The aura passed directly to the left of Robynne. Robynne’s eyes went wide; the aura belonged to the most gorgeous girl Robynne had ever seen! This Cammy’s cheer uniform hugged her plentiful curves in all the right places. Her hair was an amazing, vibrant shade of purple that curled and bounced with a liveliness that made Robynne almost blush. What was that called again? Violette? Robynne had nice hair with lots of bounce but nothing like that! It wasn’t fair a girl could… wait… was Robynne really getting jealous over how another girl looked?
“Heya, Stacy,” Cammy said with an easy, self-assured smile. “Was just getting some food and saw you here. Mind if I join you and your friend here?”
Why was Robynne jealous? Robynne took no pride in her body. She detested her body. She hated it for all the reasons most girls envied it. While she had been in line for her burger she had cursed her body after catching the guys in line behind her checking out her angelcake. Yet, despite all that, she felt jealous of this Cammy’s perfect body. Something was definitely not right.
“Sure!” Stacy said with enthusiasm.
Robynne focused on her extra sense and realized, for the first time, that her own aura shifted. It was slight, but her aura most definitely felt different. It felt… Robynne wasn’t sure of the word. Magnetized came to mind but that didn’t quite explain it. But her aura did feel like it was altered by the presence of this Cammy’s aura. It was like her aura had seeped into Robynne’s like spilled juice into the fibers of a carpet. It stained Robynne’s aura. Colored it. Tainted it. It twisted the aura, subtly manipulating Robynne’s mind. It tricked her into focusing on Cammy. It inspired awe, inferiority, and, somehow envy.
This was terrifying. What was this girl?
Both cheerleaders glanced in Robynne’s direction. They clearly expected something. Had Robynne been asked a question? “Uh. Yeah. Sure.” Robynne hoped that was the right answer.
Cammy barely broke her stride as she sat down. She had expected to be allowed to interrupt Stacy’s and Robynne’s meal. Was this girl some sort of Platicore monster in disguise? None of the other Spirit Guard had ever mentioned a monster disguised as a human. They had always been some sort of unassuming object that blended in.
Robynne pondered on the nature of this girl’s aura and decided, it wasn’t likely she was a monster. Her aura felt nothing like that of Polygal’s or Day LaMode’s. Those auras or whatever you’d call them had sent chills deep into Robynne’s bones. They hadn’t manipulated her aura in any way. The closest they came was when they had reached into Robynne’s “Investiture” and clumsily tried to steal it. Plus, Platicore’s monsters had been designed to blend in with their surroundings. But a cheerleader with curves like this didn’t blend in anywhere.
And Robynne was very disturbed by how much she coveted those curves.
Robynne decided this wasn’t a monster. It wasn’t like she was a subject matter expert; she had a sample size of two when it came to monsters. But Cammy felt nothing like a monster. This felt closer to the aura of Fretribution turned up to 11. As she thought back, maybe Fretribution’s aura might have changed her aura some. She’d have to be around him to be sure, but something similar, though much more reserved, might have happened. It was completely possible, maybe even likely, this was just a normal human being with a supernatural aura. Robynne decided to stay on her guard, but assume she wasn’t in any physical danger until proven otherwise.
Aura or not, Robynne could tell just by this violette’s body language that she was the kind of girl who was used to getting her way. Robynne feared crossing her. Or, more likely, this girl’s aura made Robynne fear crossing her. Something had to be done about that.
“So Stacy,” Cammy asked with excited interest, “who is your friend here?”
The more Robynne examined it, the more this change in her own aura reminded her of Polygal’s attempts at draining her of her Investiture. However, unlike Polygal, this… whatever this girl was called, didn’t feel like she was purposefully invasive. Robynne had no clue how to distinguish intent when it came to auras but this felt unintentional to her extra sense. Polygal had fumbled around what Robynne assumed to be her aura or her Investiture or whatever-it-was-called clumsily searching for something to take.
But this… this wasn’t searching for something to take. Her aura was like a campfire; regardless of the fire’s intentions, everything around it would get hotter. Or maybe a magnet was a better metaphor, given how heads seemed to turn like compass needles in Cammy’s presence. Regardless, Robynne couldn’t be sure that Cammy knew of her aura’s effect. However, whether Cammy knew it or not, Robynne could feel herself being forced to be impressed and intimidated by this young woman. Robynne did not like being manipulated by people. Even if it wasn’t on purpose. And now that she was aware of it, Robynne was going to take her faculties back.
“Oh! Sorry, where are my manners? Cammy, this is Robynne Darling. Robynne this is Cammy DeCroix. She’s the cheer team captain!” Stacy seemed nervous but excited. Robynne could feel Cammy’s aura spilling over Stacy. Her entire body language changed in her cheer captain’s presence. She desperately wanted Cammy’s approval. Just as part of Robynne did.
Robynne had to keep a clear mind. Letting her emotions guide her actions would land her in hot water fast. It didn’t matter what the situation was, that would always be true. She had to think with cold logic. The important thing wasn’t, despite how nefarious it felt, the manipulation of Robynne’s emotions. What she needed to know was if this Cammy DeCroix could sense auras. If she couldn’t sense auras, then this cheer captain might just possess a unique, if not scary, aura and be unaware of its effects. If she could feel auras… well, Robynne figured the sky was the limit of what that could mean.
Just as Robynne had against Polygal, she reached into her Investiture and pushed out the foreign influence. She still had no idea how she did this; instincts were a strange thing sometimes. The awe, jealousy, and fear that previously overwhelmed Robynne faded like a stereo with dying batteries. Calm returned. Robynne felt normal again. Still, she could feel Cammy’s aura pushing lightly against against her as if it were a subwoofer blasting bass. It would take constant effort to keep this girl’s influence out. Robynne watched Cammy’s expressions carefully for any sign that she had noticed what Robynne just did. “Cheer captain, huh?”
Cammy flashed a confident smile. It was picture perfect; it was the smile of someone who felt completely in control. If the Cheer Captain had noticed any change in Robynne’s aura, she didn’t show it. “Oh it’s no big deal. The Cheer team is so well organized it could practically run itself. But someone has to be Captain I guess.”
Cammy’s modesty sounded and looked sincere. It really did. However, Robynne could instinctively see through the act. Robynne had inherited from her Uncle an uncannily good bullsugar detector. And, aura or not, Robynne knew this Cammy was so full of bullsugar that it was a wonder that her eyes weren’t brown rather than their inviting purple hue.
Then it hit Robynne. Connections formed in her mind. Angela had mentioned an aura she once felt that had a texture to it. Cammy’s aura had a texture. Angela had said it seemed to stick to other people; Cammy’s aura seemed to stick to people. Angela had implied the owner of that aura had hurt her.
And Vivian had let slip that Angela had once been a cheerleader. Cammy was the Cheer Captain.
Cammy and Angela obviously had a past. Cammy had somehow hurt Angela, likely in a way that had either kicked Angela out of cheerleading or forced her to quit. Robynne knew Angela had the potential to grate on people. Gummi knew she had grated on Robynne at times. But Angela, even at her very worst, at least meant well. That was easy to see. If a girl with this absurd aura, an aura that manipulated the very people around her, had hurt Angela there must have been a reason she felt Angela had to be torn down. There had to be an agenda. And that agenda likely had something to do with Angela being the very rare person who could say, “No,” to her. And that thought really grinded Robynne’s gears.
“Yeah, well I wouldn’t know.” Whatever the agenda was, Robynne assumed her form’s unfortunate attractiveness was part of the equation. Why else show up so suddenly? Unless, she genuinely was showing up because she saw Stacy. But that seemed too convenient. Robynne felt, with all of Fate’s meddling in her life, she was safer assuming nothing was a coincidence anymore. This felt like a set-up… somehow.
If Robynne’s attractiveness was part of the equation, she’d have to do her best to undermine that image. She wasn’t sure what that would do for whatever plans Cammy had for her, but Robynne needed to do something to get more data. Upsetting expectations seemed as good a move as any other. Robynne opened her mouth wide and took the largest bite of her criminally unhealthy burger she could. Robynne was careful to make sure some ketchup smeared on her cheek.
Cammy’s cool confidence cracked at the sight of Robynne’s casual disinterest in the condiment spread across her cheek. The violette definitely hadn’t expected that. “I… that’s surprising.” Cammy regained her composure and her confidence returned. “I mean you totally look like you cheered in high school. You have a great body!”
Robynne shook her head and took another bite. “Nope.” As she chewed she grabbed a napkin and wiped away.
Cammy smirked, “So you don’t think you have a good body?”
Robynne could see the verbal bear trap being laid for her. If Robynne clarified that she had meant she had never been a cheerleader, Cammy could teasingly accuse her of vanity and push the conversation in the direction of appearances. If Robynne instead denied thinking she had a good body, Cammy could chide her to, “not be so modest,” and treat her as if she had been fishing for compliments and still push the conversation in the direction of appearances. She had seen tactics like this a thousand times between girls in lunchrooms of her middle and high schools. Either response was designed to get Robynne on the defensive, less likely to take the conversational initiative out of fear of another misstep, and move the conversation in a direction that Cammy wanted.
So Robynne took a third option. “I don’t see why it’s a surprise I wasn’t into cheerleading. I’m a gamer. Don’t tend to be a lot of overlap for some reason.”
Cammy squinted, “I… what’s a gamer?”
Stacy glanced over at Cammy before shyly offering, “Doesn’t that, like, mean you play a lot of video games or something like that?”
With a quick nod and a smile, Robynne affirmed Stacy’s guess, “You know it!” By the way Stacy had glanced at Cammy first before answering, Robynne guessed Stacy was just as influenced by the cheer captain’s aura as she had been. Though Robynne really had no way to be sure, she figured the best way to help her new friend out was to improve her confidence. “How did you know that, Stacy? I don’t take you as someone whose all that into gaming.”
Stacy shrugged and blushed, “Oh, I’m not. But my little brother and sister are really into it. They are really big into something called, oh, like, it’s called uh… Crazy Crush Hyper, I think?”
“Crazy Crash Hyper. That’s just about the only fighting game I like to play. They don’t tend to be my style.”
Cammy cleared her throat and Stacy winced. This aura had amazing power over people. Stacy hurried to stuff a bite of salad into her mouth as Cammy leaned back in her chair. “Gamer, huh? Didn’t know that was the term. I think they have a club for that on campus. It’s called like Fear or something like that. I think it’s an acronym.”
“Close,” Robynne corrected her. “It’s called SFEERS.”
“Oh, so you’re already familiar with it then?”
Robynne nodded. “Yeah. I joined yesterday.”
“Well what a catch for them,” Cammy chuckled. “I doubt they get that many girls like you in SFEERS.”
With a deep breath, Robynne tried to hide her obvious annoyance. “What do you mean? Someone who is a gamer? I think they got a lot of those.”
Cammy opened her mouth then shut it. She paused just for a moment, as if trying to decide if Robynne was serious. “N… no. I mean someone as gorgeous as you are.” She leaned forward with a wry smile. “I somehow doubt they get many hotties like you.”
Robynne smiled back and kept her tone as even and sincere as possible. “Gee Cammy, for someone who didn’t even know the club’s proper name you sure know a lot about what kinds of people they recruit.”
Cammy blinked and said nothing for a moment. Was she mad? She was probably mad. Robynne had gone too far. She’d need to smooth things over if… Robynne calmed herself and focused on her own aura. She once again pushed away Cammy’s influence. Robynne had stopped concentrating and Cammy’s aura had just marched right back in. Robynne couldn’t relax if she wanted to keep her faculties. It was like focusing on the road while driving.
Cammy’s lying smile returned. “Oh, I just mean compared to the stereotype of the nerd girl, you know?”
Robynne really didn’t like how Cammy emphasized the word nerd. Nerds amused her. That much was clear. “I’m from a pretty small town. So no. I don’t know what the stereotype is.”
“Well,” Cammy said with frustration, “It’s just a stereotype. It’s not like you can believe that. I mean, you’re totally proof of that.”
Robynne did her best to not give off a sarcastic snort. This girl clearly bought the entire stereotype of what a nerd girl should be. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“Well so what do you do in your free-time?” Cammy asked, clearly searching for a different angle of attack.
“I told you,” Robynne chided her. “I’m a gamer. I play games. Mostly Aspect Realms.”
Cammy nodded. “I mean outside of games.”
Robynne shook her head. “Nothing really. Gaming is all I really do.”
Cammy rolled her eyes. “Oh come on. You have to do something else.”
Robynne shook her head and sipped on her soda. “Not really.”
“Oh come on,” Cammy tried to tease. “You have to do something other than play games.” Cammy leaned back and gave Robynne a thorough lookover. “I mean, with thighs like those, you have got to dance or workout or something.”
Robynne looked down and blushed a little. “Well, thanks. I used to… uh…” Blushing? Robynne sighed and pushed Cammy’s influence out again. Clarity returned, though Robynne chided herself for losing focus that quickly. “I used to work out a bit. Just jogging. Haven’t done it for years though. Definitely not dancing.” To emphasize her point, Robynne took another bite out of her burger.
“That’s shocking!” Cammy gushed. “I mean you look just fabulous! And I have to ask, what is that blouse. It’s super cute. Don’t you think it’s super cute, Stacy?”
Stacy shifted uncomfortably but kept a nervous smile on her face. Robynne felt bad for her. Robynne’s mustard stain yellow blouse was thick, baggy, and in no way complimented any of her “natural colors.” Or at least that’ how Vivian had put it. Stacy, a Fashion Design major, was now being forced to compliment what was a poor fashion decision. Robynne suspected this would be like being forced to compliment poor battleground tactics.
“Oh, uh, yeah. It’s… very… unique,” Stacy sputtered out. Robynne tried not to laugh at Stacy’s meager attempt.
As Robynne thought about it though, she had been wearing nothing but clashing clothes both days she interacted with Stacy. Yet the bubbly cheerleader had said nothing, not even in jest, about her clothing choice. She made friends with Robynne in spite of her obvious fashion misplay. Had Robynne been told upfront that Stacy was a Fashion Design major she would have assumed Stacy would have been superficial and shallow. Robynne would have been proven quite wrong.
“Really unique,” Cammy agreed. “So what is that blouse you’re wearing?”
Robynne held back a smirk and glanced down at her shirt. “Uh. Yellow. Or…” Robynne quirked her lips to the side like she was carefully considering the subject, “Maybe mustard yellow is the technical term.”
“N…no,” Cammy sighed. “I mean what brand it is, dear.”
Robynne shrugged. “Not sure.”
Cammy squinted, “Not sure? What do you mean, ‘Not sure’?”
Robynne raised an eyebrow. “Exactly what it says. I’m not sure what the brand is.”
Cammy took a deep breath. Robynne could hear the frustration building in the cheer captain’s voice. “Well, do you know where you got it?”
Robynne shrugged and held down another smirk. “All-Mart, I think. They have some really good deals.” It was a lie of course; all of Robynne’s girl clothing had come from various stores from around the mall with the help of her new roommates. However it suited Robynne’s purpose to make herself sound like the least trendy woman in existence.
“All-Mart?” Cammy asked with a mix of shock and horror.
Stacy cleared her throat. “Oh, I, uh, like going there for fabrics for some of my fashion projects… if, like, you know, the fabric store is closed.”
Cammy leaned forward with a veiled smile. “You should really come shopping with us cheerleaders sometime, Robynne. We could show you some of the cooler stores around the Raile Valley Mall when they reopen next week.”
Robynne gave Cammy an aside glance and, as she thought about her fight with Day LaMode and her shopping blitz on Sunday, said, “I’ve had enough experience with malls to know they aren’t my thing.”
Cammy’s aura pushed harder against Robynne as her frustrations mounted. Robynne wondered how much Cammy’s emotions affected her aura. “Oh but you’ve never shopped with me though. Just ask Stacy, it’s a whole different world of shopping.”
Robynne sighed. Her tactic of appearing like she was a sloppy, tacky country girl hadn’t seemed to dissuade Cammy from… whatever it was she was trying to do. A change of tactics was needed. Now was the time to go on the attack. Whether it was a monster fight, video game, or verbal sparring, Robynne always trusted her instincts on when it was time to go on the attack.
Reaching deep within herself, Robynne made sure to clean out any smudge of this girl’s aura she could find. She’d need to have a clear head given what she was about to say.
“And what makes you think I want to do anything with someone like you?”
Stacy gasped and covered her mouth.
Cammy just blinked. Cammy’s eyes, mere orbs of frustration before, were now two violet fireballs that reminded Robynne of a chemistry demonstration she had seen in high school. Robynne had to give Cammy credit though, the flash of anger was brief and her face never changed from that confident, self-assured smile. “Why would you go and say something mean like that?”
Robynne kept a careful “eye” on her aura and pressed forward and kept her voice just as deceptively calm as Cammy’s. “Because I can tell you’re lying. You come over here, acting like this is just a happenstance meeting, but I can tell you planned this. Probably put Stacy up to it.” Stacy fidgeted in her chair nervously and confirmed Robynne’s suspicions. “Plus, your tone in talking about SFEERS… not very polite. You judge them. Harshly. I can tell it by the way you said, ‘nerd,’ and pretended to know nothing about them and yet seem to know exactly how much a girl like me would stand out. This isn’t the first time you’ve paid attention to them and mocked them.”
Cammy tried to stop the tidal wave of words, “I don’t mock them I was just…”
Robynne barrelled forward like a conversational bull in a china shop. “Also, you talk about my blouse saying it’s cute and such. That’s a lie too. I know it’s not cute. I purposefully got this color because it clashes the most with my natural hues. The fit is baggy. The material is thick. You’d have to be living under a rock to think this is trendy. You must think I’m some sort of idiot or maybe just a country bumpkin because that is the only way you could compliment this outfit. Which is very insulting I might add. Oh, and your open sneering at the fact I got it at All-Mart… kind of proves my point.”
Robynne readied her final bomb. “And then there is just you.” Robynne leaned back and crossed her arms. “You walk about with this air of pretension, like the world just should just fall over and worship you. You say things in such a way that you make it sound like you mean well and that you’re doing me a favor. But behind your honeyed words is the truth burning in your eyes.”
Stacy shrunk to as small a target as she could. Robynne felt a pang of guilt. This little speech would likely have repercussions for her new friend. Robynne probably should have been more diplomatic and considered the fact that Stacy could get caught in the crossfire. Still, there was little point in worrying about burnt bridges when you had already crossed them.
The fire of those burned bridges smoldered in Cammy’s eyes. “And what truth is that, Robynne?”
Robynne leaned forward. “You want something from me. I have no clue what, but you want something.” Cammy’s hand balled into a fist. Bullseye. “Where I come from, when we want someone to do something, we just ask. We don’t do this little song and dance and try to trick them into doing what we wanted and pretend we were the ones doing them a favor.” Robynne leaned back and took her last bite of her burger. “So Cammy, whaddaya want from me?”
The fire in Cammy’s eyes cooled to a slow burn. It wasn’t calm by any stretch of the imagination, but it was observant. Calculating even. When was the last time anyone had spoken to her like this? Had it ever happened? Judging by Stacy’s motionless silence, Robynne guessed no one in cheer had ever dared snap at the Cheer Captain. Why would they? She had a constant field around her that made people want to please her. Robynne almost just wanted to verbally poke Cammy for experimental purposes.
However, though her feathers were obviously ruffled, Cammy didn’t lash out. She sat upright and clasped her fingers together in a very business-like manner. “I wanted to extend to you an offer to join the Cheerleading Squad. We don’t normally offer this to someone mid-semester but Stacy has spoken very highly of you so we are willing to make an exception.”
Stacy nodded and smiled hopefully. Robynne smiled back and held off the desire to roll her eyes. What was with everyone wanting her to join their cheer teams? At any rate, simply getting Robynne to join cheer couldn’t be Cammy’s real goal. Something bigger was afoot, though Robynne guessed that joining the Cheer Team was somehow part of whatever scheme Cammy had.
Robynne decided that if Cammy was going to businesslike, so would she. Robynne sat up and straightened her skirt. “Stacy already extended that offer to me. I politely declined it. I politely decline it again.”
“You shouldn’t be so hasty to turn down the offer, Robynne,” Cammy insisted. “There are a great many benefits that we could provide you that we…”
“I may not know the full slate of benefits,” Robynne interrupted, “but it’s not really the amount or quality of the benefits that concern me.”
Cammy tilted her head to the side. “The benefits are what you get. Why wouldn’t they concern you?”
Robynne leaned forward. “Because I’m not really in want of a lot of things, so my main concern is what I have to do. And, let’s not play around here, what you want from me isn’t to join the Cheer Squad.”
“Yes it is,” Cammy maintained.
Robynne shook her head. “No. It’s not. What you want me to do may very well require me to join y’all, but it isn’t the end game. You wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of pretending to meet me by accident if it was just about me joining cheer. Another body on the Cheer Squad won’t change nothing. So obviously something bigger is at play here.” But what was at play here? Cammy clearly had some ulterior motive but how could Robynne being on the Cheer Squad alter any sort of plot she had? What was Robynne missing?
Cammy brushed Robynne’s comment aside, “Oh don’t be such a conspiracy theorist about it. You’re gorgeous. You belong with us.”
A bold-faced lie meant to fit into the stereotype of the completely shallow Cheer Captain. If it was just about pretty faces Angela wouldn’t have had a falling out. Angela was far too pretty for that. No, Cammy needed something. Cammy needed Robynne to do something that Cammy couldn’t get done herself. But what could Robynne do that Cammy couldn’t? Robynne didn’t have an aura that turned everyone around her into a yes-man. So what couldn’t you achieve with that aura?
“I can’t do business with you if you won’t tell me the truth,” Robynne countered. “Why is me joining the Cheer Squad beneficial for you? What is it I bring to the table that you don’t already have? It can’t be another pretty face. You got scores of those handing out flyers around campus.”
Flyers. That reminded Robynne that the Cheer Squad at Schuyler Adamson University was more than just the girls who waved their pompoms for the crowd on gameday. They were the some sort of promotion team for the Student Council. The strangely organized Student Council that seemed to wield way more power than a normal college Student Council should…
Cammy studied Robynne. “I have pretty faces in Cheer, true. But let’s not be modest, there aren’t many other things as pretty as you walking around campus.” Robynne decided to stay quiet and kept her emerald green eyes locked with Cammy’s own amethyst-shaded eyes. Cammy was searching Robynne’s poker face for some kind of tell. Robynne did her best to be as expressive as the Sphinx. Cammy pursed her lips and let the quietest of annoyed sighs out through her nose. “Is that what this is about? You don’t want to do promotional work?”
She was fishing for information. Robynne still had her guessing. “I can tell you right now, it’s not something I would enjoy,” Robynne chuckled. “But it’s not why I’m flat out saying, ‘no,’ to you. I want to know why you want me so much. Until I know that, my position ain’t budging one inch.”
The more Robynne thought about the Cheer Squad’s ties to the Student Council, the more Robynne became convinced something much bigger than she realized was at play here. This girl did something that either got Angela kicked out of Cheer or got Angela to quit. As principled and determined as Angela was, that meant whatever Cammy was up to couldn’t be good.
And there was still the question of what could Robynne could get done that Cammy and her disturbing aura could not? Whatever her goals were, why did she need Robynne to achieve them?
“Well, if you don’t want to do Promoter work,” Cammy mused idly, “I’m sure I could arrange something. Though a girl with your looks has nothing to be shy about, Robynne. Still, we all have things we just don’t like doing I suppose.”
Don’t like doing. Maybe that was it. Maybe it wasn’t something Cammy couldn’t do but something Cammy wouldn’tdo. Some unsavory task she didn’t want to dirty her hands with…
Or something she thought she was above. That’s when it clicked. She had already shown she thought herself above at least one group of people. Robynne decided to take a stab in the dark. “This has to do with SFEERS. Doesn’t it?”
Cammy flinched. It was brief, but Robynne saw it. Her nostrils flared slightly and her eyes widened with fear for but a moment. Robynne had hit the nail on the head. SFEERS was involved. Somehow. But what the honey would a Cheer Captain want with SFEERS?
“What makes you think something like that?” Cammy asked as she folded her arms across her chest. Her posture was defensive. Gone was the cat-like confidence she strode in with. Robynne had, it seemed, become dangerous.
Robynne decided to keep her answer vague. “You did.”
Cammy glared. “Care to be more specific?”
Robynne folded her arms and leaned back, mimicking Cammy’s posture. “Do you care to be more specific on why you want me to join cheer?”
Cammy bit her lip. She studied Robynne’s face with the intensity of a chessmaster observing the pieces on the board. After a few seconds Cammy faced Stacy and her usual smile returned, “Stacy, can you give me and Robynne some alone time?”
Stacy swallowed down a lump in her throat. She glanced nervously back and forth between her Cheer Captain and her new friend. Robynne felt horrible for the position Stacy was in. With the overwhelming aura of Cammy, no doubt Stacy had felt she had no choice but to arrange this lunch meeting. In any other normal circumstance, Robynne felt confident Stacy would have been more upfront with her. But dealing with Cammy’s aura wasn’t normal.
Robynne gave Stacy and encouraging smile, hoping to communicate that she was both understanding of Stacy’s difficult position and sorry for causing her potential trouble by snapping at Cammy. Stacy seemed to get the message and smiled back. “Yeah. Sure. I can do that.” Stacy stood up and gathered her salad and her bookbag. “Uh… see you Tuesday, Robynne?”
Robynne nodded. “Thanks for lunch, Stacy. I’ll see you Tuesday.”
Stacy gave a relieved sigh and hurried away. Robynne wondered what the effect of marinating in Cammy’s aura might have on a person. Then she stopped wondering about effects and theories. She needed to deal with Cammy.
Cammy slid her finger around the edges of her drink and stared at her food. “You’re far more informed than I would have guessed, Robynne. How did you know about SFEERS?”
Robynne smirked. Finally she could get to the bottom of this. “I’m not revealing anything about what I know until I know why you want my help.”
“I promise to tell if you do, Robynne.”
Robynne snorted. “You go first. I trust my word a whole honuvalot more than yours.”
A grin curled at the edges of Cammy’s lips. Robynne hadn’t expected that. The violette squinted, but not with the frustration of before. If Robynne had to guess she’d have said Cammy looked… amused. No, that wasn’t it. Intrigued. Cammy seemed very intrigued by Robynne. “You’re very different from what I imagined. I didn’t think you’d be this difficult to convince.”
Robynne rolled her eyes. Of course she didn’t think it would be this difficult. How many people could say no to her? “What did you expect me to be? Some sort of wide-eyed country girl who’d easily fall to your compliments?”
Cammy shrugged, “Honestly, yes.” Robynne was surprised by the sudden honest tone of conversation. “But in my defense you really didn’t give me much to work with. I couldn’t find you on any of the usual social media sites. You’re like a ghost, Robynne.”
Robynne tried to hide the chill she felt run down her spine. This girl had done reconnaissance. Cammy was beginning to feel even more dangerous than Day LaMode. “I don’t like people being able to find out about me. I’m a private person.”
Cammy took a sip of her drink. “Not the worst policy. Though I myself prefer to have a public image and use that as a weapon. But to each their own.”
“Weapon?” Robynne scoffed. “A bit melodramatic, don’t you think?”
Cammy rolled her eyes, “Every conversation is a battlefield, Robynne.” She leaned forward and smiled like she was speaking to her best friend. “I can see it in your eyes that you agree. We all go into every conversation with something we want and something to hide. It’s the give and take game we all play. Information, after all, is power.”
“You make is sound like a donutted spy novel.” Robynne winced. Donuted? She really did have to work swearing out of her vocabulary.
Cammy raised an eyebrow but didn’t seem interested in pursuing Robynne’s confectionary curse. “Nothing as dramatic as that. But you do have secrets. Just as I do. Just as everyone does. Secrets are very powerful. When you find them out or reveal them… well, that’s The Game isn’t it? Deciding when to let the important detail… slip.”
Robynne had to tread very carefully now. Cammy was being far too friendly and open. “Is this fancy way of you saying you won’t tell me why you’re interested in SFEERS?”
“So direct,” Cammy giggled. “I get the feeling you don’t like playing this game.”
Robynne shook her head and measured her words. What did Cammy want to hear? What answer would move this conversation forward without revealing too much? No matter what the game was, Robynne sensed that Cammy didn’t reveal anything to people who didn’t accept her premise of The Game. “We are all playing The Game,” Robynne answered, “whether we like to or not. I’m the type who prefers the sidelines though.” Robynne pointed back and forth at herself and the violette. “So when something like this happens and someone tries to drag me into the middle of the field, I get a bit defensive.” Robynne hoped that answer satisfied Cammy’s curiosity, but if it didn’t, she decided to throw in an apology. “So, sorry if I snapped a bit earlier. I had expected a nice relaxing lunch with my new friend. Not business negotiations.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Cammy lied. Robynne could tell wounding Cammy’s pride would not be a trespass so easily forgiven. “I can see my approach was a big mistake from someone who is as straight a shooter as yourself. Though,” Cammy said as she tapped her finger against her cheek. “A football metaphor. Surprising from a girl who doesn’t want to be a cheerleader.”
A probing observation. If Robynne ignored commenting on it, Cammy would start to make assumptions. What assumptions would she make though? Robynne wanted to control Cammy’s assumptions as much as possible. The best way to do that, Robynne thought, was to play at least a little bit into what Cammy’s expectations were. So Robynne decided to play the small town card with a little bit of vanity. Cammy would expect a girl who looked like Robynne to be at least a little vain. “I’m from Deepwater. Cheerleader or not, you don’t get out of Deepwater without going to the football games. It doesn’t matter how pretty you are. Football is a second religion for most people.”
Cammy’s smile widened. “I see.” Robynne had revealed something and that something seemingly made Cammy think she was right about something. “Well, regardless, I’m glad you see The Game is being played regardless of what you do. But I think the reason why you maybe don’t like playing the game is because for too long you’ve been a piece on the board instead of a player.” Piece on the board? Where was this going? What theories was she crafting up about Robynne’s past. “If you play with me though, I’ll guarantee you that you’ll be a player. And trust me, here at SAU, the board is far bigger than you ever could have imagined in your high school. The stakes, so much higher. The rewards, so much grander.”
High school? Was Cammy assuming there was high school drama. Robynne decided to neither confirm nor deny whatever assumptions she was making. “Be that as it may, you going to tell me what game is being played with SFEERS or not?”
Cammy glanced at her nails casually. “I can’t tell you everything. Not yet anyway. After all, I don’t know you.” Seemingly satisfied with her nails, she leaned forward, “But what I will tell you, is that they are far more important than they know. Having someone like you both in SFEERS and in Cheer… well that could be beneficial for both SFEERS and yourself.”
The bells echoed across campus. Class was getting out. Robynne didn’t have class but what were the odds Cammy knew that? Would she have Robynne’s schedule memorized? Doubtful. Intel like that sounded like grunt work. Someone as self-absorbed as Cammy would have grunts doing that.
Robynne stood up. “Thanks for the tip, but I have a Calculus class to get to.”
Cammy did a double-take. “You’re just leaving?”
Robynne pushed her chair in. “I have class.”
Cammy waved her off. “This is far more important than one class.” Cammy smirked and pushed Robynne’s chair back out with her foot, showing off her sculpted thighs to anyone watching. “Besides, it’d be no difficulty for me to find someone to do the homework of a fellow cheerleader.”
Robynne picked up her backpack and strapped it on. “Some of us aren’t looking to skate through college. Some of us plan to have actual careers beyond this place.” Robynne pushed the chair back in. “This may be a bigger gameboard than my high school, but I still have no interest in playing this Game. It’s pretty clear to me that whatever it is you need me for, it’s not a Game I’d enjoy.”
Cammy held out her hands plaintively. “Oh come on.” Then Cammy grinned and Robynne felt the Cheer Captain’s aura press harder on her than it had before. “I thought you were a gamer.”
Robynne pushed back against the aura, keeping her emotions fully under her own control. “This isn’t my style of game,” Robynne said turned from Cammy. “The ruleset is far too complicated for my tastes.”
As she walked away, Robynne expected Cammy to follow her and try to keep hocking her sales pitch. However, with each successive step, Robynne could feel Cammy’s incredible aura remain in place. She didn’t bother looking back; there was no way that the look of surprise that Robynne imagined on Cammy’s face could live up to whatever shock was actually there.
Robynne chuckled to herself but focused back on that aura. It was like a geyser of wine splashing against everyone who dared get near it. And just like wine, it was intoxicating. There was nothing else like it. Sure, she didn’t have the largest sample size, but Robynne’s gut told her something was definitely special about that aura. It had to be more than just someone with a unique aura. It just had to be. Not even the two monsters’ auras she had felt had an aura that… manipulative. Robynne needed to find out what was going on with that.
Robynne whipped out her phone. The perfect person to ask was Angela. She obviously had a background with this Cammy DeCroix and she was the only Spirit Guard whose empathokinetic sense was even close to as sensitive as Robynne’s.
As Robynne’s screen turned on, she was surprised to find a text from one Angela Warrant. She hadn’t felt her phone buzz at all. Then again, most of the scarlette’s spare attention had been invested in pushing back against Cammy’s aura. She opened the text in a hurry; what if this was about a monster attack and she had missed it?
“Not to sound like a stalker, but I watched you talk with Cammy from the 2nd floor.”
Robynne rolled her eyes. Of course Angela was in the building and had watched the entire conversation. It felt like Fate was plucking at every plot thread she could sometimes just for the sake of a good story.
Robynne texted back: “Got bad news for you then. It sounds like you’re a stalker. Why were you watching me talk to her? Was she the aura you talked about yesterday?”
Despite her internal grumblings, it was just as good that Angela knew. Robynne had wanted to talk to Angela about this anyway. Now she didn’t have to fill her in on so many details.
It hadn’t even been a minute before Robynne’s phone buzzed. Angela was watching her phone like a hawk. “We need to talk. Do you have other classes or can you head back to your dorm to talk?”
“I’m just leaving the Billot Building. Just meet me by the front door and we’ll walk and talk.”
Robynne didn’t even have time to put her phone in her pocket before it buzzed again. “Can’t be seen together. Just go back to the dorm. I’ll get in through the Standridge Stones.”
Angela was going to use the Spirit Guard’s personal teleportation system just to avoid being seen with Robynne? She shook her head and almost asked Angela for an explanation but decided she could just wait until she heard it from the blonde’s own mouth. “See you in my dorm then.”
Robynne shoved her phone back into backpack and sighed. Why couldn’t her life ever just be simple anymore?
Okay. So… where do I begin?
This chapter is one of the first big promises I’ve had to fulfill in MGP. Obviously Robynne’s transformation was the biggest promise but the Robynne/Cammy confrontation was something that I set in motion a long while ago and, now, it’s finally happened. I really hope the dialogue works for you. Obviously the dialogue is important. But more important than the dialogue was the thought process of Robynne.
Robynne, as a brainy character, relies on her logic and reason so much. Cammy is the rare character that can mess with that. On top of that, she does offer something that is a bit of a weakness for Robynne- intrigue. Robynne loves logic puzzles and though I don’t say it outright I hope people pick up on the fact that Robynne will always be a bit fascinated by a mystery. Robynne makes a hasty exit, but acknowledges the vague “Game” Cammy is playing. Robynne doesn’t know what the Game is but tries to make herself sound like she could be a player in it, leaving open that possibility in Cammy’s mind. Robynne couldn’t bring herself to close the door completely. There was an enigma ahead of her and she wants the option to go back for more intel if she so desires.
I also really tried to show that Robynne was less in-control than she acted. I purposefully had her “slip” with her accent a few times. Did anybody pick up on that? Or was that just me getting too cute?
The last thing I want to focus on is the aura. The aura is, obviously, very unique. More will come out later but I do want to clear up one item in case some people missed it: Robynne holds no ill-will towards Stacy for setting up the meeting and not telling her about it because Robynne believes the aura is completely to blame. Whether or not that is the case, well, you’ll have to wait and see.
Hope you enjoyed it. PLEASE leave a comment this chapter! This is a big one and I need to know how I did!