“Anything?” Harriet whispered, as Claire and Jess slipped back into their seats.
The leader’s hopes were crushed – they had been the last two. Every agent in their group had made their way, in twos and threes to the bathroom to try using their plothole generators in the cubicles where no one would see them. So far, no one had succeeded. They were well and truly locked into the fandom.
“Great...” Michael muttered, rubbing his head. “No way out and a room full of Sues who will kill us once they know who we are. How can this get any worse?”
“Evacuate the dancefloor...” the Darkness answered joyfully. “I’m infected by the sound...”
“...have I mentioned lately that I hate you?”
Curled up in her seat as best she could, Phoenixia’s eyes darted around the studio for any signs of the contestants. Tash had given up squeezing her hand, and had instead opted to let her hands stroke Adrian, who sat on her lap, washing his paws.
“Let’s not panic,” Harriet suggested. “Nixie and Tash are right – they’ll have to open the fandom again to let people out. So we can just wait until then. No one knows we’re here, and we’ve stayed hidden so far, so there shouldn’t be any problems as long as we keep our heads down.”
Several people, including Alice and Jess nodded in agreement. Emily was rummaging in her small shoulder bag, which rattled surprisingly loudly. Finally grasping what she needed, she extracted a handful of mini SEP fields, which she began handing out.
“Well I suppose to quote Tesco, every little helps,” she said, peeling the adhesive backing off the tiny button like device and sticking it to her shoulder. “These will at least provide us with a little more cover.”
Obligingly sticking on their own SEP fields, the Society sat back in their seats, glancing anxiously around.
“The way I see it,” Michael spoke up thoughtfully. “They’ll expect us to panic once we know that we can’t get out...so if we don’t panic, we might confuse them.”
“Since when did you become optimistic?” Louise asked curiously.
“I have a dark parasite in my mind which routinely tells me to kill everything,” Michael said dryly. “Sometimes I have to be optimistic for my own sanity.”
“On in, five, four, three, two, one...” Magdalena roared to the crowd through her headset, and the applauding began afresh. The Society joined in, slightly less enthusiastic than before, as the introduction sequence rolled across the screen. All the magic was gone from it in the back row now. Suddenly everything was serious.
“Welcome back to Sue Factor!” Sparrow had reappeared, her ever present bounce still going. Strangely only Runoa was present on the judge’s panel. “In just a few minutes we’re going to find out the first of our finalists to leave the competition. The phone lines are now frozen!”
There was a silent hush in the audience, as a dead dial tone filled the studio.
“The lines will be reopened after we have announced who is through to the next round,” Sparrow continued. “Please don’t call until then. Your vote won’t count and you may still be charged. In just a moment we will find out who our top two finalists are...”
She paused to take a breath, and her serious expression was wiped by a look of wild excitement once more.
“But first we have a very special performance. She’s had over half a million downloads online, and her second album is out for download on New Years Day. Here for you tonight, its Leonor!”
“What?” Jess’s voice was carefully controlled, but as Sparrow scurried to one side of the stage and the lights dimmed, leaving spotlights to flash violently with the music, that control seemed to snap. There in the middle of the stage was Leonor Cassidy.
“I wish I had an angel, for one moment of love. I wish I had your angel tonight...”
“WHAT?!” Jess’s yell of rage was swallowed by the screaming crowd and the loud music.
“Deep into a dying day, I took a step outside an innocent heart. Prepare to hate me for when I may. This night will hurt you like never before...”
“Is that Nightwish she’s covering?!” Alice yelled, recognising the lyrics from under the coats. Had she not been sitting next to Jess, the angry metal fan would never have heard her.
“Yes! She said Nightwish weren’t metal! She hates them! Why the fuck is she covering them?!”
“Old loves, they die hard. Old lies, they die harder...”
“Maybe you got her into them...” Tash suggested quietly from the other end of the row. She couldn’t help be critical however as the Sue sung. Leonor was not in the same league as Nightwish, and besides, the music felt slightly toned down coming from her...more mainstream almost.
“I wish I had an angel, for one moment of love. I wish I had your angel, your Virgin Mary undone...”
“GAH!” Jess was beside herself, but thankfully her outbursts could not be heard over the roar of approval from the Sues in the audience. They clearly loved the woman on stage.
“I’m in love with my lust, burning angel wings to dust. I wish I had your angel tonight...”
“What’s going on?” Alice demanded from her position squashed against her knees and uncomfortably hot beneath all the coats. “I can hear screaming...”
“They love her!” Louise was yelling through the coats to Alice. “They’re bouncing around like... like...”
“Like Phoenixia’s tits on a trampoline?”
“...you said it Ali, not me.”
As she was sat next to Jess, Claire had the unfortunate task of keeping her in her seat. It was clear from her behaviour that Jess wanted nothing more than to run down to the stage and stab her body piercing needle through Leonor’s throat. Aside from her personal beef with the Sue, she was now ripping off her favourite band of all time.
“No Jess! Sit! Desist! Bad girl!” Claire spluttered as she struggled to keep a grip on Jess. “Michael! Help me!”
Her boyfriend, who sat on her other side, was watching with an amused expression. “Hey, you’re on your own baby. She can do nasty things with that needle...”
“Must... avenge... Nightwish!” Jess was breathing hard between each word. “Crush... Kill... Destroy!”
None of the Society bothered to listen to the end of the song, and by the time they had explained to Jess that they could find and exact revenge on Leonor when they weren’t in life threatening danger themselves, the song was over, and the audience was screaming for an encore.
“Wow! That was incredible!” Sparrow flitted across the stage to stand beside Leonor, who was beaming widely. “You got a standing ovation!”
“Did I?” Leonor blinked as thought she had only just realised that the audience were on their feet. “Oh wow! So I did!”
It was possible to hear a low growl building in Jess’s throat as the Sue spoke.
“Your second album is out next week, isn’t it?” Sparrow confirmed, and the Sue nodded.
“Yeah, I spent a lot of time in the Glee fandom writing the music for it. On New Years Day it’ll be available for download. There will be links up on Suebook so that you can pre order.”
“Now of course, you’re a fan of the show,” Sparrow continued, as Leonor nodded in agreement. “Who’s your favourite to win?”
“Ooo its hard!” Leonor said. “I mean all three of them are fantastic, but I have to admit, I am a fan of Harmony.”
Most of the audience went into screams of delight, and Leonor seemed to beam at them.
“Well I think we’ve waited long enough, so once again, please give a big hand for Leonor!” Sparrow’s waving arm almost smacked the Sue in the face, as she gave one last bow to the audience before walking off the stage to music and more flashing lights. As soon as they were over, Alice reappeared from under the coats, her hair even more of a mess than usual.
“Well you’ve all waited patiently, so here we go,” Sparrow grinned mischievously at the audience. “Its time to reveal the final two Sue Factor finalists. Please welcome all the contestants and their judges back to the stage!”
Sparks flew up along the stage and the screen at the back of the centre stage rolled up once more to reveal the three finalists and their respective judges. The spotlights swung dizzily across the stage, and Alice was covered in coats once more, despite her protests that she was perfectly fine.
“Bella and Ardelisa!”
The two women were holding hands, waving to the screaming audience with their free hands. Both smiled nervously. Harriet’s eyes narrowed. That was normal competition nerves. This looked far deeper. Had something happened to put them both on edge?
“Merle and Edward!”
Merle’s five foot two frame looked positively tiny next to Edward, who’s usual self confident smirk was gone from his face, replaced with a frown of seriousness. On his arm, Merle was smiling, but her eyes swept back and forth across the audience as though searching for something. Dread filling her throat like icy cold water, Harriet leaned over and whispered.
“I think they know we’re here...”
Phoenixia seemed to shrink even further into her seat. Adrian nuzzled against her tense hand and began rubbing his head against her skin with as much comfort as he could.
“Edward and Harmony!”
The girls began to scream as the only male judge appeared, the Sovereign on his arm a picture of elegance and complete calm. They lined up next to the other couples, as the audience cheered their support.
The music died off, and all the lights went out save for four lone spotlights, one over each contestant and their respective judge, and the final one hovering over Sparrow, who had stopped bouncing as the tension settled over the entire studio. The atmospheric music began, cranking the anticipation up further.
“I’m about to reveal, which acts are in the final two, and who is going home with third place. Good luck to you all.”
The cheering from the audience began again, but somehow the tension smothered it. Everyone was watching the faces of the contestants. Edward Casanova was gazing at the stage floor, his eyes downcast and frowning. Ardelisa’s hands were clasped together beneath her chin, and she did not seem to notice Bella placing a soothing arm around her back. Harmony just gazed at the audience looking for all the world as though she were waiting for a bus.
“In no particular order,” Sparrow said. “The first act through to the top two is...”
In the back row, Emily looked back and forth at all the Society agents, and realised that she was more conscious of her own tense breathing than the screams of the audience. There was something about this contest that made you want to keep looking, and she too was dying for an answer.
The screaming doubled in pitch, and on stage Harmony was beaming widely, before she was swept into an enthusiastic hug by Edward Cullen, who looked as though his birthday had come early. Meekly, the Society applauded. They weren’t really sure whether to be happy or sad. Harmony could sing, but she was still a Sovereign at the end of the day. On the judges table, Runoa was politely applauding, but as Emily peered a little closer, it was just possible to make out a hint of a satisfied smile on the Lieutenant’s face.
The spotlight over Harmony and Edward went out, leaving just the two finalists and the MC remaining.
“So, Edward and Ardelisa,” Sparrow was smiling at the pair. “One of you is through to the next round, and will sing again for us tonight. The other has received the lowest votes, and will be out of the competition.”
Ardelisa and Edward both nodded. They knew the situation. All they wanted to hear now was their fate.
“The second act through tonight is...”
Any audience that were not on their feet screaming, leaned forward in anticipation. Even Phoenixia peered forward in her seat, clutching Adrian to her chest so he could have a better view. Harriet was muttering a repeated prayer for Ardelisa, and further along the row, Louise and Alice had grabbed each others hands.
The Sue seemed momentarily struck dumb, before a screaming Bella engulfed her in a hug. Ardelisa’s entire face seemed to crumple in relief, and clung to her judge, tears trickling down her porcelain cheek. On the other side of the stage, Edward seemed to have deflated. Merle was gripping his shoulders, obviously telling him to buck up, and not be too disappointed, before giving him a quick hug.
“Congratulations Ardelisa,” Sparrow was trying to regain the attention of the audience members who had descended into throes of euphoria. Those who had supported Edward were sinking sadly back into their seats, or in some cases, crying hysterically onto the shoulders of their friends.
“Commiserations Edward,” Sparrow had taken up the position of patting Edward on the shoulder. Merle was smiling encouragingly at him, but it did not disguise her own disappointment.
“How do you feel?” Sparrow asked, pushing her microphone into Edward’s face. His eyes were half lidded in misery, and the slightly toughened expression he screwed on to answer was clearly a mask.
“Y’know what? I’m just happy to have got here. I never thought I’d manage that.”
“Bollocks,” Harriet snorted quietly.
“What’s been the highlight?” Sparrow asked.
“All of it,” Edward didn’t quite seem to know what he should say. “But meeting the other acts has been one of the best experiences ever, and just learning from them...and Harmony and Lisa totally deserve to be finalists. They’re both fantastic.”
The audience roared their approval, and Harmony finally broke away from her celebrating judge to go and give Edward a hug. Ardelisa followed, patting his shoulder awkwardly. Clearly she was acutely conscious of what Harriet had told her about him earlier.
“Let’s give it up one more time for Edward!” Sparrow did not need to prompt the audience. No sooner had the theme music began to play again, when they erupted into fanatical screams again. Edward did not look at any of them, but allowed Merle to lead him off the stage, followed closely by the other two competitors and their judges.
“So its down to a head to head competition between Harmony and Ardelisa,” Sparrow announced, her beaming smile all over her face once more. “They will each sing one more song, and these will be released for purchase on the thirty-first of December, along with the 2010 Sue Factor CD. These are available for preorder now.”
“Ah... so there is money involved in this too,” Harriet nodded wisely. “That makes a lot more sense.”
“Runoa,” Sparrow turned to the one remaining judge on the table. “We’re down to the wire now. As head judge, who do you think has the competitive edge?”
The Lieutenant gave her a withering look, that even the best camera angles could not disguise. Sparrow visibly shivered at the coldness in her gaze.
“Should I answer truthfully, or nicely?” she asked, boredom evident in every syllable of her voice.
“Truthfully?” Sparrow suggested. Runoa rolled her eyes.
“Harmony. She’s been consistently stronger this whole competition.”
Harriet was forced to jump on Tash, before the Assistant Librarian could scream “She’s your fucking Sovereign you bias cow!” and risk blowing their cover. In the next seat, Adrian watched the girls wrestle with mild amusement.
“Well, never one to mince her words, our head judge!” Sparrow smiled back at the camera, and Runoa looked as though she would throw up if given more stimulation.
“So on with the competition. The phone lines are now open again, the numbers are scrolling across your screens.”
The sound of the dial tone filled the studio again.
“And with that, we move to the next round of singing. First up once again, is Bella’s final contestant.”
At some point in the last thirty seconds, the other judges had slipped back to their desk. Merle was looking a little grumpy at losing, but Bella was beaming as she spoke.
“She’s a beautiful singer, and a wonderful woman. Singing The Power of Goodbye, its Ardelisa!”
The audience screamed in delight as the stage dimmed and smoke began to flood the stage again. The blue ribbons on Ardelisa’s dress and wrists were fluttering in a non existent breeze, and she smiled softly as she began to sing.
“Your heart is not open, so I must go. The spell has been broken... I loved you so...”
Bella certainly did have something right – Ardelisa was a beautiful singer. Her voice was soft, but with the right amount of force to make the words hit home.
“Freedom comes when you learn to let go, creation comes when you learn to say no...”
It was relaxing to listen to. Phoenixia felt her head tipping to the side to rest on Tash’s shoulder. She could almost forget the scare she had had earlier, and how terrified she was that Edward would find her.
“You were my lesson I had to learn. I was your fortress you had to burn. Pain is a warning that something’s wrong. I pray to God that it won’t be long...”
For a brief second, Ardelisa raised her head enough to scan the back row. Her eyes glazed over the Society agents, and Harriet was relieved that the SEP fields seemed to be doing their jobs. Her heart sank though as Ardelisa’s face seemed to fall, and the leader realised that the Sue was nervous. She was looking for them to reassure her, and her voice shook slightly on the next line.
“Do you wanna go higher?”
Her judge applauded, and everyone else in the audience took up the clapping. Immediately Ardelisa’s spirits seemed boosted, and the anxiety was erased from her voice.
“Jess!” Harriet hissed down the row. “I need you to do something for me...”
“There’s nothing left to try. There’s no place left to hide. There’s no greater power than the power of goodbye...”
“You want her to what?!” Michael looked at Harriet as though she had lost her mind. Jess however, immediately began digging around in her bag for the necessary supplies.
“She needs a confidence boost!” the leader explained in a hushed tone. “She’s looking for us!”
“Learn to say goodbye...”
“This is really dangerous!” Tash stated needless, removing her SEP field regardless. Harriet shrugged.
“I don’t care. It’ll only be for a moment. No one will see us except her. And we’ll be hidden again before anyone knows it.”
“I yearn to say goodbye...”
Now Ardelisa looked rather deflated, and her nerves were beginning to show again. She seemed to shrink in on herself as she continued to sing...until she looked up at the back row.
The Society were on their feet with a white bedsheet stretched between them. Splashed on the bedsheet in hastily scripted purple and gold fabric paint, were the words “ARDELISA HAS THE SUE FACTOR!”
Shocked, but not stopping her song for an instant, Ardelisa’s face broke into a confident smile, which seemed to radiate happiness to every corner of the studio. She drew a deep breath and her voice, stronger than it ever had been that evening, pushed every audience member onto their feet.
“There’s nothing left to try. There’s no more places to hide. There’s no greater power than the power of goodbye...”
Peeking out from behind the banner, Harriet gave a wave to the Sue on the stage. She didn’t wave back, but her radiant smile was enough to tell her that she had seen and was grateful.
“There’s nothing left to lose. There’s no more heart to bruise. There’s no greater power than the power of goodbye...”
As the audience rose into a standing ovation, tears trailed down the Sue’s face. Smiling with pure happiness, she wiped them away, and waved to her screaming crowd. As she saw the Society appear from behind their banner, she mouthed a thank you to them.
“Wow!” Sparrow came back on stage, giving the Sue a one armed hug. “How do you feel?”
“Incredible,” Ardelisa was trying to wipe tears away. “I was so nervous, and then I just saw everyone supporting me and I went for it...”
“Well let’s see what the judges thought,” Sparrow turned to the table. “Runoa?”
The Lieutenant looked at the woman with a less than kind expression.
“You were very shaky through most of it...” she began, and the audience burst into angry boos. “Then suddenly at the end you seemed to pick up slightly...I have to wonder just what was running through your head...”
Every Society member went abruptly cold and hastened to replace their SEP fields.
“Not much really,” Ardelisa admitted. “Just that I had to do this, for those supporting me, and for myself.”
Despite the happiness in her words, she fixed Runoa with a firm look. She was not going to let the head judge bully her.
“Well I loved it,” Edward Cullen picked up quickly, not blind to the tensions between the two women. “I thought that was a wonderful song choice for you Ardelisa. Well done.”
Applause ran through the studio, and Ardelisa smiled at him.
“Y’know,” Merle went next. “I have to say, before you sang just now Ardelisa, my money was on Harmony. Now...” she paused as the audience cheered and booed in equal measure. “...now I think all bets are off. That was brilliant, and it could go either way tonight.”
Up on stage, Sparrow was nodding at the comment, before indicating the last judge.
"Absolutely stunning," Bella was still on her feet, her hands together from applauding. "That was such a good choice of song. It said a lot about you. And towards the end in particular, I really felt that we were seeing the real you, and it was so special."
Ardelisa could not stop herself from smiling, especially at her judge, who had helped her through so much. From the back row, Harriet wondered if she would start crying again. But she seemed too happy, as Sparrow turned to her once more.
"So positive all the way!" she ignored the fact that Runoa had been as snarky as ever. "Do you have any last words for those people watching at home?"
"Just thank you to everyone who has voted for me," Ardelisa said earnestly. "And for keeping me in this long. This has been the best experience ever. Thank you so much..."
She could not continue as the audience screamed her name. Harriet could feel her hands going numb from applauding.
"One last time, give it up for Ardelisa!"
The theme music played, and Ardelisa said one last thank you before hurrying off the stage to thunderous applause.
"Finally we have our last finalists, and Edward's contestant."
Edward Cullen beamed as he spoke.
"Singing Chasing Cars, just for you, its Harmony!"
The stage darkened, and a familiar guitar tune began to play. Harmony stood centre stage, her head bowed as she began.
"We'll do it all... everything... on our own..."
The Society groaned. Even though it was originally sung by a male band, Harmony hit every note perfectly, and managed to make it more heart tugging than usual.
"We don't need... anything... or anyone..."
The audience had begun to sway with the lyrics, as though in a breeze. Even the Society felt themselves joining in, holding each others hands as they moved. Down on the judges table, Edward had taken his wife's hand, and she had taken Merle's. The only person not joining in was Runoa, who was smiling at Harmony in a way that could only be pride.
"If I lay here..."
As she sang, Harmony rose her head slowly to face the audience.
"If I just lay here..."
Her eyes were full of sadness and sorrow, and everyone in the studio wondered just what they had done to provoke it.
"Would you lie with me and, just forget the world?"
Still swaying, Harriet looked at the joined hands of everyone in the audience, and realised what was happening. Harmony's gift was the power to balance things. To get rid of anger, passion and dramatic emotion, and to just calm everyone's hearts. And she could manage it with just her voice. She was a powerful Sovereign...maybe the most powerful...her ability was rendering the leader incapable of any thoughts of violence towards her.
"I don't quite know... how to say... how I feel..."
Phoenixia's head rested on Tash's shoulder. The Assistant Librarian leaned her own head on top, and squeezed her hand tighter.
"Those three words... are said too much... they're not enough..."
Adrian crawled off Phoenixia's lap, and went to give his girlfriend a nuzzle. She knew just what he was thinking as the music became more powerful and the guitars picked up their volume.
"If I lay here... if I just lay here... would you lie with me and just forget the world?"
Michael and Claire paused in their swaying to kiss each other lovingly, not caring that the rest of their friends could see, or that they were in a danger zone. They just wanted to show their feelings that the song was evoking so powerfully.
"Forget what we're told... before we get too old... show me a garden that's bursting into life..."
All her anger towards Leonor was gone, and Jess couldn't help but open her bag and let Leonard out to listen. Even the misshapen parasite seemed moved, sitting calmly in the bag, and even swaying slightly with everyone else.
"All that I am... all that I ever was... is here in your perfect eyes, they're all I can see..."
At the end of the row, Alice and Louise had given up holding hands, and had just thrown their arms over each others shoulders. Louise had tears running down her face, and Alice gave her a gentle squeeze in response.
"I don't know where... confused about how as well... just know that these things will never change for us at all..."
Glancing around the studio, Emily wished for the first time that she could sing. She wished she could bring this kind of peace and happiness to people. Even the rest of the Society, her insane little family, were moved. She herself had a small knot of emotion in her throat - somewhere between happiness and sorrow - that was threatening to burst free. She squeezed Harriet and Michael's hands, and as she closed her eyes, she thought she saw her sister smiling at her.
"If I lay here..."
The music was quiet again, and no one in the audience was speaking. The spell was still cast.
"If I just lay here..."
Emily could feel herself mouthing the final words, imagining herself under her willow tree in her garden.
"Would you lie with me and just forget the world?"
As the music died away, the spell was broken, and the audience rose to their feet in a tidal wave of emotion. They screamed, and stamped their feet against the floor, most roaring for an encore. Some still hadn't let go of their neighbours hands, and a few embraced one another happily. As Sparrow hurried onto the stage, she was wiping tears from her cheeks.
"You've made us all cry! Look!" she waved a hand at the audience, but it wasn't true. While most shed tears, they were also smiling widely. Harmony just smiled back at them all.
"Let's see what the judges thought. Runoa?"
Runoa, who had been staring at the hysterical audience, now looked back at the stage.
"Well I think the audience say it all really. You have a gift for bringing people together."
Still smiling, Harmony bowed her head towards the Lieutenant respectfully.
"Edward?" Sparrow moved on.
"Let me tell you Harmony," Edward sat up straight, and tried to look professional, but everyone could see his hand resting on the table, still clutching his wife's. "I am so proud to be your judge. That was beautifully sung. It was the best song for you. Fantastic job."
The screaming backed up his words, and Sparrow had to raise her voice into the microphone to be heard.
"I have to agree with Runoa," the Twilight protagonist declared. "You have an incredible gift, and you used it beautifully in that song. There are no words to describe it."
There was no real point in Sparrow even trying to be heard above the audience any longer. But Merle knew her cue, and spoke regardless.
"For the first time in this competition, I have been reduced to tears. That was an unbelievable performance. Well done."
Harmony had just continued to smile through these words.
"Well you don't get much better than that!" Sparrow told her. "What's running through your head?"
Harmony shrugged. "Relief mostly. But that song meant a lot to me, and I hope it meant a lot to everyone too."
Everyone applauded again, random fans screaming their love, and being drowned in a sea of approval for the woman on stage.
"One more time, its Harmony, everyone!"
The Sovereign waved as she went off stage, smiling at the people who cheered and supported her from the seats. As she left, the lights went back to Sparrow.
"Well that's it. You've heard them both and now its down to you at home. After the ten o clock news we will be closing the phone lines and announcing the winner of Sue Factor 2010. Don't go anywhere. We'll see you in half an hour!"
Once more, the audience screamed, though they were slightly more subdue now that Harmony had left the stage, and the theme song began to roll again.
"AND CUT!" Magdalena leaped on stage, her microphone headset dangling off one ear. "OKAY PEOPLE, HALF AN HOUR AND THEN WE'RE ON AGAIN! WHERE ARE MY STAGE HANDS?!"
"Well that's that," Jess said, leaning back in her seat. "There's no way Ardelisa's going to win after that performance."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Harriet shook her head. "She's got a lot of support. That might well be enough to give her the victory."
"But Harmony's song made everyone hold hands!" Michael pointed out, lifting his own, which was still holding Claire's hand snug. "Even the judges!"
He pointed at the stage, where the judges had got to their feet, and were walking around the stage after so long sat on their behinds. Bella and Edward were hugging each other in joy at their contestants being in the final two. Bella said something with a smirk - clearly a playful boast - and Edward just smirked right back.
"We should go see Ardelisa," Tash declared.
"Make sure she's not nervous?" Harriet asked, getting to her feet with her friend.
"No," Tash shook her head. "I think you're right Hati. They know we're here and they've started looking for us... they may already know where we're sitting from the way Harmony was looking at us earlier. We need to get as much information as we can so we can plan to leave once the competition is over."
As the two girls left, the rest of the Society watched them go. Finally, Emily voiced what everyone was thinking.
"...I don't want the competition to be over..."
"Yeah..." several people nodded in agreement.
"This is fun," Jess admitted. "Even with Leonor here, and a bunch of Sues who hate our guts...this competition is great."
"Its sucked us all in," Michael nodded. "But...I don't really care that it has. I just want it to go on."
"Speak for yourselves!" Phoenixia spluttered, breaking the sudden gloom. "I for one can't wait to leave this fandom! And right now, I want to leave my seat. I'm going to the bathroom."
"I'll come too," Emily picked up her rattling handbag, and followed after her. In the intensity of Harmony's performance, she had completely forgotten that she needed to pee.
As the two joined the crowd of people trickling out into the corridors, Adrian scampered after them, trying not to be stepped on. He had not remained immune to Harmony's Sueish charms, and it worried him. It also worried him that everyone else seemed to be letting their guard down. At least Phoenixia was still cautious, but she was also skittish. Adrian did not trust anyone in this room, and he promised himself that he would not let anyone get the jump on them while they were so unprepared.
“By the way,” it suddenly occurred to Claire to ask. “Who’s bedsheets were those Jess?”
Shoving Leonard, who was looking at the hair of the Sue in the next row curiously, back into her bag, Jess smirked.
“You don’t want to know, darling.”
Bitterly disappointed, Merle rolled her eyes at the celebrating Twilight protagonists. She was leaning against the judges table, watching them hug each other gleefully, before pausing to exchange banter. Back in her own seat, Runoa too was watching them with as much disgust as she could muster. Neither Sue was particularly happy about all their competitors being voted off, and now that there was no chance of them winning, their interest was rapidly waning.
As Bella gave an excited laugh, Merle fought back her gag reflexes, and pulled the skirt of her dress up. Pulling a small hipflask out from a strap around her thigh, she took a long swig before handing it over to Runoa. The Lieutenant took her own gulp, before screwing it closed again and handing it back.
As she replaced the flask, Merle gave a wry smile.
“Strange,” she mused. “For a moment there she almost sounded friendly... like we were bonding over our loss of victory...” she snapped out of her thoughts as Runoa got to her feet and hurried backstage. Merle gave a derisive snort. “Too bad she’s such a bitch...”
“That’s the second stage hand that’s trod on my foot in this corridor,” Harriet muttered angrily. It had taken them a long time to navigate their way around the fans, and find the corridor for the backstage areas again. But now they were passing supply cupboards, and knew they were on the right track towards the dressing rooms.
“Don’t worry, its only two corridors away,” Tash soothed. “Maybe she’ll have some useful information for us.”
“Well if Harmony and Runoa know we’re here, then other people might too. Ardelisa should be able to tell us that mu –”
She screeched to a halt, and Tash almost ran into her friend.
Harriet’s only response to her name was to cover Tash’s mouth and nod at the figure disappearing down the other end of the corridor. It was Edward Casanova, shoulders no long drooped with defeat, but head held high, and a purpose in his stride. The action sent shivers down the agents spines.
“He’s left his room door open,” Tash whispered once Edward had disappeared and Harriet had removed her hand. The leader had not missed it either. Edward’s door was open by a crack, enough to let the glow of the lights show through.
“Come on,” Harriet urged, hurrying down towards the door. “Let’s see if we can find any clues on what he’s doing here.”
It was risky, but the thought of clues was too tempting, and so Tash followed her friend down the corridor. Checking for any stage hands who might be watching, both girls slipped through the door, taking care to pull it closed behind them.
Edward’s dressing room was almost the same as Ardelisa’s, except with suits instead of dresses on the clothing rail, and not nearly as much make up. A cape hung on the back of the door, and Tash pulled a face as she spotted a crumpled photograph of Phoenixia propped against his dressing table. She snatched it up angrily and stuffed it in her pocket.
“Tashy, can you hear something?” Harriet was frowning, walking slowly across the room in the direction her ears were leading her. Sure enough, beyond the door that lead to Edward’s bathroom, there was a low sound of rushing water. Glancing anxiously at her friend, Harriet pushed the door open.
The taps to the sink had been broken off, and water gushed from them freely turning the tiled floor into one large puddle. The shower had been equally vandalised, the control box having been ripped clean from the wall, leaving water to pour from the exposed pipes.
“Jesus Christ!” Tash exclaimed, as the water surged over the doorframe and began soaking the dressing room carpet. “Did he do this?”
Harriet did not know, but before she could voice this fact, both girls were shoved face first into the bathroom by a powerful force. Harriet’s wrists jarred from the impact, as she braced herself to stop her from breaking her nose on the tiles. Tash was less graceful and thumped her head loudly against the floor, dazing her. A swift kick to Harriet’s ribs sent her sprawling to the floor. She looked up just in time to see a hand reach to Tash’s neck and snap her chain off.
“Have a nice trip?” Runoa sneered, dangling Nephthys between her fingers as she backed away into the dressing room. Harriet leaped to her feet, ignoring the pain from her bruises, but Runoa was ahead of her, yanking the door closed behind her and muttering something under her breath. The wood seemed to warp in the frame, and Harriet knew from the grinding sound it made that she had expanded it. The key turned in the lock, and the leader felt her hands tremble.
“Let us out!” she shrieked, throwing her weight backwards as she pulled on the door handle. It was no good. The wood was wedged firmly in place.
“I don’t think so my dear,” she could almost head the Lieutenant’s smirk. “That would be very counter productive. I sealed all the pipes in that room. So you’ve got about fifteen minutes or so until that room is full of water...I wonder if the Librarian will arrive in time to save you?”
Tash, who had pulled out her communicator to call just that person, paused in the action of pressing the green button. There was no way she would allow her boyfriend to walk into a trap.
Harriet however had listened very hard to Runoa’s voice, and realised that she was bluffing.
“Adrian isn’t here! And since you’ve sealed the fandom off to prevent us from leaving, he can’t get in to save us.” She allowed some haughtiness to enter her voice. “That was a bit counterproductive of you, don’t you think?”
There was a long pause, before Runoa spoke once more.
“...nice try Marlow, but I can tell your lying. The Librarian is here, and he will come and save you...and then I’ll make sure he can’t even save himself!”
“I never knew girls could take so long in a bathroom...” Adrian was grumpy as he watched someone hurry down the corridor back to the main studio. Emily had furiously told him that he might be a kitty, but he was still a man, and therefore not allowed to follow them into the girls bathroom. Unwilling to argue, and concerned that he might get trampled on if anyone else came in to use the facilities, Adrian was left sitting in the corridor outside, washing his ears, taking comfort in the fact that he could at least still hear everything that was happening inside the next room.
“...think they know we’re here?” he guessed the girls must be the only ones using the bathroom at present, to be talking so freely.
“Who knows?” Emily was saying. “They could have known right from the start for all we know. I’m just worried about how we’re going to leave. What if they don’t reopen the fandom at the end of the contest?”
“Adrian will figure something out,” Phoenixia sounded as though she were trying more to convince herself than Emily. The sound of the toilet flushing drowned her next words out. When he could hear again, Adrian recognised the sound of Emily’s communicator, and the girl rummaging in her small black handbag for it. There were several curious clunking noises coming from inside the bag, as Emily pushed things around to find the ringing communicator.
“Emily! Runoa locked us in a bathroom!”
Adrian’s ears pricked up and he pressed his head against the door. Emily sounded incredulous.
“In a what?”
“Edward Casanova’s bathroom! She’s using us as bait for Adrian! And the room is filling with water!”
Adrian didn’t need to hear anymore. Disregarding entirely the fact that this was a trap, and he would probably be caught fighting the Lieutenant, he shot off down the corridor towards the dressing rooms.