Dawn of eSpers: Chapter 1. Not Just a Game.

Location: Private estate on the edge of the city.

"...The news millions of young people were waiting for: tomorrow the new virtual reality arenas of the S4 League will open their door to all players. After years of waiting..."

Just a game. Everybody thought that this will be just a new hi-tech game. Oh, how they were wrong. The person, who had just turned off the TV knew a lot more than any normal player. Well, future player. The invitations that arrived with the morning mail were a wise move on their side. He was curious though: how did they find out about his hobby to play video games? On the other hand, sending an invitation to him was a fatal flaw. How he could carry on with his investigation without raising any suspicions. Also... it wouldn't hurt to have a bit of fun along the way...

One year later. The IRL lobby of the S4 central.

"So, are you excited about the upcoming tournament, bro?"

Two people were standing in front of a giant touch-screen, viewing the recent news and updates about the new international shooting-sport. The two of them standing together like this made some to turn around and blink away the feeling of seeing double. Identical twins: same face, same light brown hair, same careless stance. As much as they were alike on the outside, both were completely different people.

Charles and Jacob Flemming, twenty-one years old, both students attending college, both with an equal passion for video games. The S4 League was finally able to put an end to their usual quarrels and constant fights, instead – they now were a balanced team of two. But two people weren't enough to participate in the grand tournament. A team of six people was required, so now they were both waiting for the three more players, who replied to their bulletin posted on the S4 website.

"Who do we have so far?", Jacob asked. His impatient character was finally showing itself.

"We have a sniper - Emily Bogenheim, who, apparently, is an exceptional sniper..."

"Aha! Is she, by any chance, cute?"

"NEXT," Charles really didn't like being interrupted. "The next person is Anna Winsten – a healer and supporter." He made a pause, as if daring his brother to repeat the question. "And lastly – Mark Ewans. He's a good mid-field player and ball carrier."

"OK. Two girls on our team! Woo!"

"...You're hopeless."

Just then they were interrupted by a high-pitched voice, which belonged to a girl, who looked fifteen or fourteen at most. Around 1.69,short blond hair contrasting with her dark red blouse. Not letting Charles finish his not-so-polite phrase of 'who are you?'...

"Hiya! You're Charles,right? Great! I'm not late, am I?"

The girl's chatter simply reeked of sugar-high. Both brothers were immediately showered by a deluge of random bits of information: Anna, sixteen years old, loves cats, hates math classes, likes the sentries in S4 and has one herself... She managed to say all of this plus details in less than a minute. The twins were literally paralyzed and at the same knocked into a "what the..?!" state. Jacob was the first one to regain some portion of his free will.

"WAIT!"

"Huh?"

"OK... This girl is either too innocent or completely clueless," thought Jacob. "Nice to meet you and all that jazz, but could you just stop talking for a second?!"

The girl didn't seem offended by that outburst.

"Sure. You could've just asked."

Both Charles and Jacob just gave her a blank stare. The former of the two silently began to pray, that the other recruits were not as eccentric as like Anna. After a few minutes another person approached them. Another girl... well, more like - young woman: light-red hair, around 1.79, a simple checkered shirt and jeans, plus... as Jacob shamelessly noted to himself 'Woah. Nice forms'.

"Are you, by any chance, the one's who posted that notice yesterday?", in contrast to the previous person, her voice was quiet, barely above a whisper.

After some brief introductions and a few more minutes of waiting, the self-proclaimed captain decided, that they wasted enough valuable time. It was time to see what the new 'recruits' were capable of.

Location: Neden-2. DM match.

Four people in a round glass terminal. Each carefully choosing their weapons and skills. The twins had their standard sets locked and loaded: two SMGs, two revolvers, one Handgun and a bat along with a shield and anchoring. However, the two female players had drastically different inventories. Emily preferred the traditional 'Railgun, Cannonade, Semi-rifle and Flying' sniping set. Anna's set was made for mobility: Sentry, Mind energy, Handgun and Flying.

"It looks like we'll be facing a pair of angels today, hoho!", the maniacal grin spreading across Jacob's face could put a Cheshire-cat to shame.

"WEIRDO!", was Anna's immediate reply.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

At least the two major eccentrics of the team were balancing each other out... With a sigh of relief the other twin punched the 'Start' button on the virtual console. The bout of the two small teams has begun.

On the fourth minute of the match Charles found himself wishing that he had brought an Invisibility skill. That sniper! She was everywhere! It looked like his brother had a similar problem dealing with the hyperactive Anna. Like judgment from above – another Railgun shot sent the first sibling tumbling backwards. Charles re-spawned near the water tower, noticing his brother crouching in the same place.

"Any luck in securing the roof?"

"Like hell! I got head-shots coming at me like...AH!", the sizzling of a green cloud of gas and binary code indicated another knock out.

"Oh carp..."

Charles jumped off the roof and into the small alley between the building and the edge of the arena, hoping to get away from Emily's sniping... He was met by the rapid fire of a...

"Good job, little sentry!", cheered Anna, hiding behind a wooden crate.

On the other side of the arena, Emily was reloading her guns. Sniping was something that came naturally to her. Even the slightest movement didn't go unnoticed by her. This match in particular was no exception. Both twins were good players, but their experience at handling snipers was obviously minimum.

Half-time, round two. The score was slowly beginning to even out.

Two simultaneous gun shots rang in the walls of the warehouse. Both Anna and Charles preferred using the Handgun as a primary attack weapon. The unbelievable range and accuracy if the compact gun were deadly. Period. But Charles had an advantage – the Shield skill.

"Give up!", his voice echoed through the deadly silence. "You have no sentries left to cover you!"

"Awwww... Really?"

The girl dashed from around a box dodging all the bullets that were fired at her. At the same time she was firing at Charles' shield, but the bullets did little harm. Something wasn't right here... BOOM! A cannonade blast tore open the roof. The next blast sent the young man flying through the air, making him an easy target.

"Oh no you don't!" Both female players were taken out by Jacobs revolver. The second twin was right on time as always.

Both sides caught each other's rhythm and the match eventually became something more than a duck-hunt with a sniper gun. Also, the third recruit finally decided to show up, showering excuses left and right... The hours flew by unnoticed as the newly formed, but still incomplete, team trained in every possible discipline.

Location: S4 arena- lobby.

For another person - the day was uneventful, to say the least. Nikolai Mikhailov didn't have a good challenge in quite a while. The title of 'Silent Assassin' was something he was rather proud of. The upcoming tournament and it's unbelievable prize fund peaked his attention the moment he first heard of it. In his own opinion, he was capable enough to reach the finals, but... Finding an equally capable team – now that's a challenge.

The lobby was almost empty around this time. Waiting for the vending machine to give him back his change, Nikolai could piece together the sounds of a distant conversation.

"...you sure, Emily?", the voice obviously belonged to a teen girl. "My dad... drive... you..."

It was impossible to make out the reply, but apparently the other person declined. It was none of his business, but Nikolai still looked in the general direction of the conversation. Two girls. One around the age of fifteen, probably the one who spoke first, and another in her early twenties, the one known as 'Emily'. They both left the arena through the main entrance. The vending machine let out a slight 'beep' and Nikolai took his change along with a bag of sour gummy rings (which, for an unknown reason, were quite rare to find – even this bag was the last one).

Stepping out into the evening chill, Nikolai noticed 'Emily' walking along the path towards the main street... and two very suspicious figures, who had let her pass them and begun trailing a small distance away.

'That definitely doesn't look good...', he thought. Quickening his pace, he formed a simple, but effective (and with no possible 'bloodshed') plan.

"Emily! Wait up!"

Turning around to the sound of an unfamiliar voice, Emily was greeted by a pair of 'Oh shi-!' expressions of her would-be attackers, who instantly dashed from the path. Another person was quickly approaching. Tall, muscular built, short blond hair. Apparently, he was the one she owed her 'rescue' to. Once he approached her, he spoke in a low, slightly accented voice:

"You should be more careful."

"Um... T-thank you...", was all Emily could think of.

Seeing her distressed state, Nikolai sighed and spoke again:

"It wouldn't be nice of me to leave you alone here... Let's go."

"P-pardon?"

"Like a true 'knight in shining armor' I have no choice but to accompany you up until your doorstep."

A truly 'wait what?' moment. Emily couldn't detect any sarcasm in the tall blond's voice, neither did she feel any danger coming from him.

"Y-you don't have to! I don't want to be any more t-trouble..."

"I insist. If this makes you feel any better – I live in that direction anyway."

Emily just nodded. And began to walk down the path, the older man following alongside. For a few minutes a semi-awkward silence floated in the air. Neither of the two felt the urge to speak. Suddenly Emily hears the rustle of paper.

"Want one?"

Out of all possible conversation-starting phrases or actions he decided to offer her a... gummy ring?! Something in this picture was a little bit off and at the same time... Emily was having a hard time holding back a giggle. Finally she gave up. Her melodic laughter filled the awkward void. The man walking next to her probably realized, that his action looked a bit out of place.

"What? A man can't have a sweet-tooth?"

The rest of the walk to Emily's home was in a much lighter mood.