Friday, May 10, 2013

Insert Mutilated Bedsheet Dresses Here (part 4 of 5)

The slaves emerged from the kitchen, carrying platters of food, which were set down in front of the sprawling guests. The couches and chairs were dotted around the room, and the guests plucked olives, grapes, bread and various meats, leaning as far as they dared toward the centre of the huddle, where their host and most honoured guests were seated.

Harriet had not missed the subtle ingenuity of Atia's seating plan. She and Caesar sat in the centre of the room, commanding total attention, with Octavian not too far away to stimulate intellectual chat, which despite Atia's lack of patience for, was clearly a useful tool for distraction.

Merle and Richard had been located not too far from the kitchen, on the edge of the conversation, presumably as a not-so-subtle insult. Harriet guessed the hostess must also be trying to command attention toward the centre of the room, so that no one would notice when Merle and Richard disappeared too.

However, Merle was clearly not going to let her presence be forgotten so soon. Guests were being inexplicably drawn to her conversations, and her irresistibly smooth voice. Even Caesar and his demi-God status could not triumph over that. And of course, wherever Merle was, Mark Antony was not far behind, sprawled in the next chair and pausing between bites to gaze adoringly at his goddess.

Atia had also been careful to seat Michael's family on the outside of the arrangement, so that they could slip off and work without disturbing the guests. They also sat on the other side of the room, so that they were far away from Merle's ever watchful gaze. Claire and Harriet had been careful to position themselves in front of Alice, lest she be spotted and their cover blown.

"I have no clue what I'm eating..." Harriet declared softly to her fellow agents, holding up some kind of small fowl. "But it tastes really good!"

"Thalia, what's this?" Michael asked, holding up something small and roasted. "I think it's got a tail..."

"That's dormouse," Tash explained, rather knowledgeable about Roman food now from all the serving she was doing. "Roman equivalent of a bag of crisps. There's even some in honey for dessert."

"Ergh!" Alice dropped the rodent, while Michael grinned.

"Cool!" he nibbled at it. "Tastes like chicken."

Claire patted him on the head, and picked up an olive. "Alice? You've barely eaten a thing..."

As she spoke, Alice inched away backwards from the offered olive as though prolonged exposure might infect her with something.

"I don't like green things," she explained. "They threaten me."

She picked up a piece of bread, which was rather safe, and chewed on it thoughtfully. "Lavinia!"

There was no answer, and everyone looked around. There was no sign of the anxious and quiet agent. While not totally unexpected, given that Merle was in the room, Louise not answering a call risked blowing their cover. Alice frowned.

"Where is she? I want wine..."

Michael arched an eyebrow. "You've had quite a bit. We're working, remember?"

Alice gave him a withering look. "Michael, I am a wee bit around the waist... do I look like four glasses of diluted wine will make me drunk? And besides, this doesn't taste like the out-of-date vinegar that we have to drink in Real Life."

Eyebrows arching all the higher, Michael picked up his own glass of wine and sipped it.

Alice turned her head this way and that, she scanned the room for any sign of her housemate. "Okay, now I'm worried... I'm going to look for her..."

"You sure that's a good idea?" Claire whispered. "Are women allowed to wander around alone in this time period?"

Alice shrugged. "You aren't because you're married. I'm going to go where I damn well please, thank you very much."

She rose to her feet, shook her dress out straight, and wandered off.

"...are we sure this is a good idea?" Claire repeated. "Alice has got very friendly since she started drinking."

"Yeah, and she flirts without realising," Harriet added. "Even without the addition of alcohol. She really needs to be tempered in that behaviour..."

A grin crossed Harriet's face as she said the last phrase.

Half way across the room, Alice blinked a few times. "I really have had a bit to drink haven't I?" she muttered aloud.

She trotted off toward the kitchen, her eyes darting ahead of her for any signs of her elusive friend. She heard a set of feet get up and follow her, and she guessed that it must look like she'd been drinking if they felt it necessary to follow her.

There was no sign of Louise in the kitchen, so Alice (swiping another piece of bread from the table as she went), slipped past the flustered slaves, and out the back door. It was still warm, even though it was dark, and were it not for the torches that illuminated the small square courtyard, Alice would not have been able to see. Still there was no sign of Louise, and Alice began to get seriously worried.

"Maybe she went back to the Library..." she suggested to herself, though that didn't seem right. Louise wouldn't run away from Merle.

"Then she's more intelligent than I ever believed."

All the warmth from the evening and alcohol vanished, and Alice leapt around in fright. It was not a Society agent who had followed her after all.

It was Richard.

"Oh... cock..." exclaimed Alice, reaching instinctively to her belt for her sword... only to remember that she was in a flimsy dress, with no weapons to speak of. Her eyes flicked straight to the rooftop, where she knew Phoenixia, Rhia and Cristoph had been watching all the entrances and exits all night, and hoped they would come to help, but to her horror no one appeared.

"You... you…"

The self-satisfied smirk was visible even in the semi-darkness.

"I remember you…" Richard advanced threateningly into the doorway, and Alice skittered back, knocking her ankle against one of the wooden crates. Her sense of entrapment grew to sickening proportions, and she fought to not lose all she had eaten that night.

"Get away from me!" There was no keeping the panic from her voice now, and a frightened squeak escaped her as Richard drew his sword.

"I'm surprised you're even alive," he sounded more amused than genuinely curious about this.

"No thanks to you!" Alice had never heard her voice hit this pitch before, and she swallowed hard as the sharp blade appeared directly under her chin. She could see her terrified face reflected off the metal.

"You won't – you can't kill me here!" she hastily reminded him. "Not in the middle of all these guests!"

The smirk twisted into the kind that only Gary-Stus could pull off effectively. "I can do anything I want."

Groping blindly for time, Alice stuttered. "You can't succeed in killing me, that's for sure. I have allies…"

Now Richard was sneering at her apparent slowness. "What good are you dead? If you're dead, who's Mirani going to come running to save?"

Alice edged sideways, trying to slip away from the deadly sword, reaching backwards and feeling her way along the stacks of boxes. Her knees were shaking and her eyes never left those of her assailant. Richard stepped closer and closer.

"Is that it?" Alice could feel her mouth running away with her in fear. "You simply want to use me to get to my best friend? You sick fuck!"

A crack split the air as he hit her hard, and Alice's face went numb as her body tumbled ungracefully backwards into the stacked boxes. Her cheek began to sting, and as she pulled a box off her head, Richard advanced towards her with murder in his eyes.

"Please..." It didn't matter to Alice that she was begging her enemy for mercy – survival was more important. Richard's expression held not a scrap of leniency.

"I think I'll enjoy making you suffer again..."

He drew back his sword and began to lean forwards to capture his victim, and Alice closed her eyes.

There was a dull thud and the ground shook slightly throwing up dust into the evening air. Alice peeked open one eye, and found that Richard was gone from her view. Slowly her gaze travelled down, until she found him lying face down in the dirt. On his back were Cristoph and Ben, pressing him firmly into the ground. Richard bucked and tried to shove them off, but Cristoph forced his face back into the ground using all his body weight, and set about binding his wrists.

Relief swept over Alice, wiping all thoughts from her mind, except the scattered mantra of "I'm alive..." repeating itself over and over to her own ears.

"Sit still or I'll coffee you to death!" Ben announced, trying to sound impressive.

"...I've heard cheddar cheese that makes better threats than that, Ben," Cristoph stated.

" hear cheese talking to you?" Ben blinked slowly. "God you're weird..."

"Get the hell off me!" Richard roared, trying again to push himself off from the ground. Cristoph kneed him in the small of his back, and continued binding his wrists.

Alice tried to get to her feet, but she was so shaky that she stepped on the end of her dress, and stumbled back to her knees. "You got him... you heard me..."

"Duh," Ben shrugged. "Rhia is keeping an eye on the party, and she and Cristoph traded exits with Nixie half an hour ago. I was sent to check on them, and us two heard you." He grinned widely. "Thought you had an admirer until I realised it was Dicky boy."

Alice shook her head slowly. "I wish it was a secret admirer."

"Maybe he secretly does admire you," Cristoph said absently, tying complicated knots.

"Like hell I admire that fat bitch!" Richard roared, earning another hard elbow in the back of his head for his words.

"Cristoph has a point. Are you sure you weren't flirting with him?" Ben inquired. "You tend to do it subconsciously."

Alice blinked in surprise. "I... do?"

"Yeah, all the time," Ben nodded.

"Cock," mumbled Alice, slightly embarrassed. "Sorry…"

"It's all right," smiled Ben.

"Maybe you should get a boyfriend to practise on properly, Lady Alice," Cristoph suggested mildly.

Alice's face turned irritable. "Watch it, Ninja boy. You sound like my mother."

Ben blinked. "Your… mother tells you to get a boyfriend?"

"Yes, every time I see her." Alice nodded. "She also tells me I should lose weight, start getting proper friends who don't spend their weekends playing games, and stop wearing my fuzz layer, but it's not going to happen!"

Before the boys even had a chance to look horrified, footsteps appeared from the doorway, and the large, imposing figure of Mark Antony strode into the courtyard, followed by an anxious looking Michael, and a worried Claire. Tash hovered in the shadows quietly behind them.

"What is the meaning of this?" the Tribune thundered at the two taken aback slaves. "Do you realise you have attacked a very good friend of mine?"

His voice was filled with rage, and Ben and Cristoph exchanged 'oops?' glances. Protocol demanded they got to their feet and apologise profusely, but common sense told them not to get off Richard at all.

"Bantius, Curius," Michael stepped forward, trying to school his features into one of extreme disappointment. "Explain yourselves."

Ben gulped. "Umm... we... umm..."

"This man was making improper advances on your sister-in-law," Cristoph broke in smoothly, gesturing to Alice. Strangely, Alice did not look shaken any longer. On the contrary, she was looking at Richard as though she were struggling to piece everything together.

"Aelia?" Michael demanded. "Is this true?"

"Yes..." Alice's voice was regaining its normal tone now, anger beginning to seep into her words. "He even held a knife at my throat!"

Mark Antony was starting to look a little less angered, and Michael hastily nudged Tash, the Librarian slipping from his side, and placing a Copyright gently onto the Tribune's back. The character blinked as though a fog were lifting from his eyes, and turned his head curiously toward the slave. Tash lowered her head.

"Pardon me, Dominus..." she muttered demurely, slinking back into the shadows, and winking at Michael as she went. Mark Antony brushed her from his mind, his anger suddenly returning, this time directed at the pinned Richard.

"Well now... that changes everything."

"Indeed," now it was Michael who spoke, striding forwards and looming over Richard. "You have crossed the line here. Do you realise that this woman is my property? You had no right to pursue her in any way, without first asking my permission!"

His in-character anger was suddenly interrupted, as Alice chose this moment to break into unrestrained laughter.

"Richard, me old cock!" She squatted down beside him and slapped him in a condescending fashion on the shoulder, sending his face smacking back into the dirt. "You mind if I cut your balls off and fry them in butter?"

"Go fuck yourself!" Richard snapped angrily, spitting in her face. Alice wiped it away, before grinning widely and snapping her fingers at the two slaves.

"Roll him over, boys, and give me something dull and rusty!"

She grabbed his hair, and pulled his head upright, but before she could do anything, Claire hurried forward and pulled her upwards by the arm.

"Sister dear, this is not proper behaviour, and we are in the presence of the Tribune." She bowed her head to Antony. "I am sorry sir. Relief causes her to forget her manners. Could you please escort her inside?"

As she spoke, Mark Antony raked his eyes up and down Alice's form. Despite her oddly unrestrained way of speaking, he was seeing a well endowed, very pretty single woman, and all-too-welcoming grin slid onto his face. "Nothing would give me greater pleasure," he held out an arm, which Alice gleefully took.

The Society watched them go, and a collective groan went up.

"What?" Claire asked.

"She thinks the guy is sex on legs," Tash began, counting on her fingers. "She fits the bill for a hot woman in Ancient Rome, and you just let her go off with one of the most powerful men in this fandom and in history."

"...oops?" Claire giggled.

"She'll be fine," Michael shrugged. "For now. Let's get Richard Prohibited and in with his brother."

"Keep your hands off me, you bastards!" Richard was struggling again. "I know where you're from! It's obvious! You're with that bitch Mirani!"

"What tipped you off, genius?" Michael asked, folding his arms. "Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society, at your service. Now someone give him a pretty bracelet, and make him shut up."

"Umm... yeah, I kinda lost mine..." Ben admitted sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head.

"Honestly! Men!" Tash huffed. "I'll do it. You lot all get back inside."

She pulled her Prohibitor out, and waved Ben and Cristoph away so that she could sit on Richard instead.

"Oh sit still!" she complained. "Or this is going to hurt...actually this is still going to hurt you."

"Kiss my arse, you whore."

The whole courtyard went silent, and all the agents present suddenly felt the heat get sucked from the air. For a second it looked as though Tash had frozen, and then suddenly she burst into life, seizing Richard's head and slamming it hard into the ground. Over and over she repeated the action, yelling incoherent threats as blood started to stream from the man's nose, until Michael raced forward and grabbed his sister by the arms.

"Thalia – Tash that's enough! You're going to kill him!" he roared in her ear, pulling her off the ground as she thrashed to get free.

"HE'D FUCKING DESERVE IT!" the leader screamed, struggling to break her brother's grip. Ben and Cristoph raced in to restrain Richard again, but it was too late. The Stu leaped to his feet, and elbowed Ben in the stomach as he rushed at him. Snapping his bonds apart, he dodged Cristoph's incoming strike, and leaped clean over the eight foot stone wall in two powerful bounds.

The stunned Society blinked at the space where Richard had vanished. That wasn't in his file…

"" Michael began. "Just... how?"

Cristoph was climbing over the wall, swiftly following the man into the dark streets. Ben staggered to his feet again, winded but unharmed, and Michael finally released Tash.

"We need to find him," he said, turning to the other agents. "Tash, tell Rhia and Phoenixia to stick to their doors like glue. Ben, Claire, get inside and keep an eye on Merle. I'm going to check on Robert. We need to find Richard before he gets back inside and warns Merle that we are here."

The agents scrambled to their tasks, and Michael poked Tash in the spine to snap her out of her frozen state.

"Oi, Aneki... you going to be all right?"

His sister scowled.

"Fine. Let's just find him already... and find Louise while we're at it."

As Tash barged her way back into the kitchen, Michael pinched the bridge of his nose, and followed her at a calmer pace. Claire slipped back to his side, as they returned to the party.

"Is Tashy okay?"

Michael nodded. "I just hope I'm never the one to press her berserk button."


"Anything?" Ben retreated into the shadows, where he had just seen the ninja appear. The party was starting to wind down as it finally hit midnight, everyone too full of food and wine to put much effort into anything.

"I lost him," Cristoph reported. He was pink in the cheeks from running, and his eyes darted around the room. "Ancient Rome, apparently, is like a labyrinth. Has he returned?"

Ben shook his head. "We've been searching for the last hour. No sign of him. And no sign of Louise either."

"If Lady Louise is wise," Cristoph pointed out, "she'll have gone into hiding. Lady Phoenixia is still guarding the rooftop. Rhiannon has checked all the storerooms and found nothing."

As he spoke, Michael slipped over to hear the conversation, and added. "Harriet has checked every inch of this room, with no luck." He frowned. "And I'll tell you who else we haven't seen – Alice."

As he spoke, Claire giggled loudly, and Cristoph's ears went pink.

"Haven't seen Antony either," Ben wriggled his eyebrows. "And no one has checked any of the bedrooms..."

Wincing as his mind entertained images it would rather not, Michael scanned the room, and stopped dead. "When did he get back in?"

Sure enough, Richard appeared to have materialised out of thin air, and was conversing urgently with Merle. The Sue lifted her head, and gazed across the room at the Society agents, who froze like frightened children.

"Oh bollocks," Michael summarised simply. Claire didn't even have it in her to be happy that he had made a British comment, as Merle strode to Atia's side and began to wail loudly.

"Atia my dear, you have been deceived!"

The lady of the Julii house lifted an eyebrow and sighed pointedly, making it obvious she clearly wondered why on earth she should listen to the woman before her. "Oh have I now?"

"Yes. They –" everyone turned to follow Merle's dramatic point toward the Silius family, "are not what they claim to be."

"In what way?" Caesar demanded, standing up and claiming all authority over the situation. Merle clearly was not happy with this intervention, but she carried on regardless. She had the attention of everyone in the room.

"They are plebeians, come here to rob you blind!"

A timely scream broke the tension, and Louise raced headlong out of the kitchen, and straight into the path of Merle. She skidded to a hasty halt, but was too late to stop Merle's hand from seizing her around the throat. Richard was close behind – he appeared to have vanished into the kitchen and found Louise without any of them noticing.

"Hello Mirani," Merle's voice held satisfied relish, as she twisted Louise around and held her tight to her body, a knife appearing in her free hand and pressing against her throat. "How lovely to see you again."

In the blink of an eye, Michael and Tash had surrounded them, swords out, and pointed at their opponents, all traces of their cover gone. Cristoph materialised out of the shadows with his own sword, and Ben pulled a knife out from his tunic. Merle rolled her eyes.

"Oh, put them away, little children," she huffed. "We all know you won't do anything as long as I have little Mirani here."

She pressed the knife closer to Louise's throat, and the agents tightened their circle, ignoring the shocked gasps of the other guests. Richard moved closer to Merle, drawing his own short sword as he did.

There was a stumbling sound from behind the tense scene, and Alice and Antony reappeared. The Tribune was tucking his toga in, a satisfied look on his face, and Alice was pink-cheeked and giggling like a schoolgirl. Her dress was sliding off her shoulder, and she appeared to be walking strangely.

" we walked in at the wrong moment," she giggled to Antony. For the first time that evening, Merle looked shocked, and against her, Louise felt her twitch violently.

"You slept with him?" the Sue gasped. "You slut!"

"Speak for yourself, you brazen hussy!" Alice snapped.

Merle opened her mouth to retort, but never got that far, as Tash took advantage of the distraction and flashstepped behind Merle and Louise, lifting Nephthys to Richard's throat.

"Don't think I won't do it," she hissed. Merle gave her a smug look.

"Oh I have no doubt you would... but I still have Mirani. And you don't want to lose another one, do you, Librarian?"

"Why you –"

"Enough!" Everyone's attention was focused on the powerful voice of Caesar. The Society backed away slightly, and even Richard and Merle looked slightly cowed, as the Consul stepped forward and snapped his fingers at Tash. "You, step away. Manius, control your slave."

Tash glanced fearfully at Michael, whose eyes were flicking back and forth between Merle and Caesar. Finally, after an added glare from the man who ruled Rome, Michael nodded at Tash, and both of them stepped away from their targets, but did not re-sheath their weapons. Satisfied, Caesar turned to Merle, who seemed very taken aback by his intervention.

"Now then. Lady Corvus, my dear, please explain these claims of yours? These people seem perfectly legitimate to myself, even if a little strange."

None of the canon characters seemed to doubt their demi-god, and Merle was clearly doing some very rapid thinking.

"I've never seen them in Rome before," she began slowly. "And they don't seem to know how to act..."

The Consul shrugged.

"I know that they are new in Rome, but they could simply be from one of the provinces. Why don't you let Manius' slave go..."

"She's my slave," Merle interjected, pulling the knife tighter to Louise's throat, and causing the agent to gasp against the pressure, a trickle of blood appearing on her neck. "They robbed me of my own property!"

"You lying little cow!" Michael could keep quiet no longer. "She has never belonged to you!"

"What little you know, boy!" Merle snapped back, squeezing Louise's arm as she struggled to get free. "I own her more than you can possibly imagine! I owned her long before you even knew she existed!"

Hands behind his back, Caesar turned to Merle. "Do you have the slave's papers?"

Merle's face answered that question. "Well... no! Not anymore, clearly!"

"Manius," Caesar turned calmly. "Have you a legitimate claim?"

Michael fidgeted nervously. "I do not have the papers with me... but surely the plaque round her neck will claim my ownership enough."

Louise ceased her struggling and froze, her eyes screwing shut as Caesar's hands swept the nameplate off her chest, and his gaze took in the name engraved on the front. He seemed to consider it, before he released it, and Louise dared to open her eyes again. Caesar paced between the parties.

"I think," he said, emerging from being deep in thought. "That we should ask the third party... the girl herself."

Louise went pale, and began to shake, but Michael felt utterly relieved.

"Yes, excellent idea. Ask her. She'll tell you who she belongs to."

"Umm!" Alice hastily stuck her hand into the air and hurried forward, tripping over her still half-tied dress. "No I don't think so! Manius you clot! Here in Rome, a slave's testimony is only considered valid if it was gained via torture!"

Now it was Michael's turn to go pale.

"...oh bollocks to this!" he finally declared, snapping his fingers at Ben. "Bantius!"

Grinning widely, Ben raised his hand and roared, "My coffeemakers are not controlled by Hoover Dam computers!"

Floodgates rose up behind Ben, and the entire room was instantly submerged in a deluge of red, translucent liquid. Guests screamed, and fled out of the doors, and Ben frowned and dipped his fingers in the substance which had soaked its way through the room.

"This isn't coffee!" he declared, licking his fingers and tasting the unmistakable flavour of red wine. "Cool!"

The rapid turn of events did not faze Merle for long, and she re-sheathed her knife, dragged Louise into the shallow impluvium pool in the middle of the room, and in one swift leap, she was out through the hole in the roof. Richard was behind her not a second later.

The Society agents gawked in surprise.

"How... what... why is there a hole in the roof?" this time it was Harriet who posed the question.

Atia, who had been standing there the whole time, completely unflustered by the events, explained. "Got to keep up with the standards."

Michael cursed his awkward and voluminous toga, which prevented easy climbing, but Tash was ahead of him, her wings bursting out of her back and propelling her up through the hole and onto the roof. Cristoph immediately slid into the shadows, and Ben began finding a sensible place to climb. The Chief Agent rounded on the rest of his agents.

"Rhia! Go watch Robert! The last thing we need is him escaping too! Everyone else outside!"

Alice was already running to the door, as fast as her dress would allow, with Mark Antony following, the twisted pleasure typically seen when marching into battle plastered all over his face. As she left, Michael noticed Caesar being led out of the door by his personal slave, Posca, presumably to somewhere a little less crazy and a lot safer. Grabbing Claire, he raced for the door, with Harriet in hot pursuit.

The Roman roof tiles were curved slats of clay, and Merle's sandals slid against them. Straightening quickly, she gripped Louise tighter, one hand securing her arm behind her back, the other around her neck.

"You have some very annoying little friends," she hissed to her captive, before yelping in pain as Louise kicked automatically backwards into her shin. Merle stumbled on the awkward roof tiles, and a tall figure seemed to materialise from the darkness, and wrenched the two apart. Merle let out a screech of protest as her captive was torn from her grasp, and focused her gaze on Louise's shrinking figure. Her saviour was a tall, busty woman with violet eyes.

"Nixie?" Louise was half shocked, half relieved. The ex-hologram rolled her eyes.

"Don't call me that!" she whined, dumping Louise on the ground as the rest of the Society rushed into the streets. Alice, who was still a little unstable on her feet, immediately glomped her friend.

"Dumpling! You're alive!"

"Funny that," Louise remarked dryly. She turned to thank Phoenixia, only to find the woman already scaling the wall of the house again. "You're going back up there?"

"Duh," Phoenixia rolled her eyes. "There's a fight going on, isn't there?"

"You'll do no such thing!" Appearing from within the house, Mark Antony stripped off his toga, and pushed Phoenixia off the wall. "You, Ignia isn't it? You should attend to your master immediately. I'll see to this chaos."

As he clambered up the wall, Alice was forced to restrain Phoenixia from peering up Mark Antony's tunic, mentioning something about the Romans and underpants. Phoenixia mentioned something about cocks in return, ruffling Alice's hair, then went to the others.

Snarling in a feral manner at losing her hostage, Merle drew her dagger again, but before she could rush the two, the winged form of the Society leader appeared through hole in the roof, Nephthys blazing.

"Hello!" she snarked, before lashing out with her flaming sword. Merle parried the blow, skipping backwards over the roof tiles, and skidding a few meters away. Tash landed, wings withdrawing into her back. She blinked, and her target seemed to wink out of existence. Snapping her head left and right, Tash studied the roof, struggling to spot her quarry.

On the other side of the roof, Richard straightened up on the unstable terracotta surface, and rushed to aid his sire. A sharp pain lanced through the back of his left shoulder, and he spun back around to see Cristoph materialise in the moonlight, shuriken glinting in his hands.

"We have some unfinished business," the ninja greeted, at the same time Ben scrambled ungracefully over the edge of the roof.

Growling like an angry creature, the Stu lunged towards them, drawing his sword. Cristoph dropped and rolled out of the way, skidding some distance on the tiles, looking up just in time to see Ben, pulling his body up the rest of the way over the roof, extracting the dagger from his belt, and jabbing out at Richard's kneecaps. The Stu buckled to the roof, and Ben straightened up, pointing at Richard's head.

"Don't mess with nukes!"

Out of nowhere, a basket fell from the heavens, and landed on Richard's head. A strong smell of fish permeated the air. Richard roared in alarm, ripping the basket to pieces, and threw two of the fish with considerable force, just as Mark Antony appeared over the edge of the roof. The Tribune ducked the oncoming targets, hearing the fish land with a wet slap on the street below.

Grabbing two more fish, Richard threw them at Ben, who was examining his finger in open mouthed surprise. The fish caught him in the face, and losing his footing he toppled over backwards, while Cristoph crouched some distance away, silently declaring that now he had seen everything.

Drawing his sword, Mark Antony raced towards Richard.

"There's something about you that I really don't like," the Tribune stated, glancing to the spot where Merle had been standing not a moment ago. "The purple, the jumping, the arguing...that lot," he gestured angrily to where Michael, Claire, Harriet and Alice waited anxiously in the street below. "This does not belong in Caesar's Rome!"

"It won't be Caesar's Rome for long!" snapped Richard.

Slipping from the shadows, Cristoph drew ninjato silently from its sheath, and glanced towards Antony. The Tribune nodded at him, and together they charged toward the Stu.

Across the roof, Merle darted around the Society leader, blurring into focus only to vanish again. Her speed was incredible, and Tash dared not move, until she saw the flash of the knife in the corner of her vision. She leaped into flashstep, leaving Merle skidding to a halt on the tiles.

"Impressive speed, Librarian," she hissed grudgingly, as Tash darted around the Sue at almost twice the speed. "That's the flashstep technique, isn't it?"

"How do you know I'm the Librarian?" Tash's voice seemed to come from all angles. Merle tossed her hair and sighed.

"Suebook… Runoa's very fond of complaining about you there."

There was a clattering sound as Tash blurred into view in front of the Sue.

"'Suebook'? Seriously?" she blinked. "You guys really do have no lives."

"And you are blind! You should know that we all talk to each other!"

The knife blade swiped toward her throat, and Tash flashstepped to the side again, bringing Nephthys across toward Merle's side. The Sue's speed was inhuman, as she twisted out of the way, bringing her knife down for another strike. Parrying, and swinging the attack away, Tash swept around for another strike.

"Jurai-Ken – Doryuto!" she kicked the blade of her sword, and flames burst from the blade as it struck Merle across the chest, burning its way through the front of her dress, and singeing the tips of her hair. The Mary-Sue's expression was livid, as she brought her knife up to block the next blow.

"Jurai-Ken..." Before Tash could finish the attack, Merle's form vanished once again. "Damn she's fast..."

"But not as fast as she could be..." she mentally thought, as Merle blurred into view beside her and stabbed deep into Tash's shoulder. The leader stumbled on the tiles, and screamed as the knife was pulled free again. As the blade, still dripping with blood, came down once more, she rolled to the side and kicked hard at Merle's face. The Sue's head snapped back up with a nasty crack. Slipping and sliding, Tash got to her feet, pressing hard on her shoulder. The wound was deep, but she could bear it for now. Merle was stumbling backwards, her face bloody.

"Bitch!" she rasped, her nose clearly broken.

"Woof!" Tash replied dryly. On the ground below, she could vaguely hear Alice whine that that was her line.


The shouts from outside penetrated Robert's consciousness, along with the throbbing sensation coming from the back of his head. The hard stone floor upon which he currently lay was unfamiliar to him, as were the boxes lining the walls. His arms were bound behind him, making it nigh-on impossible to move. It was some kind of store cupboard, and he groaned as he remembered just what (or rather, who) he had been planning on doing in here.

"Oh dear, you're awake..." A scowling face came into view, and Robert recognised her as the girl from the brothel earlier that day. To his horror, she was swinging a frying pan.

"No, hold on, wait – !"

But the moment he realised what she was going to do with it, pain exploded through his skull again and blackness overtook his vision once more.


A metallic clang rang out as both Roman short swords collided, Mark Antony and Richard pushing against each other. Antony was taller than Richard, but the Stu currently had the higher ground, his inhuman strength pushing Antony back along the slippery roof tiles. As the canon character fought to keep his balance, Cristoph's blade struck downward towards Richard's head. The Stu twisted his body, the sword sinking deeply into his shoulder, sending blood splattering against the roof tiles. Richard roared in pain, a burst of unbelievable strength sending Mark Antony crashing backwards onto the roof. He wrenched the sword out of his shoulder, out of Cristoph's grasp, and threw it over the edge of the roof.

"My coffeemakers are not controlled by Hoover Dam computers!"

Arms flailing, Richard landed on his back, terracotta cracking under his head as the flood of wine rushed over him, soaking him through to his skin, and filling his head with the scent of alcohol.

"What is with your attacks tonight, Ben?" Cristoph shouted from where he bent over the edge of the roof, Michael stretching from the ground to pass ninjato back to him.

"I don't know!" the head slave protested. "Maybe I ate a bad dormouse!"

A roar drew their attention back to the fight – Mark Antony was back on his feet, and charging towards a dazed looking Richard. Unfortunately, the tiles were now soaked in wine and were hazardous for fighting, and Antony's sandals slid across them, his ankle twisting over and sending him crashing to the roof again.

Richard staggered to his feet, concussed, soaked, and now more than a little tipsy. He advanced on the helpless Tribune, but Cristoph appeared in a flash in front of him. As he struck, he lost his footing on the uneven and sodden surface, and his blade sliced clumsily into Richard's side. The wound poured blood instantly, but Richard seemed unaffected, raising his sword again and bringing it down towards the back of Cristoph's neck.

Metal screeched against metal, and the blade stopped an inch from beheading the ninja. He looked up to see Ben, Mark Antony's sword in hand, parrying the blow. Cristoph's fist swept up and scored a direct hit in Richard's jaw, sending him stumbling back.

"A simple 'thanks' will do Cristoph," Ben invited.

"Maybe later," the ninja replied stiffly, seizing his Prohibitor. As the pair advanced however, Richard leapt to his feet, slid the dagger from his belt and threw it toward Mark Antony, who was still struggling to take everything in while getting to his feet. Cristoph was there in an instant, deflecting the knife away, as Ben raised his hand once again.

Meanwhile, roof tiles clattered as Merle darted around the Society leader, a trail of blood now being left in her wake. Tash knew she was faster than Merle was at present, but being fast didn't mean she could see where the Mary-Sue was, and she was barely able to throw up Nephthys into a block each time Merle struck. Twice she felt her opponent's slashes hit home, opening up fresh gashes on her legs, and as her attention was diverted by yelling from the other side of the roof, Merle's dagger slashed deeply across the back of her knees. The leader buckled to the ground, as Merle skidded to a halt, her dagger crimson with blood.

"No more flashstepping for you, Librarian," she sneered. Tash lifted her head and smirked back.

"Who needs flashstep, when I can do this?" And with a sharp push of her sore legs, she shot into the air, her wings burst free of her back again, flames licking their way along the beating limbs, and down Nephthys' burnt orange blade.

"I'd like to see you hit me from up here!" the leader taunted. "Juari-Ken – Abari!"

She dove, flames spinning around her, and Merle barely had time to leap out of the way, as Tash landed a small fireball exploding where she impacted with the roof. Merle threw up her hands to shield her face from the flames, and was immediately forced to bring them into a blocking position as Nephthys appeared from within the fireball, swinging toward her head. The flames died to reveal Tash, who was growling in irritation at missing her target.

"If I were at my full strength," the Sue hissed. "I'd destroy you and Mirani!"

"If you were at your full strength, we'd make sure to attack you in daylight!" Tash retorted, as Merle swung her dagger around and stabbed. Pain flaring from her wounds, Tash flashstepped hastily backwards and found she had run out of roof. She beat her wings hard and hovered above Merle, who looked incensed that she couldn't reach that high.

There was a cry of "Now!" from the street below, and water seemed to hit Tash from all sides. Her wings were instantly snuffed out, and she fell unceremoniously to the roof below utterly drenched. Tiles cracked under her body, and sharp shards of terracotta embedded themselves into her knees and palms.

Merle was standing in open mouthed astonishment, before she burst out laughing. Glaring and utterly confused, Tash turned to see Timon and his men in the street below, each holding a bucket, and watching the rooftop anxiously. Beside them, stood Atia, Octavian and Octavia.

"What the hell was that for?" Tash shrieked at them, causing them all to jump.

"We thought the roof was on fire!" Timon explained, reloading his bucket again, just in case. Atia waved him back, having just caught the sound of Merle's hysterical laughter, and frowned in disapproval.

"I don't call this 'getting your job done', Manius!" she snapped at Michael, who was covering his face with his hands – whether from amusement or mortification, no one could tell.

Tash's head snapped back around as Merle finally stopped laughing and advanced, dagger raised. At this moment, another cry of "My coffeemakers are not controlled by Hoover Dam computers!" was barked by Ben, and another flood of wine rushed over the rooftop. Emerging from the attack, Merle raced across the tiles, slipping and stumbling toward Richard, who now looked thoroughly concussed. There was a loud rip as a plothole appeared in mid air, and the pair vanished through it.

"Damn them!" Tash roared, slamming Nephthys into the tiles. This was more abuse than the roof beams could take after everything else that had happened, and with a loud crash, Tash fell through the roof and into the atrium below. Luckily she landed on a couch, which broke after a few moments, sending her tumbling into the impluvium pool.

As the Society gathered anxiously around the hole in the roof or rushed inside to help, Mark Antony decided that he had now definitely had too much to drink.

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