Robert plopped into his chair and rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t believe how early he was to his History class. He had fully intended to show up as late as possible and prevent himself from giving Angela a chance to talk to him, but given how his night had gone, that plan had changed since he needed to get something straightened out.
The TA gave him an odd look as she walked in. How often did students get into the room before the TA? Probably wasn’t often. He buried his head into his palms and sighed. He was just so damn tired and on edge. He could still feel it. It was under his seat now, like a trapdoor spider waiting to strike its prey.
He heard the door open and the clacking of heels. He looked up and saw Angela walking up the steps. She averted her eyes and squeezed her bookbag against her chest. Seemed the night hadn’t done anything to help calm her nerves either.
She approached him, her eyes glued to her shoes and her blond hair covering her face. She let out a long breath through her nose and looked up. Her bloodshot eyes told Robert she must have had nearly as little sleep as he had. Though he wagered it was for completely different reasons.
Angela tried to mask her nervousness with a smile. “Morning Robert.” As she sat down it seemed she got her first real look at his body language. “Oh, dear. You don’t look well at all. Did you sleep at all last night?”
Robert kept his face forward, watching the TA. He wanted to point out the wasn’t the only one who looked like hell, but that wouldn’t been right. She looked like her normal, well-kept self. Or what he assumed was normal for her. She always seemed so well groomed in all of the three times he had seen her. Well, four if he counted the arcade. But her face told a different story. No amount of showering and makeup could hide the anxiety on her face.
“No. I didn’t. It’s that damned stick.”
Angela sat down, pulling her laptop out of her bag. “The Spirit Stick?” she whispered.
“It’s like it’s watching me.” Robert said as he reached under his seat and held the stick in his to his side. “No matter where I go or what I do, I can alway feel it in reach. Like some sort of inanimate stalker. It’s like something straight out of a horror book.”
Angela’s eyes widened and she tried to snatch it out of his hands. “What are you doing,” she demanded in a panicked hush. She only succeeded in knocking it out of his hands. It bounced down the stairs before it rolled out of sight and he could feel it’s presence return to his backpack. That seemed to be its favorite nesting spot.
The TA glanced up but whatever she saw, obviously she didn’t think it was of much importance because she went right back to marking stuff on slides for the professor. “People could find out that…”
Robert shook his head. “That a dude is a Spirit Guard that no one has seen yet? I doubt they’d connect the dots there, Angela. Plus I think they’d be forusing more on the fact that a guy had a baton.”
Angela grimaced. Her tired eyes pleaded with Robert. “Please, don’t be so flippant about this, Robert. We’re entrusting you with our secret. We don’t know what minion of Platicore or other mystic players could be watching at any time.”
“I’ll tell you who is watching–that stick.” He slouched in his chair. “I can feel it pressing against my… it feels like that–” He trailed off. He reallly was being a bit to casual with Spirit Guard stuff. It was stupid that he was involved in this at all, but he had to honor his word about keeping their secret. “It feels like that thing I felt at the arcade.”
Her voice was barely audible. “It feels like Polygal to you?”
Robert nodded. “Yeah. I can just… when I approached the arcade I felt something was off. At first the air got heavy, but as soon as I got into the building…” Robert trailed off, temporarily lost in the memory of that day that shouldn’t have felt as long ago as it did. “I could feel it in my bones.” He shook his head. “LIke some sort of icy sensation. I don’t know how else to describe it.
“But that stick, it feels the same. I mean, well, not like the ice in my bones, but I can feel it pressing against me. Sort of. It’s kind of like that thick air feeling I got as we approached the arcade.”
Angela furrowed her eyebrows. “I just find it so odd you could sense the monster. I mean, none of us were that sensitive until after we transformed the first time.” She shook her head, “But that’s not important. It is sort of weird when you get your Spirit Stick, but it’s not the stick; it’s our latent empathokinetic sense kicking in.”
Robert rolled his eyes. “More magical empire stuff?”
Angela grimaced and Robert regretted his words. This was her life. In some ways it was more her religion. Either way, it was near and dear to her and he kept putting it down. Uncle Taylor had taught him better. “Our old bodies did empathokenesis all the time. When we awakened it in our new bodies, the additional sense, our sixth sense if you want to be dramatic like Vivian… well, it’s weird. Imagine a blind person suddenly having sight and being asked to describe the color red.”
Angela reached into her bag and pulled out her Spirit Stick just enough for Robert to see it. She grinned like a child that was sharing a secret. “But then suddenly we feel things like monsters and our Spirit Sticks. They are things that trigger on our extra sense.” She tucked it back into her bag. “Your first experience with your empathokenesis was a traumatic one where there was an attack. It makes sense that you’d feel nervous about anything else that has the sense going off. A lamp without a lampshade hurts your eyes, but a beautiful sunset is pleasing to them. It’s not the sensation that is the issue here but your inexperience with having it. Give it time and you’ll know how to differentiate the ‘flavors’ of it.”
Angela’s eyes were aflame with passion. Robert suspected that she had made this comparison with the other members of the Spirit Guard. “You come up with that speech all yourself?”
Angela blushed. “Actually, it was Vivian who made me think of it like that. She’s very thoughtful like that.”
Robert nodded. It did make sense, but her explanation didn’t make him feel any less tired. Nor did it make him feel any more comfortable with the sensation of him feeling the stick having teleported to his backpack. “Does it always move with you? Like this?”
“Yes. It’s to make sure that it’s always within reach but out of sight. You don’t have to ever worry about being unprepared for a fight because it will be there in any moment of need.”
“Can we turn it off?”
Angela opened her mouth to protest, but instead winced then swallowed hard. “I can see the desire to do that given your… unique situation.” She tapped her finger on the armrest of her chair. “But we don’t fully comprehend how these work. You must understand, these foci are the most intricate ones ever created by one of the most brilliant minds the Empathic Empire had ever produced. We only know the very basics of empathokenesis. Asking us to tamper with these devices, which I’m not sure how we would even do that, is like asking a high school physics student to operate a nuclear reactor.”
There went that idea. “I don’t suppose there is any way I could ask Vivian to give it a try then? Since she was the Scholar.”
Angela gave an apologetic smile. “No such luck, I’m afraid. Not even she’s crazy enough to try.”
Robert sighed. What good was all this emotion-tech if nobody knew how to actually do anything new with it? Then again, when the only things you had to experiment on were, supposedly, centuries old artifacts with no user manual and necessary for the defense of the planet, could he really blame them?
“You’ll get used to it.”
“The feeling. The empathokinetic sense. You’ll get used to feeling the Spirit Stick all the times. Sort of like how when you walk into a room with an unfamiliar smell. You notice it at first, but after a while, you can’t even smell it anymore. That’s how your empathokinetic sense behaves too. You’ll get used to it. I promise.”
Robert leaned back and considered her point. It made sense. Noses filtered out scents that hung in the air long enough. Ears filter out white noise. This new sense might behave the same. “So it didn’t bother you at all? The new sense I mean.”
“Oh, well, not really. But given the fact that I saw my new role as a blessing and you…” Angela trailed off. “Well, I wanted it, and you did not. So I guess I understand that it’s a sensation you’re not exactly welcoming.”
Robert nodded. “And you are sure there is no way you could take this thing back for me?”
Angela shrugged. “I’m afraid not. It synched to you the moment you touched it. We don’t know any way to undo that.”
Robert sighed. “You’ll get used to it” wasn’t the solution he wanted, but it was the only solution being presented to him at the moment. As his uncle would say, “You can’t pump oil out of a dry well.” So he’d just get accustomed to it… for now.
More students began to trickle into the class. “Well, I guess that will have to do for now.”
Angela nodded but twiddled her thumbs together. “Yes, well… true.” She took a deep breath. Robert braced himself; this was definitely leading into something he wasn’t going to like. “Any chance you’d have any interest in eating lunch with Mallory, Vivian, and myself today?” He hated being right. “You know, maybe to just clear the air from last night’s little–”
Robert held up his hand. He had to be careful with how he handled this. “No thank you. I appreciate the little convo we’ve had here. Helpful stuff. But I don’t want to give you the wrong impression about anything. I’m not a Spirit Guard.”
“It’s not a recruitment thing. I just don’t think there should be–”
Robert shut his eyes. “Angela. Don’t. Even if you truly mean to quote-unquote clear the air, there is no air to clear. Both of our positions have been made very clear. I hold nothing against you, and it seems you and your friends, minus your ninja, hold nothing against me. Let’s just let it be, okay?”
The enthusiasm drained out of Angela’s face like air out of a tire. She slumped into her chair and pulled out her laptop. “Yeah. Okay then.”
Robert let out a sigh and pulled his own laptop free from his backpack. Why had Destiny,Fate, or whatever disembodied, would-be deity chosen him? Now he had to deal with all this drama. Getting away from drama was the whole reason he left Deepwater.
He felt bad about having to shut Angela down like this. She was just trying to do what she thought was right. If only none of this had never happened. She was very attractive and seemed really nice, if a bit overeager. He briefly entertained the thought of what he might have done if the situation had been different.
Robert dismissed the thought from his mind. She likely would not have sat right next to him and had a conversation with him on the first day of classes if he wasn’t involved with the Spirit Guard. She would have probably kept her distance from him to be sure he wouldn’t figure out that she was Valor.
Robert shook his head and shrugged to himself. Such was his luck with ladies.
Eli just focused on the arrows and moved his feet. With his homework done, the Arcade closed for who knows how long, and his roommates out, Hop Dance Mania was the best way to occupy his mind. He wished he was on the solid pads of the arcade instead of his slippery console pad. But he wasn’t going to complain about Mallory’s Christmas gift.
The music blared words in a mixture of Japanese and English that likely made no sense to someone who spoke either. Not having his roommates around had the added benefit that he wouldn’t annoy them with this music. It also wouldn’t let them see that he mumbled the words as he danced. Annoying or not, the songs were catchy.
A knock came from the other side of the dorm’s door and Eli sighed. If this was another club person trying to recruit him, he would be very annoyed. They had already interrupted him twice, and when he wasn’t staring at flying arrows as they rolled down the screen those were seconds his mind would dwell on the fact that his sister was a superhero, and he would feel like a creep for learning Kara’s secret with a hidden camera.
Eli grabbed the top of his shirt and wiped the sweat off his forehead as he opened the door. A gorgeous bluenette stood in the open doorway. Eli felt very self-conscious about his sweaty aroma. “Oh. Uh. Hey Kara.”
She didn’t meet his eyes. “Hello Elijah.”
“You can just call me Eli,” he reminded her. Eli let himself hope for a second that maybe he hadn’t completely blown it last night. Maybe, she liked the idea of having someone who could understand her and whom she could confide in. He was, after all, the sibling of a Spirit Guard. What would she have to hide from him? He’d keep her secret safe.
“Oh, well, then hello Eli.”
He mentally scolded himself. No, she was probably here to talk to Robert. He was the grand Shrine Maiden of destiny or whatever. Kara just probably wanted to see if he could get him to reconsider. Their job was to protect the world from Platicore, so it made a lot of sense that she’d give it another go. “So Robert isn’t here right now. I don’t know if…”
“That’s fine,” she said casually. “I actually was wondering if Cory was here.”
Cory? He had not expected that. “Oh, no he’s not. He’s at classes still.”
“Ah.” She nodded her head before setting her backpack on the ground. As she knelt down and unzipped it, Eli found his eyes lingering on her well-sculpted legs. He had stared at them a lot as she stomped on the Hop Dance Mania pad at Loose Change.
“What am I doing?” Eli scolded himself. Here he had just been lamenting what a creep Kara must think he was and what does he do? He leers at her legs. He wasn’t some pubescent teenager with raging hormones anymore. If he didn’t want her to think he was creepy, he needed to act more mature.
“I was just coming by to return Cory’s laptop. Noriko was going to bring it by but–”
Eli decided to blurt out the first thing he could think of. “I’m sorry.”
Kara glanced up, confusion all over her face as she removed Cory’s laptop. “Come again?”
“I’m sorry for last night.” Eli’s father had always told him that even if he didn’t completely know what he did wrong that it had never hurt his relationship with Eli’s mother to apologize anyway. Eli hoped his dad’s advice worked. “I thought we were helping Rob. If I had known what we’d find out…”
A door a couple of rooms over opened, and Kara glanced at it nervously. “Do you, uh, mind if I step in for a second?”
Eli realized the stupidity of what he was doing instantly. What was he thinking? Talking about this with the door open? No privacy? Thankfully he hadn’t said anything with any detail to it. That wasn’t going to help him build any trust.
Eli blushed. “Sure. Of course.” He opened the door wider and Kara hurried in. “Sorry. That was stupid of me.”
Kara walked past him and set Cory’s laptop on the counter. “So,” she said with a hint of caution in her voice, “you were talking about if you had known what you know now?”
“Huh? Oh, right. Well, you see…” Eli trailed off as he shut the door behind him.
“I was under the impression that you didn’t regret it.”
“What? Why do you have that impression?”
“Didn’t you tell Mal you felt you had a right to know about her being a Spirit Guard?”
Eli was surprised Kara knew about that. He had thought that he and Mallory were far enough away that no one would have heard their conversation. Then again, Mallory probably talked with them afterwards about their discussion. Of course she did. They’d all want to compare notes and make sure everything was fine. “I, well, I do. I mean, I do think I should know that.”
“But you also seemed like you were going to say that you would have done things differently. But if you did things differently, well, you never would have found out about your sister.”
“That’s true,” Eli said, “but, I guess, what I’m trying to say is I…” What the hell was he trying to say? What was the point of this conversation? He just wanted to say he was sorry and leave it at that. This plan to apologize wasn’t seeming so smart anymore.
Not that she didn’t have a good point. He did deserve to know his sister was in constant mortal peril, but he still felt like a creep for finding out about the rest of the Spirit Guard’s secret. Eli decided that point was where he’d start. “I’m trying to say that I did have the right to know about Mallory, but I did not have the right to know about everyone else.”
Kara raised an eyebrow. “So you’re more concerned about the fact that she’s in danger than the fact that she kept a secret from you?”
“What? Of course. Why would I– wait, does Mallory think I’m mad she kept a secret from me?”
Kara blushed. “She did seem to give me that impression from our conversation, though maybe I misinterpreted her words.”
Eli sighed. He was going to need to clear this up with his sister. “No. I doubt it. I mean, I did say that it bothered me that she hid being a Spirit Guard, but I was definitely more mad that she was in danger and didn’t tell me.”
Kara nodded her head. “I get that. I was furious when one of my brothers joined the Marines. I can only imagine how mad I would have been had he joined them and not told me.”
“Yeah. I guess this is rather similar to that. You know, only my sister and you dress in cheer uniforms and heels rather than camo and body armor.”
Kara blushed but chucked. That was probably a good sign. “It is an odd hobby, I’d admit.”
“But, I don’t know, Kara.” Eli scratched the back of his neck. “My only goal that night was to help out Robert. I had no clue what was going to happen. Part of me wishes Robert had listened to me when I said he had nothing to worry about and didn’t involve us because then I’d never have learned all your secret identities.”
“But if you hadn’t,” Kara said, “you’d never have known about Mal being Spirit Guard Tenacity.”
“Probably.” Eli struggled with his own tongue. He wanted to say the right things. But when it came down to it, that was all that really could be said. He wanted some of the consequences of his actions but not all of them. But that wasn’t how life worked. “I guess I can’t have it both ways. All I can say really is that I’m sorry and I’ll take your secret to my grave, Kara.”
Silence hung in the air for the briefest of moments. On a whim, he tried to lighten the mood with some humor. “And may a ninja strike me down if I don’t.”
The moment the words left his lips he regretted it. Humor wasn’t right for the moment. It had been a serious promise. Why did he say that? He didn’t know that ninja girl. What if she and Kara were close friends. It sounded like he was poking fun at her. He had blown it.
Kara laughed. She laughed? She laughed hard enough that the cutest little snort escaped. It was adorable. He hadn’t stuck his foot in his mouth. And he got to hear her snort-laugh. He was in love.
Kara blushed and calmed herself. “Please forgive Noriko. She’s…” Kara bounced her head from side to side, weighing her words, “She’s from a very different upbringing. We went our whole lives told how special we were and how we had this infinite potential. She’s had her whole life set out in front of her and told how it will go and the way the world works. I think working with us challenges a lot of those ideas, and she still has no idea how to reconcile that.”
Eli felt that was a very generous painting of the girl who had threatened him and Cory with a sword. Then again, he really didn’t know anything about her, and he really didn’t feel like contradicting Kara at this point. Things seemed to be turning around. “I have to ask, where did you all find yourselves a ninja?”
Kara sighed. “I’m not entirely sure myself. Ms. Kuna apparently had some favor to call in with Noriko’s clan. Apparently, it’s a favor that goes back a few centuries. Noriko offered her services as fulfillment of that favor. Neither Ms. Kuna or Noriko are in a hurry to tell us the details.”
“Ms. Kuna,” Eli asked, “she’s the kangaroo rat, right?”
“A wallaby. Though that’s just her spirit animal form.”
Kara shook her head. “Apparently all of Fate’s messengers are, in their natural form, animals of some kind. Seems a bit silly.”
“Well, it’s not so much that she’s an animal, but why is she a marsupial? I mean, if she was going to appear to ancient heroes, why would she not pick an animal that they were more familiar with and had some significance in their culture?”
Kara smiled and shrugged. “Vivian thinks Fate picked a harmless but, from every other culture’s angle, fantastical looking animal to impress without intimidating.”
“Well, why have Vivian theorize?” Eli asked. “Why not just ask Ms. Kuna outright?”
“She doesn’t know herself,” Kara said. “It sort of surprised us.”
“Sort of?” Eli scratched his head. “Did she never ask?”
Kara leaned against the side of the table. “Well, when we asked she seemed to indicate that you didn’t ask things like that to Fate. You just ran with it because she is Fate and probably knows what…” Kara got distracted and tilted her head as if she recognized some sound. That was when Eli realized he hadn’t turned the TV off. He had just lowered the volume a lot, but he could still faintly hear the music of Hop Dance Mania.
“Lucky Justice, the Voltage Remix? You have your own Hop Dance Mania pad?” She smirked. “And I thought I spent too much time playing the game,” she giggled. “Your sister did say you were a nerd, so I shouldn’t be–”
“Now hold the phone for one second.” They talked about him? That was good news. Maybe. Or maybe it was bad news. Girls talking about boys was a subject he tended to not be an expert on. “I may be a tad nerdy, but let’s get this straight. It was my sister who got me the dance pad last Christmas, so she can complain all she wants, but if she gives me stuff like that as presents, well, then she’s clearly sending a mixed message.”
Kara laughed harder. She snorted again. She was so cute! “She didn’t tell me that part.”
“Yeah!” Eli’s confidence surged. Things were going so much better than he could have ever hoped. “She also buys me a lot of my printed t-shirts. She’s at best an enabler.”
Kara gave a conciliatory nod. “The evidence does seem to back you up there.”
Eli shrugged. “She tried to pass the dance pad as wanting me to get more exercise.”
“Well it is a great way to work out. I burn more calories and have more fun doing that than any jog I could go on. Or did. Seems the closest arcade got wrecked by a monster and some cheerleaders fighting.”
“Yeah. It was rather tragic.” Eli grinned. He had the perfect thing to say. “Though I’m sure the cheerleaders did their best to minimize damage. One even saved my life from a the monster’s laser gun blasters with a shield of light or something. I was very grateful for that gesture but never really got the chance to thank her.”
Kara’s smile was as pure and genuine as a smile could be. “You know… we don’t ever really get to hear thank you’s. It’s always such a rush in and out. By the time a fight is over, the entire battlefield is barren because everyone has rushed away from the crossfire.”
This was his chance. This was the opening he had been waiting for. “I know you wanted to keep your identity a secret. As you should. And I’m sorry. But of all the weirdness and uncomfortable conversations this thing has caused, I hope there is a positive to come out of this. Maybe it could be nice to have a normal person who knows your secret.”
“I hope so too.” Kara nodded and glanced back to his dance pad as an excuse to break eye contact. “Tell you what, Eli. You let me borrow your dance pad and GameStation until Loose Change is open again and your unintentional breach of privacy is completely forgiven.”
Eli didn’t have to think twice about that arrangement. “Sounds completely fair to me.” He hurried over to get everything unplugged for her. He could also use transporting the pad as an excuse to walk Kara back to her dorm again.
He had smoothed things over with Kara. He couldn’t believe everything had gone over so well. Now the only thing Eli had to worry about was explaining to Cory that he had agreed to lend out Cory’s GameStation to Kara.
But details like that could be dealt with later. Right now, he just wanted to celebrate being in HDM Girl’s good graces. That would always be worth listening to Cory complain.
Not a lot of commentary for me on this one. Two separate conversations going in two separate directions. I hope the dialogue flowed. I was especially nervous about Eli/Kara convo.
Does anyone else use the word “convo” or is that just me? I ask because I had Robert say it. Not sure if it was noticeable or not.
With Eli I really tried to get the nervousness of talking to that-person-you-have-a-crush-on. I wanted to try and convey how often you second guess yourself in those situations. Hope it carried over.
Other than that… yeah. Please leave your comments here. Since I updated wordpress it’s much easier for me to reply now. So hopefully we can get more of a dialogue going ourselves XD
Thanks for the read,