Sunday, March 9, 2014

Insert Careless Victim of Murder Here (part 1 of 2)

The hits registered all at once.

"What the hell!"

In a tone as annoying as that used by any instant messaging program, the ACMSES surveillance system let the currently active Agents know that Sues had been found inside one or more fandoms.

Inara was one of the Agents on monitor duty tonight, and with her was the slightly more senior Charis (this was true in terms of age as well as experience). Ever since Charis had begun accepting missions, she'd also been added to the rotations for watch of the Society's computers (on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 10pm to 12am PDT) and guarding the basement (every weekend, from 1pm to 5pm PDT). Nowadays she had much to occupy her time with, outside of her lab, and she'd been trying to slowly build up a resistance to her claustrophobia in order that she could move around in the Library with less difficulty.

In line with this effort, she'd been putting herself through breathing retraining. She'd been reclined in a half-lying position, trying not to move as she alternated between breathing in and out – with short pauses in between – when the sudden disturbance caused by the computers made her eyes fairly fly open in alarm. Inara was quick on her feet, and she silenced the noise coming through the speakers straight away. As Charis took a moment to reclaim her dignity, Inara's fingers flew over the nearest keyboard in a time-saving pattern that the head technician had shown her just earlier.

"I've got this," Inara said confidently. In response to the commands she keyed in, white windows appeared and fought for space within the confines of the screen, until they were tiled in a rough 3 by 2 line-up. There were five Sues, all in the same fandom.

"The fandom's name is Clue." Inara abandoned the computer to Charis as she pulled out her communicator to reach Michael. "Michael, this is Inara calling from the monitor room. We've Sues loose in Clue."

"...try saying that ten times fast."


The exterior of the Boddy mansion was that of your typical English country house - which should mean nothing to the readers. After all, the term can encompass vast country palaces and comparatively small country houses, as well as anything in between the two extremes.

Using superior description, the appearance of the Boddy mansion could be better described in one word: eerie. Of no concern to the Agents were the style of architecture, the size, the number of various bay and picture windows, or the impressively tall hedges surrounding the habitation. What did matter were the weather (a fine mist of rain), the near-complete darkness that had accompanied nightfall, and the shadows that the house lights created on all sides of the garden.

After a long trek in the dark, you would think that a lit-up home would seem welcoming. Instead, the sight of Tudor Mansion made one aware that its lights were the only illumination for miles around. Once the Agents entered, they would surely be cut off from any outside help. The group – four of them – hesitated before the grand front doors, but after one look of false confidence led to another, bolstering everyone's spirits collectively, the first of them grabbed the ring of the door knocker and let it swing.


It was Karissa who stood directly in front of the door, and so it was her who John Boddy – known by the locals as Dr. Black – immediately addressed.

"Welcome, my dear guests, to Tudor Mansion. I was almost afraid you wouldn't be joining us tonight."

Karissa's mouth dropped open, and then it closed. She opened it again to reply, "Well, here we are now." So Boddy had been expecting them. That was unusual. The Agents had expected that they'd have to provide a cover story, something like a car that had broken down on the road, in order to be let inside.

"This is horrible weather, isn't it? I almost prefer it whenever we're told to expect a drought." Boddy smiled crookedly. "Won't you please come in from the rain? Your friends should like that too." He stepped back from the doorway to admit them, and a bemused Karissa moved forward; after her followed Lily, Stephen and Kyle.

Earlier in the Library – once he'd ceased all silliness – Michael had attempted to run an advanced search for 'Clue' in the list of fandoms that certain Agents claimed comprehensive knowledge of. He'd hit a dead end with that. He'd known he didn't have the time to be picky in the choice of team, given the number of Sues to deal with, but he hadn't exactly wanted to pick Agents off a directory at random. Just as he'd been resigned to do just that, he'd remembered a day when all the power had gone out in the Library. Don't ask how. In the spirit of a blackout, work was abandoned, candles had been lit, and boardgames had been excavated from the backs of closets. One group of Agents had been coerced into playing Cluedo (as it's known outside of North America). It had turned out that... Karissa, yes, her, she was singularly talented at the game, but she'd deceived three others by pretending she'd never played before. Her competitors had been... Lily... Stephen... and... Kyle. In that order, he'd called the others to his office; by that method, he'd chosen the Agents for this mission.

Karissa was no stranger to working with her friend Lily, but this would be first time she'd worked closely with either Stephen or Kyle. The group shuffled in their shoes over the doormat, shook some of the moisture from their coats, and then proceeded to stare as soon as they were able. Boddy was perfectly content to let them gawk for a moment or two.

They presently stood inside the Hall.

In anyone else's house, such a room would make up a living area. An electric fire burned artificially against the wall to their left, and other items in the room included some decorative plants, a tall grandfather clock, a table for the post, two china cabinets, and several marvellous paintings. Chairs were scattered about the room, and lamps or smaller tables stood by their sides like sentries. The rug on the floor was purple on blue in a design of repeated squares. Three doors – one single and one set – led from the room, and only these made clear that the Hall was decidedly a hall, as through the open doors the Agents could see...a lot of hallway. At least six other rooms. Stairs leading to another floor, and others possibly leading to a basement. A lot of hallway – sorry, was that already stated?

Kyle muttered something about rich people and lack of common sense.

Boddy acted as if he hadn't heard.

They were asked to leave their coats on a long wooden table that seemed unsuitable for the task – "They'll be put away later," – and in the absence of further instructions, Karissa began a path towards one of the doors.

"I'm sorry. There is one more thing I require of you." The Agents turned around at the clear, ringing words from Boddy's mouth. These two sentences had come out far more forcefully than anything he'd said before. "I must ask you to hand over every weapon that you might be carrying upon your persons." At the reaction displayed across each of their faces, he added hastily, "It would not be the first time that my guests have mistakenly overlooked the postscript on my letters. I ask people not to bring weapons so that it would become less likely for violence to be committed in this house." Boddy struggled to conceal a wry grin. "People feel surer of their personal safety if they are armed, but in my experience, a group of people all armed will tend to misunderstand each other. What was once the potential threat of physical harm is escalated to– well, the threat of murder. You wouldn't believe the events that occurred at my last little gathering."

In fact, after reading an insert included with most Clue games – on top of the instruction manual – the Agents were positive that they could believe an account of the tragedy that struck Boddy's last party. He'd died (for a short period of time).

They pulled out their weapons one at a time, according to the degree with which they had nothing to lose. Lily placed down a purely ornamental knife, knowing that the Pins on her bracelet wouldn't register as weapons unless she deliberately activated the psychs they contained. Stephen laid down a sword – a big sword – that Karissa had once teased him mercilessly about, but neither was he worried, because his secret psychic skills did not leave him defenceless. Karissa dithered for a long while, but eventually she removed Gekkou from its place inside her sash, albeit with obvious reluctance. Only Kyle made no discernable movement.

"I find it hard to believe that you're not holding out on me." Boddy met Kyle's stare with his own, and raised a sceptical brow.

Did he think that Boddy could detect the dozen plus weapons hiding inside his Astral Vault? No, Kyle didn't think so. His gaze deepened into an intimidating glare.

"Come now. Don't be like this. I can't let you proceed any farther until I know you're unarmed. I don't want any harm to come to my distinguished guests!" Boddy was well on his way to becoming agitated.

"I think he's let slip that – in his eyes – his other guests are more important than we are," Lily whispered in an aside to Karissa.

"If they're Sues, no doubt they easily made him believe that they are. But that doesn't make them any better than us in reality," Karissa said brightly. "Please, Kyle, could you relinquish your guns to the nice man? Not only those, of course, but also...anything else that you're keeping back." Kyle's philosophy spoke that power was only as versatile as the imagination of the user, and so he might have prepared armaments more exotic than firearms for this mission. She didn't want to offend him.

For a brief moment she was afraid that she'd aggrieved him nonetheless, but then he heaved a sigh. "You guys go on without me. This is going to take a while." Oh. He'd brought along that many weapons.

"I will stay with him," Boddy agreed. "If you'll just step through the doors and turn to the room on your left, perhaps you'll spend a few minutes mingling with my foreign guests in the Lounge." He was dropping hints left and right. Reading between the lines, not only did the Sues possess influence that could excite a rich man, but they'd also purported to come from overseas.


As soon as the Agents walked into the Lounge, they were made to feel underdressed. This was a fact, rather than an impression caused by the Sues' glamour.

Karissa was wearing her regular black on black overall outfit, on top of which she tied a red silk sash. Lily was wearing a dress shirt – which was acceptable – but she also wore a miniskirt and had sneakers on her feet. Stephen was wearing his blue tee, khaki shorts and orange hat ensemble. They hadn't looked so odd when they'd walked into the house draped in ubiquitous raincoats, but among the rich furnishings of the mansion they stood out like funeral guests wearing all white.

Red. Yellow. Green. Blue. Purple. The Sues were assembled against the opposite wall, nearly forming a rainbow with the colours of their dress, but at least their evening clothes appeared properly sumptuous and rich. Karissa would bet that the Sues' names were derived from the colours they preferred, just as Boddy's canonical guests' had always been. Two of the Sues were male – Stus, in fact – and the other three were female. Regardless of gender, they were all breathtakingly beautiful. On the whole, they possessed very light hair, blue eyes, a straight nose, and pale skin that demonstrated the absence of toil in the sun. It was a pity that the women were short, or else their group could have posed for a poster depicting the Homo Europaeus (or Nordic) race.

Only the male clad in green and the female clad in purple paid them much attention. After a cursory once-over, the other three pointedly resumed looking out one of the windows at the moon in the sky above. The purple Sue strutted forward in a catwalk stride. She might have been the oldest of them, but she couldn't have been a day over thirty. She was very well-groomed.

"Greetings, Agents of the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society." Somehow, articulating the entirety of the ACMSES title benefited her; she came across as delicate and aloof and ironical, all at the same time. "I am Lady Iris. There stand Lady Tiffany and Lady Amber, Lord Rufous and Lord Kelly." From her impersonal introduction of the others, Karissa understood that maybe the Sues were unrelated, after all. It was something other than blood that tied them together. "We have been expecting you. We've been kept amused by Boddy's distress when he thought that he would be unable to bring you here on time, yet we're glad that you've finally arrived."

"Most Sues aren't glad to see us. That's a big mistake on your part." Stephen bridled.

"Yes, Iris, I have to agree with Stephen. What exactly do you want? And where are the game's usual cast of characters?"

Tiffany's gaze cut sharply to Karissa. She spun around from facing the window. "You will address us with the respect we're due!"

"Shove it, Tiffany. I'm not Cristoph. 'Lord' and 'Lady' don't just trip off my tongue, and I would consider none of you as friends anyhow. Iris, I'll say it again – what are you Sues up to?"

Lily had stepped forward to keep the furious Tiffany in her sight, and now she thought to seek Amber and Rufous too. For some reason, Kelly was restraining them so that they wouldn't attack. She saw Kelly place a conciliatory hand on Rufous's arm and whisper something into his ear. The Stu relaxed, and Amber followed his example. Karissa had hardly noticed. She was wholly concentrated on Iris.

"Well, which question should I answer first?" The coiffed Sue wound a loose strand of hair around her finger, coiling it into a perfect curl to match all the others on her head. Studying this piece intently, she lilted, "Boddy's previous guests were no fun to play with. Every time I employed the slightest bit of suergy on the man, the rest threw off our thrall and would begin to squabble. They trusted none of us, because they could never trust each other." Iris sniffed, affronted. "Puppets that won't yield to the pull of their strings should have said strings severed."

Murderess! None of Boddy's friends or associates had been particularly agreeable, but according to the "sanctity of life" principle every human life deserved to be preserved and protected, whatever the individual's qualities or characteristics.

Disregarding the Agents' rising fury – or perhaps relishing it – Iris continued to speak with the expectation of their absolute attention. "As for your second question, what we'd like to do is play a game with you. One of us will slay Boddy – he has served his principal purpose, next best to dying – and you will have to guess who did the deed, with what, and where." This would explain the locale, if nothing else would. Either the Sues had originated from this fandom or else they'd picked this board game precisely for its method of play. "I wouldn't recommend guessing blindly until you think you can eliminate us all, because I warn you that there will be consequences."

"What a time that took!"

Into the midst of this confrontation, Boddy intruded with the ease afforded by ignorance. "You must know each other well enough, after that long while. May I suggest that you next proceed upstairs to make your preparations for dinner?" Boddy peered at Karissa, Lily and Stephen. "Your luggage didn't arrive with you. I'm not sure how you'll manage. My friends–" This to the Sues. "Do you wish to change your attire as well? My Lady Iris, you are already so beautiful." He kissed her hand. Stephen gagged.

By this point Kyle had rejoined his fellow Agents, and he spoke on behalf of them. "Expect us in the Dining Room in ten minutes."


"Kyle! How are we going to get dressed in ten minutes? Oh my god, if this is a formal dinner then I'll need makeup! I hate makeup. It will take me forever to put on makeup." Out of the presence of the Sues, it was as if a switch had flipped in Karissa's brain. She was wringing her hands anxiously, and even Lily was caught up in the worry of what appearance she should put forth at an important sit-down dinner.

"Calm down, Karissa. First of all, tell me what I missed." After being informed of the Sues' challenge, Kyle leaned back against a chair in his guest room, and closed his eyes to think. Karissa began to fidget again. The bed on which she and Lily were sitting bounced perceptibly. Without opening his eyes, Kyle said aloud, "Why don't we just leave?"

"What?" Thinking of the deal he'd made with Tash and Adrian, which was contingent on bringing in at least three Level Four Sues, Stephen was resistant to this idea. With the capture of Fey Tale and Evelynn Lanseal, he only needed to subdue one more Sue, and he would bet that every Sue in this company hovered around Level Five. They'd broken loose of their Author's control, for sure, even if they lacked the power to do anything with their freedom.

"We can call their bluff. It's not like they're doing any harm here. If we leave, they'll enjoy one night's free stay courtesy of Boddy, but they won't have a reason to toy with him any longer."

"And what if they do murder him, like they murdered all the rest of the characters? How can you say they've done no harm when six lives have been extinguished since their arrival?"

"The fandom will take care of any fallout. It might be revealed that the lack of breath attributed to Boddy's death was in fact a result of sleep apnea, and as such he'll be released from the care of the coroner before he's been halfway transported to the morgue." Stranger explanations had been made to account for Boddy's continued existence. "No corpse remains dead in this game for long. The others will come back to life sooner or later – like zombies." Kyle attempted to introduce some humour to the situation, but no one else laughed.

"I don't think we should rely on the fandom clearing things up for us. It's our duty to Prohibit all of these Sues if possible. In the novel series, Boddy was only revealed to be alive after every instance that his killers were captured." Karissa spoke at last.

"I don't want to be held responsible for another fandom being sealed off," Lily added. Only recently – with the arrest of Matthew Slaymaker – had Avalon Code and Aria of Sorrow been restored to their original states.

"Let's vote on it then," Kyle conceded grudgingly. Unsurprisingly, the number of hands up exceeded Kyle's own, left down, meaning that favour ran with those who would rather stay and investigate.

Karissa peeked at the alarm clock on top of the bed stand and gasped. "Five minutes! We have five minutes left!" None of them had thought to visit the Automatic Tailorisation Machine before they'd left. What would they wear?

At that moment, her Communicator chirruped to indicate an incoming call. "Karissa, are you alright?" It was Charis. "I've been following your mission in the monitor room, and it looks like you're in the middle of a fashion crisis." Oh, that sister of hers! You could almost hear her wicked smirk over the airwaves. "I believe I've devised a solution for your little dilemma. It should suit all of you."

"Thank you, Charis," Lily replied politely, since it didn't seem that Karissa was going to.


Charis's contributions could essentially be called dresspheres. Like the items from Final Fantasy X-2 with the same name, each dressphere basically changed the wielder's appearance (this was no video game, so changes to weapons and stats were nonexistent). A small Plothole had been sufficient for her toss the dresspheres one by one through to them. Karissa and Lily had received modified versions of the Lady Luck dressphere. Yes, their outfits were tighter than they would usually be comfortable with; however, they were greatly relieved that all the formerly cut-out panels which would have exposed skin had been stitched shut. Revealing, these dresses were not.

Karissa's dress was bright red, reminiscent of the uniform she'd worn when first joining the Society. The form-fitting sheath terminated just above her knees, and it left her shoulders bare. Her short inky hair had grown to the length that Lily's had reached before – it just barely grazed her collarbone when let down. After unfolding the sash that was kept around her waist, it was revealed to the others what a truly large piece of silk it was. Karissa knotted two ends together just underneath her bust line, and so the silk became a sort of train that swept around her feet gently. She wore her black ribbon choker and black heels, and red gloves no higher than her wrist.

Lily had expected that her dress would be green, but Charis sent a black gown that ran down to her ankles. It was slim and simple, and ran in a halter style around her neck. It complemented her dyed hair so well that she looked as brunette as Karissa if they weren't standing side-by-side. She wore longer black gloves that went past her elbows, and for once she had the opportunity to display her Pin-studded jewellery openly, for she wore both her bracelets on top of the gloves. You could hardly see her shoes past the cut of her skirt, but she wore emerald pumps of an average height. She didn't look too short next to Karissa, but her feet were more likely to thank her at the end of the day for sparing them that extra inch.

Stephen and Kyle had received modified versions of the Psychic dressphere. The former wore a long-sleeved dinner jacket in bronze over pants of the same colour. The latter wore much the same thing, but in white. Their shoes were made of brown tooled leather. There was some questionable ornamentation on the cuffs of their sleeves, but nothing in particular gave away the futuristic origins of the outfits. By mutual agreement the two had divested themselves of the mirrored goggles that were the most characteristic feature of Psychic. Stephen carefully folded the arms on his pair and set them upon the folded pile of the clothes he'd came in. Kyle carelessly tossed his pair into the depths of his Astral Vault. He might like to find them again someday, or on the other hand, he might not.

The dresspheres were easy to equip, thank goodness, so Kyle's hasty promise that they would show up in the Dining Room before the start of dinner held true. The men helped all the women into their chairs, and then the arrival of appetizers signalled the beginning of what was sure to be a tense dinner. It was a five course meal. French onion soup followed the appetizers of cold cut meat and cheese; then came individual garden salads. The main course was a venison and mushroom terrine, marinated in port and spices to lend it extra flavour and moisture. Dessert was served in the form of a decadent chocolate soufflĂ©. None of the Agents took wine with their food, invariably asking for water or juice instead; conversely, all the Sues – and their host – indulged in the alcohol with apparent delight.

At the conclusion of the meal, Boddy invited them all into the Study for nightcaps. Feeling a little braver, Karissa accepted the offer of a drink the second time she was asked. Boddy poured out a cream-based liqueur into a shot glass for her. "Karissa!" Lily scolded, when she saw what her friend held in hand. "We're not of the legal age to drink!"

"It's funny that you should say that. In the United Kingdom it is permissible to give children aged 5 or older a small quantity of alcohol to experiment with, provided it's done in private. Youths aged 16 or 17 are allowed to consume alcohol at the table with their meals." Kelly had sidled up to them and overheard the tail end of their conversation. "I'd wager that both you and your friend here are 16 at the very least. Therefore, no worries. Would you like a glass for yourself, miss?"

Lily shot Kelly a horrified expression before she could stop herself. "You leave us alone," she told the Stu, walking away with Karissa.

Some of the Sues who had already reached their limit declined further beverages. Nevertheless, everyone filed into the Study at Boddy's behest. For lack of anything better to do, Kyle moved with the crowd. Inside the room, he spotted a gramophone in pristine condition under its glass case. He put on a disc of jazzy classical remixes in short order. The music receded behind Stephen as he drifted to the Library across the corridor and pulled a book off the shelf to read. Ignoring the hostile glances that Lily continued to send him, Kelly reclaimed his spot in between the girls and proceeded to chat them up. Karissa tried hard to keep the topic to the weather.

At long last the clock struck midnight.


"Somewhere, Cinderella's coach has turned into a pumpkin," Kelly teased. He had an uncommonly pleasant voice. Karissa was poised to make another banal comment about the beauty of the night's stars when, abruptly, a horrible realization came upon her.

People had gradually been leaving for bed for all of the last fifteen minutes. She had no certainty about the order in which the others had left. She didn't know if Boddy had left already, and she had no idea if he was still alive. She broke off on what she'd been about to say to Kelly, and after a silent communication with Lily, took off across the room in a great swish of silk. They wasted precious minutes searching for Stephen and Kyle, until finally the collected Agents stood in a huddle at the foot of the stairs – in the precise centre of the house.

"What kind of detectives are we?" Karissa agonized.

"We aren't," Kyle replied brusquely.

"We have to find them!" Stephen declared, and that they could agree upon, but it might be easier said than done. They hashed out a plan and hurriedly went about their separate ways.

Karissa was appointed with the task of checking up on Boddy, if indeed he was in his room. She rounded a corner on the upstairs landing and was puzzled to see Kelly coming up the stairway that was twin to hers. They met outside Boddy's bedroom door. "I came to wish our host a good night," Kelly explained himself.

Karissa nodded. That was reasonable. She set her clenched fist against the closed door and performed a light knock. "Dr. Black? I was terribly rude, I'm sure, but I forgot to bid you goodnight before you retired." She waited with bated breath, unsure if she would obtain an answer.

"That's very kind of you. Goodnight," a muffled voice returned.

"Goodnight, Dr. Black," Kelly offered from over her shoulder.

Again, a curt goodnight was echoed.

In any case, Boddy was lively enough to be surly. That was a small victory.


None of the women had gone to bed. Lily didn't know whether to be happy or dismayed with this finding. With little effort, she'd discovered that Iris, Tiffany and Amber had merely moved into the Billiard Room to prolong the night's merriment. Tiffany and Amber were very definitely merry. They hadn't stopped drinking until they'd been forced to. Iris supervised them with a critical eye, but she looked much more interested in Lily's entrance.

"Don't I know you?"

Lily froze in place. She'd been dreading this. She'd thought herself lucky when Karissa and Stephen's antagonism towards Iris had cut short the incomplete round of introductions yesterday. The Agents hadn't had the chance to throw their respective names out. True, Karissa had let Stephen's slip carelessly from her tongue; and then Kelly had gleaned hers from Lily's lips. But it had been feasible that she wouldn't be required to disclose her own identity. Not so, now.

Well, what did she have to be afraid of? Lily forced her spine to straighten out, and at her full height, she looked down her nose at Iris. With a surge of pride that had carried over from her past life, she stated openly, "My name is Lily Adamson. You might have known me as Bella Aubrey."

Iris looked as if she were fascinated. "I've heard of you. How is life on the other side?" she added contemptuously.

Lily donned her best poker face. "I couldn't be happier. I've got a boyfriend who loves me. I've got friends. I belong."

Suddenly Amber and Tiffany burst into the chorus of a song –

I couldn't be happier
Because happy is what happens
When all your dreams come true
Well, isn't it?
Happy is what happens
When your dreams come true!

– and they were able to hold the last note for a whole beat before collapsing into a drunken sprawl.

Iris shook her head in disbelief, either at Lily's words or else at the antics of the Sues a level beneath her, but she put down her wineglass and pronounced mockingly, "It's time to call it a day, I think."


Not soon after departing from Karissa and Lily, Stephen and Kyle came upon Rufous lounging against the doorway of the Study. He held the bottle from which Boddy had served their nightcaps tightly in one hand. Stephen assessed the scenario summarily. "Time to go, sir," he huffed as he forcibly pried the liqueur from the Stu's grasp. "Kyle, grab his other arm," Stephen directed, and together the two of them managed to frogmarch Rufous up the stairs and into his room.

"Stay inside!" Kyle slammed the door shut in Rufous's face. Belatedly, he decided to assume that the Stu had retained enough dexterity to be able to undress himself.

Stephen looked wearily over at the other Agent. "I shouldn't even think longingly of the bed in my own room, should I? We'll have to guard his door all night."

After thinking it through, Kyle nodded sympathetically.

"Oh great."

The sound of footsteps heading in their direction had the two of them on alert once more.

"Good evening, gentlemen," Iris trilled as she passed them. It looked as if she was allowing Lily to escort her to her room. The men decided not to comment on the unconscious forms of Tiffany and Amber, whom Iris carried on her shoulders, one to each side. The added weight put no apparent strain on the Sue. Those two were dropped off – so to speak – in their rooms, which came first in the women's passageway. Presently unencumbered, Iris smiled at Lily before stepping past the corner that separated the final three guest rooms from the rest.

"Your room is closest, but I think you'd like to watch me walk into mine, and moreover lock the door behind me." Iris leered at Lily, and in response to her disagreeable manner the former Sue nearly retorted that she wanted no such thing. Only, of course she did.

Iris did as she was told, sashaying past the threshold with one, two, three steps. As soon as her door closed, the sound of the lock being employed came loud and clear. Lily ducked into her room, sticking her head out to check on the corridor at intervals. After repeating this procedure for three times or more – and not once did she hear a scrabble to indicate that Iris's lock was about to twitch back – Lily decided that things were settled enough to warrant her going to bed.


No sooner had Lily and Iris disappeared from Stephen and Kyle's line of sight than Karissa and Kelly walked into view. The girl flashed them a quick thumbs up to signify that Boddy was alive and well, and then she turned to the Stu beside her and said rather sternly, "This is where I leave you. You will go inside your room and consent to be watched over for the remainder of twilight. Do you understand?"

"I am not hard of hearing, nor am I simple," Kelly said with dignity.

"That wasn't what she was accusing you of. We know that those traits would be impossible in a Stu," Kyle interjected. "Now move."

Kelly winked impertinently at Karissa before he went to comply with Kyle's demand. He blew a kiss aimed at all the occupants of the hallway before locking himself in, and the male Agents shuddered. Karissa didn't know what to feel – there was an odd sensation in her stomach that she couldn't accurately identify as nausea.

Stephen moved to form a human barricade blocking Kelly's door, and Kyle rearranged himself in front of Rufous's door in order to maximize his comfort. Seeing that the guys looked to be spending the rest of the night out in the hall, Karissa decided that it would only be fair if she were to do the same in the women's hallway. Testing the knobs on the first two doors, she determined that the locks were not engaged. She was not happy with the fact, but it would be impossible for her to act upon it. The next two doors that she attempted were locked, but Karissa stared at them apprehensively all the same. Who was behind each door? She supposed that the empty room at the end was meant to be hers.

She reversed until the solid presence of the wall made itself evident behind her back, and then she slid all the way down to the floor. She paid no mind to the inevitable damage that she must be causing to her skirt. With two doors in the left of her peripheral vision, and two doors in the right of it, Karissa also took up "night watch".

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