“Are those…,” Cherry pointed to the sun-drenched glade surrounded by tall, narrow conifers. “…or are they not unicorns?” she asked Cassie. The scrawny girl with a green backpack did not reply; she was too entranced by the small herd of unicorns. Five white unicorns grazed in the sunlight; sparkles floated around them. It looked like an aura of magic glitter.
“Thaank you!” Cassie whispered and squealed at the same time; she sounded like a polite mouse in a library.
“C’ mon,” Cherry encouraged the shorter girl then she took a step forward. Cassie grabbed her arm.
“Don’t scare them away!” she whispered. Cherry turned and smiled at Cassie.
“They’re not so jumpy on this Earth, they’re pretty hard to scare. Watch,” Cherry tossed a small glowing red ball at the herd. Cassie gasped; she recognized it instantly.
“No!” she wiggled her fingers at the ball mid-air. A small, saucer-sized black portal opened and swallowed the ball before it landed.
“Hey, you’re getting pretty good!” Cherry laughed and patted the girl on her backpack. “But I can do this,” she grinned and faced the herd. “HEY! YOUR HORNS ARE STUPID!” she yelled. All five animals turned to look at her but did not move otherwise. “See? They’re like warhorses, nothing scares ’em.”
A brilliant blue streak shot across the tops of the trees with a roaring whoosh; it ignited every tree it touched. The unicorns bolted deeper into the forest away from the disturbance.
“Hah, scaredy cats!” Cherry yelled at the fleeing unicorns.
“AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!” A scream came from the same direction that the blue streak came from. Cherry turned to Cassie and pointed at a black portal.
“Go back to the academy, I’m going to go check,” she said. This wasn’t the first time she’d sent Cassie home early from an adventure because of complications. But, it was the first time Cassie did not listen. The girl stepped forward, away from the portal, and shook her head.
“I’ll go with you. I have to keep the unicorns safe,” she said. Cherry rolled her eyes, but she giggled and led the way.
“They’re not that special; they’re like rats on this Earth,” she said.
“They’re special to me,” Cassie replied. “And rats are cute,” she added.
“Owwwooohhhh,” someone groaned and both girls froze to listen. “Ow ow ow ow,” a girl whined from behind a large tree in front of Cassie and Cherry.
“She sounds hurt,” Cassie said in a low voice, then she turned toward the tree. “Hello? Are you okay?” she asked in a louder voice.
“Yes! I’m fine!” the mystery girl said. The sound of rustling grass came from the other side of the tree. “I’m just…,” the girl made a heavy grunting sound as if she were straining to move something heavy. “…just taking a break.” A dark-skinned girl with twin black afro-puffs on her head came from around the tree while leaning on it. She tried to act casual while simultaneously relying on the tree to hold her up. “Hi,” She said; both hands were behind her back. Cassie squeaked again.
“TORQUE!” she said excitedly.
“That’s me. Have we met?” Torque asked. Cassie shook her head.
“Not yet. I’m in Star Brigade. We’re playing against you in a couple of weeks,” she said. Torque smiled at her.
“Was that you that screamed?” Cherry asked.
“Screamed?” Torque shook her head. “I yelled. I’m just out here, you know.. yelling. Because it’s fun,” she said.
“And the plasma blast?” Cherry asked.
“Pla-” Torque looked up at the blue sky then glanced around the forest as if looking for something she knew didn’t exist. “Plasma? How do you mean?” Cherry burst into a sudden fit of giggles; Cassie laughed with her.
“Cassie, what’s Estrella rule #1?” Cherry said. She stood up straighter and crossed her arms proudly.
“Look with your special eyes,” Cassie said. Golden stars glowed around her pupils; then, the glow disappeared returning her eyes to normal.
“As an Estrella…,” Cherry pointed at Torque, “…you can see what someone is. It’s a good habit to use it the first time you meet someone new. So. Did you burn your hands off?” she asked with a grin.
“Ha HA, WhAT?” Torque shrank back slightly. “‘Course not.” Cherry stared at Torque silently for several seconds until she brought her hands forward. Both of them were blackened; burned and bloodied. “A little bit.”
Cassie dashed to Torque to check on her wounds. She slid her green backpack off her shoulders and began digging through it.
“This happens all the time at the academy when students try to tame a new star,” Cassie said.