A tall, heavily built green porcupine named Jack slowly shuffled down the sidewalk of a mostly deserted town. He stared at the sidewalk in front of him, idly wondering why nothing was happening. This is so utterly boring, he thought. Oh well, I guess I'll just go home and…
As if on cue, Jack's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a girl screaming. Something in Jack told him that he had to look and see why someone was screaming, but another part of him told him otherwise. Girls randomly scream, he thought. It's nothing. Just keep walking...
And then he heard the man yelling. This time he could hear the words. "Just give it to me, and I'll stop doing this to you!" said the voice.
Oh all right, thought Jack. Now I have to see what's going on.
As it happened, Jack didn't even have to deviate from his intended path. He rounded the corner and saw a man banging a young girl against a wall—
Jack was in the fraternity house. They were torturing him to make him earn this privilege of being a part of it, torturing him—
—just like this girl.
Jack didn't have time to think. He couldn't have thought if he wanted to. Before he had a chance to process his surroundings any more, he was standing in front of the man with his fist raised.
"Let her go," growled Jack deeply.
The man chuckled. "Yeah, right," he said, dropping the girl and aiming a punch at Jack's head. At least, he tried to aim at Jack's head. Jack's fist collided with the man's stomach, sending the man into a seated position on the ground. Surprised, the man jumped up and aimed another punch at Jack's side, only to be punched into a nearby streetlamp, where he sat looking stunned.
Jack slowly walked over to the man, making sure that the man wasn't going to try to hit him again. "Don't get up," he said. "Wait for the police to show up." Wait, the police aren't going to show up if— "Hey, you, random person," said Jack, gesturing to his side and not looking to see if there even was someone to that side. "Call the police. We need to make sure that people like this go to—" The man started moving, so Jack sat on him. "—prison." This was the point at which Jack realized that there was only one other person who was in the area, and that person was making no move to call the police.
"Hey, person!" said Jack. "Why aren't you calling the police?"
The person shrugged. "I don't have a phone," he said.
Jack sighed. "Oh fine," he said. "I'll call the police." He pulled out his phone, dialed the police, and waited for them to arrive. Just as Jack was wondering why the random bystander was still there, the man spoke.
"By the way," he said, "you fight real well. Have you ever thought of makin' a career out of it?"
Jack looked up at the man. "No," he said.
"Well," said the man, "If you ever want to improve your fighting skills, there's this place called the Bloodied Hands Arena where you can face off against just about anyone. There are no hazards involved, because the rules won't allow for anyone getting seriously injured or dying. The arena would revive them if it did."
Oh huh, thought Jack. That sounds handy…I could just do this, try getting a little better, it'll make things a little less boring, and besides, what else am I doing with my life?
"I knew you'd be sold on it," said the man. "When do you want to go there?"
Jack eyed the man suspiciously. "Are you a telepath?"
"No," said the man, "I'm just good at readin' faces."
Yeah right, thought Jack. Oh well, I did want to go there, so…
"How do I get there?" he asked.
"I'll teleport you there," said the man, "and I can teleport you back."
"It's a deal," said Jack. "Take me there tomorrow morning."
Jack slowly walked onto the battlefield, his boots making a lot of noise as he shuffled along the floor. He was paying no attention to anything except for the floor, despite the fact that he knew that he was about to be plunged into a life-threatening battle. This was because, quite frankly, he barely cared about what happened in the battle, as he was only there because he thought that it might be interesting.
Soon after that, a winged hedgehog landed smoothly on the sand, looking around. Her violet eyes flickered around, before they landed on her opponent.
Jack looked up upon seeing the hedgehog land. It was at this moment that it suddenly occurred to him: Wait, I usually just attack automatically because I'm so angry at the opponent. How do I fight without that? Let me stall for a bit…
"Oh, hi," he said in a bored monotone. "We should probably exchange names before we kill each other. My name's Jack, what's yours?"
"Keira," she growled. "And 'nice' to meet you, Jack."
Jack stared at the floor again, muttering under his breath, "Usual formalities…" …apparently don't give me enough time to think of a plan. I guess I'll just have to wing this. He looked up, shrugged, and said, "Well, now that's over," and instantly charged at her, hoping to knock her back or at least temporarily disorient her.
As soon as he moved, Keira sprinted to her left, stopping on the opposite side of where Jack was standing. Jack skidded to a halt just in time to avoid banging into the arena wall. After he stopped moving, he started looking around, confused. His move had disoriented him instead of his opponent, and had also made him realize that the battle was not going to be easy. "This is not how I usually do this," he muttered under his breath. "It's always so much clearer..."
Keira, meanwhile, was focused on Jack. As soon as he stopped moving, she fired an electric blast at Jack.
Jack saw the blast coming too late to avoid it, so he simply ducked, letting part of the blast go by. However, the rest of the electricity hit him, causing him a noticeable amount of pain. "No..." he said, loudly enough to be audible. "This is not...happening..." Frustrated at not being able to come up with a plan, he suddenly charged at Keira again, although he was slightly better prepared to stop himself from a collision should one occur again.
Once again, she moved to dodge, but a part of his attack hit her. She then flew into the air, firing lightning bolts at Jack. Keira stayed airborne, looking down from above like a hawk locating its prey.
Jack dodged some of the lighting bolts, but was hit by some of the others, knocking him over. Jack slowly stood up, getting into a defensive posture as he did so. He then looked up to see what Keira was doing and noticed more lightning bolts—this time raining from the sky—which Keira had summoned to attack him. Jack seemed indecisive for a moment, then rolled to gain momentum and launched himself at Keira. This is completely not going to work, he thought. Maybe it'll at least distract her…
The winged one glanced down at her opponent, then created a ball of electricity, shaped it into a dragon, and used it to force Jack onto the ground. She then swiftly landed on the sand, before hitting Jack with the flat side of her axe, launching him up high into the air.
Jack was caught completely unprepared by the double assault, bearing the full brunt of the attacks and landing hard on the arena floor—
Six months. Six months of torture. All since he joined that stupid fraternity when he came to college, they'd been torturing him as part of an initiation rite. He couldn't take it any more after six months, and he wasn't going to take it now either…
Jack got up. He was injured by the landing, causing him to fall to his knees upon standing up. He then looked up at Keira and said in a tone of barely restrained anger, "You're going...to wish...you never...did that..." With these words, he stood up and charged at her for the third time in the battle, his mind running on auto-pilot like he was used to. If he could think, he'd be pleased that his usual combat strategy was kicking in.
Keira countered Jack's attack with a wave of electricity. "Careful, that might paralyze you," she muttered, before flying upwards again.
Jack was now running so fast that he just sidestepped to dodge the wave of electricity, then dodged back to try to grab Keira's leg and keep her from flying out of his range. Keira snarled before landing again on the sand, then disappeared.
Jack looked around for Keira. His mind was starting to turn on again. What am I doing here? he thought. I'm fighting against an opponent who I can't see, who's probably going to kill me while I'm not looking, and—
Without warning, Jack fell to the floor, hit in the back by the blade of Keira's axe. Before he could process anything further, the world went black.
About a minute later, Jack woke up. Oh, he thought. Okay. I guess the arena brought me back to life or something. After a few seconds, he managed to drag himself to his feet. "Nnrgh..." he groaned, starting to walk out of the arena, then collapsing onto one of the walls, thinking, I have to get better at fighting so I won't fail again like I did this time.
Jack paced back and forth in his small living room. His phone was sitting on a table, propped up on a drinking glass so that he could look at the silver pink hedgehog on the screen. More precisely, it was propped up that way so that the hedgehog could look at him. He wasn't paying any attention to the person on the screen.
"So…" said the hedgehog. "Would you mind explaining why you called me? I've been sitting here on the phone for the last five minutes, expecting you to explain why you called me, a weapons instructor, on the phone—I mean, didn't you have some sort of question that required technical expertise with weaponry?"
Jack snapped upright. "Oh, right," he said. "Yeah, I've spent the last few minutes figuring out what I need help with." He turned to face the phone. "OK, Vereco, let me give you a bit of background," he said. "I got defeated in a recent battle for three reasons: I can't hit anyone at a distance, I don't have anything that I can use to defend myself from long-range attacks, and I don't have anything that I can use to defend myself from sneak attacks."
"Sounds to me like that's only two reasons," said Vereco. "You're a melee fighter who has no defense to speak of. Right?"
Jack thought for a moment. "Yeah…I guess so," he said.
"Okay, well then, it sounds like you want some sort of medium-range-long-range weapon that's also defensive," said Vereco. "Like…a bō."
"A bow?" said Jack. "I was going to suggest more like a big stick."
"No no no," said Vereco. "Not a bow, a bō. B O, not B O W."
"Hang on, let me look that up," said Jack, reaching for his phone.
"It's basically a big stick," said Vereco.
Jack stared off into space for a few seconds. Hmm, he thought, as he replayed the battle with Keira in his head. If I had a big stick, I could have hit her there…and blocked there…and avoided that…and…"
"So…what's the verdict?" said Vereco.
"Yeah, that would be useful to be able to use," said Jack. "Can you teach me how to use it? I know a guy who can teleport people, and I might be able to convince him to teleport you here for the lessons."
"Sure," said Vereco, "but there is the small matter of…"
"Pay," said Jack. "I know, you do this for money. I have some extra…" because I barely spend my money on anything, he thought. It doesn't matter that I work odd jobs and barely make any money, because I don't use much either. I can pay her.
"Great!" said Vereco. "Assuming that the guy agrees to teleport me to your location and back, I'll be happy to train you in how to use a bō."
"The big stick kind of bō," said Vereco and Jack in unison.
A few weeks later…
"Review time!" said Vereco. She was in Jack's house, and they had just finished a training session, the most recent of several such sessions held over the past few weeks.
"OK," said Jack, ticking off items on his fingers. "I remember that a bō is a big stick; I haven't forgotten that for weeks. I can use the bō at short range, medium range, spin it, thrust it, and occasionally hit you with it. Was there anything more to review?"
"Nope, you got everything," said Vereco. "Okay then, I guess you've basically learned everything you need to learn from this course."
"Wait, I'm done?" said Jack. Ideas started forming in his head. If I'm done, maybe I can really prove that I'm good at doing this…maybe I can even have another battle, show everyone that I can really succeed in…
"Yeah, you're done," said Vereco, interrupting Jack's train of thought. "I don't think I need to teach you anything more. Your fighting style is pretty well-developed for what you want to do with it, so I think that all of the other things that I could teach you about it would be useless to you. Speaking of which, what are you actually planning on doing with these skills?"
"Having another battle," said Jack instantly. "Well, in the long run, just being better at fighting, but tomorrow I want to go back to that arena, have another battle, and show everyone that I really can fight, that I won't fail like I did last time, that I've improved."
"That sounds like a…reasonably good plan," said Vereco. "Mind if I watch the match?"
Jack hadn't thought of this. I guess there'd be nothing wrong with that… "…Sure," he said. "Why?"
"I just want to see your skill in actual battle, as opposed to just training with me," said Vereco. "That's all."
"OK, that makes sense," said Jack. "Well, tomorrow, before I go to have that battle, I'll talk to the guy who teleports things and tell him to take you there with me."
"Deal," said Vereco. "Okay, see you tomorrow in the arena!"
Jack the Porcupine walked out into the arena, gently spinning the long, thin metal stick that he held in both hands as he walked. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he'd finally found something to focus on: winning a battle and showing that he could finally succeed at something.
Looking up from his internal monologue, he saw an ocelot across the arena. (He was later to find out that her name was Terra.) He paused, trying to figure out whether or not to greet her. That didn't work out so well last time, he thought.
Terra didn't give Jack that much time to consider his options, however, greeting him by smiling and waving. "Hello! I see that you're not a slacker, look-wise. Let's have no ill intentions in this fight, shall we? My friend told me that if you die, you get revived, but let's still have a good battle and leave with our heads high, caused by a new experience."
Something that Terra said stirred an indistinct positive feeling in Jack, although he couldn't quite be sure of what it was. "...Yeah, let's do that," he said. Thinking it over again, he then brightened noticeably and said, "Yeah, that sounds good. And...can we try not to kill each other, just to knock each other out? I wasn't all that happy in my last match about getting hit in the back with a giant axe." Jack uncomfortably rubbed his back with his left elbow.
Terra smiled. "Well, I can assure you I won't try to be as violent." Then, she dashed at Jack, trying to slide under his legs.
Jack, startled for a moment by Terra's abrupt starting of the match, quickly regained his composure in time to start spinning his staff rapidly, blocking Terra from getting through his legs. Her collision with his staff caused him to stagger back a few feet, where he stopped, trying frantically to figure out how to prepare himself for whatever Terra would do next. This was not in my training, he thought. It was always strategy, not quick reflexes…I'm terrible at this!
Terra was stunned for a moment, not expecting Jack's sudden attack. She then got up and dashed past him before running in circles. Jack reacted by rotating back and forth while spinning his bō, trying to protect himself against any angle of attack without turning in circles and getting himself dizzy. At least I can manage this, he thought, then was suddenly confronted by Terra, who, now airborne, was trying to perform a downward kick to Jack's forehead.
Jack raised his bō to attack, but suddenly thought of a better plan. Using his momentum of moving his arm backwards, he dropped to the ground and slid, bringing his bō into a position where he hoped that it would hit Terra's outstretched leg and pull her to the arena floor.
His plan didn't exactly go as intended. He did pull Terra downwards, but she landed on her hands, grabbed the bō with her legs, and started twirling her body around while upside down. Jack, realizing that she was trying to disarm him, held onto the staff, leading him to be pulled in circles around Terra. This gave Jack an idea: still holding on to his staff, he kicked off the ground with one foot while kicking forward with the other, trying to simultaneously throw Terra off balance and kick her in the back.
Jack's blow was successful, and Terra was knocked forward. However, she flipped over and landed on her feet, with her back facing him. Turning around, Terra lunged at Jack, but she ran past him. Jack spun around when he saw Terra run past him, then raised his bō to block Terra's next attack, a swift chop towards Jack's neck. Jack didn't follow this up with another move, as he was unsure of what would be the next course of action for him to take, opting to instead wait for Terra to move again.
Terra, looking annoyed, tried to use one hand to grab Jack's bō out of his hands and throw it away. Jack simply used his super strength to hold onto the bō. Why does she keep trying to disarm me? he thought, feeling as annoyed as Terra looked.
Before Jack could think any further, Terra tried to backhand him in the face with her other hand. Jack, in turn, released his grip on the bō with one hand to block Terra's hand, causing a sort of mid-air high-five. Then, grabbing his bō again, he tried to wrench it out of Terra's hand. Terra, still tugging at it, kicked at Jack.
Jack, realizing that the kick could knock him out of the match, opted to instead let go of the staff, allowing him to move backwards to avoid the kick. He suddenly felt anger rising in him. This was my one weapon…and you've made me lose it…
"Fine," he said, barely able to keep his anger out of his voice. "You win this one." Once again controlled by rage, he abruptly charged at Terra with his right fist extended, trying to punch her in the neck. Before he could get in her range, however, Terra tried to whack him in the cheek with his staff.
Jack dodged to his left, causing him to unbalance and fall over. He then started spinning upon hitting the ground due to his lack of balance. This is not in my moveset, he thought, panic replacing the anger that he'd briefly felt. This is so unfair…how do I…
Jack managed to slow himself down, spinning to a halt just before he would have whacked into a nearby wall. He then righted himself and got into a defensive position, waiting for Terra to attack him while trying to come up with a plan for how to defend himself.
Terra took her claws out and dashed at Jack, only a foot away from him before jumping over him. Jack spun around to block any attacks that she could throw at him, but got knocked over backwards anyway. As he fell over, he realized that Terra had hit him in the knees with his bō. Oh, I see, he thought, feeling a mix of anger and respect, both towards Terra's ingenuity. Before he hit the ground, he managed to turn his fall into a roll, allowing him to right himself a short distance away from Terra. He then ran at Terra. I'll home in on her if she moves, then I'll grab my staff back… Jack felt a sudden surge of confidence, amplified when Terra dashed to the side and tossed his bō into the air, causing him to promptly stop and grab it.
Time seemed to slow down for Jack as he regained a fairly normal state. Smiling slightly at having the tools to defend himself, he spun to block a kick that Terra threw at his back, then stepped back, spinning his bō as a makeshift shield while he figured out what to do next.
Terra growled and started dashing around Jack quickly in all sorts of patterns. Jack continued spinning his staff, but now he rotated side to side in order to be able to avoid Terra being able to suddenly charge him from behind. It doesn't matter any more about all this, he thought. I can just block anything—
Jack abruptly blocked Terra's attack from the front, but wasn't prepared for Terra sliding past him, or for the sudden kick that hit him in the back of the head. Jack spun around, but managed to retain his footing, spinning to a halt several feet away.
Well, he thought, somewhat vaguely due to the headache that he now had, I guess that's why I can't feel invincible… He realized that he couldn't see properly due to the kick. This is bad, he thought. I hope I can still see her… Terra dashed at Jack. Something clicked in Jack's mind. She's probably about to do what she just did a moment ago, he thought. In that case…
Jack was prepared when Terra jumped over him and tried to hit him in the face. He'd already started spinning around rapidly with his bō extended, avoiding the punch and hitting at Terra. Terra caught the attack, but then stood still, looking vulnerable. Success! thought Jack, who was now feeling confident again. Gee, I haven't felt confident in a while, he thought, as he pulled back his bō. He then tried to hit Terra in the back and knock her out.
Terra suddenly caught Jack's bō, startling Jack with her sudden renewed focus. Terra then tried to yank the staff out of his hands, which Jack countered by holding onto it. Terra then countered Jack's counter by letting go of the staff, turning Jack's slight spinning from holding onto the staff into a full-on flight through the air.
Oh, this is bad, thought Jack, slightly aware that he was cycling through emotions faster than he had been in the last few months. I guess I can flip backwards and roll to the wall…
Jack's plan worked. What he didn't count on was that he had enough momentum to roll off the wall. Jack, panicking and flipping himself suddenly, caused himself to fly off the wall through the air to about the middle of the arena, where he rolled around in circles for a second before unrolling. This left him standing in the center of the arena, feeling winded but still vigilant, spinning his staff in front of him should Terra try to attack him before he could recover. I can still do this, he thought. I just need to recover…
Terra burst at Jack with claws bared. I guess I could try a repeat of that earlier move, where I stopped one hand with my staff and the other with my fist…
An image of Jack's bō flying across the arena moved through Jack's mind.
Nah, I'll do something else, Jack thought. Why don't I just…rotate my staff so that it blocks both attacks?
This maneuver sort of worked. It blocked Terra's attacks, but Terra clamped her hand down on Jack's staff, once again immobilizing him. Ugh, again with the trick of disarming me? thought Jack. Vocalizing his thoughts, he said, "Why do you keep doing this? I thought this was supposed to be some kind of a learning experience for us. If you keep doing the same maneuver over and over, how's either of us supposed to get any better?"
Terra then made her move. She pulled the staff lightly before going under it, turning around and elbowing Jack in the stomach while backwards. He still managed to turn around fast enough to block Terra's kicks to his head, but didn't manage to block the kick to his legs. This one came as a surprise to him, causing him to stagger backwards for a second or two before sitting down, unable to keep himself upright any longer. He quickly stood up again, still backing up and now also spinning his staff in front of him as a shield. One more hit like this is going to knock me out… he thought, panicking again and losing focus on spinning his staff. How can I—
Jack suddenly found himself on the floor, apparently just having suffered from a blow to his face. He tried to get back up, but couldn't, feeling dizzy from all of the hits. It's over, he thought, feeling defeated.
"Fine," he said. "You win."
A sudden memory of something hitting him in the back and the world going dark flashed through his mind.
"Just please don't kill me," Jack added. "That would be gratuitous."
Terra smiled before putting her hand out for him to grab. "I won't; I'm not a savage, after all. You were quite a good competitor. I'm impressed by your skill."
Jack half-smiled, feeling a resurgence of his earlier positive feeling, then grabbed Terra's hand and pulled himself up with it, taking care not to knock either of them over in the process. "Thanks," he said. "You did a good job too..."
I lost. I failed again.
Jack started staring off into the distance as he slowly walked towards the edge of the arena.
"Is anything the matter?"
Jack turned to see Terra next to him, frowning.
"You shouldn't be all too disappointed due to a loss, now; it's going to happen every now and then," said Terra.
"It's all right, but..." It's not all right. I failed again, but I can't tell her that because worrying about failure looks so stupid…Maybe if I told her that I'd talk to her later, that would work?
"Can I call you up tomorrow and we can talk about it then?" said Jack. "I just want...to think about this..."
Terra gave a somber smile to Jack, along with a slight nod, before running out of the arena. Jack looked around for a different exit to the arena and left through there.
Jack had one thought that evening as he sat on his bed: failure. He'd spent weeks training to try to win, and now it had all come to this.
Can I ever succeed in life? he thought.
A knock came on Jack's door.
"Later," he called out, half-heartedly.
The knock came more insistently.
"Oh fine," he said, walking over and opening the door.
He had to look down to see who was at his door: a young hedgehog girl who looked about nine years old and bore a striking resemblance to him. If I were a hedgehog, she could be my sister… he thought, noting the forest green fur and the similar brown clothes. Also, why do I feel like I've seen her before?
Jack realized that he'd been silently staring at his visitor for a few seconds. "Um…hi," he said, trying to break the silence. "Do I know you?"
The hedgehog looked into the top corner of the doorframe. "That doesn't really matter," she said. "I'm here to be a voice of encouragement for you, because you're pretty unhappy right now and I want you to feel better."
"Maybe we should have this discussion inside?" said Jack. "The streets are pretty dangerous at night, and I don't want you to get hurt…"
She may be a creepy probably telepathic girl, thought Jack as he led her to a chair and sat down on his bed again, but I want her to stay safe, especially after I saved her from—
Jack's thoughts took him by surprise.
"Hang on," he said. "You're the one who I saved from that thug a few weeks ago, aren't you?"
The girl nodded.
"OK, well then," he said. "I guess you're some weird kind of karma police, then? Trying to cheer me up randomly because I saved your life?"
"I think it's called being grateful," said the girl. Jack noticed that she had a slight lisp.
"…Right…" said Jack, scratching his head with confusion.
"Anyway," said the girl, "my name's Milssa, and like I said before, I'm here to cheer you up. I saw you walking here with your girlfriend—"
Jack shook his head. "She's my instructor," he said. How does this girl have such a good idea of every situation except the one I'm in? he thought.
"—your instructor," continued Milssa, as if nothing had happened, "and you were saying something about being sad because you'd failed in a fight. You looked like you felt useless, and I think you said something like that to her, didn't you?"
Creepy weirdo, thought Jack. How did she just happen to be here?
"Um…yeah, I guess so," said Jack.
"Well, I wanted to tell you something," said Milssa, her lisp getting more pronounced as she spoke more forcefully. "Don't feel useless. You've got skills that will be really useful at some point, and I don't want you to feel like it's all been a waste. Some day, you're going to be somewhere in the world, and you're going to save someone's life with your skills. I mean, you saved me once from a beating, I'm sure you could do it again. So even though something went wrong, I say: don't give up, just be happy and keep living your life like you never lost."
Jack felt completely lost for words. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before opening them. Then, finding that he still couldn't talk, he repeated the process a few more times. Eventually, he managed to think.
I still failed, he thought, but maybe she's right that I shouldn't feel bad about it, that I should just take it in stride?
After a pause, he continued with his thoughts: Well, there's one person who I might feel more comfortable talking to: the guy who always gets me places. Maybe I could talk to him, and…maybe I could even find out why he's being so selfless. I never found that out…
Jack spoke, finally. "Thanks for the advice, he said. "Now, I need to go talk to someone. If you could go now, maybe I'll see you tomorrow and we can talk more then? Right now, I need to go to this other place…"
A few minutes later, Jack had managed to evict Milssa from his home and was walking towards where he believed the teleportation man to live.
The street was dark and empty, and no one was there to see when a gaping hole appeared in the sky and Jack shot through it.
To be continued in I'll Be With You, Always…
- Jack the Porcupine
- Milssa the Hedgehog
- Keira the Winged Hedgehog
- Vereco the Hedgehog
- Terra the Ocelot
- The mysterious teleporter
- This page used to be known as Jack the Porcupine/History and had no article header or any sections besides the story, but I moved it here and gave it other sections when I realized that Jack's history spanned more than this one story, so having this act as though it's the page for all of Jack's history would be inaccurate.