The stadium vibrated with shouts and uproar, the crowd jeering at Che and demanding the match continue. He looked up at them, trying to make out as many faces as he could. They all looked like normal people, yet there were so many of them here. Every seat in the stadium was full. Were there really this many people into underground fighting?
Che shook his head. This wasn’t just some illegal underground setup. It was something else entirely. His skin prickled as he recalled seeing the status screen appear in front of Nikki, just like in a video game. It had to all be a simulation. Maybe he was asleep after all!
He slowly got up and dusted himself off, expecting to feel lighter than before. He didn’t know what was going on, what this strange place was, but he knew one thing for sure.
He was not going to fight.
Che took one last look at Nikki, who was clutching her arm as she stared down at the ground. Bella and Kim stood next to her. Kim was smiling as she looked up at the crowd, while Bella glared at Che as if she’d charge at him any second. Realizing it was now or never, Che turned and sprinted towards the main gates of the stadium.
The crowd roared with outrage, but they were quickly drowned out once Che exited the stadium. He leaned against a nearby tree for support, surprised he was already out of breath. He figured it was due to adrenaline more than anything else. After all, he’d expected that match to be a joke, not an actual fight against someone with superpowers. The crowd, the stadium, Nikki…it was all too much.
He slid down the tree trunk until he was sitting on the ground, burying his face in his hands. He wanted to go home, back to his quiet life where he didn’t have to worry about any of this. He wanted to wake up and prepare for his next interview, even though he was certain it would be the same outcome as before. Maybe that wasn’t an option anymore.
He lifted his head up from his hands. All that would have to wait for now. He had to find out what was going on and fast. The sound of footsteps crunching on the ground alerted Che to someone’s approach. He looked up to see Nikki walking towards him, a worried expression on her face.
“You just took off,” she said. “Seriously, what’s up with you?”
Che shook his head. “I’m fine. I just…I need some time to process all of this.”
“You um…” Nikki clutched her arm nervously, staring at the ground. “You seem to be very confused and scared. It’s not smart to just wander off by yourself like that.”
Che’s eyes widened. He hadn’t been expecting her to say that after being so adamant that he fight her mere minutes ago. What had changed?
“I just don’t know what’s going on,” Che said with a sigh. “I don’t know what this place is or why all of you have those…powers and like to fight.”
“Oh that?” Nikki perked up. “I’m a Flame type. I can manipulate fire. Kim is a Flora type, and Bella is an Aqua type. Most people are Neutral types though, and not everybody fights, just the people who want to compete in the ToKyotchi tournament.”
“Toko-what?” Che tried to get the word to roll of his tongue and failed.
“ToKyotchi,” Nikki corrected calmly. “It’s an annual tournament where people from all over the world compete to see who’s the strongest. You don’t know that?”
Che groaned, placing his head back in his hands. “Of course I don’t! I don’t even know what this place is!”
Nikki put her hands in her pocket and looked away from him. “Hey, don’t spazz out on me! I was just asking!”
Che sighed. “I’m sorry. You’re obviously trying to help me, and I probably sound crazy.”
Nikki returned her gaze to him. “How did you end up in the stadium?”
Che shook his head. “I don’t know. I was leaving a job interview, and this person appeared in front of me. I remember being startled, but that’s it. Then I woke up and found myself here in this place.”
“Job interview?” Nikki tilted her head to the side. “Are you an adult?”
“What? Don’t I look like one?” Che asked.
Nikki shook her head. “You look the same age as me. I’m seventeen.”
Che started rubbing his chin. “So people have jobs here?”
Nikki nodded. “Just like they do everywhere else, I would think.”
Che did all he could to hide his surprise. So, there were people in this world that had regular jobs, and there were those who had strange abilities and fought in tournaments? What a strange video game simulation!
“Nikki…” Che started, pausing to consider what she’d just told him. “What is the name of this world?”
Nikki’s eyes narrowed as she gazed down at him. Che figured she must have thought he was out of his mind, and he wasn’t certain she’d be completely wrong in her assessment.
“This planet is called Eden,” she answered. “You really hit your head pretty hard, didn’t you? You remember your name, right?”
Che nodded. “My name is Chetachi Johnson. I’m twenty-three years old, and I’m from – “
He stopped himself, remembering what planet Nikki said they were on. Eden? He sighed. Telling Nikki he was from a planet called Earth would surely raise plenty of alarms, and he figured he’d already said too much.
“You don’t even know where you’re from?” Nikki rolled her eyes. “You’re hopeless!”
Che nodded, a sad chuckle escaping his mouth. “Yeah I am, aren’t I?”
Nikki paused, as if searching for the right words to say next. “All the stuff you said back there…about not having anything to fight for, about being too weak…”
“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Che said.
Nikki shook her head. “I think you’re wrong. And really stupid.”
Che gasped as he jumped to his feet. “And what do you know about anything? About me? You don’t know anything about my life!”
“So what?” Nikki waved away Che’s outburst with her hand. “You think you’re the only one with problems? The only one who’s had it rough? Who cares!”
Che flung a finger in her direction. “You…it’s not that simple. None of it is.”
Nikki shrugged. “So, what? You just gonna give up?”
Che dropped his hand to his side as his eyes dropped to the ground. “I don’t know.”
Nikki sucked her teeth as she turned away from him. “Whatever. I’ll help you get to Shrub Town. Maybe someone there will know who you are and can help you. It’s too dangerous for you to try to go through Daphne Forest by yourself. But once we get to Shrub Town, you’re on your own.”
Che hesitated for a moment before nodding. What other option did he have currently? He wasn’t sure how he felt about sleeping underneath a tree for the night. What if the wildlife was anything like the people? He shuddered. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see if the bugs knew how to use fire too.
Che nodded, not looking up at her. “Alright. I’ll go with you.”