First understand, I was still pretty confident I was the better player. My precision and adeptness with Brave outclassed Dougie’s skill with Wingull, his charged-shot gimmicks aside. But I walked head-first into a very gutsy snare as soon as that second set started and ended up losing all three of my stocks, putting us at an even 1-1 score for our match-up.
You see, this punk had baited me into adapting to the wrong playstyle. He made it seem in the first set that he was overly reliant on Wingull’s charged blast, and considering the nearly two dozen times he fired the attack, I was inclined to believe him. But once that second set started, he charged the attack once and held it. Not unusual. He often held the attack for a few seconds before launching it, so I waited for the discharge.
Still I waited, and of course I waited some more.
Next thing I knew, I was down a stock and he hadn’t yet fired the attack. But the mere anticipation of the action was making me antsy and defensive, especially once my DD rose above 50 from taking Dougie’s sudden pressure. Brave and Wingull are both offense-oriented characters which thrive on close-combat maneuvers, but Dougie had made my offense leak out through anxiety and thus opened several windows for him to punish my reluctance to get near him and risk taking the full force of his charge attack to my face. I was eventually able to start adapting, but by then, it was too late. He had enough of an upper-hand that it was a smooth rest of the set for him and our playing field was levelled. What’s more, he took my final stock by at long last blasting the move into my core, completely dismantling Brave and shooting me into oblivion.
Out of good sport, I forced myself to compliment Dougie, while the gremlins in the back of my mind wished him twelve shades of death.
“Holy crap,” Dougie said, “You were coming back hard.”
“Thanks,” I said, tasting the fake crook of my smile.
Somehow it’d escaped me before, but Jordan, Comet, and Davis were all watching my game, as well as a few others. Davis consoled me and I took a moment to gather myself. I really didn’t want to be put on the chopping block so early in the tourney. Plus, what if I was the one who lost, while Perry advanced? I couldn’t let him go alone. That would be boring.
I nodded to Dougie, “Ready?”
The hulk wiped his hands across the knees of his khakis, “Let’s go.”
“Good luck,” Jordan said quietly from my flank and we began.
I lost the previous set, so I was allowed the counter-pick for the stage choice. I went with a completely flat playing field and bossed up, tightening my focus to hairpin.
Brave drew his swords as he materialized from flakes of light on the stage, declaring, “It will end.”
Wingull stood in opposition, taking form from light and beating together his vambraces, “None shall be spared.”
I’d faced harder opponents. My sanity clung to that fact as anxiety started encroaching upon my mind and sweat glossed over both palms. The world plunged into a strange pseudo-silence, all irrelevant noise falling out of existence. There was only the game, the clicking of the controllers, and the firing of my synapses as I braced myself for each second of adaptation to who was at the very least a worthy opponent.
The two of us were dead-even by the time we reached our final stocks. He’d killed me first, but I took advantage of the momentary invincibility which lasts a few seconds after respawning to deliver a fatal blow and shred his second stock, leaving us each with one remaining at zero DD.
“Oh my god,” I heard Davis chuckle lightly over my shoulder. I took the couple of free seconds as Wingull rematerialized to settle the quake in my thumbs and breathe deep. The first match of my first tourney should not be so close. I’s bad for the nerves.
Still, I pressed forward, leaning into the game, being absorbed by Anarchy. Dougie was switching up his attitude with the charged blast, keeping me forever on my toes, but I managed to dodge all of them through the entire match. I was about ready to Trump his final stock, that is to say, hit his character with the sweet-spot of my down-air. Not every character has a Trump, but many do, and Brave was one of them. It was one of my favorite ways to eliminate people, but proved risky. It wasn’t a Trump with a large sweet-spot like the character Commando had. If I missed, I would be incredibly vulnerable. As it stood, I was at 75 DD and Dougie was at 83.
I swept in for the kill move when a clamor blew up from the station three to my right. Perry stood and screamed. I didn’t even spare a fleeting thought as to the circumstance for the interruption, because now I’d missed my chance.
Then his Wingull back-kicked Brave off the screen, into the borderlands. The ‘borderlands’ was a term for the small gap of space between where a character could die and where the player could see them on the screen. If a character stayed more than five seconds within the borderlands, they died instantly, but that rarely happened. The true problem was the requisition of Damage Debt in this twilight zone of the stage. It only took me one second to exit the borderlands, but it was enough when combined with Wingulls attack to put me suddenly above 100 DD.
Dougie swore swiftly beneath his breath and tried to push me past the borderlands and into the blast zone where my stock would be taken. I managed to avoid this and reclaim some space on the plateau of the stage, but now my nerves were brittle as the crumble from a dry cupcake.
‘I should be dead, I should be dead’ pummeled my brain as Wingull returned to the stage and began gathering energy for his strongest attack. Torrential blue fire came together between Wingull’s fingers and after a few seconds the character settled into his usual stance, hands saturated with azure power.
“Good job, Perry,” I heard Jordan compliment from my back, “Clutch win at the end, hm?”
“It was freaking nuts,” Perry answered, relief as clear as black paint on white canvas.
Then my anticipation began to burn into something new. My brows furrowed, I leaned in just a little bit closer, a hard line taking my lips. Dougie leaned in as well, preparing himself for what would likely be the last minute of our bout.
I took the gutsy route and sprinted straight toward Wingull, expecting Dougie to back off and make distance. He did, but avoided my follow-up aerial combo. I dodged his retaliation. He dodged mine.
Teeth set like a dam holding water, I wheeled around the stage and dove straight in for the kill again. But instead of attacking when Wingull retreated, I had Brave slide underneath and use his up-buster in the moment after Dougie had anticipated my attack. Wingull shot up into the atmosphere, but did not have enough Debt to be K.O.’d. I followed in force, jumping to the furthest reach of Brave’s ability. When I’d exhausted his second of two jumps, Dougie did something called ‘fast-falling’ in which he snapped the analog stick to prompt his character to plummet downwards at twice the normal rate. When he appeared in front of Brave, his character was already beginning the animation to fire his charged attack.
I couldn’t dodge. So I died.
No. I didn’t die. I…countered?
Without consciously processing the thought, my hands moved in the only way that could have saved me. Down-special. Brave’s counter-attack which absorbed any harm taken and dealt it back with 1.3x the damage and knockback. Wingull launched the fiery cannon point-blank into Brave’s chest. Brave absorbed the attack with a click and twisted his core, slinging blades of metal in a vertical arc, upwards, connecting with his opponent.
Instantly and without doubt, Wingull erupted into color and smoke, final stock terminated.
I was too drained to be excited at my clutch win, so I just fell back into my chair and stared blankly at the screen.
Winner, it read as Brave maneuvered around into a victory pose on the end-game screen, Brave!
A series of windows popped up to show us the statistics of our match. Who dealt and received how much damage, how many air vs. ground techniques were used, etc. I didn’t care about any of that right now, though.
In the corner of my vision I saw Dougie holding out his hand, “Killer game.”
I took it loosely, “Thanks. You too.”
Dougie unplugged his personal controller from the game console, got up, and walked away. In the meantime, I tried to jump-start my heart again with thoughts of excitement and victory, but a cruel outlier shot down all of my good feelings. A lone idea, crippling my aspirations.
I took to my feet sluggishly.
Hell, I was as close to defeat as one could come. And that was only round one.