Sharp Reset

“Your performance in your first few games was…,” Dana Sharp paused mid-pace to look at the group of five girls. Bailey, Jenny, Dirge, Dread, and Britt were seated in Dana Sharp’s office. Each one looked sullen from Dana’s lecture so far. She circled them while informing them about her decision to cancel the Pineapple Cup, and start from the beginning again. Dana searched her mind for the most gentle word she could. “…lacking. It wasn’t the only reason for my decision to scrap the first tournament; but, it was on the list of reasons. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s not even a negative.” Dana Sharp walked to her desk and sat behind it.

“Between us in this room, I know you could have improved enough as a team during the tournament to win. However, from a business perspective, there was an opportunity here to exploit. The representatives of Earth: Pineapple respect the fact that my company is willing to take a loss to accommodate a family emergency.” Ms. Sharp took a moment to nod at Bailey. She sat in the center of the group. Her chestnut ponytail was currently covered by her green hoodie; she pulled it up early into the lecture.

“How’s your dad doing, Bailey?” Ms. Sharp asked.

“Better,” Bailey gave the woman a firm nod. “Thank you, Ms. Sharp.”

“I get to buy you girls more time to practice, and it leaves a positive impression on my clients. This was my decision, girls.” The girls all seemed to relax when they realized Ms. Sharp wasn’t angry at them.

“Here’s what we’re going to do going forward. Jenny…,” Dana nodded at a girl with black spiky hair to Bailey’s right. “…you’re still the captain. Bailey’s father is still recovering, and I want her to be able to miss a day of practice if she needs to. Along those lines, we still need a sixth team member. The trouble is, you’ve become a team already. The window to assign you a sixth member myself has already closed.”

“Again, this is a great opportunity to learn something. Sharp Development acquired a dungeon finder app on one of our Earths called ‘Delver’. We’ve scaled it up to the AlterNet and rebranded it as ‘DRBY’. Dana Sharp waved a casual, dismissive hand at the girls.

“It’s on your nodes now, try it out and find a sixth member you all agree on. And you’re able to share the app with other players to make it easier to find practice games. Get as much training in as you can before the tournament restarts,” Dana Sharp said.

“When is it?” Bailey asked.

“You’ll know with plenty of time. When I decide,” Ms. Sharp replied.

Stellar Invitation

Christine skated on the empty boardwalk at top speed. She enjoyed the bright sunshine and cool breeze of a Saturday morning. The 17-year-old could skate as fast as she wanted; no one else was around. Christine convinced the entire town that none of them wanted to visit the boardwalk on Saturday mornings.

She did not know how her abilities worked exactly, but over the years she narrowed down the procedure to a touch. She could control someone’s mind after a simple touch. Whatever it was that gave her control also seemed to be infectious. If a person under her control touched someone else, they both fell under her thrall.

Christine tried not to use it too often; she could ‘turn it off’ in people and give them free will again.. at least until Saturdays. It was the one day that she let herself flex her gift for a few hours so she could skate unimpeded. She enjoyed having a relatively normal life. She found enjoyment in doing things ‘the regular way’ without forcing anyone to give her anything.

She was so used to the barren boardwalk that she slowed to a stop when she spotted a girl heading in her direction. Even though Christine stopped skating, the dark-skinned girl kept moving toward her. The stranger had a pair of afro-puffs atop her head tied with bright golden ribbons that swayed with the breeze. She wore a candy apple-red windbreaker and a pair of denim shorts; then, Christine noticed the girl was on skates too.

“Hi!” The stranger rolled to a stop in front of Christine and offered a hand.

“Hi,” Christine replied with less enthusiasm, but she accepted the handshake. She knew one other person was not a big deal, but Christine preferred being alone, even in public. She had grown used to having the beach to herself and wanted to keep the trend. “You want to go home for a few hours and come back later,” Christine willed the thought into the girl’s mind.

“I’m Britt,” she said with a smile.  

“C-Christine,” she introduced herself with a stutter. It confused her that Britt introduced herself at all. “You need to go home,” Christine tried the suggestion again.

“Where is everyone?” Britt asked and spread her arms to gesture at the empty boardwalk.

“Uhh,” Christine shrugged. “It’s like this every Saturday,” she replied. She never needed to practice lying and felt glad that she could get by with a carefully worded truth.

“Awesome,” Britt said. She nodded and her smile grew from ear to ear. “Are you any good with those?” she asked with a glance down at Christine’s skates.

“I can skate without falling over?” Christine shrugged. The fact that Britt seemed immune to her ability bothered Christine more than she wanted to admit. Britt laughed a bit, then elaborated.

“I was thinking of something more competitive. Is roller derby a thing around here?” The question melted Christine’s unease in an instant. One of the more unexpected consequences of her abilities was that she won every game. Somehow even when her opponents had free will, they chose to let her win. She tried to lose dozens of times but still won. But Britt was immune and competitive and they had the whole empty boardwalk to skate on.

“I wish,” Christine replied; she finally added her own smile now that she felt comfortable. “I’ve seen some matches on TV and it looks like a ton of fun.”

“Hmmm,” Britt seemed to be thinking over Christine’s answer. “And what about the AlterNet?” she asked. Christine waited for a moment to let Britt finish her thought.

“Alternate what?” she asked once the silence started to make her uncomfortable. Britt giggled.

“You’d know,” she said. Britt stood up straighter, shifted her weight, and crossed her arms. She looked Christine up and down as if appraising her. “So you’ve only seen derby on TV and you’ve never heard of the AlterNet?” Christine shrugged. The questions seemed rhetorical and didn’t know what else to do. “I’m starting a roller derby team, how’d you like to be on it?”

“Yes!” Christine cheered and hopped in place with excitement.

“But there’s something I have to know first,” Britt said. “Are you fast?”

“Faster than you,” Christine replied with a broad smile.

“Oh yeah?” Britt asked. She moved to stand next to Christine; both of them faced the same direction. Britt crouched to a runner’s position ready to push off with her legs and gestured for Christine to do the same. “Show me.”

Starry Idol

“Maybe I’ll see you again!” Lee shouted with a wave. The pair of girls she defeated returned the gesture with broad smiles. Lee left the park on foot; she followed the ghost of an old road toward home. It wasn’t until after ten minutes of walking that she realized her mistake. “Duh,” her statement was joined by the sound of her palm slapping her forehead. After the smack, she pinched the air in front of her as if she selected a single sheet of paper. A glassy rectangle, her node, appeared between her thumb and forefinger as she pulled her hand.

“Show me the last game,” she said to the card-sized pane. Lee slowed her pace along the road while she focused on the node; she wasn’t worried about traffic. As far as she knew she was the only one that ever used the road and most of that use was walking. Light text appeared in the center of the glass. Both of her opponents’ names were highlighted in red to indicate they were not on her friend list. The path along the road was so dark the text appeared to be hovering in mid-air.

[ 2 on 1 Knockdown:

DeLorean – Gunslinger

Christine – Healer


General Lee – Thief

Winner: General Lee]

“Add DeLorean and Christine as friends,” Lee said. The game results updated instantly and the girl’s names changed from red to green. After that, she let the node disintegrate into nothing again and resumed her normal pace. Lee took several more steps, then froze. She heard the crunch of gravel but it did not come from her own footsteps; it sounded like it came from somewhere ahead.

A shadowy figure walked on the road toward Lee. Due to the darkness, she could not make out anything about the person but their eyes. Two brilliant golden stars stared at Lee as the person approached.

“You’ve passed the test,” the unknown woman said.

“Thanks! Bye,” Lee waved at the woman then changed her course to walk around her. She did not know what test the woman meant and tried to avoid the situation entirely. She kept her body tense and ready to move as she walked past the woman. Lee half expected the stranger to get in her way, requiring her to change direction again; but, the woman did not move.

“Don’t you want to know what test?!” she asked. “I’m trying to be mysterious!” she said playfully. The stranger’s joke shifted the tone and Lee immediately felt at ease enough to chuckle and slow her pace. She continued walking for several steps to leave some distance between them, then stopped and turned around.

“Alright, I’ll bite. What test?” Lee asked. The woman’s golden eyes grew brighter and Lee got the sense she was smiling.

“The test to join my Derby team,” the woman replied. Lee fought back every instinct that wanted her to yell, “YES!” at the offer. The entire reason she went to the Derby park as often as she did was to practice and be seen practicing. Her goal was to join a good team. She’d had several offers already; and, each one was almost impossible to turn down. So far, none of the teams seemed all that promising.

“What if I say no?” Lee asked.

“Then you’ll be stuck hoping some other team invites you to the Prom.” Lee felt her legs get weak, she almost fainted then and there.

“P-Prom?” she asked to be sure. “Oren’s tournament? That Prom??” Lee stomach fluttered at the thought. She had all but given up hope of entering the tournament. The deadline for team registration ended the next day. The golden stars dipped then rose again as the woman nodded. Lee had an inkling in the back of her mind. If her suspicions were true, she would agree then and there. If she was wrong, she’d need a bit more time to consider it once she learned about the rest of the team.

“This test that I passed, so it was like a try-out?” Lee asked. The stars bowed again. “Does that mean DeLorean and Christine are on the team too?” Lee felt it was the only reason she’d be approached that night instead of any other day. The woman laughed.

“You’re quick! And, you’re right. They are on the team.”

“Great! I’m in!” Lee jumped in place to give her excitement an outlet. “Who else is on the team?”

“Not sure yet, we need two more,” the woman replied. Lee felt her heart drop into her stomach.

“You don’t have a full team yet?” she asked. “Registration closes tomorrow…,”

“Don’t worry about it,” the woman said. Her right hand began to glow with a brilliant white light and she lifted it to illuminate herself better. “Oren owes me big time, I’m sure he’ll make an exception.”

The stranger was younger than Lee thought. She knew for a fact they were the same age, 18. Lee was a big fan of her new teammate and knew almost everything about her.

“TORQUE!” Lee shrieked with delightful surprise, then she realized she had agreed to be on Torque’s team and it was too much for her to handle. Lee fainted

Three Star Service

“Thanks, Cassie,” Torque said. “My hands feel a ton better already. What’s in it?” She leaned against the rough, dark brown trunk of a towering pine tree. She was massaging a slick golden liquid between her wounded hands. The red-black burns scarring her palms crumbled off like the silver flakes of a scratch-off ticket. The scrawny girl with glasses shrugged. She knelt to the forest floor and returned the bottle of gold liquid back in her green backpack.

“I couldn’t find anything out beyond…,” Cassie lifted her hands for air-quotes. “…nanos and magic,” she said. “I guess it’s a secret the Academy wants to keep.” Torque nodded then stopped rubbing and looked at her hands. They were completely healed.

“Where’d your friend go?” Torque asked before the silence could get awkward.

“She brought me to have a picnic with the unicorns; but, then we found you,” Cassie said with a friendly smile. Torque immediately felt like she was intruding.

“I’m all better now, see?” Torque showed Cassie her healed palms. “You guys have your picnic,” she raised her hand in the air and wiggled her fingers rapidly. “I’ll go practice somewhere else,” she said. Despite her words and her digits waving frantically in the air; nothing happened. Torque still hadn’t completely mastered Traversing yet. Cassie giggled and shook her head.

“I’m still answering your question,” she said. “Cherry went to go get more supplies so you could join us.”

“Oh,” Torque said. She quickly latched on to the excuse and dropped her hand. “Yeah, I could eat. Thanks,” she said. After she accepted a wide, horizontal black hole appeared on the ground, then it traveled upward. It revealed a perfectly square dinner table as it floated up. The table was made of dark wood and it was surrounded by three chairs made from the same material. A tall brass candlestick sat on the middle of the table with a lit black candle resting in it. Torque whipped her head back and forth looking for Cherry.

“She’s not here?” Torque asked. “She put the table here perfectly without seeing it?” She asked in amazement. On her best days, Torque could open a portal to anywhere about half the time. Traversing was supposed to be easy for Estrellas, but she never thought it could be so effortless for someone. Cherry placed the table blindly from another universe. Cassie smiled. A smaller black hole appeared and rose from the table; it left behind three large pizza boxes.

“She’s really good,” Cassie walked to the table and sat down. She did not dig into the food yet, but she pointed at another chair for Torque. As Torque eased into her own seat a worrying thought struck her.

“Is she… in Star Brigade too?” she asked. She was relieved when Cassie shook her head.

“She’s uh…,” the fair-skinned girl bit her lip in thought for a moment. “She has a job that keeps her busy,” she said. “She’s not even a student at the Academy.” Another black hole left a basket of fried chicken on the table. Torque marveled at every delivery. The food containers landed flush on the table as if they’d always been there. They did not appear even a millimeter above the table needing to fall that last bit.

She can probably teach me better than Dirge,” Torque considered how she might get Cherry to tutor her. Then, she wondered if Cassie was doing the same thing. Before she could ask, the white-haired girl appeared in her seat at the table; deposited by a black portal. She immediately reached for a box of pizza; Cassie joined in and grabbed some chicken.

“Oh, forgot the drinks,” Cherry said. She took a big bite of pizza as a black portal appeared and disappeared leaving behind a 3-liter soda. A second portal delivered a short stack of empty plastic cups.

“Okay,” Torque said. “How the hell do you do that so well?” she asked. Cherry smiled and the pizza bulged her cheeks out. Without saying a word she reached for a plastic cup and held it up. A small, quarter-sized portal appeared above the cup and began leaking soda into it. Cherry nodded at the 3-liter bottle and Torque looked. She saw a small black portal in the bottle draining the soda; her eyes widened. Cherry stopped the stream of soda, took a big gulp to wash her pizza down, then she looked at Torque. She shrugged.

“Don’t know,” she said. “I just do.”

Star Bring Aid

“Are those…,” Cherry pointed to the sun-drenched glade surrounded by tall, narrow conifers. “…or are they not unicorns?” she asked Cassie. The scrawny girl with a green backpack did not reply; she was too entranced by the small herd of unicorns. Five white unicorns grazed in the sunlight; sparkles floated around them. It looked like an aura of magic glitter.

“Thaank you!” Cassie whispered and squealed at the same time; she sounded like a polite mouse in a library.

“C’ mon,” Cherry encouraged the shorter girl then she took a step forward. Cassie grabbed her arm.

“Don’t scare them away!” she whispered. Cherry turned and smiled at Cassie.

“They’re not so jumpy on this Earth, they’re pretty hard to scare. Watch,” Cherry tossed a small glowing red ball at the herd. Cassie gasped; she recognized it instantly.

“No!” she wiggled her fingers at the ball mid-air. A small, saucer-sized black portal opened and swallowed the ball before it landed.

“Hey, you’re getting pretty good!” Cherry laughed and patted the girl on her backpack. “But I can do this,” she grinned and faced the herd. “HEY! YOUR HORNS ARE STUPID!” she yelled. All five animals turned to look at her but did not move otherwise. “See? They’re like warhorses, nothing scares ’em.”

A brilliant blue streak shot across the tops of the trees with a roaring whoosh; it ignited every tree it touched. The unicorns bolted deeper into the forest away from the disturbance.

“Hah, scaredy cats!” Cherry yelled at the fleeing unicorns.

“AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!” A scream came from the same direction that the blue streak came from. Cherry turned to Cassie and pointed at a black portal.

“Go back to the academy, I’m going to go check,” she said. This wasn’t the first time she’d sent Cassie home early from an adventure because of complications. But, it was the first time Cassie did not listen. The girl stepped forward, away from the portal, and shook her head.

“I’ll go with you. I have to keep the unicorns safe,” she said.  Cherry rolled her eyes, but she giggled and led the way.

“They’re not that special; they’re like rats on this Earth,” she said.

“They’re special to me,” Cassie replied. “And rats are cute,” she added.

“Owwwooohhhh,” someone groaned and both girls froze to listen. “Ow ow ow ow,” a girl whined from behind a large tree in front of Cassie and Cherry.

“She sounds hurt,” Cassie said in a low voice, then she turned toward the tree. “Hello? Are you okay?” she asked in a louder voice.

“Yes! I’m fine!” the mystery girl said. The sound of rustling grass came from the other side of the tree. “I’m just…,” the girl made a heavy grunting sound as if she were straining to move something heavy. “…just taking a break.” A dark-skinned girl with twin black afro-puffs on her head came from around the tree while leaning on it. She tried to act casual while simultaneously relying on the tree to hold her up. “Hi,” She said; both hands were behind her back. Cassie squeaked again.

“TORQUE!” she said excitedly.

“That’s me. Have we met?” Torque asked. Cassie shook her head.

“Not yet. I’m in Star Brigade. We’re playing against you in a couple of weeks,” she said. Torque smiled at her.

“Was that you that screamed?” Cherry asked.

“Screamed?”  Torque shook her head. “I yelled. I’m just out here, you know.. yelling. Because it’s fun,” she said.

“And the plasma blast?” Cherry asked.

“Pla-” Torque looked up at the blue sky then glanced around the forest as if looking for something she knew didn’t exist. “Plasma? How do you mean?” Cherry burst into a sudden fit of giggles; Cassie laughed with her.

“Cassie, what’s Estrella rule #1?” Cherry said. She stood up straighter and crossed her arms proudly.

“Look with your special eyes,” Cassie said. Golden stars glowed around her pupils; then, the glow disappeared returning her eyes to normal.

“As an Estrella…,” Cherry pointed at Torque, “…you can see what someone is. It’s a good habit to use it the first time you meet someone new. So. Did you burn your hands off?” she asked with a grin.

“Ha HA, WhAT?” Torque shrank back slightly. “‘Course not.” Cherry stared at Torque silently for several seconds until she brought her hands forward. Both of them were blackened; burned and bloodied. “A little bit.” 

Cassie dashed to Torque to check on her wounds. She slid her green backpack off her shoulders and began digging through it.

“This happens all the time at the academy when students try to tame a new star,” Cassie said. 

Taking a Gamble

“I just realized…,” Brooks said. He was sitting in a red and gold booth across from Margie; it was their first date and he suggested Chinese food. They made small talk until the waitress took their orders, then Brooks decided to dip into deeper conversation. “You didn’t know about other universes… so do you know about the AlterNet?” Margie shook her head.

“Alternate what?” she asked. A large grin grew on Brooks’ face.

“Alter.  Net, like network,” he explained. It’s a collection of universes set up for gaming. Do you have MMOs on your Earth?” Margie nodded.  “Virtual reality?” She lifted her hand and wiggled it to suggest: “sort of”.

“It’s like both of those combined, but on a bigger scale. Imagine a whole, real, actual, alternate Earth dedicated to gaming. You can be a wizard in a fantasy realm full of magic or a hi-tech cyborg soldier in a futuristic planetwide cityscape or anything between.” Brooks knocked on the wooden table. “And it all feels as real as this.”

“Wow,” Margie said. She had trouble picturing what it would be like but it sounded amazingly fun. “That sounds like an awesome Earth,” she said. Brooks shook his head and smiled.

“Oh no, it’s not just one, there are hundreds. Each Earth is a server, and different servers have different settings.

Hundreds?” Margie was genuinely awed. Brooks nodded. Before that day she regularly daydreamed about seeing the world one day. Some days it seemed like an impossible task; the world was just too big. Now Brooks was telling her that there were at least a hundred other Earths. And they were only used for recreational purposes. She knew she had to visit.

“How does it work? Can we go?”

“Of course. We can go after eating. In the meantime, start thinking about what kind of character you’re going to make. Oh yeah,” he snapped his fingers as he remembered something. “Unique…, ” he pointed at Margie to remind her she was one too. “…powers work in the AlterNet too. A lot of us take that into account when making our character.  He placed held his hand, palm side up, in front of her. It began to glow with soft orange light and Margie felt a warm current of air radiate from his hand.

“I can channel plasma through my hands so I chose to be a fire wizard. I can add plasma to my spells for more fire damage; get it?” he asked. Margie’s head bobbed at a 45-degree angle. She was trying to say yes, but her mind drifted to how she could use her abilities in the game. He mentioned she had “luck” powers, but she still didn’t really know what that meant.

“So what should I be? What can I do with luck?” she asked.

“Luck is a great stat and yours will be much higher than average,” Brooks said. The waitress delivered their food as he spoke; then left again with a quick promise to come and check on them again soon. Brooks continued. “But, there is a Cardmage specialization that for the most part only Borrachos, like you, play. They’re called Gamblers but all the abilities are luck-based,” Brooks shrugged. “It’s pretty useless to anyone that can’t control their own luck.”

“Then that’s what I’ll be,” Margie smiled, then giggled. “It’s kind of funny. On my Earth there are tons of stories about people being dragged to magical worlds to become heroes,” she winked at Brooks. “…and I get to do it on our first date.”

Team Justice

“Honey, are you sure this is the right place?” Mrs. Topps asked her daughter. The three-person family stood in front of a Chinese restaurant. A neon red sign came on as dusk fell around them; it read: “Donna Chang’s”.  “We don’t like Chinese food,” she reminded Andrea.

“You and dad don’t like it,” the teenage girl said with a visible eyeroll. “I love it. But we’re here because this is where my new friend likes to hang out.”

“Is she Chinese?” The older woman asked.

“She’s a werewolf,” Andrea replied with a shrug.

“From China?” the mother asked with a concerned tone.

“Dad?” Andrea turned around to ask her father for help. He smiled and reached up to pat his daughter on the head.

“I think your mother’s allowed to give you a hard time if you’re making up stories about werewolves, vampires, and dragons. It’s all in good fun,” he said with a smile. Andrea sighed, but she knew there was no sense arguing. She’d be able to prove she was telling the truth within the next few minutes.

“C’mon,” Andrea led her parent into the restaurant. Despite it being a Friday evening, the restaurant was mostly empty. A single teenage girl sat at a large table; she turned toward the door when the tinny bell over the door signaled new customers. She recognized Andrea and ran over to the trio with a large smile on her face.

“Hey Andy!” she said. When she reached the family the two teenagers greeted each other with a hug.

“Justice, these are my parents,” Andrea gestured at the adults behind her, then turned toward them. “Mom, dad. This is Justice.”

“Hi!” Justice shook the hands of each parent.

“Justice is a werewolf,” Andrea said. “Show them!” she grinned. Justice nodded and stood up straighter. She took several deep breaths, then grunted as if she was straining. She shut her eyes and clenched her teeth. Her head changed shape as dark black fur pushed out of her skin on her forehead. The fur continued to grow out down her face, neck and under her shirt down her arms. Her face became an elongated snout with a black nose and purple glowing eyes.

During the girl’s transformation, Martha Topps stepped next to her daughter while Arnold stepped in front of them. Within a few short moments, the fair-skinned girl was replaced by a black-furred humanoid wolf.

“What do you want?” Arnold asked; his voice trembled with fear. The fur began to recede back into the girl’s skin; her snout grew shorter.

“Orange beef,” the girl, now Justice again, said with a smile. She turned and walked back to the table. Andrea stepped around her dad and followed her friend. Mr. and Mrs. Topps stood in shock watching their daughter chat animatedly with the wolfgirl.

“Table for two?” A sudden, bright voice said behind them. Both parents jumped; Arnold jumped higher. They turned and saw a dark-skinned waitress smiling at them. Her name tag said: Britt.

“She’s a werewolf!” Arnold hissed a whisper at the waitress while pointing at Justice.

“The owner and the cook are dragons,” Britt shrugged. “That’s the kind of place this is.” Arnold looked at his daughter; she was smiling. He did not see that often around the house.

“Is she in any danger?” He asked Britt.


“My daughter,” Arnold nodded at the table with the two girls. “The one that’s not a werewolf.”

“OH! You’re Andrea’s parents? Nice to meet you!” Britt greeted them both with a handshake. She looked at the table and nodded.

“Justice is trying to get her to join roller derby. Andrea’s in danger of having too much fun.” Britt smiled and waved as she headed back to the kitchen. The couple obviously did not need her help to find a table.

“Roller derby? Oh no. I’ve seen those women on TV, they’re so violent,” Martha whispered in her husband’s ear as they walked to the table.

“Guess what!? Justice said I could try out for her roller derby team!” Andrea said as her parents sat down. Arnold nodded.

“We’ll go cheer you on,” he said. He glanced at Martha and she nodded. Both of them knew not to mention their worries to Andrea.


“Van’droth the Dread Dragon,” the wiry, wrinkled old man with silver stringy hair grinned. A bright red glow pulsed from his eyes. Britt nodded; she was used to dragons stopping by Donna Chang’s and this one seemed to be weaker than her regulars.

“Hey, I have a friend named Dread,” Britt smiled. “What can I get you, Mr. Dread Dragon?’ she asked. Van’droth shook his head; his stiff, silver comb-over wobbled.

“Kids these days,” he said. His wrinkled skin tightened up. Black dragon scales emerged and coated his whole body. Two twisting obsidian horns twisted upward out of his skull. “No respect for Elder Dragons. I’ve just woken from a long, deep sleep,” he smiled at her and bared his growing fangs. “It’s time for breakfast. I’ll start with you, then work my way through the city.” He took a threatening step toward the teenage girl expecting her to flee. Instead, she burst into laughter.

“HAHAHAHAHa,” Britt shook her head. “Boy did you ever pick the wrong place to start.” Van’droth was used to false bravado from his victims but something about her laughter seemed genuine. She appeared completely confident and at ease in his presence. It made him curious.

“What makes you say that, child?” Van’droth asked.

“My name’s Britt,” she pointed at her name tag. “I say that because 90% of people that wander through here are stronger than you. That includes me and the cook, Takeru.”

“Yes, Ms. Britt?” A mountainous man in a stained white apron appeared next to the girl. He had several colorful dragons tattooed on each arm; each dragon was a different color. Van’droth took a step back, surprised by the large man’s sudden appearance. Britt slapped her own forehead.

“Sorry, T. Didn’t mean to call you,” she pointed at the black, scaled man. “I was just explaining to a customer that this is the wrong place to start trouble.” Takeru turned to face Van’droth. His eyes widened with surprise.

“A dread dragon?” Takeru smiled. In 3 months of working at the restaurant, Britt had never seen him smile. The towering man stepped toward Van’droth and placed a heavy, hefty palm on the black dragon’s shoulder. “I don’t have one of those yet.”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!”” Van’droth screamed in pain when Takeru’s hand left his shoulder and took one of his scales with it. Van’droth fell to his knees and clutched his shoulder. No one had ever hurt him so easily; it was almost careless. He began to consider Britt’s advice. Takeru held up the onyx scale dripping with black blood and held out his left forearm. He pressed the scale against a spot that did not yet have a dragon tattoo on it. It sunk into his skin leaving a brand new tattoo of a black dragon in its place.

Takeru made a fist and released it several times as if checking whether his arm still worked. Black scales covered his entire body for a moment, then disappeared again. He nodded at Van’droth.

“Thank you,” he said, then disappeared. He was gone without a trace as quickly as he appeared.

“So, about your breakfast?” Britt asked the kneeling man. He changed back into his wrinkled human form.

“Uh, sweet & sour chicken. Please, Britt.”

Expositional Service

“You didn’t need to close,” Flutter said. The giant red-headed woman bowed respectfully in front of the frail, elderly woman a quarter of her size. “But, I appreciate it. It’ll be nice to eat in peace for once.” Donna Chang, the old woman, gestured for Flutter to stand up and sit at the table.

“If I don’t close…,” Mrs. Chang smiled up at the pale woman. Even seated, the woman towered over the restaurant owner. “Takeru falls behind on his orders. He can’t keep up with your appetite and customers.” Flutter grinned.

“I hope he’s warmed up. I’m starving,” Mrs. Chang nodded, then faced the room’s exit. The two women were in a small, private section of Donna Chang’s restaurant. Flutter took up most of one side of the room behind a large-built table.

“Britt!” the old woman called out the opening. A dark skinned teenager with twin afro-puffs on her head jogged into the room. The girl froze when she saw Flutter.

“Whooa.. You’re huge!” She said. Flutter smiled.

“Wait for Takeru to finish a dish, then bring it here as soon as it’s ready,” Donna told the girl. “Then you’ll go back and wait for more.”

“Keep ’em coming!” Flutter added. Britt nodded and turned to leave. She stopped at the entrance then turned back around.

“Hey, did Dread really move you?” she asked with a skeptical voice.

“Flutter is here to eat not answer questions,” Donna reminded the girl. Flutter waved her hand at Donna dismissively.

“It’s okay. Tell ya what. Every plate you bring me gets you one answer. Sound good?”

“Yeah!” Britt dashed out of the room.

“Unique?” Flutter asked; she tilted her head at the room’s exit.

“An Estrella,” Donna nodded.

“Estrella?” Flutter’s eyes narrowed. “Are you-“

“Forget the first question. Did Dirge & Dread really knock you down?” Britt yelled from the door as she entered the room with a steaming plate of beef and vegetables.

“Tall girl with white hair and a short one with black hair right?” Britt nodded at Flutter as she placed the plate down. “They did, that Calavera’s a strong kid,” Flutter said. She grabbed the pair of chopsticks. “Although, I wasn’t logged in at the time,” she winked at Britt.

“Awesome!” Britt dashed out the door again. Flutter wasted no time and began shoveling food into her mouth.

“Yes, I’m teaching her,” Donna answered the question Britt interrupted. Flutter raised an eyebrow while cycling food into her mouth. She swallowed everything whole.

“As a favor for a friend,” Donna replied. “On the condition that I can stop any time she breaks the rules or reaches her limit. Right?” The old woman asked the doorway.

“Yes, Mrs. Chang.” Britt entered with a new plate of food, and a question, as Flutter finished the first one. “Are you really a dragon like her?” Britt gestured at the frail woman. Smooth golden scales grew out of Flutter’s pale, light skin and covered her entire body. She shook her head.

“I’m only half dragon,” Flutter said. Two sets of transparent, veiny insect wings extended out of her back. “Half fairy.” The wings retracted into her back and the golden scales retreated into her skin.   “I can’t shapeshift, the scales are my only trick.”

“Ohhhh,” Britt said. She bussed Flutter’s first plate out of the room. Flutter started inhaling food again.

“She has potential,” Mrs. Chang said. Flutter nodded but did not seem to have any more questions. After a few silent minutes, Britt came through the door again.

“You’re nice,” Britt said. She swapped out the empty plate for a new, full one. “Why do you work for Ballisea?”

“I don’t have a choice,” Flutter replied. “Donna can explain it to you later; it’s kind of long to get into now.” Flutter and Britt looked at Mrs. Chang for confirmation. The old woman nodded. Britt left and Flutter worked on the newest plate of food. Mrs. Chang remained silent while Flutter ate. After several minutes Britt walked in to change out the plates.

“Will you help me train?” She asked. “I wanna see if I can move you like Dread did.” Flutter looked at Mrs. Chang but the old woman did not seem to care what she answered.

“Yeah, that sounds fun,” she said.

“Thank you!” Britt yelled. She turned and headed out of the room.

“Wait, no more food,” Flutter said before Britt left. The girl turned around with a surprised look on her face.

“Mrs. Chang said you could eat for hours,” Britt said. She cast a sideways glance at Donna.  Flutter nodded.

“I can,” she stood from the table and looked down at the girl. “But I want to work up an appetite first, let’s go see what you can do.”

Dragon Scare

“I just got here. Did I do something wrong?” Morgan asked. He made himself comfortable in his favorite booth moments before a teenage waitress appeared to ask him to leave. She shifted her eyes to the kitchen then back to him.

“No, Sir. I did. We’re closed but I took too long to turn off the sign,” she gave him a light apologetic bow. “I still have to ask you to leave.”

“Closed for lunch on a Monday?” he shook his head, then shrugged. “I’m already here. It’s not my fault you can’t be bothered to do your job,” He tilted his head toward the entrance. “If I were you I’d change the sign before anyone else comes in, then you can come back and take my order.” Morgan crossed his arms to wait. The waitress sighed but nodded.

“I still need you to leave, but you’re right. I’ll be right back.” She jogged to the electric sign and pulled the string. She also made sure to bolt the door. Then, she jogged back to Morgan’s booth. “Thanks,” she smiled. “We’re closed for a private party, but they won’t be in until a bit later. If you take your order to go, there’re no problems.”

“There’s no problem now,” Morgan said with a stern look. “I’m here to enjoy a meal. Does Mrs. Chang know you’re turning customers away?” The waitress’ eyes widened.

“You know Mrs. Chang?” Morgan nodded.

“She’s an old, old friend. I’m sure she’d appreciate knowing how her staff treats her customers,” Morgan grinned. The waitress stood up straighter with a growing smile.

“Mrs. Chang appreciates staff that follows orders,” she crossed her arms and stared down at the seated businessman. “I won’t take your order unless it’s to-go.  If you’re not going to order then leave. Or I’ll call security.” Morgan waved a dismissive hand at her and looked past her to the kitchen door.

“I don’t need you to take my order, I’ll tell the cook myself. Takeru!” He half-shouted at the kitchen door. In the blink of an eye, a burly, tattooed, monster of a cook appeared by the table.

“Yes, Morgan?” The mountain of a man asked the seated man.

“I’ll have the usual,” he said then cast an eye at the dumbfounded waitress. “Make it a double portion. I want to take my time.” Takeru turned to the waitress and raised an eyebrow.

“Britt?” he asked. She shook her head; her twin afro puffs jiggled on top of her head.

“What’re you asking her for? I’m the customer!” Morgan said.

“You can’t be a customer if we don’t serve you,” Britt replied. “Please leave or…,” she pointed sideways at Takeru with her thumb.  “…security will see you out.”

“What?” He looked up at the giant man. “Takeru, c’mon, you can’t toss me out. What would Mrs. Chang say about this kind of treatment?” Takeru shrugged.

“Mrs. Chang left the restaurant in Ms. Britt’s care. I will follow her orders. She is asking you to leave for your own safety,” Takeru replied.

“Takeru! Shhh!” Britt hushed him.

“It’s okay if he knows,” Takeru said, then walked back to the kitchen instead of just disappearing.

“What does that mean?” Morgan asked.

“The private party I mentioned earlier…,” Britt sighed. “I didn’t want word to get out; Flutter’s coming.”

“Flutter?!” Morgan shuffled out of the booth in a hurry. “You know what I am?” He asked then walked to the door. Britt followed.

“Mrs. Chang wouldn’t trust me if I didn’t,” she said. Morgan reached the door but waited for her to unlock it. Once she opened the door he stepped out but turned to face her again.

“Here’s a tip. Dragons know who Flutter is and none of us want to risk getting on her bad side.” He gave her a polite nod then turned to walk away.