"This isn't going to work, you know."
Liliac scowled at the duck-billed platypus perched on a wall beside her. "Don't be such a pessimist, Platy."
The Noble Platypus waggled her beak. "I'm being a realist," she corrected. "Remember what happened when we tried to stop the rise of Slaneesh?"
Liliac winced, her left hand rising to touch the black-rimmed badge that commemorated the operatives Ispace had lost on that job. "We knew that was a long shot," she pointed out. "But we didn't have a choice. Before Aranel got the bridges working through OFU blocks, we needed the Eldar. That job was their price."
"It was too high," Platy said bluntly. "Kjersti, Blizz… they didn't deserve to die like that."
Liliac nodded, pulling her purple cloak tighter around herself. "No. But this isn't the same, Platy."
"Lili, trying to save Hyrule from being flooded wasn't 'the same', either, and look how well that turned out. Land's sake, we couldn't even get Santa's elfs a decent medical plan, and Old Ho Ho Ho is a pushover."
"So what are you suggesting?" Liliac snapped, whirling to face her. "That we just give up and go home? Platy, you've seen the projections: if we let elves become as despised and abused as some writers want, all of fiction will be wrecked. You want to allow that just because we've had a few setbacks?"
Platy clacked her beak irritably. "No, Lili. But… don't you remember the days when we fought off hordes of fangirls, and sent out bodyguards to protect Legolas from Mary-Sues?"
"I do," Liliac said. "And I also remember the continuing downward slide of fiction in the last decade. Face it, Platy – fangirls and 'Sues, they're not the cause of the decline. They're just symptoms. We're not going to stop sending operatives into fanfics – but we need to strike at the root. Mistreatment of elves goes a lot further than just Mary-Sues."
Platy rubbed her claws together, then sighed. "I lost this argument when Glorfindel abandoned us, I know. It's just… forget it." She peered past Liliac to where the operatives of Ispace were gathered. "It looks like Hethien's just about got things set up. Everyone's in place, except…" Her gaze drifted to the white staircase, and the black-clad figure sitting halfway up it, a shadow in the starlight. "Lili," she said, lowering her voice, "why did you bring her?"
Liliac shook her head slightly. "I'm honestly not sure," she admitted. "I suppose I just want her to understand, to see what we do – the positive side of things."
"And you think this assignment will show her that?"
"I gave her a copy of the book." Liliac gave a humourless chuckle. "I doubt she looked at it, but if she did, she'll know the harm that's going to come of this night. She'll see that we're the good guys."
Platy muttered something, then hopped down from the wall. "We'd better not kill anyone, then," she said. "Hustle along, Lili – your army awaits."
Liliac hesitated. "You know where we're going," she said. "Grab hold of Hethien and get them headed for the tower. I'll catch you up – herding two dozen operatives isn't going to be a quick job."
"If I didn't know any better," Platy murmured, "I'd think you were grooming me to take over for you… which, by the way, is never going to happen." She scurried off into the gloom, her poisoned spurs clicking on the flagstones.
Liliac crossed to the staircase and looked up at the hunched figure. "We're going," she said, her voice coming out flatter than she'd intended. "Come along."
The hooded figure raised its head (Why, Liliac asked herself, did I give her a cloak with a hood?) and looked down at Liliac through burning blue eyes. "AND WHAT IF I DON'T?" the Death of Fangirls asked.
Liliac winced. "I thought you were getting better," she said softly. "This past week, you've been more like you used to be."
"A MISTAKE," Phoebe intoned, pulling her cloak tighter. "I BEGAN TO FORGET HOW MANIPULATIVE YOU WERE. BUT YOU HAVE REMINDED ME." Her tone suddenly shifted, into an uncanny parody of Liliac's voice. "'I just want her to see what we do. To understand that we're the good guys.'"
"How did you…?" Liliac frowned. "Oh. Elven hearing."
Liliac pinched the bridge of her nose, only half-hearing the retreating voices which meant Ispace's operatives were on the move. "We're going," she said, resolving to restart the whole conversation. "You're coming with me. I can't exactly leave you here."
Phoebe looked out over the dark city, the only lights a handful of lanterns, the stars glinting overhead – and the mass of torches towards which Ispace was heading. "You could," she said in a dreamy tone. "I'm safe here. And it's…" She sighed, the blue light in her eyes flickering, then looked back at Liliac. "I'LL COME."
Liliac tried not to flinch. "Good," she said. "Then let's… let's go."
The stairs and streets of the cities glittered in the light of Liliac's torch as she led Phoebe towards their destination. The great tower loomed ahead of them, its silver beacon dark, its marble walls stained yellow by flickering torchlight. As they drew nearer, Liliac began to hear a murmur of distant voices, which all too soon became the roar of an angry crowd.
The last flight of stairs led onto a terrace, raised above the great square, and Liliac saw the whole scene spread out before her: the throng of elves filling the plaza, the great white tree spreading its branches skywards as if to catch the dim starlight – and, on the very steps of the tower, the glitter of bared steel.
"It's just like I imagined," she breathed, luxuriating in the sight – then shook herself and leant against the balcony rail, peering for her operatives.
"You can see Hethien and Platy coming round the south side of the Mindon," she said over her shoulder to Phoebe. "They're leading the primary assault team, but I hope we won't need them. Concord and Shard's crew are trying to alter the opinion of the crowd – that's a backup plan, again, for if everything else fails. And down there…" She pointed at a cluster of people, pushing through the gathered elves. "That's Kria from Admin and Runcible from Protection; they're our best, well, diplomats, I suppose. If they can't convince him to give up this madness, no-one can."
Phoebe stood next to her, hands behind her back, spine straight. "WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?" she asked.
Liliac felt an irresistible impulse to answer – but she'd intended to do so anyway. "Do you realise who that is?" she demanded. "That's-"
"- Fëanor," Liliac went on, ignoring her. "He and his sons are about five minutes from making the most dangerous Oath in the history of Middle-earth – of elves anywhere, really. It leads to three Kinslayings, a mass exodus from the Blessed Realm, a brutal war which will kill tens of thousands – all of it from this moment. If – when – we change that, when we talk him down, persuade him to stay and help the Valar… can you imagine the good that will come of it? The lives improved, the elves saved?"
Phoebe was silent for a long moment, staring out at the crowd. "AND WHAT OF THE STORY?" she asked eventually.
Liliac shook her head. "The story which leads directly to his death, and the deaths of all those others? Who cares about that?"
"Well," a new voice said – an upper-class English voice, with overtones of champagne and caviar – "for a start, we do."
Liliac turned and stared at the trio who had somehow gotten behind her. They weren't the blasted meddling PPC, she could tell that – PPC agents dressed in black, not plaid, exoskeletal armour, and what seemed to be a leopard-skin bikini.
The one in the armour held up a hand, and a holographic symbol appeared above it: an open book on some sort of cushion, with a vivid red flame above it. "Jurisfiction," she said, in a stern, no-nonsense voice. "Your unapproved plot alteration stops here."
"Oh for elf's sake," Liliac groaned. "You're just as bad as the PPC."
The one in the bikini glared at her. "We're nothing like that bunch of reckless vigilantes," she growled.
The armour shot her a look. "No," she agreed, turning back to Liliac. "For you, we're worse."
But Liliac had recovered her composure. She looked over her shoulder at the gathering below. "You can't stop us, though," she said, knowing she sounded smug and not really caring. "My operatives are almost in position – and you're here arguing with me. Fëanor will not leave this cit-"
The one in the armour leapt into the air, vanishing in mid-flight – not gone, Liliac sensed, but invisible. The crowd below looked up at the faint rumble that coursed through the air, and then Kria and Runcible – and with them, Liliac's entire plan – fell to the floor as the armoured Jurisfiction agent landed behind them.
"It isn't wise to attempt to make fools of Jurisfiction," the plaid one told Liliac casually. "We have been doing this a very long time."
"Oh, yeah?" Liliac swept her cloak back, placed her hand on the hilt of her sword. "Maybe you have. But you've never faced Ispace before. As far as I'm concerned, you're just one more bunch of self-appointed dictators trying to keep the human imagination limited."
"Really?" the bikini ground out. "You're really going to try and fight us?"
"You started this," Liliac told her. "We're just trying to do good here – don't you understand that?"
"What you are trying to do," the plaid one said, "is ruin an exceptionally good story. And Jurisfiction will not stand by and let that happen."
"You think you can stop us?" Liliac demanded, realising too late that she was simply echoing the bikini. "You're-"
"Liliac," Phoebe said, and Liliac span round to stare at her. Her eyes were their normal colour again, and filled with what looked uncomfortably like pity. "It's over. Let it go." She gestured out at the square below the tower.
Liliac half-turned, scrutinising the crowd. All of her agents were out of commission, most of them corralled behind the tower, their hands tied. Hethien and Platy seemed to have disappeared entirely. And on the steps of the Mindon, the tall figure of Fëanor had drawn his sword. It glittered in the torchlight like the death of kings.
"Your friend understands," the plaid one said. "You will be taken into custody until your trial; you have no need to fear for your safety. You will-"
"Like hell," Liliac snarled. She grabbed her phone out of her pocket and slammed her thumb on the quick-dial key. "Aranel," she snapped, "emergency transit, my location." Reaching out her other hand, she grabbed Phoebe's arm, ignoring the girl's attempt to pull away, and glared at the Jurisfiction agents.
"You will regret this day," she said. "You want to take us down? Ispace won't go without a fight. It's war – and you brought it upon yourself." Behind her, she heard a roar of displaced air, and knew that the black heart of a wormhole bridge had appeared, blazing rapidly to its full scale. In less than a second, a haze of blue light surrounded her. The Jurisfiction agents started forward – and Liliac pulled Phoebe back, into the wormhole, and away.
Disclaimer: Middle-earth belongs to Tolkien. Jurisfiction belong to Jasper Fforde. The PPC is Jay and Acacia's, and Ispace, with all the plot that's accumulating around them, are mine.
Author's Note: So. Did you think Ispace were just out to poke the PPC a little bit, maybe throw a spanner in the wheels of the OFUs? No. They have much bigger goals. Though, it seems they've got a bit of dissention in the ranks.
The Jurisfiction agents here are no-one in particular; I don't have access to the books, so trying to write actual characters seemed like a bad plan. Though not as bad as 'let's make Fëanor into a good guy!'. And, yes, most of the Ispace operatives on this mission are now prisoners of war. Alas, poor bunch-of-people-we've-never-heard-of-before!
Jurisfiction: Jurisfiction are the police force of the BookWorld - the universe inhabited by the characters in fiction. The people of BookWorld are able to move between books, and in some cases, are aware of their fictional nature. The PPC's Division of Applied-and-theoretical Multiversal Physics is working on a theory to explain precisely how this works when the PPC knows that all the canons are their own universes in which the stories merely take place; so far, the best they've got is 'what I told you was the truth, from a certain point of view'.
Regardless of the intricacies of its nature, Jurisfiction takes its task of protecting the BookWorld from meddling very seriously indeed. They tolerate the PPC, since agents do their best to stay away from canon; Ispace, however, have just crossed a line.