Update: 01/06/15

Working on the third chapter of my most recent project: “The Wisdom of Demons.”

It’s tricky not falling into the idea that I have a deadline.  I want to nourish and cherish this story, so it may grow into its skin, but I also want it to be presentable by WorldCon later this year.  That means completing the full first draft, with preferably three or four upgrades to it thereafter.  It did not seem so intimidating at first, when I’d only planned on creating a novella, but since the story has graduated a few times and character arcs have been fleshed out, I have no idea what the endgame is going to look like in terms of length.  I just have to keep on plugging.

Still waiting to hear back on my submission for “Maori.”  The anthology made no promises on any response up through February, but the angst in my chest is bouncing around so much that I’d be relieved simply to have an answer.  Alas, another test of patience unfolds.

In terms of recent media, I’m about to finish up my first playthrough of the Tomb Raider reboot, in light of its sequel’s recent release.  The narrative lore in that game is splendid, congealing elements of ancient Japanese mythology and culture with the glorified ‘Indiana Jones’ idyllicism one should expect from a Tomb Raider game.

I’ve also been plugging through the first two seasons of Tokyo Ghoul.  Its been on my list of to-do’s for some time, and after a recent stunt pulled by Grimmie, its priority shot up to the top of the list.  My favorite character is Juuzou, because I love psychotic characters, especially light-hearted psychotic characters.

Thanks for reading.  See you later, Space Cowboy.

(Here’s a picture of Pikachu and Stitch dressed in reversed onesies, for your entertainment.  Compliments of @itsbirdy)

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“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

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“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

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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

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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.

“Anarchy” Chapter 2 – Small Things

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Whether as a result of playing so many video games, or something else completely inconsequential, I was finely attuned to small things. Because I notice small things, I can usually figure out who’s crushing on whom, where somebody’s pen disappeared to in the classroom, and which of my peers were also fanatical Anarchists.

For example, the back of Davis’s phone case was emblazoned with the Anarchy emblem: a dual set of skyward wings wrapping around a lonely fire. The same insignia could be found on a button pinned to Jayne’s backpack, or rudimentarily drawn and taped to the inside of Jordan’s locker. The West Wing locker. He had another one near the cafeteria. Not sure what he kept in each, but it was easy enough to get two, especially if you were as cool and popular as Jordan was.

However, it wasn’t until about halfway through the Spring term, at the tail-end of a Friday, when I noticed a disturbance of unusual stature. I’d just wrapped up my final class of the afternoon, environmental geology (gag me with a fork), and was passing a usually vacant classroom when I was startled by the familiar sounds of Anarchists raging. In particular, a girl’s voice was screaming protest regarding an in-game character named “Bluffy”.

I hated Bluffy. He was from one of RequiaTek’s least known franchises, some obscure title called Antics. In it, Bluffy was a goofy clown-ninja thing, who’s only job was to hop through obstacles to deliver balloons to children. But in Anarchy, Bluffy was a spawn straight from the loins of Satan himself, with a strange kit (‘kit’ being Anarchy slang for the available techniques possessed by a character), and insulting mannerisms which made it feel like he was always teasing you. He was also supremely difficult to kill, as he could plant balloons off the stage and use them to return to the arena.

Obviously intrigued, I followed the wall-piercing pleas of anger to Classroom 202.
I took the liberty of entering without knocking. Five souls were gathered around a television, the contents of the screen very predictably being a game of Anarchy. Three of the five were not participating in the current match, and turned to analyze the intruder immediately. One of the players spared a fractional look over her shoulder, and the other was adamantly stuck on the task at hand, more interested in playing the game than giving me any attention.

“Um,” an unfamiliar boy said, “Can we help you?”

Looking around, I fluidly recognized two of them. Jordan, the aforementioned, prodigious owner of two lockers, and Davis, who now brandished a headband with the same Anarchy symbol previously described. The classroom desks had been pushed away from the front of the room, clearing space for the television, game console, and a couple of open chairs. An aching, fluorescent light buzzed overhead and accented the walls, dreadfully empty of trappings.

My lips pursed without my meaning to, eyes sharpening. I looked past the conversationalist and towards the game. Whoever was playing Bluffy was up a stock, and their opponent was using…

Sweet baby Helix, who specialized with the Dax and Petre duo? Dax and Petre were a monkey and his pet bird, who traversed their world through vicious puzzle-solving misadventures to save, you guessed it, a princess. Not only does their original game profoundly lack creativity, but in Anarchy they were considered to be absolutely awful. Like, I wouldn’t play Dax and Petre if you threatened to de-rib my entire family. They sucked. They were bottom-tier, and even among the other bottom dwellers, D&P ranked notoriously low.

Dax and Petre died on the screen again, Bluffy using a cannon made of popcorn streamers to shoot them off the ledge and outside of the screen, where they exploded into playful colors and lights. The girl groaned like she’d been punched in the gut.

Oh, of course. That made sense. Naturally a girl (staggeringly low Anarchy-playing demographic, I assure you) would play Dax and Petre. There’d been maybe two or three girls who’d ever been good at Anarchy in the history of the universe, and one was currently enthroned as a member of the top five players. The Anarchy Sovereign. This clearly was not such a girl.

“Hey,” the guy said again, “What’s up?”

I shook my head absently, “Nothing. Just seeing what the commotion was about.”
Tongue literally against cheek, the guy examined me with a distinct air of uncertainty, “Okay, I guess. Just playing a game.”

“Anarchy, I know,” I nodded, still watching the unfolding gameplay, “Why does she keep jumping like that?”

Jordan had been watching me before, but now he was studying me, his gaze zeroing in on my every movement and word, as if I were a strange answer to the world’s oldest question. Or maybe, as if I were mirroring his very thoughts.

“Jumping like,” the unnamed fellow turned back to the screen, where Bluffy continued to juggle the inept Dax and Petre player. Literally, he juggled them. It was one of his ‘grapples’. Tossed them like a couple of oranges. “What do you mean?”

Admittedly, my next expression might have come off a little condescending, but if I offended him, he didn’t show it, “Well, Bluffy has a particularly powerful air-game. You can’t beat a decent Bluffy player if you try to outmatch him through aerial attacks,” I watched the game progress, vaguely aware that everyone in the room was listening to me, even if a few didn’t seem like it, “And this guy seems to be a far cry more than just ‘decent’.” Plus, who on God’s green earth plays Dax and Petre?

“You can exploit the aerial game,” he said with immediate defensiveness, “If you do it right.”

“Sure,” I said, “But…” I nodded towards the game, and the final stock being stolen from Dax and Petre, ending the match.

The girl laughed, and I thought it quite a pretty laugh, if a little too loud, “I’m still not very good.”

Easy fix. Don’t play mothereffing Dax and Petre. “You’ll get better with time. Especially if you keep playing with somebody of his caliber,” I nodded again towards her opponent, a boy I’d seen a few times in the halls but had never spoken with.

“I’m sorry,” Jordan approached, suddenly taking the reins of the conversation, “What was your name, again?” He held out his hand in that familiar, warm gesture that American’s use, most without knowing why. I shook it.

“Joel,” I answered.

Jordan was a tall, lanky boy with quietly caramel skin, smooth black hair, and an expression that dripped both a sense of welcome and deep curiosity. “Who do you main, Joel? And what’s your tag?”

I smiled. A ‘main’ was your Anarchy character of choice in competitive battles. Of course, you were free to play with whichever character you wanted at any given time, but if you were to, say, enter a tournament, you’d want to have one avatar of which you’d become supremely familiar and competent. That was your main. The very best players usually had two or three mains. I, however, only had the one.

“Brave,” I said, levelly, “And my tag is Myth.”

This seemed to satisfy Jordan, even if it was only arbitrarily. His lower lip momentarily dominated his upper, and his eyebrows raised, “Good choice.”

“If it’s not too much to ask,” I continued, “What’s happening here?”

“Practice,” the girl said, jovially strolling from her seat to the space in front of me. All I could think while looking at her is how much Perry would be drooling at the color of her eyes. They were blue as a clean sky after ten days of storm. In her entirety, she could be considered by many as cute, or pretty. Not many would supply the adjectives of ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’, but those didn’t fit all girls anyways. No, this one was cute, even with the little bit of acne spreading through her cheeks. I’m pretty sure it’s because her smile was bright enough to light a city.

In similar fashion, she thrust out her hand. I took it firmly, and was surprised at how much force she returned. “I’m Comet”, she said, “My main is Dax and Petre. And my tag is just ‘Comet’.”

I nodded again, and started to wonder if anyone thought I looked weird for repeating the action so frequently. Nod nod, nod nod. Like one of those creepy toy birds that dipped their beaks into the water.

Suddenly, each of the other members rose to introduce themselves. It was an exercise in reading small things.

First was Garrison, the first person I met when entering the room. He mained the psychic twins Solar and Luna, and his tag was ‘GG’, an endearment everyone seemed to favor instead of his actual name. GG was a bit plump around the edges, but good lord if he did not have some of the most bodacious, golden locks I’d ever seen on a man. I knew girls who would kill for that kind of color. Also, he wore this look of serious curiosity that put me in stitches for half of our introduction.

After GG came the wielder of Bluffy, a book I totally judged by his cover. His name was Sid, and he looked just like the Sid from Toy Story. Listen, I’m a bit of a liar, but I’m not giving you crap on this one. This guy just radiated deviant vibes and a desire to maniacally blow up dolls and action figures. But, I must stress in his favor, he had perhaps the best handshake of the whole group. It was firm, resolute, and almost…inviting of a challenge? For this reason alone, I liked the guy. He had spunk. Also, his gamer tag was ‘Famine’, which is probably one of the most hardcore things I’ve ever heard.

Next up to bat was Davis, a Shiva main. Shiva was a sort of moon-maiden character, from a game called Tribute the Truth, which I absolutely adore, so I took to Davis very quickly, as he obviously had good taste. On top of that, Davis simply carried himself like a bro. Instead of a handshake, he broke in what I’d already expected to be our long-lasting friendship with a fist bump. What’s more, for no apparent reason, he started to quote Bane’s little monologue from The Dark Knight Rises about how Batman falsely believed the darkness was his ally. As far as I was concerned, we were already besties. Davis sported what I quickly picked up was considered his signature red jacket, and his game tag was ‘Merc’. You know, short for mercenary, but not giving enough of a crap to speak the whole word.

“On weekends, we play Anarchy competitively. I’m the captain,” Jordan said, “GG is our Vice, Sid and Davis are Corporals, and Comet is still a Soldier. We recently lost a member, or we’d have a full crew of six.”

Naturally, my interest hit the ceiling like a loaded spring. But then I thought of Perry, and dialed it down to something manageable. I’d never been to a tournament, but that’s mostly because I never imagined being able to stack up with the players in attendance. However, if I were part of a crew, a team to work and train with, then just maybe…

But they only had one open slot in the team, and I was not about to leave Perry out of the fun. He was perhaps even more interested in eventually entering the tournament scene than myself.

Still, the Anarchist in me was burning to see how I compared to these people in terms of skill.

I didn’t have a chance to ask for the opportunity. Jordan invited me into a challenge before I ever got around to it.

“Sure,” I said, only half containing my excitement.

This seemed to please Jordan, who I realized hadn’t yet told me his main or tag.

And because I was acquainted with the churning of small things, I picked up on the infinitesimally thin glance of disapproval Sid gave Jordan from afar. I’m not sure what it meant, but it was definitely there, hidden among the dark underpinnings.

I turned towards the television, unslung my backpack, and perched in the nearest seat, taking the controller in my hands. The weight of the plastic in my hands was comfortable and smoothed the edges of my apprehension until the only thing remaining was excitement.

“Anarchy” Chapter 1 – Where We Spend Our Nights

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Turns out, I was considered a boring person by the general populace. I took offense to this, because other endearments ascribed to me are ‘nerd’, ‘geek’, ‘gamer’, and ‘that one kid who watched Ripley’s Believe It or Not and tried to eat a lightbulb, landing him in the hospital for a couple of days’. While I’ve since failed to learn how to digest glass, or obtain anything related to an electricity-based superpower, I did not much care for the opinion that because I played a lot of video games, I was a boring person. Those things are not, and should not be considered connected. I mean, I didn’t call the jocks boring people because they play a lot of sports. No, you’re considered boring if you do those things poorly and thus have nothing fun to say about them. You can play sports and be boring. You can play video games and be boring. I tried not to be one of those.

“Twice,” Perry grinned, maneuvering his thumbs around the analogue stick and mashing buttons in an asymmetrical frenzy, “Twice I’ve managed to pull off my counter against your–”

I interrupted him by throwing his character off the ledge, my synapses afire as I swallowed the glow of the television, watching the shift of every pixel, reading the glorious frames running at sixty-per-second.

Perry went quiet as I applied pressure, ushering my character off the ledge in pursuit of his own. He tried to disrupt my flow with what we Anarchy players (or, Anarchists) call a ‘back-air’, a simple command input meant to have his character attack backwards while floating in the air. I dodged the attack and returned fire, shooting his character off the screen where he exploded into a miasma of smoke and cartoon color.

A steady, indignant stream of irritation whistled between his teeth, “Good stock, Joel.”

“Thank you,” I said.

So we played video games. We played a lot of video games. Rayman, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, Dig Dug, Mass Effect. Perry was particular to your first-person shooters, stuff in the vein of Halo and Call of Duty, while I was a little more of a platforming enthusiast. What can I say? Portal is a killer franchise and I always return to Crash Bandicoot like a whipped dog to its master. But there is one game, different from all of these, which arrested our attention more than the others. So the heavens should declare it the focus of our story.

Just realized I’m telling you a story. That’s kind of cool. Just call me ‘Joel the Travelling Bard’. Man, I could have so much fun with this if I screwed around. I could say ‘Hitler died in the end’ and you wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Don’t worry, I won’t do that. Even if I’m really, really tempted.

Anyways.

The game I’m talking about is Anarchy, which is –wait, let me just grab the game case and read the exact description off the back. Okay, here we go. Imagine I cleared my throat or something. Also, pretend for the moment my voice is as rich and grandfatherly as Morgan Freeman, because that would be awesome.

‘Anarchy gathers all of your favorite RequiaTek characters and pits them against one another in a battle royale! Three decades of characters can now face off to see who is truly the ultimate warrior! Now with online multiplayer! ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Cartoon Violence, Comic Mischief, Mild Suggestive Themes’ and some stuff in Spanish that I’m assuming is exactly what I just told you, but with a touch of rice and tacos in it.

Wow, that was incredibly racist and stereotypical. I promise not to make it a habit.

You should know, I have a history of being a compulsive liar. Just something I should add for full-disclosure.

So Anarchy was a big deal. There was a competitive scene where big-name players gathered to duke it out for large monetary prizes and to bask in the affection of a glowing crowd. While I was good, I was not good enough to stand among those titans. They were Anarchy gods.

Sm0ke. Styx. Phaaroh. Double J. Spade. boss. Lollipop. Master Thief. Oh Yugi. Hanshotfirst. I Am. Captain Derp. xprophetx. Yuki Yuki. Ninja lady (who was totally a dude). <3Villains. The Shire. Billyboy. Sunday Funny. trueNOVA. The Clansman. Fractal.

Freaking Fractal. I’ll get to that one later.

These were a lot of Anarchists who poured their hearts, souls, and hours into mastering the art of the game. They’d mastered the percentages of Damage Debt, the idiosyncrasies of the physics engine, the hit-boxes of each character, and familiarized themselves with combo schemes as well as technique priority. If this is white noise to you, fret not, it will become known. Just understand that it wasn’t simple. Anarchy is a family friendly experience, because it’s easy to learn and fun for most audiences. But at high-level gameplay, it’s profoundly difficult to master.

“Let’s go,” Perry said as he navigated back through the character selection screen, making no changes, and moved into another arena for us to battle.

My mind settled into the familiar groove as our match started. We played with tournament rules, even if we never went to any tournaments. No items, and only select stages where obstacles did not cause a disturbance. Tournaments cared about skill. If a lucky stage prop killed you, it sort of defeated the purpose.

Perry was good. His Anarchy tag was ‘OD!N’, which I found frustrating because I thought the exclamatory mark was completely unnecessary in most names. I bided my patience when crafting a tag until I eventually came up with something I could wear with pride. A tag which synergized just the right quantity of epicness and humility that I didn’t come off as a completely overzealous jerkwad. I wanted a name that sounded cool both when whispered, and spoken loudly to a stadium. For flavor, I also needed it to sound mysterious. For reasons.

And so it was, in accordance with the prophecy and all cosmic harmonies, my gamer tag was ‘Myth’.

C’mon does that not sound like the greatest thing since capital punishment, or what? Myth and OD!N, locked in combat through the ages, challenging all who would oppose them. Mind you, those are not the characters we played as, they were simply the way we preferred to be addressed as part of the Anarchy crowd. They were our second identities, our Batman cowls.

Perry side-stepped on one of the stage’s upper platforms, avoiding my bladed strike. I read his next move incorrectly and prepared to counter. Nothing happened, and I countered again, waiting for the moment his character would hit mine and I’d retaliate by redirecting the damage back at him. Again, nothing. Perry stalled until the last possible frame, and his character unceremoniously punished my defensive position, sweeping me into a combo that ended with me ultimately losing one of my three stocks. I winced.

“I was getting counter-happy,” I said, a little salty.

“You were.”

We kept playing. We played until we ran out of strength to keep our eyes open any longer. That’s where we spent our nights, our eyes glued to the flickering screen, tossing soda cans into a graveyard in the corner of my basement where aluminum goes to die, our butts idly becoming one with the sofa cushions. Life was admittedly a bit stagnant sometimes, but it was good.

Still, I feel you don’t fully understand what this tale is all about. It’s not about Anarchy, or my love of all things nerdy. Those are just aesthetics. This is a comedy, a tragedy, and, believe it or not, a romance. It’s also the harrowing tale of how I avenge my fallen brothers by running a lightsaber through Gengis Khan’s chest, bringing peace to a troubled dynasty. About how my glorious deeds were sung by all minstrels throughout the land, and I found the princess who was in another castle.

Okay, maybe I’m jesting a little bit. But seriously, Hitler does die in the end.