Chapter 1

Free Yourself

If you take hold of your inner strength,

The path will be revealed.

If you let that strength become your weakness,

Chaos will take over you.

Forge on ahead,

The next door awaits you.

Be strong for others,

Let others be strong for you.

The words scrolled slowly from the bottom of the screen to the top. Sixteen-year old Chase Leo read them for what felt like the thousandth time in his life. Once the words were gone, a familiar smirk made its way onto the brown haired teens lips. He gripped the joystick and positioned his fingers over three of the six buttons that sat on the dashboard like platform of the arcade machine.

When Chase entered this arcade, all of his problems seemed to disappear. He knew it seemed like a cliché, to find an overused or technical way of escaping the problems of daily life. However, everything about this arcade seemed intoxicating. The old matted carpet, stale from years of tread. The wafting smell of old gum and sweat from the guy break-dancing on the dancing game a few feet away. Most of all, the sounds of hundreds of games and the people who enjoyed them. The arcade wasn't just a means of escape. It was the one place where he actually felt like he was alive.

"Give it all." That was Chase's own phrase he used to get pumped for whatever he was about to do. He removed the brown jean-material, short-sleeved jacket he wore. The jacket had two pockets on each shoulder, both covered by a small flap that fastened to the pocket with two buttons. Under the jacket was a dark blue, short-sleeved shirt. His jeans matched the jacket, only having two Velcro straps on each leg.

The game started, Chase working the platform as if it were a document of his life. His character dashed across the screen, sending flashes of digital electricity and blood all over the screen. As far as he was concerned, this was his life document. He would forever be remembered as the highest scoring person in the arcade. Even after he left the arcade, and had to enter the streets of L.A again, others would come and marvel at his accomplishment. That's just what happened at closing time.

Gathering his belongings, he walked into the brisk night air of West Los Angeles. The only thing that remained on his mind was going back to the arcade. That's all he thought about as he walked back to his orphanage, ignoring the sirens of police and the distant sound of gunfire…

Chase was more of an outcast than anything. He was just one of dozens of orphaned children, as well as being the oldest of sixteen years old. No one wanted to adopt him because of his age, and the only reason he had gotten so old in the orphanage was because of his behavior as a child. On several accounts, he'd tried to run away, and even threatened to commit suicide if his real parents didn't come get him soon. Luckily, the police were well suited to bring down a seven year old.

That's about all they were good for too. The orphanage wasn't in the best neighborhood, so Chase spent more of his time in his own room, playing video games or doing homework, than out in the streets. Especially when the arcade he loved was closed. There really wasn't a reason behind anything that Chase did, besides for his own self-indulgence. He had no friends, cared for no one else, and put only his needs before others. Everyone thought he was selfish, which wasn't far off. The truth was that if he had someone to care about, he would care for them more than anything else in his life.

"If you keep the anti-social act up, you're going to be alone for the rest of your life." His orphanage mother told him once.

"Better than being with people who don't give a damn about me." Was always his reply.

The very next day, Chase once again went to that same arcade. For once, what his orphanage head had said to him began to sink in. He thought that maybe he could put forth more of an effort at being close to others. But that was just like asking a murderer to spare your life. Frankly, it wasn't as likely as the movies made it seem. However, when he entered the arcade, he forgot all about anything that was said or done outside those four walls. Several quick strides and he was in front of his favorite game; MirageStar.

"Mind if I join you?" A voice called to him from behind before he could even insert his first token. Without turning around, he called 'alright' and continued putting his money into the waiting machine. The person from behind him walked silently next to him, almost not heard. Putting his own money in the machine, Chase took a moment to study his soon to be opponent.

At first look, Chase thought the man was a hippie. He wore rectangle, wire-framed glasses. An odd feature that caught Chase's attention was the thick, but pointed beard the guy had, and it was his only facial hair. Atop his spiky blondish-brown hair was a tie-died bandana. His hair was thick, letting several pieces straddle his forehead from beneath the bandana. He also had a tie-dye short sleeved shirt. A small jacket, if it could be called that, was above it. The jacket was more like a vest, or flap at best. It was red, had no sleeves, and only went down to his ribs. It had no buttons either, seeming like a piece of fabric someone just cut holes into. With pants just as red as the jacket, the man looked like something straight out of an anime.

"What's your name?" The hippie asked.

"Chase Leo. You?" Chase asked out of common courtesy.

"Just call me Austin."

Chase thought that was weird. Maybe the guy had a crappy last name and just didn't want to tell anyone about it. Hell, even Chase wondered if Leo was his real name. His orphanage head said that when they found him, he was wearing a dog tag that only said Leo. So they assumed that was his last name. As the game entered the character select screen, Chase noticed something weird. The arcade was a little quieter than usual. However, it seemed to be just as crowded as any other day.

"Hey, Chase. Pick your character." Austin said, snapping Chase from his thoughts. Chase shook his head, nodded, and picked his character. They played the first round in silence, ending with Chase as the winner.

"Not bad. I don't really play with Noa that much. I prefer Heneo."

"Excuses." Chase replied with a smirk. The second match ended the same way. Austin put more money in.

"Alright. Now I'm going to play for real."

"Sure, that first time was just a fluke." Chase taunted. Austin only smiled. They started the match, and after several minutes, Austin won. Chase stared wide eyed at the screen. "No way."

"Told you." Austin taunted.

"That's impossible. No one can beat me at this game." Chase said slightly angered at his loss.

"Rematch?" Austin offered.

"No doubt. Give it all."

Four dollars and several minutes later, they both were dead even with each other. Chase was sweating and Austin seemed more concentrated. In the middle of one more match, Austin cracked his neck.

"Chase, I know a better game than this one." Austin called, not taking his eyes off the screen.

"Really? What's it called?" Chase replied doing the same.

"It really doesn't have a name."

Chase hesitated for a split second, but didn't lose his focus on the game. "What, is it some type of underground beta-testing game or something?"

"You could say that." They remained silent for a few minutes until the match ended in a double knockout. With only one more match left, they were both set for the win.

"Chase, are you tired of living the way you've been?"

"What the hell type of question is that?"

"Just asking. You seem like someone who's been through a lot, same as me. I just wanted to know if you were as tired of whatever it is as I was."

"To be honest, I don't have a clue what you're talking about. Everyone has problems. At some point, everyone gets tired of them. So yeah, I'm tired of the way I've been living." Chase smirked. It was the first time he had said anything like that to anybody.

"Then do you want to free yourself?" Austin asked.

"Dude, you're starting to freak me out. You aren't some type of homo pedophile are you?" Chase asked with a nervous chuckle.

"No, I'm not. It's just another question that everyone has to come to in their life." Chase thought about that for a second. It was a weird question to just ask out of the blue. In all honesty, Chase was startled by it. After a few seconds of contemplation, he thought what harm could it do to answer.

"Yeah. I want to free myself. To get away from all the crap that's been going on. I want life to be like a video game, where I can choose where I want to go, what I want to do. But sadly, that can't happen. People say life is what you make it, but that's a load of bull. Life is what others say it is, and what those with power push you to do." He had said much more than he intended, but he truly felt everything he said. It was how he wished his life to be for years.

"That's all I needed to know." Austin called. Chase moved his character forwards, preparing to deliver the finishing blow. Austin pushed all the buttons on the game. A rush of wind blew into Chase. The screen of the arcade game turned white.

"This is what you wanted Chase. You're about to get your chance to free yourself." Austin's voice called out in the distance of the blinding white light. Chase wanted to scream, but the wind seemed to suck the air right out of him. As the light grew brighter, Chase grew light headed. The warmth of the light was starting to creep all over him and he could no longer breathe. When he could take it no more, Chase fainted, and let the heat of the light completely engulf him.