A/N: This fic should have gone out over a month ago (for obvious reasons). Stuff happened. As usual this is an Anti-Cliche and Mary-Sue Elimination Society fic. If you haven't heard of us, this won't make any sense (too many injokes, and the crack levels may make your head explode).
I don't own any character in the Society, cept for Tash and to a small degree Emily. And since I don't want to spoil the story by disclaiming each one, every BLAM mentioned in this story does not belong to me - not the content, or the words enclosed. I also don't own Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or any song by ABBA (butchered or otherwise). Oh! And I don't own the Lords Prayer, but I'm pretty sure that's public domain. Also the ARSE joke towards the end doesn't belong to me either - I borrowed it from Harriet, so that particular gem belongs to her.
I swear this fic was supposed to be humour. Then the angst muses bit me half way through and told me to get the hell on with it. Enough delays. Training from hell fic away!
Insert Deadly Distraction Here
"You sure you won't catch this?"
"For the last time Adrian, I'll be fine. I had chickenpox when I was four."
"What about shingles?" Adrian wasn't really putting much effort into arguing – he was far too ill for that.
"Are you trying to make me leave?" Tash rolled her eyes and sat back in her chair. "Honestly, one would think you didn't want me visiting your bedside!"
"I do," the Librarian said, taking her hand and squeezing it. "I'd just feel bad if you got ill and had to set up camp here with the rest of us."
He turned his head enough to survey the rest of the hospital wing. In the bed on his right hand side was Willie, who along with Adrian, had been one of the first to catch the disease. Beyond him was Tyler, snoring quietly as he slept, with Kyle on his other side trying to focus on a book. Opposite them, Cristoph was meditating on the end of his bed, as he refused point blank to do as Valerie instructed and lie down to rest. Chloe and Stephen were sound asleep, and Robert was curled up on his side, with Alice as his visitor. She was reading something in a loud animated voice, and Adrian wondered if Roberts's glassy expression was lack of interest in whatever subject Alice was rambling about today, or infatuated daydreaming about his crush – from the dopey smile on his face, he guessed the latter.
"Valerie," the final occupant of the room whined. "Can I go now, please?"
On Adrian's left side, was the one responsible for introducing the disease to the Library in the first place – Emily. She had picked it up at school and it had spread like wildfire through the ranks. Fortunately, the leaders had been sensible and smart enough to isolate her immediately in the hospital wing, and make sure that only those who had been immunised from the disease were put on basement duty. The last thing they wanted was another outbreak of infection downstairs.
Unlike everyone else in the room, Emily looked almost normal. The exhausted look of illness was gone from her eyes, and she had clearly felt well enough to finally get out of her pyjamas for the first time since being locked in the room. She still wore the waistcoat gifted to her from Creation – she thought it made her look cool.
Valerie, who had just come out of her office with a tray of paper cups, frowned at the youngest Society member. "You can go when I get to your bed Emily. Sit there and wait. The test isn't going to go anywhere."
Emily grumbled under her breath, but Valerie was far too used to this now, and just let her complain. Adrian rolled his eyes but he didn't blame her for being grumpy. He'd be grumpy too if he'd had to spend his thirteenth birthday with chickenpox. Now that the day of the next entrance exam was upon them, it seemed Emily was determined to get out of the hospital wing by whatever means necessary.
"Come on Adrian." Valerie had made it to his bed, and the Librarian's kitty ears flattened against his head.
"Don't wanna..." he pulled a face and hid underneath his sheets as though expecting the antibiotics to leap out of the plastic cup and bite him. He had been acting like this all week, and it had taken the combined efforts of Tash, Michael and Valerie to ensure that he got in the hospital bed in the first place. Adrian had not been sick in a very long time, as there were precious few bugs he hadn't caught once already and thus developed an immunity to. Chickenpox however had slipped him by until now, and he was taking his incarceration in the hospital wing with almost no grace at all.
Exhausted, and fed up by a week of running around after sick people, Valerie's patience was running thin, and she had no desire to deal with childishness.
"I am not fighting with you today," the healer allowed her impatience to seep into her voice, and she yanked the covers back. "Stop being a baby and take your pills."
Were Adrian at full strength, he would have argued more. But he was sick, and had no energy for a fight. So, pouting as hard as he could, he took the cup. "Yes mother..."
Valerie came so close to smacking him around the head. Instead she looked up and yelled, "Cristoph! Stop scratching!"
The normally stoic ninja flopped backwards on his bed. "But it itches!" He was almost whining.
"My turn!" Emily called. "Tell me I'm better so I can get out of your hair and you have one less patient to argue with!"
Valerie poked her in the side, before pulling up her shirt to check her back. Apparently she was pleased with what she saw.
"Looks good...nothing on your chest either...yeah, you look good." She handed her a blister pack. "Finish the antibiotic course – take one pill on an empty stomach four times a day."
Emily was nodding, but not really paying attention. Tash made a mental note to let Harriet know about Emily's pills instead, and she got to her feet, blowing Adrian a kiss as she did.
"I'll come with you Emily. I promised Michael I'd train with him today anyway. We're heading off to Twilight – nobody cares if that gets damaged."
From the other side of the room, Alice paused in her reading to frown at them. "I thought we had a fireproof duelling ring?"
"We did," Tash nodded, fiddling absently with Nephthys.
"Then why can't you-"
"Like I said – we did."
"So I can go?" Emily checked.
"Yes," Valerie nodded. "You can go. Please leave as fast as humanly possible."
The girl punched the air and slipped off her bed, giddy with joy.
"Feel better guys!" she waved, heading for the door. Tash was hot on her heels behind her.
"Disinfect your hands!" Valerie shouted at their retreating backs. The doors flapped in response, and sighed, resigning herself to another day of babysitting the sick. "Cristoph, stop scratching!"
A plothole swirled open and the two Society agents emerged from within. Michael blinked at the sudden contrast in light, stepping from the brightly lit corridors of the Library into the darkness of the Twilight fandom, which was currently in the time of day suggested by its name. The moon was obscured by thick clouds, and Michael caught a glimpse of Venus before it too was blocked out by rainclouds. The park that had become the scene of many a Society drama as of late, was empty.
"Perfect," Michael grinned toothily, a tentacle of Darkness oozing out to take in the gloomy location.
"Indeed, which brings us on to rules," Tash grinned.
"Rules?" the Darkness hissed in Michael's head. "Battle and slaughter has no rules!"
"Shut up and deal," was the response.
"Since fire makes light, I'm willing to hold back on fire moves for the purposes of this battle," Tash said. "Along with flying – but in return, no Darkness powers from you, besides the ones you can't switch off, like boosted speed and stamina for instance..."
"Okay," Michael nodded, trying to ignore the sounds of the Darkness whining like a petulant five year old. "So this'll come down to swordsmanship, nothing else. I like the sound of that. And it'll probably be healthier for the park too if its not set on fire."
Even in the dimming twilight, he could see a dreamy expression cross Tash's face as she began to hum. "Burn baby burn..."
Michael and Tash froze at the sound of the lyric being chirruped so innocently out of a mouth that belonged to neither of them.
"Daddy, what is a disco inferno?"
"Combee!" Michael exclaimed, as the voice made its appearance, bouncing hyperly on his shoulder. "How did you get here?"
The bumblebee Pokémon giggled, and nuzzled his ear.
"Because I has magical powers, silly Daddy!"
"...I knew letting you watch Harry Potter was a bad idea..." Michael groaned. "Magical powers...more like a bloody plot convenience..."
"Oooo we're in a park!" Combee only now seemed to register the sight of the duck pond and the distant shadow of swings. She took a deep sniff, and released it heavily. "Ahhh! It smells like a soup kitchen in this place!"
Michael decided that it would be wiser and better for what little of his sanity remained not to query this statement.
"She must have followed us through the plothole," Tash groaned. Beaming a smile that was almost too big for her face, Combee nodded, punctuating each bop of her head with a bounce.
"Yup yup! I saw you leaving and saw that Daddy hadn't taken his toys with him, so I grabbed the toys, and followed!"
She fluttered off Michael's shoulder and began to bounce on a selection of items that lay discarded on the grass – a single Prohibitor, the BLAM and a lone Oneshot in an almost empty blister packet. Michael had to give her props for trying...
"...thanks Combee, but we're not here to catch a Sue."
"Aww..." Combee pouted. She got over her disappointment within two seconds, and went back to bouncing, this time on Tash's shoulder. "So why are we here?"
"We're going to practise our sword fighting," Michael said, before scowling as he remembered his parental duties. "And you are going back to the Library, young lady! You're still in trouble after your little stunt with the Deus Ex Machina the other week!"
"But that had a good result, Daddy!" Combee argued back. "Now everyone in the Library can understand Pokemon-speak!"
"Yes, but it also caused LittleKuriboh's account to be suspended from youtube again!" Michael countered.
"Hmm...understanding Pokemon, or watching YuGiOh the Abridged Series..." Tash held up both her hands to weigh the options. "Tough call..." She brightened as an idea hit her. "Hey Combee. If you're a very good girl, and you sit quietly, you can stay and watch us. Sound good?"
She was tackled by Michael's enthusiastic child.
"Combee," prying the bumblebee out of Tash's chest, Michael gave her a very stern look, and Combee immediately buttoned her lips.
"Sowwie..." she whispered. "I'll go sit in that tree and watch, very very very very quietly."
"Okay," Michael released her, before adding as an afterthought. "Take the gadgets with you. I don't know what would happen if a canon character got their hands on the Prohibitor in this fandom..."
The giant ticking clock loomed across the small room. The five remaining participants gulped.
"You have one hour," Harriet declared loudly. "Begin!"
Emily was off instantly, stuffing her exam paper into her pocket, running across the room and disappearing behind a large navy curtain. A monumental screech of something heavy being dragged across the wooden floor appeared from behind the stage area, and Emily appeared, hauling a wooden desk out into the room. Harriet always hid them along with the chairs in order to test the potential agent's resourcefulness...that and she liked making them squirm. The other four entrants watched as she dragged the furniture, which was almost as big as her, across the room with a frightening screech of legs on wooden floor. Eventually it was in place and Emily ran off to get a chair. Getting the idea, the rest of the participants followed her.
"Thank Goodness I've lived here so long and listened to all the other agents who've taken the tests before me," Emily thought to herself, getting a pen out of her pocket along with her exam paper. She chewed the cap thoughtfully as the others pulled their own desks into the room. A grating harmony of screeching wood rang through the room.
Being in school for a year and a half now, Emily was getting used to formal exams – she didn't always do well in them though, and she hoped that this would not reflect on her test now. Deciding that the only way she'd find out was by getting on with it, she flipped her paper over and began to write.
Q1. What is your name? (1 Mark)
Easy enough. Apparently that was the one question that never changed on the papers. Emily scribbled and moved on.
Q2. What is your quest? (1 Mark)
Emily barely repressed a snort, as she remembered that the British agents had instigated a Monty Python marathon not two weeks ago – Harriet must have had it in her head ever since, and taken inspiration from it when writing the test. She was not surprised to see the question below it.
Q3. What is the airspeed velocity of an unlaiden swallow? (1 Mark)
"Guess you have to know this kind of thing when you're in the Society," Emily mused, writing 'African or European swallow?' in the answer space and moving on to the first essay question.
As Society fights went, the fight in Forks park was not particularly spectacular. There was no fire or superpowered magical beings running around, or even holograms from an impromptu game of Duel Monsters (which was exercise, despite what the nonbelievers thought!). Still anyone watching would have found the back and forth strikes between the two leaders incredible as they lashed, jabbed and twisted around in an effortless fashion.
Eventually Nephthys slid through the muddy grass and Tash found herself pinned against the ground with a sword at her neck.
"Give?" her brother asked, smirking.
"Yeah, I give." She accepted his arm up. "Where did you learn that?"
"He's been teaching you?"
Their belongings were abandoned at the foot of a tree, and Tash took a swig of water before throwing it over to Michael. They heard an innocent humming noise from one of the upper branches, and guessed that Combee was in a world of her own.
"You are the dancing bee! Young and sweet! Just like honey...!"
Tash snickered. Combee was something else entirely. She was also fantastically out of tune.
"Dancing bee! Feel the beat, from the berry tree, oh yeah!"
"Did you let her go on a movie binge by any chance?" Tash asked. Michael, who looked torn between exasperation and amusement, nodded.
"I wanted her to explore movies that weren't cartoons. I thought Mamma Mia would hold her interest because of the singing..."
"And Harry Potter?"
"Aneki, who doesn't like Harry Potter?"
"You can dance! You can fly! Having the time of your life! Ooo ooo ooo. Smell that tree! Flying free! Cheering the dancing bee!" There was a rustle and Combee's face appeared through the leaves. "Oooh! Hello Daddy! Hello Auntie Tashy!"
"Combee!" Michael yelled. "Get that oneshot out of your mouth!"
In fact Combee was not eating the oneshot – she was nomming on the empty silver blister packet – but even so, the last thing Michael wanted was for Combee to sprout vampire fangs (a pair for each mouth), or heaven forbid...start to sparkle. That would be nothing short of terrifying.
Smiling brightly, Combee did as she was told, spitting out the medicine, and flying back into the leaves. The only sound was the clacking of teeth on tough plastic.
"Ready to roll again?" Tash asked.
"Always," Michael threw the water bottle back at the bag, and walked a little way away from the tree. He took up a battle stance, and after observing it for a moment, Tash dropped into one too.
She vanished into flashstep, and skidded beside him, her blade level with his neck. He blocked and pushed back, turning the blow into a backwards swing that came at her own throat. She ducked and skidded some five feet away, as blue flashed above her head. She twisted to the side. In a contest of strength, he always had the advantage. She had speed on her side.
Stepping backward to put distance between them, Tash's back slammed into something solid and scratchy – the tree trunk, she realised. Leaves fluttered down from above, and with a childish "weee!" Combee came tumbling out of her branch, mouth still wrapped around the handle of the BLAM like a giant pacifier. Yelping, Tash sidestepped to avoid a sword between her eyes. She lashed out with her right foot, and received a pained squeak in response.
"Oh Gods! I'm so sorry Michael!"
Her brother made an odd whimpering noise as he curled up on the ground.
"Erm...you weren't planning on having kids by any chance were you?"
"...well now you come to mention it," Michael winced at the sound of his own falsetto. "Yes I was..."
She was so busy looking sheepish that she did not notice Michael's own foot shoot out and catch her in the ankle. It was the same one she had bruised not too long ago and she yelped as she went down like a sack of bricks.
"That was fighting dirty!"
"Oh and nailing me in the balls wasn't?"
"...we kinda suck at this, don't we?"
"...you wanna carry on fighting?"
"Nah, think I wanna flop..."
And so flop she did, shrieking abruptly as something white and razor sharp flew over her head. It plunged into the muddy grass with a squelching noise, glittering in the moonlight. Both agents leaped to their feet as more projectiles rained down from the sky. The two took cover.
"What is this?" Michael demanded, fleeing for the tree with his arms over his head. He yelped as another blade of ice narrowly missed his foot. "Ice stakes? I'm not a fucking vampire!" He cursed as he realised that in his haste to find shelter, he had forgotten to pick up his sword.
Tash meanwhile darted left and right, not noticing that in panic she was running in completely the opposite direction to her brother. She had however, had the foresight to grab Nephthys before sprinting off. She yelped as a shard of ice ripped through the sleeve of her shirt.
The water from the nearby park pond seemed to rear like a furious beast, before rocketing its way towards the Society leader. Tash's wings were out in an instant, but the water doused them almost instantly, leaving a wet, muddy and bedraggled leader in its wake.
Tash spat out a mouthful of pond weed.
"That was highly unpleasant..." she remarked dryly, squeaking as the water froze and trapped her where she stood. Out of the corner of her eye she saw white feathered wings beating as one of the attackers descended.
"Well congratulations Purity," Tash sneered. "You've just graduated from Dickhead to Stalking Dickhead. Sadly the qualification adds little to your appeal."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that," the Sovereign strode forward, arms folded, halting suddenly as a scream of pain heralded something dark and human shaped flying at top speed in an arch through the air and coming to a painful rest somewhere on the other side of the former pond with a loud crash.
Squinting at the impact zone, Purity whistled. "Impressive, Wisdom."
"Thank you, my boy," the elderly Sovereign hobbled toward the pond, flexing his neck gently as he did. "I'd better go see what's left of him...oh and by the way, your quarry appears to be on fire."
Purity snapped around just in time to see Tash melt her way free of the ice and throw a flaming fist towards his face. The ice Sovereign was gone in a flash and more needle sharp points of ice materialised in the air. Tash took off just as they fired towards her.
"This is the worst training session ever!" she declared, tumbling into a dive to avoid the next wave of ice. "Any chance we can just play a children's card game?" Several shards of ice shot through her wings, and she growled and pulled them in. "I'll take that as a no..."
Painfully, Michael extracted himself from the tree.
"I didn't even think it was possible to embed someone in solid wood..." he groaned, feeling his back and neck aching fiercely.
"Well I guess you learned something today," the Darkness sneered, a tentacle reappearing to dangle something in front of him. "Look what I picked up just before your flying lesson."
Michael had never been so relieved to have the Darkness on his side as the parasite pressed the handle of his sword into his hand.
"So, got a plan?" was the next question.
"Not a single one." He admitted.
"Then allow me to be the driver."
For the first time since acquiring the Darkness, Michael was perfectly happy to sit back in his own mind, and let the parasite have a free reign. Shadows slithered over his body, solidifying into frightening looking armour, and the snake-like tentacles weaved their way around in giddy anticipation.
"You don't think there's a chance that Tash might want to trade dance partners?" Michael mused. "You might have a better chance fighting against Purity – dark evil parasite vs agent of God..."
"If the old man has mastered fighting against a force as ancient and rare as myself, what makes you think that your sister and her fireworks will fare any better?" the Darkness sneered. "Just shut up and let me use your body like a good little boy..."
"Yeah, because that doesn't sound dodgy at all..."
Instead of dignify this with an answer, a black swirling portal appeared by Michael's feet and a Darkling appeared. He barely had time to put his feet on the ground before a tentacle of Darkness had plucked him up by the back of the neck.
"The old man isn't the only one who can throw things," the Darkness hissed.
"But boss, I hate heights!" the Darkling had just enough time to splutter before he was hurled across the forest. From the vague thud, Michael could only assume he had hit his target.
"How did you know he was there?" he asked, before his mind registered the faint sound of something thudding against a bed of soil and pine needles. "Ah...his cane. Right. So what's the plan? Just throw Darklings at him?"
"Would you please stop talking, boy? You are a terrible backseat driver!" The complaint was shortlived as the sounds of hobbling drew close. The Darkness steered them under a tree and crouched in the undergrowth.
Wisdom shuffled into the clearing with no Darkling in sight – presumably he had beaten it with very little effort. He flexed his arms, rolled his shoulders and stretched tall to the sky. His joints popped as he did so, transforming him instantly from a harmless looking old man, to an experienced killer. His eyes flicked over the tree where Michael had painfully extracted himself, and the chips of bark all over the ground.
"He's sharp," the Darkness mused. "Better do this quickly...now if he can just get closer..."
"What will you do?" Michael asked. "Throw another Darkling? They don't seem to hinder him at all-"
"Don't be silly Host. Of course I'm not wasting another Darkling," a single snake like tentacle petted the diamond sword lovingly.
"Are you mad?" Michael spluttered. "I spend all that time training on how to use a sword, and you're just going to lob it at him?"
"Well what do you suggest? He's probably mastered all sword fighting! At least this might catch him off guard!"
"This is never going to work, and I'm going to lose my best sword," Michael moaned, already mourning the inevitable loss of his best weapon to date. "And possibly my head along with it!"
"Of course you won't lose your head! I'm in control of this body and I won't let you die!"
"Aww I knew you cared really..."
"Besides, Wisdom isn't the type to knock your head off...knee you in the balls possibly..."
"Oh great, because I hadn't had enough of that already today..."
"You know, you should really think quieter."
Michael and the Darkness barely had enough time to contemplate the implications of this statement, before an arm seized the back the armour and threw him into another tree. The trunk cracked on impact and Michael groaned as bark sandwiched him from either sides.
"Okay, I wasn't even in control and I felt that through the armour..."
"Don't talk Host...it hurts to think of insults..."
Slowly he peeled himself out of the bark again, just as Wisdom appeared, hobbling with a serene smile on his face. His beard was a curious silver in the moonlight. With a few quick jabs to Michael's back, neck and shoulders, the armour of Darkness crumbled away.
"Why can't you just go play with Purity?" Michael moaned.
"He has his own agenda," Wisdom said, in a light tone that better suited a family outing than a brutal attack. "As for you, I have orders from Lady Runoa to take you out myself."
"Why? What the hell have I or any of us done to piss her off so badly?" Michael had just enough energy to raise his head.
"Well mostly you're assisting and aiding Adrian, which frustrates her and her plans," Wisdom said casually. "But mostly its because you keep harassing her on Suebook."
"Oh God, that was two weeks ago!" Michael burst out. "Let it go already!"
He received a kick across the face for his exclamation, which sent him ploughing into a clump of bushes.
"Why what?" the Sovereign asked, walking calmly towards the undergrowth.
"Why anything? Why Runoa? Why target the Society? Why beat the crap out of me? Just why?"
Setting his cane down beside a tree, Wisdom took a deep breath before shrugging.
"Why not? You only live once Michael." He gave a sigh. "How old do you think I am? Now take that number and add about fifty years and you'll be closer. I've lived and I've trained and I've travelled. And I still don't know what the point of my life is. Isn't that what everyone wants to know? As a Sovereign I have had to pay a lot, but I may be in a position where I can help someone else achieve their goals – achieve their own purpose in life. And maybe in a way, that will give my own life a purpose-"
He barely sidestepped in time to avoid the diamond sword being flung at him by a single snake tentacle. The weapon missed and sank into the damp ground with a squelch. The Darkness had recovered enough and was slowly snaking its control back over Michael's body. Something gloriously bright flared to life in Wisdom's hand, and the Darkness retreated with a shriek, trapped and confined to Michael's mind again, leaving the young man in control of his aching body.
"You wait...you just wait, old man! I'll wrap my tentacle around that wrinkly old neck and pop your head straight off, beard and all!" the parasite was hissing, but only Michael heard it.
"Hmm...its been a while since anyone got that close to running me through," Wisdom admitted, twirling the single flashlight in his hand. "I respect you for that, my young friend. But I think that is enough talking for now...goodbye."
Michael lurched in an attempt to knock the flashlight away, but Wisdom was too quick, tucking the flashlight into his belt as the first punch came down between Michael's shoulder blades. He slumped back to the ground gasping as the next one connected with his right kidney. A kick...a punch...being slammed into tree after tree...Michael lost count eventually and could only guess.
Eventually Wisdom dropped him to the ground, and he lay there winded and aching. He coughed and a disturbing amount of blood splattered against the grass.
"Aren't you supposed to be able to heal me?" he asked weakly.
"Its too bright, dumbass!" the Darkness snapped.
Of course. It was too much to hope he might get some comfort as his last words...Wisdom was back now, one arm around his shoulders and the other around his head, and Michael knew he was just about to get his neck broken. At least it would be quick...he just wished his head wasn't ringing with the Darkness's last insult...that the last thing he heard had been something pleasant...
Michael struggled to breathe through his injuries, as Combee slowly came into focus. She was a little fuzzy around the edges and he realised he must have concussion – there was also a funny whistling in his ears. Wisdom paused in the beating, surprised and apparently thrown by the appearance of the Pokemon outside her native fandom.
"Wow...Wisdom surprised," Michael thought vaguely. "Bet that doesn't happen often."
"Daddy!" Combee's voice sounded oddly muffled, as though she were talking with her mouth full. "I brokeded it! I'm sorry!"
In a moment of horrifying clarity, Michael realised that the whistling noise was not in his head, and the reason for Combee's impaired speech was the BLAM clutched in her mouth like a giant pacifier. Several of the buttons were dented with teeth marks, and the safety dials on it were flashing a violent red as they screeched like a siren.
With sudden fear-fuelled strength, Michael screamed.
"COMBEE WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T DROP IT!"
The confused bumblebee had already let it fall. Still held tight by Wisdom, Michael made a wild lurch for it, but he was too far away, and the battered device hit the ground with a snapping sound. The whistling stopped.
For a blissful second, Michael thought that maybe they had got away with it.
Then the device fired.
Michael thought he had passed out – his vision had turned black as night. But he blinked his eyes and found them still to be open and at the mercy of whatever horror was about to emerge before him. He and Wisdom were stuck in the endless void that characterised the BLAM – separate and distinct from the rest of the fandom, and completely unrelated to the canon events. At the best of times, Michael knew that the BLAM could be dangerous when working properly, depending on what setting it was on. Broken, he had no idea what to expect.
"What is this?" Wisdom sounded uncharacteristically anxious, but before Michael could answer, something loomed out of the darkness, and a chill fell on the tiny dimension. Michael felt instantly claustrophobic.
"Please let it be stuck on the lowest setting...please don't give us Nightmare Fuel..."
The music grew, swelling up to fill the darkness, and lights glowed off the tiled walls of a tunnel.
"There's no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going. There's no knowing where we're rowing, or which way the river's flowing..."
"Oh god..." Michael screwed his eyes closed, but it had no effect, the BLAM pressing the monstrous images into the back of his eyelids. Covering his ears achieved naught as the song and jarring musical notes burned their way through his ears.
"I hate to say it, Host," the Darkness sneered in his ear. "But I think the safeties are broken."
"Stop it! Make yourself useful and insult me!"
There was a confused pause into which only the frightening music could be heard.
"Insult me! Didn't you hear me?"
"I always hear 'insult me' when you speak Host, but usually its subtext!"
"Oh God! Just insult me before I go mad!" Unable to resist it any longer, Michael gave into his fear and curled up into a trembling ball. He gave a particularly high pitched shriek as the image of a centipede crawled along the wall.
"Oooh I see," the Darkness crooned in understanding. "You're a real pansy aren't you?"
"Pathetic! Just look at you! You're whimpering like a baby!"
"Host, its a bloody tunnel filled with pictures and a creepy man in a violet suit singing. How can you possibly – oh sweet hell! What is that?"
Pulling himself away from the verbal sparring match, Michael found that, although the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory music was still humming sinisterly in the background, it was being overlapped with new music, which seemed to ooze creepily from the colourful walls.
"Heffalumps and Woozles...Heffalumps and Woozles...steal honey...beware...beware..."
"Oh God Host! My eyes are burning!"
Michael had never heard the Darkness sound so hysterical, but he figured for both their sanity it would probably be for the best if he attempted to distract them some more from the flashing brightly coloured images that now filled their minds.
"Erm...you don't have-"
"They're black! They're brown! They're up! They're down! They're in! They're out! They're all about!"
Across the pocket dimension, Wisdom's eyes were hurting from the bizarre and brightly coloured honey pots that were flashing up around him. He felt confused and disorientated – something he had not felt in a long time. Sweat was beading on his forehead, and he felt a strange twisting sensation in his stomach. For the first time in a very long time, he was growing genuinely afraid.
"They're far! They're near! They're gone! They're here! They're quick and slick and insincere!"
The honey pots were growing in size, towering over the two figures trapped in the embrace of the hallucinations as they bellowed the lyrics out.
"BEWARE! BEWARE! BE A VERY WARY BEAR!"
"You have half an hour left," Harriet announced, before disappearing again behind her copy of All Out Cricket. She reached for her mug of Darjeeling and was disappointed to find it stone cold. Pulling a face, she pulled out her phone and fired off a text message. Moments later one of her scantily clad male slaves whisked through the door bearing a fresh mug of steaming caramel coloured liquid. Harriet inhaled the scent and smiled. Nodding her thanks, she dismissed the young man with a wave of her hand. One of the female applicants fainted at her desk in joy.
Sighing, Harriet wondered if she should get up and move her to the hospital wing...before deciding that cricket was more important, and settling down to enjoy her tea once more. It was a peaceful day she predicted, chickenpox epidemic notwithstanding, and nothing was going to spoil it.
"OH GOD! WHY DO YOU HUMANS CREATE SO MANY FUCKED UP THINGS?"
Deep in the corners of his own mind (where the Darkness had forcibly shoved him for his own safety and sanity) Michael found himself bobbing along to the loud music.
"Actually I kinda like this song...'Oh we've got cabin fever-'"
"SHUT UP! SHUT UP NOW!"
Michael was so busy listening to the parasite complaining, that he did not notice the state of his companion. Wisdom was still struggling to find some comprehension in this bizarre turn of events, but he was finding none. There was no logic to this sequence, or these scenarios. They just seemed to come out of nowhere and then vanish without a trace. It made no sense, and he could feel the plotline turning into a convoluted mess around him.
"This cannot be," the Sovereign thought. "I'm losing my grip on my powers...but how?"
A vice like pain gripped his chest and he felt his breath catch. Not for many years had he felt at a loss. He always had a plan – a logical method to follow and proceed with, just the same way he did when fighting. He knew every outcome, every possible angle or course that events could take – and yet now he had no clue. He was working blind. Stuck in a nightmare that he had not expected and had no knowledge of.
The pain squeezed the breath from his lungs, radiating all the way up his neck and down his left arm. He clutched his chest and tried to block out the images that pressed against his eyes.
"Oh that's better..." the Darkness let out a moan of pleasure. "The puppets are gone...that one is over."
"OH DEAR GOD!" Michael retreated into his mind, but he could not scrub the images out of his eyes. "Those are dead rabbits, you prick!"
"I thought you liked Watership Down?" the Darkness was very confused.
"No, YOU liked Watership Down – I found it disturbing as hell!"
"Ah so many childhoods scarred, so little time..."
The images were starting to flicker, and Michael hoped that meant that the BLAM was running out of steam. He had no idea how long they had been stuck in there for – time did not quite run linear in BLAM dimensions.
"Look out. Look out. Pink Elephants on parade-"
"Oh God, not again!" the Darkness grumbled. At first it had hated the elephants (far too cheerful for its liking) but now after three continuous loops, they were starting to lose their effectiveness. They both had to splutter when they noticed that the Heffalumps and Woozles had joined in with the elephants.
"...that is...very wrong on a lot of levels."
"Yeah...insult me again, would you?"
Fortunately it seemed that the pink elephant Heffalump and Woozle parade was all the BLAM could take, and as the song drew to a close, the dimension snapped out of existence with a fizzle of electronics. The BLAM lay in the grass, completely inert, and the Darkness paused in the middle of his latest insult, which involved a rather nasty jibe at his host's sexual orientation.
"Well...that was...traumatic," Michael rubbed his eyes, hoping that that would be enough to dispel the horrific images. He had no joy, and resolved to find a bottle of brain bleach as soon as he could. He found himself back in the clearing and was momentarily disorientated, until he remembered just what he was doing there. Eyes opening wide in alarm, he whipped his head around, trying to locate the danger. He frowned when he saw it.
Even without knowing the exact problem, human beings have an innate way of realising when a situation has turned dangerous moments before it actually happens, even if outwardly everything seems okay. Michael felt his heart beat faster in panic, and his body began to sweat – flight or fight reflexes, he realised, though he had no idea why they should start again now that the danger was over. But the danger was not over, one glance at Wisdom proved that.
The Sovereign was bent over double in pain. The hand clutching at his chest was shaking, and most worryingly, his lips had started to turn blue.
"If I didn't know better," Michael thought to himself. "I'd say he was having a-"
He never got any further, as Wisdom fell to the grass with a thump. He did not move a muscle.
"Well I guess you don't know any better," the Darkness sneered, and Michael felt the parasite's confusion as he crawled as fast as he could to Wisdom's side. "What are you doing, boy?"
"Are you blind?" Michael demanded. "He's not well! Something's really wrong!"
In the chaos of the BLAM, Michael had completely forgotten about Combee, but now he blessed her presence as she flitted closer and began to nose Wisdom, frowning in childlike confusion.
"Why is the Dumbleydore man sleeping?" she asked. "Did you win the fight?"
"Combee," Michael grabbed her and pulled her close. "This is very important. Go and get Tash. Fly as fast as you can and tell her I need help, right away."
Michael did not know much about health, and he was at a loss what to do. But whatever this was, he knew it was no Sue trick or power. This was something far more serious, and he needed help.
"Go get Auntie Tashy?" Combee asked.
"Yes," Michael nodded. "And tell her to come as fast as she can. You do this, I'll get you all the berries you can eat. Hurry!"
He released her and she shot off into the night.
To say that Combee was not the brightest of creatures would be a huge understatement. However like many children, she did know and understand more than adults gave her credit for.
For instance, she knew that Daddy was amazing, and when Daddy put his angry orange eyes in, that somebody was in trouble. She knew that Auntie Tashy turned into a Moltres when she was angry (like she was doing now). And she knew that the two men who had interrupted Daddy and Auntie Tashy's training time, were called Stews.
"They're so rude!" Combee thought to herself, as she buzzed towards the flickering flames at the other end of the park. "All Stews are rude and big meanies!...well, most of them. Mister Robbie was a Stew and he's funny, and he's one of us ever since Daddy and the others put him on a roll. But the iceman and that one who looks like Dumbleydore aren't nice at all! Daddy and Miss Hari-Hat should put them on a roll, then maybe they'd learn some manners! Ooo I'd love to see Miss Hari tell them off! She's really good at it! She'll do her special glare, and then they'll both be sorry!"
She skidded to a halt in midair as something bright shot past her and slammed into a nearby redwood. Usually Combee would have been excited and eager to join in – bouncing off trees and walls was one of her favourite pastimes after all – but she knew the difference between fun bouncing, and bouncing that gave you an owwie. And Auntie Tashy, who was now slowly peeling herself out of the bark, was definitely in the latter category. Combee squealed as a pillar of ice shot out of the ground and pinned her Auntie to the tree, crushing her slowly against the bark. The iceman appeared, feathered white wings tucked neatly behind him, a trail of snow in his wake like powdered sugar on a cake.
Combee went nuclear. "He's hurting Auntie Tashy! How dare he!"
"She was wrong!" the iceman was shouting. "Harmony never understood any of us, or what needed to be accomplished! She will pay the price for doubting! And now the wickedness inside you shall go the same way!"
He pulled back his arm for another attack, but Combee was one step ahead, drawing a huge breath and beating her wings as hard as she could. A cluster of stars shot from her wings like sparkling shuriken. Half stabbed deep into Purity, while the other half embedded themselves in the ground, kicking up an explosion of dirt.
"Nobody hurts Auntie Tashy and gets away with it!" Combee yelled proudly.
"Combee!" Tash, hands on the pillar of ice, which slowly dripped onto the ground by her feet, was staring at her incredulously. "What are you still doing here?"
"Daddy sent me!" Combee beamed proudly. "He says he needs your help with the Dumbleydore man!"
"Tell him to fight his own damn battle! I'm busy!" the leader yelled hysterically, trying to wriggle free of the melting ice.
Combee giggled a little. Auntie Tashy owed the Bad Word Jar a pound.
"He's not fighting!" she wondered if she could have done a better job of explaining this. Auntie Tashy didn't seem to realise that something was very wrong. "The Dumbleydore man is on the ground, and Daddy is very worried!"
She knew she must have got her point across, because now Auntie Tashy looked concerned. She finally slipped free of the ice, just as the Stew pulled himself off the ground. He was dirt splattered and looked very very cross.
"Purity!" Tash yelped.
"I'll take care of the ice fairy, Auntie Tashy!" Combee volunteered happily. "You go help Daddy!"
Tash spluttered, and she was not the only one.
"Fairy?" Purity looked beside himself. Combee's blinking faces were a picture of innocence.
"Yes. You have big fluffy, fairy wings!" she giggled suddenly. "Oooh I know! Let's go flying!"
Maybe he was still poleaxed by the description, or maybe he just didn't see it coming – for whatever reason, Purity remained frozen in place as Combee zoomed around his head at top speed, a whirlwind whipping up beneath her. Dust obscured the Sovereign just as he began to move, and from high up in the air, Combee gave a giggle, tumbling out to hover beside Tash.
When the dust finally settled, Purity stood motionless in the middle of a block of his own solid ice. Tash blinked in bewilderment.
"...did you just...blow his ice attacks right back at him?"
The bumblebee shrugged. She wasn't sure. She had just wanted to go for a spin.
"That won't hold him for long," Tash muttered, shrinking her sword again. "Come on baby – we should go see how your Daddy is doing."
Tash wasn't sure what she had expected from Combee's slightly cryptic message – she would have guessed initially that the bumblebee pokemon was confused and that it was Michael on the ground needing help. But if that had been the case, she knew Combee would have been more hysterical, so she was not entirely sure what she was walking into.
What she eventually saw when she got there, was Wisdom laying on his side, his back curved and his shoulders hunched over as if to protect his upper body. His lips were tinged with blue, and he was clearly unconscious. Michael knelt in the grass beside him, battered, bruised, wringing his hands and looking completely at a loss.
Tash skidded to a halt, five feet from the scene, scanned the area for any immediate danger, before kneeling down beside him.
"Combee," Michael was shaking, and Tash reached over to squeeze his fingertips. They were freezing. Shock, she guessed, and she pushed Combee into his arms to give him something to hang on to.
"She set off the BLAM, but it was broken," Michael reported slowly and haltingly. "It trapped us in all these visions, but they were all mixed up and just...wrong," he shuddered. "The Darkness locked me away for most of it – even I was having trouble taking it. But when I got out, Wisdom was clutching his chest and then he just fell over..." He gestured helplessly to the prone Sovereign.
A dozen suspicions raced through Tash's head, as she shook Wisdom's shoulders and tried to gain a response. Carefully, tried to sort them out. Chest pains. Poor pallor. Collapsing.
She swore mentally. The conclusion she was drawing did not make sense for a Stu, but for someone of Wisdom's age, it was the most likely diagnosis, and also the most dangerous.
Now they had a problem.
"Aneki, what's wrong with him?" Michael asked.
"I think it's a heart attack," Tash could feel her own hands shaking, and she squeezed them to stop it.
"Focus Tash. Remember your training. You know what to do. Ambulance. Airway. Breathing. Circulation."
But it wasn't that simple – she shrunk from the idea of calling an ambulance for a Sovereign – not because she wanted him to die, but because of the danger it may put the rest of the hospital in if the other Sovereigns or Runoa came bursting in looking for him. The first rule of first aid was not to put anyone else, including yourself, in danger. It would be far safer to take him back to the Library. But Tash wasn't stupid – the only Library personnel who would possibly have had any clue about treating a heart attack would be Phoenixia, and she was not around to help. Added to which, the Library still had a highly infectious airborn virus running around it – if Wisdom caught chickenpox or shingles on top of a heart attack, it would probably be the end of him.
"No choice at all," Tash thought to herself grimly, and she hoped that the fandom would not suffer for what she was about to do.
Q14. Sum up the position of a standard Agent in the Society hierarchy. (4 Marks)
Wrist aching, Emily hastily jotted down her answer.
"Agents with Responsibility of Sueish Elimination (ARSE for short) hold a middle position in the Society, with Rookies below them (a Rookie being someone who has been an agent for less than six months) and the three Society leaders on top of them (the three Society leaders being Harriet, Tash and Michael). While there are ARSE who occupy a slightly more privileged position (such as Adrian, who has the ultimate say in matters concerning the Library Arcaniuim itself) or those ARSE who overlap into certain departments such as Technicians Inventors and Transport Services (TITS, who have more say in the invention and manufacture of gadgets) in all matters regarding the Society and the capture of Sues, Agents defer to the three leaders, unless they feel a moral duty to do otherwise."
Taking a moment to skim read her answer, Emily barely repressed a snort.
"Man, you can tell the Society was founded by a bunch of horny teenagers..." She almost groaned as she remembered that passing the test would make her an eligible character for the Rule 34 competition that summer.
The fourth wall rumbled gently and Harriet looked up from her magazine and cleared her throat.
"Ten minutes everyone."
Pushing the hentai thoughts from her mind, Emily focused on the final question.
Q15. Which is better – British or American football? (4 Marks)
"British football and American football are completely different sports. While British football involves the worlds thickest millionaires kicking a round ball to each other in order to get it into a net at the other end of the pitch, American football is a bastardised copy of British rugby in which the players dress up in poofy marshmallow pads and bash their heads against each other in an attempt to look manly. The ball (which looks as though it has been sat on several times by a huge elephant) is passed down the pitch, and thrown over a line, which is the cue for the audience to jump up and scream like pillocks. So clearly British football is better, because not only do Americans not know how to play football properly, but they also don't know how to play rugby properly (step 1 – lose the padding you wimps)."
Pleased with herself, she read her answer over, before going back to the start of her paper and skim reading the entire thing over again. She saw several people had already finished, and were nervously chewing their pens, or letting their eyes dart around to their neighbours. She saw one boy reading the front of the question booklet with his mouth hanging open. Curious, Emily turned over her paper to read the official looking text at the bottom.
"This paper was finalised and approved by Mistress Harriet Marlow, Society Leader, Beloved Founder, Supreme ARSE and possessor of a very fine ARSE too."
Plotholing into Runoa's base of operations was of course, impossible – she had fortified it herself – so Purity had to plothole several miles away and walk the rest of the way. By the time he was back, the welcoming committee was assembled, much to his irritation.
"What happened? Where is he?" Passion had pounced the second he stepped over the threshold. The ice Sovereign's eyes flicked around the room. Passion's nose was barely an inch from his own, and he gently backhanded the younger one into a nearby chair. Creation was chewing anxiously on the end of a pencil, while Order paced the room in a neat line. A soft whimper came from the corner of the room, and Purity caught sight of Harmony curled up beneath a desk in a tight ball, her hands clenching her knees fearfully. His heart sank. He knew that look on her face. He had seen it before.
"Wisdom didn't come back?" he summarised.
"We assumed he was with you," Order replied curtly.
"Obviously he's not," Passion rolled his eyes. "So where is he?"
"Gone," Runoa had materialised in the doorway. Four pairs of eyes turned to stare at her in disbelief, while under the desk, Harmony just closed hers and let out a strangled wail into her knees.
"Gone where?" Passion demanded. Order whacked him around the head.
"Where do you think?" he snapped. "He failed to kill his intended target, which means that they probably killed him."
Runoa provided no further information, gazing into the distance with a thoughtful expression on her face. But everyone seemed to take it as an affirmation. A crash shattered the silence, as Passion lashed out at a chair, splintering it into matchsticks against the wall. He turned on his heel and stormed from the room, slamming the door behind him as loudly as he could. Tears running down her face, Creation crawled slowly under the desk to cuddle with Harmony. A clicking of heels indicated Runoa's departure, with Order following like a silent spectre behind her.
For a moment, Purity wondered if he should follow Runoa and report the fight in as much detail as he could. But he decided not to – Runoa had her own ways of finding out their actions without their reports. She would ask when she wanted to. No doubt she wanted Order to discuss their next move, now that this plan had apparently backfired. Order would not waste time grieving – he didn't do tears.
Tapping at his own dry cheeks, Purity wondered if he should be crying. Wisdom had been an ally, and nobody had ever suspected that he would be the one to fall next. He had seen the bond form between him and the younger Sovereigns, so their sorrow was understandable. But he felt no stirrings of grief inside him. Was that normal?
"Because there should be no tears. Why cry? He is at peace, and will be delivered into God's loving mercy now, after a long and full life...while I will stay here, and see what has been planned for me."
An unexpected well of sorrow rose in him, not for Wisdom, but for himself, stuck here, still on redemption, so far away from his ultimate goal. Salvation had never felt so far away. Squeezing his hands together tightly, he unfolded his wings and cocooned them around himself, whispering softly into his hands.
"Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra..."
Something crashed furiously upstairs, and Creation and Harmony squeaked from their hideout under the desk.
"...Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris..."
Another crash. Another scuffle. Passion was tearing something up on the top floor.
"...Et ne nos inducas in tentationem, sed libera nos a malo..."
Something exploded from upstairs, and caused the whole building to shake. Dust rained down in the room, and Purity jumped out of his prayers. A pair of quiet sobs were coming from under the desk, but they did not appear to check the damage. Sighing, Purity gave a mutter of "Amen", before getting to his feet and heading for the door, intending to find Passion and calm him down before he decided to do something stupid.
Michael hated hospitals.
They always stank, no matter how much disinfectant they used to cover up the smell of stale sheets and dust. The night shift nurses walked back and forth, their shoes squeaking against the linoleum floor, occasionally stopping as they paused to ask for the millionth time if he and Tash were okay or if they wanted to go and get their own injuries looked at. Michael shook his head to all of their queries. Their injuries were not life threatening, unlike Wisdom.
He wasn't sure how to feel. He had been happy to leave the lying to Tash (she was exceedingly proficient at making stuff up), as the doctors had placed the Sovereign on a stretcher and wheeled him off in a tangle of wires, tubes and beeping machines. She had fed them some line about him being their grandfather, and how they had been jumped on their way to the cinema. That had been over two hours ago, and they had not heard a thing since. So they sat in the corridor, worrying and waiting, almost like real relatives.
"You're too soft boy," the Darkness hissed. He hated hospitals almost as much as Michael did, and he was making no secret out of it. "One of your enemies is lying in a hospital bed – weak, defenceless – and you just sit here doing nothing. You should take off right now, and put your sword through his frail old body-"
"Shut up!" Michael would have punched the voice if it wouldn't mean harming himself. He was beat up quite enough already, thank you very much. "He's not just an enemy dying in battle of his injuries. He had a heart attack! Do you have any idea how serious that is? Its not a nice way to go, and whatever he's done or whoever he's served, he doesn't deserve to die like this!"
He got up and began pacing, leaving the Darkness to mutter about wasted opportunity, human idiocy and...pancakes? Michael shook his head. Maybe he was concussed after all. Or just going mad from all this waiting.
"Fuck..." he muttered, leaning his head against the wall.
"Darkness being a pain?" Tash guessed. Somehow she had managed to curl her long body up on one of the chairs, her head tucked onto her knees. Heaven only knew how she could possibly be comfortable. On the seat next to her, Combee was curled up asleep in the smoky remains of Tash's trenchcoat, and SEP field stuck to her forehead so that nobody would pay any attention to her.
"He hates hospitals," Michael muttered, pressing his head into the wall between a condom advertisement and a fundraising poster. "He thinks we're wasting an opportunity here."
Tash rested her head back against the wall and sighed.
"He's not the only one who hates hospitals. But the rest of us are man – or woman – enough to suck it up and deal. Nobody is happy in hospitals."
"That's not true," Michael pointed out. "The Maternity Ward is usually pretty happy."
"If you think for a moment that we're going to go down there and stare at the little babies, you are dead wrong," the Darkness snapped.
"Oh you know what? Fuck you!" Michael snapped back.
"In your dreams, boy."
Tired of pacing, Michael sat back down again, running both hands over his face, trying to block the harsh glare of the florescent lights.
"You're right though. You don't see anyone with a smile here. Most people aren't happy. I definitely wasn't the last time...my uncle was in here – diabetic shock. I felt like crap each time I came in here. Maybe the walls just suck up all the misery and shit and radiate it back out."
Tash nodded. "Last time I was in a hospital it was one of my friends – he'd ODed on his anti depressants." She gave a wry snort. "You're right. It was fucking terrifying when we went in...but once we were out, we were having a little giggle. The drugs had knocked him out, and he's not the lightest of guys. Four of us had to carry him back to the car. We looked so stupid carrying him like that, but it wasn't funny until we knew he was going to be okay."
Peering down at his hands, Michael frowned in contemplation.
"Do you think that...once we know – I mean, if he's better – we'll find some funny side to this story once we leave the hospital?"
Tash shrugged. "Who knows. I suppose there's always humour in a story if you look hard enough. Its just sometimes...we don't want to look. We just want to focus on all the drama and angst."
Michael gave a dry laugh. "I like it better when we have the comedy glasses on. Drama and angst is nice for character development and all – makes us stronger and all that rubbish. But that's not what we're here for really, is it?"
"Hmm...what were we talking about again?"
"I have no idea."
They bumped their fists together.
"You rock man."
"Yeah, you too Aneki."
"Excuse me?" They looked up to see the harassed face of the young doctor who had helped move Wisdom to a stretcher before rushing off with him when they arrived. Both siblings got to their feet.
"How is he?" Michael asked immediately.
"He's alive," the doctor assured them, but the words did little to comfort either agent – if being alive was the best news he could give to reassure them, then the rest could not be good. "He suffered a serious arrhythmia, which we have now treated..." he paused, clearly trying to phrase the next stage best. "However, there were complications. He seems to have gone into some kind of keep shock, which has caused his body to shut itself down-"
"Is he going to die?" Tash asked fearfully.
"He's still unconscious at the moment," the doctor replied, his face full of pity. "I'm afraid there's no telling when he will wake up." He gestured to the doors – presumably the ward where Wisdom lay. "You can go and see him. Maybe you can give him a reason to fight."
"I'll give him a reason, all right..." the Darkness was struggling impatiently, but Michael brutally shoved it aside. He did feel a little conflicted about going to see his enemy in a weakened condition. But Tash made the decision for him, pressing one hand against his shoulder, and handing a snoozing Combee to him with the other.
"You go," she insisted. "I'll ring everyone and give them an update."
Vaguely, Michael wondered what the Society would do about the situation, but the doctor was already leading him into a small room with two other beds, both empty and stripped of their sheets. The third bed was curtained off and the doctor slipped behind it. Dreading what he might find, Michael drew back the curtain a little way.
He barely recognised the Sovereign on the bed – he seemed to have shrunk under the amount of tubes and wires plugged into his body. A monitor by the bed was beeping out a steady rhythm – Michael did not know much about heart attacks, but the noise was comforting in a way he had not expected. The sheets were stretched tightly over his body, and in the white paper hospital gown he looked pale and weak...so much older than he had ever appeared while fighting.
"He was right," Michael thought remembering the Sovereign's words to him. "I had no idea how old he was...he looks almost two hundred like this..." Gently he stepped closer to the bed. Combee shifted in his arms, but did not wake.
"I'll let you have a moment alone," the doctor said quietly.
"Thanks..." Michael was surprised at how hoarse his voice came out. He did not notice the doctor leaving. He just sat in the chair by the bed and searched Wisdom's face for any sign of the ruthless fighter who had been beating him up not two hours ago. A frail old man in a huge paper gown with tubes in his nose and arms was all he could see.
"Go on host...just put your sword through the lights...then let me out to finish the job...I'll wishbone him so fast it won't even hurt him..."
The vindictiveness in the Darkness's voice was sickening to Michael, and he wished he had a torch to shut it up properly.
"That's enough!" he spoke aloud to fill the awful silence. "He may be a villain, but it's not right to kill someone who's comatose."
There was a low growl in his mind like an angry animal building up for an ambush.
"Your sense of morality is the height of your stupidity, boy! Have you forgotten all the injuries he has given us? The humiliation? Do you feel the bruises on your body now, or did he just knock the sense out of you? Do you think if you were lying there in that bed that he would show the same mercy?"
"No, he wouldn't." It was taking all of Michael's willpower to keep himself from losing his temper. "I know that. I know that if he were given the chance he'd snap my neck without even thinking about it, just like he almost did earlier. But I'm not that cruel to do that to someone who can't even defend himself."
Fury echoed through all four corners of his mind, and then Michael's vision swam and slipped into blackness as every bruise and injury on his body seared in pain. He gasped and almost slipped out of his seat, but it was over after a moment, and the Darkness snarled in a voice which made him feel horribly vulnerable.
"You are far too easy to let slights against yourself slide – but do not think for a second that I share your pathetic sympathies! This is a hospital. A place of suffering! He deserves to suffer along with the rest of them. And I can make it happen. You act as though you have the power to save him, but the second you step out of the light I will take that power away from you. And then, my naive little host, we will see where your sympathies get you."
Michael growled as his injuries flared again – however the Darkness was doing this, it was pretty clear what its intention was. Grinding his teeth together, Michael spat out a reply.
"Well then it looks like I'm going to be here for a while, isn't it? Long as I'm in the light, you can't do jack shit."
He did not know if it was his imagination, or if the Darkness was just giving up, but the pain eased a little, and he drew three careful breaths into his aching lungs.
"Under normal circumstances yes, I would probably do what you suggested," he admitted. "And that makes me sick to think that I would do that, even to someone who put me through so much crap. But a hospital isn't normal circumstances, and I feel responsible for Wisdom. For putting him in this state..."
And there was the truth that had dogged him all night – it was his fault Wisdom was here. It was pretty obvious from what the doctors had said, that age and stress were the contributing factors to Wisdom's condition. And when Tash's plot summary had beeped not fifteen minutes after their arrival in the hospital, indicating that the area was now free of Sueish activity, it was pretty clear to both of them that somehow the malfunctioning BLAM had caused enough of a blip in Wisdom's powers to render him vulnerable to a heart attack. In Michael's mind, it was all his fault (because after all, he couldn't let Combee take the blame – if anything, her love of chewing things was an issue he should have addressed earlier).
"Responsibility..." the Darkness sounded nauseated. "Sickeningly human...but fine. Let's say you feel 'responsible' Are you not also responsible for yourself? For your dear sweet Aneki? When he wakes up – and he will wake up – he will go on fighting you. And maybe next time it will be your sister in the firing line. Maybe she will be the one to wind up with a snapped neck. 'Responsibility'...sympathy...feeling...it's all a pointless weakness in the end."
The idea of Tash meeting such a nasty fate made Michael feel abruptly sick. He pushed it away. It was just the Darkness fucking with him – like always.
"Hm...you know, I'm not going to submit. I'm sure Tash would be just as disgusted by me if I killed this guy, even if it is the easiest thing to do. And it maybe a pointless weakness, but it makes things easier...or at least a little better..."
Something soft nosed his wrist, and he looked down to see Combee, wide awake, eyes round and blinking at him slowly. She knew that look on his face, when he was arguing with his angry black spaghetti friend (the word 'parasite' was a little too complex for her and Darkness was too general a term) and what he needed. In her mouth, she held Wisdom's flashlight, a little battered, but still functioning. Smiling, Michael took it and shone it into his face. The Darkness gave a shriek, before vanishing to the deepest recesses of his mind. The peace was blissful, and Michael leaned back against the chair with a sigh.
Squirming up his lap, Combee found the biggest bruise on his arm, and gave it a loud wet kiss.
"There you go Daddy. All better now."
He could not help but smile at her, even though his entire body still ached. "Thanks baby."
"Its okay," she nuzzled him in the neck, observing the room with childish curiosity. Then she saw Wisdom in the bed, with the strange contraptions attached to him, and her faces fell. Carefully, she buzzed off his lap and onto the bed near the Sovereign's shoulder. Squirming cautiously around the wires and tubes, she leaned in and gave him a big kiss on the forehead.
"There. Now he'll get better too." She said with the certainty of belief that only a child could possess.
And Michael realised just why they couldn't have the comedy glasses on all the time – sometimes, things just weren't funny.
As all hospitals had blanket bans on the use of mobile phones within the building, Tash quickly hurried to the nearest exit and stepped outside. She did not however pull out her phone, but looked left and right for any signs of prying eyes, before opening a plothole and hurrying back to the Library.
She arrived in Harriet's office to find the Society leader diligently filing test papers in a filing cabinet with a huge grin on her face. She looked up in surprise as her friend barged in.
"Tashy, you didn't knock," she teased. "I could have been undressing!"
Tash's eyebrows met in the middle. "Wouldn't be the first time I've walked in on that, baby."
"True," Harriet shrugged. "I'm glad you're back. If you want to see something entertaining, go down to the RPG section – Emily's hugging everyone she comes into contact with. She completely giddy that she passed her test..."
She paused as she realised that Tash was not grinning. Her fellow leader took a quick step across the room and bent so that she was close to Harriet's ear.
"Need a private meeting with you and Adrian right now – somewhere where 'Big Brother' can't watch us."
Harriet nodded slowly. Big Brother was a nickname for (a), who heard all evil, and saw all evil thanks to the Library's computer system and CCTV cameras. Tash was desperate for total privacy – if (a) caught wind of their mishaps in Twilight tonight, she wouldn't be able to keep her fat mouth shut. She had already proved that she gave little thought to the consequences of her actions over a month ago when she had loudly announced on Suebook that Emily had had her first period.
So five minutes later (after smuggling Adrian out of the hospital wing in kitty form in Tash's cleavage) the two leaders and the Librarian were seated in the Japanese etiquette section, kneeling on the floor. Adrian was being smothered in several blankets, and looking just a touch groggy from being turfed out of his bed. Harriet snapped her fingers and her scantily clad male slaves deposited three mugs of hot tea for them before exiting the room.
"Okay, everyone leave their electronics outside?" Tash checked.
"Completely secure," Harriet soothed. "Now what's this about?"
It was difficult to begin, the words slipping and sliding out of Tash's mouth at random, but eventually she managed to string them together into a vaguely coherent story, starting with Purity and Wisdom's appearance, and the ensuing fights. When she finally finished with the doctor's diagnosis, and the state of Wisdom's fragile condition, she was out of breath, and both leader and Librarian were completely silent. The tea was going cold.
"So...that's what happened," Tash finished lamely. "I know its a lot to take in, but we do need to think about it now, and what precautions we have t- ADRIAN! Get off me! I don't want your germs!"
She squirmed away from her kitty boyfriend, who ceased his concerned affection in favour of sitting back down due to a dizzy spell.
"Sorry," he said. "But you're lucky to be alive...you and Michael."
"But you did the right thing, coming to tell us," Harriet said. "I think its safe to say that this conversation doesn't leave this room. This stays between us three and Michael. I don't even want the other senior agents knowing. Until Wisdom wakes up and we can make a more effective decision, I don't want anyone who isn't us four going into the Twilight fandom. Adrian, can you set up the appropriate safeguards on the plotholes? And make sure you block (a) out first."
Adrian nodded. "I can have a firewall up within an hour."
"Good," Harriet nodded. "Which brings us to our other problem. Containment. If word that there's a Sovereign sitting in a hospital bed gets out, every Mary Sue and their mother is going to want a share in that power. We'll have a million of them flocking to that fandom, and it'll only be a matter of time before someone starts fighting."
Adrian snorted. "I pity any Mary Sue stupid enough to challenge Runoa for her Sovereign!"
"But would she even want him back if she knew?" Tash asked. "He had a heart attack, guys. I'm not even sure how, but given that my Plot Summary was registering no Sues in the hospital, I think whatever the BLAM did may have temporarily cancelled out his Stuishness..."
"I suppose it might," Harriet said thoughtfully. "Wisdom is wise – logical, thoughtful...the BLAM is quite possibly the most illogical piece of technology we have, outside the Deus Ex Machina. If it was broken, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that it might have caused a blip in his powers..."
"And while his powers were down, he didn't have any defence against the insanity," Tash concluded. "Added to the fact that he's ancient and he's just been in a very serious fight, the stress of losing his powers was probably all that was needed to push him into a heart attack."
"But other Sues probably don't know that," Adrian concluded shrewdly. "Runoa may want him back, but even if she does, that might just make others more determined to recruit him to their cause. We'll keep this under wraps until we know more...you didn't prohibit him did you?"
"No," Tash shook her head. "I'd be scared to. If he does still have his powers and it's just my machine playing up, his powers may be the only thing keeping him alive."
The Librarian nodded. "You did the right thing. No one deserves to die that way."
"Okay," Harriet clapped her hands. "Well since you and Michael are the hospital contacts, we'll await more info from them, and all four of us will try and visit when we can...not till you're feeling better though, Puss."
"Please don't call me that..." Adrian grumbled, scratching at his stomach. His girlfriend swatted his hands away.
"Bad kitty. No scratch."
It was just before dinner by the time Emily had finally calmed down. She had allowed Harriet to give her her Society tshirt and her badge, before she had scurried off to do something important. Emily could only guess what was occupying her adoptive mother's thoughts, because as far as she was aware, there had been no missions that day.
She had detoured via Phoenixia's garden to trim the bushes and spray the weeds, but she had not stayed there for long after an incident with a hungry Shirley and the bottle of herbicide went awry and she had been forced to take the Cliche Stick to the hospital wing. Valerie, worn out and stressed after a day of caring for sick people, had almost clocked her for daring to bring in another patient, but she had got to work on Shirley's burns regardless, leaving Emily with the chance to scurry away to safety.
She was hungry, but she reckoned she had just enough time to check Suebook before going to see what was for dinner. The page refreshed and she scanned the top stories for anything interesting, before dropping her gaze to the sidebar to see who was online to chat with.
She frowned as she went over the list of names. It was distinctly shorter than usual, and it did not take her long to realise who was missing. Curious and a little worried, she typed the first name into the search box, and hit return.
The name appeared in the list, but instead of the blue font which indicated a link to the wall, the text was black and dead. Concerned now, Emily tried the other names, but nothing came up.
"Why have the Sovereigns blocked us on Suebook?" she wondered. "I haven't heard the alarm go off today so we can't have had a run in with them...unless something happened that we don't know about..."
Frowning, and a little worried now, Emily remembered the look on Harriet's face not half an hour ago – the kind of concern the penetrated deeply. Something had happened, and Harriet knew about it. Curious and just plain nosy, Emily shut the laptop off, and went in search of food, promising herself that she would keep an eye on the situation.