Chapter 5:

LEVEL 5: Artemis—On to the Next Tournament

CREO: Game of Creation

Welcome back to the US national CREO championship! The defending champion versus the upcoming challenger! Round 1 goes to the defender, QED, after a fiercely fought battle with Artemis. Let’s see a quick replay! Huh huh!

I watched as a replay of my battle with QED played on the massive screens all around the arena. We thrashed at each other in an ever-shrinking ring. His swords were relentless—a blur of flashing light and clashing steel. In the end I was defeated, but only after a long fight. It wouldn’t be enough to win, not unless he could beat me in my CREO world, and that wasn’t going to happen… probably.

I wished we’d just get on with it, though. Some other countries go straight into the next fight, no break in between, but we Americans are fond of drawing things out—thus the analysts’ comments, commercial breaks, and invasive close-ups of the competitors (as if they could draw anything from the expressions of virtual avatars).

QED’s avatar was dressed in knight armor, but without a helmet, exposing a smug, bespectacled mug and a mop of black hair. His entourage was already fawning over him—he was the three time national champ, and reigning international champion. I wasn’t worried, though. The thought that he was about to lose to a girl put a smile on my face. My friend and I stayed in the shadows, my face sheltered by my signature red hood. Everything I knew about CREO I learned from my friend—including the strategy of saving your strongest CREO world for the finals. I glanced at Pluton and gave a thumbs up. Characteristically, no response.

“I know, no celebrating till we’ve won.” I said. A buzzer sounded, and they warped me back to the center of the virtual arena, facing QED’s annoyingly over-confident glare.

“The time has come for the conclusion of the match! Players—start!” With that, Kuu and the arena disappeared, and I was under my night sky. Until this point in the tournament, I’d been using a CREO world set in a forest, where I would snipe my opponents with my bow. This time, I sat in a vast open field, constellations shimmering above in all the colors of the cosmos. At least, they looked like constellations. They were, in fact, enormous enemy elements—painstakingly programmed to strike at just the right time. QED wasted no time, rushing straight toward me. I stayed sitting, not bothering to even take up my bow. Above us, Orion, Sagittarius, and Scorpius were readying their aim. The stars shifted in grand movements to take the shapes of a hunter with his spear, an archer, and a scorpion ready to strike.

It’ll work. I’ve debugged this thousands of times by now. I won’t let Pluton down.

QED fired a bolt of energy at me—I moved my head to the side and dodged it, still refusing to move, despite the painful pounding of my heart.


QED reached me—his sword drawn, a vicious grin bearing upon me, ready to kill. Then he was gone. My constellations had struck—all three coalescing their stars into a single blast of white-hot energy onto his position, just as I’d intended. His avatar was vaporized by the power of the heavens and the ground beneath me was shattered—the sheer might of the attack too strong for it to withstand. The field cascaded into bits of earth, falling into the vast starry sky. I fell down with it, or floated really, unscratched and victorious. I won because I knew my enemy—I knew he’d be so focused on me, and go for the kill while I was unarmed, rather than look at his surroundings. Once we were back in the arena, his face was priceless, even through a virtual avatar. In all, it only took about 10 seconds, awarding me a treasure-trove of points and the win.

As soon as Kuu gave the crown to me, I removed it—not my style. I wasn’t into celebrations, or fame, or any of that. The virtual world was a prison. CREO was just the closest thing I could get to having fun. I felt another sting of pain—probably another injection into my physical body. Let the doctors deal with it, and if they didn’t, I’d still be here, in my prison. You’d think they’d quit having wars long enough to find some cures.

Pluton was waiting for me in a private room reserved for the champion. I couldn’t resist a hug.

“We did it! I owe it all to you!” Pluton chuckled and patted my head, finally out of character now that we were out of public view.

“Don’t sell yourself short.” Pluton’s voice was artificially processed, not to mention translated, so I had no idea what it actually sounded like. It was a funny contrast though—the scary voice of the death god encouraging me like that.

Kuu appeared, and I gave him a big hug too.

“Congratulations on your victory, Artemis!” He said.

“Thank you, Kuu! You’re looking fluffy today!” Kuu blushed and giggled.

“As the national champion, you are automatically qualified entry into the International CREO Tournament, should you choose to accept your place.”

“Yes, please!” I’d been waiting for a chance to show off my latest CREO world—where better than on the world stage?

“Additionally—this year’s format will be unlike any CREO tournament so far!” Kuu spun around with excitement—so cute. “This will be the first team format CREO tournament! As a national champion, you may choose any—”

“Pluton!” I grabbed my friend by the arm. “Let’s be on a team together!” To my delight, Pluton nodded.

“Great!” Kuu responded. “You may choose one more teammate, as well as an alternate.” A menu with the profiles of every professional-level CREO player in the world popped up in front of us, organized by country and win-loss record.

“The only restriction is that only two team members may be from the same country.”

The two of us were barely listening to Kuu—instead we were swiping through profiles, searching for the perfect partner. I knew who most of the big names were, anyway. I lived and breathed CREO, after all. Pluton paused on a profile.

“KAI? The one you beat in your final?” He had some skill, but I sensed the same arrogance in him that brought QED down. “Surely you’re not considering…” Pluton swiped away from him.

“No. If he’s got any sense, he’d just quit already. For his own good.”

“Um, ok.” What was it about KAI? I couldn’t tell if Pluton cared about him or hated him. A profile came up, and we glanced at each other, satisfied with the choice.

“Wonderful! I will contact Sieg right away!” Kuu said before disappearing. Pluton still looked distracted (well, it’s hard to tell through the mask and smoke, but y’know).

“What’s wrong? Do you have some history with KAI?” Pluton looked at me, then to my shock, removed the helmet that no-one had ever seen under before. Pluton’s face was… unexpected.

“Promise me something, Selena.” My real name? I’d told it to Pluton only once, long ago. And the voice—finally unfiltered. Soft, gentle, so unlike the death god’s I was used to. “If we meet KAI in the International Tournament, destroy him for me.” I nodded.

“Of course. We’re a team, after all.” I pulled up his profile again. The reason didn’t matter—if Pluton wanted it, I’d make him change his username to Dead Meat.

That is—if he had the guts to show up.