Saturday, November 30, 2013

Insert Unexpected Frienemy Here (part 2 of 2)

Adrian paced across the floor of the Monitor Room as Ben fiddled furiously with one of the computers' settings. Nearby, Tash leaned against the wall, nearly bouncing with impatience, while Cristoph bore his usual mask of impassivity as he glanced at the iPhone still in his hands for what had to be the hundredth time.

"If we can't communicate with them, why did she ask for orders?" the ninja asked.

"Not 'orders'," Adrian said tightly, "Order. It's the name of one of Runoa's Sovereigns, and her right-hand man at that." He scowled. "Dammit, if their whole group got flattened once, then what chance does-"

His worried muttering was interrupted by Ben slamming his hands down in frustration and shoving himself away from the desk. "It's no use guys. I've been messing with this thing ever since the mission feed cut out, but it just does not want to cooperate..."

"Where are the techies when you need them?" Adrian muttered. "I must have paged Charis, like, twenty minutes ago."

At that, Ben snickered slightly. "Ah, Adrian..." he said awkwardly, "It's Friday. You're not gonna get ahold of her on a Friday night."

Adrian turned toward the agent and tilted his head. "What are you talking about?"

"She... uh... She likes to meet with Pete on Friday nights around this time. To, uh... you know... hang out together."

Tash made a sound halfway between a growl of frustration and a groan. "I'll go get her, you big babies, and I don't care if they're shacked up when I get there. We've got work to do."


The clearing had broken out into chaos.

Jasmine flitted through the treetops, dropping down to the earth to deliver tiny but critical jabs in the largest of the creatures, only to leap back upward to safety as the branches practically bent protectively to enshroud her. The trees of the Hills were secretive, but they also evil when they saw it, and did their best to aid the ones who opposed such unnatural, otherworldly beings as the creatures the gray-haired man from before had summoned.

She did not deny the rush of satisfaction that each jab against them brought her. Though the monsters were not Grey Guards, they reminded her of them enough that she could summon up her old rage against them when she fought.

This is for my mother! she thought viciously, ripping her dagger out of a Usurped's eye socket with a spray of something purpleish that might have been blood.

This is for my father! Though Jasmine knew now that her father was alive, everything the man had gone through in the elapsing time - losing his family, his home, his very identity - was surely something for his daughter to avenge, even now. Jasmine landed lightly on the back of an enormous Usurped, drove her knife into the tough hide of its back at what she hoped was its spine, and darted away.

This is for my sist- She stopped, briefly wide-eyed before scowling. Thinking of the illusion that was her "sister" Faith was a habit that was easy to fall into, and harder to get out of than it should have been for the length of time she had even been aware of the deception. Still, the painful memory fueled the fire in Jasmine's heart. A giant humanoid Usurped came crashing down as its Achilles tendon was cut, crushing its brethren beneath it.

But then it got back up again. And so did another, and another.

"There seems to be no end to these creatures," she heard Barda huff as he wrenched himself out of the grip of a Usurped that appeared to be nothing but a pair of enormously muscled arms. "How can we defeat them if they refuse to stay down?"

Jasmine glanced at the four women nearby who were also defending themselves from the hoard, though only two of them seemed to have any experience in fighting, and one of them, the tallest one with the wavey yellow hair, was not fighting at all, only desperately avoiding more damage. Monika leaped out of the way as one of the Usurped's axe-like arms sank deep into the tree behind her, and Jasmine cringed as she heard the tree scream in pain.

"You!" the wild girl shouted, heading towards the Society group. "Tell me what is going on! You said you could help us, but that man and his creatures came here looking for you and your friends! What have you brought upon us? What-"

"Jasmine!" She halted as she felt Lief's hand close around hers. She turned. "Jasmine, we cannot waste time arguing," said the young king. "We must work together if we are to make it out of this."

Behind them, Barda slashed at a great, lumbering Usurped, which staggered away momentarily before returning for more. Suddenly, the creature was thrown skyward by a blast of light emenating from Ezra's palm, but when it landed, scorched and smoldering, it was still moving.

Jasmine scowled at Lief. He was right, and she knew it, and she was almost angry with him for that. Almost. "Fine," she said sharply, though not as venomously as before. "What do you suggest?"


Under any other circumstances, Valerie might have been thrilled to ride aboard something as closely resembling a dragon as the giant Usurped that Order had summoned. As it was, from her position of being slung face-down over the neck of the creature like a bag of grain, the panoramic landscape of the whole of Deltora below her was more terrifying than awe-inspiring, and so very, very far down...

They flew west, into the rapidly setting sun, and though she refused to close her eyes against the stinging wind, Valerie clung to the Usurped with all her might.


One of the creatures raised an arm that was long and sharp as a sword, and Barda instinctively stepped in front of Lief, wondering what the hell that reckless boy had gotten him into this time and half-heartedly cursing the fact that he loved the young king like a brother. He blocked the blow successfully, but even Barda was forced to stagger under the thing's sheer weight, and he wondered how long they could keep this up.

Jasmine, Lief, and two of the strangers - the taller of the two blondes, and the one with unnaturally red-colored hair - conversed rapidly, while Barda and the other two strangers did their best to keep the hoard from coming too close. Half of the words the strangers used were completely unfamiliar to Barda, and as a guard, he had to be at least familiar with all common vernaculars spoken in Deltora.

"They'll definitely know something's wrong by now," Danielle was saying. "I'm not sure exactly where my iPhone landed, but it was somewhere in the Library, so it's really only a matter of time before a leader finds out why the Deltora fandom is locked."

"Doesn't change the fact that it's locked though," Monika replied grimly. "Even if they know something's wrong, there's no way anyone could get to us. I wouldn't anticipate a rescue."

Ari hissed angrily from her new position perched on a low-hanging branch, and it wasn't difficult to tell why. She had probably been trying frantically to teleport to the Library, and was furious with herself for not being able to, and for being similarly unable to rush to Valerie's aid herself. With Order's threat hanging over their heads, all anyone could do was hope she would be alright until some sort of plan could be made...

Lief frowned. "I am not sure that I understand, but are you saying you are trapped here?"

"Pretty much," said Danielle.

Jasmine looked at Monika. It was really more of a glare than a look, but only because glaring was the wild girl's default expression when Lief wasn't present. Lief was present, as it happened (and Monika smiled internally when she realized he was even holding her hand), but it was sort of a crisis, so the force of Jasmine's glare was only somewhat softened.

"You told me when we first met that you and your group had come here to stop a dangerous enemy to Deltora," said Jasmine. "Is this what you came to stop?"

Monika blinked briefly in surprise, but quickly understood. Of course they don't remember Camillia. Why would they?

"Yes," Ezra answered from where she was grappling in midair with a smallish winged Usurped, causing both girls to turn their heads. Ezra managed to free herself and throw the creature downward, but, predictably, it rose right up again. "Normally, though, our targets are not so numerous, nor so stubbornly determined to never stay the fuck down!"

Danielle gripped her staff tightly. "I'm going to go help," she said.

Monika nodded in reply. "Be careful." To Jasmine and Lief, the blonde said, "Normally we would have a lot of back-up to deal with even one of these creatures, but we did not expect to encounter Order when we came here. We're not equipped to handle this..."

"Order," Lief said. "That is the man from before who summoned the monsters and kidnapped your friend. And, if I understand you correctly, he is also somehow preventing you from calling for help from others like you?"

"That is right."

"Then can you not somehow stop him instead of wasting energy fighting his minions?"

Monika shook her head and tried to suppress the shudder that ran through her. Judging by Lief's face, she was not terribly successful at it. "We tried stop him once before, and it did not go well... Valerie looked after each of us personally, but we were still in the Med Ward for days..." She ran a hand through her hair and left it there, fighting the panic welling in her chest. "I mean... maybe if Ezra and Terrie were both at the absolute top of their game, we might be able to chase him out, but we didn't come prepared for this! We have nothing on us except what's standard protocol for a much less dangerous opponent! Valerie... Valerie might be at least able to defend herself if she had the motivation... oh god I hope she has the motivation, please don't let her be dead by now..."

Lief thought for a long moment. "...What if you were able to reach help?" he finally said. "Would we stand more of a chance then?

"Kree could send a message," Jasmine offered.

It took a moment for Monika to gather her thoughts enough to remember that Kree was the name of the blackbird that was never very far from Jasmine. The blonde agent shook her head. "Kree could not reach my allies. They are... too far away. They can only be reached by... a special device," she explained haltingly.

This got Barda's attention from his fight several yards away from them. With a grunt of effort, he knocked the Usurped backwards and slammed his blade home. The creature continued twitching, but didn't get up, and Barda took the opportunity to focus on the plan-making. "What sort of device?" he asked breathlessly.

"It it not something you have the means to repair..." Monika began.

"No," the guard interrupted irritably, "I mean did you have it on your person the whole time? Did Order never touch it?"

"Well, no-"

"That suggests he used some sort of magic to interfere with it, does it not?"

Lief's eyes widened as he realized what his friend had figured out. "And that means that if Order's concentration was interrupted, even for a moment..."

"We might be able to break through." Monika furrowed her brows in thought. She wasn't sure if natural Gary-Stu abilities, even freakishly enhanced abilities like those of a Sovereign, counted as "magic" of any sort, but it was possible. Valerie had called it ontological inertia, which was the tendency stuff had to continue being stuff. But this rule almost never applied to anything magical or in any way supernatural, energy being as volatile and fickle as it was. But... Suergy counted as a type of energy, didn't it? It certainly wouldn't have such a ridiculous portmanteau, otherwise...

Well then that means... But no, Danielle got that last message through before it closed off, so they'll be ready, trying to hack through... Yes, this could work!


"She won't do it," Monika realized. The others looked at her questioningly, so she elaborated, "Valerie. She won't attack Order, not even to save herself. Even with Seiryu, she can't bring herself to seriously harm another. She is literally not capable of it, even if it means her death. The only way she can even come close to hurting someone is in defense of someone else, not herself."

Lief and Jasmine both looked surprised at this news, though the latter also made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a choke. Barda, however, looked thoughtful.

"Then... perhaps we should give her someone to protect," he said softly.

"...What about the Usurped?" Monika replied after a very, very long pause, during which a variety of emotions had flitted across her face, too rapidly to interpret. "Order would not have left them here if he wanted interruptions."

Barda gestured briefly. "Look around. There are dozens of them, but only a few of them at a time actively attack us. If the rest of us are enough of a distraction, one person may be able to slip away..."

Monika looked between the three characters, and her three friends defending them. Of course, Barda was perfectly correct. The phenomenon of Conservation Of Ninjutsu was actually pretty common, if Aster's ramblings bashing the realistic merit of the few shounen anime series she had seen was any indication. Not to mention that Usurped were powered by the same terrible storytelling as Sues and Stus anyway, so the fact that it was happening now did make sense. Monika just never once in her life thought she'd ever be in a situation where it would apply.

It bolstered her hopes, frankly. If they could pull on that law of fiction, they might just have a chance.

"Right," she said quickly. "I'll go. I'll be able to reach Valerie fastest, and I'm useless to you here."

Barda looked the blonde up and down, and saw that she was very tall, but quite lanky, and without a lot of muscle definition. Add that to the fact that she was only armed with the lightweight bow strapped to her back, and he was inclined to agree with the girl's self-assessment. "Very well," he said, "but move swiftly. Even if these creatures were ordinary humans, I would not like the odds we face."

Monika nodded tersely. Barda gave her directions on the quickest route, and she turned on her heel and fled southward, towards the Great Road West.

A familiar tightness filled Lief's heart as he watched her go, although that probably had more to do with the fact that he could also feel Barda's stern gaze shift to him, as though daring Lief to volunteer to leave the fight as well. Of course, it was anyone's guess which direction was safer for him - dozens upon dozens of of inhumanly strong creatures that were monsters in appearance on one side, and one unimaginably powerful man that was a monster in spirit on the other - but that was not even close the the point of Lief's indecision.

As predicted, a handful of Usurped noticed the blonde's passing, and began lumbering after her. Jasmine aimed a ferocious smile at Lief as she expertly spun her dagger in one hand and jumped into the creature's path, green eyes flashing and her long, tangled raven hair flying about her face as she moved.

One thing, at least, was eternally certain: Lief would not ever leave Jasmine's side.

"This is hardly the time for daydreaming, Lief!" Barda growled as he blocked another hit. "Move!"

The young king blinked, then raised his sword and did as he was told, an idea forming in his mind.

The dragons were not at his beck and call, he knew. He was no more their king than he was king of the Granous, or the Capricons. The seven dragons allied themselves with him out of mutual respect—respect for Lief and for Doran's last wishes—and because Lief was the bearer of the great gems that connected them to their territory and gave them strength. They did as he asked when it was in their best interest, and in the best interest of the land, and nothing more...

But he had to try.

Help them, please! he cried with his mind, clutching the Belt tightly. These creatures intend to destroy everything, and if we cannot stop them here, they will march on the world and lay waste to whatever is in their path! These strangers came here to stop them, but they cannot do it alone. Please, if you are near, give them your aid. Help them fight what threatens us...

Under Lief's desperate fingers, the diamond seemed to grow a little brighter...


The journey took less than twenty minutes at the breakneck speed of flight, though it seemed to Valerie both like it took hours, and that it ended all too soon. Rather than land, the winged Usurped hovered in midair, rising up and down with each wingbeat to keep airborne. Order shoved Valerie off the creature's shoulders to the ground, and the healer landed in a heap, jolting her spine in a manner that left her winded and wincing in pain.

Order looked down at her in disdain before leaping gracefully to the ground several feet away from her. "With your friends you fight poorly; without them you fight not at all." He dismissed the Usurped with a wave of his hand, and with a great gust of wind from its mighty wings, it took off into the distance, back towards the Os-Mine Hills. "Rise, healer of the Society," said the Sovereign, "for this is where we will fight. As you can see, I have chosen a location that will give you the advantage, in an attempt to even the odds a little bit."

Still fighting to draw breath, and becoming increasingly aware of the cramps that had developed in her arms and back during their flight, Valerie attempted to look around. When she realized where they were, her eyes widened in near-panic. She now understood why the giant winged Usurped had not landed.

Save for the trails and patches of pale green grass that dotted the landscape, the field they were in was comprised primarily of brilliant, emerald-green leaves as broad as palm branches, dotted here and there with tiny purple blossoms. Valerie and Order were each standing in one of the grass areas - Valerie on a path that led in two directions before forking at the northern end, and Order on a roughly spherical patch about five feet in diameter. Valerie's hand was actually resting on the edge of one of the leaves nearest the grass path, and when she realized this, she yanked her hand back with a barely-suppressed shriek. The leaf twitched in reaction, but otherwise did not move.

A gripper field. He took me to a goddamn gripper field! Gripper, she knew, was the colloquial name for a carnivorous weed that bred like a plague all across Deltora's southwest, covetting deep earth and ruining good farmland. Stepping on their broad green leaves triggered the plant to open the deep, gaping "throat" that the leaves concealed, which was lined with hollow, fang-like thorns that shredded the flesh of whatever fell in. Even if you managed to pull your limb free from the tearing, sucking hollow, the thorns injected blood-thinners into the bite... and with gashes and gouges as severe as even a single gripper bite would leave, you'd be unconscious in minutes, and dead within a few hours.

"Why are you doing this?" Valerie asked in a small, terrified voice.

Order scowled. "The very fact that you ask such a ridiculous question is proof that you do not belong. So why are you still here?" The question was punctuated by a swift forward punch at the air, and suddenly the path of grass to Valerie's right was bisected by a deep gouge in the earth. She glanced at the gouge, then at Order.

Just like with Camillia, she thought frantically. How is he doing that?

"You cannot even dodge my warning shots!" Order shouted across the barrier of grippers that divided them. "Are you so incompetent? Or do you simply refuse? Do you want to die?"

Valerie swallowed and said nothing. She couldn't move.

The Sovereign scowled at her. "Death by my hand would be a fitting end for one so foolish. This is something I can accept."

The healer blinked suddenly and frowned. Something he can -

Without another word, Order leapt into the air, spanning the gap between them easily, and Valerie scrambled away to the left in order to barely avoid the smashing kick the Sovereign landed. Without waiting for the dust to settle, Valerie stood up and sprinted down the grass path, making sure to keep the setting sun at her right. South - the road would be south, and she had to get to the road.

Behind her, she could hear Order laughing.


"The road connecting Tora to Del is your best chance to reach them in time," Barda had told her. "Toran magic speeds travel down that way, keeping the connection between east and west strong."

Monika ran as fast as her legs would carry her. Ari wheeled in the air behind her, flitting through between occasionally to keep up. Monika felt like she was flying herself - the magic of this road was truly something else, allowing her to cover hours and hours of travel in a matter of minutes - but there was no time to enjoy it. Even with something of a plan in place, she couldn't help but feel like she was running to her doom, images from their last big fight at the Eizenburn Mansion running through her mind. Order terrified her - he hit where it hurt and didn't stop, almost as though he liked seeing his victms beg. But he had taken Valerie, and no one else was available, so what choice did she have?

Suddenly, Ari appeared, wings flared, right in front of her, and Monika wheeled her arms in an attempt to not fall crashing over as she skidded to a stop. She looked around, observing the trees lining the road and what looked like an enormous field beyond them, but little else. "Is this the place?" she whispered to Ari. "Is this where they went?"

Rather than answer, the little dragon glided silently through the narrow tree barrier and landed on one of the trunks on the far side. Monika followed as quietly as she could and searched her eyes over the direction Ari indicated, squinting against the uncomfortable angle of the sun.

There was a small tremor in the ground that made her jump slightly, accompanied by a spray of dirt and a brief scream in a familiar voice. And only a few seconds later, she could see a figure with long brown hair pelting down the hillside directly towards her. She didn't look hurt - yet.

They were right, Monika thought triumphantly. We're only a few minutes behind them!

In the distance, coming up just behind Valerie, another figure that could only be Order chased after the healer - at a much more leisurely pace, though it could be called "chasing" nonetheless. And Monika realized again that she had no idea what she could possibly do to help that wouldn't be considered "interfering".

"Well... now what?" she said, more to herself than anyone.

To her surprise, someone answered.

"Now you sit tight and let me do what I do best."

Monika looked up at the sound of the voice. Perched  in a fork of the very same tree she sheltered behind was a boy, perhaps in his early twenties, with a silky mop of light brown hair, lavender eyes that sort of looked pinkish if she tilted her head right, and a pair of slim blades strapped across his back.

"Who are you?" the blonde asked with a frown.

Zero grinned down at her. "I'm the guy who's gonna save the day with a dramatic rescue of the distressing damsel. And ain't that just the biggest cliche you've ever heard of?"


Valerie nearly tripped as her mind was suddenly bombarded with images.

Wha-? Ari-

Do whatever you can to make his concentration slip! It might unlock the fandom so we could get help.

The healer blinked in surprise. How do you figure he's causing it mentally?

Wild guess, but it's the best we have.

Valerie stopped running briefly and chanced a glance backward. Order looked as though he were walking, not running, but the speed at which he was apparently travelling disagreed. The overall effect was actually quite eerie, and the healer did her best to keep her breathing steady.

But what about-

There others will be fine for now. Conservation Of Ninjutsu is in effect.

Oh thank god!

Steeling herself, Valerie took a few deep breaths, then whipped around and released four arrows in succession. At this distance, and oweing partially to the trembling of her hands, only one of the shots made contact, but Order didn't even try to bat it away. The bolt fizzled away on contact, doing no damage at all.

Shit! Now what?

"Well now," she heard Order say snidely. "Finally willing to fight me, are you?"

The goal is to surprise him, Ari said. So do something surprising!

Like what?!

Valerie scoured the area for something, anything she could use. But there were nothing but carniverous plants in every direction, and the treeline was still a good distance away. Even if she could get there before Order caught up with her - and she had no doubt in her mind that Order could catch her any time he wanted - what refuge would it offer? None.

For a split second, she felt a tickle of moving air at the back of her neck, and something very deep and instinctual screamed at her to move!, so she did, just in time to hear a faint sonic boom pass mere inches away from her right shoulder. She stared at the gash in the earth that Order's attack created, the grippers in its path sliced nearly in half and leaking clear fluid, but still straining upward, searching for food...

Without thinking, Valerie spun around and fired twice. The first energy arrow, Order batted away with ease. The second landed at the Sovereign's feet, leaving a much bigger hole that he nearly stumbled into, but caught himself and leapt lightly over it onto the next patch of pale grass.

"This irritates me," Order said as he dusted off a shoulder, and Valerie wondered if she was actually somehow getting to him before he continued, "At the mansion, your arrows at least stung a bit. Now it is as though they are nothing but a breeze."

Valerie gulped, but as the Sovereign was no longer moving towards her, she lifted her arms again and readied another arrow. Seiryu worked by using her own body as a conduit for the ambient emotional energies she naturally absorbed. Order, as uptight as he was, barely felt emotions at all, and the stray hints of superiority or annoyance he did let off did not make for powerful arrows. With little other choice, Valerie shut her eyes, this time concentrating with all her might on gathering every stray emotion within range.

Her eyes opened wide as she came across something familiar.

Wait a minute, what-?

A flurry of energy shots landed on Order and exploded on contact in a bright violet light, and they didn't come from Valerie's bow.

The healer's jaw hung loose for a moment. "You have got to be kidding me."

"Hey guys!" came a cheerful voice. "Sorry I'm late. Traffic was a nightmare."

Zero sauntered in - really, sauntered was the only word for it, with his hips canted and a smirk playing about the corners of his mouth - and hefted one blade onto his shoulder. "But seriously, a party like this, with some of my absolute faaaavorite people in the world-" (Order twitched.) "-and nobody thought to invite me?"

Valerie groaned, caught between relief and an intense urge to bang her head against the nearest wall. "Oh my god, can you be any more of a cliche??"

The clone grinned and bowed slightly. "Tis my job, miss! Not that we all haven't indulged ourselves at some point or another. Speaking of which, please don't say 'I had it under control'. I always hate it when the rescue-ee says that." It seemed he was being deliberately catty. Order's red-faced expression was bordering on apoplectic.

Valerie rolled her eyes. "Do I look like a liar to you?"

"Point. Whoa look out!" Another invisible blade of destruction had surged toward the empath out of Order's outstretched fist; Zero had picked Valerie up and pulled her out of the way just in time.

"What did I say about interference, you little traitor!" Order screeched, drawing his fist back for another attack, this time aimed at Zero himself. Zero scowled briefly and closed the distance between himself and the Sovereign in the blink of an eye.

"Hey now," he said with a fierce smirk as he knocked Order's knife of air aside, "Clearly you know I was watching, so don't pretend like I didn't hear you. You clearly said 'If any of you Society folk interferes'." Zero held out his arms in a look-at-me gesture. "Do I look like Society folk to you?"

"You are clearly no ally of mine!" Order snarled.

"You don't have allies," Zero said evenly. "Just superiors and subordinates. Forgive me if I don't want to be either."

"Then you are my enemy!" Order charged forward, feinting with one fist and hooking with the other, followed by a low, sweeping kick. Zero dodged all three motions easily, avoiding the last one with an honestly quite impressive leap, springboarding off of Order's shoulder and landing gracefully behind him.

"God, those were obvious," he commented lazily. "Has it occurred to you that you might be more flexible if you took that enormous stick out of your ass?"

"You bastard delinquent!" He charged again, faster this time, and Zero once again dodged or parried every blow, though with slightly more effort, it seemed, and he was pushed backward once again. "I will take pleasure in destroying you!"

"Yes, because that gets you off. Or do you need orders from mommy to do that, too?" The twin rapier hilts on Zero's back were suddenly (already?) in his hands, their ends lighting up in a silent hum of violet energy edged with yellow as the ethereal blades sprang to life at his command.

The battle that ensued moved faster than the eye could perceive at times. This time it was Order who closed the distance between then, opening with a variety of punches and kicks that Zero either avoided or met with his swords. Zero took every opportunity to slash and stab, using spins and circular motions to give his blows more force - the back of which Order did not hesitate to exploit. Zero only just noticed the attack on his unguarded back in time, turning the motion into a ducking roll instead and scrambling out of the way and following up with a short-range energy blast from the tip of his weapon, which sent Order skidding a short distance away, just to the very edge of the grass patch.

Valerie, who had long-since perfected the art of invisibly ninja-ing away from practically anything and was doing just that, head low to the ground and completely unnoticed, risked a glance badkward. As she turned, a silver glint caught the corner of her eye, high in the air. When she looked again, there was only blue sky, slowly darkening as the sun went lower and lower.

The beginnings of realization hit her, but Valerie shook her head clear before her tumultous questions delayed her further, and ran for the road.

Ahead, she could just make out Monika's ashen face, frantically beckoning her through the trees.

Behind, a ferocious streak of silver flame bolted down from the clouds.


Charis was working frantically at her station. Phoenixia, who had since wandered in from a mission, was helping her.

The monitor blipped, a tiny break from the regular pattern of static. Phoenixia looked up.

"Did you see that?"

Charis looked up as well. "See what?"

It blipped again. Twice. "There!" Phoenixia pointed.

In tense silence, they watched. Once. Twice. Four times. Then twice again.

"You think there's a pattern?" Charis asked.

"Maybe. If we can predict just the right moment to hammer it at its weak point..."


Zero didn't consider himself to be an expert fighter, exactly. The moves just sort of came to him, especially when he had someone on-hand to impress. Just part of being a Stu, he supposed, but any idiot could see it was a useful trait. Especially when Order was in one of his hissy fits.

"DAMN YOU!" the Sovereign shouted again as he lunged forward to punch at the empty air where Zero's head used to be. Zero didn't bother responding, but didn't stop to roll his eyes either. That one actually came rather close.

The blast of sparkling silver flame came out of nowhere and disentigrated the ground beneath their feet. Both combatants leapt reflexively into the air, away from one another and into the vibrant green leaves of the gripper plants. Zero's eyes widened as he saw the carnivorous plants approaching from below and fired half a dozen energy blasts from the tip of his sword to sear the ground mere seconds before he landed. It was not enough to kill the grippers, but it did blast the earth about a foot deep, where their "stems" narrowed considerably and he could walk on the spaces between them in relative safety. Nevertheless, the sight of the scorched ground peppered in dozens of round red "throats" that were actively writhing in pain at the loss of their upper halves was not a reassuring sight.

Order lacked Zero's quick reflexes and landed just on the edge of the grass patch, but not quite close enough. His feet were both planted solidly, but his right arm, which he had put down out of habit for balance, had plunged up to the elbow into the maw of a gripper, which immediately set about sucking the limb down further and chewing the flesh to ribbons. A sheen of sweat appeared on Order's forehead as the pain hit, and with a shakey grunt he yanked the limb free. It was not a pretty sight.

Even worse was the glare he aimed at Valerie, already an acre away, just passing through the treeline onto the road with Ari on her shoulder and Monika at her side.

A deafening screech hit them, and for a moment Zero was sure the scream came from Order, judging by the look on his face alone. But the Sovereign too looked up for the source of the sound, and gaped in genuine surprise when he saw a blinding faceted silver-white shape dive out of the sun's glare, jaws blazing.

"Forta..." Valerie whispered in awe.

The dragon of the diamond was only the size of a large horse, scarcely out of its infancy, but it was a dragon all the same, and Deltoran dragons were very protective of their land from those they deemed hostile invaders.

Zero grinned evilly, and got the hell out of the way.


Forta screamed its fury. Glittering white flames scorched the ground clear of grass and grippers alike, and only a swift kick and a slicing gust saved Order from the same fate. The residual heat came off the razed earth in waves, and for the first time, the Sovereign looked afraid.

The dragon wheeled around in the sky and turned for another pass, this time much lower. Again the blinding fire poured out of Forta's maw, blackening the earth and creating veritable shockwaves of blasting heat that even the agents could feel pushing against their backs as they ran. Again Order just barely managed to shield himself, breathless and sweating bullets from the exertion and blood loss.

"Cowardly beast," Order murmered venomously as he struggled to remain upright. "Disrespecting the rules of engagement..."

Forta turned again and pumped its wings to take it well into the sky, directly above the Sovereign. It's juvenile wings shaded the already darkened battlefield.

"Come down here before I make you-" Order hissed up at it.

The dragon dived.

The Sovereign moved.

Forta was disturbingly silent as it hit the scorched earth and didn't get up again.

Instead, it was Valerie who cried out piteously as she, too, stumbled and fell, overloaded by the striking down of a fellow dragon.


Monika moved to catch her friend, struggling under her weight and looking backward in increasing panic at Order flashstepping their way, the trail of blood from his arm giving away his next position. The Adrian-lookalike from before barrelled into the Sovereign's side out of nowhere and rolled away before he could retaliate, though not quite quick enough. With a snarl, Order executed a strange series of sharp movements, and the cutting air from his left fist slammed Zero from behind, driving him right into his blood-soaked right fist.

Zero's eyes bulged as the blow connected, and as he rolled away, curled around his soft midsection, Monika couldn't tell if the blood on his clothes was Order's or his own. Then the Sovereign turned on them.

Ari shrieked a challenge, small wings flared. Monika held Valerie tightly, swallowed her terror, and pushed.

Order stumbled as the empathic barrage hit his mind, amplifying his pain and feeding him Monika's fear. Teeth bared, he closed the gap between them. Ari was suddenly the size of a bear, but he smacked her away just as easily as the much larger diamond dragon.

And then he was lifting Valerie up by the throat with murder in his eyes.

Monika screamed -

(stained-glass windows crashing)

(fangs dripping)

(bodies littering the cold marble floor)

Order's grip on her throat relaxed as his eyes went wide in reflexive panic, and Valerie greedily sucked in air. Monika winced at the exertion, but pressed on.


(people watch in horror as those nearest to the windows are disembowled, slaughtered, even eaten. they try to get out of the building by any means necessary - making a mad dash for the doors, slicing themselves on broken glass in an attempt to climb out through the windows, trampling those too slow to get out of their way and leaving them to the slaughter in their place)

The Sovereign made a choked sound and gripped his head with his bloodied palm, doubling over -


(one of the creatures leaps toward a girl, someone i know from school, though only by face. she doesn't even have time to scream, though i swear she attempts it through what remains of her windpipe after it tears out her throat. the monster's jaw unhinges like a snake, grotesquely wide, impossibly wide, and it begins to feast. blood sprays as it does, proof that her heart still beat, and i know that, for just a moment, she was still alive as pieces of her vanished down its maw)

Valerie slipped out of his fingers into a pile of limp limbs on the ground, and a hoarse yell escaped his throat -

Once more...!

(the screams of those i love echo around me, and i am outside, valerie pulling me by the hand into a vehicle. we are taken away, and they give chase. terrie screams as something lands hard on the roof, and the surrounding forest is set ablaze. the thick, viscous shadow in the driver's seat remains, and for once i stare into it as hard as i can. pain, pain, the shadow pushes back, snarls, cuts the wheel hard to the right, we flip, and -)

Those black eyes rolled back in his head as, for a fraction of a fraction of a second, Order blacked out.


"There it is! Now!"


Order snarled as he whipped around and immediately spotted a head of flaxen hair as its owner tumbled to the ground - still conscious, but barely, and bearing a look of abject terror in her glazed-over eyes. Valerie choked out her friend's name and tasted blood. Zero scrabbled to get his legs back under him. Ari flashed between both girls rapidly, trying anything to get them to move, to retreat. None was fast enough to intercept what happened next...

The Sovereign readied a fist and pointed it at the healer. "That's it! She dies!" one.

"Librarian Art 6 - Shield of Silence!"

All sound rushed out of the world as Order's blow connected only with solid air, the shockwave creating a perfect semicircular outline of the shield. At its forefront stood Adrian the Librarian; the Library's computers had hacked their way back into the fandom at last, and he had flashstepped to their location just in time.

Other agents quickly followed suit, standing between Order and his targets. Rhia tapped the edge of a frying pan at least 18 inches across into one hand threateningly. Cristoph was just behind her, ninjato raised, while Michael mimicked his stance with his own broadsword, shadows pooling eagerly at his feet. Ben stood wide and loose, fingers itching to point nuclear winter at something. Tash alighted at Adrian's side, flaming wings of the phoenix spread, Nephethys held loosely in her hand.

"Are we done here?" she asked, quiet and casual and dangerous.

Order considered as he met her gaze, though she seemed to wobble sickeningly in his blurring vision. His head throbbed in time with his arm which, he realized, had been spraying blood all over the landscape and continued to relentlessly pump it out of his body with each passing moment. Weakness from the blood loss was catching up with him, and it was beginning to show. As though summoned by the realization, one of Order's knees buckled without warning; he held himself upright, but only barely.

Tash nodded. "I think we're done," she said, and lifted Nephethys high. "Jurai-ken-"

Order was gone, plotholed away, before the strike hit.


The diamond dragon, it turned out, had razed more of the ground than suspected, and the number of plants it actually landed on were few. Those grippers that remained found the beast far too broad and tough to properly bite into. Forta bled a great deal whilst unconscious, but was not seriously hurt, and flew away without much difficulty once it realized the evil in its land was gone.

Valerie simply lay down for a long time, eyes closed, putting her mind and emotions back in order and trying not to cry from relief.

Adrian leaned down to offer her a hand. "Well done," he said as he pulled her shakily upright.

Valerie closed her eyes. Praise was the last thing she deserved. "It was Monika," she said hoarsely, rubbing her bruised throat. "She's the one who took him down."

"What?" came a shaky voice. The blonde in question had awakened, and shaking just a bit in obvious relief. "All I did was get here in time, and then..." She trailed off, eyes unfocused, before snapping upright again. "But you're safe, right? We won?"

Valerie and Adrian exchanged a glance, and the healer sagged against his shoulder. "Just..." she said finally, "You deserve the credit for this one. It couldn't have happened without you."

Michael opened up a plothole. "We'd better get to the others and finish the cleanup," he said.

One by one, the leaders and agents stepped through. As Valerie was about to follow suit, she remembered something, and glanced around hurriedly.

But of course, Zero was already gone.


Enough agents were dispatched through the newly opened plotholes to dispatch the remaining Usurped in the Os-Mine Hills, though not without considerable difficulty. It took three Scene Transitions, a Plot Device, and a blast from the Canon Cannon to get rid of most of them.

The dragon of the topaz had handily eaten the rest.

Camillia Anastasia Jessica Zara Chipatatwe'e Jenkins-Walnut was found - still in three pieces - and placed in a body bag for transport out of the fandom.

"Who is that?" Lief asked, eying the parody sue with a curious expression.

It took a long while before the healer answered. "Just someone who got caught in the crossfire of someone else's war," she answered finally. To Adrian, she added in a soft voice, "Someone should contact Camillia's author and tell him what happened."

The Librarian nodded. "I'll see what I can do."

Valerie nodded, looking away, then turned back around. "Oh! Lief, before I go, I wanted to ask you something. Marilen is your heir because she is your nearest relative on your father's side, right?"

"Yes," the king replied. It was common knowledge, after all.

"Okay. But did you ever consider the full implications of the Tale of the Masked Ones, from Josef's book?" Lief tilted his head, so Valerie continued, "If Bede is decended from Ballum, as Josef suspected, and Ballum was the brother of Adin's great-great-grandson, then would that not make Bede your nearest cousin instead of Marilen?"

The positively dumbstruck look on the king's face told the healer that he had not considered that at all. Valerie couldn't help but snicker as she opened a plothole.

"Just something to think about," she said with a grin, and stepped through.


Back at the Library, Monika was practically bent double laughing. "Is that really true?" she asked between breaths.

Valerie chuckled. "It might be that Lief's choice of an heir is taken into account. Goodness knows Bede would make a terrible king, even if he isn't a prissy ladykiller anymore. But it was never even addressed in canon, and I just wanted to bring it up. It would've been bizarre if Lief had died in the underworld in series two, and the Belt never shone for Marilen no matter how long she wore it." The healer stretched upward and yawned. "But he has kids in the end, so it's all moot point now, I guess."

Terrie rolled her eyes with a smile. "You think about things waaaay too much, Val," she said, and stepped out of the monitor room, probably off to her own rooms to take a nap. One by one, the others followed, until only Valerie and Monika were left in the room.

"So..." Monika said after a long pause. "You gonna tell me who that guy was?"

Valerie bit her lip. "...No," she said softly.

Monika nodded. "Okay then. I get it."

Valerie closed her eyes tightly. "Please understand, Mon, it's not a matter of-"

The blonde took her friend's shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile. "No, seriously, it's alright if you don't want to. He helped us, and that should be good enough."

"I will tell you someday," said the empath firmly. "I promise."

Monika smiled. "I know."


Some time later...

"You're sure about this?" Adrian asked soberly. "You don't know if he'll come after you again. He caused a big enough mess here; maybe Runoa'll rein him in. Hell, maybe he'll go back to hunting Silri for a while. That's possible, isn't it?"

Valerie did not smile. "The nature of chaos is multiple things happening at once," she said. "Order... isn't capable of that."

The Librarian regarded her with a critical eye. "Good to know you appreciate the gravity of what you're asking," he quipped, with an expression Valerie supposed was meant to be forbidding. She did her best anyway to pretend she didn't know exactly what he was feeling and why. "So I'm going to be equally serious when I say: I don't need my best healer putting herself in the line of fire. That is not a tactically sound choice to make."

"I sort of think I don't really have a choice this time," Valerie said, without expression.

"No," he agreed softly. "You don't."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Insert Unexpected Frienemy Here (part 1 of 2)

The robotic dummy popped in front of them quiet unexpectedly.

"Whhhat... is thy name?" it asked in a raspy and bizarrely shrill voice.

The two girls before it exchanged confused glances. They had walked this hallway many times before, as it was the shortest path from the bedrooms to the briefing room (they had been summoned there for an assignment), but there had never been anything like this there before. A little confused, but nonetheless compliant, the blonde girl took a tentative step forward and said, "I'm Stacey, and she's Danielle. Is there something you wanted from us?" It was possible this was a lifeform from one of the stories after all. It had been known to happen.

Either that or Adrian had been quicker in setting up new traps around his cookie stashes than any of them expected.

The dummy ignored her. "Whhhat... is thy quest?" it rasped at them.

Stacey glanced at the redhead behind her with a shrug, and Danielle simply looked bemused. Our quest? she thought. That's what we're going to the briefing room to find out, isn't it? "To rid the multiverse of anomalies that disrupt canon storylines and characterizations, and keep things on their intended course," the blonde replied after a bit of thought. "Now, seriously - can we get by now?"

"Whhhat... is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"

"African or European?" Stacey immediately asked. She had spent too many movie nights with Terrie not to know this one.

"European," the dummy replied, sounding smug.

The blonde opened her mouth and shut it again, then turned to her friend with another shrug. Danielle simply rolled her eyes and whipped out her trusty iPhone. After a few moments of tapping rapidly on its screen, she replied, "Eleven meters per second, or twenty-four miles per hour, give or take."

The dummy was silent for a moment, and abruptly began convulsing and throwing off sparks at its joints. Obviously it had not expected this answer. The girls watched this for about a minute before it finally collapsed in a shuddering heap, its digitized voice muttering something about Assirya before finally falling silent.

Danielle smiled. "And there was much rejoicing."


Insert Rockin' Season 2 Theme Here


"This is mine; I totally call it!"

Danielle and Stacey had barely walked into the briefing room before their ears were assaulted by their team leader's uncharacteristically loud voice. Valerie was leaning upwards in her seat with her hand as high in the air as it would go, looking for all the world like an overeager third grader. Which was actually more common an occurance than most would think, given her personality.

The girls shrugged as they moved to sit by their teammates. Apparently they were going on assignment, although lord knew what fandom it was to get Valerie this excited about it.

"Deltora Quest," Monika whispered to them when they arrived (Terrie was too busy absently throwing ninja stars in the air to notice them). "Michael's going over the list of transgressions now. So far it's mostly pairing issues - she's moved canon love interests around in order to get at the main character - but there are also issues with timeline. For example, she somehow has the Pirran Pipe in her posession, and her backstory says that she was one of the Shadowlands prisoners rescued in series 2. She's also very friendly with the dragons and has the ability to sense Ols, even Grade 3's."

"Which would completely screw up the Dain sequence, if I recall correctly," Stacey muttered.

Monika nodded. "Not to mention most of the rest of the plot. In addition, she's broken up and reshuffled multiple established pairings, including-"

"JARDA?" came an unexpected screech to their left. Damn, who knew Valerie's voice could get that high-pitched when she wasn't practicing Phantom of the Opera? "You're telling me this Sue is causing freaking JARDA?!"

Michael, who was starting to look nervous in the face of this uncharacteristically irate woman, commented, "Well, if you look at the fanfiction archives, pairing Jarred and Barda really isn't all that uncommon..."

"I don't care! It's still stupid! Not to mention chronologically impossible. Which Jarred are they referring to, anyway: Doom or Endon?"

Danielle rolled her eyes. "Thanks for the spoiler, Val..."

Michael flipped through the file. "Um... Doom, I think. Apparently the Sue got him to come to terms with his past, so he's going by his original name again now..."

There was a pause. "Okay, that does it," Valerie said. "Stace, go down to the wardrobe and get jackets with secure hoods for everybody. Michael, give me the file."

He complied, and Valerie motioned for the rest of her team to follow her out the door. "Try not to get into too much trouble?" the Chief Agent called after them.

"Aw, relax," Ben said, leaning back in his chair. "It's a routine mission. What could possibly go wrong?"

The last thing the team heard as Valerie closed the office door was the sound of the ever-present Shirley the Cliche Stick descending on her partner with a roar.


The land of Deltora, despite its overabundance of monsters that seemed tailor-made to kill humans, was a beautiful place. Though the world was made up mostly of island chains, Deltora occupied the southern half of the planet's only continent.  In the south was the country's capital, Del city, home to the royal line of the first king, Adin. In the west was Del's sister city, Tora, where dwelt the greatest sorcorers and spell-weavers the world has ever known, and whose sandy shores were both bountiful and deadly to the unwary. To the east lay the unparalleled mystery of the Forests of Silence, and many diverse cultures dotted both the coast and further inland.  The fertile plains of Deltora's heartland were more abundant than ever before in the country's history. Even the craggy and borderline inhospitible mountains to the north were at peace, because the evil Shadowlord had finally been driven back by the magic of the legendary Belt of Deltora.

Except... none of that was supposed to have happened yet, as it was less than a month into Lief's reign as king.

Let me explain. Apparently there was one Shadowlands prisoner named Camillia Anastasia Jessica Zara Chipatatwe'e Jenkins-Walnut who somehow managed to convince the Shadow Lord that she would work for him (despite the fact that said Shadow Lord has about a hundred ways of spotting lies, and even more ways to make you do what he wants anyway, willing or not) and got herself released as a "companion" for Dain. This was used mostly as an excuse for the author to fangirl over the series' resident bishounen, but eventually this fic developed a bit more plot. When Dain met his end at the hands of the good guys, Camillia did not reappear until after Lief was revealed as the hidden heir to the throne and the Shadow Lord was banished from the land with the magic of the fabled Belt of Deltora.

She finally approached Lief during one of his trips to the forge and told him everything she knew - and, being a Mary-Sue, what she knew was considerable, and threw the entire storyline off-track. She had already made friends with the Pirran tribes of the underground seas, and was able to reunite them and repair the Pirran Pipe with very little effort. Once the rest of the Shadowland prisoners were freed, the Pirrans insisted that she keep the Pipe (what?), which she used to destroy three of the Four Sisters without the help of the not-yet-awakened dragons (what?!) with her amazing musical talent and beautiful singing voice. She left the western Sister in place in order to keep the Shadow Lord's final trap from springing - with the Bone Point Lighthouse restored, they could rely on foreign trade for the time being - but somehow released Doran from his curse anyway, without causing said release to kill him (what?!?)

She did all this in the time it took Lief to trace Adin's bloodline down to Marilen. It was discovered at the same time that Camillia was the next heir after Marilen. Really, who would have expected that?


But in between doing all the quests the actual heroes were supposed to be doing, Camillia was also hard at work in fixing character flaws. In addition to convincing Doom to go by his real name, she also caused Barda to become inexplicably attracted to him, despite the fact that the two barely knew each other and at this point only grudgingly trusted one another... not to mention that Barda already had a canon love interest in Lindal. She also brougnt Tira seemingly out of nowhere and paired her up with Jasmine, and miraculously erased all of the former's shyness and all of the latter's cynacism and impatience. That way, the was was clear for Camillia herself to move in on Lief as the pair of them set out to awaken Deltora's last dragons (for no particular reason other than because), on what was sure to be a comfortable and romantic trip...

"I swear to god," Valerie muttered to herself as she and her team exited the plothole into the fandom, "what is the point of making an AU like this anyway? The story was perfect exactly as it was!" The plothole had dropped them off on the outskirts of Del, just inside the gates.

Stacey shrugged as she touched down. "I guess someone disagreed." She was only partially familiar with the fandom, as was Monika. Valerie was the only one of the group to have read the entire sprawling fifteen-book epic. The rest had little opinion on the matter beyond a natural dislike of the canon-warping effects of Mary-Sues. As they followed the healer into the bustling main part of the city, Stacey leaned over to Terrie and asked, "You don't think this fandom is her Berserk Button, do you?"

The shorter brunette chuckled. "Stace, trust me when I say none of us have seen Valerie when she's really mad. Whatever her Berserk Button is, this ain't it."

A passing citizen, a female in a brown cotton dress carrying a basket of corn, gave Terrie an odd glance as she passed, then hurried onward as though afraid to stick around. "...the heck was that about?" Terrie muttered.

The odd behavior did not escape Valerie's notice, and her eyes widened when she realized her rmistake. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Guys, guys! There are some ground rules we need to cover before we go anywhere in this fandom." The group of five paused and ducked into an unused allyway.

"So... what's the plan, boss?" Danielle asked when they were safely tucked away.

The healer clapped her hands together and grinned. "Right. Rule number one: never use contractions when you speak here, or you will get funny looks from people. Only mooks like Grey Guards and pirates use contractions, and I imagine you do not want to be mistaken for one of them."

The redhead blinked. "Bizarre, but okay."

Terrie simply rolled her eyes. "What about how we're dressed?" she asked. "I noticed that chick back there wasn't exactly modern..."

"Deltora is diverse enough that we will not be noticed," Valerie explained. "Unless you somehow manage to get in trouble with palace guards, I doubt too many difficult questions will arise. Now, rule number two: if you see a dragon, under no circumstances are you to let it see your hair. That's what we brought the hoodies for. Dragons in this world like to use human hair to line their nests, so keep your heads covered."

Stacey subconsciously covered her head with her arms. She rather liked her hair.

"Anything else?" the leader asked.

"Yeah," said Terrie, raising her hand slightly. "What's the actual plan?"

Valerie put a hand to her chin in thought and was silent.

"You mean you don't have one?!" Danielle exclaimed. This was actually new; it was pretty rare that their team leader didn't have some idea of what she was doing...

"I do, I do!" she quickly replied. "It is just a little bit complicated, what with the way magic works around here. So..." she paused a moment. "Okay, this is what we need: Monika, you head into Del and see if you can slap a copyright on Jasmine or Barda. You remember what they look like, right?" The books never went into too much detail on their appearances, but with positions like their's it would be hard to miss them.

The tall blonde nodded. "Any particular reason?" she asked.

"Yeah, this is a routine collection," Stacey put in. "Camillia doesn't - does not," she corrected herself (At least someone's making an effort! thought Valerie), "seem that dangerous. Pretty much the only things she has done here is take credit for others' heroics and shuffle the pairings around."

The taller blonde nodded in agreement. "This is a textbook parole case. All we need to do is pick her up."

"Yes, but we also need to get Lief outside of her range of influence," the healer explained. "So far Camillia has not actually taken the Belt of Deltora from him, but I do not want to risk her thinking of the idea when we corner her. We could Copyright Lief, sure, but there is a real chance that the magic of the Belt will actually keep the sticker from working properly. Same with prohibiters, should Camillia get it in her head to put the Belt on herself."

Danielle whistled. "That's some powerful magic."

"Powerful defensive magic," Valerie clarified. "Even if she gets her hands on it, she should not prove more of a fight than she would normally—a tad stronger and smarter, probably, and maybe a bit luckier, if she knows how to use the gems properly—but we still should not take the chance."

Monika nodded. "I getcha. We Copyright Lief's closest friends, and they help him get out from under the Sue's spell if Copyrighting him doesn't - does not - work."

"Exactly," the healer grinned at her friend. "Now, the suefic left off so far with Lief and Camillia going off to find and awaken Deltora's last dragons. Lief already knows there is a dragon under the Os-Mine Hills, so that is where the rest of us are going. Meet us there once you have found Barda and Jasmine." She winced. "Cannonically, it is a two-day journey from Del to the Hills. Now the only question is how to get there in two parties, with canon characters in tow..." She bit her lip, wondering how this was going to work.

"You could probably use a Scene Transition to cut travel time," Danielle suggested. "It has only ever been used for dangerous situations, but I do not see why they should be limited to that..."

"Except that time would still pass, for them and everyone else," Terrie interrupted. "They just would not remember it until later. And it would not help Monika catch up with us either."

The five exchanged glances as they tried to think of a solution, but noneThe woods to either side of the steep, sloping path were lush and green, but also dark, due to the thick canopy caused by the vine-weaver birds overhead. It was that very canopy that caused the layers of forest the Hills were so famous for in the first place, because—

"Whoa, whoa!" Terrie exclaimed, suddenly stopping in her tracks. "What the heck was that all about?!"

"What was what about?" Ezra asked from her position at the front. She was crouched down and looking for footprints and other signs of passage.

"That... that skip thing that just happened! We were trying to think of a way to get everyone where they needed to go, when suddenly the narration skipped over to describing the scenery of the Os-Mine Hills because here we are!"

The other three girls—for there were only four of them there now; Monika was gone, presumably still in Del—looked around and blinked in confusion. Danielle turned to Valerie. "Did you use a Scene Transition?" she asked.

The healer glanced down at her toolbelt. Her emergency Scene Transition was still hooked there, the lights decorating its surface dull and unactivated. "Nope."

"Then how did we get here?" Stacey reappeared to ask. "For that matter, how did Ezra and I switch places without us noticing? If Terrie had not pointed it out..."

Valerie bit her lip in thought. The whole thing felt like a Scene Transition had activated, but no memory of the interceding time flooded to her mind. Was there any interceding time at all? It simply seemed natural to be where they were, at least until the inconsistency was pointed out to them. The Sue must be warping the fandom even harder than I thought... "Let's just keep going," she said finally, forgetting her own grammar rules in her nervousness. "Monika knows what her job is, she will be fine. We have a job to do too." After a moment, she turned to her remaining comerades and clapped her hands in anticipation. "After all, finding the topaz dragon will not be easy!"

"Wait, we're looking for the dragon?" asked Stacey, covering her head once more.

"Duh," the healer replied as she strode down the forest path once more. "Camillia and Lief are looking for the dragon, so that is our best bet to find them." No one could mistake the excited grin on her face, and even Ari, who was sitting quietly on Valerie's shoulder, seemed to shake her head in amusement.

"Dragons, huh?" Danielle said to her comerades as they followed their excited leader. "No wonder. I haven't seen her this hyped since she got back from the Dragonriders of Pern fandom..."

Terrie rubbed her brow in an attempt to look exasperated, although Valerie's enthusiasm was nonetheless infectious. "As long as she doesn't try to take one home with us. That's all I ask."


Lief of Del followed the path Camillia made on the little-used game trail, unconciously rubbing the back of his head and trying to look anywhere but at her. That by itself was difficult, however, as the girl was extrordinarily pretty - she had flawless skin the color of rich earth, high cheekbones, and a proud, pointed chin. Her eyes seemed to change color with her moods (they were a startling, icy blue when he first met her, but had since softened to a dark mauve), and her long, thick hair was a blinding cacophany of forest colors that shifted and rippled when she moved.

Of course, as long as they were in the Hills, they were always moving, it was only safe. Even though they paused rather frequently to admire the scenery in strategically unsafe places, or to have brief, idyllic picnics that somehow contained more food than the two could have logically carried with them even on horseback, let alone on foot.

Lief frowned and pinched the bridge of his nose. Thinking of all the tiny ways Camilla made strange things happen always gave him a headache—not to mention made the Belt grow uncomfortably warm—but with all of Barda's training drummed into his head, it was hard not to.

Focus on the mission, he thought to himself. We are looking for the dragons. That is the only way to... To do what again?

He could not remember. The Four Sisters were nearly gone, and the final trap left unsprung, so what where the dragons needed for? How do we even know there is a dragon in these hills anyway? Neither of us has been here before...

"Is everything alright, Lief?"

Camillia's melodious voice broke into his thoughts, and Lief could not help but smile as he nodded in reply, his headache gone. Camillia has proven her loyalty to the kingdom and to me many times over. There is no need to jump at shadows.

Camillia smiled radiantly in response and, with a jerk of her head and a swish of her effervescent hair, continued jauntily down the forest path.

Lief, meanwhile, frowned again in thought. Was there not something that must be done before they encounter a dragon? Something about her hair...


Monika whipped through the city at a breakneck pace, not because there was any terrible emergency (although sooner was indeed better, but not drastically so), but because she could. Running was something she enjoyed, and her long legs made her good at it without even trying. In fact, along with her gift of persuasion, Monika would bet money that her speed was a primary reason Valerie had sent her back this way. Well, that and, ever since the team leader was getting proficient with Seiryu, Monika was actually the member of their team who was least prepared for battle now.

Finding her way was not at all difficult. The palace was situated on a hill and clearly visible from all directions, and though the city streets were complicated and maze-like, she ran into no dead ends.

At the palace itself, the front gates were thrown open wide, due to this being a supposed time of peace. No one gave her any trouble as she dashed inside the courtyard, probably thinking her to be a messenger of some sort. At the door of the palace itself, however, she was stopped, though not distrutingly. Monika gave the guards her name and told them what she was doing there—that she had been sent to deliver a message via the messenger birds. The guards hesitated, but let her through, and someone inside gave her directions to the room where the birds were kept. Easy, she thought to herself.

The moment she walked in, however, Monika found herself pinned to the wall with a knife at her throat by a girl nearly half her size. "Who are you?" the girl said through a small snarl. "No one is allowed into the bird room unless accompanied by Sharn, the king, Barda, or myself."

Monika immediately recognized the piercing green eyes and untamed tumble of black curls as Jasmine, and clearly her exposure to a Sue had done nothing to dull the wild girl's reflexes, or her overly suspicious nature. Valerie did say she was protective of these birds... "My name is Monika," she said quickly, trying not to betray her nervousness. Understandable nervousness, mind—the last time anyone held anything reasonably dangerous to her neck, it was during a mandatory combat training exercise for the Society, and the object in question was blunt and made of wood. "I am here because I was looking for you, Jasmine. You and Barda. The king is in danger."

Jasmine did not move, although her grip on her dagger did relax slightly. "Lief is on a tour of the kingdom," she said blandly, reciting the usual public excuse for when Deltora's only defense against the forces of darkness, aka Lief, did something moderately dangerous. "He is accompanied by a troop of guards and Lady Camillia. What harm could possibly befall him?"

"There are no guards," Monika replied tightly, "and Camillia is not to be trusted. If you would give me but a moment, I can prove it to you."

The wild girl made no move in reply, so Monika took that as a tenative yes. Slowly, and with exaggerated care to show that she held no weapon, the tall blonde pulled a Copyright sticker out of her back pocket and affixed it to Jasmine's upper arm.

In an instant, her green eyes widened in sudden clarity, surprise, and finally anger. She released Monika from her grip, but did not put her knife away. "What is this magic?" she demanded harshly. "I have remembered... so many things..."

"I merely lifted the spell Camillia had set over your eyes," Monika replied steadily, exerting as much trustworthiness as she could manage. "If you could lead me to Barda and your father, I can do the same for them."

"Barda and Doom..." she said quietly, before a surprised and faintly disturbed look came to her face as her memories of what had been happening clashed with her regained knowledge of what was supposed to happen. "Oh, that is just—wait, no. No! That is not possible, it does not make any sense!"

Monika patted the smaller girl's shoulder in sympathy. From what she understood of the series, kissing and other more demonstrative forms of affection were never shown, so this would be doubly bizarre for Jasmine to accept. "I know. Trust me, it was never meant to happen. But we can put everything to rights if we—"

"No, that is not what I meant," Jasmine interrupted, shrugging the blonde's hand off. "Doom is not here. He left months ago to explore the wildlands, and to discover more about the dragons' abilities and history."

"The dragons'... abilities..." Monika repeated slowly. The information tickled some thought in the back of her mind, some memory of something Valerie had once said about the end of the Deltora Quest series, and combined with the suddenly-regained memory of her teammates being suddenly gone - not vanished, just gone - and finding herself running through the city... and then she nearly facepalmed as the realization hit her. Oh, come on! Seriously?! She sighed. "We need to find Barda, and we need to find my friends. They went on ahead to catch up with Lief and Camillia. I just hope we are not too late..."


"I hope we're not too late..." Terrie mused as they followed Stacey's blonde head through the thick foliage. Ezra was a reasonably good tracker, and had found the game trail the duo had been using, but other than that, there had been no sign of either their quarry or the elusive dragon.

"I hope we do not run into a pack of Granuous," Valerie muttered in reply.


"A rather sadistic race of miniature Yetis," said the leader. "They are actually not that much of a challenge, but they have become rather adept at catching their victims by surprise. Their idea of fun is psychological torture and slow dismemberment."

The shorter brunette turned to give Valerie a look. "And this is a kids' series?"

"And the poster-child for the Defanged Horrors trope," Valerie said with a small laugh.

Ezra whipped around to shush them all. "We're getting close," she said quietly. "I haven't seen signs of a rest stop for a while, so they should be stopping again soo—waah!"

The warrior suddenly vanished, fallen down the side of an unseen (and unexpectedly steep) slope, and before her teammates could stop themselves, they found themselves tumbling down the hillside as well. After a comically long and bouncy fall, the four landed in a confused and uncomfortable heap at the bottom.

"Well," Danielle groaned, "That was anti-climactic."

"Oh shut up," Ezra replied.

"Um... pardon me," asked a light tenor, "Who are you all? What are you doing in the Hills?"

Valerie looked up. Just ahead of them, walking out into the clearing they had fallen into, were a pair of travelers. The female of the two was stunning and exotic and commanded all of her attention, but Valerie forced herself to focus on the male. He had a youthful face and was a couple inches below average height, giving the appearance of being younger than he was. His clothes were simple, for traveling, but nonetheless of fine make. But what was of particular interest to the healer was the way his shirt was hastily untucked, as though to cover something around his waist from unwanted eyes. Even more interesting, from this angle Valerie could see the lines of scar tissue circling his neck and part of his jawline.

Untangling herself from her friends, the healer stood up and introduced herself. "I am Valerie," she said with a smile. "What is your name?"

The boy blinked once. "Lewin," he replied.

Bingo, Valerie thought. Lewin was one of the names Lief sometimes went by when travelling incognito. This boy was obviously the king, which made the woman the Sue they were looking for. She looked around hastily, wondering where Monika could be, or if she had succeeded in her task. But with the sudden warp in the narration from earlier, it was hard to tell. She could be anywhere. The healer considered her options.

Even without Barda or Jasmine to keep Lief under control, the four of us should be more than a match for the two of them. Lief isn't even fully trained as a swordsman, but even if he was, he's too nice a guy to actually try to kill anyone... unless Camillia's more powerful than her folder indicated, but unless Monika shows up in the next ten seconds, I'm not seeing much in the way of options here...

Making her decision, Valerie signalled her by-then-untangled friends behind her back, and they complied by moving to encircle the clearing. She could see Lief tense up with suspicion and move his hand towards the hilt of his sword, though Camillia merely tilted her head in confusion.

"Camillia Anastasia Jessica Zara Chipatatwe'e Jenkins-Walnut," the healer said in a clear voice, "For unlisensed disruption of the canon timeline, fandom warping, and multiple counts of uncharacterized romances, you are hereby under arrest by the Anti-Cliche and Mary-Sue Elimination Society." Ezra flash-stepped right up behind the surprised Sue and promptly cuffed her with a Prohibiter.

Lief whirled around, eyes wide. "Camillia!" he cried, drawing his sword to defend the girl. Terrie and Danielle both moved to block the young king, while Valerie reached for her plothole generator to get them all back to the Library. However, Camillia interrupted them all with a loud, lilting laugh.

"Hahahaha!" The Sue was nearly bent double with amusement, and everyone else in the clearing paused to look on in surprise. "Seriously?" Camillia asked, still giggling. "Is this really what's going on here?" She ignored the startled looks from everyone. "Wow, if I thought I stood a chance of the Society coming after me, I would've been a bit more obnoxious to try and make it worth your time. I mean, come on!"

Valerie was about to speak when another voice rang through the clearing.

"Val!" The healer whipped around to see a familiar blonde head running through the trees with two others in tow - Jasmine and Barda, the latter of which only barely keeping pace. "Valerie," Monika said breathlessly as she arrived. "The Sue. She's not what you think she is."

"No freaking kidding," Camillia laughed, casually shaking her wrist and dropping the Prohibitor - which refused to stay locked - onto the forest floor. "Come on, Miss Valerie," the Sue said, looking right at the team leader, "I hear you're smart. Use your brain. The Prohibitor, by definition, prohibits characters from using their powers in a manner not dictated by their author or another nearby Power attempting to assume control of a failed story. But this Prohibitor doesn't seem to be working on me, because there's nothing to work on. Do you know why?"

Danielle frowned. "So that means... she's not outside of her author's control?"

"Can't be," Terrie argued. "The Society has dealt with the creations of rogue authors before, and the Prohibitors worked fine. She wouldn't fall outside of the definitions of a Mary-Sue unless..."

Valerie's eyes suddenly widened as comprehension dawned. "Unless..."

"She's a Parody Sue," Monika explained. "Created with exaggerated Sue traits in order to exemplify what not to do, without actually doing it."

"What do you mean, 'without actually doing it'?" Stacey asked.

"Everything that has happened in this series," Camillia said gently, as though explaining something to a particularly slow child, "has already happened the way it's supposed to. Deltora Quest is over. The only thing I've altered here is their memory of what's happened. I planted a silly little Mary-Sue story in their minds to show readers what the series would look like as a Sue-fic, and why that would be a bad thing. I mean jeez, would you want to read a story that turns out like this?"

"They thought Doom was in the palace," Monika said, gesturing to Jasmine and Barda, who were currently attempting to explain the situation to their bewildered king. "But as soon as I copyrighted them, they remembered that Doom was actually travelling around the country studying dragons, who are, by the way, already awakened, just like canon says they're supposed to be."

"Well what about that weird transition that happened?" Terrie asked stubbornly, crossing her arms. "A couple of days gone, just like that."

"That's just an effect of my author's writing style," Camillia said, rolling her eyes. "He never uses scene breaks. He says he only does it for parody purposes, but I've seen his regular stories, and he does it there too. I keep telling him to change it, but does he ever listen to little old me?"

"We felt it too, on the way up here," Monika offered. "Or at least, I did. The characters seemed to view it as normal passing of time, just like a Scene Transition is for us. And I guess it is just a scene transition for them..."

"Listen," Camillia interjected, striding forward to face the team leader. "I really am sorry about the confusion. I thought the parody aspect of the story was pretty clear, but if it's not, you can take it up with my author. He's a bit of a troll sometimes, but he really does just want to make people laugh. And I promise, he in no way supports the Jarda pairing." Camillia laughed a bit - high-pitched and nasally, now that she wasn't in her overly-perfect Mary-Sue persona - and extended her hand. "No hard feelings?"

Valerie smiled, extended her hand in return... and grasped onto empty air, because Camillia's hand was no longer there to shake. The Parody Sue looked in faint surprise at the stump where the rest of her arm used to be. "What...?"

And then Camillia's head was rolling on the forest floor.

Seiryu sprung instantly into life, and everyone else in the clearing immediately drew their weapons as well. "What the fuck was that?!" Danielle shouted.

"Such vulgarity..." The newcomer drawled from beyond the treeline in a voice that all of the Society members recognized all too well - the beating he'd handed all five of them at Eizenburn Mansion was not one they'd soon forget. "Not that I would expect any better from the likes of you," Order smirked as he walked calmly into view.

Ezra reacted first, leaping so high into the air that Valerie swore she was utilizing her ki to achieve near-flight and descending on the Sovereign with a roar. Order casually raised a hand, his fist connected with Ezra's powerful kick... and then Ezra was flying again, this time so hard into a tree trunk that the wood cracked and splintered.

The remaining agents took a collective step back.

Order glanced around at them all. "None of you are my concern at this time," he said. "I am not here on official business. I merely wish to speak privately to the healer."

Valerie scowled, trying to look anywhere except at the decapitated body on the ground. Had Order done that to her? How?? "Anything you have to say to me can be said in front of my friends," she said darkly.

The Sovereign merely chuckled. "You misunderstand me. Obviously there is nothing that needs to be said between us; I am merely curious. You held back when last we fought. I cannot fathom why you would, but now I wonder how you would fight if you did not have these so-called friends," he spoke the word with a sneer, "to distract you."

No one spoke, no one moved. For a moment, Valerie was mildly saddened by that, but she put it out of her mind. This isn't a fucking fairy tale, goddammit. Of course they're scared. That's why they look to me. The clear, cold logic of it did not stop the trembling in her knees, or the apprehension in her heart.

"And by 'friends'," Order continued, "I include the little shapeshifting demon on your shoulder. Do not think I do not know that she is hiding in your hair, waiting to strike when I least suspect it."

Ari slithered out from hiding and flared her wings, hissing a challenge at the Sovereign, and Valerie was momentarily comforted.

Order leveled a glare directly at the little dragon. "Believe me, familiar. If any one of you Society folk attempts to interfere, I will kill her immediately."

"You'll kill her anyway!" Terrie shouted, only to be cut off as Order flash-stepped to her location and handed the short brunette a swift punch to the gut that left her doubled over in pain. Monika raced over to her injured friend's side, and Danielle took the momentary distraction to duck behind a tree.

"Do not overstep your bounds, child," Order snarled. "It impedes propriety." He quickly regained his composure and addressed Valerie once again. "So what will it be? I have already chosen the perfect location for--stubborn little-!"

Ezra, whom they all thought was still unconscious, had instead been building up her ki into a significant enough blast, directed right at the Sovereign. At the same moment, Valerie unleashed a hail of energy arrows while Ari grew to roughly five times her previous size and dive-bombed him repeatedly. Lief, Barda, and Jasmine could only watch, astounded, as the scuffle quickly escalated with such otherworldly magic they couldn't even begin to comprehend. Danielle retreated further into the woods, tapping furiously first at her standard-issue Society communicator, and then at her iPhone, biting back a growl of frustration and terror and praying she wouldn't be noticed.

Order stood as the dust cleared, a slight furrowing of his brows the only indication that anything had even happened at all. "So this is how it is going to be. Then let me put this in terms you can understand."

Without another word, without even a gesture, plotholes opened all around them, all over the Hills. From the swirling rainbow portals came misshapen, gray-tinged figures by the dozens. Initially, Lief would have taken them for Grey Guards just from the way they moved - sure, deliberate actions that bespoke a total lack of fear, lack of any emotion whatsoever - but the washed-out, colorless creatures that appeared otherwise had nothing in common with one another. Different shapes, different sizes, different degrees to which they might be recognized as having once had a human body.

The characters did not recognize the creatures, but the Agents did. They had last been seen in such numbers back at the Eizenburn mansion during Aster's rescue. They had sprung from a contextual trap Runoa had laid, but Valerie's first sight of one of them was moments before the explosives loaded into its corpse went off. Two things had occurred to her then: that the creature might not have been able to tell whether it was dead yet, and that that fact was probably the most horrifying thing about it.

Runoa had called these things the Usurped. Failed Sovereign candidates who were sacrificed in the name of perfecting the Immaculation process, and now only existed as drones.

Danielle glanced back one more time, finished programming her plothole generator, and then opened a portal of her own and dropped her ringing iPhone through.

Order chuckled darkly. "Now let me ask again. Valerie. I would speak with you privately. The longer our conversation takes, the longer your 'friends' will have to deal with my 'friends'. You do not have the option to refuse me, nor can you send a message to your superiors. This is the way of things."

Before anyone had the chance to react, Order flash-stepped toward Valerie, effortlessly knocked Ari aside, and suddenly the two of them were astride one of the larger Usurped, one with a misshapen beak jutting from its face and two pairs of enormous feathery wings. The creature took flight on the Sovereign's command, speeding westward and out of sight before anyone could even blink.

A split-second later, the remaining Usurped attacked.


A slight sound drifted past Cristoph's ear. It was barely audible, and he likely would not have noticed it at all, were he not attempting to meditate in one of the unused areas of the Library.

The ninja cracked an eyelid, already annoyed. He was used to tuning out the sounds of turning pages, snatches of conversation, or the slams and clangs of various agents training. On occassion, he had even had to tune out Sues and Stus snapping at each other and at whatever Agent was on guard duty at the time. Cristoph prided himself on being able to meditate pretty much anywhere, under nearly any circumstances if the need called for it.

And yet something about this sound - it was a musical tune of some sort, he was certain of that - was so grating, so piercing, it just threw off his entire mindset. With a grumble, Cristoph disentangled himself and rose to his feet. After a moment of careful listening, he started down the hallway in search of the source of the noise.

Sticking to the shadows as was his habit, Cristoph quickly drew closer to the source of his irritation. When he arrived at an abandoned hallway - one actually often-used, though not at this time of day - he knew it had to be here somewhere. That sound was grating, nearly painful to listen to!

Scant moments later, he found it: someone's iPhone, smack in the middle of the floor, playing a musical ringtone at full volume over and over... though "music" was a term that could only barely be applied to what was coming out of the machine's speakers.

"Ain't got a care in the world, but got plenty of beer.
Ain't got no money in my pocket, but I'm already here.
And now the dudes are lining up 'cause they hear we got swagger,
But we kick 'em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger."

Cristoph looked at the device incredulously. "Who the hell is Key-Dollar-Sign-Ha?"

Shaking his head, he poked at the iPhone's interface to turn off the offensive noise. Apparently the iPhone was on its ringtone test setting? But what for, and why in the middle of nowhere?

As soon as the setting was canceled and the music thankfully died away, another screen popped up - the one that was already active beneath the setting change. It was an unsent text message.

----deltora quest. fandom sealed off. sovereign attack. order.----

Cristoph's eyes widened, and he bolted off in search of a leader.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Insert Inadequately-Detailed Water Story Here

Mizunashi Akari. Distant Blue. Head Prima of the Aria Company.

Akari woke up that day and started off as usual, and continued with assisting her understudy, Ai, with her training. Ai was coming along well.

Akari herself was still fantastic as always, a beautiful hair fluttering in the wind as she guided the gondola through the ornately designed canals of Neo-Venezia. A striking beauty herself,

Akari was no doubt an extremely skilled undine.

(To the readers of this story unfamiliar with the Aria fandom... Akari's not the Sue. She's the main character. I just felt I had to do justice to the extreme detail and description done to everything in the manga. The art in there is something words can't quite do the justice to.)

Aika and Alice were coming along well, too. Of course, the Queen of Roses and the Twilight Princess (er, um, not that Twilight and definitely not that Twilight Princess) were up there with the other undines from Himeya and Orange Planet. (And yes, again, I'm just being overdetailed, again. And extra-detailed for Society members reading this but unfamiliar with Aria.)

Anyway, that day, everything changed.

Yet another shuttle had landed on the planet Aqua (formerly Mars) from Manhome (formerly Earth). Out came Arina, a girl who had come to Aqua to change her life. Shortly after Arina's landing she caught sight of Akari steering her gondola and immediately decided she wanted to be an undine. And instead of signing up with the big companies like Himeya or Orange Planet, she joined the smallest - the Aria Company. Akari was happy to have another understudy (albeit it being a lot of work), but she warned Arina that without a training course on Manhome, it was going to be a long and hard training...

...she was wrong.

Arina learned easily, and steering the gondola came naturally for her. So naturally, in fact, it was like she'd done it her whole life. Arina was so amazing in fact that she was promoted straight to Prima (the highest position, and the position of Akari, Aika, and Alice) from Pair, with the title "Azure Rose". Only Alice had accomplished that feat, but Arina was special.

She'd passed the Prima exam after only two days of being a Pair.

Now that Arina was at the same stage as Akari, she had a large degree of freedom. She assisted in Ai's training (Ai was too awed at Arina's amazing skill to be jealous of the fact Arina had overtaken Ai at so fast a pace). And after hearing Akari's story about her mentor Alicia, Arina immediately decided to do something about it and did the impossible.

She convinced Alicia's husband to let Alicia continue being an undine at the Aria Company.

Soon, Alicia was back at the Aria Company, helping out like she always had. Akari was even happier now, and with three mentors, Ai quickly passed the test to become a Single. Later, Arina helped Akatsuki accept that Alicia was married, and somehow discovered deep hidden feelings for Akari in there. Akatsuki and Akari quickly became a couple.

And in the end, there was nothing more stunning than the beautiful, slender figure of Arina as her long hair flowed in the wind and her gondola pike made ripples in the water as she slowly proceeded through the canal letting enough sun through to enhance her beauty. (This time I wish I was being detailed enough to pay homage to the manga.)

...I think you get the point, because I really can't write like this for the rest of the fic.


In the Society...

"You know what I want."

Aster sighed and put her chopsticks back down into her ramen bowl. "No, normally I'll let you have my ramen, but I haven't eaten anything all day."

"Oh, really?" Akai pulled another of her many slasher smiles. "Well, then..."

And she pulled out a vuvuzela and blew it in Aster's face.

"Oh god no not that kyaa no not that!"

Aster screamed and tipped over the ramen bowl as she ran.

"Shame," said Akai. She looked at the jun-akuma. "Okay, we've mastered a bowl of fruit. How about a bowl of ramen?"

The jun-akuma held out a bowl of Korean ramen.

"...close enough." Akai took the bowl and started gobbling it down.

Aster returned, hair disheveled, and panted. She held out a volume of Aria and tossed it at Akai.

"Hurry up and read," said Aster. "We're goin' on a mission kyaa."

Akai blinked, opened the volume, and flipped through it quickly.

"...scenery porn. Geez, someone has nothing better to do than draw all day."


"Waaaaaaaaaaaaah~ So pretty!"

Chrys looked around happily as she stared at all of the surroundings.

"Usually when we enter manga fandoms, they're sketchy, but look at the water and the buildings and - "

"Yes, it's pretty, let's just find the Sue," said Akai, rather disgruntled. "I was finishing my bowl of ramen..."

"I'm just thankful she didn't make this into yuri," said Aster. "A lot of fanfic writers do that kyaa."

"Okay then." Akai stared at the scenery of Neo-Venezia. "Well, given that the sparse amount of land in existence is full of stairs, and given that I'm a lazy ass, we're not getting very far if we don't have a boat."

And immediately Akai went over to a nearby gondola, knocked off the undine using it, threw her to the ground, knocked her out, and got onto the boat. "Get in."

"That's not going to be faster than walking," said Aster.

"Y-y-you hit her!" said Chrys.

"Well, I'd rather not walk up stairs, and I've always wanted to ride one of these anyway. Plus, the Sue's not going to kill main characters if we take longer. Get in."

Akai felt more comfortable guiding a gondola with her spear, but the pointed blade quickly stuck too much into the bottom and they had to use the hapless unconscious undine's pike.

Since Aster had actually studied the motions of the undines in the manga, she was in charge of steering it. Aster was nowhere near the level of even being close to passing a test (or getting by unscathed by any undine), but at least they could go forward.

Because of Aster's odd clothing (she obviously wasn't wearing anything normal for an undine, or even anyone on Manhome or Aqua), she got a lot of strange looks but nobody said anything directly to her. After all, if someone saw another person on the street wearing odd clothes, there might be odd looks but nobody would really do anything.

This strange peace persisted until Akai had another of her ideas.

"Hey, we're on a gondola. Isn't the gondolier supposed to sing?"

"Ah, not really. Leave that to Alice and Athena."

"Still, it's boring without it. Here, I'll sing for you..."

And then she yelled in her characteristic loud voice, "CHA-LA! HEAD-CHA-LA!"

This continued on. Some people yelled at her to shut up, and eventually Aster got fed up and put a wide block of ice around Akai's mouth.

"Mmfmfmmmffffmfmfmfmf!" yelled Akai.


Ai was biting into her lunch when Arina walked in. Ai blinked.

"Who... who are you?"

Arina pulled back in shock.

" don't remember me?"

Akari walked in and looked at Arina. Akari looked at Ai. "Ai-chan, do you know this girl?"

"...Akari-san..." Arina looked about to cry. "You... Where's Akatsuki-san?"

"Akatsuki?" Akari blinked. "Oh, yeah... I haven't heard from him in a while..." She shook her head. "But wait. How do you know him, and who are you?"


"If you're interested in the company..."

"Akari-san..." Arina, panicked, looked at the ground and saw it.

A sticker backing.

"Um, Miss Mizunashi?" said Akai, walking in with her slasher smile. "I said we were interested in a tour..." She looked at Arina and raised an eyebrow. "Hm...I seem to know this girl. She's an old...chum. Mind if I have a chat with her?"

Akari's expression became cold. "I - "

"Why, it's you!" said Aster, giving her I-will-kill-you face. "We have a lot to... catch up... on..."

Chrys just walked in and blankly said, "...I have nothing to say..."

"You... you..." Arina looked around for an exit. Finally, she defenestrated herself... threw herself out the window. (I just love long words with eerily specific meanings.)

"Get her!" Akai, always believing in a direct chase route, followed her out the window. She didn't have long to fall as it was two stories.

...Unfortunately, it was a two-story fall.

While Akai was smart enough to put her legs first, she was still human and ended up breaking both legs.

"...ow..." She kept a surprisingly good face, but winced. She turned to the jun-akuma. "And I bet you can't help a broken leg?"

"You idiot," said Aster, appearing by her side. "Now your legs are broken. Come on, we're chasing her." For Arina was now going off in a gondola with the speed of a speedboat with only a pike.

Aster and Chrys loaded Akai into an empty gondola. Aster turned back to Chrys. "Hold on."

She threw aside the pike and pulled out her staff... and drove it into the water.

The gondola took off with the speed of a speedboat and the control of a stampeding rhino. It was surprising that the gondola didn't break from the force of all of the crashes it was making.

"Aaaah..." complained Akai (the pain of her breaking her legs was getting to her).

"Shut up," said Aster. "This is your fault."

"This is not my fault!" yelled Akai vehemently. "Just get to the Sue!"

Aster's gondola smashed forward into Arina's (extremely graceful-looking yet inexplicably speedy) gondola, creating a large smash. Aster wondered how this looked to the other citizens of Neo-Venezia…

Arina smacked Aster in the face, starting to pummel her. Aster flailed, but simply wasn't capable enough to deflect.

Then Akai took out her vuvuzela and blew it in Arina's ear.

Immediately Arina tried to cover her ears.

And quickly, Aster took the opportunity to pick up Arina and shove her into a portal back to the Library.


"We caught the Sue. Now I'm bored."

Aster looked around dully, now with nothing to do with her mission over.

"How… how's Akai?" asked Chrys.

"Still in the medical wing. It'll take a while for her legs to heal, but seriously. Jumping off a two-story building? That was stupid, kyaa."
"I was inspired!" yelled Akai from the medical wing.
"Yeah," said Aster. "Can someone take away her vuvuzela? She's blowing it whenever she gets bored."
"Hm…" said Chrys. Then she brightened up. "Wanna go take a trip around Neo-Venezia? It's so pretty…"
"Yeah…and we'll get tipped over when Ai screws up her gondola steering. Eh, let's go get some ramen."
They headed to the kitchen, with Akai yelling in the background, "Remember to get me some too!"