Eli leaned forward and turned his head. Cory's phone had good speakers, but he really wanted to be sure he was hearing everything he could. "HDM Girl?" Eli froze.
"Did he just say 'HDM Girl?'" Cory asked in amazement.
Eli gulped. "Yes. He did."
Both glued their eyes to Cory's computer and waited for the video to catch up. The yellow haze of light faded, and a familiar bluenette smiled at Robert.
Eli stared at the screen, unsure how to process what he his eyes had just seen. Kara Balmer, the girl he had crushed on all summer, was standing where Spirit Guard Charity had been.
She was a super hero.
"Huh," Cory said as he rubbed his chin, "that complicates a few things for you."
"No shit," Eli gasped. How could this be possible? Eli was just a normal guy. Weird stuff didn't happen to him. Not like this anyway. Then again, he normally didn't get cute girls who were regulars in his arcade and who were bluenettes and who were friends with his big sister and who were in his grade and who were amazing cooks. Why not throw "and who were super heroes" on top of that dogpile?
"This, this is unreal." Cory chuckled. "I mean, dude, you're dating a super hero!"
Eli sighed. "I'm not dating her. I walked her home once."
Cory waved him off. "Details. We totally can swing this to where you're her spunky female investigative reporter to her superpowered city protector. You just leave it to me."
Eli narrowed his eyes. "I-- the female reporter? What?" He shook his head. "There is so much broken with that statement that I hesitate to even begin to pick up the pieces."
A perky female voice crackled over the speakers. “Ta-daaa!”
Robert's confusion sounded much clearer. “Vivian?”
Cory stopped his prattling and his eyes were glued to the screen. "Did Rob say Vivian?"
"I think so." Eli swallowed hard as he waited for the video to catch up to the sound. He wanted to believe there was no way this could be the same Vivian that Cory had been hitting on. But what were the odds that Rob knew another Vivian?
Sure enough, the pink light faded and a short girl with long black hair and a cat-like grin posed for the camera. “What a twist, right?”
“Yeah,” Robert said nervously. “though a lot of your questions the other night now make more sense.”
Cory and Eli blinked. "Well, I think this complicates your pursuit as well."
Cory said nothing for a moment, but then his usual bravado returned. "I say this only enhances things, my friend. Now I'm the one dating a super hero."
Eli sighed. "You sat next to her for one class! You aren't dating!"
Cory wagged his finger at his friend. "You have no sense how this dramatic structure plays out. Seriously Eli, it's like you don't study movies at all."
"We aren't in a movie! Life is not some sort of play!"
Cory gave a conciliatory nod. "Normally I'd agree with you, Eli. But," he pointed to the computer screen, "it turns out the girls we want are superheroes. We're at least now in some sort of B-list comic book plot now. Maybe a Japanese cartoon if you want to push the magical girl angle."
Eli wanted to argue, but the longer he watched, the more the universe seemed to bend in Cory's direction.
They both exchanged confused looks before Cory asked, "Well?"
Eli raised an eyebrow. "Well what?"
"Who is Angela?"
"How the hell am I supposed to know?"
"Well, we knew the first two."
"That doesn't mean we know the others."
Cory sighed. "I suppose that's right."
It was silly to have thought they'd know all of the Spirit Guard, especially given they had made the opposite assumption heading into this ill conceived plan. Part of him wanted to poke fun at Cory's assumption how life was turning into a comic book movie, but something about the name Angela nagged at the back of his mind. If there was one thing Eli had learned in his years of being around Cory, it was that waiting to gloat was never a bad idea.
“I kind of cheated in our earlier conversation. I knew a lot more than I was letting on.” When the video finally caught up, Spirit Guard Valor stood, was replaced by a very attractive blonde. A very attractive blonde that Eli was pretty sure he recognized.
Cory let out a low whistle. "Yeah, I'd remember that face."
Eli was sure glad he had decided to hold back on gloating. "I do remember that face."
Cory's full attention turned away from the screen. "You do? I thought you said you didn't know her."
"I said I didn't know who 'Angela' was." Eli grumbled, making Robert's response difficult to hear. "And it was true. But seeing her face... I've met her."
"When I was returning my sister's calculator. She's my sister's room..." A thought sparked through Eli's mind. "Vivian came over with my sister to check up on us after the monster attack."
Cory shrugged. "Yeah? So. Mal was just checking on us after a monster attack. A perfectly normal thing for a sister to do."
Eli shook his head. "Why did Mallory bring Vivian?"
"Because Vivian was obsessed with the Spirit Guard," Cory replied before Eli smacked him on the head. "Ouch!"
"Vivian IS Spirit Guard, you moron," We just heard her admit that she had come to check on Rob."
"Oh right." Cory puffed his cheeks out. "I forgot that Vivi being a Spirit Guard is a thing now."
Eli sighed through grit teeth. "You're not getting my point. My sister showed up with a Spirit Guard. My sister is roommates with a Spirit Guard. And when I was over at her place yesterday, the other Spirit Guard we've seen, Kara, was hanging out at her place."
Cory sat upright and held his hands out in a stopping motion. "Tap the breaks here, dude. Are you suggesting Mallory is the last Spirit Guard? The only one that's left is Tenacity, and she looks nothing like your sister."
That was true. They did look nothing alike. Sure, they were both tall, athletic, and had brown hair, but they didn't look similar at all. She was far too... pretty? No, that wasn't true. Elijah wasn't attracted to Tenacity at all. Of course he could appreciate the fact that she was a rather stunning woman, yet Elijah wasn't attracted to her.
But Cory was.
"Cory," Eli asked, "you've always thought my sister was cute. You spent the entirety of middle school and half of high school pining after her."
Eli leaned in to accentuate his point. "I didn't think Tenacity was gorgeous. You do."
Cory opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. Eli enjoyed these moments. But the moment was short lived, as a voice over the speakers, no matter how modulated it was, confirmed what his brain couldn't process but his heart already knew. “Yeah. It’s me."
Mallory's phone screen lit up her face as she looked at Eli through Cory's camera hidden around Robert's neck. Eli shook his head. His sister was Spirit Guard Tenacity.
"Sorry for all the shadiness, Robert. As you can imagine, this has gotten very complicated very fast. I definitely didn’t expect the fifth Spirit Guard to be my brother’s and his best friend’s dormmate. I think you can understand now why I said I don’t want to have to bring Eli and Cory into this though. Don’t ever tell them I said this, but they are good guys. I just don’t want to burden them with the secrets this life brings. You can understand that, right?”
"What?" Cory's voice burst over Robert's response. "We can keep a secret. We've done it a bunch!"
"Pff! Doesn't want to burden us?" Eli said with a bit more venom in his voice than he expected. He was mad at his sister. That surprised him. He had just found out his sister was a hero. So why did it piss him off to find this out?
"This is bullshit! I can't believe she didn't tell us!"
"Me neither." Yes, that was the reason he was mad. Because she never told him. But why? It was a perfectly logical thing to tell no one, even if you trusted them to tell no one. The less people who knew, the safer the secret. But it still bothered him.
A thought stopped Eli's introspection. "Cory."
"Says we can't keep a secret." Cory crossed his arms and hunched over. "What?"
"When I went to my sister's place. There were five girls there. My sister, Kara, Vivian, that blonde, and an asian chick."
Cory stopped hunching. "An asian chick? Yeah. Okay, so?"
"That room was filled with four Spirit Guard. And they're saying that Robert is the last Spirit Guard."
"Yeah. That's messed up."
"Yeah. It really is." He shook his head. "But my point is, Cory, who was that asian chick?"
Cory bit down on his bottom lip. "Maybe she's not invol--"
Smoke erupted between the pair. Eli's eyes watered. His throat burned. Coughing followed immediately. The burning sensation reminded Eli of the time Cory had accidently hit him with pepper spray when they were fooling around with Cory's father's emergency preparedness kit in the seventh grade. It wasn't as bad as that, but the air tasted spicy. It was difficult to breath. He had to get out of this cloud. In the back of his mind, he knew that was exactly what whoever created this cloud wanted. But that didn't matter at the moment.
Eli pushed himself off the tool shed to get up. He tripped over Cory as they both fumbled their way out of the cloud. They stumbled a good ten feet before finally tumbling over one another completely. Eli gasped for air, surprised to find his lungs no longer burned. Whatever was in that cloud, it didn't seem to have the staying power pepper spray did; however, his eyes and nose still ran like a faucet and he found himself short of breath.
"What. The hell. Was that?"
"I. Don't know."
The duo untangled themselves and looked back at the cloud. The figure of a small woman was enrobed in the smoke. The figure leapt from the cloud, a puff following her incredible leap from the ground to the roof of the tool shed. Eli rubbed his eyes, though more from disbelief than a need to wipe away his tears. That was easily an eight foot jump.
The silhouette of this woman now stood against the stark white light of the full moon's glow, as if she was the iris of a giant cat, deciding whether or not the two friends would be tonight's dinner. As his vision cleared, Eli realized she wasn't looking at them at all. Instead her back was turned towards them as she examined something in her hands.
Eli coughed out a few words, his throat still dry. "We should. Book it."
Cory's voice sounded equally hoarse. "What about. My laptop?"
"Screw. Your laptop! We need to. Get out of here."
The figure's right hand snapped behind her back and brandished a previously unseen blade partway from it's invisible sheath, as though it had been drawn from the shadows itself. But the blade was no shadow. It shined in the moonlight like a perfect mirror. Eli forced down the giant lump in his throat. Her message was clear. Eli kept his feet planted where he stood.
Cory sighed. "It didn't. Make a. shing sound?"
"You know. Like. In the movies."
Though he was out of breath, Eli was still able to somehow muster up a disbelieving sigh. "Seriously? That is. What you're worried. About? Sound effects?"
"It would make the shing sound if it was kept in a metal scabbard." The figure's voice was surprisingly mousy. Eli had expected something darker, but he had to keep reminding himself, despite Cory's constant instances to the contrary, that life wasn't a plotline of convenience written out by someone for entertainment. "But a metal scabbard dulls the blade. Makes it weak. Only a showman would keep a sword in a metal sheath. My blade is kept in a leather scabbard. Not for show. Are my words plain enough for you?" The voice was slightly accented, hinting that English was not her native language.
Cory laughed nervously. "Uh, yeah. Plain words. Staying right here."
The figure turned, revealing what she had in her hands: Cory's laptop. But what Eli noticed most was the only feature he could see on her: her dark, penetrating, almond-shaped eyes. Though her mouth was covered in some sort of cloth, Eli could plainly read her frustrated expression. That's when Eli recognized her.
Cory glanced over at Eli. "She the asian chick?"
Eli nodded. "Yup."
"Why does your sister have a ninja?"
"Who knows?" Elijah scratched at his eyes, thankful that whatever made that smoke sting so much, it wasn't anywhere close to as long-lasting as pepper spray. "Makes about as much sense as everything else tonight."
"Really? I don't think the ninja thing makes sense at all."
"And you think any of what has happened so far tonight makes sense?"
"I don't know. Everything was kind of following a magical girl plot until this ninja thing."
"Dear god, Cory. This isn't a movie!"
The asian chick sheathed her sword and closed Cory's laptop. She slipped it into some sort of satchel bag on her back that blended perfectly with her skintight... Eli really didn't' know what to call it. Morphsuit? He doubted ninjas would call it a morphsuit.
She jumped off the roof and landed on the ground as silently as a leaf falling from a tree. She marched up to Eli with all the authority of a drill sergeant, but was struck by how small she was. If she was even five feet tall, he would have been shocked. "You are Elijah Drake and Cory Frost respectively. Correct?"
There went all hope of his sister not finding out. "Yes."
"You two are to walk in front of me. We will be approaching the Standridge Circle. I will explain what I've caught you doing. I will take this laptop to get any trace of this video wiped from its memory. What happens from there will be determined by the Spirit Guard."
Cory held up a finger. "When you say wiped, you don't mean, like, a complete wipe, do you? Because, I mean, I got files on there that I haven't backed up and..."
"That will be determined by our computer expert."
"Can you at least back up my files that..."
"Your files are not my concern. The integrity of the Spirit Guard's secret identities is."
"Well could you put it in power save mode? I don't want to use up all the battery on..."
Eli smirked as the asian chick shut her eyes and groaned. It made him feel good that he was not the only person that Cory could wear out just by simply talking. "Let me make myself clear, Mr. Frost. I don't care one whit about you or your computer. If I were to follow the edicts of my clan, you would already be dead because you are a security risk to my clients now. You are rather fortunate that my clients are much kinder than I and connected to you. Otherwise we would not be having this conversation. You would be dead, and I would be deciding where to hide your body. Am I plain?"
Cory opened his mouth, but no words came out. He simply shrugged and nodded his head. The asian chick said nothing else, but turned and marched away from the forest, towards the Circle. She didn't seem to doubt that they would both follow her as instructed.
Eli trudged after her, staring at the moon with resignment. Cory, who Eli figured was still stunned that murder had been on the ninja's mind, paused for a moment before he hurried to catch up. "Dude, what are we going to say to Mal?"
Elijah shook his head, keeping his gaze afixed to the moon. Half-an-hour ago, they were there to find out why his roommate had glowed. Now his roommate was apparently a priestess of a long dead empire. He was following a ninja that had admitted that killing him would be more her style. His summer crush, Cory's would-be girlfriend, and his sister were combat cheerleaders who risked their lives regularly to save the populace from monsters. His sister had known all this and never said a word to him. "I don't know, but I intend to get some answers."
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