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.