Stages of Mystery: The Secret Garden Nightclub

I like fighting games, even if I suck at them. And one of the things I like about fighting games are the stages themselves, even if the majority of the time, they’re either city streets, some cack-handed caricature of a specific culture or a secret underground base.

Still, sometimes music can give me ideas for stages I would like to see in a fighting game, but aren’t going to happen because 1) I have no means to give them form outside of crap prose, on account of being no game designer while also being a shitty artist and 2) No studio in the world is going to give a toss about the random ideas of some random nobody. It’s an unfortunate reality with basis in both common sense and intellectual property law. And I’m not about to be one of those dicks that go around requesting a free commission either, for reasons that should be obvious.

So what are my options? One, really. I blog them, and I hope they prove some form of entertaining read that keeps me feeding this blog with something other than music and rants. And I might not restrict myself to fighting game stages, either. Just don’t expect any attempts at actual game or level design, because that’s not a set of skills I have under my belt. These are purely descriptions of visual themes, along with a link to the music that inspired it, and in some cases I’ve pulled characters from some of my past NaNoWriMo efforts, because I like to think these characters wouldn’t look out of place in a fighting game.

So, to start, here’s one stage, a forested area sitting atop a nightclub:

High above the smoggy streets of coastal Suncaster, the Secret Garden nightclub lives up to its name, for atop this towering venue rests a small oasis of nature, standing out amongst the concrete jungle below. Though a high steel fence circles the garden protects visitors from an untimely fall, considerable efforts have been made to cover it up though the clever placement of plantlife, trees and vines. Efforts to great success, many would say, as it has been proven time and again that it is incredibly difficult, if not completely impossible to spot the artifical barrier.

A large pond resides in the middle of this rooftop realm, with a low island formed at its centre, adorned with grass of a more vibrant shade of green than has been seen out in the wild. Questions have been asked as to the “authenticity” of this grass — is it real? Who knows, but not a single visitor has denied that it feels real. Up above, the midnight sky is clear, and the ancient light of distant stars glitters among stars not seen before nor identified by astronomers. These stars are only ever seen within the confines of the Secret Garden, and appear to hang directly above this place, rather than countless light years away. In fact, some of these stars seem to have been caught in the very trees that circle the island.

To the north of the lake is what can best be described as a throne, formed and twisted from untraceable roots bursting from the ground to form a central seat for the club’s propietor, a diminuitive and young-looking redhead in a formal knee-length party dress adorned with a mixture of emerald and sapphire sequins, its low-cut back providing room for her to spread her colourful, butterfly-like wings as she sips her champagne and watches the crowd form on both sides of her. The people that form this crowd are similarly dressed and armed with a glass of some alcoholic beverage, though each one lacks any features as distinguishing as that of the fairy on the throne. For all anyone can tell, the entirety of this crowd is human, and as much as they are dressed for a formal party, it appears they are also here for a fight.

A fight that is about to occur in the centre of the island ahead. From the night sky above, an object falls, striking one end of the island with the apparent force of a small meteorite and throwing a cloud of dust into the air. The cloud soon fades, and in the resulting tiny crater, a young woman draws her fist from the point of impact and pulls herself into a commanding stance. Though expected to dress in stark contrast to the partywear around her, the girl’s blue t-shirt, black pleated miniskirt and baggy socks that only just reached below the knee seems a far cry from the protective gear one would expect when entering any kind of battle.

“Ladies, Gentlemen!” the fairy calls out as the girl dusts herself off and straightens her silver pigtails. The winged woman’s voice, though high in pitch and dainty even by human standards, booms across the garden by way of undetermined means. “Taking a little time out from fighting the crime that plagues this fine city, the centennial teen, the immortal vigilante, the one and only… Party Crasher!”

The crowd bursts into an almighty roar of cheers and supportive whistles, a positive cry that travels beyond the confines of the garden. At the other end of the island, a man in a long black trenchcoat marches forward, his head shaved completely clear of any hair while at the same time exhibiting a neatly-trimmed beard that extends just beyond his neck, the only thing that serves as any indication of his natural hair colour. As he approaches an equidistant point opposite the white-haired girl, the greatsword that hangs from his back hisses from its scabbard as he casually draws it over his head and brings it down before him in one smooth slice, planting it firmly into the ground by his feet.

“And tonight,” the fairy on the throne declares. “She’ll be facing the calm that brings the storm… Ragequit!”

Another roar arises from the expensively-dressed crowd. The Party Crasher raises her fists while Ragequit takes a moment to crack his neck both ways, along with his knuckles.

“Hope ya enjoy gettin’ yer head stoved under the ground.” the immortal girl calls out to Ragequit, who simply shakes his head as he pulls his sword from the ground.

“Round one, people?” the fairy announces, both as a declaration and a question to draw the crowd’s attention. “Are you all ready? FIGHT!”

Short Story: Inventory

The moment the back of his head connected with the floor, Mikul’s world went red. Blindingly red, as the pain had instantly forced his eyes shut and sent his hands around to the point of impact in no time. For a moment, he rolled around helplessly before his agony eventually subsided enough to let him open his eyes once more.

He wished he hadn’t, after finding himself in a warehouse that seemed to disappear into every horizon. North and South, East, West, it mattered not. He couldn’t see a wall in any direction. Mikul decided not to pay it any mind and instead looked around at what he could see, and found himself no less bewildered at the equally endless number of glass display cases with immaculate marble bases surrounding him, all arranged in a grid-like fashion. Each one played host to a different weapon: Shotguns, pistols, even swords of various shapes and sizes. Some of them seemed impossible to lift without mechanical aid.

“Mikul!” a voice called out from above. He looked up to a zippered hole above him, hanging unaided in the air. On the other side was the mid-afternoon sky hanging above the suburban road he remembered standing on just minutes ago. “Is everything alright down there?”

Mikul rubbed the back of his head where some of the pain persisted. “Aside from a bit of a headache, I’m fine. Speaking of headaches, Jo, you want to explain this?”

“Long story.” the unseen Jo answered back. “I’ll tell you later. Erm, there should be a combat shotgun nearby. Silver stock and pump, can’t miss it. Toss it up, will you?”

He glanced around, and just as promised, found the shotgun in no time. Silver stock. Silver pump. Without delay, he opened the front of the case, extracted the gun and tossed it up to the gap in space. “Dare I ask why?” A hand reached out to snatch the gun from the air.

“It works best against VAMPIRES!” Jo squealed before a single blast drowned her screams out. Silence followed, and Mikul’s heart shot throatward. Eventually, the smoking shotgun fell back through the hole. Just as Mikul rushed to catch it, Jo called back “Thanks!”

Mikul exhaled in relief that both his partner in crime was fine and that he would not be the next to use the weapon in his hand. He placed it back in its case and awaited the rope that descended from the hole to offer him escape. He couldn’t wait to hear the story of how Jo managed to cram an infinite armoury into a handbag the size of the average hardback novel, though he suspected she would only tell him that a wizard did it, same as all the other long stories.

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Short Story: Pulling a Fast One

He was getting tired now. The fighter’s strength was diminishing by the second, and he could feel the drain on every swing of his greatsword. His self-healing abilities were all used up and too far away from fully recharging in time to save him. In spite of this, however, he pressed on, hacking away at the small army of critters that had surrounded him at all sides, determined to end this increasingly hopeless battle in his favour. There were only a few left, he noted. Victory was fast becoming within reach.

The fighter hefted his weapon high above his head and brought it down upon the crab-like monster before him, splitting the accursed thing in half like a hot knife through butter. A second crab charged him with alarming haste, only to run straight into the heel of his tarnished steel boot, a blow which knocked it back onto a nearby fire that had been kindled some time before the hero’s arrival. He turned to the third monster, realising all too late that it had crept up on him unchecked. Obsidian pincers snapped at the mail protecting his lower torso and tore it apart like wet parchment, as it did the flesh beneath. Undeterred by the new wound, even as his once-silvery leggings turned a glistening red, the fighter hopped back to bring himself alongside the greatsword he had embedded in his first foe and, grabbing the hilt, yanked it from the corpse and lifted it above his head again.

Just as he was about to strike, however, a blue flash caught his eye. Both man and monster halted on the spot to observe another human, draped in muddied robes befitting a field mage, fleeing with the speed of a cheetah. Soon they both discovered what he was running from: another herd of crab-like creatures rushing by in hot pursuit before finally giving up the chase. They turned, as if ready to return to the natural routine they observed before the wizard had disturbed them, but soon laid what passed for eyes upon the fighter. Man and monster alike watched one another for a brief moment before the grim realisation of his situation finally dawned upon the hero: he wasn’t getting out of this alive.

The hero respawned at a nearby checkpoint, just at the mouth of the cave where he met his demise. He took a moment to check his equipment, which sustained a little damage in his fall and, as a result, had lost some of its effectiveness. Determining that the loss was no reason to return to town for repairs, he headed back into its deep dark depths again. The mage rushed by him once more, followed by yet another group of infuriated crabs.

She was getting tired now. The fighter’s strength was diminishing by the second, and she could feel the drain on every swing of her axe. Her self-healing abilities were all used up and too far away from fully recharging in time to save her. In spite of this, however, she pressed on, hacking away at the small army of critters that had surrounded her at all sides, determined to end this increasingly hopeless battle in her favour. There were only a few left, she noted. Victory was fast becoming within reach.

The fighter lifted her axe above her head, but before she could bring it down upon the crab-like monster before her, a voice from the distant darkness unleashed an almighty string of profane language that echoed across the cavern, distracting the hero just long enough for her foes to strike before she could realise the fatal error.

Whoever that bastard was, she thought to herself as she returned to the respawn point, he was so getting the repair bill.

Author’s note: Just something that’s been sitting in my head after a few daft experiences in Guild Wars 2. It’s probably better suited to a webcomic, but I barely have the patience to draw a sloppy bar chart these days.

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Short Story: One Shot

You want to know where I got this nasty old wound above my brow? Be honest now. Okay, very well. I’ll tell you, but you’d better be listening, you hear?

It was 2525 and I was posted on the barren archipelago of Midland. It sits on the equator of Port Merlin. I had the miserable “honour” of guard duty that day, on account of a disagreement with a superior officer of all things, but that’s unimportant now. So there I was, bored out of my skull and melting under the midday suns, wondering who in their right minds would ever consider these god-forsaken dunes on the sea to be of any value and importance when lo and behold, the enemy struck with a force we were ill-prepared to defend our little installation against.

The Andromeda Alliance, never ones to be seen as sound of mind on any day, good or bad, had been picking at us with small skirmishes up until that point, almost like trying to carve through our defences with little more than a chisel, and only then did they throw a hell of a jackhammer our way: a hundredfold extra footsoldiers emerged from the sea like the dreaded fish-people you hear about in 20th-century horror stories, backed up by as many as fifty 54-ARK amphibious tanks and a couple of 57-OMP bipedal assault suits marching across the continental shelf like it were a paddling pool.

We were doomed from the start, believe me. Our own numbers would have struggled against the footsoldiers alone and the walls would have easily crumbled under the force of those tanks. Oh, for sure, we could have probably picked off a good few of those tanks with our own cannons, but the majority would still slip through and punch a hole in the walls assuming the gargantuan assault suits didn’t step on them first or wipe them away with their arm-mounted cannons.

It was a desperate time for us all, and you know what they say about desperate times? Oh for crying out loud, get your mind out of that gutter this instant! No, desperate times called for desperate measures, and none more desperate than my actions that day. Most of the men focussed on the ground troops or tried to strike down the walkers with heavy artillery or missiles. Men who had never taken the time to read up on the enemy enough to know that you can rarely take out one of those buggers with anything short of a god-damned nuke! But it wasn’t a nuke I used that day, no siree.

You see, the shields they were packing will hold off most turret fire and high explosives without fail for an extended period of time, but the Alliance scrimped a little on the walker’s budget, I heard. They never bothered once to try and make those same beehive barriers of theirs dense enough to stop a bullet from a handgun or a rifle. And when I wasn’t being penalised for calling the top brass a bunch of spineless cravens and pencil-pushers, I was the sharpest shot this side of the Horsehead Nebula.

So took a double risk that day: not just the risk of failure but the risk of the penalties for abandoning my post on top of my earlier crimes of the day, but I knew that I was the only one who could turn the tide of a battle weighed unfairly against our favour. I vaulted the barrier behind me and dropped to ground level, making a break for the armoury the moment I’d finished my rolling landing. Ignorant of the protests I received on the way and as I chose my weapon of choice – a Zeus-class shock sniper, I’ll have you know – I raced back to my post and started to load up.

By the time I’d taken aim even the commander started screaming in my ear, demanding that I drop the rifle and pick up something more suited to the task. What did he know, I ask you, what could he possibly know better than I? If he had any better ideas, a large chunk of our losses that day could have been avoided. All around me, good men were powerless to do naught but die, be it under the tracks of those tanks, torn to shreds by their guns or blown to kingdom come. Running wasn’t an option. That just earned you an on-the-spot execution for cowardice, which had me counting myself lucky that the commander himself was reluctant to pop a bullet between my eyes.

Once again, I blocked out all the protests and cries and accusations of being dropped on my head as a baby and focussed all of my attention on seeking out the closest assault suit’s cockpit and lining its pilot into my sights. I did everything in my power to keep my cool, in spite of the chaos and bloodshed around me, and held my breath for as long as I needed to get the shot just right, because that’s all I had before those walkers were on top of us. One shot that could have spelled our salvation or sealed our destruction. I had to get it perfect.

And then… BAM! Exactly as I’d prayed for in my mind, the bullet zipped through the shield better than a hot knife through melted butter, into the otherwise unprotected cockpit and right between the eyes of the pilot. And that was when the real magic happened. The awesome moment nobody under either banner, not even myself, could have seen coming. Whichever way that sorry bastard must have fallen in his death throes also sent the walker tumbling down, but not before staggering right into his other gargantuan friend behind him. If the surviving pilot hadn’t then tried to push the fallen one away, well, he might never have been dragged down with him. Let me tell you, it was a glorious sight to see two of those buggers collapse right on top of the majority of the Alliance’s fighting force before them. Most of the tanks wiped out in one fell swoop while the footsoldiers that didn’t get crushed along with them were torn to shreds, too distracted by the horrifying reality of their shameful defeat. Imagine that, a fighting force large enough to take a city in a day, reduced to nothing in seconds, and all thanks to that one shot, that single bullet that changed everything.

I was a hero that day. Even the commander was more than willing to overlook my transgressions and even offer a promotion, I tell you.

What was that? What does any of that have to do with this wound, you ask me? Well, about twenty minutes later the little bastard riding that walker got one shot in as well. Threw his Xbox controller through the front room window. No, not through the glass. I had it open all day. Yep, called the police about it. Sticking him on ignore when I can remember his GamerTag, too.

Author’s Note:

Admittedly this story was slightly inspired by Thomas “TomSka” Ridgewell’s animated short War. Aside from the basic theme of annoying an opponent during a video game, though, the similarities end there. I do not, under any circumstances, condone the act of teabagging another player.

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This short story is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.