Mallory held up a hiking backpack. “See, this is what I think you’ll be looking for. It has the S-straps that will dig in much less.”
Robynne shut her left eye and stuck her tongue out. “Let’s find one that’s not pink.”
Mallory laughed. “Fair enough.” She smiled and walked down the line of backpack selections. “Want something in blue, Ace?”
Robynne rolled her eyes with a smile. “I don’t need to stick with a theme. I’m not a Saturday morning cartoon character who sticks with a color scheme for the benefit of the audience.”
Mallory tugged on her red tank top. “I don’t know. I feel more powerful when I wear red.”
Robynne shrugged, “Yeah, but red is a power color anyway. Anyone could claim that.”
Mallory smiled and pulled down a pastel green backpack. “What about this one? Has the S-straps and padded area for your laptop.”
Robynne accepted the backpack and examined it. “Could be good.”
“Though I really don’t recommend you still carry around your laptop though. No offense, but at your current height I worry it will topple you over.”
Robynne groaned. “To be honest the change in height is the most annoying part of the change. I hate looking up at everyone. Especially people like Cory and Eli who I used to be taller than. I feel like a little kid.”
Mallory patted Robynne on the head. “It’s okay dear. We can get some ice cream later to relieve that wounded pride.”
“The head patting isn’t helping,” Robynne groused.
Mallory gave a resigned smile. “Trust me. I’m aware.” The giant stopped her head patting and walked a few paces down the aisle. “I’m just trying to treat you the way I treat Eli and Cory since you’re all friends. I guess I was hoping that’d put you at ease.”
“It kind of does,” Robynne said as she tried on the backpack. It already felt better than her old one. Then again this one didn’t have all her books and supplies in it so it wasn’t the most ideal comparison. Still, the straps weren’t digging into the sides of her chest. “But honestly, I don’t know what really ever puts me at ease nowadays. I feel like I’m floating from one awkward conversation to another.”
Mallory held up another backpack for comparison. “I literally can only imagine.” She sighed and put the backpack back. “You ever need anything, I owe you one. Don’t ever forget it.”
Robynne shrugged. “You don’t owe me anything.”
Mallory grabbed Robynne by the shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. “Yes, I do.”
Robynne wriggled free from Mallory’s grip and broke eye contact. “It’s really no big deal.”
“No big deal?” Mallory scoffed. “Robynne, I get it. You would have done it for anyone and you don’t like the feeling of you owing people or people owing you. But the fact is you did it for me and I owe you. It’s nothing like I’m your slave for life or anything like that. I’m just saying I’m forever grateful and if you need help, something I can tell you’re slow to admit to needing, I’m the person to ask.”
Robynne stood there for a second. What did she even say to that?
Mallory smiled and rapped her knuckles on the backpack Robynne wore as if it were a door. “So how is that one feeling, Ace?”
Robynne was more than happy to change subjects. “Better.” She rolled her shoulders, testing to see how it moved with her. Pleased, she removed the backpack. “Why do you keep calling me Ace, by the way?”
Mallory smirked. “After the entrance like the one you made at the mall, I don’t see what other nickname I could give you.”
Robynne couldn’t help but crack a smile at that. “I was pretty awesome.”
Mallory rolled her eyes. “All right. All right. Let’s not let that ego inflate too much.”
Robynne chuckled. “Too late. My nickname is Ace. Ego is fully inflated.”
Mallory shook her head and smiled. “You’re friends with my brother and his dork friend. I should have known better.”
Robynne nodded. “You really should have.” Robynne then glanced at the price tag and her eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets. “Woah! This much for a backpack? Let’s keep looking.”
Mallory gave an amused snort and grabbed the backpack. “Don’t worry about the price.”
Robynne frowned. She didn’t like how casually Mallory had removed the backpack from her grip. “I wasn’t exactly given Ms. Kuna’s card to pay for this.” Robynne sighed, “Though I really should have asked for it now that I think about it.”
Mallory waved Robynne off. “Don’t worry about it. I have something better. A credit card my dad gave me for emergencies.”
Robynne raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure this is an emergency.”
Mallory rolled her eyes. “Your backpack is digging into your breasts that you didn’t have a week ago. This is an emergency if you ask me.”
Robynne instinctively straightened her posture at that comment. “Forgive me if it seems a bit rude, but I’ve gotten the impression that your dad is pretty stingy. Won’t you get in trouble?”
Mallory laughed. “My dad is stingy with Eli. It’s part of his well-meaning, but kind of misogynistic, way of making him quote-unquote be a man.”
Robynne squinted in confusion. Family dynamics were not something she was familiar with. Family for her had been an exclusively one-on-one relationship with her Uncle. “So he was harder on Eli than you?”
Mallory bobbed her head to either side. “I shouldn’t say misogynistic. I mean, my dad hired women and clearly didn’t think any less of them than his male employees. But when it came to me and Elijah, no matter how much sports or martial arts I did, dad doted on me and would be on Elijah’s case to be responsible and such. I mean, he pays everything for my college but he made Elijah get a job. It always bugged me.”
“Bet it bugs Eli more,” Robynne scoffed.
“Yeah,” Mallory sighed. “It’s not really fair. I mean, regardless, we have it great. This is so first world problems it’s not funny.”
Robynne tried to take the backpack out of Mallory’s hands. The backpack didn’t budge an inch. “It’s still too expensive. Let’s get something more cost effective so you don’t have to explain anything to your dad.”
Mallory grinned casually lifted the backpack into the air. Robynne didn’t like how effortlessly she was being lifted off the ground and let go of the backpack. How light was Robynne now? “Not cool.”
Mallory chuckled and slung the backpack over her shoulder. “Sorry. Vivian has conditioned me to do that for my amusement. Keeping things out of her reach is so very fun.” Mallory stopped chuckling, “But in all seriousness, I’m buying you this backpack. It’s no big deal.”
Robynne huffed, “But won’t your dad ask why you’re buying random expensive backpacks?”
Mallory shook her head, “Nah. I mean, first of all, it’s my mom who keeps track of the finances in the family. ” Robynne raised an eyebrow at that. This concept of dividing up family responsibilities was completely foreign to her. She supposed it was a necessity in a family that had more than one adult and one child but it hadn’t been a topic she had ever considered. “Secondly, I have gotten the green light on using the card to get necessities for friends who need the help. Now, normally I’m doing stuff like this because the person I’m helping is short on cash but I think you qualify as well.”
Robynne opened her mouth to protest further but Mallory cut her off, “Also, if my mom does ask me to explain my purchase of one expensive backpack, I can explain it was for the girl who sacrificed so much to save everyone at the mall. That’s hardly something she could argue with.”
Robynne stopped her dissatisfied posturing for a moment. Was Mallory implying what Robynne thought she was implying? “Wait? Are you saying your mom knows? I though none of our parents knew?”
Mallory glanced down with a little confusion. “You mean you don’t know that I planned to tell my parents?”
Robynne held her hands out. “Should I? Is this something you’re going around telling the rest of the team?”
Mallory shook her head. “No. I’ve only told Elijah. I guess I just figured he would have told you.”
Robynne shook her head and squinted. “Why would Eli just tell me?”
Mallory scratched her nose and looked away. “I sort of just assumed he’d tell you everything given your situation.”
Robynne rolled her eyes, “Eli’s not just going to tell me all the dirty details of your family life.” Robynne bit down on her thumbnail. This did raise a lot of questions though. “So you’re planning on telling your family though? When? Why?”
Mallory sighed and glanced up and down the aisle to make sure no one was watching them. “Well, given what occurred, I just, well, when you and Kara were working on me, I just… well I just thought about what would have happened had you not shown up and I just decided…” Mallory trailed off.
Robynne could see Mallory fighting back some emotion. Part of Robynne wanted to press her to go on with her point, but she knew better than that. Besides, her Uncle had always lectured Robert to listen better. Now was probably a really good time to practice that.
Mallory composed herself and continued. “I was just thinking it wasn’t fair to Eli that if something happened to me, he’d have to go to my parents and let them know what had happened to me. I didn’t want him to have that burden.” Mallory tapped her toe against the tiles of the store. “Just not fair to him.”
Robynne held her tongue in case Mallory had more to say. The dynamic between Eli and Mallory seemed more complicated than Robynne had initially understood. She had never seen a brother and sister who seemed to worry so much about one another. Then again, she had never been this close to a brother and sister when their lives were genuinely at risk. Maybe this was normal for siblings when they went through this kind of trauma. The only way Robynne could be sure would be if she got a larger sample size of siblings under high duress, but that wasn’t a study Robynne wanted to be a part of.
When the silence continued Robynne decided Mallory must be done with her point. Still, Robynne wasn’t sure what to say to that. She found herself asking “When are you going to tell them then?”
Mallory scratched at the back of her ponytail. “This weekend or the next. Not sure. I need to feel one-hundred percent before I do this. I’m telling them I’m a super cheerleader. I’m not letting them know how close I came to death. They’ll be scared enough as is without knowing that.”
Robynne nodded. “Seems like a good call to me.” Robynne crossed her arms and studied Mallory’s face. “So, if you just expected Eli to tell me this, I’m assuming you haven’t told the girls?”
Mallory glanced away. “They might want to do the same and I don’t know how their parents would react. Kara’s and Angela’s families in particular are worrisome.”
“Well,” Mallory said with a sigh, “Kara is the youngest of six kids. All her siblings are older brothers. To say that her family could be a bit overprotective of her is an understatement.”
“Six?” Robynne’s eyes nearly bugged out.
Mallory chuckled, “Yeah. They are a big family.”
Robynne shook her head. “I…” Robynne could barely imagine how different life would have been for her had she had a family like Eli’s and Mallory’s with two parents and two kids. The idea of six kids was literally beyond her comprehension. “Well thats just… five older brothers?” Robynne laughed. “Sugar, I remember how nervous I was with the girl I dated with one older brother. Eli’s going to have to be tough as nails with five.”
Mallory leaned in conspiratorially. “It’s worse than you think. One is a firefighter and the oldest one is a fudging Marine.”
Robynne let loose her full cheerleader giggle that she hated. She couldn’t help it. “Poor Eli.”
Mallory shrugged and started walking in the direction of the cash registers. “Well, I just hope my lifetime of torture has toughened him up, because he’ll need every square inch of thick skin to survive that onslaught.”
Robynne nodded and followed after Mallory. “You’re not kidding.” Robynne shook her head and regained her composure. “Well, whenever you do talk to your parents, let me know how it went.”
Mallory raised an eyebrow. “You’d like to have some sort of primer before you break the news to your Uncle?” Robynne said nothing but gave a quick nod. “Don’t worry, Ace. I’ll let you know how it went. Not sure how much help it will be though. Your situation is… a bit different from my own.”
Robynne rubbed her face and groaned. “Tell me about it.”
Mallory gave a reassuring pat on Robynne’s back. “Don’t worry too much. Your luck has been complete sugar lately. You’re bound for a good break sooner or later.”
Robynne stared at the screen, her hands pressed together like she was praying and held firmly against her chin. She had been sitting like that and sighing occasionally. She had been doing this for twenty minutes now.
“Sitting that close to your computer screen is bad for your eyes, Robynne,” chided Noriko with her usual disinterested tone.
Robynne pursed her lips and leaned back in her chair. “You don’t get to lecture me on health when you’re applying poison to your throwing needles.”
Noriko closed her eyes and sighed. “They are not throwing needles. They are shuriken.” She put down the nail polish brush she had been using to coat her throwing needles. At least it looked like a nail polish brush to Robynne. “Also, it is not poison. It is just a simple anesthetic that quickly renders its target unconscious.”
Robynne shook her head. “It’s still a poison. If it wasn’t you wouldn’t be wearing gloves.”
Noriko frowned and closed the bottle containing her anesthetic. “Fair enough. Though mostly our clan uses the word poison to imply a chemical meant to kill versus one meant to subdue, they all are technically poisonous.” Noriko took off her gloves and stood up. “Regardless, you have been just staring at your computer screen. Why?”
Robynne sighed and leaned back. She flicked her wrist at the screen in frustration. “Just trying to do my faction transfer for Bluster. You know, turning her into Waveform and joining up with that SFEERS guild.”
Noriko carefully wrapped her discarded rubber gloves in a paper towel and threw the contents away. “What seems to be the issue?”
“Well, so the only stipulation on what Waveform will have to be is a stealth character. I don’t have to keep my character’s elemental power source as Wind energy. But with a name like Waveform the only power sources that make sense are water or light. My plan was, of course, to go with water.”
Noriko nodded, “Again, what is the issue?”
Robynne pointed at the screen and started clicking. There are only three Accord races that can have the combo of a stealth class with a water power source. The Ranidae..” Robynne clicked and a picture of a humanoid frog appeared on the screen. “And there is no way I’m playing a bug-eater. I hate them. And their racial is overpowered. I’m not going to rely on an overpowered racial.” Robynne snorted. “Plus look how tiny they are. I’m tiny enough in real life as it is.”
Noriko shrugged. “I’ll pretend to understand what a ‘racial’ is. What are your other two options?”
Robynne smirked and clicked again. “Elf is another option but I am not playing some sissy elf like every stereotypical fantasy nut girl.”
“So that one is eliminated. So what is your last one?”
“The last option,” Robynne said with a click, “is a Seraphim.” The screen popped up with the image of a blonde angel. “Which just feels wrong.”
Noriko’s expression didn’t change. “Why is that?”
“I was playing a Deviling. Going from devil to angel? That’s just not right.”
Noriko squinted. “Why are the angels called Seraphim and the devils called Devilings? Shouldn’t they be called Infernals or some sort of other more fantastic name?”
“I…” Robynne had never considered that. “Well, I mean, infernals are a kind of demon that are a separate thing.”
Noriko scratched her head, “Wait, so Devilings and demons are separate things?”
Robynne spun her chair around and started to explain, “So Demons are part of the Great Beyond and are avatars of destruction and are more physically powerful in nature. Devils are from the Burning Hells and are avatars of corruption and are more devious. Devilings are mortals who made pacts with…” Robynne could see the life practically draining out of Noriko’s eyes. These were the bored eyes Vivian had spoken of a few nights earlier. “And you don’t care. You had a point you were making?”
A smile curled at the corner of Noriko’s lips. “You said you couldn’t play an elf. So that means your options are that frog-person or the angel-person. You openly disdain the frog-person because something they do is ‘overpowered’ which I understand is internet-speak for something that is mechanically unbalanced and potentially unfair. Is that correct?”
Robynne grinned. “More or less. We sometimes also shorten it to O.P. to make it easier to type in forums.”
Noriko rolled her eyes. “Yes, because the internet is nothing but lazy when it comes to the written language.” Noriko shook her head and continued. “Regardless, that means you do not want to select the angel race because it is opposite of your devil race. Conversely you do not want to select the frog race because it offends your sense of competitive fairness and honor. Given the two choices, there is no choice but angel.”
Robynne leaned back in her chair. “Really? Why is there no choice?”
“Well for one you seem to openly disdain the frogs for this ‘racial’ ability. From my observations of you, you like to play this game to give yourself a competitive outlet. But for you it’s not just about winning but winning in a way that lets you feel either sneaky or clever. If you had that racial ability you likely would use it because only a fool wouldn’t use something that is, as you say, overpowered. And you are not a fool.”
Robynne nodded. “Thanks for noticing.”
“Furthermore, if you used that move and won, you would be annoyed that you won in a way that doesn’t feel clever or sneaky and this would diminish your enjoyment of the game. Plus you seem to despise how small this race is and you have to stare at your character all game so you probably shouldn’t hate the look of the race you’re playing.”
Robynne nodded appreciatively. “That… is a very logical way to look at it.”
Noriko shrugged, “I am trained to be analytical. That said I’m surprised you needed me to point this out. You are rather analytical as well.”
Robynne shrugged and started customizing Waveform, making sure she was an angel with the biggest wings and coolest looking halo the game had to offer. “Yeah, I’m analytical I guess. I just, I don’t know, I guess sometimes I start overthinking things.”
Noriko returned to working on her shuriken. “I suppose that does cripple us all from time to time.”
Robynne smirked and set her Seraphim’s hair to be as red as her favorite superhero’s hair, Collider. She was especially pleased to have the option to style the hair similar to Collider as well, with her hair pushed behind her ear on the left side and partially covering her eye on the right side. Well, Collider’s hairstyle was actually opposite of that style but the comic book artists got it backwards often enough Robynne didn’t worry too much about it.
With Waveform now customized, Robynne tried to log in. Sadly, she was denied entrance to the server. The game client informed her that ‘Waveform’ was already taken. Robynne pouted but just decided to do what most other people on the internet did in this situation: she retyped the name but instead of a regular ‘o’ she used and ‘o’ with an umlaut over it. She had no idea how she was supposed to pronounce o’s with umlauts but she didn’t really care either; the server wasn’t likely going to have many people who spoke German who would badger her about it.
With Waveförm now complete, she logged into the Stoneraven server for the first time. As she was a Seraphim, the game put her in the Seraphim capital of High Haven. She had only been here twice before, but both times it had been with the rest of the Mayhem Templar trying to kill the Seraphim faction-leader for the achievement that came with it. Attacking an opposing faction’s city always brought a metric ton of resistance so she had never been able to appreciate the artistic beauty of the Seraphim architecture, with buildings carved straight out of the mountaintops above the clouds. The Aspect Realms art team really had done an excellent job with this place.
Robynne also spent some time admiring how out of place Waveförm looked from all the other angels. The faction transfer process hadn’t undone her choice of armor. While most Seraphim wore flowing robes or shining armor, Robynne was clad in tight, black leather armor adorned with various spikes and unholy runes that emitted smoke. While that had looked quite natural on Bluster’s devilish, wind-powered form, it looked confusing on Waveförm’s angelic, water-powered form. She kind of liked the discontinuity. She’d have to change the runes, of course, to maximize her damage, but other than that she decided she’d stick with her usual look.
Robynne did a quick search and was surprised to see how many members of the Knights of the Spherical Table were online this time of night, though she couldn’t really say why she was surprised. Perhaps she had just supposed a club full of nerds would have been more responsible than her old guild mates. She was glad to see GalleyGirl was online and pinged her to get her attention.
Robynne was surprised to see how quickly she responded. “Hey! U actually made it! U make a new character or transfer yur epic badass?”
Robynne cringed. She hated the use of ‘u’ and ‘yur’ as if they were actually words. “Transfer. Went from Deviling Windwhisper to Seraphim Rippleblade.”
“lol! Quite the shift! Sounds painful!” Robynne was beginning to wonder if GalleyGirl didn’t know where the period key was on her keyboard. “So u want me 2 add u to the guild then, right?”
Robynne wondered “Sweet! Give me just a moment and I’ll add u and introduce u to the rest of the Knights.”
Robynne grimaced. “No need for some grand introduction.”
“Hey! If u’d like we’re actually doing a role play session right now in Storm’s Bastion. After that we’re going to hit up a few dungeons. Want to join us?”
Robynne rolled her eyes. She wouldn’t be caught dead role playing in Aspect Realms. Frankly she would have rather hit up a battlegrounds but she supposed going to a few dungeons would be a good way to get to know a few of her new guildies. “I’ll pass on the role play stuff. Not my cup of tea. But if you guys don’t mind me having the wrong runes for my Rippleblade I’d be happy to join you in dungeons.”
“Awesomesauce! Give me a second and let me send u the invite! I’ll also get u our GuildTalk info asap!”
Robynne shook her head and started looking up the prices of water runes to bolster Waveförm’s damage with. While in the middle of scanning the prices she got her guild invite. No sooner had she accepted it than her screen was filled with a large print guild announcement. “All my fellow Knights, please welcome our newest Lady: the wonderful, the amazing, the badass, the gorgeous Waveform! *jazz hands*”
Robynne sighed as a wave of greetings came her way. So much for joining the group quietly.
And there it is! A shorter chapter but, two in one month, as promised! It was fun having my first one-on-one interaction with Robynne and Mallory since the incident at the fountain (and there wasn’t much interacting there because… well… punctured lung). I like showcasing the different personalities as much as I can and this one is just a fun one. Mallory/Robynne interaction in particular is something I enjoy because Mallory likes to poke Robynne sort of like Vivian but is also protective like Kara (though her form of protection is more physical in nature than Kara’s more nurturing personality).
One thing I’ve always wanted with Mallory and I feel comes out better in this version of MGP than the last person is how she isn’t just the big sister to Eli but to everyone. It’s just her personality. She’s protective but also understanding of a need for independence. I think that’s something the role of “big sibling” has that “parent” sometimes loses out on. A parent isn’t just responsible for your growth but also your safety and that can sometimes lead to conflict with a child because it is the nature of children to push the boundaries. A “cool big sis” on the other hand doesn’t have the ultimate responsibility and so can let the younger sibling branch out more. What was I talking about again?
Right! Mallory! The point is, Mallory is based a bit on a big sister of one of my friends growing up. One of the things that constantly impressed me was how keenly aware she was of her family situations and dynamics. It was something she thought about quite a lot. It was easy to, if you didn’t know her, to think she was just a simple athlete but she thought about things deeply. Especially her place in her family. That wasn’t something I ever really pondered on a lot so it’s fun to bring out that bit of someone I respect in a character.
I almost didn’t include the scene with Robynne changing her character race. If MGP ever became a book and I had to cut stuff, this is a section that likely gets cut because I don’t feel the scene does enough. But this isn’t for a book. It’s for the internet. I can include some segments I feel are just “fun” for the sake of entertainment. Plus, the story does borrow heavily from anime and it’s branch of storytelling and I think anime does “filler” scenes well compared to its Western counterparts. Regardless, I got to have more Robynne/Noriko interactions and I love writing those any chance I get. They are both observant outsiders but they are outside of different things. It just creates for interesting conversations.
Hope to get word soon on next chapter update,