Promotion. Gratitude.

“This doesn’t feel like a promotion,” Roe sighed to himself. He took a moment to appraise the two-story, red brick building. A red neon sign flashed “Donna Chang’s” on the second story. It did not look like it needed an ounce of work on the outside. it looked rather ancient, but still in perfect condition. But, the age of the exterior gave him plenty of worries about what horrors lay within.

It was an uneasy morning so far. Roe showed up at the work-site, but the foreman pulled him aside before he got started. His first words put a damper on Roe’s whole day.

“You’re not working here anymore,” his boss said. When Roe immediately demanded to know what he did wrong, his boss laughed; that didn’t help Roe’s mood. “Kid, you’ve gone and done everything right. In six months, you’ve learned more and worked harder than guys that have been with me for years. That’s why you’re getting this promotion and they’re not.”

“Alright,” Roe nodded. He was ready to listen now that his livelihood was intact. “What’s the job?” The foreman grinned and handed Roe a red business card. It was embossed with a golden dragon, and golden text read, “Donna Chang’s” with an address, but no phone number.

“A Chinese restaurant?” Roe asked.

“That’s just where you’ll make contact with your new foreman. She owns the restaurant.”

“How is this a promotion exactly?” Roe asked. The foreman always made him feel like he could speak his mind.

“Higher-level clientele willing to pay big bucks for discretion. Not only that, there are fringe benefits you wouldn’t believe. I’m putting a lot of trust in you by putting your name up for this,” the foreman patted Roe on the back. “Trust me, you won’t regret this.”  With that final encouragement, Roe made the drive out to the restaurant.

After a few minutes of waiting in the car staring at the building, he finally opened his door. He crossed the street and entered the restaurant. A small, tinny bell jingled when he opened the door then a short, elderly woman walked out of a swinging door at the back.

“Hello, Roe,” she said as she approached. She reached him and introduced herself with an outstretched hand. “My name is Donna Chang, and I’ll be your foreman from now on. Are you ready to work today?”  She asked with a stern voice. Roe nodded.

“Yes, Ma’am. I was already at one site before they sent me here.” She giggled lightly.

“Good good. No work for you today. I just wanted to know if you were ready.” She pulled out a card-sized rectangle of glass. “This is a node. Consider it your schedule and your pay. It functions like a credit card and a cellphone, learn to use it.”

“Credit card?” Roe asked. It seemed kind of unusual that she didn’t need his bank information. After his question, he realized his previous boss, Joe, probably sent all the paperwork. To his surprise, Donna nodded.

“You’re on retainer. No work today just means no work today. Joe didn’t mention the signing bonus?” she asked.

“One million dollars, pre-loaded,” she nodded at the node. “Get your things in order, Roe. Reliable transportation, reliable tools, and so on. Many of your jobs will be short notice.” Roe stopped paying attention at ‘pre-loaded’.

“One…one million dollars?” he asked. Donna nodded.

“Joe mentioned discretion was part of the job?” she asked. Roe nodded. “You’ll be working with Fae. Fairies, pixies, werewolves, vampires, and the like. I expect that won’t be an issue?” Roe’s eyes widened; he was surprised, but not shocked. He felt like he was suddenly given permission to believe in the things he knew were real all along.

“Alright,” Roe grinned. “I’m 100% on board. So, you seem wise,” Roe added. “Any ideas how I can thank Joe for this awesome promotion?”

Worldly Parents

“I can’t believe he slept through that,” Wanda whispered to her husband as they snuck out of their son’s bedroom.

“Why are you whispering?” Elkson asked in his normal volume. “He just slept through a tattoo, he’s not waking up any time soon.”

Partial tattoo,” Wanda replied as she followed her husband to the kitchen. Both parents burst into giggles once they were comfortably in a different room. “I  couldn’t finish it…,” she giggled madly. “… he wouldn’t wake up!”

“I thought he was dead!” Elkson wheezed with a high-pitched, red-faced laugh. There was a very real moment of fear when the loud buzz of the tattoo machine didn’t stir him. Wanda touched it to his skin, and he didn’t move. Elkson checked his pulse, checked his temperature and held a mirror to his nose. He seemed alive and well, just tired. Wanda got as far as finishing the number 37 before deciding that surprising him with a whole tattoo might be a bad idea. They expected him to wake up to be able to talk about it. The parents laughed at their son’s comatose sleep for a moment longer before they decided to start breakfast.

45 minutes later Wanda was finishing the first batch of pancakes as Elkson brought in ham steaks from the grill.

“What if he’s not like us?” Wanda asked her husband; they met at the table each dropping off their dish and stood face to face. Her onyx eyes dulled with worry. Elkson leaned forward and kissed her forehead.

“He’s 18 now. We tell him about us anyway.”

“What if he thinks I’m creepy,…” she whispered and cast her eyes downward.

“Oh please,” Elkson wrapped his arms around her. “He won’t think you’re creepy any more than he’d want to hunt me down. You’re his mom, he loves you. If we take it slow and explain everything to him he’ll come around. But, you’re sure he said 37?” he asked her. Wanda nodded. Elkson kissed her forehead again.

“Then there’s nothing to worry about. Even if he isn’t like us, it’s still his favorite number. He’ll love it.”

“Good morning!” A lean 18-year-old with bright green bedhead and              sleepy eyelids walked into the kitchen. He waved at his parents absentmindedly as made his way to the table. His eyes never left the stack of pancakes and ham. “Oh man, I couldn’t sleep through the smell,” he rubbed his stomach. Both parents immediately cackled between themselves as they surrounded him for a hug before he sat.

“There’s the birthday boy,” Elkson said as Wanda pecked her son’s cheek. He stood in place and let them smother him with affection for a few minutes before they broke away and let him sit down. He reached over his right shoulder with his left hand trying to scratch an itch. Wanda slapped his hand away.

“You’re about to eat, scratch later,” she gave Elkson a sly smile as a hint to let it play out.

“Hey,” the birthday boy said as he loaded his plate. “I’m 18 now, I want to try making some changes,” he said. 

“Okay,” both parents agreed with interest.

“First, and .. I know it’s weird,”  he shrugged as he grabbed the syrup. “But this is what I want,”

“What’s that honey?” Wanda asked. She scooted closer to Elkson in anticipation of good news.

“You know my name?” he asked.

“Roger?” Elkson asked.

“Mitch?” Wanda asked at the same time. Neither parent used his actual name. He rolled his eyes and chuckled.

Thanks for that,” he grumbled with a smile. “Anyway, forget it. I’m going by Mundo from now on,” he took a bite of pancakes and ham.

“Mundo?” both asked at the same time. “Why?” Wanda followed up. Mundo shrugged.

“It makes it easier for people to find me,” he replied.

“Uhhh.. Okay, sure thing Mundo,” Elkson said. He didn’t quite get it, but his son was convinced and he didn’t see any harm in indulging the phase.

“And, since we’re here having this wonderful breakfast…,” Mundo looked at his mom for the first time that morning. He grinned and glanced at his dad. “…thanks for breakfast by the way,” he said, then took another bite.

“Since we’re here, there’s something else we need to talk about.”

“Oh?’ Wanda asked.

“We need to talk to you about something too,” Elkson added. “After you though,” he said. Mundo nodded.

“If I know you guys, it’s probably the same thing,” he said.

“Mom,” he looked at her. “You have a golden aura that looks like a spider’s web, and there are dozens of different types of spiders crawling all over it and you. You are Unique Soul #33, la araña. You can summon spiders from other universes through your pores.” Wanda stared at him slack-jawed for a moment, then she stuck her tongue out at him playfully. A medium-sized, shiny, spindly black widow spider rested on the tip of her tongue until she pulled it back into her mouth. She relaxed when she realized he was still sitting at the table with a smile on his face and love in his eyes, and still eating. He even laughed at the spider in her mouth.

“And me?” Elkson asked giddily.

“#45, El Venado,” Mundo smiled at his dad. “You can summon deer from other universes through your pores,” Mundo said.

“REALLY!?” Elkson jumped to his feet, shut his eyes and started straining. He did not know how his son knew about Wanda, but he chalked it up to whatever his ability was. He was like them, and Elkson seemed different this morning. He trusted him and thought it would be amazing to pop a deer out of his hands. Then, he heard Mundo laughing.

“No, dad,” he said. Wanda joined in the laughter. “But you’ve got a solid noggin,” Mundo knocked his green hair for illustration. “Your aura looks like giant golden antlers. You can ram the hell out of most things. And you’re supposed to be extra graceful,.. but I guess not every venado gets that. I’ve seen you work,” he laughed.

“Oh honey…,” Elkson turned to Wanda. “our son turned out to be a jerk as an adult. Let’s send him back!” he said. Wanda slapped his arm and rolled her eyes.

“So, how do you know all this?” she asked. “How can you see our auras?”

“It’s my job,” he smiled. “I’m #37, El Mundo.” He pointed at Wanda. “You get spiders. You get some deer powers. I get the secrets of the universe.” He used his left arm to try and scratch his right shoulder again. Both parents giggled but served themselves breakfast.

Sharp Transportation

“No way…,” Greg whispered to himself in awe as he stared out the window. Violet starlight twinkled behind the mint-green clouds. He turned to the person next to him; the mid-20s woman was asleep. The same as every other passenger. As he swiveled his head to scan the cabin he heard a sharp gasp behind him and whipped around to see. Jane, the helpful stewardess that checked him in, rushed to his row.

“How are you awake!?” she whispered. After her question, she looked left and right to make sure she did not disturb anyone else. Greg pointed out the window.

“Why are the clouds green!?” he whispered back, not as quietly.

“Come here!” she hissed like a parent reprimanding her child in public. She gave him a sharp gesture, then walked toward the back. Greg followed. When he got there, he noticed her face changed from minor annoyance to noticeable disappointment.

“This is probably my fault,” Jane sighed. “What’s your favorite number?”

“One,” Greg said. “Why? How does that explain green clouds?”

“I knew it. It’s my first Traverse flight and I was so excited to check in my first passenger,” she pointed at Greg. “You shouldn’t have even been able to buy a ticket, but I’m supposed to ask everyone their favorite number anyway,” she shrugged. “Now I know why.”

“I don’t know why,” Greg commented. “You haven’t explained anything.”

“Sorry,” she sighed again. “This flight,” she paused, then shook her head. “This airline, Sharp Air, has flights that travel between alternate universes,” she gestured out a window at the clouds.

“It’s not exactly an advertised benefit, but those that find it useful know about it. Those that just want a cheap flight are put to sleep. You should be asleep, except our Corona can’t knock out any Uniques.” Greg narrowed his eyes at her.

“Uhuh. I missed the second half of that, but… we’re in an alternate universe?” He asked.

“Yes!” she nodded.

“And how does my favorite number keep me awake?”

“You, me, the pilots and the other flight attendant are known as Unique Souls. You’re #01; El Gallo, The Rooster.”

“Because my favorite number is one?” Jane shook her head.

“Your favorite number is one because you’re El Gallo. Watch. What’s your favorite number?” she asked again.

“One,” Greg replied.

“What’s your favorite number?”

“One. You already know.”

“What’s your favorite number?” Jane continued to repeat the question. “Lie to me,” she added.

“OneTWELVE!” Greg blurted out the two numbers as one word.

“Don’t answer me. What’s your favorite number?”

“One.” Greg rolled his eyes as the answer came out on its own.

“Your soul knows what it is…,” Jane poked Greg in the chest, then she raised her hand to poke his forehead. “…even if your body doesn’t. There’s a Mundo at the next airport that would love to answer all your questions about what that means.”

“Um, about that. How does this work? Where is the next airport and am I ever getting to Florida? The Florida on the Earth I came from?” Jane smiled and nodded.

“We get passengers from other universes to take them back to ours. Going sideways through dimensions loosens up enough time to land, swap passengers and get back to your destination. All within the same time the normal flight takes.”

“So, everything’s working as it should, right?” Greg asked. Despite his calm demeanor, he really needed to hear that everything was okay. Jane smiled; she seemed to recognize that he needed reassurance.

“This is my first time, but the pilots and the other flight attendant have done maybe hundreds. There’s no reason to worry, everything’s on plan,” she patted his shoulder with a smile.

“Alright. Alright, cool. I, uh. I guess I’m gonna go look at the green clouds some more.”

Deer John

“So,” John sat up straighter in his seat and turned to face the young woman to confirm he was talking to her. “You like the number 42 huh?” he asked. He nodded at the skull tattoo on her right arm; it was a pink and yellow sugar skull with the number 42 in gold numbers on its forehead.

“Enough to get it tattooed on me,” she replied plainly, then refocused her attention in another direction. John immediately felt like an idiot. It was an unexpected feeling after the day he’d had.

Up until that moment, he did not think he could feel any dumber. That morning John woke up late and felt dumb for not double-checking his alarm the night before. While rushing through his shower he did not close the curtain all the way and felt dumb for soaking his only clean suit. Because he was running late already he did not have time to dry it and instead wore his ‘nicest’ jeans with a white Polo shirt.

Once John arrived at work, he felt dumb for forgetting about why he planned to wear a suit on casual Friday. He needed to deliver an important presentation in front of the company’s owner. He also felt like it was a mistake to prepare the night before; the USB drive with the presentation on it was in the pocket of the coat he didn’t wear.

Now, John was riding the bus home mid-day. He was fired and going home to his small, lonely apartment that he could not afford to keep next month. The only open seat on the bus was next to the most beautiful woman John had ever seen. She had shoulder-length curly violet hair and wore a golden tank-top with purple jeans. He noticed her tattoo as he sat down and his mind latched onto the number.

It’s probably her favorite number,” he thought. It seemed like an easy enough conversation starter. When he got on the bus he felt like he had nothing to live for. As he imagined the countless ways she could rebuff him he realized none of them could make his day worse; but, his day did have a chance of improving. He wanted conversation about the number to lead to more conversation. In his mind, he assumed the best way to do that was to ask her a question about it. When he opened his mouth all she heard was a stupid question about whether she was fond of the number she allowed to be imprinted on her skin permanently.

“Is it your favorite?” he asked as a last-ditch effort. “45’s my favorite number,” he added. She half nodded as a response to the first question as she was standing up to get off at the next stop. When John added his own favorite number she stopped and looked at him. Her eyes looked like flawless amethysts and they sparkled when she smiled suddenly.

“Really?” she asked. “You got that on a tattoo?” John shook his head vigorously. He did not want to discuss his fear of needles in such a public space.

“On or off?!” The bus driver yelled.

“Off!” the woman yelled back at him, then she reached forward and grabbed John’s hand. “C’mon.” John thought about hesitating but the woman was much stronger than she looked. She practically dragged him down the aisle and off the bus. She continued pulling him along down the sidewalk, but she turned to talk to him.

“I hope you didn’t have any other plans, you’re getting a tattoo today,” she said. John stopped walking; he planted his feet and stood firm. She pulled him forward anyway as if she hadn’t noticed he was trying to stop.

“No plans,” John said. “No job. No money for a home, much less a tattoo,” he said. She stopped pulling him and turned to look at him through softer eyes.

“Really?” she asked. John nodded, and her smile grew broader. She stepped back while still holding his hand and moved their hands up and down like a handshake. “I’m Majesty, what’s your name?”

“John,” he said. Majesty smiled.

“Don’t worry about a thing, John. Around here, Uniques take care of each other. Mundo will do the tattoo for free, then we’ll get you set up comfortably.” She started walking again without pulling him along; he followed her willingly.  “It’s a really good thing you were on that bus,” she said.

Quest for Knowledge

“Damn, it’s bigger than I thought,” Jane said with a sigh. She surveyed the spacious library around them, then nodded at her five friends. “Split up,” she said, then pointed at a fair-skinned blond girl. “I’ll go ask and take Sharon with me to help her learn.” Her friends nodded and each wandered off in a separate direction except for Sharon. Jane noticed a sign from the ceiling that pointed the way to the help desk. She turned right and paced down the main walkway lined with study tables. Sharon was quick to catch up.

“Where’s your back half?” Sharon asked about Jane’s missing centaur half.

“It never occurred to me that someone might notice it,” Jane shrugged. “I changed my display settings so that it’s only visible on official servers.” She turned left under another yellow wooden arrow. Sharon followed and saw the information desk up ahead after the turn. “Did you pick a character yet?” Jane asked.

“Not yet,” Sharon shook her head. “There are way too many choices.” She replied as they reached the information desk. A low, metal desk with a computer on top and a surprisingly frazzled librarian seated behind it. The man’s eyes kept flitting to something under the counter as the girls approached.

“Can I help you?” he smiled at them and sat up straighter.

“Hi,” Jane returned his smile. “We’re looking for a book.”

“Well you came to the right place,” he chuckled and pulled the keyboard closer to him. “What’s the title?”

“Actually I don’t think it has one,” Jane said and reached into her pocket. The librarian’s eyes darted under the desk when Jane said the book had no name. She pulled a transparent glass card out of her pocket and held it out to him. “I have a picture though.”  The librarian looked at it and his eyes went wide. He was initially impressed with the technology. The girl showed him a phone like he’d never seen before. It was as thin and small as a playing card and completely transparent, except for the bright colorful image. The librarian was about to ask Jane about her phone when he recognized the book in the picture.

It was the same black leather book that had been plaguing him since he started working at the library six years ago. The same golden lion embossed on the cover that had mocked him every morning like his own private, miserable sunrise. Each day, no matter what, he found the book waiting for him under his desk. But he’d never had anyone ask for it. The librarian had a million questions about the book and why the girls were interested in it, but he knew better than to chase a rabbit down a hole. He would willingly leave all his questions unanswered to be rid of the book.

“YES!” he nodded quickly and reached under the desk. The mysterious book wasn’t there moments ago, he dumped it into the shredder that morning. It became his own way to celebrate Friday.  He’d been waiting for it to reappear when the girls approached. But he knew it would be there when he needed it. “Here you go!” he hopped up off his chair and nearly threw the dark book at the table. He managed to restrain himself at the last second and placed it down gently.

“Thank you! We’ll bring it right back!” Sharon said.

“No, you don’t have to!” the librarian protested with waving hands.

“Thanks again,” Jane said and grabbed the book. She turned and led Sharon away from the desk.

“We don’t have to bring it back,” she said. “We didn’t use a library card to check it out.”

“Oh no,” Sharon stopped. “Do we need to go back?” Jane stopped walking at a wide intersection surrounded by empty tables and shook her head. Sharon noticed the rest of the group walking towards where Jane stopped.

“There’ll be a duplicate back under his desk tomorrow.” She lifted her node and the book to Sharon’s eye level in time to see the girl give her a confused look.

“How? Why?” She asked. Jane smiled and tapped the glassy node to the book. The book dissolved into white powder and disappeared. Jane smiled as she pocketed the node again; a green-skinned boy opened a black portal behind her.

“It’s a quest item. It has to respawn for other players too,” she said then walked into the black portal.

Deer Friend

Sharon panicked when the girl’s eyes met hers. She had been caught staring and now the teenager was headed right to her. Sharon was headed out of the mall when half a small deer distracted her. It was hard to see at first; it was surrounded by a group of teenagers. But she definitely saw light brown fur on something the size of a well-fed Great Dane. It wasn’t until the group moved to the escalators that Sharon realized the truth. The doe’s half was attached to a tan girl with straight, long, dark brown hair.

Their eyes remained locked on each other. When she was close enough, Sharon started to pick out the colors in the stranger’s eyes. They were unlike anything she’d ever seen. Instead of a segmented separation of the iris, the colors all blended together seamlessly. Her black pupil was surrounded by a dark green iris and each color melted into a lighter shade of green next to it. The girl broke eye contact once she reached Sharon and looked past her.

“The elevator moves faster if you press the button,” the girl said. Sharon turned around and realized she’d stopped by the elevators on her way out. She had been, and still was, too distracted by the fact that the girl had four legs. The girl met her eyes again and raised a single eyebrow. “Yes?” she asked. Sharon responded with the first thing she thought of.

“That’s a great costume,” she said as the elevator dinged its arrival. She decided her best course of action was to play dumb and avoid the situation. If the girl thought that Sharon thought it was a costume they could each go their separate ways. The girl’s eyes widened. She grabbed Sharon’s shirt and pulled her into the empty elevator. She held onto Sharon until the door closed; then released her.

“You can see what I am?!” she asked in a whisper. Sharon nodded quickly, her eyes flicked to the girl’s furry hindquarters then back to her odd eyes. The girl sighed and extended a hand. “I’m Jane,” she said.

“Sharon,” Sharon replied and accepted the handshake. “Why can’t anybody else see you?” she asked.

“They’re not supposed to,” Jane said, then shook her head. “You’re not supposed to. Only Uniq-.” Jane interrupted herself and tilted her head. Her eyes roamed up and down Sharon. “What’s your favorite number?” she asked suddenly.

“19, Why?” Jane’s straight face grew into a broad smile.

“Because that’s why you can see me. Awesome!” Jane cheered and pressed a button for the second floor. The elevator began to rise and Sharon shook her head.

“I don’t get how?”

“It’s kind of complicated to go into right now,” she pointed at the floor number; it changed to ‘2’. “The short answer is you’re special.” The elevator slowed to a stop and the door slid open. There was a group of four teenagers waiting by the door; Sharon recognized them as Jane’s friends. Jane stepped out of the elevator. One of the group members, a teenage boy, held up a burlap sack and nodded. Whatever was in it was leaking dark red. Now that Sharon saw all of them up close he noticed they all were odd in some way. The boy that lifted the bag looked like he had light green skin.

“We’re done already, did you get credit?” he asked. Jane nodded then turned to look at Sharon. Behind Jane, the green-skinned boy wiggled his fingers at the air.

“If you want to find out how special you are, and what to do with it, you should come with us.” Jane took a step to the side and gestured at a large black hole that hovered in the air. Only the green-skinned boy was left; Sharon guessed the rest of Jane’s friends walked into the hole. She decided she needed to find out what was going on.

“Okay,” She said with a firm nod.

Dragon’s Wrath

“We’re the first ones here!” The paladin in black armor lifted his visor to peer out across the wide open meadow. The golden sun hanging in the clear, blue sky sparkled on the giant dragon’s emerald hide. “It’s huuuuuuge. That thing wouldn’t fit in a football stadium.”

“It’s worth your own server. I’d be disappointed if it was any smaller,” Buck replied. He turned to the giant, pale, red-headed woman next to him. “Go get it before someone else tags ‘im.” She nodded and walked forward. They stood at the entrance to the meadow: a rocky ledge that extended from a narrow mountain tunnel. The dragon slept several miles away. The woman stepped to the edge, but Buck stopped her. “You gotta log in, Flutter. It won’t count otherwise.” She waved a dismissive hand at him.

“When I get there,” Flutter replied. Two sets of long, transparent insect wings grew out of her back then she leaped into the air. She flew straight toward the sleeping dragon.

“I’m Buck, by the way,” he said to the paladin. “I never got your name.” The mustached paladin turned and smiled at Buck.

“I’m Fern. You Unique?” Fern asked. “I’m #52.”

“#45,” Buck nodded. The ground shook and a deafening roar filled the meadow. They turned to see the very awake dragon roaring at an armored Flutter. She wore blood red plate armor and carried two shields. One in each hand and both of them half her considerable size. The dragon’s tail whipped forward to swat her away, but it bounced harmlessly off her left shield. She did not move an inch.

The dragon tried again to knock her away with its tail, but again Flutter stood her ground. The beast grew angry and roared at the sky. Black ash erupted from its mouth and filled the sky. It blocked out the sun and covered the meadow in darkness. The sound of footsteps behind Buck drew his and Fern’s attention. They turned and saw two women and a kid walking toward them with a large group behind them.

“You guys next?” The blonde knight asked. She wore silver chainmail armor and the paladin next to her wore thick, golden plate armor. The boy wore an elegant white and gold robe. Buck shook his head.

“There’s no ‘next’, he’s done for.”

“IS THAT FLUTTER!??” The female paladin yelled. She stepped to the edge while Buck answered the blonde’s question and saw the lone armored figure. Her armor glowed red in the darkness of the falling soot. Flutter stood still while the dragon tried everything it could to knock her away. Buck’s chest puffed out with pride and he nodded.

“That’s so cool! Totally unfair but so cool!”

“Raid disbanded,” the blonde yelled to the group behind her. “We’re not getting a shot.” A chorus of mumbles and murmurs ran through the crowd, but they turned to head back through the tunnel.

“I wanna watch!” the female paladin said. The blonde nodded.

“I know, me too.”

“Who’s Flutter?” the boy asked.

“She’s a fortress paladin that’s strong enough to solo a 20 person raid,” The blonde replied. The other three were watching the dragon assault Flutter.

“Whooaa. Can you do that, Rook?” The boy asked the female paladin. She shook her head, her dark dreadlocks wiggled on her head.

“She’s a Unique. Calavera,” she replied without taking her eyes off the action. The dragon’s swings were becoming slower, he appeared to be getting tired.

“Why’s she just standing there?” The boy asked. He approached the ledge to watch with the adults.

“Fortress paladins have a skill that lets them store up damage and dish it back out. Flutter can take a LOT of damage. Watch, I think shes’ going to use it. The dragon’s too tired already.”

In the center of the meadow, the dragon gave one final swipe with its claws then stopped. It supported itself with its front legs in order to rest a bit. The red glow on Flutter’s armor began to glow brighter.   She brought both shields in front of her and fit them together like two halves of a whole. Her glow flowed through her arms into the shield wall. A wide beam of red light fired from the towering shield and hit the dragon right in its face. The energy continued to flow until the glow left Flutter’s body entirely. Then the, now headless, dragon fell on its side.

Buck’s Bucks

Buck enjoyed the morning sun on his neck while he swept the shop’s front porch. He heard a commotion up the street and leaned over the wooden railing to take a look. A heavily armored paladin clanked toward’s Buck in black armor. His helmeted head swiveled left and right as he ran to check the shops on both sides of the street. Buck realized he was the only one open.

Ohhhh. That’s why I’m here early,” Buck thought. He forgot that it was the first day of the new season, which meant new quests. Buck waved to grab the paladin’s attention, then headed into the shop. He found his position behind the counter as the armored man ran into the shop.

“I need to purchase anything you have to kill a dragon with!” the paladin wheezed at the tall, sturdy man behind the counter. Even with his armor on, the paladin seemed to be a scrawny twig in front of the salesman. Buck smiled broadly. He’d always dreamed of being an adventurer, and now he saw a chance to make that dream come true. He nodded.

“100 Million,” he replied.

“What? That’s insane!” The paladin stepped back from the counter and crossed his arms, but did not leave. Buck shrugged.

“Yeah, I’m sure one of the other shops can help you out for cheaper. Whenever they open,” he leaned on the counter with a calm, bored look on his face. “So what’s the quest anyway?” Buck asked with genuine curiosity.

“The first guild to kill the God Dragon gets their own server.”

“Your own server?” Buck stood up straight and crossed his arms. The situation kept getting better. He knew he could be out of the shop within the next half hour. “Sorry, the price just went up. 100 million and my own continent, with my own settings.” Buck always wanted to be an adventurer because he saw it as a step on his path to being a great king. Now he had the opportunity to skip straight to the end.

“Man, you’re crazy. You’re open a couple of hours before everyone else, but that’s it.” The paladin pointed at a bright red two-handed sword hanging on the wall. “The price under that Dragon’s Blood sword says 20 thousand.” He turned to walk out of the store, but Buck spoke up.

“You asked for something to kill a dragon with, not something that gives you a chance of killing the dragon. I assumed with something as important as your own server, you’d want a ‘sure thing’.”

“What?” The paladin turned away from the door and approached Buck’s counter again. “It’s the God Dragon, there is no sure thing.”

Gotcha,” Buck grinned to himself. “There is if you’re willing to split the winnings three ways.”

“Three? So you and some mystery friend each get a third of an Earth while I split my third with the guild, AND we do all the work?” Buck shook his head.

“Why are you splitting it with your guild? Give me 100 million right now, and I promise you one dead God Dragon. You won’t even have to lift a finger.”

“If it’s that easy, why aren’t you doing it yourself?” Buck sighed.

“You don’t know any merchants do you?” the paladin’s helmets swiveled left and right.

“The epic quest for the merchant class is to make 100 million profit in transactions. I can’t take up any other major quests until I finish it. If you cover that, I can accept the quest to kill the God Dragon.”

“Do merchants get dragon hunting skills?” The paladin asked. He sounded confused, but held his hand out with the black iron palm pointed upward. Golden, glowing dust began to collect on his hand.

“I’m not gonna kill the dragon, our third member is.” After Buck clarified the paladin placed a softball-sized golden cube on the counter.

“100 million, but who’s the third member? If I don’t recognize their name they probably can’t solo the God Dragon.” The paladin’s hand remained on top of the golden cube. Buck grinned, he loved dropping the name.

“Flutter,” he said.

“You know Flutter?!” the paladin asked. He lifted his hand off the cube and pushed it toward Buck.

“Yeah, we used to date. She still owes me a favor, I think this counts.”  Buck touched the golden cube and it exploded into shining, sparkling, multi-colored confetti. Buck flinched as the celebratory fanfare played in his ears. The paladin did not hear a thing.

“Alright!” Buck cheered. “Don’t worry, I’ll go through my quest rewards later,” he said as he reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small black business card and tossed it at one of the walls. A tall black portal opened and he shouted into it. “Flutter! I’m calling in a favor!” A giant, pale woman with a long, bright red braid flowing down her back stepped out of the portal. Buck was tall, but Flutter towered over him by at least a head. She saw him and grinned.

“Hey Bucky, what’s the favor?”

“Will you kill the God Dragon for me?”

“Yeah, that sounds fun. Let’s go.”