Thursday, October 31, 2013

Insert Completely Creepy Prison Here

Michael knocked on the door to Stephen's room again.

"Go 'way," a grumpy sounding voice from inside moaned.

"Stephen, you've got a mission. Get up or I'll make you get up," Michael repeated.

"It's too late for this…" Stephen groaned, burying himself under the covers of his bed.

"Stephen, it's four in the afternoon," Michael said, checking his watch.

"An' I'm tired," Stephen groaned. He had just gotten back from being called to Psyren, and he had fought  three low level Tavoo at once. He was very tired. "Can't you send somebody else?" Stephen begged.

"All the other Agents in the Library right now are either injured or busy with something."

"Last I checked, sleeping was 'something'."

"Well, you're also the only one here who has any knowledge of the fandom."

"How do you…"

"We have our ways. Up."

"No."

"It's in a fandom called Deadman Wonderland," Michael said, hoping that it would entice the sleepy Agent out of bed.

There was silence from the other side of the door.

"…Did you just say Deadman Wonderland?" Stephen asked, sounding not as sleepy anymore.

"Interested?"

A second later, something slid out from under the door. Michael picked it up and examined it.

Stephen's badge.

"I quit," Stephen said. From inside his room, there was the sound of some scuffling as Stephen started packing up his belongings.

"You can't be serious," Michael said.

"Oh, I can. It's very hard for me, but I can."

"Stephen, there are two Stus in the fandom…"

"Good luck with that."

"One level Four…"

"Uh-huh."

"And a level Five. One that I think you'd be familiar with," Michael said, pulling out his trump card. The sound of Stephen packing stopped.

"…nameless?" He asked.

"Unless our readings are wrong, yeah. He's gained a level since you saw him last."

"…I have a request, Michael."

"Yeah?"

"I'm gonna need a Oneshot for this one. And could you look after Lil' C while I'm gone?"

"I don't know how to change a diaper."

"Don't worry, it's just for show."

Later…

Stephen stepped out of the Plothole, hoping that none of the tourists milling about had seen him. What he saw looked like a cheerful amusement park, but Stephen was not fooled.

Deadman Wonderland. A privately owned prison that functions as an amusement park. After an enormous earthquake devastated Japan years ago, DW was set up on the epicenter in the ruins of Tokyo. Here, the prisoners were used as labor in the park, with death row inmates given a collar that would poison them if they didn't have the antidote, called candy, every three days. To get the candy, you had to work or take part in macabre, usually fatal, games for the amusement of the audience to get Cast Points, which functioned like money.

Now that we've covered the top half of DW, let's visit the bottom.

Deadmen. Men, women, and children who, after the earthquake, gained the ability to control their own blood and use them as weapons called 'Branches of Sin'. As soon as a Deadman was found, they were sent off to this prison and locked up in Section G, away from the public eye. There, they participated in fights to the death using the Branches of Sin. The winner gets Cast Points. A lot of Cast Points. The loser? They get to spin a wheel to see what body part they lose to be researched. Limbs, organs, hair, you name it, it can be removed. Without anesthetic.

And if that doesn't sound like fun, almost every single person in the prison is batshit freaking loco in some way.

You can probably understand why Stephen wanted a Oneshot.

Stephen took out the small white pill and swallowed it dry.

Hm. Tasted like oranges, he thought.

The effects came almost instantly. None of them, however, were any good. Stephen started to giggle madly. The giggles soon grew into full-blown laughter, and tourists started to stare.

"I'm Swedish!" he shouted.

In the Library, Michael facepalmed.

"Swedish, Swedish, Sweeeeeddiiiiish!" Stephen sang, prancing through the crowds of tourists. Yes, prancing. That's almost the only way to describe what he was doing.

From the shadows of a nearby building, Nameless watched his creator lose his mind.

"'E shall be but an eensect under my bloody boots," The man who was with him said with a thick accent.

"You only show up when I give you the signal. If you jump the gun, I will hunt you down and make you wish you had never been created."

"Vine. Vill joo go and meet him now?" The man asked, obviously impatient.

"…Not until he gets his mind back."

"Joo may be vaiting a vhile."

"Just go get ready."

Later…

"…One and two and one and two and one…" Stephen said as he waltzed through the park with his impromptu dancing partner. He was getting… a few confused stares. Just a few. Maybe a couple dozen. A small crowd.

"Is this an act?"

"Doesn't really look like a clown…"

"Why is he dancing with a trash can?"

Stephen stopped dead. Slowly, he turned around to face the man who had asked why he was dancing with a trash can.

"I beg your pardon, good sir?" He said, now speaking with an incredibly thick French accent, mostly because he had no idea what a Swedish accent sounded like.

"Um…"

"Did you just call this fair lady a trash can? Tell me, does she look…" In a second, Stephen was nose to nose with the now terrified man, "LIKE A TRASH CAN TO YOU?"

The man screamed and jumped back.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" He screamed, desperately trying to get some distance between himself and the loony.

"Seriously, this has to be an act…"

"Somebody call security!"

"This-this is the worst act I've ever seen!" The man, who we shall call Jim for convenience, shouted as he continued to back away from Stephen.

"You insult my queen…" Stephen growled

"No actor should try to hit an audience member!" Jim screamed.

"And threaten my people with slavery and death!" Stephen barked.

"This is madness!" Jim yelled, backing into a tree.

The crowd gasped. Slowly, realization dawned on Jim's face.

"Oh, you wouldn't…" He said.

"…Madness?"

"Shit, you would," Jim gulped. This would not end well.

"THIS! IS! SWEDE-"

Clonk.

Security had finally arrived, and one of the braver guards had hit Stephen as hard as he could with a nightstick. It didn't seem to have any effect. Stephen turned around to face the guard, his eyes devoid of emotion.

"Well, that was rude," he said, then passed out.

The Library…

"Valerie, what do you think?" Michael asked as Valerie looked over the monitor's footage of Stephen going crazy.

"Well, they're definitely side effects from the Oneshot – the giggling and thinking he was Swedish – but I've never seen them that bad before," She noted.

"What should we do?" Michael asked.

"Probably run some tests when he gets back. I've got a hunch as to why it didn't work, but I'll need some confirmation," Valerie said, making mental notes to get the equipment she'd need ready.

"What's your theory?" Michael asked.

"Well, when I ran tests on everybody to make up the power rankings, the magic ability test kinda… reacted oddly to Stephen."

"Oddly?"

"The machine started crying and blew itself up."

"Ah."

"Anyway, my theory is that Stephen has…"

PSYCHE.

Later…

When Stephen came to a few hours later, he could actually think clearly, but his memories of what had happened were a little bit fuzzy. He wasn't sure why he was in a small cement room with a toilet sitting in the middle of the floor, why the door was made out of bars, why he was wearing a jumpsuit and OH KAMINA DAMN IT HE WAS IN JAIL.

"Craaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap," Stephen groaned, starting to pat himself down to see if he had any of his belongings on him. He checked his neck. No death-collar. Good. He checked his head. Hair still there. Hat.

Where was his hat?

And who could be held responsible for this atrocity?

"Well, time to get back to work," Stephen decided, getting up off the bed and bending the bars to make a way out. He bent the bars back after him. No need to be impolite, after all.

Mercifully, the guard that had been posted outside of Stephen's cell was snoozing on the job. Stephen considered finding a sharpie to give the man a mustache or a classy pair of glasses, but decided not to. Stephen walked past the sleeping guard and had no trouble finding the warden's office. The warden was also asleep. Man, the security here sucked.

Moving past the warden to the locker marked 'evidence' in the corner of the room, Stephen put his ear to the lock and started to turn it.

"Twenty-nine left… sixteen right… twelve and a half left…" Stephen said, and then tried to open the lock. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work, so Stephen just put his fist through the door, wrenched it off its hinges, and called it a day.

After a few moments of searching through the locker, Stephen had located his stuff, mercifully undamaged. He stored his gadgets away in some of the convenient pockets of the loose jumpsuit, and affixed his hat to his head.

"Alrighty then," He said, popping his knuckles, "Step One: Track."

Meanwhile…

The unidentified Stu dug his fangs into the man's throat, feeling the warm blood glide down his throat. When there was no more blood to drain, he threw the body away, and looked around the alleyway to make sure he had not been seen.

More. He'd need much more blood. Heavens knew that it was more fun to stalk his prey a bit before going in for the kill, but it was probably time to get a bit more practical.

More blood. He needed more blood.

Later…

Stephen made his way through the thinning crowds, the prisoner's jumpsuit actually making it easier to blend in, since the prisoners were used as park workers here. A little bit crazy, but so was everybody here.

Stephen figured he'd have to work quickly to track down his targets, since the sun was starting to set. There were some people staying behind, though, muttering something about a big show that evening.

"That jumpsuit looks good on you, Creator," A man from behind Stephen said. Stephen turned around, coming face to face with…

"Nameless!" Stephen screamed. Nameless smirked and melted into the crowd. Stephen shoved several people out of his way as he charged after him, intent on catching up.

"Get back here!" Stephen yelled, spotting Nameless again. The Stu smirked and kept running. He was leading Stephen somewhere.

When Stephen finally caught up with his creation, he was in an almost empty grassy park, which Nameless was standing in the middle of, waiting for him.

"Ever been trapped in a place with no light, Creator? A place where everyone, everyone, is trying to find some way to vent their anger from being abandoned by the people who made them?" Nameless asked, staring Stephen down.

"When I wrote you, I never thought this would happen, Nameless," Stephen said, "I never would have thought that a character from my story would want to kill me."

"You have no idea what I had to go through in that damn Vault. No food, no water, no light. I had to fight to survive," Nameless said, his grip tightening on the hilt of his sword.

"I take it you got that sword there? What happened to the Ă„rm that I wrote you?" Stephen asked. Nameless pulled back his right sleeve, showing a ring on his hand. It was silver, shaped like a skull with a snake twisting through the eye sockets and forming the band.

"I won't need this to defeat you," Nameless said, lowering his sleeve, "Hell, I won't even have to unsheathe my sword."

"Care to make a bet on that?" Stephen asked, falling into a fighting stance.

"Five minutes, Creator. That's all I'll need," Nameless said, pointing his katana at Stephen.

"I've gotten stronger since we met last," Stephen said, "Much stronger."

Nameless smiled. "Show me."

Stephen activated Rise, launching himself forward with his fist pulled back. Nameless made a small jump backwards to avoid the attack, letting Stephen hit only air. Stephen recovered from the miss quickly, and dropped to the ground, sweeping his leg at Nameless's feet. Nameless jumped to avoid it, and brought his sheathed sword down on Stephen's head. Stephen rolled out of the way just in time, using the momentum from the roll to get back on his feet and launch himself at Nameless. Nameless slipped to the side to avoid the punch, and kicked Stephen in the back of the leg, forcing him onto his knees. Nameless brought his sword above his head and swung it down. As soon as he fell to his knees, Stephen figured it was time to test out his new technique. Just before the sword struck, Stephen shouted one word.

"IRONHIDE!"

The sword bounced harmlessly off of Stephen, making a sound as if it had struck rock. Nameless grunted, and jumped back, expecting a counter-attack. None came. Stephen remained in his kneeling position for a few more seconds before standing up.

"That all you've got?" He asked, cracking his knuckles. Nameless lunged, his hand on the hilt and sheath as if he was about to unsheathe the sword and cut Stephen.

"IRONHIDE!" Stephen shouted again, standing completely still. Nameless stopped his attack just as Stephen shouted Ironhide. The Stu stood up straight, looking his Creator in the eye. His Creator's eyes were not their usual blue, however. They had turned gray, as if they were made of...

Nameless smirked.

"Oh, I get it now," Nameless said, lifting his sword above his head to prepare for another attack. As soon as Stephen's eyes turned blue...

Now.

Nameless brought the sword down again, but Stephen reacted quickly. A simple step out of the way, and the sword hit only the grass. Acting purely on reflex, Stephen used his feet to trap the sword, and with a turn of his legs, snapped the blade in twain.

Funny word, twain.

Nameless jumped back as soon as his sword had been broken, the shattered sheath falling off the blade.

"Impressive, creator. I never would have thought that you'd be able to last this long," Nameless said, looking down at the broken sword.

"I'm just getting warmed up," Stephen said. Nameless smirked.

"Good," He said, throwing the broken sword into the air, "Then I hope you two have fun."

"What?" Stephen said, but Nameless had already summoned a Plothole.

"Good luck getting out of here in one piece, Creator," He said, and then disappeared. Stephen cursed.

"…Wait, did he say 'the two of you'?" Stephen asked himself, then he heard something.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Stephen froze.

"Please don't let that be what I think it is…" He said, turning around to face the source of the echoing thuds. He craned his neck to get the full scale of the newcomer.

"Oh, come on. That's just cheating," He said before a titanic fist bore down on him.

Stephen dove out of the way, narrowly avoiding being crushed.

"NICE TO MEET YOU, TOO!" He shouted, "CAN I ASSUME THAT I'M GOING TO HAVE TO TAKE YOU IN BY FORCE?" The pilot of the fifty-foot tall mechathat looked like a bastard child of an Evangelion and a Mad Cat made out of blood laughed.

"Joo fool! Do joo seenk zat joo can arrest me? I… am Vladimir Blade Spike Van Helsing! Or, as my Branch of Sin is known, Vampire Bat!" The pale, gothic man shouted, cackling.

"I call foul! Branches of Sin have to be named after birds, and bats are mammals, moron!" Stephen shouted.

"As I see it, one of us is a small worm, and the other is in a giant freaking mecha made out of blood," Vladimir said.

"What happened to your… never mind, how the hell do you have that much blood?" Stephen asked, deciding not to ask why Vladimir's Transylvanian accent had disappeared.

"The tourists here… are very tasty," Vladimir said, licking his lips.

"Okay, I'm adding your charges, then. Vladimir Blade Spike Van Helsing, you are now charged with breaking the rules of the fandom by using blood other than your own with your Branch of Sin, and attempted assault of an Agent," Stephen said. Vladimir responded by firing small projectiles of blood at Stephen. "Ironhide," Stephen said, and the bullets bounced off his skin, only making small cuts. A few more seconds passed, and Stephen's eyes returned to their blue color again.

"Make that 'actual assault of an Agent'," Stephen said, wiping some of the blood off his arm.

"Impressive, bug. Tell me, who are you?" Vladimir asked. Stephen's eyes glinted.

"Who am I? Who am I? Well, let me tell you," Stephen said, in maximum monologue mode, "Pleased to meet you, I'm a man of wealth and taste. I've been around for a long, long year, stole many a man's soul and faith. And I was round when Agent Dave had his moment of doubt and pain. Made damn sure that Tyler washed his hands before he ate. Pleased to meet you! Hope you guess my-"

"What. Is. Your. Name," Vladimir growled, obviously not appreciating the monologue.

"Oh, silly me. Well then, I'm Agent Stephen, from the Anti-Cliché and Mary Sue Elimination Society, and you?" Stephen flashed his badge, "You're under arrest for the aforementioned charges."

"I do so detest conversation with my prey. How about we get this over with?" Vladimir asked. "MEET THE ANGEL OF BLOOD!" He roared as the fist of his steed crashed down where Stephen was standing. Stephen leapt back, but was struck in the forehead by a small piece of cement from the impact, which drew a steady trickle of blood. A pair of shoulder mounted gatling guns appeared on the Angel of Blood, whirring up and firing a barrage of blood bullets at Stephen. Stephen ran away, the trail of bloody death right behind him. He dove behind a trashcan and wiped the blood from his forehead.

"Now or never, I guess," Stephen said. He rolled out from behind the trashcan and held out the hand with the blood on it, pointing his palm at his opponent, hoping that the Oneshot he had taken earlier had made him a Deadman and wasn't rendered useless by some strange occurrence.

"Eat this," He said, "Or rather, don't, because you're apparently supposed to be a vampire and I'm about to attack you with my blood."

Stephen concentrated. Picture the blood as an extension of yourself, allow it to shape itself into a weapon, and…

Nothing happened. Stephen paled.

"Oh, come on."

This time, Vladimir fired a missile at him. The resulting explosion knocked Stephen into the air. He hit the ground running. Time for a new plan, he thought.

Meanwhile… The Library…

"Valerie?"

"Hm?"

"What happened? You just stopped talking for, like, four hours."

"Oh, sorry. As I was saying, when I finally recovered the data from the remains of the magic testing machine, the results were… fairly surprising."

"How so?"

"Well, you remember how the results were graded, right?"

"Yeah, S-rank, A-rank, B-rank, C-rank, and D-rank, right? "

"Well, Stephen's results? His magic was an F-rank."

"Is… is that possible?"

"Apparently. My theory is that because his magical ability is so low, his body automatically renders magic-based items like the Oneshot and Copyright absolutely useless to him."

"Wow, I sure hope that doesn't have any effects on the mission."

"So do I."

Michael sighed. "I'll go check the monitors to see if he's okay."

"Good idea."

Meanwhile…

The Angel of Blood (Vladimir's mecha) stomped its way through the amusement park, being careful not to knock over any of the rides. The little worm had run away like a little gnat, and Vladimir was not having much luck swatting him like an annoying mosquito.

"Yo-hoo! Hey, you! Tall, dark, and stupid! I'm right over here!" Stephen shouted from his perch. The Angel of Blood reformatted itself so that Vladimir was now facing Stephen, who was standing on the highest flagpole of the circus tent. For a second, he looked fairly impressive. This was quickly ruined when his poor sense of balance failed, and he rolled off the tent onto the ground.

"Well, that could have gone better," He admitted, standing up and brushing himself off.
Wait, why hadn't he been attacked while he was down? Stephen glanced up, noticing that he was now standing in the shadow of the Angel of Blood. Who was completely ignoring him and carefully adjusting the circus tent, which had apparently been knocked a bit off balance by Stephen's fall.

"What the hell?" Stephen said. "What is he doing?" While Vladimir was busy, Stephen channeled his Rise into his ears, hoping to catch something.

"…Must be orderly, must not damage it, must be careful… Don't damage it, I want to keep it…" Vladimir was mumbling to himself. A light bulb turned on over Stephen's head. Actually, it was just a lamppost that was being turned on because the sun was starting to set, but you get the idea. Stephen looked around for something to use with his brilliant new plan.

"Too small, too small, too stupid, too… perfect," He decided, eyeing a roller coaster. He set off, jumping from ride to ride, aiming for the apex of the roller coaster.

Finally satisfied that the circus tent was standing straight, Vladimir backed off, checking his handiwork. "Perfect," He decided, "Good as new."

"HEY, TOOTH-FACE!" Stephen shouted, throwing a small piece of the roller coaster track at Vladimir, whose back was turned to him. The metal bar embedded in the mecha, and sank in as it was drawn to the cockpit to be identified. A second later, Vladimir gave a berserker howl.

"DON'T TOUCH THE RIDES!" He screamed, reformatting the Angel to face Stephen. Vladimir was holding on to the bar of metal as if it was gold, and his fangs were bared.

"Here's an idea: Why? Don't? You? Make me?" Stephen said, punctuating each word by breaking another bar with a well-placed stomp.

"No! NO! STOP! STOP!" Vladimir screamed, knowing that it was too risky to try and hit him when he was so close to the roller coaster. Stephen cupped a hand behind his ear.

"I'm sorry, what was that? I can't hear you over the sound of me breaking the roller coaster!" He laughed, forcefully disconnecting a rail. Vladimir whimpered. "What, not gonna attack me? You, with your big fancy robot? Whatsa matter? Scared?" Stephen gloated, continuing to snap off pieces of the ride. Vladimir was sweating now. Just a few more seconds, and he'd probably…

Snap.

"STOP! STOPSTOPSTOPSTOOOOOOOOOPP!" Vladimir cried.

"Or what?" Stephen asked, tossing another part over his shoulder.

"P-p-p-please! I'll do anything you ask! Just stop ruining my rides!" Vladimir sobbed. Stephen grinned. Hook, line, and sinker.

"Alright then, how's this? I'll stop breaking this roller coaster, and we'll fight. Like gentlemen, on the same ground, at the same size. You okay with that?" Stephen asked, knowing Vladimir couldn't turn down his demands. He was too protective of the rides, for some reason.

"Deal! Deal! Now stop breaking it!" Vladimir agreed. The Angel of Blood slowly started to shrink until it was about human sized. The unused blood pooled together and was shaped into a large block for later use by Vladimir.

"Alrighty then!" Stephen shouted, preparing to jump to the ground. Unfortunately, he looked down first. Stephen took a step away from the edge. "Okay, I'll jump on three. One… two… three!" Stephen jumped straight down, landing in front of Vladimir. When he landed, he felt a small twinge in his ankles. The pain came quickly. 'Note to self: Don't jump down from that height again, unless I plan to land in an awesome pose', Stephen thought, 'Definitely won't be using my legs for this fight.'

"You shall pay for what you have done," Vladimir snarled. His armor had changed form. Now, it looked like Iron Man, a suit of T-51b Power Armor, and Master Chief had all gotten together and somehow had a baby. And Vladimir was wearing that baby. And we're never going to mention this train of thought ever again.

"Aw, no harm done. A little elbow grease, a beaver, three toothbrushes – or should it be teethbrush – and sixteen inches of duct tape and it'll be good as new," Stephen said, stretching out his arms.

"Nevertheless, you shall die for damaging my property," Vladimir said, the servos in his armor whirring. Or whatever it is that servos do.

"Your property? Funny, you don't look like the Director," Stephen said, finally wondering exactly what point in the story they were in.

"Oh, it shall be mine. I intend to destroy this wretched place, and I shall build in its stead… a-"

"Stop right there. I swear to Kamina, if the next word you say is 'palace', I will destroy you," Stephen said, "Also, would you mind telling me what point in the story we're in? I haven't had the chance to check."

"This… is before the story began. After I kill you, I will crush the walls of Section G, destroy every Deadman in this place, and then…" Vladimir started to laugh, "I shall kill the Wretched Egg."

Stephen's blood froze. After a moment, a smile worked its way onto his face. "Seriously? You, kill the Wretched Egg?" He laughed.

What is the Wretched Egg? Nothing good, that's for sure. The Wretched Egg is basically the strongest Deadman alive, and may just be the cause of the earthquake that destroyed Tokyo years ago. It's also the reason the story moves at all; the Wretched Egg escapes one day for some odd reason and travels to a school, gruesomely slaughtering an entire class, save one boy. Igarashi Ganta, being the only survivor, and thus, suspect, since the general population doesn't know that the Wretched Egg exists, is charged with death and sent to Deadman Wonderland. For some reason, the legal system decides to completely ignore common sense, and the fact that it would be basically impossible for a teenage boy, without any weapons, to kill his classmates in a way that ensures they are all merely chunks and soup. Yes, that's how badly the Wretched Egg killed them all. In less than a minute.

"You laugh now, but I will win. When I have taken this place apart brick by brick, I shall build a palace…"
Stephen grimaced.

"…And with that palace, there shall be…" A dreamy smile spread across Vladimir's face, "The most fantastic amusement park ridesthe world has ever seen." A low sigh escaped his lips. Stephen lifted an eyebrow. "Okay, you're kinda insane," He decided.

"One of us is insane…" Vladimir pointed his arm at Stephen. A minigun formed in place of a hand. "And the other is going to be a thimble."

"We'll see about that," Stephen said, watching as the barrels started to spin. "Not going to run?" Vladimir asked, smirking. In an instant, the barrels started to roar.

"IRONHIDE!" Stephen shouted just before the gun started firing. His eyes turned gray, and he stood still. The red bullets bounced off of him harmlessly. Vladimir stopped firing after a second, and launched himself forward, propelling his other fist into Stephen's stomach. Stephen was blasted back, still in the position he had been in when his eyes turned gray. A red wall from the block of blood appeared in front of the rollercoaster, preventing Stephen from causing any damage to it. The wall stood firm as Stephen crashed into it. A second later, Stephen's eyes turned blue again. His first action was to fall to the ground on his hands and knees and cough up blood. A dark stain appeared on his jumpsuit where Vladimir had hit him.

"You can't use the same trick twice, insect. I've figured out your trick," Vladimir taunted, approaching the wounded Agent. He grabbed Stephen by the skull, lifting him up off the ground. "Whenever you shout that word, 'Ironhide', your eyes turn gray, as if they are made of stone. My bullets can't harm you when that happens, but it seems that my fists…" Vladimir lifted Stephen up higher, "CAN!"

He slammed Stephen to the ground. If Stephen hadn't had Rise reinforcing his body, his head would be the main ingredient in a soup right now. It still hurt like a bitch. After a few repeated hits, Vladimir brought Stephen up to face him. His faceplate slid away, revealing a grinning Vladimir.

"Ah, the once proud Agent, reduced to a punching bag in my hands… isn't it funny? But don't worry; your blood shall serve me in the Angel," Vladimir said, his fangs bared and aching for flesh. He brought Stephen's neck closer to his mouth, ready to dig his fangs into the bare skin, to pierce the veins. The amount of blood on Stephen's body was already driving him crazy, and the blood sliding down his throat would feel so sweet

A low whisper escaped Stephen's lips.

"Hm?" Vladimir said, not having heard what Stephen had said.

"I said…" Stephen dipped his hand into his pocket, "Clack. Bitch."

In a second, Stephen removed a Prohibitor from his pocket, clacking it around Vladimir's neck before he had a chance to react. Vladimir grew paler than usual. He dropped the bleeding Agent, his hands flying to his neck, as if to assure himself that it wasn't true, he hadn't lost.

"No."

His armor slowly started to drip, losing its form.

"Nononono…"

The blood pooled at his feet, covering his body, staining his clothes.

"No…"

His fangs shrank, becoming regular human canines. Vladimir struggled with the Prohibitor, trying to take it off.

"NO! NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOO!" Vladimir screamed, watching his dreams dissolve in front of his eyes. His legs buckled, and he fell to the ground, covered in the stolen blood.

"I… win," Stephen whispered, already feeling dizzy from blood loss and repeated head trauma. Vladimir was unconscious. Stephen weakly reached into the pocket where he kept the Plothole Generator. His hand was filled with bits and pieces of the broken machine when he pulled it out. If Stephen could have moved his head, he would have hit it on the ground. He pulled out his Communicator instead.

"Agent Stephen to the Library. Stu has been apprehended, an' I need a ride…" The world spun around his head, "…Yeah, could s'mebody come an' pick me up? Pref'rably with a stretcher? I think 'm 'bout t' pass out now, thanks…"

Stephen cut off the communication, and rolled onto his back, staring up at the night sky. A small object streaked across the sky, bursting into a red show of light. Numerous others followed it, exploding across the sky and painting it thousands of colors. Stephen chuckled.

"Fireworks, huh…" He said to himself.

Wait.

Waitwaitwaitwait.

Fireworks.

The synapses rapidly connected in Stephen's mind. Fireworks. Jesus. It was so obvious. Why hadn't he thought of it before?

"Fireworks…" Stephen let out a low laugh. "Fireworks."

The last thing Stephen saw before fading out was a Plothole opening and three people running out. He heard a few shouted orders, but then, nothing.

Later…

When Stephen woke up in the medical wing, he couldn't remember a thing. Not his name, where he was, or what had happened. Which is why, of course, the first thing that he said to Valerie, who had been sitting at his bedside to watch over him, was, "What time is it?"

Valerie stared at him, dumbfounded. Her book fell to the ground. "Um, three o'clock?" She answered.

"Ah, good. Now, could you tell me who I am?" Stephen asked simply. He passed out again. Valerie stayed sitting for a moment, completely confused. "What just happ-"

Stephen woke up again. "I remember now!" He announced, sitting up. He turned to Valerie. "What time is it?" He asked again. "Three." "Good. Am I dead?" "No. You were pretty beaten up when we found you, though."

"And the Stu?"

"In the Basement. Congratulations on your first catch," Valerie said, patting him on the shoulder. Stephen sighed.

"What's to congratulate? I lost pretty badly," He said.

"Stephen, it's true you might not be ready for a Level Four yet, but think of it this way: You still managed to bring him in. And that's something to be proud of," Valerie said, pressing a stethoscope to his chest to check his pulse. Stephen gave a slight nod.

"I guess you've got a point. How is he?" He asked.

"Half-comatose. You may not have dealt much physical damage to him, but I think you may have broken his mind," Valerie answered. Vladimir had literally been frothing at the mouth when they'd brought him in, and didn't react to any provocations. Stephen groaned.

"Great, that means I'll have to wait a while before I can have a little talk with him," Stephen said.

"Well, you'd have to wait here a little while anyway. There is literally no way that you're leaving that bed until you're completely healed," Valerie said. She pointed to the table beside the bed. A large basket of fruits sat on it. "A few others chipped in and got that for you," She said.

"Oh, well that's nice," Stephen said, reaching for an apple. He felt the skin for a moment.

"It's wax, isn't it?" he asked. Valerie nodded. "Assholes," he grumbled.

"On that note, I have a few messages for you. Jared is miffed about your Plothole Generator…"

"Not my fault this time," Stephen said, "I think," He said in a smaller voice.

"Tash is trying to find some way to train you so you don't, in her words, 'get put in the medical wing by the next dust bunny you see'…"

"Tell her I said 'ha freaking ha'."

"Can do. Michael said he wanted compensation for taking care of your little monster. The little guy was driving him crazy."

There was silence for a moment. Valerie and Stephen started to laugh.

"Oh, I see what you did there."

"I… I didn't mean to say that," Valerie said in between giggles, "Honest."

"…And people are starting to take bets on how badly beaten up you're going to get on your next mission. Seriously, if you hadn't gotten lucky, you wouldn't be alive right now," Valerie said. Stephen lifted an eyebrow.

"Wait, seriously? They're actually taking bets?"

"Well, you have been out cold for three days."

"Wait, three days? Seriously?"

"Nah, more like one."

"Any idea when I'll be good to leave?" Stephen asked. Valerie held up one finger.

"A week, tops, thanks to that freakish healing factor of yours. But it should still hurt for a while after that," She said. "But…" Stephen interjected.

"No buts. One week, and that's final," Valerie said. Stephen let his head hit the pillow.

"Craaap," he said. He sighed.

"I feel like I'm forgetting something…" He said to himself. Something important, about Nameless… what was it?

"Does it have something to do with fireworks?" Valerie asked. Stephen shot up, instantly regretting it as pain seemed to find a way to punch him in the nuts of his soul.

"Fireworks… yeah, that's right. Fireworks," He repeated. A small grin crept across his face.

"You were mumbling it while you were sleeping. What does it mean?" Valerie asked. Stephen's grin only widened.

"It means… I remembered it."

Friday, October 25, 2013

Insert Happy Birthday, Society Style Here

It was a rather quiet day for the Society. While their normal antics continued, there were very few Sue alerts. However, one Agent had a reason not to be quiet, though he didn't use it. For it was the birthday of Agent Kyle. Other than going up to Rhia and asking for a personal-sized chocolate cake to be delivered, he mostly stayed in his room while playing soft and calming music. Of course, Rhia had asked what the cake was for and Kyle told her that his birthday was that day.

Anyway, Kyle's relaxing to the music in his room when his com unit went off. He paused the music and pulled the com unit out of his Astral Vault.

"Hello?" was his irritated greeting.

"Did I interrupt your music again?" Adrian's voice came through the device.

"Yeah... New mission?" Kyle's tone calmed down at the thought of going to a fandom.

"Shouldn't take too long, just a low level Sue."

"Low level? I know I need to go on more missions, but you guys usually give me heavy stuff."

"Are you complaining?" The questioning tone was rather poignant.

"Of course not! I'll be there shortly."

"There's currently a betting pool to see how fast Kyle finishes this," Michael spoke to the other leaders, "Majority seems to think that it'll only be half an hour for him to get back... at latest."

"Considering the level of Sue, that's not even a gamble. Which means we've got very little time to get everything done," Tash commented.

"Don't worry. Since we started shortly after Rhia told us, even half an hour will be plenty of time. The mission was just to ensure he wouldn't accidently spoil the surprise," Adrian mentioned. Indeed, everything they needed for this surprise birthday party was ready. All they had to do was set it up.

Soon enough, Kyle returned from the mission, carrying a hogtied Sue, one Tiffany Maddock Springtime Fresh. While he did notice that only some newbie Agents were in the monitor room, he shrugged it off as he got one to take the Sue to a holding cells. With that out of the way, Kyle began thinking about what he wanted to do next.

"What to do..." he thought out loud. "Eh, it's not like I have anything planned for today. Might as well just get a good book to read and relax back in my room."

He had been to the Commons often enough to know several books there that he liked, so he figured he'd swing by there to get one. It was to his surprise and confusion that the light was off. However, once he stepped a few feet into the room, all the lights came on and every Society member present shouted, "SURPRISE!"

It was a surprise for Kyle, alright. Several Agents wondered if his brain had shut down while he stood there looking flabbergasted. After a minute or so, he shook his head to clear his thoughts and asked.

"What the heck's all this?" Throughout the Commons were Happy Birthday banners and balloons, while the majority stood around an impressively sized birthday cake.

"I mentioned that it was your birthday to Micheal and Tash and they decided to make it a party." Rhia spoke up. Kyle blinked and looked stunned, almost like a birthday party was a foreign concept.

"A birthday party? For me?"

"You've never had one before?" Marcus asked with a bit of surprise in his voice.

"Well, not in this kind of fashion. My family would usually just have a dinner chosen by the birthday person and sometimes a cake."

"SOMETIMES A CAKE?" A majority of the people present shouted that one.

"That's how it was at times," Kyle replied with a shrug. "It was still a family celebration and that was good enough."

"Then we'll just have to make this one better!" Claire exclaimed happily.

Kyle gave a small smile, "It already is."

Several minutes later, the cake was gone and the Agents started the biggest part of usual birthday parties. That is, the party games! Sure, everyone could have gone their seperate ways after the cake was finished, but that would be a rather boring end to this story... Hey, I'm the narrator. I can break the Fourth Wall anytime I want!

Anyway, some of the games set up included various board games, Multiplayer shooters and DDR variants. While I could say who was playing what, that'd be mostly needless details to this story. Though, there was Phoenixia conscripting people to play twister with her while trying to convince someone to handle the spinner.

During a pause in getting his butt kicked at Halo, Kyle was approached by Tyler, who was carrying a plate of cookies. The short, omnivorous Agent apparently had a bet he wanted to make with the birthday boy.

"I'll give you these chocolate chip cookies I stole from one of Adrian's hiding places if you take a swig of Firebrand Whiskey."

Kyle gave the shorter Agent an appraising look before saying, "I'll take that bet. Just be ready to pay up, I don't like being swindled out of anything."

Walking over to Ben, who was also taking a break from tearing it up at Guitar Hero, the birthday Agent asked for some of the Firebrand Whiskey. When Kyle told the Metal obsessed agent about the bet, the metalhead shrugged before taking the flask from his hip and handing it to his fellow. Adrian, having gotten away from Phoenixia's Twister draft, had watched Tyler make the bet with Kyle and the subsequent walk over to Ben. However, once he saw Ben give Kyle the flask of Firebrand Whiskey, his eyes went wide before running over to stop it while shouting.

"Don't let him drink any!" Unfortunately, everyone who heard Adrian just looked up confused while he was unable to reach Kyle before he took a drink. The birthday Agent calmly closed the flask and returned it to Ben before starting to walk back to claim his prize. About halfway, however, the iced tea took effect.

"Hot... HOT, I feel TOO HOT! HOT, HOT, HOT! HOTHOTHOTHOT!" Kyle's face was full of surprise and pain as the air around him burst into flames, coating him like an aura. All at once, most of the Agents that noticed what was happening immediate started running around in a panic while others got fire hoses from somewhere and started spraying Kyle. While it helped put out some of the fire, most of the water just turned into steam.

Adrian watched and sighed before taking a deep breath and shouted, "CALM DOWN!"

All the panicing Agents ground to a halt while a record scratch indicated that everything mostly paused. After taking another deep breath, Adrian continued.

"Since I'm the only one here who figured out what's going on, I'm going to say that we'll just have to wait for Kyle to stop making that fire." When some of the Society started wondering out loud about why they have to wait, Adrian continued, "Kyle drank some of Ben's Firebrand Whiskey and until the sugar's been exhausted, he's going to continue producing more of those flames. Thus, why we have to wait."

"But isn't it hurting him?" Claire asked with some worry in her voice. Phoenixia was the one who answered.

"Only as much as his usual abilities do... he was more surprised by the amount of energy that flooded him."

After a moment of silence for everyone to figure out what to do now that the birthday boy was almost literally on fire, Inara stepped closer to Kyle and asked.

"Hey, you alright in there?" Kyle didn't answer right away, his head was lowered so his eyes couldn't be seen. However, in the relative quiet of the room, a song started playing. A woman singing opera could be heard, followed by a piano adding a swift rhythm. As it progressed to include a man rapping, several Agents present exclaimed at once.

"This is Libera Me from Hell! Where is it coming from?" Immediately, Adrian, Phoenixia and Tash pointed at Kyle. He lifted his head and everyone could see that he somehow got a pair of sharp looking sunglasses.

"Of course I'm alright! WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM?" The flames surrounding him began spiralling, becoming like a cone. Kyle pointed upwards as he continued. "Mine is the drill that will pierce the Heavens!"

Many Agents were flabbergasted at Kyle acting like that. Christoph recovered first and then asked.

"Why is Lord Kyle acting like Kamina and Simon from Gurren Lagann?" While some of the Agents were still flabbergasted, others that have recovered looked at the ninja as they had no idea who those guys were. Phoenixia stepped up to give her theory.

"While I'm not too sure, I think all of the excess energy inside him has made Kyle hotblooded." Suddenly, a door burst open to reveal Shirley, who looked livid.

"Your kidneys are mine, 'birthday boy'," the mad stick spat.

"Bring it on, you overgrown toothpick! WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I AM KICK!" The blazing Agent launched himself like he was shot out of a gun. Shirley snarled.

"I'm feasting on your entrails for that one!" The Cliche Stick launched herself equally. However, as she got close to him, she came into contact with the constantly generating fire and got burned before getting a faceful of Kyle's boots.

"Shirley was BURNED?" Ben shouted in disbelief. Apparently in response, the flames around Kyle compressed around his mission suit and hair. When it stopped, he looked like a fiery cosplay of M. Bison.

"OF COURSE!" Several of the Agents present just fell over like they were in an anime. Shirley seemed to recover quickly after that and the two continued fighting. From various nooks and crannies, the Little Plastic Marine Corp started swarming to assist Kyle in his fight against the Cliche Stick.

"Our ally is in battle against Shirley! We are to provide covering fire!" The Agents present for the party watched the ensuing battle between the currently Hotblooded birthday boy, several hundreds of tiny plastic army men and a violent mobile stick. At this point, it's all crazy...and then Leonard joined the fray. Thankfully, the LPMC were able to keep him from getting close to Kyle and Shirley so he wouldn't get caught in the flames.

The fight dragged on for several minutes, many Agents fled to avoid getting caught up in the carnage. The ones who stayed to watch saw the final blow strike. Kyle, covered in scratches and gashes, compacted all of his flames around his hand for one last attack.

"This hand of mine is burning red! Its loud roar tells me to grasp victory!" Shirley, her singes the only things indicating her injuries, snarled incoherently as he spoke. In what would be the deciding blow of the battle, she charged with claws held high and her fangs gaping with intent to tearing the Agent limb from limb.

"ERUPTING! BURNING!" Kyle charged as well, his immolating hand pulled back for a thrust. "FINGER!"

As the two forces crashed against one another, a blinding flash flared up. The roar of energy almost drowned out the words that brought about the climactic finale.

"HEAT... END!" Like several of Ben's nukes going off at once, an explosion enveloped the watching Agents. When the smoked cleared and the dust settled, the results were evident. Shirley had been blown clear through several walls and Kyle was now unconscious on the floor.

Adrian had a Heroic BSoD at the damage done during the battle while the remaining leaders were trying to determine the punishment for everyone involved.

By the time Kyle woke up, he had been moved to the medical ward with his gashes bandaged. He was alone and utterly confused. Then the memories of his fight with Shirley returned to him.

"...Mental note, no drinking Firebrand Whiskey in the Library." He was pleased to note that he had no problems speaking, unlike other times he ended up in the medical ward. However, one memory surfaced and that caused Kyle to bellow loud enough for several Agents to jump when they were in rooms far away.

"TYLER, YOU NEVER GAVE ME THOSE COOKIES!"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Insert Fixed and Pointless Talent Show Here (part 5 of 5)

“This is so bad...” Valerie was muttering as she tapped hastily at the computers. Still the screen remained blank. She turned hopefully to the head chef. “Anything?”

“Not a thing,” Rhia was hanging up and trying another number. “Come on guys, where are you?!”

“Something wrong?” Ben appeared, hovering in the doorway in curiosity. He frowned as he registered the fuzzy camera on the monitor screen. “Which fandom is that?”

“The Talent Show fandom,” Valerie reported, still tapping away at the keyboard. “The fandom has been blocked from our system.”

“How?” Ben asked, pushing his way into the room to get a better view of the screen.

“From the inside,” Valerie said. “Some kind of spell...”

“Shh!” Rhia waved a hand at them both as she listened to the automated voice. “It has not been possible to connect your call...our phones are blocked too...”

“We have to get in there,” Ben declared firmly. “They may need help.”

Despite his words, he still looked at Valerie – with all three Society leaders inside the fandom, she was the most senior member around. She glanced at the blank screen again, before nodding.

“Do it. Take Bahamut, and be careful.”

As Ben turned to leave, Rhia had a sudden thought. “Ben! Is everything okay downstairs?”

“Yeah, I left Shirley and Willie in charge.”

Rhia’s phone slid from her grasp.

“You left Willie in charge downstairs with the Sues? Are you high?!”

She bolted from the room, with Valerie right behind her, and both of them stumbled down to the basement. It was deathly silent in the room below.

Shirley stood quietly in the corner, still filing her claws, and testing them against the wall. Willie was nowhere to be seen, but the reason for the silence was quickly understandable. Aster was hovering above the Sue’s heads, and appeared to be lecturing them on the brilliance of Lucky Star. When one of them appeared to be nodding off, she would pull out her staff and bonk them painfully on the head with it.

“Where Willie?” Valerie demanded, her hands on her hips. Dave, who alone appeared unperturbed by Aster’s lecture, reached into the huddle of fearful looking Sues, and plucked an unconscious Willie up by the scruff of his neck. “He objected to the impromptu class.” He explained.

“Well... alright then,” Rhia shrugged, ducking as Aster jabbed her staff in her direction. “Aster, Sue Factor is about to start again, so save your lesson for later.”

Huffing, the fae resumed her hovering position above the Sue’s heads, as they all scrambled eagerly for their seats once more.

“We need to keep quiet about this,” Rhia muttered to Valerie, as Cristoph and Dave slid to their sides. “If the Sues know something is wrong, we could have a prison riot on our hands.”

“I wish Emily or Adrian was here,” Valerie admitted. “They might know why we can’t see the fandom...”

“Which fandom is this?” Cristoph asked curiously. Before anyone could answer, Ben clattered noisily down the stairs and hurried over to them, Bahamut strapped to his back.

“I can’t get through,” he reported, dropping his voice so as not to raise alarm. “Whatever that thing is blocking our plotholes from the Talent Show fandom.”

“Is that possible?” Rhia asked, not bothering to disguise the worry on her face.

“Not normally,” Valerie explained. “But the Talent Show fandom isn’t a fandom like the others. Other fandoms have plotholes left in them by their authors, which anyone can exploit. Talent Shows aren’t stories though, so its easy to seal them off entirely from the outside world.”

“So what you are saying,” Cristoph summarised the situation quickly. “Is that they’re stuck in the fandom, and cannot get out?”

Nodding grimly, Valerie glanced in the direction of the television screen, where the news was winding up. “At this point, they’re on their own...”

OOO

“Still nothing?” Michael asked hopefully. Phoenixia shook her head, as she and Tash slid back into their seats.

“We waited until there was no one around,” Phoenixia said. “Then we tried our plothole generators and Tash’s doors. Nothing works. We’re still stuck.”

They had reluctantly agreed to return to their seats. No one was that bothered about the contest any longer, since their leaders had almost died and Phoenixia had been forced to confront the man of her nightmares. Back in kitty form, Adrian was staying low in his seat, ears flat against his head, less Runoa appear and resume their fight. Everyone was twice as paranoid, just waiting for their cover to be blown, despite the fact that the SEP fields protected them from any wandering gazes.

“We’ll just have to wait until the contest is over,” Harriet declared firmly, much to everyone’s dismay. “They have to open the fandom to let people leave. We’ll just leave with the rest of the audience.”

“But we want to leave now...” Emily said, fingering her handbag nervously, her supersoaker and Incandescent Silverreign safely stowed once more.

“I know!” Harriet huffed irritably. “But that’s the way this is going. So we’re just going to have to deal.”

“You’re just grumpy because you haven’t shaved, and we can all see your thighs,” Jess commented.

“Oh shut up!” the leader wished she had something to throw, but given that her handbag and clothing were still in Ardelisa’s room, drying over the radiator, she lacked anything to hand.

The cause of Jess’s comment was the short dress she had been forced to wear in lieu of spending the last fifteen minutes of show time in damp clothing. Still she reckoned she was better off than Tash, who was wearing one of Ardelisa’s full length black dresses from one of the previous weeks performances. Unfortunately for both girls, Ardelisa was only five foot two, and thus the black dress was swinging gaily about Tash’s shins instead of the floor, and Harriet’s mini dress was leaving very little of the leaders legs to the imagination.

“I can’t wait to get out of this thing,” Tash commented, apparently on the same line of thought as her friend. “She’s got bigger boobs than me.”

“Everyone has bigger boobs than you Tash,” Emily muttered, and Harriet gave her a poke for being so rude.

“We’ll go get our stuff from Ardelisa after the show...”

“Providing she doesn’t win,” Michael pointed out. “If she’s won she’ll be swamped with fans and people trying to congratulate her.”

“...dodging the fanbase...” Harriet added. “Get our stuff, and go.”

“LIVE IN FIVE, FOUR, THREE...” Magdalena was shouting once more, and as the countdown finished, the credits began to roll and the audience cheered. No one in the back row joined in.

“Welcome back to Sue Factor 2010!” Sparrow had reappeared, and looked overly excited to be live once more. “Our final two acts have both sung one final time. You have voted in your thousands, and I can declare that the phone lines are now...closed!”

The audience gave an ‘ooo!’ of anticipation, and Sparrow continued to speak.

“That’s it! You can’t change the outcome any longer. Please don’t call now, your vote will not count and you may still be charged!”

She twirled to face another camera, this time meandering her way off the main stage, and onto the section where the judges table sat.

“While the votes are being counted, we have a very special tribute tonight. Two years ago, we met a woman on this competition who was one of the most talented individuals we have ever seen. In January of this year, she passed away in her struggle to make the multiverse a better place for Mary-Sues.”

Any hint of a smile on Harriet’s face immediately slid off.

“Tonight we remember her, and her victory from Sue Factor 2008. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Willowe.”

“...what?!” Jess, Michael and Claire all exclaimed in unison, but they were drowned out by the audience, who cheered as Willowe’s name flashed on the screen, and the video clips began to roll. In the middle of the row, Emily had frozen to her seat.

“You never told us Willowe went on Sue Factor!” Phoenixia turned accusingly to Harriet.

“I didn’t know!” the leader protested, as a bright eyed, rosy cheeked Willowe appeared on stage, before an unfamiliar panel of judges.

“What’s your name?” Surprisingly, the figure in the head judges seat, was Cassie Anora.

“Willowe Diamond Honeysuckle Allisonette Frankincense Ravenne Hyacinth Aurelia Sakurelle Dewdrop Arwennia Heliotrope Appleflower Kristellia Sandriline Delilah Aphrodite Emyntrude Bob Yuffiana Swainsona Vipertooth Foxblade the Third,” the Sue replied with a winning smile.

“Bloody hell...” one of the male judges snickered.

The screen wiped to Willowe singing beautifully to an enraptured audience. It was as though a choir of angels had descended from heaven. Her voice spoke of pain, suffering and inner strength.

Maybe tonight, we’ll fly so far away... we’ll be lost before the dawn...”

“Bloody hell!” the male judge from before repeated, only this time his voice was faint and awe inspired. Everyone had to laugh at him, as Willowe smiled prettily to her supportive audience.

“The biggest yes I have ever given anyone!” Cassie declared, beaming at her. Willowe’s thanks were drowned out by the audience, and as she got backstage, her face broke into the widest grin anyone had ever seen.

“I can’t believe they liked me!” she was saying, trying to be modest despite how much joy she showed. “But they did! That was the best feeling ever!”

The image faded away to the live performances, with Willowe up on stage under dim lights, a background of rippling white and silver across the screens behind her.

There will be no white flag above my door... I’m in love and always will be...”

Everyone was silent as she sang, and the judges seemed barely able to string their responses together.

“You really are something special,” the judge beside Cassie was saying. “And I really want to see you make it to the final.”

The screen wiped, but it was not focused on the stage this time. It was taken backstage. Tucked just behind a sliding screen was Willowe, dressed in casual clothes, curled up with her knees under her chin. Her fingers were gripping her wildly tangled auburn hair, and even from a distance the tears on her cheeks were clearly visible.

“We’ve just heard,” the screen cut to a shot of the male judge who was speaking directly to the camera, “that one of Willowe’s sisters has been captured by the Anti-Cliche and Mary-Sue Elimination Society.”

Everyone in the back row felt a nasty chill go down their spines, as the screen cut back to Willowe, still sitting on the floor backstage, but with her head resting on Cassie’s shoulder, as the Lieutenant knelt to comfort her.

“She’s refusing to practise,” now it was Cassie, standing to address the camera outside the dressing rooms. “She won’t sing. She won’t even move. She’s devastated.”

In her seat, Emily was fighting back her own tears. She knew that this must have been when Holly was captured. She had not cared much at the time. She had been sad for her, but was bitter too. All she had seen was Holly and Juniper abandoning them to go and find Willowe... their wonderful and perfect sister who was fighting back against the Society and going to make the world better for Sues. Now she knew better about Willowe, and she felt horrible for all the times she had ever believed that her sister had not cared.

Cutting back to the image of Willowe, still being embraced by Cassie, the woman who would one day attempt to take over real life, spoke in a choked whisper. It was impossible to hear, but the image was subtitled, and still managed to cut like a knife into the hearts of everyone watching.

“I can’t do it... I can’t...”

“Yes you can,” Cassie said gently, pulling back and wiping tears from her cheeks. “You can do it for them...”

Apparently she could, for the next shot was Willowe back on stage, dark blue and green lights sweeping back and forth across the stage as she sang.

There’s no other way when it comes to the truth, so keep holding on... cause you know we’ll make it through, we’ll make it through...”

Something in her voice was different. Instead of the strength she had shown in the previous weeks, she sounded as though she might break. But the pain only seemed to give her voice more depth, and several of the judges joined the audience in floods of tears.

“I know this song was for your sister,” the second male judge was saying. “And you’ve done her and your whole family proud tonight. You’ve come up to the stage, and gone on, even though you’re hurting. You’re so brave to do that.”

From the scream of the audience, it was clear that they all agreed. There was not a single person in the studio who was against Willowe that night.

The next image was Willowe in her dressing room, casually dressed once more, but still managing to look gorgeous. She wore a face of powerful determination, and Tash could not help but shiver. The last time she had seen that expression was when she had fought the Sue herself in the Sahara.

“I’ve made it to the final,” Willowe was saying. “I have to win now. I have to do this for my fans. For myself. But most of all, I want to do this for my sisters.”

Images of Willowe rehearsing to an empty studio were flashing up as she continued to speak.

“The power can go out. The world can end tonight. My own author can show up and try to interfere. But none of that is going to stop me from winning.”

The screen wiped once more, back to the stage, which was dark, shrouded in smoke, and had stars swirling across the screens at the back.

Touch me! Its so easy to leave me... all alone with my memory... of my days in the sun...”

“You are an incredible singer,” Cassie was saying. “But tonight you went to a whole new level. That was perfect, in every sense.”

Now the stage was bright, with all the colours of the rainbow weaving their way across the screens, as Willowe sang her final song, and her last hope for her victory, her voice reaching every corner of the studio. The audience were on their feet screaming, but Willowe did not seem to notice. She was smiling, her heart and soul in every single word that passed her lips.

Somewhere over the rainbow... bluebirds fly...”

As the music continued on, the screen shifted to a dark stage, with Willowe and another Sue, both stood in spotlights with their judges on their arms, looking ready to snap from the tension.

“Willowe!”

The audience were beside themselves, but it was nothing to the shock on Willowe’s face, or the delight that quickly replaced it as her judge hugged her tightly.

The sounds of the former audience died off as the screen faded into the stage once more. Everyone else had cleared off stage, leaving just the winner, who was still wiping tears of happiness from her cheeks as the music began to play. She drew a deep breath, and raised her head to look at the audience, her smile radiant.

In the present day audience, several people began to applaud softly as they realised they were being treated to the Sue’s best performance that evening.

Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high...”

There was no nervousness in her voice. Only pure joy for her victory and surety of her own skill. The audiences, past and present, fell willingly under her spell.

There’s a land that I’ve heard of, once in a lullaby...”

She hit every note perfectly. Harriet found herself torn. However much she wanted to punch her satanic offspring for everything she had put her through, she had to admit Willowe was good. And she was still completely stunned. Just how many more times was Willowe going to continue to surprise her, even after death?

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue... and the dreams that you dare to dream, really do come true...”

The Sue brushed another tear from her porcelain cheek, and Emily felt herself hiccup as the lump in her throat seemed to swell. She touched the hairclip in her fringe, and felt tears trickle from her eyes.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star, and wake up where the clouds are far behind me...”

She had wanted that for all of them, Emily recalled the letter her sister had given her during the Battle of the Library. She had wanted a perfect world, so that she could look back and all of her problems would be a distant memory.

Where trouble melts like lemon drops, way up above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me!”

The dramatic volume of her voice did not diminish the quality, and the studio lights spun across the stage like dancers, red, yellow, green, blue shimmering past the singer. Willowe herself was giving the finale of the song, and indeed, the finale of the show, her all, as confetti began to rain down from the ceiling onto the winner of Sue Factor.

“Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly... birds fly over the rainbow. Why, then oh why can’t I?”

Never had Emily missed her sister so much. There was so much she had never asked her, and so much she wanted to know about her now. How had she felt when she had stood on that stage and been pronounced the winner? Had she really been thinking of her sisters?

If happy little blue birds fly... beyond the rainbow, why, oh why can’t I...?”

Looking at her face, joyous and yet entirely peaceful at the same time, Emily decided yes. She had been thinking of them.

The cheers from the audience of the past were picked up by the present day people in the studio, who got to their feet applauding. Emily found herself joining them, to the surprise of the rest of the Society. Harriet’s eyebrows arched into her hairline, and Tash’s scowl redoubled. Emily supposed she could not blame her – Willowe would always be Harriet’s biggest shame, and Tash would always remember her as the Sue who had killed her boyfriend and almost taken over Real Life.

Sparrow came back onto the stage with no bounce, wiping tears from her eyes as she went.

“A beautiful performance that we will always remember,” she declared. “But now, its time. You’ve voted in your thousands. And now the waiting is over. I give you the Sue Factor 2010 top two finalists!”

She stepped backwards as the centre screen rolled up once more. Dramatic music blasted into the studio, creating an effective contrast from the gentle recording of Willowe’s voice. Stepping out onto the left side of the stage were Bella and Ardelisa. The protagonist of Twilight had her arm around Ardelisa’s shoulders and was hugging her as though afraid she might pass out from nerves. Ardelisa showed no hint of what had transpired during the intermission, and her hair and clothes were as immaculate as ever. There was not even a drop of water that betrayed that she had had to save the Society leaders from drowning earlier.

As they moved to a stop, Harriet saw Ardelisa straighten suddenly in her judges hug, and her eyes gave the tiniest hint of a scowl. From the way her face was angled, the Society leader could tell she was glaring at Runoa, who sat with Merle at the judges desk. Remembering the events from not half an hour ago, Harriet wondered if Runoa knew yet that she and Tash had escaped her little trap.

On the right side of the stage, Edward Cullen had his arm around Harmony, who looked calm and unflustered by the impending results. She looked at the audience with a smile, and the volume of the screaming fans seemed to double.

Finally they fell quiet enough for Sparrow to speak. The stage lights dimmed to black, leaving both Sues and their judges in brightly lit spotlights. Sparrow could no longer be seen, but her voice carried to the whole room.

“Ardelisa. The judges called you absolutely stunning, and said that all bets were off tonight after your performance.”

The centuries old Sue blushed magnificently, and looked at her shoes, as though trying to deflect the admiring words.

“Harmony,” Sparrow continued. “Tonight the judges said that your voice was unbelievable, and that there were no words to describe your performance.”

Beaming, Harmony embraced the comments, leaning slightly into her judge, and clasping both hands neatly in front of her.

“But there can be only one winner here tonight,” Sparrow declared. “I can tell you that we have had a record breaking number of votes from across the multiverse tonight, and not a single member of the studio audience failed to raise their keypad tonight.”

She paused, and the audience seemed to pick up their cheering again.

“The winner of Sue Factor 2010 is...”

She could barely be heard over the noise. The audience were on their feet, cheering and yelling for their favourite act, as though they could change the result with their enthusiasm. The Society got up too to see over the heads of the fans. Harmony stood perfectly still like a statue, and Ardelisa’s hands had crept under her chin in prayer. The stillness on stage was completely at odds with the audience, who were beside themselves.

“...Harmony!”

The noise from the fans was deafening. On stage Harmony’s overjoyed face was hidden from view as Edward swept her up into a hug that lifted her off her feet. Ardelisa looked crushed, but was slowly pulled into an embrace by Bella, who tucked a strand of her contestant’s hair back and smiled at her encouragingly. Ardelisa nodded in response to whatever was said, and quickly hurried over to the other side of the stage to hug Harmony. The winner could not stop smiling.

OOO

In the basement of the Library, a smaller, but no less forceful cheer had erupted from the Sues, who had sat on the edge of their seats throughout the entire results. Temporarily deafened, and disappointed by the outcome, the Society agents just sighed and shrugged, as around them, Harmony’s fans hugged each other in happiness. The ones that had supported Ardelisa, slumped in their seats and began to pick at the remaining tortilla chips and popcorn with little enthusiasm.

“Ah well, that’s that,” Ben shrugged.

“Mmm...” Rhia was nodding vaguely. “Now we’ve just got to get everyone home...”

OOO

“Ardelisa,” Sparrow was trying to extract the runner up from the hug that was now in danger of squashing Harmony to death. “Ardelisa... commiserations...”

She pulled the Sue from the hug, and patted her comfortingly on the shoulder. Ardelisa was clearly disappointed, but it was the gracious disappointment of someone who understood that the better contestant had won.

“You must be devastated,” Sparrow declared, and Ardelisa shook her head prettily.

“No. It a shame not to have won, but Harmony really deserves it. I’m really glad for her.”

There was a round of approving applause at this statement. In the back row, Harriet was pouting at the outcome.

“Fix...” Tash muttered. “I’ll bet you anything Runoa pulled some strings.”

She was glaring down at the judges panel, where Merle and Runoa were on their feet applauding. Merle’s clapping was unenthusiastic, but Runoa looked more alert than she had at any point that evening, and she could not stop the pride radiating from her face.

“I don’t think so,” Alice shook her head. “Runoa might be the most powerful Sue here, but the Sues are too damn perfect and honourable to want to fix the competition. And look at her face? She wouldn’t be that proud of her Sovereign if she had needed to fix the results.”

“Let’s give it up for our runner up, Ardelisa!” Sparrow was applauding, and the rest of the audience cheered for the contestant. Smiling sadly, Ardelisa backed away so that Sparrow could get to Harmony.

"Harmony! Congratulations! How do you feel?"

The Sovereign was smiling widely, more emotion on her face than there had been all evening.

"Brilliant. I'm so happy."

"You look it," Sparrow said earnestly, before turning to the judge. "Edward, what do you have to say to your winner?"

The Twilight protagonist looked as though Christmas and his birthday had come at once. He gave Harmony another one armed hug as he replied.

"She's such a wonderful person, and it has been a real privilege to be her judge."

"Highlight of the competition?" Sparrow leaned back towards the winner.

"Too many things," Harmony said. "Its all been wonderful. I'd just like to thank everyone who voted. I couldn't have done it without their support."

Harriet was sure that everyone's hands must have been numb by that point, but they clapped and screamed anyway. Now that it was over, she was fidgety and very eager to be out of her seat and back in the Library... maybe with that Chinese food that she had suggested earlier.

"Now the most important question," Sparrow said. "Can you perform for us once more?"

"Yeah, I think so," Harmony nodded eagerly, as the stage hands appeared and began guiding everyone off stage and back to their allocated seats or backstage area.

"Good. Get yourself ready," Sparrow waved a hand at the Sue, before drifting quickly off towards the cameras again.

"Well there you have it. Our winner for Sue Factor 2010. Don't forget, you can order the official album from our website, as well as download all the performances from tonight. Thank you so much for watching. One more time now, its your Sue Factor champion, Harmony!"

The roar of the audience did not cease, even as the music began to play, and Harmony was left alone on the stage with her microphone.

"We'll do it all... everything. On our own..."

“Right...” Harriet whispered down the row. “Now that’s over with, let’s go find a way out of this fandom...”

“Can’t we just stay and listen?” Emily begged, already swaying to the Sue’s hypnotic voice. She was not the only one. Claire’s head was resting on Michael’s shoulder, and Jess was swaying in a manner which made her look not entirely sober.

“No,” was Harriet’s firm answer. “Or we might not get out at all. Now stop swaying and follow me!”

OOO

Wondering who on Earth was knocking at her door this time, Ardelisa pulled it open and smiled sadly.

“You have to stop doing that,” she said, as Harriet and Tash appeared in the doorway. Harriet gave the Sue a quick hug.

“Sorry you lost, Lisa,” she said sympathetically, while Tash strode straight for the clothes on the radiator and felt them. They were still damp, but they would have to do, so she stripped off the dress and began to pull them on.

“Its okay,” Ardelisa shook her head sadly. “I was not fated to win. I will retire to my home fandom, happy that I have come this far.”

The rest of the Society peered in cautiously, some covering their eyes as Harriet stripped her own short dress off.

“Thanks for the loan by the way,” she passed it back to the Sue. “But I think it looked better on you.”

As Ardelisa blushed fairly, Michael had a sudden thought.

“You wouldn’t know a way we can get out without being spotted?” he asked hopefully.

“No, I’m afraid not...” Ardelisa shrugged. “The staff entrance around the back requires a security key to get in through, so that only leaves the front entrance, where all the guests will be heading.”

Even as she spoke, there was a thunderous rumble from above their heads, as thousands of people got to their feet and began to exit the stadium.

“All of the staff are going to the after party too,” Ardelisa added.

“We won’t get to any of them without causing a scene,” Harriet summarised. “We’ll have to go through the front door.”

“How is it guarded?” Michael asked, sitting on the sofa. Ardelisa began to pace as she thought.

“There are usually three men manning the door,” she admitted. “But since Runoa announced to us earlier that you’re here, it might have been beefed up.”

“We’ll never get through it,” Phoenixia sighed. “They’ll know to look out for us now.”

She sank into the sofa heavily, and Emily reached deep into her handbag and pulled out a bottle of water for her friend.

“If there’s only three men,” Alice was thinking hard. “We could fight our way past them?”

“Mrow!” on Emily’s shoulder Adrian was shaking his fluffy head hard so hard that he overbalanced and fell into Emily’s open handbag. She reached in to fish him out.

“Adrian is right,” Tash admitted. “Even if there’s only three guards, there are thousands of Sues trying to leave the same way right now. They aren’t going to just let us go.”

She shivered from her clammy clothes, and bounced from foot to foot trying to get warm.

“I have an idea...” Emily said suddenly. Everyone turned to look at her. She had frozen in the act of pulling Adrian out of her bag by the scruff of his neck, and he was wriggling to get free. For an explanation, she dropped him straight back in, where the sounds of his meowing were lost in the cavernous depths.

Harriet got it first.

“No way.”

OOO

“I can’t believe I agreed to this...”

“Louise, I’ve asked you three times. Get your butt out of my face.”

“I can’t! Jess is sitting on my hand!”

“Well pinch her then!”

“I think I just knocked something over...”

“MROW!”

“Meep! Sorry Adrian! I’m sorry!”

“Would all of you just shut up?!” Emily hissed through the tiny opening she had left at the top of her handbag. Instantly everyone inside fell silent. She clutched it tight against her body, and was rejoining the throng of people heading for the main exit. Her eyes flicked anxiously back and forth. Ardelisa had escorted her out of the backstage areas and had wished them all a safe trip back. Somehow, this did not make Emily any more confident.

“Okay, here we go,” she whispered as she headed into the crowd of Sues, who were gently pushing their way toward the exit. Her finger tips were cold, gripping the strap of her bag tightly, and she took a few deep breaths and tried not to look nervous.

“Well the others can say what they like,” came a voice from within the bag. “I think you’re a genius Emily.”

“Thanks Nixie,” Emily muttered, knowing full well that Phoenixia was only glad of an opportunity to feel everyone up inside the dark pocket dimension of the handbag.

“I can’t believe I’m in a girl’s handbag...” Michael muttered. “This is dangerous territory for a man...”

Although Emily couldn’t see, she just knew that Adrian was nodding his fluffy head in agreement with that statement.

“Do you want to get out and walk?” she asked testily.

“No ma’am.”

“Good.”

As the crowd rounded the corner, Emily saw the three glass doors that were the exit to the building. Sure enough, there was a security guard on each one. To her horror however, they were not alone. Beside each guard was a Sue Factor judge.

She cursed under her breath.

“Emily Smith!” Harriet’s offended voice appeared from inside her handbag.

“Shut up!” Emily hissed back, slowing her pace as much as she could against the tide of people. “The judges are here!”

“Stay calm,” Phoenixia soothed from inside. “Take deep breaths and try not to look worried or anxious.”

“Easy for you to say!” Emily could feel the crowd pushing against her, closer and closer to the exit...and the dangerous figures.

“Go for one of the Cullens!” Tash suggested.

“But they’re both guarding the same door!” Emily said, privately terrified that they would both recognise her - her sister had lived in Twilight for a long time after all, and it was entirely probable that they would realise who she was.

“Go for Merle,” Phoenixia urged. “She’s never seen you or your sister before. She won’t know who you are.”

“No!” Louise sounded terrified. “Don’t go near her! She’s dangerous!”

“Oh, so do you want her to go to Runoa instead?” Jess asked sarcastically. “Because that’s going to go so well...”

Emily elbowed her bag to shut everyone up, but it was too late to change her path. She was swept with the rest of the audience toward the centre door, where Runoa and a ginger haired security guard stood like soldiers in sentry boxes. Runoa’s eyes were passing over every face that left the building, and Emily felt her body break out into a fearful sweat, and she wrenched her gaze away from the Lieutenant and focused on the door and the freedom that lay beyond it. She kept her head straight and walked with the throng of people out of the door...

A beefy hand fell on her shoulder and wrenched her back into the warm entrance.

“Excuse me young lady,” the ginger haired security guard was frowning at her (though it was difficult to tell from behind his sunglasses). “Are you here on your own? Where are your parents?”

Her elation was gone, and Emily’s eyes flicked nervously to Runoa, who had only just appeared to have noticed her presence. As her emerald eyes fell on Emily’s face, they narrowed into a puzzled expression, and Emily knew she did not have long before the Sue recognised the resemblance.

Think!” she thought urgently. “What would Willowe do...?”

The answer was simple. Willowe would never have got into this situation in the first place. She wouldn’t have helped the Society if her life had depended on it. Still...Emily put her best impatient expression on her face, and lifted her chin defiantly as she wriggled free of the man’s hand.

“I’m a Mary-Sue,” she declared in her haughtiest tone. “I don’t have parents, you idiot.”

She realised almost immediately that she should not have insulted him. The crowd seemed to sense that something was going on, and they had started deterring to the other exits instead, giving the confrontation a wide berth. Runoa stepped forward, and Emily felt her heart threaten to beat itself right out of her chest. She had never seen the Lieutenant up close before, and she understood immediately why the woman had once been Librarian. She had the same kind of presence that Adrian and the rest of the Counter Guardians had.

“A young Sue travelling without parents or her guardians...” Runoa’s voice was laced with suspicion. She did not seem to recognise Emily yet, but there was something calculating in her gaze that the girl did not like.

“She looks suspicious,” the guard agreed, taking a hold of Emily again and pushing her towards the judge and away from the glass doors. Emily could feel her escape slipping like water out of her hands. This was not like being caught messing with the school computer system. This was dangerous, and she did not think she could bluff her way out of this one...

That still did not mean she could not try though. She straightened her back and tried to remember how Willowe had always done it...looking untouchable and in control of the situation. She felt urgent shuffling in her handbag, and she subtly elbowed it again.

“Do you have a problem with the way I look?” she demanded of the security guard. She did not dare look at Runoa, and it would probably be easier to fool the man – he did not look too bright.

“Yes,” the guard objected. “You were walking quickly and looking all shifty.”

Allowing her impatience to shine through, Emily folded her arms and gave the man her most condescending glare. “Well while we’re exchanging insults, you could stand to lose a little weight, Tubby.”

Angry red patches appearing in his cheeks, the man made a swipe for her cheek. Emily ducked, and managed to turn the movement into a swift stride back towards the glass doors. Two more steps and she would have evaded the security and be through, and free to find a safe place to let the others out to plothole them back to the Library...

“YOU!”

Emily barely had time to turn around, before she was seized and thrown like a rag doll backwards into the wall. Pain ripped down her body, and she felt the breath burst from her lungs. She crumpled to the floor, vaguely aware that the other Sues were screaming and clearing the area. She lifted her head slowly, feeling her vision swim hazily.

Edward Casanova stood before her, his sword in hand, a murderous look on his features as he advanced. The audience and judges seemed to have frozen in their spots at this unexpected outburst.

“Where is she?!” the Stu demanded, as Emily struggled to push herself up right. She did not know how she had managed to hold onto her bag, but it was wriggling against her side, as the agents struggled to get out and see what was happening.

“Who?” she croaked out defiantly, knowing that she would probably pay later for this attitude.

“Phoenixia! Where is she?!” Edward roared. The Sues and Stus who were still standing, paralyzed in shock, started to whisper back and forth, and beyond Edward, Emily could see the pieces finally falling into place in Runoa’s mind.

“Staying away from the likes of you!” she snarled, getting back to her feet. The Stu gave a primal scream and threw himself toward her, sword raised, even as Runoa’s whip leaped into her hand, and was pulled back to lash at her...

The entrance went black, as with a crack, the lights went out.

Emily did not stop to feel the pain from her injuries, or to find out what had happened. She ran blindly, as hard as she could, pushing people aside as she went. A soft hand slipped into hers and pulled her away from the panicking people, and she let herself be dragged out of the entrance and towards the backstage area.

“You are a lucky girl!” Ardelisa’s voice congratulated, and Emily felt relieved that she was not being tugged around by a stranger, even as the chaos of the entrance hall faded away behind them. She heard the frantic sounds of the Society in her bag, as they struggled to stay upright as she ran.

“Tashy, you have wings! Get out and help her!”

“I’d love to, but Phoenixia’s tits are in my face!”

“What else is new?”

Harriet’s voice broke through the chaos.

“Emily! Are you okay?!”

“I’m alright,” Emily was well aware that her shaking voice betrayed the lie. Her back, neck, shoulders and head ached from impacting with the wall, and she was trembling all over. Only Ardelisa’s hand was keeping her from falling over.

“Let us out! We’ll have to fight our way free!”

“No!” Emily snapped, angry all of a sudden. She was tired of everyone wanting to fight – the Society and the Sues. “We’ll find another way out! You all stay in there! Ardelisa will get me out!”

She muffled their protests by stuffing her scarf in her bag.

“We have to hide!” Ardelisa was saying. “They can flash step. They’ll have caught up with us soon.”

Emily skidded to a sudden halt, yanking her hand free of Ardelisa’s. Her eyes were fixed on a ventilation shaft in the wall.

“Lisa,” she said, taking out the scarf and fishing around in her bag, this time for her supersoaker. “Get back to your dressing room.”

“Excuse me?!” the Sue was incredulous. “I’m not leaving you here!”

“If they know you helped me, they’ll kill you,” Emily said. “Besides, you can’t follow me where I’m going.”

The Sue followed her gaze to the vent, and understanding dawned.

“Even so,” she objected. “How will you get out?”

“I’ve got a plan!” Emily assured her. “Just go! And thank you for your help!”

She was already extracting a screwdriver from her bag and getting to work on the bolts on the vent cover. There was an angry explosion from down the corridor, and Ardelisa jumped at the noise, before picking her dress up.

“...good luck Emily...” she said, before running as fast as her legs would carry her. Emily tossed the last bolt away and yanked the cover off, as Runoa, Merle and Edward appeared around the corner.

“Good luck fitting down here with those tits,” she dared, before throwing herself headfirst into the vent and sliding away from the whip that lashed out at the spot she had been standing.

“Emily, we must discuss your manners!” Harriet huffed from inside the bag, as the girl scrambled to the end of the shaft and pulled herself up to the next level, before her pursuers could drag her back out. The vent was barely big enough for her to kneel in, and her back bumped painfully against the roof as she crawled frantically, ignoring the dust that was building up on her palms.

OOO

“She’s a resourceful little brat,” Merle muttered, peering down the vent shaft. Runoa was tracing the wall with contemplating eyes.

“She is Willowe’s sister,” she muttered. “I did not think she had survived the invasion...”

“I will tear my way through that vent to get her!” Edward was hissing, peering in though the shaft as far as his muscular body would allow.

“And how will you do that with shoulders that size?” Merle asked cynically.

“The roof,” Runoa declared. “She’s heading upwards. You two get up there. I’ll try from this end.”

“You’re not the boss of us!” Merle objected.

“DO AS I SAY!” Runoa shouted, and both Sue and Stu jumped, rattled to their core. Runoa’s power had exploded violently from her with her outburst, and even as she regained control of her temper, they could not help but shiver as they were reminded just how much more powerful she was. Quickly, but still glaring at the Lieutenant, they ran for the nearest stairwell.

Peering critically at the vent, Runoa fingered Hellbinder.

“Evade this, little Palm Tree...”

OOO

“Ow!” Emily yelped as she banged her head against the roof again. She had clambered up three levels, and appeared to have joined the main vent shaft out of the building. She was not as cramped as she had been on the lower level, but it was still a tight fit. Her limbs were aching. It was worse than the two hour work out session that Ms Farmer had put her and Miki through as detention when she had caught them skipping PE.

“Mind your head,” Jess supplied helpfully.

Emily ignored this and carried on with her marathon shuffle, pausing when she heard something below her...it was a slithery sort of sound like a snake on the metal...

Abruptly cold, she turned her head and saw the serrated edged Hellbinder rising up from the vent behind her like an entranced cobra from a basket.

Emily screamed and scrambled as fast as she could away from the whip as it lunged for her. She threw herself to the side, banging her head against the wall as it coiled where her ankle had been. Struggling to keep moving, the girl pulled herself along the vent, screeching as the whip made another lash towards her. She collapsed backwards, missing the strike by a millimetre. Pushing herself backwards, away from the weapon, she saw more of the black whip rise from the shaft and snake its way towards her.

She kicked out, and the whip flew back like an angry serpent recoiling from the blow. She gained a few precious feet, feeling cold air buffet her from behind. Turning her head, she saw the exit to the air vent, and the star filled night’s sky beyond it. She was almost there...

She shrieked as the whip lashed around her ankle and the serrated edges dug into her skin, drawing blood and another scream. The pain was unbearable, and she felt her foot go numb. Lashing out desperately she kicked at the whip, but as her good foot caught it, it just dug the weapon into her flesh deeper. She felt tears trickling down the side of her face, and screamed again as the black length began to pull her slowly back the way she had come. Behind her head, the vent exit slid away from her head.

Desperate, she plunged her hand back into her handbag, and felt for something, anything that would help... supersoaker... water bottle... Incandescent Silverreign... Michael’s sword...

She grasped tightly and pulled. The blade appeared in her hand and she swung as best she could in her confined space as the whip. It severed neatly, and the remainder slithered back down the vent shaft and out of sight.

Not wasting a second, Emily scrambled for the end of the vent and threw her weight at the rusted cover. It snapped open and she tumbled ungracefully onto the tarpaper.

The freezing air stung at her skin, but she barely felt it. She was shaking, and bile rose in her throat as she replaced Michael’s sword in her bag, and looked down at her ankle. Wincing, she peeled the end of the whip off her leg. It did not hurt any more, it just burned, and she knew she was probably going into shock, but she didn’t care. She tossed the whip away as hard as she could and wiped the tears out of her eyes.

“Emily? What happened?!” Harriet sounded frantic.

“Hellbinder...” she could hear her voice shaking. “My ankle...”

“Listen to me Emily,” her guardian’s voice was suddenly calm and rational, but Emily could feel something in the bag trembling...or maybe that was just her. “Take deep breaths...”

Deep breathing made Emily want to throw up, especially as she continued to look at her injury. But she did as she was told.

“Take your scarf out of your bag,” Harriet was saying slowly and clearly. “And wrap it around your ankle. Tie it firmly, but not too tight. Do you understand me?”

“Yes...” the girl nodded, and dipped her shaking hands into the bag. Her scarf, blue cashmere and soft to the touch was like a gentle friend as she pulled it out. She wrapped it around her limb twice and tied as tightly as she dared. It made her look like she was wearing a peculiar looking leg warmer as she got to her feet, still shaking.

The roof was deserted, though cluttered with air conditioners and huge hulking extractor fans for the whole building. In the street below, she could hear the anxious audience still leaving. She limped as quickly as she dared to the edge of the roof, seeing plotholes along the pathway blinking into life and out again, as the Sues and Stus vanished back to the places they called home. Emily guessed that the spell only extended around the perimeter of the building...the question was, how far away from the edge of the building was the perimeter?

The door behind her exploded outwards, and she barely had enough time to throw herself to the side to dodge Merle’s strike. Edward advanced, sword raised, and Emily shakily got back to her feet. She was crouched on the edge of the roof. One good push would send her over the edge, and plummeting four stories down to her death.

“I’ll ask you again girl,” Edward picked her up by the scruff of her neck and pulled her face close to his. “Where. Is. Phoenixia?!”

His sword was pressed into her throat, and Emily felt her teeth chatter.

“Don’t kill her, you idiot!” Merle barked angrily. “If she’s dead, she can’t tell us where the Society are!”

Edward’s momentary pause was all Emily needed. Just as she had done earlier that night, she brought her good foot up as hard as she could, and slammed it into his crotch. She was weak from shock, but Edward was still bruised, and roared in agony, dropping her to clutch at his injury. Emily fell and almost overbalanced off the edge of the roof.

As the door burst open again, and Runoa appeared with a broken Hellbinder in her hand, Emily got shakily to her feet again. The air buffeted her bruised back as though to welcome her.

If she was honest, she had guessed that it might come to this...that did not make the task any less daunting. But if this did not work, nothing would...

What would Willowe do?”

Smirking through the pain, she blew the Sues and Stu a kiss, before throwing herself off the roof.

She heard Hellbinder strike again, but it could not touch her now. Wind was whistling in her ears, accompanied by the petrified screams of the Sues on the ground below as they saw the tiny figure plummeting towards them like a stone. As the power that she ruthlessly denied surged through her, she wondered if this was what it was like to fly...

The rainbow swirling portal ripped into existence below her, and she fell into its embrace.

OOO

The bed was nice and fluffy... she didn’t want to move...

“Come on Em. You can’t feign unconsciousness forever.”

“Can so,” she retorted, wrapping her arms tightly around her pillow and burying her head into it. It smelt of rose water beneath the sharp tang of disinfectant.

“You are a very lucky girl,” Valerie was telling her sternly, and Emily smiled as she remembered that was exactly what Ardelisa had said to her. “That whip went deep, but it didn’t break anything. I’ve bandaged you up. You’ll have a nasty bruise on your back, but otherwise you’re alright.”

“Tired...” Emily moaned.

“Shock and blood loss,” Valerie explained. “You’ll be fine in a little while.”

“What exactly did you do?” Harriet’s voice was asking, not quite rid of the worry that she had been feeling ever since her adopted daughter had been brought to the hospital wing, dazed and bleeding from her misadventures.

“Got to the roof...” Emily mumbled into the pillow, and she felt both women lean closer to listen properly. “Jumped... plotholed mid fall... must have come back to the Library...”

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she hoped that they would forget that she had not pulled out her generator to summon the plothole...she was not quite ready to share her talent for them yet...

“You jumped off a four story building?!” Harriet sounded livid. “What were you thinking?!”

“...was thinking ‘what would big sis do?’.” Emily muttered truthfully in response. “...so I blew 'em all a kiss before I jumped...”

Valerie snorted. “You blew Runoa a kiss?!”

The girl shrugged. “She seemed to appreciate it...”

She could hear the healer chuckling, and Harriet huffed in an unamused manner. Nevertheless the leader ruffled her charge’s hair. Emily moaned again and wriggled further into the pillow.

“Come on,” Valerie urged. “Sit up and you can have some hot tea.”

Hot tea did sound appealing... but so did staying in the bed.

“We’re having our own after party when you get up,” Harriet’s informed her. As if on cue, Emily’s eyes snapped open and she raised her head to look at her guardian.

“...really? Cheesy club music and oddly coloured drinks?”

“We even managed to rig up some disco lights,” Harriet smiled. “Though I would take it easy on the dancing with your ankle. Everyone is there already...even the Sues and Stus from the basement are coming.”

Energised, the girl threw back the covers and swept up the cup of tea.

“Wait!” Harriet yelled, as her charge downed the tea and shot towards the door as fast as she could on a busted ankle. “We still have to discuss your manners, young lady! Where did you learn that swear word?!”

OOO

Suebook News Feed:

The ACMSES: Had a lovely time at Sue Factor tonight, and thought all the acts were wonderful. Now for our own after party – photographs will be up soon! Merry Christmas everyone!

23:05pm.