The Last Gunslinger
The Endless Game
The silence that surrounded her that morning was a dramatic change, but Ren appreciated the time alone with her thoughts. The evening before had consisted of screaming fans, countless autographs and endless interviews. Of course, the star had kept her smile the entire time - she truly did enjoy the attention. But it also made it hard to think, to strategize. And she needed to plan before the games began. So she asked to have the morning to herself. Her agent was shocked, but Ren insisted, and he finally allowed it.
The young woman spent the night and following morning alone in her penthouse suite, not waking up until the sun spilled through her window and onto her face. She lay there for a moment, enjoying the over-stuffed pillows under her head and the silk sheets across her body. Practically purring, the Michigander snuggled deeper, already deciding that the time out of the spotlight had been a good idea. Her public relations events had been wonderful, but they had taken quite a chunk out of her sleep time. And the young woman did enjoy sleeping. Ren enjoyed sleeping nearly as much as she enjoyed video games. And eating. She never quite grew out of her teenage years in that sense. Perhaps that was precisely why video gaming came so easily to her.
Throwing back the covers, the girl finally swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood. Four short strides carried her tanktop and boxer shorts-clad figure to the patio door. She plucked a binder off of the nightstand, then slipped out onto the balcony. The Las Vegas heat was something that still shocked her. The Michigan girl despised the heat, and even though it was fall, the temperatures were still much higher than she was used to. Thankfully, there was a bit of a breeze, so it was not unbearable that morning. She needed the fresh air while she studied. Dropping into the whicker chair, and propping her bare feet up on the table, Ren spread the binder across her legs and began to read. She had been over the pages many, many times before, each chapter outlining the stats, bios and play-by-plays of her two competitors.
Ren flipped first to Aki Chon, the strategy competitor. Nothing much stuck out to her when she glanced over his stats a final time. He was also undefeated, meaning that he would put up just as much of a fight as she would. No one wanted to end their win streak on world-wide television like this. She spent only a moment studying Aki, before she flipped to the second half of the binder. This was where she kept her notes on Sebastian, the RPG competitor. Readjusting her glasses on the bridge of her nose, she brought the binder closer to her face so she could study her hand-written memos. “What drives him?” Ren had written to herself in red pen. When it came to Aki, she understood. He came from a competitive family, and he had people he could not let down. Furthermore, his win streak gave him something to fight for. But what about Sebastian? He came from pretty average background, though the fact he was adopted did stand out a bit.
Even more interesting to Ren was the fact that he did not have a perfect win streak. On the contrary, he failed big time the first time he competed in the End Game. It seems that he returned home, reevaluated things, and dramatically improved. His story was so different than her own that she could not help but stare at his picture. “What makes you tick?” She asked herself. She would have to find out if she hoped to beat him.
Half an hour later, Ren emerged from the shower, dripping but feeling clean and refreshed. Nothing woke her up like a cold shower. The remainder of the hour was dedicated to drying her hair and applying her contacts. Her glasses had become a part of her look in the public eye, but she always preferred to compete without them. Then, she pulled on a pair of faded blue jeans, a hunter green blouse and a pair of black converse high-tops. Looking into the mirror again, she had to take pause. What stared back at her was the face of the American End Game. She was meant to look like the all-American teenage girl, despite being twenty-two. Making a quick face at her own reflection, she collected her cell-phone and exited the suite.
She took the private elevator down to the basement level, where her make-up crew and agent were waiting. While the elevator slipped silently down, Ren checked her cell phone. There were multiple text messages from her family, wishing her well and assuring her that they would be watching. It made her smile. She loved her family very much, and they had traveled with her to past events. This time, however, she knew she would need the space. They would be watching from Michigan, with the rest of her small town, in the single-screen movie theatre.
There was a pleasant ping, and the doors silently slid open. Her agent, Dan, was waiting on the other side. He quickly ushered her through make-up, giving her his usual pep-talk while she was loaded down with eye-liner and hairspray. When she was finally released, there was only fifteen minutes until they were live. “Go get’em, Renee,” Dan told her, lightly slugging her on the arm.
She grinned. “I always do,” came her reply.
Once again alone, the young woman climbed the stairs to the second floor, where the event was being held. She pushed open the doors to the stairwell, and entered into a brightly lit hallway. The cheers of the live audience met her at once, bleeding through the walls and the door that rest at the end of the hall. Ren inhaled deeply, then slowly exhaled as she strode toward the biggest day of her life. “Its time to begin, isn’t it?” She whispered the Imagine Dragon lyrics under her breath as she walked, then fell silent as she came to a halt in front of the door. The cheering was now deafening. “Here we go.” She pushed open the doors, and the screams grew louder.
These streets are yours, you can keep them. I don't want them.
They pull me back, and I surrender, to the memories I run from.
‘Chon. Aki Chon. Competitor from southern China. Well educated and from a very successful family. Currently first place in the “Real-time Strategy” and “General Strategy” categories and runner up for the “Roleplaying” category. He has a pristine gaming record with no significant losses and few in-game errors. Strengths involve his ability as a tactician and meticulous planning.’
‘And what’re his weaknesses? How do I exploit him?’
‘I use other players as a distraction. Draw his attention away from my work. While his efforts are focused elsewhere I strike at his heart in a single killing blow. Keep constant tabs on him in the meantime. Alternatively, bring him into a state of emotional stress. If angry or in a state of panic he will overlook the details of his plan and they will fail. Outside of strategy I play as normal. His action game skills are improving but are still beaten by my own.’
‘“Playing as normal” isn’t an answer.’
Sebastian groaned. Nerves were getting to him and he was not in the mood to do anything taxing. Thinking was not something that felt as comfortable as it should. ‘Break from more cautious tactics and strike aggressively against Chon. He will be overwhelmed and struggle to respond. Work in close quarters with powerful weapons and his likelihood of slipping up will be maximised. Planning is still Chon’s strong point so I need to be unpredictable and gain any extra ground I can, especially in roleplaying games. Use knowledge of the environment and world’s history to provide enough character advantages to give me an edge.’
This was Sebastian’s usual tactic for preparing himself. Every game he would analyse his opponents, knowing that they would be doing the same thing. He would talk to himself as he did it of course, just like any sane person would do. He needed to scrutinise their portfolios and learn everything about them. Their skills, their motivations, their experience and their favourite breakfast cereal. Before it had only been brief examinations, picking up on their skills and shortcomings, but now that the finals were creeping ever closer it meant that keeping an eye on his foes was becoming even more vital. He needed to know everything. He kept files on his opponents which were rather extensive but unless he could keep it all in his head to be used at a moment’s notice then it would all be pointless.
‘Mangles. Renee Anne Mangles. A name that sends chills down the spines of most competitors. One of the most ruthless and aggressive players that the End Game has ever seen. With tactics as raw as hers you’d expect her to be here on luck alone, but I don’t think that would carry anyone to the finals. Currently first place in the “First-person shooter” and “Action” categories. Runner up in the “Sandbox” category.’
‘Slow and steady. Her aggressiveness overwhelms opponents and she relies on fear to keep them pinned down. Avoid direct confrontation at all costs, especially in close quarters. In her zeal she’ll forget to keep all of her bases covered. Attacks from the rear, ambushes or simple traps will likely be her downfall. Bait her into vulnerability and strike where she least expects it. Applies to all situations.’
‘Good. You’ve got everything down to the letter… finally.’
‘Sure. You can talk. You’re just half of my inner monologue.’
‘The better half, surely.’
His mind rolled off on a tangent as it always did. It was his imagination getting the better of common sense he had always been told. But it never failed to set his mind straight and made it easier to comprehend events that were happening. Sebastian was still giddy over the fact he had made it passed the qualifications all those months ago and now he was working towards the finals. He was far from prepared for what could be the toughest fight of his life and yet he didn’t fear it. He felt exhilarated, the rush of adrenaline picking up before the event had even began. He wasn’t ready, not by a mile, but he was perfectly willing to go out here and make a fool of himself anyway.
Most of the day was spent killing time. He showered and dressed himself in fresh clothes, pulling a new white shirt on, brown slacks to cover his lanky legs and a waistcoat of the same colour to tie it together. Sebastian’s hair was combed, neatened but was not greatly tended to, and with a delicious combination of eggs, toast and baked beans his stomach was filled. While the urge to leave the hotel room, even just for a walk to pass the time, he resisted. Arguably the least charismatic of the three finalists he hadn’t the need to hide from fans quite as much as Renee or Aki did but that didn’t mean he was immune to it. The End game contestants tended to draw large crowds.
Sebastian scanned over the portfolios he had scraped together of his two opponents once again, twice again and then for a third time. As much as he tried, nothing new was being learned. It was just a repeat of the same old information, over and over. His desperation and fear over the upcoming event ensured that he would not leave that folder until it was all in memory but he couldn’t help but feel that every minute spent revising it was a minute wasted.
Who even are these people, really?
As time whittled by it was only five minutes until he found out who they were. Checking himself over a few more times and patting down the sweat on his brow with a cold flannel, he began to move towards the door of the hotel room. He paused. His stomach churned with every slow step, urging him to stop. His pause was brief, forcing open the hotel room door and stepping into the empty elevator. No regrets. No turning back.
As the elevator kissed the floor and the doors to the lowest part of the hotel forced themselves open, Sebastian was already greeted by an eager attendant who led him through the usual steps before going on stage. He was rushed through hair and make-up which left him looking remarkably the same as he did the moment he arrived on the floor. He went through a few clothing checks which did nothing more than add a black tie to his attire. Sebastian, much to his surprise, saw the two other contestants wandering around the lower floors. Chon and Mangles. He nodded as his passed by them both. A brief chat with his agent Sandra, a woman who Sebastian never entirely got along with but respected regardless, was all he needed before he was ready to go.
‘Don’t get yourself killed,’ she said, glancing up from her phone for a moment before going back to it. Working on one of his business deals, no doubt. Sebastian hoped that she hadn’t roped him into another embarrassing morning news show. Their questions were so invasive.
‘Charming,’ replied Sebastian, passing by her and moving back to the elevator. Please not another morning news show.
Only five minutes left he thought, forcing himself to walk down the corridor to the great metal doors at the end. Another elevator trip to the end of it all. The second floor was bustling with people but thankfully Sebastian was far from it. The elevator led back upstairs to the other side of the hotel, a thin grey passage that led to the staging area. It was so loud up here, even though the concrete and steel he could hear the awaiting crowd, eager to see their champions duel. The cheering grew louder and louder. It didn’t help that the staff were pacing back and forth along the same corridor, occasionally bumping into him. One even came up from the stairwell in a hurry, running over to Sebastian and fastening a microphone to his new tie then running him through the instructions once on camera. Sebastian had been run through them a dozen times before in previous championships. He knew exactly what he was going to do.
He was going to win.