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THE SPARK FORM CHRONICLES COLLECTED EDITION


By Matt Doyle


The Spark Form Chronicles Collected Edition

By Matt Doyle

Copyright (c) Matt Doyle 2019


The right of Matt Doyle to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved.


No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or otherwise shared physically or electronically without the express permission of the copyright holder.

This book is a work of fiction and all characters and events in this publication are fictitious. Any resemblance or similarities to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Cover design by Valyce Negative.

Cover artist links: https://www.deviantart.com/valycenegative / https://www.facebook.com/VeeNegative


Cover Font used: Soul Mission by RoCU

This edition was published in 2019.

WICK / CARNIVAL



JOHN FORRESTER - 10:58


The outside of the E(E)SFC is pretty nice, you know, as far as large but pretty ordinary sports arenas go. The new statues either side of the main entrance are pretty funky. No idea what they're supposed to be though. They look like some sort of bizarre four-dimension something or other. Well, not really four-dimension. An artist's rendition of a three-dimensional representation of a four-dimension...I dunno, mess. But a cool mess, that's the main thing. It doesn't really matter how bad something is, as long as it's cool.

I take another quick glance at my watch. Two minutes to go. The doors are already open, at least to competitors like myself, but I have to time this just right or I forfeit the game. Carnival may be at the other side of the building, but she'd know if I cheated. Plus, there'd be no fun in that. No-no, no head starts for me. I shall just have to be content with dancing back and forth in front of the strange statues and waving to the fans as they pass outside the gate. Being a non-discriminatory sort of guy, I also wave to the people who clearly have no idea who I am. I really don't know which ones make me smile more, the ones that look confused or the ones that shoot me looks of pity.

Time check. And I've been foiled by the evils of 'the mysterious gust of wind that blows your hair into your eyes'. I always loved the look of long hair. It has that vintage rock star feel, ya know? I can't think of a single video where the wind machines swoosh it across the guys face and obscure his vision at an inconvenient time though. Nope, I don't think there has ever been even one hit song about not being able to tell the time because the wind has a vendetta against shoulder length hair.

That's OK though. What was that old saying? The hand is mightier than the naturally occurring inconvenience? And so, with a quick turn and a flick of my wrist I vanquish my foe, just in time to see that I'm now...fifteen seconds behind. Whoops.

Ah well, can't be helped.

I grab my bag from beside the four-dimension mess on the right and bound through the main doors and up to the reception desk, where I face obstacle number one, 'staff who follow the rules'.

"John Forrester! Welcome back champ," says 'man in suit with rebellious red tie worn surely for no other reason than to stand out from his black tied compadres'. And so begins the search and chat formalities that comprise the opening stage of the game. While I'm trying to find a way to speed through the process, Carnival will no doubt be facing her own set of challenges. Or repeated singular challenge anyway.

See, this is a race. It's an obstacle course too. At my end, I have to go through the checking in process, the everyday interactions with staff and colleagues, all the little things that make up a normal day but slow you down when you're trying to get somewhere. It's a challenge for me, because while I probably could speed a lot of things up, I can sometimes get carried away with verbal detours and quirky small talk and end up letting things drag on far longer than I intend, much like this train of thought right here. Yup, time may fly when you're having fun, but it's not near as quick as Carnival when she has an open run.

Lucky for me, an open run is one thing she's not likely to have. It's the first day of the tournament, so most of the staff will have arrived early so that they can check everything is up and running. Plus, the race officially started at eleven, so I'd put money on the vast majority of the other competitors already being here too. Which means the corridors should be fairly active, which is great, because her challenge is to reach our changing room without being seen.

It's actually quite dangerous too, because if she were to be seen, then we'd both potentially be in a lot of trouble.

Not to worry though. She's not been caught yet, not once in the last three years, not here, or anywhere else.

Obstacle number two is 'staff that keep you informed' and I've somehow ended up wrapped up in that one before I even clear the first obstacle. Which means that I don't get an early opportunity to make up some ground. On the positive side, I am getting a verbal run down of my schedule for the day. Apparently, I'm expected to be filming my interview for the requestable content thingy in a little over an hour or so. I guess I'll have to get changed pretty sharpish. And what's that 'Mr. doesn't want to leave me to my own devices'? My match is on last? Well I knew that already. The defending champion always closes night one.

I'll be closing night two as well. Losing just isn't an option. Not for me, and not for Carnival.

I finally clear obstacle two somewhere around halfway to the finish line and quickly pick up the pace, breaking into a jog as I turn the corner of one corridor and start heading down another. Being able to pick up speed like this is a new experience for me. Last year, the spare Data Wick in my bag weighed me down a lot more than I expected so I made sure to gut it before packing this time. The shell is pretty strong, but it's definitely the insides that give it the weight. I'm sure there are plenty of techies that would have heart attacks seeing the mechanical carnage back home but rendering it useless really isn't a big deal. No one knows it's just a spare other than Carnival and me, and it's really only here because a competitor turning up without a Data Wick would lead to a whole bunch of awkward questions so it's kinda essential for me to carry it with me until the I reach changing room. That's cool though, pretending is fun.

Another corridor goes by and I speed past several obstacle threes, 'the friendlies', giving them just enough interaction to satisfy their needs, while I try to get a clear picture of where I am. I know where the changing room is because I've requested the same one every year, so I'm kinda running on autopilot at the moment. The problem is, I know that I'm probably way behind Carnival right now, so I need to figure out a short cut if I'm gonna win.

There's no prize for winning. Actually, no, there is a prize. If I win, she doesn't taunt me. She does sulk though. Which is kinda cute. Not cute like the chibi version of her from the Spark Force cartoon, or the cuddly-plushie-thingy they made of her after my first tournament win, just, you know, cute. And pretty amusing. But then, so are her taunts. So, I don't really lose, even if I lose. Which sounds ridiculous in my head.

I glance down another corridor as I sail past, then remember four corridors later that I probably should have turned there and cut through one of the interview rooms. I guess I could double back. Ah, but if the interview room isn't empty then that would probably take longer.

No, I think I should probably just keep going.

I'm nearly there now anyway. It's pretty clear too, which means I'm still in with a shot, so I give myself a little internal cheer, mostly because the tongue-in-cheek self-adoration of a mock-narcissist is harmless fun, but also because an external cheer risks drawing the attention of stealth obstacle threes hidden behind closed doors. It takes until I finish pointing out to myself that that last part isn't as paranoid as it actually sounds to realize that if it's clear at my end, it's probably equally as clear at Carnival's end, and she's a fair bit quicker than me so ...

I round the last corner and sure enough, there she is, casually leaning against the door to our changing room. She tilts her head towards me with a big toothy grin, pushes the door open and walks inside, moving just slow enough to make sure that I catch the triumphant flick of her tail.

I bet she's been there a little while, just waiting to make sure that I see her snatch the win.

I let out a nice big laugh and trot up to the now open door, smiling happily as I prepare myself for Carnival's inevitable decrees of victory.

MEERA THORNE - 11:11


I can see why Jeanine is the lead make-up artist for the championships, but the more she applies, the less I recognize my reflection. It's just so...over-the-top.

This whole tribal thing that's overtaking the right side of my face is too much. I mean, I don't even normally wear eyeliner.

"Are you really sure about this?" I ask as she gently closes my right eye and makes sure that the design joins up before going back to adding a thin layer of solid black inside the thicker white outline.

"Absolutely," she says, carefully altering the angle of one of the points. "I know it's not quite the same as the jacket, but trust me, the crowd will love this."

The jacket. That's another thing I'm not sure about. It's a full length, white, sleeveless PVC trench coat with a gold tribal design running up the left side, reaching over my left shoulder and sprawling out across the back before reaching back over my right shoulder and finishing just above my arm pit.

The trousers and the bra they've given me are white PVC too. The bra is pretty plain, but the trousers have a gold tribal design running up the outside of the right leg. It balances the jacket they said.

I've got a yellow mesh tank top too. I really wanted a plain black vest, but the wardrobe department wouldn't let me have it. They said that this one will match my hair and eyes, but my eyes are more of a muddy gold than yellow and my hair's black. Or it was anyway. After they'd finished making it choppy, they bleached the tips. I kinda wish they'd left it as it was. Or if they really had to dye it, then I'd rather they'd done the whole thing.

The problem is, I know that they're right. People will see all this and think it looks cool. I still think PVC is too sweaty though. Plus, I always thought that people who wear stuff like this are just...I don't know, trying to get people to look at them?

I don't want that.

I feel kinda bare in it too. I mean, I know I am actually wearing a top but it's not like my normal sweater. It feels too open; I can't hide if things get too much. The only saving grace I can see is that they let me have a hood on the jacket.

I hope Hong Chan gets back soon. He's been so supportive, and far more understanding than I deserve. I begged him to help me get here, and now that I am, all I can do is mope about everything. Thinking like this doesn't help much either. He always tells me not to beat myself up so much but every time I remember that, I start berating myself for berating myself in the first place.

I hear him entering the room before I catch sight of his smiling face in the mirror. "Wow! Love the make-up Meera. How's she doing Jeanine?"

Jeanine smiles but doesn't look up from my face. "Nearly done now. She's been an absolute star."

"You hear that Meera? You're a star," he says, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

I don't know how to respond to that. Rather than work myself into a pointless panic, I just blurt out, "Did they say you could come out with me for the match?" The moment the words leave my mouth I start kicking myself for how desperate I sounded.

I guess Hong Chan must have noticed that too, because he gives my shoulder a light squeeze before answering, "Yeah, it's fine. They weren't sure at first, because my contract with Emblem means I'm not really meant to be involved at all. Plus, trainers don't tend to appear on camera much these days. I sorted it out though. I just pointed out that my contract specifically prohibits me from competing, but it doesn't technically say I can't be seen around the arena. The only thing is, they don't want it to look like I'm playing the match for you, so I can't be in the competitor zone with you. I can enter with you and be out by the field though, so you won't be alone out there. Turns out the contract doesn't stop me running my mouth either, so if you make it through today then you won't need to worry about interviews tomorrow either."

I relax a little hearing that.

"All finished" says Jeanine, stepping back from my face at last. "What do you think?"

Hong Chan answers for me. "It looks fantastic Jeanine, thank you."

"Not a problem," she says. "It should last the day, but the air con in this place sucks, so if it happens to run at all, just come grab me and I'll tidy things up."

"I'll do that. Thank you." I manage.

"You're very welcome Meera," she says with a smile. "Well, a make-up artists' work is never done. On to the next one."

Once she's left the room, Hong Chan turns to me again and asks, "So how are you feeling Meera? I mean, really."

He gave me an opening. Why did he have to give me an opening? Now that he's asked how I really feel, I can't stop the panic spilling out.

"I don't like it," I say, my voice small and wavering.

I'm struggling not to cry. The only thing holding the tears back is the thought that my make-up will run and all of Jeanine's hard work will be ruined. "It's not ..." I try to swallow my upset. "... It's not me."

"That could be a good thing Meera. Do you remember what I told you after the marketing meeting last month? About how Meera Thorne and the character Laqueta are different people? Look at it this way. If you look in the mirror right now and the person you see isn't you, then maybe that will make it easier to stay in character. Take everything that upsets you about this and let Laqueta shoulder the burden for you."

My gaze has dropped to my feet and I can't stop shaking. I'm near enough having a meltdown, and over what? A jacket? Some make-up? A stupid top?

I clench my fist in effort to stop myself shaking.

Hong Chan drops to one knee so that he can see my face. He speaks softly. "You can do this Meera. I believe in you."

I nod and try to smile. He's believed in me since the start, that's not the problem. The whole thing is just so overwhelming. It's like a completely different world here. I have to do this though. I have to move forward, or I'll never be ready to meet Fahrn.

LANA DE LA CRUZ - 11:23


"I trust it's all a good fit?" asks Sean.

"Not bad at all," I say, posing in front of the mirror. The show gears they've chosen for me is a single shoulder one-piece swimsuit. It's mostly black, but the front's decorated with lots of crisscrossing blue, red and white lines. They look like the sorta web you'd expect a spider to make if it was all jacked up on coffee. It's far cooler than I was expecting. They've put a couple of slits down the shoulderless side too, running to just above the hip. I dunno why, I guess thought it would look edgy or something, but it's all good.

They gave me some knee high boots as well, 'cause that's apparently what's sexy at the moment. I'm cool with that though, if you've got it, flaunt it, I always say. The boots are black like the swimsuit, and they zip up along the outer sides. They've even managed to recreate the hyperactive web thingy by tying the laces at odd angles and dying parts of them blue and red.

Yep, this'll do nicely.

"Good. I understand that Rebecca did your make-up. Any problems?"

"Nope. Totally professional." I reply cheerily, striking another pose.

"That's good to hear. Right then, you're first on, so we'll need you to report to the sound and lighting techs pretty soon. They'll run through any entrance specifics with you and you'll be able to pitch ideas during the meeting. They usually have something in mind but they're generally quite flexible if a competitor has an idea that's useable. You'll be entering to some mid-paced Latin Dance Music by the way."

"Really?" I cut in. "Aren't we bordering a bit on racial stereotyping with that?"

He shrugs. "We're playing to the lowest common denominator here. Stereotypes are easier to understand."

I roll my eyes.

"Anyway," he continues, scrolling through the schedule on his phone, "after the tech meeting, you'll need to register your deck at the main competitor's desk."

Oh shit.

"If you prefer, I can take you past there on the way through though. It's not a major detour and the invigilators should have everything up and running by now. Thinking on it, that may best. I'll call ahead before we leave and check that they're ready. The process is fairly quick, so ..." he trails off, finally looking up long enough to notice my embarrassed smile. "What?"

"I may have left my deck at the hotel."

Sean's jaw drops open in shock. "You may have left it at the hotel, or you have left it at the hotel?"

"OK," I say, slowly, "I have left my deck at the hotel."

He stares at me in disbelief, his mouth trying and failing to work its way around an appropriate response.

"C'mon," I say, "it's not that bad. You've got cards here, right? I know what cards are in my deck. I'll just borrow some duplicates and use those today. It's cool."

"It's not that simple. We only keep a couple of basic sets and a handful of rarities on hand here." He taps away at his phone a few times then looks up and asks, "What Spark Form were you using?"

"The Ashen."

He sighs. "Which version? Actually, scratch that, we don't have any Ashen cards on hand at all."

"Shit. OK, well, can you call me a taxi?"

"A taxi?"

"Yeah. I'll go back to the hotel, grab the deck and come straight back here. I can register it as soon as I get back."

"That's all well and good, but what about the sound and lighting meeting?"

"Tell the techies to put something standard together. I was just planning to shake my booty anyway. Look, I won't even get changed before I go, that'll save some time, right?"

Sean scrunches his eyes and takes a deep breath, exhales and uses his free hand to wipe the sweat from his face. "Fine, we'll do that. Get yourself to the front desk and I'll get the transport sorted out now."

And with that, he's already out the door, his fingers flying over the screen of his phone.

I shake my head and look back to the mirror, admiring how good my show gear looks again. All those hours in the office gym really paid off. I blow my reflection a quick kiss, then turn with a wink, glancing back just long enough to confirm that I look as good from behind as I do from the front before skipping out of the room and heading towards the main entrance.

JOHN FORRESTER - 11:27


It's nice to see the wardrobe department gaining some new blood this year. This guy's so jittery it's great! I dunno, maybe this is his first proper job or something. All I know for sure is, it's hilarious watching him panic all the time.

Right now, he's fretting over trying to get my arm markings just right. See, Carnival's natural body markings glow electric blue. I think they're probably meant to do it all the time, but she seems to be able to turn them on and off as she pleases, which makes it a lot easier to skulk around when we need to. Anyway, I thought it would be pretty cool if we both glowed the same way when the lights go down for our entrance. So basically, this guys' job, whether he chose to accept it or not, is to use fluorescent paint to create matching markings on me.

Now, the highlights under my eyes were pretty easy, even with me pretending that it tickled far too much and scooting about like a child on his first trip to the hairdressers, but my arms are a little bit more difficult. Not only are there a lot of marks to paint, but I've been kinda insisting that he attempt to get the shape right too. I've even given him a few of my best diva pouts if they aren't spot on or close to. I mean, I'm not really that fussed, but making him think I am...well, that was just too hard to resist. It could be worst though. I could have neglected to mention that I'll be wearing fingerless gloves and insisted that he paint my hands too.

"OK, I think," he pauses, looking back and forth between myself and Carnival. "No, no, I think that's...yes, I think that's done. Yeah. We're done. I think."

"Fantastic. But, um ..." I intentionally draw out the trailing off, his expression getting more and more worried the longer it goes on.

"Wh-what is it Mr. Forrester? If you're unhappy at all, I can always redo anything you need me to. Again."

"It's just," I say, my voice dripping with mock concern as I lift my arm up and down a few times. "Well, I can't really see all of it. That and, from here, the bits I can see are upside down. Not really upside down, I mean my view is upside down. Could you maybe take a photo for me?"

"Oh," he replies, obviously relieved. "Yes. Yes, of course I can."

I stick my arm out and move into better light for him. It takes him a few attempts to get a decent shot on his phone, probably because his hand is shaking slightly, but he gets there in the end. Feeling particularly mischievous, I look back and forth from the screen to Carnival a few times then shake my head and say, "you know, it's hard to tell. It looks right but, I don't suppose you could hold the picture up next to her arm, could you?"

My current favorite plaything nods and wipes the sweat from his forehead. I really should get his name, but I'd feel kinda silly asking for it after all the time he's spent working on me. He walks over to Carnival and holds the phone up as requested, so I reward his obedience by leaning forward and tutting a few times before saying. "Hmm...can you zoom in?"

"Zoom in?"

"Yeah, you know, get the markings on the photo to the same size as the ones on her arm. Just so I can be sure," I add with a smile.

He nods and does so, taking his time to make sure that I don't have any reason to say he needs to adjust the zoom, then looks at me for approval, his eyes pleading for mercy. Being a nice guy, I grant it with a happy, "You know, I think you've done it. This is some fantastic work."

You can see him almost collapse with relief as he replies, "Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Forrester." Just as I'm about to respond, a strange expression washes over his face and he glances back to Carnival, then turns back to me looking somewhere between confused and concerned.

"You OK?" I ask.

"Yeah," he replies, "It's just that I could have sworn that...no, never mind. It's stupid."

I burst out laughing. "I'm covered in paint so that I can go on TV, play a game of cards and pretend that that makes me a celebrity. Stupid's fun."

"I, um," he says, nervously scratching his head, "some of the other staff said that, last year, they thought they saw Carnival walking around on her own. Like, without you and stuff."

I nod. "I heard that too. Do you want to know something really freaky? Sometimes, when it’s just me and her, I swear I walk by her, look back and she's...different somehow. Just subtly, you know? Maybe her hands were in a fist, then they weren't, or her ears are hanging differently, her mouth's slightly more open, stuff like that. I mean, really, it's probably just a glitch, right? All that tinkering I did so that she could stay on this long without overheating the Wick and the stuff that gets her from one place to another, it all mucks about with the system, so you kinda expect it. What really gets me though, really freaks me out are the quiet times. Carnival's on pretty much all the time, so when I'm in a changing room or a hotel, I'll be sat there relaxing and I'll hear this little sound coming from her."

"A sound?"

"Yeah. I can't even describe it, it's just...there, ya know? Like those scenes in horror films where you catch something in the background but it's too quick to really see? So anyway, I'll get up and I'll go over to check her out just in case something's going wrong with the Wick, right? Every time, every single time, I swear it's the same thing. I'll look her over, I'll run a scan or whatever and there will be nothing wrong. Nothing. Then, when I stand up and turn to walk away, I'll feel it."

He swallows hard. "Feel what?"

"It's so creepy but," I pause and tap the back of my neck. "Right there."

"What?" he asks, nervously rubbing his hands.

"I can feel her breathing."

He opens his mouth to respond, but stops before he can start, his eyes suddenly widening in shock. Just as suddenly, he seems to shake himself out of the funk and quickly grabs his things, garbling a quick thank you as he flees the room.

Once I'm sure we're alone again, I give Carnival a bemused grin and ask, "You blew on him, didn't you?" She responds by letting out a mock offended snort, her eyes the picture of innocence as she waves her arms as if to say "Who? Me? How could you think such a thing?"

Nope, there's no way I can fight it. Here comes a good old fashioned bout of uncontrollable laughter.

FAHRN - 11:30


"Yup," says Jeanine, looking my reflection up and down while she continues to braid my hair. "You're right. They've done a much better job this year."

Jeanine is the supervising make-up artist for the championships. For the most part, her role involves matching up the various competitors with a suitable member of her team, but she does take on some of the jobs herself. Usually it's the more complex work, but in my case, I just trust her more than I do the other staff. She's probably one of only two people here that I'd consider a friend.

"Well, I won't need to ask Maria to re-stitch anything at least," I say with a smile, and Jeanine laughs.

For the last few years, the wardrobe department have sent me out in old army boots, a cheap pair of camouflage combat trousers, an army style cap and a scrappy vest top. Last year, the trousers started falling apart half an hour before my final match with Forrester and Maria had to do a makeshift stitching job for me.

This year, they've actually put something new together. The trousers are a fairly decent pair of black jeans with ten white leather panels running up the outside of the left leg. Each of the panels contains a single, black letter, spelling out the word 'Starchaser'. The right leg has been cut off about three quarters of the way down my thigh, so that my knee prosthetic is on display. That's something I've been requesting for years now, so I'm happy that they've finally taken that on board, but I don't doubt that some bright spark probably claimed the idea as their own.

I've also got a half skirt thing. It's basically a triangle-ish of white material attached to a black belt that buckles up on my left side, leaving it to fall down my right leg and leave the audience guessing how far up my thigh the jeans are cut. It's decorated with a copy of the Offland Barcode Tattoo from my left hand too. I thought that was a nice touch. The army boots have been switched for a comfortable pair of hard wearing work boots and instead of tying my hair in a ponytail and poking it out the back of a cap, they're letting me have it braided and kept away from my eyes with a bandana.

The vest top has stayed, but I'm OK with that. I'm not in the shape I used to be, my knee stops me from doing my old routines most of the time, but you wouldn't think that I'm about to hit forty. The only thing I'm not so sure on is that it shows a bit more cleavage than the old one did. I'm not against sex appeal, but given my role on these shows, I'm not sure I should be aiming for any sort of positive reaction from the crowd at all. I worry about how Maria will feel too. I mean, she's not really the jealous type but I wouldn't want her to feel uncomfortable if people start taking notice.

"Speaking of Maria," says Jeanine, "She OK? I haven't seen her about today."

"She's fine," I reply. "She'll catch up a bit later. She was so tired this morning, I told her to go back to bed for a bit."

"Tired eh? Long night last night, I bet," she says with a wink.

I feel myself flush slightly and quickly change the subject. "Hey, do you have anything that would make my hair look like stars?"

"Stars?" she asks, eyeing me curiously and starting on another braid. "That doesn't sound like you."

"I was at a club last week," I explain, "and there was this guy on the dance floor. He had really long, dark hair and whenever the light caught it, it looked like he had stars in it. I thought that if it was a spray or something then maybe we could do the bottom half of my hair in it." I pause, then quickly add, "You know, kinda play into the living among the stars thing."

Jeanine nods. "It was probably just a decent glitter spray. I can see what we have, but half your hair might be too much. Actually, I think I have a spray that's like a UV tinted glitter. If we do a thick layer at the end then fade it out by, I dunno, maybe a third of the way up, it'll look really good." She finishes the last braid, smiles and says, "Maria thought he was cute, didn't she?"

I blink. Have I really become that transparent? I sigh. "Yeah."

Jeanine laughs again. "Love is a wonderful thing Fahrn."

CONNOR FORD - 11:47


Thoroughly depressing is what it is. Every day, I swear my reflection looks a little older and every day my hands find some new bump or crevice.

"Oh, to be young again," I sigh.

My eyes scan the room as the mirror sees it and I catch sight of my new robe hanging on the rail by the door.

"Awkward bloody thing".

It's actually a replica of my original robe from the first championships. All red with white fur trimming and some sort of ridiculous feather motif embroidered in silver all over the front of the monstrosity.

"Third I finished that year, third, yet what do they remember me for?" I ask my reflection. "The bloody robe."

The worst of it is that I threw the damned thing on at the last minute because no one told me that I was supposed to have a costume until ten minutes before my first match. I found it in a bloody closet and the sodding thing became so synonymous with me that I was stuck with it after that.

I looked ridiculous in the thing in my 20's and I look infinitely worst in it now that I'm in my 60's.

"Bastards".

I catch the light at the bottom of the door becoming obscured just before the inevitable knock comes. Feeling as cantankerous as I do, I wait for the shadows to start shifting awkwardly before responding with a suitably gruff, "Well open the bloody door then".

The young lad that pushes the door open looks petrified. Good. He can suffer my indignation the same as every other ...

"Sorry Mr. Ford sir, I've been sent to give you these," he says, holding out a small wad of papers. "They, um, they want you ready for filming in fifteen minutes".

"Interrupting my train of thought, are we? Well you presumptuous little shit, you can tell them I'll bloody well be there when I'm ready and not a damned second earlier. Are we quite clear?"

He puts the papers down and starts to fidget awkwardly, clearly unsure what to do next. I wait for signs that he's about to say something then cut him off with a hate-filled glare and a cry of, "Well fuck off then," sending him fleeing from the room, pale as a sheet.

Now that made me smile.

SPARK FORMING: A HISTORY OF THE BEASTS


Words fade in onto the plain black screen, the simple, bold white font making them clear on the screen. They read:


Following the 2916 World Championships, Emblem announced a new competition to create the opening video package for the 2917 World Championships. The competition was open to all first year students in Arts based Colonial Colleges and Universities. The grand prize for the winners would consist of VIP tickets to the 2917 World Championships and an additional £3,000 bursary for each participating student.


After a long deliberation process, the judges awarded the prize to the students of the Quadro University of Killer Kreative Arts, the popular center of learning in the Quadro Colony's Alternative Quarter.


The video was created as a collaborative piece between several departments and features a retelling of the fictional history of the various Spark Form characters, as originally published in the first official Spark Forming Rulebook.


As the last words fade out, the musical score kicks in and the title appears on the screen reading, 'A History of the Beasts'. The words soon fade out and we are treated to an impressive animated trip through the Spark Forming back story, the narrator reading the original text word for word.


"There are many worlds beyond our own, or so the stories say, and each follows its own destiny until such a time that, like all things, it comes to an end. Sometimes however, 'the end' becomes something other than final.

"The world known as Ka'Noxus was once a colorful land, cooled by the westerly breezes of the three seas and warmed by two small suns. The creatures of this world were known as Spark Forms, called so because they believed themselves born from the Eternal Spark of life that dwelled within their world. Though vastly varied, the Spark Forms lived in relative peace, each race respecting all others’ boundaries, laws and cultures. Conflicts were rare and were resolved amicably by the mediators of the land, High Priests of the Deities that presided over all existence in the realm. All was well.

"That is, until the days of the devouring.

"From beyond the stars of their home world, the Mott came and sought sustenance in Ka'Noxus, gorging themselves on all living things that wandered across their path. Taken entirely by surprise, the Spark Forms soon found themselves hiding from the invaders, terrified to set foot outside their own homes.

"Seeing their people suffering, the leaders of the Lopine, Vulthera and Drakalia tribes sought to rid their world of the invaders and so formed a triumvirate of command. Although many died in the coming days and nights, the Spark Forms were able to drive the Mott from Ka'Noxus and set about restoring their world to how it once was.

"Alas, this return to peace was not to be. The Deities of Ka'Noxus had themselves suffered as the once fruitful land was turned to dust in the wake of the now departed Mott and now found themselves unable to assist their people in their time of greatest need. The Spark Forms themselves became restless and territorial, with even the once strong Triumvirate falling prey to greed borne of having little left to hold onto. The various races began to quarrel and fight amongst themselves and minor conflicts became bloody battles. They began to defy not only their own laws, but also those of the Deities, forcing the struggling spirits of the land to hand out their own, often harsh punishments for transgressions.

"The world known of Ka'Noxus was slowly torn apart by War.

"Their minds perhaps mirroring the tortured land they dwelled in, the Deities took the most drastic of action. 'It had become apparent,' they said, 'that the once peaceful ways of the past could not return with such conflict present in the land.' And so, they decreed that all but a handful of each race would be taken to the spiritual land of the Eternal Spark and frozen in a state of partial existence. Those that remained in Ka'Noxus would continue to fight amongst themselves until they could fight no more. As the last of each race fell, their frozen people would be taken into the Eternal Spark to provide the energies to heal the land. When but one race remains, their fellow Spark Forms will be returned to the land and the Deities shall use the Eternal Spark to allow the world to be reborn, with but one race of Spark Forms to reside there, free of conflict.

"Now, the Spark Forms battles continue ..."


DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN FORRESTER


The orchestral score starts slow as black and white stills of John Forrester and Carnival at last year’s tournament flash across the screen. The music starts to build to a crescendo just as we reach of a shot of their entrance for the final. The picture quickly grows to fill the screen and the electric guitars kick in just as it becomes mobile, segueing into a fill blown highlight package of the champ and his Spark Form's winning performance against Fahrn Starchaser. With the last guitar chord ringing out, the picture freezes again and fast zooms in on John's face, settling finally on his right eye.

As the music fades out, the color fades in, the picture lingering only briefly on the icy blue tone of John's eye before quickly zooming out to a full body shot, just in time to catch his customary salute and grin as he launches into one of his famous rapid-fire deliveries.

"Waaaa-sup! Ya know, ever since last year I've been itching to get back in here. I mean, that tournament was great, it really was, and everything that followed, wow! That whole year man, just, wow!"

Never having been one to keep still for too long, John runs one hand through his shoulder length hair and begins to fidget as he continues, "But this year, this year is gonna eclipse all of that, and you Finn McCourt are the first step."

Seemingly without pausing for breath, he half-hops-half-strides backwards, sweeping his arms out in an exaggerated motion as he leans towards the camera, his grin unwavering. "See, you came through the same regional as me, so whether we like or not, we got that whole local rivals thing going on, which is in itself pretty ridiculous 'cause I’ve never even met you before, but that's the way it is, right?"

Finally, he gives a pause and a small laugh as he looks away from the camera for a second then quickly snaps his head back around, fixing the lens with a content stare as the image zooms in.

"So. Finn. I'm not gonna claim that I'm gonna beat ya just 'cause I'm the defending champ. I am gonna beat ya though," he says with a wink, "just because".

We fade to black.

JOHN FORRESTER - 12:30


"And clear."

"Any good?" I ask, catching the incoming water bottle and flipping the cap open for a quick gulp.

Sean, this years' organizer, gives the cameraman a nod and a pat on the back, sending him on his way as he turns to me and replies, "Brilliant as always. I just wish everyone was as easy to work with".

Now, why do people always have to pique my interest while I'm busy taking far too much water into my mouth at once? I swallow, forcing the whole mouthful and a half down in one go and my body rewards me with a short coughing fit.

"Are you OK Mr. Forrester?"

"Phew. Oh yeah, that's some good water. So, who's giving you jip?"

Sean scratches his arm nervously and looks slightly embarrassed, but offers no resistance to my line of questioning. He knows full well that he probably shouldn't talk about it with me, but he also knows full well that now he's let even a hint of it slip, there's no real point trying to stop me finding out. I just keep smiling and watching until he lets out the inevitable sigh that signals the start of the fun.

"Where do I start? Connor Ford's been terrorizing the runners, interviewers and anyone else that gets near him. The latest Djorkiev refuses to speak to anyone, including interviewers. Meera Thorne doesn't seem to have a clue how to talk at all. Lana De La Cruz forgot her deck, and no-one's been able to get hold of her since she left the building to go and get it. Slade Fury seems Hell-bent on devouring even more than last year and Fahrn Starchaser's already pissed off at least one fan by rebuffing their offer of a drink with a right hook."

That last one tickled me enough to cause me to spray water everywhere as I burst into laughter. "Oh man, Fahrn tried the same thing with me when I offered her a handshake after I beat her last year. She really lives her character, doesn't she? It's like she's convinced that the cameras are on all the time. Let's be honest though, was it really that bad a reaction? I mean, whoever it was probably wanted her to take a swing. And Slade...Slade is Slade. He's enjoying himself while he's here, that's all."

I take another quick gulp as a way to head of a dry cough that's building in the back of my throat. "Now, Connor Ford, he's an interesting one. You met him yet?"

He shakes his head, and I continue.

"I have. Saw him at a few cons before I started taking playing seriously. Tell ya what though, the queue got shorter each time. The rumor I heard was that he's in a ton of debt and public appearances aren't cutting it anymore and that's why he's here. Having spoken to him over a dusty autograph table though, I can tell you this. If he acts like he hates you, he probably does. You and the rest of the human race."

Sean shakes his head and sighs. "Wonderful."

Undeterred by his lack of enthusiasm for peoples' quirks and foibles, I continue. "I couldn't tell ya what's up with Dorian. He'll be under a lot of pressure with the whole Djorkiev legacy bit his father's been going on about though, so it's not really surprising that he's trying to avoid too much attention before his match. It's not like he qualified comfortably or anything, so my guess is he's trying to avoid being questioned about his chances until he's at least tried to make up for failing to live up to the hype. So that leaves Meera. Meera, Meera, Meera..." I bring the bottle to my lips again but stop short of taking another sip as my mind drifts back to the first round draw. "Oh, Laqueta. She's the young girl, right? First time she's even entered a Regional, yeah?"

He nods and I reply, "It's probably just nerves. She'll be fine, I'm sure."

Sean sighs again and says, "Yeah, well, nerves or not, she's just lucky her trainer got clearance to deal with any on-screen talking for her. If he hadn't, she'd have probably guaranteed herself a round one exit so that we could avoid an on-camera train wreck in the semis. I told her that much myself."

"Seems a bit harsh. Her trainer any good?"

"It's Hong Chan."

"The Hong Chan? Lucky girl."

Oddly, that seems to exacerbate Sean's bad mood and his tone takes on a suddenly hard edge. "He's wasted on her. She hasn't got his flair for the game and if she plays like she did in the Regionals then she's going home early."

I could respond to that but somehow it seems more fun to let him stew on it for a bit. I like this game. I call it the 'who's-gonna-break-the-awkward-silence-first-game'. Of course, the best way to play is to not tell the other person it's just a game. After about fifteen seconds, Sean's face looks like we've been standing here for hours. Finally, he gives in.

"I think it's about time that I checked on the other interviewers. Good luck in the first round Mr. Forrester, I expect I'll see you again tomorrow."

I nod politely and watch him hurry out of the room. I bet Connor Ford will be a great one to play this with.

CONNOR FORD - 12:40


"Well isn't this just marvelous? Where is the blasted woman then? I suppose this is your idea of karma is it? I take umbrage with being harassed by the bloody staff and you let my opponent go gallivanting off somewhere, is that it? If I'd known you were going to muck me about like this, I'd have made damn sure I was far more than hour late for this nonsense."

"I'm not really sure what happened Mr. Ford. The last I heard was that she'd forgotten her deck and had to head back to her hotel room get it, so we had to reshuffle the running order."

"She. Forgot. Her. Deck. Oh, she will bloody well pay for this; you mark my words. I should be relaxing in my changing room right now, not standing here with some scruffy, whatever your name is."

"It's Church sir. Robert Church."

"I don't give a damn what your name is Church. And don't even think about dubbing any music over my interview. I come from an era when people's words were strong enough without needing any artificial emphasis being created by some oiks who think they're competent musicians."

"Well, actually, we're not using music during the actual interviews this year. Apparently, it doesn't come through too well on some mobile devices, so ..."

"... Isn't that just wonderful. All that money coming in from our hard work entertaining those paying customers of yours and you can't even bring yourselves to invest in some decent audio equipment. But then why would you want to help out some poor struggling musicians, just starting out on their careers when you could pay some big bonuses to the arena staff instead, eh? Yes, holding a camera or microphone, that's far more deserving of pay than something simple like playing a musical instrument, or composing a custom symphony, isn't it?"

There we go, he's finally started to look uncomfortable. He's not even sure if he should respond at all. Now, I just keep scowling and wait for the right moment. Yes, now he's checking his watch, that may do.

"Worried about the time are we Mr. Church? Well now, we can't be having that can we? Oh no, the ever so important Robert Church must have things done on time. Well then, if you're that bloody concerned then we better get this over and done with, hadn't we? I certainly wouldn't want to be held responsible for making you fall behind with whatever world changing plans you must have."

There. I saw the little twitch in the corners of his mouth. He's angry now, he wanted to say something, but he thought better of it. He simply nods and picks up the camera like the obedient little arena slave he is. Good boy. Now you've learned your place.

DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT: AN INTERVIEW WITH CONNOR FORD


The video starts in silence. We see several brief clips of Connor Ford in action, each one fading seamlessly into the next, the footage lingering longest on his five championship wins. The final handful of clips focus on his final match, an exhibition victory over Reed Martigan, the man who eliminated him in the semi-finals of the original tournament.

As the video zooms on Ford's ever somber face, the screen fades first to black, seemingly freezing for a few seconds before returning with a shot of the bottom of a familiar robe. The camera pans up, allowing the studio lights to catch the silver embroidery perfectly as we finally see Connor Ford as he is now. He may have aged, but the intensity has not faded from his face and his voice remains as self-assured as ever.

"It has been a very long time since I set foot in an arena. I look around me and I see that the landscape has changed considerably in my absence. Well, you can change the people, but you cannot change history.

"I am the only five-time world champion this sport has ever seen, and when the dust settles tomorrow night, I promise you I will be standing right here as the first six-time world champion."

The camera zooms in on his face.

"Lana De la Cruz. I will not allow myself to be made to look a fool. If you wish to avoid the same, I suggest you prepare yourself well."

He walks off shot, and we fade to black.

MEERA THORNE - 13:00


This is ridiculous. The observation area was only two corridors from our changing room. Just turn left twice and you're there. Or was it turn left when you're coming back from the observation area?

It's not like it matters much now anyway. I've already turned left and right at least six times. I thought I was doubling back on myself, but all the corridors look the same. I could have asked the staff outside the kitchen for help, but I was too embarrassed. Plus, there were four of them, I can't talk to that many people at once. I struggle to follow things when there's just two people, and the more people there are, the more paranoid I get that they're judging everything I say.

I can feel the panic setting in. My heart's beating quicker and quicker, my head's getting cloudy, I can't take in enough air...Hong Chan says I can fight it though. He says I just have to remember that I'm in a safe place and that I should concentrate on staying calm.

Stop.

Close my eyes.

Take deep breathes ...

"Hey! You OK?"

"Hong Cha ..." I begin, turning expectantly, but the name drops off into a quiet, "Oh," when I realize it's not him but John Forrester. I don't really know how I'm supposed to react to him. Am I supposed to be star struck because he's the champion or does qualifying myself mean that we're meant to be equals? My body seems to have decided on a mix of scared and confused, so at least I know that I'm wrong.

"Aww. I mean, Hong Chan's great and all, but am I really that disappointing?" he asks, bounding across the hall with his bottom lip jutting out.

Well done Meera. Someone tries to be friendly and you manage to offend them. I look down at my feet and start rubbing my wrists nervously. "No, I...I'm sorry, I ..." I mumble, struggling to keep my eyes on him for more than a second at a time before they dart back to my boots in a flurry of blinks.

"It's cool, it's cool," he says, laughing, "Don't take me so seriously. Hey wait, you're Meera Thorne aren't you? Err, Laqueta, yeah?"

I nod, swallowing hard.

"Awesome. You're third on, aren't you?"

I force my eyes up to look at him, but my throat's dried out and my head won't budge to nod again.

He blows some stray hair out of his eyes and gives the back of his neck a quick scratch. "You've got Dorian too, right? It's a good spot for you. First match crowds are kinda tetchy about things, so having two debuts in there would be asking for trouble, especially given neither of you have done many public appearances in the lead-up. I mean, I know they've got you doing the Silent Warrior thing so it makes sense that you wouldn't be saying much, but Dorian's got a lotta history on his shoulders and the expectations are running high." He shrugs. "I dunno, maybe talking a little about it all would've warmed the crowd to him a little. I think they're pretty fifty-fifty between hoping for him to step up his game and hoping he flops right now."

"Hong Chan said his Dad was really good," I reply, suddenly becoming aware that my right hand is now reaching across my stomach and nervously rubbing my left arm. I'm not even sure when I started doing it, much less how to stop.

"He really was," he says, with a nod and a smile. "I always thought his Gran was better, but most people prefer his Dad. I think it's a generational thing, ya know? A lot of the fans either remember him or heard their parents talking about him so they just kinda associate him with the name. I like the old footage though. Classic matches are classic matches even if you are waaaaaaay too young to remember them first time round. Ooh! Did you see that they've updated your e-posters? They're all black and white and edgy with this cool rainy sorta effect. They're really cool, you should check them out. Love the make-up by the way."

I manage to tear my right hand away from my left arm and let it drop to my side, where it starts tapping at my leg. "I...I will. I'll have a look. Later," I add, forcing a smile. I'm not sure I really want to. "And thank you. Jeanine did the make-up."

"I thought she might have. So, what brings you round this end?"

"I was looking for the observation area. I heard that Fahrn's match was first on now and I, um, I wanted to watch. But I got lost."

"Oh? Did you know Fahrn or were you scoping her out for the semis?"

"No. I mean, I met her before. A long time ago. I wanted to...I wanted to speak to her."

John smiles and lets out a small giggle. "Well don't be offended if she gives you the brush off. I don't think she's ever out of character, at least while she's in the arena. Anyway, let's see," he continues, pointing back the way he came. "The quickest way there from here would be to head back that way, turn right at the end, then take the first left and the first left again."

I lift my head and look where his hand is pointing. "Right, left, left. OK." I make an effort to make eye contact. "Thank you."

"Not a problem at all. And you don't need to be so nervous, you'll be fine," he says, giving me a playful pat, just below the shoulder. He blinks. "Anyway, I'm gonna go and rest up for my match. Good luck tonight. With Dorian and Fahrn."

There's a natural bounce in his step as he walks quickly to the other end of the corridor, pausing just long enough to say, "Laters," while giving me a quick salute, then turning the corner.

It's strange. When he touched me, I could have sworn he paused for a moment. His face changed too. He looked confused, I think? No, I'm just being paranoid again. I better head back before I get myself any more lost.

DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT: AN INTERVIEW WITH FAHRN STARCHASER


We fade in on a shot of a crutch resting on the floor. The camera quickly pans out to a side shot of Fahrn Starchaser leaning casually against a plain wall, her head down, arms crossed, and eyes closed. After a few seconds of silence, she sighs, opens her eyes and looks to the camera. "Progress. It's the one thing humans are supposed to strive for. It's what Science Fiction promised us. Real life though? It failed to deliver."

"I mean, come on," she continues, her head moving in synch with her arms. "You've all seen the latest batch of planetary exploration clips. All that top quality grainy footage of the same old crew exploring the latest dust ball. Have you noticed how tired they all look now?"


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