To The End of Night
The one Kalista'd been hunting for, without a doubt; complicated markings covered most of its skin. Large, spiraling letters - Latin - ran down its spine, while more ancient runes marred its shoulders and arms. Marred, not covered - carved into the skin. A signature of sorts, and a controlling influence, if one knew how to use it. But I don't. Kalista lowered her forearms, the throwing knives from the sleeve sheats sliding into her palms, and hurled the light blades at the Polgara's back. Only one broke trough the thick, leather-like skin there; the other bounced off harmlessly.
The creature turned, by her guess more pissed off than hurt, and growled at her, pulling away from the terrified woman. Good. She reached for the sword strapped to her back.
Before it was halfway drawn, the Polgara rushed her in a surprising burst of speed. What the? A vicious back-hand sent her flying into a wall. Her head and right shoulder connected painfully with the hard surface, and little white lights burst into her field of vision, before the world went black. No! She forced her eyes open. One of the twin blades that extended from the Polgara's wrists cut her upper arm, and Kalista rolled to the side, avoiding the other. The sudden breath of air against her face told her it had not missed by much.
She flowed into the roll, going over twice before she scrambled up and stood in a fighting stance, a longer blade in her right hand and a dagger in her left, for slashing and defense. Fighting a wave of dizziness that threatened to overtake her, she swayed to one side. Concentrate! One bone blade sliced trough the air above her as she ducked and parried the other with her own. The dagger gleamed with a greenish tinge in the dark after it carved a wet path across the demon's abdomen. Not a serious injury, but the Polgara roared and came at her again. The longer blade flew out of her hand in the collision. Twisting to the side at the last possible moment, she embedded the dagger in its throat with a swift jerk of the wrist. Lashing out, her right boot connected with the Polgara's left knee, shattering it. She jumped away, hand reaching for her belt, pulling out another throwing dagger, and took aim. It entered the creature's other leg, just below the knee.
The creature's legs gave out, and it fell to the ground, resting on one hand, the other grabbing for the object protruding from its flesh. With little success. The design of the jagged blade made pulling it out difficult - not without causing more damage on the way out than on the way in. Kalista circled the demon until she came at its back, careful to avoid the arm that still occasionally flailed through the air. Reaching to the front, over its shoulder, her fingers closed around the dagger hilt and ripped it out, slitting the throat in the process. Something sliced into her side. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she thrust the dagger back in at the base of its neck; simultaneously, her left hand caught the Polgara's massive jaw and pulled.
The sewers echoed with the sound of the creature's neck and spine breaking. The body slumped to the ground, and an eerie quiet set down on the underground tunnel - only to be interrupted by desperate sobbing.
Ignore it. Focusing until the crying became no more than background noise, she listened, for the faintest sound; she breathed in - nothing. Nothing else moved in the tunnels, except her and the woman who kept taking huge hiccupping gulps of air. At a loss as to what to do with her, Kalista backed away, granting the woman a moment to compose herself.
Where is the bastard? This didn't follow the usual pattern. The Polgara never hunted alone - and with good reason. There would be little point to a harvesting expedition otherwise - without someone to pull at the creature's strings, there would be no organs left to harvest.
She looked around - there. The sword, lost in the first few seconds of the fight, lay in a puddle of dirty water, its hilt shimmering in the darkness. She bent down to pick it up. Any weapon becomes useless after you lose it - like a complete idiot, I might add. The remembered line caused more then just a hint of annoyance to surge, and her fingers traced the acid-edged lines of the blade. As always, it drew blood, and she gave a small smile at the slight injury.
Sharp as the day it was made.
The sound of the sword sliding back into its scabbard seemed unnaturally loud in the dark, and the sobbing woman started, crawling away. "Please, please don't kill me. Please. I cannot die here. Please..." She kept saying it, over and over, a hysterical note to her voice.
So much for gratitude. It didn't surprise her much. Kalista lowered the bloody dagger still in her hand, her arms spread out in a universal gesture of good will. "I'm not going to kill you. The thing that wanted to hurt you is dead, there is no reason to be afraid. Calm down." She used her most soothing tone of voice, though a part of her wanted to smack the woman silly. Amazing enough, it had an immediate effect, and the woman stopped trying to mold herself into the wall. On a closer look, one could not exactly call her a woman yet. Mid-teens by Kalista's guess, even younger than the boys she had seen before
"You will not?" The girl's tone of voice carried entirely too much surprise. Filthy strands of blond hair fell half-way down her back. Large, expressive eyes dominated her face, but for the life of her, Kalista couldn't say exactly what color they were. Beneath the grime, her face held a fragile beauty, and something else... What? She dismissed the thought as unimportant. In a word, the girl looked frail.
Kalista offered her a hand to help her up, but the girl recoiled, lifting her own hands up, in front of her face. They shook. I haven't got all day. Her hand closed around the girl's wrist and started to pull her up - something flared up at the close contact - she let go. Feelings that didn't belong to her swirled inside of her mind - fear, above all, desperation and... recognition?
"You know who I am." Fact, not a question. "How do you know who I am?" Kalista narrowed her eyes to twin slits of suspicion.
The girl remained silent and bowed her head, hair falling down, over her face and sides, veiling her from sight. Closing the distance in two quick strides, Kalista forced the girl's head further down, brushing aside the remaining locks on the back of her neck. The glyph of the House Dragonetti marred the pale skin there.
A vampire's human servant... "A familiar," Kalista sneered. "Wonderful. Just brilliant. I risked my neck to save a familiar. Somebody just shoot me now." She spat on the ground, disgusted. On her better days, she called them the scum of the earth. On a bad day, well...
Not a good day today, by any stretch of the definition.
With a soft growl, she let go of the girl's neck and backed away. More silence followed, interrupted by ragged breathing - the girl's hand rose to touch at the bruised flesh, and she whimpered. Guilt flared up, then died. Under different circumstances, Kalista would have left her by now. What did she care if a familiar lived or died?
Where is he? The controller has to be close by.
Hesitating, the familiar obeyed and rose to her feet.
"Talk, and maybe I won't pick up where that," she pointed at the demon, "left off. I need to know what you saw when the Polgara attacked you. Did you see a man?" she asked.
A weak shake of the head. "A man? No, I saw nothing." The girl fell silent again, leaning against the wall. Her fingers clutched the material of her shirt, too big for her slight frame, knuckles white from the effort. Her face... she seemed a child yet.
"Just how old are you?" Kalista asked, softening despite herself.
"I am not... By my kind's reckoning, I am years yet from being full-grown. I..." The girl stopped, mid sentence, and bit her lip.
"Your kind? Don't tell me you fancy yourself a vampire already?" Kalista sneered, angry again. "Sorry to disappoint you, sister, but you smell human to me." She ignored the slight difference in the girl's scent. The night had been long, and her senses were bound to be a bit off. The only answer she got came in the form of a drawn-out, dismayed sigh.
"Well, how did one of Galliano Dragonetti's pets get here?" she asked. The girl's head snapped up at the name. "How is the bastard these days?" Moving forward, but to the side, the girl shook her head; slowly at first, then with fast, jerky motions. Denying her the answer? Loyal to House Dragonetti...a feeling nagged at her... or to it's master?
Stepping towards her, Kalista took a deep, unneeded breath. A host of different scents registered: the stench of the sewer, the staleness of the water, even the mold of a rat's fur as it scurried between her feet. The smell of death clung to the demon's corpse, the - sweet - smell of blood and fear drifted from the girl who backed up, further away, until her back pressed against the wall. Kalista followed, her steps unhurried and precise, and leaned in, towards the hollow of her throat, close, but careful not to touch. Not wanting to.
Kalista breathed in, eyes closed, tracing upwards to her jaw - ignoring the flutter of the pulse point. Beneath it all, the sweat, blood and grime, she reeked of him. Galliano. No wonder the girl put her on edge. Familiars had all kinds of uses, but... so young. Not that it was all that uncommon - vampires had little in the terms of morals.
Catching herself, Kalista stamped down her rising - unwarranted - compassion. She choose her fate. The girl could know something about Galliano's movements - who knew what kind of pillow talk Galliano preferred. A slim chance, but a chance she could ill afford not to take. The girl beside her - the familiar - shook so hard that the wall carried the tiny vibrations to the palms resting against it, her palms, on either side of the girl's head. Kalista looked at the face in front of her - pale, aside from the specs of blood here and there, drawn, eyes squeezed shut.
Drawing back sharply, Kalista said, "Answer me this, and I'll let you go." Eyes snapped open and fixed on her. "Where is Galliano, now?"
The girl's mouth opened, forming a small 'o', torn between hope and disbelief - she only needed to touch her to see which one. No. That was the last thing on her, as of late, admittedly short list of options. Not that it mattered. Vampires still hunted her, and the girl could not be trusted either way; experience taught her that. She couldn't, wouldn't risk letting her go.
Familiars... The lowest of the low.
She said it often enough. Why did it ring so false now?
~ ~ ~
Pippin nodded, passing a loaf of bread to Frodo, who handed him a small piece of bacon in return. Pippin popped it into his mouth without a second thought and chewed with a slow deliberation, trying to savor the moment as much as the bacon. Without warning, Merry threw a half-full water skin at him, jolting him out of his contentment. Merry even had the nerve to laugh at the solid hit, and the fact that the water soaked through his tunic. Scowling, Pippin bent down to pick up the skin and took a sip, washing the food down. Looking down, a smile crept across his face. He still had one sausage - three quarters of it to be exact - to look forward to.
Not half-bad, when one stops to think about it.
Seated - rather comfortably, he might add - his belly full for a change, and about to settle a curiosity that gnawed at him ever since he'd first met Boromir of Gondor. Not bad at all.
"He means the Southrons, Boromir." Aragorn rose with the words, no doubt searching for a more accommodating rock to sit on. The Mines of Moria offered little in terms of comfort; to Men or Hobbits. "The Haradrim," Aragorn continued.
Again, Pippin nodded, with more energy this time, only to be met with a frown and a shake of the head.
"And how do you know of Gondor's foes, Master Hobbit?" Boromir's hand lingered, for a moment, on his shield, lightly tracing the spiraling letters that ran across its surface. "What tales have reached the ears of you Shire-folk?"
Foes? "Not tales, as such," Pippin admitted. "Bits and pieces of stories, old and new. Rumors of savage, dark-skinned Men who inhabit a far-off land."
As Boromir gave a small nod of his own, Pippin's excitement grew. "Have you seen them?" He leaned in close, hands resting on his knees.
"Seen them?" Boromir hesitated, and his fingers stopped tracing the letters. "Aye, I have seen the Southrons, Pippin."
"Wonderful!" Pippin let a huge smile spread across his face. "What do they look like? What clothes do they wear? Is their skin really so dark? Do they..."
A sharp elbow dug into his side. "Pippin!" Frodo said. "How do you think to have your answer, if you do not let him get a word in?"
There is that.
After rolling his shoulders in a sheepish shrug, he gave the Man a disarming smile. Or, rather, what he hoped was one. "Pardon me, Boromir, I get ahead of myself at times."
Boromir leaned back, the corner of his mouth twitching. "I am well-aware of it."
Was that a beginning of a smile? Encouraged, Pippin pressed on. "I'd still like an answer to my question, if you'll give it." He grimaced and corrected himself. "An answer to one of my questions, at least."
He waited for a moment, polite and respectful, but met with silence. Unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he continued, "Did you ever speak with them? If so, in what language? Does Gondor trade with the South?"
Aragorn gave a soft, quiet laugh. Such an oddly humorless sound... Puzzled by Boromir's continued silence, Pippin turned to face the Ranger. Reaching into his pack, Aragorn took out a carved wooden pipe, along with a pinch of pipe weed leaves. "Yet more questions, Master Peregrin? Which one would you like an answer to?"
He grinned. "All of them." Well, you did ask.
"I doubt it not," Aragorn lit the pipe and leaned against the rock wall. "Both Boromir and I could tell you much about these Men. I more than most, for I journeyed among them for a time."
Pippin felt his insides heat up at the thought. When he met Strider's eyes again, he feared that his were as round as saucers. "You must have seen many wondrous things! Will you tell us of them?" he asked. Even Frodo drew nearer, now, his face animated, lit by an inner light that had long been missing. Good. Pippin disliked seeing his cousin so drawn and weary. Perhaps the conversation could serve to distract him from... Better not to think of it, now.
"Wondrous?" Boromir spat the word, as if it left a foul taste in his mouth. But why? "What wondrous things could the Southrons craft? I doubt they have time for such. The raids on our borders take up much of their time." A bitterness that took Pippin by surprise laced the last words.
He frowned, just now realizing what the man had said. Foes. "They raid your borders?" A cautious question. "Why?"
Aragorn answered in Boromir's stead, "For spoils of war, for land, but, most of all, because Sauron commands it done." The tone darkened. "It pleases him to pit Men against other Men, I think. And the Southrons fear the Enemy - too much so to disobey him."
Pippin frowned. "They serve Sauron?" He glanced around, suddenly worried that invoking the name of the master would cause the servants to appear. Orcs, not Men. With some difficulty, he shook off the fear. "Men?"
The smell of burning leaves tickled at his nostrils. A stray thought, I would not say no to some pipe-weed myself. The bowl of Aragorn's long-stemmed pipe glowed heat, and smoke drifted upwards.
"Yes. Hobbits may stand as one, but we stand divided," Aragorn answered. "Do not be so surprised, Pippin. The hearts of Men can be swayed, either by promises of power, or by the threat of whip and blade."
Pippin could not help his surprise. Never to his knowledge had a hobbit harmed another hobbit. Well... unless wounding another with strong language counted? Honestly, that old, meddling fool of a Proudfoot had deserved that bit of a tongue-lashing. He started another question, "But..."
Aragorn interrupted. "They have little love for Sauron." He paused and corrected himself. "No. There are some, corrupted beyond repair, who honor him as king and god, but those are the exceptions, rather than the rule. Most of the Haradrim are driven by fear - the fear of Gondor on the one hand, and fear of their master on the other. "
Boromir's proud features molded into a grimace. "They fight along side of orcs, and raise the Eye as their standard." His hands balled into fists. "I will make no excuses for them."
"The poison of the Enemy runs deep, Boromir," Aragorn said, dropping into a crouch. "He ever seeks to turn us against one another, and, with the Haradrim, he has succeeded. Who knows what lies Sauron whispered into their ears? Do not judge all of them so harshly."
A long silence followed.
"Long have Gondor and Harad been at each other's throats," Boromir said. "Old, dusty tomes say that things were not always such, and some say that ancient bonds may yet be reforged, alliances of old rekindled. But I, for one, would not wish it." He rose, movements stiff and slow, palms wiping at the dust that settled on his leggings. Aragorn rose with him. "Too much blood has been spilled during the years, in my lifetime and before, and too many good men lie dead... but not forgotten."
He and Aragorn held each other's gaze, both unflinching. "I would not dishonor their memories by making peace with those who slaughtered them."
"Boromir..." Aragorn said, but the Man shook his head and walked to where Legolas stood watch, beneath a high arch.
"I am sorry, Strider." Pippin said, uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken. Curse his flapping tongue! Would he never learn?
Aragorn lowered himself to the ground again, his long legs stretched out before him. "Do not blame yourself, Pippin. This would weigh on Boromir's mind whether you mentioned it now or not." He wrapped his cloak around him, tighter. "Killing Orcs is not hard, once the arm has skill enough with the blade, and the memory of it does not linger in a man's mind." The Ranger released an audible breath, looking away. "In a man's dreams," he whispered.
Pippin tensed, reluctant to pose his next question. He asked it regardless, "And... killing Men?" Aragorn met his eyes, and the depth of memory in them made Pippin cringe.
"Harder, yes," Aragorn answered, swallowing. "And it has left a foul taste in my mouth that I have yet to wash down."
~ ~ ~
Looking at the girl before her, Kalista bit her lip. "Come on," she said. "One piece of information in exchange for your life. That's all I ask." At the continued silence, she crossed her arms over her chest. "He can't be that good in bed." Familiars...
A spark of anger lit the girl's eyes, her jaw clenched, cheeks flaring heat. "Do not!" A shout. "Do not say..." Her voice lowered, became thin and weak. "Leave me be."
Probably not voluntary, then. The discovery did not surprise her; just something, someone else whose misery could be laid at Galliano's doorstep.
The girl asked, "How did you know..."
Again impatient, Kalista cut her off. "That's beside the point, don't you think? The clock's ticking here."
The girl pushed away from the wall and nodded once, swallowing. "A familiar," she spat out the word. "Dragonetti calls me this, it is true, but not by my choice. You must believe me." A pleading tone crept into her voice. "They captured me when I came to be here. I am not..." Hesitation, "...native to this place." She stopped there, curling her hands into fists.
Kalista frowned. "New York?" She can be from Bukuresht for all I care.
The girl's head moved, caught between a shake and a nod. In the end, only her shoulders moved in a half-hearted shrug. "This place" She gestured above her, to the sewer's low ceiling. To the bustle in the streets above. Her voice dropped to a whisper, "Or this world..."
Familiars had spun all kinds of sob-stories for her in the past, but... this is a new one. "Aha... You are an alien." After a token eye roll, Kalista added, "And I'm the second coming." A waste of my time.
The girl looked to be decidedly confused, but pressed on. "I do not know what a 'second coming' is, but if you say you are so, I will gladly believe you."
An involuntary snort of amusement escaped Kalista at the words. "Great." Her lips stretched into a smile. "Good for you." Sobering, her left hand lightly traced a dagger hilt. "Meanwhile, I'm losing patience. The truth. Now."
The moment stretched out, long and uncomfortable. Then, instead of an answer, the girl's hands reached up, surprisingly steady, wound into her hair, and lifted it away from her face. She pulled it back, into a high pony-tail, tightened and held it. An expectant, uncertain glance - what did she want? Kalista's eyes fixed on a blood splatter on the girl's cheek. Wait... The girl's ears! - larger than human ears and delicately pointed. In itself, that wouldn't have fazed her much, but, then, she started speaking, soft musical sentences in a language Kalista did not recognize. A word often repeated - Elbereth?
Silence. The girl's head snapped up, and a smile spread over her face. Strange. Suddenly, her skin seemed to glow in the dark, illuminated by a soft inner light. And not in a demon-like way. The glow intensified. Oh... For a moment, she was made out of light, radiant.
Another dazed thought followed, not something you see every day.
After a few more intense seconds, the almost otherworldly glow that surrounded the girl dissipated. She slumped to the ground, giving a small cry, looking desolate, no more then a fragile child - and an increasingly wet and filthy one at that. The mud that lined the sewer floor smeared across her face when she touched her palms to it. With the exception of the ears, she now looked to be completely human.
Once the initial shock wore off, Kalista grew annoyed with herself. So the girl had pointed ears and... she didn't know how to describe that. No matter. As far as strange went, that wasn't even a blip on her radar anymore. Not for someone who had to track seven demons of a species whose name she could barely pronounce to their ancient mating grounds last week.
Demons and vampires. She tired of it. Not that it made a scrap of difference.
In any case, what set that particular breed apart and made them so memorable had been the fact killing them proved impossible until after they finished mating. Right after. Talk about a vomit inducing sight. Disgusting and unnatural didn't even begin to describe it. Add to that the fact that hunters were roaming the city this very night to find her - and to kill her, but that went without saying. The fourth hunting party this month. She tired of that, too.
And both her hands were still covered in the Polgara's green blood.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you're not human," Kalista said. "What are you then?"
The girl looked even weaker now than she had been moments before; almost as though she had been drained somehow. She stumbled to her feet, drawing back.
"Well? Out with it," Kalista barked out. The girl flinched at her tone, and she gave an inward wince as well. Tact. Not her strong suite these days, if ever. She bit the inside of her cheek. The coming day promised to be a long one. "Let's start small. You do have a name, don't you?" she asked.
A sharp intake of breath - the girl's lower lip trembled. What did I say now?
The girl softly muttered a few sentences in the same unfamiliar language. Kalista frowned, again failing to decipher the meaning. Once done, the girl finally looked her in the eye - looking for reassurance? She seemed to come to some sort of a decision then, and a sudden change overtook her - back straight, chin held high and, beneath the fear and anguish, her eyes shone with a renewed sense of purpose. When she spoke, her voice rang out, steady and clear.
All an act, of course, but she almost pulled it off.
"Well met," she said. "I owe you my life. I am called Hithriel of Lothlórien." She swallowed. "It has been long since anyone asked my name." The next words came in a low, almost reverent whisper, "Hannon le."
Kalista allowed her brow to furrow. What that last bit meant was anyone's guess. "I would introduce myself as well, but..." She shrugged. "What would be the point?" What did they tell her about me? Nothing good - that was a given. "Galliano mentioned me?" Does he still call me traitor?
At Hithriel's slow nod, the tingle of an impending sunrise ran down her spine. No more than twenty minutes. No time left to lose.
"Come," she motioned forward, down a sewer shaft leading north, abrupt.
Hithriel did not move. "They are searching for me," she said.
Kalista smiled despite herself. "That makes two of us."
Hannon le - 'I thank you.'
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.