Sweet Surrender


“First match…,” Coach Haste said. His voice echoed around the mostly empty gymnasium. The small class of 25 students sat on wooden bleachers as murmurs of excitement flowed between them. It was the first chance they’d have to demonstrate their abilities to each other and the coach. “Valentine versus…”

“Not me, not me, not me,” Frost panicked in his mind. As much as the 14-year-old was looking forward to showing off, he was afraid of Valentine’s power. Mostly because he did not understand it. He’d seen dog-sized chocolates and pony-sized gummy bears moving around campus on their own. Anytime he asked about them all he got was shrugs along with the occasional, “I think they’re Valentine’s.”

“…Frost,” the coach finished. The coach was a pale, athletic man with a coppery-red mohawk striping his bald head; and, he was looking right at Frost. The teenager sighed and stood up as Valentine reached center court. Valentine had a long red ponytail that almost reached her waist. Her red hair was a different shade than the coach’s. Haste’s hair looked like bright flaming copper while Valentine’s hair color resembled a dark red wine. She wore black cargo shorts lined with dozens of pockets and a pink blouse decorated with black hearts.

Frost reached up and tightened his own light-blue ponytail when he joined the Coach and Valentine on the court. His only reached his shoulders. He was in blue jeans and a black t-shirt. Coach Haste raised his arm and showed the seated class his wrist; his watch glowed bright green.

“No nanos today, I want to see what you can do out of the AlterNet,” as he spoke the watch’s glow switched from green to red. He lowered his arm then pointed at Valentine. “Valentine is #27, El Corazón,” then he turned and pointed at Frost. “Frost is #42, La Calavera. Let’s see what they can do.” The coach walked off the court to sit with the rest of the class and Frost heard plastic rustling. He turned to see Valentine opening a bag of candy and he stepped back. Valentine reached into the bag and pulled out two gummies; she popped a long green worm in her mouth, then dropped a red bear to the floor. The one she dropped grew incredibly as soon as it left her hand; it landed on the floor as a bright red, translucent gummy cub that was still growing.

“I can’t wait for it to grow,” Frost decided. He charged at Valentine hoping to land a punch. As he covered the short distance to her, he coated his legs and fists with a layer of icy-frost. The growing cub, now slightly larger than a bulldog, attacked his legs when he was close enough. He felt a soft pressure around his leg as gummy jaws closed around it; Frost wondered if he even needed his frozen armor.

Frost cocked his fist when he was a step away. Valentine smiled at him, took in a quick breath, then spit out the gummy worm from her mouth. The shiny, slick worm ballooned to the size of boa the instant it left her mouth

Frost tried to stop but his momentum carried him right into it. The snake wrapped around his head and neck and immediately began squeezing. He stumbled forward another step before managing to stop. He could almost see through the translucent green snake, but he could not breathe.

“Relax,” Frost thought to himself. In the back of his mind, he vaguely remembered reading that constrictors squeeze more if there’s a struggle. “Think it through,” he held out hope that he could get himself out of it. The moment he relaxed, he realized his mistake. The more he relaxed the more the snake squeezed tighter. It wasn’t a real snake, it was something she was controlling. “Aw hell,” he whined to himself, then mumbled something through the snake covering his mouth. The snake moved away from his mouth, but it still held its grip around his throat.

“What was that?” Valentine asked with a broad smile. Frost sighed.

“I give up,” he said.

Royal Decree

“You guys are werewolves?” Lucas asked once the old woman left with their orders. She was far too ancient to be a waitress, Lucas wondered if she owned the restaurant. She also seemed sure about the twins sitting across from him being werewolves. Duchess nodded and scooted closer to her brother, Haste; the action seemed more for solidarity than insecurity on her part.

“Regal already knows,” she said. “He expected it; he explained that Coronas are often supernatural. Like vampires, werewolves, unicorns and even mermaids,” she said.

“Wait, unicorns are real?” Lucas sat up straighter when he asked.

“Apparently,” Duchess nodded. “Just not on our Earth.”

“Wow,” Lucas stared at the twins. Duchess had creamy alabaster skin; her bright red hair was pulled into a tight bun atop her head. Haste’s skin was the same shade of white, but his looked greasier, dirtier somehow. A large galaxy of freckles covered his nose and plump cheeks. His hair was a bright red mohawk running down the center of his bald head. “Real, live werewolves, huh?” he asked. “So full moon and silver bullets? That kind of werewolf?” The twins shook their heads.

“We can change any time we want,” Haste said with a chuckle. “She…,” Haste nudged his sister’s side. Duchess’ face flushed slightly, but she seemed content to let him tell the story. “…changed for the first time when we were five. We were playing in the garage one night and heard a noise coming from a dark corner under some junk. She got close and shined the light on the biggest rat ever; then she screamed and flailed and suddenly she was a wolf. It scared me so much I turned into one too,” they both shared a laugh. “That was a hell of a night,” Haste said with a heavy sigh.

“What’d your parents say? Are they werewolves?” Lucas asked. He regretted the question when Haste’s face lost its smile.

“Our parents came out to see what all the screaming and barking was about,” Duchess said quietly. “They saw me change back to my normal self, and they were happy about it. They already thought I was extra special because I’m a Corona; now to them I was extra-extra special.”

“Then, Haste changed back to normal…,” she continued with a flatter, sadder voice. “…they flipped out, called him a freak and started attacking him to keep me safe. I told them to leave him alone and they did. That was when they started ignoring him,” Duchess said. “Because I told them to.”

Regal Conquerors

“The devil?” Dutchess asked. She smiled with the same light condescension that one might have with a child complaining about monsters under the bed. The pale young woman shook her head; the tight red bun atop her head did not so much as wobble. She sat in a Chinese restaurant across from Lucas. He shook his head.

“I’m not the devil anymore than you’re a crown,” he said and patted his chest. “Unique #02, El Diablito,” he shrugged. “Apparently I have a talent for magic and if I got the tattoo I can control minds.” He looked at Dutchess. “What about you? What’s special about #47, La Corona?”

“He said conquerors can take over an Earth pretty easily,” she said. “If I get a 47, I’ll have strangers thrust themselves into my service like I was their monarch or something. Mostly regular people,” she giggled lightly. “I was a regular person this morning.” Lucas shook his head.

“Not looking like that you weren’t,” he smiled. She returned the smile but after he said it, Lucas felt the compliment was clumsy. He moved on. “Mostly Zeros, so some Uniques too?” he asked.

“That’s what Regal said.” She nodded, then she met Lucas’ eyes. “What do you think about him?”

“Regal?” Lucas laughed. “I think he looks like a freakin’ lion walking around in a nice suit.” Dutchess shared a short laugh with him. When it petered out Lucas nodded his head. “We saw him come out of an empty janitor’s closet. Then we followed him into the empty janitor’s closet…,” he spread his arms at the red and gold decor around them. “…now we’re here. I don’t know him well enough to say whether we can trust him. As far as magical ability I think that case is already made.” Dutchess nodded pensively.

“I plan to join him,” she said, then quickly amended her statement. “If Haste wants to.”

“Package deal?” Lucas asked. Haste was Dutchess’ twin brother. At the moment he was in a private room talking with Regal. Lucas hoped they were almost done; it was annoying to sit in a restaurant unable to order until the rest of the group arrived. Dutchess nodded.

“Kind of. He’s my kid brother, but… I’m kind of the only one that looks out for him.” Her eyes went wide. “And now I know why!” she almost shouted. “He would complain to me sometimes that he felt our parents didn’t seem to notice him. I’d talk to my parents about it and everything would be fine for a while, but it wore off.” She shook her head as if she was still processing some of the details of her past under a new light.

“Kid brother, huh?” Lucas asked. “How long after you?”

“Three minutes,” Haste said from beside their table. The pasty, chubby young man in loose jean shorts scooted into the booth next to Dutchess. The baldness on either side of his coppery red mohawk caught a shiny glare as he shuffled in. Neither of them noticed him walk up.

“Where’s regal?” Dutchess asked him. He shrugged.

” ‘Said we should eat. He’ll either be back in a bit or he’ll make sure we have a ride home. Food is on the house too.”

“What number are you?” Lucas asked.

“42, La Calavera,” he smiled. “I’m super strong.” Lucas grinned and shook his head in disbelief.

“It’s kind of amazing…,” he said. “…the things you don’t know about, I mean. This morning I was looking forward to Arcanum 101, but I still thought it was a joke. Now I’m having lunch in what I’m pretty sure is another universe,” he chuckled. “I can’t wait to see what else is out there.” Haste laughed, but it sounded like his humor wasn’t into it. It felt more like a nervous, fearful laugh. The tone caught Lucas’ attention. As he looked up he saw the twins have an intense conversation with their eyes and curt head tilts at Lucas. Haste gritted his teeth but Dutchess gave a firm, decisive nod that proved to be the last word. Haste’s posture slumped as he deflated and he nodded in agreement.

“What’s up?” Lucas asked.

“Uhhh…,” Haste started.

“What Haste is trying-” Dutchess tried to speak up but Haste held his hand up to interrupt her interruption.

“I got it,” he said. “So, um. Dutchess and I are… er..” he made stalling sounds as his eyes wandered around the mostly empty restaurant. Only one other table was occupied by diners. Hosts and wait-staff were nowhere to be seen. “… not human,” he said. Lucas nodded.

“Yeah, apparently we’re all Uniques,” he said with a chuckle. “You’re kind of slow for a guy named Haste,” he said in a tone that he hoped was interpreted playfully. Haste smiled at the joke but shook his head.

“Not that. We’re kind … of … like..,”

“Werewolves,” an ancient, short woman stood beside their table with a notepad in one hand and a pen at the ready. All three heads whipped around to her and she smiled at Lucas.

“Your friends trying to say they’re werewolves. Now you know. Ready to order?” she asked.

Regal Prospects

“509… 510..,” Lucas swiveled his head left and right as he walked down the broad, mostly empty hallway. He noticed a couple of students lingering in the fluorescent hall but the fifth floor seemed to be more offices than classrooms. He kept walking. “513… 515!” He stopped in front of a door. He looked through the small window by knob and found a bright class full of eager students. The professor must have cracked a joke because laughter rolled through the room. “That doesn’t feel right,” he mumbled to himself; he dropped his hand that was reaching for the knob and looked down at his schedule again.

[MGC 101 – Intro to Basic Arcanum.  Professor Regal. Room 515.J]

“J?” He checked the door again: 515. He turned and walked up the hall, he stopped in front of two students that were chatting and found the right door. 515.J was written in black marker on a strip of beige masking tape stuck to the door. The door itself was narrower than the other ones in the hallway and there was no window on it. “Huh,” Lucas shrugged and opened the door.

Immediately, Lucas realized the “J” stood for “janitor.” The sharp scent of cleaning chemicals filled his nose before his eyes adjusted to the closet’s darkness. The lights were off, but the room was small enough that stray hall light illuminated it enough. Other than cleaning supplies and paper goods, the closet was empty.

Despite reminding himself every day since he signed up that it was likely a joke, Lucas was surprised. His shoulder slump must have been visible because he heard giggles from behind him when the wave of disappointment washed over him. He turned to face the students.

One was a pasty chubby guy with a copper-red mohawk striping the center of his bald head. He wore long, loose denim “shorts” that reached his shins and a plain black t-shirt. The girl next to him was almost as plump and pale. Her red hair, the same shade as the student next to her, was pulled into a tight bun atop her head. The pair looked like they could be twins, one of which was the obvious favorite. Even though she wore more or less the same thing her clothes made his look like rags. She wore designer jeans and a black cashmere top.

“Intro to Arcanum?” the girl asked with a pleasant smile. Her question interrupted Lucas’ flash of anger. He assumed they were the ones behind the joke course and they were there solely to laugh at him. Her smile disarmed him and all he could do was nod.

“Us too,” she said. “Once we found the empty closet we thought it would be funny to see who else showed up.” She twisted her wrist to glance at a small gold watch that was worth more than Lucas’ education. He briefly wondered what someone with that kind of money was doing at a community college. “Class,” she said with a thick coating of sarcasm. “starts in about two minutes. Want to wait around with us and see if anyone else signed up?” Lucas hesitated. He was about to decline with a shrug but she sweetened the offer. “I’ll treat us all to some coffee after,” she shrugged. “Class or not, we obviously have some similar interests.

“Yeah. Thank you, I’d really appreciate that,” Lucas said. “I’m Lucas,” he offered her his hand in greeting.”

“Dutchess,” she said with a smile. Then, she pointed her thumb at the other guy. “That’s Haste.” Lucas returned Haste’s polite nod.

“So.. are you guys twins?” Lucas asked. Dutchess laughed and Haste replied.

“No,” he said with a serious tone. He looked up and down the empty hall, then leaned closer. “She’s me from an alternate universe,” he whispered.

“Wh.. what?” Lucas stepped back without realizing it. Dutchess immediately punched Haste’s shoulder.

“Stop scaring people,” she said then turned her attention to Lucas. “Ignore him. Yes, we’re twins. I’m sorry…,” she gave her brother a side-eye glance. “…I’m the one that got all the social graces.”

“I’m the one that knows how to shut up,” Haste grumbled under his breath at Lucas too quiet for Dutchess to hear.

“What was that?” she asked with narrow eyes. Has shrugged.

“Nothing, I’m shutting up,” he said. Lucas smiled at Haste’s joke. He was about to ask more about them but Dutchess spoke up again after she checked her watch.

“Well, time’s up. Let’s go see about some coffee.” As the trio picked a direction 515.J opened from the inside. A tall, lean man with a full golden beard and a matching full head of hair stepped out of the room they all knew was empty. His beard and hair together resembled the mane on a lion. The man’s bushy golden brows added to the look. He wore a dark suit coat with dark slacks. His white shirt was obscured by a rich purple vest. He smiled at the three students.

“Hello class, I’m Regal,” he said.

“No shit..,” Dutchess muttered under her breath.