Boromir and Lexi headed out of the Bird and Baby. The hallways, while before empty, were no extremely crowded with strange and exotic elves, orcs, and creatures neither recognized. Boromir and Lexi both found themselves taking a step back at the sudden onslaught of noise. There hadn’t been anyone here before! Boromir looked more closely at one of the elves who had bumped into him. The elf was slightly translucent, unreal . . . almost . . . *digital!* And a moment later he was gone, lost in the crowd of so many other crystalline bodies.
“There’s something really weird going on here,” Lexi murmured to Boromir, though he couldn’t possibly hear her over the racket of talking (which, for whatever reason, she couldn’t actually pick out a word from, it was just a sort of humming noise.) Perhaps inspired by the strangeness of the speech, Boromir grabbed Lexi’s arm and pulled her towards the Language section.
Through a short Gothic doorway of wood carved with greetings in a thousand tongues of men and others, they looked into a much emptier and subdued green space under a wrought-iron glass skylight. Two arcades on either side of a verdant courtyard with even placed trees had doorway upon doorway in them.
“Lexi, what’s going on?” asked Boromir, when he could finally be heard, as the noise here was much lesser.
“Come on,” she answered, going to the right-hand spiral staircase of black iron filigree. “I just have a hunch about something.” The soft blue light made her look almost Elven to Boromir, just for an instant. Upon reaching the arcade, Boromir watched as one of the doors swapped places from far down the arcade. Lexi ignored it, and walked straight to a desk on one side, where a young man sat.
“Hello,” said the figure in the cheerful tone of one who has to ask the same question almost constantly to all who came his way, “May I help you, Miss . . .?”
“I’m Lexi, Evenstar_Elfstone to you perhaps.” She walked over to the writing desk where the young man had a parchment covered with different colored inks and metallic lines.
“Níall,” he said, indicating himself with the back-end of a dip pen. He looked curiously at her in recognition. “I know you! I’m Galadralorean.”
“Galad! Hey! I haven’t seen you for a while! Well, read, that is. I didn’t know you were in TORC too.”
“I just come around now and then. I’m not exactly here, not like you are – I mean, I have to type this in to talk to you. But I’m part of TORC a little bit – I know what’s going on around here, that people are getting sucked it. Quite frankly, I’m a little jealous. I’ve only seen pictures of the real TORC!”
“You mean you knew it was real the whole time and never told anyone?” Boromir asked in astonishment. “You’ve been visiting TORC for real?”
“No,” Galad said. “I told you: I have to type this, but you see me because . . . well, from my computer, I can see you. I can kind of monitor what happens on this site from the outside. It’s fun . . . but most of the time pretty boring, there are only those pseudo-elves and such out in the hallways, and they’re seldom there. Only when I am, I think.” One of the so-named elves collided with Lexi a moment later, and she felt herself falling – but the elf hadn’t really hit her very hard, somehow.
“He just went through you!” Boromir exclaimed
“Yeah, that happens sometimes,” Galad explained. “But I try to keep it under control – by words only, of course.”
“That’s really weird,” Lexi said, speaking Boromir’s thoughts exactly. She grinned. “Hey, if you know this place so well, can you tell us where the exit is?”
Galad pursed his lips and looked at them thoughtfully. At last he said, “The only way I’ve ever seen people get in and out is by suddenly appearing and disappearing. Quite frankly, I can’t help you. Oh!”
“What is it?” Lexi and Boromir asked together.
“My computer’s freezing up again! Gotta go! Bye!”
And with that, Galad disappeared, and with him, all the pseudo elves and other . . . strange . . . peoples. Silence settled on the Language area, but it was not the cold silence of loneliness, more like the thankful sigh of one who is finally no-longer claustrophobic.
By some mutual consent, Lexi and Boromir walked out into the connecting corridor. They walked past door upon door upon door, some cracked open to reveal dim rooms, or brightly lit rooms, or rooms full of bewildering flashes. Boromir surmised that those were actual processes of the message board. The raw reality of the building was so difficult to match with the digital circumstances. It was as though cyberspace and a small, previously unoccupied universe, had fallen into each other and allowed this strange edifice to exist. He paused, wondering where that rather deep thought had come from.
Lexi looked around pensively, up at the peculiar bosses that hung from the teardrop vault centers of the hallway ceiling, Gothic brownstone, like an Oxford courtyard walkway. Inside the relief stonework, a light pulsed, slowly shifting from green to blue.
Boromir followed Lexi contentedly through the halls for hours in silence, just enjoying looking at the place he had for so long craved to know. It might be a strange place, one where he was stuck, and a maze of curious passageways and rooms – but it was a wonderful one; one where he could spend hours just walking through, alone but for a friend.
And hours they did spend walking, until they came upon three people standing together. Boromir didn’t recognize them at first, but some inner part of him was attuned to such a thing as this, and he knew – somehow he knew – that two of these were . . .
Canon characters. But who? Tolkien, wonderful author that he was, had not described his characters much at all. And Peter Jackson — well, that man didn’t have any idea what he was doing! Some things were certainly close, but . . . well, these two certainly didn’t look anything like the actors in the movie. They were fair of face, but that was the only similarity.
Ah, but the last person left standing just in front of and to the left of Boromir and Lexi was someone they recognized instantly. After all, hadn’t they just met her author and counterpart a few minutes ago?
“Ainariel?” Lexi asked in amazement. “I thought you were still back drinking coffee! I mean, for three hours is pushing it, but you looked kind of thirsty!” She added the last part as a bit of an afterthought, with a mental slap. Of course Ainariel wouldn’t *still* be there.
But when the girl turned to face them upon hearing her name, Lexi and Boromir alike knew she was not the same Ainariel. This girl — this very human girl — looked exhausted and travel-worn far beyond anything the TORC-nuts had seen before. She looked as if she had just treaded to the gate of Mordor herself! Which wasn’t far from the truth. Not far at all.
“Yes?” Ainariel asked, fighting to keep her eyes open. “What? Where am I?” She swung around, reaching for any weapon, anything to protect herself! Was this some evil trick of Sauron’s? Was he getting into her mind? Was Shelob giving her hallucinations? Was — wait . . . children? People her age? “Who are you?” Ainariel asked again, but this time not in panic, but in strained, almost defeated hope, staring at Lexi and Boromir. The two people – whoever they were – also looked sharply (though perhaps even more tiredly) at the TORCers.
“It?s okay . . . Ainariel,” Boromir said, attempting to pacify her. “I’m Boromir — this is Lexi. We’re in TORC . . . it’s been happening a lot: people just popping up! You’re . . . you’re not the same Ainariel, are you? See, the other one knew . . . but it’s okay, really.” What was going on?
“Yeah, don’t stress over it,” Lexi added. “They have the most wonderful rooms here.?
“TORC?” one of the strange, canon characters asked. “What do you mean? Why have you brought us here against our will — we have done you no harm!”
“No,” Ainariel said, slowly, digging up an image of her computer from the recesses of her mind. “It might be all right . . .”
“I don’t like this, Mr. Frodo,” said the other canon — well, it must have been Sam. Sam, then, “All that stuff about the future, then dragging us here! And where’s that Stinker? This might be his doing if not hers.”
“I don’t think this is Ainariel’s doing or Sméagol’s,” Frodo Baggins countered quietly. She may not have been what we thought — be she has been trustworthy so far. And Sméagol?” Frodo shook his head — a very modern gesture he seemed to have picked up from Ainariel. It looked almost funny on him. “I doubt he has the power — I doubt even Sauron has the power. We are far away, very far.”
“If you say so, Mr. Frodo,” Sam replied, crossing his arms and looking up at the Big Folk challengingly. “But I’ve been through a lot, too — and I say this stinks of something rotten.”
“Yes, it does, Sam.” Throughout this short exchange, neither Boromir nor Lexi (nor indeed Ainariel, but for different reasons) had said a word. They were too busy staring, then looking at each other, then staring again. It was really them . . . Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee were in TORC. And they were almost in character.
These weren’t the real Frodo and Sam, of course — they were long dead — but the ones accurately recreated in Ainariel’s (the half-elven hobbit Ainariel’s) story. But so good was the likeness, that Boromir and Lexi could hardly have notice. But there was something else . . .
In Ainariel’s story, Frodo and Sam had looked just like Elijah Wood and Sean Austin. But these two . . . well, it is sufficient to say they were their own characters, not the personification created by the movie. Which left the question: how long before they reverted back to their original form completely? And why, then, were they here in TORC instead of saving the world . . . again. Boromir was quite sure this had never happened before . . .
He would have noticed if the real Frodo Baggins or Sam Gamgee had visited TORC. They all would have.
Ainariel — the real Ainariel . . . no, that’s not right: they were both real. Okay, the Ainariel who was currently a half-elven hobbit and had more recently been in her own home town than her counter part — finished her coffee in the Bird and the Baby . . . or, at least, what `coffee’ was to a hobbit. The truth was that she had finished off the better part of two meals and desert besides. But now she was finally getting a little bored, all the others having left (feeling a little sick watching her) after her first plate-full.
Filling up the corners as she walked, Ainariel ambled out of the room in search of something interesting to do. The food had settled her down for a little while — and she was even beginning to feel slightly sleepy, but this really wasn’t the time for it . . . or maybe it was.
Ainariel turned her path towards her room, and was there only a few minutes later. Yawning through the golden curls that had fallen over her face, the girl stumbled into her room and collapsed on the bed . . . and another girl.
The sight of someone else in her bed was enough to pop Ainariel out of her stupor and give her the adrenaline rush of the year. And then . . . and then, she recognized the intruder. It was as she had designed her fan fiction self: it was the human Ainariel.
Ainariel woke up, having been startled out of her sleep by . . . well, by herself — by her author and counterpart. She sat up and stared at the girl who had just unconsciously uttered a cry of alarm that would have sent others running, were it not for the fact that no one — no one! — aside from the person whose room it was could enter a bed chamber.
Reaching for any available weapon, Ainariel (the human) got up from the bed and approached the elven-hobbit with all the wariness and caution her recent experiences would warrant. It was true that she believed the other children (well, Boromir and Lexi weren’t exactly children, but compared to what Ainariel had gone through . . . yes, they were) were not in fact spies, and merely wanted to help her.
In any case, a real bed had sounded so good after Shelob’s attack . . . and Frodo and Sam had looked so incredibly weary of late, it would be cruel of her not to accept their word . . . for the moment. But this . . . this was something different.
“Who are you?” Ainariel asked tersely. The other girl looked at her strangely.
“I never thought I’d say this . . . but I’m you.”
The Following People Contributed to the Book of TORC
Wandering but not lost
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