A Dirge for Chocolate

“Green light!” Threnody giggled and dashed forward as soon as she heard the words. Vegas stood at the other end of the living room with a giant grin and a chocolate bar. He watched Threnody take a few steps, then stopped her the moment she came within reach. “Red light!” he said.

Threnody froze mid-step. One little leg was lifted in the air while she wobbled unsteadily on the other. Her bright orange eyes never left the chocolate bar while her hands froze inches from it.

“GRE-” Vegas shouted the first part of the word, the stopped himself. Threnody was ready to move as soon as she heard the word; she toppled over trying to break her own momentum when Vegas didn’t finish the word. She landed face-first on the carpet then rolled over giggling. “Gotcha,” Vegas said with a laugh. He dropped the chocolate bar on her stomach. “What’s next?”

“MY TURN!” Threnody yelled. She grabbed the chocolate bar, stood up and ran to the other side of the living room. She set the candy down on the floor then stood in front of it waving her hands at Vegas.

“Alright, I’m ready,” Vegas said as he took a couple of steps back. He wasn’t a tall man, despite his blue mohawk, but his steps were still longer than hers.

“Green light!” Threnody yelled. Vegas managed to lift his leg before she shouted again. “Red light!” She wanted to catch him on one foot too. Vegas froze with one leg in the air for a moment, then he put it down.

“Whoa,” he said. His grin wasn’t as broad as it was moments ago, and he looked around the room as if checking it for something.

“Vegas!” Threnody whined.

“Shhh, hold on. Was that you?” he asked. Then, he turned around and headed toward the front door. “C’mon, shortcake!” he said. Threnody whirled around to grab her candy bar then ran after him through the open door.

Outside, the sun was disappearing below the house across the street; several shades of purple and orange painted the sky.

“See that?” Vegas pointed at a car that wasn’t moving, despite being in a traffic lane.

“Uhuh,” Threnody said.

“Say, green light,” Vegas suggested.

“Green light,” Threnody said softly. The car moved again instantly.

“Your first time stop!” Vegas crouched to pick up the girl then spun her around a few times in celebration. He set her down and winked at her. “Now try rewinding it,” he said.

“Okay!” she clapped excitedly. Then she looked at Vegas. “What light rewinds time?”  Vegas let out a loud guffaw and shook his head.

“That’s not how it works,” he said. “You can try rewinding later, let’s go back inside and talk.” They walked in and sat at the round kitchen table. Now that she was seated, Threnody took the opportunity to open the chocolate bar.

“You can control time, okay? Time is like a videotape and you can pause, rewind, fast-forward, and even set playback loops.” Threnody nodded while chewing. You don’t need to say red light or green light or anything. That’s just how your powers decided to show themselves,” Vegas chuckled. “You really wanted to stop me. But, you need to learn what you can and can’t control.”

“I control time,” Threnody said matter-of-factly, then took another chunk out of the candy. Vegas nodded.

“So if time is like a videotape, every Earth and all its Zeros are all one tape. Unique Souls are each their own tape; does that make sense?” Threnody shook her head slowly.

“Uh.. okay,” Vegas said. He thought for a moment, then tried again. “Every Earth is like a TV show and all the Zeros are actors. Everything is scripted out from the moment an Earth is created. Which Zeros are going to be born, when, what they’re going to do, how the world is going to end; the whole show is planned out. You with me?” he asked. Threnody nodded and kept munching away.

“The Zeros are acting the show out in realtime, but you and other Muertes can look at the whole thing. You can focus on any moment you want, past, present or future. Now, this is where it gets tricky; Uniques aren’t part of the script. We’re like random people wandering in off the street and messing with the actors. Anything you do to mess up the script is permanent.” Threnody’s eyes widened and she stopped chewing.

“I can’t fix it?” Vegas nodded.

“That’s the sticking point. You’re the only one that can. Pretend you draw a big picture of a pretty unicorn…,” Threnody’s eyes sparkled again and she resumed chewing. “…on the side of a building, then leave that Earth. Then, another Muerte comes along and sees the picture. They like it so much they decide to rewind time to see who drew it. They’ll never find out; as they rewind it’ll be there one second, then gone the next. If they try to fast forward it’ll reappear, but they’ll never see you doing it. If you hurt someone, you’re the only one that can rewind time to before they were hurt and not hurt them.”

“But why can’t other Muertes rewind time before they were hurt?” Threnody asked. A touch of sadness showed in her eyes, but Vegas guessed it was because she finished the candy.

“They can. But they can’t stop the injury from happening again when time returns to normal. Even if you’re not there, the injury is part of the script from that moment on. Like the Earth is a show, you are your own show, each Unique Soul is. Ours isn’t planned out though, we get to make up our own script. And you’re the only one that can change your script. Does that make sense? Did you learn something?” Vegas asked.

Threnody’s eyes narrowed for a moment while she processed the information, then they opened wide with realization.

“YES!” she squealed. Vegas felt the tingle of time moving around him; rewinding he guessed. He glanced around the kitchen to check for differences, then he saw Threnody with a freshly unwrapped chocolate bar in her hands. “I learned I can EAT THIS AGAIN!”

Pizza Planning

[OT] Sunday Free Write

“Thanks for the food, Mr. Martin,” Dread smiled at Jenny’s father after he took their order. Dread, Dirge, Jenny, and Torque sat in a green in a red booth together. The short, round man smiled at the group.

“Having you girls here will be great for business. Once you start winning games that is,” he chuckled.

“Daaadd! It was our first game!” Jenny whined, but she smiled and tried to kick her father’s shin from her seat. Her foot did not reach but the older man responded by sticking his tongue out at her.

“Pizza on the way,” he said, then walked away toward the kitchen. Jenny’s attention turned to her friends.

“I gave Bailey some info about the next team,” she explained. “She asked me to give you guys a breakdown because she’s busy.”

“This team should be easier than the Magi-Knights, they’re ranked pretty low,” Jenny said. She smiled, “They’re a guild on the Teddy-Bear Server named Clown Patrol.”  Dirge giggled.

“Sounds easy,” Torque said and laughed with Dirge. Jenny pulled out her node and motioned for the other girls to do the same. She brought up a picture on her node.

“Easier than our last game, definitely. But don’t underestimate them,” Jenny said. She sent a picture to the other three nodes. It showed a lanky clown with golden-yellow curls of hair at his temples. The top of his head was white and bald. He wore a red clown suit with over-sized yellow, floppy shoes.” The captain’s name is Laughtrack. He’s human, but he’s a bard, so he has a Unicorn soul. Next is WaterJet,” she said. The picture changed to a female clown carrying a white-lace parasol. Blue painted water drops resembled tears on her white face. “Mermaid elementalist with a water elemental soul. Torque, watch yourself with her.”

“No problem,” Torque smiled and gave Jenny a thumbs up. The picture changed to a tall, fat, mountain of a man. He wore a stained apron over his round gut, and a white hairnet wrapped around his rainbow afro.

“Cookie. Human chef with a Human soul. He can buff and debuff using his pies, so watch out.” The girls nodded while giggling. The picture changed again. “SlimeMime,” Jenny named the lean, athletic woman in classic mime makeup. “Human monk with a slime soul. Those guys are all pretty easy. We should take them out as fast as we can to focus on the main threats.” the picture changed again. This time it showed twin clowns wearing suspenders and cowboy hats standing back to back.

“Soggy,” Jenny highlighted the clown in a green cowboy hat. “Human rodeo clown with a slime soul. And Bull,” she highlighted the clown in a red cowboy hat. “human rodeo clown with a minotaur soul. They’re agility tanks, so they’ll be hard to hit. Focus on everyone else then we can take them out one at a time,” Jenny said. The girls nodded. Jenny was about to say more, but her father appeared at the table with a large pizza. Jenny waited for him to head back into the kitchen before she continued. The rest of the girls grabbed slices onto their plates.

“I talked to Ms. Sharp about getting another member,” she said when each girl had a mouth full of pizza. “The Magi-Knights have six, and the Clown Patrol have six. It makes sense to have someone on the bench. Having four people on the track for most of the early game last time slowed us down.” Torque swallowed her bite and looked at Jenny with sad eyes.

“Sorry,” she apologized again. She apologized several times since the game. Jenny shook her head and smiled.

“We already covered it. You made a good call. It’s just not how Ms. Sharp wants things run, apparently,” she said with a shrug.

“So what’d she say?” Dread asked, then took another bite.

“Bailey’s already looking at candidates. I suggested a healer, but who knows if she’ll listen,” Jenny commented.

“Do we know what Uniques they are?” Dirge asked. Jenny shook her head.

“They’re ranked so low that people don’t care. All I know is Laughtrack is #28, La Sandía. But I don’t know how that helps him in game,” Jenny said.

“Wait. When did you talk to Ms. Sharp?” Dread asked. She worried about Jenny going alone.

“At the beginning of the week. We talked about how the game played out and why we lost.”

“Was she mad?” Dirge asked sheepishly.

“It didn’t seem like it. But she did say she hoped we’d do better in the future.”

“You girls want anything else?” Mr. Martin appeared beside the table to ask.

“We’re good,” Jenny answered for the group. “Thanks, dad.” The man nodded and retreated to the kitchen.

“Your dad’s cool,” Dread said.

“Thanks,” Jenny smiled. “What about all your parents?” she asked.

“OH!” Dirge overflowed with excitement. “You totally need to meet my parents next time! You too, Torque,” she offered.

“Thanks. Uh, my home life is complicated right now,” Torque stared at the table. “Not in a hurry to show off the parents,” she said.

“Ballisea killed my parents,” Dread said. “Dirge’s parents adopted me, they’re really cool too.”

“Who’s Ballisea?” Jenny asked.

“How do you know Flutter and not Ballisea?” Dread looked surprised. Jenny shrugged.

“Flutter’s popular in game. Ballisea can’t be that great. Why? Do they know each other?” Dread nodded.

“Ballisea is Flutter’s boss. She’s way stronger than Flutter.”

“She sounds awesome.” Jenny smiled.


“Penalty: Friendly Fire. Luchadoras, Torque,” the scoreboard announced in a deep male voice. All other skaters kept moving forward on the dirt road. Rook and Gremlin, two of the magi-knights, skated around Jenny as she stood up and dusted herself off.

“You okay, Jen?”  Dread asked over voice chat, but Dirge interrupted before Jenny could respond.

“What the hell was that??” Dirge yelled, obviously at Torque.

“Sorry, I-” Torque began to apologize, but Bailey interrupted her.

“Focus on the match. Jenny’s fine. Torque, get to the bench and wait out your penalty. We’ll deal with ‘why’ later,” Bailey settled the situation for them. The fire in Torque’s hair went out as she walked off the track towards the bench. As she sat down Bailey added one last reprimand.

“Ms. Sharp expects us to act like a team. If it happens again you’re out. Clear?” Bailey asked. On the track, Jenny was up and skating again. Rook and Gremlin were close to completing their second lap ahead of Jenny.

“Won’t happen again,” Torque replied.

“When you’re back in work with Dirge to keep their paladin busy. She’s easy to handle early on but if she gets too many laps she’ll be unstoppable.” Rook completed her second lap and proved Bailey’s point. A swarm of nanos formed a golden shield on the paladin’s left arm.

Gremlin, the short metal girl crossed the starting line next. Instead of continuing forward, she skated off the track to her team’s bench to tag in their sixth member. An athletic girl with green hair stepped on the track behind the starting line, then crossed it. A long, flowing, black leather coat formed around her.

“LongArm. Cardmage,” the scoreboard announced her name and class when she joined the match. Eight green floating octahedrons collected behind her in a single file line as she skated. She laughed as one of the octahedrons behind her exploded in a shower of green sparks.

“Zone: Camelot,” the scoreboard announced. A thin white line extended from the starting line around the track to connect with itself. It ran down the middle of the track dividing the dirt road in two. The inner half of the track transformed to dark grey stone. The cairns along the inside were replaced with stone battlements three feet high. The skaters on each team drifted into their team’s zone as they skated. Jenny, Dirge, Dread, and Bailey moved to the outside to skate in the fairy graveyard. Rook, Infernal, Thumper, Grace, and LongArm skated in Camelot. An eighth green octahedron coalesced behind LongArm as she skated. Then it burst into sparks again.

“Magi-Knights Card: Bounty. Target: Luchadoras, Dirge,” the scoreboard announced LongArm’s play.

“No way! How’d she play another card?” Dirge complained to her team. She slowed down to let Dread catch up to her. At the starting line, a swarm of nanos rose from the track and formed armored knight atop a white armored horse. It immediately charged forward.

“#21 La Mano,” Jenny replied. “Her Unique ability lets her bring one of her cards into play in addition to her starting draw. She can play it any time.

“How do we stop it?” Dread asked. She reached Dirge and matched her pace with the curly haired girl.

“Torque. New plan. Once you’re in go for the cardmage. Dirge can worry about herself and Dread will stall the paladin.” Bailey gave them new orders.

“Good luck,” Dread waved at Dirge and sped up again to catch up to the Paladin. Dread completed her second lap and a full-grown golden tiger formed next to her. She pointed at the paladin and the tiger ran forward toward the heavily armored woman.

Infernal, the red-skinned demon, completed his second lap at the same time as Dirge. He raised a flaming hand in the air.

“Blazing Rain,” the scoreboard announced. Molten drops of lava began falling over the entire length of the track, but the spell only damaged the Luchadoras.

“Ow,ow,ow,ow,” Dirge complained as the burning rain pelted her skin.

“Dirge!” Dread yelled into voice chat.


“It’s RAINING,” she said.


“Unique #05: El Paraguas. Shield Variant,” the scoreboard announced the moment of Dirge’s realization. Clear bubbles formed around her teammates to protect them from the fiery rain.

“Thanks!” she chirped.

“Torque, get ready,” Jenny said as she approached the starting line. “I’ll take your penalty so you can take out their cardmage. I need a few more laps until I’m useful, but we need her out now.”

“Bailey?” Torque seemed unsure.

“Do it,” Bailey said.

“Thanks!” Torque jumped up ready for action. Jenny crossed the line and skated off the track to the bench. Torque stepped on the track behind the starting line and , it. Her twin afro-puffs ignited again. She aimed a finger gun at the green-haired girl wearing a black trench coat.

“Star Shot,” the scoreboard said. A small, bright orange spark shot from Torque’s finger when she squeezed an imaginary trigger.

“Team Bulwark,” Rook’s shield disintegrated into gold nanos that swarmed around LongArm. She started to move faster without it and managed to keep ahead of Dread’s tiger. The swarm condensed into a golden shield behind the girl to protect her. Torque’s shot bounced off harmlessly and the shield disintegrated again.

“Nice bait!” Bailey encouraged Torque.

“I know, right?” she replied. Her voice carried a full smile. The rest of the girls laughed.

“Flame Snipe. Target: Magi-Knights, LongArm.” Torque positioned her arms as if she were looking down the sight on an invisible rifle. She pulled the trigger and a fireball shot from her extended hand. On her head, the flame of one of her afro-puffs died out.

The fireball flew straight at LongArm and slammed into her back. The impact caused enough of an explosion to shove LongArm forward off balance. She tumbled forward on the dark stone ground. The mounted knight dissipated into nanos and disappeared.

“Point: Luchadoras,” the scoreboard announced. Then it followed up with another play. “Holy Aura.”

Thumper, the young boy in a white and red robe, flew over the starting line to start his third lap. A rainbow unicorn horn sprouted from the top of his forehead. All the Magi-Knights on the track began to glow with golden light.

“We might be in trouble,” Bailey told the team.

Fluttering Leaves

“Dread, how accurate is your roar?” Bailey, the team captain, asked.

“Any leaf on a tree,” Dread smiled at Bailey and hope she would demand proof.

“Show me,” she said. A green, hovering octahedron appeared behind Bailey. “Log in.” Dread held her node up and said her password.

“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” she screamed at the flat, clear rectangle in her hand until it glowed with purple light. She inserted it into a dock on her belt buckle, then a bright flash of light enveloped her body. After the light faded, Dread stood tall in her AlterNet outfit.

Black leather pants, and a black leather jacket with a purple and gold yin-yang sparkling on her back. A tiger in the gold section stalked the shark that was sneaking up behind it in the purple section. A golden skull decorated the front of her pitch black motorcycle helmet. Bailey nodded, and the octahedron exploded in a shower of green sparks.

“Zone: Fairy Forest,” a floating scoreboard announced from the center of the track. The smooth white track transformed into a grey cobblestone path. Grass and Trees sprouted out and upward along the sides of the track, but still within the boundaries. Bailey pointed at a tall, thick oak tree oak tree that grew next to the starting line.

“Torque, pick a leaf,” she said over her shoulder.

Torque skated forward and aimed at the tree with her hand using a ‘finger-gun’ gesture.

“Star Shot,” the scoreboard announced Torque’s move when she squeezed the ‘trigger’ of her finger. A tiny orange spark flew from Torque’s finger into the tree. Dread looked up and saw a single leaf with a star burned through the center of it; the edges of the design smoldered.

[Do it better! -Dirge] Dread chuckled when she felt Dirge’s Whisper in her ear.

[Going to. -Dread] She replied. Dread turned to face the tree head-on. Bailey made a point of staying next to the tree while Dirge, Jenny, and Torque took several steps back. Dread stared at the smoking leaf, inhaled deeply, then yelled at the tree.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” The leaves jumped off their branches and scattered through the air. The force of her scream caused a mini-whirlwind against the track boundaries. The leaves that went out of bounds disappeared, while a large portion of the rest landed on Bailey. She stared at Dread while brushing leaves off her shoulders.

“Accurate must mean something different in your universe,” Bailey said. Dread pointed at the, now crooked, tree. Bailey looked up. The marked leaf was the only one left on the barren tree. “Huh. Nevermind, you’re great.”

[Yeah you are! -Jny] Jenny sent a Whisper. Dread’s only reply was a thumbs up gesture to the girl with black spiky hair.

“Okay. New plan. Let’s work on basics. Jenny, teach Dread how to use macros, all that yelling is gonna get old really fast. Dirge, you can do black portals, right?” Dirge mimicked Dread and replied to Bailey with a thumbs up gesture.

“Great, pair off with Torque and teach her how. So far she can only do nano-assisted portals,” Bailey said. She held up the three nodes she grabbed from Jenny earlier, “I’m going to go look at these. That’s all you’re working on for practice today; you have the field until sundown. We’ll keep in touch during the week to discuss strategy. I expect all of you to practice between now and next week’s game.” Bailey nodded at the four girls then turned to walk away.

“That’s it? That’s your idea of practice?” Dirge asked. Bailey stopped and turned to face her.

“You guys missed a solid chunk by going to see Ms. Sharp. I stayed behind and worked with Torque. Now I have to leave, and it’s your turn to stay behind,” Bailey said. She looked at the rest of the girls. “Everyone on this team has enough autonomy to act like adults. If you don’t like how I run the team then show me you can do it better.” The girls remained quiet. Bailey nodded and turned around to leave.

“What’re macros?” Dread asked Jenny when Bailey was far enough away. Jenny turned to look at the derby track. Once Bailey left it reverted back to a smooth white surface.

“We’ll take this end, and you and Torque take that end,” Jenny said to Dirge. “It’ll be kind of crowded, but we can make it work.”

“Too crowded. Dirge, take Torque to our track,” Dread said. Dirge nodded, then made a gesture with her hand in the air. A black portal opened next to Dirge and she invited Torque to step through. Once they both went through the portal disappeared.

“You guys have your own track?” Jenny asked. Dread nodded.

“Pretty much,” Dread replied.

“Awesome, okay. Now we have a ton more room.” Jenny reached into her pocket and pulled out several nodes. She sorted through them while talking to Dread. “Macros are system shortcuts that let you use your abilities faster and easier,” she chuckled. “I guess Bailey doesn’t want you screaming all the time.” Jenny found the node she was looking for and shoved the rest back into her pocket. “Once you’ve got macros set up you can use your scream just by speaking certain words.”

“What words?” Dread asked. Jenny shrugged.

“Any you want. Personally, I like to use the ability name. It’s easier that way. For your roar, it’d be Tiger’s Roar.” Dread nodded and smiled at the shorter girl.

“I like it.”

“Great,” I’ve got just the thing to practice with. She threw the node onto the track, then a swarm of golden nanos appeared and began flying around it. The cyclone of nanos coalesced into a tall, imposing, pale woman with bright red hair. The woman looked at Dread and smiled.

“Flutter!” Dread jumped in front of Jenny and yelled over her shoulder. “RUN!”

Team Benefits

Sunday Free Write [Link to post.]

“Congratulations girls, you’re a team,” Melody said. Ms. Sharp’s dark-haired assistant approached the five girls carrying a white briefcase. She handed the case to Bailey, then she turned to Jenny. “Ms. Sharp would like to meet with you Monday afternoon,” she said, then she looked up to the rest. “Everyone else, be here early next Saturday. That’s it for today.” Melody nodded at Bailey, then walked away.

“Before we break, I’ve got to give you these,” Bailey said. She cocked her head and hefted the briefcase to get the girls to follow her. She walked to the edge of the stage then rested the broadside of the briefcase on it. She opened it, reached in, then turned around. She held five thin, translucent-purple glass bangles.

“Sorry, I didn’t get your name,” Bailey said to the girl with a pair of black afro-puffs atop her head.

“Torque,” she said. Bailey nodded then handed her a bracelet. She handed the rest out, one to each girl, before slipping her wrist into the last one.

[Party: Test. -Bailey]  Dread felt the Whisper tickle her ear drum.

[Party: Check. -Dread] She replied.

[Party: HI! -Dirge]

[Party: I’m here. -Torque]

[Party: Hey. -Jny] Once all the girls checked in Bailey seemed satisfied.

“Keep these on you at all times. We can Whisper to each other even if we’re not in the AlterNet, and no matter what universe we’re in. Be here at 6:30 Saturday morning,” she lifted her hand up to show off the bangle. “These also work as a timer to keep you sync’d up to this Earth. That’s it for today, you’re free to go.” Bailey turned to gather the white briefcase.

“Hey, you guys hungry?” Jenny asked the group.

“Yes,” Dread was the first to answer.

“Starving.” Dirge added.

“I could eat,” Torque said.

“Pizza? My treat. Actually, my parents run a pizza shop. So, I guess it’s their treat,” Jenny corrected herself.

“Please,” Dread said. Dirge and Torque agreed to the invite, but Bailey was walking away.

“You’re invited too, Bailey!” Jenny half-shouted at the girl. She shook her head and kept walking away.

[Party: No thanks. Busy. -Bailey] She replied in a Whisper without turning around.

“Rude,” Dirge commented under her breath, but Dread elbowed her in the side to quiet her.

“C’mon, follow me for pizza,” Jenny smiled at the three girls left and headed off the field. Jenny led them to the downtown area, only a few blocks away from the derby stadium.

“Hey,” Jenny said. The group walked in silence for the first leg of the trip until she broke the silence. She looked at Dread.

“Thanks for sticking up for me,” then she smiled at Dirge. “You too.” Both girls smiled at her.

“What’d I miss?” Torque asked.

“I’m a Zero. Everyone else was trying to give me a hard time about it, but they,” she gestured at Dirge and Dread, “didn’t.”

“Oh! You’re the Zero. Sorry, I don’t hate Zeroes, I just wanted to give the right answer,” she apologized. Jenny nodded.

“We’re cool,” she said. Jenny turned a corner, and the girls followed. Moments after turning, a high pitched shriek filled the air.

“OHMYGOD!!” Dirge squealed. Jenny and Torque turned to see what happened. Dirge jumped in place clapping her hands, and Dread wore a giant smile.

“What’s going on?” Jenny asked. Dread pointed at a building behind Jenny. She turned and found a red brick Chinese restaurant with a red neon sign that read: “Donna Chang’s”.

“What about it?” Jenny asked.

“It’s the best Chinese food ever. Let’s go there!” Dirge said. Jenny shook her head.

“Can’t. No money, but pizza’s free,” she said. Dread hooked Jenny’s arm in her hand and pulled her towards Donna Chang’s.

“It’ll be free too,” Dirge said.

“Uhh. me too?” Torque asked. She was not sure if they were only offering to cover Jenny’s meal, but Dirge nodded.

“Totally. C’mon!”

The girls reached the entrance and pushed the heavy glass door inward. A tinny bell over the door announced them as customers. A short, elderly Asian woman walked out of the kitchen and smiled at Dirge.

“Threnody!” she walked straight to the shirt girl and gave her a hug. Then the woman smiled at Dread and nodded. “Dread. It’s good to see you girls again.”

“This is Jenny,” Dirge pointed at the girl with black spikey hair. “And that’s Torque. We’re gonna hang out here a lot, okay?”  The woman smiled and nodded her head.

“Of course, your friends are always welcome here,” she said. “Sit,” she gestured at a large red booth with a wooden table in the center of it. “Order when ready,” Mrs. Chang said, then she left the girls alone.

“Free pizza and free Chinese food? This is the best team ever,” Torque joked. The girls giggled. Torque and Jenny each grabbed a menu to browse, but Jenny noticed Dirge and Dread did not grab theirs.

“Hey this place hasn’t been here very long, and I’ve never seen you two. How are you regulars here?” She asked.

“Mrs. Chang is a Unique and she takes her restaurant with her whenever she goes to a new universe,” Dread explained.

“Oh wow, I never thought of that,” Jenny said.  After browsing their menus for a few minutes Torque and Jenny let Dirge know they were ready to order.

“You guys want to see something cool?” Dirge asked. They nodded. Dirge leaned in toward the center of the table and waved them closer as if she was going to reveal a secret. Jenny and Torque leaned in and turned their heads slightly to listen.

“Takeru.” Dirge said. Her whisper was nearly inaudible to them.

“Yes, Ms. Threnody?” a deep voice sounded from behind her. Torque and Jenny jumped in their seats at the sudden sound. They looked up to see a large, tall man in a cook’s outfit. Various dragon tattoos in different colors decorated both of his arms.

“Sesame chicken for me, and orange beef for Dread,” she said. Then Dirge gestured at Jenny and Torque for their orders.

“Broccoli Beef,” Torque said.

“Sweet & Sour chicken,” Jenny ordered. The burly man nodded.

“Yes, Ms. Threnody.” Takeru nodded and walked away.

“Is he a Unique too?” Torque asked. Dirge shook her head.

“No, he’s just a dragon.”

Zero Chance

“Thank you all for coming out today,” A woman with short black hair spoke from a wooden stage in the middle of a stadium. Dirge and Dread stood at the back of the gathered crowd. “Quite a few of you showed up, so we’ll be moving fast. Although before we get started, Ms. Sharp would like to say a few words,” the woman said. She stepped aside and a woman dressed in all white approached the microphone.

“I have four slots available. I hope you’re ready to impress me,” the woman said. Then she walked to a chair on the stage and sat down to wait. The first woman stepped forward again.

“Please log in and join Bailey’s raid group.” She pointed to someone at the front of the crowd and a raised arm appeared. A girl wearing a forest green hoodie, with the hood down, and long brown hair hopped onto the stage next to the woman. “Bailey is team captain, and the reason we only have four slots,” the woman explained.

“They’ve only got two left,” Dirge said. “Right?” She nudged her elbow into Dread’s side. The taller girl nodded.

“Right,” she said.

“The first phase of try-outs will be follow-the-leader. Once we get you down to a manageable number we’ll move on to proper games,” the woman said from the stage. A red light flashed somewhere towards the front of the crowd.

“Do we need to log out and log in again?” Dirge looked at Dread with a confused look. “I don’t know how to join the raid group,” she confessed. Dread shook her head.

“Nah, I already joined us,” Dread said. “You should’ve played the tutorial,” she smiled.

“I think they’re starting,” Dirge pointed at the stage. A black and green naga wearing a long leather tunic climbed on the side of the stage. It slithered to the microphone and pointed a finger towards Dread.

[What did you do? -Dirge] The Whisper from Dirge tickled Dread’s inner ear.

“Uniques only, right? Can we toss that Zero out?” the naga asked before Dread could defend herself. The crowd murmured as they looked at each other, then at Dread to pinpoint the Zero. Dirge looked behind Dread. She saw a girl about her height with spiky black hair that matched Dread’s white spikes.

[She’s behind you. -Dirge] she informed Dread. Dirge gave the girl a quick smile then and faced forward again. She shrugged at the crowd in front of them.

“Who?” the dark haired woman asked into the microphone.

“Behind that Calavera in the red shirt,” the naga said. Dread straightened her back to stand taller.

“Hi, what’s your name?” the woman asked Dread from the stage.


“Dread, could you step aside please?”

[Don’t do it! -Dirge]

[Not going to. -Dread] She replied to Dirge’s Whisper with one of her own.

“I’m right here!” Dread heard the girl yell from behind her. The girl stepped out from behind Dread, and the crowd parted. Everyone except Dirge and Dread took several steps away from the Zero to make sure that she could be seen.

“Why are you here, Zero?” Ms. Sharp addressed the girl from the stage.

“Because I’m good enough,” the girl said.

[I like her. -Dirge] Dread gave a slight chuckle.

[Me too. -Dread]

“Go home, Zero. You’re embarrassing yourself,” the naga shouted from the stage. Dread looked at the Zero, but she continued to face the stage with no sign of turning away.

“Do you have a problem with Zeros?” Ms. Sharp’s voice sounded quieter. She turned to face the naga, and the microphone only caught part of her voice.

“Nonono, not at all. Sorry, Ms. Sharp,” the naga put her hands up in front of her and backed away slightly.

“You think you’re good enough to keep up with Uniques?” Ms. Sharp’s voice sounded full again as she spoke into the mic, directly at the Zero. The girl nodded.

“I know I am.”

“Let’s find out,” Ms. Sharp said. “Get on the track. Right now.” The girl walked forward. The other applicants shuffled together to close the path behind her. “Bailey? Try her out,” Ms. Sharp said on the stage, then she walked back to her seat. She turned it around to face the track behind the stage. The first woman took the mic again.

“Knock-down contest. Three to win,” she said.

“Let’s go!” Dirge ran around the back of the group towards the track, but all the other Uniques seemed interested too. The crowd flowed to line the side of the white circular track. Dread pushed her way to a spot near the starting line and Dirge managed to follow in her wake. Once comfortable with her spot Dread checked the track. She noticed the Zero logged in already. She wore a blue bodysuit, and her spiky hair glowed with blue light.

The black scoreboard in the center of the track buzzed to start the match. Bailey shot forward as soon as the buzzer sounded, but the Zero was slow to move from the starting line. She pushed hard to catch up to Bailey but seemed to be struggling.

“She can’t even keep up,” a girl next to Dread said. Several Uniques laughed and Dread turned to stare down at the girl who spoke.

“It just started,” Dread said. She glared at the girl then looked at the track again.

[What if she can’t? -Dirge] Dread’s eardrum vibrated.

[She wouldn’t be here. – Dread] She replied to Dirge. It was not long before Bailey completed her first lap. Eight green octahedrons formed a line behind Bailey when she crossed the line. They hovered in the air behind her like ducklings.

“What a loser!” Someone else in the crowd said. A group of Uniques began to boo the Zero. Dread almost turned around to shut them up, but Bailey played her first card. Dread did not want to miss any part of the match.

“Zone: Fairy Forest,” the scoreboard announced Bailey’s play in a deep male voice. The smooth white surface of the track transformed into a bumpy cobblestone path. Several Uniques stepped back as trees and lush green grass shot out of the track along the edges.

The Zero skated towards the finish line but rolled to a stop inches in front of it. The blue glow faded from her hair.

“The Zero’s giving up!” Dread recognized the naga’s croaky voice. Laughter erupted around them, but Dread stared at the Zero.

“Betcha she’s not!” Dirge yelled backward at the crowd. They continued to laugh.

[She’s totally not. -Dirge] Dread smiled when she felt Dirge’s Whisper.

Home Track

Sunday Free Write

“Let’s see how you did,” Jelly_Jim stood in front of the Dirge and Dread, the sun glistened through his green translucent body. Once the girls returned from their first task he took them to the derby track for a quick test. “Let’s see your beast,” he asked Dread. The tall white-haired girl nodded and stepped forward. She took a deep breath and summoned Thunder without using her menu. A golden tiger leapt out of the yin-yang symbol on the back of her leather jacket and padded around to the stand between her and Jelly_Jim. The slime man nodded at her.

“Nice. How ‘bout you?” He looked at Dirge. The shorter girl with raven curls nodded and held her hand out. A silver bell with a black strap materialized in her hand. He gave her an approving nod, then looked at both girls.

“Now I can train you. A million Cubes each,” he said with a smile.

“What?” Dread asked.

“You didn’t mention that!” Dirge added as she stamped her foot in anger. Jelly_Jim’s viscous shoulders flowed upward in a shrug.

“It didn’t matter because you weren’t ready. I gave you some advice, but I didn’t think you’d survive from the Schoolyard,” he said. “I’ll admit it, you’re better than I thought.” Dirge and Dread high fived each other, but the gelatinous man shook his head. His body wobbled. “But, still not good enough to train for free.”  Dirge smirked. She brought her hand up to show Jelly-Jim a red and white poker chip, then she flipped it at him with her thumb. Jelly-Jim snatched the token out of the air and inspected it. His eyes widened.

“How’d you get this?” His hand swallowed the token into his translucent body and it flowed up his arm, then it disappeared when it reached his torso.

“You just agreed to train us, right?” Dread asked. His head wobbled when he shook it back and forth.

“I agreed to take a closer look at you. Maybe you’ll be worth training for free. Where’d you get the chip?” He asked again.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dirge chirped with a smile.Jelly_Jim gave a lopsided grin.

“That’s fair. Okay, no hustles this time. You two against me in a straight knockdown contest. Sound good?” Both girls nodded in agreement.

“Excellent, don’t hold back.” A translucent square menu coalesced in the air in front of them to present the game invite.

“Challenge from Jelly_Jim: Knockdown Contest.”

[Ready? -Dirge] Dread felt the Whisper tickle her inner ear.

[Yeah. -Dread] She replied. Dread clenched her fists. Dirge still held the bell in her right hand, and she reached out to accept the invite with her left. She touched the display to accept the invite, and it began to disintegrate into nanos. Before it completely disappeared Dirge shouted at Jelly_Jim to distract him.

“HEY!” A small, flat silver blade shot from her mouth and embedded itself inside Jelly_Jim’s see-through body. Dirge rang her bell and the silver spike began to glow inside him with golden light.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Dread yelled the blade with her Tiger’s Roar ability. Jelly_Jim doubled over to hold his stomach. He groaned for a split second before he exploded.

“Winners: Dirge and Dread,” A deep voice announced from the scoreboard. Dirge and Dread gave each other another high five while green slime rained down on them. Green slugs crawled their way back to the the bottom half of his slime body lay. They melded into one mass and formed Jelly_Jim again. He smiled at them.

“I really underestimated you, that was brilliant,” he said.

“So you’ll teach us?” Dirge asked. Jelly_Jim shook his head again.

“I specialize in teaching Uniques to use their powers in the game. You’ve got that down. Looks to me like you just don’t know how to play the game,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to teach you.”

“You could teach us to play?” Dread asked.

“The game is too complicated. The best way to learn is practice, go play some games,” he said. “I’ll let you use this track any time you want,” he held his hand up and produced the red and white poker chip again. “Consider this a rental fee.” It disappeared into his hand again. “But playing against other Uniques is the only way you’re going to get better.” Dirge looked at Dread.

“Try-outs?” she asked. She pulled the flyer out to remind Dread. The taller girl nodded.

“Yeah, Sounds fun,” Dread smiled. She glanced around the smooth white track. “And we’ve got a home track to practice on.”

Vegas’ Friends

Sunday Free Write [Link to post.] 8-26-18

Dread froze at the sight of Ballisea in Vegas’ house. Her heart pounded in her chest and she clenched her fists waiting for someone to make a move. Ballisea focused her gaze on Vegas, the corners of her mouth stretched upward.

“Sammy! It’s so wonderful to see you again,” Ballisea said, then she cast an eye at Lauren. “…and one of you.” Vegas stepped in front of Lauren and stared up at the tall pale woman.

“She’s the same one, Balli. What do you want?” Ballisea’s smile straightened out and she moved to Vegas’ couch and sat down crossing one leg over the other. Dread felt everyone else in the room relax and she un-clenched her fist.

“I just wanted to give the little Calavera,” Ballisea winked at Dread. “A reminder. I’ve got your frequency now. I can show up anywhere you are. Any time. I didn’t expect to hit the jackpot.” The horned woman chuckled to herself.

“Honey,” Vegas said aloud without taking his eyes off Ballisea. “Take Threnny an’ Dread into the kitchen for a bit, alright?”

“C’mon girls, help me get dinner started,” Lauren said calmly. She disappeared into the kitchen without another word. Dread caught Dirge’s eye unsure what to do, but the curly haired girl nodded and slipped into the swinging door behind Lauren. Dread followed.

“We need to get Regal,” Dirge said. She was about to step into a portal that she just opened.

“It’s fine,” Lauren said. She began putting away the groceries that Dread left on the counter. “She won’t hurt him. And she won’t hurt me as long as he’s around.” Dirge sat down at the small round table. Dread noticed she looked worried and confused.

“Everyone’s always told me to run from Ballisea! Why is she just sitting in your living room!?”  She shouted at Lauren. The woman wrapped her arms around the seated girl.

“Listen. Keep running away from her. No matter how civil she might seem, that woman can slip into ‘kill’ mode in the blink of an eye.” The woman sat at the table and motioned for Dread to join them at the table, then she continued talking once Dread sat down.

“Remember what Vegas told you about Ballisea looking for her Zero?” Lauren asked. Both girls nodded. “She won’t hurt Vegas or me, because we have what she’s looking for. I’m the Zero he loves as much as she loved hers.” She sat up straighter and tried to repress her smile. “She taught Vegas how to use his powers, but she kept him imprisoned because he wouldn’t be with her. His luck keeps his frequency from her, but every now and then she’ll find us,” Lauren looked around the kitchen, then shook her head. “We’re not going to move this time.”

“Sorry,” Dirge apologized and stared down; she picked at a frayed edge of a red and white checkered placemat. Lauren reached for Dirge’s hand to console her.

“You better not even think of staying away to…,” Lauren flashed a grin and used air-quotes. “…’keep your uncle safe’. She already knows where we live, and she won’t hurt him. We’re as safe as can be.” She gave Dirge her most reassuring smile. The kitchen door swung open behind Lauren and the girls smiled when they saw Vegas stepping into the kitchen. Lauren turned in her seat.

“She’s gone. I got her to promise to use the door from now on,” Vegas shrugged. “It’s a start.” Lauren stood from her seat and Vegas sat down on it to let her sit down again on his lap.

“Already?” Dread asked. It surprised her how easily Ballisea left. Vegas nodded.

“She has other things to do, she just wanted to intimidate you. But don’t let her. She can show up anywhere any time, but she almost never does. Enough about her though,” Vegas turned to Dirge and smiled. “So, how you, gonna try to catch your carrot?” he asked. Lauren’s eyes lit up.

“You found your carrot!?” she smiled. Dirge nodded while her pale cheeks grew red. “That’s great news. Forget cooking, we’re going out.”

“Can we go to Donna Chang’s?” Dread asked louder than she intended to. She fell in love with the food the first, and only, time she visited it with Vegas and Dirge. Her hopes fell when she saw Lauren shaking her head.

“Sorry. She moved again, but we haven’t found her yet.” Lauren looked at Dirge. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. I’m just so excited for you.” She leaned over and gave Dirge another hug without leaving Vegas’ lap. “Like he asked, how are you going to catch it?”  Dirge shrugged.

“I don’t know. I was so excited that I figured it out, I came straight here,” the girl said.

“Well, what’s your carrot?” Lauren asked.

“I met a Zero that I wanted to be friends with, but Ballisea killed her. So I decided I want to meet as many of her Zeroes as I could and make friends with them,” Dirge explained her goal to Lauren, and the woman nodded.

“You met her in the AlterNet, right?” Lauren asked. It was Dirge’s turn to nod in response. “You need to get out there and play more to meet more people. It’s more fun with Dread now, right? The game isn’t meant to be soloed like you did when you were younger.” Dirge listened to the advice, but her mind seemed focused on something else. After a second Dirge reached into the pocket of her dress, pulled out a folded piece of paper then handed it to Lauren. After the woman read it she handed it to Vegas but smiled at Dirge.

“That’s definitely a great place to start,” Lauren said. After Vegas finished reading the sheet he handed it back to Dirge then added his own comment.

“If you girls are going to run Derby, I’ll introduce you to the best Derby coach I know in the AlterNet, his character name is Jelly_Jim,” Vegas said. “He’s a Borracho too.”

Rewarding Visit

[OT] Sunday Free Write (8-19-18)

“That’s a great goal. You don’t have a lot of experience with Zeroes, so let me give you a piece of advice,” Vegas said. He stepped to the side and gestured the girls towards the house. Dirge took the hint and headed towards the door. Dread followed. Vegas fell in step alongside them and kept talking.

“No matter how many of her you meet, you’ll never meet the same Glory again.” The reached the screen door and Vegas opened it to let the girls in. The group walked into Vegas’ living room and Vegas sat down on a brown leather loveseat across from a matching couch. Dirge and Dread sat on the couch and continued to listen. “A lot of Uniques think that every Zero is like its other copies, but each one is unique in its own way. If you’re looking to meet her again, just give up now. You won’t,” Vegas said. He wore a serious look that Dirge recognized as his “Listen to what I’m telling you.” face. She did not see it often so she made sure to listen when he had that look.

“How do you know?” Dread asked. “There’s infinite universes out there, right?” Vegas nodded.

“Yep, there are. But, Ballisea’s out there too…” Vegas started to explain, but Dread interrupted him.

“We met her, and we totally survived,” Dread puffed her chest out, and deliberately chose to leave out the fact that Ballisea let them live on purpose. Vegas chuckled.

“Well of course you did, she won’t kill Uniques ‘less they get under her skin. It’s Zeroes she goes through like popcorn. I wanna know what went down, but first lemme finish what I was sayin’,” Vegas said.

“I mentioned Ballisea was out there. Not as a warning, but because she’s still out there killing Zeroes. She kills every Zero she sees, hoping to spawn her husband again.” He explained. A noise distracted them. Dirge and Dread looked towards the entrance to see Lauren, Vegas’ wife, coming into the house.

“Hey girls! How’s it going?” she asked, excited to see the teenagers. “Staying for dinner?” she lifted a pair of shopping bags to indicate there was plenty. Dread stood from the couch and grabbed the shopping bags from Lauren without a word. “Thanks, Dread!” With her hands-free, she walked to the loveseat and sat next to Vegas. Dread came back from the kitchen, and Dirge looked at her for an answer. She nodded her head.

“Yeah, we’d love to stay, thanks!” Dirge said. Dread sat next to Dirge.

“You’re just in time, babe,” Vegas said. “The girls were gonna tell me about their run-in with Ballisea.”

“And Flutter!” Dread added. She stood from the couch and reached into her pocket to pull out Flutter’s golden scale. She held it up proudly for Vegas and Lauren to see.

“Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle,” Vegas said and stood from the loveseat. As a habit Dirge replied.

“Oooh oooh aah,” she giggled. Vegas and Lauren joined in, but it was the first time Dread had seen the interaction. “Cause he’s my uncle,” Dirge explained in a whisper to Dread while Vegas disappeared to the kitchen.

“Oh. okay,” Dread said. Vegas returned with a large, long, golden box.

“Bring that scale over here, let’s try something.” Vegas set the box on the table with a heavy drop. Dread walked over with the scale, Dirge and Lauren also moved closer to watch.

“What is it?” Dread asked.

“Well,” Vegas said with a grin aimed at Dread. “If that’s really Flutter’s scale you got there, then you can consider this a reward. This used to belong to Flutter,” Vegas pointed at a small black circle on the top of the box. “And only she can open it. But that scale should do the trick.” Dread stepped forward and pressed the scale against the black circle. It blinked a flashing green light, made a beeping sound, then the top of the box unlatched.

“Congratulations. Now thank your lucky stars that Flutter isn’t known for holding grudges.” Vegas opened the box. Inside a long sword with a wide green blade and a golden handle rested in a green silk-lined recess.

“Whoa…are you sure I can have it?” Dread asked. “Wait, what do you mean she doesn’t hold grudges? How do you know that?” Dread pulled the sword out while she waited for Vegas’ response. It felt heavier in her hand than her axe in the AlterNet. She gave it a couple of test swings and decided she liked her axe better.

“Flutter’s as gentle as a kitten, everyone knows that. That’s why I’ve been telling you to run if you see either of them. They won’t chase you,” Dread gave Dirge a side-glance when Vegas said that, because Ballisea seemed to take a special interest in them. Dirge giggled. “And if you get out of their way they won’t bother you.”

“If Flutter’s so gentle why’s she evil and killing Zeroes with Ballisea?” Dirge asked.

“She doesn’t have a choice,” Vegas looked at Dread. “You especially need to listen to this. Calaveras are as tough as they are because they’re meant to be guardians. Calaveras can form a link with a Celestial Unique that makes them both stronger, but that link is kinda like an open door between their minds. They’ve been linked for so long, and Ballisea is so powerful that she can pretty much run Flutter’s mind if she wants to. Luckily for everyone she doesn’t want to very often. The point is, Flutter will do anything Ballisea really wants her to do, and she’ll think it’s her own idea to do it. You can’t reason with her, can’t fight back against that kind of mind control. It’s best to stay out of their way,” Vegas said. Then he nodded at the sword in Dread’s hand. “But if you run into them, there’s nothing else that’ll hurt Ballisea as much as that sword.” Dread lifted the sword and examined it with newfound awe. She discovered nearly invisible intricate golden lines etched into the sparkling green blade.

“Is it enchanted?” Dread asked. Vegas laughed.

“Nah, nothing like that. Ballisea’s really petty and takes a lot of things personally. She hates that sword.”

“Yes I do,” Ballisea’s voice said from a corner of the room. Everyone turned to see her stepping out of a black portal into Vegas’ house.

Glorious Purpose

Sunday Free Write [Link to post.] (8-12-18)


“Hey,” Dread called Dirge’s attention. The two girls were on their way out of the Schoolyard to Jelly-Jim’s place. “Glory seemed cool.” She wanted to console Dirge but did not know enough about her or Glory to do it effectively. The shorter girl with raven curls nodded silently as they walked through the public square. After they passed through the crowded hub Dirge turned right instead of the left turn Dread expected.


“Did you get lost or is it me? I thought Jelly_Jim’s was that way,” Dread pointed down a stone road to their left.


“Do you remember Glory promoting me to Quartermaster before she died?” Dirge asked. Dread nodded. “She asked me to do something for and I need to get something from her shop to do it.”


“Okay.” Dread nodded and let Dirge lead the way. They walked a few more steps in silence before either of them spoke again.


“She was the first Zero I thought I could be friends with,” Dirge said quietly. “Ballisea said your mom was a Zero, right?”


“Yeah,” Dread nodded. “After I found Ballisea’s orbs, I hoped I’d find my way back home again. Even if I did, it would be to see my dad. My mom wouldn’t have lived that long.” Dirge stopped walking in front of a shop and walked into it. Dread tried to follow her, but any time she tried to cross the threshold nanos formed a barrier to stop her.


“Hey,” she called Dirge. The curly haired girl turned around in the shop surprised to see Dread still outside.


“OH! Sorry, the shop’s still closed,” Dirge said. She brought up a translucent square in front of her and swiped through it a few times. “Okay, try it now,” she said. Dread reach a hand up and pushed it past the door, then the rest of her body stepped inside the shop.


“So she gave you the shop?” Dread asked. She glanced around at all the instruments hanging from the walls and decorating the display table.


“Nah. I don’t have time to run it anyway. But she did ask me to find someone to give it to.” Dirge walked around the sales counter and crouched out of sight to search the lower shelf.


“Whoa. How’re you going to pick?” Dread asked. Dirge rose from behind the counter with a Node in her hand.


“With this!” Dirge inserted the Node into a slot on the sales counter. The surface of the counter vibrated slightly and then changed from sturdy wood to near-invisible smooth glass. Small-print text appeared in rows on the glassy surface. The text stretched from one edge of the counter to the other, and top to bottom. Dread realized the text was a long list of names.


“Is that her friend’s list?” Dread asked, but Dirge smiled and shook her head. She placed a hand on the counter and swiped to her left. The display moved, all the rows of names disappeared to the left while more came in from the right. Dirge swiped it again several times.


“It’s her Zeroes. The Alternet lets Zeroes form a group chat with themselves and she kept their info on this Node.”


“You have to give the shop to one of them? That looks easy, there’re thousands to choose from. We can do that before we go back to Jelly_Jim if you want,” Dread offered, but Dirge shook her head again, still smiling brightly.


“No way, I’m gonna take my time and do it right for her.” Dirge sounded excited. “But, we do need to make a stop before we go back to Jelly_Jim.” Dread shrugged.


“Okay, where to?” Dread asked, but Dirge was already half-way through a pitch black portal. Realizing she wouldn’t get an answer Dread followed her into the dark. She recognized the quaint house waiting for her on the other side.


“UNCLE VEGAS!” Dirge cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled toward the house. After a few seconds a short man with a blue mohawk opened the front door, then the screen door.


“Hey shortcake, why all the fuss?” Dirge dashed from the yard to run up the steps, then she leaped towards Vegas to wrap her arms around him.


“I FOUND MY CARROT!” she yelled while squeezing him. The attack hug caught him by surprise, but he settled into it quickly and returned the hug. They danced back and forth in joy while Dread approached up the steps.


“No foolin’?  That’s great!” Vegas smiled at the girl.


“When did you find a carrot?” Dread asked. She did not know what to make of the sudden joy, but she wanted to know why Dirge was so happy. Dirge shook her head.


“Not A carrot. MY carrot. It’s something Vegas taught me, and he made me promise I’d tell him when I found it,” Dirge explained.  Dread shrugged and looked at Vegas. He held up a finger to get her to wait, then he stepped inside the house. He returned after several seconds holding a small wooden rod, string, and a carrot. He held the stick up horizontally and the carrot fell partway until it pulled the string taut.


“A carrot on a stick is used to keep animals moving forward.” He held the rod above his head to dangle the carrot in front of his face, then he walked forward trying to bite it. “They’ll never reach it, but they don’t know that. A carrot is something that gets you moving, without worrying about the outcome. My daddy told me that if I found my carrot I’d have a life goal to work towards,” Vegas explained, then he lowered the stick. Dread looked back at Dirge.


“I don’t get it.”


“Might be easier to explain it with an example,” Vegas said. He also turned his attention to Dirge. “You came all this way, what’s your carrot?” Dirge pulled Glory’s Node from her pocket. She held it up to show Dread and smiled at her.


“I want to meet Glory and be friends with her. As many as I can.”