Sid clicked through the pages of the dating site, each page of search results no more informative than the last. He'd spent the afternoon searching, first for Sally, then for any of the girls who'd contacted him over the past week, finding no trace of them in the site's directories or database. Gail Aucalf, Lucy Ferraro... It was as if none of them even existed, had ever existed, at least as far as the site was concerned. Plus, in his searches, he'd read the site's terms of service more closely and saw that there was no way any of them should have had his home address right off the bat. Something strange was happening, but he didn't have the foggiest idea what. All of them had run off on him in the middle of the date, save for Gina, but she was perhaps the strangest one of all. There was no denying what he'd seen and felt the previous night, Gina had gotten huge, bigger around than she was tall, and it was just simply impossible for that to happen,
no matter what she'd eaten. Lucy, too, the same thing had happened with her and the other waitresses. Some kind of inflatable suit? But it'd certainly felt real, squished up against his arm...
Sid shook his head as he began to blush. Even if it was real, what for? What was the point? Who would do such a thing, and why? Sid's mind flickered to advertisements he'd heard on the store radio for some reality TV show or another- could that be it? Some sort of "Candid Camera" for dating services? It was certainly a possibility: Sid's face could have been on the television every night this week and he assuredly wouldn't have known about it. But even then, some of the dates didn't make sense: Sally's date wasn't thrilling television by any means, even assuming they'd somehow managed to sneak cameras into his apartment, (Which he was pretty sure was illegal anyways) and there was no way a pitfighting ring would allow cameras in for any kind of show, not with all the genuinely illegal things he saw going on in the side-rooms. So what, then? Sid was certain there had to be some overriding motive linking the five of them together, somehow. But
what, and why? Most importantly, what did he have to do with it? Did he, even? Was this some sort of game between the five of them, and he was just some unfortunate game-piece caught in the middle? Sid leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face in his hands. None of it made sense. He couldn't even start to connect the dots, because he had no idea what they were. He knew there *were* dots, at least, but he couldn't begin to hazard their configuration enough to draw lines between them.
A knock at the door made him freeze in his chair, two fingers separating so he could peek through his hands at his living room. Another one? Sidney waited, wondering if he should get the door. He didn't want to be suckered into yet another "date"- the term seemed ill-fitting at this point- but what if it was someone else? He was sure if it was Kevin or someone he'd call Sid's name or something, but the room was quiet save for the hum of his computer's fan. Finally Sid's curiosity got the better of him and he got up out of his chair, going over to the door and opening it. Outside he found the little hallway empty, Sid looking up and down the stairs before finally looking down and seeing a small envelope with his name on it. He bent down and picked it up, feeling the thick, silky cardstock as he opened it up and went back inside. He noticed a faint whiff of perfume as he took the card out and opened it, the fragrance pleasant but suspicious.
"Congratulations," The letter said in gold-embossed font, "Your driver will arrive at 6:16. Please dress appropriately."
Sid turned the card over, arching a brow at the blank backside before turning it back over. Congratulations? For what? Was this involved with his strange dates? He couldn't think of anything else it could have been, but then again with as vague as the note was Sid could have won the publisher's clearinghouse for all he knew.
"Dress appropriately, huh?" Sid scoffed, pitching the letter and envelope into his kitchen's recycling bin. "We'll see how appropriate this whole charade is..."
* * *
Sid waited impatiently outside his apartment, tugging the cuffs of his shirt. He wasn't about to rent a suit or anything, but even if this was all fake he wasn't going to show up on some gag reel in his work clothes. If someone was going to try and make a fool of him, he'd at least look presentable.
When Sidney saw the limousine cresting the hill at the end of the street, drawing its fair share of looks from the people on the sidewalk, Sid couldn't help but feel a pang of recognition; wasn't that the same limousine Gail had rented? The sensation quickly passed, though, Sid shrugging his shoulders as it rolled to a stop in front of him; he wasn't exactly a connoisseur, it was probably just another of a fleet of black limousines. This was San Francisco, after all.
Sidney had already opened the door when the driver had exited his side of the vehicle, leaving him to stand there semi-awkwardly until Sid got in, the driver stepping back into his cab and starting off. Sid drummed his fingers on his knees as he sat in the back, scenario after scenario playing through his head. It was difficult to see any connection the five women he'd met might have, their personalities and interests so wildly different as to make the prospect of any two of them being acquaintances, let alone all five of them, seem absurd. Well, maybe not *so* absurd for Gail and Gina, Sid thought as he got a soda from the mini-fridge: Gail certainly seemed to share her half-sister's love of good food.
"So, where are we going, anyways?" Sid asked, turning towards the tinted dividing screen. When he received no response, he scooted closer to the screen, raising his voice. "Hello? Are you there?" When he still received no response, his heart involuntarily raced, scenarios of remote-controlled cars and Kevin's warning about the triad-controlled pit-fighting rings racing through his head. It wasn't until Sid rapped his knuckle against the glass that the driver responded, rolling down the dividing screen but never taking his eyes off the road.
"Yes, Sir?" He asked.
"Uh, hi," Sid said, trying not to lose his cool. "Um, where did you say we were headed, again?"
"I didn't, sir," the driver intoned, "But we are en route to Ms. Van Ides' residence."
"Van ides?" Sidney echoed.
The driver turned, a slight but definite movement, to look at Sid from the corner of his eye. "You've never heard of Priscilla Van Ides?" He asked.
"Uh... should I have?" Sid asked back, feeling slightly uncomfortable.
The driver turned back to his original position, the divider rising back up. "You'll know her when you see her," He said as the divider closed, leaving Sidney to sip at his soda and wonder for the umpteenth time in the past week what he'd gotten himself into.
When the limousine pulled up to the curb, Sidney reflected on the truth of the driver's remark. Priscilla, or at least who he assumed was Priscilla, was standing in front of the double-doors of a high-rise, arms folded across her chest. Wearing a precisely-fitted pin-striped business suit and with a mane of silver hair swaying gently in the evening breeze, Sid could have mistaken her for a supermodel were it not for the incredible aura of power and importance that fairly radiated from her, every passerby on the street giving her a wide berth and quickly stepping past her gaze. As the driver let Sid out of the car, he was struck by being the focus of Priscilla's gaze, the piercing violet eyes seeming to bore straight through him.
"Uhm... you must be Priscilla?" He offered, not knowing whether to extend his hand or not.
"My reputation precedes," Priscilla said as she uncrossed her arms, "As does yours, Mr. Graham," She continued, offering her hand. Sidney reached out to take it, hesitating momentarily when he looked down to shake her hand and noticed that Priscilla didn't appear to be wearing anything beneath her suit's coat, the lapels of her suit creating a neckline nearly as scandalous as Lucy's. Sid snapped his eyes back up to Priscilla's as he shook her hand, not wanting to be caught staring.
"I'm sure you must have a lot of questions," Priscilla said, breaking the handshake and turning to walk inside the building.
"Questions?" Sidney echoed, following her to the doors. As Priscilla neared the doorway, one of the other people in the lobby quickly held the door open for her, looking at her as she passed like they were in the presence of royalty. And maybe they were, as far as Sid knew: he seemed to be the only one in the neighborhood who hadn't heard of her.
"Certainly you're observant enough to have noticed some odd happenstances regarding your dating service, hm?" Priscilla said, turning just slightly to Sidney, the hint of a smile playing at her lips.
"Wait," Sid said, stopping in his tracks. "Are you... hey!" He called out, jogging after Priscilla who had yet to break her stride since turning around on the sidewalk. "Are you saying you had something to do with all those crazy dates?" He asked, coming up behind Priscilla and reaching for her arm.
Priscilla spun to face Sid, those piercing violet eyes locked on his. Sid felt his anger wither as she spoke, that aura all but repelling him as she leaned in towards him.
"No, not 'crazy'," She said, "Just singleminded in their approaches. They are among my most proficient employees," She continued, her smile dropping, "Though sometimes I have to wonder if that's any sort of distinction."
"So... all those girls were... working for you?" Sid asked.
"Indeed," Priscilla said, "And though I'd hardly call their performances commendable, they served their purpose well enough," She said, turning back around and heading for a pair of double doors on the side of the lobby. Pushing them open roughly, Priscilla made it three steps in before stopping in her tracks, her eyes widening. Sid's eyes widened too, but while his were at the many banquet tables being set in the ballroom, hers were firmly locked on the banner draped over the top.
Almost too fast for Sidney to see, Priscilla's arm shot out, grabbing an employee's vest and pulling her to within inches of her nose.
"*What* is *that* doing there?" She growled, pointing to the banner.
"Wh-what do you mean?" She asked, looking confused and terrified.
"*Where* is the banner for the San Francisco Philanthropy and Ethics Association?"
"The what? I don't-"
"Idiot!" She hissed, letting the woman go and putting her hands on her hips. "Get me your manager!"
"Uh, o-okay!" She said, straightening her vest and nametag before scurrying off.
"Of all the incompetence..." Priscilla muttered, putting a hand to her temples as she shook her head. "They must have gotten the schedule wrong," She said, looking at Sidney. "I swear, one simple request... I only hope they manage to fix the signs before the guests arrive."
Sidney blinked, amazed at the instant transformation Priscilla had made between calm yet intense executive and raging fury when she talked to the staff member. "So, uh, what was that about ethics...?"
Priscilla sighed. "I had hoped to make this something of a surprise for you," She said, "but you've been selected to win an award."
"For what?" Sidney asked, looking around.
"In short, for being one of the best people in the city," Priscilla said. "That's what all the subterfuge was for with the dating service, in order to- wait-" Priscilla turned to a man approaching from the other side of the banquet hall, dressed in a similar smart-looking vest and tie with the female employee trailing him.
"Is there a-" he hardly managed to get out before Priscilla interrupted him.
"What is the meaning of this insult?!" Priscilla demanded, her voice not getting any louder but with a sinister tone seeping into it.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what-"
"Of *course* you don't know," Priscilla seethed, "because even a complete *fool* wouldn't intentionally schedule some inane conference in the same room, at the same time, as a ceremony scheduled by the wealthiest, most influential, and might I add, the largest rent-payer in the building!"
The man appeared to be withering in front of Sid's eyes, trying to hide inside the folds of his clothes at Priscilla's tirade. "I-I'm sorry, miss, uh-"
"Van Ides," She said coldly. "Priscilla. Van. Ides."
"And, uh, and what was the event?" Has asked, thumbing through a binder, casting only brief glances up to meet Priscilla's glare before looking back down at his papers.
"It's the awards ceremony for the 14th annual San Francisco Philanthropy and Ethics Association. Scheduled *weeks* in advance, I might add." Priscilla said, looking down her nose at the manager.
"Uhm, and who made the reservation?" He asked.
"*I* did." She said, taking a deep, frustrated breath through her teeth. "Priscilla. Van. IDES."
"w-well, I'm sorry, but we don't have anything-"
"FINE," Priscilla growled, startling the manager, the employee, and Sidney all at once. "I will take up the rampant failures of your scheduling department with the property owner at a later date. For now, though, get. Those. Signs. DOWN."
"Y-yes ma'am, Ms. Ides, we're, ah, terribly sorry!" The manager said, hurrying off back the way he came.
Priscilla glared after them, then huffed once and spun back towards Sidney.
"What was-" Sid started.
"It's *so* hard to find good help," Priscilla said, pulling a compact mirror out of her pocket and checking her face in it, brushing a fingertip over one of her eyebrows.
Sid waited awkwardly, still caught between confusion and bewilderment, not knowing what to say.
"Well then," Priscilla said, snapping her compact closed, "Let's take a seat, shall we?"
Sid followed Priscilla to the stage, taking a seat at the long banquet table near the speaking podium. Priscilla took the seat immediately to the left of the podium, and Sid took the next one down from her.
"So, uh, what's this award again?" Sid ventured, feeling awkward in the large empty ballroom as a small group of staff poured out of a side door and began taking down the signs for whatever conference or meeting had been scheduled over this one.
"Basically, you were nominated by someone in our organization who had met you and thought your personal contributions to the city were worthy of note."
"Really?" Sid asked. "But I just work at a grocer's..."
"It's more than just a job," Priscilla said. "It's about your actions in a broader sense."
"How do you mean? Who nominated me?"
"Do you recall the woman you pulled off the curb not too long ago? You saved her life."
Sidney blinked, trying to recall.
"She shouldered past you, spilled your juice on your shoes, you saved her life, she didn't even thank you and nor did you wait for any thanks."
"...She nominated me?" Sidney asked, remembering the woman finally. He hadn't even given her his name...
"No, it wasn't her," Priscilla laughed. "And besides which, the nominations are made anonymously. But it's indicative of what got you the nomination, and ultimately the award." Priscilla smiled, the first genuine happiness, or close proximity thereof, Sid had seen from her. "Isn't it nice?" She asked, looking at Sidney. "The feeling that you're so much better than everyone else? That you and you alone are the exemplar, the zenith, the best and brightest, even amongst a minor subset?"
"I, well, I mean, it's nothing I'd be pr-"
"Ut!" Priscilla said, sticking a finger up at Sid as her arm jerked to within an inch of his face. "No using the p-word in my presence."
"'P-word'? Sid echoed. "You mean pr-"
"Ut!" She repeated, even louder. "That word means something you take undeserved arrogance in, unwarranted haughtiness. You've earned every bit of accolade this award represents, and I won't hear you use the word again. It's an ugly word, used by the inferior and jealous to describe those who don't lack what's needed to become truly great like us."
Sidney couldn't help but chuckle a bit. "Well then, okay, it's not- I mean, okay, it is something to feel good about, but I still don't know that it's anything, well, special about it, you know?"
"It's precisely that attitude that *makes* you so special, Sidney," Priscilla said. "Far, far too many people view charity and kindness as a kind of karmic deposit, something they do for the accolades or good feelings it gives them. It's not for the people they're helping- it's for *them*. Makes them feel good about themselves, however briefly, before reality once again sinks in. Look at the multitudes of celebrities and CEO's that make charitable foundations- are they really doing it to help the world, for the betterment of mortal man? No, they're doing it because a million dollars out of their checkbooks is a passing fancy, and getting their name on a building or a banner makes them feel good about their empty, hollow lives. Charity from wealth requires no sacrifice, imparts no hardship: in short, it's emotional masturbation."
Sidney blushed and looked up at the people filing in to the banquet hall, seeing them all looking rather well-dressed and refined. Just like with Gail, Sid once again felt like he'd been dragged somewhere severely under-dressed. A lot of them looked around like they were slightly confused, probably because the signs had all been taken down. Nevertheless, they all dutifully filed in and took their seats, and as the tables filled the later guests seemed to lose the uncertainty the first ones did.
The tables were nearly filled when a woman in a tan suit came up the dais, holding two of her fingers in her other hand.
"Uh, excuse me...?" She started.
Priscilla narrowed her eyes at the woman for a moment, then smiled. "Mrs. Peters, so good to see you again!" She said, extending her hand.
The woman smiled, weakly, bowing down slightly to reach Priscilla's hand and shake it. "Um, well, thank you, miss, ah..."
"Van Ides," Priscilla said, standing from her seat. "Priscilla Van Ides."
"Yes, well, it's good to see you again, Miss Ides-"
"Van Ides," Priscilla corrected.
"Yes, of course," She said, fidgeting her hands again, "Well, I was just wondering what-"
"Well of course you'll be able to sit at the first chair," Priscilla said, gesturing to the seat to the right of the podium."
"Um, but I-" Mrs. Peters started again.
"Come now, how could we overlook your firm's contributions to our project?" Priscilla said. "Why, your firm was so instrumental, only my own efforts exceed them! So please, take the first chair, and seat the rest of the contributors as you see fit."
Mrs. Peters looked from Priscilla to the seat, then out at the gathered crowd and back to Priscilla. "...Well, certainly!" She finally managed, beaming out a smile that caused Sid's brow to furrow a bit, the rictus grin plastered on her face not looking to Sid like any expression of genuine happiness he'd ever seen.
Pretty soon the room was full, and the lights dimmed, save for two spotlights centered on the podium. Priscilla stepped into the light, her silver-gray hair seeming to shine in the spotlights.
"Thank you all for coming tonight," Priscilla said, her voice echoing through the ballroom. "As you all know, the San Francisco Philanthropy and Ethics Association was formed fourteen years ago to commemorate those unsung heroes of our fair city, the citizens who do not seek fame or glory, but merely to make the city a better place."
The projection screen behind Priscilla lit up, showing Sidney walking down the sidewalk during his commute to work, buying his juice from Mr. Li as always. It looked to Sidney as though it was taken from the rooftops across from his building; he supposed that was how they'd gotten his address, if not through the dating service.
"Our winner tonight has proven himself a man of terrific integrity, resisting the impropriety of the carnal even when it was freely offered," Priscilla continued, the scene changing to Lucy's flirtations with Sidney in the restaurant. Sid blushed as he watched himself awkwardly try to avoid staring at Lucy's cleavage, but on a second glance he swore Lucy's bosoms had been larger than that, even before they started- before he thought he saw them grow. It seemed to be an unusually close video; he'd wondered how they'd managed to set up the shot in the middle of the aisle without him noticing.
"He's shown a commendable work ethic, even for a job of virtually no consequence," Priscilla continued, as the scene shifted to one of Sally tugging on Sid's cuff as he tried to go to work.
As the audience laughed politely at the tug of war, but Sid's brow furrowed deeply. Shooting video on the street was one thing, and it was reasonable enough to get a cameraman in a crowded restaurant unnoticed, but that was his home, and he was pretty sure no one besides him and Sally were in the apartment that morning...
"He's practiced a philosophy of peace, showing restraint when in the middle of a confrontation between two strangers," She continued, the screen now showing Sid's attempts to defuse the situation between Wendy and the bruiser in Chinatown. Here again, even if Sid hadn't noticed a cameraman right in front of him because he was more concerned with the fight, from the angle and framing the cameraman would have had to be shooting from the middle of the famously narrow and congested streets of Chinatown.
Priscilla continued talking as various scenes from Sid's dates flashed across the screen, Priscilla lauding Sid's ethics and character as he became increasingly concerned. So this was a coordinated effort, Sid thought, but why the secrecy? Why go through all of this for him? And why did the videos not seem to match up with what he remembered? He knew Gina had been wider than what he was watching on the videos, he *knew* she was bigger, he'd seen her overflowing her chair and even the table by the end of the night. What was going on?
Suddenly he heard his name, and realized Priscilla was handing the podium over to him.
"...The winner of the 14th annual San Francisco Philanthropy and Ethics Association's Grand Citizen Award is Sidney Arthur Graham!" Priscilla said, gesturing to Sidney and clapping as she stood aside and let him take the podium. Sidney's heart raced in his chest as he looked out over the crowd, their applause dying down as he tried to think of what to say.
"Well, um, thank you all for coming tonight," Sid started, trying to buy some time. "Just, um, for the record, all of those were real," He said, gesturing to the screen. "I thought for a while that I'd somehow checked the box for 'lunatics' on my dating service, which is how they found me," he said, the audience giving a slight chuckle here and there, "but for everything else, I don't think any of these women were that bad, even if they were trying to be. They all had their passions, their reasons, their philosophies. Perhaps they lacked some balance in their lives-"
Priscilla shivered, a tingle running up her spine.
"-but I don't know that it makes me a great person, or one deserving an award, just for acting differently from them. I do think it's good for people to recognize these kinds of behaviors, and I'm honored you all apparently consider me to be really great at them..."
Priscilla's eyes narrowed as she watched Sid, looked into him, through him, waiting for his heart to turn to actual pride.
"...but I think that instead of commending such efforts, we should all try to... well, emulate them. Am I the most even-tempered person in the world? The most dedicated and hard-working? No, I don't think so. Perhaps more than most, if I apparently beat all the other candidates for the award, but it seems to me to be little more than common decency, and having common decency-" he looked at Priscilla- "regardless of how uncommon some may think it is, is nothing to take pride in, and-"
Sid was cut off by a shrill note emanating from the speakers before the podium's microphone popped and sizzled, smoke coming out of the mouthpiece.
"What the-" Sid started, until the two spotlights focused on him also noisily popped, sparks actually flying from the overhead lights and causing the assembled crowd to gasp and duck in their seats. Sid found himself staggering back a step as Priscilla was suddenly at the podium, shoving Sid back from it so quickly he'd barely registered the impact.
"We seem to be having a few electrical issues," Priscilla said, her voice booming over the concerned murmurs of the ballroom despite the shorted-out microphone, "so for your safety, if you could please just exit the ballroom while the staff makes sure there's no fire hazard, we can resume shortly." The doors out to the main atrium opened up, letting a sliver of bright light into the dimmed room, and people began shuffling out of their chairs and towards the door.
"Go on ahead, Sidney," Priscilla said, turning to him. "You'll get to finish your speech in a moment."
"Heh, I'm almost glad I got interrupted," he said. "Didn't know you were going to put me on the spot like that."
"Well, in any case, go on outside, I'll handle this latest foul-up," Priscilla replied, hands still gripping the podium.
"Are you sure I can't help?" Sid asked, looking around. "I don't see any-"
"NOW, Sidney," Priscilla growled, and for a brief moment her expression flashed a feral hatred, more savage and intimidating that even Wendy at her most enraged.
"Okay, okay," Sidney said, putting his hands up and backing away, hurrying down the stage steps after the other guests. Sidney looked over his shoulder as he made his way to the door, seeing Priscilla still standing behind the podium, fiddling with the microphone. And yet, despite being in the dark side of the ballroom, Priscilla's features seemed to be more well-lit than anyone else's. Sidney stopped at the door, turning slowly to look carefully at Priscilla. Her features were almost... glowing?
Priscilla turned her gaze to Sidney, and the intense violet of her eyes was visible for an instant, clear as day, before the doors suddenly slammed shut inches from his nose. Sid took a step back, blinking. None of it made any sense. What was he seeing? He tried to open the door, but found it held fast, not locked but simply shut, the latch opening and then simply refusing to move any further. Sid shook his head as he turned around, putting a hand to his head and leaning against the doorjamb. He'd swore he'd seen something similar on Gail, a discoloration of the skin right before she bolted. It'd looked... shiny? He was trying to remember, but the week had been such a crazy blur...
"I'm kind of glad," He heard an elderly gentleman whispering just around the corner from the door. "I hate to admit it, but I was here for the renter's association meeting. Must've gotten the rooms mixed up, and by the time I realized I was in the wrong place, everyone was already seated."
"Oh my goodness, I'm so relieved to hear you say that," He heard the woman the old man was whispering to whisper back. "I was here for the renter's association, too!" She let out a short laugh. "I feel so much better knowing I'm not the only one that made that mistake!"
Sid's eyes widened as he turned his head towards the elderly pair, then spun back towards the doors. Shoving them open, he jogged into the ballroom, head whipping back and forth as he called Priscilla's name. He got up to the stage, looking around, seeing nothing but the disturbed seats in the empty ballroom.
"...Of *course*," Sid groaned, shaking his head. He looked at the podium, futilely looking for some sort of clue as to her disappearance, but all he noticed was the edges of the podium were crushed in, like they'd been slammed between a pair of barbells... right where he'd seen Priscilla gripping it when she'd told him to leave.
Sid had barely stepped past the doors on his way out when he hauled to a stop in front of an imposing woman in a business suit, not the executive pinstripe Priscilla was wearing, but a dark, stiff, double-breasted black suit that looked like something the secret service would wear on their more dour days. Combined with the woman's high cheekbones, black wrap-around sunglasses, and utterly stonefaced expression, Sidney suddenly became slightly concerned with his safety.
"I'm looking for Priscilla Van Ides," The woman finally said, her voice flat and unemotional. She wasn't scowling, she wasn't leaning in, there was absolutely nothing menacing or threatening about her posture or mannerisms, and yet, even just standing there, Sid felt afraid.
"I, uh, I don't know," Sidney said, rooted to the spot. "She, uh, I don't know, she just sort of vanished. Uh, w-why, who're you?"
"I'm a bodyguard," The woman responded, turning her head slightly. She inhaled deeply through her nose, her head seeming to scan the air around the room, looking slowly side to side and up and down in a wide, lazy circle.
Sid was beginning to sweat a bit. There was a quiet strength in the woman's face, a certain setting of the jaw that gave Sid the impression of a coiled spring, ready to explode given one wrong word or action.
Finally, the woman let the breath she'd drawn in through her nose out, her breath smelling sharp and sweet as she turned to look at Sid, or at least turned her head towards him, as the black tint of her glasses made it impossible to see her eyes.
"You can go," She said flatly, pushing past Sidney into the ballroom without another word.
"Don't have to ask me twice," Sid said, hurrying out of the building as fast as he could manage.
* * *
"EEEEYYYYYYYRRRRAAAAAAAHHHHHH!" Came Pride's bellowed roar as she materialized on the infernal plane, startling Death enough to make her stagger out of her riding path for a moment.
"What in creation is wrong with you?!" Death asked, twisting her human head around to look at Pride.
"You!" Pride snapped. "Back to the mortal plane! You are going to visit misery on that pathetic mortal the likes of which haven't been seen since Job!"
"Whoa, hey, I've got a schedule to keep, he'll need an appointment-"
"I said do it NOW!" Pride bellowed, violet flames issuing from her eyes.
Death hauled to a stop, Pride jerking forward and coming within a hair's breadth of impaling her eye on the tip of Death's scythe. Pride lunged back, but Death's scythe followed her, this time sinking down and coming to rest beneath her chin, hovering by but still not touching her neck.
"You do NOT boss me around, Pride," Death said, both heads turned to look at her, the skinned half of her human head scowling as all four eyes burned with blue flame. "I know how you treat the other vices, but you can't pull rank on me. We both report directly to the Low Office, and I fulfill my duties as they are prescribed to me. You want a ride back to the Malbolge? Fine, that's my job, you need it, I do it. You try bossing me around, though, treating me like your personal valet? I will buck you into the lake of excrement with the flatterers and be on my way to my next appointment without even losing stride."
Pride's lips curled into an grisly snarl, the raging violet flames from her eyes obscuring nearly the entire top half of her head. Death's eye narrowed, her grip tightening on her scythe, ready to strike if Pride made a wrong move.
Her hands shaking in barely-restrained fury, Pride crossed her arms, finally growling out a command to be taken back to her home, flames burning just as brightly but the silver glow off her skin dimmed just slightly.
The door slammed open, Pride fairly bursting into the foyer of the vices' homes. She took in a breath, ready to bellow an order.
"So how'd it go?"
Pride's breath caught in her throat, looking up to see Greed leaning on the catwalk's bannister, two arms crossed atop it while the other two held her head up as she leaned down.
Pride snarled, seeing Wrath leaning up against the door to their room, arms folded over her chest as she smirked down at Pride. Turning her head, pride saw Lust leaning against the hallway by her and Envy's room, feigning disinterest but still looking out of the corner of her eye. Opposite Lust, Envy was leaning into the doorjamb of Sloth and Gluttony's room, and at the end of the foyer Gluttony was leaning her head out of the kitchen to watch. Even Sloth had leaned her head back over the couch in the den to see Pride.
Pride gritted her teeth, their collective stares feeling like bee stings on her skin. She knew, as always, when people were looking at her, but these weren't looks of awe and jealousy, of resentment and unfavorable comparison- they were looks of judgment! Of disappointment! It was almost more than she could bear, even though she regarded their opinions as less than worthless.
"Rrr... Not a word!" She said, pointing her finger at Greed. "Not. One. Word."
The foyer was silent as Pride stomped up the steps, Wrath's smirk pulling just a little tighter as she watched Pride flee to her room.
Pride suddenly spun at the top step, this time pointing her finger at the door to Sloth and Gluttony's room.
"YOU!" Pride bellowed, pointing at Envy. Envy was cowering in the doorway, her skin already paler from watching Pride. "You're next!" she yelled, Envy not even able to get a "But-" out before Pride continued. "If I fff... fff... f-fail," She finally managed, "we ALL fail!" She finished, yanking open her door and slamming it shut behind her.