As Robynne moved through the SFEERS crowd, she got an appreciation for how big this social was. The room wasn’t congested like it was some rock concert, but it was packed. She had to swerve around several different groupings of people having conversations. Even more surprising than that, was the number of people who stopped what they were doing to introduce themselves to her.
Under the right circumstances, any group of nerds could be social. Her online interactions with her old Aspect Realms guild, the Mayhem Templar, weren’t too different from the few online interactions she had enjoyed with her new SFEERS-based guild, the Knights of the Spherical Table. Online nerds were usually more relaxed and less awkward. The only difference between how the Mayhem Templar GuildTalk acted from the Knights was the fact that girls seemed far less hesitant to talk in the Knight’s chat.
But in person, Robynne’s experience was that nerds would keep to themselves a lot more. In rural Deepwater, there wasn’t the biggest population that celebrated geek culture. But there had been enough that Robynne knew nerds typically kept to themselves, and meeting new people was something they struggled with at times. Every visit she had made to the comic book shop outside of Deepwater to get her Collider comic books had only further confirmed that. Nerds had a tendency to be islands of deep thought on whatever fandom they considered “theirs.” Robynne had assumed this social would have been an archipelago of various flavors, willing to let you see the local flora and fauna if you visited, but not coming to you.
And, if she were honest, Robynne’s experience had taught her that being an attractive female made it far less likely nerds would approach her. She had seen the nerds at her school just shut down in the presence of his ex-girlfriend. Sadly, Robynne knew her current body put her ex’s to shame. Brook had been cute, but compared to Robynne… well it just wasn’t a competition. It really was disturbing when you knew you were hotter than your girlfriend.
However, despite being an attractive girl, Robynne hadn’t been ignored like she was some scary beast. While she had elicited a lot of nervous boys looking away or silently gawking at her, she also found two more types of reactions. The first mostly came from other girls who gave her suspicious and sometimes dirty looks as she passed. This was likely the result of walking in wearing a cheer uniform. She’d have to win these ones over with time and proof she wasn’t faking interest in the club’s activities.
The second group shocked Robynne. They were mostly boys, though a few girls, who came right up to Robynne and introduced themselves. Well, maybe “right up” was an exaggeration. Some of them hesitated a bit as they made eye contact, but then soldiered on. Strangely the girls seem to hesitate more than the guys, almost like they were deciding to pet a cat they weren’t sure would scratch them. But the guys…
They guys would typically give Robynne a quick scan looking her up and down. Unlike normal, Robynne willed herself to keep eye-contact. She wouldn’t begrudge any guy for giving her a quick up-and-down scan. That was natural. But if their eyes lingered anywhere but her face or their own feet, she’d quickly excuse herself. Was it a bit rude? Yes, but she wasn’t going to suffer anyone who ogled her chest or angelcake; it was taking long enough to cross the auditorium without indulging anyone who she felt had less than social reasons to introduce themselves.
Robynne had just extricated herself from some piece of work who kept trying to sneak looks at her chest when a voice that sounded somewhat familiar greeted her. “Hey! You’re Waveform, right?”
Robynne turned to see a somewhat short, fat guy in glasses with super curly hair looking at her. How did she recognize that voice? “I… yeah, how did you know?”
He extended his hand to shake Robynne’s. “We met in GuildTalk. I wouldn’t forget a voice with your accent. I’m your guild leader, SaltStorm, well, Randy if you like. But, well, whatever. I guess I’m just saying welcome to the Knights.”
A wisp of a guy with naturally red hair sat up straight. “That’s Waveform?”
A short girl with glasses playfully ribbed the guy with her elbow. “You don’t recognize that accent?”
“My accent isn’t that thick,” Robynne sighed as she shook hands. “But, okay, so you’re SaltStorm. Nice to put a name to the face.” She pointed to the two behind him. “This the rest of the Guild?”
SaltStorm laughed. The laugh was more confident than his body language. “Well, uh, not the whole guild. But this lovely lady is ergoAwesome.”
“Oh,” Robynne happily extended her hand to the portly girl. “You’re the Cloudmender who joined me for a battlefield run in Whispervale Plateau, right?”
ergoAwesome smiled and shook Robynne’s hand. “Sure was. That was quite the comeback you quarterbacked.”
Robynne waved her off and smiled. “Well, I don’t know if I’d say quarterbacked… I just lent my expertise. You and that Moltenshielder we were with were the crucial parts to the plan.” Whispervale Plateau was Robynne’s favorite battlefield in Aspect Realms because it allowed for a lot more flexible strategies. Unlike most battlefields that tended towards massive groups clashing against one another, Whispervale Plateau encouraged smaller teams of three-to-four people to split off and pursue multiple objectives. The smaller groups allowed for truly great stealth characters like Robynne’s Rippleblade Waveförm to shine.
ergoAwesome laughed. “Oh yeah, me and TurtleSmuggler were totally the key to that strategy. My foot. It wasn’t me and Smuggler who slaughtered four people…” She then glanced over at the red headed scarecrow and smiled. “By herself.”
“By herself?” The scarecrow shook his head. “Stealth is such bullshit.”
Robynne tried to hide a smug smirk. So this guy was one of those people who complained about stealth as a mechanic. People like him needed to learn to use occasional AoE attacks and move around more. “Let’s not go overboard. It wasn’t by myself. The battle was over in that shrine on the east point of the map. You know the one with the enclosed space? Well, their healer was in the shrine to keep control of the point while the others stood outside watching Awesome and… what was the other guy’s name again?”
“TurtleSmuggler,” ergoAwesome answered.
“Right. So they were watching Awesome and TurtleSmuggler approach and trying to zone them out. But these four, sort of just wiggled back and forth in a predictable pattern so I was able to weave through them and get into the shrine with the healer. I go nova and wipe out the healer. It’s at that point their team figures out, hey, an angel just killed our healer. They go to charge into the shrine, ignoring Awesome and Smuggler. That’s when Smuggler drops the sickest firewall at the entrance of the shrine right as only one of the guys had stepped in, letting me go one-on-one with a Dawnburster, who do just crap damage in close range.”
ergoAwesome shook her head. “You’re making it sound like it wasn’t you who came up with that entire plan beforehand and hadn’t pointed out they had a stealthie.”
The scarecrow stood up. “How did you know they had a stealthie?”
Robynne smirked and shrugged. “Well, first off, you should always assume they have a stealthie. But the way they were simply zoning us out and not attacking with, what looked to them, like a four-to-two advantage said they had a stealthie. They were biding their time until their stealthie got in place, go nova on Awesome and then they collapse on Smuggler for an easy two kills. Anyone could make that read.”
“I wouldn’t have made that read,” SaltStorm scoffed. Robynne watched with satisfaction as the scarecrow looked away with a frustrated scowl. He clearly had never thought of it like that either.
ergoAwesome heaped more praise on, “I’ve never thought about a battlefield like that. I mean, reading how people are moving to know if a stealthie is there isn’t something normal people think about. I mean, that’s why you have the Bloodhawk title and we don’t.”
The scarecrow’s eyebrows went up. “Wait… Bloodhawk? But that’s a title only someone on the Pact can… have.” He stared at Robynne’s chest like he was recognizing her shirt for the first time. “Deviling? If you’re part of the Pact how can you be on our side?” Well, Robynne at least had to give him credit. This proved he hadn’t been staring at her chest like some of the guys here.
“Well, technically I no longer have the Bloodhawk title. It got changed to Warseeker when I switched over to Accord so I could game with you guys.”
“Well… the… but… why are you wearing a Deviling shirt if you’ve turned your back on the Pact?”
Robynne failed to contain a short, snorty giggle. “I… I’m sorry. Turn my back? I… I’m sorry, what was your name?”
The scarecrow scowled. “NightKnight. Like Night as in nighttime and then Knight as in… um… a soldier knight.”
NightKnight. That’s right. GalleyGirl had said he had been the most avid PvPer in the guild and had been trying to organize more regular Battlefield and Colleseum groups together in Aspect Realms. ergoAwesome had mentioned the night they had been Whispervale Plateau that it had been too bad that NightKnight had so much homework that evening because he would have loved it. And apparently he took the whole Pact vs Accord thing seriously.
“Right, look, um, NightKnight. I’m sorry I laughed but, come on. Don’t you think ‘turn your back’ is a little strong? You make it sound like you’re in an actual war and I walked in wearing the flag of an enemy nation. I played a Deviling for two years. I think it’ll be a while before I stop identifying more as a Deviling.”
“Yeah,” NightKnight said as his mouth hung open. Robynne could see he really wanted to say something more. She could tell he really did take the Pact vs Accord thing as an actual war he was a part of. Gummi how it annoyed her when people took it too seriously. Instead he just stared at his feet and kept scowling. “Well, um… welcome to our side.”
Robynne realized she had accidently painted this guy into a conversational corner. By laughing at his seriousness she had belittled how seriously he took the “war”. Logically, he knew she was right to say that it wasn’t that big a deal, but in his heart it was a big deal. His emotions and his brain were now against one another. Even if he was taking it too seriously, she could at least identify with being frustrated when you couldn’t get your head and your heart in sync.
Plus there was the fact that he was the guy who had been trying to get the PvP groups together. If that was true, he also was likely used to being the shot-caller during the actual PvP sessions for their little group. And now he had found out this experienced, hot, female newbie made better calls than him. He likely was feeling slightly threatened. Robynne knew if she wasn’t careful she could bruise this guy’s ego really bad.
Part of Robynne felt she’d be justified in bruising his ego some. NightKnight clearly wasn’t as smart at PvP as he thought he was. The fact that he mentally defaulted to declaring something he wasn’t good at dealing with as OP told her everything about his approach to his own shortcomings. But still, the fact that he was the exact type of gamer that annoyed her wasn’t an excuse to belittle him. She’d need to keep her responses more measured around him. No reason to turn someone into an enemy when, if approached right, they could be your friend. Or, you know, just not an enemy.
“So how did it end though,” SaltStorm asked. “I’m assuming you killed the Dawnburster that TurtleSmuggler had locked in the shrine with you?”
“Huh? Oh yeah,” Robynne continued with the story. “So I killed the Dawnburster. But the clutch play came from Awesome here. She and Smuggler had smartly been doing a sort of dance around one another and making it difficult for their stealthie to get a drop on them. But as the firewall was about to go down, Smuggler feigned like he was going to charge forward and go to help me. She stopped moving for a moment to cast a quick HoT on him, luring their stealthie in. Then, she popped Downpour on top of herself, creating a nice zone of healing and breaking enemy stealth. Boom, stealthie exposed, then Smuggler and Awesome burn him down.”
NightKnight pursed his lips, obviously impressed. “Good thinking with the feint of making it look like you were about to be alone.”
ergoAwesome waved him off. “The feint was Waveform’s idea. We just executed it. And then she fought and killed off the two guys on the other side of the firewall by herself.”
Robynne tried to remain modest. It was hard with everyone pumping her ego up. “I was fortunate and hadn’t had to use any of my survival cooldowns yet. And, besides, I wouldn’t have been able to finish off the last guy if you hadn’t come in and thrown me some last second heals.”
ergoAwesome laughed and pushed Robynne playfully. “Girl, you have the god-damned Warseeker title. You need to be a bit more arrogant about this! You’re a badass! Own it!”
Robynne chuckled and shook her head and looked at the ground, trying to hide her blush. “I’ll let the Warseeker title speak for itself. I don’t need to pump my own ego up.”
SaltStorm nodded. “Glad to hear it. Though you should at least come with us on a few PvE encounters. We raid every Thursday night. You’d be very welcome.”
NightKnight bit his lip. “Does she have raid level gear? I mean, if she’s so heavy into PvP…”
Robynne sighed. “I have enough gear to barely scrape by in raids. I’d need to upgrade.”
“Well, it’d be easy to feed you some equipment from the earlier bosses in Navarre Crucible. We all pretty much have everything we could want from the first three.”
Robynne shrugged. “We’ll see. I’m still adjusting a lot to college life.”
ergoAwesome laughed. “Oh sure. Be responsible. See where that gets you.”
Robynne smiled and nodded. “I think we will.” She glanced across the auditorium. She was nearly to the Tour de Rock setup; she could see Fretribution casually chatting and pointing to the various instruments. His crushed velvet aura faintly touched her extra sense. She could hear the song that was currently playing winding down. “Listen, hate to be rude but I really want to sneak in some rounds of Tour de Rock.”
SaltStorm made a wide gesture as if to dismiss Robynne. “Play on my friend. Pleasure to meet you in person!”
NightKnight shoved his hands in his pockets. “Y-yeah. Nice to meet you.”
ergoAwesome nodded in agreement. “Definitely! Talk to you in GuildTalk.” She then surprised Robynne by taking SaltStorm’s hand and the pair walked off, with NightKnight following them a bit before peeling off to go find the snack table. So they were a couple?
As Robynne approached the Tour de Rock setup, she looked around more closely and discovered more couples. This perplexed Robynne. Her experience in high school told her nerds didn’t ever have girlfriends. Then again, her experience in high school and gaming had told her nerd girls weren’t all that prevalent to begin with. But while girls were, as Robynne expected, decidedly outnumbered by boys in this club, it wasn’t by the margin she would have thought. Sure, it looked like there were two boys to every girl, but Robynne would have guessed something closer to six-to-one before this social.
Maybe the number of couples shouldn’t have shocked her then. Everyone wants to be loved, and who better than someone who shared your interests? And college was where they try new things. If Robynne thought of herself as an exception by being a nerd who had a relationship in high school, then it would make perfect sense that here, in college, they’d put themselves out there more and find themselves in relationships.
Robynne got close enough to hear Fretribution. “… can’t waste a perfectly good song by Patty Plane and not have a girl sing it!” Robynne glanced around the circle as Fretribution offered the microphone to girl after girl. “Come on. Someone’s got to want to. Don’t be afraid. No one will judge.” Girl after girl he pointed to giggled and seemed to consider before declining. Finally, the microphone landed on Robynne. “Waveform! You changed outfits. Looks a lot more comfortable.”
More than a few people laughed at the joke, meaning more than a few of them had seen her in her cheer outfit in the hall. Or at least heard word of the new cheerleader in the club. Great. “A lot more comfortable,” she agreed as she was careful to look anywhere but his eyes.
Fretribution gave a quick laugh but kept the microphone extended. “Now, Waveform, I know you won’t let me down. You’ll do us all the pleasure of singing some Patty Plane for us, right?”
As he held the microphone out, the thought occurred to Robynne that she had never actually sang with her new vocal chords. The thought of trying that out for the first time in front of a club that easily had more than one-hundred people… well it was daunting. “Well, you see… I’m not really a huge Patty Plane fan so…”
Fretribution made an animated display of throwing his head back. “Noooo! Come on! She’s a legend! She’s the Queen of Classic Rock! I bought the Patty Plane DLC just so I had some proper classic rock for the girls to sing and now I can’t get anyone to actually do it!”
“Why don’t you sing it?” Robynne countered.
Fretribution shook his head. “I wouldn’t dare offend the Queen of Classic Rock by putting a dude on vocals! No. We need a girl. That’s set in stone. Come onnnn, you and I, we discussed how the unwashed nerd masses don’t appreciate classic rock. Come onnnnnn, Waveform! Help me educate them! Be the heroine they need!”
Robynne let out a sigh. What was the worst that could happen? Her new vocal chords didn’t work the way she intended and people laugh a bit? It would at the very least endear herself a bit to the club President. Hopefully that’d show everyone that she wasn’t just some cheerleader like…
She could feel Fretribution’s crushed velvet aura mixing with her own. She could feel it tickling her brain, egging her to be bolder. Again, she had gotten so distracted that she hadn’t felt a foreign aura invade. So, like Dale’s aura, she hadn’t felt any influence over her emotions until she got close. Why hadn’t she noticed that before? Likely because her donuted biology made her get lost in Fretribution’s eyes that day.
Robynne pushed the aura out and felt the desire to be bolder and push herself to do something new fade. She let it push against her again and she could feel that desire to be bolder return. It was definitely his aura. But she noted that it didn’t make her want to sing but to just… well… try something new. It was like… it was like as if positive peer pressure had been formed into a pure force.
It wasn’t like she had to obey the aura. She could resist it just as she could any other form of societal pressure. And, judging by all the girls who had turned Fretribution’s offer to sing down, anyone could. It wasn’t overwhelming like Cammy’s aura. It was just a firm nudge.
Then Robynne remembered what Angela had said about SFEERS’s growth as a club the past few years. Those would have been years Fretribution would have been active in the club. Pushing people to take chances they wouldn’t otherwise. Being bolder at a recruiting booth when it’d be easier to just hope people see you and walk up. Inviting an acquaintance to see this nerd club when they might have waited to see if they became a friend first. Suddenly this club’s sudden explosion made more sense.
Robynne pushed Fretribution’s aura out and considered if she should sing or not. She wanted to be sure the decision was hers.
“I guess they do need some education,” Robynne said as she accepted the microphone. Several people in the group around the setup cheered. “Just don’t expect much. I’m not exactly what you’d call a singer.”
Fretribution laughed and used the controller to pick the song. “It’s not about being good, Waveform. It’s about rock and roll.”
Robynne’s uncle had always told her she should try more new things. And though she had been given a veritable buffet of new things in the past week, she felt this was the first new thing she wanted to do rather than feeling like she either had to do or needed to do. Plus it might help show everyone that she wasn’t just some cheerleader. She was part of the group and ready to have fun with them rather than having fun at their expense.
“Well if it’s about rock and roll,” Robynne mused, “we’ll need to start with her biggest hit.”
Fretribution smiled and settled on one song. “Rock and Roll’s My Love? Good choice.”
Robynne shrugged. “Yeah, well, it’s also the only Patty Plane song I think I know all the lyrics to.”
Fretribution selected the song and the music started to roll down the screen for the instruments. “Well Waveform, that’s also a legitimate reason. Knock us dead.”
And with that, Robynne cleared her throat and bobbed her head to the rhythm. Her heart raced a bit as she felt so many eyes on her. She was never going to be comfortable being the center of attention. So she decided to cheat a little and let down her aura-defenses and let Fretribution’s aura mingle with her own once more. Though the crushed velvet wave of boldness didn’t slow her heart any, it did help to push the lump down in her throat. As the words scrolled across the screen, Robynne knew that was just the help she needed.
Wow, okay. So that was a good bit of a rush for me but I’m so glad I tried 3 in April. It definitely was a way to stretch myself. Glad I did it. Won’t do it again at least for a good while.
As for the chapter, I really hope I got across the difficult position Robynne’s appearance is putting NightKnight in. Yeah, he definitely has some personality defects but at the same time here he identifies himself as someone who is pretty good at PvP and leading the Knight’s of the Spherical Table’s PvP efforts. Suddenly, Robynne shows up and is A) better B) showed some of his fellow PvPers a good time C) displayed better understanding of game tactics D) Showed she can lead a very competent attack E) is an attractive female and, thus has a social advantage on him. I don’t know if maybe I wrote him too dismissive to make him sympathetic. Let me know.
As for Fretribution’s (aka: Eddie’s) aura, I liked the idea of his aura that encourages people to be bolder. I’ve hinted at this in the Vignettes where you’ve seen a little more of him. I find boldness to be infectious and one person who is confident enough to take action can help motivate others. People are like atoms really, we bump against one another and exchange energy. A group in motion will tend to stay in motion. A group at rest will tend to stay at rest. Eddie showed up and started pushing this club to try new tactics and to be more visible and it has grown a lot as a result. Again, I base the growth of SFEERS around a similar club at my college and it too grew because of someone like Eddie at the top who decided to push the club. Sure, Eddie has a supernatural element to his pushing but the result is the same.
so, did you enjoy it? Do you think Eddie knows about his aura? I’m interested to find out.