“Adrian!” Emily had barley poked her head around the bathroom door before Adrian’s fluffy white tail disappear around the corner.
“He’s gone!” she called to Phoenixia, who was hastily drying her hands.
“Well that can’t be good!” the ex-hologram exclaimed. “Come on! We’ve got to catch him before he does something suicidal!”
She grabbed her hand, and Emily allowed herself to be pulled into the corridor. There was no one around, and their footsteps seemed to bounce off the walls. As the bathroom door swung closed behind them, Emily stopped suddenly, almost jerked onto her face as Phoenixia was pulled to a sharp halt.
“What is it? We have to go, Emily!”
“Its still the intermission, isn’t it?” Emily asked, knowing that Phoenixia unlike her, was wearing a watch.
“Yes. Its still the intermission,” Phoenixia was nodding, clearly impatient to get moving again.
Turning her head and examining every angle of the corridor, Emily felt a shiver run down her spine.
“Then where is everybody?”
They turned their heads slowly, horror working its way through their limbs like poison. The corridor should have been heaving with people, heading to the bathrooms or to go outside to have a cigarette. The long stretch of empty corridor was devoid of human life, save for the two Society members.
“...we need to leave,” Phoenixia swallowed. “Now.”
“Oh I don’t think so my love...”
Even before they heard his footsteps, they knew who it was. Every fibre of Phoenixia’s being begged her not to turn around...not to look towards the voice...if she didn’t see it, it couldn’t hurt her...but she was powerless to ignore it.
Edward Casanova stood, framed against the end of the corridor like a still figure in a photograph. He still wore the same clothing from his performance, but the despondent look of defeat was gone, replaced instead with a focused determination. There would be no sweet talk this time, no heartfelt expressions of love. He was here to take what he wanted by force.
A single pistol from Incandescent Silverreign was strapped to Phoenixia’s thigh beneath her skirt. She longed to have the rest of her gun in her hands...more than that, she longed for Adrian. Her heart pounded away in her chest, and she could already feel her palms sweating.
Emily had never met the man, but she knew who she was, and the sight of him made her sick to her stomach. She strode forward and stood firmly before Phoenixia, arms outstretched to shield the woman from harm. Phoenixia was startled, and Edward frowned at her like she was a disobedient school girl.
“Now that’s not very nice. You’re blocking my view of the most beautiful woman in the world.”
“How did you find us?!” Phoenixia was desperately stalling, as she pulled Emily back behind her. She wanted nothing more than to pull out her pistol and blow a hole in his skull, but she could not open fire while Emily was around and risk Edward attacking her instead. Their only option was to run.
“You need to calm down my love, you’re shaking,” Edward’s voice was meant to be soothing, but all it did was make Phoenixia shiver. “And I met a lovely woman called Runoa, who said that if I headed to the bathrooms I would find what I was looking for.” His eyes raked over Phoenixia, and a wicked smile curled his lips. “And I certainly found her...”
“Shut it!” Phoenixia snapped, slipping her hand down to her side and drawing. “You’re sick Edward, and don’t you dare take a step closer!”
The weight of the pistol was comforting, and she cautiously glanced behind her. The corridor was empty. Emily could escape without being harmed. She just had to draw his fire...because there would be fire. As soon as he understood that she would not go with him willingly, he would attack.
“Don’t you see?” despite her orders, Edward took a step forward. Phoenixia stumbled back, dragging Emily with her. “I died. But I came back for you, my love. Nothing can separate us...not even death.”
“You didn’t die! I shot you, you creep!” Phoenixia burst out. She felt Emily squeeze her free hand, and she heard the girl rummaging in her bag. She hoped that whatever she was looking for would help them.
“Grief has clouded your thoughts,” Edward declared, stepping more briskly. Each footstep matched the thudding of Phoenixia’s own heart. “You blame yourself...of course you do...that’s what people do when they lose someone they love...”
“I don’t love you!” she said, but though her voice came out strong, her breathing was rapid from terror.
“No matter how many times fate tries to take me away, I will always come back for you,” he continued as though he had not heard her. “You are mine Phoenixia, and not even dying will change that...”
She could shoot him...she had to shoot him...if she didn’t, she and Emily would both get hurt...but the closer he walked the more scared she felt... the trigger felt stiff against her finger... she couldn’t pull it... she was frozen to the spot... he would kill Emily and she would never escape from him...she would be his forever
“Shoot him!” her mind screamed. “Shoot him!”
“I can’t! I’ll miss! I’ll miss and he’ll kill her! Or worse take us both! Oh God... Adrian, please help me! I can’t fight him alone! I’m scared!”
“She was never yours!” Emily’s was squeezing Phoenixia’s free hand, and the ex-hologram snapped out of her panic. “She’s our Phoenixia! And we’ll all go to hell long before I let you touch her!”
Phoenixia knew even before Emily had finished speaking, that this was the wrong thing to say to a Stu with delusions of being a romantic hero. His green eyes narrowed as they locked onto her, and in the blink of an eye he was racing down the corridor, a gleaming golden sword in his hands. The top weapon in Emily’s bag leaped into her hands and she swung with all her might against Edward’s skull.
The Stu staggered away, clutching his head and spitting curses. Phoenixia’s senses seemed to snap back into gear with the sound, as Emily turned and dragged her down the corridor.
“What did you hit him with?!” the ex-hologram demanded, trying to pick her jaw off the floor.
“Harriet’s cricket bat!” Emily was hastily trying to wrestle the aforementioned bat back into her tiny black handbag as she ran.
“Yes I see that, but... how?” Phoenixia’s reeled in jaw dropped again as Emily pulled her supersoaker out of the bag, followed by the familiar shape of Incandescent Silverreign. Never in her life had Phoenixia been so glad to see it.
“Don’t ask me how,” Emily shook her head. “Just –”
They screeched to a halt as Edward blurred into view in front of them, sword raised to slice off their heads in one swoop.
“FIRE!” Emily screamed, wrestling her ammo from her bag.
The direct threat to Emily kicked Phoenixia over her fear and she reacted instantly, kicking the young girl and her bag behind her even as she grabbed the rest of Incandescent Silverreign and swung it in a hasty block, only for Edward’s weapon to slid along the barrels length and leave a sharp red line to mark its path across her chest.
“You know I don’t want to hurt you, darling.” Edward said apologetically as he skipped back to avoid a short burst from Incandescent Silverreign and readied his sword again. “But if I must to bring you back to me, I-“
A heel to his face silenced the rest of his line, her jump kick sending him flying back along the hallway. “Just shut up, you sick freak!” Her weapon broke apart into its’ components and the pistols were in her hand, blazing away.
He staggered under the barrage for a second before slashing the air with his blade, the force of the swing actually scattering the shots away. Despite rips on his clothes and skin and a trickle of blood leaking from under his right, he seemed unconcerned about her attack. “I will not-“
The crack of her sniper rifle forced him to slid from side-to-side to avoid the armor-piercing rounds, but in the hallway space was limited and one found its mark through his right shoulder while another ripped through his left thigh, a third nearly taking off his ear and their combined force actually picking him up off his feet.
“Phoenixia, my love, you need to listen to me! You are under-!”
“I said shut up!” She was suddenly in front of him, ramming her shotgun into his gut and even as his eyes widened in surprise, she made the trigger click with extreme prejudice. Twice.
The Stu went tumbling backwards before stopping in a heap. Groaning, he got to his knees, using his sword a crutch while he ripped off the remains of his shirt. “It seems that I am at a disadvantage in this narrow hallway….”
“I don’t care. The only advantage you’ll ever have is that when I finally kill you, you won’t be able to feel the torture I’m going to put you through!” Phoenixia knew the words sounded like bravado and the fear just seeing the man gnawed at her, but the comfort of her weapons in her hand was enough for her to push it aside and fight back. Even if was mostly delaying tactics. Like before, none of the damage she was getting in on him was sinking in and even shotgun blasts had done nothing more than ruin his shirt and scar his abs.
“The pain of having to fight you is more painful than a thousand deaths and a thousand years in all the hells, my Phoenixia.” He rose to his feet, an almost sad expression on his face. But it was a faux sadness almost, like he would regret only that he had been forced to do this. "But once we’re together again, I will make our pain stop. I promise. But sometimes a little pain is necessary…”
“Will you just shut up!?” She growled at him, only to freeze slightly when she caught sight of the jewel on the hilt of his sword. At first, it had seemed mere decoration, but now that it was facing directly at her, she could tell there was an eye in it… and it was focused on her, hungrily, nothing but lust in it. And it filled her with fear.
It was the demonic eye of the man she killed in the skies of Devil May Cry.
“OW!” Harriet yelped, as she staggered back through the water and into the sink. She had been wrestling desperately with the door handle, but it would not give an inch. The water was up to their knees, and rising fast.
“You okay?” Tash asked. She had pulled off the cover for the extractor fan, only to discover that the vent was too small for them to fit down, and pointed upwards. It would be no help to drain the water away. The plugs on the sink, shower and the pipe from the toilet were all blocked by magic, and with Runoa’s power, both girls knew they had no chance of breaking it. Harriet was favouring her left side, from where Runoa had kicked her in the ribs, and Tash’s vision was still cloudy from hitting her head on the floor. Without Nephthys she was useless, and Harriet had given her cricket bat to Emily to store in her bag.
“Where is Phoenixia?!” Harriet muttered angrily. “Where are the rest of the Society!”
“On their way... they’ll come for us,” Tash did not sound reassured.
“Oh I’m sure they will,” Runoa’s taunted from beyond the door. “That’s what I’m counting on.”
“You’re a twisted specimen of humanity Runoa!” Harriet barked at the door.
“You say that like I should care,” the Lieutenant Mary-Sue replied. Jumping down from the vent, Tash seized the door handle with her friend once more, and the two heaved again. It was no good. The lock held strong, and the warped wood refused to budge.
“Adrian didn’t teach you to blast down doors, did he?” Harriet asked hopefully, knowing that if he had Tash would have done it already.
“I can’t...” Tash shook her head. “The only thing he taught me was Juari-Ken. I can’t do any other magic.”
“You don’t know any other spells?” the leader asked desperately.
“Well I can stop the door from getting pregnant, if you like. Other than that, no. I don’t know any other spells.”
Harriet had to laugh... because if she didn’t laugh, she’d start crying instead.
“Not that room... not that room... hang on girls, I’m coming...”
Adrian could smell every person in this corridor, and he knew he had to be getting close. Harmony’s changing room was in this corridor and the contestants had to be near each other. He wished he could turn back into a human and run properly, but there were stage hands running back and forth, and it was too dangerous. He was less noticeable as a cat, and he needed every advantage if Runoa was waiting for him.
Around the next corner, and past another black clad lighting technician. He could smell them now. At the end of this corridor. That had to be Edward’s dressing room...
Adrian felt himself being plucked off the floor and cuddled to an ample and very comfortable chest.
“You’re adorable!” Ardelisa duVinevil declared, rubbing his fluffy head with a finger. On any other occasion, Adrian would have enjoyed this. But he did not have time to be petted by a Sue right now. Not seeing anyone else around, he quickly changed back into a man.
Ardelisa screamed and leaped into the wall.
“Sorry, but I have to rescue my girlfriend,” Adrian told her firmly, before turning and running again.
“Wait!” to Adrian’s surprise, Ardelisa picked up the skirt of her dress and ran after him. “Aren’t you –?”
The sharp crack of a whip cut her words off, as the serrated length of Hellbinder whipped down the corridor and snapped around Adrian’s neck. He felt the jagged edges digging into his skin, and he stumbled to his knees, desperately trying to draw breath. Ardelisa screamed again, as the whip jerked hard and Adrian was pulled hard onto all fours. Runoa stepped around the dressing room door, a smirk on her face.
“Don’t you know this area is for contestants and staff only?” she asked mockingly. Adrian raised his head enough to glare at her, his eyes widening as he spotted a familiar pendant and chain clutched in her free hand.
“Where’s my girlfriend?!” he managed to gasp. Hellbinder seemed to tighten around his windpipe.
“Swimming,” the Lieutenant replied with smirk, twisting the whip a little in her hands and causing the serrated edges to dig deeper into Adrian’s throat. Any deeper and Ardelisa knew Runoa would sever the artery in his neck. She looked desperately about for anything that could help her...and to her luck, saw a covered panel beside her, set into the wall. Knowing a whip could not hit her and hold the Librarian down at the same time, she yanked it off. Row upon row of power switches sat before her.
“This is divine providence! It is my fate to rescue the Librarian and the rest of the Society!”
“If you value your life Ardelisa,” Runoa’s voice was cold, but Ardelisa did not fail to notice that she had taken a quick step forward. “You will step away from that panel.”
For the first time in her life, the Lieutenant was taken aback, as the Sue turned and smirked at her.
“Luckily for me, I don’t.”
She flattened the switches, and the corridor plunged into darkness. Screams from the nearby rooms began to fill the corridor, and Ardelisa had just enough time to flatten herself against the wall as Hellbinder unravelled itself from Adrian’s neck and lashed out at the spot she had been standing not a moment before. She missed by a hair, and the Sue breathed a shaky sigh of relief.
“Even the Lieutenant can’t see in the dark!” she thought triumphantly, before frowning as the sound of gurgling pipes caught her attention. “The sounds like... Edward’s room...”
There was another crack, as Runoa retracted the whip for another strike at the spot Adrian had fallen. From her scream of rage however, she seemed to have missed. Something soft and fluffy brushed against Ardelisa’s ankles, and she knew that he had turned into a cat once more.
“I know you’re still there, Adrian! Stop hiding and face me!”
“She doesn’t know he can shapeshift,” Ardelisa realised, as doors up and down the corridor and the surrounding backstage area began to open, and confused and anxious stage hands and technicians began to appear. Bolting from the wall, Ardelisa ran towards Edward’s dressing room, but Runoa was not stupid and lashed out with Hellbinder as she tried to pass her. The whip caught her ankles and the Sue went sprawling to the floor. The lights snapped back on suddenly and everyone winced. Barely a second later, Adrian’s trenchcoat whipping around the corner was all anyone saw.
“You’re lucky you’re still alive, you little bitch!” Runoa hissed, as Ardelisa pushed herself off the ground. Ignoring the confused looking bystanders, Runoa vanished into flashstep after the fleeing Librarian.
Picking herself off the floor, Ardelisa stumbled into Edward’s room, shutting the door firmly behind her. Her knees felt bruised from where she had fallen, but otherwise she was alright. She did not have time to rest, as her eyes were drawn to a slowly spreading puddle of water soaking the carpet. It was oozing out from underneath the door at a slow pace, and as she listened, she heard splashing and a shriek of pain.
“Sorry! Sorry! My hand slipped!”
“Not your fault Tashy. That’s where she kicked me...”
“Harriet?” Ardelisa hurried to the door and banged on it.
“Ardelisa?!” Harriet had never sounded so glad to see her. “Thank God!”
“Why can I hear running water?” as Ardelisa pressed her ear against the door, she could hear the sounds of water gushing from pipes, and cold dread seemed to seep down her spine.
“Runoa broke the taps. The room is flooding and we can’t get out!” Harriet yelled back.
“What can I do?” she was pushing against the door, but it held firm.
“There should be a key,” Tash explained. “Runoa had it...” there was a pause, as something obviously occurred to her. “Where is she anyway?”
“She went after Adrian,” Ardelisa explained, as she began pulling the drawers on the dressing table open, searching for the elusive key.
Jumping in alarm at the noise, and dropping a bottle of men’s cologne to the floor, Ardelisa shook her head and continued her hunt. The Assistant Librarian was very rude. “She went after the Librarian. They were heading down the corridor last I saw.”
“That idiot!” Tash screamed, and from the frustrated noise she made, Ardelisa guessed she was making a renewed attempt to pull the door open. “When I get my ha...”
There was a shriek and a loud splash. Ardelisa jumped again as she swept through the contents of the final drawer. There was no key. Panic gripping her as she realised they were running out of time, she threw it to the floor, not caring where it fell, and frantically scanned the room for any sign of the tiny silver life saver.
“Tashy! Are you okay?”
The Assistant coughed in response.
“Yeah... just slipped...”
“Where’s the key Lisa?!” Harriet demanded.
“I don’t know!” Ardelisa was darting around the room, grabbing her hair in panic. “I can’t find it! I can’t see it...”
“Calm down! Think like Runoa. What would she have done with it?” Harriet asked, jerking the door handle again to see if it would give way.
“Think like Runoa...” Ardelisa pressed her palms into her forehead. “Think like Runoa...”
“Not to rush you, but our chins are getting wet!” Tash shouted.
“Come on Lisa, you’re a Sue! You’re perfect! You can think of anything!” Harriet called.
“Think like Runoa...” Ardelisa continued to mutter. “I’m the Lieutenant. I am the most powerful person in the multiverse... I’m over confident. I don’t need the key because nothing will go wrong. There’s no point in me keeping it...” Her head shot up. “I’ve thrown it away!”
“The bin!” Harriet yelled. “Check the bin!”
The Sue was ahead of her, tipping the contents onto the floor. Tissues, crisp packets and a drinks bottle hit the carpet...and nestled under a pack of salt and vinegar was a small silver key.
“I’ve got it!” Ardelisa seized it and ran for the door, jamming the key in the lock and turning. The lock slid back immediately, and she tossed it away. “All together! Pull!”
“That… that eye….”
Edward noticed the look and lifted his blade. “This blade was made by a process my author found while reading one of your books, my love. It is formed from the soul of my body that you destroyed in Devil May Cry. “
“A... Soul-forged weapon…!?” Phoenixia took a few steps back in surprise and fear. “From my books…but only Blade Dancers know that process… only they could use it! And you… there’s no way!”
“Oh, but I am a Blade Dancer, my love.” He smiled, a smile that was meant to be calm and reassuring and convey joy, but only served to make her shudder involuntarily. “To know you all the better, I immersed myself into your works and taught myself the necessary techniques to become a Blade Dancer.”
He gripped the weapon. “I am sorry to turn your own ideas against you, but I have no choice. Even if I have to embrace the darkness, I will save you, my love!” Then the sword glowed and suddenly, six tentacles burst from his back, three to either side. “My soul will never let your love go!”
Her pistols barked as the tentacles raced towards her, but the rounds merely glanced off harmlessly or they twisted around them. She batted one of them away and leapt away, only for a scream to finish the motion as they snared around her wrists and legs. “No!”
Edward advanced on her. “Don’t be frightened, my love…” He pulled her close, reaching to cup her face and frowning as she twitched away from his hand. He grabbed her jaw, using a tentacle to brush some hair out of her face. “So beautiful, even like this….”
He glanced up just in time for Emily’s little heel slammed between his legs and his eyes widened, his tentacles reflexively releasing Phoenixia and he staggered back. “You… l-little… b-brat!”
“Hands!” Emily kicked him in the shin and he dropped to one knee, gasping in pain. “Off!” Blood flowed from his nose as her head slammed into face. “My!” Her supersoaker was in her hands. “Sister!” The entirety of her supersoaker’s contents was emptied across the Stu’s front, covering him in the glistening liquid. He screamed as it hissed and burned, staggering and flailing wildly.
Phoenixia seized the moment, practically throwing Emily down the corridor while making a mental note to buy her some nice for saving her and scrabbled for her guns.
“You… how dare you, you little bitch! I will kill you!” The Stu wiped wildly at his burning face, finally removing the searing liquid from his eyes enough to see… enough to see the combined barrel of Incandescent Silverreign levelled at him. “Oh….”
The blast flung him down the hallway and the second gouged a line across the ceiling, dropping a pile of rubble and buring him as well blocking the hallway even as Phoenixia and Emily sprinted in the opposite direction as hard they could.
The door to the rooftop crumpled like paper as it flew off its hinges as Runoa stalked onto the gravel, Hellbinder gripped taunt between her hands. “Here, kitty, kitty...”
Hiding behind an air conditioning unit, Adrian the Super Kitty listened intently as her footsteps crunch across the gravel. They had been playing this game of insane-uber-Sue and cat for a while now. He did not want to engage her in a direct battle with so many other Sues and Stus around and so had been luring her away from the others, changing back to human and throwing a few spells her way now and again when she had lost track of him, then turn back into a cat and racing off again.
But it wasn’t going to last forever. The rooftop had been the farthest he could think to get her away and now that they were here, his space was very limited and eventually she’d find him. Not that he intended to let that happen-running away had not only kept her busy, but given him time to devise with which to retrieve Tash’s necklace from Runoa.
Most people would call his current plan a ‘Grab ‘n Dash’.
Runoa peered around a vent and wasn’t surprised to not find her quarry. She couldn’t sense and in his kitty form, he would no doubt take advantage of his abilities to walk stealthy and squeeze into tight places. The feeling of the gravel under her boots made her realize that his hearing was superior, too and he could track her when she walked.
Easy enough to fix that as she simply levitated an inch off the ground and began to drift around the air conditioning silently, Hellbinder at the ready.
A thumping noise was all the warning she had and she glanced towards the unit just in time to see a white ball of fur leap at her with a snarling hiss. She let out an annoyed cry as he latched onto her face, biting and clawing and scratching. “That’s a real smart move, boy!”
As she reached to remove him, however, his form shifted and suddenly she was flat on her back as the grinning Librarian socked her in the face, then snatched Tash’s necklace from down her shirt and then yelping as Hellbinder snagged around his throat and flung him across the rooftop.
The ex-Librarian leaped to her feet as Adrian did the same, but a fraction of a second faster than he did and even as he leapt in the air, Hellbinder’s coils looped around and began to draw tight. “I got you!”
But impossibly, he somehow slid out of his coat in mid-air, her weapon snaring the now empty garment. Even as she flicked the coat out of her whip and cracked it at him, he was a white cat again and darted around the tip with inhuman reflexes, the necklace hanging around his neck. The cat flashed between a pair of vents and then bounded up one, leaping into the air and giving her a smug raspberry before vanishing from view down the ventilation shaft.
Adrian’s abandoned trenchcoat fell atop her head, hiding her infuriated expression. “I hate him….”
Harriet and Tash strained, but the door was stubbornly stuck. Runoa’s spell had warped the wood tightly into the frame, and she sheer mass of water now pressing against it made it impossible to move. Both girls could no longer touch the floor, and were treading water with barely a foot left before they ran out of air.
“Feels like an elephant leaning against it!” Tash panted. Harriet’s face was damp and Tash could not tell if it was from the water or tears of frustration.
“Ardelisa you’re going to have to break the door! There’s no other way!”
She did not sound confident. Ardelisa was so frail she looked as though she could barely carry her own weight, let alone anything heavy enough to break the door.
“Anything! Just hurry!”
The banging sounds of Ardelisa frantically trying to move things was eclipsed by the rushing water getting closer and closer to their ears.
“Harriet...” Tash’s voice was hopeless. “We’re running out of airspace...”
Sure enough, the final foot between the water and the ceiling was shrinking fast. Harriet swallowed hard, and she felt herself sink so that her shoulders were below the water line.
They were going to die, she realised. It had never really seemed possible to her before. There was always a way out...but not from this. They only had minutes left. She had never thought it would come to this. She had always thought if any of them died it would be with a bang like Adrian had...now she and her friend were drowning in a bathroom. Alarm pierced her mind as she remembered everyone she loved in real life. They would never know what had happened. She would have just vanished, never to return...
...No! She could not accept that. They would not die here. They would not let Runoa win!
“Hati...” now she just sounded scared. “I don’t want you to die here...”
The Society founder plunged her hand through the water and seized her friend’s hand. “We aren’t dying here Tashy. Ardelisa will get us out...”
There was not much comfort to be had from this, and Tash started to cry in earnest. Paddling to her, Harriet squeezed her in a hug.
“Stop it! We’re getting out, okay? We’re going to get out, we’re going to find Adrian, and we are going to punish Runoa! You got it?!”
She shook her by the shoulders, submerged in the freezing water, and Tash nodded shakily. Harriet hugged her tightly again, praying that this would not be the last time she ever did so. The water was on its final stretch, and both girls had to tip their heads back to catch their last mouthfuls of air.
“Trying the door again?” Tash asked trying to sound hopeful. Harriet gave a nod, trying not to shiver.
“Come on! We can do this!” she squeezed her hands, as the water crept up around their mouths. She managed one last encouraging smile to her fellow leader, housemate and one of her best friends ever.
“See you on the other side!”
Gasping desperate breaths, both girls pushed off from the ceiling and swam back to the door. The world was horribly silent to Tash’s water filled ears, as they both seized the handle and began to pull, bracing themselves against the wall and doorframe. They pulled and pulled until Tash thought her arms would come out of their sockets. The wood remained resolute.
Tash’s lungs were burning, but she did not stop pulling. Her hands were shaking on the door handle, and she could feel Harriet’s doing the same. Her friend’s face was screwed up in concentration, and she gritted her teeth together as the effort expended her last supply of energy. Tash knew she could feel the same thing she could – the overwhelming desire for air... to breathe in despite the fact it would spell their doom...
Harriet’s whole body seemed to snap suddenly, as she could not bear the strain any longer, and bubbles burst from violently from her mouth. It froze in a horrified gasp, as she tried to draw in air and swallowed water instead. Tash seized her shoulders, but it was too late... her limbs flailed in panic, her chest heaving as it tried to absorb oxygen that was not there...
Finally it was over, and the Society leader went limp and lifeless, her body sinking slowly to the floor. Tash’s body was numb all over, and she barely registered her own vision tunnelling or the thudding noise of her own heartbeat in her ears... she could not be dead. Harriet could not be dead... she had said they wouldn’t die...
There was a wrenching crack and the world roared into life again, water rushing out of the confined space, and dragging the two leaders bodies with it like twigs in a river. Water cushioned every inch of Tash’s form... until she slammed painfully into a damp soggy carpet.
Coughing she pulled her head weakly up to look. The room was fuzzy as her body frantically panted for air, but she could see that not an inch of the carpet was dry any longer. The bathroom door had been split cleanly down the middle, and the white bathroom tiles gleamed innocently beyond it.
Ardelisa was already kneeling beside Harriet, rolling the leader over and checking her for life signs. A fearful gasp escaped her as she realised that her patient was not breathing, and she immediately secured Harriet’s airway and began emergency breaths.
“Hati...” Tash barely had any spare breath left to cough, let alone speak, but she crawled to her best friend’s side regardless, and took her hand. It was cold...but there...just below her skin, was the tiniest flicker of a pulse. Once more Ardelisa pressed her lips to Harriet’s and breathed...
There was a violent spluttering noise, as Harriet’s prone body jerked into life again, water bubbling up over her lips as Ardelisa pulled hastily away. Spitting and gasping for more precious oxygen, Harriet rolled to one side, and violently began vomiting up water. Ardelisa knelt back, rubbing soothing circles on her back, while Tash slumped back to the floor, tears rolling down her soaked face.
“Thank God... thank God...”
Harriet cleared the last of the water from her mouth, and looked around. Ardelisa was hovering anxiously over her, while Tash was curled up next to her, squeezing her hand and sobbing quietly into the ruined carpet. Discarded beside the Sue was a red axe.
“...wha...?” Harriet just about managed to articulate, before her body demanded more air. Turning her head to look at her choice of weapon, Ardelisa shrugged.
“I asked for a way to get you out... divine providence gave me an axe in that glass case in the corridor...”
“...this glass case...” Tash asked slowly. “...didn’t say “In case of fire break glass” did it?”
“Now that you mention it...” the eighteen century Sue said thoughtfully. “It did.”
Still spluttering slightly, Harriet began to laugh.
Claws scrabbling along the air vent, Adrian slid down the shaft as though on a water slide, Tash’s pendant clasped in his teeth, the chain around his neck. He banged painfully into the side, before continuing his downward slide, dust gathering at his paws and clinging to his fur where he had bumped into the sides. He gave a sneeze, and a great cloud of it was left in his wake. He did not know where he was going, but it was far away from Runoa, and that was good enough for him.
The vent levelled out, and he realised he must have come to the next floor down. Sneezing violently, and sending another dust cloud billowing into the air, he took a quick sniff and picked up a familiar scent. Padding through the dust, he trotted in the direction of that distinct smell.
“That bastard! I swear when I get my hands on him...”
“You don’t want to get your hands on him Tashy! You don’t understand how dangerous that weapon of his is! With his own Soul-Forged weapon...”
“Calm down Nixie... we’ve all had a bit of a scare. Emily, any luck with the communicators?”
“No. The water has fried them. Your mobiles too.”
“Hati I’m taking our new phones out of the budget.”
“What?! You can’t do that! I’ve got a very important order coming in on the Society budget!”
“For the last time, you can’t have a full size marble statue of Swanny in your room!”
“Why not? Its my budget!”
As Adrian’s face appeared at the entrance to the vent shaft, he realised he must be looking at Ardelisa’s dressing room. The whole Anti-Cliche and Mary-Sue Elimination Society were crammed inside. Some were pacing, while some sat looking worried on the floor. Michael was frowning as he stalked back and forth across the room, anger evident in even inch of his face. Emily was perched on the dressing table, wiping water from the inside of a phone case. Phoenixia stood tense beside the door, Incandescent Silverreign clutched tightly in her hands. Her eyes were wide, and kept darting to the door every time someone coughed, or made a sudden noise.
As Jess moved to give the ex-hologram a hug, Adrian got a clearer look at the sofa. Ardelisa sat on one end, rubbing a bruise on her elbow from where Runoa had tripped her, but otherwise unhurt, and looking rather proud of herself. Tash and Harriet were wrapped in fluffy white bathrobes, with a towel around each of their heads, both still looking pale and bedraggled. Harriet’s voice was slightly hoarse, and she was breathing deeper than usual, and Tash had a tight squeeze on her hand as though she were terrified to let go.
Pushing against the vent cover achieved nothing, so Adrian did what all cats that wanted attention did best.
Everyone looked up instantly.
“Emiushere?!” Tash got to her feet, but Ardelisa waved her down, urging her to rest. Phoenixia, who had raised her gun and pointed the moment Adrian had opened his mouth, lowered her weapon, but did not relax. Worried now, Adrian began to scratch at the vent, even as Michael approached and began to unscrew the bolts that trapped him inside.
As soon as he was through, Adrian jumped into the room, landing in a little cloud of dust that made him sneeze again. He reverted back to human instantly, and Tash bounded from the sofa to hug him...however she was beaten to the job by Phoenixia, who dropped her gun and threw her arms around her lover, squeezing him tightly.
“Ow!” Adrian squeaked, before returning the embrace. “What did I miss?”
“Where were you?” Tash demanded to know. “Why are you filthy? And where in the seven hells is Runoa?!”
“Alright, everyone sit down,” Michael rubbed his head. There were ten minutes to go until the intermission was over, and he could feel the beginnings of a migraine. “Let’s go over this and then get back to our seats...”
Ardelisa smiled and got to her feet, heading for the table in the corner of her dressing room, where by divine providence, a kettle and several teacups had just appeared for her and her guests.
Back in the basement, the Sues were bored.
So were the Society. Multiverse Digital did not come with very good news stations.
A feeling of foreboding in her stomach, Valerie glanced at her communicator. There had been no word from the Sue Factor fandom from any of the Society agents. She supposed they could just be having too much fun... but she had felt this horrible sensation earlier... like someone ripping something precious away from her. Something had gone wrong, or was going wrong as they spoke. She did not like it. She was going to give them another five minutes before she tried calling Tash.
“Valerie-san...Valerie-san...” Aster prodded the healer in the arm, and Valerie snapped out of her thoughts.
“~Kyaa... are you done with those?” she pointed to the Recees Cups on Valerie’s plate hopefully. Protectively, the healer pulled them toward her, and Aster pouted. Her efforts to get chocolate were being foiled yet again.
“Just did a headcount,” Ben appeared by her side. He had been grumpy ever since Edward Casanova had been voted off and he had effectively lost the money he had placed in the betting pool, but now he was a little anxious. “One of the Sues is missing, and so is one of the Stus. I can’t see them, and no one knows where they’ve gone off to.”
Strangely Valerie did not feel alarmed by this. She was still too worried about those in the Sue Factor fandom. Still this was a serious problem. Who knew what kind of trouble missing Sue and Stu could get up to in the Library? It could be dangerous... it was forbidden... they would be in so much trouble if they were caught...but the danger made it all the more wonderful...
Heart pounding, and blood pooling to her cheeks, Valerie realised just where the Sue and Stu were.
“Let’s... leave them for five minutes...” she suggested awkwardly. “I’m sure they’ll show up... eventually...”
She got up quickly and moved a safe distance away. She hovered awkwardly in a corner, becoming quickly preoccupied again with worry about the people in the fandom. They should have called by now...they had a long enough intermission...maybe they couldn’t find anywhere quiet to do it...or maybe something had gone wrong...
“Food?” Rhia offered the bag of tortilla chips, and Valerie shook her head. Recognising that expression on the healer’s face, the chef sighed.
“You’re worried too?”
Valerie nodded softly. “I just wish they’d call... I’d call them, but I’m afraid of catching them at a wrong moment and blowing their cover...”
“We could go check the monitor screens upstairs?” Rhia suggested. The thought was tempting, but Valerie was reluctant to leave.
“But what about the Sues?”
“They’ll be fine,” Rhia assured her. “Ben, Willie and the others are still here... and even if they weren’t, Shirley would keep them all in line without breaking a sweat.”
They both glanced to the opposite corner, where the Cliche stick sat filing her claws with a scrap of sandpaper.
“Good point...” Valerie had to agree, and got to her feet quickly, as a sudden wave of heady emotion from the other side of the room made her feel hot all over. “Let’s go... quickly.”