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ArWen the Eternally Surprised
Author: Ria Time: 2007/11/22
Arwen encounters a strange monk and gains a little extra time.
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Battle of the Five Fandoms
Submitter: Date: 2008/1/5 Views: 152 Rate: 0.00/1
Summary: Pretend for a moment that when you die, you get to live out whatever movie, book, TV show, (anything) you want as an afterlife. Lauren, having been a devoted follower of Tolkien's for years, has no second thoughts about choosing Middle-earth. Unfortunately, things aren't always what they seem, and as luck would have it, her new life gets complicated fast. Moreover, other futuristic fandoms seem to have found Mithril as an extremely valuable resource, and are willing to go great lengths to get it. But when things begin to spiral out of control, will the lies, conspiracies, and power struggle tear Middle-earth and its peaceful fans apart for good?

Rated T for violence, language, sexual innuendos, and epic battle sequences.
Genre: Action/Adventure/Friendship/Sarcastic Humor
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me whatsoever aside from the plot and original characters.


The fandoms included in this story are: LotR, Transformers, Star Wars, X-men, and Heaven.

This story might be hard to keep up with. And for that, I'm sorry. It's slow in many places, fast-paced in many others, and when something exciting isn't going on, Lauren's usually trying to figure out how everything works because this AU I've created is so goddamn complicated I don't understand it sometimes. You should also note that this is a self-insertion fic, featuring people I know IRL, talking about things that have actually happened, and telling inside jokes you may not know. I've portrayed canon characters as close as I can to Tolkien's ideal given the circumstances (my own biases included). I've read 9 of Tolkien's books, so I apologize if those of you who have only seen the movies don't understand half of what I'm talking about concerning Middle-earth.

And yes, the title of this story is in reference to a chapter from The Hobbit.

THIS IS NOT A MARY-SUE.

Of Purgatory and the Afterlife: Act I
Frankly, the room was far too stark for her liking. It reminded her very much of a chic, upscale salon of sorts. What with the white walls, pale hardwood floors, transparent acrylic designer chairs and matching end tables, and the lines of people, old and young, smartly dressed in stylish white clothes, she almost would have thought she was someplace in New York City had the room an entrance or an exit. The entire space was illuminated by unseen lighting.

Not knowing exactly how she came to be in such a place, Lauren sat down in an empty seat and appraised her person. She was dressed in a white camisole top and white UFO pants, with white flip flops and nail polish adorning her footsies. The clothes weren't hers (so far as she could remember), but the rest was accounted for. She looked up and examined the faces around her. People of all walks of life occupied maybe fifty seats around her; some jiggling their legs anxiously, some filling out papers, and some were fast asleep. Her eyes passed over one face, though, and she had a double-take.

The girl leapt to her feet and started across the room, and finally halting in front of a reclining girl. She was napping with mouth open and nose snoring, clothed in a white shirt and long skirt. Her foot was kicked.

“Well, well, look who's dead.”

“Hmph... huh... wha...” she opened her eyes and whined and moaned a little more before realizing who was standing in front of her. “Lauren!?”

“I'm here to tell you that you've been sent to the wrong place. If you follow me, I'll show you the stairs...”

Nicole stared up at her, tired, surprised, and quite flabbergasted. “What?”

Lauren laughed. “I'm just kidding, dumbass. Stand up so I can give you a hug.”

The girl dumbly rose from the chair and attacked her friend.

“So hey! I didn't know you were dead too. How long have you been here?”

“Oh, I donno. A few hours?”

“Ew, that sucks.”

“Joe Frank,” a voice from the far end of the room called. He was an older man with gray hair of average height and weight, standing behind a white reception desk. A distinct glow emanated from his head. Lauren had been vaguely aware of his calling names up until that point, but this time she paused to watch. A man near the desk, in his early fifties perhaps, stood up and approached. A clipboard was handed to him, a few words were exchanged, and Joe Frank sat back down to fill out a hefty stack of papers.

“That's the one thing I don't get,” Lauren said, turning back to her friend. “I would think that a huge plus for going to heaven is no more paperwork?”

Nicole shrugged. “How do you know we're in heaven, though?”

“Well, the place certainly isn't on fire, and I can't smell any brimstone.”

“Touche.”

“Nicole Mitchell and Lauren Baker?”

Nicole heaved a heavy sigh and strode on over to the angelic receptionist. “Got lucky,” he said to them. “Guess the big guy upstairs wanted you two to go together for some reason.” The angel handed them each a clipboard and plenty of forms. “Just bring them back up when you're done.”

They thanked him, and just as Lauren was about to walk away, she wanted to ask him a question. “Hey, mister, uh...” she glanced at his name tag. “Roger. How come you're working here when you could be enjoying an eternity in paradise?”

Roger, the average angel, sucked on his teeth. “I'm working off a few sins before I can get to heaven. If you want to go there, your record has to be immaculate, really. They don't care much about the other places, mostly 'cause they're hard work in some way or another.”

“Ah. Well, thanks.” The girl returned to her seat next to Nicole, idly pondering the man's words. She settled down with the clipboard in her lap, organizing the stack of forms she'd be spending the next twenty minutes or so filling out:

Basic and Medical Information

Name:

Birth date:

Birth place:

Gender:

Height:

Weight:

Hair color:

Eye color:

Sexual preference:

Dominant hand:

Shoe size:

Blood type:

Allergies (medicinal/food/bites/stings/environmental):

Please list medications you were taking prior to death:

Was your death caused by:

- Illness?

- An accident?

- Foul play?

- Other (please specify):

Do you have asthma?

Do you have diabetes?

Are you disabled in any way?

Do you suffer from any bone, muscle, or joint problems?

Do you have a history of seizures or heart failure?

Theological Information

Religious views prior to death:

If Christian, please specify denomination:

Do your religious views require you to frown upon certain minority groups?

If you are an atheist, then that sucks. Would you prefer to:

- Have another chance at an afterlife despite your beliefs?

- Chose oblivion? (Please note that oblivion will remove your soul from existence and you will henceforth cease to be. You will not get another chance at life in any form.)

Warnings and Terms and Conditions

This trip may require vigorous activity, extended climbing and hiking, and other physically and mentally demanding exertion in isolated areas without medical facilities, medical providers, or means of contacting rescue or medical personnel. The bodies you will be issued upon arrival in your chosen universe may require additional trauma or damage in order to result in body death. In this case, body death may be a far more grueling, painful, horrifying, and traumatic event than previously experienced.

In the event that body death should occur due to decapitation, complete dismemberment, full-body burns, or other serious mutilations, your soul will return to Purgatory for a re-issuing of another body. You may return to your previous universe or chose another without consequence.

While living in your chosen universe, you must abide by all laws set for the deceased. Failure to do so will result in punishment seen fit by the people of that universe.

Purgatory cannot be held liable for the goings-on of other afterlives, universes, and worlds. If you are displeased with your decision, then it's your own damn fault. Kill yourself again and chose something better.

If you understand these terms and conditions, please sign here:

__________________________________________________

(Your information will not be sold any any third-party organization.)

Through the course of filling out the forms, Lauren's disposition had gone from mildly put-off, to entertained, to downright worried. She sat and stared at the paper, with all of it's fancy lingo, having second thoughts about going anywhere, really. What was all of this about choosing universes? And a new body? And torturous deaths?

“What the hell is this?” she said to Nicole in a low voice. She felt as though being overheard by the receptionist would get her in trouble.

“Yeah, uhm... yeah. I don't know.” Lauren's blond friend pursued her lips and knitted her brows as she stared at the papers on her lap. “Do we have a choice? We can't stay here in this waiting room for eternity because we're too scared to return the clipboards.”

Lauren stared down at her own forms, chewing on her lip. She couldn't quite remember what it was like to die, but if she wasn't euthanized, then it was most likely unpleasant. Which meant, if she were to die again for some reason that was completely beyond her, then it would most likely be even more unpleasant. And Lauren wasn't one for unpleasant things of a grueling, painful, horrifying, and traumatic nature.

With a great sigh, Lauren stood up, and Nicole followed suit. “Let's just see what all of this is about before we draw conclusions first, though.”

Roger disinterestedly took the completed forms from them. He glanced over them to make sure all the necessary fields were filled in, stuck them into a hole in his desk (a chute?) before waving them past him. “Thank you, ladies. The exit is behind me.”

The two girls hesitantly approached said exit. It was an average door with an office building-quality handle, and it too was painted white. What greeted her on the other side was... suspiciously similar to an arcade. Well, arcade was probably not what it was, but she couldn't think up a word for it.

It was a pretty large room. The walls were painted a dark, rich pthalo blue, with... weird, trendy designs or murals on them. It reminded her somewhat of Disneyland, what with their creative paint jobs in waiting lines and eateries.

“Uhm...” Lauren noised, still looking about her. She and Nicole took a few steps forward, subconsciously afraid that they were perhaps blocking the door.

“Yeah, so... where are we?”

Lauren blinked and looked around some more. Took a step forward here, a step forward there. “I honestly couldn't tell you.”

“I'm sure that guy could.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Lauren saw her friend's pale, freckled arm shoot up and point at something. That something was in fact what appeared to be a giant info desk/coffee bar, somehow sponsored by Starbucks.

“I really don't want to know how they got a marketing team up here,” Lauren stated flatly before walking up to the counter. Nicole just burst out in laughter.

“Hey, yeah, uhm, hi there, Steve,” the brown-haired girl leaned over the counter as she addressed the undead hipster manning the bar. The guy, who was probably either a zillion years old or freshly dead and working off a list of sins, turned his nonchalant attention towards Lauren, tilting his chin up in acknowledgment.

“'Sup?”

“My friend and I here were kind of wondering what... exactly... this place... is?”

Steve didn't even take his hands out of the pockets of his gray skinny jeans when he answered. “This is the Waypoint... you know, where you get pointed the way you wanna go or something.”

“Ooooooh, so this is where we get to choose where we go? Something about universes and stuff?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Uhm, the directories are over there, so you know where you're going.”

Nicole broke in. “What about our new bodies or something? When do we get those?”

“Oh, those are issued en route. All you have to do is get to your door.”

“All right man, thanks.”

“No problem.”

The two girls walked away from the bar and in the direction of the directories so that they might be directed to their designated destination. Lauren found herself standing in front of a computer terminal, similar to the kinds they have in airports. Sitting down, Lauren saw that the screen was rather plain: there was a search bar, and beneath that were lists of what appeared to be kinds of media. You could search by book, movie, play, TV show... or you could search by genre, like medieval fantasy, modern fantasy, sci-fi, modern, etc. Lauren sat staring at the screen for a little while before speaking.

Her question was simple: “Where d'you wanna go?”

Lauren personally had thought very little about it in the past 18 years of her existence. She'd hoped, like many other people, that she would have the chance to live out a fairly large portion of her life before needing to think about death at all. But now it was sprung upon her in a confusing flurry of information, shoving a new life down her throat before she had time to comprehend the abrupt end of her previous one. There were many things she would have loved to do on the mortal plane, but the most she was allowed to experience was a short time in a New York art school. Perhaps she could use this system to her advantage... she could go and do everything she ever wanted to do without the weight of an expiration date stamped on her head. So the real question was... what to accomplish first? She, of course, always wanted to be a famous artist. That was her first dream. It was the most realistic too, out of all her far-fetched goals in life, and also perhaps the most boring.

A secret part of her always wanted to join the army and be a fighter pilot too, even though she was never one for free-falls and roller coasters. Just the idea of being able to go and fly and shoot stuff, and be an all-round badass was the major appeal to her.

There was always firefighting, too. That always seemed like a cool idea for some reason, and it reminded her very much of that one DragonForce song that she liked a lot. That thought got her humming it.

And there was another rather obscure profession that she fantasized about taking up, and that was being a foley artist. Quite an odd thing to aspire to when she really thought about it, but Lauren loved sounds and making sounds and listening to sounds. So it seemed like a pretty cool job.

But where would she be able to do these things? As she began to arbitrarily click through the lists, the girl found herself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of individual universes.

“Battlestar Galactica?” Nicole's voice over her shoulder brought her back to the present. “What the hell is that?”

“It's a really good show on the Sci-fi channel.”

“You wanna go there

“Well... I don't know.” Lauren stared at the screen, then started to laugh. “That fandom's got a high mortality rate, so if I don't like it, it's pretty easy for me to die again.”

“But I thought we liked Lord of the Rings?”

Lauren practically had a seizure crammed into the timespan of a half-second. “I am such a goddanmed idiot!” she said loudly, and yet with mirth. “How that tiny fact escaped my brain is beyond me. Alright, yeah, we're going there.”

Nicole just laughed. “You scared me there for a second.”

The girl was leaned forward in determination to find Lord of the Rings. A handful of clicks later, and it's page was on the screen. Nicole leaned in closer over Lauren's shoulder. “You will be assigned a body and a race as the world sees fit,” she read. “What does that even mean?”

“Uh, my only guess would be that when we walk through the door and get new bodies, the, uh... I donno. Middle-earth gets to decide what forms we take?”

Nicole nodded her head from side to side. “Yeah, sounds about right. Where do we go?”

Lauren's eyes scanned the page. “Door A-205...”

“Print it.”

The girl clicked the “print” link, and before long, a small piece of paper the size of a receipt was produced from a slot on the side, and Nicole promptly tore it out. Lauren rose from her seat and took a gander at the information. It had the fandom name, and room number.

“I really doubt that this room numbering system is the same kind they use back home, so that 2 probably doesn't refer to a floor..”

Nicole headed back over to the counter, waiting patiently for Steve to finish whipping up a chocolate double shot cappuccino machiato with whipped cream and caramel swirl whatever. Lauren followed and folded her ams on the surface, resting her chin on them. Suddenly, Nicole started shrieking.

“Quinn! What in the bloody hell are you doing here!” The blonde stormed over to a boy on the other side of the bar, waiting in line for some coffee patiently. He looked to be about six feet tall, maybe taller, and a bit on the hefty side. A thick pair of glasses that adorned his rosy face were pushed up the bridge of his nose with a plumpish finger.

“Nicole Mitchell?”

“Of course you tard. What are you doing here?”

Lauren remained where she was for the duration of their exchange, not really knowing who this Quinn character was, except through a complaint from Nicole here and there over the phone.

“I'm dead? Why else? And I'm also here to get some coffee.”

“Of course, how could I forget. Once a fatty, always a fatty. Even in death.”

She continued to watch them, not entirely sure why Nicole liked picking on him so much. They'd known each other in high school, and apparently bickered then too, so the only reason Lauren could conjure to explain her friend's continuing interaction with him was that she had a crush. Though from what she understood, Quinn was a bible-thumper, and a not so smart one at that, but since when did stupidity drive away Nicole? Besides; Nicole was pagan to an extent, and she was sure that it bothered the boy to no end on some level.

Quinn narrowed his glassy green eyes at her. “That was uncalled for. Come on, Nicole, why you gotta be mean now too? We're all dead, so just get over it.”

“Doesn't change the fact that you stalked me and made drama class a living hell.”

He rolled his eyes. “I didn't stalk you! What are you talking about?”

“You know what I'm talking about. Have a fun rest of eternity, you ass.”

Nicole stormed back over to where Lauren waited in mild irritation. “What was all that about?”

She just laughed. “Nothing, don't worry about it.”

The girl set her jaw and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, okay. You gonna ask Steve what this ticket means now?”

“Oh, right right.” She took the piece of paper out of her pocket and flagged down the hipster barista. “Hey, what's this number mean?”

Steve leaned in, brushing his long, greasy bangs out of the way of an eye, completely covering the other. With his index finger, he pointed at the ambiguous code. “You go to hallway A, then down the second corridor, and it's door number 05. Should be on the left.”

“Thanks man.”

“Yeah sure.”

The two young women turned away from the bar, and stood in front of a doorway labeled with a big letter “A” above it. There seemed to be hallways A-E, and Lauren pondered for a moment where they might lead. “Come one,” Nicole said before bolting through the opening and down a long flight of white stairs. At the bottom, they came to a fork. There were arrows pointing to the right and left, and above them read a 1 and a 2.

“Corridor 2, right?”

Lauren made a sharp right down the white hallway. It was rather eerie, in actuality. The stark whiteness was nothing compared to the relative comfort of the waiting room, as this was more industrial, more... oppressive and sterile. It was also dead silent save for the pitter patter of footsteps.

“You saw the second Matrix, right?” she asked Nicole over her shoulder.

“Yeah?”

“This reminds me of that part with the old asian guy and the keys, and all the doors in that hallway that go places.”

“Hm, wonder if they got that idea from this?”

Lauren laughed. “Oh! Door 05, right here.”

The two girls stopped in front of the rather unassuming door. In fact, it looks exactly like all the others, except it had a small plaque on it that read A-205. There was no handle. “Is this some kind of elevator?” Lauren murmured while pushing the single button on the wall next to it. The door slid open, revealing a rather spacious elevator car interior. The walls were lined with mirrors.

“Man, this is weird,” she said, and they stepped inside.

“You think?”

“I wonder what direction we're going in.”

“I don't care,” Nicole said as the door slid shut. “So long as it isn't down.” She pressed the single button to take them to their destination, quite unsure as to what lay in wait for them or how they'd get there. Lauren noted that there was absolutely no indication as to what direction the elevator was going or how long the ride would be. Whoever designed this place did a very good job at making it creepy and disorienting. But strange enough, the elevator didn't seem to be moving at all.

“Hey? Is this thing broken or something?” Lauren stepped forward and jabbed the button again, and suddenly the lights went out, leaving them in pitch blackness. Nicole let out a shriek. But before they could do anything else, the lights returned, leaving Lauren even more disoriented, and slightly heavier, than before.

“What the...”

Lauren almost jumped when she saw herself in one of the mirrors. Her previously white and modern ensemble had been replaced by the dark greens and browns of an Ithilien ranger. Now become part of her person were black pants, brown, long-sleeved undershirt, dark green surcoat that reached her knees, jerkin that reached the top of her boots, dark leather vest, light brown yoke, green cloak, leather vambraces, and a standard issue Gondorian sword at her side. The entire outfit probably weighed more than fifteen pounds, which certainly explained the weight. She could believe it. This outfit was hers now? To keep and live with in Middle-earth? Lauren drew her three-and-a-half foot sword just to make sure it was real.

“Lauren...” Nicole's voice snapped her out of the stupor she'd found herself in, and jerking her head to the side, Lauren saw Nicole's new outfit. “We're going to Middle-earth!” she shrieked, jumping up and down.

Acting like that was the last thing she would expect to see coming from an Elf. She made an alright elf... a little on the short side, face still sprinkled with blemishes, and hair was a little oily. Those things could be worked on though, right?

Lauren was about to speak when the elevator door opened. The two girls fell dead silent as they stared out into the world that greeted their eyes.

Well, actually, it was a bookstore, suspiciously similar to a Barns & Noble. With awe-struck, hesitant movements, the two companions stepped out of the elevator and into the building, glancing around with wild eyes.

“Are we there yet?” Lauren whispered to Nicole, feeling as though speaking at a normal volume would somehow send them back. Nicole's blue eyes darted around, as did Lauren's, settling on a person here, a person there, a row of books on the far side of the store, and finally, an open archway leading into the real outside world.

“I... think so.”

Lauren began to laugh to herself. It started off slow and quiet, but soon gained momentum until she was cackling like a person gone mad. She was laughing so hard that tears began to wet her eyes.

“What's wrong with you?”

“Shit, dude!” she replied, still laughing uncontrollably. Her hands made a gesture of defeat, and at the same time she shrugged. “We're in Middle-earth!” Lauren covered her face with her hand as the laughter died down, and she then proceeded to wipe her eyes. “We're in fuckin' Middle-earth.”

Nicole laughed at her friend who'd apparently snapped, and walked over to the closest display of books. Lauren followed as soon as she composed herself again.

She could see why Nicole had been curious about them: they didn't seem to be normal books you'd see in a normal bookstore back home. Every single one of them was leather or suede-bound, and upon closer inspection, the contents seemed to be hand-written. And just to add to the peculiarity, the one Nicole had picked up was Memoirs of a Geisha.

“Man dude, this is fucking weird,” she said, putting the book back. “Why go through all the trouble of having all these books if they're not mass produced?”

“Actually,” a voice from beside them said. Lauren and Nicole turned to see a girl about their age who'd apparently been given the form of a brunette elf. “They are mass-produced. I don't know how they do it, but that's what DERIF says. Gotta admit, though, it's pretty cool. You don't really want paperbacks and hard cover books finding their way into civilian hands, right?”

“Wait, what?” Lauren knitted her brows together, trying to figure out what the girl was saying. “We just got here, sorry.”

“Oh!” Her eyes lit up and she smiled. “My bad. Anyways, yeah. They disguise the books so that they won't merit attention from the people that actually live here and can't find out about this stuff.”

“So fans are allowed to buy this stuff and take it places?”

“Well, yeah. The organization that keeps track of the fans is called DERIF, The Department of Education and Regulation of Imported Fans. This is where their headquarters are. Their job is to make sure us kids don't ruin the lives of the people who actually live here, and part of that is keeping technology from being introduced.”

Lauren nodded her head. “Oooh, I see. So wait, where is 'here', anyways?”

The girl smiled. “We're in Rivendell.”

She got a small rush just from hearing that. In fact, the girl was almost tempted to ask where they were again just to hear it said again. “Sweeeeet!”

“Welcome to Middle-earth. I'm Sandra by the way.”

“Nice to meet you, Sandra,” Nicole chimed in. “I'm Nicole, and this is Lauren.” Lauren grinned and gave a curt salute, as was her habit and preferred gesture of greeting. Nicole shook the girl's hand.

“Well, I'm sure you guys are excited to get exploring and stuff. Maybe I'll see you later?”

“Maybe,” Lauren said, smiling politely. “Bye!” And with that, the two girls scampered off towards th exit of the store. However, an elf behind a booth near the door stopped them.

“Hi there,” he said in an eerily modern way of speaking, motioning for the two of them to come over. “You two ladies must be new.”

“Er.. yes we are,” Lauren said.

“Well then! I should like to bid you welcome to Middle-earth on behalf of DERIF, the Department of Education and Regulation of Imported Fanatics. Now, the Elves do truly wish that you and your kind lead happy lives here, but unfortunately, there are laws that must be upheld so that you do not upset the mortal dwellers of this land.” The dark-haired elf reached behind the booth and produced a pamphlet made seemingly hand-printed individually, but Lauren had her doubts now with the knowledge of what Sandra said. It was probably mass produced somewhere and made to look hand-made. The elf turned to the first page, revealing a map of Eriador, and a pull-out map of the entire continent. “We are currently in Imladris, or Rivendell, which is here,” he said, pointing to the corresponding place on the map. “I should hope you know where it is already, or else perhaps this was not so good of a place for you to come,” he joked lightly. The two girls laughed in an awkward way and agreed with him. He continued. “These here are Elf-realms.” He pointed to Rivendell, Lorien, the northern portion of Mirkwood, and Lindon. “You are safe to be yourselves in any of these places for the most part. Use of technology is also allowed, to a certain extent. Now, DERIF defines technology as anything that has come from your time, including trinkets, books, electronic devices, foodstuffs, and the like. Use of such things, and also use of excessive colloquial English is illegal outside of these borders. We will take action against those who care not for the sanctity of this world, and have done so in the past.”

“What... sort of action do you take against these people?” Lauren asked out of uneasy curiosity.

“The more minor cases are required to spend a prolonged time here in Rivendell, where the organization may keep an eye on them. However, severe criminals do not have the luxury of a second chance. They are sent back as soon as possible.”

Lauren swallowed, quite sure she understood what he meant by that.

“But at any rate, this pamphlet here will provide all the information that you might need to know about living in Middle-earth. Rules and regulations, a swift lesson in speech and etiquette, and so on and so forth. Do you have any questions?”

In fact, Lauren had many. But where to first begin was proving to be quite a challenge, so Nicole butt in with one of hers.

“Where do we sleep tonight? How do we eat?” Yes, that was a good one. She planned on asking that.

“Ah, yes of course. There is a building set aside for your people to take refuge in for as long as you wish. Meals, however, are not provided, as you need not eat to sustain yourselves. Nor do you need sleep, but beds are prepared for you in the house regardless.”

This information struck Lauren as being really creepy, and really cool at the same time. She began to wonder what other otherworldly things her new, hardier body could do, but then the release form and questionnaire from the waiting room came to mind, and she decided that it was perhaps best not to test anything that may yield unfavorable results.

“Sweet!” Nicole cheered. “That's really cool. Alright, now when would you suggest we leave, since we don't plan on staying here forever?”

“You are free to leave whenever you'd like. The weather will be fair for some months, so time should be of little concern if you plan to travel. Do you have any other questions?”

Lauren pursed her lips before looking at her friend. “I think I'm good. Personally, I kind of want to figure this out myself... ya dig?”

Nicole nodded.

“All right, then. In that case, here is some monetary compensation to jump-start your journey here in Middle-earth.” He handed them each a small burlap pouch, heavy with coinage. The girls squealed their thanks. Upon further confirmation that the crash-course was over, the two of them left the welcome desk with the full intention of exploring Rivendell before returning to comb the bookstore for superfluous items to buy.

“Oh my god,” the two of them gasped when they'd stepped into the first open, airy, swirly Elven corridor that Rivendell had to offer them. Lauren could feel her eyes practically bulging out of their sockets as she stood there in an awe-inspired stupor. In fact, her mouth had fallen ajar as well, and only until she accidentally inhaled a floating dandelion seed did she realize it was open. After a short fit of coughing and sputtering did she pick the spindly white thing from her tongue and turn to Nicole who was looking at her with raised eyebrows.

“Don't die on me again, now.”

Lauren ignored the comment, and began to take steps forward, across the hallway and into a small courtyard. The sun immediately mauled her, and so she decided it would be better to admire Rivendell from the shade. “Man,” she said, resting her arms on her hips and shaking her head. “I know I was a sci-fi nerd at the end there, but this most definitely brings me back to my roots in fantasy.”

It was quite true, really. She'd spent her last year of high school and first semester of college being utterly enamored with the worlds of Battlestar Galactica and the like, not to mention her life-long association with Star Wars. (The first three, mind you, not those poor excuses for drama that episodes II and III were. I did actually like Episode I quite a bit...) And even her taste in fashion was influenced by space and cyber culture, what with the eccentric, neon jackets she owned, her industrial demeanor, and pale gray combat boots she wore everywhere. But the Lauren that loved trees and Elves and whimsy was an older Lauren, and not wholly dead by any means. It was just lying dormant, and now with an entire fantastic world for her to explore, that aspect had sprung to life, shoving the cyberpunk kid she'd become far off to the side.

Lauren was aware of the weight of her sword on her left side and decided that it felt right.

The girls explored a bit, still high in their giddy ecstasy, the grounds of the Last Homely House. There were fans everywhere, and after an hour or two of wandering around, she began to notice that there were no fans outside of the confines of the property. That was also when she was reminded that there was an entire continent just waiting for exploration outside of Rivendell. But just how many other fans actually had the guts to leave this haven in favor of a big, dangerous world that was still mostly wilderness, interspersed with cities that were populated by people of strange customs? Just how many fans actually went out into Middle-earth to live there? A good, informed part of her said that the ratio was considerably uneven.

Fortunately for Lauren, she didn't have to do too much more thinking as at about that time, she and Nicole had resigned to spend the next few hours perusing the bookstore.

“Oh man! They have an occult section!” Nicole called out from some corner of the store.

Lauren looked up for a short moment, chuckling to herself before returning to scouring through the CDs. She was a girl that was very much into music, and it would be an extremely difficult challenge for her to go eternity without the songs she knew and loved. Not to mention that she would most likely drive Nicole insane from living up to her nickname as the Human Radio if she didn't have music to listen to.

Moving away from the dance and techno section, Lauren headed over to 'Pop/Rock' and scoured the T section. In a matter of seconds, she'd found the clump of Tool albums. And of course, it was the usual: Undertow, Opiate, Ζnima, Lateralus... and without so much as a second thought, she plucked out Lateralus. It was pretty much her favorite album of all time, and had been since she was 13. So it was only natural that, if she had to listen to one album for as long as she could imagine, it would be that one. But... what to play it on? Lauren wandered around the music section for a little while before discovering the slightly laughable selection of CD players. It seems that DERIF only wanted to import slightly more archaic-looking players, so for some reason the plastic they were made of had a faux woodgrain pattern. Lauren couldn't help but laugh to herself as she picked out the cheapest one (making sure it was non-skip, of course).

The two girls perused the store a bit longer before purchasing their goods (Lauren squeezed in a few bottles of IBC root beer at the end), leaving them just as broke as they were when they stepped out of the elevator. Quite unsure what to do next, Lauren and Nicole settled on hanging around in one of the gardens while checking out the two New Age-y paperbacks the blonde had purchased. One was about astral projection, and the other was about Green Man lore. Lauren wondered if her friend genuinely planned on using them (she herself hadn't been a practicing Pagan for years), and in which case she would have to lol a bit. Fortunately, the girl was given the impression that Nicole had bought them for some entertainment while traveling. Lauren had to show her friend the musical things she'd bought, and in return received a warning reminder of what the DERIF representative (as well as that girl they'd met) had told them about secrecy. Lauren waved at her dismissively.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's not like I'm going to be listening to it while practicing archery in Edoras or anything. Trust me, I'll only use it when I'm feeling particularly bored.” Lauren stuffed the CD back in the small sack she'd been given at the register, getting more comfortable on the bench they were sitting on. The two of them were on some veranda overlooking the falls, and the mist floating up from the bottom made a great big rainbow in front of them. All in all, it was an extremely beautiful and relaxing place, and she would have wanted to stay had it not been for that cursed wanderlust. “So where do we go now?”

The question was simple, but much like the one Nicole had voiced when they were in Purgatory, looking over the lists of afterlives, it was loaded.

“Uh... I donno. Where do you want to go?”

“I want to see Gondor,” Lauren said, smiling. “If Peter Jackson's vision was breath-taking, I can only imagine how awesome the real thing is. Besides... I've always had a affinity with the country.”

Nicole nodded. “I wanna go to Mirkwood,” she stated rather casually after a moment.

“Mirkwood?” the ranger girl had skewed her face and turned to get a good look at her friend. “Why they hell would you want to go to Mirkwood?”

“Hey! Aren't I allowed to go see if Tharanduil is as crazy as all the fanfictions make him out to be if I want to? Besides, it's not like we don't have FOREVER to see all of Middle-earth.”

“Touche.”

“When did you want to leave?”

“Uhm.... well, I know I shouldn't be in any hurry, seeing as how we have forever, but... it seems somewhat boring here. Too many fans, I think. It's not really authentic enough for me.” The girl laughed to herself. “I wanna be smelly and dirty and tired from travel and I want to talk like I'm acting in a Shakespearian play.”

“That's the spirit!”

“So... want to leave tomorrow morning?”

“Wow, that's pretty soon, but... sure, I'm cool with that.”

“Alright so how about we stick together until we get to Edoras, at which point we'll split up and go our separate ways. I mean, it can't be too difficult to navigate from there. For me, I head south around the mountains, and for you, you just follow the river north 'til you get to the forest.”

Nicole considered this and shrugged. “Sure.”

And so it came to pass that the two young women floundered around for the rest of the day, taking unnecessary naps in the sun, climbing trees, and partaking in an assortment of generally harmless hooliganry. It was only after dark did they get a little bored and so tried to spy in on the Elves, who seemed to try and attempt to carry on with their every day lives, despite the fact that their very existence seemed to take on a whole different level of exhaustion with the rather sudden appearance of fans several years before. Lauren began to pity them, as now the Elves seemed to be somewhat forced into living in Middle-earth longer than they would like, serving as little more than caretakers for the fans. However, it gave her all the more reason to leave so soon.

The night passed on in idle, anxious, boredom. Despite not needing sleep, Lauren found herself dozing off a few times during the dark, quieter hours, which seemed to make it pass more slowly. But dawn came, and the Last Homely House was once again flooded with light from the summer sun.

“I wonder if we could get our hands on some horses?” Lauren proposed with a yawn. “Because walking halfway across the continent doesn't sound incredibly glamorous.”

Nicole laughed. “What happened to being dirty and stinky and tired?”

“Naw, I don't mind that, it's just I'd like to still have legs by the end of my journey.”

“Hey, if the Fellowship did it, so can you.”

Lauren folded her arms. “If I walk, you walk.”

“Let's see about those horses.”

After some investigation, Lauren and Nicole discovered that it was entirely possible to be lent a pair of horses for travel, and that other fans have taken advantage of the opportunity before. They were to see an Elf by the name of Glorfindel at the stables.

It took them some time to find out just where the stables were exactly, but after investigating a path that led away from the main house, the two girls found themselves walking past rows of studios and workshops. There, the Elves seemed to be able to be at peace, doing whatever Elves do when they make their almost ridiculously intricate handicrafts and whatnot. At the end of this small, gravel-paved avenue, were the stables, and much to Lauren's surprise, there didn't seem to be any other fans hanging around.

Glorfindel was very kind to them, and seemed to have a genuinely sunny disposition as the fans were concerned, much unlike his fellows inhabiting the Last Homely House. She could only imagine how very strange of a situation it was for any of them, and for him to take it in such stride merited some props.

“Two horses?” he confirmed with them after some talk. “With tack and saddlebags?”

“Yessir,” Lauren nodded. “If you're willing to supply them, that is.”

“How much will it be?”

The golden-haired elf smiled and waved at them with his hand. “Nonsense. They will be provided at no charge to you. In fact, DERIF is very much in favor of getting your kind dispersed through Middle-earth.”

Lauren laughed. “I don't blame them."

Glorfindel laughed too. “We do ask, though, that the horses be returned at some point in the future.” Then he added in a mutter: “Though rarely does it ever happen...”

“Oh, of course. I wouldn't expect to take two horses from you and never give them back. Lord knows how expensive the damn things are to begin with.”

The elf beckoned the two girls to follow him. “Have either of you riding experience?” he asked as they walked past the occupied stalls.

“I've got some,” Nicole piped in.

“Me too. No really enough to be 100% confident, but enough to know just a little more than the basics.”

“Perfect.” He paused in front of one stall and opened it, leading out a young mare with a bright, fiery brown coat and black mane. “This is Miril. She is brave and eager for adventure.” Here, Glorfy handed Lauren the lead rope, which she thought peculiar. The horse did seem to match with her personality-wise, but how was he able to tell that from just a few minutes of talking to them? The girl pet the horse's black, velvet nose before following behind Nicole. The elf had stopped again, and pulled out a white and silver male horse for the other girl. He seemed to be pretty laid back and even-tempered: a perfect match for her? Something like that. “And this is Thinroch, a veteran of the wilderness. If you two follow me, I'll arrange tack and bags for you.”

Lauren and Nicole were eternally grateful to the elf for his incredibly... almost over-the-top kindness. Maybe he really just wanted to get the fans out of Rivendell to the best of his ability, but whatever the reason, Lauren didn't really care much. He was giving them very nice things, and she was thankful.

It was about 40 minutes later when they were finally able to leave. They packed what little things they had to their name, and left with many farewells (and promises of return) to Glorfindel. Upon a quick inspection of their backs, it was quite obvious he'd even packed them a few goodies... apples, waybread, and who knows what else.

But the day was wearing on, and noon was almost upon them upon their leaving. The sky was perfectly clear, the sun was hot, but fortunately, the path they were to take out of the valley would be covered in shadow for some time before being exposed again.

And once more Lauren found herself thinking just how beautiful the entire scene was. So many trees and wonderful natural formations... it would be a most pleasant (and long) ride to Gondor indeed.

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