Chapter 3

Setalite City, 9:47 AM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.

The crowds downtown were slowing him down, but he was pretty sure he was going to make it in time, but the inconvenience of it was frustratingly present. The tragedy in Arrot hadn’t seemed to have any noticeable effect on Setalite, as people were still out enjoying themselves.

He spotted the building in the distance and made a beeline towards the front doors; he fought his way through the people around the door and received multiple complaints from those waiting. Someone even tried to grab him, but he shrugged out of there grip and pushed his way into the lobby.

“Hey! You-” The security guard intercepted him. “Stop right there… where have I seen you before?”

“I’m in the tournament, man, here’s my pass,” Loren said, quickly holding up his laminated card, still attached to the lanyard.

The guard took it and gave it a quick look over before nodding firmly.

“Head on in.” The guard said sternly, “Keep your nose clean, and you won’t have any problems with us.”

“Thanks,” Loren said gratefully.

He stepped passed the man and headed for the hallway, reading the signs. He followed them all the way to another pair of guys standing in front of a door.

“Cutting it close, buddy,” The taller one said, amused, taking the pass and checking it.

“Yeah, I was going for fashionably late,” Loren said wryly, “Turns out I’m so damn fashionable I almost missed the tournament, who knew?”

The guy snorted and handed him the lanyard back.

“Let’s not go too far, yeah?” he laughed, “Good luck, man.”

“Thanks!” Loren said, smiling and stepping inside.

The building they were using to host the event was massive, and he had to follow another two signs to find the room where the elimination round was taking place. He glanced down at his phone when it dinged, a message from a number that he didn’t know.

A simple ‘Hey,’ he ignored it; it was probably the wrong number.

The tournament was structured pretty simply. A mass elimination round at the start to thin the ‘herd,’ that would be the one he was stepping into now. A simple large room with about fifty desktops set up with dividers.

There were a couple of hundred people in the tournament, so there would be multiple matches, just to weed out those who couldn’t make the cutoff. It was simple enough; you had three ‘lives,’ in this round if you lost three games, you were eliminated from the tournament entirely, but every win, you got accrued points, and eventually, in the end, the top ten ranked players would proceed to the finals. It was likely going to take several hours before this round was over, given the number of people present and the average match length of 15-30 minutes.

His phone dinged again, and he frowned down at it.

‘Hey, stop ignoring me, Loren, I know this is your number.’

Loren fired off a quick message asking how they got his number; he was pretty sure it was Emma at this point; the text message even sounded like her bizarrely enough.

He looked back up to the monitor on the back wall, as three more people were eliminated, and another three numbers appeared, not his turn yet.

‘You left your computer unlocked, so I got it from there.’ – Emma

Loren felt a thrill of alarm go down his spine, the audacity of this spewbeast. Didn’t she understand the concept of privacy? Who just goes through someone’s things like that?

‘Do not look at my search history.’ – Loren

It took barely three seconds before the reply came through.

‘That was the first thing I did; you’re pretty kinky, you know?’ – Emma

Loren stared at his phone in horror. Was this her attempt at reverse blackmailing him even though he told her he didn’t have any intention of it?!

‘Cease immediately, you spewbeast.’ – Loren

Was there a way to remotely turn his computer off somehow? Lock it with his phone, maybe? Why wasn’t there an easy way to do that? Was there an app?!

‘Big titty goth girls, huh? Tattoos, piercings, very interesting.’ – Emma

Loren cringed; what kind of degenerate human being broke into someone’s computer and did this? He was going to get this spewbeast back if it was the last thing he did, superpowered villain or not.

‘This is war, Emma. I am going to steal your computer when I get home; we will see how you like being on the receiving end.’ – Loren

Loren pressed send viciously.

‘I don’t have a computer.’ – Emma

Loren stared down at his phone with narrowed eyes as she took the wind out of his sails.

‘Phone then.’ – Loren

There was a pause where she didn’t reply for a minute, and he used to time to recheck the monitor, but his number still wasn’t up there. Six people got eliminated in rapid succession, two three-person teams.

His phone dinged.

‘I deleted my history, what a shame. There is still plenty of nudes though.’ – Emma

Loren stared at his phone in indecision; on the one hand, she had been through a really rough couple of days, but on the other hand; she had brought it up out of nowhere, and he had an obligation as a man of culture to at least make the request.

‘I am obligated at this point to ask for them. Send nudes.’ – Loren

Loren hovered the send button for a long moment before saying fuck it. There was a moment of instant regret that came with all the terrible decisions he had ever made in his life before his phone dinged.

‘IMG.png’ – Emma

Loren stared at the picture for a long, long moment.

‘Those piercings are awesome.’ – Loren

Goddammit, the spewbeast was hot.

‘Thanks.’ – Emma

His number finally showed up, and he headed over to the paired computer. His phone dinged again, but he ignored it. He lifted the full coverage VR headset off the desk and pulled it over his head. A few moments later, the Hud lit up inside the helmet, and the feeling of the chair underneath him vanished.

He was greeted with a user login screen for Crescendo, so he pulled up the virtual keyboard and put in his details quickly. He pulled up his emails and copied the tournament code before pasting it into the ‘Enter code’ prompt.

Loren smiled as he was immediately matched with another player in the room, and he quickly checked his Army Controller presets that he had customized to fit his playstyle. The enemy was a three-player team, he didn’t recognize any of the names, but the Hero slot was already locked in with one of the tank characters.

Turtle team, then they would focus on blocking his advance and slowly chip away at his castles when it was safe. Loren locked in his own choice of a hero to counter the tank, a ranged assassin that focused on deception and DPS, checked his presets once more to make some minor adjustments against a tank hero.

The timer reached zero, and the matched begun its intro; Loren grinned.

Mass Elimination Room, Setalite City, 12:17 PM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.

Loren logged out and removed his headset. A glance at the rankings showed him right near the top in 5th​ place with no losses.

Although the last team he had fought was one of the hardest he had come up against in recent memory; it had been a very close thing. If their hero-player had been a little bit better, he might have lost that one, as it was the poor guy had spent most of the match in death cooldown.

The top four places edged him out in points, which meant they had beaten their opponents much quicker, or showed off something good enough for the judges to hand them a few extra points and as.

The gap wasn’t large though, 1st​ place had a six-point lead on him, it was recoverable. Loren had never really been a point chaser though; he was more of a PvPer who enjoyed taunting the enemy and drawing the game out longer.

Admittedly that had lost him more than a few matches in ranked; he could acknowledge that, but once you’d played the game for as long as he had, you needed to make your own fun. He was going to play it a bit more professionally today, though, since there was a great deal of money on the line here.

Enough that he could potentially put a deposit on an apartment that wasn’t complete dog shit. Something that would otherwise take him a few years to save up for with how work had been treating him lately.

“Hey, you’re number five?” A guy dressed in a suit said charmingly. “I’m Stewart.”

“That’s me; Loren,” Loren said easily. “What’s up?”

“Fantastic, you’ve passed this stage, so I’m going to escort you to the finalist box.” Stewart said happily, “I saw that last fight of yours; that was a tough one, huh?”

“Yeah, the Controller was top tier, Comms seemed pretty on the ball as well.” Loren said, running the match over in his mind again, “I was just thinking that if their Hero were any good, I probably would have lost.”

“It looked that way,” Stewart agreed easily, “Baba Yaga was the Controller, she’s in the top hundred worldwide, Eldretch-the Comms is in the top five-hundred, Fountain Of Soup I’ve never heard of before, I’ve got a feeling it’s one of the other two’s friend, you knocked them out of the tournament actually; that was their third loss.”

“I kind of feel like a bully now,” Loren said sheepishly. “That guy had no idea what he was doing.”

Stewart just laughed.

Finalist Box, Setalite City, 12:20 PM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.

There was already a bunch of people in the room, most of which seemed to have some sponsorships going given all the advertising on their clothes, and they hovered in clusters with what had to be their managers or other teammates.

He got a few intent gazes as he dropped down onto the nearest bench and pulled his phone back out; he never got the chance to view the message because someone approached him.

Loren blinked up at Chloe, the girl from the Café.

“I thought you were just bragging to try and pick me up,” Chloe said, impressed, “I didn’t expect to see you in here.”

“Ouch, that’s my pride you’re stomping on,” Loren said, amused, “You really thought I was just bragging? Here I thought out little not-date was going so well.”

Chloe smirked at him but refused to let it slide.

“I tried to look up the username you gave me as well,” Chloe said archly, “How interesting that when I managed to pull it up, I found a level one account, made only a week ago.”

“My account was mysteriously deleted several days after I entered the tournament,” Loren said innocently, “So I started a fresh one.”

“What rank were you?” Chloe said suspiciously, “I don’t remember any of the top-one hundreds with the name ‘Loren.’ Were you in the top five hundred?”

“There may or may not have been a little name-change before the mysterious vanishing,” Loren said wryly, refusing to answer the second question. “Luckily for me, I was able to secure the name Loren, that was a stroke of luck, I’ll be honest.”

It wasn’t; he’d managed to buy the account of the guy that had taken that name over a year ago, he’d been smurfing on it for a while. He entered the tournament with his main account, got his entry code, then deleted his high ranked account. He renamed the smurf to bootyslayer911 and then renamed a fresh account with the name ‘Loren.’ The accounts themselves weren’t tied to the entry code, so he had been able to simply log into his week-old account and drop the tournament code.

A big part of ranked Crescendo was studying your opponent’s public matches, figuring out the strategies that they had the highest percentage chance of using in a given situation, and then setting up your pre-game to counter them; for the high level ranked at least, nobody bothered in casuals or scrub tiers.

He was a high ranking player, but he’d never had his real name tied to the account in any way. Now that he was essentially brand new again, nobody would be able to study his strategies, they would have to go in blind, or from the intel, they gathered during this tournament.

The best part about it was he had checked with a staff member during his sign up and mentioned he had wanted to change his name for a while, and if he was going to get media coverage, he wanted to do it now to avoid making them look bad. Given his original account had been named ‘ThiccSaltyCream,’ they had eagerly given him the go-ahead; they didn’t want his name popping up in the advertising. The takeaway from this was that he was pre-cleared; it was all on the up and up.

He was a god damned genius.

“You were totally in the top-five hundred,” Chloe repeated dryly.

“A gentleman never tells,” Loren said cheekily, “I did look up the username you gave me; however, rank 9 Hero, huh?”

“Starting to sweat yet?” Chloe smirked at him. “Team Coffee stands ready to graciously take hold of the cup, and the boatload of money that comes with it.”

“You plan on standing around until next year? Now that’s dedication.” Loren said, surprised, “I suppose I could use my first place winnings to take you out for dinner, at least you’ll be able to tell all your little friends that you had a second date with the champion.”

Chloe’s eyes light up at the clap back and his reference to her own words back at the café.

“I’m not one to take things like that lying down, Loren,” Chloe smirked at him, eyes glittering. “I’ll be the one who comes out on top; you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Loren laughed at the double entendre.

Finalist Arena, Setalite City, 3:32 PM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.

Loren watched semi-finals from the contestant box; he’d already won his own match, securing his place in the finals against the winner of this match. Team Coffee was going up against another three-person team called Team Carousel. Loren was sitting at the top of the ranking now, but he could already tell that he would be overtaken by the winner of this match, if not both of them.

Team Coffee were point-whores, and damn they were good at it. They lost once in the elimination round somehow, so they were actually a sitting at a little bit lower than their total possible score, and they were still fucking winning. Loren couldn’t help but laugh, he hadn’t lost a single match, but he had a feeling he wasn’t going to be able to squeak out the win; what a shame.

Team Carousel fought bravely until their inevitable defeat and waved at the crowd with good humor, making sure to shake the hands of their opponents in a show of good sportsmanship. The tall blonde boy of Team Coffee looked like he was about to break down crying; he was so happy.

The finals loomed, and he was now absolutely certain that he wouldn’t be able to overtake Team Coffe’s point lead; he would beat out Carousel even with a loss. He wasn’t going to lose, though; he may have lost his chance at winning the tournament through points, his own fault for fooling around in the elimination round.

He could at least finish the tournament undefeated and in second place; that would have to do.

Award Ceremony, Setalite City, 3:32 PM.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022.

“-Carousel, in third place with eighty-six points!” Martin, the host, said cheerfully, “They will be taking home a nice fifty-thousand! What are you three going to spend it on?”

Martin pushed the microphone over to the captain, Arthur, who sheepishly scratched the back of his head.

“The first thing we are going to do is get some better gear,” Arthur said sheepishly.

“I’m sure you’ll have sponsors kicking down your door after that showing, I’d hold out on buying anything.” Martin laughed, “That turnaround in the Helios match was something special; let’s hear it for Carousel!”

The crowd cheered, and the three guys waved and moved to the back of the stage, looking happy with themselves.

“Now, in second place with eighty-nine points and remaining completely undefeated throughout the entire tournament! Loren!” Martin cheered, and the crowd followed.

Loren waved at all the people and stepped up to the guy.

“Hey, Martin, looking good,” Loren said, grinning.

Martin laughed at his candor.

“Thank you, speaking of looking good,” Martin laughed, “You were on fire out there today! You didn’t lose a single match!”

“And yet I failed to play to the objective and get the points to win,” Loren said easily, “That’s what I get for bullying all the other little baby-teams, I guess; I lost myself in the fun.”

The crowd roared with laughter, and Martin laughed away from the microphone for a second. Team coffee was giving him the thumbs down from to the left of the stage, but Chloe was grinning.

“Team Coffee certainly felt the pinch after you held them hostage for half an hour,” Martin chuckled, “Let’s hear it for Loren! The first-ever undefeated finalist!”

Loren waved to the crowd and stepped to the back of the stage to wait out the rest of the events finish. He’d already received confirmation from his bank that his winnings were processing. He clapped when Team Coffee was brought out on stage and handed the first-place cup.

“Thanks, Martin!” Chloe said excitedly, “We had some sticky competition, but I’m just happy that I can say that I ended up on top in the end!”

Dammit, looks like she won the competition and the war.