“…he feinted!” Emily burst into giggles at her own punchline. Kirk narrowed his eyes and tilted his head slightly.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “That can happen if you’re light-headed.” Emily rolled her eyes and shook her head; her long silver hair shimmered like a curtain with the motion.
“Light-headed monk?” she asked. “Monks don’t faint, they feint.”
“Oh,” Kirk nodded. “Okay, I get it. It just isn’t funny,” he said.
“Oh, what do you know?” Emily playfully shoved Kirk over. They both sat alone in the school gym. Faint red-orange light came in through the window as the sun was close to setting.
“Well, I heard your whole act…,” he shrugged. “…and that one? It was the worst part.” He glanced out the window.
“And, now I know why you didn’t answer when I said, “Sure, I have time. How long would it last?” he chuckled. “Trust me, you can cut that one easily, and a few other ones. But, all you did was tell me jokes for an hour. Aren’t you doing a magic show?””Yeah, but that’s easy,” Emily said. She reached behind her back while keeping her eyes locked on Kirk’s. When she brought her hand forward again she held several small toy sheep. “I’ve got a flock of tricks up my sleeve.”
“So what can I do with the Circus?” Emily asked. The silver-haired teenage girl twirled a playing card between her fingers as she talked to Mundo. The two girls stood in a school gym next to a giant floating black sphere; the dark ball was bigger than either of the two girls. Moments ago the gym resembled the inside of a large circus tent; but, Emily dismissed the card and the gym reverted to waxed hardwood floors.
“The Circus is one of the most flexible decks. You can do almost anything with it, depending on what you pair it with. Add Fantasy cards for solid healing. You can tank if you use Robots or DPS if you go with Ninjas. Steampunk will boost our resources…,” Mundo paused and shrugged. “It’s probably better if you wait until we have a full team to pick your other deck. Right now we’re just a Wizard,” Mundo pointed at the black sphere. “A cardmage…,” she pointed at Emily, “…and a druid.” She pressed her hand against her chest. “If we don’t get any crafters resource management won’t be a problem.”
“Oh wow,” Emily grinned. She was excited to be a ‘founding member’ of her first roller derby team. “I thought there was more of a team. Do we even have a name?” she asked. Mundo shook her head.
“I couldn’t think of anything. Do you have any ideas?” she asked. Emily shook her head also.
“No. Kirk might!” she looked at the large dark sphere. “Whenever he finishes making his character I guess.”
“IS THIS THE DERBY TRY-OUTS?!” A teenager shouted from the gym’s entrance. Emily and Mundo turned to see a young pale, almost blue-skinned student with his light blue hair pulled back.
“YES!” Mundo yelled back. The young man smiled and walked into the gym to join them.
“Try-outs?” Emily asked Mundo as the male student covered the distance. Mundo shrugged.
“Since we were going to make characters for you and Kirk anyway I put the word out about try-outs to fill out our roster.”
“Hi. I’m Frost,” he said when he arrived next to the pair of girls. “#42”
“Emily, #21,” she smiled and waved.
“Mundo,” Mundo replied.
“Mundo?” Frost looked surprised. “Is this your Earth? How are you here?” he asked.
“I’m not,” Mundo said. She lifted her hand in the air. It crumbled into white powder and spilled to the ground but never reached it. The white particles disappeared before falling very far. “I’m safe at home,” she smiled.
“Oh, nice,” Frost nodded as Mundo’s hand reformed at the end of her wrist. “So is this everyone trying out?” he asked. Mundo nodded.
“So far,” Mundo extended her fresh hand at Frost. “I think it’s safe to say congratulations! You’re in.”
“YAAY!” Emily clapped her hands and hopped in place with glee. “This is awesome!” she said and grinned at her two friends, Mundo and Kirk. The three of them stood in the school gym. The violet-haired girl, Mundo, was helping them through the tutorial.
“Did you choose a class yet?” she asked Kirk, a brown-haired teenager. He nodded.
“Wizard,” Kirk said.
“Great, see you in a bit,” Mundo replied. She tapped at a node in her hand. A cloud of black nanos materialized around Kirk like it did for Emily. The swarm closed around Kirk and enclosed him in a large black sphere that hovered above the ground. Mundo turned her attention back to Emily. “So let’s talk about what you can do now. The tutorial covers basic AlterNet information but it’s up to you to learn how to play your class, okay?”
“Definitely!” Emily nodded enthusiastically.
“Great. Let me help you out. Each class is a bit different in how it handles specs,” Mundo noticed Emily tilt her head. “Spec is short for ‘specialization’. Each class has different things you can specialize or focus on,” she said. Emily nodded in understanding. “For Card Mages…,” Mundo pointed at Emily to make sure the girl understood what she was. “…their spec is defined by what decks they pick. Decks are themed cards like undead, fairy tales, robots, ninjas and so on. You can choose up to two themes to work with.” Emily reached into her pocket and pulled out a playing card with a large circus tent on it.
“Zone: Big Top,” a deep male voice echoed around the gym. The white floors changed to a dark red color.
“I didn’t mean to!” Emily grew flustered then turned to Mundo. “How’d I do that?” She asked. Mundo grinned and grabbed Emily’s wrist. She lifted the girl’s hand and waved it in front of her own face.
“#21, La Mano, get to start the game with any card from their deck,” Mundo looked around at the circus-like interior around them. “And it looks like you chose the circus as one of your decks.”
Robert did not waste time debating. Once he heard the human voice he decided to open the door. The pizza seemed like a bonus. He turned the handle and pulled open the heavy metal door. A teenage girl with long silver hair stood outside his door. A teenage boy with short dark hair stood next to her; he held a pizza box with one hand and a large soda with the other.
“5k,” The girl smiled and held her palm out. Robert caught the meaty scent of the pizza and erupted into nervous laughter. He became very aware that he might have gone crazy. He shook his head while grinning and giggling. If he was insane he reasoned he could at least enjoy the absurdity of the situation.
“I didn’t order a pizza,” he said. Her smiling face soured and she turned to the boy.
“I told you it was the wrong place,” she said. He shrugged in return but his face softened. He gave her a sincere look.
“Fine, you’re right. It’s harder than I thought. Alright, let’s go back and find the right place. You open it this time,” he said.
“‘Kay. Gimme the card,” she held her hand out at the boy. Robert began to feel ignored. He wondered if it was normal for his own delusions to ignore him and began to consider they were real. He was about to interject but he saw a look of panic flash over the boy’s face. He looked behind himself then back to her.
“You always reclaim it…,” he said.
“I always reclaim it because I’m the one that always opens it,” she said sternly. “You open it, you close it,” she sighed. “I’ll get us a ride back.” The girl reached into her pocket and pulled out a small, transparent rectangle. It was as thin as a playing card; its surface became a display as she tapped away at it.
“Are you… real?” Robert asked during the lull in their conversation. The girl brought the glass card to her ear like a phone but pointed at Robert.
“Talk to him. He can have the pizza if he’s hungry,” she turned away and started talking to someone else. The boy shrugged and walked up to Robert.
“Hey, I’m Kirk. How’s it going?”
“Hi, Kirk. I’m Robert. I’m the last living thing on Earth and I’m probably going to die in a couple of weeks. At the most.” Kirk nodded casually.
“Bummer. Uh… want some pizza?” he offered the box up. Robert looked at the box, then at Kirk.
“Who are you kids? Where did you come from?” Kirk lifted the box slightly to draw attention to it.
“We’re here to deliver.” He pointed at the “M” logo made from three pizza slices, two upside-down with a third in the middle, on the box. “We came from Mundo’s Pizza.” Robert clenched his fists to keep his growing annoyance in check; he got the impression that the boy could not help how obtuse he was. Luckily the silver-haired girl joined them.
“Torque’s coming,” she said.
“From where!?” Robert asked her; he hoped she would be more helpful. She shrugged.
“Don’t know. I didn’t talk to her but the message will get passed along.” Robert took a deep breath to calm himself down.
“There is no one else alive on this Earth,” he said while looking directly into her eyes. “Where did you come from?” She smiled.
“A different Earth, duh,” she chirped.
“That’s what I told him,” Kirk added. A tall black hole opened behind Kirk.
“Move it!” A stern female voice shouted from the hole.
“Here, keep it,” Kirk started to push the pizza box at Robert while the girl started toward the black portal.
“Wait!” Robert said. “Are you guys just gonna leave me here?” The pair looked at each other and shrugged.
“Do you not want to be?” the girl asked. Kirk kept walking and disappeared into the portal. Robert shook his head.
“No, of course not. Who would?”
“People,” she shrugged. “Well if you don’t want to stay come on. We’ll put you somewhere else,” she said then turned to walk into the portal. Robert followed her carrying his pizza.
“Hey wait up,” Kirk shouted. He jogged to catch up to the silver-haired girl. “Emily, right?” he asked when he reached her. She nodded. “You’re pretty good with magic.” She grinned at him with perfect white teeth.
“Thanks! I practice a lot.” Emily pulled a deck of cards out of the air and winked at Kirk.
“Oh, yeah. That’s cool too, but I meant your water spell,” he explained. Emily’s smile dimmed, but she nodded appreciatively.
“Thanks,” she waved. “See ya around,” She turned to leave, but Kirk placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Hey, have you heard of the Society of Magicians?” he asked. Emily’s yellow eyes rolled upward while she thought for a moment, then she shook her head.
“No, but it sounds fun,” she said. Kirk nodded.
“I’m a member and I can nominate you for membership. There’s a meeting tonight if you want to go,” he asked. Emily looked him up and down, then agreed after a moment.
“Yeah, I’ll take a look. Where?”
“Grimmley Castle,” Kirk replied. His lips stretched into a smug smile. Emily nodded.
“Cool. Where’s that?”
“WHAT?” He pointed at a black castle sitting atop a hill in the distance. “You don’t know who Magus Grimmley is? The world’s most powerful sorcerer?” He asked in disbelief. “There’s no spell or conjuring he hasn’t mastered?” Emily shook her head and shrugged.
“Never heard of him. Wait, the world’s most powerful sorcerer?” Emily raised an eyebrow at him. “Is this about real magic?”
“YES!” Kirk said with an enthusiastic gesture. “I’ve seen your magic, you’re good enough,” he smiled. Emily shook her head.
“Not interested, but thanks,” she smiled then turned to walk away again. Kirk raced around in front of her and fell to the dirt on his knees with clasped hands.
“PLEASE!!” Emily continued to walk around him, but he grabbed her hand as she walked by. “I just need you to show up, please. You don’t have to join if you don’t want to.” She stopped walking and looked down at him.
“Show up for what?” Kirk sighed and stood up and dusted off the bottom half of his black robe.
“The way the Society works is you can’t move out of apprenticeship until you bring in a candidate to take your place. If they’re good enough to take your place,” Kirk nodded at Emily. “You are; I get to move up even if you don’t stay.” He stared at the ground. “I’m the last one that hasn’t started training yet because I don’t have a lot… Any. I don’t have any friends.”
“That can use magic?” Emily asked. Kirk gave her a sad smile and shook his head. “At all.” Emily gave him a light punch on the shoulder.
“Sure you do. You’ve got a friend showing up tonight,” she said.
“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” Emily smiled.
Emily met Kirk near the castle as the sun dipped below the horizon. He prepped her on the rules as he guided her to the secret entrance through a cave on the castle grounds. Finally, they reached a tall, solid wooden door at the back of the cave. Kirk turned to Emily then handed her a black robe.
“Put this on and pull the hood up. Then when I introduce you, you can pull it down.” Emily nodded and took the robe from him. “And thanks, again. I appreciate this,” he added.
“You’re going to owe me one,” Emily said while she slipped the robe one. Once she pulled up the hood she gave him a thumbs up gesture.
“Alright, let’s go.” He pulled the door open and stepped through it. Emily followed him into a dim room. Small candles lined the walls, and she made out several robed figures standing in the middle of the room. Kirk walked to the center of the room and Emily followed. He stood up straight and lowered his hood to reveal his face.
“Great Magus, I have brought a candidate with enough magical talent to take my place,” he said to no one in particular. Though it was hard for Emily to see much of anything.
“Present your candidate, Apprentice Kirk.” An old, deep voice, somehow familiar to Emily, said.
“Now,” Kirk whispered and nudged Emily. She got distracted by trying to place the voice. Once Kirk called her attention, she stood up straighter and pulled her hood down.
“I’m Emily the Entertainer,” she said and gave a bow. Her silver hair poured out of her hood to kiss the ground.
“You?” The old voice said. Emily looked in the direction of the voice and saw an old man pull his hood off. She recognized him instantly.
“Hi!” she waved like they were old friends, though she’d only met him once as a stranger.
“You know Magus Grimmley?” Kirk whispered next to her. The old man approached them, and Emily’s only answer consisted of a nod and a shrug.
“Why are you here now? You showed no interest when I invited you the first time,” he asked. Emily heard several gasps from the dark and wondered how many wizards were actually there.
“Still not interested,” Emily smiled. “But I’m here as a favor for a friend.”
“Kirk has friends?” a voice said in the dark, followed by several others laughing.
“You came here with no intention of joining? I’m sorry, I can’t let Kirk move up if that’s the case.”
“What?!” Kirk asked. “I brought someone!” The old man nodded.
“Sure, you brought someone that wasn’t going to stay. The point is to come in with an open mind.” Emily noticed Kirk clenching his fists.
“We can work something out, right?” she asked.
“I know you’re not eager to stay. But I also know you have an amazing magical talent,” the old man said. “If you stay, I will promote both of you to full-time students, you get to skip the apprenticeship.”
Before Emily could answer she felt Kirk grip her hand and squeeze tightly.