She stared at the screen broadcasting the match between TravelingTrevor and MajorTom. She couldn't help but watch all of MajorTom's matches. He was such a great Overworld player. He even beat two Codemasters! He was also easy on the eyes. She could only wish to be as good as him.
"At it again, Avery?"
She jumped. Turning, she saw a tall blonde staring down at her.
"Keep dreaming, Avery," the blonde said. "You'll never get him."
"Must you do that, Natalie?" asked Avery.
"Face it, Avery," said Natalie. "You're a second-rate player. I am better than you in every way when it comes to battling. And it helps that I'm much prettier than you." She flipped some of her long blonde hair over her shoulder and walked away.
Avery frowned. Natalie was very pretty compared to her. Avery had black hair braided into pigtails, wore glasses, and always carried a notebook. She was a nerd.
MajorTom's match ended quickly. Avery decided that she wanted to visit her friend in Perim. Not too long ago, Avery had met a Creature named Unda. She was very nice to Avery. Avery could always find her near large bodies of water. The Riverlands was Unda's current project. The M'arrillians had made a mess of the largest body of fresh water in the Overworld.
Avery sat on a rock by one of the many waterfalls and waited to see if Unda would pass by. She didn't have to wait too long before the water elemental leaped out of the river.
"Hello, Avery," said Unda with a smile. "What brings you out here today?"
"I just wanted to stop by and see how things are going," said Avery.
"Things are going well," said Unda. She looked at the river. "It won't be long until all the dams are broken down. The water and land itself it another story. It could take many solans until the Riverlands are back to their former glory."
Unda turned back to Avery. "How are things with the humans?" she asked.
"Okay as they can be," said Avery.
Unda frowned. "Something troubles you, Avery?"
"It's a human problem," said Avery. "I don't think you can help me with it."
"Tell me," Unda commanded. "I may be able to help you."
"Well, there's the player that I look up to and I want to be his friend, but I'm kinda scared to talk to him," said Avery.
"You're afraid of him?" asked Unda. "Is he cruel?"
"No," Avery said with a shake of her head. "He's a really good player. He's ranked up there with some of the best players in Chaotic. The guy's got two Codemaster wins under his belt. I haven't even gotten a Codemaster challenge."
"Talk to him," said Unda.
"It's not that simple, Unda," said Avery. "I'm a nerd and he's very good-looking."
Unda frowned, a bit confused at the word "nerd". Avery saw her confusion and explained.
"You're smart," said Unda. "That's a good thing. There's nothing wrong with being knowledgeable."
"Smarts verses beauty," said Avery, thinking about what Natalie had that she didn't. "Natalie doesn't let me forget that I'm not pretty. If she wanted him, she could have him." Avery sighed. "It will probably be easier if no one knew I was talking to him."
Unda patted Avery's head. "You'll think of something. You are a very capable human, Avery."
"Thanks, Unda," said Avery.
Upon returning to Chaotic, Avery learned that there was going to be a masquerade ball for Halloween. It would be a good chance to mingle with other players and them not know who she really was.
"Do you really think that you are going?"
Avery jumped. Natalie was standing behind her with a sneer on her face. Avery glared through her glasses.
"What were you going to dress up as?" asked Natalie. "Some Underworlder?"
"It's not any of your business," said Avery.
"Well, I'm dressing up as a princess," said Natalie.
"You're not going to dress up as a Creature?" asked Avery.
"No," replied Natalie. "Most players will be dressing up as their favorite Creatures. I want to stand out. A princess suits me fine. You're welcome to be the court jester."
"Just because you're pretty doesn't give you the right to pick on me like this," said Avery.
"What are you going to do about it?" asked Natalie. "Cry?"
Avery stormed off with Natalie laughing after her. She did want to cry, but crying wouldn't solve anything. If she wanted to make a difference, she would have to gather the courage and do it herself.
At home, Avery mulled over what she could go to the ball as. Natalie was going as a princess. There were bound to be some vampires, werewolves, and witches. She could take the traditional route, but then she thought differently.
"Maybe I shouldn't go," Avery said to herself. "Natalie will just show me up, ridicule me, and I'll be the laughing stock of Chaotic by the next morning. And I can forget about talking to MajorTom. Natalie will make sure of that."
Avery looked at her closet. The door was open and she saw a piece of aqua fabric sticking out from the back of the closet. Pulling her many pairs of jeans and skirts front, Avery found that it was a skirt of a dress. Her grandmother had bought it for her for her last birthday, but Avery never went anywhere where she could wear the dress.
Avery held the dress up in front of her in the mirror. It was a very nice dress. She could create a costume with it. With the right shoes and accents, it would make a statement. Maybe Avery would go to the ball after all.
Avery told Unda about the ball.
"That's wonderful, Avery," said Unda. "I am happy for you."
"Thanks, Unda," said Avery. She let out a heavy sigh. "I'm very nervous about all of this."
"Though it is not any of my business," said Unda, "why did you not choose to dress up as me? I would have been very honored if you were to go as me."
"I don't have a small fortune to make a costume that I'll probably only wear once," replied Avery.
Unda stared at Avery for a moment. "We are about the same build, don't you agree?" she said.
Avery laughed. "What mirror are you looking in, Unda? I look nothing like you."
Unda led Avery over to the river. "Look," she commanded.
Avery looked at her reflection in the water. Unda stood behind her, looking over her shoulder. In a way she was right. If she didn't focus on the physical differences, Avery could see that she and Unda were in proportion to each other.
Unda smiled. "I believe I would look very similar to you if I was a human," she said.
Avery turned around. "You think?"
"You could go as the human version of myself," said Unda.
Avery giggled. "I could, couldn't I?" she said, looking back at her reflection.
"May I give you some suggestions?" asked Unda.
"Please do," said Avery. "I'm going to need all the help I can get."
"Don't be timid," said Unda. "Be bold when you talk to this player. He may like you for who you are."
"You think?" asked Avery.
Unda nodded. "Be truthful. The other human you were telling me about, Natalie, she will have to lie constantly to have people like her. One day, she will be caught in her web of lies and everyone will see who she really is."
"You're right, Unda," said Avery. "Karma will come back on Natalie one day."
The night of the masquerade ball, everyone dressed up as their favorite Creatures and monsters. The four friends, Tom, Kaz, Peyton, and Sarah, were having a blast guessing who was under which mask. Tom was dressed as the Phantom of the Opera, Peyton was a vampire, Kaz was dressed up as H'earing, and Sarah was a Danian princess.
"I would have thought you would have dressed up as Maxxor, Tom," said Sarah when she saw him.
"I thought about it, but I don't think it would have worked out," said Tom.
"Too scrawny in the arms," snickered Kaz.
"Look who's talking," said Tom, "H'earing."
Kaz made a face.
"I don't think anyone tried to dress up as any of the great Creatures," Peyton said. "Some players just have too much respect for them."
"And some have no modesty," Sarah said through semi-clenched teeth as she looked across the Port Court.
Several young men were flocking around a princess in a pink dress. She had blonde hair, a pink mask with sequins, a rhinestone crown, and was holding a scepter.
"Natalie." Sarah said the name like it was poison.
"What's so wrong with Natalie?" asked Kaz.
"You've always had it in for her, Sarah," said Tom.
"She thinks she's so much better than everyone else because she's pretty," snapped Sarah. "I would love to give her a piece of my mind."
"Sarah, you're killing the party with your negativity," said Peyton. "Chill out, have some fun." He scooted his order of chili fries in front of her. "Have a chili fry."
The music was blasting and everyone was dancing when a player showed up. Tom happened to look over his shoulder to see a girl standing on a 'port disk. She had curly black hair held back by a tiara and was wearing an aqua blue dress with tulle fabric in various shades of blue laying over the skirt and a pair of shimmering, aqua gloves. The top half of her face was covered by an aqua mask edged with dark blue glass beads and she had blue glitter on her cheeks. She certainly turned a few heads when she entered.
"Who in Perim is that?" asked Peyton as he came up behind Tom to see who the girl was.
"I have no idea," replied Tom. "I don't think I've seen her in Chaotic before."
"She looks nervous," said Peyton. "She might be a new player."
"Then we should go introduce ourselves," said Tom.
Tom and Peyton walked up to the girl.
"Hi, I'm Tom. This is Peyton. Do you want to come sit at our table?"
The girl blushed. "O-okay," she stammered.
Tom held out his arm. The girl slipped her arm through his and Tom led the way to their table.
Peyton introduced the others. "This is Sarah and Kaz."
"Hey, how's it going?" asked Kaz.
"Great to see you here," said Sarah.
"Thank you," said the girl.
"We never got your name," said Tom.
"Isn't that part of the masquerade?" asked the girl. "You're not supposed to know who anyone else is? It makes life more fun."
"Then just call me Peyton-ula," Peyton said, pulling his cape up to cover the lower half of his face. He stalked the girl. "I'm going to suck your blood!"
"No! Save me!" cried the girl with a laugh as she hid behind Tom.
The music went from a techno song into a tango remix.
"Care to dance?" Tom asked the girl.
"I'm not sure," said the girl. "I've been told I have two left feet."
"Don't worry about it," said Tom. "It's easy to fix."
Tom pulled the girl onto the dance floor. The girl quickly found out that Tom was a fantastic dancer.
Back at the table, Kaz couldn't help but laugh a little, more out of envy than humor. "Looks like ballet camp was good for something after all," he said.
"What?" asked Sarah.
"Nothing," Kaz quickly said.
"You're really good at this," said the girl.
"You're not so bad yourself," said Tom.
"Surprisingly, I do less damage in heels than in sneakers," said the girl.
"I know you don't want your name to be known, but I've got to call you something," said Tom.
"You can call me Unda," said the girl. "I was trying to pull off a human version of her."
"You did a great job," said Tom. "Homemade costumes take a lot of work. Do you have a scan of Unda?"
"Yes," replied Unda. "I'm an Overworld player. I heard that you're the best there is."
"I wouldn't say the best," said Tom. "I still make amateur mistakes."
"We all do," said Unda. "We just have to learn from them."
"Mind if I cut in?" Natalie put her hand on Tom's arm. She looked at Unda. "You've had him for long enough."
"I was dancing with her," said Tom.
"Now you're dancing with me," said Natalie.
By the time Tom ditched Natalie, Unda was gone.
The real Unda was surprised to see Avery sitting at her usual spot in the middle of the night. Avery had her head resting on her knees. Beside her was a blue mask.
"Avery, what are you doing here at this hour?" asked Unda. "You are lucky that I was around. Not all Creatures are kind to humans."
Avery looked up at Unda. She was crying, glitter from her cheeks mingling with her tears.
"I'm so stupid!" sobbed Avery. "I'm such a chicken, too!"
"Avery, what happened?" asked Unda, sitting beside her.
"I talked to that player I told you about," said Avery.
"That's great!" said Unda. "Did you ask him for a match?"
"No," replied Avery. "I met his friends and then he asked me to dance with him. It was great until Natalie got in the way. I thought she would recognize me and I came back here."
Unda sighed. "At least you talked to him," she said. "He knows your name, right?"
"Again, chickened," said Avery.
"Oh, dear," said Unda. "Avery, what am I going to do with you?"
Avery looked up at Unda. "Stay friends with me?" she asked hopefully.
"Of course!" said Unda, surprised by Avery's remark. "Why wouldn't I stay friends with you?"
"Thank you, Unda," said Avery, drying her eyes.
"So who do you think that girl was?" asked Kaz.
It was a few days after the masquerade ball. The four friends wanted to know who that girl in blue was, but none as much as Tom. He was actually depressed that he never got her real name, or a screen name for that matter.
"How could we have missed her in Chaotic before?" asked Sarah. "She was very pretty."
"Do you think Natalie knows who it is?" asked Peyton.
"No!" Sarah said sternly. "We are not asking her."
"What do you think, Tom?" asked Kaz.
Tom didn't answer. He was playing with the straw in his soda.
"Hey, Tommy!" sang Peyton. He gave Tom a shove to get his attention.
"What?" asked Tom.
"You've been like this since the party," said Kaz. "You're starting to scare us."
"I'm fine," said Tom flatly. "I better head to Perim. Bodal might have something for me to do."
Tom got up from his seat and headed for the 'port disks.
"I'm worried," said Sarah.
"Same here," said Kaz. "I've never seen him like this, not even when he lost that scan of Maxxor."
"We have to find her," said Sarah.
"How?" asked Peyton. "Have a beauty contest?"
"She was acting a little strange," said Sarah. "She may have looked like a princess at the party, but I don't think that's what she normally looks like."
"For all we know she could be the biggest geek in Chaotic," said Peyton. "We should be looking for someone with a lot of knowledge about battling."
"Maybe something she said to Tom will give us a clue," said Kaz.
"Yeah," said Peyton. "You should have seen her blush when Tom invited her to our table."
At the same time in the Overworld arsenal, Tom was having similar thoughts. He was combing through every word of their conversation, searching for something that would lead him to her identity.
"Tom!" Bodal's grating voice made Tom cringe. "Are you listening?"
"Sorry, Bodal," Tom said, rubbing his eyes. "It's been a rough couple of nights. What were you saying?"
"Honestly, Tom," said Bodal. "This is the third time today that I had to get your attention and repeat myself. If I was properly staffed, this would never happen."
Tom's attention drifted away, but quickly returned to the arsenal when he almost walked into Bodal. He forced himself to focus on Bodal's rambling.
It wasn't until mid-afternoon that Tom was granted a reprieve from Bodal's irritating voice. He sat at on a crate and let his mind wander.
I'm an Overworld player. You can call me Unda. I was trying to pull of a human version of her. I heard that you're the best there is.
A hand settled on Tom's shoulder. Surprised, Tom jumped up and began to slide off the crate. The hand on his shoulder tightened and pulled him back onto the crate. Tom looked up to see Maxxor standing beside him.
"I called your name twice, Tom," said Maxxor. "What is it? You aren't ill, are you?" Maxxor put a hand to Tom's forehead.
"I'm fine," said Tom, brushing the hand away. "I'm just tired."
"Has Bodal turned you into his errand boy?" asked Maxxor.
Tom shook his head. "No," replied Tom. "I haven't been able to sleep."
"What has you so vexed that you can't sleep?" asked Maxxor.
"A few nights ago all the Chaotic players got together for a masquerade ball," said Tom. "I met a girl there and she just disappeared when another girl tried to cut in. We haven't a clue who she was."
Maxxor had an odd smile on his face. Tom looked at him skeptically.
"What's that look for?" asked Tom.
"Little Tom is growing up," said Maxxor, ruffling Tom's hair.
"Oh, stop," said Tom, trying to duck out of the way.
"Is she pretty?" asked Maxxor.
"She is," replied Tom. "You would think that she would be easy to find, but none of us have the slightest idea who she is." Tom sighed. "It's frustrating."
"You're a smart human, Tom," said Maxxor. "You'll figure it out."
"The only thing I know about her is that she has a scan of Unda," Tom said. He jumped as an idea struck him. "Oh, Tom, you moron! That should have been the first thing you checked. How many players have an Unda scan? Thanks, Maxxor!"
Tom 'ported out and back to Chaotic.
Avery was taking notes on a match that was playing on one of the screens. She twirled her pen in one hand.
"There you are," said Natalie.
Avery cringed. She didn't want to be around Natalie after what happened at the party. There was a chance that Natalie didn't know that it was her that night, but she didn't want to chance it. It could be disastrous!
"What, Natalie?" asked Avery.
"Did you hear about that girl from the ball who was dressed in blue?" asked Natalie. She laughed. "I wish I would have thought of a costume like that. Her mask had the right touch with those glass beads. You know that no one knows who she is."
"Really?" asked Avery.
"Nope, not a soul," said Natalie, taking a seat beside Avery. Leaning in close so only Avery could hear, she added, "But I think I know who she was."
Avery dropped her pen. "Who?" she stammered.
"Well, certainly not you, stupid!" she cried. Natalie shrieked with laughter. "To think that it would have been you is the most preposterous thing."
"Excuse me. I'm looking for Avery."
The girls turned around to see Tom standing behind them.
"That's me," said Avery in a small voice.
"What do you want with her?" asked Natalie. "I can give you a run for your money in a match."
"That's fine," said Tom. "But I want to battle Avery." He smiled at Avery. "I know it was you that night. Would you like to battle with me?"
"I-I w-would love t-t-to," Avery stuttered. She cleared her throat. "I would love to have a battle with you, Tom."
"What?" screamed Natalie, her face turning red. "That was you? How can that be possible? I'm much more prettier than you are!"
"Looks have nothing to do with it," said Tom to Natalie. He turned to Avery. "I will see you in the Beta Drome."
Avery watched Tom walk away.
"I did it," she whispered. "I got my match with him."
What do you think? Please review because that would be my birthday gift because my birthday is tomorrow. I'm so happy that I made it this far!