Chapter Twenty Two
The Cleansing Fire
The instant that Sauron tumbled off his fortress, the Nazgul knew their lord was in danger.
Legolas watched in confusion as the Nazgul suddenly broke off their aerial battle with the elves and flew immediately toward the fortress. The situation was far too reminiscent of the moments preceding the fall of the dark tower at Bara-dur when the One ring was cast into the fires of Mount Doom. The Nazgul had raced away desperately to reach Frodo Baggins who had somehow managed to enter Mordor and reach the only place the ring could be destroyed permanently.
"Telrir! Do not let them get away!" Legolas ordered. "If they race to their master's call then something has gone wrong"
Then hold tight, Son of Thranduil for we fly hard.
"It will be done," he answered and turned to his wife. "Ariel!"
"I heard!" She replied, already crouching down lower against the eagle's back, clutching the soft, golden feathers as hard as she could.
Legolas did the same and as he leaned down, noticed that Telrir had passed a similar message to the other eagles because as the Nazgul tried to escape, they were quickly intercepted. Telrir swooped down on the Nazgul he was pursuing, his powerful talons bared as he worked to unseat the enemy from his mount. The Nazgul pulled out his blade, ready to attack when Legolas pulled armed his bow and fired a haphazard shot from over Telrir's wing. He was mindful of Telrir's warning but he was also conscious of the great harm a Nazgul's blade could do to Telrir if struck true.
The arrow flew downwards and struck the Nazgul dead centre. The dark creature screeched because elven blessed arrows would burn and he stumbled back in his saddle before tumbling over the side. He fell to the earth in a billowing cloak of black. Once Legolas had removed the rider, he retreated back next to Ariel.
"What do you think has happened?" She asked.
"I do not know," Legolas answered, unable to shake the feeling that something terrible had happened.
Meanwhile, now that the Nazgul was unseated, Telrir renewed his attack with ruthless savagery, grappling the winged beast with his razor sharp claws and then pecking at its elongated throat with his equally formidable beak. Legolas and Ariel held for dear life as the two creatures fought each other, keeping their head down as wing and tail clashed against each other like duelling swords. The two elves felt as if they were caught in a hurricane as the two beast fought. As each creature wounded each other, the elves could feel Telrir's pain as its own feathers became stained with blood.
Finally, it was the winged beast that yielded as black blood ran dark rivulets down its serpentine throat when it finally ceased its struggles. The creature plunged to the ground below, its body lifeless and limp. Legolas watched its descent and then scanned the sky for the efforts of the other eagles. Other battles similar to the one that Telrir had fought continued. Eagle and serpent battled for dominance as Telrir's message to his brothers ensured that no Nazgul could go to its master's call.
Legolas tried not to think what that mind mean for Aaron, Bryan and Fred and forced the dark fears from his thoughts. Once Aragorn had chose to let Frodo continued the quest to destroy the ring alone, despite the reservations of his heart and it had proved to be the correct decision. Legolas had to believe that he had done the right thing by standing by and allowing the three to surrender themselves to Sauron's forces. Besides, there was still much to be done.
"Set us down Telrrir," Legolas said quickly, able to feel the great bird's pain and wanted to ease its burden somewhat. "You are hurt."
I am Greenleaf but I can still fight, Telrir assured him.
"Set us down nonetheless," Legolas returned, stroking the bird's feathers soothingly, as if he could will his own grace into Telrir's body. Here was a wind lord older than time, Manwe's own messenger and he had done well this day. "The Nazgul may not be able to reach their master quickly but they will still try from the ground. We must stop them."
"Yes," Ariel nodded as she saw other Nazgul and their mounts falling to the ground in defeat. "We still need to protect the Edain from them."
As you will, Telrir spoke and began the descent to the battlefield.
Eric had thought he'd seen everything. However as he and a number of mystified soldiers watched the swarm of dwarves (yes dwarves) come out of nowhere to help them, he decided that he'd never see an end to the wonder of the ancient world he'd stumbled into. They were shorter than humans, the tallest of them being perhaps five foot but no more than that. However, it was clear that these dwarves were not the product of a genetic aberration. They appeared to be as normal as any full size person, save for their stature.
Dressed in dark leathers and skins, with designs that sat comfortably between the Victorian period and the 1930s, they launched themselves into the fight with a ferocity that rivaled their enemy. Their weapons were also unusual, ranging from swords, axes and to more sophisticated projectile weapons that shot metal bolts of incredible strength judging how easily they penetrated the thick armour won by the trolls.
Crouched behind an upturned truck, possibly the same one that had been flipped over by the troll that went after Miranda earlier, Eric and a group of British Special Forces soldiers were unleashing a deadly volley of gunfire and grenades at the enemy. The air was thick with dust and even though night was creeping across the sky, the heat from all the weapons firing had made the temperature warm and uncomfortable. Eric had lost sight of Miranda and wanted to break off and find her but he'd been driven to this refuge by Uruk-Hai fire.
Poking his head past the edge of the truck, he emptied another magazine into a group of Uruks that were advancing on their position. He'd learned quickly that the creatures were violent and strong but also unintelligent. Their goal was to destroy anything in their path although it seemed that strategy was not their strong suit. They simply ran blindly into death, displaying foolhardy courage. Still, their numbers were considerable and every time they were put down, more of them appeared to take the place of their fallen comrades.
The Uruks he was firing upon scattered, taking cover behind anything that might provide a respite from gunfire. One of the soldiers beside him, a lieutenant named Tomlinson, tossed a grenade into the thick of them. The grenade fell to the ground with an audible thud before an explosion followed, raining the area with dirt and pieces of Uruk Hai.
As the dust cleared, Eric crept out from behind the vehicle to see it was safe to move when suddenly a golden haired dwarf who was wearing dark skins that made him look like something out of an old serial, came out of nowhere to greet them. Strapped to his was a scabbard holding a sword while he himself was clutching a formidable looking battle axe in his hand. "Come on then! They've got reinforcements coming from the hills."
"Reinforcements?" Tomlinson who joined Eric was quick to demand, "Where?"
"Behind us," the dwarf retorted gesturing in the direction past ruined ramparts. "Spiders and wargs."
"What the fuck is warg?" One of the other soldiers behind Eric asked bewildered and sounding just a little overwhelmed by all the supernatural creatures that was joining the battle.
"Think of a wolf the size of a cow," the dwarf said helpfully before running off, no longer content to explain any more to the humans if they were going to just stand around. "Gwere! Come on!"
His call enlisted more than just one dwarf as three more appeared jumped out of a fighting hole, their weapons dripping with dark blood. "We're behind you Finnan!" One of them called out after they clambered over the edge back to ground level. Without hesitation, they were hurried after their comrade.
Eric didn't need any more prompting than that. Truth be told, the dwarves gung-ho demeanour gave him wounded spirit a well needed boost. They knew what to be done and were getting into it and right now, with the hurt Eric wanted to dispense to the enemy, it was an infectious mood. Throwing a glance at the soldiers, he declared, "Listen mate, I don't know what you lot are doing but I'm going with these blokes. If something is sneaking up on us, I saw we give them a surprise?'
"Too right!" A voice called out in agreement from the group. "Let's show those ugly fuckers how its done!"
"Yeah! Come on Sir!" Someone else threw in as well.
Tomlinson, who knew when he was fighting a losing battle, shrugged and broke into a grin. "Right lads, let's go hunting! I always wanted to shoot a wolf the size of a cow..."
"How could you let him do it?" Frank exploded after Miranda opportunity to explain to him how Bryan, Aaron and Fred had surrendered themselves to Sauron.
"There was no other way we were going to get close to the bastard," Miranda declared, feeling the guilt she had suppressed at having let them surface with swift ferocity. The decision hadn't sat well with her but at the time, it didn't seem like they had any other choice. Now that Frank knew what had happened, Miranda found it difficult to defend the decision to him or to herself.
"Maybe it was but didn't you see it in his eyes?" Frank demanded, "he doesn't plan on making it out of this alive! With Tory gone, he doesn't think he's got anything to lose!"
Miranda did see and she also suspected as much. However, she could no more deny Bryan the freedom to make the choice any more than she could deny it to herself if it were the either of her children's lives were at stake. Both she and Bryan had been trained to make the sacrifice for the greater good if necessary.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, trying make him see that she hadn't made the choice lightly. "You know as well as I do, how stubborn he is when it comes to these things. Do you really think I could have stopped him?"
Frank swore under his breath, mostly in frustration at the brother who wasn't here for him to take his anger out on then at her words. Of course, Miranda was right. If Bryan had made the choice to go, there was nothing in heaven or earth that could change his mind. On the way here, he'd seen Bryan taking the chance to put his affairs in order. Maybe this was Bryan's way of finding Tory again.
In the middle of the battlefield, with so many dying around him, all could Frank could think of was his brother.
Until the sound of a Nazgul's terrifying screech chased all other thoughts from his mind.
Both he and Miranda exchanged glances and spun around, trying to discern from where the sound was coming. The spine chilling cry had managed to make the sound of exploding artillery and gunfire seem distant and tame. Miranda was standing ramrod straight, her eyes scanning the battlefield, searching for the Nazgul who had uttered that scream whose sole purpose, Frank had learned, was to put the fear in men's hearts. Elves were immune to its power because the elves didn't scare them.
It didn't take long for the Nazgul appeared. The dark robed wraith was cutting a swathe through the soldiers that was unfortunate enough to get in its way. Miranda stared at Sauron's trusted servants and debated what was to be done. If Saeran had summoned his servants then it could not bode well for Fred, Bryan and Aaron. She hadn't wanted to admit to Frank that she was more frightened for the little girl with the sad eyes than she was of the MI6 agent who might have gotten it into his head to die.
"Frank we've got to stop that bastard," she turned to her husband. "Its heading straight for the fortress and there's only one reason for that."
Frank nodded in understanding. The wraith hadn't had yet seen them which was fortunate, but it was clear that the creature had a purpose for the direction he was taking. "Fair enough but its not like the last time. I don't have a simaril to shove down that thing's throat and its at full strength now."
"I have an idea," Miranda after a moment's consideration. "You might not like it."
Morgul's painful descent to the ground was halted when Adunaphael had spirited him away on his winged beast to make answer Sauron's call. However, the bastard elves had intercepted them with the eagles and Adunaphael's steed had been injured. The beast couldn't carry them both and so Morgul had been set down before his brother resumed the race to reach their master. Alone, he had set out for fortress on foot and realised as he reached the ruined fortifications constructed around it, that it was not merely men and elves who were fighting Sauron's army. It seemed the long absent dwarves had selected a most inopportune time to make their return.
It mattered little, he thought, the masters power was at its zenith. If the tide turned too much against them, Morgul had ever confidence that Sauron could defeat the enemy all singlehandedly.
As he marched into thick of the battle, the human soldiers who encountered him made some pitiful attempt to slay him. As if their crude weapons were any match for the Witch King, with his dreaded Nazgul scream and Black Breath. The ones who had not scattered when they heard his scream had succumbed to the Black Breath and had collapsed helplessly to the ground while orcs closed in and hack them to pieces. Morgul could sense Sauron's fury but his master's power had not waned. If anything, it was stronger than ever. It burned like a sun in Morgul's consciousness with a purity that was almost distasteful.
Suddenly, something struck him in the back. Something sharp that made him sway and stagger on his feet. While the Nazgul couldn't be killed or destroyed easily, they did feel pain and when he reached behind him, he felt the smooth finish of a metal bolt protruding from his lower back. Uttering a growl of fury, Morgul tore the thing out of with a grunt before swinging around, his hands reaching for his infamous blades.
In retrospect, he should not have been surprised who was facing him down.
"Where did you think you're going?" Miranda asked almost mischievously, carrying the dwarf weapon that Frank had saved her with earlier.
"Shield Bitch..." Morgul hissed and then tossed aside the mithril bolt covered in his dark blood against the ground, staining the dirt.
Miranda's eyes narrowed. "Morgul is that you?" She continued to smirk, prompting him forward. "I can never tell you lads apart. Maybe you should try wearing different colours, you know, like the Wiggles?"
Taunting him was dangerous, Miranda knew that but she needed to hold his attention. This plan she had concocted with Frank would work no other way. Watching his advance closely, she was ready to react to any attack he launched at her. She was conscious of the swords he was carrying, one long and one short. Both deadly. The elves had told her a bit about Morgul in Valinor. She knew that her original incarnation had almost died from being pierced by one of them. She hadn't realised that it was Morgul she'd be engaging when she devised this plan but the fact that it was Morgul made it easier. The others didn't have a personal vendetta against her; Morgul didn't just want to kill her, he wanted her entire family and like Bryan, there was nothing she wouldn't do to keep them safe.
"That dwarf weapon isn't going to save you this time!" Morgul glared at her aware that he shouldn't be indulging this. However, his desire for revenge against this female was almost as strong his devotion to his Master. Rushing forward, he swung his blade at her, his cloak swirling around him like dark smoke.
He was astonishingly fast and Miranda barely side stepped the broadsword that whooshed past her as she turned around as he ran past, pulling the trigger on the bolt gun. Miranda fired the dwarf weapon and a deadly spike flew towards the Lord of the Nazgul who spun around and swatted it with the expert flick of the shorter weapon. It bounced off the dark metal of his sword with a loud clink before landing harmlessly in the ground.
With the expertise of an experienced swordsman, he jabbed the broadsword at her again and Miranda stumbled backwards, losing her footing. She went down into the dirt on her rump and looked up just as he was ready to bring the blade down on her head. She rolled across the dirt, still holding the bolt gun and fired once again. The spike struck him on the shoulder and he cursed at her.
"What will you do when that weapon is exhausted?" He sneered, showing how little he was effected even with a spike jutting out of his shoulder. "You are and always been just a woman. Good only for the rutting. You were lucky the last time. "When I am done with you, I will drive this spike through your eye so the last thing you'll see is your children before I feed them to the orcs!"
"You talk too much," Miranda snapped, retreating on her haunches, wanting to put distance between them even those he was stomping towards her. She forced herself to remain untouched by his gruesome threats to her children. Stick to the plan, she told herself when suddenly, something caught her attention and she halted her retreat, staying put for the moment as Morgul glared down at her. It was imperative that she did not run.
"Too bad you'll never get the change to see my children!" Miranda spat at him before shouting on the top of her lungs. "NOW!"
Miranda scrambled to her feet, not waiting to see Morgul turning around. She discarded her weapon behind her and just kept running.
"Welcome to the 21st century, you fucking Dementor knockoff!" Frank Miller growled and pulled the trigger on the RPG 32 that Miranda had shown him how to use. The portable rocket launcher fired its payload at the Witch King. The missile struck Morgul dead centre that exploded in a fiery ball of flame that consumed the wraith whole. There was a scream, very different from the banshee's wail that had frightened so many both in the Third Age and in recent days. Frank thought he might have seen the shape of a man in the flame but he couldn't be sure. When the fireball died out, there was nothing left behind. Not even the Nazgul's dark cloak.
"Miranda," Frank called out, "where are you?"
Miranda was standing on mound of rubble, the wind blowing at her hair. She was staring at something he couldn't see and when he called her, she turned to him. Her face full of grief, like Hecuba watching the ruin of Troy. There were tears running down her cheeks and his stomach hollowed seeing her like that. Frank bolted forward, his heart pounding. Suddenly, the victory against the Nazgul felt like ash in his mouth.
When Miranda saw his approach, she hurried down the mound and intercepted him. Her hands clutching his cheeks as she looked into his eyes, her sorrow apparent. "Baby, you don't want to see this."
Frank's eyes widened, her grief telling him the terrible truth she didn't want him to see. He broke free and ran forward shouting, "BRYAN!"
Standing at the edge of the parapet, Aaron stared down and tried to find Bryan. Unfortunately, he was so high up it was near impossible. He stood there, almost shaking with anguish and fury, still reeling with shock at what Bryan had done. In retrospect, he should have known that this was Bryan had always intended. That for the second time, he was going to catch the tiger by the tail no matter what the consequences.
"Why?" He turned around finally and demanded of Fred. "Why did you let him do this?"
Behind them both, the Uruks were unsettled by what had happened. They were jabbering at each other, fighting their brutish instincts to attack because they had seen how the little girl had frightened their master and if Sauron himself could feel fear, then they had good reason for caution.
Fred did not answer Aaron immediately. She faced the Uruks and spoke simply, "leave us now or suffer as your master's fate."
One of the Uruks took a step forward but froze when the girl's eyes flashed bright like dwarf stars. The warning in them was enough and they retreated from the parapet, growling in impotent outrage at being dismissed so summarily but too afraid to remain. Once they were gone, Fred returned to Aaron's question.
"It could be no other way," Fred said sadly. "Bryan's sacrifice has forced Sauron to abandon his mortal shell. Sauron knew that I gave men free will beyond the Music of the Ainur. As long as he remained within the body of man, I would not act. Now I can do what is necessary to bring this to and end."
"There should have been another way," Aaron whispered, inconsolable. "I should have been the one to do it. Its my wife and my son that was in danger."
"And that's exactly why he knew he had to be the one to do it," Fred answered. "Do not question his gift Aaron. It was well done of him. Honour him for that."
Aaron agreed but with heavy heart because his bond with Bryan went beyond the legacy of Aragorn and Boromir. Next to Eve and Tory, Bryan had been a kindred spirit, a human in Valinor, trying to fight disbelief to appreciate this incredible world he had stepped into. Bryan had been his friend.
"Come forward Aaron," Fred asked and the command in her voice made prevented his refusal. He was very aware that even though it was Fred standing in front of him, Aaron knew that it was Eru Ilúvatar speaking. Eru, the architect of creation. God. He approached her and leaned down. Fred extended her arm and reached out to brush his forehead with her middle and index finger.
Aaron jerked back as images flooded his mind. The interior layout of the fortress suddenly filled every corner of his consciousness. He staggered back, the information overload making him dizzy. Flashes of corridors, stairways, rooms and windows appeared in his mind, moving like a hasty clip show in his head. Aaron dropped to his knees, trying to regain his composure but to no avail. He didn't know how long it lasted. It felt like hours when it was probably only seconds. He remembered how Gandalf had infused Tory's brain with all knowledge of Middle Earth when they had needed her belief to get her help. Fortunately, unlike that episode, Aaron didn't fall unconscious and after a minute or so, he felt the information in his head stabilising.
And when it all settled, Aaron's eyes widened in shock. He could see Eve in a room with their son in her arms, looking out the windows, trying to see what was happening. Aaron stared at Fred, realising what it was the child or rather Eru had done.
"I have one more duty to ask of you Aaron," Fred said. "And then you should find your family and leave this fortress for it will be not be standing for long."
"Anything you want," Aaron answered gratefully, his voice choked with emotion. In an instant, Eru had given him the ability to navigate Saeran's fortress to find Eve.
"This child has been through much," Eru replied and Aaron realised that the deity was talking about Fred. "See to it that she is hurt no more."
"I promise you on the life of my wife and child," Aaron said with the intensity of a man making a sacred vow. "She will have a family that will love her for as long as I live. "
His answer satisfied Eru who gave him a little smile on Fred's lips before the little girl's body straightened up with a jerk, her neck thrown back so hard, Aaron thought it might snap. An explosion of light so bright and fierce, like someone had aimed a powerful strobe into sky, escaped Frederica Bailey's body and streaked into the air. The clouds parted beneath her and Aaron had to shield his eyes to avoid being blinded by the glare. When the powerful force of Eru's essence had abandoned her, the little girl collapsed on the floor, unconscious.
Aaron wasn't sure what was going to happen next but as he hurried over to her and swept Fred into his arms, he knew only one thing for certain; to do as Eru had asked and get his family out of there.
When he saw Miranda's anguished expression as she stared at him, pity and despair in her eyes, Frank knew that the worst had happened. In reality, something inside him had known that this was ultimately how it was going to end for his brother. Bryan had so much as said it to him outright. Frank just hadn't wanted to listen.
It became painfully clear why the Nazgul had been so desperate to reach their master when he raced up the mound Miranda was standing on. He bolted down the slope, half blinded with denial and refusal to see what was right in front of his eyes. As he skidded to his knees across the crater that had been carved into the ground from the impact of two people falling from a great height, he didn't see the blood or the broken bodies waiting for him. Instead, he saw the big brother who had walked him home from school his first day, who'd taken the blame when he broke their mum's favourite vase and years later introduced him to his wife.
Bryan was lying across the body of a man Frank didn't recognise but knew to be David Saeran even without being told. In fact, the events that led him to this moment, replayed in his mind without his needing to be present to know was the how it had unfolded exactly. Frank was certain however it had played out ultimately, this was exactly where Bryan had always intended to be. Maybe this was how his brother had envisioned his revenge on Saeran when they'd left Valinor. Certainly, it was in his mind when he surrendered himself along with Aaron Stone and Fred Bailey.
Dragging Bryan's lifeless body off Saeran, Frank wept openly as he cradled Bryan in his arms. He hardly register the blood that was seeping into his clothes, the heavy metallic stench of it in his nostril or the sickly sound Bryan's broken body made he rocked back and forth. The stomach turning grinding of shattered bones he could hear through his sobs threatened to overwhelm and make him retch. However what resulted instead was a scream of fury and exasperation.
Miranda jumped at his anguished cry and found herself weeping harder for his pain and for Bryan's loss. His sorrow was an open wound and it sent her running towards him, desperate to take him in her arms and chase away the hurt she knew she could not really. Instead, she did what she could and hugged him from behind, her own tears coming harder as she held him as tightly as he held the big brother who had also been her friend.
"Why did he do it?" Frank demanded in despair. "Why did he sacrifice himself like that? Didn't he know that there were still people left who loved him? We would have found another way?"
Miranda didn't know how to answer him because she shared the same mindset as Bryan and she understood that if he had done this, there would have been no other way. If it wasn't Bryan that made the sacrifice, someone else would have to eventually. Swallowing thickly, she tried to think of an answer that would make sense to Frank, that would ease his pain a little if not at all.
"He did it because he loved us," she spoke softly into his ear. "Because he knew this was our best chance to survive this."
Behind them, Legolas and Ariel approached slowly. Next to him, Ariel's hand flew to her mouth to conceal the gasp of surprise and horror that nearly escaped her when she saw who it was that was being cradled in Frank's arm. Legolas maintained his composure a little better but not by much. When he had heard that outraged cry of pain, he had known instantly something terrible had come about and had raced forward hoping to get there in time.
But it was a race already lost.
After Telrir had set them down, the great eagle had rejoined the ranks of his brothers to fight the Nazgul in the air. Legolas and Ariel had joined the elves that were on the ground and like the rest of the First Born, were astonished to see that the Alliance had gained a new ally. For the first time since he'd said his final goodbye to Gimli in Valinor, Legolas found himself facing a dwarf. The dwarf who introduced himself as Gwere was a good deal prettier than Gimli had been and was dressed in fashion that was a mixture of the Fourth Age and the more present one of men. It also seemed that they were more inclined to forget the prejudices of old although Gwere had told him to get a move on, there was orcs to kill.
Apparently, not everything about them had changed.
Nevertheless, his elation in knowing the dwarves had returned to the world was short lived when he realised what it was that had sent the Nazgul into such a desperate flight to reach their master.
From afar, he saw two bodies tumbling from a great height off the highest tower of Sauron's new fortress. He knew without doubt that one of those was Saeran. However, he could not tell for certain who was the other. In desperation, he and Ariel had fought their way through the orcs and Uruks trying to reach the two, even if secretly he knew that there he knew there was nothing to be done. He could not fly to stop their fall and the eagles were too far away now to hear his call.
Frank was still cradling Bryan's dead body when he and Ariel neared. Legolas felt his emotions reach up from the depths of him to choke the air from his lungs. This was too reminiscent of how he and Gimli had come upon Boromir at Parth Galen. Only it was Aragorn who was weeping for the loss, not Frank.
Their sorrow however was suddenly interrupted when one sound like an explosion erupted in the sky above them. Everyone looked up and saw something rising from the top of the tower, a column of brilliant white light of such intensity that the it dispersed the clouds in all directions and exposed the beauty of the twilight sky. Suddenly they could see everything transpiring in the air above. The battle of the Nazgul with the eagles and the flying machines of men, engaging the dragons. The indigo canvas was marred by the white trails of missiles flying across the sky and responded to in kind with fiery plumes of dragon breath.
However, there were all soon eclipsed by the column of light that quickly expanded across the sky. The power of it was like daylight, as if the sun had decided to come out of hiding. As the powerful illumination bathed their battleground, Legolas could see the orcs and trolls scattering in the belief that the sun had risen again. The trolls tried desperately to reach shelter but it was all too quick and they became frozen where they stood, turning into grotesque statues of stone much to the bewilderment of the soldiers battling them. The orcs who were not as vulnerable but nonetheless disliked direct sunlight, started running for the hills, hoping to lose themselves in the shadow of the evening woods. Unfortunately, in their panic, they ran straight into the blade and axe of the elven and dwarf armies.
All attention had been fixed on the sky that no one paid any attention to Sauron's dead host until without warning, Miranda uttered a cry of shock when she saw his body suddenly jerk back to life, or some fashion of it. The corpse had been motionless until now and Legolas had believed that whatever plan Fred enacted by Bryan's sacrifice, had rendered the former lord of Mordor inert. However, it appeared that they were too soon to assume he was gone forever.
Sauron was lying against his back and his body bore the same grievous wounds as Bryan however, upon jerking back to life, his violent convulsions pulsed more blood out of his ruined flesh and his open mouth. His bent like a bow against the gravel covered earth. His head, pulped and bleeding was flung back and his face became a rictus of pain and agony as he opened his mouth and screamed like a wounded animal.
"NO!" He screamed to an unseen tormentor. "I WON'T GIVE UP THIS BODY!" I WON'T GO WITH YOU!" Even though his lips mouthed the words, his voice did not sound human. It sounded like the stubborn refusal of a fell thing refusing to die. "I WON'T GO!"
Whomever he made this plea to appeared to remain unmoved as his body continued to convulse and spasm, with more tears in the flesh, until the ruination of the body was near complete. Bones snapped, flesh ripped and what was happening was almost to terrible to witness. His screams of refusal and defiance seemed to reach crescendo and suddenly his mouth already open, erupted like a volcano spewing off red hot lava. Bright orange flame ejected from his lips, rising into the air as a second column of light except this one was breathed in fire and its crimson hues spoke to a rage that was very much in keeping with the spirit of it owner. Legolas knew as he saw the pillar of crimson rising into the cloudless sky that this was Sauron's dark soul torn away from the host body once and for all by a power that was greater than the dark lord himself.
The column was pulled into the brilliance of the white wall of energy in the sky, almost as if it was being reeled in. Once it made contact, the flame was quickly absorbed by the greater power and the resulting conflagration was like an exploding star that sending waves of energy throughout the land like the birth of a new dawn.
Against this onslaught of power, the Nazgul were helpless. They tried to fly away desperately but the expanding energy engulfed and disintegrated them where they stood or in the middle of their right with the eagles. And they were not alone in their demise. The dragons too were swept up in that expanding wall of energy. What power had chosen to cleanse the world of Sauron was also cleansing it of all his dark servants. It swept across the land like a scourge, overcoming the wargs, the spiders and every last creature in Sauron's evil army. They tried to run but it overtook and swept them away in its juggernaut path.
Only the children of Ilúvatar, the First Born and the Mortals, the Adopted remained.
Unaware of what was happening beyond the fortress, Aaron Stone had a mission of his own.
Carrying Fred in his arms, he left the parapet behind him and entered the maze like tower to find Eve. He took Eru's warning seriously, convinced that if he didn't find Eve and the baby soon, they'd never leave here alive. He couldn't claim to understand everything that passed between Eru and Saeran but he knew something momentous was going to happen and it was best that they were away from here when it happened. Fred remained unconscious and a quick examination told him that she was not hurt. She might even been sleeping. After the exhaustion of playing host to the Almighty, he supposed she had earned some rest.
What Eru had planted in his head helped him navigate the maze of corridors and staircases inside the fortress with the familiarity of someone who had walked these walls time and time again. He could hear the voices of the uruks coming from the stairwell alone and prayed that he didn't have to confront them. Not only did he have a child, he was also unarmed.
His concern was soon brushed away when suddenly the cold, dark passages filled with the same illumination that Eru had generated when the deity had left Fred's body so spectacularly. Except this was pouring in through the windows with such intensity, it appeared almost as if dawn had arrived ahead of schedule. For a moment, he thought that Sauron had achieved his plan after all, that he'd managed to launch his nukes.
No, it couldn't be, Aaron told himself. Eru wouldn't let that happen.
Not after everything they'd been through.
The sudden wail of a baby made Aaron forget everything.
Ignoring the blazing radiance that was threatening to blind him, Aaron used the infant's cry to hone in on mother and child. Leaving the stairwell, he entered another empty wing in Saeran's fortress. No doubt had the dark lord's plans been successful, he would have furnished the place a little better. As it was, the hallway was long and like the rest of the fortress, appeared carved from obsidian. It looked almost surreal.
"EVE!" Aaron called out as he ran along the corridor following the sound of the infant's cry. He was past caring if anyone heard him. After everything that he'd been through since leaving Valinor, after all the losses and horror he'd been force to witness, nothing was going to stop him from reaching his wife. Furthermore, Eru's warning to leave the fortress sooner rather than later was a looming presence in his mind and he could feel time running out like something tangible pressing against his spine.
He was almost to the end of the hallway when he heard a voice call out.
His breath escaped in an explosion of relief. It almost made him double over from the sheer force of it. Eve's voice, even faint and withdrawn had more power over him than anything else on this Earth and he almost threw himself on against the door to the room she was in. Hot tears of gratitude threatened to spill over his cheeks as he tested the door knob and found it locked. It seemed like a small barrier in comparison to the hurdles he had overcome to get to this moment.
"Eve baby," he replied to her, "its me. I'm here."
Aaron spoke over the wail of his son but the child's tears, as well as Eve's voice, could have been the sweetest sounds he'd ever heard. Beyond the walls of this stygian corridor, there was a battle raging and yet the only thing that mattered to him were the two people behind the door.
"Oh my God Aaron," he heard Eve's voice crack as she answered him. He could hear her relief and her tears of joy. What that son of a bitch had put her through must have been torture and to know that she may never be the same again, made Aaron ache with anguish.
"Is it really you? This isn't some trick?" The desperation in her voice to believe that bleed through the wood.
"Its really me," he blinked and wiped the moisture from his face. "Stand back Eve, I'm going to kick the door open."
Driven by more adrenaline and determination than he ever thought he'd possessed, Aaron put Fred down momentarily and then slammed his boot against the door knob. It shuddered defiantly at first but his repeated assault eventually tore the metal screws from the wood and it swung open with a loud bang.
Eve was waiting by the doorway as soon as it opened. She was dressed in some shapeless shift of bluish white, her feet bare and her hair hanging limply around her head. Her blue eyes were wet glistening with tears but her skin was pale and the dark circles beneath them, spoke to the ordeal she'd been through since becoming Saeran's prisoner. She seemed frail and exhausted as if she'd been away from him for months, not weeks. He noted the spots of dry blood in the lower half of her dress and winced, remembering she had delivered a child less than a day ago.
"Eve, thank God you're safe!" He closed in on her, prepared to take her in his arms and never let her go again. "I'm so sorry I wasn't here sooner."
She burst into tears, sobbing out loud in gratitude, shaking as she clutched their child. "Oh God Aaron," she wept as he drew her as close as he dared without crushing the baby. "I thought I'd never see you again. I thought..." she couldn't finish as Aaron shook his head, telling her wordlessly not to go there. It hadn't happened. He was here and they were safe.
"Its okay," he kissed her lips and was astounded by how renewing it was, how much his love for her could invigorate him. "We're okay."
Aaron dropped his gaze to the baby in her arms and saw his son's face for the first time. He was so small and tiny but the eyes staring back at him were her blue eyes and the bow shaped mouth was also Eve's. A new kind of joy filled him and Aaron found his throat had become dry when he recognised himself in that tiny face, so pink and full of possibilities. He hadn't realised he was crying too until a single tear drop splattered against the baby's cheek, making the small brow furrow from the sensation.
"He's so beautiful," Aaron spoke, his voice a whisper. "He's perfect."
Eve managed a teary laugh, still caught between happiness and sorrow after what she'd suffered to reach this moment when she could present Aaron with his son. "He's us."
Aaron wanted to hold them both forever but the chatter and confusion beyond the walls reminded him of Eru's warning. "Eve, we have to leave now. It's a long story but we need to get out of this place before it goes."
"Saeran?" She asked, suddenly terrified by the consequences if she ran and were caught if the bastard was still alive. She didn't care what happened to her but it wasn't her that Saeran would punish; it was the baby.
Aaron felt his insides harden in hatred as he saw the fear of Saeran in her eyes at the thought of escaping. The Eve he knew wouldn't even ask the question but that Eve hadn't been at the mercy of a demon god who saw her as the instrument of revenge.
"He's gone," Aaron assured her, kissing Eve's forehead and then repeating the gesture on their child. "He's not coming back." This much, Aaron was confident. "But we need to move now. Can you walk?"
Eve raised her chin, the old spirit returning to her. That was Aaron's power over her. He always made her feel strong. He'd come for her in the most hellish place on Earth and she'd love him for eternity because of that. The self worth that had taken a beating since this nightmare began started to reassert itself and she looked at him, her jaw set and her chest filling up with determination.
"I'll damn well walk out of here," she said firmly. "Let's go."
Aaron didn't know if he could love her any more than at that moment.
FRANCIS E WARREN AIRFORCE BASE
It happened so suddenly that he was still in shock and uncertain what came next. The moment had been building up like a kind of hysteria in his mind. Everything that had led him here, the pounding in his head was like an aria reaching crescendo. All the doubt that told him that he was killing millions, that in a blinding instant he was condemning whole populations to death, seemed trivial in the face of the greater horror that was spreading across the planet. He alone appreciated the darkness that would reach American shores in and put ruin to everything he'd spent his life defending.
He was a soldier and a soldier had to protect his country from all threats, even if some of those enemies were his own weak commanders.
He'd been standing there, next to Kendrick at the launch control console. His launch key was firmly inserted in the first of the two activation slots. Kendrick's key was in the other. The moment was upon them and Dennis had been thinking that this was not wrong, that God himself had given him permission to do this. Why else would he send his angels? Dennis was all set to begin Armageddon when a flash of white so bright and overpowering filled the room.
He cursed and cried out, shielding his eyes and glimpsed that Kendrick had done the same. For an instant before the light became so overwhelming he had to close his eyes or risk permanent damage, Dennis saw the black smoke of earlier briefly take on the shape of two men. An ear splitting screech escaped their screaming mouths before the light overcame then and they disintegrated into the glare. He clamped his eyes shut then, the memory of that horrified wail echoing in his mind as he buried his face in his hands.
Then as suddenly as it had began, the brightness faded away and tentatively he lowered his hands from his face and all was as it was before. The heavy atmosphere of doom that hung over the room like a pregnant drop about to fall, disappeared. It was like the first breath of spring rushing exuberantly over the world, chasing away the cold of the winter doldrums. However it wasn't just the environment that had changed; he felt different too. A short time ago, everything had felt so clear and right. There was no doubt in his mind what needed to be done. Now, it felt as if someone had scooped out his insides and left him hollow and raw.
He was looking at the launch key, trying to decide what to do when suddenly, he heard an audible click and looked up in the barrel of Kendrick's gun.
The young man, no longer under the influence of the 'angels' had regained his faculties and stepped away from the console, the launch key dangling off his hand by its chain.
"Step away from the console General," he said firmly, his intense gaze fixed on Dennis with the seething rage of someone who'd woken up from a nightmare only to find out that he'd been about to do something even worse. "Now."
"You don't understand," Dennis opened his mouth to argue, "it needs to be done."
It did need to be done but the reasons for doing so were no longer as clear as it once was. The doubts that he had believed crushed into submission, returned like the rising stink of dank water. Where had his 'angels' gone? Why weren't they protecting him? Why had they abandoned him?
"Sir," Kendrick retorted, refusing to hear any statement other than compliance with his demand. "I'm not going to tell you again. Step away from the console General."
"No," Dennis protested, the insistence to do what was necessary still lingered on. It wouldn't leave him and he couldn't do as this boy asked. "I will not."
Kendrick pulled the trigger and the death that Dennis thought would come had been substituted by blinding pain in his knee that brought him down to the floor like a wet sack. He uttered a cry of pain as he went down, clutching his ruin knee cap as it spilled hot blood over his fingers. He was barely conscious of Kendrick stepping over him and relieving him of his weapon and then the launch key from its slot.
"I'm sorry General," Kendrick apologised as he walked away to open the blast doors. "I don't know what this was about but killing millions of innocent people when they didn't do nothing to us, is never right."
And as Dennis started to pass out from the pain, his last thought before the black was why he had forgotten that.
With the aid of Feanor, the greatest of them, the elves returned to Tirion with renewed spirit and armed with a determination to reclaim their city and indeed their lands from Sauron's forces. Devoid of the manic desperation to reclaim the Simarils, Feanor led the charge with Glorfindel and Haldir at his side taking into account the best way to defeat the enemy but also to preserve the city from further damage. Already the green hills of Túna upon which the city had been built, bore the violence of Melkor's dark servants. What the dragons had not burnt to cinder, the balrogs had charred black with their fiery lashes.
They met the balrogs upon the crystal stairs, not broken and crumbling in places, fighting the creatures with spear and arrow. Archers took up position on the high towers and rained down a storm of arrows upon the creatures. There was no killing the things, Feanor had explained. It was useless to even try. All the elves could do was drive them out of the city by any means possible. For a whole day and night, they drove the beasts through the city, armed with long spears, stabbing at them like a swarm of persistent neekerbreekers that had driven many a traveller in the marshes of Arda to madness.
The tactic cost them as much as it wounded the balrogs. Even with renewed spirit of fighting alongside Feanor, there were losses. When this day was done, Glorfindel knew there would be fresh graves dug in Valinor to honour the dead if such a thing was possible in this time of Dagor Dagorath. They fought fierce and hard, aware that there was a greater drama unfolding elsewhere in Arda with the forces that Elrond had led.
Forcing the balrogs to the highest parts of Tirion, amidst the rubble of ruined spires and crumbling towers, they continued their siege of the creatures. They drove some of the fearsome beasts off the edges of the city walls, tumbling down the side of Túna, hopefully becoming lost in the cracks that between it and the steep walls of Calacirya. Still, the effort was tremendous and with each balrog driven out, more of the First Born was lost. Glorfindel wondered if it was easier to abandon the city and then decided against it. If this was the end, then they would meet it with courage not despair.
"Rest Haldir," Glorfindel said to the young elf as they sat on the marble surround that framed the great White Tree of Galathilion. While almost everything else in the Great Square had suffered some violence, the tree had remained untouched, save for the ash that had been collected on its leaves in place of due.
Despite the approach of night, the sky was still amber with the glow of fires elsewhere in the city and Glorfindel knew they would soon have to rejoin the fighting. Haldir was nursing a severe burn on his arm that he'd managed to treat though he'd refused to withdraw from the battle. His stubbornness was both frustrating and admirable, the older elf thought.
"I will rest when those creatures are driven from our home," Haldir grumbled, redressing his wound so that he would be able enough to join his comrades when they resumed the fight. They'd been battling the creatures in shifts, ensuring that the balrogs would have no respite from their attacks. When fighting a near invincible enemy, it was the best they could manage under the circumstances.
"It will serve no one if you fall this day," Glorfindel remarked. "Besides, I promised Legolas that I would keep watch on you." He added, aware that the two had a peculiar kind of friendship.
Haldir made a face, "I was the march warden of the Lady Galadriel," he declared with some indignation. "I do not require the concern of a woodland princeling." Even though the tone with said with obvious distaste, those who saw the two in each other's company knew that it was all for show. They were good friends and had been for millennia.
"I am sure," Glorfindel replied with a straight face, taking in none of the disdain that Haldir would have him believe.
Feanor made his appearance then, stepping out of the doorway that led to his father's house stilling standing beneath the tower of Mindon Eldaliéva. The great elf seemed pensive and Glorfindel could only imagine what was running through his mind as he stood in the place where his life had taken such an dramatic if not tragic turn.
"Are you alright?" Glorfindel left Haldir for the moment and asked him.
Feanor nodded slowly and sighed, "they say that time heals all wounds. I think that it is a fallacy, it merely gives us the freedom to fully consider our foolishness." Looking about the ruined Great Square, "I led our people to ruin from this very place and I suppose if there is some consolation to be had, my father was not alive to see it. He would have thought that this was yet another tantrum in protest for betraying my mother. I have been too ashamed to ask his forgiveness."
"My lord," Glorfindel said kindly, "you are here fighting for us and this land. I think he would have been proud of ..." he stopped speaking because Feanor's expression darkened and Glorfindel thought that a balrog might be upon them.
"I sense something is happening," Feanor said hurrying to the centre of the square and leaping onto the marble hedge surrounding Galathilion to stare into the sky behind the warning, the darkening sky came alive with a brilliant burst of blinding light that all of themed flinch from its radiance. It swallowed up the light of the stars, muted the amber glow of the fires and made it seem as if the sun had exploded in the sky.
It lasted for second but felt like an eternity as it expanded outwards, until it covered all the land of Aman and if it went beyond the Blessed Realms, the elves could not say. All they knew was when its radiating beauty had diminished and they could see clearly again, the glow of balrog fire was gone. The stormy weather of fierce winds and cold nights had also disappeared and the clime of Valinor became as it was, warm and pleasant. Even the stars in the night sky glittered with renewed beauty and the wind breathed as if the world had sighed in gratitude and relief.
"Look," Haldir exclaimed as he rose to his feet, his face filled with wonder. He was pointing at something behind Feanor and Glorfindel.
Both elves turned around and their joy was soon shared by the others across the island as standing as proud and majestic as it had always been, was Mount Taniquetil.
"Feanor," a new voice spoke.
Glorfindel thought it was Galadriel at first because she stood tall and beautiful, a glow in heavenly light. Her hair was fair and golden, it swept across her pale shoulders like shimmer of sunlight. Her eyes were bright and if you looked into them, you could see all the colours of the ocean, in all of Arda. They swirled with flecks of coral and seaweed. She was not Galadriel for Haldir knew that lady well enough after so many centuries of friendship. She wore a gown of green that reminded him of the forest of Lothlorien, lush and teeming with life. In her presence, he could the sweet fragrance of wildflowers and fresh cut grass.
"Feanor," she called the elf to her.
Feanor stepped forward, fearful not of her but of himself. He knew what this moment was and he had waited so long for it. In his mind, even in Mandos, he had often rehearsed what he would say now that the time was upon him.
She opened her palm and in them was three jewels, so bright and beautiful, it brought tears to his eyes just looking upon them. Yet it was not tears of happiness that he shed but regret. He had crafted each of these jewels, made them when he was at his best. His legacy to his people should have been the craft behind their construction. Instead, they became a cautionary tale of obsession and revenge that doomed his entire line. So often, he blamed Melkor for ruining him but in truth, the architect of his destruction had always been himself.
"These are yours," she spoke to him, faint smile on her lips. "After long last, take them Feanor. The Simarils must return to its rightful master."
Feanor blinked, tears ran down his face and he shook his head. "No dear lady, they were never mine. They were the fruit of the great trees and they should have been used to give light to Ea. I have destroyed myself and my line because of them and I have brought shame to my father's name. Take them and use them as you will. I want nothing more of them."
Yavanna reached out and brushed his forehead gently. "You have reclaimed your honour Feanor. Take your place in Mandos as the greatest of your people."
And with that, Yavanna started to glow again, the orb of light surrounding her took Feanor too and as it ascended from the ground and flew into the air, Glorfindel saw other orbs of light leaving Taniquetil, shooting across the night sky like storm of comets.