Ben hated Billaine Town High. The faculty was underpaid and apathetic. The lights flickered, and there were cracks in the ceiling. Students and staff alike had to pay for their own school supplies. The food in the cafeteria was an unsavoury swill of questionable nutritional value. The bathrooms could charitably be described as a biohazard. The books in the library were smudged, dog-eared and outdated; the obsolete computers ran on buggy, discontinued operating systems. There were potholes in the parking lot and weeds in the soccer field. The special needs classroom where Ben was often sent to catch up on his work was staffed by power-tripping “educational assistants” who ran the place like an old-timey lunatic asylum.

Indeed, the high school could be viewed as a microcosm of the problems that afflicted Billaine Town in general. The residents, less than 6000 of them, lived a drab, monotonous existence, surrounded by crumbling infrastructure and governed by ambivalent leadership. There were only a handful of local businesses and they all struggled to get by; including Baily’s Cafe and Bakery, which Ben’s mother took over after her own mother retired. Every year the population shrunk as young people boarded the one maglev station out of town to seek better prospects elsewhere in Zaitopia. Many moved to Zaito City, which was only a 20 minute ride away. At the rate of its decline it seemed inevitable that Billaine would become a ghost town in just a generation or two.

The bell rang and Ben breathed a sigh of relief. He dashed out of his homeroom, dodged a chunk of rotting drywall that fell from the ceiling, scooched around the giant brown puddle in the hallway and made his way to his locker. It screeched open on rusty hinges and Ben crammed his textbooks into his overstuffed backpack as quick as he could. His shoulders ached in protest as the straps of his backpack bit into them and Ben and made his way out the front door to freedom.

Dennis was waiting for him in a shiny red sports car. Ben climbed into the passenger’s seat, eager to sit next to him, setting his backpack on the floor between his legs. Dennis input the car’s autopilot coordinates to the Wyldcard Compound and it began to drive itself. All vehicles in Dimentiara had autopilots: a driver was only necessary to take the wheel in case of emergency. Ben’s stomach growled.

“Hey, can we stop by Borger Bash on the way to the compound?” Ben asked. “I skipped lunch.”

“Sure thing. So, how was your day?” Dennis asked.

“Better than usual,” Ben groaned. “I just barely managed to pass my algebra test and nobody called me any slurs or tried to stuff me into a locker.”

Dennis grimaced. “That’s rough. And nobody tries to intervene?”

“I don’t have any friends.”

“Oof. I’d offer to help you study for your next test but I’ve long since forgotten how to do algebra,” Dennis said. “Maybe Kristy could give you a hand, she’s great at math.”

“I wouldn’t want to inconvenience her…”

“She’s the queen of cramming,” Dennis said. “She told me back when she was in university she’d just study and work on her assignments for ten hours straight. Every night she’d go through like a gallon of coffee and two packs of cigarettes. Studying for a high school algebra test is a cakewalk compared to that.”

“Isn’t she a corporate executive? Doesn’t she have more important things to do?”

“De-stressing is important for all Kreature Tamers,” Dennis said. “Mindlinking is a lot easier when you aren’t agonizing over every little thing, and with team solidarity comes peace of mind. We help each other out.”

“But I’m not part of the team, technically,” Ben replied. “I’m still just an apprentice…”

“Not part of the team yet,” Dennis corrected. “If Wade and Kristy like your performance evaluations you might have a shot at becoming an official member.”

“You really think so?”

“And even if you don’t, your time working here will look good on a team application.”

“What if I don’t make the team? We could still keep in touch, right? Still help each other out and stuff?”

“Of course,” Dennis said. “That’s what friends do.”

Ben smiled.


Dennis pulled out of the Borger Bash drive through and passed Ben his food. As he began to eat, Ben couldn’t help but snicker a little bit. Even though Dennis had his seat pushed as far back as it would go he still looked cramped, his head scraping the ceiling, legs spread out and knees noticeably bent. He looked like he was squeezed into a clown car.

“I bet nobody ever tried stuffing you in a locker,” Ben said as he crammed a handful of french fries into his mouth.

“Bold of you to assume I was ever at school,” Dennis quipped back. “When I did bother going to class I was always the tallest kid in my grade. Sometimes I feel like I live in a world made for gnomes. Cars don’t have enough legroom, door frames graze my head, chairs are too small, basketball is too easy…”

“Tall guy problems,” Ben chuckled, biting into his double cheeseburger. “Maybe you should get a bigger car.”

“It’s not mine. Kristy’s the real breadwinner in our relationship, I’m just some rube who mucks out kreature habitats.”

“When you put it that way it sounds pretty one-sided…”

“Not at all. I play a crucial role around the homestead. I’m the one who gets things off the top shelf for her!”

“Hey, so I guess you do have an equal partnership after all!”

They both laughed. But then their laughter trailed off into an awkward silence. Ben began to sweat and wondered if maybe his joke was in poor taste.

“So back before the team started to tank we had a support staff to help us look after the Kreatures.”

Ben nodded. A typical mid-tier team had a ratio of about two or three support staff for each tamer. The Wyldcard compound was severely understaffed for a facility of its size. The Wyldcard team and their apprentices were running themselves ragged doing the work of around 20 people.

“Back then I had more time for side hustles to bring in extra income. 1V1 matches and the like. I did make a meaningful contribution… but things between us have gotten pretty rough lately. Lots of shouting matches over finances and shit. Kristy’s a remarkably patient and understanding woman but even she has her limits. Our relationship’s hanging on by a thread.”

“Oh… I see…”

“Sorry for bringing down the mood,” Dennis said. “I shouldn’t be bumming you out with my relationship drama. For what it’s worth, I really appreciate you and Riidya helping us out around the compound. Even taking a tiny bit of the load off our shoulders makes a difference. It keeps the existential dread at bay and gives me something else to think about. It’s raised everybody’s spirits a bit, actually. So, thanks.”

“You’re welcome, but I should be thanking you for giving Slash a place to stay and teaching me lots of new things.”

“Not at all. You’re the one who signed up for our apprenticeship program. And even if the Wyldcard team folds, I’ll take some comfort in knowing I helped the new generation of Kreature Tamers get a leg up in the world.”

Ben blushed, smiled and looked away, trying his hardest to hold back tears. There had to be some way he could show his gratitude to the Wyldcard team; to Dennis; for all the kindness they’d shown him.

As the vehicle drove them to the compound, Ben stared out the window and began brainstorming.


Ben scooped up the kreature manure with his shovel and gagged. Riidya held out her bucket and he deposited the feces with a wet splat.

“Gross… I don’t think it should be this moist, do you? We better log it, Dennis is gonna want to send it in for testing.”

“When I signed up for this apprenticeship program I thought I’d be learning more battle tactics and gaining practical team combat experience, but ever since we got here it seems like all they’ve done is assign us menial labour.” A fly landed on Riidya’s shoulder; she flared her feathers to shoo it away. “I’m starting to feel like this is a scam. This is the sort of stuff they should be hiring grooms for, we’re professional Kreature Tamers!”

“Kreature husbandry is a really important skill for a Tamer to have!” Ben retorted. “Unhappy Kreatures don’t mindlink. Good husbandry is the foundation of a positive relationship between Kreature and Tamer!”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, Dennis says it all the time. You quote the guy’s lectures verbatim like a little robot. It’s kinda creepy to be honest.”

Ben blushed. “I’m just saying, he has good advice…”

“I just wonder how long I’m gonna have to work here before I’m qualified enough to join a higher-tier team.”

“You’re not planning on staying?”

“Who stays with the first team they join?” Riidya scoffed. “Besides, it’s not like the Wyldcard team has great prospects.”

“I’m hoping to become an official member. I like working here! Everybody is so nice!”

“Maybe, but I didn’t become a Kreature Tamer to make friends. I can’t just stagnate on some bottom-tier team for my entire career. If a better opportunity comes along I’d be stupid not to take it.”

“I dunno…” Ben said. “That sounds kinda mercenary, don’t you think?”

“It’s a cutthroat industry. A Kreature Tamer’s destiny is to climb the ranks. I don’t think Dennis and Kristy would want to hold us back.”

“I guess you have a point… but loyalty goes a long way too. For the first time in my life, I feel like I belong somewhere. I don’t really want that to change.”

Riidya looked away, silent.


Ben grabbed a live insect with a pair of tongs from the feed bucket and presented it to Wally the Platrox. The Kreature flared his nostrils suspiciously at the food he was presented, then snorted in disapproval.

“Crickets? I asked for mealworms!”

“Dennis says you gotta eat your crickets before you can have mealworms,” Ben said.

“Yeah, so eat up before I shove them down your gullet,” Riidya threatened.

“Mealworms first, then crickets.”

“We know what’s up,” Riidya said. “If we give you the mealworms first you’ll eat your fill and have no room left over for crickets.”

“So why don’t YOU eat them, then,” Wally retorted.

“I already had my lunch. Now eat. Yours.”

“Please?” Ben pleaded.

With a swipe of his tailblade faster than either Ben or Riidya could see, Wally slashed open the feed bucket and spilled the crickets all over the floor of the habitat. He cackled as they dropped to their knees and scrambled to catch them.


“So Wally’s been giving you two a hard time, eh?” Dennis said.

“It took forever to catch all those crickets,” Riidya griped. “That Kreature is such a pain in the tail feathers.”

Dennis laughed. “He loves hazing newcomers. He’ll warm up to you eventually. Probably.”

“I’ve never seen such an articulate Platrox, though,” Ben said. “You did a good job training him.”

“I can’t take all the credit,” Dennis said. “He’s a bit smarter than a normal Kreature.”

“Where’d you get him?” Ben asked.

“I dunno who designed him, but I found him a few years back when I was visiting my parents back on Isla Basaltros. I was walking along the beach and came across this mangled, half-eaten carcass that still looked slightly alive, so we stuck it in the clinic’s regeneration chamber. There was no registration number so I decided to keep him.”

“That’s not much of an origin story,” Riidya scoffed. “I think it raises more questions than it answers.”

“Well, perhaps some things are better left a mystery,” Dennis said.


Internet personality Amy Oliveira and her production assistant Ida Valentine couldn’t have been more different, both in appearance and demeanour. Amy was driven, professional, outgoing and extroverted. Ida was apathetic, soft spoken and reserved. Amy was short, dark skinned, curvaceous and stylish. Ida was tall, pale, lanky and frumpy. In spite of all this they were the best of friends, and had been so since primary school. Indeed, she was Ida’s only friend, so perhaps it was a twinge of jealousy that prompted her dislike of Amy’s boyfriend Wade.

Amy and Wade had met each other not too long ago at an exhibition match he was participating in. Amy had intended to interview the winner for her VidT00b channel, and the two hit it off pretty well. The goo-goo eyes they’d made at each other during the interview nearly caused Ida’s to roll out of her head as she’d filmed it. She didn’t get what she saw in him; he seemed like kind of a blowhard, but hey, to each their own. Still, she’d been pretty miffed when Amy had ran off to hang out with her new beau and left her all alone to edit the footage. Amy made it up to her later with a new caterpillar plushie to add to her collection, so Ida didn’t mind too much when she dragged her to the Wyldcard Compound to help film a video for the team’s official social media page.

Dennis, Kristy, Ben and Riidya were gathered around one of Kristy’s Kreatures, a melanistic Silkiure named Dart. She waved her antennae and slowly swung her tail back and forth, curious about all the commotion, as Amy did some last minute adjustments on the lighting and Wade shuffled through the cue-cards, making sure they were in order.

“Yeah, this looks good,” Amy said. “This lighting really captures the gloss on Dart’s fur.”

“Is the camera in focus?” Wade asked.

“We’re all ready to go,” Ida replied.

“Alright,” Amy said. “ACTION!”

“Welcome to episode 23 of Wyldcard Extras!” Dennis said. “Here with us today are our new apprentices, Ben and Riidya. We’ll be demonstrating the proper way to groom a Silkiure-”

“Cut!” Riidya shouted. Everybody else groaned.

“What is it, Riidya?” Wade asked.

“Why is Ben’s name first? I’ve got seniority over him, it would make more sense to state my name first.”

“That’s just the way the script was written,” Wade said. “But if you’re going to make this difficult-”

“I’m not being difficult,” Riidya snapped back, feathers ruffling. “I’m just offering honest feedback on the dialogue. Right, Ben?”

“Uh, I don’t mind either way…”

“The original line just reads better,” Amy said, a bit miffed her script was being over-scrutinized, “Ben and Riidya” has more flow to it than “Riidya and Ben.”

Dart, slightly perturbed by all the bickering, hissed lightly through her spiracles and began to swing her tail a bit faster. Kristy gently stroked the Silkiure’s antennae to calm her down.

“Can we move on?” Kristy asked. “Unless the lot of you want to deal with a pissed-off Battle Kreature…”

“I wasn’t happy with that take anyway,” Dennis said. “I sounded a bit wooden, we haven’t filmed one of these videos in a while. I’m out of practice.”

Ida let out a long sigh through her nostrils. She took out her phone and scrolled through her social media feed while the Wyldcard team quibbled over the minutia of video. At this rate, it didn’t seem likely that they’d finish shooting today.

Amy definitely owed her another caterpillar plushie for all this.


Slash murmured in his sleep, curled up next to Ben on the sofa in the Wyldcard team’s break room. The Jagaldie’s skin was still a teensy bit moist from his recent bath, so Ben didn’t need to worry himself about any dander getting on the upholstery. His financial status was enough to worry about. Not to mention his grades; he was struggling to keep them up between his apprenticeship duties. Ben would rather have been spending his break relaxing but instead he was getting caught up on his math homework. He was determined to graduate this year so he would never have to see or hear from his idiot asshole classmates ever again. Maybe he’d even ascend to Rookie Grade faster if he didn’t have to divide his attention between Kreature Taming and schoolwork.

Ben wondered who he’d invite to his graduation ceremony. He’d considered Riidya, but doubted she would be interested. She seemed rather abrasive. What did he ever do to her? Maybe he’d said something to piss her off at some point without realizing it. Navigating complex social situations with other humans was awkward enough, much less the only Domonid he’d ever met…

Ben’s train of thought was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of high heels clicking on linoleum. Ben looked up to see Kristy approaching him with a large bouquet of purple flowers.

“Hey Ben, you have a delivery.”

“For me? Who’s it from?”

“No idea”, Kristy said. She sat down on the sofa next to him, crossing her legs and passing him the bouquet. When Slash stuck his face in the flowers and began chowing down on them, Ben noticed there was a pink envelope stuck to it.

“Hey, there’s a letter attached…” he opened the envelope and read the enclosed letter, which was written in an elegant font on fancy pink stationary. It said:

Dear Benjamin Weiss:

Congratulations! We’re been watching your matches ever since your debut with great interest. You’re our favourite underdog! After you had that losing streak and dropped off the map we were worried you’d given up Kreature Taming. Imagine our relief upon checking your KCF profile and noticing you’d joined an apprenticeship program! We hope things start to look up for you soon. We await your next match with bated breath. Good luck! We’re rooting for you!~

Sincerely: your two biggest fans!

“Wow, my first fan letter! This is so flattering!” Ben said. “It’s too bad they didn’t leave a return address so I could thank them…”

Kristy was suspicious. Being a gorgeous woman with a public presence she’d gotten more than her fair share of vulgar comments and lewd solicitations back when the team was still relevant. The bouquet was certainly classier than the dick pics that flooded her inbox but it still set off alarm bells in her head.

“These are Royal Zaitopes,” she remarked. “This bouquet must have been expensive. Maybe too expensive for a mere fan tribute. It’s okay to be flattered but I’d be wary if I were you. You’re young and attractive and some of these fans can be… obsessive. Make sure not to give them too much attention or they’ll feel entitled to it.”

“I’m attractive?” Ben said, blushing and stammering.

“Just be careful, okay?”