It was a roar like no other.
He’d fought in amphitheatres. In tight cages lined with shards and raging crowds. He’d travelled towns and cities across the world for Legion roadshows, building his legend. But there was no roar like the roar from The Legion Arena.
It didn’t just swell, like the cheers at Castor Locke when he brought a swinging kick down on a poor rookie’s helmet. It didn’t just screech, like it did when he pummelled his opponent with a super strike in the caverns of Tezuka.
Back at home - at the Legion Arena - the roar whooshed, like a Wind of Ages, that felt like it was going to sweep through and take off your head.
It was glorious.
And the Legion Arena WAS home. At least it was to Flash of Lightning. Six-time champion. Megastar. Showman. A fighter who could bring down pain from the sky itself.
He had many talents. But his real power was that he knew every inch of this Arena. He knew every kink in the polished steel. Every divot in the hard floor. And how to work the crowd; to turn them into any weapon he pleased, to help him win.
He did it now, setting his feet in the ground. Standing tall, but still. Hushing the crowd into a weighty silence. He felt the fighter across from him stiffen, doubt and nerves bubbling up in his already battered stomach.
He’d been peppering this fighter with jabs and kicks for a few minutes. Nothing dramatic. Just enough to get the crowd settled into their seats and into the action.
He let the silence sting a while. And then charged, leaping a little early so he could hang in the air for a second and catch the camera just right. Footage, for the evening broadcast.
His foot smashed down into the fighter’s neck. But he dodged slightly, allowing him to catch Flash of Lightning just inside the thigh.
Flash of Lightning tumbled and hit the ground. A little gracelessly. “Sloppy”, he cursed.
The fighter grew a little in confidence. Swung a kick. Threw a few taps at the solar plexus. Nothing damaging, just part of the game.
Flash of Lightning backed away, letting the crowd *feel* the shift in momentum. Letting his opponent get into his Blood Rush attack.
As he stepped backwards, he took quick glances over his shoulder. Mostly for show, but partly to find *just* the right outcrop on the east wall of the Arena. The one he’d used a million times before.
Wait. Wait. NOW.
He grabbed the side of the outcrop, used it to flip himself up in the air, out of the path of his opponent. The fighter tried to adjust, tripped, and threw a loose Mega Punch at his ankle as he hit the turf.
Argh. That ankle. A creaking present from Spikester in that epic Arena championship battle six years ago.
He’d hoped to toy with this one a little longer. Send the crowd even wilder. Give the cameras some good highlight reels for later tonight. But the ankle was going to be HOLLERING at him if he bounced off it much longer.
So he planted his feet again, wide and majestically. Set himself, as the expectant crowd sucked all of the air out of the room.
And drove the lightning down, like a scythe of light. Driving his opponent into the ground, out cold.
It was a win, he thought. Maybe not a headliner, by the time all the footage from the day’s battles had been sifted and sorted by the Legion TV geeks.
But there would be others. There was an entire season of battles to come. Probably another championship fight. He’d be back in this Arena again.
“Hell”, he thought, “I’d do this forever, if I could.”
Wump wump wump wump wump
Los Astra is a cocktail of sounds. Not an elegant, sunset-on-the-roof cocktail, of course. Nah. It’s a fuggy chaos of ingredients, hoofed together by someone seeking inspiration, or revenge.
There’s the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee of neon ad screens vomiting onto the street. The throb of seething hovercars, locked in gritted gridlock. The whoooooosh of glittering fountains, climbing toward the stars.
And up on Floor 2167, in a light-drenched penthouse, the desperate yelp of a man being attacked by his own album.
“AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH”, yelled Flash of Lightning, cupping his shrivelling eyes.
“EYEYREYEYEEYERREREEREREREEE”, screamed the tacky guitar solo hooting from the amplifier.
“WUMP WUMP WUMP”, boomed Flash’s migraine.
Three days ago, he’d invited a few (hundred) people over to celebrate his band’s new album launch. And - of course - he’d skipped the carnage the following morning, leaving The Penthouse on its chaotic “Supernova Dreamland” setting. It had been waiting for him, violently, when he came back home from the arena a couple of minutes ago.
Behind the music, the walls screamed with neon strobe. The furniture reeked of chrome. And a huge 3D artwork of himself leered kaleidoscopically at him from the far wall.
“AYARRARRRR, CALM MODE CALM MODE”, he wailed.
The Penthouse took a breath, and then shrank into itself. The neon simmered down from ANGRY SUN to glowing ember. The furniture and the walls softened. Even the disco-floor furred up into a more soothing fluffy rug.
The house had reverted to its “Drifting Sunset” setting, allowing Flash to spend some soothing quality time with his tinnitus.
Indeed, the house had many faces. Back when scarcity was A Pressing Concern, technologists began offering a solution to the endless waste of buying, hoarding, and tossing out home furnishings. The alternative was called a Reality Field.
The idea behind a Reality Field was this:
Say you wanted a futuristic games room one day, but a homely log cabin feel on the weekends? Simply pay someone to render you a design, upload it to your Home Assistant, and - pow - it would just materialise in your home. A whole photorealistic vibe, and you could sit on it, wreck it…whatever. And then, when the mood took you, you could just shuffle it to something else. All for just 50,000 credits a month (not including designs).
It was superficial, expensive, and therefore immediately popular.
Flash of Lightning crashed onto the couch.
“PUPPYCAM”, he said.
Legion fighters partied, but didn’t mess with their bodies *too* much. The rush of summoning lightning and chaos was wild enough, and no one was brave enough to add more weirdness to the mix.
So - in the hours after fights - while the adrenaline still clattered through their skulls, most opted for puppycams. Bouncy, squeaking furballs: clambering, snoozing, yawning. 100 streams. Live. Pay-per-view.
The suited man who appeared on screen was not a puppy.
Wump wump wump wump
“Good evening, Mr Lightning”.
“YO BRO”, Flash mumbled. Business had followed him home.
Every rookie Legion fighter dreamed of being picked up by a Recruiter. Recruiters would open doors - to money, fame, and anything else you could twist out of your vivid little mind. And all they wanted was your soul.
“Have you done your affirmations today, Flash?”, the suit said.
“And your ankle?”
Flash straightened his leg wordlessly, lifting a foot encased in a GelCast in the direction of the camera. The suit nodded, like a collector checking his package had been suitably wrapped for shipping.
“We’re selecting a new rookie class in less than six weeks”, he said. “Do you have any suggestions on who we might need?”
“More Chaos Kids, maybe?”. Flash didn’t look up, toying with a glimmering lightstreak of blue neon on his forearm. “We need another villain. Someone that can really get under the crowd’s skin. Before I ride to the rescue.”
“Nothing like a bit of competition, eh?”, the suit said, archly.
“You can only have so many heroes, boss. And there’s no competition, when you’re the best that ever did it.”
“Very well”, the suit said. “Our recruitment board meets tomorrow, and we will give you a shortlist in a day or so. Remember to rest that ankle.”
“Sure bro, sure.”
“Goodnight, Mr Lightning.”
The suit faded out, and became a giant mound of puppies, clambering and jawing each other.
Wump wump wump wump wump
The puppies yawped and bopped each other. Eep eep eep rawrrrrr. And Flash sank back into the couch again, waiting for peace.
Most active members of The Legion were expected to train, fight, eat and sleep in the plush bubble of the Legion Campus. But Flash of Lightning got to retire to his own pad in between battles. Partly to keep The Talent happy. And partly to keep the noise on campus bearable.
That suited Flash fine. He craved an audience. But company? That was a different matter entirely.
The couch yawned, and wobbled a little.
Maybe it was time to hit the games room. Cook up some food. Or better yet, get some poor sucker to climb more than 2000 floors to bring it his way.
It was good to be home.
To settle down.
But home didn’t settle.
It veered. Spasmed…
…didn’t stop spinning.
Wump wump wump wump wump wump
The puppies on screen twisted and sawed into weird listing shapes. The timpani drum of his heart now felt like it was leaking into his skull, gushing through the nerves in his brain.
Wump wump wump wump wump wump
Flash of Lightning braced, bringing one hand to his clattering temple.
Across his forearm, he saw the neon streak grow and start to slither. Longer. Bulging. A hateful little vein, creeping up his arm. And now more, dozens maybe.
Snaking. Weaving. Slithering towards him.
Wormy darkness, inching closer.
“What the f…?”
Wump wump wump
Flash stumbled. His throat rattled in pain, and he fell to earth like a lost sack.
That’s the first piece of advice any Legion Arena fighter will give you.
That doesn’t really feel useful when you first hear it, because you’re a rookie and you want to hear how to ruin someone’s day with a flying holo dagger.
And yes, yes. There are other things. Taking time to stretch. Making sure your armour is strapped in properly, and your hair looks cool for the cameras. Stuff you’ll do from the beginning. And stuff you’ll master later.
But mostly, right now, they’ll tell you to just breathe.
Because your first few moments aren’t about action. They’re about resilience. Before the elation. The euphoria. Before you walk on air, or slam down the elements into someone’s face…
…There’s that moment where you just stand. And feel a new world beneath your feet.
Here’s what they say:
Take your first step, onto the ethereal, polished floor. And then stop.
Feel the smoothness of the rock, carved from jet-black Magnite. Feel the echo of raised voices, centrifuging around the stands. Be still. Until a newborn shudder builds in your feet, and rises through your hips.
Crouch if you need to.
You’re feeling The Hum. It’s the reason why hopefuls come here in their thousands every year. The reason why being part of the Legion is more of a rush than signing up for the Imperial Guard, or just swinging a splintered chair in a bar-fight.
Where does it come from?
Some say this place is blessed by the Magna Prime itself. Some say it’s a living jaw full of Magna ore. Crafted by the people who built the Legion, to give every fighter a taste of what it would be like.
To be summoned into the STARKADE Arena, and do battle under the gaze of Gods.
Are you still breathing?
Feel each breath. Even if it feels like you’re inhaling a sunset.
For a second, that’s what you are. Because it feels like you can do *anything*.
It’s hard to control. Harder to describe. But let’s try.
Imagine you’re sitting on the bottom of the ocean. You’re in a little box. And that little box is the comforting warmth of What Is. Everything you’ve ever known. Stable. Certain. Boring. Sure.
But somebody’s opening the lid of the box. And they’re letting it all in. This relentless tide of Impossibility is surging in, drenching you. And maybe you’re going to drown. Or grow another arm. Or bring down lightning from the sky itself.
In the arena, it’s like that. It’s like someone’s tipped a bucket of Pandemonium over your head. And suddenly certain…rules…don’t apply to you.
At this point, some fighters lose it entirely. Run around screaming, with their heads on fire.
But not you. Because you remembered to keep breathing.
Now, you’re a trained fighter, right? What do you need? Wouldn’t it be great if…your punch was twice as powerful? Or you could leap into the stars, and come plunging down into your opponent’s chest? Cool. But wait…you need weapons. YESSSSS. Freeze cubes? Cryo cubes? Fire? Lightning? How about speed, or extra life-force?
THE POSSIBILITIES. You soak it all up, pupils as big as suns. Listen to The Hum. Take it all in. It’s yours. If you can stand it.
To be honest, that’s enough for some.
+ 1. + 1. Baby steps. Don’t lose yourself. Maybe pick up a superpower. Hey, that’s good for your brand.
Maybe that’s you. Good for you.
But some fighters? Well, they just grew up different. They were the young kids that would hurl themselves off ravines just to feel the crash of the waves. Swallowing rushes of air as they backflip downwards.
They’re the kids who grew up with risk. Pushed the edges of What Is.
The fighters who are at home with The Chaos.
Because you know there’s more to Impossibility than just jumping higher or punching harder, right? Of course there is.
If you’re that kind of crazy, the arena will let you flip reality on its head. Twist your brain in just the right way, and you can abandon control entirely. Become invincible. Steal power or strength from your opponent. Switch your fortunes, or your abilities.
Sometimes it all goes wrong. It is chaos after all. But that’s part of the thrill. And the crowd loves it. Just let go.
Like we say, it’s not for everyone.
Naturally, you still need to know how to kick ass. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. You’re one of a million hungry children, who grew up dreaming of that one punch that brings fame and fortune.
But really, success in this arena isn’t about fighting. It’s about where your mind’s at.
How you harness the fantastical. And how you embrace the chaos.
So give yourself a minute. Because the unreal is about to rain onto your head.
Settle your feet against the floor, and feel the floor push back. Hear The Hum rumble through your bones. Let one last breath fill up your chest.
And wait for that Battle Siren to sound.