Gift of Death

“So why don’t you have an AlterNet character?” WaterJet asked Billy.  The pair wandered through a crowded bazaar. Humans, goblins, trolls, mermaids, centaurs and more manned various stalls to sell their goods. The white-faced clown with bright blue tears painted under her eyes was there to help him make sense of the hustle and bustle.

“Not interested,” he said with a shrug. She stepped in front of him with wide eyes.

“Not interested?? Do you know how strong you’d be?” She bit her bottom, baby-blue lip as if debating something; but, she decided quickly. “I heard about what you did to LaughTrack…,” she paused to wait for a reaction. None came. “You’re already the most powerful Muerte I’ve ever seen; the AlterNet can ramp that up even more!” Again, Billy shrugged.

“If I ever need to be stronger, I’ll consider it,” he smiled at her; the first time she’d ever seen him smile at all. “Like you said, I’m already the most powerful Muerte.”  WaterJet rolled her eyes.

“That I’ve ever seen, I said.” WaterJet turned around and continued to guide Billy through the crowd.

“Besides,” Billy continued. “I don’t know a thing about it, that’s why you’re here. Thank you again, by the way.” She nodded.

“No sweat, I’m glad to get out of the diner for a bit. The way they all worship LaughTrack is annoying. I just wanted to join a fun guild but lately, they’re more like a cult. Anyway, here we are,” she stopped and pointed at a colorful wooden sign that stood next to a pink tent. It read: “Lasting Laughs”.  “This is the best crafter I know.”

“I’m the best crafter on this server!” a small, high-pitched squeak replied; he sounded offended. A tiny person, no taller than a foot, hovered in front of them to protect his honor. He wore overalls and a small leather apron. His insect wings fluttered like a rainbow blur and rainbow specs of pixie dust rained under him.

“Billy this is Beau.”  Billy nodded.

“Have any #22’s available? Speed variant,” he asked the pixie.

“Whoa!” WaterJet grabbed Billy’s arm. “Excuse us a second, Beau.” She pulled Billy several steps away from under the pink awning. “Do you know how expensive speed boots are?!” she asked. Billy shrugged. He was about to say something but she interrupted him.

“No, you don’t, because you don’t play in the AlterNet. I brought some of the guild’s funds since you’re getting equipment for LaughTrack, but I don’t have enough for those.”

“I appreciate the concern,” Billy replied with a hand on her shoulder. “And, thanks for the help; but, I’ve got the nanos to cove it. Don’t worry.”

“Where’d you get nanos from?”

“I do taxi jobs on the side.”

“Oh. Okay. Then nevermind.” They returned to the stall; the pixie had a single brown leather boot waiting on the counter for them.

“Still interested?” Beau asked. Billy nodded. “Anything else?”

“What about you?” Billy nudged WaterJet with his elbow.

“No thanks, I’m good.”

“It’s on me,” Billy added. “If you need any gear upgrades now’s the time.”

“No, I couldn’t. Thanks though.” She shook her head.

“She comes here a lot, right?” Billy asked Beau. The pixie nodded. “Is there anything she has her eye on?”

“No there isn’t,” WaterJet shook her head. Beau answered by falling down below the counter. After several seconds he floated back up carrying an ornate blue ceramic pitcher.

“#44 will make her water attacks hit a lot harder. She always spends a few minutes pining over it whenever she visits. Now, I just keep it under the counter for her.”

“I’ll take both of them.”

“50 million,” Beau replied.

“I know you don’t have 50 million just from running taxi,” WaterJet turned to Billy ready to pitch in her guild funds. She watched him produce a golden, apple-sized cube on his palm and place it on the counter.

“I never said it was just from that,” Billy said, then winked at her.

Sweet Deal

A tall, black hole opened at street level in the air in front of the towering concrete building. A brown-haired teenage girl stepped out of the black hole. As she crossed the portal’s threshold she changed into a pale, pointy-eared elf with flaming orange hair. Chainmail armor and an elegant ruby rapier sheathed on her hip replaced her jeans and t-shirt.  A red-haired teenager stepped out of the portal behind her. Her skin became pink and her red hair transitioned to a bright sea-green color. Her outfit became a leather tunic and leather leggings. The Elf looked up at the 10-story hotel.

“Remind me to thank Fizzle if this works,” she said. She looked up at the hotel’s sign that said “Steves Hotel”. “Looks like the right place.” Before either of them moved toward the door a black portal opened next to them. A lanky young man wearing a navy business suit stepped out onto the sidewalk. He noted the girls next to him, then ignored them to walk to the Hotel’s door.

“You won’t get in!” Llina, the elf, called after him.  The man reached the door and pulled on it without acknowledging the warning. After tugging on it three times he turned around and faced the girls.

“Why not?” he asked.

“It’s a guild hall,” Llina shrugged. “You can’t get in unless you’re part of the guild or invited. Do you have an AlterNet character?” The suited-man sighed and shook his head.

“More childish games. Between the AlterNet and the Scavenger Hunt you kids are starting to get annoying,” he complained.

“You’re doing the Scavenger hunt too?” Serena, the pink-skinned girl, asked. “I’m Serena #06, La Sirena.” The suited man glared at her and sighed.

“I’m Billy, #14, La Muerte,” he shook his head. “Don’t!” He pointed at Llina. The elf looked like she was about to introduce herself too. “I don’t care who you are. I’m leaving to find El Cantarito somewhere else.” He wiggled his fingers at the air and opened a black portal in front of him. “I don’t have time to play games,” he said as he stepped into the blackness and disappeared. A second after he disappeared the hotel door opened. A burly bald man with a thick black beard looked out the door.

“Who seeks to enter the Council of Steves?”

“Hey!” Llina and Serena ran up the steps to stand in front of the bald man. He held the door open all the way but stood up straight blocking the entrance.

“Remember us?” The elf waved her hand at the air to call on her menu slate. A translucent sheet of glass, that only she could see, formed in front of her. She touched it and her elf facade faded away. The elf became a brown-haired girl again and she smiled at the bald man. “I taxi’d you once, but Ballisea was already there.” He smiled and nodded.

“I remember. What can I do for you? I hope you’re not here to join the Council of Steves; it’s only open to our Zeros.” Llina shook her head, then pressed the button to become the elf again.

“We heard we could get #44 here,” she said. The doorman nodded.

“We do have some spares, but I can’t just give one away. Do you have anything to trade?”

“You really have spares?” Serena asked while Llina searched through her grey denim backpack. The bald man nodded.

“We have some very high-level crafters in the guild,” he replied.

“Whoaa,” Serena grinned in awe. Llina finished rummaging through her backpack and pulled out a small red bag of candy with a rainbow on it.

“This better work,” she mumbled to Serena then turned to face the man at the door.

“I heard you Steves like candy from different universes. Try some Skittles.” She tossed the bag to the doorman and he caught it. He tore open the bag without hesitation and put a handful of color into his mouth. His eyes lit up once he started chewing and he eagerly nodded at the girls. He stood aside and gestured for them to come in, his mouth was too occupied to talk.  He escorted them to the lobby’s front desk and gestured for them to ‘wait there’. Then he walked away while still struggling with the chewy candy.

He disappeared around a corner, but a noise from behind the desk drew the girls’ attention. A thin, sickly version of the bulky bearded man stepped out of a door behind the desk and eyed the girls. He carried a small, thick black case and placed it on the counter in front of the girls.

“Your candy is worthy; The Council of Steves awards you #44 El Cantarito.” There was an intense beeping. “Sorry,” the sickly Steve apologized while frantically pressing more buttons. After several loud moments, the beeping stopped, and Steve relaxed. “Wrong combination.” He opened the case and turned it toward the girls. An elegant, pink-glass carafe rested in the velvet lined interior. The number 44 was frosted on on side of the carafe. “Do you know how it works?” Both girls shook their heads. Steve lifted the carafe out of its case and smiled.

“The case is just for presentation,” he slammed the neck of the carafe down on the edge of the front desk, but nothing happened. “It’s pretty tough so don’t worry about breaking it.” He set it on the desk then disappeared through the door again. Before it finished closing he stepped out of the small office with a cup of tea. He poured a few drops of water into the carafe, then he swallowed what remained in the cup. He grabbed the carafe and flipped it over. Amber tea gushed out into the cup refilling it with more tea than he started with. After the demonstration, he set the carafe down and Llina noted that it looked full of tea.

“It’ll pour out anything you put in,” he paused and smiled. “Infinitely.”

“Are we stuck with tea now?” Serena asked. Steve shook his head.

“It’ll change if you put something else in it. If you want to clear it for traveling,” he lifted the carafe to his lips and blew into it. “Just blow it out.” He flipped the carafe over again but nothing poured out. It looked empty once he set it back down on the counter.

“Awesome! Thanks!” Llina grabbed the carafe and packed it in its case. “What’s the combination?”

“Can’t tell you,” Steve said. He grabbed the case and pulled the carafe out again. “We’re giving you El Cantarito, not the case.”

“Oh, okay.” Llina smiled. Well, thanks again!” She wiggled her fingers at the air to open a black portal while Serena grabbed the carafe. “See you around!” Both girls stepped into the portal and disappeared.