To Have Known Better (part 1)

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I should have known better, Eruviel fumed. Pushing the crude grate up from where it sat over the dried-up tunnel Eruviel thanked the long-dead architects for the gracious space that avoided her the room to move through while in her armour. Hoisting herself up she signaled down to the hill-man hunter that waited hidden below before racing across the high stone courtyard that ringed the citadel.

She had recognized the foul presence of the man who had broken in to their — no, her home. Shrouded in darkness he had come; a reminder of her past, and that she could not escape retribution. Iluvatar bless him, Arathier had gone out to face the intruder in attempt to protect her. But he was no match for the student of Alagos. Eruviel knew the tortures that awaited him, and the monster within her cursed, swearing to raise the ancient fortress to the ground if he was dead. She should have sought him out and killed him years ago. She should have known better.

With as much speed as she could muster she sprinted towards a side door to slam into the two Angmarim Summoners guarding the entrance. Before they could react Eruviel threw open the door, their rent bodies still falling behind her. Rage boiled the blood in her veins as she ran down the hall, cutting down the few orc guards and servants that loitered at their posts. Some attacked her, but others merely gaped at the sight of her before they too were killed. Nothing had changed in the thirteen years since she had been held there. Well, aside from a few extra skeletons in the cages, and the darker chambers.

It was not till she had reached the lower flight of steps leading to the dungeons that Eruviel realized that the guards did not even notice her as she struck them down. He does have Alagos’s flair, I will give him that. Stopping in the middle of a landing she stood between four Angmarim soldiers, staring at their almost blank expressions for a moment before hurrying on. Though they themselves did not see her, it almost felt as if the master of the fortress watched her from behind their eyes.

Bursting into the first long, narrow hall of cells that began the dungeon labyrinth, Eruviel rushed from cage to cage in search until she skidded to a stop. “Arathier,” she whispered numbly, staring at the breathless body within the cell. Panic seizing her chest she tore at the lock and searched for a way in past the cold iron bars. No . . . Orome, NO, you cannot let them — Then the spell lifted, and for a brief moment relief washed over her as she saw the stranger who had been masked with Arathier’s likeness.

A faint, cruel laugh rippled through the dank air. Turning she walked with an unnerving calm back down the hall. Her anger turned to wrath, and her gleaming emerald eyes paled to an ice green. They had taken from her. Again. And she would have no more of it. Deep in the recesses of her mind she welcomed the inner beast. It filled her, fitting it’s steady hands into hers, and peered out of her eyes. The numbness in her legs dissipated as she strode up the stairs with all the confidence and grace of her ancestors, and without stopping she slit the throat of every orc and Angmarim she passed.

It seemed unnerving, how she remembered her way to the great hall. How many times had she been drug, beaten and bruised and fighting though these corridors? Her time here seemed like an eternity ago, but her victory over Alagos now seemed to be for naught. My brothers will find you, he had told her. You will never be free. She had been a fool to disregard the threat. She had taken care to avoid contact with any Angmarim for a time, and had thought she had gotten away with it. Not that she ever regretted slaying the wicked man, but she had been foolish in thinking she had outwitted the agents of the enemy. Worst of all she unwittingly risked the lives of those she cared for by simply caring. Anyatka, Abiorn, Eirikr, Laerlin, Daran….

Fitting her bow onto her back she stepped in through the open doors. A red fire burned in the fireplace, the banquet table was cleared, and only a single figured occupied the room. Dressed in the garb of the fallen men and a lesser iron crown upon his head he faced away from her, his shoulders shaking with a silent laugh as she drew her sword. “Where is he?”

“Right here,” the man said in a dark, even tone as he turned. Eruviel’s only initial outward sign of distress being her nuckles turning white as she gripped her sword hilts tighter, her mind screamed, thrashing within it’s cage. For the first time in years she wanted to fall over and retch.

All the color drained from her face as she stared at the pallid, black-eyed Arathier. No, she realized as she set her foot back to steady herself. There is something else. He is something else. “What have you done to him?”

Advancing a step towards her Arathier . . . or at least Arathier’s body . . .  motioned uncharacteristically to the open door. “Bring him in,” he called out, his voice twisted with something darker. A wicked tone she recognized from sometime . . . .

Eruviel stepped to the side to not expose her back as she turned her head to see two Angmarim soldiers drag in one of the hill-men who had accompanied her north from Aughaire. He was beaten, and some of his bones visibly broken, but he met Eruviel’s eyes and shook his head. It was not her fault, and he would not give the enemy the satisfaction.

What had been Arathier laughed as the hill-man was dropped. Strangely, the Angmarim retreated from of the room. “Such proud people,” he said with disdain, “yet so naive.” Crossing the space, he unsheathed a dagger that was not his own. “May this be the first of many.” With that Arathier slit the young man’s throat and let the body fall to the ground, blood soaking into the ancient rug.

She drew a deep breath, than another as anger burned through her. He is not himself. He is not Arathier. Do what you must. As the slain hunter’s body hit the stone floor she half-heartedly sprang forward to strike.

With inhuman speed, Arathier whirled around, grabbing her right arm as she came within inches of stabbing him. “Do not try anything, or you will share the same fate as your human,” he growled, towering over her as he squeezed her arm tighter. “I will destroy you.”

For a brief moment as she met his glare a hint of color crept back into his eyes, as if from somewhere Arathier was fighting to take back control of whatever held him. The moment did not last long, however, and Eruviel steeled herself as she felt the bone of her arm weaken beneath his grip. “Would not your master prefer to kill me himself?” she growled, forcing herself to not fight back. He is not Arathier!

Arathier opened his mouth to speak when suddenly his eyes darted to look behind Eruviel. Releasing her he dropped to his knees. “You have come.”

Eruviel could hear the scrape of metal as a sword was drawn from a sheath, and she could feel a presence behind her that she knew all too well. “What a delight that we finally get to meet face-to-face.”

Turning, her sword at the ready and blocking out the pain in her arm, Eruviel beheld the Black Numenorean that had broke into her home and stolen Arathier. “You are Alagos’s pupil,” she said matter-of-factly even as she felt his sorcery stab into her consciousness. Not this time, she thought, narrowing her eyes in defiance. She noted that the possessed Arathier had not risen from where he had knelt.

“I am Mornenion,” flowed his deep, venomous voice. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”

He is weak, Eruviel told herself as she readied to strike, fighting hard to keep him out of her thoughts. He does not hold half the power Alagos did.  But even then… “It took you long enough, mortal,” she mocked in a sweet tone. Chin raised proudly, she summoned all of her will to meet his gaze and banished the doubts that clawed at her subconscious.

Mornenion’s upper lip curled in a sneer. “If you defeat me, you both may live.”

“Somehow I do not think that will be enough,” she replied with a wry smirk. Taking a step to the left she quickly took stock of his weight, height and how he carried himself. I have to end this fast, she told herself. The longer we fight the more it will be to his advantage.

The Black Numenorean opened his mouth to respond when Eruviel dashed forward, her elven steel ringing loudly as it clashed against Mornenion’s dark iron blade. She did not back down as he countered each of her strikes, forcing herself to attack faster . . . Faster! One of her blows pushed him back far enough and, quicker than she thought possible, the tip of his sword cut across her breastplate even as she leaped back to avoid it.

Fighting on, her mind flickered to Nillariel for a moment, and she wished now that she had let her come. The elf maiden’s shield would have come in handy, as well as her experience in battle. Barely avoiding Mornenion’s slash, the blade grazing over her left arm guard, she drew her dagger across, slicing into his unarmoured side. The fool! Thinking back she remembered Atanamir asking if her mission north would be better accomplished with aid. Or something like that, she thought sullenly, not bothering to recall the details of how the man had worded it. It was too late now. Whatever he was, Atanamir would have been the most helpful.

She could feel the power building, a terrible pressure in the air around her. It pulled at the veigns in her head, an with each passing second a terrible pain gnawed at her chest as if some unseen hand was digging at her heart.

Eruviel turned too slowly and Mornenion, bellowing in rage from the injury, brought his sword crashing down on her left shoulder. The force dropped her to her knees and even as she resisted the blow cracked her pauldron enough to slip in between plates and cut into her shoulder. Crying out, the pain brought a sudden clarity. This was not just for her, nor Arathier, but for all her friends; all the lives that could potentially be harmed by this black-hearted man. Never again. Her icy gaze reflected the fire from the hearth, and she let out a sigh of an apology to Anya and Nilla, that she had broken her promise to not go it alone. One last time. In the blink of an eye she watched herself grab the Black Numenorean’s blade. She did not feel it slice open her fingers as she used it to pull the wicked man towards her. Letting out a shout brought on by pent up adrenaline and fury, Eruviel thrust her sword into Mornenion’s chest. Her blade pierced his heart and he dropped his weapon, screeching like a wounded animal. Running him though she ducked under a wildly thrown punch to bring her dagger up under his chin and into his skull.

He stared at her, his lips parted in a disbelieving gape that she had beaten him. She felt his sorcery fade, and did not release her hold on him till the last garbled breath escaped his lips. The building darkness retreated, drawing back into the lifeless corpse. The Black Numenorean could not curse her, nor revive for one last vengeful strike, and as his body dropped to the cold stone floor his pridefully coveted life was extinguished.

The screams did not stop. Eruviel had only moments to catch her breath before turning to see Arathier writhing on the floor. A shadow was upon him but Eruviel paid it no heed as she ran over to drop to her knees beside him. “I am here, Arathier,” she insisted with a soft voice, reaching out to him.

Arathier’s eyes looked cold, his faced twisted as he struggled against the spirit. “You lose! He is mine!” he spat.

Fighting off his flailing arms, her teeth grit in attempt to bear the pain from her wounds she finally took hold of his head, cupping his face with her hands. “You can fight him,” she whispered. Staring into his eyes she forced what little powers she possessed to subdue the spirit that had taken residence inside of Arathier. After using it so often on the return from Dale, the Elf had been in a haze of brokenness, and even now bits of it still lingered in her subconscious. She did not dare draw it into herself, and she could not cast it out. She did not know if anyone could, but she poured her will like streams of light into the man even as the wight within him screamed in protest. She lent all but the last bits of her strength to help him take back control, praying –no — begging Orome for it to work.

His voice weak, Arathier finally looked up at her with his own blue eyes. “Eru — Eruviel?” he managed to mutter in disbelief before passing out from exhaustion.

The second hill-man who had accompanied her ran into the room, his sword wet with blood. Looking about with a concerned frown he then nodded to Eruviel. “You survived, Lady Aranduin.”

“I did,” she said with a forced calm, pulling herself to her feet. “This is him. Take as much Angmarim garb off of him as is feasible. Could you manage to carry him?”

“Aye,” the man answered, giving her a long look and taking note of her injuries before seeing to Arathier.

Leaving him to his work, Eruviel walked with dragging steps over to Mornenion. Retrieving her weapons, she cleaned them off on his robes and stet them in their sheaths. Picking up his rather heavy sword she pulled the Black Numenorean’s black badge from around his neck with a sharp tug, then brought the dark weapon down, severing the man’s neck. To the Void with you. Give your Master my regards. She would leave nothing to chance.

Nodding to the hill-man as he hoisted Arathier onto his back Eruviel pulled the pendant from the black cord. Giving it a disgusted look she threw it across the room into the fire and walked out of the hall, a sulfuric green light dancing around her as the pendant burned. Following the hill-man out she tied the cord around the handle of her sword along with the one she had taken from Alagos. That makes two. By Orome, let that be the end of them.

 

 (All dialogue taken from  in-game RP and edited for tense and exposition.)
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