War is hell, they say, but I say they’re wrong.

Hell is insanity, and insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Hell is false hopes and flagrant disappointment.

Hell is knowing that the squabbling of Ilyra, the princess from the far-off planet of Nianus, and Jostok, the snarky-but-pleasantly-ripped humanoid alien soldier from Quighnan, would attract the attention of Izzon’s monstrous space beast.

It’s knowing that the beast would destroy the vent your plucky band of misfits was crawling through.

It’s knowing that you’d all tumble into the cavernous belly of the spaceship with only the last-second triggering of a force-field from your omni-cuff to prevent you from turning to gizzard soup on the space-grey floor.

I watched Jostok realize that the forcefield hadn’t prevented the princess from being crushed beneath the weight of the metal that tumbled from above. I watched him separate her from the tangled pile of bodies and bionic limbs, cradling her barely conscious form against one beefy, armour-clad bicep.

I watched her brilliant violet eyes flutter open, and saw the little half-smile on her face as he called her by her name, and heard the weakness in her voice as she reminded him that it was Princess Ilyra to him. I heard Jostok chuckle wetly and assure her she was going to make it.

After all, she was the princess. This was not how princesses died.

Which was true, because she didn’t die like that.

Izzon’s beast hurled itself to the ground in front of us, its weight making the spaceship itself shudder violently. A beam of light shot forth from its gaping maw, wrenching Ilyra from Jostok’s arms. He reached for her, but before his bionic arm was even fully extended, the beast had pulled her into the air, clutched her between its massive claws, and snapped her in half like she was a fucking Kit Kat bar.

So, she died like that instead.

There was a beat; a pause as horror dawned across the party. A splash of blood splattered on the floor followed by the delicate circlet Ilyra always wore.

“No,” breathed Jostok.

A metallic cackle from above filled the room.

“So much for your princess,” Izzon said as he descended on a floating platform.

He landed just in front of the beast. Two long strides brought him to the circlet, and he plucked it from the pool of blood before making a mockery of Ilyra’s memory and placing the fragile band of metal on his horned forehead.

“You killed her,” Jostok said, his voice wavering.

“Well, duh,” Izzon said, chuckling. “What, you think this is your fairytale or something, Quighnan? You kill the horrible, evil, sad little man who was just trying to get back what was rightfully his? You think you save the world, you get the girl, you get the glory?”

His smile faded, and he straightened the circlet before reaching for his omni-cuff.

“Well, Quighnan, I have news for you. You failed. The world is mine, the girl is dead, and you—”

“Shut up, you piece of Cul excrement!” Jostok roared.

“Or what?” Izzon taunted.

“Or this,” I muttered.

Surprise flashed across Izzon’s face as Jostok smashed his omni-cuff, using the last of its power to create his trademark rocket launcher. Hefting it over his shoulder, he screamed as he fired it. Izzon’s beast stepped forward, snatching its master from the ground seconds before the ball of certain death hit him, and it was time for me to take over.

The battle was hell. It was a place I’d been a million times before, and I let the world around me fade as I focused on Izzon and Izzon alone. His beast didn’t like that, of course, but the beast wasn’t my concern. There were others to fight the beast; only I could fight Izzon.

Sweat beaded on my forehead and dryness scratched at my eyes. I refused to look away, refused to be distracted for even a millisecond from my task. Izzon darted around the battlefield, firing laser after laser in my direction, but I knew how to dodge them. I knew how to use them against him; I knew how to lure the beast to just the right spot for Izzon to maim it himself.

And I knew what would happen next.

The world shook, a rumbling that vibrated through my bones. Izzon’s platform shot up, and I tracked it, ignoring the shouts and cries of the battle raging around me. High above, I saw the flash of light, and I hurled myself out of the way moments before a ball of plasma crashed down and punched a hole through the entire ship.

A rush of air sucked through the floor, and I clung to the strategically placed pole for dear life, still refusing to take my eyes off Izzon’s platform. I waited, watched, my heart racing as he descended, and descended, and…

“Now,” I said through clenched teeth, and I jumped.

Wind and suction twirled around me as I fought against the force with everything in me. It was a Hail Mary, a last-ditch effort, a moment of pure insanity as I mashed at the omni-cuff wildly. I mashed, and mashed, and mashed, and—

I made it.

I got to the platform.

“Oh my fuck,” I breathed. “Oh fuck, oh frak, oh… fruck.”

I finally did it.

Izzon stood before me, his wretched face twisted in anger. I pointed my weapon at him, just as I dreamed I would a thousand times before, and without so much as a second thought, I began to fire. One shot hit and his body jostled; another and red splattered around me; one more and—

And all went dark.

Sudden silence replaced the sounds of battle as blackness overtook me. For half a moment, I thought I had died, like for-real died. Then, my eyes adjusted, and across from me I saw the form of a woman with pale skin, wide eyes, and bright blue hair in the depths of a black mirror.

“No,” I whispered.

The woman mimicked me.

“No,” I said again, a low groan as realization dawned on me.

The woman’s face crumpled. A bolt of lightning flashed through the basement window, and as thunder roared, I screamed.

“You’ve got to be frucking kidding me!” I shrieked, and I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I burst into tears.

“Ramona!” my mom shouted distantly.

I ignored her cry; tears were streaming down my cheeks as frantic footsteps thudded on the stairs. Despondently, I slid off the couch and crumpled to the floor, clutching my controller to my chest as I sobbed.

“Ramona!” Mom gasped again, the faint glow of her cell phone flashlight spilling across the basement. “Are you hurt? Ramona, talk to me, w-what happened, are you—”

“The power,” I whimpered as she reached me and hesitantly touched my shoulder. “The power went out, and I was so close.”

“Close to… what?”

“Beating Izzon,” I sniffed.

Silent tension filled the basement.

“In a game,” she said flatly.

“Well, yeah, but—”

“You screamed bloody murder in the middle of a huge thunderstorm because the power went out during a game.”

It was no use trying to explain to her that I’d been stuck on the boss fight in The Circlet of Nianus for days. I stared sullenly across the basement at the darkened TV as Mom launched into another one of her ranting lectures that had become routine since I’d returned home for the summer after my first year of university.

“This is not proper behaviour for a nineteen-year-old woman,” she said, probably. I would’ve had to have been listening to know for sure, which I wasn’t, but all her lectures were pretty much the same. “Christ, Ramona, it’s like I don’t even know who you are anymore. What happened to the sweet girl who left for university last August?”

Then, if that lecture was anything like the other ones—which it likely was, but I still wasn’t listening—she would have started tearing up.

“I don’t know what I did to deserve you acting like this, Ra-Ra,” she probably said in a watery voice. “What happened to my goody-two-shoes straight-laced brown-noser who would never dream of putting a toe out of line and who I, as the head of the Minwack Falls Homeowners Association, could truly be proud of since she was as cookie-cutter and put-together as the yards and fences I work so hard to keep in line at all times?”

Well, she probably didn’t say that last part. At least, not out loud. But the implication was there. When I tuned back in to the conversation, she was shaking her head as she looked dramatically in the other direction.

“Honestly, Ra-Ra, maybe we made a mistake,” she was saying, for real that time. “Sending you to that school… I worried that you weren’t ready and now—”

“I was perfectly ready to go to university,” I said dully. “And I’m an adult, so you didn’t send me anywhere. I chose to go. And my name is Ramona.”

“Adults don’t throw tantrums because of a silly game.”

“It’s not silly,” I said through gritted teeth. “This is what I want to do with my life.”

“Play games.”

Make games.”

“Hmmph,” she said. “Be that as it may, I highly doubt you’ll find a summer job making games. I charged the laptop battery up earlier today, so if the power stays out, we can still work on your resume tonight.”

I sighed. “I have a resume. I already asked if they were hiring at The Sword and Dice and they said they’d get back to me.”

“I doubt the comic book store is hiring,” she said, unimpressed, before she started towards the stairs. “I’m surprised Jordan Cooper’s managed to keep it open as long as he has. I’ll go down to The Enchanted Florist tomorrow and speak with Owen. That girl he has working there was incredibly rude to me the other day and refused to call him so I could make a complaint about her.”

“Okay, Karen,” I muttered under my breath.

Mom turned. “What was that?”


She clearly didn’t believe me and shot a very Karen-esque look in my direction. “Well, if he’s willing to hire her, I bet he’s one of the few people in town who would be willing to overlook your new… style and possibly offer you a job.”

And there it was; yet another dig at my hair, and my new eyebrow piercing, and the fact that I wasn’t dressed like her President of the Student Council Princess anymore.

I wish I could say it had been a gradual transformation, that I hadn’t been the stereotypical example of the good-girl going wild as soon as she was on her own for the first time. However, years of living with Liz Roth, head of the Minwack Falls Homeowners Association, vice-president of the Minwack Falls High School Parent-Teacher Association, and volunteer board member for the Minwack Falls Good Neighbour Society, had instilled an almost-detrimental instinct to be honest in me.

I was absolutely the model of a rebellious girl experiencing life away from an overbearing mother and semi-absent father.

I’d left for university as a geeky girl with suitcases full of modest blouses and nice-but-not-too-tight jeans. At the end of the semester, I returned home with suitcases full of pop culture t-shirts, dark jeans that were ripped in all the right places, and Chuck Taylors that I’d kept on my feet day in and day out so I could get that worn-in look as fast as possible. I was still geeky and still a girl, but now that girl had bright blue hair, an eyebrow ring, and an exasperatedly cynical attitude.

I loved who I had become. I loved being Ramona, the girl with wild hair and full of laughter. I loved geeking out with my friends over video games and sci-fi movies and superheroes. I loved being able to show people that girl instead of the girl I had to be under my mother’s roof.

Back home, though, that girl wasn’t welcome. That girl was an embarrassment to the head of the HOA. Worse, I was in for another three full months of putting up with my mom’s pressure to dye my hair back to a respectable colour and stop wearing studded belts and ripped jeans.

“…teach you that your choices have consequences,” Mom was saying, and I’d been so distracted I hadn’t even bothered imagining what she might have said. “If The Enchanted Florist won’t hire you, you’ll need to get your hair fixed.”

“My hair isn’t broken.”

“I’m not letting you sit down here playing video games all summer. You need to get a job.”

“Trust me, I’d like nothing more,” I said. “I could use the break.”

Before Mom could respond—and trust me, her inner Karen was desperate to give me a piece of its mind—we were interrupted by the sound of the door opening above us. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Your father’s home,” she said unnecessarily. “Finish tidying up here and come set the table.”

I waited until she had started back up the basement stairs to let out the breath I’d been holding, leaning miserably against the couch as the darkness enveloped me again.

It was going to be a long frucking summer.


I was saved from having to work on my resume with my mom peering over my shoulder by her innate need to be involved in every disaster.

Dinner was blissfully quiet. Dad didn’t say much, as per usual, and Mom’s constant chatter manifested as mumbled frustrations while she scrolled through the town Facebook page on her phone, the mushy broccoli and dry chicken on her plate abandoned as she took control of the situation via social media.

As quickly as I could, I shovelled bite after bite of mediocre, overcooked blandness into my mouth. Like most of my classmates in first year, I’d gained the ubiquitous Freshman Fifteen, but I hadn’t minded in the slightest. I’d been relatively thin most of my life, and putting on some weight had finally made me look less like a twelve-year-old boy and more like an actual, honest-to-God woman.

Unfortunately, a full summer of my mom’s cooking meant that I’d probably slim down to nothingness again unless I started stopping by the Hokey Pokey Ice Cream Parlour twice a day. Which wasn’t a terrible idea, actually; their ice cream was all homemade and it was phenomenal.

Except that would take money, and while I was rich in Rupees and Bells and Caps, the owners of the Hokey Pokey only accepted boring old dollars.

Actually, maybe the Hokey Pokey was hiring. My blue hair would be considered whimsical and fun, though I might have to take out my eyebrow piercing or at least cover it. Still, I’d have an excuse to be out of the house and away from my mom, plus I’d be able to eat all the ice cream I wanted.

I wasn’t about to admit that my mom had been right about working on my resume, though, so instead of doing something productive, I stole away to my bedroom to play video games.

Not The Circlet of Nianus, obviously. My PlayStation wasn’t so good at working without the whole “power” thing. With the whole power out, my options were limited to… well, my Nintendo Switch.

It was fully charged, thankfully, and I hoped by the time the battery was drained, the power would be back. I’d started a new playthrough of Breath of the Wild on the drive back from university since my mom had insisted on coming up to campus to “help” me pack, then on driving my car back to Minwack Falls. I obliged, but only because I probably would have driven into oncoming traffic to get away from her incessant sniffling about my horrible hair colour and insistence that my piercing would leave a hideous scar across my face, rendering me entirely unhireable.

It ended up being a good thing, though. She had pulled over for a break and I’d opened my glove box to hide my Switch while I used the grungy gas station bathroom. Mom wasn’t looking, thankfully, because I forgot there was a sample-sized bottle of lube, a bunch of pamphlets about birth control and STDs, and two handfuls of the free condoms they gave out at the university clinic. Knowing my luck, if I’d been driving, Mom would have decided to go snooping through the glove box, and then I would have for sure had to drive into oncoming traffic to avoid that uncomfortable lecture.

And, of course, it wouldn’t matter if I told her that I hadn’t actually used any of the birth control or condoms or lube. She wouldn’t believe for a second that I had all that stuff in my car and was still a virgin, even though it was true. Despite my desire to rebel, the internalization of my mom’s lectures about abstinence and not being “that” kind of girl had really fucked with me.

I’d done my best to get past that, but the problem with being the wild and free type of girl with colourful hair and an eyebrow piercing is that apparently, there were a lot of guys who thought I existed solely to teach them about life, the universe, and everything. Specifically, they seemed to think that the answer lay in my vagina.

Since I was fairly certain that nothing in my vagina added up to forty-two and would therefore disappoint those wannabe hitchhikers, I’d shied away from men in general while at university. Aside from a couple of somewhat regrettable makeout sessions at parties and an unremarkable handjob, after which the guy had fumbled around unimpressively in my panties until I got bored and went back to my dorm to play Red Dead Redemption, I hadn’t really had a chance to experience the “sexual liberation” side of things.

I mean, I wanted to. I wasn’t about to wait until marriage. Hell, I didn’t even know if I wanted to get married. I just wanted my first time to be with someone who liked me as more than a concept.

That was an issue for another time, though. If I couldn’t find a guy I was willing to lose my virginity to at the university, the chances of there being someone in Minwack Falls were practically non-existent.

In no time at all, I was immersed in the kingdom of Hyrule. I’d started this playthrough in Gerudo Town just for the hell of it, and had already released the Divine Beast Vah Naboris, which was too bad; given the storm, playing the lightning-themed part of the game would have been appropriate. Instead, I decided to head to Zora’s Domain, which I guess was probably even more appropriate, given the rain and all.

It’s not like there was any other strategy for me to follow. I mean, I started the playthrough in Gerudo Town.

In any case, it didn’t matter. I found Prince Sidon at the Inogo Bridge and started my long trek towards Zora’s Domain, battling Ganon’s monsters along the way and picking up all the loot I could carry.

Falling into the world of a video game was one of my favourite things. I loved losing myself to the story, the characters, the challenge… for a while, it didn’t matter if I was quiet-and-geeky Ramona or wild-and-geeky Ramona. Ramona didn’t exist in Hyrule; in Hyrule, I was Link, and instead of battling my mother’s constant disappointment, I was battling Lizalfos which, despite trying to murder me with shock arrows, were slightly more compassionate than she was.

That thought made me picture my mom as a Lizalfos, which was far more hilarious than it had any right to be, and I was fighting back a smile as I threw bombs at a hoard of them when my bedroom door flew open without so much as a warning knock.

“It’s going to be all night,” Mom said.