Magical Girl Policy- Chapter 30

Robynne quietly took Waveförm on a tour of Storm’s Bastion while the rest of the Spirit Guard cried and hugged out their misunderstandings. Angela felt guilty for not trusting them enough. For being so insecure that she assumed they’d think she was crazy and obsessing over Cammy. She should have trusted them more.

Mal felt guilty for being so unaware of Cammy’s aura that she dismissed her as a threat and as a consequence, pushed hard to pursue only the Platicore lead. Seemed Mal had thought focusing on their jobs as Spirit Guard would help Angela get over the trauma of the Cheer Squad drama. She felt horrible for misunderstanding the situation her best friend was in.

Robynne thought Vivian and Kara’s guilt was the least warranted. They just seemed to feel guilty for not being approachable enough for Angela to tell her what she was fully sensing with her aura. Robynne guessed that by their point of arrival Angela’s insecurities had fully taken over and short of them feeling something close to what Robynne had felt, there was no way Angela would have opened up to them. Still, despite Robynne thinking it was silly, they felt guilty anyway and she just needed to let people process their emotions however it helped them to best get through life.

Robynne figured it’d soon be time to reinsert herself into the conversation. In the meantime, she simply enjoyed casually strolling Waveförm through the mountainous capital city of the Aspect Realms’s Gargoyle race. Much like High Haven, the only time she had been here before was when she had been a member of the Mayhem Templar trying to raid the opposing faction’s city for various achievements which did not exactly encourage stopping and taking in the sights. It really was some impressive artwork that the Aspect Realms developers had put together.

“Do you think she’s right?” Noriko asked in a near whisper. “About Cammy DeCroix being the Empress from your past lives?”

Robynne jumped a little. When had Noriko walked in? Robynne hadn’t even heard the front door open. Regardless, it seemed the ninja had been listening to the girls’ apology session long enough to piece together what had been going on. “It’s possible. Her aura was incredibly unique and powerful. If anyone was going to be someone from that era besides us, it’s her.”

Noriko nodded. “I’d recommend a surgical strike then. Though, I doubt I will be listened to.”

Robynne smirked. “If it turns out she is the Empress and is up to something, I’d agree. But I have my doubts, even if it is true, that she knows about her past. I don’t want to set any dangerous precedents about killing people for what their past lives did. After all, I don’t know what all I did as the Shrine Maiden.”

Noriko sighed. “A very practical policy. But if it turns out she is the Empress, you would support a surgical strike?”

Robynne shook her head. “Not until she started trying anything wholly megalomaniacal. So far she is just a petty queen bee attacking people who she deems a threat to her territory. While definitely biscuity, it’s not exactly worthy of death.”

Noriko said nothing for a moment. Robynne thought she could see Noriko trying to come up with a counter-argument. In the end, the ninja decided against pursuing the topic and asked a different question, “What brought all this about? Judging from the conversation, it seems you had some sort of run in with the Cheer Captain?”

Robynne glanced back at her computer. It was probably time to get off and refocus the conversation away from guilt and onto a plan of action. With an annoyed groan she logged off and filled Noriko in on the details of her meeting with Cammy. After the lengthy explanation, Noriko gave a curt nod and, just as there was a lull in the other girl’s guilt-fest, asked a very simple question, “So then what is it that Cammy wants with you?”

Angela wiped a few tears from her eyes, and Robynne noticed there was a smile plastered on her face. She was glad that her confrontation with Cammy had at least one positive outcome. Angel nodded before she said, “That’s a good question. I wasn’t able to overhear any of your conversation with her.”

Robynne sighed, but she couldn’t hide an amused smile. “She wanted me to join the Cheer Team.”

A single, loud laugh shot out of Mallory’s mouth like a cannonball. “Of course she did. Because we’re talking about your life where nothing is ever normal.”

“I’m glad someone is noticing,” Robynne snorted.

Kara winced and rubbed her ear closest to Mallory. “That said, why does she want you to join the Cheer Team? I mean, yes, you are incredibly pretty but what does that get her? She has plenty of hot cheerleaders.”

Robynne shook her head. “I don’t know exactly what, but I was able to piece together that she wants me to do something with SFEERS. Says it’d be beneficial for me and the club to be players in ‘The Game’ rather than pieces… or some kind of melodramatic nonsense to that end.”

Vivian chuckled, “Wow! So she’s going for full-on, cinematic, teen-y drama, cheer captain from a rich family, scheming queen of the school. I mean, she’s hitting on pretty much every single cliché she can. I don’t know whether to be impressed or disgusted.”

Mallory leaned against the wall with her arms folded. “What’s Spheres?”

“It’s the… donut, what was the acronym again? Science-Fiction and Electronic Entertainment… I forget what the R and S stand for.”

Mallory rolled her eyes. “Super dork hangout time. Got it. What is it with you nerds and your acronyms anyway? It’s like you all want to be mad scientists. I’m guessing you signed up for it along with my brother and Cory?”

Kara stood taller. “Vivian and I signed up for it too.”

Mallory shook her head. “Cory and Eli I expect. I expected less nerdery from you two.”

Robynne cleared her throat, “What I don’t get is why the queen bee of the Cheer Team be concerned with SFEERS at all.”

Angela looked Robynne straight in the eye. “It’s because they have grown by leaps and bounds and show no signs of stopping this year. Because of the odd way our Student Association works, they must have suddenly become a wrench in Cammy’s Cheer machine.”

Robynne blinked. That made sense. The Student Association was made up of all the various clubs, societies, fraternities, and sororities on campus. And the Student Association was the very group that had voted to give the cheerleaders a portion of their dues. “Wait, exactly how big is SFEERS then?”

Angela looked up at the ceiling and thought for a moment. “I frankly haven’t been paying the most attention to them. I was more worried about what groups were under Angela’s sway rather than ones who weren’t. But when I checked the records, I believe SFEERS was over one-hundred strong last year, which makes it the second biggest club that wasn’t under Cammy’s sway. That’s really impressive given that they were, if my memory is correct, one-third of that just two years before that.”

“Wait, one-third?” Robynne asked. “You’re saying they’ve tripled in size in just two years?”

Angela nodded. “Yes. They’ve exploded. Actually, as I think about it, I don’t think I’ve seen anything even close to that in any other club.” The blonde tapped her chin. “And our local Omicron Chi chapter, they got shut down… yes… they were the biggest frat on campus. Robynne, can I borrow your calculator?”

Robynne gave the other girls a quizzical expression. They all simply shrugged. Robynne reached onto her desk, grabbed her calculator, and tossed it to Angela. “What’s this about Omicron Chi ? They a big deal?”

Angela silently mouthed words to herself as she tapped away on Robynne’s calculator, glancing up at the ceiling on occasion in an effort to remember some odd detail. Mal sighed and decided to explain. “They were the biggest frat on campus. They were known for hosting and throwing the wildest parties. It was the big draw. But a couple of the parties got out of control last year. The cops caught them giving alcohol to minors and busted them for having drugs at the party.”

Vivian shrugged, “Not to sound callous, but isn’t that sort of standard fare for fratboy parties? Why would that get them shut down now?”

Kara piped up, “If I recall, one of the underaged kids arrested was some senator’s teenage daughter. She was, I think, like sixteen. It was a big story in the news. It was the reason a couple of my brothers didn’t want me to go here. Regardless, the Senator was a big donor, and he needed the scapegoat for the mess to be the frat and not his daughter, so he leaned on the right people to get the frat scene under control, blah, blah, blah, and the OXes were given something like a two-year suspension.”

Mal nodded. “I forgot about that. A lot of people on campus were pissed. Some guys even got arrested for the underage drinking stuff since they were supposed to be carding people at those events.”

“Still,” Vivian said, “not exactly on the up-and-up for them to be made scapegoats just because some important dude’s daughter was there.”

Angela nodded but didn’t look up from her calculations. “No one outside of the party-wing of the student body cared too much. Nobody in the school administration department or the area around campus cared at all. The OXes were always causing trouble, so even if it was due to a double-standard, most people are glad it got shut down.” A hint of a smirk crept over Angela’s face as she said that. “If I factor in the Sock Hop Society’s paperwork mishap… oh, this could mean more than I thought.”

Robynne blinked. “Sock Hop Society?”

Vivian giggled. “It’s the campus’s local dance club. Modern, classical, swing, hip-hop, they do it all. Looks really fun, but the club name might need a retooling if you ask me.”

Kara raised an eyebrow. “Why are they called the Sock Hop Society?”

Vivian did a little twirl. “SAU has been around nearly a century. The Sock Hop Society was started, like, fifty or so years ago. Back when sock-hops were an actual thing. They hold some of the biggest events on campus.”

Angela raised a finger, “They also, despite being so big, have no votes on the Student Association this year. The paperwork they have to file every year never got submitted. The President swore he did, but it never showed up by the deadline… and the man in charge of the Student Association paperwork is very strict.” Angela paused before adding, “He also seems to be immune to magical auras.”

“How do you know that?” Robynne asked. “I mean, that’s not exactly something you can easily test.”

Angela bit her lip. “Well, I guess I don’t know that, per se. But I remember Cammy was always complaining about him. If there was ever an issue with Cammy not getting what she wanted, this guy was the reason. She called him… well… we literally cannot say what she called him. I purposefully visited by his office a few times to see if he had a special aura but never got any reading. I assume at some point she tried to get him to look the other way or bend a rule or something but he wouldn’t. For him to resist her he’d have to have some sort of resistance.”

Robynne shrugged, “Or he could just have really strong willpower. We don’t know how all this works, really.”

Vivian stepped forward and held her finger up, pacing about with a prosecutorial tone. “That is interesting and all, but what I’m more intrigued by is that Angela knows that it is some sort of paperwork mishap that lead to the Sock Hop Society’s lack of votes on this year’s Student Association. That seems awwwwwwfully specific.”

Angela scooted back into her chair. “What do you mean?”

“You didn’t just know it was a paperwork mishap. You also knew that it was a paper that didn’t show up by a certain deadline and that the President swore he turned it in. I mean, mishap could have meant anything but you knew what it specifically was. Not that it wasn’t filled out right. Not that they failed to get the right signatures. That it never showed up. I mean, you don’t work for the Student Association. And, if it were something that embarrassing, there is no way the Sock Hop Society President or Grand Poobah or whatever-he-or-she-is-called would own up to it. They’d blame someone else.”

Angela sighed. “Some people are honest people, Vivian.”

“Yes. Some people are.” Vivian flashed a wicked smile and leaned forward. “So, Angela, you honest person you, is that how you know this? You’ve heard rumors through the grapevine that this is why they had a paperwork mishap?”

Angela opened her mouth but no words came out. Robynne could see her holding them down like a sick person trying to avoid vomiting. “Y-yes?”

Vivian pointed her finger at Angela and giggled, “Ah-ha! You are so bad at lying! You had something to do with the paperwork mishap, didn’t you? You stole the paperwork, huh?”

Robynne leaned forward and examined the Spirit Guard’s leader. Sweat formed on her brow. Her hands shook. Her voice quivered, “I… well… that’s…”

Mal stopped slouching and stood to her full height and towered over the room. “Holy sugar! You really did have something to do with this. What did you do? When did you do it?”

Angela somehow found a way to sink further in her chair. “The Sock Hop Society is wrapped completely around Cammy’s finger. Their President is one of Cammy’s boyfriends . And they represented about a full seven percent of the vote in last year’s Student Association. I just… if I made sure the right paperwork went missing, they’d only lose their vote on the Student Association this year while still being able to host all their big activities. And since they wouldn’t have a vote, Cammy wouldn’t have an interest in them and leave them alone. Frankly, they are better off.”

Vivian jumped in the air and threw her limbs out as if she were a firecracker about to exploding. “This is awesome! Angela! I never knew you had a sneaky side! Please tell me, and you got to be honest.” Vivian leaned in and wagged her finger at Angela. “And, seriously, you have got to be honest because you’re so bad at lying… did you use your powers for this?”

Angela stood up abruptly. “No! Of course not!” Vivian staggered backwards and barely kept her balance.

Noriko tilted her head to the side, “Why would this be an, ‘of course not,’ situation? Isn’t your concern that this Cammy might be the Empress? Wouldn’t that merit the use of your Spirit Guard Valor form in some way?”

Robynne nodded. “Took the justification out of my mouth.”

Angela shut her eyes tight. Kara put a gentle hand on Angela’s shoulder. “We’re sorry if we’re being a bit rowdy about it Angela. This is just so unexpected from you, but we all know you wouldn’t do anything if you didn’t have good reason.”

“Yes,” Mallory affirmed. “And if it’s to stop whatever that two-faced biscuit is up to, it’s more than okay. So why hold back?”

Angela opened her eyes and glanced from girl to girl. Her gaze held onto Mallory the longest. Robynne wondered what that was about. Probably more lingering guilt over something. “I do not want us using our powers to stop Cammy. If she’s unaware of her past self, I worry that if we started using our powers to interfere with whatever she’s planning it might, I don’t know, wake the Empress up. I just don’t want to risk it.”

Robynne raised an eyebrow. “You sure that’s a possibility?”

Angela nodded and opened her mouth to say something but then shook her head and sighed. “I don’t know. Kunapipi thinks that my touching the Standridge Stones is what woke up Platicore in the first place. He was in a deep hibernation trying to heal his wounds from the fight with the Empress. Kunapipi thinks that, you know, my activation of the Stones caused some sort of magical ripple that disturbed his sleep. I worry using too much of our magic around Cammy might do something similar.”

Robynne shrugged her shoulders. “Seems like a bit of a stretch to me. I mean, if that’s what woke up Platicore, why wouldn’t it have woken up the Empress at the same time? We might be needlessly treading carefully.”

Mallory squinted. “A fair point, Ace, but I think Angela’s got the right idea with this one. There’s a big difference between risking stuff with Platicore and risking stuff with the Empress.”

“Why is Cammy a bigger risk than Platicore? Cammy hasn’t exactly been throwing monsters that suck out people’s souls or whatever at us.” Robynne said while folding her arms.

“True,” Mallory conceded. “But we’ve killed every single one of those monsters. The Empress, on the other hand, killed all five of us in the past. Or did you forget that part?”

Vivian pointed at Mal and stated with atypical deadpan, “That… is a really big concern we all need to consider. I’d like to avoid dying again.”

Kara shivered. “Yes. I’m for the plan where we don’t accidently wake up the megalomaniac who killed us all once before.”

Robynne bit her thumbnail. “Yeah… kind of didn’t consider that angle. Good call. Let’s not poke that hornet’s nest if we don’t have to.”

Angela put her hands up as if to console Robynne, “I mean, it’s a fair question. We can’t even be one-hundred percent certain that what we think woke up Platicore did. It could just be Fate timing things, though Kunapipi doubts it.”

Robynne returned to her chair. “Why would she doubt that? Seems she credits Fate for almost everything.”

Angela gave a pained sigh before explaining, “Well, Kunapipi theorizes that there are actually two possible ways that my touching the Stones could have been…”

Vivian giggled. “Touching the Stones. Oh my, Angela. So very forward of you.”

Mal failed to not smile. “Really?”

Angela cleared her throat, “When I touched the Standridge Stones, there were two possible ways it could wake Platicore from his hibernation. One is simply the fact that the activation of the monolith sent out some sort of… I guess you’d call it a magical pulse.”

“Empathokinetic pulse,” Robynne corrected her.

Mallory winced, “Just roll with it, Ace.”

Robynne rested her chin on top of the back of her chair and muttered, “It’s not magic.”

“The point,” Angela pleaded, “is that since it was a kind of… since Platicore had wielded empathokinetic power in the past, the familiarity of that pulse disturbed his rejuvenation. The other theory is, well, Kunapipi said servants of Fate like herself are attuned to a… not sure what the word is… effect I guess. Whenever someone who is destined to be one of Fate’s champions begins his or her hero’s journey, there is a signal that goes out they refer to as the Hero’s Call.”

Robynne bit her bottom tongue. Stuff dealing with Fate always sounded so stupid.

Fortunately for Robynne, she didn’t have to say anything. Vivian wretched at the term like a toddler at broccoli. “Hero’s Call? Could they make it sound any more cheesy?”

Kara gave Vivian a light smack on the back. “Let’s focus on the important part, please.”

“But… Hero’s Call?”

Angela plowed forward despite Vivian’s protests. “Kunapipi says the Hero’s Call that signaled her to come to Kessia City had to have been when I touched the Standridge Stone for the first time. She theorizes that, if it wasn’t the magic of the device that woke Platicore up, it might have been my Hero’s Call since Platicore used to be a servant of Fate.”

Robynne quirked her lips to the side. “That theory might at least explain why the Empress hasn’t woken up in Cammy… if Cammy is indeed the Empress and the Empress isn’t already awake in her. She wouldn’t be able to sense the… Hero’s Call.”

“I don’t like all the ‘ifs’ we have going around,” Kara said. “We need to know for certain if Cammy is the Empress or not.”

“And,” Mal added, “if she is even aware of it.”

Angela nodded. “To Robynne’s point though, if it was the Hero’s Call that woke up Platicore, that lessens the chance that the Empress would have woken up within Cammy, and we could approach the problem assuming she’s the Empress-in-waiting. If it was magic that woke up Platicore, then it’s more likely that Cammy has already awoken as the Empress and whatever it is she’s trying to do with the school is part of some grander scheme.”

Kara sighed. “Again, too many variables. Is she the Empress? Is she awake? Is she planning something?” Kara held her hands up. “Scratch that – from the sound of it, she’s definitely planning something. The question is, does this plan have Ardent Empire implications? We need more information.”

Angela stood up and started pacing. “But how do we get more information? I can’t get anywhere near her. From what little I have been able to gather, she suspects I was behind the Sock Hop Society mishap. I’m still very much on her radar.” Angela paused and glanced at Noriko. “Could you maybe find out something.”

Noriko kept her face passive but shrugged. “I could attempt to, but spying on her will be more difficult than the subterfuge the Hush Corps deploys to keep your identities safe.”

Robynne sat up. “She’s a cheerleader. How hard could spying on her be?”

Vivian stuck her chest out indignantly in a mock-display of offence. “Hey! I was a cheerleader and so was Angela… and technically everyone in this room is too Ms. Kettle.”

Robynne waved Vivian off. “You’d be the easiest thing ever to spy on. You’re as loud as a police siren.” The scarlette turned back to Noriko, “But why would she be so hard to spy on?”

Noriko closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. “Espionage is more difficult than sabotage. It’s more proactive in nature. Sabotage, at least the brand we have deployed to protect your identifies, is reactive. Much less set-up time. We get the call, then deploy. Spying on Cammy DeCroix would require me to follow her. Standard shadowing techniques requires an outfit change every time you change locales. The human brain doesn’t tend to store faces into short term memory so as long as you change clothes, you’re usually fine once or twice. But every time beyond that is exponentially more risky than the last. The human mind is basically a pattern-seeking machine. Also, I am a minority, so I stick out slightly more. My skills are meant to not be seen. Blending into a crowd isn’t my forte.” Noriko opened her eyes as if to punctuate her point. “And Cammy DeCroix is always in a crowd, and her type of crowds tend to be just the party scenes I’d stick out at.”

Mal plopped onto Robynne’s bed. “Okay, so shadowing her wouldn’t work. What about having the Twins bug her phone in some way? Could that work?”

Noriko nodded. “I would assume it wouldn’t be that difficult.”

Angela nodded. “She doesn’t conduct any of her dirty business over the phone. Everything was word of mouth. She is always sure to cover her tracks. When I got… when I made my accusations against her, an inquiry was made and she willingly gave her phone over. While I’m sure they didn’t make the most vigorous search, Cammy would easily have talked them down, if there was anything obvious they would have found it.”

Kara tapped her finger to her chin. “I’m sure the other cheerleaders aren’t as careful. Could we just tap the entire Cheer Squad maybe?”

Noriko gave a quick snort through her nose. Robynne had learned that this was as close to a laugh as Noriko could muster. “And who would be the one who sifts through the entire Cheer Squad’s wall of text messages? Not to poke fun at stereotypes, but this seems like a rather monumental task.”

Vivian winced, “Yeah. Even as a cheerleader I can’t pretend to be offended by that one. Cheerleaders love their texting. At my worst, during sophomore year in high school, I was somewhere at four-hundred texts a day.”

Robynne coughed, “Four-hundred? You’re only awake for, what, 17 hours a day? That’s, like…” Robynne paused and did some rough math in her head, “I don’t know. About 25 an hour or so? That’d be a text, like, every four minutes!”

Angela chuckled. “Four-hundred would only have made you part of the top five amongst the Cheer Squad last year. One of the girls texted over a thousand a day.”

“A thousand?” Robynne held her palm to her forehead. “I’ve decided I hate the world. Let Platicore have it. We deserve whatever doom we get.”

Vivian nodded her head somberly, “Robynne makes a valid argument. Truly our texting has donutted us all.”

“Melodrama aside,” Kara said, “if bugging phones isn’t a useful tactic. Maybe we could use an inside source. Robynne’s now friends with at least one cheerleader. Maybe we could invite her over and get her to spill stuff. You said she was super-talkative, right Robynne?”

Robynne nodded and smiled. “Yeah. Stacy is really talkative.” Though Robynne didn’t like the idea of further involving Stacy in Cammy’s games, it was a good idea. Plus, whether Robynne liked it or not, Stacy was already involved. It might be a good thing for her new friend to get pulled away from Cammy’s potent aura and around some more positive influences anyway. “Really talkative. Really nice too. She’d likely answer anything we asked.” Then a thought occurred to her. “But, then again, I’m not really sure she knows all that much. I mean, the vibe I got during our meeting was that Stacy was more of a pawn in Cammy’s game. Useful, but not someone who is in the loop as to why anything is happening.”

“I got the same feeling from watching her body language.” Angela groaned and continued. “I’ve seen her a lot on campus too. I get the feeling she may have replaced me as Cammy’s go-to Promoter.”

Noriko nodded. “It was a good idea though. Moles are much more effective at getting information than shadows. Moles can get into conversations openly because it was decided they belong in said conversations ahead of time. It is regrettable Angela has no viable way of getting back on the Cheer Squad.” Noriko cast a quick, appraising glance at Robynne. She wondered what that look was about.

Mal rested her hands behind her head as she lay on Robynne’s bed. “If we had known about this sooner we could have had Vivian try out for the team over the summer.”

Vivian nodded sagely, “I would have kicked angelcake as both a super-cheerleader and a spy cheerleader.”

Angela slunk further into her chair. “Sorry. I should have brought this up sooner.”

Robynne sighed, “Please don’t start that again. You did what you thought was best. It doesn’t do a bit of good to lock the barn door after the animals already got out.”

Kara raised an eyebrow. “Say what?”

Robynne winced, “Wow. Sorry. One of my uncle’s sayings. Now he’s got me saying them.”

Noriko cleared her throat. “I feel it would be remiss of me to not bring attention to the fact that someone in this room has been given an open invitation by Cammy herself to join the Cheer Squad and be our mole.”

Robynne opened her mouth to scoff but Mal beat her too it. The giant shot upright and gave Noriko a look that begged to know if the ninja was crazy. “You can’t seriously be suggesting Robynne join the Cheer Squad, right?”

Noriko closed her eyes and paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. “We cannot undertake scanning all of the cheerleaders’ phones. The task is too monumental. Even if the Twins limited such surveillance to only strategic targets, such as Cammy’s lieutenants, we are still talking about sifting through hundreds to maybe thousands of texts a day. Having me shadow her also would, likely, be fruitless as I cannot reliably stalk Ms. DeCroix on a consistent basis without being noticed eventually. So those options are out.”

“Though we haven’t discussed it,” Noriko continued, “trying to bug her room or some other location is a possibility but she seems to be the type of girl who spends very little time in one location.”

Angela nodded, “She barely used her room at all except to sleep…” Angela then frowned, “That was when she wasn’t sleeping over at one of her boyfriend’s places.”

“Then bugging her room is not a good solution,” Noriko concluded. “That leaves our mole strategy. Robynne’s new friend could certainly be of some use. If she is as prized as Angela seems to indicate she’d be, even if she wasn’t in the loop as to why Cammy was having her promote certain things, knowing where she was being moved around would be of some use. But that is secondary, maybe even tertiary-sourced intelligence. We need first hand accounts of what it is Cammy is after.”

Noriko pointed at Robynne, “For example, this entire conversation you had with her revealed, in a few short minutes, that SFEERS is at the center of Cammy’s overarching strategy. That, in turn with what Angela has learned in the past has given new insight.” Noriko nodded to Angela, “This theory does hinge a bit on my assumption that what you just did with that calculator matters?”

“Huh? Oh!” Angela picked Robynne’s calculator up off her lap and nodded. “Well, I was just running some numbers. Last year, Cammy controlled about sixty percent of the votes on the Student Association. But, with the loss of the Sock Hop Society’s and Omicron Chi’s votes, that would push that number down to around fifty-one percent. But that number wasn’t factoring the growth of some other clubs and the shrinking of others. I have heard that pledges are down in the fraternities and sororities as a result of the Omicron Chi shutdown. Sort of a trickle-down effect. If that’s true, then she could be looking at anywhere around forty-five to forty-eight percent control.”

“Lacking a majority,” Kara observed. “Still, is it that big of a threat?”

“That depends,” Angela explained, “on how much SFEERS grows. If SFEERS grows at at the clip they did last year, they’d represent roughly five percent of the votes. If that five percent sides with Cammy, she would have a narrow majority .”

“But what does she even need that majority for?” Vivian asked. “It’s one thing to say she only has control of forty-some-odd percent. It’s another to say there is a majority against her. And what would that anti-Cammy faction even do?”

Angela shook her head. “Not sure. The Student Administration meetings are closed to outsiders… another little change Cammy suggested a few years ago. But, clearly, something is happening behind the scenes that has Cammy so spooked she’s determined to get SFEERS on her side.”

Robynne shook her head, “How spooked could she be? I mean, yeah, she came to me and offered me a spot, but I’d hardly say that’s pure desperation. I get the impression she more wants me than needs me. She doesn’t want to deal with SFEERS, and she’d rather hand that job off to someone else.”

Angela bit her lip, “You might be underestimating how much she hates dealing with people she feels are below her. Back when I was on Cheer Squad, Jody, Cammy’s right hand, told me that Cammy detested even having to show up at the Student Administration meetings. I can only imagine how much she’d loathe having to deal with SFEERS directly.”

“I don’t know,” Robynne said. “I just didn’t get the feeling she was that desperate I guess. If she needed me that bad, I feel she’d probably have made more of an effort to get me. She let me walk away though. ”

“If I may make a slight counterpoint, Robynne,” Vivian said, “Angela and you paint a picture that says, ‘Cammy gets what Cammy wants,’ because of her mondo-aura. She didn’t go into your little ambush conversation thinking that she would need to make an aggressive sales pitch. You were supposed to be wowed by her existence, flattered by her attention, and happily say, ‘Yes ma’am! Whatever you say, ma’am!’. She might be desperate enough but didn’t know how to handle your unexpected, ‘Nope!'”

Robynne shook her head. “I think you’re overstating the whole thing. She can’t need my help that badly.”

A knock sounded at the front door. “I’ll get it,” Kara said.

Vivian held her hand out to stop Kara. The short brunette glanced at Robynne and asked loudly, “Who is it?” She then whispered at Robynne, “Do you feel an aura?”

Robynne rolled her eyes but reached out with her other sense to see if there was an aura. She felt nothing and gave a dismissive shake of the head. “Cammy isn’t walking up to our door just to sate your ravenous appetite for dramatic timing.”

“Clearly you haven’t been paying attention to your own life, recently.”

Despite her words, no one on the other side of the door answered Vivian’s query. Kara walked past Vivian’s arm with a smile and quick roll of the eyes. “I’ll check it out.”

As Kara walked off, Mal spoke up, “Hate to backtrack the conversation a bit here, but Noriko, you can’t seriously be suggesting Robynne take up Cammy on her offer just to spy for us.”

Noriko frowned. “It seems the best option. Having a mole is the best way to gather intel on any target. Furthermore, she’s a mole that can resist Cammy’s aura and maybe even gather intelligence using her empathokinetic sense. I do not see any other way we might gain insight as to Cammy DeCroix’s possible connection to the Empress. Even if, in some hypothetical situation, we had one of the current cheerleaders informing on Cammy, they will have no way to sense any of the more supernatural elements of Cammy’s nature.”

Robynne bit her fingernail. Those were all really good points.

Mal shook her head. “We can figure something else out. Robynne has enough stress piled up on her without having to go all undercover cheerleader.”

Robynne smiled. It was nice to hear that her mental state was being taken into account. “It’s a moot point. I already told her, ‘no.’ We need to come up with a way to find out what her Plan B is since I shot down Plan A.”

Kara walked back into the room, her face a mask of nervousness. “Robynne, you just got a package.” She held up a shimmering, purple box wrapped in silky ribbon. “There’s a note for you too.”

A pit formed in the bottom of Robynne’s stomach. This couldn’t be good. “What does it say, Kara?”

Kara handed the box over to Robynne and pulled a small card off the top. The box’s texture was soft and smooth. This wasn’t some simple package dropped off by a delivery man. Kara opened the note and began reading. “Robynne, sorry if my sudden burst on the scene seemed a bit too strong to you. I think maybe we got off on the wrong foot. I know you’re hesitant to step onto the field of play, but I’m confident that once you have a taste of the benefits being my friend brings, you’ll change your mind. Sincerely, C.”

“A present from Cammy,” Mal said with disbelief. “She doesn’t waste time .”

“A present? No, a bribe,” Angela hissed. “And the way she starts out the note is so typical. Saying she’s sorry that you were offended. Putting the onus back on you. And friend? She means lackey.”

“Regardless,” Kara said with a tone that not-too-subtly hinted at her discomfort with Angela acting so bitter, “this shows that she wants Robynne’s help. You don’t deliver a bribe this quickly unless you’re really going after the sale. I think this at least indicates that you weren’t Plan A, Robynne. She’s clearly already worked her way a bit down the alphabet if she’s resorting to bribery a little more than an hour after the first meeting went sour.”

Noriko joined the growing huddle around the purple box. “But how far down the alphabet we will not know until we open it.”

Robynne glanced around the circle, trying to mask some nervousness. “Why is everyone waiting around with bated breath like I’m ‘bout to open up a tomb or something?” Why was she feeling so nervous? It was just a box with a bribe.

“Be careful,” Angela cautioned as she glanced at her feet. “Cammy’s gifts have a way of becoming curses if you cross her. I know.”

Robynne nodded. That was what was making her nervous. She was playing a game with a dangerous opponent. Would she be able to return this? Well, worse comes to worse, she would just throw it in some dumpster off of campus. There would be no evidence. “I’m sure it’s no big deal,” Robynne lied as she tugged on the silken knot that kept the box tied together.

The ribbons pulled loose and Robynne opened the box. She reached in and pulled out something Robynne felt only barely matched the description of clothing. “Oh you have got to be fudging kidding me.”

The dress was black with lime green accents. Looking at it, Robynne couldn’t figure out how any woman would be able to wear something like this. It had no straps? How could something with no straps stay on the body and keep a woman decent? It’d have to be painfully tight. That would leave no curve to the imagination. And the hem of dress was so short Robynne couldn’t figure out how it would keep her decent, let alone cover her legs at all! Would this thing even fit? It seemed far too small for that to be a possibility. This was Cammy’s bribe?

Kara gasped and put her hands to her mouth. “Oh dear…”

Robynne shook her head. “It’s like nothing I said to her went through her skull at all. What makes her think I’d want this?”

Mal put her hand on Robynne’s shoulder. “That’s not what she’s talking about. Look at the brand.”

Robynne glanced back down at the dress. She still couldn’t believe Cammy actually expected that Robynne would want to wear this. Regardless, she looked down and examined the inside of the dress where she would have expected to find the tag. Instead of a tag, she found, stitched in golden thread three characters written with calligraphic flair. “E&G? Is this supposed to mean something to me?”

Angela coughed. “Edō & Grevina? Are you kidding me? Oh… this is bad.”

Robynne groaned and slunk her shoulders down in frustration. “Okay. Edō & Grevina. Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

Mal nodded. “Edō & Grevina only makes super-expensive designer dresses.”

Robynne lifted the dress up and inspected it. It certainly didn’t look any more finely made than any other dress she had seen. “High end? So, this costs, like, what… two-hundred? three-hundred dollars?” Robynne didn’t like the thought of that. If Cammy is spending money on Robynne, regardless of Robynne’s response, the Cheer Captain would be expecting favors.

“Three-hundred?” Vivian laughed. “Oh my dear, sweet, naive Robynne. No. This is Edō & Grevina. I guran-donut-tee you this thing isn’t less than two-grand.”

At that moment, Robynne was glad she hadn’t been drinking anything because she knew she would have spit it out. “Two-thousand dollars? For one dress? Are you joking?”

All of the girls except for Noriko and Angela shared a laugh. Noriko didn’t seem to get the joke and Angela looked very concerned. Mal slapped Robynne on the back, nearly knocking her down. “Welcome to the insane world of women’s fashion.”

“To be fair,” Kara countered, “everything has an insane high end that makes no sense. I mean, how much did you spend on that computer, Robynne?”

Robynne scowled. “I use that computer every single day for hours a day. How often does a girl wear dress like this. Even once a week would probably be excessive.”

Vivian nodded. “Definitely excessive. You can’t wear the same outfit more than once every two weeks.”

Robynne raised an eyebrow. “Is that some sort of rule?”

“Rule of thumb, but yeah. Preferably you want to go every three weeks. Just sort of, I don’t know, this unspoken agreement girls have to abide.”

Robynne wiped her forehead. “Far too complicated.”

Angela raised her hands, “Girls. We need to focus. Cammy just dropped two to three-thousand dollars on recruiting Robynne. This is far more serious than we thought.”

Mal nodded. “Yeah. So much for the Plan B theory. If you spend that kind of cash on someone you’re very desperate. Robynne’s Plan J or K at best.”

Kara pursed her lips and examined the dress. “It might be even more than that. Robynne, hold that dress up to yourself.”

Robynne recoiled backwards. “I’m not holding that dress up to myself!”

Vivian rolled her eyes. “A little late to try and preserve your masculine dignity when you got breasts, Red.” Vivian snatched the dress out of Robynne’s hands and pressed it up against Robynne’s body.

“Hey!”

“Quit squirming for a second and we’ll be done. I think I know where Kara is going with this.”

Kara shook her head but leaned forward. “Wow, look. This dress is cut nearly perfectly. Dresses you can just buy aren’t usually cut for someone with Robynne’s… uh… healthy bust.”

Robynne grimaced. “I swear every time you guys try to come up with a euphemism for my chest’s size it only makes it worse.”

Kara took the dress away from Vivian and examined it. “Take a look at this. It’s been tailored in the back and on the sides to give a little more room in the chest and the hips so that it’d fit Robynne.”

Robynne flopped back into her chair and shook with rage. This was a high dollar dress meant for some rich eye-candy girl to flounce around in, and it still needed more room in the chest and hips? “That doesn’t make any sense. I only met Cammy an hour or two ago. She couldn’t have bought the dress and had it tailored.”

“Which means,” Mal conjectured, “that she likely had the dress bought yesterday and paid for a rush order for some seamstress to get it ready for you today. I’m guessing no matter what you said to her, you were getting this dress. Either it was going to be a thank-you for saying yes or an additional chip to sweeten the pot. Either way, seems she’s all in on recruiting you, Robynne.”

Angela stepped forward and admired the dress. “What I do not understand is how she could have nailed Robynne’s measurements so well. She couldn’t have gotten them from Robynne. And did she even see you yesterday?”

That was a very good question. “I don’t think so? If she did, it couldn’t have been from up close because I would have felt an aura like hers approaching me… though I sometimes miss things with my extra sense if I’m not thinking about it. Still, her aura… no, I wouldn’t have missed that.”

“What about your new friend Stacy?” Kara asked. “She’s gotten a close look at you on more than a few occasions.”

Robynne nodded. “Yeah. And she is a Fashion major or something like that.”

Mal squinted. “That’s a major? Like, something you can get a degree in and everything?”

With a shrug, Robynne said, “I guess so. Sounds dumb to me but that’s kind of the way everything looks to me right now.”

Angela bit her bottom lip. “I don’t know if Cammy would ask Stacy for your measurements though. She doesn’t like to tip her hand when she’s using Cheer funds to reward other cheerleaders. Not on big ticket items, anyway. And this is the biggest ticket item I’ve seen or heard of from her. Asking Stacy about your measurements would reveal she needed them for some purpose.”

Vivian shrugged, “Couldn’t that just be written off as, ‘I’m going to need them since she’s obviously going to say yes and need her own cheer uniform’?”

Robynne snorted, “Yeah, that’ll be the day.”

Angela shrugged. “Maybe. Still, it would cause questions. Even at my most compliant, I couldn’t imagine Cammy tipping her hand even that much and risk there being jealousy amongst the other cheerleaders that the new girl got this designer dress. Even with her aura, She started making odd requests there would be questions.”

Robynne pointed her thumb at Vivian. “While I don’t want to dismiss your idea Angela, I think Vivian’s version is more likely.”

“What if Angela is correct, though?” asked Noriko. Robynne had nearly forgotten the ninja was even in the room. She had such a talent for being silent. Her roommate was eyeing Robynne’s unwanted gift with intense suspicion. “What if she didn’t ask Stacy for help? What if the correct measurements aren’t a function of Cammy having a good eye but a good memory?”

“What are you getting at?” Mal asked.

Robynne bit her fingernail. “She’s asking if Cammy didn’t guess my measurements but remembered them from her past life as the Empress .” Then Robynne shook her head and held her hands up. “No, that wouldn’t matter. I mean, I don’t even have the same body as the one I had back then.”

Kara looked Robynne up and down. “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve only had one vision with the Shrine Maiden in it, and it is a bit hazy, but you seem to look a lot like her if I’m remembering correctly.”

Vivian nodded her head. “She’s definitely as… well-endowed as the Shrine Maiden if I remember correctly.”

Robynne felt her eye twitch slightly. Angela held her hands up as if to slow Kara down. “Come now. We all know visions, just like dreams, fade a bit. It’s why we call our meetings whenever we have one. Let’s slow down with that comparison.” Angela than gave Robynne the same up-and-down look Kara had given her. “Though if I am remembering it correctly you do look remarkably similar .”

Mal grunted. “So what are we implying here? That not only is Cammy the Empress but she’s awake and used that knowledge to… what? Buy Robynne a dress with the exact measurements because she remembered the Shrine Maiden’s measurements? If the Empress is alive and well inside Cammy, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be buying us dresses. She’d be working out how to take us down – assuming she even knew we were the Spirit Guard.”

Angela shrugged. “The Empress gained her power by coopting various factions within the Ardent Empire and consolidating power. Cammy’s strategy appears very similar. If she does have an inkling as to who we are, it’d be very in character for her to try and split us up.”

Robynne considered this idea. She had been operating under the assumption that if Cammy was the Empress reincarnated, she wasn’t aware of it. After all, the impression she had gotten from her other sense was that Cammy’s aura wasn’t intentionally invasive. But what if she was wrong? What if she knew exactly what she was doing? Or what if the instincts of the Empress were pushing her to gain as much support as possible? To gain as much influence as she could for when the Empress finally awakened?

Robynne decided that more brainstorming was needed. “Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, Cammy is the Empress and knows it, or at the very least, she’s acting on some impulses the Empress has given her. If that were the case, what does all this consolidation of power at some random university get her? I mean, we’re not talking about people with real power like politicians or celebrities or CEO’s or anyone like that. We’re talking about athletes, frat boys, sorority girls, and revelers. What does she gain from all this?”

Angela scratched the back of her head, “I… don’t know.”

“Well, if she’s the Empress,” Kara conjectured, “she’d need some base of power to launch anything. And the Empress’s power was based upon her ability to emotionally manipulate others. Parties are events where emotions tend to run high. Maybe there’s a connection there… plus a lot of the people at these parties are the kids of high society types. They might eventually have more traditional power than you’d assume.”

Vivian snapped. “That’d make sense. I remember the Empress throwing lots of parties and festivals in our past lives with the movers and shakers of the Ardent Empire. In the middle of a dire war with the threat of extinction, that would be kind of completely and totally out of place. There must be something about parties or people who like to party that help her gain power.”

“It’s more likely,” Robynne countered, “that the Empress needed a power base and parties were a good spot to curry favors. It doesn’t have to be mystical. Plus people are more likely to say, ‘yes’ to a request when there is a group of people reinforcing peer pressure all around you. That probably goes double for the Ardent Empire since emotions were harder to hide.”

Mal nodded. “I agree with Robynne. I think we might be looking too deep into the party idea. I mean, unless she’s some sort of, I don’t know, emotional vampire, I don’t see what having emotion-intense parties would earn her. But whatever scheme she’s hatching, whether she is just Cammy or the Empress, she needs the support from the people around her. It’s how any despot, no matter how small their kingdom, rules. What we need to figure out is what kind of scheme she’s cooking up.”

A hush fell about the room. One girl glanced to another, as if waiting for someone to say something. Finally, Angela broke the silence with a sigh. “We are making a lot of assumptions here. We don’t actually know much of anything. All we have are theories.”

The girls nodded in agreement. As Robynne mulled the problem in her head, she came to a conclusion. “Empress or not, Cammy has to be dealt with. Her plot involves all of campus at the minimum. That’s tens of thousands of people. Even if she is just some petty tool trying to control a school, her greed is robbing each club of money that she’s using for stupid crap like this.” Robynne tossed the dress on the floor as if to punctuate her point.

Robynne continued, “That’s money that could actually be going towards improving the college experience for everyone else. So at best, she’s a thief for stealing money and a biscuit for what she did to Angela. That by itself is grounds for us striking back.” Robynne frowned and dug deeper. “Plus she’s going right after SFEERS. I like the way this club is set-up. It might be one of the few bastions of sanity I’m going to get here. Those are few and far between for me right now. I’m not letting her ruin that.”

Angela nodded. “If Cammy is at best a witch with a ‘b’, at worst she might be an intergalactic tyrant who is trying to set herself up as some sort of god-queen and SAU is step one of a much bigger plan. We already died once before to stop the Empress. Despite that sacrifice, she may somehow be back. Robynne’s one-hundred percent right. We can’t just ignore her and hope everything turns out for the best. If she turns out to be the Empress she’s a much bigger threat than Platicore. We must be proactive.”

Mallory groaned. “Yeah. I guess. I mean, she curb stomped Platicore back in the day. But even still, I’m not a fan of trying to fight a two-front war.” Mallory frowned then gave Robynne’s bed a solid punch. “Ah honey. Who am I kidding? If nothing else, I want to rip this biscuit a new one for what she did to you, Angela. And, if she’s the Empress, for killing us once before. I’m on board with the idea of being proactive. But how are we doing this?”

Noriko cleared her throat. “I would like to reiterate that Robynne was already invited into Cammy’s circle of influence and no one is better equipped to feel empathokinetic manipulation than she. While we can debate about whether or not there is another valid path to gaining intelligence, I have difficulty imagining a better one.”

Robynne wiped her hand down from her hairline to her cheek. She wracked her brain for another idea. Anything. There had to be a better way. Or maybe, if they explored the idea more, they’d discover that this was, in fact, as bad an idea as Robynne felt it would be. “Okay. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, we went forward with this plan of me going back to Cammy and letting her know I reconsidered because of her present. That’s not an act I can keep up. I’m not interested in clothes. At all. Even for spying purposes I won’t be able to fake that.”

Vivian let out a laugh. It reminded Robynne of the laugh she’d make when something so comically horrible had happened to her in Aspect Realms that all she could do is chuckle at her own misfortune. “I’m sorry. Are we really considering this plan? Robynne? Going undercover with the cheerleaders?”

Kara gave Vivian a disapproving sigh that took most mothers years to perfect. “I believe we’re just talking it out. Seeing what potential pitfalls there might be.”

“Potential pitfalls?” Vivian asked with disbelief. “Where do we begin? Have you all forgotten how cheerleaders were in high school? You really think Robynne is prepared for that vipers’ nest of social interaction?”

Robynne sat back and contented herself to let Vivian go on the offensive. This was exactly what she had been hoping for. If they could find the holes in the strategy it would cease to be a viable solution. Alas, Angela jumped to Robynne’s undesired defense. “Robynne has shown to be quite adaptable. Plus she is quite clever.”

Vivian shook her head. “Yes. She has shown to be quite clever. But braininess isn’t what the situation calls for. From everything that’s been described, experienced, and theorized, both Cammy and the Empress live and breathe in extroverted mazes of social interaction. Red, you know I love you and think the world of you but you’re not exactly a social butterfly. This isn’t a battle you have ever even begun to train for. And it’s irresponsible for us to send her in there.”

Robynne nodded her head. “She has a point. Those are kind of deep waters for me.”

Noriko shrugged. “Deep waters, yes. But Robynne would learn to swim. She already expertly navigated the seas of one Cammy interaction. There is no reason to think she couldn’t become expert if she was properly trained.” Robynne had never been so displeased to have won so much confidence.

Mal stood up. “I don’t think it’s training that’s the issue. As I think about it, I think Vivian has nailed the problem. Plus it just wouldn’t be right for us to send Robynne in alone.”

Angela quirked her head to the side. “While I’d prefer to not send Robynne in alone, what other option do we have? Cammy only invited Robynne.”

Noriko leaned forward. “Follow my logic here. If Robynne returned and said she was swayed by the dress, it’d be a very difficult act to pull. It’s completely against Robynne’s character. Something more in Robynne’s character would be to say that she was instead swayed by a friend begging to pull some strings to get her onto the Cheer Squad. Maybe someone with a cheer background who maybe just missed tryouts or something. Someone who has too much energy and needs a proper outlet for it instead of messing up their roommates’ beds .”

Vivian chuckled, “Gee. I wonder who you could be talking about.”

Robynne nodded begrudgingly. “Having Vivian there would help, but… I don’t know. Still feels a bit far-fetched of an act for me to pull.”

Kara propped herself up on Noriko’s drawers. “I agree. It’s too easy. I don’t think Cammy would believe it. Plus, wouldn’t Cammy know we are friends with Angela if she’s been keeping tabs on her? Won’t that sink any chance of this plan working?”

Robynne pointed enthusiastically at Kara. “An excellent point.”

“Not necessarily,” Noriko contended. “How many times has Angela actually walked through the front door? By my count it couldn’t have been more than three times. Otherwise she’s always walking through the stone for convenience. Additionally, given the fact that you all heeded my advice to stay away from friending each other on social media or taking pictures with one another, I would actually be willing to bet that Cammy has no clue of Angela’s friendship with anyone other than Mallory.”

Mal chuckled and blushed. “We have gotten pretty lazy because of those stones.”

“My point,” Noriko continued, “is that natural tendency towards the easiest path has actually done an excellent job of keeping your friendships with Angela and Mallory a secret. This plan can work.”

Angela tapped her chin. “Still, there is the issue of whether will Cammy buy it. I mean, sure, Robynne could reject the dress and instead say something to the effect of, ‘if you want me, my roommate comes with me.’ However, even then, I feel it comes across as too convenient. I feel like Cammy would suspect that something is up.”

Vivian ran a hand through her hair. She puffed up her cheeks like a frog and let the air out as a long sigh. “You’re right, Ang. We’re making a mistake if we treat Cammy like a regular person who accepts good luck. Cammy is a full-blown stereotype. A Saturday morning cartoon villain. She’d be suspicious. She’s arrogant. She’s greedy. She likely assumes everyone to be the same way but just lacks her skill at getting her way. With girls like her, it’s best to go bigger. If we did this, Robynne would need to go in not apologizing, but making a large list of demands that would make this witch believe that Robynne is playing along to get whatever she wants.”

Robynne raised an eyebrow. “A list of demands? Like what?”

Vivian stroked her chin with her finger. “I have a few ideas. But let’s get down to brass tacks here: are you really considering this Robynne? Like, is this something you are seriously willing to go through with? Because I have a hard time figuring out why you would be.”

Robynne shrugged. That was a good question. Why was she giving this serious consideration? “If Cammy’s the Empress, the whole world is in jeopardy. What choice do I have?”

Mal shook her head. “I don’t buy that for a second, Ace. You’d run headlong into death to save a person, but you seem on the fence about even believing about our past life stuff. I don’t think you’re that concerned with the idea of the Empress. What’s the real reason?”

Robynne let out a long breath and thought about that. This was out of character for her. But she didn’t feel like she was being manipulated. To be sure, she reached out with her extra sense. She could still feel, however faintly, a small piece of her pointing to Cammy like a magnet. That girl was doing this to everyone she could, whether she knew it or not. How many hundreds or maybe thousands of people had a piece of them pointing at that girl? That shallow, selfish, sociopathic girl.

Then it hit Robynne. She knew exactly why she was considering this. Why she immediately hated Cammy. “Cammy reminds me of someone back home. Someone who, not to sound dramatic, made my life honey for my last two years at Deepwater High.”

Vivian leaned in. “What happened?”

“I don’t like talking about it.”

Kara leaned forward and put a hand on Robynne’s shoulder. “We understand Robynne, but if you’re serious about this, we need to look at all the angles. If some baggage from high school is influencing your decision, I think you should consider letting us know.”

Robynne looked around the room from girl to girl. Did she really want to tell them? No, she didn’t. But Kara was right that they needed to know. “Her name was,” Robynne paused and let the venom collect on her tongue, “Evelyn Gray. She was a pure biscuit plain and simple. She wasn’t the head cheerleader but she might as well have been. She was the queen at Deepwater High. I crossed her, and that made me a target for reprisal.”

Angela bit her bottom lip. “Reprisal how? What did you do?”

Robynne shrugged. “I stood up to her. Called her a biscuit for spreading rumors about a kid that weren’t true. Did it in front of a huge group of people.”

Vivian winced. “Oh yeah. This isn’t ending well.”

Robynne snickered but continued. “What pissed her off the most was she couldn’t strike back at me directly. I wasn’t like her usual targets. I actually had self-confidence. I was one of the smartest kids in school. The opinions of the quote-unquote cool kids didn’t matter to me. So she came at me sideways.”

“Sideways how?” asked Mallory.

Robynne shook her head. “I really should have seen it coming. My girlfriend was on the cheer squad too.”

Vivian sat up straight. “You had a girlfriend?”

Robynne glared. “Don’t sound so surprised.”

Vivian pointed to Robynne’s computer. “I’ve never seen you go out and actually do anything.”

Robynne sat taller. “Need I remind you that I was a football player. I wasn’t bad, either. I would have been the starting running back if Dustin hadn’t… I actually need to back up. Okay, so, my dad was an all-state running back. Deepwater is small. It’s a big deal for someone to be all-state at my high school. Especially back then. My dad’s graduating class was only about one-hundred people. As you all know, my parents died when I was younger, so all I know about my dad’s games are the stories my Uncle told me and the clippings my Grammy saved.”

“I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps and be a running back. I had been the running back all throughout middle school. Freshman year, I did well, and it looked like I’d be running back the next year when our current running back graduates. But then next year comes, and the guy who had always been behind me on the depth chart, Dustin Durfee, hit puberty like a freight train. I mean, I swear he grew like a foot that year, and he became a beast out of nowhere. He jumped me on the depth chart and, much to my chagrin, that year we won games because we just handed the ball to him and people simply couldn’t bring him down.”

“He, of course, became the big man on campus despite his skull being as thick as his muscles. And, as the big man on campus, he of course started dating… Evelyn.”

Vivian held her hand to her head. “Dumb, star athlete gets together with queen bee cheerleader. Does everyone in your life follow all the standard Hollywood clichés?”

Robynne gave Vivian a flat look. “You sure you want to leave yourself that open for a zinger?”

Vivian squinted her eyes. “Well played, Ms. Darling. My question is retracted.”

Mal chuckled, which couldn’t help but bring a smile to Robynne’s face. It always felt good to back Vivian into a verbal corner. “Anyway, he started dating Evelyn so, yeah, they were the power couple of our small high school. So sophomore year was a bit of a disappointment for me. I had expected to be getting lots of carries but didn’t because of Dustin. Then Evelyn was spreading rumors about this girl who she used to be friends with but fell out of her circle for some reason. I don’t know what happened exactly, but one lunch period the girl confronted Evelyn and Evelyn made fun of her for her cheap clothing and being obsessed with her. The girl started crying and… well… I got involved.”

Kara raised an eyebrow. “Was the girl being made fun of your girlfriend?”

Robynne shook her head. “No. I just… it wasn’t right.”

Mal smiled and shook her head. “You just can’t help but be the hero, can you?”

Robynne blushed. “Any of you would have done it too.”

Vivian shook her head. “Not me. Taking on a monster is one thing. The queen of high school, that’s scary stuff, Red. You’re a braver girl than I.”

Robynne tried to dismiss the compliments with a wave but she couldn’t help but feel better about herself. It was nice to have it reaffirmed she had done the right thing. “Long story short, I got on Evelyn’s sugar list. But, as I said, she couldn’t attack me directly. She had no power over me. So my girlfriend, who was in cheer, became a target of scorn amongst the cheerleaders… though she didn’t tell me about it at all.”

Angela nodded with a wince. “Sadly, that’s fairly common. I fortunately didn’t have to deal with that until college, but I have seen Cheer Squads at other high schools devolve into a series of power plays. Girls at the bottom are shamed into silence. Your girlfriend was likely worried you’d make it worse by confronting Evelyn again.”

“Probably right,” Robynne growled. “If it hadn’t been for the fact I was a dude, I would have just punched her in the eye… speaking of. That was when she tried to get her goon boyfriend to attack me and ‘put me in my place’ if you get my meanin’.”

Angela’s eyes went wide. “He beat you up?”

Robynne smirked. “He tried.”

“Ha! Awesome,” Mal said with a single clap of her hands. “Did you beat him up?”

Robynne shook her head. “Not exactly. He tried to corner me in the locker room. When he went for the punch I just deflected and sort of rolled out of the way. When he tried to turn around and go after me, I tripped him, and he fell right into the lockers. The impact separated his shoulder pretty badly. Not gonna lie, I felt pretty bad angelcake after that…” Robynne sighed. “And there is nothing less bad angelcake than the phrase ‘bad angelcake.’”

Vivian nodded. “It does undermine the storytelling somewhat.”

Noriko leaned forward, seemingly interested in Robynne’s story. “So, with him injured, you got the next few starts at running back I would assume?”

That question took the wind right out of Robynne’s sails. “Uh… no.”

Angela buried her hand in her face. “Let me guess, despite the fact that he attacked you, you got suspended for fighting and the entire school turned on you for injuring the star player?”

Robynne looked away from the group. “The two weeks I was suspended was when I got into playing Aspect Realms.”

All of the girls save for Noriko winced and groaned. Noriko simply shook her head and said, “Predictable.”

Vivian rubbed her eyes. “Your life really is a bad high school drama.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Robynne said. “I mean, Dustin had made enough enemies that the entire school didn’t hate me. But Coach was pissed at me. I got moved further down the depth chart. Which pissed me off to no end.”

“So what did you do?” Mal asked.

Robynne bit her bottom lip. “Well, I was angry and grumpy the whole time, and that wore on my Uncle. He suggested I suck it up and just get so good the coach would have no choice but to move be back up. He presented to me a radical training regimen my Dad apparently had used to improve his leg strength and overall balance… it took some coaxing.”

Mal shrugged. “How radical could it be if your father was using it twenty or thirty years ago? Most everything from that era that was considered radical then is either known to be worthless now or has been adopted as a standard training program as sports science has filtered things out.”

Robynne looked away and scratched her elbow. “My Uncle was suggesting I take up ballet.”

“You took ballet?” Vivian blurted out while trying to stifle a laugh.

Mallory’s face contorted as she herself tried to mask her surprise and amusement with nonchalance and support. “Well that would, uh, be a very good way to build up leg strength. To say nothing of balance.”

Angela nodded, but she didn’t do as good of a job at hiding her surprise. “Yes. Um, your father definitely knew what he was doing.”

Robynne rolled her eyes. “You don’t have to pretend it’s not weird. I know some other football players, even pros, have done it, but the stigma will never go away. Ballet is for little girls, not manly men.”

Kara stiffened up, not showing any hint of the surprise the others showed. “Well who cares what the stigma is. You were trying to improve your game. What else matters other than improving your ability to withstand tackles if you’re a running back?”

Robynne smiled. “Oh, that I had had that kind of security, Kara. No, I did my best to hide it. That was the first mistake. If you hide something, people know you’re ashamed and it can be used against you. When I finally did agree to the lessons the next semester, I told my Uncle that no one could know. He indulged me, and my lessons were one town over. For all the good it did.”

Kara winced. “That sentence doesn’t bode well.”

Robynne folded her arms in frustration and forcibly leaned back in her chair. “Somehow Evelyn found out. I still don’t know how. I took every precaution. But she found out. However, that little biscuit did not just start spreading it around. Oh no. She held onto that nugget. No, the rumor she started to spread around, instead, was that I was gay.”

The girls all blinked in confusion. Noriko raised an eyebrow as she asked, “Did you not say you had a girlfriend who was in cheerleading? Any rumor questioning your sexuality should fall on deaf ears.”

Angela rolled her eyes and groaned. “Plus who cared if you were gay? At this point, especially in academic settings, bullying someone because of sexual orientation gets you ostracized. Not the other way around.”

Robynne nodded. “All good points, but my main social circle wasn’t academic in nature. It was a football team where every player is in the midst of puberty and trying to prove how big of a man they are. The locker room isn’t exactly a den of maturity. Also, Evelyn wanted to hurt me. So she was going to do that by undermining my relationship with my girlfriend.”

Kara nodded her head. “So she spreads rumors that you’re gay to, what, try to convince your girlfriend that she was your beard or something?”

Robynne nodded. “I didn’t hear any of these rumors until near the end of sophomore year. My girlfriend didn’t tell me about any of the rumors until then anyway. I laughed them off, called Evelyn a skank, and we moved on. I had no idea though how… convincing the rumor was to my girlfriend.”

“Not to break up the tension,” Vivian said carefully, “but did your girlfriend have a name? You just keep saying ‘my girlfriend’ and each time you do it this sounds more and more like a made up story.”

Robynne chuckled. “Sorry. Brook. Her name was Brook.”

“Why would the rumor be convincing to your girlfriend of all people,” Mal asked. “She should, in theory, know you the best.”

Robynne frowned and looked at the ground. “Looking back,” she said with regret, “I didn’t realize how difficult I could be as a boyfriend. I could be… distant. In my head it was all about giving both of us space, but I guess it could seem cold. Then there was… the intimacy issues.”

Vivian smirked and leaned forward. Then she froze. She seemed to reconsider what she was about to say. Robynne was grateful for that. “Let me guess. She wanted to be intimate and you weren’t ready?”

Robynne kept her eyes on the ground. “I… I don’t like touching people.” She shook her head and sighed. “It was hard enough to just, you know, cuddle. I have to sort of build up to that mentally. Forget making out. Getting physically intimate… no way. I was not ready for that.”

Vivian quirked her head to the side. “How long did you date?”

Robynne swallowed down a lump in her throat the size of a baseball. “A year and a half.”

Vivian rubbed her eyes demonstrably. “A year and a half and you never crossed first base?”

“I don’t like touching,” Robynne reiterated. She felt her entire body tense up. She hated talking about this. “I just… don’t.”

Vivian shook her head. “I’m not really sure how to even begin to process this. I’ve never seen a situation where the girl is the one pressing the guy to get more physical.”

Kara gave Vivian her best reproving glare. “Viv. Don’t you think you’re getting a bit too personal here?”

Vivian held out her hand and gestured wildly at Robynne. “That’s exactly the point of this conversation! I mean, if we are seriously considering this plan we have got to know stuff exactly like this! This is not normal. ‘Not normal’ is exactly what harpies like Cammy prey on!”

Angela gave Robynne her most sympathetic look. “You may be right Vivian but… Robynne, if you don’t want to go on you don’t have to.”

Robynne sighed. “Vivian’s right. About it being not normal, I mean. If I’m honest with myself, in some ways Brook was a bit of a shield for me. I mean, well, you all know guys in high school. It was always about who nailed who. Being a virgin is basically a mark of failure. You weren’t a man until you knocked boots with someone. For me, not liking physical contact, that was a problem. So having a girlfriend prevented me from having a lot of those conversations. I could just stay stuff like, ‘we’ll do it when we’re ready,’ and most guys would just assume that meant she was the one slowing me down.”

Kara rolled her eyes. “There is nothing wrong with being mature, Robynne.”

“I know that,” Robynne snorted. “But maturity isn’t common in high school. And, unbeknownst to me, the rumors were getting louder, and Brook started, I guess, wondering if my coldness towards her physically was a sign that she was dating a gay guy or something. She started pressing harder for us to get more physical. I pushed back however and things started getting rocky towards the beginning of junior year.” Robynne’s sadness morphed into anger. “That’s when Evelyn finally dropped the bomb about me taking ballet.”

Angela winced. “Right when your girlfriend was doubting you the most and you’d be back in the locker room with the other football players.”

“That second one is the part that frustrated me the most. I show up in the best shape of my life. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. And is that acknowledged? No. No no no. Instead everyone in the locker room, led by Dustin of course, start calling me clever little nicknames like ‘Twinkletoes’ and ‘the Sugar Plum Fairy.’ Or just ‘faggot’. That one became popular.”

“Classy,” Mal said with heavy amount of scorn.

“So yeah. Football, the sport I had started playing as a way to sort of get closer to my deceased parents, had become a waking nightmare. I mean, I feel I handle name-calling rather well. These weren’t particularly that clever even. But it was just day after day. Practice after practice. It just started wearing me down. I couldn’t enjoy it.”

“A few weeks later, with this all going on in the background, the Homecoming dance came around. I took Brook of course and I had hoped a nice night together with some slow dancing could smooth things over. She always seemed to like it when we danced…” Robynne blinked. “And now that I say that out loud, I realize it was because we’d be touching when we were dancing. Gummi I’m an idiot. Why didn’t I realize that before?”

Kara hopped off Noriko’s desk and walked over to approach Robynne. It was clear from her posture that she was about to give Robynne a hug. Then, Kara seemingly realized what she was doing and stopped. Her hands reached out a bit, obviously unsure what to do now that she had decided to not hug Robynne. “Look. There is nothing wrong with the fact that you weren’t ready for that part of the relationship. She wanted something different from the relationship than you did. It happens.”

Robynne nodded. “It does happen.” A tinge of resignation hung in her voice as she continued the story. “Little did I know, that night would be our last night as a couple. After the dance, she wanted to go to this scenic outlook. I knew where this was headed but, against my better judgment, I drove her there anyway. Then she tried to cuddle up to me and… and, well, we got into a fight. She accused me of wasting the last year and a half of her life when she could have been dating someone actually interested in her. She accused me of being a fraud and using her to hide my sexuality. I denied all that of course but… well, the night ended with me driving her home in the coldest silence of my life.”

“After that,” Robynne continued, “she started hanging out with Evelyn and her little platoon. Evelyn loved parading around with her after that. I don’t think Brook ever realized that she was just a trophy. A sign to hold up to the rest of the school to see what happens when you cross Queen Evelyn. So the school was convinced I was gay. Playing football was as fun as a kick to the nuggets. And my girlfriend was paling around with my worst enemy. So yeah. That was fun.”

Mal’s fist quivered. “Forget that biscuit, Red. If she was dumb enough to fall for that and not see what she had with you, then she wasn’t worth it.”

Robynne’s shoulders sagged further. “I tried fueling myself with that feeling for a while. But that’s just not me. Plus, it wasn’t like I had treated Brook the best. I mean, a relationship is about a give and take, right? I never really gave her what she was looking for. A more responsible person would have broken it off when they realized it wasn’t going to go anywhere. But I kept stringing her along for a year and a half because I liked being able to say I had a girlfriend. All this stuff with Evelyn, that’s not my fault. But as I got further away from the initial pain of breaking up, I realized I actually had a good share of the blame with how it ended with Brook. I should have let her go long before it got to that point.”

Robynne kept her face looking toward the ground but kept her eyes up to see how the other girls reacted to that. Each girl seemed to glance at each other hoping one of them would say something. Finally, Angela got off Noriko’s bed and knelt down in front of Robynne. She took Robynne’s hand, ignoring everything that had just been said about how much Robynne didn’t like physical contact, and said with a voice that rang with conviction, “I admire your maturity to see it that way. Most are comfortable just blaming the other half. But you, somehow through all that, you saw that part that you had control over and took ownership of it. I respect you greatly for that.” Then Angela shook her head and gave a very sad smile. “That said, what a biscuit. She should have known you better than that.”

“Yeah!” Mal concurred. “If she didn’t want to date a superhero-in-waiting, she wasn’t worth your time. I’ve seen you sacrifice it all to do the right thing. That’s the type of person you show some patience for. Forget her.”

“I agree,” Noriko said with a hint of derision in her voice. Coming from Noriko, that was practically a tirade.

Kara rushed forward. Robynne guessed that allowing Angela to hold her hand had signaled to the bluenette that physical contact was now allowed. She gave Robynne a tight, motherly hug. “Sorry for making you share all that.”

Robynne smiled, and, though she squirmed, she had to admit that the hug was much more welcome than she would have guessed. It felt appropriate somehow. “It’s okay Kara. Vivian’s right. We needed to… ack!” Vivian clamped to Robynne’s side with a hug as tight as a vice.

“I won’t let Kara apologize for me,” Vivian said with an odd mix of regret and amusement. “I was the one who pressed you to tell all that. This should be my apology hug.”

Robynne tried to wriggle out of Vivian’s grip, but the imp wouldn’t budge. How could something so tiny have such a powerful grip? The girls long, luscious strands of black hair tickled Robynne’s face and got in her mouth as she tried to talk Vivian into letting go. “Apology ack-pbth-accepted. Nng! Now let go.”

Vivian squeezed tighter. “No! Let me love you!”

Mal walked past Robynne and moved to pry Vivian off. Vivian quickly let go with a giggle. “You know she secretly wanted a giant group hug from all of us.”

Mal rolled her eyes. “Clearly.”

Kara laughed and let go as well. “That would help her out for sure. Very relaxing.”

“So,” Angela said as she stood up and straightened her skirt. “The reason you are even beginning to consider this course of action is because Cammy reminds you of Evelyn.”

Robynne paused and mentally recentered herself. That was right. There was a reason she had opened up and told them all of this. “Evelyn on steroids. What Cammy did to you makes what Evelyn did to me look like child’s play. Evelyn ruined my social life. Cammy purposefully cost you a full-ride scholarship just for spiting her. She’s way worse than Evelyn.”

Angela blushed and glanced at the ground. “I guess we do have something in common in that regard.”

“Also,” Noriko added, “We cannot disregard what happened to you with the football team. Evelyn’s meddling turned an activity of refuge into a place you dreaded going. If we do nothing and Cammy continues to meddle in SFEERS’s affairs, there is a good chance the club could become tainted. If the club’s focus gets changed by Cammy, it could alienate the very people the club seeks to serve, thus ruining a place of refuge. I hope it is not too presumptuous of me to assume part of your willingness to consider this course of action is due to your desire to prevent that?”

Robynne bobbed her head side to side. “I mean, I probably would have used less words but, basically, yeah. Though we still have to figure out how we are going to make this sound believable to Cammy… if I even go through with this.”

Vivian demonstrably cracked her knuckles like she was some hero from a cartoon readying themselves for a brawl. “I have an idea of how we can make this sound believable. It’ll take some coaching, but I think we could maybe make this work.” She gave Robynne a look of cautionary skepticism. “You sure you can handle this? Cammy isn’t a monster you can just stab.”

Noriko cleared her throat. “I disagree with that statement; however, it seems outright assassination is currently not an option.”

Vivian chuckled but turned her attention back to Robynne. “This is a project that is going to take months and lots and lots of drama. Do you really want to jump down this rabbit hole? If you are, I’m with you every hop of the way, but it isn’t going to be pretty.”

Robynne thought back to the pain she had felt seeing Brook hang out with Evelyn after their breakup. She thought about the seething anger she felt as her favorite activity, football, morphed into the hours of the day Robert had dreaded the most. Then she thought about Cammy’s aura pressing down on her in the Billot Building, pushing her to just agree to whatever Cammy wanted.

Empress or not, Cammy DeCroix had to be stopped before more innocent people like Stacy lost their will to her aura or more resistant and honest people like Angela got crushed by Cammy’s social influence. “It’s not a rabbit hole, Vivian. It’s a fox hole. It’s war. I can handle war. So what were you saying about these demands I need to make?”


WHEW! My friends, let me tell you, this chapter was a rough one for me. I always worry about my dialogue and you all always say it’s a strength and, while I believe you, I’ll never be to the point where I’m confident that the conversation feels natural and flows. I will always need to hear someone else say, “It works,” first. But my beta readers said it worked for them so I’m hoping it worked for you.

I love the start of this chapter. Knowing all I was going to have to deal with in this chapter I decided the girls reconciling their decisions was something that could be cut. I feel I’ve shown enough of their personalities that you can decide for yourself how it went down. I also love Robynne just sort of chilling and playing Aspect Realms with all that going on behind her as background noise. For some reason it feels to me like the Shojo anime version in that scene from the Amazing Spiderman where Spidey and the Lizard are destroying the library right behind the oblivious librarian (and obligatory Stan Lee cameo). Robynne doesn’t feel the need to insert herself in that scene but she also wants to play a little Aspect Realms. Robynne is just Robynne enough to stay in the room and do just that while everyone else is having a moment.

I’m pretty sure it’s obvious but I really like writing out characters trying to problem solve. The process of solving problems fascinates me. Word problems always intrigued me in math for this reason and hearing everyone bounce ideas off one another, for me, is insanely fun. In some ways you could almost say my story DOES have a mystery component to it. It’s something I never really have tried before and it’s a lot of fun for me.

This chapter surprised me in a lot of ways. For one, I actually did NOT plan to say anything about Robynne’s Deepwater nemesis Evelyn and his ex-girlfriend Brook in this chapter. I actually felt it was going to be down the road but then I started the conversation and it just felt like a rock Vivian wasn’t going to leave unturned. How people work fascinate her. And, at that moment, the logic she had (that they needed to know Robynne’s mental state and background before even considering an undercover cheerleader mission) was something Robynne couldn’t deny. Robynne is a private person but more than that she is a logical person. A well said argument will almost always trump her stubbornness.

An offshoot of not planning on Robynne revealing all this was Evelyn and Brook got very little foreshadowing. It’s the problem with my discovery writing. But, then again, what you all are seeing is basically an open beta reading. Problems like that could get fixed in a second pass of other chapters. Just mark it up as another retcon I will have to make. There is just no way Robynne wouldn’t not think of Evelyn when dealing with Cammy. Even if she doesn’t name her, she’ll make some sort of mental comment about not liking cheerleaders. In fact, she should have been making comments about that all the way back when she wasn’t trusting the Spirit Guard as Robert. Bit of a big hole if you ask me. Oh well.

So one of the biggest changes from MGP Alpha to now is Robynne’s backstory from back home. Evelyn, Robert having an ex-girlfriend, drama with the football team… it’s all new except for Robynne taking ballet to help his running back skills. One of the biggest changes I feel I’ve gone through since the break between then and now is my understanding of what motivates one person in a relationship is not the same as another person. I’ve learned that sexuality is not, in and of itself, the issue. It’s what emotional hole that relationship fills. For Robynne, physicality isn’t a hole she needs filled. It’s, in fact, a barrier for her rather than a hole. That’s where issues in relationships occur, when you start finding that one person’s barrier is the hole you need filled. It creates a wedge and wedges like that are exactly the weapons people like Evelyn and Cammy use.

I didn’t want Robynne to dwell too much on the issue of people calling her gay. People get obsessed with labels a lot and, let’s face it, in our community’s literature you can’t throw a stone without it hitting the issue at least from time to time. I don’t really know how it can’t if you have a story where someone changes genders. But to Robert, the issue of being accused of being gay had very little to do with his masculinity and everything to do with being accused of being something he wasn’t. Whether Robert or Robynne, one thing this character I feel is, is very sincere. So to Robert, what hurt him wasn’t that he was being accused of being gay but being accused, essentially, of being a liar.

One thing Robynne doesn’t take into account that I want to mention here is that while Dustin is indeed a bully, he wasn’t bullying Robert solely because Evelyn was motivating him. Robynne mentions that Robert had been the running back throughout middle school. If you’ve never been a part of a sports teams, while you are a team, it’s still very competitive within the team who does what. For Dustin, he likely felt frustrated he couldn’t top Robert. Then he hit the genetic lottery and finally jumped over him. This isn’t just someone stronger bullying someone smaller, but someone who has felt slighted for a few years “getting back” at the person who he was getting slighted for. It clearly doesn’t excuse that type of behavior; it’s still repugnant as honey. But I think it does give a little more insight into the person, even if that person is just a background character… even if the characters in the stories don’t realize it themselves.

Robynne’s built in hatred for people like Cammy ultimately is her main motivator but I do want to stress the importance that the loss of the game of football as an emotional outlet for Robynne was important in motivating Robynne. She’s competitive for all the right reasons. Competition can drive you to improve yourself in ways simply trying to top your previous highest score just can’t. Football was an outlet for that part of Robynne and Evelyn’s antics took that away from her. Now she’s worried Cammy’s meddling might irrepairably harm SFEERS and make it something she can’t enjoy either. Robynne simply isn’t willing to chance losing another emotional outlet, especially as she’s growing in need of more of them.

One last thing, including Vivian in this escapade is definitely something that improves it, I feel. In Alpha, Robynne’s joining of Cheer felt way less natural and, frankly, VERY forced in my opinion. This now actually has a tangable reason and, because the Spirit Guard are not idiots anymore, they are going to try to send her in with backup, and backup that knows what they are doing. I know it’s kind of obvious but, man… this is SO much better than what happened before XD.

Thanks for partaking in my ramblings,
Taralynn



18 thoughts on “Magical Girl Policy- Chapter 30”

  1. Well worth the wait! I love the interactions between the girls. I hope there are no spells on that dress.

    Can’t wait for the next chapter.

  2. I am glad you took your time over that chapter. That was a rather moving development of Robynne’s character.

    Regarding the foreshadowing of Robynne’s background, i felt it wasn’t perhaps necessary. Maybe a reference to a dislike of cheerleaders or stuck-up manipulative people like Cammy, but as you state and as to how Robynne presents herself, I felt that the reveal kept within character.

    The remarkable difference in how this part of the backstory is developed compared to in the original draft is outstanding, both in presentation and quality. I was drawn in by the narrative and the characters, reading every line, despite having an idea of how the it was in the original draft.

  3. Gotta agree with Tagzen. The whole chapter was compelling, with lots of nice character building.

    The revelations about Rob’s past coming earlier was surprising for me to read. Plus her admitting it to the whole group. If I remember correctly, Mal was the only one to drag that secret out of her in Alpha.

    And Fate help her if Cory ever finds out about it.

    Everything surrounding Rob’s infiltration into the cheerleaders does make more sense this time. Particularly Noriko suggesting it. She’s good at seeing things more…strategically.

    I also like how Mal is jumping to Rob’s defense in this whole thing, and trying to sway the others from doing or saying things that she thinks will make her uncomfortable. Really showing off her protective big sister/empathokinetic knight side.

  4. Good chapter! Very believable dialog, nice interaction between characters, a little humor here and there, and good backstory for Robynne. I enjoyed the length of the chapter, and I am glad that you took the time to get it right. The presence of the Empress means that the Other Power may be involved as well. Nice work!

  5. for all the talk about them just theorizing what Cammy was up to I’m surprised no one suggested asking any of the sfeers eboard if they knew what was going on. That being said I get the feeling that Rob is going to lose his place of refuge when it’s found out he joined the cheer squad.

  6. Heh, I get it that you’re anxious about your dialogue. I’m massively neurotic about my own writing, to the point I can’t share it most of the time. So I understand the need for that kind of validation and I’ll happily say it again: your dialogue is fantastic. You are one of the best dialogue writers I’ve ever come across, including published authors. It flows naturally, stays true to the characters who are speaking, and is often hilarious. Especially when they’re problem-solving, it really helps the exposition happen naturally. The dialogue flowed so well that I lost myself in the exchange.

    I’m glad you took the extra time with the chapter. Not only is it long enough to make it more than worth the wait on its own, but the extra touches in there were good as well. Such as Robynne in the Stan-Lee-in-library bit, Mal’s protectiveness and affection for Robynne, and even Noriko’s strategies.

    It was really nice to finally hear about Robert’s backstory in Deepwater. Personally, I think you had foreshadowed it precisely as much as you need to do. It was very clear from reading earlier chapters that Rob had dated a girl previously, had been involved with drama that stemmed from cheerleaders, and said drama made sure he didn’t care about burning those bridges after his transformation into Robynne. (I remember her saying at least it would be a good excuse to avoid the reunions.) I think it was hinted at in just the perfect amounts, and I completely agree with your decision to reveal it now and how to do it.

    I think the only thing that didn’t jive with me was how Robynne shifted from adamantly being against joining Cheer squad and only talking about it as a way to show that it was such a bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, I think Noriko and the others made a very convincing argument, and revealing Robynne’s backstory explained why she changed her mind and decided to go through with it. It just didn’t seem like Robynne every actually made the decision herself. It went from “let’s talk about why this is such a bad idea” almost right into “this is why I’ll be doing it.” It just would have been nice to see her slowly coming around as the conversation progressed… probably no more than two to four extra sentences in the chapter. But that’s not that bad, considering the volume of content in this chapter.

    Minor nitpick! I know Vivian is the type to randomly switch her nickname for someone, but I liked “Rosy” better than “Red.” Because I think Rosy can be used at a jab both at Robynne’s hair and her disposition at times, especially when Vivian used it in this chapter.

    Like “jneko” said, I’m curious what will happen with the SFEERS when they find out Robynne and Vivian were dragged onto the cheer squad. I imagine that won’t go over that well…

    I look forward to seeing the list of demands that Vivian cooks up, plus the very idea of Robynne and Vivian going undercover together gives me the warm fuzzies. I can’t wait to find out what happens next! (I’m already chuckling just thinking about it.)

    And finally, congrats on another great chapter! Cheers!

  7. I really like the difference from Alpha. In Alpha, Robynne joining Cheer really did feel forced. It was just like, “Oh, yeah, this is just what we do in TG stories. We force the former boy to be a cheerleader or model or something like that to torture their lost maleness.” It just felt like ticking of a checklist and I couldn’t believe Robynne would be roped in to it so easily and arbitrarily.

    But this is good. This actually fits Robynne. She was the one to propose it as a serious option. Not only did the others not force her into it, they actually discounted it at first for its tenuity. And it has a lot deeper substance. It’s not just wanting to foil the mean girl. There’s a very real concern that she’s their ancient nemesis up to her old nefarious schemes. So not only is Robynne volunteering to make a sacrifice for the good of the world once again, but it’s personal for her due to her past. Double the reason! It’s just… just so much better than the old arbitrary “let’s stick her in cheer squad for the lulz”.

  8. This was a great chapter! I’ve been following this story for a long while and didn’t comment so far, but I have to say I love the way you move the story further and further. Not knowing the Alpha version, it seems pretty logical to me how Robynne gets forced into the cheer squad.

    My praise on this chapter should be even louder since I know how difficult it is to write a dialog chapter, with a goal in mind, and NOT get distracted by the characters who all want to chatter away. Next thing the writer knows, the dialog is endless, the reader is bored and the story utterly derailed.
    Not here, nosirree! The entire chapter is one long meeting. Six people talking. Yet you got the plot from “omg we don’t have a plan” to “we have a plan”. You showed us how they all racked their minds to come up with it, and you even delivered a juicy flashback. Of course, all this doesn’t fit too well with the image of Rob I had before; but that’s your job as a writer to convey YOUR story.

    Thanks!

  9. I feel like they’re being too quick to dismiss the whole Emotional Vampire angle, honestly. I mean, Platicore is either doing just that or he’s basically stealing people’s ability to feel emotion, so we know it’s a thing. Also, it’s been indicated that there are a number of factors that influence emotional intensity: beauty, other emotions, occasionally logic, etc.

    If Cammy is feeding on or using other emotions to boost her own powers, creating an environment that produces the particular emotions she needs seems like agood idea. Given that she’s apparently promoting crazy parties full of beer pong and stuff, I’d say Lust and Immaturity might be her go to feeding emotions.

    For the record, I really liked this chapter. Yeah, it could maybe stand a bit of retroactive foreshadowing later, but I liked it. I’ve been curious about what Rob’s high school thing was and the decision making process was really quite good. Sending Viv in too is a great idea, especially since they can work it as “Ok, I let slip about our conversation to one of my roommates, and she …convinced me to work with you on this. But! You have to let her in too. And you can keep the dress. What I really want is…”

    That said, I kind of miss Corey and Eli. They were pretty big characters in the first part, but I feel like they haven’t been in this part of the book much. Perhaps it’d be a good idea to have someone warn them about Rob going undercover, so they don’t blow it by doing a spit take when they see Rob in a cheerleader’s uniform.

    ….I also want another golem fight. I like this Cammy plot, I do, and I enjoy the fun of them interacting and everything, but I kinda miss the action. I get that it could distract from the current plot and it’d be best to save the next attack until it can imperil Rob’s undercover work or something, but I do miss the fights.

  10. I think I need to read the Alpha version of this sometime.

    And now I’m imagining Rob and Viv starring in a buddy cop movie.

  11. amazing as always. you really have a knack for this, I wish I could write stories about half as well as you can.

    I did see one minor error in there though “Angela looked up at the ceiling and thought for a moment. “I frankly haven’t been paying the most attention to them. I was more worried about what groups were under Angela’s sway rather”
    easy to miss.

  12. Just shoot a message over to Taralynn if you can get access to the old draft. We aren’t that far off the stopping point of the original draft now that I notice.

    Though considering how many elements in that first draft seem to of either been co-opted and improved upon or outright dropped, the story has some narrative weight compared to the first draft. Was still a good read, but you will appreciate why this story was re-written.

    The vast gulf between the two versions in narrative and plot quality speaks volumes of Taralynn’s growth as a writer.

    The best example is the difference in between the two variations for the reasons as to why Robynne infiltrates the Cheerleaders. Both develop attributes of the character in rather interesting ways now that I come to think about it.

  13. Actually the old draft is pretty easy to find. Note how all the page urls have ID numbers- since mgp was one of the first things up here, its first chapter’s page is pretty early up. There’s a prologue that’s really just pseudo origin story stuff, but alpha itself starts on page ID 48. You can just press the next buttons at the bottom of each chapter to get to the next.

  14. Ack, comment posted without entire actual comment. That being said, it’d probably be better to just read the story as it is now- alpha is now called a draft, and was removed from having any actual links to it, for a reason. It wasn’t bad or anything, as evidenced by the fact that some of us who were here for it are still around and it went for quite a while before stopping (we actually are still pretty far off from its stopping point plot-wise, the cheerleader thing just happens much earlier in this version and there’s much better focus on the overarching plot), but the whole point of removing them was so people would focus on what Taralynn is doing now. So, hopefully that tells you something.

  15. Looks like things are starting to pick up and we get a big explanation as to why Robynne is considering this. Hope to see more soon! You do a great job!

  16. I dunno, this kinda puts a damper on the story for me. Don’t get me wrong, you worked in good reasons for all this, but I’d just like to see ONE story where the main char doesn’t get railroaded into something like this. And, let’s face it, between the other girls and everything else, willing or not Robin never had a choice in this matter.

  17. I haven’t commented in a while but decided to now.  I’m behind with reading MGP and look forward to catching up.  I absolutely love this chapter!  Fantastic job with the dialogue.  I haven’t read Alphas and probably won’t.  I am happy with the current MGP.  I have decided that Noriko is my favorite character.  I love her “ninja in the night” lessons and she gives quite a bit in this chapter.   She also knew about her bed sheets being messed with haha.  I love the back story reveal of Robynne/Rob’s high school experiences.  I hope his ballet stuff comes up again but in a positive way.  It totally makes sense now why she will join the cheerleaders. Again great job with your story Taralynn. I can’t wait for the Uncle Taylor scenes and more Corey and Eli stuff.  I will end with my 2 favorite quotes in this chapter :-).
    ——
    “I admire your maturity to see it that way. Most are comfortable just blaming the other half. But you, somehow through all that, you saw that part that you had control over and took ownership of it. I respect you greatly for that.”
    ——
    Noriko cleared her throat. “I disagree with that statement; however, it seems outright assassination is currently not an option.”

  18. I know it’s a little late to comment on this chapter, but I noticed something interesting in my second read through.
    Robynne can say the word “faggot” and it’s not edited into “funnel cake” or “flan.”
    No idea if that’s intentional, but if it is there are some interesting thoughts as to why. If go by the idea that Angela’s clean mouth is the reason for the censorship then she doesn’t think it’s a slur. Two easy reasons for that. One she is homophobic( highly doubtful) or she respects that some gay people decided to own the word and out of respect for them it’s allowed.

    If it’s a cultural thing left over from the empathic empire things get more interesting. Maybe something to do with the root of the word not being a curse or its more global use as a term for a cigarette.

    Anyway thought I would point that out.

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