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New Recruits

Chapter Text

“Goooood morning, Inkopolis!” called Callie’s voice from the plaza screens.

“We’ll cover todays turf war stages in just a moment, but first, we’ve got something much more exciting to talk about,” Marie said with a soft smile.

“That’s right! Next week, the Splat League will be starting back up for its sixth season, and Inkopolis couldn’t be more excited!”

“After that mess with the Great Zapfish disappearing last year and interrupting the tournament, the professional battlers are itching to get down into the field—and all the rest of us are looking forward to some top-notch matches as well.”

“Are you interested in participating this year?” Callie asked, pointing to the camera. “Well, if you’re at least S rank, sixteen years old, and dying for some hardcore turf war action, there are a few teams this year holding auditions for new members!”

Two logos appeared on the screen; the first was an orange picture of a firing splattershot, and the second was a blue squid with sunglasses. Marie gestured to them. “Pro teams Ink Blast and Cephalosquad have both announced that they are searching for some fresh ink on their teams. Make sure to check out their websites for more information.”

“And don’t forget, any group of four Inklings that meet the age and rank requirements can sign up for the junior bracket! Who knows, if you do well enough, we could be seeing you from the pro commentating stands next year!” Callie said with a wink.

The Inklings down on the Square were buzzing, talking excitedly to one another about which teams they couldn’t wait to see, who they thought would win this year, how they wished they were good enough at turf wars to enter themselves, and so much more.

Keri’s eyes, for one, were fixed on the screen, but she wasn’t listening, not really. “Ink Blast is recruiting?” she whispered to herself, eyes wide.

The waiting room for the audition was tense. She’d been there for about an hour by now, watching as Inkling after Inkling went into the room and came out again. Some emerged smirking, sure they’d crushed it, and others were practically crying. Some were literally crying.

Keri was next, and Keri was sweating. She pinched at the hem of her shirt, fingers dancing on her thigh. She hated being nervous. She shouldn’t be nervous. She was plenty qualified. But, then again, so were a lot of Inklings, probably.

The door to the audition room slammed open, causing Keri to squeak and jump. The girl that had been in front of her in line stormed out, grumbling to herself. Her chin-length tentacles swayed as she marched over to a boy—her friend, presumably.

“Didn’t go so well?” the friend asked.

The girl pulled at her beanie. “I screwed it up. I coulda done it but I screwed it up!”

“Well, this isn’t the only team holding auditions. Cephalosquad—”

“Cephalosquad’s dumb as shit! Look at their logo!”

“Come on, have you even watched any of their matches?”

The girl looked away guiltily, but before Keri could eavesdrop any further, a jellyfish with a clipboard floated out of the door and gurgled at her, motioning at her to follow. The girl’s words hung in her mind; what if she screwed it up? She’d screwed stuff up before.

She shook her head. Stay positive, Keri. You’ve got this.

The jellyfish led her through a short hallway that opened into a gigantic room. There was a full indoor turf war arena here, complete with ramps and grates and a spawn point at either end. The jellyfish left briefly and returned with an ink tank, which Keri took and strapped on. Before too long, she heard footsteps behind her, and turned, seeing three inklings approaching her. She immediately started to die on the inside: this was Ink Blast! They were really here! In front of her!

“Hey, how are you doing today?” asked the one in front. She was wearing a simple grey hoodie, a weirdly casual look for the battler Keri had been watching for years. Her long tentacles hung loosely at her sides, but Keri could still see the tension held in their strong muscles.

“H-hi! Good! Oh my god, you’re Tentaclaw!” Keri fumbled, staring at her. “I can’t believe I’m finally meeting you! I’m, uh, I’m sure you’re hearing this from everybody but I’m a really big fan, um…”

One of the other Inklings—his pro name was Brella Knight—laughed, placing his well-built arms on his hips. Keri found herself glad he wasn’t super serious; with kind of body shape, he could be really threatening if he wanted to be. “I’m glad. We’re going to start with a few basic questions, and then move into the practical part of the audition.”

Keri nodded, swallowing her nerves. “Okay. Got it.”

Tentaclaw cleared her throat, and looked down at a piece of paper in her hands. “Alright. Full name?”

“Keri Avony.”

“What weapon do you use, Keri?”

“I, uh, tend to switch it up a lot, but I’m best with dualies.”

“Standard dualies?”

“Hero dualies replica, but yeah.”

Tentaclaw nodded. “The hero weapons do look cool, don’t they? I have a friend who’s aiming to get a full set. They’re hard to come by, though.”

“Oh, um, I have a full set, actually,” Keri said. “When I said I switch it up a lot, it’s between all the hero replicas. I like the base weapons the best, and I thought it’d be cool to have a theme, so uh, yeah…”

Tentaclaw and the other girl, Bomber, shared an intrigued glance.

“Wow, you’re like a proper agent,” Brella Knight said, smiling.

Keri gave a short laugh and fiddled with her tentacles. “I wouldn’t go that far. The agents work hard to protect Inkopolis; I don’t think I’m quite good enough for that.”

“Well, anyway,” Tentaclaw said, returning to her sheet of paper. “What would you say is your greatest strength in a turf war?”

Keri thought for a moment. “Probably my agility. I’m really good at dodging around enemy fire and stuff while I’m battling. I’m also pretty good against multiple opponents.”

“Is that why you prefer dualies?”

“Yeah, they’re super light, which is great, and if you’re using one of your hands to dodge then you can still fire. But I’m proficient with all the base weapons.”

Tentaclaw nodded. “Alright. Now, the flipside of that: what would you say is your biggest weakness?”

“Oh, jeez. Um. It would probably be communication and coordination and stuff, just because I haven’t ever been on a team before. I tend to play on my own, or with random teammates.”

“Thanks for your honesty. Now, let’s see…” She turned the paper over. “Do you have any experience in Juniors?”

Keri shook her head. “Like I said, I’ve never had a team.”

“And how many pro Splat League matches did you watch or attend last season?”

“All of them.”

Tentaclaw smiled. “Kinda figured. Okay, so, those are all the questions we have. Time to move into the practical section. You brought your weapon?”

Keri nodded, pulling out her dualies and connecting them to her tank.

“Great. I’m gonna go make sure the spawn points are set up; Bomber here will tell you what you’re doing.”

Tentaclaw walked off into the arena, pulling out her Splat Charger, shooting a line across the floor and swimming away. Bomber adjusted her goggles and stepped forward.

“Alright, here’s the deal. The battle will last three minutes, and it’s going to be three against one.”

Keri’s jaw dropped. Excuse me? What the fuck? “You’re kidding. There’s no way I could beat all three of you by myself! You’re pros!”

“Aren’t you auditioning to be a pro yourself?” Bomber asked, smirking. “Besides, there’s a handicap. You’ll respawn after being splatted like normal, but the three of us will exit the battle altogether if you can splat us once. If you manage to take all of us out, then you win. But if the timer runs out, or we manage to ink 90% of the turf, then you lose. Got it?”

Meekly, Keri nodded. This was gonna be rough.

“And remember, this is an audition. Winning doesn’t guarantee your spot. Now, if you don’t have any questions, the game starts at the bell.”

Bomber lifter her Luna Blaster and hooked it to her tank, walking off after Tentaclaw. Brella Knight paused briefly to give Keri a thumbs-up, then followed suit.

Keri took deep breaths as she stood at her spawn, her ink taking on a deep purplish color for the match. She gazed out at the white expanse of the field, running through strategies. Before too long, there was a hissing sound as the field cleaned itself, and Tentaclaw’s ink trail from earlier evaporated. A second later, the bell sounded, prompting Keri to take off.

She rushed to the high ground, hoping to get a better vantage point. She knew she would have to take out Tentaclaw first: like hell would she be able to fight the other two with a charger constantly watching her back. Problem was, Tentaclaw practiced the ninja squid technique and also wasn’t an idiot, so finding her, let alone splatting her, could prove to be a holy crap here comes Bomber.

With an explosion of ink, an orange squid launched across the battlefield. She transformed back to her humanoid form in mid-air, raising her Luna Blaster, smiling devilishly, and firing. Keri managed to roll away, quickly bouncing out of the roll into a crouch and pumping the triggers on her dualies. The blaster shot collided against the turf, and Bomber quickly morphed back into a squid, catching herself in the explosion from her previous shot and thus flinging herself over Keri’s head. Keri quickly began inking the ground where Bomber was going to land, but she was undeterred, landing right on top of Keri’s ink and firing her blaster once again. Keri shot to the side and swam off of the ledge they’d been fighting on, just as the projectile splashed down behind her.

She didn’t get far before Bomber cut off her escape with another shot. That was fast! Shouldn’t the ink have slowed her down? Keri swore and shifted back to her humanoid shape, deftly spinning around while firing to create a circle of ink under her feet. She continued to put pressure on Bomber with her dualies, scoring a fair amount of hits; Bomber fired one last shot right at her, then swam off. Keri threw herself to the ground, and the ink glob soared over her head. Her feet were caught in the tail end of the explosion, but the damage wasn’t too bad.

Maybe she could cut Bomber off and take her out before she recovered? It was worth a shot, Keri thought, covering the ground with her ink and swimming off. As she turned the corner and transformed back, however, she saw Tentaclaw lying in wait. She had the suction cups of her tentacles pressed up tight against the the side of a high wall, and the muscles in her tentacles were flexed, supporting her weight. Her feet were wedged hard against the surface of the wall, too, to provide some support, but she was clinging there largely on the strength of her tentacles alone.

They way she clung to walls always looked hella fresh on the TV screens, but now that she was on the receiving end, it was less ‘cool’ and more ‘holy shit I’m gonna die.’

Tentaclaw must’ve registered the fear in her face, because she smirked. “Gotcha.”

Keri barely had time to skid to a halt before Tentaclaw pulled the trigger. She felt a concentrated burst of ink slam into her stomach, and her form lost stability as she splatted into loose ink.

Several seconds later, she reformed on the spawn pad. She’d walked right into a trap. It had obviously been a trap, too. How stupid was she? She’d watched Tentaclaw pull that same stunt a hundred times during tournaments!

She shook her head; she didn’t have time to critique herself right now. She ran off down a flank path in the hopes of getting behind them. Unfortunately, when she turned the corner, Brella Knight was already waiting for her. Of course he was. God.

Keri whipped out her guns and began spraying even as Brella Knight fired a blast of ink at her. Most of her shots landed, but she had to jump out of the way before she could finish him off. His blast had clipped her shoulder, and the foreign ink stung against her skin, but she ignored it, shifting into her squid form and swimming along the wall behind him. She launched off the wall, guns blazing, but Brella Knight swiveled and popped his Tent Sorella Brella, easily blocking her shots. He then launched the shield, and Keri knew she was in trouble.

She rolled to the side and sprinted around Brella Knight, but he lead her with a shot from the umbrella handle, cutting her off. Then he reached out a hand and grabbed one of the wires on the tent head, which was still propelling itself forward, and twisted it around to face Keri once again.

Keri gulped. All these advanced tactics—she wasn’t sure she was really cut out for this. She couldn’t cling to walls, or launch herself with her own explosions, or freaking grab a moving brella out of midair and turn it around 180 degrees.

But she had to try.

With the umbrella blocking line of sight, and with her movement options fairly limited, Keri turned to the wall she was backed up against and fired straight up it. She climbed it, but before reaching the top, she jumped away from the wall, shifting back to her humanoid form in midair. She grabbed a burst bomb from her pouch and hurled down at Brella Knight; he leapt back, grabbed the Tent Sorella’s head, and with one strong movement, wrenched it around to intercept the bomb. There was an explosion of purple ink, and suddenly her movement options were wide open.

She touched down with a smile on her face, scanning the area. If she was right, then… Yes! There!

On the part of the corridor that led to Orange’s side of the turf, up on a raised platform, Tentaclaw materialized, charger at the ready. She noticed Keri staring at her and frowned. “So much for a sneak attack,” she muttered, pulling the trigger anyway.

Keri easily dodged and began firing up at the sniper. A few shots hit their marks before Tentaclaw jumped off the ledge, her tentacles grabbing onto an uninked part of the wall. She dug her feet in and held, raising her charger once more.

Keri adjusted her aim to Tentaclaw’s new position, but then she heard a noise from behind her, and instinctually rolled to the left. One of Brella Knight’s burst shots whizzed past her head and splattered against the wall, cutting off Keri’s rightwards movements. Continuing to focus on Tentaclaw, she inked the wall above her, ensuring that she wouldn’t be able to swim back up to safety. Ducking a charger shot and then jumping over another brella blast, she landed against the wall, merging into the ink and swimming up towards Tentaclaw. Trapped by ink above and below her, the sniper jumped off, falling down to the ground that was now largely orange thanks to Brella Knight’s shooting. Before she landed, however, Keri leapt from the wall, too, falling after her. She materialized another burst bomb in her hand and threw it at the falling Tentaclaw. With no means to dodge, the bomb splattered directly against Tentaclaw’s face. Keri followed it up with several shots from her dualies, and Tentaclaw’s body burst apart. Keri let out a cheer.

“Hey, nice one!” Brella Knight congratulated. In the same second, he hit her point-blank with a full shot from his Tent Sorella Brella.

Keri laughed to herself as she respawned. She’d just splatted Tentaclaw! A pro battler! Today was going great.

Now all she had to do was deal with the other two. She pulled up her tablet to check the turf map, and nearly screamed. Her opponents were growing dangerously close to the 90% mark; Bomber must’ve been inking during her battle with the other two! She took off down the main path without hesitation, firing her dualies in opposite directions to cover as much ground as she could.

As she arrived in the arena’s center, the unmistakable sound of an inkzooka being fired accosted her ear drums.

“Shit,” she mumbled, swimming back the way she’d come as a tornado of ink burst through the center. Riding the waves of the torrent, Bomber launched herself right at Keri, inkzooka in hand.

“Woohoo!” she cried, firing right as she flew over Keri’s head. Options limited, Keri was forced to jump backwards into the orange ink that coated the center of the stage. It clung to her sneakers as she tried to run, and there was already another inkzooka shot coming. Keri sighed, and was swept up in the tornado.

She respawned once again, and once again took off, this time up towards the sniping platforms. She looked out into the main area and saw Bomber and Brella Knight together, exchanging a few words. Keri took a moment to spread her ink around the area, then dropped into squid form. Time was running low; she had to end this, now.

She jumped from the highest point she could find right on top of the two orange Inklings.

“There!” Brella Knight yelled, firing at her. Keri rolled out of the way, shooting at Bomber to keep her aim unsteady. She leapt into the air over a second shot from Brella, and threw a bomb at Bomber. Bomber swam backwards away from the explosion, and when she reformed, fired a blast at Keri, who swam away in turn. Before she could escape, however, a splash wall fell in front of her. She nearly ran straight into it, but swerved at the last moment.

Bomber shot at her again, and Brella Knight launched out his tent head. The explosion from the blaster caught her, but she was still alive, and pulled out her Tenta Missiles, which were finally charged. As quick as she could, she locked on; Bomber panicked and used a shot from her blaster to launch herself over to Brella Knight, who had his umbrella head gripped in his left hand, keeping it orbiting around his body at the ready. Once the missiles fired, Keri followed up immediately with a low-thrown burst bomb, which slipped under Knight’s shield, damaging both of them. While Brella Knight was distracted blocking all the missiles, Keri quickly recharged her ink before resurfacing and facing off against Bomber. They shot, and dodged, and swam, but they were both managing to stay in the game. Keri was thankful Bomber was running the ink mine—it was great for defense, but less great for using in the middle of the fight. If she had to dodge bombs as well as blaster shots, she’d have been splatted by now.

Keri had spent years building up a good aim, and her ink landed true. Bomber’s shots landed around her, but she jumped and twisted, managing to avoid the brunt of the explosions. Eventually, Bomber retreated into squid form and tried to run; at the same time, Brella Knight managed to block the last of the missiles with his shield. Crap—she had to act fast. Keri threw a burst bomb, forcing Bomber out into the open, and, leaping over a blast from Brella Knight, drilled her full of ink.

As the satisfying splat echoed throughout the field, Keri took one look at her ink tank and dropped into squid form. She really needed to tone down the bombs; she was having to refill constantly.

Brella Knight released his umbrella head off to her left, threw a splash wall behind her, and then shot to her right, trapping her in a triangle of orange ink. He fired once more straight at her, and she was forced to come back up with a half-full ink tank. His umbrella crashed against the wall, and before Keri could hit him with more than a few ink globs, the shield reappeared on his gun, and launched it again. Keri tried to wrap around, but he took a shot at her, hitting her good on the shoulder. She staggered, and when she looked back up, the umbrella was once again coming straight at her, blocking her line of sight.

Then, suddenly, it moved, revealing Brella Knight right behind it. He must have snuck up from behind its cover!

“Crap!” Keri shouted, stumbling away from a burst of orange ink. He fought like a whirlwind, one hand shooting with the handle of the brella and the other manipulating the head, each covering the other. Before too long, Keri found herself once again back at the respawn point.

“Twenty seconds!” called Tentaclaw from over the speakers. Keri cursed and swam forward; mercifully, Brella Knight hadn’t moved from the stage’s center. He could’ve easily gone and hid and ended it there; though, Keri supposed that wouldn’t help them assess her abilities very well if he did.

Instead, he was standing dead in the middle of the open middle area, his shield reattached, and the whole ground inked orange.

“Ten! Nine! Eight!”

Adrenaline pumping through her, Keri’s fingers went wild, firing the dualies faster than she ever had before. She rushed straight at him , and, predictably, he popped the shield, easily blocking the hits. Considerably less predictably, Keri let out a yell and roundhouse kicked the shit out of his stupid umbrella.

“Seven! Six! Five!”

Her shoe collided with the massive tent, sending it flying. Brella Knight managed to keep grip with one of his hands, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, as it sent him spinning with the momentum of the weighty tent.

“Four! Three!”

While he was disoriented, Keri threw her dualies to the ground and summoned a burst bomb in either hand, completely depleting her ink tank. With a roar, she flung them straight at her feet, and the two of them went up in a shower of purple ink.

“Two! One! Game!”

The ink rained to the ground, revealing Keri to be the last squid standing. Her eyes were bloodshot, she was panting, her hands were clutching her knees, she was covered in ink and sweat—she was a mess. And she had won.

Tentaclaw started to clap, walking onto the field and up to Keri, her teammates close behind. “You did it! Great job!”

“You guys,” Keri said in between heaves, “are really goddamn annoying to fight.”

“That’s the plan,” Bomber said, hand on her hip. “You handled us pretty well though.”

Brella Knight nodded. “You weren’t kidding when you said you were good at dodging. I’ve almost never had that much trouble hitting someone.”

Keri blushed, still panting. “Thanks, that means… a lot coming from… from you… ugh, I need to lay down.”

“You’re one to talk,” Tentaclaw said. “We’ve done this eighteen times now. Though, we haven’t exactly been going all-out. We need to give you guys a fair shot after all.”

Keri nodded, too tired to keep responding. That was frustrating to hear.

“Alright, Jerald will show you out,” she continued, gesturing the jellyfish that had called her in. “Obviously, we haven’t seen everyone yet, but you put on a good show out there. You’re a strong contender, Keri.”

Keri smiled. Half of her brain was ecstatic that she’d just been complimented by Tentaclaw, and the other half wanted to tell her to shut up because Keri had a massive headache.

She followed Jerald in a daze, packing up her dualies and returning her ink tank. She’d managed to catch her breath by the time she’d returned to the lobby, and saw the next boy follow in after her, just as nervous as she’d been.

She’d given it her all; now all she could do was wait.

Keri sighed. She hated waiting.

Chapter Text

Agent 3 moved through the Octarian base with ease, splatting aggressors left and right, weaving in between ink globs and sniper shots. As she gunned down the final Octoling soldier with her Hero Shot, she wiped her brow, walking over to the caged zapfish.

“Even with Octavio gone, I guess they still need electricity,” she mused, shattering the forcefield and grabbing the wriggling fish. “But no matter how much they need it, stealing’s stealing. Let’s get you back to Inkopolis, buddy.”

A few minutes later, and she was back at the shack.

“Ah, Agent 3,” Cap’n Cuttlefish greeted from the porch. “That was rather quick. You’ve been progressing even more in your abilities as of late.”

“Yeah,” she said, dropping the zapfish in his hands. “I guess.” She dropped her Splattershot to the ground, and then went about removing her various protective gear.

She walked into the shack, where Agents 1 and 2 were lounging, their weapons propped up against the wall.

“Hey Three,” Agent 1 said with a wave. “How goes zapfish recovery?”

“Pretty well. You’d think they’d put more effort into security, but like. They don’t.”

“That kind of inadaptability is what led the Octarians to lose the war in the first place,” Agent 2 said, taking a sip of lemonade.

“You guys do any good recon?”

Agent 2 rolled her eyes. “Come on, Three. We always do good recon. We just usually don’t find anything during our good recon.”

“Mmhmm.” Agent 3 sat down in one of the wooden chairs, closing her eyes and letting her tentacles flop down onto her stomach.

“Hey, Marie, do you have the match list for the tournament yet?” Agent 1 asked.

“Nah. Apparently, commentators aren’t important enough to get the schedule before the public does.” She didn’t sound bitter at all.

“Come on! We’re, like, the most famous band in Inkopolis!”

“You know, there’s a new band coming up that seems to be getting pretty popular,” Agent 3 said. “Off The Handle, or something? I don’t know, I don’t listen to them much.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of them,” Agent 2 said. “Off the Hook, I think. Not really my style.”

“Besides, they’ve got nothing on the Squid Sisters,” mumbled Agent 1. “Hey, Three, are you into the Splat League? I know talking personal life isn’t really your thing and all, but like. I’m curious.”

Agent 3 sighed, sitting up. They’d probably find out eventually anyway. “Well, I auditioned for Ink Blast.”

Instantly, Agent 1 straightened in her chair, leaning forward and lifting her sunglasses off her eyes. “Woah, really? Keri, that’s awesome!”

Agent 3 gave her a look.

“I-I mean, Agent 3, that’s awesome!”

Agent 3 shrugged. “I guess? I mean, they said I was a good contender, but they haven’t announced who’s actually joining the team yet.”

“Oh, come on, you’re one of us badass secret agents!” Agent 1 exclaimed. “They’d be lucky to get you on their team!”

“You’re certainly skilled enough for League matches,” Agent 2 said.

“I dunno. Everyone in league has these awesome techniques that like, break new ground in how you can use weapons and shit. And all I’m good at is jumping around.”

Agent 1 shrugged. “Moving as quickly as you do is a pretty awesome technique in my eyes.”

“And there’s plenty of pro players who don’t have techniques like those,” Agent 2 said. “But I guess they’re not really as popular.” She shrugged.

“Wow, thanks,” Agent 3 grumbled, giving Agent 2 a look.

Agent 1 smirked. “So, have you thought of a pro name yet? I wanna practice saying it enthusiastically for when I commentate your matches.”

“Try not to get saddled with something stupid,” Agent 2 said. “I throw up a little every time I have to say ‘Squidbird.’ ”

Despite herself, Agent 3 flushed a bit. “Guys, come on! I haven’t even gotten on the team!”

“Oh my god, I got on the team!” Keri cried, jumping up and down in her bedroom. Opened on her phone was a brief seamail from one Cassie Hyuri, with the subject simply saying, ‘Congratulations!’

Dear Keri,

Congratulations! After much deliberation, Ink Blast has decided that you would be the most apt addition to our ranks out of the many applicants, due to your impressive technical skill, quick thinking, and versatility on the field. Our first match isn’t for a while, but there’s a lot to go through before you’re combat-ready. Please come by our offices tomorrow at 1:00pm for initiation. Please be on-time, dress for a turf war, and bring any and all weapons you could see yourself using during the tournament.

We would also ask that you refrain from making your acceptance public for a few days; we want to make a joint announcement with Cephalosquad sometime later this week about both you and their new player, but for that, we need to get you newbies publicity-ready. So for now, keep it on the down-low.

We’re looking forward to working with you!

Cassie “Tentaclaw” Hyari

Keri read and re-read and re-re-read the email, practically vibrating with excitement. She was gonna be in the Splat League! On Ink Blast! Screw being a secret agent, this was the real shit!


What the hell was she supposed to do until tomorrow? Cap’n probably wouldn’t need her for a few days, and it’s not like she had a lot of stuff planned. Callie and Marie would probably want to congratulate her, but she didn’t really want them all over her about it until she’d gotten everything a bit more settled. Same with Ben, probably, though he’d be pissed she didn’t tell him immediately. Whatever. It was Ben, they’d known each other forever. He’d been pissed at her many, many times in the past, and he’d lived.

She looked over to her weapon rack; it probably wouldn’t hurt to make sure everything was in top shape. She’d literally never taken them in for maintenance, so it was probably overdue. Sighing, she grabbed an old backpack and stuffed it with most of her weapons; the Hero Charger and the Hero Roller had to be strapped to her back, and she was carrying the Hero Splatling awkwardly in her arms, but it worked.

Once everything was in place, she left her apartment and made her way to Inkopolis Square, entering into Ammo Knights.

Sheldon greeted her with wave. “Heya! What kind of weapon are you looking for today?”

“Oh, um, I’m just here for maintenance.”

“Alrighty! Head on to the back room, my intern will sort you out.”

Intern? “Okay.”

Keri pushed open a door at the back of the shop, and found herself in a small workshop. A girl with short, yellow tentacles and a simple black beanie was seated in a swivel chair, tinkering with a Dynamo Roller. She turned when Keri entered, putting her tools down.

“Need something?” she asked.

“Yeah, my weapons are due for maintenance I think.”

The girl squinted and moved her head to look past Keri’s shoulder. “Well, if that charger’s anything to go by, then yeah, they sure are. Lay them out on the counter, I’ll take a look at them.”

Keri frowned. Was it her, or was this girl being a bit rude? Whatever, not her problem. She began removing weapons from her backpack and laying them down on the counter.

The girl’s eyebrows climbed higher with each weapon Keri layed out. “Holy sh—holy crap,” she said. “You’ve got a full set of Hero Replicas? That’s insane!”

“I worked really hard for them,” Keri said. It wasn’t really a lie.

“I’ll bet. You know, I’d think you’d take better care of them. These aren’t mass produced like other weapons; if one of them breaks, you’ll be hard pressed to find another one.”

Not really. She was pretty sure Cap’n had a whole warehouse full of the things. But she didn’t say that.

The girl picked up her Hero Blaster and turned it over in her hands. “Wow, this is a really good replica, too. Where’d you even get all these?”

“Oh, you know.”

The girl looked at her for elaboration. Keri didn’t give it.

“Well, anyway, for nine weapons, this’ll probably take a while. You can wait here or outside if you want.”

“I’ll just wait here.”

“Suit yourself.” The girl turned to a speaker sitting next to her and turned it up, pop music filling the room. It wasn’t anything Keri recognized, but that really only meant it wasn’t one of the Squid Sisters’ songs. Sounded like rap, maybe? Rap-pop hybrid kinda thing. She didn’t particularly care for it.

“What band is this?” she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

The girl gave her a look. “Off The Hook. You’ve seriously never heard of them?”

“Oh, wait, yeah, I know them. Just haven’t listened to any of their stuff before. I didn’t know it was so… this.” She waved her hand vaguely at the speaker.

“Come on, they’re stuff’s dope! Way better than that overdone pop that the Squid Sisters popularized.”

“Oh, you’re a hipster. I get it.”

The girl’s eyes narrowed. “Look, punk, do you want you’re weapons fixed or not?”

“Yes. Fine. Sorry.”

The girl rolled her eyes, but quickly went to work, starting on the Herobrush. She looked vaguely familiar, now that Keri was really looking at her, but she couldn’t quite place it. Had she played with her in turf war? No, that wasn’t it.

Done with her work on the brush, the girl reattached the handle and moved on to the Hero Slosher, idly adjusting her beanie.

Keri snapped her fingers. “Aha! You’re that girl that bombed the Ink Blast audition!”

The girl started. “Excuse me?”

“I was behind you in line! You came out all like, ‘Man, I totally blew it!’ ”

“I, uh—well, how did you do, huh?” the girl asked defensively.

“I totally beat them,” she said excitedly. “I actually—” She stopped, remembering that she was supposed to keep quiet. “Well, I haven’t gotten a response yet or anything, but I think I did well.”

“Good for you, I guess,” the girl growled, bristling.

“So, did you end up auditioning for Cephalosquad?”

“Jeez, it’s none of your business!”

Keri let out a low whistle, holding her hands up. “Okay, wow, sorry I asked.”

They sat there in an uncomfortable silence until the girl had finished her work. “Alright. Done. You should find that the pressure’s gone up on all the guns, and the slosher and roller should have more volume now. You really need to maintain these better; they were full of dried ink and dirt and junk.”

“Alright, alright,” Keri said, shoveling the guns back into her backpack.

“You know, that kind of weapon care really isn’t becoming of a Splat Leaguer,” the girl commented wryly.

“Oh my god, why are you so bitter about this? Look, I’m sorry I did better on the audition than you, okay?”

The girl frowned. “We’re done here. You can leave now.”

Keri rolled her eyes, but complied, swinging on her backpack and exiting the shop. “Some people, man,” she grumbled under her breath.

She stopped at the café for a quick bite to eat, then returned to her apartment. Her work as an agent paid surprisingly little for how dangerous it was, so her place was pretty modest. It was also a complete mess, with clothes and various doodads littering the floor.

Keri dropped her backpack to the ground and began placing her weapons back onto their racks. As much as she hated to admit it, they did look a lot nicer now.

She admired them for a few seconds; she had fond memories of all of her weapons, but especially her hero ones. Without them, she would, most likely, be dead. And that would kinda suck, because if she was dead then she wouldn’t be able to play in the tournament with Ink Blast.

It still felt like a dream. Hell, it was her dream, pretty much, ever since she’d watched the first season of the Splat League six years ago. Little 10-year-old Keri had watched Ink Blast fight their way up the ladder, and even though they lost in the finals, she’d wanted to be on their team—they were just that cool to her.

(And she supposed she may have had a little crush on Tentaclaw back then, too. Thank god she was over it—that would’ve been awkward.)

Battling alongside them had been her fantasy for so long, and now it was quickly turning into reality. She supposed she kind of had Cap’n Cuttlefish to thank, honestly; without her field experience as Agent 3, she never would have been able to make the audition. It was funny how life worked out like that.

At last, she retired to her bedroom, flopping down at her desk. She opened her laptop and went onto the Splat League’s official website; if she was going to meet with them tomorrow, she should be in the right mood. She pulled up the archived matches from previous years, and began watching.

“Oh my god that’s a lot of weapons,” Tentaclaw said when Keri trudged into the Ink Blast headquarters, lugging her overstuffed backpack along with her. Apparently, the auditions had been held in one of the practice arenas for the larger Splat League complex; Ink Blast’s offices were located in a much smaller part of the building, and they did not, in fact, get their own full-sized turf war arena. They basically had a seating area out in the front that she supposed they used when meeting with people outside the team, a lounge area for breaks and stuff, a storage room, what looked like an office space, and a locker room, which they were in now.

“I told you I switch it up a lot,” Keri said, awkwardly setting everything down.

“Man, you really do have a full set of Hero weapons,” Brella Knight said, crouching down. He picked up her brella. “I’ve always wanted to test out the Hero Brella Replica. I know that it’s basically the same as the Splatbrella, but it’s still cool.”

“Why does everybody care so much about the fact that I have a full set?” Keri wondered aloud. She was hoping people would just kinda be like ‘oh, neat,’ and then move on. She had gotten lucky with that maintenance girl in Ammo Knights, but eventually somebody was gonna realize these weren’t replicas.

“Because it’s unusual, and it shows your dedication to the sport,” Tentaclaw explained. “Actually, that’s an important thing in this kind of business. If you want to build up a fanbase and sell merch, you’re going to need to stand out. Hell, you could even theme yourself after this if you wanted, like how Orion has his whole dumb ‘Knight’ shtick.”

“It’s not dumb, it’s original,” Brella Knight said.

Keri frowned. “Orion?”

Cassie looked at her. “Yeah? That’s his name?”

“Oh, right. I dunno, I just, um.”

Tentaclaw laughed. “Come on, Keri, you don’t think we really refer to each other with our pro names, do you? Most of them are really dumb anyway. I’m Cassie, he’s Orion, and—well, I don’t know where Bomber ran off to, but her name’s Halley.”

“Yeah, please don’t call me Brella Knight every time you refer to me,” Orion said. “That name was a mistake I made at a young age.”

Cassie turned to him and smirked. “Really? I thought the whole knight thing was original?”

“The knight part is cool,” he said. “I just wish I hadn’t slapped ‘brella’ in front of it. Marie keeps saying ‘Brella’s Sorella Brella’ when referring to my weapon, and I know she’s just shortening the names for commentating reasons, but at this point it really sounds like she’s making fun of me.”

Keri laughed. She knew Marie—she was definitely making fun of him.

Cassie giggled, then turned back to Keri. “Well, anyway, about your weapons: since you’re a member of a league team, you’re actually free to keep them here at our offices. It’s really nice not having to lug them from the residential areas all the way to the Square or Plaza for turf wars and stuff.”

Keri nodded, noticing the weapon racks lining the locker room—there was a plethora of different blasters, chargers, and brellas, and a sprinkling of other weapons here and there.

“Just find space wherever for now. We’ll clear you off your own rack soon.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Keri said, laying her various guns down on the racks. “I’m a pretty messy person myself.”

“Don’t tell Halley that,” Orion said, causing both him and Cassie to laugh.

“Don’t tell me what?” Halley questioned, appearing in the doorway and looking at Orion suspiciously. Her tentacles were braided, pulled over one shoulder, and her goggles were resting on her forehead, as opposed to on her eyes like when she was in battle.

“There you are!” Cassie said, walking up to her teammate and around the question. “Where were you? You missed Keri.”

“Sorry, I was getting the paperwork.”

“Of course you were,” Orion said.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“ ‘Hey, new recruit, welcome to Ink Blast. Here’s your paperwork! Go into the corner and fill it out, won’t you?’ ” Orion made faces as he spoke, doing a poor imitation of Halley’s voice.

“She’s not even officially on the team until she fills these out, brella-brain.”

Cassie rolled her eyes. “Quit it, you two. Let’s just get the forms over with, alright?”

“Thank you,” Halley said, pushing past Orion to stand in front of Keri. She dropped a thin stack of papers into her hands, along with a pen. “Okay, so, this one is official induction into the team, and then this one is official induction into the tournament, this one is a liability thing so you can’t sue Splat League if you get hurt during a match, and this one is an agreement that all merchandising based off of your professional identity must be approved for sale by Splat League. Oh, and then you have to fill out this one on how you want to receive your payment.”

Keri had about a million questions, but the one that managed to push its way out of her mouth first was, “I’m being paid?”


“Uh.” Halley blinked. “You thought you weren’t being paid?”

Keri scratched the back of her head. “Well, I dunno, I guess I never thought about it.”

“Keri, we’re literally called ‘pro battlers.’ Pro. As in professional. As in this is our full-time profession.”

“Well, full time isn’t wholly accurate,” Cassie interjected. “During the off season, Splat League won’t pay you. But there are a lot of tournaments, and those of us in the Splat League tend to participate in the larger ones of those as well. There’s also sponsor deals, showing up at promos, that sort of thing, for in-between tournaments.”

“Oh, shit,” Keri said.

“That’s not a problem, is it?” Cassie asked, starting to look a bit concerned. “You will have to be able to commit a good amount of time to this.”

“N-no, not at all! It’s great, actually. I could really use the money. I just hadn’t really considered all of the… everything. But that’s totally cool—I don’t do a whole lot, so it’s not like there will be schedule conflicts.” Not unless the Great Zapfish was stolen again, or something dumb like that.

Once all the paperwork was filled out, Keri handed it back to Halley, who shoved it into a folder. “Great. I’ll take these to where they need to go later today, and then it’ll all be official. And speaking of the industry and all, you’re going to need a pro name, and preferably some sorta theme to base your look off of. Something for fans to latch onto.”

“We talked about that a bit before you came in,” Cassie said, lifting up Keri’s Hero Shot with one of her tentacles and tossing it into her arms. “We were thinking she might be able to play off of all this hero gear she has.”

Halley looked at the Hero Shot, looked at Keri, and hummed. “That’s not a bad idea, actually.”

Orion snapped his fingers. “And didn’t Cuttlegear release a line based off of the agents after they saved the Great Zapfish? I remembered wanting to pick up some of those hero headphones, but they were too small on me.”

“Uh, I don’t know,” Keri mumbled, not liking where this was going. She knew she shouldn’t have used her Hero weapons—it was too risky! But after using them for so long, switching off them would feel weird, and she would’ve had to buy new ones, and… ugh. This was a mess.

“It kinda fits your playstyle, too, don’t you think?” Cassie added, each word sending Keri deeper into regret. “Great at dodging enemy fire, knows how to handle multiple opponents; sounds like agent stuff to me. There’s that rumor that Agent 3 took on a whole Octarian army single-handed. I mean, it’s a ludicrous rumor, but still.”

Shit. Say something. “But wouldn’t this be kind of disrespectful to the agents and everything? I mean, even if nobody’s ever seen them, they’re real Inklings, and I’d kind of be using their style without their permission and all.” She was grasping at straws here. Was it obvious she was grasping at straws here?

“I think it’d come across more as a respectful kind of thing,” Orion said. “Especially if you say that. Just be like, ‘Even though no one knows who they are, and even though they get no credit, they fight tirelessly for what the greater good. It’s where I draw my inspiration.’ People buy that stuff up so fast.”

“Plus, you can’t go wrong with a name like ‘Hero.’ It’s short, it’s simple; I don’t really see a downside. I mean, it’s your choice, but like.” Halley shrugged. “Seems like the obvious choice, you know?”

Keri looked between the faces of her new teammates, six expectant eyes staring at her. The idea was solid. Every point they’d made had been a good one. She just wished her secret identity as Agent 3 and her pseudo-secret identity as a professional battler weren’t literally the same thing.

So she put on a smile. “That’s actually not a bad idea. Let’s do it.”

Cassie fist-pumped. “Yes! Just watch, you’re gonna be so cool-looking out on the field! Oh, my god, we should get you a cape!”

“No, we shouldn’t” Halley said immediately.

Keri thought for a moment. A cape sounded pretty fresh, honestly. She pictured herself standing at the top of a cliff, maybe, right after saving Inkopolis from certain destruction. She had the Hero Charger resting over her shoulder, tentacles swaying in the wind, an epic cape flapping wickedly behind her…

“A cape sounds cool,” she said, simply, instead of all that edgy nonsense.

“I’m pretty sure capes are against Splat League gear policy,” Orion said.

“Oh.” Darn.

She was still gonna buy a cape.

“Wait, how do you know that?” Cassie asked, narrowing her eyes at Orion. “Were you seriously considering buying a cape for your whole knight thing?”

“No, shut up,” he said.

Cassie broke into laughter. “Oh my god.”

“Is there anything else we need to cover?” Orion asked, changing the subject.

“She’ll need to write up her bio on the Splat League website, but that’s not hard,” Cassie said. “And then she needs to actually get her gear and stuff before the first match, but that’s not for a while.”

“Right, the bio, I almost forgot,” Halley said, pulling out her phone. “I’ll seamail you a link right now. Just go to the Splat League site and log in with this username and password, and then go to ‘battler bio’ and fill everything in. You’ve probably read bios before, but just talk yourself up, basically. Like, ‘Halley “Bomber” Heck is a wild, unpredictable player. Able to launch herself across the turf with her own blaster shots, she’s sure to leave destruction and lots of splatted opponents in her wake.’ That sort of thing.”

“Do you seriously have your bio memorized?” Orion asked.

“No, I made all of that up just now.”

Keri looked at her. “I can’t tell if you’re being serious.”

Cassie and Orion both shrugged, looking just as confused on the matter.

“Alright, well, I think that’s everything,” Cassie said. “Oh, well, they always hold this event where all the new battlers get to meet fans. You’ll be with whoever Cephalosquad picked out, and then I think there’s a new team, too, who got in from juniors. But us and Cephalosquad are the only previous teams new members. So that’ll be fun.”

More like nerve wracking and stressful, but, yeah, fun works too.

“Now, are you down for a bit of training?” Cassie asked, flexing her tentacles menacingly.

Keri smiled. Now, here was the part she did know a thing or two about.

Chapter Text

Keri collapsed onto her couch with a smile. She and the rest of Ink Blast had trained for hours, starting on the training fields within the Splat League building and then playing some casual matches. It was a bit hard to integrate into their team dynamic, but it was also a lot of fun, and the looks on the other team’s faces when they realized who they were playing against were hilarious.

They ended up winning most of those games.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she pulled it out.

Agent 2: Sup three. We just got off work. Spill the beans on that audition info.

You: I got in

Agent 2: Hey, congrats. That’s really awesome.

Agent 2: Callie says she told you so.

You: Tell her to shut up

Agent 2: Yeah I already did.

You: Sweet thanks

Agent 2: You gotta get over here. We’re gonna throw a party for you.

You: Come on I’m busy

You: Also that’s totally unnecessary

Agent 2: You’re not, and it isn’t.

You: I don’t like parties

Agent 2: Well tough shit cause there’s also a briefing you need to get in person.

You: Oh my god. Why didn’t you tell me two days ago when we were literally all right there together?

Agent 2: We hadn’t fully gone over the intel. Also didn’t feel like it.

Keri sighed, tiredly and heavily. Fucking. Marie. Come on.

You: Fine. I’ll come. Just give me a few minutes to write this battler bio for the tournament or whatever

Agent 2: Sure thing, three. See you soon.

Agent 2: ;)

Keri glared at Marie’s dumb winky face for a few seconds in disgust before turning to her laptop. She opened the seamail Halley had sent her, clicked on the link, and began to type.

Keri arrived at the Squid Sisters’ place a bit later in the afternoon, the sun falling down towards the horizon. The duo lived in a permanent suite at the top of New Albacore Hotel, because of course they did. She didn’t get the whole thing of celebrities living in hotels. Was it just to show how rich they were? But Callie and Marie weren’t like that, really. Well, maybe Callie was, a bit. Perhaps it was just becauses the hotel was close to the studio, and so it was convenient? Maybe it was for privacy reasons? The hotel would probably handle security for them and prevent fans from raiding their home and stuff.

She should ask sometime. She probably never actually would, but she should.

A staff member stopped her as she approached the top floor.

“Do you have business with one of the permanent residents?”

“I’m meeting Callie and Marie? I’m Keri Avony?”

The dude looked down at a list he was holding. “Uhh… oh, yup, you’re on here. Alright, room 2506.”

“Yeah, I know where it is,” she said, taking to the halls. She arrived at suite 2506 in just a few seconds, and approached the door.

She had barely knocked before the door slammed open, revealing Callie’s ecstatic face. “Keri! Come in!”

She practically pulled her into their suite. It was, as usual, split into bubbles of chaotic mess and delicate order, depending on which cousin dwelled primarily in that area. Marie came running out of the kitchen, holding something in her hands. Was that… was that a cake?

“Is that a cake?”

“Yep,” Marie said. “You got onto a pro team. That’s a big deal.”

“You’re finally gonna be famous!” Callie said. “I knew we’d rub off on you eventually.”

Keri stared at the cake. It had fancy orange frosting, and one of those big candles in the shape of a three for when kids turn three years old. Of course it did. Goddammit. “Where did you even get a cake so quickly?”

“Keri, we’re the Squid Sisters,” Marie said, as if that explained everything. She cut off a few slices and handed plates to Keri and Callie, and they moved over to the table.

“So, you said you had some briefing to give me?” Keri asked, taking a bite. It was definitely store bought, but she knew that already; Callie and Marie didn’t cook so much as they burnt.

Callie held up a finger. “Uh uh uh! We can get to that later. First, you need to tell us the whole story here.”

“What do you mean?” Keri wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

“Look at it from our perspective,” Marie said, in that very Marie way of hers. “Our friend and coworker, who never says anything about her life, suddenly drops the bomb that, oh, yeah, she auditioned to be on a pro battling team for a tournament that we host. Obviously, you were really excited or nervous or something, because you would normally wait until you were sure you got in before saying anything, and even then you’d probably just let us find out ourselves during the newbie meet & greet. There’s clearly a story here.”

Keri sighed. “Well, I guess the ‘story’ is just that I’ve always been a fan of Ink Blast. I started watching the League during its first year, and I just thought Tentaclaw and Brella Knight were so cool with their special techniques. There weren’t a lot of other players back then who had developed such unique play styles, you know? So when I heard they were holding auditions, I jumped on it. And then I got in. So now I’m like. Doing this.” She let out a breath. “I’m still kind of processing it.”

Callie snorted. “Yeah, we can tell. So, what’s your pro name?”

Oh, god. Here we go. “Well, um. It’s ‘Hero.’ ”

“Ooh! I like it. It’s simple, but I think it fits you,” Callie said.

“What, like a superhero?” Marie asked.

“Not… really.” Keri gulped. “More like a. Like a secret agent hero.”

Silence. Silence and her internal screaming.

“…Please be kidding,” Marie said.

Keri shook her head. “I wish. They noticed that I exclusively use hero weapons, and they were like, ‘Oh, that would make a great theme, you know?’ It wasn’t my idea!”

“But it was your idea to say yes,” Callie pointed out.

“They were very persuasive. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s a pretty fresh theme. I mean, I know for a fact that at least a third of the secret agents are certified badasses; who wouldn’t want to emulate that?”

Marie put her face in her hands. “Why are you like this, Three?”

“It shouldn’t be that big a deal, guys! Literally nobody’s seen me as an agent, it’s not like they’d recognize me!”

Marie sighed. “I guess it’s okay. Just be careful, okay?”

Keri smiled. “I’m always careful.” Callie laughed. Which was really very rude of her. “Look, can we move into the briefing now? Did you two actually discover something useful for once?”

“Sure, may as well.” Keri could see Marie’s head switching gears into Agent Mode. “So, we found out that after you captured Octavio, a few Octolings that served under him actually defected.”

“Apparently he was using some sort of mind control to keep them in line,” Callie explained. “The Calamari Inkantation freed them, and some of them tried to escape from the underground so that they wouldn’t have to serve the Octarians anymore.” That was fair, Keri thought. If she’d been mind controlled into fighting someone who had already splatted hundreds of soldiers single handedly, she wouldn’t be very happy about it either.

Callie smiled. “I always knew that turning an ancient ritual into a pop song would be a good idea.”

Marie shot her a look before continuing. “Right, well, a few of the Octolings who managed to escape the underground—which wasn’t many, actually, most got captured—came here to Inkopolis. We got in contact with one of them, and she agreed to meet with the New Squidbeak Splatoon tomorrow evening.”

“Oh, shit,” Keri said. This was big. She probably had all sorts of useful intel on the Octarian operations.

“Oh shit’s right,” Marie said. “But we still don’t know if we can trust her. She said she’d be bringing an Inkling along with her—the Inkling who found her, housed her, taught her about Inkling society, all that stuff. I’m inclined to believe she’s telling us the truth, but just to be sure, come in incognito gear and with an ink tank.”

“You mean like those sunglasses and bandana you two were wearing when we first met?” Keri asked. “You seriously think that’ll fool her?”

“Fooled you.”

Keri frowned. “I—fine.”

“Meet us at the shack at ten,” Callie said, stuffing another piece of cake into her mouth. “Gramps had something to take care of, so he won’t be there.”

“Alright. Well, if that’s all, I’m gonna go.”

Callie rolled her eyes. “Ugh, fine, be that way. See you tomorrow, Keri! And then at the Newbie Meet & Greet, too, right?”

“Don’t remind me.” Keri scowled as she reached for the door handle. “Well, anyway, bye.”

Callie threw her a salute. “See ya.”

“Staaaaaaaay fresh,” Marie droned, with a completely straight face, in the most deadpan voice possible.

“Shut up,” Keri said, and closed the door behind her.

The next day, Keri found herself having lunch out in the Plaza with her friend Ben. He was an old pal she’d known back in Saltwater County, where they’d grown up, but his family had moved to Inkopolis when they were younger. They’d stayed in touch over the internet, but it hadn’t been until Keri had moved to Inkopolis herself a year ago that they’d seen each other again.

They were eating at a small table outside one of the various restaurants in the Plaza. There weren’t as many people around here as there once was, what with the Square’s quickly growing popularity. Keri liked it; it was quieter here, now.

“…and so business has really picked up, which sucks, because now my manager wants me to work a double shift, and—” Ben sighed, blowing out a strained breath and screwing his eyes closed. “Well, anyway, how’s your job going?” He worked as a waiter, and enjoyed it about as much as one would expect. “What is it you do again?”

“My job’s going alright,” she said, dodging neatly around that second question. “I actually just landed a second one, which I’m pretty excited about.”

“Really? Where?”

She smiled. “It’s a secret.”

Ben leveled a stare at her. “Keri?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she giggled. “You’ll find out eventually. Didn’t you have some exciting news to tell me or something?”

He looked at her suspiciously, but must’ve decided it wasn’t worth it, and moved on. “Yeah. you know how me and some of my friends around here play Turf Wars together a bunch?”

Keri nodded. She’d only met the rest of Ben’s team a couple of times, but they seemed like nice enough people.

“Well, we’re entering the junior tournament for the Splat League. Maeve finally turned sixteen this year, so we all qualify now.”

“Really? That’s super exciting!” Keri said. The two of them had always shared their love of professional Turf Wars, and Ben had been talking for a while now about the Junior Leagues. “You need to tell me when your matches are so I can cheer you on.”

Ben smiled. “Thanks, I will.” He paused. “You should find a team, you know. You’re way better than me at battling anyway, so you’re definitely good enough, and I think you’d really enjoy it.”

“Yeah, maybe I should,” Keri said, winking.

“Why did you just wink at me?” he asked. “What’s going on? Am I missing something?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said again, laughing.

“I’m really starting to worry about it, honestly.”

Keri just smiled and dug into her food.

They ate in comfortable silence for a time; Keri always got the Salmon Sandwich at this place. She idly wondered if they just called it that, or if it was made from actual Salmonid meat. I mean, they had to get the meat from somewhere, right? Inklings were omnivores after all, and she knew that ancient squids had even been purely carnivorous. Maybe she should just enjoy it and not think about it too hard?

Ben snapped his fingers and made a soft ‘Oh’ sound, interrupting Keri’s thoughts. (Probably for the best.) “I almost forgot—me and my friends are going to the Newbie Meet & Greet for Splat League, if you wanna come. I know you’re probably excited for Ink Blast’s new member, but, personally, I can’t wait to see who Cephalosquad’s brought on.”

Excuse me? Cephalosquad? Really? Come on. “Sorry, I’m busy that day,” she said. She winked again, just for good measure. “But you’ll have to tell me all the details!”

“Sure thing, Keri. And stop winking. It’s super unsettling.”

She laughed. “No.”

Keri strolled into a general clothing store in Arowana Mall. Coral Style, it called itself. She liked it here; it wasn’t very expensive, and it was pretty casual, which she appreciated. She approached a clerk—some species of crustacean—who was wandering around the store aimlessly and trying not to make eye contact with anyone.

“Excuse me, sir?” He turned and tried to look like wanted to be here. “I’m looking for a cape and something to obscure my face.”

The employee performed a long, tired blink. “Run that by me one more time?”

“I said I’m looking for a cape and something to obscure my face,” Keri repeated.

He buried his face in his claws and let out a long sigh. “Yeah, follow me. I think we’ve got exactly what you’re looking for. For some reason.”

See? What a great store.

Agent 3 flipped through the grate, switching back to her Inkling form and landing solidly on the soles of her combat boots. She caught sight of the shack off in the distance, and the two shadily-dresses figures standing outside it. Agents 1 and 2 were in their full incognito gear; Agent 1 was wearing her beanie and sunglasses, and Agent 2 had her face mask and cap on. Three approached them, and they turned to her footsteps.

“Nice to see you, Ag—” Agent 1 stopped dead in her tracks when she saw what Three was wearing. “Oh my actual fucking god. Is that a cape?”

Agent 2 burst into laughter, practically wheezing. “I’m dying… you look so edgy…”

Three’s face immediately reddened. “Hey, shut up! Capes are awesome!”

“Three, please, stop,” Agent 2 gasped out between laughs. “You’re killing me. Oh my god, and the skull bandana around your mouth, HA! I’m going to die, I can’t take this!”

Agent 1 screwed up her face. “It’s… certainly a look.”

Agent 3 looked away, blushing madly under the bandana. Jerks. She grabbed the edges of the cape and pulled it tight against her body. “Shut up! It’s cool!”

Agent 2 managed to calm down, somewhat. “Sorry. It’s just. Wow. Thanks, Three, I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a while.”

“Mar—Agent 2, be nice,” Agent 1 said. “It’s not that, um. Not that, uh. Not. Hmm.”

“Not that what?” Agent 3 asked with a soul-piercing glare.

Agent 1 sighed. “Look, sorry, it’s a cool getup for the mysterious Agent 3, just not for, you know.”

“Just not for Keri Avony the awkward broody teenager,” Agent 2 finished.

“Yeah, what she said.”

“You guys are asses, you know that?”

Two laughed. Cackled. “Yeah.”

“Oop, hold on, time for professionalism,” Agent 1 said, looking off into the distance.

Two figures were approaching in the distance, with an almost comical height difference between them. The three agents shut up and straightened their postures. Three adjusted her cape so it would blow menacingly in the wind; Two noticed, and snickered, and was an asshole.

Eventually, they would learn to appreciate the cape.

It wasn’t long before the figures reached them. The shorter one was a small pink Inkling, wearing a white dress and a big crown on her head. The taller one was the Octoling, wearing what was honestly some pretty skimpy clothes, at least by Inkling standards, with a huge zipper attached to her crop top. She also had a small bag slung around her shoulder. They carried themselves confidently, but not without nervousness; the New Squidbeak Splatoon had to look at least somewhat imposing, dressed as they were, and Agent 3 herself was kind of infamous in Octarian society for, like. Beating literally their entire military, pretty much.

The Octoling’s eyes flickered from face to face, her mouth pulled back into an unreadable line. Out of the two of them, it was actually the Inkling who appeared more frightened, judging by the way her hands shook; but she was ever so slightly crouched down, clearly ready to jump into action if anything went wrong.

Well, if she was willing to throw down for the Octoling, then clearly she trusted her. Maybe this wouldn’t end awfully for everyone.

“Thanks for coming,” Agent 1 said, nodding respectfully to the two of them. “It means a lot.”

“You’re welcome,” the Octoling said. Her eyes flicked to Agent 2. “You two look familiar.”

“I was about to say the same thing,” said Two. “Aren’t you two Off The Hook?”

Agent 3 turned. “That new hipster band?”

“Hi. Yes. I’m Marina, and this is Pearl. And for the record, it’s not a hipster band,” the Octoling said. “I didn’t know this would be a… costume party.”

“Standard procedure,” Agent 2 replied, poker-faced. “Nothing personal, but it’s too risky to let people know what we look like.”

“Oh, bullshit,” spat the small pink one. Pearl. “You just don’t trust her because she’s an Octoling!”

Agent 2 shook her head. “Anybody can claim to be anything in electronic communication. Telling us she was an Octoling actually helps us trust you two. If this were actually an ambush, you wouldn’t have put us on guard like that. And, for the record, we still would’ve taken all these security measures.”

Pearl didn’t seem entirely satisfied, but her voice lost its edge. “Alright. Whatever. I still don’t like the whole masks and sunglasses thing.”

Agent 1 ignored her, instead turning back to Marina. “Aren’t you two getting quite popular? Can’t people tell you’re an Octoling?”

“I think they think I’m just into experimental fashion,” Marina said. “I’ve even had a few fans try to model their tentacles after mine. It’s actually a bit funny.”

One nodded. “Right. That’s good. I’m not sure Inkopolis would react too well to Octolings just walking around in the open. The Zapfish was only stolen a year ago; it’s still pretty fresh in everybody’s mind.”

Pearl seemed very frustrated. Probably because it all had to be compacted into that tiny little body of hers. “Yeah—but—that—that wasn’t Marina!”

“Well, it kind of was,” Marina said, looking down guiltily at Pearl. “I mean, I wasn’t on the team that stole it, but I was a pretty high-ranking engineer for Octavio. I helped.”

“God, Marina, don’t tell them that!” Pearl nearly shouted, gesturing wildly at the agents. “Now they’re gonna arrest you!”

“We aren’t going to arrest you,” Agent 2 assured. “Especially not if you’re willing to help us, which it seems like you are. You mentioned you had information about the Octarian’s plans?”

“Yes!” Marina perked up, and pulled a laptop out of her bag. “As I said, I was a pretty high-ranking engineer, so I was involved in a lot of operations headed by the DJ. After he was captured, the next people in charge were already planning how to rescue him, but they didn’t count on the Squid Sisters’ song breaking us out of the hypnosis they were using on us Octolings. One of my closest friends in the Underground, Syra, planned this whole escape plan with a bunch of us. A few months back, when they were planning to attack Inkopolis and free DJ Octavio, we sabotaged a few projects. They… Well, they exploded, basically, and we used the chaos to escape.”

Agent 3 frowned. “So… did all these other Octolings just not come to Inkopolis, or…?”

“Or,” Marina answered, face lowered. “They cut us off and had us surrounded before we could make it out. Most of us were captured, but a few of us managed to escape. Syra… was killed. They cut power to the lower spawns, and…”

Marina’s voice broke a little, and Pearl laid a comforting hand on her back.

“I’m so sorry,” Agent 1 said, hand over her mouth. Agent 2 was silent, but her eyes looked a bit more somber than usual.

“It’s okay. That’s just how the Octarian’s are. They treat us like garbage because we remind them of Inklings. Always have; it just took that song for us to notice.”

Pearl took Marina’s hand in hers and squeezed, and the two of them shared a meaningful glance. It seemed to help Marina calm down, and they smiled warmly at one another.

Oh. Okay. So that explained a lot, actually.

“You must’ve escaped months ago, though,” Agent 2 said, interrupting the moment. Classic Two. “Why haven’t they gone through with their plan yet? All they’ve been doing is stealing the occasional zapfish.”

“We blew up a ton of stuff down there during the escape,” Marina said. “The Underground was practically collapsing. I’d imagine they’re still trying to rebuild everything. But that’s why I wanted to talk to you—they’re probably going to attack sometime soon. And they’re super angry about what happened last year. Especially at you.” She pointed at Three, meeting her eye.

“Yeah, that’s understandable. I can imagine how they feel,” Agent 3 said.

“I’m not sure you can,” Marina said. “Do you realize that you’re effectively the face of anti-Inkling propaganda? Anybody with a shred of sense in the Underground would sell their soul to capture you. It would make them a hero in an instant—goodbye rationed meal cubes, goodbye cramped military dorms, hello status and what little luxury they have down there.”

Three crossed her arms. “Well, I’m flattered, but if they couldn’t manage to stop me when I was literally running around in their headquarters, I kind of doubt they’d manage it now.”

Marina shrugged. “Maybe. Just know that they’re out for blood.”

Next to her, Agent 2 let out a humming sound. “I wonder if we should hire another agent.”

“Like who?” Agent 1 asked.

Agent 2 shrugged. “Who knows. Might fuck around and sit in a sewer grate until someone walks up to me. Worked with Agent 3.”

Agent 3 felt like she should contest that, but it was just the truth.

“Excuse me?” Marina asked. “Are you saying that the Inkling who single handedly brought down DJ Octavio and his army was just… picked up off the street?”

“Yeah,” said Three. “Pretty much.”

Marina looked at Pearl. “Explain.”

Pearl scratched her head. “I dunno if I can, Mari. Uh. Pretty much every Inkling in Inkopolis has been fighting since they were fourteen, though, so it’s not too ridiculous?”

“Those were trained soldiers, Pearl.”

“We’re getting off topic,” Agent 3 said, because this was very quickly approaching the ‘Hey, Keri, why are you so scary good at fighting?’ line of thought, and she was very much not about that. Especially not with One and Two right here. “Is there anything else you have to tell us?”

Marina thought for a moment. “I think that’s it. I have a few friends I keep in discreet contact with, so I’ll keep you up to date on everything. Oh! There is one more thing!”

Agent 2 raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”

“Buy our album!”

“Goddammit,” said Agent 3.

“Haha, yeah!” Pearl said, jumping up and high-fiving Marina. “Did ya know we’re the fastest-growing band in Inkopolis? Because we are! Pretty soon, we’ll be telling those overrated Squid Sisters to shove it, ‘cause the top spot’s got our name on it!”

Agent 2 took a menacing step forward. “Excuse me? What was that about the Squid Sisters?”

“Ha-HA! Okay!” Agent 1 said quickly, grabbing her cousin by the shoulder and drawing her back in. “We’ll keep in touch. See ya later! Staaaaaay fresh!”

There was a beat of silence as everybody processed what she’d just said, and then chaos. Agent 3 face palmed, Agent 1 slapped her hands over her mouth, Pearl pointed at Agent 1 with a shocked expression, Marina gasped dramatically as her hand shot to her heart, and Agent 2 let out the most pained, hopeless, strangled sound that Three had ever heard.

“I want to die,” said Two. “No, scratch that. I want you to die.”

“You didn’t hear anything! I mean!” Agent 1 waved her arms frantically. “I’m a really big fan of the Squid Sisters so I just like saying that! That’s a normal thing people do, right?”

“Oh my god, I just called the Squid Sisters overrated to their faces,” Pearl whimpered, looking like she was about to have a panic attack.

“This is why it’s important to separate personal and professional life, Agent 1!” berated Three. She was literally Agent 1! She had started the whole thing! Secret identities had been her idea! What the hell! “Come on!”

“Oh my, oh wow, it’s really you! I knew you looked familiar!” Marina said, beginning to freak out. “Can I have your autograph? Please? Oh, and that must mean your Marie, right?”

“Kill me,” muttered Agent 2. “Three, you brought your gun, right? Please shoot me. I’m too mad to do it myself.”

“AAAH, I can’t believe it!” Marina continued. “You two changed my life, you know that? Of course you know that, I just told you that, and you were there when it happened in the first place. Wow! This is a dream come true!”

“Alright, meeting officially canceled,” Agent 2 said, practically having to push Marina off of her. “Thanks for coming. Your contribution to the safety and security of Inkopolis will not go unrecognized. You have done a great service today, and you should be proud. All that jazz. Two, out.”

With that, Two whipped out her charger, fired a line of ink all the way to the grate, and swam off.

“Wait, Mar—Agent 2! Don’t leave me!” One called.

“This is your fault! You deal with it!” came Agent 2’s response. She hopped through the grate and disappeared.

“Yeah, she’s right,” said Three with a shrug. “Later, One.”

“Wait! No!”

The last thing Agent 3 heard before she left for Inkopolis was Marina: “So, about that autograph…”

Chapter Text

Keri was not a fan of meeting nor of greeting. She preferred to keep a rather tight circle of friends, and then not tell those friends anything about her past or her personal life. Ben was, really, the only exception to that, and she’d prefer it to stay that way.

So she was understandably anxious about the big Newbie Meet & Greet. Obviously, these were random fans, not, like, actual people she would have to be friends with (or even remember the names of), but it was still, like. Not her idea of fun, you know?

But she understood it was important. She knew that if she wasn’t up here, she’d definitely be in the audience, itching to see what the newcomers were made of. Which only added to the pressure she was feeling right now, honestly, so, hooray.

The sound of a door opening snapped her back to reality. She was in the backstage area of an outdoor stage set up for the Meet & Greet, sitting with Cassie. Through the door walked Orion, carrying a box of clothes.

“One pro battler outfit, coming right up.” He dumped the box onto the ground, and Keri watched as a bunch of cheaply-made replicas of her various Hero gear fell onto the floor in front of her. She picked up the headphones and tapped at them; despite the lights working and everything, they were just plastic, not metal like her real ones.

“You should get changed fast,” Cassie said. “We don’t have a ton of time.”

Keri nodded. She quickly went through the familiar motions, putting the headphones on with a click and picking up the hero jacket replica. God, it really was cheap—if she wore this on a mission, she’d be so dead. She made a mental note to keep the two sets of clothes in very different places.

She slipped the jacket on over her t-shirt and then took off her sneakers, replacing them with the hero runners. Er, the fake hero runners.

This was really weird. She felt like she was cosplaying herself.

Cassie checked the clock on her phone. “Cephalosquad should be here any minute now. It’ll just be the captain and the newbie. I presume you already know what Brush Wrestler looks like, since she’s been captain for years now, but her real-life name is Jierdan, and she’s actually really sweet when she’s not on the battlefield. Their newbie’s going by ‘Skater’ for the tournament, and her real name’s Alex. I’ve never met her myself, but if Jierdan chose her, she’s probably fine. Cephalosquad’s known for their sportsmanship.”

Orion nodded. “Yeah, they’re a great bunch. Hey, Cassie, if you think you’ve got this, I’m gonna head—Halley said she had something to talk with me about. It sounded boring, but you know how she gets.”

“It’s probably important,” Cassie said. “Don’t worry about me—this is mostly on Keri anyway.”

Well, that made her feel a lot worse.

Orion left through one door just as the other door opened, revealing two female Inklings. They were both colored blue, Cephalosquad’s color, and Keri recognized one of them as Brush Wrestler; or, Jierdan, she supposed.

Jierdan was wearing her pro outfit, which consisted of a white martial arts gi with a black belt and an inkbrush insignia, and another black belt wrapped around her forehead that trailed down behind her. She was wearing her tentacles in a new style that was starting to catch on, with a single, wavy tentacle hanging asymmetrically on one side of her face. The other Inkling—Alex, she presumed—was dressed in more of a street style, with a t-shirt, shorts, a sideways baseball cap, and high-topped tennis shoes. She had shorter, chin-length tentacles, and was carrying a dynamo roller over her shoulder with such ease you would think it were a carbon.

Cassie walked up to Jierdan and brought her into a hug. “Hey, Jierdan! Always nice to see you.”

“You too. Are Halley and Orion getting along?”

Cassie laughed. “You’re funny.”

Keri tuned them out, instead staring at Alex. Alex stared back.

“You look familiar,” they said, simultaneously.

Cassie turned. “You two know each other?”

It took a few moments, but when the light bulbs went off, they did so together.

“You’re that asshole from Ammo Knights!”

“You’re the bitch that came in for maintenance the other day!”

“Um.” Jierdan bit her lip. “Oh… kay…” She looked desperately to Cassie, who just shrugged.

“God, you seriously go by the name ‘Hero?’ You’re so full of yourself,” Alex spat.

“Oh, shut it,” Keri retorted. “You know this is just marketing.”

“Yeah, and to support your stupid-large ego,” Alex said. “You think just because you got onto a pro team you’re suddenly some hero? Well, you’re not. Just because you have a team and a pretty face doesn’t mean you’re better than everyone else!”

Jierdan and Cassie shared another look. Keri didn’t particularly notice.

“Ha! You’re just jealous that you didn’t get on your top team,” Keri said.

Alex’s eyes darted over to her captain, then back to Keri. “Shut up.”

Keri smirked; now we were getting somewhere. “What was it you said? That Cephalosquad was ‘dumb as shit?’”

“No! Shut up!” Alex clenched her hands into fists. One moved towards the handle of her roller, causing Keri’s battle instincts to go on alert, and she reached for her dualies.

“Uhhhh,” Cassie said eloquently, looking uncomfortably between everyone.

“Hey, that’s enough, you two!” Jierdan said, stepping in and pushing them away from each other. “In this league, we aim to help each other grow, not knock each other down. Keep the fighting on the battlefield. Got it?”

Keri took one look at Jierdan’s face. “Got it. Yes. Sorry.”

Alex squirmed, shooting one last glare at Keri and then looking away. “Yeah. Whatever.”

Cassie coughed. “Well. Now that you two have, uh, gotten to know each other, I think it’s time we showed the public who you are. Because we’re supposed to be out there in like a minute. Okay? Okay.”

Keri sighed. Oh, this was just getting better and better.

Cassie and Jierdan mumbled to each other, and Keri and Alex glared at each other, as they made their way through the halls of the building. Eventually, they stopped at a curtain, and Cassie turned around. “Alright. They should’ve just gotten done introducing the new team, so you two are up next. When they call your name, go out there and—”

“Hey! You people a fan of Ink Blast?” came Callie’s voice from some speakers on the other side of the curtain. The crowd cheered wildly.

“Shit. Okay. Get ready, Keri.”

Right. This was happening. “What am I supposed to do? Wave?”

“Do something that makes you look fresh,” Jierdan offered. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

“Well, here’s their newest member! Everyone say hello to Hero!”

Cassie made a ‘get going’ motion, and Keri pushed through the curtain onto the stage. Oh, god, those were spotlights. Argh, that was bright! Fight through it, Keri; you have to look cool!

Shit. There were so many people here.

“Hero embodies the fighting prowess and determination of those mysterious secret agents who fight for Inkopolis,” Marie said, voice crackling over the speakers. “She’s light on her feet and knows how to maneuver around heavy enemy fire.”

Keri walked towards the front of the stage, her face scanning over the crowd. There were tons of people here; Inklings, Jellies, Crustaceans, Anemones, everything. She didn’t know what to do. Was she supposed to, like, pose? Crap. She grabbed her Hero Dualies from her sides and spun them around in what she hoped was a cool manner, and wanted to die.

Callie began snickering slightly, but managed to hide it, her voice relatively composed once she began talking over the speakers. “And to seal the deal, she’s armed with a full set of Hero Weapon Replicas, and proficient with all of them; a true flex battler!”

“Or maybe,” Marie said conspiratorially, “they aren’t even replicas…”

Callie gasped dramatically. “Marie! Are you suggesting that Hero might really be one of those secret agents? What intrigue!”

Oh, fuck them.

“But wait!” Callie continued. “Ink Blast isn’t the only team with a new member! Everyone, say hello to Skater from Cephalosquad!”

The crowd cheered as Alex walked out—or, rather, rolled out. She had leapt through the curtain and landed with her legs balanced on the shaft of her roller. In an impressive show of balance, she managed to ride the Dynamo out across the stage without tipping over. It reminded Keri of what she used to do with shopping carts when she was younger, but instead of four stable wheels, it was a single cylinder. As she reached the front of the stage, Alex let herself fall backwards. She landed on her feet and used the momentum to swing the roller up onto her shoulder.

Dammit, that was way cooler than what Keri had done.

“Skater uses her special technique to overcome the typical limitations of the Dynamo Roller,” Marie explained. “No sense in pushing a heavy roller around when it can do the work for you!”

“Skater makes a great flanker for Cephalosquad, able to quickly ink down hallways and instantly splat off-guard opponents with the roller’s hefty damage,” Callie said. “But that’s all from us! We’re gonna turn it over to you people! Now’s your chance to throw some questions at these lovely battlers!”

Wait, what? That was a thing?

“Hero, why don’t you start us off and take a question from the crowd?” Marie asked.

Keri looked over the sea of creatures—practically half of them had their hands raised.

Uhhhhhhh. Just… pick one, right? She pointed at some girl in the fourth row. “You, in the purple striped shirt.”

The girl jumped up. “You’ve got a full set of hero weapons? How?! They’re so rare!”

Oh my god. Why does everyone always ask that. “Well, duh, they were issued to me when I became an agent,” Keri answered. She then turned to Alex, who was giving her a very prominent ‘what a dork’ look. “Your go.”

Alex rolled her eyes and chose someone from the crowd.

“Is your technique learned or is it, like, specific to you, like with Mutant’s?” the boy asked.

“It’s a learned skill. You just need a lot of strength and a hell of a lot of balance. I’ve never met anybody else who can do it, but it’s possible for most people, I think.” When she was done, she motioned back to Keri.

Keri scanned the crowd, and was about to call on someone when she noticed a boy towards the back jumping and waving his hand frantically. She squinted; oh, wow, that was totally Ben. Ha! He must be losing his mind! She smiled at him, then turned back to her original person. No way was she calling on him.

“Do you have a special technique?” asked the other boy.

“Well, kind of,” she said, scratching her forehead. “I’m a really good dodger. I can do all sorts of cool flips and stuff to help avoid enemy fire. I’m sure you’ll see it if you watch the matches.”

“You with the purple tentacles in the backwards baseball cap,” Alex said once she was done.

“How excited were you to get on Cephalosquad?!” squealed the girl, practically jumping up and down. Now that she was standing, Keri could make out that she was wearing a Cephalosquad t-shirt.

Alex cleared her throat. “Uh, definitely extremely excited. I’ve… always wanted to be on a pro team.”

Keri looked at her. If you’re gonna lie, at least try to be subtle about it. Whatever, not her problem. “You, with the red skateboard and headphones.”

“Who’s your favorite Squid Sister?”

“Hmm, that’s a really good question.” She subtly eyed the commentator’s booth. Callie wove her hands into a heart against the window and smiled impossibly sweetly at her. She had the world’s deadliest puppy dog eyes—fortunately, Keri was numb to them by this point. Marie, on the other hand, just held up a couple coins and winked.

“Marie,” she said. Callie’s faced changed from cute and innocent to frustrated and vengeful in and instant, and Marie just smirked.

Keri, as it happened, was not numb to money.

Alex had apparently been watching the whole exchange, because she looked at Keri with a very clear ‘How the hell do you know the Squid Sisters?’ kind of look. Keri ignored her. Alex frowned, but eventually turned back to the crowd and picked someone else out.

“Well, now I have to ask—who’s your favorite Squid Sister?” questioned a boy with slicked-back tentacles.

“I’m actually more of an Off The Hook fan myself,” Alex said.

So, apparently, the Squid Sisters’ mics were off, because the slew of curses and insults that Keri could see them mouthing at Alex were completely inaudible. That was probably for the best.

Keri scanned the crowd once more. Ben was jumping up and down in a fervor, so Keri smiled at him sweetly and then called on someone else. Ben flipped her off.

“What motivated you to audition?” asked the boy she’d called on.

Keri thought for a moment. “Well, I was ten when the first season of the Splat League aired, and it was the first time I’d ever watched professional battling. I was blown away—it’s on a whole different level compared even to normal high-ranked play. This year was the first year I was old enough to participate, and Ink Blast has always been my favorite team, and I met the rank requirements, so it just seemed like the natural thing to do.”

The boy nodded and sat back down.

“The girl in the fifth row in the yellow dress and beanie,” said Alex, pointing.

The girl stood up. “Am I crazy or do you work at Ammo Knights?”

“I’m interning there, yeah,” Alex said. “I’ve always thought the way weapons work and stuff is super interesting, and Sheldon’s a really great teacher when it comes to that kind of thing.”

“Well, that’s all the questions we have time for, unfortunately,” Callie said, her mic back on. “Thanks so much, you two! Everyone give them another round of applause!”

The crowd roared, and Keri took a moment to wave out at them. She made eye contact with Ben, and winked. He flipped her off with both hands this time.

As she turned to go back behind the curtain, she saw that Alex had already disappeared through it. When she got backstage, she saw her slumped against a wall. Her roller was propped up, and she was holding her head in her hands.

Keri frowned. This was… odd. “Um. You okay?”

“That was so awful,” Alex said. “I totally let it slip that I don’t actually like Cephalosquad, I snubbed the Squid Sisters at their own event—I’m so bad at this shit.”

“Hey, it wasn’t that bad,” Keri said.

“Don’t patronize me. God, I fucking told them where I worked, too! That’s, like, such a bad idea!”

“Okay, well, yeah, that one was pretty bad. At least it should drum up business? And you looked really cool rolling onto the stage like that.”

Alex spread her fingers on one hand, her eye poking through them to glare at Keri. “Are you making fun of me?”

“What? No! That was a genuine compliment, jerk!”

“Ugh. Whatever. I’m gonna go.”

Keri sighed as Alex trudged off, but didn’t have time to think about it further before her phone buzzed.

Ben: Get your little bitch ass out here right now so i can wring your neck like the goddamn dish towel that it is

Keri laughed, and began to type her response. This was some classic Ben right here.

You: lmaoooooooooooooooooooo got ya good didnt i

Ben: I’m going to actually literally murder you, come outside right fucking now

You: Make me

Ben: Fine. Be that way. Guess I’m coming in

You: Um???

Suddenly, she heard a shout from the distance, towards the backstage entrance. “Hey! Stop! You’re not allowed back here!”

Oh my fucking god. She’d better go make sure he didn’t get arrested. She took off towards the sounds of chaos, and arrived at… something.

She was back in the room she’d gotten dressed in. Halley had Ben pushed up against a wall, and was holding him firmly by the shoulders as Cassie, Jierdan, and Alex watched silently from behind with expressions ranging from concerned to amused.

“…and so we can’t just have random fans barging in here. Got it?” lectured Halley. “I don’t want to have to press charges against you but—”

“Ben, you idiot,” Keri said.

Ben’s eyes widened as soon as he heard her voice. In seconds, he had wrenched free of Halley’s grip, and was right in Keri’s face.

“You got on Ink Blast!” he screamed, shaking her by the shoulders.

Keri shrugged. “Yeah, guess I did.”

“You know him?” Halley asked.

Keri nodded. “Unfortunately.”

“I’m happy for you but also fuck you for not telling me,” continued Ben.

“Don’t you like a good surprise?” Keri asked, smirking. “Plus, it was funny to watch you squirm.”

“You’re still not allowed back here,” Halley said.

Jierdan waved her off. “Oh, whatever. It’s no big deal.”

“You sat there listening to me talk about juniors and you didn’t even say anything!” Ben raged.

“To be fair, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone,” Keri said.

“I would’ve told you if it had been reversed!”

Halley scoffed. “Well, yeah, you clearly have no regard for rules and regulations.”

“Are all your friends this dumb?” Alex asked.

“Oh, shut up,” Keri said. “At least I have some.”

“Oh-hoh, nice one!” Ben said, giving Keri a high five.

“Thanks. But, like, you really have to go now, I think.”

“Yeah, he does,” Halley said.

Just then, Callie and Marie entered the room. Keri sighed; this was getting out of hand.

“Hey guys,” Callie said. “You all did great out there!”

“Mission successful,” Marie said. “Oh, and, Keri, here.” She walked over to Keri and dropped a modest stack of coins into her hands. “As promised.”

Jierdan looked between Keri and Marie. “Excuse me?”

Callie crossed her arms and glared at her cousin, dutifully ignoring Jierdan. “You’re the worst! I mean, stooping to bribery like that? I’m offended.”

Marie cackled. “You’re just mad you didn’t think of it.”

“At least I didn’t answer with the name of another band,” Keri said, eyeing Alex.

“Oh, shut it,” Alex grumbled.

Callie just laughed. “Well, we gotta go. Catch ya later. And good luck on the tournament, all of you!”

The Squid Sisters left as quickly as they’d come, the door slamming behind them.

Cassie shot Keri an odd look. “Do you know the Squid Sisters? Like, personally?”

“Um.” Keri bit her lip. “No?”

“The fuck,” Ben said, in that eloquent Ben way of his. “What else is there? Don’t tell me you’re secretly some undercover government agent or something, because at this point—”

“No, no, it’s nothing! Look, I just—know them. From, somewhere?” Everyone was looking at her funny, and she didn’t like it. “Whatever. We’re done here, right? I’m gonna go home. Bye.”

“Keri—” Ben tried to say, but she was already shuffling out the door.

A few days later, and Agent 3 found herself once again at Cap’n Cuttlefish’s shack, absentmindedly twirling around her hero charger. They were late. One of her fingers slipped, sending the charger clattering to the wooden porch of the shack, and she sighed. Frustrated, she pulled out her phone and re-read her texts.

Agent 1: 9:30 at the cabin. Be there or be square!

You: What is it? Did they steal another baby zapfish?

Agent 1: Actually, it’s good news this time! We’re bringing on another agent. Number 4 :D

You: Wait, really? I thought you guys were joking

Agent 1: Nope!

You: So did you pick this one out, or was it capn again?

Agent 1: Neither. She was a direct recommendation from Sheldon himself! We were getting another set of hero weapons for whoever we chose, and when he heard the reason he immediately dropped her name.

Agent 1: And, like, no way are we gonna say no to Sheldon! He’s such a nice guy.

Agent 1: We’ll be escorting Agent 4 there at 9:30, so make sure you’re there to welcome the new recruit. And be on your best behavior!

You: Yeah yeah, I'll be there

And she was there, as promised. But all the rest of them were not.

Well, that wasn’t necessarily true. Cap’n Cuttlefish himself was inside right now, but Keri really wasn’t feeling too keen on listening to him drone on about his daring exploits during the war while constantly misusing teen lingo, so she was gonna stay out here, thank you very much.

It was another few minutes before Three saw a small band of figures approaching. She adjusted her bandana and cape, making sure her face was covered, and leaned up against the shack.

Agents 1 and 2, both in their incognito gear, arrived with another inkling between them. She had shoulder-length tentacles, and was wearing a visored helmet that obscured her face—it looked like they’d just quickly bought it out of a sports supply store or something.

“Sorry we’re late,” Agent 1 said. “We had to find something for Agent 4 to wear.”

“Yeah, okay, whatever.” Three looked away and crossed her arms. “Not like I wanted to know what her secret identity is or anything. Not like I want to be able to trust this new inkling I’ll be thrown into life or death situations with.”

“Oh, give it a rest, Three,” Agent 2 said, rolling her eyes. “We need to go confer with Cap’n. You two can, like. Bond and stuff.”

With that, the two of them walked inside, leaving Three out on the porch with the newbie.

“So, uh,” Four began. “Those… those were the Squid Sisters, right? Like, I’m not crazy?”

Her voice sounded kind of familiar, Three thought. But that didn’t really mean much, she supposed: she had heard quite a few voices in her life. “Legally, I can’t tell you that,” she answered.

“Yeah, yeah, of course,” she said. “…But they are, right?”

Three shrugged. “Yeah.”

“How does—why—”

“Don’t worry, you’ll get over it pretty quick. It only takes, like, two minutes of talking to them before you lose all respect for them as people.”

Four laughed, kind of hysterically. “This is wild. Like—apparently I’m a secret agent now? Just like that?”

“Yep, that tends to be how it goes.”

“This is wild,” she repeated. “I’m totally not qualified for this. Like, sure, I’m a good fighter, but—but this is, like, real! You fight octarians and shit!”

“Hey.” Three put a hand on her shoulder. “Sheldon wouldn’t have picked you if you weren’t ready for this. I know we don’t know each other, but the fact that you’re standing here tells me you must be strong, reliable, brave, and at least something of a decent person. So, respect.”

Agent 4 gave a smile. “Thanks.” There was a best of silence. “So, like… what do we do, exactly?”

“Good question,” Three said. “So, I have literally no idea what Cap’n Cuttlefish does when he’s not overseeing my missions. He just kind of vanishes sometimes. And then Agents 1 and 2 do various things, but mostly recon and diplomatic stuff. And then I’m kinda the front line, ‘take the Octarian army head on’ person. I’m not quite sure exactly what your job will be, but I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“You took on an army?”

Three nodded. “Only almost died, like, three times, too. Trust me, the adrenaline rush you get when the spawn points power down allows you to do anything.” She paused. “But yeah. Octarians are surprisingly sucky at fighting.”

“Well they have power problems, right? They can’t afford to spend energy on stuff like spawn points for mock turf wars like we can. And that’s why we can be so adept at fighting from a young age. I mean, I assume you come from a turf war background?”

“Something like that,” Three said.

The door creaked open, and Agent 2 stepped out. “Hey. Cap’n wants to see you, Agent 4. And, uh, Three, you can go home if you want. We don’t really, you know, need you here.”

“Then why the fuck did you call me out here?”

“Blame One. Now stop whining, we need to talk with Four.”

Three sighed the most passive-aggressive sigh she could muster. “Whatever.” She turned to Four. “Well, it was nice meeting you. You seem a lot less annoying than those assholes. Catch ya later.”

“Yeah, you too,” responded Four, giving her a small wave before following Agent 2 into the shack.

Three stood outside for a few seconds longer, mumbling to herself. “She seems nice.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, team, listen up!” Cassie said, one of her tentacles pointing towards a white board. ‘STRATEGY’ was written at the top in big block letters.

Ink Blast had their first match of the tournament scheduled in just a few short hours, so Cassie had called them to go over some last-minute strategic stuff. Keri was practically shaking in her seat—this was about to happen! She couldn’t wait!

“Our first match of the season will be up against the Warinkers,” Cassie said, scrawling ‘Ink Blast v Warinkers’ on the board. Under each team, she listed out its four members. “They’re not exactly the top seed, so we don’t need to be super paranoid, but nobody in this tournament is bad. We still need to be on our game.”

“Cassie, come on,” Orion said. “It’s the Warinkers. They’ve got Ronald.”

Ronald was a bit of a joke among the pro scene: he had no theme, and no technique. He used a shooter. He was just… Ronald.

“Despite his unoriginality, he’s still a good player,” Halley said. “Don’t underestimate him.”

Cassie made a so-so gesture with her hand. “Yeah, but also don’t, like, focus him? Just kind of splat him if you get near him.” She turned back to the board. “Anyway, we really need to worry about Squidbird and Bowler.” She circled those names.

“Do we though?” Keri asked. “Squidbird’s all about super-jumping higher than people can shoot, but if you’re on high ground with your charger, you should be able to shut him down super easily. And Halley’s AOE attacks are really well matched against Bowler, since she doesn’t need a direct hit on him.”

“Yeah, but they cover for each other,” Cassie explained. “If Bowler reaches me, I’m screwed. Since he can just kind of roll around everywhere, my charger’s never gonna hit him, and he’s too quick for me to run away from. And on the flipside, neither Halley nor Orion are going to be able to hit Squidbird when he’s doing his thing.”

“Not true,” Halley said. “I can launch myself upwards high enough that I think I could get a pretty decent shot on him.”

“Halley, your airshots are not nearly good enough for that to be consistent,” Orion said.

“Excuse me, I’ve hit Bullet mid-flight before! I’m plenty good at air shots!”

“Yeah, like, once.”

“Anyway,” Cassie said, giving them a glare, “If we can guide the fights the way we want, we’re sure to win. It’s just a matter of doing that. Fortunately, we have a secret weapon—you.”

She pointed at Keri, while one of her tentacles picked up a marker and circled Keri’s name on the board.

“Nobody’s fought you before,” she went on, “so they don’t know how to prepare against you. Especially since you’re a flex, which is already pretty much impossible to prepare against.”

“I mean, you’re not wrong,” Keri said. “But also, I don’t exactly have a lot of tricks up my sleeve. I’m… kind of like a Ronald in that sense.”

Orion gasped. “Keri! Don’t ever say stuff like that about yourself!”

“You don’t need squat up your sleeve if your using your head. Let’s go through what the fight will probably look like.” Cassie quickly erased the board, and then started drawing a lot of lines and figures, which, frankly, made no sense to Keri at all.

But that didn’t stop Cassie. “Halley and Bowler have the fastest rollouts on either side, but that match up is favorable to Halley, so Bowler might stay back with his team. Either way, we likely will take initial control of the middle part of the map. Their next move is to do an organized push into the middle with Tornado and Ronald, while Squidbird supports from above. However, they know that I’ll easily take out Squidbird if I’m left alone, so Bowler will flank around to ambush me. Orion shouldn’t have trouble holding his own against Tornado, since you need accuracy in order to beat Orion, and Tornado is anything but accurate. And then Halley will do her usual thing where she bounces around our territory to keep things inked and crush anyone who’s too out of position. But what I want you to do, Keri, is to go roller and hard-focus Bowler.”

Keri raised an eyebrow. “Really? Isn’t that kind of strategy usually, you know, real bad?”

“Usually, yeah. But if I get splatted, we’re giving Squidbird free reign, and once that happens he’ll start poking all sorts of holes in our defences. Those blaster shots from that high up hit like a freaking splashdown.”

“But a roller is a terrible match up against the rest of the team,” Halley said. “Sure, it’s great against Bowler, but bringing a roller up against Tornado’s splatling is asking to get sent back to spawn. Plus, good luck hitting Squidbird with it.”

“But Tornado isn’t a flanker,” Orion mentioned. “If she just stays out of the main fight, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“What about Squidbird?” Halley asked.

Keri shrugged. “I can dodge a few blaster shots. No worries.”

“See? This’ll work fine.” Cassie turned back to the board. “So, recap: Orion, you’re just pushing the front line like usual. Tornado’s their main pusher, so focus on denying her ground. Keri, you’re focusing on making sure Bowler doesn’t get to me, and you’re also going to be doing a lot of inking around the extremities of the map. Halley, you’re doing your usual thing: back up Orion, catch anyone out on their own, and keep everything nice and inked. And then I’m going to be making sure Squidbird doesn’t cause any problems, as well as doing the battlefield monitoring stuff I normally do. Got it?”

They all nodded.

“Alright. Let’s do this.”

As the bell to start the match rang, it was accompanied by Cassie’s charger going off and one of Halley’s blaster shots exploding in all their faces. As Orion ran forward and Halley took off into the distance, Cassie and Keri jumped into the ink trail left by her charger and swam off towards the battlements.

Keri was practically vibrating as she felt the ink wash over her. She was fighting in an actual, real life professional turf war, in a stadium and everything, with the Squid Sisters commentating, and a humongous audience, and giant screens displaying the map and the player statuses, and it was honestly a miracle she wasn’t hyperventilating.

As Cassie inked her way up a wall onto one of the preferred sniper spots, Keri kept moving, flanking around the edge of the arena with her roller. If Cassie’s planning was correct, then pretty soon she should run into—there!

The inkling that rounded the corner was wearing a helmet and heavy knee and shoulder padding, but it was hard to make out with the way he was constantly rolling. And firing his dualies. I mean, seriously, how do you not get dizzy rolling around that much? How do you aim?

Apparently not super well, because Keri didn’t even have to dodge his first few shots as he barreled—or, rather, bowled—towards her. She used that time to crouch down and leap up as high as she could, letting Bowler roll under her and pulling back her Hero Roller. He quickly tried to adjust his aim, but he was too slow. Keri swung her roller in a harsh arc below her, splashing ink wall to wall in the hallway and leaving no trace of Bowler behind.

“Oh, and that’s an early splat from our newcomer, Hero,” came Marie’s voice over the speakers. “Bowler’s always had trouble with rollers, and it looks like that’s still something he needs to work on.”

Keri took off towards the enemy’s side of the field; with as many missions as she’d had to go on, she’d gotten pretty good at infiltration. It felt dirty, but if her job was to stop Bowler in his tracks, then spawn camping seemed like a pretty simple way to turn one splat into two.

She peered around a corner just as Callie’s voice entered her ear. “The map at the moment is looking pretty orange, thanks to that early kill and Bomber’s quick start.”

A quick glance at the screen confirmed that. Seems like everything was working out according to plan so far. Just then, something shot over her head, and she reflexively leapt backwards as a blaster shot crashed down where she’d been standing.

“And there goes Squidbird!” Callie called.

Keri looked up and saw the inkling in question soaring above her. He flew over to the middle of the stage, raining blaster shots down below. Just as he was about to fall back down, he dropped a suction bomb at his feet, and then somehow managed to super jump off of it, sending him even higher and spiking the bomb down onto the field.

“There’s the bomb, and—Wow! Quick reactions from Brella Knight there, swinging his shield around just in the nick of time,” Marie said.

“Squidbird, lining up another shot,” Callie said. “Oh! Shot down by Tentaclaw! Sneaky! Oh, and that’s Tornado downed by Brella Knight!”

“This is a rough start for the Warinkers,” Marie said. “But they’re not out of it yet. Anything can happen in a Turf War.”

A green squid soared over her head, towards the middle of the field. Probably Bowler super jumping to Ronald, if she had to guess. Better head him off. She ran off towards the center, just in time to see Bowler rolling over a bridge towards the location Cassie had shot Squidbird from. She flicked her roller against a nearby wall and scaled it, then threw out a curling bomb towards Bowler, swimming through the ink trail it created.

When she jumped out, however, he was ready, and immediately began firing. She twisted in midair, the bullets just barely grazing her spine, and pushed off the ground with the tip of her roller to reposition herself. She sprinted in a tight circle, trying to get behind him, but Bowler just rolled around to face her, hitting her square in the face with a blot of ink she hadn’t been able to dodge.

It stung like crazy, but she powered through, flicking her roller hard towards him. He rolled backwards, but was still caught by a hefty amount of the blast. He couldn’t have much left in him. She dropped into the pool of ink her attack had created and sped as close to him as she could get before bursting out once more. He thrust a gun right into her stomach and shot, but those Tetra Dualies of his just weren’t powerful enough to splat her. With a pained grunt, she slammed her roller to the ground, and pushed it over him, causing him to explode into ink. Just as she did, however, She saw Ronald standing below her. Before she could react, she had a splat bomb in her face, and everything went green.

“Hero manages to take out Bowler once again, but is then taken out in turn by Ronald. By Ronald,” Marie repeated. Her voice was dripping with amusement.

“Oof, and Squidbird is once again shot down by Tentaclaw,” said Callie. “She isn’t giving him any room to breathe here, Marie!”

“It almost seems like target practice to her. And without his aerial support, Ink Blast has been able to hold their ground. But Brella Knight is the only player to have brought out a special so far, so anything could happen.”

Keri respawned already super jumping, desperate to get back into the fight. Bowler was a lot faster than she was; if he’d already spawned by now, there was a good chance he could find Cassie before she could find him.

“Oh, wow! Bomber just launching herself right into Tornado’s warpath, and got splatted for it—I think she thought Tornado hadn’t respawned yet, but she’s got an abnormally fast solidification rate! Looks like Tornado is gonna take another shot at breaking through Brella Knight’s defenses, maybe get some revenge for that early game splat.”

Keri’s super jump slammed her right into the side of a building where Cassie was clinging.

“Oh, yeah,” she said as Keri rubbed her head. “I should’ve told you, you super jump to me at your own risk. Good job with Bowler, by the way. Keep it up.”

“Whoops, Ronald just tripped one of Bomber’s ink mines,” Marie said. “How unfortunate.”

Keri gave a small laugh. That was so Ronald.

Suddenly, she noticed a shadow at her feet. Looking up, Bowler was hovering in the air; a splashdown.

“Shit.” There was nowhere to run to, but Keri tried anyway, bracing herself for the wave of enemy ink, but it never came. Confusedly, she turned her head, and saw Cassie smiling smugly.

“Wow!” Callie called. “Tentaclaw showing her dominance by sniping Bowler straight out of a splashdown!”

“…Thanks,” was all Keri managed to say.

“It’s what I do,” Cassie said. “Now let’s get going.” She disappeared into her own ink, heading off silently to who knows where, and Keri took off towards the middle. Maybe she could help Brella Knight out a little until Bowler respawned again.

“And there it is!” Callie exclaimed. “Tornado just activated her inkjet; and, of course, that’s not gonna stop her from spinning! She’s a whirlwind of destruction!”

Hmm. On second thought, perhaps not.

“Oop, looks like that’s just too much ink for Brella Knight’s Brella to handle, and without his shield, he’s a lot more vulner—yep, there he goes. Looks like it’s goodnight for this Knight,” Marie said.

“Bomber managed to launch herself out of the way before she could get splatted, but that means there’s not one left to stop Tornado from inking all this prime turf. Could this be the opportunity that the Warinkers need?”

While Keri was trying to think of an acceptable course of action, a blaster shot whizzed right over her shoulder, and she looked up to see Squidbird high above her. He did that bullshit super-jump-midair-on-a-bomb thing, sending him upwards and propelling the bomb straight towards Keri. Fortunately, suction bombs were, like, the easiest thing to dodge in the world, since they didn’t even move. She just ran past it, letting it explode behind her, and ducked under a nearby overpass to gain some cover. That inkjet had to be gone by now, right?

She heard an inkstrike go off in the distance, but all of her teammates were alive according to the screen, so Ronald must’ve been using it to support Tornado or something. He probably activated it from spawn, which meant that Bowler would be spawning pretty soon too.

And she had her splashdown ready. Maybe she could make something happen.

It wasn’t long before she came across the both of them. They were right outside their spawn point, talking about something. Strategizing, probably. Jackpot!

She hid behind a corner, and threw out a curling bomb.

“Watch out!” Bowler called. “That must be Hero’s!”

She took that as her cue, immediately bursting around the corner and throwing herself at them, her eyes glowing with the built up ink aura of a special. They managed to dodge out of the way of the curling bomb, but were too busy with that to properly shoot at Keri. A second later, she landed hard right at Ronald’s feet, causing both her opponents to go up in a blast of orange ink.

“And that’s a big splashdown from Hero, taking out both Ronald and Bowler,” Marie said. “With Brella Knight coming back into the field now and Bomber putting the pressure on Tornado with that inkzooka, Ink Blast is looking like they’ll easily recover from that slight upset from earlier.”

Keri listened intently as she set about inking down the Warinker’s side of the field. She figured she may as well just wait for the two of them to respawn; her team could hold their own.

“But there’s Squidbirds famous play, the double super jump into Inkjet!” commented Callie. “He’s flying even higher than our commentator booth!”

“I think he just wanted to get out of Tentaclaw’s range,” Marie laughed.

Just then, Keri heard a faint buzzing, and watched as the unmistakable beam of the Stingray slowly moved up towards the sky.

“Ooh! Just as Bomber manages to finally splat Tornado, she gets nailed by Squidbird’s aerial barrage!”

“Wait, Callie, is that what I think it is?”

Callie burst out laughing. “Wow! It is! Tentaclaw is breaking out the Stingray, specifically to keep denying Squidbird! What a counter!”

Keri watched as Squidbird frantically strafed back and forth on his Inkjet, desperately trying to avoid the Stingray. It was pretty funny. Cassie’s aim proved too good, however, and Squidbird soon burst into ink that showered back down to the ground.

“Time’s running out, Callie, and it looks like Ink Blast has this match in the bag.”

“Well, I hate to say it, but I think you might be right,” Callie said, not sounding nearly as heartbroken about it as her words might have implied. “The Warinkers would need a miracle to turn things around here. And they’re not known for pulling out many miracles.”

They kept talking, but Keri tuned out their voices as soon as she heard the telltale sounds of solidification. Sure enough, Ronald and Bowler popped out of the spawn point not a moment later. It didn’t take very long before Bowler noticed Keri, and his eyes lit up in fury.

“YOU!” he screeched. “Why are you still here? Are you focusing me?”

Keri shrugged. “Yeah.”

She threw out a curling bomb, but Bowler countered by launching an autobomb at her.

Ugh. She hated autobombs. Like, they weren’t dangerous, per say, because you could just kind of walk away from them, but they took up so much space that they really limited her dodging options.

Bowler began rolling towards her, neatly avoiding the path of her curling bomb. Ronald backed up and began firing at her from a distance, but she easily dodged his shots. She flung her roller out towards Bowler, but he rolled to the side and started shooting at her.

Keri cursed, weaving in between all the fire before ducking down into her ink and swimming around a nearby pillar. She was grateful she’d taken the time to ink up all the area here; she really needed the room to move. She chucked out another curling bomb, letting it bounce off a wall towards where Ronald was standing. She swam after it, and not a second too late, as the autobomb had just found her hiding spot.

She wove between globs of ink as she approached Ronald. She burst out to take a swing at him, but he swam backwards out of range. Keri grumbled to herself; she needed to take care of at least one of them quickly before she was overwhelmed.

Just as she was thinking that, another autobomb landed a ways in front of her, and Ronald threw out a splat bomb of his own.

Great. Fantastic.

With a roar, Keri slammed her roller into the splat bomb at her feet, knocking it straight into the closest autobomb. The splat bomb went off with her just outside of its range, and the autobomb was laying on its side, uselessly wiggling its legs.

“What? You can’t do that!” Ronald protested.

Keri responded by running him over with her roller.

The stinging feeling of enemy ink erupted on her back, and that was all she needed to remember she was still fighting. She ducked to the side, letting the rest of Bowler’s shots fly past her harmlessly, and threw out another curling bomb, using it to swim away.

When she emerged, Bowler was quickly rolling his way towards her, and, to make matters worse, Tornado had just respawned, and she was already beginning to rev up her splatling.

Keri didn’t even have time to think about offense; she just thrust all her mental energy into dodging. She danced around Bowler and his bullets without too much trouble, but now Tornado was here, spinning around impossibly fast while her Nautilus 76 sprayed pretty much the entire surrounding area green.

Keri took a hit on her shoulder, then another right on her thigh, and that autobomb was creeping ever closer. But just as she thought she was done for, two things happened in rapid succession.

First, Cassie dropped down from a nearby overpass. She was hanging down from its underside, her muscular tentacles straining from supporting all of her weight. She raised her charger, and, just like that, Tornado was once again gone.

Second, an orange squid flew in from over Keri’s head, transforming back to Halley in midair. She twisted so that her blaster was pointed straight down, and, right as she was on top of Bowler, she fired. She transformed back into a squid and rode the resultant explosion, sending her flying straight up. Bowler had managed to roll into the periphery of the first attack, but from her new vantage point, Halley easily nailed him with the second before landing smoothly onto the ground where he’d been splatted.

“Ha! Drink my ink, bitches!” she shouted.

She was a very different person on and off the battlefield.

“Ink Blast comes in clutch with the last-minute team kill!” Callie exclaimed. “I’ll tell you what, they came into this match prepared for everything the Warinkers had to throw at them.”

“Thanks for the save,” Keri said, absentmindedly walking in a big circle to kite the remaining autobomb. “That was about to get ugly.”

“No problem. You did a great job holding up Ronald and Bowler for so long,” Cassie complimented as the autobomb finally detonated. “Brella’s inking up anything we may have missed right now, so we just need to hold for the, like, twenty seconds we have left.”

With a schlorp, Squidbird respawned. He looked at the three of them, looked at the screen displaying the map and the clock, and sighed.

“I fucking hate you, Tentaclaw. You merciless she-beast.”

Cassie laughed. “Oh, come on. You don’t seriously want me to go easy on you, do you?”

“Well, it might be nice every once in a while, yeah,” he grumbled.

Another schlorp later, and Ronald respawned. With a warcry, he rushed out of spawn; as soon as he left the protective barrier, Halley hit him direct with her Luna Blaster, and he was gone as quickly as he appeared.

“Come on, that wouldn’t be any fun,” Halley said.

“Time!” the Squid Sisters called in unison.

There was a beat, and then Callie’s voice rang out. “With Judd reporting, the official winner of game three of this years Splat League Tournament is Ink Blast, with 73% of the field inked! That’s a pretty decisive victory!”

The rest of the Warinkers respawned shortly afterwards, and the players went through the customary hand-shaking that ended every tournament match. When Keri was shaking Bowler’s hand, she looked at him a bit guiltily. “Um. Sorry about all that.”

He shook his head. “It was strategy. Really fricking annoying strategy, but also really fricking good strategy. You joined a good team, kid.”

Keri smiled. She agreed.

“It’s so damn weird seeing you on TV,” Ben said.

They were chilling at her place after the match, at his insistence, because Keri couldn’t remember the last time she initiated social interaction with anyone. Ben was the only individual besides herself to lay his eyes upon the inside of her apartment, and, assuming the Squid Sisters didn’t, like, track down her address and break in (which wasn’t outside the realm of possibility), it would, hopefully, stay that way.

“I mean,” he continued, “they were broadcasting that match on pretty much every screen in the square. And I know they do that for every match every year, but it’s still so surreal. I’m super happy for you, you know?”

Keri, sprawled out on her back on her bed, lazily flipped through the latest issue of Splat Battler Monthly. “Yes, I’m so glad that all of Inkopolis got to see me get splatted by Ronald.”

“Aw, c’mon, we all get Ronalded once in a while,” Ben reassured. “Besides, overall, you were great out there! That thing you did with hitting the splat bomb into the autobomb? Everybody went wild when that was shown! And that double splashdown was beautiful!”

Keri hummed, and kept flipping. Flip, flip, flip.

“You guys totally crushed them.”

“I mean, yeah,” she admitted. “But it’s the Warinkers. They’re like third least likely to succeed, and we’re like the number two or three seed.” Flip, flip.

“Correction: Ink Blast was the number two or three seed last year. Nobody knew how you’d affect things. But I think they’re really impressed with you!”

“I guess that is pretty neat,” Keri said.

“It’s very pretty neat.” He paused, frowning. “Why aren’t you super psyched? I thought you’d be super psyched.”

“I am!” she insisted. “Sorta. I mean, you know. I am.”

“Well, shockingly, an answer like that does the exact opposite of convincing me. Seriously, what’s up? You guys killed it out there!”

Keri sighed. “Okay, like. So I am really genuinely happy we won and everything. I’m amazed I got to fight alongside the squids I idolized so much growing up, and I do think I gave a good showing, and I’m really excited to do more in the future. It’s just… I made so many mistakes.”

“Are you kidding me?” Ben said. “Keri, you got splatted, like, once. From what I understand, your main goal was to keep Tentaclaw covered, and she got splatted literally never. You held your own against multiple opponents multiple times. If that were me up there, I would’ve been tasting ink left and right.”

She tossed down the magazine. “No, but like—I never should’ve been splatted by Ronald. I should’ve seen him, and dodged. I should’ve seen Bowler approaching with the splashdown before he was literally on top of me; if Tentaclaw hadn’t been so on the ball, we both would’ve been splatted there, and that would’ve been a huge problem. And I shouldn’t have engaged both Ronald and Bowler at once at the end there, especially knowing how quickly Tornado respawns, and knowing that there’s no way I can go against her with a roller. There was a lot of sloppiness.”

“Keri, your perfectionism is showing. You did great, and you’re gonna keep doing great. Those mistakes you listed were barely even mistakes. None of them set your team back at all. Hell, your overextension fighting both of them at their spawn is basically why you guys crushed them so definitively!”

“I know. I just… can’t help but think about, like, what would happen if I made a mistake like that when it mattered. I could die.”

Ben laughed. “Excuse me? I know you’re just being metaphorical, but this is a turf war we’re talking about, not a fucking gladiatorial match. Mistakes are okay.”

Keri fake-laughed. She wasn’t being metaphorical.

Her phone rang. “Oh, shit. I gotta take this. I’ll be right back.”

“No prob. Bet you’ve got all sorts of important phone calls now that you’re a pro.”

“Oh, don’t you know it.”

She quickly exited her bedroom and went into the kitchen—far enough away that Ben shouldn’t be able to really hear her. This was not, in fact, a call about her pro battling situation, but one from her other boss.

She put the phone up to her ear. “Hey, Cap’n. What’s up?”

“How’s it crackalackin, Three? I saw your match on the ol’ tele. You were hella fresh out there!”

Oh my god she hated this man so much but she had to be nice because he was her boss and also old and also could very easily kill her if he wanted to. “Uh, thanks. Please tell me that’s not why you called me.”

He laughed. Any time Cap’n laughed it sounded a bit like he was dying, and there was always this brief moment of panic where you couldn’t tell which one it was. “No, no. Agent 1 was investigating another baby zapfish theft—from Greentide this time, small little town to the West—and she found an Octarian base.”

“Mmm. Standard recovery mission then?”

“Pretty much,” he wheezed. “But I think it’d be pretty dope of you to take Agent 4 along with you. Maybe show her the ropes a bit, you catch my breeze?”

Keri scratched her cheek. “Uh, yeah, that’s fine with me. But you’re sure you want to send her on a real mission like this so soon?”

“Eh, did that with you, and you didn’t even have another agent there with you. Plus, Agent 1 already set up a spawn point outside the base; she says it’s well hidden and has plenty of power. So this should be a relatively safe mission to start on.”

“Alright. I’ll be there. Bye.”

“Later, alligator!”

He hung up after saying that, which was probably for the best, because Keri was having a visceral reaction to the fact that a hundred plus old man just literally said that to her.

A mission with Four, though. That should be fun. She seemed like a pretty cool person, at least the first time they’d met. Plus, she could really go for a good mission right about now. While professional splat battles were super fun and a great challenge, nothing could really compare to the thrill of a real mission.

She shoved her phone back into her pocket. Anyway. That was for later-Keri. Right now, she had Ben over, and she should try to make the most of that.

Keri sighed, put on a smile, and returned to her room. She would deal with fighting wars and stuff tomorrow.

Chapter Text

“Those are the Octarians? They look so… stupid!”

Agent 3 laughed. “Yeah. They mostly are.”

She and Agent 4 were crouching behind some crates stacked up at the entrance to the Octarian base. It was a pretty standard setup for a base: a bunch of floating platforms, a dark, unforgiving abyss below them, and various Octarian soldiers wandering around, failing to notice them.

“Typically, no individual Octarian is gonna pose much of a threat,” Agent 3 explained. “Just watch out for the Octolings with the black tentacles, they’re surprisingly tough.”

“Like that one?” Four asked, gesturing to an Octoling off in the distance.

Three nodded. “Yeah, like that one.” She looked closer, and frowned. “Wait, is she carrying a slosher? That’s not good.”

Agent 4 turned to her, looking at her through the visor of her helmet. The other agents were still insisting that they only ever meet while incognito, and Three was starting to seriously wonder why. “What, are you like bad against sloshers or something?”

“No, it’s just I’ve never seen an Octoling soldier using one before. You know, when I first started, they only ever used shooters. Then they started using blasters, then rollers, and now sloshers, too. I don’t like it.”

“Do they have subs and specials and stuff?”

“No specials. Or at least I haven’t seen any specials. As for subs, nothing that’ll surprise you; mostly splat bombs.”

Four nodded, and raised her roller. “Alright. I think I’m ready.”

“Great. You take out any of them that get close, and I’ll focus down snipers and stuff. With the mods, I should be able to outrange them. On three. One… two… three!”

The two of them burst out from behind their cover and took off down towards the center of the base. Keri raised her Hero Charger and fired a line of ink straight at the nearest octotrooper—he didn’t stand a chance. They jumped into the ink trail and swam forwards, even as the base’s alarm began blaring.

Agent 3 emerged from her ink and immediately unloaded her charger into an octosniper overlooking the platform. She heard a few splats from behind her as Agent 4 made quick work of some ground troopers with her roller. A few octocopters tried approaching, but two charges later and they were gone.

“Octolings!” called out Four.

Three swiveled; a group of three Octolings were quickly bearing down on them, lead by one of the elite Octolings, the kelp in her hair flowing behind her as she ran. Two shooters, one blaster; shouldn’t be too hard.

Agent 3 took out one of the red-tentacled Octolings before they’d even started firing. Four began running towards them, but the elite one threw a splat bomb, prompting Four to back up, retreating back into her ink to dodge the shooter fire from the other one.

Three leapt forward, dodging the elite Octoling’s blaster shot, and lobbed a splat bomb of her own behind the two octolings, forcing them in closer. She used the barrel of her charger to pole-vault over more purple ink, and then sniped the second normal Octoling from midair. Just as she landed, Four burst out from the ground and swung her roller right at the elite Octoling’s face, instantly splatting her.

Three spared her a quick “Nice!” before they started running once again.

They continued throughout the rest of the base in a similar manner, and before too long, the baby zapfish was in sight. It was also guarded by, like, three octosnipers, and a bunch of Octolings.

“I’ll take care of the snipers so we have more room to move,” Agent 3 said. “You focus on the Octolings. I’ll be back to help you out as soon as I can.”

Four nodded, even as the Octolings began charging towards them. Three crouched down in squid form and super jumped clean over the Octolings, landing right on top of one of the Octosnipers. She kicked him off the platform before he could react, then took out another one with her charger. The third and final one was prepared to fire, though, so she quickly jumped down onto the ground below, letting the shot soar over her head. Right as she returned the gesture with a shot of her own, however, she felt a glob of ink slam into her back.

She cursed, and twisted around to see a cluster of Octodivers behind her. She casually sidestepped a follow up shot—because, honestly, those projectiles moved so slowly—and shot one down, prompting the others to retreat back into the ink. So she just dropped a splat bomb on top of them, watching with mild boredom as it went off and annihilated them.

Now to check on Four. She was probably—

Four’s voice rang out, immediately drawing Agent 3’s attention. “Shit! Three!”


Three didn’t stop to analyze the situation; she just began sprinting. As she ran, she just barely had time to process Four laying on the ground, and the elite Octoling standing over her, slosher at the ready. Oh no she fucking didn't!

“Hey! Octo-bitch!”

The Octoling turned, just in time to see Agent 3’s boots collide with its face as she drop kicked it straight off of the platform and into the abyss below. She immediately swiveled around to fire her charger at the final remaining Octoling, catching it right in the chest and easily splatting it.

She turned and offered Four her hand. “Are you okay?”

She took Three’s hand and stood back up, looking at Three with wide eyes. “Wow. That was… I’m glad I’m on your side.”

Three smiled. “No problem. Let’s get that zapfish.”

They walked the short distance to the enclosed space in the middle of the base that held the baby zapfish. Three easily busted it out of its prison, and held it protectively in her arms. Immediately, the whole base began to shudder; all the lights and screens flickered briefly before going out. It took a few seconds, but her eyes adjusted to the darkness well enough. “Alrighty. Now we bounce. There should be an exit just over there.”

Agent 4 walked forward, but stopped as she came to the top of a ramp going back down. “Crap! We missed one!”

She pulled back her roller, but Three rushed forward, grabbing the shaft with one strong arm before Four could swing it.

Four frowned at the sudden resistance, and turned her head. “Hey! What—”

Three ignored her, and made eye contact with the Octoling four had spotted. It wasn’t even an elite; it just stood there, snarling, shooter in hand, not daring to shoot.

“You should probably get going,” Three said.

The Octoling hissed, but turned tail and dashed off deeper into the base.

Once she was gone, Four lowered her roller, looking a bit annoyed that Three had stopped her. “What was that all about?”

“We took the zapfish,” Three said. “This base has no power anymore.”

“So what?”

“So no spawn points is what, dumbass.”

Silence. “Oh. Shit. Thanks for, uh, stopping me, I guess.”

Three sighed. “It’s okay, you didn’t know. But, just for reference, most of these Octolings are being brainwashed into doing this. So really try not to kill any of them, okay?”

“Wait, what? Brainwashed?” Four looked appalled. “Fuck, Three, we’ve got to help them! Can’t we do something about that, instead of just re-stealing zapfish all the time?”

“Um.” Three adjusted her cape. “Probably. Eventually. I dunno. I don’t really… plan stuff. I just kinda do whatever Cap’n wants me to do. I think he’s a bit wary to have us engage the Octarians unless it’s, like, provoked. Like if they steal a zapfish, or invade our territory.”

“I’m feeling pretty provoked! Brainwashing? That’s horrible!”

Three felt supremely uncomfortable. “I… yeah. I agree.” A beat. “Let’s head back.”

“Ah, great job, agents,” Cap’n Cuttlefish said once they returned to the cabin with the zapfish. “How was it, Agent 4?”

“Pretty cool,” she confessed. “I’ve never fought like that before. It was… exhilarating. And scary. And thrilling. Hard to describe.”

Cuttlefish looked to Agent 3 next. She cleared her throat. “Well, she passed all my tests. Kept up just fine, and I only had to save her ass once, which is less than I was expecting.”

“Oh, gee, thanks,” Four said unamusedly.

Three turned, smiling playfully. “Hey, it’s true. But, seriously, you did great. I think we’re gonna be able to get a lot more done now that you’re here.”

Four smiled back at her. Hooray! Bonding! She was so good at this pseudo-mentor business.

“You can keep that roller if you want, Agent 4,” Cuttlefish said.

“What? Really?”

Three laughed. “Yeah. But you have to dumb it down until it’s identical to the replicas if you wanna actually use it in a splat battle and not get disqualified.”

Four thought for a moment. “Well, it’ll be fun to mess around with a weapon with so much modding potential, but I think I still prefer the dynamo.”

Three made a face. “What, really? But it’s so slow!”

Four smirked. “Not if you use it right.”

“I guess that’s true,” Three mused, thinking back to how Alex had used the roller during the Meet and Greet.

Oh, shit! That was totally why Agent 4 wasn't allowed to know her identity! Because she was famous now! Man, that was weird to think about.

She wondered why she wasn’t allowed to know Agent 4’s identity. Eh, the other agents probably just didn’t want her to feel bad.

As they walked off, Four sighed. “It’s a shame we can’t meet up in real life. It’d be cool to like, chill together. Or maybe go turfing. We could probably clean up.”

Three laughed. “Oh, totally. It’d be disgusting.” This was weird. They’d only just met, and now she wanted to hang out with her?

Not that she was complaining. She just wasn’t very used to people responding to her like that.

Mostly they tended to respond like Alex.

“Do you have a phone?” she asked. “We could exchange numbers. No rules against texting.”

Four chuckled wryly, bringing out her phone. “Finally, a girl asks for my number, and I don’t even know what she looks like,” she joked.

Hmm. So she was into girls.


They exchanged numbers, and then went their separate ways. Three had a meeting with her team later that day, but not for a while, so she decided to just go home for now. When she turned onto the street that housed her apartment complex, her phone buzzed.

Ricardo: so ur on ink blast now, huh, keri?

Oh, hell.

Ricardo: wonder how long thatll last

Ricardo: try not to get disqualified LOL

You: Go fuck yourself sideways, Ricardo

You: I told you to stop texting me

Ricardo: LOL just block me then

Ricardo: u wont

Ricardo: maybe i should drop by 1 of ur games sometime

Ricardo: thatd be fun huh

Keri started typing a response, but decided against it. Not worth it, she told herself.

Ricardo: smh i see you ignoring me

Ricardo: well cheers it sure has been nice talking to you

Ricardo: off to buy my “Hero” figurine now from my local splat league merch shop lmao

Ricardo: see ya later Kariline~

God, she hoped not. Wow. What a way to ruin her week.

She shook her head, trying her best to brush him out of her mind, and kept walking.

Keri entered the Ink Blast HQ just barely on time, setting her Hero Charger back on its rack. Cassie and Halley were already seated down in the lounge area, and Keri joined them. “Is Orion—”

“Late,” Halley interrupted, sounding so very, very tired. “Again.”


“He’ll be here, don’t worry,” Cassie assured. “He hasn’t missed a meeting. Like, period.”

“Well, technically, if you were to combine all the minutes late that he’s been—”

“Halley, give it a rest,” Cassie said. “Not all of us can be so deathly organized.”

Halley rolled her eyes, but shut up.

A minute later, Orion burst into the room, panting. “Sorry… I’m late…”

“Oh my god, did you run all the way here?” Keri asked.

“Don’t… judge me,” he wheezed.

“Right. Glad you could make it,” Cassie said. “Please sit.”

He did.

“So! Battle reflection time!” Cassie announced, clapping her hands together. She turned to Keri. “We do this after every match. You’ll get the hang of it pretty quick. As always, I’ll start with myself.

“Overall, I think I played well this match. Well, I think we all did, really, but anyway—I did a good job keeping Squidbird under control, and my plan of saving the Stingray to counter his Inkjet payed off. Also, I thought it was pretty cool how I shot Bowler out of his splashdown. On the other hand, I was a bit tunnel visioned; I ignored Ronald when I shouldn’t have, and that let him get a splat off on Keri, and I also should’ve been there to shut down Tornado’s Inkjet, since my weapon is the most equipped to handle that. I also won’t take credit for my survivability, as I didn’t engage nearly as much as the rest of you, and I also had Keri as my personal bodyguard, basically.”

She paused, before turning to Orion. “Orion. Again, everyone did well and you’re no exception. We held ink advantage for the entire game, thanks to you holding the center for long enough that the rest of us could really get some paint on the ground. I know you were dealing with pressure from at least one of Ronald, Tornado, or Squidbird at pretty much all times, and so only getting splatted once is a testament to your abilities there. That said, you should’ve known to bail once Tornado activated her Inkjet. You’re still overestimating how much damage your brella can actually tank. I know mobility isn’t your strong suit, but with a few well-placed splash walls you should’ve been able to get out of there and focus elsewhere until the special wore off.”

Orion nodded, a thoughtful look on his face, and Cassie moved on. “Halley. You did a fantastic job inking, for starters, and using your Inkzooka to take back the center after Tornado used her special was a really smart tactical move. Also, I saw you dodge Ronald’s Inkstrike on the replay, and that was clutch. My main note is that your splats were a little low; I think you were spending a little too much time inking when you should’ve been backing up Keri or Orion in their fights, because they both had a lot of prolonged engagements that you could’ve jumped in and settled. That’s a problem I had, too, though, so pot calling the kettle black and all that. Oh, and that time you jumped right in front of Tornado without realizing it? Make sure you look before you leap. But you’ve gotten that note at least twenty times by now, so you already know to work on that. I won’t fault you for getting splatted by Squidbird, because it was a direct result of you focusing Tornado, and getting her out of the way was definitely worth getting splatted over.

“Finally, Keri.” Keri gulped. She wasn’t sure if she should be nervous, or what. “You did amazing for your first real match. When I was watching that replay, I was super impressed. For someone just entering the pro scene, you have an incredible sense of stealth and combat strategy; the way you used your curling bombs as mobility, offense, and as a distractionary technique is not the kind of proficiency I would ever expect from someone who switches weapons so often. You also did a great job staying on top of Bowler throughout the game, monitoring his super jumps and spawn times and stuff. And of course I have to commend the splashdown double kill, and that absolute play of the game with the splat bomb and autobomb. However, you did get a bit distracted at times, like when Ronald splatted you from behind and when Bowler almost got that splashdown off on us. It’s understandable—between the audience, the announcers, and the nerves, the environment has a lot more distractions compared to your ordinary turf war. But it’s definitely something to work on. Also, your decision to take on both Ronald and Bowler at the same time was… questionable.” Keri sighed. Yeah, she knew. “In this context, it worked out really well; you managed to keep them busy for a good long while, which is especially beneficial as the match is in it’s later seconds like that. So here it was actually a really good choice, but only because you had the skill to back it up. Just make sure you always know you can handle stuff like that before you commit, because if a play like that goes bad, it goes really bad.”

Keri nodded. Those were all good points. It was important to make sure she knew what she could and couldn’t take on.

“And, uh,” Cassie continued, “I’ve noticed you tend to get a little… aggressive, when you’re in a tight situation.”

Keri furrowed her brow. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I haven’t watched you play a ton, but in your audition, when the time was running low, you kicked Orion’s brella. And in yesterday’s match, when you were feeling pressure from Ronald and Bowler, you defaulted to a physical solution, which in this case was whamming the splat bomb. Both of those strategies worked well, because they were unexpected, but… they were unexpected because they’re dangerously close to breaking protocol. Like, kicking weapons around and stuff is generally okay, and you can do a bit of hand-to-hand stuff, but I don’t want to see you punching anyone in the face. Got it?”

“Yeah, of course!” Keri said. “I would never do something like that. I mean—” She cut herself off, flashing back to that morning, and the feeling of her boots slamming into the Octoling’s face. The crunch of her nose. “No, yeah. I wouldn’t go that far. I’ll… make sure of it.”

Cassie smiled. “That’s all I ask. Now, we’re going to be doing a few practice matches. Cephalosquad has their first match next, and they wanted to get some more practice in.”

“Cephalosquad again?” Orion asked. “Don’t you think we practice with them a disproportionate amount?”

“It has been a bit constant,” Halley commented. “Especially in the past year or so.”

Cassie looked down at her phone and shrugged. “Just, uh, worked out that way, I guess. Okay, Jierdan says they’re ready, so let’s grab our gear.”

Keri groaned. “Wait, you’re saying that I’m gonna have to deal with Alex a disproportionate amount?” She couldn’t believe this.

“Oh, come on,” Cassie said, rolling her eyes. “I don’t understand why you two hate each other so much. You two seem like you’d actually get along really well.”

“Yeah, well, we don’t.”

“Then think of this as a chance to change that!” Orion said cheerfully. “I’m sure by the end of the match, you two will be practically best friends.”

“You’re totally fucking focusing me!” Alex shouted, swinging her roller around everywhere.

“No I’m fucking not!” Keri yelled, dodging around the blue ink and blocking as much as she could with the body of her Hero Slosher. “I’m just trying to flank, and you keep jumping me!”

“You came at me from behind! That’s definitely focusing!” Alex ran forward and leapt onto her roller, careening towards Keri at speeds that Keri did not appreciate. As she came within range, she tilted forward, using the momentum to bring the roller up over her shoulder and down hard against the ground.

Keri respawned mad.

She super jumped to Orion; he was currently facing off against Overcharger, a member of Cephalosquad who figured out that if you squeezed really hard on the hose part of the Goo Tuber, you could build up an unreasonable amount of pressure, and unleash a devastating burst of ink. Keri crouched behind Orion’s Brella as Overcharger fired, covering basically the entire area except for directly behind Orion bright blue. Keri jumped out from behind the brella, threw down a suction bomb, jumped off the suction bomb to avoid stepping in enemy ink, and then let loose her slosher on Overcharger. Orion followed up with a blast from his brella, and that was that.

“Nice one!” Orion called, but Keri was already off, swimming as fast as she could. She quickly found Alex once again, and threw out another bucket’s worth of ink. Annoyingly, Alex dodged.

“A sneak attack isn’t focusing, that’s just tactics! You’re the one who’s focusing!” Keri shouted.

Alex slammed her rolled to the ground and ran at Keri. “Seriously? You literally tracked me all the way over here just to tell me how you’re not focusing me? I’m not even the one you should be fighting! Aren’t you supposed to be dealing with Jierdan? That’s fucking why you went slosher!”

“You don’t know my strategy!” Keri insisted, swimming along a nearby wall to get behind Alex. She popped out just in time to lob some more ink at her, following it up with another suction bomb. Alex couldn’t dodge both, not while lugging around that gigantic roller, and soon she was gone.

“Jerk,” Keri mumbled before taking off towards the enemy base. She had a brief run in with Bullet, a member of Cephalosquad who also used a slosher, and just barely managed to win. As soon as she was finished there, however, a goddamn seeker appeared around the corner.

“Come on!” she shouted. She quickly backpedaled, doing some fancy footwork to trick the seeker AI into slamming into a wall and exploding. Out of the explosion, however, came Alex, once again riding her roller like some sort of motorcyclist pole dancer.

“Die!” she screamed.

Keri was getting real tired of this. In a fit of frustration, she threw her slosher at the base of the roller, causing it to catch and send Alex flying. She slammed right into Keri, and they rolled across the ground, smearing ink all over their clothes. Soon, they were wrestling each other, trying to get on top of one another.

“What is your problem?” Keri spat.

“My problem?!” Alex screeched. It grated on her ears. “I’m no the one with the goddamn problem here!”

Keri elbowed her in the shoulder, rolling on top of her. “Yeah, just keep telling yourself that!”

“The hell’s that supposed to mean?” Alex growled, kneeing her in the stomach and flipping the both of them over.

“It means you’re an asshole!” Punch.

“Oh my god, what did I ever do to you?” Headbutt.

“Are you kidding me?!” Tentacle pull.

“Ouch! Fuck!” Alex yelled. She transformed into squid form, and Keri followed suit. The two of them kept fighting, grappling each other, slapping each other with their tentacles, trying to poke the other in the eye.

Before either of them could claim victory, however, Keri felt something pick her up, and she was soon staring into Halley’s goggles. She Keri in her left hand and Alex in her right, and was looking between the two of them with a face that was the perfect blend of furious and exhausted.

“What. The fuck. Are the two of you doing.”

It wasn’t a question.