M-80’s vague philosophical agenda was doing nothing to console my salty nerves. Sure, he’d beaten me fair and square, but the added course of arbitrary advice sort of ruined the entrée. Still, there was nothing I could do about it, so I holstered my controller and bowed out of the tournament, having officially been axed.
But I had no interest in leaving. No, there were still teammates to support and opponents to study. Plus a shallow side of my human heart really anticipated M-80 getting his butt rolled by the next opponent.
Perry was in the midst of taking Skullfoot’s final stock and what I believed was his second set of the match. I observed as his opponent shuffled Lynx around the stage, applying a lot of pressure, but in the wrong ways, leaving too many opportunities for Perry to avoid with Lady Thrice and make distance between the characters.
I moved away from Perry to assess the others. Jordan was locked in mortal combat with Miikii, but seemed to have an upper-hand. Honestly, it could still be anybody’s game. I made a quick mental note that Jordan was using Brave again, suggesting that even among his top seven, Brave was one of the favored. Davis ‘Merc’ was putting the final nail in Yugi-ah!’s coffin when I passed by, though that was also a close match. I grimaced, feeling the weight of my defeat more intimately as my comrades continued to succeed where I had failed.
But in the larger scheme of the tournament, the match I wanted to see most was GG’s struggle against R3M1X. I shuffled to their station and tried to flick the switch in my brain that allowed it to analytically record every minor detail of the fight. I’d nearly taken out my phone to record the match, but it struck me as a gaudy thing to do. I mean, nobody else was recording anything. They were simply tracking it in their heads.
By the time I’d settled into a sublime state of focus, the set they’d been playing ended and GG was left to soak in defeat. The Riotwing Vice-Captain steadily released air and drew it back in, opening his lungs, peeling the anxiety off his nerves. Was that the last set? Had GG lost?
R3M1X licked his lips and smiled with something I could only label as obnoxious self-satisfaction. The man behind the tag was nothing remarkable, but nonetheless was immediately carved into the halls of my memory. Five-o’clock shadow, lip stud, low-caliber gauges in each ear, some lighter strain of Aryan descent, and grey eyes with the menace of a wolf’s coat. He was slouching forward, but I could still make out the words on his shirt when he braced his chair to twist and crack his back: Eat ‘em Alive.
He looked at me and promptly dismissed my existence.
“Okay, let’s go,” GG said, coals of resolve cooking beneath his voice, adding a subtle harmonic. R3M1X turned back to the screen and idly rubbed his mouth. He nodded.
My fists tethered into fine coils, strands of electricity jumping around my heart. GG had claimed the first set!
I blinked. So they were entering their tie-breaker.
Excitement, misery and anticipation flooded through my core, and I could only pity GG, who I’m sure had the same symptoms plaguing him ten-fold as he began that final set.
Right as the game started to load, the rest of the Riotwings siphoned into place, having completed their matches or, in the case of Comet, finished watching from the sidelines.
“Joel?” Perry said, looking back at the tournament roster projected onto the wall, “You lost?”
“Yeah,” I swallowed.
“M-80 must have been good,” Perry bit his lip.
R3M1X cast a moment’s glance at us, “Yeah,” he nodded, turning back to the screen, “He is pretty good.”
Both R3M1X and M-80 were in cahoots with the crew known as Hour of Helix. They refined one another, made their independent cutting power stronger through sharpening each other’s edges. I couldn’t argue with the effectiveness of having strong teammates to push you towards further growth, but that couldn’t have been the only reason they were so good. There must have been something more.
Solar & Luna, GG’s character of choice, breathed onto the stage with a tide of perfect angel-light, dancing around, announcing their entrance: ‘Brother’ one said, ‘Sister’, reflected the other, and then together, ‘Let’s show ‘em what we’ve got!’ GG settled into the zone and I grinned, knowing I’d been forgotten for the time, a victim of superior focus.
As for R3M1X, he’d started some music for himself and placed in a pair of earbuds, shoving off the world around him. He closed his eyes and rocked quietly as his character formed upon the stage. His main of choice was a notoriously formidable one, a breakdancing monk named Tu’Vashi.
Tu’Vashi was the protagonist of one of RequiaTek’s most popular franchises, a side-scrolling platformer called Ravios Drive. In Ravios Drive, the player was charged with ‘restoring all music to the world’, accomplished only by traversing various musically-inspired levels and defeating the ‘Genres’, boss-monsters with the ability to eat the essence of music. Student of all music’s and a breakdancing extraordinaire, Tu’Vashi wields a wild fighting style and gloriously braided goatee in his efforts to save the world from those who’d otherwise try to burn away the soul of music.
I freaking loved that game. Platformers have always had a home in my heart. They practically owned the keys.
But who would win in Anarchy? Both Solar & Luna (remember, these two are technically ‘one’ character, like Dax & Petre) and Tu’Vashi are some of the strongest characters in the game. It wasn’t as if one player was using Arakid, who had been established as relatively inferior choices and thus more likely to lose. No, both of these characters were good, and the hands behind the controllers were exemplary in skill.
The in-game countdown sounded and they were off. Solar & Luna made first contact, but could not finish their combo before Tu’Vashi maneuvered into splits, which functioned as a kick in Anarchy, separating the twins.
GG’s expression was firm and unrelenting like a mask of tungsten metal, eyes thrashing across the television screen like a rodeo bull kicking up dirt. R3M1X was much the same, a focus staining his features so strongly you’d swear the sheer force of it would somehow make him bleed if he held it long enough.
Their game was a marvel. It was neck-and-neck the entire way, each of them trading stocks until only their final lives remained. I knew in my heart of hearts that I could be as good at Anarchy as these two, given enough time, but watching their adeptness in its fullness, there were moments of doubt.
Solar & Luna: 14DD
Trace sweat had compromised GG’s temple, entrenched at the roots of his curly hair. R3M1X was leaning so far forward I imagined he might assimilate straight into the TV screen.
Solar & Luna played off one another, throwing around their opponent, throttling him with a miasma of psychic powers, carving damage debt into his digital body…32…38…43…51.
Tu’Vashi swam, dunked, and played with his footwork in a stream of seamless fury. Grapple Luna, jab her in the gut, throw the weight into Solar when he approached for the rescue and windmill kick them both to high heavens as the debt grew ever higher…39…42…50…60.
I found myself mindlessly pressing my teeth into one knuckle, stomach forming knots.
GG made an excellent play off one of the platforms, Solar trumping Tu’Vashi straight into a consecutive side-buster provided by Luna, launching the monk horizontally off the stage and into the borderlands. He quickly made it back to the ledge, where GG went for the kill. If he timed it perfectly, GG could attack at the tail end of R3M1X’s moment of invincibility which came with grabbing the ledge.
Solar fell and thrust out his arm like a spear, misty with telekinetic force. But the attack passed through Tu’Vashi, who released the edge and back-aired the brother into oblivion. If Luna had died, the match would continue without the twin, but Solar was the primary character and thus, with his destruction, Luna burst into colors as well, a signal flare of mutual defeat.
Winner! The screen lauded, Tu’Vashi spinning around the victory screen, hurling kicks with the ferocity of a tornado. Tu’Vashi!
GG leaned back in his chair, golden hair pulled by gravity, eyes burning into the ceiling, “Dang.”
“Dang,” I parroted, spittle forming on my knuckle as I finally thought to be mindful of my hands.
“Aw,” Comet groaned, “You were so close, too!” She scuffed at the floor with the heel of her boot. I watched as her eyebrows tented and then furrowed, upset at GG’s demise and entry into the team of Riotwing losers. That was half of our squad, now. The only ones left were Perry, Davis, and Jordan.
Jordan exhaled, smiling.
GG’s eyes navigated to our captain and back to the ceiling, “Every frame counts,” he said, as if reciting an old pledge.
Jordan nodded, “Every frame counts.”
Anarchy was a game designed to run at sixty frames-per-second. This meant at high-level competitive play, if you made even slight mistakes in timing such as when GG attacked maybe one or two frames too early for R3M1X’s ledge invulnerability to have worn off (read: possibly less than one-thirtieth of a second), you could open yourself to punishment afterwards. This is why Anarchy is so heated and considered a video game of such demanding skill. That sort of reflex, precision, and intuition are paramount to separating yourself from the crumbs of the scene and actually being a feared opponent.
R3M1X wrapped up his controller and took to his feet. He reached out a hand to GG, “Insane sets, man.”
GG laughed softly, “You’re one crazy good player, Scott.”
R3M1X shrugged, “You’ve come a long way since your first weekly. I was actually really scared there for a minute,” he scratched his eyebrow, one earbud still in, “Especially with that nasty trump into buster combo you pulled at the end. Where did that come from?”
“I’ve been practicing it for a while. It’s tricky because I need Solar to be at the bottom, so I can only use it when my opponent has sent Luna skyward.”
“Keep it up, at this rate, you’ll be one of the best in the state in no time.”
“What are you sitting at right now? Fifth or something?”
R3M1X paused for a second to think, “Technically, I’m not even in the top ten anymore since I haven’t been on the scene for a few months, but once I’m done here and with the next couple weeklies, I’ll probably be sitting around seventh.”
GG nodded. “I appreciate your faith in my ability to grow.”
R3M1X shrugged again, “I appreciate that you actually try,” he looked at Jordan, straightening his back a little, “Burndaddy.”
“R3M1X,” Jordan acknowledged.
“Are we going to be duking it out in the finals? Not gonna let little ol’ iso stand in your way, are ya?”
The tournament roster glowed against the wall, a master of fate overseeing its subjects. Jordan huffed and shed a toothy smile, “Yeah, and when was the last time you beat him?”
“Outside of friendlies?” R3M1X looked around the room, as if dodging a question, “Ehhh, never. I do believe it was never.”
Davis chuckled, “I almost beat him a couple weeks ago.”
“We’ve all almost beaten him,” R3M1X smiled and clenched his open fist, “It’s that last push nobody ever seems to reach.”
“Wait, none of you have ever won against iso?” I said, aghast, “At any point?”
R3M1X looked at me and I couldn’t help but feel like he thought I was an idiot, “Have you played the guy?”
“He trades back-and-forth for best player in Nebraska. He beat Phaaroh once, in pools for last year’s Western Grand Rally,” he paused, “Who are you?”
The way he asked the question irked me. It wasn’t a ‘hello, what’s your name’ or ‘I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met.’ The tonality of his voice was more severe, a jeering ‘What significance do you have?’ Considering the casual way he’d been talking with the others –I mean, GG even knew his first name– I thought he’d be less…scalding.
“New recruit,” Jordan placed a hand on my shoulder, “This is Myth. OD!N is also one of ours. You’ll be facing him in the next match.”
If I’d thought being in Jordan’s good graces would garner me some respect, I was wrong. Perry got the same stink eye I’d been receiving, too, so at least I wasn’t alone. What was this guy’s deal?
“Don’t mind me if I put them through the grinder,” R3M1X said to Jordan, glaring at Perry.
“Do it,” Jordan said, “You have my permission to give them both hell.”
“You seem like a bit of a selective prick, you know that?” Perry said to R3M1X, irreverent.
R3M1X smiled, “You’d be right. I’m not like these other guys. I’m not a Burndaddy or an M-80 or Zinky or Longsword. I don’t really get along with people for the sake of it.”
At long last, GG checked out of the tournament, withdrawing his controller and slowly winding the cord, “No, you definitely do not.”
“But then,” I tried to cut in.
“Earn it, kid,” R3M1X held a flat expression of superiority, “Earn respect. Fight for it,” he made a passive gesture pointing at Perry, “This one will have a chance in a couple of minutes.”
“I don’t want the respect of somebody like you,” Perry said plainly, “I’m not very fond of people who arbitrarily demand respect and give it prerequisites.”
“And I don’t care if you want my respect,” R3M1X redoubled, “I don’t care at all. That’s not the point.”
The T.O. found us in the middle of our conversation, which was rapidly growing too molten for my taste. He was a stocky fellow, with a patchy beard and collared shirt. “R3M1X, you’re going to be at station four against Od!n. Burndaddy, you’ll be facing iso on one. Merc, I’ll be your opponent on three once I’m done letting everyone know where they’re going.”
“Thanks, Jahn,” R3M1X said politely as the tournament organizer shuffled off.
“What is the point, then?” Perry asked, jaded.
“You’re thinking too small,” R3M1X ushered Perry move to station four, “Not everyone is going to be your friend just because, or rely on you out of good faith. Might as well get used to it as soon as possible, it’s an important lesson.”
“You know, I kind of hate you,” Perry looked down his nose at the man.
“Guys,” Comet skirted into the conversation, “Are you really making this big a deal of this?”
“I’m the enemy. I’m the bad guy. Do you understand?” R3M1X traded glances between Perry and myself, “Now sit down so I can teach you another lesson, one I learned a long time ago. The difference between being a hammer and being a nail.”