As the dawn sunlight crept over the floor, the unbearably long speech finally came to an end.
“… and so, for outstanding services to your fandom, you are all hereby presented with the Urple Heart Medal, and may you bear it with pride,” Mister Kit concluded. He and Miss Minty walked down the row of ten agents standing to attention on the stage at the front of the Great Hall, stopping in front of each one to pin a medal on his or her shirt. The medals consisted of an Urple heart on a Wilver ribbon, but despite their hideousness the receivers swelled with pride as they were pinned on. Half-hearted applause from the students was drowned out by the frantic clapping, stamping, and howls of approval from the staff and other PPCers in the audience.
Stormsong, Skyfire, Laburnum, Foxglove, Drake, Naomi, Manx, Shadow, Nin Brandt, and Luxury all smiled, waved, blew kisses, waved their paws in the air and cheered, or otherwise expressed their joy.
“If I may say a few words?” Skyfire said quietly to Miss Minty. The audience members who heard her groaned, expecting another interminable speech … or, horror of horrors, ten speeches. The stoat stepped forward and took the proffered microphone.
“Now, we discussed whether we should make some sort of speech at this point to show our pride and appreciation,” she said, causing the students to groan again and roll their eyes. “But we all felt that would be boring, and thus against the spirit of everything a Redwall feast stands for. On with the party!”
Every creature in the audience cheered louder than ever and ran for either the dancefloor or the food. The Plot Protector’s Purging Party had officially begun.
“... and do we have enough alcohol?” Minty asked again.
“We have vermin and Protectors in the room, we can never have enough alcohol,” Kit told her patiently. “But we know where to get more, as I explained the first fourteen times last night.”
“And we did make sure that the cooks cut all the vegetables and suchlike into discs, not sticks?” Minty asked, checking something off on a clipboard. “Just to be safe, I don’t want Redtooth to run screaming like he did when he saw me smoking. Honestly, you can only take Freudism so far before it ceases to be funny ...”
“Yes, Minty dear ... wait.” Kit stopped and sniffed. “I can smell burning. Burning is not good.”
Over the racket made by the music, screams could be heard. This was nothing unusual, but one particular set of screams stood out.
“OW! Stop pulling those, they’re attached! What are you NONONO NOT THE FIRE NOT THE FIRE AARGH!”
Stormsong and Skyfire overheard this noise as well, and being extreme examples of Reformed Vermin (term courtesy of one Ms Katie “Snowfur” Sullivan) immediately ran to help.
The source of the noise proved to be a young albino hedgehog of indeterminate gender, strung upside down over a heap of glowing coals. Several vermin were standing around, licking their lips. The ominous feel was lessened somewhat when one realised the identity of the small white objects impaled on the hedgehog’s spines, but this didn’t make the mustelids any less indignant.
“What on earth is going on?” snapped Skyfire in her best Angry Subcaptain voice. “Stop that at once!”
“Marshmallowroast!” declared Raventail, grinning broadly and snapping off one of the hedgehog’s candy-laden spines. “Kye arr, youwant?”
“That’s horrible! Let the poor creature go, how can you be so cruel to, um ...?” Skyfire trailed off quizzically.
“Snowspine, miz, ‘edgepigname Snowspine.”
The name sounded vaguely familiar …
“... Ah,” said Stormsong in tones like a slamming tomb door.
The hedgehog chuckled nervously. “Uh. Hi, guys. Sooo, uh ... you’re alive. How’s that working out for ya?”
Stormsong ignored xir, turned to Raventail, and said “I think I shall accept thine offer.” Raventail grinned, snapped off another spine full of marshmallows, and handed it over. The weasel munched reflectively. “Mmm.”
“I suppose a little sympathy would be too much to ask?” the unlucky Snowspine grumbled.
“Tell me, dear heart; have large pointed objects taken up residence in parts of thy body without permission?”
“Not that I’ve noticed, though I’m kind of worried about what they’re planning with this spit when they run out of candy …”
“Don’t be silly, you can’t spit-roast hedgehogs,” said Skyfire. “Hedgehogs have to be baked. Ooh, pink marshmallows.” She took a spine and nibbled.
“Then yes, it would be too much to ask,” said Stormsong, ignoring her. “Fare thee well.”
The mustelids calmly turned their backs and started to walk away.
“DAMMIT, YOU BASTARDS! I DID NOT WRITE YOU TO BE THIS CRUEL!” wailed Snowspine.
“Oh, come on, Mum, these are rather unusual circumstances!”
“‘Mum’?!” Snowspine mouthed indignantly, before being silenced by a poke in the face from Raventail’s claw.
“Yew shurrup, ‘edgepig, shurrup or …” Raventail trailed off as the current song ended and the familiar irritating strains of the Macarena started to play. His whiskers twitched, then he and his companions ran for the dancefloor, whooping and cheering. Snowspine struggled ineffectively, coughing and sneezing from the smoke.
An upside-down vulpine face appeared. Close inspection showed it to actually be the ferret agent Laburnum buried somewhere in her fox-pelt.
“Hi. Need a paw there?”
“No, I just love hanging upside down and suffering from smoke inhalation while being insulted by figments of my imagination. Carry on, I don’t mind.”
“Heh. Sorry ‘bout that, I can guess it was kind of a shock. I work with your guys and they’re normally pretty nice.”
“You what? How are you working with them? Why? What? Why are they here?”
“Long story.” Laburnum stomped out the fire and started to untie Snowspine’s ankles. “There, can you stand up? I’ll get your wrists … there. Want some help getting rid of the marshmallows?”
“Yeah, thanks …” Snowspine turned around and let Laburnum pluck the sweets off xir spines. “You’re not one of mine too, are you? I don’t remember you.”
“Nah, I’m from the Real World as much as you are.”
Snowspine blinked as something odd about the fox-pelt registered in xir mind. “Does that fox skin you’re wearing have three arms?”
“Yep. Bad case of -Ing Disease. Rakey here used one too many present tense verbs in a sentence. Looked weird, but it makes for a nice weapon belt for me, at least when I’m human and it’s human-sized. Right now it’s not very comfortable, but I didn’t wanna leave it behind ‘cos it’s the spoils of war, y’know? There, I think that’s the last one.”
“Well, thanks for-”
Snowspine was abruptly cut off as Laburnum spun xir around and punched xir in the face.
“Ow! What the hell was that for?!”
“Dammit, your creepy little monsters practically killed me!” screamed the ferret, aiming a left hook at the unfortunate hedgehog without regard for the spines already piercing the knuckles of her right hand. Foxglove ran up and grabbed the ferret’s shoulders.
“Burnsey! No! This is one time when violence won’t solve anything!”
“Fox, they tried to eat me! On my birthday! They got me in trouble with Makes-Things and the SO! They confused my ego! They called me a monster! They stole my only pair of shoes! One of ‘em pissed on me, Fox, I swear he did! VENGEANCE! I DEMAND VENGEEEAAAAAAANCE!”
“You got your vengeance! Do you know how many times I had to wash my hands after that thing with the scythe?”
The ferret was dragged away by the hare, kicking and screaming all the way.
Snowspine shook xir head. Nope, not one of xirs – no character xie’d ever written was that strange.
“Felana’s not here,” said Suzi, glancing around the room. Felana was hard to miss, being several times as big as most of the students and staff. “I heard about what that hare with the pink ribbons did to her, d’you think she scared her off?”
“Oh, she’s probably still just putting her makeup on or something,” said Oaknin airily.
“Putting her makeup on? If she puts on any more than she usually wears her neck’s gonna snap under the weight. Not that anyone’ll miss her much.”
“Oh, you can talk,” said Zeph Zefire, who was wearing layer upon layer of pink frills and lace and about a metric ton of sparkly costume jewellery in a frantic attempt to look as feminine as possible. “Do you single-handedly keep Max Factor in business?”
Suzi pouted. “Hell no. This is Urban Decay.”
Thom, drink in paw, wandered up. “Hey, Suze, was wondering where you … what the hell are you wearing?”
“Oh, you like these?” Suzi gestured at her black jeans, which were so covered in chains and buckles and studs that it was only the fact that they were two sizes too small that kept them up. They had been clumsily cut open at the back to make room for her tail and then, with some assistance from a sniggering Ferin, the waistband had been stapled back together. “They were a present from my friend Rayvyn back home …”
“Isn’t that zipper broken?”
“It’s grunge chic!”
“I didn’t even know they made Winnie the Pooh underwear in your size-”
“Stop looking at my underwear!”
Meanwhile, the co-ordinators were having a conversation similar to the beginning of the one described above.
“I can’t help but notice a certain oversized feline appears to be conspicuously absent.”
Kit chuckled nervously. “That’s what I wanted to tell you. I saw her leaving with, um … Lux.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Excellent!” Minty clapped him on the back. “Get some staff members to help, find out which room they’re in, shove a few bottles of very strong alcohol through the door without looking in, and then block the door with as many large heavy objects as you can find!”
“But … tiger … Lux chose to be a rabbit … how …?”
“That’s why I said ‘without looking in’, Kit dear.”
Drake was having the time of his life. The music, the crowds, the food, the lack of Naomi yelling at him, lots of new friends who for some inexplicable reason mostly seemed to be female foxes who kept giving him drinks and whispering to each other …
A painfully loud squeal broke through the general noise and he found himself swept up in a hug.
“EEEEEEEEEE! Ickle kitsune-kun so kawaii!”
“Ow,” Drake squeaked, struggling in Sakura’s grip. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was rapidly running out of oxygen, he wouldn’t have minded so much. It reminded him a little of his cubhood as a Sue’s Cute Animal Friend. She had never picked him up by the neck, though.
“Okay, okay, don’t break him!” Naomi snapped, prising Sakura’s paws off him. “I’m the only one who’s allowed to injure the foxboy, okay?”
“Hai, stripey-chan!” Sakura cheeped, dropping Drake into the ratel’s paws and bouncing cheerfully.
“Ooh, you speak Japanese?!” Drake said in a tone disturbingly similar to Sakura’s squeal. He clasped his paws together and bowed neatly. “Hajimemashite, nekojo! Watashi no namae wa Drake desu, o-namae wa nan desu ka?”
Fortunately for her, Sakura managed to guess from context what Drake had asked. “Um … watashi namey-wa Sakura-chan day-sue?”
Drake completely disregarded her clumsy mumbling of the language and continued to gabble on in Japanese, Sakura nodding or giggling at moments which she thought were appropriate. Given that most of the females he’d met that day had completely ignored what he’d actually said in favour of either mentally squeeing over him, wondering how fast they could get out of range of the railgun should he snap, or enviously plotting his messy death, he didn’t notice until Naomi whispered in his ear “She doesn’t understand a word you’re saying, you know.”
“Doesn’t she?” he whispered back. “She seems happy enough …”
“Look, you want proof, ask her this …”
Drake listened to Naomi, then turned back to Sakura and shot off another question in Japanese. Working purely on his expression, Sakura guessed he was expecting agreement, and once again she bounced and squealed “Hai!”
Drake blinked. “Do you know that you just agreed to sell me your left kidney?”
Much later, it was getting close to midnight and most of the Dibbuns were in bed, but Molly Rath, adopted child of Agents Stormsong and Skyfire (much to their eternal horror), had managed to crash the party. The ways of the verminous Dibbun are subtle and carefully calculated to get them into the place in which they can cause the most trouble, and when teen and college-age partygoers see small cute things wandering through a party, they invariably give them food and booze. Molly had been at the party for ten minutes and was already feeling woozy and pleasantly over-full. Her short harsh life had not included many occasions when she felt too full, so she filed it away in her happy memories and continued to eat the nibbles given to her by girls going “Awwww, she’s so cute! Does oo want a sweetie, ickle fewwet?” or boys going “Hey, let’s see what happens when we give the kid beer!”
A very familiar scent hit her nostrils, but it took a while to work through the haze of food and beer. A small but tough-looking adult male ferret with a heavily-tattooed face was leaning against the table, sipping ale and chatting with some other vermin. He turned when Molly stumbled up against his leg, and gasped “Oh my goodness … this must be the one they told me about.”
Molly looked up at Sawney Rath in fright as his eyes filled with tears of mixed emotions. He sniffed. “I can’t believe it. Fine, she’s not a Taggerung, but … but she’s mine … she’s so lovely … they told me all about what she did to that man in London, even if she’s not Taggerung she’ll grow up great!” He put down his beer and scooped up the astonished Molly as the other vermin looked at each other and, by unspoken consent, backed away. “C’mere, little one. I still can’t believe I finally have-”
Everybeast looked up as a horrible ripping noise followed closely by two very loud screams cut through the music.
“AAAAAAARGH! MY ARM!”
“MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! HE TRIED TO DO IT AGAAAAAAIN!”
Stormsong slapped his forehead. “Skyfire, couldst thou take care of our wayward foster-cub? I suddenly feel the need for more alcohol.”
As he reached the drink table, he saw Redtooth huddled in a corner, muttering irritably and nursing a pint mug full of something which smelled far too strong to be beer. Once again demonstrating that he was far too nice for his own good, the weasel looked over his sunglasses at Redtooth and asked “Art thou well?”
Redtooth put his drink down, stood up, grabbed Stormsong by the collar, and snarled into his face “You make one more comment about rat-onna-stick, PPC boy, and I will eat your soul.”
Stormsong blinked. “Why would I make any comments about rats on sticks?”
Unfortunately, Agent Manx heard him.
“He doesn’t read Discworld!” she shrieked drunkenly, waving her arms about and attracting the attention of everyone nearby. “HERETIC! BURN HIM! BURN HIM!” Fortunately, at this point she fell over and passed out with her face in a trifle. Shadow ran over to haul her out before she drowned, though there are worse ways to die than drowning in an Abbey-made trifle.
Stormsong and Redtooth looked at each other. Redtooth sighed and put the weasel down.
“I need more bloody drink. Wanna join me?”
“Uh … as thou pleasest.”
“… an’ she sezsh ‘that’sh funny, ‘t’s never done tha’ when I’ve tried it’!”
Laburnum, Foxglove, and the various vermin who’d been drinking heavily along with them burst into laughter.
“Oh, I gotssh a million of ‘ese,” Laburnum slurred. “Ooh, ooh, ‘ow many vermin doesh it take to shcrew in a lightbulb? It would take two, bu’ they can’ both fit in a lightbulb.”
There was a pause while everybeast figured this one out, then they laughed again, even though the joke wasn’t all that funny. Alcohol does that to one’s sense of humour.
“Pervy vermin fancier, you are,” said Naomi, punching her gently in the shoulder.
“Yerss, yerss indeedy!” Laburnum grinned lopsidedly. “Dey’ssh ssho cute an’ fuzzible I wanna hug ‘em all ... Frickin’ prudessh, though. Wouldna thought it from readin’ the bookssh, but they are. Should innaduce wozzername who wrote that shtuff we jussht killed to the real vermin. Dunno wot they’d do to ‘er, she picked the nasshtier onesh an’ look at wot she did wi’ ‘em. No fair, I got a year’ssh worth o’ crap from ‘em an’ I ‘ardly did nothin’ …”
Thura, who was carefully maintaining the distance of one hundred paces from her required by the restraining order but still had to get fairly close to her so he could also reach the food table, overheard her and paused from stuffing his face with candied chestnuts for long enough to flip her the bird. Dingeye grabbed his paw and hissed in his ear “I don’t care wot she said, everybeast already knows wot she finks of us an’ wot did we say about not tauntin’ the drunken bottle covey?”
The slightly-more-sober Foxglove threw a paw companionably around Laburnum’s shoulder. “Let’ssh go hijack the DJ booth.”
Redtooth and Stormsong had made a spirited attempt to consume their own body weights in, er, spirits, and had reached the “depressed singing” stage of drunkenness (not that this was all that much different from the weasel bard’s normal state of mind).
Cluny, holding a bottle of beer with his tail, looked at them with amusement. “Boys? The party’s not going to end until dawn. I don’t think you can survive drinking nonstop all night.”
“Good,” Stormsong muttered, and threw up.
“Oh well, not my place to stop you. Kit and Minty just hate having to resurrect us if they can avoid it. We’re teaching the fanbrats how we do apple-bobbing in Mossflower, if you want to join us.” Cluny smirked and gestured over to a large barrel full of water, over which a very worried Fernflower and Fallo were suspended upside-down by ropes held by Darkclaw, Fangburn, and Konnie. “We told them if one of them manages to get hold of an apple we’ll untie them. Of course we didn’t tell them that the apples are in a weighted sack at the bottom of the barrel. Or that I don’t plan to let them up for air.”
“Oh, this I gotta see!” Redtooth wobbled upright, supporting himself with one paw on the wall and the other on Stormsong’s head. “D’ye mind if I go?”
Stormsong was about to shake his head when there was a crash from the DJ booth. Agent Foxglove’s voice blared over the room.
“Hey, ladies’n’germs, who’s gettin’ bored with this music? Well, screw you if you weren’t, ‘cos we’re callin’ the shots now!”
“Damn right!” came Laburnum’s very slurred agreement. “I am takin’ back my fav’rite song! Whaddyashay t’that, ya delusssh’nal fuzzfaced sonofabitch?!”
“Who’s she talking to?” whispered Brakken to Eryss.
“Who knows? I don’t care, she’s funny to watch.”
The thumping opening chords of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” shook the floorboards. Screams of glee interspersed with groans of annoyance among the partygoers.
Thom suddenly found Suzi grabbing the back of his belt, since she couldn’t reach his collar. “Best song ever. You. Me. Dancefloor. Now.”
“But I just got a drink-“
Suzi yanked the weasel down to her level, bending his spine backwards at a very unpleasant angle. “Now.”
“Mmkay,” Thom squeaked.
Martin the Warrior, standing in a corner with Rose in tow, stared at Suzi.
“I’m standing right here and she hasn’t even noticed me.” He leaned forward and waved vaguely in Suzi’s direction. Not enough that she’d actually see him, though – he wasn’t stupid.
“Why do you think Kit and Minty aren’t stopping those two from playing this song? Kit did work out it was the second most likely song to cause a riot here, next to the Hedgehog Song. Apparently it’s a favourite of that girl’s, and as long as she’s entertained her attention span’s not long enough to waste time looking for us.”
“Isn’t she the girl who bought three copies of Mossflower, ripped out the pages of two of them, and tried to paper her bedroom with them?”
“She only covered three walls. Clogg tells me the other was full of Trent Reznor posters. Which were covered in lipstick marks.” Rose shuddered.
“Ah. I was wondering.” Martin squinted at Suzi again. “Maybe she needs to go to the infirmary and get her eyes checked, she still hasn’t seen me …”
Rose grinned as she pulled him onto the dancefloor. “Are you jealous?”
Gonff glanced up from a trifle. “Y’know, her dancing’s actually not bad at all. She must be used to the tail now … Maybe her artistic ability only extends far enough to make her good at one thing at a time and that’s why her writing is so bad? We should watch her and see if her dancing gets worse as her writing gets better.”
“Ooh, ooh!” Cludd piped up, sniggering. “If we break her leg, will she automatically get better at writing?”
“Good point …”
Columbine grabbed her husband’s whiskers and said firmly “Don’t you dare.”
It was three in the morning, and the party was starting to wind down. Several staff members and about half the students had fallen asleep or passed out where they were, and the others had shoved them to the sides of the room or draped them over chairs to keep them out of the way. The music had cycled back to slower and less drum-heavy tunes, with which those few still dancing could keep up more easily.
“Sooooo, Thommy, are you going to walk me home?” Suzi asked with a grin.
Thom blinked at her, eyes glazed from tiredness and alcohol. “We live on the same floor.”
“Fine, let’s walk each other home.”
“That works.” The weasel extended a paw and Suzi reached up to take it, and they left the Great Hall together. Suzi was still half-dancing as they walked.
“Da-da-da da-da-da da-da-da … whoo. Some party. Hope they do this again,” she remarked. “That was fun.”
“Yeah, d’you mind not pulling me around like that? I’m still sorta drunk and I’m very tired.”
“Sorry.” Suzi yawned widely. The adrenaline rush had prevented her from realising how tired she was. They reached the door of the Prey girls’ dorm, and she leaned against the doorframe, unsure what to say. She’d never really been in a situation like this before; of course the guys at her school didn’t know about her secret geek and furry proclivities, but they still seemed put off by her somehow, so she and Rayvyn had spent every school party slinking around the sidelines or dancing alone. She told herself it was because the boys found her intimidating. Now she knew one who didn’t, she wasn’t sure what to do with him. Then again, presumably one treated male friends the same way one did female ones. Easy when you think about it, she mused. “So, see you tomorrow?”
“I guess.” Thom grinned and clumsily high-fived her. “If I recover enough to crawl outta bed at any point.”
Suzi shoved the door open, weaved exhaustedly over to her bed, and flopped limply onto it, asleep before her head hit the pillow.
Kit and Minty, meanwhile, were surveying the wreckage. Minty sighed and picked up a flagon which still contained the dregs of some strawberry cordial. She raised it to her lips, but stopped and sniffed before drinking.
“Kit, does this smell funny to you?”
Kit took the flagon and sniffed at it. “Smells like … smells like bathroom cleaner.” He turned to see Cluny, who was standing on a chair in the corner, fiddling with what appeared to be a hidden camera and sniggering. “Cluny, did you spike the food?”
“Not just me,” Cluny corrected him. “All the big bads got in on it. See, some of the students don’t drink much, so …”
“Is this Bleeprin I can smell?” Minty demanded. Bleeprin was a mixture of aspirin and bleach, used by the Protectors of the Plot Continuum to erase the bad memories inflicted on them at work.
“Yep.” Cluny hopped off the chair, clutching a roll of film. “It was actually Farran and Ferahgo’s idea. See, we set up these cameras all round the room, in case the students did anything funny while they were drunk. Then we put Bleeprin in everything the students were going to eat – the staff got it as well, but they were all drinking themselves stupid in the first place so they won’t remember the party anyway. The plan is, we’ll sell the film back to the students, saying that anything they don’t buy and destroy will be shown in the Hall. Since we drugged ‘em, none of them will remember whether or not they did anything they don’t want anybeast to see, so they’ll have to buy the film back anyway.”
Minty drew herself up. “That is an astoundingly cruel, manipulative, invasive, devious, underpawed, and downright unpleasant thing to do.” She beamed. “Well done! Wish I’d thought of that.”
[Notes: Yay! Party time! Finally we did it … The songlist I was assembling and the old RP we did on the PPC Board a while back didn’t really work, because I couldn’t get them to merge into the story smoothly. Will possibly use them for ficlets some time. Sorry ‘bout that. Hope you like this chapter anyways.
Laburnum’s rant is about the mission on which S&S were picked up. Suffice it to say her planning left something to be desired. “Closer” is a favourite song of Laburnum’s, which, as a PPC installment mentioned, her subconscious has hijacked for use in nightmares about the aforementioned incident. If you know the lyrics, you may understand why it’s likely to cause a riot in the OFUR. The “delusional fuzzfaced sonofabitch” was one of the vermin of VQ, who very soon deeply regretted what he tried to do to her. It didn’t affect her Pervy Vermin Fancier tendencies, though - with apologies to Cassandra Claire for hijacking her phrase “Pervy Hobbit Fancier”.
What Drake said translates roughly as “Nice to meet you, kitty-girl. My name is Drake, what is your name?” Nothing too complicated, but beyond someone who only knows “kawaii”. Random fact; the word “kawaii” sounds very similar to the word “kowai”, which is Japanese for “scary”. ‘Nuff said.
I think you can tell what Possessed!Sawney tried to do to Molly in the badfic she’s from and why she reacted badly. Let’s not go into detail, she’s only six. Ew. OFUR!Sawney will be suitably horrified to find out, once they fix his arm back on. “That man in London” was an incident in a PPC installment; suffice it to say there was lots of blood. As for Redtooth’s angry outburst, “rat-onna-stick” is the favoured snack of Discworld’s dwarves. Discworld is also where I picked up the phrase “bottle covey” (meaning an unpredictably violent drunk), and the origin of the orphaned punchline uttered by Laburnum. We don’t know the opening to the joke, only that it’s even more unsuitable for mixed company than the lightbulb joke.]