“I just don’t see an urgent need for me to jump into a skirt.” Robert folded his arms.
Angela sighed. “I really wish you’d quit minimizing it like that. This isn’t about gender.”
Robert rolled his eyes. “Maybe to you it isn’t. To me, it kind of is.”
Angela held her hands out as if to plead. “Robert, this is about the well-being of mankind!” She cast her hand about, gesturing to Kessia City below. “An entire population that has been drawn here by the Circle’s empathokinetic properties! A field ripe for the dark harvest of Platicore’s minions! You’ve felt their touch on your soul. You’ve seen what they can do, draining the very essence of life from a person!” She paused ,and if her eyes weren’t so filled with desperation, Robert would have sworn she had practiced this pitch. “Surely you can see they need you, that we need you if we are going to fulfill our promise to protect humanity as a whole.”
“The promise of an alleged past life.” Robert shook his head. “I’m not going to be held to that. Whether or not I’m a reincarnation of some dead priestess is a moot point. This life is mine, not hers. I decide what to do with it.”
“I… but…” Angela looked like she had been slapped across the face. Superheros or not, Robert wasn’t about to let them manipulate him. He hated it when people tried to guilt him into things.
Still, he did feel guilty. Not for refusing to join them, but for filming them. It had seemed like such a smart idea. He hadn’t considered that maybe these would be women he knew and that he’d be learning who they really were. He should have stopped them when they were about to tell him who they were. Why didn’t he ever think of these things before they got out of hand?
He’d need to tell them. Mallory would figure it out anyway; there was no way Eli and Cory would be able to act natural around her or their respective crushes after this big of a bombshell. But now wasn’t the time for revealing that. Tensions were high enough as it was. He’d see Angela at class tomorrow. That’d be when he’d do it. Or after. When they could talk without worry of others listening. He’d play it by ear.
As Angela tried to compose her thoughts, Robert was surprised that Vivian was the one to speak up next. “Rob, none of us want to ruin your life. We know this isn’t some simple inconvenience for you.”
“So glad you noticed.”
Vivian shrugged with a grin. “We’re observant like that.” Her grin faded. “But all joking aside, every single time one of us has joined up, it was just in time for a big fight where the additional member was needed. And I don’t mean that in a metaphorical ‘we needed your morale support and cookies’ kind of way. Not that we’d be against cookies or morale support if you felt like sharing. Especially cookies. But I mean, each time one of us has discovered who we are, we would have died without the additional member.”
“You all seemed to do just fine against Polygal. Hell, seemed to me like you hardly broke a sweat.”
Mallory chuckled. “That might be, in fact, because of you.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You gave her indigestion, right? After she tried to eat your Investiture she got some sort of feedback and it got released back to those boys she drained. A monster with no Investiture is much easier than ones who do. So, yeah, thanks for the assist on that one.”
Robert rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I was a real big help from behind the counter.”
“You stood up to a monster when you shouldn’t have. That bought enough time for us to get there,” the blue-haired-girl-Eli-was-crushing-on said. Robert really needed to learn her name. “You were an immense help. Without your actions, many others might have gotten hurt or worse.”
“If I hadn’t shown up,” Robert countered, “Polygal would have stayed dormant, then when you four would have shown up, you would have waxed her with no one getting hurt. Instead there was a ton of property damage, myself and my roommates almost got killed, and now I’m having to deal with this…” Robert trailed off and chuckled to himself. Had he really just listed property damage before his own possible demise? He really needed to work on his brain’s priorities.
Mallory shook her head. “If you hadn’t shown up, Polygal might have been a lot stronger. Maybe strong enough to fight all four of us. There is no way of knowing that though. More importantly, because you caused that feedback, all that Investiture she had collected went back to those boys. If we destroyed her the traditional way, you know, killing it, a large portion of that still goes to Platicore. At the very least, you made an entire monster of Platicore’s totally useless to him. It’s going to be a big setback at the minimum.”
“Fine,” Robert conceded. “Maybe I was a huge help. That doesn’t change my answer. I’m not throwing my current life away. I don’t know what plans we did or did not make in this hypothetical past life, but I do know that I don’t care. I’m going to live my life. I’m sorry, but I’m not throwing away everything I’ve built up to for some mythical reincarnation crap.” Robert chastised himself. That came off too strong. “Again, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to find someone else for the job.”
“There is no one else,” Angela insisted. “Your Investiture is the only one the Spirit Stick is keyed to. There is no other option.”
“Respectfully, you haven’t even tried to look for one. You’ve gone through your entire plan assuming the fifth Spirit Guard would be on board with the plan and female. So you’ve never had to look for alternatives. You’ll need to start.”
Robert turned to walk off. He knew he wasn’t going to get far without them protesting. But he felt it important to see that he was done.
Sure enough, he heard Angela rushing over to him before he took his first step. “Wait. You don’t understand.”
“I understand just fine, Angela.” Robert kept walking. “It’s you who doesn’t seem to get it. I’m out. Sorry, but this is your responsibility. Not mine.”
“It’s all our responsibility!” Robert felt Angela grab his arm. He jerked away, not at all pleased at getting his personal space violated.
“Don’t touch me.”
“I’m sorry, I just-”
Robert made sure his eyes were as cold as he could make them. “Don’t touch me. I don’t like being touched.”
“Again, I’m sorry. It’s just that… we need to work this out.”
Robert groaned. “There is nothing to work out, Angela. I’ve made my decision. It’s not the decision you expected, but it’s the one I made. You’re going to have to just deal with that.”
Angela clenched her teeth together, her eyes a mix of frustration and confusion. “But you…” She trailed off, obviously completely at a loss.
Robert sighed. “Angela, how did you expect this to go?” Robert tried to keep his tone even, but his incredulity was coming out in full force. “You’re not just asking me to turn my life upside-down; you’re asking me to quit my life in favor of a new one for vague reasons about some past life I have no way of verifying. What did you think I would say?”
Angela bit her lip. “I knew what the Priestess would have said.” She sounded like she was pleading Robert. “She would have said…”
Robert had had about just enough about all this Priestess talk. He opened his mouth but Mallory cut him off. “Oh, you have got to be joking. You must be joking!” At first, Robert thought Mallory was talking to Angela, but as she stormed off in the direction opposite of the blonde, he knew that wasn’t the case.
Angela turned around very confused. “What?” Both she and Robert stared at where Mallory was storming off to. Whatever had caught the tall Spirit Guard’s attention had her very upset.
A very diminutive, female figure approached the circle. Squinting his eyes, Robert could have sworn she was wearing a ninja outfit. But that couldn’t be right, could it? Upon further inspection, he reassed his opinion. That was definitely a ninja outfit. Was Mallory about to fight the ninja? What was going on?
No, Mallory stormed off past the ninja. The ninja,in turn, walked past Mallory and pulled something rectangular out of what looked to be a courier bag. She handed it to Ms. Kuna and muttered something that Robert couldn’t hear a single word of, but the kangaroo-woman seemed to hear her just fine. The ninja girl then gave Robert a quick yet piercing glance. She wasn’t happy with him. What was that about? Did he know her too? With his luck it’d be the cheerleader he had kicked a rock at.
“But they left.” Angela stammered. “They left. We saw them leave.”
The pieces came together. The ninja-girl was some kind of scout for them, as silly as it sounded. The rectangular object was a laptop. And “they” clearly could only be two people. Robert’s gut sank.
Mallory and Eli were at one another’s respective throats. Cory kept his distance, as if either one of them could combust at any moment. Kara and Vivian looked mortified. Angela seemed unable to process how everything was unraveling so quickly. So much for coming clean tomorrow when sentiments had tempered.
Robert winced and took his headphones out from around his neck. Now was not the time for secrets. Now was the time for damage control. “They faked leaving. I knew the Spirit Guard would make sure I was alone. I hadn’t accounted for there being a ninja though.”
Angela spun around. “You knew about this?”
Robert nodded as everyone but the Drake siblings walked closer to him to get the explanation. “It was my plan. I didn’t know you all were going to expose your secret identities to me. I wouldn’t have done this if I had known that.”
Vivian’s casuawitticismsms had been fully replaced by a mask of disbelief. “You were recording us? Why?”
Robert shrugged. All his reasons for doing it had proven unfounded. This was going to look bad. “Because I had no clue what was going to happen. I didn’t know what that glowing meant, and I wanted there to be someone watching in case something bad happened.”
Kara held a hand to her chest. “What bad could have happened? We’re heroes.”
Robert took a step back. They were the ones asking him to cancel the rest of his life and now somehow he was on the defensive? “Yeah, that’s your public profile. But I didn’t know where these monsters came from or if this glowing thing I had was a danger to you all. You all acted like it was scary or wrong in some way. I had no idea what to expect. I just wanted another set of eyes on what was going on, just in case.”
Angela couldn’t have looked more betrayed if Robert had been Judas himself. “Just in case? Did you think we were going to kill you or something?”
Robert threw his hands in the air. “I just said that I had no idea what I was expecting! That was the problem. I went into this entire scenario blinder than a nearsighted bat! A smidge more information could have helped me feel a lot more comfortable!”
Angela clenched her fists. “A little more information might have exposed us. We had our secret identities to consider! We entrusted that information to you and you broke that trust within ten minutes!” He could tell Angela was fuming, but he got the distinct impression from her face that she was more confused than angry.
“Okay, you know what, the concept that you all had secret identities didn’t even enter my mind until you mentioned it,” Robert admitted. “Your disguise charm thingy worked a little too well in that regard. Should I have tilted the camera away when you mentioned that? Yeah, probably. But I wasn’t exactly thinking about the fact I was rolling tape in the middle of the conversation. You sort of laid a metric ton on top of me and didn’t even really give me a chance to set my feet, you know.”
“But why didn’t you trust us. Us!” Angela seemed to be stuck on the trust issue. “How could you of all people not know we meant you no harm?”
Robert scoffed. “And by ‘you of all people’ you are actually speaking about the Priestess, I assume? You don’t seem to be able to comprehend that even if I was her, I’m not her anymore.”
Angela opened her mouth, but she was cut short when Kara put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Angela, we’re getting nowhere.”
Ms. Kuna stepped in, holding Cory’s laptop under her arm. “She’s right, Angela. We can sit here and go back and forth on him not trusting us and us not telling him enough. The point is moot now. Mr. Dreese, Mr. Frost, and Mr. Drake all know our secret. That is the topic we should focus on.”
Robert preempted anything Angela could say. Maybe this Ms. Kuna wasn’t so bad now that she was just getting to the point rather than telling a story. “And what exactly do we need to focus on there? I mean, it’s not like we’re going to tell anyone. Eli is Mallory’s sister and Cory has known them since he was a kid.” Robert untangled the fiberoptic camera from the headphones. “And there is no way I’m telling.”
Vivian raised an eyebrow. “And why is that? You could make a pretty penny off this info.”
Robert returned her raised eyebrow with one of his own. “You mean other than if I did, my connections would begin to get looked into as well? I know the camera sort of undermines what I’m about to say, but I’m a man who likes both his privacy and anonymity. Ignoring all the moral reasons to not reveal your secret, I wouldn’t reveal it because I’d lose my ability to just be left alone to do my thing.”
“And we just have to trust you on that even though you already broke your word on not revealing our identities to anyone?” Angela, it seemed, was not going to let that go.
“Look, I don’t normally like using stuff like this, but, technically, I never gave my word to not do anything. I just asked questions until you all forgot I never gave my word.” Robert groaned at his defense. It was the exact lawyerly and childish defense he hated.
“So I guess it’s a stupid argument. Technicality shouldn’t matter. I can use the stress I felt as an excuse but I expect better from others so I should have expected it from myself. I guess today is my day to be a hypocrite.” Robert didn’t feel like a hypocrite. Looking back at everything he still felt this was mostly their fault for keeping him so in the dark, But he needed to smooth this over and. Plus, he really should have been thinking more clearly and moved the camera when the Spirit Guard said that they would reveal him their secret identities. He was at least partially responsible. “So let me be clear and say, as God as my witness, I won’t tell, say, or in any other way communicate to another soul your secret. I’ll take it to my grave.”
“Well,” Angela’s face softened, “I guess that will have to be enough.” Robert relaxed some. “But we need to work this out. We really need your help as Spirit Guard Serenity.” Robert tensed back up. Here came the return of the circular argument.
“So, you all aren’t going to have us whacked, right?” The entire group turned to find Cory ambling towards them. “I just want to be sure that’s the discussion we’re having over here.” Robert was more than glad to have Cory distract the conversation away from Spirit Guard Serenity.
Angela rolled her eyes. “‘Have you whacked?’ It seems everyone in your dorm has entirely too wild an imagination. Of course not! We’re heroes, not the mafia!”
“Oh,” Cory chuckled nervously as his eyes darting towards Vivian. “Because that would have been a really sucky way to end the night.”
“Yeah,” Vivian agreed. “A real bummer.” She looked away from Cory; her normal buoyant personality had completely evaporated. Robert’s heart sunk as he saw Cory struggle with what to say to her. Sure they had only known one another for a few days, but they had seemed to have a mutual interest in one another. Was that going to be a casualty of tonight’s events?
Angela stepped forward. “I’m assuming we have your word you’ll speak of this to no one as well?”
Cory looked over to the blonde leader of the Spirit Guard. “Huh? Oh, that’s even a question? There’s no way I’d ever betray Mal like that!” He glanced back over to Vivian. “Or anyone.”
Angela grimaced and nodded. Seemed she was finally coming to accept the reality of the situation. “And I don’t think Mal’s brother would be anything for us to worry about.”
Cory nervously pointed behind him. “Well, saying anything? No, I don’t think so. Though I think we should make sure they don’t kill one another.”
Everyone turned to find the siblings on the other side of the Standridge Circle gesturing wildly and barking at one another angrily. Robert sighed. This was his fault. Had he just not involved Cory and Eli, they could be blissfully in the dark. But there was no point in dwelling on what you can’t change. All he could focus on was what he could control. And though Robert wanted to interrupt them and break up their fight, his gut told him that they needed to get whatever it was they were saying off their chests.
“I just can not believe you did something as stupid as this!”
“Me?” Eli scoffed. “I’m not the one who has been hiding their superhero career behind their family’s back, Mallory!”
Mallory didn’t seem to listen to his argument. “I told you to explicitly stay away from the Spirit Guard. And what’s the first thing you do? You ignore me!”
Eli stepped forward, his anger boiling hotter. “Oh yeah. Because that had soooo much to do with my safety. All you were worried about was whether or not I’d figure out you’re moonlighting as a combat cheerleader with delusions of some past life.”
Mallory grit her teeth. “Don’t you dare try to claim I didn’t care about whether you were in danger.”
Eli knew he shouldn’t, but he kept pressing. “Really? Tell me, Mallory. Would you have even come over to check up on me if I didn’t live with Robert, or would you have stayed away from me because you’d be worried I’d put two and two together.”
Mallory shoved Eli back, giving her some space between them. Eli wanted to push back but contained himself. “I didn’t have to worry about you putting two and two together until this little stunt you pulled. I can’t believe you’d be this stupid!”
Eli rolled his eyes. “Tell me how stupid I am, Mallory. What? Now that I know your secret your little ninja has to kill me or something?”
“Don’t be an idiot.”
“Then tell me why was this stupid? The only reason Cory and I did this was because we wanted to make sure everything was on the up and up. Had you just told me who you were, we could have avoided all the stress Rob has gone through. Could have called you when something weird was going on at my arcade…”
“You don’t have any spiritual skills. You just would have thought the kids were acting funny. You wouldn’t have known there was a monster.”
“No spiritual skills? Is this because I’m not part of your secret sorority of the Emoticon Kingdom or whatever it was?” Eli winced. Emoticon? Why the hell was that the word he said?
Mallory’s anger seemed to wane as she gave him a flat stare. “Emoticon Kingdom?”
Eli looked off in the direction of Robert and the others. They seemed to be embroiled in their own conversation. Looked like it was going about as well as his judging from all the arm flailing and defensive postures. “I meant to say ’emotional.’ I– I don’t know why Emoticon came out.”
Both refused to look at the other. It was always like this when they fought. The fire before. Then the silence as they cooled off for a moment. Pretty soon Mallory would open her mouth and…
“He was never in any danger. I can’t believe you’d think he was. Didn’t you see us at the arcade? We protect people.”
“If he was never in any danger, then neither was I.” They locked eyes once more. She had their father’s stern green eyes. Always so much force behind them. Then again, his mother had said the same about him. Maybe that was why they usually looked away from one another when talking.
“But you didn’t know if you were in danger. The fact that you went to getting Cory’s perv camera proves that.”
Eli tensed up for a second and glanced around, making sure Cory hadn’t heard that. Cory was under the impression Eli had told no one about the camera. But he had warned his sister, if, for no other reason, to be on the lookout for anyone else with similar aspirations. “Not so loud!”
Mallory smirked, though he could tell she was still mad. “So you thought you were in danger. Why did you come.”
Elijah sighed. “I didn’t think we were in danger. I know the Spirit Guard is… that you… are heroes.” Eli looked away. “But Rob didn’t and wanted someone else to watch just in case.”
“You should have refused.”
Eli shook his head. “I don’t turn my back on a friend. We don’t’ turn our back on friends. You would’ve done the same thing if the roles were reversed.”
“If roles were reversed, it would have been different.”
“Oh, and why is that,” Eli growled. “Because it’s okay for you to have secrets and not me? Or is it because it’s okay if you’re in potential danger because you, apparently, have super powers?”
Mallory avoided the questions altogether. “Situations like this, you never know how they’ll go. You need to stay away from all this stuff. It’s…”
“Dangerous?” He locked eyes with her again. “Do mom and dad know about this?”
She glared. She glared so hard Eli found himself inching back some. “No.” She stood up straighter. “And they better not.”
Eli tried to stand firm. “We all deserve to know, Mallory.”
“This is my business, Elijah. You weren’t ever supposed to know about this.” She planted a finger in his chest. “And you better not tell Mom and Dad. I mean it.”
Normally this was where Eli, like a good little brother, said okay and they moved on. But not tonight. “How many times have you almost died?”
Mallory blinked, obviously not ready for that question. “What?”
“How many times have you almost died?” Eli closed his eyes. “Have all your fights been as easy as the one in the arcade?”
“Uh, no.” Mallory’s shoulders slumped. “There, well, there have been a few close calls.”
“If you had died, would we ever have found out?”
The wind blew gently. Mallory’s ponytail swayed in the breeze. “I don’t know. We’ve never discussed it.”
“So every day, for the past year or so… every day could have been the last day I ever got to see you?”
“That’s true of everyone, Elijah.”
“It’s much more true for you though, isn’t it?” Eli took a deep breath. This was why he had been angry. He didn’t figure it out though until until he said it aloud. “I could have never seen you again and thought you just died from something simple or, maybe worse, maybe not found out at all.”
“I didn’t want you to worry about me.”
“Isn’t it my right to worry about you, Mallory? Good God, you’re my sister! That is what family does! It worries about and helps one another.”
The wind died down. Mallory bit her bottom lip before shaking her head. “It… promise me you won’t tell Mom and Dad.”
Eli put his hands in his pocket and stared at his shoes. Could he promise that? Was it okay for him to not tell his parents? Certainly if he had a right to worry about her didn’t they?
“Promise me, Elijah!”
Eli rolled a loose pebble underneath his toe. “Why won’t you tell them? Why are you so intent on keeping this a secret? I mean, you’re a god damned super hero. Shouldn’t you, you know, be proud of that? I know mom and dad would be proud.”
Mallory puffed up, somehow standing even taller than she normally did. “I am proud of it!”
“Even the costume?”
Mallory shrank down a bit. “Okay, well, the costume is ridiculous.” She shook her head and her ponytail bounced back and forth. “That’s not the point. I’m not ashamed. Nor do I think mom and dad would be. But dad has always been overprotective of me. He didn’t even want to let me take taekwondo as a kid. He was against me even living away from home for college even though we live in town! If he’s worried about me just going to college, how would he react to me fighting monsters, swinging a giant sword, and going out in public wearing that cheerleader getup?”
Eli frowned. She had a point. Their father had always been irrationally protective of Mallory. It had always bugged him too. Mallory got a new car when she turned sixteen; Eli was told to save up for his first car like his Dad had as a teenager. Dad paid Mallory’s rent for her; Eli had to get a job like Dad did in college. It really wasn’t fair as far as he was concerned.
Eli sighed. Now wasn’t the time for jealousy. Besides, he had parents who could afford to pay his tuition for him; all he had to handle was his monthly expenses. It just made him sound spoiled.
“I just have no clue how he’d react. Would he get used to it? Would Mom talk him down? Or would he fly off the handle like the time I got in the fight with Roger Finley and start talking to the other Spirit Guards parents?”
He hadn’t considered that fact. “Are the other girls’ parents in the dark too?”
“Yes. You are the first of anyone’s family to found out.”
She wasn’t wrong to be concerned how their father might react. This wasn’t exactly a normal situation. He felt it was a little unfair to couch their dad as reacting irrationally thought. The situation was what was crazy, not dad. A parent alerting other parents that their children were in danger would be a perfectly normal thing for a parent to do.
But he also understood why the Spirit Guard were hiding that fact. What could their families do? Stop them? Someone had to slay these monsters, and, though he didn’t buy all this past life stuff, it didn’t seem like anyone else could do it. While the families had a right to be concerned, the Spirit Guard also had a right to shelter them from worrying about something they could do little about.
Eli glanced back at the girls, Cory, and Robert. He caught Kara glancing back at before she looked back down at her feet. He wished he could read her face from this distance. “Okay Mallory. I won’t tell Mom or Dad.”
Mallory exhaled as though a giant weight had been lifted from her chest. She leaned down and gave Eli a hug “Thank you, Elijah.”
Eli stood up on his toes and hugged her back. It really wasn’t fair that she got all the tall genes. “But you have to promise me something.”
“No more hiding secrets from me.” Eli let go and locked his gaze with her own. “We’ve never kept secrets. I don’t like that you started. Got it?”
Mallory grinned her usual grin that let him know she thought he was being a sentimental dork. A good sign. “Got it.”
Apparently, the siblings had been watched because as soon as they hugged, the entire group walked over to them. Cory was, of course, the first one to open his mouth. “So you two good now? I hate it when you two fight.”
Mallory rolled her eyes. “Yeah, Cory. We’re good now.”
“Good, because if you two got a brother-sister divorce, I’d hate to watch you two fight over who got custody of me.” Cory glanced over at Vivian. She didn’t crack a smile. Looks like this night was going to have some repercussions for their love life pursuits.
Mallory groaned. “You got it backwards, Cory. We’d be fighting over who had to have custody of you. Not who got custody.”
Cory clutched his chest. “You wound me, Mal. Right to the heart. Words hurt, you know.”
Eli watched the blonde’s face sour. Vivian and Kara were looking at everyone who wasn’t Cory and Eli. The kangaroo-woman studied Cory with a face that was a mix of annoyance and confusion. The ninja-girl, well, Eli couldn’t read anything from her, but he could tell Cory’s antics weren’t exactly welcome at the moment. Knowing Cory, he’d be the last one to find out. Luckily, Eli didn’t have to do anything as Robert acted first.
“Look, it’s been a long night for everyone. We’re just going to head back to our apartment.” He tossed the powder blue baton he had been holding at the kangaroo-woman. She caught it with her freehand. “Sorry about the trouble, but I hope you find someone who is a good fit for that.”
The blonde’s eyes went wide as Robert walked away. “You can’t just leave your Spirit Stick!”
Robert sighed and his shoulders slumped. Yeah, their conversation definitely hadn’t gone as well as his and Mallory’s. “I can damn well do as I–”
Vivian cleared her throat. “Rob, what I think Angela means is that you literally can’t leave it behind. It has some kind of magic or empathokinetic quantum something-or-other that makes it so the stick is always in reach for us so we can transform at a moment’s notice.”
Robert raised an eyebrow. “Uh huh. Yeah, why don’t you all hang onto it then. I’d hate for someone to steal it or something.”
The kangaroo-woman shook her head. Eli was really going to have to learn her name at some point if they were getting involved in all this nonsense. “That’s not how it works. I can hold onto this, sure, but the moment I’m unaware of it, it’ll return to you.”
Robert didn’t seem to buy it. “Then you better keep a close eye on it. You all are the ones with super powers, not me. You’ll be better at guarding it than I could be.”
“You’d be perfectly capable of guarding it if you’d just–” the blonde cut herself off. She pouted, but Eli could tell she was frustrated with herself as much as she was with Rob.. What was her name again? He should know this. She was his sister’s roommate. He had met her in person. Didn’t VIvian just say it too? Why was he so bad with names?
Robert just rolled his eyes and turned to walk away. “Whatever. See you in class.”
Eli and Cory exchanged glances and then both looked to Mallory. Mallory shrugged. “Crazy night.” She then looked at the blonde. “I think we all could use some time to just cool off after this.”
“But he’s leaving without his Spirit Stick,” the blonde protested.
Cory chuckled. “Still can’t believe you’re seriously calling them that.”
Mallory shot him a glare and Cory shut his mouth. Mallory always had been able to get him to be quiet when it was necessary. As far as Eli was concerned that qualified for a super power in and of itself. “He’ll find out soon enough that he can’t just leave it.”
“I suppose you’re right,” the blonde relented. “Let’s get headed out, ladies.”
Eli watched as Kara put a comforting hand on the blonde’s shoulders. This probably ended all hopes he had of getting to know her better. He now knew her deepest secret and had found out about it by videoing her without her consent. Eli felt like a creep when he thought about how seedy that sounded. How creepy must it feel to Kara?
The girls all started heading towards the edge of the Standridge Circle. The kangaroo-woman handed Robert’s Spirit Stick and Cory’s laptop to Mallory. With a flash of light, the woman returned to her kangaroo rat-form. This was seriously going to take some serious getting used to.
The kangaroo rat jumped up into the blonde’s hands, then up to her head, and finally stopped on top of the stone. From that vantage the animal peered over Kessia City. “You all met at Angela and Mallory’s apartment, correct?” Eli shivered. No amount of children’s cartoons prepared you for how wrong it was for an animal to talk.
Mallory nodded. “Yeah, that’s right.”
“Very well then.” The kangaroo rat said some words that sounded like gibberish. All the girls looked away. Why were they all looking away? The stone burst into a velvety red glow that made Eli see spots.
Eli shielded his eyes. “Gah! A warning would have been nice.” Cory grunted in agreement.
Robert sighed and rubbed his eyes. “What is with everything glowing tonight?”
“Do not forget the words I said, Robert Dreese. The Hush Corps will be watching.” That was the ninja-girl’s voice. When had she gotten behind them. Eli turned around to try and see her, but was still only getting spots.
Robert, as usual, didn’t respond well to someone bossing him around. “Oh don’t get your morph suit all in a twist. I’m not going to be trying to get the secret out. I already gave my word on that.”
Eli’s eyes adjusted long enough to let him see the small silhouette walk past him. “Given your recent actions,” the ninja-girl countered, “I don’t exactly trust your word. More importantly, trust is not in my job description. Good night.”
Robert waved her off. “Yeah, pleasure meeting you too, Cupcake.”
“When did you two have a conversation? When did she get behind us.”
Robert grit his teeth. “Freaking ninja snuck behind me somehow and threatened that they were going to monitor everything now. Something called a Hush Corps. Whispered the entire thing until the end there.”
Cory chuckled. “What? Did the flash of light make her deaf? Just temporarily blinded me. Maybe ninjas are wired backwards.”
Eli watched in fascination as Vivian walked into the stone as if it were a small crack between two buildings. They had portals too? No fair! They still had to hike up to Cory’s car. And he didn’t get to experience a portal. He now made it a goal of his to, at some point, get to travel through one of those things just to say he did.
Mallory turned to the side to squeeze in. She looked at Eli and grinned, “Have a fun drive, Elijah.” She disappeared into the crack.
Kara squeezed in next, the ninja-girl walking over to join them. Eli was distracted by Robert’s ponderous tone. “Yeah, wait. Her volume did only go up after the flash.” What was Robert getting at? His friend squinted and tapped his front pockets.
Robert’s face morphed into an odd mixture of amusement and anger. “Oh, that is clever.” He dashed after the ninja. “Oh that’s really smooth. I didn’t even feel it.”
The ninja kept walking as if nothing was going on. The blonde stopped halfway through the portal. “What is going on, Robert?”
Robert put himself between the rock-portal and the ninja.
“What’s going on is your little ninja errand-girl here picked my pocket and stole my phone.” Eli had to give it to Robert; no matter how strange the night got, he seemed to keep his cool.
The ninja girl remained motionless and didn’t allow for a hint of body language. Then again, Eli was behind her so maybe her face was giving something away. Though that seemed highly unlikely.
The blonde squeezed back out of the red fissure in space. “Is that true, Noriko?”
“It seemed prudent. They used the phone as the tool for recording the sound of your conversation. I needed to have a look to make sure there was no recording on the phone.”
Robert chuckled though Eli could tell he wasn’t amused. Rob didn’t like people invading his personal space one bit. “Wow. You could have just asked, you know?”
“At this point, Mr. Dreese, I have neither the luxury nor the inclination to trust your word.”
“Oh that’s rich,” Robert scoffed. “A ninja, sneaking around, picking my pockets and threatening my friends with a sword, doesn’t trust my word. Because there’s nothing sketchy about you.”
The blonde sighed. “Noriko, please give him his phone back.”
Noriko didn’t budge. “I haven’t determined if it has any incriminating data on it yet.”
“Robert will delete it if there is. Won’t you, Robert.” The blonde’s eyes were pleading. Eli got the feeling she wasn’t asking this to make the ninja feel better, but to hear it from Robert himself.
Robert didn’t let his eyes move from Noriko. “I already told you, I’m not telling anyone. I’m telling you right now I have no data on that phone. So give it back.”
They stared one another down for a solid three or four seconds before the ninja dropped her first hint of emotion and sighed. “Your decision.” She reached behind her into her travel sack. She pulled out Robert’s phone and handed it to him. “We have the laptop anyway. We will find out if there was anything recording elsewhere through that, I’m sure.”
Robert wasn’t done staring down the ninja. “Yeah, get that video deleted. But Cory needs that laptop for classes and homework. He better be getting it back with all his files intact tomorrow.”
“We will take as long as we need and do what we must,” Noriko said coldly.
The blonde swallowed down a huge lump in her throat and put her hands on the diminutive ninja’s shoulders. “What Noriko meant to say, of course, is that the Hush Corps will endeavour to get it done quickly, effectively, and with minimum damage to his files, and that he should have it by tomorrow afternoon.”
“I meant no such thing,” Noriko defiantly muttered.
The kangaroo rat cleared her throat, “Noriko.”
The ninja was not pleased. “It will be returned to him early tomorrow.”
Robert held his face straight. “Thank you, Noriko.”
Eli couldn’t help but chuckle as Robert walked past the ninja and his face exploded into the biggest smirk. He had just won a staring contest with a ninja. And though it would have scared the piss out of Eli, it seemed Robert got a lot of amusement at feeling the cold glare of the ninja on his back.
The blonde tried to encourage Noriko with a kind pat on the shoulder but it it didn’t seem the ninja-girl wasn’t having any of it. Without a word or demonstration, Noriko stepped through the portal. The blonde sighed. She opened her mouth as if to say something to Robert but quickly decided against it and squeezed back into the portal. The kangaroo rat shook its head and followed through. Once again, the Standridge Circle stood dark.
“Wow, have you got a pair on you or what” Cory exclaimed.
Eli could practically hear the shrug in Robert’s voice. “What is she going to do? Kill me to keep me quiet? They say I’m the only person who can be this stupid Spirit Guard Serenity thing. Besides, I doubt Eli’s sister would participate in anything that has a hitman as part of their team.”
“Well she scared the hell out of me,” Eli admitted.
“Well in our defense, Eli, she brandished her sword at us, and we aren’t warriors of past-life-fate-reincarnation-destiny-kingdom-land. So we don’t have Robert’s plot armor.”
Normally, Eli would fight Cory on the concept of plot armor, but tonight he would not be arguing from a position of strength. Between ninjas, talking animals, and, of course, magical cheerleaders, the universe was throwing a lot of weight behind Cory’s worldview.
“I do have to admit, that was rather clever of her,” Robert snorted. “She knew the stone would flash so she put herself between me and the stone and whispered to me so you two wouldn’t turn around when it flashed. That way all three of us were temporarily blinded.” Robert started walking away from the Circle. “And I never even felt her hand reach into my pocket. I don’t like it, but that’s damn impressive.”
Cory pointed back to the stone that had been glowing. “Seriously? That’s what you found impressive? The stone that they just walked through to get from point A to point B, I thought, was a little more impressive than that.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve seen a lot of things glow tonight. And apparently they think I’m some sort of holy woman in a past life that will join them on their magical pep squad. So, yeah, that’s a thing now.” Robert sighed and looked Eli in the eye. “I’m sorry for bringing you guys into this. Had I known your sister and those girls you liked were in this I–”
“Don’t be sorry.” Eli definitely didn’t want Robert kicking himself over this. He had enough to worry about without thinking he was a bad friend for involving them. “I’m glad I know now. At least I can now know if my sister is in danger or not. I was completely in the dark.”
Cory smiled. “Yeah dude. No regrets.”
Robert looked up at the sky and took a deep breath. “Thanks guys. Not to get all sentimental or anything, but I really appreciate that you guys did this for me. I don’t know what I would have done if they got what they wanted and I had no one to talk about this with.”
Cory grinned from ear to ear, “D’aww, the Tin Man does have a heart!”
Robert rolled his eyes but grinned back. “I’m just not looking forward to my history class tomorrow. I have that Angela girl in it.” Angela! That was the blonde’s name. “I have no doubt she’s going to try and continue to impress upon me the importance of…” Robert squinted and turned around and scanned the circle.
Eli followed suit, trying to see what Robert was looking for. “Rob, what is it?”
“I… I’m not sure. I feel something.”
Cory took a step back. “Like with the monster at the arcade?”
“No. This different it’s…” He walked up to one of the stones and knelt down. “Wow, they were not exaggerating.”
Eli and Cory glanced at one another and shrugged. They both then hurried over to find that Robert was looking over a stick about two-and-a-half feet long with rubber ends. It was the “Spirit Stick” the girls said Robert couldn’t leave.
Cory scratched his head. “How did it get there? Could the ninja have left it there?”
“No,” Robert sighed as he picked up the stick. “I saw the wallaby hand it to Mallory. She walked in with it and Cory’s laptop. I could feel it there. Like it was watching me.”
Eli didn’t like the thought of inanimate objects watching someone. Sounded like something from a bad horror flick. “They did say you couldn’t leave it.”
Robert shook his head as he examined it. Eli got the distinct feeling he was going to be hearing a lot of complaining about this stick. “This is going to get really annoying really fast.”
While I find these chapters necessary, I sometimes worry going with the traditional 5 girl Magical Girl team makes it unwieldly. But that’s not the point. The point is, this chapter was hard to write and I REALLY hope the dialogue works. I try to avoid, as much as possible, the “he said then she said then the other girl” said style. But any time you have nine people in a scene, there is bound to be some problems 😛
In the “This is different from MGP Alpha” part, welcome to Noriko ladies and gentlemen. I know I introduced her in Chapter 9 actually, but I don’t feel we get to see her, the actual her, until this chapter. Thoughts?
The Mallory-Elijah dialogue I feel had to strike the appropriate tone. I still don’t know how I feel about Mallory actually pushing Eli and getting her finger in his chest. But, whether I’m comfortable with it, the writing is now there. I’m trying to show that A) she’s not afraid of contact, either hitting or hugging B) she was really angry and was having a hard time deciding what she was going to do. I have her slotted sort of as that sibling who tended to wrestle a lot and hasn’t fully grown out of that. Don’t know. But it’s there. I’m probably talking too much about those two moments. The bigger question is did the conversation “flow” properly and seem like siblings arguing?
Lastly, I sort of have a general question that I’d really like to get some feedback on. IF YOU READ NOTHING ELSE PLEASE READ THIS! I’ve been listening to a lot of Writing Excuses and one thing they talk about is “keeping your promises as a writer.” What they mean by that is as we write there are certain promises you are making to the reader with what you write and you need to be sure the promises you think are making are the ones you actually are making.
My question is what promises do you think I’ve made concerning certain characters and concepts. This can be as specific as “you’re promising this scene or joke will happen or be made later” or as overarching as “this is their character arc.” If you don’t mind, please send me an email to email@example.com to let me know what promises you have felt I’ve made so far. It’d be a huge help!