Part the Third
Some Wings for the Elvenkings, Under the Sky...
A great noise came from the hangar, banging, swearing, a power tool that sounded like it could have delved Moria single-handed, and 80's classic rock cranked to the max. We crept in at the edges of the open end and peered in. The hangar was mostly dark, with a single work light dangling from its extension cord, glaring like a torch in the depths of Khazad-Dum. Blue lightning danced across the concrete floor and the curved metal walls. At the far shadowy end squatted a small Piper Cub type plane, and closer was a little helicopter that reminded me of a dragonfly. The sputtering blue light seemed to be originating from it.
"The chopper's the same color as the Jeep," Lorien said. "so's the plane."
And you didn't need Elf-eyes to see that the logo on the side of the chopper was the same raven design Lorien and Legolas had described, Ravin' Maniac.
"Now what?" Lorien whispered. Well, she didn't exactly whisper, you couldn't hear a whisper over all that Dwarvish racket. She kind of shouted into my ear.
Yeah, good question. Just charge in there like the Avengers or something? I looked over at Legolas, wondering if he had any better ideas.
He was striding into the hangar toward the source of the noise. And he wasn't wearing the bow.
Lorien and I looked at each other like Merry and Pippin at the Council of Elrond and raced in after him. We rounded the chopper to find a pair of coverall-clad legs sticking out of it and more noise coming from inside. We stood, watching sparks and the odd comment on the lineage and character of the chopper explode from the interior. After a minute or so the mechanic backed out, set down his welding torch and pushed up his mask. He eyed us, head to toe, one by one.
It sure wasn't Tulugaq.
He looked like the typical Yrch County middle-aged male; stout, hairy... and up to his armpits in grease. It took me a good thirty seconds to realize he was about a foot shorter than most of them, and his dark grey beard was braided and tucked into his belt. He hefted a hammer about the size of Gimli's axe and lifted one furry eyebrow, "It's kinda' late to book a flight tonight."
I looked at Lorien, she looked at me. Neither of us thought of anything intelligent to say.
"Charlie Durgin." the short bearded guy said. "Mostly around here they call me Doc."
I immediately thought of Happy and Slappy and Goofy and Derpy... or whoever. Lorien, of course, thought of...
"The Doctor?" Lorien sputtered.
"Not that one. The only screwdrivers here look like this," He held up a particularly large and sturdy looking Phillips head. It looked hand forged. "I'm the one who fixes things when they break." He eyed Legolas, from toe to eyes. His mine-dark gaze stayed on the eyes.
Legolas' face registered something like surprise. No, more like the look of someone who's gone to Outer Mongolia and met his next door neighbor.
"Durin?" Lorien said.
He kind of smiled, at least I think it was a smile, hard to tell with all that hair. "Dur-gin."
"Lorien." she said.
Both his eyebrows shot up like startled ducks. "There's not many as remember that name." he said.
His gaze returned to Legolas.
I looked at Lorien, she looked at me. Neither of us thought of anything intelligent to say, but you could have landed a small plane in our mouths.
"I've not seen you around here before." he said to the Elf.
"I have not been around here before." Legolas' face was a mask of diplomatic composure, but he said no more.
"The stranger should declare himself first, but I already have told you who I am." He was beginning to sound more like Thorin Oakenshield than a flight mechanic.
"Legolas Thranduilion." our Elf said, with a slight bow.
Doc's eyebrows couldn't go up any farther, so he just flumped down rather abruptly on a tool cluttered box. His dark eyes glinted out from under those brows like mine jewels. "There's even fewer that remember that name. How came you by it?"
"The usual way. By my mother and father."
"Thranduil being your father."
Now it was Legolas' turn to look surprised, "You know our tongue too?"
"Huh?" I poked Lorien.
"The 'ion' ending," she said in my ear, "you'd have to know Elvish to know Thranduilion meant son of Thranduil."
"Now that Thranduil guy," Doc said, "it wouldn't be the one in Mirkwood, son of Oropher?"
Legolas' face was nearly composed, but his eyes were the size of an owl's, "I know of no other! How do you know of us? From the tale? Is that how you know our tongue? As Lorien does?"
Doc studied all three of us, his eyes dark and deep as mine pits. He stood, "Come." He led us to a door on the other side of the hangar. He opened it and waved us into a room with a few comfortable and mismatched couches, a couple of tables, a microwave, cupboards and a fridge. "Have a seat." He opened the fridge and produced a beer. "Just help yourself." he added, popping the top.
I did, throwing a soda to Lorien and one to Legolas.
Doc plopped into a chair, low and covered with a big grungy towel, as if reserved for him and his working coveralls. He glugged his beer, his eyes never leaving us. Finally he set it down. "There's some folks who'll want to meet you." He produced a cell phone from a pocket and bleeped out a number. A moment later he spoke into it, "Hey, our anomaly just walked into the hangar."
My stomach was still doing the moray eel dance. Lorien was wandering around the room looking at the plane pictures on the walls, muttering stuff about C-130s and F-16s. Legolas had all the relaxation of a drawn bowstring.
I noticed there was a second exit. I thought of a thousand questions I wanted to ask the Dwarf, but he seemed about as talkative as a rock.
The door opened rather abruptly, and Tulugaq stood there.
I stood up.
"Hey!" he said in surprise, to me, then he smiled like sun rising. His sky-eyes went to Legolas, his head cocked slightly as if he wasn't sure what he was seeing. It made me think of birds, so did his nose; a strong sword shape like a raven's beak.
A couple of other people filled the doorway behind him. One had hair like frosted winter grass; the one from the mall, the one that looked like Galadriel's brother. They spilled into the room. Poured maybe, I don't think Elves spill.
And they had to be Elves. They all had the same kind of eyes, the chiseled edges to their faces, the lean, lithe build, like a wolf crossed with a greyhound. The natural grace of a stalking leopard. One was shorter, slender and agile-looking like Nightcrawler on Evolution, with that same kind of loose shoulder-length hair that was always falling in Evo-Kurt's face, only in bright, Little Mermaid red. The other was a woman with one eye the color of earth and one the color of winter sky and pinto hair that couldn't decide whether to be flaxen or white.
They all looked somewhat astounded.
Legolas was standing, between them and me and Lorien. There was a long stretch of silence, finally broken by Doc. "Legolas Thranduilion." he said, as if that explained everything.
"Wazoo!" redhaired Evo-Kurt said.
I didn't know wazoo was an Elvish word.
Mall Elf, Galadriel''s brother, stepped forward, and spoke to Legolas, "Aiwei, Awyrion ar Nawein." He glanced at me as if not sure he should have spoken that in front of mere mortals. He locked eyes with Legolas, and quiet words passed between them.
"They're speaking Sindarin!" Lorien whispered to me, "except Aiwei speaks with a different accent." The others moved in closer and began to fire their own questions at Legolas, in several languages at once. Soon it was like a whole treeful of spring warblers chattering. Doc kind of shrugged and retreated to his chair with another beer.
I was beginning to feel like a Hobbit in Lothlorien, kind of ignored. "What anomaly?" I blorted out. "And what do you know about it?" They all turned and stared at me.
"And you are?" Mall Elf said to me. He looked like an eagle, staring down at a rabbit from his aerie. I took a step back.
"Lizard, and that one is Lorien." Legolas said Lizard as if he was saying Luthien. "They have been my companions and guides in this strange land. Whatever you wish to say to me, you shall say to them too." The way he said it made it somewhat more than a request.
The others stood still, studying him, and us. You would have needed something the size of Gimli's battleaxe to cut the tension.
Finally Tulugaq broke into a disarming grin. "Come on." he poked Mall Elf in the abs with his elbow, "Everybody sit down and have a beer..." he glanced at the underaged among us... "or something. I think we need to talk to these kids."
Lorien and I sank into one of the couches, Legolas sat between us, leaning forward slightly. I could feel the tension in his body, like a cat ready to spring. Tulugaq perched on the back of the other couch, like a gargoyle, only hotter.
Mall Elf gave Tulugaq a hard look, "If it was up to you everybody on the planet would know."
"Looks like they already know." Tulugaq said nodding at us.
The girl with the pinto hair grabbed Aiwei son of whoever and sat him down on Tulugaq's couch. "It looks like they already know more than we do." She stuck out a strong-looking hand to me, "Tas. Tashunka Ross." she said. "Or Wolf." I shook her hand and nodded.
"Tashunka is Lakota for 'wolf'" Lorien whispered. "And Ross means 'horse', I forget what language, Anglo-saxon or..."
I poked her in the ribs, she shut up.
Tas grinned, a bit like Shenzi, some of the pinto hair fell over her eyes, like a horse's forelock. She didn't look at all like Luthien Tinuviel, or Arwen. She looked like she could kick the butts of Xena Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer combined.
"Zan," Evo-Kurt said. He hesitated, eyes going from Mall Elf to Tulugaq. "Alexander Fox." He hesitated again, searching my eyes. Finally, he said softly, "Mirzithan." His eyes were the exact sea-color of Legolas'. He was cute too, in a Billy Boyd sort of way, though he didn't look like he could kick anybody's butt.
"Brannan Hrafnson," Raven said, "Aka Tulugaq. Bran," he met my eyes with a trickster smile. "How'd you find us?"
"Your address is on your Jeep." Lorien said.
"How'd you know it was mine?" he studied me, but I didn't feel like a rabbit under his gaze..
"Tulugaq." Lorien said. She pointed at Aiwei, "Liz said he called you Tulugaq in the store. That's raven, in Baffin Island Eskimo. I remembered it from a book."
He looked surprised. But not too much. "Mind of the Raven." He pirate-smiled at Lorien. "And why would you be tracking ravens, eh?"
"I've seen one a few times." I said. "Not exactly a common sight around here. Especially not that color." I nodded toward his hair.
"Didn't think you'd notice me; at the barn, I mean, and on the trail."
"So that was you? You are some kind of shapeshifter, not just a good bird trainer?"
"That's my gift, yes."
"Like Finrod, or Luthien." Lorien said.
"Well, maybe that'd be like comparing an SR-71 Blackbird to a Piper Cub." he said, glancing at Legolas.
"Bran is raven too, it's Celtic." Lorien said. "And brannon is Sindarin for lord."
I poked her again.
"Yep." Bran said.
"Are we talking Odin, Morrigan, or...what was that Indian thing with the sun?" I said.
"Yes." Bran said. "All of the above. My family carries a trace of what Professor Tolkien would have called 'Maia' blood. We have the gifts associated with Raven...and other corvids; crow, rook, jay, magpie."
"About that anomaly thingie." I said. "...your anomaly thingie... has something to do with the Prince of Mirkwood, doesn't it? I mean, we kinda noticed too...that something was...different. That's why we're here. We figured the Elves might know of some way to fix... this." I wasn't sure what anomalies they'd seen, how many books or art prints or action figures they had that were different now. Or how much I should say right now.
"Somehow my action figure collection doesn't look like the ones they're selling online these days." Bran said. "
"Wish mine had stayed like I remember." I replied.
Mall Elf's eyes went from Bran to me to Bran. He looked like he was summoning a Spell of Endless Patience. "For future reference," Aiwei son of...whatever...said. "I'm Jon, just Jon." He leaned forward and met my eyes the way Galadriel might have, when she was reading people's hearts. No, maybe more like Thranduil interviewing the Dwarves who had crashed his woodland party in The Hobbit. His eyes were pale as ice and about as easy to read. "And, if you mention Elves to anyone outside this room, people will assume you are talking about Santa."
"Right." I said. "Of course. At least until we get Middle-earth straightened out."
"We should just send you two home." Jon continued. "With a slightly reduced set of memories." His eyes dropped to somewhere near Lorien's middle. Her eyes widened and she put a protective hand over her pocket. The one where she always stuffed her camera.
Legolas set a hand on my shoulder, and one on Lorien's. I couldn't see his eyes, but I could see the subtle reaction on Jon's face. He blinked and looked away.
"Like I said," Tas cut in, "they know more than we do."
"Yeah." Bran said.
Doc leaned forward on his chair, eyes glittering out from under furry brows, but he stayed silent.
Jon sighed, sat back and began rattling off a paragraph full of things like multiverse and singularity and multi-handled donuts.
Bran broke in, "This isn't Elf Trek; the Next Generation, and you are not Tony Stark. Speak English."
Jon shot him a loaded look, then turned back to me and Lorien. "...basically the Stream of Time sooper-dooper-loopered like a snake on hot asphalt and things in two closely connected worlds were changed." He gave me a long searching look. As if he just knew it was somehow my fault.
I squirmed and shot back a question. "How is it you remember Legolas, and all the rest? Nobody else remembers. Except us, I mean." I said to him. I glanced at Bran, "and did you mean your action figures didn't change?"
"Sphere of Influence." Lorien said, "We were in the sphere of influence. But you're..."
"This place isn't subject to all the vagaries of the Stream of Time." Bran said. He eyed Lorien, "Kind of like Lothlorien."
"Bigger on the inside," Doc rumbled.
"We would like to know how it is you happened to be in the, ah, Sphere of Influence." Jon suddenly reminded me of my math teacher. The one you don't hand your homework in late to. Jon looked like he could kick Xena and Buffy's collective butts too...and Saruman's, and Sauron's, and maybe Magneto's and Juggernaut's, and a few dozen orcs single-handed.
Lorien and I traded glances. She glared, I gulped. "Uh." I said.
"Keep going." she said.
"Ah, well...you see..." I began.
"Yaaaaaaaaas?" Lorien prompted.
"Geek Patrol." Lorien said.
"What?" Jon looked as if she'd just handed him an artichoke.
Zan smiled at Lorien, as if he understood.
"We're the only girls in the whole school who know what a tardis is, and who Voronwe is, and can name every single crewmember of every USS Enterprise that ever existed and all twelve Doctors..."
"...not counting the War Doctor, he never called himself that..."
"...doesn't matter he was still..."
"WHAT HAS THAT GOT TO DO WITH SPACE/TIME ANOMALIES!" Swear to all the Valar Jon's eyes could have pierced mithril plate.
"Clearly you need to pay more attention to the BBC." Bran said. "Carry on," he said to me.
"Ahhhhh... ahhhhhh.... ehhhhh... IgotthisspellfromthisladyIknowandI SWEAR Idid NOT mean to ripthePrinceof Mirkwood outofhisbath!" I kind of mumbled the bath part, hoping they wouldn't notice.
They're Elves, they have keen ears and a fine sense of language. They noticed.
Jon just stared at me, his face as sympathetic and readable as a hawk's.
Bran broke into a huge grin. Zan turned an amazing shade of purple trying not to laugh. Doc burst into a great guffaw. Tas swatted Bran's shoulder, open-handed. Then she punched Jon. Harder. She glared at Zan. He coughed and tried to look innocent and failed.
"Bet you would have paid to see that." Doc said to Tas. I think he meant Legolas fresh out of his bath.
She gave him a glare that could have roasted an orc. She grumbled something that certainly was what Lorien called Conversing Like A Mariner, I didn't need to know the language to recognize the tone. "Males!" She turned to me and said, "Was this supposed to be some kind of love-attraction spell?"
"Yeah, like I thought some guy at school would just, you know, ask us to Prom or something. I swear by Gandalf and all the Valar I really did not mean to screw up Middle-earth!"
Her eyes, one blue, one brown like Cherokee's, had a trace of sympathy. "Where did this spell come from?"
"That's just it, we don't know." I told her everything then; Nazgul Barbie, and the Shire, and snowboards, and dogsleds, even what Unci had said about Raven. And how Dana was trying to trace the spell, and find an antidote, but nobody knew anything about it.
Bran smiled at the mention of Unci, and her talk of Raven, then his smile faded. "We knew something was wrong the moment it happened, we could feel..."
"There was a great disturbance in the Force..." Zan cut in, his face considerably less serious than Bran's.
"I spent about a week trying to track where it started. Your backyard, it seems." Bran said.
"Well, why didn't you just fly down and ask."
His eyes suddenly looked about a thousand years old. "Right." he said, "Hello, I'm from the local Ministry for Mythical Creatures and I'd like to ask you about a slight disturbance in the space-time continuum."
"Oh. Yeah. Well. But didn't you see Legolas? You could have talked to him..."
" I was a little busy at the time, chasing some chick in hot Barbie pink snow gear on a snowmobile that should have taken another path. She didn't have the blackest aura I'd ever seen, but it wasn't pretty. I knew something was twisted in the timestream. I knew where it started, but I didn't know why. I felt like she was connected to it somehow. I could tell the dude in the crazy snowboarder hat was one of us..."
Lorien made a face at the mention of the Hat of Doom.
"... but he was with you all. And I needed to deal with the Pink Rider."
"Do you remember what she looks like?"
"Oh yeah." He made a face as if he'd seen the balrog himself.
I leaned forward, the morays were dancing in my stomach again, but for a totally different reason.
"What did you do?" I was hoping he'd kicked her butt into the next multiverse.
"Watched. She wrecked a ski on that mogul you took, and took a long walk back to an SUV and trailer."
"She made a phone call. The guys from Bob's Rent-All showed up and hauled the busted sled out of the woods. Then they all went home."
Lorien let out an "arrghh" of disappointment.
"Yeah, we were there." I said. "At Bob's. They know nothing."
"I did get the license though." Bran said.
I leaned forward hopefully, maybe Bran had seen something we hadn't. Her vehicle license, or the trailer's?
"The SUV I saw with the snowmobile trailer belonged to the rental center. They told me one of their guys had busted the ski on a run, and they believed it. They had no memory of anyone renting that rig. And no memory of a chick in hot pink Barbie clothes."
"And, of course, no record of where she lives." Lorien said.
"Yeah, we got the same story. Like Mrs. Cotton and Sam the Shire. But at least we have a face for her now, right?" I said.
"We do need to find her, don't we? To get him back, I mean." I gestured to Legolas.
"There is a way to get him back, isn't there?"
"You're not sure?" The dancing morays sank to the bottom. Somehow I thought this would solve everything. They'd have some sort of dimensional doorway they could just open and send our Elf back to his bath and everything would be OK.
"Well, there's the Gate." Bran said.
"BRAN!" Jon stood. He looked like he was contemplating raven stew for lunch.
"Gate?" I said hopefully.
"Fool of a rook." Zan said under his breath.
Legolas stood suddenly, staring down Jon. "What secrets your folk hold will do no good here unless they are shared. These two," he gestured elegantly to me and Lorien, "have stood beside me in this strange land. They are part of my..."
"Fellowship." Lorien said.
"This gate thingie." I said, adding the full weight of my glare to Legolas'.
Jon sat again and let out a resigned sigh. "Some of us learned the art, long ago, of opening gates to other...places...but as far as I have ever heard, there is no Gate to Middle-earth. In fact, we did not know it was anything more than a tale in a great book."
"Well, how come you all speak Elvish?" I said.
"I thought you were all leftover Sindar or Avari who didn't sail west or something," Lorien said.
"That is another world." Bran said, "Apparently one connected to ours as a branch is to a tree. But there is no Grey Havens here. Just the Gates."
"Our own tongues are varied." Tas said. "Not many humans speak Professor Tolkien's languages, and they proved a good common tongue to use among ourselves, when we wished no one else to hear."
"We thought the Professor would be amused." Bran said, "Elves speaking Elvish."
"Wow! Lorien said.
"We still need to find your Nazgul Barbie." Tas said. "She's at the bottom of this somehow. And she seems to be after Our Hero here."
"What does she want him for, anyway?"
"Who knows. What do Bad Guys usually want, mountains of gold, endless pizza, rock stardom, world domination or something." Zan shrugged and looked at the others. "Now what?"
"So there were some of our folk left in this place?" The round sun had not yet crept over the horizon behind them, that far edge of the Knowne Worlde they had left behind, was a faint streak of molten copper. Of late, Gimli had become used to sleeping until the sun was at least over the yardarm of the lower topsail, today, he wasted no time in sleep; there was a tale to hear and he had discovered that Elvish ship's food was more than adequate for a dozen Dwarves. And his appetite had finally adjusted itself to the roll of the sea. "And Elves!" he continued. "There were Elves there too! Why did they not sail west? Why were they still among the mortals?"
Legolas began a long paragraph full of things like multiverse and singularity and multi-handled donuts.
"I did not ask about their strange breakfast food, I only wanted to know about the Elves. And the Dwarf!"
"It is not breakfast food, it is..." the Elf's face contorted with an effort to find words the Dwarf would understand.
"Is this more of that Stream of Time stuff?"
"Ok then." Gimli sat back, as if satisfied that Legolas had just put the entire universe in a nutshell. "Go on."
Legolas gave him a long look, "You don't need to...?"
"There are Elves there, and they have a very strange concept of Time. That's all I need to know."
Legolas sighed, picked up his mug and drank a deep draught. "They were our folk, and yet they were different. Many of them had left, through the Gates, years before, as the world became crowded with Men and concrete and steel. As the forests diminished and whole species died out. But a few stayed, because they were needed."
"Men needed them, though they no longer knew the Elder Folk existed. That is what Aiwei told me, for he had nearly gone through the Gates himself, then stayed. 'They need our wisdom, though they have forgotten, and the kelvar and olvar need us more.'"
"Olvar...plants, kelvar...animals. Living things." Gimli nodded, smiling with satisfaction at his mastery of his long struggle with the Elvish tongues.
Legolas smiled in empathy, then continued. "So some stayed, and tried to pass on their wisdom, in secret."
"Did they not...fade?" he said the word softly as if afraid to. Gimli knew of the many Avari and others who had not taken ship, and never would. "Or is that only a tale told by mortals?"
"Like most tales told by mortals, it has some truth in it. No, these folk would not become bodiless spirits, wafting through the gloaming, as some would have it, but they did not have the great wisdom that comes with living in the Blessed Realm. They were not quite 'a rustic folk of dell and cave', as Galadriel thought we would become, but they were not the Noldor either. There were many of mixed blood, as well. But their world was different, and so were they. Like a great tree that branches off into the forest canopy, each limb going its own way, yet all have the same roots."
Gimli nodded. He had come to appreciate more than solid rock and earth with good bones and the glitter of things found in caves. He had walked under the eaves of Fangorn and spoken with the treeherds himself. He had seen the tangled canopy of Mirkwood and the wonders of Lorien. The poetic imagery of his friend no longer sounded entirely like a foreign language. "Is that how your Stream of Time works too?"
"That is a good way to see it, yes."
"Well, what did you do then? Now that you had found some of your own folk. Though they seemed to have no more answers than you did."
"There were others who were wiser. We went to see the Grandmothers."
The Council of Possum Woman
The road went straight north, then leapt across one of those little rainbow troll bridges, the dark beyond it was all rocks and roaring of swift whitewater. Legolas leaned out of the passenger side window of the blue jeep, Lorien and I squashed into the tiny back seat. The others had vanished a few minutes earlier in the same direction.
"There is a great Power here, can you not feel it?" Legolas said, pointing toward the east.
I looked out and could only see the dark shape of a hill rising against the stars.
"The Gate Hill." Bran said.
I squinted and thought of how it felt to be a tree. To see dancers in a new light.
Suddenly the whole hill lit up in a weird purple glow, brightest at the very top. No, not quite purple, some nameless color beyond the rainbow.
The Jeep jolted to a stop, gears ground, Bran turned and looked at me in astonishment, "Wherethehell did you learn to do that?" His eyes were dark shadows, lit with the faint light of stars.
"Uh." I managed to say. I glanced at Legolas.
"She has a gift. I showed her how to use it." he said.
"Whoa." Bran said. "I thought it was really strange that you...knew. When I saw you in the bookstore. Not many humans have that kind of sight. I wanted to talk to you then, but..."
"Yeah. I understand."
"Aiwei...Jon's as thick-headed as a Dwarf sometimes. He's got relatives who still live Underhill; in pockets of Faerie outside of the real world. A lot of 'em are royalty, with kingdoms frozen in time, going nowhere. At least he's out here, kicking butt."
"Well, it's not like you could just go around telling everyone." I said. Not at all like being an Elf in Middle-earth. More like being a mutant in the Marvel Universe. Except everybody knew about the mutants. And feared them. Or tried to kill them. I could picture all too well what the Elves would face if our world knew about them.
"Must be tough." Lorien said softly. "You have to pretend to be something you're not."
Like Nightcrawler with his image inducer on, I thought.
"More like Iron Man," Bran said out loud. "But then, he told everyone. I can't.. not everyone." He turned and regarded Lorien with starlit eyes, a hint of a smile, not piratey at all, crossed his face. "You haven't asked all the questions in your eyes."
"What was that you said about Maia blood? I thought you were all Elves?" I said.
"I'm Ravenkin. Elven, but one of my ancestors fell in love with..." he said a long, fluid word that not even Linguist Lorien could repeat. And he saw the look of confusion on our faces, "...he would have been kind of like Melian the Maia, Luthien's mother. An ancient being who embodied the spirit of Raven. It's his blood that gives my family our gifts."
"Cool." I said. "What's Wolf? She doesn't exactly look like Arwen or Galadriel."
"She's a pooka. An Elf who's learned the forms of wolf and horse. Her form takes on some of the characteristics of the mustang she followed to learn the wisdom and art of Horse." He paused. "She walked among the Lakota, and fell in love with one of them. He was killed in what your history books call the Indian Wars."
I couldn't think of anything to say to that.
"How sad." Lorien said quietly.
"Yeah." Bran said softly. "It was long ago and he'd be dead now anyway. But... yeah." He turned and threw the jeep into gear.
The sign at the end of the lane said Three Sisters Salvage: Antiques, Thrifty Necessities and Recycled Wonders. We drove through a last bit of dense woods, then into a circle of crisp white farm buildings surrounding a gravel parking circle and a couple of acres of grass and cheerfully sprawling bushes. A path led under a rosebush arch up to an old style farmhouse that looked like it was painted yesterday. To one side, lay something that looked like a garden under winter snow. The jeep lights swept across it, and a big black and white pony looked up, a straggle of vegetation hanging out of his mouth. He blinked in the light then turned and ambled off.
"Is he supposed to be loose?" Lorien asked.
Bran climbed out and hauled the seat forward for her. "He's our Guardian."
I stared off into the dark after the pony. I could swear I'd seen more of that weird flavor of light...
...in a sort of dagger shape springing from his forehead.
The door of the farmhouse opened into a big warm stone-walled kitchen, the kind of thing movie grandmothers have; herb baskets hanging from the ceiling, copper-bottomed pots hanging above a big butcher-block table, strings of onions and peppers and garlic hanging from the beams, big pottery jars with the names of their contents carved in them. There was a kind of wonderful clutter everywhere, magazines and books and antiquey looking things. Plants dangling from beams and shelves, sprawling far from their pots. A few empty aquariums that looked like they might recently have contained some small creature. There was an ancient muzzle loader hanging over the big stone fireplace, and crossed swords. And a Santa on the mantle. Jon/Aiwei, Doc, Tas and Zan, and a twenty-something blond guy I hadn't seen before, were already seated at the big table in the middle of the room, hovering over enormous mugs of hot chocolate and talking softly among themselves. The new guy was doodling in a sketchbook. He looked up and followed Legolas with eyes as green as new leaves. "I'm Ian," he said... he glanced back at Legolas, "Ian Greenleaf.
"Green... leaf?" Lorien said.
"I didn't pick it." Ian said. "It's Scottish. From some place named Green-lees in Lanarkshire. Means 'green meadow'. One of our distant relatives was a PA senator, another is a science fiction writer." His eyes followed Legolas.
"Legolas, Greenleaf, long under tree..." Lorien began. Then stopped. That poem was about the sea-longing.
Besides me and Lorien, Ian was the only other ordinary human in the place, and he looked like he might not be quite ordinary. That funny light played round his edges in leaf green the way it danced around Bran's edges in mountain-sky blue. He had a sweet face, broader and squarer than the Elves, and his build was more Malamute freighter than Siberian racer. Shoulder-length hair, two-toned brown and blond, was pulled back like movie Legolas'. He stood.
"Greenleaf, meet Greenleaf." Bran said amiably.
Something in the shadows at the back of the room went "graaaaanch granch granch" and I walked around the big center table to get a closer look. From its perch along the wall a black vulture tilted its head and gave me a bright-eyed once-over. One wing was taped, and there was a dead rat under its big turkey-like feet.
"Eeeeew!" Lorien said behind me.
"It's not like you can train them to be vegetarians. Or like you can go get a bag of Purina Vulture Chow."
Legolas stepped around me and offered a cupped hand to the huge bird. It dabbled its beak in the open circle of his thumb and forefinger, then stuck its whole head inside his lightly closed fist. He smiled and scritched its back with his other hand.
Lorien leaned in closer, "What's it doing?"
"Looking for food." he said. "It's how they eat. This one has not eaten yet today, she's feeling quite homesick."
"The naked head's so they don't have a bad hair day when they poke inside gooey gorey carcasses." I added.
"I know that. I just don't like making the aquaintence of the carcass." Lorien said eyeing the deceased rat.
Legolas picked up the untouched rat and hid it in his hands, the vulture poked its hooked tweezer-beak into his fist again, and began cheerfully yanking off bits of rat.
Lorien made a face, but managed not to turn green.
Something moved under the table. Lorien ducked, glanced under the table and surfaced with a startled "Yack!" She grabbed my shoulder and thrust me between her and the table, "There's a live rat the size of an orc under there." she squeaked.
I shoved her off and looked. Something with jaws like an alligator's yawned back at me. "It's a possum, barbie-brain. You startled it, that's why it's yawning at you."
"Oh. Of course." She ducked and looked again, a silver-furred critter the size of a big housecat stared back at us with bright dark eyes, through a maze of whiskers. Flower-petal ears turned and twitched towards us. Little pink daisy hands lowered to the floor again.
"Wildlife Rehab Inc." Bran said from behind us."Never know what you'll find in here." He crouched and picked up the possum, its pink tail coiling around his hand like a friendly snake.
"Yeah." Ian said. "Last week I came here for supper and found an emu in the living room." he paused, "Oh, don't use the downstairs bathroom, there's an otter in the tub."
"Cool." I said, watching Bran. The elvish way with all good beasts. I held out a hand and he lifted the possum into my arms. The prehensile tail wrapped around my wrist with a surprisingly strong grip. Just like Nightcrawler with less fuzz.
Lorien went back and stood beside Legolas, still feeding the vulture. Zan appeared at my shoulder with the biggest mug of hot chocolate I'd ever seen. He thrust it at me. I set the possum down and it trundled off to the other room.
"Hannon le." I said, automatically.
He gave me a little boy smile that almost looked shy. He looked like he was about thirteen or fourteen. Then he met my eyes, and his held the light of distant stars, the depths of the sea.
"You're older than you look, aren't you?" I said. Duh, he's probably eight hundred or something. Why can't I ever think of something intelligent to say to a guy?
He laughed, like a kid in a comic store, then his face shifted and he didn't quite look thirteen anymore, "Why do humans make such a big deal out of counting years?"
"Beats me. Don't you guys keep track of your birthdays? I mean, how do you know when to hit your buddies up for presents?"
"Maybe they give presents on their birthdays, like Hobbits." Lorien said.
"You'd have to give away a heckuva lot of presents in your lifetime if you were an Elf." I said.
Zan laughed. "I'm not sure exactly how old I am. I was found as an infant and raised by Dwarves." he shrugged, "Forty-something. But that's not the same as forty-something in your years. More like twelve-something, sort of." he made a face, "But not still won't let me get a driver's license, though."
"Bummer. How do you deal with school? I mean, if you spent ten years in high school, they'd start to ask questions."
"That's what the E.L.F. is for. For the mundane stuff like birth certificates, driver's licenses, credit cards. All that paper stuff that means you exist. And whatever else we need to survive in the human world."
I sat down in the chair he pulled out for me. He shoved a box of cookies in my direction. I pulled one out and laughed. They were Keebler Elves.
Over on my left, Ian was doodling again, glancing up now and again at Legolas.
Bran hopped up on the counter behind him and perched there, arms on knees, comfortable as a raven in a tree.
"Can I see?" I reached toward Ian's sketchbook.
"Sure." He slid it across to me.
The page he'd been working on already held several nice sketches of Legolas. In the rest of the book, superheroes and villains, mutants and Elves and dwarves and orcs and dragons leapt across the pages. Most of it was in a distinct comic book style, some of the characters were recognizable; Batman, Spiderman, X-Men. Others were originals. "Wow! It looks like you're doing your own comic here."
"You should go to work for Marvel or something."
"Nah. I belong here. I'm doing my own, independent thing for Hawk Circle. Living in a city would make me nuts."
"Who's your favorite? Comic book character, I mean." I had a feeling I knew who his favorite Middle-earth character was.
He grinned. "I work for the E.L.F. I'm surrounded by Elves. So it would have to be Fuzzy Elf."
"Nightcrawler! Cool! Draw me one."
He got a slightly wicked look on his face, "And what would you like him to be wearing?"
I hoped I wasn't blushing as bad as I thought, and I hoped that one of his "superpowers" wasn't reading minds.
He'd been doodling for a couple of minutes when a shadow fell across his book. I looked up and saw Legolas' grey eyes studying every line. "You've got a nice sense of mass even where his costume is only a black silhouette. And the face is more like the original Dave Cockrum design, though your build for him is more like the recent work of Garney..."
Ian looked up at the Elf hovering over his shoulder and stared in disbelief. He looked at me, then back at Legolas who was still offering commentary on the illustration. Ian looked at me. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, then finally got words to come out. "Let me guess, you've been feeding him your collection."
"You know, if I open Lord of the Rings a year from now, and he's wielding a cutlass..."
"Yeah. You can come over and help Lorien paint my whole house puke pink."
The door opened and a small silver-haired woman came in, she trundled through the door in a great grey parka, with lots of pockets. She stood on one foot while kicking off her barn boots, watching us with bright dark eyes. "I'm Delphi." she said in a Grandmotherly voice. "Aura and Cora will be along shortly, they had some things to attend to in the barn." She shrugged off the parka and it seemed to catch on thin air. It hovered there for a moment and then drifted to a place on the coat rack by the door.
That's when I noticed it was being held up by about three feet of pink prehensile tail. She turned to find Bran perched among her cookie jars. "Bran!" she said.
He slid off the counter and caught the back of one of the kitchen chairs, swung a leg over it and perched on the back of it, balancing effortlessly on two chair legs.
"Hmph." Delphi nodded in approval, then her bright eyes fixed on Legolas. Her pink face broke into an impossibly huge smile, like an alligator's.
No, more like a small silver furred marsupial's. Then she padded over to Legolas in wool-stockinged feet. Toe socks, the kind with individual fingers for each toe. Really long fingers in this case, with a distinct thumb off to the side, just like possum feet. Delphi took Legolas' hand, in her small pink daisy hand and smiled up wordlessly into his face. He smiled back, with the kind of amazed look he'd had on his face when the Elves marched into Helm's Deep. When he was blond, and Orlando.
He looked like a kid who'd just seen Santa.
"They were not Elves?" Gimli said. The Grandmothers, he meant.
"No. They were..." and in a most un-elflike fashion, he could not find the words. "Like Gandalf, I guess." He said at last.
"Something like that. Maiar maybe, or some kindred spirits. Three there were, the Three Sisters; Delphi, the Possum Woman, Cora the Crow Woman, Aura, the Vulture Mother. Beautiful they were, and old. Older than the great trees of the surrounding wood. Older than the worn hills behind the farm. The creatures whose shapes they sometimes wore, whose spirits taught them, were creatures who were experts at what they called 'recycling'."
"Taking the old, the dead, the worn, and giving it new life. Aura was tall and very dark, the smooth skin of her head held not a hair, she had long arms that moved with the grace of wings, and eyes like the forest at twilight. She spoke little and listened much. Cora was small and the color of fresh baked bread, her long black hair swung free, like grass in the wind, and she talked most of them all. Lizard and Lorien told their story again, and the Grandmothers asked many questions."
We'd just finished retelling our tale for the Grandmothers, it was like Galadriel times three. Or Galadriel and Elrond and Gandalf all at once. Or maybe Tom Bombadil, only without the silly poetry. If I thought they would hand me some kind of solution on a hand-thrown pottery cookie plate, I was sadly mistaken. They watched the three of us, me, Lorien and Legolas, with eyes even deeper than Elves', eyes like I imagined Treebeard's. The others stayed mostly silent, instead of chattering all at once as they had in the hangar. There were long stretches of silence where all of them seemed to be looking inward, to some far place, or exchanging silent thoughts with each other.
"What can we do?" I said at last, in the middle of a long stretch of too much quiet.
Woman was opening her mouth to say something when the door blew
We all turned to find Dana in the doorway, hair and clothes plastered with snow, looking like she'd just skied down the Death Slope on her nose. Shenzi stood at her feet, grinning up at the nearest Elf.
Bran. The serious face he'd been wearing for the last hour broke and he grinned back. His chair swayed down to all fours and he slid off, crouching before her, holding out a hand. Shenzi came over and slobbered happily in his lap. Stupid dog.
Lucky dog. It was a nice lap.
Dana's eyes went from Bran, to the Grandmothers to Lorien and me and Legolas. She met Legolas' eyes for a moment then nodded, and closed the door behind her. Aura slid a huge mug of hot chocolate in her direction, and then I realized there'd always been an extra mug. Like they'd been expecting her.
Aura and Cora eyed Dana, exchanged glances. They looked at Delphi. "You forgot to tell YAWA again." Aura said.
"Oh dear." Delphi said. To Dana she said, "Did he give you much trouble?"
Dana glowered over the rim of her mug, pushed back a snow clotted piece of hair.
"Who?" Lorien asked.
"You see a pinto pony on the way in here?" Dana said.
"Yeah." I said.
"It's not a pony."
"Right." I said, remembering the weird light, like a dagger. Like a horn.
"And I wouldn't mess with him if I wasn't one of the Good Guys." Dana added. "Maybe even if I was one of the Good Guys. I dunno how you guys got in here."
"Yawa?" Lorien said.
"You And Whose Army." Bran said. "As in, who's going to stop me, you and whose army? Nobody knows his real name."
"You knew about this place?" I asked.
"Yeah, sort of, I mean," she nodded at Jon, "I brought him an injured hawk a few months ago. His girlfriend is a rehabber." She looked at Legolas, "I had no idea they were relatives of yours, though, or I would have brought you here right away."
"Uh, how'd you find us?"
"I've got my own palawntir."
"Pa-LAWN-tir?" Lorien said.
"The yard ball...you know, big shiny thing on the stand by the door? Shiny surfaces, birdbaths, mirrors of Galadriel; you use them for scrying, for seeing things far away in time or space." She sat down by Bran and began sucking down the chocolate. He got up and made her another one. "I figured out how Nazgul Barbie's been finding you, at least." Dana said. "And maybe we can use it to our advantage." She gave the Grandmothers a long questioning look. "Of course, it's not like we can call the cops on her or something."
Cora smiled, "Bring her here, we'll take care of the rest." She said it like she was going to ask Barbie to tea. Her eyes had a deep glitter in them, like a crow watching a squirrel run across a road in front of a tractor-trailer.
"So how is she finding us?" Lorien said.
"She has a palawntir too."
Three Grandmothers sat at one end of the table, holding an in depth
conversation with Dana.
You could have heard an owl feather drop in that room, because the conversation was going on totally on some other plane of existence.
It was like Professor Xavier times three. Their dark eyes glittered like stars in the depths of space. It made weird little fingers of ice walk up my back, and yet, it wasn't scary, not Nazgul scary. More like Galadriel at the mirror.
What will they see?
Dana blinked, moved and the spell broke. The Grandmothers turned their eyes toward me. "Dana remembers nothing of the spell. Only giving it to you, and the name of the one who sent it to her." Cora said.
Uh, yeah, I guess you want to walk around inside my head too, now? Ack.
"Yes." Aura said.
I sat my cocoa down with a thud and a slosh. "Ahhh."
"It may be the only way we find out anything about the spell."Delphi said, smiling widely. I could see her tail twitching against the cupboard door. It snaked up, twined around the pot of chocolate, and lifted it toward me. "Have some more, dear."
"Uh." I took it, poured a long one.
"It is not our way to break into someone's mind." Cora said.
"But you want to help your friend." Aura said.
I glanced at Lorien.
"I meant Legolas." Aura said.
That startled me. Friend. Mellon. I looked up and caught his eyes, deep grey in the warm light of the kitchen. I wish he could stay. I want him to stay. But... "Yeah, OK, whatever it takes. You think you can help me remember what happened with the spell?"
"Possibly." Cora said.
I nodded, "Ok, then."
Eyes full of stars, deep space between, the kitchen was gone, faded away into the depths of that starfield. Starfield becomes woods. The campfire circle. A moon shaped like a drawn bow. The search for a few green leaves. Some odds and ends of herbs and feathers from a bag. One of Lorien's mittens. The fire. Words that had no form, no sound. Forgotten words.
I was back in the kitchen staring at the Grandmothers. "Huh?" I said.
Cora frowned. Glanced at the others.
"What?" Dana said.
"What?" Lorien said, leaning forward.
Legolas leaned back against his chair, eyes shadowed, face unreadable.
"The spell is gone from her mind, but not because she forgot it. Because it was made that way. So no-one could change it. So no-one could reverse it."
"Wh...what about the other stuff? The feathers and stuff?" I said.
Aura shrugged. "Merely physical components. Props. The real magic comes from..."
"Elsewhere." Cora said. She frowned harder. "What feathers?"
"Didn't you see them? When you looked in my mind?"
"No." She glanced at the other two, they met her eyes but nobody nodded or shook their heads or anything.
"Feathers, yes, "Aura said, "but they were only shadows. I couldn't see their markings. Or feel what they had come from."
"They were big bluey-greeney things, like off one of those big macaws or something. At least, that's how I remember them."
"Maybe it is a false memory, changed by the spell." Aiwei said.
Cora nodded, "Maybe."
"And how is it that a human opened a Gate?" Aiwei continued, "One a Gatesinger didn't know existed?"
"That's what I'd like to know." Aura said.
You shall count to nine, nine shall be the number of your counting. You shall count neither to ten, nor to eight, and eleven is right out. Nine is the number of the Fellowship. Camilla Sandman, The Official Fanfiction University of Middle-earth
Bran and Ian, Jon, Zan, Tas, the Grandmothers reeled off the names. And Charlie, alias Doc. And Legolas, naturally, since he was the center of the Anomaly. There was no clear plan, only the need to track down our pink-clad Nazgulchick, and it looked like the Elves were taking on the job. The Grandmothers started suggesting other names, and I felt like Pippin at the Council of Elrond. It was Lorien though who leapt up and practically yelled, "But that will leave no place for us!"
Without thinking, I stood up beside her, even though those three Grandmothers probably could have roasted Gandalf's balrog without getting a hair out of place. Legolas stood and came between us, placing a hand on each of our shoulders, facing the Grandmothers. His grip was stronger than you'd expect from those slender hands, it welded us into one solid unit; The Three Friends.
Jon regarded me from across the table, with his usual unreadable hawk look. "I think your part in this tale is over." His voice had none of the deep resonance of Treebeard's; it was cool as whitewater, and about as sympathetic.
"Maybe not." Tas said.
"Yeah." Bran said.
"I doubt you will separate them from Legolas while he is on this side of the Gate." Ian said.
Doc stayed silent, watching us from under wolverine eyebrows.
"I think things are going to get messy, and you should stay out of the way." Dana said.
Zan stood, stretched himself up to his full heroic height, an inch taller than Lorien, and looked at me, "You have my, ah...well, ok, you have me."
Aura stared down at me, like a vulture contemplating fresh roadkill. Cora cocked her head, like Bran, eyes dark as hyperspace. She eyed Delphi. Delphi looked back with bright possum eyes, then studied Lorien and me, one by one.
You could have shattered the quiet with the drop of a cat whisker.
Then Possum Woman smiled her hugely impossible smile, "Well, of course dear." she said, as if we'd just asked if we could go to the movies.
We stared at her in stunned silence. I felt Legolas' hand relax on my shoulder.
"I will not ask if you know what you are walking into, because you don't." Aura said. "But if you wish to trap this...Nazgul Barbie...I think you will have to be part of the bait. And there is also the question of the Gate."
Cora nodded, "The others will protect you as they can, but this is your quest, you started it, you must end it."
I felt Legolas squeeze my shoulder. 'I'm here.'
'Hannon le.' I thought back.
"Me too." Bran said softly. He rose and caught my hands in his. Warm and solid and chiseled, like flight feathers. Like Legolas' hands. Then he turned to Lorien.
Ian came and stood beside us, one broad hand on my shoulder. He gave me a reassuring grin, like a big brother.
A voice, in eerily close imitation of Sean Bean, came from the table, "If this is the will of the Council, then Gondor will..."
Tas gave Zan a poke. "We're with you, girls." she said simply.
Doc nodded in agreement.
Jon met my eyes from across the table. He searched my eyes for a small piece of eternity, then his face shifted, as if he'd seen something he almost liked. His pale ice eyes warmed to grey dawn. He stood and with a princely nod, said, "And you have my bow."
stood in the middle of Cherokee's stall, wielding the plastic sawdust
fork with all the skill of Gimli wielding the Great Bow of Galadriel.
"Dude," I said, "the used shavings go in the wheelbarrow."
She blinked, like her brain was coming back from somewhere else, "Oh, yeah." Her eyes drifted to the barn door. Beyond, Dana's great palawntir glittered in warm solar swirls against the snow.
"I doubt you're going to make her show up any faster by thinking at her." I whispered.
She let out a breath and looked up at the rafters. Hidden in the shadows a big dark silver raven cocked his head at us. He let out a soft 'tck tck,' like dry sticks clicking together.
From the next stall came a snort, a pair of red ears flicked through a strawberry-blond and white mane. The pinto mare raised her head and stared at us, first with one brown eye, then with one blue.
"We've spent all this time avoiding her. Now we're trying to attract her. It's extremely odd." Lorien said.
"Yeah." I agreed. I reached for the empty space under my shirt where Dana's bag had hung. We weren't trying to be invisible now, so the bags had been left behind.
The mare let out a soft 'pprrrrrbth 'through her nose.
"We've got them." I nodded at the mare, and the raven in the rafters, and the spare barn help; one well-muscled blond and a red-haired kid in a Hulk T-shirt, jeans and Wellies. Ian looked like he could take on all the orcs of Helm's Deep single-handed. I had no idea what use Zan would be, other than to spout goofy movie lines at Nazgul Barbie, which would probably have the same effect as dropping hot butter on a live lobster.
A really big, really mad one.
Jon had vanished into the trees, like a Galadhrim guard, dressed in camo and wielding a longbow bigger than Galadriel's gift. Some cheerful banging and swearing was coming from Dana's garage, where Doc was doing some long-needed repairs. He'd brought a truckload of tools, and I didn't think all of them were for fixing broken machinery.
From the arena I heard Dana call a command to a young rider, Legolas came through the door, Beo walking quietly beside him. Amanda was holding his reins on the other side, a huge smile on her face, chattering to the Elf.
"How'd it go?" I called to Amanda.
She stopped in front of our stall, beaming, and looking better than Liv Tyler. She glanced at our Elf, "He's awesome."
I wasn't sure if she meant Beo, or Legolas. Probably Legolas. Beo nosed her in the back, the way he had the Elf. She wrapped an arm around the big horse's nose and hugged him, then smiled warmly at our Elf. He touched her shoulder with that warm, sweet smile that made me want to melt into a puddle of butter. Impulsively she hugged him, then wandered off to untack Beo.
Lorien and I stared after her. Lorien raised her hands and closed her eyes in a centering breath.
I raised my eyebrows in a question mark.
"I'm trying really hard not to hate her." she said.
"Yeah. Me too."
The spotted mare snorted from the next stall. It sounded like laughter.
nelphae-a tad: Legolas
"You are as dense as a mithril breastplate. Three women making great doe eyes at you and you bring none of them back." Gimli snorted.
"Ehhhh. Four. I think the pooka liked me too. I began to wonder if they really did know a way to send me home and weren't telling me."
"Would it have mattered?"
We rode out later, Lorien looking confident on Pumpkin, Legolas on Loda. Ian had vanished into the woods earlier on Aiwe's trail. I pulled Cherokee out of his stall and Zan caught his halter rope, reached up and in one slick move, slid off the halter. He swung up on Cherokee's bare back, light as a cat, grinned at me and nodded toward the other pinto in the barn.
Bran dropped out of the rafters and sailed out the door with a great whoosh whoosh whoosh of wings.
I opened the stall door to "Wolf", and stood there looking stupid. The pooka hadn't said a word since she shapeshifted into horse form, good reason; horses, unlike ravens, can't talk. "Ummm." I said, wondering if it would be rude to put a bridle on her. She sauntered out, gave me a shove with her nose. I looked up at Zan.
"Hey, you wanted to ride Elvish style, right?" he gave me a mischievious grin.
I swung up, not quite as graceful as him, and we rode out onto the winter trails.
The horses moved from a light warm-up trot to a bounding canter. Loda stayed round and relaxed for a change. Legolas' expression no longer looked like a cowboy who hadn't got off his horse in years. Lorien let go of the saddle pommel with both hands, and laughed gleefuly. Bran floated ahead on broad silver wings, nearly invisible against the late afternoon sky. Under me, Wolf cantered, coiled like a dragon waiting to strike. I smiled, then grinned. "Yee-HAH!" She stretched out and blasted past the others. It was weird, that out of control feeling you get on the first rollercoaster hill, when you know if you throw your hands up you're gonna fly out and die. No reins, no saddle. For a hundred yards I crouched over her neck, clinging to her mane, then I saw how she floated over rocks and branches and little gullies the water had made across the trail. It was magic, she was a pooka, she couldn't put a foot wrong. I lifted my arms like wings and whooped. A moment later Loda and Legolas were behind us, and we were racing madly up the mountain.
We came to the top, and stood blowing, waiting for the others, Nazgul Barbie forgotten. I looked up for the familiar shape of silver wings and saw none.
"He's circling, a league or more." Legolas made a broad sweep with his arm. "He'll be able to see if anything's coming."
It didn't. Not that night, and not for the rest of the week.
"All this waiting around for Nazgul Barbie to just show up. Baaah! If there had been more than one Dwarf at Hawk Circle, they would have tunneled her out, marched in and dealt with her proper like." Gimli's bushy brows twitched like annoyed wolverines.
"Patience, 'mellon nin. 'The hunter cannot run down the deer. He must use his head."
"Mine would have been bursting apart at the seams by now, and my axe restless in my hands."
Saturday, a week later, the 22nd. We finished at Dana's, leaving the Elf guard for the night, Ian, Zan and Wolf, in charge of the barn. Doc had gone back to Hawk Circle, Aiwe was doing a lecture somewhere, Bran had a late flight to run for the E.L.F.
"Does it involve sacks of toys?" I kidded him.
He just gave me a lopsided grin and drove off.
Legolas and Lorien were still in the barn, improving her Elvish skills. I had a sleighload of stuff to wrap for Family Christmas on Tuesday. And for the E.L.F. Christmas party the next day. I threw a last look back into the warm barn light.
Sigh. Maybe I should take up linguistics.
I gunned the engine and headed for home.
Two hours later my cell rang. Legolas' voice had an edge like one of his knives, "Lorien's mother called and asked how late she was going to be. She left here an hour ago."
I'm Dreaming of a Blue Elf Christmas
Hey, this is me, Lorien. I had to write this part because Lizard wasn't there. Legolas either. It screws up the point of view aspect of the story a bit but...
Ok, Lizard's telling me to shut up and stop with the English 101 Lecture of Doom (her words) and get on with it.
Hmmm, I guess it kind of spoils the surprise element too, I mean, here I am, and obviously I didn't die or anything or I wouldn't be writing this, so...
Ok, OK! I'll get on with it.
...it was dark. Of course it was dark, it's always dark inside your eyelids. No, darker than that. Not even that kind of red glow you get when you shut your eyes and light comes through anyway.
And cold, like the inside of a cave.
And why was my German teacher asking me if I was awake. Wha...? Did I fall asleep in class again? Wait, it was Christmas vacation...And why did Mrs. Spahr sound like a guy?
I blinked my eyes open and it didn't get any lighter. My head was on something warm...it occured to me that it felt like somebody's leg. There was a hand on my forehead. I reached up and touched something warm and velvety...exactly the texture of the soft end of a horse's nose.
Uuuhhhh, yeah, a hand in velvet gloves. Nana had a pair of velvet winter gloves but she didn't have a German accent.
A German accent?
"Easy junge Frau, it's OK..."
My hand twitched over the hand on my forehead...and some bizzare corner of my subconcious counted fingers.
And a thumb on the side of my rather fuggily foggy head.
I sat up rather abruptly, and the unseen hand slipped to my shoulder. Sitting up was a bad idea, my head felt like somebody'd shot a lightning bolt through it.
"It's OK, it will pass." the voice was low and rich and would have been really sexy if my bloody head hadn't hurt so much. I turned to look, and something materialized out of the abyssmal dark.
Luminescent eyes, glowing yellow like the eyes of a predator seen just beyond the safe circle of a campfire.
One's instinct in situations like this is to run screaming into the night. But the hand on my shoulder was still there, and the voice coming from somewhere below the odd eyes was reassuring.
And it all seemed eerily familiar.
Tick, tick, tick, tick...my mental calculator added it all up, despite the lightning bolt, and came to the conclusion...
I was still out cold and having a hallucination.
No, your head couldn't hurt this much in a hallucination.
The yellow eyes blinked out, then on again, then tilted apologetically, "Easy, I'm one of the good guys."
I reached for the eyes, clapped both hands on the side of his head. "Holy..."
His face felt like a velvet horse nose too, and there was a mass of tousled curls nearly covering a pair of ears like the new opened leaf of a beech.
Just like Legolas'.
"...miiiiiist!" I breathed.
The voice took on a slightly desperate edge, "It's OK, don't panic, I'll get you out of here, I promise..."
I dropped my hands to shoulders, muscled like a gymnast...or a circus aerialist...and clad in something that felt like a t-shirt, slid them quickly down his back to a tight butt clad in ordinary jeans.
"Hey!" he said.
Smack at the end of his spine was a hole in the jeans big enough for three plus feet of velvet covered tail.
"HEY!" he said, and the rest of the tail wrapped around my wrist and yanked it back to a more virtuous position in front of his chest.
"Nighty?" I questioned. I knew the answer. If Nazgul Barbie could come up with a spell to yank Legolas out of Middle-earth...
...nailing an X-Man would be easy. "Fuzzy Elf!" I practically shouted. Comic geek Liz was totally going to kill me.
"Unglaublich! The eyes widened, the tail kept its boa death grip on my wrist. "How...?!"
"Relax Kurt. I'm one of the good guys too. I'm Lorien. I..um...heard about the X-Men. All good stuff."
From Liz, of course, who dumped thirty years of the books on me after I told her I thought Alan Cumming was the best thing in the movie. 'Paybacks,' she said, 'for making me read LOTR.' Paybacks are a big hungry dragon in heat. Neither of us would ever be able to have a round-eared guy again. If we ever got a guy at all.
And I am NOT telling you about the blue velvet body pillows.
The tail snaked away, and was replaced by a hand. He raised my hand to his lips and gave it a chivalrous kiss. "Would that we had met under better circumstances my lady." I could almost hear him smile. "How do you feel now?"
""Mir geth es gut, danke." I told him. I'm fine, thank you."Although a minute ago my head did feel like Storm emptied a whole mess of lightning bolts into it, but it's fading now. How'd I get here? How'd you get here. Where is here anyhow?"
The eyes widened slightly, "You don't know? You were there."
"Huh? There where when?"
"When I arrived..." the eyes narrowed as if he was considering something. "You don't remember the spell?"
"Spell? What spell?"
The twin suns of his eyes regarded me for a long moment, "I was reading, in my favorite tree, and then, fzzzztt there's this flash of green light and I'm here. It looks like a basement, like you see in some of the farm houses from the early 1800s. All stone walls and dirt floors, big beams in the ceiling. There was a woman, and a strong smell, not a pleasant one. And you were there, saying something, like an incantation." His eyes moved again, tilted, as if he was puzzled, "I didn't look closely at you then, I was a bit preoccupied by the woman and the fire. She smiled at me, like a hyena smiling at a wounded wildebeest, and I could feel her trying to do something to my mind."
"She's charmed us that way before too. Then what?"
"She became angry when it didn't work. You don't spend most of your life living with telepaths without learning some defenses."
"She blasted me with some sort of...force beam, magic, I don't know. When I woke up you were here too, out cold."
"The last thing I remember is leaving the Greenwood." I said.
"I thought I smelled horse."
Oh great. Geek Girl Embarasses Self by Meeting Hot Superhero Smelling Like Horse Poop.
"It's a good smell," he said quickly, "reminds me of my childhood in the circus."
Oh, yeah, he can see in the dark. Must have seen my terminal embarassement. Ack, and the fangirl drool. "She must have opened another Gate. A Portal. Like the Well at the Center of Time or something. And it looks like she used me! I swear, I'm going to fry her a..." I clamped my teeth on the last bit. At least for awhile this guy had been a priest.
"Wait, portal? To where? And how do you know about the Well?"
I hesitated, it was too weird to explain to him.
Or not. This is the guy who has battled aliens, demons, evil mutants and other heavy duty weirdness his whole life. Falling into a world where he and his buddies were a comic book should be about as oddball as a Sunday picnic. "It's in the comic."
"Um, you guys are all in a comic book, that's how we know about you."
"Ehhh? I don't remember any comic, Superman, ja, Batman, Spiderman, Elfquest, but..."
"You're not in Kansas anymore."
"From the woman's accent, I'd say northeast coast America."
"Unless Nazgul Barbie's changed her game plan big time, I'd say we're still in southeast Pennsylvania."
"It's a long story. And you're not exactly in the Pennsylvania you're familiar with. If you drove north to New York, you would not find Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, or any other mutants, because they don't exist in this world. Except in the Marvel Comic."
"Ach. Some sort of parallel universe." The pale eyes bobbed as if he was nodding.
"Ja." I said. I love a guy with brains. "Happens to you all the time, doesn't it?"
"Another day, another adventure, another alternate reality."
"Wonder if anyone knows I'm missing yet?" I wobbled to my feet, felt a hand catch my shoulder. "Let's get outta here. Wait, do you always have to see where you're going to teleport?" I didn't ask something stupid like why he hadn't 'ported me out before, it was kind of hard on passengers, and on unconcious ones, worse.
"It helps. But I have done blind ports before."
"No windows in here, eh?"
"I wonder how much Nazgul Barbie knows about you..."
"My 'porting ability has been jammed before."
The hand left my shoulder, and the eyes blinked out as he turned. "Don't move." he said.
There was a flash of brilliant purplish-fuschia light, piercing after the total darkness, and a waft of scent like a science experiment gone horribly wrong.
fuschia flash was twenty feet farther away, with a vague, tallish
silhouette in the middle of it.
"Whoa! That is so cool!" I said, sounding appallingly like a fangirl.
He walked back, silent as any Elf. I felt a hand on my shoulder again. "Wait, I'll be right back."
"Be careful Fuzzy." I squeezed an arm that felt like a hunting leopard's; all velvet and hard muscle.
"I will." the voice receded toward the far wall.
A long stretch of silence.
"Nighty?" I groped forward in the dark toward the last sound. Somewhere around my feet I heard a faint groan. I dropped and began feeling around on the cool dirt floor, until my hand tripped over a jeans-clad leg. I felt my way up to his head, "Nighty?"
"What happened? Are you OK?"
"I get run over by a herd of mastodons every day." he said faintly.
I remembered my first aid training, and since he was breathing and talking, I wouldn't have to do mouth to mouth (darn). I ran my hands down his arms and legs, "Anything broken?"
"My pride. I'm really glad you couldn't see that."
I moved and my knee came down on something snakey.
"Oh, sorry, forgot about the tail." I ran my hand the length of it, "No kinks."
"Just a few sailor knots. Ehhhhhh."
I touched his head and felt something warm and wet. Great, he's bleeding, and I've left the first aid kit in the car. Wherever the car is. I dived into my jeans pocket, yeah, there, the handy dandy all purpose Swiss Army knife from Dad. I knew each tool, even in the dark, and found the best blade. "Hold still." I said to Nightcrawler. I plucked up the front of his shirt and began slicing.
"Hey, that's my favorite Star Trek shirt."
"Classic, or Next Gen?"
"The original, of course," he put a hand against my shoulder, fingers spread. "I can do the Vulcan live long and prosper thing with both hands, easy."
I giggled. "So, did you ever try to tell anyone you got your head caught in a rice picker?"
"It didn't work for Spock either."
A strip of cotton came away, I folded it into a reasonable excuse for a bandage and pressed what I hoped were gentle exploring fingers to his forehead.
"Ow, there, I think."
I finished wrapping his head and sat back.
"Sehr gut, danke."
"Bitteschon. Guess we're not 'porting out of here, huh?"
"There's some kind of force field."
I heard a faint rustle as he sat up. "There will be another way." he said quietly.
"Yeah, somebody'll miss us, they'll come looking for us, eventually they might even find us." Lizard's moray eels made an unannounced visit to my stomach. It hadn't occurred to me why Nazgul Barbie had bothered to kidnap me.
"That's it. That's why she nabbed me. Maybe she used me in the spell, like she used Liz. But there's something else. She wants them to come looking for me."
"Something finally happened!" the Dwarf was leaning on the rail, almost enjoying the gentle roll of the ship in the swells. He grinned gleefully, fingering the edge of a non-existent axe. "What did you do?"
"I had called Liz, she threatened to bob my ears if I did not wait for her. She was there in a heartbeat, and I gathered Ian and Zan and Tas, while Dana dealt with Lorien's family, making some excuse for Lorien's absence, backed by magic, so they would not call the police. I also took the dogs, Shenzi and Kodi, for dogs can see things even Elves cannot. We took Tas's SUV..."
"Do they never give anything a proper name?"
"Sport Utility Vehicle. Bigger than a Jeep, fits more people than a truck."
"That's even..." Gimli paused, unable to find words which would reveal the depth of his disdain for such an empty name.
"Well, she called it Windrider."
"We followed the route Lorien should have taken home. We found her car pulled into an empty field. Though only Zan, the illusionist, could see that it was Lorien's car."
"It looked like a cow."
"Eh? Why would Nazgul Barbie want to turn Lorien's car into a cow?"
"She didn't turn it into a cow, she only made it look like one so no one would find the car. There were remnants of magic about it...magic we might be able to trace."
You Can Bamf if You Want To...
(is it safe to bamf?)
"She wants who to come looking for you?"
"My buddy Lizard, the rest of the E.L.F. No, she really doesn't want them, though they'll probably come. She just wants Legolas."
There were a few beats of silence. I really really really wished there was some light in there, or that I could see in the dark like Nightcrawler. I tried to imagine his expression. Or maybe they'd never heard of Tolkien in his world. Then a softly accented voice came out of the dark.
Greenleaf, long under tree, in joy thou hast lived, beware of the
if thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore, thy heart will then dwell in the forest no more."
"Whoa! You've read Herr der Ringe?
"Wow, Liz said you were a fan of swashbucklers and pirate movies, but..."
"Liz? Lizard? How does she know?"
"She's the biggest comic book geek ever."
"Ah." Silence. He was probably calculating the hazards of hanging out with two rabid fangirls.
"Legolas." he said, "Why does Nazgul Barbie want Legolas. And you mean the Legolas, the one from the book?"
"Yeah, she made up some kind of spell, somehow it got to Liz, and Legolas got yanked out of his bath in Mirkwood on Halloween night and dumped in Liz's backyard. And Nazgul Barbie's been trying to get him back ever since. And now she's got you, too."
"Why?" he said softly, as if to himself. "What have we in common?"
"Pointy ears." I said.
I told him the rest of what had happened, the Cliff Notes version. After all, we still had to think of a way out of there.
"The roads of that land weave a web more tangled than the ancient webs of the Mirkwood spiders. At every stop or turn, we had to get out of that little metal box and sense what the wind and the earth and the trees had to tell us. We made many wrong turns, and lost the trail over and over. Tas ran for miles over the snow in her horse shape. I ran on the snow with Shenzi and Kodi, and I climbed dozens of trees, listening to the nightwind, to the speech of nightbirds, to the whispers of such creatures who were abroad in the dark; possum, skunk, coyote, owl. Ian, though a Man, could draw on the power of the earth itself. Even Zan, who was very young, could see shimmers of magic we could not. Liz paced back and forth, feeling useless, and twirling her bo staff, as if readying herself for a battle. It was late when we came to the Great River, and there we lost the trail." The Elf fell silent for a moment, and his face registered an emotion familiar to Gimli. It was the face he had worn when they followed two kidnapped Hobbits over forty leagues and five of Rohan grass.
We perched on an old bench, leaning against the rough stone wall. I couldn't imagine how long we'd been there, hours, days, a lifetime.
And eventually, I'd have to go to the bathroom.
No problem for Mountain Woman Lizard. She even knew which leaves were safe to use for toilet paper. But I was trapped in somebody's icky dungeon cellar with a billion spiders and rats and one superhero whose powers were efficiently short-circuited.
And he was a guy.
"Um, excuse me." he uncoiled off the bench and his quiet footsteps vanished to the far end of the room. I heard small rustlings. Something tiny walked over my shoulder. I leapt up, bonked my head on the underside of some sort of storage shelf and swatted desperately at what was probably a whole horde of black widows. I managed not to scream and look like a total idiot Damsel in Distress.
The footsteps returned. "Um...we may be here for some time, so, ah...the floor is dirt, and ah...well, you can...uh... improvise."
I smiled and tried to imagine how a blue fuzzy guy would blush. "Any ideas? On escaping I mean."
"My head's still a little scrambled, I think, so, I cannot really think." The bench creaked slightly as he sat. A light scuttling sounded far too close for comfort.
"What is that?"
"A frumious bandersnitch."
I recognized it from the Nightcrawler miniseries. I giggled, poked him hard in the shoulder, and felt him sway, then I heard a chuckle. "Just a couple of really big rats."
Liz's morays jitterbugged through my gut. I opened my mouth and managed to say, "Oh. Is that all. I hear they're vegetarians. Anyway, I have a superhero to protect me."
"I believe they are omnivores. But I will do my best my lady." he said gallantly.
Something moved alongside my leg and I realized it was his tail. The end was twitching against my foot, like a cat trying to figure out how to get through the window to the birdfeeder. "Must be cool, having a tail." I said.
"You learn to go through doors fast."
More silence. No sound from upstairs either. If Nazgul Barbie was home, she was sleeping. The basement was cold as a cave. Off in a corner a furnace hummed, something else gurgled. A furious squeak was cut off in mid-sentence.
The tail tucked reassuringly against my leg. "Nothing."
"Right. It sounded like it got murdered."
"Ach, yeah. Everybody should have a ten-foot black snake in their basement. Keeps the giant rats under control."
Ulp. This was Mountain Woman Liz's department. She'd probably be groping around in the dark trying to catch the verdammt thing. "I hear they're, ah, harmless."
"Ja." Nighty was a big, warm presence, perched beside me, like a gargoyle, elbows on knees, hands holding his head.
"How's your head?"
Obviously it wasn't. "Think you can teleport again?"
"Oh, yeah, the other end of the room's warmer."
"No, no, you can teleport with stuff, right? I mean, like part of something."
I felt him move and the golden eyes turned toward me.
"Like, say, a door?"
The eyes regarded me for a small eternity. I heard him smack his head in disbelief, "Ach!" then "Ooooohhh! My head must be more scrambled than I thought." He moved off the bench, catching my waist with his tail. "Stay close."
I followed him, connected by a blue fuzzy lifeline. Something else scuttled out of the way practically under my feet. I clamped my teeth on a scream.
"Relax, those are just the little ones." He said. "Only twenty pounds or so."
Yeah, the tail, he must have felt me jump. "I'm fine." I lied.
We stopped. He put his hands on my shoulders and gently moved me to one side. "Stay here." he said. I heard the faint sound of feet on stairs, a scrape, then...
BAMF! And a huge hole blazing light appeared above my head. Somewhere behind me there was another bamf and a muffled thud. "Nighty?"
"I'm ok. That was just the door falling."
I looked up into warm light; a twenty-five watt bulb illuminating a hallway. I turned to see Nightcrawler come up beside me, still little more than an indigo silhouette in the dim light.
"Stay close behind me." He went up the steps like a leopard running up a tree. I scrambled up behind him, expecting to see Nazgul Barbie waiting at the top. I mean, nobody could have slept through all that noise.
The hall was empty.
He caught my hand and slipped down the hall on the balls of his two-toed feet. Bare feet, I noticed. And the jeans and light t-shirt suggested he'd been yanked out of summertime New York. Wunderbar, I wonder if superheroes are immune to frostbite. Iceman, Elsa, Jack Frost, Hulk, Wolverine...not Nighty. The hall opened up into a kitchen on the right, and a living room on the left. The kitchen had none of the hanging herb charm of the Grandmothers' kitchen at Hawk Circle. This one was all shiny and sterile as if Nazgul Barbie always ate out, though the whole room somehow looked expensive. A few small security lights glowed icily out of hidden places in the edges of the ceiling. There wasn't a plant or cat or Golden Retriever in sight. Not even a big nasty demon dog. The living room was all in shadows, except for the glimmer of light on something dark and shiny and round.
Nazgul Barbie's palawntir.
"Nighty, wait." I stepped into the shadowed room, onto deep million dollar carpet, only to be pulled up short by a length of blue tail.
"We should go now." he hissed, and it wasn't a request.
"We should take that..."
He whispered and pulled me back out into the hall. We passed two more
rooms, smaller, doors invitingly ajar. One was lined with books and
from the other came the flicker of a screen saver.
We reached the door. I piled up close behind Nightcrawler as he reached for the knob, his tail still snaked protectively around my waist. I half expected the door to have some sort of protection on it, or at least be somehow locked to keep us in...
The doorknob turned, the door creaked open, like a sound effect in a horror movie. Nightcrawler swept me up in one arm and, as if he were swinging from the rigging of a pirate ship, leapt across the porch and the four steps down into the snowy yard.
A bolt of light the impossible color of a headache hit him square in the back. We rolled and I came up gasping and snow-covered. Nightcrawler stayed sprawled in the snow. Nazgul Barbie stood on the top step, one hand smoking, "Do you really think I'd let you get away so easy?" Her face had all the charm of an annoyed rattlesnake.
Face, I finally had a clear look at her face, and for a supervillainess, she looked remarkably ordinary. Average face, average build. A little too much Revlon, and nobody, not even Galadriel, could be that shade of blonde. I crouched in the snow and began to remember how to breathe. Now, if I could only remember how to think. Yeah, think, think of something...like what? Nightcrawler is down for the count and all I've got to work with is linguistics and a lot of snow. "You know," I said, "this is usually the part where the villain goes into great detail about why they're doing what they're doing, and how evilly they're going to do in the Hero..." Which, of course, gives the Hero enough time to come up with a Plan. As if I can do anything against Sauron's favorite bimbo, Magneto's Handmaiden. Aaaah. What would Nightcrawler do? Or Legolas? Or Mountain Woman Liz?
"You've been reading way too many comic books." Barbie quipped, she was smiling. Kind of the way hyenas do when they've got the Kill of the Week cornered on a cliff edge.
Something moved against my leg. Nighty's tail, and there was a pattern to it that was not random.
A distraction, he'd need a distraction. I stayed kneeling, one hand still behind me, out of her line of sight. Working up a nice little fastball special. "What is it with the Elves, anyway, trying to collect the whole set?"
The smoking hand started to glow, "If I didn't need you in one piece, you little twit, I'd cheerfully send your liver to Outer Mongolia."
hissed something under my breath, in German, hoping Nazgul Barbie
would take it for a curse.
And I threw the snowball. Iceman himself couldn't have done better, it hit her square in the nose in all its hard-packed icy glory. Behind me there was a flash of fuschia light and the smell of a science experiment gone horribly wrong.
I always wondered what would happen if a fairly tall acrobat suddenly appeared on the shoulders of a five and a half foot tall woman standing on slippery steps wearing nothing but a silk nightie.
"Yeeeeaaaaaggghhhh!" Bumpity-bumpity-bumpity-bumpity-splat. She landed face down in the snow and Nighty didn't wait around to see if she was staying there. He wrapped himself around me, arms, legs and tail and the world vanished.
Tas paced up and down the bank of the river. Zan sat in the snow, little lights flickering on his fingertips. Ian hunched on a rock, in a pose more like his friend the raven. Liz hunched beside Ian, mirroring his pose. The dogs lay at their feet, but with sharp, watchful eyes. I stared down the Great River, lights like stars danced on its edges, reflected in its water, partly frozen now. A few miles south great towers rose, lit like torches.
"She's not trying too hard to cover her trail." Tas said. She frowned. Looked at me. "Legolas...you especially seem to be able to find it, though not easily. She should be able to hide it better."
"She wants him to find it." Zan said.
Yeeeeaaaaaaggghhhh! It felt like the first hill on the rollercoaster, when you're dropping straight down at approximately the speed of light and every atom in your body is trying to fly off in a different direction. I'd heard the space he 'ported through described as a different dimension, but I think dimension and time and space had no meaning there. We were there for a second, for an eternity, and then the world bamfed into focus around us.
"Whoa!...COOL! Can we do it again, can we? Can we?"
"You know, most people need a barf bag after that."
I swayed and looked down. Waaaaay down. My arms were still locked around Nightcrawler's waist and I kept them there. We were perched, like a raven, about a hundred feet up in a tree.
He sat us down and wrapped his legs and tail around a branch, not for himself, but to keep me from choking him in a panic. "Relax, I've never let anyone fall yet." He was laughing softly.
"Laugh it up, Circus Boy." I grumbled. "What are we doing up here anyway?" The last line came out sort of as a squeak.
"It's a place I could see to teleport to, and a place I can see the lay of the land from." He swept an arm out in a great shadowy arc, I kept my death grip around his waist. "Do you know where you are now?" he asked.
Lizard should be here, Liz would love this. Another Elf who's at home in the treetops. I squinted and looked around. A lot of woods, some open farm fields shimmering in the light of a half moon, the glow of a few scattered houses. "Which one did we come from?"
"Over there, about two miles south. It's easier.."
"...to 'port north or south along the Earth's magnetic lines."
"Ach! What don't you know about me?"
"Your shoe size."
"I don't usually..."
"Yeah I know." He had pried my hand loose from his t-shirt and was holding me gently, loosely like a kitten. But I knew he'd catch me if I slipped. I had stopped shivering in fear and was actually beginning to like the view.
Shivering. He was shivering slightly. He was wearing half a t-shirt and jeans, and nothing else. We'd escaped one danger to be thrown headlong into another.
"You're cold." I said. "We need to get you someplace warm."
"Achja." He said softly. "But it's not like we can just walk into McDonald's or something."
"Yeah, no shirt, no shoes, no service." I gave his half a shirt a tug.
He let out a quiet laugh.
"We need to get back to Hawk Circle. You'll be safe there." I scanned the horizon for something familiar. Not far away a straggle of headlights made their way down the backroads, and a bit farther was the bright light of a major route. But it wasn't like we could just go out there and thumb a ride, either. Nightcrawler was not as easy to disguise as Legolas, he tended to have a strange effect on people who didn't know him. They'd either lynch him or run screaming into the night.
He was shivering a bit more now.
"Are you ok? I mean, Nazgul Barbie didn't hurt you, did she?"
"First a herd of mastodons, then some tyrannosaurs. I've had worse." He paused. "But I don't think I have many more teleports left in me tonight."
"Enough to get us out of this tree, I hope, I climb in exactly the way squirrels don't." A glow on the far horizon could be York, or Harrisburg, or Carlisle, or a half dozen other towns. The faint river of light to the west could be Route 83 or something else.
River. Those lights were moving like cars going over a bridge. A big one. One over the River. And the glow I was seeing was the lights on the cooling towers at Three Mile Island. "That's the river."
"The one that runs from New York down to the Chesapeake Bay." he said through tight teeth.
"We're east of it. And that's Three Mile Island."
"THE Three Mile Island, the one Magneto tried to..."
"He doesn't exist in this world. Unless Nazgul Barbie takes a liking to him and yanks him out of his bath. We did have a little near-meltdown a few years ago, without the assistance of any evil mutants."
"So where is your Hawk Circle?"
"Ummmm...over there..." I pointed, "about twenty miles."
He made a soft exclamation under his breath.
Too far to bamf. I turned and my nose was buried in a mass of shadowy curls, he was looking away, off into that impossible cold distance. Knowing there was no safe haven between our tree and Hawk Circle. "A lighter and a cell phone would solve all our problems." I said.
He turned his head and nearly bumped noses with me. "You're brilliant." He smiled and those little catlike fangs glinted in the moonlight.
"So where are we gonna get something like that?"
The grin widened, like the Cheshire cat.
"There were many bridges over the river, and she hadn't chosen the most direct one to the other side. Tas thought she wanted the trail to look real, as if she had been trying to hide her tracks. Still, we found it. And followed it on the other side, now straighter and faster, with no more wrong turns, no more misleading offshoots. We came at last to a farmhouse, ancient for a house of this land, though it had existed for only a few lifetimes of Men." Legolas smiled, "You would have liked it, solid dark stone, sturdy and well-rooted. Good bones."
Dwarf grinned in appreciation. "and what did you find there?"
"Nothing. Nothing but the remnants of magic. The house was empty, not even a plant or a cat, or a guardian dog. Shenzi sensed a faint odd smell. Zan, like all of us, could understand the dog's thought, "Like a science experiment gone horribly wrong." he described the smell. Like the breath of Smaug.
Tas sniffed. "Sulphurous. And there's a spell surrounding the house. Why is this house protected by an anti-teleport spell?"
"To keep you out?" Ian said.
"Watch." She vanished with a faint phoomph. A moment later the front door crashed open, and hung half off its hinges. "Teleporters check in but they can't check out." Her hair looked as if she'd been in a battle, and her face wore an expression one might find on the face of a Dwarf who's had his dinner interrupted by a horde of starving orcs. "Besides, Nazgul Barbie doesn't know about me."
"Hey, you're the only teleporter I know of outside the comics." Ian said.
Zan sniffed again. "comics..."
"Wait..." Ian said... "what?"
"I was already going around the house," Legolas continued, "listening to the faint whispers of sleeping shrubbery. So hard was I listening, I almost did not see the tracks."
"Elves." Gimli snorted."Where's a good Ranger when you need one."
"We had come in at the front porch, I had walked most of the way around the house before I found the side porch, four steps, and some strange footprints in the snow. They were the marks of bare feet. They looked almost human, but they had only two toes, and a strange projection in the back. Ian came up beside me and studied the marks too."
"Guys..." Zan said, he was fidgeting, and not with cold, but no one paid attention.
"There's where somebody hit the dirt," Ian said, "and one back there at the bottom of the steps. No blood though." He picked up some shattered bits of hard packed snow. "Looks like somebody had a snowball fight." He squinted at the tracks in the snow and called to Tas. "What Faery Folk would leave tracks like this? With two toes?"
"None I know of." Tas said.
Ian stared at the snow for awhile longer, eyes like owls' in the dark.
"The trail grows cold." I said. He caught my arm and pointed at a mark in the snow. "Uh, does that look like a...a...what is that?"
"The mark of a ...
"tail." Zan said in the exact same breath as me.
"This long," I held my hand to my chest, "with an arrowhead shape to the end." It looked familiar, but it did not belong there, in the snow of Penn's Woods.
"I keep trying to tell you..." Zan said.
Liz came up and stared at it with a look of total disbelief. "Ja." she said, and gave Ian a meaningful look.
He stared down at the tracks, looked at Zan.
"Duh!" Zan said, "if Nazgul Barbie could open a door to Middle-earth, what else could she open?"
The little convenience store was at the edge of nowhere, and about a mile from our tree. It was easy to 'port into the darkness behind the dumpster, and wait for one of the late night employees to come out for a smoke and a chat with his girlfriend on his cell phone. Nighty was trying to hide the big shiver and failing. I pulled some cardboard out of the dumpster, it was warmer to stand on than icy concrete. Then I practically forced my coat on him. Nana got it a size too big (she always overestimates my pudge potential) and it actually just fit Nighty's lean, lithe build.
Yeah, well, he did look a little silly in that puke pink Nana favors.
In the puddle of amber light at the back of the store, a twenty-something with too many earrings was lighting up a cigarette with a cell phone sandwiched between his shoulder and ear. "Hey Babe, whassup?"
"I'll just be borrowing that for a second." Nighty whisked the phone off Earring Boy's shoulder and bowed with the flair of an aerialist who'd just completed a quadruple somersault.
Earring Boy stood staring into the shadows that had just briefly produced something from the deepest, most awful corner of his nightmares. His mouth stayed open for the minute it took to phone Liz's cell and tell where we were. It was still open when the vision reappeared in front of him, puke pink coat and all.
"Thanks. Oh, we'll keep the lighter, you really ought to give that up, you know."
The last I saw of him, he was still standing there, staring open-mouthed into the shadows.
That's when Liz's cell phone went off. It was Lorien. She only had a minute, she said, she described where she would be; in a patch of woods not far from a certain convenience store. "Look for the fire." she told us. "And...I have a friend who helped me escape. Hurry!"
Ian nearly shouted into the phone, "What friend?" But the line was dead.
Less than a mile away was a stretch of woods unbroken by field or house for a mile in either direction. We 'ported in to moonlit snow striped with treeshadow, and a scattering of evergreens behind. Nightcrawler peeled off my coat and thrust it at me. "You're shivering."
"I'm getting wood and you're still barefoot. Sit on it. Anyhow, I have a natural blubber layer."
put it around my shoulders anyway, and swung up into the nearest
tree. I noticed he wasn't moving as smoothly as before. I found some
likely looking firewood, wishing Mountain Woman Liz was here. She'd
at least know how to actually start a fire. I did an expedition into
my pockets; the coat, the jeans, the grungey barn sweatshirt. There
were some crumpled Kleenex and a note that would make decent tinder,
I hoped. Nightcrawler used my knife to make some more out of a dry
bit of wood; growing up in a gypsy circus had its advantages, like
learning to start fires out of pretty much nothing. With the lighter
it was easy. But by the time we had a blaze going, he was shaking. I
cut a few evergreen boughs and made a bed of them by the fire. He
perched on it, coiled into a shivering ball. I knelt by him and put
the coat over him and pulled him close. "It's OK, Kurt, they'll
find us, soon, I promise."
He didn't answer, just leaned his head on my shoulder. I looked down into a lion's mane the impossible color of evening sky over the Rockies. The first time we'd gone over them, I'd stood at 12,500 feet and stared up into an intense, deep, edge of space blue that could never be recreated with printing ink or paint or photography. The Great Big Blue Forever. Now that I could see Kurt in the light, he was that color, vibrant deep sky, endless deep sea, the light glancing off an indigo bunting's feathers. Or a hyacinth macaw.
Sehr schon. Very beautiful. Fair beyond the measure of Men. In the firelight, his cheekbones and jawline had the same chiseled beauty of Legolas'. Fuzzy Elf. He was elvishly light and lithe and agile, and, most of the time, elvishly light of heart too. Morathradon, one who walks the paths of night. Luindar. Blue Elf.
I hoped my directions had been clear enough for the gang, or we'd both be blue by morning.
"Many times that night we wished for Bran to be among us, for he could circle and see farther than even I." Legolas said.
"You can tell a sparrow from a finch a league away, and I cannot tell them apart even in my own hand!" Gimli said.
"That is because sparrows are finches, and finches are sparrows, except that they are many different families, like the Avari and Sindar and Noldor and Laiquendi, yet all are Elves. Then there is the differences of ..."
The Elf paused in mid-breath, "What?"
"I did not ask for a dissertation on Elvish Biology."
Legolas sighed, and fell silent.
"Anyway, on the plains of Rohan, you counted Riders five leagues away, and told the color of their hair, the brightness of their spears, and the height of their leader."
"The Plains of Rohan were flat, and you could see to the edge of the round world."
"I still do not believe this round world business."
"Well, it is. And in Penn's Woods it is very round, every bit of the land is wrinkled and rounded like the quilt of a restless sleeper. Lorien's fire could have been a hundred strides away and yet been invisible, hidden in some fold of the land, or some gully. I set out on foot with Liz's cell phone and Shenzi, Liz set out with Zan and Kodi at a run, and Ian set out on Tas. Whichever found the fire first would call the other on the cell phones Ian and Zan, and now I, carried. I ran far, and climbed several trees. At last Shenzi stopped, nose in the air, scenting something. I crept forth and saw a flicker of light, in the hollow at the bottom of a wooded hill."
"Wait," said Gimli, "Did you not mention a store? She saw a store. She could have met you there, it would have been easier to find."
Legolas shook his head, "She had a good reason to stay hidden in the woods, and it had nothing to do with the captor she had escaped from."
Blueberry Muffin and the Errol Flynn Fan Club
They came out of the woods like a dream, two dogs, a spotted horse, a rider, two hunting Elves, and Mountain Woman Lizard. "Legolas! Liz!" I tried to shout but my voice wasn't working, it came out as a whisper. Maybe I was out cold again, and hallucinating. Or the fire had gone out and I'd fallen asleep and was freezing to death. No, I couldn't, I had a superhero to protect. I glanced down, Nighty was snoring lightly in my lap, still huddled in that awful pink coat. At least he had stopped shivering. The fire was fine, still blazing cheerfully away. The only people who were blue were supposed to be. Kodi came over and sniffed the bundle of blue curls in my lap, then schlorked my face with a warm tongue. Shenzi stood just outside the circle of the fire, eyes gleaming like Nightcrawler's.
Legolas came up silently and knelt beside me, he lifted my chin and peered into my eyes. He looked relieved, then his hand dropped to Kurt's head. A blue-fuzzed tail uncoiled a notch and twitched in the middle of a dream. Legolas paused, hand still on Kurt's hair, his mouth opened to say something, and then the impossible happened.
An astonished Elf could not find any words to say.
Liz and Ian trotted up and stood staring.
Ian looked even more stunned than when Legolas had walked through the door in the Grandmothers' kitchen. "Zan..." he said very quietly, as if he was afraid he'd wake up and find it was a dream, "is this an illusion?"
Zan dropped beside me, poked a hand into the blue curls. Faint lightnings played around his fingertips. "Nope." He looked up, his face like a twelve-year-old's on Christmas morning. "I kept trying to tell you; the sulphurous smell, the two-toed tracks, the tail print, teleporters check in but they can't check out..." He stared in pure admiration.
Ian looked at Legolas, coiled like a gargoyle by Kurt, eyes impossibly wide. Ian's eyes shifted to the huddled, sleeping blue Elf, then to Legolas. His mouth tried to form a few words and failed. Legolas just nodded in empathy. Liz had the same expression on her face. Total, utter awe and astonishment.
Comic book geeks. Geeeeeeez.
Finally Liz knelt beside me and reached a slow hesitant hand out, as if she was afraid he'd vanish in a bamf of logic.
"Why the hell couldn't she have kidnapped me." she said at last.
Tas melted back into her elfshape. "He's a lot hotter than the comics draw him." she observed. "Except right now... he's kind of... cold... ah... here..." She peeled off the big indigo parka she'd just manifested and passed it to Ian. Under it she was wearing a second coat.
"Morathradon." Legolas whispered in his own tongue. "Our sorceress has opened another
"Uh huh." Liz's eyes were still as big as Asteroid M.
"Elves. Collect the set." I said.
Ian dropped on the other side and lifted off the awful pink coat, he slid Tas' over Nighty in its place. "He's asleep." He ran his hands gently over Nightcrawler. His eyebrows dropped, "But he's not in the best of shape. Hey." he said quietly, "Kurt..." he shook Nighty's shoulder gently.
Nightcrawler let out a startled gasp and sat up hard. I pictured him using his last teleport in a blind panic, I pictured him on the roof of McDonald's. I pictured firetrucks and ladders and helicopters and questions. I grabbed him and said, "Whoa, Nighty, it's the good guys!"
Nightcrawler's startled eyes took in two dogs and five strangers, all staring at him. They registered Legolas' bow, and Liz's bo, and the fact that none of the other strangers were wielding weapons. He noted that one of them was kneeling on his tail.
"Ow." He said.
Ian looked down, "Oh...crap! Sorry!" He flashed an apologetic smile. Then ran a hand down the part he'd just squooshed into the snow.
"Cool!" Liz said.
Even I could see the green glow that wavered around his hands.
"Heiler." Kurt whispered. "You're a healer."
"Yeah. Lemme see your head." Ian reached out both hands and framed Kurt's face, shadowy even in the firelight. Green light danced around the edges of Ian's hands like an aurora, like bioluminescence in the sea. He passed them over the rest of Kurt's body, then the light faded like a green sea wave vanishing into the sand.
Ian flashed a lopsided embarassed grin.
"You... you're a mutant too?" Nnightcrawler asked.
"No 'mutants' here. He's got a gift, though." Zan's voice came from the other side of the fire.
Nightcrawler pulled the indigo parka around him. His eyes took in the rest of the crew.
"The rest of them are the Elves I told you about." I said.
"You're a little taller than the Elves I met in Ireland." Kurt said.
"Those were leprechauns." Ian said, "You're talking about the Black Tom Cassidy incident, right?"
"Is that in the comic too?" he asked me.
"Ja." I said.
"I wonder what isn't in the comic." he said, looking a bit worried.
"Blueberry muffin." Tas was leaving eyetracks on him, parka or not.
Kurt's eyes widened, then shifted quickly to the fire. Good thing he was blue, the blush of embarrassment didn't show.
Ian gave Tas a swift poke in the ribs.
Tas' grin widened. "Maybe we could compare teleportation styles?" she said to Nighty.
Kurt looked up, "You're a teleporter too?"
"She's a pooka." added Zan.
"An Elf who can shapeshift." Tas said.
Something in Nighty's face shifted subtly, warily.
"Not like Mystique." Liz said quickly.
Yeah, it must be wunderbar having an evil mutant for a mom.
"Call me Tas." she added. "He's Ian, that's Zan, Liz, and..."
Nightcrawler nodded, with the flair of a performer's bow, to each in turn.
"...Legolas of Mirkwood." our Sindarin Elf said, with his own gallant bow.
Nighty bowed back, "I know of you from your tale."
Legolas' face registered surprise, then composed itself, "As I know of you from yours. I hear you are at home far above the ground, and can wield a sword well."
"Three of them at once." Liz added, sharing a conspiratory grin with me. Legolas had not yet seen the Nightcrawler mini-series we'd got him for Christmas.
Nightcrawler broke into a boyish grin, "I hear your archery skills would make Robin Hood look like a beginner."
"Who?" Legolas said.
"If you stay long enough, I will find that Robin Hood movie I enjoyed so much. The one with Errol Flynn."
Legolas nodded. "I know of him. Dana has the pirate movies, what was it? Captain Blood, and the Sea Hawks."
"Ahhhh, the best!" Nighty's face had the look of a twelve year old with a thousand bucks to spend at Toy 'R Us. "But you know, Basil Rathbone and Bob Anderson were the real swordsmen. It was Anderson who stunted for Flynn, and trained him. And most recently trained Viggo and Orli, and Johnny Depp..."
"Uh, I hate to interrupt this meeting of the Errol Flynn fan club, but you're both going to be stuck in this dimension until the end of Time As We Know It, unless we track down Nazgul Barbie before the trail gets too cold."
Surprise, it was Liz who had spoken.
"High Elves, dark Elves, grey Elves, green Elves, it seems your people come in every color! But I have never heard of any blue Elves." Gimli stared out at the sunlit sea, an impossible deep blue. He tried to imagine Legolas that color and failed. "Will there be any of those...most unusual folk in the Blessed Realm?" If there were, he wanted to meet one. He tried to imagine adding a tail which could grasp things to an already over-agile Elf. It boggled the mind. "And a tail!" Gimli exclaimed. "What a warrior that would make!" He pictured Legolas and his swift knives...and someone wielding three of them!
Legolas laughed. "No, I think there are no Luindar in Eressea. Morathradon...Kurtvagner came from a different...loop in the Stream of Time. He was of the race of Men, but one changed by..." his falcon-wing eyebrows folded as he searched for words that wouldn't bend Gimli's limited perception of the world too much...and failed. "...mutations in the genetic structure of his DNA."
"Ach!" Gimli exclaimed, "More of your incomprehensible Elvish Arts."
"Not Elvish, human. Science. They'd learned to see down into the tiniest parts of the universe and unravel its secrets. DNA is what gives you your magnificent beard, and me my far-seeing eyes."
"I thought that was our mothers."
"You get your mother's DNA, and your father's, and your grandparents' and..."
"Nevermind. I don't need to understand it. It's just too Elvish. Go on about the tale. And the Elf with the tail."
and Lembas a la Keebler
"We should go back to Hawk Circle, get some food and rest for our kidnapees." Ian said.
We'd just told the rest of the E.L.F. crew what had happened at Nazgul House.
"I'm fine." I said, standing. Just deadly thirsty, starving, and in dire need of a porta-bush.
Nightcrawler uncoiled partway, like a cobra preparing to strike. "I too, am fine."
"The trail grows colder and colder, and our quarry gains a lead with every slip of the moon across the sky." Legolas said.
"Do you have a plan?" Nightcrawler asked the Fellowship in general.
"The last thing she'll expect is for all of us to show up on her doorstep for a pajama party." Tas said, with a predatory smile. "Let's get 'er."
"Dude, yeah." Zan said.
"Bring on the orcs." Liz said. "Let's go kill something."
"What?" I said, appalled.
"It's our Dungeons and Dragons battle cry." she said.
"Somebody call our Fearless Leader and let him know what's going on, we may need backup." Ian said. To Nightcrawler he said, "Aiwei. He's the one who coordinates big problems like rescue of endangered species, toxic waste spills, evil mutants and backed up toilets. And last I saw, he was trying to teach some bored ninth graders the wonders of recycling."
Nightcrawler cocked a questioning eyebrow.
"They were making Christmas gifts out of soda bottles."
Zan pulled his cell out of a pocket.
"And get Bird Boy too, while you're at it." Tas said.
unslung the small pack he'd been carrying and passed a thermos to me,
with a couple of cups. I opened it and the smell of the Grandmothers'
hot chocolate wafted out. I passed Nighty a cup.
"You don't need much of that, it's like miruvor, it's the Grandmothers' special recipe." Ian dug farther into the pack and produced a water bottle, and more of those Keebler Elves.
"Cookies?" I said. Lembas, I could have used, but Keebler?
"They're not what they look like." Ian said. "More of the Grandmothers' good home cooking. It's easier to disguise this way."
"One small bite will fill the stomach of a full-grown Man." Zan intoned, in perfect imitation of Movie Legolas.
Nightcrawler snorked his chocolate through his nose. "I promise not to eat more than two!" he said. "I'm no Hobbit!"
"Wait, you have the movie in your universe too?" I said.
"Of course, banana brain," Liz said, "don't you remember all the references to Star Trek and Star Wars and stuff in X-Men?"
I looked at Nighty for confirmation. He nodded.
"Howcome you remember it the way it actually was?" Liz said.
"Here, everything got changed when Legolas was yanked through the portal. The whole story got turned upside down."
"It was OK last time I looked." Kurt said. "Little action figures and everything."
I looked at Legolas, then Ian, and Tas.
"The Stream of Time does not flow in all places the same." Legolas intoned.
"Oh." Liz said, looking kind of relieved.
"Yeah," I said, "but by the time Nighty gets back, I bet it'll be Darth Frodo all over the place."
Zan grinned, "Then they'll just have to send Luke Skycrawler out to face him."
I had a brief, awful vision of a blue guy in Luke's Tatooine desert garb wielding three lightsabers at once.
"Darth Frodo?" Nighty said.
Legolas looked confused.
"Don't ask," Liz said.
"She's the one who pulled Legolas out of his..." I could not say more due to the large Siberian fur mitten that had just been stuffed in my mouth.
"At least Nighty didn't get ripped out of Giant Issue One." Liz said. "I think."
"Yeah, I was re-reading the Draco story back at the barn," Zan said, "that one was still OK a few hours ago."
"Ah," Legolas said, "that is the one where we find out who his father..."
"What's the last thing you remember, Nightcrawler?" Ian said, one hand clapped firmly over Legolas' mouth, "Adventure-wise, I mean."
"A bunch of religious crazies in Montana." he said, face going shadowed and grim.
"Yeah, Holy War." Ian said, looking pointedly at Legolas, "a few issues before Draco. At least Nazgul Barbie hasn't wrecked forty years of comics continuity."
"What continuity? It looks like a frickin' baobab tree with all the storylines and alternate universes branching off." Zan said.
"At least they won't miss him much at the comics shop," Liz nodded at Nighty, "They'll just think he fell into another alternate universe again." She gave him a long look, as if contemplating the possibilities of not sending him back.
"Or that he decided to hang up the superhero thing and become a priest or a lawyer or something." Zan made a face.
Nightcrawler shot him a startled look.
Liz struck a defensive pose in front of Nighty, "Hey the priest thing was kind of..."
Dumb, really dumb, for a guy that sexy. What a waste of a perfectly good...
His eyes flicked to mine, and one eyebrow crept up. I wondered how much he had learned from those telepaths he lived with. I stared quickly into the fire.
"And shouldn't Evolution be De-volution?" Zan was saying, "I mean, they're all younger..."
"People..." Ian said, "PEOPLE! Somewhere there are millions of Tolkien fans who want the Sindarin Elf back where he belongs. And somewhere else, there are millions of X-Fans who are gonna eventually miss Fuzzy Elf here if we don't get him back too. So eat your Keebler Elves and get your butts in gear. We can do Comic-con later." He gave both Elves a wistful look, as if he'd rather we didn't find a way to return them either.
Tas took a few of the Keebler Elves herself, then backed off, a shadowy form on the other side of the fire. She wavered, like an image seen through the heat waves on hot asphalt, then the pinto horse stood there. Nighty glanced at her, his cup halfway to his mouth, and glugged the rest of his drink without missing a beat. Nothing he hadn't seen before. She melted again, and Tas was back, this time clad in black leather that looked a whole lot like an X-Man uniform, boots, gloves and everything.
And it didn't fit her at all.
This time Nightcrawler froze, cup hovering in midair.
"How's this?" Tas stood before him, posing like a fashion model. One who could kick Rogue's and Sauron's butts together.
"It doesn't fit." I said. I glanced at the feet. Like Grandmother Delphi's toe socks, only with two toes.
She unzipped it. "That's the idea." She stepped out of it and handed the bundle of black leather to Nighty. Underneath was another black leather creation that actually fit her. Really well, hugging every disgustingly perfect muscular curve. "Maybe you should put some warmer clothes on, if you're going to continue to fight evil today."
He stared at her in astonishment.
"Whoa, cool." Liz said. "Make me one."
"It's on order, it should be here in about five years." came Wolverine's voice from behind me. I turned to see Zan with an elvish grin on his face.
Nighty took the bundle, hesitantly, then glanced at Liz and me.
"Come on girls, it's hard to change when you're being drooled at." Tas said, and dragged us away. She caught up the pooka parka Nighty peeled off as she went by. When we'd got to the other side of the fire, she handed it to me. "Merry Christmas." She said. She eyed the fire, "Could use a little more fuel, something pink, maybe."
"Luinda, the Blue Elf, Kurtvagner, who went by another name, Nightcrawler in the common tongue, Morathradon in mine, one who walks the paths of night, but known as Fuzzy Elf to his closest friends, for his velvet skin..."
"You elvish types have far too many names, look at Strider, the wedding invitations went on for four pages!"
Legolas continued as if he hadn't heard. "Tas and Kurtvagner brought everyone back to the Windrider, parked on the nearest road. I went with Kurt, for I wanted to see how the bamf worked..."
"Bamf?" Gimli said, his face registering confusion. "What...is a bamf? It sounds like something short, furry, Hobbitish."
"It is a sound. The sound made by imploding air rushing to fill the vacuum left by his body as he teleports elsewhere."
"Elvish science, bah! Now you've lost me. Again."
"The bamf is made by the air rushing together to fill the space his body has just left." He raised his hands and clapped them together. "Like thunder filling the space left by lightning." Legolas raised a questioning eyebrow.
Gimli just shook his head.
Legolas sighed. "He vanishes, there is this sound, he reappears elsewhere. But he really doesn't make exactly that sound, it's only a word representing the sound used in the comic book. They draw it in the illustration when he vanishes."
Gimli sat back, a smile of enlightenment on his bearded face. "Ahhhhh. Illustrated stories, you spoke of those before. Now there's something you should have brought back with you. Along with a few of your ladies."
Legolas smiled knowingly.
"Nothing." His face was pure innocence. His eyes wide grey pools of purity.
"What?" Gimli leaned forward, suppressing an urge to suspend his friend over the side, head down in the waves till he talked.
"You'll have to wait till Yule."
We 'ported back to the Windrider, parked just off the twisty back road a quarter mile from our little patch of woods. Ian's healing abilities seemed to have restored Kurt well enough to 'port several of us, including Legolas, who locked arms with him with the exuberance of a kid on his first rollercoaster ride. Liz caught his other arm and they vanished in a cloud of fuschia smoke, trailing gleeful laughter.
Tas and I stood staring after them. "Bloody hell." she said.
"But you can do it yourself." I said.
"Be way more fun with blue velvet." She didn't look like she was thinking of teleporting either.
canaphae-a tad: Legolas
"Well, what was it like, this bamf?" The Dwarf leaned forward expectantly. "Was it as fine as swinging a well-balanced axe? As opening a tunnel into a rich new vein of rare minerals? As heady as a good ale?"
Legolas thought of trying to describe it; like winging your way down a mountain on a thin sliver of board at warp 10. Like galloping a fine horse across country full of ditches and hedges to leap. Like standing on the topmost topmast with the wind whipping in your face and the sea rolling beneath you. Ah, but those things would mean little to Gimli, or only mean annoyance and terror, so Legolas simply answered; "Yes."
and Dragons and Really Big Rats
"Whoa, that was soooo cool!" Liz sounded like a terminal fangirl. Legolas was grinning from ear to pointy little ear.
Liz didn't even need a barf bag, blast her.
We piled into Tas' SUV, Windrider, and I do mean piled. Crammed. Stuffed. Like too much laundry in too small a suitcase.
"Ow!" Nighty said.
"Oh...sorry about the tail." Legolas answered.
At least I got stuck between the Elves.
Fifteen minutes later we were a few hundred yards from the house, hidden behind a rise of ground and a patch of woods. We parked the SUV, and Zan touched the hood. Small lightnings played around the edges of his hands.
And the Windrider vanished. Standing in its place was a large, snow-covered rock.
"Nice special effects." Nighty said.
Zan bowed with the flair of an acrobat who's just done a quadruple somersault.
Legolas poked the rock with the bow he was now carrying. It emitted a dull thunk, just like a rock. He glanced at Zan. "I can think of a few more uses for a skill like that."
"I could show you..." Zan began.
"No." Ian said flatly, "No no nononono. Middle-earth is already gonna get weird enough."
Tas grabbed Ian's shoulder, turning him around, "Get on." she said, and melted into a horse. Nighty caught my hand and Liz's and the world turned inside out.
We bamfed into the treeline at the edge of the yard. A carefully landscaped yard surrounding one of those great ivy-covered old stone farmhouses. The kind people built two hundred years ago from the rocks in their fields, and pay about half a million bucks to live in now. The house was lit by a few pale interior lights, the kind people leave on when they're not there. And the front door was blown off.
"Wow, what happened there?" I said.
"Tas happened." Ian said, swinging off behind Legolas. She vanished again with a faint phoomph.
I eyed the door, a bright red splat in the snow a good fifty feet from the house. "Glad she's on our side."
A minute later she reappeared, in elfshape this time, with Zan and the dogs.
"I hear nothing." Legolas whispered. "I sense nothing in the house, do you?" he turned to Tas.
She shook her head, glanced at Kodi and Shenzi. "Neither do they."
"What now? Do we split up or stay together?" Liz said.
"Fearless Leader would have us scouting the whole flamin' place for the next hour before we made a move." Tas said sourly. Then she strode into the yard.
"Wait!" Ian caught her arm.
Tas' arm moved with the subtle grace of a fencing foil and Ian stood empty-handed, "...and Fearless Leader isn't here." she said. "Let's go kill something."
"Wait liebling," Nightcrawler leapt, catlike, in front of her, catching her hand with Errol Flynn grace. He raised her hand to his lips, then, "We should go together, I might need protecting."
She paused in mid-stride, her Wolverine glare turning to an amused smile. She closed her hand on his and waltzed across the yard.
Ian stood staring after them.
Legolas came up beside him. "Maybe you should take notes." he said. "Or have Zan make you a tail."
"It's the blue velvet thing, actually." Liz said, staring after Nightcrawler's retreating butt. Legolas stopped beside her, studying her. She gave him an embarrassed smile.
"Blue velvet." He said, his gaze turning to Nightcrawler and Tas. A small wicked smile crept across his lips, his eyes narrowed in contemplation. "Our ladies weave some excellent, form-fitting..." He turned to catch Liz's sudden look of astonishment, he blinked and his face became a mask of virtuous chivalry. "Ahhh, I'll have to remember that."
We moved toward the missing door, the faint yellow of the nightlight making the hall look like a candlelit dungeon. "Hear anything, Legolas?" Ian whispered.
His loaded bow was in his hand. "No. The house seems empty. But she has shown great magic, I do not trust this...it feels..."
"Yeah, listen to the Elf," Liz said, "nobody did in the movie, and look what happened. Every time he said, 'we should go now', nobody listened, and blammo! all hell'd break loose."
"Ja." Nighty agreed. "Listen to the Elf."
We spread out moving down the hall like one of Liz's D&D teams; stealthily, eyes moving in all directions, ears tuned to the smallest rustle, bow and bo at the ready. Ian had brought a small backpack with him, from it he produced several silver disks. One appeared to have once been a hubcap. Another looked precisely like a Volkswagon logo. Another may once have been a potlid. I cocked a questioning eyebrow.
He smiled and those green lightnings played around the edges of one disk.
The four doors opening off the hall were closed now.
"Nazgul Barbie must have come back in the house after she woke up." I whispered to Liz.
"Well, duh, Nightwear Barbie would get real far in the snow." she said.
"Somebody listen to this door." Ian said, "Somebody with Elf-ears."
Tas walked forward and struck it with the flat of her hand. It blew open, and sent a shower of china off a kitchen shelf onto the floor.
"What happened to elvish stealth and subtlety?" Nightcrawler said.
Tas grinned at him and strode into the room. Legolas slid in behind her, sweeping the vast, dim space with his eyes. High on a wall, something screeched and fell with a crash and an arrow square through the middle.
"Smooth move, Bow Boy, you've slain a clock." Tas said.
Legolas shot her a look that would have fried her, had he Cyclops' force-beam eyeballs.
"Why would Nazgul Barbie have one of those clocks with the bird calls on them?" I asked, picking it up.
"Yeah, I'd expect something more like the soundtrack from Scream 3, or Psycho." Liz said.
"I think," Nightcrawler said, "judging by the look in her eyes when I first appeared in her basement, it should be the theme from 'Jaws'."
The kitchen was empty of anything other than food and expensive china and sleek Death Star cupboards and appliances. Not even Shenzi or Kodi could find anything interesting. We moved back into the hall, where Nightcrawler and Ian were standing guard. Another door hung, dark and silent, across from the kitchen. Legolas slid past Tas and leaned his ear against it. He straightened and opened it with a faint click, he slipped into the room, loaded arrow pointing the way.
A couch, some chairs, a big-screen TV in the center of the entertainment center to end all entertainment centers.
Zan whistled. He ran a finger down the stack of DVDs, then poked at
buttons on the wall of electronics. Something blinked and went
grabbed him and dragged him off.
I looked around. Abstract art on the walls. A few sculptures that looked like something Darth Vader would do on his day off. Everything in black and steel. Deep white carpet gleaming like snow in the light coming through the window.
Light through the window. It was not moonlight, but faint, indigo morning.
"I am going to be soooo grounded." I said to Zan.
"The fate of two universes hangs in your hands, and you're worried about being grounded?" Liz said. "Anyway, I think that's Dana's department. Professor Dana Xavier. Our moms will end up thinking we were helping out at a Christmas charity for homeless gerbils or something." She paused, frowning, "Is that what I think it is?"
The palawntir glittered darkly from its place on a perfectly polished mahogany endtable.
stalked up to it, held a hand over it, not quite touching. "Doesn't
quite match the expensive decor."
It was a deep red glass ball, the kind you could find at Wal-Mart for about ten bucks.
Tas reached for it. Zan snatched out out of her reach. "I think maybe we should take this with us."
"Whatever you say, Pippin." she answered, one fist clenching and unclenching, as if she wished the ball was in her grip, in pieces. "Wouldn't look in it too closely if I was you, though."
Zan threw her a smile, whisked off the handwoven cloth covering the end table, wrapped the ball in it and dropped it in his pack.
The next room was a library, ceiling to floor bookshelves of dark polished wood. Ancient looking, enameled boxes, chests with weird runes and hieroglyphs carved on them. "Bingo." I said. I pulled some of the titles, all of them in my section had something to do with magic.
"Hey." Liz said from the other side of the room, "She's got Lord of the Rings."
I turned to see her rustling through the pages. She looked up in surprise, "Her's isn't changed."
"Yeah, Sphere of Influence." I said. "She made the spell, makes sense it wouldn't affect any of her stuff either."
Liz tucked it under her arm and poked through a few more shelves.
"What are we looking for exactly?" Zan said.
"The counterspell comes to mind." Ian said.
Zan eyed the walls of books. "That ought to be real simple."
"Perhaps we should check these out of the library to peruse at our convenience?" Tas said.
"Yeah, like how?" Zan said.
Tas grinned, wider than Shenzi and strode across the room to the window. She whipped back the layers of carefully arranged brocade draperies. A leg flashed out and the window flew into the yard in a billion pieces. Tas gave us a cheery wave and stepped through it into the snow. I heard a distinct phoomph and she was gone, her tracks in the snow ending just outside the no-teleport zone. A moment later there was an enormous PHOOMPH! and a large rock squatted in the lawn, just outside the window, Tas swaying on the top like a bullrider. Behind the rock, a wake of snow, plowed by some large moving object, skewed randomly through the yard.
"Zan!" Tas yelled, leaping down, "Get this damn illusion off this thing so I can see to drive!"
Zan leapt out the window like Peter Pan heading for Neverland and touched the rock...the Windrider sat there, tailgate to the window. Tas smacked the tailgate open and swung back over the window ledge. She stood in front of the bookshelves. "Which ones do you want?"
Ian began pulling things out and loading them into her arms, she tossed them out the window into the depths of the SUV, a grin on her face like a kid on Christmas morning.
"Hey." Liz said, from the other side of the room. "HEY! She's got X-Men...the whole freakin' thing from 1963 on! In mint!"
Ian, bounded across the room and caught her shoulder. He pulled her aside so he could see Giant Sized Issue One, "Damn! That thing's worth, like over $6000!"
"Why would Nazgul Barbie have X-Men?" Zan said.
Ian flipped through the pile Liz was rapidly pulling off the shelf.
Nightcrawler came in out of the hall and peered over Ian's shoulder. He made a small sound of dismay.
"Here." Liz said, thrusting a different comic under his nose, "You look better in this one."
"She's a fangirl." I said. Everyone in the room turned to look at me. "Why else would she pull both these guys out of their own universes."
"I dunno, I was thinking maybe her plan was like, oh, world domination or something." Zan said. "Isn't it usually?"
"If that's what she wanted, she would have pulled Sauron and Magneto. I don't think you'd get very far with Legolas and Nightcrawler." Tas said, with an apologetic nod to them. "But then Sauron is far from hot." She gave Legolas the look Shenzi usually reserves for squirrels who have entered her play yard. Yummy squirrels. Her gaze lingered over Nightcrawler and her smile widened.
"Books." Nightcrawler said, backing up a step, "You were checking out books."
She grinned and stepped past him to the shelves, trailing a finger across his pooka-leather covered chest. She grabbed a few more volumes off the nearest shelf and winged them out the window with the flair and accuracy of Gambit winging the ace of spades, or Gimli throwing an axe. They landed in the Windrider with a satisfying thud.
The Windrider was full and the shelves bare of anything that resembled magic. Tas vanished out the window again and I heard the big PHOOMPH! of the SUV returning to its parking space. A few heartbeats later there was a faint displacement of air just north of Nighty's shoulderblades.
"Ach!" Startled, he spun quick as a cat, hands moving to strike, tail already moving toward his attacker's neck.
From mid-air, Tas landed on her toes, hands sweeping his hands and tail up in a neat block. She held him for just a little longer than I thought was really necessary, one thumb moving across the velvet of his tail.
Ian grinned, "Isn't that usually your favorite move, Nightcrawler?" Bamfing in from above and behind, he meant.
"Ehhh." Nighty said, "Obviously it works." He extracted his tail from Tas' grip and went to the door to the hall.
Legolas stared after him, "I have to remember that."
"You can't teleport." I said. Then considered how little we actually knew about the Prince of Mirkwood. "Can you?"
He smiled, "One does not always need magic to surprise an enemy."
"Come on." Ian said, "We still have one more room to check, and that's just downstairs. There's a whole 'nother floor upstairs."
"And the basement." I said, with distaste.
We piled out of the door. Nightcrawler stood guard in the hall with Ian and the dogs. Legolas pasted his ear to the next door only to have it blow out from under him as Tas shoved it open.
Little fish danced across the computer screensaver, with an occasional bubbling noise. The rest of the room was quiet and still, a tidy, tasteful collection of computer gear and filing cabinets.
"Whoa! This is even better than her entertainment center!" Zan sat in the chair, staring at the screen.
From his place by the door, Ian crossed the room in two strides and grabbed him out of the chair, pulling him back from the computer as if it was the fire of Isengard itself.
"Oh yeah, booby-trapped fish." Liz said.
"No, no, no, you don't..." Ian threw out an arm to block Legolas as he came up behind him..."understand Elves and computers. Something about them, the energy they channel, just fries everything, eventually. There may be info on there we need."
Zan and Legolas retreated reluctantly to the far side of the room with Tas. Ian sat in the chair, poked uncertainly at a few keys, then looked over his shoulder at Liz and me. "Uh, I'm an artist, I have no left brain. Computers give me a headache. Are any of you guys...?"
"Lorien's the total computer geek." Liz said. "Check with Nightcrawler too. He once rigged a portable costumer out of ductape and bubble gum when he and Kitty were trapped on an alien spaceship."
"Oh yeah. I remember that." Ian said. "Hey, 'Crawler, come take a look at this."
The blue Elf came in and perched on Nazgul Barbie's peculiar ergonomic chair, tail twitching against the perfect dawn grey carpet. Liz leaned closer to look.
"OW!" Nighty said through his teeth.
"Oh," Liz said, "sorry about the tail."
"The rest of us should go back and make sure the basement and upstairs is clear." Ian said. "Tas'll come for you if anything goes wrong."
Nightcrawler nodded and wiggled the mouse. Click. Click. Click. The yellow eyes narrowed, like a hunting leopard's in the growing light from outside, a fanged smile gleamed out of his shadowed face.
I was really really glad he was on our side.
He frowned. Eased off the chair and gestured to it with a performer's flourish, eyes on me.
"Huh?" I said.
He held up his hands; each containing two oversized fingers and one extra-large thumb. An embarrassed smile played across his face. "Typing is not one of my superpowers."
"Oh." Duh. I wriggled into the weird chair (you sort of knelt on it), and crouched, hands poised over the keyboard. He leaned close, staring at the screen, his body smelling deliciously of campfire smoke. He shifted and I could see every muscle under the black pooka leather X-suit. I stared at the keyboard...and one chiseled blue hand, all the little details of vein and tendon visible under the fine blue velvet. Like on a horse's face. Only they're not blue. Or as hot.
"Oh! Uh...where do we start?"
Legolas stretched languidly, like a cat, body sprawled comfortably in the ship's rigging, as at home there as an acrobat on a trapeze. Below him Gimli drained the last of an enormous mug, and wedged himself against the fiferail at the base of the mizzenmast, sturdy and immoveable as he. "We climbed the steps to the upper story," Legolas continued, "and found much the same as below; an empty house, a few well-kept bedrooms, one of their bathrooms. Back down the stairs again to the basement which Lorien and Kurtvagner had been prisoner in. The others could detect the strong scent of recent, powerful magic. And when we opened the door we found other...things."
"What? Orcs? A dragon?"
"A few terriers would have taken care of that problem."
Legolas grinned a grim grin, "They would have had to be very large terriers."
"What was that noise?" I said.
"Either Nazgul Barbie has also found a way to pull Banshee into this world, or someone has found the giant black snake." Nightcrawler replied, eyes still fixed on the computer screen.
"You think they need help?"
"What was that line in Two Towers? When Legolas got the horse. The Elvish Way With All Good Beasts? I think they can handle it." He chucked a blank CD into the drive and began downloading.
"The dogs stopped at the door and wouldn't come down the stairs." Legolas continued. "We left them as rear guard and went into the basement. There was only pale light from the missing door behind us until Zan raised his hand and a bird in glowing white sprang forth from it. We saw a bench, storage shelves full of glass and pottery jars, a few skulls, bones, feathers, a cauldron, tires, leftover bits of plywood, candles, a broom, a table. Lying along the wall was a pile of shadowy debris, the sort of thing that collects in basements, old, used things that no-one has fixed."
"They just let things lie about without fixing them?" the Dwarf was incredulous. "What a waste!"
"Perhaps they needed a few more busy Dwarves."
I moved toward the shadowed pile by the wall. Behind me Zan' illusory bird wheeled across the broad beams holding up the floor above us. The birdlight flickered in the tangled shadows, making them seem alive. Small rustlings sounded along the walls, and in the dark corners. The bird wheeled and flashed suddenly, as bright as Gandalf's fireworks. There was a sound like thunder and lightning, and the room went dark.
"What the hell?" Ian said.
"Ooops." came a small voice from the stairs."Oh crap." I turned to see faint lightnings crackling by the stairs. "A bit not good...a lot not good...really really really not good." The lightnings vanished and Zan's voice came out of the dark again, tinged with uncertainty and embarrassement. "Uh, there's like, a lotta magical debris here. Lots of it."
"Which means?" Liz said.
"Doing magic here is like trying to kayak a storm-swollen river full of strainers. Something short-circuited my spell. Wait..."
Light flared again, and I could see. Zan's flashlight played across the pile of debris.
...and it moved. It raised a head as broad as your axe, it only lifted a small part of its body from the ground, yet it was as tall as I. It was a great snake, like the kind I had seen on Discoverychannel, the kind that lived far, far to the south of Penn's Woods. It was black as the gates of Mordor. And hungry.
Gimli leaned forward, trying to imagine his friend's next tactic."Too close for a good bow shot, but I would not like to see you face that with only your knives."
Legolas smiled, and the smile widened, like a cat about to leap on a bird. "Not too close for this bow. It was made to stop a great buffalo, from an arm's length away."
"Wait, " I said, "There...there. That one." I pointed to the screen, and Kurt nodded.
From somewhere in the basement came a muffled thump. I glanced at Nightcrawler. One pointy blue ear twitched slightly. "How about this one?" He pointed to the screen.
"Ja." I said.
From the basement came the distinct sound of an explosion.
"Ach mist!" he said, eyes never leaving the screen. "I'm missing all the fun."
My bow sang, the arrow buried itself in the head of the great snake. It was no natural creature, but one twisted and corrupted and grown to immense size by the wild dark magics now loose in that place. There are other things that haunt dark basements; rats, spiders, centipedes, millipedes. They poured out of the cracks in the walls, great wriggling things born of the morgul debris.
Ian reached behind his shoulders and drew from his pack a few circles of silver and steel. Two were hubcaps, from cars, one a pot lid, one was small, with strange runes upon it; a V and a W in a circle of silver. Others were CDs whose rainbows no longer sang. He threw them like frisbees and where they hit, the creature of the dark vanished in a flash of flame, or roiling smoke. They struck like falcons, swift and sure, always returning to his hand.
Zan stood on the steps trying to direct the one flashlight onto too many foes. The floor crawled with rippling, scuttling forms. I heard his voice rise in fear, then fall into the rythm of a spell. Silver light burst forth again, this time in the form of small dragons. They swooped on rat or spider or thousand legged creeper with deadly ferocity, flames bursting from their jaws. And their jaws were not mere illusions, they could bite with the savagery of wargs.
"Hey!" Ian shouted, ducking, "watch where you're flying those things!"
"Dammit Jim, I'm an illusionist, not a starship pilot!" Zan snapped back, in the voice of the starship Enterprise's Doctor McCoy.
Liz stood back to back with me, her bo staff whirling and thrusting through the dark twisted shapes. She moved like my shadow, never leaving an opening to my back for even the smallest, quickest foe. Barely I avoided the jaws of things a Man might have stepped on without notice, when they were their normal size.
"Legolas! To your left!"
My bow sang and Liz's bo struck.
"Liz, there!" Fast she was, faster than any of the Edain I had ever fought beside. And not even the great centipedes with their poisonous bites and thousand spidery legs made her blanch.
Ian's frisbees whistled through the air, sweeping in mad arcs, often too close for ease of heart. One sliced through my braid, shortening it to my shoulders. But several times those swift silver circles slew something that was leaping for my throat.
My quiver was soon spent, and there was no time to glean arrows. I drew the knives Dana had gifted me with. They were fair knives and did their work well.
"Legolas, catch!" One of my arrows flew toward me. Liz had caught a spent arrow with the end of her bo, and flicked it to my hand. I caught it and sent it into the heart of a giant rat. She leapt and spun, ever at my back, in one motion stabbing a foe and catching more of my arrows and sending them my way.
A few strides away, Tas had vanished, melted into wolf form, snarling and snapping her way through the horde. Arrows and silver circles and dragons filled the air like hunting hawks, Liz and Tas punched through the horde like hunting wolves. Our foes fell like leaves in a windstorm.
"The bug stops here." Liz said, squashing a yet-wriggling centipede.
We stood in the glow of one of Zan's dragons, the floor littered with chitinous shells and too many spidery legs.
"Lorien failed to mention the pest control problem." Tas said, giving a twitching form a final kick with a booted foot.
"I think these weren't here then." Zan said. His voice had an edge of embarrassment to it. "Remember what I said about the strainers?"
"Yeah?" Ian said.
"Uh, what happens when you hit one?"
"Ja picture this." he said, the voice was familiar, one I had heard somewhere on Cartoon Network, though I could not remember who it belonged to. "Bumpity-bumpity-bumpity-splat. My first spell cut something loose...kinda' like a big magical fart." Zan said. "Maybe I shoulda' stuck with the flashlight."
Footsteps sounded in the hall and Kodi and Shenzi came through the door of the computer room. The rest followed. Tas' two-toned hair looked like an exploded Twinkie, and there was some kind of gooey schmuck plastered all over her. Ian's hair looked singed and Zan looked guilty. Zan's red hair looked like an electrocuted sea urchin, and Legolas' braid had come undone and half of it was missing. Ian shot him an apologetic look, and stuffed something into his pack. It looked suspiciously like a Volkswagen hood ornament.
Nightcrawler gave them the once over, "You found the ten-foot snake?"
"Thirty feet." Legolas said.
"And a few of his friends." Tas said, ineffectually swiping at some of the goo. "I'm gonna step on every millipede I see after this."
"Millipedes?" Nighty said, "What millipedes?"
Tas spread her hands as far as she could reach. "Millions of millipedes. Big, evil, hungry ones."
"Morgul millipedes." Legolas added, and flicked something off his quiver. It looked a lot like a bent stick.
Or a giant antenna.
"Unglaublich! There was nothing like that there when we were held prisoner."
"How about spiders?" Liz said.
"And the rats." Zan said..
"Ja, the rats, but they didn't come near us." He glanced at me, "Not too near, anyway." He smiled a pointy-toothed smile, his tail swooshed once, past his shoulders, "Sometimes it helps to be scary looking."
"You find anything?" Ian said to us.
I held up half a dozen CDs. "Some likely looking stuff here on magic."
"We got almost her whole hard drive." Nighty added, "And there's a box of burned CDs over there we can, ah, borrow."
Tas was staring out the door, "The big question, is where is Barbie now?"
"We really should go now." Legolas said.
"Listen to the Elf." Liz said.
"There are still some files here we should download." I said.
"I got a baaaad feeling about this." came Han Solo's voice from the back of the room. I turned to see Zan staring down the hall.
"We've got a superhero Fellowship here that could probably kick Magneto's butt, now's our chance to nab her." I said, eyes still glued to the screen.
"You didn't have a four foot centipede try to play Alien Resurrection with you." Liz quipped.
"Yeah, we need some reinforcements," Ian said.
"Ja...listen to the Elf." Nighty said, rising with the fluid grace of a hunting heron.
"Hey, where're the dogs?" I asked.
"Is that a car?" Tas' voice came from the hall.
Who's Been Eating My Porridge?
"What...have...you...rejects from Bilbo's Birthday Party List...done to my house!" She stood in the space left by Tas' hasty removal of the front door, a dark shape framed by the growing blue dawn of the day before Christmas Eve. The door to the kitchen hung open...and slightly crooked. China littered the floor. From somewhere behind me drifted the acrid scent of a computer that had just self destructed.
With a little help from Legolas. What Ian had said about Elves and computers...oh yeah...it made the bamf look and smell like fresh coffee. Leggy stood facing our foe, shoulder-length hair a dark tangled mess, perfect cheekbones thoroughly smudged. His bow was in his hand, and loaded. The rest of us were crammed in the hall behind him, except for Nightcrawler who'd bamfed off into the shadows somewhere.
Nazgul Barbie was not pleased. She looked, in fact, rather like a hyena who's just had the Kill of the Week stolen by lions.
Liz poked me hard in the back. "I said 'listen to the elf', but does anyone ever? Noooo..."
Legolas drew the bowstring a notch tighter. Liz, pasted to his side, leveled her bo.
Nazgul Barbie raised her hand, made a small, insignificant gesture, Liz and Leggy froze, as if Professor X himself had done the trick. "And you, in the back, don't even imagine it. There's enough broken china in here without frisbees.
Ian stopped in mid-throw, three silver circles spread among the fingers of one hand.
I glanced back, Tas was frozen in mid-snarl. Zan was still moving, the little lightnings playing around the edges of his hands.
Nazgul Barbie watched him for a few breaths, a look of growing amusement on her face. "Go ahead." she said. "Try it." Her own hand glowed now like a special effect, and her smile spread with the dark, wicked light. "Make my day."
"You coulda' come up with a more original line." Zan said.
"You're off the edge of the map now. Here there be monsters."
"That's not original."
Her hand glowed the color of pain, and it spread in slow motion toward him. He stared at it, like a deer at an oncoming semi. It hit him like a bad dream, and he staggered back with a gasp.
His hand fell, and the lightnings vanished.
Her smile spread and then vanished behind a cloud of fuschia sulpherous smoke.
A pair of feet clad in pooka leather hit Nazgul Barbie square in the head.
"Now would be a good time to go!" 'Crawler said, crouched with one foot splayed across her face. The others unfroze.
"She's out!" Zan said, straightening with a grimace, red hair looking like he'd survived an explosion.
"Anybody bring any duct tape?"
"What?" Tas said.
"Was?" Nightcrawler said.
"Wrap her up and take her with us like some kinda' present?" Ian said.
"Yeah." Zan said.
"She's not entirely out." Nightcrawler hissed. "MOVE!"
Legolas leveled his bow.
"That's not going to do much, unless you kill her." Tas said, baring teeth.
"NO!" Nightcrawler said.
"It's kind of illegal." Liz added, planting her bo on Barbie's solar plexus.
From somewhere Zan had produced a length of rope. "Never know when you might need a bit of rope." he said in Sean Astin's Hobbit voice.
"Human laws." Tas said, licking her lips. She melted, and a red wolf stood glaring toothily down into Barbie's face.
Nightcrawler grabbed the thick fur at the back of her neck and heaved her aside. His foot never left Barbie's forehead.
Barbie moved, touched Nighty's foot with a hand.
He screamed and fell against the wall.
Three arrows stapled Barbie's sleeve to the same stretch of wall.
Ian flung his disks.
Barbie flung out her free hand.
The disks skipped as if they had hit a deflector shield. Ian ducked a bolt of green fire that blasted down the hall and carved a new door in the other end.
She yanked uselessly at her stapled sleeve, and four more arrows stapled more of her clothing to the wall.
"That's it, you Sherwood Forest reject." she said through her teeth, and Legolas' bow and the arrows holding her to the wall erupted into flame.
Liz rolled up off the floor, bo in hand, then crouched protectively over Nightcrawler. Tas reached out a hand to each one of them, and they vanished with a faint phoomph.
The house melted around us, and suddenly we were in the middle of...
...an episode of Crocodile Hunter? Something dark and slithery wriggled toward Nazgul Barbie's leg, while Steve Irwin ran silly, distracting commentary in front of a camera crew.
"...and over here we have the incredibly deadly and overly ugly Lesser Blonde Swamp Wriggler...ooooh that black snake is in trouble if it bites her!"
"That's...not...funny." Barbie screeched. The snake exploded, Steve and the crew vanished, and Barbie stood, hair smoking out in every direction, lightnings the color of a bruise crackling like an aura around her.
Zan faced her, wide-eyed, red hair falling over his face like an Anime hero...
...and we were on the bridge of the Enterprise. Professor Xavier, clad in a Starfleet uniform, stood up and shouted "Engage!" Control panels were blowing up and the crew was being tossed around, despite the artificial gravity which should have held them like a fly in amber. Liz appeared and leveled a phaser at Barbie. The energy beam hit her and flowed around her as if she had her own personal deflector shield. Worf the Klingon charged across the burning bridge and hit Barbie in the head with a huge spikey thing that only Liz would have known the name of.
...and it splintered into a thousand shining fragments, like a planet blowing up. Worf fell hard, warped, twisted and resolved into an extremely annoyed Tas. The starship vanished. Nazgul Barbie looked really peeved.
Zan was beginning to look really scared.
A hiking booted foot knocked Barbie off balance. Legolas came down out of a spinning kick and threw a hand out to finish her off.
Without looking, Barbie flung green fire at him.
...and he fell over the side of a pirate ship. Not just any old Pirate Ship, the Black Pearl herself, with cannon fire screaming through the rigging, and zombie pirates closing in on all sides, the light of a full moon shining on their bones and shreds of flesh. Only this time the cursed crew was convinced Nazgul Barbie was the one with the cure. They clattered toward her, hissing like a wind from hell. Ian threw a rope over the side, and Legolas reappeared, dripping.
He looked around, mouth hanging open in amazement. Then he broke into a grin.
"Cool!" the Prince of Mirkwood said.
"Liz!" I said, "If I pick up The Book, and he says 'cool!' I am going to come over in the dark of night and paint your truck puke pink! To match your walls! And your new haircolor!"
Barbie raised a hand, lightning flickered. The tidy order of the attack broke into chaos, cutlasses flashing around us like a storm gone mad. A couple of pirates were hacking at Ian, who was countering with swift kicks and blocks with his frisbees. Zan took refuge among the flying jibs at the bow of the great ship, swinging up out of the way of the pirates and focusing his spell. Tas charged barehanded into a tangled knot of pirates heading for Zan.
"How many times did he see that movie?" I yelled at Liz. I think Legolas still had Liz's DVD.
A particularly big, nasty looking pile of bones and shredded flesh swung a cutlass into the center of Liz's bo, and hacked it in half. Liz snarled and rammed the broken end through its eyesocket. She rolled and came up with a cutlass in her hand, sweeping it across the necks of three pirates at once. Bony heads clattered to the deck and vanished.
I ducked as a pirate swung hard at my head. "Well?" I demanded. A cutlass clanged to the deck beside me and I hefted it. It felt solid and real enough.
"Um." she said.
"Avast!" Legolas yelled and sliced a pirate in twain.
"Is he wielding a cutlass!?" I said. I looked. He was wielding two.
"Well, the bow..." clash clash, " IF he still had it, wouldn't be much..." hack, slice, "use here now..." slash, hack, "would it? Kinda looks like Orlando Bloom, doesn't he?" Swash, buckle, "Especially with the..." buckle, swash, "short, dark hair and smudges."
"I was thinking..." slash, hack, "Errol Flynn."
"Only hotter." Liz agreed, kicking something small and monkeyish over the ship's gunnels. "And nicer. Flynn was a bit of a..." smash, slash..."jerk, I hear."
Tas barreled up the deck, kicking zombie pirates over the side, starboard and port. As if her superpower was Attract Zombies, they began to gravitate toward her. Flow toward her, like sharks on a bleeding fish. In a moment she was vanishing under a pile of pirates, with one or two occasionally taking flying lessons.
Ian was backed up against a windlass, trying to wrench the head off a pirate whose bony hands were locked around his throat. Liz had hacked loose one of the mainmast shrouds, and was flying through the air towards him like a circus acrobat, dozens of swords and bony arms reaching for her.
And wherethehell was Nightcrawler? Out cold? Fried? What had Barbie done to him? Where had Tas left him? I thought of the miniseries cover with him swinging through the rigging of a pirate ship; he was really going to be sorry he missed this.
I got a glimpse of Zan, face grim with concentration as he tried desperately to regain control of his spell. High on the quarterdeck, Barbie stood, clad in outrageous swashbuckling garb...all bright Barbiedoll pink. Her hands flashed with lightnings as she strove with Zan to control the pirates. She laughed maniacally, and made a few delighted little hops when Ian's pirate dropped him to his knees.
Legolas leapt catlike onto the ship's gunnels and ran towards Ian.
About a dozen pirates reached for him...
...and didn't miss. He vanished, like a ship going to the bottom.
Liz swung down from her perch on a yard and hacked Ian's pirate into several sharkbite-size chunks. He gasped, and struggled to his feet, then grabbed a dropped cutlass and ran toward the place where Legolas had vanished.
Tas' pile of pirates all learned to fly at once. She emerged looking like a snapping turtle who's just survived being run over by a truck. Her head jerked toward Legolas' pirate pile and she waded into it. Body parts flew in every direction, and Ian and Liz leapt to join her, a cutlass in each of Liz's hands now.
"There'll be no living with her after this." I muttered.
Barbie stood by the ship's wheel, grin widening. watching them.
Not watching me. Not at all.
I don't climb and I don't run well on ship's gunnels. I'm not even sure why I was managing to block the pirates' cutlasses, except that it must have been part of Zan's spell. The deck was crowded with pirates, all hacking and slashing and swashing buckles. A stray line swung past my head, paused, and swung back. I grabbed it, hoping that the magic at the other end was Zan's and not Barbie's. I stuck the cutlass in my teeth and swung towards Barbie.
I smacked the cutlass broadside against Barbie's lightning wreathed arm. The lightnings shorted out with a loud frazzzt. She shrieked and turned to face me. I swung the cutlass again, hard. She ducked, dodged and gave me a shove as I staggered by totally off balance. I hit the deck and came up, cutlass still in hand.
New lightnings danced around her wrists. "I don't think Outer Mongolia's far enough for you." she snarled.
She was too far away for someone completely lacking in Elvish acrobatic skills. But I wasn't going to wait to find out where she really wanted to send me. I threw the sword. It whacked her on the side of the head on its way by, which had pretty much the effect of dropping hot butter on a live lobster.
That's when Nightcrawler swung out of the rigging and scooped me up.
Below me, I saw Shenzi running full tilt at Nazgul Barbie's butt, grinning a wide, predatory grin.
"Aaaarrrgghhh!" Barbie shrieked.
And then Legolas swatted Barbie in the head with another cutlass. She went down like a sack of clams.
I clung to the blue velvet neck of my rescuer, as he went over the side and into the sea. "Zan? Ian? Tas?" I really hoped it wasn't some awful illusion Barbie had cooked up before she fell.
Ten feet above the water we bamfed.
I buried my face in his tousled mane, "Please tell me this isn't another tree."
"Open your eyes, liebling, you need to see where you're going!"
I felt myself swung down, and cracked an eyelid. Two feet of snow swallowed my feet. Far behind me I heard a few more muffled explosions and one "Agh!" I couldn't see anything through the blizzard though.
"Wow! Who brought Storm here?" I said.
"Zan." Nightcrawler said, "He's an amazing illusionist, especially considering how young he is." He crouched, tail twitching, watching something I couldn't see in the wall of moving white. "I'm really really sorry I missed most of that last one!" He frowned, "Wonder if I could get him to do it again."
I turned to look at him, "And how many times did you see it?" Pirates of the Caribbean, I meant.
"Ach." He smiled a small embarrassed smile, "Ahhhh."
I raised an eyebrow.
"Counting the DVD?" he began.
Shapes materialized out of the storm; Kodi and Liz and Legolas, one eye over his shoulder. Now that Zan's illusion was gone, and the cutlasses with it, he had unsheathed Dana's knives, still in his hands. Tas appeared in horse-shape with Ian and Zan aboard, and Shenzi hot on their heels. Behind them another explosion went off.
"I think she found the basement." Tas commented, melting out from under her riders.
Ian somersaulted to his feet and looked back. He flinched as another boom echoed from the house. He reached in his pocket and punched some numbers into his cell.
" Beam me up Scotty Summers." Zan said.
"Bran...BRAN...wherethehell are you guys!" Ian yelled into the phone.
Silence, static...then a rhythmic whup-whup-whup.
"Right here." Tulugaq's voice came over the airwaves. A great shadowy shape formed in the air above us, and drifted down.
"Or you could just send the Away Team." Zan added, sounding suspiciously like Captain Kirk.
The chopper settled in the snow, and three people piled out into the growing blizzard. Two tall and lean, and one short muscular shape, clad in black motorcycle leathers, disengaging itself from the cargo space. Doc grinned at us and reached back into the helicopter for a toolbox the size of Balin's Tomb. Jon stood staring in the direction of the last explosion.
"Like my little snowstorm?" Bran said.
"Good idea." Zan said, "My illusions only go so far. And it'll cover our tracks long enough for us to catch our breath."
Bran cocked an ear in the direction of the latest boom. "Had a little trouble?"
"You could say that." Ian said.
"Is Sauron trouble?" Legolas said grimly.
"Ja." Nighty muttered something else in German that I didn't quite catch.
Bran started to reply, in perfect German, then turned to put a face with the unfamiliar voice. He froze, mouth not quite able to form the next word.
"She opened another Gate." Ian said, as if that sort of thing happened all the time.
Jon cocked an eyebrow. "Noooo, really, you think?"
Nightcrawler grinned toothily and held out a gloved hand. "I'm.."
Jon took it with a courteous nod, and zero surprise. "Glad to have on our team, Nightcrawler. And we'll do our best to get you back to your own." He glanced at Bran.
"Ah..." Bran said, eyes gone impossibly wide. "Ahhhhh."
"He looks even goofier than you did." I said to Liz.
Without looking she punched me in the arm.
"Fanboys." Jon muttered under his breath, eyeing Bran. To Ian he said, "What does Nightcrawler know?"
"He's been around enough weird alternate universes in his life that finding himself in another one...along with one of his favorite literary characters...isn't strange at all. We told him about the comic, and the E.L.F. We've fought beside him and he's the guy we know from the comic, all the stuff we've..."
"...already told me way too much about." Jon finished. "At least we know his capabilities. That could be very important when we face this woman again. What happened, from the beginning."
Ian briefed Jon on Barbie Battle One. Zan crouched off to one side, poking at something in his pack. Doc wrestled the big box out into the snow. He dropped the huge box next to Nighty. Pried open the lid. "Some stuff in here I thought you guys could use." He pulled out a pair of black leather gloves, and stuffed his square, strong hands into them. He clenched his fists. Snikt. His bearded face had a grin on it like a kid at Christmas. "Been wantin' to try these out." He grinned at Nightcrawler, waving the foot-long claws now sprouting from his hands. "Hey Elf, whataya' think?"
"Wunderbar, bub." Nightcrawler grinned back.
Snakt. The claws retracted. "Not quite adamantium, but it'll do. Oh, hey I got something for you too, Bird Boy."
He handed Bran a hand-sized sculpture, shaped like a bird in flight. Bran's eyes were still fixed on Nightcrawler. Doc gave him a shove in the chest with the object. Bran blinked and looked down. "Ya were in such a great hurry ya almost forgot this."
Bran took it and raised it as if he were holding the hilt of a sword, blue light sprang from it, forming a lean, mean rapier blade.
"Unglaublich!" Nighty said, "A lightsaber!"
Legolas leaned closer, "Like Anduril"...he reached out a hand, and didn't quite touch it. "But there is no blade. Only the light."
It's pure energy, sky energy. My element." Bran said, his eyes
still glued on his favorite X-Man.
Doc reached into the box again. He pulled out a short, sturdy mooncurve of grey wood. He held it out to Legolas.
The Elf stared at it, half reaching, "What?"
"Take it, draw it like a bow." Doc said, with some impatience.
Legolas closed his hand around the grey wood, and green light shot from the ends to form the curve of a six foot longbow.
"You can't see the 'string', but it's there." Doc said. "Draw it like a normal bow, but think about exactly what you want it to do first. Blow up a building or just knock somebody out." He rummaged in his box again, and withdrew three cutlasses much like the ones Zan had just formed in his illusion. Doc handed them to Nightcrawler. "I didn't know you were going to be here, but the Grandmothers told me to bring these. And I couldn't figure out why they wanted three matched ones." He eyed Nighty's tail, making snakey shapes in the snow, "Yeah, three. Makes sense now."
Nightcrawler took them, a Christmas sized grin growing on his face.
"Elven design, Dwarf-forged. Can't beat 'em. And they have a strange effect on things magical." He reached once more into the great box, and drew forth a staff, shaped like Liz's broken bo. Doc faced Liz and bowed slightly, "For you my lady, it will feel like the ones you are used to..."
She accepted it with the kind of grace Legolas had shown accepting the bow from Dana.
"...but it will do much more."
The bo shimmered with faint light, the color of fireflies.
Doc reached into the box one last time and pulled out another short mooncurve of wood, this one he tossed to Jon. The pale-haired Elf took it and light the color of ice shot from the ends. He gave it a quick once-over with his eyes and hands. The light went out and he sheathed it on his belt, his eyes looking like a hawk who's just spotted a nice big juicy prey item.
I stood watching the Gifting, like the one in Lothlorien. I felt like a small Hobbit seeing the great warriors get magic arms and armour. What would a Hobbit ask of the Elves? A magic computer, maybe. That's it, I'd done my part, I'd done what I was good at, me and Nighty, breaking codes and downloading a bunch of stuff that hopefully, would be useful. Now it was up to the people who could kick ass.
So why did I feel so disappointed?
I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder. Two-fingered.
"I am NOT going home now. You'll have to tie me up and ship me there in a sack." I told him.
"I have no idea what use I can be but..."
"You are part of the team. Part of the Fellowship." He slung an arm across my shoulders and gave me a hard squeeze. Best buds, partners. It was almost better than a prom night kiss.
stumped over through the snow, well above his knees. "My lady,"
he said with a small bow.
The next words were going to be 'get in the helicopter, we're taking you home'. Well, no way, I owed that barracuda in heat for kidnapping me, for zapping Nightcrawler, and frying Legolas, and all the rest of it.
"This is for you." Doc said. He held out a scroll.
Yeah, a scroll, something ancient and magical looking, on deep golden parchment (it appeared to be the real sheepskin kind too). It was tied with a deep blue ribbon and hand-painted Elvish runes danced around the edges.
"Go ahead, you'll need to take a look at it now."
I unrolled it. It was a linguist's dream, a whole series of short poems hand-calligraphied in Elvish, in English, in German, in half a dozen other languages. All languages I knew something of.
And they all sounded oddly familiar.
I looked up at Doc, "These are all bits of Tolkien's songs and poems from Lord of the Rings."
"Yup." he said grinning.
"I know most of these by heart, the whole poems, I mean." I stared at the scroll, puzzled, "What am I supposed to do with this?"
"Say them out loud at the right moment. They're spells."
"What? I'm not a magic user. And these are just bits of poetry from the book!"
"You're a linguist, and words have power. These words had power in the original book. Look at how they've touched the world." Doc glanced at Nightcrawler, swinging his cutlasses in silver circles, a few feet from Legolas studying his new bow. "Worlds." He amended. He tapped the scroll, "The Grandmothers wrote these out, for you. Just for you."
I scanned the scroll. "But what do they do?"
Doc reached out with a gloved hand and rolled it back up into my hand. "That's for you to find out." He closed his big broad hands over mine. He didn't need to say any more.
We made a circle in the windshadow of the helicopter, around us, the storm whirled white madness, but in our little eye of the storm, only a few flakes drifted down, you could almost hear them fall. The Elves, and Ian, and Nightcrawler and our lone Dwarf had been discussing battle strategy. Liz crouched in the snow between Legolas and Tas, the new bo flickering its faint firefly light. I half listened, reading and re-reading my scroll. Nightcrawler crouched by me, tail twitching against the snow, in a typical pose that only Spiderman could have copied. Jon stood on the other side of him, arguing across the circle with Tas.
The basic plot was:
Tas: Let's kill something. Track her down and deliver her to the Grandmothers, whole or in parts. Preferably parts. She looked like Wolverine on a bad hair day.
Jon: Let her find us. Let her walk into the trap. We are still dealing with human law and order here. You've already done enough breaking and entering and shattering of fine china for one adventure. The plan is...
Bran: Plan? What plan? Since when have we ever needed a plan?
Ian: Murphy's Law. Things never go as planned anyhow.
Doc: Shakes head and attempts futilely to hammer order out of the midst of chaos.
Zan: Duct tape. Did anybody remember duct tape?
Nightcrawler and Legolas understood the wisdom of the old saying that you were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. They were used to working in teams, even leading them, but they were strangers here, so both listened twice as much as they talked, though Jon often asked them for their input.
Jon shifted his stance, "There is a defensible place nearby. We can lay a trail there. After all she will want to find us..."
Nightcrawler leapt from his crouch, "OW!"
Jon looked down, his Elven Warrior expression changing suddenly to embarrassment, "...oh...sorry about the tail."
Nightcrawler stepped behind me, one hand running down the length of his tail, "It's fine." he said. He stayed behind me.
"She's going to have some trouble finding us." Tas said, "We've got her palawntir."
Jon gave her a look like an eagle. One eyebrow raised in a questionmark. Tas nodded at Zan.
"Um." he said.
Jon cocked a meaningful eyebrow.
"I was gonna tell you." Zan reached into the pack and produced the big red ball. He handed it to Jon.
Jon studied it for a minute, then tossed it back. "You're Harry Potter, you figure out what else it can do."
Zan gave him a relieved smile.
Tas gave him a long look, "Maybe more like Ron Weasley."
"So how is she going to find us?" Liz asked, "Without the palawntir?"
Jon gave her of his hawk looks, "We'll send up flares if necessary. Maybe put up a neon sign or two."
"This place you speak of, where is it?" Legolas asked.
"The quarry?" Ian said.
"Old limestone quarry." Doc grinned. "Big cliffs. Good bones!"
"A fortress can also be turned into a trap." Tas said.
Bran shook his head. "Easy to play with the weather in there. I could make us a nice temperature inversion, warm things up a bit. Make a little fog. And it's a kind of magical nexus."
"But can't Nazgul Barbie use the magic too?" Liz asked.
"Yes." Then Jon's grim expression broke, he smiled and it was nearly as scary as Nightcrawler. "But not as well. This is our magic." He turned to Bran. "And the water. That's your realm as much as air, thunderbird." Jon said. "There we will set our trap."
"Water?" I said. I swim exactly the way dolphins don't.
"Cool!" Liz said.
Zan grinned and a miniature Elven Grey Ship floated out of his hands.
Legolas' eyes widened. "Elo!"
"I can make a bigger one." Zan said, spinning the red palawntir on one finger.
Nightcrawler's grin stretched wider than Zan's. "Can we do the pirate ship again?"
Our potential transportation, the Windrider, was full of books. Barbie's books. And the Ravin' Maniac could only haul three or four very friendly people at most. And it was too far to bamf or phoomph. And the storm had not abated. If anything, it was worse.
Bran cast a weather eye skyward, a map from the Ravin' Maniac dangling from one hand. No, not exactly dangling, blowing in the wind.
Jon gave him a long appraising look.
"Ididn'tdoit youdidn'tseemedoit youcan'tproveathing." Bran said.
"Birdbrain, You were supposed to make it temporarily hard for her to follow us, not impossible!" Tas said.
"Weather is an art, not a science. And there's some very strange stuff going on here...not my doing." He frowned at the sky again, "Well, the Ravin's grounded, for now, and so am I."
"And even if we could fit us all in the Windrider, she's not going to plow through this stuff." Tas added.
Shenzi and Kodi grinned up at us.
"We have two perfectly good sled dogs." I said. Everyone turned to look at me as if I had suddenly turned blue and grown a set of wings.
"You might have noticed the lack of a sled, and harness?." Liz said. "Anyway, we'd need more dogs. And a trail. We'd have to break a trail through this."
"Sled's easy." Zan said. He vanished into the whiteout, waving to Legolas and Doc to follow. A minute later they returned with a bunch of sticks and branches.
"Ahhh." Liz said. "Interesting, but unless Doc's got way more tools in the Ravin' Maniac, that's not gonna work."
Zan set the palawntir in the snow, then held out a hand in Doc's direction, "Duct tape." he said, like a surgeon asking for a scalpel. Doc retreated to the Ravin' and returned in a moment with three rolls, in blue, yellow and an appalling shade of green. Zan motioned to Ian and Doc and the three set to work. Doc hacked branches down to size with his claws, and the other two taped bits of branch and stick together. In a few minutes something more or less sled shaped emerged.
"That," Liz said doubtfully, "is not gonna fly."
Legolas frowned at the contraption, wiggled the driving bow with a hand. "It seems flexible, yet strong enough."
"But rather..." Nightcrawler cocked his head like a raven eying a carcass that might suddenly spring to life and devour him, "...spikey." Twigs stuck out like feathers on a windblown parrot, and despite Doc's best attempts at instant Dwarvish craftsmanship, the runners were obviously not going to run very far.
Zan grinned at both of them and squatted down by the brush bow at the front. Lightnings played around Zan's gloved hands, blue-white, the color of arctic ice. Behind him, the palawntir danced with tiny lightnings. The light spread and flowed over the collection of taped tree bits. They melted, reformed, and a sleek, light sled stood there.
"Damn!" Liz said. "Can I keep it?"
"It will last as long as we need it, as long as I'm near it." Zan said. "I can't make permanent stuff, even with a good base to work with, like branches and duct tape. And we still need some harness."
"No problem." Tas said. She melted, like a snowman in the sun, and the red wolf stood in her place, wearing a harness. "Romm rarry reh rhis rroff reee!" she arrooed.
"Anybody here speak wookie?" Bran said.
"Or Scooby." Liz added.
The red wolf turned and grinned a huge toothy warning grin. Scarier than Shenzi and 'Crawler combined.
Legolas knelt and pulled the harness off, handing it to Liz, who found it to be a perfect fit for Kodi.
Tas shifted again and melted into another wolf in harness, this one fit Shenzi. On the next meltdown Tas stayed in wolf-shape, harness and all. Doc found some rope in the Maniac, and our three-dog team was ready to roll.
"That takes care of Doc and Lorien and Liz," Jon said, "Bran can ride on the driving bow in Raven form."
"That's a lot for three dogs." Liz cut in.
"You've got Wolf." Jon said, nodding at the big red canine in front. "She'll pull as much as a horse, and break trail too. Liz can run and pedal and push. The rest of us can run..."
"On snow? Like Legolas on Caradhras?" I said.
Jon glanced at Legolas. "Like Caradhras."
"When was I on Caradhras?" Legolas asked.
Nightcrawler cast him a toothy, knowing grin.
"What?" Legolas said, eyes narrowing. "Come on..."
"So what do you know about my father..." Nightcrawler began.
Jon stepped between them, eyes an icy warning. "You'll find out soon enough in your own timelines. If we ever get you back there."
We huddled around the map, picking out a route. By now the roads would be under snow, and travelers would be holed up by nice warm fires, wrapping last minute Christmas presents. We could cut almost straight across country, as the raven flies.
Doc rummaged in the Great Box one last time and produced several sets of skis with poles. "I thought this might be useful, seeing how the weather was developing." He handed a set to Ian, who nodded thanks. He scanned the rest of the crew, his eyes coming to rest on Nightcrawler. "Elves with skis are kind of like a windjammer with an outboard motor. Pointless. But you...you know how to use these things?"
"Bavaria." Kurt said, "Alps? You know, big pointy mountains with snow, lots of it? I spent some time there as a child."
"The next trick will be getting those feet into the boots." Doc said, frowning at Nightcrawler's oversized two-toed feet...
"No problemo." Zan said, in his best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice. He caught a pair of boots Doc tossed and knelt by Nightcrawler with them. Blue lightnings played around his hands and over the boots. In a moment our blue Elf was mounted on skis.
The other Elves stood at the ready, all of them standing on the deepening snow as easily as if they were standing on firm beach sand.
I climbed into the sled's basket with Doc, he handed me a set of ski goggles. "It'll get messy back here with Wolf in the lead." Liz took her place on the runners, and Bran, now in his dark silver raven form, perched on the driving bow with wings half spread for balance.
"Mush!" quoth the raven.
"It's 'hike!' bird brain," Liz said amiably, she crouched between the runners and shoved. And Wolf plunged forward into the whirling whiteout.
The indigo pooka parka with its wolf-fur hood edging was warm, even in the blowing whiteout that obscured everything but the dogs in front of me. I could just see the shadowy shape of Tas plunging at the front of the team. The dogs were strung out in a single file line, not paired the way Liz had run them before. This way they could follow easily in Tas' trail. The Elves had vanished, running ahead, and behind, leaving no more than faint imprints in the snow. If I turned and looked past Doc's bulky, huddled blackleather shape I could make out Ian skiing behind the sled. When we hit broader stretches of trail or road, a shadow would materialize out of the storm and resolve into Nightcrawler on skis, or Legolas running as easily on the snow as the skiers did. We held the pace for what seemed like hours.
Suddenly shadows appeared on all sides, and welcome color after all the endless white; blue and black and tailed on skis, then the bright blue of Zan's parka, and Aiwei's winter wood greys, and the tree-green of Legolas' parka. Ian skied up from the rear, exchanged glances and a few curt gestures with Jon and vanished back behind us again. The dogs stopped. Bran floated down from his place on the driving bow, the birdform blurred and shifted and he stood beside me clad in something that looked suspiciously like a blackleather X-uniform. Doc tossed him something and Bran raised his hand.
Blue fire cut through the blinding blizzard. To Bran's left I saw a flash of green fire, Legolas' bow. I saw Liz's bo slide past me into her hands. Doc piled out of the sled, and pulled me with him. "Get your scroll," he said.
I stood, wiped plastered snow off my goggles, and still couldn't see anything but shadows and the glimmer of the magic weapons.
"Are we there yet?" I asked, and realized how dumb it sounded. This didn't look anything like a quarry. But then I couldn't see any farther than Tas' butt. Great, Nazgul Barbie's caught us before we even get out of the Shire. I fumbled the scroll open and tried to read it through the falling snow. I knew the poems already, at least the whole ones, but these were odd fragments, and maybe they would only work the way they were written. And none of them looked like real spells. No fireballs or icestorms or magic missles like D&D wizards carried around, just things like fragments of Tom Bombadil's songs, Pippin's bath song, Treebeard's Lore of Living Things.
Beside me Bran raised his other hand and said something into the wind.
snow fell back, swirled away on every side, revealing the stark lines
of crowded trees against piling snow, and the Fellowship in a
protective ring around the sled, all of them poised for action.
The reason was emerging from behind the trees like stalking wargs. Dark shapes that resolved themselves into something human.
No, not human. Not at all. They were man-sized, and walked on two legs. No, not walked, not like humans, they moved like predators. Slithery, powerful, as if they could suddenly kick in the turbos and be in your face, or at your throat. Something about the movement was familiar. I couldn't place it. Not the leopard grace of Nightcrawler, or the catlike fluidity of Legolas. Something...
...older. They made me think of raptors. The ones in Jurassic Park.
And they had tails, like Nightcrawler, but thicker, and tapering to a thin whippy point.
More like those raptors.
"Wha...what are those?" I whispered to no one in particular.
Behind me Doc rumbled through his beard, "Orcs."
A few feet away Legolas snapped his head toward us, "Yrch?"
"Whoa." Liz said. "Orcs. Cool." She spun her bo once, leaving a trail of firefly light in the air.
"Cool was not the word I had in mind." I said under my breath. My hand tightened on the scroll. Beside me Legolas tensed like a leopard ready to spring, his eyes gone ice green.
Ok, so there's Elves here, I guess there would have to be orcs too. Not Peter Jackson's movie orcs, more like the way I had always imagined them when I read the book. Toothy and scaley and utterly inhuman.
At first I thought they were wearing some kind of skin-tight leathers. Then they came to a stop, barely thirty feet away, and I realized they were covered in something like short, dense fur, streaked and spotted in camoflage patterns, and the kinds of colors you never find on mammals, only on birds, or reptiles; forest greens and shadowy blues and deep purples in a thousand subtle, impossible shades. On a few of the nearest ones, a ripple of raised hackles cascaded across neck and shoulders, making them look even bigger and badder. I realized suddenly they weren't covered in fur. It was feathers; close and sleek like penguin feathers. A few longer ones poked out of strategic places among the pattern of scales on their faces and heads. Some of the scales flowed into horns and spikes and other wicked looking projections.
Jon stood between the rest of the Fellowship and the orcs, fisted hands held close in some sort of martial arts pose, as if warding off great evil.
A tall orc, head feathers raised in a great crest, hands folded like Jon's, stepped forward. His eyes fell on Liz and her bo, balanced in both hands and poised for action. He bared his mouthful of shark's teeth and took a step toward her.
A lightning bolt of green hit the orc square in the chest.
The world erupted into chaos around me, Jon shouted something back in our direction, then he was running toward the orcs. They were roaring like dragons. And flying in all directions like a drop-kicked nest of hornets. To my right I saw Legolas move to fire again and saw a blue blur knock him down. Ian passed me on skis, and Bran's sword went to his side and went out. Nightcrawler crouched beside the sled, off his skis with all three cutlasses unsheathed until Zan, perched on Legolas' chest, shouted at him to drop them.
The world went suddently still. The orcs stalked closer, a tight ring around us, with no way out, except for our teleporters. Shenzi crouched, growling, Kodi flattened behind her, ears down. The great red wolf stood in front of them, every hair on end, teeth bared. Nightcrawler crouched beside us still, swords sheathed and fists in that odd pose Jon had adopted. Bran and the others were doing the same.
The spell scroll dangled uselessly from my hands. I realized I was barely breathing, I tightened my grip around the scroll and did a recentering breath. One of the orcs stepped closer, teeth bared, hackles flickering up like movie Mystique shapeshifting. Those teeth made Nightcrawler's look wimpy.
"No more magic." the orc said clearly, eyes as yellow and alien as a dinosaur's stared into mine.
Ian was kneeling beside a fallen body, even from where I was, I could see the warm green glow of the healing power he was drawing from the earth. Jon stood beside him, having a rapid-fire conversation with another orc, the big one, with the stance of a leader.
Why is Ian fixing an orc? And why is Jon apologizing?
Zan stood, and Legolas flowed to his feet behind him. Legolas' bow was in Zan's hands, and the tall Elf looked angry and confused.
"He is not from our world." Jon was saying, "He does not know the ways of your people."
The shadow shape on the snow moved, then sprang up like a bird released from a cage. Ian rocked back on his heels, the orc stood over him, teeth bared, hackles raised, panting. Then it blinked, looked around, looked down at Ian.
It held out a strongly clawed hand to Ian and pulled him to his feet.
"What the...?" Liz whispered beside me.
The one Jon had been talking to made a gesture, hands folded so the claws were not visible. The tall pale-haired Elf bowed in return, and made a similar gesture.
The leader orc said something to the others, something that sounded more of hawk and owl and alligator than human speech. The ring of orcs backed up another thirty feet.
Bran motioned for us to come up beside him and Zan and the others. We formed a loose ring, half a dozen orcs coming to complete the circle, their crests clipped and raised in various configurations.
Maybe a sign of their rank, I thought.
Legolas looked grim. Nightcrawler looked fascinated.
The tall leader came forward, his voice sounded like an alligator who had learned Oxford English, "We sensed an enormous display of power, southeast, ten miles." he pointed in the direction we'd come. "We know the scent of one of the folk using that magic." He made a sound, like an annoyed owl, "She is troublesome, but until now, it has been better for us to remain hidden, than to face her. For some time she has been fomenting dissatisfaction among some of our clans. Some wish to use human technology rather than keep to the traditional path. She makes it easier for them to acquire it. And they," here he made another disgusted noise, "repay the favors." He stepped closer and looked Jon in the eye, neither flinched, "They are on the move. And," his golden eyes drifted over Legolas, like an eagle watching a smaller hawk, "they are looking for you. They will not honor the Pact."
"How many, where?" Jon said.
The leader knelt in the snow, flattening a broad swath with his clawed hands. Two-fingered, I noticed, plus thumb, and his feet, visible on the trampled snow had two front-facing toes and one huge hooked claw beside them.
"Dude," Liz whispered, "their hands are like 'Crawler's."
I shook my head, "Yeah, but look at the feet. More like Deinonychus, or Utahraptor."
"Unglaublich! You are right!" Nightcrawler said under his breath, yellow eyes gone wide.
Legolas stood, half crouched like a cat ready to spring, every line of his body tense as a drawn bow.
Liz narrowed her eyes, a look of concentration on her face. Like she was trying to see something. Or remember it.
"What?" I whispered.
"Feathers." she said, her eyes widening in enlightenment.
The big orc rapidly drew lines with a curved claw showing the movements of other groups of orcs. "They are, unfortunately, mounted, and swift."
"Mounted, on what?" Jon said.
Yeah, I couldn't picture them getting anywhere near a horse, except for lunch.
The orc leader grumbled something deep and disgusted, "Smoking, oil-leaking rrrorrarhoom that eat up the ground and poison the air. Four-wheelers, a few snowmobiles, and the favorite of the young who lack a sense of their own mortality; the off-road cycle."
"Off Road Cycles." Zan whispered to us, then broke into a grin, "Get it?"
"Wha?" Liz said.
"O.R.C.s." I gave her a shove.
She sputtered through her nose until the nearest orc raised his hackles at her.
Jon and the leader huddled over the impromptu strategy map. After a few minutes the orc stood again. He turned to his clan and said something to them in his own tongue. They answered with a deep, nearly inaudible rumble. I thought of elephants and how they could communicate over great distances with sound below the hearing range of humans. The leader turned to us, "We cannot move as fast as you over the snow, or as fast as our mounted young. But we will follow you. And we will deal with the young you have..." a gleam like that of a hawk eying up a fat rabbit came into the leader's eyes, "dismounted. We want this woman stopped." He paused and cast an eye over his clan, "Long ago, we would have dealt with her in our own way, but in this age, the humans and their laws are too thick and near."
"That we can handle, Ashnarii." Jon said, and there was something in his eyes like thunderheads before a storm.
"As ever you are a worthy member of your clan, Aiwei son of Awyr and Nawein." They stood eye to eye for a long moment, touched folded fists, then each turned, and fell back with their own folk. Jon caught Legolas' shoulder in a firm grip, pulling him with him.
I looked at them, then back into the woods, the trees were swallowed in blowing snow and the orcs were gone. And the snow showed only our tracks, and the dogs', and something like the trampled trails of deer.
Legolas turned to face Jon, "I have been in your world long enough to see a great deal I do not understand. But this...this is more than I can fathom." his voice had an edge like knives. "You say they are yrch, and they are not wholly unlike the yrch of my homeland, yet you make pacts with them, as if they can be trusted."
"Morlocks." Nightcrawler said thoughtfully.
Legolas turned with the speed of a hawk. "What? What has this got to do with mutants?"
"The mutants nobody loves, hiding in the tunnels under the city." Liz added. "The ugly, scary ones. But not evil."
No, it is not evil...I catch only the faintest echoes of dark places where the hearts of the trees are black...those had been Legolas' words at the edge of Fangorn. So why, I thought, did he not see the orcs for who they are?
"Yeah." Zan said, "They get much the same reaction as the Morlocks did. They aren't the corrupted Elves of Middle-earth, but maybe they gave rise to the same legends here. We are related, your folk and mine," the red-haired Elf indicated Nightcrawler, and Ian, and Liz and me, "but the orcs are from elsewhen."
"They look like what would happen if Utahraptor had a few more million years to evolve." Liz said.
"That would be a grey parrot," I said.
"Dragonkin." The voice was Bran's. "That's their real name, or as close to it as we can get in our limited tongues." Bran said. "They don't like technology, most of them, at least. They don't use tools or fire. And they know the wilderness as well as any Elf. But they don't think quite like Elves, or Men. More like sharks. Or raptors."
"You don't mean birds of prey, do you?" Liz said.
"No. And they're completely carnivorous. Which never put them on humans' list of charismatic megafauna, like blue whales. They don't understand why humans would want to put a whole herd of prey animals in a pasture and keep them all to themselves."
"Huh?" Liz said.
"Cows. Sheep, horses." Zan said.
"Tends to make humans want to track them down and wipe them out." Bran said.
"Like wolves." I said.
"Yeah." Zan said. "We did get the local ones to focus on the overabundant deer population, instead of the cows."
"They weren't carrying any weapons." Nightcrawler observed.
"They don't need them." Jon said. He made a slashing motion with one hooked finger. Like a great claw.
"Magic. The big leader guy said something about magic." Liz said. "They can sense it, can they use it?"
"How do you think they've stayed invisible in a world crowded with humans?" Bran said. "It's not like they can blend in with the human population or anything."
I glanced at Nightcrawler, his tail, in a color never found on mammals, twitching against the snow. He regarded Bran with an unreadable yellow gaze.
"Yes." Jon said, "Though they do not channel energy the same way we do. They can hide, elude, cover their tracks, make you think you've seen something other than what you really have, if they wish. Their guises deceive even us."
"The Professor there means they can fool Elves too." Bran said. He was silent for a few beats, then, "Dragonkin. Dragons opened the Gates. Dragonkin can walk through them, even create their own eddies in the timestream, Otherwhens, Faerie. And in thousands of years of us knowing them, no-one has ever found one of their bodies."
Liz said, "How?"
"They have their secrets. And they share few of them with us. And less with humans."
"Wait." Liz said, "Gates...walk through them. You mean teleport? Like 'Crawler going through the Darkforce Dimension? Can they open Gates, like you guys, to other places they haven't been to before?"
"They have their secrets," Bran said. "Why?"
"Just a brainfart." Liz said no more.
"Formidable warriors, no doubt." It was Legolas who had spoken, a kind of grudging admiration in his voice.
"Yeah, I wouldn't want those guys to be on the other side." Liz said.
"Those were their women." Bran said.
"Rather, ah, flatchested, don't you think?" Nightcrawler said.
"Birds don't have boobs, I doubt dinosaurs did either." Liz said.
Nightcrawler blinked, and glanced away. I swear his face went purple with embarassment. He cleared his throat then, "Then things will get interesting when we meet their males."
"Raptors." Liz said, "The females are bigger. At least in birds."
Bran nodded, "Same with them. And a lot of the Off Road Cycle guys are young males, kids who want the kind of power they see humans having."
"Then they will be doubly dangerous," Legolas said, "if they can elude our senses and come on us unawares with their swift machines."
Jon's expression was like the keen edge of a blade, "What they have not realized is that they cannot use their traditional gifts and human technology. We will at least hear them coming. And maybe their kin will meet them first."
"And when they don't?" Nightcrawler said.
Aiwei gave Legolas a long, hard look. "Let's just say if we kill any of them, things could get real messy in Yrch County."
"Their swords and spears shone in the gloom with a gleam of chill flame, so deadly was the wrath of the hands that held them."
It was Nightcrawler who had spoken, quoting the line from The Hobbit, where the Elves of Mirkwood charge the orc horde at the Lonely Mountain. He studied Legolas, indigo face a mask of calm, his golden gaze still unreadable.
Legolas gave him a long, questioning look.
"A description of your folk in battle, and of their bitter hatred for the orcs of Middle-earth."
"I heard what Jon said." His face was impassive, like a hawk's.
"And your bow channels your thoughts."
"Yet your weapons are good only for killing."
"True, but I am used to fighting without them. 'Many live that deserve death. And many die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.'"
"Who said that, one of your great sages?"
"One of yours, mein freund, Gandalf, Mithrandir."
Legolas remained silent for a minute. Then, "I too can fight without a bow, mellon nin." He touched the grey mooncurve of wood, where it hung in its sheath. "Or turn this one to gentler use." He turned to Nightcrawler, "But if it is necessary," he gestured toward Liz and me, "I will do what is needed to protect them. Whatever is needed."
Nightcrawler nodded, catlike fangs just visible.