Saturday, February 1, 2014

Insert Unanswered Questions Here (part 2 of 2)

The hospital wing was at last silent, but the atmosphere was one of sheer misery. The only people present were the prisoner and her minder.

Alice lay still on her bed, her white hospital pyjamas spotted with dried blood under her chin from her recurring nosebleeds. The cuffs holding her down flat on the bed by her wrists and ankles were wide and padded on the inside to protect her when she struggled, but the locking bracelets and the restraining straps both were made of tough, unyielding leather. All four of the restraints were strapped down securely to two thick bands passing under Alice's body at the hips and ankles, and padlocked shut as an extra precaution – though in an emergency that required evacuation Valerie could easily undo the bed straps themselves.

But only in an emergency. For the last four hours she had been left like this, and no orders to release her had come. The plain white ceiling was all of interest she had to look at, and she just lay there staring up at the pallid swathe.

There was a voice at her side. A soft voice, aiming to be friendly. The minder had to make periodic checks on her, after all…

"Alice?" said Valerie gently. "Are you feeling okay?"

She closed her eyes and said nothing, only twitching slightly as Valerie's hand touched her bare arm.


Her nickname. How one could shorten a two-syllable name into a two-syllable moniker was beyond her.

"Alice, I'll go away if you want me to…just please tell me you're all right first."

Slowly and with a sigh, Alice turned her head towards the healer. "Let me go," she said, simply.

Valerie's heart sank. These seemed to be the only three words she said at the moment. "I'm sorry, Alice, but I can't."

She turned her head back.

Valerie scrabbled around for something to say, before the depression radiating from Alice got to her too. "You know, I could put some posters on the ceiling for you to look at. Nice ones, like those lovely sea- and planet- and skyscapes you like…"

No response.

"Do you want anything? I can turn the heat up for you, or down…"

Again, silence. Valerie sighed and went to leave, but then she heard the rattle of the restraints behind her. She turned, seeing a momentary look of fright on Alice's face – she knew of her fear of abandonment.

"Water… please?"

Valerie smiled. "Of course."

A while later, Alice had given up listening to the sporadic chatter at the hospital wing doors, even though she was sure that she'd heard Dave's voice on more than one occasion, getting more and more frustrated each time his requests – then his demands – for news were not met. Once more came low sounds, then the soft knock to get Valerie's attention; but this time the voice was the very recognisable high-pitched European of the assistant Librarian. She had been the only one so far allowed past Cristoph, who was the one now guarding the doors.

Tash, jovial but with her mind on her task, smiled at Valerie – then her face dropped as she laid eyes on Alice. Valerie stood to bar her progress into the wing, but there were some hurried explanations, with Tash gesturing this way and that.

Alice turned her head away.

Valerie finally permitted Tash into the wing proper, and she slowly approached Alice on the bed. By coincidence the bed was in the same location that Tash had come to see her straight after her surgery to save her life after the Ak'Zahar attack. Not that Alice could remember it.

Tash had been informed a while ago that there had been some sort of trouble with Alice in hospital, but she had had no idea that it had escalated this far. As a small and self-contained medical unit, the Library's hospital had to be stocked enough to at least attempt to deal with practically anything. The set of strong medical restraints had only been used a couple of times in the Society's existence, and for the single reason of stopping silly and stubborn individuals from moving and injuring themselves further. Tash had once been one of these individuals, but all she could recall of the treatment was a rather uncomfortable sleep. This was the first ever time the restraints had been used on a fully-conscious and barely injured person to stop them from hurting others.

"Oh Ali…" she said softly, catching her attention.

"Tash?" Alice's hands bunched into fists and she pulled against the straps. "They let you – what are you doing here?"

"I came to see you, hon…"

"Let me go… please, I don't like –"

"I'm sorry."

Alice seemed to deflate, sighing and slumping back onto the flat mattress. Her hands went still.

"What did you do?" asked Tash, pulling up a chair and perching on the edge.

"I didn't do anything! It was your bloody boyfriend!"

Tash sighed, her very posture reading 'oh dear'. "Nixie said there was trouble, but…why? What were you doing?"

'Struggling' seemed to be Alice's answer to that, as she pulled against the restraints. Tash's hand went instinctively to her shoulder to try and calm her down, but Alice twitched away from her touch.

"Louise – where is Louise? What have you done?"

"Done? Nothing. Alice…" she paused, and Alice finally met Tash's gaze. "Louise cannot remember anything of what happened down there, and we've hit a brick wall. She's scared and she's said that-"

"She can't remember?" Alice's eyes were wide.

"No. It's almost like she was a different person yesterday. Adrian was trying to find – "

"I've known she wasn't acting like herself from the very beginning! I did try and tell you, I wanted to find out why when I was trying to see her! Why am I the only one who saw this?"

"Alice…you know her the best, and I'll bet there are others who are hoping the same, that this is not Louise just acting… we're more shocked about you and the other hostages, and we want to make sure you're okay first…"

Alice struggled once more against the straps in response. "Why did you bother coming? To give a lecture?"

Tash shrugged lightly. "For one thing, Ali, I came to see how you were."

"I'm fine! Or I was fine before that twat came in here! I want to see Louise!"

"Alice, please… we're trying to resolve this. You're still struggling, please… calm down?"

"I AM CALM! Let me go!"

"You're not calm."

Alice made a growl in her throat, struggled some more, then pain lanced through her expression and she fell limp.

"Ali… trust that Adrian can see this through to the end."

"He hasn't earned my trust yet," snapped Alice. "Or my respect."

Tash sighed, struggling to keep it from reaching her words. "You barely know him, I know. Alice, do you trust my judgement?"

Alice was expecting her to snap back; after all this, she showed no sign of anger, and her calm acceptance put her on the back foot. "Uh. Well, yes…"

"Do you trust Dave's? Rhia's? Valerie's?" Tash continued. "Nixie's?"

"Yes, but…"

"Then trust our judgement of him, and our faith in him to help Louise."

Alice scowled and looked like she was going to scream at the Society leader, but she seemed to have used up all her anger today and could only sigh.

"Look, I'm not in the mood for your meaningless banter. Either get to your point, let me go, or leave me alone." She turned her head away, her voice breaking and tears brimming in her eyes.

There was silence for a long while. Alice closed her eyes, feeling the tears roll down her face and onto the mattress. Then, finally, Tash said what she had gone to the hospital wing to say.

"Louise has given us a condition of her accepting treatment," she said. "She wants to see you."

Alice's head whipped round, staring at the blonde-haired leader. "Wh – really?"


She struggled even more, a sense of desperation in her small movements. "Not like this – please, not like this…"

"No, I'm going to take you to her. But Alice, I've been given some conditions of my own…"

"What? Anything! I just want to see –"

Alice trailed off as she saw the heavy-duty handcuffs Tash fished from her pocket. "Why?" was all she could say.

"We need a safe and controlled situation. We don't hold all the cards, and we don't know what's going on. And I'm sorry, Alice, but you have been making a lot of us worried."

Alice sighed, her head flopping back onto the bed. "Okay."

"Good. Val?"

"I'm on it," said the healer, sounding relieved to rescue Alice from her miserable position. The pair undid the straps around her wrists, allowing her to work out the strain in her elbows – then Valerie undid her ankles, but Tash moved in and gently fitted the handcuffs onto Alice's arms. They were cold steel and there was a leading chain securely bolted to the centre. She swallowed hard as she watched, trying not to jump off the bed and flee.

"You can hold that," said Tash kindly, divulging herself of the uncomfortable task. "Can you stand?"

Valerie helped Alice sit up and swing her legs off the bed. She felt a little dizzy, but stood without trouble. They found her a pair of slippers for her bare feet, and smiling, Tash took her from the hospital wing.

Alice followed Tash closely through the corridors of the Library, not wanting to be seen by anyone like this and still desperate to get to her friend. She held the end of the leading chain bunched in her hands. She swore she spotted Dave at one point, paused abruptly in the middle of the corridor behind them, but they turned a corner before she could call to him. The two didn't speak, remaining in companionable silence, but Tash made sure to stay by her at all times.

They reached a set of back stairs leading down to a somewhat lower level of the Library, but a shout of Tash's name from behind them made them both stop and turn around. Adrian, hurrying to catch up with them, stopped in his tracks but a few metres away.

"What the hell is she doing out of the hospital wing?" he exclaimed. Alice pulled defensively away behind Tash.

"Adrian, Louise said she won't let us help her unless she sees Alice first –"

"No! You can't. It won't be safe!" Adrian sounded strangely urgent.

"What? No! You said – you said I –" Alice pulled away even more before she reached the top of the stairs, trying to stop the leading chain from swinging. She stared from Tash to Adrian and back, hoping that she would defend her. She was so close…

"I got Alice to co-operate, love," said Tash warily. "What's wrong?"

"It's not that any more –" Adrian marched forwards before Tash could stop him, and he seized the leading chain from Alice's hands. Alice backed down several steps but could go no further. Without a second thought he looped the end of the chain around the top of the banister and locked it to itself, pinning the hapless woman in place, but he turned immediately to Tash and took her aside out of Alice's earshot.

Alice, open-mouthed with the utter callousness he had just shown her, struggled frantically against the chain but paused as she heard snatches of critical conversation.

"…Alice hasn't… Louise's… found out… Robert… Tower… not safe…"

Adrian grasped her elbows, and Tash then gasped as he got to his point. Alice did not feel comfortable with that response. She redoubled her efforts on the banister.

"Do you understand, Tash?" he asked, louder now.

"Yes, I do."

"Right. Take her back, it's no longer safe. We don't yet know what the trigger is." Adrian turned back to Alice, ready for the trouble this edict was bound to cause; and it was brewing fast, as she pulled back as far as her outstretched arms would take her, a look of rage on her face.

Tash, however, looked extremely reluctant, and she reached forwards to grasp his arms. "Thing is, Adrian…this was Louise's condition to us. If we don't take Alice to see her then we'll be going nowhere again."

Adrian didn't want another fight on his hands, one where he could barely win as he had to be careful not to go too far and cause any actual harm, so he paused. Alice remained glaring at him.

Finally, he sighed. "Fine. But I'm coming with you. At the first sign of danger, it ends."

Tash nodded, but Adrian stepped towards Alice. She realised she had a reprieve, and was going to see Louise after all – but still she remained as far as her tether would allow, preparing to dodge out of his reach. Tash slipped around him, a hand on his chest.

"Let me, love…" Tash looked to Alice, who relaxed a little. She reached to the chain locked onto the banister and undid it, but Adrian cleared his throat pointedly and she kept hold of the end of the tether instead of giving it to Alice. "I'm sorry about this, hon…"

"What's happened?" Alice asked.

"I…" Adrian shook his head, and Tash looked down. "I can't talk about it right now."

Adrian went past the pair on the stairs and began to lead the rest of the way, Tash almost next to him, mindful of Alice behind them.

She tried to memorise the turnings of these bare and featureless corridors but was soon rather lost. Alice's excitement about being taken to see her friend had soured considerably, and she was now feeling utterly humiliated. Soon she was also very out of breath, stumbling on her chain after the two leaders, one with much longer legs than her and the other with a longer stride.

"Oi, Longshanks! Will you two bloody slow up?" she snapped eventually. "I can't walk as fast as you!"

The pair turned, Adrian looking very frustrated and Tash apologetic.

"Sorry… are you all right?" she said.

Alice rubbed her wrists and grimaced. Adrian turned and carried on, though slower than before.

"I'm really sorry…" said Tash softly.

"You will be," muttered Alice.

Instantly she saw the Librarian stiffen, his cat ears folding back on his head. "Tash, give me the chain."


He snatched the tether from his assistant and gave Alice the look that said 'don't you even think about messing with me, girl'. She of course paid it no heed, and yanked her arms close to her chest, pulling the chain taut between them. She met Adrian's glare with scowl of her own.

"Do you want to see Louise?" he asked, the irritation threaded through his voice. "Or do you want to go back to the hospital wing?"

"Do you want your investigation to get anywhere?" she countered. "Sounds like you need me."

"Unfortunately! I'd rather keep you securely away from her at all costs. You have given me absolutely no reason to trust you. Your actions towards Louise are extremely suspect – just how determined were you to come with the rescue team to Warhammer Fantasy? You even ignored your injury to go."

"What's that got to do with anything?"

"More than you realise," said Adrian. "It's your decision, Alice."

"Of course I want to see Louise. Don't be stupid!"

"Then move."

Alice did nothing of the sort, withstanding his yank on the chain and standing her ground. "I'd rather my fate be in Tash's hands than yours."

"Tough. Move!"


Louise sat at the table in silence. Phoenixia had explained that they needed to keep the meeting between her and Alice controlled. The younger agent had protested a little, but Nixie had been adamant. So it was now that she was sat in cuffs, hands on her lap. A length of chain linked her cuffs to a chain pulled taut across the table. Louise bowed her head, and allowed a number of silent tears to fall down her cheeks; she did nothing to alert her companion to her distress. It was only when Phoenixia looked over at her that she noticed,

"Lou... darling." She rubbed Louise on her back to sooth her. "Don't worry. Once you have met with Alice, we will have a look in your head and get this all sorted out."

A gentle knock on the door caught both Louise and Phoenixia's attention, and the ex-hologram got slowly to her feet. On the other side of the door was Michael. As the room behind Phoenixia came into his view, his eyes fell upon the restrained Louise.

Louise could see the pair conversing in the doorway, but the distance, and the low volume, prevented her from hearing anything.

In the doorway, Michael explained to Phoenixia what Adrian had discovered in his interrogation of Robert. As he advised Phoenixia about the danger, the ex-hologram looked over her shoulder at Louise, who was watching the pair. The knowledge that there was the potential that Louise was a sleeper agent was concerning to Phoenixia.

Louise watched the pair finish their conversation. Michael left the room, and Phoenixia returned to her charge.

"What did Michael say?" Louise asked before Phoenixia had even sat down.

"I can't talk about it, Lou... I'm sorry."

Louise grumbled quietly under her breath, but whatever conversation the two women were about to engage in was cut short by a second knock on the door. The pair looked up again as Michael opened the door to reveal the last person Louise wanted to see.

Adrian stood framed in the doorway, Tash hovered over his shoulder. There was no sign of Alice.

"Where's Alice?" Louise demanded before Adrian had a chance to say a word. The two leaders entered the room, revealing Alice lingering behind them. Adrian didn't say anything as he strode up to Louise at the table.

The young agent recoiled as the Librarian seized hold of the chain attached to her cuffs, ensuring that his prisoner was secure.

"LOU!" Alice's voice cut into her friend's fear.

"ALICE!" Louise jumped to her feet, and both friends tried to get each other.

Adrian, still standing between the two young agents, pushed Alice away and yelled, "NO CONTACT!"

The friends stopped, and both stared at the Librarian. Louise's face showed all the contempt she was currently feeling for Adrian. Alice was merely shocked that the Librarian was being so horrible to them both.

Tash and Phoenixia led the pair to chairs on either side of the metal table. As Louise reached her seat, she spotted the cuffs restraining Alice.

"What the hell have you done!" she demanded, her eyes focusing on Adrian, rather than the Society leader.

"This is a controlled situation," Adrian insisted. "You will both do exactly as we tell you, or this meeting is over immediately."

Louise didn't move. "You need me to agree to your demands if you want any resolution."

"Well, we have!" Adrian was slowly losing his patience with the young agent.

Alice quietly took her seat beside Tash, and the leader took hold of the chain.

Not getting an answer from anyone to her original, Louise's eyes fixed on the cuffs and the chain linked to Alice's wrists.

"What..." she started, but Alice shook her head sadly. Louise whipped her head around to stare at Adrian. "You knew about this?" she demanded. Adrian merely grimaced.

Alice's voice cut through the silence of Louise's accusation. "Lou... Lou... what's happened to you? Are you alright?"

Louise looked around, and her anger at Adrian broke for a second. She sighed, and finally sat herself beside Phoenixia, placing her cuffed hands on the table. "Why don't you ask him?" she gestured with her head at Adrian, who was now standing at the top of the table.

Alice gave Adrian a sidelong glance, and spoke through gritted teeth. "He tied me to the bed!"

"WHAT!" Louise twisted in her seat to stare at the Librarian.

"Lou... don't look at him. What's he done to you?" Alice tried to get her friend's attention.

As Louise turned back to face her friend, she answered the question. "Scared the crap out of me, that's what he did! He won't believe that I can't remember what happened!"

"Tash told me," Alice smiled wryly in the said agent's direction. "I tried to tell him something was wrong, and he wouldn't believe me either. He strapped me down because I was trying to get to you."

Louise turned her head to stare full on at Adrian. "You did what?" she demanded, her hands clenching on the table. "How could you do that?" Her accusations and the anger in her voice caused the Librarian to sweep his gaze onto her. Louise got to her feet.

"Did it not occur to you that she was merely trying to get to me? NO, you only thought of yourself... you ungrateful BASTARD," Louise shouted at Adrian.

"SIT DOWN!" he shouted back at her, and the young agent did nothing of the sort.

"Come on, honey..." Phoenixia patted her on the arm. "Sit back and talk to your friend."

Louise obliged and sat back down, her eyes lingering on Adrian for a second, before looking back at her friend. Her jaw dropped a little as she spotted the blood stain down her friend's top. "Did he do that?"

Alice herself looked down at her top. She shook her head, rattling the chain attached to her cuffs as she did so.

Jaw still hanging low, Louise shook her own head, fearing that she had been responsible for her friend's injury. "I didn't..." she looked up, catching Alice's eyes. "Did I?"

Alice allayed her friend's fears with a shake of her head, and the words, "No... Ash did it..." but she then awoke Louise's concerns again when she said, "but you..." she cut her sentence off.

"I...?" Louise prompted her friend, but Alice merely shifted her hands, causing her chain to rattle. "Ali..." Louise sniffed. "You're scaring me."

"I'm sorry... I'm not meaning to."

Out of the corner of the four seated agents' eyes, Adrian shifted in annoyance.

"Lou..." Tash's voice was light and yet held an edge of concern. "We know you can't remember. That's okay. Nobody was harmed badly, and everything's going to be okay." Alice smiled at her friend to reinforce the message that the Society leader was telling her.

Louise sighed, her eyes drifting towards her friend sat on the opposite side of the table.

"Are you okay?" Alice asked.

"I'll live..." This was Louise's stock response when she didn't want to divulge her true feelings. "What about you?"

Alice brought her cuffed hands up with a slight rattle of the chain, and gently touched her nose. She nodded. "Been better... I still want to help you."

"Likewise." It was all Louise could do to prevent herself staring in the direction of the Librarian. "I can't believe what they told me I did."

Alice's eyes fell to the table, and she could not meet her friend's gaze, but she nodded. "I know... it wasn't you."

"But it was..." Louise's feelings of guilt reared their ugly head. "Wasn't it?"

Alice was Louise's best friend, and of all the agents in the Society, she knew her best. "I know you'd never do what you did to m... them. Us." Alice corrected herself each time.

"Ali..." Louise's hands twitched on the table, and Adrian's eyes narrowed briefly. "What did I do? Please... tell me that much."

Alice swallowed. She didn't want to upset her best friend. "You... took five of us." Louise's face fell as she heard the truth from her friend. "And tied us up in the basement."

Louise shook her head, but Alice continued. "Me... then Dave and Jess, then Claire and Emily."

"No..." Louise murmured. "I..."

"Most of it wasn't bad..." Alice reassured. "It was just a few times..."

Louise broke, and tears rolled down the poor agent's cheeks. "I'm sorry Ali..." she sobbed. "I didn't know."

Both Tash and Phoenixia rubbed the backs of their respective charges. Alice blinked back her own tears as she gave the damming evidence against Louise. "You... you held a gun to my head."

"NO!" Louise openly sobbed, burying her face in her hands. With her friend in obvious distress, Alice reached forwards, as any friend should do, to comfort Louise. Neither upset agent saw Adrian lean down and seize hold of Alice's chain, wrenching her hands away. The Librarian glared at Alice, as though he thought she knew better.

Alice, however, merely gasped.

Louise wiped her eyes on the back of her cuffed hand and stared fully at Adrian. "Were you ever going to tell me what I did to my best friend? Or were you simply going to lock me up and not believe a word I say?"

"What I am doing, I am doing for everyone's safety," Adrian insisted.

"Lou..." Alice caught the furious agent's attention.

"Yes!" Louise's voice was a little harder than she would have liked.

Alice spoke fast, her words coming out in a rush. "Lou, I think it was something in Warhammer Fantasy." Both Tash and Phoenixia stiffened. "In the White Tower."

"ALICE, NOT ANOTHER WORD!" Adrian's voice boomed. "IF YOU KEEP GOING –"

Alice's voice reached a higher pitch, shouting over the top of Adrian's anger. "There was something not right, I think it made you –"

Adrian was, by this point, seeing red, and he walked around the table, placing his hand forcibly over Alice's mouth to silence her. The unfortunate agent struggled beneath the Librarian's hold, and watched in horror as Tash followed his unspoken instructions to ensure she couldn't move.

Louise watched all this play out in front of her, her mouth falling slightly open in shock. Adrian's blatant attack on her best friend would not go without an objection. "GET OFF HER YOU FUCKING BASTARD!" Louise got to her feet before Phoenixia could stop her.

With the Librarian's attention directed away from Alice, Tash pulled her into a comforting embrace, whispering softly in her ear. Adrian stormed around the table, and forced Louise back into her seat, leaving his hands on her shoulders to ensure she remained there. "Tash... get her out of here. This meeting is over!"

Louise struggled out from beneath Adrian's grip. "ALICE!"

Tash, despite her boyfriend's orders, didn't move. "Adrian, we shouldn't..."

"It's too dangerous," the purple eyes of the Librarian glared at the poor agent in his girlfriend's embrace. "She said too much."

"YOU DON'T CARE!" Louise was now seeing as much red as Adrian, and she was going to give as good as she got.

"LOUISE!" Adrian thundered. "That is enough!"

Alice looked up, meeting Adrian's gaze briefly. She slowly clambered to her feet, but not in a way that made the Librarian wary. The chain leading from her cuffs swung free. "Please... could I hug her?" After all the shouting, Alice's plea seemed all the more pathetic.

Louise looked up at the Librarian, partly in shock, partly in hope.

Adrian's response, however, contained nothing but harshness. "NO!" he roared.

That was enough to make Louise crack. She jumped to her feet again, and rounded on the Librarian. "Then I will not allow you to do whatever experiments you plan. She's my best friend, and I will NOT let you stand between us!"

Adrian appeared to have been expecting this, and merely stated to Louise, "We brought her to you. We have met this condition of yours. Now you will accept ours. No more negotiation."

It was clear from Louise's expression that Adrian's words were not going to be obeyed. "THAT WAS BEFORE I REALISED WHAT A BASTARD YOU ARE, LIBRARIAN!" Tash looked up at the words coming from her friend. "No, I will not use your name. Only people who have earned my respect deserve to be called by their name!"

The Librarian merely rolled his eyes. "What more do you want?"

"Just a hug..." Louise looked over to where Tash had her arm wrapped gently around Alice. "That's all... just a hug."

"I cannot permit it! You have no idea..."

Louise interrupted him with further incoherent yelling, but it was Alice that knocked all the wind from Louise's sails. "Please... Lou... let them help you. Please." Tears were pouring down her cheeks.

"I won't leave you..." Louise called to her friend. She knew that one of Alice's greatest fears was abandonment, and was convinced, in her red-visioned state, that no one else in the room cared about that.

"I want you to be better... we can hug later." Alice smiled weakly at Louise. "I'm just happy to see you. I'm sorry I made you upset."

"Alice..." Louise took a step towards her best friend, but Adrian placed himself between them. Alice looked pleadingly towards her. "GET OUT OF MY WAY," Louise went to push Adrian from her path, but the chain attached to her cuffs pulled taut. Alice reached out towards her in return, and their fingers brushed briefly, before Tash pulled her charge a few steps away.

"Tash, take her back to the wing, and make sure she's secure... I want her looked at too." Adrian pointed at Alice, "I'll not have her running about."

Louise's voice was now weak from all her shouting, "Alice..."

"Lou, it'll be okay."

Adrian, who had been expecting much more of an opposition from Alice, visibly relaxed. Behind him, Phoenixia wrapped her arms around Louise, who, at the first sign of warmth towards her from anyone besides Alice, buried her face into Phoenixia's shoulder, and burst into tears.

As Tash led Alice quietly from the room, the leading chain pulled taut as Alice lingered to see her friend, Phoenixia helped Louise back into her chair.

"Well that could have gone better," Phoenixia murmured, as Adrian paced the room muttering to himself. The ex-hologram hugged Louise until she stopped crying. "There... see... Alice is all right. She was happy to see you."

"You know, you are a monster – a heartless monster, Librarian," Louise pointed a finger at the man who was so worshipped by the majority of agents, but who so terrified her at the present. If he had looked at her at that moment, she was convinced she would have frozen in place. "So what is going to happen now?" Louise gathered her courage and looked up at Adrian. "Are you going to prove to me that you are just the monster I think you are?"

"WILL you cut it out?" Adrian snapped. "ALL DAY we have been trying to help you, yes even through your amnesia! And all you have done is bitch and scream!"

Louise merely scowled at the Librarian, but Phoenixia wrapped her arms around her again. "Shh... shh... shh…" she soothed the young agent.

"Now will you co-operate?" Adrian demanded.

"Will you shut the FUCK up?" Louise snapped.

Adrian slammed his hands onto the table, gabbling incoherently and becoming very red in the face.

"Don't listen to him," Phoenixia tried to move Louise's attention from the Librarian, but sadly failed.

"I have no intention of listening to him. He has done nothing to earn my trust at the moment. You are heartless. You care nothing about the emotional state of anyone. I have no idea why Tash ever fell in love with you. You do not deserve her love."

"FU... WHY YOU..." Adrian was seething at the edges.

"ADRIAN!" Phoenixia snapped.

"LISTEN TO ME YOU LITTLE... I've had enough. I don't know what you've sold your soul to, but it will end now! I want to know what you've been up to in the meantime! And you WILL submit or you will-"

The three remaining people in the room fell silent as the communicator placed on the table began to buzz.


All three of them looked at it.


Phoenixia reached across the table to silence it, but Adrian threw out a hand to stop her.

"No..." Adrian was clearly thinking. "Let Louise answer it."

The ex-hologram gave the Librarian a quizzical look, but didn't question it. She merely passed the still buzzing communicator to the young agent.

Louise seized hold of the communicator, and answered it. Unseen by her, Adrian gestured Phoenixia to move towards the door, his eyes never leaving Louise's face.

"Hello... yes... I understand."

Louise dropped the communicator to the table and got to her feet. The sleeper agent spell triggered, and gave the young agent a confidence that she would otherwise not have had.

"Louise..." from the doorway, Phoenixia called in semi-warning to Adrian. The young agent appeared not to hear her. She strode towards the door. The ex-hologram met her. "Louise..." she wrapped her arms around her.

Adrian picked up the discarded communicator. "Hold her..." he instructed Phoenixia. "Hello?" the Librarian spoke into Louise's communicator.

"Hello... may I speak with Louise please?" The Librarian shuddered briefly at the mock friendliness in the female voice.

"With whom am I speaking?" Adrian asked. His mind was spinning as to how this random person was contacting Louise on her Society communicator.

"A friend." It was a simple and yet understandable response.


"May I ask who you are?"

"My name is Adrian. I am the Librarian."

There was no response from the other end of the communicator. After some time, the communicator clicked, indicating the end of the line. Adrian snapped it closed, and placed it back onto the table.

"Merle!" he muttered, turning to deal with Louise, who was still being held by Phoenixia.

"Let go of me..." Louise hissed.

"Louise... calm down. We're trying to help you..."

"Hold her still, Phoenixia..."

The ex-hologram wrapped her arms tightly around Louise as Adrian approached from behind. His hand came down on the back of Louise's neck, hitting the exact point on her body that caused the young agent to buckle at the knees and slip into unconsciousness.


The long walk back to the hospital wing was a slow and subdued one, neither aware of the drama being played out behind them. After everything that had happened, Alice's sudden assistance in calming Louise down was unexpected, but a sure sign that she had broken. She was silent as they walked down the corridors, not even bothering to complain any more. Tash's heart ached for her, saddened by what she – anyone else would say the Librarian spearheading the investigation had broken her, but Tash felt guilty all the same – had reduced her friend to.

Outside the hospital, they paused as Tash sensed a potential problem. Dave and Inara stood before Cristoph, trying to figure out what was going on and exchanging damning rumours. At sight of the pair however, the frenetic talk halted abruptly, both staring in near-disbelief at what the last two days had wrought.

Alice hid her face, the chain rattling ominously. She was utterly mortified. Tash wrapped a protective arm around her. "Guys, nothing to see here."

"Nothing to see?" Dave was furious. "I would say there is plenty to see here, Tash! What have you done?"

Alice felt Tash stiffen with frustration. "We have been doing what we need to do."

"And this is necessary?" Inara had to stop Dave from marching forwards.

"Dave, please! We – "

"I don't want to hear excuses. Why?"

Tash had reached the hospital wing doors, and Cristoph moved to protect them. "I'm sorry, but right now, excuses are all I can give."

And with that, Tash led Alice through the doors, swinging shut behind them.

Alice, red-faced, emerged from her shame, glancing round the sterile space she had spent a lot of time in over the past couple of months. Tash gave her a wry, one-armed hug, guiding her gently deeper into the hospital towards her bed.

Then Alice's eyes fell on the bed, and the thick leather straps still stretched across it. She seemed to shrink and pull backwards, going pale. "No…no, no…"

Tash was too wound up to notice, and simply urged her forwards. Alice slipped out of her grasp, the chain pulling taut.

"No… Tash, please, no…"

There was also a sigh from in front of her: Valerie had emerged from her office at the commotion.

"Ali… I'm sorry, but we have to…"

"Tash," said Valerie, her voice with strong authority. "You're going to have to do better than 'Adrian said so' to have Alice put in the restraints again."

The look of relief on Alice's face was the best expression she had worn all day; and Valerie saw something similar cross Tash's.

"I'd like to compromise," Tash said. "Alice… we need her to stay here for the time being. Securely. We're still not sure."

"Okay, why?"


"I need a reason, Tash. Something to make sense of all this."

Tash glanced at Alice, who drew in breath to speak – she knew too much, she was more perceptive than many gave her credit for. "No, Alice…" Tash sighed. "Okay, look. We've got to the bottom of the problem, we have our answers, and hopefully Nixie will have it sorted and will be bringing Lou here in a bit."

Valerie folded her arms.

"Louise is a sleeper agent – she was acting against her will, and it's why she can't remember anything. We don't know why, or who, but from what Adrian gathered it was probably something that happened in Warhammer Fantasy."

"I know who it was," said Alice. "It's not hard, Tash! It was M – "

Tash shushed Alice gently, but the infuriated Alice just pulled more against her chain.

Valerie shook her head grimly at the scene in front of her. "And Alice? That's not enough, Tash."

"We're just worried that something has affected Alice in the same way…well, Adrian's worried. Nixie will be checking her too."

Valerie sighed; there was, she admitted, a small but definite unknown danger here. "She is co-operating now. I'll not have her in four-point restraint again."

Alice ceased struggling at last. Tash looked at the chain in her hand and dropped it, almost in disgust.

"I was… hoping to just, well… cuff her to the bed rails…"

There were grimaces all round: Tash from shame, Alice from tiredness of pretty much everything that had happened, and Valerie from being thoroughly cheesed off with the whole situation.

"Alice, will that be okay with you?" she asked.

"How long for?" replied Alice warily.

"Not long, it will just be a precaution," said Valerie, taking control and leading Alice gently back to her bed, helping her to sit on the edge. She took Alice's hands and removed the handcuffs completely. She saw how little fight Alice had left, and despaired; there would be some strong words later. She spoke to her softly, pulling the straps off the bed and into their bag, but undoing one of the wrist straps.

"I'll not simply handcuff her to the rail; I've seen broken wrists from that kind of thing," said Valerie, taking the still slightly resisting Alice's left arm and wrapping the wider and safer medical cuff around it, drawing it closed and threading the strap through the rigid steel restraint before locking it; the other end was fastened to the rail, and Valerie then gave Alice a hug because she looked so miserable.

"Louise will be all right. And I promise this will be over soon…" she whispered.

To Tash, she said: "What will you do now?"

"I just want this day to end…" the Leader sighed. "I don't know what to do."

"Best not to bury your head in the sand. The rumours are flying thick and fast, and there had better be some sort of clear-up before the end of the day. Just my two cents."

There was a low growl from the bed behind Valerie, and at last Alice piped up. "My two penny-worth is pretty much out there already… but I've got ninety-eight pence left – I'm hungry!"

Tash giggled, and Valerie gestured to the door. "What do you want, honey?"

The cuffs slid along the rail as Alice pulled her hands onto her lap. "Chip butty. With extra chips."

Valerie looked puzzled for a moment, but Tash knew of the quintessentially northern British seaside snack oft attacked by divebombing seagulls. "Trust you, Ali!" she laughed.

"Well go on, fetch!"

Happy to have even the most silly reason to take her mind off today's unpleasantness, Tash left the hospital wing.


Louise opened her eyes, wondering briefly why the back of her neck was throbbing so painfully.

"Eurgh…" she groaned, catching the attention of Phoenixia who was hovering at the side of the room.

"Ah… Louise," she greeted the confused agent with a smile. "Welcome back to the land of the conscious."

"What…" the junior agent attempted to rub her neck, but found her wrists restrained to the arms of the metal chair in which she sat. "What…?" she struggled against the restraints.

"Lou… calm down…" Phoenixia urged, her hand resting on the frightened agent's shoulder.

"Why am I tied to the chair?" Louise demanded, not following the ex-hologram's instructions in the slightest.

"It's a precaution… nothing more."

"A precaution…" Louise was confused at this response. "A precaution against what?"

Phoenixia sighed. She had had a discussion with Adrian while Louise had been unconscious regarding whether she should inform her of the truth. Adrian had been adamant that Louise was a danger to the Society in her present state, and that giving her the information would not help matters. Phoenixia had protested that Louise would demand answers, and not providing those answers would cause her to shut her out of her mind, and they would go nowhere with their investigation. In the end, Phoenixia had won out, with Adrian submitting to her with only one condition. That condition was the restraint. He had then been banished from the room because, as Phoenixia had explained to him, he was not in Louise's good books at the moment, and the sight of him would only increase her anxiety. Adrian had reluctantly agreed to this.

"We think we know what is wrong with you," Phoenixia began to explain slowly, watching Louise's expression all the time.

"Alice said something about Warhammer Fantasy and the White Tower…" Louise's usually sluggish memory had a spark of genius.

"That's right." Phoenixia smiled, noting that Louise was calming as she was provided with more information. "Merle did something to you then that has made you act against your will."

"You mean… like a sleeper agent?" the younger agent asked.

"Exactly like that."

"Oh…" Louise was silent for several seconds. "Is that why I can't… you know… remember anything about what happened?"

Phoenixia nodded, and Louise slumped against the back of the chair, almost resigned to the fact that she would be known as the agent who attacked her own friends. Phoenixia saw the drop in Louise's expression.

"Lou… no one blames you for what happened."

"Adrian does…" her eyes were becoming damp.

"Oh, ignore him."

Louise pulled on the wide cable-tie restraints. "Then why am I tied to the chair!"

"We know one of the triggers for the programming in your brain, but we don't know whether that is the only trigger. Me poking around in there could trigger you to do something, and Adrian…"

"Oh God… what does he want?" Louise interrupted.

"Adrian thinks it is safer for both you and me if you are prevented from doing anything that might cause harm."

Louise had to admit to herself that the Librarian was right, although she swore to herself that she would never tell him that to his face.

"Why was I unconscious?" Louise asked suddenly.

"Your communicator rang…" Phoenixia explained. "It was Merle, and it triggered the sleeper agent inside you. Adrian was forced to knock you out."

"Is that why…" she tried once again to reach her hand to the back of her neck.

"I'm sorry…" Phoenixia apologised.

"Did I hurt anyone?" Louise looked concerned.

"No… you didn't make it out of the door."

Louise relaxed a little. Given that she had seriously hurt people the last time, she was worried that something might have happened again that she couldn't remember. Louise moved her head a little, dislodging one of the electronic pads that Phoenixia had already attached to various points around her head.


"It's an EEG…" Phoenixia collected the pad and reattached it. "It stands for – "

"I know what it stands for, Nixie. I had one in Real Life when there was a chance that I was epileptic like Alice."

"Well, I've looked at your brain waves… but now I need to look a little deeper."


"Actually have a look around inside your mind."

"Will it hurt?" Louise had already asked this when she had agreed to their lopsided arrangement, but given that the young agent was known to have memory issues normally, Phoenixia obliged.

"No… it won't actually hurt. You might feel a presence in your mind, but other than that, no."

Louise sighed again. "Ok..."

Phoenixia smiled; a warm genuine smile that told Louise she was doing the right thing. The young agent recoiled a little in her seat as the ex-hologram approached. Phoenixia placed fingers on the electronic pads on Louise's head, and closed her eyes.

Walking through Louise's mind was like entering the most complex maze. Words, images, all from Louise's past and present and her future, all intertwining in a convoluted haze of colour. Phoenixia screwed her tight shut and focused...

The images that flowed through her mind confused her, because she knew little of Louise's past. A white and red rose; trees, expanses of trees and red, white and black boats, their red funnels extending into the sky. Pictures of people she knew, people she didn't – Alice, Tash, Dave, herself...

Phoenixia was forced to take a deep breath as the image of Adrian appeared in Louise's mind, imposing and terrible. She would have to talk to her friend about that in the not far future.

Merle's face loomed out of the darkness of Louise's mind, swiftly followed by Richard's, and then that of his twin. Robert's face was, to Phoenixia's suddenly enlightened mind, nothing like that of his brother. Where Richard's face was severe and cold, Robert's was warm and congenial. As Phoenixia watched the images, Richard's face, in various guises, swarmed ever closer. Before she realised it, she was witnessing a scene atop a dark castle.

Louise screamed and squirmed against her restraints, pulling Phoenixia from the maze of her mind.

"Are you okay, darling?" she asked the distressed agent. Tears rolled down Louise's cheek.

"It's..." she sniffed. "It's just that that memory is a little difficult."

"What happened there?"

Louise shook her head, and said no more on the topic of the dark castle and the potentially sinister event that occurred there, and Phoenixia did not ask.

"I need to go back in..." Phoenixia explained.

"I... know..." Louise spoke between huge sobs.

Phoenixia laid her hands back on the young agents head once more and closed her eyes again. She purposely avoided the nasty section of Louise's memory that caused the woman such distress. It didn't take the ex-hologram long to find what she was looking for. A huge black container sat in the middle of the maze.

As Phoenixia's mental self approached the obstruction, and she felt Louise's body squirm beneath her hands. She pushed forwards, knowing that whatever discomfort the young agent was going through now, she would be grateful for the result.

Whispers... whispers of voices issued from the flat, black, granite-like substance standing before her. Words were carved roughly across the surface, violently slashed through; she tried to read them but there were many, arranged like a list and mentioning large, metaphysical words. Phoenixia placed a solid hand against the surface, and the surface pushed back. The two warred for some time, until beneath Phoenixia's outstretched hand, the granite cracked, and with an almighty crash, crumbled into dust.

Even before the dust had settled, the world around Phoenixia dimmed and she found herself standing back beside a now unconscious Louise.


Alice, now full of hot chips and bread, lay on her bed in the hospital wing with her book in the air. The only sound was the turning of the pages and the low hum of noise from Valerie's adjoining office as she entertained herself also.

After two hours, it was now the evening, and Alice was beginning to get sleepy. For the first time today she was content, not noticing the 'precaution' that kept her on her bed, or at least no more than a foot away from the rail. Every so often, though, she would look up from her book and sigh, wondering where her friend was.

And whether Phoenixia's nose around had worked.

Not too long later, the double doors opened, and a gurney was wheeled into the wing. Alice sat up immediately, dropping her book; lying on the portable bed was Louise, out cold.


She briefly noticed a small crowd of curious agents outside, and both Phoenixia and Adrian gently hefted Louise onto the bed next to hers. Then the ex-hologram came to Alice's side. Adrian tried to give her a smile, but Alice just scowled at him.

"Nixie? Is she okay? Did you get rid of the sleeper thing?"

"Yes, I did. She's fine now."

"Was it Merle?"

Phoenixia grimaced. "Yes…"


"Hmm. We'll worry about the implications and her motives later. For now, let's just give Louise a hand when she wakes up. Now as for you, there's one more thing we need to do before…" She saw the cuff on the bed rail and sighed.

"Do you really think Merle could have got to me?" asked Alice. "I mean, she's never been near me for that long, and I'm sure Richard's too much of a sicko to do something like that."

"I wouldn't underestimate him, my sweet…" Phoenixia murmured. "Adrian would just like you checked out as well. It won't take long." She placed the compact machine on the end of the bed, and Alice sat back to allow her to place the web of electrodes on her scalp. She'd been through this before, remembering the 'fun' of getting the glue out of her hair afterwards.

Valerie was checking Louise's vitals and pulling a blanket over her, and Adrian had vanished.

"I know you think Adrian's an idiot right now…" Phoenixia began.

"Bloody idiotic stupid moron who can't be bothered to listen to us petty mortals!" Alice snapped. "Or be bothered to help us! Louise – "

"Ah, just listen a moment."

The voice came from outside the hospital wing, the doors now propped open. "Okay, can I have your attention, please?"

Alice could hear the Librarian and his announcement: the hubbub of the corridors ceased, and everyone listened as Adrian explained to all in no uncertain terms what had truly happened over the past two days, and why; who was really the victim, and who was really the culprit.

"See?" said Phoenixia.

"…he's still a jerk," mumbled Alice, going a little red. She was one of those people to whom first impressions would really affirm her judgement of a person, and it took a lot to change it if at all. That, and she hated to be embarrassed.

"All right. I think that's everything hooked up," said Phoenixia, glancing at the screen and the twenty-or-so brainwave patterns flourish across it, each corresponding to a different area of Alice's brain. Some areas were a lazy, relaxed wave, others were more active and alert. "Yup, normal EEG, nothing out-of-the – "

And then Phoenixia gasped.

"What? What?" said Valerie, leaping at the sound.

Phoenixia had paused the EEG recording, realising what she had seen; it had just been unexpected. In a brief second lay definitive proof of Alice's epilepsy: a massive, rough spike in the brainwaves, all over her brain at once.


"Have you been taking your pills?"

"Uhh…not since before the thing in the basement." Alice seemed perfectly normal despite the brief squall in her brain.

The pair sighed, and glanced at each other. This had not been the best day. Valerie went off to fetch them, and Phoenixia continued. With the EEG clear, if scary, she tapped into the system and began a short search in the mind – she wasn't expecting to find anything, and so didn't go in as deep as she did with Louise.

Whereas Louise's mind was gloomy and labyrinthine, Alice's was simple, light and airy. The large place that contained her childhood and past, essential as a building block to the rest of the examination, was quite lonely but nothing out of the ordinary. The largest section of Alice's mind, however, was her interests: a massive cavernous room, walls plastered with heraldry; chests of gems; a periodic table coffee table; maps of caves; a human medical anatomy model; 3D replicae of cats and tortoises and an aviary-worth of similar parrots, amongst a myriad of other things.

Beyond that was little more than fine colours and decoration, and in the core of it all, a padded room filled with duvets and pillows, cotton wool and boxes of tissues strewn here and there. She could feel Alice tremble as she peered inside, and wisely left, slowly returning to the place she had entered and leaving the treasure room untouched.

When Phoenixia emerged from her second mind scan that day, Adrian was at her side.

"Anything?" he asked, with a hint of anxiety.

"No. She's clean."


A few days after the incident and its aftermath, everything had returned to normal. Louise was welcomed back into the fold after an overnight stay recovering in the hospital wing, but everyone, especially her, detected the wariness.

Alice was also happy to escape, but she hadn't seen much of Louise. Maybe she was keeping to her room.

She had felt rather ashamed at how much she had caused trouble. All but one involved in the investigation had been so nice afterwards, and recalling her actions made her extremely embarrassed.

Specifically, while everyone else was fine, she couldn't bring herself to go and speak to Adrian.

Many of these people pushed her to go and talk to him, eventually getting Alice's awkward problem and thinking of how to help. And now Alice stood outside the Librarian's door, prodded to go there by Tash, and she was dithering on the spot.

She tapped softly on the door, semi-hoping he wasn't in; but the Librarian seemed to have been waiting for her, and opened the door immediately.

"Alice! Come in, come in," he said genially, cat ears twitching in the way to show great interest and beckoning her inside the decorated space that was the office he shared with Tash. Alice was shown to an armchair in the corner, while he pottered around the back. "Tea?"

"Uhh… no, thank you."

"Wow, a Brit who turns down tea? Shocking."

Alice half-smiled, mumbling something about only liking a few fruity blends and accepting a glass of pink lemonade instead. She watched, attempting to speak, as he sat down opposite.

"Look…about, um, earlier…"

"Alice. They weren't the best days for anyone."

"But I…"

"I know I was heavy-handed. I shouldn't have been. I'm not like that normally, honest." He smiled as Alice blushed scarlet and mumbled something softly. "I'll admit I was annoyed that such an inside attack could have happened on my watch. Something like that could have easily turned into a break-out… or a massacre."

"But it didn't."

"No, it didn't. But without a clear remedy, I didn't like all the waiting and negotiation – "

"You impatient muppet."

Adrian was relieved to see Alice's smile. "Well whaddya gonna do. Though I don't think my arms are on sticks or I have a hand up my butt…" He twisted around comically to check, and Alice laughed.

"So, tell me about your epilepsy. I'll admit I was surprised when Phoenixia mentioned it to me."

Alice shrugged. "I was fourteen, and I just keeled over in the breakfast hall on a school trip. Then several months later, in the middle of Thorpe Park…"

"And after that, it wasn't just a one-off. Is Phoenixia aware of how you deal with it? She did mention your seizure type to me."

"Topple to the floor and spazz, the typical thing. I've talked to most folk around here about it; I think they want to know what to do. But I've been seizure-free for seven years, this August…" Alice was quite animated when talking about her condition, he noted. Far from being ashamed of it, despite epilepsy still carrying a slight frightening taboo, Alice had easily accepted it as a part of her being and was very knowledgeable about it.

"I assume we would have your medication in the pharm cupboards," Adrian said, to Alice's nods. He gathered a pencil and a pad, scribbling on it. "But just in case: aura symptoms? Post-ictal period?"

He was deliberately using the medical jargon and wasn't surprised that Alice knew exactly what he was asking. "I don't get any warnings, I just drop. And I'm out for about twenty minutes afterwards, and after that I'll just need a bed."

"Well let's hope it doesn't come to that… I've already heard you've been unlucky enough to land in the hospital several times."

Alice nodded, her hand going to where the still rather pink scar from the Ak'Zahar attack showed quite obviously on her right arm.

"Phoenixia told me about that… it was a tough one. I wish I could have helped, take some of the load off her shoulders."

"I just wish I had thought about the Ak'Zahar before I went to that fandom. I'm glad Louise had gone by then," Alice mumbled.

"The Ak'Zahar…" Adrian breathed out. "I know about them. I know they're practically impossible to fight; totally magic-resistant and they swarm like bloodthirsty hornets. Everyone I know would do the sensible thing and run."


"Mmm. You were very lucky."

"I owe Nixie a lot…" said Alice, rubbing the scar gingerly up and down. It still itched a lot in certain situations, almost a remnant of the creatures' anti-magic.

"She's pretty good at things like that…" mused Adrian. "And besides…'Nixie'?"


"Why 'Nixie'? I've never known her to have much of a nickname…"

Alice shrugged, the red creeping back into her cheeks. "It's just a contraction… two syllables easier to yell than four."

"Fair enough…"

"I mean if you look at the phonemes behind the word, and…"

Alice rambled on, and he actually let her get to her long, waffling point, watching her strangely.


"I've seen how much research you did for this mission to Rome you all did. You nearly broke the table with the weight of it all!"

"Rome was fun! Everyone kept giggling at Michael's name. Gotta go in prepared, I say!"

Adrian chuckled. "It's like having a pet search engine…" Alice grinned wildly.

"So how're things in general?" The plan that had been hatched between Adrian and Tash was working: distract Alice from all embarrassment otherwise there might be resentment later, and he would have enough of that with Louise. He was also learning a lot about how the woman's mind worked by just talking to her.

"Oh you know, the usual, running from danger and ignoring the plot. Getting chatted up by hunky Romans and making plans for a buffet when I get my hands on Dicky-boy. Oh, and kicking Daftie's butt when she pops up…"

"Daftie?" He had an idea of who Alice was referring to, but was startled by the sudden nonchalant tone. It hid many things.

Alice shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "Well, she is daft. What she's doing and all. I always thought making a mockery of your enemy could possibly undermine them somewhat."

"Mmm, true. What would you have said about Willowe, I wonder."

"I 'unno. 'Oi Aspirin'?"

He laughed at that. "Please don't call Runoa 'Daftie' to her face."

And Alice was immediately serious. "No, of course I won't."

He nodded, appreciating that she was not silly.

"There's something that bugs me about the whole Runoa thing," Alice began. "Her research. Admirable, I guess, but I remember the adage 'good is completely impotent without the contrast to evil'. But why did nobody help her? Why did no one see what she was doing and talk it over with her? Was she alone?"

He was silent.

"Sorry. It's just… I don't know. I'm probably missing something considerable. I just find the story rather sad, is all."

"Your compassion does you credit. Not many would think of her like that. But it won't help you now."

"No, I know… Adrian, do you want this to come to blows?"

"It will. Unfortunately she is beyond our help now and she will not hesitate to kill any of us, including you."

"That's not what I asked. I know it will too. But do you actually want it?"

"…Frankly, no. No I do not. I pity her too, sometimes."

He stood then, shaking off the miasma – he didn't expect it to get to that topic – and took the last piece of Tash's advice.

"Anyway, I thought you were called the Glomp Monster for a reason! Well I've been home for nearly four months and I haven't been hugged by you yet. I feel deprived! So come on, glomp me."


"Yes. Your biggest and bestest glomp you can possibly manage. Go on." He held out his arms, giving Alice a free invitation to his ribs.

"All right…"

So Alice glomped him.

He immediately regretted it.


The noise was heard moments before it was seen, but everyone in the Library knew that sound and several guarded their ribs at the memory of it. It was the gasping, cracking and squeaking sound of a monster glomp.

Then as the noise reduced to a low moan, there was a giggle and a scuffle – then to her audience's shock, amusement, bemusement and plain hilarity, Alice came running out the room wearing Adrian's arms around her neck like a necklace, the Librarian himself hefted onto her back – running down the corridor with his loud wail following her.

Alice stopped in the middle of a large corridor junction, twirled awkwardly a little then dumped her load on the floor – who proceeded to sink onto his butt, too dizzy to keep his balance. She crossed her arms victoriously.

Everyone around was in various stages of mirth, some fighting hard not to giggle, some corpsing and unable to keep standing.

"My life flashed before me eyes…" Adrian groaned.

"It was really boring!" quipped Tash in between laughs, finishing the quote from Chicken Run.

"Urrgh…you…" Adrian tried and failed to point at Alice, instead slumping against the wall and not even resisting when Tash jumped into his lap. "What's those drugs of yours made from? Those glomps of yours are monstrous…"

"Oh we all know she's stronger than she looks!" cheered Tash.

"Why didn't you warn me?" he whined.

"It was funnier this way."


As Louise walked, the corridors the Library seemed all but deserted. It had been several days since her release from the hospital wing, during which she had spent the majority of her time in self-isolation in her room. When she wasn't in her room, Louise was pestering Adrian to be allowed to see Robert.

Every day she would stand outside his office, ask her question, and every day she would get the same response.

"Look, Adrian..." Louise was getting a little pissed off with the answers she was receiving from the Librarian, "... you have all proved that I don't have any more programming in my head. So why won't you let me see my friend?"

"Do you really think you can withstand the heckling that you will receive in there?" he asked. This was not the first time, but Louise was ready for him this time.

"I'm not going to visit them..." she responded curtly.

"They'll still be there, you know. You're fair game to them. Can you really block them out?"

"I can try."

Adrian appeared to deliberate, mulling the possibilities over in his mind. Louise merely watched him, studying his expressions with a mixture of curiosity and frustration.

"Fine... Go."

Louise could barely believe her ears. After nearly a week of asking, she was finally getting to see her friend. She turned away from the Librarian, with the briefest "Thank You!" over her shoulder.

Louise walked swiftly towards the basement, barely containing her enthusiasm from breaking her into a run.

The agent on duty was Ben, who greeted her warmly upon her arrival. Louise explained that Adrian had finally granted her permission to speak to Robert, so long as he was present in the basement proper at the time to ensure nothing happened.

"I have no problem acting as your chaperone, Louise," Ben chuckled, and Louise gave the young man a gentle whack on the arm.

Ben opened the door into the basement, and as Louise expected she was greeted with heckles from the two worst Sues – Ash and Roxelana. Ben wandered off to deal with them, as Louise walked to the front of Cell A3.

"Hey Robert..." she murmured.

Her friend had his nose in a book, and hadn't noticed her arrival. Heckling in the basement was nothing unusual, and he had merely assumed it was the agent on duty come to check on their charges. The shock on Robert's face when he looked up was priceless.

"Mirani!" he greeted his friend with a smile.

Louise crouched down, and sat, cross-legged on the concrete floor. Robert moved to the front of his cell atop the rugs, and the two began talking.

"I generally go by 'Louise' now…" she said, smiling.

"I'm sorry, I should have realised. I'm just so glad to see you again," Robert could barely take the grin off his face.

"Likewise. It's taken me a good week to get Kitty-Boy to let me in to see you."

"He seemed very determined to get answers from me."

"What did he do to you?" Louise questioned, a note of fear in her voice.

"Nothing really. He just asked a lot of questions. Eventually he got the information he required. Then he brought me back down here, and gave me this." Robert indicated the green t-shirt he was now in. His name was clearly printed on the front, arms and back.

"You must have really impressed him." Louise was not feeling in a particularly charitable mood towards the Librarian at the present time. "He's not exactly the friendliest of people."

Robert shrugged and sighed. "I didn't think I would see you after you left the castle." His voice was distant, remembering a time when he wasn't locked in a basement. "Then I saw you in Rome."

"It was as much a surprise for me as for you, Robert."

Robert smiled. "I didn't want to be in Rome, but she wanted the act just perfect."

"The twins, yeah. Ali drilled Roman customs into us before we left."

Robert's face had a look of concern on it, before he changed the subject.

"So what have you been up to since you left the castle?"

"Mmm..." Louise looked up, her memory lost in the Rome mission. "Oh, nothing much. I went to university, which is where I met Alice. I don't know what I would be doing if it wasn't for her."

"You two are friends?"

"Yeah..." Louise nodded, a hint of sadness in her expression. "I can't believe I actually did those things to her."

"Mirani..." Robert reached through the bars to rest his hands on hers. "From what I understand, you were not acting under your own volition. You are not to blame for your actions."

"I still feel crap about it." Louise held her friend's hands. "It's as if Alice blames me. Whenever I enter a room, she leaves it. She will barely be in the spare room as me for more than a few seconds. I may not have consciously done those things, but I feel like it was my fault."

"Don't..." Robert squeezed her hands. "You always used to come to me for advice. Now take it."

The agent smiled at the Stu. "That's what I always liked about you, Robert – always the gentleman."

Robert returned her compliment with a smile.

"Things haven't been the same since you left."

"What do you mean?"

"Vincent is not well." Robert watched Louise's face drop as he spoke the words. "I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. He's bed-ridden."

"So who's been running the Witch-Hunters...?"

"Me. I've been trying to keep the Witch-Hunters from imploding in on themselves." Robert paused. "Well, until Rome that is. I'm guessing Kelam is trying to juggle both his responsibilities now."

"Poor bugger..." Louise murmured. "If only those idiots in the Circle would give him a chance to rest. But no... it's do this Kelam, do that Kelam."

"He's vital to their survival though."

"I know... but still. Can't Merle... no, of course not. Conflict does whatever she commands."

"Conflict has become worse, if that is at all possible," Robert reported.

"Worse! That man is a bastard at the best of times and Mathias is no better."

"I know, I know." Robert leaned back against the base of the bed and sighed. "I suppose I'd better give you the update on everyone."

"That'd be nice."

"Val upped and left, taking his lot with him. I have no idea where he's living now. Simon is bigger than ever. He runs the place when Merle and Richard aren't there, which is becoming more and more often. The Circle are up to something, but I don't know what."

"They're Merle's pet sorcerers... they are always up to something! I remember the first time I met Mathias... 3 o'clock in the morning in my bedroom!"

"If I recall, you kicked him out the door quite unceremoniously."

Louise smiled and let out a small giggle at the memory. "I was barely dressed!"

Robert sighed. "What I wouldn't give to go back. Anywhere's better than this place."

"It's not too bad... is it?" Louise asked, looking around the basement. Her eyes caught sight of Ben, lingering in the corner. He had a pad of paper and a pen in his hands.

"It's just... never mind..." Robert drifted off. "You have enough things to worry about, without me adding to them."

Louise looked back at her friend. "You have never added to my worries, Robert." Her hand reached through the bars, and briefly touched the side of Robert's face, and he smiled in return.

Robert's gaze followed to where Ben was stood. "I think your friend wants you to finish talking to a known criminal, Mirani – Louise."

"You're not a criminal, Robert..." Louise looked around at Ben, who was scribbling something onto the paper he was holding.

"Regardless, you can't spend all your time down here with me. Go; have fun; enjoy yourself."

"You sure?"

"Go..." Robert gestured to the doorway behind Louise. "Your friends will be waiting for you."

Louise clambered to her feet, and made her way back to the doorway, where Ben was waiting for her.

"All done?" the male agent asked. Louise looked back at Robert who had returned to his bed, book in hand.

"I think so..." Something was worrying Louise, despite Robert's words of encouragement. She followed Ben from the basement proper, and headed up the stairs.

Ben returned to the office, placing the notepad and pen on the desk. He looked down at the names he had written there.



Conflict – name?


Val – male?


The Circle? Merle's pet sorcerers…

He made a mental note to hand the information to a senior agent at the first opportunity; while he was in full support of Louise's visit to her friend, it seemed that all it had done was provide more unanswered questions.

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