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Days of Future Passed

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Ah… the arcade. A dark sanctuary in a world of blinding light. Ako didn’t have to worry about the prying eyes of normies here, in the company of her gamer brethren--she was free to feast on all the Cool Ranch Doritos and Code Red Mountain Dew she desired. Assuming the arcade manager didn’t see.

“Mwahaha! Another victory for the Dark Empress!” she chortled to no one, having once again beaten the CPU in a round of Tekken. “I am still the Queen of this Arcade!” It was true--nobody could defeat her in any game here, except Taiko Drum Master, which her sister would always find a way to win. But when it came to any and all beat-em-ups, rail shooters, and classic fighters, she was unconquerable. A fiendish empress lying upon a throne of digitized skulls.

!!!!!

A dark presence so ominous it felt downright supernatural crept across her spine. She swerved towards the escalator up to this floor, where an unimaginably cool looking woman was just stepping off. She was dressed in tattered jeans and a lacey button-up blouse the color of midnight, adorned in wristbands so spiky that just looking at them prickled Ako’s skin. She wore a black choker adorned with a crescent moon pattern, matching the deep raven color of her feathery mane, so long it trailed right against her hips. But that--or her sharp cheekbones or half-dozen ear studs--wasn’t half as intimidating as her eyes, ruby red and pointed enough to kill a man with one glare. Hers was an abyssal presence, so overwhelmingly murky that she seemed to leave shadows with every step.

Ako, needless to say, had found a new idol.

“Wooooooooooah…!” She mouthed unconsciously before running up to her newfound inspiration. “Excuse me! Do you wanna play something together?”

The stranger looked at her with barely concealed disinterest. “Begone. I have no time for idle play. I’m waiting for someone.” Every word carried the gravitas of a life-essential mission.

“Well, I’m waiting for Rinrin, soooooooo…” Ako motioned towards the Tekken machines with her hands. “Might as well have fun in the meantime.”

“Fun? There is no fun here,” said the girl. “Only bitter stenches of loneliness and defeat, lost NEET souls drifting in listless agony…”

Holy cow! Ako barely understood what she was saying, but she said it so low and dramatically that it was automatically the coolest thing ever. She was growing more admiring by the second. She might’ve found someone even cooler than Yukina and Sayo! “Awesome…”

“There is nothing awesome about this decrepit den of stale soda and money eaters,” said the girl. “All that is found here is Gaming--sin itself, manifesting in society’s fallen: the Gamers.”

“Why are you here then?” asked Ako. “Do you not like games?”

“They are all I’ve ever known,” the girl muttered. “I am Shirokane Yoruko. I was born with a joystick in one hand and emptiness in the other. I bleed, sweat, and cry in the name of proving my existence the only way I know how: ranking in global leaderboards.”

Shirokane?! Ako felt ready to faint. This girl was related to Rinko?! Wait, maybe that made sense--they were pretty much the two coolest people Ako knew, after all. But she didn’t remember Rinko mentioning any relatives… especially anybody named Yoruko. Maybe she was a long-lost cousin or something. Either way, her course was now clear. “Okay, if you know Rinrin then we have to play.”

Yoruko eyed her with slightly more regard this time. “I suppose I can whet my appetite for victory upon your puny corpse.”

“P-Puny?!” Ako somehow wasn’t expecting such a proud, majestic figure to make a low blow like that, even if she was at least a half-meter taller than her. “I-I’ll show you who’s the, um,  Queen of this dark place! Yeah!”

“There are no monarchs or gods here, only crude mortals,” said Yoruko, clutching at her face with one bony hand. “If you have delusions of grandeur, then my righteous hand will return you to utter humility.”

The challenge was on. Ako marched to the closest pair of Tekken machines, Yoruko following with aloofness so overbearing that it felt like the very air was growing icy. They ended up in front of opposite facing machines, Ako’s cursor moving over to pick (of course) Devil Jin. Yoruko chose the same. A mirror match. Fitting for two patrons of this darkscape! ...Right?

“Mwehehe! Prepare to meet your match!” Ako gloated.

“Your defeat shall come swiftly. Perish.”

Even as the countdown to fight appeared on screen, Ako wanted to eek over how effortlessly cool Yoruko was. She used big words and dramatic phrases like it was second-nature to her! She didn’t trip over herself like Ako always did… she had to rely on Rinko for making sure her dark phrases always sounded right. But Rinko, dark angel that she was, was always there for her…

Ako was so lost in gay thoughts that when the match started Yoruko was able to start up a cheap combo without resistance, taking off a fourth of Ako’s health and snapping her back to attention. Ako’s neutral wasn’t as strong as her punishment game, so she tried to compensate by putting pressure on her opponent, but swung just a little too big--leaving her open to little jabs and one-twos from Yoruko. Each time that they reset to neutral, Yoruko played expert footsies, luring in Ako to strike before catching her with blows on the wind-down. The first round ended with a Perfect, the machine and noises hiding Yoruko’s quiet satisfaction from view.

Ako’s cheeks puffed up in fury. She hadn’t encountered a challenge this tough since she’d trans’d her gender, and she wasn’t going to fall so easily. Remembering little bits of advice that Rinko had given herself the last time they played, Ako forced herself to slow down and be patient, using quick strikes without frame windows of vulnerability instead of heavy attacks and specials, trying to draw Yoruko in just as she had done the last round. By shifting around on stage a lot, she was eventually able to establish a pace that Yoruko got lulled into, slowly whittling down her health while focusing on keeping up her own defense. Eventually Ako achieved a boring, if practical victory by a small margin.

“Booyah!” she cheered, pumping both fists.

“Hmph,” Yoruko grunted. “Perhaps there is fire in you yet.”

Encouraged by her victory, and wanting something a little more exciting, Ako opened up the Final Round with aggression, driving Yoruko back into the corner and putting on the pressure. Unfortunately, she lacked the careful spacing and safe moves of the previous round, leaving herself vulnerable to a cautious Yoruko’s deadly punishes. In overusing Devil Jin’s laser and flight mechanics, Ako left herself open to those same moves from Yoruko, and while Ako knocked off about half of her opponent’s health with some good juggles, she ultimately succumbed to Yoruko’s patience.

“Aargh!” Ako yelped upon watching her health bar drain to zero. She put up a solid 2-1 fight… but even so, getting Perfect’d and read as hard as she did felt bitingly shameful. Her Gamer pride was bleeding all over the squiggly carpet.

“Fool,” said Yoruko, looking down on Ako as she strode back around the machines towards her side. “Let this humiliation serve as a lesson to never venture into the realm of Gaming. All that lies there is endless torment. And also homophobes.”

“Mrgrgr…!” Ako’s cheeks puffed up in anger as she searched for a retort. “Well, you…!”

Before Ako could find the proper comeback, her ever faithful wordsmith appeared like a ghost behind her. “Sorry I’m late…!” Rinko huffed, clutching her purse strap tightly. “The train got delayed…”

“Rinrin!” Ako had to stop herself from running into her arms. “I’m so happy to see you!”

Yoruko, meanwhile, glared at the newfound presence. “Rinko… Shirokane Rinko…”

Rinko took Ako into her loving embrace before glancing up towards the demonic aura. “Do I… know you…?”

“No, but I know you better than God knows Eden, and the Devil, Hell.” Yoruko pointed dramatically in her direction. “I’ve come here with one sole purpose--to defeat you in video games, and thereby prove my existence.”

Rinko blinked. “How would… beating me... prove your existence…?”

Yoruko bit her lip, fists trembling with emotion. “I don’t expect you to ever understand. But this is the only chance I have. If I wait any longer, you’ll become far too powerful.”

“Too… powerful…?” Rinko shook her head. “I mean... I like games… but I’m not particularly good at them…”

“Don’t mask your savage skills with false modesty.” Yoruko’s voice was strained to the point of breaking. “You and the Atramentous Titan are all that stand in the way of making a mark upon the world.”

“A-Atramentous Titan?” Ako gulped. That was the coolest title she’d ever heard, and she didn’t even know what the first word meant.

“Come,” Yoruko said, beckoning with one veiny hand towards Rinko. “Let us do battle on the virtual fields.”

“Why… should I...?”

Yoruko smirked. “I defeated the puny normie currently shrinking behind you. Does the motive of revenge now fill your soul?”

“Hey!” Ako shouted. “Calling me puny is one thing, but don’t you dare call me a normie!”

“Do you imagine yourself a Gamer?”  Yoruko scoffed. “You lack the bloodlust. The inhumanity. The sheer vitriol that pours from the mouth like water from a river. You are unblemished by their foul ways.”

“Are you calling me a child?!”

“I think she’s saying… you’re not a Gamer…” said Rinko.

“That’s even more insulting!”

Ako’s rage must’ve been partially contagious, because now Rinko stared at Yoruko with a quiet fire. “I don’t know why you’re so fixated on defeating me… but nobody insults someone I love and gets away with it.”

“Rinrin…” Ako sniffled. “That was so cool!”

Yoruko didn’t seem intimidated. If anything, she seemed to relish in Rinko’s newfound determination. “Yes! Let the vengeance drown out all other desires! Be consumed by the demon within you--the spirit of a Gamer! Let her toxicity fuel your every combo!”

“Rinrin will never give in to her dark side!” Ako screamed, despite thinking that if Rinko did do that it would be incredibly cool and maybe just a little hot.

Rinko stuck her arm out before Ako, signalling to stay back. “I don’t know who you are... but I won’t back down. And I won’t give in to the Gamer inside of me, either.”

Yoruko laughed--it was dry and hoarse, as if she would start coughing up blood at any moment. “Deny yourself all you want. That venomous swill flows through your veins, just as it does through mine.”

The hidden implications of the comment went completely unnoticed. “Then we’re on equal footing… aren’t we?”

“You think Gaming is your ally? You merely adopted Gaming. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the real world until I was already a woman, and by then it was nothing to me but boring!”

“Are you saying…” Ako’s voice grew hollow. “Your parents were both Gamers?" Impossible; no two Gamers could find a date together, let alone have a child.

“Oh, they were.” Yoruko laughed madly into her palm. “The two strongest Gamers the world had ever seen. They taught me all that I’ve ever known. All they’d ever known. Yet I was never able to surpass them.”

Woah… Ako was getting invested in Yoruko’s tragic backstory. “But what does Rinrin have to do with that?”

Yoruko clamped down on her jaw. “That’s none of your concern. Especially once I defeat her.”

“As if!” Ako stuck her tongue out and poo poo’d her. “You’re gonna be sorry!”

Rinko said nothing, instead calmly taking her seat at the Tekken cabinet--she’d let her joystick do the talking. Yoruko ignored Ako’s taunting, sitting down at her own station with a confident leer. She picked Devil Jin again, while Rinko went for Kazumi. The stale air of the arcade grew both frigid and fiery as they loaded into the stage. Ako busted out her proprietary Roselia Rinko glowsticks and fantowel (she’d convinced Yukina to start making/selling the products by saying the money made would be for the good of Roselia, but really she just wanted official merch to cheer Rinko on with) and shouting at the top of her lungs.

“WOOOOOOO! YEEEEAAAAAH! LET’S GO RINRIN!”

Rinko couldn’t even spare a smile as the round began--her Gamer Focus had been activated. Leagues of matches with her comrade Sayo Hikawa had given her a new approach to fighting games--analyze the opponent in the first round before downloading them in the latter two. She wasn’t around to watch Ako’s narrow defeat, but Rinko could figure out Yoruko’s playing style with enough scrutiny. Yoruko maintained her patient, baiting pace, focusing on safe moves and footsies above pressure or aggression. Kazumi’s range for combo starters was poor, and soon the staring contest turned into a battle of attrition. Rinko, eventually realizing that if she wanted to win she needed to push more, started throwing out test jabs, observing Yoruko’s spacing and combos, intentionally whiffing in order to get a sense for her playstyle. In the end she was timed out, neither side giving their all and risking getting trapped in the other’s pace.

For round two, Rinko wasted no time. Kazumi was an offensive-oriented character, and so she used an aggressive series of pokes to push a startled Yoruko into the corner. Once there, Rinko utilized command grabs and unblockables to chip away at Yoruko’s health little by little, never giving her an opportunity to push Rinko back or collect herself. There was little room for resistance, culminating in a decisive Rinko victory.

In Round Three, for whatever reason, Yoruko played more aggressively, losing the laser-sharp focus she had in the first round as she came out with arms swinging. Rinko deftly adapted, baiting Yoruko with delayable strikes and establishing the pace single-handedly, calling out Kazumi’s tiger for some expert juggles.

“Rinrin… your punishments are so poggers!” Ako squealed.

In the midst of her final, decisive combo, Rinko leaned over with pining, Monster-flavored lips, which Ako enthusiastically leapt into. In the midst of making out, Rinko finished Yoruko off with the tiger, metaphorically fleecing the meat from her bones whilst embroiled in an act of passionate lesbianism. It only made sense--she always played best when she was being gay, after all.

Ako didn’t pull away until the VICTORY screen had run its course, starry-eyed and heart-filled. The amount of Pog filling her was… well, poggers. Yoruko, for her part, looked vacantly at the screen, processing her defeat. Before Rinko could deliver a fist bump and her “GGs,” Ako blew her tongue out at Yoruko. “Shows you! You’ll never beat Rinrin in a million years!”

“Now, now,” said Rinko, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Good sportsmanship is important.”

“But Rinrin… that’s not how a Gamer acts!”

“No it’s not… but maybe it’s how we should.” Rinko rose from her stool and walked over to a dazed Yoruko, extending her pale fist in goodwill. “That was… a good match… I would… love to play again sometime…”

Yoruko’s fists balled around the edge of her seat. “...ot fair…”

“Huh....? I’m sorry… I didn’t hear you…”

“IT’S NOT FAIR!!” Yoruko suddenly burst into tears, her feet stamping against the floor. “You ALWAYS beat me! ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS! Why do you never hold back against me, Mama?!”

“...What?”

Yoruko kept bawling, thick mascara beginning to run down her face as her whinging turned into an incomprehensible mess. Rinko, paralyzed by the sudden transformation and what Yoruko had just called her, stood in stunned silence. And Ako stared on with wide eyes, realization smacking into her brain all at once.

“Oh my god… she really is a Gamer.”


An hour later and the three of them were situated in the diner down the street. Rinko and Ako had ordered a milkshake with two straws while Yoruko--cleaned up and back to her previous brooding aura--was clutching her own Oreo-flavored concoction as she waited for her chicken nuggies to arrive at the table. The other two sat quietly--typical for Rinko, rare for Ako--as they attempted to process what Yoruko had told them just a short while previously.

“You’re our… child… from the future?” Rinko asked, to reconfirm the fact for the third time.

Yoruko nodded coolly. “I didn’t recognize Mom at first, since she’s so short…”

Ako pointed at herself. “Are you talking about me? Am I way taller in the future?”

“Taller than me, at least.”

Given that Yoruko was close to pushing a full two meters, Ako’s fangy grin was on full display. “Woah-ho! Do you hear that, Rinrin? I’m gonna be tall enough to princess-carry you!”

Rinko didn’t reply--partially because she was still processing Yoruko’s existence, and partially because the thought of a buff Ako carrying her stopped her gay little heart.

“You still act much the same at least,” muttered Yoruko, pensively sipping her milkshake. “You still cackle and play everything up for dramatism. Not to mention the utterly exaggerated way in which you speak.”

"Hey!"

“But regardless, I was able to defeat one of my two mortal nemeses.” Yoruko smirked, wiping off her cookies ‘n’ cream mustache with a napkin. “Today was a great victory.”

“Um… when you say mortal nemeses… you’re talking about us, right…?” Rinko asked.

“Indeed. You two, who have plagued my life, and turned me into the very demon I am now…”

Ako’s eyes grew watery. “Are we… bad parents?”

Yoruko crossed her arms and huffed. “Bad? You never let me win! Even when I was four-years old playing Super Smash. Bros you would three-stock me!”

“...Wow, really?”

“Day after day, game after game… you would trounce me time and again implying if not stating that I needed to ‘git gud.’ Eventually I recognized games as my life’s purpose. My reason to exist. To be an Alpha Female Gamer… that is why I was born. But you two would harp on and on about ‘going outside’ and ‘eating healthily’ and other distractions that would pull me away from the very games that you weaned me on! That sustained my existence!”

“That sounds… just like… we were concerned about you…” Rinko noted.

“I dunno, seemss morally gray,” said Ako, hand on chin. “I mean… a true Gamer just needs Dewritos and a controller to keep living.”

“Exactly,” said Yoruko.

“But if you are our kid…” said Ako, adopting a voice of surprising maturity. “I must ask you to turn away from the path of the Gamer.”

Yoruko scowled. “What?”

“A True Gamer is one who hates women and minorities. And you are at least one of those things. I don’t want you to hate yourself… or to look at another woman walking down the street and have your mind scream out ‘forced diversity.’”

“Perhaps… she can be a Gamer… without being a bigot...?” Rinko suggested.

“If she could, then her powers would be truly incomprehensible…” Ako uttered in awe. “Is it even possible to be a Gamer like that? Without vitriolic hatred, a Gamer would just be… someone who likes video games.”

Yoruko gasped at the suggestion. “Are you calling me a normie? You’ll rue this day… your ancestors frown upon your impropriety.”

“Aren’t they your ancestors too?”

“Silence!” Yoruko leapt from her seat, billowing a cape that didn’t exist. “Now that I understand the true nature of your current playstyles, I’ll be back to wreak revenge--to surpass the Tenebrous Raven and Atramentous Titan that raised me. Even if the Titan is more of a shrimp now…”

“That part wasn’t necessary!” Ako cried.

With dripping sneers and a lurching posture, Yoruko sulked off. “Farewell--until the next day we meet on the battlefield.”

Ako and Rinko watched her slink off, unsure of what to say as a waiter dropped by their table. “Hold on!” Ako called out. “What about your nuggies?”

Yoruko didn’t stop to respond.

Internally, Ako hoped Yoruko had eaten some elsewhere earlier. A Gamer would die within a week without nugs. But on another level, she was too giddy to worry. “Rinrin! Doesn’t this mean we’re gonna get married at some point?”

Once again, Rinko’s little sapphic heart had stricken her silent.

“That’s--” Ako caught herself short of saying ‘poggers’, feeling as if she’d used up her quota for the day, instead relying on an older internet classic. “Epic! The most epic thing I can imagine! It’ll be like that NFO wedding we had, only without the dragons and black flames, so… not as cool, I guess.”

Rinko shook her head. “It’ll be even cooler… because it’ll be real and with you, Ako-chan…”

Ako’s Love stat was maxing out. “Rinrin…! We’re kinda young to be thinking about this stuff though, huh?”

”Just a little… but in the meantime…” said Rinko. “Do you want to get married on our smurf accounts?”

Ako was so excited she started producing gibberish. “KHKHJKJHKJJJKHJJJH! YES! Can we invite the rest of the band?”

“Assuming that Minato-san doesn’t accidentally spam the Sneer emote again… yes…”

“Yay! Can we oppress Gamers afterwards?”

Rinko giggled. “Of course.”

After devouring the nuggies themselves to replenish their mana and finishing off their shake, the two walked out of the diner, crumb-coated hand in crumb-coated hand, unaware that it was, in fact, possible to be an Unproblematic Gamer--because two of them were in love.

And that, dear friends, is the true essence of Pog.