Magical Girl Policy- Chapter 7

Eli bounced up and down in the passenger seat while Cory navigated the dirt road as quickly as he could with his car lights off. “You sure you can drive safely on this dirt road in the dark?”

Cory responded with a tone far more confident than his words. “Almost sure. I mean, I’ve seen it before.”

Eli groaned and steadied Cory’s laptop as he swayed side-to-side. “I really don’t know if I would have committed to this part of the plan if I had known that.’

“Hey,” Cory said defensively, “I didn’t exactly have the easiest time articulating any part of the plan with Robert being super-paranoid and demanding any part of the plan we use be submitted on paper only.”

Eli sighed. It had been very annoying. Halfway through their planning last night, Robert had gotten worried the Spirit Guard might be listening in. “Yeah. I mean, I get not using electronics to plan because of the Spirit Guard already displaying that they could hack his phone, but, I don’t know. Felt a bit extreme.”

“And slow! It takes so long to write an actual note! I mean, the last time I hand wrote that much was–” Cory’s thought was interrupted by the sound of his car bottoming out on the dirt road. “I think this road was meant more for trucks than my car.”

Eli laughed. “You think? Maybe we should just foot it the rest of the way. We can’t be too far away from that shed you were talking about.”

“Yeah.” Cory brought the car to a stop. “I’m just surprised I even remembered this road for the plan. And that we’re doing this.”

Eli tucked Cory’s laptop into his backpack, stepped out of the car, and slung the backpack over his shoulder, with Cory’s laptop over his shoulder. “Yeah, how did you know about this road. Typically all the weird stuff that you know I know as well. How did you discover this?”

“Remember the Summer of Abandonment?”

Eli groaned as the duo marched down the hill. “That wasn’t my fault. What was I supposed to do? Tell my parents to take you on the summer cruise and the tour of Europe?”

“You could have tried.”

“You’re nuts. Not to mention dramatic. I can’t believe you still refer to that as the Summer of Abandonment. We were still in middle school.”

“Regardless,” Cory said with a grin, “I spent a lot of time with James Renson that summer.”

Eli raised an eyebrow. “James ‘The Hoodie’ Renson? The creepy kid who wore the same grody, white hoodie every single day?”

“Hence why I call it the Summer of Abandonment.”

Eli rolled his eyes, though he knew his compatriot wouldn’t be able to see it. “How does this relate to the dirt road?”

“Oh yeah! Anyway, his dad worked for the grounds crew for the Standridge Circle park. He was taking us to a movie and left his wallet at work so we went to this shack at the back of the park where they keep all the lawn maintenance stuff. I just thought it was so cool there was a sort of back entrance into the park so it always stuck with me.”

Eli smiled, deciding to rib at Cory a bit. “How is my backup the Hoodie? I feel I should have had a higher quality backup.”

“Hey, it was slim pickings that summer. All our other buddies were either too far away to be within walking distance or were too busy trying to be cool and pretend they were above playing video games and watching cartoons.”

Eli sighed. “I guess it’s always been you and me.”

The sound of crickets filled the air for a moment as neither of them spoke. “And now Robert, maybe?” If Eli hadn’t known Cory for so long, he would have thought Cory’s sentence was a statement, but he could hear just the right tone where he knew he was being asked a question.

“Maybe. It is rather weird how quickly he’s fit in with us. No one else has ever just accepted our antics like this.” Eli sighed. “I worry people find it intimidating or something.”

Cory chuckled. “I just can’t believe we’re disobeying the Spirit Guard for a guy we’ve only known for little over two weeks.”

Eli nodded. Why were they doing this? Rob had just so naturally fit in with them that he didn’t really question what they were doing. “This kind of is the opposite of what my sister told us to do.”

“Told us what to do?”

“To avoid these dangerous situations for our idiot friend’s sake.”

Cory scoffed. “First off, since when have we listened to your sister? Secondly, Rob, my good man, is no idiot. He’s taking classes I wouldn’t dare take. And thirdly, if I recall correctly, her instructions were more specific towards monsters and letting the Spirit Guard take care of those. Rob is no monster, therefore, this doesn’t apply to her advice.”

“Yeah,” Eli snorted, “I’m sure that explanation would go over great with her.” They approached the grounds crew’s supply building. The moonlight glinted off the two windows the building had. In the dead of the night, Eli thought about all the horror he had seen that were set in the woods. While it certainly wasn’t likely there was an ax murderer in the woods, he didn’t mind knowing that there would be superheroines in the park tonight. Just in case.

As they approached the building, Cory lowered his tone. While they were now a good four-hundred to four-hundred-fifty feet away from the Stoneridge Circle, they didn’t want to risk being loud and getting caught. “Please! What are the odds she’ll ever know about this? Let’s fire up that laptop.”

Eli plopped onto the ground and leaned against the building. He pulled Cory’s laptop out of his backpack and turned it on. “You sure we’ll have a good enough signal to get video?”

“Yeah, the video signal will be fine.” Cory handed the connection cable from his phone to Eli. “I’m more worried about the Spirit Guard seeing us. We’re well hidden behind the shack but they might have heard us drive up.”

With a few clicks the screen came on, and after fiddling with the settings for a little bit, Eli was able to get the video feed from the fiber-optic camera lining the inside of Robert’s headphones. The picture was a dark gray that probably was Robert’s jacket. “Well he hasn’t seen the Spirit Guard yet, I guess.”

“Here goes nothing.” Cory dialed Robert’s phone to get their audio feed. Eli held his breath as Robert answered and the sound of clothes ruffling emanated from the laptop speakers. The camera flipped from a close up view of Robert’s shoulder to the sight of four very attractive cheerleaders approaching Robert from the outside of the Standridge Circle.

“Looks like we’re in the clear. I count four Spirit Guard.”

Eli let out a drawn out sigh of relief. “That’s a load off.”

Spirit Guard Valor’s lips voice exited the speakers before her lips even moved.. Eli guessed the video was lagging about a second behind the audio. “Who was that you were talking to?”

Eli sat straight up in a panic. Did she know? “My uncle called me.”

“You didn’t tell him about our meeting did you?”

“Naw, he’s not from around here.”

Eli relaxed and noticed Cory do the same. “Nearly gave me a heart attack.”

Cory half laughed, half exhaled. “I’ll be a lot calmer when this is over.”

* – * – *

Robert stared, despite his uncle’s lessons on what was and wasn’t polite. Some sort of kangaroo rat thing was standing on an ancient monolith and, apparently, talking. Robert was sure an exception was allowed in this situation.

He glanced back at Valor and the other Spirit Guard before he pointed to the kangaroo rat with his thumb. “So is this a thing? Like, this is really happening? I’m not taking crazy pills here?”

Valor shrugged her shoulders; she was obviously trying to hide her amusement. “You’ll get used to it pretty quick.”

Robert remained dubious. “You sure? Because this meeting got a lot weirder than I expected it to be, and that’s saying something since I’m talking to super-hero cheerleaders.”

Spirit Guard Felicity giggled, “We bring in our expert on the matter and now you’re complaining?”

Robert rubbed his eyes in frustration. “I guess I didn’t expect your expert to be a talking marsupial.”

“As I said before, my name is Kunapipi,” the marsupial groused. “And I’m not a kangaroo rat. I’m a wallaby.”

Robert turned around and faced the talking animal. “Right. A wallaby.” Robert snorted, “That makes much more sense than a kangaroo rat.”

Kunapipi responded with a mixture of annoyance and amusement. “Sarcasm is unbecoming of you, Mr. Dreese.”

Robert chuckled. “Get to know me and I think you’ll see it becomes me just fine.”

Kunapipi laughed and Robert winced a little. There was something disturbing about seeing a live animal laugh like a human. It didn’t escape Kunapipi’s notice. “I’m sorry, Mr. Dreese. Maybe my real form was inappropriate for this meeting. I’m sorry if the sight of myself talking disturbs you somewhat.”

Robert held his hands up. “I wouldn’t say disturbing but, well, I don’t know. It’s definitely surreal.”

Kunapipi jumped off the Standridge Stone and, as she fell, her body morphed into a human shape. With a brief flash, the shape took the form of a woman with hair the color of rust that hung past her shoulders. She was tall enought to look Robert right in his eyes. If he would only judge her by appearance, Robert would have guessed her to be in her late twenties or early thirties. She wore a business suit and had a thin pair of glasses framing her eyes. She was quite pretty. “Perhaps you will find this form a little less surreal.”

Robert took a step back. “A little.” He swallowed down a huge lump in his throat. “Neat trick.”

Kunapipi took a cloth out of her suit pocket and began cleaning her glasses. “I had hoped this wouldn’t be our first meeting today, but it seems you didn’t feel the need for any counseling.”

Robert squinted his eyes. “Excuse me?”

“We’ve spoken on the phone before. I am the one who called yesterday offering you counseling on behalf of the University.”

It clicked. That’s why her voice was familiar. But why was a college counselor a transforming animal? “You’re Ms. Kala?” How were the Spirit Guard not the strangest thing here?

She smiled. “Ms. Kuna, but, please, call me by my actual name, Kunapipi. I get called Ms. Kuna all day while I’m counseling students.”

Robert nodded and feigned that any of this made sense. “Which begs the question of why a transforming wallaby has bills to pay, needs a job as a student councilor, and what the blazes it has to do with me glowing at a monster attack.”

“Direct and to the point. Just like you.” Robert narrowed his eyes. What was this woman talking about? “But let me actually just answer your original question.”

“That would be appreciated.”

“Are you familiar with Fate?”

“Fate?” The meeting had again taken a turn he had not imagined. “Like the concept, the mythological creatures, or is this a person we’re talking about who is named ‘Fate’? Because my answers in order are: I don’t believe in it, yes, and I haven’t had the pleasure.”

Ms. Kuna put her glasses back on. She pushed her chin out, thinking. “It’s actually a little bit of all three. Fate is a…” Ms. Kuna shifted her hands up and down as if weighing her words as she spoke, “…being. She is an answer to the Chaos of the void. She brings order to the multiverse in her own way.”

That answer raised so many questions in Robert’s mind he didn’t know where to begin. A lifetime of reading comic books made him want to ask about the multiverse thing first, but he knew that wasn’t the most important thing. He needed to figure out his connection between himself and this Fate being Ms. Kuna spoke of. “So Fate is is like a god or something?”

“No. Not a god. Think of her more as a force, though she is a being with a personality. More importantly, it’s how she acts that matters to your situation.”

Robert folded his arms. What was all this meta-physical mumbo-jumbo leading to? “Uh huh.”

“She acts through others. She does not intervene herself as that would rob the mortal beings of their will, their freedom to act. She instead sends Guides to find her Champions. Her Champions help bring the order she seeks.”

“Neat.” Robert leaned back against the Stone. “So, what are you?”

Ms. Kuna smiled warmly and held her hand to her chest. “I am a Guide. Fate created me to be her agent here on Earth. I have lived for thousands of years by your reckoning, seeking out her Champions. In times past my natural form of a talking animal was more accepted by the Champions of humanity. But as time has gone on, I’ve had to often take the form of a human to be accepted.”

Robert wondered why on earth this alleged Fate would make her Guide a wallaby, but that wasn’t what most interested him. “So you seek out Champions.” He pointed to the Spirit Guard. “Are they the Champions you’ve been seeking out?”

Valor nodded. “We are among the Champions that Kunapipi has been seeking. But we aren’t the only ones.”

Four cheerleaders and one human-shaped wallaby stared at Robert. Their eyes were filled with expectation. It took him a moment to decipher it, but Robert soon thought he knew what they were trying to communicate. “Wait.” Robert stood up straighter and scanned all the women in front of him like a gazelle looking for predators. “Are you implying I’m some sort of Champion?”

Charity beamed. “Yes, indeed we are.”

Ms. Kuna cleared her throat. “Each Champion has been selected for some reason. Your soul is brimming with serene investiture..”

“Say what?” Robert could feel his heart begin to pump faster, but he forced himself to breathe slow. His heart slowed. He would not let his emotions take over, though he prayed Cory and Eli were getting all this. Robert idly shifted his phone in his pocket to make sure the phone’s receiver was pointing the right direction and getting all the noise it could.

“Essentially Robert, you have been marked for the tasks ahead of you. Much like you can tattoo the skin with ink, there are ways to sort of ‘tag’ someone’s soul.”

Robert shook his head. This was getting out of hand. He couldn’t be a Champion of Fate. He was just a guy from Deepwater. The only thing he was a champion of was of his guild in Aspect Realms. “I’m sorry. So you’re saying some meta-physical being who orders the cosmos has tattooed my soul? Is this soul-tattoo the investiture y’all keep talking about?”

“It is a sign of your investiture but not the investiture itself. Your investiture actually comes from another but that is very complicated very fast.”

Robert scoffed. “And this isn’t?”

Ms. Kuna sighed. “It’s a lot to take in. But let me just say your investiture is a power that you have been endowed with from your very foundation. I was told by the Spirit Guard you could feel Platicore’s minion draining the power from others from a considerable distance. Is that true?”

Robert shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. I felt this… hard to describe, it was an icy stab in my, I don’t know, my investiture I guess.”

“That is an ability granted to you from your investiture. The symbol that glowed on your head was an emblem made to look like ripples in a pond. Those icy stabs you felt were your innate ability to feel Polygal harvesting the investiture of others. All people have some investiture, though in most people the investiture is a small one of simple will.”

Robert clenched his teeth. All these weird terms were making it difficult to make sense of what he was being told.. He tried to boil it down. “So if Polygal could steal other people’s investitures, why not mine?”

Charity stepped forward, warmth worn guilelessly on her face. “Platicore’s minions are living tools designed to harvest investiture. But these tools, these monsters, are like hammers to nails. There is no finesse. Most individuals have a trace amount of investiture. Your investiture is complicated, woven into your very being like a tapestry. With brute force, Polygal kept trying to force something out that requires a much more surgical process.”

Robert bit down on his thumbnail. “When Polygal was trying to get at my energy I was able to take that icy feeling I had and, still not sure how to describe it, but turn it into some kind of force to wash her away from what she was grabbing at.”

Ms. Kuna nodded. “As Charity said, she’s a simple tool. She wouldn’t, at first, notice how complex your investiture was. Polygal wasn’t looking for anything complicated. She’d just see the same common investiture that she had pulled from all others: the simple investiture of will. You were able to spring your other investiture to action, your investiture of serenity. That is how you fended her off.”

“Okay.” Robert leaned back and scratched at the back of his head. “But why? What’s so important about all this investiture anyway? What does this Platicore dude want with it?”

“Power,” Ms. Kuna said dramatically. “All living things have some amount of investiture of Will. Plants. Animals. Fungi. But sentient beings are the only ones that have enough will to be worth harvesting. Platicore creates monsters to rob sentients of their will so he can use it in his quest against Fate herself.”

Robert raised an eyebrow. “Platicore is fighting against a near godly being?”

“Platicore was once much like myself, an agent of Fate, though his knowledge in magic is much greater than my own. After a while, Platicore grew arrogant in his power. Started making decisions that were against the will of Fate.”

Robert held his hands out in confusion. “And didn’t Fate see this coming? I mean, with a name like Fate, she shouldn’t really get surprised much.”

Ms. Kuna chuckled. “She did see it coming, though Fate is not omniscient. She is simply far-seeing. She can see what decisions people will make and extrapolate the consequences far into the future, though the further out it gets, the less accurate her sight becomes. In the case of Platicore, she saw his treachery and cast him out long before he could have been a threat to her cause of Ordering the multiverse.”

“What was Platicore so pissed about that got him kicked out?”

Ms. Kuna hung her head. “He became obsessed with Fate’s ability to see further. How she’d subtly use her influence to guide events. He started asking questions about choice and wondered if he had any choice at all if she was pulling all the strings. As he mulled that thought over and over, it slowly drew him mad. He decided that the only sane thing to do was to fight Fate; to him it became the only true decision one could make.”

Robert mulled that thought in his mind. “Is he wrong though?”

Ms. Kuna jerked back as if Robert had just taken a swing at her. “I beg your pardon?”

Robert glanced up at the sky, searching for his words. “I mean, if she is subtly influencing things, do we really have any choices?” Robert wasn’t much of a philosopher, but questions like this had always fascinated him. “If she’s just fixing the situation to be something she knows we’ll do, it seems our life would just be like a train on a track with no real…”

Ms. Kuna urgently waved her hands and cut Robert off. “No, you have a choice. You always have a choice. Robbing a sentient of choice is an abomination in Fate’s eyes. She may know of your decisions, yes, but it is you who decides where you go. Fate simply lends her influence to those who go where they are needed.” Ms. Kuna held her chin up. “And uses her influence against those who seek to rob sentients of choice.”

Robert nodded. He realized he upset her and feigning trust probably would the best way to calm her down. He didn’t like the idea of being manipulated, be it by Fate or anyone. But he also didn’t really put much stock in the mystical or fantastic. It wasn’t his business what this wallaby-woman believed so why quibble further about it. Besides, she could transform into a wallaby. If there was ever a time to give someone a bit of slack with the magical nonsense it was now. “Let’s get back to this extra investiture I have. Why do I have this investiture of–what was it again?”

“Serenity”

“Yes, that. Why do I have it and what does this have to do with me being some sort of Champion?”

Ms. Kuna pushed some hair from her face. “Well, that story begins a long time ago.”

Robert rolled his eyes. “And I suppose it takes place in a galaxy nowhere near ours?”

Ms. Kuna chuckled. “In a manner of speaking. This story begins in another universe.”

Robert tossed his hands into the air. “Of course it does. Makes about as much sense as the rest of tonight.”

“Fate, though she does take interest in individuals, typically uses her influence on larger scales, on races and nations. One such people who who held Fate’s favor for a long season was the Ardent Empire. The Ardentia were a people who had pioneered the study of emotion and the power it had.”

Robert shut his eyes tightly. So much for skipping over all the mystical stuff. “The power of emotion?”

“Indeed.” Ms. Kuna explained, “Emotion is what motivates a person to do or act on something. The Ardentia royalty were quite fascinated with that concept and commissioned much research on the topic. Their scholars soon discovered that emotion wasn’t just an abstract concept to describe how one feels, but an actual force that could, with the right tools, affect the physical world. They called this new field of magical study empathokinetics. Well, they called it something else because they obviously did not speak English but that would be the equivalent.”

Robert bit his bottom lip. Ms. Kuna used words like magical to describe it but the way these people discovered this “magic” sounded a lot more scientific than he anticipated. “Empathokinetics. How exactly did it work?”

“I’m not exactly certain myself.” Robert’s shoulders sagged. “I was never anywhere near the Ardent Empire. I was stationed here on Earth. But what I do know is those who could actually use the magic were few and far between. It required intense training and focus that few had time for. Thus it was mostly something for the royalty, military, and academics to toy with. Over the course of the centuries, they learned not just of the power of emotion but the existence of investiture. Eventually, they learned how to create tools that, in the case of people with extremely large investitures, could make use of both investiture and empathokinetics. They referred to these tools as “foci” and they were extremely powerful, making it possible for the right people to summon forth the elements, augment their strength and speed exponentially, heal wounds, and convey knowledge.”

Robert glanced at the Spirit Guard. Speed. Strength. Summoning forth the elements. Were they somehow in possession of these foci? “For a long time, the Ardent Empire was a favored nation of Fate. They expanded their power through the cosmos and spread order. They did so, at first, not as conquerors but as teachers. They found peoples and species throughout the multiverse and taught them their ways. Eventually, they discovered Earth and ancient humanity.”

“To Earth?” Robert held back a laugh. “You mean like extra-planar aliens? How?”

“They did not ever come to Earth. They had made plans to, but we’ll get to why not later in the story. But they would always find extraordinary individuals whom they could pass messages to through the planes. They would instruct these people to how to construct a powerful focus that would act as a gateway between the planes. That is what happened here on Earth.”

“Really? Where was this gateway. Does it still exist?”

Ms. Kuna gestured around herself. “You’re standing in it.”

Robert’s eyes went wide. He stopped leaning on the stone. “This? But it’s just a bunch of rocks!”

“To most of Humanity, yes, it is. But in the hands someone with the right magic, empathokinetic magic, and with the right focus, it is a gateway to another world.”

Robert rubbed his eyes. If Angela knew about this, she’d flip out with excitement. She had been sort of right after all. Empathokenesis was very scientific from the sound of it, but she had basically been right. “So, they teach ancient humans how to build gateways. The humans go to all the time to build the gateway. So why did they never come through? The Ardent Empire I mean.”

Ms. Kuna sighed. “Nothing can last forever. The Ardent Empire died before they could ever travel to Earth.”

“How? If they had this powerful weapon in empathokenesis, what could stop them?”

“Well,” Ms. Kuna walked back and forth, obviously choosing her words carefully. “I told you the Ardentia had discovered investiture, which is part of your soul. They started experimenting with it. Fate sent them warnings to not tamper with souls, but they did not heed her warnings. Some of the royals and scholars began experimenting with ways to use their magic to imprint their souls over others as a way to cheat death.”

“Imprint their souls?” Robert adjusted his headset, making sure Cory and Eli had a good angle on this. “You mean, like overwrite them? Use someone else’s soul like a canvas to just paint over?” Robert hadn’t given much thought to his own soul before, but the thought of having it overwritten disturbed him.

Valor spoke up with venom dripping in her voice. “Is it such a surprise? It is the nature of mortals to fear death, and even the greatest among us can fall to that fear’s sway.”

Ms. Kuna closed her eyes tightly. “Fate had, up until that point, leant her influence the Ardent Empire, but once a significant portion of the Empire began supporting these abominable experiments they had to be stopped. It is not the destiny of mortals to never taste death. It is part of the design. All things have a time and a season. To run from death is to defy Fate herself, and she could not stand idle.”

Robert felt that this was building up to something. “What did Fate do?”

“Nothing, actually.” Ms. Kuna glanced at her feet. “As I told you, Platicore had been more and more obsessed with the idea of Fate pulling all the strings. He decided to rebel against Fate. His decision to rebel lead him to deciding to destroy the civilization Fate had, up to that point, most favored.”

“The Ardent Empire.”

“Exactly.” Ms. Kuna smiled. “He went to the Ardent Empire, seeking to destroy them. He sought to destroy them using their own magic. He became a very strong empathokinetic. For he was willing to openly experiment with magics that were forbidden in their culture.”

Robert squinted. “Such as?”

“I don’t know the full extent of how, but what what emotions you use to fuel your magic are very important. They can change the body and mind. Early on in their experiments, the Ardentia learned that negative emotions such as anger, fear, sorrow, and such would warp and twist the body and mind.”

Robert rolled his eyes. “So cliche.”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s cliche. Like something you’d see in a childrens’ cartoon.”

Valor frowned. “You don’t believe Kunapipi is telling the truth?”

“I believe that this story is completely nuts. But so is the situation. I’m merely pointing out that what I’m being told is hitting several traditional themes. Like someone is writing a script or something. It’s not meant to be a comment questioning anyone’s sincerity. I just think it’s funny and ironic.”

Felicity shook her finger. “If it fits what you’d expect it’s not ironic! It’s the opposite of that!”

Robert chuckled. He had never really let that bother him but he knew somewhere Cory was nodding his head. “You’re right of course. I should know better.” It seemed a bit odd that a superheroine would worry about that kind of thing but he was quickly learning just how human they were. “What would be a better term for something that isn’t what you’d think because it’s just too predictable?”

Felicity tapped her finger to her chin then shrugged with a grin. “Cliche, I guess.”

Tenacity gave the diminutive Spirit Guard a disapproving look. “Really?”

“What? He’s not wrong. It is an overused trope. It just happens to be reality too. They become cliches for a reason.”

Tenacity sighed. “It’s just not the time for a literary critique.”

Robert waved off the discussion. “But back to the topic at hand, why would Platicore want to destroy the Ardent Empire? I mean, they were starting to defy Fate with their soul overwriting stuff. Wouldn’t he encourage that?”

Ms. Kuna glanced at Tenacity and Felicity momentarily before explaining further. “Well, first of all, Platicore did not know all that was occurring with the Ardent Empire. Had Platicore known what the royals were up to, he would have definitely changed his tactics.”

“The royals? They were the ones doing the experimentation?”

Ms. Kuna nodded. “I said the Ardentia had outlawed the practice of using negative emotions to fuel their empathokenesis but that didn’t stop experimentation from happening. Long periods of prosperity and power lead to feelings of superiority and arrogance. They felt above their own rules. They felt above everyone’s rules, including Fate. This was especially true the higher up you went in the Ardentia royalty. Had Platicore just known that one fact, maybe he wouldn’t have attacked them but tried to use them against Fate. Instead he tried to crush them.”

“How do you mean?”

“Platicore despised the Ardentia Royalty. He viewed the Empress and her family as Fate’s favored pets. So Platicore tried to tear them down. As I said before, due to the nature of empathokenesis, it was an activity reserved for those who had both ability, time, and money to master it. This meant that the average citizen had little access to it. Even if you had great potential, you had to have some sponsor of some kind who could afford to pay you to take the time to master it. And if that was the case, you ended up somewhere in the power structure of academia, the military, or the royalty anyway as you’d be indebted to them. Before Platicore showed up, such patronage wasn’t viewed in a negative light as that was just the way the system had worked.”

Robert snorted. “So that was how Platicore played it? Rich vs. poor? Talk about cliches.”

“You have to understand Robert, because of their history, the Ardent Empire lore was full of tales of Guides like myself inspiring people to greatness. Some of their greatest triumphs were the appearance of a Guide who encouraged one action or another, tossing aside their evil foes. Platicore played on this cultural fact, just substituting the Ardentia establishment as the evil that needed to be vanquished. Thus, without realizing it, Platicore was doing Fate’s bidding by helping her punish those who would defy her.”

Robert sighed. “Seriously though, what does this have to do with me?”

“We’ll be there soon enough.” With a huff, Robert gestured for Ms. Kuna to continue. “Platicore’s ranks swelled quickly in power. He perfected a process, using his knowledge from centuries as an agent of Fate, by which he could draw upon the investiture of others and transplant it into another. He would then fuse their body with some sort of focus that channeled negative energy. That process would twist the persons’ body, mind, and soul and turn them into a twisted human-focus abomination.”

Robert immediately thought about the Polygal’s body: ticket dispensers in wrists, coin slots where abs should be, tubes coming out of her hips. “Like Polygal? She was a human at one point?” This thought disturbed Robert as it would mean the Spirit Guard had killed a victim of Platicore’s experiments.

Ms. Kuna shook her head. “Similar, but no. While it’s not clear, the monsters that Platicore uses now are definitely different from his minions back in the days of the Ardentia Civil War. While they were powerful, they were still free-willed and untrained warriors. Even with a power up they were at a disadvantage against the trained soldiers of the Ardent Empire. Plus, his mortal/focus hybrids couldn’t turn into objects as we have seen. These monsters seem to be more akin to the mythical golems as they seem to be mundane objects brought to a lower level of sentience via an unknown process of filling them with stolen investiture. They also can steal investiture from others, unlike Platicore’s past minions.”

This news calmed Robert, even if he still was somewhat skeptical. He didn’t trust easy answers. “So Platicore went to war with the corrupted Empire. Who won?”

Valor winced. “No one.”

Robert raised an eyebrow. “No one?”

Ms. Kuna nodded. “Though better trained and better equipped, the Ardent Empire was dealing, for the first time, with an internal enemy. Their power structure was fractured by constant worry over who might betray their side. This caused the Civil War to be fought to a dead standstill for over a solid decade. As they spent more and more energy fighting one another, both sides grew weaker. Less formidable. That was when the Other Power struck.”

Robert tossed his hands into the air. “Other Power? How many side-plots does this war have?”

Ms. Kuna scowled, looking rather annoyed for the first time. “The Other Power is not something to make light of. This isn’t something that Fate foresaw.”

Robert squinted. “Say what?”

“We don’t know what the Other Power is. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean myself, the Ardent Empire, Platicore, or even Fate. Whatever the Other Power is, it seems to somehow operate outside of our multiverse’s normal rules. Fate has no idea what it is or where it will show up. All we know is that wherever it shows, everything perishes.”

Robert paused as he digested the new information. So far, Fate had been presented as a benevolent, magnificent puppetmaster. She pulled on every string just right to get what she thought was needed. The thought of Ms. Kuna, a loyal agent of Fate, admitting that her nigh-deific boss couldn’t see something coming was very unexpected. In a strange way, he found himself less skeptical of her story now that Fate was not being presented as completely infallible. “So you don’t know anything about,” Robert made quotations marks in the air, “if the ‘Other Power’ is an army, a being, an anomaly or anything?”

“None whatsoever. All we know is that it mows through whatever is in its path, and leaves very little trace of what’s left.”

Robert’s mind was drawn to the unused gateway that he stood in. “Is that why the Ardent Empire never came through then? To spare Earth?”

Ms. Kuna’s annoyance disappeared. Her face beamed with approval. “It’s a little more complicated than that, but for the most part, yes.”

Robert shook his head and stared at the sky. “Of course it’s complicated.”

“The final days of the civil war went from a conflict about power to one for survival. At the center of the conflict were the gateways to the various multidimensional worlds the Ardent Empire had expanded to. What would typically happen is one side would claim a gateway, get to the other side, then destroy it from the other side to make sure the Other Power could not follow them through, leaving the enemy to be crushed.”

“All the gateways had been claimed save for one. The one to Earth. The reason for this was that it had not yet been completed by the workers on Earth’s side of the gateway. The early humans were blissfully unaware of the fact that the people on the other side were not the benevolent gods they thought they were building gateway for. It was the highly powerful, but also very corrupt Empress herself.”

“Of course it’s the Empress herself,” Robert scoffed.

“Earth was very young, rich in resources, and had a large but undeveloped population of sentients who would be a perfect working class: humans. It was, from the Empress’s perspective, an ideal location to start rebuilding the Ardent Empire. But she wasn’t the only one who sought to control the last gateway.”

Robert glanced at Felicity. “Platicore?”

Felicity grinned and shrugged. “Platicore.”

“Giant, epic battle between Platicore and the Empress?”

Felicity giggled. “But of course.”

Robert rolled his eyes and laughed. “Straight out of a comic book.”

Ms. Kuna groaned. “It’s not quite as simple as that but– oh, fine. Let me just get to explaining the role the Princess plays in this tale.”

Robert tried to stifle a laugh. “Princess?” He was struggling, but he kept it in. “You gotta be shittin’ me! This story also includes a princess?”

Ms. Kuna did her best to muscle through Robert’s amusement. “The gateway to earth was nearing completion. Somehow, Platicore had discovered this and then, with the last of his forces, attempted to take control of the gateway which was the last hope for anyone to escape the Other Power. To compound the conflict, the Other Power was quickly moving in on the gateway.”

“Sounds chaotic.”

“It was.” Ms. Kuna affirmed. “The biggest risk though wasn’t to those there, but to humanity. You see, if either side made it through with the intent to destroy the gateway from the Earth-side of the gate, they might have been too weak from combat to do so. If they could not destroy it from the other side, the Other Power would move through the gateway and spread onto Earth. Thus, they would condemn not just themselves to destruction, but the everyone on Earth as well.”

Robert tried to remove the smirk from his face. “But from what you are telling me, it doesn’t sound like the Empress or Platicore would care about risking an entire planet to save their own necks.”

Ms. Kuna held up her finger for emphasis. “Exactly! But the Empress’ daughter, the Princess, was concerned about exactly that. She was, unlike most other royals, keenly aware of how corrupt their society had become. For that reason, she didn’t really see the destruction of the Ardent Empire as a bad thing. She knew their time was up so she made it her job to be sure that humanity wouldn’t have to pay for her kingdom’s sins.”

“She sounds like a pretty perfect Princess.” Robert couldn’t resist the temptation. “Was she also really beautiful?”

Robert caught a glance at Valor blushing for some reason. What was that about? Ms. Kuna groaned, but answered. “From the visions that Fate has granted me on the subject, yes, she was quite beautiful. Yes, it’s cliche. Can we move on from that point?”

Robert smiled but held his hands out apologetically. “Okay. Okay. I’ll stop.”

“Thank you.” Ms. Kuna sounded worn out. Robert felt guilty for giving her such a hard time when she was obviously just trying to do her job. “She hatched a plan with her closest allies. Though I know none of their names, I do know who they were.”

Robert raised his eyebrows. “How can you know who they are if you didn’t know their names?”

Ms. Kuna shrugged. “The visions that Fate grants me are usually quite light on specifics. She tends to communicate via archetypes and feelings. Specific data isn’t the easiest thing to convey via visions.”

Robert quirked his lips to the side, thinking. “She can’t give you specific intel? Why is that? Are there bandwidth issues in visions or something?”

“I… well…” Ms. Kuna was flustered. To Robert, it seemed that maybe she had never asked this question before. Likely business had been conducted like this for so long she never bothered to think it wasn’t normal. “I… I don’t know.” She slumped over and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Can I just finish the story and get you the information you need?”

Robert paused and pondered. Was she avoiding giving him information? He glanced over at the Spirit Guard to search for a tell. Valor seemed a little annoyed. Tenacity and Charity glanced at one another, both seeming a bit confused. He couldn’t decide if they were confused about Robert asking these questions or why they hadn’t asked these questions before. Felicity just smiled, apparently tickled by Ms. Kuna’s response. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I guess I’m just curious as to how this whole Fate thing works. Please, continue.” As skeptical as Robert was, he recognized that he was getting off the beaten path with his questions. There’d possibly be time to worry about Fate’s upload speeds later. He needed to know why he had glowed.

“Thank you.” Ms. Kuna pushed her hair back and sighed. Robert would have to make a mental note to ask more in the future. “The Princess had allies. Her first ally is the Soldier.” Robert noticed Tenacity round her shoulders a little. “The Soldier had been assigned as her bodyguard since they were young. She was tall and used her empathokinetic skills to augment her physical strength. Of all her allies, the Soldier was the least dedicated to the Princess’s cause, yet the most dedicated to the Princess herself.”

“Next was the Scholar.” Felicity flipped her hair back a little, her frosted pink bangs bouncing playfully. “Amongst the academic sector of the Empire, she was considered quite a prodigy. She understood, in large detail, the nature of foci and how to make them. She and the Princess had befriended one another when they were originally learning how to employ empathokenesis, though the Scholar advanced in her understanding empathokinetics much quicker.”

“Next was the Mender.” Charity smiled shyly and shuffled the tip of her heeled boot in the dirt. “A very specific branch of empathokenesis focused on using your emotions to heal wounds and create barriers of protection and warding. The Mender, though young, was one of the best at it in the entire Empire. But more important than her skills was her heart. She was truly a selfless person and it was the Princess’s discussions with her that helped the Princess come up with the resolve to stand up to her mother and protect humanity.”

“The last of the Princess’s allies was the Shrine Maiden.”

“Shrine Maiden?” Robert asked. “Like a priestess or something?”

Ms. Kuna nodded. “Very similar, though the title of Shrine Maiden or Shrine Master in Ardentia signalled something more akin to a bishop or cardinal on Earth. Each Maiden or Master had responsibilities to a specific shrine. Though I don’t know the specifics, the Ardentia religion had access to some of the more powerful magic empire in the Empire due to their ability to inspire strong emotion in others. It represented the only segment of the Ardent Empire that had mostly escaped the corruption of the society though not completely. Of their religious hierarchy, the Maiden I speak of was one of the most zealous about ferreting out the corruption wherever she could find it. But upon recognizing that the Empress herself was corrupt, the Maiden came to the conclusion that there was little hope for the Empire. So she turned her attention to the only royal she knew to be untainted by the darker emotions.”

Robert shrugged. “The Princess.”

“Indeed.” Ms. Kuna paced back and forth as she spoke. “While the Mender was the one who helped build up the Princess’s resolve to do the right thing, it was the Maiden who was the soul behind these five young women’s efforts. Spirits would go up and down, but the Maiden kept their hearts and minds upon their righteous task.”

Robert thought about these five characters. Each came from a different segment of the Ardent Empire’s power structure. It was like something straight out of a anime. Robert didn’t want to belabor that point further though. “And what was this scheme they came up with. I mean, trying to keep out the Empress, Platicore, and the Other Power is no small task it sounds like.”

“Quite true. Their plan required the work of all five girls to pull it off. First thing you must know, is the girls’ main concern was not letting anything through. But as the Scholar pointed out, even if nothing got through, the existence of the gateway would alert the Other Power to the presence of Earth, and that it might eventually find its way there. So their plan wasn’t just to protect Earth at that time, but for all time.”

Robert let out a low whistle. “Geez. Ambitious little bunch.”

“Quite. At the center of the plan was the Shrine Maiden performing a ritual seeking the favor of the gods on their souls to allow them to reincarnate as humans at a future time when they would be needed.”

Robert waved his hands about like a referee signalling the end of a play. “Hold on! Timeout here. I thought that reincarnating thing is forbidden, dark arts stuff. I thought Fate looked down on that.”

Ms. Kuna grimaced. “Well, it is a gray area. You see, Fate abhors those who try to cheat death. The soul overwriting we talked about earlier is an example of that. Reincarnation though is not cheating death. You still die. And plus you never reincarnate into the exact same person. When someone is reincarnated, they are a new person, with a portion of their previous soul as part of the makeup. Typically that old portion of your soul is represented by your investiture.”

Robert shoved his hands into his pockets. “Seems like a technicality to me.”

Ms. Kuna gave a conciliatory nod. “Well, to be honest, that point has been up for debate amongst the agents of Fate for millennia. One common thought is that Fate allows it because other divine beings, the gods I spoke of before, are the ones who approve it. It’s sort of outside her jurisdiction, if you will. But whether that’s the case or not is unknown as Fate hasn’t seen fit to let us Guides know.”

Robert bit his bottom lip. That made some sense; however he was a little concerned that the heavens would have such a bureaucracy that there would be jurisdictions. He would have hoped that higher beings could keep everything straighter than mortal politicians. But a different fact bothered him more. “So, what, the Maiden just made a simple prayer and, boom, reincarnation?”

“No,” Ms. Kuna said flatly, “though I don’t know who or what gods the Ardentia worshiped, the gods are notoriously picky with their miracles. If the gods were to grant this request for divine aid, it would have to be due to a lifetime of service and faith far beyond that of any ordinary clergyman.”

Robert shrugged then shoved his hands back into his pockets. “Okay, whatever. Did the gods honor her request? How would someone even know something like that?”

“Well, the girls went forward with their plan as if they knew the gods would honor it. So the Maiden must have received some sort of confirmation. The next part of the plan was that when they were reincarnated, they would need powerful foci to use as weapons against the Other Power. That fell to the Scholar. I don’t know the specifics, but apparently the months leading up to the final battle were groundbreaking in terms of the empathokinetic interfaces she created. They were like nothing the Empire had ever seen.”

Robert wanted to ask, to get more details, but he had to focus on what was important. “So the Maiden gets them reincarnation. The Scholar gets them weapons. What is everyone else’s role in this?”

Valor cleared her throat and spoke up. “Everyone else’s role was to help in preventing anyone from getting through the portal. And that would depend entirely upon the Princess.”

Robert raised an eyebrow. Valor had, up to that point, been rather quiet. “How so? She going to fight off the forces of the Empress, Platicore, and the Other Power all by herself?”

Valor smiled but shook her head. “No. Though she indeed had the most powerful magic of those on her team, she was not as strong as that. And she definitely was not as strong as the Empress herself. The Princess had to convince the Empress to let her be the last line of defense. It was the only way her plan would work. The Empress did not fully trust her daughter though. They had been in scuffles before over the daughter recognizing the corruption of the Empire. Ultimately, the Princess was only able to convince the Empress with the help of another. The Knight.”

Robert rolled his eyes. “Of course there is a knight.”

Valor frowned but didn’t let Robert’s sarcasm deter her from continuing. “He was the head of the Imperial Guard and had the Empress’s ear. Though the Knight didn’t know what the Princess was up to, he seemed to have some sort of intuition that the Princess was up to something and needed help. As one of the few morality-minded royals he offered to lend the Princess aid in defending the gateway. Furthermore, he reasoned with the Empress that as the most powerful empathokinetic, the Empress was the only one who could stand up to Platicore himself. It would be better to draw the fight away from the gateway and let a smaller, but very skilled team defend the gate from whatever snuck through the front lines.”

Robert tried to start piecing the story together. “And this influenced the Empress?” The Shrine Maiden had gotten them to be reincarnated as humans… somehow. The Scholar was leaving them foci. Where did the Mender and Soldier fit into this?

“Indeed.” Ms. Kuna picked up where Valor left off. “The Empress entrusted the gateway defense to the Princess’s team, the Knight, and a few of the Knight’s most trusted lieutenants. The final battle came, and the Princess set her plan into motion. The first thing they did was have the Mender erect a defensive barrier around the gateway.” Ms. Kuna spun around and waved her hand in large circles. “That was why the Mender was chosen. She was one of the most powerful healers in the Empire and her barriers were some of the most robust.”

Charity blushed. “But the problem with barriers is that each time you increase its size, the barrier gets exponentially weaker.”

“Makes sense,” Robert said, “As you increase sphere’s radius, you increase its surface area by the radius squared. Assuming the empathokinetics has the same power behind it no matter the size, the intensity of the resistance would decrease by that same factor.” He thought back to the Polygal fight. Charity had jumped in front of himself, Eli, and Cory and erected a spherical bubble of light around her to protect them from attacks. Just like the Mender apparently did.

That’s when it hit Robert: the Spirit Guard were the reincarnated girls from the story Ms. Kuna was telling, or at least they thought they were. Regardless, it was the reason they were telling him this long tale that seemingly had no connection to the Polygal fight. It had to be. It suddenly made sense why Spirit Guard Charity would speak so much about the barriers. She had some sort of memory of them from back then.

Charity blinked, obviously taken aback by Robert’s explanation. “I um, well, never had thought of it in such… mathematical terms but, yes, that is the general principle behind barriers.”

Valor had only spoken up once the Princess was brought up. She appeared to be the defacto leader of the Spirit Guard, just like the Princess’s was the leader of her team. It stood to reason she was the Princess. So who were Tenacity and Felicity supposed to be? And according to the story, there were five girls and this Knight-character. Where were they? No, the Knight might not get to fall under the same reincarnation guidelines the girls did. Or would he?

“With the barrier up, it was the Scholar’s job to get the foci through to the earth-side of the gateway.”

Robert scratched his head. “But I thought the gateway wasn’t open yet.” He thought further and then pointed at Ms. Kuna. “And wouldn’t it be irresponsible anyway to throw such powerful weapons through the other side of a gate with prehistoric humans?”

Ms. Kuna grinned. “It would be, if that was what they were doing. There are two pieces to each gateway.” She spun around, gesturing to the stones that stood around them. “These are the first part of the gateway, referred to as the ‘eye’ of the gateway. These are the method of actual transit. Once activated, they would transport the being that activated them to the other side of the gate.”

She then pointed to the stone sphere behind Robert. “That is the other part, called the ‘iris.’ You can think of it as a interdimensional lockbox that can only be opened by those who have been given the correct key. It’s here that the foci were placed.”

Robert turned to stare at the stone. “What type of key opens a stone? And could someone like Platicore forge a key or something?”

“Unlikely, as he’d have to fake the exact investiture of one of the Princess’s team.”

“Is that impossible?”

“It isn’t impossible, but it is extremely difficult, and you have to start with some piece of that investiture to even begin.”

Robert nodded his head. “Okay, so I’m assuming the team can, what, just reach in and pull their focus out of the iris once they are reincarnated?”

“Exactly.”

“Reach through the stone? Like, through solid material?”

Felicity nodded. “Yup! Though technically it’s only a stone when it’s not acting like a lockbox.”

“Uh huh.” Robert turned back to Ms. Kuna. “So the Mender kept up the barricade. The Scholar placed the foci into the iris. What did the rest of the team do exactly?”

“They fought,” Tenacity said with grave tone. “There’s a fair deal of time and care that goes into depowering a gate.”

Felicity butted in. “A gate uses a lot of energy. If you don’t turn it off right, the energy will build up and create a slightly nuclear explosion on both sides of the gate.”

Robert blinked. “Slightly nuclear?”

“Uh huh.” Felicity held her thumb and index finger a apart. “Just a little bit. The rest of the explosion is the empathokinetic energies getting released. And creating irradiated, empathically charged craters on other people’s planets is very rude. So after putting the foci into the iris, the Scholar had to deactivate the gateway.”

“So the Scholar essentially had to disarm a bomb.”

Felicity nodded. “A good comparison, only this bomb could also teleport people. So, like, a tele-bomb.” Though her terming of things was quite juvenile, Robert could see Felicity’s knowledge of the gateway probably meant she was the Scholar.

Tenacity rolled her eyes but smiled at Felicity. “The Soldier and the Knight coordinated the effort to defend the barrier, striking down anyone who tried to enter the gateway. At first they were just killing off the sneakier members of Platicore’s forces. Then, as the battle raged on, some Ardentia would try to sneak in since they wanted to escape the hell of battle and the inevitable destruction at the hands of the Other Power. The team would turn them away, telling them the gateway was not yet ready on the other side. That was a lie of course, the gateway had been completed around the start of the final battle. But they bought the story and would leave for a while.”

“But as the battle continued, and the Other Power drew nearer, it got harder and harder to keep up the ruse. Soon, as more learned empathokinetics started asking tougher questions, their lie was discovered and all hell broke loose.”

Tenacity moved her hands as if placing chess pieces. “Not far away, the Empress and Platicore had engaged one another in single combat. Normally both would not be amongst the ranks of their own armies, but these were desperate times. As the most powerful empathokinetics on the field, they naturally cut their way through the enemies’ forces until they found one another.” Robert looked Tenacity over. Of all the Spirit Guard she was the most well built and athletic looking. He wasn’t sure if he could judge by looks, but if he had to guess, he would say she was the Soldier. So if she was the Soldier, where were the Shrine Maiden and the Knight?

“Their might crashed against one another like tectonic plates, scarring the battlefield. It wasn’t long before all who had been engaged in battle around the Empress and Platicore had been tossed aside or slain by the collateral damage the fight between these two titans created. Though evenly matched at first, as the fight wore on, Platicore began to falter. He could match the Empress in terms of raw power, but he didn’t have the endurance she had. She was about to lay the killing strike to him when word of her daughter’s betrayal reached her. Furious, she forgot all about Platicore and headed straight for the gateway.”

Robert snorted with amusement. “When will people learn you have to always confirm your kill?”

Valor ignored Robert’s quip and picked up where Tenacity left off. “The battle at this point was pure chaos. The Other Power had made its way onto the edges of the battlefield and was slowly, but methodically, cutting its way to the gateway. When the Empress arrived, her fury was made evident by the black aura that surrounded her. She focused that entire fury upon her daughter, the Princess.”

“Though normally not up to her mother’s magic, the Empress had expended much of her strength fighting Platicore.” Valor’s voice shook a little. “This, combined with the Princess being buoyed by her own feelings of righteous resolve, allowed the Princess to fight the Empress to a very emotionally charged standoff.” Robert could see Valor fighting back tears. Charity put her hand on Valor’s shoulder to support her. Did Valor actually remember this fight? Was the reincarnation thing more literal than he originally thought?

Ms. Kuna interrupted, sparing Valor from having to tell the rest herself. “As Princess and Empress fought, the forces of the Knight, the Soldier, and the Shrine Maiden defended the Mender’s barrier. The Scholar worked feverishly, but time was running out. The darkness of the Other Power started to dim the light around them. It was that moment that Platicore made his final move.”

“He had saved what little strength he had left and made one, last, hatred-fueled attack against the Mender’s barrier. Though Platicore didn’t break the barrier, he did weaken it just enough for him to pass through it. With literally his last ounce of empathokinetic power, he activated the gateway. As he collapsed to the ground, he flickered from view like a firefly putting its light out.”

Robert nodded. “Hence why he’s here? Did anyone else get through?”

Valor shook her head. “Not that we’ve seen. After Platicore escaped, all we know is the Scholar succeeded in closing the gate.” Valor took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. “After that, the Empress goes into a murderous rage, fueling the entirety of her magic with it’s violent power. She proceeded to strike down everyone at the gateway. The Princess’s team, worn out from battle and emotionally drained from achieving their goal, no longer had the emotional fortitude to stand against her. The last thing we’ve seen is her dealing the killing blow to her own daughter as the blackness of the Other Power overtakes the inert gateway.”

Robert nodded his head. These girls must have seen previous versions of their past lives in visions or something. He couldn’t imagine Valor being moved to near tears if she hadn’t seen it herself. He allowed her a moment for her to gather herself before he spoke. “So,” Robert said as he leaned against the stone once more, “you’re the Princess in the story, Spirit Guard Valor?”

Valor blinked in surprise. “E–excuse me? How did you…”

Robert shrugged. “I don’t know if I believe in all this reincarnation mumbo jumbo, but whether or not it’s real or not doesn’t matter. You’ve somehow inherited the Princess’s power. It seems kind of logical that you wouldn’t bother telling me this long story if this wasn’t the case. Am I right?”

Valor, still surprised, grinned from ear to ear. “You, well, yes. Yes you are correct.”

Ms. Kuna seemed rather impressed. “How did you surmise she was the Princess?”

“Well,” Robert pointed at Valor, “she spoke a lot about the Princess herself. Pinky there spoke about the Scholar’s efforts so I’m assuming she’s the Scholar?”

Felicity put her hands on her hips angrily, but her smile instantly told Robert she was faking it. “My name is Spirit Guard Felicity!” She flicked her hair back with mock arrogance. “But I am the reincarnation of the brilliant Scholar, true.”

Robert gestured to Charity. “You waxed on about how the Mender’s barrier worked. I also recall, and I thank you again for it, you creating a barrier in front of my friends and myself at Polygal’s fight. Seems to reason then that you are the Mender?”

Charity said nothing but nodded her head as if to salute Robert’s deduction. He grinned. He know he shouldn’t let it go to his head as he felt these were rather obvious conclusions to draw from their story, but it was great to have cute girls giving him praise for being smart. He turned to Tenacity. “And I can’t really tell from your story if you’re the Soldier or the Shrine Maiden, though since you didn’t go on about the reincarnation thing, and because being a built, six foot tall Amazon wielding a big ass sword doesn’t really mesh with the idea of some priestess taking care of some shrine I’m going to say you’re probably the Soldier.”

Tenacity smiled, but there was a nervousness to it that Robert hadn’t noticed before. “Well, you got me there.” What was she nervous about?

Whatever it was, at this point Robert didn’t really care. He’d gotten done with story time, and now was the time for answers. “Given all that long time ago in a universe far, far away stuff, what does this all have to do with me?” He then pointed to his forehead. “And what does it have to do with the glowing on my forehead?”

All three of the girls and Ms. Kuna looked to Tenacity. The brunette sighed and stepped forward. “Robert, remember how we said the iris would only open for people with the right investiture?”

Robert raised an eyebrow. Why was Tenacity the one speaking? He had fully expected it to be Ms. Kuna or Valor who would give him the lowdown on this part. “Yeah. What about it?”

“Put your hand on the stone behind you.”

“Why?”

“Just do it,” Tenacity grumbled.

Robert frowned but turned to face the stone. Their story implied the foci were in this very stone. But it’d only open for the Princess’s team. What would him touching it do? It wouldn’t open unless…

Robert pressed his hand against the large stone. He felt something reach into his very being. It reminded him of Polygal when she was trying to steal his investiture, however this sensation felt more like the feeling he got when he thought someone was watching him. As quickly as the sensation came, it left, and the stone flashed, briefly bathing the Standridge Circle in sky blue light. The light from the stone quickly coalesced into an image: A dot encased by a circle with part of another circle enjoining the smaller circle. The exact image Eli had drawn. The symbol on his forehead during the Polygal fight. “What the hell?”

Though he could clearly see the stone before him, he could feel it wasn’t a stone at all. This thing was only a stone when it was closed. Now that it was open, he could clearly feel this object was indeed an iris, and even though it had spent millennia pretending to be a stone, that was the exception to the rule. He could feel the iris had something intended for him. He began to understand how serious he should be considering the empath part of empathokinetics. It definitely was doing something to him emotionally, though he couldn’t figure out what.

He reached through the iris as easily as if the surface of it were made of water. He felt something long and smooth slide itself into his hand. It’s texture was metallic, and he could feel groves around the shaft. His fingers traced the grooves until he felt a rubbery texture. With a deep breath, he slid his hand out of the iris, and once more, it stared at something that was just a stone.

Robert blinked as he stared at the object in his hand. “It’s a baton?” He had expected something mystical or majestic. A wand or some kind of weapon. But this looked like a very fancy baton a cheerleader would toss into the air. This was one of the foci that were created and placed by the Scholar? This was the powerful weapon to fight Platicore and the Other power? This?

Robert tried to push aside the silliness of a baton being a weapon. He tried to focus on what was important. They said only the members of the Princess’s reincarnated team could reach into the iris and pull out their foci. So that meant…

Robert stared at the baton as if he was interrogating it’s surface for answers. The only people left in the story who weren’t here were the Shrine Maiden and the Knight. They had never said the reincarnation policy would cover the Knight, but now that he thought about it, Polygal had said Robert might be the Spirit Guard’s aloof protector. That sort of sounded like the Knight in their story.

“So,” Robert sighed, “what does this mean?” He looked up and scanned each of the women in front of him. His eyes locked with Tenacity who looked like she did not want to be here at all. “Are you trying to tell me I’m the Knight from the story or something?”

Tenacity bit down hard on her bottom lip and closed her eyes. She exhaled through her nose and grimaced. “Um, the Knight?” She scratched at her elbow and stared at the ground. “No, not the Knight. Close. Really close. But, yeah, not so much…”


Dear sweet baby RAY that chapter was long! I apologize for the length but I just really couldn’t find any way to make it shorter. 11k words is NOT my normal chapter. I’m normally going for something about half that in a chapter.
Chapters of mostly dialogue are something I feel I struggle with. The problem is I don’t know where the conversation will go, just where it needs to go. I feel out the dialogue as I write it, trying to think about what the characters’ motivations and personalities are. That will drive what they say and what comments they will make. It slows down the process of writing, but I think it (overall) improves the believability of what is said. Especially in situations like this.
The Ardent Empire- this is probably where you people reading the alpha version of MGP are raising your eyebrows the most. Yes, I decided change up how this is all working. I’d like to go into the whys and whats of this but unfortunately I can’t do so without being horribly spoilerific. For those interested though I can say part of it is because I was building up to things in the previous version (where referencing Sailor Moon was a thing) that required references to Sailor Moon. I don’t have that anymore and, besides that, the Sailor Moon references I felt were weak motivations. This is a better way to go about it I feel and, as you’ll see with Robert eventually, far more powerful a literary device.
Even if it’s so cliche 😉 Sorry Robert. Things are only going to get more frustrating from here on out.

Please, please, please leave a comment here or in the forums!
Taralynn Andrews



7 thoughts on “Magical Girl Policy- Chapter 7”

  1. Interesting to see a far more fleshed out backstory for everything this time around! Nice, even if it is as full of cliches as suggested.

    You may have used the “Of course there’s…” line once or twice too many though. May want to rephrase that for one of them.

    Hmm, this means, I suppose, that there aren’t other superheroine teams all over now, unless they’re operating on an entirely different plot(s) than the Spirit Guard are. I guess that means Tremolo Bass would be the Knight then, assuming he comes back again at all, which I’m sure he does. Wonder how the “costume themes” are going to be explained this time… equivalent of Ardent Empire battle gear? Not that that would make much sense but hey, maybe?

  2. This was a fairly Long chapter. Introducing the full back story is tedious work, but you did a fine job in crafting it all, tailoring bits of the stories to each of the speakers individual personalities, and making it entertaining enough to hold your reader’s attention… Or at least it held mine, and that should speak volumes considering my personality.

    So, Rob’s on the verge of discovering his ancient heritage, huh? Job well done. ^_^

  3. Not bad, sounds alot like sailor moon, but very nicely done. However after reading the first version and being a writer myself(non-published), I think Robert is off on who is who. The chapter suggests that Robert is the Shrine Maiden, but I’m not so sure. Undoubtedly everyone including Ms. Kuna is sure Valor is the princess, but I’m betting that is a miss direction. Valor is the Shrine Maiden, and Robert is the Princess. rofl. Reasoning? Note Valor’s personality and the personality of the Shrine Maiden. Second Tremolo Bass showed the most interest in Serenity, not Valor, in the first version. It’s a dramatic plot twist, plus Sailor Moon did the same thing. Oh please tell me I’m wrong on either accounts. Well done. I look forward to saying I told you so later on to those who doubt me. Keep up the good work.

  4. This was an amazing chapter. I love how the protagonist is actually intelligent and wary… like a real person would be. Its nice to see three dimensional characters, and I look forward to what happens with interest.

  5. I am enjoying the change in the background, I like the new explanation and the new setting of being in college versus high school. I’ve never read any of sailor moon, and haven’t seen a complete episode of it either. I have heard enough about it to pick up lots of references to it in the older version though. I do like the departure from that so far. I can see it fitting into a high school girl theme much better than a college girl theme, despite me not hearing about it until college anyway.

    I’m down for longer chapters, any plans on wrapping up into a single PDF or epub type document periodically and labeling it a volume or book?

    Looking forward to continuing the story! Take heart!

  6. Wow. There’s so much more to this story, but the going back and forth this chapter kept it from getting dry. And ending the chapter with that line? You know how to make a backstory chapter interesting, because it must have been difficult.
    I’m glad this new version made the story a lot more original. The old one was good, but it was a comedy/action fic from a reader perspective through and through. This one feels a lot more serious and the guys are a lot more attentive. They’re the only ones who seem to have been given a chance to investigate the magical girls, and they’re taking advantage of it with team creativity.

    Any chance of adding some art later?

  7. Poor Robert talk about a kick in the pants, going from not really believing to having the proof in your hand. And boy is he in for a shock, the Shrine Maiden huh. Well he does have a strong sense of what is right, though he is butting heads quite well with Kuna at the moment.

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