THE PLAYERS BALL
…to not being able to hear or see at all.
It was dark and there was music, rhythmic sonic concussions pounding through us over and over and over again. And the melody was crashing forth, growling and distorted and… angry. I had never heard anything like it before. And I liked it.
Our eyes adjusted to the dim lighting and there were lights that flashed to the beat of the music, people everywhere dancing, and games. Everywhere there were games. I should have been more aware of where I was because Molly and I seemed to have appeared in the middle of one.
The vast majority of these amusements were encased in boxes with screens much like the ones I had seen on the sides of buildings in Mega City or smaller versions on Captain Starwounder's ship. But in our particular spot there were small motorized vehicles rushing past us on every side
Because they were surprised by our sudden materialization, some of the players became distracted and started to lose control of their mini-racers which began to slide.
I was just starting to get my feeling back when I saw a vehicle coming our way. I wanted to help Molly but there was no need. She was already rolling us out of the way. As the car screeched past us, the driver was desperate to make it stop. I stood up and realized we were in a caged off area. Some relatively normal light came up and three or four of the participants came running up to us.
All at once, they were asking us if we were injured, if we were ok to walk, did we need a drink… If there was a question you could ask a crash victim, they asked it. I looked around and realized my satchel had opened and there were cards scattered around. I picked them up and once again the players jumped in to help.
When they were sure we were fine, the lights went back to their creepy glow and the racers.went back to their course. Molly was watching the crowd and subconsciously joined in the dancing.
"What is this place?" I shouted to her over the music.
"I don't know," she yelled back. "But I love it!:
"You're at the Players Ball," a stranger next to us shouted and then danced away.
Everyone around us seemed to be having the time of their lives. Their clothing glowed under the strange lighting, as did my hair and cloak, Molly's shoelaces, and most people's eyes and teeth.
As we moved through the crowd, I had trouble deciding where I should look. Hero fights, cartoon racing, and a warzone were all being projected onto the walls where players sat in front of them absorbed in competition.
Most of the smaller games were stationed around the perimeter of the vast space, each type having their own section. Close to the middle of the room were more games that were physical in nature. The one that caught my eye had two people doing battle with long staffs, each burning with a different color.
Molly saw my interest and said "Let's go over and take a look."
The space was occupied by two players. They had incredible combat skills and seeing the lighted staffs moving so quickly was enthralling. I studied their technique and I.must say, they were flawless.
"How do they learn to do this?" I asked Molly.
It was still so loud in the room that I could only heat her when she cupped her hand next to my ear and talked into it. "Some players take their gaming very seriously," she said. "There are even those that use a gaming method to learn other skills.:
"Fascinating," I said. "My people learn from observation. If we see something and pay close attention to every aspect, we can usually gain that skill."
"So you could watch these two," she said, gesturing toward the combatants, "and be able.to match them?"
"Well, it takes some practice to master something but, yes. I can watch them and essentially do.what they do."
"That's crazy, TJax!" she said.
We spent a while walking around the Ball, playing some.of the games, and a little.dancing as well. I guess dancing isn't the best way to describe what I was doing. I should say I was rhythmically trying not to fall down. But Molly had her moves down and seemed.to be enjoying.the break from being chased and threatened.
I saw a group of men near the place where the staff fighters had been. They didn't seem to fit in here. Not that any kind of person wasn't welcome, but they just didn't seem like they were comfortable in these surroundings. They stuck to the outside edges of the space and seemed to be looking for someone. But they had no interest in any of the games, no desire to start dancing, And there was no chance they were going to get those clothes rumpled doing anything physical.
They must have found who or what they were looking for because for the first time since I noticed them, they had become excited. I watched them make a path by shoving people out of their way, knocking a few to the ground as they did.
Many of the people they pushed past looked as though they wanted to stand up to them or stop them, but when these men were recognized, they backed off.
When the men came to a stop, they were standing around one of the employees of whatever place we were in. The boy, which is what he really was, did not look them in their eyes. He wouldn't even look at their faces.
While the music was still playing, the activity at the games and the dancing had stopped. All eyes were on what was playing out with these three men.
Molly leaned over to a girl standing next to her and asked what was happening. Here is what we learned. One evening, roughly three months ago, the boy had been trying to clean up a spilled drink. He had a tray that had a few half-full glasses on it and he was bumped by someone who was dancing. This caused one of the glasses to tip over and spilled the contents, mostly just on the tray. But a small amount splashed and a few drops landed on one of the men's jackets.
Since that night, these fools have come to the Ball to berate, abuse, and humiliate the boy, simply because they can.
"But why can they?" I asked the girl.
She told me "Because they are family of this world's High Chancellor and were tight with those in the Realm Initiative's leaders, including Xavier Zed."
"And this is why nobody will help this boy. He is forced to endure this treatment day after day?" I asked.
"Well, yeah," she said with a shrug. "It's not like we have any other choice."
Molly sighed and told me "Do what you need to, but be ready to jump."
With that, I headed their way.
I wasn't looking for.any more trouble. We had had more than our share today. But I had seen the worst of the realms today just as I had witnessed the best as well. In every instance, it was this small group of elitist bullies that were purposely making life difficult for regular people to live happy lives.
As I approached the scene, I saw the man that appeared to be the "leader" of the group start to walk away but then turned and slapped the boy, hard across the face. When this unfortunate victim spun his head around, I could see his desperation.
I stepped between the men and the boy and said to the leader "Apologize, walk out of here, and never come back."
The bullies looked at me slack jawed. One of them said "You look new here so let.me.fill.you in on just who you're dealing with here."
I held my hand up, palm facing the men. "I know who you are," I said. "And because of that I'm giving you the option to leave. If you choose not to, I have other options."
They didn't really understand how to deal with defiance so they began to laugh it off.
"Ok," I said. "It's other options."
The three men were getting ready to fight. Molly came to my side and slipped me one of the lighted staffs. "Go get 'em," she said.
I spun it a few times, from the weight of it. Even in a real battle, this would make a fine weapon. Giving it one last spin, I turned my back to them and handed the staff to the boy.
I put an arm around the boy’s shoulders and spoke so only he could hear. "On your wrist is the same one I see on those of the staff fighters. The same as the one they wear in the disc battle cage and also the virtual combat zone, correct?"
"Then it's time for you to use those skills." I said. I led him to stand before the men and at my side.
"The Realm Initiative is over!" I announced."Your influence and privilege is about to be gone."
"And who are you to threaten us?" the leader asked.
"I am the new lord of the realms. I am the first pure, able born weaver to be born in centuries. I have taken care of Undersecretary Bivens only a few hours ago and I'm gunning for Zed."
"Bivens is my father," one of the other men in the group said.
"Was is the word you'd be looking for, I think," I said to him.
He made a move in my direction and I stepped to one side and gave him a shove. He tripped and almost ran into the boy. Instinctually, the boy in a flash of yellow light, raised the staff in a defensive move, smacked it into the man's head causing him to drop to the floor, dazed.
I looked at the boy and said "Now you're getting it." The boy, wide-eyed and filled with an overabundance of nervous energy, spun the staff just as I had done and set himself in a fighting stance.
The third of this tiny group of bullies launched himself toward me but his path was cut off by another flash of light, this one red from another staff. "Thank you," I told another member of the fighting group.
All around the Ball, weapon lights flicked on and moved toward us. Within seconds, the rainbow hued glow surrounded us where we stood. I then stepped to within arm's length of their leader. I raised my hand. In it was a glowing card.
Just in front of this man's face, a portal opened. "You've never seen such a small powerfully concentrated realm portal like this, have you?" I asked.
This no longer confident man shook his head. "Did you know that with a portal like this I could send separate parts of you to completely separate realms?" I asked him.
Again he shook his head.
"Would you like to see how I do it?" I asked.
He shook his head emphatically and replied "No. I really don't.:
"This place is off limits to you, yes?" I stated.
He acknowledged that he understood.
"These people are off limits, yes?" I asked.
Again, he agreed.
"And this boy, he is off limits, yes?" I said.
The man agreed.
"Say it," I demanded.
"He is off limits," that man said.
"Splendid!" I said. To everyone in the room I said "Fighters, take your places!" Most of them had moved in on us and were now quite close. "Let's give these gentlemen a taste of what happens when you break an agreement with me."
The fighters moved in and the lesson began.
No one at the Ball knew what to think about what they had witnessed but you could see that something had changed for them.
People moved aside when we started walking toward the exit. I took a random, untested card from the pack. It had a star in the corner so I hoped it was somewhere good. Somewhere peaceful.
I spun it in the air in front of us. the portal opened, and we fell away into another realm.