Chapter 10: Saved By the…Orc?
Legolas lay still, eyes still shut, breathing slow, and focused on that sharp, cold prick of metal against the side of his throat as he attempted to discern what he could about his attacker. The person was crouched behind him, one arm hovering over his chest to keep the tip of the slim blade pressed against his jugular. When he focused, Legolas could hear the soft hiss of breath less than a foot from his ear.
Oddly, Legolas's first reaction wasn't fear for himself. Instead, his thoughts darted to the pouch tucked against his side, a sudden panic rising. The Pen! Was the Pen all right?
Automatically, his hand slid down to the pouch to make sure the magical writing utensil was where it was supposed to be.
Just as his fingers reached the lip of the pouch however, the pressure from the knife tip increased, accompanied by a voice. "Don't move, ellon. I will not hesitate to slit your iaeth." The voice was feminine, but low and husky.
Legolas froze. "What do you want?" he asked, keeping his voice quiet and steady.
The person shifted just slightly with a rustle of leather and her voice came out short and sharp. "I will ask the questions, not you! Tell me, are you Legolas Thrandullion, arion of Murkwood?"
The person had a slight accent that sounded vaguely familiar, but Legolas couldn't place where he'd heard it before. Was his attacker a Sue? Probably, but Sues didn't usually put daggers to his neck. He strained his keen ears to listen past the chirping crickets and nightingales, hoping that one of his other companions was awake, preferably one of the Sue-Slayers. The Sue had managed to slip past their watch and creep up on him in his doze – that probably meant she was an elf (at least) and could most likely match him for speed and skill if he chose to fight. He could see the moonlight on the ground in front of him, but that told him nothing as to what time it might be, since apparently Suethors thought that moonlight was a natural constant of nighttime, at least from what he'd experienced every nightfall since arriving in Middle Earth.
"Uh, yes, yes, I am," he said, still speaking softly and calmly.
The person behind him let out a quiet sigh. "At last."
"Excuse me?" Legolas said, trying not to let his voice waver with uncertainty.
"Since I was young, I have trained ceaselessly for this moment," his attacker said. "And now, I shall at last complete the duty for which I was born."
"Which is?" Legolas asked, hoping to keep her talking, and hoping simultaneously that someone would notice the stranger in their midst or else that she would drop her guard enough for him to go for his dagger.
"To kill you," the attacker responded dispassionately.
However, there was no immediate prick of a dagger slicing through his skin and opening up his throat. They were both silent for several slow beats, until the stranger said, "Well?"
"Is that it? Are you going to just lie there?"
"What's the alternative?" Legolas asked as he felt the knife shift minutely against his neck.
The person made a sound that Legolas could only describe as a scornful laugh. "For five hundred years, I, Nightshade Moriel, have trained in the ways of an assassin for the purpose of one day infiltrating the thamas of Thranduil and killing the eldest ion of the Elf King. Oh, I have dreamed of the moment when I would make my adar proud and take our revenge upon the House of Oropher. And yet, I thought you would be a great maethor, one at least worthy of my skills. And yet, I find you now, in the open, unguarded, and you are pathetic."
Nightshade's words struck a little too close to home after what the Falling-to-Middle-Earth!Sue had said yesterday. Legolas felt a healthy surge of indignation. "Excuse you, but I have not battled foul Mirkwood spiders and goblin spawn from Ered Mithrin since my youth to be called pathetic by a Sue. And can you please just stick to either Westron or Sindarin? I may speak both, but the switching back and forth is really starting to get on my nerves."
The sharp pressure on his neck lifted slightly. "Ooo, now there's the fighting spirit I was expecting. Perhaps you will prove to be a worthy opponent after all. And I must say, for an elf you are…fairer than I thought you would be."
OK, there was definitely a more familiar Sue-tone to her voice at that. Legolas suppressed a small shudder and ran back through the brief and intensive training in the form of a Powerpoint that they had all received back at KI about the types of Sues they were likely to encounter. He vaguely remembered something about Dark!Sues, usually elves or humans who had been kidnapped by either Sauron or Saruman as children and turned into assassins or spies. And there had been a mention of something else – Enemies to Lovers, was it? – and advice about an encounter with a Dark!Sue…What had it been? What was their weakness?
Like any other type of Sue, the end goal of the Dark!Sue is almost always to eventually fall in love, usually with someone she's supposed to kill, torture, or otherwise inconvenience. Legolas recalled the droning voice of the KI agent who had briefed them. If you find yourself in a fight with a Dark!Sue, particularly if she has tried to kill you, remember that they can rarely resist...
Flirtatious banter, that was it. Legolas sighed inwardly. Flirtatious banter it was then.
He was fairly sure that even if he managed to make it back home in one piece, his pride was never going to be quite the same ever again.
"Oh, you think I'm fair now, but you haven't seen me with a sword yet, have you?" he responded in a teasing voice that made him cringe inwardly. Dear Eru, did those words really just come out of my mouth?
"Hmm, I'm half-tempted to give you a megil and see."
"Only half-tempted? Afraid I might beat you if you gave me a chance?"
"In your dreams, ellon."
Legolas shot a sideways glance in the direction of the campfire, hoping someone would take notice before his spirit decided to leave his body from embarrassment. He raised his voice just slightly. "Or do you mean, in your dreams? Admit it, you'd like to see if I'm as good as you've been told."
Nightshade slid the dagger point further down his throat in an almost coquettish gesture. "Maybe. Or maybe I-"
"Hey! Hey, who is that over there? What is going on? Legolas? Get away from him!"
Legolas almost sagged with relief as he heard Éowyn's shout. Instantly, there was a rustle and stir as the rest of the Fellowship came awake.
The elf prince took the opportunity to grip his dagger and twist around sharply. The dark shape of the black-clad Dark!Sue lurched forward as he slid out from under her. She recovered quickly and moved with inhuman speed, striking out at him with a slash that Legolas only barely deflected. He heard a shout from Hawk and the clacking of crossbow quarrels against wood as the Sue-Slayers loaded their weapons. Nightshade slashed out again, the tip of her dagger catching the fabric of Legolas's tunic and tearing it before he could leap away. He caught the briefest glimpse of her face inches from his own; her features were elven, but she had weird green-yellow eyes with slitted pupils like those of a cat.
Legolas heard Porter shout something about getting a good shot and then Nightshade was on top of him again, grappling with his own weapon-hand as she tried to push her dagger towards his throat. She was stronger than any normal elf should be and Legolas (who was no weakling himself) found he was struggling to keep the point of her dagger away from his throat as she pushed downwards.
As had happened yesterday with the three Falling-to-Middle-Earth!Sues, time seemed to slow down like molasses. The dagger inched closer to Legolas's throat. A gleam of triumph entered the freaky yellow eyes of the Dark!Sue. A smile curved across her lips, and Legolas felt the sharp prick against his skin, followed by a trickle of sticky moisture along his neck. The Sue pressed down even harder.
But then, something seemed to distract Nightshade Moriel. She glanced up, then froze. Legolas saw the color drain completely out of her already pale face, her yellow eyes widening with an expression of recognition and dread. Her mouth opened and the word she uttered made Legolas's stomach drop, especially when he saw who it was that she was looking at.
"Father," Nightshade Moriel gasped, staring straight at Sauron.
"Ugh, this place is so creepy," Pixie muttered, staring around at the bleak landscape of Isengard as the small group of KI agents, with Aragorn and Boromir following cautiously, passed through the gates. Usually, there was the clanking and grinding of machines, mingled with the snarls of quarreling orcs and goblin-men, but it was unusually quiet today, as if a pall of dread had fallen across the whole place. Several crebain watched them with beady, black eyes from the top of some device made from black iron.
"It was like this at Edoras: silent, empty, forsaken," Boromir said in a low voice. "I fear we shall have no more luck here than we did elsewhere."
In the lead, Thor gripped his axe tightly. "You might be right," he grunted. "But we'll check the tower before we decide that no one's home."
The small group made their way down the stone path towards the looming black tower of Orthanc until they had reached the wide steps leading up towards the great black double doors. Thor banged the butt of his axe down on the stone, producing a loud clang. "Anybody home?" he bellowed up towards the dark windows.
For a long minute, there was nothing but the eerie sound of wind hissing through metal machines and a forlorn caw from one of the crebain. Then, when Pixie was just about to suggest that they forget it, a voice suddenly called down to them from one of the windows, though they could see nothing but darkness.
"Who goes there?"
"Thank goodness," Pixie muttered. "Not everyone was swallowed up by th' Void after all."
"We're Agents of KI," Thor bellowed back. "There seem to have been some interesting developments, and we need to talk to Saruman right away."
A moment later, the sallow face of Gríma Wormtongue peered down at them from one of the windows. He eyed them suspiciously for several seconds before seeming to come to a decision. "I will inform Lord Saruman of your request. Wait here." And with that, he disappeared once again.
They all stared at the door, waiting awkwardly.
"Hmm, not much for warm welcomes here, are they?" Figlock commented, twirling his tiny crossbow idly with one paw from his perch atop Thor's shoulder. "By the claw, I could do with a nice cup of damson wine about now, whatdya say, matey?"
Dena Milo shifted her weight fluidly from one leg to the other, arms folded. "Mallory, is that a new dye job? Your hair looks lighter than the last time I saw you."
"Nope, same color it's always been," Pixie said brusquely, staring fixedly at the door. "An' it's Pixie."
Dena Milo opened her mouth as if to say something else, then closed it with a small frown and shifted her weight back over to her other leg again.
If there had been any crickets in Isengard, they would have chirped.
"Where is that blasted wizard?" Thor grumbled. "He should know better than leaving Sue-Slayers waiting at his doorstep."
As if on cue, the dark doors swung open, revealing the Wizard of Many Colors himself. "Ah, Agents of our most esteemed Sue-Slaying allies," Saruman said smoothly with a glinting smile. "Gríma said you had important news you wished to discuss? I am rather surprised that we have not yet had the honor of a visit from our KANON friends; the hour of your arrival is late. But come! I hope your visit has something to do with the vast increase in Sues across our entire land. Come in, and we shall talk."
Pixie exchanged a look with Thor, featuring one of her signature raised eyebrows, as they followed Saruman into the tower.
Saruman led them down a long hallway, up several flights of stairs, and into some type of large sitting room, with a huge, ornate chair at one end of the room and several smaller settees and armchairs gathered around a large, gold-plaited rug that covered the majority of the black stone floor.
Saruman seated himself elegantly in the ornate chair and invited them all to sit with a wave of his hand. "I must also apologize for keeping you waiting upon my doorstep," he said, settling his robes about himself as he leaned comfortably back, his dark eyes watching them keenly from underneath his white brows. "As you no doubt noticed, even Isengard seems to have been touched by the power of this new threat."
The wizard tapped his long fingers against the arm of his chair, still smiling demurely. "Now, do tell me what this visit is all about."
Everything seemed to freeze once again, but this time in a way that seemed to have less to do with the Dark!Sue's powers and more so with the sudden shock that rested over the campsite at the Sue's declaration. Everyone's eyes were on the centerpiece of the scene: Legolas with a knife at his throat and the Sue crouching over him as she stared straight at Sauron who had been roused with the others at Éowyn's cry of alarm. For his part, the Dark Lord was staring back at the Sue like she was something particularly slimy that had just crawled out of a slag pit.
"What," Sauron huffed in a Very Offended voice, "did you just call me?"
Nightshade continued to stare for several seconds, an alarmed look on her face, then her expression hardened and she pressed the knife more firmly against Legolas's throat. "I have found the elf arion, Adar. I shall complete the task for which you raised me. See? Then will you finally be proud of me, Father?"
Now that Legolas had a frame of reference, he realized why Nightshade's accent had sounded familiar; she had the same archaic lilt to her voice as Sauron.
"Wait, wait, you have a daughter?" Pippin said and then snorted back a chortle.
Sauron glared at the hobbit. "Of course, I don't. I most definitely do not. It's a Sue."
"I don't know," Merry mused with a smirky sort of grin. "She does have your eyes."
Sauron spluttered angrily. "I am the Dark Lord, the Lord of the Rings, Tar-Mairon the Great. I have accomplished deeds great and terrible of which none of you could even dream. And none of those deeds involved the procreation of an abomination such as that!" He made an imperious and dismissive hand gesture towards the Dark!Sue.
Faramir raised an eyebrow from where he was standing behind the hobbits. "Hmm, methinks the Dark Lord doth protest too much. And wouldn't an 'abomination' be quite fitting as the offspring of the 'abhorred'? Are you sure she's not yours?"
Sauron's burning glare turned towards the Ranger. "YES, I'M SURE. I HAVE NEVER SEEN IT IN MY LIFE, I HAVE NEVER SIRED A CHILD, AND I DON'T KNOW WHERE IT CAME FROM. IT'S NOT MINE!" he bellowed, his face going dark from a combination of rage and embarrassment.
Any satisfaction Legolas might have felt at seeing the Enemy of the Free Peoples being mercilessly teased by his companions was dampened when Nightshade Moriel pressed the dagger even more firmly against his throat, her face darkening. Out of the corner of his eye, Legolas could see Hawk and Porter at the edge of the clearing, their crossbows loaded, but neither of them could currently get a good shot at the Sue without the risk of striking Legolas.
"What, will you not even acknowledge me now? I was never good enough for you!" Nightshade shouted, and Legolas winced as the dagger pricked through his skin a second time. "You never let me prove my talents to you! You always say that I am not good enough to be your iell! And so I have trained as an assassin with your Nazgûl, a killer, so that finally you would see that I am good enough to be the Aranel of Mordor! See, I will kill the ellon for you. I know you have wanted him dead for many a long idhrinn!"
Hawk and Porter both raised their crossbows, hovering, obviously still waiting for a clear shot, both with tense looks on their faces.
"Shall I do it, Adar?" Nightshade shouted in impassioned tones. "Shall I kill the ellon arion for you and prove that I am your true iell?"
A thick silence hung in the air as everyone looked at Sauron, waiting for his response, including the Sue. Legolas could feel the trickle of blood running down his throat from where the point of Nightshade's dagger was pricking his skin. He shot a meaningful look in Sauron's direction: Come on, Sauron, call her off!
Sauron looked at the Sue, then at Legolas, then at the two stiff Sue-Slayers, then back at the Sue. He sniffed indifferently and shrugged. "Yeah, go ahead. Whatever."
Shock, followed quickly by helpless anger, swept across the faces of each member of the Fellowship. Legolas felt only a dull lurch of resigned disappointment in Sauron's betrayal as he waited for Nightshade to plunge her dagger into his throat.
There was no slicing blade across his jugular however.
For a moment, the Sue looked just as surprised as everyone else, an expression which quickly morphed into disgusted rage. She lifted her dagger from Legolas's throat, still glaring at Sauron, and opened her mouth to speak.
Whatever she was going to say was lost, like the chapters of a story put on indefinite hiatus.
A huge, broad-headed arrow came flying out of the trees and struck the Dark!Sue dead center, flinging her backwards.
Hawk and Porter didn't waste the opportunity. The moment Nightshade was vulnerable, two triggers clicked simultaneously and two crossbow quarrels dipped with liquid logic slammed into the Sue. She collapsed and disintegrated like wet paper.
Porter rushed to Legolas's side, helping the elf to his feet and inspecting the dagger wounds to make sure there was no trace of Sue poison. Hawk loaded another quarrel into her crossbow, shot a venomous glare at Sauron that said I'll Talk To You Later, then turned her attention towards the trees from whence the strange arrow had come.
Éowyn picked up the arrow, then stiffened, her hand flying to the hilt of her sword. "I know this style of arrow. I tended to many at Edoras whom my brother and his men bore back with wounds from arrows like this one. This is an arrow of Isengard, an arrow of the Uruk-hai!"
A dark, towering shape suddenly moved among the trees, followed by a guttural laugh. "It seems you were foolish to refuse the help of Isengard, the help of the Uruk-hai, after all, Sue-Slayers. Perhaps now you will welcome me as part of your Fellowship."
Uglúk strode into the clearing and stopped before them, staring them all down with a fearsome glare.
"Just what do you think you're doing here? And for that matter, how did you get here?" It was only the wee hours of the morning, with the faint light of dawn just now touching the sky, and already Hawk could feel a headache beginning to pound behind her eyes as she and Porter interrogated the unexpected new arrival.
Uglúk bared his fangs at them in an intimidating grin. "I am here to help. My Lord Saruman was greatly displeased that Isengard was not represented in your Fellowship. And so I have been sent to make sure the task of this Fellowship is completed properly, as only the Uruk-hai can do."
"Yeah, you see," Hawk said from behind gritted teeth, "that really wasn't Lord Saruman's decision to make. And I hope you and Saruman both realize how incredibly irresponsible it was to send a character, alone, into a Sue-world with no protection. You could have been killed, you could have been Sue-ified, in short, you could have disrupted the entire Story, in which case this whole quest would be pointless!"
"And yet, I am the one who saved your elf," Uglúk countered, looking far too smug for Hawk's liking. "Your quest does not seem ruined to me."
Hawk turned around, breathing heavily through her nose and muttering the word "characters" like a curse, while Porter took over. "Yes, and we're extremely grateful that you arrived when you did. Nice shot, by the way, mate. But, you see, the problem is that we weren't exactly expecting you and we need to all be on board with the plan and following directions if we have any chance to defeat the Sues. Saruman doesn't really have the authority to just decide to send a character into a Sue-world unsupervised. By the way, how did he send you here?"
Uglúk snorted. "It was easy. There are many Sues entering Middle-earth, and Lord Saruman's magic is great. When the portal opened to the Sue-realm, Lord Saruman sent me here to find you and aid in the quest of destroying the Sues' Pen. I think you will find me helpful."
"I need to have a word with you, Porter," Hawk said, still in a tight voice. "Alone," she added, looking pointedly at the Uruk-hai captain.
Uglúk bared his tusk-like fangs, yellow eyes flashing. "As you wish, Sue-Slayers."
The two KI agents put their heads together once the orc was out of hearing range. "I don't like this, I don't like this at all," Hawk said. "Traveling between realms is a complicated magic, and I don't know about you, but I don't like the thought that Saruman has figured out how to do it. We obviously can't let Uglúk stay."
"What alternative do we have though?" Porter said with a loose shrug. "We can't just send a character back off into a Sue-world unsupervised, and we can't afford the time to escort him back to Middle-earth right now. And I don't know about you, but if he is up to something nefarious, I'd rather have him right under our noses where we can keep an eye on him than off cavorting with Sues and doing who-knows-what. And of course, there's the chance that he really is here to help. I mean, he did just save Legolas, the quest, and the Story, so he does have that going for him."
Hawk ground her teeth, glancing over at Uglúk then back at Porter. "Ugh, I don't like it. If Saruman was here right now, I'd punch him right in his smug, pointy nose. He should know better than defying the authority of KI, especially at a time like this. Even if his intentions were as white as snow, it would still rub me the wrong way."
Porter started to say something, but Hawk pinched the bridge of her nose and held up a hand. "But I know you're right, Porter. It doesn't look like we have any options better than dragging him along. But I'm going to throttle Saruman when we get back."
"And I'll bring popcorn and cheer," Porter said. "But really, how bad-"
"Don't say it," Hawk growled in a low, dangerous voice. "Don't you even dare. I will brain you with the end of my crossbow."
A few minutes later, the Sue-Slayers had gathered the entire Fellowship around them, with Uglúk off to the side awaiting their decision, though the orc looked entirely unruffled by their debate. When Hawk and Porter relayed their decision to the group, the majority had understandable reservations about the proposed newest member of the Fellowship, but once the KI agents laid out their reasoning and the lack of alternatives, almost everyone agreed that there was nothing else that could be done.
All except one.
"This is a bad decision," Sauron said, arms folded stubbornly. "If Saruman wasn't even afraid to double-cross me, do you think he'd hesitate for a second to double-cross you? I mean, who's more intimidating, me or you?"
Hawk's face darkened instantly and she jabbed a sharp finger at Sauron. "You! You are not allowed an opinion right now, especially an opinion on anything to do with loyalty. As far as I'm concerned, you are in the exact same boat as Uglúk, and the only reason we aren't sending you back right now is because we can't. I don't know what little stunt you thought you were pulling with that Sue just now, but you have forfeited any right to have an opinion about this Fellowship when your actions very nearly ended everything."
To Hawk's surprise and indignant anger, Sauron seemed completely unfazed by her accusations. He waved a hand dismissively. "Bah, just goes to show what you know. That Sue wouldn't have killed Legolas."
Hawk sputtered, too angry to form words for several seconds, so Porter had the chance to reply, his forehead creasing and his mouth curving into a puzzled frown. "How do you know that?"
Sauron scoffed. "And I thought you were the experts on Sues. Obviously, she wouldn't have killed him, because I told her to do it."
When he saw that neither of the Sue-Slayers were following, he sighed dramatically and rolled his eyes. "All that stuff about wanting to make me proud, proving herself to me, it was obvious that what she really wanted to do was to prove her independence from me. She wanted me to refuse to let her kill the elf, so that she could prove that she wasn't controlled by me. By giving her permission, and particularly blasé permission at that, I took all the fun out of it. Besides, you can't really go killing someone who you're supposed to end up with, can you, and isn't that what all this Sue nonsense is about?"
Porter raised an eyebrow. "Hmm, sounds like you're speaking from some experience there, mate. Having First Age flashbacks, are we?"
Sauron glared at the Sue-Slayers but kept his mouth shut.
Hawk shook her head, still fighting a pounding headache and not in the mood for any of this. "No more gambling with each other's live, period. Now, get the camp packed up so we can get moving south. There are bound to be more Sues around and we've already wasted enough time this morning with all this nonsense. We're leaving in five."
Porter gave Hawk a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "I'll let Uglúk know that he's coming with us."
As the Fellowship gathered up their supplies and prepared to move out, Uglúk watched Porter return to the other Sue-Slayer, giving her a thumbs up. The Uruk-hai bared his fangs in satisfaction, then reached into his pack and pulled out a small, dark, round stone. Making sure his back was to the rest of the Fellowship, he brought it up level to his face and spoke five words.
"I am in, my lady."