The door before her was numbered '10,' but the door to the left of it was "1008" and the door across was '1011," so she was sure she was at the right one. Fairly sure, anyway. At places in the building, Headquarters acted like it was designed by a drunk adolescent architect who had accidentally fed the blueprints to the papershreader. To get to this door, she had been through a hallway converted into a bathroom (and then back again), an elevator that was otherwise a functional shoe polisher, and an empty, dull coloured room which had led to a huge 'Do Not Enter: Mini-Balrog Training' sign on the other side of the exit.
The engineer must have had about five minutes to tape the plans back together before handing them to the building crew, Amy mused. In any case, the door was either the right one or the wrong one. The worst that could happen was she'd have to find her way back through HQ. Unless she had stumbled onto the real Mini-Balrogs.
Amy knocked on the door. At least, if she interrupted their training, she'd just be dead, and wouldn't have to worry about the cafeteria's meal lottery any more. ("Everyone with a pink ticket: Chocolate pudding! Anyone else: Last week's asparagus. Better luck at dinner.")
She waited a minute. Nothing happened. She decided this was a good sign, and knocked again, audibly, this time.
The door was opened by a young man, probably in his early twenties. He was good looking, in a rugged sort of way, but he ruined the effect by staring down at Amy as though she was some bug he caught trespassing.
She did her best to smile at him. "Hello," she managed. "You must be Brent."
He looked affronted by this amount of personal information she had acquired about him. His eyes narrowed.
"I - I'm Amy. I don't know if they told you-"
"Uh, well, the flowers, of course. But you see, I'm-"
"New partner?" he interrupted again.
"Yes!" Amy sighed in relief. "I wasn't sure I was at the right door. Or planet, for that matter."
He continued to study her for another moment as if uncertain whether to squash her or capture her for a science project, and then his face suddenly softened. "I'm Brent," he told her. "But you can call me Brent."
Amy wasn't certain what to say to that, so she just smiled weakly and followed him inside the room behind the door.
"I don't know what they taught you at the academy, so I'll go slow. We kill Mary Sues. I assume you know what a Mary Sue is? Good. When we have to perform this essential service, you'll hear a loud, really irritating noise that some little punk is too busy to tone down. It sounds like -"
"Well, like that, actually," he finished.
Amy, slightly recovered from the hallway incident, glared. At least, she told herself it was a glare. To Brent it seemed more like a sulk. "I know," she said. "I've been transferred from another genre. I've heard it all before. You can turn that off."Brent smirked at her. "Not really. You see, we have an essential service to perform. Or weren't you paying attention?"
"What? Already? Now?" Amy, standing a metre before the door holding three huge duffel bags of random stuff, was not in the right mind frame to deal with a canon breach. Her mind was having enough difficulties dealing with Brent.
Her partner was checking various weapons and putting them in a bag that was about a third as big as Amy's smallest one. Realizing he wasn't joking, Amy dumped the contents of one of her bags onto the floor and searched for anything that might be useful. Jeans... jeans... some makeup she hadn't used in months... a T-shirt....
"What do you need all the clothes for?" Brent asked. "We have uniforms."
"Maybe I like to wear something a little more casual during my off-time."
He snorted. "What off-time?"
Amy still hadn't found anything she wanted to bring, so she dropped the bag on top of the clothes and went to Brent empty handed. He rolled his eyes. "Here. At least take a gun." He handed one to her, and Amy barely had time to pocket it before the portal opened before her and someone pushed her through.
The ground felt solid under her feet, but her feet didn't feel solid under her legs. Amy took a few short steps, and, when there seemed something strange about the movement, looked down. What she saw inspired her to produce a few gagging noises.
"Brent!" she shouted between gasps. "Aghh!"
A vile looking creature several metres in front of her turned around at her cry. She tried to run away from it but slipped, landing in a tangle with the disgusting grey things she was beginning to suspect were her legs. The creature was staring down with a look of amused disdain. She decided it was probably Brent.
"What... what is... am...." Amy gave up on speaking. She flapped her arms a few times and made a high-pitched nasal noise in an attempt to sum up their current physical state.
The maybe-Brent rolled its eyes. "Orcs," it said. "We're orcs. You know, goblins?"
Amy took a few deep breaths and climbed to her feet. "Okay, orcs, fine. Why?"
The thing snorted at her, which made her certain it was her partner. "Well, we can't exactly go tromping around Middle-earth as ourselves, can we? Not when we're sworn to protect canon, and all that."
Amy was tempted to say, "Why not?" Instead she just grumbled, "Why can't we be Elves? I could deal with Elves."
"What would Elves be doing out here?" Brent asked. He started walking away, and Amy ran a few steps to catch up. He grinned back at her, his face twisting into something even more grotesque.
"I think it's an improvement," she snarled.
"Testy today, are we?"
They continued walking in silence for several minutes. Brent was taking his time, pausing every so often to gaze thoughtfully at the sun, or the trees, or a cloud that resembled a tennis shoe.
"Where exactly is here?" Amy said finally.
"Just outside Moria," he replied, while considering a nearby rock.
"And where are we going?" He made a sweeping motion with one arm, indicating, Amy supposed, north. Or possibly west. "And is there any particular reason we're going so slowly?"
He glanced at her, the same vaguely interested look he had offered the rock. "You really have no idea what we're about to get into, do you?"
"We're going to kill a Mary Sue," Amy said. "I'm not frightened, if that's what you're thinking."
Brent shrugged. "You haven't looked at the words yet."
They cleared a ridge, and Amy could see the eight remaining members of the fellowship, just out of Moria. They were strewn about, mourning for Gandalf. All in all, it looked decently canonical.
Brent burst out laughing. At Amy's bewildered expression he gestured her attention towards the words that the world around them was comprised of. Amy started giggling. She couldn't help herself.
"The burden that each of the Fellowship thought was unbearable, their master, teacher and friend, Gandalf the wise was gone," she read. "Well, I'll admit that Gandalf was a little irritating at times, but I never got the impression they all thought he was unbearable."
"They seem sorta depressed, don't they? I mean, if they all hated him so much..." Brent added, before his words were gone in a new fit of laughter. Amy had a sudden mental image of them, two hideous orcs, barely able to stand because they were laughing so hard, and giggled louder. She was glad the fellowship couldn't see or hear them.
The characters below them started talking, and Amy forced herself to calm down. The voices were faded with the distance, but she made out enough. She didn't want to laugh anymore. "I don't even care how someone can 'half sob,'" she said. "What I want to know is when the fellowship learned English slang. Out-dated slang at that."
"It would have to be really outdated. Look at when we are. Really really really really really...."
"Okay. Shut up."
"Awww... Look who thinks she's the senior partner here. Isn't that cute?" Amy glared at him, but he just grinned. "Really really really really really really really really...."
Amy sighed and looked back at the words. The fellowship had started towards Lothlórien, depressed because a "tragedy had occurred, and had ended in a bitter sorrow." Amy shook her head. Someone needed to look up the word 'redundancy' in a dictionary.
"And, did I mention, really?" Brent continued. "Really really really really?"
Make that two someones.
"Are you done?" Amy asked him.
"Almost. Really really really really outdated. There. That's about it. I could go on, but my throat's starting to hurt."
Amy was about to say something, but the fellowship had suddenly stopped walking in favour of running around in panicked circles. "Okay," she said. "I don't get it."
"That'd be because you're too noisy. Don't you hear that?"
Amy wanted to say something about hypocrisy, but couldn't think of anything witty enough. So she listened. There was a faint noise like thunder, but nothing that should have so upset the characters.
"Where's it coming from," she asked.
Brent reached into his bag and pulled out a pair of binoculars. "I can't see," he said. "But I have a pretty good idea. Here's one for the charge list: Changing the atmosphere's molecular composition."
"These are amazingly good. Give you the vision of an Elf, or something close to it."
"And this has what to do with oxygen and nitrogen and, oh, whatever else's in air?"
Brent sighed. "I can hear hoofbeats," he said, drawing out every syllable as though Amy were a rather dense seven year old. "But I can't see horses, not even with these things strapped to my face. Sound doesn't travel that far. At least, it shouldn't."
"Whatever. I don't think you're making any sense, but I haven't thought that since I met you." Amy was regretting leaving her blue duffel in the room. It was the one with Aspirin in it. And Tylenol. And Advil, she was pretty sure. Right about now, she'd have settled for herbal tea, if it would make her headache go away. The thunder of hoofbeats was getting louder by the second, which was not helping. It was louder than even an army of horses had any right to be. Then, suddenly, there was only the noise of one horse.
"Better," Amy said.
"It's the result of bad grammar, you know," Brent explained. "The number of horses isn't really supposed to change between sentences."
Amy glanced at the words, but immediately she turned away, wincing. "His/Her. What is that, exactly? The result of a botched sex-change operation?"
"Ow!" Brent, who had been looking through the binoculars, dropped them, swearing. "She blinded me! Mary Sue aura. Ah!"
Amy smiled a little bit at that. Maybe she wasn't supposed to feel satisfied at her partner's pain, but she figured he deserved it. Besides, she was safe enough, if he was really blind.
The girl on the horse had a different effect on the fellowship. Pippin suddenly became a fervent Catholic, Aragorn remembered a sketchy prior meeting, Legolas fell in love with her, and basically all of them felt compelled to stare in awe at all her blatant Mary Sueness.
"This is painful. Can we kill her now?" Amy asked.
"Sure. Ow. If you want to - Ow - deal with Downstairs. My eyes. Ow. And I think I'm hearing things."
Amy shrugged. There was a new conversation happening below them, in gibberish, as far as she could tell. "I think it's supposed to be Elvish," she said. "The author said something about copying it off a webpage, so who knows."
"Uh huh, is this grass usually purple?"
She ignored him. "Last time I read the book, Boromir wasn't this excited about Lórien."
"If that's the worst she's done, we could almost let her live."
"She's also an Elvish Amazon with a couple of pet wolves, has Legolas performing acts of middle age chivalry, and has taken the leadership role from Aragorn, if any of that makes a difference."
Brent uncovered his face enough to look at her. His eyes were rather dilated. "They're following her?"
"'Like a faithful dog,' singular, and I quote."
"She's going down. You can be my dog."
"Excuse me." Amy glared, though she knew he wouldn't see it. "Say that again."
"I'm feeling sorta visually-impaired at the moment. Lead on. You know... mush?"
When they caught up to Ela the Mary Sue, and the characters formally known as canon, Amy was feeling mostly better. Like the faithful companion she was, she had led Brent over every rock, branch, pot-hole and plot-hole she could find, even if it meant doubling backwards several times. Brent, on the other hand, was looking even more dishevelled than orcs normally did.
In the woods, Haldir was absorbed in the vital (and probably very smelly) task of grovelling at Ela's feet. Amy wasn't sure what she had missed, but, judging by the outcome, she was very glad she had. She started digging into Brent's bag.
Brent, who had been muttering how he was going to get even with her, said, "What are you doing?"
"Looking for the Character Analysis Device. I assume you brought one?"
"Yeah. Leave it alone."
Amy frowned up at him before she remembered he wouldn't see it. "Why? I need to check on Haldir."
"It'll go 'beep' really loud."
"So I'm already blind, do you want me deaf too? Besides, the canons might not notice, but the Sue will. Do you know a good reason for two orcs to be hanging around this place?"
"I told you we should have been Elves," Amy said. She put the bag down, and Brent snatched it back.
"'Sides, I think its pretty safe to say we've got ourselves a character rupture here."
"I thought you were blind?"
"It's getting better."
They followed behind the Elves who were in the story for the sole purpose of worshiping Ela. They were on their way to, uh, do something to the Sue's horrible secret. Amy hoped they were about to revel in it, which sounded almost like fun after the rest of the day. Brent maintained the word was supposed to be revealed, and they settled the debate by the scientific method of 'rock, paper, scissors.' Amy chose rock. Brent chose dynamite. They prepared themselves for a sappy revelation scene.
Amy made a mental note to find her rulebook for 'rock, paper, scissors.' It had served her well in fifth grade, and she had a feeling she would need it again. "They were supposed to come to Lothlórien at night. Do you think the author realized that?"
"Do you think she cared? I mean, really; look around." He shrugged. "She shouldn't have mentioned the blindfolds. At least then she could've pleaded movie."
They were nearing the home of Galadriel and Celeborn. It had been a quick journey, without any of the tedious geography that should have been in their way. Brent and Amy looked up the long staircase, the latter muttering about rope ladders.
"Screw that," Brent said. He dug around in his bag and pulled out a electronic thing that looked like a jury-rigged remote control. He pressed a few random buttons, and a portal opened in front of them.
They stepped through, just in time to see the others arrive. "Elves haven't been to the Nile River. There isn't even any Nile yet," Amy whimpered. "Bad, bad metaphors. Bad grammar."
"Tell me something," Brent said. "What's the point of downloading all these fancy Elvish words if she's just going to stick the translation in the middle of the sentence. Does she think it makes her look smarter, or what?"
Amy wasn't listening. "Make it stop."
"Don't have to. It's over. Celeborn was so happy to see his daughter he whipped his eyes into meringue and they're taking him to the hospital. Kidding. They're going to go stuff their faces now. You wanna help?"
Brent was right. The horrid reunion was done and the platform was empty, as everyone was instantly transported to the feast in Ela's honour. The fellowship, as an afterthought, had been invited too. Amy shook her head. "I couldn't stomach anything."
Her partner studied her for a moment. "You know, you do look pale." He activated the portal again. "Stay here, okay?"
"Thanks for the advice," Amy said after he had disappeared. Even if she hadn't felt so nauseous, she wouldn't have attempted the stairs. They just seemed to go on and on... and on.
She found the most comfortable spot on the platform, which happened to be Galadriel's throne. She wondered what she must look like, an orc as an Elven-queen, but before she could laugh she was asleep.
Amy smelled the greasy aroma of fried flesh, and her first thought was that she had fallen asleep in the cafeteria again. When she opened her eyes, all she saw were trees, and a familiar ugly thing. There hadn't been any trees in the cafeteria last time she had been there, but that didn't mean much. Headquarters was constantly rearranging itself. She hadn't seen trees like these before. They were really very nice, although it looked like someone had gone to a lot of trouble to make them seem ordinary and dull. She liked their flowers, very lovely, those; however, she had a nagging suspicion she didn't really like flowers very much at all, actually, not that she could remember what they had done to her, exactly, at the moment....
Then the ugly thing spoke, "I brought breakfast," it said, and everything came crashing back into place.
"No," she said. "No!"
"Okay, fine," said Brent. "I didn't know you felt that strongly about hot-dogs. Whatever. I'll eat them. I brought other stuff."
Amy rolled her eyes downwards. Brent was surrounded by piles of cake and chocolate, and what she was sure were McDonald's hamburgers. "Where did you get all this?" she asked.
"It was a feast of every kind of food known to Elven kind, only with worse grammar. But the author didn't know of any Elven food, so the table was filled with miles of this junk. Kentucky Fried Chicken?"
Amy took a deep breath, and decided just to go with it. "Regular or Extra-Crispy?""Either. Both."
She pushed herself into a sitting position and took a wing. "Won't the Elves notice all the missing food?"
"You joking? I wasn't when I said miles. And they ate all night. Come today Fitness World for Elves is going to be filled."
The chicken was actually good. Better than cafeteria fare, anyway. She grabbed a bottle of Coke that was rolling around in front of her.
"You're lucky I let you sleep though it." He grabbed the Coke from her and drained it. "It was bad. Really bad. She finally got around to that revelation last night, what did I tell you?"
"And," Amy prompted, opening another bottle, 7-up this time, and spitting in it.
"And nothing. You know how it is, Daddy's little girl doesn't wanna marry mean old Haldir so she runs away, yadda, yadda, comes home, falls in love with prince in shining wig, yadda, blah, blah, Legolas and Boromir fight over shoes-"
"Not asking, don't want to know."
"Yeah, well, and apparently Legolas is the world's oldest virgin. You know, if all the girls he slept with knew just how many times he's lost his virginity.... It wouldn't be pretty, and that's all I'm saying."
Amy stole Brent's bag and started loading a pile of chocolate Easter eggs into it. "When do we kill her? I want to get out of here."
Brent shrugged. His eyes unfocused slightly as he looked at the words. "Well, Haldir is about to challenge Legolas to a game of cards. He's got an unfriendly ace, you know."
"Uh huh. Anything that might be helpful?"
Bent looked slightly sick for a moment, a strange expression for an orc, but it passed. "Not really. We've got enough for the charge list. We've got enough for twenty charge lists, if you're really that interested. Let's get her."
"Wait a minute." Amy added another egg to the pile, and tried to shut the bag. It was close, but a few eggs fell out. Pink ones, mostly. She replaced them with green ones and tried stomping on them. There was a crack from something inside the bag, but all the chocolate managed to fit.
"Um, you do realize that crack was the remote activator, right? So now we're stuck here?"
Amy glared up at him, absurdly happy he could see it. "I saw you put the portal thingy behind your back," she said.
He grinned. "Just messing with you." He pointed the device at Amy, and the portal appeared behind her. She followed Brent into it, scooping a couple hamburgers into her pockets before she left.
"I would hate to mess up that pretty boy face of yours," Haldir was saying.
"Can we go back to platform?" Amy asked.
When Legolas replied that the other Elf cowered like a rat in a maze, Brent seemed to seriously consider it.
"The bad similes wouldn't even be so bad, if they made any sense," Amy said.
"Sure they would. Anyway, we've got to get before Ela comes, running like a Banshee, to save Legolas."
Amy just moaned.
"Look at it this way: if we hide far enough away, we won't have to hear what they're saying."
Amy nodded, and followed him behind a couple conveniently placed trees. It was a forest, after all.
When Ela showed up, Amy started towards her, but Brent held her back. "What's the matter? She's here, isn't she?"
"Sure, but she's alone. We've got to rid ourselves of a legendary horse and two cute little puppy dogs too."
"Who are not here." Amy studied the sky for a few seconds. Why do you hate me? Why can't you just kill him with lightning, just once, for me, please? But whatever god she might have been talking to, Manwë, she supposed, in this world, wasn't listening. Possibly because the author didn't know who Manwë was.
"In a couple minutes, after she and Legolas get married, she's going to pull the three of them out of nothing as a good-bye present. Then we can get them."
"I'm not going to survive a couple minutes. Let's get her now."
"Do you not listen to anything I say? We've got-"
"I know. Believe me, I know. But she can't just pull them out of nothing. She needs a plot-hole, right?"
Brent began to smile.
"And we have machines that let us find plot-holes, right?" Amy continued.
The smile became a full grin that even touched his eyes. Even though Amy was also currently an orc, it was frightening to look at. "I think I like the way you think," he said, and jumped into the open.
Haldir had Legolas at swordpoint, but the Mirkwood Elf didn't seem to mind that much. Not enough to back away or fight or anything. Ela was screaming in gibberish again. The words might have been Elvish, but they kept getting tangled in the translation she was shouting in parentheses at the same time. Amy ducked out of the trees and stood beside her partner.
"You charge, I kill?" he asked.
At their voices, Ela spun around. Legolas and Haldir saw them for the first time, despite having been facing them for about a minute.
"Yrch!" Legolas shouted, in case the others hadn't noticed.
"Now, see, there's someone who knows his Elvish," Brent said.
"And notice how he didn't say, 'Orcs,' as well?" Amy added. "We all knew what he meant."
The three Elves glanced between one another, confused by the implausible event of two orcs showing up in the protected lands to give them language lessons. Haldir remembered he was supposed to be in the process of killing Legolas over his love for Ela, and turned his into a glare. Celeborn arrived, but just stared senselessly from one side of the clearing. Amy became aware that Brent was looking expectantly at her. "Oh, right. Okay, Ela... Um, Ela.... What was the last name again?"
She was asking Brent, but it was Ela who answered. "Gwairoch."
"Gwairoch," Amy repeated. "Did I pronounce that right?" Ela shrugged. "Okay then. Ela Gwairoch, it is my duty to inform you that you have been charged with, er." She glanced around the clearing. "Let me start over." Amy was aware of Brent slowly shaking his head. "Ela Gwairoch, it is my duty to charge you, in front of these witnesses, for disrupting the canon by interfering with the characters of, well, pretty much everyone you came in contact with, but most especially, um, Aragorn, Boromir, Galadriel, Celeborn, Legolas, not to mention Haldir, of being Celeborn's favourite child, of turning the Golden Woods dull, of really, really bad metaphors, of completely mangling the Elvish language, of altering the physical nature of air, of deleting excess geography, of having three cute animal friends...." She turned to Brent. "Am I forgetting anything?"
"What about blinding me?"
"That was your fault. You're supposed to be the experienced one here."
"Whatever. We're going to kill her anyway. Ela Gwairoch, I also charge you with giving her the chance to make my life miserable the entire way to Lórien, and with...." He hesitated a moment, gritted his teeth, and went on. "With screwing with Elrond's parentage..." Amy gasped in surprise. "...and making him your brother, and therefore the brother of Celebrían, his wife, and turning their kids into inbred little twits, just so you could get the privilege of calling Arwen your niece, which you could have done ANYWAY!"
Amy felt the chicken she had for breakfast move uncomfortably in her stomach. "And bad grammar," she finished weakly.
Ela looked to Legolas and Haldir, but as Legolas had no weapon and Haldir was already threatening Legolas with his, they weren't much help. The two men of the fellowship had shown up with Legolas's bow sometime during Brent's spiel, but Aragorn had turned around and stomped off, dragging Boromir with him. Which Amy could understand. He was engaged to Arwen.
Ela stared pointedly at Celeborn, who seemed to realize he had a line to deliver. "Er, don’t hurt my child," he said, but he sounded somewhat uncertain.
"Wasn't going to," Brent said. Then he pulled out his Orcish bow and shot a bolt through Ela's head.
Amy had had the foresight to close her eyes when Brent killed Ela. She was sure the chicken would have ended up in the bushes otherwise. The Elves paused for a couple minutes, uncertain, but eventually they decided they ought to avenge their collective love and went after the two agents. Luckily for said agents, they were moving in incredibly slow motion. Every so often they would stare at each other as if trying to remember why they were moving at all.
"Why didn't it work?" Amy demanded, her voice edging on panic. "What's wrong with them?"
"It's those, what'd you call them, little animal friends? We've got to find that plot-hole." He yanked at the knot that Amy had made in his bag until it opened, chocolate eggs flying everywhere. He dug through the remaining candy until he found what he was looking for. This device looked like a jury- rigged Gameboy. He waved it wildly around, running between trees and rocks, until it started to beep. Then he waved it a little less wildly, but Amy still thought he was acting like a kindergarten class imitating a seagull. All twenty-six of them, represented by one person, if such a thing were possible.
Eventually the thing stopped beeping. It was now a continuous wail. The Elves were getting closer. They had crossed maybe half of the clearing, and Amy was pretty sure they weren't going to be staring at the sparrow on a branch for very much longer. "Hurry!" she shouted at Brent, but just as she did he reached into the air and dragged out a horse, followed by two wolves. The horse was a beautiful creature. It was a bay, and it towered over even Brent. The soft sunlight that filtered through the trees danced along the steed's rippling muscles as it tossed its head, unhappy at being so close to Brent's current facade.
"Are you thinking that I'm thinking what you're thinking?" he shouted to her.
"If it involves the words 'horse steak,' then yes. Absolutely."
Brent grinned and shot the horse. He had to do it twice to kill the thing, even though Orcish bolts are stout pieces of metal. Amy glanced back at their possibly-soon-to-be attackers. They were discussing the merits of a tree they all liked, but the tree was closer than the bird, so she remained worried.
"Let's just go," she said.
"But the wolves-"
"I've got an idea about the wolves," she said, grinning over at him.
They dumped Ela's body into the chasm beneath Moria. She was already dead, so there didn't seem much point in wasting their creativity on a burial. They had to use most of it to find a way to get the dead horse back to HQ. Finally Brent opened a portal beneath it, and it fell into the room. Amy just hoped it hadn't landed on too many of her clothes. She didn't like the idea of blood stains.
The wolves jumped after the fresh kill, and Amy and Brent jumped after them, leaving Haldir and Legolas to duke it out over whether the tree had radial or bilateral symmetry. They landed on top of the carcass, which dominated most of the room. Two of Amy's duffel bags were underneath it, and she winced even though she didn't have anything breakable in them.
They managed to lock the wolves in the bathroom, through the virtues of cunning and speed. Actually, the wolves had gotten in a fight with their reflections, and Brent had slammed the door while they were at it. It left them temporarily without private toilet facilities, but they both agreed it was better than being eaten.
Which left them with the horse. The refrigerator Brent had was almost big enough to keep a carton of milk, if it was small. The only other appliance, a microwave, wasn't any bigger. He stared down at the dead beast, and then up at Amy.
"Jay and Acacia said something about a barbeque," he said.