Friday, November 15, 2013

Insert Multiple-Homicidal Counterpart Here

I want domination
I want your submission
I see you're not resisting
To this temptation

I've got one confession
A love deprivation
I've got a jet black heart
It's all fucked up and it's falling apart

Whoa, I never give in
Whoa, I never give up
Whoa, I never give in
And I just wanna be, wanna be loved
-Papa Roach, To Be Loved

"See anything yet?" Ben asked. Avak shook his head, dejected.

"We'll find one eventually," Lily said bracingly.

"We've been finding ones for an hour now," Shirley grumbled.

Ben glared over his shoulder at the Clichè Stick as Avak winced. "You know as well as I do that we have to find the perfect one, Shirley. That's just the order of things."

"Whatever," Shirley snorted, folding her arms.

The four of them were exploring an enormous room located somewhere deep in the Library. The chamber was filled with musical instruments of every kind, color and variety. Everything from flutes, to oriental gongs to electronic keyboards streched from one end of the room to the other, neatly arranged in categorized rows. Such was the variety of instruments, that Ben, Shirley, Avak and Lily had no clue how to even play some of them, and several resembled torture devices more than musical apparatus.

At the moment, the four friends were searching for a bass guitar for Avak. Simply finding the bass section was hard enough, but once they located it, they were faced with an even greater challenge: deciding on which one to pick. It wasn't an easy choice. Fender's, Gibson's, Ibanez and Yamaha brand instruments of every style and color populated the section. Some of the selections were traditional shapes, while others were wild and shocking.

"What about this one?" Ben asked, stopping in front of a black Epiphone-brand bass.

Avak glanced at it and shook his head. "No... That's not it either."

"Do you even know what you're looking for?" Lily asked.

"I'll know it when I see it." Avak replied.

Lily raised an eyebrow at Ben, who shrugged. "That's just the way these things go," he said. "You'd understand if you were a musician."

"How is the band doing anyway?" Lily asked as Avak took a bass down off it's peg, slipping the strap over his shoulder and moving his hands across the strings experimentally.

Ben shrugged. "Well, now that we've got Avak playing bass, all we need is a vocalist and we're set."

Lily nodded, but she was less than thrilled. She had hoped that once Ben was released from cleaning duty, he'd have more free time, but unfourtnately that wasn't the case. Instead, Ben began devoting his spare energy into the band and as a result Lily was seeing even less of him if that were possible. Now she could only hope that once the bands line-up had been finalized and they got some songs written, Ben's schedule would open up again.

"So have you seen anything you like yet, Avak?" Ben asked, turning to face his creation.

"No..." Avak sighed, eyeing a Les Paul.

"Mabye this would be easier if we knew what you were looking for?" Lily suggested.

"A bass?" Shirley asked sarcastically.

"I mean what kind of bass," Lily glared.

"Is ther a particular brand you're after?" Ben asked, ignoring the feuding females.

"Not really," Avak replied looking around. "All I'm looking for is..." This eyes lit up. "That!"

Ben followed his gaze and raised an eyebrow. "Not bad..." He murmured.

Moving down the row, Avak took a bass off it's stand and pulled the strap over his neck. As soon as his fingers touched the strings, Avak knew he'd found the right instrument. He plucked the top string, letting the deep, rich tone of the bass hang in the air for several seconds before it slowly faded. There was silence for a moment before Lily asked, "So I take it that's the right one?"

Now it was Shirley's turn to glare at her rival.

The body Avak's new bass was more rounded and considerably slimmer than your average bass, with a rich blue body and a black pickguard.

"A Silvertone Revolver," Ben said, leaning over to read the brand name and type off the stand. "Good choice," He straightened up, grinning. "Well, I guess I'll go ahead and edit your base fic then,"

"So he'll be able to play it just like that?" Lily asked, snapping her fingers.

"Well, he'll still have to practice to be any good at it," Ben explained. "But now he'll have more of a natural bent for it. Plus-" his Communicator went off, interrupting him. "Sorry," Ben grimaced, pulling the device out and turning away. "Hello?"

Bored, Shirley wandered off several rows over to admire various drum kits that were on display. Lily turned back to Avak, who was moving his fingers across the fretboard in various positions. "Avak?" she asked.

Avak looked up from his new instrument. "Yeah?"

"Are you sure this is what you want?" Lily asked quietly so she wouldn't be overheard. "I mean, this isn't just because he asked you, is it?" She gestured behind her at Ben.

Avak was quiet for a moment. "Not entirely," he replied. "I mean, that's part of it, but I still want to do this too, so..." He shrugged.

Lily nodded. "Well as long as you're sure." She said.

"I am."

Lily looked over her shoulder. Ben was still on his Communicator. When she turned back around, Avak was looking at her with a strange expression on his face. He looked like he was about to say something when Ben came back over.

"That was Michael," He said, turning his Communicator off and shoving it back into his pocket. "Another Stu popped up, and he asked me to take care of it, but I talked him out of it,"

Lily's eyes widened. "You ditched a mission?"

Ben shrugged. "It was a weakling anyway. Michael said he'd send Jared and Chloe after it. Besides, we need to get you rocking!" He said, turning to Avak.

Avak nodded as he took his new bass off from around his shoulder and began storing it in the unzipped carrying bag tucked underneath the stand he'd taken it from. "So what are you going to go do?" Ben asked Lily as Avak slung the case over his shoulder and straightened up.

Lily shrugged, "Problably go back to playing Halo: Reach,"

Ben laughed, "Isn't this like, your third play-through?"

"Something like that,"

"Well, whatever makes you happy," Ben chuckled. "C'mon, Avak,"

The four went their separate ways once they'd made their way back to the commons area, Ben and Avak to Avak's room to acquaint him with his new instrument, while Shirley went to meet up with Leonard and do whatever it was mutated freaks like them did when they were alone together. Nobody really wanted to know.

Several hours later, Lily was watching the game credits for Reach scroll by again, when Charis walked in. "Hey, Lily," She said in greeting, "Do you know where Avak's room is?"

"Avak?" Lily asked, setting down the Xbox 360 controller and getting up.

"Yeah, I need to talk to him about something,"

Lily shrugged, "Sure, c'mon,"

Avak readily responded to Lily's knock and when the two girls walked in, they found his new bass grumbling under his fingers, it's rich, warm tones easily filling the small room.

Lily raised an eyebrow as his solo ended. "Looks like Ben's editing really did the trick. Where is he anyway?" She asked looking around.

Avak shrugged. "He stuck around just long enough to ensure I knew how to play, gave me some music to practice, then left. He said he had something else to take care of."

Charis nodded. "I'd heard you'd gotten a bass," She held out a hand. "Cough it up," She demanded.

"What?" Avak's eyes widened and his grip tightened on his bass.

Charis sighed. "Avak, if you're going to be a combat Agent, you need some way to fight. And since you don't have any powers, I'm turning Abraxis into a weapon for you."

"Abraxis?" Lily asked. Charis shrugged. "I figured I'd stick with the whole alliterative-dragon thing. Ben and Bahamut. Avak and Abraxis, you know." She turned back to Avak. "So, c'mon. Hand it over."

Avak swallowed hard and hesitantly removed it from around his neck and, after a breif pause, handed it to Charis. The techie turned it this way and that in her hands, nodding in satisfaction. "Yeah, this should work just fine. OK, see ya!" And with that, she was gone.

Avak looked at Lily helplessly. Lily laughed. "Don't worry, Abraxis will be fine. Charis is problably less likely to break it than you are."

"Wasn't she the one who made Bahamut?" Avak asked. "No, that was Camille. Charis repaired it after our battle though."

Avak nodded, though he still looked troubled.

"Don't worry," Lily said, smiling. "You're more likely to break Abraxis than she is."

Avak didn't look convinced.


Lily was half-way through breakfast when her Communicator beeped. She sighed, drained her glass of and pulled the gadget out. "Yeah?"

"Lily?" It was Michael. "Is Avak with you?"

"No, but I can find him, why?"

"We've finally found a mission for him. Level 3 Sue in The One fandom. Get on it ASAP." With that he broke the connection.

Lily sighed. She'd been hoping to spend today learning to play Yu-Gi-Oh!, but it looked as if that were out of the question now. She took another bite of toast before pushing her chair back from the table. Finding Avak should be easy enough, given how much time he spent in the Medical Wing. She just hoped Charis had Abraxis battle-ready...

Charis was putting her tools away and chatting with Karissa who sat on a tall stool, letting her feet swing back and forth when Lily knocked on the door to her lab.

"Hey! Perfect timing you two!" Charis exclaimed, closing a drawer. Lily returned the greeting, but Avak hung back in the doorway awkardly. Karissa shot him a kind smile. "Hey, Avak, how are you?" She asked.

Avak smiled back shyly, ducking his head. "Fine," he replied softly.

"I'm assuming you're here because you want your bass back?" Charis asked.

Lily nodded. "A Level 3 Sue just popped up, so I'm taking Avak out after it."

"A low-level, huh?" Charis asked. "Sounds like the perfect field test for Abraxis." She grinned at Avak. "I think you'll like this."

She walked over to where the blue bass sat on the steel workbench and held it up. "Like the changes I made?" She asked.

Avak frowned. "I don't see any changes..." He said.

Charis smirked. "Exactly. Here, try pushing this."

"The tone knob?"

"Yeah, go ahead," Charis held the intstrument out so Avak could push the button.

Avak frowned suspiciously, but dutifully reached out and pushed the knob. He yelped in surprise and jumped back as a twin pair of axe heads suddenly shot out from either side of Abraxis' body with a loud *SCHRANG!*

Charis giggled and Karissa shot her sister a disapproving look. "Sorry," Charis apologized, seeing Avak's wide-eyed expression. "But I couldn't resist."

"So, you turned his bass into a literal axe," Lily said, walking over to get a better look, "Not much for thinking outside the box, are we?"

Charis grinned wryly and shrugged. "Give it a swing or two and tell me what you think," She said handing Abraxis to Avak, who took his new weapon by the neck gingerly and took several steps back, hefting it experimentally. "It feels light," He said.

"That's because I balanced it almost perfectly," Charis replied as Avak gave Abraxis a few slow, experimental swings. "I used an extremely strong metal alloy to reinforce the body and edge the blades too, so you shouldn't have to worry about ever breaking it." She snapped her fingers. "Oh, I almost forgot! Try turning the tone knob," Avak frowned, but did as he was told, and twisted the button marked "Tone".

"Now try swinging it," Charis said, grinning evilly. "Charis," Karissa said reproachfully, but it was too late. Avak swung Abraxis again and was knocked off his feet as an invisible force ripped Abraxis out of his hand and sent it flying across the room where it embedded its axe-head into the wall.

"What was that?" Lily asked as Avak got to his feet unsteadily, eyeing Abraxis as one would a poisonous snake.

"That was another invention of mine," Charis explained around giggles as Avak tried to pull his bass from the wall. Unfourtnately, he was already so scared of Abraxis that he was unwilling to pull to very hard.

"It's an inertia multiplier. It takes the force of your swing and increases it exponentially. The tone knob controls the magnitude of the swings enhancement. Careful not to turn it up too high though, or you could end up killing someone,"

By now, Avak had finally gotten Abraxis out of the wall with Karissa's help, and was searching for a way to retract the blades.

Lily chuckled. "I don't think we have to worry about Avak killing anybody."

Charis shrugged. "True. Just be careful."

"Right," Lily said, pulling out her Plothole Generator. "Ready Avak?" Avak nodded, having finally figured out how to retract the blades on Abraxis and slung it across his back.

The bass's fretboard was too long to allow it to hang diagonally downards like Bahamut, so Avak had the fretboard angling upward diagonally to the left. He looked rather pale and somewhat shell-shocked from his encounter with his new weapon.

"You know, I'm gonna be shocked if he survives the mission, even if the Sue IS Level 3," Charis said once Lily and Avak have disappeared into a plothole.

Karissa elbowed her sister.


The One was a sci-fi martial arts film inspired by the bullet-time craze spawned in the wake of The Matrix movies, although The One never acheived the same level of popularity. The premise of the film centered around the concept of the existence hundreds alternate realities, in which dwelled alternate versions of every person alive, all bound by a common thread of life energy. When one of those alternate verisons died, the remaining life energy was equally divided among the survivors, making all of them stronger, faster and more intelligent. When an interdimensional law enforcer named Yu-law discovered this, he went rogue, hunting down and killing his doubles to absorb their power, ganing increasingly inhuman levels of strength until only one copy, Gabriel Law, remained. With the two of them at equal levels of god-like strength, a battle between the two of them would only leave The One standing.

"Is he done yet?" Lily asked as she leaned against the lip of the edge of the roof she and Avak were currently crouching on, fiddling with her Communicator. vak glanced back at the Narrator who shot him a thumbs up before vanishing. "I think so," He replied. "Does he always do that?"

"Every now and then," Lily replied off-handedly. It was currently night in The One, and she was having trouble seeing well enough in the dark to work her Communicator. She finally got it running and held it up. "Hey, Rhia, you there?" She asked.

"I'm here," The Library's resident chef replied.

"Do you have the info on the Sue for us?"

"Yep," Rhia replied. "I was right, apparently the Sue's holed up in the hospital over there. Be careful though, apparently there's gonna be at least two big fight scenes in the building in the next half-hour or so, but as long as you stay away from them you should be fine,"

"I doubt that's going to be an option," Lily said. "Two fight scenes in that short a time period? It'd be the perfect place for the Sue to intervene."

"Good point," Rhia admitted. "So what are you going to do?"

"I think our best bet is to see if we can't get Gabriel Copyrighted first, before the Sue can do anything to him,"

"What about Yul-aw?"

"I get the feeling he'd try to kill us rather than stand quietly and let us slap a giant sticker on his forehead."

"OK, then. Be careful!"

"You don't have to tell me twice," Lily muttered, turning the device off.

To be completely honest with herself she had to admit that she had other motives for wanting to catch the Sue than to just give Avak some field experence. After Matthew Slaymaker had escaped from her twice in a row, she was losing confidence in herself. Mabye helping Avak catch this Sue would help restore some of that lost confidence.

"OK, here's the plan," Lily said standing, "We track Gabriel down and get him Copyrighted, then wait for the Sue and ambush her. I'll distract her while you sneak up from behind and prohibit her. Got it? Avak nodded, rising also, "I just have two questions though,"


"One, how exacly did we get onto this roof? And two, how do we get down?"


It was the singing that woke Ben, which made him frown in consternation. That voice was beautiful. Had he died and gone to heaven? Sure, Shirley had ripped out his femur and stabbed him with it repeatedly, making an organ-kebab, but he'd been through worse. Much worse. So then why was he hearing angels? Then he opened his eyes and realized he was back in his designated medical wing bed. The singing he'd heard had been Valerie's.

Ben's eyes widened. He'd never heard the healer sing before, and couldn't help but wonder why not. If he had a voice like that, he'd never stop singing. He waited until she'd finished her song before politely appluading.

Valerie jumped and whirled, "Oh... I-I thought you were still asleep," She blushed.

"I was until a minute ago," Ben grunted, pushing himself up to a sitting position. It was remarkable how much more flexible you became without half your ribs and 90% of your so-called 'vital organs', "That was beautiful."

"I... usually don't sing around other people," Valerie admitted, embarrased.

"Why not?" Ben asked, "You've got a gift! You shouldn't hide something like that."

"I know," Valerie admitted, "I'm just... kind of self-conscious about it."

She looked away, and an idea began to form in Ben's mind. Valerie had never shown any preferences for metal, true, but it couldn't hurt to ask...

"Hey, Valerie?" He asked. She looked up. "Me and Jess have been looking for a vocalist for our band," He raised a questioning eyebrow, "You interested?"

Valerie's eyes widened. "M-me? B-but I don't know anything about heavy metal!"

Ben shrugged. "Neither does Avak, but he's learning,"

"But aren't you playing death metal? All that screaming and yelling and stuff?"

"It's symphonic death metal actually," Ben said, "It won't be all screaming, there'll be plenty of regular singing too,"

"S-still... I've heard the type of music you listen to, Ben, and I can't yell like that..."

"Have you tried?" Ben grinned.


"It's really not that hard, c'mon, try it! Aaaaaargh!" He growled.

Valerie blushed and cleared her throat. "Um... rrrrrrrr..."

Ben rolled his eyes. "Valerie, that sounded like a kitten. C'mon, get angry! Aaaaargh!"


"And that sounded like a puppy, but still better! Gaaaaah!"






By now, Ben and Valerie were almost nose-to-nose, staring into each others half-crazed eyes, panting heavily. They stayed like that for a moment, when a noise drew their attention and they both turned to see a wide-eyed Emily standing in the doorway, staring at them with a terrified expression on her face. Before either of them could say anything, she scuttled back through the door and vanished.

Ben and Valerie glanced at each other before dissolving into laughter. "Y-you see?" Ben gasped when the laughter had subsided. "You're actually pretty good at it!"

"I-I guess so," Valerie giggled, wiping a tear from her eye.

"So, how about it? Care to join the band?"

Valerie bit her lip before nodding. "I really don't know what I'd sing though..."

"No problem," Ben said, fishing around in his pocket. "I'm in charge of the lyrics and I was just working on a song before Shirley decided to give me open-claw surgery. Try this," He said, holding out a wrinkled peice of folded paper. "It's my magnum opus. I've been working on it for years, but never really had a band to play it with until now."

Valerie carefully unfolded the paper and began to read off the words, "Red dawn / There's blood in the sky / Only the good die young / And only the young survive..."


The hospital was as ordinary on the inside as on the outside. If not for the fact that two superhuman beings were about to duke it out inside soon, it would have gone unnoticed by the rest of the fandom.

"Try not to look so nervous," Lily hissed to Avak as they walked down the hallway in the direction the Library's monitors indicated the Sue was hiding, "You'll draw attention to yourself."

Avak nodded, but he still looked very uneasy. They had arrived at the hospital several minutes before Gabriel showed up and the first of the two battles began, so Lily decided to try and at least locate the Sue first, that way they could keep an eye on her before they made their move.

"How will we know the Sue when we see it?" Avak asked.

Lily shrugged. "We'll just know is all, Sues aren't exactly the most subtle of characters."

Avak frowned as they rounded a corner. "Okay, but-Oof!" He was cut off as a girl came flying around the corner and collided with him head on, sending them both sprawling.

"Sorry," Avak apologized as he got to his feet, "Are you OK?"

The girl scrambled to her feet desperately, a wild, frightened look in her eyes. She was
dressed in slim black jeans, a black tank-top and had a beautiful heart-shaped face, framed by shoulder-length hair that matched her clothes. "A-are you from the Society?" She asked shakily.

Lily's eyes narrowed. "The Society?"

"You've got to help me, he's coming!" The girl said in a panic. "He already knows I'm here and if he finds me, he'll kill me!"

"Who? Who's going to kill you?" Lily asked. Was this the Sue?

"There's no time!" The girl shouted, grabbing Avak by the wrist, and turning to run, "We've got to get out of here before he-"

"Found you."

All color drained from the girl's face at the sight of the boy in the hallway. He was dressed in all black, like her, but his clothing had a more militant feel to it, as if he were wearing armor rather than a jacket and jeans.

He smirked cruelly. "I have to say, you led me on quite the merry chase, Ashley, but it ends here."

Lily's communicator squaked from her pocket and Rhia's urgent voice came through. "Lily! Lily are you there? A Level 7 Stu just showed up in The One! I repeat, a Level 7 in The One! Get Avak out of there, now!"

Lily's eyes widened as she realized what was going on, but Avak was still clueless as he moved to stand in front of Ashley. "What do you want?" He demanded, one hand reaching for Abraxis.

"He's been after me for a week now," Ashley said, her voice shaking. "He's trying to kill me."

"What? Who are you?" Avak demanded, pulling Abraxis off his back and holding it towards the Stu threateningly.

"Oh, have I not introduced myself? My name is Ash. Ash Harth. And the quivering coward behind you is Ashley Harken, one of my dopplegangers," his grin was manevolent. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Now if you would kindly stand aside, I'll be killing her and be on my way,"

Ashley took a step backwardsn involuntarily. Lily reached out and took her by the elbow, pulling the Sue back, her face hard. "Stay back, we'll handle this,"

"I won't let you hurt her," Avak said determinedly, pushing the Tone knob and releasing the axe blades on Abraxis.

"Avak, let me take care of this," Lily ordered firmly, walking up to face Ash who was a good head taller than her.

Avak's eyes widened, "But, Lily-"

"Avak, he's Level 7, you wouldn't stand a chance against him. I'll hold him off long enough for you and Ashley to get away and get back to the Library, now move!"

Avak hesitated for a moment, then grabbed Ashely by the hand and took off down the hallway. Lily looked about, assessing their surroundings. Apparently the hall they were down was some kind of maintenence area, so there were no patients around. Good.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Ash asked patronizingly. "It's not too late you know. I have no quarrel with you or your Society. Step aside now and I'll have no reason to harm you,"

"I don't think so," Lily replied, raising her hands in a battle stance.

Ash sighed resignatedly. "It's your funeral."

Then his fist appeared out of nowhere, filling her vision at an impossibly fast rate. Instinctively, Lily activated Top Gear and teleported behind Ash, but even so it was a close thing. She could still feel the wind from his fist's flyby ruffling her hair. "Excalibur!" She shouted, snapping a hand up, and sending a stream of lightning barreling at the back of Ash's head. Ash's head snapped to one side at an inhuman speed and the lightning blasted past to blow a hole in the wall at the end of the corridor.

Reaching out, Ash grabbed a janitor's cart filled with trash bags and cleaning supplies and whirled, hurling the whole thing at Lily with one hand.

"Live Slow, Die Fast!" she barked, and caught the cart in mid air with the telekinetic Pin, bottles and cans spilling out of it as it hung suspended in mid-air. With a flick of her wrist, Lily sent the cart flying back at Ash who hauled back a fist and punched it mid-flight, crushing it.

Thinking quickly, Lily knelt, scooped up a bottle of detergent and rose, all in one smooth movement, muttering "Egg Bomb," under her breath before hurling it at Ash.

Ash eyed the makeshift projectile as it flew towards him skeptically. "You've got to be joking," He said disbelievingly, "Is that really the best you can do?" He didn't even bother moving out of the way as the bottle arced towards him, "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," He said, "After all-" He was cut off as the bottle exploded in his face, stunning him.

Now! Lily activated Top Gear again and teleported past Ash, breaking into a dead run in the direction Avak had taken Ashley in.

Ash shook his head, clearing the stars from his vision. "Not bad, not bad at all..." He murmured, turning to look after the fleeing Lily. "But not good enough,"


"Where are we going?" Ashley asked as she and Avak sprinted through the hospital hallways, drawing shouts from doctors and nurses as they passed. "I need to get you away from here," Avak panted, "Then we'll get you back to the Library where you'll be safe."

"What about that girl you were with? We can't just leave her back there, Ash will kill her!"

"You don't know Lily like I do," Avak replied, "Trust me, she can take care of herself,"

"But Ash-"

"Here!" Avak cried, as the hallway they were running down opened into the lobby. The two ran out the front door of the hospital, ignoring the protests of the receptionist as they slowed to a stop out into the parking lot.

"Okay," Ashley gasped. "Do your thing, let's get out of here and-" She stopped, "What's wrong?" She asked, seeing Avak's face go white.

"I just realized, I don't have a Plothole Generator!" Avak groaned, patting his pockets frantically.

"What?" Ashley demanded. "How did you even get here in the first place, then?"

"We used Lily's! And I forgot to get one from Charis before we left." He froze. "I've gotta go back and help her!"

"Who, Lily? And who's Charis?"

"I'll be right back! Just wait here!" With that, Avak dashed back into the hospital.

"Wait!" Ashely shouted after him, but Avak was already gone. She stamped her foot in frustration.

"Excuse me? Is everything all right?" Ashely turned to see an Asian police officer and a woman who appeared to be his wife standing behind her. Ashley stared at them for a moment, before an evil grin crawled across her face. "Hello, Officer Gabriel..."


Lily ducked, shards of ice flying past her head as Ash's fist shattered the Ice Blow icicle like sugar glass. She shoved a palm towards the Stu, sending another blast of lightning in his direction with a cry of "Excalibur!"

Ash snorted and didn't even bother dodging, the energy bolt striking him in the chest and dissipating. Lily growled, gritting her teeth in frustration as Ash shook his head in a combination of regret and disgust. "Give it up, you haven't a hope of defeating me," He started towards Lily, who grabbed another bottle that had fallen off the janitor's cart, charged it with Egg Bomb and tossed it at him. The makeshift explosive exploded against his shoulder, jerking it back, but otherwise having no effect.

"If you had just stood aside earlier, we could have avoided all this unplesantness," He said. "As it is, I fear it's time to end this charade,"

Lily set her jaw and triggered Top Gear again, vanishing in a puff of air. Ash just rolled his eyes and lashed out with a fist. Lily materialized a split second before his fist caught her in the chin with the force of a freight train, knocking her off her feet and sending her flying back down the hallway where she hit the linoleium floor and slid several feet, barely conscious.

Ash was standing over her before she could blink and the next thing she knew, his hand was around her throat and he had lifted her of the floor, her feet dangling uselessly a foot off the ground. "Remember," Ash said, his voice growing fainter as he strangled her with one hand, "This was your decision."

Lily barely heard him, everything was getting dark and it was hard to think. Her hands were clutching at his fingers, but she may as well have been clawing at a brick wall. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was frantically trying to find the mental commands to activate one of her Pins, but it was no use. Consciousness was slipping away from her.

Just when everything was about to go black though, Avak appeared from nowhere, swinging Abraxis at Ash with all his strength. The force of the blow made Ash drop Lily and send him stumbling backwards, Abraxis' blade having torn through his clothing and opened a deep gash in his side.

"Agh!" He groaned, whirling to face this new threat, "You little punk!" He roared, striking out with his foot. Avak instinctively jerked to one side, but not fast enough to avoid the kick; which glanced off his ribs and knocked the breath from his lungs. Ash hauled back his fist for a mighty punch, giving Avak enough time to instinctively raise Abraxis to protect himself. Ash's fist clanged off Abraxis' body and he screamed in pain, even Stu-ified flesh and blood being no match for Charis' metalwork.

Meanwhile, Lily had somewhat recovered enough to regain coherent thought. Avak was fighting the Stu by himself now, she realized. He may have caught Ash off-guard, but he couldn't hold him for long. Squeezing her eyes shut, she shoved the pain in her body aside and forced all her mental energy into her Pins. C'mon... C'mon... C'monnn... YES! She got to her feet, swaying unsteadily and wrapped both hands around the handle of the Wild Line energy blade. Ash was still clutching his hand, but was starting to recover. With a scream of rage, he raced towards Avak, who was still trying to regain his balance. With a ragged shout, Lily lunged forward and brought the sword in her hands down across Ash's back, falling to her knees as the world spun about her from the effort.

Ash screeched in agony as the blade sliced through his shirt and laid his back open. He whirled on Lily, eyes flaming with hate as blood began to pour from his back, joining the stream from his already-bleeding side. He started staggering towards Lily, Avak forgotten, when a figure appeared from nowhere and sent him flying backwards into the wall.

Before Ash could recover, Gabriel Law was all over him, fists and feet flying at absurdly high velocities. Stunned and weakened from his wounds, Ash was steadily forced backwards as he desperately tried to block Gabriel's blows.

"You OK, Lily?" Avak asked, rushing over. Lily nodded weakly, still massaging her bruised throat. "Avak, what are you doing here?" She asked weakly, keeping one eye on the fight. "I thought I told you to escape with Ashley."

"We couldn't, I don't have a Plothole Generator!" Avak explained.

Lily's eyes widened. "You don't?"

"I forgot to get one from Charis earlier, remember?"

"That's right," Lily moaned. "What about Ashley?"

"I'm fine," Ashley replied, walking up from behind.

"I thought I told you to wait outside!" Avak said as he helped Lily to her feet.

"I brought you some help," Ashley said, nodding towards Gabriel, who was continuing his relentless assualt on Ash.

"That was you?" Lily gasped, "You shouldn't have done that! Who knows how manipulating the main character like that might affect the plot?"

"I didn't see as how I had much of a choice," Ashley countered. "There's no way you could've beaten Ash by yourself. You've seen how strong he is. Besides, Gabriel seems to be doing a pretty good job of taking care of Ash by himself!"

Avak and Lily turned back to the fight. The two combatants limbs were moving at blazing speeds, striking and blocking almost faster than the eye could follow, but even at such monstrous speeds, the outcome of the battle was clear. Ash was purely on the defensive and rapidly losing ground, even the power of a Level 7 Gary-Stu paling before the strength of The One. Gabriel's blows fell on him with the force of sledgehammers and any blows that got past Ash's defenses were invariably accompanied by the sound of cracking bone or bruising flesh.

Ash gritted his teeth against the pain that was being inflicted on his battered body at an almost continuous rate. Winning was out of the question, those damned Society Agents had already injured him too much from their battle, and if The One was stronger than himself, than he was almost certainly faster as well. His eyes narrowed as his forearm nearly snapped in half from the force of a blocked punch. There was only one chance.

He leaped backwards, grabbed another janitor's trolley and hurled it at Gabriel's head with all his might. Gabriel ducked to avoid it, and Ash capitalized on the opening, his foot slamming into Gabriel's head and knocking him backwards. Before Gabriel could recover, Ash dashed past him and down the hall, escaping. Meanwhile, the trolley went crashing down the hallway towards the three spectators.

"Move it!" Ashley shouted, pushing Avak and Lily out of the way and reaching out with both hands in an attempt to stop the runaway projectile. Before either Avak or Lily could move, the trolley crashed into Ashley head on, knocking the breath from her lungs and blowing her backwards.

"Ashley! Are you OK?" Lily asked running over to where the Sue lay sprawled across the linolieum. She raised her head groggily, "I'm...I'm fine..." She wheezed, trying to sit up, stars swirling in her vision.

"Don't push yourself," Lily advised.

Down the hallway, Gabriel had recovered and was shaking his head, trying to clear the stars from his vision. "Looks like Ashley's lost her control over him," Lily said, watching the character look around the wrecked hallway in confusion.

Avak turned to follow her gaze just in time to catch a glimpse of black vanishing around the corner. "Damn! Ash is getting away!" He shouted, jumping to his feet. "Stay here with Ashley, I'll go after him!"

"What? Wait!" Lily called after him, but Avak was already half-way down the hallway and out of earshot.

Avak rounded the corner Ash had turned down, only to find the Stu nowhere in sight.

"Hey, which way did he go?" Avak shouted at a nearby nurse, his shyness forgotten in the stress of the situation. The nurse blinked. "Who?" She asked in confusion. "The guy in black!" Avak yelled, "Which way did he go?" The nurse pointed towards a set of stairs and Avak ran towards them.

The door at the top of the stairs was open, confirming that Ash had fled this way. When Avak ran, he found himself on the roof of the hospital. It didn't take him long to spot Ash, who was running across the roof as fast as his legs, injured during his battle with Gabriel, would carry him.

"Hold it!" Avak shouted, giving chase.

Ash glanced over his shoulder and picked up his pace, forcing his battered body into a run. Avak slowed as they neared the edge of the hospital roof. Where was Ash going to go? As if in response, Ash increased his speec and jumped off the edge of the roof, flying across the street to crash onto the roof of the building on the other side.

He laughed wildly as he jumped to his feet, turning to face Avak who stood, stunned at the edge of the hospital roof. "How'd you like that, you little shit?" He shouted mockingly. "Think you can catch me now?"

Avak gritted his teeth and narrowed his eyes. He couldn't let Ash escape, no matter what! He only had one shot at this. Reaching across Abraxis' body, he twisted the Tone knob, cranking it from one, up to ten.

"What? Giving up so easily?" Ash shouted as Avak turned and ran back across the roof.

"Not by a long shot!" Avak growled as he turned and raced back towards towards the rdge of the roof at a dead sprint. He jumped off the edge of the roof at full speed and swung the Abraxis with all his strength in mid-air. The device embedded inside Abraxis kicked in, multiplying the force of the swing exponentially and this time, Avak didn't let go.

Ash's eyes barely had time widen in shock as Abraxis drug Avak through the air and across the gap between the two buildings before the Agent crashed into him like a football linebacker and sent them both sprawling. The impact knocking Abraxis from Avak's grasp and sent the weaponized bass sliding across the roof.

Avak got to his feet first, but Ash grabbed his leg and yanked him back down. Ash's first punch stunned the Agent, and soon Avak's world was filled with stars, blow after blow raining down on him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized that they hurt, but at the moment he was unable to focus on anything but the endless fists.

Ash's mind was filled with a blind rage as he pummeled Avak, his eyes blazing with undistilled madness. Escaping was no longer a priority for him, instead, the urge to kill was getting stronger.

He breifly halted his assualt and watched Avak's eyes roll in their sockets, panting. With a snort, he pulled back his fist for a killing blow when he felt the barrel of a gun press against the back of his head, followed a split-second later by a sword blade at his throat.

"I wouldn't move if I were you," Rhia said calmly, holding her sniper rifle on Ash as Cristoph dragged Avak away from the Stu.

"Hey! Hey, Lord Avak! Are you alright?" The ninja asked as he slapped gently at Avak's face and was rewarded when Avak's eyes stopped rolling and tried to focus on the black-garbed figure standing over him. "C-Crissoph?" Avak sluured, still dazed and Cristoph breathed a sigh of releif.

There was a puff of air as Lily teleported across from the hospital roof, bringing Ashley with her.

"Is he OK?" Lily asked, hurrying over as Cristoph helped Avak to his feet, supporting him with one arm. "He should be fine," Cristoph assured her. "He managed to prevent Ash from escaping long enough for us to get here," He said as Rhia cuffed Ash with a Prohibitor and pushed him through a Plothole.

"Here's his weapon," Ashley said, having gone over to retreive Abraxis from where it fell. "T-thanks," Avak stuttered, still trying to blow the fog from his mind. He was standing on his own now, although his stance was still rather unsteady.

"Who is this?" Christoph asked, eyeing Ashley suspiciously.

"This is Ashely Harken, she's the Sue we came here after originally," Lily explained. "She was the one who helped us beat Ash,"

"I didn't do that much," Ashley protested.

"You brought Gabriel to us when we needed him the most," Lily pointed out. "If you hadn't, Ash might've killed both of us, even if he was weakened. Plus, you protected both me and Avak from that trolley. I'd say that counts as helping us,"

"In that case, you have our thanks, Lady Ashley," Christoph said, bowing, "I'm sorry," He continued apologetically, holding up a Prohibitor, "But I'm going to have to Prohibit you before you can come with us back to the Library."

"Do we have to?" Avak asked hesitantly. Christoph shrugged. "The Plothole won't allow her through otherwise."

Ashley hesistated for a moment, but nodded and obligingly held out a wrist for Christoph to attach the cuff too.

"I'm assuming that's the last one?" Christoph asked wryly.

Lily rolled her eyes and nodded.

"Good. Let's go home," Christoph said, opening another Plothole.


Once back at the Library, the assembled Agents from The One mission met in Michael's office, along with Ben, Shirley Valerie and Ashley. Surprisingly, Ashley readily agreed to Permanent Prohibition. When asked why, she shrugged.

"Being a Sue is what got me into all this trouble in the first place, isn't it? Good riddance," She snorted. "Our Author was a complete idiot anyway,"

"Our?" Lily asked.

"Yeah, me and Ash came from the same fic, didn't you guess?" Ashley asked.

"Seems pretty obvious now..." Lily muttered.

"Well, I have to thank you for helping our Agents," Michael said graceously. "And once you're Prohibited, you're free to take the entrace exam if you'd like to join our Society,"

Ashley raised an eyebrow. "Seriously?"

"I used to be a Sue," Lily offered, "They took me in, why wouldn't they you? You haven't done anything wrong,"

Ashley frowned at Lily for a moment before recognition dawned in her eyes. "Hey! You're Bella Aubrey, aren't you?"

Everyone in the room winced, but Lily just smiled. "I used to be. My name is Lily Adamson now."

Ashley considered it a moment longer, but still shook her head. "Thanks but no thanks. I appreciate the offer and all, but I've had enough excitement in one day to last me a lifetime."

Michael shrugged. "It's your decision," He said, "But if you ever change your mind, you're welcome to join us. In the meantime, Christoph here will show you to the labs for your Permanent Prohibition,"

"So, how did Avak fair on his first mission?" Michael asked, turning his attention to Lily as Christoph showed Ashley out of the office.

"Extremely well, actually," Lily reported, "He saved me from Ash, and if not for him, Ash might have escaped all together."

Michael nodded appreciatively. "That's a good sign. He'll make a powerful Agent someday."

"So?" Ben asked, leaning forward in his chair. "Does that mean I have the go-ahead for Project Warpath?" He asked eagerly.

Valerie's face suddenly and suspiciously went neutral, but Lily didn't notice this. She was transfixed by Ben's eyes, which had suddenly developed a mad gleam to them. She finally understood what Avak meant when he said Ben's eyes looked 'hungry'. They had a manical quality to them and Lily half expected him to break out into evil laughter at any second. A chill ran down her spine...

Michael considered for a moment, but shook his head. "Avak did an excellent job, according to Lily, but he's only been on one mission so far. Let's wait a little and get some more data before we commit to anything major."

Ben looked dissapointed, but he nodded his head anyway.

"Speaking of Avak, where is he?" Valerie asked, looking around, "He's not in here..."

Ben blinked in confusion. "Wait, what? He's not?"

"He's your own character and you didn't even notice whether or not he was in the same room with you?" Lily asked. "Nice."

"Well, normally he's so quiet..." Ben muttered.

"He caught up with me when I was taking Ash to the basement," Rhia spoke up for the first time, "He said he wanted to be the one to take Ash down there."

Ben's frowned. "Seriously?"

Rhia shrugged. "He seemed pretty serious, so I let him."

"I'd would have thought after how badly Ash beat him, Avak wouldn't want to be anywhere near him..." Valerie said slowly.

Ben shrugged. "Who knows? Mabye Avak's finally growing some backbone..."


Avak had never been down to the basement before, and quavered a little at the thought of descending the dark stairs, but he set his jaw, and tightened his grip on Ash's shoulder.

"Hey, watch it!" Ash snarled as he stumbled on one of the steps. Avak didn't reply, instead nudging the captive to continue.

"You won't be able to keep us down here forever," Ash spat as he continued down the stairs. "We escaped once before and we'll do it again! You heard about what happened the last time we got out, didn't you?" He laughed. "We kicked your Librarian's ass!"

He turned as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Avak stared at Ash impassively. "And you know what else? The next time we escape, I'm coming right for you, you little shit. I'm gonna kill both you and that stupid bitch you were with."

Avak's eyes widened. "What did you just say?" He asked softly. Before Ash could reply, he yanked Abraxis from it's place on his back, not bothering to extend the blades, and drove the weapon into Ash's stomach with all his strength. Ash stumbled backwards and collapsed to his knees, bent double, gasping for air. Pulling back with his weapon again, Avak swung Abraxis like a golf club, smashing the blunt weapon into Ash's face and knocking him onto his back, feeling the cartilige in the Stu's nose crumble. There was blood staining Abraxis when he pulled it back.

Ash writhed around on the floor in agony, his fingers growing bloody as they clutched at his face.

"If you ever say that or anything about Lily ever again," Avak hissed over the sound of Ash's screams, "I'll kill you, do you understand me?" He pulled his leg back and kicked at the twisting form on the floor and was rewarded with an increase in the volume of Ash's screams. He kicked the Stu again and again, his mind an endless haze of fury and only stopped when the sharp *crack* of one of Ash's ribs breaking reached his ears.

He panted for air, watching the Stu beg and plead for mercy at his feet as he tried to compse himself. Finally, he growled, grabbing Ash by a leg and dragging him into a cell before slamming the door and whirling to face the rest of the incarcerated Sues and Stu's. "And the same goes for the rest of you!" He bellowed, pointing a shaking finger them. "If I even think that one of you have so much as insulted Lily, I'll come down here and make you beg for death!"

With that, he stalked up the stairs and slammed the basement door open, his face still a stormy mask of rage. He was greeted by the startled form of Ashley, who had been forced to jump backwards in order to avoid being clobbered by the slamming door. "Oh, sorry," Avak blinked in surprise, his rage subsiding.

Ashley waved it aside. "It's no problem," She frowned. "You're breathing hard. Are you alright?"

"Uh..." Avak thought desperately for an excuse for his excited state. "Ash...he tried to get away and I had to get a little rough with him," It was half true, if an extreme understatement.

"Well I just wanted to say thank you," Ashley said. "If it weren't for you and Lily, chances are I'd be dead right now,"

Avak shrugged. " We were just doing our jobs," He noticed Christoph hovering silently several feet behind Ashley. "What's he here for?" He asked.

"Oh, I opted for Permanent Prohibition," Ashley responded, holding up a wrist surrounded by shiny metal. "I'm not allowed to go home until this takes effect, and they don't want me out of sight, so..." She shrugged.

"Oh, sorry," Avak winced, but Ashley shook her head. "Don't be, it's no big deal. They offered to let me join the Society, but I turned them down. This sort of thing isn't for me,"

"Sorry to hear that," Avak said, dissapointed. "It would've been nice to have you on our side."

Ashley shrugged. "Yeah, well..." She trailed off for a moment, looking at Avak strangely and he felt a blush creep across his face. "Is something wrong?" He asked, uncomfortably.

Ashley glanced over her shoulder at Cristoph. "Could you give us a bit of privacy, please?" She asked sweetly. Cristoph thought about it for a moment, then moved backwards until he was out of earshot, but still able to easily keep both in sight.

"You're in love with Lily, aren't you?" Ashley asked softly, leaning closer to Avak. Avak would've blushed even harder had he not gone pale. He started to protest but Amanda cut him off. "I see the way you look at her, you know."

Avak sighed heavily and nodded slowly. "I can't help it," he muttered.

"I know," Ashley murmured gently. "And she's in love with someone else, isn't she?"

Avak nodded again. "I'm not... entirely sure if he loves her though..."

Ashley cocked her head to one side. "What makes you say that?"

Avak shrugged. "Just the way he's been treating her lately. You don't treat the people you love that way..."

Ashley nodded. "I see. Well, in that case, I wish you luck, Avak."

She leaned in closer to subtly let her lips brush against his cheek, feeling his skin flush in response. She straightened up and stepped back, nodding over her shoulder at Christoph, who walked back over as she said in a normal volume of voice, "Goodbye, Avak. Who knows? Mabye someday we'll meet again."

With that she turned and followed Christoph who led her away.

It was only once they were out of sight that Avak allowed himself to reach up and gently touch the place where Ashley had kissed him with the pads of his fingers.

He smiled.


18 Months ago...

Bella walked slowly across the roof of Gensei Academy, her emerald-green dress gently whispering around her slender form. She took a deep breath, tasting the cool evening air.

Two months. It had been two months since Amanda slated her to die, and although she loved her Author, Bella knew that Amanda didn't love her and that no amount of pleading would convince her to spare her character.

Breaking free from Amanda's control had been an impulse decision, one that she never expected to succseed. Her first test of her constraints were tentative, like reaching for a doorknob you suspected was going to shock you. To her surprise though, Amanda's abombnably poor writing crumbled under her experimental touch. Amanda had tried to contain the literary equivalent of a wild animal in a cage made of wet rice paper.

After her initial attempt, Bella knew there was no going back. She had to break free from Amanda's influence entirely, before her Author noticed, or else she'd either be killed off prematurely, or Amanda would trap her in an even stronger cage of words. As much as Bella loved her Author, she feared the oblivion of literary death even more.

After her escape, she wasn't quite sure what to do at first. Following Amanda's plotline had given a purpose, no matter how flawed that plot might have been. Without that, Bella was all alone and adrift in the world. As she wandered aimlessly around the streets of Shibuya though, she soon realized the common thread tying the lives of all The World Ends With You characters together. Suffering. Underneath their masks of cheer, indifference, or superiority, everyone was being torn apart on the inside by some personal conflict. Amanda had given her the power to change the world with little more than a swish of her hair and a smile, so why not put that power to good use? Her efforts succeeded spectacularly, much to her surprise. Even the most egregious imperfections whithered before her touch and it seemed as if she'd acheived utopia...and then Ben showed up.

Bella walked over to the edge of the roof and placed her hands on the railing, staring at the sunset. At first, Ben had been little more than an annoyance, but as he interfered with her plans time and time again, the annoyance grew, until things had came to a head during their last battle in the Dragon Drive game. She closed her eyes. For some reason, so matter how hard she tried, she coldn't get the nuke-crazy Agent out of her head. He didn't seem like a bad person, so why was he always getting in her way? She was just trying to help people! Couldn't he see that? Her grip tightened on the railing. She couldn't stop thinking about him! There was just... something about him that was so...

There was the familliar sound of a Plothole opening and she turned. Ben stepped through, a guitar slung across his back. His leg had been heavily bandaged, but there was a resolve in his eyes that hadn't been there before. Bella's stomach sank as she realized that this would be their final battle. Only one of them would walk away from this alive.

She took a deep breath. "Hello, Ben."



Present Day...

Lily's eyes opened to darkness and she lay in bed for a moment before realizing it had only been a dream. She sat up, blinking the sleep from her eyes. The glowing red dial of her bedside clock proclaimed that it was after midnight, but she knew that sleep was impossible now. She sighed, flopping onto her back to stare up into the darkness a while longer.

Things hadn't changed much betwen her and Ben since their battle in Buso Renkin a year and a half ago. Lily still had no clue what Ben was doing, or why he was doing it. She could barely remember the last time she had had a real conversation with him alone. The thought hardened until it formed a hard lump that rolled around in her throat. She closed her eyes. She needed to talk to someone. ANYONE. She glanced over at the clock again. It was late true, but... she needed a friend.

She rolled out of bed and padded barefoot out into the hallway. Unsurprisingly, there was nobody around at this hour. Her eyes had already adjusted to the darkness, so she had an easy time navigating down the hall until she reached Karissa's bedroom. She rapped softly on the door and heard the sound of someone stirring on the other side. She knocked again and this time heard a rustling noise as Karissa slid out of bed and opened the door.

"Wha-Lily?" The dark-haired girl asked, groggily, rubbing her eyes. "What's going on?"

Lily took a deep breath "I-I need someone to talk to... Can I come in?"

Karissa frowned and nodded, standing aside to let the smaller girl in. "Sit down," She said, gesturing to the bed as she turned on the light, leaving it dim.

"So what's wrong?" Karissa asked, moving over to sit beside her friend.

Lily drew her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on her flannel-covered knees. "Do you think Ben loves me?" She blurted, avoiding Karissa's gaze.

Karissa frowned, she should have guessed. Why else would the former Sue have come to her this late? "Why wouldn't he?" She asked.

"He never has time for me anymore," Lily replied. "I can't even remember the last time we had a real conversation. We haven't been alone together since... since I don't know when. I mean, we've been together for over a year now and he hasn't even tried to do... anything... to me yet," She said, feeling a blush creep across her features.

Karissa paused. "Do you want him to?" She asked quietly.

Lily shrugged. "At least then I'd know he loved me," She said. "He's always off doing something with Jess or..." she trailed off and her jaw dropped. "Oh, my god! You don't think he's-"

"No!" Karissa cut her off. "Ben would never cheat on you!"

"But he's always spending time with her!"

"That's because they're friends! Besides, they're the ones in charge of songwriting for the band, they have to spend time together to compare notes!" Although she would never admit it, Karissa was glad Shirley wasn't around to hear her make that last statement.

Lily looked unconvinced and Karissa sighed. She knew Ben had been neglecting his girlfriend for a while now, but she had no idea it had gotten this bad...

"Did Ben ever tell you about what happened back here the time Neb kidnapped you?" She asked after a moment. Lily shook her head.

"Ben was a wreck," Karissa said. "He was jumpy and was constantly snapping at everybody. I don't think I've ever seen anybody as worried as he was then. Apparently it got so bad he actually yelled at Shirley!"

Lily's eyes widened. "Seriously?"

Karissa nodded. "Ben really does love you, Lily," She said, "Try talking to him, tell him how you're feeling. I'm sure he'll understand."

"But I can never find time for us to be alone!" Lily protested.

"Then make time," Karissa respoded.

Lily thought about it for a moment, then noddded. "Thanks, Karissa," she said, standing. "I'll be sure to talk to him as soon as I get the chance. I'll let you get back to sleep. Sorry for bothering you again,"

"No need to apologize, Lily," Karissa smiled. "Good night,"

Lily sighed as she closed the door to Karissa's room. She knew that there was no chance of catching Ben alone during the day. If she was going to talk to him, it had to be now.

There was no response when she knocked on his door, but that was nothing unusual, Ben was a notoriously heavy sleeper. Lily carefully opened the door and peered inside. Ben's bedside lamp was still on, illuminating the room and empty bed. It appeared as if Ben were still up and wandering around the Library somewhere, and Lily wasn't foolish enough to go looking for him this late. Chances were she'd only end up getting lost.

She closed the door and headed for the kitchen. She wasn't about to wake up Rhia, but she was sure she could scrounge up something to eat in the other kitchen.

She heard the laugher before she saw the light coming from the doorway. She peered around the doorframe and her heart sank. Ben was sitting at the kitchen table, which was covered with half-eaten dishes of every size, color and description, laughing and watching Jess sashay around the kitchen, apparently cooking sometihng.

"Okay! Done!" Jess sang, sweeping a bowl filled with a mushy orange substance off the counter and onto the table in front of Ben with a flourish, sticking a fork into it.

Ben stared at it dubiously. "Jess, that looks like something one of Rhia's cats threw up."

Jess let out a mock-outraged gasp and smacked Ben over the head with a ladle. "Shame on you!"

"It does!" Ben insisted, laughing, "Look, there are chunks in it!"

"That's to give it texture!"

"Oh, like your chicken soup has texture?"

"Hey now, my chicken soup is awesome!" Jess pouted.

"You can stand a spoon up in it! Watch!" Ben said, stabbing a spoon into a bowl half-filled with a brown sludge that looked as much like vomit as the orange substance. Sure enough, the spoon remained upright when Ben let go of it.

"But you loved that stuff!" Jess pointed out.

"Yeah, but it wasn't glowing," Ben shot back playfully.

Jess let out a distainful sniff. "I will have you know that this is Pumpkin Risotto, one of my finest dishes," She said in a snobby TV-chef voice. "Now shut up and eat it while I start work on the Tiramisu,"

"OK," Ben said, fishing the fork out of the bowl. "See if you can't make some more of that Prawn Pilaf too. That stuff was freaking amazing,"

"Can do!" Jess sang, turning back to the open cupboard, "Now, where is the Tia Maria?"

Lily silently moved backwards, still unseen and ran back to her room.

The tears on her pillow had yet to dry when morning came.

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