, and among those, the only stage props are some organization of platforms strewn about the arena. Sometimes the platforms move or change shape, but nothing actively tries to hurt you.

We selected one of these stages. A strictly bare-bones sort of arena with only a main plateau and a couple platforms idly strewn above it, equidistant from each other in a triangular shape.

Ushering in the start of the match was an enthusiastic, reverberating tenor voice: “3, 2, 1…” As the countdown made its course, our characters glowed into existence on the stage, the background filling in with the cosmetic of a war-torn forest, blood-red banners flapping in the light of a broken dawn, “…Begin!

I sunk into the zone and engaged Comet. We played in relative silence, and it was impossible not to feel the gaze of onlookers as the match pressed on. I knew some of them were watching for fun, but others were judging me, weighing my performance against predisposed standards. As such, I didn’t pull any punches.

But this Comet girl…she was better than anticipated. There was something odd about her play-style I couldn’t quite pin down. My damage debt clocked in at 77 by the time I stole her first stock. Dax and Petre, the boomerang-wielding monkey and his kooky bird compadre, rematerialized in light above the stage and dropped, beginning their second stock back at 0 debt.

I was clearly winning, I thought, but it didn’t feel like it, even as I applied pressure and continued to increase the gap between our scores. Able to afford a few glances to check on small things, I cut my attention towards Comet herself. Hair had fallen back in front of her eyes, but she hadn’t brushed it aside, attention full-bore on defeating me. The way she held the controller was correct, but somehow wrong, like she wasn’t used to it, yet.

I’d racked up over a hundred debt on Dax and Petre when I misread the trajectory of the ape’s boomerang and it dragged my character off into the abyss, costing me a stock. No big deal, really. I still possessed a tremendous advantage.

Sweat gathered like a mantle near the roots of my hairline. When I finally took Comet’s second stock, I was aptly in kill range for my second as well. One strong hit and Brave would be off the screen.

GG and Davis were both chuckling at my flank, practically eating my frustration like candy. They knew I knew something was wrong, and that I hadn’t figured it out yet.

“You’re not even,” I whispered mindlessly under my breath. I was going to say ‘good’, but caught myself before speaking something offensive. It was true though. Comet wasn’t good. In fact, she kind of sucked. The way she maneuvered her character was extremely amateur, and she failed to utilize any of Dax and Petre’s few decent combos.

I blinked as our characters clashed mid-air and hers came out on top. A proverbial potato sack of bricks hit me in the skull at thirty miles an hour as I drowned in sudden revelation. Comet wasn’t good at the game. She couldn’t capitalize on the physics-based engine, couldn’t predict where I’d go or what I’d do, and had no idea how to fight my character or use her own. But she did have something.

Nervous laughter chuckled out of my throat, “Your timing is ungodly.”

Her only answer was a half-smile.

Comet was a new player, so she didn’t understand the idiosyncrasies of Anarchy or the particulars about each character, but her ability to time attacks so they’d connect perfectly was uncanny. All of the best ways to execute offensive combinations and strategies were still a mystery she needed to unravel, but she made up for the handicap by having a master’s level skill with a single, fine detail of the game: precision and hitboxes (the range a character’s attack can cover). This point is something that professionals are always working to refine, and she already had it down. Like being able to disassemble, rebuild, load, and cock a gun, but never having learned how to fire it.

The dormant potential was astonishing.

Nevertheless, I eventually changed tact and came out the victor, if only by a small margin. Only about ten seconds after the match ended did I realize how much I was trembling.
“Davis,” Jordan said, with no particular inflection.

Suddenly Comet was out of her seat and Davis filled the absence, lifting the controller.

“Any feedback?” I asked.

“Not yet,” Jordan said.

Davis and I repeated the ritual of selecting our characters and stage, with him making a modification so the tag of player two read ‘Merc’. We picked a completely flat arena, with no additional platforms in any capacity.

My main, Brave, burst into life upon the screen, facing down Shiva, the moon maiden.
Shiva was tricky because she was a very range-oriented character, while Brave’s best utilization was through aggressive, in-your-face battle tactics. This meant that by nature, we were bound to completely contradictory play styles.

Davis offered up a fist-bump as the countdown dwindled, and I hit it, maybe a little too hard.

The match began and lord on high, if Davis was not one of the most flighty players in existence, then dip me in molasses and call me Juniper. He took the ‘range-oriented’ strategy to an obnoxious extreme and my respect for him was falling like an anchor through the Marianas Trench. You’d swear it’s like he was paranoid of taking any debt at all, even if it meant ultimately giving him the advantage. He just ran and ran and ran. In the meantime, he took pot shots at Brave until I’d accumulated over sixty debt.

“Is it irritating?” Davis asked, continuing to rain shards of ice and light on my character as I desperately tried to close the gap and volley some swordsplay into his overly-defensive, teeth-grinding retreat.

My fury must not have been hidden very well. “Nope, we’re good,” I lied, feeling the red flush through my face.

When at last I predicted his movements enough to land a blow, he used Shiva’s up-special, which is basically Anarchy jargon for the recovery technique most characters use to try and return to stage after being knocked off. But he used it while still on the stage, warping him to the other side, further away from me.

“Oh my god!” I ached to stand in protest, but restrained myself. Shiva warped beside me again and aptly propelled me off the side with her strongest melee move. Brave died and returned to the stage with his debt back at zero.

Clutching the controller, I was afraid I might break it, as Davis showed no remorse in recycling the same unholy strategy until I’d lost my second stock, him still sitting at thirty debt on his first.

However, during my final stock, he abandoned nearly all of the strategies (or lack thereof) that he’d fallen back on to that point, and intentionally made a push towards Brave. When I approached, ready to rip his phony crap to pieces, I found that, while I was able to connect a few swift strikes, he had me completely outmatched. I lost the set without taking a single one of his stocks.

But my initial rage had been diffused. “Why,” I sat dumbly, “Why were you playing in such a disrespectful way if you could overcome me in my own element?”

Davis grinned, “I didn’t know I could beat you, but I wanted to see how you’d react. You don’t handle stress or spammers very well. I didn’t mean anything mean by it, but you should probably work on that.”

An exasperated sigh fled from over my shoulder, Jordan rocking his head back and forth, weighing my performance, “Sid.”

I do not want to burden you with the details of my matchup against Sid, but there are some items worth mentioning. Firstly, he was the most evenly matched opponent so far, which was a great relief after I nearly went nuclear on Davis. Second, he had an incredibly vocal act of self-deprecation if he made any mistakes, which according to his incessant complaining was apparently every three seconds or so. Third, I’m pretty sure he hated me, as he kept muttering vulgarities about Brave which were too low for ears not attuned to small things.

Some details on my main. Brave was the hero character from RequiaTek’s arguably second-largest franchise, Seeds of Victory. It was a turn-based, tactical role-playing game, where the player directed various units around a battlefield to try and outwit the cunning and strength of the opposing army. It was set in various sci-fi inspired landscapes, but the storytelling mirrored more classic fantasy narratives. The game was family-friendly and would never use such language, but Brave was basically the bastard son of an elite galaxy official, cast aside at a young age. Growing up on the bloodless, evil planet of Victory, Brave grows into a capable and rebellious swordsman ready to fight against the oppressive government. But things go awry, and Brave’s lifestrings are cut, landing him at the brink of death, where his comrades resurrect him through the magic of technology. In so doing, Brave becomes a scientifically-augmented creature of miracles, where he leads the resistance to cut down Victory’s sinister rulers.

Brave’s model in Anarchy is a high-definition rehash of the original SoV model. Young, sharp male face. A singular blood-red eye, compliments of a robotic friend who was felled in battle. An artful splash of anime-inspired white hair. A few mechanical limbs where the old ones had been destroyed. Twice-plated black and silver armor with a Japanese haramaki wrapped about his waist. And lastly, two katanas of cybernetic makeup, each ebbing with an ephemeral red glow along their edges.
He was the quintessential hero character. None of this weird crap like Bluffy, who was a demented clown spawned from a clan of shinobi, or Dax and Petre which were little more than children’s cartoons. No, Brave was a man. An android-man. And he was a freaking baller.

Brave was also a rather high-standing character in Anarchy, sitting somewhere in the top tier of the pantheon.

So, despite being a great player, arguably even better than myself, I defeated Sid with one stock remaining. If we’d had a second match, I might have lost, but Jordan called up GG before we ever had the chance.

GG turned my face into pudding. The pinpoint accuracy of his every move combined with his ability to anticipate my actions made it look like I was a fledgling player, an infant who was neither potty-trained, nor understood why I should care about this mystical thing called a toilet. He was the vice-captain of the team, I supposed. If he weren’t good, it would have been disappointing.

“You rely too much on Brave’s counter when your debt goes above one hundred,” GG stated flatly, as if he were reading me a homework assignment, “It’s not very useful in the first place, and you become easy to telegraph the more you do it.”

“I know,” I said, remembering Perry’s feedback about my overabundance of countering.
It didn’t help that GG mained Solar and Luna, a duality of psychic twins which had some of the best combos available in the game. And by god, did GG knew how to use them, too. Solar and Luna are obscenely difficult to master on a technical level, but to those who put the time into learning the twins, you were automatically slated as a more than formidable opponent. Together, they were considered one of the top three characters in Anarchy.

Our match ended with me having only taken one of his stocks.

Lastly, Jordan took up arms against me. That matchup went surprisingly well, actually. Being that he was the captain, I expected to get my butt hammered pretty badly, but I didn’t. I mean, I lost. Like, I got freaking destroyed, but it wasn’t too bad. And I finally learned his main and game tag.

His tag was “Burndaddy”, and he mained Brave, albeit a different skin of the character. ‘Skin’ being a term for a different color scheme. I’ll be the first to admit, he was a long shot better than me as well. He knew all of the staple technique combinations any serious Brave player should be familiar with, and was fluid with all of them. Perhaps the only reason I did as well against Jordan as I did, was because I knew my opponent. Sure, his skills were more fine-tuned, and his cunning a little more intuitive than my own, but I still understood the best ways to use Brave, and could predict many of his actions through my own hours of hard work. I lost, but I’d cost Jordan two stock, and that made me proud.
Licking his lips, Jordan dipped his head with a smile, “Good games, Joel. How long have you been playing?”

“A couple years,” I answered.

“Have you ever been to a tournament before?”

I paused. “Yes,” I answered, “Only a couple, and in a remote part of Colorado when I spent a summer with my grandparents.” That was sort of true. I’d gone to tournaments to watch, but they weren’t in Colorado and I never spent a summer away from home. It just seemed more credible and impressive if I had some sort of history on the tournament scene. Suffer me to not only be a complete noob, but look like one, too.

“You’re pretty good,” Jordan continued, “How would you feel coming back here Monday after school and playing some more? As I was saying, we have an opening on the team,” his eyes cut away quickly and then back, “Sorry. I’m not saying the spot is immediately available just like that, but you have potential and I want to get a feel for your worth. You are good. I just want to see if you’re consistent.”

Perry jumped on my brain like a trampoline. I started to retrieve my backpack from the desk where I’d laid it down, “I am interested. I can do that,” I looked at each of them for a moment, “Would it be alright if I brought someone with me?”

Jordan and Sid’s eyes narrowed like they were on the same wavelength, but Sid remained quiet. Jordan’s jaw flexed with a light grinding, “That,” he worked to excavate the proper words, “should be fine. I cannot promise anything will come of it, but if you’d like to bring someone else, you may.”

The captain’s hesitation drummed at my chest with unexpected intensity. They only had one open spot on the team. Would I have to compete with Perry if I brought him?
I still needed to let him know. He would love to meet these people and play with them.
“That’s understandable. Thank you.”

I opened the classroom door to leave.

“Peace man,” Davis said, pocketing his hands in his scarlet jacket, “See you in the halls.”

“Bye, Joel,” Comet smiled.

GG nodded at me, his golden hair bouncing.

And Sid…Sid just…glared.

I decided not to pay it much mind, and shut the door firmly in my wake.