Will and Dilipso clambered off the helicopter at Elysium Alps lodge. 2.5 was merely a joiner between the main SSX seasons, so a handful of pros and a large chunk of the snowboarding media were missing from the usual arrival scene, but there was still far enough to blow the two newcomers away. Flash photography and yelling reporters practically rendered the pair blind and deaf, and they had to shoulder their way through the horde to the safety of the hi-tech glass chalet.

"Bloody hell…" Dilipso breathed. "That was fun, wasn't it?"

"To be honest, I wouldn't really be up for round two, thrilling as it was," Will replied. "Where the hell are the other boarders? There are supposed to be twelve of us?"

"I'd expect they're already out practicing; you're late."

DJ Stryker was approaching towards them. He was a tall man, a thin man, brown haired, eyes hidden behind bug-eyed sunglasses. A tuft of brown hair was visible on his chin. He was clad in a baggy grey t-shirt and jeans, and checking his watch.

"You're the newcomers, right?" Stryker asked, shaking their hands. "Dawber and Thejan. That makes all twelve. I'd assume you want to room together, no-one wants to go with Stark. Its first on the left, then the next corridor on the right. Room 23. Can't miss it."

"Who else qualified?" Dilipso asked.

"There is a pack in your room, it'll be in there. Do I look like the kind of person to carry that crap around with me at all times? I don't need to baby-sit you as well as sort out all the other crap that SSX gets itself into. I'd suggest getting ready, then heading out. If it's your first time, you'll want all the practice you can get. Elysium isn't like anything else you've ever seen."

Stryker flipped out a metallic grey phone and began talking into it, before stalking away.

"What's wrong with that dick peddler?" Dilipso asked. "Sounds like someone's stuck a board up his arse…"

The accommodation was small and clean, nothing spectacular. A small information pack was placed on Will's bed, which he quickly opened up. A list of each competitor was printed on the inside page.

Mac Fraser

Moby Jones

Elise Riggs

Zoe Payne

Eddie Wachowski

Kaori Nishidake

Psymon Stark

Allegra Sauvagess

Hiro Karamatsu

Marty Fraser

Will Dawber

Dilipso Thejan

"Well, well, well…" Will murmured. "What do you know?"

He recognised the majority of the names. Mac, Moby, Elise, Zoe, Kaori and Hiro were all original season vets who had returned for 2.5. Hiro had missed all of Tricky, something to do with a spiritual quest and some other bollocks that Will didn't really care about. Eddie and Psymon were newcomers in Tricky and instant crowd favourites. Marty, that was Mac's German cousin. He'd been at EuroBoards a few years before Will, and was viewed as one of their best products. Allegra… never heard of her. Presumably she was just as green as him and Dilipso.

"You coming, eh?" Dilipso was already by the door, in full gear. Will nodded and pulled on his quad-bike helmet, grabbing his board and jogging after the thin Ghanaian.

"Just one thing," he added. "Can we avoid Psymon? I've heard things. They sound… painful."


"I don't give a shit what his excuse is this time, I'm not putting up with that asshole deciding that a mid-day barbeque was a good way to eat every single item of food in the damn lodge!"

Will and Dilipso had just walked back into the lodge's common room after a solid afternoon's practice. They'd spotted the odd pro boarder on their trip, but none close enough to chat with. A few of them had made it back into Elysium's ski resort. Most of them weren't happy.

"Isn't there some sushi left, at least? I don't think he likes that."

"No, he doesn't. So he decided to burn all of that. All there is is some breadsticks and brown sauce. And that's probably because he didn't know what they were."

A short, slimly built man in a thick redneck jacket was pacing the lobby, throwing his arms around in disgust. About four others were seated on the low sofa and bean bags scattered around the room. Will could recognize the two cuddling as Mac Fraser and Kaori Nishidake, two SSX vets. Who'd have believed it… Will thought to himself. The others… a thick-set woman in an orange shirt, presumably the other newcomer, Allegra something, and Moby Jones, the sole Englishman on the tour before Will.

It was strange, really. Will had dreamed of meeting these people, sat captivated in front of the TV as they thundered across Snowdream, Mesablanca, the Aloha Ice Jam, but had never thought he'd have the good fortune to grace their personal presence. Sure, he was an accomplished rider himself, but the step up between SSX and the minor firms was obscene.

The complaining competitor was the spitting image of Mac. Perhaps a bit thinner, a bit paler, and, in Will's humble opinion, a better dresser. This was Marty Fraser, Mac's German cousin. He'd been a competitor on several European tours, but it was the first time he was going to be on air to a global audience.

"Oh, relax, Mart," Mac told him. "There's something not right about Psy. Just let him have his fun."

Ah. Psymon. That explains it.

"So if I were to rummage through our kitchen and leave the rest of you to feed like peasants, you'd be perfectly ok with that?"

"Mate, if someone else was did it, they'd get the crap kicked out of them," Moby spoke up, in a thick London accent. "If you want to confront Psymon, be my guest. I'm not prying you from the wall when he's done with you, mind."

Marty swore spectacularly in German and threw himself down on a sofa, sulking. "Well, when you get hungry enough to join the rebellion, you know where I am."

Dilipso chuckled. Four pairs of eyes turned on him and Will.

"You don't look like room service…" Allegra began.

"Where are our manners?" Dilipso blustered, walking forward with false bravado. "This is William Dawber, and I… I am Dilipso Thejan, at your service, madam Sauvagess." Dilipso knelt down and kissed Allegra's hand. The Canadian boarder recoiled in disgust and slapped Dilipso across the face, hard.

Dilipso grinned sheepishly, rising to his feet. "Can't blame a man for trying." Dilipso made his way over to a seat on the far side of the room.

"Yes, you can," Allegra spat acidly after him.

Will flopped down on the lobby's main sofa, between Kaori and Moby. He noticed the dark-skinned Brit staring at him through his orange-tinted sunglasses.

"Can I help?" Will asked roughly.

Moby looked away. "Thought so. Northerner."

It was odd, really. There was normally a friendly animosity between England's northerners and southerners, which normally melted away when in the company of foreigners, especially Americans and Europeans. Moby didn't seem to remember the 'friendly' part.

"Is there a problem?" Will asked dryly.

"Yes." Moby said shortly.

Will let it slide. He wasn't in the mood for aggravating one of the tour's legends. "Whatever," he sniffed. "Do we know when the others are arriving?"

"Who knows? Who cares?" Allegra shrugged, eliciting a snigger from Kaori. "Trust me, you're better off without them. The first heats are tomorrow, you'll get to know them intimately enough then."