Now that the tournament had begun entering its final stages, many of the stations which had been preoccupied with match-ups were now available for friendlies. A few players had taken some of the spots for themselves and toss up, but most bystanders made themselves comfortable at stations three and four, where quarter-finalists ‘burndaddy,’ ‘Merc,’ ‘iso,’ and ‘Jahn’ had taken center-stage. Two of my Riotwing brethren were still competing, though I suspected both of them were going to be pushing up daisies, soon. Like, they were both about to get destroyed. Especially Jordan. There was no hope at all.
Some people have adequately described me as a pessimist.
I tried texting Perry to check up on him and let him know that his blow-up wasn’t as big of a blow-up as he thought. I mean, it was as big as he thought, but he didn’t need to know that. Pretty sure he read between the lines, because he didn’t respond before the first sets were underway.
Begin! Each of the screens said in a slightly off-harmony, one beginning just a moment before the other. The four combatants leaned into their respective zones, exiling outside distractions.
Jahn was first to move, a blitzkrieg assault against Merc being his initial course of action. Merc kept low, to the bottom portion of their arena, as per the conventions of wisdom. If he stood any chance against a hyper-aggressive Solar & Luna, he’d need to create as much distance as possible and weaken them with Shiva’s assorted projectiles. Fortunately, I knew first-hand that he was no slouch in close-quarters if push came to shove, but it still wouldn’t be in his favor.
Burndaddy on the other hand, was using a completely asinine tactic. Dax & Petre? Against iso? Either Burndaddy was pulling some serious mind-games on the best player in the tournament, or he was an idiot. Dax & Petre were not tournament viable.
At least, not usually. Then again, Arakid was also not tournament viable by most standards, yet I’d lost to one before. So you never know, I guess.
While he was still losing the match, Burndaddy was holding up rather well considering his character choice. Like Merc, he was staying close to the main arena, but that was more because D&P’s strong-suit was being grounded, and less because he needed to make distance between him and his opponent. In Anarchy, there’s a meta-game concept called “The Neutral,” where both players try to make use of their character advantages and gain strategic placement on the stage and create an edge-guard situation where they can apply pressure. Somehow, Burndaddy had become very good at this particular trick with Dax & Petre. It was…unusual.
Then, suddenly, he started winning. Iso maneuvered up and down the stage in a mechanical fashion, dashing and reflexing with exceptional dexterity. He dodged around Jordan’s moves, and traded hits with the Riotwing once, twice, thrice. Jordan was using Dax and Petre remarkably well; far better than I’d ever seen the character used before. The monkey-bird duo was holding their own, walling out iso and his Lynx. Petre would fly out in a ribbon pattern, and Dax would use his slingshot to strike at his opponent after the feline adversary dodged the bird. Basically it was a matter of predicting the cat warrior’s evasions, and hitting him during the recovery lag. But iso was no pushover, and quickly becoming more and more difficult to anticipate. I could see it on Jordan’s face that he was struggling to keep up.
“It’s insane, isn’t it?” Comet said from my right, like a ghost materializing out of the air, “His Dax & Petre is so good. Much better than mine.”
“Is Dax & Petre…Jordan’s best character?” I said, low, so as not to distract the anarchists still in combat.
Comet shuffled her feet and tapped a finger to her lips, “Hard to say. Most people think so. Davis disagrees, and so did Sid. Jordan has another character of almost equal skill, but D&P definitely runs more shock value. Not many people expect to come to a tournament and get bodied by a bottom-tier.”
A pulse of excitement strummed through the crowd when, on the other station, Merc pulled out a brutal two-stock comeback by trumping Jahn on his last stock at a low-percentage. I caught the exchange just in time to watch him trump the twins Solar & Luna again as they tried to recover from the first spike, plummeting them both into the blast-zone. The excitement morphed into a clamor, with several oooohhs saturating the noise and complimenting scattered, staccato applause.
About twenty seconds later, Jordan met his end when iso breached Dax & Petre’s safety bubble and ravaged the final stock, claiming the first set.
“God,” R3M1X said from a ways to my left, leaning idly against a support beam, “He just cannot be beaten.”
Jordan spun around in his chair and cocked his pointer finger at R3M1X. “I don’t appreciate your negativity, sir.”
“I don’t appreciate that you haven’t put this chump in the ground, sir.”
Iso chuckled lightly to himself. He seemed a pretty reserved person. I might have heard him say a total of ten words all night. Before I left for the evening, I’d have to try and talk to him.
“Good win, Merc,” Jordan nodded to his fellow Riotwing, “What happened?”
Merc grinned. “Back-to-back tumps. On the same stock.”
Being the victor, Merc decided to strike his two least favorite stages from Jahn’s choice for the next stage. Jahn selected a stage with several rotating platforms from the remaining options. They began round two. Iso and burndaddy followed closely behind, with Jordan striking two of his least favorite stages, ones with functional platforms levitating above the main stage. Again, D&P is a very ground-oriented character, it was only logical to capitalize on his strengths.
As the matches readied, I checked my phone to see if Perry had responded. Instead I found a few messages from his girlfriend, Serah. She seemed…testy. I needed to scroll through multiple texts to piece together the whole message.
“Joel, did something happen? I asked Perry how the games were going and he hasn’t responded in almost twenty minutes.”
“He never forgets to check his phone. Is he in a really long match or something?”
“Joel, work with me, here.”
“I know you guys aren’t purposely ignoring me. That would make me sad.”
“Joel, Imma wreck you if something happened to Perry and you guys won’t tell me.”
“That’s it. Prepare for smacktown, kid.”
I grinned. Jeez this girl could talk. Another message popped up in the middle of my snarky retaliation.
“Really, though. It’s kind of freaking me out. At least tell me he’s okay.”
For a moment I weighed the exact amount of truth worth sharing. I mean, it’s not like anything had really happened. Perry was just pissed off, not wounded or dying. But saying that he stormed out of the room because of a video game might paint the portrait of childishness. Which, to be fair, it kind of was.
I deleted my original message and replaced it with something succinct and distinctly non-retaliatory. “He’s fine. Just raging a little. I’ll let him know you’re worried.”
Almost immediately, she answered back.
“Thanks, Joel. You’re still going to smacktown for taking so freaking long.”
I sighed and put the phone back in my pocket. May Serah’s wrath find me later.
Meanwhile, in the midst of my distraction, Merc was gunning down Jahn with the drive of a Spartan elite. Fearlessly he plugged forth, blending together strategies of close, middle, and long-ranged artillery. Bolts of frozen light swam from Shiva’s finger tips, painting sections of the stage in a crown of ice like glass. The moon maiden broke across the stage, dashing onto the ice and stealing her opponent’s purchase with a glissade and kick. Momentum carried by the ice, she ran an up-buster, a glorious pillar of heaven energy cutting through the platforms, and scored a solid hit on both Solar and Luna.
After recovering, the twins weaved among themselves, spinning and dashing faster and faster until they nearly became a blur. Davis played it safe and made pot-shots, forcing the psychic twins into action. Luna thrust out a destructive wave of miasmic energy, breaking apart Shiva’s shards of frost. Solar rushed beneath the few remaining projectiles and grabbed Shiva by the shoulder, pummeling her twice in the gut before driving her face-first into the ground. She bounced into the trajectory of a vengeful Luna, who tore several psychic slashes into their opponent, raking in damage debt.
For a moment it seemed Merc was going to be juggled by Jahn’s craftsmanship with the psychic twins, but he dodged and predicted assaults in perfect counteraction to his opponent and kept the fight alive. When I stopped focusing on the screen, each player still had all of their stocks, with Merc clocking in at a DD of 81 and Jahn respectively holding 123.
Keep it up, Davis. At this rate, you’ll be the only Riotwing in the semi-finals.
My heart sank a little when I assessed Jordan’s performance. Not too bad, but… No, he was not doing well. Second stock, 88 DD? While iso was sitting pretty at a young 50 DD for his first stock? Burndaddy was getting gutted, and shed a few choice words in lieu of his mounting frustration.
“Jordan,” Davis said, still running his match with Jahn, “Don’t give up on me, man. You’ve got this. You can beat iso.”
The Riotwing leader idly shook his head without responding.
“Don’t give me that,” Davis said, his performance fading just slightly, “If you can’t beat iso, you’ll never catch up to Micah. You hear me? I thought you promised to catch up to Micah?”
“Davis!” Jordan roared loud at first, then caught himself and lowered his voice. “It’s not…it’s not that easy.”
Davis nodded. “I know.”
Jordan lost another stock, his Dax & Petre being laid to pitiful waste. He was down by two stocks now. There was no hope. Lynx skipped fluidly between platforms, ready to eat the meat of another stock when Jordan’s character returned to stage and the momentary invincibility wore off.
“I can’t beat him,” Jordan resigned, “Still.”
“Yes,” Davis growled, “You can.”
Burndaddy lowered his head almost imperceptibly. A small thing I wish I hadn’t noticed. Then, on screen, as soon as his character made it to the field, Burndaddy promptly ran off the ledge and plummeted to the blast-zone, costing him the last stock out of self-destruction.
“Damn it, Jordan,” Davis tore at his opponent, ridding the twins of existence, claiming the set and the match. He’d be moving to the semi-finals alone.
“Damn it is right,” Jordan wrapped up his stuff, smiled, and shook iso’s hand. Then he slowly left his station, with a distinct weight of defeat mantled about his shoulders. It was the sort of defeat that had been longsuffering, endured so frequently that it was becoming less of an event and more of a rule: “iso, by no stretch of my power, can be broken.”
Everyone seemed to be wearing their heart on their sleeve today. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was common, coincidental, or a performance everyone decided to play just for little ol’ me.
Oh, and who the hell is Micah?