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[BEEEEEEEEEP!]

Welcome to Response Center #2771a. As you come in through the doorway, you see a cheeseburger wrapper taped to the door with a Band-Aid. On the wrapper has been scrawled Suicide an Dio, psychos in training. The label is both apt and under-descriptive, but if you spend more than thirty seconds in this particular response center, you'll get to know that. More closely than you'd like.

"Some people just don't get it," Agent Diocletian muttered as she stared at the screen, idly tapping her fingers against the console. Next to her, Agent Suicide (a maniacal Spartan squire from the Gates of Fire continuum, who had eagerly accepted recruitment after his uncanonical resurrection) was sharpening the head of one of his so-called 'darning needles'—really short javelins. "Magic necklace? The hell?"

"All right," Suicide said idly, "You haven't broken anything or started cursing in the Black Speech yet. How bad is it?"

Diocletian twitched, snapped off the console with a grimace, and started gathering up her gear. "Cliché without being funny. Tenth walker, second daughter of Elrond, becoming a respected Ranger despite not being Numenorean, cliched romance and a definite case of Suemonella. It's your turn to choose the disguises, by the way."

Her partner had already gotten his things together; leaning over, he began typing on the keyboard. "Better make it something different this time. Rumors about the 'goblin-elves of Rivendell' are starting to get around." "Whatever." Diocletian grunted. Four bottles of Tyrannosaur stomach acid, a copy of The Necronomicon for Dummies, and a jumbo-sized pack of Bleeprin went into the rucksack.

"Hmmm . . . " Suicide studied the choices. "How about Mirkwood spiders?"

"What the—hell no!"

"You're still not over that incident with Shelob?"

"There's something about being poisoned, tied up, hung upside-down, and marinated in barbecue sauce that tends to stick in your mind, you know."

"Come on, be fair—if the 'Sue hadn't brought BBQ to Middle-earth, you would've been eaten in ten seconds flat. Rangers?"

"Meh."

"Balrogs?"

"If you want to be shot on sight, go ahead . . . "

"No, then. Dwarves?"

"Dwarves are all right, but it's hard to be intimidating when everyone's two feet taller than you."

"Rohirrim?"

"Our starting scene is at the Council of Elrond, Suicide. No Rohirrim attended the CoE, no matter how many writers insist that Eowyn's fabulous and heretofore-unknown twin was there."

"Well, the rest of the good ones are variations on Men and Elves, and unless you want to be a Black Numenorean, I think those are out. Orcs or Uruk-hai are fun . . . "

"Nah." Diocletian was now rummaging through the glass-fronted cabinets for her weapons. "Rangers, I guess. She's one. Gotta give the little bint some credit—I've never seen a Ranger 'Sue before."

Suicide finished programming their guises and gathered up his own gear. "I have. Takes all kinds to make a world."

"Ah, but WHAT kinds is the question," Dio said faux-philosophically. "The good kind? The bad kind?"

"The kind that's going to make you scream and throw things within ten minutes."

"You read ahead, didn't you."

Suicide nodded. "Yep."

"Then you know that I'm not going to be responsible for any damages incurred to you or to the canonicals."

Her partner shrugged and began to tap at the console. A shimmering portal opened in the air. "Dio, if you ever manage to get through a mission without trying to kill somebody you shouldn't, I'll eat the inedible."

"Bah! Stolen line!"

"Yes, but until you know from where, you can't do anything to me. Go."

***

"Well, this is new," Diocletian observed, setting down her pack and producing an almost-canonical Elvish telescope. "Suicide, you have to check this out. It's weird."

The two were crouched in a small copse of trees, about fifty yards away and slightly downhill from the outdoor dais where the council was taking place. Suicide was sitting on his pack, polishing his weapons—a massive sheath full of a dozen of his so-called darning needles.

"No, thanks," he said, never looking up from his work. "I read the words, and I'm rather wishing I hadn't. It's enough to make anybody sick. She saw and understood the movie, right?"

"Not to mention that she's also seen the extended version, and read the books to boot." The eye of the telescope scanned back and forth, watching the council—and the lovely Elvish maiden who was standing near Elrond and currently having her clothing described in minute detail.

"Swell. A warrior-Sue." Diocletian drooped for a moment, then glanced up at the words. "Says up there that she—'Ranariel'—had seen people looking at her all last night . . . including a certain Elf who will, of course, go unnamed." Producing her Canon Analysis Device, she pointed it at Legolas and read the results with a halfhearted look.

[Legolas. Elf Male. Canon. Out of character 37.6%]

"What do you know, this one can actually write." Suicide finished his polishing and stowed the weapons away again; as he slung the huge quiver onto his back, it practically covered the rough-woven gray cloak that had come with the Ranger disguises. "It'd be a lot nicer if . . . 'Ranariel' . . . hadn't screwed the little things over so badly. Like say—" he glanced at the words, and paled visibly. "Oh no. Oh, hell no."

"Like . . . ?"

"Having a magical necklace made of ithildin, which is now a kind of gem? Being the second daughter of Elrond and known as, surprise surprise, 'Tindomiel the Morningstar'?"

"Tindomiel. The. Morningstar."

Diocletian's voice remained perfectly level, but her fingers were beginning to sink into the brass casing of the telescope. Reaching over, Suicide gently pried the hapless instrument out of his partner's grip and patted her on the back sympathetically.

"I know, I know. We can tear her apart slowly, alright?"

"She's. Been. Mucking. With. Arwen. GALADRIEL."

Unlike many PPC agents, Diocletian no longer had a registered Lust Object in the continua where she worked; she had begun life as a Legolas Sue, and her eyes continued to glaze whenever she was in the presence of Lurtz, but nowadays she turned all of the energy unspent in lusting into a quasi-maniacal devotion to the families of the canonicals.

"NOBODY messes with Galadriel and gets away with it!" Suddenly coming to life again, she sprang up and began rummaging through her pack. "Where is it . . . where is it . . . I KNOW I had it somewhere . . . ah!"

Seeing the glittering object she was holding up, Suicide raised one eyebrow. "Likin' the way you think. But we can't get her . . . she hasn't sufficiently shredded canon yet."

The other agent faltered, but only for a moment. "Then we'll get her later," she replied calmly, stowing the object away again—but not before giving it a loving cuddle. "Mummy's going to give you some fun later, pumpkin."

"Honestly . . . "

***

The day after the council scouts were sent out from Rivendell to get in touch with the Rangers and Thranduil in Mirkwood. They were going to search the areas where Frodo and his companions would go through in order to get to Mordor. Ranariel set out with Aragorn to search the lands beyond Rivendell. Things remained peaceful in the Elven city, though, as the hobbits relaxed after their long journey. It was nearing two months since the council when the scouts began to return. Ranariel, Aragorn, and the Rangers had searched the lands far down the Greyflood River, southwest of Rivendell. None of the scouts had reported any signs of servants of the Enemy.

Although, if they'd been looking carefully, they would have detected two semi-visible extra Rangers, tagging along behind the group and whispering various unflattering Greek epithets when the Suethor filled out her thin prose by paraphrasing Tolkien's text.

But even in the world of a Sue, time passes, and there are tasks that must be seen to. First order of business: follow the bitch.

Elrond began thinking about who would accompany Frodo and Sam on their journey. He had almost completed his list when Ranariel came to visit him. "Father?" she asked sticking her head into his study. "May I come in?"

"Insert your filthy pun here," Suicide whispered. He and Diocletian were hiding under the windows of Elrond's study, listening to the dialogue and occasionally watching bits of mangled character flying out of the vicinity at speeds approaching Mach 2.

Diocletian smacked him one. "Mind out of the gutter! Honestly, you should've been working in Bad Slash . . . " Suicide looked slightly chagrined. "I was. Until my first solo assignment, that is."

"What happened?"

"I asked Headquarters why everyone was objecting to the seed of the superior warrior Sephiroth being passed to the inferior Cloud, and someone finally did a thorough background check on Scythia. After that, I was sent straight to you."

"Wonderful."

"And then there was the roofing-nail incident—"

"Too much information, Su. WAY too much."

"Oh, sorry."

"I know you can defend yourself, and can protect Frodo. I do not doubt that. But, I cannot allow my daughter, of whom I see so little, to go on this dangerous quest when it is possible she may never return," Elrond was saying. Diocletian hissed between her teeth, and wondered whether Celebrian would terribly mind having her uncanonical daughter strung by her spine from a lamppost. Elrond wasn't very far out of character, but something about the soppy tone in which the words were uttered set her abnormally pointy teeth on edge.

Ranariel was about to protest when the four Hobbits entered the room, asking about their apparent appointment with Elrond. The abrupt lack of paragraph differentiation wasn't too horrible—decent spelling and sentence structure almost compensated—but it made Suicide cringe nonetheless. And after all the trouble he had gone to in order to perfect his English, everyone else seemed to be screwing with it for fun.

"I still don't understand," Diocletian muttered as Merry and Pippin, quite canonically, began to protest about being left behind. "She's read the books, for Chrissakes. She knows about Elladan, Elrohir, Thranduil, Gandalf's Elvish name, the fact that they spent months in Rivendell. Then she turns around and writes . . . writes . . . this!" The agent gestured to Elrond, who was currently proclaiming that they "not be fooled by her appearance, for she is skilled with both bow and blade." "Personally, I think that if Elrond was gonna let ANY daughter go—let alone the bloody little bugger down there—he'd send Arwen. He knows what it's like to be separated from a loved one; he'd let her tag along with Aragorn, if sending a kid of his was ever an issue. Now HER, on the other hand—"

"Stop it!" Suicide hissed. "Your tangents are very nice, but ranting less than twenty feet away from the only person who can hear us is not a good idea!"

"Whoopsie."

Ranariel had glanced curiously at the window, which appeared to be conversing with itself in hushed whispers, but the power of the Author took over and she herded the Hobbits out into the corridor. Suicide and Diocletian glanced at each other, then nodded in unison and began to creep through the bushes, trying to make as little sound as possible. Ranariel would soon be going on a walk through the gardens, to play with her ithildin necklace and do mystical-type stuff; they had plenty of time to make their move, if Diocletian could stomach a little more sap.

Even considering its rather open and airy architecture, sneaking into Elrond's house proper proved more difficult than it looked; Random Elves were everywhere, mostly bustling about and preparing supplies and whatnot for the Fellowship's departure. Finally, the pair managed to scale a rather spiderwebby bit of stone and clamber through a second-floor window into somebody's unoccupied bedroom. And from the urplish silk gown hanging in the open wardrobe, it was evident whose.

Diocletian glanced around as she gingerly climbed off the windowsill and helped Suicide through. "We're in the hag's bedroom," she whispered. "Do you have anything we could use for a veiled threat? I'm clean out of capsaicin powder."

"Hmmm . . . not really. I'm not Acacia, you know." Suicide was rummaging through his pack, but all he could come up with was one of his 'darning needles,' though this one was rather notched and twisted, with a sinister look to its scarred blade. "I should've gotten rid of this," he muttered. "Although maybe... "

Tiptoeing over to Ranariel's bed, he drew back the covers and laid the menacing spear on the linen sheets, warped head lying edge up on the feather pillow. Diocletian grinned, and neatly rearranged the blankets again, leaving the bed looking perfectly natural. "That oughtta do it. Somebody threatens Peaches' life, and she'll want extra protection so she can proclaim she doesn't need it."

Suicide stepped back, looking at the needle thoughtfully. "Maybe a bit of recluse venom—"

"Oh, noyadont!" Dio interjected, grabbing his arm. "Bint like this deserves a proper execution, so don't you go poisoning her before we've had our fun." Grinning, she stepped back. "Come now, time's a'wasting. We have an appointment with Lord Halfelven . . . "

***

"Milord?" An Elf poked its head around the door. "A pair of your daughters' fellows are here to speak with you . . . "

Elrond sighed and looked down at his oaken desk, on which a mound of bureaucratic paperwork sat. Something about this situation didn't feel quite right. He shouldn't have had half as much work to do, and most of it answering letters from brutish Men about the disobedient and unwomanly conduct of his gallant second daughter. Then again, maybe he was just tired. "Very well . . . send them in. I cannot seem to concentrate tonight; a little company may prove welcome."

The Elf disappeared, and a moment later, two Rangers entered the airy chamber. One was a tall and lean man with a sharp face and long gray hair; his companion was a shorter woman, only noticeable for the loose and messy brown tresses that were jammed into a skewed knot atop her head. Not at all like my daughter's, Elrond found himself thinking. The visitors were dressed identically, in worn and much-repaired earth-colored tunics and pants, with grey woollen cloaks draped over their shoulders. The man carried on his back a massive sheath filled with what were either giant arrows or very short spears, and from the woman's belt hung the connecting chain of a dangerous-looking flail. They stopped before Elrond's desk and bowed, but kept hands on their weapons at all times.

Elrond frowned suddenly, as a half-gone memory surfaced in his mind. I thought I had forbidden weapons in this quarter of the house . . . then he shook it off, and the thoughts vanished again.

"My Lord Peredhil," the man said respectfully, straightening up but keeping his eyes to the floor. "Greetings. I am Liekos of Gondor, and my companion is Dionekos of . . . ah . . . Laketown. We are comrades-in-arms of your valiant daughter, Ranariel Tindomiel, and we come to beg a favor of her honored father."

"You are welcomed," Elrond said regally, rising from his seat. "Any friend to my beloved daughter, may the Fates smile upon her, is a friend of me and mine. Please—be seated. Tell me your wish, and I will do my best to grant it."

The woman spoke up now, also keeping her eyes to the floor. "My lord, we have . . . never had the courage to meet with your daughter before, but we have always heard news of her and praised her glorious deeds against the forces of the Witch-King. We have heard now that you have sent her into Mordor, to lead a fellowship of nine . . . "

Elrond straightened up. "How came ye to know this, Lady Dionekos? This knowledge has been guarded with the lives of many Elves!"

"Forgive us, lord," Liekos cut in. "We have only heard rumor in the corridors, but we know enough from the example of Lady Ranariel to distinguish fact from fiction. But now that we have learned this, we fear in our deepest hearts for the jewel of the Rangers, your beautiful Morningstar. Our lives are of no consequence against her safety. We would offer ourselves to follow your daughter, Lord Peredhil, to see that she is safe and well-kept." Both bowed once more, and laid their weapons before Elrond. The Elf-lord did not see, or chose to ignore, "Dionekos"'s faint retching sounds.

"We will gladly give our very lives to see Ranariel Tindomiel through any trouble she may meet," the woman added. "Though we do not doubt her great skills, the Enemy has many trickeries, and such a pure-hearted maiden must not sink to their level in order to learn of them."

Elrond considered the two. His heart was shouting no, send the Humans away, my beloved daughter is stronger than these two must ever be! But something else . . . his brain perhaps, and the gleaming stone on his finger . . . whispered that he should let them go. Maybe Liekos and Dionekos (what sort of names were those, he was wondering. Never the names of two who claim kin in Gondor) could sort out this strange dilemma that seemed to be plaguing him. This blasted feeling, that nagging whisper of uncertainty, the thought that all was not right— "Very well," he said finally, forcing the words out through unwilling lips. "You shall accompany her, as Ranariel's guard of honor. No harm shall befall her, at your peril."

Sweeping majestically forward, Elrond motioned them to rise and retrieve their weapons. "I do not know how," he muttered to them, so that the Elves in the corridor could not hear, "But I feel that you may have the solution to a difficulty that hounds me. See to Ranariel, Liekos of Gondor and Dionekos of Laketown. I hold you to it."

***

"See to Ranariel!" Suicide cackled, rattling the needles in his quiver and chortling with mirth. "Oh, the irony, the irony! That fellow's no fool—he's got an inkling of what's going on, and perhaps more. Did you see his look when we came in? That's the same look the Persian troops always got—a classic 'what the hell is going on here?'"

"But even so, he's not totally impervious to the bad characterization," Diocletian interjected. "He was talking about the Fates smiling on Ranariel. And . . . what Fates would those be? The Maiar and Valar sure as hell don't count . . . Mandos, MAYBE, but I doubt it."

"And the best part is," Suicide continued, oblivious to anything his partner was saying, "We've practically got the paterfamilias' approval to do our job. We follow the bitch, record her canon violations, then—at the proper time—move in for the kill. Ah . . . " he stretched luxuriously. "Just like Thermopylae, only in reverse."

Diocletian rolled her eyes. "What's next on the Agenda?"

"Girltalk with Arwen, a few days hence. We can portal to it; I'm not hanging around here for days. We can barge in, announce that we've been appointed by Elrond to protect her, and maybe—just maybe—catch a glimpse of the Evenstar in a state of undress." Suicide smirked at the thought. He, as a PPC agent, had to leave the canonical characters strictly alone unless absolutely necessary, but that didn't stop him from admiring a body that clearly had a lot going for it. Diocletian groaned—yet again—and stared at the ceiling, wondering whether she should kick her overzealous partner in the shins or just settle for shoving him into the next Random J. Elf that happened along.

One scuffle in the corridor later, a confused Elf was sent on his way with some mysteriously-appearing bruises, and two invisible Rangers meandered off towards Arwen's quarters.

***

Ranariel looked out at the hidden valley city of Rivendell from her balcony. There were golden autumn leaves as far as the eye could see. Waterfalls, too numerous to count, fell from the mountains above. Their continuous crashing sound in the distance had always put her to sleep. When she stayed in Lothlorien, or was out in the wild with the Rangers, she always tried to remember the peaceful, distant sound of those waterfalls. They were a reminder of home. A home that she would come back to for awhile, a year or two, only to leave again. But she always knew in the back of her mind that Rivendell would still be there waiting for her whenever she returned. Except this time she wasn't sure she was going to return.

A soft knock at her bedroom door interrupted her thoughts and turning away from the balcony, she looked into her room. "Who is it?" she called out, wondering who it could be at so late an hour. She was already in her long white nightgown, and was about to go to bed.

"It's Arwen," came a soft reply. "May I come in?"

"What's the secret password?" Ranariel said with a smirk, remembering their younger days when they made up games and passwords.

"Well, at least this one is halfway decent to her siblings," Diocletian muttered from the partners' hiding place behind a large marble statue. "I've seen enough of Bitch!Arwen, Slut!Arwen and Wah-Wah-Victim-Arwen to last me a lifetime. Hell, to last me HER lifetime."

"What is the password, anyway?" Suicide queried. "Or don't I want to know? Dunno which way this one swings . . . she's so innocuous, I wouldn't put a little yuri past her—"

"Oh, she's straight, all right—we missed her charming Legolas with her ithildin-gem—" Diocletian snorted audibly "—necklace while we were chatting with Lord Elrond a few nights ago." As the nightgown-garbed Arwen disappeared into her uncanonical sister's room, the two stepped out from behind the statue and walked up to her door. Diocletian gestured to the beautifully filigreed wood, as if presenting the door to her partner. "Your move, Suicide."

The Spartan squire flashed her an answering grin and rapped sharply on the door. "Milady Ranariel?" he called in a businesslike tone. "We bear a message from your father."

There were twin gasps behind the door, and the sound of someone scrabbling to cover themselves in bedclothes. A moment later, a very dignified Ranariel appeared in the doorway, wearing what appeared to be a silk dressing-gown and an expression of vengeful obedience and innocent power. Whatever the hell that meant.

"Do I know you, sir?" she asked, squinting at the PPC agent.

"No, milady, I have not had the pleasure of your acquaintance," Suicide said smoothly, bending down to kiss her hand. "I am Liekos of Gondor, and my companion is Dionekos of Laketown. We are Rangers from lands far to the west. Your father has given us the distinguished task of being your guard of honor on the dark journey into Mordor."

Ranariel, slightly confused, began to say something—no doubt that she, though beautiful, should not be underestimated by idiotic, sexist men—when Diocletian spoke up.

"My lady," she said, sweeping into a deep curtsy. "We do not presume to question your own most noble skills. We will remain in the shadows, unknown to all save yourself, smoothing your path where we may, so that the Morningstar, the shining beacon of the unworthy Ranger-folk, may soothe the hurts and fight off the beasts which may plague your worthy companions."

There's no real way to object when somebody is being that flattering; murmuring thanks, Ranariel went back into the bedroom, and soon the scheduled girltalk was in full swing. Diocletian and Suicide, however, congratulated themselves on a job well begun and went off to find the quarters of the dwarf delegation, where the mead and ale were flowing quite freely.

***

The next morning found a fellowship of ten assembled in the courtyard. Aragorn, the four hobbits, Gandalf, a painfully doe-eyed Legolas, SexistBastard!Boromir, Gimli (who, as usual, was being distastefully tolerated by the Sue. It should be noted that he didn't seem to care) and Ranariel, plus Bill the Pony. There were also, unseen by all but a few, two nastily hungover PPC agents in the garb of Rangers, each clutching a thermos of black coffee and wishing that aspirin was canonical.

The sending-off was strictly Movieverse, with the addition of a desperate-looking Arwen glancing back and forth between Ranariel and Aragorn, and seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Suicide, even through his pounding headache, couldn't help but note that she had been far more dignified in canon; another violation for the charge list.

An unspecified length of time passed, and there was short exchange between Merry and Pippin on the subject of (what a shock!) food. A few moments later, Gimli had fallen back to walk beside Ranariel, announcing that he had misjudged her, and that she must be a great fighter to come along on such a dangerous quest.

"Errrrrnh!" Diocletian muttered, attempting the sound of a game-show buzzer. "Ten points from Team Author. Gimli doesn't like Elves, he NEVER liked Elves, at least not until Lothlorien. And he's not liable to call one 'miss,' who gives a damn who her father is!"

"Don't talk so loud," Suicide whimpered, massaging his forehead. "Ow! Meeeeeeeteerrrrrrrr . . . "

The next few hours passed in a daze of pain, bad characterization, and general misery for the two agents; the brilliant sunlight was only making their headaches worse. Several times, they were called on by Ranariel to assist her in something—usually lifting the Hobbits onto, over, or off of something—and were forced to fall back on the old trick of "oops-there-was-an-Orc-in-the-bushes" to explain their constant cursing and tendency to disappear for long periods.

After a while, Diocletian had pretty much given up and was beginning to resemble the Walking Dead. Suicide, a seasoned campaigner, was well-acquainted with long marches and the effects of hangovers thereon; nevertheless, he breathed a sigh of relief when the steep hill they had been climbing leveled out under their feet, and he could dump the exhausted Diocletian—who had latched onto his cloak around the same time she stopped being coherent—into the safety of a small cluster of moss-grown rocks.

Wait a minute. Those rocks—

"Lokos—!" he snarled, reverting to his native Greek. "Great Athene—Dio! Wake up! She's taken us from Rivendell to the Redhorn Gate in six hours!"

"So that's it," Diocletian moaned, one hand covering her eyes. She was too tired to be angry. "Even mead hangovers don't last this long. Temporal/Spatial distortion . . . god, I hate those."

"Crebain from Dunland!"

"Hide!"

"Shit, already?" Diving into the cluster of rocks next to Diocletian, Suicide hurriedly spread their gray cloaks over the two of them, hoping that the rough fabric would conceal them from the eyes of Saruman's crebain. Apparently, the luck of the Mary Sue was now on their side; the birds passed over without incident, unless you counted Ranariel's emerging from her hurried scramble with not a hair out of place.

The two peeked out from under the cloaks, and Diocletian immediately recoiled from the bright light. "God, just leave me to die," she groaned, burrowing her head back under the coarse wool. "I am never ever ever EVER drinking again, not even if Otto Chriek in his skivvies offered me a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. That's it! I quit! Talk about dangerous habits! Gah . . . shouldn't have yelled . . . owwwwwwww . . . " Her litany degenerated into incoherent muttering.

Although he was normally an unrepentant psychopath, Suicide couldn't help but feel a little sympathy for his complaining partner. "The hair of the dog that bit you is the only cure," he said philosophically, handing her a flask of strong wine. "Here. That should last until we can get you some Ent-draught or something."

After a few swigs, Diocletian was back to her old—though somewhat more rumpled than usual—self.

"Arright," she said, swinging her pack onto her shoulder. "Up Caradhras, then?"

"Uh . . . actually, they climbed it while you were under that cloak. We'd better portal straight to the Doors of Durin, or else we won't make it in time. I don't want to have to deal with the Watcher in the Water again."

Diocletian checked her watch. "But I was only down for about three . . . minutes . . . oh. Bloody Sues." Grumbling, she fished the remote activator out of her pack and opened a portal in the air.

***

"What do you know," Suicide announced brightly as he hopped out on the other side of the portal, "the Sue shows her hand at last." Indeed, they were just in time to see Ranariel usurp one of Aragorn's lines—although, to her credit, it was the first one she'd stolen.

The opening of the doors was also pretty close to the Movieverse, although Diocletian received a severe shock when Aragorn, Gandalf—whom she was standing next to, always having thought Ian McKellen was neat—Legolas, and Ranariel all yelled "Mellon!" at once.

"Okay," she said, probing one ringing ear for damage, "I'm SURE that wasn't canon."

Suicide, who was carefully checking a list of the Sue's faults against the Words, tossed her an icepack. "Oh, it gets better," he said. "Let's see what happens to the Watcher, shall we? Ten bucks says she mucks it up."

"Yer on." Smirking, Diocletian crossed her arms and leaned against one of the Doors of Durin. "You know, I always kinda liked this place . . . nice, scenic location . . . low rent . . ." A tentacle went shooting past her head, and a screaming Frodo was now being dragged into the water. "Friendly neighbors . . . "

Aragorn came charging out of the cave, followed closely by Ranariel and Legolas, who were slinging arrows for all they were worth. Boromir, as usual, was hacking at the tentacles. Meanwhile the three Hobbits, as well as Gandalf and Gimli, were apparently "watching with horror."

"More charges," Diocletian announced to nobody. "Taking Sam out of action against the monster. Coveting Legolas's part. Taking Movie over Book for facts of the canon."

"We've got that last one already," Suicide interjected. "Twelve times."

Then the monster's arms lashed out again—straight towards the Doors. Suicide and Diocletian screamed and ran for all they were worth, pelting into the shadowy cave just a few feet ahead of the aqueous beast. The Doors slammed shut behind them, and a rockfall thundered down, nearly catching Suicide with a cantaloupe-sized chunk of granite. The two PPC agents halted, gasping for breath, and wondering just how in hell Jay could be nurturing and motherly toward a giant carnivorous octopus.

The Fellowship moved on, deeper into the Mines, and Ranariel fell back to angst a little to Aragorn. "Oh, lookie, she's been Sensing Great Evils again," Diocletian whispered. "Do we have that on the list?"

Suicide glanced at it. "Not yet." Seizing his ballpoint pen, he scribbled another charge on the already-crowded page.

A few minutes passed, and Gandalf brought them to the crossroads. "What part of 'it's a four-day journey to the other side' did the author not get?" Suicide wondered, compounding the seriousness of the Temporal/Spatial error already on the list. "You know, this is turning out to be one of the strangest missions ever. On the surface, she's not too bad . . . but then there's the little details that really screw it over."

"I know what you mean." Diocletian nodded.

"Oh, and you owe me ten bucks."

"Damn, I was hoping you'd forgotten about that."

"I'm a Scythian, Dio. I NEVER forget a bet."

Muttering something exceedingly un-PC and forking over the cash, Diocletian put her feet up on SexistBastard!Boromir's shoulders and began humming to herself. Suicide followed suit, lighting a Sobranie (he'd quite taken to modern cigarettes, once he'd found out what tobacco was) from the cooking fire and settling his lean frame on one of the less uncomfortable rocks. No sooner had they gotten cozy—sixty seconds all told—then Gandalf announced that he'd found the proper passage.

"She cut Gollum's part!" Diocletian complained in an undertone as the agents (yet again) gathered up their gear. "No Bookverse following feet, no Movieverse shadowy figure climbin' stairs, nothing! If she gets rid of Wormtongue when we get to Rohan, I'm gonna be REALLY upset . . . "

"She's not going to get rid of Wormtongue," Suicide returned, "Because we're going to get rid of her first. Have you got it ready?"

"You bet I have. Would I miss out on a chance for some incidental irony?"

"I don't know, would you?"

"Muaha."

"No, then."

Once they reached Balin's tomb, things were (yet again) going according to the Movieverse, although the Author—much to the mutual annoyance of the PPC agents—had decided to skim over the Book of Mazarbul in favor of a little more Ranariel angst. Diocletian and Suicide simultaneously rolled their eyes and readied their various weapons. To the female agent's disgust, she had noted that the author scrupulously duplicated every detail of the film, including Pippin's accident with the dwarf-skeleton. "No, Mr. Jackson, I want you to DIE!" she hissed under her breath, as Gandalf's "Fool of a Took!" echoed around the chamber. "The Book of Mazarbul. Of all the cool shit in this universe, she had to gloss over the Book of Mazarbul. Her ass is MINE."

"Orcs." Legolas and Ranariel whispered at the same time. This was answered with yet another coordinated eye-roll from the agents. There was the brief lurching sensation that signaled the end of a chapter, and an Author's Note boomed down on the now-frozen scene:

A/N: Don't let Legolas starve! Review and I'll feed him!!!

"It's much worse when they love the characters they mutilate," Suicide whispered. The vague descriptions were beginning to get to him, as were the remains of his hangover; his left eye was starting to twitch, and a maniac grin had locked itself onto his features. Diocletian, recognizing the symptoms, began to slowly back away from her partner. It was time to end this.

"Stay back! Stay close to Gandalf!" Aragorn yelled as he, Boromir, and Legolas barred the doors on one end. "Why don't we just go out the other way?" Merry said. "Because if they caught up to us we'd be at a disadvantage, having to turn around and fight. It's better to make a stand here." Ranariel explained. The orcs banged on the door. Their screeching was unbearable and Ranariel saw the fear plainly on the hobbits faces. "Do not fear." Ranariel said soothingly. "We will protect you."

"THE HELL YOU WILL!" Diocletian and Suicide shouted at the same instant. Jumping, the beautiful Elven Ranger turned around, focusing on her loyal bodyguards.

"Why are you loitering there?" she yelled angrily, even as an Orc-axe began to break through the rotted wooden door. "Can you not see we are in grave danger?!"

"YOU'RE in grave danger, chicky," Diocletian said brusquely, elbowing her way between Aragorn and Legolas, who were both stretched too far out of character to immediately go for their knives. Instead, they stared in dumb shock at the suddenly-appearing Ranger. "Suicide, hun," she continued, flexing the tiniest bit of Sue-muscle by seizing Ranariel's head and bashing it against the stone walls a couple of times, "Would you please tell the Orcs we're busy now?"

Suicide didn't reply. Instead, he swiftly pulled three needles out of his quiver and fell into a guarded stance, eyeing the door with something approaching glee. In his home universe, he had been one of the most renowned and fearless warriors of the age; his reckless courage and utter disregard for life or limb had been two of the many reasons for his nickname.

But, with the removal of Ranariel's immediate influence, the canonicals' skills returned in force. In a heartbeat, Legolas nocked and fired an arrow. It was aimed at Suicide's neck, but never made its mark; the squire of Dionekes had been warned of the canon-shift by the abrupt beeping of his Canon Analysis Device, and the arrow instead sank into one of the many Orcs which had just broken through the door.

The furor of battle broke over the Fellowship; thoughts of Ranariel were swept away by the desperate fight for their lives. Suicide, not being one to disturb busy men, quietly dispatched a handful of Orcs, retrieved his distinctive weapons, and vanished through the other door after his partner.

***

"Wakey wakey," Diocletian sang. Ranariel's eyelids fluttered, then snapped open fully as the incensed Elven-Sue made a dive for her captor's throat. Suicide, however, caught her arms as she brought them up, and casually pulled her into a full nelson. Ranariel thrashed and screamed, lashing out with both feet, but Diocletian slammed something into one of her shinbones, and the Ranger stopped fighting. In fact, she stopped doing everything except emitting an incoherent whimper.

Though Diocletian usually carried a sawed-off shotgun, it was not her weapon of choice. THAT weapon was now in her hand: a three-foot bar of solid oak, laced with a steel core, to which were attached two heavy metal chains with spiked balls at the ends. A nice, improved version of your basic flail, or—

"A morning star," Diocletian said triumphantly, twirling the hilt of the weapon around and letting the two spiked spheres swing within an inch or two of Ranariel's face. "This, Ranariel Tindomiel Halfelven Whatever the Hell You Wanna Call Yourself, is a little concept we at the PPC call poetic justice. A morning star for the Morningstar. Suicide—the charges?"

Suicide calmly wrapped his right arm around Ranariel's wrists (this may sound difficult, but it is possible), securing the nelson, and fished a heavily smudged piece of paper out of his tunic.

"Thanks. *Ahem* Ranariel Tindomiel: the Protectors of the Plot Continuum charge you with character mangling, being the second daughter of Elrond, joining the Fellowship of the Ring even though evidence shows that you KNEW it only had nine members, mental torture by cliched romance [gasp] robbing Arwen Undomiel of her dignity, robbing Legolas son of Thranduil of his dignity, robbing Merry and Pippin of their dignity, robbing BOROMIR of his dignity, gratuitous angst, stealing the parts of Legolas and Aragorn [gasp] trivializing the Hobbits, trivializing Gimli, trivializing Luthien Tinuviel by comparison, trivializing Galadriel by stealing her title, trivializing the importance of major plot points, to whit, the Book of Mazarbul [gasp] making Boromir a sexist bastard, making characters unreservedly love and worship you, making Gimli call you "miss" and act like you were a friggin' SAINT, referencing non-existent Elvish customs, to whit, slumber parties [gasp] stealing a beloved Elven ability—that of sensing the presence of evil—and blowing it WAY out of proportion, mixing 'n' matching canon, giving Elrond a headache, lack of paragraph differentiation, making us both get drunk and by extension hung-over as a result of being in this goddamn story [gasp] being a Mary Sue, and creation of the worst Temporal/Spatial Distortion that the PPC has EVER recorded. Do you want last words, or shall we just bludgeon you into oblivion now?"

Ranariel opened her mouth to say something noble and brave, but Suicide stuffed a leather glove into it. The Elf mmmmppphhed angrily and began thrashing again, but a few good whacks with the hilt of the morning star shut her up. Suicide hefted the unconscious Mary Sue and retrieved his glove, while Diocletian opened a new portal; as the glittering blue doorway appeared in the air, the young woman leaned on its edges, looked through, and sighed wistfully. Clouds of smoke began drifting through the portal, as well as yells and curses in the Black Speech, flickering firelight, and a hellacious stench.

"Drooling over Lurtz again?" Suicide asked idly as he began frisking the Mary Sue for valuables. "I will never understand women of this era."

"So I like guys with muscles on 'em! Sue me!"

"You ARE a Sue, Dio."

"You know what I mean."

Suicide shook his head. "Actually, no."

His partner opened her mouth to explain the concept of a lawsuit to her ancient partner . . . and then shut it again. He was still looking unusually psychotic, even for a PPC agent; the combination of the hangover and the jarring time-shift had left him not quite all there, so to speak.

"Anyway, it's a couple months until Saruman's forces are sent out. We've got time." She and Suicide each picked up one end of the Sue, and slung her through the portal. There was a wet *splurp*, a loud roar of surprise-quickly-turning-delight from several of the Uruk-hai, and—a few seconds later—Ranariel's dying shrieks. Suicide joined his partner by the portal, the two contentedly leaning against each other as they watched the wretched avatar's dying moments, basking the glow of the firelight.

Eventually, though, the fun bits were over. And once they had closed the portal into Saruman's breeding caverns, a sudden thunder of pounding feet reminded them that they were still technically in the Mines of Moria, and the very spot where they stood would be Ground Zero for a Balrog in less than a minute.

"Portal!" Suicide yelled, over the shrieking chatter of the gathering goblins. "PortalportalportalPORTALDAMMIT!"

"Hold onto your tunic!" Diocletian yelled, jabbing frantically at the remote. The portal shimmered into being, and the pair hurled themselves through just in time.

Half an hour later, Gandalf would fall to his death from the Bridge of Khazad-dum. There would be no beautiful Elf-maiden there to dramatically cry for him, to comfort the Hobbits while blaming herself, to fall into a soppy romance with a hapless canon character. Middle-earth was healed of the disease—for a time. Back in the response center, Diocletian unslung her pack wearily and put her hand over her face. "That was close," she moaned. "Too close."

"I suppose," Suicide said mildly, watching his partner retrieve a large, rectangular object from her pack. "It wouldn't have been if you hadn't stopped to nick the Book of Mazarbul. How do you suppose Upstairs is going to react to that?"

"I have a loophole," his partner retorted, flopping down on the cheap tan carpeting and stretching out on her stomach with the dusty, sword-slashed book. "We were going by the Movieverse, which pretty much skims over the Book anyway. And Ranariel barely even mentioned it—she just says that Gandalf 'picked up a book and began to read the entries from it.' That's a pretty damn vague Book." For clarification, she brandished the stolen volume at Suicide, who couldn't help noticing that it did look rather shadowy even in the bright lights of the response center. "Therefore, by failing to mention this book as THE Book, she effectively deleted it. Which means that when Canon snapped back into place, it automatically restored the proper Book to its proper place—and I get to keep this one." Obviously satisfied with this line of reasoning, she opened the book and began to page through it. "Messing with Moria. Of all the scenes in the goddamn story, they had to mess with Moria . . . "

Suicide, somewhat satisfied that he was not going to get roasted because of missing Canonical objects, returned to evaluating the one treasure he had managed to retrieve before throwing the Sue to the ravening Uruks. Hmmm. Nice—but not really his style, and with a deus ex machina touch he wasn't sure he liked. Still, it would be a shame to waste it.

"Hey, Dio!"

The weary agent looked up. "Yeah?"

Something fluid and silvery flew through the air; Diocletian only managed to catch it about an inch before it hit her face. "What the hell? Suicide, what are you up to?"

Her partner shrugged. "I got it off Ranariel before we pitched her into the Uruk pit. It's some kind of gemstone version of ithildin, but I can't use it. Thought you might find it something to do."

Diocletian turned the object over in her hands. It was a finely-wrought silver chain, obviously of the best craftsmanship; hanging from it was single, glittering gem. It seemed to shine from within with a light of its own.

" . . . oh. Well . . . thanks, Suicide." She turned the gem over in her fingers. It may have been a mystical Mary Sue talisman, but that didn't stop it from being nice. Probably fetch a nice amount down at the Rook Takes Pawnshop, too, if she ever got behind on those loan payments. Shrugging, she slipped the chain around her neck, and tucked the small gem under her uniform jacket. Suicide got up and moved to the other side of the room, where his canvas army cot was set up next to her bedroll. He didn't really feel like saying anymore.

A Mary Sue was dead and his partner now had a piece of deus ex machina jewelry, plus the remains of a hangover. Time for some well-earned sleep.

[BEEP]

"DAMN IT!"

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