Breakfast the next morning was a subdued affair, provided 'subdued' is an acceptable synonym for 'insane'. The brochures (which Phoebe had read as well as anyone, ie, she'd looked at the pictures) had promised an all-you-can-eat buffet of regional specialities, and the promise had been spectacularly fulfilled. Unfortunately, the students hadn't quite got the hang of the OFU teaching methods, so were rather incautious about what they ate.
"It looked perfectly normal!" Kisheara explained. "How was I supposed to know it was dwarf bread?"
"The bit where you hit yourself over the head with it might have been a hint," Phoebe muttered as she swung the scythe. Kisheara shrugged.
"By the time I realised my skull was cracked it was a bit late. So what happens-" A miniature sea-chest covered in creepers – Sam Vines, Phoebe thought – leapt from under the table, and Kisheara was gone. Phoebe started to walk back to her friends, the crowd moving unconsciously out of her way (although the various vampires gave her worried looks). Then there came a long scream, and she span round to see Tindomiel throw a coffee mug onto the floor and run straight through the Class 2 dining room's fifth-storey window.
The Death of Fangirls was waiting for her when she hit the ground. She listened to the girl's complaint – "How could I possibly have known it was Klashian coffee?" – then swung the scythe and left her for the newly-manifested camel-hair bag to take care of.
When Phoebe rejoined the others, Liliac jumped. "Where'd you come from?" she exclaimed, then glanced at Phoebe's hair, which was in the process of readjusting. "Oh, the Death thing. Why does it do that?"
"Because narrativium has no imagination," Penny said dryly. Phoebe had introduced them before being dragged off by the Duty, and they seemed to get on well enough. Penny appeared to have recovered her composure, though Phoebe was perceptive enough to see how thin that calm really was. "Susan's got dandelion-clock hair," the soft-voiced girl went on, "so you do too. Did you know it's got a red streak in it?"
"Oh, well, obviously I spend all my time looking in mirrors," Phoebe replied. "So – and given the morning I've had I'm almost afraid to ask this – what's for breakfast?"
"A medley of cultural dishes," Cazzie said, holding up a menu. "From the Ramtops, fresh* bread, where the asterisk is 'less than a decade old'. From the cities and deserts of Klatch, coffee and delicacies."
"Which means sheep eyeballs," Liliac added, pointing at the table in question. Everyone was giving it a wide berth.
"And," Cazzie resumed, "from the cities, towns, villages, hamlets and isolated farmsteads of the Sto Plains... brassica."
"Well, that doesn't sound instantly fatal," Phoebe said, cautiously optimistic. Penny grimaced.
"It isn't. It's worse."
"It's cabbages," Liliac finished morosely. "Lots and lots of cabbages."
"Cabbage bread, cabbage juice, cabbage soup," said Cazzie.
"Dried cabbage cereal," put in Penny. "Cabbage jam. Fried cabbage."
"Stewed, pickled and roast cabbage," Liliac resumed, not to be outdone. "Oh, and just plain cabbage leaves. Can't forget them."
Phoebe felt slightly ill. "Is there any water?"
"Yes," Cazzie said, "but it's from the Great Nef. Dehydrated."
Phoebe sighed and sat down heavily on one of the hard wooden chairs dotted around the room. "What did we do to deserve this?" she asked.
"Oh, don't be like that," Liliac told her. "I'm sure lunch will be better – remember yesterday's curry?"
"No, it's a serious question," Phoebe said, her head in her hands. "Why are we even here? I remember filling out the form, but – it's been years since I wrote fanfic. Why did they send it to me – and why did I reply?"
"It's what I was saying," Penny replied quietly. "We – I applied so I could learn more about the Disc, but I've been working here for seven years now. I even lived here for a couple. Why would I do that?"
"I know why I'm here," Cazzie put in. "I applied to OFUM years back, but didn't get a reply – decided to try again – got misfiled and sent here. Simple enough."
"Penny I understand," Liliac said, "it's for her job. But why would you want to go to OFUM?"
"It's an experience," Cazzie shrugged. "Do you realise the Official Fanfiction University of Middle-earth has run continuously since the summer after the first movie came out?"
"So? That's only a few years," Liliac scoffed. Cazzie shrugged.
"A decade is long enough for me to be interested," she said. Penny frowned at her.
"Speaking of which," she said, "how old are you, Cazzie?"
"Er, twenty-seven. Is it important?"
"Probably not." She shrugged. Phoebe was looking thoughtfully at Liliac.
"So what about you?" she asked. "Old fanfics, work, filing – what's your story?"
Liliac took a look around – as if to check no-one was listening – and spoke in a hushed voice. "I'm on a secret mission from a trans-dimensional agency," she told them. "OFUDisc has been designated an area of concern, and-"
"Yes, and I'm the Duchess of Sto Helit," Cazzie snorted. "Go on, spill."
Liliac grinned. "Well, it was worth a try. No, I work for an animal protection society – MEAPS, we're called – and, well, I write Discworld fanfic. Not that much to tell."
"Well, we are a boring lot, aren't we?" Penny said, only a hint of falsehood in her cheerful tone. "Can you imagine anyone writing a film about us? 'Two fanwriters, a curious investigator, and... an administrative error. Together, they are... the Fanfictional Four!'"
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. MEAPS is Liliac's creation. Phoebe is based on an application to OFUDisc by Fawkes Phoenix. All other students are based on applications to OFUDisc. All details of (and mistakes in) plot, narrative and dialogue are mine. Thanks to the Irish Samurai for betaing.
Author's Note: MEAPS was formed back in 2003 by Liliac, and actually had its own story at one point. Unfortunately, that story has vanished from the internet. And no, I'm not telling you what it stands for – yet.