• Four tournaments. Out of those only the top two performing duos get to be the testers…The dark brown haired boy pressed his hand over his ear to get a clearer sound from his glittering grey headset.
    “You better not slack off Jakob, your Richter needs to perform his best.”
    A quick laugh sounded through the ear piece.
    “Same to you. It would be a shame to see Kamelot’s white knight go down in the last round.”
    “Heh, you’re right. Better do the guild proud.”
    He grinned slightly, leaning back in his black leather chair and pressed the button on his headset, a hologram video screen covering his eyes. Jude had to admit that, even though work often kept him away, it rocked having a scientist father. Everyone else was still stuck with their projection screens while his headset made him feel as though he were really a part of the game. It would read his memories, or at least his brain’s electronic signals, for movement. And the projected gaming-gauntlets that formed over his arms would allow him to make quicker, more precise arm movements and attacks than the older-bulky versions that most others were using. All those wires just got in the way during a fight.
    “Welcome one and all to the final round of Trinity’s Ven Server all out duo battle grand prix!”
    The announcer’s voice boomed over the cheering crowd.
    “And what a turnout! I’m sure all of today’s contestants are overjoyed to see all these fans!”
    The coliseum was of classic design, spectators all sat around the large battle area in a circle, in the middle of which stood the last four contestants.
    “This has assuredly been one of the most exciting tournaments we’ve ever seen!”
    One of the fighters shook his head. Almost knee-length white hair flowing with his movements. His azure eyes turned to his partner thin identically colored lines visible on each cheek.
    “Well it would have been if not for all the talentless noobs.”
    The green eyed man chuckled in agreement.
    “Seriously man, they didn’t know what they were doing all. Plenty of trash talk but no substance to back it up. Annoying am I right?”
    “Feh, that’s the understatement of the century. I really think they should do a check on the entrants before just signing them up. Whatever happened to prelims?”
    His partner shrugged, spiky brown hair waving goofily in the breeze.
    “Got me there Gabe.”
    Gabriel sighed.
    “Oh well…At least it’s almost over. And it’s good to see someone else with talent joined the tourney. Even if it is Arik.” He shifted gently under his dusty white cloak as the announcer’s voice sounded again.
    “The favorite for this year seems to be last year’s champion Gabriel of the Knight’s Guild Kamelot! Affectionately known by the title of the White Knight for his skill and choice of garment! Are you ready Gabriel!?”
    He grinned throwing off the cloak which disappeared in a green stream of data.
    “I was created ready.” He stood in a calm yet on guard position. His white chest plate gleaming over a similarly colored short sleeved shirt. His white pants were pristine guarded from dust and dirt by the cloak he had worn. The only breaks in the color trend were his golden bracelets and the brown belt he wore unbuckled and only through the back three loops. Even his sword’s hilt was white, a gleaming silver saber in an ivory sheath adorned with a decorative golden guard. Ten throwing knives occupied the space on his chest, equal five and five on each side.
    “Would you look at that! As impressive as ever!”
    The crowd’s cheer grew to a loud roar.
    “And Kamelot has a new member this year! Their newest captain and Gabriel’s partner in this tournament. Richter!”
    The young green eyed male grinned and waved.
    “He may not look like much folks but don’t let that deceive you! This young man has been playing for five years now and has skill to prove his devotion!”
    Richter opened his sleeveless red vest to dust off the underlying yellow t-shirt and blue jeans. Then reached out as two data streams dashed between his hands forming into strangely shaped long swords. Both of which came to a sharp point and arched in the center.
    After allowing the crowd’s noise to die down the announcer quickly introduced the other two. Both of the Raven guild, their second in command, the black duster wearing, spiky gray haired matrix reject Arik and his number one lackey, the violet haired pretty boy Krou.
    In the nicest of terms Arik was an opportunist using whatever he could to get ahead in a fight. But then again Raven was the thieves guild and Arik did his job well, enemies often falling to one of his twin combat knives. It was fair to say he wasn’t well liked. Unlike Kamelot, Raven took almost anyone. Krou proved this rule he was as green as the grass in spring and his pole arm skills left much to be desired, however he had won a few fights with his favored halberd and was a great distraction. Arik would of course take advantage of this to get in a quick kill.
    “Richter, make sure you keep your eye on Arik. He is definitely the more dangerous of the two. But don’t let that distract you from Krou.”
    Richter smiled lazily.
    “You know I have been playing longer than you.”
    “Yeah, but I kicked your a** last year.”
    “So true.”
    The duo smiled at each other as the bell rang the announcer’s voice once again erupting from the speakers.
    In his normal fashion Arik stayed in the back while his long haired servant rushed towards his enemies.
    In other fights Gabriel would have simple dashed out to meet Krou for a quick scuffle, but with Arik in the background this was not a good idea. It had spelled disaster for him two years ago.
    Krou’s a distraction that’s all. Arik uses him to find an opening and then moves in for a quick kill. Jude grinned. That’s exactly why I studied that new technique. He moved both, glowing blue hologram covered arms in front of his stomach cupping his hands just below his navel.
    “Focus all available energy to the center of the body.” Gabriel’s hands began to glow with a misty silver light.
    “Seventy-five percent to the legs. Twenty-five percent to the right arm.”
    The energy quickly diffused into their ordered areas. A shift of his legs and Gabriel was gone.
    Over a collection of oohs and ahhs the announcer spoke.
    “Oh my folks what’s this? It would appear one of Kamelot’s contestants has disappeared.”
    In a blink he was behind Arik his saber passing quickly through the dark thief.
    Arik’s body fuzzed and faded away. (I need a better way to say that)
    “That was a nice show of speed there Gabriel, I almost didn’t suspect it.” The thief’s sarcasm soaked voice came from directly behind him.
    Jude winced. “Crap!” That’s right he’s a thief. Hologram copies, I should have remembered that.
    Arik slashed quickly but Jude’s mind worked fast enough to make Gabriel duck. Ha! Projection is a high level move. That should have devastated his MP. He shouldn’t be able to use another special move for awhile. Or at least not a strong one. This fight is mine.
    Gabriel’s knee flew up into Arik’s stomach causing him to stumble back shortly. However quickly regaining his stability Arik jumped back into the air.
    “Whirlwind slash!”
    Jude laughed quickly. That’s a first level move. What’s that gonna- “Oh crap!”
    The ground. He hadn’t really paid attention before, but it was all sand.
    Arik’s blade flashed in the sun sending out what would usually be just a weak blast of wind. But in these condition’s this simple move became something else completely. A storm of sand kicked up around them blinding Gabriel.
    Jude cringed. The thief’s guild is in the desert. They’re used to this. And added with the thief’s natural job ability to null any vision deterrents…”This is definitely not good.”
    At the very edge of the whirlwind Richter stood squinting to see through. Krou lay at his feet, it had been a quick KO.
    The crowd muttered as the announcer tried to think up some way to describe the sight, or lack there of, that was unfolding.
    “Well, um, folks- This could be it! Gabriel is definitely out of his element.”
    Wind roared against the young knight’s ears but over it came the sound of Arik’s voice.
    “You won last year.” A flash of silver and Jude felt a quick shock across his arm as a wound appeared on Gabriel’s. (Yay for advanced force feedback ^^) “But this time it’s mine.” Another shock and a cut across Gabriel’s chest. “You can’t win against what you can’t see. You can’t beat me in this storm.”
    Gabriel smiled to himself as a thought formed in Jude’s mind. “Yeah, you’re right. This storm is a nuisance isn’t it?”
    Arik raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
    Jude’s lips cracked into a sly grin.
    “All available power to the right arm!”
    Gabriel’s right arm whipped out to the front. “Sonic Boom!” A powerful sound wave exploding forth, the storm was blown back. Along with its creator.
    Gabriel grabbed four of his throwing knives quickly attaching thin cables to them and threw them at Arik. As they pierced their target Gabriel grasped the cords revealing that weight’s had been attached to the other ends. With a quick flick of his wrist the weights arched out to the sides wrapping themselves around the thief.
    “Richter! Now!”
    “Righty-o.” With a calm smile he dashed forward and sliced quickly. A clean cut right through the middle. Arik’s body streamed out in a river of blue and green code.
    The crowd’s roar was deafening.
    “Ladies and gentlemen! We have our winners! In a stunning show of teamwork the Kamelot Knight’s Guild takes the trophy and the grand prize! Starting tomorrow they will both be leaving for the great Crescendo Gaming Corporation to test an all new experimental gaming system!”
    A couple of the gamers clapped as Jude and Jakob stepped into their next morning’s class. One of them patting Jude on the back.
    “Dude! That was some amazing operating last night! And the way you finished Cody’s theif Arik, man that was just epic!” (I’m not sure if I will make the other op in their class.)
    The younge blonde haired boy in the corner of the classroom grumbled. “I almost had him.”
    The other student ignored him, his large hand still on Jude’s shoulder. “But really man, we should have expected that much from two guy’s talented enough to make it into Kamelot. I’ve tried at least thirty times. And I still can never make it past that first test. They’re as tough as-”
    “Alright everyone, that’s enough, you need to quiet down now.” (Her name is very… Corny, but I kinda wanted it to be. I dunno maybe not.) Agnis Crabtree, English extrordinare. She was probably the oldest teacher at Crescendo Academy, a private highschool funded by the world famous gaming corporation. It turned out many great programmers. Despite the bad ingflection her name gave she wasn’t all that terrible. Other than the old lady smell and the fact that she was insufferably boring she was one of Jude’s favorite teachers. Mainly for the fact that as long as you kept it to a whisper, she didn’t mind a little talking.
    Jude took the seat directly to the left of Jakob, and closest to the window cracking it open a little to allow some fresh air to waft in. He gently flipped his book open to make it look like he was following along.
    “Hmm?” Jude turned to look at his companion. “What is it Jakob?”
    “Man aren’t you excited?” The firey haired boy’s green eyes sparkled with the energy of a heavily coffied-up morning person.
    “Yeah I guess, well yeah. But I mean come on, they haven’t really announced any systems close to being as good as my dad’s zx-holovisor. So this is probably going to be pretty boring.”
    “Hmmm…” The boy sat thoughtfully for about a half a second. “I dunno. I’ve heard some rumors about this Forza guy. You know the programmer for the system. Weird name huh?”
    Jude’s eyebrow cocked with interest. “Oh yeah? What about him?”
    “Well he’s supposed to be a top notch programmer. And some of the gamer chicks say he’s pretty hot.”
    Jude’s interested look shifted to a questioning gaze. “And that interests you- why?”
    “Huh?” Jakob blinked in confusion before jumping up waving his hands and shaking his head wildly. “Oh! What!? No! I was just, you know, listing some facts!”
    Mrs. Crabtree cleared her throat loudly.
    “Well seeing as Mr. Allen here wants so badly to speak. Let’s have him answer the question.”
    “Well Mr. Allen?”
    Jakob threw Jude a pleading glance.
    “Don’t look at me bud. I was listening to you.”
    “We are waiting Mr. Allen.” She was tapping her foot with a quick annoyed rythym.
    “Um, uh… Hitler?”
    Mrs. Crabtree sighed, gently rubbing her temples.
    “Yes Mr. Allen, William Shakespeare’s first child was Hitler.”
    “Really? Because I thought it was-”
    “No not really Mr. Allen. I think you could benefit from a little visit to Mr. Rueben’s office.”
    “Aww man.”
    Jude chuckled.
    “You to Mr. Grant.”
    He stopped in mid laugh.
    “Huh? But Mrs. Crabtree I-”
    “Yes, you were the quieter of the two. But your conversation was the cause of the class disruption.”
    Mrs.Crabtree had just moved down on his list of favorite teachers.
    Jude huffed as he ran, Jakob close behind.
    “Man that sucked! An hour – of detention and now – we’re late! The train leaves in – five minutes!”
    The duo made it just in time to jump through the doors of the magnet train as they were closing. Breathing heavily as they found a couple of window seats.
    The Crescendo Gaming Corporation was one of very few, if not the only, businesses that owned a large enough area to require its own station. But then again when you are the world’s top name in gaming and electronic innovation with hit’s like Trinity and Model 7 you often had money to spare. Of course they were also credited with many world changing inventions and other things that Jude had found too numerous to enjoy or spend the time to memorize. And true to its reputation it was one of the largest complexes he had ever seen.
    Everywhere concrete wasn’t, beauty was. The courtyard seemed more like a botanical garden plants of all origins perfectly contrasting their surroundings. Streams, waterfalls, ponds, and fountains weaved all through the area like a spider web glistening with the morning dew.
    The main building stood high over a beautiful lake, held up by four large stilts, made almost invisible by the holograms projected on them. The designer had either been a genius or an artist. Possibly, if not probably, both.
    Jakob’s eyes widened in aww.
    “Man…This is amazing.”
    Jude smiled softly. “Yeah, I know. I love coming here.”
    “Huh?” Jakob’s gaze shot over to Jude. “You’ve been here before?”
    “Well, yeah. My dad get’s a lot of commissions from Crescendo. I get to visit sometimes. You know when I’m invited, or he forgets his lunch.”
    “Is he here today?”
    “Maybe. It’s possible. I mean I think he was presenting the holo-visor today. So he should be.”
    “Man I hope they hurry with mass production. I gotta get me one.”
    Jude gently brushed the sweat off his forehead. “You know we are already late.”
    “Oh crap, you’re right!” Jakob grabbed Jude’s arm tugging him towards the nearby escalator.

    If the outside didn’t prove it the inside did, Crescendo definitely aimed to impress. The front half of the visitor’s center was a full reinforced-glass dome, water flowing across much of it before falling over the side to the lake below. Numerous tropical plants filled the lobby and the softest, most beautiful crimson carpet they had ever seen, or felt, rested below their feet.
    But, of course, none of this would be complete without the petit, overly chipper receptionist.
    “Good afternoon sirs and welcome to the Crescendo Gaming Corporation’s global headquarters. How may we serve you?” She tossed them a sunny smile, one that scared the heck out of Jude.
    He cautiously approached the desk. Overly happy people had always disturbed him. He was all for being happy, but even so, there was a limit to what was natural.
    “Um, we are here to see a mister - what was it… Oh yeah, a Mr. Forza Rode.”
    “Oh! Of course. You two must be the other contest winners.”
    “Yeah, that would be it.”
    “Well that’s no problem.” She smiled again just as brightly pointing a hot-pink painted nail down the hall. “Just head right down this corridor to the tram station, take number three. They will instruct you from there. Have a wonderful day!”
    “Riiggghhht. You to, well…bye.” Jude quickly dashed away down the hall, Jakob hot on his heels.
    A door swung open in front of them, the duo skidding to a stop, just centimeters from the white coated wood. A middle aged man in a similarly colored lab coat stepped out.
    “Oh! I’m so sorry, I really should have opened it slo-”
    The man carefully slid his rectangular frameless spectacles back up on his nose.
    “Jude? Is that you?”
    “Dad!” Jude smiled happily, the man beaming back with a youthful smile that belied his wrinkled features and the grey of his carefully brushed-back hair, held in place by a mixture of gels and hairspray.
    “Hi son, what are you doing – oh right! You’re part of that test today for Forza’s project, aren’t you?”
    Jude quickly ran his fingers back through his honey-bronze hair. A few strands floating back up messily.
    “You know Mr. Rode?”
    “Well yes. In fact he was called into the meeting near the end. Hey, Forza?”
    A calm-smooth voice flowed from inside the room a slight English accent hinting at the edges.
    “Yes Alec? Is there something you need?” A young man seemingly in his mid-twenties stepped out. “Oh. Who are these two Alec?”
    “These two, are your missing duo. The brown haired one is my son Jude. And this one here.” He pointed to the red headed boy. “Is his best friend, Jakob Allen.”
    “Ahhh, I see.” The young man slid his black ponytail off his shoulder and behind his back.
    “Good to meet you. I hear you had a pretty awesome final match. I’d like to hear about it later. But for now we need to hurry. The other two are already playing.” Red eyes Altered by colored contacts flashed from behind his dark rimmed glasses.
    He wasn’t the picture of a super model that the girls had painted for them, but he definitely wasn’t the pimply nerd that would contrast.
    “Alright you two. I’m shutting it down for a second.”
    Forza’s voice echoed through the large room as the holograms faded. A young boy and girl stood in the center, glancing up at the window Forza, Jude, and Jakob stood behind.
    “Alright. Jude, Jakob. Those two are the others chosen for the test. If you are ready I’d like you go down and join them. I’ll be restarting the program shortly.”
    The duo nodded quickly descending the stairs into the large room. Stepping over to their new companions. The boy seemed to enjoy the gothic style. Dark clothing with combat boots and black hair a red streak in the front.
    The girl seemed a bit more… normal. Blue jeans and a green shirt that didn’t quite cover her mid-drift, mahogany hair falling about her shoulders. Jude could only say one thing, she was hot. And that smile of hers was extremely alluring.
    “Hi, I’m Alice Cross, but you can call me by my character’s name, Rose. This is my partner, Rei Valentine, at least that’s what he tells everyone.” She smiled again, kindly, as the boy stepped forward slowly extending a hand to Jude.
    “Libens sum.” His voice had the same silky texture to it as Forza’s, minus the accent.
    Jude scratched his neck in confusion.
    Alice laughed. “Sorry about him, he loves his Latin. He said, Pleased to meet you.”
    “Oh, right.” Jude accepted the offer shaking his hand. “Nice to meet you to.”
    Rei smiled softly. “Thanks, as she said my name is Rei, R-E-I not R-Y-E. But you can call me Xander, with an X.”
    Jakob dashed in front of Jude, right between him and Rei.
    “I’m Jakob Allen, and this is my friend, Jude Grant. Oh yeah! You can call me Richter.”
    “And me Gabriel.” Jude brushed his hair away from his eyes.
    Rose squealed. “You’re the Gabriel?”
    “Huh? Well yeah.” Jude pulled back a little.
    “You know you don’t look anything like your character.”
    Jude raised an eyebrow unsure on how to take it. “Ooookaay.”
    Rei looked him up and down.
    “Your father… He is, Alec Grant, no?”
    “Yeah, why?”
    “He is an amazing programmer. Do you plan to, follow in his footsteps?”
    “Well um, yeah, no, maybe…”
    “Hmmm… Cemel Dosce.”
    Jude looked at him questioningly. “What?”
    Forza’s voice boomed from the speakers.
    “Alright! Well I’m ready to start. How about you?”
    All four nodded in agreement.
    The lights went out. (Need a new way to say that)
    All was dark until, from the center of the room, data started to stream out, across the floor and up the walls coating the whole room, and its inhabitants, with a soft green glow. Small screens, which Jude guessed to be files opening, formed and quickly started to rearrange themselves like a puzzle.