kiev4am: (underwood)
[personal profile] kiev4am
This one is silly. It has orcs in it.


Title: Wrong Turn (or, What Really Killed All Those Orcs In The Tower Of Cirith Ungol)
Fandom: X-Factor
Pairing/Characters: Rictor/Shatterstar, Jamie Madrox, Banshee (formerly Siryn), Monet St. Croix, Longshot, Strong Guy, Rahne Sinclair, Layla Miller, Pip the Troll (all Marvel Comics). Features – with deepest apologies – settings from J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Two Towers,' or the movie thereof. Plus, very briefly, another setting which I won't give away.
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Just swearing.
Words: 2,732
Comments: I KNOW. I've got no excuse for this other than that Emanuela Lupacchino's beautiful double page image of a monster-ravaged New York in X-Factor #232 makes it look like the Eye of Sauron and a bunch of Nazguls decided to vacation in the Marvel Universe. So I, uh, returned the favour. Utter nonsense.



Longshot looked dubiously at the ash-dark, blood-streaked sky and the fangs of icy rock that closed around them from all sides. "Um... granted I've never been there, but I really don't think this is Boston."

"No shit!" Rictor picked Pip up by the lapels of his pinstriped suit, yanked him to eye level and shook him. "Where. The fuck. Are we?"

Without a qualm, Pip shot out his arm and punched Ric in the nose. As Ric yelped and dropped him he landed on his feet like a rotund, angry cat. "Watch the threads," he growled. He looked shaken. "I got no freakin' clue, okay? I did everything normal. We oughta be there."

"Well, we're not." Jamie looked round at the stark dead landscape, trying very hard not to scream inside. He'd had enough dimension-hopping to last a lifetime. Nope, make that several. "What the hell, Pip?"

"We've been diverted," Shatterstar said, scowling at the troll and patting Ric's shoulder as he mopped his bloody nose. "Some other force struck us as we travelled. It happens sometimes. Hazards of the medium. Though it's never happened to me," he added haughtily. He was still sore about his broken sword and subsequent inability to teleport.

"Wiseass," Pip muttered. "Been mind-controlled lately?" Someone had told him about Cortex and the meeting-cute-by-way-of-near-beheading that had brought Ric and 'Star back together. He was totally immune to the couple's death-glares if a cheap shot was there for the taking.

"You make it sound like a wrong turn on the highway." Terry rubbed her arms. A mean wind was chasing the sides of the gulley and the light was fading fast. "You know, I feel like I've seen this place before. And I really don't like it."

"Me too. And why does it smell so much like Asgard?" Rahne had gone part-wolf, her shaggy head tilted into the wind.

Well, all I can smell is the revolting stink from that cave-mouth," Monet said, pointing.

"Yeah," agreed Guido. "Smells like somethin' died in there. A big, ugly somethin'."

"Shh." Rahne crouched with ears flattened. She'd heard it first: a heavy scrabbling noise inside the fissure, echoing against the brittle volcanic stone. As one, they backed away – all except 'Star, who swaggered closer with swords drawn and peered inside.

"I have a very bad feeling about this," Longshot murmured.

"Wrong movie," Rictor said slowly.

"What?"

Ric laughed. He looked more than a little wired. "Just realised what's familiar, that's all. 'Star, you might wanna – "

There wasn't time for him to finish, as the cave's occupant lurched into the open in a horrific splay of giant, hairy legs, knocking 'Star flying, hissing and gurgling furiously.

"Oh shit holy crap that's one big spider!" Jamie dived for cover as an arachnid foot lunged and a spike the size of a meathook just missed his head. The smell was almost unbreathable now, and as he clambered to his feet – dimly registering the familiar ruckus of X-Factor in monster mode – he saw the great, seeping gash in the creature's belly. Something, or somebody, had just really pissed it off.

The spider lunged again. Jamie ducked, then swore as the air filled with a gross bubbling shriek and a severed spider-limb landed twitching at his feet. Swords glittering, Shatterstar grinned up at the spider like a kid who's found a brand-new shiny rollercoaster at the fairground. "Best. Teleport. Ever. Just leave this to me."

"Damn. Wish I had popcorn," Ric said wistfully. He was actually looking around for a rock to sit on.

"Are you crazy?" Terry scooted to mid-air and let loose an epic screech that made the canyon walls ring. The spider gibbered, twitched all its legs at once then scuttled into its hole, leaving behind a rank slimy trail.

"Aw, fekt." 'Star snapped in his swords and sulked. "You are no fun at all."

"Fun is in the eye of the beholder," called Layla from above them. She was scrambling down a narrow track in the rock. She looked, as ever, annoyingly unconfused. "We should move on now."

"Where the hell have you been?"

"Just confirming the lay of the land."

"Spit it out, Layla."

"You'll see soon enough," she said cheerfully. Then she stuck her fingers in her ears.

"Layla – ?"

From somewhere above them, as if answering Terry's cry, came an earsplitting inhuman scream. A huge winged shadow wiped out the meagre daylight - once, twice, wheeling lower, zeroing in for the kill.

Terry stumbled to the ground, shading her eyes. "Holy Mary," she said incredulously. "That's a – "

"Yep," said Layla with a smile. "Fun, isn't it?"

"Less talk, more panic!" yelled Jamie. "Everybody into that ravine!" He saw that look on 'Star's face and grabbed his arm before the swords could make another appearance. "Goddammit, 'Star. Step away from the dragon!"

"It's – not a – dragon – " Terry gasped as she ran. Clawed wingtips raked the rock as they dodged through the crevice, and the screams intensified. Jamie could have sworn he saw something sitting on the creature's back, but he'd be damned if he was going to think about it. "It's a – " But another scream drowned her out.

They ran until the rock closed over their heads to form a short tunnel with murky light at the end of it. The dragon – or whatever – gave a final shivering howl and veered away. They piled against the stones, catching their breath.

"What in the everloving crap was that?" Guido demanded.

"I could've taken it," 'Star said sullenly. "I used to kill things for a living, you know."

"Not this thing," Layla said. "It's not the time or the place. Isn't that right, Terry?"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Layla looked quizzical. "I can't believe you've never read it, Jamie."

"Read what?"

"Too busy practicing lines from Raymond Chandler in the mirror," Ric said wickedly.

Layla giggled. "I'll be honest, Ric, I never would've placed you as a swords and sorcery nerd."

"Gimme a break. I read it once. And I've sat through the movies, like, a hundred times." He poked 'Star in the ribs. "So have you, dude, which is why it cracks me up that you didn't recog – "

"Guys?" Rahne was padding back from the tunnel mouth, her wolf-eyes huge, gesturing over her shoulder. "I really think we should get out of here..."

They edged towards the light and looked out. A few feet away was a great black gatehouse flanked by grotesque statues. Beyond the wall it guarded, soaring into the sulphurous sky, was a dark forbidding spur of a tower. Raw yellow torchlight flickered in its windows. The muffled sound of yells and stamping carried on the wind towards them.

Rictor, Rahne and Terry looked at each other. "Layla," Ric said finally. "Over that ridge you climbed. Horrible, barren wasteland?"

"Yup."

"Volcano?"

"Yup."

"Big-ass tower with a fucked-up red eye thing on top?"

"You win the cigar."

Ric nodded glumly. "That's what I figured."

Monet grabbed his ear and twisted. "Do I have to mind-gouge somebody for answers?"

"Ow, okay! Dammit." Rictor looked round at the team and raised his hands. "Look, don't ask me to explain it, 'cause I haven't got a frigging clue. But all this – the tower, the spider, that thing that chased us – everything Layla says she saw – " He gave a wobbly grin, his voice creaky with hysteria. "We're in Mordor."

"We're in whatnow?"

"Mordor," said Rahne. "You know, the bad place in Lord of the Rings?"

"WHAT?"

"Well, that explains the crushing sense of dread," Longshot said brightly. "I was beginning to think I might be ill."

"Get outta here," Guido spluttered. "You're tryin' to tell me we're in a book?"

Layla shrugged. "Or a movie, if it makes you feel better."

Jamie sank limply onto a rock. "How is that even possible?"

Layla smiled. "Once you admit the existence of alternate universes – what's not possible? Maybe all our dreams and myths and stories have realities of their own, and they bleed into our world as subconscious inspiration. Maybe we're in the distant past of a reality where Tolkien was historian, not storyteller. Or maybe Arcade just got bored and built a replica. Who knows?"

"Mordor..." Jamie shook his head, mind thoroughly blown.

"Oh, for heaven's sake!" Monet exploded. "Jamie, I'm surprised at you. Just because this team has an unexpectedly high concentration of soft-brained fantasy-reading idiots does not mean we have fallen through a wormhole into someone's overcooked pseudo-feudal morality play! They're just coincidental similarities. You're a detective, you're supposed to see that. Now let's stop admiring the scenery and hit Pip until he gets us out of here." She looked around crossly. "And speaking of idiots... where's Shatterstar?"

"Aw crap," said Rictor under his breath.

The noise beyond the gate had unmistakeably changed pitch; in place of random shouts and vague army clatter there was now the concerted uproar of an attack response. As they watched, there was a guttural cry and an armoured body sailed over the wall, limbs twitching. Ric caught Jamie's scowl. "Hey, don't look at me. I'm not his keeper. We're not joined at the hip, y'know."

Except when ya are," Guido smirked.

"Shut up." Ric was chewing his lip, looking up at the baleful tower. "The spider was wounded, right? That means... Layla, what do you think happens if we screw with the story here?"

"Beats me," she said. "Maybe nothing. Maybe something. Jury's out."

"I can't believe you're taking this seriously," Monet snorted. "We are not in a book."

"We better go get him," Ric said wearily. "Pip, can you teleport me?"

"No way," said Jamie. "No teleports unless we all go together."

"M, fly me over there. Please."

"Can't you buy him a leash or something?" She rolled her eyes. "Okay, fine."

"Wait, wait. I'm coming too," Jamie said. He told himself it was just about punching 'Star personally and not about feeding the avid curiosity that made him so good at his job and would no doubt kill him, cat-wise, one day. Mordor, for crying out loud.

There were definitely better ways to travel than by pissed-off Air Monet. Dangling by one arm, it occurred to Jamie that he really didn't want to die riddled with fictitious arrows; but he needn't have worried. The courtyard was already strewn with twisted, fallen bodies, and what remained of the clamour had faded inside the base of the tower. He always forgot how damned fast 'Star could be. It was creepy, frankly.

Monet set them down near the tower entrance. As they picked their way among the corpses, she made a face. "What are these hideous things? They're like gargoyles in chainmail. With skin diseases. Disgusting."

"They're called orcs," replied Rictor. "Basically goblins with an upgrade and a bad attitude." He chuckled at her look of scorn. "Hey, I didn't write it."

They reached the tower doorway and peered inside. The scene was at once bizarre and unsurprising. Acrid torchlight swung wildly from a lamp overhead, bathing the scene in queasy orange shadows. Like the courtyard, the tower was littered with bodies: rough-armoured, demon-faced, black-blooded. Around the inner wall rose a pitted spiral staircase and poised on this, halfway up, was Shatterstar, fighting a surge of orcs with a manic sugar-rush grin on his face. His usual weapons of choice were nowhere to be seen – he'd found a real broadsword and was swinging the long blade in both hands with unabashed delight, the movement weightless and dazzling.

"Aw man, I missed that." Ric giggled, his eyes inappropriately shining. "Errol Flynn eat your heart out."

"Stop enabling," hissed Jamie.

'Star saw Rictor and his face lit up even further. He booted an orc off the stairway with extra flourish and hopped nimbly after it, dodging arrows as he ran towards them and hauled Rictor into an enthusiastic hug. "Isn't this amazing?" he said happily. "It's – "

"Eww, 'Star." Ric squirmed out of his arms, decidedly the worse for orc blood. "Time and place, dude." He grinned. "But the sword is nice."

Monet slapped them both round the head. "Orc things! Still here! Focus!"

There were a couple of dozen left, and they were really cranky. They leapt down the stairs and advanced on the away team in a red-eyed, rotten-toothed wedge, snarling and drooling, bristling with notched blades that looked distinctly unhygienic. Just another day at the office, Jamie thought wanly; he hit up a handful of dupes, 'Star whirled the broadsword, Ric fired up a low-level earth tremor and (hedging his bets) pulled his gun, and Monet settled for clenched fists and a withering look - until she noticed the one big orc who was leering at her cleavage. "You little troglodyte!" She reached out, grabbed a fistful of the creature's greasy tunic, and headbutted it so hard it knocked out the orc behind it. And that was the end of the stand-off. It didn't take long. The creatures were soulless, vicious and cruel; but they also had the doomed reflexes of all literary redshirts, and they pretty much queued up to be clobbered.

"Okay, enough." Jamie hoovered up dupes as the dust settled. "Field trip's over, we're out of here."

"But there's more of them," 'Star objected. "I heard them, upstairs. We can – "

"'Star, c'mon!" Ric grabbed his shoulders. "Haven't you figured it out yet? Where we are?"

'Star looked surprised. "Of course I have," he said.

Ric started. "Really?"

"Yes. I realised as soon as I saw the tower. That's why I came down here. There were far too many orcs," he said disapprovingly. "Even taking the fight over the mithril-shirt into account, there was no way Sam would stand a chance. I thought I should even the odds a little."

Jamie had to hand it to 'Star – he was a pro when it came to rationalising mayhem and making it sound all strategic and stuff. Rictor looked wryly at the mess. "Yeah, well, you did that. But we've gotta leave right now. He's already fought the spider, he could be here any minute."

"But – " Shatterstar gestured upstairs.

"Remember the story. You've got to leave some alive. It's not your fight, okay?"

'Star sighed. A fight not his was clearly a foreign concept. "Can I at least keep the sword?"

"Sorry, dude." Ric pried it gently but firmly out of his hand and tossed it among the bodies. "No fictional swords. Too random. But on the bright side, I know what to get you for Christmas."

They went outside. As Monet prepared to fly – 'Star wrapping his arms comfortably round Ric so she could lift them with one hand – an arrow flew past her head, then another. In the doorway stood one more orc, hollering curses. Something incongruously fine and silver was stuffed in its belt. "The shirt!" said Shatterstar.

"Goddammit," said Rictor. He made a fist and threw a blast that tripped the creature up and flung it headlong into the tower wall. A stone popped loose above it, just as if it had been told to, and fell squarely on the orc's head. Jamie was ninety percent certain Ric had learned that move from Tom and Jerry. "Monet, get us out of here."

As she took to the air, the orc struggled to its feet, shaking its scaly fists. "You'll get yours, short-arse," the creature bawled. "Just you wait!"

Ric grinned evilly. "Guy who's gonna punch your ticket's a lot shorter than me, sunshine."

Back in the tunnel, Jamie gathered his team. "Shatterstar, one more stunt like that and you never watch TV again. You ready, Pip?"

"Good to go, boss."

"If we come out of this and I don't see skyscrapers, I swear to God – "

"Ah, relax, Madrox. What are the odds it'll happen again?"

Monet clouted the troll. "You moron, don't tempt fa – "

Five seconds later they stood in the middle of a cacophonous, grisly street market, squinting up through the dark-silver rain at the city teeming round them. There were definitely skyscrapers. There were also flying cars, way too many searchlights, and gigantic animated neon billboards. From one of these a smiling woman spoke through the rain to the metropolis at large.

"A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies," she announced demurely.

Rictor leaned over to Jamie. "Noir enough for you?" he muttered.

Jamie sighed. "Pip, you're fired."


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kiev4am

May 2012

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