She turned to face the origin of the voice and found two people standing before her. She recognized them right away; she’d seen enough game replays and vid-interviews to be able to place them anywhere.
Daryl and Lyla Kioko. Her competition.
At first glance, they didn’t look particularly imposing: short, thin, and somewhat baby-faced, the two of them. They seemed to have the charming twin thing going on, with the same raven-black hair, the same facial tics, even the same preppy clothes. In fact, they could have just as easily been starring in a string of designer jeans ads as competing in a robot battle competition. But there was a look in their eyes—a shared link of intensity that left no doubt that they meant business.
In his hands, Daryl held what she could only conclude was their own battling robot—Iron Dragon. You couldn’t mistake it. Sleek and shiny, it even had the head of a dragon, its treacherous mouth agape, ready to breathe fire on any enemy who dared oppose it. Compared to her simple approach with DEBBI, this was next-level stuff, and she couldn’t help but think that his use of the word cute was meant as a jab rather than a compliment.
She placed DEBBI back in the gate and said, “Thank you,” trying her best to save face. She still didn’t care much about DEBBI’s appearance, but the fact that her competition was using it as a means to get a dig in didn’t sit well with her.
“Don’t mention it,” he said with a smug grin.
She didn’t know what was more unsettling—his air of carefree swagger or his sister’s cold aloofness. Lyla said nothing and gave nothing, simply watching the exchange with a neutral expression on her face.
Helen got the feeling that this was some kind of calculated strategy of theirs. Size up the competition. Maybe try to throw them off their game a little. A weird twin version of good cop, bad cop.
Fortunately for Helen, her very own partner in crime chose that moment to come to her aid.
“What’s this?” Misty asked, stepping out onto the arena stage. “A party? Why wasn’t I invited?”
Daryl looked her up and down for a moment before saying, “Oh, I’d be happy to invite you anywhere you’d like to go.”
Misty didn’t miss a beat. “No thanks,” she said. “I have more interesting things to do. Like watching them change the paper towels in the rest room.”
Unfazed, Daryl shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
He strode over to his side of arena, placed Iron Dragon in its own start gate, and motioned for his sister to come along. Lyla gave them one last hard and unreadable stare before turning away.
“Good luck, ladies,” Daryl said as he led his sister off the stage. “Enjoy those paper towels.”
Helen watched them go, her hands clenched into fists the entire time. Now she was more determined than ever to win, not only for the grand prize, but for the chance to shove it right in Daryl Kioko’s arrogant face.
“Mist,” she said, referring to her friend’s name in that special, condensed way that only BFFs understood.
“Let’s gear up. We have a dragon to hunt.”
George Ebey is the author of the forthcoming Phoenix Saga, a series of fantasy adventure tales for young readers soon to be published by Glass House Press.
Prior to turning to the world of Middle Grade and Young Adult adventure, he got his start by writing works of mystery and suspense. Ebey’s previous titles include: Broken Clock; The Red Bag; Dimensions: Tales of Suspense; and Widowfield.
These days he’s proud to be an author with Glass House Press as well a contributor to the International Thriller Writer’s online webzine,The Big Thrill.