The Subreality City Muse Fighting Dome was open for business. It was, in fact, very, very open for business. That was to say, it would be in a matter of hours. This was a fact that every fictive, Muse, and Writer above-ground and with eyeballs could easily see. Kerovia had gone all-out, and the dome was brightly lit by millions of tiny lights along each outside level. Bright spotlights waved back and forth, illuminating the huge white Tim Tams blimp which circled above the arena, creating an enormous oval shadow on the ground below. Presently, it passed over a short, dark-haired Writer, who looked up and blinked. Said Writer wore a black t-shirt with silver lettering which read "Staff" on the front with tiny letters beneath it reading "That Means Move", and "Subreality City Muse Fighting Federation" on the back.
"Tell Kerovia to check the altitude on that blimp, huh?" she said to the passing Lina Inverse fictive as the blimp took out the top of one of the "Your Muse: Your Vote" banners. "It seems to be flying a bit low."
Lina nodded and moved off. Chandri sighed and glanced down at her clipboard as she re-adjusted her earpiece. She sighed again when she realised how much anime she was going to have to watch over the weekend in order to become acquainted enough with the canon versions of all the anime characters Damien had hired as referees and other staff to converse intelligently with them. Thus far, the only ones she knew to any reasonable degree were Luna and Lina Inverse. Suddenly her train of thought was interrupted, as there was a burst of static in her earpiece.
"Ow!" she clapped a hand to her ear. "Hello? What was that?"
"Sorry," replied the voice in her ear. "Just making final... um, adjustments. Shouldn't happen again."
"Good to know. hey, Core?"
There was a buzzing noise, and then Corone's voice said: "Yep?"
For lack of anyone else, Corone had been put in charge of checking in the fighters and making sure they got into the arena on time.
"Has Anisha shown up yet?"
"Short purple kid, green hair?"
"She's up in the Skybox. Why?"
"Need to talk to her about..." Chandri looked around, then whispered, "You know what."
In most sporting venues, a Skybox was the hightest seat. The Dome was no exception... except that generally, the Skybox was attached to the stadium, as opposed to floating, somewhat above the top row of seats, with a ladder hanging down from it.
Chandri climbed this, poking her head into the box. The first thing she saw was pair of pristine, and very small, white boots.
The boots turned to face her, and were soon revealed to be attached to legs, and a body, and eventually, an ovular face surrounded by straight, dark green hair. Huge, pale blue eys stared down at her.
"Hi, Chandri," the child-Muse greeted her.
Chandri came the rest of the way into the box, and glanced down at the arena. She immediately stepped back , a safe distance from the window.
"Isn't this awfully... high?" she asked Anisha. The child shrugged.
"That *is* the general idea, I think. Anyway, I got other ways down. No biggie."
Chandri blinked. "You do?" She shook her head dismissively. "Look, I... Tris is going to be here soon, and she still doesn't know about... you know."
"Oh, I know. But she doesn't know that we know that she doesn't know."
"I... oh." Chandri firmly decided not to attempt to pretend that that was logic.
"Me and Lily have it all worked out. Don't worry about it."
"...you do? When did you... actually, never mind. Don't tell me. That way she can't blame me." She glanced around the box. The ornate purple-and-gold chairs and the dark blue carpet were a nice touch. Then she happened to catch a second glance of the ground below. Several dozen brightly-dressed figures were streaming into the arena from one of the outside doors. A third glance proved them to be spattered in red.
"What the... what's with the crowd? We're not open for hours!" she said into her headset. A tinny voice answered her. "Cheerleaders? Who the hell let cheerleaders in? Don't our bouncers know anything about R.L. Stine? Get security down there. Somebody find Lina. I'm coming."
She turned to Anisha. "Gotta go. Be... good," she said, then went back down the ladder. Ansiha turned back to the window. An instant later, a dark-clad figure of the same stature appeared next to her as if from nowhere.
Anisha turned her head. "I thought you didn't like teleporting."
"I don't," replied the figure. "But it was the only way I could think of to get in here without any other Writers seeing me. How's it going with the..." she looked around, "...you know."
Anisha turned to her Writer and grinned. "All on schedule."
"Cool," replied the twelve-year-old Writer, and dealt her Muse a high-five.
The control booth of the Muse Fighting Dome was, to say the least, cluttered. Assorted equipment covered every spare surface, and cables dangled from every other one. Light from the three wide windows was somewhat diminished by the various electronic junk piled in front of them. It actually looked rather like some storage space, and but for lack of more than an inch of dust, a long undisturbed one. The only moving thing was one of the two red-uphostered chairs by the middle window, next to which someone was apparently sitting on the floor, a tangle of cables on his lap.
"Ugh," said a voice from the door. This was followed by a sneeze, and then another, and then another.
"Gezundhuit," said Damien, looking up from the snarl of wires to where Chandri stood in the doorway.
"What *are* you doing?" she asked, her voice muffled by the sleeve over her mouth and nose.
"Trying to set up the PA system."
"I thought Kerovia was doing that."
"She is... but right now she's busy doing final testing on the emergency systems. Apparently, the sprinklers are shooting out chocolate syrup."
"I don't even want to know. Where did you get all these relics?" Chandri picked up an antiquated cable-switching box and inspected it. She shook it gently; it rattled.
"I ransacked the storage room in the Cafe... just grabbed everything I could carry."
"Why don't you just wait until she's done? It can't possibly take that long."
"I want to get it all done on time," Damien said, finally giving up on the mess of wires and standing up and dusting himself off.
"Damien, don't worry about it," Chandri said, setting down the box and looking up at the taller Writer. "Here; all this junk is making me sneeze." She pulled a pad of paper and a pen out of her pocket and scribbled something. The dust instantly dissipated, along with the mismatched jumble of electronic equipment, save a complicated-looking computer console and several television screens.
"Phew. Better. Do you know you're insane? I can't believe you willingly offered to organise this insanity. I believe even less that I agreed to help."
"How's it going out there?" Damien asked, looking out the window.
"We had a problem a while ago with cheerleaders..."
Damien raised an eyebrow. "Cheerleaders? What's so bad about cheerleaders?"
"They were from R.L. Stine fic."
"Pre-teen horror novelist. They were all psychotic killers or posessed by... stuff." She shrugged. "I'm personally happier they're *not* staying through the first match. It's going to be interesting enough with just the combattants. Or did we pass rules against calling forth mini-demons?"
"I can't remember. I hope so."
"You hope what?" said a voice in both their headsets.
"Kerovia? Done with the fire system?" Damien asked.
"Finished. Though they may still spray soft-serve if there was an actual fire."
Chandri facepalmed. Damien turned to the console. "Think you can help us get the PA system set up for announcements?"
There was a moment of silence while the console began to hum. It then stopped, and several tiny lights blinked cheerfully.
"There you go. All set. Come match time, just press that button into the middle of the console. It hooks your headsets into the announcement system."
"You mean that big red one that says "Do Not Push"?" Chandri asked dubiously. "Don't big red buttons marked "Do Not Push" usually cause explosions or release evil mignions or... you know... bad things?"
"That's just to keep spectators from fiddling with the PA," Kerovia informed them. "I've got stuff to do."
"Thanks, Kerovia," Damien said. Both Writers turned to the console.
"Kinda looks like we're ready," Chandri said.
"Yup," Damien agreed.
Two Writers sat in two red-upholstered chairs, staring down at the crowded stadium floor. Possibly thousands of people streamed in and out of the large doors, and hundreds more moved up and down the flights of stairs between the seats.
"There're a lot of people down there," Damien remarked.
"Uh huh." Chandri's hands were wrapped around a travel mug of over-sweetened tea, and her eyes were fixed on the main arena, which was lit up brightly. A large, blond fictive was pacing menacingly around it, shooting *looks* at any unauthorised persons daring to venture too close.
"That's Sabin, right?"
Damien followed her gaze. "Yeah. I figured he was the only one menacing enough for the job, first night."
"Good call." She was silent for a moment, then suddenly pointed wildly. "Oh no, is that a rampaging hippo? It's wrecking all the refreshment carts! And it looks like it's wearing a cape!"
"What?" Damien stood up, looking down at the arena.
"Just kidding. You really are nervous, aren't you?"
Damien glared, then his gaze was suddenly attracted by something else. "Hey, are those cheerleaders down there?"
"What? I had them all tossed out, I--" she stopped when she saw Damien was laughing.
"It was funnier when I did it," she glowered, then sat back down.
Several minutes passed.
"What time is it?" Damien asked. Chandri glanced at her watch.
"Ten more minutes."
Five minutes later, he turned to her again. Before he opened his mouth, Chandri said: "It's five minutes later than it was when you asked me before."
The theme music began to play, with a gradual fade-in of trumpets ringing from every speaker around the arena. There was scattered clapping from those of the viewing public had manaced to smuggle in alcoholic beverages and were already thoroughly enjoying themselves.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats," the recorded voice said over the music.
Slowly, the crowd moved to their assigned seats, and quieted somewhat. The music became louder, rising from trumpet blares to the opening to the Space Odyssey: 2001 theme. The lights went down.
The crowd went silent with a collective "ooh". The darknes persisted for a moment, until the lights along the rows of seats began to come on, level by level, in time to the music.
**Dum, dum, dum, da dum...***
The last of the seat lights came on, and the overhead spotlights suddenly lit the audience in red, green, blue, and yellow.
**Dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum...**
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, fictives and Muses, dogs, cats, unicorns, slippers, and anyone else, welcome to the Subreality City Muse Dome. Please put your hands together for your announcers, Damien Kellis and Chandri MacLeod!"
There was loud applause, as all eyes turned to the triple windows at the top of the seats.
"I guess hiring the Annoying Narrator Guy from Pokemon was a good idea, after all," Damien mused.
"You want it, or shall I?" Chandri asked. Damien stared concentratedly at the newly-Written old style radio microphone that sat on the console in front of him. Chandri had insisted on creating it purely for the atmosphere.
"Hmm," he said, picking it up and clearing his throat. "Welcome to the Dome," he said, his voice thundering over the stands. Being somewhat unaccustomed to *thundering*, he paused for a moment to accustom himself to the amplified sound of his voice, and the following applause.
"Before we start the first of the first matches, we'd like to thank our kind sponsors... Tim Tams! The only cookies smuggled internationally!"
"And we mean that! I've done it!" cheered Chandri into her headset.
There was a roar of applause from the knot of Australians and anyone else in the stadium who had ever tasted a Tim Tam.
Damien and Chandri waited for it to quiet. "Now again, we'd like to remind our competitors of the rules... there aren't any!" Damien said.
"But try not to kill anyone this time, folks..." Chandri added. "Some of us are getting tired of re-animating you silly buggers... and on a side-note, I recently turned eighteen! I want you all to know that bribes will be accepted in the form of birthday gifts!"
The applause and scattered laughter from the warning about the rules carried over into the birthday announcement, and several Writers cheered. A distinctive voice (that could probably have been recognised as Lise) shouted from the stands: "You can rent porn!"
Chandri blinked down at the stands, and went on, looking slightly disappointed at the lack of applause. There was a brief pause, and muffled whispering from the speakers. "I've just been told not to use the announcement system for personal business," she informed the crowd. "Huh. So remember, people, we want at least the vague appearance of a clean fight... but only if you're really unimaginative. All right?"
"Now that we're done with the rules, on to the good part!" boomed Damien's voice over the stands again, as Chandri dejectedly handed him the microphone.
The music became louder again, and there was a ridiculously impressive drumroll, over which Damien shouted: "Welcome to the first annual Subreality City Muse Fight Tournament!"
There was a further deafening roar.
As the opening music began to play once more, both announcers fell back into their chairs. Damien turned to Chandri.
"I guess that's it. It's started," he said.
"Yup. We've done it now; no turning back," Chandri replied, resting her chin on one hand.
"Still scared?" Chandri asked a moment later.
"Yup," Damien replied.
"Oh, good. Glad it's not just me."