Dungeons & Exposition

“A whole month? With you?” Dread asked Jenny. She sounded eager for a moment, then corrected her statement. “..and Astrid?” she glanced at the short girl next to them. The three girls stood on an endless amber plain underneath a dim purple sky.

“The window’s open for 30 days,” Jenny shook her head. The stiff black peaks that made up her hair wobbled with the motion. “But, we don’t need to stay for the whole month. Ms. Sharp wants to add dungeon matches to the tournament since she’s restarting it anyway. The dungeon server opening up has some good starter ruins to get used to the differences.”

“What kind of differences?” Astrid asked. Then, she let out a small giggle and shrugged. “Though, I haven’t played a real derby match yet either. It’s all new to me,” she shrugged. Jenny nodded.

“In a derby match, relative power levels stay consistent for the players and any monsters on the track. In a dungeon Match, every time you level up, it’s like descending a dungeon. Random monsters will start spawning instead of only player summoned ones. Then, the monsters start getting tougher as you get deeper. But they also start dropping better gear that makes the players stronger too.”

“So we get stronger too?” Dread asked. “Won’t that cancel out the stronger monsters?” Jenny shook her head.

“The other team gets stronger too, right?” Astrid asked.

“The big rule for derby is: ‘It isn’t a race.’,” Jenny replied. “Dungeon matches kind of are. If one team levels up faster they make stronger monsters and have better gear. The other team will have trouble keeping up with everything against them; we don’t want to be that team.”

“Should I have picked a faster class?” Astrid asked.

“Nah,” Jenny shook her head with a giggle. “Stop asking, you already picked Swordmage. You can’t change your class, so for the last time,” she said with mild exasperation. “It’s not about what role you fill, it’s about having fun.”

Astrid nodded, her tight black curls bounced. She caught Jenny’s mild annoyance. It bruised her feelings a bit, but Astrid knew her new friend meant well. And, she knew that she’d probably asked Jenny what class would best help the team one too many times during character creation.

“I can’t wait,” Dread said. “We going now?”

“What about the rest of the team?” Astrid asked. Jenny shrugged.

“Bailey has a ton of dungeon matches under her belt already; she doesn’t need the practice. Britt’s always working, but Dirge can probably use some dungeon time.”

“Oh, no. She’s busy,” Dread said quickly. “Uhh.. I think she wants to hang out with Vegas more. I think we should go just you and me. And Astrid,” Dread added.

“Actually, Astrid reminded me of something,” Jenny said. “It’s best to take a full team so we can talk about synergies too. We’ve got 30 days, and I’ve already reached out to some of the other guilds about practicing at the Schoolyard. We’ll try to plan it for a day when we get at least one full team together, two would be great.”

“Oh. So, what now?” Astrid asked.

“We can still do some training,” Dread said. “I mean, I have time. If you want to?” She looked at Jenny first, then she turned to Astrid. “Unless you have to leave?”

“I apologize girls,” a woman’s ethereal voice echoed around them. “Playtime’s over, this one has chores,”

“Chores?” Astrid looked up at the purple sky in confusion. Then, she sank into a black portal that appeared underneath her feet. It disappeared after swallowing her. Jenny shook her head in awe.

“You know…,” Jenny said. “I understand Ballisea can do that anytime from anywhere. But seeing it happen is going to take some getting used to. Can she hear us too?”

“Yeah,” Dread nodded with a more serious expression than she wore moments before. The truth was, she didn’t know if Ballisea could hear them across universes until the moment Astrid disappeared. But, Ballisea spoke something to her only. A faint whisper emanating from within her ear canal; a microscopic black portal that carried Ballisea’s voice.

“Little Calavera,” Ballisea giggled in Dread’s ear. “You would do well to heed my advice. If you wish to spend time alone with that one, ask her. For now, I will grant you this trivial favor of removing Astrid.”

Sharp Reset

“Your performance in your first few games was…,” Dana Sharp paused mid-pace to look at the group of five girls. Bailey, Jenny, Dirge, Dread, and Britt were seated in Dana Sharp’s office. Each one looked sullen from Dana’s lecture so far. She circled them while informing them about her decision to cancel the Pineapple Cup, and start from the beginning again. Dana searched her mind for the most gentle word she could. “…lacking. It wasn’t the only reason for my decision to scrap the first tournament; but, it was on the list of reasons. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s not even a negative.” Dana Sharp walked to her desk and sat behind it.

“Between us in this room, I know you could have improved enough as a team during the tournament to win. However, from a business perspective, there was an opportunity here to exploit. The representatives of Earth: Pineapple respect the fact that my company is willing to take a loss to accommodate a family emergency.” Ms. Sharp took a moment to nod at Bailey. She sat in the center of the group. Her chestnut ponytail was currently covered by her green hoodie; she pulled it up early into the lecture.

“How’s your dad doing, Bailey?” Ms. Sharp asked.

“Better,” Bailey gave the woman a firm nod. “Thank you, Ms. Sharp.”

“I get to buy you girls more time to practice, and it leaves a positive impression on my clients. This was my decision, girls.” The girls all seemed to relax when they realized Ms. Sharp wasn’t angry at them.

“Here’s what we’re going to do going forward. Jenny…,” Dana nodded at a girl with black spiky hair to Bailey’s right. “…you’re still the captain. Bailey’s father is still recovering, and I want her to be able to miss a day of practice if she needs to. Along those lines, we still need a sixth team member. The trouble is, you’ve become a team already. The window to assign you a sixth member myself has already closed.”

“Again, this is a great opportunity to learn something. Sharp Development acquired a dungeon finder app on one of our Earths called ‘Delver’. We’ve scaled it up to the AlterNet and rebranded it as ‘DRBY’. Dana Sharp waved a casual, dismissive hand at the girls.

“It’s on your nodes now, try it out and find a sixth member you all agree on. And you’re able to share the app with other players to make it easier to find practice games. Get as much training in as you can before the tournament restarts,” Dana Sharp said.

“When is it?” Bailey asked.

“You’ll know with plenty of time. When I decide,” Ms. Sharp replied.

Dreadful Aura

Erin froze in his tracks the moment he focused his Sight on the teenager. He was thankful he didn’t call out to her as he approached to congratulate her on her win. She was too busy basking in the cheers of the crowd around her to notice him standing on the field staring at her.

Erin shook his head to dismiss his Sight and recollect his thoughts. He decided not to approach her right away; she was unlike anything he’d ever seen before. She was tall and athletic with spiked, white hair. And, she was now officially the strongest person on Earth.

One day, a year ago, humans spontaneously developed superhuman abilities. Luckily, the leaders of the world were able to come together quickly to develop a super-powered version of the Olympics. They set a date for a year in the future and opened training camps.

Unlike the training involved for professional athletes, anyone could be superhuman. The winner, Dread, wasn’t the only teenager in the competition, but they were all treated as equals. Her frightening strength wasn’t what gave Erin pause. Her aura was entirely different from every other human he saw; super-powered or not.

Every other person congratulating Dread had a soft purple glow around them. It was the same glow that informed Erin of his new ability. After some practice with it, he found out that seeing someone’s aura was the least useful trait of his ability. With his enhanced vision he could see sharper, clearer,  and farther than anyone. It was useful enough to use often, but not all the time. While approaching Dread, his Sight activated unintentionally. It was only the second time that had ever happened; the first was when humans first got their powers.

The moment he saw Dread’s aura, he knew why his ability turned on. It was scared of her. Her body was surrounded by a ghostly, brilliant, golden skull. It resembled a sugar skull with elegant purple, gold, and black patterns decorating it. The number 42 glowed on the skull’s forehead. When he shook his Sight away, the skull aura disappeared while Dread continued smiling and chatting with her new admirers. Something about the situation didn’t seem right, she seemed friendly enough despite her aura. Erin noticed the crowd around her thinning and decided to get closer before his approach became awkward.

He took three steps, then froze again. Erin’s Sight spontaneously activated again, now there were two horrifying auras. A flowing black cloak and obsidian scythe now stood next to Dread’s golden skull. Erin shook his Sight away again and spotted the difference. There was one more girl in the crowd that wasn’t there when Erin tried to approach a second time. She wasn’t as tall as Dread, but almost as pale, and she had long ribbon-like black curls flowing down over her shoulders.

Erin wasn’t surprised; teleportation was a known ability. The new girl with the death-like aura smiled and seemed as cheerful as Dread. Erin decided he was more curious than scared and decided to try approaching a third time. The celebratory crowd around Dread had died down to less than 20 by the time Erin was close enough to hear the conversation. It seemed to be perfect timing, because he was in earshot when Dread spoke up.

“You guys have been so awesome, but my ride’s here now,” Dread said. She gestured at the curly-haired girl next to her with her thumb. “But I have a question for all of you; what’s your favorite number?”

“35!” Erin shouted. He wanted to be heard over everyone else. Unfortunately, no one else answered. Over a dozen strangers turned to look at Erin with curious and amused expressions. He felt instant embarrassment, as well as surprise. He never gave it much thought and didn’t know he had a favorite number.

“Then, you’re who we’re here to see,” Dread said.

Death’s Favor

Alliane woke with a start. Her eyes flew open and stared at the darkened ceiling while she tried to listen for what was bothering her. Silence. Her husband wasn’t snoring, and the clock wasn’t ticking. She turned and glanced out the second-story window and noticed the patio light was on. She always turned it off before going to bed, and she always went to bed after Jonah,

She turned on the bed and stood up, then walked into her closet to change into something more presentable for her guest. She made her way down the stairs and into the kitchen. She stopped for a moment when she saw someone wearing a white suit. She came downstairs thinking it was her friend, but he always wore a navy-blue pinstripe suit. Luckily he turned into the light and she recognized Billy. She relaxed and continued out onto the patio.

“Jonah’s starting to think you don’t like him,” she said as she sat down on a wicker chair at the patio table. Billy chuckled and sat down across from her.

“I’m still undecided,” Billy replied with a shrug.

“So, did you stop time just to show off your new wardrobe?” Alliane nodded at his bright orange tie. “Vanilla would be proud,” she smiled.

“It was a gift from her. She wanted me to wear it when…,” Billy went quiet for a moment. “…I inherited her power. I haven’t worn it for a while, but I think I’m ready.” Alliane stood from her seat and pulled it closer to him. She sat down again putting her hand on his shoulder.

“It looks good,” she said.

“Thank you, but that’s not why I’m here. Vanilla’s soul is in me and it’s telling me something major is happening soon.” Alliane sat up straighter and gave a curt nod of encouragement. She’d seen Billy sad before but never worried like he was now.

“Are you and Jonah still doing that scavenger hunt?” he asked. She replied with a half-shrug.

“He got bored with it after we got married. Why?”

“I need to ask you a favor, and it would be easier if you had some Unique friends to help. The other team I met seemed capable, and they had AlterNet characters.”

“Oh. We love the AlterNet, what’s the favor?” She asked.

“You mentioned wanting to join a roller derby team after the honeymoon. Now that your honeymoon’s over, how about it?”

You are starting a roller derby team?” Alliane was genuinely surprised. “I thought you said Vanilla advised against you making an AlterNet character?” Billy nodded.

“She did. I’m not. You,” he pointed at her. “are starting a roller derby team with your scavenger hunt friends. And you’re going to compete in Dana Sharp’s tournament.”

“The tournament that already started weeks ago?” she asked. Billy nodded.

“It’s not something she’s going to publicize, but she scrapped the matches that happened so far. She’s resetting the brackets and has room for one more team; your team.”

“She can do that? And the other teams agreed to it?” Billy nodded.

“They all agreed the Magi-knights would have won. She gave them the original reward and invited all the teams to try again in a month. The fact that it isn’t common knowledge means none of the teams feel like they lost.”

“How do you know this? How are you guaranteeing me a spot?”

“I have a reliable contact,” he smiled. “Are you in?” Alliane’s eyes opened wide.

“You have a spy in Sharp Development!??” Billy chuckled.

“I wish; the information would be much cheaper if I did. I found a leak. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was all fed to me with Ms. Sharp’s knowledge, but the outcome is the same. I need a team in her tournament.”

“What about your clown team?” She asked. Billy shook his head.

“They’re Red’s team and he’s not known for being particularly reliable.”

“Okay, I’m in.” Alliane smiled. “I’ll put the team together for you.”  She stood from the chair and leaned over to hug his shoulders. “But can you give me a couple hours of sleep before you start time again, to make up for this little chat?”  Billy nodded.

“No problem. And, thank you.”


Regina stopped walking. She turned around and saw dozens of lights dotting the distant pier. Then, she faced forward on the bridge again; there was only darkness in front of her.

“That’s one question answered,” the teenager sighed to herself. She learned why the end of the bridge could not be seen from shore. The bridge didn’t end, it just stopped. A tall black hole hovered directly in front of Regina; it swallowed the bridge. “But now I’ve got another question.” She eyed the dark portal, then spun in place to make sure she was alone.

Satisfied that she was, Regina concentrated on the hole; her eyes scanned it. Text filled the corner of her vision.

[Stable Portal. Connected to: AlterNet Server – Cyber City.] [Earth Template: Advanced Technology, Full AlterNet integration.] [Governing Guild: CyberRiot owns and operates Cyber City.]

“Whaaaaat?” she whispered the question to herself. Regina could not decide if she was more confused by the readings or by the fact that she somehow got that information. It meant someone took the time to catalog whatever was on the other side of that portal. It sounded safe, and with a name like Cyber City, it sounded more than inviting.

Regina did not have to debate the decision for very long; it was already half made when she decided to find the end of the bridge. It was why she had a backpack of parts and supplies. She was ready to leave, and she wanted to leave.

The 14 years she’d live until that point confused her and she wanted to leave it all behind. Regina could ask for, and get, anything she wanted, from anyone. She loved it at first until she realized everyone was afraid of her. Not all of her, just the metal parts.

With the decision made, Regina walked forward and stepped into the portal. The night bridge disappeared and she found herself standing in a vast desert with the sun shining overhead. Before she could get her bearings, she heard a woman’s voice.

“Welcome to the AlterNet!” Regina whirled around to find the source; she found a dust-devil forming itself into the shape of a pitch black mannequin. “Please wait here. A Registrar has been dispatched to this location to process you.”

“Process me? Process me how?” Regina asked.

“All cyborgs that wish to reside in Cyber City must be processed. If you do not wish to make Cyber City your home server, you may depart,” the mannequin said and pointed at the black portal behind Regina.

“Does it hurt?” she asked.

“That depends on how accomodating you are,” a man’s voice said. Regina turned to see a tall, lean man with metal arms and legs. When she faced him; the stranger’s jaw dropped.  Her platinum hair shined in the sun, her chrome eyes blazed like fire.

“I don’t believe it…,” he said. It was little more than a whisper, but her enhanced ears heard him. “What’s your favorite number?” he asked.

“47,” she shouted back.

“My name’s Roger,” the man said. He walked forward with a friendly hand extended.

“Regina,” she accepted the handshake once he was close enough.

“Well, Regina. Tell me, what’re your feelings on Roller Derby?” Roger asked. “I’ve got a team you’d be perfect for.”

Sharp Wager

“Roller derby?” The president of the United States asked. A chorus of chuckles filled the U.N. hall. “Ms. Sharp,” the wrinkled, fair-skinned, silver-haired president continued. “With all due respect, that is not how we do things in this universe. The suggestion itself is such a foreign thought. It’s almost impossible for me and I’m sure most, if not all, U.N. representatives to fathom the thought. So much so, that I find myself obligated to ask. Did you honestly expect world leaders to bet our Earth on a roller derby game?”

“A tournament, but yes,” Ms. Sharp glanced around the room slowly, looking at each member in the eyes. “As with any deal, of course, the devil is in the details. The bet itself is just for show; it’s an easy way to convince your citizens they’re all in the same boat.” Ms. Sharp paused and gave the delegates a smile. “The reason I expect you to bet is that you have nothing to lose; but, everything to gain.”

“Nothing to lose?” The president asked. “So why bet the Earth if the bet’s not important?” Ms. Sharp’s smile disappeared, and she let out a nearly imperceptible sigh.

“So, you are only half-listening? As I explained, moments ago, it’s a tactic to unite the citizens of this Earth. But yes, you have nothing to lose. I currently own 15 Earths; each one of them is independent and flourishing under my guidance. I don’t force anything on them that their society doesn’t want. It’s an entire planet. Ask yourself, do you think anyone can enforce that kind of claim?” Ms. Sharp paused and glanced around the room again; almost every member gave a subtle shake of the head. “The tournament will be hosted here, but broadcast to all 15 of my Earths as well as several hundred more.”

“Why roller derby?” Another delegate asked.

“It’s more advanced than the version of roller derby you have on this Earth. Our version is closer to what your Earth calls MMORPGs. Each team is made up of four to six members, and each member has their own class. Things like Knights, Rangers, Wizards and so on.”

“A video game?” the president asked.

“Not to the skaters,” Ms. Sharp smiled. “We virtually simulate all spells and abilities in real time using nano-technology on the track. It makes quite the spectacle.”

Handy Exposition

“The first thing you should do is get a tattoo,” Justice said between bites of food. She sat in Donna Chang’s restaurant enjoying a meal with her friend, Andrea, and Andrea’s parents.

“A tattoo??” Andrea’s mother asked while shaking her head. “You’re only 14. You’re not getting a tattoo,” she told her daughter. The woman’s plate sat in front of her untouched. She and her husband both ordered despite disliking Chinese food. Arnold, Andrea’s father, did pick at his food but it only reminded him that he wasn’t a fan. Justice shrugged and continued talking to Andrea.

“It doesn’t have to be a tattoo, and it doesn’t need to be big or anything,” she said while ignoring the adults. “You just need the number 21 on your skin somewhere,” the pink-haired girl cast a glance at Andrea’s mom. “Permanently,” she said while looking the woman in the eyes, then she turned back to her friend. “Brand, tattoo, whatever as long as it leaves a scar.

“You’re not going to join a team that requires you to ruin your beautiful skin,” Martha told her daughter. “If you want to join roller derby that badly we can find you another team.”

“BRITT!” Justice yelled toward the kitchen door. A dark-skinned girl with twin afro-puffs on her head emerged through the swinging door and headed for the table.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Two big favors?” Justice asked. Britt nodded with a smile.

“Favor one; I want to take Andrea to make an AlterNet character,” she cast her eyes at Andrea’s parents to clue Britt in. “The nanos can awaken her. Favor two; can you please explain Uniques to them? You can prove it better than I can.”

“No sweat, it’s pretty slow right now anyway,” Britt replied. She wiggled her fingers at the air and opened a tall, black portal next to the table. Then she handed Justice a small, pitch black business card.

“Thanks! Let’s go,” She tapped Andrea on the shoulder then dashed through the portal. Andrea followed without giving her parents time to object, then the portal disappeared. Britt sat down in front of the straight-laced, wide-eyed parents.

“What just happened?” Martha asked.

“Where did they go?” Arnold asked at almost the same time.

“Your daughter is special,” Britt said.

“We know and we’d like her back,” Martha said.

“They’ll come back when they’re done, it shouldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes. In the meantime, I’ll tell you about your Unique daughter.”

“What do you know about our daughter?” Martha asked.

“Where did they go?” Arnold asked again. He seemed more curious than concerned for his daughter. Britt was glad at least one of Andrea’s parents seemed to trust Justice. She decided she’d rather speak to him than the mother and turned her attention to Arnold.

“Think of roller derby like a video game; they went to make Andrea’s character.”

“Oh. Nice,” Arnold replied with a large smile.

“Your daughter is something called a Unique Soul. She’s the only her in all the universes.”

“Of course she is,” Martha said with a stern voice.

“… so there are other universes?” Arnold asked? Britt nodded; both to agree with him and to congratulate herself for making the right decision. He was definitely the one to talk to.

“There’s an infinite number of alternate Earths; with thousands of other versions of you,” Britt pointed at Arnold. “And her,” She tilted her head toward Martha but did not take her eyes off Arnold.

“I wonder if all of your versions are this rude,” Martha said aloud.

“I’m Unique too. There’s only one of me,” she grinned. “So, yeah,” she nodded at the woman then turned back to Arnold. “When a Unique is born, they’re referred to as ‘Slumbering’ until they awaken their powers; that’s done by getting their number on their skin. Then they’re ‘Awakened’.

“She better not come back with a tattoo!” Martha said sharply. “I heard that wolf girl say she would ‘awaken’ Andrea.”

Justice won’t leave a visible mark on your daughter,” Britt stressed her friend’s name.

“What kind of powers?” Arnold asked.

“Each Unique type has different abilities. Your daughter, #21, can pull anything she thinks about from another universe.” Britt lifted her hand off the table and held it with the palm facing upward; it began to glow blue. Arnold leaned back as he felt a heat current flow out from her hand; as if he just opened an oven. “I’m #35. I can channel plasma from a star.” The glow dissipated and Britt dropped her hand to the table.

“What does this have to do with roller derby?” Arnold asked.

“Most of the competitors are Uniques because we can use our powers in the game.”

“What about the wolf gi-,” Martha interrupted herself when Britt turned and glared at her with brilliant golden stars around her pupils. “What Unique is Justice?” she corrected herself quickly.

“She’s a Zero. That’s what we call…,” Britt pointed at both parents. “…non-Uniques. She has other powers though; besides the werewolf thing.” As Britt explained a small, vertical, dinner-plate sized portal appeared on top of their table. A black cat with a red skull-like pattern on its head walked out of the portal and sat on the table. It looked around the table then settled on Britt. The portal closed behind it.

“Where’s Justice?” the cat asked with a soft, feminine voice.

“She’s making a character for her friend on the Kingdom server,” Britt replied. “Andrea wants to be on Justice’s team.” The cat swished its tail and another portal opened up next to her.

“Her team doesn’t need any more members,” the cat replied. It stood and walked toward the other portal.

“But they only have four members?” Britt asked.

“That’s all they need.” The cat disappeared into the portal, then it closed.

Team Justice

“Honey, are you sure this is the right place?” Mrs. Topps asked her daughter. The three-person family stood in front of a Chinese restaurant. A neon red sign came on as dusk fell around them; it read: “Donna Chang’s”.  “We don’t like Chinese food,” she reminded Andrea.

“You and dad don’t like it,” the teenage girl said with a visible eyeroll. “I love it. But we’re here because this is where my new friend likes to hang out.”

“Is she Chinese?” The older woman asked.

“She’s a werewolf,” Andrea replied with a shrug.

“From China?” the mother asked with a concerned tone.

“Dad?” Andrea turned around to ask her father for help. He smiled and reached up to pat his daughter on the head.

“I think your mother’s allowed to give you a hard time if you’re making up stories about werewolves, vampires, and dragons. It’s all in good fun,” he said with a smile. Andrea sighed, but she knew there was no sense arguing. She’d be able to prove she was telling the truth within the next few minutes.

“C’mon,” Andrea led her parent into the restaurant. Despite it being a Friday evening, the restaurant was mostly empty. A single teenage girl sat at a large table; she turned toward the door when the tinny bell over the door signaled new customers. She recognized Andrea and ran over to the trio with a large smile on her face.

“Hey Andy!” she said. When she reached the family the two teenagers greeted each other with a hug.

“Justice, these are my parents,” Andrea gestured at the adults behind her, then turned toward them. “Mom, dad. This is Justice.”

“Hi!” Justice shook the hands of each parent.

“Justice is a werewolf,” Andrea said. “Show them!” she grinned. Justice nodded and stood up straighter. She took several deep breaths, then grunted as if she was straining. She shut her eyes and clenched her teeth. Her head changed shape as dark black fur pushed out of her skin on her forehead. The fur continued to grow out down her face, neck and under her shirt down her arms. Her face became an elongated snout with a black nose and purple glowing eyes.

During the girl’s transformation, Martha Topps stepped next to her daughter while Arnold stepped in front of them. Within a few short moments, the fair-skinned girl was replaced by a black-furred humanoid wolf.

“What do you want?” Arnold asked; his voice trembled with fear. The fur began to recede back into the girl’s skin; her snout grew shorter.

“Orange beef,” the girl, now Justice again, said with a smile. She turned and walked back to the table. Andrea stepped around her dad and followed her friend. Mr. and Mrs. Topps stood in shock watching their daughter chat animatedly with the wolfgirl.

“Table for two?” A sudden, bright voice said behind them. Both parents jumped; Arnold jumped higher. They turned and saw a dark-skinned waitress smiling at them. Her name tag said: Britt.

“She’s a werewolf!” Arnold hissed a whisper at the waitress while pointing at Justice.

“The owner and the cook are dragons,” Britt shrugged. “That’s the kind of place this is.” Arnold looked at his daughter; she was smiling. He did not see that often around the house.

“Is she in any danger?” He asked Britt.


“My daughter,” Arnold nodded at the table with the two girls. “The one that’s not a werewolf.”

“OH! You’re Andrea’s parents? Nice to meet you!” Britt greeted them both with a handshake. She looked at the table and nodded.

“Justice is trying to get her to join roller derby. Andrea’s in danger of having too much fun.” Britt smiled and waved as she headed back to the kitchen. The couple obviously did not need her help to find a table.

“Roller derby? Oh no. I’ve seen those women on TV, they’re so violent,” Martha whispered in her husband’s ear as they walked to the table.

“Guess what!? Justice said I could try out for her roller derby team!” Andrea said as her parents sat down. Arnold nodded.

“We’ll go cheer you on,” he said. He glanced at Martha and she nodded. Both of them knew not to mention their worries to Andrea.

Star Brigade in the Lead

The sudden vibrations startled Parker into dropping the shiny oblong object. It fell into the soft grass and began emanating a golden light from its chrome-like exterior.

What the hell?” In the back of his mind, Parker feared it might explode in his face; he leaned closer anyway.

“Comin’ through!” someone shouted. Parker looked up and saw a short, pink-haired girl barreling toward him on skates unlike any he’d ever seen before. They left behind a two-foot-long visible trail of golden light. “MOOOOOOOVE!” She shouted; Parker did not. She brought her hands up to soften the impact but she still slammed into his chest. Parker was a tall, sturdy man. The unknown skater sent him staggering backward. He tried to keep his legs under him but he ended up on his behind in the soft grass. The girl, for her part, managed to stay on her feet. She crouched to grab the egg-like item but Parker noticed something behind her.

A second girl, shorter with raven curls falling down her shoulders, exited a tall, black portal and skated toward the girl that knocked him down. The second girl slowed down once the pink-haired one held the device in her hand. Another black hole opened in front of her and she skated through it and disappeared again.

“You okay?” The pink-haired girl turned her attention to Parker, but she did not make any attempt to help him up. Instead, she wiggled her fingers at the air and opened another black hole.

“What’s going on?!” Parker asked her. Once he realized she wasn’t going to help him up he got off the ground and dusted off his butt. The girl smiled.

“We’re winning!” she said with a wink. She skated into the black hole then she and it disappeared.

Handy Snack

“… and take Thumper with you,” Chef Salty said. “He never gets to go out,” The grizzly, greying cook tacked on a final instruction to the list of errands. Rook shifted on her hips and crossed her arms.

“Why am I doing this again?” she asked. The young woman made no attempt to hide the displeasure in her voice.

“Because I can’t leave my Earth and do it myself?” Rook rolled her bright yellow eyes upward.

“I know why you can’t go, idiot. I meant why am I going? You’ve got a whole guild of people waiting to serve the Violet Princess,” Rook gestured in the general direction of the barracks.

“This expensive adventure is your fault,” Chef Salty said. He pushed a finger into Rook’s shoulder. She lowered her eyes to the ground.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “How am I gonna know that she doesn’t have Lunchables on her Earth?”

“Now you know why the first rule of Violet guild is, ‘don’t talk about your Earth.'” Salty smiled. A sudden ruckus came from the kitchen entrance. Rook and Salty turned to see Thumper on the floor. The chubby nine-year-old boy scrambled to collect the silverware he spilled.

“Sorry!” he yelled without looking up. Rook ignored the boy to talk to Salty.

“Since I’ve got a tag-along, give me some extra.” Rook grinned at the old chef. “I’ll make sure he has fun.”

“Funny you should mention that…,” Salty lifted his hand for Rook. She took the hint and held her hand out with the palm facing up. “I did say this was an expensive trip.” He placed two half-inch golden, glowing cubes in Rook’s hand. “It’s your fault, so you’re expected to a majority of the expense.” Rook glared down at the two cubes, then at Salty.

“That’s it? This is barely enough to get me there! How am I going to get back?” Salty shrugged.

“This isn’t an errand the guild is asking you to run; you’re cleaning up your own mess. That means you use your own resources that we both know you have.”

“I can pay!” Thumper appeared between the two with both tiny hands full of golden cubes. Salty raised an eyebrow at Rook. She sighed.

“Save your money kid,” Rook said. She pushed the boy’s hands away, then reached into her jeans. She pulled out a pitch black business card and threw it at the wall. A black portal appeared on the wall then seconds later a pair of young women walked out of the hole.

“Taxi?” the woman with short dark hair asked. Rook nodded. “Cool,” she said then turned to face the hole in the wall. The woman dipped her hand in the hole and it began to shrink. She pulled the black into her hand like a fountain pen collects ink. When the hole disappeared she gave the black business card back to Rook. “Where to?” she asked.

“I gotta visit a grocery store on my Earth,” Rook said. She extended a hand. “I’m Rook,” The woman shook Rook’s hand.

“I’m LlinnnnaaaOO WAY! ROOK?” Llina looked around the castle’s kitchen. “This is the Magi-Knights’ guild hall?” Rook gave her a slight smile and nodded.

“CAN WE GET A PICTURE WITH YOU?!” the red-headed woman appeared beside Llina and yelled the question at Rook.

“Serena! Don’t be rude!” Llina reprimanded her friend, then turned to Rook. “But since she already asked…,” she grinned. “Can we please? OH! Your ride is totally free. Round trip.”  

“Yeah c’mon.” Rook stood up straighter and posed. First with an arm around Llina while Serena took the picture, then the girls swapped places.

“Alright, one grocery store coming up,” Llina wiggled her fingers at the air and formed a pitch black portal.

“What’re you getting on your Earth that you can’t get here?” Serena asked. Rook looked at Salty, but the old man shrugged.

“They’re not in the guild,” he said.

“Lunchables,” Rook said. “The princess has a craving,” she sighed. Llina and Serena looked at each other and communicated with nods and shrugs. Then Llina slipped her grey backpack off her back and pulled out a bright yellow box.

“These?” she handed the box to Rook. “Or are they different on your Earth?” Rook smiled at the “Ham & Swiss” label and nodded.

“This is great!” She tossed the box at Salty. “Mission accomplished,” she said.

“Oh. Does that mean you don’t have to go anywhere?” Llina asked.

“Ooooor does it mean you don’t have to be anywhere?” Serena smiled. Rook laughed and slapped Serena on the back.

“Yeah. I got nowhere to be, so where are we going?”

“MY DAD!” Llina shouted. “Sorry. He’ll kill me if he doesn’t get to meet you though, he’s a big fan.”

“Sounds good, let’s go.” Rook nodded. Llina dismissed the portal with a wave of her hand, then she wiggled her fingers to open a new one.

“He’s gonna flip!” Llina dashed into the black hole followed by Serena. Rook moved to step in, but Llina poked her head out. “Hang on a sec, he’s probably going to want to change and clean up  a bit.” Then her head disappeared into the hole again.

Another ruckus drew Rook’s attention to the door. Thumper was on the floor picking up the silverware, though this time he was facing out the doorway.

“Don’t go too far, we’re going through in a bit.” Rook said. Thumper’s head whipped around with wide eyes.

“Really??” he asked. Rook nodded.

“Yeah, kid. Looks like we got wheels now. Where do you want to go?” she asked.