I took one last deep breath before getting up. On my way to the battleground, I walked past my fellow warriors. All of us dragon shifters, some training to get ready for their own fights, some glaring at me. I knew exactly who would be angrily staring at me, and what would be around each corner. I knew all of this by heart. Because this was all the intro of a video game. Yep, this is one of those ‘reincarnated into a favorite game’ deals.
Dragon Fighting Alliance, or DFA for short, is an obscure game released forever ago that captured my heart the moment I got my grubby little hands on it. It featured a delightfully crunchy fighting between folks who were like half dragon and could shift between them (usually going full dragon for big finisher moves), that also had one of the best life sim modes of the time between battles in career mode. And now I was somehow living inside that career mode.
I stepped out to the cheers of a roaring crowd. The locale for my bout looked like a basic fighting ring, but it was magically charmed to handle all the intense fights between ultra-powerful dragons, including shields around it to protect the crowd from the dangerous mayhem.
“This is a big one,” one of the announcers, Graptikulus Krisp, said. I could hear his voice clearly even though he was way on the other side of the arena. “This promising young upstart is making their DFA debut here.”
“You got that one right, Krisp,” the other announcer said. He went by ‘The Beez.'
The career mode dialogue was a bit basic, but I think that’s part of the charm of the game.
Wandering around the ring, I looked out at the crowd, marveling at seeing them in a more real form rather than the JPEGs that filled the stands in the original game.
It was a bit foggy arriving in this place. I didn't remember actually getting to this world. I actually went through a character creator and made my ideal self, that was my first memory in this new place. I didn’t change a lot, keeping my general skin tone, facial features, and my short brown hair, as the me that ended up here was kind of imported in, but I did give myself more reddish eyes because that’s sick, made myself a bit more jacked than I was in my previous life, and made sure the dragon form matched the one I always picked for my created character in the game. I thought a bit about changing my name, but ended up sticking with my own: Amvery Astrell.
When you make your character in game and have your first match, the announcers make fun of you a bit (there are a few names they’d specifically react to, but if you have a name like ‘Amvery’ they typically just have a default line about not understanding what the name was), so I was excited to see what they said about my real name in this new world.
“Her name is Amvery Astrell,” Krisp said.
"Uhhh, Amvery isn’t a name." The Beez said. "You mean 'Avery'."
"It's Amvery. I read it in her documents." Krisp said.
"I am very sad that this poor girl's name is 'Amvery'."
"I like to think it's pronounced more like ahm-vurry. Like curry."
"It’s kinda more like ‘ahm-vree’!” I yelled.
I wasn’t sure if they could hear me. I was beaming at the insults. I didn’t particularly care how I ended up in this world, I just wanted to enjoy the ride. I was so excited I didn’t even look at who I’d be facing tonight. Unless the game glitches out, they put you against a total loser for your first match so you don’t have a hard time if you jump straight into career mode.
My opponent finally arrived, and my jaw dropped when I saw who it was.
A tall blonde lady marched down with a sneer I’d know anywhere. She had her hair tied up and her glare locked on target from the moment she stepped out.
Louise Lumi. My greatest enemy in my old life.
This was some kind of joke, right? Did jumping to this world pick my rival for the total loser? There was no way she’d end up in this place too, right? This was my favorite game.
As I squinted and my one working brain cell worked in overtime trying to figure this out, Louise stood across from me. She had a big height advantage over me in our old world, but it felt like she was even taller now. She was about as athletic as she was before, being a total jock and being in gymnastics and volleyball and a bunch of other sports I couldn’t keep track of.
“Don’t you have anything to say to me?” Louise asked.
“Why would I?” I snapped back. “This is probably just a made-up version of you. You probably can’t even hold a conversation. Why bother talking to you? Just shut up so I can kick your ass.”
“I could say the same for you, so maybe we should get some things clear before we fight,” Louise said.
The crowd was reacting like this was a big epic stare down between legends. To them, it looked like we were just having an extended trash talk session, which I guess we technically were.
“Things like what? Can’t we just fight first?” I asked.
“I’m just wondering if you’re some kind of made-up version from my own imagination.” Louise said.
“Well, I’m not,” I said. “How am I supposed to prove I’m me?”
“I’m…not sure.” Louise said. “I suppose we should say something about ourselves the other wouldn’t know?”
“That’s so stupid.” I said.
“What did I tell you after the PEMDAS dance?”
“I don’t even remember meeting you at that nerdy thing.” I did not have a good time at the academic decathlon dance, but I felt like I would remember Louise telling me something at it.
“There. That proves I’m my own person.” Louise said.
“That doesn’t prove anything!”
“Time for you to prove you’re actually real.”
See? Infuriating. She’d pull that kind of debate move where she acted like whatever she said was the be all, end all and move on to her next attack. Ugh, she was the most annoying person on the planet. And two planets now, from back home to here.
“Crap, are you actually real?” I asked. “I don’t know if I could convey your single-track brain barreling forward endlessly on my own, even subconsciously.”
“And you are just as insufferable as you were before…” Louise said. “With the confirmation that we are indeed our actual selves, and that one isn’t a conjured being of some kind—"
“Like, kind of confirmed. Barely.” I said.
“Confirmed enough for now.” Louise said. “Shall we get to the battle already?”
Ugh, she always said that too right before a fight started when we played DFA.
While Louise was my rival in school, as much as I hated to admit it, she had similarly good taste in video games as I did. There was a small dorky club that played random multiplayer games together after class; mostly DFA when I had a say in it. And Louise, despite her thirty sports and clubs, would still find the time to show up to the nerd squad playing games. And be awesome at them and super competitive and the most fun to play against. Again, she was infuriating. And still infuriating, smugly looking down upon me.
“Fine. Bring it.” That was also my response when she pissed me off to an absurd degree then was immediately like “Shall we get to the battle?” I wasn’t sure if my game playing skills would carry over to real life fighting skills, but I felt ready.
Not wanting her to get all ego trip about getting the first hit in, I leapt into the air, whipping my tail around to attack her. She blocked with her own dragon tail, the deep blue and purple scales glistening under the spotlights. Our base forms were humanoid for the most part, but we did have dragon tails all the time no matter the form. The visual of the fighters with dragon tails on the cover was one of the things that made me pick up the game in the first place, they just look cool!
Fights in DFA started with a button mashing minigame where the two (or more, battles could have up to six competitors in the game). The real life equivalent of button mashing a dragon tail test of strength was basically to strain every muscle at once and scream, but neither of us yielded and I had to jump backwards. A draw in the opening duel was always annoying, because I missed out on a high damage attack right away. Louise was always an absurdly fast button masher, which led to a big debate once where I accused her of secretly having one of those turbo controllers. But no, she was just that good, and her talent seemed to carry over however far away we’d gone. If I lost my first match to her, I’d be humiliated. But it wouldn’t be easy. We circled around each other, as the fight was about to start for real now.
I couldn’t believe my luck. I was in my dream world now, but I was stuck there with her.