|Summary:||In which Nume crushes Rina's dreams and their partners try to make it better.|
|Source:||"A Journey Across Two Lands" by Direwolfgirl and flipy010.|
|Continua:||The Lord of the Rings x Ranger's Apprentice.|
|Timeline:||May 2015; about a week after Rina and Zeb's six-part mission to the Rose Potter series.|
|Published:||August 7, 2015.|
|Rating:||PG/K+ - Unintentional cruelty to animals, intentional cruelty to agents.|
|Betas:||Desdendelle and Phobos.|
It had been a slow day for the occupants of RC 3-Apple-14, so it was almost a relief when the console went off with its all-too-familiar [BEEEEEEEP!].
Rina was the one to answer it, but when she slammed her palm on the large red button, she noticed that a green light was flashing alongside the red. "We've got ourselves a crossover!" she called to Zeb. "Lord of the Rings and Ranger's Apprentice, apparently."
"Oh, that's new," he said, coming over to see for himself. "I've never done a crossover before. But you would know that. What are they like?"
"Dunno," Rina replied, opening the mission report. "I've never been on a crossover mission before, either. A few misfiled slash stories, but mostly Sues." She paused in her reading, then a huge grin spread across her face.
It didn't escape Zeb's notice. "What're you so happy about?"
"You ever hear of Agent Supernumerary?" Rina asked, all but skipping over to the weapons rack and nearly tripping over the many stacks of books that were taking up floorspace. She grabbed her longbow and Zeb's knives before turning back to look at her partner, still beaming from ear to ear. "He's only, like, one of the best agents in the PPC! Oh, I've always wanted to meet him, and now?! We've been assigned to do this mission with him!" And she promptly dissolved into squeeing.
In RC 999, Nume was just reading the memo. "Not again," he groaned.
<What is it?>
"I'm being sent out on a consult with some assassins." He read the names and groaned again, louder. "Just my luck. It's those kids who got Rose Potter last week." He shuddered. He'd had nothing to do with it, and he was grateful. He still wanted nothing to do with it. That extended to the agents who'd been involved.
<You mean Rina and Zeb? What is your objection to them?> Ilraen came up to the console to take a look.
"They're all anybody's been talking about, and I'm sick of it. They've probably got heads the size of pumpkins from all the attention."
<Nonsense!> Ilraen said with a snort. <I've met them, and . . . .> He got a look at his partner's face, and a creeping suspicion took hold. <Nume . . . are you jealous?>
"Are you out of your mind? Why would I be jealous? They're just a couple of brats who got lucky and survived, that's all! What's to be jealous of?"
<It wouldn't have something to do with 'Subjugation', by any chance?>
"Of course it wouldn't; why—" He froze mid-protest and nailed Ilraen with a furious look. "What do you know about that? I never told you anything."
Ilraen met his eyes and didn't waver. <I know. That is why I looked up your service record after 'Ring Child'. I wanted to know what there was between you and Agent Suicide.>
<It is publicly available information,> Ilraen interrupted before Nume could deliver any insults or tell him he had no right. <Anyone may look at it. Of course, it would not have been necessary if I believed you would ever tell me about it yourself.>
The two glared at each other.
Nume broke first. He dropped into his desk chair and raked his fingers roughly through his hair. "So now what?"
Serenely, Ilraen said, <I am coming with you.>
"Like hell! Why?"
<Because Rina and Zeb are my friends. Or, at least, because they require help and I do not think you are very interested in helping them.>
Nume stared up at him. The Andalite looked determined, even stern. He wasn't the green, uncertain rookie Nume had been landed with all those years ago. There were still gaps in his knowledge and experience, but somewhere along the line, he'd turned into this stubborn, self-possessed person anyway.
Sheesh. Where on Earth had he learned that?
Nume shrugged and got to his feet again. "All right, fine. If you want to work when you don't have to, be my guest."
Ilraen smiled. <Thank you.>
"Shut up. Get the bag, will you?"
The pair gathered up their gear and headed out to RC 3-Apple-14.
Nume rapped aggressively on the door.
It slid open to reveal a pale redheaded girl almost as tall as he was, blushing furiously. "H-hi," she began, when she noticed the Andalite behind him. "Ilraen?" she asked.
Nume recoiled slightly at the amount of enthusiasm being flung his way. He looked at Ilraen over his shoulder to make sure he wasn't hallucinating.
Ilraen shrugged at him. <Hello, Rina,> he replied to her. <I know I was not assigned to this mission, but I remembered meeting you when you were new, and I wanted to come along. I hope that is all right?>
"Oh, absolutely," she replied. "Um, I don't think you've met my partner—?"
"Actually, we've met before," Zeb said, nodding at Ilraen. "Nice to see you again."
Ilraen brightened and gave him a little wave. <Hello, Zeb. How are your canon studies going?>
The disentanglers entered the RC as he spoke. Nume stuck to the angle between the doorway and a bookshelf, hopefully out of the direct line of friendliness.
"Very well, actually. I just finished Animorphs a few days ago," Zeb said. "It was . . . interesting. Good, though."
<I will admit to being unsatisfied with the ending myself. It is not how I want to remember Aximili.> He shrugged. <But, it is what it is. I choose to believe they eventually rescued him.>
"So," Nume cut in before anyone could respond, "are we gonna stand around yapping all day, or are we going to do our jobs?"
"You're absolutely right," Rina said, hurrying over to the console and pulling up the disguise generator. "Generic Humans sound good, everyone?" This question was mostly directed at Zeb and Ilraen, though she cast a furtive glance at Nume as though seeking his approval. Her blush deepened.
One of Nume's eyebrows ratcheted up to a Concerned Level 1. He didn't answer.
"Fine by me," Zeb said.
Rina turned back to the console and pulled up a portal into the fic. "Veterans first?" she said, blushing again.
"Suits me." Nume made a beeline for the portal with the air of a nerd fleeing a crowded social engagement. He'd had a lot of practice at that one.
Ilraen followed him in less haste.
Rina bounced in place for a moment before going through as well, Zeb taking up the rear. He stood up from all fours and accepted the knives Rina handed to him.
"Er, where are we?" Zeb asked, looking around. They were standing outside a castle in the middle of the night. There was open country all around them, but to the southeast there were dim lights, as from village lanterns, and on the horizon to the north and south there was a starless darkness that suggested forest.
"Looks like Ye Olde Medieval England," Nume said. He examined his disguise, not that he could see very well. It seemed his nice shirt and slacks had been replaced with thin homespun linen. He'd retained glasses of a sort, but much to his disgust, his hair was longer and hung freely over his ears and forehead.
"It's not Ye Olde anything," Rina said, grinning at him. "It's Redmont." She looked around as well, noting with some interest that she didn't have a problem seeing in the dark. "Halt's on his way out," she said.
Tracing the route instinctively inside his mind, he made his way to the stables. Abelard His horse, looked at him expectantly, but Halt slipped past him silently.
"Not today, Abelard," He told the horse softly, but pausing rub its nose affectionately all the same. Continuing on his way, Halt felt the burning need to shoot something, even if it was a tree, visit him once again.
"Who is Halt?" Ilraen asked. He noticed that his human disguise, a respectable 5'8", was the shortest of a very tall group. "My partner and I know nothing about this continuum."
"And I, uh, haven't gotten around to reading Ranger's Apprentice yet," Zeb admitted sheepishly.
Rina stared at her companions for a moment. "You're joking," she said flatly. "I'm the only one who knows the continuum?"
"No joke," said Nume, peering at the Words. "And it doesn't help that we're out here while the action's happening in there. Once he leaves the castle, this bit's over."
"Hey, there was no way I was putting us close enough for a possibly possessed, trigger-happy Halt to shoot us," Rina said, pulling out her C-CAD and fine-tuning it for a long-range scan of the Ranger hell-bent on getting out of the castle just to shoot something with "dozens of arrows."
[Halt O'Carrick. Human male. Canon: Senior Ranger, retired. 24.37% OOC and rising.]
"Wonderful," she muttered, smacking it in the hope that it was reading incorrectly. It wasn't. "Just wonderful."
The chapter ended with a sudden jump to early morning that left Ilraen and Rina reeling.
Nume kept his balance enough to catch the moaning Andalite by the elbow while his time-sense caught up with the last several hours. He raised an eyebrow at Rina. "What's wrong with you? Aren't Time Lords used to temporal gallivanting about?"
"I've been a Time Lord for a whole week, give me a break!" she snapped, her head clutched in her hands. She abruptly realized who she was talking to, though, and went on almost apologetically. "I'm still trying to get used to the whole time-sense thing."
"Nume," Ilraen muttered through gritted teeth, "Don't. It is not their fault."
"Tch." He looked away, taking in their surroundings now that it was light. The walls of the castle glowed red in the sun.
He didn't have much time to admire it, though, because the next chapter started, throwing them forward an indefinite number of days and dumping them outside a Generic Cabin-in-the-Woods.
Ilraen whimpered and doubled up in a fetal position, forcing Nume to lose his grip as his partner sank to the ground. Zeb tried to catch Rina, but she slipped through his fingers, where she curled up on the ground, moaning.
"This is all your fault," she ground out.
Zeb bit back an unhappy sigh.
After the initial shock passed, Ilraen managed to pull his emergency bottle of Bleepka out of his bag and swallowed a generous mouthful. The migraine-like pain began to fade in minutes, and he sighed, relaxing onto his back. "That was bad," he said weakly.
Even Nume was lightly massaging his temple. "Two time-skips right on top of each other," he said by way of agreement. "We'll have to keep an eye out from now on." He watched Rina for some sign that she was about to recover so they could get on with it, but none was forthcoming. He'd once heard someone mention that Gallifreyans couldn't tolerate aspirin, but surely she had an alternative?
Zeb knelt next to Rina. "Come on, it's over now," he said, trying to get her to stand and having his hands swatted away for his efforts. He looked back at Nume and grimaced. "I don't think she's getting up for a bit . . . ."
Nume's mouth set in a thin line. "Well, that's great. Our sole canon expert, incapacitated in five minutes. How the hell—?" Ilraen's elbow in his shin cut him off. He gave an annoyed growl and looked at the Words again.
It was apparently dinnertime for the three people and one dog inside the cabin. The sounds of loudly clanking dishes reached even the agents who were not gifted with extraordinary hearing.
"Looks like we've got an Alyss, a Will, a Charlie, and an Ebony," Nume said. "They are Very Worried about Halt. If I'm reading this right, Will is Charlie's father, and Charlie is a girl." He shook his head at the anachronism. "With magical hair that is always artistically untidy but never tangled, I note."
Alyss sighed, tucking a strand of Charlie's long brown hair behind her ear once more. But to no avail, as it simply sprang back again. Alyss sighed; Charlie had inherited her father's looks, along with the messy hair that just did not want to stay neat.
"Its fine, mom," Charlie muttered as she re-tucked her hair behind her ear, where it promptly un-tucked itself.
"Charlie?" Rina said from the ground. She rolled over so she was facing the sky, rubbing her eyes. "Alyss died. No children. Not canon. Likely Sue."
"Right." Nume jotted it down in his little black notebook and added the timeskips and the CAD reading on Halt. Someone had to take charge of this mess. "I'm going to get closer. I want to hear them."
Rina struggled to sit up. Twigs and leaves were tangled in her hair. "I'm coming too," she managed.
Nume didn't miss a beat. "No you're not. Get a grip, and let me know when you can string more than three words together." He walked off toward the cabin so he wouldn't have to listen to anyone argue.
"But—aw." It was too late. Rina lay back down and sighed. Eh, he knows what he's doing.
Ilraen sat up and scooted over to the other two agents. There wasn't much he could do to help, but he could try. "Is the Time Lord time sense very similar to the Andalites'? For us, it is a very accurate biological clock. These shifts are like . . . like taking a watch and forcing the gears the wrong way."
"I'm not sure if . . . if it can be fine-tuned or not," Rina said slowly, clamping down on the images in her mind. "I might need practice, but mostly I see things. And the time jumps are so disorienting, the images get all jumbled and make my head hurt." She fell silent for a moment before finally accepting Zeb's hand and sitting up again, putting her head to her knees.
"I am sorry." Ilraen tried to think of something encouraging or reassuring to say, but he didn't know what might apply to this very particular situation. He settled for tentatively putting a hand on Rina's shoulder and giving a light squeeze.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Zeb asked.
Rina waved them both off. "I'm fine, seriously, I just need a minute. Go watch Nume for me or something." She dug out the C-CAD from her pocket and handed it over. Her cheeks had colored up again.
Zeb gave Ilraen a startled look. "Is she . . . ?" he whispered, suddenly getting a nagging feeling at the back of his mind.
Ilraen blinked. He had no idea what Zeb was getting at. "Er . . . you could go if you wish?"
"No, that's not it." Zeb shook his head, glanced at Rina, and led Ilraen some distance away. "I think my partner finds yours attractive," he murmured. "She keeps blushing, and then there is the fact that her pheromone levels were rather elevated in the response center . . . ."
"Oh." Ilraen stared blankly a moment until comprehension dawned. "Oh!" He looked toward Nume, to Rina, and back to Zeb with a worried frown. "That is problematic."
"Well . . . ." He glanced at Rina again to make sure she wasn't listening. "As long as I have known him, Nume has seemed uncomfortable with . . . courting. He tends to react rather badly to it." He checked on Rina again, then added in a much lower voice, "Also, I'm afraid he resents you two for your success in dealing with Rose Potter."
Zeb winced. "We just got lucky, that's all."
"That is what he says. Only in a much less flattering tone of voice."
"That could be very problematic. I think Rina's been a fan for a while, if I was interpreting her squeeing correctly."
"Oh dear." Ilraen laced and unlaced his fingers. "Perhaps we ought to endeavor to keep them distracted from each other."
"That might be for the best, if a bit difficult," Zeb agreed. "She's normally much more restrained around her Lust Objects, but I'm not sure how well she's able to handle her new hormones. Doctor Fitzgerald mentioned that might be an issue."
The redhead nodded. "We will keep an eye on them both. Speaking of which, you could go watch the fic with Nume if you wish. I will wait here until your partner is ready."
"Okay." Zeb gave Rina another concerned look and, reassured, went to join Nume at the window. "What have I missed?"
Nume glanced down at the newcomer, and then had to correct himself and raise his eyes to Zeb's level. He shuffled uncomfortably in his crouch. "Well, they're having Generic Stew for dinner, but that Will fellow is practically pining over Halt and can't eat. Of course, I don't know whether that's wrong."
"I'm afraid I don't, either," Zeb said. "But I do have this." He held up the soft-yellow C-CAD, pointing it through the window. It beeped and he scrambled to silence it.
[Will Treaty. Human male. Canon: Ranger, main character. 53% OOC and rising!]
[Alyss Treaty nee Mainwaring. Human female. Canon: Diplomat. 21.26% OOC. Should be dead.]
[Charlie Treaty. Human female. Uncanon. 48% Sue and rising.]
Nume refrained from commenting on Zeb's incompetence long enough to jot the readouts down. "That's one of those fancy new combined CADs, isn't it? I wanted to get one, but my partner's in love with our piece of junk that does bad haiku." He shook his head.
Just then, a rider appeared in front of the cabin—just appeared out of nowhere—and two horses neighed.
Charlie flew out of her seat and to the door, nearly toppling over Ebony, who raced over to and began to bark fiercely at the door. But Will beat Charlie to the door and flung it open, just missing whacking Ebony in the head. Standing in the doorway, fist raised as if he were about to knock, stood a tall cloaked figure.
"That poor dog," Zeb said unhappily. "It's not her fault she has such bad masters."
"Charging for cruelty to animals. Get a read on the new guy. And the dog. Better see if it's even supposed to be here."
Zeb nodded and held up the device.
[Gilan Meratyn. Human male. Canon: Ranger. 0% OOC. What is this madness?!]
[Ebony. Border Shepard female. Canon. 0% OOC. Much younger than is logical.]
"Zero percent?" Zeb muttered, staring at the readout in disbelief. "That can't be right . . . ."
"Well, he hasn't done anything yet, and the dog's a dog. But at least we know their names and status with regard to canon."
"Rina could have told us," Zeb pointed out.
"If she weren't wiped out with Gallifreyan Time Delirium at the moment," Nume rejoined. "I was planning to report everything back for verification, but since you're here with that"—he nodded to the C-CAD—"I don't have to. Lucky me."
Of course, it was at that moment that Rina and Ilraen joined them, Rina leaning against Ilraen for support.
"What did we miss?" Rina asked. She glanced at Nume and grinned slyly. "See? That was four words."
Nume squeezed his eyes shut and massaged the spot between his eyebrows, wondering why the Ironic Overpower had chosen this particular form of torture for him today. "Yes, very good. I'm sorry I don't have a biscuit for you."
"We got CAD readings," Zeb said quickly, handing the device over for Rina and Ilraen to examine. "But maybe a secondary opinion would help."
"Yeah, that dog should be either very old or just flat-out dead," Rina said, wincing and putting a hand to her head. "Dammit, this is really screwing with things! As if Alyss being alive wasn't bad enough . . . ugh."
"Now they're making this new guy sit down and eat dinner before letting him give the news he presumably came to tell them," Nume said. "Hospitality is fine, but abducted man's life possibly in the balance? Priorities? Anyone?"
Rina clutched Ilraen's arm, beginning to giggle as though Nume had made the funniest joke she'd ever heard. "She needs to sort out her priorities!" she quoted before dissolving in laughter again.
Nume's eyebrow shot up in alarm. "Rose Potter and the species change must've driven her 'round the twist," he remarked in what might have been a display of uncommon generosity or a desperate attempt to believe anything other than what was actually happening. "Did FicPsych vet her for field duty?"
Zeb gulped, wondering if he and his partner had somehow breached protocol. "Uh, no, she hasn't been to FicPsych yet. She's been kind of avoiding the place, actually." He took Rina by the elbow and tried to pull her away.
"Right." Nume seemed relieved. "You'd better make sure she goes when we're done here. In the meantime, can we please try to focus on the fic?"
Rina, who had calmed down enough to realize she'd made a fool of herself, instantly let go of Ilraen and stood straight. "Right! Focused! I'm totally focused!"
Nume rolled his eyes. "Great. In that case, you can tell us the probability of this Halt guy getting abducted from his archery range as Gilan describes."
"Slim to none," Rina replied with intense sobriety. "If you wanted to capture Halt, you'd need to either sneak up on him, which is pretty much impossible, or overwhelm him with people. And if that were the case, he'd leave a lot of bodies in his wake. I'm not seeing any mention of a slaughter in the Words, so that means whoever captured him had better be a damn good sneaker, or Halt's been replaced."
"Excellent," Nume drawled in slippery tones that suggested quite the opposite. "And with that, the chapter's out. Ilraen, take us ahead. We've got author's notes to avoid."
"Of course." He nodded and got out his remote activator. "We also appear to be missing another time jump of indeterminate length, so that is just as well." The portal sprang open, and he gestured for the other three to precede him.
Will had already left in search of his old mentor when the agents stepped through. Charlie was in the process of demonstrating her delightful communication skills.
Charlie stuffed her belongings into her bag. Sprinting out of her room and into the living room, she flung open the door. "MOM! I'M GOING TO SEE MIRABELLE!" she shouted at the top of her lungs.
"Mirabelle? Yeah, no. OC," Rina said immediately. She paused and cocked her head. "Wait . . . is she . . . Horace and Cassandra's daughter?! What happened to Madelyn? Does she just not exist?"
"Explain?" Nume prompted, just this side of demanding. "You might as well be speaking gibberish."
Rina ducked her head, embarrassed. "Sorry. So, um, Cassandra's the king's daughter, and she and Horace had a daughter in canon named Madelyn, who was actually the main character for the final book in the series. This Mirabelle character just threw her out the metaphorical window." She glanced at the Words again. "And I don't know what the Royal Family's doing in Redmont. It's a pretty decent way from Castle Araluen, and they more than likely wouldn't be here unless there was some big event going on."
"And how far is Redmont from where we are now?" Ilraen asked.
"About half an hour's ride thataway," Rina said, pointing after Charlie, who had gone galloping off in a cloud of dust. For some reason, she had chosen to ride through a field instead of using the road like a normal person, and the farmers who worked in it jumped out of the way like spring-loaded cats. Apparently they were used to this treatment and knew to watch out for it.
"Charge for random cruelty to peasants," Zeb said unnecessarily. Nume had already written it down.
"I hate it when they are thoughtlessly cruel," Ilraen remarked with a frown.
"At least this one doesn't seem to revel in it," Zeb said with a shudder, thinking back to Rose Potter. "Is it okay to skip ahead?"
"Looks like it," Rina said.
Ilraen popped open a portal that took them to the outer wall of Redmont Castle, just above the main gate. They had a good vantage point to watch how Charlie got in.
"Is Mirabelle here?" Charlie demanded, holding out her wrist so the guard could clearly see the bracelet Mirabelle had given her. The bracelet acted like a key, allowing her through the gates to see her anytime she was at Castle Redmont.
"Okay, first of all," Rina said, leaning over the parapet, "that's just dumb and I call dibs on the shiny. Second of all, why would she need to show it to the guard at Redmont? If she's Will's daughter, she'd likely be well-known in the fief, and the Royal Family doesn't live at Redmont anyway!"
Once through the gates, Charlie elbowed her way through the crowd in the courtyard until she reached the stable. The agents couldn't see inside, but the Words revealed that she "led Storm into one of the only open stalls and simply dropped the reins. She knew Storm couldn't be stolen, and wouldn't wander. She patted Storm affectionately on the head before slipping into the crowd to battle her way to the castle doors."
"Agent Alice would be appalled," Ilraen said. "Surely she should know the proper way to care for her horse after a hard ride?"
"Unless she's counting on a stablehand to do the work for her, and in that case, that's just poor form," Rina said, eyes narrowed. "Rangers take care of their horses themselves. The horses are kind of important to them. At the very least, she should have given it water! What is it with Sues and improper horse care?"
"They don't appreciate how to care for any animals, really," Zeb said. "You should see the treatment Pokémon get from Sue trainers."
Nume leaned against the parapet wall and scribbled in his charge book. He was beginning to feel bored, but he resisted the urge to ask when the crossover started.
Rina glanced over at Nume, nervously twisting a lock of hair between her fingers. "Whatcha thinking about?"
He fixed her with a flat look. "I'm wondering whether I shouldn't just push off home, seeing as you kids are getting on just fine. Might be worth the scolding from Upstairs."
"You can't go!" she blurted. "Uh, I mean, I've read Lord of the Rings a few times before, but I'm having to go back through canons and relearn stuff. I don't know why, but not all my memories got through properly when I regenerated." She looked down. "I even had to go and reread Harry Potter to get a grip on things, and that's the canon I had memorized by heart."
Ilraen abruptly realized the danger of this topic and opened his mouth to intervene, but he was too late.
Nume's expression had frozen over with a thin layer of ice. "My heart bleeds for you."
Rina looked like she'd been slapped.
"Nume!" Ilraen rebuked him. "Rina has been through a very trying experience. You of all people should respect that!"
Nume rounded on Ilraen to argue with him, but everyone's eyes were on him, and it struck him that making a scene at the top of a very visible wall was probably a bad idea. He let his breath out through his nose in a huff and folded his arms. "Fine. But if there isn't a reason for me to be here pretty soon, I'm gone. Ilraen can handle the Tolkienverse."
Rina didn't say anything; she just stared down at her shoes. Her blush this time was blotchy, angry.
"Fair enough," Zeb said stiffly. In his natural form, his hackles would have been raised. "I—What in the name of Mew?" A movement in the courtyard caught his attention. He rubbed his eyes and peered down at the characters.
A large man whom the Words identified as Horace had picked Charlie up by the legs and "patted her on a quick soldier" before setting her back down. The soldier in question ran off in terror while Charlie and Horace continued talking like nothing unusual just happened.
Mechanically, Nume wrote down "Bizarre violations of physics." He gave a small cough. "So. She's going inside now. Either the castle is a maze or she has no sense of direction."
She pounded up three sets of stairs, scurried down six hallways, and looked in three of the wrong rooms before she got to Mirabelle's.
Ilraen shook his head. "And here I thought Mirabelle was supposed to be Charlie's good friend, whom she has presumably visited many times before."
The agents portaled to the next scene instead of trying to follow directly. They arrived outside Mirabelle's rooms a moment after Charlie had gone in.
"…A princess does not slouch!" Cassandra's voice cried.
"URGH!" Mirabelle yelled back. "I'm in my room! I can slouch here if I want!"
"Cassandra wouldn't care about Mirabelle slouching," Rina said faintly. She shook her head when Zeb held up the C-CAD curiously. "Better not risk it."
Zeb shrugged and squinted at the Words. "The Cassandra woman is on her way out," he said, moving out of the way for the canon.
After Cassandra left, Charlie told Mirabelle that Halt had gone missing and she had a plan to find him. With that, the chapter ended, throwing the agents into the next.
They landed in a tangle in some Generic Shrubbery outside a two-story house. There was very little description; just a vague suggestion of treeishness in the surrounding area.
There came a rustle in the bushes. Two heads popped out, one carroty and one grey.
"That wasn't as bad as I remembered," Zeb said, shaking his head to clear it. He looked over at Ilraen. "Are you all right?"
Ilraen's hair nodded; the rest of him didn't quite clear the leaves. "Yes. It was a fairly soft landing." He looked around. "Rina? Nume?"
Neither agent was in much of a mood to reply at the moment; the sudden chapter change had thrown Rina on top of Nume, and her nose was barely an inch from his. A slow, nervous grin spread across her face.
For his part, Nume was expending all his willpower not to throw her bodily off or say anything particularly nasty. Why was it that when these things happened, he always landed on the bottom? So he didn't say anything. He just seethed and glared.
Rina jumped off of him, losing the grin as her face went bright red. "Sorry," she mumbled, looking away. The grin came back once Nume couldn't see her face.
As soon as he was able, Nume got up as sharp as a whip-crack and faced away from the girl. "Where are we?" he asked his partner.
"Um." Ilraen hastily checked the Words. "I have no idea. There's no indication—"
A screech tore the air, happily interrupting.
"Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!" Vereor said, watching her mother warily. "Mom, calm down and put down the knife. Now I'm going to leave, and you are not going to skewer me, okay?"
"Traitor!" Her mother screeched, her black hair scattering messily and her blue eyes burning angrily. In her hand was a sharp knife, which she was waving around like a lunatic.
The agents with sensitive hearing cringed.
"What's with all the racket?!" A deep voice called from upstairs. Vereor winced – her father was awake. She didn't want both of her elven parents coming after her.
"Elven?" Ilraen blinked. "Nume, we may be in Middle-earth. Unless there are elves in Ranger's Apprentice?"
"No, but that doesn't stop elf Sues from showing up all the time," Rina said, still refusing to look at Nume. "Guess we'll have to see. Either way, charge for having a Latin name. 'Vereor'? 'I fear'? Seriously?"
"Hrm." Nume took a quick, unfruitful look at their surroundings, then found a window to spy through.
Inside, Vereor and her mother continued fighting. Her father apparently went back to sleep.
"Now you listen to me, missy," her mother spat furiously. "If you think I'm just going to let you go, like it's nothing – you're dead wrong. I don't trust you a second with our secrets; I'd be willing to bet you'll spill all our secrets to your little friend."
"I swear, mother, I won't breathe a word of any of your plans, so just let me leave."
"I don't believe you, you traitorous little snake," Her mother hissed, circling the table.
"If these are supposed to be Tolkien's Elves, they're throwing the entire race out of character," Nume growled. "Lemme see that C-CAD."
Zeb flinched at Nume's tone and quickly handed it over.
He started with the mother.
[Unnamed elf female. Bit character. Raving maniac. Terminate at earliest convenience.]
[Vereor. Elf female. Original character. Likely Sue. Continue to observe.]
"Nothing I didn't already know," the disentangler grumbled. He thought a moment, then turned around and pointed the device at the landscape.
[Generic Forest/Mirkwood(?)/Eryn Lasgalen(?). Error. Canon/noncanon/canon. Error. Error. Jellyfish.]
The C-CAD began to emit a worrying high-pitched whine, so Nume thrust it back at Zeb. "Better switch it off."
Zeb hurried to turn it off before it could start to smoke. He wasn't about to lose another CAD of any kind so fast, especially not this one. "What's your assessment?" he asked, nodding at the screaming elves.
Nume scowled through the window. "If we're supposed to believe these are Mirkwood Elves, then I've got a bridge to sell."
"But the assassin's code states that you at least give me a week's head start before coming after me."
"And I'll throw in the water for free! If the Elves did have assassins, they wouldn't be this stupid! You don't give a traitor the chance to betray you! What kind of idiotic code is that?"
"I thought the Assassins' code was 'no killing without pay'," Ilraen remarked mildly.
"And I thought the code was 'stick 'em with the pointy end'," Rina added. "Guess we were both wrong."
Ha! Vereor thought triumphantly. I've got her now… And she was right – her mother glared at her and began to turn away. Just as Vereor let out a sigh of relief, she had whipped around and slammed the knife point down into the table right next to her hand.
"Just remember, Vereor," snarled her mother, "one week. That's all you've got before we're free to come after you.
Due to a missing quotation mark, Vereor's mother didn't stop talking there, but went on to narrate Vereor watching her progress upstairs to her bedroom.
Nume turned to the actual assassins. "Vereor's going to leave in a minute, and I doubt little miss rebel will be back. You lot think you can take out your opposite number upstairs?"
"Oh, that'll be no problem," Zeb said, looking at Rina. "You're still good with a bow, aren't you?"
"Guess we're about to find out," she replied, unslinging her bow and testing the string. She frowned. "Huh, that's lighter than I remember."
"Great. Ilraen and I will keep an eye on her while you deal with the parents, then."
The DMS agents got into the house without any problem; Vereor had forgotten to close the door behind her when she left. They cautiously made their way upstairs to where the mother character was just sitting in her bedroom next to a shadowy form that must have been her husband.
Rina nocked an arrow and drew back—and the bow shattered in her hands. She yelped, alerting the bit characters, but Zeb drew his knives and quickly dispatched them both.
"Uh, that was for being a raving lunatic and disgracing the name of elves," Zeb said, realizing maybe he should have charged them first. He turned to Rina and his eyes widened when he saw her picking splinters of wood from her palm.
"Ow, dammit!" she hissed, gingerly digging out a piece of wood that had lodged itself in her thumb. "I didn't realize this would happen!"
"You're gonna need a bigger bow," Zeb said, coming over and helping pick out splinters.
Meanwhile, Nume and Ilraen were having problems of their own. The instant after the DMS agents had slipped inside, the sky had turned grey as though a switch had been flipped, and it began to rain. The disentanglers were soaked in minutes.
"This is extremely unpleasant," muttered Ilraen, wiping strands of bedraggled hair out of his eyes.
"Tell me about it. Not literally!"
Ilraen closed his mouth.
They trailed Vereor a little distance until she stopped short before a hooded figure on the path, whose name turned out to be Venatora.
"More Sue-Latin," Nume scoffed. "This one apparently fancies herself a hunter. And neither of them knows anything about the Elven languages."
That seemed self-evident to Ilraen. He gave his partner a questioning look.
Nume explained, "You could make a case for translating Quenya into Latin like Westron is translated into English, but Mirkwood Elves would be named in Sindarin."
"Do you have to go? Can't you just stay here?" Venatora asked.
Vereor laughed quietly. "And stay here with my psycho family? No thank you." Venatora just nodded and handed Vereor the reins to Terror.
Terror, evidently a horse, popped into existence.
Nume snorted. "You know what that thing's name would be in Sindarin? Gorgor, as in the Plains of Gorgoroth. Are they deliberately trying to associate themselves with the Enemy?"
"I would not go so far as to use the word 'deliberate'."
Yin was already curled up in the contraption that Venatora had made for her so she could ride in a saddle. "Then I suppose this is goodbye." Venatora looked up at Vereor as she mounted Terror.
Yin, whatever it was, had already occupied the saddle. Vereor ended up awkwardly straddling the horse's hindquarters and stretching forward to grip the reins.
Vereor then nudged Terror and she took off, galloping through the muddy path. Venatora turned and mounted Nox, galloping the other way.
The agents had such a good laugh at Vereor struggling to stay on her horse at a full gallop in bad conditions that they barely noticed the second reality distortion when Nox appeared.
"All right, that's it for this bit," Nume said. He pulled off his rain-spotted glasses and looked around, squinting. "Did we lose the kids?" He did not sound too concerned.
"Perhaps they did not wish to get wet. I would not blame them." Ilraen slicked his hair back off his forehead again.
"I don't suppose you would." He pushed the glasses back onto his face. "You're on their side." Immediately, he wished he hadn't said anything. He had meant to be snide, but instead he just sounded unhappy. Maybe it was the rain.
Ilraen didn't answer right away, and when he did, it was clear he was choosing his words carefully. "Nume, there are no sides between PPC agents. We are all fighting the same war. What happened to you must have been terrible, but so is what happened to Rina. You must not punish her for something that is not her fault. Especially since . . . " he hesitated, but finally finished, "she admires you."
"I noticed. Christ, that's all I need." He took off his glasses again and ran a hand over his wet face. "I didn't ask for this, you know. I chose 'supernumerary' as a name for a reason."
Ilraen leaned toward him to say something, looking sympathetic, but Nume held up a hand to stop him.
"Look, Ilraen, this isn't a conversation we should have now." Or ever, if he had his way. "I should've kept my mouth shut. Let's just get back to the mission—which I don't intend to abandon anymore, by the way. There's too much bullshit, and I mean to reckon with it." He slid his glasses back into place.
"All right." Ilraen smiled. "Let us go back to the house and see if the others are there."
Nume nodded. "I wouldn't mind warming up a bit before going on. We're both likely to catch something at this rate."
They squelched their way back up the path and into the house, not bothering to take off their boots at the door. It wasn't as though the owners were going to get annoyed about it.
The DMS agents were sitting at the table, bent over Rina's hand. Nume took note of this, drew a deep breath, and walked up to them.
"Before this goes any further, let's get one thing straight," he said, eyeing them each in turn. He looked a sight, with his thin clothes sticking to his frame and water running from his hair. "I don't like you. Either of you. I don't want to be friends. I just want to get the job done and go home. Got it?"
Ilraen stood behind him with his mouth hanging open in horror. How had he not seen this coming?
"I . . . ." Rina seemed to be at a loss for words. "I, I, I was just—"
Zeb put an arm around his partner's shoulders, shooting a glare at Nume before turning his attention back to Rina. "Look, don't worry about it, okay?" he murmured.
"As long as we're clear," said Nume. With that, he stalked around the table and crouched in front of the fire with his back to everyone.
"I—I'm sorry," Ilraen stammered. "I told him—I didn't realize . . . ." He then noticed Rina's hand. "Rina! Are you hurt? What happened?"
"No, I'm not hurt, I'm just bleeding for the hell of it." Rina sighed and pointed at the larger chunks of her bow that were laid on the table. "Bow broke when I tried to draw. That thing was sixty pounds, but I . . . forgot about the superior strength thing." She sighed again and dug into her jerkin, pulling out a First-Aid kit. "I'm gonna need this looked at when we get back . . . ."
Ilraen looked even more wretched.
"It doesn't look too bad, really," Zeb said, helping her wrap bandages around her hand. "Um, are Time Lords supposed to bleed that color?"
"Yes," Rina said, snatching her hand away and finishing dressing it by herself.
"My blood is dark blue," Ilraen offered, hoping to make her feel better. "Almost black, really. Um." He gave up, shivered, and crept over to stand with his back to the fire.
Rina gave the bandages several more tugs and looked down at the table, biting her lip.
"Rina, come on," Zeb said quietly. "He's not worth it, let's just focus on the mission . . . ."
"A . . . all right," she muttered, not looking at him.
He gave her a small pat on her arm before looking up at Ilraen. "Did anything interesting happen?"
"Well . . . the story randomly introduced several things without warning, including a rainstorm." He gestured self-deprecatingly to himself. His backside was beginning to steam a little. "Vereor has a friend named Venatora, and they both have stupidly named Cute Animal Friends."
"More Sues with Latin names?" Rina asked, making a face.
"Indeed. This is not a DMS mission by mistake." Ilraen rubbed his hands over the front of his shirt. There was no way he and Nume were drying out any time soon. "Um . . . if you would like, we could move on."
"Sure. Um, one moment." Rina yanked the mother's knife out of the table, weighing it in her hand. "Okay, now I'm ready."
Nume spoke up from the hearth. "Get a portal ready. I've got an idea." He picked up a pair of tongs and reached for a log.
Zeb and Ilraen exchanged glances. Zeb shrugged and did as Nume asked.
Flaming brand in his grip, Nume went upstairs, where he knew there were such things as bedsheets that would catch quickly. He set as much as he could on fire as he made his way back down, then dropped the log in the middle of the wooden stairs.
"Good idea," Rina said, nodding her approval without much enthusiasm. "Now lessgo before someone gets singed."
He shot her an irritated glance and deposited another half-charred bit of wood on the table before following the others into the next scene.
They appeared in a high place where the light from the setting sun was visible, although the densely packed trees of Mirkwood spread like a dark green blanket all around them. It wasn't clear exactly where they were, but they could make a good guess based on who was present.
Venatora rubbed Yang between his ears, staring out at the setting sun. Legolas walked silently up behind her, resting a hand on her shoulder.
"Oh, squag," Nume hissed. "I hate Legolas Sues."
Legolas and Venatora yapped about how much everyone missed Vereor and Yin without bothering to explain exactly what had been good about their presence. Yang, at least, got a description: he was a yellow-eyed wolf with fur so white that it appeared to glow.
"Yin? And Yang? That's . . . the stupidest thing I've ever seen," Rina said faintly. "Dammit, I can't even snark about it, the stupid's making my head hurt!"
"Charging for Elves palling around with glittery, absurdly named servants of Sauron," Nume muttered.
Legolas prompted Venatora to go find her friend. She protested—apparently she was his adviser, and what would he do without her?—and they engaged in some annoying banter that culminated in an even more annoying revelation.
"What if, as king, I ordered you to go?"
"King?" Nume spluttered. "What happened to Thranduil? When is this set? No, screw that—even if it's post–War of the Ring, Legolas should be traveling the world with Gimli or happily settled down in Ithilien. He was never a king!"
"It's almost like watching you get worked up over Harry Potter," Zeb murmured to Rina.
"Mmhmm," she replied absently. Her eyes suddenly widened. "Divider coming up!"
"On it." Ilraen opened a portal to the other side of the divider, which marked another timeskip.
They crossed to somewhere in the forest, where Venatora was chatting with a hawk to get a lead on Vereor.
Nume charged for it. "Elves might be more intuitive than Men, but they're not telepathic and they don't speak Hawk," he muttered.
The agents were taken aback when Venatora sent Nox into a gallop and the horse's tail caught on fire due to being described as "a black blur with a wild fire of hair flying out behind it." Then they all cringed when the Sue started singing.
The forest seemed to pause it everything that had been happening, everyone content to listen to the lilting voice of the red-haired elf. Leaves twirled around her on the breeze and foxes and wolves lent their voices to the song that had no words.
"What does the fox say?" Rina began, but Zeb smacked her lightly on the arm.
"No. Just . . . no."
"More time jumps ahead," Ilraen warned. "Let us skip the part where she is simultaneously camping and nearing her destination in the same paragraph."
"And listening to the sounds of a fire burning," Nume noted. "Her stupid horse probably set the forest on fire."
They went to the next chapter, which resumed the conversation between Charlie and Mirabelle in Redmont Castle. There were guards outside the door now, so the next best place to hide was, unfortunately, the wardrobe.
"Ow! Watch your elbows!"
"Get off my foot!"
"Whoever's hand that is had better move it or lose it."
"It's not mine, I swear!"
"Quiet!" Zeb hissed. "Or they'll hear us."
The wardrobe, which had been rocking slightly as everyone sorted out their limbs and appendages, stilled. Someone pushed the door open just a crack so they could see and get a bit of air flow.
Charlie was apparently in the middle of telling Mirabelle how Halt had been kidnapped, and that Will had gone off to find him. Despite the fact that Will was a highly competent Ranger, Charlie decided that "if Granddad Halt was defeated, he could be too." Her brilliant solution was that she and Mirabelle should go after Will.
"If anything, they'd just be a hindrance," Rina hissed. "Will would be distracted trying to keep them out of danger while searching for Halt. Bravo, Sues, bravo."
"Don't worry," Ilraen said drily. "I am sure they both have many special talents with which to save the day."
Charlie and Mirabelle began discussing how they were going to escape the castle. Charlie briefly considered climbing out the window, but Mirabelle screeched that she would never do that. They decided to knock out the guards instead, and a moment later they were outside on their horses, Ebony the dog beside them.
And thus, the agents found themselves suddenly standing in a Generic Forest.
Rina looked around. "Well, at least it wasn't another time distortion."
Through the trees came the voices of Charlie and Mirabelle. The latter was concerned they weren't on the right path, which gave Charlie an excuse to show off her awsum tracking skillz. Mirabelle was so impressed she asked for Charlie to teach her.
Charlie pulled back on Storm's reigns a little in surprise. "What?"
"You heard me, don't make me repeat myself," Mirabelle said stiffly, feeling her face heat up. She didn't like asking the younger girl for help.
"Oh, I dunno," Charlie grinned evilly to herself. "It's sort of a 'rangers only' sort of skill…"
"What?!" Mirabelle squawked. "But you're not a ranger either!"
"T-that's different!" Charlie spluttered. "I'm the daughter of a ranger!"
"Not a—not a Ranger?" Rina sputtered. "But she's got the horse! She's got the cloak! Being the daughter of a Ranger doesn't mean you get all the perks of being one!"
Nume made sure to take notes from Rina's rant. "The Dúnedain would agree, considering they had the idea first," he muttered under his breath.
She gave him a hurt look. He either didn't see or didn't care.
Finally, Charlie agreed to teach Mirabelle how to track in exchange for lessons on sling-shooting. The agents watched as the Sues began setting up camp, Mirabelle acting shocked at the prospect of having to do any kind of work.
"Well, excuuuse me, princess," Rina muttered. "Worried you'll break one of your dainty little nails?"
"Why are they setting up camp?" Ilraen wondered. "Haven't they only just started out?"
"Maybe they started late in the day," Zeb suggested. "There wasn't any indicator as to when they left, after all."
"And the lack of time indicators makes for such a wonderfully clear and straightforward story experience, doesn't it?" Nume rolled his eyes and scribbled something into his notebook.
"New chapter coming up," Ilraen warned them. "It looks like we will be catching up with Will."
Zeb took them ahead to the next chapter, where Will was also making camp. Poor Tug had been forced to travel for "two days straight with no rest" and the little pony was breathing heavily.
"Does he think it's okay to push horses that hard?" Rina demanded, balling her fists. "Will would never treat Tug that badly!" She bit back another indignant cry when Will neglected to unsaddle Tug for the night.
"We shall have to check the canon animals to be sure they are all right before we leave," Ilraen said crossly. "I have never seen such carelessness."
"Yes you have," Nume said.
"Well, not toward horses."
"It's unfortunately common to see horse abuse in Ranger's Apprentice fics," Rina said. "It's disgusting."
Oblivious to the discussion going on about him, Will settled down into "a light, troubled sleep" . . . that went on for a full day.
"Good to know the definition of 'light' has been changed," Zeb commented. He opened a portal past another scene break.
Will was awakened by Tug, and the Ranger set off again.
Before he knew it, he burst out into a clearing and saw that he was hurtling toward the edge of a cliff. He tried to slow Tug down, but it was too late and he found himself tumbling down into the dark waters below.
Rina's mouth fell open when the Ranger horse ran off the cliff. "What?"
One look at her face, and Nume opened his notebook again. "I take it that's a charge?"
"Major," Rina said, too distraught to really pay attention to who was asking the question. "Oh, Tug, what have they done to you?"
"Dumped him in Lord of the Rings, it looks like," Zeb said, opening another portal to the continuum in question.
"It's about time," said Nume. "Not that I'm happy about it, mind you. What, are they implying there's just a sea between wherever we are and Middle-earth? Or that there's some sort of magic portal in the water?"
Zeb was looking thoughtful. "If there is a magic portal of some sort, we'll have to find it and shut it down, won't we?"
"Not unless it's explicitly so," Ilraen answered. "More likely, the transdimensional passage is possible because the OCs are making it so, and once they are removed and all the canons are back where they belong, the rest will sort itself out."
"That is good to know," Zeb said. "Rina and I have never dealt with a crossover before, so we're not really sure what we're doing."
"Sure we are," Rina said, giving Zeb a Look. "We're here to kill Sues, and let the crossover experts do their thing."
On the other side of the portal, Will was just coming to after nearly drowning and washing up on shore at the bottom of a cliff. Miraculously, the pony had survived, too, and washed up in the same place. Will used "Tug's bridal" to pull himself to his feet, severely upsetting the miniature wedding feast, and he looked around.
Nume did, too. "Where in Middle-earth are we supposed to be? The only place I know of with coastal cliffs is Dol Amroth, but this doesn't look like Cobas Haven to me. No sign of Edhellond. It might be Belfalas; there are some cliffs drawn on some of the maps—"
He was interrupted by a tumble of stones from above.
" . . . Rocks fall, everyone dies?" he ventured hopefully.
But alas, the disturbance was caused by the arrival of yet another OC.
The person then proceeded to climb down, moving with easy grace down the cliff. It was only when the person leapt down the last three feet that he saw that it was a girl. She had long dirty blond hair that was pulled back into a ponytail and startling blue eyes.
The newcomer demanded Will's name and didn't bother giving her own. She proceeded to be an arch bitch while Will acted stupid.
"Well, Will Treaty, you certainly are lucky that you washed up on my usual fishing spot, otherwise you would have probably died of thirst or starvation."
"Hey, I could scale that cliff, you know," Will responded, irritated. "But I wouldn't want to leave Tug behind, that's all."
The girl snorted disbelievingly. "I don't really believe that you could scale that cliff, but if it floats your boat, I won't say a word about it. Now, I have an idea. It involves you scaling that cliff – of course, I could do it to but I want to put your so called 'scaling abilities' to the test."
The words were hardly out of her mouth before Will was scurrying up the cliff like a spider, and came to the top quickly.
The agents witnessed this with expressions of disbelief.
"I would say that she is being very unkind to a person in need," Ilraen said, "only Will doesn't act like he has suffered a great trial."
"Is he normally a boastful idiot?" Nume asked.
"Not in the slightest," Rina said, feeling a twitch starting to develop. "I mean, he is rather proud of his climbing skills, but he wouldn't go showing off like that."
To make things worse, the Words chose that time to reveal the existence of a crude lift, which Will had somehow failed to notice before. He was able to use it to raise Tug and the OC to the top of the cliff.
"Making . . . canon characters . . . act . . . stupidly," Nume charged.
After suggesting that Will must have Elvish blood, because apparently only Elves were allowed to be good climbers in her view, she deigned to invite him to stay at her place. Will suddenly decided he was worried about robbers, despite spending a whole day asleep in the open in the last chapter, and reluctantly accepted. They went off together.
The agents followed them into the next chapter and took up positions under yet another window outside the OC's kitchen, where she began grilling Will on his origins, asking if he was from Rohan.
"Rohan? Ah…" Will stuttered, confused again. "Where is Rohan again?"
The girl turned around. "Did you hit your head or something? Or are you just seriously stupid?"
"Are you just seriously a bitch?" Rina snorted. "And Rangers have some of the best maps of the world; I'd think Will would realize Rohan isn't exactly on any of them."
Will didn't react to the insult, instead identifying himself as a Ranger.
The girl gasped, and then blinked in confusion.
"'You don't look like any Ranger I've ever seen'," Nume mimicked. "'Also, I just realized you're not speaking any language known to Middle-earth, so how are we communicating in the first place?'"
These facts notwithstanding, she took Will's word for it.
"I have not heard of Araluen, but I do believe you. I had seen another man with the same cloak as you in a group of orcs, so I assume you may now him?"
Will latched onto the girl's mention of Halt, but was quickly distracted by the mention of orcs. The girl gave him a very brief description of them, and Will demanded to know why she didn't try to help.
The girl held her hands up. "I don't particularly have a death wish, and taking on twenty orcs by myself would get me killed."
"Twenty orcs?" Rina nearly exploded. "Halt would have had no problem taking on twenty orcs! He's faced down larger groups than that and come out on top!"
Nume looked askance at her. "That seems a tad overpowered."
"Not through brute force," Rina said, still seething. "At the first sign of an ambush, he'd have slipped away and picked them off at a distance. He's not stupid."
"But she is," Ilraen said with distaste, nodding toward the still-unnamed girl. "Even if she could not fight the orcs herself, she should have sent for help. I am certain the prince of Dol Amroth, if that is where we are, would wish to hear about bands of orcs marauding through his lands."
The girl finally decided to introduce herself as Silens, and she was given another description that was almost the same as the first, except this time, instead of "startling blue eyes," she had "striking green eyes."
"That's new," Zeb said, tilting his head curiously.
"I'll admit, I haven't seen a Sue with color-changing eyes yet," Rina said. "Bit odd, actually; I thought that was kind of common."
Ilraen peered thoughtfully at the Words. "I am not certain they are meant to change color. If they were, Will would certainly be commenting on them right now instead of simply marveling at her 'air of grace' and 'mystifying beauty'."
Silens didn't take well to his staring.
"Stop looking at me like that." Silens snapped then sighed. "It is a curse that I must carry, being half-elf, yet it is also a blessing. How can any man not be intrigued by a supposed human with a certain elven grace?" Silens said, hanging her head over the stew, the moist steam collecting on her brow.
Nume made a wretched face. "Oh, gag me with a spoon. Another half-elf cursed with beauty."
"Isn't there a legend about the people of Dol Amroth having mixed blood?" Ilraen asked.
"Yeah, but I guarantee she doesn't know that. I hate it when you try to give them credit they don't deserve."
"You'd be surprised," Zeb said. "I remember one Sue mentioning a rather amusing tidbit of information from the First Doctor's run, and I don't think he's exactly popular."
"Still doesn't excuse her whining. And who goes to all that trouble for the dewy rose look?"
Will, too, was confused, which was something of a relief since he had no business knowing about elves. Silens didn't bother trying to explain them to him. Instead, she served Will a bowl of Generic Stew and made a plan for them to stay the night in her house and go to Minas Tirith in the morning. There, for some reason, she expected to find "King Legolas."
Will was left to himself just long enough for the gravity of his situation to sink in.
He eventually just began to hit his head against the table. "Are you okay?" Silens asked, standing behind him.-
"I am just fine, thank you. It's not like I'm losing my mind or anything. I'm stuck in the godforsaken land with no clue what to do."
Nume snorted. "Be glad you're not in the Land. It's so much worse."
Silens growled behind him. "I would slap you right now, but I won't. And this 'godforsaken' land is called Middle Earth. I don't care what sauron-flipping problem you have, but you don't have to take it out on me."
The mini-Balrog Middle Earth popped into being. Zeb gave a startled yelp and jumped out of the way as it brandished its fiery whip.
"Oh, it's so cute!" Rina all but squeed.
"We are not keeping a mini like that! Three animals are enough as it is!"
Rina pouted, but looked at Ilraen. "You want it?"
"No," Nume said before she'd even finished speaking.
Middle Earth grunted and gestured for the agents to look at something shiny around its neck.
Ilraen read out loud, "'If found, please return to RC 170.' Oh, she already belongs to someone."
The mini growled in a pleased way and nodded.
"Very well." Ilraen opened a portal to just outside the RC in question. "There you go!"
"We tried putting a name tag on Mcgonagoll, but he wouldn't hear of it," Rina remarked, watching sadly as the mini-Balrog disappeared through the portal. "At least he can talk, though."
"Yeah, but there's no guarantee he'd say he's already owned," Zeb pointed out.
Silens continued to bitch Will out for having perfectly reasonable feelings and "'accidently' hit his head before storming off down the hallway again." Finally, they both went to bed, and the agents portaled to the next morning.
He awoke to a sharp pain in his head and opened his eyes to see Silens leaning against the door-frame, whistling casually and holding a pan.
Everyone gaped in horror.
"Well," Rina said through clenched teeth, "I think we've found our kill method for this one."
"Did she really—?" Ilraen began.
"Yes," Nume said. "What a bitch!"
"It's made even worse by the fact that this is supposed to be amusing," Zeb said, looking a little ill.
"Hear hear. The Lord of the Rings is not a cartoon."
Silens left, saying she'd saddled the horses. A moment later, a shrill whinnying came from the barn out back. Rina's eyes widened in horror and she sprinted off.
"Wait!" Zeb called, running after her.
Nume and Ilraen exchanged a look.
"You volunteered for this," Nume reminded his partner.
"I know. Come on."
They followed the assassins at a more leisurely pace.
When they caught up to Rina and Zeb, Rina was staring at the scene before them in a mixture of horror and dismay. "She's. Riding. Tug," she said, grabbing her hair. "Somehow. How the hell is she staying on?!"
"I think the fic broke Rina," Zeb said apologetically to the others.
"Should we intervene, do you think?" Ilraen asked.
"Well, she's not screaming at the characters or anything, so she's probably fine," Zeb said.
"Good," said Nume. "My crazy-person restraint technique is only theoretical, and I'd rather it stayed that way."
Rina was too distraught to notice the exchange.
Silens was being bucked about wildly, but she was laughing like it was the best ride in the world.
"This is just like riding a warg!' She called, laughing.
"And just how the hell would you know that?" Nume demanded. He shook his head and added another count to the charge of "Fraternizing with servants of the Enemy."
Rina made a weak waving motion with her hands. "She's riding a Ranger horse. Bad. Badbadbad." She whimpered a little when Silens whispered something to Tug and the pony calmed instantly.
Looking nervously back and forth from Nume to Rina, Ilraen said, "Um, that does not seem out of the question for one of elvish blood. Does it?"
"Doesn't matter," Rina said, now positively shaking. "Ranger horses are trained to buck off anyone but their rider and anyone who knows a special pass phrase. Unless elves can overcome years of training like that, it's a huge charge."
Nume thought a moment. "Hm. Maybe if she were a proper Elf and not such a flaming hellkite."
"Personally, I'd say 'raging psychopath', but maybe she hasn't reached that level. Yet," Rina growled.
"Give her time," Zeb advised.
Will finally got fed up with Silens showing off and demanded that she get off his pony. She laughed at him, called her own mount, and showed off some more by leaping directly from Tug's back to the brown mare's.
"There's a four-day journey to Minas Tirith ahead, and nothing happens," Nume said. "Portal."
They arrived in a place that only vaguely resembled the Citadel of the White City. The Tower of Ecthelion had been transformed into a crude castle, the sight of which made Nume grit his teeth and seethe in anger. Silens and Will stabled their horses and went inside, where it got worse.
Instead of a straight hall, there were "many twists and turns." Instead of the tall polished metal door that belonged at the entrance to the throne room, there were "two large, oak wood doors," and upon them were some very unusual carvings.
Upon examining the carvings, [Will] saw that one was of a city being burned by a dragon. Silens followed his gaze. "That's Smaug. He burned a city knownas Dale."
Zeb quirked his head. "I'm only familiar with Lord of the Rings in passing, but why would that event be considered so important here? The two cities are rather far apart, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are," growled Nume. "This is all wrong. The Citadel is incredibly austere, and even if they had carvings, they'd more likely be of ancient battles, such as the sacking of Gondolin, the original White City."
"I wonder if we could remove those doors and trade them in Headquarters," Ilraen mused. "I am certain someone would want them."
"We definitely have to remove them," his partner allowed. "For now, let's see how they've ruined the throne room."
They snuck after the characters into a chamber that looked nothing at all like the long, solemn hall that should have been there. In the place of the vaulted golden roof upheld by tall pillars of carven black marble, there was a dome with "large glass windows" through which sunlight streamed. At the far end, there was "a large throne wrought from silver. As Will grew closer, he saw that golden branches encircled the throne, casting an interesting pattern onto the white marble floor."
Nume shook his head and scribbled aggressively in his notebook. "Where's the marble canopy shaped like a crowned helm? Where's the carving of the White Tree set with gems? Did these people not read the books? Did they even see the movies?"
Meanwhile, Silens presented herself and Will to the king, Aragorn.
"Ah, we have a time setting!" Ilraen said. "It is post–War of the Ring."
"What brings you here half-elf of Mirkwood?" The king inquired.
"Rather insightful of him, isn't it?" Nume said drily. "If Legolas were settled in Ithilien with some of his people like he should be, the presence of elves in Gondor would be entirely plausible, but instead he's kinging it up in Mirkwood. So what is she doing, living here in her house by the sea? Never mind the stranger from another universe!"
Silens went on to deliver the horribly stale news about the orc raiding party and explain that they had kidnapped a friend of Will's.
Will cleared his throat. "His name is Halt O'Carrick, ranger of Redmount. From what we have gathered, he was out shooting when he was taken by surprise."
A huge, shaggy brown monster suddenly popped into existence beside the agents. Zeb yelped and scrambled away; Ilraen reflexively thought of his tail-blade, which he didn't have, and staggered backward onto one knee; Nume cursed and dodged back through the doors, his long legs carrying him away in an instant.
"Guys, it's all right," Rina said. "It's just a mini-Kalkara."
"Just a mini?" Zeb sputtered. "That thing's nearly as tall as I am!"
"Well, real Kalkara are over seven feet tall." Rina patted Redmount on the arm. "How you doing?"
Redmount peered at her with tiny, mean yellow eyes and gave a small snort.
Rina grinned and waved at the others. "Seriously, guys, it's all right."
Ilraen got back to his feet, red-faced with embarrassment. "I apologize."
Noticing the absence of any screams or joint-rending snaps, Nume peeked around one side of the doorway, albeit with deep suspicion. He was just in time to see Zeb send Redmount to the Araluen Fanfiction Academy. With that, he returned to the group as though nothing unusual had happened.
"Nice of you to rejoin us," Rina said, frowning accusingly at Nume.
"Nice of you to warn us that your minis are five-foot-tall yetis," he snapped back.
"Hey, the spelling seemed good enough that it wouldn't be a problem. And they're not yetis, they're Kalkara."
"No matter," Ilraen said hastily, catching his partner's eye. "It's gone now, and we'll know if any more show up. Let us see what Aragorn does with this foreign Ranger."
Nume forced himself to turn away from Rina, though not without a last disparaging look. "This should be rich."
Will explained that he and Halt were Rangers, but not from anywhere the king had ever heard of, and that it was rare for anyone to be able to sneak up on Halt.
"Let alone a pack of orcs, which couldn't sneak up on a deaf mute in the middle of the night," said Nume.
Aragorn looked thoughtful. "I will see what I can do and I will send out my messengers. This will take a few days and in the mean time I wouldn't mind it if you helped me out a bit around Gondor. You don't have to go far, only to the outlying villages around Minas Tirith, but I have been hearing reports about some thievery. If you could go and check them out, I would appreciate it much."
Everyone exchanged looks at this.
"And after that, I suppose he'll send Will to clear out the rat infestation in the cellar." Nume rolled his eyes. "When did this become a role-playing game?"
"Now, I suppose." Zeb groaned when Silens demanded she come along with Will.
"I will help him as well. I feel like I owe it to him." Silens added as an afterthought.
"Owe him for what?" Rina snorted. "Whacking him with a frying pan?"
"That is the only thing I can think of," Ilraen said. "It isn't as though Will has done her any favors."
"Or it's just a cheap excuse for her to insert herself further into the story," said Nume.
"Knowing Sues, that's probably it," Zeb said. He briefly considered getting a CAD reading on Silens, but decided not to risk it.
Aragorn nodded as though this were perfectly reasonable.
"Very good! Please, feel free to wonder. I will confer with my captain to see which village you should travel to first. Also, I would like you to meet a friend of mine who might be willing to help. His name is Legolas…"
"And now King Legolas is in Minas Tirith. Perfect." Nume checked the Words. "And it's back to the Wonder Twins. Portal."
They skipped past a chapter change and a set of author's notes and landed back in the woods outside Redmont Castle, where Charlie was busy trying to teach Mirabelle the finer points of tracking. Mirabelle, prissy princess that she was, did not find the lessons much to her liking.
"Calm down," Charlie sighed. "You're doing fine for a beginner. It takes lots of patience to learn how to effectively track."
"I've had patience!" Mirabelle fumed, now pacing among the trunks of the forest where they had camped. "But all you're teaching me is which track is what! I get it, okay?! That's ones a fox, that one, a bird, and hey – guess what?! This one's a friggen' MOUSE!" ...
Charlie sighed and closed her eyes for moment as she thought of what to say. "Knowing what tracks belong to a mouse may not be a skill you'll need to know very often, but you asked me to teach you how to track. And to learn how to track you need to learn which tracks belong to specific animals."
"While Rangers can distinguish mouse prints, there's no way they'd be able to actually track them," Rina said, eyes narrowed. "And what's she doing, teaching her small prints? You want to start with the obvious stuff if you're teaching a beginner!"
Ilraen tilted his head to one side. "Furthermore, did they forget that they are supposed to be on a mission to help their friends? How much time have they spent here in camp instead of following the trail?"
"It didn't say," Rina said, putting a hand to her head. She closed her eyes and concentrated a moment. "Ugh, I can't make any sense of the timeline, it's so messed up."
Charlie went on to explain that "Tracking strengthens our awareness of what is around us and helps maintain a dynamic relationship with the natural world, to know and understand the environment," following which she declared the three steps of learning to track to be track identification, sign interpretation, and actual tracking.
"It sounds like she pulled that off of a website or something," Rina muttered, leaning against a tree and impatiently brushing her hair out of her face. She rolled her eyes when Mirabelle complained that Charlie had "picked up the sling skill like it was nothing." "So, Little Miss Princess who's never done a day's work in her life knows how to use a sling, probably just because Cassandra and Madelyn could. And of course Charlie gets it right immediately, even though it takes a lot of skill to use them."
"Because of course she does." Nume (and everyone else) blinked when Mirabelle declared that she was going to bed and it suddenly got dark. "They're camping again? Jesus, they really don't care, do they?"
"They were tracking in the dark?" Zeb frowned. "Unless the Ranger's Apprentice humans have better vision than normal, that shouldn't be possible, should it? I know you don't have the sense of smell to pull that off."
"Definitely not," Rina said. She stared at the sleeping Sues for a moment. Suddenly, she noticed that Ebony was no longer with them; the dog must have realized she was better off going home. "Eh, this is dumb. Let's skip ahead."
Ilraen obligingly opened a portal, and the four agents trooped through.
On the other side, the Sues were sitting astride their horses, Storm and Silver, staring over the edge of the cliff Will had ridden off. Charlie barely hesitated before finding a thin, pebbled track that led to the shore and riding down it.
"Are we seriously going down that?" Mirabelle whispered fearfully as she stared down the narrow path of pebbles. Charlie did not respond, but she didn't need to. Of course they were following it, her expression said. She glanced once again at Charlie but did not complain again as they headed down the narrow path. "At least it looks like the good weather is going to hold for a while," Mirabelle tried to offer some form of encouragement, but only received a grunt in reply.
Mirabelle had never been more wrong in her life.
"And the Failed Dramatic Ending strikes again," Rina said, applauding sarcastically.
"Clearly they've never heard of the Ironic Overpower," Nume remarked. "So, obviously a storm blows up and, instead of killing them, sends them to Middle-earth. Are we done here?"
His question was answered when the next chapter started, dragging the agents back to Middle-earth. An in-text note informed them that the first section was from Venatora's point of view, even though the narrative remained in third person and there was no particular insight given to her thoughts. She and Vereor were lurking in a Generic Alley in an unnamed location, plotting mischief.
"What are we going to steal now?" Venatora asked, voicing the question that was one both of their minds.
"We could steal gold or something, but I am getting hungry. Perhaps we could steal a chicken?" Vereor offered.
"No, why don't we steal a coin purse instead? That way, we could buy something honestly." Venatora smiled, stroking Yang's head.
"I wouldn't necessarily call it 'honestly' per say, but why not? Why don't you talk to the animals and see if they could put on a show?"
This ridiculous plan was conceived: Yin, who turned out to be a black fox, was to chase Yang the white wolf around the market square while Venatora shouted for help for her poor doggie. Meanwhile, Vereor would rob some distracted bystander blind.
Unfortunately, due to the Words' inability to keep the two animals' names straight, what actually happened was that the wolf chased his tail in circles for a few minutes, then turned around and snapped at the fox, who tried to follow herself and ended up hopelessly confused.
"We're rescuing them," Ilraen decided. "Perhaps not right this moment, but before we leave. They certainly cannot stay in Middle-earth."
"We can send them to Ranger's Apprentice," Rina suggested. "They've got all kinds of wolves and foxes running around, two more won't raise any eyebrows."
On cue, Nume raised an eyebrow. "I suppose we can neuralyze them to get rid of any uncanonical knowledge they might have. I doubt the MID has settings for Wolf or Fox, but at least they can't talk."
"Yes, because heaven forbid a couple of non-sapient animals be left to assimilate into a canon," Rina said, rolling her eyes.
"I was agreeing with you," Nume forced through clenched jaws. "Why does everyone think I want to go around slaughtering everything?"
"No one said that," Ilraen said, putting up his hands in a let's all calm down gesture. "Since we are in agreement, we will deal with the animals at the first opportunity."
Rina muttered something rude under her breath, but turned back to the fic, scowling when Vereor looked around for someone to pickpocket and "focused on a green-clad stranger" who "appeared to be interesting in a dagger that a trader was showing him." Unfortunately, the Words didn't identify the stranger any further than that, so the question of whether it was Will went unanswered.
Whoever he was, though, he was very perceptive.
She reached out hand and slowly began to untie the knot, her touch light as a feather, when his hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. "Did you honestly think that that would work on me? I may have been surprised by your performance, but I am not easily fooled." The man snarled.
Rina eyed the Generic Stranger. "I really hope that's not supposed to be Will, because if it is, that would be wildly OOC for him."
Vereor responded to being caught by taunting the stranger about his height and punching him in the nose. She called out that the jig was up, and the Vs and Ys ran for it—but not without pausing for Venatora to snatch a chicken from a coop that was nearby for some reason.
"That didn't go as planned, but at least I have dinner!" Venatora grinned, holding up the chicken that was pecking at her fingers.
"God dammit, Leeroy," Nume deadpanned, even as Rina said, "Leeroy, you are just stupid as hell." They looked at each other and scowled.
"Perhaps we should follow the Sues," Zeb said quickly, putting a hand on Rina's shoulder.
"A very good idea," Ilraen said gratefully.
They trailed the Alphabet Rejects Gang to a stable, where the Vs had apparently left their horses in full tack the whole time they'd been gone. Their getaway was foiled, however, because Legolas was there, too.
"Venatora!?" Legolas cried, leaping off Arod and striding up to her. Pulling her into a hug he held her at arm's length and smiled at her. "I should have known that it would have been you two. Trouble always seems to follow in your wake!" He cried, shaking his head.
The agents felt their eyes water as Legolas' arms turned into noodles so he could both hold Venatora at arm's length and hug her at the same time.
"That's just not right," Zeb said, looking a little green.
"Meh, I've seen weirder," Rina said. "Still a charge, though."
"Charging for Ing Disease," Nume said. "Not to mention making Legolas interrobang and hug people."
Ilraen wrinkled his nose. "What is he doing here?"
"Aragorn suggested that he'd help Will and Silens hunt the thieves," Nume filled in. "I suppose this is the 'first village' he mentioned at the time, and of course these two are the thieves. And, if I'm not much mistaken . . . ."
He was interrupted when the man and girl stalked over.
"You know them?" The girl growled, her eyes blazing.
"Calm down Silens, they're my friends. And I can assure you, Venatora normally behaves in a more civilized manner. It just so happens the Vereor will occasionally convince her to join her in one of her schemes. But they both mean well and they would have payed Will back, even if it is in a round-about way." Will remained unconvinced but Silens nodded.
"Yup," said Nume.
Rina's mouth thinned. "So it was Will being OOC," she muttered. "Why did the fic have to prove me right?"
Before anyone could respond, the agents were bowled over backwards by three large, broad-shouldered figures. They might have been muttering "hut hut hut" to themselves, but it was hard to distinguish over the sounds of trampling feet. When they were gone, the scene had changed, and the agents found themselves on the floor of the faux–throne room in Minas Tirith.
Slowly, Zeb sat up. "What," he said, his eyes huge, "was that?"
"I don't know," Ilraen groaned. "Is everyone all right?"
"I think my glasses are broken," Nume said. He sat up, and there was a light tinkling of glass as the fragments of one lens fell down his front. "God dammit."
Rina pinched the bridge of her nose. "Please tell me you can see without those."
"Oh, absolutely. Just as long as whatever I'm looking at is at least twenty feet away." He experimented with the remaining lens before deciding something was better than nothing and replacing the frames, then brushed himself off and got to his feet. "We should probably sweep that up," he added sullenly.
Rina huffed and kicked the shards of Nume's glasses into a corner. "There, done."
Ilraen, who had sat up by this time, blinked. "Well, I suppose it will all be taken care of when the Citadel reverts to canon." He also got to his feet, slightly bruised but otherwise unharmed. "Incidentally, we were hit by three 'LINEBREAKERs', all-caps, bold font."
"Well, it could have been worse," Rina muttered.
Meanwhile, Legolas, of all people, was demanding that King Aragorn allow Venatora and Vereor to get off scot-free, with no charges brought against them for thieving or assault.
"Or at least Venatora," the supposed Elven-king added haughtily.
Vereor stomped her feet. "Dang it, Legolas! You are a traitor! I refuse to talk to you anymore!" Vereor lifted her head high, hurt.
Nume, whose hearing was perfectly fine, rubbed an ear. "Technically, since he's king, he decides who the traitors are. Whiny brat."
Aragorn rubbed his temples. "Will, would that be okay with you? She did attack you."
Will looked over at Vereor and Venatora. "I suppothse thasth it wouldths be okay wits me." Will slurred, his broken nose heavily bandaged.
Rina rubbed her own nose. "He's talking like he's drunk, not like he has a broken nose," she muttered. "Still, ouch."
Aragorn nodded and sighed. "Then you two can go free with no charges. But please, just don't do anything else stupid."
Ilraen glanced at Nume, who was quietly seething. For the benefit of the others, Ilraen said, "That does not sound like the Aragorn I remember. Aragorn believes in justice. He would find a punishment that fits the crime, such as when he removed Beregond from the city guard for deserting his post, but also sent him to serve Lord Faramir. He would not simply let these two go."
Venatora thanked Legolas profusely for getting her off the hook. He replied that he couldn't have his "dearest friend" locked up in a cell.
Ilraen's eyes grew wide. "His 'dearest friend', is she? And what is Gimli, then?"
"Short, hairy, and trivialized, as usual," Nume growled. He added it to the charge list.
More thanks were exchanged, and it came about that there was a feast tonight, and Legolas wanted his two friends invited. Naturally, no one had any problem with this, except for one thing.
Venatora bowed deeply. "We would be honored to attend your feast." She straightened up again. "However, it upsets me to say that my companion and I have now appropriate attire for tonight's feast."
Queen Arwen clapped her hands together. "Nonsense! You can borrow one of my dresses!"
She said something else about getting them a bath, but the disentanglers both groaned, drowning her out.
"God dammit, why can't people get it through their heads that the Lady of Imladris is more than just a walking wardrobe?" Nume complained. "Yes, she can sew; no, she does not want to play dress-up with you!"
"I am particularly fascinated by the fact that she has not even been mentioned up until this point," Ilraen added. "But of course, we could not have a strong female canon character in the story, could we? She might outshine—erk!"
Zeb grabbed Ilraen by the collar. "Watch out!" he yelled, pulling the Andalite out of the way as another three LINEBREAKERs went rushing past.
Nume and Rina flattened themselves against the wall until the "hut hut huts" faded away, leaving them standing in what appeared to be Arwen's personal chambers. Arwen had shown Vereor and Venatora "what seemed like thousands of dresses" until they were both satisfied. Vereor ended up in an emerald green thing with "settle drapes," which gave the impression that she was wearing curtains. Venatora, on the other hand, went with the full-blown purple-prose ensemble of "a long dark crimson dress that matched the crimson in her hair, and it had embroidered gold flowers along the hem of the sleeves. It was matched with an indigo necklace, earrings, and a wolf brooch."
Luckily, the agents were not forced to watch the entire process of trying on a thousand dresses, but they did have to watch the two Sues bitching at each other some more.
When Vereor came out in her dress, Venatora made disapproving clucks. "Get that metal out of your face!" She said, hands on her hips. Vereor made a face at her, refusing to take out the piercings. In the end, however, she ended up in the corner pouting, a simple emerald necklace around her neck and plain, simple emerald earrings adorning her ears.
"Why do I even have to go? Legolas invited you not me." Vereor complained, still glaring from the corner.
"No, he invited both of us. Besides, I can't trust you alone, and the Queen is expecting us now. So you're coming, no matter what you say. I will drag you to the feast if I have to." Venatora snapped, growing impatient. "Now stop acting like a child and show some dignity!"
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Nume muttered. He slid along the wall and elbowed Rina in the ribs. "I've heard enough," he said, easily ignoring the filthy look she shot him, since he couldn't see it. "These two are vulnerable—no weapons, no animal buddies, not even practical clothing. Let's take 'em now."
"Oh, gosh, thanks for the advice," she said sarcastically, already drawing her dagger. "Charge 'em so we can kill them, will you?"
"It would be nice if they were immobile for that."
Rina thought for a moment. "Would dazed and stunned be acceptable?"
He shrugged. "As long as they're conscious and can't kill me."
"No problem." Rina waved Zeb over. "I need one of your knives," she muttered.
"Er, why?" Zeb asked, though he drew one and handed it over.
"Hang on, I'm concentrating." She weighed it in her hand for a moment, eyeballing Venatora, before flipping the dagger around to grip it by the blade. In one fluid motion, she brought up her hand, aimed, and released. It hit the back of Venatora's skull with a dull thud. The second knife soon followed, hitting Vereor in the same place. Both Sues crumpled.
Zeb stared at Rina. "Since when can you do that?"
"Um. Since regenerating, I think? I just kind of got this feeling . . . ." Rina shook her head and went to check on the Sues. "Look, we can talk about this later, all right?" She grabbed Venatora, pinning her to the ground. Zeb hurried to do the same to Vereor.
Nume rolled his eyes and stepped forward, notebook in hand, though he couldn't have read from it even if he'd wanted to. The one remaining lens of his glasses glinted in the torchlight, making him look oddly sinister even in still-damp peasant clothes.
"Vereor and Venatora," he began, "I honestly have no idea which one of you is which, and I don't care. You're both charged as Mary Sues by the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, and the following charges apply to you both equally.
"First of all, your existence is a grievous insult to the race of Elves. No Elves that I'm aware of have ever been assassins, and—shut up, Ilraen, you know what I mean—and even if they were, they wouldn't be stupid enough to have a 'code' that gives traitors a free week to run off and betray them. You have Latin names and talk like modern Earth teenagers. You have multiple stupidly named Cute Animal Friends that make you appear to be in cahoots with Sauron, especially the wolf. For your information, Elves don't like wolves, but Sauron does. He used to have a whole island full of them, which probably has something to do with why Elves don't like them. Let's not leave out gratuitously talking to animals, not to mention nearly setting Mirkwood on fire with careless descriptions. You're also charged with ruining the timeline by making Legolas the king of Mirkwood and being his best friend and advisor, trivializing Gimli in the process, which annoys us quite a lot. To make matters worse, you've thrown both Legolas and Aragorn out of character by making them tolerate your bullshit despite normally being sensible, justice-loving men. Finally, you're charged with making Queen Arwen play dress-up with you when she surely has better things to do, what with having two kingdoms to run. The penalty for these crimes is death. Do you have any last words that aren't whiny, bratty, or otherwise irritating?"
"You can't kill me!" Venatora shrieked, having recovered somewhat from the blow to her head. "Legolas needs me! This is just a plot to keep me away from him, isn't it?!"
Rina rolled her eyes. "Not like I was expecting anything else, but yeesh, that was disappointing." She picked one of the knives off the floor and stabbed Venatora in the back.
Zeb hastened to send Vereor after her companion. "It's nice to not have to worry about them fighting back, isn't it?" he remarked.
"That is why we generally restrain them first, yes," Nume said, snapping his notebook shut. "Ilraen, get out the remote activator. I have an idea. Set the coordinates to . . . " he rattled off a complex string of code.
Ilraen typed it in and opened a portal in the floor. On the other side, it was dark, and the voices of wolves could be heard.
"Go ahead and push them in," Nume told the assassins. "They'll land in the middle of the pack that hunted the Fellowship to Moria, and then they'll see that Middle-earth wolves aren't so nice and cuddly."
Rina grinned and helped Zeb throw the Sues through the portal, sticking her head through to watch. "Man, this brings back memories," she said. She pulled her head back. "Wargs or wolves or whatever are chowing down, so I think they're done for."
"Excellent." Nume instinctively looked to the Words, felt his eyes start to water, and turned to his partner instead. "Is Silens here, too? I can't imagine she wouldn't be invited to the party, great big Sue that she is."
Ilraen scanned the chapter. "There is no mention of her, but I concur. I am certain we can find her, then send Will and the animals to the Ranger's Apprentice continuum as we discussed."
"Hm. You still want those doors, too? Could be tricky getting them."
"I would like to try, yes."
Rina whistled to get the disentanglers' attention and drew her crowbar. "Maybe this would help?"
Ilraen grinned. "Why yes, I do believe it will."
"Duty first," Nume reminded them. "Kill the sparkly Sue, then disentangle, then loot."
"Before we do anything, can we swing by the kitchens?" Rina asked, cracking her knuckles. "This one's got a frying pan with her name on it."
Since everyone could agree to that, they made their way to the kitchens, then back to the great hall, which was the logical (if incorrect) place for a feast and also the only described location in the area. A discrete query in the ear of a castle servant pointed them in Silens' direction, and from there it was easy to spot the blonde half-elf in the crowd of dark-haired Gondorians.
"We'll go wait in the corridor," Nume said in a low voice. "One of you lure her out there, and we'll jump her."
"I'll do it," Zeb said. "Rina, have that frying pan ready."
"Don't worry," Rina said, rolling her eyes. "Go on, we gotcha covered."
Zeb nodded and went to confront Silens. He made his way to where she was seated among bit characters and tapped her on the shoulder. "Miss Silens? Might I have a word?"
Silens looked up and gave him an appraising once-over. Her eyebrows went up in appreciation when she realized the newcomer was rather handsome. "Of course you can," she said, her voice suddenly husky.
Zeb smiled brightly, totally missing out on her batting her eyes at him. "Follow me, please . . . ." He quickly left the hall, Silens in tow. He passed Rina, who was standing just around the corner, frying pan at the ready. The instant Silens passed through the door, Rina swung.
The frying pan collided with Silens' face, smashing her nose in. Silens didn't even have time to scream before she fell to the floor.
"Oh, shit," Rina breathed, her eyes huge. The frying pan slipped from her fingers and hit the floor with a clang.
"Is she dead?" Ilraen asked, his expression a mirror image of hers.
Nume knelt down to check for a pulse. "Thready as hell and fading fast. If she isn't dead now, she will be very, very soon." He took a deep breath and started charging as quickly as possible. "Silens on my authority as an agent of the PPC you are hereby charged with being a half-elf living in Gondor but not Ithilien being cursed with beauty being an arch bitch who thinks hitting people over the head with heavy cookware is an acceptable wakeup call—"
Silens' last breath rattled out of her throat.
"—riding a Ranger horse, generally showing off, turning Middle-earth into a generic RPG setting, throwing canon characters out of character, and being a Mary Sue," Nume finished at a more sedate pace. He took another deep breath to recoup himself.
"I didn't mean to do it," Rina whispered, her eyes wide. Her shoulders began to shake. "Didn't mean to . . . ."
"She was going to die anyway," Nume snapped, getting to his feet and dusting off his knees. "What are you complaining about? You got the last two with your fancy new knife skills, you got this one with fancy new superstrength. Get over it."
"Get over it?" she repeated. "Get over it? I just killed someone without meaning to, and you tell me to get over it?"
He stared at her, unimpressed.
"Nume—" Ilraen started warningly.
Nume held up a hand. "No, Ilraen. I don't get it," he said to Rina. "You took out Rose Potter by accident, didn't you? Everybody's pretty goddamned thrilled about that, so why's this such a big deal?"
"Okay, first of all," Rina snapped, jabbing a finger at him, "we had a plan to take her out, and things just went pear-shaped. And to answer your second question, I didn't realize that would happen! What if I'd, I don't know, gone to give my brother a hug and accidentally crushed him because I didn't realize that could happen? I don't like not knowing these things!"
"I don't like lots of things. Including praise heaped where it doesn't belong. You two screwed up big—at least you know that. And yet, you managed to cheat death, take out one of the biggest Sues of all time, and become the darlings of Headquarters. For the life of me, I can't wrap my head around how that's possible when you're just a silly fangirl who gets squeamish over—"
"You think I don't know that?" Rina yelled. "I'm not exactly thrilled about all the attention we've been getting, and I don't think Zeb is, either!"
Zeb backed away quickly. "Leave me out of this," he muttered.
Rina glared at Nume. "I'd rather everyone just forgot about it and moved on! I don't want to remember it either, but nobody lets me forget!"
Nume rolled his eyes. "Oh, cry me a fucking river!"
"You don't get it, do you?" Rina said icily. "I know about your eidetic memory. Guess what? I have one too, now, but I'm allergic to Bleep products; there's nothing for me to take as a substitute. I can't ever forget bleeding to death with my guts hanging out on the floor. And I can't take anything to numb the memories like you can."
He stared. His mind worked furiously to come up with a scathing retort, but for once there was nothing he could say that wouldn't immediately backfire.
"What is the expression?" Ilraen said softly. "The shoe is on the other foot?"
Nume rallied, shooting his partner a poisonous look. To Rina, he said, "It isn't my fault you got in over your head and didn't have the sense to cut and run."
"You mean like with 'Subjugation'?" Rina said, her fists clenching. "And leave the canons to their fate the way you did?"
Think it didn't hurt that we had to run? Suicide's words in Azeroth came back to him, but he wouldn't speak them. Instead, he shouted, "You shut up about that! At least I came back on my own. Nobody else can say that."
Zeb, who had been listening quietly until this point, finally decided to speak up. "We came back, too."
Nume whirled to face him. "Sure—successful. What do you think it was like to come back as a failure? You think that was easy?"
"It wasn't exactly easy having to watch as canon was warped so far beyond recognition I doubt a single character had been untouched," Zeb said, his voice low. "We were in the fic for so long we lost count of the days. Like you said, we only got lucky in the end. We left a huge mess behind for other agents to clean up. I wouldn't call that successful."
"We have very different definitions of success, then!" Nume glared at Zeb with both fists balled.
Ilraen's tolerance came to an end. It was clear that rationality had left the building and no one was going to listen to reason alone, so he grabbed his partner by the shoulders, only hanging on more firmly when Nume tried to throw him off, and pulled him back from the other team. "That is enough!" he said. "All of you!" He wished he had his stalk-eyes so he could watch all three at once, but he did his best. "We all know how terrible this duty can be. There is no sense in arguing over who has had the worst time when we have a job to finish right here and now."
Rina and Zeb glanced at each other; an unspoken agreement seemed to pass between them and they nodded.
"Fine," Rina said, crossing her arms. "But—"
Zeb nudged her and she fell silent.
"Nume?" Ilraen prompted when his partner didn't say anything. His shoulders were hunched and tense under Ilraen's hands.
"You can let me go, for a start," the taller man finally said. "The sooner we finish, the sooner I can go home."
"Very well." Ilraen let him go.
Nume took a step away from the group and folded his arms tightly.
"So . . . ." Rina gingerly nudged Silens' body with her toe. "What are we gonna do with her?"
"Let's send her home to Mirkwood," Nume snarled. "I'm sure the spiders will be delighted to see her."
Ilraen opened a portal beneath her. She fell into a giant web and stuck nicely. It didn't take long for the residents to notice, and the sound of excited hissing and clicking told the agents when the job was done.
Rina turned away, unable to watch.
"It really is all right," Ilraen said, attempting to comfort her. "You did not hurt anyone you love. And now you will not."
Rina nodded curtly. She stooped to pick up the frying pan, shoved it in her pocket, and crossed her arms, not looking at anyone. "Can we just move on?"
"Er." Ilraen shuffled his feet. "I hate to ask now, but . . . ." He gestured abashedly toward the large oak doors. "They do need to be removed . . . ."
"Yeah. Sure. That." Rina pulled out her crowbar and set to work on removing the bolts holding the hinges together. After a minute, the door fell forward. Rina caught it before it could hit the floor and carefully set it down. "What do you want these for, again?"
"Trade," Ilraen answered. "Failing that, the Smaug panel would make a nice souvenir." He opened a portal to RC 999 while she worked on the second door.
Rina nodded, got the door free, and carried it through the portal. "Just put them up against the wall?" she called.
"Against the bunk bed," Ilraen responded. "That way we should be able to pull them out the door easily enough."
"Gotcha." Rina came back for the other door, set it against the first, and rejoined the other agents. "Now what?"
Ilraen looked to Nume.
"We get Will to the stables, where the horses and I'm guessing Yin and Yang are waiting," Nume answered. "I suppose we'll have to find Halt, as well, but I have no idea where to look. The orcs could have taken him anywhere."
"We can save him for last, I suppose," Zeb cut in. "For now, let's just focus on getting Will and Tug home. Can someone get Will down to the stables?"
"No problem," Rina said.
"Fine," Nume said. "Get him out of there, and I'll neuralyze everyone in the feast."
Rina glanced at Zeb and Ilraen and nodded, then she and Nume headed into the great hall. Nume snuck to the back of the room and lurked beneath the throne while Rina stopped behind Will and tapped him on the shoulder. "We've received some new information about Halt," she muttered.
Will nearly knocked over his goblet. "What? Halt? Is he okay?"
"Let's discuss this outside, shall we?" Rina turned on her heel and strode away. Will almost tripped several times in his haste to keep up. Rina resisted the urge to facepalm at how OOC he was behaving. Not once did he question why they had to go all the way to the stables to hear this information. Really, it seemed almost too easy.
Once Rina and Will were gone, Nume climbed up on top of the silver monstrosity purporting to be the throne of Gondor, set his neuralyzer, and slipped on his sunglasses. "Excuse me, everyone! I have an important announcement to make! If I could have all your attention right here, please! Riiight—" FLASH "—here. Good. Now. You are all here attending this lovely feast being thrown by King Telcontar and Queen Undómiel. Elves of Ithilien may or may not be present depending on what year it actually is, but there are no assassin elves, you never saw anyone claiming to be a Ranger of Araluen, nor did the Queen flounce about playing dress-up at any time, and Legolas certainly isn't king of anything. My associates and I were never here. When we're well clear of the city, it will all go back to the way it should be, and you won't remember anything different."
That seemed to just about cover it. He hopped down from the silver chair, glanced back to make sure it wasn't the Silver Chair dropped in from the Narniaverse, and once satisfied, hurried to catch up to the other agents.
He entered the stable just in time to see Ilraen toss a very angry-looking black furball through a portal, after which it snapped smartly shut. Apart from the agents, the occupants of the stable all seemed like they belonged there.
"Do I want to know how you got the wolf through?" Nume asked.
"No. No, you don't," a very harassed-looking Rina said.
"I think we're done here, then," Zeb said, dusting his hands and looking around.
Ilraen nodded. "And it looks like Charlie and Mirabelle are about to arrive in Middle-earth."
"Then they're about to die, too," said Nume. "Let's go."
Ilraen portaled them into the next chapter, where they were surrounded by a Generic Forest. They could see (or in Nume's case, vaguely discern) Mirabelle's horse, Silver, covered in gritty white sea-salt and looking miserable, but neither the other horse nor their owners were in evidence.
"Where are the Sues?" Nume asked his partner. "I thought you'd put us down near them."
"I thought I did, too," Ilraen said, scowling at the RA. "They were in the sea, nearly drowning, and then the fic cuts to this scene. They should be here."
An undescribed bit character, possibly another elf, dropped out of a tree beside Silver and gave her an inspection, noting that "one of the back legs, the right one, had dried with a pinkish tint."
Ilraen pointed it out. "That must be from when she kicked Mirabelle in the back, somehow knocking her unconscious. However, they were in the ocean at the time. I cannot believe any blood would remain to be seen."
Nume was always happy to charge for medical nonsense.
The bit character led Silver off toward a conveniently placed stream. The agents, for lack of anything better to do, followed him. He gave Silver a bath in the stream, saving someone the trouble of doing it later, and then Storm turned up.
Ilraen looked around in the world and the Words, but still couldn't find any sign of the Sues. "They must be unconscious somewhere," he said. "Perhaps we should collect the horses now, neuralyze this person, and try to find them by the sea."
"We definitely need to have the horses looked at," Rina said. "Considering the treatment the Sues have given them, I wouldn't be surprised if they needed medical attention."
"We can send them to Nurse Christaki in the Medical Department. She specializes as a vet," Ilraen said.
"Sounds like a plan," Zeb said, clasping his hands together. "So, how do we handle a Ranger-trained horse?"
Rina frowned. "Well, normally, you'd need the password before they'd let you ride them. Leading them around, not so much, but if we tried to take her too far she'd refuse to budge."
Zeb frowned as well. "All right, then maybe you can talk to her? Time Lords speak horse, right?"
"That," Rina said through gritted teeth, "was a Doctor thing. I only speak English, thanks."
"Does it actually matter?" Nume asked. "It's not like they've been following the rules so far. Why should they start now?"
" . . . Point." Rina gnawed her lip. "Eh, might as well give it a shot. Worst that can happen is the horse refuses to move." She cracked her knuckles. "All right, I'll take care of the horses. Someone needs to get that bit character."
"Consider it done." Ilraen took his neuralyzer and a pair of sunglasses out of his bag, slipped on the glasses, and approached the bit character. "Excuse me! Those horses belong to us, and we will have them back now. Thank you very much for catching them for us."
"What?" said the bit male, staring blankly.
"Please hand the reins over to my friend . . . that's right . . . and then look right here." He checked to make sure Rina had her eyes closed, then pressed the Minutes button.
The bit character blinked, looking only slightly more blank than he had before.
"You are an average Middle-earth citizen," Ilraen told him. "You will go about your business and forget you ever saw us or these two horses."
The bit nodded and wandered off.
Rina readjusted her grip on the horses' reins. "If someone could open a portal, I think these two will come willingly. Isn't that right, baby?" she crooned, stroking Storm's nose.
Ilraen did just that. "Ask for Valerie Christaki," he reminded her.
Rina nodded and led the horses through, clucking softly to them all the while. Several minutes passed.
Zeb shifted from foot to foot. "So . . . " he began.
Nume eyed him through his remaining lens. "If you're about to make awkward small talk, don't."
Zeb pouted and looked away.
"She shouldn't be long," Ilraen assured him. "The forms are not nearly as complex as those in FicPsych."
He'd barely finished speaking before a portal opened and Rina stepped through, looking around. "I wasn't gone long, was I?"
"Not at all!" Ilraen said brightly, overriding his partner, who was undoubtedly muttering "not long enough" to himself. "Now, if we follow this stream, we shall certainly find the sea and our targets." He led the way.
Before long, because the world wasn't described enough to provide them any real challenges, they came to a beach, and on the beach were two wet, sandy figures. Nume spotted them first—the one advantage of being ludicrously farsighted.
He pointed. "That's them." To Rina, he added, "They're from your fandom, so you charge them. I don't suppose you need my book, do you?"
"Nope." Rina strode over to Charlie's limp form and lifted her up by her hair. "All right, Charlie Treaty, you are charged with being the uncanon daughter of Will and Alyss, owning a Ranger horse and cloak despite not being a Ranger or an apprentice, being a brat, mistreating horses, screwing up Ranger's Apprentice canon, and generally being a Mary Sue. There's more, but if I listed them all, we'd be here for hours."
"Don't leave out hopping universes for no good reason," Nume cut in.
"That, too," Rina said reluctantly, giving Nume the stink-eye. She drew her knife and slit Charlie's throat without any ceremony, then got up to charge Mirabelle.
Zeb had already helpfully slapped the unconscious princess awake and held her upright. Rina knelt so she could look Mirabelle in the eye. "And as for you, Princess Mirabelle, you're charged with upstaging and replacing the canon character of Princess Madelyn, being a brat, knowing how to use a sling just because Cassandra and Madelyn did, messing up the canon of Ranger's Apprentice, random dimension-hopping, and, of course, being a flaming Sue. Blah blah, lots more charges, et cetera, et cetera." She slit Mirabelle's throat as well, and Zeb let the body fall to the sand with a dull thud.
"We can probably toss these two back into the ocean," Zeb said, nudging Mirabelle with his boot.
Nume nodded. "I concur. Ulmo can keep them safe so they don't wash up anywhere." He glanced at Rina. "You wanted to loot the shiny, I believe?"
Rina nodded and went to remove Charlie's bracelet, which looked to be made of gold, though its earlier lack of description made it hard to be sure. She twirled it around her finger before pocketing it.
Ilraen opened a portal to somewhere in the middle of the Great Sea, far from any shore, and Rina and Zeb pushed the Sues through.
Rina stood, watching the bodies sink for a moment before turning around. "I think I know how we can find Halt," she said. "You know how Silens mentioned she saw the group of orcs who had taken him prisoner? We can just portal to that time in the story and follow them."
Nume and Ilraen shared a look. Perhaps they were both a trifle embarrassed that they hadn't thought of such an elementary plan themselves.
"Is it safe?" Ilraen wondered. "We won't . . . throw off the timeline and cause a paradox or something?"
"I don't see how," Nume said. "We haven't heard anything about Halt or the orcs for ages. We just can't let Silens see us, and a quick disguise change takes care of that." He curled his lip; he hated having to be an orc. "You lot have a D.O.R.K.S.?" he asked the assassins.
Rina pursed her lips and pulled theirs out in response.
Ilraen produced the disentanglers' device (currently in the shape of a Dutch wooden shoe), and moments later, a pair of orcs stood in their places. Nume made for a dark, stringy orc while Ilraen was bulkier and a lighter bluish-gray.
Rina hurried to follow suit.
Zeb looked down at himself. "Well, this is new," he remarked, running a tongue over his teeth and making a face.
"My, what big teeth you have," Rina said, grinning and showing off her own broken, yellowed fangs. The effect was rather horrible. "All right, I think we're set."
Once more, Ilraen operated the portal that took them to their destination. In turn, the agents hopped through. To their surprise, they found the sun high on the other side.
"Broad daylight!" Nume hissed; orcs were good at hissing and spitting. "Twenty orcs going about in broad frelling daylight, in Gondor, in the Fourth Age! And no one does a single thing about it!"
Ilraen pointed toward the sea. "And here they come!" There was a general pause, and his arm slowly fell. "That's. Um. Interesting."
The troop of orcs came charging out of the water as though they'd run straight across the sea floor. They carried Halt over their heads, bound up like a fly in a long spindle of rope. He bounced comically with each step the orcs took.
The agents exchanged bemused and horrified glances.
"Well, we'd better follow them," Nume said. "Fall in, troops!"
He led the others in a jog to the back of the troop, where they went unremarked. Orc bodies didn't tire easily, which was good, because they went on running for a good while before randomly coming to a stop in the middle of an open field. The orcs didn't even bother to make camp; they just dropped Halt and stood around, blinking stupidly.
"Well, it looks like this is as good a time as any," Zeb said after a moment. "How should we—?"
Rina was already moving forward. She picked Halt up, slung him over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and strode back to the group. None of the orcs even glanced at her. "There, problem solved," she said, setting Halt on the ground.
"Almost," said Nume, drawing out his neuralyzer and sunglasses once again. The shades looked decidedly bizarre on an orc, but regardless, he found a rock to stand on and marched up to it with perfect self-assurance. "Right, you hairy lot!" he bellowed at the top of his guttural orc voice. "Face front! Form up! Come on, you bunch of maggots! Stir your stumps before I have your guts for garters!"
One by one, the troops turned to look at him. They didn't manage to form anything resembling orderly lines, but they didn't have to.
"New orders from the big boss!" Nume grinned, showing his full set of grimy choppers, and depressed a button on the neuralyzer.
Twenty orcs blinked even more stupidly than they had been doing before.
"Actually, there is no big boss," Nume said in more normal tones, removing the sunglasses. "Mordor Orc or Isengarder, you've nowhere to go but some hole in the mountains and no one to serve but yourselves. Off you go, and feel free to kill each other on the way if the knights of Gondor don't get you first. Oh, and you never saw any of us."
The orcs looked around, realized they were completely exposed, and darted off in all directions, tripping over each other in their haste. If they were lucky, they might find the White Mountains before anyone was the wiser. If not, well, no one would mind much.
When the furor was over, Nume hopped down from his rock and dusted off his hands. "And that's that. Ilraen, get us out of these disguises, please."
In moments, they were back to their Random Peasant forms.
"Ah, much better," Rina said, stretching. At her feet, Halt's eyes widened, looking around at the group. "Oh, um, right . . . ." She drew her knife and cut the ropes, helping him to his feet. He stood, looking slightly dazed.
Zeb quickly dug out his neuralyzer and handed it to Rina. She nodded and held it up, glancing around to make sure she wasn't going to accidentally wipe any agents' memories.
"All right, Halt, you were never kidnapped or captured by orcs, and you've never seen, visited, or even heard of a place called Middle-earth. You've been living in Redmont with Lady Pauline and carrying out your Ranger duties." Rina ushered him through the portal Zeb opened, breathing a sigh of relief when the canon was back home. "We're probably going to have to dig Princess Madelyn out of a plothole, too," she said. "I'm willing to bet she's somewhere in Redmont."
Nume heaved a frustrated sigh and started to say something, but he was cut off by a distant rumble and a quake beneath their feet. "That should be Minas Tirith sorting itself out," he said when the tremor ceased. "Let's get this over with."
They found the princess in Mirabelle's abandoned bedchambers, shoved into a plothole under the usurper's bed. It was an easy enough job to pull her out, neuralyze her, and send her back to Castle Araluen.
After a last look around to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything, the agents opened one final portal to RC 3-Apple-14. Their disguises dropped, and they were all back to normal.
"Thank god that's over with," said Nume. "Feels like it's been a month or more. Ilraen, let's get out of here." He started for the door, but stopped when his partner made no move to follow him.
<It was good to work with you both,> the Andalite said to Rina and Zeb. <I hope we were of adequate assistance, despite . . . .> He cast a stalk-eye toward Nume and gave up trying to put a polite spin on things.
Zeb's ears flattened against his head and he backed away, anticipating another explosion.
"Despite having to put up with him?" Rina said. "Oh, no, it was great. Get to meet an agent I've admired for months, only to find out he's a dick. Fun times."
"Oh, here we go." Nume rolled his eyes. "Blame me for not living up to your imagination. Go right ahead. Just don't try to reform me, all right? The position's filled."
Rina snorted. "Please, like I'd want to spend any more time with you than I have to." She folded her arms. "You were my hero for a long time. I respected you, looked up to you. And there was a good reason for that: you're a great agent. I just can't say the same about you as a person."
"That's fine, because I never asked you to. The job's done, so I'm going home." He shot a look at his partner, who still wasn't budging. This time he left anyway.
Ilraen stood sheepishly twiddling his thumbs a moment, took a step toward the door, then looked back at the two assassins. <If you knew him the way I do . . . > he started.
"You're not going to tell me he's a big softie, are you?" Rina said. "Because I'd sooner believe Zeb's a bloodthirsty killing machine than that."
<No, not at all. My partner is not a nice man. But he is a good one.> He hesitated a moment more, but there was nothing else to say. Almost nothing. <I hope we can still be friends, at least.>
"You're welcome anytime," Zeb piped up.
"Oh, absolutely," Rina said, nodding. She cast a look at the door. "Um, do you need to . . . ?"
The Andalite blinked. <Would you like me to stay a while?>
"Sure!" Zeb said enthusiastically.
Rina shrugged. "If you want, though I'm sure you want to go back and relax . . . ."
<I think we could all stand to relax.> A thought struck, and his ears perked forward. <Why don't we visit the Courtyard? It is my favorite place to go when I need space.>
"That actually sounds pretty good," Rina admitted.
"Yes, let's go!" Zeb bounded over to the door, then turned and crouched, looking expectantly at the others.
With a quiet mental laugh, Ilraen went and toggled the door open. In a blur of gray and blue fur, Zeb darted out the door, yelling at the others to keep up.
Meanwhile, in RC 999, Nume stood just inside the doorway, staring at the very large slabs of oak in the middle of the room. He had tried to move one when he got back, still full of adrenaline from the mission and dealing with people's stupid emotions, but heave as he might, he couldn't get it to budge more than an inch. Despite Rina throwing them around like they were made of styrofoam, they were actually quite heavy.
He stood and stared, trying to think of what to do. He and Ilraen might be able to accomplish something together, but who knew when the Andalite would come back? He could go look for help, of course, but then he would have to talk to people. Anyway, he still couldn't even see properly.
Finally, he gave up with a muttered "fuck it" and just left. He had other business to attend to.
Well, this was fun. I got to work with Iximaz, and we had a great time, even though my new job kept us from publishing for way too long after the mission was technically done and in beta. Yay development hell!
It's too bad our agents don't get along as well, but really, what did you expect? Poor Rina never had a chance.
Regarding the badfic, it's worth noting that an author's note for the last chapter makes it clear that the primary author actually had not read The Lord of the Rings all the way through at the time of writing. Please allow me to remind all aspiring writers out there that ignorance is not an excuse. Research is your friend. And even if you don't do the research, making your characters behave like relatable human beings goes a long way to redeeming a canonically problematic story.
Thanks to our betas for making sure the major plot points of this mission happened in the right order.
Iximaz's Note: I have never seen this many OC Sues in one go. I just . . . guh. There's nothing more to say about them that hasn't already been said in the mission itself.
I really loved writing with Nesh, and the mission itself was a lot of fun to work on. It's been a long time in the making (six months! O_o) and I enjoyed every second of it. Poor Nume, heh heh. I have no regrets.
Anyway, thanks a lot for reading!