Tuesday, 26 March 2013

OFUDisc: Chapter 1

The first death in Class 2 occurred approximately three minutes into Pretty Butterfly's lecture on underused elements. "We'll start with a few easy questions," the Auriental woman said, tossing a lacquered hairstick idly from hand to hand. "Can anyone tell me what is worn by an alumnus of Unseen University?"

"A pointy hat!" went up the cry from several cross-legged students. Pretty Butterfly shook her head in disappointment.

"Oh, dear, and it's in the very first book, too. No-one? Hm, perhaps too tricky. How about this – where are pyramids most commonly found?"

"Egypt!" called one student – Phoebe thought her name was Esme something. Pretty Butterfly scowled.

"Clearly my sister is rubbing off on me; I forgot to consider that you're all as thick as... well, students. Do any of you even know who my father is?"

Silence hung heavy – except for the somewhat sullen voice of Esme. "I actually do know this one – it's Rinsewind!"

Phoebe didn't even see the hairstick leave Pretty Butterfly's hand – just heard the thud as, with unerring accuracy, it lodged itself an inch deep in Esme's textbook. "However you try to spell his name, the so-called Great Wizzard is definitely not-" Pretty Butterfly began, then stopped, frowning "Where is she?"

Several of the students near Esme's empty spot pointed – over the edge of the hovering menhir, into the clouds below. There was a muffled thud, and Pretty Butterfly sighed. "Typical."

Phoebe hunkered down, trying to get closer to the reassuring solidity of the rock. Then something clattered onto the stone in front of her: an eggtimer. She stared at it, wondering who had dropped it there, reached out a finger to poke it – and was yanked to her feet by an irresistible force.

"Sit back down!" Pretty Butterfly snapped, then blinked. "Oh – it's you. Well, be quick about it."

Phoebe shook her head in bewilderment and felt her hair fly out of its ponytail into something resembling a dandelion – and from the glimpses she could catch of it, a pure white one, which didn't entirely match her normally-red hair. She felt a sudden weight in her right hand, glanced over at the lethal-looking farm implement, and remembered. Well, putting herself down as the Death of Fangirls had seemed funny at the time...

"Get on with it," Pretty Butterfly growled at her black-robed student. Phoebe swallowed, nodded, and made her way through the seated students to the edge of the rock. Her newly-gained instincts were telling her to jump, which didn't exactly fit her previous plans, but... Immortal, right? she thought, and sprang.

Even as she plummeted she heard Pretty Butterfly start up the lesson again: "Let's take this from the beginning... the very beginning." The rest faded into the wind. Phoebe clutched her scythe tight to her chest and wished fervently she had something warmer and less loose than a robe on. Preferably something involving lots of springs.

The landing, when it came, was surprisingly gentle – so much so that Phoebe fell over, braced against an impact that never came. As she clambered to her feet, collecting her scythe and lifetimer, rearranging her robe, she took in the scene. The dew-covered grass glistened dully in the mist, save for the patch covered by the still form of Esme. The only other things in sight were a couple of stone circles peering through the fog, and an incongruous scarlet handbag lying next to Esme. Oh, and the semitransparent figure standing over the corpse, connected to it by a blue thread from one ankle.

"What happened?" Esme's spectre asked plaintively. "I... I think I fell...?"

"Um." Phoebe tried to find the right response. "Well. You see."

Esme looked straight at Phoebe, and clearly managed to take in at least some of what was going on: she gasped with delight. "Susan!" she squealed, and ran towards Phoebe, arms outstretched. Phoebe took a step back, but it was unnecessary; Esme reached the end of her glowing tether and fell flat on her face. She looked down at her ankle and her face fell. "Oh. I see." Then she glanced back at Phoebe, propped herself up on her elbows, and smiled winningly. "So, Susan... are you here to take me away from all this?" She winked. "I'll even call you Miss Susan if you like..."

"SHUT UP!" Phoebe snapped, and jumped slightly at the hollow sound of her voice – but not as high as Esme did. "I'm not Susan – I don't look anything like her. Idiot."

Esme's face fell even further. "Oh. Then who are you?"

"I'm the Death of Fangirls," Phoebe said, brandishing her scythe and stalking forward. Until that moment she hadn't known she could stalk, but apparently it came with the job. She turned the lifetimer in her hand and read the label.

"Esme... good grief, your last name really is 'Something'?" Esme nodded, scowling. "Fine. Esme Something, fangirl of Susan Sto Helit, you're dead. Get lost." She swung the scythe in a gleaming arc and severed the blue cord. Esme flinched, then climbed to her feet.

"Well, maybe I will," she sniffed. "You go where you think you should, right? I'm thinking a black palace and a certain granddaughter of-"

Whatever other thoughts Esme was having were lost when the unprepossessing handbag sprang up on hundreds of tiny feet and swallowed her with a single lunge. Phoebe threw herself backwards, but the handbag simply sat, looking distinctly satisfied with itself. Eventually she worked up the courage to crawl closer. "Rinsewind," she read off a tiny metal plate, and realised that the red fabric of the bag was distinctly worn, with darker patches that could once have been sequin stars. "O... kay," she said. "I guess she created you, so you... get to eat her soul? Is that the way it goes?"

The handbag gave her a long-suffering look (somehow), spat a slip of paper into her hand, and turned to march off across the grass. Phoebe watched it go, then looked down at the document.

"To the Death of Fangirls," it said in a flowing hand. "You have doubtless surmised the nature of your Duty by this time. Spirits will be collected by the nearest mini-Luggage and brought here to await resurrection in the appropriate form. Please note that your scythe and powers will manifest only when required. When not discharging your duties you are instructed to attend your assigned classes; work missed in the execution of your duties must be made up later.

"Signed, The Administration."

Dropping the note, Phoebe realised that her scythe had vanished while she was reading, her robes had morphed back into her usual clothes, and her hair had snaked back into its ponytail. She checked: yes, it was red again. "Awesome," she said, and jumped upwards towards the floating rock.

It took about a quarter of a second for her to realise why that wasn't going to work, and by then she had reached the peak of her impotent hop – about a foot off the floor – and was still firmly in gravity's embrace. She landed, almost fell, and scowled up at the clouds – then wrapped her arms around herself against the creeping chill of the wind and started walking back towards the stone circle the class had started out from.

Disclaimer: All Discworld canon characters and locations are the creations of Sir Terry Pratchett. The Official Fanfiction University concept is the creation of Miss Cam. Phoebe is based on an application to OFUDisc by Fawkes Phoenix. Esme Something is an original character created by me. All details of (and mistakes in) plot, narrative and dialogue are mine. Thanks to the Irish Samauri for betaing.

Author's Note: Cruelty to students, rabid fangirls, mini-Luggages and more cruelty to students? Yep – it's an OFU, all right.

A little clarification on our star here: her general description and her role as Death of Fangirls were part of an application by Fawkes Phoenix back when OFUDisc first started. Since she got switched into a starring role for this version, I took the liberty of changing her name – the character as written is created by me, but is based on Fawkes' ideas.

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