“I see her,” Torque pointed at one end of the stadium with her right hand while she used her left to block her eyes from the sun. She stood on the smooth, white derby track with Jenny, Dirge, and Dread. Jenny saw Bailey coming through the gate and into the stadium. Her long, brown pony-tail bobbed as she jogged towards the girls.
“Awesome, we can get started,” Jenny said.
“Sorry I’m late, minor emergency,” Bailey apologized when she was close enough. “Did you guys run through your gear?” she asked. Torque and Jenny nodded, but Dirge and Dread shook their heads.
“I thought that’s what today was for?” Dirge said.
“No sweat, we can work on that too,” Jenny said. She smiled at Dirge. “I brought a few training scenarios we can try out on the track.” Bailey shook her head at Dirge.
“Saturdays are the only time we get the track. We can’t waste time doing tutorials,” Bailey said. She sounded stern but shrugged. “Can’t be helped, but from now on you’re expected to practice on your own time too. Clear?” She asked Dirge. Dirge pouted slightly and nodded. Her raven curls bounced as she bobbed her head. “Okay, we’ve got a match next week, so let’s make this practice count. First, I need to see what you all can do. Jenny’s the only one that actually tried out,” Bailey said. Jenny held up three nodes in her hand.
“Yeah, the scenarios I brought can,-” Jenny’s suggestion was interrupted by Bailey.
“I’ll look at the scenarios and see if we can use them at our next practice.” She grabbed the nodes from Jenny’s hand. “For now, let’s start with follow-the-leader. Log in.” Bailey stared at the girls but Torque was the only one that pulled her node out. Dread crossed her arms and stood up straighter.
“Jenny is the Captain,” Dread said.
“Yeah! Ms. Sharp said so!” Dirge added. Bailey let out a heavy sigh and brought her hand up to massage the bridge of her nose.
“I’m not going to waste practice time arguing about this. Look, it’s simple. We’re an exhibition team, right?” Dirge shrugged, but Jenny and Dread nodded. “Ms. Sharp wants publicity for the new AlterNet expansion. Anything she says in front of a camera is for the camera. I’m the team captain and Jenny is the attention grabber.”
“That’s not true!” Dirge stamped her foot in frustration. Bailey shrugged.
“She thought this might be a problem.” Bailey turned toward the nearest side of the stadium then yelled at the shadows under the mountain of seats. “JANET!” A black cat with a patch of red fur atop its head stepped out of the shadows and trotted to the group of girls. Jenny noticed the red pattern on the cat’s head resembled a skull when it stopped a few feet from Bailey. It sat and looked up at the girls.
“Kitty!” Dirge yelled, she rushed down to scoop it up.
“Please don’t,” the cat spoke with a gentle female voice.
“OW!” Dirge yelped when her head jerked back; Dread caught her by the hair to hold her back.
“Janet’s a Muerte. She’ll take you to Ms.Sharp,” Bailey turned her attention to Torque. “I’ll work with you until they get back.” Torque nodded. Janet swished her tail and a black hole tall enough for Dread to walk through formed in front of the three girls. Dread walked through first, followed by Jenny then Dirge.
On the other side of the portal, they stepped into a bright, white office. Cherry wood chairs lined a white frosted glass wall. A young woman sat at the receptionist’s desk across from the chairs. Jenny recognized her.
“Hi Melody, can we see Ms. Sharp?” she asked the assistant. She smiled and pointed at the row of chairs. “She’s with someone at the moment, have a seat.”
“Thanks!” Jenny nodded. Before any of the girls sat down a section of the glass wall behind Melody opened. A woman with shoulder length dark brown hair stepped out, followed by Ms. Sharp.
“Get some rest, Charlotte. He’s stable right now, and I have my best medics monitoring him,” Ms. Sharp rested a hand on the woman’s shoulder. The stranger brought a tissue to her eyes to dab away tears then nodded.
“Thank you, Ms. Sharp. I don’t know where we’d be without you.” The woman turned away and headed toward an elevator that Jenny hadn’t noticed. Ms. Sharp turned her attention to the three girls and smiled at Jenny.
“Come in, let’s chat,” Ms. Sharp said. The three girls stepped forward, but Ms. Sharp held up a hand. “Let’s keep it between us Zeroes,” she added. Jenny turned and winked at Dread with a smile.
“It’s cool, wait here,” she said. Dread nodded and moved to sit down. Dirge sat next to Janet. Ms. Sharp disappeared into her office, and Jenny followed.
“Can I pet you?” Dirge asked the black cat.
“No,” Janet replied and hopped to another seat to put space between her and Dirge.
Jenny stepped into the office and discovered Ms. Sharp was already seated behind a glass desk. Jenny closed the door behind her and sat in the single chair in front of Ms. Sharp’s desk.
“Is Bailey team captain?” Jenny asked the moment she sat. Ms. Sharp smiled.
“Right to the point, I like that,” she nodded. “Yes. I’m sure she told you that you’re only ‘captain’ in public.” Jenny nodded. “It’s true. I’ve already seen what she can do, but I can’t promote you to captain without seeing what you can do.”
“So, I’m just a token Zero on the team to draw the crowds?” Jenny asked. Ms. Sharp shrugged.
“Are you just a token Zero, or are you something better?” Ms. Sharp leaned forward over the desk and smiled at Jenny. “That’s your decision to make. You’re on the team because you’re good enough. However, with the upcoming expansion, I’d be stupid not to capitalize on having a Zero on the team. No matter how good you are, no one starts at the top.” Ms. Sharp leaned back and shrugged. “No one’s saying you can’t be team captain one day…” Ms. Sharp shrugged with a sharp smile. “.. but for now you have to start at the bottom like everyone else. Are you going to work your way up, or complain about not being there already?” Ms. Sharp raised her eyebrow when she asked Jenny.
“I’m gonna work,” Jenny said. She sat up straighter in her chair. Ms. Sharp smiled.
“‘Atta girl.” Ms. Sharp winked. “Bailey has the experience to run practices, and lead the team on the track. Learn from her and you’ll be the real team captain one day, I’m sure. In the meantime, don’t get caught up in titles. You’re all on the same team,” Ms. Sharp stood from her seat, then walked around the desk. “Anything else?” she asked as she moved towards the door.
“No. I guess that’s it.” Jenny said. Ms. Sharp opened the door.
“Don’t hesitate to see me if you need anything, us Zeroes have to stick together. I’ll assign Janet to be your guardian. If you ever need to see me, she’ll know where I am.” She gestured for Jenny to leave her office.
“I hope to see a great game next week,” Ms. Sharp said, then she closed the door. Dirge and Dread stood from their seats when Jenny walked out.
“Well?” Dread asked.
“Bailey’s the captain,” Jenny said. Then she smiled, “for now.” Dread shrugged.
“If you say so.” Jenny smiled at the taller girl, then looked for Janet. The black cat sat in a chair waiting patiently.
“Can you get us back to practice, please?” Jenny asked the cat. Janet swished her tail instead of an answer; a black portal opened up for them. The girls walked out of the portal on the side, and into the stadium. Bailey and Torque sat on the penalty bench by the track, seemingly taking a break. Bailey stood when she noticed the girls.
“Everyone on board now?” she asked. The three girls nodded. “Great, let’s go over our strategy for next week. We’re facing off against the MagiKnights,” Bailey began.
“No way! They’re great!” Jenny interrupted. “They’re the top guild on the Violet server.” Bailey stared at Jenny in silence for several seconds, then started speaking again.
“That being said,…” Jenny shrunk back behind Dread. “…We’re up against their ‘A Squad’. Rook, Gremlin, LongArm, Grace, Infernal and Thumper,” Bailey paused and waved Jenny forward to speak up if she knew anything.
“Uh..,” Jenny stepped forward, and Bailey nodded at her. “Rook is a Fortress Paladin, and Gremlin is an armorsmith,” she said. She paused and glanced at Bailey, but the captain encouraged her to share more.
“LongArm: Justice Cardmage, Grace: Banner Knight, Infernal: Inferno Wizard, and Thumper is a Regen Healer. They’re very team-AoE focused.” Jenny moved away from Dread so that she could address all the girls. “Thumper and Grace have Unicorn souls for the AoE buff. Infernal too, so stay alert if he casts any spells. Gremlin is a metal elemental with a fire elemental soul. It’s also worth noting she’s a Nopal. She has access to metal, fire, and water at all times. Gremlin doubles Rook’s armor every three laps, so we should focus on the Paladin. We’ve got three laps to knock him out,” Jenny said. Bailey nodded.
“Thanks. That’s more information than I had,” she smiled. “But we’re going to bring Gremlin down first. They’re not team focused, they’re Paladin focused. If we break the buff chain everyone else is cake. Thanks to Dirge and Dread, Gremlin’s an easy target.” Dread moved to say something, but Jenny grabbed her shoulder.
“Bailey’s the captain,” she reminded Dread.
“Thanks,” Bailey sounded sincere enough for Jenny to smile at her. Bailey looked at Dirge and Dread. “I’m assuming you girls know the Silver Tongue combo?” she asked. Dirge replied to Bailey with a thumbs up gesture. “Great. Dread, how accurate is your roar?” she asked Dread.
“Any leaf on a tree,” Dread smiled.
“Show me,” Bailey said.