"The Master of Games has returned, Abigail!"
A nasally voice called down a narrow, dimly lit hallway. The passageway opened up to a moderately large room, perhaps the size of an average Neohome. Large plastic bins held all sorts of video games as well as thin, multicolored cords and complex controllers organized by size, shape, and age. Abigail perked up her ears in response to the voice's triumphant entry.
"I'm sure he has," she responded placidly. The sky blue Aisha sported a yellow T-shirt and a knee-length blue skirt. Her shoulder length straw yellow hair suspended in a loose ponytail; curly bangs brushed in front of coal black eyes.
An Usuki dream house complete with a variety of fabulous outfits lay in front of her. She held one Usuki with a brunette hair, big beady eyes and a bright smile. A doll-sized brush smoothed down its hair; she subsequently tied into a hairstyle similar to her own.
"Playing with those dolls again, little sister?" jeered the same voice while approaching the playing Aisha. He wore a bright red blazer with a white pop top collar, orange jumpsuit pants, and white spats. Blazing orange hair sat smoothly along his head as if gelled there. Square spectacles with red and blue lenses lined his face. A small sore seemed to rise from his otherwise golden fur caused by duct tape rubbing up against his squishy pink snout.
"Yep. Usukis are just as fun to play with as video games, Aristotle," she responded calmly while braiding another Usuki's long, black hair.
"No, they aren't, Abigail," he declared poignantly with a decisive huff. "There's no game, no competition! Usukis are just... there. Now if we were talking about 'Usuki Frenzy,' a game, I add, that no other Neopian comes close to rivaling my mastery—that would be another matter entirely."
"Whatever you say, big brother." Abigail rolled her eyes, continuing about her business. "So, besides your usual bragging, what's up?"
He smiled slightly, pushing up his glasses with a stubby finger. "I'm glad you asked. It's something of dire importance."
"Like video games?" she grinned wryly, barely turning her eyes to meet those of her sibling. Almost instantly, he stuck out a long, pink tongue. Abigail couldn't help but chuckle under her breath.
"Yes, like video games." His face soured. "A friend of mine from Neoschool is coming over to the house. He should be in momentarily."
"Well, if he's anything like you, I'm sure you two get along quite well," she replied, attempting not to crack a smile.
"Oh, we do!" Aristotle began, fiddling with his spectacles. "Even better, he's a good gamer—almost as good as me. Almost." Abigail hurried a nod before moving the newly braided Usuki to the dream house and placed her on a peanut sized beanbag chair in front of a plastic flat screen television. In front of it were models of miniaturized video games. She then proceeded to hum the Meepit-Juice-Break theme, tilting the doll back and forth as it gripped a small, plastic controller. In the mean time, Aristotle sighed softly and walked away.
A door opened, followed by the sound of Aristotle's typical salutation. His energy matched that of an overexcited salesman.
"Chadley, I would like to welcome you to the throne of Neopia's game master!"
AAA motioned towards many rooms, but made sure to come to the video gaming suite first. Abigail looked up at the visitor, a towering figure, who remained mostly obscured in the low light. She stopped her play, turning to greet the stranger. Two rows of pearly white teeth seemed to glisten in response, even from afar. The figure flicked a light switch, instantly brightening up the room.
Abigail's eyes widened as her mouth dropped open.
A dashing lime green Zafara stood before her, slowly swishing his long tail. A popped pink polo and well-fitted sandy-colored khakis complimented his sunglasses, which adorned to his head like a crown. A designer patch with the name "Chadley" spun around his front pocket in gold, cursive letters.
"Hey," he said coolly while blankly staring towards the television screen, "so you're AAA's sister?"
She found herself unable to speak as if struck by a severe case of laryngitis. It felt as if countless minutes had passed in his gaze. The marvelous glow of his sparkling features only brightened over time. His eyes, although gazing aimlessly into the distance, shone like sapphires.
AAA walked up to his sister, waving a paw in front of her face. When she didn't respond, he raised an eyebrow and tapped her shoulder a couple of times.
"Neopia to Abigail, is your brain plugged in?"
"What? Huh?" She blinked a few times, staring at her brother's massive head.
His nose twisted to the side. The tone of voice he used seemed more annoyed than worried. "You okay? You're acting a little odd."
"Me?" She nodded vigorously, looking away from the mysterious stranger. A couple of times, she brushed a paw against her ponytail, smoothing it down. "Oh, oh yeah. I'm good, just tired."
"Well," said AAA with a shrug, "if you're sure." He turned to Chadley. "Ready to play?"
"Hey, AAA," said Chadley in a soft, almost detached tone. His right paw rested on Abigail's head. The Aisha bit her lip, blushing furiously. All the while, his face froze with a sparkly grin akin to what might be found on Abigail's Usukis. "I think your sister's running a fever." He brushed a lock of fur into the air, letting it fall down in slow motion. "Perhaps playing some games with a true game master would be the perfect cure."
"For one, I'm the game master here, not you," AAA huffed, putting both paws over one another. "And two, she's my sister; I'll take care of her." He tugged her towards a room with a sky blue door. "Why don't you go and rest for now, Abigail? I think you need it." Abigail broke away.
"Like I said, I'm fine," she said in a raspy, almost strained voice. Her left paw scrunched in a ball and balanced against the fabric of her skirt. Within moments, she loosened up, managing to look Chadley in the eye without panicking too much. "But I would like to play some video games with you guys, if that's alright."
"Do you have to, Abigail?" whined AAA, jetting both palms out into the air. "I mean, you're fun to challenge and all—even if I always win—but I just wanted to play against Chadley today. He's someone who would give me a challenge! Besides, you have plenty of Usukis; why don't you just play with those instead? I can play 'Usuki Frenzy' with you tomorrow."
Before Abigail had the chance to make a rebuttal, Chadley hovered between the two siblings.
"Hey, hey, Aristotle, that isn't nice." The Blumaroo exhaled loudly, opening his mouth to complain again. Chadley shook his head slowly, raising a paw up like a stop sign. "How about letting your sister play with m—I mean us. I think she'd really like the experience of watching me play. I am super cool, after all." Abigail's face was reflected in his pearly white teeth. "So, would you enjoy playing with us, uh..." he turned away from Abigail and whispered a few words into her brother's ear. AAA twisted his lips to the side before mumbling something in response. Blue eyes turned back towards the awaiting Aisha. "Abigail?"
"Very much so!" Her lips felt dry so she curled them in, gulping loudly. "I mean, I would really like that a lot."
"Then it's settled." Chadley paced towards the screen, walking so slowly that his tail barely hovered above the ground. "Come on, you two, let's play."
Although AAA disliked waiting, Chadley insisted that Abigail have the first game. He also claimed that 'it had to be the right game,' which made AAA increasingly more annoyed. Before long, the Blumaroo began to tinker with a robot that he had crafted from scratch only hours before. In the mean time, Chadley tore through many game boxes, glanced at a title or two, and scrunched up his nose before throwing the games aside. Meanwhile, Abigail could not take her eyes off the Zafara and silently twiddled her thumbs.
"No, no, not a chance," muttered Chadley, tossing each rejected game into the air. Soon, around half of the duo's games now lie all other the floor. On a couple of occasions, Aristotle muttered under his breath while picking up the game boxes; however, for every five games returned to their proper places, another ten lay on the ground. "Oh?" Chadley raised a single box into the air, quickly skimming the back. "What is this?"
AAA noticeably flinched, narrowing his eyes on the game disk. It featured pixilated versions of him and his sister running through a maze of rooms that looked frightening similar to classic games such as "Destruct-o-Match" or "Turmac Roll."
Many Neopians called "Dungeon Dash" a "classic rendition of history." Aristotle called it a "blatant reminder of the past." But it had to be played, lest another Neopian attempt to steal his self-proclaimed title.
They escaped such a game only years prior. The escapades of a mad king sent them dashing for their lives in the most extreme video game ever crafted. One wrong move meant getting thrown back into the dark and musty dungeons. Only, being captured didn't mean losing a life as it would in many other video games. It was... game over. For good.
Abigail still had nightmares about the ordeal.
The Aisha stared wide-eyed at the game. Little ripples formed across her skirt until she sat on both paws. A half-smile crept across her face.
"You want to play that game?" It is a wonder how Abigail could make any words, no matter how emotionless, sound warm and friendly. AAA glanced over to her with a frown plastered on his face.
"Yeah, I think it could be fun. Anything with me is fun. Besides, I figured you be good at this one. Am I right about that, Annabelle?"
"Abigail," corrected AAA.
"Yeah, that too," he said between shrugs.
With one fluid movement, "Dungeon Dash"clicked into the game system. Within moments, the screen began to glow. It hummed softly as an image of the game master and his sister appeared. Abigail's face matched that of her virtual counterpart: horror. AAA eyed his sister wearily before pointing to himself and back to the screen. Abigail shook her head.
"You can be player two," Chadley stated, handing her an older, bulkier controller.
Abigail stared at the controller, barely able to grip it with her petite paws. "Um... Chadley, AAA usually uses this controller since my hands are a little smaller."
"I'm sure you'll be fine, Annagail. It just takes some getting used to."
"That's not..." she sighed, trying to repress her frustration by eying his gentle features. In Meanwhile, AAA's robotic creation crashed into a wall. When Chadley looked back to see what had transpired, the robot appeared to be doing a little jig. "Never mind, Chadley, it's not important."
On the screen, a cursor hovered over the start button. After one click, the familiar tune of "Snowmuncher" began to play. As player one, Chadley controlled a miniaturized version of AAA while Abigail played as herself. A split screen severed the two, making them journey through the levels alone.
Their game started off well enough. Abigail remained stiff and quiet, gripping the controller tightly. Her virtual avatar hopped over blocks of pastel colored ice, grabbed an ice pick, and started to dig towards freedom. Chadley did similarly well. Until the end of level one, they remained neck and neck. AAA usually threw in a few game tips when they played (and follow up with some self-glorification for good measure), but he also remained relatively quiet, only commenting when a power up came on screen.
"Make sure to get that power up, Abigail," he'd mutter mechanically. "You'll need it in approximately 5.5 seconds." Abigail hardly nodded a response.
Abigail paws began to stiffen when she started the second level, "Turmac roll." She struggled to move her character through the muddy bogs, often using her protective shields a half of a second late (or .375 seconds late, according to AAA). Spring loaded shoes helped the pixel to jump over mansion sized tree trunks. Often the jump command came too early, leading to a loss in precious time. Chadley on the other hand easily cleared the second level a solid ten seconds before Abigail could.
The dark shadow, or as Abigail liked to call him, "the capturer," remained on her character's tail. One wrong move and her character would be trapped in the dungeons forever. Abigail could feel a sudden coolness spread across her entire body. Her head began to throb as each and every heartbeat became stronger, more constricting.
She began to whimper as the mysterious shadow closed in on her.
The right side of the screen went dark.
Her eyes felt wet, but she refused to let even one drop fall. Not in front of her brother. Or Chadley. To her relief, neither came to her immediate aid.
Abigail turned her head away from the screen as she stared towards a wall filled with posters announcing the Daily Dares of years past. Most of them had larger than life pictures of her brother's head and the words "Daily Dare" in bold, white font. She couldn't help but smile when she thought of the event, fondly remembering all of the good times she and her brother had running the show.
The Zafara continued to play until the game's end, barely stopping to chat when it had been completed. The first thing he grumbled about was that his run had been 1.85 seconds longer than AAA's best. Needless to say, AAA began to gloat that he remained the unrivaled master of all games, including "Dungeon Dash."
"How about a rematch, Abianna?" Chadley's silky smooth voice cooed while completely avoiding the gaze of the clamoring game master.
She flinched, trying to respond with only the slightest of eye contact. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his flawless features once again. Her heart began to race.
"I..." Nervous fidgeting accompanied her otherwise calm demeanor. Hushed whispers bubbled behind her between Chadley and AAA.
"Oh, Abigail," Chadley began. The Aisha rubbed her eyes and turned to him with a smile. "I know it can be tough losing a game, but don't worry. I know what will make you happy."
"You do?" she said with some puzzlement in her voice.
"Really, Chadley?" AAA raised an eyebrow. "That's something I'd like to see."
"Yeah, I know the best way to cheer someone up." He stealthily reached into the front pocket of his polo and removed a pair of autographed pictures. They appeared to be images of his face, although both of the nearly identical prints captured the same plastic grin. He cupped the photos, one in each paw, and held them out around an arm's length away. From Abigail's view, the small, wallet sized pictures hid within the Zafara's paws, completely out of view.
"Are you sure?" She lightly bit onto a finger. Chadley's grin only grew wider as he glanced down at the miniaturized portraits.
"Oh, yes. I'm quite sure."
Abigail approached the Zafara, happily throwing her arms around him.
"Thanks, Chadley. I appreciate it."
"See?" He wiggled an eyebrow at AAA. The Games Master planted a palm on top of his face. "Not only do I know how to make Neopians happy, I also know what gifts keep giving. Annandale here received a gift to be cherished, saved, and enjoyed. I even brought one for you, too." A loud exhale could be heard throughout the room. "Ah... I'm such a nice guy."
"That's great and all..." AAA flicked off the game console and held up a box with the words "Destruct-o-Match III" written in bright red font. "But now that Abigail's been given something, er, priceless, I think she's had enough play time for now. Besides, you owe me a game, Chadley."
Abigail let go of Chadley, her eyes sparkling. The Zafara held out one of the pictures and presented it to her.
"Huh?" The picture landed in her paws. She blinked a few times, staring at the frozen face.
"Isn't this what you wanted?" he questioned, tilting his head to the side. All the while, AAA began to tap his white leather spats against the wooden floor in a rhythmic beat that Abigail recognized as Morse code: T. G. M. Abigail rolled her eyes, recalling that he often, at times without even realizing, referred to himself as 'The Games Master.' "Oh, it appears that I am needed. Treasure that picture, alright, Albania? I'll even sign it a second time, if you want."
"Uh... sure?" A sudden warmness ran through her cheeks once more.
"Want me to sign it no—"
"Later," interrupted AAA, who stood in front of a glowing screen. Multi-colored blocks and a Tyrannian Babaa beckoned Chadley towards the awaiting games master. AAA grabbed two bean bag chairs from the corner of the room and placed them down on the wooden floor with a thud. One appeared to be substantially smaller. "I've waited long enough, let's begin already."
"Oh, Aristotle, you should learn to be more patient. I am, after all. But nonetheless, I shall be victorious this time."
"Yeah," snorted AAA while selecting the start button, "that would be the day."
They played almost twenty rounds of "Destruct-o-Match." Each time, AAA won. At one point, Chadley almost closed in on the master, but still lost by around 100 points.
Abigail watched for around an hour before asking for a game. Both of the older Neopians defeated her, but she still kept a smile on her face.
"That was fun, guys," she said, turning to the two (who, of course, proceeded to start yet another game). Chadley glanced towards Abigail, smiling slightly. "Actually, Chadley, would you like to stop by during this year's Daily Dare? I'm sure most Neopians would enjoy the extra challenge."
"Ah!" exclaimed Chadley between rounds of button mashing. "I'm sure they would enjoy me. Please let me know as the time draws nearly, Annabelle." AAA nudged his side, mouthing the word 'Abigail' between annoyed grunts.
"I'll make sure to, Chadley. And don't worry, I won't forget."
"You'd better not, Abidale!" he exclaimed as AAA beat him once more. "With me around, I think it will be a Daily Dare to remember. Perhaps even the best one yet!"