The dressing room was spacious, with dresses lined up on a clothing rail, some freshly dry cleaned and covered in plastic, others discarded quickly, hanging off one side of the hanger. The dressing table was cluttered with make up, and the lights around the mirror glowed brightly. A large white sofa sat opposite, and beside that, a door that led to a small bathroom.
Ardelisa hummed as she took a deep drink from her glass of water. She caught sight of her reflection in the mirror, and smiled. She looked radiant, and now that the performance was over, some of the anxiety had left her eyes. Performing was natural to her, but despite her time in modern fandoms she was still not comfortable with the clothing. It seemed very indecent to have to wear dresses that showed ones arms. The previous week when she had been singing Evacuate the Dancefloor, she had been shocked to see the knee length dress that they expected her to wear, and she had been distracted the whole evening. She was a virtuous woman, and showing so much skin felt like a horrible way to tempt fate.
Tonight seemed to have gone very well however, and there was just one more performance left, if she made it past the next vote off. She was not too worried – divine providence would see her through to the next round. And in the mean time, she was greatly enjoying herself.
There was a knock at the door, and she replaced the glass on the coaster, and straightened her hair. It was probably another make up artist or someone.
“Who is it?” she called, turning to find her favourite perfume in amongst the make up boxes.
“A gay Turkish pirate,” the reply was dripping with sarcasm, and Ardelisa’s back straightened instantly, perfume bottle still clutched in her hand.
“...Harriet?” she crossed the room quickly and pulled open the door. The Anti-Cliche and Mary-Sue Elimination Society leader stood on the threshold, one hand braced against the doorframe a wide smile on her face. She wore an orange shirt which sparkled and showed an ample (slightly indecent in Ardelisa’s mind) amount of cleavage, but aside from that, looked just as she had the last time the Sue had seen her.
“Goodness me!” Ardelisa exclaimed, throwing her arms around the leader. “What a surprise! Come in! Come in!”
She shepherded them inside, Harriet looking around the room with an impressed stare. Tash followed, arms folded and frowning, though this hostility was not totally unexpected – the last time they had met, Ardelisa had drugged Tash into a hallucinogenic nightmare.
“Excuse the mess,” Ardelisa blushed sheepishly. “The make up artists are very unorganised.”
“I’m sure,” Harriet nodded, turning to face the Sue. “How have you been then?”
“Oh just wonderful,” Ardelisa beamed. “Ever since you reunited me with my beloved Count life has been just perfect... I’ve been keeping connected with several Sues of course, and I found out about this competition, and decided it looked like fun.”
“You sang really well,” Harriet complimented, leaning against the dressing table. “We were all impressed.”
Tash made no move to back this comment up, throwing herself onto the sofa, and glancing suspiciously around the room. But Ardelisa did not seem to notice or care.
“Oh it’s lovely that you are here,” she continued. “The other contestants have friends who are here supporting them. I’ve had no one...” a sad, tragic tear appeared in her eyes. “But to know that you’re in the audience tonight is such a boost!”
“Yes... about the other contestants,” Harriet began, before the Sue could gush any more. “We were wondering about a few of them... Edward for example. We had him down as being –”
“ – dead?” Ardelisa finished. “Yes everyone did. I would not know this, but I overheard him talking to Merle the other day backstage – she’s his judge you see – and he mentioned that his author resurrected him. Said he had more work to do. Sounded very covert...”
The two Society leaders exchanged looks. “So his author still wants to use Edward to get to us.” Tash muttered. “Just wonderful...”
“Is there a problem with him?” Ardelisa asked, anxiety crossing her perfect face again. “I always felt a little uneasy around him. He reminds me of that dreadful Mahomet from my own fandom...”
Harriet shuddered. Mahomet was a Turkish officer in the Count de Vinevil fandom, who instantly fell in love with Ardelisa at first sight and ended up killing her father in an attempt to abduct her.
“You’re not far off,” she explained. “When we first encountered Edward he tried to rape Phoenixia.”
The Sue’s reaction was not hard to predict. Her hands flew to her mouth but could not stop the gasp of horror from escaping her lips. Tash’s eyes darkened and she shrank back into the sofa.
“That foul man!” Ardelisa exclaimed. “What will you do? Are you here to arrest him?”
“No,” Harriet’s words were sharp and firm. “We are not here to cause trouble tonight. We understand that Sues need to have fun too, so we’re just watching the show. But now we know that Edward is here, we need to keep an eye on him. He won’t try and attack anyone else, we don’t think – he’s fixated on Phoenixia. But we could use an extra pair of eyes backstage.”
At once, Ardelisa understood, and drew herself up as tall as it was possible for her tiny delicate frame to be. “You can rely on me! I shall keep a close watch on him and notify you of anything I see.”
Relieved, Harriet smiled. “Thanks. We’re in the back row. Don’t try and do anything dangerous though. Just keep an eye on him and make sure he’s not going anywhere he’s not suppo-”
She was interrupted by a bang at the door, and both leaders jumped. Ardelisa almost dropped her perfume, but recovered quickly and gracefully.
“Who is it?” she called.
“Me. Open up.”
The words were shot and clipped, and both Society leaders paled. It was Runoa. Eyes widening, Ardelisa hastily pulled the door to her bathroom wide, and ushered them in. “Just a moment!”
There was an impatient huff from the Lieutenant. Harriet and Tash stumbled through the door, the white tiles blinding them temporarily. As Ardelisa closed the door, the two leaders pressed their ears against the wood to listen as the Sue’s feet crossed the carpet, and the dressing room door was pulled open.
“Good evening Runoa.”
“Is it?” the Lieutenant’s voice became clearer as she entered, and Ardelisa shut the door with a sharp click. Neither Harriet or Tash dared to breathe.
“Well I think it is,” Ardelisa’s voice was calm and cool. She betrayed no hint of anxiousness or worry. It was as though Runoa had merely caught her touching up her make up. There was a soft hiss as the Sue spritzed herself with perfume.
“Where’s Bella?” Ardelisa asked curiously when she was finished. “She usually visits me during the breaks.”
“Occupied with her husband,” Runoa’s tone was disgusted. “So the task has fallen to me.”
“You could try and sound more cheerful about it,” Ardelisa suggested. “It’s Christmas Runoa. Would smiling really kill you?”
“I’m not a smiley person,” was the reply. “Were you talking to yourself when I knocked?”
Harriet tensed, and she could see Tash biting back a swear. Ardelisa’s voice was perfectly calm and sweet when she replied.
“Yes. Yes I was.”
There was a long and tense silence, and somehow Harriet just knew that Runoa was scanning every inch of the room for anything strange.
“Have you noticed anything strange tonight?” the Lieutenant finally asked.
“I have noticed a lot of strange things,” Ardelisa replied airily. “Bella and Edward sparkling when someone opened the windows during rehearsal this afternoon for example...”
“I am in no mood for games, Ardelisa,” Runoa snapped. “Have you seen anyone who shouldn’t be here?”
Once again, Harriet locked eyes with Tash, and mouthed ‘they know!’.
“No one except you,” Ardelisa stated firmly. “Really Runoa, you seem determined to be suspicious of everyone.”
“Everyone is suspicious in my eyes,” the Lieutenant growled. “You are no exception. And if I find out you have lied to me –”
“Is that a threat?” Ardelisa asked quietly, all trace of politeness gone. Her visitor snorted.
“Oh no Ardelisa. You will know when I am threatening you. This is merely a warning. Do not test me. I know something is going on tonight and I will find out what it is. And no one can stop me.”
“No,” Ardelisa’s voice was agreeable now. “No one could stop you. You are the Lieutenant after all, with powers some of us could only dream of...” her voice became dangerous again. “But do not think of threatening me. You might be Lieutenant, and you may have lived far longer than me, but I have been a Sue far longer than you, and I have suffered every second of my life as a figure of ridicule by my own author. I might not be powerful enough to beat you in a fight... but I would break both of your legs before you could kill me.”
Runoa gave a mirthless laugh. “You? The poor tragic good girl, obsessed with her virtue? Harm me?”
There was a pause, as she chuckled again, and Ardelisa was silent until she finished.
“Yes. Me... now hadn’t you better run along back to your little desk on stage, before Magdalena gets irritated?”
There was a long silent, before the sounds of feet shuffling along the carpet appeared, following by the slamming of the door. Neither leader dared move, until Ardelisa pushed the door open and sent them sprawling to the carpeted floor.
“Oh I do apologise!” she blushed prettily as the two women picked themselves up. “She’s gone now.”
“Obviously...” Tash muttered, straightening her shirt. “Great... they know something is wrong...” She pulled out her Plot Summary and began scanning the fandom.
“You were brave standing up against Runoa,” Harriet complimented. “You should be careful though. If she wanted to kill you nothing would stop her, and who knows what effect that might have on your fandom.”
Ardelisa shrugged. “I do not underestimate her. However I believe Divine Providence would keep me safe if she were to attempt to harm me.”
Harriet bit back her sceptical retort.
“You had better get back to your seats,” Ardelisa continued. “The next round will be starting soon, and Magdalena hates it when audience members get back after filming begins...she’s the stage director,” she added, seeing their confused faces, and both girls instantly remembered the formidable looking woman striding around the stage earlier.
“Just one more question,” Harriet said quickly.
“Yes?” Ardelisa looked worried, clearly unsure what the leader was going to ask of her.
“...can I use your bathroom?”
“On air in five, four three, two... one!”
Magdalena’s voice died away as the audience drowned her out. Sparrow was back on the stage, which was now cleared for the next act. The lights flashed again, and Alice was muffled by Louise’s coat once more, while everyone else in the Society glanced nervously around. They had all been thrown into a state of extreme paranoia after the near miss the leaders had had with the Lieutenant, and none of them were completely comfortable any longer. Staying quiet was fine enough, but now Runoa seemed to suspect that someone was here that shouldn’t be, how long would this last? Phoenixia especially was very jumpy at the prospect of the next act.
“Welcome back to the Sue Factor Finals!” Sparrow was bouncing again, her hair springing along with her step. “Things are warming up around here. Ardelisa has given us the first performance of the night, which means now we move onto our next performance. Its Merle, and the last of the boys.”
The judge was smiling confidently, tucking a strand of her long brown hair behind one ear before addressing the camera.
“Singing for your votes here tonight, its Edward.”
The fangirls in the audience screamed wildly, as the screens zoomed into a close shot of Edward’s smirking face. None of the Society were applauding.
“Name?” the camera zoomed into Runoa, who was dressed casually and frowning at the stage as the auditions wore on. Standing on the stage the Stu showed no hint of nervousness.
“Why do you sing?” Merle asked next.
“For a very special woman.”
In her seat, Phoenixia tensed. Tash squeezed her hand, but the older woman was by no means comforted. Onscreen the judges did not appear impressed with the response, and were clearly preparing themselves for another disappointment.
“...know its true... everything I do... I do it for you...”
The judge’s mouths had dropped in surprise at the deep and beautiful voice that came from the Stu, and the audience were on their feet in a standing ovation.
“That gave me chills,” Bella declared.
“You have a star inside you,” Merle was beaming. “And I want to see that star come out!”
“Four yes’s. You’re through,” Runoa declared, and Edward cheered.
The screen wiped to a darkened stage, with Edward crooning the lyrics to an enraptured audience. The song was Wicked Game, and the lyrics resounded in the heads of every Society agent. Tears were working their way into Phoenixia’s eyes as each word hit home along with a good dose of Stuish influence.
“I get the feeling that was the perfect song for you, and it meant a lot to you personally,” Edward Cullen was saying.
“You have a really powerful voice,” Merle complimented next. “And it showed so well in that song. Well done!”
The image blurred into the next week, with a long drawn out note, which none of the Society had time to identify, but which was definitely showing off the full strength of Edward’s voice.
“I think you need to push yourself a bit harder,” Runoa criticised, ignoring the boos, and dodging the random shoe that was thrown at her head from the audience. “That was not your best work.”
The previous weeks’ appearance appeared, full of strobe lighting and dramatic music which caused the Society to throw their clothing over Alice once more, much to her protests.
“So come on let meeeeeee entertain you!”
“Bloody hell...” Harriet muttered. “If we weren’t paying attention before...”
“Entertain me please!” Bella clapped her hands together. “That was such a fun song for you!”
“You looked incredible, and you sounded sensational!” Merle congratulated.
The screen wiped again, this time to Edward in a slightly more casual outfit.
“This is my last chance to prove that I have got what it takes. And I’m going to prove it in style.”
Merle filled the screen next, looking completely serious as she spoke.
“He’s dedicated himself to this competition. I’ve never seen such focus or drive in a contestant before. He really does deserve to win.”
As she finished speaking, the image faded away, leaving the stage dark, except for a lone spot in the centre. The low rumble of an electric guitar was building, before exploding onto the stage in a colourful maelstrom of lights, which made everyone throw their coats back over Alice.
Edward stood centre stage beneath the lone spotlight, dark eyed as he looked up to face the audience. Passion simmered just beneath the surface of his voice waiting to boil over.
“I remembered black skies, the lightning all around me... I remembered each flash, as time began to blur...”
As he sang, lightning flashed across the screens, and the white spotlights flashed on and off in time with the beat of the song. Alice was now being smothered by seven coats, and was having trouble hearing, let alone seeing anything.
“Like a startling sign that fate had finally found me...”
His eyes fell on the audience and Phoenixia fought down a wave of horror. It felt like he was looking right at her, knowing she was there, and directing his words to her.
“And your voice was all I heard, that I’d get what I deserve...”
The terrified woman put her hands over her ears, but as the chorus exploded into the studio, and all the carefully contained passion in Edward’s voice overflowed, the words pounded through her skull regardless.
“So give me reason, to prove me wrong. To wash this memory clean. Let the floods cross, the distance in your eyes...”
Alice was not the major problem any longer. Tash had shifted out of her seat onto the arm, and was cradling Phoenixia’s head in her lap, but her comfort was barely noticed.
“Give me reason to fill this hole. Connect the space between. Let it be enough to reach the truth that lies...”
Something snapped in Phoenixia and she pushed Tash away, and fled from the studio.
“Across this new divide...”
Horrified, Tash made to get up and follow, but Adrian was there first, jumping out of her jacket and racing after his oldest friend, turning to shoot Tash a look that stated clearly that he would deal with it. Reluctantly, Tash sank back into her seat, angry that even on stage and separated by a crowd of onlookers and several cameras, Edward could still find a way to torment Phoenixia.
Adrian’s short little kitten legs were not designed for running after a panicked five foot ten woman. However Phoenixia was running blindly, and Adrian could easily smell her. He eventually came to a halt outside the girls bathrooms, and knowing that everyone was watching the performance, he threw his tiny weight against the door and wriggled through the gap.
She had pulled her feet up, but only one of the doors was locked, and Adrian did not even have to duck as he padded across the tiles and under the cubicle door. His heart gave a wrench as he saw Phoenixia curled up on the toilet, breathing heavily and shaking all over. He quickly changed back to normal.
The woman heaved a shuddering breath, and Adrian felt cold as she looked up at him. He had never seen her look so terrified. Her face seemed to break and she seized him around the waist, sobbing hard into his shirt. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and stroked her hair.
“What did he do?” he had a horrible suspicion, but he had to hear it from Phoenixia herself. She was gasping for breath as though drowning, and she shook her head against his stomach.
“Stupid... stupid... I should never have come here... so stupid... I’m not ready for this... I’m not brave... not strong enough...”
“Shh...” the Librarian rocked her slowly. “You’re not stupid. And you’re the bravest person I know...you’re a strong, brave and beautiful woman.” He bent slightly to kiss the top of her head. “Now tell me... what did he do?”
Her breathing quietened slightly, but now the tears were pouring down her face. “I... it was in the Devil May Cry fandom... he was level five, so I thought I could take him out... he... he told me we were lovers... that we’d met in cyberspace... he had a whole story. I realised it wasn’t true and he... he got angry... he...” her voice was growing fainter and fainter, and Adrian knelt on the linoleum to look her in the eye.
“...he... tried to rape me...”
The words packed the impact of a tonne of bricks slamming into Adrian’s chest. She curled up and cried again against his shoulder, and suddenly Adrian did not care that they were supposed to be avoiding trouble, or that Harriet had specifically said that they would do nothing in this fandom. He was going to go down there, and kill Edward. And for one of the very few times in his long life, he would feel no remorse or regret when he took this life. It would not be enough to make him pay...
“Don’t do anything...” Phoenixia seemed to have sensed what he was thinking – probably from the way his body was tense with anger. “Please... just... take me home?”
The anger dissipated, as she clung to him tighter, and he sighed deeply, releasing all the tension he had not been aware he was carrying.
He pulled her up and helped her back through the cubicle door. She leaned heavily on him, hiccupping as they shuffled awkwardly back into the corridor. Seeing no one around, Adrian concentrated and began to will a door back to the Library into existence.
Frowning, the Librarian tried again, but it felt as though his power, that invisible connection back to the Library was being smothered, like someone had stuffed a sponge into his head. Concerned, he pulled out his communicator and quickly sent a text to his girlfriend, before trying again.
“What’s wrong?” Phoenixia looked panicked again, and Adrian did not answer, pushing, straining for a door to appear. Still the corridor remained empty.
Brisk footsteps could be heard now, and Tash rounded the corner and hurried towards them.
“What’s going on?” she asked, slipping her communicator back into her pocket. “I got your text...”
“We can’t get back to the Library,” Adrian reported grimly.
“What?!” the Assistant Librarian’s eyes went wide, and she immediately tried to summon a door herself. Nothing happened, and she shook her head hard as though dizzy.
“Its not working... feels like someone filled my ears with cotton wool. I can’t focus on the Library.”
“So we’re stuck here?” now Phoenixia sounded hysterical, and Adrian shook his head firmly.
“We’re not stuck. We can’t be...”
But even as Tash tried her old plothole generator, nothing happened. The fandom was entirely closed off.
“We can’t be trapped here,” Adrian was repeating furiously, pacing the corridor as Phoenixia leaned against the wall shaking. “We just can’t. We got in, so we can get out...”
“Runoa must have done this,” Tash concluded. “No one else is powerful enough to seal off an entire fandom. She knows someone is here who shouldn’t be, and she’s making sure they don’t get out.”
“She’s going to have to reopen it again though,” Adrian declared. “When the show is over for the night, all the Sues in the audience are going to want to leave. She’ll have to reverse whatever she’s done in order to let everyone out.”
“Or she could tell them and let them help...” Tash added darkly. “Either way, we’d still be trapped.” She drew a deep breath. “Look, none of us are thinking of any solutions sat here in the corridor, and if someone notices our seats are empty its going to look strange. Let’s go back, watch the rest of the show, and talk about this during the next break.”
Phoenixia looked horrified at the mere thought of going back into that studio. “But...”
“Its alright,” Tash assured her. “The judges were giving their feedback when I left, so Harmony is probably up by now.”
It seemed to soothe Phoenixia that she would not have to look at the man who had attacked her in the DMC fandom, but she still looked anxious. “Still...”
“He won’t touch you,” Adrian cupped her face. “Not while we’re there. Promise.” He kissed her hoping that it might solidify the promise in her mind. He was not sure if it worked, but it did bring a tiny hint of a smile to her face.
“Come on,” Tash broke the moment. “Let’s go back. If he’s not on the stage, who knows where he is...”
The ominous words did nothing to soothe Phoenixia, but she followed regardless, jumping at every little noise, and seeing the tall green eyed figure of Edward in every dark shadow in the corridor...
As they silently slipped back into their seats, Harmony had already begun her song – a rendition of My Immortal. Her voice was melodic and sent shivers down everyone’s spines as they sat back down.
“She’s really good,” Harriet muttered quietly. “If she weren’t a Sovereign I might be tempted to vote for her...”
“How did Edward do?” Tash whispered, feeling Phoenixia tense beside her. Adrian, back in kitty form, crawled onto the ex-hologram’s lap, and rubbed his head against her stomach.
“Oh you can guess...” Harriet shrugged. “Merle and Bella adored him. Edward was all smiles and compliments. Runoa was snarky, but admitted he has talent...about as much of a compliment as she’s willing to give for anyone, haughty little bitch...”
“I tried so hard to tell myself that you’re gone...” Harmony was keeping everyone’s attention fixed on her, and she had reduced several people in the audience to tears with her performance. “But though you’re still with me, I’ve been alone, alone...”
As the instrumental began, sparks shot up along the stage, and the audience cheered. Harmony beamed at everyone, her eyes travelling around the stadium. They lingered on the back row, and every member of the Society went cold. She did not stare for long, but it was enough to put them all on edge.
“When you cried I’d wipe away all of your tears...”
“I think...” Harriet whispered. “That we should leave...”
Heart sinking, Tash leaned over and hissed the events from the corridor into Harriet’s ear, watching her friend grow more and more horrified every second.
“We can’t get out?” she whispered back.
“Not right now,” Tash confirmed grimly. “Maybe at the end we will... but they know we’re here now, so we need to stay hidd...”
She was cut off by the roaring of the crowd, who were on their feet applauding Harmony joyfully. The Sovereign took a bow, her face beaming. Unlike Ardelisa, she showed no hint of tears as Sparrow approached.
“Look at you! You’ve put everyone on their feet!” she waved at the audience, though it was obvious that Harmony had already seen the effect she had on the hall. “Do you feel more confident now the song is over?”
“Oh its not really a matter of confidence right now,” Harmony smiled. “’Lisa and Edward are both brilliant singers, and we all deserve to be here, and we all know we do, so its not really a case of being able to hold our nerve at this stage. We know we are good, and we all have an equal chance.”
She received another enthusiastic round applause for her sweet and honest speech.
“She’s appealing to everyone,” Claire said. “And she knows that appearing modest will get her votes. Clever girl...”
“I wonder how much of an influence Runoa has had on her in this competition,” Michael said thoughtfully. If its not common knowledge in the audience that she’s a Sovereign, then the viewers will be more inclined to believe she’s good because she’s the only contestant Runoa seems to be praising...listen.”
Sure enough, the audience were screaming in delight as Edward gave his opinion on the performance – he had obviously said something good. Sparrow moved quickly onto Runoa, who sat at the end of the desk with a look that no one could identify.
“There is something quite special about your voice, and I think this was probably the best example of it we’ve seen this show. Well done.”
For the first time that night, the audience did not boo the Lieutenant for her comment.
“See?” Michael nodded at the stage. “Everyone loves her because Runoa loves her. It must be common knowledge that Runoa is probably the most powerful person in this room.”
“So they’re all backing the judges favourite,” Jess had tuned in and was nodding slowly. “Happens a lot in talent shows. The judges use all sorts of tactics that the audience aren’t even aware of to influence votes.”
“But then again,” Alice interjected at this stage. “The judges can’t always sway the votes. Look at Strictly Come Dancing this year – the British public kept Ann Widdecombe in for weeks, despite what the judges said.”
Their eyes all drifted back to the stage, where Harmony was glowing under the praise she was receiving.
“Be interesting to see what happens here,” Claire commented. “Are Sues impervious to subtle messages from the judges?”
“You’d think so, given that they’re perfect,” Jess said. “But then again, the judges are Sues too...and those four are powerful. Who knows what’ll happen?”
“Coming up after the break, we have a very special live performance, and we will say goodbye to one of our finalists. Don’t go anywhere!”
The theme music filled the basement and the Sues and Society agents broke from their television induced stupors to get more food or go use the bathroom. Hovering above the heads of the crowd, Aster noticed a heated debate, and hurried to get a better view.
“...wouldn’t have a chance!”
“Please! I would topple you in that contest!”
The two Sues were called Reena and Kerrie, and were up for parole in two weeks. Currently, Prohibited and powerless as they were, they had to settle for trying to kill each other with the force of their glares.
“Kyaa~...what are you arguing about?” Aster peered down at them, and both women jumped at the sight of her.
“We were not arguing!” Kerrie sniffed, folding her arms disdainfully.
“She was under the impression that she was the best singer in this room,” Reena explained. “Which is rubbish, since we all know I’m the best singer.”
Kerrie snorted. “That crooning wail we hear each morning in the showers? I thought for a long time that someone was turning you into their bitch.”
“Take that back, your bleach blonde tart!”
“You want a piece of me?!”
Wishing she had some popcorn left over, Aster sat back for what was promising to be an amusing fight. But the fisticuffs never came, as Valerie wandered past, picking up discarded napkins and crumbs of tortilla chip from the floor and tossing them into a black bag, absently singing to herself.
“...I see the angels, I’ll lead them to your door. There’s no escape now, no mercy, no more...”
Frozen with their fists raised, both Sues watched the healer move away down the chairs, stooping to gather up the rubbish. Disappointed, Aster pouted, as both the Sues lowered their fists and continued to listen to Valerie.
“...well that shut us up,” Reena stated, suitably impressed.
“Why are we here?” Edward Casanova leaned back in his chair in a bored manner, swirling a glass of water in his hands, as stage hands and make up artists ran this way and that. The backstage area was cosy, and brightly coloured, and it was on a white leather sofa that Harmony and Ardelisa sat looking equally curious. They had been called from their dressing rooms barely a minute after the show went into the commercial break, and were now sitting awkwardly in a sea of chaos.
“See to that line Hugs... I don’t know,” Magdalena was striding around, barking instructions down her mouthpiece, and directing all the people dressed in black, her clipboard held firmly in her grasp like a weapon. “Runoa just asked me... well if its locked find the key! ...asked me to gather you all together.” She paused as a new message was droned into her ear, before exploding furiously. “What do you mean someone has hacked the WIFI?!”
She stormed from the room, banging the door behind her.
“Ooooo...” all of the stage hands present mocked in perfect unison as they heard their boss’s footsteps disappear down the corridor.
“Do you think there’s been a problem with the voting?” Ardelisa guessed nervously, hoping that Runoa had not called them all together because of the unexpected guests she had received earlier. Harmony shrugged.
“Or maybe the curse has come true again,” one of the make up artists was replacing the various shades of eyeshadow back in her box, and was did not look up as she spoke.
“Come again?” Harmony asked.
“You know,” the artist finally looked up and faced all of the contestants, who were leaning forward curiously. “They say judges and potential judges in Sue Factor befall horrible fates sometimes... its happened three times now. Three years ago one of the judges had an accident while filming... got a stage light dropped on him. Complete accident of course but that was when it started. Then two years ago, just after the competition ended, Cassie Anora was captured by the Anti-Cliche and Mary-Sue Elimination Society. They held a special memorial for her last year during the show and all! And then one of the people who should have been a judge last year...” she trailed off sadly. “Well, everyone knows what happened to her... she was locked in Twilight at the time... now she’s dust in the Saha-”
She was sharply silence as a serrated whip cracked across her face. The make up box clattered to the floor spilling mascara and foundation everywhere. All the contestants leaped back as though they had been caught doing something shameful, and saw Runoa standing in the doorway, flanked by the other three judges. Hellbinder was resting comfortably in the Lieutenant’s hand. The poor make up artist gazed up at her with fearful eyes, the jagged rip along her cheek pouring a bloody trail down past her jaw.
“OUT!” Runoa barked, and the stage hands scrambled to obey. No one dared help the poor artist to her feet, as she crawled to the door, not stopping for her box.
As the door closed behind them, all three contestants watched the judges. Runoa remained standing, fingering her whip like a loyal snake at her hip, while Bella and Edward Cullen took their places on the remaining loveseat, and Merle sat herself beside Harmony. Ardelisa could feel her heart pounding in her chest, and she willed her hands not to shake.
“That was a little extreme don’t you think?” Merle asked mildly, playing with a curl of hair on her shoulder.
Runoa did not answer, preferring instead to get right to her point.
“I have some rather distressing news,” she began, not sounding distressed in the least, despite her words. “It seems that the Anti-Cliche and Mary-Sue Elimination Society are here.”
Bella gasped, and her husband tightened his grip on the fabric of the loveseat. Harmony was looking calm and unflustered by the news, much to Ardelisa’s suspicion. Merle stopped playing with her hair and sat up straight in her seat.
“You are sure?”
“Quite sure,” Runoa nodded. “I have known since the beginning of the show –”
“And you chose not to tell us then?!” Ardelisa was finding it hard to look properly worried, and so settled for being angry – it was a much easier emotion for her to use towards Runoa, and far more convincing. The Lieutenant sneered at her.
“Of course not. It would be foolish of me to reveal too much at the beginning. I sealed off the fandom to prevent them from escaping.”
“How many of them are here?” Bella asked. “And who?”
“So far I can only confirm that the Assistant Librarian is here,” Runoa shrugged. “I sensed her trying to break my seal on the fandom about quarter of an hour ago. She probably did not come alone...” She paused. “It is possible that the Librarian is here, however I am having trouble confirming it...his aura is being concealed somehow.”
“Getting old, Runoa?” Merle smirked, impervious to the glare now trained on her.
“Calm ladies,” Harmony broke in, lifting both her hands in the direction of the Sues. There must have been some kind of magic in her gesture or voice, because Ardelisa was surprised to see both women backed away, albeit reluctantly. “How will fighting help us find the Society?”
“There is no ‘us’ Harmony,” Runoa rolled her eyes. “I’m going to find them myself.”
Turning her head slightly so she could observe Harmony’s face, Ardelisa was surprised to see that the Sue neither looked angered or upset by the stern rebuke...something was going on with Harmony, and she did not like it.
“Do we even know why they are here?” Ardelisa put in, knowing that the last thing she wanted to be privy too was a fight between Runoa and Merle over who got the honour of killing the Society off. And besides, it would be better to have more information for Harriet when she next got a chance to speak to her.
“They’re young and stupid,” Runoa shrugged. “And like poking their noses in where they do not belong. I imagine that they were simply curious... too bad for them that they are stuck here now.”
“Yes, about that,” Edward Cullen raised a hand to acquire everyone’s attention. “What are we going to do at the end of the show when everyone in the audience wants to leave and finds that there are no plotholes for them to get home through?”
The Lieutenant shrugged carelessly. “I will find them long before that. Once they are all caught or dead I will reopen the fandom. Until then, the show must go on. It shall distract them. I am only informing you now because it is my duty as a judge to make sure you are safe. And you are safer knowing.”
The distain in her voice told them all in no uncertain terms what she really thought of them, and she turned on her heel and left.
“You had all better get ready,” Bella suggested gently, getting to her feet with her husband. “We’ll be back on air in two minutes.”
They left hand in hand, followed by Merle, who tried to smile at them all, but was now so deep in thought it merely came off as a questioning twitch of her cheeks. Harmony adjusted the strap on her heels, before getting to her feet.
“Well, not that this is not fun, but I’m going back to my dressing room. See you all in a bit.”
Not wanting to be alone in a room with Edward Casanova, Ardelisa got to her feet, and wondered hopefully if she could perhaps find the Society before the break ended. The door had barely closed after Harmony before she pushed it open again and strode down the corridor without a backward glance.
Alone in the room, Edward Casanova leaned backwards in his chair and gazed at the ceiling. His mind was full of the information Runoa had just given them, and his hands were still as they clutched the glass of water.
His hands squeezed, and the glass shattered with a sharp crack.