“This is so bad...” Valerie was muttering as she tapped hastily at the computers. Still the screen remained blank. She turned hopefully to the head chef. “Anything?”
“Not a thing,” Rhia was hanging up and trying another number. “Come on guys, where are you?!”
“Something wrong?” Ben appeared, hovering in the doorway in curiosity. He frowned as he registered the fuzzy camera on the monitor screen. “Which fandom is that?”
“The Talent Show fandom,” Valerie reported, still tapping away at the keyboard. “The fandom has been blocked from our system.”
“How?” Ben asked, pushing his way into the room to get a better view of the screen.
“From the inside,” Valerie said. “Some kind of spell...”
“Shh!” Rhia waved a hand at them both as she listened to the automated voice. “It has not been possible to connect your call...our phones are blocked too...”
“We have to get in there,” Ben declared firmly. “They may need help.”
Despite his words, he still looked at Valerie – with all three Society leaders inside the fandom, she was the most senior member around. She glanced at the blank screen again, before nodding.
“Do it. Take Bahamut, and be careful.”
As Ben turned to leave, Rhia had a sudden thought. “Ben! Is everything okay downstairs?”
“Yeah, I left Shirley and Willie in charge.”
Rhia’s phone slid from her grasp.
“You left Willie in charge downstairs with the Sues? Are you high?!”
She bolted from the room, with Valerie right behind her, and both of them stumbled down to the basement. It was deathly silent in the room below.
Shirley stood quietly in the corner, still filing her claws, and testing them against the wall. Willie was nowhere to be seen, but the reason for the silence was quickly understandable. Aster was hovering above the Sue’s heads, and appeared to be lecturing them on the brilliance of Lucky Star. When one of them appeared to be nodding off, she would pull out her staff and bonk them painfully on the head with it.
“Where Willie?” Valerie demanded, her hands on her hips. Dave, who alone appeared unperturbed by Aster’s lecture, reached into the huddle of fearful looking Sues, and plucked an unconscious Willie up by the scruff of his neck. “He objected to the impromptu class.” He explained.
“Well... alright then,” Rhia shrugged, ducking as Aster jabbed her staff in her direction. “Aster, Sue Factor is about to start again, so save your lesson for later.”
Huffing, the fae resumed her hovering position above the Sue’s heads, as they all scrambled eagerly for their seats once more.
“We need to keep quiet about this,” Rhia muttered to Valerie, as Cristoph and Dave slid to their sides. “If the Sues know something is wrong, we could have a prison riot on our hands.”
“I wish Emily or Adrian was here,” Valerie admitted. “They might know why we can’t see the fandom...”
“Which fandom is this?” Cristoph asked curiously. Before anyone could answer, Ben clattered noisily down the stairs and hurried over to them, Bahamut strapped to his back.
“I can’t get through,” he reported, dropping his voice so as not to raise alarm. “Whatever that thing is blocking our plotholes from the Talent Show fandom.”
“Is that possible?” Rhia asked, not bothering to disguise the worry on her face.
“Not normally,” Valerie explained. “But the Talent Show fandom isn’t a fandom like the others. Other fandoms have plotholes left in them by their authors, which anyone can exploit. Talent Shows aren’t stories though, so its easy to seal them off entirely from the outside world.”
“So what you are saying,” Cristoph summarised the situation quickly. “Is that they’re stuck in the fandom, and cannot get out?”
Nodding grimly, Valerie glanced in the direction of the television screen, where the news was winding up. “At this point, they’re on their own...”
“Still nothing?” Michael asked hopefully. Phoenixia shook her head, as she and Tash slid back into their seats.
“We waited until there was no one around,” Phoenixia said. “Then we tried our plothole generators and Tash’s doors. Nothing works. We’re still stuck.”
They had reluctantly agreed to return to their seats. No one was that bothered about the contest any longer, since their leaders had almost died and Phoenixia had been forced to confront the man of her nightmares. Back in kitty form, Adrian was staying low in his seat, ears flat against his head, less Runoa appear and resume their fight. Everyone was twice as paranoid, just waiting for their cover to be blown, despite the fact that the SEP fields protected them from any wandering gazes.
“We’ll just have to wait until the contest is over,” Harriet declared firmly, much to everyone’s dismay. “They have to open the fandom to let people leave. We’ll just leave with the rest of the audience.”
“But we want to leave now...” Emily said, fingering her handbag nervously, her supersoaker and Incandescent Silverreign safely stowed once more.
“I know!” Harriet huffed irritably. “But that’s the way this is going. So we’re just going to have to deal.”
“You’re just grumpy because you haven’t shaved, and we can all see your thighs,” Jess commented.
“Oh shut up!” the leader wished she had something to throw, but given that her handbag and clothing were still in Ardelisa’s room, drying over the radiator, she lacked anything to hand.
The cause of Jess’s comment was the short dress she had been forced to wear in lieu of spending the last fifteen minutes of show time in damp clothing. Still she reckoned she was better off than Tash, who was wearing one of Ardelisa’s full length black dresses from one of the previous weeks performances. Unfortunately for both girls, Ardelisa was only five foot two, and thus the black dress was swinging gaily about Tash’s shins instead of the floor, and Harriet’s mini dress was leaving very little of the leaders legs to the imagination.
“I can’t wait to get out of this thing,” Tash commented, apparently on the same line of thought as her friend. “She’s got bigger boobs than me.”
“Everyone has bigger boobs than you Tash,” Emily muttered, and Harriet gave her a poke for being so rude.
“We’ll go get our stuff from Ardelisa after the show...”
“Providing she doesn’t win,” Michael pointed out. “If she’s won she’ll be swamped with fans and people trying to congratulate her.”
“...dodging the fanbase...” Harriet added. “Get our stuff, and go.”
“LIVE IN FIVE, FOUR, THREE...” Magdalena was shouting once more, and as the countdown finished, the credits began to roll and the audience cheered. No one in the back row joined in.
“Welcome back to Sue Factor 2010!” Sparrow had reappeared, and looked overly excited to be live once more. “Our final two acts have both sung one final time. You have voted in your thousands, and I can declare that the phone lines are now...closed!”
The audience gave an ‘ooo!’ of anticipation, and Sparrow continued to speak.
“That’s it! You can’t change the outcome any longer. Please don’t call now, your vote will not count and you may still be charged!”
She twirled to face another camera, this time meandering her way off the main stage, and onto the section where the judges table sat.
“While the votes are being counted, we have a very special tribute tonight. Two years ago, we met a woman on this competition who was one of the most talented individuals we have ever seen. In January of this year, she passed away in her struggle to make the multiverse a better place for Mary-Sues.”
Any hint of a smile on Harriet’s face immediately slid off.
“Tonight we remember her, and her victory from Sue Factor 2008. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Willowe.”
“...what?!” Jess, Michael and Claire all exclaimed in unison, but they were drowned out by the audience, who cheered as Willowe’s name flashed on the screen, and the video clips began to roll. In the middle of the row, Emily had frozen to her seat.
“You never told us Willowe went on Sue Factor!” Phoenixia turned accusingly to Harriet.
“I didn’t know!” the leader protested, as a bright eyed, rosy cheeked Willowe appeared on stage, before an unfamiliar panel of judges.
“What’s your name?” Surprisingly, the figure in the head judges seat, was Cassie Anora.
“Willowe Diamond Honeysuckle Allisonette Frankincense Ravenne Hyacinth Aurelia Sakurelle Dewdrop Arwennia Heliotrope Appleflower Kristellia Sandriline Delilah Aphrodite Emyntrude Bob Yuffiana Swainsona Vipertooth Foxblade the Third,” the Sue replied with a winning smile.
“Bloody hell...” one of the male judges snickered.
The screen wiped to Willowe singing beautifully to an enraptured audience. It was as though a choir of angels had descended from heaven. Her voice spoke of pain, suffering and inner strength.
“Maybe tonight, we’ll fly so far away... we’ll be lost before the dawn...”
“Bloody hell!” the male judge from before repeated, only this time his voice was faint and awe inspired. Everyone had to laugh at him, as Willowe smiled prettily to her supportive audience.
“The biggest yes I have ever given anyone!” Cassie declared, beaming at her. Willowe’s thanks were drowned out by the audience, and as she got backstage, her face broke into the widest grin anyone had ever seen.
“I can’t believe they liked me!” she was saying, trying to be modest despite how much joy she showed. “But they did! That was the best feeling ever!”
The image faded away to the live performances, with Willowe up on stage under dim lights, a background of rippling white and silver across the screens behind her.
“There will be no white flag above my door... I’m in love and always will be...”
Everyone was silent as she sang, and the judges seemed barely able to string their responses together.
“You really are something special,” the judge beside Cassie was saying. “And I really want to see you make it to the final.”
The screen wiped, but it was not focused on the stage this time. It was taken backstage. Tucked just behind a sliding screen was Willowe, dressed in casual clothes, curled up with her knees under her chin. Her fingers were gripping her wildly tangled auburn hair, and even from a distance the tears on her cheeks were clearly visible.
“We’ve just heard,” the screen cut to a shot of the male judge who was speaking directly to the camera, “that one of Willowe’s sisters has been captured by the Anti-Cliche and Mary-Sue Elimination Society.”
Everyone in the back row felt a nasty chill go down their spines, as the screen cut back to Willowe, still sitting on the floor backstage, but with her head resting on Cassie’s shoulder, as the Lieutenant knelt to comfort her.
“She’s refusing to practise,” now it was Cassie, standing to address the camera outside the dressing rooms. “She won’t sing. She won’t even move. She’s devastated.”
In her seat, Emily was fighting back her own tears. She knew that this must have been when Holly was captured. She had not cared much at the time. She had been sad for her, but was bitter too. All she had seen was Holly and Juniper abandoning them to go and find Willowe... their wonderful and perfect sister who was fighting back against the Society and going to make the world better for Sues. Now she knew better about Willowe, and she felt horrible for all the times she had ever believed that her sister had not cared.
Cutting back to the image of Willowe, still being embraced by Cassie, the woman who would one day attempt to take over real life, spoke in a choked whisper. It was impossible to hear, but the image was subtitled, and still managed to cut like a knife into the hearts of everyone watching.
“I can’t do it... I can’t...”
“Yes you can,” Cassie said gently, pulling back and wiping tears from her cheeks. “You can do it for them...”
Apparently she could, for the next shot was Willowe back on stage, dark blue and green lights sweeping back and forth across the stage as she sang.
“There’s no other way when it comes to the truth, so keep holding on... cause you know we’ll make it through, we’ll make it through...”
Something in her voice was different. Instead of the strength she had shown in the previous weeks, she sounded as though she might break. But the pain only seemed to give her voice more depth, and several of the judges joined the audience in floods of tears.
“I know this song was for your sister,” the second male judge was saying. “And you’ve done her and your whole family proud tonight. You’ve come up to the stage, and gone on, even though you’re hurting. You’re so brave to do that.”
From the scream of the audience, it was clear that they all agreed. There was not a single person in the studio who was against Willowe that night.
The next image was Willowe in her dressing room, casually dressed once more, but still managing to look gorgeous. She wore a face of powerful determination, and Tash could not help but shiver. The last time she had seen that expression was when she had fought the Sue herself in the Sahara.
“I’ve made it to the final,” Willowe was saying. “I have to win now. I have to do this for my fans. For myself. But most of all, I want to do this for my sisters.”
Images of Willowe rehearsing to an empty studio were flashing up as she continued to speak.
“The power can go out. The world can end tonight. My own author can show up and try to interfere. But none of that is going to stop me from winning.”
The screen wiped once more, back to the stage, which was dark, shrouded in smoke, and had stars swirling across the screens at the back.
“Touch me! Its so easy to leave me... all alone with my memory... of my days in the sun...”
“You are an incredible singer,” Cassie was saying. “But tonight you went to a whole new level. That was perfect, in every sense.”
Now the stage was bright, with all the colours of the rainbow weaving their way across the screens, as Willowe sang her final song, and her last hope for her victory, her voice reaching every corner of the studio. The audience were on their feet screaming, but Willowe did not seem to notice. She was smiling, her heart and soul in every single word that passed her lips.
“Somewhere over the rainbow... bluebirds fly...”
As the music continued on, the screen shifted to a dark stage, with Willowe and another Sue, both stood in spotlights with their judges on their arms, looking ready to snap from the tension.
The audience were beside themselves, but it was nothing to the shock on Willowe’s face, or the delight that quickly replaced it as her judge hugged her tightly.
The sounds of the former audience died off as the screen faded into the stage once more. Everyone else had cleared off stage, leaving just the winner, who was still wiping tears of happiness from her cheeks as the music began to play. She drew a deep breath, and raised her head to look at the audience, her smile radiant.
In the present day audience, several people began to applaud softly as they realised they were being treated to the Sue’s best performance that evening.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high...”
There was no nervousness in her voice. Only pure joy for her victory and surety of her own skill. The audiences, past and present, fell willingly under her spell.
“There’s a land that I’ve heard of, once in a lullaby...”
She hit every note perfectly. Harriet found herself torn. However much she wanted to punch her satanic offspring for everything she had put her through, she had to admit Willowe was good. And she was still completely stunned. Just how many more times was Willowe going to continue to surprise her, even after death?
“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue... and the dreams that you dare to dream, really do come true...”
The Sue brushed another tear from her porcelain cheek, and Emily felt herself hiccup as the lump in her throat seemed to swell. She touched the hairclip in her fringe, and felt tears trickle from her eyes.
“Someday I’ll wish upon a star, and wake up where the clouds are far behind me...”
She had wanted that for all of them, Emily recalled the letter her sister had given her during the Battle of the Library. She had wanted a perfect world, so that she could look back and all of her problems would be a distant memory.
“Where trouble melts like lemon drops, way up above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me!”
The dramatic volume of her voice did not diminish the quality, and the studio lights spun across the stage like dancers, red, yellow, green, blue shimmering past the singer. Willowe herself was giving the finale of the song, and indeed, the finale of the show, her all, as confetti began to rain down from the ceiling onto the winner of Sue Factor.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, blue birds fly... birds fly over the rainbow. Why, then oh why can’t I?”
Never had Emily missed her sister so much. There was so much she had never asked her, and so much she wanted to know about her now. How had she felt when she had stood on that stage and been pronounced the winner? Had she really been thinking of her sisters?
“If happy little blue birds fly... beyond the rainbow, why, oh why can’t I...?”
Looking at her face, joyous and yet entirely peaceful at the same time, Emily decided yes. She had been thinking of them.
The cheers from the audience of the past were picked up by the present day people in the studio, who got to their feet applauding. Emily found herself joining them, to the surprise of the rest of the Society. Harriet’s eyebrows arched into her hairline, and Tash’s scowl redoubled. Emily supposed she could not blame her – Willowe would always be Harriet’s biggest shame, and Tash would always remember her as the Sue who had killed her boyfriend and almost taken over Real Life.
Sparrow came back onto the stage with no bounce, wiping tears from her eyes as she went.
“A beautiful performance that we will always remember,” she declared. “But now, its time. You’ve voted in your thousands. And now the waiting is over. I give you the Sue Factor 2010 top two finalists!”
She stepped backwards as the centre screen rolled up once more. Dramatic music blasted into the studio, creating an effective contrast from the gentle recording of Willowe’s voice. Stepping out onto the left side of the stage were Bella and Ardelisa. The protagonist of Twilight had her arm around Ardelisa’s shoulders and was hugging her as though afraid she might pass out from nerves. Ardelisa showed no hint of what had transpired during the intermission, and her hair and clothes were as immaculate as ever. There was not even a drop of water that betrayed that she had had to save the Society leaders from drowning earlier.
As they moved to a stop, Harriet saw Ardelisa straighten suddenly in her judges hug, and her eyes gave the tiniest hint of a scowl. From the way her face was angled, the Society leader could tell she was glaring at Runoa, who sat with Merle at the judges desk. Remembering the events from not half an hour ago, Harriet wondered if Runoa knew yet that she and Tash had escaped her little trap.
On the right side of the stage, Edward Cullen had his arm around Harmony, who looked calm and unflustered by the impending results. She looked at the audience with a smile, and the volume of the screaming fans seemed to double.
Finally they fell quiet enough for Sparrow to speak. The stage lights dimmed to black, leaving both Sues and their judges in brightly lit spotlights. Sparrow could no longer be seen, but her voice carried to the whole room.
“Ardelisa. The judges called you absolutely stunning, and said that all bets were off tonight after your performance.”
The centuries old Sue blushed magnificently, and looked at her shoes, as though trying to deflect the admiring words.
“Harmony,” Sparrow continued. “Tonight the judges said that your voice was unbelievable, and that there were no words to describe your performance.”
Beaming, Harmony embraced the comments, leaning slightly into her judge, and clasping both hands neatly in front of her.
“But there can be only one winner here tonight,” Sparrow declared. “I can tell you that we have had a record breaking number of votes from across the multiverse tonight, and not a single member of the studio audience failed to raise their keypad tonight.”
She paused, and the audience seemed to pick up their cheering again.
“The winner of Sue Factor 2010 is...”
She could barely be heard over the noise. The audience were on their feet, cheering and yelling for their favourite act, as though they could change the result with their enthusiasm. The Society got up too to see over the heads of the fans. Harmony stood perfectly still like a statue, and Ardelisa’s hands had crept under her chin in prayer. The stillness on stage was completely at odds with the audience, who were beside themselves.
The noise from the fans was deafening. On stage Harmony’s overjoyed face was hidden from view as Edward swept her up into a hug that lifted her off her feet. Ardelisa looked crushed, but was slowly pulled into an embrace by Bella, who tucked a strand of her contestant’s hair back and smiled at her encouragingly. Ardelisa nodded in response to whatever was said, and quickly hurried over to the other side of the stage to hug Harmony. The winner could not stop smiling.
In the basement of the Library, a smaller, but no less forceful cheer had erupted from the Sues, who had sat on the edge of their seats throughout the entire results. Temporarily deafened, and disappointed by the outcome, the Society agents just sighed and shrugged, as around them, Harmony’s fans hugged each other in happiness. The ones that had supported Ardelisa, slumped in their seats and began to pick at the remaining tortilla chips and popcorn with little enthusiasm.
“Ah well, that’s that,” Ben shrugged.
“Mmm...” Rhia was nodding vaguely. “Now we’ve just got to get everyone home...”
“Ardelisa,” Sparrow was trying to extract the runner up from the hug that was now in danger of squashing Harmony to death. “Ardelisa... commiserations...”
She pulled the Sue from the hug, and patted her comfortingly on the shoulder. Ardelisa was clearly disappointed, but it was the gracious disappointment of someone who understood that the better contestant had won.
“You must be devastated,” Sparrow declared, and Ardelisa shook her head prettily.
“No. It a shame not to have won, but Harmony really deserves it. I’m really glad for her.”
There was a round of approving applause at this statement. In the back row, Harriet was pouting at the outcome.
“Fix...” Tash muttered. “I’ll bet you anything Runoa pulled some strings.”
She was glaring down at the judges panel, where Merle and Runoa were on their feet applauding. Merle’s clapping was unenthusiastic, but Runoa looked more alert than she had at any point that evening, and she could not stop the pride radiating from her face.
“I don’t think so,” Alice shook her head. “Runoa might be the most powerful Sue here, but the Sues are too damn perfect and honourable to want to fix the competition. And look at her face? She wouldn’t be that proud of her Sovereign if she had needed to fix the results.”
“Let’s give it up for our runner up, Ardelisa!” Sparrow was applauding, and the rest of the audience cheered for the contestant. Smiling sadly, Ardelisa backed away so that Sparrow could get to Harmony.
"Harmony! Congratulations! How do you feel?"
The Sovereign was smiling widely, more emotion on her face than there had been all evening.
"Brilliant. I'm so happy."
"You look it," Sparrow said earnestly, before turning to the judge. "Edward, what do you have to say to your winner?"
The Twilight protagonist looked as though Christmas and his birthday had come at once. He gave Harmony another one armed hug as he replied.
"She's such a wonderful person, and it has been a real privilege to be her judge."
"Highlight of the competition?" Sparrow leaned back towards the winner.
"Too many things," Harmony said. "Its all been wonderful. I'd just like to thank everyone who voted. I couldn't have done it without their support."
Harriet was sure that everyone's hands must have been numb by that point, but they clapped and screamed anyway. Now that it was over, she was fidgety and very eager to be out of her seat and back in the Library... maybe with that Chinese food that she had suggested earlier.
"Now the most important question," Sparrow said. "Can you perform for us once more?"
"Yeah, I think so," Harmony nodded eagerly, as the stage hands appeared and began guiding everyone off stage and back to their allocated seats or backstage area.
"Good. Get yourself ready," Sparrow waved a hand at the Sue, before drifting quickly off towards the cameras again.
"Well there you have it. Our winner for Sue Factor 2010. Don't forget, you can order the official album from our website, as well as download all the performances from tonight. Thank you so much for watching. One more time now, its your Sue Factor champion, Harmony!"
The roar of the audience did not cease, even as the music began to play, and Harmony was left alone on the stage with her microphone.
"We'll do it all... everything. On our own..."
“Right...” Harriet whispered down the row. “Now that’s over with, let’s go find a way out of this fandom...”
“Can’t we just stay and listen?” Emily begged, already swaying to the Sue’s hypnotic voice. She was not the only one. Claire’s head was resting on Michael’s shoulder, and Jess was swaying in a manner which made her look not entirely sober.
“No,” was Harriet’s firm answer. “Or we might not get out at all. Now stop swaying and follow me!”
Wondering who on Earth was knocking at her door this time, Ardelisa pulled it open and smiled sadly.
“You have to stop doing that,” she said, as Harriet and Tash appeared in the doorway. Harriet gave the Sue a quick hug.
“Sorry you lost, Lisa,” she said sympathetically, while Tash strode straight for the clothes on the radiator and felt them. They were still damp, but they would have to do, so she stripped off the dress and began to pull them on.
“Its okay,” Ardelisa shook her head sadly. “I was not fated to win. I will retire to my home fandom, happy that I have come this far.”
The rest of the Society peered in cautiously, some covering their eyes as Harriet stripped her own short dress off.
“Thanks for the loan by the way,” she passed it back to the Sue. “But I think it looked better on you.”
As Ardelisa blushed fairly, Michael had a sudden thought.
“You wouldn’t know a way we can get out without being spotted?” he asked hopefully.
“No, I’m afraid not...” Ardelisa shrugged. “The staff entrance around the back requires a security key to get in through, so that only leaves the front entrance, where all the guests will be heading.”
Even as she spoke, there was a thunderous rumble from above their heads, as thousands of people got to their feet and began to exit the stadium.
“All of the staff are going to the after party too,” Ardelisa added.
“We won’t get to any of them without causing a scene,” Harriet summarised. “We’ll have to go through the front door.”
“How is it guarded?” Michael asked, sitting on the sofa. Ardelisa began to pace as she thought.
“There are usually three men manning the door,” she admitted. “But since Runoa announced to us earlier that you’re here, it might have been beefed up.”
“We’ll never get through it,” Phoenixia sighed. “They’ll know to look out for us now.”
She sank into the sofa heavily, and Emily reached deep into her handbag and pulled out a bottle of water for her friend.
“If there’s only three men,” Alice was thinking hard. “We could fight our way past them?”
“Mrow!” on Emily’s shoulder Adrian was shaking his fluffy head hard so hard that he overbalanced and fell into Emily’s open handbag. She reached in to fish him out.
“Adrian is right,” Tash admitted. “Even if there’s only three guards, there are thousands of Sues trying to leave the same way right now. They aren’t going to just let us go.”
She shivered from her clammy clothes, and bounced from foot to foot trying to get warm.
“I have an idea...” Emily said suddenly. Everyone turned to look at her. She had frozen in the act of pulling Adrian out of her bag by the scruff of his neck, and he was wriggling to get free. For an explanation, she dropped him straight back in, where the sounds of his meowing were lost in the cavernous depths.
Harriet got it first.
“I can’t believe I agreed to this...”
“Louise, I’ve asked you three times. Get your butt out of my face.”
“I can’t! Jess is sitting on my hand!”
“Well pinch her then!”
“I think I just knocked something over...”
“Meep! Sorry Adrian! I’m sorry!”
“Would all of you just shut up?!” Emily hissed through the tiny opening she had left at the top of her handbag. Instantly everyone inside fell silent. She clutched it tight against her body, and was rejoining the throng of people heading for the main exit. Her eyes flicked anxiously back and forth. Ardelisa had escorted her out of the backstage areas and had wished them all a safe trip back. Somehow, this did not make Emily any more confident.
“Okay, here we go,” she whispered as she headed into the crowd of Sues, who were gently pushing their way toward the exit. Her finger tips were cold, gripping the strap of her bag tightly, and she took a few deep breaths and tried not to look nervous.
“Well the others can say what they like,” came a voice from within the bag. “I think you’re a genius Emily.”
“Thanks Nixie,” Emily muttered, knowing full well that Phoenixia was only glad of an opportunity to feel everyone up inside the dark pocket dimension of the handbag.
“I can’t believe I’m in a girl’s handbag...” Michael muttered. “This is dangerous territory for a man...”
Although Emily couldn’t see, she just knew that Adrian was nodding his fluffy head in agreement with that statement.
“Do you want to get out and walk?” she asked testily.
As the crowd rounded the corner, Emily saw the three glass doors that were the exit to the building. Sure enough, there was a security guard on each one. To her horror however, they were not alone. Beside each guard was a Sue Factor judge.
She cursed under her breath.
“Emily Smith!” Harriet’s offended voice appeared from inside her handbag.
“Shut up!” Emily hissed back, slowing her pace as much as she could against the tide of people. “The judges are here!”
“Stay calm,” Phoenixia soothed from inside. “Take deep breaths and try not to look worried or anxious.”
“Easy for you to say!” Emily could feel the crowd pushing against her, closer and closer to the exit...and the dangerous figures.
“Go for one of the Cullens!” Tash suggested.
“But they’re both guarding the same door!” Emily said, privately terrified that they would both recognise her - her sister had lived in Twilight for a long time after all, and it was entirely probable that they would realise who she was.
“Go for Merle,” Phoenixia urged. “She’s never seen you or your sister before. She won’t know who you are.”
“No!” Louise sounded terrified. “Don’t go near her! She’s dangerous!”
“Oh, so do you want her to go to Runoa instead?” Jess asked sarcastically. “Because that’s going to go so well...”
Emily elbowed her bag to shut everyone up, but it was too late to change her path. She was swept with the rest of the audience toward the centre door, where Runoa and a ginger haired security guard stood like soldiers in sentry boxes. Runoa’s eyes were passing over every face that left the building, and Emily felt her body break out into a fearful sweat, and she wrenched her gaze away from the Lieutenant and focused on the door and the freedom that lay beyond it. She kept her head straight and walked with the throng of people out of the door...
A beefy hand fell on her shoulder and wrenched her back into the warm entrance.
“Excuse me young lady,” the ginger haired security guard was frowning at her (though it was difficult to tell from behind his sunglasses). “Are you here on your own? Where are your parents?”
Her elation was gone, and Emily’s eyes flicked nervously to Runoa, who had only just appeared to have noticed her presence. As her emerald eyes fell on Emily’s face, they narrowed into a puzzled expression, and Emily knew she did not have long before the Sue recognised the resemblance.
“Think!” she thought urgently. “What would Willowe do...?”
The answer was simple. Willowe would never have got into this situation in the first place. She wouldn’t have helped the Society if her life had depended on it. Still...Emily put her best impatient expression on her face, and lifted her chin defiantly as she wriggled free of the man’s hand.
“I’m a Mary-Sue,” she declared in her haughtiest tone. “I don’t have parents, you idiot.”
She realised almost immediately that she should not have insulted him. The crowd seemed to sense that something was going on, and they had started deterring to the other exits instead, giving the confrontation a wide berth. Runoa stepped forward, and Emily felt her heart threaten to beat itself right out of her chest. She had never seen the Lieutenant up close before, and she understood immediately why the woman had once been Librarian. She had the same kind of presence that Adrian and the rest of the Counter Guardians had.
“A young Sue travelling without parents or her guardians...” Runoa’s voice was laced with suspicion. She did not seem to recognise Emily yet, but there was something calculating in her gaze that the girl did not like.
“She looks suspicious,” the guard agreed, taking a hold of Emily again and pushing her towards the judge and away from the glass doors. Emily could feel her escape slipping like water out of her hands. This was not like being caught messing with the school computer system. This was dangerous, and she did not think she could bluff her way out of this one...
That still did not mean she could not try though. She straightened her back and tried to remember how Willowe had always done it...looking untouchable and in control of the situation. She felt urgent shuffling in her handbag, and she subtly elbowed it again.
“Do you have a problem with the way I look?” she demanded of the security guard. She did not dare look at Runoa, and it would probably be easier to fool the man – he did not look too bright.
“Yes,” the guard objected. “You were walking quickly and looking all shifty.”
Allowing her impatience to shine through, Emily folded her arms and gave the man her most condescending glare. “Well while we’re exchanging insults, you could stand to lose a little weight, Tubby.”
Angry red patches appearing in his cheeks, the man made a swipe for her cheek. Emily ducked, and managed to turn the movement into a swift stride back towards the glass doors. Two more steps and she would have evaded the security and be through, and free to find a safe place to let the others out to plothole them back to the Library...
Emily barely had time to turn around, before she was seized and thrown like a rag doll backwards into the wall. Pain ripped down her body, and she felt the breath burst from her lungs. She crumpled to the floor, vaguely aware that the other Sues were screaming and clearing the area. She lifted her head slowly, feeling her vision swim hazily.
Edward Casanova stood before her, his sword in hand, a murderous look on his features as he advanced. The audience and judges seemed to have frozen in their spots at this unexpected outburst.
“Where is she?!” the Stu demanded, as Emily struggled to push herself up right. She did not know how she had managed to hold onto her bag, but it was wriggling against her side, as the agents struggled to get out and see what was happening.
“Who?” she croaked out defiantly, knowing that she would probably pay later for this attitude.
“Phoenixia! Where is she?!” Edward roared. The Sues and Stus who were still standing, paralyzed in shock, started to whisper back and forth, and beyond Edward, Emily could see the pieces finally falling into place in Runoa’s mind.
“Staying away from the likes of you!” she snarled, getting back to her feet. The Stu gave a primal scream and threw himself toward her, sword raised, even as Runoa’s whip leaped into her hand, and was pulled back to lash at her...
The entrance went black, as with a crack, the lights went out.
Emily did not stop to feel the pain from her injuries, or to find out what had happened. She ran blindly, as hard as she could, pushing people aside as she went. A soft hand slipped into hers and pulled her away from the panicking people, and she let herself be dragged out of the entrance and towards the backstage area.
“You are a lucky girl!” Ardelisa’s voice congratulated, and Emily felt relieved that she was not being tugged around by a stranger, even as the chaos of the entrance hall faded away behind them. She heard the frantic sounds of the Society in her bag, as they struggled to stay upright as she ran.
“Tashy, you have wings! Get out and help her!”
“I’d love to, but Phoenixia’s tits are in my face!”
“What else is new?”
Harriet’s voice broke through the chaos.
“Emily! Are you okay?!”
“I’m alright,” Emily was well aware that her shaking voice betrayed the lie. Her back, neck, shoulders and head ached from impacting with the wall, and she was trembling all over. Only Ardelisa’s hand was keeping her from falling over.
“Let us out! We’ll have to fight our way free!”
“No!” Emily snapped, angry all of a sudden. She was tired of everyone wanting to fight – the Society and the Sues. “We’ll find another way out! You all stay in there! Ardelisa will get me out!”
She muffled their protests by stuffing her scarf in her bag.
“We have to hide!” Ardelisa was saying. “They can flash step. They’ll have caught up with us soon.”
Emily skidded to a sudden halt, yanking her hand free of Ardelisa’s. Her eyes were fixed on a ventilation shaft in the wall.
“Lisa,” she said, taking out the scarf and fishing around in her bag, this time for her supersoaker. “Get back to your dressing room.”
“Excuse me?!” the Sue was incredulous. “I’m not leaving you here!”
“If they know you helped me, they’ll kill you,” Emily said. “Besides, you can’t follow me where I’m going.”
The Sue followed her gaze to the vent, and understanding dawned.
“Even so,” she objected. “How will you get out?”
“I’ve got a plan!” Emily assured her. “Just go! And thank you for your help!”
She was already extracting a screwdriver from her bag and getting to work on the bolts on the vent cover. There was an angry explosion from down the corridor, and Ardelisa jumped at the noise, before picking her dress up.
“...good luck Emily...” she said, before running as fast as her legs would carry her. Emily tossed the last bolt away and yanked the cover off, as Runoa, Merle and Edward appeared around the corner.
“Good luck fitting down here with those tits,” she dared, before throwing herself headfirst into the vent and sliding away from the whip that lashed out at the spot she had been standing.
“Emily, we must discuss your manners!” Harriet huffed from inside the bag, as the girl scrambled to the end of the shaft and pulled herself up to the next level, before her pursuers could drag her back out. The vent was barely big enough for her to kneel in, and her back bumped painfully against the roof as she crawled frantically, ignoring the dust that was building up on her palms.
“She’s a resourceful little brat,” Merle muttered, peering down the vent shaft. Runoa was tracing the wall with contemplating eyes.
“She is Willowe’s sister,” she muttered. “I did not think she had survived the invasion...”
“I will tear my way through that vent to get her!” Edward was hissing, peering in though the shaft as far as his muscular body would allow.
“And how will you do that with shoulders that size?” Merle asked cynically.
“The roof,” Runoa declared. “She’s heading upwards. You two get up there. I’ll try from this end.”
“You’re not the boss of us!” Merle objected.
“DO AS I SAY!” Runoa shouted, and both Sue and Stu jumped, rattled to their core. Runoa’s power had exploded violently from her with her outburst, and even as she regained control of her temper, they could not help but shiver as they were reminded just how much more powerful she was. Quickly, but still glaring at the Lieutenant, they ran for the nearest stairwell.
Peering critically at the vent, Runoa fingered Hellbinder.
“Evade this, little Palm Tree...”
“Ow!” Emily yelped as she banged her head against the roof again. She had clambered up three levels, and appeared to have joined the main vent shaft out of the building. She was not as cramped as she had been on the lower level, but it was still a tight fit. Her limbs were aching. It was worse than the two hour work out session that Ms Farmer had put her and Miki through as detention when she had caught them skipping PE.
“Mind your head,” Jess supplied helpfully.
Emily ignored this and carried on with her marathon shuffle, pausing when she heard something below her...it was a slithery sort of sound like a snake on the metal...
Abruptly cold, she turned her head and saw the serrated edged Hellbinder rising up from the vent behind her like an entranced cobra from a basket.
Emily screamed and scrambled as fast as she could away from the whip as it lunged for her. She threw herself to the side, banging her head against the wall as it coiled where her ankle had been. Struggling to keep moving, the girl pulled herself along the vent, screeching as the whip made another lash towards her. She collapsed backwards, missing the strike by a millimetre. Pushing herself backwards, away from the weapon, she saw more of the black whip rise from the shaft and snake its way towards her.
She kicked out, and the whip flew back like an angry serpent recoiling from the blow. She gained a few precious feet, feeling cold air buffet her from behind. Turning her head, she saw the exit to the air vent, and the star filled night’s sky beyond it. She was almost there...
She shrieked as the whip lashed around her ankle and the serrated edges dug into her skin, drawing blood and another scream. The pain was unbearable, and she felt her foot go numb. Lashing out desperately she kicked at the whip, but as her good foot caught it, it just dug the weapon into her flesh deeper. She felt tears trickling down the side of her face, and screamed again as the black length began to pull her slowly back the way she had come. Behind her head, the vent exit slid away from her head.
Desperate, she plunged her hand back into her handbag, and felt for something, anything that would help... supersoaker... water bottle... Incandescent Silverreign... Michael’s sword...
She grasped tightly and pulled. The blade appeared in her hand and she swung as best she could in her confined space as the whip. It severed neatly, and the remainder slithered back down the vent shaft and out of sight.
Not wasting a second, Emily scrambled for the end of the vent and threw her weight at the rusted cover. It snapped open and she tumbled ungracefully onto the tarpaper.
The freezing air stung at her skin, but she barely felt it. She was shaking, and bile rose in her throat as she replaced Michael’s sword in her bag, and looked down at her ankle. Wincing, she peeled the end of the whip off her leg. It did not hurt any more, it just burned, and she knew she was probably going into shock, but she didn’t care. She tossed the whip away as hard as she could and wiped the tears out of her eyes.
“Emily? What happened?!” Harriet sounded frantic.
“Hellbinder...” she could hear her voice shaking. “My ankle...”
“Listen to me Emily,” her guardian’s voice was suddenly calm and rational, but Emily could feel something in the bag trembling...or maybe that was just her. “Take deep breaths...”
Deep breathing made Emily want to throw up, especially as she continued to look at her injury. But she did as she was told.
“Take your scarf out of your bag,” Harriet was saying slowly and clearly. “And wrap it around your ankle. Tie it firmly, but not too tight. Do you understand me?”
“Yes...” the girl nodded, and dipped her shaking hands into the bag. Her scarf, blue cashmere and soft to the touch was like a gentle friend as she pulled it out. She wrapped it around her limb twice and tied as tightly as she dared. It made her look like she was wearing a peculiar looking leg warmer as she got to her feet, still shaking.
The roof was deserted, though cluttered with air conditioners and huge hulking extractor fans for the whole building. In the street below, she could hear the anxious audience still leaving. She limped as quickly as she dared to the edge of the roof, seeing plotholes along the pathway blinking into life and out again, as the Sues and Stus vanished back to the places they called home. Emily guessed that the spell only extended around the perimeter of the building...the question was, how far away from the edge of the building was the perimeter?
The door behind her exploded outwards, and she barely had enough time to throw herself to the side to dodge Merle’s strike. Edward advanced, sword raised, and Emily shakily got back to her feet. She was crouched on the edge of the roof. One good push would send her over the edge, and plummeting four stories down to her death.
“I’ll ask you again girl,” Edward picked her up by the scruff of her neck and pulled her face close to his. “Where. Is. Phoenixia?!”
His sword was pressed into her throat, and Emily felt her teeth chatter.
“Don’t kill her, you idiot!” Merle barked angrily. “If she’s dead, she can’t tell us where the Society are!”
Edward’s momentary pause was all Emily needed. Just as she had done earlier that night, she brought her good foot up as hard as she could, and slammed it into his crotch. She was weak from shock, but Edward was still bruised, and roared in agony, dropping her to clutch at his injury. Emily fell and almost overbalanced off the edge of the roof.
As the door burst open again, and Runoa appeared with a broken Hellbinder in her hand, Emily got shakily to her feet again. The air buffeted her bruised back as though to welcome her.
If she was honest, she had guessed that it might come to this...that did not make the task any less daunting. But if this did not work, nothing would...
“What would Willowe do?”
Smirking through the pain, she blew the Sues and Stu a kiss, before throwing herself off the roof.
She heard Hellbinder strike again, but it could not touch her now. Wind was whistling in her ears, accompanied by the petrified screams of the Sues on the ground below as they saw the tiny figure plummeting towards them like a stone. As the power that she ruthlessly denied surged through her, she wondered if this was what it was like to fly...
The rainbow swirling portal ripped into existence below her, and she fell into its embrace.
The bed was nice and fluffy... she didn’t want to move...
“Come on Em. You can’t feign unconsciousness forever.”
“Can so,” she retorted, wrapping her arms tightly around her pillow and burying her head into it. It smelt of rose water beneath the sharp tang of disinfectant.
“You are a very lucky girl,” Valerie was telling her sternly, and Emily smiled as she remembered that was exactly what Ardelisa had said to her. “That whip went deep, but it didn’t break anything. I’ve bandaged you up. You’ll have a nasty bruise on your back, but otherwise you’re alright.”
“Tired...” Emily moaned.
“Shock and blood loss,” Valerie explained. “You’ll be fine in a little while.”
“What exactly did you do?” Harriet’s voice was asking, not quite rid of the worry that she had been feeling ever since her adopted daughter had been brought to the hospital wing, dazed and bleeding from her misadventures.
“Got to the roof...” Emily mumbled into the pillow, and she felt both women lean closer to listen properly. “Jumped... plotholed mid fall... must have come back to the Library...”
Somewhere in the back of her mind, she hoped that they would forget that she had not pulled out her generator to summon the plothole...she was not quite ready to share her talent for them yet...
“You jumped off a four story building?!” Harriet sounded livid. “What were you thinking?!”
“...was thinking ‘what would big sis do?’.” Emily muttered truthfully in response. “...so I blew 'em all a kiss before I jumped...”
Valerie snorted. “You blew Runoa a kiss?!”
The girl shrugged. “She seemed to appreciate it...”
She could hear the healer chuckling, and Harriet huffed in an unamused manner. Nevertheless the leader ruffled her charge’s hair. Emily moaned again and wriggled further into the pillow.
“Come on,” Valerie urged. “Sit up and you can have some hot tea.”
Hot tea did sound appealing... but so did staying in the bed.
“We’re having our own after party when you get up,” Harriet’s informed her. As if on cue, Emily’s eyes snapped open and she raised her head to look at her guardian.
“...really? Cheesy club music and oddly coloured drinks?”
“We even managed to rig up some disco lights,” Harriet smiled. “Though I would take it easy on the dancing with your ankle. Everyone is there already...even the Sues and Stus from the basement are coming.”
Energised, the girl threw back the covers and swept up the cup of tea.
“Wait!” Harriet yelled, as her charge downed the tea and shot towards the door as fast as she could on a busted ankle. “We still have to discuss your manners, young lady! Where did you learn that swear word?!”
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The ACMSES: Had a lovely time at Sue Factor tonight, and thought all the acts were wonderful. Now for our own after party – photographs will be up soon! Merry Christmas everyone!