Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Insert Inconclusive Science Experiment Here

Note: Jared returns from his vacation at some point before this chapter, off-screen.

Sometimes, when an author attains popular status his or her earlier works become next-to-forgotten. This is uncommon enough in the realm of prose fiction; however, it's a bit more of a usual occurrence when applied to mangaka. Bisco Hatori is one example. She is well-known for her ongoing work, Ouran High School Host Club, but she had stopped working on the series Millennium Snow in order to continue with what was her breakout hit. Also, Katsura Hoshino is relatively famous for being the artist of DGray-man. Actually, DGray-man was derived from previous oneshots called Zone and Continue. This Author isn't saying that she doesn't understand the reasoning behind these happenings, but the fact of the matter is that relatively small pocket fandoms are created as a result, and even the Library's computers find it hard to reach to the corners of every fandom like this. In cases where a Sue might pop up, it is the prerogative of the author responsible to personally report any Sueish activity to the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society.

In one such fandom, Lela Persim Spica Clover Ginger Sarah Minnie Kai-Lee had recently made a reappearance. She didn't immediately set about any noticeable agenda, so the negligible number of authors who actually wrote for the fandom had ignored her presence altogether. Only one individual was made aware of Lela as soon as she set foot on fandom soil, and she was the person that Lela would have hidden from the most. Unfortunately – for which party? – Lela could not break her bond with the Author Cay. A week after her arrival, Lela was joined by her companion Viva Fontaine Sirius Heather Shevon Cello Miriam Skerry. By that point, Cay had still not decided what to do about the situation. Lela didn't seem to be causing any trouble yet, but Cay kept tabs on all her characters, and she'd heard that the Society had been going through some hard times. The Librarian had died. The capture of an outstanding Sue might raise the morale of Karissa and Charis, a little, and if she worked it right she could possibly ensure a happy ending for all three of her creations.

On a particular Wednesday afternoon she set to typing in a Word document...


"What do you want to do?" The question hung awkwardly in the air rather like a baited trap – no one wanted to touch it – but unless Karissa, Charis or Lily could answer it, they were going to continue wandering aimlessly in this generic shopping mall for a very long time indeed.

The third Sunday of each month was traditionally supposed to be the Society's "Ladies Night Out". Normally nothing short of a full-scale Sue invasion could prevent this evening from happening, but in fact, the Society had just faced down a full-scale Sue invasion. Willowe had finally been defeated, but Adrian had died in the relevant battle as well. That meant that no one had been in the mood to point out the date on the calendar this month; or if anyone had felt like having some fun might be beneficial, they didn't think it was respectful to admit to it. Karissa and Charis should have been in one of these two groups. Their Author had certainly imbued a sense of tact into them, along with other things, when she'd written her characters to life. But in any case, it was Charis who had suggested going ahead with the ladies' night, if only on a smaller scale. She claimed to have her reasons.

Mostly, Charis found it hard to keep mourning when the catalyst of everyone's grief was but a haze in her mind. The events of what was dubbed "Red Skies Twilight" were completely lost to her memory and thus the news of Adrian's death following seemed unreal. Karissa had displayed less dispassion to the chaos that reigned in the Library once they'd been dumped back into the storyline by Cay; however, over time her sympathy had shifted solely onto their leader, Tash. A few days ago Tash Marquand had left the Society "for a well-needed break", as it was being spread around. No one doubted that the British Agent needed space to recuperate from her lover's death, but Karissa fretted all the same that the leader's departure was symbolic of something else. When Karissa got overly emotional her invisibility inherited reign to do as it pleased. Charis had misplaced her sister a dozen times yesterday when stress quite simply caused her to disappear from view, and then deciding enough was enough, she had roped Lily into accompanying them on an outing today to "blow off some steam".

It had been easy enough to get everyone out of the Library, once Karissa regained her visible form. It had been peanuts to open a plothole into Greendale Mall, courtesy of the Sabrina the Teenage Witch fandom. The only thing Charis had forgotten was how hard it was to coordinate peoples' interests in order to make any decision whatsoever about their plans. Should they get something to eat (not hungry), should they watch a movie (not in the mood), which way should they walk (I don't know, my feet were headed in this direction). Deciding to "be spontaneous" and wait for something to occur to them was contradictory to the very essence of spontaneity. Eventually they were window shopping because it was a "safe" pastime, and they were capable of staring into the displays without mustering much enthusiasm.

Although Karissa and Charis both liked Lily – and they hoped the regard was mutual – at first the atmosphere was so tense that Charis was ready to admit defeat and open a plothole back "home". She turned back from her position ahead of the other two, to say as much. But she saw that Karissa and Lily had already stopped outside a store a few paces back. Lily was eyeing a bedecked mannequin thoughtfully, and as if sharing the same thought Karissa said, "Wouldn't that top look good in an entirely different outfit...as part of your outfit?" Lily made a noncommittal noise, but it was true that she'd been wearing the same clothes ever since she'd joined the Society. There was nothing wrong with her dress, but the all-green theme that she'd maintained mostly by force of habit reminded her vividly of her past as a Sue. There wasn't any harm in going in to enquire about what the mannequin wore... Oddly enough, once they had transitioned from window shopping to actual shopping, the three girls were able to begin enjoying themselves.


They returned to the Library with collectively higher spirits. In the end, Lily had not bought just the top from the display, but she had replaced her entire wardrobe as well. She wore a slender-fitting long-sleeved dress shirt in a neutral colour that ranged between white and grey. It was the kind commonly advertised as "Her Boyfriend's Shirt". Lily had blushed at the name, and protested the flared sleeves that fell down over her hands, covering her Pin-studded bracelets. "They're only improvised, sure. I could do better than a couple of hair bands but, still, I'd like it if they showed," she said.

"But you can still see them. Notice how every movement you make causes the sleeves to shift, so that your bracelets are alternately revealed and concealed? It would be better if your method of attack isn't so visible so that you can catch your opponent off guard. Remember how Doug reacted the first time he fought against you and your Pins? Same idea." With some clever words Karissa managed to mollify the embarrassed Agent. Lily really did look nice, and she'd helped her pick out a white skirt – short, but not a miniskirt by Michael's standards – which was paired with a pair of clean white canvas sneakers tied by long black laces onto her feet. Lily's growing green hair hovered a few centimetres above shoulders now clothed in white-grey linen. Her hair colour would still set her apart from most, Aster being one exception, but against a background of pale hues her signature shade of emerald green didn't look too startling.

After saying goodbye to Lily – who was most likely headed to Ben's room next – the two girls left behind took a turn to lead them to one of the Library's common areas. Being a library, despite all of the other extraordinary qualities it possessed, you might have expected the inside of the Library Arcanium to be a bit quieter. However, this was the Society after all, and a group of Agents seemed to be in the process of trying to conduct some sort of... event. Karissa couldn't immediately figure out what Tyler, Drake and Michael were trying to do, and Charis didn't even bother trying to evaluate the situation any deeper than its face value. Superficially it appeared that the three male agents were chasing after a paper airplane, and that was all.

Still, Karissa frowned. "I didn't think paper airplanes could move like that." The paper craft was climbing higher and higher, exhibiting sharp rolls and swerves to escape the reaching fingers of any who came close. Tyler had pulled out his staff to try and knock the thing down, but all of a sudden the plane shot to an altitude of at least fifteen feet. Tyler waved his arms a little ridiculously before deciding that his effort was better spent elsewhere, and he pulled out a cookie to eat, which he had probably stolen earlier. Metaphorically, he passed the torch on to Jared for his turn to attempt catching the rogue aircraft. For his part, it didn't look like Jared was doing much. He was fiddling with a considerably undersized walkie-talkie.

"Bring out the helicopters... I repeat, bring out the helicopters."

"Charis, duck!"

By the time Karissa had realized who exactly Jared was communicating to, four LPGB Cobra helicopters proceeded to burst out of the nearest air vent. The miniature menace known to her as General Idea helmed the helicopter in the lead. "Men, I want that vessel grounded!" The LPGB flew literal circles around the paper plane, but for three minutes or more it continued to fly figurative circles around the LPGB. Evasive manoeuvres brought the plane up ahead of the helicopters tailing it, and then the paper plane performed a loop-the-loop that the toy helicopters were simply unable to reproduce. "At this rate we'll run out of fuel before we can catch that blasted thing. You, soldier, can't you pilot our vehicle any faster?" A harassed-looking Private Property furiously shook his head no.

"This isn't going anywhere soon." As a bystander, Charis was allowed to say these things.

In the middle of the action, Michael looked as if he'd come to the same conclusion. "Jared, can they bring that thing down or not? This is taking too– ah!"

Michael broke off in mid-speech as a distortion in the air above them was revealed to be Cristoph. The ninja was crouched on top of one of the Library's massive – and newly restored – bookshelves. In a single leap, he jumped to the top of another shelf. Methodically, he came closer and closer to where the LPGB still harried the enchanted airplane. Just as the helicopters herded the paper plane his way at last, Cristoph snatched it from the air with an incredible speed. With ease, he then dropped to the floor of the Library, landing with barely a sound. "Here you are, Lord Michael." He presented the plane.

"Thank you Cristoph," Michael replied, effectively ending the whole affair. As Tyler and Jared stole off in the background, Cristoph vanished, and the Society Leader alone gave the object in his grasp a cursory glance. Despite a thorough study, its exterior yielded no clues to its origin, so he unfolded the design. Somehow he was able to tell that the charm fled the paper at that moment, leaving an absolutely normal note behind. He read the writing that had been enclosed on the plane's insides, and then surprisingly he turned to Karissa and Charis. They hadn't been sure he'd noticed them standing to the side. "I think this is for you two," he said.

"Really?" Karissa took the sheet of paper curiously. Written in precisely neat print was one sentence and no more: There are two Sues together in クリムゾン シェル. "That translates to Crimson Shell, doesn't it? That's one of the manga Cay introduced me to."

"If there are Sues there, our computers haven't picked anything up," Michael remarked mildly. "Yet that paper plane was obviously the work of someone knowledgeable. Is your Author trying to tell us something?"

"It's not her writing," she said shortly in return. Charis took the paper from her sister's hands and confirmed the fact. "However, the description of two Sues in close company can only fit Lela – and Viva. We'll go and check things out."

Michael watched them with an odd look on his face. "Some other Agents are out on missions today too. We won't be able to watch all of you on the monitors at the same time, so don't hesitate to use your Communicators if you run into trouble."

"Of course," would have been an appropriate response if Karissa hadn't already dragged Charis away and down the stairs to the Science corridor.


Crimson Shell, being a one-volume story in all its entirety, was somewhat mysterious. The mansion where events took place was somewhere in southwest Britain, but that's as much as anyone knew in regards to the manga's setting. In this world, a mad scientist – genius first, mad later – bred a flower whose seeds he implanted in human beings. The majority of the children of the Premier Rose grew to be Black Roses, and the hosts of the Black Roses seemed to retain their humanity for the most part. However, in order to survive they had to let their roses feed on other people for nourishment; as well, when they had aged to a certain extent they would succumb to a disease called the "black spot" and die.

The organization that had originally researched the Black Roses to use them as possible weapons quickly turned against their subjects, becoming Red Rose in order to capture the dangerous experiments. One reason Red Rose so suddenly persecuted the Roses was because the Roses' creator disappeared without a trace; without his presence Red Rose was afraid they couldn't control the Roses. Another reason was that a Crimson Rose was discovered. The Crimson Rose did not need to feed on humans, and in contrast to the short-lived Black Roses it was rumoured that her Premier Seed granted eternal youth and immortality. Red Rose acquired the Crimson Rose and her Thorn, surrounded her with a group of guards called Crimson Shell, and then set about their extermination of the Black Roses. Most often, Red Rose dealt with the Roses' Victims – hapless people who had been infected with the poison of a Black Rose until it drove them insane – but the manga's primary antagonist was a Jet Rose, a host that had been particularly compatible with his Seed.

Claudia, the Rose Witch, was the name of the Crimson Rose. Shion Liddell was the name of the young Jet Rose who should have been killed. Should have was the objective word today, as Karissa and Charis wandered the halls of Red Rose's headquarters questioning canon characters. "Sub-leader Xeno and Shion Liddell's bodies were never found when we dug up the Second Laboratory," a faceless subordinate repeated to them. "Usually when the roses have finished feeding on someone's life, at least the corpse is left behind. In the case of Xion-sama and Shion-kun we uncovered no trace of them after unearthing all the rubble. We can only hope they're not still out there."

Karissa scowled as she and Charis walked away from the man. "I can't make heads or tails of everyone's answers. In the manga they hadn't found Xeno or Shion's bodies either, but I can't shake the suspicion that it's wrong! My instincts are telling me that despite this fandom's vague open ending, Shion Liddell is not dead, and that's something to do with Lela's interference. Do you think that Lela's back to her old seduction routine? Shion can't be more than 12 years old. He's exactly her type."

"If he's alive then what would explain the general inactivity reported of the Black Roses? Surely Shion would want revenge against Claudia. He learned his lesson in the end, but to avenge the death of Victoria I believe he'd try to attack Red Rose again. Even if he decided to let her death slide, Shion's never had complete control over every Black Rose. There should still be some erratic attacks and Victim casualties." Charis didn't know everything about Crimson Shell so she carried a copy of volume one, flipping through pages to find proof for her arguments.

"Hmmmm," Karissa didn't sound totally convinced about either of their theories. She'd been hoping Charis would just categorically agree with her.

"Excuse me." A hooded girl? boy? stood in their path. "Who [are] you? I've heard you're [asking] around about the Black Roses [and] the Jet Rose. Where do you sit [within] our organization?" Les was an androgynous child that Karissa vaguely remembered from the manga. He/she mumbled, so that explained the smattering of words that she heard missing from his/her questions.

"Ah, you're Les-chan. I'm Karissa, and this is Charis. We're new members of Crimson Shell, assigned here since... you've lost some of your members." Karissa fibbed, and fibbed well, but she couldn't help stumbling over the end of her sentence because she was reminded abruptly of the loss of Adrian.

After Shion, Les wasn't predisposed to trust any new members ever again, but he/she couldn't deny the logic in the girl's words. She was wearing organization uniform too, and her sister wore her identifying pin in the proper place up on her necktie. "You believe [that] the Black Roses remain active then? I heard [gossip] that there's been a change in [their] leadership. Nobody will believe me."

Karissa gasped. "I knew it! Lela's taken up with Shion, and she's trying her hand at being a Villain Sue for once!"

"You speak of the [Jet] Rose again. Are you really [part] of Crimson Shell?" Les' eyes took on a defensive slant, and his/her left hand reached for the pistol on his/her thigh.

"Sleep, Les." Before he/she could draw her gun, Charis placed a handkerchief smelling of chloroform in front of the boy/girl's face. Expertly, she held her hand in place until she felt Les go slack, and then she lowered the unconscious body to the ground. "So it looks like we have to get into the Black Rose headquarters. Where is it?"

"Crap, I don't know."


Thank goodness that Charis had brought a copy of the manga with her. As improbable as it sounds, what finally brought the sisters to the headquarters of the Black Roses were depictions of the interior of the building from no more than two panels in the whole volume. They spent a long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long time searching for rooms that matched the illustrations, but time flowed differently here, as evidenced by the fact that the series spanned only five days anyhow. Exhausted – and more than a little irritated – Karissa nonetheless favoured barging right in to the lair of the Roses.

"At least let's take a breather first," Charis scolded, mothering her sister. "Here's some water, and some rolls I snatched from the kitchen before we left the Library." She took a long drink, herself, and when she'd emptied her water bottle she wouldn't have minded having some more liquid inside. Their exploration had left her seriously dehydrated.

"Now, let's go," Karissa said impatiently. "Who knows that Lela could be plotting in there? She's never had a turn at being evil before, but she has a more than adequate role model in Viva. Ugh, she could be corrupting Shion in more than one sense, too."

"Gross! You have a dirty mind." For all her eagerness, Charis managed to overtake Karissa as a giggling fit seized her. Once they'd entered the building, still in the lead, Charis noted distractedly, "The layout of this place is a bit similar to the Library, don't you think?" Following that reasoning, she let her feet run on autopilot, on a course that would have taken them back to the common room they'd left hours before (if they were in the Library). There was a common room pretty much where she'd expected it to be and, on a couch covered in the flickering shadows of firelight, the unmistakable side profile of Lela could be seen leaning forward to blot out Shion's smaller face with a kiss...

"Cease and desist, Lela! You're not molesting any more little boys on my watch!"

Immediately, Lela's gaze snapped up and locked onto Karissa's but – being a Sue – she avoided the deer-in-headlights look. The expression on her face was hard to describe. All the other times she'd encountered Lela, upon confrontation, Karissa had seen her face twist into indignant fury, boredom, mischievous delight, or a brand of taunting cruelty. Here, she didn't seem that surprised to see them, but there was a trace of unexpected fear in her eyes. Lela wasn't scared to see Karissa per se, but for the first time she looked as if she were afraid of what Karissa would take away from her. Karissa had once theorized that, until she was forced from the Kuroshitsuji fandom, Lela hadn't known that the relationships she twisted weren't real; she'd treated her men like playthings, for sure, but she'd thought they were nevertheless devoted to her. After Kuroshitsuji, she'd known better, and to retaliate at Karissa she'd sprung a trap for them in the Midnighters fandom. Right now, though, Lela looked at Karissa like she was going to destroy something she'd really worked hard for. That was impossible.

Lela urgently placed a finger to her lips in the universal sign for "quiet". Seeing no reaction from either Karissa or Charis, she then slowly edged forward and placed a kiss on Shion's forehead – he was sleeping, Karissa realized. "That was all I was going to do, honestly. What Shion and I have isn't lustful; we're more like brother and sister."

Karissa laughed to hide her misgivings. "Sure. Like I haven't heard that before. You already tried to be a sister to Ciel Phantomhive, and that didn't work out."

"It's not the same this time," Lela insisted softly. "I haven't used my Sue powers to mess with Shion at all. I haven't used my powers since I came into this fandom, except to save Shion from the collapsing laboratory! And... Shion and I became friends after I saved his life. We've been teaching each other how to curb our destructive tendencies. He doesn't want to kill anymore, and I–" Lela glanced away. "I don't want to be a Sue any longer," she whispered.

You couldn't have floored Karissa more effectively if you'd socked her in the gut and, likewise, Charis looked like someone had torn her laptop from her arms and smashed it upon the ground into a million little pieces. Karissa's jaw gaped like a goldfish, helpless while trying to create words, and then she asked, "If you're that serious about reform, why not simply come back with us to the Society? We'd permanently prohibit you, that's all, but you'd be free to stick around after."

Lela scoffed, like other Sues had done before her. "Don't kid. If I entered the custody of the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society, I'd be signing my own death warrant."

"No," Karissa replied forcefully. "Palm Tree Foxblade is in the care of the Society right now, and she's thriving. She's learning how to be a normal little girl. Bella Francine Carolyn Michelle Tracy Hannah Anna Paula Jenny Darline Karen Ginger Aubrey the Fourth is now a member of the Society, and she's living happily! She's in love with our Agent Ben! Surrendering to the Society isn't the worst you can do. And if you want to be left alone, it's the smartest thing to do. Once you've retired from the public, Charis and I won't have to chase you around anymore. And if you choose to stay inside the Library at all times, I can guarantee Cay almost never visits." Karissa's voice transitioned from passion to a resentful bitterness at the last.

Lela looked shocked. "Karissa – that rush of emotion across my empathy – you feel the same way that I do, don't you?" When she wouldn't answer, Lela tried to reach out to the feelings she'd felt; ones that had resonated just like her own. "Cay never acknowledged me after the first few days that she started my story. It was hard being forgotten, so I tried to be independent by my own choice. I made myself a little bit of a Sue, at the beginning. In the time that passed, sometimes her attention would drift back, but every time she left it was even harder to cope. I disowned her so that she couldn't come back to me. I embraced being a Sue, and as I levelled up she never even noticed. I thought that meant she never cared."

Karissa looked sullen at being found out, but she couldn't disagree with Lela's heartfelt words. "Yes, I've been through that. I didn't get as far as you did, because Sueishness disagreed with me, but all the rest is close enough to the truth."

Agent and Sue shared a moment. Charis sensed that she shouldn't intrude, but she couldn't help wondering how two relatives by the same Author could be so different from her. Their problem was that they thought solely with their hearts; their brains didn't have much say in the matter. They let Cay wound them so much...

The corners of Lela's lips twitched, and she smiled uncertainly. "Is this my final answer? I suppose I can accept conditional detention." Compared to her whispers earlier, Lela's volume had reached room-level by this time. Perhaps attracted by her voice, a black cat entered the room, twining around Karissa's ankles.

"That's great, Lela," Karissa smiled gently in return. She didn't comprehend why Lela's features had turned back to fear, or why the brunt of her terrified stare fell on the domesticated feline making its way across the carpeted floor. "Is that your pet? I thought you were allergic to dander."

The animal hissed at them. Barings its fangs, its mouth became a wide black hole, and Viva Skerry's voice emitted from it. "I was sworn to protect you from the Society until the day you died, Mistress. I'm afraid I must assume that you no longer need that protection. This contract is broken." Viva performed the same trick she'd pulled in the Midnighters fandom – Karissa cursed, recognizing the danger now - and the demon's form became disparate from the cat. Before Karissa could blink, Viva fell upon Lela, and all that could be heard was a high shriek before silence resumed.

Karissa stared in horror at the bloody hole Viva had rent in Lela's abdomen. A silvery fume rose up from the Sue's chest, and Viva's teeth closed on it with relish. Charis turned green. "It's regretful that I had no time for a clean meal, but that would have taken too much time with you Agents here," Viva grinned wickedly. She stood. She still mirrored Lela in some aspects of her shape, but the demon was meaner now. The bones in her face stood out more starkly in a lean face, and her crimson irises were otherworldly. "Who wants to play next? The self-pitying sensitive? Or the repressed-emotional techie?" But it was neither of them that screamed and attacked Viva – it was Shion.

He whipped out an arm, and the vines of his roses burst through the surface of his skin, arcing through the air towards Lela. A thorny strand wrapped taut around her wrist, pulling her forward some distance – but that was only until she recovered from her surprise. With a full-fledged smirk she dug her feet in, and then it was Shion that was thrown off balance. "How dare you hurt my friend!" Shion raged, using his roses to propel himself upright. His voice caught in his throat. "–to Lela!" He threw himself at her, roses in frenzy about him, but just as the first thorns cut a swathe down her cheek, Shion came to an unnatural stop. He shuddered and looked down to find Viva's clawed hand firmly through his stomach. With a gurgle, he clutched the bloodstained area and crumpled. His weight pulled him off Viva's arm and to the floor, another body on the floor.

"That was barely worth the effort," Viva said viciously, as if Shion's life hadn't been worth the taking. But Karissa saw that Shion wasn't dead just yet. His roses were still flung far from his body, and they began to slither along the ground as he hacked blood from his lungs. If the roses could consume enough flesh he could revive and give Viva another run. But as the vines nearest Viva cracked through the air, they rose too high. Instead of aiming at the demon they struck the ceiling, and chunks of plaster began to rain down on them. Viva laughed in amusement. "Déjà vu. I didn't realise, but this pathetic boy dies almost exactly according to canon! The Mistress may have saved him from death once, but to die in the same manner a second time is too ironic!" Viva stalked closer, trying to get at the Agents. Successive vines sought the demon's warm body, but Shion's roses couldn't seem to damage Viva in any way that mattered. They were merely an annoyance she had to bypass to target Karissa and Charis.

A few of Shion's dead vines found their way into the fire, and soon the carpet began to burn as well. If Viva didn't kill them first, the building would come down around their ears. Karissa felt helpless, because none of her martial arts could have any effect when the enemy was so distant – but she didn't want Viva any nearer anyways. Charis never had any fighting skills to reckon with, but in the same manner as their mission in the Midnighters fandom, she recalled that she had one last "weapon" to use against Sues. Charis let the utility pouch around her waist unfold, and she took hold of an octahedron secured in a row of similar shapes. Folding her fingers around its surface, she tossed it to the ground towards Viva. Karissa imagined it was a rather undersized grenade; the demon spared no interest for speculation. Tumbling upon the ground, it became apparent that the octahedron had figures painted only two sides. As it flickered in the dim lighting, everyone saw the Chinese characters for four, and eight. The gadget landed eight face-up.

Charis' line of sight imploded with a barrage of information. Rapidly moving images swam in her mind like television on hyper fast-forward, and she struggled not to give in to the sensory overload. The Spoiler triggered a premonition of another exit, an escape route through a door that had not been blocked by fallen beams and flame. "Karissa!" she called, directing her sister to what would have been a closet in another time. The back wall had been knocked down to lead to the next room. "Karissa, over here!" she called again. Charis saw that her sister was delayed because she'd gone back to get Lela's body. She carefully dragged it towards Charis' position while taking care not to let it be snatched by Shion's berserk roses. Shuttering their eyes against the smoke, they "three" shuffled through empty rooms that set ablaze only slightly slower than they passed through. Scarcely when they'd reached outside they became aware of the complete spectacle – the Black Roses' headquarters would be destroyed more absolutely than just the library in Red Rose had.

As they solemnly watched the conflagration they felt a huge displacement in the atmosphere, and they guessed that meant Viva had left the fandom. But the story didn't reset. Charis looked down at the body formerly known as Lela, and she felt a bit sick to her core. She said awkwardly, "I don't think events will realign to canon until... Lela's body is removed."

Karissa looked down also. "We should say a couple of words for her, shouldn't we? She was going to turn over a new leaf. She deserves as much as one of us." But she had no idea what to say in this situation any more than her sister did.

"You can start by reciting her proper name. Lela Persim Spica Clover Ginger Sarah Minnie...Koi. It means 'love and tender passion'. She started to show her true colours in the end." From a newly opened Plothole, Cay stepped into the world of Crimson Shell. She was dressed from head to toe in black, and she carried a bunch of white roses cradled in two arms. She continued to speak evenly as she walked. "In life Lela was misunderstood, and she was not treasured when she ought to have been. She was hurt and therefore inflicted hurt greatly. Death put a stop to Lela's struggle to be recognized, but death cannot mend the hearts of those left behind who finally realized what a gift her personality was. One day we will meet again, in a better place, and we will cry no more. Until then memories will keep us going. Love will get us through the dark times. Rest in peace, Lela, until we meet again."

Karissa wasn't religious, but she sent a prayer to heaven for Lela's devoured soul; surely she would receive salvation. As Cay concluded her speech, Karissa realized that an Author still had things to offer, after all; maybe Cay did love them. "You're crying," she observed. When Cay took off her blank mask, it turned out Karissa was right.

"I failed you. All of you. Lela was supposed to live and leave with you two, but I left this story for too long and Viva grew a will of her own. She killed Lela herself – right at the very instant the story had stopped. You were all supposed to have happy endings...not like this." The moisture at the corner of Cay's eyes coursed over the edge as regret rang through her apology. Karissa and Charis extended arms to envelop their Author in a tight hug. "You have to go back to the Society. Promise me you'll give deserving Sues the second chance that belonged to Lela."


When Tash returned from her sojourn things at the Library had almost gone back to normal. There was chatter that drifted past open doors, and not everyone was afraid that disturbing the peace when Tash was around had meant that they didn't care. Tyler ran into one of Adrian's lingering traps, and he suffered no more harm than he would have Before. Ben made a particularly bad pun during a lunch break and Shirley was galvanized into action like she hadn't been for a long time. It was bad form to laugh at someone in distress, but it was merely a relief to laugh. People were breaking out of the shells that had formed over the last month. Like a butterfly breaking out of the cocoon, their renewed hope was a little more fragile; but it was beautiful to behold.

Karissa was a late bloomer, inside the metaphor of the butterfly. Because everyone had known and liked Adrian, Karissa had previously been able to show her grief openly. She did not feel so assured in displaying the personal tumult caused by Lela's death. She chided herself about it. Hadn't Ben thought the same things when he'd been afraid to disclose his relationship with Lily? There was no law against feeling something for a Sue. Even in the general sense, most Sues provoked anger in the members, and that was an emotion. But she disregarded her mental logic and kept locking her feelings up. Outwardly she seemed to improve, as with the rest of the Agents. Only Charis knew that Karissa was rotting inside and growing worse.

In an attempt to cheer Karissa up, Cay dropped by one day and left behind a gift. She dispatched a much longer letter, and it did not cause nearly as much havoc as the first, but Charis definitely felt more uneasy handing it over to Karissa. With more lines there was more potential for confusion; trouble. Karissa had reconciled with Cay following Lela's death, but any further miscommunication could open sore spots between them. Karissa, the note read.

As an Author, I know – while you don't, not now – that even more dangerous times are ahead for the Society. I don't want you to be unprepared. Charis won't accept a weapon even if I had one for her, but you're not like your sister. You have the spirit of a fighter in you. That may or may not be while we always conflict whenever we meet, but in light of recent events I would like to put the past between us. We may fight again in the future, but then our disputes will be about new things; there's nothing like the death of a loved one to put the past into perspective. I'd like you to accept this present tailored specifically for you. Its name is Gekkou, and if you look that up in the Japanese-English dictionary I gave you a year ago, you'll know why that's fitting.

You've probably lost that dictionary. But you'll always have the powers of the Internet at your disposal.

It was signed simply, Cay, and again it was not written in what they knew to be their Author's handwriting, but all the markers that stood in Cay's compositions glared out at Karissa. She examined what had been in the package. A length of chain so thin that it almost appeared ornamental was weighted on the ends by long slender spikes of dense metal. Experimentally swinging the chain proved it to be strong and deadly. When Karissa closed her eyes and willed herself to invisibility, the chain faded from view too. She stood up and tucked the weapon into the red silk sash that she wore over her mourning clothes – short black overalls over a spaghetti strap top, with rockinghorse shoes, all black – and she took everything else into her room, walking past Charis in her invisibility. Once inside, she phased out of reflex, but she didn't really need to see her hands in order to take down that dictionary atop her shelf. The book had many pages, and she had to take care not to tear the thin paper, but eventually she found the entry:

Gekkou. Moonbeam.

"I've always kept this dictionary, since the time you gave it to me. Silly to think that I would have thrown it away," Karissa murmured sadly. "Do you think so little of me? Is that how I pretend to regard you?" She sat on her bed in silence for a while, as if expecting Cay to answer through the walls.

"Karissa? It's dinnertime. Did you want to eat with everyone else today?" Charis' voice sounded hesitant. She didn't knock, because she hadn't seen for herself that Karissa had gone in, but she suspected.

Karissa didn't have to answer her sister, but she reflected that was the root of most problems – people chose not to answer questions that might change someone else's life, and so the questioner had to make their own decisions based on what they knew to be wrong or right. Sometimes their judgement was flawed. "Charis, I'll be right out! Save me a seat next to Ben or Doug or someone. If Jared's bringing the LPGB to the table again, make sure that we're sitting as far away from his as possible." She forced a laugh.

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