Letting the Dice Fly
The flotilla of ships crossed the vast ocean swiftly, propelled across the waves by an unholy wind.
Sauron, once Lord of Mordor, now David Saeran of Malcolm Industries stood at the bow of the grey ship he had claimed for himself and watched the distance between himself and land close in with each passing moment. Even though there was nothing but sea in the horizon, Saeran could see the shore that he would be soon stepping upon. He could see it like the minions that were awakening throughout the world, waiting to rally to his side in one last battle. It did not matter to Saeran the outcome of this conflict. It was a strange thing to admit but it was the truth, as much as he was capable of experiencing the emotion.
This was about showing everyone who he was.
Not the pathetic servant of Aule, not the dark enforcer of Melkor's will or the Ring lord who put all his faith in a trinket of gold but rather himself to the core, stripped of all titles. Sauron who had lifted himself to become more than just another Maiar spirit, that despite his defeats had left an impression that not even the Valar would be able to dismiss. He was always better than them even if fate had made him weaker. However, his lack of power had never been an obstacle. He had got this far on wit alone and before the end, whether it be for himself or the enemy, they would know it.
They would know that will and intelligence could push even a spirit to become greater than a god.
The dragons were still aloft above the flotilla although Sauron could feel their impatience at having to remain tethered to their seagoing brothers. They longed to surge ahead and reach land, to see Arda once again and feast on the sweetness of human meat once again. With their keen senses, they could smell the banquet awaiting them once they reached land and only his command over them kept this basic appetite from overcoming their actions entirely. The watchers were the same, some had scattered into the vast ocean but most were remaining close. There was far too much temptation in the water for them to remain restrained. Already, whales and dolphins had made for tasty bounty.
There was much to do once they reached the shores of the Angel Isle, Saeran thought as he saw the waves rushing past the vessel. His new power had far reaching consequences in that it could be felt spreading it ugly tendrils throughout the shadow world, giving life to creatures that had become inert from years of his absence. His army was stirring across the globe. Beyond the watchers that were accompanying the grey ships to Arda, there were those who had remained for so long in the dark places of the world, waiting for the right time to emerge. With his coming, they were awakening at last to brave the light once more. As he looked skyward, he saw the Urloki giving in to their urges at long last. They surged on ahead, eager for the taste of new riches to hoard like bower birds with shiny toys.
By the time he reached his destination, the Nine would also have been restored with power in a way they had not been since the War of the Ring. He would send them out, leading armies of newly birthed Uruks and the all the fell beasts that still that would answer his dark call. This time there was no ring to bring about his downfall and those who sought to destroy him would have to do it face to face. This time, he would be no disembodied eye relying on others to do his fighting. If the enemy wanted to destroy him they would have to contend with him alone. He knew that Aaron Stone would be coming. Isildur's reincarnated heir would cross a thousand oceans to reach his woman and when he was within sight of her, Saeran would show him how much she no longer belonged to him.
Revenge could be such a sweet morsel.
This had to be hell or at least by Eve McCaughley's definition, her version of it.
Trapped on the ship, her guards watched her cautiously and it was all Eve could do to keep from screaming. Fat, plump bodies rested on the wooden floors of the cabin she had been locked in. Poised on arachnid legs with mandibles clenching like fists as their compound eyes continued ensured that their master's prize did not give him any cause for trouble. Eve had never liked spiders. In fact if asked, she would have readily admitted she suffered from a rather annoying case of arachnophobia. Therefore, being forced to share a cabin with versions of the foul insect that were the size of large dogs, was enough to threaten her sanity. With her back to the wall on the bed she was sitting on, Eve stared at them with wide eyed terror and yet her fear was such that it wouldn't let her take her eyes away from them even for a second.
She had no weapon, nothing to fight with if they chose to attack and their mandibles wet with ooze, seemed watering for a taste of flesh, held back only by their masters' orders. She was shaking so badly that she was almost starting to fear what effect this would have on her baby and the thought of her child made her want to weep a new. She had woken up to these nightmares and had screamed herself hoarse for anyone to come to her aid. Throughout her life, Eve had prided herself in her ability to maintain her calm no matter what the situation. She had been a New York City cop and after stumbling onto John Malcolm and the world that had given birth to him, Eve had thought she had seen everything.
At this moment, she would have been grateful if Saeran had made an appearance.
The things did not move as they continued their surveillance. They just watched with their blood red eyes, thinking indifferent thoughts that Eve could not even begin to fathom but was certain had something to do with devouring her. She remembered how terrified she had been when they had been under the earth in Romania, surrounded by a horde of these things but that was nothing in comparison to the mind numbing fear she now felt. It was torture without ever marking the skin. She sat on the bed, hugging her knees under her chin, not daring to close her eyes.
In this state, Eve remained trapped very effectively within her prison, able to see through the portal of the cabin and knowing that Valinor was no longer in horizon. The ship was making good time, she could tell by the winds outside and the undulating motion of the deck above the waves. She thought about Aaron and the others. She thought of Saeran's claim that he had killed one of them already. Who? Whose life had he taken? It could not be Aaron's. Saeran would not have been able to contain his pride if that were the case. The question haunted Eve on the rare moments she could forget she was sharing a cabin with two great spiders.
Suddenly the door swung open and Eve, already anxious and afraid, felt herself jump. David Saeran stepped in, a little smile formed on his face after he surveyed the situation. His eyes narrowed in calculation as he realized the paleness of her skin was not due to her captivity but to her jailors. It surprised the Lord of Mordor in that he who had always used fear to such extremes had managed to reduce this woman to near hysteria without even intending to do so.
"Leave." He said simply.
That was all that was needed, an order from him and she saw them lift up those, sickeningly plump bodies and shuffled through the open door. The hard points of their legs, scraping against the wood caused another shudder to run through her body. When they left the room, Eve allowed herself a loud gasp, expelling the tension and cold fear she had been forced to endure the last few hours since waking up and finding those things in front of her.
A hand touched her hair and she looked up at him, surprised. Saeran was standing over her, a gentle palm brushing the dark strands of her hair, his expression was unreadable as he looked at her. "I'm sorry, I did not know." There was almost tenderness in his voice.
"Know what?" she snatched herself out of his reach by shrinking away.
"They're good guards," he indicated the spiders that had departed. "I had no idea that you feared them so much."
"What do you care?" She said hoarsely, off balanced by this show of concern.
"You are so beautiful," he looked at her, soaked in her features, so much like Thingol's daughter who had sung her song to her human lover. The whole of Tol Sirion had been lost in that voice. He had been no different. Saeran knew that when he took Eve from Valinor, it was not merely for his vengeance against Aaron Stone but because deep in the core of him, exacerbated by the human shell he was forced to wear, was a need for her he had not recognized until he saw her face the first time. He failed in his opportunity to capture Luthien so long ago. It was not a mistake he intended to repeat again.
"What do you want from me?" She said through gritted teeth, her hatred for him burning like the heat of a thousand suns.
"I do not know," Saeran answered and surprised himself by the honesty of that mission. "You look so much like her." He confessed.
"I'm not Luthien," Eve declared, "I'm not even Arwen. You see resonance of what was, this, me, is who I am. I can never be either of them."
"Perhaps not," he replied, closing his eyes for a moment and remembering that vision of perfection that had stood before the Tol Sirion and sang her song. Its beauty had touched the heart of even one as such as he and in the place where even dark lords dreamed, he still heard her voice. "But it amuses me that you are mine because it means he will not have you."
"I will never be yours!" Eve shouted angrily. "I'd sooner die first."
"Oh that is an inevitability for certain," he looked at her coldly, his ire raised because her declaration had dissipated the vision in his mind of her earlier self. "However, how you chose to walk out of this life is entirely up to you. Do not doubt me when I say I could make those years stretch into an eternity. What you experienced in the last few hours will be pale in comparison."
Eve felt silent and knew that she was beaten.
"What about my baby?" She dared to ask.
"I do not know," Saeran stood up but it was a lie. He did know. He knew perfectly well what purpose that babe would have. Life slumbering in the womb, weak and helpless. It was a boy. He knew it even if she did not. A son, a child of Isildur's line. The possibilities for vengeance were too delicious to ignore. "However," he leaned forward so she understood this clearly, "if you run from me. If you attempt to harm yourself, the minute he slides out of your body, wet and bloody, I will feed him to your jailers. Do we understand each other?"
The horror of it was beyond Eve, she doubled over and retched. Digestive fluids escaped her onto the wooden floor, acid burning her throat as she heaved. "You...wouldn't..." she gasped as she gagged. "You couldn't..."
"I have done far worse things in my time my dear than make a meal of an infant, this course I take I sense has been destined for me. I know it," he said looking at her dispassionately. "Fortunately, I know there is no hell waiting for me and even if there were, I would have been the one to breathe life into it. Don't assume anything. I may wear a human shell but I carry none of its weaknesses. I need nothing from you. However," he said glancing at the door, "I trust you will behave yourself while you're on board?"
"Do I have a choice?" She bit back. "You've threatened my child."
A surge of anger filled him because it was more than obedience that he wanted from her. Unfortunately, the feeling was so new and alien that it stung and he reacted in kind.
Staring at her, he said nothing at first and Eve was about to question what he was doing when suddenly she felt something tickling against her skin. She looked down and saw spider crawling up her arm. She let out a startled cry and then saw more on her shirt, on the bed, in her hair. She could feel spindly legs crawling against her scalp, mandibles biting at her flesh, their cold bodies skittering across her skin. Eve let out another horrified scream, practically falling off the bed in an effort to rid herself off the accursed things. Legs scratching against her lips, crawling over her brow, nesting in her dark hair, the sensation almost made her gag.
Eve fell on the ground screaming, clawing at her skin, too afraid to scream in case the foul thing crept into her open mouth when suddenly, just as suddenly as they appeared, the tiny arachnids disappeared again. She stopped struggling with a start, shaking still as the memory remained fresh in her mind. She looked around her with wide-eyed terror and saw none of the things. She and Saeran were the only living creatures in the room.
"I know what frightens you my dear," Saeran said leaning over and offering Eve his hand. "I don't need guards or threats to ensure you will obey. Make any attempt to leave and you will spend every waking moment of your life with what you just saw."
"Go to hell," Eve spat but she was defeated and she knew it. He was right. He did know what frightened her and as he had just proved, he was not above using it.
"Not before you go there a thousand times first," he said with a little smile. "Now," he looked at her. "I'm going out onto the deck. You will join me."
Eve wanted to refuse but she had no choice, she was trapped and at the very least, he would drive her insane if she did not obey. At the worst, he would make good on his threat and harm her baby. Either way it was no choice at all.
Swallowing thickly the lump in her throat, Eve replied, each word leaving her lips bitterly.
"Yes," she nodded. "I will join you."
There was a white rabbit at the end of all this, Isaiah was certain.
However, Alice's little nirvana was not quite so dismal. Howling winds whipped at their exposed faces despite fruitless attempt to shield themselves with upturned collars. The wind brought with it spitting rain that felt like needles against the skin. Standing on a long stretch of beach that Isaiah was certain would have been pristine in better weather; he saw angry waves charging furiously up the shore before the surf held the line back again. Looking over his shoulder, Isaiah was comforted by the sight of the Connecticut waiting patiently in the deep bay while they continued their exploration of the New World.
They had chosen their landing site near what appeared to be settlements and even from this beach, he could see buildings as well as ramps for boats leading into the water. The number of well-worn grooves pooling with water indicated that quite a bit of shipbuilding took place on this island. However, the design of these buildings was like nothing Isaiah could even begin to recognize. A career navy man, he had traveled across the globe and not once had he seen anything comparable to the artistic beauty of this land's architecture. It reminded him of something built by the ancients; something that would remain beautiful and remembered, long after the race that built it disappeared into the mists.
"Fuck me Captain," Purcelli whistled at the sight of the structures. "Where the hell are we?"
"I don't know," Isaiah replied and started walking towards the coastal settlements. "Come on Purcelli, there's only one way to find out."
"Sir," his master at arms, Lt. Turpin called out, "look!"
Following Turpin's gaze and the hand pointing them from the beach into the landscape beyond the shore, Isaiah saw a group of people approaching. He noticed long hair swaying in the wind and surmised from what little he could see at that distance that there were both men and women in the company approaching them. Purcelli and Turpin reached for their sidearm, their shoulders squaring off as if preparing for an attack as it was the way with military men.
"At ease," Isaiah ordered. Their stance was making the rest of the landing party nervous and the last thing the captain of the Connecticut wanted was a firefight.
"Captain, we don't know anything about them," Purcelli insisted. "They could be hostile."
"What are you on fucking Star Trek?" Isaiah barked, "I said stand down." He shot his first officer a look that told Purcelli that the next time he had to repeat himself, the First Mate of the Connecticut would find himself brigged and shot.
If he was in a good mood.
Properly chastised, Purcelli retreated first and Turpin was smart enough to obey before the Captain took a bite out of his ass too.
"Look," Isaiah said quickly, "there's something about this place that's not quite kosher. Trust an ol' sea dog on this when I say that I don't think the conventional approach is going to work out here. The first impression these people have of us should be of the US Navy waving guns in their faces on their own soil."
In truth, Isaiah did not have to explain one damn thing to any of the landing party but these men had served with him long enough to deserve one. Purcelli in particular. Isaiah met the First Officer's gaze, offering him a conciliatory look, which Purcelli took with a slight nod of acknowledgement. Holstering his weapon, he waited for his Captain's lead.
Isaiah started across the beach, his men following him automatically without his needing to give further instructions. He made his way across the sandy shore, intending to meet the people approaching and hopefully getting some answers as to how in the hell this island had suddenly just appeared. However, as he approached them, the lack of definition caused by rain and wind dissipated enough to allow him a clear look at them. The group was made up on men and only one woman he realised and while two of the men appeared to be perfectly normal specimens of the twentieth century, the same could not be said for their companions.
It was like something out of a fairy tale and even as the thought raced across his mind, Isaiah flinched at how ludicrous it sounded. However, there was no other description that would fit. Dressed in clothes that seemed almost medieval, they seemed as if they had stepped more than just out of another time but possibly an entirely different world from the one he knew. There was nothing hard or coarse about them, no awkwardness or evidence of struggle that had carried man through most of their history. They seemed almost graceful and yet masculine nonetheless. These were men but not by any definition Isaiah had ever known. And the woman...
Even with hair plastered to her pale skin, her dress clinging to her body in saturated sheets, she was beautiful in a way that transcended all modern descriptions of the word. It was like seeing a rose covered in morning dew. Something inside him shifted slightly, mesmerized by these beings, almost luminescent in their beauty even when surrounded by grey and troubled weather.
For a moment he thought he saw something in the manner, something that immediately made him balk at the absurdity of it all. Yet it still remained in memory nonetheless.
The memory of starlight.
The Yanks were getting nervous. This much Bryan could tell as he approached. The Captain was studying Legolas and the twins with close scrutiny, no doubt noticing the same difference that both Aaron and himself had noticed the first time they had encountered the elves. Bryan tried to think of what to say to the man, how to explain that suddenly, there was an island in the middle of the ocean that no one had ever seen before. How did that make sense to a mariner who's probably traveled these shores all his life?
"Be careful," Bryan said to Aaron and the others as they neared the strangers. "These are soldiers and they're probably blood nervous as it is."
"Nervous?" Ariel looked at Boromir's reincarnation. "We are no threat to them."
"They don't know that," Aaron explained to Legolas' wife who had no experience with the men of the modern world save the ones who had come to the shores of Valinor in recent years. "If I had to venture a guess, they're probably a little confused on how this island suddenly appeared on their scopes."
"Their what?" Elrohir looked at his brother-in-law with a raised brow.
"Nevermind," Aaron said dismissive, knowing it would take a long to explain even if he understood the first thing about submarine sonar.
"Shut it!" Bryan hissed as they got closer. Bryan was armed but he had no wish to have their conversation end up in a gunfight, now when the best chance of going after Saeran was to hitch a ride in their submarine.
"You turn a lovely phrase Bryan," Legolas remarked dryly.
Bryan threw him a look and held his hands up at chest level in a gesture of good faith that he did not intend harm. "Good day lads," Bryan said casually.
Aaron allowed Bryan do the talking as the man knew soldiers better than a New York psychiatrist ever could and at this stage, he was willing to submit to anything that permitted them to go after Eve and rescue her from Saeran's clutches. If they needed these men to do it then Aaron was more than willing to crawl on his belly to ensure that they had every reason to provide assistance. He could understand why Bryan was eager to handle the discourse between the two groups. The elves had been through enough today and even the patience of immortals could be tested after the mischief that had been unleashed on Valinor since Saeran's escape, to say nothing of what Eve was probably enduring in Saeran's clutches. If Bryan's efforts to diffuse the situation help matters along than Aaron was eager to assist in any way he could.
"Hello," the submarine captain greeted in response, a clearly suspicious look on his face as he regarded them. "Who are you people and where is this place?" He demanded, wasting no time in revealing what was on his mind.
Bryan was certain by his taut delivery that the question of identity was directed primarily at the elves but he was nevertheless eager to side step the issues of elves and Middle earth for the moment.
"This is Valinor," Bryan answered, aware that the name would make little sense to the American. "The home of these people," he regarded Legolas and the other elves.
"What?" One of navy men exclaimed. "Valinor? What the fuck does that mean?"
Bryan saw Elrohir's back straightening in annoyance. The elf had been in the modern world long enough to recognise the discourtesy of using that particular word especially in front of Ariel.
"Lt. Turpin shut up," the captain growled. "I apologise for his conduct," the man said quickly, before the offence was allowed to escalate into something worse. "However, you have to understand that we're in something of a state of shock."
"As I," Legolas muttered under his breath as he stared at the leader of the new arrivals. He almost smiled but held it under an expression of bemusement. Eru did enjoy his little jokes, the former Prince of Mirkwood thought as he looked at a face he had beheld long ago in Arda. The face of a great lord, a prince among men and finally and most importantly, an old friend who had returned to him as Aragorn and Boromir had been restored.
The Prince of Dol Amroth. Father in law to Eomer and uncle to the sons of Denethor.
"I understand," Bryan said sympathetically. "There's a lot to explain and some you will have trouble believing."
"This island shouldn't be here," the captain declared firmly, as if this fact was something vital he clung to, that held together the flimsy walls of reality. Bryan could see it in his eyes, the realisation that he entered something that could not be explained, despite the evidence of it before their eyes. It was not just the captain but the others with him, edging towards belief, clinging towards the security of facts and geography.
"But it is still here," Ariel spoke up, stepping forward, beyond the reach of her husband's arm around her shoulder.
"Ariel," Legolas spoke but she silenced with a gesture of her hand and a smile.
Men could be such boars as times, she shook her head. What was needed here was a woman's touch.
"Our home exists," she said with a smile, using the language of Arda spoken by Eve and the other humans who now lived in Valinor.
Isaiah could only stare as she stepped forward. Even with her hair plastered across her white skin, her dressed clinging to her form in sheets of wet fabric, she was compelling. He suspected that the natural urges of men locked away in a boat for long periods of time, without the benefit of female companionship had much to do with their strong reaction. From Purcelli to his master at arms, they gaped at her like schoolboys, enamoured by the sway of dark wet locks, brushing against almost flawlessly pale skin. Isaiah tried to shake off the reaction but it was impossible not to become lost in those clear blue eyes, so filled with warm invitation and friendship. Isaiah who was far too old to be swayed by any pretty face, found himself feeling lightheaded just looking at her. The rest of his men were having the same reaction to the woman who seemed almost luminous in comparison to them.
"I'm sure it does," Isaiah swallowed, trying not to fall prey to the limpid pools of her eyes. "However, it doesn't explain how this island managed to just suddenly appear." He looked past her shoulder at the tall blond man who had greeted them. "
"We have always been here," she said smiling. "You simply lacked the light to find your way here, until now."
"Who are you madam?" Isaiah asked, almost bowing. There was something reverential about her. Something not quite real. "How have you come to be here."
"Like this island, I have always been here," Ariel smiled. "I am Ariel, daughter of Endemore and Miriel. Would you be so kind as to tell me your name?"
Isaiah swallowed thickly and answered, "certainly, " he offered her a gallant smile. "I'm Captain Isaiah Hill of the USS Connecticut," he introduce himself and then proceeded to do the same of his crewmen before he faced her again.
Bryan hid his surprise at Ariel's manner in handling the new arrivals. Glancing at Legolas, the former M16 man saw the elf caught between a mixture of amazement and annoyance at the attentive stares his wife was receiving from the navy men. Whether or not elven women knew the effect they had on humans, Bryan was uncertain. He knew that when he first arrived on Valinor to be confronted by the beauty of Celebrian and Galadriel, Bryan had felt like a teenager. Though he would never admit it, being Galadriel's presence still left him somewhat overwhelmed. Like he used to be with his fourth year chemistry teacher, Miss Atkins with her long blond hair and too short skirts. Nevertheless, the siren-like quality Ariel was exuding towards the men was smoothing the way and Bryan was rather grateful for it. Honestly, he was holding back too much inside too be caught in an exhausting process of trying to convince these men of where they were and the unreality they had just stepped into by arriving on these shores.
For Legolas, it was the first time he had ever seen Ariel so assertive and the emotion he had always hidden from her, or so he thought, of being a little disappointed at how unlike Melia she was, surfaced involuntary. For one hundred thousand years, Ariel had been his constant companion in Valinor. Yet, not once in those years did she exhibit any real trace of the woman Legolas had given his heart too back in Middle Earth, the only person he had considered dying for because living without her had been unimaginable. Yet he knew Ariel carried Melia's soul inside her, Legolas could feel it. The eternal bond between them could not be recreated and when Legolas had met Ariel, he had recognised it instantly.
However, as much as he loved Ariel, he wondered how much of it had been in reaction to that previous bond. He loved Melia's soul but since they had found Ariel, drenched and frightened in the wake of Sauron's attack, he was starting to see that he barely knew his wife. How was it possible to love someone without knowing the first thing about her? There was a strength to Ariel that he was only now seeing and Legolas felt a deep sense of shame at realising that he had bothered to seek it out before this.
"Please," Ariel continued to speak after making introductions of her company to the new folk, "our lands are in peril. We need your assistance."
"Peril?" Isaiah looked up. Who talked like this and as soon as he thought it, it stabbed his consciousness that this was just another piece of the puzzle at how bizarre this situation was.
"Ariel," Bryan spoke up, not certain he wanted to spring balrogs and dragons on these men. They had not even been confronted with the fact that they were conversing with elves. Mythological monsters and a dark lord threatening the world with Armageddon were going to take some easing into. "I don't know whether that's such a good idea."
"Sauron will soon be arriving at their shores will he not?" She asked in challenge. "If they do not know now, they will certainly understand when he arrives at their shores with his fell host. Can we not save the time and showing them what it is they face when he arrives?"
"Who?" Isaiah demanded, trying to make sense of what was seeing and feeling like he had walked in on the second act of a play in Swahili.
"My wife is right," Legolas spoke up and stepped forward to take his place next to her, "Bryan, they should know. If we are to acquire their assistance to find Eve then they have a right to know." He offered Ariel a little smile of encouragement, as well as brushing his fingers gently across her shoulder in a gesture of intimacy the others would not mistake.
"Captain," Aaron finally found his voice. "We need your help but we need to show you exactly where you are. If we tell you, you're not going to believe us. You really need to see it for yourself."
"Both of our homes are in danger," Ariel added, looking at Isaiah. "And we do not have a great deal of time." Ariel thought of Eve and the infant inside her and shuddered inwardly. They have very little time indeed.
All this bordered on the fantastical but as well as being a mariner, Captain Isaiah Hill was also a soldier and the oath he took to protect his country took precedence over all other considerations. The woman spoke of danger, danger not only to her home but to his. He thought of what had attacked his boat, a biologic that was capable of doing 35 knots, matching the speed of a nuclear submarine, upon which they had to fire a torpedo to stop. He and his crew had not simply imagined that and if it was related to the sudden appearance of this island, Isaiah needed to find out the full scope of the danger she spoke of.
"Alright," he glanced at his men and he saw Purcelli and the others showing their agreement with his decision. Not that he needed it really but still it was good to know that they were behind him.
"Show us but one thing first," he met Bryan's eyes directly.
"Go ahead," Bryan answered wondering what was on the man's mind.
"What's with their ears?"
Their power had almost withered to nothing.
Since the leader of their number had been destroyed and their master taken beyond their reach. They lingered like wraiths, diminishing faster like smoke in the wind. For the first time in too long, they felt real fear. The fears of the evil are dark insidious things, swirling around their consciousness like vile ooze, viscous and cold. Forced to remain in the darkness below the world, they waited for the end to come, quaking in terror at the arrival of the thing that they had alluded for as long as they knew. Even when their flesh had been the stuff of mortals, they had tried to outrun the monster but Eru wrote himself their doom himself. It could not be denied. They had sold their allegiances and ultimately their souls to escape it. When the last jewel of the Silmarils had passed from the world of men to the forbidden realm of the Valar, they knew that they would elude it no longer.
Beneath the earth of the lands once ruled by their stolen master, the Nazgul had awaited for death to come.
"Are we done then?" Adunaphel asked in the darkness below.
"We are done," answered the one who in the old days was known to all as Khamul the Easterling. "Without His power we diminish. Soon we will return to the shadow world."
"Forever," Indur's voice hissed. "We failed him."
And himself as well, the Nazgul thought sullenly. He had dreamed one day to reclaim the former seat of his power, Mumakan, to ride the war oliphants to victory, trampling underfoot all their enemies. Enemies, like weakling Eldar who fled Arda like cowards and the humans who had driven his beloved mumakils into extinction with their cursed domination of the world. So many wondrous dreams dashed because of their terrible failure.
A general murmur of agreement rippled through the black, little more than a slight shift of ill wind. They had failed to recover the jewel housing the light of the great trees and in their failure had doomed not only themselves but their great lord, now a lowly prisoner of the Valar. The hated, cursed Valar who sat in their ivory towers, caring little about the world and yet presuming to rule over it by sending out their Eldar pets, like flies bloated with blood to feed on a rotting carcass.
Beneath the lands of what was once Mordor, they sat in dominion over the freshly birthed Uruks who were turning on each other like ravenous dogs now that they were bereft of any real purpose. All of them filled with rage, their promise unfulfilled as they continued to harness a growing malignancy of berserker fury that would consume them whole if not unleashed. So many grate plans had come to ruin when their lord had been taken. The foul humans who had stolen him had left so many dead and if the Nazgul were able to feast on hatred alone, then they would have been restored to their former glory.
For Andunaphel who had once been commanded by his lord to make sturdy the fortifications of Dol Guldur, it stung particularly deep because an army waited for his instruction. The rage and power of these Uruks were a forced to be reckoned with but robbed of any guidance or leadership, they would never be anything more than a violent rabble. Andunaphel had waited for years for this master's whore to breed the Uruk so that he could mould them for the Dark One's use. Now like all else, that hoped had diminished into nothingness.
The eight wandered through the catacombs. Disaffected and without purpose. Lingering in the mortal plane because without their master, their journey to limbo was nearly complete. Not quite death and not quite living became more intolerable when one had no substance to change anything about them. Their presence still gave the Uruks fear and to some degree the eight were able to command their rabid arm beneath the surface of Arda. Like their wraith masters, the Uruks could sense doom though they had not presence of mind to truly comprehend it.
"What now?" Akhorahil asked.
"We diminish," Khamul spoke, his unearthly voice little more than a hiss. "We fade forever into shadow and do not return from it as Morgul was diminished."
"He was not diminished!" Ren, another of his brothers spat. "The human waste that was Denethor's youngest son killed him!"
"The Silmarils killed him," Khamul corrected, unable to abide that the strongest of them had been taken by the weakling child of a lowly steward, not even the captain of Gondor.
"What does it matter?" The horse man lamented. "He is dead. First at the hands of the Shield Bitch and then by her weaker consort."
"You will not speak of Morgul in that manner!" Khamul bellowed. There was little power left to him but he would not see Morgul besmirched by one of their own.
"What manner?" Uvath the Horseman, formerly of the Variags and once Sauron's hand in the city of Minas Ithil, barked back defiantly. "It is the truth."
"I will have your tongue!" Khamul shouted again.
"Good luck if you can find it," Uvath snorted in derision, "or your own for that matter."
Uvath's hope was a well run dry. After languishing in these confines for so long, the Nazgul longed for the freedom of riding unfettered through the night, feeling the wind rushing past him as he thundered forward in perfect unison with the beast beneath him. He had not been in Sauron's command so long that he forgot that particular pleasure. Even when they had been restored to the world of men, Uvath had been thoroughly disappointed to learn that the symbiosis between horse and rider had been discarded as a pastime of the privileged. The cold mechanical beasts that men used for their travels did little to inspire him despite its advantageous in speed.
Khamul snorted in disgust at Uvath's weakness. His brother had always been more interested in hedonistic pleasures instead of serving their master's will. It did not surprise the lieutenant that in their master's absence Uvath had finally revealed it to them all. "You are pitiful," he hissed snidely.
"We are all pitiful," Uvath retaliated, almost shrugging to some degree. "Without our master we are nothing and yet we continue to linger here like frightened children because we are fearful of venturing out in our diminished state, as if any of them up there could harm us."
"That is the same reasoning that saw Morgul killed," Hoarmurath snorted in equal derision. "Complacency makes us all weak and unguarded. We should never underestimate the Edain, male or female, big or small. They have outlasted all the mortal races, the dwarves, the periannath, the orcs, the trolls, ourselves even. Such endurance should be viewed with caution."
"We will never fight them again," Indur lamented. "We will diminish into the shadows and that will be the end of us."
"Will you cease your portents of disaster!" Khamul shouted and suddenly, it felt as if a swell was rising in him, a surge of power that surged quickly through his wraithlike form and had to be expended. Indur flew across the room, slamming into the wall. Khamul was about to react to the sudden burst of energy when his entire body was suffused with pain. Throwing his head back, he uttered a scream through his unseen lips. However, if it was help he wanted, then none was forthcoming because the rest of his brothers were screaming in similar agony.
Throughout the cavern, the Uruks hearing the blood chilling screams of Sauron's Nazgul froze in fear. The banshee wails that echoed from the deepest corners through the largest cavernous, made all who heard it cringe and then cover their ears. There were more than screams in the air but rather the dreadful shriek of pain as if the fabric of hell itself had been torn asunder. Many joined the terrible sound by adding their own voices, bellowing into the darkness in solidarity for whatever horrors being visited upon their Nazgul masters. For them, they had known no other teachers than the wraiths who had guided them since their emergence, feeding their hatred of man with magnificence tales of the dark lord Sauron.
Power was filtering through them.
Khamal could feel it coming to life within the dark ooze of blood inside his long dead body, transmuted by the shadow realm to allow nothing to escape it, even light. For a moment, he could not understand how this could be. Their master was beyond their reach. He was a prisoner of the Valar, his great powers confined within the ruined flesh of his mortal shell. They had struggled to reach him for months and had been able to sense nothing of him. Yet the power that filled them now was familiar, infusing them with power they had not known since Sauron had been at his strongest.
As the Nazgul screamed and suffered, in the middle of the cavern floor, a dark piece of fabric, little more than a blob of sheet materialized on the ground and began to rise. Slowly and surely, air beneath it seemed to swell and it started to grow almost like some dark seedling infused with life. The fabric seemed to increase in volume as it rose higher from the floor. Suddenly, the blob became sheets that hung loosely, like draperies swaying in the breeze. The shape beneath became more pronounced as the material pressed against it in its movement, the shape of a leg, the bow of joint, until shoulders rolled into view. Lifting up, the head raised and the man stood in the center of his brother's cloaked, his face hidden beneath the hood, radiating two pinpricks of crimson light where his eyes should have been.
Morgul was alive.
Cast into limbo at the hands of a human, he had languished in despair. Alone and fearful that he would never know again the companionship of his brothers or glory in the power of his master's presence. His hate kept him alive, reminded him that he could not allow his consciousness to dissipate into non-existence. He would have his vengeance, not only on the Shield Bitch but her weak husband, who had burned the flesh from his bones and scattered his soul into limbo using the light of the great trees. They would surely pay and Morgul refused to die until that day came.
Still his faith had been eroded and just when he thought that it would never come, that he would be trapped in this realm forever, Morgul found himself facing the great eye, breathed in flame, powerful and magnificent all at the same time. The eye stared at him, it became his world, his sun, his life as it has been since the day he had slipped on the ring that would place him in Sauron's service for all time.
It is time, Morgul.
Master...it is you? Is it really you? He had asked of the great eye.
It is I, Morgul. Sauron. I cannot have you languish here my servant. I need you in the world of Arda.
I have been slain by the light of the great trees.
You are not slain, Morgul. No one can take from you the unlife I have granted. They may commend your spirit to this forgotten place but whilst your soul is chained to mine, you will live while I live.
Help me from this place my lord. Help me from this place and let me resume my service to you.
You will join your brothers who will be as they were before the One Ring was lost, before it all went wrong. I am stronger now than I have ever been. We need no fear of Morgoth returning to reclaim what is his, I have dealt that aristocratic fool for the last time. My power now rivals that of Manwe and I have ensured that the rest of Eru's bastards will not interfere. We will turn Arda like a pig on a spit. I am coming with all the darkness that have been chained in forbidden vaults of Mandos. You must unleash upon the world, every agent, every beast, everyone who would serve in our case, find them and let them do their worst. I want there to shadow and flame, blood running through streets. We will fill the air with so much destruction that they will retch on their terror. Arda was ours once, it is time to remind the world of that fact.
This is the moment, Morgul. We will take Arda or burn it to a cinder.
Standing in the center of the storm, the Lord of the Nazgul, waited for his companions to replenish their strength. His crimson eyes illuminated the walls of the cavern as he waited. He could hear the rumbling concern of the Uruks beyond. They wanted to approach but feared to do so. Elsewhere in the underground fortress, the great spiders who had been thriving quite plentifully in the darkness, feasting on the sustenance provided by Uruks, the occasional human and whatever animals that might make a home in these caves were also twitching with anticipation. Unlike the orcs, the spiders could feel the return of Sauron almost as acutely as the Nazgul was filling the return of their master to the world of men.
Remembering Sauron's words, they would be unleashed upon the world soon enough. For now, his brothers needed to be appraised of their instructions.
"It feels good does it not?" He asked them as they started to recover from their sudden restoration.
"Morgul," Khamul looked at him. "How is it possible? Our master is free!"
"Yes," Morgul nodded, the gesture evident only by the slight flutter of his hood. "He has broken free of the Valar and has been restored. He is returning to Arda even as we speak. We have much to do."
"But what of the Valar? Will they not attempt to retrieve him?" Akhorahil asked, although his voice was decidedly lacking in its earlier apprehension. His restored strength made him bold and he was eager to return to the world of men, to lay claim to it as Sauron had always believed they would.
"The way is clear of the Valar or Melkor," Morgul explained to his astonished but grateful brothers. For them, hope had been lost. This restoration and the news of Sauron's imminent arrival were almost too good to be believed when there had been so many disappointments already. "The master is returning to us and he brings with him all the host of the forbidden vault, the denizens of shadow that had been chained to the afterlife by Mandos. They have sworn their allegiance and they travel with him now."
"Then we shall go to meet him!" Khamul exclaimed proudly and the others echoed his sentiments.
"We will meet him indeed," Morgul almost smiled. His lips spreading across his unseen face in amusement and relish. "We will meet them with our armies, with all the beasts and allies we have hidden away for too long within these walls. Finally, they will see the light and we will crush the world of men and run the streets red with the blood of those who have stood against us."
"What of the Eldar?" Dwaw inquired. "They will move to stop us."
"They are nothing." Morgul retorted. "Without the protection of the Valar, they are weak and their number too few to impede us. Even if they dared to emerge from the Undying Lands, which they will not, the race of men knows not what they are. Men will not ally with them, not as before. The Eldar will stand alone and without the alliance of men, they will fall."
"It matters not!" Uvath said excitedly. "They cannot stand against us. We are restored and we are capable of vanquishing any army of Edain or Eldar that chooses to do battle against us. The prophecy still stands, we may not be killed by any man and there is not a jewel nor woman who can change that."
If they could see, they would have seen Morgul grinning.
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