Angmar

Bittersweet: Lex Talionis

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“Watch your step, Artis.”

Eruviel stopped short, halted by Milloth’s quick whisper. The stone tile in front of her gave off a faint, sorcerous shimmer. “Why are we here?” she asked in a hushed tone as she skipped two tiles ahead to be safe, and crowded up beside him.

Milloth’s golden hair cascaded over his grin as he motioned for her to be quiet. The heavy, scraping steps of an orc guard echoed from two corridors down, grew louder, than faded away. “Borrowing something.”

“You mean stealing.”

Milloth motioned for her to follow, and the two Elves glided down to the end of the dark hall with hardly a rustle of their cloaks. “I mean taking preventative measures.”

The elleth frowned up at her brother. “What are we stealing?”

His fingers twitching, Milloth did not respond for a moment. Resting a hand on her shoulder, he pointed through the wide door to a winding stairwell leading up.  “Four flights will take you up two floors. There is a large study, and you should find a little black box somewhere.”

Eruviel seethed. “What, with all the other little black boxes?”

“There is only one.”

“This is a terrible plan.”

“Then why did you come along?”

Huffing a harsh, quiet breath, Eruviel moved towards the stair only to have her wrist caught by Milloth. Looking back to the Elf, he placed a little pouch in her hand. “What is that?”

“For the student resting on a bench to the right of the door — Oh, and be careful of the holding cell one floor up. I couldn’t tell if anyone was there.”

Eruviel gave her brother an incredulous look.

Milloth released her and nodded briskly for her to go on. “Be quick. I will be here. I promise.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Eruviel turned down a dark corridor as she headed back to the front hall, knowing, in spite of her frustration, that Eirikr was right. Her hand ached from gripping the sword hilt too hard, and no amount of shaking her head could expel the fog gathering in her mind as she walked briskly to return to the group near the entrance of the Tower.

Stone. Iron. Orc. Incense. Blood. It was the blood she could smell most. Her fingers shifted on the leather-bound grip. The Elf could feel it, the haze creeping in on the edges of her mind and vision, making her irritable, and impatient. Then there was the hunger….

Darkness trickled into the hall like water from up ahead. If she could end it now, if she could just get one shot, then they could regroup. They could walk out of the gates, and go home, and never have to come back.

Air rushed past her as the dim light shining from behind her disappeared. Rainion’s words springing easily across her tongue, flame sprung to life along her well oiled blade, and she moved to run when a wave of darkness slammed into her. Trapping her arms, the black tendrils whipped about, and for a moment Mornenion’s face appeared, grinning wickedly as he closed in on her…. But then the face vanished. As quickly as it appeared the mass of shadow dropped her and withdrew, retreating down the corridor in the direction she meant to go.

Eruviel landed on her feet. If it had come from the hall be hind…. Shouts from ahead interrupted her thoughts. Leaping into a run, she did not falter as the shadow of an orc stepped into her path. A thrill ran up her arm from the sword and she ran faster, colliding with the beast, sword piercing between plating and ripping out as the Elf did not stop. She could feel it, the cold, hateful soul of a being, twisted from birth, flowing into the bright elven steel.

More.

In the long hall before her, Eruviel’s eyes flicked quickly over the faces of her friends, hunting as the small group reacted to black tendrils yanking Phrazanu off of his feet and dragging him away. Locking on her quarry, she flew forward over the smooth stone tile. Putting her full body into the swing, she half spun with the slash, severing the dark arms.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Mornenion watch from his cover of darkness at the far end of the hall as the Elf paced back and forth. She was faster than she had been minutes before, and certainly more volatile. Like an animal caged by reason and expectation she prowled, searching the shadows, not for the sorcerer, but for him.

No, he had planned to kill the brothers and Bree woman as soon as Eruviel had led them up the stairs. She was closest to those two, the bear and the archer, and making her watch them die would have been delicious. But at the last minute the man had stopped her and somehow convinced her to turn back. Mornenion cursed the Barding. To be honest it surprised him, her relenting to the insistence of the Human.

And there was Minuziel. Lovely, troublesome Min. He had expected some sort of plotting from her, but not like this. She belonged to him, as well as her bastard child, and he would never allow her to leave. Mornenion’s fists clenched, a fresh surge of unbidden anger rising in him as his wife clung to the arm of that horrible boy.

They are mine!

Casting out a hand, a wave of darkness surged across the hall, tossing some, and whipping about others. Poke them, prod them, then let their bones clatter to the floor in piles of their own dust. The swell of sick delight at Eruviel slamming into the wall was swiftly obliterated as he saw Minuziel standing calm and untouched by his attack.

Looming forward, behind the newly arrived second party — What timing — Mornenion focused hard and gathered more shadow from further into the tower. “If you wish to leave, she stays.”

The call of the Bree woman was lost to his ears as Minuziel spoke up.”You may as well come out. No use in acting dark and shadowy when they know who you are.”

Mornenion glared at her for a moment, mulling over the idea. He was using more energy than he had intended… But she was right. He could come out, strike in the middle of their ranks…. The sound of bone rung in his memory again, and Mornenion looked down as the Barding archer drew his sword and…. Was he really pointing a sword at him?

The sorcerer’s laughter rung against the stone walls. “What are you going to do with that?”

The angry, bearded man did not falter. “Poke things that should die.”

Eruviel was ushered further behind her friends, the bear-boy following close to her as the Bree woman pushed herself to her feet and walked over. “Hey, ass, I asked you a question!” she barked at the shadow.

Mornenion sighed. Some people. He manifested the outline of his figure to appear in the center of the room has he turned his attention from the Barding to the Bree woman. A tendril of shadow flicked out lashing the woman hard across the face. She managed to get her arms up in time, and took the full force of the strike, which flung her back to the floor with a thud and sharp gasp.

“Come out, coward!”

Mornenion’s focus snapped to the silver-haired Elf just as the Barding charged at him. Landing in a run, the sorcerer drove his shoulder in to the bearded man’s chest, intent on rushing past. The Barding grunted on impact, but grabbed at his attacker to take him down with him.

The bear-boy roared loudly and thundered toward the sorcerer and his brother, only slightly hindered by his nasty wound. Mornenion staggered a bit as the Barding grabbed for him, but shrugged off his hands and flung a wave of shadow at at the charging animal. It barreled into the bear-boy, shoving him out of the way with a yip in pain just as a sharp kick dropped the sorcerer to his knees.

Out of the corner of his vision Eruviel rushed at him. I’ll finish this once and for all. I swear, I’ll kill all of them as you drown in your own blood. Mornenion lashed out a hand as the Elf drew near, shadow tossing her aside like a doll and reaching desperately for her mind as he turned back to drive —

Amidst a shout, a fist slammed into the side of his face. Mornenion staggered from the force, emitting an angered cry as he fell back. It had been years since he had been struck, and it never felt quite as painfully disagreeable as this. He felt his shadow lift off the white-haired man — then tasted blood as the Barding’s foot caught him in the mouth. Snarling, he grabbed at the bearded man’s ankle… and nothing happened. The Barding should have been collapsing in a heap of dust and hunter garb, but instead he struggled against Mornenion’s grip, very much alive. Somewhere beyond the weight of anger and blood, desperation finally crept in as his shadows were swept away, leaving the great room measurably brighter than before.

Releasing the man, Mornenion scrambled to his feet, panic gripping him as he turned to flee. No sorcery! None! Never had it left him. Was it the Elves? The Barding? Min? Perhaps it was the other sorcerer, or the Council…. Betrayed, betrayed, they all have betrayed you. A little more power and I’ll show them all. They will cower and writhe and I will take everyth — The Bree woman’s hands appeared from the side, causing him to stumble, when suddenly a bitterly cold shock plunged through his spine.

A tormented cry of pain erupted from his throat, filling the room  as a red-coated sword drove out of his chest. Mornenion knew what death felt like. It had not been pleasant, but there were worse things. With a little help it had been easy enough to escape from the first time, but this…. He was paralyzed by cold steel sapping the warmth from his blood. He tried to rebel against it, and pull himself away, but that only increased his agony. Every fiber of him felt as if it were tearing apart.

Gasping, grasping for air, for power, for anything, true darkness crept into his vision as he was forcefully ripped from the spells that held his spirit in place. He felt the weight of a body against his back, the warmth of a forehead against his shoulder. In one last effort to escape his fate he grabbed for the Elf who held the despicable weapon that devoured his essence from the inside – out. Nails caught flesh, then feeling was lost, and as the steel was pulled away, the last he ever saw was the prized cage that had been his body slumping over to exhale it’s final breath.

(Second half derived from in-game RP log, and edited for tense, composition, and Mornenion’s point of view. Thank you to Atanamir, Cwendlwyn, Valthier, Raenarcam, Hallem, and Feygil for all the help and for coming along for the ride!)

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What Might Have Been

(If things had gone differently…)

Talagol sat outside the office suite of the grand villa. Minutes had passed since the muffled sounds of raised voices had cut off with what he could only assume to have been a book thrown against the thick mahogany doors, and the man wondered why his time was being wasted.

Having survived the bitter defeat in the west, the Wainrider had been surprised when the summons came for him. The battle-hardened man idly played his thumbs over a worn corner of the letter, quelling the growing anticipation as his eyes ran over the tall sandstone pillars. It had been years since he had been back. Longer still since anyone aside from his superiors had dared demand anything of him.

A dull thud sounded as the heavy lock of the double doors slid back. A man emerged from the office. Talagol could not help but cock an eyebrow as he watched his highest ranking sorcerer hurry away, hair tossed and looking like a cow fleeing from a culling.

Turning his gaze back to the still-open doorway, it took him far too long to recognize the young woman standing in the door. She had dyed her hair, but she had her mother’s eyes and, to his surprise, wore the blood-red robes of Mistress.

Tossing her bangs, a wicked smirk played on Inaris’ crimson lips. Crooking a finger, she beckoned him to follow after her as she turned back into the room. “Hello, daddy.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“About time you made it back.”

Asmus curled his upper lip against the thick smell of opium that wafted in every time someone used the back door of the den. “All o’the ships were destroyed. I had to make other arrangements.”

The fat man behind the desk wriggled his nose against an itch, and tossed a fat coin purse across the space between them. “Good work, anyways. The others are waiting for you across town. Use the west entrance.”

Catching the hefty payment, Asmus rose from his seat. “Right. I’ll be around in a week with the new shipment.”

With quick steps he strode down the hall, doing his best not to breathe in the air thick with smoke, incense, and hot bodies. He might not have minded it all that much, but the man had come to expect better things and find his pleasures elsewhere. It was what happened when one caught a lucky break, and he wasn’t the kind of person to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Rubbing the back of his hand over his crooked nose, Asmus left down a long corridor, and stepped out into the daylight that graced the lower quarter of Dol Amroth. The smell only got worse in the filthy alley, but the presence of the open sky beyond high roofs was a small improvement. Turning to head down the narrow way the toe of his boot suddenly caught on something, and the man cursed, stumbling as a wounded yip sounded from the edge of the filthy path.

“What the bloody –” Asmus caught himself on the alley wall and turned to see what he stepped on, and froze. “You?”

The girl laying on the ground drew her knees in close against her chest, hiding behind the long, dirty blond locks that fell around her face.

Asmus crouched down and frowned when she shrunk away from him. What had it been, twelve years? “Shit, girl. What did they do to you?”

Dull amber eyes avoided his gaze, and she shivered in mid-spring heat.

Grunting, Asmus stood, pulled a coin out of his pocket, and tossed it down to her. “Go get yourself a warm meal. Figure I owe ya that much.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Alagos did not bother looking up from his reading as Zagasht pushed past the guards at the door. “I assume you have news,” said the sorcerer mildly. “It had better be worth the interruption….”

Zagasht growled, and nodded quickly. “The others want to know why you have not sent anyone to fortify the tower. The Elf and his Gondorian friends have cut their way into the main hall.”

“Oh, have they?” he mused. It had taken them long enough to get here, but they had indeed come, just as he knew they would. Glancing over his shoulder, Alagos lifted a finger to summon the shadow standing against the wall behind him. “What do they want?”he asked of the thick, clearly agitated Orc.

Zagasht shifted uncomfortably as the dark, lithe figure stopped to hover beside his master. “They… They demand her return… and your head, my lord.”

A cruel, mirthless laugh rose from Alagos’ throat. “Splendid!” He turned his head and reached over to take his companion’s hand. “I had begun to worry they would never come for you.”

“What is your will?”

How deliciously cold her voice was, and the void in those lovely green eyes sent a thrill through his body. She had been his greatest challenge, and his ultimate masterpiece. The little, rage-filled bits of her that remained were carefully caged within her, left to watch everything that she and he did.

“Go. Greet our guests, my pet,” he said, kissing the back of her hand. “I am sure your brother will be happy to see you, and he has many friends to introduce you to.”

Bowing, the elleth that had been Eruviel took up the sword resting on the corner of the desk. Zagasht led the way out of the room, and Alagos sat back to watch her go, a gleeful smile twisting his features as the lights dimmed with her passing.

A Little Sand

Eruviel remembers.

Nine years ago…

“By the gods I hate this place,” Ildric muttered as he spurred his horse up the narrow path to catch up with the others.

“Only because you do not understand it,” Daran retorted, shooting the mercenary a disdainful glance as he tossed a water skin back.

“I am sure Orome subjects you to it just to hear you complain,” added Eruviel as she caught the skin and pulled the cork.

Ildric’s scoff cut out when he caught sight of the water. “Hey! Where was that two hours ago?!”

Daran looked back to the path ahead of them. “With me and out of your greedy hands.”

“If you ladies are done squabbling I suggest we catch up with the others,” called a voice from up ahead. “We are still two hours from the village.”

“Yeah, yeah, Shiny Shirt,” grumbled Ildric as he moved up to ride beside Eruviel. “You had to bring him along?”

The Elf looked ahead and smirked as she caught the brief glare Adrovorn spared Ildric. “I didn’t have to do anything. He wanted to come.”

“Better aid from the Dreadward than being overrun by greedy men playing at thievery,” Daran chimed in, sparing an amused glance to Eruviel.

“I resent that, caveman,” Ildric retorted, aiming a snatch for the water skin. “We merely —

“Vrax, quit pretending to make excuses for your pride,” called Adrovorn, sounding bored. “We all know you have none.”

Looking to the tall soldier ahead, Ildric’s attempt to claim the water skin for his own failed, and instead hit the end of Eruviel’s bow, sending it tumbling down the hillside.

“Bloody — Vrax!” shouted Eruviel in alarm. Jumping down off her horse she left the water skin hanging from her saddle and set off down the steep rocky slope.

“Wit — Eruviel! Come back! I hit it I’ll get it,” Ildric insisted as he too dismounted and stood on the path’s edge to look down after her.

“Good job,” Daran scolded. Patting his horse on the neck he turned the beast to bring him back to where Ildric stood.

“Oh, shut up –”

“Don’t let her go down there alone,” insisted Adrovorn as he rode to rejoin them.

“Ahh, she’s fine, pretty boy,” huffed Ildric as he pointed to where Eruviel stepped off the rocks and onto sand to retrieve her bow.

Adrovorn glanced to Daran and squared his firm jaw as he saw the hill-man’s sudden frown. “What is it?”

Eruviel had frozen in her tracks three or so steps from where her bow lay. “Adrovorn…” The bow had begun to slowly sink into the ground.

“Don’t move,” the Gondorian ordered firmly as he stepped down from his war steed. Pointing to the horse as if to order it to ‘stay’, Adrovorn took his halberd with one hand and started down the slope.

“No shit,” Eruviel grumbled, eyes still fixed on her bow. Swallowing, she nimbly danced forward a few steps across the surface of the quicksand. Successful in snatching up her bow the elf turned, but not before a particularly loose spot caught her foot. Before she could react she was sucked down past her knees.

“Aw, hell,” grumbled Ildric. Smacking Daran on the leg he started forward. “C’mon.”

Sighing, Daran dismounted more slowly. Taking a moment to grab his spear he began following the other two down.

“I told you not to move!”

“I heard you the first time, Captain,” Eruviel responded. “I am sinking too fast.  There must be something beneath me. Here.” She threw her reclaimed bow to Adrovorn, then began unbuckling her sword belt.

Having reached the bottom of the hill, Adrovorn caught her bow, set it aside, then caught her sword belt. The loss of it’s weight slowed her progression, but not enough. “Where is the edge of it?”

Glancing around her, Eruviel shook her head. “Beyond arm’s rea — ” Her words cut off with a gasp as she dropped down another foot. “Halberd!”

Daran and Ildric scrambled to a stop beside Adrovorn as he tossed the long weapon to the Elf. Catching it, Eruviel began fishing for the edge of the pit while moving as little as possible.

“Is there nothing else we can do?” asked Ildric, looking around the barren terrain for anything that might be of use.

“She’s got this,” said Daran as he let Ildric take his spear.

Standing rigid on the edge of the rocks, Adrovorn completely ignored them as he watched and waited.

“Shiny Shirt,”said Ildric, his voice suddenly nearly as authoritative as Adrovorn’s had been earlier. “Use your sword and help me find the edge of the pit.”

“No –” Eruviel, chest deep in sand, leaned back slowly against the flow. “No need.” Having reached behind her with the halberd, she had found the edges and, bracing the ends of the long weapon on either side, had begun hefting herself up. Taking a moment to catch her breath she began slowly working her feet out.

“You got it?” asked Adrovorn, his expression more stern and his features more pale than before.

“Just about…” She froze for a moment, gave a sad look, and resumed pulling her legs from the trap.

“Eruviel? What is it?” asked Daran as the men ventured forward.

Laying on her back and liberated, Eruviel quickly rolled to the side and off the surface of the quicksand. Taking up the halberd she accepted Ildric’s hand and rose to her bare feet.”

“I lost my boots,” she muttered with a particularly dignified air of remorse.

Daran looked to the pit, Adrovorn seemed too busy looking her over for injury, and Ildric laughed. “You females and your shoes!”

“They were new! And… they had my good daggers in them,” she added with a pathetic, Elven pout.

“You still have what? Twenty blades on you? And what’s with that pout?” Ildric chided.

“I can be disappointed if I want,” said Eruviel with a sniff. “And I don’t have to care what you think.”

Ildric shot a glare back at hearing Daran choke back a snicker. “Well, let’s check to see if you’re injured.” He reached forward towards her chest when a big hand grasped his shoulder and sent him sailing into the quicksand.

It was Eruviel and Daran’s turn to chuckle, and Adrovorn just glared, satisfied that the mercenary had landed right where he wanted him. “Are you hurt?”

“I’ll live!” came Ildric’s shout as he fought against the sand.

Smirking, Eruviel shook her head. “I am fine… Really!” she insisted as he frowned down at her.

“Close your eyes,” Adrovorn insisted as he pulled out a kerchief.

“What?”

“Close your eyes. You have sand all over your face.”

“Not much. Honestly, a little sand never hurt anybody –”

“Put your hands down, and close your eyes,” Adrovorn grumbled as he took up the end of her braid to toss over her shoulder.

Daran frowned at the two of them. Taking the Gondorian’s halberd the hill-man rolled his eyes and turned away. “Nobody panic. I’ll fish the thief out.”

 

(Thank you, Laerlin for the writing prompt!)

 

A Long-awaited Rest

“Everyone has gathered, sir,” said the Trév Gállorg hunter as he stepped through the flaps of hide into the hut. “We are ready.”

Daran’s stern amber gaze darted up to the man for only a moment as he rolled up the letter and bound it with a cord. Scratching the address down over one curve of the parchment he then tossed it to the man. “Good. I’ll be right there. Have a courier send that out, will you?” Walking around the cluttered table he took up one knife after another to fix their frogs to his sword belt.

“Of course, sir,” said the hill-man as he caught the scroll and turned to leave. Stepping back he suddenly stopped. “I mean no disrespect, but are you sure you should come with us?”

“Why would I not,” grunted Daran dangerously, his sharp gaze glancing around the room for his bow.

“Well . . . you’re still recovering . . . sir. We can’t –”

“It is a scouting mission, Finnan,” said Daran coldly, cutting the man off. “We’re not raiding Carn Dum. Now go and send that letter.”

“To Bree, sir?”

Daran huffed. “Where else?”

Nodding a curt bow the hill man turned and obediently left.

“Blood and orcs,” Daran cursed under his breath as he rubbed a strong hand over his forehead and up through his shaggy hair. Did they really doubt him? No, his men would follow him anywhere, he knew that. He’d trained nearly all of them, and their skills rivaled the occasional Ranger that rode north to be stationed at the village. But ever since he had been rescued from the keep in Fasach-Falroid only a few short months earlier he had not been the man he once was. Even at a hundred and thirty . . . was it? . . . he had looked like a man in his late thirties, as strong and fit and sharp-witted as any man could be in their prime. But now the years had caught up with him and he had aged significantly, both inside and out. Though still strong and capable, he fought to hide the limp, grey had begun to show at his temples, and he tired easier than he cared to admit. By the gods, he hated it.

Sniffing, Daran stacked the letters spread out over the table, fitting them back into a crude box. She’d been writing more often in the past month than she had since she’d moved to Bree. He needed to know why. Not that he minded, but he had seen the look in her eye when he’d last seen her; helped her battered body into her armour. One of them would would eventually be the death of the other, he was sure of it.

A dry wind raked across his tanned face as he stepped out into the evening. Stretching out his muscled arms he strode out over the plank bridge to where his horse waited with twenty other Trév Gállorg fighters, armed to the teeth and eyes lit with fire.

“You all have your orders,” said Daran, addressing the group as he swung himself into his saddle. “I don’t want any heroics.” A head taller than the tallest hill-man, Daran wheeled his mount around and led the group to the gates heading north, the three scout leaders beside and behind him.

“What of the Angmarim camp down the valley?” asked one man.

“My group is scouting to the south of them, Finnan’s will take the north.” Amber eyes glistened in warning as he looked back to the speaker. “Save the fight for tomorrow, Helgrin. I expect you to keep your men in line.”

Helgrin nodded reluctantly, obviously displeased. Motioning to his group of five, the younger man led them away from the others, heading west. Exchanging a look with the other leaders, Daran motioned with a quick flick of his wrist and he and his five hunters split off, riding east.

The ride to the hill-man outpost was strangely uneventful. The horses hooves echoed like shallow heartbeats against the dead earth and as he and his men left their horses at the small camp a feeling of foreboding set in. There were no scouts to run down as they continued on foot, nor were there ravens to shoot out of the night sky. The only feral eyes gleaming in the dark were his own.

A hand batted his right shoulder, and Daran followed the direction of the hunter’s arm to the hill past the first. The Angmarim camp was still there, and the number of campfires appeared to have almost doubled from the past week. Creeping forward in the shadows, Daran and his men climbed the first hill, just out of range of the firelight, and watched.

There were five . . . no, possibly six hundred Angmarim and orcs camped in the bowl of the valley. There were no siege weapons, but Daran was sure they were on their way. Weapons, placement of shrines, number of visible priests were all taken into account. An argument could be seen at the head tent and the Angmarim captain threw a little boy to the ground, pointing east. Scrambling to his feet, the little boy took up the bow that had fallen from his hands and scurried out into the night, the laughter of Angmarim filth lending speed to his legs.

Daran squared his jaw and for a moment, closed his eyes. It disgusted him. He still remembered what it had been like to live under the terrifying hand of Angmar, but he turned away with his men, knowing there was nothing he could do. Hopefully the child would return after the next day’s battle, alive and free once the Trév Gállorg forces burned the enemy camp to the ground. Motioning to his men they slinked back down the hill and began the jog back to the outpost.

The outpost not a hundred yards away, a pain shot through his leg, the wound having never quite healed. Masking his stumble, Daran ducked down, and to his surprise an arrow whizzed past where his head had been. The hunters reacted instantly. Three gathered around Daran and two vanished, the sound of a not-so-distant scuffle the only giveaway to their location.

Grabbing the arm of the youngest of the three, Daran shoved him forward towards the outpost. “Get — ” The rest of the words never left his mouth as time seemed to slow around him. He could see him, the boy. Daran’s hardened amber eyes met the fearful blue orbs that fixed on him, the child’s arm trembling as the arrow shot out of the bow. It was poetic, really. The flight of the iron-tipped arrow sounded more like the exhale of a sigh as it sailed past the young hunter’s head, nicking his ear. Daran had just enough time for an enigmatic smile to carve up his mouth before the projectile pierced into his chest with a sickening thud.

Then time caught up with them. His eyes still locked on the child hidden behind the far patch of rocks, Daran gasped and dropped to his knees. The young hunter cried out in surprise, his hand flying to his split ear. Turning as Daran fell he darted to catch the man by his shoulders lest he fall on the arrow protruding from just above the heart.

“No, NO!” shouted the young man as the others ran to Daran’s side. “Get it out of him!”

“Don’t,” growled Daran, the taste of blood in his mouth as he grabbed one of the hunter’s wrists. “I-I’ll just die faster. Take me,” he managed, struggling for a breath. He motioned to the outpost and blinked. Opening his eyes he saw the boy was gone.

His vision began to blur as the hunters carried him down the rocky path. The youngest hunter sprinted ahead of them and Daran coughed a chuckle at hearing the boy’s panicked voice. More blood. He felt himself being lowered onto a pallet, and it seemed strange that the shouts and worried conversations were muffled to his ears. He knew he was going to die as the strength ever so slowly drained from his limbs, but did they have to rush about as if their efforts would change the inevitable? He coughed a few jokes, but all he got in return were distressed looks and grumbled responses. Could they not even give him a fake chuckle or two?

“A — a quill.” The thick, garbled words clawed their way up his throat.

The crowd around him fell silent, frozen and unsure until a shadowed figured pushed it’s way though. Daran felt the quill in his hand and a parchment tacked to a board appeared, propped under his chin, just within his vision.

My Lady,

I wanted to write this myself before the grim task was handed to the healer. You always teased that one day my luck would run out. I seems that is today. It appears you were also correct about my pride, for I am enraged that I must die such an inglorious death. You should have taught marksmanship to the enemy so that my death would have come more swiftly. The healers do not seem to appreciate the morbid jokes I am making. I suppose you would not either, though I know that if you were here I would at least be humored by your smile. Thank you for my life. For the meaning you gave it, and for the meaning you made me find on my own.

Always yours, Ge’bar

Swallowing, he let the quill fall from his hand.  With that done a small weight lifted from his mind, as if there was nothing left he had to do. The murmur of voices began again, strained and worried. He just wanted silence. Why did they stress so? But it would be over soon, he told himself, and maybe finally . . . finally he could rest. There was only one he would miss, but where he was going, he knew he’d care not. Yes, no more swords and enemies or sleepless nights fretting over the ones he loved. Just a long-awaited, blissful rest.

To Have Known Better (part 2)

As the healers carried the unconscious Arathier into a hut Eruviel found a secluded corner of the camp not too far from him and sank wearily to the ground. Downing the last of her water she leaned her head back against the cliff wall with a heavy sigh and closed her eyes.

Minutes passed, and she did not move till the pain in her torn shoulder forced her eyes open. Reaching for her satchel she rifled though its contents until she found what she had been looking for. Pulling out the small jars of healing ointments she made a mental note to pay Cwendlwyn extra the next time. Eruviel struggled with the lid of one jar for a moment before setting it back down with a sigh. Her hands shook. Taking a deep breath she focused on calming herself. Calm, Eru. You will not do anyone any good if you cannot hold it together. But she was unsure if she could. It was not the memory of the citadel, nor even her battle with Mornenion that shook her. It was the horror she felt when Arathier first turned around to smile wickedly at her; it was when he had killed the hill-man and nearly crushed her arm. It wasn’t him. Not really, she kept telling herself.

The sound of footsteps brought her out of her thoughts and she looked up to see a young boy of the tribe, maybe thirteen years of age standing a few steps away. “I-I’m sorry, but I was looking for my brother,” they boy said, hope in is eyes. “He went with you. Do you know where he is?”

Eruviel blinked, then quickly took control of he expression. Of all my fortunes, she thought miserably. “What man is your brother, young one?”

“The one with really dark hair, Rainoth,” answered the boy.

Eruviel pulled herself to her feet, shaking her head. “I am sorry,” she said mournfully as she bowed at the waist. The vision of Arathier slitting the hill-man’s throat played over in her mind, and she shivered. “Your brother did not make it. Forgive me, I could not save him from the Numenorean.”

The boy’s eyes filled with tears as he shook his head. “No . . . NO!” he shouted, balling his fists. “This is your fault!”

Eruviel kept her head bowed. “I had him scouting a distance from the tower in an attempt to ensure his safety. He died honorably.”

“You left him behind?!” he shrieked. “That close to Carn Dum?!” Turning on her before she could speak he shoved at her wounded shoulder, his clenched fists shaking. “I hope he dies,” the boy spat bitterly, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I hope he rots in front of your eyes.”

“What is going on?” growled Daran, approaching the two of them.

About to crack, Eruviel swallowed a sob and stood straighter at Daran’s stern voice. “Nothing, my friend. The boy was just leaving.”

Giving her a hateful glare the boy ran away before Daran could stop him.

Watching the boy, Daran narrowed his eyes before turning back to her. “I’ll have to be harder on him in training,” he said firmly, motioning to her to sit. “No one speaks to you like that.”

Eruviel lowered herself back down to the ground, shaking her head. “Leave him be. He has good reason to be upset.”

“So does everyone else,” Daran replied as he knelt and looked from her shoulder to the jars. “Which one?”

Eruviel pointed out the proper jar before attempting to remove the broken pauldron. Daran batted her hand away and started in on the buckles. “Have the healers said anything?”

“He will live,” he said quietly, setting the piece of armour aside. “But the . . . thing inside of him has them worried.”

Eruviel winced as he pulled her shirt from the tender flesh and poured the ointment over it. “I do not know anyone alive who could get the spirit out of him,” she said sadly. “What do I do, Daran?” she asked quietly, not meeting his gaze. “I don’t want to loose him.”

Daran paused in the middle of wrapping her wound. “So you went through with it,” he said in a careful, neutral tone.

“Yes,” she nodded. “If he continues to sleep I need to leave him in your care. I need to head out for a few days. There is a party I mean to meet up with.”

“By the Valar, Eru,” Daran sighed. Keeping his stern gaze locked on her he nodded curtly. “You do what you think is best.”

Meeting his look she nodded and extended up her mostly good arm for him to help her up. “I will. Thank you, Daran. I shall find you later, but for now I need to be with him.”

– – – – – – – –

Arathier had woken. He was more quick to anger than usual, but he had still been himself. She could see the shadow in his eyes, waiting, watching. He had fumed about Daran and a dozen other little things, but when he realized she had been wounded most of the fight had drained from him. Keeping her reluctance to herself she fell asleep beside him, knowing her presence calmed him.

Night lingered on and she stirred from her healing, meditative dream. Rolling onto her stomach she stretched her hand out to Arathier’s side of the bed. He was not there. Maintaining her slow, steady breaths she did not move; did not open her eyes as the rest of her emerged from slumber. She felt his eyes on her. No, not Arathier’s eyes . . . his eyes; the demon inside of him.

Sighing softly she finally drew her outstretched arm back and tucked her hands comfortably under her pillow to where she had hidden a knife. The fact that she felt compelled to conceal it brought her guilt, but what else could she do? Closing her eyes she pretended to sleep. For, though he stood over her, watching her for the better part of an hour, he did not move towards her. When he finally turned and walked away her relief was short lived. She heard him draw his dagger as he walked out into the night. She knew where he was going.

Sliding out of bed she slipped her feet into her boots and took up her bow and an arrow before following.  Her steps silent, she shadowed him to Daran’s tent and as he put his blade to her old friend’s neck she swiftly drew her bow, setting the tip of her barbed arrow against his cheek. I have to snap him out of it before Daran kills him, she thought grimly.

“Drop it,” she growled, kicking her foot against the bed to wake the sleeping hill-man. “Arathier, I know you are in there. You must take back control.”

Arathier it hissed and spun around. “You won’t do it –” he began, his voice sounding demonic. But before he could finish Eruviel relaxed her pull on her string and punched him across the face, her wounded right arm screaming from the pain. The demon shouted and reached for her as he fell back but, having shot upright, Daran took hold of Arathier’s wrists and forced him to his knees before he could recover.

Even as Eruviel lit the lantern the black faded from Arathier’s eyes. His hands trembling, he wrenched himself away from Daran and scrambled to his feet. “Stay away from me!” he demanded, trembling as he retreated to the far corner of the hut.

Exchanging looks with Daran she looked up to meet Rath’s desperate gaze. “You are alright now. Did I hurt you?”

Arathier’s eyes grew wide as he started at her, bewildered. “Did you hurt me?! Eru, I don’t care if you did!” He retreated a step as she advanced one. “I said stay away from me,” he growled in a more natural tone. “I refuse to hurt you too.” His eyes then flicked over to Daran.

The hill-man’s eyes narrowed for a moment, but catching a glare from Eruviel he shook his head and gave Arathier a sad smile. “You came close,” he said, forcing a chuckle as he put a hand to his throat.

Arathier shook his head, his shoulders drooping.”I am leaving. Just . . . just for a while, Eruviel. I cannot risk hurting you. I need to learn about what is going on, and how I can stop it.”

“Rath, you leaving will solve nothing!” she insisted, making an effort to keep her voice steady. You can’t leave me too! “You cannot beat this thing alone. Please . . . please let me help you.”

Arathier nodded, the corners of his eyes welling. “I cannot hurt you Eruviel. What if this happens when you are sleeping like tonight? I could not live with myself if something were to happen. Especially if I was the one who caused it.” He finally walked over to her, his eyes searching hers for hope as he cupped a hand over her cheek. She wanted to pull back. She wanted to slap his hand away. But as much as she wanted to, she didn’t.

Searching his eyes she nodded and brushed a kiss on his cheek. “I do not . . . no. I understand,” she said numbly as she stepped back, diverting her eyes when she could no longer bear to lie through them. “Be careful, Arathier.”

 – – – – – – – – –

Eruviel bit back a wince as Daran fit her left pauldron back on. “I am so terribly late,” she muttered, all emotion drained from her voice. She had blocked every thing out. No . . . just Arathier. The pain was too much. His final words had fallen upon deaf ears. He had hugged her one last time, and she had not returned it. Then he was gone.

Daran purposefully tugged sharply on the strap as he tightened it under her arm, meeting her glare as he checked to make sure he had not missed a piece of armour. “You should not go, Eru. I am sure your friends have things handled without you. Dragons were never your specialty.”

Smirking she glanced to the road where Arathier had disappeared down an hour before lowering her eyes. “I told them I would be there . . . then all of this.”

He handed her her bow and reached over her shoulder to count the arrows in her quiver. “I don’t like it when you get like this,” said Daran darkly. “I cannot pull you out of it like I did when Cade –“

“I’ll be fine,” she interjected sharply. Sighing she looked up at her tall, old friend. “I won’t let myself fall that far. Not this time.”

Searching her eyes, Daran nodded curtly. “Are you sure you do not need to rest a bit? Meditate on something else to calm yourself?” he attempted.

That is almost funny, coming from you. Cinching her sword belt tightly around her waist she turned and began to walk north. “No. I need to kill something.”

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

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.)

A Belated Return: Angmar Part Two

This most definitely was not her brightest moment. They had been safe. Daran’s burns were healing, and Arathier and her had stopped in Tinnundir to rest their own wounds when news had reached them that Teryn, Arathier’s childhood friend that Eruviel had met only a week earlier, had been captured. Eruviel glared defiantly up at the Angmarim captain, bracing herself as his foot slammed into her abdomen. She glanced over to Teryn who was chained to the wall next to her through a haze of red, giving him a reassuring nod as he protected his face with his forearms from his own torturers blows.

Looking back she could not see a way around it, but she had been caught sneaking into the dungeon to free the man. While saving Daran she had been stabbed in the side with a dirk while Arathier had taken a bolt to the leg. There was no way she would have let him try to go after Teryn with such a handicap. The fast healing and high pain tolerance helped her out, but it wasn’t enough, and they had trapped her. The ache of dread in her gut did not come only from the Angmarim’s practiced kicks.

Teryn’s ruggedly handsome face had lost it’s color, but he smiled wickedly up at his captor and make a jest at the Angmarim’s expense. He got the reaction he wanted, but the beating only increased. Eruviel laughed numbly at the joke — it really was quite humorous — before the Angmarim slammed his fist across her face. Arathier said he would come, she told herself. If — NO! When she got back to Bree Anya would be sure to have her own lashings readied for her.

Spitting a mouthful of blood to the side an idea came to her. It was a bad one, she knew it, but they had to try something before they were carted away to Carn Dum. She would not go back there. Not again. Not like this. Dodging the second punch, her tormentor flew into a rage as his fist collided with the cold stone behind her. Teryn grinned over at Eruviel, even as his head was slammed against the wall. Spitting blood into the Anmarim’s face only made things worse for him and the twisted man drew out his knife, carving it through the muscle on Teryn’s shoulder. Teryn could no longer hold back a cry of pain.

Eruviel grunted, gritting her teeth as she took another kick to the gut. “Does this thrilling conversation have a purpose,” she asked hoarsely. She knew the beating had a purpose, but the silent, senseless torture grated on her nerves like fingernails on slate.

Teryn’s face darkened as blood trickled down his arm. “Well?!” he shouted as best he could, backing up her question. The Angmarim raised his knife to strike at him again and Eruviel could feel the panic rise. We BOTH have to survive, she told herself. In the blink of an eye Eruviel mustered what strength she had left and pulled herself up with her chains, sweeping her feet out. Tripping her captor, she brought the heels of her boots down with all her might onto the Angmarim’s face at the moment his head cracked against the stone floor.

Teryn watched in horror as his torturer and another from outside the cell rushed at her and pinned her down. Chaining her feet, they then proceeded to both whale on her. Everything began to dim. The excruciating pain filled her body and a harrowing cry clawed it’s way up her throat. Through the gap between her arms she could see that Teryn was being spared, but her relief was short lived when two more Angmarim entered and rushed at the man. She did not know how much longer it lasted, seconds — minutes, but a strange stillness settled over the room even as her body worked to numb the pain.

Blinking out of a bloody haze, Eruviel looked up at Teryn. Two new Angmarim sat next to them, quietly gazing towards the bars of the filthy cell. Teryn did not look as bad as she felt . . . and she hoped he was better off. They exchanged looks, both wondering how many days it would take till they could find a way to escape, if in fact they were not killed first. Then there was an echo of pounding feet making a mad dash down the hall. Teryn’s eyes widened as he looked over and Eruviel shifted her head to follow his gaze.

Arathier stood in the hall, panting for breath as his hands reached back for his knives. His eyes widened and Eruviel’s stomach sank, knowing he only found one. She felt like she would be sick when he did not look at her.

The Angmarim started from their day dreams and quickly moved to hold knives to the prisoner’s throats as Arathier and Teryn exchanged looks. “It’s all right, Arathier,” said Teryn quietly as his captors blade pressed against his throat.

Orome, Eruviel thought miserably, I know that look. Don’t you two make this decision! She ordered her throat to function; raged at her lungs when they struggled to do her bidding. She could not feel it, but her arms struggled against the chains that bound her none-the-less. “No,” she rasped, her voice finally reviving, “NO! Arathier — Teryn, I’ve lived far more than my share! You have hardly begun –” Her words were cut off as the cold bade pressed against her neck drew blood. Hot tears blinded her and she squeezed her eyes shut. Was this not what she was here for? To, if worst came to worst, take someone’s place? In the furthest corners of her mind she wondered if it was what she really wanted. Death. A noble one, a death that meant something, but death just the same.

Then it happened. As Eruviel’s eyes opened Arathier’s blade sailed over her head to sink into her captor’s face. The Angmarim’s knife fell free and she kicked it across the room and under the bars to Arathier even as the blade against Teryn’s neck did it’s work. Arathier’s face twisted in anguish as he dropped to his knees.

“We are not done!” she managed to yell as she fell over, unable to hold herself up. Her words snapped Arathier out of his sorrow long enough to pick up the knife she had kicked him, dropping the last Angmarim as he charged across the cell towards Eruviel. Tears stained the red painted floor beneath her face. Breathing became a chore as she watched Arathier break down the wooden cell door in a rage and crumple down beside Teryn’s now lifeless body.

“You — you have to burn his body,” she managed to rasp as her consciousness began to slip. The closer she drew to the darkness the suddenly more aware she became. She could sense somewhere in the massive citadel above them the presence of wights . . . and of something– no, someone far worse. “They wi-ill take it i-if you d-don’t.”

Arathier’s wide, sorrowful gaze finally turned and he began to move towards her. She felt his hand on her forehead as her lids drew closed. So heavy, she thought numbly. She wanted to apologize . . . to say something, but it escaped her, and she forgot everything else.

 _ _ _ _ _ _

She could feel it, every ounce of pain, every splintered and broken bone. Something else inside of her had broken as well. She could not tell what it was, but it’s shattered presence was beyond repair — a concept she had never been confronted with before, and it terrified her. In the darkness, lit with red flames she opened her eyes and instantly regretted it. A vast wall stretched out before her, hung with the corpses of her friends. This was worse than the dream she had had months earlier. Far worse. Eirikr, and Anyatka; Cwen and Threz hung in a line, followed by Adrovorn, Nillariel, Forthogar, and Rainion. Every face in Bree she respected followed. The Watchers of Bree decorated a row, followed by Wyllawen and her troop of friends, a dozen lines of Rangers, then halflings. A lifetime and more of friends and acquaintances filled the empty spaces as her eyes searched frantically for hope.

A tall, robed figure materialized from the shadows. She knew those eyes, and that wicked smile. Alagos stood before her, his head tilted like a viper waiting to strike. Then a wave of terror assaulted her. The massive, overwhelming presence approached her from behind and a scream of pain and fear was seemingly pulled from her lungs as the sudden sensation of her skin being torn from her body burned through her nerves.

The presence looked down upon her as she continued to scream against her will. Alagos dropped to a knee then prostrated himself before whoever it was that broke past her wall of defenses as if merely opening a garden gate. “My Lord, please receive my offering,” the Black Numenorian spoke, his voice filled with reverence and a foreign tone of humility. The gigantic presence bore down on her, drowning her in it’s rage and wicked pride.

But he couldn’t touch her. Suddenly something outside of her hell shook her. The call of her name, distant and filled with concern. And then she was falling. The hold they had on her slipped and it all faded away along with the wall of horrors and searing pain. 

A cool breeze hit her. The sweet smell of the sea filled her nostrils and Eruviel suddenly realized that her eyes were clenched shut. Trembling, she forced them open and a whole new scene met her empty gaze. She was surrounded by the summer waves of a blue ocean, hovering several feet above the surface. Looking at her arms to see her fair skin whole and gleaming in the warm sunlight she felt where all her scars should have been. They were gone. The skirt of a white dress swirled around her feet as she sped forward through the air, her long hair whipping about her. The beauty and relief that quenched her soul brought fresh tears to her eyes.

In the distance through the blue haze and wisps of clouds a white shore shone on the horizon. Could it really be? Anticipation swelled in her chest even as doubt sat in her mind, it’s arms folded. Should she really be here? Her progression slowed and she alighted on the gleaming sands even as a crystal blue wave of water tumbled over her feet. In spite of the peace that lightened her heart, in a way it was wrong, feeling the warm sand beneath her bare feet. 

Miles away down the beach the silhouette of a massive pillared forum rose from the shore in swirled spires. She felt a pull to walk towards it, but after a moment’s hesitation she turned only to be greeted by the last face she expected.

“It is cruel, really, that I was the one sent to see you,” spoke Adrovorn in his rich, deep voice as he pushed off of the rock he’d been leaning against with a shrug of his broad shoulders. His voice rolled over her like the blue waves that tumbled up the white sand. He walked towards her with his ever-confidant stride and she hugged her arms around herself, fighting the heart-wrenching urge to fly into his embrace. They stood facing each other, hardly a foot apart, a thousand words and wishes silently passing between them.

“Walk with me,” he said quietly, tucking his hands into his pockets. A slight smile curved up the corners of her petal-pink lips at the gesture, realizing she had picked up that little human quirk from him.

They walked side by side down the beach, listening to the other’s footsteps, neither one touching the other. “What are you doing here?” she finally asked.

“You could say I’m in between destinations,” he replied thoughtfully. Looking down at her his dark blue eyes shone sadly. “The question is, what are you doing here?”

Eruviel pursed her lips. “I was killed, I suppose,” she said quietly.

“Yes and no,” Adrovorn said as he chuckled. After another moment he sighed. “You know you have to go back.”

She knew it. That was what felt wrong. As much as she longed to stay she was not quite dead on the other side, and it was not yet her time. Stopping, she looked out to sea for a minute before turning her gaze back to him as he stood a pace in front of her. She had lost the meaning of her purpose amidst the veil of grief since his death. A part of her had withered away when he had not returned, and it had perished in the flames that had consumed the letter informing her of his death in battle. “Forgive me,” she said softly, her brows furrowing. “I let myself despair after you left.”

“I know,” Adrovorn nodded, moving to stand beside her and gaze out over the waters. “You shouldn’t have. You are strong, and I’d rather you live happily in honor of my memory.” The man let out a long sigh. “You were right,” he said slowly, “I should never have left you behind. My regret grew worse with every step I took away from you.”

“You were only trying to protect me, and for the most part, you did,” she said. A bitterness lifted from her as she spoke those words, and she wondered if it had not been Milloth’s idea for Adrovorn to meet her here. “It will take a long time still. A fear has sunk it’s claws into me.”

Adrovorn bobbed his head. “I take the blame for that as well, but you are going to have to work past it.” A playful smile then lit his face. “I see you have found someone to fill the gap I left behind.”

Eruviel could not keep back the soft, merry laugh that trickled past her lips. “No, he has not filled the gap. As intrusive as he is, I have learned that I can feel such warmth again, though not for him, as he so ardently hopes.”

“Good,” Adrovorn said with a satisfied nod. “Be prepared, my love. He is going to cause you a lot more heart ache in the months to come.”

“I have feared that . . . Now I am reaping the consequences of loosing myself, I suppose,” she said with a sigh.

Adrovorn looked down at her with a warm smile. “He’s not good enough for you. At least you dodged his advances.” His eyes searched hers, and like it was before, she sensed that he could see right through her. “You are fond of him, aren’t you?”

Eruviel hesitated, then nodded, understanding that he spoke of another. “I think I am. It is . . . unexpected . . . refreshing,” she said quietly. Softly biting the corner of her mouth, she raised a hand to put it on his arm, but stopped. “Might I . . . .”

He shook his head with a sad smile. “I could touch you, but we both know that if you touch me you won’t go back.”

Her mouth quirked with a smirk as she nodded, lowering her hand. “It is tempting, believe me, but the others might not forgive me. And if I really am able to return, then I suspect they are waiting with waning hope that I will wake up.”

Both of their eyes turned upwards as the light breeze picked up, tugging her towards the water. Swallowing hard, Adrovorn suddenly stepped closer and cupped her face with both of his hands, planting a lingering, tender kiss upon her lips. “I should have given that to you before I rode away that day,” he said quietly. Hovering, he then pressed a second kiss on her forehead before stepping back. “Things will get better. Just don’t keep trying to do it all on your own, if you can manage it.” Giving her a bittersweet smile, Adrovorn bowed his head, tucked his hands into his pockets, and turned to walk down the white shore as the sweet ocean wind lifted her up and carried her away.

Ruby Beach, WA

(first half edited from chat logs for tense and exposition))

A Belated Return: Angmar Part One

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A messenger ran ahead of them as Eruviel strode over the greying boardwalk in Aughaire. Arathier followed close behind, a stern expression replacing his attempt at a smile. She felt she same dread that flickered in his eyes. She had not been back in the five years since slaying Alagos. Her thumb played over the black leather string bound around her hilt. It was the only memento she had kept of that battle. That and the memories that still haunted her. Glancing over her shoulder to her tall companion she convinced herself that it was for the best Arathier not know. Not yet . . . maybe not ever.

Approaching the hut set aside for the hunters, Eruviel ducked inside to face the small gathering of elders and aged fighters. The half-dozen men look up at her, their angered looks melting into ones of surprise and relief.

“Orome be praised,” sighed one of the elders, exchanging bows with her. “We are glad that you were able to come.” Glancing behind her the grey-haired hill-man gestured towards Arathier. “And who have you brought with you?”

Stunned, several seconds passed before he could manage,”I — I am Arathier. A Ranger of the North.” Bowing politely, Arathier shot Eruviel a bewildered look.

The elder’s hard look softened slightly and he nodded curtly. “The Rangers are always welcome here, and any friend of Eruviel’s is ours.” Looking back to the elf a shadow passed over his face. “We think we found Daran.”

She could feel Arathier’s questioning look on her back. Eruviel took a small step forward, clenching her fists. “Where is he?”

The hill-man crossed his arms over his chest as the others looked away. “Dun Covad.” He then chuckles sadly, “When the others found out you were on your way they knew they had better find out some information or you would raise the Abyss.”

Eruviel laughed dryly, “It is good that they remember. Daran is worth more than twenty of them combined. ” Moving back to the opening she paused. “My old hut, still?”

The elder nodded. “I will post hunters along the lower ridge near Fail-a-khro in case you need them.”

Bowing to the room Eruviel glanced up at Arathier and she stepped out of the tent. The small hut on the edge of the village had not changed at all. Well, there were more weapons and tools scattered about than when it was her quarters, but Daran had always been messier than she. Stepping inside the empty hut she moved past the low bed, and a chair with folded men’s clothes on the seat, walking to a long, narrow table covered with weapons. “Take whatever you might need,” she said as she picked up a crossbow and a large pouch overflowing with iron bolts.

Arathier re-filled his quiver with arrows, taking two sharp knives from the table, discarding his old dull ones. “Eruviel . . . who is Daran?”

I need to start remembering to tell him these things, she thought sullenly. Arathier had not hesitated to say he was going with her when the news about Daran had reached her in Bree. Strapping the crossbow to her back she shot him a half-smile. “A very old friend. He’s a half Dunedain, half Angmarim. I rescued him from a battle in Fasach Larran when he was a child,” she says quietly, her tone neutral. Twanging her bow string she frowned and replaced it. “He must be nearly a hundred and thirty,” she said thoughtfully. Guilt stabbed at her. She should have returned to visit. He was the only family she had left from before.

Arathier offered her a slight smile. “As long as this man is good by you, I am fine. Being half Angmarim must have been difficult. I can respect that.” He examined the daggers he took from the table with approval. “These are very nice.”

Eruviel smiled with a hint of pride. “He got his taste in weapons mostly from me.” Shifting her sword belt she nodded. “Ready?”

Arathier nodded, though obviously unsure. “Where are we headed?”

Eruviel ducked out of the hut, her nuckles turned white as she gripped her bow. “To Fail-a-khro first, to see if they have and more information. From there we’ll take the back paths through Fasach Larran.”

Following her as she moved into a run down the hill a frown creased Arathier’s brow. “Lead the way.”

The grey land flew past them as they ran. Sprinting through the dark, her dropping a distant warg and Arathier cutting down an orc scout that tried to evade them, the emptiness that had overwhelmed her began to fade. Running in step brought back the same comroderie she had felt with Eirikr on their way to . . . . NO, she told herself as they charged up the path towards the outpost. There has been too much loss. I will NOT loose Daran too.

Eruviel slowed to a stop as they reached the first tent atop the hill. Her breathing normal, the only proof of their mad dash being the flush of adrenaline in her cheeks. “Bram!” she called out in a commanding tone to the Ranger standing guard with a few hill-men. “What news?”

Arathier came to a stop beside her, cleaning the blood off of his newly acquired daggers.

The scruffy man turned towards Eruviel, his face covered with a storm of emotions. “I was wondering when you’d arrive.”

Eruviel stopped in her tracks, giving the him a hard look. “What is it, Bram?” she asked, her voice faltering.

“They have him tied up on the wall,” the Ranger replied, not meeting her eyes as he glared to the north. “There is nothing we can do.”

Eruviel’s emerald eyes faded to black as she walked towards the Ranger, thoughtlessly brushing aside Arathier’s hand as he moved to comfort her. “And no one has gone up there?” she growled, her hand moving to her sword hilt. She could feel it; the rage boiling up like a beast inside of her.

“We have!” Bram replied solemnly, standing his ground. “Seven hunters died, Eru, trying to get him down.”

Halting, Eruviel clenched her fists. “What did they do, throw rocks?” she spat under her breath. “I’ll get him down,” she said quietly, gracefully pivoting to head out of the camp.

“You can’t!” the man shouted, giving Arathier a pleading look. “Eru, they are going to burn him!”

Arathier growled at the Ranger as he ran after her. “We are not going to let him die.”

His voice snapped her out of the rage that tinted her vision. Leaping forward into a sprint she dove off of the path into the shadows, Bram’s distant voice echoing behind her, “What are you — you five! Get the others and follow them!”

They raced over the dead earth, paving a path towards the dark towering citadel on the western slope of the mountain. In the darkness to her left she saw the line of hunters silently following, giving them cover. Motioning out to the closest man she cast her bow aside and pulled the crossbow from her back to load it. Arathier followed with a bit of effort as she led them down a narrow ravine to where a break in the wall stressed against the mountain side, a gap showing at the base.

Eruviel slowed as she squeezed through the hole in the wall. Glancing to Arathier she nodded upward as she slung the crossbow onto her back. Jumping up to grab a hand-hold on the crudely patched stone wall, she began to climb. Arathier shouldered his bow, quickly following Eruviels handholds and steps. She could sense the anxiety that surrounded him.

“You can still turn back, my friend,” she whispered down to him as they neared the top.

“Never,” he replied in a fierce whisper.

A wry smile curved up the corner of her mouth. About to reach for the  upper ledge the sound of heavy footsteps warned her in time and the two of them hugged the cold stone as a pair of orcs lumbered past. Counting steps she then reached up and pulled herself onto the top of the wall. Rolling, she pushed up from the floor and dashed up behind the second orc, slitting it’s throat. Arathier followed, killing the other before it could turn.

Running in a crouch to remain as hidden as possible by the shadow cast by the railing, Eruviel took the crossbow from her back and afforded herself a brief look into the darkness below the citadel. Having spent so many years with the hunters she knew where to find them as they fell into position. It seemed the older fighters still remembered how she worked. Speeding forward, they could see a wide balcony filled with Angmarim and orcs who half-encircled a tall pile of kindling, crowned by Daran bound to a stake. Fire sparked along the bottom edge of the dry wood, illuminating the man above.

Sprinting forward Eruviel shouldered the crossbow, a greater focus taking hold as the anger within her swelled.

Arathier followed her more slowly as he held his bow at the ready, nocking an arrow.

A small glint shone out from the dark beyond the wall. Good, they are ready. Letting loose her bolts into the fringe of the crowded enemy she shouted back, “Get down!” as she continued forward, cutting down one Angmarim, than another. A faint whistling carried through the air.

Either Arathier did not hear her or did not care for he continued on, charging into the enemy lines. He hit an orc between the eyes and then unsheathed his sword as he helped her carve a path towards the fire and the hill-man bound above it.

Eruviel dashed through the surprised and enraged mob, killing some and dodging around others, her eyes fixed on an Angmarim carrying a shield. Reaching her target she ducked under his attempt to shield-bash her and cut him down. Taking the shield she threw it back to Arathier as he neared her before running and jumping up the burning mound. Arathier snagged the shield and smacks an incoming orc with the front of it, stabbing it in the throat. He then raised it as he stood between Eruviel and the small wave of Angmarim that rushed him.

Eruviel could hear the whispered breath of arrows as she frantically tore at the ropes that bound the tall, thickly built man. His wide, pain filled eyes, grew bigger at seeing her. Cutting the ropes that bound him she grit her teeth to steel herself against the rising flames. An arrow fell from the sky and tinked off Eruviel’s shoulder guard.

“I will buy you time!” Arathier shouted up at her, stepping forward to parry an attack from the first Angmarim.

Nonono! she screamed at him as she finally pulled Daran free. “Shield up!” she yelled frantically after him as she grabbed Daran around the waist and hauled him out of the fire. Tumbling to the ground she landed on top and braced herself above her bloodied and battered friend, biting back the pain of the burns on her hands as the arrows shot from below rained down around them, bouncing off her armour and cutting down the enemy. She couldn’t see Arathier, but not getting shot by their own allies and keeping Daran alive overshadowed her worry.

“Well this is one way to be saved,” the man coughed with an attempt at a mischievous smile.

“No off-colored jokes,” she replied with a playful glare. “I brought a friend home, brother.

Daran arched a brow at her as he moved her like a shield to block an incoming arrow. “If we survive this I’ll–” He left his sentence unfinished as a coughing fit seized him and she could see blood on his hand.

A arrow grazed her cheek. “Augh!” she gasped, gritting her teeth and shooting Daran a look that ordered him to keep his concerned look to himself. From below she could hear the gate creak as the hunters broke through. “Can you walk?” Looking up she bit back a cry at seeing Arathier run towards them, blood soaking his pant leg at the thigh.

Daran’s amber eyes darted over to Arathier and narrowed as he nodded. “I want to live,” he said sternly, letting Eruviel help him to his feet. “I’ll crawl if I have to.”

((edited from chat logs for tense and exposition))

Small Victories

Eruviel remembers.

Heat blasted up through the iron grate beneath their feet. The sound of shouts and clashing weapons rang from outside the chamber doors that Daran held shut. Fighting as a single unit, Adrovorn with his sword and shield, and Eruviel with her bow and knives had (with heavy support from Myrthrost and Milloth) held their own against the Black Numenorean. Adrovorn’s great shield had taken such a beating that she could barely make out the white tree emblazoned on it’s face.

Behind them Adrovorn’s soldiers drug fallen comrades behind a shield wall. The surprise attack had been betrayed to the enemy had slain half of their numbers. It was a staggering loss. Milloth and Myrthrost now stood on the opposite side of the room behind the shields, one casting spells to counter the sorcerer’s attacks, and the others to protect those that still survived.

Parrying Alogos’s strike, Eruviel ducked to the side as Adrovorn rushed past her to slam his shield into their opponent. Adrovorn’s eyes were bloodshot, and his shield arm had begun to shake from trauma. As he dropped to a knee to protect her from another strike, Eruviel knew his injury was more than that. Alagos had spoken of darkness and of his master through the duration of the fight, and Eruviel could feel his words seep like poison through her veins. How well she remembered the feeling. Meeting Adrovorn’s look Eruviel knew he could not hold out much longer. Neither could she.

“How convenient that you came back, what ever your reasons are. You have saved me the trouble of hunting you down,” Alagos sneered. His eyes, pale from his craft, flashed with pain as he wrenched a barbed arrow from his side. In spite of the hate and lust for power that hung about him, Eruviel could sense his fear of death. She could see how he struggled for breath, and knew that he was aware that she saw it.

“I will not live with your shadow following us wherever we go,” Eruviel growled, stepping up beside Adrovorn as she shifted her grip on her weapons handle. How many of his spies had she killed in the past eight years? We will not be free till you are dead.

Eruviel trembled as Alagos’s voice, rich with his Adûnaic accent clawed through her mind. You fight in vain. I find pleasure in tormenting the only Eldar to escape me. Know you will have no victory. If I die, someday my brothers will find you.

Adrovorn must have read the fear that twisted across her face, or possibly heard the same voice as well, for they leapt forward to attack at the same moment. Being nearly equal in height and broader than their foe, Adrovorn stepped inside the Black Numenorean’s reach and brought the edge of his shield down on Alagos’s wrist to disarm him. Grabbing him by the throat Adrovorn then threw Alagos over the alter at the chamber’s center. The evil man had barely a second to find his feet before Eruviel flew across the space between them with a shout. Her blade aimed at his chest, Alagos stumbled back as she continued to fight against his hold. His eyes suddenly grew wide with shock and pain as the tips of the iron spikes jutting from the wall blossomed from his chest.

Time froze. Blood trickled down the fuller of her blade from his hand to her cross guard. A fire burning several yards beneath them on the lower level hissed as streams of red coursed over the fallen Numenorean’s armour and through the gaps in the iron floor. Eruviel’s arms trembled as she gripped her hilt, staring up at the mocking eyes of her greatest fear while the color drained from his face, still trying to grasp what had just happened.

“So, you’ve done it,” coughed Alagos, blood filing his mouth. Releasing her sword his arms fell limply to his sides. “You will never be free,” he whispered hoarsely as the last breath of air escaped his body.

Rescued from Himbar.

Eruviel remembers.

Tightly bound rope bit into the flesh of her wrists as two Angmarim priests tied the other ends to the pillars she knelt between. A small trickle of red ran down her arms and it surprised her, for she didn’t think she hand any blood left to bleed.

How many weeks had it been since her capture? Or had it been months? She had cursed herself for being careless, but not for the lives that had been spared. A gathering party, deep in relatively safe territory had been ambushed and Eruviel had been struck down as she helped the last Trév Gállorg woman to safety. She had been drug away by the enemy’s horses and thrown into a small, cold cell below the crypts of Imlad Balchorth. After three days without food or water, and only beatings to fill the time between, she had been led out, and had nearly escaped before they brought her to the general of Himbar’s tower. Only the cursed man was not there.

A Black Numenorean man stood unnervingly calm by the throne-like seat at the head of the long banquet table. Her stomach had sunk as every orc and Angmarim left the room. He is going to break me, she thought hopelessly. She sat in the seat he pulled out for her, and drank the water he poured her, but as soon as he spoke it took all the will she could muster to guard her mind from the venomous words that spewed from his mouth. The echo of his sorcery still reverberated through her limbs. Two days and nights they talked, bickered, and finally fought. It was her own fault for physically retaliating, being exhausted to the brink of collapse. The Numenorean Alagos, had touched her, hoping for a reaction. He had gotten it, and Eruviel was sure his healers had had plenty of mending to do. She was able to fight him off for a time, but in the end she laid crumbled on the floor, beaten and bleeding.

Since then sleep had come in short spurts. She had been questioned, tortured, forced to fight, deprived of rest, and the night before she had been the decoration for a feast. A small occasion to congratulate Alagos for finally capturing the elf maiden who had been a thorn under his foot for so long. The thought of death tempted her as she hung in the cage above their cruel laughter.

Twice she had nearly escaped. First from Himbar, and they moved her to Carn Dum, then two agonizing weeks later from there. It haunted her, the darkness and cruel hands dragging her back from the hope of daylight. Eruviel had abandoned trying to keep her strength, putting all her effort to withstanding the sorcery that threatened to engulf her mind. Enraged that she still resisted him, Alagos had ordered her to be flogged, and so now she knelt, slumped over, waiting, the last remnants of her dress that had been returned to her hanging from her like a wights’ shroud. Dirt and blood and bruises served better in covering her and gave color to her skin that had lost all of it’s glow.

He will come, she told herself without a hint of doubt. It was the one hope that she still clung to. It did not matter when. Either he will make it, or every one of them will die by his hand. He will be my wrath.

“Worthless scum,” growled the deep voice of the Numenorean that made her insides twist with fear and rage. Alagos crouched before her, moved her hair out of her eyes and grinned wickedly at the hate-filled glare that she gave him. “Still holding out, hmm? You will cave, Eruviel. You will be torn and then turned to serve our great master. Or . . . maybe I should hand you over to my brothers?”

The starved remnants of her shivered at the thought. Then a slight, fresh wind blew across the ruined courtyard. She felt it glide over her and she knew it would not be long. Finding a lingering wisp of strength she righted herself and pulled tight the ropes that bound her, staring the cruel man in the eyes. “Not before I rip the black heart from your chest,” she growled. How she hated him. She imagined it; her bonds snapping and her hand tearing through his black silk robe and the flesh beneath it. What a terrible, wonderful thought it was to envision her cold hands being warmed as his life drained away. There would be nothing left of him for them to resurrect.

Smirking, Alagos rose gracefully to his feet and motioned to the waiting orcs. “Flog her, but not too much.  When you’re through take her to my chambers. It is about time she is finally broken. And after? I suppose we can hand her over to the men for the night.” A sharp pang of fear twisted in her gut as Alogos stooped and kissed her cheek. Then his brisk, confident footsteps echoed down a side corridor in time with his cruel laugh. Orome, anything but that. All this time she had been spared that, the one failed attempt ending in four broken, throatless orcs rotting in her cell for… two weeks? In retrospect, any one else would have done that at the start. But not Alogos. He liked pain and feeling his victims break beneath him as his final triumph.

A light glinted in the distance . . . how far, she did not know. Raising her chin in defiance, she kept the ropes pulled taunt as two orcs unraveled their long whips and brought their arms back to strike.

One, two. They paused, then three, four, the whips cracked through the air. A pained cry escaped from her lips before she could catch it. Seven, eight . . . . eleven, twelve, she counted, hot tears trickling down from her blood-shot emerald eyes as she clung to consciousness. Where are you?

As if hearing her desperate thoughts two bolts whistled through the air, cutting through her ropes and sticking into the plaster behind her. Her tormentors distracted, Eruviel took the split second advantage to reach back and wrench the iron arrows from the wall. Give me strength . . . just a little more strength. Lunging forward, she plunged them into the eyes of the two orcs and ran forward towards the tall figure that fought his way towards her. Daran!

Dodging an Angmarim who dove to tackle her, Eruviel used her falling weight to drive the man’s head into the stone floor. Rolling away from the body she scrambled forward, stumbling as she struggled to rise in spite of the pain that tore through her.

Killing the last priest, Daran dropped to his knees to catch Eruviel as she tripped over her own feet, her legs finally giving out. Red splatters covered his arms and his voice was filled with a mix of concern and relief. “I have you, dear friend,” he whispered as he set her down, pulled off his shirt and gently fit it over her head. “You’re safe now. I’ll take you home.” Scooping her up in his strong arms Daran set off in a run, leaping back over the broken wall the way he had come.

How ironic, she thought to herself. “A-Aughaire . . . is everyone safe?” she asked as she let him pull her close, clinging to his warm chest. She watched back over his shoulder, praying that she would not see the iron helm of Alagos appear over the rise.

“You have been in this wicked place for two months and you worry for us?” Daran inquired, his voice filled with amusement as he dodged through empty streets towards the lower gate. “The tribe is fine, though the hunters have been in a rage since you were taken. I have not seen them fight back the enemy with such zeal in a long time.”

“G-good,” she managed, weariness overcoming her. Everything hurt, and nothing hurt. Shock numbed  her limbs and she prayed that she would pass out before it wore off.

A commotion arose from the mountain behind them as Daran rounded the last ruined house on the outskirts of Himbar to take a hidden path south. “Sounds like we made it out just in time. I cannot deliver you to Milloth dead, now can I?”

Eruviel managed to raise her head to look up at him. “M-Milloth is back from Dale? When did he arrive?” She wanted to weep from relief. Between Daran and Milloth, she would be safe. Her brother could heal her, mend the fractured pieces of her mind and spirit, and set her to rights

“He was half a day’s ride south when I departed to find you. He has a band of men from Gondor with him, as well as a dwarf.” Daran ducked under an outcropping rock and pulled them into a shadowed corner in time to avoid being detected by warg riders. Tense minutes passed as the enemy ran by one way, then back from where they’d come.”I — I am glad that I did. If  . . . .” his voice caught and trailed off as he looked down at her. The gleam from overwhelming emotion that flooded his amber eyes caused her’s to widen.

“Daran, no-” The words were halted as he suddenly pressed his warm mouth against hers. She couldn’t stop him or even try to pull away. She had no strength to. Years of longing and months of rage-filled grief poured out of him through that kiss. He had told her once how he felt, but then kept it to himself. She loved him fiercely, but as a brother and a friend. He never complained, never protested, being a stern, hardened man, but she knew it tore at him. Bringing a frail, pallid hand up she cupped it gently over his cheek as she kissed him back, letting his lips discover hers. Since he had finally given in, and her being in no capacity to protest, she could at least give him this; only this.

Finally pulling away, Daran hung his head, unable to meet her eyes. “Forgive me,” he whispered, his voice weak. “I . . . .”

Looking up at him sadly, a hint of regret in her eyes she simply nodded, pursing her lips together. “I understand, Tithdaeron. We shall not speak of it. But let us be gone from here.”

A smile creeping up one side of his face, Daran peered out of their hiding place. Nodding that the way was clear he shifted her in his arms and set off on in a run.