Chapter 1

Loren’s Apartment, 2:22 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

A series of loud, rapid thumps rattled the ceiling, followed immediately by a woman’s long, loud moan.

Loren cracked his eyes open to stare up at his roof, annoyed; his upstairs neighbor was having sex again. His annoyance quickly turned to shock as his lightbulb suddenly flickered on and shattered into a million pieces. Loren yanked the covers up to cover his face, and after a long moment, he stuck his head back out.

“You’re f****** kidding me,” Loren said sullenly.

He tossed the covers off angrily and swung his feet off the bed, immediately regretting the action as a sharp pain lanced through his foot.

“Ow!” Loren hissed, hopping into the hallway.

He took a moment to pull the small piece of glass out of his foot and click the hallway light on. The light glinted off the pieces of glass covering the carpet in his bedroom. The voices upstairs started getting louder, and after a moment, he realized that they weren’t having sex anymore; they were arguing.

Again. At two in the f****** morning.

“I hate this f****** building,” Loren grumbled.


Loren tied the trash bag shut and unlocked his front door before stepping out into the stairwell that ran up the building’s middle. The arguing upstairs was even louder out here, and he paused for a moment before deciding to lock his door, just in case.

He heard the door upstairs slam open, and the voices grew even louder.

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“You’re lucky I even came here at all!” A man shouted angrily, “Don’t worry, though—it’s the last time! Find your own s*** next time!”

The man stomped down the stairs, completely ignoring him, and Loren barely stopped himself from telling them both off.

“You’re such a f****** asshole, Mark!” The woman screamed after him. “Don’t come back!”

Loren couldn’t make out his reply, but Mark hissed something out, and a few moments later, the door at the bottom of the staircase slammed shut. Loren looked up at where his neighbor, whose name he didn’t know, was now staring at him.

“Loren!” She said, mortified, “Did we wake you up? I’m really sorry, I tried to tell him to be quiet, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Loren was curious how she even knew his name, but he rolled his eyes; it hadn’t been the arguing that had woken him up; it had been all the noise she had been making.

“It’s fine—just try to keep it down, okay?” Loren sighed, heading downstairs, trashbag still in hand. “It’s super early right now.”

“Sorry! It won’t happen again!” She called apologetically.

Loren wondered what her name was as he climbed down the stairs.

He could hear a car door slam as he stepped out of the building. The screech of tires and the roar of an engine cut through the night as Mark skidded out of the parking lot, scattering gravel and dirt everywhere.

“Oh, come on!” Loren said in disbelief. “People are f****** sleeping asshole—”

Mark’s car zipped straight through the intersection without slowing, and a truck smashed into it with a cacophony of metal on metal. It hit with enough force that both the car and the truck slid out of sight further down the road.

Loren stared at the intersection, frozen for a long moment before he dropped his trash bag on the ground and started running towards it. He wasn’t even sure what he was doing, but he knew that he should at least be trying to help. He tore around the corner and spotted the wreck that was scattered all across the road. The truck’s front wheel was somehow on fire, and the entire front of the car was bent inwards.

Loren picked his way through the metal and debris and yanked on the truck’s passenger door several times before it finally came open. The driver was half lying over the center console, completely unconscious, and he didn’t respond when he tried to wake him.

“F***!” Loren shouted, “Wake up!”

Loren managed to unclip the man’s seatbelt with some effort, and bodily dragged the man the rest of the way out of the front seat. The man outweighed him by at least thirty kilograms, and he probably injured the man even worse, trying to get him as far away from the burning vehicle as he could.

Loren could hear sirens in the distance now, and he panted as he left the truck-driver on the pavement. He headed towards Mark’s car and yanked the door open. He immediately turned and heaved up last night’s dinner on the road as he saw the state of the man’s legs.

They were utterly pulped from the hips down, the door had folded entirely over the man before being torn off, and the front interior of the car was a mess of blood and gore. The upper half of the man’s body was almost perfectly untouched, and he stared unseeingly out of the empty windscreen.

“Come on, man,” Loren managed weakly, sitting against the car door. “If you didn’t drive like an asshole, you would have been fine…”

The truck was wholly on fire now, and the sirens were getting closer. Loren couldn’t even bring himself to get up again; the sight had drained him entirely. He sat against the door until the emergency services arrived and then forced himself to stand up.

“Are you alright?” One of the paramedics said clearly.

“I’m fine—I wasn’t involved. The truck driver is over there.” Loren said weakly, “He was still alive a couple of minutes ago, this guy though…”

“You aren’t injured? You’ve got blood on your hands.” The man followed up as more ambulances arrived.

“I’m not injured. It’s the drivers. I’ll sit over there,” Loren said weakly, “Go do your thing.”

Loren stepped past the man heading for the sidewalk, sitting down against the guard rail and watching.


Intersection, 2:37 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

People had started appearing from the houses immediately next to the accident, wondering at all the flashing lights and the noise. The police had already cordoned off the area and kept people away, and the last ambulance had just left after. The same paramedic had come and talked to him briefly again, making sure he was alright before they left—he was waiting on the officer to finish talking on his phone.

“Half an hour,” Williams said tersely, “That’s as soon as we can move. How bad is it?”

There was a pause as the man listened for a moment and frowned.

“This whole month is cursed,” Williams sighed into the phone, “Yeah. Alright.”

Williams hung up the phone without fanfare and turned back towards him.

“Sorry about that,” Lieutenant Williams said evenly, “You saw what happened here? What was your name again?”

“Loren,” Loren said quietly, “Mark, the guy in the car didn’t stop at the red light. The truck didn’t even slow down, though. I guess he didn’t expect anyone to just cut across him like that.”

“You knew the man?” Williams said sympathetically.

“Not really—He visits my upstairs neighbor. I think they might have been dating—I overheard his name for the first time today,” Loren said honestly.

“What were you doing out here so late?” Williams asked curiously.

“My lightbulb exploded. I was taking the glass out to the trash,” Loren said quietly. “Not exactly how I thought my night was going to go.”

“Well, you most likely saved a man’s life tonight, that’s something,” Williams said firmly. “If you hadn’t gotten him out of the truck, well.”

Loren just nodded as the man trailed off.

“I’m just going to go home, I think,” Loren said tiredly, “Did you need me for anything else?”

“No, I’ve got your number here if we need to talk to you again,” Williams said firmly. “Good work tonight.”

“Thanks,” Loren said plainly.

He didn’t feel like he’d done anything—he couldn’t help but think that if he had just yelled at Mark in the hallway, he could have held the man up long enough to avoid all of this. It was absurd, and he knew that none of the blame was on him at all, but he also knew that it might have been enough to save the man’s life.

The walk back to the building was quiet and almost peaceful. Loren finally dropped his trash in the bin and immediately felt a pang of regret at returning so quickly because his neighbor was standing just inside the doorway, hair wet as if she had just gotten out of the shower.

“Loren?” She asked curiously, “Did you see what happened up there? What’s with all the lights?”

Loren stared at her for a long moment and swallowed.


Loren stared up at his roof, listening to the muffled cries of his neighbor.

He still hadn’t managed to get the woman’s name, although, in her defense, she was a little preoccupied dealing with the trauma of Mark having just died.

Loren was now absolutely certain he shouldn’t have mentioned the man’s legs, but in his defense, she hadn’t believed him at all at first. In fact, she had laughed off the idea, which looking back now, was a bizarre reaction to such dire news.

He winced as a particularly loud sob reached his ears.

His now empty lightbulb sparked suddenly in the dark, and his eyes snapped over to where the switch was, but even in the dark, he could see that it was off. Huh, maybe it wasn’t his neighbor’s bouncing that had done it after all—it must have been an electrical fault of some kind.

If his roof caught on fire during the night, Loren was going to be pissed.


Loren dragged himself reluctantly out of bed to the sound of his once-favorite song, but every morning he heard it, he grew slightly more out of love with it. He’d usually have changed it by now, but it was such a damn good song.

He wondered why he kept ruining all the good ones.

His morning routine was completed without a spark of creativity; he used the toilet, he shaved, and then he showered, the same as always. He left the TV on in the lounge room to listen to the early morning news, hoping that it might alleviate some of the boredom this time.

“Things are starting to heat up now as we close in on the day!” Aaron, the young announcer, said cheerfully. “The biggest event in the entire Evergold week!”

“I wouldn’t say the biggest,” The older woman said dryly, “I wouldn’t even say the most interesting.”

“That’s because no one ever accused you of having a good opinion, Jean!” Aaron said immediately, completely undeterred. “That’s right, tomorrow at exactly ten in the AM, the tournament that everyone has been waiting for!”

“Nobody’s been waiting for it, Aaron.” Jean rolled her eyes, “Video games are for children.”

“The tournament that every self-respecting video game enthusiast has been waiting for!” Aaron continued right over the top of the woman. “Crescendo! EVERGOLD! PVP Elimination Tournament! The first of its kind!”

“Can we move on to real news now?” Jean yawned.

“The prize pool for tomorrow’s tournament!” Aaron said cheerfully, “One-hundred-thousand dollars for first place!”

“Who cares—wait, really?” Jean said, blinking.

“Seventy-Five-Thousand for second place!” Aaron continued happily, “And third place will come in at a cool Fifty-Thousand!”

“For playing a game?!” Jean said astonished, “How on earth—”

“Registration for entry has already closed! The tournament participants have been decided by the best players and teams around!” Aaron cheered, “Tickets are still available live, but they are going hot! Get in while you still can! Now, we can get on with all that lame ‘Real News’ you love so much!”

Jean cleared her throat and shuffled some papers in front of her.

“The string of car accidents continues city-wide as Evergold week draws in people from all around for the festivities.” Jean said sternly, “The police are urging everyone to keep to the speed limits, as double demerits are being deducted for every offense.”

Aaron yawned loudly, and Jean scrunched her face up at him for a moment.

“There was another accident just this morning, once again involving—you guessed it—the international heavyweight Wrightway Incorporated,” Jean said distastefully, “That makes for a third accident caused by their trucks—just this week!”

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“This one wasn’t actually caused by the Wrightway truck—another car apparently ran a red light,” Aaron added boredly, reading off Jean’s sheet. “Alexander Wright has been fielding interviews with the press all morning, but even the usually unflappable man is started to buckle under the stress.”

“Nevertheless!” Jean said, affecting outrage, “Three—”

Loren turned the TV off annoyed, why anyone found this funny, he would never know. The ‘dynamic’ that made the two such a popular infotainment news channel just rubbed him the wrong way.


Loren left the gym feeling satisfied if tired; his hair was still damp from his second shower of the day. The sounds of sirens grew louder before zipping past the gym, three police cars moving far faster than the suggested speed limit.

Loren swallowed as he remembered what had happened to the last person he saw speeding. He looked away at the sudden surge in his stomach that left him feeling cold and uncomfortable. The number of people walking the streets increased the closer he got to the central business district. Signs, advertisements, costumes, and everything else were present as people enjoyed the festival.

Two men passed by, each holding a long pole attached to a costumed mannequin high above them. The classic superhero flying pose was plastered all over everything. However, Loren couldn’t identify exactly which hero this was supposed to be.

Seeing his destination brought him back to the present, and he headed into the Sunset Shopping Complex.

His lightbulb exploding was actually only one of the things that had shorted out in the last couple of weeks. His building really sucked, and he was sure that only the expensive surge protector he had purchased was keeping his computer from the same fate as his headset, lightbulb, and toaster.

How the headset had died Loren had no idea, it hadn’t even been plugged in at the time, but it was a god damned expensive item to replace.

The building had always been pretty bad, and he had initially complained about the constant electrical problems. Nothing had ever come of it, other than dismissals and several heated arguments with the landlord. The fact that the rent was so cheap was the only reason he hadn’t tried to move yet, although it was becoming more likely by the day.

He really didn’t want to be reminded of Mark every time he spied his neighbor’s door.


Sunset Shopping Complex, 9:10 AM.
Tuesday, February 22nd​, 2022.

Loren had gotten a bit distracted and had ended up spending a lot more time shopping than he had initially intended. He stepped out onto the sidewalk and headed back the way he came from, eyeing the Bust a Bean on the corner.

Coffee sounded perfect right about now—The sounds of glass shattering and concrete cracking washed over him from behind, and he immediately started walking faster to avoid the fight raging behind him.

Loren glanced back just before he stepped into the coffee shop and spotted the strip of glass that had been broken and the twin tails of a blue cape—Dovetail.

“That’s the second fight today!” A woman said, annoyed. “Who was it this time?”

He glanced at her for a moment and raised an eyebrow.

“Looked like it might have been Dovetail,” Loren said easily as he stepped past. “Not sure who he was fighting, though. Who was it earlier?”

“Vapid and Hoister.” The woman snickered.

Vapid was in the city?

“That must have been over quick.” Loren laughed. “I’m Loren.”

“Chloe, you getting coffee?” Chloe asked easily. “Hoister never made it to the late game, unfortunately.”

“Yeah, I can almost picture it.” Loren snickered before he took a stab in the dark. “Up for a chat?”

“Sure.” Chloe agreed.

Critical hit. They ordered and sat down away from the window, just in case.

“You here for the tournament?” Loren asked once they had sat down.

“Yep,” Chloe grinned, “You’ll be able to tell all your friends, aren’t you lucky?”

“I’d rather tell them I got your number.” Loren snickered, “Any chance of that?”

“I can’t be giving my number out to every guy that pays for my coffee, even if they laugh at my jokes,” Chloe said cheekily.

“How about giving it to the winner of tomorrow’s tournament?” Loren asked, amused, “Would that mysterious person have any more luck?”

Chloe grinned like a shark.

“I don’t know why I’d give my number to myself. That’s just silly,” Chloe smirked. “You’re in the tournament as well, then? Which team?”

“Surely am,” Loren laughed, “Solo player, I’m listed as Loren.”

“That’s so lazy,” Chloe laughed, “Couldn’t come up with an original name?”

“Though I’d make it easy for all my opponents to know who they were beaten by, and the announcer when I win, I suppose,” Loren said before cupping his hands over his mouth. “The winner! LOREN! The crowd goes wild, Rooooooar!”

Chloe laughed out loud.

“You’re not supposed to say ‘Roar,’ idiot.” Chloe giggled.

“Right, right,” Loren snickered.

“Besides, the name they’ll be calling out,” Chloe copied his move, “TEAM COFFEE TAKES THE WIN! WOOO!”

People turned to look at them, attracted by the sudden increase in volume, and Loren started laughing.

“Team Coffee?” Loren grinned, “and you called me lazy.”

“What’s wrong with Coffee?” Chloe feigned offense.

“Nothing; Coffee is great, especially since you’re buying the next one,” Loren smirked, and she laughed.

“Sounds good to me,” Chloe said easily, “I wanted some time to squeeze all your secrets out anyway.”

“That goes both ways, my dear,” Loren smiled, “Trio, or duo?”

“Trio,” Chloe smiled before side-eyeing him for a moment. “You’re not a Drakkira player, are you?”

Loren smiled.


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