Robert stared at the baton he held in confusion. “If I’m not the Knight, what’s the point of telling me that long story? Polygal said I’m your ally in some way.” His mind started running through the possibilities. They had talked about the Knight’s lieutenants being there. Maybe that was possible? Would they be covered under the reincarnation plan? How far sweeping were gods with those sorts of claims?
Tenacity nodded. “And you are our ally.”
“But not the Knight?” The Shrine Maiden had gone unclaimed, but since he was male, that seemed just seemed stupid. And on top of it she was supposed to be the “soul” of the Princess’s team. And apparently she was quite religious, too. Soulful and religious weren’t words Robert would use to describe himself.
Robert crossed his arms and sighed. “Then what?” The Empress was the only other named character in the story, but that idea was even crazier than the Shrine Maiden. He definitely wasn’t a megalomaniac. But then maybe they thought he was someone who wasn’t reincarnated but going to be taken over by soul overwriting. That certainly seemed like something the Empress from their story would do. But then again, why the hell would an Empress choose some powerless guy from Deepwater for such a vessel? And there was still the issue of him being a guy.
Tenacity opened her mouth but no words came out. Robert rolled his eyes. Finally, words came out, “When we saw the mark of serenity on your forehead, we told you we didn’t know what it meant.” Why was this so hard for her to just say it? He hated it when people beat around the bush. “That wasn’t entirely accurate. We knew exactly what it meant but, well, we just thought we must have had it wrong,”
Robert threw his hands into the air. “And what is the ‘it’ we are talking about? What did the symbol mean? Spit it out already.” Maybe the story had been pointless after all and the mark wasn’t anything with the Ardent Empire. Maybe it was something to do with Fate only. Maybe they thought they needed to tell the whole Ardent Empire thing to give him background on who the Spirit Guard were.
Tenacity winced. “It means you are the reincarnation of the Shrine Maiden.”
Robert quit pondering and payed closer attention. “I–what?” Did he hear her right? “The Shrine Maiden?”
Tenacity bit her bottom lip. “Yeah.”
“Um,” Robert stammered and held up a finger, “I-I-I don’t know if you have noticed, but, um… I’m kind of a dude.”
Tenacity opened her palms, as if trying to show a dog that she had no treats. “We noticed. It’s kind of why we thought the glowing on your forehead had to mean something different from what we thought it meant.”
Charity timidly stepped forward. “It is kind of why we decided to consult Kunapipi first. It made very little sense to us.”
Robert could feel himself scowling. He tried to stop, but whenever something he didn’t like also didn’t make sense, he tended to scowl. Before he could regain control over his face, Valor interjected with a panicked attempt to explain. “It wasn’t exactly the way that we would…”
All the talking wasn’t letting Robert think. He needed to slow down and think. Robert shook his head and waved his hands, cutting off Spirit Guard Valor. “Now–now just… just hold on for one second.” He took a deep breath and stood up straighter. He needed to balance himself mentally and emotionally before he continued with his inquiry. Standing up straight, even if it was only physical, helped restore that inner balance he was looking for.
“Okay.” His mind slowed down, and he felt ready. He looked Valor in the eyes. “Let’s start over. How did you know what that thing on my forehead meant?” He planned to be thorough in his examination of these girls. Luckily for him, he was recording and he’d be able to go back and see if there were any inconsistencies in the story he was being told.
Valor pointed at the baton in Robert’s hand. “As the reincarnation of the Princess, I had access to all of our foci. I left them in the iris for safekeeping of course, but I did take time to study all the emblems on each one. In the visions of my past life…” Valor gave a hesitant smile. “Or rather, our past lives, I saw these same symbols on the Soldier, Scholar, Mender, and Shrine Maiden.”
Robert pointed to the emblem on the baton. “So this here is some sort of, I don’t know, crest for the Shrine Maiden?”
Valor looked up and swayed her head side to side. “Well, sort of. I don’t know the specifics, but I think crest is a good way of putting it. I just know that in the Ardentia culture, that emblem means ‘serene.'”
Valor then pointed to a small design on the waist of her skirt. It looked like a diamond with a dot in the center. “My emblem means ‘valorous.'” Robert hadn’t noticed it before; when he stared at the lovely Spirit Guard, he wasn’t exactly admiring the embroidery of their uniforms.
“Valorous?” Robert asked. “As in Spirit Guard Valor?”
“It’s where my title comes from. Yes.”
“And you’re absolutely certain that only the reincarnation of the Shrine Maiden could have access to this emblem?”
Felicity shook her head. “The emblem isn’t what is important. The iris is unlocked by the right kind of investiture. The only reason you could open the iris is because you have the Maiden’s investiture, hence, you’re the reincarnation of the Maiden.”
“Yeah, but why would the Shrine Maiden reincarnate as a guy? Wait,” Robert paused as a thought occurred to him, “none of you are guys, are you?”
All the girls but Tenacity gave a quick giggle. “No.”
“Though I can see why you’d ask that.”
“Though, technically speaking,” Miss Kuna said clearing her throat, “reincarnation doesn’t have to preserve gender.”
“Yeah, but,” Robert countered, “you all are approaching this as if this is rather out of the ordinary or unexpected in some way.”
“True,” Ms. Kuna said apologetically. “It was quite a shock when we found out that the Shrine Maiden was a boy.”
“Why is that?” Robert asked. “I mean, I’m not a reincarnation expert, but most religions I know that believe in it don’t seem to have any restrictions placed on who or what they could come back as.”
“It is difficult to explain without full background knowledge. It’s mostly a surprise the gods would make this mistake.”
Robert raised his eyebrows. “Mistake? You’re claiming this was a full blown mistake?” Robert chuckled and rolled his eyes. “What? Some angel misfile the reincarnation request and then, poof, I was born a guy?” He was surprised how little this revelation bothered him. As he thought about it, he wasn’t sure if he believed all this reincarnation stuff. But even disregarding that, he just didn’t think it mattered. So what if he was supposed to be born a girl? He wasn’t, and he was enjoying life just fine. What did mistakes of so-called deities matter?
Valor clenched her teeth. Her frustration was heard clearly in her voice. “This isn’t a joke, Robert. You should take this more seriously!”
“I should? I’m sorry but this is just getting plain crazy. I’ve got cheerleaders telling me gods made mistakes, and I was supposed to be born a girl. How much sillier can we get?” Robert regretted his tone the moment he said it. They were trying to be honest and sincere. The least he could do is stop being snarky for a moment. Robert sighed and stepped back as he tried to look apologetic. “Sorry. I should be less wisecrack-y. It’s just a lot to take in, and it seems so surreal. And besides, whether or not I was supposed to be born a girl or not doesn’t matter to me. Reality is I’m a guy, it’s not going to change, so why sweat it.”
The Spirit Guard glanced at one another nervously. “Uh…”
Robert squinted. “What?”
Tenacity cleared her throat. “Well, have you considered what the emblem on your forehead and you being able to pull out that focus means?”
“You mean other than it means I’m the Shrine Maiden from your story?”
“Not really. But… well, let’s think about it” Robert looked down at the focus. He started to think aloud. “You said that these were sent here to protect humanity from the Other Power.” Robert raised an eyebrow. “But you guys are fighting Platicore. Where is the Other Power?”
Felicity shrugged. “Not sure. But Platicore escaped to this realm and opening the iris seems to have awakened him somehow. We can’t just ignore him.”
“True enough. But if he’s such a powerful empathokinetic, why isn’t he attacking you girls directly? I mean, he’s only sent monsters right?”
“He burned out his empathokinetics in the fight with the Empress and escaping here. That level of combat has permanently damaged him so much that he won’t ever be the same again. Like injuring a limb in combat.”
Robert shrugged. “Yeah, but why isn’t he just creating more people-monster hybrids somewhere in Siberia then bringing them all here to overwhelm you? Why is he creating non-hybrid monsters, that are less powerful according to your story, and attacking where you are strong?”
Felicity held up a finger. “One, creating people-monster hybrids takes very fine-tuned empathokinetic skill that Platicore no longer has.” She held up a second finger. “Two, the gateway acts like a beacon for people with lots of investiture. So since he needs investiture to make more monsters, Kessia is the most fertile field to pluck from.”
Robert squinted. He had been unusually passionate about the idea of coming to SAU for college. And according to Polygal and the Spirit Guard, he had a lot of investiture. The beacon theory did explain that very well. “But why does he need his old empathokinesis to make people-monster hybrids? That doesn’t seem like a brute force of power thing but more of a technical skill thing.”
Charity shook her head. “Empathokinetics isn’t about brute force of energy like some super powered comic book hero. It’s more of an art. How to apply emotion, to shape it, to turn it into something useful. When Platicore burned out the last of the emotional strength left, it was similar to a potter burning his hands. Without that fine-tuned control, he can’t make the complicated foci and constructs he needs to make the hybrids.”
Tenacity sighed. “I think we’re burying the lead here though by focusing on Platicore.”
Robert nodded his head. “Right. Sorry. My mind runs off on tangents sometimes.” Burning out his empathokinetics didn’t make sense to Robert. It was also rather convenient Platicore would awaken when the iris opened. But those were topics he could pursue later. Tenacity was indicating he was missing something. He had to think. “Okay, so the foci were put in the iris for humanities defense.” He started pacing as he mused. “The Shrine Maiden was given a focus for that purpose.” Robert stopped pacing. Were they implying what the thought they were?
“Wait.” Robert held up the stick. “I’m supposed to use this? Be a defender of humanity? Like you?”
Valor exclaimed with a voice filled with a mix of excitement and relief, “Yes! Like us! You understand!” Robert wasn’t sure why she she seemed so excited about it. He also didn’t think he fully understood yet.
Tenacity leaned forward and looked very confused, yet slightly relieved. “You don’t have an issue with it? That doesn’t bother you?”
“Uh,” Robert scratched his chin nervously. That was a loaded question. On one hand, ever since he started reading comics as a kid, the concept of having super powers and being a hero had fascinated him. He was being put into a very unique position he would have killed for as a kid. But that, he realized, was a power trip he’d eventually get used to. At least he assumed he’d get used to it.
The other factor was he also realized that some huge responsibilities and risks were getting foisted upon him without his consent. If the fight with Polygal showed him anything, the job would not be easy, would be rather dangerous, and other people’s lives would hinge on his decisions. That was not a thought he was comfortable with.
Then there was the issue of having to maintain a secret identity and balance his life with being a super hero. It was the topic every super hero eventually dealt with. Would he be able to attend college and do this at the same time? Was there training? How was he even supposed to fight with no actual combat experience?
Robert sighed and shrugged. “I don’t know.” He held his hands up like scales. “On one hand, it’d be neat to have super powers and all, but being like you guys also means my decisions will affect a lot of people. Plus there is the minor fame issue. I like my privacy.”
Tenacity bit her bottom lip and sighed. All the relief on her face disappeared. Robert got the distinct impression he was missing something important. “The line about being exactly like us wasn’t just about having super powers and fighting monsters.”
Robert quirked his eyebrow upward. “Is it about the cheerleader theme? I mean, I can’t say I’m on board with that. As a football player I thought the male cheerleaders always looked like complete dorks. I mean, maybe this isn’t the time for it but why are you all dressed like cheerleaders anyway? It’s more than a bit silly to fight in skirts and heels. Flak jackets and body armor would make a lot more sense. What you all wear is, well, kind of the opposite of that.”
Charity shook her head. “We’re trying to make you guess what we’re thinking. That’s probably not fair to you.” She glanced over at Valor and Tenacity. “Maybe it’d be better if we were more direct?” It wasn’t being a monster fighter. It wasn’t the cheerleader theme. So what was it?
Valor nodded, looking frustrated that Robert hadn’t figured it out. “You are most likely correct, Charity. It is rather out of the norm for him to connect the dots.”
Robert didn’t like being talked about when he was right in front of them. “So then what am I missing.”
Again, all the girls looked to Tenacity. She glanced back at them, obviously uncomfortable, but began speaking anyways. Why did she have to be the one to explain everything? “Well, the spirit sticks…”
Robert blinked and held up the focus. “Spirit sticks? You actually call the foci ‘spirit sticks’?”
Valor blushed. “Well, it makes sense. We are the Spirit Guard.”
Robert wanted to further point out how stupid that was, but he had to discipline himeslf to not get sidetracked on such tangents. “Yeah, let’s get back to that topic later.”
Robert and Valor both stayed silent. Tenacity held her tongue for a bit, seemingly begging for someone else to derail the conversation. When no one did, she sighed and continued. “The spirit sticks help unlock the empathokinetic potential we had in our past lives by altering not just our minds so that we understand some of the subtleties of using abilities we had in a past life, but also our bodies. For example, my body isn’t quite this tall or muscular normally. Also my hair is definitely not in this swept style.”
Robert pursed his lips out, thinking. “So wait, you’re saying that these sticks actually changed your forms some?”
Tenacity nodded. “I had to explain to my family that I had one last growth spurt. The effects do persist at some level when we aren’t transformed.”
So, the Spirit Guard did have lives outside of being super heroines. He’d need to get more information on that later. “How so?”
Felicity ran her hand through her long hair. “As she said, the spirit sticks try to keep us in alignment with our past lives somewhat. The effects are more pronounced while we’re actually transformed. For example,” she pointed to her pink tips in her hair, “these don’t appear in my hair until I transform. But when I’m not transformed, my hair is always trying to get back to this length. If I cut my hair, before I wake up the next day, it’ll be back to this length again. Apparently that was the length of the hair of the Scholar and the foci tries to get my body back into that state..”
Robert nodded. “Interesting.” He scratched the back of head. All this talk about hair made him think about the fact that his was beginning to get long and would need to be cut soon. “But how would that work for me? I mean, according to your story, my past life was some priestess but I’m a guy.”
The girls glanced from one to another nervously. Robert squinted. “Wait.” Valor had said that he’d be exactly like them. He shook his head. “No. No way. Tell me it’s not that stupid.”
Tenacity cleared her throat. “Um, well, I guess how stupid it is depends on what you think ‘it’ is.”
Robert pointed at Tenacity, almost as if to accuse her. “Are you saying that if I use this focus it will turn me into a chick?”
Tenacity winced and searched for something to say. “Uh, well, I’m afraid then, in that case, it is that stupid.”
Robert tried to laugh, but it mostly came out as a laugh-cough hybrid. “You gotta be shittin’ me.”
Tenacity sighed. “I’m afraid not.”
Robert shook his head. “So if I use this stick, to transform into hero mode, it’ll turn me into a chick? Like plumbing change and everything?”
Valor stepped forward to defend Tenacity. “It’s just how the spirit sticks work. They have to bring your body into alignment with your past life’s investiture.”
Robert glanced at Felicity. “Can’t you fix it? You built these things, right? Greatest empathokinetic mind or something like that.”
Felicity stopped smiling for the first time all night. “Woah, that was what I knew in my past life. I only got flashes of that knowledge now. I certainly don’t know how to fix it, how to create anything even remotely similar, or if that is even something that can be ‘fixed’ considering that’s how these things were intended to work.”
Robert shut his eyes and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “And would this be a only-happens-when-I’m-transformed-thing or would being a girl be an all-the-time thing?”
Ms. Kuna sighed. “Well, there is a remote chance we could be wrong and it might be a transformation only thing… but if that were the case the much greater likelihood is that your body would slowly use your passive healing factor to try and ‘heal’ you back to womanhood.”
Robert scoffed and laughed. He had come up with some crazy ideas on what the worst case scenario for tonight’s meeting was. Of all the things he came up with, this was something he hadn’t even considered. He vaguely recalled Cory saying something about Robert being the next Spirit Guard, but he was pretty sure that had been a joke. He hoped Cory didn’t remember that he had said that. Robert knew that he and Eli would never hear the end of it. But how could they be blamed for rejecting the thought out of hand? It was too ridiculous.
As ridiculous as monster-fighting cheerleaders.
“So, let me see if I understand you correctly.” Robert began pacing like a prosecutor addressing a defendant. “You’re, first, asking me to take on additional responsibilities. Dangerous responsibilities that require me to fight emotionally charged monsters that threaten the lives of innocent people. Responsibilities, I might add, that I never wanted.”
Valor tried to defend the responsibilities. “Well, technically you did agree to them in your past life.” Her words sounded like she was asking a question, rather than making any sort of definitive statement.
“Yeah,” Robert scoffed, “let’s get this out of the way. I’m not going to be held responsible for anything an alleged, magical past life of me that lived in a dead, extra-planar civilization agreed to. I’m my own man, who makes and accepts his own responsibilities.”
Valor scowled and looked to argue. “But…”
Tenacity held her arm out in front of Valor and shook her head. “He’s had no visions. We can’t hold that against him, Val.”
Valor’s scowl morphed to confusion. “But…”
Tenacity shrugged and leaned back. “You’re welcome to go at this point if you want, but I can nearly guarantee it won’t get you anywhere. He’s not the type to believe in this sort of intrinsic responsibility like you do.” A lot of the worry that was on Tenacity’s face disappeared when she started advising Valor. She felt comfortable in that role and seemed to understand Robert better than Valor did. He wasn’t sure what she meant about “intrinsic responsibility,” but she did understand what didn’t motivate Robert pretty quick. How did she read him so well?
“Very well,” Valor sighed. “You’d know better than I on this one.” So Valor trusted her opinion too. That was useful. If he could convince Tenacity not to pursue this, maybe she could convince the group to drop the subject entirely.
“Responsibilities aside,” Robert interjected, ” I also have zero combat training. I played football and got a level 85 Windwhisper in Aspect Realms. Now, granted, I totally kick ass in Aspect Realms, but I don’t think that’s the combat expertise you’re looking for.” Robert hoped the prospect of having to train him would turn Tenacity, the reincarnated Soldier who would no doubt have to train him, off on the idea of Robert joining.
Charity smiled. “Oh, none of us have any formal training outside of Tenacity.”
Robert squinted. “You don’t?”
“Well that’s not entirely accurate to say I guess. We have the training we got in past lives. It sort of, well, comes to us, I guess, when we transform. It’s not reliant on what we know in this life alone.”
Tenacity smirked. “And I can throw my little Taekwondo black belt training in the mix.” She shrugged. “For what it’s worth when you fight with a giant sword.”
Robert was slightly disturbed by this news. “Wait, so you guys are defending the whole of humanity and not even training? You’re just, I don’t know, sitting back and letting it come to you and hoping your past life will take care of it?”
The Spirit Guard glanced at one another, sharing sheepish glances. Felicity bit her bottom lip. “Well if you put it like that, sure, we sound irresponsible.”
Valor put her hands on her hips. “Where would we go for training? I fight with a sword and shield.”
Robert shrugged. “I don’t know isn’t there like a Renaissance Faire club on campus or something? They should have people that know something about it.”
“Yes, but they are learning from manuscripts. The Princess was trained for combat since she was a child by the best the Ardentia Royals had to offer. Plus her combat training utilized her empathokinetic skills, enhanced strength, and speeds. ”
Charity nodded. “It’s true that fighting with the weapons we do looks similar to mundane combat, but it’s different in practice. I had the thought, as you did Robert, that training would help. I spent some time at archery ranges but found the practice fruitless due to the simple fact that shooting an actual arrow affected by aerodynamics with a taut bowstring and a normal girl’s strength is quite different from shooting a near massless arrow of pure light with an empathokinetic string while fueled by superhuman strength.”
Robert didn’t like the direction this was going his argument on training was getting weaker he needed to change topics. “Getting off that subject, what about my life? You know, I’m kind of partial to it and changing genders would kind of put a wrench in that.”
Tenacity looked at the grass and sighed. “We don’t have an easy answer for that.”
Robert was about to make a snarky comment about not having answers for any of the difficult questions, but Valor jumped in before he could even open his mouth. “We’re prepared to offer any support you need though. We know it won’t be easy.”
Robert scoffed. “Yeah, that’s putting it mildly. What am I supposed to tell my Uncle? ‘Hey Uncle Taylor, yeah, I spontaneously changed gender. No don’t call the hospital, this is perfectly normal.’ Oh yeah, that would go well.”
Ms. Kuna tried to calm Robert down. “Obviously how we break this news to your Uncle would be the first thing we need to figure out. Then there is the rooming situation…”
“Rooming. You know, I hadn’t even thought of that. I currently live in a boys dorm. With two roommates I like. We’ve connected immediately. What are we going to tell them? That I just up and left?” Robert definitely wanted to get this discussion going. With Cory and Eli watching, it would make sure they were on his side.
Tenacity sighed. “I would love for you to be able to stay in their lives, but they’d probably be better served by not burdening them with these secrets. I mean, not that you wouldn’t get to be part of their lives anymore. It’s just, well, it’s complicated.”
“They’re my friends! I’m not just ditching them.” Robert decided to fold his arms and look defiant. He hoped the pose made him look resolute, though he worried the tone he had taken made him sound more petulant than resolute.
“It’s not about ditching them or sticking with them. It’s about keeping them and us safe. It’s just… you’d still be getting to see them regularly. They are…” Tenacity trailed off and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Look, maybe I’m not unbiased enough.” Tenacity glanced at Valor and the other Spirit Guard. “Maybe it’s time we let him know.”
Robert glared. “Let me know? Let me know what? You been holding something out on me?”
Valor nodded. “I still don’t know how I feel about this.”
“Look, he’s going to find out anyway. At least he’ll know where we’re coming from… me more so than the rest of you.”
“Hello. I’m still standing right here.”
Charity cleared her throat. “Excuse us one moment, Robert. We have to all agree on this before we move forward. Please just indulge us for one moment.”
Robert grumbled and leaned against the rock. “Would think you’d have made all your big decisions before coming here.”
Charity smiled, but grimaced. “We didn’t know how you might react and wanted to guage the situation first. We’ll be only a moment, I promise.”
Robert shrugged and the girls, plus Ms. Kuna, huddled together. As they whispered to one another Robert adjusted the camera to make sure it had a good picture of the entire group. Whatever it was they were deciding, Valor sounded against it. No, Robert decided he was being too harsh. She merely sounded concerned about it. Ms. Kuna seemed to share that concern judging from her face when she spoke.
Robert still couldn’t believe that they wanted him to just throw away his life for this. Why did he have to go bug Eli at his arcade that day? Had he just stayed home and been his normal, antisocial self, he wouldn’t be going through this. Then again, maybe Fate had somehow intervened. Maybe Fate had made sure they’d be roommates and that Eli would get that job so…
Robert shook his head. He now saw how Platicore could go mad thinking about it. If you ascribed omniscience to Fate, then what action could you take that you assume Fate hadn’t already planned for? No. Robert wouldn’t fall into that trap. To think that Fate was manipulating him into making that choices she wanted was to assume he had no control over his life. It would resolve himself of all responsibility. If there was anything Uncle Taylor had taught him, it was that he was in control of his own life.
Even if events beyond his control were happening, and they certainly were at the current moment, he was the one who decided how to respond. Fate could try to set up her dominos, but in the end, Robert would decide which ones he’d knock down. Though, as he thought about it, maybe dominos were a bad example. Maybe a maze was a better metaphor.
Robert stopped his metaphor hunt when the Spirit Guard unhuddled. Valor stepped forward. “We’ve decided it’s best, if you will swear secrecy, to reveal our true identities to you.”
“True identities?” Robert hadn’t really considered the fact that the Spirit Guard would have secret identities. He had considered that if he joined the Spirit Guard that he would have a secret identity, but for some reason, it hadn’t occurred to him that these girls were already in that situation.
Felicity laughed. “You didn’t think we walked around wearing this getup twenty-four/seven did you?”
“Frankly, I hadn’t given it much thought.” Something bugged Robert though. “But how can you even have secret identities though? It’s not like you wear masks or something that disguises your bodies. Two of you expose your midriff for crying out loud.” Charity blushed a little at that remark. “I’d assume the empathokinesis does something to morph your looks completely but you just told me that it tries to get you back to the same form as your past lives so…”
“It does disguise us,” Valor interrupted. “Just not by making us look remarkably different.”
“How does it work then?” Robert was hoping if he got them talking about this long enough, they’d forget that he never met Valor’s demand to swear secrecy. As Cory and Eli were watching, any oath of secrecy would be a lie. Robert didn’t know if it was his upbringing or his copious consumption of Collider comics, but he didn’t feel comfortable lying to these super heroines.
Felicity poked her own head. “You recognize people with your brain. You see an image and your brain connects a name to a face. In some cases that name is something simple like, ‘John’ or something more vague like ‘that one guy who is in like every movie.’ The point is, somewhere in your brain you’ve got a name for everyone you see.”
Robert nodded, it made sense so far. “So the focus makes it so you can’t connect your name to your face?”
“Kind of. You see, the brain also makes connections.” Felicity pointed to Tenacity. “So you’d see her on campus and you’d assign her the name ‘that tall, cute brunette I saw near the quad.’ Naturally.”
Robert chuckled. Why was everyone trying to set him up with Spirit Guard Tenacity? “Of course.”
“Then you’d see her at the Arcade during the Polygal fight, and instead of your brain making the connection of ‘Hey! That’s the tall, cute brunette I saw near the quad,’ the empathokinetic aura we emit instead prevents you from making that connection so that the only name you assign her is ‘Spirit Guard Tenacity.’ I call it the Disconnection Effect.”
Tenacity groaned. “Why did you make me the example?”
Felicity giggled. “Because I knew it’d bug you.”
One thing about that explanation didn’t make sense to Robert. “But what about images? They have pictures of you and yet no one has figured anything out.”
Felicity shrugged. “Somehow the aura affects cameras as well. I don’t know why but it does.”
“But a camera is an object, not something with a brain.”
Charity followed Felicity’s example and shrugged apologetically. “Platicore’s empathokinetic techniques somehow infuse emotion into objects and bring them to life. Though we don’t understand it, objects can fall under the same effects as things with natural emotion.”
Robert would have pursued it further but a thought occurred to him. “Wait, you mentioned campus. You all attend SAU?”
Valor nodded. “Yes. Fate, it seems, has brought us all together in some way.”
Robert raised an eyebrow. “Really?” What females had he gotten to know during his short visit on campus?
Before he could mull the thought over too much all four Spirit Guards clapped their hands together in front of their chests. One by one, they closed their eyes, exhaled, and were enveloped in flashes of colored light.
The first light that resolved was Charity’s bright yellow. As soon as her light disappeared, the arrow she had shot to light up the circle disappeared. A rather cute, but not gorgeous girl with straight blue hair stood in Charity’s place, lit up by the purple, pink, and red lights of the other girls.
Though he didn’t know why, she looked a bit familiar to him. He had seen a few girls on campus with blue hairs. Bluenettes. He remember Cory and Eli explaining to him that exotic hair colors around here had their own… then it clicked. This wasn’t just any girl with blue hair. “HDM Girl?” She was the girl Eli had been crushing on. The one that had turned out to be friends with Eli’s sister and that short, hyperactive girl Cory liked. What had Eli said her name was? He could have sworn it started with a K. Regardless, the fact that Eli’s crush was a Spirit Guard and friends with two people involved in Cory and Eli’s life definitely complicated things.
The pink light disappeared and a short girl with really long black hair posed. “Ta-daaa!”
Robert blinked. The short, hyperactive girl Cory liked. “Vivian?”
“What a twist, right?”
“Yeah,” Robert said nervously. “though a lot of your questions the other night now make more sense.” Cory and Eli were watching. There would-be girlfriends were part of the Spirit Guard. He really regretted having them watch this. Having to hide the fact that they knew they were Spirit Guard would no doubt hurt their relationships.
The yellow light disappeared, and Robert rubbed his eyes. Spirit Guard Valor’s golden blonde pigtails fell down and framed a cute face Robert found a familiar face. “Angela?”
Angela smiled and blushed. “I kind of cheated in our earlier conversation. I knew a lot more than I was letting on.”
“That’s putting it lightly!” Robert cursed himself for not seeing it. Of course she was a Spirit Guard! How else would someone logically make an connection between the Standridge Stones and magical cheerleaders? They wouldn’t ever logically make that connection. So if someone made that connection, they’d have to be a nutball or a Spirit Guard. But it seemed the Disconnection Effect made it so the only thing he had considered was that Angela was a nutball. His World History class was going to be a lot more awkward now.
Tenacity’s red light disappeared, leaving the six of them in the complete darkness. Robert’s eyes started to adjust, but all he could make out was Tenacity’s slightly different silhouette. Without her empathokinetic aura she seemed less imposing and gorgeous. In fact, now that he thought about it, all the Spirit Guard seemed less beautiful now. They were still all quite attractive, but not the supermodel-level of attractiveness he had come to associate them with.
“You know, I wish you would have told me to bring a flashlight.” Robert would have pulled out his cell phone to illuminate Valor somewhat, if it weren’t for the fact that it would show he was still on a call with Cory and Eli.
“Sorry,” Tenacity apologized. Robert recognized that voice. Where had he heard it? “We should have thought of that. I think we sort of get used to having our heightened senses around this place at night.” Robert squinted, trying to will his eyes to adjust quicker. He could make out that Tenacity’s hair was now in a ponytail. Had he met any tall females with ponytails?
Tenacity shuffled for something in her pocket. When that something lit up with a screen, Robert realized it was her own cell phone. She turned it around and held the light to her face. Robert’s eyes practically bulged out of his head.
Mallory Drake, Eli’s sister, nervously smiled back at Robert. “Yeah. It’s me.”
Something she had said the other night immediately came to Robert’s mind, like a piece of a puzzle fitting into place. “Hard to stay serene in those situations.”
Robert kicked himself for not guessing this as soon as Vivian revealed herself to be Spirit Guard Felicity. That was the real reason both of them visited the night of the attack. It had nothing to do with making sure Eli and Cory had been safe. It was all a scouting mission to get a feel for who Robert was. His character. Whether or not he could be trusted.
“Sorry for all the shadiness, Robert.” The pale light coming up against her face made her look a little spooky, though he could sense how sincere her apology was. “As you can imagine, this has gotten very complicated very fast. I definitely didn’t expect the fifth Spirit Guard to be my brother’s and his best friend’s dormmate. I think you can understand now why I said I don’t want to have to bring Eli and Cory into this though. Don’t ever tell them I said this, but they are good guys. I just don’t want to burden them with the secrets this life brings. You can understand that, right?”
“Yeah, I get it.” Only they were now burdened with this secret and Mallory had no clue. What would happen when she found out? And Robert was now convinced it wasn’t a matter of if she would find out, but when. Robert would trust them to keep the secret of complete strangers, but he didn’t trust their ability to act natural in front of Mallory anymore.
Robert shook his head and sighed. He glanced up at the stars and mentally cursed his luck.
Dear goodness this dialogue isn’t easy! So the un-reveal is complete! Pretty much the only females you’ve met are the Spirit Guard! What a shock!
In all seriousness, I found this to be a fun chapter to write. I’m so sorry with how dialogue heavy this is. Or… well I don’t know the word for when six people are talking. Hexalogue? It mostly gets broken down into dialogue though so I’m pretty sure it works.
I find the biggest challenge is keeping these things interesting. These chapters can, I’ve found, drone on. I’m hoping I was able to avoid that. How did that go?
Lastly, how is the humor working in these past few chapters? It’s hard to know how humor is going when you don’t get to face your audience directly. Are some jokes falling flat? Feel free to comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can hear your thoughts!
Thanks for reading,