01. The Beginning

Disclaimer: You know the drill. I’m not making any money off of this whatsoever. Jay and Acacia created the Protectors of the Plot Continuum and the character Makes-Things. I own myself, while the Witch-king and everybody else belongs to the Tolkien estate.

My real name is none of your business. My colleagues in the Protectors of the Plot Continuum (PPC) know me as Architeuthis, one of the newer recruits to the Department of Intelligence. PPC’s brief is to serve and protect the fanfic community by ridding it of such scum as Mary Sues. The official definition of a Mary Sue is “an original character that is an extremely idealized and glorified version of the fanfic author. Males of this type are sometimes called Marty Sams. Regardless of gender, Mary Sues have at least some of the following characteristics:

1) Exceptional physical beauty.
2) A phenomenal singing voice and/or a fondness for singing, especially inappropriate songs at inappropriate times.
3) A pronounced and deleterious effect on any and all canonical characters, including, but not limited to:
    a) compelling the writer’s favorite character to fall in love with him/her,
    b) compelling apparent spontaneous reformation and/or repentance in any evil or selfish characters,
    c) commanding respect or even deference from canonical authority figures.
4) A marked tendency to upstage canonical characters, e.g. saving the entire Fellowship from certain doom.
5) Supposedly unique abilities that may or not be useful, e.g. prophecy or telepathy.”

The Manual has a LONG list of “secondary attributes,” but I won’t bore you by going into them; I think you get the basic idea. Other concerns of PPC include Transdimensional Hopping (wherein the fanfic writer sends herself and/or other people into another dimension, e.g. Middle-earth), Transdimensional Snatching (wherein the writer abducts canon characters and brings them here), and Bad Slash (improbable and poorly written sexual liaisons between characters of the same sex).

To be honest, in most fandoms, this kind of horse manure has only minimal impact on the basic continuum, since the bad writers are generally balanced out by the good ones who act as guardians of the fanfic realm’s integrity. They treat the canon characters and basic plot with respect, and either avoid self-insertions or write them credibly.

The problems arise when a universe becomes extremely popular and draws a veritable HORDE of fanfic writers, many of whom should NEVER be allowed near a word processor. This is what has happened to the Lord of the Rings continuum. The first book has recently appeared in movie form, firing the imaginations (or at least the hormones) of many would-be writers. Consequently, Middle-earth is now infested with Mary Sues, Extra Ringwraiths (there are only supposed to be NINE), and uncatalogued sentients, e.g. unicorns or fairies. There have also been countless Character Ruptures and Temporal/Spatial Distortions; these last two phenomena are also known as Plot Holes.

Bottom line: Middle-earth is a MESS.

In fact, it’s gotten so bad that PPC’s recruiting tactics have gotten very aggressive, if not desperate.

How desperate?

Well, when I first learned of PPC’s existence, I decided to lend a small helping hand and sent them information concerning a truly wretched fic called “The Chosen,” which concerned a Mary Sue who was allegedly Galadriel’s daughter. A few days later, I got a frantic e-mail from PPC thanking me for the tip, and telling me that the Mary Sue had been duly assassinated. The e-mail ALSO included a questionnaire of sorts asking me my age, education level, skills, etc. I had time on my hands, so I filled the thing out. Twenty-four hours later, I got a JOB OFFER from their Department of Personnel.

I couldn’t believe it. I knew things were bad in the LotR continuum, but I didn’t think they’d gotten THAT bad. In any case, I took it. (I’m a graduate student of biology; I need money, okay?)

Most of the time, it’s a pretty easy job. 90% of the time, it consists of nothing more than sitting in Headquarters scanning through the continuum on my computer. The Manual supplies a list of items I’m supposed to look for, such as a familial relationship with a canon character, Character Ruptures, etc. Since it isn’t always immediately obvious that an O.C. might cause damage to the continuum, I’ll just flag some fics for continued observation. If it’s blatantly obvious that there’s a problem, I’ll send a report to Upstairs, and they send the assassins.

The other 10% of the time is trickier, for that consists of field work, which involves actually visiting Middle-earth and looking for fic-related damage. Rivendell is practically a disaster area these days, since all the Mary Sues like to visit it. The last time I was there, I had to neuralyze a bunch of Elves... who were making a pizza. Anachronistic Cultural Contamination is yet ANOTHER problem caused by Mary Sue infestations. The neuralyzer we use is based on the device developed by the folks at MiB, and basically looks and works the same way. However, our chief engineer, Makes-Things, made some improvements to the original model. Now, a neuralyzer can be used to erase SKILLS as well as short-term memories. This means I was able to make the Elves forget how to make pizza. (I was disguised as an Uruk-hai at the time, which should tell you the state Rivendell is in. Elves generally DON’T let orcs wander freely around their lands.)

I should note here that the canon is somehow able to “cloak” Protectors, rendering them at least partially undetectable. Protectors who actively help the canon, such as those in the Sue Department, are wholly undetectable, unless they call attention to themselves in some fashion, e.g. talking to canonical characters. Protectors who are essentially observers, such as those in the Department of Intelligence, can be detected by canon characters—but only under certain conditions. Basically, observers are unlikely to be detected if they do not seem out of place. An observer disguised as an orc while in Moria won’t be detected, for instance, while one disguised as an elf will. The severity of Mary Sue infestations also influences an observer’s ability to remain undetected. In Rivendell, I could show up as ANYTHING canonical, even something hostile—and not be noticed. (I’d probably have to dress up like a KLINGON or something before Elrond and Co. spotted me.) But, in a place like Bree or Gondor, which has had minimal Mary Sue activity, I have to be more careful and appear as something both canonical AND friendly to a majority of the residents.

I should also note that if Jay and Acacia have their way, I’ll soon be licensed to kill and sent to join the Department of Mary Sues. In fact, the only reason I’m not there already is because I have yet to hit an INTENDED target with the longbow. (I have, however, hit plenty of UNINTENDED targets. In my last holo-combat, I hit a hologram of Jay with the longbow. Whoops. The real Jay wasn’t amused.) Obviously, one requirement for being in the Sue Department is the ability to use canonical weapons. I’ve gotten to be reasonably skilled with both the dagger and the broadsword, which is why I’m permitted to do field work for Intelligence.

A quick and dirty way to spy out the land in Middle-earth is to use a palantir or seeing-stone, which looks like a black crystal ball and can be used to see distant places or even different times. The problem is that there are only SEVEN of these very useful items on the whole planet—and two of them are at the bottom of the sea, while one is at the bottom of the Great River, leaving only four available. One of these is at Minas Morgul, home of the Nazgûl, and one of the most distinctive landmarks in Mordor. It’s a huge fortress with a tower, and the walls GLOW. Supposedly, they do so because of some spell trapping moonlight within the walls. It sits at the border of Mordor and Ithilien, which means you get a cool view from the tower. On one side, you get a rocky wasteland that almost looks like a moonscape, and on the other side, you get a lovely valley. The decor is morbid; I don’t need to tell you much more than that the Nazgûl’s standard is a black flag with a moon disfigured by a death’s head. Cute.

As I said, most Mary Sues like to go to Rivendell and crash the Council of Elrond, which takes place a few days after the Nazgûl get their heads handed to them at the Fords of Bruinen. Since they’ve been left shapeless and weakened, it probably takes them awhile to get back to Mordor to recuperate—leaving Minas Morgul unoccupied save by orcs and possibly some men. Nobody is likely to look twice at yet another Uruk-hai, which gives me a free shot at the stone. The Nazgûl live in the tower (so to speak; they’re undead, after all), and keep their personal effects there, including the stone, which I find in what looks like a library or study of some kind. I start looking.

Rivendell’s a mess as usual. I HATE going there because of all the screwy Temporal/Spatial Distortions. One time, I blundered into one of those and somehow wound up in Bree. Since Bree has only been minimally affected by the Mary Sues, the people there act the way they are supposed to. You can guess what happened when an Uruk-hai suddenly appeared in their midst....

I hate Rivendell. I hate it, I hate it!

“Who art thou?”

I look up, and practically shit myself. Standing in the doorway, with his flaming sword drawn, is one of the Nazgûl. I am so screwed—I didn’t think any of them would be here yet! It’s almost certainly the Lord of the Nazgûl; he’s more powerful than the others, so he could probably travel faster.

“Ashnak, milord High Nazgûl!” (Of course, I’d picked a fake name before coming....)

“Thou art a spy, Ashnak—for though thou hast the seeming of an Uruk, thy scent is that of the race of Men.”

Oh, screw it. Upstairs wasn’t going to like this, but I liked the idea of gashes and third-degree burns even less than the idea of pissing off Upstairs.

“I am indeed a spy, milord, but not for the enemies of Mordor or the Master. Instead, I serve a different master, a group called the Protectors of the Plot Continuum. Milord, have you ever heard of ‘fanfiction’?”

“Aye. A particularly odious form of sorcery, by all accounts.”

I had to force myself to not laugh at that comment: a Ringwraith calling someone or something “odious.” Like he had room to talk!

“Yes. And have you heard of ‘fangirls’?”

“They are but a legend! A fearful legend, but a legend nonetheless.”

“No, milord, they are all too real—and they hail from my land. They have unleashed some of their foul creations here in Middle-earth, most notably the Mary Sue.”

Around this time, two things occurred to me. One was that the Nazgûl’s Black Shadow should have knocked me for a loop by now—and it hadn’t yet. The Black Shadow is a kind of magical emanation given off by the Nazgûl that does nasty things to a person’s nervous system. A mild dose can make you feel cold and depressed, while a severe dose can kill. The severity of the Black Shadow’s effects depend on the Nazgûl’s proximity and the length of exposure to the Nazgûl. Given that I’d been in the same room with one for several minutes, I probably should have passed out by now. The fact that I hadn’t probably meant that he was not at full strength yet; he was still “convalescing.”

The other thing that occurred to me was that he probably did not give a rat’s ass about Mary Sues in Rivendell; if anything, he’d probably be pleased to know they were trashing a stronghold of his enemies. But I knew of another fangirl creation he probably would care about. Time to shift gears a tad.

“Another fangirl creation is the Extra Ringwraith....”

I’d obviously struck a fair-sized nerve, for he started and snarled.

“I know of those! Utterly useless in battle or anywhere else, and yet my brethren and I always feel compelled to accept them into our ranks. Doubtless, it’s some foul enchantment that they use, and yet they seem incapable of most other forms of magic. Their ways are outlandish, and their manners impertinent, yet I can never smite the wretches, however richly they deserve it. Some of them even dare deny the Master’s supremacy! I know of one, a mewling girl, who serves the wizard Saruman—NOT the Master!”

A Ringwraith working for Saruman? Somebody is seriously confused....

A wave of cold hit me, and I realized that the Nazgûl’s anger had finally caused the Black Shadow to kick in.

He suddenly stopped in mid-rant. “What is this writing below the vision of Rivendell?”

“A fangirl’s spell, milord.”

WRONG thing to say to a sorcerer. All it did was pique his curiosity. (Memo to Department of Fictional Psychology: Nazgûl can be surprisingly inquisitive....) He bent over the stone, plainly trying to read the fic. He must have also been squinting like hell, as Ringwraiths have miserable eyesight. I decided to spare him the trouble.

“Milord, it’s written in English, a language—”

“What is ‘Alien Ant Farm’?”

“A troupe of minstrels from my homeland, milord. The peculiar name is typical of many minstrel troupes from my home.”

Shit! Merde! Scheisse! Caca! Buglush!

Who the hell had taught the Witch-king to read English?! That was a Level I Cultural Contamination. Nobody in Middle-earth was supposed to know how to read or write in any Earth languages, and only a tiny handful were supposed to be able to speak them. Need I mention that none of the Ringwraiths fell into that select category?

“Milord, do any of your brethren read this language, as well?”

“Nay,” he said curtly, plainly absorbed by the fic.

Since none of the Nazgûl are supposed to have any knowledge of any Earth language, I’d have to neuralyze all the ones that did. So it was a relief to know I wasn’t going to have track down the other eight Nazgûl. I was going to have to neuralyze His Majesty, who, fortunately, seemed to have a taste for bad fanfic. I could prep the neuralyzer without his noticing. Makes-Things had recently gotten the neuralyzer to work on undead creatures, so the Nazgûl’s undead state was not a problem. I wanted to erase all his knowledge of the English language, plus the last five minutes, when he’d started reading the fic. I also minimized the glare to avoid hurting his weak eyes. When I was ready, I coughed. He looked up, and got an eyeful of neuralyzer beam.

“You need to use the stone to look for your missing brethren,” I told him.

“I need to search for my missing brethren with the stone. Get thee gone, Ashnak.”

“As you command, milord,” I said, and got out fast, as I was starting to feel woozy from the Black Shadow. I went outside the fortress to the portal and stepped through it. Thanks to the Nazgûl’s tip, I now knew that I ought to investigate Isengard and see what I could find out about that Extra Ringwraith and the damage she was causing. As soon as I was over the Black Shadow’s effects, I’d head there.

A.N.: “Merde,” “caca,” “schiesse,” and “buglush” are respectively French, Italian, German, and Orcish vulgarisms for excrement.