Chapter 9:

Brutal Coliseum Challenge

Real Life Starfight

The last day of school goes by in a flash and all remains quiet as summer vacation begins. For an unknown reason, Sun was absent so Ryuuji was unable to follow up after sending the mass message in Starfight, forcing him to wait a bit more as he’d rather do so in person. Taking advantage of the extra time, Ryuuji works almost everyday, figuring if he works almost the entire summer, then he can cut back more once school begins. Despite there being no school, he still requested to work later shifts, enjoying not having to get up early for school.Bookmark here

July 24th 2018 - A few days after sending the challenge in Starfight, Ryuuji gets a visitor at his register. He starts his usual greeting until he notices it’s Sun. She places a drink on his counter and smiles, telling him she only wants to buy this one item. Ryuuji then closes his eyes, straightens his back, and bows as low as he can, almost laying his head on the scanner. Bookmark here

“I’m really sorry for all the harsh things I said before. Can you forgive a low life such as myself?”Bookmark here

“You idiot, of course I’ll forgive you.”Bookmark here

Ryuuji looks up at Sun and smiles. He notices no one is in line behind her and scans her one drink, then asks if she has a few minutes for them to talk. Bookmark here

“Sure that’s fine, but what about me paying?”Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, it’s on me.” Ryuuji hands Sun her drink and receipt, telling her he’ll meet her outside.Bookmark here

Ryuuji runs off to put in for his break and Sun takes her drink and goes to wait outside, sitting on the bench where they first spoke months ago. After only a few minutes, Ryuuji appears, taking a seat right next to her.Bookmark here

“I’m glad you stopped by!” Ryuuji says, initiating the conversation. “I didn’t intend to take so long to give you a proper apology. I just thought it best to keep my distance, otherwise I probably would have yelled at you again and I didn’t want to hurt you anymore.”Bookmark here

“I definitely won’t deny what you said was hurtful, but I even told Seiji and Hana it wasn’t completely your fault. I can’t believe I got sick on the last day of school, it was awful.” Sun says, preferring not to remember.Bookmark here

“That reminds me!” Ryuuji suddenly shouts. “Give me your cell number already. I guess since we see eachother so much we never thought to exchange them yet.”Bookmark here

Sun thinks back, remembering that they only talk in person or through Starfight, and is surprised she never gave it to him. She asks Ryuuji for his phone so she can enter her number. Just then they hear someone speak as they approach them.Bookmark here

“If I didn’t know any better I’d think they were dating.”Bookmark here

Ryuuji and Sun look to their right to see Seiji and Hanabi laughing at his comment, but Ryuuji can only cringe, asking Sun why she invited them.Bookmark here

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She says in a high pitched tone.Bookmark here

“Either way you shouldn’t joke like that.” Ryuuji says, shaking his head. “Me? Sun’s boyfriend? There’s no way I’ll be able to beat her prince charming even if I tried.”Bookmark here

Sun’s face turns bright red, then attacking Ryuuji immediately after, “Prince charming?? What do you mean by that?”Bookmark here

With a grin Ryuuji explains how he sees it, “Please, even in the game I can see your eyes sparkle whenever Steve is around.”Bookmark here

Annoyed by his remark, Sun turns away with a harumph and hands his phone to Seiji and Hanabi, telling them that they should add their numbers as well. Ryuuji tries to take it back quickly, but is unsuccessful. Hanabi adds her number first, laughing at the amusing situation that unfolded, then handing it to Seiji. He adds his, but states he only has a house phone, no cell, so it will be worthless. Ryuuji quickly grabs his phone once they are finished.Bookmark here

“As if I would call either of you.”Bookmark here

Even if that may come off as rude, it doesn’t bother any of them at this point since they know that’s just how Ryuuji is. With his break almost over, Seiji and Hanabi leave first. They actually came by to try a new pastry shop that Hanabi read about, only stopping here since Sun mentioned she planned to as well. After they leave, Sun stands up, getting ready to leave.Bookmark here

“One more thing!” Ryuuji says to stop her. “I didn’t get to mention this yet, but I’m happy you were finally able to master the spell ‘single cell’ in Starfight. I can’t believe you were able to use it on a small target like my character instead of a large beast, but I’ll take what I can get.”Bookmark here

“Oh that? Hana was actually the one who helped me with that. The advice she gave me was ‘aim for it’s center’ and it worked!” Sun explains, then thinking to herself ‘I won’t tell him I defeated that giant lizard first though.’Bookmark here

“Seriously? She’s a better player than I thought.” Ryuuji says as he considers Flora’s gameplay thus far.Bookmark here

“Well I’ll see you around. Keep in touch!” Sun says.Bookmark here

Ryuuji simply waves as she leaves, then proceeds to head inside to get back to work.Bookmark here

-----------------------Bookmark here

July 30th 2018 - The day of the coliseum battle arrives. With only 10 minutes until the scheduled time, Seiji and Hanabi are the first there, with Ryuuji appearing shortly after. Ryuuji immediately complains about how they are always the first to arrive. Seiji tries to say that they are just very punctual people, when in reality they just play too much and were already fighting dungeons before this. Steve then arrives and wastes no time requesting communication and to form a party with Hargrave and Flora. When they accept, Hargrave is bombarded with praise.Bookmark here

“You weren’t kidding, you really are friends with Hargrave!” Steve says, seemingly more excited for this than the actual battle. “Ah- I’m Steve, Sun probably mentioned me at least once before. It’s an honor to meet you.”Bookmark here

“Oh a fan? Nice to meet you.”Bookmark here

“Acting as if having fans is nothing new.” Ryuuji says, disgusted by the conversation despite being in a similar position when he transferred schools.Bookmark here

“It happens a lot when I join parties, I’m just used to it.” Seiji explains.Bookmark here

“I can’t wait to tell my friends I know the great hero Hargrave!” Steve says overjoyed. Bookmark here

“Now we just wait for Sun. She won’t be late will she?” Hanabi asks.Bookmark here

“She shouldn’t be. I called her right before logging in and she told me she would be right here. That should mean something right?” Ryuuji ponders.Bookmark here

“She really is adorable isn’t she?” Steve says, never bothered by her bad habits.Bookmark here

“I thought we already established that- no.” Ryuuji says, bluntly.Bookmark here

Sun then arrives and asks if she’s late at all. Steve answers first, telling her she’s right on time, despite cutting it close. With everyone here, they enter the coliseum. Since Akaninja and HeroHiro are participating, they enter the one-time code they were given after the challenge was accepted. Ryuuji sets the battle to private with a password that he can give to anyone so they can watch. He sends the password to everyone else and they enter one by one. As expected by the name, the coliseum is based on the real life one in Rome, with a ring in the center surrounded by a mass amount of seating in an old stone building. The two challengers are already in the center with the other at the edge of the seats.Bookmark here

“This is actually really cool. I’ve never actually been in here before.” Seiji says after looking around.Bookmark here

“Really? Even with how popular you are?” Sun asks.Bookmark here

“Seiji and I automatically deny any challenges. Except he still accepts friendly fire for some reason.” Hanabi explains.Bookmark here

“Yeah well. If I accepted the coliseum I would probably get over a dozen a day. It’s more fun to battle monsters anyway.” Seiji says, adding that he’s only ever been friends with Hana and everyone else so he never witnessed a battle either.Bookmark here

“Are you done bragging yet so we can start, Mr. Hargrave?” Ryuuji asks, annoyed by his popularity as always.Bookmark here

“I was just answering a question.” Seiji responds in a harsh tone.Bookmark here

“Sounded more like bragging to me.”Bookmark here

“You would know.” Seiji says, referring to Ryuuji’s attitude before.Bookmark here

Before Ryuuji is able to argue more, Steve cuts in with laughter. “You two are great, just like I imagined!”Bookmark here

“What are you talking about?” Seiji asks.Bookmark here

“Ryuuji and Sun told me about you before, although they failed to mention you’re Hargrave. Back then and even now I can tell you guys are really similar.”Bookmark here

“No we are not!!” Seiji and Ryuuji shout at the same time, causing everyone except them to agree even more with Steve’s observation.Bookmark here

“Alright enough wasting time. I’m glad you made it, Steve.” Ryuuji says, switching the topic back to the battle.Bookmark here

“Are you kidding? I made sure to clear up my schedule right after I got the challenge.” Steve boasts.Bookmark here

“You mean the next morning.”Bookmark here

“Minor details.” Steve says, knowing that’s the actual truth. “Now then, Sun! Countdown from 3 to signal the start of the battle.”Bookmark here

“Why me? Can’t you just start without it?” Sun asks.Bookmark here

“You're as much a part of all this as we are.” Ryuuji explains. “So if you don’t mind, we’d love your help.”Bookmark here

Months ago when Sun introduced the two of them, she never imagined their friendship would grow as it did. She never imagined the dark moments either, but that can come with any relationship no matter who it is. To have them include her, even for something so simple, she feels overjoyed and agrees to countdown.Bookmark here

However, little do they know, a hacker is waiting for the exact moment that is about to occur; for them to hit the button to start the battle. Sitting at her desk with her younger brother by her side, excited to try out the one ninja character.Bookmark here

Back in the game, Sun starts the countdown, 3….2….1-! And with that they hit the start button and the battle begins. Almost simultaneously, the hacker hits enter as the code was already set ahead of time. Since the hacker took control as the characters were already rushing towards each other, Akaninja sustained some damage.Bookmark here

“Woah there~” says the hacker, now in control of Akaninja. Her screen changed from a black screen filled with code, to the coliseum. “Get ready for a great show!”Bookmark here

“I’m so excited!” Says her little brother, jumping in anticipation.Bookmark here

After noticing him take damage already, Steve comments that the ‘amazing ninja’ got sloppy. Ryuuji responds, stating he must have hit the wrong key, but as Steve asks if he’s still there, Ryuuji realizes he can’t hear him. No one can. Unbeknownst to Ryuuji, the hacker cut off all communication, both with the mic and messages. Bookmark here

“Not talking, huh. That’s fine, we’ll just focus on the battle then!” Steve says, not suspecting a thing.Bookmark here

“Sounds good to me! Now let's see what this guy can do.” The hacker says, practically having a conversation with Steve despite them being unable to hear her as well. She quickly checks over the skill and spell list before moving Akaninja to continue the fight. Still getting used to this type of character, with enhanced speed and swift skills, the movements and attacks are initially very sloppy.Bookmark here

Knowing something is wrong, Ryuuji watches as Akaninja moves, attacking HeroHiro, then looks down to the keyboard to see that his hands are indeed off the keyboard. He pauses for a moment and shouts, Bookmark here

“I’ve been hacked! Dammit, I only did this because the company announced they have better security to counter this. There hasn’t been an incident in over a year, why now?!”Bookmark here

Ryuuji then stops and thinks. There’s no way to tell if this is the same hacker as before, not that it would matter. What about the game itself? He has noticed there have been less updates in recent months. Normally there are regular updates to improve the game software among other things even if there isn’t a new event or dungeon. What about the company? The only thing that changed recently is….his dad’s firing. He remembers hearing his dad comment on how important it is to keep this game up to date, are they getting lazy without him there?Bookmark here

Whether it’s the truth or not, considering that causes frustration to build once more. Ryuuji is about to slam his fists on his desk again, but quickly stops himself, shaking his head to try and forget all that. Bookmark here

“No, stop!” he says, shouting to himself. “This is what got me into this situation in the first place. Think!! What can I do now?”Bookmark here

Ryuuji looks up and watches as someone else continues to use his character. With neither backing down, Akaninja has taken more damage than HeroHiro, but both are still in good standing. The other 3 watch the fight closely, but only Seiji notices something is off.Bookmark here

“This is going to be a long battle.” Sun complains.Bookmark here

“Don’t you think Akaninja’s movements are strange?” Seiji says. “He’s almost moving like he never played before. Way different from when we fought.”Bookmark here

“Maybe it’s because you’re watching from a different angle?” Hanabi suggests.Bookmark here

While Seiji considers Hanabi’s comment, he hears his phone ringing. He tells the girls he will be right back, placing his headset on his desk, getting up to answer the phone. Just like he mentioned days ago, it’s an older house phone. He picks it up and is about to say ‘hello’, but Ryuuji speaks first.Bookmark here

“Seiji!! I’m so glad you answered.”Bookmark here

“Ryuuji? But aren’t you currently in the coliseum?” Seiji says, confused.Bookmark here

“No, that's not me playing, I must have been hacked!” Ryuuji explains. Bookmark here

Similar to what Ryuuji remembers from before, Seiji knows the company announced it would no longer happen, but that’s clearly not the case anymore. Ryuuji then explains that he can’t talk whatsoever in the game and asks if he can come over so he can explain to Steve what's going on, mentioning that he needs it to come from him, not anyone else. Bookmark here

“Come over…? But-”Bookmark here

However, just like at school a few weeks ago, the idea of someone coming over causes Seiji to freeze. His mind goes blank, unable to speak. Ryuuji didn’t forget what happened and hasn’t given it much thought since then, but now realizes what the trigger is as he can’t get any response no matter what he says. Annoyed, he quickly tries to analyze what’s going on, pacing in his room, thinking out loud to try and get an answer.Bookmark here

“Okay, let me guess! You’re afraid to have someone come over due to bullying? Were you afraid of getting hurt? You haven’t mentioned any relatives besides your mom who you don’t see...maybe you live alone? Have no one to rely on? Is that right?? ....yeah I get it!! Families suck and it’s scary when it feels like you have no one there for you. And I really hate to force you like this, but you’re all I got! Please, Seiji!”Bookmark here

Ryuuji pauses and waits for a response, but Seiji still stays silent. Starting to lose hope, he scratches his head, trying to think of what he can do.Bookmark here

“Dammit, I could call Hinami, but I doubt you’d like me going over to her house, and I can’t have Steve misunderstand this situation. Just trust me!”Bookmark here

Although Seiji was listening the entire time, the last words he heard ‘trust me’ struck a chord, waking him up. Seiji takes a deep breath and lets it out before finally responding, though stuttering slightly.Bookmark here

“I just have to t-trust you, right? I can’t believe I’m being so pathetic”Bookmark here

“Seiji?” Ryuuji says, almost making sure it’s him.Bookmark here

“Yeah, sorry about that. Let me give you my address.”Bookmark here

As Seiji says his address, Ryuuji writes it down and checks his GPS to see that he lives close to the school. A normal 15 minute walk, Ryuuji says he’ll make it there in 5. However, he makes sure to thank Seiji before quickly hanging up and rushing out the door, not even looking to see if his father is awake or not. Bookmark here

Running down the hall, he stops in front of the elevator, choosing to use that rather than run down the stairs, practically dancing as he waits so he doesn't lose his pace. After only a few seconds, the doors open with no one inside, he rushes in, closing the doors quickly to get to the bottom floor and once he does, he runs out into the street, going around anyone who happens to be there.Bookmark here

It’s a hot summer day with the weather reaching 90 degrees. With it affecting Ryuuji quickly, he tries not to let it get to him, instead focusing on what he needs to do. ‘Please don’t let me be too late!’ he thinks as he continues to run.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.