A bell chimed, and the floor slowly reassembled itself once more, comfortingly solid beneath her back.
"Arise! Arise, you no-good feckless doodle, and for once in your account get some tolerable work done! Get up now or I'll string you up by your gills and force you to breathe air! NOW!"
"Towa-chan, humans don't have gills. Most of us don't, anyway."
"Then what are those two floppy things coming out of that short one's neck, then?"
"Those would be the ends of her towel, Towa-chan."
Her head hurt. God did her head hurt. Where was she? What was her name again? Think, think…Emily. Her name was Emily. She must have gone to bed without remembering. Everything was dark. That was odd, didn't she usually sleep with the lights on? She thought she did. She thought she was certain that bad things came out of the dark. But of course, it was only a thought, it was possible she was someone else entirely and was simply too groggy to remember the correct name as of now. Many things were possible. Voices? What were those voices? She didn't think she recalled those voices. Wasn't she supposed to be in her room?
A cold, pointed tip of something prodded her side, just below her ribs. She didn't think her alarm usually woke her in that sort of manner. Was she sleeping over at someone's house? "Get up, hon. You're not here to sleep in." Hon? Was that her mother speaking? She didn't think her mother had red hair. Her temples ached, and she tried to raise a hand to sooth them. The hand disagreed, and after a brief struggle of wills, the hand continued to lie firmly beside her waist.
Several moments later, the soft surface beneath her transformed into the mocking iciness of an early morning wood floor. With a quiet groan, she managed to roll over onto her belly, and a great victory it would have been if the hem of her shirt hadn't ridden up to leave an inch of stomach exposed, which the temperature of the floor was not kind to in the least. She flinched at the bite of cold planks, and her arms shuddered as they lifted her torso away from the floor's frosty snap. In a surge of fortitude, she managed to tuck her legs beneath her chest and heave herself to her feet. The muscles in her thighs trembled at the new two-legged weight shift, which for just a moment seemed completely unnatural. Then she remembered. She was Emily. She was a girl. She was thirteen. And this sure as hell was not her bedroom.
The faces that peered into hers wore identical expressions, and neither gave her any relief or sign of welcome. Their eyes, one set misty purple-gray and one pair of shining hazel, bore into hers with an intensity that gave her the disconcerting idea that they could see her every thought and know if she tried to lie. Their lips were thin and tight, and the overall implication was that they were not impressed, entirely untrusting, and possibly quite mad.
After a few seconds, her vision decided to widen itself, and she was able to take in the rest of the bodies that may or may not belong to the faces. The first was small and bouncy, with foggy hair that matched her eyes, and wore a maid's outfit of which the maker must have been exceedingly fond of unnesscary lace. The taller second woman was comfortingly normal in a yellow shirt and faded jeans, her hair chestnut colored and cut to rest just above her shoulders. Their familiarity was disturbing; she KNEW she'd seen them somewhere before. The e-mail, the e-mail had talked about DNAngel fanfiction, and her being taught by Dark, and something about dogs that she doubted was important. Wait, she has been angry when she read the e-mail. Who had sent it again?
Her mouth, apparently weary of the brain's rambling attempts to rationalize their enigmatic situation, decided to take a shortcut. "Mrs. Niwa!" it spat out, and instantly her mind realized it to be the truth. The taller woman was Daisuke's mother, so that meant the one in the maid's outfit whose eyes were sending figurative daggers her way was that irritating Towa. But the annoying bird aside, if Daisuke's mother was really here, that meant…"Please introduce me to Dark! I'll do anything!" she pleaded, rolling to her knees and inclining her head before the paranormal expert. Her towel dropped from around her neck to rest on the floor, but she took no notice of it. Emiko began to open her mouth-
And then the door slammed open, and a banshee flew into the room.
No, the intruder happened to be a British hag…ah, no, wait. It appeared to possess some human characteristics. A wild shock of copper hair was draped over her shoulders, fraying ends brushing the middle of her rib bones. It appeared to have been dueled recently by a valiant hairbrush, and to have won the battle. As though enhanced with electric currents, many strands appeared to be making a bid for freedom by leaping towards the sky, forgetting that their bases remained tethered to her scalp. In contrast to the lovely tone of her hair, the bizarre creature's eyes were disappointing indefinite; a swirl of green here, a speak of gray there, hazel occasionally peeping from beneath the muddled mass of hues. Instead of serving to create the illusion of a mystic vortex (like Sakura's own shifting orbs, for instance), the only effect of the tangled shades was to create the illusion of a rain puddle. Not quite as attractive. The alien being gazed proudly around the room, plainly expressing her expectance of applause. Finding only Emily's bewildered and the two older females' exasperated looks meeting her own, her shoulders drooped. She wore a reassuringly normal outfit; indigo T-shirt, jean short-shorts that showed her legs' need of a good shaving, and no shoes. Emily briefly pondered how in the name of Phantom Thief Dark the creature hadn't yet keeled over of frostbite, and then decided on choice c, which was that she didn't really give a damn. Dark was around here somewhere. He had to be. She would find him. The tightening in her chest guaranteed it.
"Meat?" the female two-legged thing queried, turning its shaggy head to Mrs. Niwa. It spoke with an accent that, to the best extent of Emily's judgement, seemed to be a mixture of British and Australian.
The woman nodded, her arms crossed over her chest. "Meat."
Towa's eyes lit with the unholy glow of a fanatic's as she chimed enthusiastically, "Still steaming off the Mary-Sue grill!"
Muddy eyes did not comprehend. A tilt of head, an impatient shifting of weight from one slim foot to the other. "…So it's meat?"
"Not yet, but most likely! These ones-" The art spirit cast an accusing glare towards Emily, who didn't notice through her delicious fog of Dark possibilities. How would she greet him? Should she take the direct approach and leap into his arms, or hang back and play the shy, mysterious role? Dark seemed to like his women head-on…but of course, there would be no plural of the word "women", not after she'd encountered her beloved. After all, he belonged to her; she'd claimed her ownership to all the bitches online who DARED to write romance stories of he and whatever silly, two-dimensional character they happened to come up with. Of course he did. He had to, in this world. What kind of DNAngel school wouldn't let her have a romantic liaison with her favorite character? She'd sue them, that's what she'd do. She needed to contact her lawyer. Correction; first get a lawyer. Then contact lawyer. Where the hell was her Dark? "-don't usually learn in time."
A weary sigh, that of someone who had gone through this conversation many times before and grew tedious of the other conversant's evident lack of memory span. "No, Schizo. No meat."
As the interloper with the name 'Schizo' proceeded to do an impromptu dance in the center of the room, Towa's tapered nails dug welts in her arm. With a surprising amount of strength for one whose natural physical shape was that of a bird, the maid yanked Emily none-too-gently to her feet. "Hey!" she protested, swatting at the female's hand. How dare she! No one touched Emily Van and escaped unscathed. She drew back her unmolested arm and drove her first two fingers into the back of Towa's hand for a fierce pinch. Give me detention, will you, she thought with vengeful glee. You washed-up old-
Whatever the next colorful phrase of her thought track might have been, it was abruptly drowned out by a rumble of fury that seemed to resonate from the very eaves of the room. In an instant, her fingers pinched nothing but air as the skin between them jerked free, while the maid's free hand had invisibly whipped around her body and honed in on Emily's collarbone, bony fingers curled into claws. The would-be writer let out a startled yelp as she sprang backwards. Flecks of blood spattered the floorboards before her feet, and her hand flew to the front of her neck. Her fingertips found a series of gashes that stretched from below her jawbone to just above the indentation of her collarbone. Though she could not crane her head at an angle that would view the exact damage, her fingers came away scarlet. Emily stood for a moment, trying to comprehend the situation.
She was in a DNAngel fan fiction school. Dark was here somewhere, the promise of him sounding more and more wonderfully real as the moments passed. She had been accused of being a Mary-Sue writer, which of course she wasn't. Mrs. Niwa and Towa had appeared. Towa had scratched her and drawn real blood. Which meant…if she touched Dark, Dark would be as solid as the lacerations the bitchy maid's fingernails had left behind. Oh yes. She could learn to like this.
"Schizo-chan," Mrs. Niwa instructed, straightening from where she had been leaning a shoulder against the wall behind her. "Please accompany Van to her first class. Her collar is already implanted" The chestnut-haired woman handed the intruding female, who had recently decided to stand at attention beside the doorway, a dog-eared sheet of paper, and left without a word in the hurried manner of someone who had far more agreeable places to be. After a brief flash of teeth directed towards Emily, Towa too hurried out the door after her overseer. Emily was immensely glad to see her go.
In the manner of one who has long been losing an argument, the other girl called after them half-heartedly, "Emiko-san, I've told you not to call me chan. I am not Japanese." Childish though she knew it was, Emily stuck her tongue out at the maid's departing back, then reached up to once again examine her wounds through touch. But her fingers accidentally overshot their mark, ending up at the center of her throat.
Instead of warm skin, a cool ring of metal met them. She rarely wore necklaces.
What had Mrs. Niwa said about a collar?
"So basically, it will electrocute you every time you make a violent movement around one of those four characters." Schizo extended her leg in an experimental manner, peering at her toes. She wiggled them, perhaps curious to see their function. Without interest, Emily noticed that the nail of her big toe had been cracked off recently, and yet to begin regrowth. After a beat of silence, the redhead added conversationally, "It's quite painful."
"I guessed as much."
Her expression blankly thoughtful, Schizo seemed to speak more to the wall of the hallway than to her escortee. The long walls of the corridor were a lush forest green, permeated only by bold purple spirals that appeared with neither pattern nor constant direction. Emily thought they were gaudy. "I had to wear one for my first week," she informed the verdant surface. "I wanted to see if it were possible to separate Krad's cross from his ponytail. I failed. Repeatedly. But I still want to find out. Of course, it takes a lot of the other students much longer. We had a girl who was in here for a month, and she never once made any attempt to obey its limits. Of course, she died of electrocution, so the Headmaster didn't have to shoot her after all. I'd call that a happy ending, myself. Or at least a half-full one."
Emily had tuned out around the phrase "my first week", judging the most-likely pointless story as nothing to do with Dark, and therefore not of general interest. After a few more seconds of quiet, she became aware that her companion was no longer speaking, and took the opportunity to ask, "So what exactly is Inauguration To Supereminent Discourse? I…uh…don't really understand the title."
"Neither do I," Schizo drawled cheerfully, spinning on her heel to walk backwards. "My personal theory is that whoever came up with the course name used a thesaurus to look up the most difficult synonyms they could find for ordinary words. But basically it's-"
There, her escort promptly froze. Her hands flew to her throat, and a violent twitch traveled from her chest down to her calves. She shuddered for several seconds more, and then slowly shook her head from side to side. "If I tell you, I'll have to wear the collar again."
Emily's eyes narrowed. "But if you're not wearing it now, why are you acting like you're being shoc-"
Rainwater eyes bulged, and in an instant a hand was clasped over her mouth. A voice that sparked and fizzled like a whirling Catherine wheel rasped, "The walls have ears." Instantly the hand was away, and Schizo was once again beside her with a skip replacing every third step, as though nothing at all had passed between them. "Have you got your towel?" the older girl asked, peering around her expectantly as though she expected Emily's towel to be slithering along in the wake of the student's footsteps.
"No." What is it with this school and its towel fetish, her thoughts mumbled irritably, at the same time recalling that her towel must still be where it had fallen, in the room she'd arrived in. It wasn't enough that she'd woken up in uniform, sans the necklace of purple crystals that she adored. It wasn't enough that she'd been whisked away from home by her own computer, and that the promise of a flesh-and-bones Phantom Thief Dark was still sorely unfulfilled. It wasn't enough that the uniform's colors (vibrant orange and lime green) clashed into such an eyesore that the effect must have been purposefully intended. It wasn't enough that the uniform's lower half was not pants, but a long skirt. But no, now she was required to carry at all times a raggedy bath towel for no apparent reason.
I'd very much appreciate waking up now, she thought, and waited hopefully. Nothing happened. She decided to press on. There weren't many other choices she could think of at the moment, and all the scant amount that she could involved pain. Emily liked the idea of fighting, but not the idea of pain.
Schizo studied her with what appeared to be a mix of wicked pleasure and pity. Grinning widely to proclaim that she wasn't sorry at all, she told her, "I'm so sorry. You're going to regret that."
Frustrated, Emily rounded on her escort, taking a determined stance. "Why?"
Apparently determined stances meant little to this person, for Schizo simply slipped around the girl and announced grandly, "We're here! And by we, I mean you." Mane of auburn hair swirling in the air so commandingly that Emily guessed the older girl had practiced the movement before a mirror, Schizo reached to touch a perfectly ordinarily space along the green left wall of the hallway. The wall faded to reveal a decidedly ominous looking doorway. Before Emily could spring back, a hand planted itself firmly between her shoulder blades and shoved her within. The wall slammed shut with a loud thump, though how it managed to do this with no door or sliding panel is still considered one of the many mysteries of the cosmos.
The voice that greeted her was inhumanly cold, and she gladly would have taken Schizo's irritating prattle over the icy shards with which it ornamented each syllable. "Sit down."
"Yes sir." She sat, without being able to see what she sat upon. Her response was automatic; it flew from her throat without the consent of her mind. She couldn't help it, the voice was simply one of the rare few that instantly command total respect and attention, that make people lean in to catch every word in terrible fear of an anonymous wrath that would occur if they missed so much as one letter. Emily didn't know exactly how these voices worked, but she dearly wished she possessed such a tone. Then light flooded the room to illuminate its occupants, and all she could do was gape.
Satoshi. Satoshi Hiwatari. The Hikari descendant. He glanced at her coolly with his trademark flat expression, and it was all she could do not to squeal. Satoshi! Satoshi was here, and as real as she was! If the 2nd hottest bishie could stand before her in his full glory, than Dark…Dark must be here! It was a certainty! But even though Dark was her-she meant Sakura's eternal mate, that didn't mean that she couldn't drool over the detective for a class or two.
In her ecstasy, it took Emily about ten seconds to realize that she and the icy bishounen were not alone in the room. If anything could be trusted to be what she recognized it to be, she appeared to be seated on one of many swivel chairs within a lecture hall. The blue-haired DNAngel character was seated at a large desk in the center front of the room, a good ten feet from the first row of wooden counters and aforementioned black swivel chairs. What appeared to be a lawn deer was balanced on the blue-carpeted floor to the right of the desk. She didn't stop to wonder about the bizarre choice of ornamentation; there was too much occupying her mind already. Behind him stretched a whiteboard that took up most of the wall. And filling the chairs around her were girls. Endless and endless rows of girls, most of which also gazed covetously at their instructor. A growl rose within her thoughts. Damn it, how come they had to be here? They were ruining any chance of Satoshi falling in love with her. Of course, Dark was her first choice, but if she couldn't find him…
Abruptly Satoshi stood, and immediately began to speak. "My name is Hiwatari Satoshi. You may not call me by any short form of that name, or by any other name. You may not use the suffix –kun, because I am not your friend. You are here to learn how to properly write fanfiction about myself and the others within our universe. If you do not make progress within a month, you will receive the ultimate fate. Everyone in this group is to report to the same class following meal time-"
"SATOSHI!" A joyous cry erupted from the midst of the opposite side of the lecture hall from where Emily sat. She watched in intermingled fascination and fury as a scrawny girl, perhaps her own age, with limp shoulder-length chocolate hair and a scattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, charged down the aisleway between the counters. Hiwatari Satoshi made no attempt to dodge her incoming onslaught. If anything, his expression was merely that of impatience and mild annoyance. Will she really get to hug him? Emily wondered. She decided that if this girl's attempt succeeded on icy Satoshi, it would be a fine technique to greet Dark with.
And then the unfortunate student was no longer racing towards her lust object, but sprawled across the aisle between the second and first counters. What pinned her there was somewhat difficult to comprehend, and Emily blinked several times before she convinced herself that the image was not a mirage brought on by the stress of being a budding writer.
It was the lawn ornament.
Which no longer seemed to think itself a lawn ornament, but a deer with the thought process of a guard dog. In Emily's opinion, it was quite an extraordinary phenomena to see; a doe with its hooves crushing the chest of a teenage girl, jagged eyeteeth bared at her in a fiercesome snarl quite unsuited to a deer's naturally gentle expression, and a cry of fury shrilling from its throat. Emily might even have laughed, if the doe were not occupying itself by shredding its way through the girl's skirt into the flesh of her lower right leg. Deliriously, she wondered why no one at this school seemed to feel the need to wear shoes.
The girl's shriek swelled from terror to pain as she thrashed frantically under the deer's merciless mutilation, twining to form a duet with the doe's howl. Hiwatari Satoshi watched for a few moments, then rapped his hand once against the top of the desk. Immediately the doe's head flew up, flecks of scarlet liquid flying from its flapping lips. In three bounds, the deer was beside his desk once more, and again only a lawn ornament. Excluding the crimson stain that tainted the lower half of its muzzle.
His voice was smooth, and without pity. "Hospital wing." Emily glanced around wildly, and saw only strangers. Why wasn't anyone helping the girl? Someone ought to do something! Anyone! Anyone but her, of course. She didn't want to be mauled by the beast. So Emily and all the others watched in grim silence as the girl, tongue lolling at an impossible angle from her mouth and breath only coming in gasping pants, eventually dragged herself to a crawling position. Keening in agony, she vanished into the wall, where Emily still couldn't see any door.
And from there, the terse speech continued as though there had been no mannequin-attack at all. As Hiwatari Satoshi delivered the rest of it, Emily saw only the red sprinkled amongst the blue of the carpet, where the girl had been pinned, and the red that painted the deer ornament's muzzle. They were the only evidence that kept her from convincing herself she had imagined the entire incident. Maybe if she coaxed herself harder, would she believe it then? "And you may pick up the schedule from the bin beside the door on your way out. Goodbye." And just as Emiko had departed, he too glided away without a word of farewell. Emily was beginning to wonder what writing Red On Black had gotten her into.
Drifting in lazily from her left, a voice interrupted her thoughts. "It happens."
The only way to describe it was screeching. Syllables were mangled, ripped to shreds as they passed through the speaker's teeth. The voice shivered constantly up and down the scale, one moment the high shriek of cliched fingernails-on-blackboard, and the next a growling rasp. Emily's hands twitched beside her; it took an enormous amount of mental concentration to keep them from clapping themselves over her ears. She composed herself enough to turn and ask, "Is that girl going to be ok?"
Patient gray eyes looked back at her with an air that suggested they had been through this conversation many times before. "Ah, but the question is, do you care?" The person she spoke to was an older girl than herself, perhaps 16 to 17 years or so. Nothing too unusual; cloudy gray eyes, a gray towel draped carelessly over one shoulder, the usual retina-burning color uniform that so contrasted with her drab features. Gray hair. Hm. Now that she thought about it, one of those traits seemed rather peculiar, but her mind couldn't quite pin down which one it was.
"No," the student continued, toying with a fraying thread on the side of her towel. Come to think of it, the towel made her appear a bit like Linus from Peanuts. Emily used to adore that show. She wondered where she'd put the tapes that she'd recorded the episodes on; she could use a laugh right about now. "You don't care about her, you only care about –Now I'm guessing on the bishie—Dark, right? You seem like a Dark sort of Mary-Sue writer. But most of them are, if they aren't Hiwatari fangirls like poor Miss KC back there. The thing's barely gotten over the trauma of appearing as a normal person instead of how she wanted to look, and then she just HAD to go and try to hug the bishie. They all try at least once, though. You'll want to get it over with quickly."
Miss KC? The girl who'd been attacked…was this her friend? If so, why hadn't she done anything? "What…what was that thing?" Emily stuttered, fingering the bridge of her glasses nervously.
"The deer? Oh, it was a agwuh." Emily looked at her companion blankly, and wished the school had provided her with a translator. The gray-eyed girl tilted her head for a moment in question, then realized what the trouble was. "An Art-Gone-Wrong. We called them agwuhs, for short. They're all pieces of cursed artwork that various fanfiction writers have invented over time, both good and bad. When the story is finished or discontinued, they come to work here. They're basically bodyguards for the bishies, although occasionally they chase newbie students just for fun and for the older students' amusement. Anytime someone tries to glomp a bishie without special authority approval, they attack. That's why the Headmaster had to have the hospital wing built; the school's death toll was becoming dangerously high."
"An agwuh," Emily repeated to herself, mouthing the strange word thoughtfully. Got it. Survival Rule Number One: Avoid lawn ornaments.
The girl's voice squealed like a backfiring car as she added, "That one was originally a statue of a stag, but things tend to become a bit…twisted in this school, to put it mildly. So it was skewed into a plastic statue of a doe, but it didn't forget its viscous nature. Most of the artworks have those to begin with; they don't need to be tampered with." There was a beat of silence, and then as an afterthought: "My name's Katt Anne. Call me Katt."
"I'm Em-chan." Emily fidgeted. Wasn't she supposed to be going somewhere? And when the hell was Dark going to show up?
"Emily," Katt continued smoothly. "Anyway, let's get your schedule. I'll help you along to our first class; I've been here for three semesters now. I know this place better than any one would ever want to." Meekly, Emily followed the girl to the same space along the wall where the rest of the class had departed. Snagging a paper from the bin Satoshi had mentioned, she was struck by a sudden burst of clarity.
"When do we get to see Dark!"
A whuff of laughter, jarring as a car alarm suddenly going off for no particular reason (as they usually do), escaped Katt's chapped lips. "I knew it," she said with evident amusement. "I've gotten quite good at diagnosing fangirl-types. Anyway, he teaches…let's see…I believe it's fourth period this semester. And sixth every other day; that one alternates between him and Daisuke. Well come on, look at the list and ask me to decipher the class names for you."
So Emily peered down at the list clasped in her hand.
Class Schedule For The 3965ZZ.5 Minions:
Breakfast (4:00 am to 4:25 am)
Period 1 (4:30 am to 6:00 am): Identifying Mary-Sues and Why They Suck
Period 2 (6:05 am to 7:35 am): Slash: Love it, Live it, Don't Get Caught
Period 3 (7:40 am to 9:15 am): Chicken Soup For The Sole (Angst)
Period 4 (9:20 am to 10:50 am): More Mary-Sues and How To Flame Them
Period 5 (10:55 am to 12:25 pm): Grammar, Spelling, And All That Jazz
Lunch (12:30 pm to 1:25 pm)
Period 6 (1:30 pm to 3:00 pm): Alternate Universes, Parodies, Cross-Overs, and Why Most of Them Are So Terrible
Period 7 (3:05 pm to 4:35 pm): Desperate Fangirls (A Final Word On Mary-Sues)
(see footnote) Period 8 (4:40 pm to 5:40 pm): Whatever We Feel Like, or Forgot (We equals the administrative boards)
Chores (5:45 pm to 7:45 pm)
Dinner (7:50 pm to 8:30 pm)
Be in your room (10:30 pm)
(Footnote: Includes OOC-ness, school survival, and the occasional Gary-Stue)
Emily looked up from the schedule. The wall stood open beside Katt, and the gaudy purple swirls on the walls seemed to cackle at her. Grey eyes turned to her expectantly. "Coming, meat? We've got to go to our rooms now. My watch says it's two in the morning, which means it's about 10:12. You're in section 2.3, a few bunks down the hall from me. I'll take you there."
"How do you know what bunk I'm in?" Emily asked. She hadn't seen any dorm assignments posted anywhere, but then again the deer-incident had yet to fade from her mind.
"It's on your forehead." …What?
But unfortunately, she was incapable of viewing the 2.3 that glowed on her forehead in bright violet script. Either way, Emily had little time to consider much of anything, as Katt had now locked her fingers onto the sleeve of Emily's uniform, and was dragging her along the corridor at remarkable speed. Agwuhs. Headmasters. Mary-Sues. The Snow Moon Hunt. Dogs.
"You're going to want to avoid the food."
Author's Note: All right, I have at least 15 applicants right now, so I am taking off the "seeking applicants" sign. You're still welcome to apply it if you want, though. Now, it must be pointed out that the only solid feature in your application is your name, and even that is subject to change without notice. It must also be pointed out that during the course of this fic, many of the applied characters will die. Horribly. Mainly the ones who actually are Mary-Sue writers, but all are subject to death without notice. The next chapter will feature the mysterious Headmaster's first appearance, Period 1 class, and dorms. If anyone is wondering what the Snow Moon Hunt is…well. Keep wondering. You might find out eventually. Or not. All answers are subject to change without notice. Please leave a message at the sound of the bell. (bell)