The Book of TORC - ~Chapter Three: Adapting to the new world

Meanwhile, back in the hallways, Boromir and Lexi were wandering again, in search of the Scriptorium. They went there by some mutual agreement, and in silence. Some of the most knowledgeable people (in writing, that is) were sure to be there. Someone there would have to know what to do. Besides, it was a favorite place to be for both of them, and neither had been there. So to the Scriptorium they went.

A couple minutes later they had entered, and were wandering through a small (well, it felt small, but was actually very large indeed) room with several small tables, and a larger, circular one where discussions could be held. On each wall were rows of glass-covered shelves that held scrolls and writing hints for those who needed them. Those were the only decorations, save a small stand in the corner that held Yorkshire tea and biscuits.

There was a musty smell that filled the air, and the lights were dim, but somehow Boromir knew that if he tried to read or edit anything here, he would have no trouble. Unlike the other rooms, however, this one was not empty . . . though it wasn't exactly "bustling" either. Most of the people here -- there were perhaps a dozen -- seemed almost permanent residents who were scribbling away in red pens on short works, or writing with the elegant quills that seemed to be in abundance, though Boromir could not see where they had come from. Most of the people here were working alone, save a small discussion group of three writers arguing about the best line that Faramir could say next. Boromir overheard such words as "canon," "rhythm" and "syllables." He wondered for just a moment if they were co-writing an epic poem -- all about Faramir, of course. When Boromir looked more closely at them, however, he saw the glazed look of one who is not actually in TORC - but coming from a computer from the outside. Shuddering a little at the ghostly appearances (now that he could see how they resembled them) Boromir looked around for someone more . . . well, more solid.

Finally, Boromir spotted someone he knew, and, motioning for Lexi to follow, he tread quietly over to where Jeanlily sat. "Hey," he said, tapping her on the shoulder. She looked up and grinned, then motioned them to sit. "There are people here," Boromir noted.

Lexi rolled her eyes. "Thank you for stating the obvious," she said, looking to Jeanlily for help in mocking poor Boromir. "There are people here? really? You think? Wow -- hey, Jeanlily, are you here?"

Jeanlily patted herself on the face and arms. "I guess so," she said. "Amazing, I never knew what it was like to be real before! You learn something new every day."

"Hey, I just meant --" Boromir tried to explain, but the girls knew exactly what it was . . . and they were busy mocking him.

"I guess you do learn something," Lexi smiled. "Lookie -- Boromir's real too!" she patted him rather heavily on the back. "Solid as an ox."

"Or mule."

"I'm not a mule!"
"As a mule? Hey, Boromir, why don't you go get us some of that tea?"

"Mmm, sounds good, hurry."

"Go on, friend mule."

Grumbling about girls, Boromir got up, followed by their giggled -- well, hushed giggles, after one of the editors glared at them. He wondered for a moment why there was only tea in this room -- no coffee. Oh well, he could make do, as long as it wasn't that gross raspberry stuff some people called tea. Actually, the leaves smelled pretty good . . .

"So, what's new?" Jeanlily asked when Boromir was gone. "Anything exciting happen?"

"Yeah, you could say that," Lexi answered slowly, then grinned. "Ainariel appeared."

"Okay . . . wasn't she here before?"

"No, not *that* Ainariel!? Lexi exclaimed excitedly. "I mean the Ainariel from her story -- the human Ainariel."

"I'm confused . . ."

"Okay, you know how we met Ainariel the half-elven hobbit earlier? Well she wrote a story -- Back to Middle-earth -- with herself and her brother. Now the Ainariel from her story is here."

"And she's human?"

"Right, but that's not the best part of it -- Frodo and Sam are with her! Boromir and I met them! We met canon characters! They were wonderful! So cute and hobbity and *thin* . . . and . . ." Lexi paused for a moment, then leaned in closer. "Well, I wasn't really thinking about that then, I was too scared of them. I mean, they're just little guys, but a thought for a moment they were going to kill us or something."

"What did you do?" Jeanlily asked, excitement lighting up her face.

"Well, we managed to get them all to their rooms, all we have to do is find Ainariel - the one you met before - and tell her what's going on. I figure she can probably deal with herself better than we can. Oh, they looked so sad!"

"What's up?" Boromir asked, returning with two steaming mugs of tea. They looked good . . . but he had already had so much coffee, anything more to drink would end up in multiple urgent runs to the mens' room.

"I was just filling her in about Ainariel, Frodo and Sam," Lexi answered, drawing the mug closer to her. "Yum, tea."

"Could I meet them?" Jeanlily asked, almost jumping out of her seat.
"I don't know, I think they're asleep." Lexi shrugged and took a sip, wincing as she burned her tongue on the scalding tea. "They looked pretty zonked-out last I saw."

"Speaking of which," Boromir said thoughtfully, leaning back in his chair and idly noticing more of those peculiar bug-like bites on the table. He ran one finger over them, wondering why such a well-kept-up place like this would have those marks. "What are we going to call them? I mean, we say `Ainariel' and they both come running."

"Well, they could be `Ainariel1' and `Ainariel2' or `Human!Ainariel' and `Halfelvenhobbit!Ainariel.'" Jeanlily asked in interest. "Or - does anyone know Ainariel's middle name?" The others shrugged. Why would they? In any case, what they needed was a brilliant way . . . something that no one would expect, but that would be just perfect . . .

"I know," Lexi said slowly, blowing steam off her tea. "We could call her Shannon..."
===

Sam paced back and forth across the plain green and yellow room. The colors seemed strangely faded, and did nothing to cheer his mood . . . and paid him no reminder of the Shire. He looked down at his sleeping master. Frodo had fallen asleep as soon as he had reached the bed, and looked no less tired unconscious. On the other hand . . . somehow, part of the weight seemed to have been lifted from him as soon as they had arrived. It was the distance, Sam decided, feeling all the worse for it.

If they were so off course now, how could they ever destroy the Ring? And where was Ainariel? Suddenly, Sam decided that was exactly who he needed to see: Ainariel. True, the last thing she had said to him on Middle-earth was very disturbing, but right now Frodo was asleep, and Sam felt more alone than he had in Mordor. At least there he knew (sort of) where he was. This place was a mystery, not to mention a labyrinth . . . even if he felt he had somehow known it before.

Ainariel, though, she seemed to recognize it. She would know what to do.

===

The half-elven hobbit Ainariel looked down at the human Ainariel (now called Shannon) sleeping on her - their - bed. Previously, only the one who owned their content could enter their own room. But, Ainariel thought, they were the same person - in a way. They had the same password, name and premiere member status. Only their personalities, appearances and experiences were different. Okay, so that was a lot. But obviously TORC didn't care about such . . . trivial differences.

Shannon stirred on the bed, shifting about as if in a bad dream before sitting straight up with a cry of "Sam!" Her eyes shot open and a shock ran through her body before they focused and she relaxed a little.

"It's okay . . . Ainariel," Ainariel said. She wondered how to comfort the girl - probably the same way she liked to comfort herself. But eating chocolate and watching "The Lord of the Rings" was probably useless now that Shannon had actually been there.

"Just call me `Shannon'," Shannon corrected. "It's easier . . . I guess you know that anyway." She squirmed a little uncomfortably. "I - I need to go find Frodo and Sam."

Ainariel nodded, "Right. What? Frodo and Sam are here too? You didn't tell me that!" Shannon looked at her in surprised. She didn't know? Huh. "Let's go!" She jumped off the bed and practically ran for the door, barely hesitating long enough for Shannon to follow. Frodo and Sam were here! In TORC! And she hadn't even known!! All that time wasted when she could have been talking to them . . . looking at them . . . getting their autographs . . . well, why not?

"We probably shouldn't bother them . . . they might be asleep," Shannon said hastily, contradicting her earlier words. Things were complicated enough without the hobbits asking questions. Plus, Frodo and Sam were in bad shape, the last thing they needed was to be dragged in front of her Ainariel. Shannon knew very well how hyper her counter-part could be, and this might not be a good time . . .

But Ainariel was sure, without a doubt or whim in her mind that more than anything, she wanted to meet Frodo and Sam. They were her heroes. And, of course, canon characters, which was enough. But to meet them! To actually see them! It was like a dream come true! Wait, it was a dream come true. And why not?

===

Frodo Baggins of the Shire was having a nightmare. Again. But this time, it had nothing to do with home, the Quest or the Ring, but a nameless creature that ate away at everything, leaving nothing but holes and sorrow in its path. Ever closer this thing was growing; ever stronger it was becoming; ever smaller the time was to stop it.

And then the dream stopped, and the hobbit awoke, looking up into the eyes of a concerned Sam. "Go back to sleep, Mr. Frodo," he said. "You shouldn't be up yet. Get your rest."

"You should sleep also, Sam," Frodo answered gently, giving him a half-smile. "I do not believe the enemy is here, and you need to rest."

Sam shook his head. "I can't seem to sleep," he said. "I keep thinking about something, but I can't tell quite what. It's nagging at the back of my mind, telling me that we need to find Ainariel. I think she knows what this place is, but it doesn't seem quite right to me. Nor did those children that led us to this room."

"They didn't seem to mean us any harm," Frodo reminded him, sitting up all the same. "But perhaps you are right. We are very far indeed from Mordor and must get back there - though I do not wish to - but this place still has some of the evil smell of the other, as if something were very wrong here. Perhaps it would be better to find Ainariel."

"Even if she's not from the Valar," Sam added, a bit sourly. There was no time to be suspicious now, so naturally, the best time . . .

===
"Is it true?" Luthy asked Boromir, Jeanlily and Lexi, bursting through the door. The two girls looked up from their tea, and Boromir from his lack of tea . . . and the strange markings on the table.

"Is what true?" he asked.

"Is the entire Fellowship really here? And all the characters from fan fiction? Where are they?" Luthy looked around, as if expecting to see Gimli and Legolas surrounded by a group of fangirls (mostly for the latter) and the next table. "I heard you met them!"

"Not unless I missed something . . ." Lexi muttered, while Jeanlily took over.

"Only Frodo, Sam, and the human Ainariel (whom we're calling Shannon) are here. They arrived from 'Back to Middle-earth.' Is that right?" she looked to the other two for support.

"Yeah," added Boromir. "They arrived a little less than an hour ago. We took them to their rooms -- my guess is they fell asleep."

"Oh," Luthy looked a little disappointed. "Are you sure?"

"Pretty sure -- they looked awfully tired. Speaking of which, we should probably find the real Ainariel before she meets her human self." Boromir put both hands on the table and pushed himself up. "Coming?"

"I'm game," said Lexi, putting her tea down. "Do you want to return the dishes now, Boromir?" he glared at her. Grinning brightly, Jeanlily picked up both hers and Lexi's and ran with them to their little niche. Lexi winced.

"Actually, maybe I should do it next time. It's a miracle they didn't break." When Jeanlily returned, they set off to find Ainariel.

"We're off to see the Hobbit -- the wonderful Hobbit of TORC . . ." Luthy sang under her breath. She laughed to herself. Then -- "Hey, there's Ainariel! And Ainariel!! I mean, Shannon!" She exclaimed, paying no heed to repetitious exclamation marks. The aforementioned girls turned their heads in her direction, then looked at each other again, whispering. Boromir could just make out the word "Run" before they took off.

"Well, that was weird." Lexi said, staring after their rapidly retreating backs. "Why did they just run like that?"

"Let me think," Boromir said slowly, as if pondering a deep question . . . only with sarcasm. "A book character and her maker see a troop of us heading for us and probably their precious Frodo and Sam, looking like we're ready to jump all over them -- or at least you are. I'd probably run too. I don't think the singing really helped, either."

"Oh," Luthy said. "Sorry. Where are Frodo and Sam?"

Boromir shook his head, indicating that no, he wouldn't tell. Lexi privately agreed with him. It would be best not to mess with them. "Fine," Luthy said. "Jeanlily, are you with me?"

"You bet," she answered, and they sprinted away in the direction of Shannon and Ainariel . . . and, hopefully, the canon characters. Lexi and Boromir watched in a sad sort of amusement as the went in exactly the wrong direction.
"I guess it's just us again," Boromir noted rather pointlessly. "Want to head back to Tom's House?"

"Sure," Lexi answered. "Why not?"

===


Deftly managing a little maneuver that would, in the future, help Frodo and Sam avoid fangirls, Shannon and Ainariel caught up with the two hobbits, who now stood outside their room (for, like the Ainariels, they shared one - for whatever reason) looking very confused. Both of them remembered this passage that they had so recently passed (it had been less than two hours ago) and were quite as tired then as they were now. Were it not for the pressing business of *where* they were, neither would be awake yet . . . nor even close to it.

Seeing the hobbits looking so forlorn and fatigued, Shannon ran to them, expressing her sympathies, and saying that they should certainly get some rest. Ainariel, on the other hand, despite her eagerness to see Sam (and Frodo) hung back a little. It was not so much that she was feeling especially shy at this sudden meeting (though, indeed, she was) but more because of her surprise at their appearance. They looked terrible.

No, not the `terrible' of the awful creatures that lurk in caves or sewers, or deep underground where no light reaches; nor was it the terrible of a terrific and magnificent being. Rather, she saw two small (even compared with her, for she was half-elven) hobbits that were so bedraggled and unbelievably tired looking. Rather like Shannon, in fact, though Ainariel had not previously made that connection, and the girl was slightly better off especially than the Ringbearer. These two were . . . well, let me describe them to you as best I can, as Ainariel saw them.

Though not immediately sure which hobbit was Sam, and which Frodo, Ainariel soon perceived that one stood slightly to the side of the other, watching her carefully. His hair was quite brown (as were his eyes) though it was slightly lighter than the other's. Whether this was how it should have been or not, the author does not know; even these two canon characters were changed slightly by Ainariel's descriptions in her entrancing story, and looked slightly more like their counter-part actors than perhaps they should have - though there is no fault in that!

The other hobbit had blue eyes, much like the actor who played him, only some of the spark that may have resided in them was gone. He was fairer than the other - Sam - but also much gaunter, as if wanting for food for quite some time (which was true enough.) Dulled as his eyes might be, Ainariel still could see the strong, gentlehobbit he had been *and still was* however the exhaustion might have hidden it from her. Then, at last he spoke.

"Ainariel," he said, meaning Shannon, for that was what he still called her. "You have, perhaps inadvertently, brought us to this place, and seem to understand it. You say you are from the future; do you know where we are? After all, you were confident enough when sending us to that room, though you seemed not to know it yourself. Tell me, what has happened?"

Shannon frowned, perhaps because the hobbits had not taken her suggestion for nearly long enough, and she believed they should still be resting - and she said so: "You were okay! Don't worry - I'm trying to figure out what's going on, and I think I get some of it now. And, you know, you should still be asleep! I'm not going to let you get hurt!"

"Then why did you take us to this place?" Frodo asked softly. "You know we *must* get to Mount Doom!"

"And where are we anyway?" Sam burst in angrily. He had gotten very little rest at all, and felt it more his duty than ever to stand up for his master. Still, his anger was dulled, and he did not keep it up long. "You took us away from the Quest, brought us here - what is this, your future? And what good did it do us? Now we'll never be able to get rid of that thing!"

"Sam," Frodo said, perhaps to pacify him. But Ainariel broke in first, saving Shannon from having to answer.

"You're perfectly safe here, and we're going to get you back," she said. "This may or may not actually be you're future, so you might as well make the best out of it." Ainariel was certainly getting her perkiness back. She grinning. "Come with me, I know where you can get some great food."

Despite their plight and the circumstances surrounding everything, few things (if anything) can distract a truly starving hobbit from an offer of free food - and Shannon wasn't about to turn it down. Looking up at Ainariel, Frodo gave her a small smile and nod, giving her more than enough way to lead (excuse me, bounce) the way to The Bird and the Baby.

===

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