When the audience began to arrive later that evening, the patrons who had reserved seating in the boxes were surprised to see a bellhop in a little red tunic and cap awaiting their orders. He had not been there in the first two episodes of the show, but not many beasts had cared, since they were perfectly capable of finding their own seats.
Well, the woodlander guests and the middle- and lower-class vermin hadn't cared. Beasts such as one Ublaz Madeyes, though…
"Finally," the well-groomed pine marten sniffed. "A mark of sophistication in this dump. Here," he ordered the bellhop, dumping his disturbingly expensive mink coat into the beast's paws. "Hang this up, and direct me to Box Seven."
"Yessireebob," replied the weasel. "Down the hall to your right, just follow the numbers on the door."
"Very good." The Emperor stalked off in the direction indicated, his broad shoulders erect and his handsome head held high.
A few moments later, another marten followed him, quickly entering the box next to his. Atunra was quite determined that Queen Vilaya would not have the last word in their little spat over Ublaz…even though so far, he hadn't shown any real interest in either of them. Or in anybeast else, save perhaps his own reflection…
Thirty minutes later, when nearly all the audience had arrived and the show was just about to start, two beasts ran up the steps to the box. One, a brown-furred ferret with rectangular spectacles, held out his ticket to the bellhop.
"Excuse me? Can you direct me to Box Eleven, please?"
The weasel smiled in a friendly sort of way. "Ah, you're the guest of honor, right? Kil…er, Kal…Kvetch…I'm sorry, I've never been any good with names. Can you spell it for me?"
The ferret nodded kindly, thinking that this guy was probably new, and had seen his name, but never heard it. As they walked toward the box, he began to spell, while his companion, a fox with glasses similar to his own, watched with a bit of anxiety.
"K, E, L…"
"K-Y-L…Kyle! That's cool!"
"No, Kel, Kel, K-E-L…"
"Oh, Kel-Kel! Like a little doggie name!"
The fox's eyes widened, since he knew the effect that that name had on his friend. However, aside from a very violent twitch in his neck and face, the ferret contained his temper marvelously.
"No," he said through clenched teeth, "Kel, just one Kel, then A-I-A-H"
"Aiah Kel-Kel, okay…"
"ONE Kel, then ai-uh."
The weasel nodded, comprehension dawning. "Oh…okay. So, let me check this…it's Kyle-a-Kel-Kel-ai-uh, right?"
"WHAT?" All semblances of self-control were immediately thrown out the window…that was just too much. The ferret's tail fluffed up in anger, and his paws reached toward the weasel's neck as if he wanted to strangle him.
"Okay, that's enough," the fox said, speaking for the first time. "C'mon, Kelly, I think I see Box Eleven over here…"
"DON'T! CALL ME! KELLYYYYYYY!"
"Did I say Kelly? Sorry, I meant to say Kel, but the 'ly' just slipped out."
"…YOU SAID IT AGAIN!"
"That's right, I did. Sorry. You're Kel, and I'm Kelly. Now, come along…"
The ferret looked back, intending to go after the weasel, but the bellhop had inexplicably disappeared. Before he could react to this new development, the fox shoved him into the box. "Now, we're here to have fun," he admonished, forcing the ferret to sit down, "so we're going to forget this little incident and enjoy the show. All right?"
Ferret-Kel took a deep breath, as the lights began to dim. "All right. It could be worse, after all. I mean, at least Kalyn isn't…"
He trailed off, looking down into the general audience, where, just before the lights went out, he had caught the faintest glimmer of a grey-colored squirrel brush. His mind flashed back to an image of the bellhop, who had almost, but not quite, concealed a tuft of greasy black head-fur under his cap. As his mind made a sudden connection, he swallowed, hard.
"Brace yourself, Fox-Kel. It's about to get worse."
Nonny walked out on stage in a light blue dress that was simpler in make than anything else she'd worn on the show. She smiled and waved a paw, then spoke as the applause began to die down.
"Terribly sorry for the delay, folks."
There were murmurs of forgiveness…and murmurs that indicated her apology was not accepted. The bespectacled mousemaid winced a little bit, but continued.
"Tonight we are staging "The Phantom of the Opera," a song from the musical of the same name. This song was suggested by Kelaiah."
"All hail the king!" yelled a male voice from…somewhere, nobeast could precisely tell, although it sounded suspiciously similar to Cole's voice. Laughter broke out, along with applause, as Andrew swung the spotlight over to Box Eleven. The ferret in the box stood up and waved, although his customary "Yeah, I'm awesome" smile was replaced with a tight "There's about to be trouble, I just know it" grimace-type-smile. The fox next to him made up for his enthusiasm by waving with both paws and throwing kisses in the general direction of the Marlfox sisters.
A minute later, the hall was quiet again, and Nonny grinned. "I suppose you're all wondering just why this episode took so long."
She backed off and covered her ears as the creatures assembled replied with a resounding "YEEEEEEEEESSSSSS!"
"Heh, well then, far be it from me to be keeping you any longer. Roll film, Tony!"
The picture on the screen flickered for a bit, before coming fully to life. Immediately, the audience saw Pinto on the screen talking to a phone that was set on speaker, looking considerably more frustrated than she usually looked. Nonny's voice spoke in the background, providing the narration.
Apparently, Newo's plot to fulfill the curse of the Phantom of the Studio was much more complicated than we thought. As we dealt with Urgan Nagru and Silvamord - a situation based on a misunderstanding that Newo set up - he was free to mess with the general casting of this episode without us stopping him.
Pinto's voice became audible as Nonny stopped speaking. "What do you mean, you can't come?"
Laterose of Noonvale's voice emanated from the speakerphone. "Just what I said, Pinto. There's been a bit of an incident. This crazy mousemaid came up to my house, claiming that she was me and demanding to see Martin."
"Let me guess," said the guinea pig, rubbing at the bridge of her nose, "a Sue."
"Yeah. Don't worry, though, I've got it under control…"
"WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO, IMPOSTER?" screamed another voice from the phone. "IS THAT MARTIN? MARTIN! MARTIN, MY ONE, MY ONLY, MY BELUVVY-WUVVY! I'VE COME TO RESCUE YOU FROM THIS WIMPY MEANIE WHO DARES TO REPLACE ME!"
"WIMPY? WHO'RE YOU CALLING WIMPY? EAT SLING, DITCHRAT!"
There was an audible WHUMP that came over the line, followed by a brief scuffle, and then the real Rose was speaking again, her lovely voice calm, as if nothing had happened. "I would come anyway, Pinto, but with all the yelling I've been doing, I'm afraid my voice will give out. Please accept my apology."
With our first choice for the part of Christine effectively taken out, we tried for another beast with just as good a voice. But, when we called her…
Pinto was sitting now, leaning her head wearily against her paw and nursing a cup of black coffee. In an open doorway in the background, flying pieces of furniture and white furry blurs could occasionally be seen, indicating that the Nagru/Silvamord fight was still going strong.
Songbreeze Swifteye was speaking this time. "Oh, you know I'd love to help, Pinto, but…"
"DO YOU KNOW MY DADDY? I HAVE TO TELL HIM ABOUT MY EXISTENCE BEFORE HE GOES SUICIDAL OVER MY MUMMY'S DEATH! IS THAT MY DADDY?"
The squirrelmaid sighed into her earphone, resulting in a static-like sound from Pinto's end of the line. "I'm stuck babysitting this mousemaid who seems to have lost her father. She says his name is Martin, but I'm not sure which Martin she's talking about..."
"What's her name?"
"Eh…Lilyrose, or something like that."
"Kill her. Kill her dead."
"She's a Sue. KILL. HER."
"WHAT? GET AWAY FROM ME, YOU…"
The line went dead.
And that's the last we heard from Abbess Song. Of course, we know she's quite able to take out a Sue by herself, but she hadn't been answering our calls, and Dann eventually told us that Lilyrose had taken her on an extended chase. But that left us with only one choice…and she arrived just as we were in the middle of yet another "visit."
The camera cut to a picture of the studio door, just as somebeast knocked on it. A pretty catmaid that nobeast had seen before raced to answer the door, admitting two mice and a fox with a diamond-patterned mask on his face. One mouse, who was none other than Mattimeo, looked suspiciously up at the cat.
"Who are you supposed to be?"
The catmaid smiled. "I'm Fang, Nonny's sister. I'm going to be helping you today, since Nonny is…"
A few very loud crashes came from somewhere deep within the studio, followed by several loud female voices yelling at each other.
The two mice blinked, staring in the direction of the ruckus. Slagar, however, shrugged. "I'm fine with that," he said in his raspy voice. "What I want to know is why Nagru and his vixen are playing tonsil hockey on the front lawn."
Fang looked outside over the fox's shoulder and pulled a disgusted face. "I guess they've made up. HEY, GET A ROOM!"
"THAT'S A bleeping GOOD IDEA!"
"OH, URGAN, YOU'RE SOOOOOO ROMANTIC!"
"Ugh, too much information," Mattimeo said, shuddering. Tess nodded, making a convoluted expression that involved a stuck-out tongue and flattened ears.
"So, eh, I guess you have to be playing the Phantom," Fang said, pointing to Slagar, "so that makes you…"
"Christine," Tess replied. "Although I don't know why. I really can't sing very well."
"Great," Fang said. "That makes two of you. HEY NONNY, NEITHER OF THESE TWO CAN SING!"
"THE GIRL DOESN'T SING VERY WELL, AND THE GUY SOUNDS LIKE HE HAS THROAT CANCER OR SOMETHING!"
"Gee, thanks…" Slagar muttered. Mattimeo, who had his arm wrapped protectively around his wife, smirked, prompting the fox to growl threateningly.
"HOLD ON, I'LL BE RIGHT THERE!"
There were a few more crashes, and then Nonny tore into the room, her staff in paw. She stopped short right in front of Slagar and pointed the end of her staff at his throat. "Linye ve Josh Groban!"
She then pointed the staff at Tess's throat and said, "Linye ve Charlotte Church!"
Before anybeast could ask her what she had said, a cry came from the hallway. "OMG! THERE ARE, LIKE, TWO MARTINS!"
Nonny groaned, and then ran back into the fight. The assembled creatures stared after her for a moment, completely mystified.
"Well, then," Fang stuttered. "We'd better get started, then."
After a few shots showing a bit of the practice…once again, no real choreography was needed, since all Slagar and Tess would be doing was walking around and sailing in a fake boat…it was time for the cast commentary.
Slagar went first, grinning in a way that made everybeast jittery. He had taken off his diamond-patterned mask, replacing it with the white half-mask of the Phantom. "I have to say whoever cast me in this part knew what they were doing. Nobeast can do tall, dark, and sexy like Slagar…and this mask is great! I'm keeping it!"
Tess winced nervously. "Well, I know I wasn't the first choice, but I do kinda recognize this story. Bad guy creeps up on a girl, sends her to sleep, drags her down into a dark pit of doom. Does this sound familiar to you?"
"Too familiar," Mattimeo growled, sticking his face uncomfortably close to Slagar's…since he was grown up now, and could actually look the fox in the eye without standing on tippaw. "I'm going to be in Box One, fox. One move to hurt my wife and you get the Sword of Martin right through your sneaky gullet. Got it?"
Slagar looked disdainfully down his nose at the mouse. "Oh, I'm so scared," he said in a whiny, sing-song voice.
Matti's eyelid flinched, and he looked as if he was about to pounce on the fox…but for the fact that his son came running into the room.
"Get away from me, you loony!" cried Martin II.
The mousemaid on his heels, who was dressed in a very tight, very short green dress, paid him no heed. "I love you Martin! I don't care if you aren't the original, you're just as awesome!"
"I said get away!"
Unbeknownst to the Sue, Nonny had snuck into the room just behind her. The fieldmouse-maid put a paw to her lips, indicating that Martin should not let Mareah know she was there. Like a good warrior, Martin obeyed without a sound.
"I love you, Martin the Warrior Junior! Look at my big, bright green orbs and tell me you cannot see that!"
Martin blinked, and did as she said. Or, at least, he tried to do as she said. Somehow, his gaze went a bit lower than Mareah wanted it to.
"Eh, you're going to have to be a bit more specific, miss."
Mattimeo and Tess gaped, shocked at what their son was implying. Slagar, ever the compassionate one, snickered. "Ooh, burn."
Mareah frowned, and then her eyes widened in horror. Swiftly she crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the younger Martin. "HOW DARE YOU!"
Martin cringed. "I'm sorry, but you said 'big, bright green orbs.' Your dress matches your eyes, so naturally I went for the larger target…"
"I THOUGHT YOU WERE A GENTLEMOUSE!"
Nonny's staff struck the inside of Mareah's knees, bringing the Sue to her knees. A kick to the head sent her sprawling face-first into the floor, and before she could get up, the pink-clad mousemaid was standing on her back, preventing her from getting up.
"You just chose your words poorly! If you had just said 'eyes' like a normal beast, he wouldn't have made that mistake." And, with that, Nonny brought her staff down to sharply connect with Mareah's head. The Sue went limp, and Martin took a breath of relief.
"You all right?" Nonny asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Oh…hi, Mom."
Tess was glaring banefully at Matti. "This is what comes of letting Basil and Cheek babysit him."
Mattimeo shrugged. "You have to admit he had a point."
"That doesn't make it okay…"
"Is that thing still running?" Nonny demanded. There was a gasp from behind the camera, and the screen went black.
Nonny ended with a cynical smile. "So, now that that unpleasantness is finally over…let's see how the fruit of our labors turned out, shall we? Ladies and gentlebeasts, I present to you, the Phantom of the Opera, starring Slagar the Cruel and Tess Churchmouse!"
The audience clapped as the mousemaid exited the stage (clamping a weary paw over her forehead as she did so) and the curtain pulled back...
Man, how long has it been for this one? More than two years? Yeesh. My apologies.