Aurora's Game is a fanfiction about the events of Aurora6's current Survivor game. It will feature a post-apocalyptic society, drama, romance, and outrageous amounts of vigor. I've obtained permission from everyone involved to start posting this story, and so I hope there's no confusion in that regard.
I'm trying to keep the chapters a reasonable length, but with so many characters it'll be a bit difficult at first. I hope you can bear with me please enjoy!
It was night. A soft wind crawled over the desert. In the distance, a lone figure walked slowly through the sand. They were holding an enormous bag jangling quietly with the sound of many, many coins.
The figure stopped suddenly. The clouds in the sky parted, and a moonbeam shone down on the figure. A penguin. She had large black eyes that stared into one's soul, and she wore a hot pink plaid shirt. One look at her could give you chills, for the air about her seemed charged with power.
She set the bag of coins down. “Is this enough?”
A small human wearing a dark grey shirt appeared before her. They glanced at the bag and scoffed dramatically. “Hmm… Hardly. Don’t tell me this is all the Bells you have?"
“If I had more, they would be right here.”
The human inspected the bag carefully before shaking their head. “Oh, Aurora… What have you been doing?
You should really have a lot more than this. Oh, well. Beggars can’t be choosers.” They took the bag. “I should be thanking you, anyhow. When is the next Game starting?”
“Soon. The players have already been chosen.”
“Fantastic!” The human nodded vigorously. “I know you’ll do great this time around. But I'm quite busy, you know, and I can't stand around chatting. Same time next year?"
"Alright! Be careful on your way home!”
They both stood there silently for a few moments. The human grinned, slung the bag over their shoulder, and disappeared into the night. The penguin, Aurora, sighed and shook her head. It was like this, year after year. Sometimes she couldn't remember why she had made this deal in the first place.
Perhaps, though… Perhaps this year would be different. She had a funny feeling in her bones, the sort of feeling she always got before something strange happened. But this was no time for introspection, anyways. She was in the middle of a desert! And she had a Game to plan.
She turned and went back the way she came, towards home. The lights of ACC Realm shone all across the horizon, slowly paling in the rising sun.
A new year was beginning.
Rodeo was practically jumping in excitement. He had just received his acceptance letter to the next Game! The intense anxiety he felt was pushed back and replaced with pure joy, joy at now having the chance to live for another year and possibly see all his friends again. He read over the letter twice, wondering if he could possibly scratch off some of the gold leafing on it and sell it for some quick Bells.
Dear Rodeo (748),
Congratulations. You have been accepted as the twentieth participant in Aurora’s 20th Survivor and as such have been granted Player Status. We hope you enjoy another year of fun bonuses and privileges as you prepare for and participate the game. A letter with follow-up announcements will be sent to you in a few weeks, before the game officially starts. Here are some things to be aware of before proceeding:
-This being the 20th season, there are special twists and challenges that will take place over the course of the game. Please review your Challenge booklet and prepare yourself as best as you can for anything that may come your way.
-Alliances. The aforementioned twists will make it even more important that you form strong, well-crafted alliances this game. You are allowed to contact other players as soon as you receive this letter and start strategizing. You are required to register any official alliances in this year's new Alliance System.
-Please be aware that any activities even remotely considered to be cheating will be punishable by expulsion from the game and imprisonment. You can review what is considering cheating and subterfuge in your Regulations booklet.
-Know what you’re getting into. Review your game booklets and past play history, and pay attention to the actions of your fellow players. Make this game a good experience for everybody.
The second page had a list of players. Nindori (845) Enigmatic Snowman (75) Wolf Link (34) Monique (923) Kit (30) Winnie (1024) Coco (108) Kiki (1381) Antonio (356) Rod (368) Rosie (124) Butch (38) Ankha (226) Bangle (110) Tangy (450+) Poncho (694) Eunice (687) Hopper (n/a) Purrl (37-) Rodeo (748)
Outwit. Outplay. Outlast. Good luck, players.
-Isabelle, Public Relations
Rodeo wanted to scream. There were a few unfamiliar names on the list, but many of them he recognized solely due to the Bell Ranks. There were several very high-ranking people here… And a bigger surprise was that of Hopper, the famous rebel who refused the Bell Ranking System entirely, among… other things... Would they really allow a, well, criminal to play in this season? Oh, well. As much as he disliked the guy, maybe he was actually nicer in person?
...He highly doubted that, but whatever. As positive as he was, Hopper wasn't someone he could be optimistic about. He was happy, at least, that his friends were also participating. Tangy and Bangle would certainly make the game bearable. It was also good to see Purrl and Wolf Link. He heard they were really great players. Hopefully he'd be able to get a real good alliance going with some of the bigwigs.
But… All of this could wait! Rodeo pulled out his phone and checked his bank account. By gosh, there it was! The yellow icon next to his name! And… He couldn't even bear to think about the balance displayed before him. Hundreds of things he could now buy paraded into his head. He needed new clothes, new writing supplies, groceries, the bathroom needed fixing up… A new mattress? Well, he'd be sleeping in the Game Hall soon enough, so that probably didn't matter right now.
Gosh, the possibilities were endless. The first thing he absolutely had to do, though, was call Tangy. They had to get a game plan going!
Hopper was casually lounging on an enormous pile of Bell bags. Despite what you may think, it was far more comfortable than any chair he could've bought with that money.
Aurora glared sternly at him from his computer screen. "Alright, I get it. You have a lot of money. Can you please stop moving the screen around?"
Hopper set the computer down. "Sorry, sorry." He laughed. "It just feels pretty good to have the most powerful person in ACC Realm at my mercy."
"Su-ure…" She shook her head. "I'm not here to play around, okay? If you play your cards right, you'll end up with far more money than what you're sitting on, plus another year of safety."
"I know, 'kay? I'm not stupid."
"Of course you aren't. I'd like to remind you, though, that you're still a wanted criminal. Having you participate will give both of us the publicity and money we need, but if you step out of line… All of my mods are eager to find any reason to get you booted early, and you won't be able to escape them this time."
"Pah!" Hopper scoffed. "You underestimate me. But I'll play along. I'll save any nasty tricks until we're near the endgame. Even then, I don't need nasty tricks to win."
"Good. Great." The screen went dark as Aurora hung up. Hopper laughed and laughed. Another game was beginning… He couldn't wait to show those Anti-Hopper hooligans the door! He squinted at the player list again. Rodeo…
That sniveling brat! Hopper couldn't wait to annihilate him. He crumpled up the letter and threw it at the wall before turning back to his computer. It was time to snuff some torches.
"I'm worried." Wolf Link said hesitantly. "You're inviting a lot of, er, well-known people. Aren't you afraid of something bad happening, like last year?"
"No." Aurora replied simply. She was going through mounds of papers, signing liability release forms for her players. She had long been an expert at forging the signatures of her players.
"Enough with that." She said. "This is my 20th season. The All-Stars. The big one. It's going to be perfect. Risks are always involved, you know. It's not anything new."
"But, but Hopper? And Hopper's worst enemy? And that worst enemy'sbest friend? Oh boy, I certainly don't want to be there when Purrl and Tangy see each other..."
"You do know that Hopper and Rodeo have never actually met before, right?"
Aurora ignored Wolf Link's protesting and continued signing papers. Wolf Link sighed and sunk into his chair. Being a game mod and a player wasn't going to be fun. This was gonna be one dramatic game…
Purrl was holding a knife. Before her was a picture of Tangy, pinned neatly on the wall. She angled back carefully before throwing the knife with all her might. It landed right in the middle of Tangy's forehead.
"Booyah!" She cried triumphantly. "Take that!"
This was a good sign of things to come. Tangy had taken everything from her. But Purrl was back! She was back! She still couldn't believe that her name was on the list of players. She could see it already: Tangy in rags, her own name untarnished and glowing brightly like it did before. She'd have her penthouse and her cabin by the beach back. Non-alcoholic mimosas every evening with Aurora… And most importantly, Tangy in rags!
Purrl clenched her fists. She could do it. She believed. Deep breaths, deep breaths... She should start on her alliances! There wasn't a moment to lose! She rushed to the phone in excitement and dialed the first number she thought of. This was gonna be the best comeback yet!
Rosie watched as her brother, Enigmatic Snowman, ran about the house gathering supplies. "You realize that Aurora's gonna be paying for everything, right?"
"I can't impose on her like that!" He yelled. "It wouldn't be polite!"
"She's the richest person in the whole world. If she didn't want twenty people in her house, eating her food, she wouldn't be hosting these games."
"I guess that's true…"
"Besides, there's only one thing you should be bringing to these games." She said as she went into the kitchen. There was a secret compartment behind the fridge that contained endless boxes of popcorn. She stacked as many boxes as she could onto the table before returning to root around in the spice cabinet.
"Rosie, no. Do you remember how dehydrated you were the last game you were in? You have to eat something besides popcorn this time!"
"It'll be okay! I have… This!" She pulled out a fairly small container labeled "Vigor".
Enigmatic Snowman snatched it from her. "This? Don't tell me this is some sort of drug or something…"
"Don't be ridiculous." She snatched it back. "It's Vigor! The popcorn seasoning to end all popcorn seasonings! It's so amazing that if you eat it with your popcorn, you not only stay hydrated… You get twice as much energy!"
"...Sounds pretty fake. But hey, I don't make the rules." He shrugged. "Section 2.8 of the Regulations booklet: 'Any performance-enhancing substances are-'"
"Be quiet! Listen, Aurora herself endorses this product. Everyone's eating Vigor with their popcorn. Get with the program! Anyways, I'm gonna go to the store and get some more. I'll need a whole bunch of it if I want to thoroughly destroy my enemies."
Rosie always talked about her enemies as if they were a mysterious, unknowable force on the horizon. Something just as enigmatic as her brother or a human. But everyone knew that she meant Tangy and Bangle, some of the stars of Aurora's Games. It seemed almost everyone had them as enemies for one reason or another...
"Is it that time again?" Tangy said as she read over her acceptance letter. In reality, her letter-reader was reading the letter to her, but she liked the image of her sitting down and daintily reading something Aurora wrote to her before penning a similarly dainty reply.
"There's a postscript." The letter-reader replied. "It says you must call Lady Aurora as soon as possible."
"Hmm… What's my schedule?" She liked to ask this question spontaneously, even if she wasn't planning to make any changes to it.
The schedule reader pulled up Tangy's schedule. "You have lunch with Lady Bangle soon, then thirty-one minutes of sunbathing on your private beach, followed by possibly two hours but mostly likely ten minutes of vigorous yoga exercises. From then on you have an hour of relaxation, an hour of rest, and an hour of respite, finishing off the day with a classy moderately early dinner with Lady Aurora and Sir Wolf Link at The Button."
"Hmm… No need to call Aurora if we're having dinner tonight." Tangy peered over her Gucci™ sunglasses. "Which private beach again?"
"Ah, your third private beach, madam. You also have a missed call from Rodeo."
"Oh! Rodeo! He probably wants to form an alliance already. Well, I suppose I can find the time to call him later…"
"Of course, madam. I'll remind you during your hour of rest."
"Perfect." It was at this point that the limousine rolled to a stop. Tangy waited for her door opener to open her door before stepping out onto a carpet made of the hopes and dreams of the lower class. The carpet was rolled out through her front yard, leading all the way to her open-air foyer where Bangle sat, trying to remember which fork she was supposed to use first. She smiled brightly at Tangy when she came around the corner.
"Tangy! It's so good to see you! Did you get your acceptance letter?"
"Um, of course! I don't know why they even bother. Aurora knows I'd show up, accepted or not." Tangy dramatically sat down in the chair across from Bangle, but the motion seemed more like a violent lunge than anything else. "How are you?"
"I'm great." Bangle was briefly distracted by the carpet rollers rolling up the carpet around them. "You know, Chanel™ really does make a good rug. Who knew shattered dreams could be so comfy?"
"Carpet, Bangle, carpet. This is the best carpet one can buy. I had it custom made, in fact, with the shattered dreams of Purrl."
"I know." She snapped her fingers and her phone handler gave her her phone. "Speaking of which, Purrl is going to be in the game. I can't say I'm looking forward to that, but eh."
They took several selfies, three of which they added to their premium ACCgram account, and settled down for lunch. They were having fruit bowls with plenty of Vigor, a new seasoning that Tangy was obsessed with.
"It does taste good." Bangle chewed slowly. "But, er, I can't exactly tell what it's supposed to taste like."
"Vigor! The flavor is vigor!" Tangy crowed. "And it's genius. Who would've thought they could make a food out of something that isn't corporeal?"
"Ooh… Corporeal… Someone's been studying their dictionary."
"Not really. I just saw it somewhere in one of Aurora's booklets. Speaking of which, we need to make a game plan, gurl! Who are we allying with?"
Bangle thought for a few moments. "Well, there's gonna be lots of twists coming this game. I think we should talk to people who can easily deal with surprises, hardy people, you know what I'm saying?"
"Right, fantastic." Tangy tapped at her phone. "I saw that Hopper, of all people, is going to be in the game. Can you believe that?"
"Yeah, I don't-"
"I can't wait to form an alliance with him. Such a hunk. No penguin can top Aurora, though… But, eh. I'll message him right now."
She opened the Alliance System app on her phone. Here, she could send alliance requests and messages to her fellow players. She happily tapped away, humming to herself while Bangle stared her down.
"He's a criminal! And you're just gonna be all buddy-buddy with him?"
"Listen, sweaty, I'm just as much of a criminal as anyone else." Tangy winked at her. "I'll snatch that victory right from under everyone's wigs, like I always do. I need some real good players on my side, and Hopper is just that. If he can avoid the police for years after everything he's done and end up participating in Survivor, then he's definitely going to be a great ally."
Bangle sighed and nodded. "I guess that's true. Just be careful with him, okay?"
Tangy ignored her. "And we gotta have Rodeo, and Wolf Link, and Coco, and..."
That night, Tangy proudly paraded into The Button. It was the hottest, most expensive restaurant in ACC Realm, and it was the only place Tangy ate besides her house. Ahem, mansion deluxe.
Wolf Link coughed nervously as he saw the cat of the year enter. He looked rather meek sitting next to Aurora, and he busied himself with the menu so he wouldn't catch Tangy's eye.
"What is the matter with you?" Aurora nudged him. "Can't you act normal for one second?"
"I'm acting perfectly normal." He retorted. "I just really don't want to get involved in any drama right now."
"There isn't going to be any drama."
"You say that, and yet we're meeting with Tangy. She lives and breathes drama."
"Aurora, my love!" Tangy cried, pretending she hadn't heard what Wolf Link just said. "It's so great to see you!"
She slid into the booth across from them. "So? I'm a busy girl. What's the news?"
"You just got here." Aurora said. "Order something first."
The Button was so high-class that it actually had things other than fruit and fish on the menu, unlike other restaurants in ACC Realm. How the owner, Brewster, managed to get these things was beyond Tangy, but she certainly wasn't complaining. She ordered some sort of chicken pasta dish and the most expensive non-alcoholic wine available before eagerly returning her attention to Aurora. "So? So?"
"Why did you invite me here? Any gossip? Secrets?"
"I thought we'd just have a nice dinner to smooth things over."
"Boo! Boring! But this is nice, anyways. Hey, Wolf Link, are you ready for the game?"
Wolf Link avoided her sultry gaze. "Yeah, I am."
"Great, cuz I'm gonna be your ally!"
"That's only if I accept it." He said, before laughing suddenly.
Tangy smiled and shook her head. "You'd better."
They were silent. The food came and was eaten rather uneventfully, and Tangy found that she was dreadfully bored. Aurora was exuding an unusually oppressive aura this evening, and Wolf Link clearly didn't want to be here.
"I'm going to get straight to the point." Aurora said suddenly. "Tangy, you're going to be in my twentieth season of Survivor. This is a very important game for me."
"Um? You think I don't know that?"
"I'd like for us to get along this time. I know we've had our disagreements in the past, but this time I want everything to be, well, perfect. And I need your help to do that."
"I knew it." Tangy inched closer. "What's the deal? I'll do anything, my love."
Aurora coughed, and Wolf Link suddenly procured a sheet of paper. He slowly handed it to Tangy, and she looked it over. It was a contract.
"This is something that-"
"Ho-ho-hoooold on…" Tangy drawled, holding up a paw. "Am I reading this right? Am I seeing this correctly? You want me to throw the game?"
"Not necessarily. I'd just like for you to have a disinterest in winning."
"Sweaty…" Tangy shook her head. "No thanks. I'm not gonna be bribed, no way, no how."
"I thought you said you'd do anything."
"Anything but destroying my reputation! I mean, it's already in tatters, but at least I get paid to keep it that way! My win streak must be flawless!"
"Tangy, ACC Realm is a place that is constantly changing." Aurora said smoothly. "One day you're in the 1%, the next day… Well, some people have ended up much more worse for wear, especially after being in my game."
"This is for everyone's best interest. Just take a look at the fine print! You may lose, but you still get to keep a fair share of your current title while also allowing someone else to take the spotlight."
"The 'spotlight', unfortunately, is focused on me right now." Tangy smiled dangerously. "And let me tell you, I'm loving it."
"Suit yourself." Aurora took the form and returned it to Wolf Link. "Just be aware, though, that there are people besides myself who won't be happy with your decision."
"Suck. It. UP!" Tangy downed her wine glass and stood up. "Just watch, Aurora darling. I'll snuff your torch before you even have a chance to light it!"
She stormed out of the restaurant. Wolf Link folded up the form and started tearing it into the tiniest pieces possible. "I told you."
"You didn't tell me anything."
"Drama. Now she'll be out to get us! Especially me!"
"You'll be fine. Just ally with her. She's very loyal to her friends and strong players who don't annoy her. People she can make a connection with. Prove yourself to her, and you'll be fine." She started pulling out some Bells to pay the bill with. "That attitude of hers will be curbed soon enough, anyhow."
How ominous. Wolf Link wasn't so sure about that, but Aurora had never once been wrong about these things. On the way back to his office, he looked over the alliance requests he had received. With so many of his friends in this game, there was no way he could lose. And even if he did, he'd still be alright. He worked for Aurora, after all!
Monique looked at the pile of bills on the table. She had long been numb to the sight of such things. Her glory days were long gone; she went through each day distastefully, as if the outside world was an enormous bother. Well, it certainly was, but no matter how well off one was, they always had a chance of happiness.
That chance was in her hands right now. Her acceptance letter to Aurora's next game. Aurora… She hadn't thought about that penguin for some time.
She went to her bedroom, where her computer sat whirring quietly on her rather old, rotting wood desk. Hadn't this desk been a Michael Kors™ desk, a gift from one of her old friends. Who had given it to her? Hmm…
She logged onto the only social media site in ACC Realm: Animal Crossing Community. It was what everyone used to communicate, besides the Alliance System which was only for Aurora's players.
Aurora, Aurora, Aurora! Couldn't she get a single thought out without that name in it? She had done so just fine before receiving her acceptance letter. Now all she could think of was Aurora… Aurora, and Kiki. Her roommate. Former roommate. Missing roommate.
She opened Kiki's profile on ACC. She had been offline for seven days. It had been nine days since she was last home. Monique tried to ignore the large number next to Kiki's user handle. That number didn't matter. Monique was a player now, and that meant she had money, and she could take care of both of them. She'd have to go to the bank later and check her balance, as well as buy a smartphone so she could access the Alliance System.
Money, money, money. Aurora, Aurora, Aurora. The lives of everyone in ACC Realm revolved around those two things. Monique idly browsed ACC for a while before falling asleep at the keyboard.
Bam bam bam.
Someone was banging rather loudly on the door. Not knocking, but banging. Monique awoke with a start and sighed, stretching her back against her chair. This had better be important!
A very blonde and smartly dressed dog was standing there, panting dramatically. She was holding a letter and a small package, and she thrust these things out to Monique. "D-D-Delivery for Monique and Kiki!"
"What?" She took the items. "Who're you?"
The dog saluted her. "I'm Isabelle, Aurora's PR director! You've… You've received your acceptance letter, right?"
"Um, yes?" It was a bit odd to have something personally delivered by one of Aurora's lackeys.
"Well! Great! Your friend Kiki will be participating as well!" Isabelle smiled. "There was a slight mistake at the office, you see, and we sent her letter to the wrong address! How silly! But here it is, give her my regards, and in this box are two phones for you guys to use during the game!"
"Oh. Thanks so much!"
"Of course! Well, I must be off. Outwit, outplay, outlast, and all that!"
The dog left as quickly as she had arrived, and Monique closed the door. If she thought her acceptance was a life-changing event, Kiki's acceptance certainly had her mind-boggled. She set the letter down and opened the package. Two state-of-the-art smartphones were inside. Their matte finishes shone with an almost otherworldly light.
Was this real? She thought. Was this all just a joke? The two of them had been verging on homelessness a month ago. She took one of the phones and turned it on.
Welcome, player MONIQUE it said in a grand font. It automatically signed her in to ACC and opened the Alliance System app. A little notification identical to her acceptance letter popped up. She read it over several times before gently setting the phone back in the box.
Everything seemed very unreal to her. The graying walls of the apartment, the musty and sunken couch she was bracing herself on, the beeps of the phone as it started receiving more notifications. She thought back to three years ago, when she had found Kiki. Monique had promised to protect her and care for her. Could she do that now? Was this a blessing or a curse? Many people had been destroyed by these games… She had to find Kiki. She put on her coat, pocketed the phones and letters, and bolted out the door.
Butch rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Is this a joke?"
"No, sir." His secretary replied. "You've been accepted."
"No, no, no…" He shook his head. "What am I supposed to do?"
"We're fully prepared to manage the company in your absence, sir." The secretary continued. "You can rest assured that everything will be taken care of."
"Right, right." Butch waved his hand. "I've had enough of Aurora, but still she hounds me… I'll be going out soon. Thanks for keeping me informed. We'll talk about this later."
"Of course, sir."
It was a fairly warm afternoon. The sun sure liked to smile when Aurora got her way, didn't it? Butch grimaced. He knew there'd be no 'talking about this later'. One way or another, Aurora would get him in that stadium again. "There's no such thing as bad publicity…" He wasn't sure if that was the correct quote, but either way it was false. There's no way he'd be in good enough shape to participate, and if he lost...
He stopped at a Starbucks™ and got some coffee before continuing on his way. Where was he going, anyways? He wasn't sure. After hearing that news, he just wanted a slight break from everything.
As he turned a corner, his phone started going off. No doubt his friends and family going wild over the news, or perhaps even some alliance requests. He hadn't read the letter, so he didn't know who else would be participating, but they would no doubt be cream of the crop. The twentieth season! You'd need more than a good Bell Ranking to win this one.
Ah, well. He hadn't gotten through life by complaining. Sure, his… attitude wasn't appreciated by everyone, but if he wanted something done, it would get done. It wouldn't do to gripe about this. Think of it as a windfall, a little bonus to the wealth he already had.
He grinned. Perhaps he was in good enough shape after all.
Chapter Two A week left until the game started. Aurora was pacing about her office, which was magnificently designed and towered over all of ACC Realm. She wasn't nervous or anxious or anything, she was just pacing. For once in her life, she had nothing to do.
The forms had been signed. The orders completed. The rooms for the players were prepared. The list of challenges had been finalized, and was pinned on the wall behind her desk. Everything was coming together.
...Like popcorn and Vigor.
Wolf Link burst into the room. "Aurora!"
"Here you are! I've been looking all over for you. I think there's going to be some problems."
"We can't find two of our players. Winnie and Kiki. They're so poor that they're completely off the map."
"I'm sure they know by now when and where the game is taking place." Aurora turned her back to Wolf Link and looked out over the city. "If they don't show up then they don't show up."
"But that means… Well, having two players gone would keep the game even, I guess. But we'd have to redo all of our calculations!"
"Not just two. ?, ?, and ? have mysteriously disappeared."
"W-what? Who, who, and who!?"
Aurora shook her head. "Even their names have been forgotten. But it is true. Someone with power greater than mine has removed them from this game... No, from this world!"
Wolf Link was speechless. He pulled paper after paper out of his pocket, trying to remember the names of those three players. Who had they been? And more importantly, who was more powerful than Aurora? "I don't get it! All our plans... And with only days left!"
"I've already taken care of those three. The game will be able to continue without them. As of right now, none of our calculations are upset."
"But! But Winnie and Kiki!"
Aurora sighed. "I don't pay you to come up here and whine at me. If you need to prepare for a scenario where we might be missing two players, then go ahead and prepare for it. You're the smartest mod I have, you know."
"Yeah, yeah. It's just… I've been really stressed out since I'm going to be playing as well. I don't want to accidentally set things up so I lose!"
"Relax. Everything will be alright. You all have done an excellent job this time. There's no way Tangy will win."
Wolf Link glanced at the challenge list behind Aurora's desk. They had spend days trying to plan out the challenges in such a way that certain people wouldn't be able to win them. It wasn't anything dirty, of course. It was just a… coincidence that things ended up this way. Variety was the spice of life, after all. Or Vigor, rather.
"Are you ready?" Aurora said suddenly.
"Eh? Oh, yes. You know what? I am ready." He struck a pose. "I really think I'm gonna have this in the bag. And even if I lose somehow, it won't be all bad!"
"Yup. I'm kind of excited, to be honest. After all, I'm the one who knows the most about the game. There really isn't any way I'll lose. And with three, possibly five players gone? Who can stop me?"
Aurora was about to reply with something soul-crushing when her phone suddenly started ringing. She waited for Wolf Link to politely leave before answering it.
"Aurora." A voice said quietly.
The penguin in question breathed in sharply and sat down in her desk chair. "Listen, I-"
"No, no. I get it. Don't try to explain yourself."
"Elmer, I'm really-"
"You promised that I'd be a participant." Elmer interrupted again. "Yet here I am, staring at the official player list. And who's name isn't on it? Mine."
They were both silent for a while. There was some sort of strange whirring sound coming from Elmer's end. It was annoying, but Aurora couldn't think of anything to say to drown it out.
"I know you're an excellent, er, strategist, Aurora, but I didn't think you'd stoop this low. If you didn't want me in the game, you could've explained it to me plain and simple. Three of these players don't even have names. Are you really so desperately trying to keep me out?"
"It had to be balanced! I couldn't have included all three of you."
"No no no! I see how it is." Elmer said quietly. "You just favor Hopper and Rodeo over me. It's clear. But you'd better watch out, cuz I'll be back one day."
Click. Aurora set the phone down slowly. What did he mean by that? Secret revenge plots didn't exist in her universe. She was the ruler of ACC Realm after all.
Still, maybe doubling security would be a good idea. Elmer was capable of anything.
Three days until the game started. The players and viewers were gathering at Survivor Hall, where they'd be sleeping for the next indeterminable amount of time.
Tangy was the first to arrive, and she had her carpet rollers roll her special carpet everywhere, making sure that it went by Purrl's room several times over. "I'm back, sweaties! Oh boy, I seriously can't wait!"
One by one, the players arrived. Tangy and Bangle were standing in a corner with Rodeo, and the former two were making comments on everyone that walked in.
A nice-looking sheep came in, wearing a pretty fancy scarf. "Ewe!" They said cheerily.
"Um, excuse me? What did you just say to me?" Tangy screeched. "Ew yourself!"
"Oh, no no!" They cried. "I was… It's my catchphrase! Ewe! It's kind of a bad habit for me… I'm sorry."
Tangy looked them over. "Sure. What brand is that scarf?"
"It's Ralph Lauren™."
"Okay. You can hang with us."
The sheep, Eunice, joined the gang, and the group continued watching players and viewers arrive. Many of them formed groups themselves and started chatting, ignoring any personal grudges for the moment. Purrl even sauntered over to Tangy.
They stared at each other for several moments. It took all of their strength not to start fighting. From across the room, Bangle caught ?'s eye and turned away huffily. ? smiled and sauntered over just like Purrl. There was something odd about her.
"Bangle! So good to see you!"
"I'm sure." Bangle frowned. Why couldn't she remember this person's name? "What's that bag you have there?"
? was holding a large grocery bag that seemed to be filled with many small cylindrical objects. She grinned and pushed the bag behind her shoulder. "Oh, it's just a few supplies for the road, you know? Hehehe… Hehehehehehe-"
Her evil laughing was interrupted by the front door suddenly slamming open. It was Hopper. Everyone fell silent and stared as he dramatically looked around. His eyes fell on Rodeo, and suddenly his eyes grew even more red, as if he was about to shoot lasers from them. He was interrupted by the arrival of a horse.
"Oh. My gosh. Wow! Are you… Hopper? The Hopper?" She shook his hand with vigor. Not the seasoning, of course. "It's so nice to meet you! I'm new to this game too, you know. The name's Winnie." She smiled all around. "It's great to meet you all, in fact!"
She was followed by a strange cat wearing an Egyptian headdress, Ankha, who looked around with disgust before going to stand with a bear named Poncho. Several more viewers arrived, and finally the last of the players arrived.
"Who's that?" Rodeo asked, ignoring Hopper's laser gaze on him. Tangy casually glanced at the dog walking up to them, and suddenly turned and gawked.
"That's Butch! CEO of Butch Towers! I forgot he was gonna be playing!" She smoothed out her dress and adjusted the leaf on her head. "Act casual!"
"Hey." Butch said to them smoothly. "I see the star of the show is already living it up. Did you two get my alliance request?"
"Oh~, yeah we did." Bangle smiled sweetly. "But you know, it probably got lost among all the other requests we got. I'll have to look again!"
"Me too!" Tangy smiled.
"Me three." Rodeo said hesitantly.
"I don't even know who you are, so don't count on it." Butch replied. "But you're lucky that these two ladies have your back." He smiled to Eunice and walked away.
Eventually, all 20 players arrived, and they proceeded en masse to the announcement room where Aurora waited. The announcement hall seemed even grander than it had last year, mostly in part to the new pure gold paint job. The players took their seats, chattering excitedly as Aurora took center stage. This was definitely the last happy moment they'd be having for a long while.
"Ahem." Aurora said. That's right, she did not actually clear her throat. "Ahem."
Everyone quieted down.
"Thank you. I'm glad to welcome you all here, to my twentieth season of Survivor." Her large, dark eyes grew ever wider, threatening to swallow everyone within them. "This season will be jam-packed with twists, turns, drama, and literal explosions. As you all may know already, I hate wasting time, so let's begin. To start things off, let's take a look at our first twist."
Two large screens suddenly blared to life behind Aurora. They were labeled HEROES in blue and VILLAINS in red. Everyone gasped as their names started appearing on the screen.
Heroes ? ? Wolf Link Monique Kit Winnie Coco Kiki Antonio Rod
"It can't be!" Wolf Link exclaimed. He clenched his paws. "Aurora!"
"That's right. These are the Salt Monsters, beings composed entirely of salt. Their power is limitless. The more you rage against them, the stronger they grow, and the same in turn for any friendship you show them. Will they be valuable friends or dangerous foes? It's your choice. Now…"
Everyone gasped dramatically as voting screens appeared before them. The screens flashed with their respective team members.
"You must vote for a team captain. This will be the first step into your journey of fame, fortune, and despair. Choose carefully… It wouldn't be wise to break alliances before the game even starts."
"This is pretty exciting." Kiki whispered to Monique. "I'm glad we're on the same team, at least."
"Right. But who's good enough to be our captain?" Monique glanced at the nearest of the two Salt Monsters. It was slobbering over the voting screen. "Perhaps that thing?"
"Think about it. That thing will only support us as much as we support it. Suppose we use that to our advantage?"
Monique and Kiki gathered the rest of the Heroes team to further discuss the situation. Aurora noted that they already seemed to be getting along well… But the Villains…
"Hey!" Hopper slammed his flipper down on his voting screen. "What's the big idea? Are you guys already trying to put me under?"
"Th-that's, uh, that's not it..." Rodeo stammered. "It's just-"
"Just what? It's true! The Anti-Masterpiece Mafia! The game hasn't even started yet, and I'm being antagonized!"
"Now hold up-" Tangy started, but Purrl interrupted her.
"It figures you all would be villains. It's a no-brainer. But me? How insulting. I-"
"Shut up!" Poncho said, clearly exasperated. "We're not going to get anywhere with all this yelling."
"He's right." Ankha whispered. "Don't you see? Aurora has put all of us together on purpose. We're already losing. If we want to get anywhere in this game, we need to learn to work together fast."
"That's a sound idea. Let's just take a look at each other." Butch said. "We're all buddies right now, just for the moment. Which one of us would be an ideal captain?"
The Villains all stared at each other, discounting the Salt Monster which seemed oblivious to its surroundings. Who among them was good enough to be a captain? Could they move past their pasts? Perhaps this in itself was a Challenge. Rodeo grimaced as he stared down Hopper.
"That was a lot easier than I thought it would be." Poncho commented.
After much bickering, the Villains had finally managed to finish their votes. But what would the results be? Would it cause even more tension and drama? Rodeo looked up at Aurora, who had not moved from her spot on the stage. She was standing completely and utterly still, not even breathing. What was behind those large eyes? What was she planning?
"Voting is now complete." The penguin intoned. "Let's see the results."
The screens behind her flashed, and each team was split in half. Four names were highlighted in rainbow colors: ? and Kit on the Heroes screen and Bangle and Rodeo on the Villains screen. Everyone gasped and suddenly started chattering. Two captains? Two?
"This is the first twist." Aurora explained. "There will be four captains. Each captain will choose members of their faction to form their own team, splitting each faction in half. Salt Monster #1 received the most votes for Heroes, with Kit winning a tie against Salt Monster #2. Bangle and Rodeo each received the most votes for the Villains."
"Darn!" Hopper cried. Many of the other players voiced similar sentiments. Now they all certainly wished they'd spent less time arguing!
Rodeo couldn't believe his ears. How in the world had he been voted captain? He gasped again as Bangle squeezed the life out of him. "Awesome sauce! We're sure to win now!"
"Are we?" Hopper smirked. "Rodeo can play a pretty good game, sure, but he's never actually won before. He's bound to get booted sooner or later. I'm glad I can at least trust Bangle."
"Like you haven't been in the same boat"! Ankha elbowed him. "Rodeo is a strong team player, and to top that off he's a challenge monster. Having someone like him in the lead will help out in the long run."
"Team player, my-"
Aurora coughed unusually loudly. "Captains, please come to the stage."
The four captains obeyed. Bangle grimaced as Kit valiantly tried to pull the Salt Monster up with him. What were the Heroes thinking, nominating that for their captain? And come to think of it… What was the deal with the players who had been booted, anyhow? She could've sworn that she had just talked to ? recently. When had it been... Yesterday? Last week? Maybe she was thinking of the wrong person.
Aurora politely waited for Kit and the monster to make it onto the stage before continuing. "You four are our captains, and will be guiding your team through the next few Challenges. You have 24 hours to decide who you'd like on your team and what your strategy will be going forward. When you've finished, you will return here and take turns picking your teammates. Any questions?"
They all shook their heads vigorously. The Salt Monster sent bits of salty drool all over their faces.
"Great." Aurora wiped her face off and turned to waddle off the stage, all in one fluid motion. "The rest of the day is yours."
The screens changed to a 24-hour countdown, and the lights dimmed slightly. "That Aurora sure knows how to keep the mood up." Winnie whispered to Coco. "The tension is unreal!"
Coco nodded with a frown. That was probably the most lackluster exit she'd ever seen from Aurora, but then again, they wouldn't be televised until the first Challenge. In fact, the sparse drama made Coco feel even more tense than usual.
"You know, this is pretty exciting, actually." Rodeo said to Bangle as they returned to the others. "No matter what happens, we're sure to have a leg up as long as they have a Salt Monster for a captain."
"Yeah, that's right…" Bangle murmured. She was still puzzling over who was missing from the game. Three Salt Monsters… Three people… Who were they? Where had they gone?
Kit was back with his team as well. "This is gonna go great, guys! How should we start splitting things up?"
"I'd like to be on a team with Kiki." Monique said quickly. "But whatever you think is best."
"We should try to even things out." Wolf Link said. "Figuring out each other's strengths and weaknesses will help us make more balanced teams."
"That sounds nice." Coco glanced at their less capable captain. "But what about this thing? It doesn't seem like there's any way to get it to go along with us."
"Yeah, was this really a good idea?" Rod went up to the monster and rapped his knuckles on its shoulder. "It literally can't even walk ten feet without help. If we just ruined our chances of winning right at the start, I'm gonna be really mad!"
"I'll take care of it." Wolf Link said. "Let's just start strategizing."
"Leave it to an ADMIN to know what to do!" Winnie cried. "Gosh, this is gonna be so much fun!"
As the Heroes chattered, they didn't notice Eunice oh-so-casually listening to them from the other side of the room. With a bleat, they rushed back to the other Villains.
"Did you get something juicy?" Poncho asked.
"Not really." Eunice whispered. "They don't seem all that stressed. Wolf Link was saying that they should work on balanced teams. I mean, he is one of Aurora's admins, right? He probably knows all about the game! Maybe we should follow their lead..."
"So?" Hopper leaned back and rested his flippers behind his arms. "It's no secret that the bigwigs are the real cheaters in these games, and there's a large difference between knowing and doing."
"That's true." Butch nodded. He was the only one unfazed by the fact that Hopper was relaxing on thin air. "We can't get intimidated by him. But making balanced teams is definitely a good idea."
They all deliberated for a while, and soon a general consensus was reached. After over an hour of discussion, dinnertime was fast approaching, and so the players filed out and returned to Survivor Hall. The building had miraculously been divided in half by a golden line. The left side was marked blue for Heroes and the right side was marked red for Villains.
"This is really awful, you know." Purrl said in distaste as she looked over the red carpeting. "People like Tangy and Hopper? Definitely no-brainer villains. But why me? Red is so not my color."
"Get used to it, sweaty." Tangy made a kissy face at Purrl. "Red is the color of LUV! Come on, Purrl… Confess your love for me!"
The others struggled not to laugh as Purrl 's face twisted into the most disgusted expression any animal could possibly make. She turned away with a huff and stomped down the Villains hallway and entered her room, located in the middle. She couldn't wait to see that smile wiped off of Tangy's face. She hoped she had made the right decision with her vote. Fame, glory… love? All of that could wait until she had stomped Tangy thoroughly into the ground.
"I hope we'll be a good team." Poncho remarked casually to Eunice as they went towards their own rooms. "Tangy and Purrl can hardly stop bickering, and the others... No one's been sent to the hospital yet, though."
"Maybe that's a good sign we'll pull through!" Eunice nodded wisely. "We all just need to work together."
Wolf Link watched as the players split up and went to their respective rooms. It would be dinnertime in fifteen minutes, and then they'd all be free to do as they pleased 'till morning. But he tried to ignore thoughts of the schedule as he tugged on the arms of the two Salt Monsters. "C-come on, you two!"
They grumbled and grinded their teeth, sending salt raining to the ground. Bad luck! There wasn't any place for bad luck in a Survivor, but Wolf Link didn't feel like bending down to throw some salt over his shoulder.
He pulled with all his might and soon managed to shove both of the monsters into one room. What a nightmare! He'd have to work on conditioning them later.
"Oh…" A quiet voice said from behind him. It was the anteater, Antonio. Wolf Link racked his brains to see if there was any merit to this guy, but he couldn't remember anything beyond his Bell Ranking. "I was gonna see if you needed help."
"I don't, thanks. But what's up with you? I don't remember you speaking up at all earlier."
He shrugged. "I just decided going with the flow was better, for now. Besides, everyone else seems to have things figured out."
They stared at each other awkwardly before Wolf Link finally coughed. "Well, it's almost dinnertime. We should get going."
"Right. But I wanted to ask something."
Oh? "Ask away."
Antonio's gaze suddenly hardened. "What's the deal with those three missing players? Why'd they get booted?"
Wolf Link was suddenly at the other end of the hall. "Gosh, look at the time! Dinner bell! Great talking, can't wait to work with you later on!"
The anteater sighed. He figured he'd get a response like that. Something about those Salt Monsters just didn't sit right with him... Whoever thought they'd be good replacement players was clearly lacking in some areas.
Most of the other buildings in the complex had been divided between Heroes and Villains, but the mess hall, strangely enough, hadn't been changed at all. Monique thought that this, of all places, would be the most divided area.
"Woah!" Kiki exclaimed, dancing around the food displays. Even the tubs of food were lined with gold leafing. Monique rolled her eyes at this. "They have meat! Actual meat! Like, look at this! It's steak!"
"Don't go too crazy. Getting a stomachache would be bad for the upcoming Challenge."
"Hush." Kiki hushed. "I haven't eaten good food for so long, man! I'm not wasting this chance!"
Monique sighed, but she too found herself loading her plate up with as much food as she could carry. They were soon seated with most of the other Heroes, who had dominated a large table on the east end of the room.
"Same." Winnie snorted through her food as she saw Kiki set down three enormous plates of food.
As they dug in, Monique surveyed the table. Her team was getting along pretty well, which she was proud of. She already had enough stress and anxiety just being here, and if she had to constantly bicker with everyone like the Villains were doing… Well, she would lose her head pretty quickly if that happened!
Antonio casually slipped into the seat beside her. "Hi there."
"Hi... Antonio, right? It's nice to meet you."
"Likewise." He nodded and looked around. "Is Wolf Link here."
"He's still in line, I think."
"Great. I wanted to ask you something…"
On the other side of the room, the Villains were congregating in a similar arrangement. Purrl, Butch, and Ankha were chatting about Vigor with vigor as they ate. Once Purrl saw Tangy coming towards them, though, she gave a loud cry of disgust.
"Now, now." Butch said calmly. "We're all on the same team. Let's just eat and not worry about personal grudges, hm?"
"Did I hear the word 'personal grudges'?" Tangy simpered as she sat down right next to Purrl. "Two of my favorite words. Spill the tea, Mr. Butch! Who is it that you hate?"
It was known far and wide that no matter how much you hated someone, gossip always brought people together. The two teams spent much of dinnertime just talking, all of them pretending that they weren't in a life-or-death game and just at some nice dinner party, getting to know each other. It was definitely too early to start clawing each other's throats out. And what would be the point? So far, everything was going great. Tangy and Purrl were discussing carpets, and Hopper was chatting excitedly to Eunice about the Anti-Masterpiece Mafia. The sheep's eyes got bigger and bigger with each of Hopper's loud proclamations.
"I think it's nice of her to put us in teams." Rodeo said to Bangle. "It's tough when it's everyone for themselves right off the bat. And Hopper's not too bad, you know? I'm still amazed Purrl and Tangy haven't killed each other yet, especially after what happened last time."
"Yeah…" Three question marks were still swirling through Bangle's head. She found that if she didn't stay focused, she'd quickly forget about the missing players. She glanced at Purrl and Tangy, who definitely seemed to be getting along, and gasped. A cat! There was supposed to be another cat!
She looked around the room. There were five cats here. Tangy, Purrl, Ankha, Kiki, and Monique. But hadn't there been one more? Someone she truly despised? A chill ran down her spine as she heard cackling laughter, something from a distant memory. Laughter, and the smell of popcorn... How could she just up and forget someone's whole existence? There had to be more to the story.
...Well, there wasn't any use worrying about it now. Her food was starting to get cold! She started eating, and soon all thoughts of the missing players were gone from her mind.