The Game: Just an Ego Wound
By Sean McDonald

"What happened?" Spectreblade thought.
"What do you think happened? We were bested in combat by a group of snow monsters," the soul within his medieval armor silently responded.
"Oh. I remember now." The hero replied as he looked around the hospital room he found himself in.
"íTis not like us to fall so easily."
"I know. Iíve taken down hordes of Paragon Protectors, and I get beaten by a bunch of snowmen? Whatís up with that? I mean, címon. Those guys shouldíve been reduced to slush in secondsÖ"
Spectrebladeís internal dialogue was cut short by the sound of an opening door. A nurse walked into the room carrying some papers. "May I talk to you for a second?"

"First of all, could you explain how a high-level scrapper like me can be beaten by a bunch of walking snow cones?" Spectreblade asked with annoyance in his voice.
"Thatís just what I was going to talk to you about. You see, we noticed some unusual activity on your brain scans while we were treating you."
"What are you talking about? I feel just fineÖ well, apart from a bruised ego."
"Tell me, Spectreblade, have you run into anything unusual?" she naively asked.
"You do realize we heroes see unusual things all the time, right?"
"Of course. How silly of me. Iím just trying to find out about what happened."
"What about that package we found?" Spectrebladeís armor reminded him.
"Of course. The package," he thought.
"I remember now. I found one of those packages the Gamesterís been leaving around town. This weird music came out when I opened it. Strange thing is, there were no snowmen in it like the others."
"Interesting. Where did you find it?" the nurse asked.
"It was in Foundersí Falls, near Sussex Academy." The nurse was shocked.
"Did you say Sussex Academy?"
"Yeah. Whatís the big deal?"
"Thatís the school where all those kids disappeared from! Have you been living in a cave or something?" The nurse continued to explain what Spectreblade shouldíve already known. "Then the kids robbed Van Biesbrouckís diamond exchange."
"Thatís odd. A while ago I felt this strange urge to go there, but I had more important things to do."
Spectreblade and the nurse finally put two and two together.

"Then that means you were affected by the same force thatís manipulating those kids!"
"What?!" Spectreblade yelled, his fear showing even through his full suit of armor. "You mean to tell me someone turned me into a mind slave?!?!"
"Well, tried to, at least. It looks like you were able to partially resist it thanks to your armorís shielding abilities, but itís still affecting your judgment. Weíll try to get an empathy therapist to undo it, but itíll take time to find one, and even then, itíll be a slow process getting you back to normal. Until then, weíll just have to wait."
With that, the hero picked up his sword, realizing this was no time to be scared. "What do you mean, Ďwaití? Those creatures are still out there." The nurse wasnít going to let him go that easily. Spectreblade tried a different approach. "Besides, if I try to do something especially stupid, the armor will stop me," he told the nurse. She tried to argue with him, but it was no use. He was already out the door.

After virtually begging the receptionist to let him out, Spectreblade made his way from Aquarius Medical Center, leaping across the rooftops of Peregrine Island, the blue glyphs on his armor seeming to glow in contrast to the black metal in the light of the rising sun. He stopped on top of a building above where he was defeated earlier. The monsters were still there, milling about as though they were waiting for further instructions from their master. There were three of them left, ranging in size from four to eight feet tall and made entirely of snow and ice. As they looked around for a new target, the knight started to plan his attack. The armor projected its thoughts to its wearer. "We must be more careful this time. Remember, youíre not at full strength right now."
"I know that. Now we need to think of a plan." Spectreblade thought for a moment. He looked back on his past battles for ideas on how to approach this one, but one stuck in his head. That one was against his new nemesis, the former mage-turned-walking-metal-shell known as the Armorbound. The metal stalker was easily defeated due to his inexperience, but Spectreblade got the inspiration he was looking for. "I got it. We go stealth, sneak up behind the big guy, and take him down before he knows what hit him."

So, Spectreblade put his plan into action. He jumped down to the street below and carefully crept up on the largest of the three monsters. "Remind me to thank the old rust bucket next time he tries to kill us," he thought as he approached his enemy. He was just within striking distance when it turned around and hit him with a backhand to the face, sending him flying. "What the Hell?! How did he know I was there?" He thought aloud as he got up. Then he saw the dark corrosive mist on the ground around him and the small puddle around the snow beastís feet. "Damn death shroud!" he said angrily as the creatures closed in.

"Trying to sneak up on someone with death shroud on, huh? That is just priceless."
"I know. What, did he think he was a stalker back there?"
Spectreblade came to as he overheard the nurseís conversation with a doctor.
"Back so soon?" the nurse half-jokingly asked.
"Itís the armorís fault!" The knight shouted.
"Right," the doctor said.
"No, really, it is."
The nurse patronizingly replied, "Of course it is, Spectreblade. Now just stay there and get some rest. Weíll be back." With that they left.
"íTis a poor carpenter who blames his tools, my friend."
"You know youíre the reason we got beat again. What, did the Gamester affect your mind, too?"
"Perhaps so. In that case, I think we should wait here until we recover."
"We canít do that!" Spectreblade yelled. "While we wait here, those monsters could be beating up some random guy on the street!"
Then he heard a shout through the wall. "Shut up in there! Iím trying to sleep!"

Spectreblade jumped out his hospital room window and was once again on his way to the site where the creatures were. As they came into view, a small man carrying an assault rifle flew backwards past him and landed on the pavement behind him. He picked the hapless gunner and carried him up to a roof, but it was too late. He was already unconscious. Spectreblade took a look at the ID card he had dropped. "Now letís see who you are," he thought as he read it.
Name; T3h 00ber 1337 5kl1xz0rz!!1!!1
Security Level; 9

"Whatís he doing in a high-level place like Peregrine Island?" Spectreblade went on to read the description.
1 wnt 2 b t3h 6r8ist h3r0 1n t3h c17y & 5h0 tem 1 r0xx0rz!!!!1!!!one!
Theyíd read enough.
"Oh, I see," the armor thought. "Looking for a shortcut to glory, are you? Sorry, my friend, but fame doesnít come so easily." The fallen gunman faded away as his emergency beacon sent him to the hospital.
"If the nurse thought we were fools, sheís going to love this guy," Spectreblade thought to the armor. "But even so, this is why we got to stop these monsters."
"Well, letís roll, then!"

"Chivalry lives!"
Spectreblade let out his battle cry as he charged toward the snow creatures, sword in hand and armor shrouded in protective shadows, running on pure emotion. He glared at one of the beasts, freezing it in place. He threw a bolt of dark energy at the smallest of the snowmen, ripping a hole through its torso. He jumped at it and sliced its legs out from under it. The monster collapsed into a puddle and disappeared. The he turned his attention to the big guy. The beast, still weakened from their last encounter, hurled spears of ice at Spectreblade, but the knight leapt out of the way just in time. He closed in and swung his sword upward, cleaving the creature in two. "One more to go," he thought. The last remaining snowman had just recovered from the knightís gaze in time to see a gleaming steel broadsword hit it right between the eyes. That was the last of them. There was nothing left to do but triumphantly raise his sword into the air and look overly dramatic. His self-congratulatory fervor was interrupted by his cell phone ringing. "Canít you see Iím gloating?" he thought. He answered it. It was the nurse from the hospital.
"What are you doing out there? You should be in bed!" she said, annoyed.
"Donít worry. I beat them. Iím on my way back now," Spectreblade replied.
"Good. The therapistís here and weíre ready to begin your treatment. Oh, by the way, wait till you hear about the patient who just showed up."

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